Star Wars Jedi Odyssey Rewrite Character Interludes - SWEULover2007 - Star Wars Legends (2024)

Chapter 1: Character Interlude 1: Vua Gorsatt

Chapter Text

0115 Hours, Relona 17th, 50 ABY

Coruscant, Level 5000

Coco District, Inside the Jettster’s Diner

Preparing to break cover from behind a sturdy table, Pong swore under his breath before rising to blast apart his sixteenth assailant, this one a Bothan, while she was distracted by her more valuable targets. With his father’s rebuilt restaurant having been into a standoff reminiscent of a crimefighting holofilm for nearly ninety minutes by a seemingly endless horse of assailants, all bent on murdering their prey and anyone who tried to interfere, the Besalisk information broker knew he could not let this insult go unpunished. And he intended on raising Chaos with the police district prefect for not having his agents respond to this blatant terrorist attack when she undoubtedly first got word.

Should he, his little stray in a recent Yuuzhan Vong widower, and the Jedi and Galactic Alliance fighters and leaders survive past the night, there would be a reckoning, and he would enjoy helping take the True Victory Party, all their sympathizers, and whoever pulled their leaders’ strings now apart piece by piece.

And he knew that he could no longer hold to his self-professed oath of neutrality in the Jedi and Sith’s wars, not after it was known how he helped several Jedi students and their Grand Master in solving a murder mystery that threatened to reignite decades-old scars of hatred and paranoia across Coruscant. Seeing the catastrophic results of indecision and fear consume most of the Galactic Alliance, it was a miracle the capital planet did not tear itself apart ages ago.

One way or another, he was back in the fight alongside his father’s old friends, and he would not let them down, especially the last Palpatine heir whose family used to frequent his establishment and helped remind him to look for the best in others, even in stuck-up fellows like most Jedi were. Seeing a fourteen-year-old Edaan, wielding a violet-colored lightsaber alongside two of his other fellow Jedi Apprentices defending the restaurant while aiding the clandestine Galactic Alliance Intelligence agents of Wraith Squadron and Senator Kajin Bar Yimmon in holding back the assailants, it filled him with a renewed hope that the galaxy’s years-long fits of madness and horrific wars would one day end, and pride in the once-shy young boy that often came here when he lived with his now long-dead family on the capital world.

Interrupting his amazed reverie were the blaring alarms and loudspeakers of a familiar type of speeder, along with the igniting of at least two dozen familiar and extremely rare weapons, and Pong knew this fight would soon be over. Then, his grand return to the rest of the galaxy and its slimy underworld could finally begin, and he could carry on his father’s noble work.

Five Days Earlier

1350 Hours, Relona 12th, 50 ABY

Corusca System, In Orbit Above Coruscant

Aboard the HWK-290 light freighter Indigo Talon

Watching through the ship’s viewport the thousands of different ships coming and going to the capital world, Edaan Palpatine struggled to rein in his turbulent array of emotions and calm his pounding heart upon returning home. Having not come back to Coruscant in over three years and having lost his family another three years prior thanks to Abeloth’s attacks, Edaan wondered how much had changed in his absence from the ancient cityscape of a world, and if the people were as angry with the Jedi as ever when they were expelled from here.

Feeling a hand grip his shoulder, Edaan turned to see Allana Djo Solo, Hapan princess, Jedi apprentice, and one of the Palpatine heir’s few friends his age, smile warmly at him while exuding calm energies through the Force, and he felt his worries start drifting away like a gentle current.

Allana, as sympathetic and understanding as always, kindly told Edaan, “Don’t worry, buddy. We’re not here to cause trouble for anyone, we’re just going to be here for a few days on a simple training exercise with eighteen other apprentices. Besides, we’re not going to be discovered because we’re just going to learn to blend in with the locals and gather information. Simple stuff that won’t require any flashy exits, large-scale firefights, mass carnage, and won’t connect us in any way with the Order, so long as we keep a low profile.”

“It’s not just laying low that worries me, Allana.” Edaan nervously clarified. “Coming back here, it reminds me just who and what I lost all those years ago. It’s never easy remembering those last few months before everything changed.”

“Well, at least you have us, Edaan.” Bhixen, a towering Togorian of a Jedi Apprentice, hopefully piped up. “I know it isn’t the same, but you aren’t as alone as you’d think.”

Lips moving upward, Edaan playfully conceded, “Yeah. I do have some good friends among you stiff-necked lot.”

The ship’s intercom coming to life, Kyle’s voice came through, “All right, everyone. We’re gonna be starting our descent into Coruscant’s atmosphere any minute now. The journey might get a little bumpy at first, so I’d advise you all to stay in your seats and enjoy the view.”

“You think Kyle could make a good living as a flight attendant if this gig as Grand Master fails?” Trya Isra, a fifteen-year-old Drall apprentice, jokingly suggested, earning many hearty and genuine laughs from the four other apprentices and their Jedi overseer aboard the Indigo Talon while it began its reentry into Coruscant’s atmosphere.

Having ferried dozens of Apprentices and newly promoted Knights into hostile Coruscant since the Order’s banishment from the capital world to continue their training, the aged ship had gone through this routine many times over the last five years. But this was the first time Edaan and Allana had returned since the war against the Lost Tribe of the Sith was reaching its climax, and this planet had countless memories for both Jedi, many filled with sorrow over lost loved ones and the intensity of war. Hopefully, this trip will be a peaceful one.

1500 Hours

Coruscant, Level 1313

Within BG-RT's Tavern and Spirits

Within the sleazy and run-down cantina owned by a manumitted financial receptionist droid, frequented by rogues and criminals of all manner of age and species, the tavern’s sole private and soundproof table was currently occupied by half a dozen wealthy and influential individuals that preferred to operate behind closed doors.

“Everything’s ready?” The Bothan woman continued the discussion. “Our last guests have just arrived on-planet, and our client is anxious to give them and our quarry an unforgettable message while the window of opportunity is perfect.”

“Relax, Ma’am.” A Zabrak woman soothingly interceded. “My people scouted out and seeded the district, and all the packages are in place. They’ll go off in exactly twenty-four hours, and no one will be able to trace them back to us.”

“What about CSF or GAS?” The middle-aged Ithorian spat out. “If someone gets a guilty conscience and manages to rat us out, or a civilian uncovers even one of the devices before-”

“What do you think all our enforcers are out there for, you spineless di’kut?” A Myneyrsh woman clad in Mandalorian beskar armor irritably cut in. “What I want to know is if we’ll get the chance to kill those Jedi? They could undo everything we’re trying to achieve unless we take them out now.”

“Ease off the throttle. Long as we all stick to the plan, then I know we’ll get exactly what we want from this arrangement, plus a little on the top for doing everything perfectly.” A purple Rodian dressed in a Coruscant Security Force’s prefect uniform patiently reminded everyone.

“Exactly.” The Bothan nodded in thanks to the Rodian. “Remember, the only way to pull off a strategy like this is by working completely in sync, with everyone performing above and beyond in their assigned roles and looking out for one another. Before the next week is over, we’ll get our revenge for all we’ve lost, and take the first steps in expelling all our enemies’ influence and legacy from the whole galaxy.”

0450 Hours, Relona 13th, 50 ABY

Senate District, 500 Republica Tower

Within Senator Yimmon’s Apartment Suite

“You are aware, Chief of State, of the astronomically incredible risk you are taking with this agreement, yes?” Kajin Bar Yimmon, a rising figure in the Galactic Senate and stalwart ally and confidant of the current Chief of State, Wynn Dorvan, advised the human after learning of his unofficial pact. “If any of your enemies even discover a hint of this-”

“Which is why the circle of trust is small and will stay that way for as long as necessary.” Wynn slowly and emphatically ordered the Cerean senator. “We both know the Jedi, for all their mistakes, are the best defense we have against the Sith factions rising up and all their servants, and I will not allow the bullheadedness of a few hundred senators, their greedy and power-hungry backers, and all their wayward flock to continue destroying our society and republic, not without giving them a fight.”

Softening his tone, Wynn reminded Kajin, “Did you not stand all but alone against the Yuuzhan Vong among your people when they invaded the galaxy, and only a sliver of Cerea’s people saw the truth of how close we came to facing oblivion? I would say the political and military parallels of today are quite like the New Republic’s final years, and I will not allow infighting and fearmongering to undo our best and likely final chance at a united front against all our enemies.”

Silent for a moment, Kajin conceded, “Valid points, Sir. Still, I must ask why you chose me to be the liaison between Grand Master Katarn and his clique of students.”

“Because you’re one of the few senators that have managed to maintain a balanced approach to legislating, and are well-respected by both factions in the Senate, making you an unlikely source of pro-Jedi sympathies and unofficial actions on my behalf.” Wynn gratefully explained before passing him a data card. “I suggest you read through the card’s contents extensively, for it will automatically delete all its contents after the next three hours.”

“What’s in it that requires such extensive security measures?” Kajin skeptically asked.

“Everything you’ll need to know about your first role in Club Bwua’tu as we continue to look for new blood.” Wynn rose from his chair before excusing himself, “Now, as much as I enjoy our talks, I must return to my apartment and finish preparing for today’s mountain load of work. A leader’s job is never done, as I’m sure you’re coming to see.”

1500 Hours

Level 4813, Just Outside the Tarsus Valorum Apartment Complex

Returning to his home to snag a few hours of rest before returning to his employer for the night shift, Vua Gorsat was horrified and heartbroken to instead see a roaring inferno consume the three-story building and threaten its surrounding structures, and hundreds of civilians fleeing the scene.

Having abandoned following the Yuuzhan Vong’s pantheon of gods for many years after his family was summarily executed for being accused of following the Jeedai Heresy when the planet was occupied by his species, the sacrilegious law of man-made combustion meant nothing to him. But what mattered to him was Vua’s wife, and not seeing her escape filled him with terror he had not known since he first came to Coruscant as a Shamed One, a member of the lowest and most disgraceful caste in the Vong’s fallen hierarchy.

Preparing to dive right into the fire to look for his love, Vua, in his peripheral vision, saw a familiar dark-skinned human woman standing in a nearby alleyway, and his heart leapt for joy at realizing his Iona Cassy was safe if a bit bruised and battered from whatever likely caused the explosion.

Sprinting towards her, he was prepared to embrace and help get her to safety and when he realized his love was already dead. It was merely a holographic recording that showed Iona before she dropped dead on the ground. Panic gripping the refugee, he was prepared to stop a refugee and ask if they saw Iona, when a series of explosions were set off across the district.

Desperately hoping that Iona got away before the first fires began, Vua began bolting right into the crowd as fast as his legs could move. Hopefully, the rest of his friends and fellow Yuuzhan Vong refugees in the district were faring better than him in this disaster, and that the perpetrators behind this terrorist attack would soon be caught before any more lasting damage could be done.

0400 Hours, Relona 14th, 50 ABY

Senate District, Jedi Temple

Within the Jedi Archives

“What do you mean, we’ve got to stay trapped in here?!” Edaan incredulously complained after Kyle and his fellow Jedi Masters gave their orders to the assembled Apprentices. “Coruscant’s burning out there while the Yuuzhan Vong subpopulation is getting blamed and massacred in virtually every district, and we can’t do anything to stop it?!”

“There are only thirty of us in the Temple, Edaan. And we’re technically here illegally, mind you.” Ark G'lar, an Ongree male and fellow Apprentice, pointedly reminded his fellow Jedi.

“Young G’lar is right.” Kyle concurred. “If we go out there now, then we’ll only add fuel to the fires, no pun intended. But we’re not going to sit idly by and let the chaos spread any further.”

“Then how do you propose we help?” Aila Koth, another senior Apprentice, asked. “If we can’t go out there to help calm the crowds or aid the investigators, then…” Slowly, the answer dawned on the young Zabrak woman. “We’re going to be searching for the truth in here, aren’t we?”

“Exactly.” Kyle nodded. “This temple has some of the most advanced computers in the Galactic Alliance, kept up to date by our loyal staff of droids and a few sympathetic figures in the GA. And our systems can sneak programs inside virtually any computer network on the planet without any form detection that can relay information back to us here. For the moment, we’ll be able to do more good for the planet here than out in the field in learning the truth.”

1200 Hours

Galactic Alliance Navy Command Complex

Within the Chief of Naval Operations’ Office

“It’s pure pandemonium out there.” Wynn grimly summed up the desperate situation emerging to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Riots are breaking out across the planet, there’s a witch hunt out for the perpetrator and all Yuuzhan Vong refugees, and BAMR News and their sycophants are only fanning the flames of hatred and war.”

“Does anyone have anything to add to this meeting that we don’t already know?” The Galactic Alliance’s Chief of Army Operations, Judder Page, irritably asked no one in particular. “We need to figure out solutions for this madness, not complain or repeat the obvious to everyone here.”

After Stavin Thaal, the previous commander of the Army, was arrested for his participation in the Lecersen Conspiracy, the Army fell under the old commando’s jurisdiction. Admired by all for his incorruptibility and decades of experience but reviled by many for his unwavering faith and admiration in the Jedi Order, he had been working to purge the corruption and avarice from the Army’s ranks and restore the public’s faith in the Alliance’s military. Unfortunately, his bluntness and simmering anger at the galaxy’s spiraling descent into insanity left him increasingly short-tempered with everything that assaulted the institutions and people that he cherished so dearly.

“Which is why we need to put everything we can spare into quelling the riots and apprehending the masterminds behind this attack. If the Vong are behind the bombings, they need to be held in a court of law, not lynched to death by an incensed population.” The Chief of Starfighter Command, Pash Cracken, advised his longtime friend and fellow successor to another high-ranking member of the Lecersen Conspiracy.

Following his late father’s example since he and his entire flight defected from the Galactic Empire, Pash had steadily risen through the ranks of the Rebel Alliance and each of its successive governments, even working in Rogue Squadron in the New Republic’s early years. As a quiet supporter of the Jedi for years, he had them intelligence on potential Sith bolt holes when the Galactic Alliance’s Senate severed all ties with them, deeply contrasting with Judder’s vocal criticism of the politicians’ short-sighted spitefulness and paranoia hampering the military’s effectiveness in keeping the populace and Alliance safe and free.

“A practical start.” Nek Bwua’tu agreed with the former fighter pilot. As the Galactic Alliance’s Chief of Naval Operations and Supreme Commander of its Defense Force, he commanded all its fleets and soldiers, having steadily risen through the ranks of the Navy since the government’s inception.

As the Alliance’s highest-ranking Bothan that still worked with them after the Bothan Sector seceded from the Alliance as the Second Galactic Civil War began ten years ago, Nek was determined to uphold his unbreakable oath of Krevi and serve as a pillar of service and honor to his scheming people. “But I have my doubts onto the likely suspects, and not just because BAMR News is whipping the public into a frenzy on this latest surge of anti-Vong sentiment.”

“What do you mean?” Judder warily asked, not liking being fooled or manipulated by anyone.

“Think of it like this; We have kept a close eye on the Vong refugees scattered across the planet, and there is little evidence that suggests their complicity in the firebombs. Their religion specifically prohibits artificially made fires, and I doubt even citizens of this planet would abandon their beliefs so easily.” Nek pointed out, remembering the information long-deceased Jedi Knight Anakin Solo uncovered while rescuing Tahiri Veila from the Yuuzhan Vong’s inhumane captivity on the captured moon of Yavin Four.

“I think someone is trying to paint them as the scapegoat while increasing their influence and fulfilling an old vendetta.” The veteran Bothan gravely concluded.

Turning to Garik Loran, Director of the Galactic Alliance Intelligence, Wynn asked, “Do we have any leads that could verify Chief Bwua’tu’s suspicions?”

“It could be among dozens of suspect organizations or peoples.” Garik regretfully answered. “Most Bothans haven’t given up their oath of Ar'krai, and plenty of other worlds and groups out there would love to see them wiped off the face of the galaxy.”

“Then you need to put your people on searching for the truth while we work to quell this insanity.” Gavin Darklighter, an admiral in the Galactic Alliance Defense Force and the commander of the military’s elite marines, quickly but in. “I’ll deploy every available battalion of marines stationed here to help CSF and GAS suppress the riots.”

“Excellent. But we'll also need an armada’s worth of air support if we’re going to cut all civilian traffic down to the bone. The Sixth Fleet will be sufficient for our needs.” Wynn added, with the meeting quickly becoming more productive as each Chief took on a specific set of tasks, while Garik made a note to call an old friend and his team of misfits to investigate this, if they weren’t on the case already.

1300 Hours

Corusca System, On the Moon Hesperidium

Inside the Adegan Jewel Hotel

Just when one thinks things can’t get any crazier out there, another crisis erupts right in the heart of the galaxy.’ Voort lamented while playing the role of a porter by setting down three of his squadmates’ luggage in their hotel presidential suite. With luxurious accommodations, including nine holoterminals, two modest hot tub, six large freezers full of countless delicacies, and a dozen king-sized beds, this suite was worthy of the role Wraith Squadron was originally utilized in investigating a shipping baron believed to be smuggling a dozen convoys of construction materials to a series of shell companies believed to be run by a conglomerate of criminal organizations, and even had a few ties to rogue Sith warbands.

An ordinarily simple and routine job, it was a shame the team of misfits would have to split its forces to unofficially help Garik and the GA unravel the truth of the supposed Yuuzhan Vong terrorist attacks that wracked the capital world. And it was fortunate that Voort knew just which Wraiths would assist them in this endeavor. Five Wraiths in the field would be enough to see if the Joint Chiefs’ suspicions on outsider forces as the perpetrators, while Sharr Latt, an excellent strategist and master of psychological warfare, would remain behind and coordinate both team’s missions while Voort led the Coruscant operation.

Of course, it would help to call in a few favors and see if someone on the ground could dig up a bit of dirt on the accused to see if they were capable of such a dark and well-coordinated act. It was time to bring Pong Jettster back into the Wraith’s clique of informants, and it was fortunate that Voort and Sharr were already on good terms with the Besalisk restaurant owner and information broker from past exploits. Together, they had the best chance of uncovering the truth before Coruscant ripped itself apart.

0400 Hours, Relona 15th, 50 ABY

Coco District, Jettster’s Diner

“Well, young man, apparently you’ve created quite a fervor of activity and terror across the planet alongside your fellow refugees.” A hulking Besalisk, who looked as if he was ready to throttle Vua with all four of his arms at the slightest provocation, conversationally asked the bound Yuuzhan Vong. “Setting fire to half a district, evading law enforcement, and murdering about ten thousand civilians, you’ve had quite a busy few days before we rescued you from that mob.”

“If you wanted the pleasure of whatever bounty the authorities and their puppet masters have on me, you’d have done so already. If you want the pleasure of killing me yourselves, just get it over with. I’ve got nothing left to live for anymore, anyways.” Vua emptily muttered, not bothering to resist the execution he knew was coming his way. In a twisted way, he felt it was rather fitting he met his end this way after trying so hard to make a little extra money for his love and her dreams of one day leaving this world and its troubles behind.

After his own race abandoned him and murdered his parents, he was left for dead before a medical droid, a sentient being his culture abhorred as mechanical abominations, gave him refuge and nursed him back to health. That droid and other survivors of the fall of Coruscant could have abandoned him for dead, but their compassion, even in the face of certain annihilation saved his life and treated him as one of their own. They taught him vital survival lessons, exciting tidbits about their cultures to get him intrigued for more, and even managed to show him that mechanical and organic beings could coexist, even in a world like Coruscant when covered by metal and technology.

He even found his future wife in Iona, then a young girl that lost her parents during the Yuuzhan Vong’s invasion of the capital world. Their first few months together were full of animosity and fear, but slowly, they came to respect and depend on each other, even starting to fall in love with each other shortly before the world’s liberation by the Galactic Alliance. Finding a new home in the world and society that risked everything to take him in, Vua aided the Reconstruction Authority in reclaiming what they could of Coruscant’s original landscape, and eventually settled down with his love a few years after the war ended.

Such a life was not perfect and held more than its fair share of prejudice for the couple, but they persevered and were able to etch out a good living in the leading staff of a modest residential suite, along with Vua’s side passion for pit fights and raking in decent sums of credits for her dreams, before the fires and mad mobs obliterated that life.

“Why? ‘Cause you lost your wife before the fires started, or your fellow Vong refugees are being targeted by lynch mobs manipulated by the true masterminds of this attack while painting you as the ringleader of a false flag terrorist cell?” The Besalisk knowingly asked, pulling out a cutting knife and cutting the bonds that held Vua in place, confusing the young man.

“None of us here are interested in killing you, Mr. Gorsat. We brought you here to protect you from the lynch mobs scouring the planet for your head.” The leader assured the Yuuzhan Vong before offering him a friendly hand. “Name’s Pong Jettster, and I run an information network that has its eyes and ears across the planet and favors and contacts spread across half the galaxy.”

“That’s how we were able to figure out that the True Victory Party orchestrated the attacks to incite the populace in slaughtering you and every other Yuuzhan Vong refugee living on this world.”

“Why?!” Vua despairingly exclaimed. “We’ve been living in peace for decades, helping the planet rebuild from the war, and haven’t done anything deserving genocide. And their plan killed or ruined tens of thousands of innocent civilians in the process!”

“Blind hatred and irrational vendettas can drive anyone to commit atrocities in the name of their fanatical cause.” Pong sadly pointed out. “I have my people working to save those they can, but it’ll all be for naught unless the Galactic Alliance can get its kriffing act together and stand up to this mob mentality.”

“If you know the truth, why not just go up the Alliance’s chain of command until you find someone who cares?”

“I already have the perfect GA general in mind that can bring this directly to the Chief of State’s attention. We just need to keep you safe until this crisis comes to a head and sanity prevails.” Pong answered, doing well to keep the worry out of his voice. Hopefully, General Loran’s people were more reliable than the incompetent CSF leaders, and he would do his part in ending this planetwide pogrom.

Still, deciding to be honest with Vua, he added, “Just in case, I’m calling in a few old friends and associates to help bolster our defenses. With half the populace after you, it can’t hurt to bring in a dozen or so professionals.”

0600 Hours, Relona 16th, 50 ABY

On the Great Western Sea, Within the Starstruck Casino

“You found him?” The costumed human woman, dressed in a bulky and borderline cartoonish version of an Imperial grand admiral’s uniform, covered in blue face paint and hair coloring, and wearing red retinal coverings to hide her true eyes and allegiance, all but demanded of the Bothan.

Deciding against further enraging her Sith client, Kar’sk Fey’la quickly explained, “Apparently, a few fools decided he was better off resting in a well-respected restaurant deep in the Coco District, away from all the prying eyes until a bit of counterevidence comes along.”

Nodding, Dician, director of Sith Intelligence, continued, “The name of the establishment?”

“It’s called the Jettster’s Diner, and it’s owned by a pro-Jedi fool named-”

“I know exactly who the proprietor is, but your information is quite out of date.” Dician patiently interrupted. “Pong Jettster had not been in contact with the Jedi for the past six years, nor has he done business with any of their associates since the Galactic Alliance severed ties with the Order. He might be of use to our cause if we were to move carefully.”

“Then what do you suggest?” Kar’sk asked. “We can’t very well remove a possible friend in a populated area with such blatant methods, but we can’t risk him uncovering the truth on the Vong and his traitorous consort either.”

“Which is why we will force his hand and make him choose a side.” The Sith Lady calmly answered, further elaborating, “And if he does not bow to the will of the people, then an example will be made of him for others like him as a lasting reminder of the True Victory Party’s great reach and noble message of cleansing the galaxy of a terrible scourge your people should have eradicated decades ago, when you all last had the chance before the Jedi foolishly intervened.”

1000 Hours

Senate Building, Within Senator Yimmon’s Office

Fervently devouring the information provided to him by General Loran, Kajin found himself both amazed at the ex-Wraith’s efficiency and well-connected network of informants and allies and infuriated at the sick depravities the True Victory Party and their many unseen backers would go to in destroying the already defeated and reviled Yuuzhan Vong refugees scattered across the galaxy.

Having been contacted by both the General and Chief of State, Kajin asked both human leaders, “How do we play this? We might be able to dismantle the anti-Vong’s terror army and stop the riots, but then we risk letting the masterminds slip away in the chaos to concoct new plots.”

“We’re going to be smart in our counterattack.” Wynn knowingly answered. “General Loran will coordinate with Grand Master Katarn and his people in their Temple to pinpoint the ringleaders’ positions before our best teams of marines and commandos will work to capture them.”

“Won’t reactivating the Temple’s computer networks risk their discovery by virtually anyone watching the energy grids?” Kajin cautioned. “If the anti-Jedi coalition realizes that the Jedi are breaking the law, no matter how absurd it is, it’ll send them on the warpath against the Order and put all those in their old home at terrible risk.”

“We can mask the signature easily enough, Kajin, just as we’ve done every other time the Jedi have returned to their stronghold.” Garik pointed out. “But speaking of risks, you and your bodyguards will escort the wrongly-accused Mr. Gorsat and his friends into protective custody. We can’t have any of them being ripped apart by the mobs the True Victory Party whipped up, and we need someone we trust implicitly to save our citizens, but quietly, before anyone else is the wiser.”

“I’ll be sending a few trusted assets over to the Coco District to help with the transfer and add another layer of protection to you and the others. They’re rather unconventional, but I’m sure you’ll be rather surprised to see who I have on my employ.”

“That isn’t exactly reassuring.” Kajin lamented before rising from his seat, “I’ll be on my way before the hour ends. Wish me luck.”

“You’ll probably need every edge you can get over the next few hours.” Garik agreed.

1200 Hours

Jedi Temple, Main Auxiliary Hangar

“Whom exactly did you call in getting us all a ride to your old friend’s place, Edaan?” Allana cautiously asked her longtime friend as the three present Apprentices, tasked with guarding the area, finished opening the hangar doors for the Temple’s backup hangar and a shuttle resembling a Skipray blastboat began flying through.

Flashing her a co*cky grin, one almost worthy of a Solo, Edaan promised the Chume’da, “A few old friends that I’ve made in the last couple years, thanks to my connections and meticulous research.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t offer any answers to our questions, Edaan.” Bhixen impatiently reminded his friend as the shuttle landed.

Once the Skipray’s boarding doors opened, and its crew of two debarked, both non-Palpatine Jedi were surprised to see just who they were welcoming into their home. Seeing a Wookiee and Gamorrean, the latter thinner and having a more intelligent gaze than most of his kind, await the three teenagers, Allana was astonished when the Gamorrean wearily smiled and spoke in clear, if digitized Basic, “I was expecting Grand Master Katarn and Master Ramis to greet us, not their latest and craziest apprentices in the Palpatine heir and the Hapes Consortium’s own Chume’da, Allana Solo.”

“What am I, roasted Nerf meat?” Bhixen ruefully muttered, though both Allana and Edaan knew he was only joking around.

“He’ll be coming along in his own ship soon enough, Piggy, but he’s held up in a meeting with your leader and Pong.” Edaan warmly chuckled. “We figured we’d see if we could help you out at Mr. Jettster’s old diner. The three of us already got the okay to ask for your help.”

Hearing the Wookiee woman bark out a question, Edaan eagerly and intently answered, “Yeah, I knew the owner back from when I lived around the area. He’s a good and old friend of mine and my family.”

Listening intently to the conversation, remembering her talks with Master Sarkin-Tainer and her son, and recalling her family’s reports from their classified information network, Allana almost fainted from the shock, and pointed at the man Edaan called Piggy before shakily saying, “You’re Voort saBinring. The leader of Wraith Squadron after it was reformed.”

Growling out the obvious accusation, Allana, seeing four sets of curious and incredulous eyes aimed at her, quickly realized her blunder and improvised to the Wookiee, “Sorry. I know it’s classified and all, but my master and I followed a few rumors on a bunch of key renegades dying under mysterious circ*mstances, and we eventually figured out the truth. We kept it quiet to avoid compromising you.”

“We can talk more about your supposed investigation later, young Solo.” Voort warningly promised. “But right now, we have more important places to be before our well-entrenched enemies decide to attack our shared friend. We already have a senator and his team coming to investigate, so we might as well take along a few secret aces in case there’s more to these assailants than simple terrorism. Come on.”

Ignoring Huhunna’s well-intentioned but futile protests, Voort gestured to the two teens and one adult to follow him, and they quickly entered and strapped themselves in before the ship flew out of the hangar and resumed its trek, arriving just before the barrage of police and Galactic Alliance Security vessels showed up to investigate the breaching of the supposedly sealed off Jedi Temple.

Knowing the Jedi did not divulge every hidden passageway to the government now proved to be a wise call, since the Indigo Talon could emerge several kilometers away and have no implications with this scandal. Of course, Edaan and Allana would likely get an earful and stern punishment from each of their masters for bending and twisting the truth after they returned to Shedu Maad, but time was of the essence, and he longed to see his old friend and offer him his aid, political consequences and idiocy be damned.

Somehow, he had a hunch even a proud and headstrong man like Pong would need plenty of assistance for the fight ahead. He just hoped the stubborn Besalisk would accept such an offer before he lost everything again.

1500 Hours

Coco District, Jettster’s Diner

“You’re twenty minutes late, Piggy.” Pong grumpily told Voort as the Gamorrean walked into the establishment. “For your sake, I hope these ‘acquaintances’ of yours are as capable and reliable as you claim they are, not that it matters right now. We may not have much time before the fighting starts to spill over into this neck of the woods, and I don’t think we can all fly out without getting spotted and shot down.”

“Then we’re fortunate I got us some extra help, since they’ll help us hold out until relief arrives.” Voort promised before observing the defenses the Wraiths helped Pong’s staff devise. Having seen dozens of miniature trip mines and security cameras layered around the restaurant, along with about eighteen modern security droids built behind street barricades to aid the defenders, the outer layer of protection was ready to be put to good use.

The inside of the restaurant was another story. Having been expanded after its decades-long closure by Sidious’s Galactic Empire to triple its size and width, the Jettster’s Diner was a spacious place with dozens of tables and booths, with every inch of space being put to good use. With grease traps, flammable oils ready to combust in any controlled direction if detonated, a state-of-the-art alarm system to contact every CSF Prefect in a hundred-kilometer radius, and Pong’s permanent staff of three dozen employees, ten present bodyguards and bouncers, and twenty serving droids ready to defend their guest and second home, even a well-armed group of gangs would find themselves hard-pressed to conquer this building.

“Well, don’t just stand there admiring our work, boss. Let’s see the supposed help your brought.” Trey Courser, the Wraiths’ explosives expert, snappishly said.

“We’re already here, Trey.” A familiar teenage boy’s voice filtered through, surprising the three present Wraiths and Pong with just who was behind Voort.

The smiling Gamorrean, standing aside to let everyone see just who was coming to their aid, surprised everyone with two young humans and a towering Togorian young adult. The male human teen started the conversation, gratefully telling Pong, “It’s been a long time, but it’s so good to see you again, Mr. Jettster.” Glancing at the other three Wraiths, he added, “And of course, I’m glad to see you all as well, Trey, Jesmin, and Drikall.”

“Who are…” Pong trailed off, his well-honed mind remembering the shy eight-year-old boy whose family was once a frequent clique of customers before their terrible deaths, and disbelievingly whispered, “Edaan?! Edaan Palpatine?!”

“Told you he knew the proprietor.” Allana smugly gloated to Huhunna, who only grumbled in response.

“What are…? What in the blazes are you doing here?!” Pong incredulously shouted. “Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for you on this world right now?! Does your master even know where you are?”

“They all do because we’ve been on Coruscant since before this situation began, so we all got the same news report you did. We left Grand Master Katarn and the rest of our friends a message back at our old Temple before we left. He’ll probably be right behind us once Chief of State Dorvan clears him passage through the military traffic, but we had to go ahead and help you if we could.” The red-haired human girl explained, with Pong mentally berated himself for not recognizing Hapan heiress Allana Solo right away.

Seething, not because he was working alongside Jedi again, for he would take virtually anyone’s help right now, and would not blame children for the mistakes of their elders, but because Voort would agree to expose them to such carnage, he was prepared to rip the Wraiths a new one before hearing a grizzled voice caution, “Don’t, Pong. We need all the help we can get right now, and the Jedi are among the best fighters and greatest of souls out there. If we survive past the night and end this madness, then we can argue about the ethics of bringing the young into this fight all we want.”

Sighing, Pong turned to see Kajin emerge from the basem*nt, and scolded the Cerean, “You’re supposed to be finishing configuring the defenses and guarding our guest, Yimmon. But if you want to advocate for these young ones, then you’re in charge of them.”

Looking right at the three Jedi Apprentices, Pong gruffly ordered, “You want to help? Then help the good senator and his guards set up the last of our traps for the True Victory Party and their mobs of pawns they’ll send after us soon enough.”

“We’ll do whatever we can to stop this insanity.” The Togorian Jedi patiently promised. “Just tell us what needs to be done.”

“Good.” Pong’s gaze, softening at Edaan, promised the young man, “We’ll talk later, Edaan. I believe we have a lot to catch up on after everything settles down.”

“Yes.” Edaan completely agreed, hope blossoming in his heart that he could convince his old friend to help the Jedi again, and assist him in his own personal mission when the time came. “I believe we will indeed.”

2350 Hours

Coco District, Jettster’s Diner

“Comm traffic indicates we’ve got a horde coming our way, at least six hundred strong. Looks like they’re all on the warpath looking for Mr. Gorsat.” One of Pong’s Gotal employees warned his boss and allies while wearily rubbing his head’s sensory cones from the strain of processing all the information his cybernetic implants helped him manage, while everyone could hear the faint cry of airspeeders flying closer towards the neighborhood.

“So much for your ‘impregnable lockdown’.” Pong witheringly told the Cerean Senator. “Get your marines down here on the double, before we’re all held hostage or torn apart.”

“I’ve already sent out the call, and it was finished just seconds before a communications blackout was cast over the area, one with CSF authorization codes.” Kajin grimly answered. “Looks like the True Victory Party has a lot more reach inside the Alliance than we all thought.”

“What about me and my friends?” Edaan quickly questioned the grown-ups, with him and his two fellow Jedi having already armed themselves with two blaster pistols, courtesy of the Wraiths to hide their true identities from the public. “Where do you need us?”

“Stay in the restaurant for now with your friends and help guard our guest. We don’t want any assassins sniping or cutting him open under our care, do we?” Kajin ordered, synching his comlink’s signal with Edaan’s. “If we need you on the front lines, we’ll contact you right away.”

“Are you just saying that to protect us and Vua from the bloodthirsty mob, or so you can try and keep us here a secret from your peers?” Allana suspiciously deduced.

“Both.” Voort answered. “And if you want to live past this day and any of us to help your little boyfriend with his big redemption quest, then you’ll do as we say.” The last sentence caused Edaan and Allana’s faces to turn nearly as red as blood, and they fervently denied the claims of dating before they skulked back towards the restaurant’s interior.

Having quietly observed Edaan’s heartfelt conversation with Pong two hours ago by hacking into the restaurant’s security cameras, Kajin and Voort were astonished at the young Palpatine’s lofty goal of redeeming a Sith Lady as notorious and infamous as Vestara Khai, and the secret support he had from many high-ranking Jedi, both living and dead. Such a mission bordered on the suicidal, but both Senator and commando leader knew how such a mission could be accomplished with the right people and resources.

Both leaders then made a silent pact to help Edaan in any way they could, and Pong offered to help the Jedi Order in any capacity, not willing to let his friend risk damnation and death without living up to the father’s legacy of his long-dead father when he helped the Jedi Order of his time. Of course, he would charge them his most premium fees to protect his reputation, expand his reach, and ensure his front was well-funded, but such finer details could be negotiated between him and the Council.

While all three people had terrible misgivings about Vestara’s willingness to be saved, neither could question Edaan’s courage in risking it all for a friend, his noble intentions, or the value his covert plan held in tracking down the two Sith orders and their flunkies still wreaking havoc across the galaxy.

But first, everyone had to survive past the next few hours, and it all depended on how well-prepared the makeshift alliance was ready to go up against the True Victory Party and their army of willing dupes, and how everyone could perform well in the crucible of a battle when stacked against such overwhelming odds and with a patchwork group.

Back in the Present

0115 Hours, Relona 17th, 50 ABY

Coco District, Near the Jettster’s Diner

As Edaan felt fatigue quickly set in for him and Allana, he feared the end had come for the two longtime friends, making him regret not trying to talk his master to come with him right away, political consequences or anything else be damned.

After Pong and Kajin tried in vain to talk down the mob, with hatreds flaring too strongly to be dispelled by reason and restraint, the True Victory Party ordered their dupes into a full-frontal attack to slaughter anyone who still stood against them.

Quickly being pushed back into the restaurant after a brief standoff, the ensemble unleashed their hidden defenses, burning or blasting apart over a hundred fools before the rest smartened up and began a siege after the first half hour concluded. Knowing they needed to try something drastic to buy the team more time, Edaan and Allana, against everyone’s orders, made their presence known and worked to draw as many of the assailants as they could, getting almost a hundred mobsters after them. Bhixen would have gone with them, but Pong and Voort’s people needed a Jedi to assist them in the defense of the remaining eight hundred enemies.

Playing a game of Felinx-and-Rodus with the rioters, picking them off a few at a time for the next forty minutes, the two Jedi Apprentices managed to thin their numbers by half before being exposed by a Myneyrsh woman encased in Mandalorian armor and her personal squad of executioners. The four-armed and blue-skinned alien and her enforcers nearly managed to kill the two friends several times before meeting her end by Allana’s crack shooting, with some adjustments from Edaan when she made the final blow that removed her head off her shoulders.

But even in death, the Mandalorian might have gotten the last laugh. Having been cut off from Bhixen and the rest of the restaurant’s defenders and surrounded by nearly fifty well-armed assailants and mobsters nearly half a block away, the duo knew time had just about run out. With the crowd eager to kill the two weary Jedi teens and go after their true prey, it looked as if the end had come for them both.

If help did not arrive right away, then they would pay the price for Edaan’s haste and desperation, and they would lose their lives in a brutal fashion.

“Allana, I’m sorry I got you into this mess!” Edaan humbly apologized, ready to face the end and take as many enemies with him as possible while begging the Celestials that Allana would be spared his fate.

“Don’t be.” Allana smirked, flashing her family’s classic and confident grin. “Our deliverance is here.”

Confused before sensing two familiar presences reach out to Edaan, he realized just what Allana meant, and felt Kyle and Octa’s strength flow into each of their exhausted apprentices. Reinvigorated, they started beating their way through the enemy mob towards their friends at the rebuilt diner.

With a few Force-enhanced shoves to knock most of the mob off their feet, a couple amputations on the mob leaders for later interrogation by the authorities and putting the rest of the crowd into a trance to keep them docile until they could be incarcerated, they swiftly made their way back to the restaurant, just as the rest of the Jedi and their allies in a battalion of Galactic Alliance Void Jumper marines started landing in full force to secure the area.

Seeing Kyle and the rest of the Jedi’s relief at the two friends’ safety and sensing Pong and the Wraiths being alive and well, they both knew that once the two teens and Bhixen were back at Shedu Maad, they would get a heavy punishment for their reckless disobedience. But before that time came, they had to help round up the remaining rioters and their instigators before they could slink away into the shadows.

0800 Hours

On the Great Western Sea, Within the Starstruck Casino

Seeing the hours-old holonet reports of the riots subsiding and the True Victory Party being ordered to be dismantling across the galaxy, Dician seethed at this scheme of hers being marred by imperfection by the Jedi and their cohorts, even as she worked to analyze the cost-benefit analysis of her strategy.

While this operation might not have toppled the Galactic Alliance as Dician and Lord Krayt might have hoped, it certainly did much to cripple its credibility and competence across the galaxy for letting the would-be imitators of the long-defunct Diversity Alliance stage such a series of attacks in the government’s center of power. And with the Jedi’s secret missions to this world now exposed, it would be even harder for them to regain the trust of the largest galactic government and its idiotic body of senators.

Were it not for the three Jedi learners holding off the mob and their handlers until a relief army arrived, the situation would have turned out very differently with a decisive Sith victory and a chance to seed more agents with the Alliance and further undermine the already-poor relations between both factions.

Obviously, she and Lord Krayt’s spies in the Jedi Order would have to keep a close eye on their Apprentices going forward, if only to decide if any of their members would be worthy candidates for recruitment, or who would need to be eliminated before they could do any further damage to the Grand Design. Edaan Palpatine, especially, would need to be observed quite closely and with great interest.

1200 Hours, Relona 19th, 50 ABY

Senate Building, Within the Chief of State’s Office

“Well, you’ve certainly kept busy with training your latest student, Grand Master Katarn.” Wynn wearily admitted to the hologram sitting before him. “Of course, I would expect little else from a Force Sensitive Palpatine with Edaan’s abilities, potential, and growing list of connections and favors. He’s already the talk of half the galaxy with his debut into the holonet, and most of the holonews stations are begging for an interview with him.”

“He’s quite a special basket case, that’s a tremendous understatement.” Kyle simply concurred. “But if it wasn’t for him and his quick thinking, the situation could have turned out a lot worse for Senator Yimmon and your Intelligence assets. We probably would never have figured out that the True Victory Party was behind the bombings until they were long gone. You should be able to sweep this little incident with the Order under the rug now that you and your supporters in the Senate can do a fair bit of housecleaning in your anti-corruption efforts.”

“That still doesn’t give us a definitive answer on who their supposed benefactor was.” Wynn pointed out, remembering Voort and Kajin’s reports on five of Kar’sk’s subordinates ranting while the GAS took them all into custody. “If the Sith were involved as we suspect, then we won’t have much success in convincing the Senate to act.”

Kyle, appearing contemplative, before an idea slowly dawned on him and he proposed, “Then we’ll just have to repair the Order’s reputation across the galaxy the long and hard way. If we can’t convince the Senate to act, then we’ll bypass them and appeal directly to each sector’s leadership and populace to work as full-fledged equals in this war.”

“Are you sure that’s a wise strategy?” Wynn cautiously asked. “Under normal circ*mstances, I would not oppose such a proposal, but both yours and GA Intelligence’s last reports said that your order was still stretched near the breaking point by putting out all the brush fires erupting across the galaxy while hunting for two Sith factions.”

“Then we’ll just have to bolster our ranks with a few dozen promising Apprentices.” Kyle simply answered. “I think several of them are ready to take on a bit more responsibility and help to remind the galaxy that the Jedi aren’t the careless and power-hungry monsters that most people now believe we are.”

“Besides, desperate times call for desperate measures, and I’d say this situation more than qualifies as the former.” The Grand Master quippingly added, earning a weary and amused sigh from the Chief of State.

1800 Hours, Relona 24th, 50 ABY

Shedu Maad, Jedi Temple

Within the Council Chambers

“So, what are we to do with the three of you?” Kyle ominously asked Edaan, Allana, and Bhixen, with Octa Ramis and Jaina Solo Fel, both the respective masters of Allana and Bhixen, attending in person for this impromptu hearing. “You broke all your standing orders, exposed our training missions to BAMR News and its sister networks, almost destroyed what little credibility we have left with the Alliance, and nearly got yourselves killed in a horrific firefight before the rest of us and the Joint Chiefs were able to salvage the situation, save your lives, and crush the True Victory Party’s presence on Coruscant.”

“We know.” Allana solemnly acknowledged before ardently continuing, “And while each of us regret all the trouble we caused everyone, just know that I would do it again in a heartbeat if it meant doing the right thing and use our training to help those in need. And so would Edaan and Bhixen.”

“We take full responsibility for our actions and will accept any disciplinary measures you decide to implement on us.” Edaan promised, only hoping he would not get his friends expelled for getting them involved in a personal struggle.

Bhixen, hoping to ease pressure off his two friends, anxiously adding, “And at least, thanks to Edaan and Allana’s hunch and their great friends, we now have a couple new and well-placed allies and contacts on Coruscant who will keep us informed on the world, much of the galactic underworld, and the Senate’s legislations and shifts in power. Not that it helps mitigate our punishments, mind you.”

“Then you must have some idea what we’re going to do, right?” Octa warned, before admitting, “We’re going to put you and all the rest of our top Apprentices on the front lines more often from here on out.”

“I beg your pardon?” Edaan incredulously asked, turning to his master for clarification.

“By trusting your instincts and acting on your training, you were able to help stop Coruscant from tearing itself apart, assist in dismantling a powerful organization bent on wiping out an entire species and give us a few well-placed contacts on the world that will be invaluable to us in keeping a step ahead of all our enemies.” Kyle commended the three younger Jedi. “We can’t afford to keep you all cooped up in here any longer, not with the Sith still on the loose across the galaxy, and a million other problems cropping up across every sector.”

“So… you’re going to punish us, by giving us more responsibility and missions?” Edaan simply asked, hiding his eagerness and rapid heartbeat behind a calm mask. If he was out there more in the galaxy, then it would allow him better access to find kindred spirits, build up his resources and extend his reach, and increase his odds of finding Vestara and fulfilling the promise they made each other all those years ago.

“Remember, you wanted to see the galaxy and make your family proud. Consider this your chance to do both.” Kyle knowingly reminded his pupil. “Get some rest, you three. We’ll have your first batch of assignments out for you all when the Council makes its official announcement in four days.”

0100 Hours, Relona 25th, 50 ABY

Within Edaan Palpatine’s Quarters

“You certainly had an eventful excursion on Coruscant with your fellow Apprentices, Edaan.” Revan chuckled at hearing his living pupil’s story from his own lips. “Getting the help of a well-connected and respected information broker, an incorruptible Galactic Alliance senator, a team of off-the-books commandos, and perhaps a good street fighter with an inherent advantage against Force Users for your personal mission when the time comes, while helping to stop a genocidal crusade against an extragalactic species and making your grand debut onto the galactic scene.”

“That’s only if Vua agrees to aid me when the time comes.” Edaan clarified. “No way in Chaos was I going to ask him to help right now after he lost his wife and home. I’m not that tactless and heartless.”

“True.” Looking at Jacen, Revan continued, “Anyway, I’m sure it’s a bit similar to your adventures back at your uncle’s Praxeum, especially against the triad of threats you helped dismantle before the Yuuzhan Vong invaded.”

“Yeah, but they didn’t end in me making a few key allies and friends while starting to build a team for an eventual quest of redemption for a Sith.” Jacen, fallen Jedi Knight, student of dozens of Force Sects, and infamous Sith lord Darth Ceadus before his death, reminded the one time Revanchist Jedi and Sith Lord. “It seems like what you and Meetra did back when it was your team against each of your Sith threats.”

Kreia, the first teacher of Revan and an early Gray Jedi before falling to the Dark Side during the Jedi Civil War, eventually becoming Darth Traya and leader of the short-lived Sith Triumvirate, ignored the bickering banter and observed in Edaan, “I sense a great and old weight has lifted from your shoulders, but another one has begun to set in. You are beginning to truly comprehend the responsibilities that come with being a Jedi, and with the goal you have set for yourself, the burdens you will carry and the difficult balance you need to maintain within and without.”

“Yes, Kreia.” Edaan acknowledged. “I may have gotten the help of a few key leaders and commandos, but that’s only the beginning of my work. To fight the Lost Tribe and secret Sith Order, I’ll need to gather more people and power, far more, without using the methods and evils of my ancestor and the Sith that Darth Bane’s order used. Which means I’ll need many more good people and teammates to keep me honest and on the correct path.”

“You will need more than friends and resources, young Palpatine.” Tau Koda; the Jed’aii Ranger who was once a prominent Rakata force hound, before he was brought into the Balance, the pivot between the light and dark sides of the force, by his eventual wife, Shae Koda, and proved crucial in ending the first of the three Force Wars in the Infinite Empire’s failed invasion of the Tython System, “You will need to further your studies and training, which means testing yourself further in whatever missions the Council will have planned for you and the rest of your fellow Apprentices.”

“But you must be wary of such power, Edaan.” Qui-Gon Jinn, servant of the Living Force, master of three Jedi Padawans, the last student being legendary Jedi Master Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, cautioned the determined Jedi teenager. “With such influence will come terrible temptations that will test all of your character, which is what many in the galaxy fear of the Jedi right now.”

“When the time comes, you must be prepared to prove all the doubters wrong by relinquishing all your accumulated power the moment your mission is done or near completion. Remember, Jedi are meant to be servants of the Force, and not tied down to the physical world any more than needed.”

“All I want is to save Vestara from herself and honor my loved ones’ will. I don’t care about grabbing power or becoming a Sith Lord and galactic tyrant like Sidious.” Edaan reminded his deceased mentors.

“We all know that, but it will not stop others from believing the worst about you, or with you being presented the temptation of retaining such power hovering in front of your fingertips for so long.” Meetra Surik, also known as the Jedi Exile, proved instrumental in ending both the Mandalorian Wars and the Dark Wars in decisive and costly Jedi-Old Republic victories. “Just be sure to tread carefully, Edaan, for before your mission can begin, you have a long way to learn, mature, and train until you’re ready to go off on your own.”

“I will wait as long as it takes, and I’ll be careful every step of the way.” Edaan vowed. “I might not be megalomaniacal like my great-great-grandfather, but I know a thing or two about patience and cunning from learning about his schemes.” No matter how long it took, he knew he would risk life and soul in to save the woman that gave him hope in his darkest hour, but he would take every precaution necessary to avoid endangering those that would follow him.

This was his burden to carry, and his alone. Although he needed help, he would not endanger the well-being of others any more than necessary, lest he risked becoming exactly that which he fought against.

Knowing and feeling how weary his mind was from its lack of sleep and the adrenaline drained out of him from the last eight days, Edaan knew he needed a nice, long rest before enjoying a Hutt’s worth of a meal to regain his strength. He would need plenty of both before he began to help knit the galaxy back together from virtually scratch.

0800 Hours, Relona 28th, 50 ABY

Coruscant, Coco District

In the Alido Diner

Ensuring his holodisguise was perfectly attached to him, allowing him to pass for a human in his mid-thirties with white hair and fair skin, Vua prepared himself for the morning rush at his new job. Being referenced by Pong to work as a receptionist at a friend’s dojo, until he could get back on his feet and be trusted enough by the rest of the field agents to work alongside them in the broker’s network of informants, it was a break he needed after the senseless hate that took his everything away from him in his old life. As a bonus, he would be given a few good lessons in the martial arts form Teräs Käsi and several melee weapons to supplement his rudimentary knowledge of many other styles he picked up over the years.

After a few months or a year of learning the tricks of Pong’s trade while raking in a small but stable sum of credits, he would be utilized for his skills as a brawler in many of the underworld’s most prestigious pit fighting circuits, a perfect way for the Galactic Alliance, Jedi Order, and Pong to keep an eye on society’s more troublesome elements while raking in even more credits for himself and patron.

But eventually, he would reach out to a certain human Jedi that helped save his life and assist him in his personal journey of saving the woman that inspired him to such greatness in the first place. He didn’t know how long it would take, how many years until the call came, but he would wait as long as he needed to before Edaan needed his team for this quest. If being a Yuuzhan Vong refugee in Coruscant's hostile environment taught him one thing, it was the art of patience.

Chapter 2: Character Interlude #2: Kix (Ct-6116)

Chapter Text

2300 Hours, Kelona 31st, 55 ABY

Deep In the Outer Rim’s Fringes, On the Planet Ponemah Terminal

Deep Within the Sea of Sand

Aboard the Munificent-class star Banking Clan frigate Obrexta III

Near its Hangar Bay

“Well, you two certainly know how to show a good friend a fun time in a simple treasure hunt!” Edaan blithely shouted to Robonino and Sidon while deflecting dozens of blaster bolts and lightning storms from the pursuing Sith, sending the attacks back to the assailants and scoring a few glancing blows on two and scorching another three before hurrying to keep up with his only way off this doomed Confederacy warship.

While he wished he could verbally lash out at his two friends, he had to keep moving if he wanted to stay ahead of any of the unlikely team’s enemies and avoid dooming everyone aboard the fallen vessel. At the rate the Sith were cutting their way through the secessionist movement’s last followers, Vestara and her followers would have them slaughtered or worse by the hour’s end.

Sith Lords and their last horde of bought pirates on one side, all trying to get our comatose friend and our new gift, a cruiser’s worth of Separatist Battle Droids trying to protect us, and a bunch of giant sand worms that might want to tear this ship apart soon, I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one.’ Edaan fearfully lamented, thinking back on how the two mercenaries roped him into this mad treasure hunt of theirs back in the first place.

Three Weeks Earlier

1200 Hours, Kelona 17th, 55 SBY

Arkanis Sector, Tatooine

Mos Eisley, Inside the Chalmun's Spaceport Cantina

“Ah, Edaan! My longtime friend!” Robonino welcomed the Jedi Apprentice to the roughneck establishment before bidding him onwards. “So glad to see you here after I gave you the message. Come, come. I have another old buddy that wishes to discuss a potentially lucrative opportunity for your organization and growing friends.”

“And you vouch for his credibility?” Edaan carefully asked, evading a few glares and light brawls from several drunk patrons. “I don’t think either of us want a repeat of Eshan anytime soon.”

“I promise you, it’s all on the up and up. I’ve known this guy for years, and he’s totally reliable and trustworthy.” Robonino indignantly countered. “His credentials speak for themselves, and he’s very sympathetic to your cause. Your group, not your personal mission. I know how secretive you are about that particular goal.”

“Well, which of these reputable souls is your contact?” Edaan discretely scanned the crowd.

“The gentlemen who’s staring right at you, third table from the left.” Robonino quietly pointed out, allowing Edaan to see who the Patrolian bounty hunter was pointing at. Seeing a red-armored being wearing a blood red-Kaleesh mask, the human Jedi immediately recognized the man who his friend was referring to.

Standing a few dozen feet from Sidon Ithano, Delphidian privateer and humanitarian smuggler with decades of strong ties to many liberty-based groups going back as far as the Rebel Alliance, Edaan suddenly found himself going speechless and weak-kneed at being in the same room as such a legendary figure.

And sitting next to Sidon were five of his top officers of his private army, the five he reputedly trusted the most: His first mate, a Gabdorin named Quiggold with decades of experience as a pirate and privateer; Pendewqell, an Ishi Tib who specialize in all manner of personal weapons; an Arcona named Reeg Brosna, who served as the team’s coordinator and long-range scout; Reveth, a Rutian Twi'lek who worked under Sidon as his personal mechanic and engineer; and Gorr, a Gamorrean who went by the nickname of “Squeaky”, the team’s muscle and primary enforcer.

Eyeing the young Palpatine Jedi behind his mask, Sidon waved him forward, with Robonino gently prodding him on until they were both able to take a seat with the privateer and his top officers, each keenly interested in the young man awkwardly sitting before them.

“Are you going to say something, young Palpatine or has the felinx got your tongue?” Sidon good-naturedly started the conversation.

Clearing his throat, Edaan stammered out, “Of-of course. I was told you had an offer for me and my associates?”

“To the point. Good, we can get right down to business.” Sidon nodded, before inquiring. “What do you know of the fabled ‘Lost Treasure of Count Dooku?’”

Four Days Later

1300 Hours, Kelona 21st, 55 ABY

Korriban, Sith Catacombs

Darth Krayt’s Citadel

“You sent for me, Lord Wyyrlok?” Darth Kiati, the woman who once called herself Vestara Khai, reverently knelt before the Chagrian Sith Regent. “Do you have a new mission for me and my followers?”

“Rise, Kitai.” The Voice of the Sith commanded. “Our spy network has uncovered a curious find deep in the Western Reaches, one that I believe warrants our direct intervention before it can fall into unworthy hands. Tell me, have you ever heard of the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku?”

“Only by the more superstitious or greedy among those I’ve utilized, saying he kept a portion of his Sith artifacts or Confederacy prototypes hidden away, each telling of the tale more grandiose than the next.” Kitai recalled. “But even they barely believed it was real. Just a way to earn money from willing dupes or lead enemies on a wild mynock chase. Have we uncovered evidence that suggests otherwise?”

“Yes. Several rival pirate gangs and privateers are preparing to descend on the remote world of Ponemah Terminal to try and claim this prize. We believe it is an old and long-abandoned Confederacy outpost or redoubt that holds a large portion of the late Darth Tyranus’s wealth and resources, assets and potential weapons that can greatly aid our Dread Lord and the Grand Design.”

“What do you wish for me to do?” Kitai probed. “Do you feel this treasure needs our direct hand in acquiring it?”

“Precisely, because one of our agents reported that the Jedi have already intervened in this matter.” Wyyrlok handed Kitai a data crystal. Plugging the crystal into her mobile datapad, she was annoyed to find the familiar image of Edaan Palpatine meeting with infamous privateer, Sidon Ithano, and his top subordinates. “If the brat of a Jedi Apprentice is involving himself, then it would be best to deal with him away from countless prying eyes while we have the opportunity.”

“Shall I capture him? Bring him to one of our… special facilities for powerful foes like him?” Kitai inquired.

“Yes, provided you and your followers are able to secure both him and the prize.” Wyyrlok confirmed with a sharp nod. “You’d best assemble a team and set out by the end of today. I’ve heard the crew of the Meson Martinet already set out three days ago, and they are not the only ones that are aware of the prize.”

“I understand.” Kitai loyally consented, already figuring out a few ways to slow them down enough for her war band to catch up. She only hoped the pirates she would hire were competent enough to get the job done and stay alive to report back to her.

Preparing to leave, Wyyrlok interrupted, “I would exercise prudence in this matter, Kitai. If the cargo is of any significant value, then a healthy portion of the bounty will go toward your mission. And if Jedi Palpatine is made ours, then I will triple that reward.”

Heart stopping for a moment, she nodded, “Thank you, for your generosity, Lord Wyyrlok.” All the Chagrian, her primary rival in the One Sith, did was give her another reason to succeed. With the resources and influence she had accumulated from her eleven years serving the One Sith, she was well on her way to assuming complete control over the floundering Lost Tribe of the Sith and her homeworld of Kesh. Provided this operation went off without any complications, she would likely nearly have enough to complete her goal.

Eight Days Later

0800 Hours, Kelona 29th, 55 ABY

Western Reaches, Ponemah Terminal

On the Northern-Southern Hemisphere Border, In the Town of Ratoweel

Quietly thanking the merchant while handing her the two hundred credits, Edaan waited until the Kiffar elder left before he made his way back to Ratoweel’s oldest cantina, ignoring the dust and winds buffeting through the area from the nearby border to the planet’s hazardous southern hemisphere.

Knowing he was about to enter Ponemah Terminal’s most dangerous region, the Sea of Sand, with its many ion storms and gigantic sand worms, he wondered if his sanity was fraying from all the pressure was under for the last ten years. Hunting an old CIS distress signal for a rumored fortune of infamous Sith Lord Darth Tyranus was not a way Edaan figured he’d spend his shore leave alongside Robonino and Sidon’s crew.

But if even a fraction of his wealth and resources was waiting to be uncovered as the myth claimed, then it was imperative that it didn’t fall into the wrong hands. And there was two other reasons Edaan had journeyed all the way to the borders of known space, motives that only a select few were aware of.

Through glimpses the Force granted him, the wise words of his dead teachers, and Sidon’s own contacts, he was certain that Vestara Khai and many of her fellow Sith were also after the treasure, and that he would find a new ally on this desolate world. If this was the chance he was waiting for, then he needed to seize the opportunity and try to save Vestara from the sea of darkness she was drowning in. Whoever this friend was, hopefully they would be a hardy bunch if they chose such a remote world to call home.

But if the Sith were on the way, led by one as cunning and lethal as Vestara was, then only a fool or well-trained professional would go up against a war band of the dark marauders on their own, especially if they were smart enough to bolster their numbers by enticing many rival gangs with additional wealth. And Edaan was neither dumb or experienced enough to face Vestara on her own, which was why he contacted Grand Master Katarn and Master Luke Skywalker to warn them of the escalating situation the moment he had his first vision. Hopefully, they would be able to arrive in time to turn the tide, should the need arise.

And speaking of preparations, Sidon should have bought the final pieces of equipment for his personal vessel to navigate the hazardous conditions of the planet’s lower half. If the unlikely team hoped to survive the sandstorms, lightning storms, lava geysers, subterranean giant worms, and spontaneous bursts of lava, they would need the most advanced sensors and filters they could buy. Fortunately, Master Skywalker granted Edaan a healthy credit account to help fund the expedition, and he intended to make the most of every digit of money.

Two Days Later

1200 Hours, Kelona 31st, 55 ABY

Deep Inside the Sea of Sand

Aboard the CSS-1 Corellian Star Shuttle Meson Martinet

Having celebrated alongside the rest of the ship’s crew at finally reaching their target, Edaan was glad to be through the hard part of the mission. At least, he hoped it was over, because there was no telling what kind of surprises remained functional aboard a damaged Munificent-class star Banking Clan frigate. Remembering a mission Jaden Korr went on early in his career as a Jedi, a failed extraction of a ship crashing on the planet Blenjeel and nearly being devoured by giant Sand Burrowers, he wondered if there would be any more similarities with the past assignment.

Still, that was probably the least of his worries. After having dozens of close calls with natural disasters, rival gangs and pirates, and attacks by the planet’s natural defenders, only a fool would believe the worst was behind them, especially with possibly a war band of Sith hot on their tails, if the brief interrogation of several of the rival gang members provided them accurate and authentic information before Sidon shot them all dead and dumped their corpses off the ship.

“You okay, Edaan?” Sidon concernedly asked his newfound ally. Over the course of this mission, the two had grown to form a genuine respect for each other and appreciating the other’s experiences, convictions, and perspectives.

With the privateer having lost his family early on from the Empire’s executioners, he spent the better portion of his life fighting tyranny and defending the weak and downtrodden, no matter what form it took; Empire, Yuuzhan Vong, Sith, common criminals and despots; he fought them all to protect the innocent, a belief.

Eventually, he gathered many like minded individuals who lost loved ones of their own and gave them each a new purpose and family in each other. And every officer and crew member had skills that greatly benefitted their leader while bringing out the best in him and all those that served him, a lesson Edaan needed to remember when assembling his own team when the time came to go after Vestara.

Returning his mind back to the task at hand, Edaan truthfully answered, “Well, I’ve been worse. But I’m mostly nervous about what might be coming our way.”

“You mean your inspiration and secret fixation?” Sidon knowingly nodded. “Robo told me about Vestara, and all about your drive to save her from her own darkness. An admirable goal, even as overwhelming as it seems.”

“Thanks for the honesty and redundancy but remind me to give Robonino a stern talking-to when we make it out alive.” Edaan acknowledged. “But I can tell that now’s not the time for me to save her. I’m not strong enough, or wise enough to lead her back from the Dark Side yet.”

“But how do you know when it will be? Maybe the Force is trying to tell you otherwise?”

“I doubt the Force, or the Celestials, would be so bold as that. Call it a gut instinct.” Edaan countered while shrugging.

“I never knew you were a believer of a pagan pantheon.” Sidon surprisingly noted. “You never struck me as the type.”

“What, because I don’t sacrifice innocents or carry out other dark ceremonies. We all have to believe in something, and after learning of Abeltoh, we know they once ruled over this plane of existence. Who’s to say they had even greater power?” Edaan suggested, before asking, “Fascinating theological discussion aside, how are we supposed to finish this recovery before the Sith come for us?”

“We move hard, fast, and efficiently.” Sidon answered. “Our kinetic disruptor missile is primed, which’ll temporarily stop the sandstorm and give us a way inside the frigate. And thanks to our schematics of the conventional Munificents, we’ll have an edge in searching for our treasure. With a bit of luck and skill, we’ll be out before the Sith are anywhere near us.”

“Then let’s get moving. The sooner we get in, the sooner we get out.” Edaan agreed.

1400 Hours

Within the Obrexta III

Onboard the Bridge

With a random spark of electricity from a lightning storm, falling onto ST-14, the energy was enough to finally jolt the Super Tactical Droid back to complete functionality after countless days of inactivity. Rising onto his metal legs, the droid that was once nicknamed “Kraken” by his organic counterparts walked to the main command console to take assessment of his downed cruiser and the status of its cargo.

Turning on the bridge’s main power source, the droid was quickly astonished to discover that, according to the ship’s still-functioning chronometer, the Obrexta III had been out of commission for over seven decades. His mechanical mind was bombarded by a wide barrage of questions, questions he could not stop.

What was the state of the Confederacy? Had they eradicated the Republic and their tyrannical order, or was the Separatist Alliance the ones that were destroyed by the Jedi and their clone armies? What was the state of the galaxy in general? These questions were nearly overwhelming for the droid until he manually overrode his central matrix and forced him to focus on the task at hand.

But before he let his mind drift too far away, he needed to assess the damage to the Munificent-class cruiser and see what he could salvage from its downed contents. If he could get even a handful of shuttles operational, then whatever Battle Droids he could reactivate would prove crucial in protecting them from any potential curious organics while moving the cargo entrusted to him by Count Dooku. The CIS Head of State might have passed away from old age or be slain in battle, but his cause would live on long after his expiration.

Moments after deciding his course of action, Kraken, linked in a limited fashion to the Obrexta III’s central computer, detected a breach in the ship’s aft hold, and that could only mean one conclusion. Someone had barged their way aboard and sought his cargo.

Pulling up the few security cameras still functional, Kraken was puzzled by the diverse mix of individuals entering his ship. Judging by their ragged clothes and armor, he would have assumed they were simple mercenaries or pirates. But they held themselves with a tight formation, and they were led by a man Kraken discerned as an experienced warrior.

And even more astonishing was how a Jedi appeared to be allied with this ragtag group, one that Kraken did not recognize from his master’s databases. Just how long was he trapped in this unknown hazard of a world? Either way, he needed to work quickly and efficiently in reawakening his crew’s defenders before the Republic’s lapdogs got away with whatever mission they had underway.

No matter what, these intruders could not be allowed anywhere near the prisoner this ship held, nor make it off the vessel while Kraken was still functional and had a few strategies in mind for this batch of troublemakers.

1500 Hours

Inside the Central Database

“Talk to us, Robo. What are we looking at here?” Edaan uneasily pressed, his senses on high alert for any hint of danger for this unlikely team. Ever since he stepped foot on this ancient wreck, he felt more restless than usual, eager to exit this craft and return to the Jedi before something inevitably went wrong.

Even with half of Sidon’s crew taking stock of the Confederacy warship’s hold and loading up a small fraction of the Obrexta III’s cargo, they had not found anything outside of ordinary for a military vessel. Whatever the CIS ship had aboard that warranted a distress signal to Dooku or General Grievous, it likely wasn’t material wealth or rare minerals, leaving the group to draw a blank at deciding what was holed away in here.

“Well, looks like this ship was transporting something to Mustafar of Omega-Level importance to the war effort, and with Count Dooku’s genuine signature signed for the commander as verification. And it seems whatever or whoever they were delivering, they were imprisoned in a stasis chamber installed deep in the ship’s detention level.” Robnino’s eyes bulged open before finishing, “And get this, that stasis pod still has power! Whoever’s inside might still be alive!”

“Then that’s where we’re heading.” Sidon decided. “Download all these files and whatever else you can find to my ship, and then wipe the whole system clean. We can’t let anyone else know whatever was held aboard here, especially any surviving members of our competition or their wicked patrons.”

Hearing a distinct clanking sound approaching from behind, Edaan advised Robonino, “Yeah, you’d best step on it. I think we’re about to get some old visitors.”

1600 Hours

Ponemah Terminal Northern-Southern Hemisphere Border

Just Outside the Sea of Sand

Aboard the Kondo-class assault shuttle Red Hand

“I’m quite disappointed in you, Scorza.” Kitai scathingly scolded the Weequay pirate lord, while applying a small amount of pressure on his diaphragm on all his surviving fighters. “You and your associates, you each had a chance to capture and eliminate a chief rival and earn a fat bonus by capturing his Jedi ally, and each of them died such a pathetic death, while you and your crew were almost obliterated before you had to turn back. Honestly, your collective failures are so disgraceful, they’re almost laughable.”

Having heard from onetime crewmate of Sidon the disgraceful ends of three of the four crews hired by Kitai to capture the CIS treasure, it was nearly enough to make her crush someone’s neck to relieve her of some of the rage bubbling up inside.

According to Scorza, the Gray Gundarks, a swoop biker gang with idiotic aspirations of leading a grand pirate war, they were swept away several riders at a time by ten sand tornados before the last fifteen of them tried to board Sidon’s ship before the Delphidian blasted them right into a spew of erupting lava.

And a local scavenger, an Ortolan who called himself One-Eye, who travelled in a sandcrawler, he and his army were devoured by a giant sand worm that popped up from underground, a fitting end for such a disgraceful and incompetent warlord.

As for Scorza and his team, they were charged with tracking Edaan Palpatine and plotting a safe course for the Red Hand to navigate to the Separatist capital ship, but they were prematurely discovered and forced to withdraw against Sidon’s superior might and cunning. The only team unaccounted for was Toltek, a Devaronian pirate lord, he and his crew were reported to have penetrated the Sea of Sand one hour ago, but no one had heard from them since.

“Look, Kitai, my competitors, every last one of them, paid the price for their blunders with their lives. But I was able to escape this utter debacle, salvage something from this disaster.” Scorza heatedly replied while fighting back several coughs. Handing Kitai a data chip, he explained, “In the chaos of my attack, my slicers were able to embed a virus into Ithnao’s ship, and we tracked them all the way to the prize. If you move quickly enough, you can still get away with the bounty.”

Reviewing the tracking software with an intent gaze, Kitai knew the pirate was telling the truth. The transmission emanated from deep within the Sea of Sand and allowed the Sith Lady to plot a safe passageway to the Separatist warship. But according to the data and the transmissions coming to and from the Meson Martinet, the larger ship was reporting activity from its main hold, and the boarding party was starting to encounter heavy opposition from old Confederacy Battle Droids. And whatever prize they were after was a still-alive prisoner of war, kept in stasis all this time as part of the commander’s last orders.

Not wanting to waste her forty Sith on mere mechanical guards and knowing they would be needed in capturing Edaan and whoever he was after, Kitai knew what she needed to do to bolster her team.

Turning back to the disgraced member of Sidon’s earlier crew, Kitai offered, “I don’t suppose you’d like me to double your initial fee if you assist my party in reaching our destination and capturing our quarry?”

“To get me and my crews back out there, we’ll need more than a mere hundred thousand credits.” Scorza witheringly warned.

“How about exclusive salvage rights on whatever cargo you find onboard the Obrexta III, half a million credits, and I’ll give you Sidon’s ship as a guaranteed bonus, along with whoever we might capture, aside from Jedi Palpatine and our quarry?” Kitai proposed, delighted in seeing the greedy gears in the raider’s mind moving at the promise of wealth and vengeance.

“Throw in a contract with your people and give us plenty more targets, and you’ve got yourself a deal.” Scorza offered, with Kitai willingly offering her hand to seal the deal.

1700 Hours

Deep Within the Sea of Sand

Inside the Obrexta III’s Main Hold

Aboard the Meson Martinet

Reveth, working diligently to filter out any stubborn sand particles that snuck their way into the ship’s air ducts and engines, was pleased with her progress. At this rate, the ship would be ready to fly out in no more than an hour. Hopefully by then, her friends would return with the treasures they coveted, and they could leave this natural hazard of a world behind for more favorable climates.

The ship’s proximity alarms blaring into her work, Reveth hurried to the co*ckpit, seeing a newcomer preparing to land right beside the ship. Recognizing the insignias of an Ubrikkian Industries Luxury-class Sail Barge as belonging to Toltek and his fellow Devaronians in the pirate gang of the Broken Horn, Reveth knew the team was in trouble. Knowing Toltek’s unparalleled bloodthirsty, greedy, and lecherous reputation among virtually all galactic outlaws, she dreaded to think of what he might do to everyone if he got his hands on them.

She knew there was only one chance in stopping them from catching her crew and friends unaware, and there was no time to get Sidon’s blessing on this measure. Rapidly typing a series of codes into the Martinet’s main computer console, she activated the countdown to deactivate the kinetic missile that was keeping their window of escape open.

Hoping Sidon and Edaan would forgive her for this gambit, she flipped the final switch and watched the ensuing carnage erupt. With the disruptor field deactivated, the sandstorm quickly resumed its pace, only this time, the sand was volatile and explosive, bombarding the sand barge until it crashed into the ground, and dooming any survivors with the destructive force seeping into the vessel.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Reveth contacted Sidon to report, “Captain Ithano. I’m afraid we’ve had an… unfortunate complication on my end. We nearly had some unexpected guests crash our party, so I had to seal off the entrance until we get the second missile primed.”

“That’s not news we really needed to hear.” Sidon gruffly rebuked, firing a blaster at several targets, all heard by the comlink. “We’ve got at least dozens of Battle Droids reactivating across the ship, and we think they’re all being led by a Super Tactical Droid. We’re going to need a kriffing good strategy or miracle if we hope to get out of this mess.”

“Just stay alive a while longer.” Reveth promised. “I’ll figure something out to take some of the pressure off your back.”

Closing the comm signal, she knew time was short, but these droids were of a making not studied by most for decades. Thankfully for her teammates and friends, the Rutian Twi’lek took the time to learn the basics of CIS programming and frequencies, which allowed her to devise a makeshift plan on the spot. If the droids were awakening to combat a few intruders, then she speculated how well or poorly they would respond to a few dozen false flags.

1900 Hours

Within the Obrexta III

Inside the Main Vault

“I commend your ingenuity and speed, even if I must dispose of you all.” The Super Tactical Droid complimented his opponents. “Most of my droids were completely convinced that your phantom teams were the true threat. Unfortunately for you all, I calculated the odds and predicted your ultimate objective.”

“I don’t suppose we can convince you to surrender or negotiate a truce, can we?” Edaan hopefully suggested. “You’ve missed out on over seventy years of history, and your cause and government are both dead. There’s nothing to gain from fighting against us.”

Pausing for a moment, the lead droid inquired, with a hint of what nearly sounded like fear creeping into his voice, “Then the Republic won the war?”

“No. Neither won, because the Confederacy and Republic were replaced by the Galactic Empire, a tyrannical government run by Emperor Palpatine.” Sidon caught on. “If you like, our Patrolian friend here can transmit all essential data from my ship’s databases, and you can verify it for yourself. But there is one catch.”

“And that ‘catch’ being?”

“The clone trooper you have locked away. We won’t leave without him.” Edaan resolutely answered. “The Clone War’s over, you have no need to hold him or fight against us.”

Undoubtedly calculating the odds, the droid warned, “Perhaps, but what happens next depends on the validity and contents of the data you provide me.”

“I’ll contact our ship for the files. Just promise to avoid firing on or trying to board it.” Sidon warned. “You will regret any double-crosses if you try them.”

Seventy-Four Years Ago

Relona 11th, 19.15 ABY

Within Orbit of Cato Neimoidia

Aboard the Obrexta III

Kraken, with the super tactical droid’s mind running virtually every conceivable scenario through his intricate digital mind, was able to calculate only one possible route that allowed his ship to escape the Republic’s counterattack and protect their cargo. When Count Dooku ordered him to capture a single Clone Trooper within the reviled 501st Legion, he was confounded by the bizarre command. Why was Dooku fixating on a single Clone Trooper, a medic, no less, when two entire legions of his brethren were invading one of the final Separatist strongholds in the Colonies.

All he received as a briefing was how the clone was preparing to deliver findings to his Jedi superiors that would prove disastrous to the Confederate cause, and the Head of State ordered him to bring him to Mustafar, a hidden redoubt so the Sith Lord could determine just what the trooper discovered.

While he sought more answers, his loyalty programming prohibited him from asking any further questions or attempts to countermand the orders, not even when considering how the Trade Federation purse world, the prized world of Viceroy Nute Gunray, was under siege and falling to a Jedi occupation. As a loyal patriot of the Confederacy of Independent Systems and capable commander, he would see the task through, even when his ship was under heavy fire by the Republic’s fighter squadrons.

Unfortunately, what he did not expect were two of the Jedi Order’s best fighters, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker, to personally interrupt Kraken’s assignment. Calculating the odds of “The Negotiator” and “Hero With No Fear” intervening to rescue one of their own soldiers, he found the probability of them attacking a outlying frigate when dealing with a large army of droids and their organic collaborators 75,954 to 1.

“Commander, our shields and engines are failing!” An Aqualish officer frighteningly warned his superior.

“What is the timeframe until we are able to jump to hyperspace?” Kraken ignored the wailing.

“We’re ready, but we’re too far out of alignment for a jump towards Mustafar.” A Quarren informed. “I can try and get us to Yag’Dhul, but it’ll be close. Our hyperdrive is leaking fuel.”

“Get us as close to our destination as possible to territory under our control within one jump.” Kraken ordered. “Then be prepared to send out a distress signal to both the Invisible Hand and the Head of State aboard his personal vessel the moment we revert to realspace.”

“Yes, sir. Preparing to jump.” The Gossam navigations officer reported, satisfying Kraken before he noticed a troubling sight. One of the Republic’s V-Wings had one of its wings knocked off by a Tri-Fighter, and the pilot decided to make his death mean something by aiming his damaged ship right at the Obrexta III’s center.

Before he could enact any countermeasures, the fighter collided with the ship a moment before it began its jump to hyperspace. From there, pure chaos erupted as alarms blared, the crew went into a frenzy from the unsustainable energy levels of the reactor, and Kraken immediately worked to reroute all available power to the signal beacon and stasis pod. If the ship could not get to friendly territory, then all he could hope for was someone among the Confederacy of Independent Systems to stumble onto the wreck and recover the cargo and whatever else could be salvaged.

2020 Hours, Kelona 31st, 55 ABY

Ponemah Terminal

Deep Within the Sea of Sand

Aboard the Obrexta III

Inside the Main Cargo Hold

“Thank you, Kraken.” Edaan graciously told his team’s new ally as the ex-Confederacy droid commander administered a stimulant to the unconscious Clone Trooper. “We owe you big time for this.”

Having confirmed the status of the galaxy, how his entire cause was manipulated by two Sith and their lust to dominate the galaxy for a “new order” far more twisted and corrupt than the Old Republic, knowing that the Sith of today’s age were seeking to destabilize the galaxy to recreate a similar tyrannical system, it was enough for the Super Tactical Droid to order his ship’s complement of defenders to prepare for the Sith incursion and prepare what countermeasures he could.

“Do not thank me yet, Jedi Palpatine.” Kraken calmly corrected the young human. “The adrenals I gave him will speed along his recovery, but he will still be disoriented for at least seven hours and will require intense medical attention to ensure his survival. And if these Sith, whichever order you believe is after you, will soon arrive in force, then you will need to make our escape quickly.”

Squeaky squealed out a protest, the meaning clear to everyone with his worry for the group’s new and unlikely ally.

“Negative, Lieutenant Gorr.” Kraken denied. “My primary directive is gone, but my soldiers, they will need my leadership if we hope to buy you enough time to escape with both your prizes. If these Sith fight like the Jedi of my era, you will need as much time as I can provide you.”

Both prizes?” Robonino repeated while checking his supply of grenades and other long-range weaponry.

Pulling out a data card from his right chest plate, Kraken handed it to Edaan, “This contains the exact location of every Confederate supply cache and weapons depot across the galaxy. If any of them have not been raided, they are yours to arm your order and allies for this new war.”

“Then we’d better come up with a new plan, and fast.” Sidon warned the unlikely group. “Reveth just contacted me and said a CSA troop transport and Scorza’s fleet are nearing our position. I think our mutual foes are about to make their grand entrance.”

“I’m ordering her to bug out unless the opportunity for a secure extraction presents itself.” Looking at Edaan, he grilled, “How long until your strike force is here?”

“Less than an hour, maybe half, before they arrive in the system.” Edaan sighed. “We’ll have to slow the Sith down until our new ride gets here.”

“Fine by me. Gives me a chance to try out some of my new toys.” Robonino nonchalantly shrugged.

2050 Hours

Just Outside Ponemah Terminal’s Orbit

Aboard the Jade’s Legacy

Even from this great distance, Ben felt her somewhere deep within the maelstrom blanketing half the planet below, and it enraged and terrified him beyond measure. Vestara Khai, the woman he would have once willingly given his heart to out of love, was hunting Edaan and his friends while trying to acquire the long-dead Darth Tyranus’s treasure.

Fighting to keep his turmoil and boiling rage in check, the veteran Jedi Knight remembered his purpose in coming here, to assist Edaan and ensure he made it back to Shedu Maad in one piece. If he went after Vestara to seek retribution now, it would be a betrayal of everything he espoused and adhered to while endangering the squadron of Jedi under his direct command.

“You all right, there, Ben?” Seha Dorvald, worriedly asked her one time boyfriend and fellow Jedi Knight. Having had a year-long relationship with Ben in the months after Vestara betrayed him, the two friends had formed a strong empathic bond where one could easily feel when the other suffered, which lasted even after they separated. But Seha, even after moving on and forming a long-term relationship with GAS officer Javon Thewles, still cared deeply about Ben, and fretted over his well-being and occasionally visited him to ensure he was hanging in there.

Letting out a weary sigh, Ben rhetorically asked, “Would you be ‘alright’ in my place? I just hope I don’t have to face Vestara today, slim as that possibility is. Otherwise, I don’t know what I might do.”

“You need to let it go, Ben.” Seha implored. “Don’t focus on vengeance and remember just who and what it is you’re fighting for. Your father was able to overcome his hatred and anger for Vestara, so you should be able to do the same. You might want to bring her in, but you can’t do it out of bitterness, or it’ll poison you from within.”

“Maybe, but it’s harder than you might think.” Ben argued as he took the Jade’s Legacy down into the planet’s atmosphere and activated the ship’s particle shields to better withstand the raging storms below.

Knowingly glaring at Ben, Seha flippantly used the Force to flick his forehead, and pointedly reminded him, “You forgave yourself for serving Jacen during his fall from grace, so you should be able to do the same here. It might be hard, but nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

“Point taken.” Ben resignedly grunted. Refocusing each of their efforts into locating the Meson Martinet within the miasma of sand, the two Jedi quickly pinpointed the distress signal of the old Confederate warship and homed in on their ally’s vessel.

Opening a comm signal with the privateer’s flagship, Ben spoke, “Meson Martinet, this is Jedi Knight Ben Skywalker. Please respond.”

After a minute of tense waiting, with the ship starting to rattle from the increasingly strong winds, a woman’s voice came through, and it was one Ben dreaded hearing again.

“Sorry, Ben, but your friends are rather indisposed, as of now.” Vestara’s playful voice told him. “Captain Ithano’s mechanic took the ship and flew off without getting her crew, so I’m afraid they’re on their own. That is, unless you and your Jedi are willing to come down and play.”

“I’m in no mood for your games, Vestara.” Ben growled out.

“Too bad, because you’re already in the middle of quite a dangerous one.” Vestara teasingly countered. “I look forward to seeing you again.”

Closing the ship’s comlink, Ben released a frustrated sigh before he found another signal trying to reach him from his holoprojector. Not recognizing the signature, he cautiously activated it, and found a holographic projection of a map for the planet’s lower hemisphere, with a diagram of a guide towards a specific destination near the middle of the planet’s southeastern portion. Seeing several distinct markings at the end, the two Jedi aboard found the unmistakable signatures of Edaan and Robonino, a code that Vestara could not have known about so easily.

“Looks like Edaan and his friends came through for us after all.” Seha gratefully commented. Contacting all four Jedi transports, she advised, “All ships, better buckle up and prime your engines and shields. We’re going to be flying hard and fast through insane storms, and then we’re topping it all off with a war party of Sith. Stay alert, and may the Force be with us all.”

2145 Hours

Aboard the Obrexta III

Within the Main Bridge

Kitai was growing ever increasingly frustrated by the unforeseen opposition. Having lost five Sith and about half her army of pirates to the ship’s complement of reactivated Separatist Battle Droids so far, and another six of her followers from several innovative explosives of brutal design, she yearned to be done with this assignment and return to more hospitable worlds. But unable to sense Edaan or his friends aboard the entire ship since her transport neared their target, she could only postulate they were cloaking their presences in the Force.

Which was why she, three of her Sith bodyguards, and Scorza’s few remaining slicers and technicians were working overtime to hack the ship’s security systems. After what felt like an eternity, Scorza slapped a console’s outer shell back into place, and typed a series of commands into the system.

“All right, Kitai. We- I mean you’ve, now got complete control over the ship’s cameras, built-in defenses, and proximity alarms.” Scorza alerted his patron, scanning through the data as Kitai approached to oversee his search for the fugitives.

Spotting something, she instantly ordered, “Wait. Go back three cameras, towards where the aft hold is located. And get our scans over the area.” Complying, the Weequay analyzed the image before comprehending what the Sith Lady had first realized.

“Looks like we found our old friends.” Scorza noted, “And it looks like they found a new friend. Wait… is that a man in Phase Two Clone Trooper armor?”

Spotting the unconscious figure flung over the Gamorrean’s shoulder, with the group and their new droid friends, guarding the path to escape pods Kitai nodded, “It is. I think that’s an actual Clone Trooper. And in the company of a young Jedi, veteran smuggler, and a Confederate Super Tactical Droid and its Magnaguard bodyguards.”

Pulling out her comlink, she ordered her followers, “Everyone, we found our quarry. Converge on the escape pods right now.”

“While you’re at it, I can trigger a lockdown in the escape pods and corridors to box our enemies in until your people converge.” Scorza helpfully proposed. “No need to take any chances until we get what we all want down here.”

Nodding, impressed at the Weequay raider’s initiative and deference, Kitai reconsidered her initial assessment of him. He might make a good proxy for the One Sith after all, provided he survived the final stages of this mission and the hasty escape that would follow. Since Ben was on her trail again, there would not be much time left before all Chaos broke loose between her people and his.

Back in the Present

2310 Hours, Kelona 31st, 55 ABY

Inside the Obrexta III’s Hangar Bay

“I see you’re finally running into a greater force than you can handle, Jedi Palpatine.” Kitai tersely mocked Edaan and his friends as twenty-nine of her Sith subordinates and forty-five pirates surrounded the Jedi-allied group. With the hangar doors locked down and her targets cornered like desperate prey, she readied herself to finish this irritating task, but was prepared for all contingencies of the next few minutes.

Warily looking at the final twenty Battle Droids standing between her and victory, she knew better than to underestimate combat droids as lethal as the ensemble before her horde. With the ten BX-series Commando Droids, five Droidekas with their deflector shield generators, four Magnaguards bearing their Phrik electrostaffs, and the Super Tactical Droid, a model Kitai only saw in old Clone War-era holorecords or museums, this CIS holdout leader obviously saved their best troops for protecting their new and unlikely allies.

And that still left Edaan Palpatine’s group, and the approaching Jedi unaccounted for in her calculations. While Kitai was sure she could take the Apprentice and his mercenary friends if it was just them and the droids, she knew time was not favorable for her now. They had twenty minutes left at most, and anything could go wrong in that shrinking batch of minutes, which meant her best chance of success was to be unconventional and keep her enemies guessing.

Deciding to trust her instincts, she unleashed a storm of lightning against the closest enemy droids, overloading the circuits of three commando Droids right away. Right after the electrical burst began, the remaining droids and their organic friends opened fire on the Sith, with two of her acolytes shielding her from any reprisals as the remainder went on the offensive.

With the pirates getting the brunt of the punishment from the concealed grenades and Sidon’s crew and their precise aim, the Sith were free to move forward on their prized quarries. Five of Kitai’s disciples quickly took on the command droids, while the Scorza’s remaining pirates and four Sith hid behind scattered crates to draw three of the Destroyer Droids’ fire.

Seeing how the enemy’s numbers were diminishing and their ranks were stretched near the breaking point, Kitai knew now was the prime opportunity to catch her prizes. Charging right at Edaan and the unconscious Clone Trooper’s last line of defense, she found her way blocked by the Super Tactical Droid and two of his Magnaguards.

“If you seek to capture Jedi Palpatine and CT-6116, you will have to get past us first.” The lead droid coldly warned, earning a dark chuckle from the Sith Lady.

“So be it.” Kitai mirthlessly smiled before pulling out a second lightsaber, this one made to resemble yorik coral, she ignited the red blade and adopted a Jar’Kai stance. A moment later, she pounced upon the three droids, battering the two bodyguards back with a frenzies flurry of attacks, many too quick for the droids to anticipate or effectively counter, leaving the first enemy sliced apart in several pieces before the minute was up, and the second droid closely followed moments later with a precise stab in the droid’s chest photoreceptor.

Not even breaking a sweat, Kitai turned to the advanced droid commander, and inquired, “Care to surrender, droid? I’m sure my people can find a good use for a droid as capable and intelligent as you.”

“Negative. I served one false cause led by Sith already, and I would rather be shut down forever before serving another of your mad orders. And my name is ‘Kraken.’” Kraken emotionlessly denied, but Kitai could tell from the droid’s inflections its true sentiments.

Prepared to behead the droid to decrypt whatever intelligence it held, she was caught off-guard when Kraken was flung right towards her, and he used the momentum to land on top of the surprised Kitai. Preparing to push him off with a Force-enhanced shove, she heard a faint beep emanating from her adversary, one she recognized all too well from her time in the Lost Tribe and under Mirta Gev’s tutelage.

Quickly wrapping herself in a cocoon of Force energy, she also used some of the energy to blast the droid into the air, less than two seconds before the suicidal droid blew apart from a sonic grenade about twenty meters above her. Feeling her insides contort and bleed, coughing up mouthfuls of blood, and covering her damaged ears, she silently called out to her acolytes, ordering them to save her and capture their quarry before all sensations vanished from her mind.

Moments before she fully lost consciousness, she could have sworn she felt dismay come from Edaan and it enraged her to know how he could mourn over the loss of a droid while humiliating her. Somehow, she would survive this disaster, and then she would wreak vengeance on him for this grave insult, even if he was captured by her people.

Edaan, silently shedding tears at seeing Vestara so broken and close to dying, yearned to storm through the Sith’s barricade and bring her with him to Shedu Maad and save her in body and soul. But her condition was critical, and he could not afford to break from the plan when his friends were still in jeopardy. And something deep within Edaan’s spirit, whether it was his incorporeal masters, the Force or Celestials, or his well-developed instincts, told him that the time to lay the foundations for Vestara’s redemption had not yet arrived.

Besides, her people, already loyally working to gently remove her from the battleground, would more than likely have the care she needed to recover from her terrible injuries, and he would undoubtably have many other chances to save her in the months, and likely years, that lay ahead. All that remained for the team was to escape this downed vessel before the remaining Sith overwhelmed the defenders.

Sensing the Jedi were less than five minutes away, and detecting the lurking predators outside the ship’s hull, creatures that were desperately hungry, Edaan quickly devised a last-ditch gambit to save his friends. He just hoped his demented plan didn’t end up getting everyone blown away or ripped apart.

But before he could call out to the Sand Worms through the Force, Gorr uttered a squeal of praise in his native tongue, glancing to Sidon to tell him before, in a moment of vulnerability, his body was bisected in three by two vengeful Sith.

“SQUEAKY!” Quiggold shrieked, appalled at the barbarity he just witnessed and the horrific loss of a dear friend. Immediately going into a hysterical frenzy, the elder Gabdorin fired away at every Sith and pirate he could aim at in a blur.

“You’ll pay, you Sith schuttas! All of you, if it’s the last thing I do, you will all pay!” Quiggold bellowed, stealing the detonator from Robonino and triggered their last line of defense. Dozens of explosives, of several variations, from plasma, poison, and those of Robonino’s personal design, detonated and created a barrier to shield the motley crew from further reprisals, but catching all the Separatist droids in the crossfire that were still fighting.

“Quiggold, stand down!” Sidon barked to his first mate who still gunned at any Sith wounded or disoriented. “We have to go, now!”

“How?! Our ride is-” Quiggold fought back before hearing a familiar engine hum and saw the Meson Martinet fly through the sandstorm, bitterly biting out, “Oh, now she shows up!”

“Let’s go!” Sidon called out as his ship hovered a few feet in midair, loading ramp open to allow the group to board one after another. Reeg got inside first, followed by Sidon who carried the comatose Clone Trooper, and Edaan while carrying a still-firing Robonino.

“Quiggold, COME ON!” Sidon bellowed, laying down cover fire for his friend as the Sith quickly regrouped and redoubled their assault.

Grunting at leaving at least twenty Sith still alive, Quiggold relented by leaping aboard, but not before a stray lightsaber narrowly missed bisecting him but sliced his left arm off. The boarding ramp closing, Sidon called up to Reveth, “Get us out of here!”

Feeling the ship accelerate away, Edaan offered, “I’ll do what I can for Quiggold and our comatose friend.”

Nodding in gratitude, Sidon helped his first comrade to his feet, and Edaan hoisted their new friend onto his shoulders while the ship barreled out of the Obrexta III.

Just after Edaan managed to safely lay the clone onto a medical bed, he fell onto the floor from the volume of the screams coming from the Obrexta III.

“Edaan! What happened?” Sidon hurried to help Edaan sit up after wrapping Quiggold’s stump of a limb up with a bacta salve.

“Death. I felt nearly every Sith die below, and an immense hunger slowly being satiated.” Edaan worriedly answered. “I think one of the approaching Jedi led the worms to the ship to kill all the Sith.”

“I need… to inform Grand Master Katarn about this, before whoever orchestrated this is allowed to make their own report.”

“And you think he’ll care?” Quiggold painfully scoffed. “Whoever got all those lunatics killed deserves a medal, not a reprimand.”

“You’d be surprised.” Edaan grimly shot back.

2345 Hours

Deep Within the Unknown Regions

Inside the Nihil Retreat

Within the Perann Nebula

On the Planet Rhand, Within the Dark Citadel

Inside the Ancient Sanctum

Tor Valum could hardly believe Darth Kitai’s luck at surviving the attack he orchestrated against the Clone Wars-era warship. Though he managed to kill fifteen of the twenty remaining Sith aboard the vessel through influencing the enormous predators of the desolate world, somehow the last five managed to get away after the Jedi fled the scene. And worst of all, the Sith wretch survived the encounter and would seek a full recovery before resuming her work.

Under normal conditions, Tor would not intervene in the Jedi-Sith wars and the chaos they generated in fueling the Old Ones’ release, but the woman who would eventually return to being Vestara Khai was a loose end that needed to be eradicated before she switched sides again. Though she professed to be a Sith, the primeval Force Sage could feel the spark of light within that would not go out, that single flicker of hope and love for the Jedi man-child of a Skywalker, and that spark would one day bring them back together as lovers, and eventually as husband and wife. And a Skywalker dynasty, having proven to be a substantial threat to Abeloth in her last crusade, was an outcome neither the True Sith Empire or the Servants of Chaos sought. This weed had to be rooted out before it could sprout into a full-fledged tree.

And equally troubling was Edaan Palpatine and his incessant and idealistic meddling in this galactic shadow conflict. Across the galaxy, that meddling whelp and his growing network of contacts were undoing all the strife the Sith and other neophytes of chaos were creating, slowly stitching the galaxy back together after decades of war. At the same time, Tor also sensed a great darkness inside the Jedi Apprentice, born of childhood anger and trauma that would, given the right conditions, bloom into a great and terrible wrath that could destroy anyone that dared stand against him.

Either way, Tor would have to watch the growth of Edaan very carefully, to see if he was a problem to be solved, or an opportunity to exploit for the Rhandites’ terrible dreams.

Two Days Later

2350 Hours, Kelona 33rd, 55 ABY

Deep Space, On Route to the Arkanis Sector

Aboard the Meson Martinet

“You are very lucky, Edaan. Not many can go up against a group of Sith led by Vestara Khai and her followers and get away free to tell the tale, never mind escape a horde of sand creatures as giant as those worms.” Kyle ruefully shook his head. “And you came away with two great prizes out from under their noses. Maybe you should consider a career as a treasure hunter if this Jedi gig fails.”

“Maybe so, but I wish we didn’t have to lose Kraken and Squeaky.” Edaan despondently reminded, remembering the last command Kraken gave him before he threw him to his destruction. If the brilliant droid was in danger of being captured, then he would trigger his built-in sonic grenade and push Vestara to the edge of death, a prospect he could not completely wrap his mind around, even if he knew it had to be done. “I know it was all part of the risk, but I don’t like people I rope into my mad quest dying on my behalf.”

Knowing Edaan’s fixation on saving his secret inspiration and one time friend and how he was critical on himself, his master carefully asked, “Do you believe she made it out before the warship was destroyed?”

“We both know how tenacious and resilient Vestara Khai truly is, even when her body was pushed to its limits from proximity to a sonic pulse. If I were a betting man, I’d wager her people got her back to their ship in time, or they held out long enough for reinforcements to dig them all out.” Edaan wearily answered, before asking, “Do you know which of your reinforcements led the Sand Worms to the Obrexta III?”

“I spoke with Seha to have her investigate, but she didn’t sense anyone directing the worms. For all we know, it was the sounds of battle that led them to the ship.” Kyle cautioned his pupil.

“Do you really believe that?”

“It’s the only explanation that makes sense unless there’s another Force User at work that wants Vestara dead. Ben notwithstanding, of course, but I doubt even he would be so foolish as to endanger your life like that.”

“I hope so, but either way, I guess we’ll just have to wait and hope for the best.” Edaan relented before apologizing, “Sorry I didn’t wait until help arrived to set out, but time was short on our side.”

“Which is why we’ll discuss the appropriate disciplinary measures when you return to Shedu Maad.” Kyle simply decided, before positively adding, “But you took the initiative while contacting the right people for assistance and helping prevent a grand heist by a notorious Sith Lady while costing her dearly, so we’ll go easy on you this time. For now, though, we need to decide what to do with your new friend and the data you all came across from Commander Kraken.”

“I spoke with Master Skywalker and Captain Ithano, and we believe we’ve already come up with a solution for both problems.” Edaan began. “Luke’s willing to help Kix regain his health and get his bearings in his personal facility, and we can use the intelligence gathered from Kraken’s memory banks to help arm many of our friends.”

Eyes showing a curiosity at the suggestion, Kyle motioned for Edaan to continue, “If the Jedi or an official government were to claim the CIS outposts and all their armaments and resources, well, I’m sure you can imagine the backlash from BAMR and the rest of our political and criminal enemies. They’d accuse us of grabbing power or trying to officially start a galactic war.”

“But,” Edaan conspiratorially pointed out, “if a reputed privateer and a few of our roguish friends can claim the weapons, they might be in a better position to help us battle the Sith and their minions while helping to liberate plenty of worlds from a variety of threats.”

Nodding, Kyle approvingly commented, “And you thought of this plan all by yourself, or did you get some help from your friends and associates?”

“Come on, Kyle. I may have a sharp mind, but even the brightest of individuals need others to bounce their ideas between each other to help refine them.” Edaan jested before growing serious again. “There’s something else. Kix, our new friend, he’s being tended to, but he told us something about his brothers I think the entire Jedi Order and galaxy need to hear. It’s the truth about Order 66 and how most Clone Troopers blindly followed it.”

Kyle, growing confused, warily asked, “What are you talking about?”

“Remember the GAR’s 150 Contingency orders? Well, his brothers, virtually all of them, anyway, were indoctrinated with hidden programming to follow any of the commands if given by the then-Chancellor Palpatine. It was programming that goes beyond simply genetic manipulation or military training to make them more loyal.”

“According to Kix, the Kaminoans, with support from the Sith and a few of their lesser Dark Sider allies and by using some of the Sith’s old conditioning tools, created an inbred set of commands that all bur brainwashed them to obey any Contingency when implemented, but it was so subtle, it couldn’t be sensed by the Jedi until it was too late.”

“But that doesn’t explain why a few of the soldiers defied the order.” Kyle remembered but listened intently, carefully processing the information he was provided. “What about Ion Squad, the clones of Clan Skirata, and a few other isolated cases?”

“Well, from what Kix said, only the strongest minds or wills could break through the directives, or if it wore off over time in some rare instances. And regarding the Clone Commandos, every clone was given the procedure, but it had limited success on their more independent members. The ARC Troopers, however, were left alone as per Jango Fett’s instructions.”

“But one lone trooper discovered the entire conspiracy and was gunned down by his own brothers before he could warn anyone, either Jedi or Republic authorities, of his findings. The ARC Trooper who was implicated in trying to assassinate my reviled ancestor.”

“Fives.” Kyle remembered. “Yes, I read the reports many years ago. But the reason was listed as dementia due to a parasite during a regular op. Are you saying it was a cover-up?”

“Exactly.” Edaan nodded. “Kix kept on the investigation after Fives was murdered, and he uncovered the truth. But Dooku caught wind of it and had him captured on Cato Neimoidia, but that was ruined and led up to now. We can have Luke corroborate the information when we make it to his facility.”

“Very well. Report to me with your full findings the moment you return to the Temple.” Kyle ordered before disconnecting, leaving Edaan with the uncomfortable task of trying to break the bombshell to Kix, if his gunslinger of a friend didn’t break the news in a slip-up. Unfortunately, with Robonino’s loose lips and cavalier attitude, that was a distinct probability.

Five Months Later

0900 Hours, Yelona 21st, 55 ABY

Tatooine, Mos Eisley

Deep Underneath Shiin's Library

“How is your latest guest holding up since my last visit?” Edaan worriedly asked a solemn Luke Skywalker. Having brought the delirious Clone Trooper to his care, where the semi-retired Jedi Master based his informant network to assist the Jedi Order in rebuilding its trust with the galactic public behind the scenes, Luke’s team spent the last several months tending to the man who named himself “Kix” and bringing him up to speed on the seventy-four years he was imprisoned in stasis. “Is he doing better since I dropped him off?”

“Would you be okay if you found all you cherished and sought to save was destroyed or erased by time, war, or treachery?” Luke solemnly reminded Edaan. “He’s barely eating or sleeping, and he’s busying himself away in the library when he isn’t learning about modern medical technologies.”

“Has he been talking to anyone, trying to figure something out?”

“I’m the only one Kix is willing to speak to for a long period, and most of our conversations haven’t been rather positive or productive.” Luke sighed. “But we need to give him more time. It may have been a few decades for us, but it’s only been just over half a year for him. And losing his friends and family can break almost any soul.”

“I can understand that.” Edaan nodded, remembering how broken he was after losing his family from Abeloth’s ground quakes. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of his pain, something compelled him to utter, “Do you think I could try and talk with him? Maybe all he needs is a new voice to help him find a new purpose in life.”

Eyeing the young Jedi Apprentice, Luke had an instinctive hunch about what he really wanted to say. But trusting Edaan to choose his moments carefully, he conceded. “Very well. I’ll tell his overseers that you’re coming to talk with Kix. Just try not to expect too much of him right now.”

“I’ll try and temper my expectations accordingly.” Edaan thanked the elder Jedi Master before he walked towards the data archives and handed the guards his lightsaber before being admitted inside. Best not to take any chances with a patient with barely any will to live.

Seeing the shaved and tattooed head of CT-6116 in one of the booths, Edaan struggled to figure out just what to say before hearing a sigh. “If I’ll have to tell you people one last time, I’ll literally shoot the next interloper. Leave me-” Seeing the irate soldier turn to face him, his threat vanished at seeing Edaan. “Of. It’s you… Edaan. Edaan… Palpatine, right?”

“Yes.” Edaan awkwardly sighed. “Believe me, it’s just as uncomfortable for me as it is for you to be in the presence of a blood relative of my long-dead Sith ancestor.” Seeing the datapad in Kix’s hands, he asked, “Great reading?”

“Ah, it’s not important.” Kix gingerly put the file down. “Just trying to make sense of this new era I’m in now. Have to say, most of your wars were darker and bloodier than the one I was a part of.”

“I hear that.” Edaan concurred. Pausing, he awkwardly said, “You know, you shouldn’t blame yourself for what happened to your brothers. You did everything you could to save them, the Jedi, and the Republic of your time from Sidious’s power grabs, and that’s more than most people did.”

“Maybe, but it doesn’t mean I can’t have regrets.” Kix sighed, wearily rubbing his eyes and the heavy bags that were underneath his eyelids. “My brothers, the Jedi, the civilians, we were all used by a Sith Lord and his willing accomplices, and I was one of the few to come close to disclosing the truth and was silenced. And my vode, they were brainwashed by the Kaminoans and Sith’s mental conditioning to betray their commanders, their friends, all to put a tyrant and megalomaniac into power.”

“True.” Edaan nodded. “But here’s a major difference between the rest.” He paused, unfazed by Kix’s withering glare. “You’re still alive, and you know the truth about the Grand Army. Which means you can clear your brothers’ name by telling it to the galaxy. And then, you can figure out where to go from there.”

“It’s that easy, huh?” Kix bitterly muttered. “What do you know about figuring things out after a terrible tragedy?”

“More than you know.” Edaan ruefully muttered, but just loud enough for Kix to overhear. Seeing the cloned man’s intense stare, he mournfully admitted, “My entire family was killed after the Lost Tribe took control of Coruscant, when Abeloth triggered a planetary cataclysm to cover her capture of Ben Skywalker and Vestara Khai and subsequent retreat.”

Sitting down in the booth opposite of Kix, he continued, “When I felt them die, I passed out from the pain, the echoes of all their deaths, and when I awoke, I learnt that Vestara, the woman who inspired me to continue as a Jedi, had deserted everyone to join another faction of Sith, including the man she loved.”

“It was not long afterwards, when Grand Master Katarn took me on as his Apprentice, that I made a choice. I could either wallow in my pity and hate the galaxy, or I could take matters into my own hands and try to make a difference while fixing all the wrongs I could find and saving the Skywalker family and Vestara from their own darkness.” Edaan paused to catch his breath from the mouthful he just uttered.

“And how do I do either of those?” Kix skeptically pressed Edaan. “Noble sentiments and honorable goals aside, in case you forgot, Clone Troopers aren’t exactly well-loved by the galaxy from what I understand. And there aren’t a lot of good options for an ex-soldier of my caliber. Besides, I doubt anyone would be willing to upend decades of conventional history to face a few inconvenient truths.”

Rubbing his chin in reflection, Edaan acknowledged, “True, but I might have a few avenues for you. But first, you’ll need to get a few days’ rest and have a few good meals before we set out. We can’t have you speaking to a Galactic Alliance senator, a renowned historian, and fugitive doctor, all good friends of mine, as a haggard wreck.”

Twenty-Five Days Later

1400 Hours, Relona 16th, 55 ABY

Coruscant, Level 1313

Just Outside the Chantique Med-Clinic

“I never expected to be back in this world. Not after…” Kix stopped himself, shaking his head and stopping that dangerous train of thought. Observing the yorik coral and other foreign substances struggling to overtake the landscape, shivering at recalling how treacherous the higher levels were with how wilder and dangerous the landscape was, he admitted, “A great deal has changed since my last visit here. Too much for my liking, I have to admit.”

“I understand, but hopefully you’ll be able to get a bit of familiarity down at this level.” Edaan suggested as they entered the building. Observing the clean and sterile environment, it was a stark contrast to the wild and debris-filled right outside.

Approaching the receptionist, the Mirialan man greeted them, “Good day, gentlemen. Do either of you have an appointment with one of our doctors or nurses?”

“Doctor Chantique is expecting us. Tell her Cosigna Halcyon is here, with the new protégé he promised her.” Edaan answered, utilizing the alias he had crafted for when he dealt with the Sith-funded Iskalloni raiding parties.

Perplexed at the odd statement, but professional enough to respond accordingly, the older gentleman nodded, “I’ll leave her a message. Just take a seat while she tends to-”

“That won’t be necessary, Bora.” A digital voice warmly interrupted, surprising everyone as they turned to see an Iskalloni woman, garbed in her professional business attire and accompanied by a Cerean and Human, both men Edaan recognized right away from his many dealings with Club Bwua’tu and its growing number of allies.

“Senator Yimmon, Professor Na'al, Doctor Chantique.” Edaan cordially greeted each of his friends, shaking the hands of one after the other, “Glad to see you both again.” Turning to Kix, he introduced, “This is Kajin Bar Yimmon of the Galactic Senate, and Voren Na’al of the Galactic Alliance’s Historical Council. They’ll both hear your testimony regarding Fives and the rest of your brothers and work to make your voice heard and vode’s legacy corrected.”

“Thank you, both of you.” Kix bowed his head before everyone heard a rough cough.

“Don’t mind me. I’m just taking up valuable time to greet my newest staff member.” Doctor Chantique friendlily interjected. “My name, at least, the one I agreed to use while in exile, is Jarael Chantique. I run this clinic, and I’m sure Edaan has told you plenty of my accomplishments and our history together.”

“A little, Ma’am.” Kix shrugged. “He mostly spoke of how you’re one of the best medics and scientists he ever met, all while convincing him to take down your people and eventually help him in his personal mission, and that you had a good incentive for me to come work for you.”

“Ah. So, I take it he asked you as well to help save Vestara Khai and play matchmaker for her and Ben Skywalker?” Jarael concluded.

“He made the offer.” Kix confirmed. “Right now, though, I’m going to get my bearings first and figure out how I can help people after decades of forced confinement. I figured it’d be best to learn new medicinal techniques and keep all my skills sharp before I commit to anything grand.”

“So, do I apply for an interview, or is there something else I need to do if I hope to work here?”

“First, we have to give you the cure. Then we can see if your skills are still sharp as expected for a soldier of your caliber.” Jarael responded, earning confusion from her potential employee.

“Cure? Cure for what?” Kix asked. “I was examined thoroughly for any illnesses or malnourishment while in the Jedi’s care.”

“No, this cure is for your accelerated aging, of course.” Edaan jovially answered, making Kix freeze in his tracks before the Jedi explained, “I have a few friends in the Mandalorian Protectors, and they were able to get me the genetic sample of one of your living brothers that got the cure shortly after the Empire arose, and Jarael here, she was able to devise a new version from the DNA.”

Silent for what seemed like an eternity, Kix hoarsely whispered to Jarael, “You’re serious? You figured out how to negate the Kaminoan’s genetic acceleration and give me a normal lifespan?”

“Well, I admit it was quite a hard puzzle to solve, but I do enjoy a challenging task.” The rogue medic confirmed. “It helped that I had a bountiful supply of your blood to work with in perfecting the cure.”

Observing the frightened look on Kix’s face, Kajin kindly asked, “Are you okay, trooper? If you want to take some time to think it over-”

“No, it’s not that.” Kix interjected. “Well, it sort of is. It’s just, all my brothers, they deserved the cure as much as I do. If I take it, does it feel like I’m dishonoring them somehow?”

“No.” Voren resolutely answered. “If anything, you’re going to work to add to their legacy and honor their commitment to the Old Republic and Jedi. I understand better than you realize what you’re going through.”

“How so?” Kix curiously inquired.

“My wife is Rivoche Tarkin, the last living relative of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, and she risked her life countless times to redeem her family’s name by working as a spy for the Rebellion and member of the New Republic.” Voreen confessed, earning a bewildered stare from the Clone Trooper. “I know you know of him from his vilifying work as the prosecutor of Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, but just know that he did far worse after your incarceration. War crimes that have certainly earned him a special place in whatever hell he now resides in.”

“Why tell me this? What does any of this information have to do with my current predicament?” Kix warily inquired.

“Because you feel you should have died with the rest of your brothers, don’t you?” Voren sympathetically deduced. “To join them in oblivion and avoid dealing with the terrifying new galaxy you’ve entered. Well, Rivoche felt the same for a long time, but she hid her emotions far better than you.”

“But eventually, she knew she couldn’t let her despair control her. The only way to fight her loneliness was to form new bonds and work to prove she wasn’t like her uncle. And to do that, she had to face her fears head-on, every day just as she still must do so today. And that’s what you will need to do as well. But along the way, you’ll find a group of people that will be like a new squad to you, and they’ll watch your back, just like you’ll keep them alive in whatever you do next.”

“Don’t let the past weigh you down and blind you to what the present offers you, and what the future can hold for you and those close to you.” Voren finished.

Looking down, Kix admitted, “Maybe you’re right. I’ll give it plenty of thought.”

“Just take your time with this. It’ll all become clear as you keep on living, and you’ll find another purpose for yourself.” Kajin knowingly commented. “We’ve all been there at one point, no matter how much we regret the losses we’ve all taken.”

“Thank you, Senator.” Kix nodded, before addressing Jarael, “Well, I suppose we should begin the real interview. Where do you want to have it, since I think this is too public for everyone’s liking?”

“A formal interview will not be needed. Since I know your credentials, I think I have a good way to test your skills.” Jarael led her new employee to a nearby patient room, voices growing distant as she continued, “We’re going to start with a minor evaluation on a patient, and we’ll work from there with your exact position in our clinic.”

Somehow, Edaan had a hunch his new friend and potential teammate would do well enough in this mad galaxy. Now, it was time for him to finish his affairs here and return to Shedu Maad. He needed to return to the field and take the fight to the Sith and all their servants, because they wouldn’t destroy themselves, no matter how greatly most people and worlds wished would happen.

One Year Later

0300 Hours, Welona 34th, 57 ABY

Shedu Maad, Jedi Temple

Within Edaan Palpatine’s Quarters

“I see you’ve been busy since we last spoke, Edaan.” Kix good-naturedly chuckled at hearing the Jedi Apprentice tell him of his latest missions. “Preventing an assassination and escalation of a Mandalorian civil war, finding and recruiting a Jedi Master long thought to be dead, and stopping a galactic spice war between the Hutts and Yaka, I can see why the galaxy is so fixated on you.”

“Hopefully, you aren’t one of those people.” Edaan anxiously chuckled.

“He is, but in a good way.” Jarael humorously butted in, a rare smile from the typically stoic doctor, before going on, “Kix here, aside from becoming one of my best employees, has been quite productive in his time on Coruscant. Learning a few martial arts forms, making good informants with Jedi sympathizers across the system, and met Vua Gorsat. The two will be close as brothers soon enough.”

Quickly growing serious, Jarael changed topics, quietly asking, “We got your coded message. Do you think the time is near?”

Adopting a solemn expression, Edaan nodded, “Yes, but not for a couple more years at least. Soon enough, my real work will begin. And I’ll need your help to save Vestara and the others. We’re closing in on Kesh, and once the Lost Tribe’s eradicated, we can finally focus on the greater Sith threat to the galaxy.”

“You think she’ll escape when you liberate the world?” Kix guessed.

“No, Kix. I’m counting on it.” Edaan enigmatically answered. “We’ll need her alive to draw out her new masters, and the only way to do that is to let her go when all seems lost.”

“A terrible gamble, Edaan.’ Jarael noted. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Which is why I’m asking you to join me when the time comes.” Edaan agreed after nodding. “I’ll need a good, loyal, and steadfast team if I hope to stay alive and sane long enough to save Vestara. So, will you help me? I’ve already reached out to everyone else, and they’ve all agreed.”

Ruefully sighing, Kix noted, “You’re just as reckless as General Skywalker was. But thankfully, you have a better head on your shoulders and a stouter heart than he did. And you’ll need a good medic to bandage you up after you get battered from every engagement.”

“So, I'll assume you'll help me.” Edaan eagerly guessed.

“Only if Jarael agrees.” Kix pointed out. “She’s a good mentor and has connections in the underground medical community that’ll prove crucial in keeping us all in one piece.”

Anxiously gazing at his friend, Jarael irritably admitted, “Of course, I’m going to assist you in this endeavor. I’d never hear the end of it from anyone if I let you or Kix die when I could do something.”

“Well, that’s certainly one way to agree to help.” Edaan amusingly muttered, just relieved he had the help of two of the best medics and friends he ever encountered.

Chapter 3: Character Interlude #3: Robonino

Chapter Text

0600 Hours, Yelona 22nd, 51 ABY

Ojoster Sector, Taris

Within the City of Haydel Goravvus

Inside the Borkar Bankers Headquarters

Sequestered away in the galactic enterprise’s central headquarters, half a kilometer beneath the surface of Taris’s capital city, countless beings intercepted and analyzed trillions of data bits across the sector. With at least fifty sentients of twenty different species and analytics droids coordinating their efforts, this nerve center for Raze’s operations broke virtually every law regarding the kind of work the criminal mastermind excelled at.

With the Aporthad crime lord, slowly circling all his employees with his cybernetic limbs and studying every detail of their movements with his artificially enhanced mind, Raze was pleased at the start of another efficient day for his consortium and its many partners. Working alongside other progressive individuals like Natasi Daala in accelerating the galaxy’s trajectory towards a more orderly and firm society, all to aid the One Sith in achieving their goal of toppling the Jed’s untenable hold over the galaxy and give power to those who truly deserved it, he knew every day represented another step closer to the day when those who hid in the shadows could live in the open.

Reviewing the data coming in at a pace most beings could scarcely comprehend, Raze noticed one of his workers repeatedly sending his supervisors a Priority Delta notice, and decided to take a personal look at this little case. Scurrying over to the station as quickly as his mechanical limbs could carry his long and bulky frame, he soon came to a disgraceful sight. Two of his security officers were harassing the woman who sent him the notice, despite the Arkanian’s protests.

“Enough.” Raze loudly spoke, the one word enough for the guards to cease their accosting. Adopting a more civilized tone, the information broker kindly spoke, “This is hardly the way to treat an employee of ours, especially one who wishes to bring to our attention a potential ripple in our operations.”

“I am aware that the example that of the few traitors that have tarnished our consortium’s name and stability, but we still have standards to uphold, unless we become a mere cartel like Black Sun or, Ancestors forbid, the Hutts.” Raze spat out the last word as if it were the most disgusting insult he could contrive.

Generously gazing at the woman, tearing up at the empathy aimed at her, Raze offered, “Do you need a moment to collect yourself before you deliver your report?”

Composing herself, the woman shook her head. “No, no sir. I have the report right here.” Handing Raze a few sheets of flimsi, she promised, “It’s well worth the interruption.”

Carefully examining the notes provided to him, Raze’s expression grew thoughtful, but a hard stare could be found in his eyes as he voiced the next question to the Arkanian, “You’re certain of these transmissions?”

“Completely, sir.” She promised. “I triple-checked all the transmissions, cross-referenced the data from your agents in the Hapes Consortium and Tarisian government, and each report the same. The Jedi are sending a two-man team to investigate some of our proxies, and it’s two of their best members. They’ll be here by tomorrow, early afternoon, at the latest.”

“So it seems.” Raze nodded. “And a visit from Jaden Korr and Edaan Palpatine, two of Grand Master Katarn’s brightest pupils and one of the galaxy’s rising stars of hope and virtue.”

Licking his lips, Raze gently patted the woman’s shoulders, “Excellent work. Check your direct deposit in two days to observe your salary. You’ve earned a healthy bonus for bringing this… promising opportunity, to my attention.”

Turning to his guards, he ordered, “Ensure no further harm or interruptions come to Yora Jae. She’ll continue her work, but make sure she isn’t disturbed for the duration of the Jedi’s stay here. I believe her efforts will be quite useful in tracking their movements and eliminating a few troublesome nuisances that have embedded themselves in our flanks. That is, after I confirm this with our primary patrons and see if they can loan us a few of their assets to assist with this operation.”

1200 Hours, Yelona 23rd, 51 ABY

Spaceport Five

Debarking the Raven’s Claw, Jaden instructed Edaan, “I hope you’re ready for this, Edaan. Kyle’s put a lot of faith for this diplomatic outreach.”

“As if I needed another reminder, Jaden.” Edaan exhaustively rebutted. “We’ve gone over it ten times, but I’ll save you the trouble this time. You’re here as a facilitator of the negotiations and working to expand your network of contacts and informants on behalf of the Order, but I’ll be the principal agent of the talks. It’ll be a test of my skill, intuition, and resilience to last in a planet rife with corruption that rivals half the galactic underworld.”

“You might complain now, but such tests will be commonplace soon enough. And you can one day heap a similar set of trials on a pupil of your own once you take on an apprentice of your own.” Jaden cheekily reminded Edaan.

Preparing to leave the docking bay and meet with their representative with the planet’s government, both Jedi halted, sharing a quick and knowing glance before resuming their walk, now alert to whoever was tracking their movements.

“Where should we go, Edaan?” Jaden quietly asked. “You’ve studied the planet’s layout, so there are plenty of ways to shake our pursuers.”

“Let’s see what we can do to blend in with the crowd before taking a little detour.” Edaan softly replied, both Jedi pulling their hoods up and working to elude their hunters. Moving in with the growing crowd, neither Jedi lost sight of the other before they neared the shuttle bus lot.

Ready to take the long route to the planet’s Mirage District, Edaan’s danger senses ignited, and, sparing a glance to his right, was horrified to see an armored fighter taking at the crowd with a rocket launcher.

Forgoing safety to try and save the civilians around him, Edaan, pointing to the assailant while using the Force to amplify his voice, cried out, “ROCKETS!”

Quickly seeing what Edaan was pointing to, the civilians broke into a frenzy, screaming and scampering over everyone to try and escape the coming chaos. But the Jedi Apprentice knew it would not be enough to deter the assassin, so he reached out with the Force to manipulate the rocket launcher. Altering its inner components just enough to stop the attacker, he withdrew his sabotage when Jaden called for him, and hurried out of the area, ignoring the explosions that went off as the would-be murderer blew himself up in a fiery blaze.

Hurrying out of the spaceport, ready to disappear until both Jedi were stopped by sixteen Tarisian police agents. Suspecting they were being accosted by corrupt officers or about to be rounded up as suspects for the attack, they were surprised when the captain ordered, “Lieutenant Governor Saresh wishes to speak with you both immediately. He believes you two well-meaning do-gooders can help him, and we’ve been ordered to escort you with all possible haste.” Gazing at the burning building, he grunted, “Of course, that was before this attack happened, but at least you managed to save all the civilians. Unfortunately, you’ll have to make do with just a few men while the rest tend to the wounded.”

Edaan was about to protest the offer of protection before remembering how assassins rarely traveled alone, and there would be countless civilians caught in the crossfire of the hunt unless he and Jaden eluded their opponents.

Fortunately, Jaden took the lead in this instance, “We’ll go with you. But you need to cordon off the area and screen the evacuees for criminal records. Whoever tried to attack your spaceport likely wasn’t working alone if they were trying to kill the two of us.”

“I’ve already got teams scouring the area.” The captain acknowledged. “We’ll take the long way around to make sure we shake any potential pursuers.”

1400 Hours

City of Lhosan

Carrick Tapcafe

Within this hotbed of activity, many species were enjoying a drink, or even ten, while catching up with old friends, learning of regional and galactic events, and trying to find good bounties to earn a good payday. And several infamous targets were carefully being scrutinized by a short and unassuming Patrolian, with purple and blue skin, garbed in simple clothing but equipped with several high-end tools worthy of a professional mercenary, who was looking for the best criminal to start his illustrious career.

A member of a typically aquatic and race, Robonino had learnt much of bounty hunting from his father, just as he had from his father before him, and yearned to follow in their footsteps, but without being a galactic fugitive like his namesake when he teamed up with Jedi hunters and Sith agents during and after the Clone War. Unlike the first Robonino in his long family tree, his grandson wanted to make a much better living by making the streets and planets safer for honest and law-abiding citizens, all while satisfying his unending craving for adventure and ever greater challenges.

How fortunate, then, that one certain bounty promised both for the Patrolian gunslinger: A Yarkona named Schurk-Adampo, an infamous crime lord with confirmed ties to galactic crime lord and information kingpin Raze, this 150-year-old man would be a grueling trial for any hunter. But Robonino was nothing if not persistent, and he was determined to start cleaning up Taris’s cities, one block at a time if needed. Plus, the 50,000-credit bounty for capturing the criminal dead or alive was a perfect incentive in furnishing himself with better equipment and supporting his family here.

Preparing to download the full contents of the target, Robonino found himself being shoved aside by several taller men and women. “Hey!” He whined. “I was here first! Get in line and wait your turn before you can select your prey!”

Seeing one of the interlopers, a Weequay, stare down at him with a condescending smirk, Robonino momentarily considered hitting him right in the gut with a poison dart, but halted when remembering what happened the last time he did that in this cantina. Instead, he cautioned the meddler, “Let me get to my bounty, or you’ll regret it.”

Chuckling with an amused glint in his eyes, the grizzled mercenary dismissively goaded, “How are you going to back up that threat, little fish?”

Oh, it’s on now.’ Robonino swore before doing something the rival bounty hunter would never expect. Leaping onto the table he promised, “You’re about to find out.” Quicker than the eye could tell, he stuck out a hand at his rival’s exposed neck, and he spasmed uncontrollably for a moment, electricity coursing through his body before collapsing onto the ground, nearly dragging a table down with him.

After that mishap, chaos ensued throughout the establishment, with sober and drunken patrons throwing punches at each other, furniture being destroyed, and mercenaries eventually preparing to pull out blasters before alarms started blaring from outside.

Guess I really stepped in it this time.’ Robonino lamented before, in the tumult of the bar wide brawl that was dying down, downloaded the contents of Schurk-Adampo’s bounty before sneaking away out the restaurant’s back entrance, slipping a few credit chits underneath the owner’s door as thanks for letting him escape interrogation yet again. When he got this bounty and earned his first small fortune, he would ensure he paid back all his friends for all the trouble he brought on them. It was the least he could do after getting them into countless scraps and bouts of trouble with the law throughout the first twenty years of his life.

1800 Hours

Haydel Goravvus City

Within the Mirage District

“Thank you both for seeing me after everything you just endured.” A Twi’lek man, green-skinned, with a well-worn face from many smiles and laughs, and in a modest outfit befitting of the Lieutenant Governor of Taris, politely started the meeting with Jaden and Edaan. “I know you’d likely need a bit of rest and a decent meal, especially after your harrowing introduction to Taris’s criminal population, but I’m sure you can guess that I haven’t called you here for refreshments or your scheduled meeting with Governor Arland.”

“We assumed as much, Lieutenant Governor Saresh.” Jaden respectfully bowed his head, with a curious expression crossing Edaan’s face before he bowed in suit.

Seeing the wonder on Edaan’s face, Saresh offered his hand, kindly introducing himself, “You must be Edaan Palpatine. Your master’s told me a lot about you. I’m Leon Saresh.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ve... heard plenty of remarkable things about you also.” Edaan diplomatically replied.

Letting out a single chuckle, Leon good-naturedly guessed, “You’re aware of my ancestry and how most of them were power-hungry and amoral schuttas, correct? I heard you were a studious young man, and I can see the recognition of my family’s last name in your eyes.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have put it like that, Sir.” Edaan embarrassingly answered. “But I’ve brushed up a bit on the planet’s history. Tragic, most of it.”

“Yes. And not only the Sith and humaneocentrists that once governed this world with an iron fist, but my ancestors contributed to much of Taris’s dark past. Not to mention the worst in the woman who became Supreme Chancellor of the Old Republic and nearly drove the galaxy to ruin with her warmongering and megalomania, Sith and Zakuul threats notwithstanding.” Leon regrettably nodded. “And all that’s why I surround myself with good and incorruptible advisors and make regular trips to the downtrodden sectors to deliver relief aid and opportunities for many of the residents.”

“I imagine it’s rather similar to you and your bloodline.” Leon pressed, wondering how the Palpatine heir would react when being compared to his great-great-grandfather of a Sith Lord.

Thinly pressing his lips together for a moment, Edaan calmly answered back, “Only in one member, and I’ve worked to steer clear of his legacy.”

“Good.” Leon nodded, satisfied with the response before his expression became somber, “Unfortunately, not everyone agrees our simple but honest lifestyles and principles.”

“You’ve seen the evidence of it in your welcoming committee, but it’s only the smallest taste of what you have to contend with in your stay here.”

“How bad is it?” Jaden pointedly asked.

“Worse than most of Hutt Space put together, but without the slavery and blatant honesty of the slugs’ dirty work.” Leon wearily began. “Gang wars, information trafficking, racketeering, kidnapping, you name it, it happens in virtually every district. And I know many of my subordinates are tied to this web of crime, and I’m powerless to do anything about it and their accursed handler!” Slamming his hand on his desk as evidence of his barely contained fury, Leon breathed out the anger, professing, “I was hoping Kyle would be able to send me at least ten of his people.”

“They’re being redeployed to Zygerria.” Jaden explained. “Looks like someone with a lot of pull is working to reform their society, but they need a bit of… assistance in training a rebel army from scratch.”

“Well, good for them, but bad for Taris.” Leon bitterly remarked. “How long do I even have you two for?”

“Long as you need. It’s a long-term job, and I’ll be taking the charge in most regards.” Edaan promised. “Part of my mission out here and a big step in my training to become a Jedi Knight.”

Ruefully chuckling, Leon warned, “I’ll take the help I can get. But you’d better be a better prodigy than the HoloNet reports tell me if you hope to handle all this mess with Jaden Korr as your overseer.”

“Who’ve you identified in leading this crime wave?” Jaden professionally asked.

“Raze is at the head of it all.” Leon grunted. “And I know where many of his operations are, but I don’t have the proof, manpower, or authority to move on them. That’s where we can start our work, locating the weak links in his organization, and following the trail for as long as it takes. Hopefully soon, we can find the evidence we’ll need to get the Galactic Alliance to send plenty of real soldiers out here.”

Pulling out a datapad, Leon handed it to Jaden and warned, “Raze and his local network have plenty of brutal and smart people in their pockets.”

“Which begs the question of where to begin.” Edaan lamented before looking through the datapad after Jaden handed it to him, struggling to decide which potential lead to follow would be the most promising to follow.

Eventually settling on a prime target, Edaan decided the best way to draw out Raze and his unseen backers would be to hit his operations strongly and loudly, which first meant taking down one of the Aporthad’s most brilliant, experienced, and ruthless operatives in a high-profile manner sure to get his attention.

Look out, Schurk-Adampo. You won’t know what’s coming after you until it’s too late.’ Edaan earnestly vowed. First, he would learn all he could of this Yarkona criminal, his operations, and all his ties to Raze, and then he would get to work.

0300 Hours, Yelona 25th, 51 ABY

Within the Lower City

Within the Hierogryph District

Crawling through the long-abandoned office building’s giant air ducts to escape, Robonino hoped his contact’s information was valid. Seeing dozens of heavily armed thugs patrolling the area was bad enough. Unfortunately, upon learning that this structure was simply a front for dozens of spice runner cartels operating across half the Outer Rim, he knew he could never outfight them all. He wasn’t even sure that Taris’s militia could, even if it got its act together.

Once again, just as he had been since he was a boy, Robonino would have to be light on his feet and inconspicuous to get the information he wanted from this facility, which was just fine by him.

Sneaking in through the planet’s sewer tunnels that went all over the planet, Robonino was fortunate enough to find a lightly guarded convoy of empty cargo vessels arriving. Hitching a ride on one such ship, he quickly made his way into the facility, and realized how someone highly placed in Taris’s legitimate government had to be aware of this operation, if not funding it directly and covering up its existence. That bit of information could be useful in increasing his pay after he caught up with Schurk-Adampo and get what he wanted from him.

Eventually reaching the facility’s central command center, Robonino was able to overpower the leader and, with the help of two doses of truth-serums and a weak nerve toxin, convinced her to unveil everything she knew of this illegal enterprise, and give him complete and unrestricted access to the system’s database without detection. Downloading all the intelligence his datapad and data drives could carry, he then knocked out the Zelosian woman before scampering on out through a large passageway.

Slowly making his way out through a lightly patrolled region of the district, processing everything he had uncovered while infiltrating this den of crime to plan his next move. From what he was able to decode right now, Robonino realized how this planet’s corruption ran far deeper and was far more insidious than he ever imagined.

By infiltrating every lever of power inside the local government, militia, and economic strata of Taris, Raze and whoever was underwriting his efforts were working to upend this entire galactic sector in chaos and corruption, while allowing a shadowy force to slip inside and seamlessly take over the infrastructures and remake them in whatever image they so desired. And whoever these enemies of the Tarisian people were, they were preparing to target the two Jedi that were sent to investigate the scope of this cancerous crime wave to get the Galactic Alliance to respond in force, an outcome everyone involved in this despicable scheme desperately wanted to avoid at all costs.

Obviously, Robonino suspected the Sith were involved in some fashion, knowing the Senate’s idiocy had tied their military’s hands when facing the Jedi’s ancient adversaries. But at this point, it wouldn’t be sensible to point fingers just yet without absolute proof. That only left the option of him needing to warn the two Jedi and help them spring this trap on their terms so they could use it to their advantage.

Looking up the data on the two Jedi, Robonino was surprised to realize that the younger Jedi of the duo was a rising galactic celebrity, especially with the ladies. Edaan Palpatine had been the talk of many news stations for two years since his unbelievable emergence on Coruscant during the firebombing campaign orchestrated by the True Victory Party and its demented anti-Yuuzhan Vong crusade. As a result, he quickly became a source of cautious curiosity for many, especially the newly minted mercenary.

Well, if the information Robonino managed to snatch from the enemy’s databases was the genuine article, then Edaan was heading to the planet’s undercity to try and draw out Schurk-Adampo. It seemed that the Jedi had the same target as him, and that could be beneficial if he played his cards right. Of course, he’d have to make it before the assassins Raze was preparing to deploy against him caught up with him first, which meant he’d have to move quicker than ever before.

It was time to call in another favor with his friends in several of the planet’s law-friendly gangs. A swoop rider would be perfect in getting to Edaan right away, and then he could compare notes with him and see if they could best accomplish their objectives by working together.

0900 Hours

Upper City, Mirage District

Inside the Governor’s Mansion

“Why are you here?” Arland impatiently scoffed at his unwanted guest in his personal study. “I don’t have time to cater to your whims, Raze, and you can’t afford to be here now with the scrutiny we’re about to be under.”

“That is precisely why I came to you, Governor.” The Aporthad outlaw spat the title out like it was an insult. “Did you honestly believe that a mere handful of your hired thugs would be enough to ambush and eliminate two of the Jedi’s best fighters in a public massacre, nor prevent the inevitable investigation that would follow?”

“If your incompetent plan had actually succeeded, I would have withdrawn from this planet and made sure your rule would come to a disgraceful end, without any hope of escape or of pinning the blame onto me.” Raze vindictively added before calming down. “Thankfully, though, your gambit failed, which means there is a way to salvage this situation.”

“How?” Arland scoffed before he felt a razor thin blade cross his neck, mere millimeters from skin.

Smiling as if he were addressing a young child, Raze patiently answered, “We’re going to have to divide and conquer in order to beat the Jedi. But I’ll need the full support and cooperation of your government and all those who see things our way if our masters are to get their prizes.”

In no position to contest the point, Arland panted, “Done. Anything else?”

Eyes twinkling in amusem*nt, Raze nodded to the shadowy figure, who lowered his blade and allowed the corrupt politician to fall to his knees. “You will not mention this conversation to anyone, nor will you even entertain deviating from the plan Ochi and I have devised until all we have to do for our masters is accomplished.”

“Rest assured, Governor, if you can carry out these orders, you’ll be rid of all your major opponents, and be able to strike a blow to the Jedi while gaining immense wealth and prestige with the galactic community. You might even become a senator in the next election if you play your cards right.” Raze included, knowing the human governor’s insatiable greed, lust for fame and power, and excellent oratory and political skills, would ensure he would continue to be a valuable asset for Admiral Daala and their shared masters in the One Sith. That is, provided their puppet would continue to be guided in the proper direction and kept clear of any avoidable obstacles.

But first, the Jedi had to be removed from the equation before they could risk unraveling all the One Sith’s plans for this sector of space. How fortunate then, that Raze had a few ideas on doing just that by using his comprehensive knowledge of the Jedi Order’s tactics and frequencies to take the two down, one by one.

1900 Hours, Yelona 26th, 51 ABY

Within the Planet’s Middle District

“You didn’t have to come and see me personally, Amora.” Jaden gratefully greeted his contact. Seeing the hooded Kel Dor woman before him, glancing around every corner as if she was fearing for her life, it reminded him of the danger of serving as an informant for the Jedi Order in these treacherous times.

“I had to.” Amora rebutted. “You and your friends are in deeper trouble than you think, and this’ll give you all a chance at saving this world and its people.” Silently handing Jaden a data chip, she urged him, “Don’t lose this. It identifies just who Raze is working with in the planet’s government and can lead the Jedi to plenty of off-world allies of his.”

“How bad is it?”

“Bad. Raze has plenty of powerful people and groups backing him.” Amora scanned the area. Turning to leave, she warned Jaden, “Don’t stay here for too long. There’s more enemies around this sector than you and your friends realize.”

Nodding, Jaden pulled out a few credit chits and put them in Amora’s hand, promising, “There’s more to come if we make it through this.”

Seeing Amora safely make it away, Jaden prepared to contact Edaan and suggest a rendezvous point, when the sense of danger he had been feeling for the last half hour just intensified. Pulling out his unlit lightsaber, he reached out with his senses to try and gauge the situation. Stilling his mind, he let the Force flow through him, feeling the emotions of everyone in the general area, not noticing anything out of the ordinary, except for an elusive shadow that skirted the peripheral vision of his senses. It was not of the Sith, but dangerously close in its level of sheer darkness and honed power.

Suddenly the darkness surrounded the Jedi, and it proved to be all but impossible to think clearly, barely able to hear the clattering of many small metal objects roll around him. Not even a moment later, he realized the enemy distraction had done its work, and the real battle was about to begin.

All this flashed through Jaden’s mind in less than a fraction of a second—just enough time for the danger to register before he flung at least seven grenades far into the air, while the remaining the sonic detonators on virtually all sides of him went off. Their earsplitting shriek paralyzed Jaden, causing him to stumble forward into the alley and away from the main road and any possible escape routes. His hands instinctively flew up and clutched at his ears, his lightsaber dropping to the floor.

And then the enemy fell upon him. They poured out from rooftops and back-alley doors, bursting into view from every side. Three soldiers armed with stun rifles sent a barrage of bolts raining down from the rooftops. Still struggling to even stand from the sonic detonators, Jaden was barely able to throw up a protective barrier in time to shield him from the assault.

As he did so, Jaden felt the same dark force he felt a few moments ago resume to fight him. Someone with a great connection with the Force was trying to block his own connection to it and keep him from shielding himself. It wasn’t strong enough to stop him, but it did hinder his efforts more than enough for a flicker of energy to pass right through the barrier.

His muscles seized as Jaden was hit; his entire body spasming and seizing up the moment the blast’s remnant collided with him. Every nerve in his body lit up as if it were on fire. The pain lasted only a single instant, but it was enough to knock him to the floor in a crumpled heap.

As a testament to his skill, Jaden didn’t stay down for more than a couple seconds. Years of Jedi training and naturally building up his body’s endurance had made him a paragon of physical strength and resistance. Springing back up, simultaneously drawing his lightsaber with his right hand as he sent a blast of lightning out from the fingertips of his left. The green bolts should have scorched out all three of his targets on the balcony, yet again the strange individual interfered with his ability to fully draw upon the Force and hindered his efforts.

Two of the victims were electrocuted with just enough power to spasm onto the floor while rapidly lose consciousness. The third, however, managed to throw herself back from the balcony’s edge, evading the attack. Jaden never got a chance to knock her out. A pair of soldiers emerged from a hallway on the left, and three more appeared from the hall on the right. They opened fire with tangle guns, sending out long streams of sticky, synthetic webbing meant to hinder and immobilize the Jedi Knight, but it confirmed his suspicions that whoever hunted him currently wanted him alive.

The soldiers were smart; they were professionally coordinating their efforts. Two fired at his feet, looking to pin him to the floor. The others aimed for the chest and torso, looking to lock his arms to his sides with the viscous strings. But Jaden wasn’t about to let himself become captured without putting up a fight.

Leaping up, he grabbed on to an enemy sentry droid, holding himself up with his free hand as it swerved around to try and shake him off. Swinging his legs to build momentum, he launched himself up into the air and onto the roofs, giving him the advantage of higher ground.

He came down with a heavy thud, the bizarre power still impeding his connection to the Force robbing him of a graceful landing. The bodies of the two knocked out soldiers were scattered about him, with the third nowhere to be seen. All around him were a long series of roofs that could give him an escape vector, provided a certain armored individual would stop impeding his way.

An armored man, at least, Jaden assumed it was a man, stood at the far end of the hall, wearing armor reminiscent of ancient Sith warriors, holding a long, thin metal blade held in each hand. He felt the eager anticipation and wariness in his stance, and in that moment, he knew who was interfering with his ability to use the Force.

The assassin broke into a run, charging down the roof toward him. Jaden dropped into a fighting crouch to meet his attack, believing her blades were no match for his lightsaber. It was only then that he noticed the flash grenades lying by the dead bodies at his feet and sensed the dark hand triggering them.

They exploded with a burst of intense light and chemical smoke that blinded Jaden. Disoriented, he fell back against the rooftop’s stone edges. An instant later he felt the sole of the armored humanoid’s boots strike him hard in the chest, sending him tumbling backward over the banister to the marble floor at least fifteen meters below.

Hitting the ground hard enough to knock the breath from his body, even after he used the Force to soften the blow, the impact left him gasping for air. The impact jarred his lightsaber from his grip, letting it skitter across the floor. An instant later his beaten and worn form was enveloped by the webbing from the tangle guns, pinning him to the ground and unable to move.

Blind and immobilized, Jaden’s instincts saved him. Decades of training allowed him to focus all his energies into one single blast of power, drawing on it so he could break free of this trap and make his escape. Once again, he felt the assassin’s barrier trying to restrict his efforts, but this time he tore through it like it was a thin piece of flimsi.

For a moment it was as if the world around him was frozen in place. Though his eyes were still partially blinded by the flash grenades’ effects, the Force rushing through his body gave him an otherworldly awareness of his surroundings—the scene was burned into his brain with perfect clarity.

The soldiers were scattered about the area, scrambling to take up new positions in preparation for the next stage of the battle. They were well trained, but he could still sense their fear: they knew the fight was far from over, and that they might not survive the rest of the battle at its current pace. The assassin had leapt over the railing in pursuit of him. He hung poised in the air above him, his twin blades held out to either side as she braced for landing. Jaden could even see himself lying on the floor, buried beneath a thick, wet blanket of rapidly drying chemical adhesive.

The frozen tableau lasted only a fraction of an instant, but it told the Jedi Knight everything he needed to know. And then the glimpse of clarity was gone, and everything became a blur of motion again. The armored enemy landed just as Jaden unleashed a combined wave of crackling electricity and telekinetic energy that burned away the webbing of the tangle guns while blowing away three guards foolish enough to try and stun him into submission.

The unidentified foe dropped to one knee and tried to stab his thin blades into him as he lay on the floor, but through the Force Jaden saw her coming. He managed to roll aside, escaping with only a long, deep cut along one of his forearms as he scrambled back to his feet. In response to his call, his lightsaber flew up from the floor and into his waiting hand, but the assassin was already retreating. Now that he was no longer helpless, he was eager to fall back and let his cohorts step in to assist him.

Several more flash grenades exploded around him, but Jaden was no longer unaffected; he could not afford to simply rely on his physical sight to guide him anymore. Fresh streams of webbing arced across the room toward him, but this time he dodged every burst while they were still in the air. Half a dozen concussion grenades tossed in from every side clattered on the floor at his feet. Just before they exploded, relying on instinct, he simply enveloped himself in the Force, creating a protective cocoon that absorbed the impact and left him standing completely unharmed.

Two men popped up from behind a nearby sewer entrance and fired at him from point-blank range with their stun guns. Jaden slapped the incoming bolts away with his lightsaber, then thrust out a hand to send the sewer door slamming shut eliminating two more adversaries without having to kill them.

Then Jaden was on the move again, bearing down on two of the soldiers carrying tangle guns and barring his way to freedom outside the alleyway. Knowing there was no other way to escape, and having given them ample opportunity to withdraw, he sliced them both in half with a single blow from his lightsaber, carving a perfect line just below their belts. Another volley of stun bolts came from behind, too late to save them, he was already gone.

A single flip back towards the main street, he saw the assassin blocking his way, but with reinforcements he wasn’t expecting: Tarisian Civil Authorities, at least a squad of them, all aiming their blasters at Jaden with dozens more blocking off the main streets, whether on the ground or in police shuttles.

“You can’t escape, Jaden Korr.” The Dark Sider respectfully warned the Jedi Knight.

“We’ll see about that.” Jaden smirked, just before the assassin made his move. He was quicker than the Jedi expected, coming in low and faster than most Jedi Knights half Jaden’s age. Not having time to simply blast him away, he instead had to spin out of the way. He tried to take one of his arms with his lightsaber on a counterthrust as he slipped past, but the armored man anticipated his move and managed to twist his body around, just enough so his blade caught nothing but a metal blade. But to Jaden’s surprise, he saw his blade begin to sputter out before the blade’s emitter functioned properly again an instant later.

Cortosis!’ Jaden realized, now seeing just how well-prepared the assassin and his masters were prepared for him. Recalling with perfect clarity the rare metal and its properties in nullifying a lightsaber, and how many rogue organizations and armies sought it for use against both Jedi and Sith, he knew the assassin, whoever he was working for, was well-prepared for any eventuality in this skirmish.

Interrupting his reflections, the assailant struck, backed up by all his remaining hired guns. Utilizing both lightsaber forms of Makashi and Ataru with an agility he hadn’t utilized up until now, he struck at Jaden with such power, the Jedi wasn’t able to do anything but reflexively block each blow with a lightsaber, with just three clashes enough to cause the blade to dissipate entirely.

Once the primary obstacle to his target was removed, the Dark Sider offered politely again, “You can still surrender, Knight Korr. It’d be easier for all of us, and any innocents caught in the crosshairs of this skirmish.”

“Dream on.” Jaden scoffed, before seeing his informant being dragged right beside the assassin, a blaster aimed at her neck. Berating himself for underestimating the enemy’s cunning, the Jedi ordered, “Let her go.”

“Amora will survive, rest assured of that. But whether in one piece, that all depends on you in this moment, Jaden Korr.” The lead police force sergeant casually acknowledged, with a dozen of his compatriots surrounding the unarmed Jedi Knight.

Grunting at the lack of options, Jaden warned the assassin, “You lay a finger on her head, and you’ll regret taking me in of my own free will.”

Nodding, the agent agreed, “I’ll make sure she’s treated fairly.” Crisply motioning with a wave of his hand, the police officer restraining Amora hit the Kel Dor woman with a stun baton, knocking her out with enough force to incapacitate a full-grown gundark.

Hoping he wasn’t making a fatal mistake, Jaden raised his hands over his head, and allowed himself to be cuffed by Force-suppressing restraints before he was hit with a single dart, falling onto the ground as he allowed the sedative’s effects to start coursing throughout his entire system.

Edaan, looks like it’s all up to you now.’ His last thoughts were of his fellow Jedi and friend, hoping he and whoever else he would ally with could figure out a way to salvage this mess and bring the perpetrators to justice before all was lost for this planet’s few remaining defenders.

0200 Hours, Yelona 26th, 51 ABY

Within the Planet’s Undercity Sewers

Level 20

Battering away countless blaster bolts trying to stun him into submission, Edaan, utilizing his lightsaber as a simple defensive tool, was able to redirect many of the attacks back at his many adversaries and creating a gap in the enemy’s formation, eventually allowing him to make a break for freedom.

Unfortunately, Edaan was several city districts away from any friendly area of Taris, having followed a lead by Jaden to track down Schurk-Adampo before realizing how badly he was deceived by Raze and his armies of spies and cronies. And he couldn’t just run aimlessly across the sewers, not without an escape route or time to decide how to regroup. While his long-dead Jedi Master in Revan once traversed Taris’s sewers millennia ago at the height of the Second Sith War, and the basic information was proving pivotal for him to gain ground against the assassins, it wasn’t enough to get him out of harm’s way. He needed a covert route to back to his speeder that he left concealed, and he needed to figure it out before he was overrun.

Interrupting Edaan’s strategizing, a deep but guttural voice crackled out of his pocket. “Jedi Palpatine?

Surprised at how someone hacked into his comlink’s personal frequency, Edaan was prepared to smash the device to bits, before the man continued to speak. “I hope you’re not planning to escape by using the same speeder bike you utilized to get here. Raze’s people are swarming over the area and seizing the vehicle.”

“If you want to get out of here in one piece and rescue Jaden Korr, you’re going to have to trust me for a while. I’ll get you to safety and to friendly territory.”

Mind running amok at hearing everything the man just told him, Edaan cautiously reached out with the Force, trying to communicate with Jaden, but only found a blank void where the vibrant Jedi Knight once existed. Seeing no other choice, he cautiously asked, “How do I know I can trust you, whoever you are?”

“Because we’re both seeking the same prey, and I have information that can help you in your anti-corruption campaign. But first, you’ll have to get to us before your window of opportunity closes.” The mysterious voice concluded before adding, “My friend and I are at the sewers’ central junction two levels up. Try to make it in one piece.”

Closing the comm channel, Edaan knew he’d have his work cut out for him. But he did enjoy a challenge, and this could be a perfect chance to implement his stealth training against his many pursuers.

0800 Hours

Level 18

Finally seeing a bright light at the end of the tunnel, Edaan hurried towards the edge, only to stop and swerve midway to avoid a slice from an armored assassin. Seeing the grey and red coated assailant, concealed beneath a durable metal shell, holding a thin metal blade in each of his hands, Edaan instinctively knew this would be the final obstacle before reaching freedom.

And it would be a large hurdle to overcome, for he felt the aggressor’s strength to the Dark Side of the Force, a connection with an intensity Edaan had not felt before from any of his previous opponents. If Edaan didn’t know any better, he suspected he was engaging against a Sith for the first time in his life.

Pulling out his lightsaber, igniting its amethyst blade, Edaan lunged at the foe, who was barely able to block the blow with a blade, but not before the attack skirted the edges of his armor and left a lasting gash over the breastplate. Seeing the lightsaber flicker out for a moment, he realized the blade was made of Cortosis, and knew he would have to change his strategy quickly if he hoped to escape.

Deciding to change tactics against his opponent, Edaan deactivated his lightsaber and blew the foe away with a telekinetic burst. But his sense of victory was short-lived when the Sith used the momentum to leap onto the ceiling and launch himself at his foe, with the Jedi barely able to backflip away in time to avoid the impact.

Before the assassin could follow up his attack, he twitched his body just enough to avoid the stun bolts aimed at his torso. Edaan, seeing the distraction and knowing now was not the time to fight a Sith, blew him at least fifty meters away with another blast, before making his escape for freedom. Seeing a Patrolian hurrying into an armored airspeeder, he guessed that was his new friend and quickly entered as well.

The moment Edaan entered the armored craft, the Patrolian shouted to the co*ckpit, “The kid’s aboard! Punch it!”

Barely able to keep his breakfast in his stomach after the vertigo from the shuttle’s rapid ascent, Edaan asked the diminutive ally, “All right. You got what you wanted, I’m aboard. Now who in the blazes are you?!”

“That’s fair, given the circ*mstances.” The Patrolian agreed. “The name’s Robonino, and the people of Taris needs your help in stopping Governor Arland and the galactic crime lord Raze from fully taking over this sector and making it their own criminal kingdom.”

“I’m taking you to my friends in the Taris Resistance, and meanwhile, we’ll start to compare notes and figure out a way to save the day.”

Edaan, sensing the truth from Robonino, let out a breath of relief. “Okay. But tell me this. What happened to the Jedi Knight who came with me?”

“Far as we know, he’s alive, and we know exactly where Jaden Korr is being held.” Robonino solemnly began. “But we’re going to need an army if we hope to save him before it’s too late.”

1500 Hours

Lower City

Within the Railing Rancors’ Central Base

Assessing the human Jedi Apprentice and Patrolian bounty hunter, Graden Meeko, the leader of the underground Taris Resistance and beloved figure by most of the planet’s downtrodden and abused citizens for his charitable work, shook his head in amazement at how two rogue elements had done more to accelerate the small army’s efforts to upend Governor Arland and Raze’s stranglehold over this once bustling city world in a few days than his army did in a year.

Addressing Robonino, the Ithorian gang leader thanked the smaller nonhuman, “I still can’t believe you infiltrated Arland’s primary spice processing plant and got away without any hassle, and with a treasure trove of intelligence. I guess the Jedi’s old saying of size not mattering has some measure of truth to it. Now we have all the proof we need to get the Galactic Alliance to respond in strength to end the enemy’s chokehold over the entire world, provided we can get a message out to them.”

“I can help with that, with your approval, of course.” Edaan quickly, but politely, offered. “I know a few people in the GA’s military and political structures that can make sure this evidence reaches the right people quick enough to make an impact.”

“Can they be trusted?” Graden appraised the human Jedi Apprentice.

“Beyond any doubt.” Edaan assured. “I’m on good terms with several senators and a few military squads with incredibleconnections in the GA, and they can alert Chief of State Dorvan and his military advisors, and they can send a force to aid us in freeing Taris. With your permission, I can get the word out right away, provided we have a transceiver strong enough to break through Arland’s machinations.”

With Graden’s spies reporting how the governor had just enacted a planetary comm blackout in response to what he claimed to be a Jedi-led insurrection, having captured Jaden Korr and Lieutenant Governor Saresh and falsely implicated them in leading a spice smuggling ring as part of a galactic effort to establish a Jedi dictatorship across the galaxy, it was obviously a concerted and ludicrous effort to discredit the Jedi Order and solidify Arland’s power base while covering his trail of corruption.

“I can supply one.” Bayla, a dark-skinned human woman who served as Graden’s right-hand, promised. “I have a few favors in the Taris HNN Station that’ll come in handy. But we won’t have long before the governor and Raze start retaliating, so we’ll have to move quickly after the message is sent to Coruscant and launch our endgame to free Taris.”

“I can help with that little hiccup in the plan.” Robonino offered. “With all the data we’ve all accumulated on Arland and Raze’s operations, we just need to get the word out to as many people as possible, and let the resulting chaos allow us to make our real move. And I happen to know of a few HoloNet anchors that’ll listen to what we have to say.”

“What about Jaden?” Edaan quickly pointed out. “We can’t just leave him or the lieutenant governor in Raze’s captivity. I don’t want to imagine what horrors will happen to him if we forget about them both.”

“We won’t, Jedi Palpatine.” Yutha Ren, a magenta skinned Twi’lek subordinate of Graden, promised. “Thanks to Robonino’s hacking, we were able to track Jaden and Leon’s captures and know exactly where they are. We’ll be preparing a team to break them out right as we make our move.”

Graden, clapping his long hands together in eager anticipation, ordered everyone, “Then let’s get to work. It’s time to set the stage for finally liberating Taris free from its cruel oppressors’ domination.”

1800 Hours, Yelona 27th, 51 ABY

Haydel Goravvus City

Inside Borkar Bankers Outpost Leonia

Schurk-Adampo, observing the Jedi bound and caged within his cell, could hardly believe that this was the famed Jedi Knight that led the charge in defeating the Disciples of Ragnos nearly forty years ago. Watching through a secure camera feed, the Yarkona was listening intently to every question his interrogators gave the prisoner, and every response that Jaden gave.

Even with his mental faculties dulled by spices and his body’s capacity for pain pushed to its breaking point, the Jedi was still proving resilient against his tormentors, far more so than the Lieutenant Governor had been. With all the Twi’lek gave Raze, he had all he needed to exercise complete control over Taris, provided if everything else proceeded according to plan.

Knowing Raze sought as much information he could acquire before Ochi’s masters provided the transport to securely move Jaden to their reprogramming facility, Schurk knew he needed to ensure no loose ends were left in both this interrogation, and in the hunt for the final Jedi assigned to Taris. Having attained no useful information from the Jedi’s questioning so far, the Yarkona knew it was long past time to intensify and diversify efforts if he hoped to break his adversary.

All Schurk required now was the word of approval from Raze, and the special consultant needed to help break the Jedi. Then he would start to truly test Jaden Korr and see whose mind and will were superior, and the long-lived outlaw would prove that no Jedi was better than a man with as much experience and brilliance as him.

And while Schurk was at it, he needed to ensure nothing interfered with his leader’s operations. According to his field agents, several suspicious figures were seen scouting out the outpost and analyzing his people’s patrol routes and comm patterns. Whether they were overeager journalists or members of Taris’s ragtag resistance, he couldn’t afford to take a chance here. He needed to eliminate any opposition right away, before it could explode into a full-scale rebellion.

0800 Hours, Yelona 28th, 51 ABY

Upper District

Governor’s Palace

“Governor, we have a situation.” An aide anxiously alerted Arland. “Several locally-owned news stations are making illegal broadcasts, directly against your decree, decrying your rule and calling for your resignation amidst vast charges of corruption and dereliction of duty.”

Now fully alert at his rule being defied, the slovenly governor ceased eating his smorgasbord of a meal and ordered the assistant, “Get me the Chief of Police. We need to shut this down now, before it ignites a wildfire we can’t put out.”

“Too late. The firestorm is already upon you” Raze’s disgusted voice came through the mansion’s loudspeakers, nearly giving Arland a stroke from the shock alone.

“Raze! Do you always have to sneak up on me like that?!”

“That should be the least of your concerns, you fat and wretched excuse for a puppet.” Raze spat. “Jedi Palpatine and your opposition, they’re already breaking out Jedi Korr and all your political prisoners, all while alerting the Galactic Alliance to your treason. They’re sending every available ship in their entire sector to deal with you.”

Paling at the disclosure, Arland tried to maintain calm but found several gasping breaths escaping his mouth. “What… how did this happen?!”

“Because you let your guard down, and your hold over the people wasn’t nearly as strong as you thought it was.” Raze dismissively answered. “The populace is rising up against your bought police, and your collaborators are surrendering to save their worthless lives from the growing mobs.”

“I wish it could say it was a pleasure to work with you, but that would be a horrible lie.” Raze distastefully scoffed. “Goodbye, Mr. Arland, and enjoy reaping your just rewards.”

Disconnecting the comm channel, it left a heartbroken and soon-to-be powerless Arland alone to contemplate his final few days before meeting incarceration, unless he could make a last-ditch escape and live out his days as a powerless fugitive. But neither option would work for him, so he knew what he had to do to avoid prosecution or persecution. If he couldn’t rule Taris, then he would settle for taking over his former patron’s criminal network and enable the One Sith to strengthen their hold over the Outer Rim.

0800 Hours, Yelona 29th, 51 ABY

Hierogryph District

Borkar Bankers Outpost Leonia

How could this operation have collapsed so suddenly all around him? Schurk-Adampo, clutching his charred side while stumbling away from the carnage of the secret prison, struggled to figure out where he went wrong in maintaining this once-secret facility.

With hundreds of Taris police officers, backed by many of the GA advance military forces and several dozen privateers and their elite commanders, all storming into the prison, the Yarkona knew everything had come undone for Raze, and realized how this place would be his tomb, for he could not return to his patron after failing him so spectacularly. He didn’t even have the Jedi or Lieutenant Governor to bargain with any longer, since the wretched Patrolian who snuck into the Hierogryph District’s main processing plant had snagged an antidote to the drugs that paralyzed both top-priority prisoners, and they were leading the breakout and further decimating his besieged security force.

Knowing he could not betray his patron and allies, even if it meant giving his life to the cause, Schurk pulled out a holdout blaster, and aimed it right at his head, just as Jaden Korr emerged from the smoking hallway and saw what he was about to do. Raising his hand to try and stop the suicide, he found himself a single instant too late, with the Yarkona leaving a giant hole in his skull, and leaving the Jedi without an intelligence lead, and the Patrolian mercenary without a big payday.

A small consolation compared to all he had just lost, but it was all he had left as he faced the end with a shred of dignity.

2300 Hours

Haydel Goravvus City

Borkar Bankers Headquarters

Edaan, pouring all his strength, all his rampant emotions and power still flowing through his body, into a single blast of Force-guided energy to tear apart the final door guarding Raze’s planetary headquarters, allowing the Galactic Alliance and planetary militia to pour in and start engaging the cartel leader’s last known line of loyal bodyguards and defenders before reaching the Aporthad’s data vaults.

After serving as a poster boy for the Tarisian Freedom Fighters by launching many high-profile raids on six corrupt figures in Governor Arland’s administration and his loyal soldiers, Edaan was eager to end this civil war and put the atrocities he witnessed behind him. Having served as a diversion for the Taris Resistance and its newfound allies in the planet’s loyal civilian populace, the rebel network was able to rally the remaining police divisions and military divisions unaffected by the rampant corruption, alongside the arriving Galactic Alliance’s sector fleet and army, allowing them to sweep across the world by working with its guerilla teams in dividing the enemy’s focus with multiple precision strikes. Aside from locating the figurehead of the governor, the operation was proceeding on schedule, and the planet would soon be freed of its longstanding occupation by corruption.

But learning the full extent of the criminals and their countless evils, it enraged Edaan to the point where he was nearly seeing red while cutting down anyone foolish enough to stand in the way of his righteous crusade. Holding all manner of dissidents in unjustifiable conditions in illegal or maximum-security prisons while secretly using them to refine spices and create other illegal commodities, arranging the assassination of military and political opponents to cover up their crimes, and slicing into civilians’ networks to siphon off a portion of their credits to enrich themselves, it all screamed of the depravities of the original Galactic Empire and its most rabid followers, and the Jedi Apprentice was eager to erase any stain of his ancestor’s legacy.

Quickly eliminating or incapacitating the criminal enforcers with the help of his newfound friend, Edaan reached out with his senses towards the two corridors that led away from the data vaults, trying to sense where the mastermind of this syndicate could be trying to withdraw to while Robonino sliced into the main computer terminal to try and ascertain Raze’s location after leaving behind a few surprises for any stragglers or newcomers that tried to ambush the liberators.

Looking for the mastermind behind all this chaos, everyone knew if Raze was allowed to escape, he would start up his illegal enterprises all over again, and not make the same mistakes this time around. Normally, he would use his photographic memory to find the main hangar, but since this building’s schematics were heavily altered from their conceptual design, the Jedi would have to rely on more than his mind to track the criminal down.

Hearing a distant explosion coming down from the right-side tunnel, Edaan reached out with the Force, and sensed a wave of hatred and death so strong, it nearly threw him off his feet from its sheer intensity. Falling to a knee from the exhaustion of the last two days, he pulled out a comlink, and wearily alerted Jaden, “I’ve found Raze. Transmitting the coordinates now.”

“Copy that. Receiving data now.” Jaden confirmed. “We’ll be at your position in ten minutes.”

“Good. I don’t know how much time we have before-” Edaan continued, just as the communication broke up in a hiss of static. Wondering what could be wrong now, Edaan struggled to rise to his two feet again, barely succeeding just before he heard a projectile swiftly approaching him from behind. Turning his head, he realized what was coming his way, quickly put up a barrier to protect himself from the rocket, but the blast was still strong enough to blow him into the air and onto a nearby wall before falling towards the cold hard floor.

Hardly able to see with the fatigue and pain he was in, Edaan thought he saw a gigantic droid, at least twenty feet tall, with a humanoid body and insectoid head, standing before the awestruck army of intruders and flanked by at least twenty members of the Taris government’s elite bodyguards. But to everyone astonishment and annoyance, they saw the now-fallen governor standing in front of them, clad in gold-plated armor and armed to the teeth with all manner of weapons.

Robonino, not in the mood for annoyances, irately told the madman, “You’re absolutely that last distraction we needed to see, Arland. Why don’t you turn yourself in and save us the trouble of another bout?”

Smiling maniacally, Arland shook his head, “I can’t do that, fish boy. I won’t leave until I escape your mob and take down Raze with the help of my Goliath droid. Then I’ll wreak my revenge against everyone who ever thought of me as disposable.”

“Great. Another deluded megalomaniac.” Edaan groaned, hiding his exhaustion and fear for the imminent battle behind a veil of bravado. Urging Jaden through the Force to hurry, he whispered to Robonino, “You got a plan to deal with that gargantuan?”

“I do, if you can keep the governor and his cronies off my back.” Robonino confirmed.

“Done.” Edaan agreed. Glancing at the fearful members of the Taris militia and GA military, who had used the distraction to take up defensive positions, he used his emphatic abilities to urge courage and hope through the souls of his allies, and steadfastly ordered them, “Hold the line, men! No matter what our enemies try, not one of them must get past our defenses.”

Barely able to stand from the last burst of energy, and nearly out of the medical stimulants he’d been using to repair the worst of his wounds, Edaan drew on the Force to keep him upright, and leapt out of the way when the Goliath droid aimed his blaster cannons and two of its lesser projectiles at the Jedi, launching five stun nets the young man was barely able to avoid.

With the battle now underway, a frenzy of carnage was unleashed, with Arland and his bodyguards cutting a bloody swath through the beleaguered rebels, eliminating five of the militia and GA soldiers for every hired escort that was gunned down, not to include the Goliath droid that focused its attacks on the Palpatine Jedi and any unfortunate soul that tried to impede its progress. And Robonino, moving light on his feet and avoiding the carnage, he swiftly neared the droid, preparing to climb the droid and turn it against its masters.

Edaan, seeing the Patrolian ready to make his move, took an instant to give him a burst of energy, pushing him up to the droid’s head in mere seconds. He then pulled out a sniper rifle he was given by the street gangs and took aim at the nearest enemy agent. Pulling the trigger, he gunned down two agents before switching back to his lightsaber, the enemy fire keeping him pinned down and cut off from any aid.

But this distraction was enough for two of the enemies to sneak up on him and blast his lightsaber out of his weary hands before pressing the blasters behind the Jedi’s head.

“Turn around, slowly.” Arland viciously ordered Edaan, who complied with the command.

Addressing the disgraced politician and one of his bodyguards, both equipped with what he recognized as disruptor rifles, Edaan snarked, “Shouldn’t you be in jail right about now, or at least wallowing in your treason and corruption before the mobs get you?”

“I couldn’t leave yet. Not before I eliminate you for ruining my career here and taking down Raze and coopting his empire before proving my true worth to his masters.” Arland scathingly replied.

“And who are your supposed masters, ‘Governor?’” Edaan curiously probed, suspecting he knew just what group Arland referred to, but wanted official confirmation.

“People who are quite interested in you and are also very invested in seeing your order and cause collapse from its own decadence.” Arland enigmatically answered. “I’d rather take you alive, but I’ll settle for your head alone if I have no other options.”

“A bold plan.” Edaan admitted, before sensing a wave of energy course through him, replenishing his depleted stores, and the touch of several Jedi reaching out to him, all while letting tiny sparks dance on his fingertips to build up his energy, amended, “But you made one fatal mistake.”

Scoffing, Arland questioned, “What might that be, Jedi Palpatine?”

“You corrupt politicians all talk way too much.” Edaan rebuked before blasting the bodyguard with enough electricity in his left hand to incapacitate him, while he used his right hand to get the disruptor out of Arland’s grip and get a few strong blows in by bypassing his guard, leaving him with a bloody nose and bruised legs where his armor was at its weakest in its knee joints.

Wiping the blood from his damaged nose, Arland nasally sputtered out, “You’ll pay for that!” Pulling out two daggers while adopting a martial arts stance, the fugitive launched himself at Edaan, attacking with such swiftness that the Apprentice barely dodged the blows before reactivating his lightsaber. Blocking the blows, he recognized the materials of the enemy’s blade since his lightsaber could not cut through it as the rare and highly durable mineral of Phrik.

Confident that Arland had plenty of other dirty tricks up his arsenal, Edaan knew he needed to end this quickly before Raze was able to escape or anyone else died on the Jedi’s watch. Prepared to use the Force to electrocute his opponent into submission, he was astonished when his lighting attack bounced off the governor’s armor.

Darkly chuckling, Arland gloated, “Did you truly think I’d let you use the same trick twice, or let you get away with such a cheap show? When one deals with Sith and Jedi, it helps to be prepared for any eventuality. And you won’t be alive long enough to tell anyone of my true allegiances, Palpatine.”

Renewing his attack, Arland, proving himself to be quite proficient with the blade and, augmented by his armor and its portable shield generator, forced Edaan to adopt a purely defensive strategy to hold back his enemy, for it was all he could do to stay alive at this point. No matter what few attacks the Jedi managed to get past his defenses, or the electrical attacks he unleashed to try and overload the armor’s systems, none of the attacks could take a toll on the wearer or his defenses.

Quickly getting pushed back near the edge of the corridor leading to Raze, Edaan wracked his brain to try and figure a way out of this losing battle, before he remembered a tale his Master told him of his encounter with the Empire Reborn Admiral Galak Fyyar, and how he had to contend with the man in a similar suit of armor while destroying the man’s flagship. Remembering how Kyle destroyed the Doomgiver’s shield generator to eliminate the man’s first layer of protection, he realized Armand must be drawing his shield’s power from an auxiliary power source, one far stronger than any portable battery.

Hoping Robonino or Jaden could hurry up and assist him in ending this battle, Edaan spared a glance towards the Goliath droid, noticing the short aquatic mercenary was still attempting to slice through the giant machine’s computer systems and turn it against its master. But judging by the tense expression and loud swearing, the slicer was having more trouble than anticipated. Someone else must be giving the droid the most advanced firewalls imaginable, or it was being controlled by another party.

Wait… Edaan analytically glanced at the headset Armand wore between a blade lock, which now resembled a thin crown that ancient monarchies utilized and wondered if that could be how he was using the droid while using its generator to continually power his shields by a prototype and miniature generator. A neural transmitter would certainly be useful in directing the droid and attempting to eliminate Raze.

But if that were the case, it would explain why the droid was remaining within fifty meters from Arland, because if it were too far away, the shield would weaken and leave the criminal vulnerable.

Well, it’s as good a theory as any other, I suppose.’ Edaan thought, ready to put it to the test.

But before he could carry out his last-ditch plan, Robonino loudly screamed out, “Ah, to Chaos with it all!”

Hearing a series of familiar grenades go off moments later, Arland suddenly grew anxious, and turned to see the droid shutting down, with smoke pouring out of its head and its limbs going slack. “No… NO, YOU FOOL! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” Just a second later, his neural link began to electrocute him, and a fatal scream was quickly echoing across the building, before dying down and the charred corpse of the disgraced leader fell to the ground, incinerated from within by his armor and transmitter losing their power source.

Moments later, several Jedi and Galactic Alliance marines poured through the burst-open door, and Jaden, taking a moment to assess the damage, amusingly noted to Edaan, “I see you’ve picked up Kyle’s knack for creative destruction as much as him from his mercenary days.”

“Well, I had a lot of help.” Edaan humbly acknowledged before urging Jaden, “But let’s save the banter for after we capture Raze.”

0300 Hours, Yelona 30th, 51 ABY

Taris Orbit, Aboard the Bestoon Legacy

Helplessly watching another of his subordinates’ vessels get impacted by ion cannons from the Galactic Alliance’s sector defense force, Raze let out a disgusted snarl at yet another forfeiture, now having lost just over half his people and all their information on his operations to his enemies, including every hand from twenty of his thirty-five planetary outposts, and many of his best lieutenants he had recruited in decades.

He even had to sacrifice his data vaults and personal yacht and all the information encoded away inside each structure, just to ensure his escape from the Taris Militia, its allied gangs, and the two Jedi and the Twi’lek politician that spearheaded this entire debacle. Letting the enemies think he was escaping in his expensive yacht, it was a great sacrifice on his part, but a classic strategy, especially since Ochi possessed the means to shield the Aporthad and his retainers from the Jedi’s senses. And it proved crucial in escaping the do-gooders just as they stumbled across his fleet finalizing its escape from this lost world.

But honestly, not even the death of that pathetic puppet in Arland, eliminated by the unwitting Jedi hero of Edaan Palpatine after he tried to destroy the superior leader, carried enough satisfaction to assuage the bitter wounds of defeat. Lord Krayt would especially be displeased at this deadly setback. But he would eventually retaliate from this loss, and it would be a terrible reckoning for all that got in his way.

Glaring at the Sith assassin, Raze quickly demanded, “How long until you’re able to make the jump to lightspeed?”

“Fifty seconds, max.” Ochi called back. “We’ve got some bogies on our tail, and I need to shake them just enough so that they can’t follow us to your cartel’s rendezvous point. Bad enough we lost Arland to the Jedi, but we can’t afford to lose you and your criminal network also.”

Resisting the urge to slaughter the Vahla for his unintentional slight at his consortium, Raze instead put his mental energies into calculating the dangers to him and his organization now that their partnership to the Sith was about to be made public knowledge, and the strategies needed to offset the coming damage.

Knowing the Galactic Senate and its gross incompetence and hypocrisy, the Galactic Alliance would officially be paralyzed on the matter thanks to its Neutrality Act against the Sith. But its military and executive leadership, on the other hand, would seek out unofficial means to cooperate with their rival governments and the Jedi to counter the rise of the One Sith.

Either he could cut his losses and take his people to go underground and weather out this galactic hunt, or he would risk it all and continue to support Darth Krayt with his costly bid for taking over the galaxy. No matter what, this would cost Raze dearly, but he would not walk away with nothing after decades of coming out on top from countless setbacks. He’d find a way to triumph from this disaster, or he’d take the galaxy down with him.

Just then, Raze received a private transmission from his built-in comlink from one of the five individuals who knew of this frequency. Silently answered, using his brain waves to communicate as text, he scathingly answered, ‘If you’re calling me to gloat or offer consoling words, then you’re going to pay dearly when I reach safe havens.

I contacted you to make you a new patron, one who you will benefit from in ways you never could on your own or with the Sith.’ Natasi Daala calmly responded, not at all offended by Raze’s vitriol. ‘I was planning to give it to you after you defeated the Jedi and fully took over Taris, but those plans will need to change.

I recently encountered a society, deep within the Unknown Regions, that shares my hatred for Force Users, and will help me in my efforts to rid the galaxy of their millennia of domination. They call themselves the “Knights of Olpaka”, and they are quite an interesting group. I would highly encourage you to meet with me to discuss the matter deeper after you finish settling into your new headquarters.’ Daala finished, leaving Raze with his thoughts as the Bestoon Legacy finally made its way to hyperspace, and a decision to make.

Unsure of what to make of this interesting tidbit, Raze filed it away for further exploration. He would be able to explore the topic more with Daala after he regrouped and finished evading the authorities this time around.

1800 Hours, Yelona 31st, 51 ABY

Mirage District

Lieutenant Governor’s Estate

“I can’t thank you all enough for your work in freeing Taris.” Leon graciously praised the three unlikely friends. “With the help of your friends and all their intel and manpower, we’ve already made hundreds of high-profile arrests in the former governor and Raze’s criminal network across the planet and seized all their illegal supplies and personnel from each their strongholds.”

“And the goods you’re distributing from their storehouses, plus your alliances with our friends and their muscle and noble repute, are all going a long way towards restoring good will and trust between the citizens and their elected officials.” Edaan knowingly added.

“Yes, those as well.” Leon good-naturedly agreed, somberly, “Hopefully we can maintain our momentum and give the people a real chance at having liberty again.”

“To that end,” Glancing at Edaan and Jaden, Leon continued, “I was hopeful the Jedi might be willing to consider establishing a permanent presence in the sector. Even a dozen of your members would be a good thing for public relations and morale for the soldiers and civilian workers out there while serving as a deterrent against all our enemies. Taris Massacre and Jedi Civil War notwithstanding, your order did plenty of good for the everyday people out here, and I know you can do so again with the shadow wars underway.”

Jaden, giving Edaan a nudge, allowed the Apprentice to take the lead, promising, “It’s a good idea. We’ll run it by the Grand Master and the Council once we get back to Shedu Maad and give them our best recommendation on the proposal.”

“But there’s still the matter of Arland and his supposed ties to the Sith.” Leon cautiously reminded both Jedi, placatingly adding, “I don’t doubt he would have done such a thing, but the man was clever enough to shield all his transactions behind dozens of intermediaries and shell companies, which will take time to prove. And there’s still the Senate’s veil of neutrality against the war between the Jedi and Sith.”

“We’re aware of all this, Governor.” Jaden interjected, taking the lead in this one, remembering too well how Edaan was quite sensitive to the disgraceful and irresponsible piece of legislation the Senate passed six years ago. “But you know the Sith won’t simply go away at a whim, nor will they let this opportunity to hurt their operations last too long.”

“I’m well aware.” Leon agreed. “Which is why I’m going to coordinate with the Order in striking back at Raze and his patrons, all while proving to the Senate that their act of neutrality will be the death of us all if it isn’t repealed.”

Robonino, not one to be left out of the conversation, slowly suggested, “Well, I can see you all have many more important matters to discuss, issues I don’t wish to intrude upon. I’ll just show myself out and-”

“Actually, there was an idea I’d like to run by you, Mister Robonino.” Leon interrupted. “I’m rather short with friends right now, and there’s an offer I’d like to run by you before you head out.”

“Thanks to Raze’s cohorts and patrons, there’s a shortage of trusted allies right now within the Tarisian government, and many enemies wishing me and my few friends dead or ruined. So, my position will be rather tenuous for a while.”

“But, for someone or many talents wishing to make a decent sum, make a good reputation, and do the right thing, it could be the start of a great career as a bodyguard or elite bounty hunter.” Leon stopped there, letting the point fully sink into the Patrolian’s mind.

“Sir, are you offering me a job where I can do my thing all while keep you and your constituents alive?” Robonino summed up.

“Not just a job, Robonino. An opportunity to jumpstart your career and train the next batch of do-gooders like yourself.” Leon clarified. “You’ll also train prospective candidates in all your forms of combat, slicing, and infiltration to give them the best chances of maintaining survival and victory they can get.”

“How long would the position be for?” Edaan suddenly asked, surprising everyone with his interjection.

Curiously appraising Edaan, Leon stoically answered, “Six months to a standard year, just to give my administration a solid foothold and sturdy foundation. After that, he’s free to pursue whatever targets he wishes within the boundaries of the Galactic Alliance.”

Nodding, Edaan apologized, “That’s good. Sorry for the sudden question, but there was an idea that’s been on the forefront of my mind.”

“Edaan.” Jaden tried to warn, “Now’s not the time.”

“Time for what?” Robonino curiously asked. “If the kid’s got a possible job lined up for me soon, I might be open to it.”

“It won’t be for a few years, five, at the minimum. First, I need to get stronger and build up a network of friends and allies that’s strong enough to unite this fractured galaxy.” Edaan clarified. “Plenty of time for you to stay here and hone your skills while training plenty of others to fill your impressive boots. But…” Hesitating for a moment, Edaan offered, “How’d you like the chance to go up against Sith when I call upon you?”

Leon, appraising the teenage Jedi, observed, “You’re talking about a certain Sith, aren’t you? Someone you’ve had your eye on for a while, haven’t you?”

“Yes. Not to kill, but to save, if I can.” Edaan softly said. Gathering up the courage to say the next two words, he hoarsely admitted, “Vestara Khai.”

Both mercenary and governor barely reacted to the disclosure, a choice Edaan took as consent to go forward. “When I feared my potential to be a Jedi, scared of being away from my family and repeating my ancestor’s evils, it was she who inspired me to continue with my training and look for the good in myself, and what I could do for others. And it was the reason I continued to train after Abeloth and the Lost Tribe…” Choking up, he continued on, “Ruined Coruscant, and killed my entire family and billions of others.”

“Since then, reading about every crime and murder Vestara has committed, I know the road I’ve taken will be virtually impossible to travel and will be full of hardships and trauma I can’t even begin to comprehend.” Edaan stopped, shivering from the heartache and tears pouring down his face. “But I refuse to believe that the kind young woman I know is all gone, the good soul that saved me at my lowest point. And I refuse to adopt Ben Skywalker’s warped mentality of ‘Kill or Be Killed.’ I’ll find a way to save her, even if it kills or damns me in the end.”

Taking a moment to try and get some bearing on his emotions, Edaan earnestly told Robonino, “But I can’t do this alone. I’m going to need a team of the best and brightest across the galaxy, and I know you’re going to be one of them. I think that’s why the Celestials brought me here at this time. To find you and make sure you made it through this fight.”

Robonino, overwhelmed by the emotion and pain behind Edaan’s plea, breathed deeply, and promised his newfound friend, “Once my tour of duty’s over, and I make a name for myself throughout the Outer Rim, I’ll be ready to help you in any capacity.”

Overwhelmed by the relief, Edaan knelt to Robonino’s level and gripped him in a tight hug, gently repeating his thanks, with Jaden quietly conversing with Leon, “I’d be grateful if you could keep this part of the conversation to yourself, Governor. There’s a lot of people out there in the galaxy who wouldn’t be happy if they learnt of Edaan’s personal crusade just yet.”

“I know the value of discretion, Master Jedi.” Leon rhetorically reminded Jaden, emphatically adding, “And I know the strength of a single soul with the weight of many on his shoulders, and the personal hopes, burdens, and promises one might hold in the depths of their heart.”

Gazing at Edaan, still knees on the ground with his new friend as he poured his heart out with tears, with a newfound admiration, Leon cautioned Jaden, “You, his master, and whoever else stands with him, you’d all best keep him alive long enough to finish his giant odyssey. There’s a lot of people out there that can learn from his kind and self-sacrificing example.”

Don’t I know it.’ Jaden quietly agreed with the prompt and fitting warning but still harbored another sentiment that he would need to share with Grand Master Katarn right away after the two returned to the Jedi Order’s headquarters on Shedu Maad.

1200 Hours, Yelona 33rd, 51 ABY

Shedu Maad, Jedi Temple

Within the Grand Master’s Office

“I have to say, I’m really disappointed in you, Jaden.” Kyle regretfully began after reading through Jaden’s report before jokingly continuing, “I’d have thought you’d let Edaan handle more of the fighting than what you did in the former governor’s secret prison.”

“Yes, well, he had his hands full with assisting a planetary rebellion and serving as a main diversion on behalf of the GA and Taris militias.” Jaden fully agreed. “But now, Edaan has several new allies in his mission, and we’ll have a strong foothold out in Taris and its adjacent sectors.”

“And there’s the fact that he’s growing up into a fine Jedi and becoming an even greater young man.” Kyle added, before soberly continuing, “But from what you reported me, he still has many old wounds inside his being, and the scars and pain from his many losses still haunt him. Unless he can master his fears and move past them, he won’t be able to accomplish his quest and truly honor his family’s will.”

“What are you suggesting, Grand Master?” Jaden asked, disregarding Kyle’s usual dismissal of formalities.

Hesitating, Kyle suggested, “I think for now, we ought to give him a breather. He’s been going on missions left and right with dozens of Jedi, and he must be fatigued from all the heroics he’s accomplished over the last five months.”

“Afterwards, though, I think it might soon be time we give Edaan his first long-term mission, along with a few other Jedi of his age and skill level. There’s a few troubling hot spots across the Outer Rim that would be perfect to test many of our most promising Apprentices.”

“You have somewhere in particular for him?” Jaden knowingly guessed, recognizing the thoughtful gaze in Kyle’s expression and knew wherever Edaan was sent, it would test him in ways he hadn’t been challenged before and push him to his limits.

“Maybe.” Kyle halfheartedly admitted. “Up until now, we’ve primarily tested Edaan’s physical limits, but now it’s about time we start to instruct him more on what it really means to be a Jedi, the wars we always wage within ourselves, and the good we can truly do for the people. And I think the world of Zygerria and its budding rebellion of freedom fighters might very well prove to be the trial we need to help temper Edaan’s blazing and righteous crucible of fire.”

0200 Hours, Yelona 35th, 51 ABY

In Taris’s Lower Districts

Within the Yates Residencies

“You’re heading out so early, my ever eager and adventurous nephew?” An elderly Patrolian woman noted to Robonino, carrying the final suitcase he needed before he started the next phase of his life.

“I have to, Aunt Sara. The governor wants me to be at the main barracks by 0800 Hours today to get acclimated to the new facilities and greet the first batch of recruits.” Robonino answered. “I won’t be able to come by that much, but I’ll write as much as I can.”

“Thank you.” Sara Yates warmly smiled from his nephew’s kind words before seizing up, inhaling sharply before she nearly collapsed, supported only by the medical droids that had kept a constant watch over her in her advanced age.

Oh no, not another one.’ Robonino griped. Hurrying to her side and administer the sedative before Sara had a stroke from her heart murmurs, he noticed her eyes were fixated on him, and her tremors quickly subsided to an eerie calm, making the younger man realize that his aunt was not suffering from her ailments, but experiencing a glimpse of the future.

Remembering how in her younger days, Sara had served as a soothsayer for curious and willing souls, using her connection with the Force to see many possibilities for her clients’ futures and teach them to conceal their own Force Sensitivity, after the Jedi missed them in their search for recruits, just as her long-dead teacher had taught her many decades ago, Robonino knew that the visions had become increasingly sporadic and spontaneous as time passed until they hardly happened at all now. For her to have a premonition now… well, it could mean just about anything, but the young mercenary was not simply going to abandon her now, new job or not.

Robo…” Sara whispered. “Beware the vessel of change. As his power grows, so too will the strength of his echoes until they consume the galaxy, and the strength of all the evils that will tempt him and all those of his bloodline. Stay by his side, and you will attain an eternal legacy throughout the galaxy. But in the process, it will also lead to your ultimate undoing, and might doom all creation long after we both reach our final ends.”

“‘Vessel of chaos?’ End of the galaxy? What in the gates of Hell are you talking about?” Robo pressed before he heard a deep exhale of breath from Sara, and her head bobbed down with a soft snoring coming from the old Patrolian.

“I’m sorry, Master Robonino. The mistress’s heart rate was far too erratic, and she cannot continue having these episodes for much longer.” The medical droid apologetically explained how to administer the sedative that put her to sleep.

Sighing, Robonino resignedly nodded, “Just make sure to call the doctors if her condition deteriorates. I’ll stay for another hour or so until she wakes up, but by then, I’ll really need to get going.”

As the hour progressed, Robonino tried to process everything he heard, unable to come up with any definitive conclusions, save one, and it troubled him to his very core. Could this man that Sara claimed to serve great change be Edaan? If it were true, then would he succumb to darkness just as his ancestor did over a century ago, or was something far different in store from him?

Well, with Robonino now having been warned by a reliable source about his new friend, he’d have to keep a close watch on Edaan and see what kind of man he’d become before he fully committed to his reckless plan. If he proved himself in his endeavors and stayed on the straight and narrow, then he would be appeased. Still, just to be safe, it couldn’t hurt to let Governor Saresh know of this vision so he could bring Grand Master Katarn in the loop as well.

To many, he might seem to be a glory seeking fool, but no one was going to say that Robonino was a dishonest and suicidal idiot. He’d leave that moniker for his heartless and greedy grandfather whose legacy he longed to expunge and move beyond.

Chapter 4: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 1)

Chapter Text

Helona 12th, 53 ABY

Zygerria, Drukarg Highlands

Aboard the CEC YV-865 Aurore-class Freighter Liberty

Preparing to launch their final attack on the last enemy bastion of Zygerria’s eons-old rot of slavery and its complicit monarchial government, the diverse coalition of unlikely allies were ready to finally end this war and bring the first of twenty corrupt worlds into the light of freedom and liberty. Jedi, resistance fighters, privateers, sympathetic government troops and many more allies, they were all united in excising the cancerous rot of slavery from the galaxy and damage its Sith allies, regardless of the political consequences from small-minded fools that held the forces of good back.

And at the forefront of this last push, working alongside Atai Molec, the leader of the Zygerria Liberation Front, were two of the Jedi Order’s best apprentices: Allana Djo Solo and Edaan Palpatine. Two rising lights in the galaxy, each heir to a great and terrible bloodline, depending on who’s perspective one heeded, they had proven crucial in creating the second incarnation of the Outer Rim Alliance and laying the groundwork for eradicating one of the galaxy’s last notorious holdouts of the foul practice of slavery.

But before the final battle began, Edaan, listening intently to the wide array of leaders and commandos going over the attack strategy one last time, prepared himself for the inevitable carnage that was sure to follow. Not even Allana, her soothing presence and regal composure, could fully quell the doubts that worked to gnaw away at his resolve.

But interrupting his dreadful ruminations, Edaan sensed an eager presence come before him, and he sighed, knowing just who was trying to bring him out of his dark reflections. Sighing, he turned his head down to see the diminutive Robonino walk right up to him, and asked the aquatic mercenary, “Something I can help you with, Robo?”

“Actually, I was hoping I could help you, boss.” Robonino calmly answered, an unusual turn from his usually jovial self. “Akku and Allana are worried about you and asked me to give you a bit of a pep-talk before we reach the drop zone.”

“You should be proud of yourself, Edaan. Over these last six months, you and your friends helped twenty disparate resistance networks unite into a force capable of bringing each of their worlds out of the Dark Ages and free countless souls from the bondage of slavery. That’s no small feat.”

Quieting his voice, Robonino softly added, “And you got a few new friends to help you when you start your personal quest. That’s something to be happy over, or at least satisfied.”

Smiling despite himself, Edaan reminded Robonino, “I was hardly alone in this fight. And knowing Vestara and her faction in the Lost Tribe are so deeply involved in the galactic slave trade, it breaks my heart even more, even if it further strengthens my resolve to save her.”

Breathing out his fears, his anger, and all that weighed his spirit down, Edaan promised, “But you don’t have to worry about me right now. I know what’s at stake for this planet, its victims, and all our allies, and I don’t intend to let any of them down. I’ve killed too many enemies and helped our new coalition build too much to let all our efforts go to waste, never mind let my friends do all the fighting at this crucial juncture.”

“Well, at least you have the right set of priorities, sort of.” Robonino ruefully chuckled, before reminding Edaan, “Still, if you ever want to talk, the offer remains open for anytime.”

“I’ll remember to keep that in mind if I change my mind.” Edaan good-naturedly promised before noticing the time on the ship’s digital clock. By now, the main flotillas were ready to launch their first attacks, and the Liberty would be right in the thick of the fighting. “It’s almost time. I’ll see you again on the other side.”

Feeling the ship accelerate towards the planet’s final stronghold of slavery, Edaan steeled himself for the carnage that was upon everyone, even as his mind flashed back to when this mission first began, and every major facet of what brought everyone to this point.

Six Months Earlier

Welona 35th, 52 ABY

Jedi Temple, Shedu Maad

Operations Planning Center

Assembled alongside a group of fifteen Jedi, a wide mix of Apprentices and Knights from six different species, Edaan anxiously waited for his master to give them the briefing for this bizarre meeting. Even though he knew what Kyle Katarn, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, called each of these highly skilled and capable fighters for, he wasn’t one to give away crucial details when it wasn’t necessary.

Ignoring the quiet whispers and rumor-sharing among his fellow Jedi, Edaan recalled everything he knew about Zygerria and its disgusting adherence to the practice of slavery. For millennia, the Outer Rim world had raided other planets, captured countless innocent souls, and profited off the repulsive slave trade while constructing a terrible empire built on the bones of all those they despoiled.

It was only when the Jedi and Old Republic had first defeated the Zygerrians centuries before, that they were driven into shameful exile, until the Clone War and the return of the Sith had catapulted them back to their ill-gotten prosperity and notoriety. Of course, with the fall of Sidious’s Empire and the return of freedom across the galaxy, the slaver society was shunted to obscurity, especially with more recent groups like Freedom Flight and the reborn Jedi Order taking strong measures to stamp out the slave trade across the distant corners of the galactic fringes.

But over the last several years, the distant Outer Rim planet, along with its remaining rivals in the abominable practice, were experiencing a quiet resurgence through unseen backers and unholy alliances with equally despicable individuals and groups. Combined with the chaos having swept across the galaxy and the apathy of the major galactic powers against most external matters, the enemies of freedom were emboldened and empowered to resume their immoral trades with a vengeance.

All conversation halted when everyone sensed Kyle entering the room, his wizened face, greying hair, and grave eyes conveying the seriousness of the imminent briefing. Approaching the center of the chamber, typing a series of commands into the main console, the Grand Master began the briefing. “I assume most of you know why you’re here. But for those that were pulled onto this mission at the last moment, I’ll give you the sitrep. This will be a long-term and off-the-books mission deep in enemy territory. More specifically, the planet of Zygerria and assisting a local resistance network in overthrowing the slave-run society.”

The moment Kyle finished speaking, an uproar broke out from most of the Jedi. Disbelief, apprehension, eagerness, emotions were flaring high amongst them. It was only after Jaden raised his hands and unleashed a brief volley of lightning upwards to silence everyone.

“Thank you, Jaden.” Kyle coolly thanked his old friend and former student, not phased in the slightest from the display of raw and flamboyant power. Resuming the briefing, he continued, “Now, to be frank, this was not a mission you were for chosen lightly. It will test many of you to your limits and beyond, and some of you might not make it back.”

“And just so there is no confusion amongst your purpose out there, you are not going to be gallivanting about as if you were on a crusade or on a mission like those from a child’s holofilm. You are to work alongside the natives who are fighting to abolish the slave trade and remake their society, teaching them the best ways to fight and reclaim their freedom.”

“This will largely be a covert operation. You will help train the fighters to help them win their war to their best ability while gathering intelligence on Zygerria’s operations to determine if the Order as a whole, and our allies will need to officially involve ourselves in their struggle.”

“We already have another three dozen Jedi in the region, assisting likeminded fighters across twenty worlds with a similar plight, working to unite them all into a cohesive fighting force.” Jaden added. “Needless for me to remind you all, it’ll be a difficult endeavor, but one that we know that everyone here is capable of accomplishing.”

“You set out in three weeks. We’ll need that long to get your covers in place and establish a secure route to Zygerria.”

“Good luck, and use your remaining time wisely to prepare before you all begin your mission. May the Force be with you all.”

Elona 13th, 53 ABY

Zygerria, Capital City

Royal Palace

“What do you want from me, Invidious?” De'Nal Scintel, the king of the slave trader hub of Zygerria, brusquely addressed the shrouded Sith Lord. Having been interrupted from his extravagant feast by Lord Krayt’s representative and his cryptic clairvoyant messages, it left the corrupt and arrogant monarch in a fouler mood than usual, which was saying a lot of the immature leader. “You know I’m typically unavailable at this hour after the exhaustive efforts of governing my people.”

“I would advise you to watch your words more carefully, Your Highness. Many of my fellow Sith are not as charitable or patient as me.” Invidious cautioned the dull-witted Sith pawn, taking off his hood before resuming his briefing, “Our intelligence agents embedded in your staff have picked up unusual traffic throughout the outlying territories of your world, regions that are suspected to have sympathies to your traitors and their off-world clients.”

Irritably raising an eyebrow over such routine information, De’Nal scoffed, “You disturbed me during my favorite meal, simply to give me information over the rabble and their cowardly puppeteers?”

“There is more, much more, that should concern you.” Invidious continued without losing any traction. “We’ve also picked up many transmissions leading off-world, messages traced beyond your region of space, and connected with many worlds and leaders that share your views on slavery but are plagued by seditionists that plague their rule.”

Now that piece of information caught De’Nal attention, and he warily eyed the Arkanian, “What kind of transmissions?”

“I’ll be sending it to you and your advisors once I conclude this call. But it seems our activities are catching some unwanted attention.”

“Jedi?” De’Nal warily guessed. If they were catching on to this operation, then he needed to be prepared for the worst, and ready his people for a possible siege of their center of operations.

“Possibly.” Invidious allowed. “But I would rather avoid that kind of speculation this early until we have acquired a bit more information. Nevertheless, I would strongly counsel you to tighten your security and root out this growing unrest before it explodes into a full-on insurrection.”

Grunting in reluctance, De’Nal agreed, “I’ll speak with my admirals on this. I think they made me aware of a commander who is perfect for investigating this corruption and excising it.” Recalling how one of his rising stars in his army and navy, a young commander he believed was named De’ralla Invoa, had been a vocal critic of the monarchy’s half-hearted efforts to destroy the rebel cells fermenting in the outlying territories, he believed this would be a perfect chance for a trial by fire.

“Very good.” Invidious nodded. “I’ll leave the rest in your people’s capable hands. Don’t disappoint the Dread Lord. He is not as forgiving as failure as I am.”

“One of these days…” De’Nal left that thought unfinished, both out of fear and vivid imagination. Honestly, he was getting tired of being underestimated by the Sith and his own subjects. Soon enough, he would prove to them all that he was more than a spoiled and pampered brat that couldn’t do anything on his own. One day, very soon, he would show them all how he could live up to his people’s great and feared heritage, eventually waging war against all their ancient enemies just as they did centuries ago. He just needed a chance to prove himself.

Elona 25th, 53 ABY

South Province, Zygerria Liberation Front Outpost Soa

“Welcome, all of you honored guests.” Atai humbly greeted the fifteen Jedi after debarking their shuttles. “We are grateful for your presence and what you will do for us in this noble cause.”

After waiting about a month for their reinforcements, having to arrange for the necessary transportation, disguises, and agents required to bring them here, the leader of the Zygerrian Liberation Front was eager to put them to work and help him teach his disheveled followers a few things about fighting and winning a war. And working in the planet’s jungles and facing its feral wildlife would be a perfect place to test everyone’s abilities and prepare them for guerilla warfare.

But before they could turn this righteous fight around, Atai needed to know just who he was working with. And he intended to assess everyone to determine where they could best serve the burgeoning resistance network.

“I will warn you now, these next several months will not be pretty.” Atai dispensed with the pleasantries, adopting a cold gaze while his eyes analyzed the disparate group. “You all will be helping teach those around you not only how to conduct a war, but to survive and lead this world once we overthrow its current form of government. And many of my supporters and backers don’t think well of the Jedi Order as a whole, so you’ll have to deal with a strong current of anti-Jedi sentiment for quite a while.”

“Which is why, for the next few days, we’re going to take it easy on you and assess your strengths and weaknesses, to see where we can make the most use of your unique talents, and work to make you all better Jedi for serving the peace after you are finished here.”

“Get situated away in the huts, and then report back here in thirty minutes.” Atai stopped upon seeing a particular human teenage man standing beside his fellow Jedi, drinking in every word and detail of this impromptu introduction.

This young man, the resistance leader knew too well from the countless HoloNet stations making a drama over Edaan Palpatine and his shocking and blazing debut into the galaxy three years ago. Having already known the last descendant of Darth Sidious was a part of the Jedi Order and slowly rising through its ranks, it rankled Atai more than he ever thought possible. The last thing anyone needed was a Sith Lord of his caliber being created from within the Jedi’s own ranks. Why they allowed him to hone his Force Sensitivity and risk the debut of another Palpatine Sith confounded him.

Under ordinary circ*mstances, Atai would hardly consider working with a relative of the most genocidal and spiteful Sith Lord of recent history. But Grand Master Kyle Katarn, a man with impeccable judgement and honor, took the young Palpatine under his wing and personally taught him as his apprentice, and vouched for his character and potential when he first suggested putting Edaan here.

So, for the sake of the mission, Atai and his people would swallow their doubts and trust his friend’s counsel, but he would be sure to push Edaan to and past his absolute limits, not only to help him hone his skills, but to glimpse into the boy’s true self and determine if he could trust him.

No matter how this righteous fight ended, Atai knew these next few months would be the most interesting of his life. He only hoped it concluded in a victory for the downtrodden and oppressed slaves and their sympathizers.

Chapter 5: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 2)

Chapter Text

Kelona 5th, 53 ABY

East Province, Mirai Slave Camps

The objective was straightforward. Get into the camp, grab the packages, and get out. According to Atai’s informants in the Zygerrian government, this set of slave camps held half a dozen key prisoners, each having memorized several critical pieces of intelligence on the enemy’s off-world allies and funders, and possible sympathizers and resources waiting to be grabbed by the right hands. Quickly impressed with several of the Jedi, he agreed with the ranking Knight that they earned their first field mission and a chance to get their feet wet early in this fight.

The problem wasn't that there was a company of troops, a possible Sith and their retinue, or that the base was also under inspection by the regime’s rising star; it was that they knew that Atai and his band of guerillas were coming.

Preliminary reconnaissance complicated this; showing that while getting into the base wouldn't necessarily be a problem, getting close to where the targets were and getting them out was. The enemy had positioned many of the base’s patrols around that area, and Edaan suspected the Sith would be close. That meant if they even got a whiff of their presence there, they’d lockdown the base.

The trick then was to either draw them away, or at least draw away most of the base's ground forces. One soldier had suggested the Jedi just showing themselves at the front and drawing them away, but that was immediately shot down. They didn't have the numbers or resources to keep a base's garrison occupied, contend with an Sith and grab the couriers while ensuring a safe evac.

So, another plan was put into play, and that had involved hijacking a routine supply vehicle on route to the base itself.

Edaan checked his watch, looking forward to Atai, who was riding shotgun.

"Better hope they don't have scanners at the front," the Jedi Apprentice warned. Akku shook his head.

“You do realize we're driving a military-grade truck, right? These bad boys have plenty of compartments to hide all sorts of contraband."

"I dunno, I just think the plan's got a lot of holes in it."

"It's my plan."

"Exactly," Edaan put on a nervous smile as they came up to the checkpoint, and the human returned to his hiding place. The pair at the front grumbled at him as he explained their business.

"You're late," the tired looking guard said, "We’ll need to check the back. Get out and open it up. Stein, keep the other one company."

"Well, we are running late," Tops, one of Atai’s best soldiers, mused as she climbed down from the cab, eyeing the man's rifle he held at the ready, "and what's with all security?"

"Rebels in the area. Possible Jedi, too. Had to get help from our benefactors in case they try anything." The other trooper walked around to the back, and he held his weapon ready, "open her up, slowly."

Tops hand felt for her combat knife. She knew this too had been accounted for, but it still made him uneasy as she opened the hatchway and pulled it open. The guard looked inside with a flashlight, and seemingly had no reaction. Tops popped his head into to see the Jedi and the rest of his team inside with their weapons drawn; Ventis extending his hand out.

"All good?" Tops asked. The guard nodded and signaled his buddy to let them through.

Tops sighed quietly, mentally asking aloud,He bought it, right?

Yes. Edaan’s voice replied. To the enemy guard, all he saw was a truck full of boxes.Tired minds are easy to trick.

Noted. Tops looked up to see a three-coded flash in the distance. Knowing the sniper team there had their eyes on him, Tops just casually rubbed the back of his head. They'd get the message, and in about fifteen minutes would start picking off the wall guard and the search lights.

Tops climbed back into the cab, driving them into the outer castrate of the on-alert base. Everywhere men were moving around, so it made it easy for the truck's occupants to start slipping out one by one. Atai watched them go through his rear-view mirror, shaking his head at the sight.

"Your plan, remember?" Edaan reminded him. Atai waved him off and kept driving until they hit the depot towards the back of the camp. They stuck around for a few minutes to help unload a few things before they very smoothly slipped out and started walking away.

"So, where you think they'll have the brig?" Edaan asked.

"My people are nothing if not predictable. It'll probably be around the center of the base… or right in front of us," he pointed ahead to heavily reinforced but very squat looking building that seemed to have the most amount of ground troops very casually walking around it.

"That's a lot of guys. I don't see the Sith anywhere, or their goon squad."

"Probably inside, waiting to pick up something," the two of them quickly took cover behind another building as a patrol went by. When they were clear, he put his finger to his head and closed his eyes to focus.

"Um, what are you doing?" Atai asked. Edaan looked at him crossly.

"I'm trying to give us a few more things to worry about while looking for our quarry." Pausing, Edaan spoke directly into Atai’s mind, ‘Center of the camp, single story. Got no eyes on the warden, though.

Atai checked his timepiece. By now, everybody should've gotten their way around the camp to start planting bombs. The one they'd set up a mile down the road was set to go off in another ten minutes.

Meanwhile

Marra shuffled slightly, her mind straining for a moment.

"Ma'am?" one of the Zygerrian guards asked, "Are they here?"

"I don't know. I'm having a bit of trouble sorting through the minds on base, but I felt something off."

"We can lockdown the facility now if you--"

"No," she curtly replied, "If they are in, it would be better for them to spring the trap first. Catch them that way. If we go into lockdown now, they could easily slip away."

The Keshiri Sith Saber saw the Zygerrian intelligence officer she'd threatened a day earlier look at his watch. She curled her lip at him, "Have somewhere to be?"

The man met her eyes coldly, "No, I just had an idea… unless you don't want me to share it." Marra sighed and nodded for him to continue, "Routine alert protocol states that drill lockdowns can be implemented every two hours since alert status is initiated. That'll be in another ten minutes."

Marra smiled softly, "You impress me, Commander. You might actually have a brain behind bravado."

"Not bad for a furry idiot, huh?"

The Zygerrian security leader grumbled at the last bit, almost sounding like a growl. "Get a room, you two. The tension so thick I could probably shoot it."

"I second that!" Another trooper replied.

"Oh, shut up." the agent growled at them before turning back to his superior, “Look, honored Sith, you do not know me. And again, with all due respect, get bent."

Marra smiled at him like a cat staring at mouse, "You're particularly bold to be speaking to an Sith like that, Agent. Perhaps I did misjudge you."

"Um, Sarge?" one of the Troopers asked, "Can I go outside for a smoke? It's getting kinda stuffy in here."

"I thought you were supposed to be ‘stoic professionals?'" Marra asked sardonically.

"Not around you apparently," The commander grumbled as he went to go check the comm lines. Marra watched him go, never encountering an inferior before who'd dare address her so bluntly; regardless of the fact she could probably kill him with her brain if she wanted. In a way, the man intrigued her unlike any she'd met previously.

He was either incredibly brave, stupid or had a death wish, or all three. Either way, intriguing. She shook her head at the distraction, returning her mind to the task at hand.

I know you're out there, Jedi. Somewhere. Take refuge in your last hour of freedom, because you will soon enjoy my mistress’s hospitality for the rest of your fleetingly short lives.

Meanwhile

Edaan felt the mental barb like a bolt through the air, and his mind hardened because of it. A subconscious part of him wanted to reply in kind, but then he felt Allana hand slipped into his and he turned to look at her reassuring face. Without word or impulse, her presence was enough to soothe him, and he was glad that his longtime friend was with him now.

Ahead of the two Jedi and Atai, Tops had blended far too well with the local Imperials at the barracks, boasting loudly, "Oh believe me, gentlemen, you have not seen a line like the kind fer Kynachi brew. Stuff so thick, it'll knock you on yer arse."

"Great! Show us the goods, then!"

"Oh, I've got 'em right here! Pass 'em around!"

Allana stifled a chuckle as the older woman’s flask went from hand to hand and mouth to mouth, "Sometimes, I wonder if your girlfriend’s fooling herself at how good she is at these cons, or if she regrets leaving the royal army to help you.”

Atai shook his head, "Honestly? I doubt it. She’d probably hold the record for getting kicked out the fastest," he pointed a finger ahead to prove his point, "observe."

One by one, the reservists started falling over with Tops chuckling with much mirth, "I told you it was gonna knock you on yer arse! Hey, you guys--oh, they're all out. Alright, I'll take you all home in an hour. I'm gonna go visit the next building."

She pressed the flask into one of the soldier's hands and pulled another one out as he moved into the next barrack complex to do the same. Edaan sighed, "Is she going to drug this entire camp? How much of that stuff did he bring?"

"Probably a cellar's worth," Atai groaned, "the woman’s like the master of condense packaging. Time?"

Allana checked her watch, "Five minutes."

Elsewhere...

It started to rain. Fern grumbled up at the sight, the cold perspiration soaking his clothes and forcing him to pull his cloak over. "And it had to be kriffing hail, too."

"Gripe later," Dani, his spotter, replied, peering down at the camp through her NVG scope, "mark target, five hundred yards, 2100."

"Marked," Fern adjusted the sight-range on his sniper scope and bringing the magnification on the man's head. The installed computers kept a tally on the market targets, establishing where they were and how far they were. Fern however preferred to have a spotter to feed him that him.

"550, elevation 2100, your 11."

"Marked," he said moving his scope up to the tower, pinging him as he continued his sweeping overwatch. He spotted Atai and two of his men moving around, then Tops and a few of the others very casually walking in and out of buildings. He also noticed a growing problem.

"This rain's putting everybody inside. Our boys are gonna have to go in, too, else they gonna start grabbin' attention."

"Seems like that's already happening. 3 o'clock, down 20. Got eyes on the lovebirds."

"I see 'em," through his scope, he saw Allana and Edaan being held up by a pair of troopers. Fern trained his weapon on them, watching them trying to wriggle their way out. A small grin passed by him when he noticed them waving their hands slightly, but the men didn't budge.

"Bad luck for you to figure out not all of our people are morons. Gimme the read."

Kaiden ran the altitude, possible humidity, and the wind coverage. Normally Fern wouldn't worry about all that, but he was using a suppressed heavy caliber slugthrower, and he would need to adjust for droppage. "What you think, pop 'em?"

"I'm a little tempted to let the wizards stew for a little bit," Dani replied, a vicious grin crossing her face, "but you're clear all around."

"Hold up, here comes the drunk captain."

Tops came into view then, throwing her arms around the two troopers.

"I'm making out something along the lines of 'hey, I'm manic depressed! Wanna get wasted with me?'"

Fern looked over at Dani, "You're kinda mean, you know that?"

"Benefits of being a spotter. I get to be mean from a mile out. Uh oh, we got company. Your 2 o'clock. 750 yards."

"Got it," he slipped off the safety and felt for the trigger. He watched as another patrol of troopers were walking right in on the scene of the Jedi manhandling their comrades. They drew their weapons, shouting something along the lines of 'Get down!' Fern was suddenly glad of the rain: it would keep the noise down.

"I'm taking the shot, watch the avenue," and with that, he felt the recoil and the ping of brash flying as the man below was sent flying across the street. Fern cycled the bolt, smiling coldly as he did. "Oi, Susie, you're next!"

The other man was caught in a bind, and Fern shot him in the back as tried to run. The impact of the round practically imbedded him into the muddy floor like he'd been skewered.

"What was that about being mean?" Dani asked.

"Eh, I was provoked. Now hopefully they can get the bodies--"

His words were cut short when the bases alarms suddenly rang out and every possible light was flicked back on. Confused men started running everywhere, leaving Dani to exclaim, "What the hell!? No way somebody saw that! No frickin' way!"

"I have no idea. Hit the bomb! They better be ready to move!"

Inside the camp

Too early, too early! Atai internally swore as he, Allana and Edaan booked it as far from the bodies as they could. It didn't take long for others to find them though and for shouts to start following them.

"No way we woke up the whole neighborhood that way!" Edaan cursed aloud as they swung down an alley, "The Sith must've known we were here already!"

They suddenly felt a thunder vibration through the ground, and they turned to see a massive explosion in the backdrop light up the night. Moments later, a subsequent series of detonations began tearing through the camp. The only problem was that the alert had happened before then, and the dead and unconscious troopers had already been called in.

Edaan could already feel the wrong kind of tension in the air. While the Zygrerians had been panicked a few minutes earlier, that was now replaced by a cold discipline that a clear mission provided. They were being hunted, and the base would only dedicate the necessary number to put out the fires.

"What do we do?" Allana asked, drawing her saber.

"The only thing we can," Atai replied calmly, "take it straight to their teeth."

The resistance leader and his two Jedi bodyguards took off at a run then with their weapons blazing, slicing through anyone who tried to get in their way. All around them, they started to hear blaster fire reports and spotlights suddenly going out, and Ventis knew the chances of them getting out of this alive were growing slimmer every second.

However, he would not leave his friends and the intelligence this base held in the hands of the Sith. No matter the cost.

"Aww, such an admirable declaration," a woman's mocking voice echoed, "such a shame it will amount to nothing but your deaths."

Edaan could feel them now, cursing that he should've earlier. Troopers in black armor emerged from the shadows with their weapons trained followed by more with energy shields ignited, and at the center was a violet-skinned woman, a Keshiri, armed to the teeth and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

Eyes glistening at recognition of her quarry, the Sith woman noted, “I knew Atai would come for his friends and bring a few Jedi, but I didn’t expect the Edaan Palpatine and Allana Djo Solo to come right into my trap. I believe Lady Khai will like to get her hands on the both of you.”

Vestara.” Allana froze, her voice barley a whisper, but audible for Edaan and the Sith, the latter only smirked at the horror plastered over the young woman’s face.

“So, you remember my mistress after her assassination attempt on you. I think she’d be glad to finish the job she started all those years ago on Coruscant.”

“Shut up.” Edaan abruptly snarled, his eyes flickering between blue and gold before he focused his rage, and warned, “Stay your hand, or I’ll take your head off for that.”

"And I think I'll take your tongue for that, boy," She extended her hand, and her bodyguards opened fire. The Jedi raised their blades and slipped into the tight formation of Shien, sending blaster bolts hurling back at their opponents’ barrages at a time while covering Atai as he fell back.

However, the assailants, with the shields and superior firepower, quickly negated this, and soon the overwhelming assault began to overtax the defenses. Allana took a blow to the shoulder, then nearly hit her legs and Edaan stepped in front to try and protect her. He took a bolt to the blade badly to the point the blade rode backward and grazed his shoulder, leaving him open for a single blast to knock his lightsaber away.

That left both Jedi vulnerable, with all their muscles strained to the breaking point and when the barrage of blaster fire suddenly stopped, they felt as though he was going to crumble to pieces from the pain alone.

He looked up tiredly to see Marra parting the phalanx to gloat a mocking runs distance away. "I think I've made my point. Don't you agree, Jedi? Don't get me wrong, that was truly impressive. But even strong scions of the Force like you two have limits when so young and inexperienced."

"Sure, you got us in a trap, and I'm about ready to drop," Allana panted before standing up straight to point her saber at her with her one good arm, "But you still have no chance, Sith."

Marra smiled coyly at him. "Pray tell, how do I have no chance? You cannot possibly hope to kill us all while protecting your friends and client, hmm?"

"No, because you like to play with your food, just like Anji." Allana smirked.

In her arrogance, Marra had made a tactical blunder. Rather than remaining behind the phalanx line where the Jedi could be stunned down with impunity, she'd chosen to step in front of them. While it only took a few seconds for her to slip back, that was all the Jedi needed for their friends to carry out the rest of the plan.

Allana, calling through the Force for her pet nexu to attack, the full-grown predator pouncing from above, just as both Jedi launched a telekinetic wave at their adversaries, distracting them for Anji to land in the heart of the squad and rip them apart.

Marra, stunned at how horribly she had been outmaneuvered, prepared to eliminate the troublesome animal before her danger senses flared up again. Just after she felt the disturbance, a series of explosions wracked the area, throwing her men into complete disarray and leaving them vulnerable for several sniper blasts from unseen enemies.

Prepared to eliminate the nexu before capturing her quarry, Marra armed her wrist launcher with a poison dart of lethal properties. Before she could take aim, she found herself grappling with Edaan, who, despite his damaged shoulder, was still a lethal adversary with his Force-enhanced strength.

Holding Marra down with his telekinetic grip, Edaan growled out, “Tell me what you know of Vestara!”

Biting out a laugh, Marra sneered, “What? You wanna kill her too, just like that old Skywalker flame of hers? I thought you Jedi were supposed to be above revenge.”

Eyes growing borderline murderous at the insult, Edaan was prepared to snap the Sith’s neck before Allana called out, “We have the packages! We gotta go!”

Barely holding back his desire to rip the Kesh-born woman’s head off, Edaan slammed a fist on her jaw, knocking her out and loosening a few of her teeth in the process. Wishing he could kill the Sith, he contented himself with humiliating her and leaving a living example for the enemy of their doomed war.

Getting off her and dismantling her gauntlet, searching her for any valuables and possible data chips, Edaan pocketed his findings and followed Allana back to the rendezvous point.

Evading or silencing any enemy agents unfortunate enough to intercede with their path, all Edaan could think about was how far Vestara Khai had fallen if she was willing to get involved with the slave trade, and whether he could truly save her from herself and her self-appointed road of perdition.

Kelona 10th, 53 ABY

Outpost Soa

Finally finding Allana tending to the Brezaks, Atai waited until the Hapan Chume’da finished handling their feed and working with their owners to approach her. Appraising the Jedi Apprentice, all covered in dirt and sweat, the resistance leader lightly noted, “I see you’ve fully recovered from your injuries.”

“Jedi healing trances can do wonders.” Allana shrugged. “Besides, I might be a little sore, but I’d rather be doing something useful instead of lying in a hospital bed when others need it more.”

“You certainly aren’t like most royalty I’ve ever met. Most princes and princesses I’ve met prefer palaces and sophistication to the simplicity and gritty lifestyle of the everyday people and war.”

“Was that intended to be a compliment, or an insult?” Allana chuckled. “I can be all regal and serious when needed, but I find it best to keep my feet and mind planted firmly on the ground if only so I don’t end up spoiled and lost in my ego.”

Seeing the gaze from Atai, how his smile hid the concern and serious intent in his eyes, something was going to be different about this conversation. “What can I help you with?” Allana only asked.

“I want you to tell me about Edaan and his connection with Vestara Khai.” Atai got right to the point. “I remember how intense and vicious he was when the Sith brought up her mistress’s name, and I can tell this is a deeply personal matter. I need to know just what’s going on with him, and if his history will impact this mission.”

“And for that matter, I need to know if Vestara won’t be an issue for you too.” Atai pointed out. “After what she did to you and your family, I can understand how difficult it must be for you to possibly face her again.”

All amusem*nt and joy vanishing from Allana’s face, and she suggested, “I don’t know if it’s my place to say. It’s… a complicated issue, and it’ll be best if you hear it straight from Edaan himself.”

“I would, but he’s been avoiding me since we returned from our last mission.” Atai pointed out. “After he spoke with you for a half hour.”

Glancing to the side, hesitating to break her friend’s trust, Allana proposed, “I’ll give you the details, but you’ll have to talk with Edaan afterwards. I know where he is for the rest of the day, and you can get the rest of the story from him.”

Nodding, Atai sat on a nearby boulder, beckoning for Allana to begin.

“It’s not me you have to worry about when facing Vestara. If I have to fight her, I can do it without malice or anger. It’s what Bazel and my friends would want. But Edaan, he doesn’t want to fight her at all. He wants to save her.”

Two Hours Later

“Jedi Palpatine, I need to have a word with you. Could you come with me to my office, please?” Atai told Edaan. Seeing the young man assisting the rest of his allies and fellow Jedi, Atai knew what he was about to do was the right decision.

Motioning for Edaan to follow him, Atai led the way to the old office building’s conference room, where the rebel leader quickly began, “I want to talk to you about Vestara.”

His guard up, Edaan reservedly asked, “What about her?”

“I know about your old bond with her, and your goal of redeeming her.” Atai paused before admitting, “Allana told me the gist of your goals.”

“And do you find issue with that?” Edaan carefully uttered out.

“Not really.” Atai shook his head, elaborating, “I appreciate the Jedi way of redemption and applaud your earnest and honorable adherence to that creed. And I understand the personal goal of saving someone who put you on a noble path and healing old wounds of hate and bitterness.”

“But I just want to make sure that your quest won’t interfere with our overall mission here. I can’t afford to jeopardize my efforts to free my homeworld without just cause. If you’re too conflicted, I’ll need to have you leave and let us handle the war.”

Glancing to the side, Edaan earnestly admitted, “Part of me wants to go after Vestara with all I’ve got and knock a gallon’s load of sense into her. Along with Ben, Luke, and everyone else who’d kill her in a heartbeat.”

But a moment later, he acknowledged, “But the rest of me, I know that I’m not nearly strong enough to stand a chance against her. If I’m going to confront her, I need to be at my best, which means learning many skills and techniques that she’s not likely to know.”

Returning his gaze to Atai, Edaan promised, “I’m not going to go off on my own in a suicidal gambit to save Vestara or endanger everyone here just to satisfy a personal agenda, you don’t have to worry about that. I’ll follow all your orders and do what I can to help free this planet from its ancient curse. It’s what my family- both the Jedi and mine of birth- would want me to do.”

Appraising the Jedi Apprentice, a seventeen-year-old human man with a build most of his kind would do anything to get, Atai knew what was to come next. “Well then, what do you say we put your skills and convictions to the test? I have a meeting with several resistance cells from our fellow slave-dominated worlds in a few weeks, and I think you’ll do well with this crowd.”

“What do you mean by that?” Edaan asked. “I thought you had strong ties with all twenty insurgent leaders.”

“Not all of them are as flexible as the rest might be.” Atai clarified. “And I recall Kyle and Jaden saying you were a master of persuasion and a gifted orator, so if you want to take a step towards saving Vestara, help me convince these leaders to unite and bring us closer to freeing our worlds.”

“We leave in three weeks. Until then, you’re confined to this base and ordered to study up on the seven leaders we’ll be meeting with. Consider it a test of how well you can follow orders and study up.”

“Very well.” Edaan acquiesced, before asking, “Just out of curiosity, have we managed to recover the intel from our guests?”

“We just cracked the encryption. And it’ll be quite useful in our upcoming negotiations.” Atai admitted. “You’ll be given all essential information when the time is right.”

Kelona 14th, 53 ABY

Capital City, Zygerrian Slavers Guild Headquarters

Well, isn’t this interesting.’ De’ralla Invoa mused after finishing combing through the latest intelligence report from the outlying garrisons. According to the data from the recent raids across the East Province and surrounding areas, and the debriefing Marra Hikara gave her after reporting to her fellow Sith, the Jedi had sent several of their best fighters to work alongside the traitors.

Along with Allana Djo Solo, Atai had recruited Edaan Palpatine and about two dozen other elite Jedi in training the rebels into a cohesive fighting force. And with the six prisoners, each rumored to have strong ties with a different insurgent movement across the Outer Rim, rescued from their incarceration and their information now in the Jedi’s hands, they were about to be that much more well-funded and connected.

But with plenty of diligent work, a few favors to call in from their former competitors, and asking for the Sith’s help, she De’ralla now had a decent idea of what the enemy was planning. According to the Thalassans and other slaver societies spies, a few of the insurgent networks were remaining obstinate in being convinced to cooperate with their likeminded organizations, and a meeting was being held on an old Sith stronghold to try and form an official coalition.

Where the meeting was, De’ralla did not yet know. But given enough clues and time, she would have the definitive answer, and then she could work with Lady Kitai and their combined forces in nipping this growing problem in the bud before it grew out of control. And it would be quite the demoralizing blow to the Jedi and their lackeys if many of their prized pupils were destroyed or turned against them. Oh, the possibilities were almost endless to fantasize, but they could wait until the job was done.

Chapter 6: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 3)

Chapter Text

Kelona 29th, 53 ABY

Outer Rim, Kanz Sector

MZX32905 Star System, Near the Planet Bimmiel

Aboard the Liberty

Normally, Edaan would be completely on edge in this type of terrain. Being so close to a former nexus of Dark Side energy, even one of a supposed enlightened Sith like Darth Vectivus, it was an unnatural disaster waiting to blow up in any fool’s faces, no matter if his habitat was destroyed thirteen years ago by rogue forces. Still, the scattered energies and asteroid field served as a perfect hiding place for virtually anyone wishing to hide from pursuers and conduct a wide variety of business out here.

And with representatives from all twenty worlds that were rebelling against their pro-slavery governments, Edaan had more immediate and pressing concerns than his deep-seated fear of the Sith’s legacy and his own temptations. As one of Atai’s personal representatives for this summit, he needed to be at his best and put all his focus into ensuring this meeting proved productive for the rebel leaders.

So far, the talks to unite the various rebel factions was progressing smoothly, aside from the occasional quarrels and disputes over leadership and forming a cohesive chain of command. Virtually all the leaders present understood the need to rally under one banner and pool their efforts together to liberate each of their worlds and countless victims.

But a few factions and their respective leaders were proving to be more obstinate than others. And if any of their enemies tracked them down and tried to decapitate this liberation movement, well, hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. Still, it never hurt to be prepared, which was why Edaan had asked Allana to hire a few of his friends as backup, should the gathering here be put in an unfavorable position. He was already going to call upon his freelancing allies to help train the growing resistance armies, but these talks merely sped up the process of bringing in a few more professionals for this war.

Having observed the thickheadedness of these reluctant souls for the past forty-eight hours, Edaan, after receiving a nod of permission from Atai, made his presence known amidst the holoconference. To minimize the risk of infighting or settling old grudges, each faction agreed to maintain a respectable distance from each other and keep their exact coordinates confidential, unless someone stumbled upon this conference or attempted to derail the talks.

“Enough.” Edaan firmly spoke, his voice carrying across all ships through the holofeed. Seeing everyone cease their quarreling, the Jedi Apprentice began, “I’m sure you all know who and what I am. Like all of you, I have a dark and shameful past, with tragedies and losses marring the present and creating terrible obstacles in my efforts to atone for the sins of my lineage.”

“But I’m not going to let that stop me from doing what is right, nor will I let misplaced pride or foolish grudges keep me from seeing the brutal reality of this situation. On my own, I could accomplish very little and would be unlikely to make a lasting impact on the galaxy, or reform what needs to be saved.”

“However, if I were to look for others who share my sentiments, my belief in making the galaxy and all its worlds a better place for all freedom-loving and honorable begins to live in while steering others down a nobler path, then it might be the start of a movement that couldn’t be stopped.”

“We don’t have time for your metaphors and the like, Jedi Palpatine.” The Thallassian rebel leader impatiently interrupted. “Just get on with your point before anything happens.”

Eyeing the woman with a scrutinizing stare for the odd remark, Edaan gracefully conceded with a nod, “All of you see the faults in your societies, the sins that mar them and impede true growth and change in its people, and desire to do something about this problem. But that problem is compounded by your enemies’ superior power their hold over each of your world’s populaces, and their foreign patrons and suppliers that seek to profit from the immoralities your worlds propagate.”

“Individually, for all your strengths and talents, you might be able to succeed against your individual governments. But combined with the Sith and their resources, your only hope for victory is to look outwards for assistance. Together, you and all your followers could do so much more for each other than working alone.”

“Don’t let your causes, your civilizations, and your worlds stay locked in the past and be destroyed over something as foolish as pride.” Edaan implored, finishing with a heartfelt plea. “I’ve already seen it get too many good people ruined or killed.”

Everyone fell silent, appearing to be heavily considering Edaan’s passionate words, and Atai felt reassured in knowing he made the right call in bringing the young human Jedi along for the negotiations.

But before any further words could be conveyed, Atai received a transmission from a Z-95 Headhunter scout, the grizzled voice of Jaden Korr appearing from the edges of the system calling out the warning, “We’ve got enemy ships debarking hyperspace. Looks like a mix of a dozen or two Zygerrian and Thallassian strike cruisers, three carriers from the Karazak Slavers Cooperative, and a couple of refurbished interdictors. And I sense they’re bringing at least a dozen Sith along for the ride, most working in their old Clone War command ship.”

Pulling up the tactical feed of the barely charted system, Atai noticed the three starfighter carriers and two interdictors in the center of the formation of sixteen corvettes and battleships preparing to being their attack, and the Acclamator II-class assault ship leading the task force. A sizeable force, one more than strong enough to overwhelm and eliminate or capture everyone present and cripple this blossoming coalition.

But whether the diverse set of allies could escape was not the most pressing question on the Zygerrian rebel leader’s mind. This summit and its location were kept secret to all but under a hundred people at the last minute, all of them were trusted by their resistance leaders. Even if their enemies learnt of the meeting and had this force ready to attack, it would have been virtually impossible to locate them so quickly, not without inside help.

That could only mean one conclusion, and it sickened Atai to his core. But just who was the traitor who tipped the Sith off, and how could they be uncovered swiftly enough before they did any more damage to the cause amidst the heat of battle?

Aboard the Acclamator II-class Assault Ship Alpha

“It seems your agent’s divulgence on the insurgents’ location were correct after all.” De’ralla noted, surprised at hearing herself admit that to herself than Marra. “I suppose you Sith are more valuable and versatile allies than my king and most of my people give you all credit for.”

“Well, we would not have been able to narrow their location as easily without your keen analytical eye, diligence in hunting down leads amongst your former rivals and their intelligence divisions, and calling in favors with them to gather this attack force so quickly and quietly.” Marra took the jab in stride, knowing De’ralla was making a great concession by admitting how much the Zygerrians needed the Sith to continue their ancient practices.

Observing the enemy vessels, at least sixty light corvettes and a few fighters protecting each ship, the commander knew hers’ and the Sith’s forces could easily be able to defeat this force in a conventional battle, and it had the numbers and supplies to win a game of attrition. That cold, hard truth was especially obvious since the Sith’s two interdictors had now cut off the enemy’s only possible routes of escape and they had a new traitor in the doomed foes’ ranks to relay crucial information to her new overlords.

But that did not mean the battle would end in certain victory, not with the resourceful commanders leading the opposition and their Jedi protectors. Having orders to capture as many Jedi and resistance leaders as possible to prevent the possible union of these many armies, De’ralla and Marra knew their shared masters would look most displeasingly on them if they failed to deliver sufficient prizes.

De’ralla, knowing the time for silent contemplation of the battle was long over, ordered her tactical officers, “Have Flight Groups One through Four launch immediately. It’s time to draw our enemies out of their entrenched positions. And have our agent report her fellows’ movements through our secure comms channel.”

Eight Hours Later

Kelona 30th, 53 ABY

Aboard the Liberty

“Sir, we’re getting a transmission the enemy Acclamator!” The comms officer alerted an astonished Atai. “They’re demanding we accept their terms of surrender immediately, or they’ll murder all their prisoners and annihilate the rest of our fleets afterwards.”

“They’re bluffing, trying to break our resolve.” Edaan interjected from his station at the tactical monitor, working to track the enemy comm signatures to locate their mysterious agent. “They wouldn’t have bothered to capture your friends if they were just going to kill them so quickly.”

Atai, sharing Edaan’s assessment, replayed the events over in his mind over the brief but savage battle that quickly turned against the rebels. After the enemy launched their fighters, the Zygerrian exile quickly rallied the disparate groups by providing them with cover with a web of proximity mines, allowing the rest of the resistance cells to ready themselves for battle.

Knowing how Jaden had managed to get out a distress signal to his fellow Jedi before the enemy knocked out all long-range communications across the system, the leader simply needed to hold the enemy off long enough for their window of escape to emerge. Unfortunately, with the twenty leaders each having their own order of battle and tactics and not fully trusting several of their peers, presenting a unified effort proved all but impossible.

To their benefit, though, Edaan and his fellow Jedi were a faction everyone on their side respected, and with their counsel, Atai was able to lead the diverse fleets as a near-flawless unified front. With their combined abilities and leadership, and the wise decision to scatter the fleet throughout the system and the Jedi cloaking themselves in the Force after helping to create an impressive lightshow of a diversion, the Sith were forced to conduct a methodical search of each sector until they caught their prey.

But according to the Thallassian leader and her desperate pleas, the Sith had captured four cells so far, including her own and were closing in on another six. Someone needed to come up with a plan to rescue the rest of the freedom fighters, or no one would be left to save soon enough.

“Atai, I think I have something.” Edaan alerted him. “The probes you previously set out across the system to patrol the hyperspace routes; they’re reporting themselves as back online again and transmitting a large amount of data.”

Quickly coming over to Edaan, Atai read through the incoming information, and was appalled by what he saw. The Thallassians’ leader- he recognized Karra Zane’s old tactics and elite stealth fighters- she and her people were the traitors that disabled the deep-space alarms across the system! They were the only other group to know of that certain precaution, and she was as close to many of the loyal freedom fighters as the Zygerrian was.

Holding back the bile and fury at this grievous betrayal and the many questions that grew within his mind, Atai thanked Edaan, “Good work, bringing this to my attention. Now we know how the Sith tracked us down and got the drop on us. Relay this information to all our remaining ships and have them converge on the nearest interdictor. We’re going to have to fight our way out and ensure at least some of us manage to survive past this day.”

Not displaying any fear or weakness at the ominous wording, Edaan carried out the orders, completing the subspace transmission before advising Atai, “In that case, might I suggest we make a little more noise for the Sith to hear? Your probes are quite close to many of their patrols, and it would be quite a nuisance for our enemies if they were to lose a few more squadrons and maybe a couple corvettes.”

“Make it so.” Atai wholeheartedly agreed, impressed at Edaan’s ingenuity, initiative, and strategic mind before the proximity alarms went off. Hoping it was friendly forces, the rebel leader smiled eagerly upon seeing the makeup of these new arrivals. If the configuration of this force was accurate, then everyone still free might have a strong chance at escaping this deathtrap after all.

Aboard the Alpha

“The Jedi have arrived in force to save their friends.” Marra clenched her fists at this untimely interruption. Just when victory was close for the Sith, something had to go wrong.

“How many?” De’ralla asked her crew, ready for a true challenge after this little hunt had lost its appeal.

“At least ten StealthXs and a small number of larger ships.” A tactical officer reported before adding, “Maybe a couple cruisers and a dozen or so gunships if these readings are accurate.”

“Recall Flights Two and Four immediately. Have them protect our interdictors and our rear guard.” De’ralla ordered. “And have Flight Three escort our new prisoners until we can get them into hyperspace.”

“And have your crews ready my fighter for me. I will hold these intruders back before we can issue our withdrawal.” Marra ordered De’ralla.

“My Lady?” De’ralla confusedly asked. “Forgive me, but-”

“We won a good victory here, and Lady Kitai and Lord Krayt would want us to be judicious in assisting you with your war. Let’s not waste it by seeking glory or getting too ambitious in wasting our people’s lives or risk compromising this operation.” Marra interjected, surprising De’ralla with such a conservative strategy. “We’ll have other opportunities to finish this fight and deal with the rest of our targets.”

“How uncharacteristically wise, for a Sith.” De’ralla teasingly jabbed, hiding her relief at her handler being a more pragmatic being than many of her superiors.

“Just don’t let word of this decision of mine get around. I have a notorious reputation to uphold.” Marra grumbled, hiding a smirk at this woman’s sharp wit.

“Commander, we have a problem!” A tactical officer called out to De’ralla. “Multiple mines are detonating across the system, and they’ve already taken out a third of Flight Two, and half of Four! And it looks like the insurgents are breaking cover and heading right towards our interdictors and its escorts!”

So much for Karra’s assessment of her friends.’ De’ralla ruefully griped. “Then have our Thallassian agents intercept and delay them by whatever means necessary. They can do so with the tools we’ve given them for this job until I can take command of the situation.”

Aboard the Liberty

“Glad to see me again, old friend?” Robonino jested, the fuzzy hologram of the Patrolian mercenary still clear enough for Edaan to see the smile on his face.

“I’m just relieved you both made it in time for the fun.” Edaan breathed in relief. “Now help us clear a path to freedom, and I can get you all acquainted with our merry band of do-gooders.”

“Already on it, Edaan.” Akku Seii II, Mandalorian mercenary and unlikely friend of the Jedi, professionally stated before adding, “Oh, and Jedi Djo Solo wanted me to tell you, ‘That’s three times I’ve saved your life now to your one.’ She was rather smug about it, I believe.” b

Cutting the transmission to focus back on the renewed battle, Edaan hurried to the gunnery to help cover the flotilla’s withdrawal. Blasting away at every enemy fighter within targeting range and using the Force to distract or confuse several squadrons and corvettes so they could suffer extensive damage, the outnumbered allies rallied and attacked the enemy’s main fleet as a single fighting force.

Atai, leading the retreat and ensuring no one was left behind, nearly lost his composure when hailed by a woman he once considered a trusted friend.

“Unless you’ve come to surrender or offer the Sith a chance to release my friends, I have nothing to say to you, faithless and accursed.” He snarled in a rare display of pure viciousness.

“They have my family.” Karra pleaded, her holographic head displaying the pure remorse and fresh tears streaming down her face. “I am the worst kind of traitor and fool, I know. The Sith have probably already executed them all, but I could not refuse them. You have to understand my dilemma, better than anyone else among these fighters.”

“I understand that you betrayed me, you followers, all that we’ve been striving for, all for the false promise our enemies gave you.” Atai coldly shot down, before softening his tone a degree, “I will do what I can for your family and people, but you willanswer for your crimes, one way or another. This, I promise you.”

Head bowed in bitter resignation, Karra sadly acknowledged, “That’s better than I could’ve hoped. Thank you. Give them hell.”

Just as the transmission with Karra ended, a ping could be heard, and Atai pulled out a data card once it made itself visible to his eyes. Having a hunch as to what it might contain, he pocketed the item and made a note to examine its contents after this mess concluded. It was the least he could do for a onetime comrade and friend.

“Sir, the Thallassians are on a bearing right towards us.” The tactical officer warned Atai.

Steeling his heart for what had to be done, Atai ordered, “Relay orders to all allied ships. Have them told of Karra leading the Sith charge, and to shoot her down if possible. But our escape is to be everyone’s main and only priority.”

Aboard the Ranger-class Gunship Seeker

Akku Seii II, Mandalorian company leader and disowned heir to a prestigious Anzati assassin bloodline, relayed out orders to his crew as the refurbished Imperial cruiser wrought havoc across the Sith-slaver fleet. With four of his gunships annihilating dozens of enemy fighters and the Jedi’s shadow bombs cracking open three of their strike cruisers, the path was now clear for the assault force to take out the interdictors. The other two gunships of his small army were engaged in helping to disable the traitorous Thallassians before they could destroy any other freedom fighters.

Working alongside the Jedi was not a typical or favored contract for his adopted culture, but Edaan and his friends had always been honest with Akku in their dealings, and he admired fighting for a cause most would consider mad. And going after a notorious Sith Lady in a bid to save her was about as mad as it could get. Besides, he knew better than to hunt Jedi after the many warnings his father gave him back in his youth. Like the original Akku Seii told all hi students, it wasn’t prudent to accept contracts on Jedi.

Interrupting Akku’s musings, Robonino, a young but talented Patrolian mercenary with similar life-changing ties to Edaan, called out from the Seeker’s main weapons station, “We’ve got a lock on Interdictor One, and we’re ready to fire on your command!”

“Then don’t wait for me. Launch our first payload.” Akku ordered. Feeling the ship vibrate from the missile launchers, the captain knew the Sith’s artificial gravity wells were about to be reduced by half.

Observing the tactical feed, Akku saw the three vessels holding the captured resistance leaders, herding them away from the battle, and briefly wondered if he might be able to display a little more imitative in fulfilling his contract out here and helping undo eons of pain and misery for countless souls.

Deciding to see what he could do for these brave souls, Akku contacted the Liberty and informed Edaan, “I need to see if Mr. Molec can spare a few of his people and ships for a brief and crucial rescue mission.”

Aboard the Liberty

“So, what exactly happened to the plan? I thought we were high-tailing it out of here by now!” One of Atai’s people shouted towards him, with the sound of the ship’s lasers firing away at any enemy ship within range nearly drowning out all other noise.

“Stow the back talk, soldier! We’re not leaving anyone behind if we can help it!” Atai shouted back, seeing the carriers cease moving, their hyperdrives preparing for the jump out of the system, moments before seeing Karra’s hologram appear before him.

“I know. Nothing I can say or do can make things right. But I won’t let anyone else who believed in me die for my wrongdoings, my family in danger or not.” The Thallassian woman beseeched Atai. “You’ll get one chance to save the captives. Make it count, and then save what you can of my network. My people are innocent of my treachery.”

Observing Karra’s Lancer-class Pursuit Craft fly fight past the Liberty and towards the enemy formation, Atai knew what his former friend was planning. Prepared to make the most of this opportunity, he contacted the small force accompanying him, “Be ready to hit the enemy hard and fast so we can get our friends out of captivity.”

Proximity alarms blaring, Atai saw a single squadron of six Uglies, a hodgepodge of components from dozens of diverse fighters put together into a lethal fighting machine, bearing towards them with a speed their mass and configuration should not possess.

Wondering who these new enemies could be, Atai quickly had his question answered when Edaan alerted him, “We’ve got about half a dozen Sith on our tail, and they’re bearing down on us fast!”

Quickly reassessing his priorities, Atai painfully knew the plan had to change. With the first interdictor destroyed and the second one close to being obliterated, and the Sith regrouping from their losses, his most important matter had to be getting everyone to safety. There would be other chances to save his fellow rebels, but it would do no one any good if he sacrificed everyone here in a suicidal run.

And though he detested Karra’s betrayal, he also knew the impossible choice she had to make with her divided loyalties and did not wish her death in such a pointless manner. Contacting her, he implored her, “Karra, abort your attack run! The Sith-!”

“I know.” Karra solemnly cut off before her ship flew past the Liberty, right towards the six enemy fighters. “I can’t stop them all, but I can give you all a chance to escape. Use the data I gave you to make them pay and save all our worlds.”

Wiping his eyes, misting from the sorrow of what had to be done, Atai solemnly and softly promised, “I’ll make your sacrifice count.”

Ordering his comm team, “Contact the Seeker. Have Captain Seii order everyone to finish off the last interdictor, and then advise them to jump to hyperspace right afterwards. We’ll follow suit and arrange for a suitable rendezvous point.”

Seeing Karra’s ship, firing right into the heart of the Sith formation, take out one Ugly before quickly being overwhelmed by three of the remaining Uglies, Atai swore to avenge her death before seeing from the tactical readout how the interdiction field was finally down.

With the remaining two Sith bearing down on his force, he knew it was time to leave this remote system behind. Ordering all his crews, “Jump to hyperspace right away. We’ll regroup with the rest after we make sure the Sith can’t follow us.”

Seeing the familiar blue-white streams of hyperspace appear, Atai could only pray to whatever god existed that he could salvage something form this mess.

Chapter 7: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 4)

Chapter Text

Kelona 33rd, 53 ABY

Deep Space, Gordian Reach Sector

Aboard the Liberty

“We owe you, all of you, a debt of gratitude for your heroic efforts in helping us escape our enemies’ trap.” Atai spoke to the Jedi and their Mandalorian allies on behalf of the sixteen remaining resistance leaders, who gratefully voiced similar sentiments. “Without your well-timed feint and your unconventional backup, we might never have made it out of that disaster.”

After taking the last three days to ensure the Sith could not follow them after their retreat, the beleaguered allies realized it was only a matter of time before this brief reprieve ended. But being the resourceful leader he was, Atai knew this was the best and likely last chance for the resistance networks to unite against their common enemies. And he was not going to waste this opportunity.

Edaan, observing his friend and direct superior muster his courage, deftly maneuvered himself out of the way so Atai could persuade everyone of what must be done to win this war. Once the older man made sure everyone quieted down, he began, “I know these last few days have been hard on everyone, and we have suffered a great defeat from the capture of our friends from Orvax IV, Resh 9376, and Sump. But we cannot afford to ignore the message our enemies have presented us.”

“In their fear of all of us and what we may yet become, the Sith and their forces tried to capture and eradicate us all, making it known that they dread our growing strength and shared purpose and would do virtually anything to prevent that outcome. They know that they can defeat us individually, so they sought to keep us scattered and divided through betrayal of one of your own. But through this last battle, for all our losses, it only demonstrates what we can do if we pool our people and talents together.”

“You can skip the remainder of your plea for unity, Atai.” The Mytaranor rebel leader politely interrupted. “We all see what you’re trying to convince us of, and it isn’t necessary. We’ve already agreed to a coalition of all our forces, provided it is under your direct leadership, of course.”

Sputtering out a series of incoherent words, much to everyone’s amusem*nt, Atai eventually found his voice again, and after clearing his throat, asked, “Gratefulness of you all coming together aside, why choose me to command this alliance?”

“Were you not the driving force behind the summit? And did you not coordinate our retreat and sacrifice many of your own people to save us? You have been the greatest fighter among us with the strength, drive, and vision necessary to free your people from the thrall of slavery, and whether we knew it or not, we’ve all just been following your lead.”

“You can do this, Sir.” Edaan confidently assured Atai. “Everyone here trusts you to do what’s right for everyone fighting for this righteous cause, and you’ll have the backing of the Jedi Order and our many friends if you need us. I think it’s time for a resurrection of the Outer Rim Alliance of old.”

“Haven’t heard that organization’s name in a while.” Akku wistfully noted. Recalling how the New Republic, under Borsk Fey’lya’s corrupt leadership, abandoned much of the Outer Rim to the Yuuzhan Vong in its early stages, many of its worlds united with disaffected portions of the galactic government’s military to fight the extragalactic invaders.

Despite eventually falling to the enemy’s overwhelming and fanatical might, the young federation inflicted heavy casualties on their foes and bought many worlds time to evacuate their populations to spare them annihilation. And disobeying Luke Skywalker and the New Republic’s originally cautious and defensive approach to fighting the invaders, several more militant Jedi and other likeminded rogues assisted the Outer Rim Alliance in a variety of ways until its inevitable fall.

“A rather simple designation for us.” Atai noted to his Jedi crewmembers, before approvingly smirking, “Simple, but effective and poetic.”

“Now that we all agree on forging a new identity for ourselves, I suggest we take the initiative and regroup before our shared adversaries manage to track us down and finish us off.” The Kintan Freedmen’s leader advised everyone. “We may have dispatched the traitor in our ranks, but there is no telling what she divulged to the Sith along the way.”

“One step at a time.” Atai assuaged his concerns. “For now, we all need to inform our followers of our united front and reorganize our command structures, including those that are now compromised. Unless we act in a coordinated manner, we may lose many of our people to infighting or mismanagement. And we must reach out to all our compromised assets and assist them in going underground.”

“My people can help with that, with your leave.” Akku offered, getting curious stares from many of the rebel leaders before simply elaborating, “We’re a well-balanced mercenary company.”

“Akky’s company isn’t your typical batch of Mandalorians. And most of their society isn’t as amoral, glory-hungry, or mere hired guns as the propagandists and their enemies portray them as, Fett’s example notwithstanding.” Edaan elaborated.

Eyeing the Anzati and his unlikely advocate, Atai instinctively knew this highly experienced mercenary, whatever price the Jedi paid for him, would be well worth it. Deciding to trust his gut, he allowed, “Very well. A few members of your company, six Jedi, and three teams of our agents should be more than adequate for this covert task.”

“And while your people carry out this mission, we’ll see how ‘well-balanced’ your company truly is by helping train our recruits, and by me and a few others get to know you Mandalorians a fair bit better.” Atai warned his new ally.

“And while you do that, we’ll all run a few ideas by you and your peers to see if we can give your movement a good bit of adrenaline.” Edaan piped up, confusing Atai and making him wonder just what other surprises the human and his fellow Jedi had in mind for this campaign.

Selona 13th, 53 ABY

Zygerria, Western Plains

Aboard the Liberty

Atai could not believe he was about to do this. Ever since his disgraceful exit from the royal court of Zygerria and the murder of his entire family, just for proposing to gradually abolish slavery from the planet, he had dedicated himself to the overthrowing of that demented kingdom. Finding likeminded souls across the planet and reaching out to burgeoning cells that were cropping up across the galaxy, he poured all his energies into avenging his loved ones and redeeming his people for their millennia of complicity in a disgusting practice.

Even after he left his old and prestigious life behind, Atai knew that someday, he’d need to use his vast talents in diplomacy and leadership to see this task through. He just never expected to be making a public speech to the citizens of every world of the Outer Rim Alliance. After hearing the Jedi’s plan to rally support for their fight, the young politician and insurgent leader thought they were completely insane.

But knowing how the fate of twenty worlds and billions of souls hung in the balance, Atai realized how all the pro-liberty factions of those planets were short on options, and how a decisive act would be needed to get the galaxy and its major powers on its side. Whether or not this declaration would ensure the cause of freedom rang across the four corners of the galaxy or generate fear of a new galactic government coming to power from the final ashes of slavery, it was impossible to tell. Unfortunately for the former prime minister, right now it was the only option he and his subordinates had to rally support for their cause.

Hearing the timer go down to one minute, Atai glanced to the mirror one last time, ready to bear his heart out and paint a giant target on his back, along with everyone else that served with him in this battle. Having read over his speech, carefully drafting and evaluated it with his advisors before committing it to memory, he was prepared to address the galaxy and rouse them from their complacency or die trying throughout the next few hours when the Zygerrians tracked the sectorial address and sent everything they had after the Liberty.

Banishing his doubts and fears aside, knowing they would do him no good now, Atai took a few deep breaths and a deep drink of water before the timer reached ten seconds, and he steeled himself for his historic speech.

“Greetings, citizens of the galaxy. I am Atai Molec, former Prime Minster of Zygerria before being hunted like a rabid animal by the royal family and his followers for daring to oppose his violent expansion of slavery.” Atai addressed the galaxy’s inhabitants.

“For the last three years, my followers and I have been forced to endure De’Nal Scintel’s brutal kidnapping campaign in the outer reaches of the galaxy, ignoring every form of humanity while most of the galaxy has looked the other way or was kept unaware while the rights and dignity of countless innocents were stripped away from millions of poor souls from all across the galaxy.”

“Only a small number of brave individuals have had the foresight to see what my planet truly was and have taken a stand to protect the innocent from its unsympathetic wrath. These noble souls, regardless of their origins, have sown the first seeds of rebellion that will restore freedom to my wayward people.”

“But it is not just my world that still suffers from the horrors of slavery.” Atai paused, allowing the holograms of the fifteen planetary resistance leaders to appear. “Across worlds such as Thallassia, Orvax IV, Kintan, and Mytaranor, others have come to realize the stains on these worlds’ honor and strength and wish to rectify this grievous blight on civilization.”

"Those seeds of liberty first coalesced into what we considered to be a shadow alliance, a military confederation that has achieved many victories against the slaver societies, all for the belief of a just form of government that shall protect and serve the people, not subjugate them for personal gain, glory, and wealth."

“We, the members of this coalition, have struggled through these horrific three years to see justice restored to our corners of the galaxy. We have fought against the abuses and moral atrocities of our worlds. We have watched countless innocents lose their freedom subjugated, and we will help those people regain their rights and dignity. We have embraced a great and powerful ideal, and many of us will die for this just cause.”

“What was taken away by coercion, trickery and violence will be reclaimed through the efforts of brave, honorable beings banded together in a common cause. We have begun what many claimed was impossible, and we will defeat this infernal industry.”

“Acting upon our own moral conviction and the principles of equality and compassion that guided the Outer Rim Alliance of the Yuuzhan Vong War, we have proceeded to start accomplishing its lofty goals. In the name, and by the authority, of the free beings of the galaxy, each of the separate rebel groups has dealt many blows against these tyrants. It has revived hope for the victims of slavery, and in its place, we declare the birth of the Outer Rim Alliance.”

"Let the stars sing and the many beings rejoice! The cause of freedom lives again in new champions. But it is not the Alliance of old, facing off against enemies it knew little about. It is against a bitter foe many of you know all too well, founded on the principles and laws of the original, but with the benefit of history to serve as advisor and mentor.”

“We must not allow the mistakes of the past to corrupt the future. The new Outer Rim Alliance shall be dedicated to liberty, freedom and justice for all beings in the galaxy; sworn to be fair, virtuous, and honest; sworn to serve by and for all peoples of the galaxy.”

"We shall not fall victim to the failings of our predecessor state, for it was through their independent nature that prevented the New Republic’s sympathetic members from coming to their aid when the need was greatest. By all that we fought for, the terror of the past shall never rise again.”

“The true work is just beginning. We must now free our worlds in deed as well as in name. From across the Outer Rim Territories to the Core Worlds, throughout the entire galaxy, we call upon all worlds to send representatives to help forge a new beginning for us. This is to be a union of all peoples.”

“With these words, the rebirth of the Outer Rim Alliance is hereby declared! Built upon the foundation of the old and cemented with the promises of freedom, justice, and law for every being. We are all dedicated to the ideals of galactic prosperity in every sense- economic, cultural, and spiritual. Its member worlds must aid in the work to come and be dedicated and committed to persevere through the painful struggles that are sure to come.”

“We, the denizens of the Galaxy, to form a new free union of planets, establish justice, provide for common peace and prosperity, and to secure liberty for all beings, do ordain and establish this grand alliance. Let the stars sing! Let the planets shout! Let the cause of freedom begin again across the forgotten corners of this galaxy!”

Wiping tears that were rushing down his face after the speech ended, Atai implored the galaxy, “Please. Don’t let the flames of freedom and hope die in this generation. Or we will see all we love and cherish die a slow and numbing death, and that will be the end of us all.”

The moment the transmission ended, alarms began blaring across the ship, and Atai knew it was time for the Liberty to make a hasty escape. Hopefully, though, the message got through to the right people, and this desperate measure didn’t all he loved and was fighting for.

Selona 24th, 53 ABY

Shedu Maad, Jedi Temple

Operations Planning Center

“New reports are coming in from all over the Outer Rim Alliance.” Kyle informed the Council. Keying in the holoprojector of the twenty-world confederation, the Grand Master continued, “According to all our assets in the field, the coalition is making excellent strides in building their ranks and starting to destabilize the slaver regimes’ hold over each of their populaces. Aside from the occasional setbacks, everything is proceeding better than we had originally anticipated.”

Having read through the reports beforehand, Kyle knew how well the Jedi-Alliance pact was working together in undermining their enemy’s despicable practices, and how the Sith-backed governments were failing to quell the growing stirrings of dissent amongst their loyal subjects. And judging from the many HoloNet reports and discussions on the topic, the Outer Rim Alliance would soon meet its ultimate test.

After Atai gave his momentous speech, and the Jedi’s agents helped ensure the message reached across the galaxy, public pressure began to build on eradicating the last vestiges of slavery that escaped the efforts of Freedom Flight and its many agents and allies. As expected, the rebirth of the Outer Rim Alliance had generated an uproar in every major galactic government, and the Jedi Council and its top diplomats were hard at work to ensure the new power had many allies in its quest of liberation.

Amongst each of the twenty worlds fighting against the strongest remaining bastions of slavery, the Jedi Order’s rising stars were working overtime to help the new faction establish itself. From intelligence breakthroughs, liberation of hundreds of prisoners and slaves, the capture or assassination of several key enemy commanders, and rebuilding broken or compromised rebel networks, the Order’s unofficial mission was paving the way for the Outer Rim Alliance to take up the mantle of leadership on each of their worlds after their victory.

After the rest of the Council examined the data, Octa Ramis satisfyingly noted, “Then it is only a matter of time until they succeed.”

“It is too premature of us to claim victory just yet, Master Ramis.” Saba Sebatyne, Barabel hunter and brilliant warrior for the Jedi, pointedly and wisely hissed. “This one knows the real battle is only just beginning. Remember, we need to draw out the true power behind slavery’s resurgence, and once the Sith are revealed, that is where matters will get complicated.”

“And as long as the Galactic Alliance’s neutrality act in in effect, our friends in their ranks won’t be able to make a move without censure or worse once the Sith are exposed as the backers of this practice.” Kam Solusar ruefully noted.

Barratk'l, Yuuzem Jedi Master and the Order’s lead figure in the anti-slavery cause, took her cue to speak, “Then it is fortunate we have many more allies than just Chief Yimmon and his sympathizers to work with. Many independent worlds and privateers we work with are not bound by those absurd laws and can act where the GA cannot. And our strong ties with the Empire, Hapans, and Confederation will more than make up for that small inconvenience.”

“Right now, we ought to put our focus on preparing our friends and agents for the coming struggle, which means we’ll need to establish new supply lines for their war efforts, and work to get the new faction a healthy dose of publicity for the propaganda front. Every bit we can spare to assist in overthrowing those despotic regimes is one step closer towards building a lasting peace for all.”

“I take it you already have a few possibilities in mind?” Kyle knowingly smirked.

“I think the Freedom Flight would do well to establish ties with the nascent movement, and they can help generate plenty of good publicity with the new government while rebuilding its allies across the worlds of Thallassia, Orvax IV, Resh 9376, and Sump.” The middle-aged giant of a Jedi Master suggested.

Selona 26th, 53 ABY

Zygerria

Capital City, Zygerrian Slavers Guild Headquarters

“This is unacceptable!” De’Nal ranted and raved to his prime minister. “There must be something we can do to stop this rebellion in its tracks before the rabble strikes again!”

Having to hear from the Sith and his top commanders on his subjects’ public sentiment starting to turn against him was bad enough, but to have his efforts to curtail such despicable talk by the one official he trusted most was nothing short of high treason.

“My liege, this is a war." Anton Molec tried to reason with the king. “And our foe is a far more insidious one than you give them credit for. It is not simply armies and their leaders we fight, but the ideas and how they spread that do equally as much harm to us. Three of their leaders might be in the Sith’s custody and are educating us on how widespread and virulent this vile movement is, but the true battles have only just begun.”

“If we are to survive, let alone triumph against these many powerful foes, you will need to take counsel from our benefactors and your officers, all while carefully heeding their wisdom and experience with these matters.”

Glaring at Anton, De’Nal slowly settled down before reluctantly acceding, “Perhaps. At the minimum, we’ll need their help to break this ridiculous coalition before they can grow beyond our control. Which means we’ll need more professionals that can contend with the Jedi and triumph against them.”

“I will make the preparations for contacting the Dread Lord at once.” Anton bowed, before humble pointing out, “But that still leaves the rebels and my brother unaccounted for. We will need a strong and intelligent mind to keep them at bay and predict their movements until we can shatter their resolve.”

Knowing that gleam in Anton’s eyes, the king sighed, “Who do you have in mind that might possibly accomplish this?”

“Despite Commander Invoa’s failure to capture more of the enemy leadership, she displayed remarkable efficiency in locating their summit, and flexibility in the attack before the unforeseen difficulties she encountered. I believe she should be given a chance to redeem herself by leading our Inquisitorial Battalion.”

“Bold words, Prime Minister.” De’Nal remarked, before considering the matter. While it was true De’ralla failed in her primary objective, she showed incredible initiative and adaptability in her hunt for the traitors and had managed to keep the bulk of the enemy’s seditious messages from reaching the populace’s ears. And ruining or eliminating a talented commander would terribly damage morale for the entire army. Perhaps a second chance would be for the best for all relevant parties.

Nodding in concurrence, the king agreed, “And I find myself agreeing with them, old friend. Inform De’ralla of her coming transfer, and then contact our best client.”

Hopefully, bringing more Sith into Zygerria and their other allied worlds would do far more good than harm in the long run, especially with all the attention the Jedi would soon bring onto them, and with all the kidnappings the king’s raiders conducted for Darth Krayt and his scientists and to keep the planet’s coffers flowing. What happened to those children was beneath De’Nal’s notice, but if it brought harm to his people and allies, then it would be nothing short of a disaster for his rule.

Telona 3rd, 53 ABY

Hyperspace, On Route to Zygerria

Aboard Ship

Meditating aboard her most personal vessel and oldest friend, Darth Kitai reviewed the orders given to her by the Dread Lord himself. Having heard of the Jedi meddling in the slave trade across the Outer Rim, and their latest batch of allies gaining momentum on several key strongholds, the woman who once called herself Vestara Khai knew it was only a matter of time before the conflict escalated to this point.

With so many of the Jedi’s best and brightest Apprentices and Knights aiding the Outer Rim Alliance in its crusade, it represented both a crucial opportunity and terrible danger for the One Sith. Since Kitai had invested much of her resources into the slave trade, no matter how much it made her queasy, it would be remiss to let all her efforts go to waste. If she hoped to take over Kesh and utilize it as a bastion for Darth Krayt’s armies, she would need many allies and resources from all corners of the galaxy, no matter where they originated from.

Still, she couldn’t help but reminisce back towards her teenage years, when she conversed with him on the issue of slavery, and how their powerful bond was shattered by betrayal and abandonment on her part not even a year later.

Quickly banishing her lingering regrets, Kitai stretched out her hand, calling her lightsaber to her hand before she quickly activated it, looking deep into the heart of the crimson blade as she recited the Sith Code.

Nwûl tash.
Dzwol shâsotkun.
Shâsotjontû châtsatul nu tyûk.
Tyûkjontû châtsatul nu midwan.
Midwanjontû châtsatul nu asha.
Ashajontû kotswinot itsu nuyak.
Wonoksh Qyâsik nun.

She chanted the words in the ancient language of the Sith, though her native Keshiri accent likely caused her pronunciation to waver from the way most modern Sith would speak the original mantra of the first Sith Lords. Many of Darth Krayt’s disciples had said as much when she swore her loyalty before them in what seemed a lifetime ago, a small mark of shame she wore as a badge of honor, if only to remember where she started out on her dark path and her promise to make her home planet a bastion of Sith culture and power.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

In Kitai’s naïve adolescence, after Abeloth destroyed her family and her hormones temporarily led her into the arms of her people’s sworn enemies, she knew how tenacious and powerful the Jedi were, even as idealistic and selfless they were. And, much as it angered the Sith Lady, they were worthy of the renown and fear the galaxy held towards their guardians. Even after being ostracized for their colossal failures over the years, they remained as persistent as ever, determined to redeem themselves and defeat all their foes.

Even if the Jedi weren’t destined to lose this war and fade away into a footmark of history, Kitai respected her adversaries far more than most Sith. She especially respected her onetime flame for his good qualities, even if they were enemies.

But Ben was not the reason Kitai was traveling to Zygerria. No, the problems involved two of the Jedi Order’s best apprentices and their new pact with the reborn Outer Rim Alliance. With Allana Djo Solo and Edaan Palpatine, two teenagers who interfered in the Sith’s plans far too often, she needed to either capture or eliminate them so they could no longer pose a threat to the Grand Design.

Unfortunately, if she were to publicly work with the planet’s monarch, it would be too much of a detriment to Lord Krayt’s plans than a boon. For now, she would need a few intermediaries to present a veil of secrecy for her and her fellow Sith. It was time to give Mirta Gev and her retinue of Mandalorians another contract, and a way to expand upon the Neo Death Watch’s wealth and increase their armies for their coming war against their own enemies.

Telona 15th, 53 ABY

Hutt Space

Cyax System, Napdu

Maya Armus Spa

“I bid you good day, Lord Azzim.” Ben cordially bowed his head before the young Hutt Kajidic. “I am grateful for your support of the Jedi Order’s efforts to finish stamping out slavery and uncovering more of the Sith’s operations.”

Jovially chortling at Ben’s formal attitude, Azzim Anjiliac Atirue reminded the Jedi Knight, “Oh, come now, Ben. You’re among friends and trusted servants here. No need to be so stuffy with me.”

“Apologies, but it never pays to be overcautious in some settings.” Ben defended before handing his attaché a case. “Your uncle’s payment, as promised.”

The Nikto woman, analyzing the contents of the case and its wealth, nodded to Azzim before the Hutt solemnly nodded, “Good. Now we can get the more unpleasant business out of the way. My clan has word of several unusual transactions and movements across the Outer Rim. Many of which originate from Zygerria or other backwards-thinking worlds.”

Waiting for Azzim to continue, Ben wasn’t disappointed when Azzim handed him a datapad. “Your father and his friends can corroborate this information and they added a few bits of information we were previously unaware of. One of which being a contract Mandalorian company commander Mirta Gev recently took with King De'Nal Scintel of Zygerria.”

Mirta Gev, now that was a name Ben recognized. A longtime friend and accomplice of Vestara Khai, his former flame and bane of his existence, she had helped the Sith Lady with many of her acts of sabotage and mayhem, and the Jedi were eager to get their hands on her, not only for her complicity in the Sith’s plans. If they were lucky, Mirta knew how to find Vestara and her growing armies, and that was a problem the Jedi needed off their table soon before the war criminal’s growing power resulted in a full-scale galactic war.

And the possible sightings of Vestara in the capital city of Zygerria was the best opportunity to take her down he had in over a year. If he were given the chance to capture her and haul her before the Order to answer for all her crimes, then he would seize the moment when the time came no matter the risk to himself. But if he was given no other recourse but to kill her… well he would steel his heart for that possibility.

But that was all in the future. Right now, Ben’s father wanted him to help expand his covert network’s reach and help Azzim’s clan, and with their interests aligning, it was clear where Ben was going now.

Reading through the datapad’s contents, Ben was not surprised at the orders the Council had given him. Having been tasked to investigate and assist the Jedi stationed to help the Outer Rim Alliance in fending off possible Sith assistance and evaluate if the Order needs to get publicly involved in this struggle, it would be a daunting task, but one he was well-prepared for. Of course, it had been almost six months since he had worked under another Jedi’s direct authority, but he was prepared to do what he must if given the chance to go after Vestara.

Deleting the datapad’s contents after committing it to his near eidetic memory, Ben thanked Azzim, “I am most grateful for the opportunity you have given me. Next time I’m here, I just might have to try those vaunted hot springs everyone has been raving about.”

Appraising at the grim Jedi Knight, Azzim sadly promised, “First session will be on me, as an endorsem*nt to the rest of you stuffy Jedi Knights.” Knowing from Grand Master Katarn of Ben’s vendetta on Vestara, and how Edaan Palpatine planned to go after her in a selfless bid to save her, he lamented how much joy had been sapped from the well-respected and honorable young man standing before him. Seeing such contrasting emotions from two young humans puzzled the Hutt Kajidic, and how they could take such divergent paths when facing off against their same quarry.

Hopefully, when the time came, neither Jedi would try to maim or kill each other once the truth came out. The galaxy couldn’t afford any more infighting or fallen members of their order amidst the countless crises erupting across hundreds of worlds.

Chapter 8: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 5)

Chapter Text

Telona 28th, 53 ABY

Zygerria, Western Plains

Outpost Coburn

Sensing the impending arrival of the Jedi’s latest reinforcement, Edaan could not help but tense up again at the mere thought of working with him once again.

True, Ben Skywalker was a highly accomplished Jedi Knight and investigator, with greater experience in warfare than most sentients twice his age and a sharp mind and tongue. The odds of victory would undoubtedly be that much greater with the veteran Jedi Knight, but there was one issue that Edaan would be all but impossible to ignore.

With Vestara Khai on the planet, there was no telling if either Jedi could keep their composure or restrain their opposing desires for stopping her scheming rampage. Ben’s desire to apprehend the Sith Lady was well-known, as was his rage for her and her abandonment of him. But for Edaan, filled with sorrow and pity for his onetime friend, if his intentions became known to the Skywalker heir, it was a recipe for disaster. Which was why he could not help but wonder why Atai and Jaden ordered him to be a part of the security team to welcome his superior to this base.

Consider this a part of your training to control your emotions, Edaan.’ Jaden sagely told him. ‘Not everyone will be so easy to figure out and practicing concealing your emotions can be a good way to pick up on little signs will be crucial in discerning truths from lies. Besides, you promised Atai you’d follow all his orders, and this one comes straight from the top.

Regretting for the umpteenth his pledge to follow Atai’s lead, Edaan quieted the storm of turbulence in his soul before the familiar roar of Ben’s personal ship grew close. Seeing in the distance the custom-made vessel of the Jade’s Legacy, a near-perfect replica of the Jade Sabre of his late mother, he glanced at Akku, “I hope you know what you’re doing in meeting Ben. He doesn’t exactly hold a high regard of Mandalorians.”

“I hope to change that opinion over the coming weeks, just as I have with most of Atai’s people and your fellow Jedi, my old friend.” Akku stoically stated, a point Edaan had to concede with a graceful nod. For nearly two months, the maverick company of Mandalorians had accomplished so much for the Outer Rim Alliance on Zygerria, it was a wonder they weren’t being mistaken for actual soldiers of this fledgling government.

By performing reconnaissance runs on the enemy strongholds, working alongside the Jedi in building the Alliance’s soldiers into a cohesive fighting force, and helping to reestablish connections with the remnants of the resistance networks that Karra’s treachery endangered, the Mandalorians under Akku’s command had more than proven that there were those among the warrior culture that valued more than glory and credits as the main stigma claimed. And thanks to the Anazti leader’s connections with many privateers and more legitimate powers, the Outer Rim Alliance was quickly growing and would soon be ready to launch its true offensive against their slaver enemies.

But interrupting Edaan’s reflections, seeing the Jade’s Legacy prepare to descend, he steeled himself for the awkwardness that was upon everyone. Observing the custom and sleek ship land and its boarding ramp unload, the Jedi Apprentice, accompanying Akku and two of Atai’s advisors to greet the newcomer, Ben quickly surprised everyone by calling out in warning, “Hold on a minute! Some of my systems are damaged, and I need to finish some patchwork repairs before I can leave the ship.”

Taken aback by the odd alert, Edaan called out, “You need any help, Master Skywalker?”

Hesitating a second, as if Ben was glowering at hearing Edaan’s voice, the older man quickly bounced back and offered, “Yeah. You can deliver a case to Atai Molec. He needs the intelligence reports inside that the Council and Azzim prepared for him, and they can’t wait any longer.”

Great. Guess it’s going to be one of those missions.’ Edaan sourly thought before hurrying aboard. Not seeing Ben anywhere aboard the ship’s main hall, scanning the disheveled area and various tools and items lying about, he was prepared to call out again before his danger senses flared up.

Reacting on instinct, Edaan pivoted away from a blow aimed at his back and prepared to retaliate before seeing who attacked him. Biting back a curse, he instead screamed, “What in the blazes were you thinking?! If I pulled out my lightsaber on instinct, you’d be without an arm or worse!”

“If you tried to do that, I’d be disappointed in your lack of restraint.” Ben’s joking voice reverberated across the ship. Turning around, Edaan saw the Jedi Knight chuckling at his prank, and his ire only rose.

Regaining his composure, Ben simply greeted, “It’s been a while, Apprentice Palpatine.”

“Yes. That it has, Knight Skywalker.” Edaan formally nodded, earning a frown from the red-haired man at the stiff greeting. “May I ask where the data is for Atai so I can deliver it? Or was this all a simple ruse to test me and my commitment to the Light?”

“Why can’t it be both?” Ben countered before telekinetically calling a small case to him and handing it to Edaan, suggesting, “Try not to be so stiff and formal with me. It won’t do you any good over the next few months.”

“Not everyone has your free spirit, Ben.” Edaan sighed before doing as he was told, praying to the Celestials that this mission would test Ben just as much as it was testing him. Of course, when it came to Vestara, both Jedi knew they would be thoroughly tested, especially if they encountered her at the same time.

Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that, but it never helped to be prepared for any eventuality.

Nelona 12th, 53 ABY

Capital City, Royal Palace

Attending De’Nal’s midday meal, observing the extravagant spread before both women and their elite agents, Darth Kitai and Mirta Gev both knew the king was trying to keep them from delivering their report and damaging his fragile ego. Too bad for him, he needed to hear this news and prepare for the prolonged war against all his enemies. If Zygerria fell to the Jedi, then it was only a matter of time before the rest of their allied worlds were lost as well. But thanks to the regular intelligence and highly detailed reports Commander De’ralla and her rivals from their worlds delivered, both Sith and Mandalorian were able to refine their strategy in expelling the Jedi and all their underlings.

According to De’ralla’s agents, the planet’s populace still staunchly supported the monarchy, but many of the royal army were growing disgruntled by De’Nal’s inept approach to solving the problem and were considering taking matters into their own hands to destroy this threat to their very way of life. And a growing number of civilians were deathly afraid of the coming civil war, remembering from their skewered history how the Jedi had brought desolation and ruin to their society after their empire ruined many other worlds and their populations.

Well, it was such a shame that the planet’s slave practice had to come to an inglorious end, but not in the way the spoiled king and most of his subjects believed. Seeing the pointless waste of time and resources in enslaving countless sentients when they held boundless potential and could serve better as loyal and free soldiers in the One Sith’s growing armies, both Sith and Mandalorian were working to train every slave they acquired to prepare for the wars against all their enemies. If any of the slaver-dominated planets had a problem with this program, then they might find themselves bereft of allies and left vulnerable to Jedi reprisals.

Interrupting De’Nal’s feast, Kitai cleared her throat, only to observe the king ignore her. Mirta, on the other hand, was not in the mood for courtly etiquette, and fired her blaster up at the ceiling before, certain she had his attention, called out, “If you could stop stuffing yourself with expensive food for a few minutes, maybe you’d actually begin to see that this problem isn’t just going to go away.”

“You’ve got a war brewing on your hands, and you’re just letting the issue fester instead of taking decisive action to stop this rebellion. From all I’ve seen of your ‘leadership’, I don’t know how you ever lasted so long as king.” Mirta continued her scathing reprimand.

Veins bulging, De’Nal was prepared to rise before he found himself trapped in his chair, held down by an invisible force. Glancing at Kitai, he commanded, “Release me at once!”

“While my companion and advisor can be a bit blunt, her assessment is quite accurate.” Kitai diplomatically began. “Your hold over the planet is growing quite tenuous, and unless you take drastic measures to curtail the crisis, everything you and your ancestors strove for will be eradicated for good this time.”

“You’ve read Commander De’ralla’s reports, and heard from your peers across the galaxy, but the situation is far worse than you believe. My network of contacts has learned the Jedi and their allies are working to generate sympathy for your would-be usurpers in the Outer Rim Alliance by working with agencies like the Freedom Flight, and they are supplying your enemies with the tools to take you down.”

Staring hatefully at the two women, De’Nal was prepared to utter a foolish assumption before Mirta beat him to it. “If you’d listen to us instead of forming your idiotic opinions, you’d learn that my friend and I have come up with a plan to reforge your kingdom into a fortress worthy of our Dread Lord.”

“Then what is your supposed strategy?” De’Nal ground out, barely able to keep his composure at the betrayal he was witnessing.

“We’re going to turn your broken hord of slaves into an elite fighting force the likes of which the galaxy hasn’t seen in millennia.” Kitai simply answered, silencing the king before he could erupt in a violent tirade. “For all the Jedi’s nauseating idealism, they are correct on slavery being a blight on the galaxy. It deprives so many of their full potential and keeps civilizations stagnant and weak against the tides of change and progress every other society goes through.”

“Take your capital city, for example.” Kitai offered. “Built upon the backs of countless slaves, it serves as a remarkable piece of Zygerrian architecture, but houses many enemies in the indentured souls trapped within its walls. And those that seek to emulate you and your practices, your sycophants and adherents, they jockey and quarrel with each other over people when they could be pooling their energies, talents, and creativity together to build a greater society than anything your ancestors ever conceived.”

De’Nal, disgusted at this blasphemous talk, from nefarious Sith and Mandalorians, no less, couldn’t find the words to accurately portray how betrayed he felt by his patrons. It was if all of creation was closing in around those few adherents of the natural order of the galaxy, and he was trapped and bound to lose everything no matter how this partnership concluded.

Further infuriating the spoiled king while enjoying his distress, Mirta gleefully continued outlining the strategy, “Here’s what’s going to happen, Your Highness. You’re going to make a public address to your people, detailing the plan to gradually abolish slavery and train the newly emancipated citizens to protect and serve your people, while the best and most loyal of them will either join the Neo Death Watch or eventually work for the One Sith as field agents or full-fledged Sith. You will make note of any and all dissenters that may arise within your ranks, and my friend here, along with your brilliant commanders, will decide on how to make the most of this opportunity by luring who we can into an inescapable trap.”

Hatefully nodding at his two advisors, De’Nal realized how he could not overtly defy them without risking all he had and could gain. No, he’d have to find a more covert and creative method of achieving retribution against these interlopers. But first, he had to help the Sith eradicate the opposition by setting the perfect bait for this infestation. And what better way to do it than to use those that would dare question his authority as a lure?

Nelona 22nd, 53 ABY

Coruscant, Senate District

Senate Building, Chief of State’s Office

Having been inaugurated as Chief of State for the Galactic Alliance not even six months ago, Kajin Bar Yimmon found himself swamped with passing more pieces of legislation and regulations than ever before from when he was a senator. Thankfully, though, the Cerean’s dual brains and his amazing staff helped him manage the immense workload and carry out his duties to the people he swore to serve and represent.

However, today’s morning routine was quite different from the usual schedule. Having received dire reports from Galactic Alliance Security and many of the government’s worlds of about seven million of kidnappings over the last three years, Kajin was prepared to annihilate any and all perpetrators of this vile and criminal act of war.

Tracking the patterns of kidnappings and utilizing the Galactic Alliance’s informer network across the many criminal enterprises across the galaxy’s far reaches, Kajin was disgusted and disheartened to learn that the masterminds of this abominable campaign were the Sith, scattered across twenty worlds that still practiced slavery and using their planetary governments to act as middlemen for this immoral business. Thanks to many of his former peers in the Senate and their idiotic neutrality bill regarding the Jedi’s war against the Sith they passed eight years ago, his hands were tied in eradicating these last bastions of this Sith-funded slavery.

Of course, that didn’t stop the previous Chief of State from unofficially collaborating with the Jedi in stomping out any Sith plots that arose within the Galactic Alliance’s borders, neutrality act or no. Regardless of the Sith appeasers in the Senate and their many misled sympathizers and supporters, no one could ignore the millions of cries for freedom that reverberated throughout the insurgent cells seeking to rebuild the Outer Rim Alliance to serve as a bulwark against the free people’s many threats out there. And with the Jedi working overtime to repair the damage they inadvertently caused when Abeloth took Coruscant while uprooting all the Sith’s schemes, Kajin knew it was only a matter of time before the Alliance came to its senses and repealed the abomination of a legislation.

But until then, Kajin knew the threat of the Zygerrians and their allies and backers posed, and how they would not ignore such vulnerable targets and seek wealth and power elsewhere. They needed to be nipped in the bud right away, before it could explode into an even bigger crisis and the galaxy faced a new Sith empire. Having contacted the Joint Chiefs of Staff not even a week ago, the leaders of the Galactic Alliance’s armed forces agreed on the severity of the danger and were preparing clandestine ways to assist the rebels.

Readying several task forces, shifted to patrol deep space against raiders and other threats, contacting many allies and privateers to bolster the insurgents and increase their supply lines, and collaborating with the Imperials, Hapans, and Confederation in sharing intelligence and sending all manner of advisors to help the rebels create a new government as they established themselves on all twenty worlds that comprised the new Outer Rim Alliance.

Knowing the dangers of operating with such illegal methods, Kajin knew this plan needed the utmost secrecy if it hoped to succeed. No one in the opposition could be allowed to know what was happening until it was too late to do anything about it. He hated to play politics like this, but with the Senate so divided on the Jedi-Sith war and pride dictating many of its actions, the Chief of State knew secrecy and a deft hand would be needed far more than overt methods.

But no matter what, Kajin vowed to do what Wynn Dorvan was unable to complete and finish healing the divide between the Jedi and the Galactic Alliance, allowing both powers to work together again in promoting and protecting their values and the lives of all encompassed in their authority. Only this time, both institutions would need to learn from their many mistakes to build a better future and prepare for whatever came next. While the Chief of State was no Force User, he could instinctively feel how a new and far darker war was brewing deep in the recesses of the galaxy’s unexplored fringes, and he somehow knew that this conflict would test the galaxy in ways it had not seen in eons.

One thing was certain, soon the bane of slavery would finally be excised from the fringes of the galaxy, and no one was going to stop this noble fight.

Interrupting his vow, Kajin’s chief of staff, Sorsa Tiin, an Iktotchi woman with decades of experience as an incorruptible and highly knowledgeable civil servant starting from the early years of the New Republic, approached the Cerean while explaining, “There’s been a drastic change in the Zygerria situation.”

“The Sith have revealed themselves?” Kajin guessed.

‘Worse. Their puppet of their king is preparing a public edict preparing to gradually abolish slavery.” Sorsa corrected, providing an answer the Chief of State was flabbergasted to hear. Before he could sputter out any rebuttal and the impossible declaration, she beat him to it, “Our spies report how they’re going to rehabilitate their captives before training them to serve in the planet’s armed forces and public service, and it’s to serve as a model for other slavery worlds to end the practice.”

“But what is their true endgame with this maneuver?” Kajin surmised, thinking out loud. “What could the Sith and their pawns be thinking in depriving themselves of a tradition that’s been a part of their society and culture for eons? Why become pragmatic and show integrity now of all times? They wouldn’t humble themselves like this unless they had a plan to capitalize on this drastic change.”

“That is what we need to find out.” Sorsa suggested before tactfully adding, “I’ve already cleared your schedule for the next four hours, allowing you to make the necessary calls and plans to help uncover the truth of this matter.”

Smiling at his longtime friend, Kajin dramatically thanked her, “What would I do without you, Sorsa?”

“Let’s hope you never have to find out.” Sorsa smirked before excusing herself, allowing the Chief of State to contact the Jedi and peers in the galactic community and compare notes while formulating a new plan. If the Sith could get creative in their strategies, then so could the free powers.

Nelona 24th, 53 ABY

Adole City

Zygerria Liberation Front Outpost Tano

Glancing outside through the stone windows, seeing the bustling trove of activity from the civilians and increased military patrols, Edaan, much as he wanted to deny it, felt that Ben’s hunch on this supposed meeting was spot on. According to Atai’s spies in the monarchy’s armed forces and indentured servants, a group of disgruntled officers and civilian officials that opposed the king’s proclamation to gradually end the slave trade were prepared to meet later in one of the city’s most bustling taverns today, and the Zygerria Liberation Front was determined to take advantage of this opportunity as much as it could.

By spying on the potential conspirators and map out their network of dissent, it would allow the Outer Rim Alliance to better plan their strategies and seek out possible recruits or targets for their armies while scoping out the extent of the alliance between the Sith and the Mandalorians on their payroll. On paper, the plan made perfect sense, and promised great rewards. But in practice, the strategy seemed too simple and susceptible to a trap for Edaan’s liking.

Bringing along five other Jedi, several of Atai’s best scouts and officers, and endangering most of their precious few sympathizers in the city to achieve this spying mission, it was risking a great deal for the Zygerrians in the Outer Rim Alliance for an unmeasured gain. But this danger was why Edaan had asked Robonino, Akku, and the Anzati Mandalorian’s best soldiers to bolster the reconnaissance team, just in case his superiors’ suspicions were correct. And with the meeting set to begin in under four hours, it was almost time for the young Jedi and his team to move out if they hoped to make the rendezvous in time.

Daring to reach out with the Force to try and sense if any Sith were in the area, Edaan was not disappointed when he felt nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from the typical oppressive pall of despair and hatred for the victims of slavery, the fear and confusion of the civilians over their king’s bizarre proclamation, and the arrogance from the slave overseers and their subordinates, no Sith were felt within the city. Of course, with many Sith that Edaan fought having learnt how to hide themselves within nexuses of Dark Side energy or individuals, there was no telling if the Vestara and her people were prepared for this spying operation.

Oh well, it was all up to the Will of the Force to decide who would emerge victorious in today’s battle. Edaan just hoped that the followers of the Light would win this battle, even if he somehow knew it would be a daunting one.

Ninety Minutes Later

Adole City Garrison

“They’ve taken the bait.” Mirta dutifully informed Kitai. Preparing her equipment for the coming carnage from dissident officers and the Jedi-allied rebels, the Mandalorian could not help but feel a small sense of unease at what she had to do next. Despite her hate for the Jedi after all the harm they caused her and her family, and she would follow her friend into Chaos herself if it was required, she did not wish to kill young individuals, even those indoctrinated by a naïve, hypocritical, and semi-pacifistic religious code.

And according to the Sith’s spies and informants, three of the Jedi that were walking into this trap were teenagers, barely beginning to truly live their lives and did no wrong against the Mandalorians. Not even Edaan Palpatine, the Jedi’s poster boy and a subject of cautious curiosity to many, had done anything malicious to Mirta, and if half the reports the One Sith acquired on him were accurate, he was well on his way to rivaling his ancestor in terms of intelligence and raw power. He even managed to recruit a well-respected leader and his company of Mandalorians to this cause of eradicating slavery, a great testament to his character and charisma.

Kitai, sensing her friend’s multi-layered apprehension, teased Mirta, “You really need to work more on improving your mental barriers. If I can sense them when I’m all but cutting myself off from the Force, then just imagine what the Jedi can feel.”

Seeing the conflict etched on Mirta’s face, Kitai generously offered her, “I can handle the ambush on my own if you want. We’re going to get the drop on the Jedi and their friends and close the trap on them quick enough to keep them off-balance and in disarray.”

“Thanks, but that won’t be necessary.” Mirta politely declined. “Against your old love, the Palpatine Jedi, and a Mando as tough and smart as Akku Seii, you’ll need my help. Besides, I won’t let my people go on a mission I wouldn’t do myself.”

Hesitating, Mirta asked, “Do you really think you have to kill Skywalker? If captured and broken, he could be-”

“It won’t work.” Kitai coldly cut off. “Ben isn’t ever going to come over to the Dark Side, no matter how much I might wish otherwise, and I can’t be like him. This is the only way to put the past behind me for good while serving my people and advancing our master’s Grand Design.”

Calming herself, Kitai cordially acknowledged, “I appreciate your concern, old friend, but it isn’t needed. I’ll be fine soon enough once we deal with our enemies. For now, we’d best make sure everything’s in position for our ambush. If we botch this, we’ll have far more than just a ranting king to worry about.”

Chapter 9: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 6)

Chapter Text

Three Hours Later

Nelona 24th, 53 ABY

Zygerria, Adole City

Marik District

Listening in to the thirty dissenting officials carry out their heated deliberations in the building directly across from the adjacent rooftops, Edaan felt his danger senses increase in volume, even as he worked to eavesdrop on the enemy’s meeting.

Having spied on the conclave for the last half hour alongside his fellow Jedi and the Zygerria Liberation Front, Edaan had uncovered a great deal of intelligence on the decaying chain of command between the Zygerrian royal army, the king’s political leaders, and the Sith, with the entire conversation being recorded. Of course, much of the plotting had been on covert ways to oppose the king’s astonishing bill to gradually abolish the slave trade and quietly oppose their Sith patrons.

Fools.’ Edaan disgustingly sighed. ‘They knew full well of the Sith’s deceitful nature and the devil’s deal they made with them, and they’re only complaining now, after all their blood money and vile traditions are threatened.

Interrupting his musings, Atai’s voice filtered through Edaan’s comlink, “Prepare to withdraw, Edaan. We’ve gotten what we need for now. Best not to push our luck any further.”

“Our true foes?” Edaan quietly guessed. With the thirty enemy commanders and administrators identified, it would be a simple enough task for Atai and his people to track their movements and work to map out this network of defiance against the king and his loyalists. From there, it would be a more challenging task of eliminating or capturing the more troublesome commanders who refused to abolish the slave trade and send an unmistakable message to the rest that their time as evil overlords had come to an end.

But that still left Vestara and her Sith and personal Mandalorians unaccounted for, and they needed to be taken off the board sooner than later if the Outer Rim Alliance hoped to free the first of many key worlds. And if the Jedi Apprentice’s instincts were correct, then this mission was about to get that much more dangerous.

Breaking through his concentration, a surge of Dark Side energy spread over the district, nearly giving Edaan and every other nearby Jedi vertigo from the shockwaves alone. But the explosion that consumed the dissidents’ building broke through the Jedi Apprentice’s daze, and he realized just how deep in trouble everyone was about to be in.

Activating his earpiece, Edaan alerted to his assets, “Make sure our escape route is secure! We’re going to need it if we survive the next half hour.”

Barely deactivating his comm piece, Edaan, sensing the enemy right behind him, swiveled to the right, barley avoiding several darts that missed his abdomen, and activated his violet lightsaber, and adopted the lightsaber form stance of Soresu while staring down two Sith, four Mandalorians, and four members of the Zygerrian Royal Guard.

Wearily smirking, Edaan, presenting a brave front before his enemies, cheekily taunted, “What, just ten of you? I thought I’d be worth at least twice the number. At least it’s quite a wide array of guests.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Palpatine.” A familiar muscled Keshiri woman stepped up to the front, one missing a few teeth in Marra’s gap of a smile, “I wanted the personal pleasure of dealing with you after our last meeting.”

“Perhaps you will.” Edaan acknowledged. “But I’m going to make you work for it.” ‘And if I make it out of this mess, I’ll thank Akku profusely for taking his advice beforehand.’ He silently added.

Glancing around the rooftop, knowing the lack of an escape route prevented Edaan from evading this battle, he realized this would have to be a direct engagement, one that would test and push him to his limits in virtually all his skills and experience. To survive this battle, he would need to keep his enemies guessing and off-balance and utilize every bit of knowledge and talent he carried.

Well, best to get the battle’s onset over with before nerves left him a frozen mess. Launching himself into the fray, he switched to the more aggressive Form of Djem So and slashed at the nearest Mandalorian. No matter how this engagement ended, the Sith would not capture and twist him to their wicked ends.

Ten Minutes Later

“We just have to stop meeting like this, Ben!” Kitai playfully snarked while launching a series of ripostes against her first and onetime love while enhancing the power of her blows with lightning from both her fingertips and by channeling it into her blade. Evading the blows, the Jedi Knight at least took the initiative to redirect some of the energized attacks on a stray Zygerrian and Mandalorian, electrocuting both to death in an instant.

But while Ben was holding his own against his former flame, both Jedi and Sith well-familiar with each other’s strategies and favor ed techniques after dozens of similar battles, the rest of the mission was quickly devolving into a mad brawl and fight for survival. After the conspirators’ building detonated, the Sith and made their move, swarming over the district with dozens of Mandalorians and Zyggerians bolstering their fifteen Lords and Ladies that specifically went after the Jedi and the Outer Rim Alliance’s leadership. And with the Zygerria Liberation Front’s allies and sympathizers either being rounded up for interrogation or driven out of the city, and the Royal Navy’s sudden blockade cordoning off all nonmilitary traffic, it was clear there was no clear way to escape.

As much as he hated having to admit it, Vestara had crafted an excellent trap for her enemies, and it would only likely be through tremendous effort and sacrifice that anyone could survive past the day. She played him like a musical instrument, and he walked right into the snare. If he wanted to ensure the day did not go fully to the Sith, he needed to stop thinking like a scorned lover and vengeful warrior, and like the adaptable leader and powerful Jedi he had been through Chaos and back to become.

Such thinking came right on time, when Ben noticed through his peripheral vision the arrival of a sand-gold armored Mandalorian, equipped with strength-enhancing crushgaunts that could allow the woman to strangle the Jedi Knight with ease if she got even one of her hands on his neck. Sensing the familiar tinge of vengeance and bitterness from Mirta Gev, granddaughter of Boba Fett and an accomplished Jedi hunter of her own regard ever since first allying with Vestara eight years ago, he realized escape for him was all but impossible now, not that it was even possible beforehand.

Nevertheless, he was not going to let the Outer Rim Alliance risk falling today, and that meant getting Atai Molec and as many allies and fellow Jedi he could to safety before he sacrificed himself to become One with the Force.

Intruding on Ben’s grim resolve, he felt a cold but familiar presence bolt right behind him, with the Anzati Mandalorian company leader fighting his way right towards Mirta. Seeing Akku, armed with two beskar daggers and supplementing his attack with his dual wrist gauntlets to cut, poison, or blast his way through anyone who tried to interfere with his hunt against his wayward rival, the Jedi suddenly felt a new surge of hope for survival.

Perhaps, provided no one dared intrude on this fight, the freedom fighters might just survive past today.

Five Minutes Later

Sneaking into the scorched meeting place, Atai hoped that this hunch might be worth the blood, effort, and risk he was putting everyone in, but he found his hoped dropping quickly after seeing the charred remains of at least ten renegades. Still, with the ex-prime minister’s bodyguards staring to search every corpse for any possible intel, and the medics examining each body to ensure they did not miss any possible survivors.

After the Sith literally blew into the scene, nearly a dozen of Atai’s best agents and lieutenants had either been captured or killed before they could muster a proper defense. Without the coalition’s outside help there to buy everyone a few minutes and a little breathing room, they would have been completely routed and defeated within another five.

While Atai wanted to fight their way out of the city and rendezvous with their shuttles, the Jedi sensed a few survivors within the charred ruins, and advocated for rescuing them, if only for the intel they might have on them or could be questioned about later.

Besides, with everything now on lockdown and the city’s garrison on full alert, they wouldn’t have likely gotten far before meeting their end. That meant their backup plan had to be enacted, which meant they were forced to hold their position until their reinforcements could arrive. But their evacuation force was still at least fifteen minutes away, not including the time it would take to break through the interdicting fleet.

For the moment, the fate of Zygerria hung in the balance, all because of this one engagement. And Atai was stuck on the sidelines, rummaging through the dead as the real heroes fought to defend the would-be government! Muttering a blitheful curse, he wished he could do more for those that came to his aid, he regretted not doing more to stop the slave trade before De’Nal took the throne, resented his powerlessness when he lost his family for following righteousness over misplaced pride and willful arrogance, and hated the Sith for further subverting his people as pawns in their never-ending lust for power.

“Sir, come here! We’ve found a few live ones!” A medic called to Atai, cutting through his fog of reflection, and causing him to hurry to the corpsman, observing two doctors and their protectors tending to three unconscious Royalist commanders. Bearing several severe burns on their arms and abdomen, it was a miracle the dissenters survived the first wave of pain alone.

Biting back a few swears, Atai pulled out the comlink and warned, “Aurek, Fox, Trill, ETA! We’ve got wounded and need immediate extraction! Anyone, come in!”

“We’re doing our best to get to the RV point, Sir, but we need more time! Encountered heavy opposition from the royal fleet and the Sith’s floating eyeball, and there’s a lot of unidentified contacts approaching form orbit!” The Aurek squadron’s lead pilot loudly called back just to be heard over the static and flak that was audible in the background seconds before the connection was severed.

Well, that’s not good.’ Atai griped, preparing for the end, but ready to go down fighting. Better to die a martyr than live a little longer as an unwilling traitor to the great and noble cause.

Twenty Minutes Later

Edaan, slicing the last Zygerrian in half before using his vambraces to create a shockwave to blast the last two Mandalorians off the roof. Having disabled their jetpacks beforehand, the two mercenaries would likely be falling to their deaths, or at least towards a long visit to intensive care with plenty of broken bones. That only left Marra and one of her fellow Sith Sabers left to fight him, both of who ready to attack their Jedi adversary with a united front, knowing they couldn’t afford to underestimate him any longer.

Carefully controlling his breathing and concealing his pain behind the adrenaline rush, Edaan knew the last forty-five minutes had thoroughly tested him and nearly pushed him to his limits. Exhaustion staring to seep in and compounded by his many cuts and bruises from several discarded weapons, he knew he needed to wrap this battle up swiftly before he risked being overwhelmed and disarmed by his two foes.

But before the Sith launched their attack, Edaan heard a voice screaming in his head, urging him to jump. Knowing who was calling to him through their bond, he leapt backwards to the ground below, using the Force to soften his landing. Expecting the Sith to be in hot pursuit, he was relieved when only Marra landed in front of him, the other Sith woman’s lower torso being blown away by a shadow bomb having just detonated.

Feigning confidence while sensing reinforcements inbound, Edaan boldly offered, “You’re all alone now and about to be outnumbered. Care to surrender?”

“To you?” Marra lowly growled. “Not even if my life depended on it.”

Why does every Sith have to be so karking prideful?!’ Edaan lamented, readying himself for one last battle before Marra bolted away from the battle.

Hearing the assault shuttles start landing and sensing the familiar signatures of his fellow Jedi and the Outer Rim Alliance soldiers, Edaan knew it was time for everyone here to take their leave. Nearly collapsing from fatigue, he forced himself to hurry back to the heart of the fighting, hoping everyone else had fared as well as him.

Five Minutes Later

Marik District Center

Mirta Gev realized right away how this brawl would be the greatest test of her abilities to date. Going up against a veteran Mandalorian of Akku Seii II’s caliber would phase all but the bravest or most reckless fighters, and Mirta was certainly not the latter. Even equipped with her wide array of skills and tools from her decades of working as a bounty hunter and expert of battling Force Users, that could pale in comparison to the lethal assassin training the Anzati adversary had from his family, and the many more years he had on her, and the silent warrior was living up to his well-deserved reputation.

Much as Mirta hated to admit it, Akku was in a class far above the Fett descendent. Having a trick or strategy designed to negate every one of her strategies and pieces of equipment, combined with his greater agility and reach, it was only due to her quick improvisation that she had not bleed to death from his beskar daggers. It certainly didn’t help how he kept trying to unbalance her through dredging up her painful past, and the family she had left behind to help Kitai with her plans.

Though her family held little love for the Jedi, they hated the Sith just as much for the pain they wrought on the Mandalorians and the Fett clan in recent memory and wanted nothing more to do with either of their wars. Having allied with a most wanted Sith Lady burnt practically every bridge she had with the mainstream Mandalorian society and forced her to resort to less savory means to etch out a living with likeminded dissidents.

Forcing her mind back to the present, Mirta barely avoided a fatal jab at her armored throat, and decided it was time to go after Akku with killing intent. Maybe without showing any restraint, she could still turn this fight around.

Before she could counterattack, a series of explosions wreaking havoc throughout the district, detonations that Mirta knew were not part of the plan. Seeing Atai pull back after putting a hand to his helmet’s built-in comm antenna, she realized the ‘good king’ and his professional navy had somehow screwed everything up.

Contacting Kitai, Mirta called out, “Give me your position ASAP! We’ve got enemy craft inbound, and Akku’s heading your way!”

“Too late.” Kitai muttered, Mirta recognizing a hint of regret in her voice as the Sith Lady continued, “Almost all the enemy is withdrawing, and our blockade is in shambles from the Jedi’s surgical strikes.”

“Prepare our forces for return to the capital, and ensure our prisoners and wounded are guarded well. We’re going to have plenty of words for the king when we brief him on this loss.” Kitai closed the channel, even as Mirta knew that conversation wasn’t going to be pleasant for De’Nal.

Hopefully, no one would die from that meeting. No one of importance or true value to the Sith, at least.

Nelona 27th, 53 ABY

Capital City, Royal Palace

“Can any of you tell me why- Give me even just one valid reason for your colossal failure- I should not execute or exile any or all of you from my world after letting the Jedi and Atai slip out of your grasp.” De’Nal seethed to the three women standing before him. “Because of your complete incompetence, we forced thirty of my top officers to try and undermine my authority to maintain our noble traditions and were punished for their tragic defiance. And three of those majors went with or were captured by the Jedi, a capital offense against my rule and the ultimate betrayal of loyalty to the throne.”

De’ralla, sick of hearing the king’s ranting after how close the Sith had come to capturing their adversaries, stepped up to bravely challenge him, “Because you need us to ensure your reign survives, and we need your authority to protect the loyal citizens and military from the inevitable Jedi and Outer Rim Alliance reprisals. Your Highness.” She added the last two words almost as a curse.

“Without your navy refusing to hold their blockade to go after the diversionary force and go off chasing pointless glory, we would have been able to capture our mutual enemies and behead the Outer Rim Alliance’s command structure.” Mirta continued, ready to defend her Zygerrian peer. “The Jedi and their contracted Mandalorians were being overwhelmed by our superior numbers and position, and the former prime minister was all but in our custody before his allies arrived in force to save them all. Even they couldn’t have fought forever before they slipped up.”

Dangerously staring at the military commander, De’Nal sardonically demanded of Kitai, “What does our esteemed Sith advisor have to say of this situation? Any vaunted wisdom or intricate plots you might have concocted to remedy the situation?”

Yellow eyes glaring at the impetuous king, Kitai sinisterly grinned, a smile without any joy, before admitting, “I already have a plan. Thanks to the Jedi’s latest captives, we know exactly where your former right hand has based his forces, and we can launch our final attack against them in three weeks.”

Everyone but Mirta did a double take at Kitai’s outrageous claims, and De’Nal coolly snarled, “That’s a bold claim. For your sake, you’d best have solid information to back it up.”

Telekinetically plugging information into a tactical monitor, Kitai activated it and revealed a complete layout of the Drukarg Highlands, a mountainous region of the planet’s northern hemisphere that could hide the planet’s entire population if the monarchy so desired. But the images within the core of the mountains hid images the king was disgusted to see: Outer Rim Alliance encampments flooding the area, with dozens of supply ships and a wide array of privately owned warships landing and serving as a defense of this enemy fortress.

“It seems that your competition pulled one over your crown and created a rebellion right under your nose.” Kitai sadly smiled. “According to my agents and Commanders’ Gev and Invoa’s scouts, the enemy is preparing for a new offensive against you, and the rest of your allies are reporting similar enemy redoubts across every other world. The Senex-Juvex Sectors, Thallassia, and Orvex IV are also reporting how the Freedom Flight, Jedi, and all major powers, are preparing to take action in aiding the dissidents that are revolting against the ruling houses.”

“Quite frankly, your highness, your position is hanging by a mere thread, and unless we take decisive action to blunt the enemy’s advance, you’ll soon find yourself in a maximum-security cell of one of your many foes, never to see the light of day again.” Kitai concluded.

Eyes twitching from the stress and countless failures surrounding him, De’Nal warned Kitai, “How can we stop them?”

You cannot defeat the Jedi here, not yet.’ A commanding and booming voice entered the conversation, before Kitai and Mirta knelt before the shrouded hologram came into focus, revealing a human encased in the armor of the Yuuzhan Vong warriors, with two lightsabers hanging from his armor.

“Lord Krayt.” Kitai reverently introduced for De’Nal and De’ralla’s benefit, the latter crisply saluting the Dark Lord of the Sith who founded the One Sith.

“Rise, my loyal and capable servants.” Krayt ordered. “We have much to discuss, and little time to do it in.”

Reaching out through the Force, Krayt implanted a series of images and scenarios in all four of his subordinates’ minds: Seeing the Jedi rallying the galaxy to the side of the Outer Rim Alliance, with countless ships and soldiers invading all the slaver-ruled worlds that allied with the One Sith and uncovering the proof of the free peoples’ enemies funding the practice’s resurgence, Kitai, Mirta, and even De’ralla, they all knew what had to be done.

If the One Sith were prematurely exposed now, when their full strength was not yet gathered, it would unite the galaxy against their Grand Design and unleash the still-powerful adherents of the Light Side on them all. Even if the sectors under Sith influence that practiced slavery temporarily fell into Jedi hands, undoing centuries or millennia of such traditions would be impossible to expunge overnight. For the sake of the mission, Zygerria and all their expendable collaborators in the slave trade had to be sacrificed to protect their betters.

Solemnly bowing before her master, Kitai softly vowed, “I will make the necessary arrangements.”

“Good. Once you complete my work, return your focus on securing Kesh and the rest of your people for our armies.” Krayt ordered. Glancing at De’Nal for a second, he added, “Do what you will with the king. I will trust your judgment on that little wrinkle.”

The transmission ending, De’Nal, the moment Krayt’s image vanished, impatiently complained, “Why does everyone treat me like I don’t exist?! Am I not the king of Zygerria?! I deserve to make the decisions regarding my people’s future, not any of you! I will not allow myself or my people to be discarded like a set of broken tools.”

But that’s precisely what you are, you blind, insufferable fool.’ De’ralla quietly scoffed, before respectfully speaking up, “If we wanted to let your people lose everything to our enemies, then our allies would never have come to our aid in the first place. But the situation has changed drastically for us all since then, and sacrifices must be made to ensure we have a future at all now.”

Eyes widening before venomously narrowing at the disclosure, De’Nal muttered, “You’re in on it. The Sith, they’re trying to usurp me and take over the planet for themselves.”

“Oh, don’t be paranoid, you spoiled di’kut!” Mirta loudly spat. “The Jedi are about to come in force to help your rivals take this world, and we don’t yet have the strength to challenge them in the open. Which means we need to get you and all your essential followers and wealth out of the sector before it falls to the invaders and your would-be usurper.”

“And that goes for all your allies’ worlds. Although they cannot be saved by direct means, we can still undermine the Jedi’s rule through more… discreet methods. And once the One Sith are ready to truly wage war and free the galaxy from the Jedi’s shackles, we’ll return to reestablish your rule.” Kitai assured the king, hoping the man would mature into a worthy leader before that day came.

“We need to start preparing for your withdrawal and get you off Zygerria before the war fully turns against you, which means you’ll need a series of escape routes to safely escape the inevitable cordon.” Kitai paused, typing a series of hyperspace coordinates into the computer and revealed several hyperspace routes that were previously unregistered in the system. “My travels allowed our forces to map out a few safe paths from old routes leading in and out of your sector. When the Jedi arrive in force, you’ll be able to slip away before they are any wiser.”

“Do you truly believe we have no chance against the Jedi and their allies, or that your strategy is the only way to win this war?” De’ralla questioned.

Eyeing the Zygerrian woman intently, Kitai plainly stated, “Not as we are now, Commander. Like the Sith visionaries who came before us, patience, subtlety, cunning, and secrecy will serve us infinitely better than brute force. And even when we are strong enough to confront the Jedi head-on, we will still need to be cautious. They have a notorious knack for turning certain defeat into a great and decisive victory for their pitiful cause.”

“How long do we have before we begin our withdrawal?” Mirta asked her superior.

“We need to be out of here in under a month, and no later.” Kitai estimated. “Between preparing our personnel, records, and wealth for evacuation, and readying an insurgent network to destabilize Atai Molec’s coming rule, we’ll have our work cut out for us before we’re all ready to escape.”

Chapter 10: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 7)

Chapter Text

Nelona 32nd, 53 ABY

Zygerria, Drukarg Highlands

Aboard the Liberty

Verifying the authenticity of the seals of the Galactic Alliance Chief of State, Galactic Empire’s Head of State, Confederation’s Supreme Commander, and Hapes Consortium’s Queen Mother, Atai nearly fainted from amazement of how hard these previously unaware or otherwise negligent powers were now working to uphold their lauded principles.

To be fair, much of the incentive had come from groups like Freedom Flight and the Jedi’s work in bringing a great deal of publicity to this crisis, and the mass kidnapping campaign enacted by the Sith and their twenty dominated worlds. But the fact that the galactic governments were willing to commit so much of their strength to oppose the expansion of slavery, anti-Jedi treaty, domestic troubles, or having few available military forces in reserve, it was a testament to the people’s latent desire for freedom and justice. If these diverse set of forces could come together and unite, then the Sith and their pawns would be obliterated by the wave of liberty and light that was in the making.

Of course, all this depended on if the Outer Rim Alliance and its allies could be counted on to keep their promises after their enemies were deposed. A valid point, even if it stung Atai a little on how the freedom fighters needed to do more to prove themselves to the galaxy. Was it not enough that this movement had the backing of the Jedi and dozens of other honorable organizations and individuals that similarly helped the downtrodden and oppressed?

But thankfully for the Outer Rim Alliance, their prospective allies and peers were amenable to a summit between their main representatives to formally establish ties between them all and give the coalition the means to fight their own battles and stand on their own. In just twelve days, the large mismatch of confederates would meet on the Chorlian Sector’s outskirts to finalize the pact, and then their ultimate objective could begin in earnest.

After the galactic powers came to agreement on just how this war would be waged, and which targeted worlds would be given priority in this campaign of liberation and emancipation, Zygerria and its masters would not have long before their tenuous hold on power slipped away just like sand out of one’s grip.

Quickly composing a formal letter of gratitude for each of the leaders, Atai sent each message with the utmost speed before rising from his chair. Feeling stiff joints loosen after hours of inactivity from reviewing countless reports, he knew he needed a decent meal, a hot shower, and a good exercise, not necessarily in that order.

But before he could return to his typical routine, Atai had to speak with his cell leaders and Jedi advisors on a variety of matters. Aside from reviewing the ambush from Adole City and rebuilding the fractured networks across five contested worlds, the Outer Rim Alliance now had to decide on a sufficient delegation and rendezvous point for the incoming summit between the nascent government and its elder peers. And while he was at it, he ought to start preparing the Alliance for relocating to another series of safe houses.

Best to take no chances with anything this far into the war, especially when the stakes were undoubtedly about to escalate to even greater heights as everyone reached this war’s climax.

Helona 2nd, 53 ABY

Drukarh Highlands

Aboard the Jade’s Legacy

Pacing across his ship’s main hall, Ben forced himself to halt his anxious movements and turn to face Akku, harshly asking, “You’re absolutely certain your contact is accurate about all her warnings?”

Betraying no emotion, Akku’s hologram calmly nodded, “The colonel has never steered me wrong, and her loyalty, skill, and honor among all Mandalorians are impeccable. Vestara Khai and her allies are preparing to withdraw from Zygerria. If you want to stop her escape, you’ll have to leave within the next three hours to even hope of intercepting her group.”

Running a hand through his shoulder-length hair, Ben was prepared to take his ship and fly off before reality smacked him across the face. Even with Akku’s mercenary company offering his aid, along with their promises of additional aid from privateers and mercenaries, and if at least a dozen Jedi came with him to try and break through the enemy’s armies, it would be too late. Vestara was too smart to fall for a clumsy frontal assault and would have devised a strategy to counter any brutish attack. And regardless of the royal military’s fading strength, they and their Sith overseers still had enough power to deter all but the strongest force.

Besides, with the negotiations set between the Outer Rim Alliance and its larger galactic peers set to begin in less than a week, they would need an experienced Jedi Knight and diplomat to help smooth over any difficulties and protect the delegation from any unwelcome surprises. Right now, Ben’s focus had to be on helping free the twenty slaver worlds from their Sith-backed tyranny, and only afterwards could he prioritize capturing or eliminating Vestara. Only after acquiring the strength to liberate the first world in the Outer Rim Alliance’s coalition, could they move against the Sith in force in this region. Although he resented losing such a prime opportunity to remove the menace of a Sith smooka of an ex-girlfriend enraged him, he knew his duty to the people and the Force took priority over a personal goal.

Shaking his head, Ben instead told Akku, “Forget it. We’re not walking into another of the Sith’s traps. Vestara is bound to have a plan to try and take us out if we play her game. And we have a responsibility to finish eradicating the bane of slavery from all these worlds and deliver hope to all their victims. We’ll worry about the Sith afterwards.”

Pausing, Ben added, “But while you’re still in communication with your friend, have her see if she can determine the Sith’s endgame here, and if she can track them when they flee. Just because we’re changing priorities doesn’t mean we can’t try and keep tabs on our true enemies.”

“A good answer, Master Skywalker. A most wise one.” Akku sagely agreed. “My comrade can easily do that, and you can resume the hunt for Vestara once Zygerria is freed.”

“It seems Edaan was right to call upon you and the rest of you mercenaries. You live up to your reputations and more than justified our faith in you all.” Ben acknowledged.

“And you’re a better Jedi than he gives you credit for. The hunger for vengeance against Vestara hasn’t fully consumed you, at least as of now.” Akku returned, before cautioning, “But be wary of the anger and wounds inside your heart. Unless you can finally come to terms with all you’ve suffered, you may very well end up falling onto a darker path followed by many, just like several of your dead relatives.”

Knowing Akku was only trying to help a comrade, Ben gracefully acknowledged the warning, “I appreciate the concern. I’m trying every day to do better and let go of this pain. But even if I can fully separate myself from the hate, it’s still my duty to stop Vestara Khai, as a Jedi and good man.”

Nodding, Akku cryptically suggested, “That may be, but remember how there are many ways to stop a Sith that do not have to end in bloodshed. You, of all people, should know that far too well by now.” Signing off, the Anzati left the Jedi Knight to ponder the last words and their hidden meaning.

Why would a Mandalorian, even one as noble and reputable as Akku Seii II, suggest to Ben that he try to redeem Vestara again, after all she had done and the pain she inflicted on the galaxy? Did he honestly believe that the Jedi Knight could succeed after his first tremendous failure? After Vestara tried to assassinate Allana and returned to her dark roots, she had committed hundreds of horrendous crimes and recruited countless more individuals and enemies of freedom to serve her and her faction of Sith.

Even if Vestara ever wanted to atone for her crimes, how would be reckless or suicidal enough to trust her again?

Wait… there might be one, Ben realized, and it sent an electric jolt of fear through his core. Edaan Palpatine had been driving himself to be the best among all the Jedi from the day he was recruited by Grand Master Katarn to be his latest apprentice. And he had been accomplishing feats most individuals could only dream of, establishing a net of contacts and favors that, while greatly aiding the Jedi Order’s efforts across the galaxy, something about the informant system’s infrastructure felt too much like a consortium for Ben’s liking.

Perhaps, soon after Zygerria was freed from its terrible past, Ben ought to visit his father on Tatooine and compare notes with him to see what he could learn of Edaan Palpatine that might be uncovered outside conventional channels. But first, he had to help the Outer Rim Alliance finish their fight and confirm their right to exist. Hopefully, his suspicions of both the Sith and Edaan would be unfounded, but a good investigator knew better than to leave any stone unturned while searching for any clues or pieces of information.

Helona 6th, 53 ABY

Chorlian Sector Outskirts

Aboard the Bothan Assault Carrier Ralroost

“Then we are all agreed.” Traest Kre’fey, aged Bothan and high-ranking admiral in the Confederation Navy, concluded after the talks began winding down, with all the representatives from the other galactic powers voicing their concurrence. Turning to the holograms of Atai and his Jedi bodyguards, the veteran of three governments noted, “It seems you’ll get your wish, Prime Minister.”

Having spent the last forty-eight hours in such proximity with his former peers in rival governments, the long serving fleet commander marveled at how swiftly the talks had progressed, and how all the representatives were eager to put aside foolish pride and ignoring governmental indecisiveness to do what was right. Meeting with the representatives of the Outer Rim Alliance, everyone was amazed at how quickly and cohesively the twenty insurgent networks coalesced into a new and rising power dedicated to the principles of liberty and equality. It helped how the Jedi and their allies were so willing to defend Atai Molec and his fellow rebels, reminding all how the Force Users still strived to do what was right, no matter what the odds or opposition.

After clearing up any misunderstandings between the various leaders, the talks shifted towards negotiating how to coordinate and conduct the fight against the Sith and their pawns. Agreeing to provide the Outer Rim Alliance with intelligence, warships, and troops in exchange for fair trade deals and diplomatic relations and a reasonable military presence to help quell any potential uprisings amongst the slaver-sympathetic populations, the Confederation, Hapes Consortium, Galactic Empire, and Galactic Alliance would each help to liberate five worlds, under the guidance of their new ally.

To dampen everyone’s high spirits, the Senex-Juvex Sectors would be a more difficult target to free for at least a few more years. With three of the Outer Rim Alliance’s prospective new members trapped behind the isolationist region’s borders, it would take much more time and effort to liberate those targets, never mind the political nightmare from such a bold measure. For now, cordoning off the sector and sending agents to destabilize the noble families and hunting their Sith masters out into the open would have to suffice.

But future opportunities and challenges aside, the five galactic powers still had a long way to go in triumphing in this fight. And Atai knew there were still a few key points to conclude before the final push to liberate his homeworld could begin.

“Thank you, Admiral.” Atai gratefully bowed his head and addressed all the leaders, “How long will it take for the first of each of your fleets to mobilize? My spies report the Sith and their agents are preparing to try and evacuate what wealth and slaves they can hoard before their planets fall, and I don’t need to remind you all it could mean for our enemies to possess that many resources and victims.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the necessary numbers to free each world in one grand thrust, not in the time frame you have given us.” Kara, a Galactic Alliance commodore and the latest protégé of Nek Bwua’tu, regrettably reminded Atai. “We’ll have to prioritize accordingly with the strongest enemy strongholds and mop up the rest as we progress, while sending interdictors and commando teams to delay the remaining fourteen regimes’ fleeing.”

Knowing the Aporthad fleet leader was only being honest, Atai nodded in understanding, “Then we will just make do with what we have. De’Nal and his patrons will likely be making their escape by the end of the week, which means we need to finish mobilizing our forces before time runs out.”

“In the meantime, I’d strongly advise you all to call upon any favors or assets you and your governments might have in the adjacent worlds or sectors. We’ll likely need every advantage we can get in the next couple weeks before victory is ours.”

Helona 10th, 53 ABY

Zygerria

Capital City, Royal Palace

Alarms blaring throughout every hall and room of the monarchy’s center of power, De’ralla instinctively knew that all Kitai’s warnings had come to pass. Rushing to the meeting with De’Nal and the rest of the war cabinet, the recently promoted commodore simply knew the royal retinue would be no match for the overwhelming numbers and firepower the Outer Rim Alliance and its allies had gathered to its side.

And, lo and behold, according to the few forward scouts that escaped the initial attack, many the best military forces of all the galactic powers had been recruited to help Atai and his cohorts assist them in winning their war. Hearing from the admirals on the five dozen warships and twice as many support craft bearing down on Zygerria, it was clear they were not here for a mere raid to free a few hundred slaves but were rather after the entire planet and its vast wealth.

From the ultimatums the Outer Rim Alliance and its rivals had been delivering, unless the twenty worlds that comprised the rising movement were given the reins of power, the legitimate governments were dismantled, the slaves were immediately set free, and the Sith’s involvement in this trade was exposed, each world would come under blistering fire and storm. The only way to prevent such tragedy was for them to unconditionally surrender, before all that remained of their monuments of oppression was rubble and the final death of all they upheld.

And it was not only Zygerria that was about to come under siege. Across the galaxy, six other worlds that still clung to their ancient traditions regarding slavery were about to come under fire by the Jedi and their puppet governments, with the remaining thirteen promised liberation immediately afterwards. Even the Senex-Juvex Sector, a region that had long been known as a hotbed of slavery and rivalry with the Zygerrians over the trade and aristocracy, would soon come under siege, if the Sith’s spy network was any indication. In any event, without the silent backing of the One Sith and their allies, there was no chance for surviving the onslaught, unless they completed their escape before all was lost for the pro-slavery regimes and their people. That meant getting their best and brightest out of the enemy snare before time finally ran out.

Surprising De’ralla most was not how quickly their shared enemies moved against them, but how many worlds were now in immediate danger from falling because of the instability of the slavery regimes and how swiftly the Jedi took advantage of the chaos. Much as she hated the Jedi for their incessant interference and pompous nobility, she nevertheless respected their ingenuity and boldness in taking the fight to their rivals. A testament to their strength that the king had sorely been lacking throughout his entirely short and inglorious life.

The meeting ending, every officer having been given orders and dispatches to defend the planet and buy time for a mass exodus, and De’ralla knew it was finally time to call upon the reserves Kitai left for this exact scenario.

Maneuvering her way out of the bustle of traffic and finding an empty station, she pulled out the holocomm given to her, and typed in the frequency instilled into her mind. Not thirty seconds later, the communication’s acknowledgement was heard, and a familiar voice answered back, “I have everything prepared on my end. What of yours’?”

“The Admiralty is preparing to evacuate everyone they can and readying themselves to stave off the Jedi’s advance.” De’ralla dutifully reported. “We’ve secured approximately twenty-five percent of the planet’s wealth and have five thousand ships, civilian, privately owned, and military, all ready to assist with the withdrawal.”

“Very good.” Kitai answered, De’ralla imagining the stoic gaze on her friend’s face, ready to gamble all she had on securing these assets and dealing a humiliating blow to the Jedi and their public relations efforts. “Keep me updated on all aspects of your progress. Once the Jedi are fully committed, then my people and I will strike and cover your withdrawal.”

“As you decree.” De’ralla acknowledged, ending the transmission to report to her command station. Having been ordered by the royal court to prevent civil unrest and a potential slave insurrection, she intuitively knew that the Jedi, even regarding this temporary victory, were soon about to lose far much more than they could bear to suffer.

Let the traitorous rabble try to build a coalition government amongst their followers. Let the Jedi, Freedom Flight, and all their friends rejoice at their efforts to save the galaxy from the natural order of things. It would all come crashing down when the Sith’s agents in the Senate disclosed how the Galactic Alliance’s Chief of State broke the Senate’s edicts when he sent their fleets against the Sith’s allied worlds, a clear violation of its neutrality act.

The fallout from those revelations alone would destroy the Jedi’s credibility and goodwill with the largest galactic power and be the first big step of undermining and turning the GA against itself. And with its imminent descent into civil war, the rest of the galactic governments would be forced to choose sides and be drawn into the quagmire or sit the fighting out and let the One Sith deal with them at their own pace.

No one, not Atai Molec or his wretched “Outer Rim Alliance”, not the Jedi and their vaunted champions, nor either of their friends and cohorts, would be able to stop the inevitable fall of all they sought to build.

Helona 11th, 53 ABY

Drukarg Highlands

Aboard the Seeker

“You should be pleased with yourself, Prime Minister.” Akku noted to the stoic Atai, who could only stifle a groan at the constant reminder of his past profession. “You’ve united the galaxy against a vile practice and your cause is closer to freedom than it ever has been. Not to mention you’re well on your way towards freeing your people from the lies and fear that have held them back for millennia.”

Observing aboard his personal gunship, Atai knew how true Akku’s words were. Across the entire planet, whole regions were being contested by the coalition amassed against the Loyalists and their Sith masters, and it was only a matter of time before they were all liberated. Once at least ten battlefronts were seized and secured, the select task force the Outer Rim Alliance created for attacking the capital and cutting the head off this venomous snake of slavery and its Sith handlers, capturing anyone who sided with De’Nal and Vestara.

But by that point, the massive fleets Atai’s agents reported gathering what people and resources of all kinds for a planetary evacuation would be ready to depart, and that was only one crucial factor of what troubled him about this operation.

Giving voice to his anxieties and suspicions, Atai wisely answered, “This war is far from over, Captain. We both know it’s only just begun.”

Appraising the Outer Rim Alliance’s leader, Akku nodded, “True. The Sith are still out there, unquestionably plotting on how to capitalize on this opportunity, and their followers won’t go down without a fight.”

“It’s more than that.” Atai admitted. “When this war is over and all the worlds are freed, I’m stepping down as prime minister. I’ve had my fill of leadership, and I don’t want to risk becoming addicted to power as so many other leaders have done.”

Holding up a hand to forestall any protests or well-meaning counterarguments, Atai continued, “The Outer Rim Alliance needs to be greater than one leader, more than a man who tolerated and perpetuated the evils of slavery for so long.” Turning away from Akku, he resolved, “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon all responsibility to go galivanting across the galaxy as others have done. I’ll serve as an ambassador for the government I’m creating to help the Alliance grow and find its footing, after I help appoint a far worthier leader than me to pick up the reigns when there’s a little stability for us.”

Pausing, Atai turned before whispering to Akku, “And I’ll use my influence and responsibility to find allies for Edaan in his mission.”

Eyebrows raised in curiosity, Akku, after ordering his crew to double-check all systems, noted, “I would have thought you’d want to see her dead, after all she did to your people.”

“That was the king’s doing, which was enforced by his servants. As for Vestara… I won’t mourn her if she ends up falling victim to her own schemes, but she was willing to help abolish slavery when it flew in the face of her people’s traditions and sense of superiority. I’d rather find out if there’s something worth saving in her after all, and if our mutual friend can do what he’s set out to do. And we need to be better than our enemies, otherwise we’re not worthy of all the trust our people and the galaxy have put in us.”

Grinning, Akku promised, “I’ll give Edaan the message next I see him. He’ll be grateful for your help, I’m sure.”

Yes, I imagine he will be, provided we all are able to survive the final push.’ Atai allowed himself a small smile before returning to analyze the reports pouring in from every battlefield. Already, three battlefronts were beginning to fall, and he would need to ensure the task forces were properly resupplied and prepared for their next mission when the time came.

Chapter 11: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 8)

Chapter Text

Helona 13th, 53 ABY

Just Outside Zygerria System

Aboard Ship

Much as Kitai hated to admit it, the Jedi and their friends were performing exceptionally well against the embattled Zygerrians, and she estimated that the entire planet would fall to the Outer Rim Alliance within the end of next week, if not by the conclusion of this one. With eighteen of fifty sectors across the planet having been seized by the enemy, and the remainder of the world quickly losing ground while preparing for their grand withdrawal, it was only a matter of time before the planet fell to their shared enemies.

And this disaster did not account for the five other targets that were under siege by the greater galactic powers at this moment. With Thallassia, Orvax IV, Kintan, and Mytaranor, and Sump all falling to the superior might of the Galactic Alliance, Galactic Empire, Hapes Consortium, Confederation, Outer Rim Alliance, and the Jedi Order and their many allied privateers and paramilitary affiliates, the slaver societies would soon fall, followed by the rest of the One Sith’s failing allies that still practiced the abominable trade.

But in this temporary setback and loss of a long-antiquated tradition, the Jedi would soon suffer a far more severe blow from which they would not recover. And leading the reprisals would be none other than Kitai and her personal fleet. Meditating aboard Ship, the same meditation sphere that found her on her homeworld of Kesh twelve years ago and irrevocably changed her life, she felt the currents of war shift and crest, reveling in the turmoil and working to undermine the enemy in any quiet way she could. Just because she was ordered to ensure Zygerria’s fall while saving its people didn’t mean she simply had to let the Jedi have an easy time at the job.

Hearing Ship’s voice in her mind, Kitai, accepting the communication from De’ralla, simply addressed the Zygerrian commodore, “Progress report.”

“Everything is going to Chaos, to put it lightly.” De’ralla bluntly began. “Riots are breaking out in almost every major city and town, our army and navy is splintering across the planet, and half of all our indentured workers are staging an uprising to win their freedom. Oh, and Molec and his patrons are preparing a fleet to attack the capital city. They’ll be ready to launch their force by the end of tomorrow.”

“And your Exodus Fleet?” Kitai continued. “Will your people be ready to start anew amongst the stars?”

“We’re as ready as we’ll ever be, minus the petulant king and his few remaining retainers.” De’ralla nodded. “We managed to squeeze another fifteen hundred of my people aboard a few dozen more transports, along with an extra five percent of our wealth for your cause.”

“Excellent.” Kitai remarked. “Once the Jedi spring the trap, my forces will ambush them and cover your escape. Good hunting, Commodore.”

Closing the connection with her friend and ally, Kitai reached out with the Force, commanding the fleet under her command to prepare for its ultimate mission. Feeling Mirta’s quiet reassurance that everything on her end was under control and the counteroffensive’s preparations were complete, the Sith Lady closed the link, not wishing to risk her people’s premature exposure for battle before everything was in place.

Are you ready, Lady Kitai?’ Ship’s warm voice called to his longtime friend and mistress. ‘I sense much turmoil in you. Do you worry over your people and how they will fare against the Jedi? Or is it Ben Skywalker and your failure to eliminate him?

Ruefully smiling at Ship’s spot-on assessment, Kitai chuckled, “In part, old friend. But I’ve been through this routine before, and I haven’t failed the One Sith or my people yet, with no reason to start now. You have no reason to worry about me now.”

I know. Your faith in the Sith Code and advancing the Grand Design is unshakable. But I must ask these questions, if only to ensure your resolve does not waver and Lord Krayt does not begin to doubt you and your commitment to him.’ Ship reminded Kitai before assuring her, ‘The Jedi will not maneuver their way out of this snare.

Yes. But will there be a way their friends and rising stars can help them escape the repercussions?’ Kitai wondered while meditating on the inevitable carnage and scandals she was prepared to wreak on her enemies.

Back in the Present

Helona 14th, 53 ABY

Capital City

2 Kilometers West of the Royal Palace

Edaan was finally in his element here, able to give a constructive outlet for his bubbling anger at the Zygerrian king’s arrogance and flagrant disregard for the lives and rights of his people and slaves. And what better way to remove such a virulent tumor from the galaxy than to cut it out directly at the source? Fighting alongside Atai, Robonino, and the former’s company of well-trained Mandalorians in helping the Outer Rim Alliance secure the final layer of defenses leading to De’Nal’s vulnerable stronghold.

Working alongside the Galactic Alliance and Imperials was a surreal experience for many, but Edaan knew this experience was only practice for when the entire galaxy would come together to fight the Sith and build a genuine peace for every freedom-loving sentient. And it would be his great honor to work to rally as many beings and worlds as he could to this noble cause, all while endeavoring to save the woman who helped him see how he could transcend his tarnished lineage and forge a legacy entirely of his own.

Given a few more years, Vestara Khai would see the light and work to atone for her sins and reunite with Ben. Edaan would see to that, no matter what obstacles he would face. But right now, he had to focus on liberating another world that had been affected by her and the Sith. Wrapping up securing the fifth and final district tasked to him by Atai, he regrouped with Akku, and contacted the Outer Rim Alliance leader, “The last sector’s been secure! You’re clear to-”

Blasting right through Edaan’s report, hundreds of engines could be heard activating, and it nearly ripped right through the Jedi Apprentice’s concentration before he worked to filter out the noise. He would have tried to continue his report, but Akku tapped on his shoulder, and turned him around before his jaw nearly dropped to see what was transpiring right at the enemy-occupied palace.

Dozens - no - hundreds of transports of all manner of configurations and sizes, were all lifting off around the vicinity, and their engines were roaring to life and taking them straight into the open night sky. And the Outer Rim Alliance and its allies, many of its forces still preoccupied with securing the capital city and much of the planet, would be ill-equipped to stop the exodus if even a few similar convoys were rising across the planet.

Gritting his teeth in frustration, Edaan simply knew De’Nal and his elite followers were trying to escape justice for their crimes. And stuck on the surface while securing the capital city and its surely depleted vaults and fortresses, the young Jedi and his friends knew the fate of this battle now fell onto Ben and the rest of the coalition’s orbital forces to stop this cowardly withdrawal. But somehow, Edaan knew it would be far more complicated than anyone suspected.

Twelve Hours Later

Helona 15th, 53 ABY

Zygerria Orbit

Aboard the Jade’s Legacy

Ben had to give the Zygerrians proper credit, the race might be allies of the Sith and adherents of the dying practice of slavery, but they were great organizers and could assemble and lead quite a large fleet. Having assembled a massive armada of over five thousand ships of hundreds of sizes and configurations, the race of slave traders had amassed an estimated number of nearly two million of their citizens and military, and nearly thirty percent of the planet’s entire wealth, to try and escape justice while funding the Sith’s growing war machine.

But even while impressed with the enemy’s efficiency and work ethic, Ben would not hesitate to nip this escape route in the bud. Heading a Jedi-Galactic Alliance strike force to disable every warship and civilian transport within reach, the swarm of small and nimble ships had already knocked out at least eighty various ships while the Outer Rim Alliance and Imperial fleets, the latter under Grand Moff Epin Sarreti and Master Jaina Solo Fel’s command, had worked to cut off many of the Zygerrian ships’ escape routes, leading to the surrender of five hundred other craft. Given another twenty hours, virtually every ship of the remainingenemy fleet would be captured, aside from a small number of fugitives and their bloodied treasures making their way out to live short lives on the run.

Unfortunately, none of the ships the teams captured or delayed held the Zygerrian monarch or his royal cabinet, nor did they hold a significant portion of the planet’s ill-gotten wealth. And even more unsettling, none of the Sith from Vestara’s retinue had been sensed or identified throughout the enemy fleet or from Atai’s spies and informants. Ben knew she wouldn’t abandon such a vital ally and resource, not when she was working to the goal of taking over Kesh and making it a bastion for the galaxy’s reprobates. And the planet’s wealth and manpower would be crucial for any measure in rebuilding Sith influence and power.

So why, when the planet was set to be freed and the Sith’s capabilities suffer a severe blow, were the Sith leaving their followers to their enemy’s mercies? There must be an angle Vestara and her masters were playing at, but how could they win now, with the galactic powers united against the bane of slavery and its hidden puppeteers. Even with the Galactic Alliance Senate hamstrung by its neutrality act and its Chief of State forced to covertly send its fleets to fight this noble battle…

Of course… that was it! It was so simple but cunning and damning, but totally in line with Vestara’s cunning, bloody, and elegant way of thinking. Even if Zygerria and five slave worlds were liberated by the galaxy’s authorities, it would mean very little if it tore the Galactic Alliance apart in civil war and further Sith manipulation.

Reaching out through the Force to try and find his old flame, Ben was not disappointed when he felt the painfully familiar presence of Vestara respond back, an air of smugness before Ship, with his odd and still unbroken link to the Jedi, commended him, ‘You did well to figure it all out, Jedi Ben Skywalker. But you are still far too late to do anything about us exposing the illegality of your bold actions.

Tuning the ship’s holocomm to the Mon Adapyne and Liberty, Ben keyed the commanding officer, and the image of Keyan Farlander, long serving fighter as far back as the Rebel Alliance, and former Jedi before resigning from the Order to fully dedicate his life and service to the Galactic Alliance, appeared beside Atai. Rushing to warn the two leaders, the Jedi Knight swiftly broke the news, “Vestara Khai and her fleet are recording this entire battle and are set to ambush us any minute now! This whole battle was a Sith trap designed to expose GA assistance and set our governments and peoples against themselves.”

The full implications of Ben’s warning grasped by both general and ex-prime minister, Atai bit back a curse and advised the Jedi, “Then I suggest you and your fellow Jedi pinpoint her precise coordinates and work to stymie her trap. Once we find her, we can capture or kill her and cut off one of the main heads of this operation.”

Sensing the darkness creep in, Ben despondently noted, “Too late for that. She’s heading right for us now.” Not even a few moments later, the Sith-led fleet reverted to realspace, with Ship and a squadron of twelve Mandalorian warships leading at the front with two-dozen other capital ships bringing up the rear.

Knowing De’Nal and his fleeing people were a minor concern when dealing with their patrons, and that the Sith needed to be stopped before they could expose the covert Jedi-GA pact, Ben counseled Atai and Keyan, “I’d advise you both to get the majority of your forces to focus on the inbound Sith fleet. If you can get to De’Nal and his key retainers, then go for it. But Vestara and her followers will be far more dangerous to the galaxy than a broken and exiled monarch.”

Four Hours Later

Aboard the Turbulent-class Star Destroyer Bloodfin

“Our Sith opponent is certainly living up to her reputation.” Ephin solemnly noted to Jaina Solo Fel, who was hard at work relaying orders to her fleet elements and fellow Jedi. With the Grand Moff and his trusted commanders commanding the main Imperial fleet in preventing a mass enemy withdrawal, that left the Jedi’s ambassador to the Empire to work on countering the Sith’s tactics and keeping them trapped in the system. The Jedi coalition had already captured over forty percent of the Zygerrian exodus fleet and disabled three of the enemy reinforcement vessels, all while suffering minimal casualties of their own against the broken slavery society.

But Vestara Khai, a key Sith the Jedi and their allies had been after for nearly ten years, was a worthy enemy in her flexibility and ferocity in battle. Launching several surgical strikes against many overstretched fleet elements, the fractured fleet formations were cut off long enough for at least two thousand Zygerrian ships to escape the system while inflicting severe damage to the Galactic Alliance and Outer Rim Alliance’s fleet elements. Not even the Imperial reinforcements were enough to turn the tide of this battle, with the Mandalorian ships matching the Sith in sheer viciousness and deception in battle, all under the command of Jaina’s former friend in Mirta Gev. Compartmentalizing her regret at how her friendship with the Mandalorian had fallen apart due to tragedy and manipulation, Jaina focused her efforts on figuring out the enemy’s ultimate strategy.

By now, the Sith had gathered and certainly released all their footage on the Galactic Alliance working with the Jedi in battling their sworn enemies, setting the stage for civil unrest and a potential civil war within the floundering government once the Senate convened. But that begged the question of why they were still here when the odds of battle in this fight were still stacked so high against them. Unless they held a new arsenal of secret weapons or had an ingenious plan to decimate their enemies, it made more sense for them to withdraw immediately before they lost any more of their people.

Preparing to personally enter the fight and help Ben hunt down Vestara and the rest of her Sith, Jaina nearly fell to her knees, almost doubling over in pain and emptying her stomach from a surprise burst of Dark Side energy. Barely able to stay on her feet before repulsing the surprise attack, she knew exactly who was responsible for this attack, and realized the Sith were finally ready to make their escape.

Turning to Ephin, who was calling for a medic to tend to Jaina, she queasily advised the Grand Moff, “Forget hunting for the planet’s king. Focus on hammering the Sith fleet before they jump out of here.”

Just then, Jaina felt another pulse of Dark Side energy emanate from the Sith fleet, and the blast was strong enough to knock the vulnerable Jedi Master out cold, with the last thoughts she held were how horribly she and the Jedi underestimated Vestara and her followers once again, and the terrible fallout the Order was about to undergo from the incompetent Galactic Senate and its anti-Jedi faction.

Helona 16th, 53 ABY

Coruscant, Senate District

Senate Hall

Kajin knew the fallout from his pact with the Jedi in waging war on the Sith would be tremendous, and that the Senate would be in an uproar over the Chief of State’s illegal actions. Given the many corrupt veteran senators and their less experienced and pliable peers, the anti-Jedi faction held a strong majority over the pro-Jedi bloc and would likely be able to impose crushing sanctions on the Order and their allies, never mind the punitive measures they’d impose on the Cerean leader. And given the man’s once-impeccable reputation and incorruptible sense of honor and adherence for the law, he would either accept the proposals the One Sith’s agents had drafted for this occasion, or, in the more likely scenario, be forced to step down as Chief of State and allow a more progressive senator to lead the Galactic Alliance into a new age.

Which was exactly what Senator Jenna Sauro and her co conspirators working for Lord Krayt wanted from the wretchedly noble leader. Now that his standing was tarnished with his association with the Jedi in their war with the Sith, all that remained was for her and her allies to twist the truth just enough for the more gullible senators to force the Chief of State into making an impossible choice. Who knows? Maybe if she played the situation just right, she could end up taking over the Galactic Alliance and gain more power than she ever dreamed of attaining.

While Kajin and the Speaker of the Senate clamoring for calm amidst the torrent of arguing and hateful insults between both factions, Jenna took the opportunity to begin her master plan. Activating her podium and beginning to hover near the center of the Senate Chamber, she desperately called out, “Esteemed members of the Galactic Senate! Please, cease this infighting at once! What will we accomplish with this pointless bickering and vitriol?”

Seeing an opportunity to end the madness, the Speaker pressed a button, and an ear-piercing shriek began to echo across the chamber, making everyone hold their heads to try and diminish the pain until they all quieted down.

Regaining his composure first, Kajin nodded in gratitude, “Thank you, Speaker Reyes.”

“The chair recognizes Senator Sauro of Eeropha.” The Chistori speaker grudgingly acknowledged, resuming the meeting.

“Thank you.” Jenna smiled, a gesture not conveying any genuine warmth. Turning back to her peers, she began, “Honored senators, I am sure I speak for all of you that this divisive issue risks tearing our government and society apart, having seen the lengths the Jedi will go to in acquiring help to carry out their arrogant and destructive crusade. They must be made to answer for their flagrant disregard for the law in dragging our soldiers and misguided generals into their fight.”

Powering on through the clamor from the pro-Jedi faction, “Through this travesty of subversion, the Jedi’s co-opting of eight of our esteemed fleets and all their soldiers to fight their private war against religious rivals, they endangered countless lives and ended the promised reforms that worlds like Zygerria had finally enacted.

“Even now, thanks to the Jedi and their unwitting pawns, the twenty worlds that were working to gradually end slavery and rebuild their societies into a noble example for all are under siege by our rivals in the Empire, Confederation, and the rest of the Jedi’s misguided friends. And to say nothing of their intrusion into the Senex-Juvex Sectors’ internal affairs when they have long since left themselves content within their own borders and have not interfered in our affairs in many years.”

“My friends, I know many of you hold strong and mixed feelings regarding the Jedi and their troubled past, but I cannot let this deception stand. Which is why I must propose strengthening the Jedi Neutrality Act in every conceivable method. What happened on Zygerria must never transpire again.

“No longer should the Jedi, arrogant enforcers of their lawless and reckless nature, interfere in the affairs of everyday citizens and their leaders. Let them practice their craft in the solitude of their temples and enclaves, and no longer grab power for their naïve code or their sense of honor.”

“And yet, without the Jedi’s supposed lawlessness, as you so inaccurately put it, Sauro, is what helped my people and countless other worlds free themselves from slavery! Without them, we would not be here today to listen to your inane drivel!” Senator Reni Coll of Klatooine, earning the scattered applause of dozens of her fellow freedom fighters-turned senators.

Observing well over half the Senate, perhaps fifty-five percent of its members eagerly applauding at the impassioned speech and ignoring the steady stream of detractors, Jenna knew this next measure would be easy to pass, and continued, “And furthermore, we must determine just how the fleet elements came under the Jedi and Outer Rim Alliance’s control. Did they act unilaterally in this simple crusade, or was their initiative a result of clandestine maneuvers from the highest echelons of the Galactic Alliance? I am proposing a full investigation of the Galactic Alliance Defense Fleet’s command structure.”

“Let no stone be unturned in our pursuit of truth and stability for our august government! And any who may impede our work or try to hide the truth, may they face punishment for their obstruction of justice.” Jenna concluded, observing the usual detractors and supporters of her typical anti-Jedi rhetoric and measures up in arms over her new proposals.

After five minutes of futile attempts to end the infighting, Kajin was prepared to say his piece, likely ensuring his own resignation over his obvious role in aiding the Jedi’s assaults before he was interrupted by a whisper from the Speaker, and she pressed the button again for a split second to end the quarreling. Once everyone stopped arguing, the Chief of State called everyone to attention, “Now that I have everyone’s attention, perhaps we can learn exactly what transpired out in the Rim before we risk tearing the GA apart or hampering our effectiveness at keeping our people safe. We’re receiving a transmission from General Keyan Farlander, commanding officer of the Mon Adapyne, accompanied by representatives of the Outer Rim Alliance and Jedi Order, and they’re willing to explain their unilateral actions before us.”

“And we’re supposed to take them at their word?” U'Ta Divinian, Senator of Rosha and longtime ally and friend of Jenna, incredulously asked. “How can we trust anyone among those group after the illegal actions they orchestrated and the-”

I would be willing to hear them out, if only to hear both sides of the issue before we pass judgment on them.” Kajin firmly interceded, with nearly half the Senate either murmuring or vocally supporting the elected head of state. “And to ensure they answer before the people, the remainder of this session will be transmitted across the entirety of the Galactic Alliance.”

“Sir,” Jenna sputtered out, trying to form a cohesive counterargument, “This is highly irregular and dangerous, not to mention-”

“We all live in dangerous times right now, Senator Suaro.” Kajin glared back, “And that means the people deserve to know we are objectively and wholeheartedly serving them, and not endangering them out of ill-placed anger or spiteful hubris.”

“Inform the general and his friends they have twelve hours to prepare themselves for this hearing, and then set up a broadcast across every major HoloNet channel across the Alliance.” Kajin ordered the Speaker. “If many of you wish to vilify and lambast them for working to do what we’re too entangled in politics and pride to accomplish, then at least give them the courtesy of hearing their side of the story.”

Half a day. Just twelve measly hours remained before the Jedi and their newest pawns either doomed their cause or reinvigorated it with new life and risked everything Jenna and her fellow Sith collaborators had connived and clawed their way towards. She would have to convene with her peers and superiors to decide on how to guide the Senate towards the One Sith’s most desired outcome, or they might have her head as punishment.

Chapter 12: Character Interlude #4: Atai Molec (Part 9)

Chapter Text

Twelve Hours Later

Helona 17th, 53 ABY

Zygerria, Capital City

Aboard the Liberty

“Are you all ready?” Atai, hiding his anxiousness behind an unreadable posture, asked his allies whether they attended in person or by hologram. With the leader of the Galactic Alliance’s joint anti-slavery task forces, Keyan Farlander aboard his flagship, and Ben and Edaan prepared to stand by the Zygerrian, all prepared to speak before the Senate regarding the covert pact between the government and Jedi Order, they all hoped they could prevent a political disaster and turn everyone’s focus on their true enemies.

“As ready as we’ll ever be.” Ben wearily sighed. “Not that any of us ever enjoy speaking before that collection of proud fools, but we’ll do our part.”

“Good.” Atai nodded before motioning to his aide, and the officer opened the holofeed to Coruscant. After a minute of working to stabilize the connection, the entirety of the Senate was laid before the three fighters, and they found precious few friends among the assembly, if the suspicious and resentful glares aimed at them from most of the Senators.

Kajin, having the awkward role of beginning the hearing, cordially greeted, “Prime Minister Molec. We’ve all heard several remarkable things about you and your newfound alliance, and we appreciate your willingness to speak with us and address our concerns and questions.”

“You don’t need to spare the trouble, Chief of State Yimmon.” Keyan interceded. “We all know what your body primarily wishes to discuss, and me and my fellow commanders are more than willing to explain and answer for our desertion.”

Hating to lie before the many senators that still valued the Galactic Alliance’s principles, even as Keyan already agreed to cover for Kajin and the GA Joint Chiefs on the actuality about their covert orders, he began, “The Jedi and the leaders of the Outer Rim Alliance had alerted us of the Sith and their old alliance with the pro-slavery worlds of the Outer and Mid Rim worlds, and informed us of the scope of their kidnapping efforts on millions of our citizens from across thousands worlds.”

Waiting for the fervor of questions and accusations to die down before continuing, Keyan resumed his false explanation, “We don’t expect most of you to simply take us at our word, so we have the records from the six worlds we’ve liberated from its dictators. Review them at your own discretion, but rest assured we’ve ensured their validity.”

“If these reports and numbers are accurate, then why didn’t you bring this before us right away?!” Suuas Wuul, junior senator of the Outer Rim World of Sullust, angrily demanded. “We could have handled it without your interference!”

Eyeing the young Sullustan with a disgusted glare at his idiocy, Keyan answered, “Because of the Neutrality Act your senior peers created that left us unable to fight the Sith and forced us to break the laws to do what was right for our citizens. And quite frankly, we didn’t trust a great many of you to let us do our job, given your track record at representing the people that put you into office.”

“And you expect us to believe that you acted on your own volition to rescue these enslaved citizens?” Jenna Sauro scathingly questioned. “Going up against the Zygerrians, Thalassians, and several other nefarious slaver cultures would require a large amount of firepower and troops, and you couldn’t have received it without some form of official support.”

“Considering that the Empire, Hapans, Confederation, and the Jedi Order helped fund and instruct my freedom movement, it’s quite likely that General Farlander and his fellow GA leaders were able to get the resources they needed from them. And most of the Alliance’s military still remembers all the good the Jedi did, and unlike many of you, they live by the oaths they made to protect and serve the people.” Atai took over.

Eyeing the Senators with an angry glean in his eyes, Atai resumed, “I look upon many of you, the leaders of the largest and most powerful of the free powers of the galaxy, and I am forced to be reminded of the pompousness, the arrogance, and the corruption of my people, the same evil I walked away from so many years ago.”

“Because of your wounded pride and overwhelming fear, so many of you were willing to cut ties with the best defense the galaxy had against the Sith and leave all your citizens at the mercy of your mutual enemy. You gave the Sith free sway over most of the galaxy and left the embattled rest of us who still stood for righteousness forced to take risks and gamble otherwise inconceivable. And with this sudden vacuum of power, so many newcomers, most of which among the worst individuals and societies, took over chunks of the galaxy and have ruined or murdered countless souls. And you certainly didn’t have a major plague or a thousand years of constant warfare that marked the Draggulch Period to hide behind as an excuse.”

Temper rising to a boiling point after hearing the cacophony of denials and threats from half the Senate, and the rest of the leaders trying to urge calm or argue right back at their rivals, Edaan gently moved past Atai and used the Force to manipulate the Senate Hall’s audio filters to make his voice appear as a bellow as he shouted, “QUIET!”

Seeing the assembly grow silent after hearing such an uncharacteristic display from a teenage holostar, Edaan passionately continued, “You should all be ashamed of yourselves. While you fight amongst yourselves and jockey for power, status, and wealth, our enemies are advancing on every front and preparing for war on all those who would oppose them.”

“I know many of you have valid reasons to be wary of the Jedi, and I can empathize with those of you who are confused and afraid of this changing galaxy and looking for guidance from those with more experience at such matters.” Edaan paused, before admitting, “I lost my entire family when Abeloth and the Lost Tribe invaded Coruscant and devastated the planet. And like you, I blamed the Jedi and its council for letting the Sith occupy your capital world for a long time.” Looking down, he acknowledged, “Deep down, I think a part of me still does hold them responsible for not only the Kesh-based Sith controlling, but the rise of Darth Caedus and the Second Galactic Civil War escalating as far as it did.”

“Then why have you fought for them so long?” The senator from Coruscant, Finn Korin, carefully asked. “Why stay with an order you hold responsible for so much damage?”

“Because holding on to such hatred would dishonor all my family stood for and leave the galaxy all that more divided and vulnerable to the armies of darkness.” Edaan earnestly answered. “And while I still blame the Jedi for letting the Lost Tribe infiltrate Coruscant so easily, there is no way we could have accounted for Abeloth following suit by taking over Rokari Kem and leadership of the Galactic Alliance. She fooled everyone, and we certainly didn’t expect her to be capable of the atrocities she caused when making her escape.”

“But we’re getting bogged down in the past when we should be focused on the present and the repercussions today will hold for the future.” Edaan stopped before, trusting the Force to guide him, speaking to Kajin, “I know this will generate much controversy from many of your senators, but I beg of you, Chief of State, to consider casting a motion to repeal the Neutrality Act that separates your government from the war against the Sith.”

Expecting a sharp furor of outrage from all parties, Edaan was hopeful when he heard nothing but silence. On the other hand, perhaps the Senate was still recovering from his last bout of shouting and afraid to anger him again. Either way, taking the initiative, he let Ben finish this speech, “Look at what has happened since you passed the bill. Hundreds of your systems have come under attack by pirates, slavers, and warlords, while many others who try to help have either been killed by them or the Sith, not to mention ruined by those within your borders who would profit from such misery.”

“And your absconding of responsibility has left all your citizenry and most of the military afraid that the GA no longer cares about protecting them, forcing them to take matters into their own hands to save the people and institutions they cherish so fiercely. It also makes you look weak before the Empire and Confederation, and I know most of you would hate to be humiliated by worlds and territories who were once part of your government and were former rivals and enemies.”

“Will you let the GA’s many foes run amok while punishing those who only wish to uphold their oaths for your constitution, or will you take a stand again and fight not only for what was right, but to honor the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in pursuit of freedom and to uphold the rights you now enjoy?”

Clearing his throat, Kajin took over the conversation, “Well, I appreciate all your candor and brave testimony. But I believe we need to table any resolutions until I may say my piece before the Senate. And obviously, this discussion must happen behind closed doors to ensure confidentiality. Give me one hour to speak and allow the Senate to vote on my proposals, and then we shall contact you all again. General Farlander can stay on the call, given how this body will need him to remain as a witness for this measure.”

Bowing their heads, Atai spoke on everyone’s behalf, “We understand, and we look forward to hearing the results of your discussion.”

After the HoloNet feed closed, with Keyan’s hologram fading alongside it, everyone sighed, and Atai turned to Edaan before quietly acknowledging, “Well done, Edaan.”

“Sir?” The Jedi Apprentice questioned. “I was afraid that you would be angry over how I nearly botched the talks with my improvised speech.”

“Why? Because you saw what was happening and took the initiative to reach the hearts of many among that wayward flock of nerfs? You spoke wisely and gave excellent counsel that came from the heart, while helping to hopefully sway the Senate towards our perspective. I’d say you did a fantastic job in salvaging the situation.”

Let’s just hope the Senate will listen.’ Ben worriedly mused. Knowing the Senate’s track record in heeding the Jedi’s advice, let alone admitting its own mistakes, it would be a monumental task for Kajin and his allies to triumphantly finish this fight. Still, if anyone could handle the political minefield that lay before everyone, the Chief of State very well could.

Three Hours Later

Coruscant, Senate District

Senate Building

Jenna couldn’t comprehend how everything transpired. The anti-Jedi faction held all the cards in this impromptu hearing, they had every advantage against their sworn adversaries and their friends, but those do-gooders had somehow managed to turn the arguments around and turn this disaster into a decisive victory. She and her fifteen One Sith collaborators were supposed to have ensured the Galactic Alliance was too hamstrung in procedure and obstinance by censuring its Jedi-friendly Chief of State and military, but that opportunity had been taken from them because of an impossible gamble by its sickeningly honorable generals, the accursed scions of the Skywalker and Palpatine names, and the leader of the wretched Outer Rim Alliance.

And now, Chief of State Yimmon and his patrons were set to propose a motion to abolish the Galactic Alliance’s Neutrality Act, using the Sith’s use of proxies to conceal their illicit activities and ties to the slave guilds to rally the Senate to action. A clever political maneuver, Jenna had to give the Cerean leader proper credit, much as it disgusted her to admit being outwitted by any rival or enemy. But if this resolution did manage to pass, then hers’ and all her allies’ heads would be on a chopping block by their hidden masters.

Such a scenario was exactly what Jenna had to avoid, and that meant calling in virtually every favor and piece of blackmail her people had on the rest of the Senators that would be most likely to vote with her. And giving a few wavering souls a newly opened patronage position within the GA or some other untraceable bribe would work just as well. It would be close, but thanks to the Chief of State allowing a two-hour reprieve for everyone to consider their positions before casting their vote, she would ensure the three-fourths majority would fall short by just enough votes to block the resolution while avoiding suspicion.

Quietly conferring with her aides while sending a coded message to U’Ta, she whispered, “How are we looking?”

“Everything’s in place. It’ll be tight, but we’ll manage.”

Nodding, tension slightly alleviating from Jenna’s tight shoulders, she received a reply from U’Ta, just before the Speaker called the assembly back to order, and Kajin rose from his podium to address the Senate. “I would assume you are all ready to cast your votes and decide on the course of history, but I’d like to say a few words before we begin the process.”

“I know many of you have strong feelings about this controversial topic, ranging from the personal to political, whether short-term or long-reaching sentiments, just as my predecessor had when he held office. But, like Ambassador Wynn Dorvan and his cabinet, I have tried my best to balance the wishes of this body with the good of the people, no matter how difficult that task might be.”

“Unfortunately, unlike the former Chief of State, I do not have the same level of patience and understanding as he does, and I have far stronger and more dangerous sentiments that I must give voice to.” Kajin reluctantly admitted. “In spite of all the tragedies that revolve around the Jedi, their grievous mistakes, and lapses in judgment, I must confess my sympathies largely align with them and their earnest and noble goals.

“That is why I personally authorized the eight task forces to help liberate Zygerria and its allies from its tyrannical overlords, regardless of the risk of confronting the Sith and fully aware of the illegality of these actions.”

Shocked by Kajin’s suicidal confession, Jenna, her calculating mind trying to determine his angle at this mad bid, had to shout to be heard over the clamor of her supporters, “Sir, do you realize what you’ve just admitted to?! This body has all it needs now to demand a vote of no confidence against you!”

“I do realize this, even though I took steps to ensure the probability of facing the Sith was minimal.” Kajin solemnly nodded, before the sergeant-at-arms restored order to the chaotic chambers with a single upwards shot of his blaster and allowed the Chief of State to continue. “But I wish to remind the Senate that because of our indecisiveness and arrogance, millions of our own citizens were captured and sold into slavery by the Sith and their partners, and had we not taken action to stop it, they would have ruined countless more lives and built an empire of misery and agony for all.”

“And all for a single piece of legislation that tied our hands and left us vulnerable to subversion and attack by a power that will not respect our borders, will not acknowledge our laws or customs, and ruin our effectiveness in protecting our people and sovereignty.” Kajin’s voice rose, preparing to erupt into a bellow before he restrained himself. “Which is why I, and many leaders of our body that shared my sentiments, were forced to work outside our laws to do what common sense dictated and avoid hurting your wounded pride and save lives across the Galactic Alliance and every other galactic government.”

“If you wish to remove me from power for simply doing what was right, and not playing politics and riding the wave of hurt feelings and misplaced anger at the Sith and Abeloth’s greatest enemies to grab more power and wealth for myself, then do so, in the process of endangering all you claim to stand for and damning us all.” Kajin nearly spat. “But if you can look past that for a few minutes, remember how our recent guests acknowledged their role in the devastation of Coruscant by Abeloth and the Lost Tribe, and how they are working to rebuild the galaxy while defending worlds both in and out of our jurisdiction, maybe you can see a path forward without relying on old grudges and misplaced pride.”

“Just like the Senate under Bor’sk Fey’la, the New Republic found itself ripped apart from all sides by the Yuuzhan Vong and the worst kinds of traitors in our ranks and citizenry. Its inefficiency, its corruption, and unwillingness to take responsibility for its failures and lay the blame on the Jedi for the enemy’s evils led to the noble government’s collapse, and nearly cost us the entire galaxy.” Kajin recalled, before passionately imploring, “But we can still change course and fix our mistakes. There are those, not just the Jedi, who wish to do what is right and are doing our work in protecting the vulnerable worlds and sectors that truly need our help. Which is why, even if you remove me from office, you must repeal the Galactic Alliacne Neutrality Act and rebuild ties with the Jedi before the Sith can complete their designs. It is our only hope of survival.”

Sighing, Kajin concluded, “I’ve said my piece. Do with it what you will, and I only hope it is the right choice, not the easy one.”

Eyeing her peers from both factions, Jenna was astonished and terrified to observe most of them seriously contemplate Kajin’s plea. But knowing it was too late to do anything to further delay the vote, she remained silent as the Speaker rose to declare, “Then let us vote. Those in favor of repealing the Galactic Alliance Neutrality Act?”

Silent as an untold number of Senators cast their vote both verbally and by electronic ballot, Jenna, behind a wall of mental barriers Darth Snoke taught her to construct, prayed the motion failed. After a minute of waiting, the Chistori speaker, his reptilian face betraying nothing, spoke again, “Those opposed?”

Another minute passed, and the vote concluded. The Speaker, holding the datapad containing the results, solemnly noted, “The motion fails by fifty votes, and twenty abstentions.”

Reading through the ballot, Jenna realized that over a fifth of her supporters defected to the pro-Jedi faction after the Chief of State’s speech, and the balance of power shifted towards Kajin and his accursed weak-willed masters. And if the Jedi’s plan failed by a slim margin now, then removing their pliable Chief of State would be impossible and only amount to a tremendous waste of far more vital political capital. Although the Neutrality Act barely held, she and her allies would need to tread far more carefully going forward in all their illicit activities.

Either way, Lord Snoke and his masters would more than likely be quite displeased by today’s events.

Helona 20th, 53 ABY

Outer Rim Worlds

Deep Within the Tingel Arm

Aboard the Gladiator-class Star Destroyer Miraj Scintel

A despondent De’Nal could hardly gaze upon all that remained of his once-illustrious kingdom. Barely over three thousand ships and nearly one-and-a-half million subjects and soldiers hiding like common criminals out in the galaxy’s deepest crevices. That was all that remained of the legacy his predecessors had built on the backs and labor of countless lesser beings.

And this entire set of circ*mstances was all because of his pact with the One Sith against the Jedi, and De’Nal couldn’t do anything to seek proper recompense. Without Krayt’s useless agents and resources, he and the remainder of his forces would not last the year as wanted fugitives across the known galaxy. To add insult to bitter injury, he and his convoys had been stuck out on the fringes of the Outer Rim for nearly two days, and their supplies and provisions were quickly running low. For everyone’s sakes, Kitai and her people had better be coming with more than a new plan for his people, or the exiled king would have more than hateful words to give to the Sith Lady.

De’ralla, coming between the monarch and his loathing rants, firmly interrupted De’Nal, “We’ve picked up multiple identified signatures reverting into realspace, most of them ships belonging to Lady Kitai.”

“About blasted time.” De’Nal irritably grunted. Seeing the Kesh-born Sith’s fleet emerge, he was caught off guard by the many civilian and cargo transports that were accompanying Kitai to the rendezvous point. Assuming they held the tools the Zygerrian people needed to rebuild their lives, the king awaited his patron’s communique before he was mortified to see the hologram of Darth Wyyrlok appear before the bridge crew.

Hastily bowing on one knee before the right hand of Darth Krayt, De’Nal humbly whispered, “What do you wish for me, honored Shadow Hand?”

“To listen and obey.” Wyyrlok warned. “Because of a variety of factors and individuals we failed to anticipate, we have lost several of our best agents and twenty safe havens for our operations. And the end of the slave trade will require us to think much more creatively in building our master’s Sith empire, a point Lady Kitai and her Mandalorian friend were quite adamant and persuasive in making to us earlier on.”

Unwilling to let Kitai and Mirta off the hook for countermanding his plans and losing his center of power to the Outer Rim Alliance, De’Nal was prepared to offer a rebuttal before De’ralla interceded, “Forgive me for speaking out of turn, Master, but most of the… refugees will not see the matter the same way. They are blaming everyone but themselves to avoid looking inward for responsibility and will burn for revenge while reestablishing themselves in the practice and habits they were born with. Slavery will not be so easy to expunge from our psyche.”

“Which is why we must take disciplinary measures to rebuild our ranks and funds while helping your people reinvent yourselves and assisting in advancing the Grand Design.” Wyyrlok began. “There are many other ways to get the people and resources than we need rather than using something so crude and controversial as slavery.”

“Exactly what are you proposing, Wyyrlok?” De’Nal quickly interrupted, earning severe glares from both his commander and the ranking Sith Lord. “Slavery is my people’s lifeblood, and how else will we rebuild ourselves while in exile from Molec and his cronies?”

Sneering a smile that conveyed arrogance, Wyyrlok simply explained, “Your people will apply your skills in new ways, more focused and creative than the wanton slaver operations that built up your notoriety. There are millions of Force Sensitives out there that can be acquired before the Jedi and their like minded orders can take them, and many more enemies that can be silenced or brought over to our cause with your remaining mountains of wealth and favors.”

De’ralla took over, explaining, “Let me be clear on this, Your Highness. This matter will not be up for negotiation, nor will you make a public spectacle of this adjustment. Our people, along with all the worlds that will be affected by the Outer Rim Alliance, need to adapt if we hope to survive the next few months, let alone years. And the One Sith would be perfectly willing to help us reinvent ourselves, provided we work with them and supply them with what we need.”

“As for you,” De’ralla melodramatically sighed, “You still have a use for us in keeping our people unified and focused against our true enemies. But if you step out of line, or try to subvert our instructions, then there just might be an accident along the way, and we would have a chance to free ourselves from the shackles of your inept rule.”

Barely able to restrain himself from the insults and unleashing a suicidal rant, De’Nal ground out a warning, “Make sure you keep my people alive and help us recover their homeworld one day. We deserve it after all we’ve done for your master and his so-called Grand Design.”

“If you do what we ask and we succeed in the coming war, then you and all our clients will have nothing to fear.” Wyyrlok assured De’Nal. “Besides, the insurgents we left behind on every occupied world will keep the Outer Rim Alliance sufficiently distracted for our needs until our time comes.”

“For all our sakes, you’d best be right.” De’Nal growled out. From now on, he would have to take a more active role in his people’s affairs and in maintaining their alliance with the One Sith, for it was clear much of the military’s leaders were shifting in their loyalties, and he could not afford to have a weak position with his people any longer. Not if he hoped to return his people to prominence in the changing galaxy.

Helona 25th, 53 ABY

Hyperspace, On Route to Shedu Maad

Aboard the Jade’s Legacy

Having been taken off Zygerria by Ben Skywalker on his personal vessel not a day ago, Edaan had to admit that the older man’s ship was quite a remarkable piece of engineering. Having amenities worthy for a diplomatic vessel while concealing many armaments and defensive systems that could only be found on military vessels, the Jade’s Legacy was a ship worthy of the greatest collectors and designers. He could only imagine how long it took the Skywalker heir to construct this prize and finetune it to these specifications.

Of course, all this was the furthest thought from Edaan’s mind right now while he was watching Atai and his cabinet give their inauguration speech for the Outer Rim Alliance. Having been given a coded message from the Interim Prime Minister, thanking him for his help and reaffirming the promise to help him redeem Vestara when the time comes, the Jedi Apprentice knew his new friend would be invaluable in his efforts, just as Atai and Robonino would be in the team he was constructing.

With malice towards none as we work towards ushering our worlds into a new age and working with the free powers in finding our place in the galaxy, let us renew our pledge to the principles our movement was founded on, all while remembering the sacrifices we made to get to this point.” Atai solemnly stated, starting to wind down his speech. “All while rebuilding our broken worlds and rediscovering pieces of ourselves that we thought long abandoned, let us recall our promise to stand for liberty and justice for all, and the vow to never give an inch of freedom to those who wish us to fall back to our vile roots, even as we work to save the remaining fourteen worlds that we pledged to liberate, and the sectors that still indenture its own denizens.

And for those of you who remain loyal to De’Nal Scintel and his fellow exiles, I beg of you to reconsider your course before any more blood is spilled on behalf of them and their Sith masters. Enough lives have been lost because of arrogant entitlement and destruction. Let us focus our attention on tending to our wounded and building a better future for all. It is the only path forward without ensuring our final doom.

“He’s quite a gifted speaker, your friend.” Ben observed, sitting across from Edaan as he offered him a hot chocolate. “He’ll do fine until his government’s first elections.”

“How can you be so sure?” Edaan questioned. “There’s still an army of insurgents entrenching itself around Zygerria, and the five other freed worlds have Sith-allied terror cells of their own to undermine their fragile situation. This fight is far from over.”

“True. But don’t underestimate the will of the people, or their resolve. And the Council’s representatives for the fledgling government will do just fine in advising them and helping root out these terror cells.”

“Let’s hope so.” Edaan wearily sighed, even if he knew the galaxy was well on its way towards putting itself back together. Realizing how close the GA came to losing its leader from his reckless honesty and surprised at how well most of the Senate took his confession while its accursed Neutrality Act was less than a hundred votes from being repealed, it gave him hope that the Sith could soon be fought with all the galaxy’s might. Even knowing how Kajin would suffer from a six-month period of extreme Senate oversight to ensure he fully complied with the law, it was comforted by the body’s promise to reevaluate many of its past legislations that impeded protecting its citizens and interests.

But all this still left Vestara and her armies. While her act to abolish slavery and give its victims freedom gave Edaan a modicum of hope of saving her, it also underscored how dangerous and unpredictable his target had become. By willing to discard a practice sacred to her order’s way of life, it showed how much the Sith had grown to adapt from its past iterations. The secrets of her patrons needed to be uncovered soon, before time ran out for the free powers. And the Palpatine Jedi had to accelerate his efforts to save her before all her sins caught up with her.

Interrupting Edaan’s thoughts, Ben observed, “You’re certainly a deep thinker, Edaan. You remind me of myself back when I was your age.”

“What do you mean?” Edaan skeptically asked.

“I mean you’ve got that look of a man on a mission and won’t let anything or anyone get in his way.” Ben sadly elaborated. “It’s like me when I think of Vestara Khai, or when my cousin was driven to run the galaxy into the ground in his ill-defined war on chaos.”

Tensing ever so slightly, Edaan simply noted, “You’re not the only one wanting Vestara to face justice.”

Ruefully smiling, Ben agreed, “True enough. But there are many ways to seek justice. And your Mandalorian friend Akku held a unique view I hadn’t heard in a long time.” Pausing, he added, “He’s a good man and a good fighter. At least, for a mercenary.”

“That he is. But what are you trying to say here, Ben?” Edaan cautiously pressed.

“I’m saying that I tried to save Vestara, and it only led to heartbreak, betrayal, and death.” Ben sighed. “And she chose her path, even if I could have done things so much differently when trying to help her. But I need to stop her, because I owe it to the girl I loved, and myself to own up to my failures.”

Shifting topics, Ben offered, “There’s a Jedi seminar at the start of the next year that’ll take place on Tatooine that my father heads. I think you should attend it. You’ll probably find it enlightening and a good break from your recent string of heroics.”

Rising from his chair, Ben stretched before retiring to his cabin. “Try to get some rest soon. We’ve got another sixty hours before we make it back to Shedu Maad, and I don’t want to explain to the Grand Master how his pupil ran himself ragged worrying about politics and his friends.” Leaving Edaan to try to determine his endgame, the veteran Jedi Knight only hoped that he could convince his guest to hear Luke out and steer him away from his well-intentioned but fruitless venture.

Helona 26th, 53 ABY

Unknown Regions, Red Honeycomb Zone

Remnicore System, Exegol

Within the Dark Citadel

Hidden away within a vast and nearly unreachable series of nebulae and countless creatures most would consider abominations of a long-forgotten age, the Chiss Force Sage who called himself Kung'urama'nuruodo ceaselessly probed the Force for knowledge and power. Working in the outskirts of the Force to learn what was transpiring throughout the galaxy, all while drawing energy from countless sources to give the Bringer of Chaos the power she needed to one day cross back into the realm of the living, the eons-old warlord and his few remaining followers knew that day was drawing near.

Thanks to the cold war between the Jedi Order and One Sith, with their many proxies and great fighters confronting each other across hundreds of worlds, the fear and darkness left behind in their wake was nourishing Abeloth’s wounded spirit and instructing her in the changing galaxy and its countless denizens. And with Kung'urama'nuruodo using himself as a conduit for the spawn of a fallen Celestial, the female entity was briefly able to peer into the threads of time and guide the galaxy towards the future she desperately craved. When she fully revived herself, she would avoid the mistakes and arrogance of her last onslaught and adopt a more patient and methodical approach.

Unfortunately, though, even with such a brilliant and magnificent framework of a plan in place, there were still several obstacles that prevented her strategy from succeeding, and she made as much clear to Kung'urama'nuruodo through the old link. Sure, building an unstoppable and unquestionably loyal army would be easy with the ancient secrets left away in the lost world of the Fallen Celestials, but the greatest of the Jedi and Sith still roamed the galaxy. And with those prodigies and strong leaders and champions defending their own and growing ever stronger, they needed to be eliminated or co opted before she could reveal herself and take up her mantle as the Beloved Queen of the Stars.

One certain being, a young Jedi Apprentice that had swiftly made a name for himself throughout the galaxy as the Order’s poster boy and shining icon while being the last blood relative of Darth Sidious, the teenager who called himself Edaan Palpatine intrigued Abeloth. Born with a great connection to the Force, broken by the tragedy of losing his entire family because of the Jedi’s incompetence, forged by the same order as a weapon in their wars, but harboring many powerful secrets from most while building his own power base or a nauseatingly heartfelt goal, he just might be a worthy vessel for her when her full strength returned to her. His latest string of victories for the Jedi, coupled with the restlessness of his spirit, brilliant mind, and growing power and fanbase, were all qualities she admired and sought from her strongest host bodies.

All this information was exactly why Abeloth had a set of specific instructions for Kung'urama'nuruodo and his fellow Servants of Chaos, to watch Edaan and others like him to determine which, if any of the Jedi or Sith, would be worthy of serving the galaxy’s future goddess when the time came. If the young Jedi star proved to be the ideal candidate, then it would be up to the Chiss and his followers to carry out the edicts of their mistress and bring him to Exegol’s heart of darkness and perform their most sacred ritual of latch Abeloth’s spirit into his body to enable her full revival.

But for now, all the Servants could do was watch, and prepare until their proper time came. How fortunate then, that the emissaries had mastered the art of patience many eons ago and could stand to wait a few more years if it meant attaining the victory that they were promised all those long millennia ago. When that day came, there would be plenty of retribution against all the unworthy spawn descended from their Mistress’s enemies, and Kung'urama'nuruodo would be honored to help Abeloth lead the cleansing.

Chapter 13: Character Interlude #5: Jarael Chantique

Chapter Text

Telona 13th, 54 ABY

Wild Space, On the World of Iskadrell

Standing before the Supreme Leader of Iskadrell, Iela Cordwick, a long serving scientist and raider commander of the Wild Space world’s naval forces, knew this mission had to be of extreme importance to their people to warrant the involvement of the most prestigious and powerful member of her people. Saluting the elder woman with a firm and crisp salute, the younger Iskalloni humbly greeted, “I was not expecting to see you, especially not in person.”

“Considering the dangers of your incoming assignment, your impeccable record in serving our people, and our patrons’ insistence on the mission’s perfect completion, I felt it best to brief you personally.” The Supreme Leader neutrally answered before pulling out a data card and handing it to Iela. “All the information on your target is on here. You and your fleet will be striking the Hast Shipyards by the end of next week.”

Not betraying any surprise at the new orders or the implications of striking a key Galactic Alliance shipyard, Iela uploaded the card’s contents into her cerebral cortex’s implanted database. And when she downloaded and scoured through every word and schematic of the briefing, she understood why the Supreme Leader called on her personally.

As part of the Iskalloni’s alliance with the One Sith, they had provided many young Force Sensitives to Lord Krayt and his military buildup from across hundreds of remote worlds, and they had been forced to operate far more secretly and carefully after the fall of virtually all their slavery worlds not even a year ago today. But just as important for their joint efforts was the acquisition of vital materials and the best technologies they could get their hands on, especially weapons and warships.

And according to the Sith’s spies in the Senate and military, the Galactic Alliance was designing several new warships to continue its fleet’s modernization and keep pace with its rivals in the Confederation and Galactic Empire. Among the schematics in the GA’s possession was a Dac-inspired Star Dreadnaught, this one a giant version of the Nebula-class Star Destroyer with capabilities easily rivaling the Viscount-class Star Destroyer. It was clear that Lord Krayt wanted this warship for his own growing navy, and Iela was now tasked with capturing not only its blueprints, but the key designers of each of the battle cruisers.

Iela had no idea how she would accomplish this yet, but when the Supreme Leader called upon her, she knew it would be a task she would undertake with the best of her ability. And she always delivered for the Iskalloni, wanting them to survive and flourish against the hostile galaxy they lived in. Although she did not always agree with their methods, such as using slave labor and forcibly converting their victims into cyborgs to do the work her people deemed beneath them, she always wanted to do good by the powers that raised her and taught her everything she knew.

Forcing such thoughts back to the deepest recesses of her mind, knowing they would likely get her killed if anyone caught wind of them, Iela bowed before the Supreme Leader, and loyally answered, “I will marshal my commanders and devise a successful plan of attack. It will be delivered to you by the end of the week.”

“Excellent.” The Supreme Leader satisfyingly nodded, saluting Iela back before dismissing her, knowing the mission was in the best possible hands.

Telona 26th, 54 ABY

Calamari Sector, Near the Minntooine System

Aboard the Iskallon Heavy Frigate Stelaciter

Narrowly avoiding the attacks aimed at him while returning fire, Edaan had not felt this exhilarated from a mission in many months, and it was all because of the quarry he was after and the glimpses the Force granted him of his next teammate. Not even his bounty hunter disguise and alias would be enough to diminish his excitement from this impending victory.

Thanks to his and the Jedi’s underworld contacts, the Order had uncovered rumors of an upcoming raid of great significance on one of the Galactic Alliance’s major shipyards within the Calamari Sector. Haivng laid several ambushes across the sector to capture whoever attempted this audacious strike, with Edaan leading one near a few hundred parsecs away from the sector’s capital planet, it was hoped they would drive off or capture whoever was foolish enough to make such a high-risk attack.

Of course, no one anticipated the Iskalloni, a secretive race of cyborgs and raiders, to be bold enough to launch such a mad attack, nor in such large numbers of thirty heavy cruisers. Quite an unexpected wrinkle, but the prodigy Jedi Apprentice was not going to let this opportunity slip past him.

With help from the Jedi’s many privateer allies, and by tipping off Dac Command of the attack, the Iskalloni fleet soon found itself outnumbered and outgunned by their enemies, allowing Edaan, hundreds of commandos and thirty similarly disguised Jedi to board the twenty ships they caught in their trap before the remaining ten broke ranks to withdraw. And the Jedi were prepared to expect many heinous acts from the isolationist cyborgs and occasional allies of the Sith, all while searching for information on whoever was coordinating these efforts and see if they related to the latest string of kidnappings across the galaxy.

After the Outer Rim Alliance finished liberating its twenty founding worlds and purged itself of slavery while expunging its Sith influence the previous year, all the free powers noticed there was still an unsettlingly high number of abductions from hundreds of worlds. Normally, most would assume this was resulting from small-time criminals or leftover slaver elements seeking to fill the power vacuum, but most of the snatchings were children or adolescents with high or above-average Midi-Chlorian counts, and virtually all of them just vanished from all corners of the galaxy immediately afterwards.

Clearly, the Sith had adapted from their stinging defeat and were adopting a cleverer policy of cold war and were looking to build up its armies with hundreds of new recruits. And with the Iskalloni making their grand return to the greater galaxy, all these clues had to be connected, but how was still unclear. Which was why this mission had to succeed, and nothing could be left to chance.

Working alongside Galactic Alliance marines, five of the Jedi’s best Knights and Apprentices, and a platoon’s worth of privateers, Edaan had already helped liberate nearly three hundred prisoners from the Stelaciter’s main hold and secured the ship’s escape pods before converging on the ship’s bridge. And according to the reports from every other boarding team, the remaining nineteen ships had fallen after an arduous five-hours struggle, a bloodied and desperate fight to the finish with many casualties and acts of brutality by all parties involved. Not even the Palpatine Jedi was immune, having mercilessly blown apart a squad of Iskalloni executioners with the help of a few GA marines after the enemy put down their wounded enemies.

But throughout this mad slaughter, Edaan recognized how the leader of this enemy fleet, the woman he was hunting in the hope of bringing her to his side, along with her last few dozen troops, were all still yet to be accounted for. Where could they go now? With the escape pods secure and the bridge about to fall, the remaining Iskalloni would be out of places to hide.

Then again, everything about this fight screamed unconventional from the Iskalloni commander’s typical profile. From the way her prisoners all but refused to accept the Alliance’s assistance, the military-like discipline among the ship’s defenders, and the unfamiliarity of this vessel and her sister ships to the boarders, virtually anything was still possible.

“Hey, Zuul!” The GA commander in charge of this operation called for Edaan using his alias. “See if you can make sense of this data, would you?”

Playing the part of a gruff mercenary, Edaan stubbornly scoffed, “Can’t your technicians slice it yourselves? We’ve still got at least fifty renegades on the loose here, and I need to get back in the hunt.”

Eyeing the disguised Jedi with barely concealed disgust, the officer glared at him with enough venom to kill a giant predator until Edaan acquiesced. Reading through the code, even with most of it encrypted, he was surprised to see dozens of incriminating pieces of intelligence on the Iskalloni, including incriminating evidence of their plans to strike the Hast Shipyards for a massive raid, and clues of their ties to several shell companies and criminal elements. It wasn’t the bombshell the Jedi Apprentice was hoping for, but it was certainly a start.

Before he could thank the commander, Edaan’s danger senses flared, and he pulled out his blasters and gunned down the first two assailants emerging from underneath the floor itself before they had a chance to fire any shots.

But upon seeing the remaining forty quickly emerge, swiftly catching their opponents off guard and butchering half the bridge’s occupiers while only suffering eight additional losses, and seeing his ultimate quarry reveal herself by leading the onslaught, Edaan knew it was time to drop the act. Pulling out his lightsaber, he ignited his violet blade, and began leading a three-Jedi retaliation against the Iskalloni.

Amputating and bisecting a few here, blasting a few into bulkheads there, the three Jedi quickly bought the surviving Galactic Alliance marines time to regroup and stun the rest into submission until only the leader was left. Smiling a joyful smirk, Edaan let the Void Jumpers stun her unconscious after he cordially stated, “I look forward to getting to know you better over the next few months.”

Nelona 3rd, 54 ABY

Shedu Maad, Jedi Temple

Main Detention Level, Cell 43

Her mind, now well recovered from the coma Iela somehow found herself in, the Iskalloni commander frantically tried to move, but found herself immobilized and strapped in what she assumed to be a holding cell. Stopping her futile efforts to escape, she instead focused her efforts on assessing her situation and determining the best course of action from there. Normally, she would use her cybernetic mind to hack into the captors’ systems and show her the best method of breaking out, but she found her plan stymied by what felt like a literal wall of fire that blocked her infiltration. And her ocular implants, normally blaring red to intimidate her opponents and use the infrared vision, were shut down, leaving her blind. It seemed that she was dealing with professionals this time, which meant she needed to think strategically and play the long game here while figuring out what went wrong in her plan.

Recalling the attempted raid of Hast to seize six prototype Galactic Alliance warships and their key designers and how her fleet was intercepted seven parsecs away from their target by privateers and their patrons in the GA, with all but five her fleet’s ships and all their people taken captive, Iela knew there was more to this ambush than mere chance. For one, the freelancers and their ships that her people identified were all known to be pro-Jedi sympathizers, and since the Jedi’s meddling in the Zygerrian slave trade a year ago, the government had been cracking down on illicit operations and hiring many mercenaries and proxies to aid in enforcing the law against the Sith and its many allies.

But more than that, several fighters that boarded her flagship were far more skilled and versatile than the average soldier, and one in particular was far too famous and noticeable to be taken as a mere gun-for-hire. No, Iela recognized Edaan Palpatine when she saw him, even with his weak disguise. That infernal Jedi Apprentice and his many contacts must have caught wind of her attack and took the initiative in halting the attack. A good plan, she had to admit, even if it galled her to be bested by a mere teenager.

Suddenly, Iela’s eyes were turned back on, filling her with shock and rage at how the Jedi had bypassed her cybernetic defenses and taken control of her main systems. Now able to see herself strapped to a durasteel chair and bound in a stasis field, Iela had a good idea of the lengths the Jedi were going to in keeping her contained. Kept behind a transparisteel window where her captors could safely interrogate her, she had a reasonable idea of her location, but would not assume anything at this point. Right now, patience and resilience would serve her better than haste and brute force.

Hearing a door hiss open, she was unsurprised when she saw the five Hapes Intelligence officers that would surely serve as her primary interrogators, even as they were accompanied by four high-profile Jedi she immediately recognized:

Tekli, a Chadra-Fan Jedi Master who was one of the Order’s best healers under Cilghal, she knew almost as much of the countless physiologies of the millions of species as Iela, making her a worthy rival in the medical field, if she ever wanted to go into that soft-hearted trade.

Sothais Saar, A Chev Jedi Master that worked tirelessly with the Freedom Flight and many governments to aid in the liberation of millions of slaves and aid in their integration into mainstream galactic society, and rumored to be a rather dull speaker, even among his fellow Jedi.

Kyle Katarn, the Jedi Order’s Grand Master, and veteran of tens of thousands of campaigns and operations across his many decades as a commando and Jedi, led the group with the authority and command his position demanded. He would be the most difficult of the Jedi to outsmart and outmaneuver if Iela ever hoped to return to her people.

But the last Jedi, he enraged Iela to levels most of her people would consider a weak display of emotion. Edaan Palpatine, garbed in typical Jedi robes and sporting a few new scars from the effort he spent in capturing her. It would be a personal pleasure for her to rip him apart if she was given the chance, or better yet, allow her people and the Sith to do whatever they wished with him.

Deciding to strike first and gauge their reactions, she acknowledged, “Let’s skip the pleasantries, Jedi.” She spat out the last word as if it were a horrendous curse. “I know who all of you are, and you know me if you’ve tended and spoken to my laborers. Just tell me what you want.”

“Straight to business, then.” Kyle nodded as he and his subordinates sat right in front of Iela, while the Hapes Intelligence officers, the oldest one she recognized as Trista Zel, a lead commander of Hapan Security, and she recognized the tactics the Jedi and their collaborators would use here.

“We have all the records from your ship, and quite a number of your fellow raiders and officers in custody right now. Right now, you’re all in quite a precarious situation, and you can’t outthink your way out of this one.” Sothais began. “What we have to offer you now depends on your cooperation and willingness to work with us going forward.”

“Tell us what you know of your people’s alliance with the Sith and give us what we need to stop your people’s raids.” Trista continued with the warning. “Right now, we’re the only ones that can protect you from the inevitable reprisals.

Scoffing, Iela smirked, “If you think you can convince me to betray all I believe in through simple threats or pleas, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. I’m not afraid to die for my people and way of life.”

“Not even to prevent them from being wiped out?” Edaan angrily countered, earning a surprised glare from Iela before he continued, “You know the Jedi and our friends won’t take your raids sitting idle any longer. Now that we have all the proof we need to bring before the Galactic Senate, they’ll have no choice but to act against Iskadrell and stop their warmongering ways. And unless you come forward and help us, your world and all who call it home will be reduced to the same molecular components as your toxic waste.”

Quirking an eyebrow at the paltry warning, Iela commented, “That threat would be so much more believable if it didn’t come from a poster boy known for his simplicity and sickening morality.”

Eyeing Iela with a hateful gaze, Edaan’s eyes actually flickered gold for an instant, much to her astonishment and growing awareness of a rare bout of fear. For a young man as virtuous and humble as Edaan Palpatine to show traces of tapping into the Dark Side, it showed her how serious her captor was in his ominous tidings.

Continuing, but focusing his rage, Edaan implored Iela, “But you can save them, Iela. You can prevent this catastrophe and help your people become better than they could be in bondage to the Sith and your backwater ways of thinking.”

Growing genuinely enraged at the insult, Iela would have venomously retorted back before she found her mouth frozen shut through the Force, before Edaan imploringly continued, “Think. You diminish everyone, including yourselves, with your slave labor and toxic technology, when you could learn so much more working with others as equals instead of raiding to take what scraps you can. Instead, you bottle yourselves in your world and rely on raiders and proxies to keep your little kingdom functional.”

Placing a calm but controlling hand on Edaan, Kyle gently pulled his apprentice back to him before advising Iela, “I’d suggest you consider your options very carefully over the next few weeks before the Galactic Alliance launches its attack on your homeworld. Whether or not you cooperate with us will let the powers that be decide if you’re worth the time and effort of staying in our custody. And if you refuse to help everyone, then you’ll lose more than you can possibly imagine.”

“One way or another, Commander, you’ll help the Jedi when the time is right.” Kyle forebodingly stated before the Jedi all departed, allowing Trista and her officers to begin their own form of interrogation. But before Edaan left, he spared an unreadable glance to Iela, and she heard a single message echo throughout her brain. ‘And you’ll help me as well, for there is so much more to you than what your people have led you to believe about yourself and the galaxy.

Nelona 34th, 54 ABY

Iskadrell Orbit

Aboard the Pinnacle-class Station Demagol

“Our master’s agents embedded within the Jedi Order informed me of a curious anomaly from within their temple on Shedu Maad.” Dician conversationally began her meeting with the Supreme Leader. “They reported that your Hast raid produced far more complications for all of us than you were aware of.”

“Neither of us have time for riddles, Dician. Just give it to me straight.” The Iskalloni impatiently snapped to the Director of Sith Intelligence, not eager to go back and revisit that embarrassing defeat for both client and patron, and the loss of many of the cyborgs’ best operatives from the Jedi being a step ahead of them this time.

“Very well. The Jedi are interrogating Iela and her surviving subordinates on our partnership, and Lord Krayt wishes us to dispose of that troublesome loose end before it can further compromise any of our operations.” Dician simply summed up, stunning the Supreme Leader into complete silence at the unfortunate revelations.

Repressing her wide array of emotions raging within her usually stoic mind, the Supreme Leader asked Dician, “What else do you know of this… terrible set of circ*mstances?”

“Many things, and you’ll learn them all when the time is right.” Dician enigmatically responded. “But what matters right now is that we remove the security threat before the Jedi and their puppets can crack your agents and destroy all your operations.”

“Then how do you want us to proceed?” The Supreme Leader queried. “Attacking the Jedi Temple, secluded in the heart of Hapes space and protected by countless defenses, won’t be like any operation my people have partaken in.”


“Leave the planning to me. Just ready your people for a sufficient distraction. I will contact a few proxies of my own and lay the groundwork for this daring attack.” Dician smugly ordered, before offhandedly reminding the Supreme Leader, “Oh, and don’t forget about having Commander Cordwick’s family conduct the proper punishment on her for failing you and your people.”

“I know.” The Supreme Leader stoically complied, even as she quietly detested what she had to do now. Disposing of a valued asset was always a tragic loss, but better to sever an infected limb than lose the whole body.

Six Hours Later

Helona 6th, 54 ABY

Shedu Maad, Jedi Temple

Operations Planning Center

“Why have I been paraded before your people, Katarn?” Iela dismissively asked the Grand Master. “Is this part of your strategy in converting me to your cause?”

“No. It’s to give you your last chance to do what’s right before we retaliate against your people, and a final chance to get a fresh start.” Kyle responded. “It seems your people learnt of your capture and are taking measures to silence you before you might betray their trust in you.”

Pulling up a tactical feed of the star system, Kyle zoomed in to Shedu Maad’s orbit, and the Acclamator warship that was being held in place by what had to be dozens of tractor beams from the Hapes Consortium’s royal navy and was getting hammered hard by many Jedi StealthXs and their well-placed shadow bombs. But what surprised Iela the most were the many smaller ships that were bypassing the planetary defenses and flying on a clear path towards this structure.

No. No, it can’t be.’ Iela anxiously tried to deny, even as her ever-calculating logic told her otherwise. The Iskalloni, following their protocol of not leaving any loose ends or weakness in their organizational structure, they had to be working to eliminate their wayward people before they compromised them. And if the ships she saw were a clear indication, the Sith were not leaving anything to chance with the bombers they provided her people. Which also meant that her family, in typical cruel and emotionless fashion, had disowned her and declared her as good as dead in their eyes. It would be enough to drive her to tears if she was still capable of producing them from all her cybernetic augmentations.

Eyeing Iela with a knowing glance, Kyle warned, “If you want to save you and your fellow prisoners and make a new life for you all, then help us stop this attack before all’s lost.”

Glaring at the leader of the Jedi, Iela scathingly challenged, “If you figured all this out, why don’t you do something about the danger we’re all in? Why leave yours’ and all your charges’ fates in my hands after everything I’ve done to the galaxy?”

“Because we know you better than you know yourself, Iela Cordwick, and you’re not like most of the Iskalloni.” Edaan interjected from behind, surprising Iela from how quickly and silently the Jedi Apprentice was able to sneak up behind her. “We know you always treated your opponents with respect and honored your word and terms when most of your people would break such deals in a heartbeat. And those you capture and turn into cyborgs, you don’t use them as an expendable labor force, but look after them as if they were your own kin.”

“You’re an anomaly among your people, and it’s only because of your success rate that kept them from destroying you long before now.” Edaan harshly concluded, thanking his Outer Rim contacts and the Wraiths for providing him with all this valuable intelligence. “But now, you have a chance to make something of yourself beyond your people’s narrow confines of thinking, if you help us take your people down with minimal casualties and free them from their Sith puppet masters.”

Comprehension dawning on her, Iela fully realized what the Jedi were saying. As crazy as it sounded, her own people were only holding themselves back from truly progressing forward with their reliance on slaves and arrogant sense of superiority. No to mention the loss of countless innocent lives and each of their potential, it infuriated her to no end. Surely, there had to be a better way for the Iskalloni to comprehend the galaxy than by just taking what they wanted and twisting nature to suit their own ends, just as the One Sith did with their own demented agenda.

Besides, if Iela’s family and her people had disowned and disavowed her, then her only ties to the Iskalloni were the ones she chose to keep, which were bonds of loyalty that had been broken by them so long ago. She had just been too blind and hopeful to see these brutal truths. The only way to stop their wicked and amoral ways was to destroy their twisted culture and build a better one out of the ashes. And it was time for her to step up and follow her long-buried conscience and heart to do what was right and just.

Sensing her change of heart, Kyle spoke up, “Are you with us?”

Finding her resolve broken and rebuilt in a mere instant, Iela nodded and softly whispered, “Yes.” Speaking louder, she earnestly agreed, “I’ll help you in any way I can.”

Grinning madly now, Edaan commended Iela, “Good! Then let’s start by seeing what you can do to stop this suicidal attack.”

“No. That won’t be necessary, Edaan.” Kyle calmly interjected. Typing in new commands into the holotable, he homed in on the ten enemy bombers making their way towards the Temple, with another five heading for the planet’s capital city. From the incoming sensor data Iela could decipher, it seemed that fifteen bombers were carrying nuclear bombs capable of incinerating everything within a twenty-mile radius.

Growing more than a little nervous, Iela was prepared to warn Kyle of the immense danger everyone was now in, but just then, three of the enemy fighters just vanished off the map, with another two flashing yellow to indicate they were under attack. Seeing a knowing smile on the Grand Master’s face, she recognized what was happening. “How did you figure it out?”

“Thanks to what data we could decode from your ships and plenty of advance warning from our contacts, we were well prepared for this attack.” Edaan answered as another two fighters, these two aimed for the capital city, were disabled, before he off-handedly added, “Of course, it helped that we were graciously donated the defenses for the Temple by Queen Mother Djo for just such an instance. It never hurts to be ready for anything when faced with a galaxy full of such resourceful enemies.”

“Then why gain my help?” Iela asked, a bit of heat entering her voice. “Why go through all this trouble to win me over if you had all you need to stop this madness? Was it to mock me, or something deeper?”

“To show you an old Jedi precept of redemption, and to prove to yourself that you’re not as far gone as you’d like to believe.” Kyle answered. “And to test you to see if you were the woman Edaan hoped you were for a job he one day wishes to hire you for.”

Suspiciously glancing at Edaan, Iela skeptically asked the young human, “What kind of job are you talking about here?”

“I’ll tell you another time.” Edaan calmly brushed off. “Right now, we have more immediate matters to tend to, and reprisals to prepare ourselves for against our many mutual enemies.”

Yelona 23rd, 54 ABY

Iskadrell Orbit

Aboard the Mediator-class Battle Cruiser Carlist Rieekan

“It’s finally over, Sir.” Kral Nevil, commodore of the Galactic Alliance Defense fleet and leader of the Iskadrell task force, reported to Kajin Bar Yimmon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The final pockets of resistance have officially accepted our terms of surrender. Their last of their fleets and ground forces are all destroyed, and we’re preparing to send in our occupation garrisons. Aside from the few stragglers that managed to fight their way past our blockade, we did it. The planet’s finally taken.”

After two months of intense fighting, the long hidden and protected stronghold of cybernetic depravity and notorious Sith allied world had been taken. And it was nothing short of bloody work and sacrifice that made it all possible.

First, once everyone reached Iskadrell by navigating through or disabling many of its sectorial defenses, the Galactic Alliance and Jedi were ready to engage the Iskalloni fleets protecting their homeworld.

While many in the Senate balked at the operation and risk violating its Jedi Neutrality Act, the greater danger of letting the cyborg race continue its heinous kidnappings and let them go unpunished for their attempted raid of the Hast Shipards was too great to ignore. So, for the greater good of all free powers, the Senate almost unanimously agreed to temporarily waive the bill to eliminate a troublesome thorn in everyone’s side.

Once the GA and Jedi broke the Iskalloni’s fleets after three weeks of intense fighting, they were prepared to establish a blockade of Iskadrell until its leadership capitulated, the GA-Jedi fleet suffered numerous casualties from the offworld raiding parties they had recalled, and the hundreds of suicide bombers they unleashed on the interdicting force.

It was only thanks to Iela Cordwick’s crucial intelligence that they were able to mitigate the worst of their losses and strike key installations across the planet before landing their soldiers to engage the Iskalloni on the ground. And with the defector’s testimony and counsel, the GA, Jedi, and all their allies were able to capture many of the planet’s key leadership and uncover substantial evidence of the Sith’s activities and connections across the Outer Rim and Wild Space.

Whatever the One Sith, at least, that was the name the Iskalloni’s records identified them as, wanted with their technology and records of the galaxy’s vast unexplored regions, it implied they wanted every weapon and resource that could be useful against the Jedi and those that stood with them. The Galactic Alliance and the rest of the galaxy needed to remain vigilant if they hoped to uncover and counter all the Sith’s remaining plans.

Approaching Kral from the bridge’s command center, Kara, a rather large Aporthad cyborg that served as the Quarren’s second-in-command and as a Lieutenant Commander in the GA Defense Force, resumed the briefing by grimly informing everyone, “We’ve identified the thirty ships that escaped the system. They include the Supreme Leader’s shuttle and all her top personnel and essential equipment. Our defector believes they’re going to resume operations with the Sith somewhere else.”

“That is troubling indeed.” Kajin sighed. “We’ll put our intelligence agencies into tracking and apprehending the stragglers and work with our sister governments in ensuring they don’t start up somewhere else. But don’t let this wrinkle diminish the great deeds you all have accomplished. We removed another of the One Sith’s agents and fortress worlds from their grasp and freed countless souls from their brutal torment. And we moved the Alliance one step closer towards repealing the Jedi Neutrality Act. As far as I’m concerned, this is a great victory for us all today.”

“And you, both of you, led your forces ably and ingeniously through these trying months while facing off against enemies that would make most squeamish and flee in fear. In fact, the Joint Chiefs and I believe you have both earned a promotion for all your noble efforts.”

“Once you return to Coruscant, we’ll make the elevations official, but we’ve all agreed on your new ranks.” Kajin paused, turning to face Kral and ceremoniously spoke, “Commodore Kral Nevil, you will be made a Rear Admiral, and placed in command of the first Guardian-class Super Star Destroyer we have once it is finished construction.”

Now glancing towards Kara, Kajin noted, “Lieutenant Commander Kara, I have rarely been glad to be wrong, I’m willing to acknowledge. But in this instance, I am grateful that your mentor convinced me of the merits of recruiting you into the Galactic Alliance. You are hereby promoted to the full rank of Commander and will soon be granted your task force to help our anti-piracy and corruption campaigns.”

Saluting the Chief of State with all the respect and gratitude they could professionally demonstrate, Kara noted, “Thank you, Sir. But what of Captain Cordwick and her people? Will you grant her request and give them all full pardons as you previously pledged?”

“Of course.” Kajin answered as if the answer was obvious. “I gave her my word if she upheld her end of the deal, and she more than delivered. Now all that remains is to give her a sufficient cover story and alias to use going forward.”

“Let General Loran and the Jedi come up with that one, Sir. Between the old Wraith and the Order’s ties with the captain, I’m sure they’ll come up with something good.” Kral jested in part, earning a few honest laughs from all three leaders.

Kelona 34th, 55 ABY

Coruscant, Level 1313

Salvation Clinic

Iela could hardly believe the situation, even as she prepared to open her clinic for its first day of service in the most dangerous part of the most prestigious and populated world in the galaxy. Even after four months of her people’s occupation by the Galactic Alliance, the pardon she and the few Iskalloni under her command that agreed to the Jedi’s terms, the whole experience seemed surreal for her.

With her cover solidified, Iela Cordwick, from now on calling herself Jarael Chantique at Edaan Palpatine’s recommendation, the name derived from some ancient Old Republic era reference, could start over and pave new ground for her people. By opening a clinic to help combat the Vongforming and assist Galactic Alliance Security in rooting out subversives and recruiting valuable misfits before crime elements could snatch them up, she would do much good for the galaxy on her road to atonement. Along with freeing the galaxy from corruption, she would set an example for the rest of the Iskalloni on how to chart a new course for their lives, free of the brutality and injustice of their fallen system while helping fight the Sith through quiet means.

But more than that, Jarael would be serving to atone for her decades of complicity and participation in a barbaric culture, all while preparing herself for a great mission offered to her by Edaan Palpatine four months ago. If asked a year ago to assist in the salvation of Sith Lady Darth Kitai, one of the most capable, clever, and ruthless acolytes under Darth Krayt and his One Sith, who once called herself Vestara Khai, she would have laughed at the absurdity of it all as she blasted the fool’s head off.

But now, after seeing the sheer conviction and honesty in the Jedi Apprentice, his earnest zeal for life, love, and justice, Jarael believed it might be possible to save his target from the darkness devouring her heart and soul. It certainly helped how she learned of the thousands of favors and friends Edaan had, the people and groups aligned with him in his goals of healing the broken galaxy and reforming the Jedi and Galactic Alliance, and the buildup of power to prepare for his own war against the Sith.

To help the Jedi in their fight, Jarael would need to hone her medical proficiency in ways she had never considered before, and work with people she never thought worth her attention otherwise. A perplexing task, but it wouldn’t be any more difficult than betraying her people to save them from their self-destructive path. If anything, it would be a challenge she would meet with all the brilliance and ability she could bring to the task.

Ah, but it would do no good for Jarael to wallow in what the future might bring. Now, the reformed medic had a clinic to open and start building a new reputation and life for herself. Prepared to work with the free powers in knitting a little bit of the galaxy back together, she personally opened the Salvation, and patiently awaited her first patients.

Chapter 14: Character Interlude #6: Akku Seii II

Chapter Text

Kelona 11th, 56 ABY

Mid Rim, Bright Jewel System

Aboard the Jubilee Wheel Station

Deep within one of the gambling casinos and pubs in the smaller version of the legendary and notorious deep-space station named the Wheel, which was located halfway across the galaxy, a covert meeting was taking place between two old friends and master veterans among the Mandalorian Protectors.

Enjoying a rare moment of levity amongst the tumult of the chaotic music and revelry of the Savrip Den bar, Akku Seii II, a veteran Anzati assassin-turned-Mandalorian company leader was patiently sipping his alcoholic beverage while his peer outlined the job offered by none other than the Mand’alor himself. And from what Jaing Skirata was briefing him on, it was a mission that would require all his talent and resourcefulness if the job could hope to be completed.

From Boba Fett’s trusted contacts embedded inside the secessionist and warmongering movement of the Neo Death Watch, the traitors were planning a coercion or assassination attempt against the governor of the Outer Rim world of Concord Dawn. A planet with a rich history among the Mandalorian and Fett clan, and its well-respected history of the Journeyman Protectors that served as the world’s law enforcement agency, its martial prowess and nexus of commerce and mercenary work made it a valued jewel of the Mandalore Sector and a prized target of conquest by its enemies.

Once Jaing, one of the last two Clone Troopers in existence from the Grand Army of the Republic, finished outlining his plan to outwit and defeat the Neo Death Watch, Akku offered, “A rather unorthodox and daring strategy, Skirata. Even for you.”

Mand’alor wants this done as quickly and loudly as possible. He wants to send a message to anyone that might even consider siding with his wayward granddaughter and her flunkies.” Jaing shrugged, not showing any discontent or misgivings at the plan he just laid out before offering his hand in solidarity. “If you have any suggestions on how to improve the plan, well, that’s why I’m reaching out to you.”

Under most circ*mstances, Akku would not want to be party to such a bold attack on anyone, even traitors to the Resol’nare, the creed all Mandalorinas were supposed to follow without question. Then again, Akku wasn’t surprised by Jaing’s willingness to go along with the maneuver, since the Null ARC Trooper was the final survivor of six experimental Clone Troopers that were notorious for their resourcefulness, independence, and incredible proficiency in all forms of martial and armed combat. He especially knew how the Skirata clan wasn’t well known for sympathy for those outside their small circle of trust. So, for the eldest Skirata to offer him such a high payroll for his company and a leadership role on the mission, the old veteran genuinely must not want to follow the original strategy.

Well, it was fortunate Akku had more favors than just Mandalorians to call upon, and already knew a few old friends he could use to refine Fett’s plan and undermine the Neo Death Watch’s recruitment drive. After the last adventure he had with the Jedi, he figured they owed him a courtesy or two, and what better way to cash them in than to help gauge the growing civil war spreading throughout Mandalorian Space?

Taking the hand in a firm grip, Akku agreed, “Of course I’ll help you, old friend. We’ll just need to make a few major alterations to the strategy.”

“What’d you have in mind?” Jaing chuckled, nursing a strong mug of ale with his free hand.

“For starters, I think our leader is leaving a lot, far too much to my liking, to chance with such a small crew. A hundred or so Mandalorians against a battalion of Rhal and Gev’s best commandos, never mind the good chance they’ve got a full gunship’s worth of dar’jetti backup with them?” Akku trailed off, letting the brilliant human bounty hunter connect the dots for the insinuation.

Gingerly putting his ale down at the insinuation, Jaing solemnly warned Akku, “Fett doesn’t want the Jedi involved in this, especially not after all the bad blood between both our groups of the last fifteen years. I doubt anyone in his inner circle would trust them to follow our lead in this.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to be discrete about how we recruit and use them.” Akku simply shrugged, even as he silently acknowledged the danger that he was about to invite for himself and his crew.

Knowing full well how, the Second Galactic Civil War’s climax of how Luke Skywalker, in an uncharacteristic and ruthless measure, sacrificed several squads of Mandalorians to cover Jaina Solo’s first attempt to kill her fallen twin brother, it left the rest of Fett’s people incensed at the betrayal and eager for vengeance. Even Akku was disheartened to see what the Jedi Order would do to achieve victory. And after Fett had the Mandalorians work under then-Galactic Alliance Chief of State Natasi Daala in laying siege to the Coruscant Jedi Temple and put down slave rebellions across the Outer Rim, it was the final spark needed to set off a new cycle of hatred between both factions.

Since those tumultuous four years, there had been hundreds of small skirmishes between Jedi and Mandalorian, and countless innocents were often caught in the crossfire, and it sickened the Anzati warrior to see two of the greatest fighter groups of the galaxy in a cold war with each other. Very few among both factions were able to look past the animosity and old wounds to see the good they could do when working together, and Akku was one of the few among the warrior culture to recognize that crucial fact. That was why he was willing to defy his leader and risk the consequences to ensure the mission was a success.

Appraising Akku with a keen eye, Jaing let out a silent sigh, and compromised, “It’ll have to be a small number, no more than eight. And I get the final say over whoever you and Katarn pick.”

“Agreed.” Akku already had a good idea of the first of who he’d pick for this operation. It was time to show a few more Mandalorians that the Jedi were better allies and friends than enemies, and he knew just who could bring that point home. But no matter how this mission went out, it would be good to work with Edaan Palpatine again after his last mission with him on Ponemah Terminal.

Kelona 15th, 56 ABY

Concord Dawn Orbit

Aboard the Keldabe-type Battleship Ultimate

“We have a new complication arising in your daughter’s mission.” Mirta warned Belok. “Our agents in the Jedi have informed us that they’ve just sent five of their members and one of their allies undercover to undermine your efforts to sway the planet to our cause.”

Clenching his teeth and gripping his fists hard enough to risk drawing blood at the intrusion by those incessant do-gooders and moralistic warrior-monks, Belok quickly realized that Sora’s task was about to get exponentially more complicated. But it also presented them both with many more opportunities if he correctly applied his skills to assist his daughter.

Having suffered nearly a dozen humiliations and disgraces from the Jedi over the last twelve years, all for doing his job and putting the weak in their proper place, it would be good to dish out a little payback. And with the Neo Death Watch allied with the One Sith, they had the perfect way to offset this disadvantage.

Responding to his leader’s communication, Belok asked, “The names of the Jedi and their collaborator?”

“The five Jedi are Jedi Masters Octa Ramis, Ben Skywalker, and Tyria Sarkin-Tainer, along with Apprentices Edaan Palpatine, and Allana Djo Solo.” Mirta listed off, before cautioning Belok, “Lord Krayt expressly ordered us to take the two Apprentices and Skywalker alive, and he’s sending us reinforcements to manage that.”

“And their friend?” Belok ground out, hatred building ever higher after hearing Ben Skywalker’s name, and realizing his chance at vengeance for the death of his wife at the then-Jedi Knight’s hands was at last within reach, and he swore to make him pay before this mission concluded.

“A Clone Trooper from the GAR’s Five-Oh-First Legion.” Mirta answered, in a tone that conveyed her disbelief and astonishment over the report.

Genuinely laughing at the poor joke, Belok calmed down and asked, “That’s hilarious. But who is their real fool of a compatriot?”

“I just told you.” Mirta calmly answered. “Aside from Jaing Skirata, he’s the last of the Clone Troopers from that distant and fateful war, and a staunch ally of the Jedi.”

Actually stunned at the report, Belok lost his composure and disbelievingly sputtered out, “H-how is that even possible?!”

“Jedi Palpatine, Captain Seii II, and uncovering his location amidst a treasure hunt on an old CIS warship, all while outmaneuvering Kitai and her army about a year ago.” Mirta responded. “I’ll forward you all the necessary intelligence momentarily, but there’s one more matter we need to discuss.”

“We have new orders from Lord Wyyrlok, effective immediately.” Mirta paused, as if discomforted by what she would say next. “He wishes us to immediately put our efforts into dispatching the Governor and his key supporters, and to pin the blame on the Jedi and Fett’s loyalists. That is to be your top priority over eliminating or capturing any of the inbound Jedi.”

Well, that would make things exponentially easier for the Neo Death Watch. Instead of pandering to undecided di’kuts, the rightful rulers of all Mandalorians would send a clear message to all their enemies and show them that their weak-willed dominion over the galaxy was coming to an end.

But if all this was true, then why was Mirta so conflicted over the decision? Could it be that she was unwilling to go through with the deed? Was she losing her nerve amidst her separation from her husband, grandparents, and all her former friends? If that was the case then, she would have to be observed carefully, and if the proper actions would need to be undertaken, Belok would see to it that he was in the best position to benefit from the fallout. It was the least he deserved for his years of service to the One Sith and their great cause.

First things first, though. Belok needed to have his daughter prepare their people for a battle against their old adversaries and accelerate the Neo Death Watch’s own plans. It would be tight, but he was nothing if not determined and able squeeze out the best from all his men. It certainly would be therapeutic to settle the score against Jedi Skywalker, ensure a big promotion for capturing three high-profile Jedi, and an interesting change of pace to deal with an old war fossil like a Clone Trooper.

Kelona 18th, 56 ABY

Mandalore Sector, Just Outside the Concord Dawn System

Aboard the Ranger-class Gunship Seeker

“I still don’t know how you talked me into this.” Jaing ruefully marveled as the SoroSuub Personal Luxury Yacht 3000 finished unlocking its umbilical cord, allowing oxygen to flow freely between both the Seeker and Raptor. “Even if we succeed, Mand’alor and most of the clans will probably have our heads for going behind their backs like this.”

“I talked you into this because I am a master persuader and leader, and you are ever the pragmatist among the Mando’ade and Clan Skirata.” Akku noted, a hint of smugness and amusem*nt entering his voice before returning to his typical seriousness, “We can’t pull off a miracle of this magnitude against Rhal and his Sith masters without the appropriate help. And this alliance will do good for us all. It’s time we started rebuilding bridges instead of letting old wounds continue to fester and tear the galaxy apart.”

“And you think that working alongside the heirs of the Skywalker and Palpatine bloodlines will help your noble goals?” Jaing sadly chuckled. “You may have the loyalty and faith of your company, and I have my supporters scattered throughout the clans, but we’re a minority amongst the sea of angry and embittered Mandalorians.”

Having been informed by Akku of his successful negotiations with the Jedi Order and their sending several members to assist the investigation, Jaing spent the last four days preparing himself for the inevitable blowback for when he broke the word to his crew. For now, morale was steady, and his people were willing to go along with this mad plan. But that would soon change if the Jedi caused more trouble than they were worth or let their vaunted morals interfere with what needed to be done.

Fortunately, Jaing was told precisely who amongst the Jedi were sent to aid them, and it brought him some measure of comfort to know they were taking this matter seriously in sending several of their best. Learning that Octa Ramis and Tyria Sarkin-Tainer were leading the delegation, each woman a master veteran of war in virtually all its aspects, it helped the old Mandalorian see the Council was smarting from its previous blunders.

Of course, when Ben Skywalker, the Order’s most avowed criminal investigator and notorious Sith hunter was mentioned, it sent a fresh jolt of anxiety up Jaing’s spine, for his inflexible hatred of Sith was well-known, as was his disgust for most mercenaries and criminals after the ill experiences he had with many after the Order’s banishment from Coruscant. It was only through Akku’s counsel that he didn’t refuse the man’s offer of help, and how he had tempered his fires of fury in recent years.

But the last two, Edaan Palpatine and Allana Djo Solo, each heir to the most monstrous Sith Lord of their bloodline, were an enigma to the grizzled and hyper-intelligent Jaing. Though he held no personal ill will for either of them, having heard little bad news from both the news outlets and his friends and contacts, old grudges and fears were difficult to cast aside unless given valid reason. And with prodigies such as these with powerful lineages, the old Mandalorian would have to be exceptionally careful in how he dealt with them.

“Well, let’s see if we can lay another cornerstone in our growing foundation of fellowship.” Akku resolved, hearing the familiar sound of new footsteps approaching from behind the boarding dock. “All I ask is that you give them a chance to prove themselves. You’ll surely be amazed by the company of the five Jedi I’ve chosen.”

“Five?” Jaing confusingly repeated. “I thought you said six Jedi would be joining us.” Seeing the growing smirk on Akku’s face, he suddenly realized he was in for more than he bargained for.

The door opened, and first among the group was a face Jaing recognized all too well. It was the same one he had, the same as millions of Clone Troopers that once permeated across the galaxy many decades ago, but it couldn’t be the genuine article, it should be impossible. He was supposed to be the last of a once-great army. But upon seeing the tan skin, the Aurebesh tattoo across his head that said, “The only good droid is a dead one”, the creases on his forehead that signified he was a first-generation Clone Trooper, and his garb that strongly resembled a Grand Army of the Republic medic, all the signs were too great to ignore.

Ignoring the five Jedi that accompanied him, Jaing stormed towards the medic, and demanded, “What is your name, son? How did you come to be on this mission?”

Seeing the Jedi prepared to intervene, Akku calmly held them back, quietly explaining, “Don’t worry. Jaing just needs to verify a few things before we can move forward.”

The younger Fett clone, not intimidated by Jaing and briefed on this possibility occurring, firmly stated, “My name is Kix. I was once known as CT-6116 in the Grand Army of the Republic, and one of the best medics in the Five Hundred and First Legion before my capture and decades-long incarceration in a stasis pod by the Confederacy.”

Recognizing the voice all too well, and seeing no lie in Kix’s eyes, Jaing’s gaze softened, and he formally greeted the medic, “Then we are welcome to have you.” Bowing his head in a slight angle, he apologized, “Sorry for the harsh reception, I simply didn’t expect to see… well, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone outside of Boba Fett who still shares my face.”

“If you think you’ve had it hard, try being me when I awoke and learned that all I cherished faded away to time, memory, and the history books.” Kix solemnly pointed out.

“Sounds like you have quite a story to tell.” Glancing at the five Jedi, Jaing curiously asked Kix, “How did you come into these Jedi’s company?”

“Well, like you said, it’s a good story to tell, but I owe my life and freedom to Jedi Palpatine and Captain Seii.” Kix alluded. “I’m here at their personal request. Otherwise, I wouldn’t dare leave my clinic on Coruscant.”

Clearing his throat, Akku patiently pointed out, “As touching as this reunion is, we don’t have all day to waste in greetings. We need to meet up with the rest of the task force and begin our work.”

“Right.” Jaing agreed. Sparing Edaan and Allana a cautious and scrutinizing glance each, the old Mandalorian Supercommando told the six-man team, “We’ll brief you on the essentials of our mission, and then split up to rendezvous in the town of Jaster. These next few weeks should be quite an interesting time for us all.”

Kelona 23rd, 56 ABY

Concord Dawn Surface

Within the Town of Jaster

Inside the Casius Garrison

“How goes the interrogation? Your boyfriend pulling his weight in there?” Lona Vos, former Kiffar Guardian, a faithful soldier of Akku’s company, and master fighter, teasingly asked her younger sister. Over the last five days, the unlikely alliance of Jedi and Mandalorian was making significant headway in undermining the Neo Death Watch’s takeover attempt of the planet, reaching out to many undecided Journeymen Protectors and subordinates of the governor to impede the rogue movement’s negotiations. With the help of Fett’s many sympathizers and agents across the planet, the team had made the regional garrison as their makeshift headquarters.

But it was through sheer luck that the Mandalorian Protectors’ sympathizers had uncovered and isolated a key subordinate of Rhal’s and allowed the coalition to capture Malincha Jeisel. A middle-aged Devaronian woman and a former member of the Peace Brigade, the collaborationist organization who allied with the invading Yuuzhan Vong, she had escaped justice by finding refuge in the fringes of criminal gangs for many years. Eventually being recruited by the rogue Mandalorian, she had quickly risen through the ranks up until she was his most trusted officer and was barely able to be captured alive and intact by Akku, Kix, and Tyria two days earlier.

“Edaan’s not my boyfriend, Lona.” Shara Vos irritably stuck her tongue out at her sister’s prodding. “But he’s doing an excellent job alongside Kix and Akku in questioning our prisoner. She’s spilling her guts to the boss and Jaing. Looks like you were wrong about our pact with the Jedi.”

“For now, maybe.” Lona cynically pointed out. With the Jedi aiding the questioning by probing the prisoner’s mental defenses alongside a physical interrogation, it was only a matter of time before the Protectors and every world in Mandalorian Space finally learnt the true colors of the Neo Death Watch, and support for them withered away like a poor harvest.

Enjoying getting a rise out of her sister, Lona pointed out, “It looks like you have some stiff competition in the Jedi princess. Seems Allana is as smitten with Edaan as you are.” Seeing the jealous glances Allana directed at Shara, how stiff and formal she was with her and how she made excuses to be in Edaan’s company, it would be like a hilarious sitcom if it wasn’t such a danger to the mission’s success.

Letting out a despondent sigh, Shara reminded Lona, “How many times do I need to tell you, Edaan isn’t interested in dating anyone right now. He’s too devoted to his mission and the Order to even think of romance.”

“Maybe it’s all part of his plan.” Lona jokingly suggested. “Get all the girls swooning over him before he takes his pick or makes a lovely harem out of his favorites.” Sighing, she suggested, “You want my advice, choose a good man from the clans and ditch your ridiculous fantasy.”

“Okay, that’s so disgusting, and why are we even talking about this now?!” Shara irritably groaned before both sisters heard the familiar sound of a beskar dagger slicing open someone’s throat and a gurgling scream. Rushing into the cell with blasters drawn, they found a sight that disturbed and terrified them beyond measure: Akku, panting and standing above the corpse of Malincha, holding one of his beskar daggers, covered and dripping in blood of the now dead Devaronian, and Edaan knocked on the ground while holding his head with a shallow cut on its side and blood trickling down.

Hearing the patter of many footsteps coming their way, Lona, motioning for Shara to tend to Edaan, lowly whispered to her superior, “What happened in here?”

“He killed her.” Jaing solemnly answered, slowly walking towards Akku with his blaster raised towards the Anzati, but set to stun, Lona observed. “Malincha confessed all she knew, and once she finished, Akku slit her throat and let her bleed out. He really took her knowledge on the Rhal family’s plans quite hard.”

“I’m going to kill him.” Akku viciously swore, wiping the blood off his dagger. “All of you as my witnesses, and woe to anyone who tries to stop me, but I’m going to kill Belok Rhal and anyone who dares stand in my way.”

“No, my friend. You’re not.” Edaan firmly told Akku, letting Shara apply a bacta patch before continuing. “We all heard what Malincha said about Rhal’s plan and what he did to you and your loved ones, and it’s…it’s all pure evil, what he did and wants to do. But there is a better way to attain justice than simple revenge.”

“If you kill Rhal now, with the entire planet and all his followers watching, you’ll only prove his worldview correct and inspire countless more Mandalorians to carry on his sick work. And you’ll erase all of Mirta Gev’s doubts of her cause and solidify her resolve to wage total war on your people.” Edaan reminded Akku, taking a moment to catch his breath and let the bacta patch take effect on his small injury.

“We can end Rhal’s madness and deal a crippling blow to his followers and movement, but we’ll do it with all our honor and dignity intact.” Edaan paused, imploring his longtime friend, “Don’t let your old wounds control you, and don’t let your family’s teachings die here, and a piece of yourself fall alongside them.”

As more people swarmed over the area, an eerie silence gripping the chamber, Akku slowly lowered the dagger, and offered it to Jaing. Taking the blade, the old human agreed, “We’ll make Rhal answer for his plans. But we’ll do it the right way. I already have a few ideas on how to lure him out and expose his entire operation.”

“The task I have in mind will require no small amount of ingenuity, courage, coordination, and a kriffing good diversion. but I believe it can be done.” Jaing paused, addressing Akku, “And you’re going to be the diversion and have the chance to do away with Rhal yourself.”

Kelona 24th., 56 ABY

Concord Dawn Orbit

Aboard the Ultimate

Buir, you’re being hailed by Akku Seii II.” Sora Rhal quickly alerted Belok in the middle of his preparations. “It’s over all the planet’s HoloNet channels. He’s issuing a challenge against you.”

Surprised his daughter’s sudden warning, Belok paused his briefing, and turned on a local HoloNet channel to see the smug Anzati standing before a large crowd. And what he was saying incensed the secessionist commander to murderous heights.

“For years, Belok Rhal and his gang of barbaric thugs have besmirched the very name and honor of what it means to be a Mandalorian. Operating as murderous thugs to both despots and Sith, slaughtering anyone who dared to halt their amoral and greedy ways, they disgrace and shame us all beyond reproach. And now, through the last testimony of one of his best lieutenants, we have confirmation of his plans to assassinate Concord Dawn’s governor and pin the blame on the Protectors for the heinous deed on behalf of the Neo Death Watch and their Sith masters.”

“But this situation is not entirely their fault, nor are all their transgressions against us.” Akku allowed, surprising Belok before his enemy continued, “No, part of the burden of shame falls onto the Protectors, all of us, for allowing their evil to continue and fester for as long as it has. Even Mand’alor is not exempt for this responsibility, and it galls me to admit this. But that is why I plan to rectify this grievous error by the end of tomorrow.”

“In accordance with the Resol’nare and our oldest laws, I challenge Belok Rhal, regional commander of the Neo Death Watch, to single combat in exactly eighteen hours, in the city of Cadera. If you do not comply, then we will have no choice but to bear the full might of Concord Dawn and the Mando’ade against them.”

Belok could not believe what he was hearing. After all the decades of rigid self-righteous the assassin-turned-mercenary warrior Akku displayed, all the wars he had fought in and countless friends he lost, he truly still believed that honor and nobility mattered in war. What a pompous and arrogant fool!

The only things that mattered in war was victory and power! And it was because so many of Fett’s followers clung to such an outdated ideology that this civil war would be so bloody and chaotic. And come tomorrow, the whole of Concord Dawn would know it and would either fall in line with the One Sith’s Grand Design or be destroyed alongside the Jedi and all their decadent government and freethinking allies.

“For the sake of the Mando’ade, I urge you to settle this with some measure of your honor regained.” Akku implored. “If not, then we will only meet above the corpses of our fallen kin and friends, and that is an outcome I desperately wish to avoid.”

And that is why you will lose this fight, you old bloodsucker.’ Belok seethed before the recording repeated itself. Closing the channel, he ordered Sora, “Are your death squads prepared for their assassination?”

“We’re well ahead of schedule.” Sora acknowledged. “We’ll be geared up and ready to make our move on your command.” Pausing, she asked, “How are you going to handle Seii’s challenge?”

“He wants to avoid a bloodbath, does he?” Belok amusingly chuckled. “Well, let’s allow him to see the folly of avoiding the savagery of war and choosing the losing side.”

“Convey my willingness to entertain the bout and then prepare your teams to deploy without me and my personal guard.” Belok ordered. “I’ll give myself the pleasure of silencing that old dotard while you take command of the operation. We’ll soon give all of Mandalore Space a lasting message of Fett’s ineptitude and duplicity, all while showing everyone the benefits of letting the lead them to true greatness.”

“What of the Jedi?” Sora questioned. “If they interfere or catch wind of the plan…”

“Then we and the One Sith will dispose of them all in due time.” Belok confidently stated before eagerly adding. “They’ll soon feel the might of our beskar fist and our superior allies, just as the governor of this simple world will for betraying our generosity and not making the right choice quickly enough.”

Kelona 25th, 56 ABY

Concord Dawn Surface

In the City of Cadera

Everything was in place, and everyone was prepared to perform their duties and bring ruin and death to the coalition’s enemies. Disguised in Mandalorian armor to hide their true affiliations, the Jedi each took up their positions amongst Clan Skirata and Akku’s company, ready for the inevitable fight and trap the Neo Death Watch was undoubtably planning.

With Akku awaiting his scheduled duel with Belok Rhal, and accompanied by six of his most trusted fighters, the Anzati discretely glanced eastward, where his protection gave the signal for taking position. Knowing Edaan, Allana, Kix, and the remainder of his company were on standby for when the Neo Death Watch attempted a double-cross, ready to snipe away at any would-be assailants, it gave him a greater hope to survive being the bait in this trap.

Although he yearned to take part in the main battle, an uncharacteristic wish for the usually composed and meticulous Mandalorian, Akku fully realized and acknowledged how Jaing was correct about his judgment being compromised, and how he made this fight personal and bloody. Now knowing that Rhal had orchestrated a mass slaughter against the planet of Dubrava and decimated half his company six years ago, it infuriated him to even think about the reprobate of a human and utter disgrace to the Mando’ade.

Besides, Ben and Tyria would be more than enough backup in protecting the governor and city from the ground, while Octa contacted sufficient reinforcements amongst the company leader’s allies and friends in ensuring Concord Dawn was guarded from Neo Death Watch and Sith reprisals.

Eyeing his timepiece, Akku noted that only fifteen minutes remained before the scheduled duel was set to begin, and there was still no sign of Rhal or any of his retainers. And with all the HoloNet news stations set to cover the broadcast, with the entire planet watching, if anyone tried an underhanded measure, it would be transmitted all over Mandalorian Space in a matter of hours and cripple the offender’s faction.

Suddenly, seeing several Mandalorian-armored individuals bearing Neo Death Watch markings approach, either by jetpacks or emerging from several establishments, Akku first assumed Rhal had come or was making his cowardly bid for power. But something was off to the long serving veteran in these new arrivals; the way they carried themselves, their weapons of choice and the equipment they utilized, it all screamed ‘Sith’ to the longstanding friend of the Jedi.

Quietly and discretely contacting his teammates through his helmet’s built-in comm systems, Akku warned everyone, “Heads up. We’ve got at least seven Sith joining the party on my end, all disguised as part of Rhal’s backup. Keep an eye out for more.”

“Acknowledged.” Octa calmly responded from her post. With her vast experience in starfighter combat since her service in the Yuuzhan Vong War, the Jedi Council member was chosen to lead the Protectors’ squadrons of Fang Fighters, a great measure of trust for the warrior culture. “Our help is inbound and will be in position in less than twenty minutes.”

“Stow the chatter, everyone.” Jaing ordered. “Rhal’s warship is breaking orbit, and his people’s shuttles are converging all over the city. Looks like he’s preparing to make his big move.”

“And we’ve got eyes on the little man’s hit squads.” Ben added. “It’s just as Malincha said. All disguised as your people and heading straight to the governor’s palace. All that’s missing is Rhal himself.”

Interrupting the communication, a giant hologram of Rhal blazed to life across the city square, and it scathingly glanced to Akku before speaking, “Captain Akku Seii II. I see you were desperate enough to eliminate me that you upheld your end of this mad challenge.”

“Where are you, you miserable hut’uun?” Akku growled out to his archenemy. “Are you so afraid of dying that you refuse the chance to settle this matter with honor? Or did your Sith overlords command you to betray the creed that all Mandalorians swore to uphold?”

Chuckling at the rebuke, Rhal questioned Akku, “Is it honor that compelled you to issue your challenge, or a chance at retribution for my actions against you, family, and your company?”

Knowing a stalling tactic when he saw one, Akku dismissed, “This is not about me, aruetii. This is about stopping you and your lackies from further desecrating all the Mandalorians hold dear and having you answer for all your crimes. If you refuse to face up to all that you’ve done, then you doom your people to eternal perdition as dar’manda.”

Placing his helmet back over his head, Rhal simply responded, “I can live with that accusation, especially coming from such a Jedi-lover like yourself after all the humiliations they wrought on us.”

Ignoring the uproar those words created, Rhal continued, “I won’t let an absurd and useless code dictate my every move. Only the victors get to decide the rules, and I intend to be on the winning side in this war. And this entire planet will suffer the price for refusing the Neo Death Watch’s offer when they had the chance.”

Ten lightsabers igniting amongst the crowd and the horrendous sound of blasters filling the air, Akku realized just how grossly everyone had underestimated their enemy.

This was going to be a long day, and it would be a Gods-ordained miracle if the plan still worked.

Two Hours Later

Despite being faced with overwhelming odds and facing off against dozens of Sith and hundreds of Neo Death Watch thugs, Kix felt more at home than he had in his year of freedom from imprisonment. Fighting alongside Jedi and their many allies to save a planet from a brutal Sith-led razing, the Clone Trooper methodically picked off one rogue Mandalorian after another while providing cover for Edaan and Allana in their close-range engagements. He especially made good use of his recent affinity with a sniper rifle alongside several of Akku’s long-range fighters and helping them seize control of the city, even sniping the head off another Sith who was too caught up in her bloodlust to watch her rear defense.

Having dispatched twenty Neo Death Watch and two Sith since the mad battle began, Kix, wearing Mandalorian armor in disguise alongside the Jedi, was certain the enemy had to be running low on manpower and ships. When Sidon Ithano and his flotilla of privateers arrived to ambush Rhal’s fleet, the traitor’s forces were stopped from unleashing their bombardment on the planet’s population centers and ensured that everyone knew just what depths their enemies would stoop to in hurting Fett’s loyalists.

The Journeymen Protectors and Fett-loyalists immediately took up arms against the secessionists and delivered a vengeful wrath on their enemies while ensuring they had no avenue of escape. And under Akku’s cool and strong leadership, the ground forces held fast and beat back the enemy’s swift onslaught.

Victory was all but inevitable now, with hundreds of Rhal’s people either dead or surrendering, but the commander and virtually all his top operatives were still unaccounted for. If the Neo Death Watch and the One Sith were still planning to send a message to their enemies, they were all but out of time now, unless they did something profoundly desperate and stupid.

Hearing Octa’s voice blare through Kix’s helmet built-in comms, the following warning nearly jolted him right off his station, “Heads up, people! We’ve got a barrage of missiles from Rhal’s flagship heading for dozens of targets across the region! Ithano and Akku’s ships and fighters are moving to intercept, but we need to protect the surrounding area immediately!”

“Afraid there’s more bad news to come!” Tyria called out. “Looks like both the Rhals have just personally entered the fray along with the rest of their Sith backup, and they’re heading straight for the governor’s position.” Knowing how the planet’s governor, a man of action and renowned for leading from the front lines by example, attacking him now was simply a desperate move to humiliate Fett’s supporters and cripple the planet’s command structure and agricultural capabilities. But if it worked, then the damage to the Protectors would be severe and embolden all their enemies

“Don’t worry about Belok and Sora.” Allana replied. “Edaan and I can help Jaing take them down. You just focus on stopping the missiles.”

“No.” Akku intensely interrupted. “Let me deal with the Rhals alongside Ben. You help Jaing and the others protect the governor from the Sith. I’ve got some old demons to work out of my system.”

“Agreed.” Jaing immediately complied, before ordering, “Tyria, get to your Fang Fighter and help the squads shoot down the enemy missiles. The rest of us will mop up the fight down here and make sure the enemy doesn’t get what they’re after. I don’t care how you do it, but we’re not going to let this world fall today.”

Well, there’s never a dull moment.’ Kix silently chuckled before following his squad to the next battlefield, hoping that they wouldn’t meet oblivion sometime throughout the next handful of hours.

Twenty Minutes Later

Sora Rhal could hardly believe how quickly this operation had deteriorated, even as she blasted away at one of the governor’s final few bodyguards. She didn’t think the Jedi and Mandalorian Protectors could work together so cohesively, nor that they could hold their own against such superior numbers and positions, but she was proven vastly wrong today. It would have to be a lesson all the Neo Death Watch learnt quickly if they hoped to stand a chance against their many adversaries.

With all but a third of her people dead or captured, and only half of the rest able to fight their way to freedom, Sora and her father knew drastic measures would be needed to secure even a partial victory out of this debacle today. But first, the Neo Death Watch had to eliminate their primary target today before they worked to pull out, and they were running out of time. The few missiles the Jedi and Fett-loyalists couldn’t destroy were unable to inflict lasting damage on the planet’s resources, and with the orbital fleet being hammered hard by the enemy’s hired guns, there was little hope they would be able to help any further. But no matter what, there was no way her foes would take her or her father alive.

Suddenly, seeing a shadow move through her peripheral vision, Sora maneuvered out of the way from a lightsaber strike aimed to decapitate her by a beskar-armored man wielding a blue lightsaber. Preparing to take aim, she found herself held back by her father, who ordered her, “I’ll keep Skywalker busy. You just focus on finishing the mission.”

“Give him hell, buir.” Sora bade her father luck before hurrying away. But before she could get very far, she found her path blocked by three missiles that hit the area a mere few meters in front of her, a warning shot to not go any further.

“If you want to try and take out the governor, you’ll have to get past us first.” A young woman’s voice called out, making Sora raise her head to see three Mandalorians land a dozen meters away from her. Recognizing the lead one from his trademark Kaminoan skin gloves, she felt a mixed jolt of terror and eager anticipation at having to face a Mandalorian Supercommando of Jaing Skirata’s caliber.

But before she could make a single move, she heard several more jetpacks come from behind, and she turned her head to see five more Mandalorians surround her.

Before Sora could make a last stand, one Mandalorian Protector ripped off his helmet, and Akku calmly ordered everyone, “Go make sure the governor is safe. I’ll deal with Sora myself.”

“Boss-” One of Akku’s bodyguards tried, before another held out a hand in front of her, and shook their head, making the woman see the deeper need for her leader to face this woman. Nodding in understanding, she instead said, “Take her down, but don’t lose yourself in the process.”

Jetpacks blaring to life, Sora watched as they flew towards the nearby firefight, and she knew how to dispatch her target and a few other key adversaries in one single and explosive blast. Silently keying in a series of commands through her helmet’s comm systems to her remaining forces in the area, she then called out Akku, “You must be eager for a death wish if you want to face me all alone.”

“No.” Akku softly denied. “But I need to tell you something before I defeat and capture you. Your father, he made this fight far more personal to me than you could possibly realize, and I only found out yesterday how he took so much from me.”

“Eighteen years ago, your father and I were working together on taking out a band of Kalessh pirates who were cutting a terrible swath through the planet Dubrava and its surrounding worlds.” Akku began. “We were making excellent progress and had cornered them in an asteroid belt. but half my company and I were called away by Manda’lor to help deal with a dispute between him and the Mandallian Giants. That left my wife and daughter to lead the rest of my force to help take out the last stragglers.”

“Why are you telling me this now of all times?” Sora asked, bored by the sudden and irrelevant story.

“Because your father, right as my people followed his plan and drove the raiders out of hiding, he unleashed a baradium bomb he got from his underworld to eradicate everyone in his way, both the enemy and all of my family’s forces. He wanted all the money and glory for himself, so he slaughtered them all, and even killed any of his people that tried to disobey the orders and warn his targets.” Akku elaborated. “It was because of that man that I lost the people precious to me, and I only found out all the details yesterday when I interrogated your second-in-command.”

“After I found out the truth, I swore an oath to dismantle every piece of your gang of Sith pawns, and I’m going to start by dealing with you and your father.” Akku stopped to put his helmet back on before warning Sora, “But I’m going to be better than Belok Rhal, because I’m offering you one chance to surrender. One chance to atone for your crimes and desertion of the Resol’nare, and a chance to live past today. I suggest you take it now.”

Smirking beneath her helmet, Sora scoffed, “You’re an even bigger fool than I ever imagined. Why else would you waste time dithering away with talking to me about honor when you could’ve spent it trying to kill me and save your friends?”

“Because I’m not a bloodthirsty and power-hungry maniac like you and your father.” Akku pointed out, quickly adding, “And I know my friends and companions can easily defeat whatever ambush you’ve got planned for them.”

Suddenly, Sora’s comlink burst to life, with the dying screams of her compatriots filling her ears and making her shed a few tears at the familiar sound of lightsabers eliminating them, just before the comm signal cut out as abruptly as it activated.

“You’ve lost, Rhal.” Akku declared. “Now surrender, or you’ll pay for your crimes against us with your life.”

Panting deeply, steadying herself for the coming fight, Sora prepared to pull out her blaster pistol and gun down her enemy, only to be outdrawn and blasted multiple times by the Anzati fighter, each blast hitting her with the full force of a sledgehammer and pushing her onto the ground. Dazed from the attack, she heard the familiar roll of a grenade, and turned her head to see a thermal detonator appear beside her.

Unable to move away in time, Sora uttered what curses she could at Akku before the explosion consumed her and reduced her to charred flesh and bone, who could only sigh in disappointment at how poorly Belok had raised his own daughter.

Prepared to return to the fight and deal with the senior Rhal, Akku held off when Ben contacted him, “Rhal’s a slippery one, he fled when the last of his fighters were shot down and they had me preoccupied.”

After contacting his forward team and hearing their status, Akku solemnly reported back, “It’s over then. Rhal’s daughter is dead, and his forces are routed and fleeing. We did it. We saved Concord Dawn.”

Kelona 28th, 56 ABY

Wild Space, Kesh

Takara Mountains, Sith Temple

Finally, after twelve years of being ostracized and separated from her homeworld and people, Darth Kitai took a moment to enjoy the fruits of her labors for the One Sith. Every act of treachery, murder, and ruination the woman who once called herself Vestara Khai had enacted built up to this moment, and it was finally worth all the sacrifices she had made. At last, she was back home and could lead her people into a new age, with the Sith one day ruling the galaxy after the Jedi and their followers were obliterated.

Having brought the Circle of Lords into line with her resources, alliances, and the supreme might of the One Sith, Kesh was now a secure bastion of Darth Krayt, with Kitai the Grand Lady of the Lost Tribe by using her old name. From the Wild Space stronghold, the One Sith could use the world as a focal point and refuge for many of its wounded proxies and allow them to regroup, all while preparing for the inevitable day when the Jedi discovered and invaded the Sith-held planet.

But this joyous day was stymied by the bad news Mirta had to give on Belok Rhal’s failure. Hearing from the Sith-loyal Mandalorians how their plan to drive Concord Dawn into the Neo Death Watch’s arms, and how Kitai’s longtime friend believed the Jedi helped Boba Fett’s agents, it was an unsettling prospect for the Sith Lady to swallow. Knowing how deep the animosity between Jedi and Mandalorians lie, and that the Neo Death Watch’s ties with the Sith was now exposed, it was a setback Lord Krayt would be most displeased to hear.

And almost as troubling was how recklessly Rhal and his daughter had performed, along with how the latter had been killed by Akku Seii II in retribution for her father betraying his company and family nearly twenty years ago. It seemed the Sith were not the only group with a penchant for amoral betrayals of their own. The commander would have to be watched and carefully evaluated before he was given a command of any significance again.

Even more displeasing to Kitai was when Mirta reported on how Ben, her former and only true love, had helped the Fett loyalists in undoing the One Sith’s schemes. It seemed his lust for vengeance against her still drove him onward, and he wouldn’t stop until either of them was dead or captured, and that inevitability drove another terrible shard into the Sith Lady’s heart. If only Kitai could draw Ben into the Dark Side, then they wouldn’t have to be enemies anymore and could enjoy each other’s company to the fullest, maybe even start a family of their own together. But that was an impossible prospect, just as much as it would be for her to be a Jedi after her treachery against his family and the Order at the height of Abeloth’s terror campaign.

Such a heartbreaking inevitability hurt Kitai far more than she cared to admit, more than every other loss she had suffered in her twenty-eight years of living in this broken galaxy. Her parents, her best friend, all the comrades and followers of hers that were killed in one way or another, all those losses threatened to consume her. But she would not let the pain define or control her, but instead use it to push her further in ensuring that their legacies were carried out and all their sacrifices were honored. It was the least she could do to honor their will and resolve.

And yet, out of all the losses, all the deaths Kitai had wrought, she still mourned the worst of them all, the abandonment of Ben and his unconditional love, turning him into her greatest enemy and object of misery. Sure, Ship might remind her to use the pain to fuel her power in the Dark Side, but it was still more difficult to do than was advertised. Even more distressing, a small remnant of her being still yearned for Ben’s love and to atone for her many dark acts, a tiny spark of light and regret that refused to be snuffed out, no matter what she did to try and banish or eradicate it.

Well, Kitai knew that once she killed Ben, she would finally be free of these doubts and self-loathing and be able to fully commit herself to the Dark Side again. Then, and only then, would she be able to be worthy of the trust and rank Lord Krayt and the One Sith had placed in her. And speaking of the One Sith, she had to inform Lord Wyyrlok of this setback in the Neo Death Watch’s war, and the possibility of an eventual Jedi-Mandalorian Protectors alliance. That would be a prospect no one on the Sith’s side of this war ever wanted to see.

Kelona 33rd, 56 ABY

Above the World of Vorpa'ya

Aboard the Seeker

“I never thought I’d say this about Jedi, but you all fought like true Mandos back on Concord Dawn.” Jaing commended the six fighters above the dusty and overgrazed world within Mandalorian Space. Turning at Kix, Ben, and Edaan, he especially complimented them, “It’s good to know that the Jedi are learning from their mistakes and accepting help from more walks of life.”

After smoothing matters over with Fett and his inner circle on their circumventing his orders about involving the Jedi on this mission, the old mercenary had received authorization to trade all their accumulated intelligence with the Order on the Sith and Neo Death Watch in exchange for favors in arming the Mandalorian Protectors for their civil war. A difficult deal to iron out, but Jaing and Akku were nothing if not persistent and smart negotiators with anyone they worked with.

Adding a teasing glance at Allana, Jaing teased the Hapan heiress, “And I never thought I’d see a Jedi princess prove herself on the battlefield, but am I glad to be wrong there.” Seeing the icy smile the Chume’da gave, no doubt glad to be rid of her Mandalorian rival for Edaan’s affections, Jaing only laughed at the teenager’s rare breach of royal and Jedi etiquette.

Now turning to Kix, Jaing offered, “If you ever want a new line of work or want to see a slice of life outside GA territory, let me know and I’ll give you a tour of your old roots.”

Grateful for the gesture, Kix promised, “I’ll keep that in mind. But I’ve got my own commitments to honor right now.”

Glancing at Edaan, having been told of his personal mission by Akku before this whole mad mess began, Jaing acknowledged, “Well, at least you’re able to choose your friends wisely, even if some of them are stuck-up and crazy Jedi. But you let me know if you ever decide to change your mind.”

“Well, as fun as this little adventure was, we’d best get going.” Octa cordially interjected. “We’ve got reports to make and many more missions to take part in. But it’s been a pleasure working with you all.”

“Likewise.” Akku gratefully acknowledged before asking, “But if it’s all right with you, I’d like a few minutes with Jedi Palpatine and Skywalker before you all return to Shedu Maad. I have a few things to say and a bunch of goodbyes to make, and I’m sure Jaing would enjoy a few more words with Kix before we return to the war.”

Glancing at Ben, who offered a noncommitting shrug, Octa allowed, “Very well. We’ll be aboard the Raptor. Just don’t take too long. We want to be out of here before any enemies risk discovering us.”

“We’ll be quick.” Jaing promised before the three Jedi women left for their ship, Allana sparing Edaan a knowing glance, one that the Null ARC easily discerned, surprising him at how the Palpatine Jedi trusted such an avowed opponent of the Sith and would support the redemption of a nefarious Sith Lady.

Once the five men were left alone, Jaing offered, “Come on, Kix. I got a few little gifts for you. Figured that since you’re going to be fighting on the front lines again in a couple years or so, you ought to have the best tools and equipment possible for an old war veteran like you.”

With Jaing taking Kix away to get his surprise, Akku noted Edaan fidgeting a bit over his close proximity with Ben, and knew this next conversation was going to be especially awkward.

Deciding to get right to the point, the Anzati bluntly told his friend, “Calm yourself, Edaan. I think Master Skywalker already has a good idea of your goals and is mature enough to hear us out without your fear overwhelm your courage. And I already spoke with Jaing and a few members of Clan Skirata, and they’ve agreed to help you when you’re ready to go after Vestara Khai.”

Looking as if he could have a stroke, Edaan panickily glanced at Ben, who only had a solemn expression on his face as he sighed, “So, it’s as I figured, then.” Turning to stare at the Jedi Apprentice, he summed up, “You’re going to pick up where I left off and try to save Vestara from her darkness.”

“Yes.” Edaan anxiously whispered, voice rising a modicum while continuing, “I know you hate her, but I have my reasons for trying to save her, reasons I doubt you could understand. And unlike you, I’m not going to give up on her and leave her to face damnation for her choices. Not without giving it my all.”

“Calm yourself, Edaan.” Ben gently urged him, sympathetically going on, “I’m not mad or disappointed in you. I understand where you’re coming from, I truly do. It was Vestara who encouraged you to become a Jedi when you left your family on Coruscant, and that promise kept you going after all the tragedies you suffered. And unlike me, you didn’t let the pain control you and fill you up with hate, but used it as sheer resolve to push yourself to be the best you could be in preparing yourself for when you start your quest.”

“How did you… Your father told you about this, didn’t you?” Edaan warily guessed. Remembering how he spoke with Luke Skywalker over a year ago on Tatooine about his goals, and how he confided in the Jedi Master of his long-suppressed bitterness and resentment for the Skywalker family, it brought back a surge of illness into the Apprentice’s stomach from all the strong emotions he tried to release. But even though he urged the Skywalker elder to keep quiet, he never got an assurance from him. A mistake he should have accounted for long ago.

“I asked him about it after your seminar on Tatooine last year, yes, but Akku first clued me in after we liberated Zygerria, and I kept an eye on you afterwards. In hindsight, it was painfully obvious if I looked deep enough. I have to give you credit for concealing your goals for so long.” Ben casually admitted.

Feeling betrayed by his longtime friend, Edaan angrily glared at Akku, who only shrugged before acknowledging, “You have just cause to be angry with me if you wish, my friend. But know that I only did it to get Ben to see the folly of his hatred for Vestara, and to have the two of you work together in your shared goal when the time comes.”

“Right now, Vestara is committing countless atrocities for the One Sith, and is driven by anger, loneliness, and bitterness. It would be a miracle if she could return to the Light and atone for her sins, but that is what you two have been known to do in your many years of service to the Jedi Order.” Akku knowingly gestured to Ben and Edaan. “Unfortunately, with all the animosity between you both, that prospect is looking increasingly dim, which is why I decided to intervene in a constructive manner.”

“Edaan, just try to hear me out.” Ben implored Edaan, catching his attention, “I understand why you’re disappointed and disheartened with me. Truth be told, I’d be incensed with myself if I saw how angry and embittered as I was over the last eleven years. I let the pain define me and harden my heart in ways that betray myself and all I adhere to. It also colored my perception of you and countless others and made me go against my very nature.”

“But I was wrong, about so many things. I’m now beginning to see how mature, strong, level-headed, and wise you are becoming. And you might be able to one day lead the Jedi Order into a new era of peace and stability, a role I’d be honored to help you attain.”

Gazing at Ben as if the Jedi Master had lost his mind, Edaan carefully answered back, “Well, as flattering as your assessment is, seeking the position of Grand Master isn’t something I’m interested in for a long time. But I can concur with you on how my own perception of you was marred by your vendetta, and we can both work to help one another in our shared goal when all is said and done.”

Nodding with a renewed sense of hope, Ben approvingly noted, “Then I hope we can work together in the coming months. I daresay this alliance will be of immense benefit for all the free galaxy and those awaiting deliverance from evil.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Master Skywalker.” Edaan cautioned. “It’ll take time for us to grow accustomed to the other, and we’ll need to coordinate our efforts alongside those of the rest of the Order.” Pausing, his eyes appearing icy cold, he animatingly warned, “But let me make one thing clear. If this is a ruse or paltry attempt to co-opt my network of contacts, friends, and favors for some other cause, then I won’t be forgiving. I will make you regret the day you ever betrayed me, and make sure you pay the price for your hypocrisy and lies.”

Starting to see just how deep Edaan’s fears and anger ran within his soul, and how many naysayers feared him as the possible second coming of Darth Sidious, Ben humbly agreed, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Calming himself down, Edaan nodded and bowed before Akku, earning a genuine and loud chuckle from the Mandalorian before acknowledging, “Who would’ve thought that a few Jedi, two Mandalorians, and a Clone Trooper, six among us of distinguished or notorious bloodlines, would fight alongside each other and forge a lasting bond of friendship and camaraderie. It sounds like the punchline of a bad joke.”

“Hopefully we can build upon it into something lasting for both our peoples.” Edaan wistfully noted, nostalgically adding, “It’s strange. Ten years ago, if someone told me we’d be good friends and fighting as equals and friends in the shared cause of freedom, I’d probably die from the laughter alone. But now, here we are, and we’re making a positive difference for Mandalorian and Jedi alike. Perhaps the Force or whatever higher power exists does have a sense of humor after all.”

“If the Force truly has a will, let’s hope it’s good for us.” Ben anxiously added, conversation stopping after Jaing appeared, with Kix hoisting a moderately-sized crate on his back.

Jaing, expecting a barrage of questions, quickly answered, “I gave Kix several experimental medical supplies for his clinic, and a few armaments and schematics for the Galactic Alliance Security’s police units to bolster its forces. And I gave him the name of a GAR Republic-era military collector who’s a good contact of mine, who can give him a gift and set him up with a few martial arts trainers to prepare for his mad upcoming mission with Jedi Palpatine. If he’s going back into war, he’ll need more than his old army training to keep him alive against the vast arrays of enemies you’re all up against.”

Yet another break in the darkness for this insane galaxy.’ Edaan marveled, offering to help Kix carry the crate as the three non-Mandalorians departed the gunship. But before he finished leaving, he called out to Akku, “Make sure to give all your people my regards and apologies for not saying goodbye in person.”

“I’ll make sure Shara especially hears that.” Akku joked, earning a laugh out of Edaan at how it would get under her skin, even as he inwardly sighed at the reminder of his single status.

Although Edaan had many women fawning over him, from civilians to soldiers and even Jedi, he had not yet found a woman that made his own heart swoon. Being so driven in his mission and becoming a great Jedi left him rather inexperienced in many matters of the heart and of the opposite sex. A shame he didn’t have someone to help him with his soul’s deepest and heaviest burdens, but he knew the right girl was out there. He just needed to find her and win her heart when he met her.

Of course, all that was secondary for Edaan when compared to saving Vestara and half the known galaxy, but it never hurt to have a yearning for romance and that special woman in his life.

Chapter 15: Character Interlude #7: Master K'Kruhk (Part 1)

Chapter Text

Melona 26th, 56 ABY

Wild Space, Yanibar

Eastern Hemisphere, Zeila Plateaus

He felt the storm coming long before it reached the mountains. Being a well-seasoned traveler of countless worlds over his century-plus existence, the Whiphid knew time was running out to look for his contact. Having spent the last three days searching for the Zeison Sha acolyte across the desolate landscape, he would soon be forced to return to his ship and retreat to safer havens, unless he found her within the next two or three hours.

But the Whiphid couldn’t give up, not with the information the acolyte promised him and the supposed danger it represented for the Wild Space world and the galaxy at large. If this Dark Side phenomenon slowly seeping across the entire planet grew too potent, darker minds would soon turn their attention to this world. Whether the Zeison Sha liked it or not, it was time to stop their isolationist ways, rejoin the galaxy as full-fledged equals, and end their ancient and pointless grudge with the Jedi Order.

Instinctively sensing that this storm was unnatural in origins, the Whiphid suddenly picked up the familiar scent of blood in the air and realized that someone was injured and close by. Hurrying as fast as his bulky and Force-enhanced legs could carry him, he climbed up a plateau to a nearby cave over the mountainside and saw the injured Rodian woman – his contact, he realized- sitting beside a glowpack and clutching her bleeding side.

From what the Whiphid could immediately discern, his friend suffered from multiple deep lacerations across her side and shoulders, with severe amounts of blood splattered all over the gritty floor. To make matters worse, her gaunt face and many empty rations packs implied how she had been here for at least a week. And from the woman’s flickering presence in the Force and lack of awareness of her guest, she didn’t have much time left before she died from her wounds and malnourishment.

Acting fast, the self-exiled Jedi Master pressed a button on his wrist gauntlet, and then hurried to the woman’s side. Gently placing a hand on her forehead, he began pouring healing Force energies into her while pulling out a medkit out of his robes with his free hand. Injecting several stimulants and placing bacta patches on her wounds, he felt her start to stir, and he gently assured her, “Rest easy, Talia. You’re going to be all right. I’m going to get you out of here and back to civilization right away.”

Struggling to stay awake, Talia weakly murmured, “K’Kruhk… Need to… give you this.” Struggling to reach into her bloodstained robes, she gently placed a data chip into the Whiphid Jedi’s medkit.

Seeing the act, K’Kruhk earnestly promised, “I’ll look over it once we get you safely aboard the Wandering Pilgrim. Just rest now.”

Wearily nodding, Talia’s head rolled to a side as she lost consciousness again, but K’Kruhk knew his friend would make it through this alive now. After about fifteen minutes of waiting and applying new bandages to the Rodian’s side, he heard the familiar roar of his ship’s engines, and gently carried his patient and medkit into the armed shuttle.

Once the medical droids hooked Talia up to the appropriate life-support equipment and ordering his crew to take the Wandering Pilgrim back towards civilization, K’Kruhk took the information packet to his ship’s computer and set to work on decoding it.

After about an hour of efforts, the encryption was cracked, and what K’Kruhk discovered from Talia’s investigation deeply disturbed him. With all the information on the origins of the storms and other Dark Side activities occurring across Yanibar, it was all the proof he needed to convince the rest of the stubborn Zeison Sha to cooperate with the Jedi in combating the direct threat to them.

And it was at last time for the Clone War veteran and survivor of the Great Jedi Purge to reveal himself to the reborn Jedi Order and meet with its rising stars. It would be quite interesting for K’Kruhk to see first-hand just what Edaan Palpatine and the rest of the Jedi’s prodigies were capable of, and to see if this Jedi Order had learnt from the failings of its past iteration and its own failings in recent years. First, he would get Talia to safety and convince the Zeison Sha’s High Council to finally accept outsider help, then he would do some more scouting and fully verify his contact’s information.

Melona 30th, 56 ABY

Shedu Maad, Jedi Temple

Council Chambers

“You’ve fully verified the signal’s validity and coordinates, right?” Corran Horn asked the Jedi Master standing before the Council. After receiving a Jedi distress signal from the distant world of Yanibar last night, deep in Wild Space known for its protectors in the Jedi offshoot organization of the Zeison Sha, the Grand Master had the Temple’s best analytics decode it to ensure the message it held was the genuine article.

“Everything checks out. It’s an old code used by Jedi from the final days of the Clone War, but the message was easy enough to decipher, and its contents were quite disturbing.” Tam Azur-Jamin nodded. “If the transmission was genuine, then the Zeison Sha, much as they would hate to admit it, will need our help in expunging this influx of Dark Side energy from Yanibar.”

“But that still leaves us with several questions.” Kam Solusar cautiously pointed out. “How did the Zeison Sha come across this supposed Dark Side nexus, and who is their contact who knows old Jedi distress signals? And if we send representatives to Yanibar, we might be sending them to their doom, should this be a trap.”

“Are you suggesting we do nothing, Master Solusar?” Barratk’l, Yuuzem Jedi Master and an advocate of proactive measures of the Council, challenged Kam. “If we ignore this growing danger to the people of Yanibar, then we risk letting an entire world succumb to the Dark Side and betray our very creed.”

“Yes, but there is still the matter of how this mysterious contact knew how to reach us, and our members that they requested journey to Yanibar.” Cilghal reminded everyone. “Asking specifically for Apprentices Palpatine and Djo Solo among the representatives is a most unusual request. I believe we’d be better off sending seasoned Knights and a Master instead. If we hope to establish better relations with the Zeison Sha, we’d ought to send a proper delegation.”

Jaina Solo Fel, noting Kyle’s grim demeanor, asked her longtime friend and her predecessor to the prestigious title of Jedi Battlemaster, “You’ve been quieter than usual, Grand Master. I take it you have your own thoughts to give on the matter?”

Nodding, Kyle spoke up, “There is merit to all you are saying. If we send a team to the bastion of the Zeison Sha, an order that normally wishes nothing to do with us, it could send repercussions across the galaxy that risk everything we’ve sought to build.”

“However, if we do nothing in response to this growing danger, it is only a matter of time before the Lost Tribe or the One Sith take notice and send their own to take advantage of the crisis.” Kyle pointed out. “Therefore, I agree that we should send a team to Yanibar and attempt to open dialogue with the Zeison Sha.”

“But what of their request to have our apprentices take the lead in this mission?” Tionne Solusar patiently reminded the Grand Master. “Should we not send Jedi Knights to take charge, given the hostility our team will undoubtably face when they reach Yanibar?”

“I think we should do this one on the Zeison Sha’s terms.” Kyp suddenly spoke up, surprising everyone with his sudden remark and its atypical conceding to outside influence. “Call it a hunch, but I believe there’s more to this request than meets the eye. And our best Apprentices are more than ready to lead a diplomatic mission after all their training and experience representing our Order on the front lines.”

Before anyone could try to contradict Kyp, he continued, “That does not mean we shouldn’t send a few Knights, and perhaps a couple Masters to assist them, but we can consider this mission a test for them to see how close they are towards undertaking the Jedi Trials. And by sending our young to represent us, we’ll give the Zeison Sha a firsthand look at how we’ve differed from the Jedi Order they were on such terrible terms with. Hopefully by the time we finish our mission there, they’ll be ready to reevaluate their hardliner stance on us and move towards better relations with us and the rest of the galaxy.”

Slowly nodding an approval of Kyp’s assessment, Kyle decided, “Then you’d best figure out which of our Apprentices will undertake this mission, and who will work with them while they’re on Yanibar. You have two days before you all set out.”

“Just like that?” Kam skeptically questioned. “Are you sure this is the best course of action?”

“Honestly, I think it’s the only path we can take that doesn’t result in disaster.” Kyle forebodingly answered, sending small shivers up virtually everyone’s spines at the ominous warning.

Yelona 5th, 56 ABY

Yanibar Stratosphere

Aboard the YT-2400 Light Freighter Liberator

“Can you all feel it?” Kyp warily asked his fellow Jedi while they waited for clearance to land in Yanibar's sole spaceport. “I’ve never seen or sensed anything like this before. This expansion of darkness… it’s unnatural how fast it spread.”

While hovering above the planet for the last two hours, waiting as the planet’s customs officers searched through ship after ship to ensure that no illegal imports or fugitives made their way onto their world, the covert team took advantage of the delay by investigating the growing miasma of Dark Side energy spreading throughout the planet. Barely able to withstand the fog of power’s backlash from the probe, Jaden and Kyp, leading the eight Jedi’s efforts to learn all they could of this new phenomenon, were able to determine that the center of this force was deep within Yanibar’s eastern mountains.

Soon reeling from how virulent and entrenched it was across over half the planet’s surface, the Jedi immediately realized how desperate the situation truly was, and how they would need far more of their number if they hoped to save this distant world.

Jaden, breaking the brief layer of tension filling the ship, noted, “I think everyone can sense the danger coming from below. The best question to ask is how can we hope to combat it?”

“I doubt we can.” Allana worriedly answered. “Not without help, and that would be a vital and unlikely luxury this far from mainstream civilization and our allies.” Unless the Zeison Sha had suddenly reversed their longstanding anti-Jedi stance, the Jedi would have to either make do with the numbers they sent or call upon its friendship with other Force groups to bolster their small team of eight Jedi. And with the group forced to operate in disguise as traders looking to ply their technological goods across Wild Space to avoid arousing suspicion from the world’s wary inhabitants, they were short on options until they could meet with their supposed contacts within the isolationist Force sect.

Interrupting the tense conversation, Edaan, having put down his headset, concernedly stated, “We’ve gotten approval to land, but there might be a complication. Customs officers implied, rather strongly, that were to head directly for the Temple of Sha Kalan and meet with the Zeison Sha.”

“Did you tell them who we are?” Octa warily asked Edaan, knowing his idealistic and honest nature often led him into difficult and otherwise avoidable scenarios and dangers.

“No.” Edaan truthfully answered. “They just told us to move with all due haste and prepare to meet with our ‘elder member’ once we make it to the Zeison Sha’s main abode, and they wouldn’t say anything else about the matter.”

Gulping, Edaan anxiously added, “They also knew about the Apprentices on this mission and referenced me and Allana by name.”

The three other Jedi Apprentices grew apprehensive at the disclosure, with the sole Quarren among them, Nrin Tassel, suspiciously guessing, “Someone gave us out.”

“That can’t be.” Shiel Taan, a Togruta male and the last Apprentice among the group, ardently dismissed. “Only a few within and outside the Jedi Order knew of this mission, and all were trusted friends of us.”

Turning to the eldest Jedi among them, Octa asked Kyp, “What’s the plan here? Do we turn back for now or wait until we can get reinforcements out here?”

Running a hand through his grey hair, the elder Council member considered his options without voice, and quickly decided, “If we don’t figure out what’s going on now, if we don’t take the opportunity to forge lasting ties with the Zeison Sha, we may lose this one chance and doom this world to eternal darkness. We have to take the risk.”

Delegating orders to his fellow Jedi, Kyp told everyone, “I’m going to send a transmission to Shedu Maad. If they don’t hear from us in the next six days, then they’re to send immediate reinforcements and finish our task.”

“Why six days?” Juul, Weequay Jedi Knight and prodigy healer of the Order, concernedly asked. “By the time it takes for the Order to reach deploy another team and arrive, and at the rate this dark infection is spreading across the planet, it might not be possible to get here in time to make a difference.”

“That’s why I’m adding to the message to have the Council redeploy what teams they can spare to be on watch just outside the system.” Kyp nodded. “It won’t be easy, but Grand Master said he could spare at least twenty more Jedi Knights and a few Masters before the six days conclude.”

The added affirmation assured the rest of the Jedi, knowing that help would soon be close by if they needed, just as the ship lurched from Octa piloting the vessel down beneath the planet’s storms. And from the way the ship shook from the turbulence, everyone quickly returned to their stations preparing for a fight, only to be buffeted by a typhoon of Dark Side energy represented from the amassing storms across the region.

“Hang on, everyone!” Octa called out. “We’re all in for some rough flying until we reach the temple.”

Something was unusual about these storms, Edaan realized. How could such a heavy concentration of dark energy have been accumulated and released so quickly? The only Force presence out here was supposed to be the Zeison Sha, and for all their hatred of Jedi, they were primarily a Light Side order.

There were many questions the Jedi force had to ask their hosts on whatever information they held about this disturbing phenomenon. Of course, provided they would be given enough grace and the benefit of the doubt to speak their piece to the Zeison Sha in time to make a difference.

Deep Space, Esstran Sector

In the Nebulae of the Stygian Caldera

Aboard the CEC Consular-class Cruiser Dark Beauty

Within the ancient and natural first line of defense for the Sith worlds of old, the avowed Jedi Hunter awaited orders from her patrons on their next mission for her. Having been promised a hefty pay for simply meeting with the One Sith for this job, the onetime Jedi Youngling-turned-mercenary would have been a fool for passing up the opportunity, no matter how much the Sith unsettled her. Besides, the chance to kill more of her most hated enemies and cash in on the bounties on the Jedi Order was always a boon for Aurra Sing, and she always had a need for money in her constantly dangerous line of work.

At last, after two days of waiting, Aurra’s heavily modified ship had picked up a new signal coming out of hyperspace. And from her adequate Force Senses and well-honed instincts, she knew it was her contacts. But when her holonet transceiver came to life, she was surprised and disappointed to see a droid contacting her, a humanoid and faceless droid with four arms and having undergone extensive modifications for combat and medical purposes. She would have made a snide remark before recognizing the mechanical intelligence as a veteran of two Sith Orders and restrained herself from insulting 11-4D.

“I see your time as a fugitive yet again from the Jedi and their puppet governments has reeducated you in the art of patience, having waited this long already.” 11-4D approvingly appraised the bounty hunter. “The others should be arriving in the next few minutes. Then we can discuss the parameters and fees for each of your fellow mercenaries for undertaking this mission.”

“Anything you care to share that my late competitors don’t already know? Aurra testily asked. “If I’m going to be working with others of lesser caliber than myself, then I need to know how we’re going to be deployed against the Jedi and whoever they’re working with.”

“You’ll be sent to Yanibar,” 11-4D began, a hologram of the barren world appearing in the droid’s place. “to among other matters, investigate a sudden surge of Dark Side energy spreading across the planet and blunting the Jedi’s efforts. You’ll be accompanied by thirty Sith, and under the command of Lord Takaris Yur for the mission’s duration.”

Takaris Yur. Aurra knew that name from the wanted posters across the galaxy for one of the few surviving High Lords of the Lost Tribe of the Sith, and one of the earliest defectors to Darth Krayt’s faction after his order’s decimation on Coruscant twelve years earlier. A cautious and highly competent Sith, well versed in the lore of the Dark Side and instructing the next generation of leaders for both orders, the human was well respected by all under the One Sith’s command and under their employ.

A good choice, as far as Aura was concerned for leading this expedition. But that was not the most immediate concern she held about this mysterious mission. Yanibar was a distant world, inhabited by only the most desperate or mad to inhabit Wild Space and an isolationist Force Order that wanted nothing to do with the rest of the galaxy, especially the Jedi, having been abandoned by them over two millennia ago and nursing a hatred that could easily rival and even surpass her own.

What were the Jedi thinking, traveling to a world that all but had a death warrant on their order? Even if these Dark Side storms threatened the fools who called this planet home, the Zeison Sha would rather die than accept their help. There had to be an ulterior motive for this mission, and Aurra needed to know what it was before she committed to anything.

Before Aurra could ask any more questions, 11-4D approvingly noted, “Ah. It seems the rest of our party have just arrived. Now, you can get all the answers you wish, Lady Sing.”

Analyzing the Dark Beauty’s sensor readings to see what the droid was talking about, Aurra recognized six of the ships from her many years as a freelancer and realized that this mission was of utmost importance to the One Sith to call upon all these bounty hunters of such notorious repute. And if the Jedi undertaking this mad quest met a disastrous end, then that would be all the payment she wished, even if she would still take the credits Krayt would offer her.

Yelona 6th, 56 ABY

Yanibar, Northern Hemisphere

Within Temple of Sha Kalan

Out of all the diverse array of locations Edaan had traveled to on the Jedi’s behalf, this one had to be the most hostile he had been to so far. Combined with the Dark Side storms increasingly wreaking havoc across the entire planet and the fear and resentment that could be felt from all the inhabitants of the Zeison Sha’s primary temple, one could find more cheer in a graveyard if they so desired.

And after fifteen hours of waiting for the Zeison Sha’s High Council to meet with them, the antagonism arrayed against the Jedi was threatening to boil over into a frenzy of paranoia and aggression. The few members of the isolationist Force school that tried being friendly and curious with their distant elder order were quickly brought in line by their more orthodox peers, while everyone else gave their guests a healthy distance between them. That is, aside from those who challenged the Jedi to a bout to try and show them how inferior their ways were to the family-oriented methods of the frontier Force order.

If this was a test or an act of spite by their hosts, it was not going to end well for anyone if matters continued to deteriorate at this rapid pace. Already, all the Apprentices were bristling at the hateful accusations the Zeison Sha hurled at them, yearning to show them just how wrong they were about their guests and demonstrate the value of Jedi instruction. It was only by drawing on their calming techniques and remembering that there were more important matters to deal with that they stayed their hand. Besides, there would be other opportunities to show up these arrogant fools without risking a diplomatic incident.

Finally, an elder Zeison Sha, a Duros woman garbed in the armor of an instructor, stiffly greeted the Jedi, “The High Council will see you in their main chambers now. Please follow me and make sure not to fall behind or wander.”

Nodding at their guide, Kyp, Octa, and Jaden led the way, with everyone else following behind while taking a keen and analytical eye of their surroundings, noting the humble architecture marking this temple, but noting the stark differences between the Jedi and Zeison Sha’s main headquarters.

Unlike either the Coruscant or Shedu Maad temples the Jedi utilized, the temple of Sha Kalan was much larger and had many more amenities to accommodate the families who also called this structure home. In all honesty, this bastion of stability and life on an otherwise desolate world was almost more of a private academy than the headquarters of a religious order, and it was a curious difference for Edaan and Allana, who momentarily fantasized what life would be like if they could have had a semblance or normal life with their families while avoiding the tragedies that shaped their lives.

So enraptured in their thoughts and old regrets, both Edaan and Allana lost their way from the group, taking a wrong turn somewhere between the archives and high council’s chambers, and eventually wound up in a rather large medical bay. Seeing the many suspicious stares aimed at them by patients and doctors alike, the two longtime friends were prepared to exit when a wise and calming voice called out to them, “No, don’t leave, please. I could use a few extra hands over here.”

Seeing the origins of the voice, a Whiphid male, near the midlife point of his life cycle to the two Jedi’s keen eyes, Allana quickly saw the patient he was tending to, and gently pulled Edaan along to offer their help. Coming up to the man, the Hapan princess offered, “We can help for a little while. Just tell us what to do.”

Faintly smiling at his old friend’s gentle and caring heart, Edaan followed Allana’s lead, working alongside the Whiphid in helping change the Rodian woman’s bandages and applying a fresh set of gauze and an IV pack when instructed while the heiress kept a watchful eye on the patient’s vitals.

And throughout this assistance, somewhere in Edaan’s memory, he felt he knew the doctor from a distant point in the history books. Not many Whiphids were known to take to the art of healing, nor did they wear a straw hat like the one their new friend wore. And the Force could gently be felt emanating off the unnamed medic, helping him to suspect exactly who this man might truly be.

Before he could ask any questions to verify his hunch, the Whiphid smiled and gratefully noted, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen even one Jedi. About a lifetime ago if my memory still serves me well, and I’m glad the Order has survived and flourished after the terrible purge the Empire wrought.”

Allana, her task done of sedating the Rodian Zeison Sha, curiously asked the doctor, “Not many people out here hold a positive view of the Jedi, sir. I take it you’re a bit of an experienced traveler to make such a claim.”

“One might easily make such a guess, Allana Djo Solo.” The unnamed healer nodded before adding, “But I didn’t expect you nor Edaan Palpatine to be meeting with me so soon. I recall that your meeting with the High Council should be starting any minute now, so what are you both doing here at this moment?”

“We could ask you the same question, Master K’Kruhk.” Edaan stoically asked, seeing if the name would cause a reaction from the suspected Jedi-in-hiding, getting a knowing and approving nod and small smile from the medic before adding, “I wouldn’t expect one of the final unaccounted survivors of my ancestor’s ‘Great Jedi Purge’ to be hiding out here, of all places. How did you come to be on Yanibar?”

“It’s a rather long and tragic tale, Jedi Palpatine.” K’Kruhk eluded. “But we’ll have time to talk about my last few decades of exile after we meet up with the Grand Counselor and her other guests. I imagine they are growing rather worried about you all by this point.”

“Then while we’re walking over there, can you at least tell us what you know of these dark storms spreading across the planet?” Allana requested. “Since you’re probably the one that sent the distress signal to Shedu Maad, you must know what’s going on here.”

“Nothing good.” K’Kruhk agreed, washing his hands clean and calling two healers over to watch over his charge. “It seems that another lasting mark from Darth Sidious’s legacy has emerged, and we need to act quickly if the Jedi and Zeison Sha hope to work together in banishing this infernal darkness.”

“Tell me, what do you know of an Observatory?” K’Kruhk asked both Apprentices as he led them out of the hospital.

“Nothing good.” Edaan grimly answered. “They were Sith repositories of forbidden artifacts and nexuses of Dark Side energy that threatened to corrupt any who try to breach their chambers. Virtually every Sith Empire throughout history used them, and only a handful of them have been uncovered to this day.”

“Then you should be pleased to know that the Zeison Sha uncovered a Sidious-era one in the eastern mountains six months ago, and that’s when the storms began gathering in strength.” K’Kruhk answered. “The woman you helped me tend to, she pinpointed its exact location about three weeks ago and barely escaped with her life before I found her and brought her back here. From there, the Grand Counselor and I agreed to contact the Jedi Order and get her people the help they need in saving this world.”

“Well, given what we’ve seen and felt so far, I think it’s safe to assume that your assessment was spot on.” Allana anxiously agreed, hearing a distant rumble from thunder, and knew that time was running out for this world. Either old wounds were put aside for the greater good, or all was lost for this distant planet.

Chapter 16: Character Interlude #7: Master K'Kruhk (Part 2)

Chapter Text

Yelona 8th, 56 ABY

Yanibar, Northern Hemisphere

Within Temple of Sha Kalan

Inside the Grand Counselor’s Office

“I can see why the Jedi have placed such great hopes in you all.” Zhara Opa, Grand Counselor of the Zeison Sha, impressively noted after observing the four Jedi Apprentices demonstrate their talents throughout the last two days. “You may have a chance at helping us save our home after all.”

Having shown the Zeison Sha how well-versed the Jedi were in their respective fields, with Allana’s affinity with animals and impressive skills in combat, Edaan’s mastery with the lightsaber and the Force, Nrin’s skills as a mechanical savant and starfighter pilot, and Shiel’s abilities as a hunter and scout, they easily showed how the Zeison Sha had much to learn if they hoped to keep up with their rivals.

“I apologize for my bluntness, Grand Counselor, but is there a specific reason you had your apprentices challenge us to these competitions?” Nrin skeptically asked. “Shouldn’t we use this time to prepare for the expedition to the Zeila Plateaus and contain this Dark Side infection?”

“We can’t accomplish anything if either Jedi or Zeison Sha are suspecting a betrayal from the other or holding onto ancient baggage while forgetting what we have right in front of us.” Allana pointed out. “And by testing ourselves against the Grand Counselor’s apprentices, we’re giving both them and us a learning experience and a chance to demonstrate the merits and flaws in each of our methods.”

“A well-spoken and keen analysis, Allana.” K’Kruhk sagely nodded, having returned from tending to Talia’s fading wounds and conversing with his fellow Jedi Masters. “But we will have to cut these sessions short now. Our scans indicate that another major series of storms are amassing across the southern hemisphere, these ones far stronger and larger than any preceding tempest. They will spread across the planet by the end of the month, and we either need to cut out the source of this cancerous plague or evacuate the planet.”

Zhara, coming down to meet with K’Kruhk and the Jedi Apprentices, reminded her ally, “You know most of my people will never leave their only home. Which is why we need to move as quickly as we can from now on, and we’ll need plenty of reinforcements from your people.”

“Masters Durron and Ramis have already sent out the call for help.” K’Kruhk promised. “They’ll have fifty Jedi coming here within the next seven days, and another thirty after another three days.”

“Eighty more Jedi…” Zhara sighed. “How strange it will be to have such a mighty host of your order here after our animosity with each other.”

“You’ll find a way to calm your order’s fears.” K’Kruhk assured his friend, before asking Edaan, “Jedi Palpatine, perhaps you can help me see if there are any other friends we can call upon to help our efforts.”

Seeing that there was more to that request than K’Kruhk was letting on, Allana quickly offered, “I think we both can help, Master K’Kruhk. Edaan’s not the only one with plenty of well-established connections.”

Getting an easygoing shrug from Edaan, K’Kruhk acquiesced with a nod before asking Shiel and Nrin, “I think you can come along as well. Surely, we can get some additional insight and contacts from you and your masters, and I always enjoy speaking with young Jedi like yourselves.”

Beaming at the chance to meet with such a well-respected Jedi Master of over seven decades ago, both nonhuman Apprentices rapidly followed K’Kruhk, with Edaan and Allana anxiously wondering what the Whiphid could be up to now before catching up.

Along the way to the communications center, K’Kruhk told everyone of what he had been up to since his disappearance upon Order 66’s enactment. Following the self-sacrificial death of his longtime friend Sian Jeisel and taking eight Younglings and a masterless Padawan under his wing, they had eventually found their way to the Expansion Region world of Arkinnea and helped dismantle a refugee slaughter operation by the hateful militia. Finding allies along the way in the planet’s natives and Jedi-sympathetic officers in the Imperial Navy, the ten Jedi, along with the wandering Master Zao, rediscovered an old Jedi outpost and rebuilt it into a secret refuge for the ever-diminishing survivors of the Jedi Order.

But four years before the Rebel Alliance was ready to come into existence, the Galactic Empire and its Sith-led Inquisitors led a full-scale assault on the Hidden Temple, destroying all but K’Kruhk after three days of intense fighting, who was supposed to have been listed as K.I.A. in the Imperial’s official records.

Afterwards, K’Kruhk decided to take up the path of a wandering servant of the Force, just as Zao had done before his disappearance many years previously, dedicating himself to helping the galaxy’s inhabitants on a smaller scale, both to avoid detection and preserve some spark of the Jedi teachings across the galaxy.

K’Kruhk had done this for the last six decades and never revealed himself to the Jedi being led by Luke Skywalker, feeling that his time as one of them had concluded after the failings of the original Order. But he still wished to help them in smaller ways, which was why, two years after the Order was exiled from Coruscant, he reached out to Luke Skywalker and a few select individuals and offered them his help in rebuilding the Order’s credibility and reach across the Outer Rim, helping establish ties with many of the smaller Force sects that permeated the galaxy’s fringes.

It was this mission that eventually led K’Kruhk to Yanibar and investigate the planet’s sudden surge in Dark Side energy. Concluding his tale, K’Kruhk also admitted, “My travels also led me to many brave and stouthearted individuals and their charges. They gave me many useful pieces of information and tools so I could continue my work.”

Just as the group came to the communications center, K’Kruhk admitted, “I was also told that many of the Jedi’s rising stars were coming along well, with their drive and desire to save and honor all they cared about pushing them to be the best they could be. One Akku Seii II informed me that several of you were doing the Jedi proud, even if they have a long way to go before they can fulfill their long-awaited goals.”

Suddenly, Edaan had a sneaking suspicion on what this meeting was truly about, and Allana could sense the flicker of fear cross her friend’s face. But before either friend could try and deflect K’Kruhk’s assessment, he continued, “But I need to let you all know something. As good as you all are, whatever you may think you know as of now, it will not be enough to prepare you for the great trials you will soon face in the Observatory, and whatever else you may seek to accomplish in your storied lives.”

“When you face your demons in the Sith Temple, it will test you and determine if you have the spirit and resolve to face your demons and triumph and decide if you are truly capable of becoming the Jedi Knights everyone expects of you all.” Staring at Edaan a second longer than the others, K’Kruhk added, “I’ll speak to you all individually later, after we make it to the final outpost on our journey towards our target. For now, we have calls to make and the final stages of planning to carry out before we make our move. Once the ships are fully fueled and loaded and the storms let up enough, that is when we start our travels.”

“We will have to move quickly, for I’m sure echoes will have spread by now through the Force of the tribulations facing this world.” K’Kruhk forebodingly warned the four younger Jedi. “Others will look here to capitalize on this tragedy and the dark opportunities it and this temple provides, whether they might be Sith, or servants of even greater evils.”

“What is it you know?” Nrin warily asked.

“I can’t say I know anything for certain.” K’Kruhk answered. “Only what precious suspicions and whispers I can glean, but none of them bode well for any of us. I do know that we will need every ounce of courage, faith, and skill we can to survive what might be coming down upon us.”

Yelona 10th, 56 ABY

Yanibar’s Eastern Hemisphere

Just Beyond the Zeila Plateaus

Within the Temple of Sha Tora

Safely sequestered away in the underground outpost of the Zeison Sha, Zhara knew these electrical storms were only going to get more intense and widespread until the roots of this planet’s tumor of darkness were excised. Across the entire planet, powerful winds were starting to build up, forcing all but the most essential personnel to seek safe havens in their bunkers to wait out these terrible monsoons. Which was even more reason the isolationist Force Sect’s leader hurried to contact Shedu Maad and urge the Council to accelerate the redeployment of their promised Knights and Masters. It was strange for her to consider how far she had diverted from her people’s traditions and her previous stance, but the Force was believed by some to have a sense of humor.

Having grown up her whole life among the Zeison Sha and being a studious learner, Zhara wholeheartedly believed the Zeison Sha’s distorted tales of the Jedi and how they were thought of as baby snatchers and elitist snobs who looked down on everyone below them. Not even the Jedi’s role in ending the Empire’s dominion over the galaxy was enough to help turn her beliefs around. But when the Yuuzhan Vong invaded the galaxy, and the Peace Brigade was desperate or insane enough to ally with them and sell out not just the Jedi, but so many of their fellow citizens and worlds to the genocidal invaders, that was when the seeds were sown.

While most of the Zeison Sha were content to sit out the war and celebrate the Jedi’s losses and strife, Zhara was among the vocal minority to advocate for intervention against this massacre, knowing that if the Yuuzhan Vong won the war, it was inevitable that they would turn their bloodlust on the few worlds that actively sat out the war and make them a part of their dark empire. But the Grand Council of the time, blinded by their hubris and outdated traditions, refused and all but excommunicated the interventionists from the order until they recanted.

After the Yuuzhan Vong were defeated and exiled, and the Jedi set to work on helping knit the fractured galaxy back together, it was then that Zhara realized just how wrong the Zeison Sha were on their outlook on the Jedi and life. After two millennia of holding onto ancient bitterness and stagnant customs, it had left them at least as bad off as the previous Jedi Order before the Great Jedi Purge decimated it. And if another enemy like the extragalactic invaders appeared to threaten the galaxy, then her order had to adapt and grow to avoid making the same mistakes.

Steadily climbing the ranks of the Zeison Sha while keeping Zhara’s ears open to the changing currents of the greater galaxy, she was disheartened to see the galaxy squander its fragile unity and the Jedi grow more centralized and dogmatic. But this time, she refused to give up hope and began building contacts and subtly changing the minds and hearts of a few of her fellow acolytes to be more openminded, all for preparing for the day when she could make this moment a reality.

Finally able to speak with the Jedi Council on Shedu Maad, thanks to the signal boost from their ships that were now in orbit, Zhara quickly laid out the situation for her home planet. Concluding her impassioned speech, she implored the Council, “We need those reinforcements soon, or all will be lost for my people and our home. How much longer until your people arrive?”

“Three days, at the bare minimum.” Kyle regrettably answered, before carefully answering, “But there is a way to get them here much faster, even though it is a dangerous maneuver.”

“What are you talking about?” Zhara suspiciously asked.

“We can get them here in a day, two at the most, but they will have to open a wormhole in space to get it done.” Kyle elaborated, drawing in several concerned glances from his fellow Council members before he continued, “It’s an advanced Force technique that few have used throughout the eras for its destructive potential, but it can bring the first wave of our reinforcements to you in a matter of hours instead of days. They’ll need to find a remote sector of space to use, and then another few hours to recuperate from such a taxing maneuver. But they’ll be able to help Yanibar in a time frame around twenty-four hours instead of about four times that amount.”

“If you had this technique, why didn’t you use it in the first place?!” Zhara anxiously demanded, her anger nearly reaching its boiling point from this vital secret.

“Because this ability was the foundation for Darth Sidious’s Force Storms that ravaged the galaxy when he led the Dark Empire against the New Republic.” Tionne anxiously added. “It’s not something we want our enemies to have common knowledge of.”

Calming her raging fire upon realizing the gravity of this Force ability, Zhara stiffly asked, “Can it be done?”

“We’ll see to it, even if I have to twist some arms and make a few threats about it.” Kyle earnestly promised, surprising Zhara with the intensity and honesty of his vow. “How are things otherwise going on your end?”

“Your Jedi are performing well enough so far. No fights have broken out and they’ve kept the peace excellently. But the true test of this alliance will begin tomorrow morning after we set out for the Sith Observatory. It’ll be an 18-kilometer journey to the base of the mountain where the storehouse resides, and we’ll have to take armored shuttles to even hope of reaching our destination since these storms are wreaking havoc on virtually all our electrical systems.” Zhara listed off.

“Then we should dispense with the small talk and return to our respective duties.” Kyle nodded in farewell. “Good luck to you all.”

“I thought you Jedi don’t believe in luck.” Zhara joked before the transmission cut out from the electrical fluctuations, with the entire generator for the outpost nearly going out altogether. Sighing, she knew they would have to move up their timetable and leave the moment the ships were fully fueled, and the storms let up long enough for the Jedi and Zeison Sha to begin their journey.

Yelona 12th, 56 ABY

Yanibar System

Aboard the Republic Sienar Systems Sith Infiltrator Scimitar

Activating the Scimitar’s cloaking device, upon exiting hyperspace, 11-4D was momentarily taken aback by the incredible storms that were slowly spreading across Yanibar. Like a swarm of insects bent on devouring everything in their path, the pure black clouds were blanketing the planet with their destructive power, and this storm was making it all but impossible for the One Sith to sense their opposition and primary target.

But Takaris Yur, a former Sith High Lord of the Lost Tribe before joining the One Sith, for a man who long immersed himself in the Dark Side and instructing its willing acolytes in its great and numerous nuances, it was a task he was eager to accomplish. Coordinating with the thirty Sith under his command and working with the bounty hunters Darth Krayt employed to help with this endeavor with their advanced technology, it didn’t take too long for the group to pinpoint the source of these storms and learn that the Jedi had already reached their destination ahead of their adversaries.

Breaking his meditations, Takaris ordered 11-4D, “Get us as close as you can to the heart of the Zeila Plateaus. That will be where we find the Observatory.”

“Then I suggest you strap in for more than a fair share of turbulence in these travels.” 11-4D warned Takaris. “According to the news stations still broadcasting below on Yanibar, there are winds of up to 120 miles per hour, and storms and lightning strikes wreaking havoc all over the planet.”

“We can survive the storms.” Takaris assured the droid. “The Dark Side and these ships’ technological marvels will see to that.” Knowing how each of these Sith-owned or allied vessels were equipped with countless customizations and bore hundreds of modifications to make them more lethal and versatile than anyone else’s ships, they would easily be able to make it down to the planet soon enough.

Remembering who was accompanying the Sith on this mission, Takaris knew he shouldn’t worry about them. With seven elite Jedi hunters and mercenaries that included Soonpaa Bane, son of infamous Clone War-era bounty hunter Cad Bane; Aurra Sing, failed Jedi Youngling and highly experienced bounty hunter in all manner of missions; Meeka, Farghul bounty hunter and longstanding advocate of Jedi hatred; Black Krrsantan, Wookiee exile and vicious gladiator and mercenary; and Rav, a Feeorin pirate lord who also specialized in drawing in all manner of underworld scum to his side, including the last two mercenaries of the One Sith’s outside help, coupled with the Sith Lords and Ladies commanding this force, it should be a simple enough mission.

But ensuring whether the Sith could survive against the Jedi and the wild power of whatever caused these storms, that would be another matter entirely. Something about these storms, their ferocity and power, it was familiar to Takaris. It reminded him too much of the destruction of Tahv when Abeloth unleashed her power on its unsuspecting denizens and annihilated millions of Lost Tribe Sith and citizens, a traumatic experience he never wanted anyone to undergo ever again. Just thinking of the long-dead monstrosity nearly enraged the Sith instructor, and he forcibly calmed his roaring blood before he contacted all ten other ships of this strike force.

Well, ruminating on the past and possible future wouldn’t do anyone any good now. Right now, the Sith needed action and decisive leadership, and it was time for Takaris to step up and see what his training could truly accomplish for the Dread Lord and his Grand Design.

“All ships, start your approach.” Takaris ordered. “Remember to keep a sharp eye out on the weather, stick close to the ground once we reach the mountains, and keep an eye out for your wingmen. We’ll need everyone’s best efforts to survive these storms and triumph against the Jedi and locals.”

With that, the thirteen corvettes that carried ten times that number of people aboard began their approach, careful to avoid tipping off the few sentries left behind but quickly enough to avoid the risk of being detected by any potential Jedi that might be arriving any hour. Thanks to the One Sith’s moles in the Jedi Order, they knew eighty of their enemies’ number would soon be arriving any moment now, and Takaris and his team needed to be in and out of the system before they made it through the storms and swarmed over the Sidious-era temple. A difficult task, but he knew the Sith were supposed to thrive under hard circ*mstances, and it was now his chance to demonstrate that simple tenet.

Yanibar Surface, Zeila Plateaus

Within the Sith Observatory’s Foyer

“Are you faring all right down here, Edaan?” K’Kruhk quietly asked the Palpatine Jedi as the human wiped his forehead clean of the sheen of sweat that had formed while helping the Jedi-Zeison Sha group navigate the Observatory’s underground tunnel network.

After traveling the first fourteen kilometers of the journey from Sha Tora aboard K’Kruhk’s personal vessel, the Wandering Pilgrim had been forced to make an emergency landing yesterday in a series of caves near the base of a mountain. Having hunkered down to wait for a break in the storms, Kyp and Edaan had heard a dark and silken whisper in the Force, recognizing the ancient Sith tongue and uncovering a secret entrance to a tunnel network that, according to the probe droids they sent in to verify their suspicions, could lead directly to the Sith temple buried in the heart of this mountain.

After a day of intense hiking, navigating the tight corners and turns of the corridors, and fending off whatever flying creatures that called this place home while being mutated by the Dark Side energies exuding from the Observatory, they had reached their destination.

But that was only part of the journey, for they had to contend with the temple’s outer layer of defenses in a sacrificial altar that demanded blood from a willing soul, enough to cost them their life. Fortunately, no one had to make the unholy bargain, for everyone was willing to provide their fair share of blood to bypass the sanctum’s first barrier.

On the other hand, the efforts had not been without cost, since Nrin was nearly torn apart by several Hssiss dragons that guarded the main entrance and was being escorted back to relative safety by three Zeison Sha acolytes, and the rest were struggling against the Dark Side eddies coursing through this terrible shrine of evil.

“Can’t complain, really.” Edaan exhaustively replied, his halfhearted answer earning a skeptical gaze from the eldest Jedi Master of the group. Having fallen behind from the rest of the task force of Jedi and Zeison Sha, nearly at the Sith temple’s entrance, the young human felt as if his head would soon split in two from the darkness trying to seep its way into his mind and soul.

“Unlike your ancestor, you’re a terrible liar.” K’Kruhk observed. “I can see how deeply this place is affecting you, and I wanted to offer you the chance to stand guard outside if you desire. After all you’ve done, there is no shame in turning back now.”

“I appreciate the kind gesture, but I can’t give up now, Master K’Kruhk.” Edaan politely declined. Lifelong goals aside, the sole Palpatine heir knew he owed it to himself to face his demons and prepare himself for the trials that would come from his personal quest and the coming wars. Not only would he be letting down all those who put so much effort and time into training him, he would be letting himself down and abandon all the progress he made in making himself a young man his family could be proud of.

“There’s an entire planet depending on us, and I can’t let my pain and fears distract me from doing what’s right.” Edaan resolved, shakily rising to his feet. “It’s not what I was raised or trained to do, and it’s not what I believe in either.”

Your unyielding spirit is admirable, Edaan, but it will not be enough to protect you from the dangers and tests you must face in that temple.’ A familiar and serene woman’s voice spoke up, before her spectral image appeared, and Edaan immediately recognized her as Meetra Surik, one of his deceased Jedi teachers and the legendary Jedi Exile and restorer of the Order after the Old Sith Wars of four thousand years ago. Seeing her in her Jedi robes, her white hair barely reaching beyond her neck, and her blue eyes carefully evaluating him, he bowed before her in full respect.

K’Kruhk, observing the spectral form of a Jedi heroine floating before him, remembered how he heard from Luke Skywalker on Edaan’s many gifts, realized how the former Grand Master hadn’t exaggerating at all, especially not on the six dead Jedi who mentored him in many advanced Jedi arts. Bowing with admiration and humility before Meetra, he greeted, “It is an honor to meet you, Master Surik.”

Warmly smiling at K’Kruhk, Meetra graciously returned the bow, “The honor is mine, Master K’Kruhk. But we have little time to stand on ceremony or compare our lives and travels now. I do not have much time before I have to retreat from this dark miasma, so we must be quick.”

“There is a greater power at work here, guiding these unnatural storms and drawing in foul individuals, all of whom permeate a strong connection to the Dark Side.” Meetra warned. “This fell force is making it difficult to communicate with you, and it seeks a confrontation between Jedi and Sith. Though why, neither I nor the rest of your teachers cannot determine the reason.”

Her ghostly form starting to fizzle out, Meetra warned her student, “Be wary, Edaan. Trust very little you see in that temple, but instead trust your own strengths and the bonds you’ve forged with others. That will be the key to saving this world and escaping with your soul and mind intact.”

Seeing Meetra’s ghost vanish entirely, Edaan regrettably sighed and, after taking a gulp of water from his canteen, biting into a ration pack, and picking back up his supplies, ruefully noted to K’Kruhk, “Well, I guess we can assume we’ll be getting some unwanted guests soon. We’d better get moving before it’s too late”

“Yes.” K’Kruhk solemnly agreed. Realizing nothing could dissuade Edaan now, and that time was of the essence in cleansing this temple, the long serving Jedi Master vowed to do what he could to watch over all four of the Apprentices working with him as they hurried to catch up to the others. He would not lose another good soul to the Dark Side if he could help it, not after losing Sidirri to her inner rage and the rest of his students to Darth Vader and his Inquisitors.

If the Sith - Lost Tribe, One Sith, The Nihil Retreat, or an odd mix of all three - came here in strength, then they would find more than they bargained for in facing the combined might and resolve of the Jedi and Zeison Sha. K’Kruhk, Zhara, and the others would all see to that and bring home as many of their charges as they could. It was their duty to the orders they all served, the peoples they pledged to protect, and a greater duty to the Force itself.

Yelona 13th, 56 ABY

Within the Observatory’s Meditation Chambers

Everyone still able to fight could feel the oppressive pall of the Dark Side threatening to overwhelm their senses and penetrate their very cores. With searching the Observatory’s corridors and stores to try and determine what the source of the last twelve hours, the Jedi-Zeison Sha group found itself being pushed to its limits. Surrounded by the unseen and hateful hand that guided this terrible power, virtually all the Light Siders were barely able to stand and continue their hunt for the core of this terrible power.

Out of the forty Jedi and Zeison Sha that remained in fighting shape for this mission, only a quarter of them were still considered capable of tracking down the origins of this Dark Side sickness, the rest incapacitated or simply unable to continue onward. And even then, just six of the group were able to do more than will themselves forward and keep in contact with the rest of the team. Only Kyp, Zhara, K’Kruhk, Jaden, Allana, and Edaan could sufficiently withstand the oppressive power of this place to continue the hunt. It seemed each of their past traumas or brushes with the Dark Side were a blessing in quite an unexpected way.

Past benefits and perseverance aside, the darkness permeating the temple was still nearly too much for the six to bear, and each of them were suffering from mild hallucinations, all derived from a personal experience or loss that only proved how a sentient mind was controlling this influx of terrible power. Whether it was Kyp Durron’s unwitting murder of his brother and the destruction of the Carida System, Zhara’s past apathy and hatred of the Jedi, or Allana’s terrible longing for her fallen father, everyone was enduring a terrible trial that pushed them to their psychological limits.

But for Edaan, an additional experience was currently underway, one that he could not discern nor block out. Throughout his exhaustive search, he could have sworn he heard the voices of people familiar and unknown to him, accompanied by visuals that were so vivid, they could almost be considered visions from the Force if he wasn’t in the heart of a domain of evil steeped in the Dark Side.

In one instance, Edaan was on a world strong in the Dark Side, facing off against Vestara Khai and many of her Lost Tribe Sith while desperately battling to save his ultimate target’s soul. In another, he was in the heart of a wild jungle while furiously dueling against another Sith, this one encased in Yuuzhan Vong Vonduun crab armors while wielding two lightsabers as the planet’s landscape fell beneath the lava bursting out from the planet’s crust. The Sith were on the rise, and the Jedi had to be ready to meet the darkness head on with light and life to ensure something was left worth saving of this war-torn galaxy.

But in the next vision, he was on a barren world, facing monstrosities he couldn’t even identify that could only have been borne of the Dark Side itself, and were being guided by a demoness who had a presence he remembered all too well from her devastating work on Coruscant, and its meaning couldn’t be clear to the Palpatine heir. Abeloth was set to return, and if the glimpses the Force gave him were any indication, her revival would herald in a war more sinister and terrifying than any this galaxy had ever seen.

His mind nearly snapping from what was whirling around in there, he was able to glimpse one final vision before he finally lost consciousness. He saw himself, as a leading figure on Coruscant and across the galaxy, guiding everyone towards an everlasting era of peace and liberty, knitting together a galaxy broken by fighting and devastation that had defined a cycle since the dawn of known time. That glimpse of what might be, coupled with the sage and wizened voice of an elder man calling out for him, both confused and comforted him before he felt his mind vanish from his body entirely. Wherever he was going, he was sure off in a hurry, and he hoped it would not be a long journey back and forth, especially if the Sith were closing in on this location.

Chapter 17: Character Interlude #7: Master K'Kruhk (Part 3)

Chapter Text

Yelona 13th, 59 ABY

Yanibar, Zeila Plateaus

Aboard the Dark Beauty

Barely able to navigate her ship through the electrical storms and tornado-like winds blanketing the planet, Aurra cursed herself for ever coming to this desolate world to begin with. Having nearly lost control of her prized vessel seven times while closing in on the One Sith’s prized target, the bounty hunter knew the strike force had to land soon before the Dark Side-generated squalls completely overwhelmed their resolve and destroyed them all. And with the dozens of Jedi beginning to swarm over the planet to try and counter this miasma of energy from whatever Sith artifacts Sidious left behind, this place was about to become quite popular with a lot of powerful people and organizations.

“Stay in formation, everyone.” 11-4D ordered each of the ships. “We’ve found a series of caves just outside the main mountain where our scans indicate a hidden passageway. We’ll land down there and begin our approach.” Hearing the medical droid’s stoic voice over the comms, it made Aurra so enraged that she’d almost bash her head against her console and fly into the mountainside itself if given the chance. How could anyone stay so calm with the monsoons and cyclones devastating the surface, and the roaring screams that were giving life to darkness incarnate? If she was faring so poorly with her rudimentary training in the Force, she could only imagine how the actual Sith in this team were suffering right now.

After six hours of penetrating the planet’s atmosphere, and another eight reaching and navigating the Zeila Plateaus, Aurra could only imagine how everyone else was holding on, with two of Rav’s corvettes ripped apart just trying to breach Yanibar’s atmosphere, and another one lost from the engines catching debris of some kind. It was only through the Sith’s command of the Force, coupled with several unique and Force-based technological prototypes that anyone was able to make it at all. A narrow miracle to be sure, but the forty extra hired guns would’ve been quite useful when entering the Observatory and eliminating their adversaries.

But the thought of going up against the Jedi again after so long, a chance to seek retribution again for the injustices heaped on her as a child so very long ago while getting paid a queen’s ransom, stayed Aurra’s hand just enough to keep her approach relatively even. Finding the caves 11-4D spoke of after five minutes of searching, she was impressed with how the refuge was exactly as the droid spoke of it, which made her wonder just how long Darth Krayt truly knew about this observatory and why he chose now to go after it just as the Jedi were. Well, if she managed to survive this mission, she would have to be far more selective of her contracts from the Sith and increase her premiums for all missions going forward.

Unloading her gear, Aurra was armed with enough weapons and gear to outfit a squad of Stormtroopers. And she noticed that all her fellow surviving freelancers shared a similar strategy, each armed with their weapons of choice and several alternatives that suited their wide range of talents. Even the Sith carried a blaster or two, coupled with other melee weapons besides their lightsabers. It seemed the One Sith believed in having backups beside their traditional weapons, a sure sign of progress and adaptability that the Jedi had yet to properly grasp.

After Takaris Yur debarked from the Scimitar, fully armed and bearing an air ready for battle, Aurra knew the real work was about to begin, with everyone knowing time was crucial, and they already received the final briefing an hour before reaching Yanibar. And the closer they all reached the epicenter of this darkness, the harder it got to focus on practically anything. No matter how this mission might turn out, no one would emerge whole from this entire ordeal, even if they survived the next few days at all.

Ah well, it would make for an entertaining massacre and leave a strong blow against the Jedi, always a good thing for the self-proclaimed “Bane of the Jedi.”

Twelve Hours Later

Yelona 14th, 56 ABY

Sith Observatory, Main Hold

“The Sith are almost here, and it looks like they brought a professional army’s worth of help with them.” Allana anxiously warned Octa and Zhara, hearing from the scouts outside the temple. “We won’t be able to hold them for very long.”

With the Jedi and Zeison Sha working together across the planet, albeit with the reluctant latter’s help at the insistence of their Grand Counselor, they were beginning to combine their efforts in repelling the encroaching storm of Dark Side energy and push back the energies to its source. Pooling their energies together to create a Wall of Light, both Force Orders were making steady progress in protecting the remaining settlements and cities across the planet and allowing for mercy missions to com pouring in with relief supplies.

And with the subtle efforts of the Jedi empowering their compatriots still within the Sith temple, the ground teams were able to resume their search, finding a wide array of Dark Side artifacts and ancient weapons of war that Sidious hid away from any prying eyes. Along with technology none of the group could recognize, there were old schematics and artifacts that radiated power unlike anything they had seen or felt before. And yet, there was an insidiousness about it that surpassed all but the most powerful and demonic of all the Sith Lords that came before. From what writings and data logs the slicers had been able to decipher or decode, they were of a power he couldn’t control, and was barely able to contain in this mountain and all its safeguards.

Whatever the Banite Sith Emperor held in here, Sidious did not want anyone other than himself ever getting his hands on it and employing its boundless power. But that left the question of just how this crisis started in the first place, and who triggered this madness. The Lost Tribe or One Sith seemed to be the most probable suspects, but most doubted they had the power or willingness to trigger a catastrophe of this magnitude. Someone else had to be involved in all this, and whoever they were obviously has immense reach and power to accomplish this, but were operating in the shadows unseen, hidden from everyone’s sight and testing its strength, unknown to anyone who now walked these Sith-built halls.

But this was a problem for later if anyone opposing the Sith managed to survive their upcoming siege. And two of the Jedi and ten Zeison Sha were still incapable of fighting them in their weakened or unconscious state. Even with the healers working to rejuvenate them, or in Edaan’s case, awaken him from his Force-induced coma, progress was moving too slow. Something drastic needed to be done before time completely ran out.

Octa, considering all options in a mere flicker of moments, nodded before her comlink chimed, and K’Kruhk’s voice immediately spoke, “Edaan’s beginning to stir. But I need Allana’s help to accelerate his recovery. For what I’m about to attempt, I’ll need a powerful anchor to find my way back to my corporeal form, and it has to be someone our friend shares a powerful bond with.”

Glancing at Octa with a pleading expression, Allana received an affirming nod before she spoke into the comlink, “I’m on my way.” Rushing towards K’Kruhk’s position with all the speed her exhausted legs could muster, the Chume’da hoped she would be able to make a difference in saving her longtime friend.

Within Edaan’s Subconscious Mind

Within the darkness of his own mind, Edaan Palpatine slowly walked in the empty landscape, contemplating all he saw within the Dark Side nexus, and wondering if they were truly visions from the Force itself or simply hallucinations meant to deceive him. Recognizing his borderline obsession to save Vestara Khai from her own darkness, it was entirely possible the Jedi Apprentice was being misled by this dark fortress’s energies and his own doubts and fears.

But if he was being manipulated by the Sith-induced energies, then why did Edaan see himself facing off against hordes of unidentified Sith Lords and Abeloth’s abominations on worlds he had not journeyed to up to this point? What possible lesson could his masters or the Celestials be trying to teach him through this terrible ordeal?

The greatest lessons are often those one does not foresee or expect, young Jedi Palpatine, but what the Force and higher powers decide to test us with.’ A wizened and sage old voice echoed throughout the mindscape, before the area morphed into that of a monastery, with a giant chamber with that of a single inhabitant housed within, meditating before Edaan.

Seated in a kneeling position was an ancient man with a long, neatly braided beard. He wore rich silvery-gray robes with gold trimmings with a matching hat. Opening his eyes, the old man revealed his bright silvery-blue eyes to the Jedi Apprentice. They held boundless power within them as he inspected Edaan, but the young human somehow knew the being from somewhere in his distant memories.

“I do not have much time to speak, so I must speak plainly and to the point. I am Elegast, better known as the Father, the Celestial of what you know of the family that was called ‘the Ones.’” The ghost spoke to Edaan, making him kneel before one of the architects of the universe and the primordial emblem of the Balance between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force.

Remembering the Celestial from Edaan’s lessons under the Jedi, and knowing how the Father died during a tragic series of events triggered by the arrival of Anakin Skywalker on his refuge of Mortis, along with his entire family in the Daughter and Son, the avatars of both sides of the Force itself, were all killed, the Jedi apprentice reverently whispered, “What do you wish of me?”

“To rise and listen to my warnings with an open mind and heart.” The Father passionately implored Edaan. “You, much like the Skywalkers since Anakin, have been burdened with a mighty destiny and great and powerful bloodline, and both your clans will shoulder the fate of not just this galaxy, but of virtually all reality in the coming trials. Against the remnants of my fallen brethren, the galaxy must be united, and you will play a key role in making this so.”

“You and your kin will be harbingers of great change and chaos, but also of hope and redemption for a great many.” The Father continued. “As to your ultimate fate, as that of all those who share in your legacy are still unclear to me and those that I once served in the realm of the living.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Edaan hesitantly asked. “What do I have or what did I do that warrants such faith by such mighty souls?”

“I cannot speak on behalf of the Supreme Maker, the creator of all that is good and noble in this plane of reality.” The Father shook his head. “But I know that he sees much potential in you and wishes you to be the best you can be not merely for yourself, but for all those that you have connected with in your storied life.”

“And make sure to take comfort in the knowledge that you will not have to carry this immense burden on your own, for you have assembled an impressive team for your mission of salvation for Vestara Khai. For with the addition of K’Kruhk in your ensemble of friends and allies, you will soon have everyone you need for this quest of yours.”

“All that remains is to find one more member, the woman who will claim your heart and save you when you are at your lowest point.” The Father smiled in mild amusem*nt at how flustered and discombobulated Edaan grew at the disclosure, having not interacted with mortals in such a manner for many eons. Gently placing a hand on his shoulders, the entity who once called himself Elegast told the human, “You have to go now. Your friends are calling for you, and they will need your help in repelling the Sith and dispelling my fallen wife’s storms. We will meet again, and by then, the galaxy will be a very different place for everyone.”

Gasping at the warnings of the Sith bearing down upon Yanibar and trembling at the horrific realization that Abeloth’s spirit was still active and wreaking chaos across the galaxy, Edaan was prepared to ask more questions before he found himself flung back into his body. But before he awoke, the Father faintly called out to him, “If you hope to survive past the day, see what you can do in utilizing the fortress your ancestor created for your people’s defense, and beware the Servants of Chaos and the True Sith Empire that will soon bear down upon you all.”

Awakening with a startled gasp, Edaan sharply bolted up, only being held down by a firm and furry hand before realizing where he was again. Panting furiously while trying to regain his bearings, he run a hand through his sweaty forehead, and sensed the once-oppressive darkness beginning to recede. Seeing K’Kruhk and Allana kneeling beside him and gently removing an IV pack from his arm, he used a Jedi calming technique to calm his racing heartbeat to more normal levels, and tiredly asked, “How long was I out?”

“A full day.” Allana answered, her voice filled with relief and joy at her longtime friend awake again. “You’ve missed out on quite a lot, Edaan.”

“I have a feeling Edaan knows more than we believe.” K’Kruhk interjected, seeing a weary but knowing glance in the young man’s eyes, asking him, “What did you see in your coma?”

Struggling to determine just how to break this news, Edaan decided to go for the direct approach, grimly answering, “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I had a vision of meeting the Father from Mortis, and he told me of the Sith bearing down on us, and the coming return of Abeloth. Apparently, she’s the one responsible for these infernal Force Storms, aided by another faction of Sith beyond that the Lost Tribe or One Sith.”

Briefly startled into silence by the disclosure, K’Kruhk gently nudged Allana out of her fear-induced state, and instructed Edaan, “Speak to no one else about this for now. Once we drive the Sith back and get back to the Sha Kalan, we can discuss what you saw in your visions in full detail. Make sure to commit everything to perfect memory.”

“That won’t be as easy as you believe, Master K’Kruhk.” Allana reminded him before explaining for Edaan’s benefit, “We’ve got a war band of Sith and almost a hundred of their hired guns bearing down on us, and we’re trapped with no way out.”

“Then we need to see what we can do to take over the Observatory’s defenses and turn them against our enemies.” Edaan answered, adding in response to his two fellow Jedi’s bewilderment, “That’s what the Father suggested in my vision.”

“Well, maybe we can try another angle with that idea.” Allana suggested the beginnings of a plan coming together in her mind. “All that matters now is keeping these artifacts out of the wrong hands. And if we can destroy them, along with this entire temple, we can trap and entomb any survivors inside, all while we escape through the temple’s backdoor. We take out the source of this storm, and it should dissipate and deny all the treasures and power inside to anyone.”

And people say I’m a crazy risktaker.’ Edaan gaped at the daring and creativity of his friend’s plan. Seeing K’Kruhk strongly consider the idea, he pointed out a glaring flaw in the gamble, “And just how do we expect to escape the explosion when we’re trapped within the heart of a giant mountain?!”

“We’re one step ahead of you on that matter, Jedi Palpatine.” K’Kruhk mischievously stated, a wide and toothy grin plastered over his face. “For now, return to Master Durron and Zhara to get filled in on our defensive strategy.”

Prepared to head back to the Sith shrine’s main entrances, Edaan stopped, remembering the last warning the Father told him of, and informed K’Kruhk and Allana, “There’s one more thing I need to mention. I don’t know what it means, but in my visions, I was told we had to beware of a ‘Servant of Chaos’ and the ‘True Sith Empire.’ Do either of you know what that could mean?”

Contemplative, K’Kruhk and Allana couldn’t determine anything from that mention, and Edaan defeatedly sighed. “I thought not, but I had to ask. We’ll just have to stay alert for any new players that might try to enter this fight or slip past us.”

Nineteen Later

Sith Observatory Storehouse

Finally, after nearly fourteen hours of searching through the mountain, avoiding the pitfalls and traps Darth Sidious had devised to keep out intruders, the One Sith had found their target. Seeing the entrance to the Observatory, reminiscent of ancient Korriban design while carved from Imperial-era metals and technologies, it was a menacing sight for many, and a marvel of architecture for the One Sith.

But for most of the Sith on this mission, they did not share their paid forces’ relief at being here. “We shouldn’t have come here.” Takaris warily mused, surprising everyone with the words the Sith Lord uttered, and the pure fear coming off his voice. “This sanctum, the darkness here isn’t natural. It’s almost like… a sickness lies upon this place. Something or someone has tainted this place, and the being doing this can only be… we must leave here. Now.”

“Thought you Sith were supposed to be the complete opposite of the Jedi.” Rav scoffed. “You want to back out now, go right ahead, but we’ll pick up your slack and take these treasures as the rest of our pay.”

“Don’t let your pitiful greed blind you to Abeloth’s power, you ignorant fool.” Takaris snapped at the Feeorin pirate lord, shocking all into silence before he pulled out a miniature proton bomb. “Whatever power Darth Sidious left here, it has been corrupted beyond all hope of salvaging by her taint. Our only option now is to destroy it all before the Jedi, in their foolish naivety, can take anything out of this future tomb.”

“I will deal with Lord Krayt and make him understand our situation, and you will be paid in full for helping me, but this place cannot be left standing.” The onetime High Lord of the Lost Tribe promised. “When the Jedi and Zeison Sha get in the way, keep them contained, but our primary focus now is to demolish this place. If we can capture a few of the master’s quarry, all the better for us.”

Black Krrsantan growled out a reminder, and the Kesh-born Sith Lord agreed, “That is why we hired you for this operation.” Takaris, handing 11-4D his pack of proton bombs, told the droid, “I’m entrusting you with carrying out the destruction of this facility. We will keep the Jedi occupied and away from you, but this deed must be done.”

“If Abeloth is behind this, as you so claim, I will do this.” 11-4D promised, before suggesting, “But what if the Jedi are already aware of this and are already taking preemptive measures themselves?”

“That may be the case, but we can’t take the risk.” Takaris answered. Seeing a data port near the sealed entrance, he ordered 11-4D, “Plug in and disable all security systems for the outpost. Then download the schematics for the facility, and a complete inventory list for all items in storage.”

Addressing every organism under his command as 11-4D did as instructed, Takaris warned them, “Know this. If any of you, Sith or mercenary, try to take any of the artifacts for yourselves, I will soon know, and you will suffer the consequences for your disobedience and treason.”

Pulling out his lightsaber, Takaris kept it unlit until 11-4D informed him, “It seems the Jedi are ready to repel our assault, all while doimg our job in destroying this place and bring the mountain down on us all.”

“Do we call off the assault, then?” Soonpaa cautiously asked, an idea Takaris was about to agree with before alarms began blaring form within the storehouse, shooting the plan for retreat down entirely with a dozen antipersonnel turrets activating and twenty E-XD-series infiltrators, humanoid recon droids and assassins utilized by the Galactic Empire in Sidious’s time, reconfiguring themselves for battle.

Igniting his lightsaber, Takaris called out, “We’ll just have to improvise going forward!” Turning to his Sith lieutenant, he ordered, “Make sure everyone gets inside safely, then have our reserves get our ships ready for picking us up when we need the extraction!”

Ninety Minutes Later

Within the Observatory’s Main Archives

Wiping the computers clean of all their data after sending a full copy to the Wandering Pilgrim, all while preparing to overload the facility’s generators, was becoming quite a drag for the Jedi and Zeison Sha as the Sith progressed in their assault. Suffering few casualties from the Observatory’s outer defenses, the One Sith and their hired guns were making substantial gains in reaching the main hold, making swift work of all but the best of Yanibar’s residential defenders and the Jedi, all while only losing five Sith and ten more mercenaries and pirates. Allana needed just five more minutes before the process was complete, and she wasn’t even sure if she could buy that much time for everyone still alive.

This batch of Sith were better trained than any others the Jedi had fought before, and they soon understood why when they got a positive identification on the leader: Takaris Yur, High Lord of the Lost Tribe and revered teacher of countless Apprentices back on Kesh, but now bearing Sith tattoos across his chin and forehead, signifying his more recent allegiance to the One Sith. Coupled with his cooperation with the avowed Jedi hunters and their followers, along with his and his followers’ deep connection to the Dark Side, it seemed the enemy would soon gain this vital stronghold and all the treasure within and kill or capture their surviving fifteen adversaries. Not even the rest of the citadel’s defenses could slow them down for very long, and certainly not long enough for the Jedi’s escape vector to arrive in time.

But when the Sith-led force was in a perfect position to finish off their adversaries, the bulk of their teams broke off to carry out another objective, and their plans startled Allana with its sheer desperation and brutality. Seeing them lay a series of proton bombs across the facility, from the entrance to the main command center, it made the Chume’da realize that Takaris and his team were after the same goal as the Jedi and Zeison Sha out here, and that realization baffled her beyond comprehension.

At least, the confusion continued to remain until the security systems picked up an entirely new presence in the fortress’s armory, and Allana recalled what Edaan said about this “Servant of Chaos” and how the source of these dark Force Storms was Abeloth's doing. It seemed that the Sith and Jedi both held a common enemy in the Bringer of Chaos and whoever was her disciple, a startling concept for the princess to contemplate. Unfortunately, there was hardly anything she could do to stop this mysterious interloper, not unless she risked dooming the surviving members of the Light Siders’ coalition. Instead, all she was capable of was focusing her efforts on protecting her friends and holding the Sith back just a little longer.

Finally, after another two minutes, the download was complete, and the Observatory’s entire data network was deleted and couldn’t be recovered. And the generator was set to detonate in exactly one hour, which meant it was time for everyone to start falling back and regroup at the rendezvous point. Allana just hoped everyone that was still alive could make it in time, but at the rate the enemy was advancing, nothing, especially not life, was a guarantee.

Ten Minutes Later

Near the Main Armory

Setting the final charge in place, Edaan knew it was time to regroup with the others before this entire structure was annihilated, and hopefully with as many of the Sith and their proxies as the imminent explosion could take. But first, he had to escape the five Sith and five mercenaries that kept him pinned in place. With all the fire the enemy was laying down upon him and his right shoulder sporting a lightsaber burn, it would be all but impossible to escape unless a miracle just ensued.

Just as swiftly as the blaster and Force-based attacks began, they ended with a series of blood curdling screams and carnage unlike any Edaan had heard, sending shivers of fear throughout his very core as the dared peek through to witness what was occurring. Seeing and sensing the deaths of every enemy, it horrified him with the sheer barbarity of this fully armored figure destroying everyone in his way. Ripping the Sith apart with the Force, electrocuting or disintegrating the mercenaries into ashes, it was not a battle, but a slaughter in every sense of the word.

Sensing a darkness like none he had ever felt before from the killer, it terrified him unlike any murder he ever felt or saw in his life. It reminded him too much of the deaths of his family and all those that died under Abeloth’s carnage, and it was then that he realized that this is the threat Elegast warned him of. This had to be one of her Servants of Chaos, and whatever they were after, they would not let anything interfere with their work.

Surprising Edaan, the armored individual ignored him and walked into the vault before closing it shut behind them and made the Jedi Apprentice realize that this figure was after the treasures his ancestor had stored inside. And he was powerless to do anything to stop it, not with the Jedi and Zeison Sha’s depleted numbers, the Sith still fighting them, and less than fifty minutes left before this place was destroyed. Concealing himself within the Force, his faint presence vanished entirely before he fled for the rendezvous point at the secondary hangar and hoped that no more surprises were wrought on him and his friends before this entire ordeal ended.

Twenty Minutes Later

Within the Main Archives

Aurra found herself blasting a console in utter frustration, seeing how the Jedi completely outplayed her and her contractors on getting to this station and taking its information first. Unable to recover any information from the computers, she took out her anger on a corpse of a Zeison Sha Senior Acolyte she had slashed with her lightsaber before she prepared to rejoin her compatriots and escape this doomed Sith stronghold. But before she left, she heard a disembodied voice, one laced with silken calm and resolute authority as he asked, “What is it you are seeking here, Aurra Sing?

Sensing an immeasurably powerful individual materialize before Aurra, a humanoid figure laced in armor the hybrid-near human bounty hunter never saw before, she pulled out her rifle and aimed it at the specter before the man introduced himself, “My name is Kung'urama'nuruodo. And you didn’t answer my question, former Jedi Sing. Do you seek power, wealth, revenge, or something more altogether like a combination of the three?”

Eyeing Kung'urama'nuruodo with renewed suspicion, Aurra demanded of him, “What do you want from me?”

“I can give you all that you want, and so much more, if you agree to serve my mistress in the coming war.” Kung'urama'nuruodo urged Aurra. “The Jedi and Sith, they are neophytes playing with scraps of power no mortals today can even begin to grasp. I represent a being that has more ability and vision than both Grand Master Katarn and Darth Krayt combined. She is willing to offer you gifts so few of us mortals could even consider possible in return for your… unique expertise under her exclusive service.”

“I’ve already got a good thing going with the Sith.” Aurra rebutted. “And it’s not good for business to break current contracts.”

“There will come a time when you realize just how desperate your situation is, how the Sith and Jedi have let you down in this mess of a galaxy. When you understand this, that is when my mistress will offer you all you could possibly dream of. Then, and only then, will you break your bonds and attain true freedom.” Kung'urama'nuruodo prophetically warned Aurra.

Fading away, Kung'urama'nuruodo promised, “Keep these words close to your mind and heart and ponder this offer until you reach the end of your long-storied life. But for now, fulfill your oaths to the One Sith and collect what riches and experience you can from them. I’m sure you will find them all to be rather rewarding until you are at your lowest point in your life.”

Baffling Aurra, the image of Kung'urama'nuruodo vanished completely, and moments afterwards, Takaris’s voice could be heard blaring through her comlink, “All forces regroup at the main hangar immediately. We have just under thirty minutes before the Jedi’s plan takes effect, and we need to be out of here before then.”

“We’ve failed our mission. Someone snuck into the main armory and made off with a ship full of the storehouse’s treasures. Let’s make sure we don’t kreth up the task any further and lose any more to Abeloth.”

Briefly wondering if this ‘Kung'urama'nuruodo’ served Abeloth, Aurra dismissed it from her mind. Right now, she had more than she could ever ask for, and that was unlikely to change anytime soon. What mattered now if that she made her way to safety, and if she could kill a few more Jedi and their friends in the process, then all the better.

Two Days Later

Yelona 16th, 56 ABY

Deep Within the Unknown Regions

Inside the Red Honeycomb Zone

Remnicore System, Exegol

Within the Dark Sanctum

I see your mission was a complete success, my beloved acolyte.’ A disembodied voice, belonging to a woman but echoing with its many inflections, spoke to Tor as he disembarked the stolen Sith ship. ‘Dozens of artifacts and schematics for my rituals and our growing fleets, and a possible new convert to our cause, you continue to impress me with your devotion and skill, Kung'urama'nuruodo.

“I live to serve your cause, Beloved Queen of the Stars.” Kung'urama'nuruodo emphatically vowed to the one who spoke to him from Beyond Shadows, before cautioning, “But I must counsel you against enacting a measure like what happened on Yanibar again, at least until your revival is complete, and your power is fully restored, and your armies are better established. The Jedi and Sith begin to grow suspicious of you, and if they were to join forces-”

Their hatred between each other runs far too deep to consider anything more than a momentary pause in the fighting.’ Abeloth dismissed Tor’s concerns before acknowledging his points, “But the uproar we created will draw much unwanted attention on us for now, and we are not yet ready to reveal ourselves to the whole galaxy.

Until the time is right, we will work in a more subtle manner towards my inevitable ascension. In this measure, I am relying principally on you and your agents, my loyal Chiss servant.’ Abeloth decreed, filling Kung'urama'nuruodo with relief with how his mistress was willing to heed his counsel.

Although Abeltoh spoke the truth on the Jedi and Sith’s deep and festering hatred, there were still a few individuals within both orders that could compel them to rally together in the face of this greater and shared enemy. The cooperation between Darth Krayt and Luke Skywalker, and Ben Skywalker and Vestara Khai was proof of this possibility. And if the Light and Dark were to work together, then they might still have the strength to challenge the Bringer of Chaos’s coming dominion. That was why Kung'urama'nuruodo’s plan had to succeed, and he would have to quietly reach out and find many talented individuals and leaders that might be turned to Abeloth’s cause.

But there was another matter that troubled Kung'urama'nuruodo, one that rivaled his fears of the Jedi and Sith uniting under one banner. When he was in the Yanibar Observatory, he sensed the presence of a Celestial he had not felt in decades since he and his wretched children’s brief return into galactic affairs before each of their deaths from the Chosen One’s interference. How could Elegast interfere in anyone’s affairs after his death by suicide, and who had he chosen to carry out his will? Well, he had to figure those crucial pieces of this mystery out before everything was in place, for should the Father’s desperate plans be enacted, whatever they might be, they could very well undo everything Abeloth was seeking to accomplish.

Three Days Later

Yelona 19th, 56 ABY

Esstran Sector, Horuset System

On the Planet Korriban

Sith Catacombs, Inside Darth Krayt’s Citadel

Takaris, kneeling prostrate before Lord Wyyrlok and the stasis chamber of their shared master, awaited hearing from Lord Krayt before any decision was made on the merits of the Kesh-born human’s mission. After the One Sith team returned to deliver their report, Wyyrlok had sworn all the Sith under the former High Lord’s command to complete secrecy while he conferred everything to the Dread Lord and await his judgment on the entire ordeal.

Having lost ten Sith Lords to this endeavor, along with dozens of their best agents to acquire nothing of value aside from a few isolationist Jedi outcasts, no one could be pleased by this outcome. It was only through Takaris’s record, integrity, and the claims he made that he was not in chains at this very moment. If Abeloth was indeed behind the Force Storms that wracked Yanibar, and one of her disciples had absconded with several troves’ worth of tainted Sith artifacts and other treasures, then the One Sith could not afford to lose a highly qualified Lord of theirs due to outside circ*mstances.

Hearing the soft whispers of Krayt’s mind, constantly alert even while encased within suspended animation as his body recovered from the scars of his torture at the Yuuzhan Vong’s hands, both Wyyrlok and Takaris silently listened as their master gave his commands. Relief flooding through the Sith instructor at the exoneration in the Dread Lord’s eyes, but was quickly replaced by fear at the stronger Sith’s visions of Abeloth returning so much sooner than his previous glimpses of the future suggested, he found himself unable to speak as Wyyrlok interceded, “What do you wish of your order, then?”

Hearing nothing from their master, both Sith Lords felt the dread coursing through their master’s mind and realized that he was afraid. And sensing Krayt at such a loss, it terrified both Wyyrlok and Takaris in a way they had never felt before. Never before did the future seem so uncertain for the One Sith, and that was a prospect that petrified all three Sith.

If Abeloth was already preparing for her revival after barely a decade from her last defeat, it would force the One Sith to consider ideas that would be heretical under any other circ*mstances. The galaxy’s only hope would be in the fabled Dagger of Mortis, the one weapon with the power to eradicate her for good. How fortunate then, that it was already recovered by Lord Krayt and safely stored away in his vaults, along with the schematics the Sith’s mole on the Jedi Council provided, allowing them to replicate many prototype weapons and designs for their own use without the risk of sabotage by Abeloth’s corruptive energies.

Eventually, stirred from his inaction, Krayt ordered Takaris, “Return to Kesh and assist Lady Kitai in solidifying her power base and fully integrating the Lost Tribe with our order. That will be your primary objective for our long-term operations.

Resolutely bowing before Krayt, Takaris quickly departed, leaving the Dread Lord to converse with Wyyrlok on the task that would soon be laid before the One Sith.

Three Days Later

Yelona 22nd, 56 ABY

Sha Kalan Temple

Within the Grand Master’s Private Chambers

“Your plan was a success, old friend.” Zhara commended K’Kruhk before mentioning to Kyle, “You should be proud of your students, Master Jedi. They performed admirably and helped save our home from annihilation.”

“Yes, but we failed to account for the Sith getting involved so quickly, along with Abeloth returning now of all times.” Kyle solemnly pointed out. “And you lost thirty of your people to the Sith and their servants.”

“They will be mourned, but this battle is all the more reason for my people to rebuild and reinvent ourselves for these changing times.” Zhara resolutely responded. Convening with her longtime friend and the Jedi Grand Master and speaking with them both on the mixed success of their recent joint mission, she took a moment to remember all those who died, not only through the Force Storms, but from the Sith assault force before they were able to withdraw with five minutes to spare before the Zeila Plateaus lost a few of their mountains. “Rather like the Jedi Order of old, along with yours after your foolish efforts of centralization from two decades ago.”

Taking the barn in stride, Kyle astutely deduced, “Is that why you and K’Kruhk asked for my best Jedi on this mission, to see if we learnt from the arrogance and stagnation of the past?”

“That, and to help my order see that you all would be a worthy ally in the coming years.” Zhara agreed. “It’s time for my people to stop hiding in this self-made prison of our own making and get out there to start making a difference for the downtrodden and destitute of the galaxy. I dare say you’ll need all the help you can get to face this coming darkness.”

“We’ll take whatever assistance you can provide.” Kyle kindly accepted the offer before asking K’Kruhk, “Did you get what you needed to see from my pupil?”

“Yes. He’s come a long way from the scared little boy you told me of when Master Skywalker sought me out.” K’Kruhk agreed. “He still has much to learn and many more trials to face, but I believe he might have a true chance of saving Vestara Khai if he keeps on his current course.”

“When the time comes, I would be honored to help him in his quest.” K’Kruhk promised, before sadly reminding Kyle, “But I don’t think any of us are ready for what is coming our way, nor are we prepared for the role Edaan may have to play in this approaching war on two fronts.”

“Honestly, no one is ready for this turn of events.” Kyle wearily agreed. Hearing from both K’Kruhk and Allana of Edaan’s vision, how he claimed to have met with the Father and warned him of Abeloth’s resurrection and a disciple of hers’, it was a measure no one was ready to face, but it had to be done. If the Bringer of Chaos had grown strong enough to nearly destroy Yanibar as a test for her returning powers, then the galaxy didn’t have much time left before it faced Armageddon once again. And with the Sith gathering their own strength for another galactic war, this would have to be handled carefully and with prudence.

Glancing at Zhara, he asked, “Can I count on your discretion on this? Until we uncover more about this, we need to keep the circle of trust small regarding this growing crisis.”

“So long as you vow to tell the right people to help learn the truth, both now and when the time comes to go public with this revelation.” Zhara agreed. “In the meantime, I’ll work on getting my people to see the galaxy and Jedi through a fresh set of eyes. It’s not going to be easy, but I’ll do what needs to be done.”

“As we all must do for what may soon be upon us.” K’Kruhk solemnly agreed.

Star Wars Jedi Odyssey Rewrite Character Interludes - SWEULover2007 - Star Wars Legends (2024)
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