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Miles to Go Before I Sleep

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PROLOGUE - PERAGUS AND BEYOND

Three Years Ago (3956)

To say that you would die for a person was a strange thing. It was the type of sentiment that was frequently uttered but never meant to be taken literally. A promise that nobody ever intended to carry out.

But Meetra meant it with every fiber of her being when she swore to die for Revan and his beliefs at the beginning of the Mandalorian War, back when their motives were still naïve and untainted by the horrors of what was to come. Yet, she made the same promise moments before she received her final orders while overlooking Malachor V, a planet that she fully expected to become her grave. In many ways it did.

Even though Meetra was willing to die for Revan, she ultimately lived long enough to become a ghost. He was the hero who defeated Mandalore the Ultimate in single combat. She was the secret soldier who won the rest of the war, only for her face and name to be buried amongst classified documents that even the best slicers failed to crack. But that was alright, she never went to war to become a luminary. She only went to save innocent lives and to help Revan craft his dreams for the Republic into a reality.

Unlike everyone else, Meetra always recognized that the hero of the Republic was mortal and fallible, capable of being wrong and made of flesh that could bleed and break. And yet, she was more surprised than anyone when he died, shot down over some unimportant planet along the Outer Rim. Part of her soul may have died at Malachor but the rest of it perished a year later, the moment that she learned Revan was dead.

And what was she now? According to the Republic she was still a ghost, the woman who won the war in such an unspeakable way that her existence had to be purged from public records. Within the Force she was nothing more than a lifeless wound in time and space. She had died for Revan, and because of him, all while somehow outliving him.

Except that he wasn't dead. He was alive.

Meetra was sitting in a dingy little Cantina on Rattatak when she learned that Revan somehow survived the crash that supposedly claimed his life three years prior. At the time none of the other patrons were paying much attention to the grainy holonet stream, all of the news a few months out of date and the images hard to discern through the static. So, nobody realized what made her drop the glass in her hand, spilling the contents across the battered durasteel table as a scream caught in her throat. She doubted that anyone even noticed she was upset.

Covering her mouth she bit back a sob, nobody else in the cantina aware that her reality was crumbling apart as her hands shook uncontrollably and her heart pounded in her chest. When her exile started, a self-imposed sentence because the Jedi Council didn't have the power to do anything more than turn their backs on a murderer who hadn't truly been part of their Order in years, Revan and Alek (never Malak, never the creature with black-veined skin and dead gray eyes) were still recognizable. While the war had changed them, bringing out a darkness that was frightening and awe-inspiring, her heart still knew them.

One year later, Revan was dead. Two years later, Alek had gone from hero to conqueror.

But now Meetra was staring at the blurry image of a dead man, the footage obviously new based on the buildings that graced Coruscant's constantly-changing skyline. Even with his face obscured by his mask, Revan was recognizable by the cadence of his voice, which was unchanged by time and the distorted holo-feed. Even more familiar was the set of his shoulders and the way that he moved his hands, small gestures that most wouldn't notice but that she couldn't stop watching. Despite his hidden countenance, she could read his mood in every motion that he made, his nervousness revealed by the constant twitch of his fingers and his uncertainty obvious in the tilt of his head.

Meetra felt impossibly numb, as though her entire being was frozen solid and unable to function. Yet, her lungs kept breathing and her heart continued beating, sharply contrasting the void where her thoughts should be. But then, that was how she'd been existing for the past four years, with part of her soul dead and buried amongst the ruins of Malachor even as her body continued to drag itself between the planets that sat at the edges of known space. She kept living despite everything that she had lost, and one of her greatest losses had always been Revan.

But now he was alive again and her mind still couldn't process seeing him so talkative and vibrant on the static-y screen.

Time passed and Meetra watched as her spilled drink (it was juice and not liquor because she didn't trust herself to consume alcohol in places where smiles were as common as vibroknives to the back) slowly dripped into a sticky pool on the floor. Nobody noticed. Eventually, the tearless sobs that wracked her chest dwindled to watery hiccups and her heartbeat slowed to a less frantic thud between her ribs. Only when her hands stopped shaking did she get to her feet and slide a few credits to the bartender before slinking out of the cantina, all without realizing that she was even moving. The return to her rented room was uneventful and the galaxy left her alone as she slipped under the rough blankets with her boots still on. The tears came hours later, when her mind finally caught up to her body.

The next morning Meetra wiped her eyes, packed her few belongings, and arranged work in return for passage to anywhere else. Preferably closer to Wild Space or the Unknown Region. Revan may be alive again, but she still felt dead inside.


Now (3953)

It all started on Telos.

Actually, if Meetra really sat and thought about it, everything started at a small refueling station on Thalassia where she was approached by an old woman traveling in a battered freighter piloted by an astromech droid. The woman's name was Kreia and she claimed that their meeting was the will of the Force. Despite being nearly blinded by cataracts, her eyes saw the truth that lay in Meetra's soul, looking past the faded spacer clothing and her simple, sandy-blonde braid.

"I know who you are, Meetra Surik."

"Do you?"

Kreia smiled secretively. "Some call you the Jedi Exile, though you haven't been a Jedi in a long time. Others call you the woman who won the war."

Clenching her jaw at the mention of her past Meetra wondered, "And what do you call me?"

"A void in the Force that contains endless potential."

"I haven't felt the Force in years."

"Because you cut yourself off. Or perhaps Malachor cut you off. It doesn't matter." Kreia folded her hands into the sleeves of her cloak. "What matters is that you are reawakening. Surely you've felt it."

Meetra didn't respond, which she knew was damning in its own way. Yes, she had felt it. The first time was a month ago while sitting alone by the seaside on Serenno, surrounded by opulence that she didn't notice because she was too busy reading the datapad in her hand and trying to ignore the buzzing that gnawed at the back of her consciousness.

The satisfaction that settled on Kreia's weathered features was knowing without being smug. "Even if you're not ready to admit it, the Force is returning to you. And that is why you are returning to the Republic."

"I don't know where I'm going yet." Meetra honestly didn't know, but she was still fairly certain the old woman would eventually be proven correct.

"Whether or not you realize it, you're allowing the Force to guide you. It is a small step, but an important one." Inclining her head towards a freighter that had seen better days but that still seemed too nice for someone who dressed like an ascetic, Kreia added, "Either way, you need transport and I've recently come into possession of a vessel that can provide exactly that."

There were a thousand more questions that Meetra should have asked. Who was Kreia, beyond a disciple of the Force? How had she acquired her ship, the Ebon Hawk? Why did she think that someone who hadn't felt the Force in seven years could be a source of endless potential? But in the end, Meetra didn't ask any of those things because the older woman seemed the type to respond in riddles rather than duracrete answers, and she wasn't prepared to handle that type of frustration. She ultimately decided to go with Kreia because it was the choice that she would have made seven years ago, back when she felt like a living part of the galaxy and not a wound in time and space.

Two days into the journey the Ebon Hawk found itself in the shadow of a Hammerhead-class cruiser bearing the call sign Harbinger. Despite its immense size, the ship exuded an aura of cold, gaping emptiness like nothing Meetra had ever experienced. She and T3-M4, the little astromech that Kreia used to do just about everything aboard the freighter, tried to hail the approaching ship but received no response.

Instead, the Hammerhead-class opened fire.

"Try to get us into hyperspace, Tee-Three!" Meetra was sitting in the pilot's seat despite not being much of a pilot. "I'll see if I can get us around those cannons while the engine warms up."

"Boo-beep-boop-whoop!" The droid was more than happy to try and outrun the Harbinger, but he also knew that despite its modified engines, the Ebon Hawk was no match for a Republic warship.

"Well, try anyway!" Jerking the ship's controls to the side, Meetra banked the Hawk into a hard left as the red flare of cannon fire went whizzing past the viewport. Biting her lip, she sucked in a breath as she forced the freighter into a desperate dive to avoid the accompanying turbolasers.

T3-M4 screeched as he rolled across the cockpit. "Bee-beep-boop! Whoop-beep!"

"Then you drive!"

The entire ship rocked as one of the cannons managed to blast past the shielding, causing warning lights and alarms to fill the cockpit with a cacophony of color and sound. The damage reports scrolled down multiple monitors, but Meetra was too preoccupied to check. Instead, she switched off the nearest readout and then shifted power between the engines so that she could steer the Hawk into a sharp right, bringing it directly beneath the Harbinger just as the various armaments began to glow once more.

"Bee-boop-boop-beep!"

"Well, does the hyperdrive still work?"

"Beep-boop!"

Meetra heaved a sigh of relief as the freighter continued to speed along the bottom of the Hammerhead-class before shooting past its bow and into open space. "Then punch it!"

A moment later the stars elongated into broad streaks of white as the Ebon Hawk lurched into hyperspace, the engines sputtering dangerously as warnings continued to blare. Several of the readouts reported power malfunctions throughout the ship and a severe leak in the fuel line. As a result, the fuel was running dangerously low. Another monitor blinked ominously as it cautioned that all of the ship's star charts had been wiped by the previous owner, something that was only remedied after T3-M3 plugged himself into the navigation system and manually plotted a route using his astrogation software. Meetra said a silent prayer to the Force that he was properly calibrated for this sector.

As T3-M4 was setting a course for the Peragus Mining Facility, all while politely beeping that it was a reliable location for fuel and repairs, a hooded figure appeared in the doorway. It seemed that the crisis had roused Kreia from her meditation in the crew quarters.

"I'm… I'm so sorry about that." Meetra's knuckles were still white around the Hawk's controls. "That was a Republic ship, but something was wrong with it. We tried to hail it, but…"

"That ship wasn't controlled by the Republic. Not anymore."

Sitting back in her seat, Meetra peered at the older woman. "How do you know?"

"You must have felt it as well. The overwhelming touch of the dark side." Kreia bowed her head beneath her hood. "I know because that ship was commanded by a former student."

"…Your former student is touched by the dark side?"

"Not merely touched. He is one with the darkness, held together by his anger and rage. He calls himself Sion."

Meetra arched a brow. "That sounds like a Sith name."

"It does, doesn't it?" Somehow, it was unsurprising that Kreia didn't seem particularly ashamed by this fact.

"Forgive me if this doesn't sound like a vote of confidence, but is your former student… A Sith?"

"Hmm, yes. He is. Much like your former friend Malak."

Clenching her jaw, Meetra merely nodded for lack of a better response, wanting to say something more but also mildly terrified of what might come out of her mouth. What Kreia said was completely true, which somehow made it worse. Malak, the stranger that he was, had fallen and was now the prisoner of the same Republic that Alek had sworn his life to protect. She still wasn't sure if Revan had been merciful or cruel in letting him live.

Stuck on that thought, Meetra sat awkwardly in the pilot's seat as she steered the Hawk through the blue and white tunnel of hyperspace, only paying marginal attention as Kreia strolled about and checked the ship's readings. She knew that most sentients loathed the tedium of faster-than-light travel but she never minded it, finding that the blankness soothed her mind. In this case, watching the streaks of light and shadow helped her to banish the last of her fugue, bringing her back to reality just in time to overhear an inane argument between Kreia and T3-M4. It seemed that despite depending on the droid to run almost every function on the ship, the older woman didn't trust his decision-making skills.

Meetra let them bicker, not stepping back from the controls until the Ebon Hawk limped back into realspace just outside of Peragus II's orbit. Their appearance caused the security team to flood the ship's comm unit with harried questions, all of which Kreia brushed aside with a snort as she muttered, "Fools." Luckily, T3-M4 managed to explain enough of the situation to acquire permission to land in their maintenance hangar.

The deal they struck was simple – Kreia would pay for half of the necessary repairs while Meetra would work off the other half doing basic maintenance throughout the mine. It was the type of agreement that had enabled her to keep moving for the past seven years, and she had acquired some decent repair skills in the process. There was nothing unusual about their arrangement and the pair shouldn't have attracted much extra attention.

But despite looking the part of a spacer who regularly traded labor for basic necessities, Meetra knew that she had some habits that occasionally unsettled others. For one thing, she tended to meditate when she performed repetitive tasks, losing track of her surroundings even though her hands kept working on with whatever job she'd been assigned. Sometimes she found herself giving others softly worded advice about patience or serenity, things that she hadn't believed in for years but that she still recited out of ingrained habit. And on very rare occasions she'd reach for a tool only to try and summon it with the Force, her hand hovering in the air for just for a moment longer than anyone would consider normal. While the technique never worked, the muscle memory was hard to ignore.

But during one of her shifts in Peragus's maintenance bay, it did work. A small wrench not even the size of her palm lifted from the table and flew to Meetra's fingertips before she even realized that she had called it. Nobody saw, at least from what she could tell, but she knew that there were security cameras all over the mine and that the administrators checked the feeds daily in search of rule breakers amongst the rough-and-tumble crews.

"Don't apologize for what comes naturally to you," Kreia scolded that night when Meetra lamented her mistake. "Others fear what they do not understand because it is easier for their minds to live in ignorance. But you are so much more than them, and they need not worry you."

But Meetra did worry, especially when the inevitable inquiries started.

"That's some scar you have there," a mechanic commented, pointing to the old blaster wound revealed when Meetra rolled up her sleeves.

"I was in the war." Honesty seemed like the best policy for now.

"Huh."

No more questions came until lunch when one of the miners sat just a little too close, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "I heard you served in the war. So did my sister. What unit?"

"I was moved a few times, but I mostly served with the Fifty-First and the Seven-Twelve." Meetra chuckled at the surprised look that passed over the man's face. "I saw a lot of action."

"The Seven-Twelve… They were on Dxun, weren't they?"

"That moon is quite a jungle."

It wasn't until the next evening that the foreman for Meetra's shift finally asked the question that everyone was clearly wondering. "Were you… One of them?"

"One of what?" She already knew the answer, but she was unwilling to say it first.

"A Jedi."

"Does it matter?"

"After Malak? After half of the damn Order went crazy and started killing civilians for their so-called Supreme Commander? After so many of 'em got away and are still on the run?" The foreman leveled his gaze, his eyes rimmed with red from lack of sleep. "Yeah. It matters."

"I wasn't part of that."

"I bet that's what all of you say." It sounded like the foreman had already made up his mind.

Meetra met the man's eyes with the durasteel of a soldier who had seen death and made enough hard decisions to last two lifetimes. "I left the Order after Malachor. Before Revan died and everything changed."

"And how do I know you're telling the truth?"

Blinking once, Meetra shrugged. "You don't."

The foreman's hand twitched towards the stun baton at his hip, his finger obviously itching to grab it even as he plastered a thin smile on his face. "Look, we don't want or need any trouble around here. So how about you come with me to the security station and we can talk all of this out. I don't want there to be any, you know… Misunderstandings."

This entire trip suddenly seemed like one huge misunderstanding to Meetra and she mentally ran through her options as her own fingers ached for the lightsaber that she had surrendered to the Council seven years prior. Even unarmed she was probably a more proficient fighter than the foreman and she could definitely disarm him without too much trouble. But that wouldn't do much to convince him that she wasn't a threat. She could also offer to pay whatever credits were owed, take the ship, and leave Peragus. But to the best of her knowledge, the Ebon Hawk was still damaged and they wouldn't get very far with a leaking fuel line and a faulty engine. No, the best option was to play nice and try to negotiate some type of temporary peace. She was pretty sure that she still remembered how to do that.

And if all else failed, Meetra could always disarm the foreman and knock him unconscious with his own damned baton.

"Sure, let's go." She ignored the surprised expression that flitted over the man's features. "Let's sit down and talk this out. I don't have anything to hide."

Obviously expecting at least some resistance, the Foreman sputtered as he nodded in agreement and quickly pointed towards the hallway, gesturing for Meetra to follow him. "Well uh, thank you for being reasonable about this. With so many of Malak's followers still at large, we can't be too careful. I'm just going to run your info through one of the Republic's databases and if it all checks out you can keep on doing work for us." Clearly filling the time with nervous chatter, he added, "You've done good work so far just so you know."

Meetra wondered if she should mention that her name was most likely still listed as one of Alek and Revan's most loyal followers. Probably not. As she walked she watched the foreman and tried to determine if he'd treat her differently once he learned that she was the one who ended the war. That Malachor was her doing. Would he thank her? Condemn her? Or would he simply ask the question that everyone always wanted to know, "Do you regret it?"

The pair marched into the security station in awkward silence, their boots shuffling uncomfortably against the scuffed floor. "Have a seat," the foreman offered, gesturing to a rickety chair that sat in front of the room's computer console. "This will only take a few minutes and…"

The rest of his words were muffled by a loud boom that sounded far too close for comfort, especially considering the explosive nature of Peragus's fuel. A second, more violent explosion reverberated through the building, vibrating the floor and making the thick walls shake with enough force to rattle the monitors. Meetra sucked in a breath as she crouched down defensively, a chill slowly creeping down to the base of her spine.

"What the hells was that?!" A klaxon of warnings was already blaring through the facility, alerts flashing on several screens. The foreman's commlink only added to the noise as multiple administrators tried to contact him simultaneously.

"Something bad," Meetra cautioned as a cold wave of dark energy sucked the breath from her lungs.

"It sure kriffing is! Can you just stay here while I… handle this?" the foreman stuttered, his expression verging on panic as he raced to the door.

"Sure. But if this is as bad as it seems, I would start evacuating this facility before things get any worse."

With a dismissive wave, the foreman dashed into the main hallway, frantically shouting obscenities into his comm that were answered with an equal amount of colorful language. The alarms continued to flash, shades of red and yellow illuminating the security office as the various monitors displayed multiple views of the miners evacuating critical areas, the doors sealing behind them in an effort to keep the fuel far away from any fires. Meetra peered at the screens, tentatively reaching for the controls and shifting through the camera feeds until she found one focused on the outside of the facility.

The Harbinger was there, taking up almost the entire image.

"Oh no…"

"Hey, uh, if this whole place is about to go up in flames, would you mind maybe letting me out of here?"

Whirling around, Meetra touched her hip to retrieve a weapon that she wasn't carrying, silently cursing herself for not noticing that there was someone else in the room. But it was easy to see how she'd missed the man, his form obscured by the shimmering blue walls of the force cage furthest from the door. She frowned.

"This might not be the right question, but why are you in there in the first place?"

The man sighed. "I was put in here earlier today for a security violation. It was nothing, really." He pointed to the monitor. "And if that ship is the cause of the explosion I just felt, I'm betting that my minor infractions are going to be the least of your problems. Now, are you going to let me out or what?"

Whoever the man was, he was currently trapped in what was probably a doomed building and Meetra didn't take the time to consider the wisdom of her actions as she quickly selected the command to power down the cage. "So, what's your name?"

"Atton Rand."

"Aren't you going to ask mine?"

"Nah, I'm just enjoying the moment." Smiling coyly, Atton smoothly added, "It's not often that a beautiful woman comes along and rescues a guy like me, you know?"

"That's a terrible line."

Atton laughed, his dark eyes shining with mirth. "Hey, I just got out of prison! Can you blame a guy for trying?"

"Yes. And my name's Meetra, by the way." She chuckled despite herself, taking a moment to really study the man she just rescued. He didn't look as rough as a lot of the miners, but like herself, he could have been doing any number of odd jobs around the facility to earn some credits. Either way, there was a certain undeniable handsomeness and charm about him. He was probably trouble.

"Well Meetra, it's a pleasure."

"Good to meet you, Atton." Ducking her head, she quickly strode across the room towards the door. "Now if you'll excuse me, I should be going…"

Of course, trouble followed. "Getting away from the warship firing on a facility that mines highly explosive fuel? Good idea. Mind if I come with you?"

"Actually…"

"Look, even if this place doesn't explode in the next few minutes I'm pretty sure that my time here is done." A hint of desperation colored Atton's words. "I'm a good pilot and an excellent shot, so if you have a way off of this death-trap I'm ready to earn my keep."

Meetra paused halfway down the hall. "You're a pilot?"

"That's what I said."

With a sigh, Meetra gestured for Atton to follow her as she turned towards the maintenance bay. "Alright, fine. If you can fly us out of this place, we'll drop you off at wherever we end up."

"…We?"

"Yes, we. Me and… Kreia." The name caught in Meetra's throat as pain shot through her body, bringing a sense of panic so urgent that it nearly doubled her in half.

Atton rushed to her side. "Whoa, shit! Are you okay?"

"No… I mean, yes. I am. But Kreia's in trouble." Still struggling to push past the sensation, Meetra continued her march to the area where the Hawk was docked. "Don't ask me how I know. Just hurry!"

To his credit, Atton didn't ask a thing as the pair raced down the last few meters of the hallway and through the large set of double doors that lead to the maintenance sector of the facility. Meetra was thankful for his silence, mostly because she didn't know why she was so sure that Kreia was the source of her discomfort. Obviously, she realized that the pain coursing through her system wasn't from any external stimuli that she was currently experiencing. But the Force made it possible for a user to empathetically experience sensations from the individuals around them, and in a facility currently under attack, potential sources of pain were nearly endless. But somehow, she was absolutely certain that it was Kreia who was in trouble.

'It is the Force. It has linked us, bonded us together. And it will only get stronger with time.' As the thought drifted through Meetra's mind it was Kreia's voice that spoke the words.

Shaking her head to clear it, Meetra urged Atton to run faster as they sped through the depot where the spare mining droids and other smaller gear was stored before rounding a corner and bursting through a second set of doors. These lead into the large hangar where shuttles and other vehicles were repaired, the Ebon Hawk sitting proudly amidst a clutter of refueling lines and spare ship parts.

A few meters away from the freighter's landing ramp lay Kreia, who was currently being threatened by a hulking figure wielding a glowing red blade. He was a man in the general sense of the word, though his body was a cracked and bloodied landscape of pain that no mere Human could ever survive. Something about his scarred form reminded Meetra of Malachor, or at least its appearance after the Mass Shadow Generator.

"Kreia!"

"I don't think you can help her," Atton argued, grabbing Meetra by the arm and dragging her towards the ship. "And if that's your ride, we better go!"

"We can't leave her!"

Atton sighed, still pulling Meetra forward. "Then get in the damn ship and man the turrets, 'cause I don't think your fists are going to do much good against that guy!"

"My old master, I've finally found you…" Sion taunted Kreia as Meetra was tugged inside of the Ebon Hawk.

The hum of a lightsaber was a painfully familiar sound, even when muffled by the walls of the freighter. Less familiar was the burning, searing pain that shot through Meetra's left wrist as she sprinted towards the weapons system. Falling to one knee she let out a cry, crawling across the floor as she cradled her arm against her body. It took twice her as long as it should have to reach the turrets. As she climbed into the seat the pain finally began to ebb, her mind clearing as the empathic sensations sent through the Force bond temporarily faded away. Gritting her teeth she grasped the controls, lined up her shot, and then fired.

Sion's scream was animalistic as he was battered by cannon fire, the red streaks of light and heat carving into his broken body and smashing him to the floor. It would have ended a lesser creature, but it only took seconds for him to rise again with a howl that sent a wave of frigid terror through Meetra's body. Still brandishing his lightsaber, Scion ignited the bright red blade and began to deflect the rest of the shots aimed at him. But the distraction was enough. Faster than a woman her age should have been able to move, Kreia leaped up and dashed to the Hawk's ramp, ascending it with a grunt as she staggered aboard just as the engines began to roar.

"All right, we're out of here!" Atton's voice announced as the ramp lifted, the Hawk hovering in the air for an instant before shooting out of the automatic doors of Peragus's repair hangar and into the blackness of space.

Sliding out of the turret seat, Meetra sprinted towards the ship's entrance to check on Kreia. She was expecting the older woman to be splayed across the floor in agony, battered and bruised as her blood stained the metal grate. Instead, she found someone who was standing tall despite a now-missing left hand, shoulders back and chin up as she surveyed the ship.

"Kreia, your hand!"

Looking down at the burnt stump as though only realizing what was missing, the older woman shook her head. "A trifling wound for one like myself. It will heal."

"At least come into the medical bay with me so that I can bandage it."

Ignoring the offer, Kreia marched towards the cockpit. "It seems that you've filled this ship's empty seat with a fool."

"He's a pilot," Meetra corrected.

"Ladies," Atton greeted as the pair appeared behind him. "Sorry for the abrupt take-off, but we really need to get into hyperspace before that warship decides to either chase us or open fire again. 'Cause those asteroids all around us? They're full of highly explosive fuel."

Meetra could already see the Harbinger's turbolasers igniting up as the Hammerhead-class banked right to face them. Luckily, Atton actually was a good pilot and he easily took evasive maneuvers, guiding the freighter into a smooth climb upward that brought it out of the larger ship's direct range.

"And we're getting out of here in three, two…"

Just as the white streaks of hyperspace washed over the Ebon Hawk's viewport, Meetra heard the shattering boom of a huge chain of explosions, all of it joined by another overwhelming wave of cold power. She sucked in a breath, not needing to check the monitors to know that the Peragus Mining Facility had just been destroyed by a Sith.


"So, why does this Lieutenant Grenn want to talk to us, anyway?"

Meetra shrugged at Atton's question as the pair quickly made their way through Citadel Station's bustling walkways. "Maybe he has questions about Peragus. After all, that's the last location that was in the Ebon Hawk's navigation system."

"That little trashcan ratted us out!"

"Who, Tee-Three?" Shaking her head, Meetra chuckled at her companion's inordinate distrust of droids. "I doubt it. Whoever's doing the repairs on the ship probably noticed the location and date, and put things together."

The Ebon Hawk and her crew had been on Telos for almost a week now, the ship docked in a less-than-reputable hangar as the Humans tried to lay low and avoid any mention of Peragus's destruction. So far it had worked, though it seemed like their luck had run out. While getting repairs done on the black market was cheap, it seemed that they couldn't trust the mechanics who did the work.

"Well, shit." Atton sighed and threw his head back in frustration. "I'm not looking to get thrown in jail again."

"If this lieutenant asks about Peragus, we can tell him the truth. None of us had anything to do with the explosion… Or the resulting deaths."

"Yeah, exactly!"

By now the pair had reached the Telos Security Force office. They were alone since Kreia elected to stay in their room and wait for a call if there was any trouble. Meetra suspected that the loss of her hand was affecting the older woman more than she'd admit.

Pausing outside of the main office doors, Meetra drew a slow breath as she smoothed her hands over her hair to brush a few errant strands out of her face. "Alright, let's go speak with Grenn."

"Don't worry, you look amazing as always," Atton assured her. He had a way of throwing flirty little comments into nearly all of their conversations, always joined by a sweet half-smile to remind everyone that he wasn't joking. Combined with those big, dark eyes it was dangerously effective.

Snorting off the compliment but grinning all the same, Meetra strolled calmly into the TSF office even as her heart hammered frantically in her chest. She expected to be questioned, perhaps even detained and interrogated by whoever was at the front desk. What she didn't expect was to be ushered towards Grenn's private office without so much as a fingerprint scan.

When they reached the door, they could hear two men arguing.

"I'm sorry it wasn't him. But you told me to alert you if the Ebon Hawk showed up on my radar, and that's what I did."

There was a heavy sigh and then, "It's fine Dol. I appreciate all of your help, I really do. I just… I can't help it if I'm a little disappointed."

"Look, I know you don't want to talk about it, but I'm here if you need an ear."

Meetra frowned as she peeked into the room, spotting an older man in a Telosian uniform who must be the lieutenant. However, the second figure was a mystery to her. He was wearing civilian clothing but there was something distinctly military about his stance, even as his shoulders hunched beneath his worn jacket and a few locks of brown hair fell carelessly over his eyes. If she stared long enough there was something vaguely familiar about him, perhaps in the broad set of his build or his scruff of facial hair.

Not wanting to eavesdrop any longer, Meetra knocked loudly on the doorframe as she cleared her throat, instantly causing both men to look up in alarm.

"Yes, what? Can I help you?" Grenn demanded.

Rolling his eyes, Atton shot back, "How should I know? You're the one who called us here."

That got both men's attention.

"Oh, um. My apologies." Dusting invisible specks off his uniform, Grenn straightened. "Are you General Surik and Mister uh… Mister Rand?"

The former general winced at the title. "Please just call me Meetra. I have to admit, we're both a bit confused about why we're here."

"Well then come in and let me explain. And close the door!" As the pair did what was requested, Grenn nodded to the stranger standing beside him. "Carth, these are two of the people who came in with the ship you're looking for. The Ebon Hawk?"

The stranger, Carth apparently, didn't seem to hear. He was too busy staring at Meetra, a mixture of wonder and sorrow painted across his features as he desperately searched for something to say. "General Meetra Surik? Of the Revanchists?"

Atton bristled. "She just told you to call her Meetra."

"I… I'm sorry. I just didn't expect…" Carth shook his head, unrestrained sadness still radiating off of him. "I apologize. I'm…"

"Meetra, Rand? This is Captain Carth Onasi with the Republic Navy." Grenn said the title like it carried all of the weight in the galaxy.

"No! I mean yes, that is who I am. But that's not why I'm here."

"Then why are you here, Captain Onasi?" Meetra wondered aloud.

"Just Carth." Shaking his head, the captain drew a shaky breath. "And I'm here about your ship, the Hawk. Can I… Can you take me to see it? Please?"

There was something so pained and raw about the man, his voice nearly cracking as he made his odd request, that Meetra found herself nodding despite Atton's immediate protests.

Maybe it really did start on Telos, the day that Meetra Surik met Carth Onasi.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 01 - TELOS

Now (3953)

"Where the kriffing hells is the ship?!" Atton stood at the entrance to the hangar where they had docked the Ebon Hawk, mouth open as he gaped at the empty space where the ship had been sitting less than a day ago. The black-market mechanic they hired to repair it was standing off to the side, fiddling with a swoop bike engine as though nothing was amiss.

Alarm filtered into Carth's voice. "Wait, what? Did you just say that the Hawk isn't here?"

"Yeah, that's what I said. Because it's not. When I find that little trashcan I'm going to…"

"There must be a reasonable explanation for this." Equally bewildered but unwilling to show it, Meetra approached the mechanic with a thin smile. "Hi there… You've been working on our ship, the Ebon Hawk, for the past week. Did you, uh, have to move it for some reason?"

The Rhodian looked up from her tinkering, her antenna twitching in annoyance. "This is my garage, sentient! Why would I move my work out of it?"

"That's literally what we're asking!" Atton grumbled.

Waving her hand dismissively, the mechanic returned to her work as she explained, "Your ship was gone when I came in this morning. I assumed that you had taken it back."

"Why the hells would we take our ship back before the repairs are finished? We already paid for the damn work!"

"I get all kinds in here." The Rhodian shrugged nonchalantly. "You own a smuggling vessel. You wouldn't be the first customers who had to leave in a rush."

Meetra frowned. "It's not a…"

"It technically was a smuggling vessel," Carth hastily whispered. "Or at least, that's what its previous owners used it for."

"But we didn't take the damn ship back! So where is it?" Hand twitching towards his recently purchased blaster pistol, Atton glowered at the mechanic.

Slamming her screwdriver against the floor, the Rhodian let out a growl. "I don't know, sentient. And it's not my problem!"

"The hells it's not, this is your garage!"

"Hey Gyssak?" the Rhodian called. "Get out here and explain to these nice sentients why missing or stolen vehicles are not our problem!"

A hulking Tradoshan lumbered out of the garage's office, brandishing a repeating rifle nearly the size of Meetra's torso. The sight quickly convinced her that this wasn't a fight worth picking. She knew from past conversations that this particular hangar had no video surveillance, mostly due to the type of clientele it served, so there was no record of who might have entered the garage and taken the ship. And honestly, the mechanic probably didn't know any more than they did. Stealing from potential smugglers was always a bad practice, especially for someone whose business relied on a reputation for discretion.

Placing her hand over Atton's, Meetra shook her head. "Blasting our way out of here won't help." Turning to leave, she gave Carth a soft smile. "But don't worry, we'll find the ship."

The trio bid the Rhodian a hasty farewell, pointedly ignoring the Trandoshan as they exited the garage and discussed their options. Even if the engine repairs had been completed, the leak in the fuel line had left the Ebon Hawk running on fumes and Telos's fuel supplies were being rationed after Peragus's destruction. If the thief tried to take the ship beyond the planet's atmosphere, they weren't getting far before they needed to refuel.

"The Hawk is also equipped with a beacon, of sorts," Carth recalled. "Though it only works at short range."

Atton narrowed his eyes. "And how do you know that?"

"In case you haven't figured it out, I've spent some time on the ship."

Hoping to diffuse the situation, Meetra wondered aloud, "Why is seeing the Hawk so important to you, Carth?"

The captain sighed, rubbing a palm over his forehead as he considered the question. "It's really not about the ship so much as the ship's… former owner."

"A smuggler?"

Carth laughed at some irony that only he comprehended. "No, he was… Mostly he worked as a mercenary. He actually stole the Hawk from a crime lord on Taris, so I guess it's not legally his. Not that it really matters." He shook his head. "Actually, none of that really matters. It's a uh, complicated situation."

"Can you try to explain it?" Meetra asked gently.

"How about I sit down and tell you everything once we find the ship?" Forcing a weak smile, a renewed sense of sadness bloomed around Carth as desperation laced his tone. "We can have a whole conversation, I promise. In fact, I have a few questions for you as well."

Wincing at the implication, Meetra nodded reluctantly even as she tried to think of a way to avoid all of the inevitable questions about her past. Despite his unassuming clothing and odd personal quest, Carth was still a captain in the Republic Navy and his queries were probably related to the war. Or worse, he was going to ask for advice concerning Alek's fall and subsequent imprisonment. Neither were topics that Meetra wanted to discuss.

The complete lack of prying personal questions was one of the things that she liked about Atton. He didn't ask her anything about who she'd been, nor did he offer any clues about his own history. All that seemed to matter to him was the present and he refused to complicate things by dredging up the past. That type of attitude was prevalent along the Outer Rim, where violence and lawlessness made it necessary to live in the moment. Meetra found it endearing.

"The Telos Security Force can probably scan Citadel Station for the Hawk's beacon," Carth described as the trio entered a more reputable sector. "And the Restoration Project can use its security grid to search for the ship on the surface. None of that's a guarantee that we'll find something, but it's a start."

"So," Atton demanded, clearly still suspicious of the other man. "How exactly do you know so much about the TSF and the surface restorations?"

"I'm originally from Telos. I was actually here helping with the Restoration Project on my own time when…" Carth gestured to the others. "When all of this happened."

Meetra nodded. "We should go talk to Grenn, then. Hopefully, he can help."

Of course, hope and reality were two different things.

"Dammit! I'm sorry, but that ship is nowhere on Citadel Station." Grenn sighed as he clicked through the various readouts on his monitor. "The good news is that there's also no sign of the Ebon Hawk leaving Telos's orbit, so it still might be on the surface. But you'll have to go down there and check for yourself."

"Can you at least lend us a shuttle, Dol?" Carth gave his old friend a hopeful smile. "Their ship is missing, and mine isn't large enough to hold three people…"

"Four people," Meetra interrupted. "We also have a woman named Kreia with us."

Atton gave an exaggerated groan. "Oh, not that old witch! Leave her here for now so that she can meditate and bore someone else with her rants and 'wisdom.'"

"Even if you don't like her, she's still my…" Pausing, Meetra considered what the proper term actually was. 'Master' didn't feel right, but was the older woman really a friend? If anything, she felt more like a Force-appointed guardian who existed to provide comfort and criticism in equal measure "She's my mentor, of sorts."

Carth furrowed his brow, studying his newfound crewmate curiously. Grenn, however, seemed less concerned, already pressing buttons on his comm unit as he replied, "Sure, I can provide a shuttle for four people. Be at hangar bay 4-B tomorrow morning around o-eight-hundred standard time. Oh, and try to bring my vehicle back in one piece." He leveled a glare at Atton.

"What, why does everyone always look at me?"


"So, as a reminder," Atton winced, tenderly rubbing his leg, "That crash was not my fault."

"Hrmph." Slowly climbing to her feet, Kreia shook her head. "Leave it to the fool to fly so carelessly. Perhaps next time we should seek out a more reputable pilot."

"How many ways can I say this, lady? It's not my fault. I can't help it if some assholes decided to use our engines for target practice!"

Leaving the pair to squabble, Meetra stumbled over to Carth who was groaning as he picked himself off the now-cracked screen of the shuttle's scanner. "Hey, are you okay?"

"I'll live." Glancing down at the destroyed equipment, the captain sighed. "But I think the shuttle's done for. Dammit! I needed that navigation system to reach a base where we can access the security grid."

"Sorry," Meetra offered. "But if I'm remembering correctly, there's a base is about two klicks northeast of here."

"Yes, roughly. But stumbling blindly across the plains isn't going to be pleasant, especially with the roaming bands of Czerka mercenaries who are sabotaging the Ithorian replanting efforts." Realizing that this information provided more confusion than assistance, Carth waved his hand. "Never mind. All you need to know is that it's dangerous to wander around on the surface for too long."

Nodding, Meetra tapped the blaster rifle strapped to her back. "I'm a decent shot and Atton's practically an artist with a pistol. I think we'll be alright."

"You can shoot?"

"I'm not going to win any contests, but I can hold my own." The captain seemed surprised, so Meetra explained, "The Force can improve your senses and reflexes. So, a lot of Force users are pretty good with a blaster even if they prefer to fight up close."

"I mean, it's pretty hard to beat a lightsaber," Carth noted as he stood from his seat. The motion jostled his shoulder and he hissed in discomfort. "Speaking of the Force, couldn't you and Kreia have, I don't know, softened that landing a little?"

Meetra arched a skeptical brow. "Slow an entire shuttle's descent? I might have been able to do that back during the war but… Not now. Not anymore." She ducked her head, choking out a weak laugh. "Honestly, there are very few Force users with that type of connection or that kind of raw power. Who have you been spending time with?"

"Me? Oh, it's not…" Tapping his temple, Carth disregarded the question. "Don't mind me, I'm about as Force-sensitive as a durasteel wall. I honestly don't understand how any of it works."

The captain was a terrible liar. Still, Meetra respected his privacy enough to let the obvious fib slide, even as something about the man tugged at her consciousness. As she idly focused her awareness, she felt the faintest tingle of a Force signature radiating from the center of Carth's chest. For a fleeting moment she wondering if he was Force-sensitive, perhaps latently so, at least until her senses clarified and she realized that the energy was coming from an object and not a person. It seemed that the captain was carrying something with a faint Force signature.

"Listen, lady," Atton was still snarling at Kreia, "I'm doing the best I can under these circumstances and…"

A loud rap against the shuttle door drowned out whatever he was about to say. A moment later a muffled voice called out, "Hello? Is everyone alright in there?"

After a quick glance at her makeshift crew, Meetra responded, "I think so."

"Well, good. But if you want to stay that way, you might want to evacuate. You're leaking fuel, at an alarming rate and if you're not careful you're all going to get a little… crisp."

Four pairs of eyes simultaneously turned to look at one another, followed by Carth hastily lowering the landing ramp as he gestured for everyone to exit the shuttle now. Of course Atton was the first to escape, nearly knocking Kreia over in the process, though everyone managed to disembark in a matter of seconds. They tripped and stumbled through the thick grass as they fled the fuel leak, almost all of them squinting uncomfortably against the bright glare of the Telosian sun. Maybe that was why it took them so long to notice the broad figure of a Zabrak waiting nearby, a huge spanner tucked into his belt and a wry grin on his face.

"Well, that could have gone a lot worse. Just the other day I saw…" The Zabrak trailed off, his gaze settling on Meetra as he slowly stepped closer. "General? Is that you?"

Shifting uncomfortably at the use of her former rank, she managed a weak shrug. "I'm sorry, do I… know you?"

"That crash did look pretty nasty, I wouldn't be surprised if a few memories were knocked loose." As the Zabrak spoke Carth sucked in a sharp breath, though it didn't stop the other man's clarification. "I'm not surprised that you don't remember me. After all, I was the only Iridonian technician serving in my unit."

Meetra gasped. "Bao-Dur?"

"Yes General, that's still my name."

"Uh, she prefers Meetra these days," Atton huffed.

"No, he can call me General. Stars, he's free to call me whatever the kriff he wants!"

"That's very kind of you, General, but I think I'll just call you by… Ooof!" The air was squeezed from Bao-Dur's lungs as Meetra ran up and wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him tightly as she pressed her head against his chest. "Careful, there. Mind the arm, it will give you a pretty nasty shock."

Still clinging to the Zabrak, Meetra murmured, "I didn't know you survived. I tried to find out what happened to you, to everyone actually, but the files were all classified and…" Her words caught in her throat and she swallowed roughly as she stepped back and finally took a moment to really examine the larger figure. "Oh, your arm!"

"It's not that bad," Bao-Dur insisted as he flexed his glowing prosthesis. "All things considered, I got out pretty lucky. And hey, everyone always said that I was part machine. Now I guess they just have proof."

Studying the electrified limb, Meetra nodded numbly as she watched the joints click and flow with the type of mechanical grace that she'd come to expect from the Zabrak's creations. He was grinning proudly as he showed off the perfectly articulated fingers, but it did nothing to quell his former general's growing guilt.

Carth seemed to sense that he wasn't getting a formal introduction and quickly took matters into his own hands. "Sorry to interrupt you… Bao-Dur was it? Did you say that you're a technician?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Are you by any chance the Zabrak working on the security grid system?"

"Why yes, that would be me." Bao-Dur chuckled. "Or at least it was. I recently stepped down from the project after Czerka got involved. I guess you can say that I'm still working on it in my own way but…" He tapped the spanner with a dark smile. "If you could avoid telling the TSF what I'm up to, I'd appreciate it."

"Oh sure. That's no problem." Jogging up to the Zabrak, Carth continued, "I was more wondering if you'd be able to get us to a station where we can access the grid system. I was hoping to use it to find my, er, their ship."

Atton scoffed. "The damned astromech droid is probably taking it out for a joyride as we speak."

"Now, don't take that personally," Bao-Dur informed the small remote trailing him. "I'm sure he doesn't mean it."

"I sure as hells do!"

"All of that aside, can you help us?" Carth pleaded.

Pursing his lips, Bao-Dur considered the question for a few seconds before nodding thoughtfully. "Provided you know what you're looking for once I get you into the system, it should be no problem. At least, not if you know how to use those blasters that you're carrying. Czerka's mercenaries have gotten pretty ruthless of late."

Meetra patted her rifle. "It's not a lightsaber, but I think we can manage."

"Good, because this is probably going to get a bit dangerous."

Humming softly, Kreia nodding to Meetra. "Often, risks must be taken to achieve great reward. Go, follow that creature. I'm sure the rest of us have no objection."

"Actually…" Atton began, though he was interrupted before he could finish.

"Let's go." Without waiting for the others, Carth began marching in the general direction of the base as he drew the customized twin pistols that he kept partially hidden beneath the hem of his coat. They were scuffed with wear but meticulously maintained.

As she fell silently into line behind the captain, Meetra tried to ignore how this situation reminded her of various assignments that she had carried out during the war. She wasn't bothered because those memories were bad. Honestly, she couldn't help but grin when she recalled some of the more interesting tasks she had complete for Revan. And that right there was the real problem… What type of person thought back on war and smiled?

The trip to the base went about as well as Bao-Dur predicted, starting with an ambush by a group of cloaked mercenaries and continuing to get worse from there. Luckily both Carth and Atton were masterful with their pistols, their shots made easier when Kreia used the Force to hold opponents in place or sweep them off their feet. Meeta mostly stayed towards the back of their group, picking off adversaries from afar thanks to the longer range of her rifle. While nobody was expecting their mechanic to throw himself into the fray, he proved surprisingly tough when he dove between flurries of blaster bolts, knocking down enemy shooters with his spanner.

By the time they reached their destination, everyone was panting as sweat beaded on their brows and causing their clothing to stick uncomfortably to their damp skin. While the warm Telosian sunshine had initially felt wonderful compared to the artificial light of Citadel Station, it grew increasingly oppressive the longer they jogged across open planes. Most of the landscape was still completely devoid of shade in the wake of the fires that devastated the planet's larger plant life. Unfortunately, this meant the crew was already worn down by the time they discovered that the nearest base had become the mercenaries' makeshift headquarters. They learned this when they stumbled past the perimeter of the camp only to find themselves surrounded by at least a dozen figures armed and ready to take down intruders.

"I don't suppose we can talk this out?" Atton asked sarcastically, his pistol already aimed at the nearest opponent.

"It's looking pretty doubtful." A flash of guilt shout through Meetra at the admission. Most of her Padawan missions had centered around negotiating peace between hostile parties. But that was before the war and before the role of an efficient and even ruthless general had become ingrained in her nature. Now she found her patience for discussions fraying with alarming speed.

Kreia cast a baleful glance at this comment, her lips twisting as her voice flowed through the Force bond. 'You know as well as I the power that a Force user's mind holds over the weak-willed.'

Meetra was well aware of what she was capable of back when she was one with the Force and not drifting aimlessly in the chaotic flow of the galaxy. But that was then. Even now with her connection returning everything felt different, a distorted reflection of the power that she wielded back when she could toss fully armored opponents through the air as though they were flimsiplast. Yet, this new sensation wasn't so different from the terrifying might discovered by many of the Revanchists towards the ends of the war. There was darkness in their methods, she recognized that now. But it was also undeniable strength, harnessed for the greater good of the galaxy.

With her rifle still raised Meetra gritted her teeth as her focus locked on the mercenary leader. "Stand down," she ordered.

The armored man seemed surprised, amusement twinkling in his eyes as he turned to study the petite figure with the long blonde braid. His attention had formerly been trained on Carth, which was reasonable. The captain actually looked like a threat.

"Or what, little lady?"

"We've already mowed our way through your forces on our way here," Meetra stated, taking a calculated step forward. "You may not be outnumbered, but you are outmatched."

Atton's eyes were wide as he hissed, "What the hells are you doing? I was joking!"

Ignoring the question, Meetra widened her stance. "Your forces are untrained and poorly organized. Half of them ran when they realized that they were on the losing end of the situation and the rest of them can't shoot worth a damn. You don't stand a chance against individuals like us who have actual training. So, I'm giving you one chance to get out of here alive. If you're smart, you'll take it."

The leader continued to grin, though the expression seemed strained. "You don't scare me."

A shiver of warning pricked the hairs on the back of Meetra's neck and she instinctively turned towards the source, spotting the mercenary taking aim at her a moment before his finger tapped the trigger. "Atton!" she shouted, sending out an unintentional surge of power through the Force. It was like a glowing thread that wrapped around her companion's form, tethering his mind to her own until their senses flowed together and their bodies moved as a single entity. He fired instantaneously, his pistol responding to Meetra's own thoughts.

The bolts whizzed through the air with a reaction time that wasn't possible for a normal individual, striking the would-be attacker a millisecond before he fired. The aim was exceptional, even better than Atton's usual skill, hitting the mercenary straight between the eyes and dropping him before anyone else realized what happened. If these were soldiers they would have closed ranks and waited for the inevitable command to open fire, but in their inexperience caused the hired guns to panic, some letting loose a barrage of bolts while others angrily demanded their next orders.

Meetra dodged to her left as her power extended to the rest of her companions, binding them together so that they all acted with perfect synchronicity that centered around her. Despite the chaos erupting around them, Carth's pistols shrieked with near-perfect precision as he brought down two of the mercenaries who were firing wildly, providing cover for Bao-Dur to dive in and strike the closest figure in the chest with his spanner. It knocked the wind out of the woman, while a second hit to the head sent her to the ground. Only Kreia seemed unaffected by Meetra's abilities. The older woman stood to the side during the battle, watching placidly and only moving when she used the Force to push back anyone who stumbled too close.

Now with partial cover, Meetra took careful aim at the leader before firing a single shot. It was a mixture of luck and skill that made the bolt to strike true and it burst through the man's kneecap in a bright spray of blood. With a howl he collapsed, dropping his blaster as he clutched the wound. A moment later Meetra was looming over him, the muzzle of her rifle pressed to his forehead as her Force presence pulsed once more, this time to call the rest of her crew back with a startling efficiency that caused the area to grow eerily silent in the span of a heartbeat.

"Stand. Down," Meetra ordered again, the Force adding persuasion to her voice.

Holding up his hands, the mercenary leader echoed, "I will stand down."

Lifting her pistol a few millimeters, Meetra commanded, "You and your men will drop your weapons, abandoned this base immediately, and never return."

The man nodded. "Me and my men will drop our weapons, abandon this base immediately, and never return." Even as he spoke he was already crawling backward, his blaster forgotten as he limped to his feet and then turned to what remained of his followers. "You heard her! Drop your weapons, we're getting out of here! You! Clear-out everyone inside of the building!"

There was a general murmur of confusion from the mercenaries as they watched their leader confusedly, some immediately dropping their blasters while others stared back defiantly. The tense stalemate was on the verge of dissolving back into violence when Meetra raised her rifle and fired two quick shots into the air. "Do what he says and you get out of here with your lives."

This time it wasn't the Force empowering her words. Instead, it was durasteel resolve of an experienced commander forged and honed on the battlefield. Her gaze was unwavering as she surveyed the scene, her shoulders back even as her body remained loose and ready to attack at a moment's notice. The mercenaries must have recognized this, along with the lack of leniency that shone in her pale blue eyes. After a minute or so they all acquiesced, dropping their weapons and hurriedly moving to retrieve their comrades or clear out the location.

There was a strange, stunned silence as Meetra's influence over the others gradually waned, their minds all disconnecting as her Force presence drew back within her own body. When the almost meditative state fully cleared both Carth and Bao-Dur glanced at her curiously, while Atton openly gaped like some species of overgrown fish. A few of the retreating mercenaries brushed aggressively past him but he seemed too stunned to notice. At least he had to the sense to hold his comments until the crew was alone, the last of the hired guns fading into shadows against the horizon.

"So that was… Wow. Did you do that? With the…?" Atton gestured to his head, both hands waving through the air. "Whatever it was, it was kriffing impressive!"

Bao-Dur was already checking the control panel by the base's door, typing in codes and muttering to his remote about people doing sloppy work overriding security subroutines. Carth appeared to be guarding his back, but most of the captain's attention was still focused on Meetra as an inscrutable expression momentarily crossed his face.

"Hmm?" She arched a brow at the man.

"Oh? Sorry, you just… Reminded me of someone I know."

"Is that a bad thing?"

There was a long pause as Carth genuinely considered the question, a hint of sadness creasing his brow. "I think that depends on who you ask."

"Don't listen to him." Atton was lounging against the base's entryway, watching as Bao-Dur sent the remote into the building to perform some initial reconnaissance. "You handled the situation better than anyone else could have. And you even let those bantha brains go in the end, which was more honorable than what I would have done."

"There wasn't any honor in what I did." Peering into the base, Meetra's voice was flat as she admitted, "The honorable choice would have been to take those mercenaries down non-lethally and then turn them over to Grenn and the TSF." Noting Carth's nod of agreement, she added, "The best choice for Telos would have been to kill them all and end Czerka's meddling."

Kreia hummed curiously. "And what do you consider your decision?

"The path of least resistance. The choice that enables us to reach our goals without enacting any actual change on this planet."

Seeming unmoved by this explanation, the older woman pushed past Bao-Dur as she tutted, "It's not our job to enact change."

The words hung in the air for several long moments as Meetra stood silently, watching as everyone else cautiously made their way into the building. Still holding her rifle she slipped in last to guard the rear, softly whispering, "Changing the galaxy used to be my entire life."

It didn't seem like anyone heard her, and if they did nothing was said in response. Truthfully, it appeared that everyone else was too distracted by the damage that the mercenaries had done to the vestibule and the hallway beyond. Wires were ripped out of the walls and trash littered the floor, all of it punctuated by dozens of scorch marks burned into the walls by blaster bolts.

"Phew," Atton whistled. "This place is worse than a Nar Shadda cantina 'fresher."

"Oh, it only gets more interesting from here." The remote was back, whistling cheerfully to Bao-Dur. "It seems that there are traps all over this building. There are more than a few gas mines laying around and some makeshift automated turrets. I can probably deactivate most of them, but it might take some time."

Holstering his blaster, Atton reached into his jacket and produced some type of multitool that looked less-than-legal. "I can help."

"At least one of us should go as back-up. If one of those turrets gets set off it's going to be trouble." Carth winced at the thought.

"And you know this from experience?" Meetra offered the man a half-smile. "Do you spend a lot of time sneaking through trapped, abandoned buildings, Captain?"

"More than you'd think. Speaking of which, I don't suppose any of you have a lightsaber? One of those would make this go a lot easier."

"Yeah, I'm sure she has one and has been hiding it because doing everything the hard way is more fun." Atton rolled his eyes as he set off after Bao-Dur, taking care to remain as far from the remote as physically possible.

"After earlier, I just thought it was worth asking!"

"Fool." Kreia hissed disapprovingly as she strode over to the corner and settled herself into a meditative position. "I've run out of patience for these games. Go on ahead, I'll guard the door. If anyone approaches I'll sense them long before they reach the entry point."

Carth appeared unperturbed by the criticism. "And how will you contact us if anyone is nearby?"

"Meetra will know."

"It's… a Force thing. Come on, let's get going." Waving the captain over, she hurried after the others. "The sooner we dismantle these traps, the sooner we can find the Hawk."

The first string of gas mines was deactivated without a problem, leaving Atton to kick the disassembled pieces down the hallways with a cocky grin. The first two clusters of makeshift turrets were also handled without much difficulty thanks to the remote's previous reconnaissance and Bao-Dur's natural skill with all things mechanical. The third sent was an unfortunate surprise, tucked away in an alcove by some mercenaries who possessed a little forethought. The blasters went off the moment that Carth walked too close to the adjoining wall, filling the small corridor with brilliant streaks of red light and the deafening shriek of a dozen bolts being fired simultaneously.

"Get down!" Carth shouted as he pressed close to the wall and started firing at the nearest turret.

"Where!?" Gesturing to the complete lack of cover, Atton flattened himself against the ground in an attempt to avoid the incoming fire.

Meetra leaned close to the opposite wall as she took aim at a second turret. "Just stay down and don't move! They're probably movement activated."

"At this point, I think they're just activated," Bao-Dur corrected ruefully. "And don't aim for the blasters, aim for the optics over there."

"That little reflective dot? Damn, that's going to be hard to hit."

"I didn't say it would be easy, General."

Continuing to half-run and half-crawl down the hallway, Atton let out an exasperated sigh. "This is why I don't trust droids, they're not reliable! Kriff this, I'm just going to sprint past so that someone organic can scout ahead."

Before anyone could protest he took off with surprising speed considering his awkward position, rolling into a neat dive as he entered the worst of the turret fire and managing to tumble just beneath the main line of attack. Twisting back onto his feet the moment he landed, he straightened slightly before darting around a corner. His figure disappeared from view for a single instant before a loud series of pops reverberated through the floor, adding to the cacophony already filling the cramped space.

Atton's voice sounded groggy as he slurred, "I, uh, think I found the rest of the gas mines…"

"Dammit!" Swinging her rifle onto her back with no thought to her own safety, Meetra dodged low and thanked the Force for her smaller build as she sped past the turret fire, her limbs not quite as limber as Atton's but her body providing a much smaller target. She heard someone shout an objection just as she tugged up the hem of her shirt and tucked the material around the lower half of her face.

"What are you…?!" Carth began.

"Don't worry about the General! I know from experience that she can survive a lot more toxins than you or me. She'll be fine, she knows how to take care of herself."

With the constant whine of blaster fire filling her ears Meetra whipped around the corner only to be confronted by a thick cloud of green gas. Drawing a last gasp of clean air, she checked that her shirt was securely covering her nose and mouth before charging forward, spotting Atton's prone form less than two meters away. The toxic fumes were enough to irritate her eyes and she wiped the tears away with her knuckles before reaching down and grabbing the back of her companion's jacket. Grunting, she dragged him across the floor as she continued to make her way forward, her lungs beginning to burn with the need for oxygen.

Atton was still a dead weight as Meetra stumbled beyond the worst of the gas, inhaling deeply the moment the air began to clear. She winced as the residual fumes stung her airway and caused a series of deep, hacking coughs that wracked her chest. Tears continued to distort her vision, making it hard to tell if they were fully clear of poison or if she was misjudging her surroundings. Even so, she was hesitant to move further ahead because there was sure to be more traps beyond this point. At the moment the toxic air was dangerous, but getting pinned down by turret fire while guarding an incapacitated individual could prove deadly.

Still keeping her nose and mouth covered Meetra checked Atton's vitals, pleased to discover that his pulse was strong even though his breathing was shallow and labored. Placing her hands beneath his arms she hauled him into a sitting position, giving him a soft shake to encourage him to cough out the poison and draw some cleansing breaths. As she rubbed one palm over his back she felt the faintest tingle of warmth heat her skin and she squeaked a surprised gasp as her mind immediately recognized the familiar sensation of the Force's healing energy. With trembling fingers, she carefully began to trace soft circles along her companion's spine, willing the power to flow out of her body and into his own. A few harrowing seconds passed before the tingle faded, followed by a loud gasp as Atton drew a conscious breath.

"Ugh…" Gagging violently he slouched over, spitting out a wad of greenish phlegm as he sucked in air.

"Kreia's right, you're an idiot."

"She… She usually calls me a fool." Still hacking harshly, Atton blinked as he gradually regained alertness. "Oh hey, nice underwear."

At least the shirt covering Meetra's cheeks helped to hide her blush. Even so, she quickly tugged the fabric back down. "My face is up here."

"Which, for the record, is also really nice."

A loud bang echoed down the hallway, followed by utter silence as the deafening screech of turret fire suddenly ceased. Meetra and Atton shared a worried glance, only looking up as footfalls rapidly approached them.

Carth was the first to appear around the corner, using his palm to shield his nose and mouth from the remaining wisps of gas. "Are you okay over there?"

"We're fine," Meetra called. "Are you? What did you do?"

"We shut down the turrets." Bao-Dur gave his spanner a playful swing, one end now dotted with shards of transparisteel. "There's more than one way to fix a machine."

Nodding appreciatively, Meetra gestured down the hallway as she helped haul Atton to his feet. "Do you know if there are any more traps up here?"

Peering into the distance as his remote offered a few encouraging beeps, Bao-Dur pointed to a room several meters away. "There shouldn't be anything else between us and the computer that accesses the security grid. Still, we should be careful just in case."

"Noted. And thank you."

"No, thank you, General." Seeing the questioning look he was receiving from his former commander, the Zabrak clarified, "Thank you for reminding me that people are still capable of kindness even after the war. It's good to see that you're still helping others."

"Hey!" Atton objected, "I'm literally right here!"

A surprising flash of warmth passed through the Force as Bao-Dur's words sank in, and Meetra basked in its glow for a moment before replying, "It's what any decent soldier would do."

"Don't sell yourself short, General. Uh, no height puns intended. You did a good deed." The remote beeped in apparent agreement before speeding a few meters forward and then squeaking chipperly. "Excellent! The way ahead seems to be clear. Let's go and find your ship."

Rushing after Bao-Dur as he strode calmly down the hall, Meetra blurted out, "You should come with us once we find the Hawk! I mean, I'm not sure where we're going from here, but… Whatever happens, you should come too. We can use a good mechanic and it sounds like you already quit your job on Telos."

"Do you mean it?"

"Yes, of course!" Meetra nodded as she brushed aside Atton's sputtered objections.

"Well then, I'd be happy take you up on the offer." Checking the door panel for any signs of tampering, Bao-Dur hummed in satisfaction as he tapped in the code to unlock the computer room. "I've been wondering where to go next. I suppose it's just like you always said, let the Force be your guide."

A hollow sensation echoed through Meetra even as she muttered, "Yes, exactly."

Carth jogged into the room a moment after Atton, his eyes scanning the various monitors as Bao-Dur typed in a few commands to bring up the interface for the security grid. "I, uh, think I'm the only one here who knows the codes for the Hawk's beacon, so do you mind if I…?"

"Be my guest."

"Great." Anxiety rippled across Carth's features as he added whatever information he had to the system. The information processed for several seconds before the images and diagrams changed, a few of the monitors blinking as they displayed the new data. "Wait, what the hells does all of this mean?"

"It means that your ship isn't on the grid," Bao-Dur responded with a puzzled frown. "But the beacon is still responding to the system and trying to triangulate a location. Which, ironically enough, does narrow things down significantly."

"Wait," Meetra stared at the screens, unable to comprehend most of the information. "The ship's not on Telos?"

Bao-Dur chuckled. "That's not what I said, General. I said that it's not on the grid, which doesn't actually cover the entire planet." Scrolling through the various maps and readouts, he began to zoom in on one specific image. "There's a small area not covered by the grid right around… here. That's where your ship is."

"That's the kriffing pole!" Scoffing at the information, Atton shivered at the thought.

"It is. Which means that your ship might be a bit cold once we find it."

"Alright, so the Ebon Hawk is here, at the pole for some Sith-damned reason." Carth shook his head. "What's the fastest way to get there?"

Typing in a few more codes, Bao-Dur smiled in satisfaction. "Since your shuttle was destroyed when you, er, landed, I'd suggest taking the craft that's stored in this base. It's a bit larger than what you had so it will be better equipped to handle the weather where we're headed."

"Great. Just great," Atton griped.

"Oh, it won't be that bad." Using the console to open the nearby hangar, Bao-Dur gave the Human a comforting smile. "At least, provided you don't crash again."


The second shuttle technically didn't crash, though the landing was best classified as 'dangerously turbulent.'

"Getting shot at does not count as a bad landing!" Atton ranted as he pried his fingers off the controls. "Also, who the kriff is shooting at us?!"

Kreia merely smiled at the question. "Who indeed? I sensed a building hidden within the snowdrifts when we flew overhead, but one must wonder why such a remote place would need such protection."

"I'm not sure, but those cannons definitely weren't on the specs that I was provided with." Bao-Dur rubbed his forehead in confusion.

"Not to alarm anyone, but is that a person standing out there in the middle of the snow looking completely unbothered by how cold it is?" Slowing backing away from the viewport, Carth drew his main pistol as he glanced warily at the others.

"That's sure what it looks like." Peeking out at the swirling flakes Meetra spotted the figure that the captain was referring to, their white and cream robes nearly invisibly against the frozen landscape. Whoever they were, they did seem indifferent to the weather despite wearing little protection against the elements. Their only additional clothing appeared to be some type of veil that shielded their eyes and the top portion of their cheeks. Whoever this person was, they were approaching quickly.

"What are your orders, General?"

"I don't have orders." Meetra sighed as she reached for her rifle. "But we should probably stay here and let them come to us. The last thing we need is to be attacked by an unknown assailant in the middle of an ice field."

Everyone's silence suggested that they agreed, and the soft click of weapons being drawn confirmed that nobody expected this situation to end peacefully. It felt like the crew held their collective breaths as the figure drew closer, eventually disappearing from sight right before a loud knock sounded against the shuttle hatch.

"Who is it?" Atton quipped with false politeness.

There was a long pause, and then a muffled feminine voice calling out, "My name is of no importance."

"Bantha shit it's not. You blew us out of the kriffing sky!"

"If my master wanted you harmed, you would be dead. I've come to speak with you on her behalf."

Carth groaned, a frustrated expression crossing his face. "No offense to certain people here, but someone wearing a robe and talking about their 'master' usually doesn't end well for me."

"Hmm." Shouldering aside the captain, Kreia approached the landing ramp though she made no move to extend it. "Who is your master, child? And why do they send a servant to speak for them?"

Another pause, and then, "I come here on behalf of Jedi Master Atris, the keeper of the archives and the head of this academy. She is currently occupied with her duties and has bid me to extend an offer to meet with her."

Meetra's fingers felt boneless as the rifle slipped from her grip and slammed against the shuttle floor, banging hard enough to send vibrations throughout the cockpit. She barely noticed, too busy dashing towards the door as she desperately shouted, "Kreia, open the hatch!"

"Atris must think highly of herself if she sends a mere child to greet us." The older woman lowered her head, her body still blocking the exit. "Though, perhaps this girl is more than she appears. And far more than her master believes her to be."

The Force pulsed against Meetra's consciousness as she neared the ramp, but her mind was too numb to care. Rushing past Kreia, she slammed her palm against the hatch controls and opened the shuttle, immediately recoiling when a blast of bone-chilling wind gusted in. "You said that Atris sent you? Where is she? Take me to see her!"

The strange, veiled woman tilted her head to the side as she appeared to stare at the person addressing her, all without revealing her eyes. "You are the one she spoke of, the Exile."

Leaping off the ramp before it was fully extended, Meetra shoved her hands beneath her arms to warm them as she landed in the snow with a hard thud, sending up a spray of cold, wet flakes. "No. Yes. It doesn't matter what she calls me, just please, take me to see her!" Practically throwing herself at the stranger's feet, she gazed up pleadingly as her heart hammered in her chest.

"Your companions…"

"They can stay here, they can come, I don't care! I just… I need to talk to her, to see her, anything! Please."

"Atris? The Echani Jedi Master?" Carth appeared on the ramp, his pistol still drawn but lowered to his side. "I've heard of her."

The stranger nodded. "I am not surprised. Even those blind to the Force have heard tell of her skills and dedication to the Order."

There was a derisive snort from Kreia that matched the captain's muttered, "That's not quite what I was told…"

Meetra barely registered her companions' chatter as she climbed to her feet, the wind blowing past her jacket as the snow seeped into her boots. "What does Atris want?"

"To speak with you, Exile." Now that her orders were carried out the stranger turned lightly and began to walk back through her own footprints, moving swiftly despite the fact that the accumulated snow reached the middle of her shins. "The others may come, provided they surrender their weapons at the door. The academy is a place of peace."

"And what if I don't want to surrender my weapons?" Atton demanded.

Pausing to glance over her shoulder, the stranger's plush lips tugged into a frown. "Then you can stay outside and freeze."

"Well, that doesn't sound very Jedi-like."

"The Jedi are peacekeepers," the stranger explained. "Nothing about that requires them to invite violence into their homes and places of learning."

"Hrrmph."

Bounding after the stranger, Meetra only looked behind her as an afterthought. The distinct crunch of boots trudging through the snow assured her that at least one companion was following, but she was surprised to learn that the entire crew had chosen to accompany her to Atris's academy. She considered assuring them that they were welcome to stay behind in the shuttle, but her voice caught in her throat as affection bloomed within her chest. All that she managed to choke out was a strangled, "Th… Thank you for coming with me."

"I don't think any of us were about to let you go in there alone," Carth responded through chattering teeth. He lowered his voice as he added, "Besides, you're not the only one with questions for the Jedi."

Kreia nodded, though not necessarily in agreement with the captain. "I believe that we all have curiosities that this academy may be able to answer… Even if those answers don't come from Atris herself."

"Hey, I just don't want to freeze to death on the shuttle while I wait for you to finish whatever it is that you're doing." Atton jogged up with a grin, nudging Meetra in the side with his shoulder. She responded with a distracted grunt, but he seemed undaunted.

The rest of the walk to the academy felt impossibly long, though not because of the cold that numbed Meetra's nose or the constant snowfall that soaked through the thin lining of her jacket. What made it stretch on for a relative eternity was the anticipation that knocked the breath from her lungs and made her heart feel erratic. Her mind raced in circles of how and why and what if, but none of those thoughts stuck for more than an instant before melting away like snowflakes beneath the sun. She didn't know what she was going to do or say, nor did she believe her actions would actually matter. And yet, speaking to Atris still felt like the most important thing in the galaxy.

When the concealed dome of the academy was within sight, Atton leaned in close and asked, "I know Atris is some sort of Jedi, but why is seeing her so important?"

"Because we left too many things unsaid, even if it was just 'goodbye.'"

This response seemed to sober Atton and he slipped into an awkward silence as the group reached the academy's entrance, the only sound the crunch of snow beneath their boots and their labored breaths that froze in the cold air. A press of the veiled stranger's palm to a small pad by the entryway revealed a door, and a rush of warm air greeting the travelers as they stumbled into the vestibule.

"You may all wait here while you disarm yoursel…"

Having abandoned her rifle back on the shuttle, Meetra threw her arms out to her sides as she looked imploringly at the stranger. Now, in a better light and without snow obscuring her features it was obvious that she was rather young, dressed in robes reminiscent of a Jedi Padawan's but featuring a simpler cut and design. Her undertunic resembled a long white dress with wide sleeves, while her outer layer was a plain, cream-colored vest that trailed almost to the floor. The whole ensemble was belted at the waist with a white sash that matched her simple white veil.

"I'm unarmed. I don't even have a knife." Meetra gestured to her pockets. "You can check for yourself. So please, just take me to see Atris."

"I trust you, Exile." The strange woman bowed her head slightly, nodding towards a long corridor just off the main entrance. "Go. My master waits for you at the end of that passage."

"Thank you." Without another word, Meetra took off down the hallway without even stopping to knock the snow from her boots. From the vestibule, she could hear the continued bickering of her companions.

"Okay," Atton was arguing, "What if I really don't want to give you my blaster? Are you going to use some type of mind-trick on me?"

Shaking her head at his antics, Meetra mentally ran through the conversations that she had scripted in her mind over the years, waiting for the chance to finally speak with Atris alone. There were so many things that they had never discussed, and so many misunderstandings or missed opportunities that it felt impossible to choose a place to start. But as she sprinted into a large, round room that resembled the Council chambers she remembered from her childhood, she found all of her words evaporating when she spotted the only other figure occupying the space, her pristine robes arranged around her in a perfect cascade of white and silver.

Skidding to a sudden halt, Meetra stared for a moment. "Oh. You really are here."

"I'm surprised that you came with Visas."

"Is that her name?"

"Yes, Visas Marr. She's a Miraluka, a species who are physically blind but who see using the Force. I found her on Katarr, the lone survivor of a massacre." Atris's tone was scathing. "Not that you'd care."

"I do care, but I'm also not here to talk about your Padawan."

"Servant," Atris quickly corrected, her demeanor colder than the snowfield surrounding the building. "Despite being Force-sensitive, she's far too old to be safely trained in the ways of the Force."

Meetra scoffed, though her tone was mild. "You know, even when you're playing the part of the haughty Jedi who's too self-important for her own good, you're still stunningly beautiful."

The effect was instantaneous as Atris's nostrils flared and her pale cheeks flushed a fierce shade of pink. "Stop it, you have no right to say those things! You never did."

"You used to like them," Meetra breathed, clenching her jaw against the hurt that sat coldly in her stomach.

"That was when we were children. Before I truly understood the damage that you were doing to the Order. That you did to yourself."

"You're acting the same way that you did at my trial, like you expect me to apologize for something that I still think was necessary. And by the way, I'm still not sorry."

"And that right there is the problem, Meetra!" Standing from her chair, Atris strode over to the other woman. "You chose war over peace and passion over knowledge when you decided to meet the Mandalorian's aggression with violence of your own. That is not the Jedi way and yet you regret nothing."

"I have regrets." Meeting the Echani's silvery-blue gaze, Meetra explained, "Just because I did what I thought was necessary to defend the Republic doesn't mean that my decisions don't weight on me. I paid a price for my choices and I've learned to accept the consequences."

"You speak as though you made a small misstep and that the repercussions didn't echo throughout the galaxy." Disgust settled on Atris's features. "You used a superweapon, Meetra. You killed thousands."

"And every day I regret that's what it took to end the war, that thousands of sentients had to die in order to protect billions more! I regret it almost as much as the fact that the war ruined everything between us. Most of all, I regret not sitting down with you before I left so that I could explain…"

"Stop!" Holding up her hand, Atris shook her head. "There's nothing you could have said that would have excused your choice to leave in search of battle and bloodshed. And there was never anything between us, at least not the type of love that you wanted. A Jedi does not love like that."

Despite the disappointment that carved its way down to her bones, Meetra didn't back down. "There's nothing dangerous or poisonous about love, Atris."

"The type of love you refer to leads to attachment, which in turn leads to fear, anger, jealousy, and the dark side. You're living proof of all of these things."

Meetra's voice was practically a whisper. "I loved Revan enough to believe in his cause with every fiber of my being, and I loved the Republic enough to die for it. How is that wrong?"

"And you did die because of your decisions. You died thousands of times within your soul, once for every life you took. I can feel it, a gaping emptiness where there was once a promising Jedi." Turning her back on the other woman, Atris sounded almost apologetic as she murmured, "You're a shadow of the person you used to be."

"There were consequences and I accept them. But none of what you said proves that love is wrong. For years I loved you even after you grew to hate me."

Whirling around, Atris gasped at the implication. "A Jedi does not hate."

"That's a shame because I'd really rather you hate me than be indifferent towards me."

"I have never loved you in the way that you wanted to be loved, nor have I ever hated you. In the past, I was intrigued by you because of your potential. You could have been one of the greatest Consulars that the Order ever saw. But then you strayed from the path that the Force set you on. Or perhaps you were led astray by Revan." Leaning in close Atris sneered, "It doesn't matter what happened, what matters is the darkness that consumed you!"

The air rushed from Meetra's lungs, leaving her feeling woozy and disconnected as the explanation for her former friend's resentment coalesced into a single, sudden realization. "You think I fell."

"I think you were corrupted by one of the darkest and most dangerous men the Order has ever known. Malak…"

"Alek," Meetra mumbled.

"Malak," Atris stated more pointedly, "May have been a tyrant, but Revan is the one who set him and countless others on their paths into darkness. Revan fell and he dragged half of the Order with him…"

"Don't you dare act like you know him!" A voice cut through the intimate atmosphere of the room, though it did nothing to break the lingering tension. Both women cautiously stepped away from each other as they turned to look towards the room's entryway just in time to see Carth come marching through wearing an enraged expression.

"I know as much as I need to!"

"You don't know him, Atris," Carth growled dangerously as he stalked towards the Echani. "You and the rest of your Council may think you do, but you don't. Yes, there's darkness in Vann just like everyone else. But he also has a greater capacity for selflessness and compassion than anyone I've ever met. He didn't fall, he just failed to meet your impossibly high standards because he dared to have a mind of his own!"

Meetra glanced confusedly between the pair. "Who is Vann? Carth, what are you talking about?"

"Vann is just another one of Revan's many names. Along with the Revanchist and the Butcher." Atris spat out the last word like a poison.

"Carth," Meetra breathed, "Do you… know Revan?"

"I should think so. After all, isn't it polite to know the name of whoever you're bedding?"

"Mock me all you want, Atris. But it won't change the fact that Vann chose me and the rest of his friends over rejoining the Jedi Order." Pausing a moment, Carth snapped, "And by the way, maybe if you 'bedded' someone you wouldn't be such a…"

"Wait!" Confusion still etched Meetra's brow. "You and Revan…?"

Sardonic laughter spilled from Atris's full lips. "Did he not tell you that he's one of the many dangerous attachments that Revan has formed since coming back to the Republic? One of the many individuals sucked down into his dark orbit…"

"Be very, very careful about your next words," Carth cautioned, unafraid to press himself into the Jedi's space. When she merely turned up her nose in response, he shifted to look at his crewmate. "Meetra, I'm sorry that I didn't tell you. I was going to explain everything once we found the Hawk, which is here, by the way, because Atris stole it."

"Confiscated it for the information that it might contain."

"Wait… I apologize," Meetra stammered almost sheepishly. "I'm still stuck at the idea that you and Revan…"

"I was going to tell you!"

"No, I'm not mad! I'm just… Surprised? He never really showed interest in anyone before."

Both of Carth's eyebrows arched in genuine shock. "What, really?"

"By the way, he wiped the navigation system," Atris interrupted mockingly, no trace of apology in her tone. "You won't be able to find him or whatever threat he recognized but didn't think was important enough to tell the Republic or his lover about."

"He… What?"

"Is that what happened to all of the Hawk's maps and charts?" Meetra frowned as she considered the new information. While it solved one mystery, it left several more. "Even if the system was erased, doesn't someone have a record of where the ship was heading?"

"Apparently not. It appears that Revan grew tired of playing the part of a Master at his abomination of an academy and abandoned everyone that he claimed to care about." A faint smirk of satisfaction tugged at Atris's mouth.

"He went to help an old friend, and while he was there he sensed something dangerous and tried to chase it down. I… I don't know where he went. He's been missing for almost two years."

"…What!?"

"Yet again, everyone's perceived hero left the Republic in its time of need." Any trace of amusement or mirth vanished from Atris's voice. "Jedi are dying or disappearing at an alarming rate while those who remain swear there is something far darker than Malak clouding the Force. Yet, unsurprisingly, Revan is nowhere to be found."

This revelation startled Meetra more than anything else she had learned in the past few weeks, and she actually stumbled backward from the shock. "There are Jedi dying?"

Carth nodded grimly. "It's what Vann was investigating. He thought he knew the source and I think he went to confront it."

"But the problem has only grown worse in the past two years. Visas's home was one of the casualties. Several Masters went to Katarr to harness its connection to the Living Force to try and discern the nature of the threat we're facing. But before they could learn anything they were attacked. I arrived a few days later to search for survivors, but all I found was the girl."

Waving off the Jedi Master, Carth hurriedly explained, "Vann has a theory that there's some type of 'true Sith' trying to conquer the Republic. That's who he went to search for."

"So, the Jedi have been searching for answers but haven't found anything? And Revan was also looking for the source when he disappeared?" Meetra nodded, mostly to herself, as she considered these facts.

Sighing wearily, Atris confirmed, "That's the simplified version of it."

"Then let me help you search."

"Certainly not! What can you, someone who has cut herself off from the Force, possibly do that the Jedi cannot?"

"The Force has been coming back to me, slowly but surely. Maybe it's a sign." Turning to Carth for encouragement, Meetra pressed on. "It seems to me that the Jedi can't see through the obfuscation created by this threat, but Revan could."

"That's arguable…"

"I'm a lot like Revan. We both chose to go to war, we both made hard decisions in the name of the Republic, and we both came back… different. So maybe I'll be able to sense what he sensed." Turning to meet the Jedi Master's pale gaze, Meetra lowered her voice as she practically begged, "Please, Atris. Give me whatever information you have, whatever intelligence you've managed to uncover. Maybe I can help save the Jedi who are left. I feel like I owe the Order that much. They raised me, after all."

"I'm appalled that you would even make such a request! You are no longer part of the Jedi Order and as such you have no right to our classified documents."

Huffing at her former friend's stubbornness and unwavering adherence to the rules, Meetra retorted, "Then can I at least have my damn ship back?"

"No. Visas can help you repair your shuttle so that you can return to Citadel Station. From there what you do is your choice. But the Ebon Hawk is now the property of the Jedi Council."

It was hard for Meetra to resist stamping her foot like a petulant child. "Atris!"

"I see that it was a mistake to speak with you again, Meetra. I was hoping that, after walking the path of an exile, you would be more reasonable but clearly, I was wrong." With a sweep of her robes, the Echani Master turned towards the long, gated pathway that blocked the council chambers from what must be her private rooms. She didn't look back as she strode past the barrier, which opened automatically when she approached only to slam shut the moment she was through. "This conversation is over. You and your crew may stay here overnight, but I want you gone by tomorrow afternoon. Good-bye."

Dashing up to the gate, Meetra pounded her palms against the cold metal as she yelled, "Atris! Atris, get back here!"

"Hey, stop. You're going to hurt yourself if you don't calm down!" Carth's hands were warm on her shoulders as he guided her towards the center of the room. "Breathe, just breathe. Atris isn't going to change her mind, so we might as well go and talk to the rest of the crew about the situation so that we can figure out what to do from here."

"But… Don't you want the ship back?" Hope shone in Meetra's eyes. "To see if Revan left any clues for you?"

Glancing worriedly towards Atris's private quarters, Carth clenched his teeth as he gave his crewmate a hard prod in the opposite direction. "Let's just go talk to the others. Trust me."

Realizing that there was something the captain wasn't telling her, Meetra nodded reluctantly as she slowly stumbled out of the chamber. "Alright, lead the way."

Carth seemed anxious to get as far away from Atris as possible, his shoulders stiff with tension as he stalked through the hallways at a rapid clip. Despite the numerous passageways throughout the surprisingly empty academy, he didn't falter as he guided Meetra past the entrance vestibule and then down another series of hallways that seemed to lead to the other side of the expansive building. The walk was long, though not arduously so, and through it all there were no signs of other lifeforms.

"Do you know where all of the other Jedi are?"

"There aren't any."

"But didn't Visas say this is an academy? It should be bustling with students and their master! After all, a Jedi is never alone…"

Leaning in closer, Carth hissed, "Atris is. Visas is the only other person here, and she's not a Jedi since her 'master' purposely refuses to train her. I'll let the others explain the rest when we reach them."

Meetra could only nod numbly, the strangeness of the place slowly sinking in the longer her boots echoed dully through the empty halls. Eventually, they entered a large workroom with a huge window that overlooked a hangar, the Hawk sitting proudly just beyond. Everyone else was already gathered, Atton and Kreia arguing with each other as Bao-Dur fiddling with something on T3-M4.

"There, is that better?" the Zabrak asked the droid, earning him several affirmative beeps and whistles.

Spotting the pair entering the room, Atton stalked away from Kreia as he clapped his hands together. "Alright, she's here. Let's get going!"

"And where do you think we're headed? It's getting dark out and Atris said that we can stay here…"

"We can't stay here," Carth warned. "In case you haven't noticed, there's something really wrong with the place and with Atris."

It wasn't a lie. The longer that Meetra walked through the barren halls of the academy, the colder she had felt as gnawing loneliness echoed through her body. "Well, if there's something wrong we should help her!"

"My master does not want help, nor does she believe that anything here is amiss here." Visas was standing away from others, her head bowed and her hands folded before her. "But I can see it through the Force, a creeping dread that grows by the day. The coldness you feel has nothing to do with the snowfields that surround us."

Kreia inclined her head thoughtfully. "Did you not find it curious that this place is an academy, yet there are no students? Do you not question the fact that Atris sits alone in her council chamber? There is nothing here for you or anyone else, but Atris's stubborn pride will never allow her to admit that this is a wasteland of her own making."

"She's upset that Jedi are dying!"

"Then help her by helping them." Cath pointed angrily in the direction they just came from. "You saw her, she doesn't want to listen to you or me or anyone else."

Desperation tightened Meetra's throat. "But I can't just…"

"General, you and the other Revanchists were prepared to defy the Jedi Council when you realized that the rest of the Order was unwilling to abandon their ideals to protect the Republic. You recognized that the millions of innocent lives being lost were more important than the beliefs of a few stubborn individuals clinging to the past. I don't pretend to know a lot about the Jedi, but this feels like a similar situation."

"Besides, nobody's saying that you can't come back here once you figure out what's going wrong." Atton grinned cheekily. "And while I wasn't planning to come with you, if you can figure out a way to keep me warm I might change my mind."

"Alright, fine! Staying here to try and help Atris would be like sticking around to have a conversation with a durasteel wall." Sighing, Meetra, mentally acknowledged that the wall might actually be more receptive to her ideas. "But we can't leave without a ship and knowing Atris, she probably locked the Hawk inside of her hangar when she 'confiscated' it."

Stepping forward, Visas bowed her head. "I also have access to the hangar, as it's necessary for my various duties in upkeeping this building. I can get you to your ship, provided that you take me with you when you leave."

"Why do you want to leave? I can understand if this academy is a lonely place to live, but you still call Atris your master and from what I've been told you don't have…" Meetra trailed off uncomfortably, unsure if she should mention the destruction of the Miraluka's homeworld. "Is there somewhere else that you want to go?"

"I continue to owe Atris for rescuing me, but it is not a debt that can be repaid through cooking and cleaning. Perhaps if I can find the solution to the emptiness that threatens to consume this place, my obligations will be fulfilled and my master can finally be free of the doubts that cloud her mind." Sighing, Visas shook her head. "I have little care where we go, as the only places I have ever known are here and the ashes of Katarr."

A jolt of sympathy flashed through Meetra's mind as she recalled Atris's words, 'the lone survivor of a massacre.' Turning towards the ship, she nodded to the rest of the crew. "Alright, I guess we have one more passenger. Let's go before Atris realizes that we're plotting to take the Hawk back. I'm honestly surprised that she hasn't already sensed our plans through the Force."

Folding her hands into the sleeves of her robes Kreia muttered, "The Force moves strangely here, and even those who think themselves clear-sighted are blinded to what is right in front of them."

Visas was already unlocking the hangar and disabling the wall-sized forcefield that acted as a gateway between the safety of the academy and the frigid environment beyond. The moment that the door between the rooms slid open a blast of cold air swept around the crew, causing everyone to shiver. "This way. I assume that one of you can pilot this craft."

"Atton's one of the better pilots that I've met. You're in good hands."

"Aw, I'd say you're exaggerating but you're really not." Tossing a playful grin over his shoulder Atton headed into the hangar, rubbing his arms to ward off the chill as he lowered the landing ramp and beckoned everyone else over.

The rest of the crew rushed after him, partially to limit their exposure to the cold but mostly to get airborne before Atris noticed they were missing. Meetra and Visas found themselves at the back of the group, both of them scurrying into the protective hold of the ship just as the engines began to rumble softly beneath them. They sounded far less strained than when the Hawk landed on Telos.

Meetra turned towards the cockpit, planning on helping Atton with the take-off when a slim hand grasped her wrist. Despite the veil hiding her eyes, Visas's face was extremely expressive and it now exuded a mixture of gratitude and solemnity.

"Thank you, Exile. I am in your debt." Bowing deeply, she whispered, "My life for yours."

"Please, call me Meetra…"

Before the conversation could continue, the entire ship rocked as it lifted off the hangar floor, hovering for an instant before shooting out into the frozen wilderness surrounding the academy. After offering Visas an apologetic nod, Meetra hurried to the cockpit and slid into the copilot's seat as the freighter soared through the thick, white flakes nearly obscuring the brilliant orange sunset.

Atton glanced at her as she sat down. "Hey there, come here often?"

Chuckling to herself, Meetra checked the readouts.

"So, where are we headed? Back to Citadel Station, or do you want to go somewhere else? If you're any good at those Jedi tricks, we can always land on Nar Shadda and make a few credits at the pazaak tables."

"I don't know how to play pazaak," Meetra admitted, smiling softly in response to Atton's exaggerated shock. "As for where we're going… I don't want to stay on Telos. We can always contact Grenn later to let him know that we found the Hawk."

Nodding in understanding, Atton adjusted a few dials as he prepared to take the ship beyond the atmosphere. "Should we drop the captain off?"

"I don't think Carth wants to be anywhere but on this ship right now." Ignoring the questioning look she received, Meetra started to access the ship's navigation system only to remember that it no longer existed. "Hey, have you seen…?"

"Bee-boo-boop!" Racing into the cockpit, T3-M4 gently nudged Meetra's leg as he continued to chatter. "Beep-boo-whoop!"

"What the hells is the trashcan saying?"

"Wait, you downloaded what from Atris?" Turning to stare at the droid, Meetra waved her hands at him as encouragement to slow down. "Well, no, she shouldn't have tried to copy your memory files without your permission. But that doesn't mean that you…"

"Whoo! Bee-beep-boop!"

"For me? Because he told you about…?" A lump formed in Meetra's throat and she swallowed hard to keep her voice steady. "Thank you, Tee-Three."

"Can someone tell me what's going on? And maybe where we're going?"

Drawing a deep breath, Meetra guided the droid over to the navigation computer as dread settled cold in her gut. "I don't care where we go, but we really need to get out of here. Apparently, Tee-Three sliced into the academy's system while Atris was downloading information from him. While he was in there he, uh, stole a few things."

Atton arched a doubtful brow. "Like what?"

"All of her classified files."

"So, your trashcan just stole classified information from a Jedi Master? As in someone who carries a lightsaber and can throw people across the room with her mind?" Before Meetra could object to the description, Atton flipped a series of switches. "Never mind, I think I'll be happier not knowing. Let's just get out of here, I'm tired of this place! Jumping to hyperspace in three… two…"


The Hawk's engines felt significantly smoother as the freighter traveled through the blue and white swirl of hyperspace, all of the systems quite now that most of the necessary repairs had been made. Meetra was seated in the ship's main hold, T3-M4 sitting in front of her as she carefully sorted through all of the stolen files. Distantly she heard the sound of Bao-Dur making additional repairs to the bulkhead in the garage, while her mind softly brushed against the strength of Kreia's meditative stillness. The remaining crew was gathered in the same hold, paying various degrees of attention to what she was doing.

"So, did you find anything useful?" Atton crossed his arms as he leaned casually against the nearest console.

"Not as much as I was hoping for. It seems like most of the information I'm interested in is stored elsewhere."

"It's probably on Coruscant, in the main Jedi temple." Carth was sitting at another console, attempting to piece together the few files that Revan hadn't wiped from the ship's systems.

"It's not. The only notes indicating where the information might be located are four names." Meetra's breath caught in her throat as she read them, her lips feeling numb with disbelief. "Ell, Vash, Lamar, and Kavar."

Visas looked up from the corner where she had wedged herself. Overall, she had been surprisingly tolerant of T3-M4's theft, expressing frustration over the fact that her master's privacy had been violated but ultimately acknowledging that the information was too valuable to simply delete. Now she turned to Meetra, her expression thoughtful. "Those names hold power for you, don't they?"

"Yes. They're all Jedi Masters, many of who were on the Council that ultimately gave Revan permission to go to war." She paused, her voice still unsteady. "And all of them were on the Council who cast me out of the Order after Malachor."

"So," Atton drawled, "I'm guessing that you never want to see any of them ever again?"

"I don't know." Taking a moment to search her feelings just as she'd been taught, Meetra was unsurprised to discover that she was still a swirling miasma of conflict concerning this particular topic. "It's complicated. I used to be mad at them, first for casting me out and then for not having the courage to lock me up or somehow punish me for everything that I did during the war. But over time I came to accept my actions and the more I let go of my anger and sorrow, the less I thought about the Council or the Jedi."

Carth looked surprised. "You never blamed Vann, err, Revan?"

"I did for a time. He was an easy target for all of my rage." A thin smile tugged at Meetra's lips. "But I couldn't stay mad, I cared for him too much."

"You loved him," the captain breathed.

"Maybe. But not in the same way that you do."

Confusion creased Atton's brow. "Wait, what does that mean?"

"It means that part of his heart belongs to someone whose presence still touches this vessel." Inclining her head towards Carth, Visas murmured, "I… apologize for intruding, but I can see the way that his energy weaves around you, just as it moves through this ship."

"It's okay. The situation is just… complicated. I didn't think it was, but that was before Vann, or Revan as the rest of you know him, decided to take off in the Hawk without telling anyone where he was going."

Meetra frowned, her own heart aching as she sensed the sorrow that radiated from the captain. "He didn't even say goodbye?"

"He left a kriffing message with a mutual friend, one that I didn't receive until he'd been missing for over a month!" Carth sighed, scrubbing his palm over his face. "I guess it's partially my fault. Our last conversation was… Shit, it was a huge fight. Maybe that's why he left."

"It's not. I know him, or at least the man he used to be. He's always been guided by higher ideals, not pettiness." Meetra offered the captain a comforting smile. "If he left, it was because he sensed a legitimate threat to the Republic. And, if it makes you feel any better, he's never been very good at understanding everyone else's feelings."

A long moment of silence stretched between the crew, only broken when Atton quietly wondered, "Not to bring the mood way down, but how are you sure that he's not, you know…?"

"Because I have this." Tugging at a chain that hung around his neck, mostly hidden by the thick collar of his jacket, Carth carefully produced a small item from beneath his shirt. At first, it looked like nothing more than a bit of metal casing, but as it turned the light reflected off of one side and illuminated the entire object in a vibrant shade of violet.

"That's a lightsaber crystal!" Meetra exclaimed, rushing over to peer more closely. "Is that his? It's violet though, and his 'sabers were both blue."

"Vann built the lightsaber that this crystal is from after we met, while he was searching for the Star Forge. He took the crystal out after his battle with Malak and replaced it with Malak's crystal for some Force-related reason."

"Their crystals were from the same formation in the caves on Ilum. Alek's crystal, if it was the same one from the war, would be almost identical to the crystals Revan lost when he… crashed."

"Oh. You explained it a lot better than Vann ever did." Chucking, Carth turned the pendant over in his palm. "Either way, he made this for me. Supposedly these crystals resonate with their users, so I guess it's like I'm carrying a little piece of him? I'm not sure how all of this works, but ever since he gave this to me it's been like I can feel his presence. Or maybe I'm just imagining things."

"No, that's not as ridiculous as it sounds. I've heard legends that crystals know their owners, and that after a Jedi dies a very powerful crystal can actually mourn them." Meetra couldn't help but grin as she recalled the dozens of similar stories that Initiates and Padawans shared throughout her childhood.

Atton looked thoroughly unimpressed. "It's a rock."

Scoffing at the comment, Visas also stared at Carth's pendant. "Yes, it is. But the Force flows through it like a heartbeat."

"May I see it?" Holding out her hand, Meetra waited patiently as the captain carefully removed the chain from around his neck, obviously hesitant to hand the crystal over. She accepted the item as gently as possible, trying to keep her expression reassuring as she closed her fingers around the pendant. It was warm, probably from Carth's skin, but there was also a pulse just like Visas had described. Closing her eyes, Meetra focused on the crystal as she let her mind flow into the Force, silently hoping that she would be able to sense something.

At first, all she felt were the sharp edges of the pendant digging into her palm, but the longer she focused the more she could sense something beyond her own physical body. For an instant she sensed a flash of mirth, equal parts witty and sarcastic, all wrapped in sense of passion that flared cold and hot simultaneously. She knew this presence, and right now it hummed vibrantly, still glowing with life. "I think you're right, the crystal still senses him. He's out there, somewhere."

"Can you… Can you find him?"

Meetra shook her head apologetically as she returned the pendant. "Not without a lot more information about what Revan might have been looking for. But I do know where to start."

"I assume you speak of the Jedi Masters? Atris told me that what remains of the Council has spread out to search for more information following the destruction of Katarr, but she never said where they were searching."

"Tee-Three knows." Crouching beside the droid, Meetra sorted through the various files that she had been exploring. "Ell is on Nar Shadda, Vash is on Korriban, Lamar is on Dantooine, and Kavar is on Onderon."

Atton exhaled heavily. "And you're planning on traveling to all of those places, aren't you?"

"Yes, at least until I figure out what's killing Jedi and threatening the peace that we fought so hard to achieve."

"Well then, I'm coming with you."

Looking up in surprise, Meetra shook her head. "You don't have to…"

Offering another brilliant grin, Atton waved aside her objections. "Of course I don't! But I've got nowhere better to go and I probably still owe you for saving my ass back on Peragus."

"Did you say Onderon?" Carth seemed pensive, though there was anger in his voice.

"Yes."

"If you're going there, can you drop me off on Dxun? That's one of…"

"One of the planet's moons, I'm familiar." Meetra winced at the memory of driving back Mandalorians amidst the vines and mud. "But why would you want to go there? It's just a lot of unsettled jungle."

Carth's anger only increased. "I think an old friend is hiding out there, and I need to ask him a few questions."

Giving the captain a pointed look that was completely ignored, Atton muttered, "Well, that's pretty vague."

"It's fine, I was planning on heading to Onderon first anyway. Out of all the Masters listed, Kavar is the only one I used to call a friend."

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Carth nodded to Meetra. "Thank you."

Atton stretched and then turned towards the cockpit. "So, I take it we're setting a course for Dxun and Onderon?"

"Looks like it." Meetra tried to sound nonchalant about the choice, even as dread churned in her stomach.

"Fine." Striding down the hallway, Atton only paused long enough to ask, "But can we go to Nar Shadda next? I still need to teach you how to play Pazaak."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 02 – CORUSCANT

Two Years Ago (3955)

"Have you ever had a dream that you were pretty sure is also a memory? I mean, probably not, but I'm almost positive that's what I've been experiencing." Vann forced a weak grin, completely aware that he wasn't making much sense. "These memories, they're not as clear as the ones that I recovered while we were searching for the Star Forge, but still…"

"I honestly have no kriffing clue what you're talking about." Canderous took a long swig of his drink, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "If this is some type of Force thing, you're talking to the wrong person. And by the way, you look like shit."

"Yes, thank you, I'm aware. I haven't been sleeping well, which is part of why I wanted to talk to you." As strange as it seemed, Vann was glad to hear the Mandalorian's insults. He had come to Canderous because the other man had always been honest, especially when it came to facts about the past. Right now, honesty was something that he desperately needed.

"Alright, you got me. I'm officially curious about why you called me here, of all places. I know you wouldn't get in contact unless it's an emergency."

Glancing around the dingy, dimly lit cantina Vann nodded. Amidst the slurred voices and stale air, it was hard to believe that they were actually on one of the lowest levels of Coruscant. "Well, this is the last place anyone is going to look for either of us. And besides, I have some other things to do while I'm here… None of it concerns, you, though."

"Then what do you need me for?"

Sighing, Vann leaned forward just a little, his shoulders relaxing into an easy slouch that made it look like he was just getting more comfortable in the cramped booth. "It's about my dreams. Memories, whatever. I'm pretty sure I'm remembering something important from the war, and you're the only one who can confirm my suspicions."

"What, Bastila and lover boy can't help you out?"

"Bastila was never part of active combat, so all of her information comes second-hand from Malak. Forgive me if I'm not about to believe anything that kriffing kath hound told her."

"Point taken. But what about Carth?" Chuckling darkly, Canderous shook his head. "He may try to deny it, but we were all in the same damn war."

The pilot's name caused a surge of frustration to wash over Vann, the emotion flowing coldly just beneath his skin. "Carth is… He understands war, don't get me wrong. He's a soldier, after all. But I get the sense that he never tells me the whole truth when I ask him things, like he's trying to gloss over some of the stuff that I did. He still wants me to think of myself as a hero and not…"

"Someone who made the hard calls, even when they didn't fit the Republic's moral ideals? Someone who knew how to win a war, even if it wasn't pretty and clean?"

"Exactly."

"Doesn't surprise me." Downing the contents of his drink, Canderous slammed the glass on the table with a grunt. "Carth cares a lot about you, even I can tell that much. But he's also the type who's going to try and protect you. And we both know that you're the last person in the galaxy who needs protecting."

"I don't think he means to hurt me, but…"

"He is. You don't need coddling, not about this at any rate. You need the truth."

"You're the only other person I know who was on the battlefield, in the thick of things who will tell me the truth about everything that I'm remembering."

Nodding thoughtfully, Canderous lowered his head to look Vann in the eyes. "We were on opposite sides of the war, but I'll do what I can to help you figure out these dreams. I'll tell you the truth, even if it's not what you want to hear."

"Good, that's what I was counting on." Drawing a breath, Vann began to describe everything that he'd been seeing in his visions, the images clouded and murky at first but growing clearer the longer he spoke. At first, his words were halting and unsure, but he could feel his voice growing more confident as his missing memories gradually began to slot into place. As he spoke, Canderous started to watch him more intently, the other man's brow creasing thoughtfully at the description of the impossible columns of ice that soared above a frozen landscape, each one several kilometers tall and topped with a flat plateau that sparkled beneath an alien sun. Though the details were still vague, each one gleaned during fits and bursts of stolen sleep, the longer Vann talked the more his friend's eyes shone with a knowing glimmer.

"Wait, slow down and say that again. The part about the mountains." Canderous rubbed his palm over his scarred chin. "But leave out all the Force crap about what you 'sense' in your mind."

"They're not mountains, they're ice. Two solid columns. I don't know how I can tell, but I just can." Looking down at his hands, Vann flexed his fingers. "I can practically feel the coldness seeping through my gloves and the wind blowing off my hood as I scale the sides."

"Twin columns? You absolutely sure about that?"

"I can still count to two."

"Yeah, yeah, no need to get smart with me."

"You know something. So, are you going to explain it?"

"Right here and right now?" Glancing around, Canderous shook his head. "Nope."

Irritation washed over Vann, and he gritted his teeth as he glared at the other man. He could feel his anger jolting through his system, the cold crackle of it leaving the taste of ozone on his tongue. "You just said that you would tell me the truth!"

"And I am, calm down or you're going to blow both of our covers!" The very corner of Canderous's mouth twitched nervously. "I can't tell you what I'm not sure of myself."

Drawing a slow breath, Vann tried to clear his mind and push past the exhaustion that was fraying his temper. "Fine. But are you going to tell me anything? Or was this just a waste of our time?"

"It's not a waste, I can tell you that much. But before I say anything else I want to get out of here and run some of this past one of my contacts. It'll take a few days, but if my suspicions are right it'll be worth the wait."

"Alright. Fine, that's fine." Vann groaned as he rubbed one eye with his knuckle. "Like I said, I have some things to handle around here. It might take a day or two anyway, so I don't mind waiting. Actually, it might be nice to spend a few days away from everything."

"Is Bastila that annoying?"

"No. Well… It's everything. The students, the enclave, the Republic base. It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't assaulted by memories every time I try to get some Sith-damned sleep."

Canderous shifted uncomfortably. "Did… you want to talk about it?"

"I already told you everything I've been dreaming. As for the rest of it… No, not really."

There was a long pause before Canderous stated, "You're not a bad leader Vann. Just because you don't remember being Revan doesn't mean that you're not still him. So, stop beating yourself up over it."

"I'm not…" But the objection died on his lips. He was currently experiencing all of the doubts that the Mandalorian had tried to assuage. "Well, thanks I guess."

"I'm speaking the truth just like I told you I'd do. And now I've said my piece." Sitting back, Canderous waved to the waitress as he gestured to his empty glass and then indicated that he wanted two more of the same. She nodded, and he gave her a few credits and a flirty wink as she wandered off to get the order.

"So, now what?"

"Now I'm going to get you drunk because you look like you could use the sleep that comes with a good night of drinking."

"In the Republic, we call that 'passing-out,' but at this point I'll take it." Grinning at the Mandalorian as their drinks arrived, Vann picked up his glass. The contents were almost enough to make his eyes water, but he didn't hesitate to raise a toast. "To your contact. I hope they have some good information."

Canderous nodded and lifted his own drink. "And to us, cause I'm guessing that you're about to drag me on another kriffing adventure."

They both laughed at this before taking a long gulp, each of them wincing as the alcohol burned its way down.


While Vann's memory was admittedly limited, he was fairly sure that this was one of the worst hangovers he'd ever experience. Most of his night with Canderous was a complete blur, and he wasn't entirely sure how he'd gotten back to the Hawk when it was all over. Despite being awake for nearly two standard hours his head was still pounding, his stomach was churning, and his mouth constantly felt like it was stuffed with bantha wool.

"Ugh, why do I do this to myself?" Rubbing his temples, Vann sighed as he miserably chewed on the ration bar in his hands. "I mean, besides the fact that I'm an idiot."

"Boop-bee-boop." T3-M4 offered helpfully.

Taking another sad bite, Vann eyed the droid. "I'm pretty sure that wasn't polite. But if you'd like to repeat yourself, please say it slower and quieter."

"Whoo-beep!"

"Yeah, that's what I thought." The pair were currently in the Hawk's main hold as Vann used the various computers to review maps of Coruscant, specifically the building he was planning to infiltrate. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of public information. "Do me a favor and see if you can find anything else in the Republic databases I have access to. And, uh, use Carth's credentials if you need them. He won't mind."

"Bee-boo-boop-whoop?"

"What he doesn't know won't hurt him. I'm going to change clothes and try to feel Human again."

After a longer than average session in the sonic and the consumption of about twice his normal ration of water, Vann felt mostly functional again. Even better, T3-M4 had found some new information.

"Are you sure this is accurate?"

"Boo-bee-bee-boop."

"A yes or no would work, mostly because that would be easier for me to understand. I'm still learning, okay?" Looking down at the datapad in his hands, Vann flipped through a few diagrams as he nodded to himself. "Either way, these should help. Thanks, buddy!"

"Boo-whoop!"

Tucking the datapad away, Vann straightened his clothing and tried to ensure that he looked like someone vaguely respectable but suitably nondescript. It was strange to be missing the ponytail that he had taken to wearing a few years back, but keeping his hair down helped to hide his more distinct facial features. With a final rub of his freshly-shaved cheek he sighed, shrugged, and accepted that this was probably as good as he was going to get. He still felt like he was a fraud, wearing the name and the clothing of a person who he was only pretending to be.

Granted, today he was actually pretending to be someone else, so for once that feeling was accurate.

As he tugged up his hood, Vann lowered the Hawk's landing ramp and glanced around the bay where he was docked. Nobody seemed to be in his immediate vicinity, so he quickly exited the ship and headed away from the port at a quick pace before someone noticed him or realized what he was planning. The Force must have been with him that day because nobody on the bustling streets gave him a second glance. He was able to hail a transport to the city's upper levels without incident, slipping the driver a few extra credits for not making awkward conversation or asking unnecessary questions.

But then, considering how he was currently dressed, it was unsurprising that most sentients had little to say.

Now close to the political heart of the Republic, Vann pulled his hood up a little higher and kept his head bowed, aware that this was where he was most likely to be recognized. A few pedestrians did pause and greet him, but their presences didn't feel overly familiar within the Force and it seemed they were just being polite. One Pantoran in formal attire did pause and give him a second glance, but he hurried past the woman before she had a chance to realize who she was looking at. From that point on he moved at a faster pace, only stopping when he reached his destination.

The Jedi temple somehow felt larger and more imposing than the last time Vann had been there just after his battle with Malak on the Star Forge. At that point he'd been in a daze as Republic officials dragged him between offices and meetings, trying to determine what to do with him now that he was alive again but still missing most of his memories. The temple had only been a brief stop in a series of hectic days and he hadn't been able to fully appreciate it. But now he was making up for the lost opportunity as he craned his head back and stared at the processional stairway that led to towering bas-reliefs marking the main entrance to the temple. There were other Jedi strolling up and down the steps and he quickly lowered his head to avoid being identified. Drawing a breath, he carefully ascended the stairs and made his way into the building.

Vann was honestly surprised that nobody stopped him once he was inside, though he supposed that meant his disguise was adequate. Most of his current clothing was left from his first visit to Dantooine, back when the Jedi were still attempting to return him to their Order. The rest had been carefully borrowed from other residents of the Rakata enclave specifically with this task in mind. While the rouse felt obvious to him, nobody else noticed that he didn't belong. A few Knights even nodded in greeting when he strode past, while a pair of younger Padawans muttered giggled apologies after nearly running into him while sprinting down a corridor.

The layouts that T3-M4 uncovered proved incredibly useful, enabling Vann to navigate the hallways without much trouble. He was looking for one specific room, a task that ended up carrying him through half of the towering building. The longer he was here, the more he noticed how strongly the Force pulsed, a dazzling glow of brilliant light that touched everyone and everything contained inside of the temple. It infused him, helping to chase away some of his trepidation as he entered the archives and quietly slipped towards an open computer terminal tucked into one corner of the massive room.

"Alright," he muttered. "Who was I?" Inputting a few commands, Vann began to search through any files that mentioned Revan, the Revanchists, or the Mandalorian Wars. Most of the recent documents contained information that he already knew but as he searched further back he uncovered new details, mentally filing each one away.

Unfortunately, his search was hampered sooner than anticipated. "Classified? What the kriff? What are you trying to hide?" While Vann wasn't surprised that his own limited credentials didn't get him much further, the fact that Bastila's user information yielded the same results worried him. He knew for a fact that she had never been completely removed from the temple's system, mostly because the Padawan had complained about it a few weeks prior.

"Malachor Five? Why is this classified?" Slipping a few spikes out of his sleeve, Vann searched the Force to ensure that he wasn't being watched before shoving one into the computer's port. The overload of garbage data immediately began to weaken the security, and a second spike was enough to reveal multiple files that were previously unavailable. "Meetra Surik, where have I heard that name before?" Bringing up a few more files about the Revanchists, he realized that her name was repeated several times along with Revan and Malak.

"So, I knew her. Huh. Wonder why I haven't met her yet?" The obvious answer made Vann wince. If she was one of Malak's loyal followers, then she had probably fallen after the war. While he didn't recognize her name from any of the subsequent Republic trials or the list of fugitives that Bastila was still hunting down, that didn't mean she'd come out of the situation unscathed. "Hells, she might even be dead."

Now morbidly curious and filled with more than a little guilt, Vann switched the subject of his search from himself to Surik. "Awarded the rank of general. Served the Order as a Consular prior to the war. Current status is… unknown?" Hurriedly sorting through the new list of files that he'd uncovered, he scanned the contents as he tried to get a better sense of who this mystery woman was. Unfortunately, most of her records were encrypted and hidden behind security walls. "Huh. Well, I guess a little more persuasion is necessary." Shoving another spike into the computer's port, he typed in a few codes and then watched as more information was revealed.

"The Mass Shadow Generator? Is this a superweapon? What the karking Sith shit…!" Just as he was about to open another file, the power to his computer abruptly cut out.

"What are you doing here?"

Lost in his research Vann hadn't noticed someone approaching him, though he was now quite aware of her presence as she was currently holding the power cord to the console he had been utilizing. "Who the hells are you?"

"Eloquent as ever, Revan." Pale blue eyes glared icily as a figure dressed in pure white robes stared down in contempt. Her skin was pale, inhumanly so, and her hair was the color of silvery moonlight. "I assumed that you don't remember me. I am Jedi Master Atris, keeper of the archives."

"Ah. So… How did you know it was me?"

Scoffing at the question, Atris dropped the cord. "I recognized your Force presence. It is quite unique, after all. Additionally, you're the only person who would ever think it was appropriate to sneak into the Jedi Temple and slice the archives."

"Honestly, would you have shown me the files I wanted if I just asked?"

Snatching the spike out of the port, Atris scowled. "Absolutely not!"

"Which is what I assumed would be the answer." Standing from his seat, Vann tried to shrug nonchalantly. "Hence the slicing."

"Absolutely unbelievable! You gave up your right to read these archives the moment that you left the Jedi Order and started your own abomination of an enclave…"

"I technically didn't start anything…"

"…And you gave up your right to know anything about her the moment that you issued the order to use the Mass Shadow Generator."

"Her… You mean Meetra Surik? So, you knew her?"

"I don't know if I'm amused or appalled that you don't remember her." Though Atris chuckled the sound was hollow and pained, sorrow welling up coldly around her. "You broke her, ruined her, turned her into a murderer and you probably can't even recall her face."

Gritting his teeth, Vann narrowed his eyes at the Jedi Master. "It's not like I tried to forget."

"No, but it certainly is convenient. You fell, dragged good Jedi down with you, and then escaped any consequences of your actions all while being hailed as the Republic's greatest hero. And after everything you did, you don't even have to live with the weight of your own decisions."

The Master's words cut Vann down to his core, prodding at all of the lingering insecurities that he'd been harboring. But one thing she said stood out, potentially answering a question that had been nagging him for over a year now. "How do you know for a fact that I fell?"

"Look at yourself, it should be obvious. You're slicing into the Jedi archives to research your own deeds and actions. How much more proof do you need of your own pride and arrogance?"

"I'm slicing into the archives because…!" A cold surge of outrage crept through Vann's body, and he had to pause to try and rein in the sensation. "I'm here because I'm trying to learn more about who I was."

"You're Revan, the hero of the Republic and an absolute fraud."

Vann wanted to scream and he almost did, but a flicker of emotion flowing around Atris gave him pause. It wasn't the disgust and indifference that she was exuding in torrents, but something subtler and far sadder. Regret perhaps, or even disappointment at something that never came to be. "Did you know me?"

"Everyone knew of you."

"No, I mean, did you know me personally?" Atris's uncomfortable silence was all the confirmation that Vann needed. "You did, I can tell! Then maybe you can answer a few questions so that I don't have to slice your precious archives. What exactly was the Mass Shadow Generator? And what happened to Meetra Surik when she activated it?"

Atris blinked slowly, her already haughty expression turning to stone. "Why don't you go and ask your enclave these questions, Revan? Or your lover?"

"Because I'm asking you, dammit!"

"Get out. You don't belong in this temple, not anymore. I'm only giving you one warning before I call the guards."

"Oh, for kriff sake!"

"Out!" Her voice rising to a shout, Atris jabbed her finger towards the archives' imposing doors. "Go back to playing teacher and leave the rest of us in peace."

Gritting his teeth, Vann tossed the Jedi a cocky grin before giving her a mock salute. "I'm leaving, okay? So, calm down and release all of those negative feelings that you're not supposed to have. Remember, there is no emotion." With a snort, he turned and marched out of the room without looking back.

From the hallway, Vann could feel the cold rush of Atris's indignant anger and he couldn't help but chuckle triumphantly, even as his personal doubts intensified with every step he took. The rest of his trip out of the enclave barely registered in his mind, even when he noticed a few of the Jedi and their Padawans openly staring at him as he stalked past. Once out on the street, he brushed the hood from his head, suddenly uncaring who saw him walking through Coruscant dressed in robes that he had no business wearing. Maybe everyone would finally realize that he would never be the Revan that they remembered.

Vann's journey back to the Ebon Hawk's docking bay was uneventful, the same handful of questions running through his mind the entire journey. Who was Meetra Surik? Why did I authorize the use of a superweapon? What happened to her? What did I do…?

When he reached the ship T3-M4 was waiting for him, though he brushed the little droid aside with a terse smile before heading towards the comm unit. Sitting down, he opened up a private channel and waited. It didn't take long for a familiar figure to appear on the screen.

"Vann, is that… What are you wearing?"

He'd almost forgotten that he was still dressed like a Jedi. Ignoring the question, he looked at the image of his partner and shook his head. "Why didn't you tell me that I authorized the use of a kriffing superweapon, Carth?!"

There was a long pause, the pilot's features visibly pained as he considered his answer. "How did you find out?"

"I found out from Atris, the esteemed keeper of the Jedi archives and the one person who's more of a condescending asshole than Vrook Lamar. The Echani arts have apparently made her flexible enough for her head to permanently reside up her chalk-white ass." Vann snorted at the memory of the Jedi's haughty demeanor.

"Wait, you went to the Jedi temple? How did you even…?"

"That's not the point, Carth. Right now we're talking about the fact that you should have been the one to tell me that I used a superweapon! You should have sat me the hells down and explained that the reason you've been so damn evasive towards answering my questions about the war is that you didn't want to admit that I'm not just 'Revan the Butcher.' I'm 'Revan the Kriffing Mass-Murderer!'"

"Vann…"

"Who's Meetra Surik? What else do you know that you're not telling me?!"

Scrubbing his palm across his forehead, Cath drew a long breath before nodding weakly. "Alright, I guess we're having this conversation from millions of kilometers away." Slumping in his seat, he explained, "Along with you and Malak, General Meetra Surik was one of the leaders of the Revanchists. Together, the three of you commanded the Republic Mercy Corps."

Cold panic seized Vann's chest. "Is she dead? Did I get her killed? Is that why nobody has mentioned her until now?"

"I honestly don't know. From what I've heard, she was cast out of the Jedi Order at the end of the war. She never followed Malak, and I don't think she was even in Republic space when he came to power. Nobody has mentioned her because nobody likes to talk about Malachor Five."

That was the same planet mentioned in the sealed Jedi documents attached to Revan's name. "What happened at Malachor? Tell me!"

"Like you said, you authorized the use of a superweapon. I… I don't know the details. I wasn't part of that battle and most of it is highly classified. All I know is that you gave the order for General Surik to use something called the Mass Shadow Generator. And then…"

"Then what, Carth?" Vann demanded, on the verge of panic. "What did I do?"

"The Mass Shadow Generator apparently worked as planned. Almost everyone involved in the massive fleet battle around Malachor Five, Republic and Mandalorian alike, was killed and the planet was nearly destroyed in the process. In a single instant, thousands of lives were lost and you won the war."

"I won the war? That's all you can say?"

Carth had been unusually impassive as he described the situation, expression neutral and each word spoken in the practiced tone of a disciplined navel captain. But all of that quickly melted away, replaced with a mixture of sorrow and exasperation as he nearly shouted, "Yes! You defeated Mandalore the Ultimate and destroyed a good portion of his troops in a single, pivotal battle. Malachor Five was where you won the war for the Republic!"

"By killing everyone there."

The pilot's expression softened. "You made a choice, Vann. I honestly don't know if, in your position, I would have chosen differently. After all, the thousands of lives lost on Malachor probably prevented millions, if not billions more from dying later."

Vann scoffed. "That's very utilitarian of you."

"I didn't say it was a good choice or a kind choice! But it's the choice you made, and I'm not going to apologize for being happy that the Republic won." Sighing heavily, Carth leveled his gaze at his partner as best he could through the comm unit. "No matter how many memories you get back, you can't change your past."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Vann's voice was barely a whisper.

Throwing his hands up in frustration, Cath cried, "Because I knew this would happen! You've been too hard on yourself lately, between the students and the nightmares…"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You've just… You have such high expectations for yourself, and you're taking on a lot of responsibility by agreeing to teach others all while trying to regain your own memories. You're under a lot of stress and I didn't think you were ready to learn that you used a superweapon."

Ice surged through Vann's body as he demanded, "Who are you to determine that?"

"Someone who cares about you!" Affection washed over Carth's face, his voice growing gentler. "Look, I swear that I was going to tell you when you were in a better place."

"Oh, and when would that be?"

"Maybe when you can get more than three hours of sleep a night. Or maybe when Bastila doesn't overhear you calling yourself a fraud in your own mind. Or maybe when you start actually talking to me about what's going on in that head of yours instead of just bottling it all up inside!"

"I'm sorry I'm too kriffed up for you to be honest with, Carth! Unfortunately, we can't all shoot our problems in the head and get a happy reunion." It was a low blow, but it still felt satisfying to see the hurt bloom in his partner's eyes.

"Vann!"

"Kriff you and kriff all of your Sith damned secrets that you think you're holding back to protect me!" He jabbed his finger at the monitor to emphasize his point.

"Vann, please…"

"No. I don't want to hear it."

Carth's tone was desperate as he insisted, "Look, I'm sorry! I'm sorry and I lo…"

Switching off the comm unit with an irritated flick of his wrist, Vann didn't hear the rest of the apology. Truthfully, he wasn't ready to listen, mostly because hearing his partner say things like 'I love you' and 'I only worry about you because you mean so much to me' tended to cut through his resolve to stay angry. At this moment he needed that anger and he dove deeper into the frigid fury, using it as a barrier to ward off the guilt that was threatening to consume him. He slouched in his seat and drew a shaky breath, his hands unsteady as he raked them through his still-loose hair.

Vann wanted to tell himself that he'd made a mistake in using the Mass Shadow Generator. From everything that Atris and Carth had told him, he had taken thousands of lives and ruined at least one more. Meetra Surik, whoever she was and wherever she might be, would probably never forgive him for the order he gave. But at the same time, Carth was right. (And damn him for that.) It was a brutal decision, but it prevented the war from being dragged out into a series of endless skirmishes that could have lasted years, if not decades. He knew a Mandalorian and was well aware that they were a tenacious people. Even with Mandalore the Ultimate dead, he had no doubt they would have rallied and continued to fight.

He'd won the war for the Republic, but at what cost?

As Vann trudged through the Hawk, shedding parts of his disguise as he went, he considered his options. The Jedi in him believed that he should sit and meditate on everything he had learned, examining his emotions towards the situation before releasing them into the Force. But the mercenary in him saw a different solution, and that was to get ridiculously drunk despite still being mildly hungover from the night before. He eventually collapsed into one of the bunks to consider his options, slowly tracing the scar that ran down his abdomen from beneath the right side of his ribcage to just above the jut of his left hip.

"I won the war and I lost myself." He laughed bitterly. "But I saved the entire kriffing Republic, so I guess it's a small price to pay?"

Moisture filled his eyes and he tried to blink it away, only for a sob to catch in his throat. His mind was too tumultuous to even consider meditation, and drinking himself into a stupor sounded like a distinctly terrible idea. Instead, he buried his face in his pillow and screamed until the tears stopped flowing and he slipped into an uneasy, exhausted sleep.


"Before I tell you what I found you, I need you to promise me that you'll keep your mouth shut and not go blabbing any of this to Carth. Deal?"

"Trust me, that's not an issue." Vann glared across the table at Canderous, a fresh burst of rage rushing through his body at the mention of his partner's name. It had been four days and he was still angry at the other man for not telling him about Malachor and the Mass Shadow Generator. While Rakata Base had made several attempts to contact the Ebon Hawk in that time, all of the transmissions had gone unanswered.

While he waited to hear from Canderous, Vann had spent his time walking around the various levels of Coruscant hoping that some random sight, sound, or smell would trigger the return of some memories. There had been a few brief flashes here and there, mostly of him and a dark-haired teenage boy sneaking around while laughing at their own cleverness, their shoulders pressed close as blue eyes stared down at him with obvious admiration. But overall the experiment hadn't yielded the desired results.

Now he and Canderous were back at the same sleazy mercenary bar they'd originally used almost a week ago. He hoped that this meeting would prove more successful than his useless wandering.

"Trouble with the captain?"

Vann didn't want to drag the Mandalorian into his personal problems, but he couldn't help but grumble, "Malachor Five. He purposely didn't tell me about it and I found out on my own."

Canderous winced. "Damn, glad I wasn't around for that conversation."

"I'm assuming you also knew?"

"Of course I know about Malachor! There isn't a Mandalorian that lived through the war who doesn't tell the tale of how Revan defeated us in a single day." Canderous's eyes grew distant. "Sometimes I wish I'd been there, part of a decisive battle that will be remembered for centuries to come."

"If you were there you'd probably be dead," Vann quipped sardonically.

"Better to fall in battle as a warrior than to rot away with no honor and no purpose."

Noting the Mandalorian's increasing melancholy, Vann quickly shifted the conversation. "So, why did you never mention all of this before?"

"I assumed that someone else told you about Malachor, or that you remembered on your own." Shaking his head in visible disapproval, Canderous muttered, "Hells, I would have said something if I knew."

"Well, now I know and I don't want to talk about it anymore."

Expression stern, Canderous held the other man's gaze as he stated, "You shouldn't be ashamed of winning a war."

"People need to stop telling me that!" More than ready to stop talking about Malachor, Vann hurriedly asked, "Anyway, what did you find out from your contact while I was off learning new and terrifying things about myself?"

"Like I said, you need to promise me that this information stays between the two of us."

"Deal."

"Alright. The place you've been dreaming about? It's an ice-world called Rekkiad in the Chorlian sector. Not normally the type of place that would catch my interest, but…" Leaning in close, Canderous lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Some of the remaining clans have been gathering there recently. They suspect that you hid something there at the end of the war, and they're going to find it."

"Oh no, what did I do now?"

"Relax, you only killed one person this time and you already knew about it. When you defeated Mandalore the Ultimate in single combat, you also took his mask before you left the battlefield. You knew how important that helmet is to my people, and that if we possessed it we would have chosen a new Mand'alor that very day. But without a new leader, the clans had no direction after their defeat. They scattered across the Outer Rim."

"And you think that I hid the mask on Rekkiad?"

"I'm almost positive that you did."

Noting the sly grin spreading across Canderous's face, Vann scowled. "You think that I'm going to help you find it!"

"I don't presume to know what you're planning at any given moment. But I also think that you're aware my people will search every centimeter of that planet for the mask until we discover it, even if it takes a thousand years."

Vann couldn't deny any of this. "If… When you find that mask, what are the Mandalorians going to do with it?"

"Mandalore's Mask has been passed from one leader to the next for generations. With it, we can select a new Mand'alor and reunite the clans."

"Just like you've been trying to do ever since I met you on Taris." Realization struck Vann and an idea began to form in his mind.

"Exactly. But a leader chosen by our traditions will have the respect and clout among the clans that I never had. A new Mand'alor will not only be able to reunite the clans, but to give them a purpose."

"Preferably a purpose that's not attacking the Republic. I really don't think your people want to face me a second time."

Canderous chuckled. "Probably not, though I'm sure a few would relish the challenge."

"If I help your clan get that mask, you have to make me a promise."

"Vann, I told you on Rakata that I'm your man until the end. My word is my bond."

"Good. If I get you that mask you have to make sure that it goes to someone deserving, not another warmonger. I don't care if it's someone who reunites the clans and preserves your people's traditions, but it can't be another leader who wants to use the Mandalorians to conquer the galaxy or grind the weak under their boot." Looking solemnly at the other man, Vann drew a slow breath. "Swear that this mask will go to someone truly worthy and not just whoever's stronger or meaner than everyone else, and I'll do whatever I can to find it for you."

"You're serious, aren't you?" Canderous seemed thoughtful, considering the question for a few moments before nodding in agreement. "That's fair, I accept."

"Great. Finish your drink and we can head to the Hawk."

"Why the rush? I'm just getting comfortable. Besides, I figured we could get some of the old crew back together. It might be useful to have the kid and the carpet in on this."

"That's not happening because, aside from the droids, we're the only two crewmembers who don't have some type of official job." The acknowledgment made Vann wince.

"You're shitting me, right?"

"Juhani and Jolee are teaching back on Rakata and have students, literal students who make noise and ask questions and… expect me to know things. Bastila is trying to make some sort of peace with the Jedi Council while still hunting down Malak's escaped followers. Zaalbar is helping his father rule their tribe while hunting for his traitor of a brother. Oh, and don't get me started on Mission…"

"What, did she finally turn to a life of crime?"

"Worse, I think she's working for the Republic's Intelligence Division. But Carth can't officially confirm or deny anything, which means I'm right. And well, you know what Captain Onasi is up to. The kriffing bantha brain…"

"So, I guess it's just you and me?"

Smiling brightly, Vann added, "Plus Tee-Three and H-Kay."

"You are not bringing that psychotic droid with us…"

"Relax, he can stay on the ship as back-up. But I still brought him along in case I need a little extra firepower."

"Fine. But we're not leaving just yet, I need at least one more drink." Downing the contents of the glass he'd been nursing since Vann's arrival, Canderous grimaced at the burn. "After all, it's not every day that a guy heads out to see his wife for the first time in over a year."

"Wife?You're married?"

"Oh yeah, got ourselves a kid and everything. A little complicated on that front since the war but, eh. Once they get to a certain age they get a mind of their own." Noticing the other man's shocked expression he wondered, "Haven't I ever told you any of this?"

"No!"

"How do you think I sniffed out you and Carth before the rest of the idiots? I know what it's like to fall in love with a fellow warrior. Veela… She's great." A dreamy look crossed Canderous's face as a fond smile tugged at his lip. "She knows at least four ways to kill a Human while completely unarmed. Being with a person who can crush your windpipe with her thighs? It does things to you when you're down there…"

Vann waved his hands to halt his friend's current description. "Okay, I get the idea! So, you have an extremely deadly wife… Who I'm going to meet. And who probably hates me on principle."

"Yeah, you're going to want to stick with Vann Chis and not 'Revan' around Clan Ordo. But you're probably more mercenary than Jedi at this point, so it's not exactly a stretch. Just keep your lightsabers hidden and carry a blaster. You've still got one of those right?"

"Somewhere. Probably. I can pick one up before we head out, and I definitely have the parts to modify one to my specifications back on the Hawk." Glancing down at his hands, Vann marveled, "Force, I can't believe I still remember how I like to adjust my scope and trigger."

"See, no problem!" Canderous gestured for the waitress to bring out another round of liquor. "Tonight, we drink. And then tomorrow we head for Rekkiad."

Sighing, Vann resigned himself to another hangover in the morning. "We'll find that mask and reunite your people… If your wife doesn't kill me first."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 03 - DXUN

Now (3953)

"So, this is Dxun. Nice place, aside from the stifling humidity and the charming sounds of all of the animals in that jungle who probably want to eat us." Despite his grin, Atton looked distinctly ill at ease.

Meetra understood. Though the lush greenery of Dxun's landscape was breathtaking, the sheer vastness of it had always made her feel utterly vulnerable. It was strange to be surrounded by life and yet seem completely alone in the galaxy. "The beasts in this jungle can be aggressive, but we usually drove them off with a few blaster bolts. Most aren't too fond of loud noises." Laughing humorlessly, she added, "It's the sentients that you need to be wary of."

Atton arched a brow. "You've been here before?"

"During the war. It was the Mandalorian's stronghold and the place they retreated to after Revan routed them from deeper within Republic territory. We eventually took the battle to them, but…"

"The Republic took heavy casualties," Carth finished when Meetra was unable to. "I saw it firsthand."

Now it was Meetra's turn to look surprised. "You were here?"

"Close air support, mostly. I didn't get down to ground level until the very end, but that was still… Intense." A haunted expression passed through Carth's eyes.

"Well, on that cheerful note, where's your friend at, Captain?" Pointing at the foliage, Atton grumbled, "We should have no trouble finding them."

"I think I know where he's hiding. An ally in the Intelligence Division told me that there have been unusual amounts of activity on the old Mandalorian outpost."

"Wasn't that destroyed when the Republic took this moon?" Worry gnawed at Meetra as she frowned at the implication.

Carth shook his head. "No, the Republic didn't have the resources to do much more than cut power and perform a preliminary sweep for hidden weaponry. After Malachor, Dxun was abandoned but left fairly intact."

"But why would anyone hide here?" Atton made a sweeping gesture towards the dense jungle. "There are plenty of planets to get lost on, and a lot of them actually have working refreshers and functioning air scrubbers."

"Probably because he's a Mandalorian."

A shudder ran down Meetra's spine and she subconsciously touched the rifle on her back for reassurance. "What is it with Mandalorians and this moon?"

"It's home." Visas's silent approach had gone unnoticed by the others and they all jumped in surprise when she spoke. "This planet may be scarred by death, but there is a warmth to it that only comes from the hearts of those who have found a place where they belong."

Closing her eyes Meetra tentatively reached out her awareness, nearly drawing back the instant she encountered the same pervasive chill she had experienced during the war. It felt just like the Miraluka had described, ragged scars left by thousands of death. But she pressed past the cold fog of violence until she caught the faintest glimmer of something brighter, golden tendrils that were interwoven into the moon's very essence. She initially couldn't identify the sensation, but she eventually realized that it was the lingering warmth left by sentients who loved each other.

Turning to Visas, Meetra studied the other woman. "You're incredibly attuned to the Force. Atris should have been thrilled to have a student as talented as you."

"She rescued me from the ashes of my home and gave me a place to stay when I had nothing. She was under no obligation to provide me with anything else, nor did I view myself as worthy to ask more of her."

"Yeah, that sounds like a healthy outlook. Very fair to you," Atton remarked sarcastically.

"What is fair and what is right are not the same things. I do not seek fairness, not from one like Atris whose only obligation is what is right for the galaxy as a whole." Bowing her head, Visas murmured, "I apologize, I have become distracted. I came out to inform you that Bao-Dur is remaining on the ship to complete repairs, and Kreia has chosen to stay and meditate. However, she says that you know how to reach her if you require her assistance."

"Thank you, Visas. Are you staying here too?"

"I wish to join if you will allow it."

"I… I'm not your master. You're free to do what you want, but I will admit that someone who can see using the Force will be incredibly useful in a jungle this dense."

Stowing a datapad inside of his jacket, Carth glanced at the others. "Well, if this is everyone, we should head out."

Aside from some muttered curses from Atton their trek into Dxun's jungle was oddly silent, only punctuated by bird calls and the crunch of their boots through the vegetation. Though there were a few trails winding through the thick underbrush, most had become overgrown as the jungle reclaimed everything it touched. The heat and humidity were stifling, more so in a thick jacket and heavy pants rather than the looser robes of a Jedi. Even in armor, the weather hadn't felt this oppressive.

After they'd walked about a klick, Carth held up one hand and gestured for everyone to stop. While both Atton and Meetra immediately halted in place, their hands drifting towards their weapons, Visas didn't seem to notice the command until the captain added a sharp hiss through his teeth. She quickly fell still aside from tilting her head to the side to listen for any further cues.

"Is everything alright?" Meetra was already swinging her rifle into her hands.

"It's fine. But according to my coordinates, we're close to the encampment I'm looking for. We should be on alert."

It didn't take Carth's warning for Meetra to know that they were closing in on the former Mandalorian outpost. Despite the changes that had overtaken the jungle in the intervening years the landscape was still hauntingly familiar, certain trees and topographical features burned into her memory from hours spent dodging blaster bolts and charging through the muck. She also felt the familiarity of the landscape, a cold and primal fury that cut through the Force like a gale wind. She flexed her fingers as the sensation sunk beneath her skin, chilling her to the bone.

"Keep moving, but be careful. Once we get about two hundred meters north-northwest, we should stop and reassess."

Meetra nodded, shifting her rifle into her grasp as Atton drew his pistol. Carth remained unarmed though one hand hovered just beside his hip, ready to draw at least one blaster at a moment's notice. Only now realizing that Visas was apparently unarmed, Meetra moved closer to the other woman.

"If this turns ugly, you can at least duck, right?" She was mostly joking, but it came out more serious than intended.

"Atris trained me in ways to defend myself. I will not be a burden to you."

"That's not what I mea…"

The rest of Meetra's words died on her lips as the sharp snapping of a twig sounded just to their left, causing three of them to turn and raise their blasters. Only Visas turned in the opposite direction as she whispered, "There's only one in the direction that sound came from, but there are three more behind us and two flanking us on either side."

"Freeze! Drop your weapons!" The hum of multiple stealth field generators powering down temporarily drowned out the sounds of the jungle as eight armed and armored figures shimmered into existence. Visas was right about their positioning, which seemed to alarm at least one of them.

A Mandalorian in blue armor strode towards the Miraluka, grabbing her by the shoulder. "Hey, you! How did you spot us?"

"Get your hands off her!" Still holding her rifle despite being commanded to drop it, Meetra aimed the weapon at the individual threatening Visas. "Trust me when I say that you don't scare me."

"It's true." Atton also kept gripping his blaster. "She's probably killed enough Mandalorians that taking on eight more would be like a sparring session."

Jabbing the muzzle of a heavy repeating rifle into the brunette's shoulder, a Mandalorian in red armor sneered, "You're not a very bright one, are you? We have you surrounded, outgunned and outnumbered."

But Atton just scoffed. "We've had worse odds."

The click of multiple heavy rifles being aimed and readied sent an electric jolt of warning through Meetra's limbs, and she immediately froze. Removing one hand from her own blaster, she held it up placatingly. "If we drop our weapons, can we talk this out peaceably?"

"Sure." The blue-clad Mandalorian nodded as much as his armor would allow. A second later he dug his fingers into Visas's shoulder hard enough to draw a grunt of pain. "Just as soon as she explains how she saw us!"

"I said to get your kriffing hands off of her!" Meetra wasn't expecting the Force to infuse her body in a way that she hadn't felt in years, but the sensation was far from unwelcome. Drawing a breath she channeled the energy down her free arm, turning it into a shockingly powerful push that she sent directly at the blue-clad Mandalorian. He was immediately lifted off his feet as he soared through the air for over a meter, only stopping when he struck a nearby tree hard enough to splinter the bark before he landed splayed across the ground.

An approving hum echoed through Meetea's mind. 'The Force is coming back to you faster, I can feel it. The memories that this moon carries are awakening things deep within you. Do not fight it. This is who you are.'

"What the hells?!" The Mandalorian in the red armor immediately aimed his weapon at the blonde woman who had just thrown his companion through the air with a single wave of her arm. "You're kriffing Jedi?!"

"And what if we are?" Blaster still raised, Atton grinned dangerously.

"Kark this!" another Mandalorian in blue shouted. "I say we take 'em all out!"

"Or you can stand down! Yes, even you Kelborn!" A new figure wearing a different make of armor in a simple shade of burnished silver emerged from the underbrush. "You too, Jedi. Tell your friends to stow their weapons. Nobody needs to die today."

The other Mandalorians immediately lowered their rifles, each of them straightening slightly in the presence of this newcomer. Even the figure who was still sprawled beneath the tree managed to lift his head respectfully.

"Mand'alor, that one attacked Davrel…"

"I saw what happened!" The newcomer turned to face the red-armored figure. "Davrel didn't listen to my commands and tried to engage a member of her party. He got what he deserved and hopefully, he learned something about following orders!"

The Mandalorian who Meetra had thrown was slowly climbing to his feet. "I dishonored myself, Mand'alor."

"Yes, you did. But I think the Jedi taught you a better lesson than I ever could. Now, stand up and help escort these people back to the camp. I want to speak with them…"

Meetra was about to mention that she wasn't technically a Jedi, but the words died in her throat when someone else started shouting.

"Canderous kriffing Ordo, I thought that was you! We sure as hells are going to talk. Let's start with the fact that you kriffing let him go! You just let him take the Hawk and… Arrgh! I cannot believe you!" Carth's expression was pure rage as he charged up to the man that the others called Mand'alor. Drawing his hand back, he aimed a punch right for the armor-clad jaw.

"Wait, stop!" The Force was still surging through Meetra, though the sensation was growing familiar and she managed a bit more finesse as she wrapped her power around the captain and dragged him back about half a meter. This caused his swing to miss, his knuckles striking air instead of metal.

Carth barely seemed to notice. "You absolute bastard! You just let him leave!"

Seeming stunned at the turn of events, all of the Mandalorians stared silently for a long moment before Mand'alor let out a heavy sigh. "You will address me as Mandalore the Preserver…"

"Oh, don't pull rank on me, Canderous! Some new armor isn't going to make me respect you."

All attempts at formality seemed to evaporate. "The idiot who just tried to sucker-punch a fully armored Mandalorian wants to talk about respect?"

"Uh, so, are we shooting? Or are we just yelling?" Atton glanced at Meetra, who could only shrug in response.

It was another moment before a shorter Mandalorian in orange armor stepped between Carth and Mand'alor. A feminine voice filtered out of her helmet. "He told me that you have more fire than the average Republic officer. It seems that he was telling the truth."

Blinking in confusion, some of Carth's outrage cooled. "He who?"

"Vann. I spent some time with him when he assisted Clan Ordo almost two years ago." The orange-armored Mandalorian swung her rifle onto her back before gesturing for the others, including her leader, to follow. "Mandalore the Preserver invites you to come back to our outpost as guests. There are a number of things that we should discuss"

Meetra frowned at hearing one of Revan's aliases. "Your guests?"

"Don't question it," Atton whispered. "Just enjoy the fact that we're not being shot at."

Softly approaching Meetra's other side, Visas added, "They do not have the aura of enemies. I do not presume to tell you what to do, but I see no immediate threat."

"I trust what you see. And honestly, this is the first time I've been on this moon without a fight breaking out. So, I guess I can enjoy the novelty." Shouldering her own rifle in response to the increasingly odd situation, Meetra nodded to the orange-armored woman. "Please, lead the way."

Still glaring at Mand'alor, Carth just shook his head. "Yeah, fine. But this had better be good."


"Canderous should not have waited so long to give you that message."

Seated at a table inside of one of the many durasteel structures that composed the Mandalorian encampment, Meetra's gaze shifted silently between Carth and the orange-armored woman whose name was Veela. She had removed her helmet over an hour ago, and Meetra had been surprised the find that she was older than expected. The skin around her eyes and mouth was creased and weathered, and the bright shades of red and purple that highlighted her black hair mostly served to hide the profusion of white throughout her locks. But she carried herself like a much younger woman, her shoulders straight and her back never bending with fatigue.

Veela had already explained a few things, like the fact that she was Canderous's wife (always Canderous and never Mand'alor, as though this was an important distinction) and the fact that the couple had spent most of the past seven years apart. Apparently, Mandalorian tradition dictated roles for spouses, less reliant on sex or gender and more on temperament. One spouse was always expected to guard the home and guide those younger than themself if there were children to be cared for. In this case, it was Veela who opted to remain behind with Clan Ordo to raise the couple's errant daughter and to act as a leader, holding their extended family together after the war. Canderous had taken up the opposite role, traveling across the galaxy in search of better opportunities for those who remained behind.

Unfortunately, most of the opportunities he found were mercenary work, which he described as the equivalent of driving a nail into his skull. "Sure," he sneered, "You have something new. But what have you gained from the experience?"

But then he'd met Revan and everything had changed. Though the details were kept vague to honor traditions that Meetra didn't pretend to understand, it seemed that Canderous had taken up the mantle of Mand'alor because of something Vann did. The entire situation appeared to irk Veela, though she was clearly proud of her husband and obviously believed that he was the only choice to lead their people.

At least, she was proud of him until they reached the topic of this mysterious message. The more they spoke the more distressed Carth became, and Meetra was glad that the others had decided to wander around the encampment rather than listen to this particular discussion.

"It was almost two months before you gave me that kriffing holo. His trail had gone completely cold by then! Did you even watch it?"

"No, because I was ordered not to!"

"I did." All eyes turned to Veela. "I was afraid it was the coordinates to where the assembled clans were located or an order with instruction to attack." When her still-masked husband huffed indignantly, she merely shrugged. "I liked Vann the mercenary, but I don't trust Revan the Republic commander."

"Canderous, he thinks he's going off to die. He didn't come right out and say it, but I know what 'I can't make any promises like that' means." Carth looked stricken. "Vann doesn't think he's coming home, and if I had known just a little sooner…"

"Which is why I told Canderous to give you the message as soon as I viewed it." Reaching out a comforting hand, Veela patted the captain's forearm. "You deserved to know what your husband was planning."

"Oh, he's not my… We're not married." A bright blush spread across Carth's cheeks. "Stars, I can't even begin to imagine Vann agreeing to marry me."

Meetra actually choked a little at the thought.

But Veela shook her head. "You may not be married by your Republic's standards but by our traditions, Vann is your husband. You defend your home and your family together in the name of your leaders, and he has adopted your son and is tutoring the boy in the traditions of his people."

"That's just Force training…"

"How does it differ from how we train the young ones here? Do they not hone their skills with their elders? Do they not spar and discuss what they've learned?"

"Well, I mean…"

"Actually," Meetra interrupted, "It's not that different at all. A little less meditation on your part, but the general concept is the same." That thought struck her in unexpected ways. It was so easy to view the Mandalorians as monsters rather than people with families and teachers.

"Then Vann is your husband, and you deserved to know that he planned to die in battle. You should have been given the choice to bid him farewell or to be by his side in his quest." Veela crossed her arms over her chest, nodding sternly at her husband.

Mand'alor snorted at the idea, the sound modulated by his mask. "But I was under orders not to give that holo to Carth until at least a standard month had passed, and I was not about to defy them. You've met Vann and you've seen what he can do. That's not a man who I want to anger any time soon."

"You also broke his husband's heart."

"I'm, uh, probably intruding at this point." Meetra winced uncomfortably as she stood from the table. "I only stayed because I wanted to know more about what Revan was doing before he disappeared. The rest of this is none of my business and I should, er, I should go." Heading for the door amidst the others' objections, she ducked her head sheepishly and waved them off, only pausing to call out, "Carth, stay as long as you want. You know how to comm me if you need a ride somewhere else!"

The rush of humid air that greeted Meetra the moment she stepped outside almost convinced her to go back in. But the sheer awkwardness of the situation made her keep walking forward, even as she caught a few final threads of conversation.

"Carth, you know him. Can you honestly tell me that anyone in the whole Force-damn galaxy could have convinced him to stay once his mind was made up?"

Chuckling softly to herself, Meetra had to agree with Mand'alor on that point. Revan was one of the stubbornest people she'd ever met and convincing him to back down from a threat was nearly impossible, even for her and Alek. Brushing a few sweaty strands of hair from her forehead, she stretched her arms and began to stroll through the camp. They'd been given permission to explore provided they didn't harm anyone or get in the way. While the weather was less than enjoyable, it was still pleasant to be on Dxun without dodging blaster bolts and beskad.

A series of shouts and cheers drew Meetra's attention, and she followed the sound out of pure curiosity. Making her way past a warehouse and a dormitory, she discovered that the source of the noise was a small ring of dirt dug into the ground, around which several Mandalorians were gathered. Within the circle two figures appearing to be sparing with dual-bladed vibroswords, though the session looked unusually intense. One individual was wearing traditional Mandalorian armor, the metal painted yellow, while the other was…

"Atton?!" Meetra's jaw dropped in shock and she hurried towards the group, shoving two Mandalorians out of the way before a third grabbed her shoulder.

"Your friend volunteered to enter the Battle Circle and he's abiding by the rules. You need to do the same and let him fight without interfering. Don't worry, the blades are dulled and nobody ever dies in there."

Frowning at the individual who she recognized as Kelborn, Meetra demanded, "And how is an armored Mandalorian against an unarmored spacer honorable by your standards?"

"You seem to forget that Revan, a man in Jedi robes, beat Mandalore the Ultimate. And this isn't about who can inflict the most bruises. There's a point system. The first to four hits wins, and your friend is already up two to one."

Arching a brow Meetra nodded, stepping back as she turned to watch the match. It actually did sound fair, though the rules were the last thing on her mind when she took a moment to study the scene and realized how good Atton looked. He had stripped off his jacket and shirt, which were laying in the grass beside the ring, and was down to a tank top that revealed the surprising strength of his arms. While he wasn't as broad as Carth, his muscles were lean and toned, flexing smoothly beneath his skin with every movement he made. While the Mandalorian attacked with raw power, Atton flowed with natural grace. Twirling the blade between his hands, he dove low and sliced past his opponent's guard, striking the Mandalorian hard in the side before drawing back and twisting out of range in one elegant motion.

"Three to one!" Kelborn shouted.

Another pivot and Atton blocked an incoming slash, easily deflecting it with the bottom blade before leaping into the air and driving the top blade downward, chopping into the head and chest of the Mandalorian's armor. The individual grunted and stumbled back, one foot slipping in the dirt as they struggle to remain upright.

"Four to one, the challenger wins!" With an approving nod, Kelborn turned to Meetra. "Your friend has some real talent. Though I suppose you Jedi train just as hard as we do. But it's good to see that you're willing to spar with honor."

"He's not a Jedi…" Meetra stuttered, even as she mentally admitted that she'd rarely seen that type of grace outside of the Order.

Wiping his forehead on the back of his hand, Atton trotted up with a smirk. "You look surprised."

"All you told me back on Peragus was that you could shoot and fly a ship!"

"It's not like I had time to give you my entire resume."

"Where did you even learn to fight like that?"

"Oh, here and there. You'd been amazed how many Echani mercenaries hang out in sleazy cantinas. A lot of them will teach you a move or two if you buy them enough drinks."

"That wasn't Echani martial arts."

"No, I was using a blade so it was technically Echani dueling, but I can see how you'd get the two confused." Atton leaned in closer, his lips brushing the shell of Meetra's ear as he whispered, "It's alright to say that you're impressed."

A fierce blush colored Meetra's cheeks as she admitted, "I was actually very impressed." Reaching down, she retrieved the discarded shirt and shoved it at his chest. "Now stop playing around and get dressed!"

Tossing his shirt back to the ground, Atton stretched playfully, rolling his shoulders. "It's hot here! And besides, I kind of like it when you stare at me. Is it safe to say that you like what you see?"

"It is." Meetra couldn't hide her smile. "And I wouldn't mind staring just a little longer. But I speak from experience when I say that the insects here are going to eat you alive if you don't cover up."

She never saw a person get dressed that quickly. Laughing a little as Atton batted away some type of biting fly that was already attacking his neck, Meetra turned her attention to locating Visas. Her first instinct was to ask around the camp, but a voice in the back of her mind tutted disapprovingly at the idea.

'She is connected to the Force. You know how to find such an individual without needing to question those around you. Reach out. Feel.'

It still felt strange for Meetra to extend her awareness after living so many years blind to the Force, but the sensation was still wonderful. Her mind sped through the encampment like a breeze, swiftly moving past all of the Force-blind Mandalorians until she felt a brighter spark shining near the entrance. Jerking her head towards Atton as an indication to follow, she gradually made her way there, pausing a few times to admire the resourcefulness of whoever constructed the buildings.

Visas was standing near the main gate, speaking with a Mandalorian in blue armor who seemed to be questioning her intently.

"Hey there," Meetra called. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes. I have not made a nuisance of myself nor have I broken any of the rules we were given upon arrival."

Shaking her head, Meetra carefully placed herself between Visas and the Mandalorian. "I wasn't asking about that."

"I'm not bothering this one if that's what you're worried about." The Mandalorian held up his hands peaceably. "Davrel mentioned that she could somehow see through our stealth fields, and I was curious if she'd be willing to test some prototypes. See if there was anything that could get past those eyes of hers."

Visas must have sensed her companion's continued suspicion because she quickly bowed her head and explained, "He has not harmed me. If anything, this felt more akin to a game I used to play as a child. It was… Refreshing."

"Oh. Well, I'm glad that everyone found something to occupy their time while we're here." Forcing a smile, Meeta felt a pang of guilt for immediately assuming the worst of the Mandalorians. "If you want to keep helping, er…"

"Zuka," the Mandalorian offered.

"I believe we are done here if you wish to return to the ship and resume your business. I have done what I can to assist…" Visas trailed off, her head jerking upward like a kath hound who had caught a scent. The corners of her mouth tugged into a faint frown as she breathed, "Do you sense that?"

'Yes, do you?'

It took an extra second for the chill to pass through Meetra's body, stealing the breath from her lungs and forcing her to take a step back to steady herself. She placed a hand over her chest as she inhaled harshly. The sensation was similar to what she had experienced in the presence of Sion back on Peragus, but that had felt more like a bolt of electricity straight down her spine and into her gut. This was like being immersed in dark energy until she was drowning.

"Hey, are you okay?" Atton looked worried.

Meetra swallowed hard. "I'm fine, but there's something incoming. Sith, I think. A whole group of them."

Dropping the tools that he was holding, Zuka touched the commlink integrated into his armor. "Are you sure about that?"

"If they're not Sith, they're still dangerous."

As though to confirm Meetra's statement, the shriek of blaster erupted from deeper within the camp. It was joined by a cacophony of shouted orders combined with the cold clang of vibroblades striking heavy armor. Already calling for backup, Zuka rushed towards the source of the commotion and waved for the others to follow.

"If you're going to stay in this camp, you're going to help defend it!" he warned. "So fight ferociously and if you die, take as many of the bastards as you can with you!"

Racing towards the weapons and ammunition depot, Meetra called, "If these are Sith, blasters might not do much good. If you have a few extra blades at least two of us can use them. As for Visas…"

The Miraluka had already drawn an item from the billowing sleeve of her dress. At first, it appeared to be a simple metal rod but with a flick of her wrist, it extended into a slender quarterstaff. "I will not be a burden during this fight."

"Well, that's new." Atton took a moment to gawk at the blind woman, though he shook it off as Meetra dashed into the storage building, shouting for Kex the quartermaster to give her something with a blade.

It was a few long seconds before she returned, a vibrosword in one hand and a dual-bladed weapon in the other. Tossing the latter to Atton she called out, "Alright, time to impress me again!"

It didn't take long to identify the source of the attack, the black-robed figures a stark contrast to the green foliage and the Mandalorians in their painted armor. Within the Force they were even more obvious, each of them exuding waves of cold, dark energy. Without waiting for further instructions Meetra charged at the nearest Sith, swinging the vibroblade at their shoulder while silently hoping that they weren't armed with a lightsaber that she somehow failed to notice. But her attack was met with a similar blade, slimmer and longer than the one she was wielding yet handled with less finesse.

Parrying two strikes in quick succession, Meetra kicked out and knocked her opponent back with a hard heel to the gut. Leaping to the side, she delivered a slash to their back, warm blood spraying across her knuckles as she carved into flesh. It was a strange sensation, something that never happened when wielding a lightsaber. Driving the pommel of her sword into the back of the Sith's neck she knocked them to the ground before stabbing the point into their spine. The weight of the weapon was different than what she was used to, but the motions were mostly the same and it was easy to fall into the rhythm of a melee fight.

Whirling around, Meetra spotted her allies admirably holding their own. Atton was grinning wildly as he danced around his less skilled opponent, using his longer weapon to trip them before slashing the blade through their stomach. More surprising was Visas, who wielded her staff with remarkable precision. She never overtly attacked, preferring to deflect all of her adversary's blows back on them, using their own momentum to her advantage in near perfect use of Djem So. Turning back to her own fight Meetra targeted another Sith, lunging at them with a shout as she used the Force to turn a simple jump into a powerful, soaring chop.

The Sith stumbled backward as the blade came down hard on their arm, blood flowing from the wound as they dropped their own weapon. However, the movement brought them closer to the heart of the battle, and one of their black-clad allies immediately flanked them and sized Meetra up. Hatred poured out of the second individual, a cold strength that infused their body.

"Meetra, at your six! Dodge and roll!"

Trained to not question her allies in battle, she immediately fell into a defensive position before diving off to the side, tucking her head neatly as she tumbled across the ground. A moment later she popped back onto her feet just as a blast shook the area, the grenade taking out both of the Sith she had just been facing. Glancing over her shoulder, Meetra spotted Mand'alor stalking across the battlefield, a huge repeating blaster held in one hand and a grenade clutched in the other. Veela was at his side, her helmet back in place, while Carth covered his back with both pistols.

"Where the hells did these kriffing bastards come from?" the Mandalorian leader demanded.

"No clue, sir!" Kelborn called as he fired several rounds into another Sith, some of the bolts deflected with the Force, but a few finding their mark. "They appeared in the middle of the outpost using some type of camouflage. But none of them seem to be wearing stealth field generators."

"They used the Force!" Her brow furrowing in concern, Meetra reached out her awareness until it spread not just through the outpost but into the jungle beyond. Her entire body tensed when she felt another crashing wave of dark energy moving directly towards the encampment. "And there's more coming!"

A Mandalorian in yellow armor shouted as they were struck by a powerful Force push that sent them directly into the vibroblade of a waiting Sith. Another warrior, this one wearing blue, grunted and then fell silent as they were rammed into the side of a building hard enough to dent the durasteel. Drawing a slow breath, Meetra watched as the dark Force users began to summon their powers to turn the tides of the battle.

'They are not the only ones who can do so. You may not be able to guide everyone on the battlefield, but you can strengthen your allies.'

Nodding to Kreia despite the fact that the older woman was kilometers away, Meetra swept her gaze across the encampment, noting her companion's locations as she extended her consciousness. Their individual presences glowed within the Force and she wrapped each one in a thread of her own power, linking their minds to her own so that their bodies could flow in unison. The sensation was much like what happened on Telos but on a larger scale, encompassing not just Atton, Carth, and Visas, but any Mandalorian whom she knew well enough to locate within the chaos. For an instant she could feel them all, their heartbeats practically syncing with her own as she enabled them to achieve accuracy and reaction times that would be otherwise impossible.

Carth and Veela shifted their positions just enough to cover not just Mand'alor's blind spots but also each other's, and all three fired in such perfect unison that there was never a pause in coverage when someone shifted targets or reloaded their ammunition. At the same time, Atton and Visas began to flow around each other. Both of them were able to benefit from the longer reach of their weapons as they struck just over each other's shoulders or behind the other's back, all without ever touching. Feeling her own mind slip into the same synchronicity Meetra threw herself back into battle, easily diving just beneath her allies' blaster bolts before coming up behind a surprised Sith who wasn't expecting her to move quite so fast. She struck with two clean slashes that carved into their abdomen, knocking them to the ground with a wet gurgle.

There were other Mandalorians, like Kex and Kelborn, whose shots found an almost perfect rhythm, each one instinctively covering for the other so that there was never a lull in their shooting or an opening for the enemy to exploit. The combined effect of everyone under Meetra's influence was staggering, most of their shots and slashes finding vital organs with little effort. The Sith were dropping faster now, but the frigid current moving through the Force only intensified as a new wave of dark figures swarmed in.

"This is good, but we need more!" Mand'alor called, just as the air began to crackle and taste like ozone.

Carth winced in recognition. "Oh no."

The lightning was weak but it was still enough to knock a trio of Mandalorians to the ground. Two of them didn't get up. Frowning in frustration, Meetra used the Force to throw the Sith who had produced the electricity into the nearest tree. They crashed into several branches before sliding limply down the trunk. But that didn't stop more lightning from sizzling through the air as another dark-robed figure attacked two more Mandalorians, halting them in place as they twitched and yelled uncontrollably.

Despite her efforts, Meetra could tell they were losing this battle. The disappointment and frustration roiled coldly in her gut, feeding the void that gaped within her very soul. She knew this feeling, or at least some variation of it, having experienced it dozens of times during the war.

And just like then, she fueled herself with the emotion. Exhaling sharply, she called upon the festering emptiness, abandoning herself to the anger that she felt at seeing these Sith overrun the encampment. Drawing a deep breath, she threw her head back and screamed.

The sound pierced the air, traveling across the outpost in a wail that carried all of the rage that Meetra could force out of her body. She noticed a few Mandalorians ducking down and covering their helmets at the sound, but they were collateral damage. The Sith were her true target and they all seemed to be affected by the noise. Many of them yelped as they fell to their knees, their fingers clawing at their hoods and balaclavas as they tried to block the wail that shredded their minds. Tightening her mental connection to her allies Meetra rushed forward, driving her blade into the back of the nearest collapsed Sith.

The hum of a lightsaber sent her heart into her throat and she nearly screamed again, this time in resentment at the fact that these Sith somehow kept gaining the upper hand. But as she looked around for the source of the noise she noticed a pair of familiar blue blades that she had sparred with dozens of times before. The man who wielded them was leaping through the air with ease, his brown robes flowing around him as he cut down two enemies with a sweep of his main lightsaber and then a stab from his shoto blade.

"Kavar!" Meetra cried happily, delight glowing within her when she recognized the Master. She had expected to feel conflicted when she saw him for the first time since her expulsion from the Order, but the last-minute rescue certainly helped to endear him.

The Guardian looked up for an instant before returning to the battle, augmenting his already formidable skills with speed and strength from the Force. He was little more than a blur as he moved between the Sith, cutting them down before they noticed that he had changed positions. At this point, several Mandalorians had lowered their blasters and were watching their strange savior, all while radiating unrestrained suspicion.

Unwilling to be rescued like some holodrama damsel, Meetra looped around the encampment so that she could flank Kavar, drawing the others towards her through their mental link. They moved as a single unit, those with blasters providing suppressive fire as those wielding melee weapons struck down anyone who threatened to sneak up on the Jedi Master or exploit his blind spots. While he probably noticed the assistance, he didn't acknowledge it until Meetra's allies were all surrounding him in a wide defensive ring, a well-aimed shot from Mand'alor taking down a Sith who was attempting to backstab the Jedi.

The roar of the battle was beginning to die down, a triumphant cheer already spreading through the Mandalorian encampment. When the sound reached her ears, Meetra grinned and released the threads that were linking her to the others. The power receded just as Kevar turned to them, one brow arched in surprise.

"Thank you for the assistance. I didn't expect…" The rest of the Master's words died on his tongue as he looked past Visas and the numerous armored Mandalorians, finally noticing Meetra who was nearly lost among the larger figures.

"Master Kevar, I thought you were on Onderon."

"Meetra Surik! I… I apologize. I didn't realize it was you." A disturbed grimace flitted over his face, though his expression settled into one of neutrality. "I'm not used to your… To how you feel within the Force.

Wincing at the implication, she glanced away even as Kreia's voice murmured, 'Do not be ashamed, he merely senses your potential. He recognizes what you are capable of now that your eyes are finally open.'

"It's alright, Master." Meetra lifted her head and offered him a gentle half-shrug. "Despite the situation, it's good to see you again. Excellent timing, as always." Stepping forward, she gestured to the rest of her companions. "These are my… They're my allies. They've been helping me."

Carth rolled his eyes at that description. "Are we helping you, or are you just collecting us?"

"I'm more curious as to why a Jedi assisted us. Especially a famed Guardian. Hells, for a time we thought that we'd be facing you and not Revan." Stepping forward, Mand'alor forced himself into the Master's space. While his armor was understated, especially compared to the intricate and intimidating design of Mandalore the Ultimate's garb, it still emphasized his superior height and strength.

"Master Kavar, this is Mandalore the Preserver and Veela, his… most trusted warrior. The man who stands like a soldier is Carth, and the woman who puts my own Djem So to shame is Visas. And… Huh?" Meetra's brow furrowed in confusion when she noticed that Atton wasn't with the others. It took her another moment to realize that she had subconsciously slipped back into the role of a Consular making carefully worded introductions between potentially hostile parties.

Nodding towards the edges of the camp, Veela replied, "If you're looking for the dark-haired kid, I saw him go to perform a sweep around the perimeter once you dropped… whatever it was that you were doing. He seemed twitchy when the plasma swords came out."

"Whatever you did was impressive," Mand'alor grunted approvingly. "Was that Battle Meditation?"

Kavar's brow arched in obvious surprise that someone outside of the Order knew the term. "Technically it's a form of the power, though it's not quite the same as what someone like Bastila Shan is capable of." He said the name pointedly and was rewarded with a faintly knowing nod from the Mandalorian leader.

"I was actually more impressed by the scream," Carth noted with a chuckle.

The Jedi's expression darkened. "Knowing the company that you keep, this doesn't surprise me."

"Master Kavar," Meetra interrupted before the conversation could become more antagonistic. "You never did explain why you came to our rescue."

"I'll be honest with both you and to the new Mandalore, I came to Onderon because I sensed something dark here on Dxun. I originally believed it was the Mandalorians, plotting to return to their campaign of sacking worlds and slaughtering innocents."

Looming beside the Jedi, Mand'alor stated, "Then let me settle this for you. I'm here to gather my lost people and to help them preserve our traditions and ways of life."

Kavar remained unimpressed. "Like sacking and slaughtering?"

Flanking her husband, Veela sneered, "Don't try our patience, Jedi."

"I've been in this camp almost the whole day and I haven't felt anything threatening. At least until those Sith arrived." It was so easy for Meetra to play the part of the Consular, brokering peace even when she barely remembered what serenity felt like.

"As much as I'm less than pleased to see a new Mandalore gathering his people, I must admit that this encampment is not the source of the dark presence I was sensing. My research back on Iziz revealed that there's a Sith tomb on this moon, and it seems that it's attracting individuals like the ones we just battled."

Mand'alor hummed thoughtfully. "Is that what those old ruins are? We always knew there was some type of tomb here, but we were never sure who or what was buried there. It was all built and destroyed long before we settled on Dxun."

"Yes, I believe it's the tomb of Freedon Nadd."

"One of the few Sith Lords not buried on Korriban."

Turning to Meetra, Kavar narrowed his eyes. "Indeed. I'm surprised you know that."

She didn't flinch as she responded, "Revan taught me."

"So, there's a Sith tomb that's attracting more Sith? Great." Carth sighed heavily. "Are these still escaped followers of Malak?"

"A few perhaps, but a lot of them seem young and inexperienced. It appears that a new group of Sith leaders is recruiting fresh disciples of the dark side. I was actually on my way to investigate the situation when I sensed the attack on this outpost."

"Even a Master Jedi shouldn't investigate a Sith tomb alone," Meetra protested, trying to keep her features placid even as a spark of hope flared within her. Revan believed that a Sith is the cause of the Jedi disappearances. Could this be connected? "Allow us to help you."

"That's not necessary."

"Then let us investigate for you. The Sith are going to notice the presence of a Jedi almost immediately and they'll attack before you can learn anything useful. But someone like Carth or Veela is less likely to attract attention. The rest of my crew is also better suited for this. Visas is able to see things that would go unnoticed by you or me, and I have a talented mechanic along with a woman who probably has more life experience than the rest of us combined."

"Meetra…" Kavar's tone softened, some of his old affection swirling around him. "It's not that I don't trust you. This is simply a task that should be performed by a Jedi and as much as it pains me to say this, you're no longer part of the Order."

She jerked her chin up defiantly, her voice never wavering. "No, this is a task that a Jedi wants to perform, but that would be better carried out by someone else. There's a difference between what is good for the individual and what is good for the many. And the Jedi are tasked with serving the needs of the galaxy before their own desires."

"Spoken like a true Consular." Amusement colored Kavar's voice, and he smiled as he finally nodded in agreement. "Alright, I won't let my arrogance get in the way. But if I let you and your crew go in, you have to report anything that you uncover. You can't steal artifacts for yourself or withhold critical information. If you do and the Council finds out, I can't protect you."

"I'm a murder, Master Kavar. Not a thief."

The words sliced through the Jedi better than any lightsaber. "Fine. Gather your crew and meet me at the tomb tomorrow morning. I can provide a distraction so that you can sneak in without much trouble. Bring your mechanic, because I'm sure there will be traps."

"We'll see you then, Master." Meetra bowed deeply, mostly out of habit, before gesturing for the others to follow her so that they could formulate a plan. As she walked a murmur of approval sung through her mind.

'Clever, very clever. You used his Jedi principles against him to achieve your own goals, and now you'll be able to investigate the tomb. Keep your eyes open, child, for this journey might illuminate Revan's path.'


"I have to admit, General, this is a bit more than I was expecting." Bao-Dur was pressed against a wall, looking unusually lonely without his remote which he had left on the ship so that he could move more stealthily.

"Honestly? This is a bit more than any of us were expecting." Meetra frowned as she peeked around a corner and spotted multiple Sith troopers and dark Force users guarding the entrance to the tomb. The group had already snuck past several lookouts along the winding path leading up to the structure, the task made surprisingly easy thanks to the Zabrak's clever sabotage of the Sith's security sensor array.

But the reprogrammed sensors, which were still sending out false alarms that activated a series of turrets which were keeping the entire camp in disarray, weren't going to get them past these final guards. A quick visual sweep counted four visible troopers flanked by two more individuals in black robes and balaclavas, but Meetra could sense at least one more individual lingering in the shadows. Worse, the walkway they were guarding was also lined with a series of mines that forced anyone approaching to remain on a narrow and very visible path. Cursing softly under her breath, she wished yet again that Atton had agreed to come on this expedition. But he'd firmly insisted on staying with the ship to avoid Kavar.

"Sorry for disappearing back there, but I've had some bad experiences with Jedi," he had admitted as he sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "And as much as I'd love to explore some undoubtedly horrifying ruins with you, I'd kind of like to avoid running into your friend again."

"You mean Master Kavar? Don't worry about him, he would never…"

Atton's expression darkened. "Don't finish that sentence. You should know better than anyone else that a Jedi is capable of anything."

Shutting her mouth so hard that her teeth clicked, Meetra tried to bite back her injured feelings. "Alright, fine. I get it."

"No! I didn't mean it like that… Aw kriff! Look, I had some bad run-ins with the Jedi during the war, okay?" Noting the suspicious glance that he was receiving, Atton hurriedly added, "Don't worry, I was on your side. It's just that some of the Revanchists… they really started to scare me."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Maybe someday, but not right now. Besides, don't you have a creepy tomb to go loot?"

In the end, Meetra had chuckled softly before walking away, only pausing to give Atton a soft pat on his arm as she left the Ebon Hawk's main hold. What she had really wanted to do was to wrap her arms around his shoulders and draw him close, maybe while pressing a soft kiss to his cheek and then his lips before whispering that she was sorry that everything had gone so wrong for him. She could have explained that during the war, surrounded by blood and death, it was so easy to lose your grasp on the light. That the only way to prevent yourself from feeling all of the pain around you was to feel nothing at all, to harden yourself to suffering until the destruction of a city, or a continent, or a planet became an acceptable loss.

She had said none of those things, but she did let Atton stay on the ship along with Carth, who wanted to use the comm unit to contact some allies for more information about the potential Sith threat. With Mand'alor opting to remain at his outpost to oversee repairs, the group heading into the tomb was a bit smaller than expected. At least there was still a small scouting party of Mandalorians joining them, led by Veela.

"Now might be a good time for the Jedi to create a distraction," the Mandalorian hissed quietly into her comm.

"Master Kavar?"

"Hmm, I guess I'm up," the Jedi whispered in response, the hum of his lightsabers audible through the small speaker. "I admit, I never imagined that I'd be helping a group of Mandalorians sneak into a Sith tomb. The Force does have a sense of humor…"

A moment later, two of the Sith troopers let out a yell as the glowing blade of a blue shoto 'saber came whirling through the air. One of them ducked in time, but the second took a hit right to the chest that burned straight through their armor. Kavar appeared as the weapon twirled back to him, catching the hilt before flipping forward and kicking another trooper to the ground. The remaining troopers opened fire just as the pair of dark Force users turned towards him, both drawing vibroblades as they advanced. The Jedi slowly backed up as his adversaries raced closer, drawing the guards away from the tomb entrance.

"Now's our chance!" Meetra announced, already rushing around the corner. "Bao-Dur, any advice about those mines?"

"Yes, don't step on them!"

The group sprinted past two of the troopers before they were noticed, and it took even longer before the blaster bolts started to fly. Glancing over her shoulder, Meetra noted that Kreia and Visas were close behind, while the Mandalorians were already providing cover from the rear with their own repeating rifles. Ducking into an alcove, she waved the others forward. While the rest of her crew soon joined her, Veela's team continued to march straight ahead.

"Keep moving," the Mandalorian ordered as she pulled a grenade from her belt. "We'll hold these kath hounds back!"

"You'll meet us inside?"

"No, but we'll guard the entrance." Veela's voice was barely audible over an explosive boom. "The inside of a Sith tomb is your business."

Kreia dug a sharp finger into Meetra's shoulder, prodding the other woman forward. "It's better this way. Go, take advantage of their foolish superstition and pride."

The rest of the brief sprint was a cacophony of sound, Kavar's lightsabers still humming comfortingly somewhere in the distance while the Mandalorians continued to blast away anyone who didn't chase the Jedi. It seemed like the crew was going to make it into the tomb unimpeded, at least until Visas gasped and pulled to a halt.

"Be cautious, there's someone behind that pillar."

But Meetra was too far ahead of the Miraluka to hear the advice and her own awareness only sent her a tingle of warning just as a black-robed figure slipped out from the shadows. A dual-bladed vibroblade glinted dangerously in their hands and they twirled it with far more precision than the previous Sith had shown. Meetra immediately skidded backward, slinging her rifle off of her back and lining up a shot in one fluid motion. But before her finger could tap the trigger the dark Force user froze in place, their limbs tensing and twitching. They took one clumsy step forward before collapsing to the ground, revealing Bao-Dur standing behind them with his mechanical arm raised.

"I told you General, this thing can give a nasty shock if you're not careful."

"Thanks for the save." Still clutching her rifle, Meetra nodded to Visas. "Anyone else we should be aware of?"

"Yes. I see at least two figures guarding this tomb just beyond the entryway."

"Good to know." Raising her rifle, Meetra crouched down as she slunk towards the towering stone doorway. The others followed in her wake, Bao-Dur close behind and Kreia covering the rear of their little group.

They were rushed by two dark Force users the moment they stepped foot in the tomb, though their assailants clearly weren't expecting four combatants who actually knew how to fight. Visas and Kreia took out one trooper, the older woman freezing the black-robed figures in place as the Miraluka used her to staff to knock them unconscious. Meetra and Bao-Dur incapacitated the other just as quickly, rifle fire providing enough cover for the Zabrak to slam his prosthetic into the hooded face.

The rest of the assailants that appeared from the various alcoves built into the long entrance corridor were dealt with in a similar fashion, Meetra and Kreia providing support from a distance as Bao-Dur and Visas rushed into melee range to finish off anyone who wasn't rendered unconscious by the Force or overwhelmed by the rounds of blaster fire. It was a remarkably effective strategy, though Meetra only realized that she was binding their minds together when they reached the end of the hall and her power receded.

"Oh, I didn't mean to…"

"Don't apologize," Kreia scolded. "Your talents are coming more naturally to you as your connection to the Force returns."

The sound of multiple footsteps echoed from far up ahead, though the individuals were swiftly drawing closer. Meetra shifted to press her back against the nearest wall. "I think they know we're here. Visas, the path splits a few meters up. Can you see if either way clear?"

"The left pathway is clear, though I also see a strange energy in the adjoining room."

"Right now, I'd rather face some strange energy than any more of those troopers, General." Bao-Dur was panting hard and he wiped his brow with his organic hand.

"Then let's head to the left."

All four of them turned and slipped down the indicated hallway, Meetra and Kreia at the head of the group while the others trailed behind by about a meter. Their close proximity was fortunate, as less than a second after they entered the ancient room a rough grinding sound filled the air as the heavy stone door began to swiftly shut behind them.

"No! Bao-Dur, can you stop that?"

"Not this quickly!" The Zabrak's eyes scanned the room. "But there's a pretty big computer I might be able to…"

The rest of his words were silenced by the door slamming closed.

"Damn! I hope we're not stuck in here."

"Hmm." Kreia seemed unworried as she strolled towards the ancient console in the center of the room, the dark metal surface radiating waves of cold power that quietly offered a wealth of hidden secrets. "The Sith move through this tomb without hindrance. How? Surely they are no wiser or more talented than a war hero feared by the Mandalorians."

"That doesn't mean that I'm…" Unsure how to handle the compliment, Meetra pushed it aside with a sigh. "Hey Bao-Dur, can you take a look at that computer? Maybe it controls the door."

"Of course. I just need a moment, General. I apologize, but this place is giving me a bit of a headache."

"I thought it was only me." Visas slumped slightly. "My sight is odd here. I feel as though I'm blind within this room, but only because the energy that flows here overwhelms my senses. The longer I look, the more my thoughts pain me."

"Is it only your heads that hurt? Does anything else feel wrong?" Sniffing the air, Meetra frowned. "I hope there's no poison in here, I know that I'm less sensitive to that sort of thing."

"Honestly General? I also feel unusually cold. I admit that I'm from a warm planet, so a lot of places feel pretty chilly." A shiver passed through Bao-Dur. "But I've never felt cold like this before."

Visas nodded. "It's the same creeping coldness that I felt back on Telos."

"Leave them be, you can diagnose them later." Kreia was already typing commands into the computer. "Right now there is much more important information to be gleaned from this place."

"But there might be something really wrong." Searching her immediate vicinity, Meetra toed over a few rotting baskets and pieces of broken pottery as she looked the source of her companions' discomfort. "What's even stranger is that I'm not feeling anything unusual."

"Aren't you?"

"Well, the Force is much stronger here than anything else I've felt on this moon, and I've spent a lot more time on Dxun than any non-Mandalorian should. It's not really surprising, but this tomb is extremely strong with the dark side. So, I suppose it does feel unusually cold in here… Wait. Bao-Dur and Visas, can you come over here and touch this console? Tell me what you feel."

The Zabrak shuddered the instant his flesh palm pressed against the ancient metal. "Oh, that's not very pleasant General. I've only met a few machines that I didn't like and this definitely makes the list."

"I feel the same sensation that swept over Kataar before it was destroyed." Visas's head was bowed, her tone somber.

"Oh! It's not a headache, you're feeling the way that the Force flows through this Sith artifact."

"Yes," Kreia waved the revelation aside. "The dark side energy must be strong enough that even those blind to the Force sense its presence."

"But we already know that Visas isn't Force-blind. Bao-Dur though…" Meetra turned to the Zabrak. "Has anything like this ever happened to you before?"

"Oh, once or twice." When he received a surprised gasp, he laughed it off. "Don't look at me like that, General, it's not like this came up during our battlefield conversations. There have been a few times in my life that I've experienced strange sensations before something dangerous happened, usually a tingle on the back of my neck. And sometimes tools float into my hand from across the workbench, though I always assumed that was some sort of magnetic property. Either way, it's nothing impressive, especially compared to what a real Jedi like you can do."

Meetra gasped. "…You're Force-sensitive! You should have told me before."

"I couldn't! Especially considering that I had no idea that's what I was experiencing until this very moment."

"You both could have been trained as Jedi if the Order found you sooner." Shaking her head, Meetra clenched one fist as frustration welled up within her. Even if she brought her companions to Kavar, the Council would never approve their training. Despite their obvious strength, the Jedi would automatically declare that they were too old to be taught as the tragedy and loss they'd experienced made them too susceptible to falling. Yet, with the Order in peril, this policy felt like a mistake. But perhaps there was an alternate solution. "Hells, both of you can still be trained! I'll do it myself. Kriff whatever the Council says, they don't have to know. We'll talk more about this once we're back on the ship, alright? For now, let's see what's on this computer so that we can get out of this room."

While both Bao-Dur and Visas appeared relieved to change the subject, a warm tingle of appreciation bloomed brightly around both of them, the emotion even more obvious amid the darkness filling the tomb. It sent a burst of happiness through Meetra, helping her to focus as she began to sort through the various files stored on the computer. Luckily, none of them were encrypted and it was easy to discover that the data was actually quite recent. It seemed that all of the ancient recordings had been lost to time, the system repurposed to hold newer records of the Sith's discoveries within the tomb. Retrieving her datapad, she connected it to the system and began downloading the information.

Kreia tutted. "Are you truly going to hand that information over to the Jedi?"

"I told Kavar I would, and I intend to keep my word. Despite our differences, he's an old friend." Meetra grinned mischievously. "Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not keeping a copy for myself. He said not to steal any artifacts, and all of the data I'm collecting is new information."

The Force bond shimmered with approval. "Clever."

By the time Meetra had collected all of the important information from the Sith's computer, Bao-Dur had recovered enough to rewire the door panel. "It should open once I tap these wires together. Just let me know when you're ready to leave."

"I'm ready," she replied, now grasping her rifle. "But we should keep exploring. I sense something else deeper inside of the tomb."

There was a gauntlet of troopers guarding the corridors leading further from the entrance, some of them with trained beasts captured from the nearby jungle. This made reaching the inner burial chamber a challenge. Bao-Dur was still clutching a bite wound on his thigh as the group fought the last of the guards, Visas's staff a blur as it whipped through the air in tandem with the hail of blaster bolts that Meetra laid down as cover. However, it was Kreia who defeated the final trooper with a wave of her arm, sending the individual flying two meters through the air before they collided with a stone pillar. The sharp crack of bone was only punctuated by a single moan as they slumped to the ground.

Rushing to administer a stimpack to Bao-Dur's injury, Meetra almost didn't notice when Visas paused, her eyeless gaze focused on the room just ahead. "I see three beings within, all consumed by darkness."

"They must be what I sensed earlier."

"Oh yes, there is power in that room," Kreia agreed. "Though no more than what you possess. But perhaps there are still lessons to be learned from those who dwell within."

"Information… about Revan? Do you think these Sith have answers?"

"Perhaps. Or perhaps what they know will only lead to more questions. You must confront these Sith to discover your own truth."

"Right." Despite nodding in understanding, Meetra wasn't sure she understood the older woman's riddle. Still, if entering the burial chamber could provide her with information about Revan's quest or the decline of the Jedi, it was a chance that she had to take.

"Depending on who's waiting for us, that rifle might not be too useful, General." Gesturing to the blade sheathed at her hip, Bao-Dur added, "Your sword has a cortosis plating."

"Oh." It still felt wrong for Meetra to swing the blaster onto her back and draw the vibrosword, the balance too front-heavy and the metal cold against her skin. Yet, it was still more elegant than the rifle she'd been using.

The four of them slunk cautiously forward, all acknowledging that they'd lost the element of surprise even though none of them admitted it out loud. So, it wasn't particularly shocking when they slipped into the cavernous room and saw three hooded figures watching and waiting, curiosity warring with anger in their yellow eyes. The chamber itself had already been cleared out, the artifacts and other valuables were taken away aside from some shards of pottery and a handful of stray beads that littered the floor. Freedon Nadd's sarcophagus remained, though it now served as the central hub of whatever research the Sith were performing.

"A Jedi," one of the Sith remarked, her eyes narrowing.

A second figure shook his head. "No. Perhaps once, but no longer. Darkness fills her now."

"I know who I am." Meetra straightened her shoulders as she strode forward, the sword grasped lightly in her right hand. "I think the better question is, who are you? I'm used to finding Mandalorians on this moon, not Sith."

The one figure who hadn't spoken chuckled lightly, her voice younger than the others. "Separately we are nothing of importance, but together we serve something greater. Much like the darkness within this tomb, our power can be harnessed for so much more." She stepped forward, her hooded head tilting to the side. "And you? Do you savor the power that you find here, or do you still cling to the teachings of your dying Order?"

Meetra's eyes grew wide. "…Dying Order? You do know something about whatever's attacking the Jedi!"

"Perhaps." The hooded man nodded solemnly. "But it is our masters who know the whole truth."

Scoffing at the notion, Kreia hissed, "These fools are nothing more than minions, spouting the words they have been told without fully understanding the meaning of what they say."

"Yet, I sense there is still truth to be discovered here," Visas whispered as she crept closer to Meetra.

"Tell me what you know and be honest about it, and I'll let you go. It's the best offer you're going to receive because even if I don't defeat you, either the Mandalorians or the Republic will. Now, what do you know about the attacks on the Jedi? And while you're at it, what do you know about Revan?"

"Revan." The youngest of the hooded figures spat the name like a curse. "The man who lured others into darkness, but refused to take the final leap himself? The man who sold out his most loyal ally for the chance to once again become a hero in the eyes of a Republic who appreciated him more dead than alive? You're one of them, aren't you? One of the Revanchists."

"I was." Meetra lifted her sword, anger surging around her as she listened to the accusations leveled against one of her closest friends. "And I'd think very carefully about your next words"

But the Sith weren't intimidated by this response and all three began to reach for the metallic hilts clipped at their hips. Bao-Dur raised his prosthetic arm nervously. "General, something tells me they didn't like that answer."

Meetra barely heard the Zabrak's advice. "Revan shared his research with any of his followers who were willing to learn, but his goal was never to lead them astray! He was always honest about the power of the dark side and the dangers that it held. Even in his darkest moments his friends and allies were more important to him than glory or fame. Yes, he valued the Republic, but never to the point of betraying others in its name!"

"He betrayed Lord Malak." The youngest Sith's eyes narrow, her voice laced with venom.

Snorting at the suggestion, Meetra glared at the dark-robed figure. "Alek betrayed himself when he seized control of the Republic and abandoned all of his ideals."

"Traitor!" the Sith screamed, her voice filled with rage. "Lying kath hound!"

The two other dark robed figures seethed with impatience at their companion's outburst, the older woman turning to her and asking, "Shall we kill them, Lashowe?"

It was an unnecessary question because the youngest Sith was already drawing her lightsaber and igniting the red blade as she charged at Meetra, her technique graceless but fueled by her hatred. A sharp chop drove the former Jedi back, though she easily blocked it with a swing of her vibroblade. The second slice was also knocked aside with relative ease, though none of this seemed to discourage Lashowe. Her yellow eyes burned with fury as she dove forward, swinging her 'saber with reckless abandon.

Ducking to the ground, Meetra rolled neatly out of her assailant's path as she paused to look around the room. The other Sith had also activated their lightsabers and were attacking her crew indiscriminately, the man hacking viciously at Visas's staff while the other woman tried to carve through the energy field that held Bao-Dur's arm in place. Both of her allies appeared frightened, an emotion that only fed into the dark currents of energy flowing through the tomb. Only Kreia seemed unperturbed as she moved around the perimeter of the room, keeping all three Sith in her sights as she summoned her own power.

Closing her eyes, Meetra sent out her awareness as she attempted to tie all of their minds together. However, her focus was disrupted by the heat and sizzle of a lightsaber swinging dangerously close to her face. Only years of battle-honed reflexes enabled her to raise the vibroblade and block Lashowe's hit before it struck her cheek, but it was still a close call. Reeling back, she carefully steadied herself and focused on deflecting the next three slashes with practiced precision as she looked for an opening to go on the offensive. There would have been plenty of opportunities if she was wielding a 'saber, but the inferior deflection and heavier weight of the sword made things much harder.

Just as Meetra spotted a weak point in Lashowe's guard, she felt a cry of pain echo through the room. Turning towards the distress she saw Visas collapse to the ground, her now-severed staff sliding from one hand as the Miraluka clutched a deep wound burned into her right hip. The Sith she'd been dueling sneered triumphantly and raised his lightsaber for the killing blow.

The scream that Meetra had produced in the Mandalorian outpost had been one of frustration and outrage. But this time, the sound that erupted was formed from pure terror, her protectiveness over Visas exploding outward in a shriek that cut through the air. All three Sith recoiled at the noise, stumbling backward as they tried to shake off the effects now tearing through their minds. Meetra seized the opportunity, ducking out of Lashowe's range and sprinting over to the Miraluka who was still sprawled across the stone floor. Carefully shielding the other woman with her own body, she tried to drag the prone figure away from her attacker. Unfortunately, the Sith recovered in time to notice and lashed out. This time his red blade caught the top of Meetra's left shoulder, causing her to howl in agony.

Fresh fear blossomed through the Force as both Visas and Bao-Dur realized that their friend was injured, though it was nothing compared to the bone-chilling dread that gripped Meetra's heart. She hadn't experienced the raw agony of a lightsaber wound in years, and she suddenly felt more vulnerable than she could ever remember.

'Use it,' Kreia's voice murmured through her head. 'True weakness is to deny your fear in battle, while true strength is to embrace what you feel and turn it to your advantage.'

Her heart still pounding with fright Meetra lunged forward, diving just beneath the Sith's arms before he struck at her again. Swinging the vibroblade in a wide arc around her body, she sank the edge deep into the man's side, using the Force to drive it further between his ribs and into his organs. He sputtered, gasping for breath and swaying on his feet as Meetra held out her hand and summoned his lightsaber into her own palm. With a snarl she lunged forward with a fierce slash, severing the Sith's head before whipping around and blocking an incoming chop from Lashowe.

"Bao-Dur, keep Visas safe!" Meetra called, parrying two of the youngest Sith's attacks in quick succession before leaping up and kicking the other woman hard in the stomach. "I'll take care of the rest."

As the Zebrak tried to disengage from the Sith woman he was barely holding off with shocks from his prosthetic arm, she only doubled the fury of her attacks. But before she could land a hard stab to his chest, she found herself momentarily trapped in place by a burst of Force power from Kreia. That was all it took for Bao-Dur to disengaged and dart towards Visas, grasping the Miraluka beneath her arms. As he dragged her off to the side he murmured, "I think we'd better let those two handle things from here."

Seeing her friends relatively safe sent a bright surge of relief through Meetra, and she let the sensation wash over her as she knocked back Lashowe with a series of smooth slashes that neatly deflected any attacks aimed at her. Moderation, she reminded herself. Niman is about moderation. Yet, she was still able to press the offensive, mostly due to her opponent's increasing fatigue. The remaining Sith must have noticed this as well, as the older dark-robed woman managed to break free from Kreia's grasp and take a diving swing at Meetra's back.

"General, watch out!" The shout flowed through the chamber just as a jolt of warning shot down Meetra's spine. She spun around with her free hand extended, the Force flowing through her fingertips to freeze the older Sith in mid-leap. A furious expression spread across the black-clad woman's face.

With one arm still holding an adversary at bay, Meetra lunged forward and parried a strike from Lashowe, catching the other woman by surprise. Leaning back on one heel she swung her empty hand around, throwing the immobilized Sith through the air. The older woman let out a yell of shock, her arms flailing helplessly as she was hurled towards the ground, striking her younger compatriot on her way down. Both Sith landed in a tangled heap, though they immediately scrambled to regain their footing. But before they could attack again, an invisible pressure encircled both of their throats, lifting them each off the ground until they were suspended in midair.

"Someone, take their lightsabers," Meetra ordered as she held the Sith aloft with the Force, her own confiscated blade now pointed at them. "I gave you the chance to leave here unscathed. Instead, you chose to attack me."

Kreia huffed as she easily snatched the weapons from both Sith's grasps. "Yes, you did warn them. Now leave them here. They clearly know nothing of value and the type of master they serve will not tolerate failure."

"Then killing them would be a mercy."

"General." Bao-Dur's expression was worried as he looked up at the women now struggling against the power gripping their throats. "You said back on Telos that there's a difference between the best choice, the morally upstanding choice, and the path of least resistance. It sounds to me like killing them would be the easy way out for everyone."

"You're right." Releasing her hold, Meetra let the Sith drop to the floor. As they coughed and sputtered she informed them, "I'm going to turn you over to an old friend. Last I heard, the Jedi don't execute their prisoners. They just lock them away for a long, long time."

"You're turning us over to the Jedi?" Lashawe spat on the floor in disgust.

"Yes. Ironically, that might be the crueler fate for you." Thoughts of Revan sparing Malak's life flitted through Meetra's mind, and she struggled to ignore the accompanying emotions. "Though, I can always put in a good word if you finally tell me what you know."

"Nihilus. Our master's name is Lord Nihilus."

Staring confusedly at the older Sith, Meetra arched a brow. "Not Sion?"

The Sith shook her head. "We've served Lord Sion as well, but we answer to Lord Nihilus. Everything that I know about him is stored in that datapad sitting on top of the sarcophagus."

Meetra quickly retrieved the pad and glanced over the information. It wasn't much. "This is everything?"

Watching the Sith nod, Kreia smiled secretively. "It's a name, which is more than we knew when we entered this tomb. And names hold their own type of power."

"I think there are a few items here that might also be of interest to you, General." Sorting through a mess of mechanical equipment laying on a table, Bao-Dur squinted as he held up a few smaller pieces.

"Alright." Meetra was already helping Visas to her feet, returning the Miraluka's shaky smile as she supported the other woman's weight. "Take whatever you think will help. I'll comm Veela to help us with the prisoners."

Cleaning out the rest of the tomb was comparatively easy, especially once the Mandalorians arrived and dragged the remaining Sith out with sharp prods from their blaster rifles. Though the armored figures seemed uncomfortable walking through Freedon Nadd's final resting place, they didn't comment on the morbid setting. They also didn't linger once their job was done. Meetra and her allies followed several meters behind the scouting party as they marched towards the exit, assisting Visas as she limped along.

"What exactly did you take?" Meetra softly asked Bao-Dur, hoping that he didn't violate their terms with Kavar.

"Oh, nothing special," the Zabrak replied with a grin. "Just some lightsaber parts. Probably enough to make more than one. I got some practice repairing them during the war and I thought I could help you construct a new one. It might help pass the time during hyperspace travel."

"Ah. That wasn't necessary, but… Thank you. I'm not sure I'm ready to make a new one, but you're right. It could be a fun project for both of us."

It was only after they'd arrived back at the Mandalorian camp that Meetra realized she'd clipped the Sith's lightsaber to her own belt out of habit.


"So, there's more of them? Dammit, that's what Bastila was afraid of." Carth gritted his teeth as he paced around the Hawk's main hold.

Meetra blinked back her surprise. "Bastila? You talked to… Bastila Shan?"

"More commonly known as Vann's Padawan… usually to his chagrin."

"That's… surprising. Well, what else did she say?"

"She's worried about a Sith power vacuum now that Malak is imprisoned. A lot of his loyal followers escaped in the chaos that came after the battle on the Star Forge and it's possible that some of them are leading this new Sith emergence."

"But what if it's not his followers?" Frowning at the thought, Meetra muttered, "Kavar thought that a lot of these Sith seemed young and inexperienced."

"That was another possibility that she thought of, and I'm honestly not sure which one sounds worse. Either way, she was wondering if we could meet her on Dantooine and…"

"Dantooine?"

Noticing Meetra's shocked expression, Carth studied her worriedly."Um, is there a problem with that?"

"I was raised on Dantooine. But I haven't been back since…"

"Since Malak bombed the place into rubble about three years ago?" Atton cocked a brow.

Carth glared, causing the younger man to shrink back in apology. "Did… you even know what Malak did to Dantooine? I, I'm sorry. I should probably have sat you down and explained…"

"Since the war." Swallowing hard, Meetra blurted out, "I haven't been home since the war."

"You don't have to come with me to see Bastila." Carth tried to offer a comforting smile, but it looked incredibly strained. "But I don't think I can talk her out of meeting us on Dantooine, at least not for another couple of weeks. She's been trying to broker some type of peace between the remaining Jedi and the other locals, and she finally thinks she's making some progress."

"She was always stubborn. I think I understand why Revan might like her." Managing a shrug, Meetra stood from her seat "And anyway, I should come too. As much as I hate to admit it, Vrook is there and according to Atris's files, he might know more about the disappearing Jedi. Feel free to set a course whenever you're ready, I'll let Mand'alor know where we're headed in case he needs to contact us."

The Mandalorian leader had declined an offer to travel with the Hawk's crew while they investigated the new Sith threat and Revan's disappearance. "I'm still gathering my people here on Dxun. You have your responsibilities and I have mine," he'd explained. "But if you can do me a small favor, I'd owe you one later."

Meetra had been admittedly curious when she inquired further.

"If you see my daughter during your travels, tell her that I'm gathering the clans. She left home soon after the war and I haven't seen her since. I don't think she liked watching our people scatter. Honestly, I don't blame her."

When asked for more information, Mand'alor's response had been vague. Apparently, his daughter was adopted, a long and proud tradition for the Mandalorians. She was a war orphan that Clan Ordo had taken in and raised as one of their own. Beyond that the description was simple; a young woman in her early twenties with red hair, green eyes, and a fiery personality. She was probably using an alias, so her name was something that her father kept to himself. It wasn't much to go on, but Meetra had promised to look anyway.

"Thank you." Mand'alor's tone had grown somber. "And if you ever need something done right, feel free to contact me. I'll give you my encrypted channel."

Despite everything that had transpired during the war, Meetra had been entirely sincere when she wished him luck in restoring his people's place in the galaxy. While she wasn't sure how he'd become the Mandalorian's new leader, she was glad it was him. Mand'alor was tough but fair, and he actually seemed determined to live up to his title as a preserver rather than another warmonger out to conqueror the galaxy.

Back on the Hawk, Carth chuckled dryly. "I can comm Canderous and make an announcement to the rest of the crew regarding our next destination. I've been in charge of this ship before, so I think I can handle it for a few hours while you sit down and… prepare. Dantooine is probably going to look a lot different than you remember."

Fighting back the dread that was gripping her throat, Meetra nodded. "Alright, thank you. Hey uh, Atton? Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"For you? I can spare at least two minutes."

Meetra carefully lead the pair out of the main hold and into one of the secondary cargo compartments, pointedly avoiding the dormitory where Kreia was currently meditating. Once they were alone she threw her arms around Atton's chest, drawing him close. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Though he looked mildly perplexed, he still grinned. "But hey, feel free to keep apologizing."

"For whatever happened to you during the war and for whatever mistakes the Jedi made." Reaching up, Meetra placed her hands on her companion's shoulder. "And for the choices that I made."

Atton shook his head. "Nothing that happened to me was your fault. Revan and Malak's maybe, but not yours." Upon receiving a doubtful look he elaborated, "Everything went wrong for me way before Malachor. I wasn't even near the final battle."

"I was part of a lot more battles than just Malachor."

"You're not one of the Jedi who kriffed me up." Winking, Atton ran the pad of his thumb down Meetra's nose. "I'm positive that I would have remembered you."

"I'm still sorry. It's just… The Force is strange. It can open you up to all different sensations and emotions, and most of the time it's beautiful. It's like a sun without the glare or a shining current that ties the galaxy together. But that same beauty also carries pain and in the midst of war, a Force user has to shut themself off from that sensation or else it overwhelms them. But shutting out suffering is equally dangerous. In some ways, apathy is a bigger threat than fear or anger."

Leaning closer Atton whispered, "You don't have to explain this to me… Mostly because I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I just want you to know that the Revanchists who fell… It was an accident. They all started out with good intentions but got lost along the way. Revan and Alek are good people who were forced to make impossible decisions. War isn't easy and they were so young… We all were."

"Thank you."

It was Meeta's turn to look befuddled. "For telling you the truth?"

"For caring." Atton pressed a gentle kiss against her forehead, the gesture surprisingly chaste considering all of the suggestive comments that he'd made in the past weeks. "For wanting me to understand."

Still clinging to the taller figure's shoulders, Meetra nodded weakly as she stared into his eyes. "Of course I care."

Atton's expression darkened. "You might not if you knew the truth about me."

"Then tell me. I can't promise how I'll react, but I swear that I'll listen."

"Maybe another time." Cupping Meetra's cheeks in his palms, Atton drew her close enough that their noses touched, their breath mingling as he spoke. "For now, I want you to keep caring about me."

It was impulsive for her to lean in and kiss him, looping her arms around his neck as he chuckled in surprise and then pressed closer, nipping her gently before parting his lips and teasing her with his tongue. But it also felt right. Her past was going to catch up to her once they landed on Dantooine but for now, all she cared about was the present.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 04 - REKKIAD

Two Years Ago (3955)

"Next time I decide to hide an item from the rest of the galaxy, remind me to choose a warm planet. I hear Ryloth's nice." Pulling his hood tighter around his face, Vann scowled at the desolate tundra that stretched out before him.

"Ryloth is fine if you don't mind dodging lylek and Hutt cartels." Canderous snorted at the thought as he trudged through the shin-deep snow without complaint. "So, do you recognize anything?"

The Hawk had touched down a few kilometers away and was currently hidden beneath a low outcropping that was covered in the same half meter of snow that currently blanketed everything in sight. While the positioning wouldn't hide the ship from an aerial sweep, it was enough to disguise it at ground level. Luckily, Dynamic-class freighters were common enough in this part of the galaxy that its presence wouldn't seem too suspicious and the droids were more than capable of handling any minor problems that might arise.

Cupping his hands around his eyes to block the bright glare Vann looked out across the horizon, searching for anything that matched his memories. At first, all he saw was snow, occasionally broken up by steep hills and jagged cliffs made entirely of ice. There was beauty in the starkness, though none of it resembled the columns from his dreams. He was about to give up and board the Hawk again to search a new sector of the planet when a faint glint in the distance caught his attention. Jogging ahead another few meters he squinted and stared, the indistinct gray landscape gradually coalescing into a misty view of twin spires jutting skyward.

"That's them, the ice formations from my dreams."

"Good," Canderous nodded in approval as he kept walking. "Looks like my theory was right. I'm glad I told the rest of Clan Ordo to move into position before we got here. It's only a few days journey from their current coordinates."

"I know the Mandalorians are a tough people, but there's no way an entire clan can move that fast by foot through this snow."

"Oh, we're not going by foot."

Vann considered asking more, but Canderous's smug smirk made him suspect that whatever transportation the clan had acquired was a secret that wouldn't be revealed until they reached the camp. With a sigh, he rubbed his gloved hands together to warm them and continued to trudge through the snow.

It was another hour of trekking past snowdrifts and scrambling over icy patches before the pair reached their rendezvous point and both men were breathing hard by the time they stopped. Looking around, Vann noted that they were in standing in the center of an open plain shielded by tall rock formations to both the north and northwest. A rocky hill bordered the area to the east, leaving a relatively narrow pathway if they wanted to keep traveling in the direction they'd been moving.

"Charming. It was really nice if your people to invite us to a practical kill box."

"They're not stupid and you're a stranger." Canderous's voice lowered to a dangerous growl. "Make sure you remember that and mind your manners."

A few seconds after the pair stopped walking the click of rifles echoed off the rocks as multiple figures appeared, some of them perched on the precarious ice shelves while others aimed around the formations from ground level. While all of the individuals were dressed for the cold weather, none were wearing full armor. Helmets, chest plates, and shin guards were all visible in various permutations, though it seemed like a few suits of traditional beskar'gam had been repurposed to be worn by half a dozen sentients.

"Hands up where I can see them," a feminine voice demanded as a single figure stepped forward, her face hidden by an orange helmet. "You stand on Clan Ordo's territory, announce yourselves."

Both Canderous and Vann immediately put their hands up, the former stepping forward as he began to speak in Mando'a. "I am Canderous Ordo, born of your clan. A warrior returning to his family after seeking honor afar. I come with no ill intent, but I am ready to fight."

The woman nodded once before responding in the same language. "And have you honored your people in your time away?"

"My thoughts and actions all served to honor the Mando'ade and the Mand'alor."

There was palpable tension at the mention of the currently non-existent Mandalorian leader, but it seemed like this was some form of ceremonial greeting that was supposed to be carried out regardless of the clans' current state. Vann almost felt uncomfortable witnessing it, though nobody else seemed to pay him much attention aside from a few rifles that were trained in his direction.

Canderous's answers must have been appropriate because the Mandalorian woman appeared to relax, her shoulders settling beneath her heavy coat. The rest of the clan also seemed to let out a collective breath, the tension that was swirling through the Force dissolving into a warmer and brighter emotion. As the strange woman stepped forward she removed her helmet, revealing a face that was weathered from time and battle, creased around the eyes and mouth while still rounded at her cheeks. Streaks of red and purple highlighted her black hair, though the colorful strands were stark white towards the roots.

"My heart has returned," the woman commented wryly before wrapping her arms tightly around Canderous and kissing him deeply, a gesture he returned so enthusiastically that Vann felt the need to subtly clear his throat.

"So, I assume this is your wife?"

Grinning proudly, Canderous nodded. "Veela, this is Vann, the mercenary I told you about."

Blue eyes that were nearly as pale as the surrounding ice turned to examine the supposed mercenary, sweeping his figure once before blinking blandly. "He'd better know something useful, because he sure doesn't look impressive."

"Looks aren't everything," Vann quipped back in Mando'a.

There was a bored pause and then, "Stick to Basic, your accent is terrible. Now, what do you know?"

This was the complicated part. Vann obviously couldn't come out and say that he was Revan and even playing the part of a retired soldier or military deserter was likely to cause friction. He needed to guide Clan Ordo without arousing their suspicion, which was why he and Canderous had crafted a believable excuse.

"I met a former Republic soldier on a job a few months back who used to try and impress the rest of us by claiming that he knew where Revan buried a bunch of treasure during the war. He even described the ice columns where the loot was hidden. I always thought he was full of bantha shit, especially since he ended up on the wrong end of a force pike, but then I mentioned his story to Canderous and well… Here we are."

"Huh." Veela continued to look unimpressed. "Fine. Give us all of the details you have and we can send you on your way."

Vann had already planned for this offer, and he smirked lazily as he replied, "How dumb do you think I am? I don't know what you Mandalorians are looking for and honestly, I couldn't care less. But I do know that Revan visited plenty of wealthy worlds during the war and looted more than a few of them. I want my share of his treasure, preferably without having to worry about one of you putting a bolt through my skull when I'm not looking. So, you'll get my information as you need it and not a moment before."

"Honorless mercenary scum!" Baring her teeth, Veela turned to her husband. "How do you even know he's trustworthy? Give me one reason why I shouldn't shoot him right here."

"He's a smug bastard but he's damn good at what he does and in the years I've known him, he's never given me bad intel." Canderous shrugged helplessly. "If this information's good, it would explain why none of the clans have found anything in over half a year of searching. We always assumed that Revan stayed close to the equator to avoid the worst of the blizzards. The northernmost coordinates you've told me are at least two thousand kilometers from the Twin Spears."

Holding up his hands placatingly, Vann continued to grin. "Hey, I've got no reason to lie and I'm willing to earn my keep."

"Bah." Brushing one hand over the heavy pistol at her hip, Veela glared at the outsider. "It looks like we're stuck with you for now, so I'm sure as hells keeping an eye on you. Just know that if you slow us down, I'll shoot you. If you're lying to my husband, I'll shoot you. And if you so much as draw a breath that could bring any harm to our clan, I'll shoot you and then run your worthless corpse through with my beskad. Do I make myself clear?"

"Can you repeat point number two for me? I was in a bad crash a few years back and my memory's been shaky ever since."

Snorting in disgust, Veela grabbed Vann by the shoulder and shoved him forward, digging her fingers into his clavicle until sparks of pain shot down his arm. "If you keep running that mouth of yours, I'll shoot you twice just to make a point."

"Ouch! Fine, I get it!"

Chuckling to himself, Canderous shook his head. "He's not that bad once you get used to him."

The snow started falling harder as the entire group trekked their way back to Clan Ordo's camp.


It was so easy for Vann to fall back into the role of the shiftless mercenary whose only care was completing his job so that he could earn his next sum of credits. Sometimes he wondered if this was his true self and his more recent role as a Republic hero was all a strange accident. Maybe Revan really did die and he just happened to share a striking resemblance and a Force connection with a dead man.

The Mandalorians were initially hostile towards him, bristling aggressively when he entered their camp and spotted the collection of weapons, speeders, and repulsorlifts that they were transporting. But their fear and anger flowed even thicker when he caught sight of the Basilisk war droids that were partially hidden beneath waterproof tarps. Seeing the semi-sentient combat units had triggered the return of several memories, mostly consisting of the Mandalorians soaring into combat on their metal beasts. Luckily, his lax expression as he experienced the visions was misinterpreted as indifference.

It was almost a full day before he'd been able to pull Canderous aside to ask about the droids. "The Basiliks… weren't you supposed to destroy those after the war?"

Several tense moments had ticked by before the Mandalorian responded, "Yes. But we didn't."

Vann had considered this new information before nodding thoughtfully. "I'm not sure how I feel about that but I think I'm a little… relieved? I ordered you to destroy your entire culture when you lost."

"It was a fair thing to do. The Republic defeated us and we've often demanded the same of conquered peoples."

"I don't think I understood you back then. I didn't realize that your armor, weapons, and droids aren't just tools of war to you. They're part of your identity as a people."

"They are. Your point?"

"I guess after losing myself I have a little more sympathy. I'm glad you didn't completely destroy yourselves after your defeat. You deserve to keep a little piece of who you are."

Canderous had given Vann a strange look after that, grunting appreciatively before heading back to rejoin his wife and extended family as they gathered around one of the nightly campfires. A few moments later, he'd gestured for his friend to join them.

That conversation had occurred almost two days ago. In the time that followed, Vann managed to ingratiate himself with most of Clan Ordo by repairing one of the Basilisk's damaged circuit boards and generally proving to be a charming and unobtrusive guest. He had his share of stories to tell around the campfire, mostly about mercenary work that bore no mention of the Republic or the war. Once or twice he retold some of the more amusing antics from the search for the Star Forge, carefully disguising any suspicious details to make them sound like jobs that were only notable because of their strangeness.

Tonight he was sitting around the fire with Canderous, Veela, and a few of their most trusted friends. While the blue-eyed woman kept looking at him suspiciously the others didn't seem to share her compunction. One man named Tagren was sitting right beside Vann, his head bowed close as Canderous recounted a particularly harrowing battle that took place during Exar Kun's war.

Frowning softly, Tagren whispered, "You seem lonely."

"Well, I'm not exactly surrounded by friends."

"I know that Veela says you're honorless and only helping us for whatever treasure Revan may have hidden, but I've seen how you act around camp. You respect us. You speak our language and fix our bes'uliik." Targren leaned closer, the firelight flickering across the scar that marred his right cheek. "And I've seen how you move. I can tell that you know how to fight."

"Like I said when I got here, I can earn my keep."

"You may not be Mando'ade but you're still a warrior, the same as the rest of us. Even if you're not surrounded by friends, you are surrounded by people who understand you."

"I guess I didn't think about it like that." The realization that yes, the Mandalorians probably understood him better than the Jedi ever would rattled Vann in unexpected ways. He tried to laugh off his shock by adding, "I mean, Veela's not exactly helping me feel welcome."

"Veela has been holding the clan together since Canderous left to find us better opportunities. She's like an old tooka mother protecting her kits, ready to bite anything unexpected or dangerous." Smirking, Tagren pressed their shoulders together. "And she views you as both of those things."

As he laughed at the Mandalorian's comment, Vann realized he had a unique opportunity. Most of the individuals he interacted with knew he was Revan and saw him through the lens of their preconceived notions. Those who viewed him as hero repeatedly brushed aside his darker tendencies, while those who believed that he was irredeemably fallen saw faults in everything he did. None of it was genuine. However, Clan Ordo still thought he was a faceless mercenary and were unaware of his past or his true identity. Stripped of Revan's reputation, what did people really think of Vann? He wanted to know.

Meeting Targren's golden-brown gaze, he wondered, "You seem to like me more than Veela does. So, what do you see when you look at me? Do you think I'm dangerous?"

"Warriors are supposed to be dangerous." The Mandalorian smiled playfully as he reached over and ran a hand over the other man's bicep, his fingers gently tracing the shape even beneath the bulk of multiple layers. "But I don't think you're a threat to Clan Ordo. When I look at you, I see someone who's made a lonely life for himself. But you don't have to be alone, at least not tonight."

The last comment surprised Vann, but not as much as the pair of lips that pressed firmly against his own, the skin surprisingly warm despite the surrounding chill. His conscious mind immediately ground to a halt as fire-warmed fingers cupped his chin and combed through his hair, drawing him closer as a knee ran up the inside of his thigh before rolling gently between his legs. The pleasure that jolted through him was enough to make him gasp against Tagren's mouth, at least until his brain caught up with his body and he jerked backward in embarrassment.

Scrambling to his feet, Vann bolted a few paces away as he ineloquently stammered, "Sorry, sorry. I, er, thank you but uh… I'm not…"

Targren only chuckled before glaring playfully across the fire. "Canderous, you lied! You said he liked men."

"He does, he just doesn't like you."

"No, you're fine. It's just ah…" Circling around to his friend while attempting to maintain his composure, Vann mumbled, "Canderous, can I talk to you?"

The older Mandalorian rolled his eyes. "Targren, you couldn't have waited until you were alone to make your move? Now I'm going to be the one he's pissed at."

"We're taught that opportunism and quick thinking are important. I saw my chance and I took it. He's attractive, can you blame me?"

Vann briefly considering using the Force to drag his friend away from the fire. "Let me rephrase that. Canderous, can I talk to you right now? Preferably alone?"

Finally accepting his fate, the older Mandalorian sighed as he excused himself from the rest of the gathered warriors, suggestively squeezing his wife's thigh before he stood and trudged off into the snowy night. Vann followed close behind, his mind still reeling even after they reached a quieter part of the camp that was hidden between an icy hill and the frozen remains of what may have been a pond.

Whirling on his friend Vann demanded, "What in Sith hells was that?!"

"Tagren asked me earlier if you were interested in men, and based on some really obvious evidence I told him that you are. Look, I don't know what type of arrangement you and Carth have, but what happens among my clan will stay among my clan. Tagren is a strong warrior and I sure as hells won't think any less of you in the morning."

Staring exasperatedly, Vann nearly screamed, "Like you just said, I have Carth!"

"Tagren won't take any of this personally, but you could have just said that you have a partner instead of dragging me away to throw a tantrum. I don't know what the Republic's told you, but we respect monogamy." Exhaling heavily, Canderous's breath froze in the night air as he explained, "The way my people see it, there's no right way or a wrong way to be in a relationship so long as everyone is an adult who agrees on the terms and nobody gets hurt."

"I'm not throwing a tantrum! You've seen my tantrums, and this is nowhere close. And I pulled you aside because…" Vann's thoughts were still a chaotic mess, causing him to blurt out, "Did you know that Juhani has a girlfriend? Or that Bastila was really interested in me for a while?"

"That last part I knew. Didn't know about the Cathar, but good for her." Canderous considered the information. "Is it that Jedi… Belaya was it?"

"Of course you knew about Bastila. I think everyone on the Hawk knew but me, just like how everyone on Rakata knew about Belaya before I did because I'm apparently kriffing oblivious!"

"So?" Blinking dully, Canderous sighed. "Maybe you're just not wired to notice attraction. I mean, it took you long enough to figure Carth out. I was about two days away from holding a blaster to his head until he finally confessed…"

"What!? You mean he… before I… Nevermind. I guess that's just another thing he never kriffing told me." Pacing in irritation, Vann waved away this new information. "That's not the point. The problem is that I think I missed some cues from someone in my past. I recovered more memories back on Coruscant but I didn't think they were important. At least not until I spent the last few days replaying them while we drove past endless kilometers of snow. And now, after what just happened with Targren…"

"Vann, if this is more Force crap I am still the wrong man to talk to and this is definitely the wrong place to discuss it."

"The person from my memories was Malak!"

Canderous merely shrugged before muttering, "Look, if you used to 'practice with your lightsabers' I can't say I'm surprised, but I don't need the details."

"That's not what happened! I just think that, when we were younger, Malak was interested in me and I didn't realize it. And I can't help but wonder if that affected everything that came after. If maybe that's why it was so easy to turn us against each other and why he still won't talk to me even when I need information from the son of a kath hound."

"I don't know why you're telling me this."

Rubbing his chilled cheeks with his palms, Vann grumbled, "Because Carth won't answer honestly and you're literally the only person I know whose marriage hasn't ended in tragedy."

"Dammit." Wincing at the truth in this statement, Canderous stopped to consider the situation. "If you and Malak were Mandalorians, I'd tell you that some kath-pup crush isn't enough to ruin a friendship and the entire Republic. But having seen how you Force users work, who knows? Maybe you brought down an entire government with the sheer power of your obliviousness."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence."

Canderous scoffed. "I told you I'm the wrong man to ask about this shit. Veela and I work so well because we were both raised to be warriors and we live our lives by the code of our people."

"Living by the code of 'my people' is probably what kriffed me up in the first pla…"

The shriek of blaster fire cut off the rest of Vann's words and he instinctively dropped to the ground as brilliant red bolts illuminated the night sky. Looking around for an explanation he reached for the pistol on his thigh, thumbing off the safety before turning to Canderous for further orders. But the other man was already racing across the camp.

"Ah, kriff." Sprinting after his friend, Vann used the packed trails made by the Basilisk to ease his movement through the snow. "Anybody know what the hells is going on!?"

"It's Clan Jendri!" someone called. "They think we know something they don't, and they're attacking!"

"Well, they're not wrong," Vann hissed through clenched teeth.

Another hail of bolts rained down on the camp, mostly centered on the partially hidden cache of weapons and ammunition. Craning his head back to locate the source, Vann ducked between some nearby tents as he aimed his pistol skyward. Through the smoke and the snow, he could just make out the shape of two Basilisk soaring overhead. Pulling the trigger in rapid succession, he fired a series of shots that he subtly guided with the Force. It would have been enough to at least weaken the shields of a similarly sized assault droid, but his attack appeared to have no effect.

"Vann, that won't do kark-all!"

Spotting Canderous beside Clan Ordo's own Basilisk, the Force user rushed over. "Well, what should I do? I'm not about to go and hide in a corner!"

A series of shouts about three meters away alerted both men to the fact that multiple Jendri warriors had breached the camp's perimeter and were attacking anything that moved. More blaster fire rained down from overhead, the red streaks cutting across the white snow.

"We can take them, we're better armed and have more droids. But we need time to prepare!" Canderous was already powering up his Basilisk. "Can you create a distraction?"

Vann glanced down at the blaster in his hands, arching a brow.

"You know what I mean!"

Sighing, Vann holstered the pistol as he mentally traced the lines of his lightsabers hidden within his jacket. "How much of a show do you want?"

"You're probably the wrong person to tell this to, but try to have some discretion."

Clenching his fists, Vann let out a growl of irritation as he turned and ran towards where most of the blaster fire seemed to be centered. Closing his eyes, he drew a slow breath and released the firm hold that he'd been maintaining on his awareness, allowing his presence to flow into the surrounding Force. Though Canderous was fairly sure that none of Clan Ordo were Force-sensitive, Vann had been careful to keep his powers tightly controlled, shielding his mind and camouflaging what he knew was his rather remarkable signature. But not anymore.

With his awareness spreading across the battlefield he could sense the anger and desperation of Clan Ordo, their emotions seeping into the Force as they fought off their rival clan. Drawing that aggression into himself, Vann felt the cold fury surge just beneath his skin until it infused him with frigid power. He knew that his eyes were gleaming a golden yellow as he tugged off his gloves, electricity sizzling across his fingertips. Focusing his gaze on a Basilisk soaring overhead he released the charge, sending a storm of electricity directly at the droid. Circuits burned and steel melted as the purple bolts struck, both machine and rider shrieking as they plummeted out of the sky.

Before his target could land Vann reached out with his mind and pulled, yanking the Mandalorian from their mount and slamming them into the frozen ground before dragging the droid down on top of them. Bone and metal crunched wetly in the snow. Behind him he could hear Clan Ordo rallying, the hot glow of their determination surging through the Force. Skidding between two warriors firing at another Basilisk, he spotted a group of Jendri warriors who were raiding one of the weapon caches. Extending a hand, he wrapped his power around the throat of one thief and squeezed, so focused that he didn't sense incoming danger until a bolt sank deep into his left shoulder. Agony ripped through him as his blood steamed in the cold air.

Whipping around to face his attacker Vann snarled, throwing one enemy Mandalorian at the other with a strong push through the Force. Even as the pair collided with a pained yelp another bolt struck him, this time grazing his thigh. Roaring in both pain and outrage, his fingers twitched as he considered drawing his concealed 'sabers. But he resisted. Canderous wanted discretion, and based on previous conversations he assumed that meant the other man didn't want anyone to think he was a Jedi. Dodging low he seethed quietly as he summoned another burst of lightning, the air around him crackling with ozone.

The second, smaller surge of electricity exploded upward, striking the chest of an enemy Basilisk and frying its gears as sparks coursed across its outer shell. The acrid scent of burning wires filled the air as Vann produced more jagged forks of Force lightning. This time he shortened the bolts, sending smaller bursts of energy into critical points along the droid's hull that he somehow knew were there. Smoke billowed across the sky as the droid began to careen wildly.

Leaping to the side, Vann narrowly avoided a piece of falling debris that crashed to the ground centimeters from where he'd been standing. But he wasn't fast enough to duck between another flurry of bolts and one dug between his ribs. He gasped wetly, landing on his back in the snow as pain clouded his vision and knocked the breath from his lungs. Forced to stare at the sky, he saw the bright burst of engines igniting as Clan Ordo's own Basilisk soared into battle, their six droids now vastly outnumbering the few that Clan Jendri had remaining. Their cannons lit up the night as they fired on the enemy combat units, quickly routing them and forcing a rapid retreat.

A cheer went up throughout the camp as the last of Clan Jendri fled into the darkness, dropping their weapons in surrender before they ran. The Force was alight with pride and joy, and Vann embraced the emotion as he pressed his hands against the fresh wounds that pierced his flesh. He sighed with relief as healing energy drifted through his palms, knitting the skin back together. "Kriffing hells…" he groaned.

The click of a blaster rifle broke through the raucous shouts that were still filling the air. "Don't move," Veela warned as she held her weapon centimeters from the supposed mercenary's face.

Holding up his hands, Vann tried to smile. It felt more like a grimace. "I can explain."

"There's not much you can say, Jedi."

"For one thing, I'm not a Jedi."

Targren appeared beside Veela, clutching an identical rifle that was also aimed at Vann. "I've never seen a Jedi throw lightning before."

"That doesn't make him any less of a threat."

An engine roared as one of Clan Ordo's Basilisk touched down a few meters away, its rider already shouting before he even dismounted. "Veela, put the damn blaster down!"

Ignoring her husband's request, the Mandalorian woman sneered. "You knew, didn't you Canderous? You brought a kriffing Jedi into our camp…"

"He's not a damn Jedi! Do you honestly think I'm dumb or suicidal enough to bring one of them here? He's a mercenary, just like he told you. He just happens to have an unusual skill set."

"I still don't want him here. If anything, he's more dangerous than any Jedi I've ever seen."

"Which is why you should be glad that he's on our side! He's the one who bought us time to mount our bes'uliik."

Vann was still laying on the ground with his hands raised. "If I wanted to hurt you or the rest of Clan Ordo, I would have. But instead, I helped you and got shot three times for my trouble."

Nodding to the crimson splattered across the snow, Targren noted, "There's definitely enough blood here for at least three bolt wounds."

"We'll reach the Twin Spears by noon tomorrow and we need Vann's information to find what we're looking for." Canderous crossed his arms as he stared at his wife. "With any luck, we'll be done by tomorrow night and then you'll never have to see his face again. So, for the good of Clan Order, let him live just one more day."

Baring her teeth in frustration, Veela jerked her blaster back as she slammed on the safety. "Fine. He can keep his life for now. But after tomorrow he better be gone." Still gripping her weapon, she marched towards where the rest of her clan was already breaking out various bottles of ale and liquor.

"Go and celebrate with the others," Canderous urged Targren. "Tonight, we celebrate our victory and tomorrow we'll complete our search."

The younger man nodded appreciatively before shouldering his rifle, glancing at Vann one last time before rushing to join the festivities.

When they were alone, Canderous hauled his friend to his feet. "Thanks for the help back there."

"Hey, we have a deal." Vann smiled at the Mandalorian as he shrugged off the appreciation. "Clan Ordo needs to recover that mask and I'll do whatever I can to help them succeed."

"And we will succeed thanks to you." Scanning the celebratory crowd, Canderous winced when his wife glared at him with unconcealed ire before turning to whisper with two other warriors. "Though, you might want to keep your head down for now. Veela's probably not the only one who's suspicious. I don't think anyone will try to hurt you, but…"

"I'll stick to the edge of camp tonight. While I'll miss the inevitable hangover that always comes from drinking with you, somehow I'll survive."

Canderous chuckled as he clapped Vann on the shoulder before turning towards the growing revelry. "It's probably a good idea to save your strength. Tomorrow will be a challenge, even for you."

"Honestly, my biggest challenge might be surviving your wife."


The wind whipping at Vann's face and threatening to tear off his hood was a hauntingly familiar nuisance as he traversed the frozen column that the Mandalorians called the First Spear. The roughly hewn path leading up the formation's side wasn't quite as sheer as it appeared from a distance, but it was still a difficult journey marked by slick trails and brittle pathways that dropped into ravines lined in jagged shards of ice. These unexpected rifts were impossible to avoid, forcing the Mandalorians to climb around the chasms by clinging to nearly invisible hand holds as they dangled precariously hundreds of meters in the air.

Vann reluctantly took point in the expedition, a position he was given thanks to his knowledge of the route. He wondered if the Mandalorians would still trust him to lead them if they knew that all of his information came from a series of disjointed dreams. At least there was no question that he'd been here before. Even when he was scrambling up nearly vertical walls of ice he never faltered, his hands and feet knowing where to find purchase even when his rational mind was filled with nothing but terror.

It was nearly four hours before the small group of Mandalorians reached a plateau about halfway up the First Spear. Vann was panting hard as he dragged himself to safety after using the Force to fortify a portion of the trail that he was fairly sure he collapsed during his last trip to Rekkiad. Bracing himself against the nearest wall he wiped a fine sheen of sweat from his forehead. His hand paused as the Force shivered around him, the familiar aura of the dark side pressing down hard enough to make his ears buzz and his breath catch in his throat. Leaning heavily against the ice he gasped as his vision faded out, replaced with the image of a door that materialized from beneath a thick layer of frost. Somehow, he knew that a domed chamber lay beyond, its contents looted aside from a single sarcophagus whose immense stone lid was cracked but intact.

Canderous appeared just as Vann's mind returned to reality. His fingers were digging divots into the frozen column while his head spun with vertigo.

"I take it from your expression that we're close?" The Mandalorian wondered in a hushed tone.

Nodding, Vann gestured to the sheet of ice that he was leaning against. "I'm pretty sure there's a door behind here. I just have too…"

"Make it quick, the others are close behind."

Straightening, Vann turned to the ice and closed his eyes, channeling the Force through his chilled fingertips. The dark side was palpable here, making the air seem even colder and sending a frigid jolt of power through his body. He drew on the sensation, directing a hard push at the layer of frost hiding the door that he knew was there. A sharp crack sounded, startling Canderous, but he ignored the other man's surprise as he sent out another pulse of energy. The cracking turned into a deafening shatter as the ice broke away in ragged chunks that crashed against the plateau, vibrating the slippery shelf and almost causing both men to lose their footing. As more shards slammed down Vann swept his hands through the air, knocking the loose pieces off the edge and down to the ground below.

Heavy footsteps announced the arrival of the rest of the party, a half dozen of Clan Ordo's best scouts and warriors. Veela was guarding the rear of the group and she scowled irritably at the show of Force strength. "What now?"

"The door was frozen over, but I fixed it."

"Good, you managed to do your job." Gesturing to Kelborn and Bralor, two of her most experienced warriors, Veela shouldered past the Force user as she approached the door. "Now get out of our way."

Throwing himself between the Mandalorians and the entrance, Vann arched a brow. "From what I can tell, this is some type of tomb. You sure that you want to go in there on your own? I'd put credits on it being full of traps."

Kelborn moved to push the Force user aside. "You spend a lot of time robbing tombs?"

"Just one, actually. But the experience stuck with me."

Gripping Kelborn's bicep to hold the other man back, Canderous turned to his wife. "Send the outsider in ahead so that he can disarm any traps. Maybe he'll blow himself up and save you the trouble."

"And what if he loots what we're here to recover? I don't trust him."

"That's why I'm going in with him." His expression softening, Canderous implored, "You trust me, don't you?"

Clenching her jaw, Veela met her husband's gaze. "I want to trust you, but…"

"Then trust me. Trust that I won't let him bring any dishonor to our clan. He goes in first and I go with him. We clear out any traps and then you can join us and help search for what we need." Glancing at the rest of his clan for approval, Canderous assured them, "With any luck, we'll be back to camp by nightfall."

"Go." Shoving her husband's shoulder, Veela gestured for Kelborn to step aside. "But I'm warning you, Canderous. If you betray us in any way, I won't hesitate to kill you. For Mand'alor."

"I wouldn't expect any less." He only grinned. "Go ahead, Vann. Get in there and check for anything nasty so that the rest of us don't have to."

Taking his cue, the Force user strode up to the door, pausing a moment to examine it before using his powers to slide the ancient stone aside. The gears produced a blood-curdling shriek as they unfroze. When the inner chamber was fully revealed Vann peered into the darkness before taking a few cautious steps inside, one hand hovering over his blaster as the other lingered near his concealed lightsabers. Canderous was close behind and the pair entered the tomb together, their footsteps echoing off the high ceiling as they breathed in the surprisingly warm but stagnant air.

"So, are there really any traps?"

Vann frowned as he considered the question. "I'm pretty sure that I cleared out everything the tomb builders left behind." As he moved forward, he felt something click under his right foot. He winced. "But I may have left behind a few of my own…"

The scream of turret-mounted cannons spurred Vann to action as a warning of danger shivered down his spine. He dove to his left, grabbing Canderous's arm and dragging the other man with him. They landed in an uncoordinated heap, covering their heads as the room filled with the brilliant flash of bright red bolts.

"I respect the hells out of Revan, but sometimes I kriffing hate the bastard!"

"I couldn't agree more!" Rolling into a crouch, Vann drew his lightsabers as he gestured for his friend to stay back. "I'll try to disable the defense system. Shout if you see anything else!"

Leaping into the open before Canderous could protest, Vann ignited his weapons with a snap-hiss of burning plasma. It still seemed strange for the blades to shine different colors, though the blue glow of the lightsaber in his off-hand was comfortingly familiar. Dropping into a defensive stance he blocked a series of turret shots coming from overhead before launching into a Force-enhanced jump and taking out the cannon on the ceiling with a hard chop from his main 'saber. Bolts were still ricocheting in every direction and he cursed, ducking down as debris began to rain through the air.

"These turrets have some type of targeting system!" Canderous warned. "Which is kind of brilliant if you ignore the fact that it's going to get us killed!"

"I'm handling it!" Adjusting the lightsaber in his off-hand, Vann flipped backward and deflected some of the bolts away from the Mandalorian, purposely drawing the fire as he tried to locate the source of the shooting. It took a moment for him to notice a turret hidden just behind the huge sarcophagus in the center of the room. Hugging the wall, he raced around the room's perimeter and released a bolt of lightning when he was about a meter from his target. It arced over the stonework before striking the firing system, destroying it in a shower of sparks.

Just as Vann was starting to relax a burning pain exploded through his abdomen and he doubled over with a grunt, bringing his main lightsaber up to defend himself as he stumbled backward. But before he could locate the third turret he heard four rapid shots followed by an explosion about two meters from the tomb's door.

Canderous blew the smoke away from the muzzle of his repeating rifle, chuckling. "You missed one."

"Kriff you," Vann grumbled as he slid down the wall. "Is that all of them?"

"You tell me."

Looking around, Vann noted the silence that had descended through the tomb, the door now closed and the turrets apparently destroyed. "It looks like the defense system is down, but knowing me I probably trapped the sarcophagus."

"You're a neurotic bastard, I'll give you that much."

"And I'll take that as a compliment." Drawing a shaky breath Vann fumbled for a stimpack, injecting it into his thigh before limping towards the hulking stone shape that took up the center of the room. Extending his awareness, he probed the object and searched for any sign of further danger only to find nothing but the familiar chill of the dark side seeping out from beneath the cracked lid. Running his fingers along the rim he felt for suspicious pressure points or any other mechanical interference. But there was nothing unusual, which was even more worrisome.

Striding closer, Canderous continued to hold his blaster. "Find anything?"

"No. I think the trap is whatever's inside."

Aiming his rifle at the sarcophagus, Canderous wondered, "And what exactly is in there?"

Vann shrugged as he summoned the Force, finding it easy with the amount of dark energy that was infusing the room. "We're about to find out."

The lid was shockingly heavy, carved from a single piece of solid stone that was pure black in color and decorated with ancient glyphs partially worn away by time but still ominous in appearance. Sweat beaded across Vann's forehead and dripped down his back as he grunted from the strain. Canderous glanced at him worriedly but he refused to acknowledge the concern, entirely focused on revealing whatever he'd hidden in his past life.

The lid slid out of place a single centimeter at a time with the harsh grind of stone being forced to move after years of inactivity. It was an arduous process and beneath his layers, Vann was soaked from exertion. But eventually the cover was pushed far enough back to see inside of the even larger base, and he ignited his main saber to investigate. Holding his breath, he expected to find a decomposed body within, preserved by the cold but still twisted by time and the embalming process.

But there were only two things within the sarcophagus and neither one was organic. The first was a mask, bronze in color and surprisingly simple in its design considering the power that it represented. The second was a datapad that had long-since turned off from a lack of power.

"I found your mask," Vann called, even as he reached for the pad. It was a more rugged model, clearly designed for use in rough environments. Judging by its appearance it had seen heavy use as the outer casing was heavily scratched in several places and one corner was irreparably dented. Lifting it up, he noted that the back was etched with the symbol of what he now recognized as the Republic Mercy Corps.

An instant later Vann was assaulted by visions of the world that had haunted his nightmares for months. He saw himself, less a Jedi and more the mercenary he became, join by a still-whole Malak as they walked beneath a sky illuminated by lightning storms. Even within the memory, he could feel the raw strength of the dark side flowing through every millimeter of this planet, all of it coalescing behind a pair of shrewd yellow eyes that were watching him and waiting. A name floated through his mind, Dromund Kaas.

"…okay? Hello? Hey, snap out of it!"

Startled out of his memory by the snapping of Canderous's fingers, Vann blink as he looked around. "I'm fine," he muttered unconvincingly.

"Sure you are." The Mandalorian was already clutching the mask to his chest, cradling it protectively as he stared down at it with awe. "But even if you're not, I owe you a debt of gratitude. This is an item that I never believed would be returned to my people in my lifetime. I honestly don't know how I can repay you."

"Simple," Vann replied, still breathless. "Keep the mask for yourself. Take it and become the new Mandalore."

"You're shitting me, right? I could never…"

"Why the hells not? Back before you knew I was Revan you told me that you'd been trying to reunite your scattered clans. And on Coruscant you said that you might have succeeded if you had the mask." Nodding firmly, Vann gestured to the item. "And now it's yours."

"Look, I don't expect you to understand how this works. But there's no compelling reason that I should become the new Mand'alor!"

"You're right, I don't understand. Because from where I'm standing, you're the only person for the job. I've seen how much Clan Ordo adores you, and even more importantly how much they respect you. And the fact that you saved not one but six Basilisk despite the Republic's orders to destroy them shows how far you'll go to preserve your culture."

"If you're expecting me to turn the clans into the Republic's pets or your personal army, you're going to be unpleasantly surprised." Grimacing at the thought, Canderous snarled, "I'll serve you until my dying breath, but I'll never force my people to contribute to your government. I may be a beaten old warrior, but I still have some honor left."

"You're one of the greatest warrior's I've ever met and I know that you'll fight to do what's right for the Mandalorians." Sighing, Vann crept closer to his friend, his voice growing gentler. "The only reason I agreed to come on this trip was because I planned to find the mask and give it to you. I want you to become the next Mandalore because you're the only person capable of protecting your people from the threat that I've been sensing. The Sith Emperor took advantage of the Mandalorians' honor and twisted it for his own gain. But I know that you won't let it happen again."

"Vann…"

"Take the damn mask, Canderous! Protect your kriffing people so that I can protect everyone else. With you leading the Mandalorians and Carth plus Bastila guiding the Republic, I'm free to…" Trailing off, he winced slightly as he realized what he had to do next.

Canderous's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You're planning something, aren't you?"

"Yes Revan, what are you planning?"

Both men whirled towards the tomb's entrance, drawing their weapons on reflex as a figure stalked towards them, her silhouette illuminated by a sliver of light filtering through the doorway.

"Veela?" Vann blinked back his surprise as he subtly slipped his lightsabers behind his back. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh shut up! How stupid do you think I am? You don't train as many children as I have without learning to see through lies." The woman leveled her blaster at the Force user. "It was obvious from the beginning that you're more than you seem. The average mercenary doesn't move like you do and they sure as hells don't know how to fix a bes'uliik."

"What are you trying to say?" Still aiming his own weapon, Canderous's tone was deadly calm.

"I know that you did some type of work for the Republic a little over a year back, husband. You didn't come out and say it, but I know you well enough to read the little clues in your messages. I suspected that you had something to do with whatever brought Malak down and returned Revan to his people. And now you just happened to bring us a Force user who throws lightning and somehow knows exactly where the Revanchist hid our mask."

"You're good," Vann quietly admitted. "But I'm not Revan."

"Bantha shit! I saw how you fought last night, even without your lightsabers. I've only witnessed one man who could walk away from wounds like that. You are Revan."

"Alright, maybe I should explain this a little better." His brow wrinkling in contemplation, Vann struggled to find the right words. "I used to be Revan, but now I'm… I honestly don't know who I am anymore. Mostly a mercenary and sometimes a Republic puppet. It's complicated."

"Oh, I heard about your supposed memory loss. It's a shame, there were some questions that I wanted to ask you before I put a bolt through your brain." Veela's finger twitched over her blaster's trigger. "But I guess I'll just have to be satisfied knowing that you're dead."

Canderous moved with surprising swiftness for a Human his size, placing his larger frame between Vann and his wife as he trained his sight on the woman he loved. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you kill this man. I owe him a greater debt than you'll ever understand and I'm honor-bound to serve him."

"Just as I'm bound by honor to destroy him." Anger and sorrow colored the Force, hanging thick in the air. "I suppose this is where our paths separate."

"No!" Igniting both of his lightsabers with a twitch of his thumbs, Vann ran forward with a burst of Force-enhanced speed until he was standing in the middle of the Mandalorian couple. Pointing a blade at each of them, he warned, "I'm not going to let you kill each other over me. Especially not when the fate of your people is literally resting on that mask."

Veela's eyes went wide when she finally spotted the glint of bronze that was now tucked beneath her husband's arm. "You admit that you found the mask? That's brave of you, Revan. But just know that even if I don't get out of here alive, the rest of Clan Ordo will keep searching for wherever you hide it next."

"I'm not hiding it, I'm giving it to Canderous so that he can become the new Mandalore!"

Canderous snorted. "He keeps trying to at any rate."

"…What?"

"The entire story is too complicated to explain, but let's just say that the Mandalorians were convinced to go to war under false pretenses." Noting Veela's obvious doubt, Vann hurriedly added, "There's something out there, at the edges of known space, that wants to take over not just the Republic but the entire galaxy. He tried to use your people to do it, but he failed."

"He failed because you defeated us," Canderous noted, as though that fact wasn't known by everyone in the room.

"Yes. But he's not giving up. I know he's coming back, and the Mandalorians need a leader who is strong enough to stand up to this thing when it comes. And I think the only person who can do that is Canderous."

Though she lowered her blaster a few millimeters, Veela's expression remained stern. "You truly believe that Canderous should be the next Mandalore?"

"Yes, probably for the same reasons that you love him. He's an unparalleled warrior, but he also has wisdom and honor. He'll restore your people's place in the galaxy, and he'll do it without being so arrogant that he makes a deal with a kriffing Sith just to chase glory by undertaking another war that you can't possibly win."

"Who are you to say what battles we can and cannot win?"

"The guy who kicked all of your asses last time, including Mandalore the Ultimate's. I beat him in single combat and took his mask, as was my right as the victor." Gradually moving his lightsabers into a more relaxed position, Vann jerked his head towards Canderous. "And now I'm giving the mask to your husband. Convince him to take the kriffing thing and lead your people, and you won't ever have to see me again."

Astonishment colored Veela's tone. "You'll go? Without a fight?"

"Provided that Canderous becomes the next Mandalore. Trust me when I say that I have other things to do."

"Canderous, you already know that I can't think of a single warrior who deserves this more than you." There was a certain weariness to Veela's tone, as though this particular conversation had been repeated numerous times before. "Even when the clans scattered, even when our daughter left, you never gave up hope that our people would be reunited beneath a new Mand'alor and that we could rise to our former glory. And now you've been given a gift. Don't dishonor your clan by refusing it."

Vann nodded in agreement. "Take the damn mask already."

"Fine." Flicking his rifle's safety on, Canderous swung the weapon onto his shoulder before retrieving the mask. He started at it for a long moment before quietly murmuring, "I accept this and all of the burdens and responsibilities that come with it."

"Good, because there's going to be a lot." Now it was Vann who sounded weary. "Trust me, I know."

Unlike her husband, Veela was still holding her rifle. "And now Revan, it's time for you to leave and to never meddle in Mandalorian affairs again."

"That's my plan." Powering down both lightsabers, Vann returned them to their hiding spots before retrieving the datapad he'd dropped inside the sarcophagus. "If it'll be easier for Canderous, I'll stay in here for a while so that your clan can discuss things without the distraction of an outsider. Go back to your camp without me, I'll make my own way back to my ship."

Veela nodded curtly, casting a last suspicious glance over her shoulder as she moved towards the door, rapping twice as a signal for the warriors outside to drag it fully open. Now that the ice was cleared from the mechanisms it was surprisingly quiet, which explained why neither Vann nor Canderous heard her earlier enter.

When his wife gestured for the new Mand'alor to follow, he held up one hand. "Give me a moment. Tell the others I'll be out in a minute." Only when he received a reluctant sigh of acknowledgment did he relax, lapsing into silence for a few long seconds as the door slammed shut once again. "Vann, I… Thank you."

"Hey, there's no need for that. You have your duty and I have mine. But, uh, can you do me one last favor?"

Canderous frowned as he marched towards the exit. "I'm almost afraid to ask."

"It's nothing dangerous. I just need you to deliver something for me in about a month. Longer if you need it, but not any sooner." Seeing his friend's incredulous expression, Vann quickly clarified, "It's a message for Carth and the others at the Rakata Prime base. You can use encrypted channels to send it, I don't care."

"Sure, I can do that. Anything else?"

Considering the question, Vann swallowed hard. "Don't watch it. That… That's an order."

"Alright." Despite the doubt that tugged at his mouth, Canderous nodded in agreement. "Get me the message before you leave and I'll make sure it reaches Carth in about a month."

"Thank you, Canderous." Vann couldn't help but smirk as he added, "And good luck because you're going to need it."


"Hey, Carth. If you're viewing this message you've already figured out that I'm not coming back from my trip. I know I promised that I'd come home safe, but you should know by now that I can't make promises like that." Blinking heavily, Vann scrubbed one palm over his face. "I'm still mad at you for not telling me about Malachor Five, but… I guess it doesn't really matter that much anymore. It's just another part of my past that I kriffed up. But at least I know what I have to do to fix things. But I also realized that I have to do it alone. Where I'm going is dangerous, too dangerous to take anyone with me.

"Tell Bastila that I'm sorry. Oh, and tell her not to look for me using our bond. I'm closing my end so she won't be able to sense me or what I'm doing even if she's nearby. Make sure that she knows that I'm proud of everything she's accomplished. I saw how hard leaving the Jedi Order was for her. But she did the right thing, and I'm honored to have been her master.

"As for everyone else at the enclave, especially Juhani and Jolee and even Dustil, tell them to keep studying. I don't think I'll ever fully understand the Force, either the light or the dark side, but maybe they will. I do know that there's so much more to it than the teachings of the Jedi and the Sith, and that worrying too much about either side is pointless. The galaxy isn't all light or all dark, it's a mixture of both and yet… it's neither.

"If you talk to Mission or Zaalbar, let them know that I'm thinking of them. They're both doing good work, even if some of it is highly classified."

Heaving a shuddering breath, Vann wiped the heel of one hand across his eyes. He hoped that they were currently brown. "And as for you… Like I said, I'm still angry about Malachor. But I also understand why you didn't tell me. Maybe I wasn't ready to know and maybe I never will be. Either way, you kept that information from me because you wanted to protect me, because you love me and… sometimes I'm not entirely sure that I deserve you. I mean, you're the brave Republic soldier and I'm just some kriffed-up Outer Rim mercenary who got lucky and saved the day a couple of times.

"I'm sorry I can't be the man that everyone wants me to be. I think he's gone and I don't think he's coming back. But maybe I can finally be the hero that everyone deserves. It's funny… a Jedi won the Mandalorian Wars but some no-name scum might be the one who saves the galaxy.

"Keep the Republic safe for me, Carth. And don't give up on life because I'm not around. I'm doing my job, so you have to do yours. But if things get too hard, just remember that I love you. In fact, I think I've loved you since back on Taris when you yelled at me for threatening Gadon Thek. That was the moment I realized that you were the light through all of my darkness."

Swallowing harshly, Vann pressed his knuckles to his mouth. "I love you, Carth. And I'm sorry."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 05 - DANTOOINE

Now (3953)

At least some parts of Dantooine still matched Meetra's memories. The groves were mostly untouched by the bombardment and horned kath hounds prowled around the stubby blba trees just as they did throughout her childhood. If she closed her eyes she could recall the exact sensation of those trees' thorns rubbing against her palms as she shimmied up the wide trunks, racing to be the first to reach the top branches. As she walked on, lost in her memories, the rolling green hills gradually gave way to the steeper cliffs that bordered the plains. Numerous cave systems were carved into their rocky slopes, the darkened entryways offering relief from the late afternoon sun.

Those caverns were why she was here, instead of at Khoonda Outpost with Carth and Bastila. While she'd seen the new center of the local government when the Ebon Hawk touched down just outside of the former Matale estate, witnessing the blasted craters and destroyed fields that surrounded the building had been… overwhelming. She didn't know what was worse, the proof that her childhood home had been destroyed when she hadn't been present to defend it or the fact that Alek had been the one ordering the destruction.

No, not Alek. Malak.

Carth had been gentle, almost unbearably so, when he invited Meetra into the government compound to speak with Bastila and arrange a meeting with Vrook Lamar. But she had refused, giving him a terse smile even as her skin turned clammy and her heart hammered between her ribs. She wasn't ready to face this new version of Dantooine. Not yet.

Instead, Meetra had grabbed an old backpack from the Hawk's garage and slung it over her shoulder before beckoning for Visas and Bao-Dur to follow. "Force training lessons start today," she'd announced. "So, grab your gear and some rations, and come with me."

She knew that her companions had questions, but the Force made them naturally empathetic enough to recognize the distress that was radiating off of her in cold waves. So, they had done as requested and followed the former general as she led them away from the developed part of the planet. Though they occasionally exchanged confused glances as they hiked through the grassy fields, all of it surrounded by the miles of devastation left by the Sith, neither of them spoke. It was close to an hour into their journey when Visas dared to break the silence.

"I sense that this planet is strong with the Force. Atris mentioned Dantooine once or twice, though she did not deem it necessary to tell me any details." Picking at the sleeves of her robe, the Miraluka seemed uneasy without her concealed staff. "Tell me, Exile, are we to study the way the Force flows here?"

"You can if you want, though I'll be honest. I never knew how special this place was until I left for the first time."

"I don't know how well I'm sensing the Force here," Bao-Dur admitted with a weak chuckle. "But I do admire the landscape. The Ithorians back on Telos were trying to use flora from Dantooine to help terraform the restoration zone, though now I'm beginning to doubt the choice. It seems like this planet has a lot more water than Telos does. I've seen at least three streams in between here and Khoonda."

"That would make sense. Telos burned to ash when the Sith bombed it, but Dantooine… I think it fared better."

"Just because it did not burn does not mean the planet was not wounded." Visas gazed off into the distance, her sightless eyes staring past the horizon. "I have now been to both worlds and they each feel different. Dantooine still aches, and I do not think the damage will heal quickly."

"The land might be damaged, but there's still a lot of natural beauty here." Smiling, Bao-Dur jogged on ahead as he marveled at the nearby caves, his remote beeping cheerfully as it followed behind. "I've heard that the soil in the caverns has some interesting properties. Do you think anyone would mind if I took a few samples?"

"Go ahead. There's nobody left to mind."

Frowning, the Zabrak gave Meetra a worried glance. "General?"

"I apologize, Bao-Dur. It's just hard to be back here." Sighing, the former Jedi rubbed her hands across her face.

"I… I think I understand how you're feeling. I know it's not the same situation, but I spent years filled with anger. At first, I was furious at the Mandalorians for attacking my colony, but my rage quickly turned inward and I started to blame myself for not doing more to stop them. I never told you this, but I didn't join the Republic war effort because I wanted to help others. I did it because I wanted to hurt the people who destroyed my home. And in the end, I guess I did."

"I'm sorry that I dragged you into Revan's plan. The Mass Shadow Generator, it…"

"It worked," Bao-Dur finished with unusual coldness. "We succeeded."

Unspoken between them was the regret that came after, when they witnessed the ruins of Malachor and looked upon the destruction that their success had wrought. The weight of their actions sat heavy in the Force, icy waves of guilt crashing down around them.

Visas was now standing at the mouth of the cave, staring inside with a confused expression. "What dwells in this place? There's something within that pulses with power. The way the Force moves here… I've never seen anything like it."

"It's mostly kinrath in there," Meetra replied as she attempted to shake away the shadows of her past. "But also crystals. The type used to make lightsabers. From what Carth told me back on the Hawk, this is where Revan found the crystals he used in his most recent set of 'sabers. And now it's your turn to find some."

"A lightsaber? No, I'm not worthy of such an item…"

"And General, I'm no expert on lightsabers, but I'm pretty sure that we need a bit more training before we craft one."

"Traditionally, yes. But neither of you has a decent weapon right now and we don't exactly have training 'sabers on the ship. So, I'm being a little unorthodox and helping you to find your crystals as the first part of your training." Meetra chuckled dryly. "Like Atton said, it's just a rock."

"But Exile, I cannot possibly…"

"Of course you can." Gently guiding the Miraluka forward, Meetra gestured for Bao-Dur to follow. "Think of this as an exercise in letting the Force guide you. Once inside of the caves, you'll have to navigate your way to the crystal formations without becoming kinrath food."

"Huh, do you think that the kinrath might be the reason that the soil here is so unique?"

"I have no idea. But if you find one, you can always ask her."

The initial pathway through the tunnels seemed larger than it was in Meetra's memories. Or maybe she was just a little too full of teenage bravado the last time she delved into these caverns. Despite her young age, the green crystal she collected had been strong and it served her well throughout the war.

Visas stuck close as they traversed the winding tunnels, Bao-Dur jogging ahead as he examined the numerous rock formations and animal nests with varying amounts of fascination. While he didn't know much about the local fauna he seemed pleased just to spot evidence of its survival, asking his remote to take scans and log the data. The trio walked on for a while, much longer than Meetra remembered, the tunnels gradually growing narrower as the floor dipped and the temperature dropped.

"It feels like we're getting deeper underground," Bao-Dur noted.

Shivering, Visas paused mid-stride. "The coldness is not just from our environment. There's danger lurking ahead."

"Then stay alert." Drawing her confiscated Sith lightsaber, Meetra frowned at the poor balance of the weapon. While Bao-Dur was helping her to design a new hilt, it was only half-finished.

"Are you sure it's danger? All I sense are some…" The rest of the Zabrak's words died off as he entered the next cavern, coming to an abrupt stop that caused both of his companions to stumble into his back. It was fortunate that Meetra didn't have the lightsaber ignited.

The reason for Bao-Dur's shock was quickly made clear when the two women heard the sound of dozens of legs skittering along the walls and ceiling. Kinrath of all sizes were scurrying around, clicking to each other as they moved through what was apparently their hive. Surrounding them were numerous large crystal formations, glowing brightly even in the low light. But something about them seemed different, the colors not quite right.

In the center of the cavern sat a single enormous kinrath, larger than any Meetra had ever seen. Others swarmed around her, dwarfed by her immense bulk. When the creature spotted the intruders, she released a shrill scream that instantly alerted the rest of her hive to the potential danger and caused hundreds of beady red eyes to turn and stare at the cavern entrance.

"Uh-oh." Igniting the lightsaber, Meetra moved to block her companions from the incoming swarm, but Bao-Dur shouldered past her.

"General, no! They were here long before we were. Killing them isn't right or fair."

"I don't think they feel the same way about us!"

The kinrath queen was still screeching in alarm as a multitude of soldiers and workers swarmed in front of her, their mandibles opening to reveal their venomous fangs. Meetra swung the 'saber defensively, the heat and light driving a few of the smaller creatures back but having no effect on the larger individuals.

"Hey, no need for violence," Bao-Dur murmured as he gestured for his remote to stay back. At first, Meetra thought that he was talking to her, but she quickly realized he was addressing the queen. "We don't mean any harm to you or your family. We just want to collect some of these rocks and then we'll be on our way."

"Bao-Dur! They're animals, they can't exactly negotiate a peace treaty!" While Meetra had always known the Zabrak had a soft spot for beasts, she'd never known it went this far.

Visas, who'd been silent since entering the cavern, shook her head. "I sensed something when he spoke to the creature. Let him continue."

Not actually needing permission, Bao-Dur extended one hand as he murmured soothingly to the kinrath queen. "If you let us wander around here for a little bit we won't hurt you so long as you don't attack us first." As he spoke the Force shimmered, sending out calming waves. Even though kinrath weren't known for their Force-sensitivity the queen seemed to respond to the energy, her screeching quieting to softer rumbles and clicks.

"Oh stars, I think it's actually working," Meetra breathed in disbelief. "Keep going."

"That's it, just step back and let us by." A pulse of power left Bao-Dur's palm, wrapping around the queen and subduing her until her chatter slowed to nothing but few dull chirps. This was apparently a signal to the rest of the hive, the soldiers and workers gradually retreating from the strangers even as they remained alert. Finally, even the queen herself took a few steps back, moving away from the crystal formations. The other kinrath began to surround her, but none showed any immediate aggression.

Meetra was speechless as she watched, glancing between Bao-Dur and the kinrath several times before wondering, "How?"

Still holding out his hand as waves of energy flowed between him and the animals, the Zabrak just chuckled. "The Force, I suppose. Though, I don't know how long this will last. So, we might want to be quick."

"Good idea." Powering down the lightsaber, Meetra stowed it before opening her backpack. "Normally you're supposed to search for a crystal that resonates with you but in this situation, it might be wiser to just collect everything lose enough to pick up. Toss what you find in here, and we can sort it later."

It only took a few minutes for the trio to amass a good collection of crystals from the various formations. It seemed that nobody had been in these caves for years, resulting in a multitude of brittle edges and loose chunks that easily broke away from the main deposits. While they definitely collected more than they needed for three lightsabers, Meetra wasn't too concerned. If necessary, they could donate the excess to the remaining Jedi here on Dantooine.

All three of them were panting as Meetra made a final sweep of the cavern, her backpack clanking softly as she moved. If she focused, she could feel the thrum of the crystals within, some of them barely more than a glimmer within the Force while others seemed to have their own gentle heartbeats. She was just about to declare the search complete when her awareness tingled sharply, drawing her attention to something tucked into a small crevice. Humming curiously, she approached it.

Despite the glow of the crystals, the area was dimly lit and it was easy to trip over small imperfections in the cave floor or to kick loose rocks across the ground. So, Meetra wasn't particularly surprised when she approached the mysterious object and felt something crunch underfoot. What did startle her was the spongy texture that her boot encountered as whatever it was squelched beneath her weight. Lifting her foot, she peered closer at whatever she had just stepped on, immediately recoiling when she realized that she was looking at a kinrath egg. Or at least what was left of one. In her carelessness she had stumbled into a small cluster of them, crushing one with a simple misstep and grotesquely splattering the mostly-formed kinrath across the floor. A few of the closest workers croaked their displeasure, but the loss of a single egg out of dozens wasn't enough to provoke an attack.

Wincing at the sight, Meetra hastily scraped away the goo as she tried to figure out what had called to her in the first place. It took a few seconds to notice something half-hidden in the gore. Her awareness surged as she picked it up, identifying the item as a rather heavy crystal that must have been trapped inside of the egg and released when the shell cracked. While it normally would have remained its original color even after the kinrath hatched, it had turned bright red from the sudden and unnatural loss of innocent life. Meetra heard of crystals like this but had never seen one in person. Acquiring them always necessitated the destruction of an egg, something that Jedi Padawans were expressly forbidden from doing. But now she was holding a shockingly warm, crimson crystal in the palm of her hand that pulsed in time with her heartbeat and resonated like nothing she had ever felt before. Unwilling to consider the implications, she hurriedly placed the item into her bag.

"Come on, I think we're done here!" Heading towards the exit, Meetra was soon joined by Bao-Dur and Visas. "Let's leave before we wear out the kinrath's hospitality."

Hundreds of eyes followed the trio as they moved out of sight.

It was only when they'd reach a wider passageway about a hundred meters from the kinrath hive that Meetra let out a sigh of relief. A bright smile spread across her face as she turned to Bao-Dur. "That was amazing! Where did you learn to do that?"

"Well General, I'm honestly not sure what I did or how I did it. But I am glad that it worked."

"The way you used the Force the calm those kinrath… I've never seen anything like it!"

"It seems that your lesson was very effective," Visas noted with a wry twist of her lips. "We've all learned a great deal more about how the Force works."

Meetra couldn't help but laugh at this, some of her earlier tension evaporating as she felt the Force warm around her. "I guess so. It seems that I also have a lot to learn."

"Don't worry General, we can learn together."

The trip back to Khoonda was more pleasant, filled with thoughtful conversation about how the Force felt as it moved through the landscape. While Meetra occasionally commented with some personal philosophies, she mostly just listened to her companions as they shared their observations. It all reminded her of happier times in the Jedi enclave, when she was a child sharing her private introspections with two older Padawans who were visiting from Coruscant. They were a pair of lanky troublemakers who were well on their way to becoming the men who would someday save the Republic.

Lost in those memories, Meetra didn't realize that they were just outside of Khoonda's gates. She was startled out of her thoughts by the buzzing of her commlink, which she answered with unsteady hands. "Yes?"

"Hey, uh… Are you close to the outpost?" Carth's voice was strained.

"Yes, we actually just got back."

"Great! Can you come in? I know this is all really hard for you, but… There's a slight problem."

Meetra's heart sped up as she raced towards the building's main doors. "What's going on? Is everyone okay?"

"For now? Yes. But you might want to get in here before Bastila kills Atton."


"Jaq, you absolute piece of slime! When I get my hands on you…"

Meetra, Bao-Dur, and Visas skidded to a halt in the doorway of Khoonda's main office just in time to see Bastila Shan, Jedi prodigy and current Padawan of Revan himself, being held back by Carth and a Cathar woman. The situation was only made more bizarre by Atton, who was cowering against the wall with a nervous grin plastered across his face.

Gritting his teeth as he took an elbow to the ribs, Carth grumbled, "For Force sake, Bastila! Calm down and explain why you chased the poor kid off of the Hawk with your damn lightsaber."

"Hey, I'm not a kid! Hells, I'm probably older than her," Atton objected as he tried to creep out of the room. "But, uh, thank you, Captain, for keeping the crazy Jedi away from me."

Meetra blinked as she struggled to comprehend what she was witnessing. "What the hells is going on…?"

"Oof, ouch!" Not expecting the doorway to be blocked by three of his crewmates, Atton rammed gracelessly into Meetra as he attempted to flee the scene. He didn't get very far, mostly stumbling over his own feet as he grasped the blonde's waist to regain his balance.

"Watch out, he's trying to steal your lightsaber!" Bastila shouted as she freed herself with a strong Force push.

"Who's doing wha…?"

A second powerful shove rippled through the Force, knocking Meetra back a meter. She was so confused by the growing chaos that she didn't react as Bastila sprinted across the room, summoning a dual-bladed lightsaber from the nearby desk and igniting the yellow blades. Wielding the weapon with practiced grace the former Sentinel raced forward, dodging around a surprised Bao-Dur just as Atton ducked behind Visas and sped down the hallway with surprising swiftness. But Bastila was close behind and quickly closed the distance thanks to a burst of enhanced speed.

"Get back here you murderous son of a kath hound!"

Meetra was still blinking away her shock. "Can someone please explain…?"

"We will explain later!" the Cathar shouted as she also ran past. "For now, you may wish to intervene if you value your friend's life!"

That was all Meetra needed to hear. She immediately took off after the others, belatedly noting the lightsaber that dangled at the Cather's hip as she followed the woman down the corridor, keeping pace as they simultaneously veered around a corner and into the wider hallway that led to Koonda's entrance. The hum of a lightsaber grew ominously louder as they swerved and leaped around several surprised farmers and at least one panicked security guard. By the time they caught up to Bastila she was making sharp swipes at Atton's chest, driving him backward with strikes that narrowly missed his flesh.

"Whoah, geeze! Lady, you have the wrong man!"

"Very cute, Jaq." Spinning around in a move that looked suspiciously like Juyo, Bastila jabbed her lower blade upward, barely avoiding her opponent's left cheek. "But you've finally found someone who can see through your lies!"

"Stop it!" Meetra ordered, desperation making her voice quiver. She could feel her frustration building in the Force, but she was hesitant to use the emotion and release her power around so many innocent bystanders. Glancing at the Cathar, she noted a similar sense of trepidation filling the other woman's Force presence.

"If you can do something, I would recommend it. I am mostly trained as a fighter and am not particularly talented with verbal negotiations."

"I would try to negotiate if I had any idea what's going on!" Meetra glanced between Atton and Bastila as she drew her confiscated lightsaber.

"I myself am not sure. But at least it seems your friend it holding his own remarkably well!"

The Cathar was right, Atton was doing an unusually good job of dodging Bastila's blows. He was demonstrating the same grace and maneuverability that he'd displayed on Dxun, easily ducking between strikes from both 'saber blades. It shouldn't have been possible for someone blind to the Force. Echani training could only explain so much of his ability to predict his opponent's moves before they were made.

Irritation poured off of Bastila as she made a hard chop at Atton's legs. He jumped out of the way, but it was a close call. Snarling in annoyance, the former Sentinel taunted, "Go ahead, Jaq, draw it! I know it's in your left boot, right where you always kept it." Twirling her lightsaber, she brought it down millimeters from the man's abdomen. "Or are you too much of a coward to fight someone face-to-face?"

"Okay, this has officially gone past ridiculous." Igniting the confiscated lightsaber, Meetra charged towards the battling pair only to pause when the blade sputtered and then powered down unexpectedly. Groaning at the malfunction, she gave the weapon a shake. Nothing happened. "Kriffing piece of Sith shit!" Hooking the hilt back onto her belt she sighed, summoning the Force as she tried to hold Bastila and Atton in stasis. The energy flowed forth in a strong wave, but both targets managed to roll out of range before they could be affected.

Cursing again, Meetra tried the same tactic a second time, but she couldn't release her power fast enough to pin Bastila down before the other woman made a sweeping kick that knocked Atton off his feet. He landed hard on his back, momentarily defenseless as the former Sentinel descended on him, her upper blade thrust directly at his neck.

"No!" Panic seized Meetra, her throat tightening as her heart hammered out a terrified rhythm. The burst of energy that she unleashed was made stronger by her emotions, swelling to fill the room and immediately trapping Bastila, Atton, and the Cathar in place along with multiple bystanders who seemed equal parts confused and afraid. Desperation clouded Meetra's mind and she squeezed, choking the breath from everyone in her grasp. She didn't care. All that mattered was discovering if Bastila managed to kill Atton before she could react. As she leaped forward she saw that the dual bladed lightsaber was hovering dangerously close to the main artery in her friend's neck. However, it was blocked from making contact.

Blocked by the pale-yellow blade of a highly customized shoto lightsaber.

"What the hells…?"

"Uh, General? You might want to let everyone go before you start rendering some of these farmers unconscious." Bao-Dur was racing towards the immobilized crowd, concern pinching his brow.

"Don't worry," Carth added breathlessly as he held up his pistols. "If Bastila or Atton try to move, I'll stun them. Vann helped me to modify the stun setting on these, so it should be enough to knock a Force user out cold."

Meetra's power immediately melted away, more due to shock than any conscious decision to release her captives. She could hear various individuals gasping for breath, but the sound seemed so distant. Her mind was entirely focused on the lightsaber clutched in Atton's hand. "One of you had better start explaining."

Still using her weapon to pin the prone man, Bastila snarled, "This is Jaq, a former Revanchist who fell to the dark side and became Malak's Sith assassin and Jedi killer."

"I know this looks bad," Atton stammered, "But she's wrong and I can explain. You see, I stole this lightsaber from a Jedi, which might not sound great but…"

"He built it himself. It's a custom assassination tool designed to have a lower profile hilt and a blade that can be extended and retracted in a third of a second."

"I'm not an assassin!"

"He's lying." Visas's soft tone was almost swallowed by the chaos around her. "Normally when Atton speaks, all I can see is static. I assumed it was because he was so distant from the Force, but now… Now I can see him clearly. And I can tell that he's lying."

Extending her awareness, Meetra allowed her consciousness to gently brush against her companion's, fully expecting to feel his usual blankness punctuated only by mental games of pazaak. But instead, she was greeted by the glow of a Force-sensitive presence that crackled with cold power, not as intimidating as some she had known but still formidable. She exhaled heavily. "All this time he was cloaking himself through the Force."

"Just as Malak's most elite assassins were trained to do." There was sorrow in Bastila's voice, though her stance didn't waver.

The guise of the shiftless spacer finally fell away, revealing something harder and colder in Atton's eyes. But his expression was genuinely imploring. "Meetra, there's so much more to the story than what Malak's apprentice is telling you!"

"You were right. Knowing the truth about you does change everything."

"Kriffing hells, let me up you schutta!" Glaring venomously at Bastila, Atton shifted his grip on his lightsaber, providing better leverage to parry the longer blade. "I'm not going to have this conversation laying on my back with your damn 'saber at my throat."

"Because you deserve your dignity?" The former Sentinel scoffed at the notion.

It was the Cathar who placed a firm hand on her companion's shoulder, admonishment in her golden eyes. "Bastila, allow him to speak. If Vann has taught us anything, it is that even the darkest individuals deserve a chance to explain their actions. I will help you guard him in case he decides to try anything foolish."

"I don't want to have this conversation at all," Meetra muttered disbelievingly, even as questions began to pour forth. "How is any of this possible? You were a Jedi. You probably served beside me and I didn't even recognize you or feel you in the Force! How?"

The pale yellow blade retracted in the blink of an eye, its hilt disappearing into the sleeve of Atton's jacket with a practiced flick of his wrist. He climbed to his feet with a grunt, rolling his eyes at Bastila's seething hostility even as he held up his hands when the Cathar twitched towards her lightsaber. With an awkward cough, he began to speak. "I was seventeen when the Jedi Council gave the Revanchists permission to enter the war. You know, stupid enough to actually believe that if I joined the fight, I could make all the difference in the galaxy. And also… I knew my homeworld had been attacked by the Mandalorians. See, I came to the Order a little later in life, so I still remember my birth family."

Meetra narrowed her eyes. "Revan didn't allow anyone younger than eighteen to join the war effort."

"I sliced my records, it's what a good Sentinel does. I lied and said I was eighteen and Revan let me join him. I thought I was so clever, that I had everything under control but…" A haunted expression crossed Atton's face, his tone growing shaky and more distant. "War is… dark. You should know that better than anyone else. It changed me, made me into a person I hardly recognized. So, when Malak needed individuals for a special assignment I didn't hesitate to volunteer. And when that assignment was assassinations I convinced myself that I was just doing my part."

"You really did assassinate people for Revan and Malak?"

"Just Malak. Revan had a droid for that type of thing." This remark earned some uncomfortable grumbling from both Bastila and Carth.

Even though she didn't want the answer, Meetra couldn't stop herself from asking, "And after the war, when Malak seized control of the Republic, why did you keep following him? How many Jedi did you kill because he told you to?"

There was a long moment of silence as Atton considered his response, his Force presence flickering icily. His jaw tensed as he spoke. "I kept assassinating people for the former Supreme Commander because I was too blinded by hatred to realize how kriffed up I was, and too much of a coward to take a hard look at myself. As for how many… I lost count. It was anyone who refused to turn to Malak's side."

"So here's my question," Bastila interrupted as she crossed her arms irritably. "What hole did you crawl into after Malak was captured? I've had quite a bit of difficulty tracking you down."

"Nar Shadda to clear my head, and then… the Jedi Order. After everything that happened with Revan, the Masters were willing to accept any Revanchists back into the Order provided that we passed a few basic tests. None of my… none of the assassinations were ever recorded, so to the best of their knowledge I was only a foot soldier led astray by my leaders. Just like dozens of other Revanchists."

Gaping disbelievingly, Meetra demanded, "But couldn't they sense you?"

Atton smirked proudly in response. "Could you? Could Visas or Bao-Dur? Revan trained me to cloak myself using the Force and I was one of his best students. When I went before the Council I hid myself so that they couldn't tell how far I'd fallen. Or maybe they knew and just didn't care. After all, they've been giving me bantha shit assignments like investigating mining facilities for signs of tampering."

"Everything you've ever told me is a lie." A high-pitched droning rang through Meetra's ears as all sensation fled her body, leaving her numb and cold. "You're a Jedi, you've been spying on me, we've known each other since childhood and I didn't realize it…"

"No! I am not spying on you, I really did need a ride off of Peragus." Drawing a ragged breath, Atton's tone became pleading. "And we never knew each other before the war since I was trained entirely on Coruscant. During the war, I don't think we said two words to each other. You were busy leading troops while I…"

"Was assassinating political targets?" Bastila interjected with a snort.

"Yes, Bastila. Technically you're right, which I know makes you happy." The sarcasm faded from Atton's voice as he turned back to Meetra. "But I did see you on the battlefield once and damn if you weren't impressive. I was awestruck just watching you. That's actually how I recognized you back on Peragus."

"Alright, you've had your chance to explain yourself." Grasping Atton's wrist, Bastila used the Force to yank the concealed lightsaber from his sleeve. "Now it's time to come with me to face the justice that you've been avoiding for quite some time."

Meetra barely recognized her own voice when she demanded, "What's going to happen to him?"

"I'll take him back to Coruscant to stand trial for his crimes. He'll receive a fair judgment and then be turned over to the Jedi Council for final sentencing. There's a good chance he'll end up in a cell right next to Malak." Noting the other woman's increasing distress, Bastila reassured her, "Don't feel bad, he's a murderer!"

"So am I according to the Jedi Council."

"You and I both know it's not the same thing!"

Jerking her chin up, Meetra challenged, "Really, what's the difference? We were both following orders."

"The difference is that he kept following orders even after the war ended and Malak fell."

"Unlike, say… Malak's former apprentice?"

"That's also different!" Bastila snapped, her nose and brow scrunching up in irritation.

"I'm not seeing much of a difference here." As she crossed her arms, Meetra slipped into the stern demeanor of an experienced battlefield general. "My crew needs a pilot. Just give him to me and I'll make sure that he doesn't cause any more trouble."

"Meetra, you know that's not how this works!"

"They're trying to find Vann," Carth muttered as he absently brushed the place where his pendant hung beneath his shirt. "Which means they need someone who can fly through whatever sarlacc pit he's gotten himself into. I'd offer to do it myself, but my vacation time is almost up and in case everyone forgot, I have the entire Star Forge to guard."

"…Oh." The mention of her master caused a myriad of emotions to flit across Bastila's face, warmth and shadow flowing through her presence. Nose in the air as though she couldn't bear to look at Atton for another moment, she finally proclaimed, "Fine, he can stay with you until your mission is complete. But afterward, he goes to trial. And if he causes any problems in the meantime or, Force forbid, manages to escape again, you're the one I'm blaming."

"That's fair, I accept your terms." Meetra held out her hand, which Bastila accepted with a prim yet firm shake to confirm their deal.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Atton sidled up to his rescuer with a roguish grin as he nudged her ribs with his elbow. "Shit. Thank you so much for saving my ass yet again…"

Meetra's expression was pure durasteel as she turned to the man, her tone blank even as the Force froze around her like a hailstorm. "Don't thank me. I'm only doing this because I need a pilot." Turning away, she jerked her head towards the landing pad where the Hawk was docked. "Just… go back to the ship. Work on the repairs. Play pazaak for all I care. Being back on this planet is hard enough without this fresh, steaming pile of karking bantha shit."

"I… Yeah. I understand. You know where I'll be if you need me." Shrinking back at his companion's cold demeanor Atton shoved his hands deep into his pockets and hung his head. "Look, I know this doesn't mean anything coming from me right now, but for what it's worth… I really am sorry."

It was hard for Meetra to bite her tongue as Atton walked away, his presence returning to static as his mental shields slid back into place. There were so many things that she wanted to say and more questions that she wanted to ask but, in the end, she let him go. Maybe this was how Atris felt as she watched Meetra leave for war.

The Cathar's voice was strained as she quietly hissed, "Bastila, I hate to interrupt this, ah, situation but now that it appears to be settled I must mention you that we are supposed to meet with Master Lamar in… Fifteen minutes ago."

"Juhani, why didn't you remind me!?"

"You were a bit preoccupied." Grinning toothily, the Cathar quipped, "Also, I just did."

Bastila was already panicking as she haphazardly clipped Atton's lightsaber to her belt by accident while fluttering distractedly from side to side. "Yes, but now we're late and…"

"You're meeting with Vrook Lamar?" Meetra arched a brow as she moved to stand beside Juhani. "I'm coming too."

Even agitated, Bastila managed to sound condescending. "Meetra, I'm not entirely sure that's a wise decision."

"I need to speak with both you and him, so I might as well get all of my awkward conversations done in a single meeting."

"If it's not too presumptuous for me to ask, may I attend this meeting as well?" Visas bowed deeply as she made her request. "Master Atris always spoke highly of Master Lamar and I would appreciate the opportunity to learn from his wisdom."

Gently smiling at the Miraluka, Meetra waved her closer. "Of course you're welcome to come. Though, I don't know how much wisdom a grouchy old cannok like Vrook can provide."

"Really, I must insist…"

"We're coming with you, Bastila." Meetra's tone was resolute.

"Alright then. I suppose there's no convincing you otherwise." Having finally sorted herself, Bastila brushed invisible dust from her black and red robes to avoid looking at the other women. "But be warned, you're not going to like where we're meeting."

"Is it better or worse than a hive of kinrath?"

There was an extended pause before Bastila quietly admitted, "For you? It's far, far worse."


"He really did destroy everything." Staring at the remains of the Jedi enclave that had been her home for the first two decades of her life, Meetra clenched her jaw to bite back the swell of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. While the building was partially intact, the collapsed portions of the roof and the scorch marks that charred almost every visible surface rendered the location nearly unrecognizable. But if she squinted, she could make out enough familiar features to make her heart ache.

Sensing the mounting turmoil in the Force, Bastila cast a worried glance at the blonde. "Meetra, you don't have to be here. Juhani and I can investigate the locals' complaints and then meet with you somewhere else to discuss…"

"You shouldn't have come at all," an older voice grumbled. "You're not necessary to this investigation."

"It's good to see you too, Vrook."

Scowling at the informality, the Jedi Master squared his shoulders. "That would be Master Lamar to you, Surik."

Meetra was only partially listening as she wandered closer to the husk of the building that once encompassed her whole life. "As Atris and Kavar have already reminded me, I'm not a Jedi anymore."

"So, that gives you permission to ignore formality?"

Smiling, Meetra offered a half-shrug to her former teacher. "It at least lets me forgo Jedi pretensions."

"Forgive me Master Lamar," Bastila said just a little louder than absolutely necessary. "But what is the Force-related concern that you were petitioned with?"

Ironically enough, the Jedi huffed irritably at the former Sentinel's formality. "It's nothing. Just a bunch of rumors and superstition from farmers who believe these ruins are haunted."

Bastila's brow creased as she considered this information. "Even so, considering the Sith attack that just transpired on Dxun we should treat these reports with the utmost seriousness."

"Is it really necessary for you to traipse through the grave of the Jedi who died in Malak's attack?" Vrook sighed heavily when he was almost interrupted. "And yes, Shan. I know you made an effort to help us evacuate in time. Unfortunately, like many of your interactions with the Jedi Order, it was too little too late."

Staring curiously at the old Master, Meetra murmured, "I'm sure those who have become one with the Force would understand that we have to investigate their tomb to protect the living. The bodies buried in those ruins are just mortal remains that will decay with time, but the Force is eternal. Those who are one with it are one with the universe and have no care for crude matter."

'Very clever indeed.' Kreia chuckled within the Force bond. 'Watch as Vrook struggles to deny such a well-made argument. After all, the Jedi believe that we are all luminous beings. Though, is the Force truly eternal? Some might argue that you have seen its death, only to emerge from the other side.'

Just as predicted, Master Lamar's expression grew sourer and he grumbled harshly under his breath before finally announcing, "If you want to investigate, I'm not going to stop you."

"Good," Meetra quipped as she brushed past the Jedi Master, "Because I wasn't going to listen anyway." Speaking into her commlink, she requested, "Bao-Dur, can you please have your remote begin a scan of… of the structure?"

The small group moved towards the remains of the enclave, leaving Vrook glowering in their wake. Bastila cast one last glance behind them as she smiled tersely at the Master, though Meetra barely noticed as she forced herself to stare straight ahead so that she could ignore some of the devastation surrounding her. With her jaw set firm and the familiar weight of the rifle on her back, she prepared to meet whatever was waiting inside the ruins. Part of her hoped that it was more Sith. They were a problem that was far easier to solve than everything else she was facing.

Bao-Dur was waiting for them at the half-collapsed entrance to enclave's sublevel, his remote delivering its reconnaissance data to his pad. "No signs of traps, General. Though there appear to be several life forms inside."

"Can you tell if it's creatures that lie within? Or something more?" It was the first time that Visas had spoken since approaching the ruins and her voice sounded strained.

"Oh, this is an old remote and the sensors aren't that good. Honestly, I'm lucky to get any lifeform readings at all…" Trailing off as he noticed the Miraluka's doubtful frown, Bao-Dur cleared his throat. "Ah, that. I'm pretty sure that we're too far away for me to… sense anything."

"Even though we are no longer Jedi, we should try to use peace if at all possible…"

"If whatever is inside is friendly, you can negotiate with them," Juhani exasperatedly informed Bastila, even as she drew her lightsaber. "If not, then we can negotiate my way."

"Since it seems like we're ready I suggest that we take the, ah, northwest route through the… western passageway…" Despite her desire to lead this expedition, it was obvious that Bastila didn't actually know the layout of the sublevel.

"When you walk through that door you'll find yourself in a hallway that runs east and west, equal distance both ways before reaching a ninety-degree bend that leads down another hallway." Try as she might, Meetra couldn't banish the memories of racing through those corridors as a child, the Masters gently chiding her to slow down and be mindful. "The secondary hallways might be more dangerous since there are five connected rooms, all of which can prove advantageous for an ambush."

"Correct," Bastila agreed. "Exactly that."

"Juhani, you told me earlier that your area of expertise is combat."

The Cathar nodded curiously. "Yes…"

"Good. I assume that means you can protect yourself and anyone around you, within reason. As tactically unwise as this may sound, it will be better if we split up. Juhani, I think that you should go with Bao-Dur and Visas." Noting the other woman's doubtful expression, Meetra continued, "They're not noncombatants if that's what you're worried about. Visas can see things the rest of us can't and Bao-Dur can slice, repair, or reprogram just about anything. Between the three of you, I think you have the skills to handle almost anything you find inside."

"And what about us?" Bastila wondered, having apparently given up on being in charge.

"We sweep around in the other direction." Using her hands to demonstrate her strategy, Meetra carefully described her plan. "The entire sublevel is a square, each side a mirror image of the other. I don't know what type of shape it's currently in, but the fact that it loops can be used to our advantage. If either group is attacked, they can double back while alerting the others to be ready. Even if the attackers know there are more of us, they might not expect what they find."

"That's not a bad plan, General. It might be the best we're going to get in this type of situation."

'And it gives you an opportunity to speak with the Revanchist's pupil. I know you have questions for her.' Kreia sounded mildly disapproving, though she didn't voice any admonishment.

There was a little more discussion about strategy as everyone confirmed small details to ensure that they were as prepared as possible. This type of planning was comforting to Meetra, a pre-battle ritual that she had come to appreciate during the war for than just the advantage it provided. It was a moment of calm before everything dissolved into chaos and bloodshed. Another form of moving meditation. Thanks to it, she was feeling more focused by the time she found herself sneaking through the ruined hallways with Bastila at her side, the former Sentinel taking their mission quite seriously.

"Do you sense anything?"

"No." Technically Meetra did, but it was only the small rodents and insects that she recognized from her childhood. Harmless creatures who made their homes in dark corners and damp pipes.

"Well then, I suppose we should…"

Meetra had planned to be more subtle, but she found herself blurting out, "You didn't grow-up here, did you?"

"I was raised as a spacer by my parents until I joined the Order on Coruscant." A flare of pain swirled around Bastila at the mention of her family. "I spent a bit of time here as a Padawan, though that was before the war started and the enclaved stopped teaching new students."

"Then you knew Atton."

"Jaq? Yes, we trained together quite a bit when we were younger as we're fairly close in age and both found ourselves walking the path of the Sentinel. That's how I recognized him so easily, even with his presence camouflaged."

Nibbling her bottom lip, Meetra thought carefully about her next question. "What was he like… before the war?"

"Brash. Arrogant. He often refused to take his studies seriously. But he was always a talented fighter and quite clever. Perhaps too clever for his own good."

It was obvious that Bastila knew the intended meaning of the question, but was dancing around the truth. So Meetra pushed harder. "Was he dark?"

"No more than you or Malak. Or Vann, for that matter."

"You call him Vann now?" Meetra was honestly surprised by this

"It's what he prefers to be called. Carth said that you're looking for him and…" Seeing that the other woman was about to interject, Bastila held up a hand. "No, hear me out. I know that you were quite close during the war and the Force tells me that if anyone is capable of finding him, it's you. But should you succeed, just know that he's not the same man that you remember."

"I know that he lost some of his memories…"

"All of his memories. The grand sum of Vann Chis's life experience mostly consists of three years working as a Force-blind mercenary along the Outer Rim, one year as a Republic hero who hated every moment of his fame, and two years… wherever he is now. Don't misunderstand me, he's still very much Revan. He has the same power, the same passion, and the same awful sense of humor. He's still driven to help others, even if he doesn't like to admit it. But…" Worry tugged at the corners of Bastila's mouth. "He lacks the confidence he once had. We share a teaching bond, so I've seen his thoughts and felt his pain. One of the last times I interacted with him I realized that he truly believes that he's a fraud."

"He was never as confident as people thought. His mask hid a lot of his emotions from the galaxy and he hid a lot of himself from everyone around him." Considering this new information, Meetra brightened. "Actually, it sounds like he's exactly the same."

"Perhaps. I can only hope that you manage to learn the truth for yourself."

"If he wants to be found, I'll find him. If not…" The buzzing of Meetra's commlink interrupted the rest of her sentence.

"Uh, General. We seem to have stumbled into a… bit of a situation."

The hiss of lightsabers was audible even through the small speaker, joined by Juhani's irritated voice as she shouted, "This 'situation' is wielding a 'saber!"

Already backtracking her way down the hall, Meetra swung her rifle off her shoulder as she called, "Dammit, we'll be right there!"

Bastila was close behind as the two women sped across the cracked floor, leaping over craters and ducking around collapsed pillars that blocked parts of their path. Thanks to the Force they were both able to add a burst of speed to their run, rounding the corner as twin blurs. Meetra was the first to stumble to a stop, the familiar hiss of a lightsaber fight drawing her attention to a pair of clashing red blades. One of them belonged to Juhani, who handled her weapon with the ease of a practiced duelist. The other combatant was unfamiliar, though their hooded black robe was reminiscent of the Sith back on Dxun.

Whoever this aggressive stranger was, they were strong. Despite Juhani's obvious skill, they deflected her swings with powerful chops of their own, locking blades and easily driving their opponent back. Sensing that she was at a disadvantage, the Cathar attempted to flip away in a move that Meetra recognized as Ataru. However, the low ceiling and heavy debris covering the floor forced an awkward landing with shaky footing. The black-clad figure seized their opportunity, lunging forward while their adversary was unsteady. The only thing that prevented Juhani from losing a hand was Bastila's 'saber, which the former Sentinel ignited as she dove forward to protect her friend.

Now faced with two opponents, the black-clad figure fell into a defensive stance as they parried a set of strikes before twisting to the side to consider their options. However, this new vantage point gave them a clear view of Meetra, who was now aiming her rifle at the melee. Snarling at the sight, the stranger shouted, "The Exile! Lord Nihilus knew you would be here." The voice was feminine, made hoarse from the anger that infused it.

Meetra didn't wait another second to begin firing, her finger twitching against the trigger in rapid succession as both Bastila and Juhani descended upon the apparent Sith with renewed vigor. At least one bolt struck the strange woman, but she didn't seem to notice as she knocked aside Bastila's blade with a cleave of her own. The next instant she twirled around, her thick black robe billowing as she flung out her hand and Force-pushed Juhani into the closest wall. With her path clear, she raced towards Meetra, her crimson lightsaber deflecting bolts as she ran.

"You will not touch her!" Visas's appearance from behind a broken pillar surprised everyone, though not as much as the wave of Force energy that flowed from her hands as she lifted and then threw the Sith three meters down the hallway.

There was a hard thud as the black-robed figure landed on the ground, immediately followed by a series of deafening booms that filled the corridor. The concussive force was enough to shake the dust from the walls and shift the already damaged pillars, the blast of light and sound disorienting everyone in the vicinity. It took several seconds to discern what had happened, though things became clearer when Bao-Dur appeared wearing a guilty expression as he gripped a detonator.

"Did, uh, anyone else get hit by the shrapnel?"

The Sith's robes were still smoking, her body sprawled amongst the remains of the string of frag mines that she'd literally been thrown on top of. Despite her adversary's apparent incapacitation, Meetra raised her rifle as she slowly approached the strange woman. "Hands up where I can see them."

Dazed from the blast, the Sith struggle upright. Small bits of metal tinkled to the floor, followed by drops of blood from the dozens of cuts carved by the mine's spray of shrapnel. As she moved her hood fell away, revealing a head of short white hair and a pair of steely-blue eyes that glittered like ice. The resemblance to Atris was startling and the momentary shock caused Meetra to stumble to a halt. As weak as she was, the Sith seized this opportunity and reached out one hand, wrapping the Force around her target's throat as she bared her blood-stained teeth.

As she gasped for breath through her compressed airway Meetra heard the rest of the group shout in alarm, Bastila and Juhani racing towards her with unnatural speed. But the two Force users were too slow to reach the Sith before the former general's training kicked in, her body long accustomed to fighting in adverse conditions. Her mind was swimming from a lack of oxygen but muscle memory enabled one palm to slam the rifle from kill to stun a second before she raised it just enough to fire two shots. The o-shaped energy struck the Sith directly in the chest, immediately dropping her like a bag of duracrete.

Bending over as she sucked in air, Meetra kept the rifle aimed at the Sith as the others reached her. "So," she wheezed. "Vrook was wrong."

"Those mines were a rather clever plan," Bastila noted as she pointed her lightsaber at the now unconscious Sith. "Though, it would have been nice to know that Visas was trained in the use of the Force."

Meetra shrugged. "I honestly didn't know she could throw someone through the air."

"Nor did I." Visas ducked her head meekly. "That was… unplanned. Bao-Dur set the mines so that, if we were forced to double back, any pursuers would be slowed down. I did not intend to throw that woman onto them, Exile. But when I saw you in danger I felt… something cold. And it compelled me to act."

"What you felt was the dark side." Juhani seemed unperturbed by this fact. "You harnessed your emotions to save your friend."

"A dangerous technique to tap into without a teacher." Offering Meetra a terse half-smile, Bastila added, "So, it's rather fortunate that you seem to have found one."

"General, while we're on the subject of Force related things…" Bao-Dur nodded to some metal scraps beside the Sith. "You might want to collect the parts of that broken lightsaber before they fall into the wrong hands."

Meetra followed the Zabrak's gaze, realizing that the Sith's weapon had been destroyed by the mine. "Can you do that while the rest of us get our prisoner contained and somewhere safe? I think we all have a lot of questions that need answers."


"Who are you? And more importantly, who is Darth Nihilus? I know they're a Sith Lord connected to Sion, but we want to know more."

The Echani's pale features didn't flinch beneath Meetra's scrutiny, though she remained tractable even as Bastila less-than delicately removed another shard of metal from her back. "I am the last of Lord Nihilus's Handmaidens. The rest you already seem to know."

"Oh great, there's more of them." Atton rolled his eyes as he leaned against a cabinet in the Hawk's medical bay, his arms crossed over his chest. Despite his casual stance, one hand was subtly hovering near the shoto lightsaber hidden in his sleeve, the item returned to him after a great deal of complaining from Bastila.

While the group had briefly considered bringing the Sith back to Khoonda Outpost, the concern that Vrook would take over the interrogation and refuse to share his findings had compelled Meetra to change course. That was why they were all currently crowded into the Ebon Hawk's medical bay. Juhani was guarding the entrance should their captive try and escape, and after much debate, Atton had been summoned to provide additional back-up for Bastila. While Meetra wanted to loathe him, she couldn't help but find his familiar sarcasm soothing.

"So, there are others like you?"

Grimacing minutely as Bastila tugged a particularly jagged piece of shrapnel from her shoulder, the Sith shook her head at Meetra. "Like me? No. My sisters are inoffensive to our master. They do not distract him in the same way that I do, nor are they as easily distracted as I. Thus, I am the last of them."

"Distract him?"

"Lord Nihilus wishes for the chaotic flow of the universe to be silenced. He has shown it to us, the disordered scream of every lifeform that echoes unchecked through the galaxy. The sound is enough to fill one's head with such static that you cannot think about anything but destroying the unending noise. And to my master, my presence screams louder than most."

"The chaotic flow… You mean the Force?" Atton's brow furrowed in consideration, his presence temporarily flaring around him. "I wouldn't personally describe it as chaotic, but yeah. Anyone with enough Force sensitivity can feel that pulse. The thrum, you know? The heartbeat of everything."

Meetra nodded in agreement. "And Force users tend to have a more obvious presence, which I suppose could be described as a scream. Are you saying that you're the only one of your sisters who's Force-sensitive?"

"I am the only one capable of being trained in Lord Nihilus's arts, if that is what you are referring to."

"Sort of. But if you're the only Force-sensitive, then wouldn't you be more valuable?"

"My sisters are full Echani. Their faces all honor their mother and within the Force they all feel like a single mind and body. As such, Lord Nihilus can ignore them as they serve him. But I disrupt him. My very presence hurts his thoughts. He wished to kill me when he discovered us in the ruins he left of Eshan, but my sisters begged for my life despite the fact that we only share a father. As such, Lord Nihilus spared me and I have been honor-bound to serve him ever since."

From the doorway, Juhani growled as anger surged around her. "You are his slave?"

"I am whatever he wishes me to be." The Sith seemed unbothered by this statement.

"There, that should do it," Bastila announced, holding up a final piece of bloodied metal between her tweezers. "This seems to be the last of the shrapnel. A stimpack and a little kolto should take care of the open wounds and any scaring, though I don't think it will help with the… previous damage."

Confused by the former Sentinel's comment, Meetra quickly shifted so that she could look at the Sith's exposed back. Her chalk-white skin was dotted with bloody lacerations from the mine, though the wounds were minor compared to the raised, pearly-pink scars that were etched and burned into her flesh. Some were old enough to barely be noticeable while others were so fresh they remained red around the edges. "Did Nihilus do that to you?"

"Some." The woman shrugged. "And some is from my earlier training. An Echani warrior does not learn to fight without shedding blood in the process."

"So, she's a Sith and an Echani warrior?" Atton groaned in frustration. "Great, this just keeps getting better."

"Why did Nihilus send you after me?"

"I was only a test of your capabilities, Exile. If you managed to beat me in single combat, my master would know that you are strong enough."

Alarm surged through Meetra, the adrenalin making her heart race. "Strong enough for what?"

"To face him." The Sith's expression grew somber. "He has sensed your growing power and he knows that you will be the last barrier that stands in the way of his ultimate goal."

"To what, silence the universe by killing the Force? Is that even possible? And why me?"

Kreia's voiced tutted disapprovingly through Meetra's mind. 'You already know the answer to that last question. It is your potential that makes you so dangerous.'

"More importantly, is your master aware that I technically defeated you? It might not have been what he was expecting, but will he still take it as a signal that I'm ready for whatever he's planning?"

Atton snorted in amusement. "I'd say that a couple of stun-bolts to the chest still counts as a good ass-kicking."

Disappointment entered the Sith's tone. "I was expecting to clash blades, to duel as the great Force users have done for millennia. But you have still bested me and my master is surely aware of this. As for your other questions… I do not presume to understand the intricacies of Lord Nihilus's plan."

"Alright. I guess the last question is what we should do with you now," Meetra admitted. "I'm not about to let you return to Nihilus."

Shaking her head, Juhani quietly hissed, "If she does, her master will kill her. Those who embrace the dark side do not accept failure."

"You could turn her over to the Jedi. Perhaps as a peace-offering to Master Lamar?" Bastila smiled hopefully, though her tone was doubtful.

"I think I'd rather eat the shrapnel that you just pulled out of her than make a deal with Vrook. And besides, she might have more information." Drawing a slow breath, Meetra turned to look the Sith in the eyes, her tone resolute. "If we let you stay on this ship, will you assist us however you can?"

"You have all shown more mercy than I deserve by sparing my unworthy life. As such, my debt is transferred to you, Exile, if you will have me."

Sighing dramatically, Atton inched his fingers closer to his blade. "You are not seriously considering this…"

"So long as you don't try to harm or kill me or the rest of my crew, I think we can make this work." Meetra nodded to the Sith. "Consider this a partnership instead of a debt, especially since we really do need your help. We think that your master is connected to the deaths of many Jedi and that he may know something about the disappearance of a… An old friend."

The Sith nodded. "I know a bit about his hunt for the Jedi. About a year after we came into the service of our master, Lord Nihilus brought my sisters and me to a world called Katarr. There he destroyed a conclave of Jedi Masters. We were made to watch his every action so that we might understand the necessity of destroying such individuals. It was there that he first showed us the chaos of the universe and the blissful silence that he can bring."

"You were there…" Visas's soft voice cut through the quiet of the room, her presence unnoticed until now thanks to everyone's focus on the Sith. "You saw him turn a colony to rubble and you call it part of that creature's plan? For a time after the decimation of my home, I was truly blind. Even with my sight returning I still see the flames and destruction tainting everything around me." At this the Miraluka lifted the front of her veil, revealing the burn scars that marred the layer of skin covering her blank eye sockets. "The ashes of Katarr haunt my every moment and you act as though the decimation of my home was little more than an annoyance!"

"It was meant to be a mercy. There were never supposed to be survivors."

"Exile, Meetra," Visas pleaded, rage cascading around her in frigid sheets, "You cannot allow her to stay!"

"Visas…" Meetra opened her mouth to apologize, to explain that nobody realized this Sith was directly connected to the destruction of Katarr, but the Miraluka was already racing away. Her boots thudded loudly against the grated floor. Abandoning everyone in the medical bay, Meetra followed.

She didn't catch-up to Visas until they reached the starboard crew quarters, where the other woman was kneeling quietly on the floor as she attempted to slip into meditation. Meetra crouched in front of her, keeping a hand width between them. "I… I'm sorry. But we need the information that this Sith has. I understand if you're mad at me, or if you never want to speak to me again. If you'd prefer, you can go back to Rakata with Carth and Bastila. I'm sure someone there would be happy to train you…"

"I don't want another teacher!" Drawing a breath to steady her voice the Miraluka turned to stare at Meetra, her unseeing gaze disarmingly intense. "You said that you would train me, and that is what I desire. I want you as my teacher as I learn the ways of the Force. But I do not want her, that creature on this ship!"

"I… Alright." Nodding slowly, Meetra considered her options. "Maybe Bastila can take her back to Rakata. We can contact their enclave to get more information when we need it and…"

Heaving a deep sigh, Visas hung her head. "But that is not fair to you or your quest, is it? What you are trying to do is far more important than my petty desires. I… I cannot be selfish. It would be better for the galaxy if this Sith remains on board and I merely learn to avoid her."

"Life isn't fair, Visas. I learned that a long time ago. And sometimes you have to be selfish to be happy." Rocking forward, Meetra placed a gentle hand on the other woman's shoulder. "Do you really think you'll be alright if she stays?"

"I don't know. But for you, I will make the effort."

The implication of those words settled uncomfortably and for a long moment, Meetra wasn't sure if she could bear the weight of Visas's unwavering admiration. The Miraluka was willing to live on a cramped freighter with someone who was trained by the same Sith who destroyed her homeworld, all for the sake of having Meetra as her teacher. It was overwhelming. Unable to find the right words, she settled for giving the other woman's shoulder what she hoped was a comforting squeeze before slowly climbing to her feet. Silence hung heavy between them, the sum of their emotions laid bare within the Force. Because of this, there was nothing left to say. All Meetra could do was send out a burst of reassurance as she stood and exited the dormitory, leaving Visas to meditate on the impractical situation they'd settled on.

Atton was waiting a few meters down the hallway. "Hey, uh, Bastila and Juhani kept grilling this 'handmaiden' after you left. Apparently, she knows where Nihilus and Sion might be headed. She claims that there's only one planet they consider their true home…" He swallowed hard, a haunted look passing over his features. "Korriban."

"You've been there."

"Yeah, few times. Can't say I'd call it a vacation destination." Despite his attempt at humor, Atton's voice was strained.

"Master Vash is stationed on Korriban, so we have to go there eventually to speak with her." Meetra clenched her jaw in annoyance. "We should leave as soon as we're ready. There's no reason to stay on Dantooine."

"So." Shifting uncomfortably, Atton made a vague gesture towards the cockpit. "Since I'm your… the pilot, should I begin plotting a course…?"

"Yes. Do that while I get things settled with Bastila, Juhani, and Carth. I think the captain's going back to Rakata, so I should say good-bye."

"Got it. I guess I'll go do my, uh, my job."

The awkwardness didn't fade even as Atton slunk towards the front of the ship, casting one last glance over his shoulder before turning the corner. Meetra kept staring after him, trying to summon anger for everything he stood for. He was one of the Revanchists who fell, followed Malak, and earned them the reputation of sadists rather than soldiers. He was a liar and murderer. Yet, when she looked at him all she could see was one more person who lost himself in the fog of war. With a sigh, she straightened her tunic and went to speak with the rest of the crew about their next destination.

The rest of that day and most of the next were a whirl of meetings and planning, including a very brief conversation with Vrook Lamar during which he provided exactly zero advice on the new Sith threat.

"I blame Revan and Malak," he complained bitterly. "If they had the patience and wisdom of true Jedi they wouldn't have rushed to go to war. We could have located the source of this supposed 'true Sith' before it threatened the Republic."

Meetra had nearly stormed out of the room after that, but she held back her temper long enough to ask one last question. Specifically, why the crystals they had collected from Dantooine's caves were so oddly colored. The yellow crystals appeared bronze, the green were more of a silvery viridian, and the blue were nearly as violet as the pendant Carth wore around his neck.

Vrook had turned up his nose at Bao-Dur's theory that the kinrath's continued presence changed the mineral properties of the cave environment. "They're corrupted by the dark side," the Master had theorized. "The colors weren't like that before Malak attacked."

Obviously, Vrook had refused Meetra's offer to leave any extra crystals with what remained of the Jedi enclave. So, she and her crew had a large collection to choose from. Oddly enough, it quickly proved useful.

"Make a new lightsaber," Meetra ordered as she shoved a handful of parts at Atton.

"Huh?"

"The blade you have, which I somehow talked Bastila into letting you keep for now, is an assassination tool. But I don't need an assassin, I need a Knight."

Atton looked stunned. "You want me to make a full-sized blade. You trust me to do that?"

"Yes. Get on it. Bao-Dur can help you."

"I know how…"

Meetra didn't stick around to hear the rest, mostly because she didn't need another reminder that 'Atton Rand' was nothing more than a cover expertly crafted by a trained Jedi Sentinel. And besides, she had more important business to attend to down on Khoonda's landing pad.

"So, I guess this is goodbye." Offering Carth a half-smile, Meetra rocked back on her heels.

"I want to come with you, I really do. But… four years ago Vann asked me to guard one of the most dangerous structures in the galaxy. He's trusting me to keep the Star Forge safe, and I can't abandon my post just to go on a wild gizka chase." Rubbing the back of his neck, the captain winced. "And besides, Korriban and I don't have the best history."

"If I find him, do you want me to tell him anything for you?"

"Yes. Let him know that I'm still watching over the Star Forge and the Republic, just like he asked. But also tell him to get his ass home, because I miss him. We all do."

"I'll make sure he gets the message." On impulse, Meetra rushed forward and wrapped her arms around Carth's chest, hugging him tightly. She could feel his pendant pressed between them, thrumming with the gentle hum of Revan's presence. "Goodbye. And be safe."

"Hey now, I'm just going back to work. You're the one running into the mynock's nest. And besides, you'll have Bastila with you."

Even though Carth seemed sincere, Meetra couldn't suppress the eye-roll that she gave him. "Oh yes. I'm sure she'll be a real asset once she's done ordering everyone around."

"She's more talented than she seems. Vann trained her, after all."

"We'll see." With a final wave to both the captain and Juhani, Meetra watched as the pair headed to the ship that would take them back to Rakata where they would await whatever new information Bastila uncovered. That was the official reason the former Sentinel was coming with Meetra's crew; she wanted to relay any news as swiftly as possible. Unofficially she probably just wanted to micromanage the entire mission.

Smoothing her hair back, Meetra searched the Force for strength as she headed back to the Ebon Hawk, fully aware that she would be traveling with a dangerously contentious crew. At least she could escape to the garage and work on her lightsaber if things got too bad. Though, that came with its own concerns. Out of all the crystals they had collected on Dantooine, only one truly resonated with her. It was the red crystal that had been trapped inside the kinrath egg that she had accidentally crushed, snuffing out an innocent life in less than a second. The crystal was the color of freshly spilled human blood and seemed to exude an ominous aura. Yet, whenever she held the object it pulsed in time with her heartbeat.

Meetra tried to forget the existence of the crystal and she even considered throwing it into the stream that flowed near Khoonda. But the thought of discarding the item irked her, especially since she recognized its remarkable quality. She preferred to wield a single blade and while she wasn't a Makashi expert, most of her lightsabers had featured the curved hilt of a dedicated duelist. So, she knew that such a clear, bright crystal would be the perfect focus for her new weapon. But the color…

She was still deliberating the issue when she found herself sitting beside Kreia on the floor of the portside dormitory about a day after they set off for Korriban.

"Something is troubling you," the older woman stated.

"It's silly."

"And yet it weighs heavily on you. Are you still concerned over the fool flying this ship? The murderer who hid the truth from you so that he might receive your affection without revealing his crimes?" Kreia scoffed at the notion. "Pay him no more thought, he's not worth your time."

"It's not Atton. Well, sometimes it is but… Right now, it's this." Opening her palm, Meetra revealed the red crystal shedding a crimson glow across her skin.

"A lightsaber crystal. I assume this means that you'll be constructing a new weapon. Good. It's about time that you fully embraced your return to the Force."

"It… doesn't bother you?"

Taking the item from Meetra's hand, Kreia examined it for a minute before handing it back. "This crystal is of remarkable quality. At least as good as the one that Revan used and then gifted to his lover."

"Carth told you about his pendant?"

Kreia tutted as she shook her head. "Just because my eyes no longer see does not mean I am blind."

"So then, did you know about Atton?" The older woman's terse frown was the only answer that Metra needed. Anger whipped around her as she demanded, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Would you have believed me? Or would I have become the villain and he the victim? No, the truth had to be revealed as the Force willed it so that you could see things objectively. As for the fool, I've long been aware of the way that death clings to him."

Looking down at the item in her palm, Meetra muttered, "Just like this crystal."

"And yet, you don't seem to mind the murderer."

"That's different! Atton is a person. He was still a child when he went to war and he got kriffed up like the rest of us. He wasn't in control of everything that happened to him…"

"And an object is?" Kreia interrupted bluntly. "Droids and blasters and yes, even lightsabers, are tools. Things. They are nothing more and often far less than what their creators allow them to be. Tell me, why do you fear this crystal so much?"

"The only individuals I've ever seen wielding red blades were dark Force users."

"So, you deny what you are?"

"No, I know there's darkness in me. I think it's always been there, but the war brought it to the surface. Every moment I hardened myself to the pain around me and every time that I chose tactics over lives that darkness grew. And after Malachor…" Closing her fist around the crystal Meetra muttered, "I know that darkness will always be a part of me."

"Then why do you fear wielding a red blade? The Cathar had one. The Sith you now keep as a pet used one in her attempt on your life. And yet, you do not seem to fear either of them."

"Juhani is different. Carth told me everything that happened to her and it's tragic. Of course she has darkness in her! And she told me herself that she still uses that blade because it represents who she was when she met Revan. It's a reminder, of sorts."

"And you also want to reclaim who you were when you met the Revanchist. To look at your green blade and remember that you were once a Consular."

"No!" Meetra lowered her head sheepishly. "I mean, it would be nice, but… I don't need to recreate my 'saber from the war. That time is past. I just…"

"You don't want to wield a reminder of what Malachor forged you into. And yet, that reminder is carved into your very being. Malachor is etched across your soul." Closing her hands over the younger woman's, Kreia urged, "Take the crystal. Meditate on its potential and see what you discover."

"I'll do my best." Meetra lapsed into silence as she climbed to her feet and made her way towards the exit. When she reached the door she paused, glancing over her shoulder. "Kreia, did you know Revan?"

"I knew him as much as anyone can know a prodigy who was still a mystery to himself."

Fearing the next answer, Meetra's voice was strained when she asked, "Do you think he's still alive?"

"I think that the man you knew as Revan died long ago and is still being reborn as something more."

The answer was uncomfortably cryptic, though it wasn't a firm 'no.' That fact gave Meetra hope. "Alright, thank you."

Eventually, Meetra found herself wandering through the ship, the damned crystal still clutched in one hand as she moved to check on the rest of the crew. As expected, Bao-Dur was in the garage tinkering at the workbench, a variety of crystals and lightsaber parts scattered across the surface. But she was surprised to find Visas standing patiently beside the Zabrak as he guided her hands with a workman's care, helping her to connect a series of tiny wires and intricate lenses into a 'saber hilt of her own design. They were talking softly as they worked and though their conversation was too hushed to overhear their contentment warmed the Force around them.

Warmth spread through Meetra as she thought about her crewmates building their first lightsabers, the sensation so overwhelming that she almost didn't realize when she stumbled into the main hold. Bastila was there, completely absorbed in her work as she used one of the computers to analyze a terrain map, her lips pursed in concentration as she added various notations and markers. The display showed a desolate valley with craggy peaks and soaring cliffs that were strangely beautiful in their starkness. Though the former Sentinel's presence thrummed with the same determination that she'd demonstrated on Dantooine, her stubborn desire for control had vanished. Maybe Carth was right and Bastila had matured under Revan's tutelage.

That thought was reassuring, especially given their current circumstances, and it lent Meetra strength as she moved towards the cargo hold where the crew's newest addition had found a home. While the door was officially supposed to be guarded at all times, she guessed that nobody saw the need for such measures now that they were in hyperspace. Trying to attack multiple Force-sensitives, including three former Jedi, on a ship with no working navicomputer was nothing less than a suicide mission. Besides, the Sith seemed strangely content on the Hawk. Right now she was stripped down to a thin tunic and leggings as she practiced katas, her muscles flexing powerfully beneath the minimal clothing. Each movement flowed gracefully into the next and it was almost mesmerizing to watch.

Meetra's mind felt calmer as she made her way to the cockpit, her thoughts occupied by the unusual crew that she'd collected these past weeks. Filling the ship had never been her intention and if she was being honest with herself she still wasn't sure why half of them stayed aboard. Even more confusing was the loyalty and respect that shone in everyone's eyes when they looked at her, as though she was something more than a failed Jedi and known murderer. But that trust, as misplaced as it felt, ignited something fierce within her that she thought had been buried on Malachor. Quietly, and not for the first time, she swore to protect this group of outcasts and misfits with her life.

Once within the cockpit, Meetra paused to give T3-M4 a friendly pat, smiling fondly at the happy beeps she received in response. The droid was a loyal friend and she understood why Revan kept the astromech with him despite leaving his other companions behind. The thought of her former commander sobered her as she curled into the copilot's seat, closing her eyes as she tried to release her worries into the Force. Her awareness expanded outward until she could feel the other lifeforms on the ship, each one of them here because of her in one strange way or another. They had made her quest their own and in return, she was determined to support them in any way she could. For some of the crew, this would be easy. But for others…

Turning to look at Atton, Meetra sensed his surprise when he noticed that she'd settled beside him. His expression quickly darkened.

"Coming to check-up on me?"

"No, I just like staring out at hyperspace. It's soothing."

Atton seemed to accept this answer though his presence did extend a bit, probably searching her own for lies. But there weren't any to find. Clearly unsure of what to say, he finally nodded awkwardly at Meetra's clenched fist. "What do you have there?"

"It's just a crystal I found on Dantooine." Frowning at the thought, Meetra wondered, "Why do you still use a yellow blade?"

"You mean versus a red one?" When the answer was confirmed with critical silence, Atton shrugged. "I found my crystal on Ilum when I was only an Initiate. I guess I figured that if I kept using it, I was still a Jedi. It sounds stupid to say that out loud but hey, I never said I was smart. What uh, what color is that one?"

"It's r…" Opening her palm to reveal the item, Meetra's breath caught sharply when she looked down and saw that the crystal was no longer red. Instead, it was an odd shade of pale gray that would probably luminesce silvery-white once inside a lightsaber hilt. "Gray," she corrected. "It's gray."

"Looks more silver to me. Huh. I've never seen anything like that before."

Holding the crystal up to the viewport, Meetra admired the way it shone like a tiny star. "Me neither."

"I guess it's unique, like you."

Though she ignored the compliment, Meetra couldn't help but grin. While this crystal still didn't feel as bright as the green one she'd used during the war, it still felt right. Clutching it to her chest, she enjoyed the warmth that spread through her body as it pulsed in time with her heartbeat.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 06 - DROMUND KAAS

Two Years Ago (3955)

Dromund Kaas was not what Vann was expecting. His visions had led him to believe that it was a desolate world, only notable for its storms and the dark side energy that permeated it. But after charging and then reading the datapad that he'd recovered on Rekkiad, he'd begun to understand the planet a little better. The pad itself contained notes about its culture - how to dress and act, the proper attitude for a mercenary to adopt, and the long list of slights towards the native species that could get a Human killed on the spot.

The natives called themselves Sith 'purebloods,' red-skinned humanoids who all possess some degree of Force-sensitivity. Unsurprisingly, this sensitivity gave them an innate connection to the dark side. Their culture was ancient and complex, full of rituals and political intrigue that made Vann shake his head at the useless formality. But haughtiness appeared to be their biggest weakness and the key to infiltrating their society. There were some tasks that they viewed as too loathsome for a pureblood to perform and in those situations, they hired mercenaries, many of them Human.

Which, apparently, was how Revan and Malak found themselves on the planet disguised as hired guns about five years back. The details of the story were still unclear, but Vann knew that it ended with him bleeding out across the controls of his shuttle as he made a near-fatal landing in the Elom desert. Shortly before that was his first duel with Malak, the catalyst for that disastrous crash and everything that went wrong afterward. It was a fight that had occurred at the whims of the Emperor who ruled Dromund Kaas, the same Sith who'd been haunting Vann's dreams for over a year. His search for the source of the threat he'd been sensing was over, but the real work was only beginning.

Now that he was on the planet, he wasn't quite sure where to start. Preparing for the worst possible outcome seemed like a wise idea.

"Tee-Three, watch the ship. If I don't signal you within a week or if I give the code that means I'm in trouble, take off without me and get somewhere safe. Wait as long as the fuel reserves will allow before looking for help. I don't want to drag anyone else into this if I don't have to."

The last time Vann had brought someone to Dromund Kaas, he had fallen to the dark side and seized control of the entire Republic military.

"Boop-bee-whoo-beep?"

"If you don't hear from me before the ship needs organic intervention, try and get help. Find Bastila if you can, but if you can't, find someone who looks like a Jedi. You know the riddle that any stranger has to answer before you let them on board."

"Beep-boo-boo-whoop!"

"Exactly."

As ridiculous as it seemed, the riddle to board the Ebon Hawk in Vann's absence was the Jedi Code. While he knew it wasn't a foolproof plan, it at least ensured that whoever boarded the ship had a passing familiarity with the light side of the Force. With any luck, they would be a Jedi or would at least recognize the ship as his and could get help from the Rakata enclave.

Clipping a final wire, Vann nodded grimly to himself as he removed the last of the navicomputer's hard drive.

"Whoo-beep-boo-boop…"

"Yes, it will be extremely hard for an organic to fly this ship, which is what I'm counting on. I can't have anyone here tracking the Hawk back to Rakata or anywhere else that we've been recently." Placing the drive on the floor, Vann drew his blaster and fired three times, rendering it a smoking heap of slag. "So, you'll just have to be the navigator for now, Tee-Three."

"Boo-whoop-beep!"

"No! Do not bring anyone who boards directly to this planet! Geeze, do you want to get Bastila killed?" Holding up the datapad from Rekkiad, Vann explained, "There should be enough information on here for someone to piece together where I am and to look for me safely. I'm going to hide it… H-Kay, come help me figure out a place to put it!"

"Observation. Yes, Master. I am more than happy to help you to perform menial tasks."

"Stop complaining and just help me." Shaking his head in amusement, Vann led the droid into the cargo hold where there were multiple smuggling compartments leftover from the ship's days as an underworld vessel. "Bastila knows about the hidden panel in the bulkhead, right?"

"Statement. I cannot begin to comprehend what her slushy, organic brain does or does not know."

"H-Kay…"

"Frustrated sigh. That particular meatbag spent less time on this ship than the other bulbous bodies due to her early departure thanks to her rather admirable betrayal. As such, it is safe to assume that she knows less about the ship than the other meatbags."

"Dammit, you're right." Slamming his palm against the compartment, Vann considered his options. He needed to hide the datapad well enough to prevent any anonymous passengers from finding it, but he still wanted one of his allies to recover the pad if necessary. If only there were a location that had an obvious connection to him, but only to those who knew him best. He blinked. "Hey, H-Kay…"

"Observation. Oh Master, I don't like your tone."

Rolling his eyes at his petulant droid, Vann gestured for him to come closer. "Relax, I'm just going to use you to hide this datapad. Unlike the rest of the ship, you can protect yourself if needed. Bastila or anyone else from the enclave knows that you're my droid, but some random spacer won't see the connection and won't think to take you apart to search for clues."

"Statement. That is a very clever plan, Master. Unfortunately, I think you're overestimating your fellow meatbags. I have a suspicion that I'll have to blatantly tell them about the cargo that I'm carrying, which ruins the ingenuity of your strategy."

Pulling a multitool from inside his jacket, Vann grinned. "Oh, there's more, buddy. I'm also going to wipe your memory of holding onto that datapad. This way, you can't accidentally blurt something out to the wrong person."

Backing away, the droid shook his head. "Admonishment. Master! You of all organics should understand the value of a droid's memory!"

"You and I have both experienced enough memory wipes to last three lifetimes. That being said, one more shouldn't hurt either of us. Hold still so that I can shut you down, hide the pad, and wipe your memory of this conversation."

"Reluctant agreement. As you ordered, Master. You are the master, after all."

After the droid powered down Vann carefully open his armored plating, silently sending a prayer into the Force that his plan for rescue would work if he found himself in trouble. From the main hold T3-M4 beeped. For a moment, he considered adding a second copy of the datapad to the smaller droid's memory core, but he quickly decided against it. Having too much information floating around was dangerous and out of the two droids, HK-47 was the only combat unit. He'd be more likely to survive if the Hawk fell into enemy hands. Besides, everyone dumped the memory of astromechs first, never thinking the open up the chassis of assault units to look for secrets. No, his original plan was still the best.

With the navicomputer destroyed, the datapad stored safely in HK-47 (who was also ordered to guard the ship), and T3-M4 prepared to handle the rest of the Hawk's functions, it was finally time for Vann to disembark and begin his search for the Emperor. The creature from his nightmares.

It wasn't long before he found himself in the mercenary quarter of Kaas City, the capital of the Sith Empire.

"Chis, is that you? Damn, it's been a while! Where did you crawl out from?"

Spotting a fellow mercenary whom he recognized as Azkul, Vann nodded in greeting as he rattled off a prepared excuse that accounted for his last known whereabouts. "Pissed off the wrong son of a kath hound on Manaan. He was connected to the Republic, so things got messy. I had to lay low for a while."

The mercenary grunted sympathetically. "Happens to the best of us. But it looks like you're back in the game."

"I am, and I wouldn't mind making up for lost time." Leaning in conspiratorially, Vann whispered, "I could use a decent payday. Maybe something for one of the ranking Sith around here?"

Azkul arched a brow. "You're a braver fool than I am. But sure, I've heard some things. Supposedly some Sith called Darth Nyriss had two attempts on her life and is getting paranoid. She doesn't trust her own people so she's been hiring Human mercenaries to patrol her property and shoot anything that's not supposed to be there."

"Sounds like there's a catch."

"There always is. You probably know that these Sith are a bunch of mystics who can read minds and other Jedi shit. If you want to work for Nyriss, you have to pass a 'mental inspection' where she checks your memories for anything suspicious. But so long as you've got nothing to hide I don't think you'll have an issue."

"You know me, what you see is what you get."

"Not quite true, Chis. Half the time you don't look like much until the bolts start flying and then you turn into a kriffing beast. Honestly, I've never met someone who fights like you." When Vann did nothing more than shrug, Azkul chuckled. "It's not a bad thing. A lot of mercs around here will vouch for you being one of the scarier Humans currently on this planet. The Sith will probably like that."

"Any idea where this 'Darth Nyriss' is located?"

With a wink of his good eye, Azkul drawled, "This isn't the type of job that you just show up for if you know what I mean. But keep asking around like this and she'll find you."

"I got it. And thanks." Offering a mock salute as he walked away, Vann kept a cocky grin plastered on his face even as he mentally checked off another successful step in his plan.

Over the past week, he'd been less-than-subtly inquiring about jobs for the most powerful Sith on the planet, all while listening for any names that were connected to what his notes called the Dark Council. Nyriss had come up multiple times and Vann was increasingly certain that he was attracting the right type of attention. In the three years he'd spent as a mercenary he'd acquired a decent name for himself as both dependable and deadly, willing to do the types of messy jobs that others balked at. And right now, he needed that reputation to work in his favor.

It didn't take long for one of Nyriss's servants to come sniffing around, a sniveling creature who seemed so beaten down by his master that his shoulders were permanently bent in a submissive hunch. While he had the red skin and odd cheek tendrils of the other Sith, his was shorter and slimmer than most of his kind.

"Are you the Human they call Vann Chis?"

"Maybe." Vann was holed-up in a cantina, waiting for this exact moment. While he had a drink in hand, he'd purposely been nursing its contents. "Who's asking?"

"My name is Sechel, and I am a servant of my master Darth Nyriss."

"Huh. What do you want?" It was a risk for Vann to act this brazen to one of the purebloods, as even the lowliest of them technically outranked all of the Humans on this planet. Still, it was a calculated power play.

Luckily, Sechel seemed appropriately cowed by the Human's apparent lack of fear. "My master wishes to meet with you. She may be interested in acquiring your services."

"Alright, you have my attention. I've heard your master is a powerful leader around here. So, I assume the pay is good."

Chuckling dryly, Sechel nodded. "Oh, you will be adequately compensated for your time. But the true reward of this job is the prestige. If you please my master, many more opportunities on this planet will be open to you."

Vann honestly doubted the claim since the Sith largely viewed Humans as beneath them, only useful for tasks that were too odious for purebloods to touch. Still, he hoped that he only needed this one job to accomplish his goal.

"You Sith are too concerned about prestige and standing. But so long as you're paying good credits, I'm willing to hear your master out."

"You'd be wise to adopt some humility, Human. My master has been a member of the Dark Council for over twenty years, a feat that should not be taken lightly."

"I'll be humble once we're actually in the presence of your master." Sliding out of the booth, Vann purposely shoved the Sith aside with a jab of his shoulder. "You, I'm not too worried about. I know how this planet works. Your master and the other rulers view my kind as slightly below kath hounds, so she probably sent her lowliest servant to come and fetch me."

Sechel was silent at this assessment but for a moment something glittered in his eyes, a shrewdness that implied his submissive nature was merely a facade. It vanished in an instant.

So, maybe Nyriss had actually sent someone genuinely capable. "Go on, lead the way."

The walk through Kaas City was a strange though uneventful one, only notable for the handful of bystanders who paused to stare openly at the duo. It was undoubtedly unusual to see a pureblood shuffling silently along while a Human trailed confidently in his wake, but Vann wasn't afraid to attract a little attention; in fact, he was depending on it. Remaining alert to his surroundings, he noticed that a few of the other purebloods paused specifically to peer at Sechel, fear flitting across their faces. That confirmed the theory that this Sith was definitely more than he seemed.

It turned out that Nyriss's citadel was located at the western edge of the city. Everything about the location and the building's arrangement smacked of paranoia, which could be a good or a bad sign. Either way, Vann was here and turning back wasn't an option. The journey ended in a large courtyard that was bordered to the north and south by high stone walls and to the west by the citadel itself, which looked more like a military fortress than any typical estate of the rich and murderous. While the east side was open to the street, even that was blocked by a gated fence that only opened with Sechel's fingerprints.

"Wait here," the Sith ordered in a tone that sounded more like begging. "My master will be with you shortly."

Vann knew this game and he settled himself on a hard bench to await Nyriss's arrival. Time passed and he continued to wait, slipping into light meditation to prevent himself from growing bored. If he'd been on the Hawk or Rakata he'd probably have taken his lightsabers out to tinker with them, but right now it was more important to uphold the facade of a normal Human mercenary for at least a little while longer. Eventually, footsteps sounded along the pathway leading to the citadel, one set hurried and uneven while the other sounded smoother and surer. Vann looked up just in time to spot Sechel, who was scurrying in front of a taller figure who moved with natural poise and grace.

Ah, so this was Nyriss.

Unsurprisingly, she had the typical features of a pure-blooded Sith, though hers were less refined than others Vann had encountered. The power of the dark side had obviously taken its toll, and she looked aged and rotted with dark black veins marring the pale red hue of her skin. Her body was also withered, though there was still obvious strength to her limbs. She was dressed in the black hooded robes that her species seemed to favor, though hers were more ornate and featured delicate silver embroidery along the hems.

Sechel bowed low as he announced, "My master, Darth Nyriss. Lord of the Sith, conqueror of Drezzi, the destroyer of Melldia, and a member of the Dark Council."

Without prompting, Vann stood from his seat before dropping to one knee, bowing his head and silently thanking his past self for leaving a set of notes on proper Sith etiquette. "My lady."

There was a pause before a strong voice chuckled in amusement. "Finally, a Human who knows how to show proper respect. Tell me, little mercenary, who taught you manners?"

"One does not come to a strange world without knowing their proper place."

"And what makes you believe that you're even worthy of serving me?"

"I'm better than the rest of the scum lurking around, hoping for scraps of favor from a Dark Lord without any real skills to back them up."

"Hmm. You're a confident one. Or at least you hide your fears well." Stepping closer, Nyriss used her remarkable command of the Force to jerk Vann's head up so that their eyes met. Her irises were bright yellow lined with red, the fierce gaze of someone who had given herself completely to the dark side. For a moment, something akin to recognition flickered across her countenance.

Appearing bare-faced on Dromund Kaas had been a calculated risk on Vann's part. He knew that he'd left his signature mask behind when he came here as Revan, but he was also aware that he still had the almost innocent appearance of a fresh-faced Jedi. He'd been mostly clean-shaven at the time, his hair just past his shoulders and held neatly back in the type of low ponytail that he still favored. While he was brash, he wasn't completely foolish and had taken some steps to alter his appearance. Over his weeks of planning, he'd grown out his beard and kept it just long enough to disguise his more distinguishing features. He'd also cut his hair, shaving down the back and sides while keeping the top long enough to tie up in a top knot that hopefully changed the balance of his face.

Whatever emotion Nyriss was experiencing, it quickly faded as she peered closer. "No, I don't sense fear in you. Arrogance perhaps, but not fear. Tell me, what lies deeper in that simple Human mind of yours?"

Now came the dangerous part. Since arriving on Dromund Kaas, Vann had been keeping his Force presence tightly concealed, not daring to allow his awareness to seep out for even an instant except when he slept locked safely on the Hawk. Surrounded by other Force users, his camouflaged signature was easily overlooked as nothing more than stray tendrils of power coming from someone else. But this technique wouldn't withstand Nyriss peering directly into his mind. The trick would be to give her just enough of a glimpse for her to realize that he was different, all without revealing just how special he truly was.

An icy stream of dark energy sunk into Vann's skull and he bit back a hiss of discomfort as Nyriss began to claw her way through his mind without a shred of finesse. Though he kept most of his mental walls in place, the former mercenary purposely let certain things slip out so that it seemed like errant thoughts were accidentally coming loose. It was fortunate that most of his memories were of mercenary work along the Outer Rim, as that made it easy to display job after job to support his supposed identity. But he also allowed a few more personal moments to slip free, like sitting around the fire with the Mandalorians and even the disastrous kiss he'd shared with Tagren. Finally, at the very end, he released just a fraction of the durasteel grip he had on his Force presence, allowing some of his awareness to seep into the Sith's mind.

Nyriss immediately recoiled, throwing the Human across her courtyard with a wave of her hand. It took most of Vann's effort not to use the Force to cushion his landing and he struck the flagstone hard enough to bruise his hip and shoulder. Shouting in pain he rolled to his knees, keeping his head down in supplication.

The crackle of a red lightsaber filled the air as Nyriss ignited her weapon. "Who sent you?" she demanded, purple electricity gathering in her other hand.

"Nobody," Vann coughed, which was technically the truth. "I'm just a mercenary looking for work. Ask your servant if you don't believe me."

Completely unbothered by his master's show of power, Sechel merely arched a brow as his sniveling demeanor instantly vanished. "It's true, my lady. The other mercenaries only know him as one of their own. None of them breathed so much as a whisper about him being particularly special, aside from some notable combat skills."

"Because he wields the Force!" Sending out a strong bolt of lightning, Nyriss watched impassively as Vann screamed in agony, his limbs shaking uncontrollably and his teeth clenching almost hard enough to crack.

The pain didn't subside even when the surge of electricity stopped, leaving the former mercenary prone across the ground. He wheezed. "I do. I'm Force-sensitive, but it's nothing compared to what you're capable of. It makes me stronger, faster, even tougher, but I'm still no match for a Sith pureblood."

For a brief time, Vann had considered completely denying any knowledge of his powers and providing the Sith the pleasure of 'discovering' them for herself. But that seemed too farfetched. Instead, he was hoping to use his talent for manipulation and flattery to his advantage.

Nyriss scowled, pressing her lightsaber less than a centimeter from the side of the Human's head. "Who sent you?!"

"Nobody! I'm just mercenary scum from the Outer Rim!"

There was a long, tense pause as Nyriss considered this information, the heat of her weapon burning the skin of Vann's cheek. Her awareness reached out again, probing for signs of a lie. The irony was that there weren't any to find because, in the Human's mind, everything he said was true. Revan was long gone, a larger-than-life hero who fell in battle, while Vann Chis was nothing more than a violent and volatile mercenary. A nobody. Scum.

Suddenly, Nyriss laughed. "And nobody else sensed you. They don't know what you are or what you can do." Extinguishing her lightsaber, she returned it to her hip. "Thus, you'll be a surprise to them when they attack."

Sighing in relief, mostly because he didn't have to blow his cover, Vann dragged himself into a kneeling position. "Thank you, my lady. Thank you for sparing me."

"Yes, you'll do little mercenary. I think you'll do quite well."


Two weeks into serving as Nyriss's newest pet and Vann had to admit two things. The first was that he understood significantly more about Sith culture. The second was that he remained deeply unimpressed by it. Perhaps the greatest irony was that the rigid structure and self-importance that constantly annoyed him were the same things that irritated him about the Jedi, not that he'd ever admit that to the Council's faces. His time around the citadel had also taught him that Nyriss respected and loathed the Sith Emperor in equal measure. She'd modeled her stronghold on his own fortress and her courtyard was decorated with statuary that featured his image. Yet, there was a noticeable undercurrent of hatred whenever she spoke of her leader.

But the most frustrating part of this job was that, despite Nyriss's high rank on the Dark Council, she had absolutely zero direct contact with the Emperor. Part of this owed to her increasingly reclusive nature thanks to the recent attempts on her life, while the rest just seemed to be bad timing on Vann's part. Apparently, his new employer's last meeting with her leader had taken place shortly before his arrival and unless the assassins were caught, the next wasn't scheduled to occur for at least another month. While the former mercenary was prepared to wait as long as it took to gather any useful information about his enemy, the lack of results was becoming disheartening.

On the third week, everything changed. There was another assassination attempt, an event that was only remarkable because Vann managed to foil it through a combination of skill and sheer luck. Just as Nyriss predicted, the Sith who snuck into the citadel didn't sense the Human or his connection to the Force. This gave him the element of surprise. The trio of assassins expected another mercenary with a blaster and not much else, the same type of lightsaber fodder that was placed all around the perimeter of the property as a sort of living alarm system. But what they found was a smirking former Jedi who managed to disarm two of them with a powerful Force choke, stealing their lightsabers and wielding the weapons against them. It took a matter of minutes for Vann to kill the first two would-be assassins, and a brief duel was all it took to incapacitated the third by literally cutting the Sith off at the legs.

From there, Nyriss took her prize into the depths of her citadel, extracting information using means that the former mercenary was glad he wasn't forced to witness. When his employer reappeared she was grinning darkly, blood still caked beneath her long nails.

"Impressive work, little mercenary. Thanks to you, I'm one step closer to discovering which councilmembers are plotting against me."

Vann thought that the safe credits were on all of them, an opinion that he didn't voice.

"The Emperor will be interested to learn this information and how I acquired it. Not that you should expect accolades from one such as him for merely performing the task you were assigned. Still, you were remarkably… efficient."

From Nyriss's comment, Vann didn't expect anything more than a brief glance at the Emperor via a comm unit, probably from a distance. Obviously, he was surprised when Dromund Kaas's leader arrived at the citadel with a full entourage less than three days later. From his place by one of the highest windows, he could tell that this processional was a show of strength, a way for Nyriss to prove to her enemies that she had the Emperor's favor all while the Emperor reminded Nyriss that he held the true power on their planet. Despite the obvious pageantry, the situation was incredibly dangerous and the former mercenary had to adjust his plans accordingly.

The original goal was for Vann to gain the trust of a member of the Dark Council and then use that connection to find out all he could about the Sith Emperor. As a species, the Sith were remarkably self-important so it wasn't unreasonable to hope that one of them would let critical information slip out merely because they didn't view a Human as a legitimate threat. More importantly, councilmembers interacted with their leader regularly and being the trusted employee of such an individual might give him the rare opportunity to get near the infamously reclusive Emperor. All Vann needed was a few moments, just enough time to catch a glimpse at his enemy and sense the type of power he was up against.

But now the Sith leader was seated in the huge first-floor conference room, surrounded by guards and servants, making the whole plan seem nearly impossible. Yet, this might be Vann's best and only chance. He crept down multiple flights of stairs until he was on the second floor, glad that the few lowly Sith who were still employed by Nyriss were busy tending to their guests. It meant that he could sit on the floor of the spare office just above the meeting location without being bothered. He needed peace to focus his mind. Still maintaining a tight grasp on his presence, he let a fine wisp of awareness slip out, extending it until it seeped into the room beneath him. At first, all he could feel was the oppressive cold of the dark side but after a moment he was able to discern distinct Force presences. Most were little more than weak flickers. Like Nyriss, the Emperor apparently preferred his direct servants to be far less sensitive to the Force than him.

Not that it was a hard thing to accomplish. Nyriss herself was a powerful Sith sorcerer and even she was eclipsed by the Emperor's strength. If Nyriss was a sun, then the Emperor was a supernova that illuminated everyone and everything around him with frigid, raw power.

Suddenly, all of that power shifted to focus on Vann.

Slamming his mental walls into place, the former mercenary leaped to his feet as he prepared for his mind to be invaded. Both of his hands hovered close to his hidden lightsabers and he closed his eyes, drawing his presence close and cloaking himself entirely. But he'd already been sensed and he could feel the oily tendrils of the Emperor's own awareness ooze across his being, sinking into his thoughts even as he tried to hide them. But the intrusion he was expecting never came. Rather, the Sith seemed to be trying to pull at something within the Human. Judging by the amount of frustration that unexpectedly raged through the Force, whatever he was searching for was no longer there.

Without warning, the floor beneath Vann shattered and he was yanked through the thick stonework. His body was bruised and battered by debris as he was slammed down atop the huge black table that composed most of the conference room, Nyriss seated at one end and the Emperor at the other. Between them were a variety of stunned servants who gaped at the Human's sudden appearance with a mixture of shock and confusion. Only the mistress of the house reacted, her weathered face wrinkling in fury.

"You! What have you done?"

But Vann wasn't focused on his employer. Instead, his gaze was trained on the hooded figure who seemed to be glaring at him with equal intensity. "Hey," he finally snarled. "Did you miss me?"

"How did you break free from my influence?" The voice that spoke was deep and seemed to echo through every millimeter of the massive room.

"It was the will of the Force." Rolling his eyes Vann tried to step back, only to discover that the Emperor was holding him in place.

"Seize him."

Every member of the Emperor's entourage simultaneously lunged at the Human, drawing various weapons as they jumped onto the table. It was sheer terror that gave Vann the strength to break free from the hold and he drew upon the emotion as he flipped backward over the tangle of guards attempting to apprehend him. This, unfortunately, brought him directly in front of Nyriss.

"My Lord, I see that you've found the present that I brought you. He came into my employ quite recently, pretending to be a mere mercenary."

For a moment Vann almost believed the Sith's words, suddenly angry that he'd been double-crossed all along. But then he sensed the faintest thread of doubt weaving through the Force and he grinned. "Liar. You had no idea who I was."

One of the guards dove towards Vann, a vibrospear sizzling dangerously in their hands. Ducking to the side, he summoned the lightsabers that he'd concealed beneath his coat and had kept camouflaged along with his own presence. He must have done a good job because the guard looked shocked as the violet and blue blades ignited with a wicked snap-hiss. Not wasting the opportunity, the Human lunged forward and slashed, easily carving through the Sith's chest. The next guard was dealt with almost as quickly, the lightsaber in Vann's off-hand burning a hole through their throat.

After the third guard was cut down with a single slash through their abdomen, Vann began to suspect that this armed and armored entourage was only for show. After sliding across the table and stabbing a fourth guard through the back, he realized that the Emperor could apprehend him at any moment. The Sith was just waiting to see what Nyriss would do. So, Vann turned to do the same.

The Force crackled with power as the sorcerer drew upon her arcane knowledge, the dark side rippling in gelid waves as she summoned something that looked like a darker and more dangerous version of the lightning that Vann frequently wielded. In an instant, the air in the room grew impossibly hot as black sparks of energy formed around the Nyriss's hands before quickly encompassing her entire body. Pointing one finger at Vann, she threw an enormous surge of power that seemed to be composed of pure darkness. As the Human watched the deadly bolts arc towards him, he sucked in a sharp breath and extended his own palm. Releasing his concealment, the total might of his Force connection swelled around him as he absorbed the attack, his screams echoing through the chamber as the black forks of energy seared into his body.

The agony was unlike anything Vann had ever experienced and he could feel sweat beading on his brow and dripping down his back as he drew in the full brunt of Nyriss's sorcery. At one point his eyes closed involuntarily, though he awareness shifted to compensate for his loss of vision. He could sense his enemies' positions and he could feel that the Sith woman was growing increasingly fatigued as her normally deadly attack failed to kill its target.

"How?" Nyriss panted as her bolts weakened and then ceased. "I am a Lord of the Sith, conqueror of worlds and destroyer of enemies, and a member of the Dark Council! And you… You are nothing."

"Some people call me Revan," Vann gritted out, unexpectedly meaning it for the first time since rediscovering his identity. "I hope your servants remember that name because I'm going to be the one who kills you." Unable to contain the energy that was burning him alive from the inside, he roared as the black bolts surged out of his own fingertips faster than anything the Sith had produced. In an instant they shot towards the woman, striking her in the chest and knocking her back a meter. She shrieked as she was assaulted by her own sorcery, her limbs shaking uncontrollably as her flesh melted away from her bones. Even after her shouts had stopped, her body continued to seize for a moment before splattering lifelessly across the floor.

Amusement shivered through the Force, but Vann didn't stick around to see the Emperor's reaction. There was a window right behind Nyriss's former seat and he dove for it, using his lightsabers to cut through the transparisteel as he made a break for freedom. Something in his shoulder popped and then cracked as he landed hard on the flagstone below, but the pain was empowering and he drew upon it for the strength to roll to his feet and run. Slipping his 'sabers back into his jacket, he enhanced his own speed and sprinted off of Nyriss's property and onto the nearest street.

"Tee-Three, get the ship ready to launch now!" Vann could hear the desperation in his voice as he turned a corner and spotted multiple Sith charging his way. Veering in the opposite direction, he frantically wracked his brain for an alternate route to the landing pad where the Hawk was docked. Flipping up the collar of his jacket and mussing his hair, he once again camouflaged his presence as he slipped down a side street and snuck around several buildings before turning back onto the main thoroughfare. Ducking his head submissively, he tried to blend in with the throngs of sentients going about their business. While he could hear a commotion several blocks away, nobody seemed to connect it with him.

Nobody realized that Vann was the source of the chaos until he was about a block away from the Ebon Hawk. While he could sense a small unit of the city's military troops jogging ever closer, their erratic pattern made it obvious that they were searching aimlessly and their near proximity was only coincidental. He considered turning down another alleyway to disguise his route but he was so close to the port that suddenly changing course might seem suspicious to any onlookers. So, he kept his head down and continued moving forward until a sudden shout sounded nearby.

"There he is! Careful, the Emperor wants him alive." Of course it was Sechel giving the orders, his shoulders back and his head held high as he directed the troops marching after him with the practiced efficiency of an experienced military commander. Which, in retrospect, he probably was.

Glancing up, Vann tried to maintain the ruse of being nothing more than a beaten-down traveler. But it quickly became obvious that the troopers weren't buying the act, especially as the sharp hiss of their lightsaber pikes filled the air. They quickly moved to block his escape routes, using their armored bodies to cordon off the wide street.

"Well, kriff," Vann muttered under his breath, hid hands subtly moving towards his own weapons as he glanced around and took stock of the situation.

"Stand down, Human," one of the troopers warned. "Our Emperor wants you alive, but he said nothing about keeping you in one piece."

"Sorry, but I've got places to be." Drawing and igniting his 'sabers, Vann angled his body so that he could track the various individuals threatening him. "Back away and you get to live."

"Brave words, Human." The purebloods merely chuckled at his boldness before three of them attacked in unison.

The longer reach of the pikes was a tricky challenge to overcome, but it helped that Vann was used to sparring with Bastila and her double-bladed lightsaber. While the first few strikes came dangerously close to hitting him he quickly adjusted to the flow of the battle, shifting his off-hand weapon into a reverse grip to better guard his back. Two of the troopers lunged at him simultaneously, one sweeping at his legs while the other aimed for his chest. Diving to the side he managed to dodge one attack, slashing at his attacker's shins in the process. The Sith immediately collapsed with a groan, enabling the former mercenary to use his main weapon to parry the second strike. A strong Force push sent the other trooper reeling back and enabled him to sprint forward a few meters.

The rest of the troopers sensed that their target was escaping and immediately reacted, two of them working in tandem to use the Force to freeze the Human in place. For an instant, Vann's body went rigid but the cold fear that gripped his mind once again enabled him to push past the stasis field. Baring his teeth, he charged the troopers, using a burst of enhanced speed to overtake them in less than a second. Lunging forward, he carved through the armor and flesh of one Sith's chest before whirling around and using his off-hand to stab through another's thigh. But the dual attacks left him open and a sharp pain lanced across his ribs as a pike carved past his armored clothing. With a pained shout, Vann rolled to the ground, gasping for breath as he tumbled beneath the soldiers' feet and closer to the ship.

The remaining troopers were directly in pursuit, attempting to catch their target as he ran in an erratic path down the thoroughfare. But Vann was faster, fueled by terror and desperation as the Ebon Hawk drew ever closer. He was aware of the ache in his shoulder and the burning pain that seared across his ribs, but they seemed distant. It would all hurt like hells later, provided he could survive. One trooper closed in, swinging their pike at their target's knees. Sensing the attack an instant before it happened, Vann spun around and dodged the blow just before he unleashed a vicious storm of lightning that he didn't even realize he was gathering. The forks of electricity struck the remaining soldiers, drawing out shrieks of pain as they were electrocuted.

Exhaustion weighing down his limbs, Vann panted as the last of the troopers fell to the ground either dead or unconscious. Half running and half limping, he dragged himself towards the Hawk as he lifted his comm. "Tee-Three, open the ha…."

The rest of the words died on Vann's lips as immense power wrapped around him, freezing his body in place and dragging him backward through the air. He tried to struggle against his invisible bonds as he howled, "No!" But it was futile.

As he was spun around to face the wide street, Vann was forced to watch as the Emperor slowly strode towards him, each step casual yet exuding confidence. Lightning illuminated the dark sky overhead, casting the hooded Sith in eerie shadows.

"You are fascinating, Revan." One of the Emperor's hands was extended as he held the Human aloft. "Even more powerful than the first time you came here and far more potent than I ever imagined one of your kind could become."

Vann fought against the grasp, the roar of the Hawk's engine's filling his ears as his comm beeped insistently. No matter how hard he fought or how much he drew upon his terror and outrage he couldn't get free. Because this Sith knows anger, and he knows how to defeat it. Drawing a thin, strained breath he shifted his focus and began to recall images of his friends and allies, the people depending on him to save the Republic. A warm shudder passed through his battered body he reached out and embraced it. With one final surge of strength, he broke free from the Emperor's grasp, tumbling to the ground and bruising both knees in the process.

"Fascinating indeed…"

Staring up at the yellow-eyed Sith, Vann snarled in challenge as he raised his comm again. "Hey Tee-Three? Revert to plan Leviathan. I repeat, revert to plan Leviathan!"

In that moment he was glad that he'd only brought the droids along. An organic crew would have argued with the command or delayed following the order for a second too long. But T3-M4 was programmed to obey. The moment the code words left Vann's mouth the Hawk's power surged and the ship began to rise from the landing pad, its engines roaring as it prepared to launch out of the atmosphere and make an immediate jump into hyperspace. The motion surprised all of the Sith who clearly expected the freighter to wait for Vann to board.

The Emperor smirked beneath his hood. "Very clever, Human. But I can sense your thoughts. And you will not be warning your people." Raising one hand, he wrapped his immense command of the Force around the Ebon Hawk and pulled, causing the engines to shriek and sputter as he literally tore the ship from the sky.

"No!" No longer caring what happened to him, Vann lunged at the Sith leader, using the Force to enhance the jump. While he was airborne he ignited both lightsabers, swinging them into position and driving them downward in a powerful chop.

His attention divided, the Emperor momentarily released his hold on the Ebon Hawk as he dodged away from the former mercenary's attack just before the mismatched weapons could carve into his chest. With a sneer he waved one hand, sending the Human crashing to the ground as he returned his attention to the ship that was now carving a bright streak across the dark sky. Lightning gathered in his hands as the surrounding Force grew frigid, the power of the dark side cresting in violent waves. With a growl, he drew his arm back and prepared to release the bolts. But Vann was back on his feet and he flipped through the air for another attack, stabbing his lightsabers downward as he tackled his opponent. The pair rolled to the ground in an inelegant sprawl.

The lightning still arced towards the Ebon Hawk, a brilliant purple bolt that sharply contrasted the yellowish-white forks of Dromund Kaas's constant electrical storms. But the attack was poorly aimed. A strong hand wrapped around Vann's throat, physically crushing his airway as the Force was used to rip the lightsabers from his hands. Splayed on his back the Human was made to watch as his ship was struck not in its main engines, but somewhere closer to the middle of the vehicle. The freighter sputtered in midair as sparks and smoke billowed from the hull, but the damage wasn't enough to prevent it from pushing past the planet's atmosphere. A second later a chaotic flash erupted amongst the stars as the Hawk limped into hyperspace.

Choking out a sigh of relief Vann felt his body go lax with exhaustion as he was wrestled to his feet, the Emperor's power once again holding him in place. But nothing could stop a faint smirk from spreading across his lips when he noted the pair of gashes burned into the Sith's back.

"My Lord," Sechel called out as he approached and knelt before his leader. "Do you want me to send a squadron of fighters to chase that ship?"

The Emperor considered the question for a moment. "No. There were no lifeforms aboard and the hyperdrive suffered significant damage. It won't get very far. Certainly not into Republic space in time to save its people."

Vann didn't have to search the Force to see the truth in the Sith's words. He knew the Hawk well enough to recognize when it was its functionality was severely impaired and he was certain that the lightning had shorted out something critical to hyperspace travel. While T3-M4 was capable of making minor repairs, it was doubtful that the ship would be able to move fast or far. Yes, it could probably survive a trip back to Republic space, but the journey would take months if not years.

He just had to hold out that long.

Grasping the back of the Human's neck, the Emperor smiled. "Besides, that freighter's existence gives this one hope. And that hope is ultimately what will break him."


Seated in the center of the small cell that passed for his room, Vann closed his eyes and tried to slip into something that resembled meditation. It was difficult thanks to the drugs that coursed through his system, making his skin feel too tight and suppressing most of his connection to the Force. It had taken him a long time to regain even a fine thread of his former power. Months, possibly years. It was hard to tell the passage of time without a window, the cycles of artificial light and darkness purposely kept inconsistent. However much time had passed, it was enough for his system to develop a tolerance to whatever Force-blocking chemicals were injected into his arm daily. The moment that he'd realized what was happening he'd begun to cloak his Force presence, something that had so far gone unnoticed.

It was hard to find a comfortable position when his body constantly ached, a side effect of the Emperor's cruelty. In the beginning, the torture had been physical, little experiments designed to determine just how much punishment Vann's body could take. The answer, unsurprisingly, was more than any normal Human should be capable of. At least a dozen new scars now littered his skin as a reminder of his early days in captivity.

But the true torment was the way that the Emperor slipped into the cracks in Vann's mind, yanking out information and leaving behind blinding headaches that lingered for days. Each intrusion was a new battle of wills, a fight that the Human knew he would lose but that he still fought on principle. He wasn't about to make things easy. The greatest irony was that most of the information the Emperor wanted was so deeply hidden in Vann's subconscious that not even the Sith's immense power could unearth it. Occasionally, he managed to drag forth something useful, though it was rarely the military secrets that he was seeking.

In recent days, or maybe it was weeks, the Emperor had mostly left the Human alone to waste away in the cell, relying on a regular rotation of guards to care for his captive. Vann suspected that he had outlived his usefulness and that the Sith was waiting for the perfect opportunity to execute him. A moment when his death could be used to prove the Emperor's superiority over the Republic. After all, he was Revan, a fact that he'd slowly come to accept as he spent hours alone with his disjointed thoughts.

Revan the Jedi, the hero, the military genius who had saved billions, was dead. But he was also an inescapable part of Vann, interwoven into every fiber of his being. Being Revan was what gave him the ability to save Carth and Dustil's lives, to find the Star Forge, and to defeat Malak in order to rescue the Republic yet again. The seemingly endless font of power that Revan represented was the same strength that flowed through Vann, connecting him to the Force in ways that surprised even the Emperor. And, combined with a little luck, it would be what enabled his escape.

A loud banging in the nearby hallway told Vann that part of his plan was coming to check on him. His suspicions were confirmed when a guard arrived with a tray of food and a scowl creasing her red-skinned face.

"Good… whatever time of day it is, Jyette," Vann quipped amusedly as the tray was tossed at him.

"Shut up, we don't have much time. I have other duties to attend to."

"Well then, sit down so that we can get to work."

It took a few moments for the Sith to settle on the floor facing Vann, her armor creaking as she crossed her legs and tried to breathe deeply. Her natural aggression made some of their lessons surprisingly difficult, but Vann was accustomed to working with unusual students. In this situation, his pupil's anger was particularly useful since it blinded her to the true purpose of these lessons.

"Alright, I'm calm," Jyette snapped, clearly not anything close that description. "Now teach me. Show me the ways of the Force."

Vann merely nodded as he began to describe a simple exercise that was designed to help a student harness their Force connection and manipulate objects with a surprising amount of finesse. It wasn't a particularly hard skill to learn, but the Sith guard's limited Force-sensitivity made the lesson more complicated. Of course, that limited connection was what the Human depended on.

Early in his captivity, Vann had discovered that there was a regular rotation of guards assigned to watch him. While they were all physically capable individuals, like most of the Emperor's employees their connection to the Force was almost non-existent. This was a shameful trait for a pureblooded Sith and a source of endless embarrassment. Capitalizing on this, Vann had spent a great deal of time asking leading questions to learn which of the guards could be convinced that he could teach them to increase their limited Force-sensitivity. Even as a Force-blind mercenary, he'd been good at reading others and manipulating them to his whims. It was probably the same trait Revan had used to convince a good Jedi like Meetra Surik to use a superweapon.

Out of all the guards, Jyette was the only one who took the bait. But one was all Vann needed. Over the following months, or possibly years, he'd helped the Sith to hone a handful of skills, all while using their feeble training bond to peer into her mind a few glimpses at a time. As his own Force connection returned the task had become easier, though it was still difficult to steal information without alerting his student to what was happening. That's why it had taken so long for the Human to uncover key features of the stronghold where he was being kept. But now his mental map was almost complete.

The brief 'training session' was just enough for Vann to acquire the last few glimpses of the stronghold's hangar, including the code to unlock the doors. Luckily, Jayette was so focused on slowly rotating the food tray through the air that she didn't notice her instructor's sly smile as he nodded in appreciation.

"Good, very good." Vann wasn't lying. In a different situation, he was fairly certain that he could turn the Sith into an adequate Force user.

"It's better, but not enough to impress my rivals." Jayette glared as she climbed to her feet, purposely giving her prisoner a hard kick to the shin as she rose. "Next time you'll teach me something new. Something that I can use to hurt someone who offends me."

"Next time I can teach you to use that same technique to apply pressure to someone else's body." It wasn't a lie. If Vann was still in the stronghold during the guard's next shift, he'd teach her exactly what he promised.

Satisfied, Jayette nodded once before marching out of the cell and locking the door securely behind her.

Groaning as he flopped onto his back, Vann rubbed the bruise that was already forming beneath the thin material of his pants. The door lock was his next obstacle, but he also had a plan for that. He just needed to be patient and wait for the right guard to come along. Eventually he did, though it took at least six shifts to happen.

"If you don't eat, nobody's going to care if you starve."

Picking at what passed for his meal, Vann resisted the urge to set it aside. He didn't have much of an appetite, but he needed what little strength the food would provide. "You don't stick around after you deliver my food because you're concerned about my health, Thek'nos. Now, what do you want from me?"

The guard sneered as he declared, "What do you think I want? Advice, just like usual. Everyone knows that where you come from you're considered a powerful warrior. So, tell me how my daughter, the younger one this time, can impress her instructors so that they'll recommend her for the academy."

"I need more details first. What are her instructors looking for? What can she currently do?"

"Oh, she's quite talented. Just yesterday…"

This was a common scenario and one that Vann had grown adept at exploiting. Thek'nos was probably the most talkative of his captors, provided that the Human remained submissive and provided a steady stream of useful advice for the Sith's pair of daughters. The important detail was that, once the guard started talking about his children, his mind grew distracted and far more pliable. So, Vann always listened dutifully as he waited for his captor's attention to drift in the hope that one day he'd be able to take advantage. Force willing, today would be the day.

Putting down his mostly full bowl of greyish slop, Vann studied the Sith for a moment. The other man was clearly preoccupied with his one-sided conversation, gesturing animatedly as he described his daughter's talents. Exhaling slowly, the Human gathered his courage. This was probably the most dangerous part of his plan, especially since Thek'nos was one of his more Force-sensitive guards. Meeting his captor's gaze, he quietly stated, "I have an idea that might work."

"Well, tell me already before I choke it out of you!"

Shrugging nonchalantly, Vann subtly waved two of his fingers through the air as he stated, "It will work if you exit this room and leave the door unlocked."

The shiver of persuasion that ran through the Force was probably noticeable even to someone as untrained as Thek'nos, and for a moment the Human was afraid that his own Force connection was too weak for the mind trick to work. There was a long, tense silence before the Sith's eyes glazed over and he monotonously repeated, "It will work if I exit this room and leave the door unlocked."

With another flicker of power, Vann suggested, "And tell nobody what you've done."

Turning woodenly towards the entryway, Thek'nos recited, "And tell nobody about what I've done." He paused briefly to collect the tray and uneaten food sitting on the floor, holding it stoically as he marched out of the room and clicked the door shut behind him. The customary beep of the lock resetting never sounded. One minute passed, and then another, but there was no sign of the door being locked or of anyone coming back to rectify the mistake.

Slouching against the wall, Vann trembled in momentary relief. He couldn't believe that his persuasion worked, or that Thek'nos didn't notice the unnatural suggestion. It felt impossible. Yet, here he was, literally counting down the seconds until he could safely open the door to his cell and potentially make his escape. The time passed quickly and he was soon able to exit his prison and sneak down the nearest corridor. He was surprised to learn that there weren't guards stationed there at all times. Well, that made things easier.

Slipping down the hallway Vann pressed himself against the walls and kept his footsteps light as he mentally calculated his route using the information that he'd stolen from Jyette's mind. Creeping up a flight of stairs, he struggled to keep his breathing steady as he made his way towards the stronghold's private dock. Upon reaching the top floor he quickly discovered that the double doors leading to the attached hangar were guarded. Disappointing, but not surprising. For a brief instant, he wished that he'd been able to retrieve his lightsabers, but to the best of his knowledge they were now part of the Emperor's personal collection and thus completely inaccessible. It was time to improvise.

Rapping twice against the wall, Vann crouched close to the floor and slowly crept backward as the pair of Sith watching the doors looked around in confusion. He repeated the process twice more at different points along the corridor, gradually moving further from the hangar. Eventually, the disturbance was enough for one guard to point at the other.

"Go see what's causing that."

Divide and conquer. Without the Force, Vann was outmatched in a direct fight against a pureblood. They were undoubtedly the stronger species and he didn't possess the natural brawn of someone like Canderous. That's why he was relying on the element of surprise. When the guard drew close enough to spot him, he sent a small push through the Force. It was just enough to unbalance the individual, enabling the Human to knock them over as he charged at full speed directly into their legs. Tackling them to the floor, he used the momentum to slide forward and grab the vibrospear that was now dangling loosely in their hands. With a firm jerk, he seized the weapon and stabbed the tip through the Sith's throat.

The commotion had drawn the attention of the second guard, who was already yelling into their commlink for reinforcements. Clutching the spear, Vann raced down the hallway as he readjusted the weapon and prepared to use the shaft to trip his second opponent. But this Sith saw him coming and braced for an attack, refusing to be knocked off balance as they parried the strike aimed for their ankles. They followed it with a hard swing, easily breaking through the Human's guard and carving a deep slash across his chest. The pain that bloomed through Vann's body took his breath away, but it was quickly eclipsed by the cold grip of fear. This situation was alarmingly familiar to how his last visit to Dromund Kaas had ended, his own blood staining his clothes as his life spiraled into ruin.

Blinded by terror, he didn't realize that he was using the Force to duck past the guard, his limbs shaking as he ran into the panel that opened the hanger doors. Finger slick with sweat, he managed to type in the entrance code just as the Sith caught up. They smirked darkly as the echo of more footfalls announced the arrival of reinforcements, each one armed with some type of polearm that Vann didn't recognize. The doors finally opened with a pneumatic hiss and he hurriedly backed through them, barely managing to block a blow to his head in the process. Yelping in discomfort as pain burned through his arms and chest he dodged low, his smaller size an advantage as the guard swung and missed, leaving one leg unprotected. Spotting the opening the Human drove the full point of his spear into his opponent's calf, leaving it embedded in the muscle as he broke away and sprinted for the nearest shuttle.

The rest of the guards were gaining fast and swinging their weapons into position, aiming the broader side of what looked almost like a sharpened hammer at Vann. He ducked into the shuttle's cockpit just in time to avoid being hit, watching through the viewport as the small metal discs that were fired landed on the floor and then exploded into flames.

"Oh shit!" Panic momentarily seized Vann's mind and he struggled to start the shuttle's engines. His fingers were tacky with the blood that was dripping down his arm from his open chest wound and he wiped them on his pants when the engines finally roared to life. As the shuttle lifted off the hanger floor he noticed that the guards were once again taking aim with their strange weapons, all six of them pointed at Vann's stolen craft. He jerked the vehicle to the left as he punched the ignition, praying to the Force that this would work.

Two of the discs flew past the shuttle's right wing and exploded nearby, coating the floor in fire as Vann pushed the small craft's engines to their limit to flip it sideways just as it shot out of the hangar doors and into the storm-darkened sky. It was either dumb luck or the will of the Force that those doors were open or he wouldn't have escaped the series of explosions that trailed him. While he managed to evade two of the blasts, a third clipped the vehicle's left engine, sending up a plume of smoke and dramatically slowing his ascent out of the atmosphere.

"Kriff, no!" Cursing in every language he knew, Vann flipped several switches, shifting power between the engines to compensate for the damage. Alarms were blaring through the tiny cockpit, nearly deafening him as the shuttle sped up and weakly broke through the thick storm clouds that covered Dromund Kaas. The twinkling field of stars that greeted him was a relief, at least until he spotted the trio of fighters that were racing towards his position.

Ignoring the dozens of warnings that were scrolling across all of the monitors, Vann brought up the navicomputer and programmed in a hyperspace route to the first planet listed, the name of which he couldn't read because the map was labeled in the Sith's native tongue. It didn't matter. He'd be lucky to make it that far with one engine so badly damaged. But he was willing to take the risk if it meant the Emperor couldn't recapture him. Closing his eyes, he pressed two buttons and then slammed his palm against a lever, a scream ripped from his throat as the small craft vibrated dangerously and then shot into the blue and white tunnel of hyperspace.


The trip through hyperspace was a blur thanks to mild blood loss combined with nausea and chills that washed through Vann as he came down from the drugs that the Emperor had used to suppress his Force connection. By the time the shuttle dropped back into realspace with an ominous sputter, he was barely able to grip the controls and wrestle the craft into something resembling a controlled fall into the barren planet below. Despite his best efforts the rough landing mostly destroyed the vehicle and reopened the wound in his chest enough to cause more bleeding. At least he didn't hit his head, which was an improvement over his last escape from Dromund Kaas.

Crawling from the wreckage, Vann heaved bile across the rocky ground. His limbs were shaking uncontrollably as his withdrawal symptoms intensified and he could barely stand upright. Glancing around, his blurred eyesight told him that he was on an arid world, possibly in some type of valley judging by the jagged cliffs that rose up around him. At least the towering rock formations helped to block some of the wind that whipped thick clouds of dust into the air. He coughed harshly, wheezing as the dirt stung his wound and burned his lungs. Finding shelter immediately became his primary objective.

Dragging a small survival kit from what was left of the shuttle Vann stumbled forward, his steps erratic as he limped across the desolate landscape. If he squinted this world seemed vaguely familiar, but then most arid planets looked alike after seeing enough of them. Shielding his eyes against the blazing sun, he tried to remain within the long shadows cast by the rocks. Sputtering and choking, he was gasping for breath and thoroughly exhausted by the time he found what looked like a natural cave carved into the mountain range. Slipping inside he sighed at the cooler temperatures and lack of howling wind.

Despite Vann's relief, he was cautious as he crept through the cavern, a wise decision since he soon heard the growls and fluttering of some wild creature echoing nearby. Whatever they were, they sounded big. But if he could find a small enough hiding place he might be safe, at least until he could use the medpac in the survival kit. As he was considering his options, a faint breeze touched his cheek as something sent a shiver down his spine. It took a moment for him to realize that it was the Force trying to send him a message, though his connection was still too weak for him to comprehend what he was sensing. But it was still the best option he had, so he limped towards the source of the airflow until he discovered another, smaller opening in the jagged wall.

"Let's hope this is a good sign," Vann muttered as he dragged himself into the new chamber. Unlike the rest of the cave, which was nearly pitch black, this area was dimly illuminated by thin cracks in the rockface that let in weak beams of sunlight. It was just enough for him to look around. Craning his neck to peer at the ceiling he realized that whatever space he was standing in had been created by a sentient species as the walls had been smoothed into soaring archways and geometric patterns were carved into the stone. These symbols were also vaguely familiar, though he couldn't place the design. Walking farther in, he managed to make it through a large archway and into a second room before collapsing in a corner, his stomach heaving as a wave of chills made his teeth chatter. Miserable, he curled into a ball to wait out the worst of his withdraw.

Minutes, or possibly hours, passed and Vann slipped into an uneasy sleep, only to be startled awake by a feminine voice.

"Revan, the weapon is set and ready to detonate when you give the order."

Blinking in confusion, Vann was shocked to find himself on the bridge of a Republic cruiser, his Jedi armor replacing the thin gray robes the Sith had given him. "I'm sorry… what?"

Blue eyes peered up, small flecks of deep green making the color seem more intense. "I said the weapon is ready."

Stumbling back in surprise, Vann's head jerked around as he took in the scene. Despite the immense size of the ship, there was nobody else around aside from the woman standing beside him. She was wearing a long brown robe that helped to hide the dents and scuffs that marred her armor. Intricate braids were woven through her sandy blonde hair and wrapped around her ponytail, which flowed well past her shoulders and partially down her back. Her face was round and youthful despite the smudges of exhaustion that hung beneath her eyes and combined with her smaller stature she appeared startlingly young. But nothing about her demeanor suggested that she was anything other than a trained Jedi and battle-tested soldier.

A name came unbidden to Vann's lips. "Meetra Surik?"

"That's still my name." She smiled weakly

"I… I know this can't be real. It's a dream or a vision. Or maybe just a returning memory…"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Concern furrowed Meetra's brow. "I'm just waiting for you to give the order to use the weapon."

"The weapon" Terror gripped Vann's chest and he inhaled sharply. "The Mass Shadow Generator. This is the moment that I gave you the order to use a superweapon."

"It's already built and in place. I just need one word from you and I'll return to my ship and activate it at the ideal moment."

"No, don't do it! This is wrong, don't you see that? Thousands of people will die and…"

"Millions, if not billions more will be saved. Revan, this is how we win the war!"

"Not like this! We win the war but we lose… We lose us. I don't even know what happened to you after this, where you went or if you're even still alive."

"Does it actually matter to you?" Meetra's pretty features warped and twisted, black veins staining her skin as her eyes turned a sickly yellow. "You're Revan, the hero of the Republic. The man who won the Mandalorian Wars. The monster who built his reputation on the backs of thousands of innocent lives."

The bridge of the cruiser suddenly vanished and they were falling, tumbling through space as the scenery around them changed. The boom of cannon fire erupted and engines roared, a massive fleet battle materializing out of nowhere as Vann and Meetra floated amid the chaos. Flashes of plasma illuminated the woman's unnaturally pale face but none of the attacks ever came close to touching her. Without a word she pointed downward, gesturing to the planet that served as a backdrop to the violence. There was a flash of light as the air around them vibrated, and suddenly the dozens of surrounding ships were simultaneously sucked towards the surface in a fraction of a second. There was no way to slow their descent and they impacted the crust wreathed in flames, striking so hard that they fractured the planet down to its very core.

Though he couldn't hear the screams of the dying Vann could feel the loss of life echoing through the Force and reverberating within his body until his marrow ached with the intensity. "Make it stop," he pleaded, clutching his head in his hands.

"This is what you wanted, your ultimate plan to win the war." Meetra stared back impassively, her yellow eyes reflecting the devastation all around them. "You're Revan, the tactical genius."

"No…"

"But you weren't the one who used the weapon, I was. I was the one who had to feel their deaths with every fiber of my being. You got all of the glory and none of the consequences, just like always."

"Please, I didn't mean…"

"The Mandalorians were right, you really are heartless. Revan the butcher. The murderer."

The scene kept replaying before Vann's eyes and he was forced to watch as the Republic and Mandalorian fleets crashed into Malachor V over and over, the destruction just as violent and visceral each time it happened. He tried to shake himself awake or to blink away the memory, but nothing he did made the images stop. Tears were streaming freely down his cheeks, but he was frozen in horror and couldn't wipe them away.

As the ships crashed into Malachor yet again, all Vann could do was scream.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 07 - KORRIBAN

Now (3953)

"I don't know what I expected, but this… isn't it. I suppose I thought that Korriban would be dark, surrounded by shadows and lurking terror. But it's really just barren. Empty. In a way, it almost feels sad." Meetra sighed softly as she strolled between the towering tombs in the Valley of the Sleeping Kings, the harsh winds loosening her hair from its braid.

Kreia merely tutted. 'Korriban is a dead world full of graveyards and relics of the past. The Sith abandoned it long ago and there is little left for the living.'

"Then why do new Sith keep coming to this planet?" Pausing in front of the final resting place of Ajunta Pall, Meetra frowned. She was currently the only member of the crew who was wandering the valley, the others still gathered around the ship as they discussed the best place to begin searching for either Nihilus or Master Vash. "Bastila told me that Alek er, Malak, built an academy here to train a new generation of dark Force users. And the Handmaiden says that this is the only place Nihilus calls home."

'It is because these new Sith have yet to learn the lessons of those who came before. They do not realize that the future cannot be built upon the decaying remains of what has already come and gone.'

A flicker of hope alighted in Meetra. "So, does that mean the past Sith failed at whatever plans they had?"

'I never said that, child.'

"Then why are they no longer here?"

'Hmm… Perhaps that is a question you must discover your own answers to."

If she had been with the rest of the crew, Meetra would have been satisfied with the cryptic response and ended their conversation. But she was currently alone with her mentor, everyone else too far away to overhear what was said. That privacy was empowering. "Kreia… How do you know so much about the Sith?"

There was a long pause before the older woman remarked, 'You still word your questions like a Jedi, wrapping your truth in politeness rather than speaking plainly. If you are asking if I am a Sith or a Jedi then you will find no answer here, at least none that will satisfy your curiosity. Sith and Jedi are merely words, like dark and light, Consular or Revanchist.'

"But Kreia…"

'Hush now. You are approaching the ruins of history and you still have many lessons yet to learn.' The older woman's voice grew harsher as she ordered,'Do not dwell upon what will bring you no comfort.'

Atton arched a brow as he approached, prodding the Handmaiden in front of him as Bao-Dur walked behind, trailed by Visas. "Uh, who were you talking to?"

"Kreia."

"I forgot that you have some type of connection with that old hag." Shuddering, Atton glanced back at the Hawk. "The fact that she can give you 'advice' even when she's still on the ship is just creepy."

"She said that she would be more useful to us staying behind." Meetra shrugged. "I trust her."

"Funny, Bastila had almost the same excuse for not trekking across this hellscape."

Meetra frowned. "She's not coming with us?"

"What she said is that she's technically never been to Korriban, so she doesn't think she'll be much help." Chucking a little, Bao-Dur added, "Also, it seems that the last time she went on a trip with a former Revanchist it wasn't uncommon for some… complications to arise. She offered to stay on the ship in case we need any assistance later."

"She does have a direct line to an entire Republic base, so it could be helpful." Mostly unperturbed by the younger woman's decision, Meetra nodded to the others. "I guess it's just the five of us. So, where are we headed?"

There was a brief, nervous pause before Atton made a vague gesture to a path beyond the valley. "Malak's old academy."

Likely mistaking Meetra's sudden tension for confusion, the Handmaiden clarified, "It is one of the few places on this planet that my master will not view as sacred, and also one of the only locations outside of Dreshdae where a Jedi might be able to survive for any length of time. It will be good to locate another potential ally before we confront Lord Nihilus."

"I only met her a few times, but Master Vash always preferred to handle problems directly. It wouldn't surprise me if she specifically came to Korriban looking for answers about the Jedi deaths and disappearances. She's a Sentinel after all, which means that she was trained to be resourceful. If I were her, I'd establish a secure base near my search perimeter…"

"Stop doing that." Frowning at Atton, Meetra shook her head as she began walking towards the valley's exit.

"Doing what?"

"Reminding me that you're a Jedi. Were a Jedi. Whatever it is that you are now."

Abandoning their prisoner as he rushed to catch up, Atton called, "Look, I'm sorry. Do you want me to go back to pretending that I'm just some spacer?"

"No!" Meetra stared straight ahead as she walked. "I don't want you to lie to me anymore. Just because I don't like the truth doesn't mean that a lie is better."

"Then what do you want me to say?" There was a hint of exasperation in Atton's voice.

"Nothing! You don't have to talk! Just be quiet."

"Is your crew always this contentious?" The Handmaiden glanced between Bao-Dur and Visas for confirmation.

The Miraluka's expression remained impassive. "This problem is recent. I would accuse you of sowing distrust among them, Sith, but the truth is that this issue arose before your attempt on Meetra's life."

"It's love, isn't it?" When she received no response, the Handmaiden explained, "I see the way they move in and out of each other's space, like a dance… or a duel. My master told me that love is a powerful emotion but that we should be wary of it, as it can cause us to make foolish decisions."

Glaring over his shoulder, Atton snapped, "You know that I can hear you, right?"

"Just keep walking." Ducking her head against the harsh wind, Meetra raised her voice above the howling gusts. "If we're going to investigate that academy we need daylight to do it."

The journey between the Valley of the Sleeping Kings and Malak's former academy was oddly fascinating, the soaring cliffs and jagged peaks of Korriban's landscape creating an imposing yet beautiful backdrop. The wind buffeted the crew for the entire walk, providing a small bit of relief from the burning glare of the sun. Nobody said much of anything during the journey and even Kreia remained silent within Meetra's mind. Eventually, the towering entrance of the academy came into view and the former General realized that pyramid-like structure that was built directly into the surrounding mountain had probably been there for millennia. Malak had only rediscovered and repurposed it for his own needs.

The tall black doors were left partially ajar, allowing a thin beam of sunlight to illuminate the darkened building. It also helped to reveal the scuffs in the dust that covered the threshold and the floor just beyond. Noticing the potential tracks, Meetra raised a finger to her lips as she gestured for everyone else to be quiet. They softly crept through the entryway one at a time, pressing close to the walls as they fanned out to cover more ground and make themselves a larger target for any potential attackers. As they approached the end of the hall, Meetra pointed around the corner at one of the smaller wings of the building. The others acknowledged her signal and the group headed in that direction.

Slipping into a passageway that led to the student dormitories revealed no signs of anyone or anything else living. The rooms were all open, the beds and desks coated in a thick film of dust while forgotten possessions spilled from a few of the footlockers. Peering closer revealed that there were numerous datapads still set in stacks for convenient studying, flimsiplast sitting beside the texts so that students could take notes. It seemed that when this academy was abandoned it happened in a hurry. By the time they had circled through the area, it was obvious that the wing was unoccupied.

"I know I'm not supposed to say anything, but…" Sighing, Atton shook his head. "I'd put credits on Vash slicing the academy's computer system the second she got in here. So, she probably knows that all of the dorms can be locked down remotely and for obvious reasons decided not to stay in one. If I were her, I'd hide in one of the old classrooms so that I could have access to a terminal that controls a lot of the academy's functions."

"I assume that the classrooms occupy a lot more of the building? If so, it's going to take some time to cover the area safely." Meetra turned to the Zabrak. "Bao-Dur, can your remote do some of the work?"

"Technically, yes. But if he runs into a Jedi he might become lightsaber practice."

"Good point." For a moment Meetra considered splitting the group up, only to realize that Atton was the only one with any real knowledge of the building and that anyone exploring without him would be at a distinct disadvantage in potentially hostile territory. "Alright, I guess we'll work together and see what we can find."

The first corridor past the dormitories brought them to what had once been a library, most of the consoles now broken by neglect. The room looked like a smaller version of the Jedi Archives on Coruscant and for a moment visions of Atris passed through Meetra's mind. She shook her head to clear the thought. "Anyone find anything?"

Atton slipped a spike into one of the few working terminals. "Hmm, it looks like someone was accessing the system a few days ago, though it's impossible to tell who since all of the usernames are a series of numbers and letters. But it looks like they were using a computer in one of the training rooms."

"How do you know all of this?" Visas looked curiously at the Human.

"Every now and then, Malak had me take a break from assassinating targets to come here and teach some of his students the finer points of performing covert missions." Waving away the memory, Atton scowled. "And before you ask, I'm pretty sure that none of those kids ever got a chance to use what I taught them. I heard that Revan and his allies cleaned this place out about three years ago. I'm glad."

Furrowing her brow, the Handmaiden wondered, "You were an assassin? But I thought that the Jedi Order doesn't condone such actions."

"In case it hasn't been made glaringly obvious, I wasn't exactly a good Jedi. I fell… Or I assume I did. How else do you explain the fact that I killed people for Malak and never felt any real remorse?"

"Is it that you never felt remorse, or that you always felt justified?" When everyone turned to look at Bao-Dur, he bowed his head in contrition. "I admit that I joined the war effort for all of the wrong reasons. My people have colonies throughout the galaxy, many of which were decimated by the Mandalorians… including the one where I was born. I was angry at seeing my home destroyed so I volunteered for the Republic military. For years that anger is what drove me and every time I made or repaired something that helped kill more Mandalorians, I felt justified in what I'd done."

Visas glared at the Handmaiden even as she spoke to the Zabrak. "And how did you move past your anger?"

Shaking his head, Bao-Dur sighed. "I'm not sure I ever did. After I got done being angry at the Mandalorians, I was just angry at myself."

"Because of the Mass Shadow Generator." Meetra winced as she approached her friend. "I… I'm the one who gave you the orders to build that weapon. I'm sorry."

"And I gladly built it because I wanted to hurt the Mandalorians as much as possible. Anger is a vicious cycle, General. I can see why the Jedi don't approve of it."

"Maybe I did feel justified, but it wasn't because of anger. If anything, it was pride. I was one of the best at what I did. In the beginning, I convinced myself that I was taking lives for the greater good." Despite his insistence that he was remorseless, a haunted expression passed over Atton's face. "But in the end, I was doing it for the thrill of the kill. I remember my last mission, a senator named Yusanis."

Cold fury surged through the Force as the Handmaiden whirled to snarl at the Human. "Who was your target's name?"

"Yusanis. A senator from… Oh shit!"

A powerful Force push knocked Atton to the ground and he skidded awkwardly along the floor as he struggled to regain his balance. Meetra tried to hold the Handmaiden back as the other woman lunged for their companion, but the Echani was too strong and fueled by pure fury. She broke free and charged at the target of her rage, leaping into the air and coming down with a hard kick on the spot where he had been laying less than a second before. As he rolled away from the attack and onto his feet he reached for something hidden by the back of his jacket. The snap-hiss of a lightsaber igniting somehow startled them all even though they knew that the former assassin carried one. Maybe it was because this new blade glowed a silvery viridian.

"Look, I don't want to hurt you," Atton stated, falling into the opening stance of Djem So.

Glaring darkly, the Handmaiden assessed her opponent. "I do not share your sentiment!" Diving low, she attempted to duck beneath the range of the lightsaber as she sent out another push through the Force.

Atton stumbled again, regaining his balance by crouching down and slipping behind his adversary, striking her in the side with the hilt of his 'saber. "I can explain! I'm guessing Yusanis was someone you knew?"

"He was my father!" Tears streamed down the Handmaiden's pale cheeks, even as anger distorted her features. There was no strategy or finesse to her motions as she punched blindly at the Human, missing wildly as he neatly side-stepped the attack. "His death caused Eshan to devolve into chaos and when my master arrived the planet offered little resistance."

"That wasn't Malak's plan, I swear!" Holding up a placating hand, Atton lowered his lightsaber just a little. "He somehow knew that someone, or something, was targeting your homeworld and he wanted to declare martial law and use the Republic military to protect the planet. But Yusanis, your father, refused to approve the measure. Malak believed that the only way to save Eshan was to kill your father and cause enough political unrest to force the military to step in. And it worked… Sort of."

Panting hard, the Handmaiden stared accusingly at the Human. "Then why did Lord Nihilus still come?"

"Because we were too slow! By the time the military arrived to take control of Eshan, Nihilus had already attacked and left." Swallowing hard, Atton hung his head. "I'm sorry… About your father, about your home, about everything."

Crossing her arms over her chest, Visas muttered, "Yes, Sith. The actions of his master were meant to be a mercy."

"Stop it!" Giving the Miraluka a disapproving frown, Meetra placed herself between her arguing crewmates. "We need to stop fighting amongst ourselves. This academy is strong with the dark side and it's affecting our rationality."

"Not to alarm you, General, but it seems that we're not the only creatures being affected by the energy in this place."

Meetra was about to ask what Bao-Dur was referring to when she heard a growl from just outside of the library. Slowly turning towards the sound, she started slightly when she saw not one but four large beasts poised to sprint into the room. They were fearsome with curved horns, a row of spines running down their backs, and sharp teeth protruding from their long snouts. Without thinking, she reached for the new lightsaber resting at her hip, the familiar sensation of a curved hilt helping to calm some of her fears. But her mind was still unfocused, caught between the revelation that Atton had killed the Handmaiden's father and the realization that Alek actually believed that assassination was the only way to save a planet. She tried to thread her companions' minds together and create some semblance of cohesion between them but her thoughts were too scattered for her to gather the power.

"Aw kriff, those are tuk'ata…" The rest of Atton's hissed curses were swallowed by the roars of the creatures as they leaped at the Force users.

"Bao-Dur, I don't suppose you can convince these things that they don't want to eat us?" Meetra called as she tumbled beneath a wickedly curved claw.

The Zabrak was staring at a different tuk'ata, one hand extended as intense focus creased his brow. After a few moments, he stopped and backed away. "Sorry General, I think they're too hungry!"

"There's only one way to handle these schuttas," Atton warned as he slipped his shoto blade into his off-hand using a reverse grip. Leaping forward with help from the Force, he struck with his main lightsaber, severing the leg from one tuk'ata before stabbing his secondary weapon into its throat. "Oh, and be careful of the spines. They're venomous!"

Grumbling as she processed this new information, Meetra cautiously backed up to prevent being cornered by two of the beasts. The silver glow of her new lightsaber was strange but not unwelcome, the hilt more elegantly balanced than the Sith weapon she took from Dxun. Giving it a light twirl just to appreciate the sensation, she carefully led the creatures out of the library and into the more open hallway. Noticing that one tuk'ata was tensing to pounce she slid out of the way, crouching close to the floor before whirling around and stabbing her weapon between what she assumed was its ribs. It roared in agony, though it was soon put out of its misery as a bronze-colored blade sliced through its neck.

"You know, I think I'm getting used to this," Bao-Dur commented as his instructor admired the hilt that he had crafted over the past weeks. It was thicker and heavier than most models in the same way that his prosthetic was larger than his organic limb. It also possessed the same seamless craftsmanship.

Grinning in approval, Meetra vaulted over the dead tuk'ata just in time to spot the Handmaiden palm-strike one of the beasts in the nose when it lunged at her. Recoiling with a snarl, it turned and snapped at Visas as it violently shook its head.

"You have a weapon!" the Echani shouted. "Either use it or give it to me!"

"How much of a fool do you think I am, Sith?" Visas nearly bent backward as she ducked out of the tuk'ata's path, keeping her sight trained on the creature as she moved.

"It is fine if you hate me. But at least use your emotion for something productive!" Glaring at Atton, the Handmaiden dropped into a defensive stance as she extended both arms, moving them through the air and using the Force to push the offending beast into two of the broken consoles. It staggered as it struck, shards of transparisteel and twisted metal embedding in its flesh as it tripped and fell. Springing towards its prone form, the Sith brought her foot down on one of its legs. The bone audibly cracked as the creature howled in pain, though the sound was choked into silence as she wrapped her power around the tuk'ata's throat and squeezed until it collapsed.

By now most of the crew had made it into the hallway, followed close behind by the remaining tuk'ata which bit at their heels. "Are there any more after this one?" Meetra asked as she froze the creature in mid-leap, enabling Atton to dive beneath it and drive both of his lightsabers into its underside, raking them across as he raced clear of the viscera that poured forth.

"How should I know?" he demanded, just as a growl sounded from around the corner. "Though, I'm betting that there are."

Bao-Dur's remote veered towards the sound, only to come speeding back a moment later emitting high-pitched beeps of warning. Nobody had time to wonder what it said before a pair of massive tuk'ata charged into view, easily twice the size of four they had just defeated. One sniffed the air, scenting the blood that slicked the floor, before releasing a mournful howl and then baring its teeth at the Force users.

"Where those… babies?" Meetra nodded towards one of the corpses.

Atton raised his 'sabers threateningly. "Yes, and I think these are the parents who are blocking our path to the training rooms."

"Dammit." Reaching out with the Force, Meetra attempted to push one of the creatures back. However, she felt her power fizzle and then die in its presence as it shook its massive head in confusion. Its tail lashed out, the venomous barbs flying over Bao-Dur's shoulder as he ducked to the floor just in time.

The second beast leaped forward to defend its mate, its tail arcing through the air as its jaws closed around Meetra's leg. The large teeth dug into her calf and she yelped before turning around just enough to swing her lightsaber at the creature's muzzle. It carved a huge gash, causing the tuk'ata to retreat with a snarl. Seeing that Meetra had her situation under control, Atton turned and dove beneath the first beast's legs. He used the Force to slide across the floor before jumping to his feet and digging his main 'saber into the creature's haunch. It roared and tried to whip around to bite whatever was causing the pain, leaving its chest open for Bao-Dur to sink his own blade deep into its flesh. Hurt and enraged the tuk'ata reared back, its tail swinging around and jabbing Atton's right arm.

"Ah, shit!" Falling back, the former Sentinel grasped the wound, coating his fingers in blood and venom.

Without thinking, Meetra turned away from the tuk'ata she was facing and lunged at its more injured mate. Jumping into the air, she slashed at the thick muscle of its neck in tandem with Bao-Dur who struck viciously at the beast's right leg. While both attacks hit, it left their backs exposed to the second creature. Hot breath ruffled Meetra's braid as huge teeth snapped just beside her right ear. But they were prevented from carving through flesh by a violet blade that sunk deep into the beast's bottom jaw, burning through bone and tissue.

"Can you feel my anger now, Sith?" Visas hissed through clenched teeth as she drew her weapon back with a flourish. Without missing a beat, she pivoted lightly on her heel and made another strike just as the second beast's tail whipped towards her, severing the tip with a single swing of her arm. "You, who serve the thing that destroyed both of our homes?"

Unwilling to let the Miraluka's efforts go to waste, Meetra nodded to Bao-Dur as a thin thread of power linked their minds together. They circled around until they were flanking the wounded tuk'ata, diving forward simultaneously as they drove their blades into creature's abdomen. The scent of burning flesh filled the air, joined by animalistic roars as the beast made a final attempt to shake itself free and flee. But its life was quickly fading and as it staggered across the floor a bronze lightsaber slashed into its muscled chest just as a silver weapon carved a fatal wound across its throat. With a last gasp it collapsed less than a meter away from where Atton was still fighting the effects of the sting he received. A moment later Meetra was at his side, healing energy flowing through her palms as she purged the venom.

Visas remained unaware of the chaos around her as she stood her ground against the last tuk'ata, parrying each of its attacks with smooth strikes of her own as she used its momentum against it. An attempted bite became a wound in its neck while a lash from the remainder of its tail resulted in a cut seared into its hip. Sweat beaded above the Miraluka's lip and her face shone with perspiration, but she didn't back down even as her swings grew fatigued. Before the creature could take advantage of its opponent's weariness the Handmaiden flipped forward, shielding the other woman as she grasped the beast's injured muzzle in her bare hands. A brief flash of yellow shone in her pale blue eyes as she twisted cruelly, the harsh crunch of a neck snapping drowned out by her scream of outrage.

Dropping the corpse, the Sith turned to an exhausted Visas. "I joined Lord Nihilus because I had no choice! You would have done the same in my place."

The Miraluka jerked her chin up defiantly. "You know nothing of me."

"No, but I do know my master."

For a moment the Force surged frigidly with the strength of their combined anger before the emotion gradually receded, a faintly glowing thread of understanding blooming between the two women. Meetra watched from a distance, nodding quietly to herself as she sensed whatever silent agreement they had reached.

Bao-Dur also felt the slight warmth cutting through the darkness of the academy. "I know that the Jedi admonish anger and the Sith abhor peace, but from where I'm standing there's strength in both of those emotions."

"The dark side is what enabled Visas and the Handmaiden to defeat that tuk'ata and save our asses." Humming thoughtfully, Meetra added, "But if they clung to their resentment towards each other, it would have rotted them from the inside out."

"Speaking of rot," Atton interrupted as he gagged softly. "Does anyone else smell that?"

The sharp tang of fresh blood and charred skin soured the air, but beneath it, Meetra could detect the distinct odor of putrefaction coming from somewhere nearby. Covering her nose with her sleeve she nodded. "Yes. Maybe the tuk'ata had a nest somewhere?"

"I don't know. But I think the smell is coming from that room."

The battle had carried the group down a long hallway and into another wing of the building, positioning them between two large sets of doors. Atton was gesturing to the set on their left, a grim expression twisting his lips as he stared at the black stone entryways that loomed menacingly over everyone.

Smiling hopefully, Meetra asked, "Is that one of the training rooms?"

"Something like that." Atton didn't elaborate further, instead depressing the panel that opened the doors. They produced a harsh grinding sound as ancient gears groaned in protest, though that was nothing compared to the stench of death that wafted out of the room. Everyone immediately recoiled, covering their faces as they peered inside.

While Meetra assumed that this could be a training room by Sith standards, it looked more like a torture chamber. Cages lined one wall and various wicked-looking implements hung from hooks in the ceiling. But the main feature was a large stone table that sat off to one side, a set of lights illuminating a body that was growing bloated and discolored from the beginning stages of decay. Shrugging off Atton's hand, which was grasping her shoulder, Meetra walked stiffly into the room as she scanned the corpse for any distinguishing characteristics. Old, dried blood covered any areas that weren't decorated with cuts and bruises, making it difficult to see anything of note. But the hair was mostly clean and she immediately recognized the familiar gray and brown bun of Jedi Master Lonna Vash.

"It's her, isn't it?" Atton's voice was hollow.

"They tortured her…"

Idly tracing the scars that marked the skin beneath her robes, the Handmaiden nodded. "I can only assume that refused to give my master her secrets. The strength of her will must have been remarkable."

"It was."

The deep, gravelly voice sent a chill through the room and all of the Force users turned in unison towards the door. Sion's massive form now blocked the entryway, his cracked visage even more somber than usual. The snap of multiple lightsabers igniting filled the air as the crew spread out, trying to keep away from the Sith. But their tactic was hampered by the appearance of a second figure who seemed to melt from the shadows, his black robes making him seem nebulous and indistinct aside from the white and red mask hiding his face. While not as large as Sion, something about this new Sith terrified Meetra.

It took a moment for the former General to realize that the gnawing coldness encompassing the academy, a sensation that she had assumed was the aura of the building, was actually the signature of this cloaked figure. He exuded a ravenous, insatiable darkness that cloaked even Sion's remarkable presence, enabling the other Sith Lord to approach unnoticed. That was how they managed to trap the group in place.

A garbled shriek came from behind the mask, causing the Handmaiden to cover her ears as she collapsed to her knees muttering, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

Meetra's hand hovered near her commlink as she debated calling Bastila for assistance. The younger woman had firsthand experience with Sith Lords and might be able to help them escape alive. But there was a chance that Sion and the creature she assumed was Nihilus didn't know about the Hawk or it's remaining passengers and the former Consular couldn't risk endangering them by contacting the ship. But maybe there was another way…

'Kreia, can you hear me? Sion and Nihilus are here and I think we're in trouble.'

There was a flutter of acknowledgment in Meetra's mind but no other response. She clenched her teeth as she shifted her grip on her lightsaber, keeping both Sith Lords in her sight as she moved to shield the Handmaiden. "Leave her alone."

There was another garbled sound, this one almost akin to laughter. Sion joined in, a deep chuckle rumbling through his scarred chest. "You feel sympathy for an assassin sent to kill you. Strange, but I've come to learn that I should expect nothing less of you, Exile."

"What do you want from me? From us?"

"We have watched as you've searched for answers to questions that you have no reason to ask, all to aid an Order who discarded you without a second thought." Sion stepped forward, his broad form casting a long shadow across the floor. "Exile, surely you realize that this is not your fight. Abandon your quest here and now, and we will let you and your allies leave this planet unscathed."

Meetra slipped into an offensive stance as she raised her head in challenge. "I can't do that. If you've been observing me, you've probably realized that I have a habit of getting involved in fights that don't concern me."

"I have also witnessed the destruction that your intervention wrought upon Malachor Five. You know war and death, and I respect you for that. But though you have tasted darkness you did not embrace that power because you still fear it. And because you cannot hear the true call of the dark side there are things about the Sith that you will never fully comprehend." There was a low hiss as Sion ignited his lightsaber, the red blade glowing eerily in the gloom. "This is how it ends for you, Exile. Your futile search is your downfall."

"Did your master send you after me? Is it Nihilus? Some sort of true Sith?"

"I am my own master and who I pledge loyalty to is no concern of yours."

So, Nihilus wasn't the master. Meetra quietly tucked that information away should she manage to escape from this situation alive, which seemed increasingly doubtful. The Force was thick with her companion's fear, the combined weight of their dread settling heavily around her. But through it all, she could feel a flicker of hope and she was surprised to discover that the source was Atton. Glancing towards him, she noticed that his attention was focused just past Sion and into the corridor behind him.

Even without a true Force bond, she could sense the pilot's thoughts. If they could somehow escape the Sith Lords, he knew the inside of the academy well enough to lead the crew to safety. They just had to distract Sion long enough to run past, just like they did on Peragus. Meetra wondered if she could keep him talking. "You and your masked friend are the sources of the Jedi deaths and disappearances, aren't you?"

"The Jedi are the architects of their own doom, lost in their traditions and ignorant to the danger all around them. You know this as well as we do. We are merely speeding up what they have already set in motion."

Meetra wanted to object on principle, even as she mentally acknowledged the truth in the Sith's words. In the end, she said nothing. The Order had failed in so many ways that she had run out of excuses to defend them many years back. But there was still a question about one former Jedi that she needed answers to. "What about Revan? Where is he now?"

Sion shook his head. "I know nothing of the Revanchist excepted that he created you. That is all the information I need."

From the corner of her eye, Meetra noticed Atton shifting minutely, a slight shuffling of his feet that could easily be mistaken for nervousness or impatience. But he was actually trying to angle himself towards the doorway, something that both Visas and Bao-Dur also appeared to sense.

Nihilus must have felt a change in the room because he let out a garbled growl of warning as his masked face turned towards Sion. Though his expression was unreadable, the cloying darkness of his presence rippled and the air grew colder with his irritation.

Nodding once, Sion swung his blade into an attack position. "We have talked long enough, Exile and your final questions have been answered. Korriban is a planet of the dead, so it is fitting that you will meet your end here."

Despite the panicked pounding of her heart, Meetra's expression remained calm as she looked into the Sith Lord's good eye. "Funny, I was about to say the same thing to you."

Their blades sang as they swung through the air, connecting in a sizzle of plasma and sparks as the pair lunged at each other simultaneously. Sion was pure strength and aggression, and the power behind his strikes made Meetra's arms sting as she struggled to hold him off. But she only needed to guide him away from the exit long enough for Atton to get the others out. Pivoting on one foot, she took advantage of her smaller size and ducked beneath her opponent's slash before rising back up and attacking him from the side. While he parried the blow, the swiftness clearly surprised him.

Atton had given up on subtlety and was trying to take advantage of the opening Meetra provided, gesturing frantically for Bao-Dur and Visas to follow him. However, Nihilus saw everything and reached out an arm, his power rippling as he tossed the Human two meters through the air before doing the same to the Zabrak when the other man rushed to help his crewmate. There was an audible cracking sound as the mechanic struck the side of a cage. The accompanying groan of pain snapped the Handmaiden out of her daze and she looked up just in time to watch her ally crumple to the floor, her eyes going wide as she scrambled to her feet.

"Master, they are nothing! Do not bother…"

A high-pitched screeching filled the room as Nihilus frantically shook his head, turning away from the Ebon Hawk's crew to once again focused on his apprentice. Visas watched this, a thoughtful frown tugging at her lips. "Sith, keep moving! You are the only one who can distract this creature!"

Now torn between targets, Nihilus growled as he reached out a fist, his power wrapping around the Miraluka's throat as he constricted her airway and lifted her off the ground. Meetra was standing at just the right angle to see this happen, the distraction creating just enough of an opening for Sion to slash her forearm with a hard chop. The pain was intense, causing her hand to tremble as agony flooded her mind. But a rush of adrenaline enabled her to push past the sensation and slip around her opponent's back as she sprinted towards Visas. Just as she was close enough to help a foot reached out and struck her thigh, knocking her down.

"No Exile," Sion growled as he loomed over his opponent. "Their deaths will feed Lord Nihilus. Only you are mine to kill."

Screaming in fear and pain, Meetra aimed the sound at the Sith, baring her teeth as it caused him to stagger backward with one hand clutching his ear. "They're not going to die today, and neither am I!"

Twisting back onto her feet, Meetra thrust out her blade and met Sion's next strikes with renewed vigor. Red and silver clashed and hissed, the sounds of the duel filling the air as the Handmaiden clenched her fists and charged at Nihilus. Terror swirled around her in a frozen storm even as she rammed her shoulder into her master's ribs. "Run!" the Echani yelled. "Get out of here!"

Once again the garbled screeching echoed off the stone walls, Nihilus's smothering presence momentarily drawing back as he released his hold on Visas and turned to his apprentice. The Miraluka hit the ground hard, her knees striking the stone floor with a heavy thud. She cried out in pain but didn't collapse, instead reaching for her lightsaber and tossing it through the air. Guiding the hilt with the Force she called out, "Sith, if you are truly a warrior worthy of this weapon, prove it now!"

Nihilus was a blur as he moved to intercept the item but the Handmaiden's desperation made her faster. With a burst of Force-enhanced speed, she leaped up and snatched the hilt from midair, igniting the violet blade before her boots touched the ground. Dread filled her eyes as she turned to face her master, but she didn't back down even when he produced his own blade and met her first strike with an easy parry. Gritting her teeth she intensified her attack, each slash and stab strengthened by her terror. At first, the Sith Lord held his own but his impossibly quick movements soon became sloppy and unfocused

Still locking blades with Sion, Meetra only caught glimpses of her companions as she carefully dodged around the room. Atton was back on his feet, desperately herding a visibly shaken Bao-Dur and Visas towards the door. Wanting to draw attention away from them, Meetra flipped around Sion's larger form so that he was forced to turn his back on the exit. Kicking hard, her boot struck his kneecap and buckled one leg. With a shout she leaped up, plunging her blade straight through the center of the Sith's chest. His single good eye went wide as he stumbled backward, his broken body collapsing to the floor with enough force to shake the ground.

Fueled by exhaustion and a tenuous spark of hope Meetra ran past the apparent corpse, glancing over her shoulder long enough to see the Handmaiden making frantic slashes at her Master's blade. She was about to yell for the other woman to find a way to flee when a roar made her heart jump. Sion was already climbing back to his feet, the 'saber wound in his chest still smoking against his scarred skin.

'They cannot be beaten here,' Kreia's voice warned. 'Korriban runs through them, strengthening them beyond flesh and blood. Flee and you will have another chance.'

Meetra briefly considered raging at her mentor, demanding to know why it took so long for the older woman to offer advice. But she saw Sion beginning to move and she changed her mind, instead bolting towards the door as she shouted, "Handmaiden, please come with us!"

The Echani's chest was heaving as perspiration soaked her clothing. When two of her attacks missed by a wide margin Nihilus recognized that he once again had the advantage and dove towards his apprentice. But Meetra was already using the Force to drag the other woman away, pulling her to safety an instant before her master's blade struck the spot where she'd been standing. The brush with death was enough to make the Handmaiden realize that she had an opportunity chance to escape and she joined Meetra as the pair rushed out of the room and into the corridor. The others were just up ahead.

Sion's roar of outrage filled the hall but Meetra didn't look back. She could feel the cold tidal wave of his presence as he and Nihilus raced through the academy but she tried not to focus on the sensation. Drawing a shaky breath, she wrapped her power around her companion's minds, connecting them so that she could send the encouragement they need to keep moving. The Force fortified them and they found extra speed. The Sith were close behind but pure desperation fueled the crew and they managed to outrun any attempts to slow their progress.

"We're almost there!" Atton told them as the academy doors came into view, still partially ajar. Without breaking stride they all dashed into the searing heat.

It was disorienting to burst into the blinding sunlight, dust whipping around them and further obscuring their vision. "Which way now?" Meetra asked, her words muted by the howl of the wind.

'Flee into the caves that line the path leading into the academy,' Kreia ordered. 'They are still unexplored by modern Sith and hold mysteries that even Sion and Nihilus fear. But you are not Sith, so perhaps you will find answers within.'

Belatedly realizing how odd it sounded to answer her own question, Meetra pointed to the rocky cliffs that rose up on either side. "There's a cave system nearby! We can hide in there for now."

"Let me guess?" Atton panted, "Kreia told you."

Shrugging a little, Meetra jogged towards a jagged opening that was barely large enough for one adult Human to fit through. Motioning for everyone to join her she cautiously slipped inside, immediately igniting her 'saber to serve as a light source in the nearly pitch-black environment. Footfalls echoed behind her as the rest of the crew entered and soon they were all standing in the beginnings of a large cavern that stretched far into the rock.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Atton ignited his main lightsaber. "Well, at least there's no wind in here."

"But there are some creatures nesting in the ceiling." Bao-Dur looked up with a grin, his remote beeping some information about the cave's temperature and moisture level. "Though, they don't seem as aggressive as those tuk'ata."

Handing the violet-bladed lightsaber back to Visas, the Handmaiden bowed her head. "Thank you for trusting me with your weapon. I appreciate the unique design. I assume that you left the crystal partially exposed so that you can…"

"Feel it resonating, yes." Accepting the weapon, the Muraluka ran her fingers over the casing. It was a far more minimalistic style than what the others had crafted, though that was apparently the intention. "You should build your own weapon, Sith. You fight well and it would be beneficial for you to arm yourself."

"Stop calling me 'Sith.'" Glaring in the low light, the Handmaiden shifted uncomfortably. "My name… it's Brianna."

"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Brianna." Meetra smiled at the Echani as she slowly walked deeper into the cave. "And thank you for the help back there."

Bao-Dur carefully kept pace with the former Sith apprentice, studying her for a moment. "I'm curious, do you know why you're able to distract Nihilus like that? It reminds me of holding an electromagnet too close to a droid."

"It's because she's Echani. Or, so it appears when you look through the Force." Noting the confusion on the others' faces, Visas explained, "Energy flows differently around both her and Atris. Perhaps it is because their people are so in tune with physical motion and communicate through combat. When they move, and especially when they fight, the Force ignites."

"Everyone's Force signature is unique, but I have heard that different species possess different patterns." Meetra laughed gently. "I'd say that makes about as much sense as anything else that happened today."

A comfortable silence settled around the group as they continued through the cave, the glow of their lightsabers illuminating the path just enough to prevent them from tripping over cracks or stumbling down a ledge. The light also seemed to keep the native creatures away, though they did growl and flutter their leathery wings to protest the intrusion. It was a while before Visas paused, her head tilting to the side.

The Miraluka reached out her hand. "Does anyone else feel that?"

"If you're talking about the Force, everything still feels just as miserable as the rest of this kriffing planet," Atton complained as he rolled his eyes and kept walking.

"No, it's not the Force. I think it's… fresh air?" Bao-Dur turned to his remote, which beeped in confirmation. "It seems like the airflow changes right around here."

Grinning in relief, Meetra moved her blade to check the nearby walls. "Maybe there's an exit nearby."

"Or just another cave inside of the first cave, because this entire planet is a nightmare." When he received nothing but doubtful frowns, Atton pointed to a small opening that was the source of the breeze. "I'm not joking."

"It could still be a way out…" Meetra shivered as she spoke, a wave of dark energy washing over her. And yet, there was something oddly familiar within the sensation.

"You're going in, aren't you? Don't try to deny it, you have that determined look in your eyes that means I'm about to follow you somewhere ridiculous."

Meetra shook her head at Atton. "I told you to stop pretending…"

"I wasn't pretending when I offered to travel with you wherever you go. That was all me. The real me. The person who wants to see the galaxy with you."

There was no lie in Atton's words, only heart-wrenching sincerity. Meetra felt her resolve to stay mad rapidly weakening. "Don't…"

Shrugging weakly, the former Sentinel stated, "You wanted the truth from me, so there it is." With that, he brushed past the others and slipped into the secondary cave. Meetra was close behind.

"Atton, wait…" The rest of whatever she was about to say died on her tongue as she looked around and noticed the geometric carvings decorating the soaring archways and domed ceilings that surrounded them. She sucked in a shocked breath, craning her neck back to study the intricate designs. "Wow."

"This is quite impressive. And it's… how old?" Bao-Dur looked at his remote in disbelief, but the droid only beeped insistently.

Brianna frowned when she saw the architecture. "These are Sith markings. But they are far different than anything my master ever showed me."

"Well, this is a Sith planet." Kreia's words suddenly floated through Meetra's mind. Perhaps you will find answers within… Drawing a deep breath, she walked through one of the archways and into a secondary chamber as she called, "Come on, let's see if this leads to a way out."

By the time they reached a third chamber the crew was pausing at random intervals, rubbing their temples or staring blankly at the walls for several seconds at a time. The behavior was disconcerting, but every time Meetra asked about it her companions insisted that nothing was wrong. In the fourth chamber, the others started talking to themselves.

"As I walk through the ashes of Katarr…"

"Visas, did you say something?"

"Hmm?" The Miraluka looked at Meetra, but her expression was unfocused. "No… But do you smell that? Something is burning…"

"General, behind you!"

Meetra whipped around, her lightsaber raised and ready to strike. But all she saw was her own shadow reflected across the carved walls. "Bao-Dur, I don't see anything."

"It's the Mandalorians, General. I think they caught our trail…"

"Shit." Meetra drew a few calming breaths as she tried to comprehend what was happening. "This cave is a Sith… something. So maybe the dark side energy is making them hallucinate?" The explanation sounded ridiculous, at least until Brianna started screaming.

"Father, no! What happened, who did this?!"

Immediately rushing over to Atton, Meetra grabbed his arm and dragged him out of Brianna's line of sight all while thanking the Force that the Echani was currently unarmed. "Alright, maybe you should stay away from her…"

"Sorry, I didn't catch that. Who's the target?"

"The… target?"

Atton nodded. "Yes, Supreme Commander. Tell me the target. I'll take care of things from there, just like always."

"Aw, karking hells…" Releasing her grip on Atton's forearm, Meetra spat a few more colorful curses as Brianna let out another mournful howl just as Bao-Dur shouted another useless battlefield warning. "This is bad. We need to get out of here and…"

The smell of smoke filled Meetra's nostrils, a familiar mixture of plasma mines and burning foliage. Dxun. Her companion's words were growing fainter, replaced by the shouts of soldiers and the shriek of blaster fire, occasionally drowned out by grenades exploding amidst the dense jungle. To her right, a soldier was asking for orders…

This isn't real, it's an effect of these caves. I need to break through these hallucinations to help the others.

But the caves were gone. Thick jungle surrounded Meetra, the trees shaking violently as detonations rocked their trunks and cracked their branches. The odor of wet earth mingled with the metallic tang of blood, the acrid burning of green leaves, and whatever chemicals were used in the multitude of incendiary devices that were being set off all around her.

The soldier was still staring imploringly, looking terribly young. "General, your orders?"

No, not this battle. Anything but this battle.

The scene shifted impossibly quickly and Meetra was staring at a minefield that she couldn't see only seconds before. Nearby was a small platoon of soldiers, all of them watching her intently as their fear made the Force grow unbearably frigid. She knew what orders she gave, accepting heavy casualties in return for gaining a large amount of ground in the Mandalorians' territory. It was an impossible choice to make, forcing her to decide between winning the war for the Republic or valuing the lives of her individual troops.

"General, your orders? Do we… Do we charge?"

I told you to charge. Most of you died but we won the day. Acceptable losses to ensure an overall victory, just like Revan taught me.

But here, trapped within her mind, Meeta could make a different decision. As someone who had spent seven years on the fringes of known space, she now knew how to disarm those mines. But did it matter? She could run through all of those mines herself and it wouldn't restore the lives lost. And ultimately they won the day. Hells, they won the whole damn war.

It must have taken her too long to decide because the scene shifted again and the platoon was charging. Meetra was half running and half floating beside them, watching as soldier after soldier was blown apart, their screams filling her ears as their deaths reverberated through the Force. But the violence never seemed to touch her, every spark and piece of shrapnel flowing around her, leaving her unharmed. She only slowed when the troops that survived reached the end of the minefield, battered and exhausted but still forced to face the Mandalorians waiting for them. Instinctively, Meetra swung her lightsaber into an offensive position, ready to fight whatever phantoms attacked.

I fought that day too, lightsaber versus beskad. They screamed when my blade rent their armor into slag.

As a Mandalorian took a swing at her, Meetra struck back. But something was wrong. Her blade, which had been green a moment before, was back to its silvery-white color. And the sword that she was locked with wasn't the heavy weapon of a Mandalorian but something far slimmer and more delicate. The image of the battlefield flickered and the shouts of her troops faded away, replaced by nothing more than the sound of her own heavy breathing. Dense jungle melted back into stone walls, the geometric Sith designs once again filling her vision.

But the individual she was fighting didn't disappear. Instead, they lunged at her with a double-bladed sword that looked strangely ancient in its design. She parried the strike and was shocked at the ferocity of her opponent. They weren't particularly large but their fighting style was incredibly aggressive. While Niman was designed to be a reasonable counter for most situations, she was fumbling horribly as she tried to deflect slashes and stabs that whirled towards her at a blinding pace. There was only one form that she had ever struggled this badly against.

Juyo. This is Juyo.

Blinking sweat out of her eyes, Meetra yelped as she took an elbow to the ribs. It knocked the wind out of her and she staggered backward, her feet slipping on the rough terrain. After barely managing to deflect a stab aimed for her throat she ducked down and rolled away, scrambling to put space between herself and her attacker. With some distance between them, she could finally see that they were a human male whose long brown hair was tied back with a scrap of cloth. His clothing was plain and gray, at least where it wasn't stained with blood and dirt. An unkempt beard hid most of his features, but Meetra could see that his eyes were a deep brown. They were amazingly expressive, accented by the noble curve of his brow, the straight line of his nose, and the high arch of his cheekbones. It was all achingly familiar.

Reaching out, she gently probed the man's Force presence with her own, nearly crying when the faintest glow of a familiar signature filled her mind. The majority of his signature was being camouflaged but she knew him well enough to sense what couldn't be hidden.

"Revan! Revan, stop!" Pleadingly raising her hands, Meetra looked at the face of the man who, at various points in the past seven years, she truly believed she would never see again. "It's me, it's Meetra!"

"I know who you are!" His voice was hoarse, as though he'd been screaming. "You keep reminding me! Every time we look down at Malachor you remind me that it was you who used the weapon and not me! Every kriffing time!"

Revan's sword came dangerously close to Meetra's middle and she jumped back, bringing her lightsaber up to guard her vitals. "But that wasn't me, it was just a hallucination. This cave makes people hallucinate!" It stung to realize that she was part of whatever horrors her closest friend had been witnessing.

"It's always you, Surik. Whether you're dark or light, it's always you…"

"But…" There had to be a way to prove that she wasn't a figment of Revan's imagination. Frantically parrying another hard chop with a motion that aggrieved the wound she'd received from Sion, Meetra wracked her brain to think of something. "Carth says hello! He says… he says to tell you that he's watching over the Star Forge and the Republic, just like you asked. But he also said to get your ass home because he misses you!"

"Did you say… Carth?"

"Yes! I saw him about a week ago, and Bastila is literally right here on this planet…"

Revan snarled as he lunged at Meetra, using the backside of his blade to sweep her legs out from under her. She landed on the cave floor with a grunt, the rocks bruising her back. "You can't know about them. It's impossible!"

"I know about them because I'm real you kriffing idiot!" As Revan dove forward to stab her in the chest Meetra kicked upward, catching him right in the gut. It wasn't a particularly hard hit, but it still managed to knock him back a few steps. He wheezed painfully, stumbling uncertainly.

"Shit, ow! What the… what the hells…?"

Suddenly, Meetra remembered that in her hallucination the violence never seemed to touch her. Everything felt real, but nothing had hurt. She climbed to her feet. "I'm the real Meetra Surik."

"You… You're real?" The sword clattered out of Revan's hands. "How…?"

"We came here looking for answers about the Jedi and about, well, you. How are you even on Korriban? Where have you been?"

"We're on Korriban?! I was on Dromund Kaas as a Sith prisoner but I escaped and… Shit." Revan reached out and grasped Meetra by the shoulders, physically pushing her towards the nearest archway. "There are Sith after me. You can't be here, you have to leave and…"

"Sith Lords? Sion and Nihilus? A big man who looks like he's held together by scar tissue and a masked figure in a black cloak?"

"No, these are actual Sith purebloods. They're a species with red skin and…" Pausing in confusion, Revan stared for a long moment. "Wait, did you say there's two of them?"

Meetra nodded. "Yes, they're here on this planet."

"There should be three."

Now it was Meetra's turn to look confused. "What?"

Revan blinked back. "What?"

"Karking bantha shit, what the hells is this place?!" Atton winced and rubbed his forehead. "I just re-lived… Well, you'll probably be happier not knowing."

"Jaq?" Arching a brow, Revan watched the other man with obvious bewilderment, a blank expression briefly ghosting across his features. "That's your name, right? You're a Revanchist. Were a Revanchist. And during the war, I trained you to… Oh shit. I trained you to hide your Force presence because we needed you to do something. I'm, uh, sorry for whatever horrible thing I made you do but don't remember."

Atton turned notably pale as he backed into a wall, his mouth opening and closing ineffectively before he finally stammered, "R… Revan?"

"Vann." He reached up and rubbed his grimy forehead. "Please, just… Just call me Vann. It's a long story."

"Memory loss. Ship crash. Alek, er, Malak tried to kill you." Meetra ticked points off using her fingers. "Carth and Bastila covered most of it."

"How do you know Carth again? And did you say Bastila is… here? And also, didn't your hair used to be different?"

Fingering her braid, Meetra twisted it ruefully. "That was a Jedi style. And, well, I'm not exactly a Jedi anymore, am I?"

"You were cast out of the Order. Right. I'm… I'm so sorry. About that, and about Malachor. How are you even talking to me right now? You should hate me for what I made you do! Hells, I hate me and I don't even remember most of it!"

Seeing the stricken expression on Vann's face, Meetra frowned. "So, you don't remember that I volunteered to be the one to set off the Mass Shadow Generator while you confronted Mandalore the Ultimate?" When her friend shook his head, she continued, "I could have refused. I wouldn't have been the first person."

"Huh?"

"You originally asked Alek to set off the weapon and he told you no. It was probably the first time during the war that you completely disagreed about tactics."

"I asked kriffing Malak to set off a superweapon and he refused?" Vann snorted at the very idea.

"It's true." Having finally found his voice, Atton approached nervously. "I was there. Or, at least, I was around for the aftermath. Malak was furious. He didn't think that you should have given the order to design a superweapon, and he especially didn't think that Meetra should have volunteered to use it. He was convinced that both of you fell and, to be honest, he was pretty damn scared."

"He thought that I fell?" Meetra and Vann asked simultaneously, both with the same incredulous tone. They glanced at each other and then back at the former Sentinel.

"Well, that's what he said at the time. But he also trained me as an assassin, so you're free to make your own judgments." Atton still looked a bit pale. "Also, why is Revan in a cave on Korriban?"

"I think that's another long story. And we should probably get out of this cave before we hear it." Retrieving her commlink, Meetra bit back a grin as she hailed the Ebon Hawk. The reception was poor, but Bastila's voice was still recognizable when she answered the comm.

"Meetra, are you alright?! Kreia said that she sensed Sion and Nihilus in the academy and…"

"Yes, we're all fine… more or less. We just need Tee-Three to used the Hawk's sensors to perform a scan of the cave system in the cliffs between the academy and the valley, and then analyze the data to locate a way out. He can probably triangulate our coordinates from my comm signal."

Vann was silent throughout the conversation, but his Force presence flared brightly as Bastila announced, "Yes, I think we've found something. It seems like there's an exit a few hundred meters away. We can guide you there fairly easily."

"That would be wonderful," Meetra sighed in relief. "But I'm actually going to hand my comm over to someone else who really wants to speak with you."

Awkwardly accepting the commlink, Vann muttered, "Uh… Hey Bastila. Before you ask, I can, um, I can explain."

"…Vann?!"


"You are an absolute idiot!" Bastila had been ranting at Vann for the past five minutes, in between her attempts to heal a nasty gash that ran across the top of his chest.

"As you've reminded me at least a dozen times already." Vann rolled his eyes at the chiding. After some time in the sonic, a shave, and a change into some spare clothes that he had stashed in one of the Hawk's hidden smuggling compartments, he once again resembled the person Meetra remembered. While he dressed more like a spacer than a Jedi, his penchant for black remained.

"And I'll say it at least a dozen more times until you get it through that thick skull of yours! How could you possibly think it was a good idea…"

"I was captured and tortured, Bastila." Some of the levity fell away as Vann's expression darkened. "Do you think I wanted that to happen to you, Jolee, Juhani, Dustil, or anyone else?"

"Maybe if we had all been there you wouldn't have been captured and tortured!" Though the Padawan attempted to send forth healing energy, the press of her palm only managed to reopen the wound.

"Ow, kriffing hells! Making me bleed more is the exact opposite of healing!"

"Bastila, you're angry right now, which isn't exactly conducive to healing." Meetra chuckled as she guided the other woman to sit down and take a calming breath. It didn't alleviate the flurry of irritation that was radiating through the Ebon Hawk's main hold, but at least she could examine Vann's injury. It was deep, the edges jagged and raw, through the worst of the bleeding had been stopped with a stimpack. Moving her hand in soothing circles, she summoned her own Force connection and sighed as healing warmth flowed from her palm. It knit the skin back together, leaving a fresh scar behind. Now that Meetra was examining her friend, she could see the dark circles that lined the skin beneath his eyes. "You should get some sleep."

"I'm fine."

Sighing in exasperation, Meetra gave the man a pointed glare. "You always say that and you're always lying."

Vann looked surprised. "How do you know I'm lying?"

"Because at the moment, I might know you better than you know yourself."

"Well, now I feel like shit because I barely remember you. And half of what I remember I'm pretty sure I hallucinated." A wistful expression crossed Vann's face. "We must have been close if you know me that well."

"We were. Alek was your best friend but sometimes…" Meetra paused, looking for the right words to describe the complexities of their relationship. "Sometimes I think I understood you better."

"Alek… You said that name back on Korriban. Was that Malak's name?"

"Yes. Honestly, he's still Alek to me. I never really knew Malak."

"Yes, you did." Atton's expression was somber as he glanced around the hold "The difference between the Jedi Knight and the Supreme Commander wasn't as big as most people think. Trust me, I probably know that better than anyone here. It was the Knight who trained me to be an assassin."

"I remember. Well, not all of it, but bits and pieces. Enough to understand why we decided that we needed assassins." Vann was nodding to himself, his eyes unfocused. After a moment he blinked, his gaze studying the younger man."You were one of the best, weren't you? I remember training you to hide your presence and shield your thoughts. Everyone else struggled, but you picked it up almost immediately."

"What can I say?" A faint blush crept across Atton's cheeks. "You and Malak figured out where my real talents lay."

Bastila scoffed. "You were talented in plenty of other areas besides assassinating targets…"

Shoulders slumping, Vann ignored his student's ranting. "Shit, you were only a kid at the time. What were you, eighteen?"

"Seventeen, but who's counting?" Laughing weakly, Atton managed to sound cocky as he explained, "I sliced my records because I wanted to be part of the war effort and I was too impatient to wait another year."

"That doesn't make me feel any better, you know."

Meetra shook her head, a flash of anger surging through her. "Why did I never know about these assassins? You shared all of your other tactics and strategies."

"I think there were a lot of things that I kept from you… and things that I told you but kept from Malak, or whoever he was at the time. I knew how much darkness both of you were willing to accept and I was careful to never push you too far beyond those boundaries. It was calculated." A scheming shrewdness passed through Vann's eyes, an expression that was entirely Revan. "I wanted your unwavering loyalty, and to get that I had to ensure that you didn't question my decisions. I wanted to save the Republic at any cost and I didn't want anyone to stand in my way, including the people I trusted the most."

"But why did you even need assassins?" Glancing over at Atton, Meetra realized that her outrage was as much for him as for herself.

Vann nodded, clearly sensing her frustration. His own presence was withdrawn and tinged in sorrow. "Because not every fight could be won on the battlefield. Even as a mercenary I knew that. There are always enemy strategists who stay off the frontlines, politicians who provide political backing and legitimacy to the enemy, underworld figures who sell weapons to the highest bidder… the list goes on."

"At first, I tried to excuse what I was doing by telling myself that I was evening the score." Laughing sardonically, Atton flashed a dark grin at Bastila, as though daring her to say something.

Ignoring the obvious bait, the younger woman merely muttered, "What I don't understand is why Malak needed human assassins when you had already built a droid to do the job."

When Vann shrugged helplessly in response, Atton cut in. "Malak never trusted that droid. He believed there were some jobs that only organics could do."

"Speaking of which, where is H-Kay? I left him on this ship with a datapad that might have helped you find me a lot sooner…"

As though sensing his master's distress, T3-M4 rolled into the hold urgently whistling an explanation. "Boo beep-beep whoop whoo. Boop boo-bee whoo!"

"The who put him in the what?" Even as Revan, Vann had never had a mind for binary despite learning a myriad of other languages with ease.

"He says that the Jedi didn't like the other droid, took him apart, and locked him in a closet." Meetra's brow furrowed in concern, and she hurriedly clarified, "I'm, uh, not 'the Jedi' in case you're wondering. I never knew there was another droid on this ship."

Atton snorted. "I think it's safe to say that nobody in this room qualifies as a Jedi."

"Yes, we're all shitty Jedi and the Order is richer for having lost us." Vann was already following T3-M4 around the hold, only half-listening to the rest of the conversation. It was good to see that he was still the same bundle of energy, unable to sit still without some sort of project to keep his hands busy and soothe his anxieties. "Now, which closet are you talking about?"

"Bee-whoop boo-boop beep!"

"Shit, the panel's fried. Tee-Three, can you help me…" There was a minor commotion from the corner as Vann and the droid set to work opening the locked closet.

Speaking over the noise, Meetra mused, "Ironically, the Order isn't better without us. They're dying and the Sith are winning."

"And we're going to have to save all of their asses, aren't we?" Arching a brow, Atton grinned. "Which… kind of makes us the better Jedi if you think about it a certain way."

"That is certainly not how it works, Jaq." Huffing indignantly at the very notion, Bastila turned to Meetra. "But I do believe that we may be the only individuals who are capable of defeating this new threat. We're actually quite fortunate to have found Vann when we did…"

That compliment was punctuated by a loud clatter as the pieces of a large droid tumbled out of the closet. Groaning when he saw the poor shape they were in, Vann sighed. "H-Kay, what did they do to you? It's alright, I can fix this. We'll have you spouting insults again in a few days."

Glaring at the reddish-colored droid, Bastila didn't bother to conceal her exasperation. "So exceedingly fortunate."

From that point on, Vann spent his spare time repairing HK-47. Which, Meetra assumed, was why she found him sitting on the garage floor a few days later with a glowrod tucked behind one ear. He was fiddling with his droid while conversing with Brianna as the latter crafted a new lightsaber. Dark stubble pepper the lower half of his face and his hair was pulled back in a messy bun that was already coming loose in several places. He looked so much like he did during the war that the sight made Meetra's heart hurt.

"Am I doing this incorrectly, Revan?" Brianna held up the pieces of a half-finished dual hilt, partially built from the remainder of her old weapon.

"No… Sorry. I didn't mean to stare. It's just that I think you remind me of someone." Vann blinked and shook his head. "But that's impossible. I'm pretty sure she was a lot older than you and also Human. No offense."

Brianna set aside the lightsaber pieces. "Your words do not offend me. I am only half Echani and I have been told that my features honor my Human mother. Perhaps you knew her. It is possible, as she was a Jedi named Arren…"

"Arren Kae? She was my teacher, but I think something bad happened to her. I'm sorry, I don't remember much more than that."

"I have been told of your memory loss. I don't remember much of my mother either, but my father told me that she was a great Jedi Master. She gave her lightsaber crystal to me when she was expelled from the Order due to her attachment to myself and my father." Holding up the deep blue crystal that she planned to set in her new weapon, Brianna admitted, "I've always kept it close to me but I never thought I'd have the opportunity to use it."

Frowning, Vann murmured, "What happened to your mother after she left the Jedi?"

"She followed you to war and…" Brianna closed her eyes. "She met her end in a great battle."

A cold lump settled in Meetra's gut. "Malachor. Master Kae was one of the only soldiers who volunteered to be part of that assault. Of course, she didn't know about…"

"The Mass Shadow Generator. Kriff." Shame bloomed through Vann's presence. "I… I'm sorry Brianna."

"There is no need to apologize. To fall in battle is considered one of the greatest honors to the Echani. If anything, I am the one who dishonors her memory. She was a great Jedi and I have done nothing to respect her legacy. Until now, her crystal never even resonated with me."

"I think that, towards the end of her time with the Order, Master Kae recognized the Jedi's flaws. I'm not sure she'd want you to follow in her footsteps." Shrugging, Vann offered Brianna a thin but genuine smile as he put down the parts he was soldering. "She'd probably be prouder of the path you're on now. You're not following a bunch of arbitrary teachings, you're following your own heart and aiding a cause that you know is right. That's never something to be ashamed of."

"I… Thank you, Revan." Brianna flushed a little before bowing deeply. "To be paid such a high compliment by a renowned warrior like yourself is a great honor indeed."

"It's just Vann but, uh, no problem. It's the truth."

Still clutching the crystal as she moved toward the exit, Brianna bowed again. Some of the worries had lifted from her face. "If you do not mind, I need to step away from my work for a time. My mind is racing and I do not wish to make a mistake. Perhaps I will go and meditate on what you have said."

Vann nodded encouragingly, waving to the Echani as she exited the garage.

After Brianna moved out of sight, Meetra settled herself beside her friend in silent awe. Everyone seemed to think that Vann was a different person since his memory loss but from everything she had seen, he was still the same man she'd admired since childhood. His simple words of encouragement to Brianna were almost identical to the conversations he frequently had with his troops during the war. He had often pulled soldiers or even other Revanchists aside during moments of doubts to assure them that their decisions were valid and that they were far more capable than they believed. The Republic always promoted the images of his impassioned debates with the Jedi Council or his rousing speeches right before major battles, but these more intimate moments were his greater strength.

"Your hair's a mess." Without asking for permission Meetra gently unfastened the tie so that she could unravel the tangles, combing her fingers through the silky strands. They were just as soft as she remembered. Revan had always been remarkably tolerant and even appreciative of her coddling, though she honestly wondered if Vann the mercenary would be as receptive. She half expected to be pushed away, well aware that those who made a living selling violence along the Outer Rim had little patience for tenderness.

But Vann leaned into the calloused fingers carefully smoothing his hair into a neat ponytail. "What are you doing?"

"Fixing it."

"Hmm. Feels nice." After a moment, Vann sighed happily. "Did you do this for me often?"

"Often enough. But then, you and I were always touching each other. I think it confused Alek at times, but he didn't grow up in the Order and didn't realize how normal it was. He was like Bastila and Atton, raised by his birth family long enough to still have memories of them."

"I don't remember any of that. I didn't even realize that I never knew my family."

"Well, I'm not entirely sure that you didn't know them. You're five years older than me and you've literally been a Jedi my entire life." Meetra hummed sadly as she completed tying Vann's hair back, momentarily feeling the old ache that came with thinking about the birth family she never knew. "I don't know how old you were when the Order found you, but you never mentioned a life before the Jedi."

"When you say that things were different for Malak… or Alek, what do you mean?" When there was no immediate response, the former mercenary quickly leaned forward and tried climbing to his feet. "I'm sorry, I'm asking too many questions. You probably don't want to answer them or even think about the Jedi…"

Grasping her friend by the shoulder, Meetra pulled him back down. "Vann, it's alright. I don't mind talking about the people we used to be. It's been seven years and I've had time to come to terms with a lot of things." She drew a slow breath, chasing away her own sorrow. "Alek was a lot older by the time the Order found him… Already a teenager, if I remember correctly. He was originally brought to Coruscant and I was still an Initiate on Danootine at the time, so I wasn't there when it happened."

For a second, Vann's eyes grew unfocused and his expression became lax. It passed quickly, but his voice was still distant when he stated, "They had us train together because we were only a year apart in age and they thought that I would be a… good influence? Kriff, they got that one wrong."

"You were a prodigy. It was a reasonable, if not humorously incorrect assumption."

Vann scoffed in disbelief. "I was a prodigy?!"

"Nobody's told you that? What, do you think your connection to the Force is average?" Meetra chuckled at her friend's shocked expression. "Master Kavar once told me that you were so talented it intimidated the other Padawans. Alek was new to the Order and didn't know who you were. You both needed a friend, so the Masters made a decision that they later regretted."

"But was attachment different for him? Or for us?"

Meetra noticed the flicker of concern that passed through the man's dark eyes. "You remembered something important."

"I'm not sure. Maybe? It might be nothing." Vann sighed, studying the blonde closely. "I just have some memories of us as older teenagers back on Coruscant. The way he used to look at me… Did the Order train me not to notice those types of things?"

The laughter that burst out was completely unintentional, but it felt good. Meetra tried to hold back her giggles, especially as bewilderment and a bit of irritation flowed through the Force, but she couldn't fully contain them. "I'm… I'm sorry for laughing. It's just… This has nothing to do with the Order. You've always been good at convincing others to help you or at reassuring them when their own confidence falters. What you just did for Brianna? That's what made you such an incredible leader. You have a natural charisma that makes others want to follow you."

"But?"

"But you've never been good at understanding certain emotions. Love, at least anything non-platonic, has always puzzled to you. And you were never able to acknowledge that your choices could hurt others emotionally, especially when you were just trying to serve a greater good."

Vann groaned softly as he realized, "Like when I left for Dromund Kaas and didn't tell anyone."

"I was really surprised to learn about you and Carth." Meetra gave her friend a look of admonishment. "But I wasn't particularly shocked to hear that you left him and everyone else you care about without any real warning. And that message you gave to Mand'alor doesn't count."

Clearly eager to change the topic, Vann muttered, "So, Alek…"

"I don't know how much you remember, but I always suspected that he was in love with you. How much of it was admiration and how much was genuine romantic interest I can't say but…" Sadness crept through Meetra as she recalled the way that Alek's gaze always followed Revan with such unrestrained adoration. "For him, there was always something more than camaraderie."

"And I never noticed."

"Not that I'm aware of." Grinning sardonically, Meetra tried to lighten the mood by adding, "It's probably not a bad thing. There's a good chance you would have kriffed it up spectacularly."

Vann remained somber. "Because I didn't already? I'm the reason he fell and dragged the entire Republic down with him."

"No!" The amount of anger and resentment that surged forth surprised Meetra and she drew a breath to calm herself. "Alek chose his path in life. Just because he followed you to war doesn't mean that you're responsible for his fall or his choices afterward."

"But he…"

"He loved you, but that love isn't what poisoned his heart. That was the dark side." Glancing at the bulkhead, Meetra whispered, "Probably the same darkness that we're fighting now."

There was a long minute of silence before Vann hung his head, mumbling, "I'm sorry I'm not the man you remember."

Sorrow spread through the Force, chilling it with so much shame and doubt that Meetra's heart broke all over again. It was the same emotions she had felt a thousand times during the war, always joined by the heavy cloud of anxiety that surrounded Revan whenever he began fearing that even his genius wasn't enough to save the Republic. Tears stung her eyes at the memory and she tried to blink them back, but they continued to flow. Sniffling softly, she flung her arms around her friend's shoulders, gripping him protectively as she fiercely insisted, "No, you're exactly who I remember."

"Meetra…" Vann gathered the smaller figure in his arms, wrapping her up in a tight embrace that was comforting in its familiarity. His awareness flowed forth and he must have sensed the truth in his friend's words because warmth bloomed around him, chasing away some of the uncertainty that clung to his presence. When he finally spoke, his tone was firmer. "I'm not the Republic's only hope, you know. You may have been expelled from the Jedi Order but that isn't a punishment. It's freedom. You're no longer bound to Masters who don't see their own faults, or to a system of beliefs that's become so entrenched in the past that those who follow it can't see the danger in front of their faces."

Hastily brushing away tears, Meetra snorted. "I thought I was the one comforting you."

"I think the war broke us both in different ways and we're each struggling to pick up the pieces. I don't know if this helps, but… I do have a memory of who you were before. You must have been a brand new Padawan when you told me that you wanted to be a Consular so that you could settle conflicts and bring peace to the galaxy." Vann grinned at the thought.

Meetra blushed faintly from embarrassment. "Do you also remember the way my bangs used to stick-up in different directions and the little gap between my front teeth that sometimes whistled when I talked?"

"You still have a tiny gap, it just doesn't whistle." Dodging a playful swat to his shoulder, Vann continued, "The galaxy as a whole cares more about actions than fancy titles like Knight or Master. So, you don't need to be a Jedi to bring peace to others. Just look at everything you've done for your crew. You've given them unity, a place, and a purpose. Hells, you've probably helped more sentients in a few months than most people do in a lifetime."

"Carth claimed I was collecting lost souls."

"I can't say he was wrong. You've gathered quite a collection."

Meetra laughed again, leaning hard against her friend's shoulder. "Thank you."

"For what?" Vann arched a brow, his presence clearly puzzled. "I didn't do anything."

Shaking her head, Meetra leaned up and pressed a soft kiss against his stubbled cheek. "You've done more than you'll ever realize."

Vann still seemed confused at this response, but his expression softened at the gesture just like it always did. Eventually, they settled into more comfortable conversation, trading stories about Meetra's crew and their adventures. Vann wanted to know more about them, and about their interactions with Carth and Canderous. In turn, she asked about the search for the Star Forge and what had transpired to turn Canderous Ordo into the new Mand'alor. It felt like only minutes had passed, but by the time they climbed to their feet their joints were stiff and their legs felt sore from spending hours seated on the garage floor.

It wasn't until later when Meetra was brushing her hair after getting out of the sonic, that she really thought about Vann's advice. It echoed what Kreia had told her back on Korriban. Consular, Jedi… they're just words. Actions are what we're truly judged on.

'What has the Revanchist awoken within you?'

Carefully dividing her hair into smaller sections, Meetra scowled at the mental intrusion. "You're avoiding him, shielding your presence so that he doesn't notice you. Why?"

'Revan has learned everything I can teach him. There is nothing more to be gleaned from our interactions.'

"He still might want to see you."

'And what makes you think that I wish to see him? That I hold any more affection for him than I do for Sion?'

Frowning at the thought, a rush of anger froze in Meetra's veins. "And when you're done with me, will I become one more discarded footnote in your history?"

'Perhaps. And perhaps it is better that way. Passion, be it love or hatred, is often blinding. Great affection will always prevent you from being truly objective.'

"I think you're jealous." It wasn't entirely true, but Meetra wanted to see what her mentor would say to the accusation. "Revan was my teacher long before you were, and now he's back."

'You still have much to learn, child. The lessons to come will be your hardest yet and the Revanchist is ill-prepared to handle them.'

Irritated at the older woman's vagueness, Meetra snapped, "What do you actually know of the future, Kreia? Have you seen something, or are you only guessing? Sometimes I think you like to be cryptic because you don't know any more than the rest of us."

Laughter reverberated through the bond. 'Ah, now you are finally asking the right questions. Good. You are right to doubt me, just as you should doubt any member of your crew… including the Revanchist.'

"I trust him because he's given me a lot of reasons to, unlike you."

'You should not trust me. It's wise of you to think critically and it is better to be wise than merely intelligent. That is why the Mandalorians feared you so.'

"The Mandalorians feared me because I killed them," Meetra declared, looking at her reflection in the refresher mirror. She wasn't weaving her hair into its usual braid, but instead something far more complex. "But fear and death will only get you so far."

'And so I ask you, someone who has seen the death of the Force and has lived blind to its power, who has brought armies to their knees and has in turn been rendered completely helpless, what lies on the other side of it all?'

Meetra smiled at her reflection. "Potential."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 08 - RAKATA PRIME

Now (3953)

"This is the Ebon Hawk, requesting permission to land on Rakata Base. We would like to return one Bastila Shan before she starts sorting all of our clothing by color. Over." Atton grinned at the venomous scowl he received.

Carth's chuckle was soft and somewhat static-y as it filtered through the comm unit. "We read you, Ebon Hawk. Permission granted. And I, for one, am glad to hear that you've all made it back safely."

Vann had to bite his knuckle to keep from blurting anything out, the sound of his partner's voice causing a choked gasp to catch in his throat. Nobody had told Carth that he was on the ship, mostly because he ordered them not to. He didn't want to get his partner's hopes up only to be shot down by a squadron of Sith fighters or recaptured by the Emperor at an Outer Rim fueling station. At least, that's what he claimed. In truth, he didn't want the captain to know he was on board because he couldn't deal with the very real potential that the other man never wanted to see him again. It had been two years and he hadn't exactly left on the best terms. It wouldn't surprise him if Carth was angry enough to end their relationship, or had simply moved on with his life.

The Hawk was breaking through the planet's atmosphere, the instruments going silent for a few minutes as everything recalibrated for Rakata Prime. There were some beeps, though nothing notable happened before the ship touched down on the Republic landing pad. The distant sound of crashing surf was audible the moment that the hatch opened to reveal Carth, dressed in his uniform and standing in easy parade rest. He was escorted by Juhani and Jolee, each wearing their own choice of robes that displayed the lightsabers resting at their hips.

It was Bastila who walked out first, warmly embracing the captain as all of the triumphs and losses they'd experienced flowed around them in brilliant waves. "Did you learn anything new?" Hope filled the Carth's voice and he was clearly struggling to keep his expression professional.

"A couple of things." Meetra rested calmly against the Hawk's doorway, her hands tucked into her pockets. "That uniform is a good look, by the way. It's funny, for a while I thought you might be lying about being a Republic captain."

"Well, I wasn't." Gesturing to his red coat with its black accents and matching gloves, Carth forced a laugh. "So, what's this new informa…"

If this was a holovid, Vann would calmly appear silhouetted in the doorway, the proud hero returning from his time in captivity as his lover looked on in admiration. But he'd never been that suave. Instead, he nearly knocked Meetra over when he raced through the exit and down the ramp, only stopping when he suddenly remembered that Carth could be angry instead of pleased at his reappearance. After all, the last huge surprise that he'd sprung on the other man had resulted in a well-deserved punch to the face. He wanted an opportunity to duck this time.

"…Vann?"

Time seemed to stand still as the former mercenary stood awkwardly in front of Carth, struggling to find the right words. All he managed was a helpless shrug as he stared at his partner with unabashed adoration. A mixture of happiness and shame warred within him and he debated rushing over to steal one last kiss before reality inevitably caught up and everything came crashing down. He was about to settle for apologizing repeatedly, maybe mixed with a little groveling, when a pair of strong arms wrapped around his waist, enveloping him. As he clung to the captain's shoulders he sighed in relief.

"Is it you? Is it really you?" Carth whispered disbelievingly against his partner's ear before drawing back just a little. "You do remember me, right?"

Vann answered by surging forward and kissing the other man, his fingers digging into the powerful muscles of his partner's back. When their lips finally separated he was breathless, caught somewhere between laughter and sobbing. "Of course I remember you. Unless you're going to punch me for leaving, in which case I have no idea who you are or why I just kissed you."

"I should punch you. I really kriffing should." Instead, Carth kissed him again, deeper this time but no less desperate.

Imagining this moment was what kept Vann alive, even when he was screaming uncontrollably as the Sith Emperor tore the skin from his body and his fragile memories from his mind. When he was left alone, vulnerable and afraid, he clung to thoughts of coming home and the people who awaited him there. That love was what kept him from being overcome by depression and loneliness. He'd gone to Dromund Kaas to save the Republic, but it was Carth and his other friends who had saved him during his captivity.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I left without saying something. Bastila already told me how terrible I am."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Malachor Five. I always forget how strong you are. You're the strongest person I know."

"It's okay. You didn't tell me because I'm also an impulsive kriffing asshole who goes off and tries to save the Republic on my own."

"You're here. You're really here."

Vann was pretty sure that he accidentally knocked Carth's hat off when they kissed again, but he couldn't care less. He hated that stupid thing. All of his attention was focused on the warm, solid body supporting him and the familiar pair of lips moving against his own as a tongue began to tease and taste him. His selfish side felt like he more than deserved this moment after losing nearly everything else, while his more anxious impulses were afraid that this was also going to slip through his fingers at any second. Whining softly, he clung tighter, suddenly afraid to let go.

Someone was insistently clearing their throat just over Vann's left shoulder and he tried to ignore them, at least until Jolee loudly announced, "I'm sure glad there aren't more Sith coming to attack the Republic."

Sighing heavily, Vann reluctantly drew back. It was only when his boots hit the ground that he realized Carth had been holding him up, a subtle reminder of just how physically capable his partner was. Glaring at the older Force user, he grumbled, "I assume Bastila told you everything that Meetra found on Korriban?"

"She reported some of it to the enclave. I also experienced a bit of it firsthand on Dantooine, along with Meetra and several of her allies," Juhani noted as she nodded to the Ebon Hawk's new crew. They were slowly making their way off the ship, reacting with varying levels of amusement to Vann's enthusiastic reunion with Carth.

The former mercenary nodded, still pressed close to his partner. "So, you know about the three Sith Lords that the Emperor has sent to destabilize the Republic?"

"You mentioned that on Korriban, and I already told you that there are only two. Sion and Nihilus." Furrowing her brow, Meetra eyed her friend cautiously.

"No, there's three. I don't know where the other one is, but the Emperor definitely has three agents under his sway. While he tortured me for his own amusement…"

Fingers gripped Vann's shoulder as Carth hissed, "You were tortured?"

"What's a little torture between mortal enemies? It's fine."

Guiltily biting her lip, Bastila muttered, "Your hands kept shaking while you were describing the experience…"

"I'm fine."

"You're lying, but go on." Meetra shook her head sadly. "You always seem to know more than the rest of us combined."

Waving away everyone's concern, Vann explained, "Once the Emperor discovered that I'm fairly resistant to pain, he started prying information directly from my mind. Or trying to, at least. What he didn't realize is that the mental link went both ways and I could catch glimpses into his memories as well. It wasn't a lot, but I learned how to focus my end of our connection so that I could search for what I wanted. Eventually, I discovered that he has three Human Sith under his command. He didn't call them by name, at least not in his mind, but he had titles for them. The Lord of Pain, the Lord of Hunger, and the Lord of Betrayal."

Pausing to consider this information, Meetra mused, "I'm assuming that Sion is the Lord of Pain."

Atton gasped in mock surprise. "The Sith who looks like he sleeps cuddled-up with vibroblades? No way."

"Lord Nihilus used to tell us that his appetite was insatiable. That it's why he consumes worlds." Brianna's presence grew chilled with shame as she confessed, "I believe he must be the Lord of Hunger."

"Which leaves the Lord of Betrayal." Meetra's jaw tensed at the thought.

"Hmm." Kreia had barely been noticeable until now, subtly keeping to the shadows around the Hawk. Vann had seen her a few times during the journey to Rakata Prime, each sighting triggering a faint nagging sensation at the back of his mind as though there was a memory that he couldn't quite grasp. Or one that he was being forced to forget. "Betrayal is one of the oldest and darkest emotions. It is said that, even if we were to purge all other darkness from the galaxy, betrayal would always exist. It lies at the heart of every sentient."

Vann wanted to deny this sentiment but his argument died in his throat as he remembered how he and Malak had betrayed each other during his first visit to Dromund Kaas, and how he had inadvertently betrayed Meetra by ordering the use of the Mass Shadow Generator. They had been his closest friends and allies during the war. If he was capable of turning on them so easily, who was he to say that betrayal didn't exist at everyone's core?

A flicker of reassurance flowed through the bond with Bastila, a connection that he had only reopened once he'd been back on the Hawk for a few days. When Meetra first found him, his mind had been frighteningly tumultuous, something that he didn't want his student to experience. With a thin smile, he sent her back a gentle wave of gratitude, glad to have re-established their link.

"So," Meetra began, also noting her friend's distress. "We know the identities of two of these Sith Lords and that there's a third one out there somewhere. Anything else?"

The uncomfortable silence that descended made the answer obvious. They knew almost nothing about their enemies.

"Well, that's reassuring." Tutting in amusement, Jolee looked at the other members of his enclave. "I hate to remind you of what you've probably already realized and want to forget, but there are other sentients whose hoarded knowledge and stifling fear of the dark side might be useful in this situation."

"The remaining Jedi Masters!" Bastila looked momentarily pleased, only for the expression to fade into embarrassment. "I told Master Vrook that I would keep him apprised of the situation and I completely forgot."

Meetra scoffed. "I honestly don't think he expects to hear from any of us again."

Echoing the former general's sour expression, Vann stated, "I would rather lick a lightsaber than ask for help from Vrook Lamar."

"Always so prideful…" There was admonishment in Kreia's tone, but also a hint of amusement.

Twisting her lips ruefully, Visas whispered, "There's also Master Kavar… and Master Atris."

Vann arched a brow at Meetra. "Are you alright contacting Atris? I kind of recall that she and you had a thing that didn't exactly end well."

"We talked. It didn't go spectacularly but I've moved past mourning what was never meant to be. Obsessing over what could have been is stagnation and leaves no room to grow."

"Are you ready to speak with Atris again?" Carth gave his partner a curious look.

"Ugh, no." Raking both hands through his hair, Vann groaned. "Not after what happened in the archives. And you know what? I bet the Masters don't know any more than we do! This is probably going to be a giant kriffing waste of time."

Sometimes, Vann hated being right. He wondered if his penchant for knowing that certain things would result in a heaping pile of bantha shit was part of being a Force prodigy or if he was simply such a good strategist that he could predict when plans were doomed from the start. After a bit of arguing it was decided that Vann and Meetra would be the only individuals to meet with the Masters. Officially, they had been selected because they had the most experience with both combat tactics and this new Sith threat. Unofficially, it was abundantly clear that nobody else wanted to throw themselves into the rancor pit. The former mercenary couldn't blame them.

Now seated around a table in one of Rakata Base's large conference rooms, he watched as the blue-toned holograms of Atris, Kavar, and Vrook took turns yelling while gesturing emphatically. Most of their tirades were directed at Vann, though Meetra was also earning a good deal of their ire. Carth, as the neutral moderator and only non-Force-sensitive, was mostly ignored.

"This only proves my point yet again," Vrook was ranting, "It was thoughtless and shortsighted of you to lead the Jedi to war! If you had waited patiently like the conservative members of the Council wanted, we could have discovered this Sith Emperor long ago."

"Or we'd all be speaking Mandalorian and enslaved by the Sith Empire." Meetra's expression was placid even as her presence surged coldly with annoyance.

"She has a point." Kavar held up his hand before his fellow Masters could object. "And don't tell me that I have a soft spot for her, because I won't deny it. That has nothing to do with playing favorites and everything to do with the fact that if the Council had been more proactive, we might have uncovered the true power behind the Mandalorians' campaign years before Revan did."

"And acquiring that information was easy, too! All I had to do was defeat Mandalore the Ultimate in single combat."

Sighing at the sarcasm, Kavar scolded, "I'm on your side. And I'm glad to see that you put all of those additional Juyo and Jar'Kai lessons to good use."

Vann didn't know how to respond, considering that he'd forgotten who originally taught him his signature style.

"What I am more curious about is what you discovered on Korriban. If you hadn't been so hasty with your retreat, you could have gathered any number of artifacts or texts that may have revealed the Sith Lords' ultimate goals. Perhaps there were clues hidden in the files at Malak's monstrosity of an academy."

"I'm what they discovered on Korriban, Atris." Gesturing to himself, Vann glared at the Echani Master's hologram. "And I've already explained the Sith's goal. They want to weaken and destabilize the Republic so that the Sith Emperor can swoop in and claim everything for himself. If you're asking for specifics examples, I would think they're pretty obvious to someone as learned as you. First and foremost, the Sith are taking out the Republic's most effective line of defense."

"The Jedi," Meetra murmured.

Nodding Vann continued, "And they're attacking any potentially dangerous planets that weren't already weakened by the Mandalorians."

Realization dawned across Kavar's features. "Like Eshan, a planet of warriors."

"Or Katarr, which had an entire colony of Miraluka who could sense an invasion using the Force." Vrook appeared even more disgruntled than usual.

"Exactly. These Sith are smart. While they serve the Emperor, I don't think he's actively controlling their every move." Vann paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Much of what he had learned from the Sith Emperor was still a jumble of images and emotions, understandable to him but difficult to parse into words. "From what I could tell here's merely guiding them, directing them towards potential problems."

Atris narrowed her pale eyes. "What makes you think that these new Sith aren't his puppets?"

"For one thing, they're not 'new.' All three embraced the dark side on their own years ago." A tumultuous expression settled on Vann's face as he thought back to his own brief time under the Sith's sway. "The Emperor learned from experience that completely breaking and controlling his subjects doesn't work, at least not from this distance."

"How did he learn that?" Suspicion colored Vrook's words.

"Because it didn't work on Malak and me. While I was on Dromund Kaas, the Emperor tried to access whatever control he had originally had over me, but I'd somehow freed myself from his influence. He…" Shuddering at the memories of the Emperor's torturous experiments, Vann muttered, "He spent some time trying to discover how I broke his control, and in the process, I learned that Malak also slipped free from the Emperor soon after I, er, 'died.'"

Scoffing, Atris glared at the others. "But Malak did destabilize the Republic. It seems he did exactly what he Sith master ordered."

"Yes… and no." Chuckling at the irony of it all, Vann clarified, "As much as I hate to admit it, he didn't destroy planets. He used the military to seize control of them and then fortified what was left against any possible invasion. Brutal? Yes, but also effective."

"You sound like you admire what the Sith did." Vrook appeared thoroughly disgusted.

"I admire seeing my own tactics utilized, Master."

Sensing the increasing tension ripping through the Force, Meetra drew a slow breath. "I think we can all agree that this enclave has fully disclosed what we've learned. Now I believe it's your turn to do the same, Masters."

"Don't think I'm unaware that you stole classified information from my academy." Atris folded her arms into her billowing sleeves. "That alone leads me to believe that any 'good faith' on your part is merely a ploy to acquire Jedi secrets for your own gain."

"My droid…"

Vann glanced at Meetra "He's technically my droid, but go on."

"Tee-Three took that information because you stole my ship…"

"The Hawk is technically my ship."

Rolling her eyes, Meetra waved Vann off before turning back to the Echani Master with a scowl. "You stole the Ebon Hawk and then tried to download Tee-Three's memory without his permission! He retaliated, which is something we were unaware of until after we'd left the academy."

Clearly uninterested in the details of the situation, Vrook declared, "Any theft of information aside, I see no reason to disclose potentially sensitive findings to those who the Order has deemed morally compromised…"

"We don't know any more than you do. In fact, we know significantly less." Kavar merely shrugged at the shocked grumbles from his fellow Masters. "What? It's the truth. Revan and Meetra may not be Jedi, but they've proven themselves the most capable allies that we currently have. The Order is dying and we do not have the high ground, either tactically or morally."

Meetra let out an impressed hum. "Spoken almost like a Consular, Master Kavar."

"I'd like to believe I'm capable of learning from my students."

"So, none of you know anything useful?" Vann waited a few moments just to confirm this fact before snarling, "Well, that's just great. I'm so glad I spent two years being tortured just to come home and learn that the Jedi Order used the time to run and hide from their problems rather than confronting anything head-on. Kriffing Sith hells, it's good to see that some things never change you karking cowards!"

The anger surging beneath Vann's skin was comforting in its familiarity, and he clung to it even though he knew this was the worst possible time to lose his temper. But he'd just confirmed that the past two years had been spent collecting information to save an Order that clearly valued him more dead than alive. As that realization settled cold in his gut, the raw power of his outrage coursed through his body. He heard Carth pointedly hiss between his teeth while making a show out of rubbing his own eyes, the message clear. But Vann couldn't bring himself to care that his irises had turned an eerie shade of yellow, the drastic color shift likely projecting over the comm system.

As though to confirm this, Atris sneered, "It's also good to know that you're as weak and corrupt as ever."

"You've never known a damned thing about me," Vann shot back, his voice shaking with barely controlled rage. Ever since his first conversation with Meetra back on the Hawk, small glimpses of his childhood had been filtering back in disjointed dreams. He often woke gasping for air, his heart hammering as loneliness clawed at his chest.

"I'm just a prodigy that the Council heaped responsibilities onto even though you knew that it was isolating me from the rest of my peers. You gave me extra assignments and encouraged me to do my own research, but you never considered the fact that every new piece of information I absorbed enabled me to see beyond your doctrine and think for myself. And then, when I finally dared to use everything that you made me learn, you told me that I was wrong. That I was too arrogant, too manipulative, and too impulsive. But really, the only thing I've ever been is exactly what the Order made me."

"It's true." Meetra's tone was soft, unlike the firm-yet-comforting hand she placed on her friend's shoulder.

Hearing this confirmation only increased Vann's inner fury. "And while we're at it, can we talk about how you took one of the most talented and promising Consulars that the Order has ever seen and treated her like bantha fodder? All Meetra ever wanted was to do was to help others and create a lasting harmony throughout the galaxy. You're lucky she realized that words don't always work and that direct action is sometimes needed in response to genocide."

"I'm not as gifted as you make me sound." Slender fingers tightened their grip as Meetra's presence was clouded by doubt.

"You and the rest of the Council labeled this brilliant woman as a monster when she acted to save the entire kriffing Republic. Yet, she still had enough faith in the Jedi to return to the Order at her lowest point. And you threw that trust back in her face when you refused to help, all so that you could gloat that the Council was right and the Revanchists were wrong!" Turning away from the holograms projected on the table, Vann made an obscene hand gesture towards the Masters before declaring, "I'm done with this karking farce of a conversation."

Meetra opened her mouth to add something and then paused, her brow furrowing as she clearly debated what to say. When she finally spoke her voice was balanced, but tight with emotion. "Vann is right. We bled for the Republic and you hid behind our sacrifice to earn back the people's trust. You publicly called us heroes even as you privately doubted every choice we made."

"You were so young," Kavar insisted. "We had good reason to doubt your decisions."

"You're right, we were little more than children!" Pain laced each word Meetra spoke, the weight of her memories audible in every syllable. "I was nineteen years old when you gave us permission to join the war effort and twenty when we officially became the Republic Mercy Corps. I wasn't even a Knight, I still needed, the Masters' guidance. But you refused to provide it because you didn't want to take responsibility for who we became. You had an opportunity to guide us, but you declined it."

Bowing his head Vann guiltily admitted, "I tried to guide you and the rest of the Revanchists… but we all saw how that turned out."

"You did the best you could for someone who was still struggling to find your own path. Hells, you were only twenty when they made you a Knight, twenty-one when you realized that the Mandalorians had to be stopped, and twenty-four when you found yourself in charge of a group of Jedi on the cusp of war. You were so young and idealistic that you never realize how hard that task would be…"

"Because Jedi should never go to war," Vrook stated bluntly while staring at the two Force users.

"For once you're entirely right. And now you understand why so many of the Revanchists ceased to be Jedi and found our own codes. War forced us to realize that passion can lead to peace and knowledge can be found through power and strength. Most importantly, we learned that victory can bring about harmony."

Atris sucked in a sharp breath. "Blasphemy!"

"Only to someone who sat safely in the Council chambers while war raged around you. Someone who was willing to let the Republic fall in the name of patience and wisdom even when you felt the agony that filled the Force as the Mandalorians slaughtered people by the millions. If the inability to stand idly by as innocents are murdered makes us blasphemes against the Jedi Order, then we're proud to wear that title."

"We did not stand idly by…"

Kavar interrupted Atris's excuses with a sharp glare. "Yes, we did. That blood is on our hands."

It was unsurprising when the Echani Master disconnected her comm unit with a scoff of disgust. The truly shocking moment came when Kavar and Vrook remained, neither uttering a sound as Meetra continued to speak.

"I abandoned the Jedi Code when I went to war, but at least I did so with good reason. You abandoned me… us… when we needed you the most, all to soothe your wounded pride. And yet, we corrupted individuals are willing to aid your Order in its most desperate hour, not because we love the Jedi but because it's the right thing to do."

"We both died in our own ways to save the galaxy," Vann noted with a heavy note of irony. "For most people, that would be more than enough. But we're heading back into the fray because your asses still need our help. Kinda says something, doesn't it?"

Both Vrook and Kavar said nothing for several long moments, their expressions blank as they avoided eye contact with everyone else in the room. The silence stretched on for so long that Carth began to shift uncomfortably, glancing nervously at the Force users.

It was Kavar who finally broke the quiet as he bowed his head and admitted, "I… I cannot speak for the rest of the Council, but I for one am sorry for not being a better man."

"Don't apologize, Master. As Vann said, words aren't always a solution. Sometimes action is needed. So, if you're truly sorry, act. Help us to beat these Sith. If you don't know how to help, find a way."

Kavar brightened a bit. "I have a few ideas. The first is that you should seek out Master Ell on Nar Shadda. He's a Consular and an expert at uncovering hidden secrets. That's why he chose to search for answers on the Smuggler's Moon."

"I remember Master Ell. He always did seem to know certain things before the rest of the Order. I thought it was the will of the Force, but I'm somewhat glad to learn that his methods are a little less mystical. Thank you."

"No, thank you. Both of you. For the information and for your… continued assistance." Despite his scowl, Vrook's voice lacked its usual venom as he added, "Though, I continue to disapprove of your methods."

"Aw, Vrook. Did it hurt to admit your gratitude?"

"Don't push your luck, young man."

"I've been to Nar Shadda a few times and I have to warn you that it's not going to be easy to find one person in that hive of scum, especially if he doesn't want to be found." Noting his partner's incredulous expression, Carth blinked. "What? I worked as a smuggler for three years."

"You told me that you were just a pilot." Feigning surprise, Vann added, "My mistake!"

"Carth is right, tracking down someone like Master Ell on Nar Shadda will be difficult, but I think I know someone who can help draw him out." A faint smile tugged at the corners of Meetra's mouth as she bowed to the Jedi. "We'll remain in contact, Masters."

Surprisingly, Kavar returned the gesture with just as much respect. "And we'll do the same. If we can't reach your crew, we'll contact the enclave on Rakata."

There were a few more formalities as comm channels were exchanged and contact information was confirmed, though Vann didn't pay much attention to the chatter. This was Carth's area, and he was more than willing to let his partner handle the small details. Instead, his mind was already wandering to the next task at hand, concern churning in his gut. When the connections with Vrook and Kavar were finally closed, he frowned at Meetra.

"I swear to the Force, if you say that your contact for Nar Shadda is Rand…"

"I spent seven years wandering the farthest reaches of the known galaxy. I think it's safe to say that I had time to meet a few shady characters besides Atton."

Worry painted Carth's features as he looked down at his datapad. "Speaking of suspicious individuals, I just received a message that someone arrived on base asking to speak with you, Meetra."

"What? Who?" Worry flared around the blonde. "I can't imagine that anyone else would know that I'm here of all places."

"Well, this isn't suspicious at all. There's no way this can possibly be a trap." Reaching for lightsaber hilts that no longer hung at his hips, Vann asked, "Want me to come with you to meet this probably-a-Sith-assassin?"

"Oh, I've already met one of those. You trained him." Noting her companion's abashed expression, Meetra quickly assured him, "I'm joking. Sort of. In the sense that everything I said is true. But that doesn't mean that I wouldn't appreciate you coming with me to meet…?"

"Apparently it's someone named Mira?"


The meeting happened on the nearby beach, about half a kilometer from the heart of the enclave that had sprung up over the years. This meant that there were at least six Force-users visibly hovering at the periphery, waiting to step in if the situation turned ugly. Vann would have felt bad for Mira if she didn't seem completely unphased by the situation. Leaning casually against the rough trunk of a tall palm tree, she recalibrated her wrist-mounted weapons launcher as she explained the complexities of this particular situation.

"So, let me get this straight. You're a bounty hunter who was contracted to capture Meetra, but instead of completing the contract you tracked her all the way here just to warn her that other hunters might be after her?" Vann rubbed his temple as he fought off a growing headache.

"I mean, if you really want to oversimplify things, that about covers it."

"You said that the Exchange gave the contract to all of the bounty hunters on Nar Shadda? Who are they and why are they so interested in me?"

"The Exchange is an extremely wealthy criminal organization that operates throughout the galaxy. They have multiple branches, many of which function independently from each other." Attempting to laugh off Meetra's curious gaze, Vann admitted, "I, uh, did some mercenary work for them in the past."

Mira squinted as she peered at Vann and then let out an impressed whistle. "Chis, right? I thought you looked familiar. Never dreamed that I'd get to meet someone with your reputation on friendly terms if you know what I mean."

The awkwardness increased when Meetra arched a brow and gave the former mercenary a sly little half-smile that was equal parts amused and too smug for her own damn good. The knowingness in her gaze made him squirm and it was a relief when Atton's voice broke into the conversation. Or, it would have been if the former assassin's approach hadn't been so eerily quiet that nobody noticed his presence until he spoke.

"The Exchange also has a history of working with the Sith. Malak used them for several jobs during his reign, so I wouldn't be surprised if these new Sith are doing the same thing."

"Well, that would make sense in all of the worst ways." Meetra frowned as she considered the new information. "I think the real question is why you're giving me a warning rather than jabbing me with a stun baton and dragging me in for the bounty."

"For one thing, I prefer to use a Bothan stunner. For another, you're more valuable to me than the credits the Exchange is offering." A calculating glint passed through Mira's hazel eyes. "I respect my targets. More importantly, I respect what they can do for me. I have an old score to settle with someone who's after you, and the way I see it we can help each other with our respective problems."

Arching a brow, Meetra glanced around to gauge the others' reactions. "What did you have in mind?"

"I can help you avoid the other hunters who are on your tail…"

"Oh great, how many are there?"

Mira scoffed at Atton's exasperated groan, clearly feeling that he was asking the wrong question. "But if I help you, then you have to give me a hand dealing with one specific nerf brain."

Meetra fell still for a few moments before nodding. "That sounds fair enough, especially since we need to search Nar Shadda as quickly as possible and that will be a lot easier to do if we're not beating back bounty hunters. Just one question… Who exactly are we helping you deal with?"

"Does it matter? You seem like someone who can handle herself in any type of situation, at least if that lightsaber is more than just show. But alright, I'll lay my full side deck on the table. It's a Wookiee named Hanharr who's been chasing me for years. I'm sick of it and it's interfering with my work, especially since he's dangerous enough to throw just about any situation into chaos. Get him off my ass and we'll call this thing even."

Narrowing his eyes, Atton demanded, "Alright, what's the catch? There's always a catch to these things."

"No catch. Just one big, murderous carpet who needs a good ass-kicking. Look, I'm the best bounty hunter on Nar Shadda. But I'm also honest…"

"Don't forget modest," Vann noted with a chuckle.

"When I make a deal, I stay true to my word. It's how I was raised."

The gaping void that reflected Meetra's renewed connection to the Force shivered as she extended her presence, her awareness seeping out like a bleeding wound. It was a disconcerting sensation, though not entirely unpleasant. While the scars of Malachor echoed through everything that she did, beneath them flowed the thrum of raw power. Even without asking, Vann knew what his friend was checking the bounty hunter's words for any thread of a lie, just like he was. And, like him, she sensed nothing but brutal honesty. It was obvious in the way her lips curled into a thin but genuine smile as she nodded to the other woman and extended her hand to seal the arrangement.

"It seems like we have ourselves a deal."

"Great!" With a near-feral grin, Mira reached past Meetra's hand and firmly grabbed the other woman's forearm, giving it two shakes before using the leverage to pull the blonde closer so that she could deliver a hard clap to the other woman's shoulder.

Atton grimaced. "My first instinct is to say that this is a horrible idea that can only end badly. But I said the same thing about the handmaid… er, Brianna, and that actually turned out well."

As he watched Meetra laugh at some joke Mira was telling her, Vann felt a pang of nostalgia. "She has a habit of inspiring loyalty in people. I think it's because she brings out the good in them."

"Even you?"

Unsure how to answer the younger man's question, Vann half-heartedly shrugged as he desperately wracked his scattered memories for a clue. From the little he could recall, he'd been the one to bring out all of Meetra's worst qualities when he led her to war and exposed her to all of the atrocities that came with it. He had encouraged her to shed the Jedi's teachings and embrace her own darkness, ultimately providing her with the strength to destroy two fleets and an entire planet. Maybe she couldn't bring out the good in him because there was nothing good to find.

"If I bring out the best in others, it's only because I had an excellent commander who set a good example." Meetra smiled softly, her presence attempting to push past the doubt that was rapidly forming. "And before you try to deny it, I'm pretty sure there's an entire beach full of people who will agree with me."

"Yeah, well…" Anxious to change the topic, Vann grumbled, "It seems like you're all set. You have your crew and my ship, and once you located Ell on Nar Shadda you might actually figure out what these Sith and their Emperor are planning. You did good work. I'm glad someone was able to clean up my mess."

Urgency filled Meetra's voice. "Come with us. This is your mission, not mine. My crew went out to discover the source of the Jedi deaths and to locate Revan. We did that. Our next job should be to assist you."

"In case you haven't noticed, her crew is composed of two Force novices, a former Sith apprentice, a woman who's older than dirt, a bounty hunter, and me." Despite his humor, there was no disguising the awe in Atton's voice as he grinned sheepishly at his former commander. "We can use all the help we can get."

"After everything I did, you honestly want me to travel with you?"

It was Meetra's turn to shrug. "Can't hurt. We made a pretty good team during the war."

"We blew-up a karking planet!"

"We successfully blew-up a planet." Noting the tension that was building, Meetra sobered as she quietly added, "And I sense that we've both grown since then. Come with us, Vann. See this through to the end."

The former mercenary closed his eyes and drew a long breath. He could smell the salt in the air and hear the familiar calls of seabirds as they flew over the crashing waves. All of these things meant home, a precious place that he'd yearned for during his time in captivity. There was nowhere else in the galaxy that he'd rather be. But Meetra was right. This was his mission and he had to finish what he started. "Kriff," he chuckled humorlessly. "Carth is going to kill me for leaving again."

Sympathy shone in Meetra's gaze. "I'll explain things to Carth. Maybe I can make him understand why you need to do this. He's a Republic Captain, he must know the complexities of war."

"Carth is a brave man. And despite everything he's been through, he's still a good man. That's why he won't understand that I have to go. This isn't about strategy or combat tactics. It's, it's…"

"This is about sacrifice. About accepting lesser evils to prevent greater horrors. It's about letting in just enough darkness to make the light shine that much brighter." Meetra's words finished Vann's thoughts so perfectly that it felt like they'd come from his own mouth. For the first time since rediscovering his identity, he knew that someone understood the burden he'd been given. "Go. Get whatever you need. I'll try to explain things to Carth."

Packing was oddly simple. Aside from clothing, all of the supplies that Vann wanted were already stowed on the Ebon Hawk and besides, he preferred to travel light. There were only two things that he really needed from Rakata, which is how he found himself standing at the workbench tucked into the corner of the apartment that he and Carth shared. In his absence, someone had moved his assorted projects off to the side, but the various parts he'd left behind remained mostly untouched. That made it easy to locate the lightsaber hilts that he'd started constructing before his departure.

The design was different from his previous weapons, the form partially inspired by his hazy dreams of the Sith Emperor's palace with its sharp arches and towering pillars. Four additional strips of metal swept out from the grip and extended past the emitter, each one ending in a point that would frame the blade when it was ignited. But a few significant modifications were needed before he could set the crystals. He was using the Force to affix the last lens when a shout nearly caused him to drop the components he was mentally holding aloft.

"Meetra told me you're leaving again. Dammit Vann, we just found you! I just got you back!"

Waving his hands to snap the lightsaber's outer casing into place before laying it on the bench, the former mercenary turned to face his partner. "Did she explain why I have to go?"

"Yes, not that I understood half of it. And honestly? I want to hear it from you." Carth pressed into the other man's space. "Tell me to my face why you're leaving again. Explain why you feel a constant need to go off and…"

"Because I have to! Because there's someone out there threatening everything and everyone we care about and I might be the only one who can stop him!"

"Why you? There are hundreds of other Force users in the galaxy, close to a dozen of them currently on this very planet." Gesturing to the beach beyond the Republic base, Carth pleaded, "Why can't one of them do it? Why not Meetra, or Bastila, or…"

"Because I'm Revan! I'm the bastard who went to war to save the Republic and then traveled into Unknown Space searching for answers. I'm the one who dared to stand up to the Mandalorians and the Sith. I was willing to fall. Hells, I was willing to die. And I'm the only person in the entire kriffing galaxy who has the strength, skill, and knowledge to do it all again!"

"Are you Revan? You told me in that holovid you left with Canderous that Revan is gone and you're just some Outer Rim mercenary."

"Well, I was wrong. It wouldn't be the first time!" By now they were both yelling in frustration. Even without extending his awareness Vann could feel the hurt pouring off of Carth at the mention of the farewell message that the new Mand'alor had delivered. He ran one hand through his hair as he drew a shaky breath and attempted to rein in his temper. "I might not remember everything about my past and I might not feel like the hero of the Republic, but Revan is still part of who I am. And if you don't… Wait. Why are you smiling? Stop smiling, it's creeping me out."

But the amused grin tugging at the corners of Carth's mouth only grew as he reached out to cup Vann's cheek. "When we first met, you were one of the most confident people I'd ever seen. I'm sure some of that was just for show, but that didn't change the fact that whenever you talked I wanted to listen. After the Leviathan and the Star Forge… that confidence vanished. But it sounds like you found it again."

"And all it took was being imprisoned by my mortal enemy!" Noting his partner's grimace Vann pressed closer, wrapping his arms around the other man's waist. "I'm kidding. It was honestly Meetra who told me that I'm not all that different from the Jedi she knew."

"She does have a way with words. I'm glad that you two found each other again, and that you can work together to deal with this new threat."

So… does this mean that you're glad I'm leaving?"

"No! I'm extremely worried. But if this is something that you really feel that you need to do, I'm not going to stop you."

Chuckling against the other man's ear, Vann challenged, "You couldn't stop me if you tried."

"There's nobody in the galaxy who can stop you once you set your mind to something. Though, you'll be even more effective with a working pair of 'sabers." Noting the hilts resting on the workbench, Carth reached for the crystal hanging beneath his shirt. "Are you going to need this back…?"

"No, I want you to keep that. I actually bought a pair of crystals from an old acquaintance a few weeks before I left for Coruscant. He said that he found them in the ruins of Exar Kun's stronghold on Yavin Four. I thought he was lying and trying to drive up the price until I actually held them." Retrieving a small metal box that was buried beneath a pile of circuit boards and wires, Vann sucked in a sharp breath as he opened the lid. Inside lay two crystals, both more rectangular in structure than the one he'd gifted to Carth. They glowed softly from within their nest of black cloth, each one producing a unique hum as they sent pulses of energy into the surrounding Force.

"I've never felt anything like them. Even if they weren't forged in Kun's war, they're still touched by the Force in a way that I can't explain. It's like holding the heart of the galaxy in my palm. Before I left, I decided to build custom hilts for them. I'm not sure why…"

"Because you couldn't sleep and started tinkering to pass the time."

Ignoring Carth's sarcasm Vann gently removed both crystals, taking a moment to examine each one before placing them on the workbench. Focusing his power, he used the Force to carefully separate the parts of one hilt, peeling back layers until the crystal chamber was revealed. Setting the new crystal was surprisingly complicated due to its unusual size and shape, but it was eventually aligned with the other components. With a satisfied sigh, he replaced the outer casing and prepared to start the procedure all over again.

Carth watched the process with rapt fascination even though he'd seen it dozens of times before. Somehow, he still managed to look genuinely impressed as the second hilt was finished, waiting with bated breath as the twin weapons were wielded for the first time.

"Well, here it goes. Let's hope I did this right or we're in for one hells of an explosion." Vann was mostly joking but he didn't bother to hide his relief when the new blades ignited with a flawless snap, one glowing fiery orange while the other luminesced a more tranquil cyan. Giving them an experimental swing, he flowed into the opening moves of Juyo, relishing the feel of his signature fighting style. The lightsabers hummed softly, both crystals resonating with his own Force signature. As he completed the final kata he twirled the weapons before extinguishing them, the hilts pressing comfortingly against his palms.

"Wow." Carth's admiration flared around him as he nodded in approval, though his mood was growing uncertain. "So, it looks like you have everything you need. I guess all that's left is goodbye?"

"We won't be leaving for at least half a day. Meetra still has to wrangle her crew away from the rest of the enclave."

This seemed to improve Carth's spirits. Pressing against Vann's back, he wrapped his arms around his partner's waist and trailed gentle kisses just behind his left ear. "Does that mean we still have some time together?" To emphasize the point, the captain ran one hand over the sharp jut of the other man's hip before moving it to cup the swell of his backside.

Laying his new weapons on the workbench, Vann gave the captain a sly grin as he turned around and draped his arms across his partner's broad shoulders. "I just want to make sure I'm reading this situation correctly. You're touching my ass which means you're talking about sex, right?"

"Stars I missed you." With a playful chuckle, Carth leaned in for a deep kiss that ended with him sucking lightly on the former mercenary's lower lip. "And yes, I mean sex."

"Good. I was worried you wanted to sit and keep discussing things."

"Well, we still can if you're not in the mood for anything else…?"

It was an honest question. While Vann was usually enthusiastic about their sex life, there were times when no amount of foreplay could cut through his stress, anxiety, or occasional disinterest. But today he could already feel a tingle of anticipation running through his body as heat pooled low in his stomach. "Nope, I'm good to go. Let's do this!"

With a laugh of appreciation, Carth nudged his partner towards the bedroom between kisses, both of them shedding clothing as they went. It was only when they were sprawled across the bed, Vann straddling the captain's thighs as he gently nipped at the strong line of the other man's neck, that they both paused.

Calloused fingers gently brushed back a few strands of hair that had come loose from Vann's ponytail. "I… I know that you can't promise me you're coming home."

"Shh." Vann silenced any further worries with another kiss before sending a mild shove through the Force, pushing the captain back onto the mattress. "Sex now, talking later," he ordered as he descended with a salacious smirk.

Later inevitably came as the afterglow faded and sweat cooled on their skin, reality settling uncomfortably around them. As they lay facing each other, foreheads touching, Vann sighed. "I'll do everything I can to make it back. And at least this time I'm not alone. Meetra will be with me along with the rest of her crew…" He winced. "Actually, that's probably not a comforting thought. Forget I said that."

"I've met a lot of her crew and I trust them. You should too." Pressing a kiss to the bridge of his partner's nose, Carth murmured, "While you're at it, trust yourself."

"I'll try." Shivering slightly, Vann burrowed his face into the crook of the other man's neck as he whispered, "I love you."

He felt more than heard Carth's hushed, though fierce response. "Never forget that I love you too."


"It looks like you're ready to set a course for Nar Shadda… Even if most of your crew seem reluctant to leave," Vann observed, arching a brow.

"They like it here. Your enclave has been good for them."

"It's not really my enclave…" Already desperate to change the subject, Vann hurriedly asked, "Hey, where's the old woman? What was her name…?"

"Kreia."

Something about Meetra's tone made Vann wince guiltily. "Did I know here?"

"Hmm? No. I don't think that anybody in the history of the galaxy has ever truly known her."

"That's cryptic."

"So was she." Sadness welled around Meetra and she turned her face toward the sky. "And she won't be coming with us. She left the planet on a small supply shuttle just after sunrise."

"Why? I thought she was your teacher."

"Me too. But she told me yesterday that in my current state there was nothing more that I could learn from her. Apparently, the lessons to come will be my hardest yet and I won't be able to fully embrace them until I accept that there are far too many eyes that I must see through before mine are truly open."

"Huh. She sounds…"

"Wise?"

Vann snorted. "Not the word I was going to use. But sure, we can go with that. Did she leave you a comm signal or any other way to get in contact if you ever want to talk to her again?"

"She said that if I want to find her I should look to the Force. She also seemed certain that we'll meet again when the time is right."

"Are you sure she wasn't a Jedi?"

"No. I'm really not sure of anything about her. I thought that she would be the one to help me understand everything that's happening, from the attacking Sith to my new connection with the Force." Swallowing the lump in her throat, Meetra clenched her jaw as utter disappointment chilled the surrounding Force. "But now she's gone, right as things are more complicated than ever."

"She may be gone, but there are so many other sentients willing to help you sort through this mess. You have your students and the rest of your crew." Heaving a sarcastic sigh, Vann conceded, "I'll even let you count my droid as one of them."

"Why, thank you."

Sobering, Vann turned to face the blonde as he sent out what he hoped was a burst of reassurance. "Carth, Bastila, and Mand'alor are also here for you if you need them."

"And I have you."

Laughing off the compliment, Vann muttered, "I'm not sure if I should congratulate you or apologize."

"A little of both seems appropriate." Meetra managed a thin smile as she threw herself against her friend's chest and hugged him tightly. "Either way, I'm glad you're here."

Though the sadness was fading, a sharp sense of concern lingered. "You're worried."

"It's nothing. Well, nothing serious. Kreia just… she said one last thing before she left. She told me that whatever's coming next will prove that there are no limits to how far a Jedi can fall so that they might rise to meet every challenge."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm not sure." Meetra's eyes slide to the side, suggesting that she had her suspicions. "But I'm positive we're going to find out."

The implication sent a shudder down Vann's spine as he thought about the violent tendencies that sometimes overtook him. When he gave in, the bloodshed that ensued was horrifying. While he still wasn't positive if he'd truly fallen during the war, he knew that as Revan he'd embraced all of the dark impulses that he currently struggled to control. Sometimes he worried that he was teetering on the edge of something dangerous and that the right catalyst would push him into a place so distant from the light that he'd never be able to find his way back.

The former mercenary was still worrying about what his future might hold when Atton came strolling up waving a deck of cards.

"Now that we're heading for Nar Shadda, you have to let me teach you how to play pazaak."

"Huh. Maybe I will if we're not too busy with other tasks." A flirty note entered Meetra's voice as she pointed out, "After all, aren't you the one who's going to be flying us there?"

Atton waved off the concern with a playful grin as he pressed close enough that their arms brushed. "Most of the trip will be through hyperspace where the ship practically steers itself. Don't worry, we'll have plenty of time."

"We'll see…" Placing a hand on the small of her crewmate's back, Meetra gave him a teasing push towards the Hawk. "Now go help Tee-Three set our course. The rest of the crew is already on board and we'll be there in a minute."

With a longing glance over his shoulder, Atton departed, wearing an absolutely smitten smile. The attraction was so obvious that even Vann could see the signs and he groaned sarcastically at their antics.

"Take it from me, it's a terrible idea to sleep with your pilot." Meetra just gave her friend an exasperated look as she also headed for the ship. He chased after, grumbling, "What? I'm being serious! Carth isn't my pilot, he's the Republic's pilot. I just borrow him from time to time."

"Very funny." Despite her deadpan tone, the blonde couldn't hold back an amused chuckle.

"Hey, I thought so."

The pair marched up the Ebon Hawk's boarding ramp side-by-side. Something was comforting about the rhythm of their steps and the faint swing of their lightsabers as they moved, familiar in a way that Vann couldn't quite identify, but it still helped to soothe his anxieties about the task that lay ahead. They had already proven that together, they could face almost anything. 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 09 - NAR SHADDA

Now (3953)

"At last, we are finally here!" Atton exuberantly stretched out his arms as the crew made their way down one of the moon's many narrow streets, a thin guard rail the only barrier between them and a deadly plummet to the planet's lowest levels.

Shaking her head at his antics, Meetra gently reminded him, "We do have a mission."

"One that's finally on a world that I'm familiar with."

"And since you're so familiar, you'll be able to lead the search for any new information on Zez-Kai Ell or the Sith."

Hovering on the periphery of the crew, Mira eyed them cautiously. "No offense to your whole group dynamic, but I should probably split if you want me to keep the other bounty hunters off your tail."

"The Exile informed us that a Wookiee has been stalking you and interfering with your work. Would it not be best if someone travels with you for extra protection?" Dressed like a spacer, Brianna was nearly unrecognizable as the Sith acolyte she'd once been.

"I can dodge Hanharr for now. Though, if one of you Jedi wants to provide me with a little extra muscle, I wouldn't say no."

"It'll be good to have someone watching your back and Brianna is probably the best choice." Nodding approvingly, Vann arched a brow. "But maybe don't call her a 'Jedi' in public. It'll attract the wrong kind of attention."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. I can keep a secret." Grinning in admiration, Mira wondered, "What about you, Chis? Going to dig up some of your old contacts? Your name is still well known in certain circles."

"Actually, we're going down a few levels to meet with one of Meetra's contacts."

Shifting uncomfortably beneath everyone's curiosity, Meetra nodded weakly. "It's less clandestine than it sounds." Turning to her pilot she hurriedly added, "Make sure to comm us with any news and we'll do the same for you. Hopefully, Master Ell can be located swiftly and without any incidents."

"Yeah, because we're so good at being subtle." Atton snorted at the idea, but his expression softened. "Just… stay safe everyone. Don't do anything that, well, that I'd do."

"Noted. Though, as a reminder, I was performing this type of recon while you were still using a training sword." Winking playfully, Vann nudged Meetra towards the turbolifts as the younger man scowled after them. Once they were lost amongst the crowd he took the opportunity to straighten the long gray cloak that she was wearing as a rough disguise from casual observers, his attention to detail so distinctly Revan.

Their trip to the cantina was fairly silent, something Meetra was thankful for since it helped to hide her nervousness as she anticipated the upcoming meeting. Vann had initially been annoyed by her vague answers regarding this source of information but he trusted his former General enough to drop the issue. Unfortunately, that inclination probably wouldn't last much longer since there was no avoiding the fact that the former mercenary wasn't going to like what was coming. The story surrounding this particular contact was undeniably complicated, and while the blonde knew him well it had been years since they'd spoken in person. But this individual had never lead her astray and right now he might be their best resource in the galaxy. Using him was a calculated risk… the type that Revan taught her to make.

The cantina they entered was crowded but not overly loud, filled with various sentients meeting in quiet booths and shadowed corners to exchange secrets. Vann's dark eyes scanned the dimly lit space, his expression going lax for a moment before he whispered, "We've been here before, haven't we?"

"We've used this location a few times before and during the war. That's also how my contact knows it."

Vann accepted this, his gaze following Meetra's as she nodded towards a back table where a cowled figure sat stoically. Despite showing no visible features it was obvious that the individual was large, at least for a humanoid, yet possessed a certain meekness to his posture as though he was trying to hide from the outside world. It was a strange contrast but not one that was unexpected. A warm smile tugged at Meetra's lips as she approached with a quickness that bordered on excitement. Unsurprisingly, the former mercenary didn't share his companion's enthusiasm and suspicion immediately creased his brow as he studied the figure, his hands subtly drifting towards the lightsaber hilts that were hidden beneath the hem of his jacket. His eyes narrowed as his awareness extended to probe for further clues, a snarl tugging at his lips. When they were less than a meter away he stopped dead in his tracks, roughly grabbing Meetra by the shoulder to halt her as well.

"I don't think that's your contact."

Drawing a slow breath, Meetra steeled herself for the inevitable argument. "Yes, it is."

"No, that's…"

The cloaked figure lifted his head, pale eyes gazing at them from beneath the shadow of his hood. They were blue and not sickly gray, thank the Force. Shrugging off the former mercenary's hand, Meetra insisted, "I know who it is, Vann. I'm the one who called him here."

The mechanical sound tainting Alek's voice was startling as he hissed, "For once in your life can you not make a scene? We can explain, but I don't have much time."

If there was one individual in the galaxy who could talk Revan down when his temper struck, it was his best friend. Unfortunately, the pair hadn't been friends in six years. Quicker than most species could blink Vann drew his concealed lightsabers, igniting them with a flick of his thumbs and extending his arms so that one blade was pointed at each of the other Force users. His irises flashed an eerie yellow, the color making his skin appear sallow.

"Kriffing Sith hells, do you not understand Basic?!" Alek was still speaking in a hushed whisper but his exasperation was audible.

By now the entire cantina was staring at them. Despite the burning tip of the lightsaber aimed at her throat Meetra managed a smile. "Nothing to see here," she called, summoning the Force to add persuasion to her voice. "Just a little disagreement. No need to concern yourselves." Most of the patrons immediately turned back to their business, though it was unclear if this was due to her command or the fact that they were quite used to looking the other way during violent arguments.

Vann's expression was murderous. "You both have sixty seconds to explain. And you know that I'll be counting."

The situation was precarious but out of all the individuals in the galaxy, the two currently held at 'saber-point were the best equipped to diffuse it. Slowly and calmly, Meetra began to speak. "Alek and I have been in contact for just under two years. He's the reason that I was trying to return to Republic space." It was the first time she'd admitted that even to herself. "He felt something extremely dangerous, and I'm now certain that he was sensing the same Sith threat we're currently fighting."

"Forty-five, forty-four…"

"Before you ask, I got messages out through a few Republic officers who were still loyal to me… though not necessarily to the Sith. I contacted Meetra, and only Meetra, because she was the one individual I trusted to stop what I felt coming."

"Thirty-two, thirty-one…"

"I was having nightmares. I don't know if you remember Dromund Kaas, but…"

"I spent some time there recently. Lots of lightning and torture, can't say I'd recommend it."

Realization struck Meetra. "You were taken captive about two years ago, right? That's around the same time that Alek's dreams started."

Vann's lightsabers pressed just a fraction closer, the heat of the blade burning the delicate skin of the former general's neck. "Malak! His name is Malak and he's a kriffing Sith!"

"Was. Was a Sith." Alek heaved a mechanical sigh, sadness filling his gaze. "I fully admit that I was under the sway of the dark side the last time we met. I was trying to do the right thing, but my mind was too clouded by fear and rage for me to think clearly. But I did tell you the truth back on the Leviathan, all I wanted was to recreate your vision for the Republic."

The chill of anger surrounding Vann turned to a frigid torrent. "You wouldn't have had to 'recreate' anything if you didn't try to gut me and then shoot me out of the sky!"

A wave of determination washed over Alek and he pushed his face against the blade, the plasma singeing his prosthetic. "For Force sake, Deran! Put your damn 'sabers down and let's talk this out like adults. The entire Republic is once again at stake and if you're going to let our past interfere with saving it, you're no better than the Jedi Council who stood by while the Mandalorians…"

"What did you call me?"

Blinking in mild embarrassment, Alek stuttered, "Err… Revan. I called you…"

"He called you Deran, which is your real name." Meetra stared defiantly at Vann, watching as confusion danced across his features.

It was quickly replaced by frustration. "That's something I would have known if this kriffing son of a kath hound hadn't deleted all of my records…"

"That wasn't me! I know my word means nothing to you, but I swear that I didn't do it." Alek had never been as good at concealing his Force presence and the truth of his words was so blatant that even Vann couldn't deny it. The lightsabers gradually lower as the former mercenary considered this new information, finally deciding that despite everything that happened he needed to hear his former friend out.

As Vann's 'sabers snapped closed Meetra exhaled, gesturing to the empty pair of chairs placed around the table. "We should sit down. I think we have a lot to talk about."

The tension that filled the Force was new and uncomfortable. The last time Meetra had been around Revan and Malak they'd still been best friends and while they had occasional disagreements, those confrontations never contained the visceral aggression that she was currently sensing. But then, the pair had tried to kill each other twice in the intervening years.

"So, talk." Vann was still gripping both of his hilts, each pointed at one of his current companions.

Alek glanced at Meetra, who gave him a slight nod of encouragement. He drew a slow, tinny breath before speaking. "Obviously, I've had a lot of time to consider my actions and determine why I carried them out. That led me to meditate on all of the pieces that brought us to this point including the war, the Sith Emperor, and our journey to Dromund Kaas…"

"Which is still a horrible place, by the way."

Ignoring the quip, Alek continued, "I've come to believe that the main catalyst for all of the… mistakes that transpired occurred on that planet."

"Are you sure? I've also had a lot of time to think and I realized that I started to change towards the beginning of the war when I let go of my empathy to become a more effective commander. Even before Malachor, I realized that I could never truly return to the Order." Meetra looked down at the table. "I know I'm not the only one who barely recognized myself by the armistice."

"We may have stopped being Jedi during the war, but that's a lot different from what Malak did. I'm pretty sure that the jump from 'not Jedi' to 'fascist dictator' is a unique one." Scathing sarcasm colored Vann's voice. "I mean, raise your hand if you've ever tried to take over the Republic."

Alek leveled his gaze at his oldest friend, his mechanical tone deadly serious. "Revan, I thank the Force every day that you were the one who lost your memory and I was the one to return to Republic space. If it had been the other way around… No power in the galaxy can stop you once you set your mind to something. You might not remember, but you were planning big changes for the military once we returned home. If you had been given free rein to enact all of your ideas, I don't think any of us would be sitting here today."

"It's Vann, not Revan. Thanks to the aforementioned memory loss I barely remember being Revan."

"I didn't intend for that to happen but… I had to stop you. During that duel in the Emperor's palace, you were out of control and I was afraid for the future. I knew that if you were allowed to return to the Republic, tragedy would follow."

"Oh, I would cause tragedy? You're kriffing joking, right?" Vann's knuckles were white from the pressure he was putting on his lightsaber hilts. "I may not have all of my memories but I remember that fight and I know it wasn't fear that was driving you, it was hatred. I don't know why you hated me so much at that moment, but don't pretend that you tried to kill me for some greater good."

"I didn't hate you! If anything, I hated myself for what I knew I had to do!"

"Oh poor you! How terrible to 'have' to kill the one person standing between you and dominating the Republic. And don't try to tell me that I lost control. I know for a fact that I was the only one of us who was in my right mind at that moment! You went for the kill. I went for…"

It was Alek's turned to be incensed. "For what? The torture? The pain? The humiliation? Please, tell me more about your mercy."

As the Force grew bitterly cold from the strength of her friends' anger Meetra was overwhelmed by the regret that she had been harboring for years. It was all built upon the theory that if she had only been on Dromund Kaas she could have stopped the duel that tore the pair apart, both mentally and physically. Her irritation mounted and she shouted, "Both of you, stop! Arguing isn't helping anyone! I can't stand what this Sith has done to you. He took two of the closest sentients I've ever known and filled your minds with suspicion and doubt until you decided that you can never trust each other again. That the only way for this to end is with one of you dead by the other's hand."

"He's the one who tried to kill me! Twice!" Vann made a gesture towards his abdomen. "I can show you the scar if you want."

"And you cut off his kriffing jaw! I think you can call things even at this point." Drawing a steadying breath, Meetra stared hard at both men. "A Sith poisoned you against each other because that's what they do. But you're stronger than that. So, are you going to give in and let the Emperor win? Or are you going to resist his manipulations, put your pettiness aside, and work together to defeat him?"

Alek blinked back his frustration. "I'm not the one being petty."

"No, you're just being pedantic which might be worse." The former Consular sighed. "I'm not asking you to forget what happened. Hells, if anyone knows how hard it is to move out of the shadows of the past, it's me. But I also know that, once you do, there's something better waiting on the other side. Hatred left its mark on both of you, but that doesn't mean that you can't move forward and keep fighting for something so much larger than yourselves. This Emperor needs to be stopped and you're the best hope of doing it."

Leaning his head back, Vann groaned. "Ugh, has she always been this annoyingly good at being right?"

"Yes."

"Fine. I'll hear Malak out before I shove a kriffing lightsaber through what's left of his face." It was difficult to tell how serious the former mercenary was being.

"My name is Alek. If I can call you Vann, you can manage that much."

Glaring venomously enough to send a fresh chill through the Force, the former mercenary gritted out, "Alright, Alek. I will sit here and I will listen to you. But that doesn't mean I trust you."

"That's fair. But I hope that at least one of you is willing to trust the information I provide."

"I've trusted everything you've sent me so far. In fact, I've read every letter you've written at least twice. I was actually re-reading your notes on the Sith obsession with immortality when I felt the Force stir within me for the first time since Malachor…"

"You felt the Force again?" Alek sucked in a sharp breath. "When? You never told me."

"I… was a bit preoccupied." Wincing at her failure to relay that important information, Meetra mumbled, "First I was trying to find my way across the Outer Rim and then the Sith attacked. It's been… complicated."

"I see that you're still both good friends and I'm very happy for you. I hope that your heartfelt correspondence can continue even after Alek is back in prison." Vann used one lightsaber hilt to gesture at the larger man.

"I'm not going back. At least not until I know that the Emperor has been dealt with and that my mistakes don't cause the Republic to fall into his grasp." Alek's eyes were hard even as his vocabulator kept his tone even. "Meetra is right, we might be two of the only people in the galaxy with any chance of beating him."

"Then I hope that you've somehow been brushing up on your combat technique while in Republic custody because I was no match for him when I went to Dromund Kaas. And, in case you forgot, I kicked your ass last time we faced off."

"You did. And I should probably thank you for that."

Gaping at her friend, Meetra blurted out, "Why should you thank him? He nearly killed you!"

"Yes, and I'm fairly sure that's what finally destroyed what was left of the Emperor's conditioning. Most of his control broke when we fled Dromund Kaas far quicker than he expected. But the last of it only seemed to release upon death or at least a near-death experience. Vann's occurred during the crash that took his memories and mine…"

"When I paid you back for causing the kriffing crash that took all my memories." Noting Meetra's angry glare towards his flippancy, Vann shrugged helplessly. "What?"

"By the time the Republic collected me from the Star Forge, I was barely breathing. They revived me and when I came back to consciousness I felt more clear-headed than I had in years. Lighter, even. My mind truly felt like my own."

"So, the Emperor's influence is why you… did what you did?" Meetra's voice was barely a whisper as she asked, "Is that why you destroyed planets like Dantooine?"

"I'm sorry about Dantooine and all of the other worlds." Sorrow bloomed around Alek, his broad shoulders slumping. "But I carry most of the responsibility for that destruction. I ordered those attacks because I acted on all of my rage. It's like you said, the war turned us into different people."

The bold truth shattered any hope that Meetra held of her friend being nothing but a mindless puppet when he committed the worst of his atrocities. The disappointment ached like a physical punch to the gut and she couldn't help but recall Kreia's final words. There are no limits to how far a Jedi can fall…

"Did the war really change us that much?" For once Vann sounded heart-wrenchingly genuine as he hurriedly added, "I'm actually being serious. I, uh, don't exactly remember the person I was before. I just know who I became and I don't always like what I see. I realize I wasn't the Jedi paragon the Republic made me out to be but did I… did I actually fall?"

"All three stories I told about you were true… and none of them were. There were little bits of the real you in every version." Alek's eyes crinkled into a smile. "You've always possessed a volatile temper along with a little too much cleverness for your own good. It's proven to be a dangerous combination. But you've also always had a wealth of compassion and a desire to defend those who can't fight for themselves. And, from what I've seen, none of these things have changed."

"Your Force presence feels the same as it did during the war. I think the question is if you feel that you fell."

"Sometimes." Feigning a grin, Vann added, "But I like to think I'm not all bad."

Alek shrugged. "Then that's your answer."

"That's a shitty answer."

"Considering everything you've learned about the Force, it was kind of a shitty question." It was Alek's tune to receive an angry glare from Meetra. "What?"

"So," Vann muttered, "On that enlightening note, what amazing knowledge do you have that can help us?"

"It's actually a series of theories and ideas about Sith philosophy."

"Because you were a Sith?"

"Actually, yes." Staring straight at Vann, Alek explained, "Don't forget that you introduced me to their teachings. You were my first master in the ways of the dark side, not because you wanted us to be Sith but because you wanted us to see there was more to the Force than the Jedi's limiting beliefs."

Noting the guilt tugging at her former commander's expression, Meetra assured him, "Don't feel bad, it was the only way we survived the war…"

Looking at the gathered trio, Vann wondered, "Did we really survive?"

"She said we survived. She never said anything about being whole at the end."

The words resonated with all of them, hanging heavy in the air as they all took a moment to truly study each other. Their realizations echoed through the Force as they silently acknowledged everything that they'd lost, both in themselves and each other. It traveled between them, thrumming through the frayed connection they still apparently shared.

It was Meetra who spoke first, her tone firm yet imploring. "Alek, come with us. We're fighting the same enemy and we've always been stronger as a team."

"I can't."

"For once, I'm going to agree with him." Vann only sounded mildly sarcastic.

But Meetra wasn't listening to their objections. "You can join us, my crew will understand."

With a snort, Vann asked, "Will they really?"

"He's one of the strongest Force users in the galaxy and one of the only individuals I've ever known who can take you on in single combat with any chance of winning. Plus, he's one of two Humans alive who have faced this Emperor and survived. You can't tell me those aren't strategically advantageous assets!"

"Meetra," Alek pleaded, "Be serious for a moment."

"I am serious! Vann has already proven that trying to face this Sith one-on-one won't work. If we're going to take this Emperor and his minions down, we should have a real plan utilizing every asset at our disposal."

Vann sounded like Revan when he conceded, "Fine. But if he comes with us, the rest of our allies stay behind. I don't trust him around them, especially Atton and Bastila."

"I'm still not officially agreeing to this plan, but I do have a shuttle capable of hyperspace travel that we can use. It's stocked with enough supplies that you'd be provided for should you decide to leave your freighter in the hands of your crew."

Taking a moment to consider the offer, Meetra finally nodded to both men. "That situation would be acceptable to me."

She must have agreed too quickly because Vann narrowed his eyes as his awareness briefly flared around him. "You were never planning on letting your crew anywhere near those Sith Lords, were you? Not after Korriban."

Alek stared. "You faced Sith down on Korriban? The dark side energy permeating that planet would make them nearly impossible to defeat!"

"She went in with one of your former assassins, two Force novices, and a semi-reformed Sith acolyte who they weren't actually sure was on their side. But they left Bastila on the ship. So, if you want to discuss strategic planning…"

When Vann and Alek both shot her an incredulous look, Meetra innocently responded, "What?"

"Whatever your plan is, we should get to my shuttle as quickly as possible since I doubt I have much time before there are bounty hunters after me. We can debrief in orbit where we can make a quick escape into hyperspace if needed. You share what you've learned and I'll tell you what I know."

"I'll notify my crew that we're leaving after we're out of Nar Shadda's atmosphere. I have a feeling they'll try to stop us if they find out that our plan before I reach that shuttle."

Standing from the table as he once again concealed his lightsabers, Vann nodded. "If you're serious about leaving them behind, that's probably the best choice. They seem like the type for flashy heroics which aren't a good idea if you're traveling with the most recognizable fugitive in the galaxy."

Alek arched a brow at his former friend. "Flashy heroics? I suppose it takes one to know one."

"We literally charged off to war with our 'sabers blazing to defend the helpless. I'd say that everyone having the conversation has indulged in overdramatic heroics at one time or another."

"Shit, speaking of lightsabers I just realized that Alek doesn't have one."

"Which makes it harder for him to kill me, especially considering that I currently have two." As the trio were made their way out of the cantina a cheeky grin spreading across Vann's face. "You're right, this is a great plan!"

Meetra clenched her teeth as irritation surged around her. "We need. Every. Weapon. At our disposal!"

"So, we'll figure something out once we're in the air!"

Doing his best to seem small beneath his cloak, Alek merged into the crowded walkway, "It would be wise to check the black market here."

"I'm going to deeply regret saying this, but it would actually be better to check with one of my contacts. I know someone on a station orbiting Yavin…"

The rest of Vann's offer was cut short by the crackling of two commlinks, followed by Atton's slightly strained voice. "Meetra… or Vann, come in. I, uh, have some good news and bad news."

Due to his focus on weaving unnoticed through the crowd, Vann couldn't help but respond tersely. "I know I'm not the pretty one with the big blue eyes, but I copy. Go ahead. And start with the good news."

"I mean, some might argue that you're more handsome than pretty, but yeah. Anyway. The good news is that we found Ell and nobody caused a scene in the process. Actually, it's more like he found us."

Genuinely surprised at this news, Meetra asked, "Really? How did that happen?"

"Well, that's the bad news. He tracked us down because the entire underworld and the holonet are buzzing with exactly one piece of information. Malak escaped from jail a few days back. Apparently, the report was only just released because Coruscant's security force finally confirmed that he's not anywhere on the planet. It took them a while to raid the lower levels looking for him."

"Oh, we're aware of the situation."

Atton couldn't have missed the ire in Vann's tone. "Is everything alright?"

"Yes Rand, we're fine." Keeping up with Alek's longer strides as the larger figure rushed towards the turbolift caused Vann to be slightly breathless as he informed the crew, "But unfortunately we're going to be… a little delayed in rendezvousing with the rest of you."

"Why? Is everything alright?"

"It's fine! Tell everyone not to worry and…" Meetra nearly dropped her commlink when she accidentally walked into a particularly burly Aqualish. Though she tried to smile an apology as she backed away, they took the bump as a personal affront and responded with a harsh shove. "Ow! You didn't have to push me, bantha brain."

Suspicion was creeping into Atton's voice. "Are you sure that you're okay?"

"Yes! We just ran into an unexpected delay that we need to handle before we meet-up with you." Vann yanked Meetra into the lift as he snapped, "Kriff, it's not like we're being held at blaster-point!"

"Please use the Hawk's resources to keep collecting as much information as you can. If you can't reach us, make sure that you stay in contact with Rakata Base and the Jedi. We'll update you on our plan as soon as we're able, alright?"

There was a long pause before Atton slowly stated, "Alright, I hear you." His words were unusually guarded when he added, "Don't worry, me and the rest of the crew have your backs."

There was no further response, causing Meetra to frown at her comm. She already missed the usual flirty comment or snarky quip that marked Atton's sign-offs. He only sounded this serious when he was genuinely worried and slipped back into the role of a trained Sentinel. Or maybe it was a trained assassin…

An assassin who had served under Alek and who was definitely Force-sensitive enough to recognize his former master's presence, even on a moon as crowded as Nar Shadda. With his skill set, he could probably pinpoint which level the familiar signature was coming from and he would definitely remember that it was the same level Meetra and Vann were using for their meeting. In retrospect, their vague comm responses probably didn't help the situation, especially considering how strained their tones were as they moved quickly through the crowd. Atton probably thought they were in trouble. With a wince, Meetra shouted into the mouthpiece, "Atton, no! It's not what you think!"

Vann sensed his companion's concerns and began pacing impatiently within the lift. "And this is why you don't sleep with your pilot! Because now that he probably thinks you've been kidnapped and he's going to try and rescue you, which means I probably get to be the asshole who knocks him unconscious so that you can leave."

Alek frowned at Meetra as the lift jerkily carried them up several levels. "Wait, what happened with Atris?"

"She hates me but won't admit it, so I thought it was time to move on. I'll tell you all about it after we settle this, I promise!"

"You probably want to turn off your comm before your engineer uses it to triangulate…" Vann winced when the lift door opened and Brianna's recognizable form was immediately visible in the distance. "Our location. Dammit!"

As he gestured to a hangar about five hundred meters in the opposite direction from the Echani, Alek wondered, "You can't just explain to your crew why there's been a change of plans?"

Vann rolled his eyes. "Sorry everyone but we're ditching you to go on a possible suicide mission with a recently escaped former Sith who spent three years committing genocide and otherwise terrorizing the Republic, including most of your families and allies."

"Well, when you put it like that it sounds bad!"

"And there's a way to make it sound good?"

"Kriffing hells! Can the two of you stop arguing for two minutes and just get moving?" Giving both men a push using the Force, Meetra marched past them as they stared at her in surprise. She ignored their incredulous expressions and kept walking, managing to get within a few meters of the hangar before she noticed a single figure moving rapidly towards her.

"Meetra Surik?" A balding man with a thick mustache paused mid-stride, surprise alighting on his wrinkled brow.

Preparing herself for a situation was certainly going to devolve rather rapidly, Meetra slowed to a stop and managed a weak smile. "Zez-Kai Ell! There is a very long and fairly complicated explanation for what's going on here, but I'm not entirely sure I have time…"

But the Jedi Master wasn't paying attention to her. Instead, he was scowling just over her left shoulder as a figure pulled to a halt behind her. "Why is it that trouble always seems to follow the two of you?"

"Because we're apparently the only people in the galaxy who are willing and able to save the Republic every kriffing time it's in trouble." Vann moved to stand beside Meetra, his arms crossed over his chest.

Alek ducked his head lower as he hissed, "I thought you wanted to keep moving!"

Before either of the former Revanchists could respond the Jedi Master's eyes narrowed and he drew his lightsaber, the dual violet blades illuminating the walkway as it ignited. "Did you save the Republic? Sometimes it feels more like you destroyed it. I don't know what you're planning this time but I can't in good conscious allow you to leave this moon."

Meetra desperately searched for the right words to diffuse the situation, but Ell was flipping through the air before she could find them. He landed directly in Alek's path, swinging his weapon around as he attempted to hold the upper blade at the former Supreme Commander's throat. But the strike was blocked by two mismatched weapons that luminesced orange and cyan.

Pushing the Jedi Master away with an easy parry, Vann challenged, "Are you sure you're ready to face two of the best lightsaber combatants in the galaxy?"

Cautiously eyeing the violet blades before glancing pointedly down at his empty hands, Alek rolled his eyes. "In case you haven't noticed, he's only facing one of us."

"Why is it that my conflicts with the Jedi Masters always end with you coming out ahead?" As he deflected two slashes with his main hand, Vann extinguished the orange blade in his off-hand and tossed the hilt behind his back. Its movement was partially guided by the Force, ensuring that Alek easily caught the weapon. "I'd better get that back! And not by you stabbing it through any of my kriffing body parts."

The former Sith stared astounded at the lightsaber, testing the feel and weight before powering it up. A grin tugged at the corners of his eyes as he quickly lunged at Ell, using his superior reach to block a low blow that would have broken through Vann's guard and carved into his shin. With two highly skilled opponents closing in, the Jedi Master quickly fell back as he reevaluated the situation.

Meeta's hand hovered near her own lightsaber as her front teeth worried her bottom lip. She should draw her weapon and help her friends finish this battle quickly so that they could reach Alek's shuttle, but she couldn't bring herself to ignite the silver blade. Arguing with the Masters was well within her rights, but attacking one directly was a boundary that she wasn't sure she could cross. Her other hand brushed the commlink that was once again clipped to her belt and she considered calling her crew to try and explain the increasingly complicated situation. At least some of them would understand why the Emperor who caused the Mandalorian Wars was an opponent she had to face… and why they couldn't come with her.

"You know, I didn't think I would be collecting a bounty on this trip but it seems I was wrong."

Wincing at the sound of Mira's voice, Meetra turned towards the bounty hunter with a heavy sigh only to see that she was joined by Atton and Visas. The former assassin quickly rushed over as relief filled his voice.

"Meetra! Thank the Force we found you. It was a little jumbled but I was able to hear the clues in your message and…"

Brushing away the hands that were clutching her shoulders, Meetra bit back a scream of frustration. "No! There were no clues in anything I said! Vann and I actually had to change our plans because…"

"Malak's here, isn't he? I thought I sensed that son of a kath hound."

"Don't!" Grasping Atton's wrists before he could draw his own weapons, Meetra kept a firm hold on him as she looked imploringly at Visas and Mira. "I need him, we need him, to defeat the Sith who cause the Mandalorian Wars. Alek is the only person alive besides Vann who's faced this Emperor before."

"He didn't face the Sith, he became one! And then he made me and half the kriffing Jedi Order follow him down."

"He's my friend!"

"Malak is nobody's friend!"

Visas appeared more pensive as she looked past Meetra, watching the fight unfold along the walkway. "And yet, the Force links him and Vann together. I can see it in the energy that moves between them. I'm not sure if I would call it friendship, but it is an undeniable connection."

Turning to glance at the duel, Meetra bit back a gasp as she watched Vann and Alek work in tandem to nonlethally defeat Ell. The older Consular was attempting to drawn upon his numerous Force powers to keep the younger men at bay, but whenever he tried to push one down or hold one still the other would distract him. They flowed around each other physically and mentally, one striking as the other dodged. Vann was remarkably nimble, his technique even more polished than it had been during the war, while Alek was raw power. The strength of his large frame easily compensated for his lack of recent practice.

Even before the war Meetra had enjoyed watching the two Guardians spar, either against each other or working together to hold off any number of other opponents. As older Padawans they had even managed to take down Kavar. The way they fought always perfectly complemented each other, the living embodiment of the Force bond they once shared. A bond that, according to Visas, had never truly been broken.

But their connection was frayed by time and betrayal, something made obvious as Ell began to find flaws in their teamwork. He was slowly realizing that Alek was the weaker link due to wielding a borrowed lightsaber after spending the last three years in a cell. A Consular was trained to notice these things and Meetra's heart sank when she saw the Master use the Force to push Alek down before immediately whirling to attack Vann. The sudden turn in tides caused chilled fear to wash over the younger man, but he immediately drew upon the emotion as the taste of ozone filled the air and sparks danced across his fingertips.

Meetra had seen Revan's Force lightning before, the purple forks of electricity both dazzling and terrifying. But what was building in Vann's hand was tinged with black and felt far more ominous than anything he'd used during the war. A cold jolt of panic ran down the former General's spine and she charged forward with a shout when she realized that Ell didn't know the dark side well enough to recognize the peril he was in. But Atton and Visas gripped her protectively as they also sensed the danger that was building, their combined strength enough to hold the smaller figure back.

"No! Stop!" Meetra wasn't sure if she was talking to Vann and whatever new form of darkness he'd discovered, or her own crew who were preventing her from potentially saving Ell's life. Struggling against the arms lovingly holding her back she drew a breath and screamed, filling her voice with all of the confusion and dread that were mounting within her. The sound flowed forth faster than the lightning, causing everyone in the vicinity to stop what they were doing and reflexively cover their ears, their eyes squeezing shut as they tried to block out the noise that was shredding through their minds. Thankfully, even the former Revanchist paused to clawed at his head, whatever power he was wielding quickly dissipating.

Even after the sound faded everyone around Meetra continued to keep their ears covered as the lingering effects of the scream reverberated. She used the time to wriggle free from her friends' grasp, darting forward to place herself between Ell and Vann. Alek was also regaining his footing, bewilderment filling what was left of his face as his gaze darted worriedly between his former co-leaders.

"This has gotten out of hand!" Meetra felt that she was understating the situation. "Atton, I know you want to protect me, but can you please trust that I know what I'm doing? Zaz-Kai, you also have to trust us, as hard as that might be. And Vann… what the hells was that?!"

"Lightning?"

"No, it wasn't." Alek fell into a defensive stance, still wielding his borrowed lightsaber. "You've hit me with lightning multiple times and that was different."

"Well, I did have a weird run-in with a Sith sorcerer. Maybe it changed my innate use of that power?"

The former Supreme Commander blinked with droll amusement. "You just wielded Sith sorcery and you're afraid of what I can do?"

Ell pointed his blade at Meetra. "And that little demonstration is why the Council can't just trust the three of you!"

"No, you refuse to trust us because you all seem to store your 'sabers up your own…"

Interrupting what was probably going to be another well deserved and profanity-laced tirade by Vann, Atton glanced between Meetra and Alek. "Uh, I'm just confused as to why Malak is here and nobody is attempting to kill him."

"I assume it's because they're letting me collect his bounty," Mira smirked.

"Stop." Using the Force to add emphasis to the word, Meetra glared at everyone. "All of you. Weapons down and mouths closed. Please. I don't know how many more ways I can explain this, but we need Alek's help. Atton, Visas, you faced the Sith Lords with me on Korriban so you know from experience that it's going to take a lot to bring them down. And their master is even more terrifying."

"You don't need Malak. Me and the others should be more than enough…"

"Korriban went well, right?" Vann snapped his fingers in mock realization. "Oh wait, you got your asses handed to you by two of the three Sith Lords. If the third shows up, or Force forbid the Emperor, you're not going to last two minutes."

Meetra hummed in agreement. "Which is why I don't want any of you near them. You can scout, collect information, research their weaknesses, but when it comes to facing them head-on, that fight is mine."

"Exile, you cannot…"

Gently shaking her head at Visas, Meetra drew a slow breath as she searched for just the right explanation. "The three of us have seen and done things that the rest of you can't even imagine. We haven't just accepted our own darkness, we've sought it out. Used it. Become one with it. So, we know this enemy better than any of you." There are no limits to how far a Jedi can fall so that they might rise to meet every challenge…

A wisp of awareness escaped Atton's careful camouflage as he examined the explanation through the Force. "I sense that's not entirely what you mean."

"It's her nice way of saying that we're broken enough to be expendable." Glancing at the Jedi Master, Vann muttered, "Admit it, Zez-Kai, you're thinking the same thing. We won the war but we each lost our own battles, body, mind, and soul."

That observation caused everyone to finally fall silent as multiple pairs of eyes glanced awkwardly at the three war veterans. Within the Force, the others' thoughts were obvious as they silently acknowledged Alek's lost jaw, Vann's missing memories, and the gaping void that had become Meetra's Force presence. Body, mind, and soul.

"We have the power to stop these Sith." Alek stared pointedly at Atton. "You have the power to rebuild everything that we've broken."

"So, you think this is a suicide mission?"

Nodding wearily to her pilot, Meetra acknowledged, "I'm prepared for that possibility."

"Well, then I'm coming too. I told you once that where you go, I go, and I meant it."

Stepping forward to stand beside Atton, Visas murmured, "I will also join you, Exile. As I said on Telos, my life for yours."

"Oh, and by the way, I've had my comm open the whole time. So, the rest of the crew is hearing this and I'll bet anything that not a single one of them is going to let you run off and die trying to save the Republic yet again. We're all with you until the end."

Brianna finally stumbled out from the nearby crowd, panting but undeniably resolute. "Atton may talk too much, but he is correct. I joined you because I owe you a debt, but I continue to follow you because there is nobody else I would rather lead me into battle."

"And General," Bao-Dur's voice broke in from over Meetra's commlink, "You're well aware that I have my own ghosts. It would be my honor to help you do some good for the galaxy."

"Well, it looks like you're staying behind," Vann noted with a dry chuckle.

"Yeah, I should probably mention that Bao-Dur was patching that transmission through to Rakata. It was originally because I thought you were being kidnapped and that Carth might need to send the fleet to rescue you. But now I'm pretty sure this is just going to make the captain and Bastila charge over here to drag you home." Atton grinned at this, even as Vann shot him a poisonous scowl.

Noting his former friend's growing irritation, Alek assured him, "Don't be angry because your allies are loyal. You tend to inspire that in people."

But Vann just turned his ire onto the former Supreme Commander. "Do you honestly think that you get to go free? Uh-uh. I'm not letting you out of my sight even if that means dragging you back to Rakata."

"Then I guess you should let your people know to expect another guest." Atton continued to look smug. "Bao-Dur, I assume you can make that happen."

"Actually, that might be a bit of a problem. I just started receiving a transmission from Rakata Base and, well… I think you need to hear it for yourselves."

Meetra's commlink crackled as the communication was broadcast through the tiny speaker. Even though Carth's voice was partially obscured by static his distress was still audible. "...Hawk, I repeat, Rakata Base has been contacted by a Sith Lord calling herself Traya. She says that she represents all three Lords and is demanding our unconditional surrender within three days or they will attack. I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but I wanted to check with Vann before I potentially plunged the Republic into yet another war with the Sith."

"Kriffing hells, give me that commlink!" Using the Force to snatch the item from Meetra's belt, Vann took a moment to calm himself before responding. "Carth, it's me. I know the connection is crap, but I hope you can hear me. Do not surrender. I repeat, do not surrender. I'm coming home and bringing the rest of Meetra's crew to provide back-up. Call in whatever troops you need because I'm not giving anything to those kriffing bastards. Send me the specs of the base, your current armament, your vehicles, and anything else you have. I'll work out a plan en route."

Alek's expression was calm, though concern flickered through his presence. "If you only have three days, you'll need to take your ship. It's far faster than mine."

"We're really taking Malak on the Hawk? Really?" Atton arched a doubtful brow.

"Yes. This isn't the time to argue. That includes you, Zez-Kai." Meetra pressed close to the Master as she sweetly informed him, "I mean this with as much respect as possible, but I will stab you myself if you try to stop us."

Holding up both hands placatingly, Ell chuckled. "I can recognize when I'm outmatched."

"Good. If you want to help, contact Kavar. Tell him everything you've learned about the Sith and anything else that you feel is pertinent. He'll be sure to relay the important information to us."

"I'll contact him today. That much I am more than willing to do for the three of you."

"Thank you, Zez-Kai. I'm sure that your information will be an asset." Turning away from the Master, Meetra managed a weak smile as she looked over at the bounty hunter. "Mira, thank you for your help. We'll stay true to our word and assist you when we can, but I think you understand that we need to handle this situation first."

The redhead scoffed. "Don't sweat it, I'm coming with you."

"It's not that I don't appreciate your help, but why?"

"I saw what the Mandalorian Wars did to the galaxy. If I can do anything to keep that from happening again, I will. And right now, helping you weirdos seems to be the key. If you don't mind letting me use your comm unit once we're on your ship, I know a few people who might be willing to lend a hand."

"I think we'll take any help we can get." Squaring her shoulders, Meetra nodded towards the turbolift. "Alright, let's get back to the Hawk!"


"Vann, stop pacing!" Meetra had been patient, fully cognizant of the stress that her friend was currently under. But his relentless laps around the garage were fraying her nerves, as were the waves of anxiety and anger that were pouring off of him. From the workbench, Alek gave her a thankful nod before returning to his project.

Whirling to face the blonde, Vann threw his hands up. "I can't just sit still! Those pieces of bantha shit are threatening my friends and my home."

"They are," Alek agreed, not looking up from his work. "But wearing a hole in the floor isn't going to get this ship moving any faster through hyperspace. At this point you're just making everyone else nervous, so stop. If you need something to occupy your time, you can help me with this."

"You know how to build a lightsaber."

"Yes, I do. But I also know that you wait better when you keep yourself busy."

"That's not true." With a snort, Vann crossed his arms.

"You know it is and you're just being stubborn."

Carefully placing the pieces he was manipulating onto the bench, Alek gestured to Vann's now-empty second hilt. Its orange crystal was currently sitting beside the mostly-complete lightsaber he was crafting. "If you don't want to help everyone, look through Meetra's bag and find another crystal to set in that."

The suggestion was punctuated with a long, pointed stare that the former Sith had perfected over many years of dealing with a willfully stubborn prodigy. Vann met the look with a glare of his own, though he ultimately turned away first and obeyed the recommendation, albeit with more stomping and cursing than necessary. Alek's surprise was delightfully bright as he turned back to his own work, both eyebrows raised. As she watched Meetra had to hold back the peal of laughter that was caught in her throat. She had seen this interaction dozens of times before, usually with the same results, but after Revan's death and Malak's fall, she never dreamed that she would witness it again. It was so familiar that it almost brought tears to her eyes.

For several minutes the gentle sound of crystals clinking filled the air, occasionally punctuated by Vann's grumbling as he searched through the small collection that was stored in her worn backpack. Most of the prime specimens had already been claimed, but Meetra knew there were still one or two that might meet her friend's exceedingly high lightsaber standards. She was just about to sit back and try meditating when a gasped series of swears startled her.

Holding a violet crystal up to the light, Vann studied the item as though it couldn't possibly be real. "Where… where did you get this?"

Walking over to look at the object in question, Meetra replied, "Dantooine, in the kinrath caves. Why?"

"It feels almost exactly like the crystal I found there four years ago."

"It might be from the same formation. I don't think those caves were touched much after…" Meetra trailed off, her gaze dropping to the floor.

"After I ordered an orbital bombardment of the planet. Just say it. After I destroyed the one place in the galaxy where you were the happiest." The sheer misery radiating off of Alek knocked the breath from Meetra's lungs and she gasped for air as she turned to look at him. His head was ducked and his shoulders were slumped, his fingers digging into the sides of the workbench hard enough to turn his knuckles white.

"I'm not denying what you did. In fact, I've seen the destruction with my own eyes."

"You're furious, I can sense it." Guilt washed over Alek, though it was quickly swallowed by a freezing wave of unrepentant anger directed only at himself. "You don't have to hold it back to preserve my feelings. It won't be the first time that someone threw my mistakes in what's left of my face and it certainly won't be the last."

"I'm not mad. I want to be, but…" Meetra sighed, walking over to the former Sith and placing a hand on his forearm. She recognized his fury as the same outrage that had churned through her during the first few years she trudged aimlessly along the edges of known space. That emotion eventually gave way to nothing more than the gnawing emptiness that Kreia claimed contained endless potential. But the former Consular wasn't so sure. From what she could tell, the ruins of her former self barely held enough shattered pieces to form a whole person. "I think most of my hatred towards all of the tragedies of the war burned up a long time ago. You feel what I am now. I'm just a void."

Alek shook his head, his eyes fierce. "No, you're not. You may be different, but you're still so much more than what the Mass Shadow Generator did to you."

"And you can be more than the sum of your atrocities. I know that you feel remorse for what you did, so you're already better than the monster who destroyed my home."

A cold, desperate tendril of sorrow drifted out from Alek's presence. "Your home… Kriff, can you ever forgive me?"

Memories of Dantooine's ruined enclave raced through Meetra's mind and she shuddered, trying to find the strength to forgive the person who had caused that destruction. While she'd run out of hatred, absolution might be more than she could provide. "I need time."

"That's more than fair." A dark, self-deprecating laugh erupted out of Alek's prosthesis. "Maybe, by the time you're ready to forgive me, I'll have earned it."

Throughout this conversation, Vann remained silent with his presence drawn tightly around him as he watched the interaction. It was difficult to gauge his reaction. Out of the pair Alek had always been far easier to read, his signature glowing and fading with his moods. But Revan, and later Vann, was often an enigma. The expressions that he showed to others were carefully measured, the smaller nuances of his emotions hidden beneath clever words and a razor-sharp wit. During the war, Meetra and Alek had both believed they understood him, at least until the first time that his eyes turned yellow and lightning erupted from his fingertips.

Staring down at the violet crystal in his palm Vann whispered, "It's alright if you both blame me for everything that happened. I know that I ruined your lives."

"Is this still about the fact that you introduced the Revanchists to Sith teachings?" Alek shook his head. "As you told me on the Star Forge, you may have shown me the path but I'm the one who continued down it long after you were out of my life."

"Back on the Star Forge, I didn't know about Dromund Kaas… or about Malachor." Closing his fist tightly around the crystal, Vann studied both of his former co-commanders. His face was nearly inscrutable, but the frigid stream of regret swirling around him revealed his true mood. "Now I realize that I break everything I touch. I convinced Meetra to join the Revanchists and one of the most promising Consulars in the Jedi Order ended-up using a kriffing superweapon that cut her off from the Force for seven years. And she did it all on my command."

With a mechanical sigh, Alek turned from the workbench and took a few steps closer to his former friend. "I was the one who recruited her."

"And like I've already told you, I volunteered to handle the Mass Shadow Generator." This drew a hiss of annoyance from the former Sith, the subject apparently a sore spot even after everything else that had transpired.

But Vann wasn't listening to either of them. "After Malachor, I tried to go after the Sith Emperor. I think we can all agree that idea was a disaster that caused the Republic to fall under the rule of a fascist dictator."

"Which was mostly my fault."

"I'm the one who led you to Dromund Kaas, the one who convinced you that we could somehow take on that Sith. But he destroyed us both." The weight of leadership punctuated each of Vann's words, just as it had during the war.

"Because he's a Sith and that's what they do." Alek narrowed his eyes. "I should know."

"Even when I tried to fix my kriff-up… Does either of you have any idea how many times I lost control of my power while we were searching for the Star Forge? I don't know how my entire crew didn't end up dead."

Meetra couldn't help but chuckle as Alek coughed out, "From my perspective, you were all startlingly efficient."

"You lost all of your memories. The fact that you managed to keep moving forward and tried to fix your past mistakes is more than most sentients would be capable of." Moving to stand beside Vann, Meetra gave him a gentle nudge with her shoulder.

"I didn't exactly keep moving forward. In fact, I was pretty content in my life doing really horrible things for even more horrible people, at least until Bastila showed-up. I was a good mercenary because I was a bad person. If you don't believe me, ask Mira."

"We've all done terrible things." Glancing at Alek, Meetra felt the faintest pang of sympathy as he stared at the bulkhead, his gaze lost in any number of brutal memories.

"No, you did terrible things because I lead you to war. Neither of you would be in your current situations if it wasn't for me. I think all of this happened because there's something wrong inside of me. You saw what happened on Nar Shadda. I had sorcery lighting in my hand and I didn't think twice about using it."

"You also spent over a year being tortured by the Sith."

Waving away the excuse, Vann clenched his jaw. The icy negativity surrounding him was growing by the second, becoming a storm of doubt that all centered around the rage he directed solely at himself. "No, I think I've always been like this. There's always been a dangerous amount of darkness in me."

The emotions filling the garage made Meetra shiver. "Vann, stop. There's nothing wrong with you."

"Yes, there is. I give in to it all the time. My eyes turn yellow and people end up dead."

The strength of the darkness that encompassed Vann was nearly overwhelming. It whirled like a cyclone around him and even from a distance the energy was potent enough to be frightening. Alek gave Meetra a concerned look before shaking his head helplessly to indicate that he was unable, or at least unwilling, to diffuse the situation.

"I know that you've both seen it, so you can't deny it!"

The bone-chilling sensation engulfing the room was beginning to coalesce, all centering on a single point. At first, Meetra thought that it was focused on Vann, which would make sense. But as she adjusted her awareness she realized that the eye of this storm was actually the crystal that he was holding. It wasn't the origin of his anxieties and regrets but somehow it seemed to absorb them, pulsing with dark power as it was infused with all of his negative emotions.

Trembling slightly beneath the onslaught, Meetra reached over and grasped the hand holding the crystal. Giving it hard shake she scolded, "Stop it! We've all made a lot of bad choices and we're all equally responsible for the outcomes. But you're also so much more than just your mistakes. Now calm down before you lose control and do something else that you regret!"

It took a moment for Vann to register the words, lost as he was in his own fog of negativity. His awareness spiked for a moment as he finally sensed that there was something amiss, all centered on the crystal he was holding. A second later he violently flung the item to the floor. It struck with a soft ping, bouncing once before falling still. A soft glow radiated from it, though the color was no longer violet. The entire object had turned brilliant crimson that twinkled beneath the bright garage lights like a spot of freshly spilled Human blood.

Staring in horror at the crystal, Vann muttered, "Shit. I broke it."

Meetra felt a sense of deja-vu as she also looked down at the object, taking in its new aura of cold dread. However, Alek seemed unbothered. "You didn't break it, you just bled it. That's the Sith term for forcing negative emotions into a crystal until it connects to the dark side and turns red. In your case, this was caused by all of your crushing self-doubts which always seem to find the worst times to emerge."

"That's not comforting."

"It wasn't meant to be, it's just the truth." As he shrugged, Alek's tone grew noticeably gentler. "You've always had some issues with confidence, mostly because the Masters used your anxiety to keep you under their control. But even after you began defying the Order, there were times when you'd think too hard and start to doubt yourself. You eventually learned that tinkering held back the worst of your anxieties. The fact that you've never bled a crystal before is honestly shocking."

"I've always been this much of a mess?"

"Give or take a few poorly timed panic attacks."

Pressing close to Vann, Meetra draped what she hoped was a comforting arm around his waist. He immediately leaned into the contact as some of his panic drained away. "The galaxy wanted to see you as a larger-than-life hero, which means that nobody recorded all of the moments where you were only Human."

"I literally just broke a 'saber crystal with all of my personal issues."

Gently lifting the item off the floor, Meetra examined it closer. Despite the new color, it remained as solid and strong as the day it was collected, possessing a nearly perfect structure with no visible blemishes. If anything, its pulse felt more intense than before. "This is still a really nice crystal, though I can see why it didn't resonate with any of my crew. There's something about it that's so…"

"Dark?"

"Powerful." Pressing the crystal into Vann's palm, Meetra insisted, "You should keep it as a reminder to trust in yourself a little more."

"Put it in your second 'saber." It was amazing how well Alek could smirk with just his eyes. "I can't wait to see the look on Onasi's face when he spots you using it."

Vann was immediately incensed. "You are such a kriffing asshole!"

Despite the sarcasm of the suggestion, Meetra couldn't help but take it seriously. "It's not the worst idea. You fight better with two weapons and you're down one since you were kind enough to give your second crystal to Alek."

"You can't be serious."

"Why not?" The conversation that she'd had with Kreia flashed through Meetra's mind as she found herself echoing her former mentor's argument. "Juhani uses a red crystal. Brianna used to. Hells, most of the people on this ship could easily lay claim to one."

"And I kept using a blue one even after I fell and plunged the entire Republic into darkness. The color of your 'saber isn't the important part, it's what you do with it that really matters. And we've already agreed that we need to utilize every asset at our disposal."

Begrudgingly acknowledging that this was the agreement, Vann used the Force to collect his second lightsaber hilt from the workbench. Judging by his snicker, it wasn't a mistake when the trajectory almost intersected with Alek's head. Meetra was ready to yell at him, at them both, for acting like younglings but she stopped herself. They were in the same room without attempting to kill each other which was honestly the best outcome she could hope for given everything that had happened.

It took a matter of minutes for Vann to disassemble the hilt, using the Force to float the pieces in the air as he made minor adjustments to the components so that they would accommodate the new crystal. Meetra was enraptured. While she was particular about her own weaponry, Guardians were absolute perfectionists and watching them modify their lightsabers was like viewing art. All too soon Vann was waving his hands in an achingly familiar gesture, the individual parts of his 'saber clicking together flawlessly. Lifting the hilt from where it was hovering, he checked the balance before drawing his main weapon.

Both lightsabers ignited with a smooth snap-hiss, the cyan blade so close in color to the weapons Revan had used during the war that Meetra's breath caught. The other was a clear, blood-shine red that should have felt ominous but that somehow seemed right. As Vann flowed into the smooth, circular motions of Juyo his lightsabers blurred, leaving faint streaks of violet in the air. It was the embodiment of who he was, neither Jedi nor Sith, light nor dark. He was both, and yet something far beyond that.

It was what they'd all become. Alek, who resonated so strongly with the orange crystal he'd been gifted but who could barely hold the cyan stone that looked far more like the weapon he'd once wielded. And Meetra, who now carried a silver crystal that had been cleansed of its bloodiness yet never recovered its original bright hue.

Staring at both of his lightsabers, Vann declared, "It works."

"Of course it does." With a shrug, Meetra airily added, "It's really just a fancy rock that powers a laser stick."

Alek snorted out a muffled laugh. "Very astute of you, Consular."

"Well, someone has to do the thinking for you Guardians."

It was such easy and playful banter that Meetra almost forgot how strange it must seem to someone who only knew them as the Exile who had destroyed Malachor and the Supreme Commander who had nearly ruined everything else.

Watching the others with a curious look, Vann wondered, "Is this what we were like during the war?"

"In a lot of ways, yes."

Suspicion crept through Alek's presence as he noted, "There's something else that you want to ask, I can feel it. So, ask already."

There were probably a hundred questions Vann could have posed that would have made sense, and Meetra honestly thought that she could predict the topic that he was about to breach. But his mind never moved in a linear fashion so it shouldn't have been shocking when he completely changed the subject.

With searing intensity, Vann turned to Alek and demanded, "Were you in love with me and I never noticed? Is that why it was so easy for the Emperor to turn us against each other?"

Somehow, the former Sith managed a blush that was the same shade as Vann's new crystal. "Meetra, what the hells did you tell him?!"

"He figured this one out on his own!"

The next words were raspy and uneven, making it difficult to know if Alek was hyperventilating or holding back his laughter. "And it only took him twenty years. That's actually faster than I would have predicted."

Clearly not seeing the humor in the situation, Vann narrowed his eyes. "Your vocabulator makes it really hard to tell if you're being sarcastic."

"I'm honestly not sure myself. Our relationship was…" Alek rubbed one palm over his tattooed scalp, searching for the right words. "It was complicated, at least from my end. For you, things were very simple, which only made it harder for me. But I never expected you to reciprocate what I felt, mostly because you never showed those feelings towards anyone."

"Then I showed up on the Star Forge with Carth."

"That didn't exactly help my aggression towards you during our last confrontation."

Scrubbing one palm over his eyes, Vann mumbled, "I guess I owe you an apology for being, well, me."

"Don't." Alek held up a hand to stop any objections. "If you were anyone else, I doubt the Republic would still be here."

"And you're honestly not the one who deleted my records?"

"I think you know that I care for you too much to ever erase you from any system."

Vann furrowed his brow. "So then, who was it?"

"My credits are on Atris."

Thinking back to the Echani Master's harsh words on Telos and the scathing lecture she'd apparently given Vann when he snuck into the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, Meetra winced. "Oh, it was definitely Atris."

An easy peace was settling around them, not as pleasant as it had been during the early days of the war before the violence took its toll on all of their minds, but still less strained than it had been earlier in the trip. It finally felt comfortable and Meetra smiled to herself as she watched Alek return to the workbench to put the finishing touches on his new lightsaber. Vann appeared content to ignore him, settling atop a bin of spare parts with a datapad containing information that Carth had sent him. While he would have been better off examining the diagrams in the main hold, he'd been serious about not letting the former Supreme Commander out of his sight.

Closing her eyes, Meetra drew a deep breath and let her mind slip into the soothing Force currents that now encompassed the room. There is peace…


"We'll be coming out of hyperspace around Rakata Prime in a few minutes." Atton's fingers were unusually tense around the Ebon Hawk's controls. "Remind me again why all of you need to be in here for that?"

Grinning affectionately, Meetra murmured, "Because I'm your co-pilot and where you go, I go."

From his place pressed against the back of the pilot's seat, Vann announced, "And as a reminder, this is my ship and we're approaching my home. So yes, I need to be here."

"I'm just here because he's being childishly serious about not letting me out of his sight." Alek was leaning in the cockpit doorway, looking mildly annoyed.

"Great. No pressure. There are just three of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy watching me fly the ship." Glancing behind him, Atton grimaced. "Dammit Vann, do you hover behind Carth when he flies?"

"All the time. He hates it."

"I can't understand why…"

"Look, this also has tactical reasoning. Due to the positioning of the hyperspace routes, it took us more than three days to reach Rakata from Nar Shadda. The Sith's attack on the planet has already begun." Vann's expression hardened, his tone growing more formal. "We're entering a warzone and the Hawk might be the best look that Rakata Base gets at the fleet surrounding the planet. I need to see what's going on so that I have an idea of what we're up against."

"If there's a fleet battle happening, it's also to your advantage to have the one person with the most knowledge of both the base and its ships in the cockpit with you. It might be your best chance at maneuvering through the firefight without interfering or putting your crew in more danger than necessary." Noting the stares he received, Alek added, "Not that my opinion matters. I'm only here because Vann made me come."

"Those are all valid points, not that it makes this situation any less awkward. Coming out of hyperspace in three… two…"

The brilliant blue and white streaks fell away as the Ebon Hawk jumped back into real space, the exit so smooth that it took a full second to realize that cannons were firing all around them. Bright green streaks cut through the starry sky as fighters and warships took aim at each other, the smaller crafts leveraging their agility to escape the heavier artillery attacks of the larger vessels. The Hawk's sudden appearance was barely noticed, though two stray shots came racing towards the freighter.

"Shit!" Atton banked the ship into a hard left, rolling away from the cannon fire moments before it struck. Pulling hard on the controls he steered the Hawk away from a fighter that was getting close to its tail. "Hold on to something, because this is about to get rough! You're all lucky that I'm Force-sensitive."

Even as the Hawk veered elegantly around a volley from a set of turbolasers, Vann seemed unimpressed. "You don't need the Force to fly well. I've seen Carth maneuver through fleet battles before."

"And I've seen Carth shoot." Meetra arched a brow. "Are you sure he's not Force-sensitive?"

"He did produce Dustil." Upon receiving a threatening glare from Vann, Alek sighed. "Not that my opinion matters."

"Can you please have this conversation when I'm not out-maneuvering two separate fleets!?"

The Hawk went into a controlled fall, swooping around a Sith battle cruiser before climbing back up to avoid the squadron of fighters that were exiting the ship's lower hatch. As the freighter veered around the worst of the battle, Meetra caught a glimpse at what appeared to be multiple vessels firing on a single, enormous target. "What's going on over there?"

Atton checked a few readouts. "It looks like the majority of the Sith fleet is focused on attacking something in orbit."

"Is that…?"

Interrupting Alek's question, Vann dashed towards the ship's main control panel as he shouted, "No! We have to stop them!"

But his fingers never touched the console. Instead, he was held back by a wave of cold power that flowed from Alek's hand. The taller figure charged into the cockpit as he demanded, "Did you keep the Star Forge?!"

Vann narrowed his eyes, his voice laced with venom. "If you don't let me go…"

"You're going to do what? Crash the ship? Kill all of us and yourself in the process?" Now close enough to yank his former friend back by the collar, Alek sneered, "I know you have no sense of self-preservation, but at least think of everyone else on board."

"I, for one, don't want to die." Atton was doing remarkably well ignoring the chaos surrounding him as he continued to fly the ship past scattered cannon blasts.

"Why didn't you tell me that you kept that damn forge?"

Sliding out of her seat, Meetra tried to move between the two quarreling men. "Carth told me that the Republic base was guarding something called the Star Forge, but nobody explained what it is, aside from an ancient artifact from a lost civilization."

"It's not an artifact."

"It technically is." Twisting himself out of Alek's durasteel grip, Vann reached for his lightsabers. "Now stop getting in my way!"

Alek's hand also moved towards his weapon. "No."

Frustration burned cold beneath Meetra's skin and she felt the room grow frigid with the combined power of all of their emotions. Driving the two men apart with a shove through the Force she yelled, "Tell me what's going on or I'm going to shoot you both out of the airlock!"

Slowly unclenching his fists, Alek managed to explain, "The Star Forge is a machine, of sorts, that was built by the Rakata Empire thousands of years ago."

"It's the thing Malak utilized to make the armada that he used to control the Republic." There was an air of smugness around Vann as he stated this.

"And also the thing where the two of you had your big final showdown." Knuckles white around the controls, Atton gritted his teeth. "You know, aside from this one which is happening while I'm trying to fly."

Giving the arguing pair another push, this time towards the doorway, Meetra hastily informed them, "We need to have this conversation somewhere else. But it needs to happen now."

"Rand, protect that forge…"

"Do not listen to him…"

"Both of you shut up! Atton, just fly us somewhere safe."

Breathing a sigh of relief, the pilot offered a mock salute. "Aye-aye, captain."

Meetra felt like she was herding a pair of overgrown younglings as she jostled both Vann and Alek into the closest corridor, not bothering to be gentle or hide the anger seething around her. They didn't resist much, partially because they were so preoccupied with glaring at each other. With a few well-placed shoves she finally managed to position everyone so that she was once again in the middle and capable of looking at both men simultaneously.

"Now, talk. Vann, what exactly is the Star Forge and why is it so important?"

"I don't think there's a sentient alive who knows exactly what the Forge is but from what I can tell it's some type of mechanical device that I learned about towards the end of the war when I was looking for… options to end things quickly. It can create using the power of the Force, but the individual controlling the forge needs to have a strong Force connection. The obvious use is to manufacture vehicles, weapons, and armor without having to mine resources or spend credits. A concept that was proven by Malak over there."

Ignoring the obvious bait, Alek added, "What he's not telling you is that, much like the rest of Rakata, it has an innate connection to the dark side and will corrupt whoever uses it. I've experienced it firsthand. Yes, I used it to build an armada and yes, it was startlingly effective. But it also caused me to surrender to the dark side more easily. That thing is what made me willing to commit atrocities without a second thought. I fell, but the Star Forge dragged me down further than I ever thought possible."

"Which is why I didn't tell you I had it! I knew you'd want it back to pick up right where you left off."

"Like hells I do! I want nothing more than to see that monstrosity blown to bits."

Vann seemed visibly surprised by that response, though it was quickly overpowered by his irritation. "Well, that's not going to happen because I need it!"

"For what?!"

"What do you think? To destroy these Sith Lords and their Emperor!"

Staring in shock, Alek blinked a few times before muttering, "Kriffing hells, this is your entire plan, isn't it?"

"No! I designed an actual battle strategy, I just didn't include myself in it. All I need is that forge so that I can…"

"Can what?" Rising to his full height, Alek moved just a little closer to Vann. "Fall completely to the dark side? Decide that saving the Republic isn't enough, that you need to control it? Start committing genocide 'for the good of the people'? That went really well for me."

"I'd never do any of those things."

"Really? Because that's exactly what I thought. You are one of the strongest Force users the galaxy has ever known and one of the most brilliant tacticians to ever live. If you fall as I did, there is no telling what you'll do… or if it will even be possible to stop you."

Looking directly into Vann's eyes, Meetra murmured, "He's right, you know. During the war, we used to joke that it was a good thing you weren't born a Mandalorian or the galaxy would have been doomed. But it wasn't really a joke."

"Remember when you said that there has always been darkness in you? You were right. You have always had an innate connection to the dark side, and once you accepted that fact you were able to draw upon its power far easier than either of us. But you always balanced that darkness with all of your compassion, like your desire to help those in need and to protect the innocent. If that light is extinguished there's no telling what you'll become capable of. My fall was bad, yours would be catastrophic."

Scoffing, Vann grumbled, "Once again, thanks for the overwhelming reassurance."

"And once again, I'm not trying to reassure you. I'm just telling you the truth!" Alek exhaled mechanically, his expression pleading. "The last thing you need is the Star Forge. It won't let you defeat the Sith, it will make you one of them."

"I sensed something dark, something dangerous when we first entered Rakata's orbit. I thought it was the planet since you told me that its native people have a long history of war, slavery, and even cannibalism." Shuddering at the memory, Meetra placed a hand on Vann's bicep. "But now I know it was that forge that I was feeling. You can't use it, nothing good will come of it."

"You want some reassurance? You don't need that thing. From what I've been told you somehow managed to infiltrate Dromund Kaas for a second time, survived Sith sorcery being thrown directly at you, nearly outran the Emperor while carving a chunk out of him, resisted his torture, and then managed to escape with your life and all of your limbs. And you did it all with one freighter, two droids, and a pair of 'sabers. Imagine what you can do with a Republic base and a Force-user enclave, both full of people who adore you!"

"But what if it's not enough?" Desperation laced Vann's voice, his presence tinged with icy fear.

Meetra gently squeezed his arm. "We'll make sure that it is."

"Without that forge, I'm putting everyone I know in danger. Bastila, Carth… even your crew."

"We didn't join the Revanchists because we thought we'd survive to see glory. We joined because we knew that we could never live with ourselves if we didn't fight against an evil that was threatening the galaxy. It was the right thing to do. I think that everyone in this ship and down on Rakata feels the same way about this conflict. They're willing to fight and yes, even die, because it's the right thing."

"The light thing, even." Realizing the irony in him being the one to state this, Alek hastily changed the subject. "Honestly, the best thing you can do for everyone is to command them well. Guide them through this battle."

Vann's fingers brushed his lightsaber hilts, his tone resolute. "If I'm going to be down there, I have to fight."

"You can do two things at once."

"Fine. I'm not going to say that you stopped me from making a huge mistake because I still think I'm right…"

Rolling his eyes, Alek muttered, "Of course you do."

"But I appreciate the reminder that there are other options. So, thank you, I guess."

"You're welcome. But just one more thing." Hurt filled Meetra's words. "Why didn't you tell me what the Star Forge does?"

"Because I didn't want you to know that I had acquired another potential superweapon. I knew that you'd try to stop me from using it." Jerking his head towards Alek, Vann mock-whispered, "Just like I knew he'd try to stop me if he found out that I didn't destroy the forge… though I honestly did believe that he'd just want it for himself."

Meetra frowned at the explanation. These types of omissions had apparently happened during the war, with similar results. "You need to stop limiting our information to what you think will keep us on your side. I know it's a tactical choice, but we're not your soldiers anymore. We're just your friends."

"Speak for yourself. I feel as though 'not enemies' is adequate."

"I'll… I'll try to be more open and honest with you."

Delicately patting Meetra's shoulder, Alek informed her, "Trust me, that's the best you're getting. Take it and move on."

"So," Vann drawled awkwardly. "What now?

"I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I think I know where you have to go." Brianna's face was unhealthily pale as she cautiously approached from the corridor leading to the main hold. "When we came out of hyperspace, I sensed my former master on the surface of the planet."

Alek appeared confused by this news. "And her former master was…?"

"Nihilus." All notes of levity left Vann's face as he once more slipped into the persona of a battlefield commander. "The Sith Lords are on the surface of Rakata."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 10 - RAKATA PRIME PT. II

Now (3953)

Cannon fire screeched and boomed from all directions as the Ebon Hawk swooped through Rataka Prime's atmosphere, breaking past the light cloud cover and skimming closer to the ocean than was probably advisable. Vann could see it all from his position near the exit hatch, which was prepped to open the second the freighter passed directly over the main battle for the Republic's base. He clutched a handle in the bulkhead, his knuckles white as he mentally prepared himself to leap out of the freighter while it was still airborne.

Atton's voice was strained as it crackled over the shipwide comm system. "You three are sure you want to do this, right?"

On the other side of the hatch, Meetra chuckled humorlessly. "Want to and need to are very different things."

"It's not the first time we've done this." Vann tried to sound nonchalant, even as he muttered, "Or so I've been told."

"The last time we made an aerial entrance into a battle you laughed through the entire drop." The wistfulness in Alek's tone was unsettling. Almost as unsettling as the fact that he was on the Hawk in the first place.

"That was before I almost died in a fiery ship crash. Or did you already forget about that?"

Interrupting what was sure to become yet another verbal sparring match, Meetra ordered, "Both of you hush, we're getting close. I can feel the Sith."

The cold prickle of the dark side had been raising the hairs on the back of Vann's neck for a few minutes now, though the sensation was rapidly morphing into a chill that raced down his spine as the Hawk neared the base. But as he extended his awareness he also felt a familiar shimmer through his Force bond. "They're not the only ones down there. I sense Bastila, which means the others are probably nearby. Rand, prepare to open the hatch!"

"For the record, you're all idiots. Opening the hatch in five, four, three, two…"

The rush of air that buffeted Vann's face was strong enough to blind him for the few seconds it took for his body to adjust to the sensation. As his vision cleared he saw Meetra shielding her eyes with her forearm as she carefully scanned the battle below. Bright sunlight glinted off of the Sith troopers' armor as they marched forward firing their rifles indiscriminately at anything that moved. The bolts carved streaks of red through the air, only to dissipate into sparks as they were deflected by multiple lightsabers that flashed a rainbow of colors. Even from a distance, the Force crackled with power that flowed forth in a dappled field of light and shadow.

A distant wave of frigid energy caught Vann's attention and he squinted against the wind as he searched for the source. He spotted several figures dressed in black slipping behind the line of troopers, their clothing partially camouflaging them against the craggy cliffs that surrounded the base. It appeared that dark Force users had been sent to support the Sith soldiers, a good tactic that could have deadly consequences for the Republic's fighters.

"There are dark Force users approaching the base. I'm going to try to head them off!" Gathering his courage, Vann took a running start along the landing ramp before flinging himself out of the hatch. The initial drop made his stomach plummet and he struggled to regain control of his limbs as he tumbled through the air. Sucking in a breath he summoned his power and managed to use the Force to guide his body, making it easier to control his trajectory and significantly slowing his fall.

The Ebon Hawk had been flying relatively low, especially for a spacecraft, but the drop was still enough to kill any normal person who wasn't equipped with a parachute. As it was, all of Vann's concentration was focused on restraining his speed while also steering his body to an exact point on the ground. Behind him, he could feel two familiar Force presences falling in the same controlled manner, each surrounded by a mixture of excitement and mild terror. Consciously, he found it disconcerting to be relying on individuals who he barely knew, especially when one of them had spent months trying to kill him. But a deeper part of him whispered that this felt right, like a small piece of a much larger puzzle finally sliding into place.

A flash of yellow alerted Vann to Bastila's position and he aimed for it, holding back a scream as his speed increased. His heart was hammering in his chest as panic and adrenaline made his limbs quiver while he fought to land upright. While he was able to strike the ground feet-first, his rear end ultimately absorbed most of the impact. Quickly rolling to his feet he drew and ignited both of his lightsabers, the brilliant red of the weapon in his off-hand feeling less foreign than he expected. Shaking off the last of his nerves he leaped forward, slashing at the nearest trooper and taking them down with three hits to the neck and shoulders.

Sensing Vann's presence through the bond, Bastila turned towards him, her eyes wide. "Where did you come from? And what are you wielding?"

"It's kind of a long story!"

Using her dual blades to deflect a series of rifle fire, Bastila glanced around just long enough to notice Meetra and Alek. "Wait, is that…?!"

"That's an even longer story." Two shots whizzed by and Vann dove to deflect them back to their source. "There are dark Force users incoming. Fight now, talk later!"

Turrets screamed as the Hawk made a second pass over the battlefield, Brianna and Mira manning the guns as Atton expertly steered around the chaos. The plan was for the ship to initially provide aerial coverage and then land when things were clearer so that the crew could help on the ground if necessary. They were almost certainly going to be needed.

Carving through a Sith's helmet and shoulder with a whirling strike, Vann moved towards the edges of the fray as he tried to sense the dark Force users who were trailing the troopers. He cast a quick glance over his shoulder expecting to spot Bastila following his lead, only to be startled by a red blur somersaulting elegantly through the air. Juhani landed between two Sith troopers, cleaving through the head of one before turning to kick the other hard in the gut. The former mercenary had forgotten that the Cathar replaced her drab garments and battered leather vest with longer, flowing robes that helped to disguise her motions in battle. The new attire was obviously a tribute to her heritage.

Bastila nodded to the Juhani and swiftly moved to cover her ally, shifting to a more defensive style as she focused on deflecting shots from the troopers. Flowing into a complementary series of maneuvers the Cathar tumbled and flipped around the other Force user, taking advantage of the protection to attack the Sith more aggressively. Striking to her left before twirling right she managed to cut down two troopers in one motion, her lightsaber rending their armor and leaving deadly gashes in their chest and abdomen. In the background Bastila was calm and focused as she flowed through the moves of her preferred Soresu, almost no bolts managing to slip past her. As she perfected her rhythm she began to deflect the fire directly back, one Sith collapsing as his own shot shattered the visor of his helmet before boring into his skull.

Watching the two women work together sent a surge of pride through Vann, though he couldn't deny the tinge of jealousy that joined it. He used to be the individual Bastila worked best with in the middle of a firefight, but that was before he unintentionally abandoned his friends for two years. There were consequences to his impulsive decision and drifting apart from his students as they forged individual paths was only one of them. But he didn't have time to linger on his mistakes. The cold chill of the dark side became smothering as two dark Force users appeared amidst the storm of blaster bolts. Not for the first time, the former mercenary wished that he could have gotten HK-47 functional before the Sith attacked. Having an assault droid on their side would have been extremely advantageous, especially since he could have picked off a few of these Force users before they reached this point. But some of his necessary parts had been accidentally misplaced…

Giving his lightsabers a twirl to help clear his thoughts, Vann rushed to meet his opponents. The moment they spotted him they also drew their weapons, the brilliant crimson shining ominously against their black robes. A wicked hum reverberated through the air as all of their blades clashed, the former mercenary holding a Sith off with each hand. It was only his Force-enhanced strength that enabled him to push back one of his opponents, allowing him to turn and parry the second with ease. His main blade caught an incoming attack as the weapon in his off-hand slipped through the black-clad figure's guard, wounding them deeply in the arm. Ducking beneath a swing from the first Sith, he summoned his power and used it to throw them into the nearest trooper.

The color of Vann's lightsabers may have been new but the thrum of the crystals resonating through the Force was comfortingly familiar as he blocked a sloppy stab from his injured adversary. With a wide swing of his main arm, he slashed low and sliced through their gut, ending their fight. But he'd been careless and now his other opponent was descending on him with unnatural speed. The heat of their blade was near enough to burn, the attack already too close to be fully deflected. The best the former mercenary could hope to do was dodge enough of the blow to stay upright and then use the pain to give him strength. He was bracing to do just that when the dark Force user suddenly stopped, their weapon slipping from their hands as their whole body went limp thanks to the silvery plasma piercing their heart.

As the Sith crumpled, Meetra tisked playfully. "You always leave your flank open."

Frenzied blaster fire erupted as another wave of troopers marched swiftly towards the base, the shriek of rifles punctuated by the heavier boom of grenades. The Republic was responding with their turret defense system, the turbo cannons recognizable by their twinned shots. But behind all of that chaos was something gnawingly cold, a moaning and insatiable hunger that swallowed the energy released by every death across the battlefield. The Sith Lords were getting closer and their presence was just as menacing as their reputation.

"That's Nihilus." Meetra's eyes narrowed as she reached for her comm. "I should contact the Hawk and tell Brianna to stay onboard."

"No. Give her the chance to face her darkness. It's the best thing you can do for her." Behind him, Vann could still feel Bastila fighting off the troopers threatening to overtake the base. Distantly he wondered if he had somehow betrayed her by bringing her own dark past into their home.

Red sparks flew through the air as Meetra deflected bolts with practiced precision, her stance firm and her grip easy. She flowed with the battle and the longer Vann fought beside her the easier it was for him to fall into the same rhythm. There was something inspiring about the way she approached combat that almost reminded him of Bastila's battle meditation. While it lacked the pinpoint precision of that power, it still created a mental link that made moving in tandem and anticipating each other's actions seem nearly effortless.

Meetra was a skilled lightsaber combatant but that obviously wasn't where her strength lay. Though she deflected rifle shots with little trouble she preferred to attack her opponents using the Force, throwing them across the battlefield or trapping them in place. That tactic worked well for Vann who took advantage of the opportunities provided by cutting down multiple enemies with a few quick strikes. He was dispatching a line of troopers who were held in stasis, his lightsabers humming fiercely as he carved past their armor, when he felt a prickle of warning slide down his neck. Whirling around he brought both weapons up just in time to block an aerial chop from another dark Force user, their blade hovering dangerously close to his face until he managed to deflect them back.

Parrying the next attack with his off-hand, Vann pivoted and then struck with his main blade. The move was unexpected, catching the Sith by surprise when it cut a long gash across their ribs. As they roared in pain the sickly yellow of their eyes seemed to glow and they drew a ragged breath before attacking with renewed vigor. The next two strikes were barely evaded and the former mercenary shifted his crimson 'saber into a reverse grip to better shield his vitals. Diving low he mostly ducked beneath a third blow, suffering a small gash to his shoulder as he lashed out with both blades simultaneously so that he could cripple his opponent's leg. They fell to one knee as he rolled to his feet and stabbed backward with his off-hand, searing through the Sith's abdomen.

The shout of warning that reverberated through the air was both heard and felt, causing Vann to look up just in time to see a hail of rifle fire headed directly towards him. He immediately dove out of the way, deflecting shots as he moved. But he was reacting quickly and missed more than a few rounds. The remaining bolts sped towards him, ready to puncture his side, only to be blocked at the last moment by a brilliant flash of orange. The lightsaber was handled with surprising deftness as it deflected the fire with raw power.

"Watch your flank," Alek commented dryly.

The pair subconsciously shifted so that they were back-to-back, Meetra's command of the Force helping to coordinate their movements. They flowed around each other with ease, more refined than the duel with Ell despite never practicing together. Just like on the Star Forge, Alek was far more agile than his towering stature suggested. But unlike that fight, his stance remained defensive as he used his superior height and reach to block incoming shots and clear a wide field for his allies. Vann felt strange as he took advantage of this technique, his agility enabling him to maneuver around the taller figure and deliver a flurry of hits before dodging back into the defended area. He was used to protecting others, not being protected.

Eventually, there came a lull in the battle, an eerie calm settling over the now-ravaged path leading to the Republic base. Smoke and dust clouded the air, obscuring everyone's view beyond a couple of meters. Vann held his position for a minute even after the Sith assault stopped, the glow of his lightsabers helping him to see through the gloom. Panting hard, he eventually powered down his weapons before dragging the back of his hand over his forehead to wipe away grimy rivulets of sweat.

"You changed to Soresu," the former mercenary remarked as he glanced at Alek from the corner of his eye.

"I only use Djem-So when I'm fighting you. It's more effective against Juyo."

While that was technically true, it still made Vann scowl.

"I can feel the Sith Lords nearby, but not close enough to strike. And they're not moving." Staring into a cloud of grenade smoke, Meetra frowned. "What are they waiting for?"

By extending his awareness Vann could also pinpoint the location where the Sith were biding their time. It was close, disconcertingly so, but the former Consular was correct in noting that it was too far for either side to attack without compromising their current positions. As he scanned the battlefield he could also feel the fainter glow of additional Force-sensitive individuals moving towards his location. He recognized them, though none was particularly familiar.

"The Hawk just landed outside of the base and your crew is on their way to add support." Looking over at Meetra, Vann recognized the moment when she unraveled the Sith Lords' plan.

The flare of concern added a chill to the void that had become the blonde's presence. "They're waiting until we're all together, probably hoping to kill us all at once."

"Or they're looking to somehow pit us against each other. It's a common Sith tactic and would save them the trouble of fighting us personally." Alek's words settled uncomfortably as they considered the possibility. Multiple Force users on the base had a history of mixed allegiances, making the suggestion that much more disturbing.

One of those individuals came sprinting up while Vann was still contemplating the possibilities. "There you are! I lost track of you in the midst of all the chaos." A thin smile tugged at Bastila's lips, though it quickly disappeared when she noticed who else was in the area. "Are you alright? Any injuries that I should be aware of?"

The gash in Vann's shoulder barely stung so he shook his head. "I'm fine, but I'm not sure if anyone else is hurt."

Noting the way that Alek was favoring one side, Bastila curled her lip in distaste as she announced, "You can rot in Sith hells for all I care."

The former Supreme Commander grimaced. "I'm not saying I didn't deserve that…"

"Oh, you entirely deserved that." Giving her old friend a faint smile, Meetra gathered healing energy in her hands. "Now hush and hold still."

Seeing that the situation was handled, Bastila cleared her throat as she attempted to adopt a more formal demeanor. "Carth is safe. He's in the base's main war room doing his best to implement the plan that you sent him. The base itself is holding so far, though I must admit that your intervention was incredibly well-timed. Unfortunately, we lost the Star Forge roughly half an hour ago. The Sith destroyed it rather than trying to use it if that makes you feel any better about the situation."

"I know about the forge, I saw it happen just as we came out of hyperspace. Wait, why didn't you start with the tactical information?" When he received nothing but an exasperated shimmer through the bond, Vann rolled his eyes. "Alright, fine. You know what my priorities are. How's Dustil handling all of this?"

"He's helping to guard the area immediately in front of the base. While he hasn't seen as much combat, he seems to be appropriately determined about the entire situation."

"Kriff, he's only a kid! He shouldn't be out here."

Now healed, Alek quietly reminded everyone, "From what I remember, he's the same age Meetra was when she joined the Revanchists."

"Dustil wanted to defend his home." Bastila's pale eyes were pleading. "Can you of all people blame him?"

"I understand why he's here, but that doesn't mean I like it. Can you keep him away from the worst of it, especially what's coming?"

Bastila sucked in a sharp breath as she also sensed the waiting Sith Lords. "I'll do my best to ensure he stays well back from whatever they have planned."

"Meetra, glad to see that you're alright!" Atton was racing away from the base, some of his crewmates trailing behind him. "We lost sight of you once the grenades started going off and while I thought that you felt okay I'm glad to, you know, confirm things."

Hanging back a bit, Brianna's gaze kept darting between her leader and whatever was cloaked by the smoke and dust. "My master is out there, feeding upon the death that surrounds us. He's only growing stronger while he prepares to attack."

The Force shivered as a gaping wave of hunger suddenly surged forward, joined by what felt like an eternal scream of pain and rage. Clenching his jaw, Vann glanced at the newly-arrived crew. "Seems like the Sith are done waiting."

"Then I should not be here." Shaking her head, Brianna stumbled over her own feet in her rush to leave. "I am a liability to you all."

A slender hand grasped the Echani's wrist, holding her back. "Do you plan to turn on us?" When Visas was answered with a firm head shake, she urged, "Then fight beside us. You are perhaps the only thing on this entire planet that can distract that creature. If you wish to defeat him you must remain here!"

Clenching her jaw, Brianna planted herself beside her allies.

Smiling fondly at her students, Meetra paused when she noticed that one was missing. "Where's Bao-Dur?"

"He's doing something with the turrets." Atton chuckled weakly as he drew a pair of lightsabers from beneath the back of his jacket. Both the shoto and the normal hilt were highly customized, slimmer than usual and featuring extra buttons on the sides. "I'm guessing that he has a plan and that we should all be ready to duck once he activates it."

Igniting his own weapons, Vann looked around at the gathered Forcer users as the chill of the dark side grew oppressively dense. "Be ready. Things are about to get dangerous."

As the former Revanchist spoke, two shadowy figures emerged from the swirling dust, flanked by another squad of Sith troopers. Before Vann could note any further details, brilliant bolts of purple electricity began to illuminate the gloom as forks of lightning rapidly gathered in the air above the group. Without thinking he jumped in front of the less experienced crew members and wrapped the Force protectively around them, belatedly realizing that he couldn't maintain the shielding and absorb the incoming lightning.

He was still debating his options when Meetra shook off her own surprise and shouted, "Alek, give me a boost!"

"You can't be serious." Despite his doubt, the taller figure hurriedly bent down and held out his arms just as Meetra leaped into the air. She angled her trajectory so that the ball of one foot landed in the palms of her friend's outstretched hands, enabling him to toss her much smaller form even higher. She soared… Directly into the path of the incoming lightning.

Vann was about to shout a warning when he saw Meetra stretch one hand towards the bolts, redirecting the attack in midair the same as he did at ground level. As she began to arc back down she released the electricity, the attack now stronger than what she absorbed as it exploded from both hands in a violent storm that struck multiple troopers at once. Her landing wasn't perfect, a little too much of her weight leaning to one side, but she still came out of the situation unscathed. A second later her lightsaber was out as she crouched defensively in front of her crew. Releasing his protective shielding Vann rushed to join her with Alek close behind.

"She never could produce her own lightning, so you worked with her to develop that technique," the former Supreme Commander explained when he noticed the other man's amazed expression. "During the latter parts of the war, she utilized that skill to enhance our attacks."

"Did I ever throw her into the air?" Vann grinned, already suspecting the answer.

"Only one of us was tall enough for that job."

The trio was ready and waiting as a black-robed figure stepped out of the smoke, his mask remaining a pristine white despite the dust that swirled around him. When he spoke it was nothing but garbled static, the sound enough to make Vann's ears ache. He was about to sarcastically ask for a translation when the second Sith Lord appeared, his cracked and broken body a stark contrast to his completely shrouded accomplice.

"Exile, we are impressed with who you brought to this battle."

Frowning at the Sith, Vann snorted, "I can't tell if I should take that as a compliment or an insult."

"Do not mistake me, I am not impressed because of who you are but because of what you are." Sion's one good eye scanned the war veterans. "You are all discarded students of my former master. Those who have failed her in a way that I will not."

Sorrow bloomed around Meetra as she gritted her teeth. "Kreia. You're talking about Kreia."

"No more words." Sion drew his lightsaber, the hilt almost as battered as the creature wielding it. "Allow us to demonstrate."

It was Nihilus who darted forward first, moving across the battlefield like a wraith. From somewhere within his robes he produced a lightsaber which he ignited just as he reached Vann and Alek. He circled the pair once, attempting to draw them away from their allies. Nearby, Sion was doing the same to Meetra, fixated on the former Consular who was studying him with nearly equal intensity. The first time their 'sabers met she was pushed back close to a meter, something that would have concerned the former mercenary if he wasn't completely preoccupied with fending off a Sith who made his own combat style seem sedate. Luckily, Atton rushed in to block the next strike from Sion as the blonde adjusted her stance.

From somewhere behind them a series of explosions rocked the ground, the troopers taking advantage of the Force users' distraction as they attacked the base from a different angle. Fear welled cold within Vann and he used it, infusing his slashes with new strength as he tried to trap Nihilus between himself and Alek. Already breathing hard he yelled out, "Bastila, help hold the base!"

The former Sentinel charged forward, ignoring the order. "Jolee and Juhani can do that. I want to be here!"

"You told me that you'd protect Dustil!"

That statement was enough to make Bastila pause, the bond flaring as she recalled her earlier words. Entwined with that thought was a reminder that Carth was also on the base, doing his best to hold the location and buy the Force users the time they needed to take down Nihilus and Sion. Protecting the Republic's stronghold was as tactically important as defeating the Sith Lords and in many ways, it was far more personal. That sentiment passed between them, followed by a burst of understanding from the Padawan as she squared her shoulders and nodded in acknowledgment. Gripping her lightsaber she sprinted directly towards another devastating blast, her form quickly swallowed by the fresh cloud of smoke.

That decision was barely resolved when Vann was forced to dive to his left to narrowly avoid what would have been a crippling blow to his right arm. Pivoting lightly he countered the attack with his off-hand, stabbing upwards into Nihilus's robes. The crimson blade struck something that felt like flesh and the Sith let out a garbled scream before sending out a strong Force push that knocked the former mercenary back half a meter. He had to crouch low to stay on his feet, putting him back on the defensive even as Nihilus whirled around like a living shadow and slashed past Alek's remarkable guard, wounding him in the thigh.

Flipping forward with a snarl of frustration, Vann swung out both blades as he landed directly in front of the robed Sith, temporarily pinning him in place as Alek retaliated against the earlier attack with his full strength. While part of the cleave was evaded, it still hit what seemed to be Nihulus's left arm. The acrid scent of singed cloth and flesh filled the air but the wound did nothing to slow the Sith. Using the momentum from the partial dodge he lunged at the former mercenary with two hard slashes. Vann saw that the maneuver left Nihilus open, but he also realized that he'd have to take a blow in order to remain close enough to capitalize on the opportunity. Diving forward he bit back a scream as the lightsaber burned past his jacket and traced a long slice along his ribs. Distantly, he thought he sensed Alek's alarm, but he didn't dwell on it as he drew upon the pain and lashed out with three rapid strikes. At least two found their mark and Nihilus shrieked inhumanly.

Using the distraction, Alek closed in on his adversary's other side and delivered a deep cut across what must be the Sith's torso. The move was startlingly familiar and Vann felt sympathy pains through the scar that marred his own abdomen. He knew from experience that the hit should have been enough to at least knock the damn creature down but Nihilus remained upright, his mood unreadable thanks to the mask. Suddenly, the Force became frigid enough to suck the breath from the former mercenary's lungs and he gasped for air, only to find himself crumpling as all of his strength instantly evaporated and he was wracked with such extreme exhaustion that every bone in his body ached. Glancing up, he watched his former friend fall to one knee as his immense might was also drained. Nihilus, however, was charging forward with renewed vigor.

Sluggishly tumbling away from a hit, Vann could barely crawl across the ground as he tried to refocus his strength, only to collapse onto his side from the effort. His head slumped at an angle that allowed him to watch the other battle taking place. Meetra and Atton were surrounding Sion's fallen form and for a moment a sense of triumph shone brightly through the Force. But the emotion quickly faded as the Lord of Pain let out a roar and climbed back to his feet, grinning. "You cannot defeat me, Exile. Nor can you break my will."

Panting hard, Vann stumbled upright only to be knocked back down as another wave of fatigue threw him off balance. Brianna was watching, her hands balled into fists as she muttered, "My Master is draining their energy to repair his own wounds."

Looking over at the Echani Vann hissed, "If you know what's going on here, a little help would be appreciated!"

"I do not know the specifics of how his powers work or how to stop them."

"You can distract him!" Visas shook Brianna by the shoulders. "By standing still you are acquiescing to his will. You are an Echani warrior, not a Sith puppet. Fight him!"

But the former apprentice shook her head as she clutched the Miraluka's arm, "We learned on Korriban that we are not strong enough to fight him. If we stay back we can remain alive to fight other battles!"

"I would rather die at the hands of that creature than know that he survives to destroy more lives because I did nothing!" A violet blade hissed as Visas snapped it open. "Remain here if you wish, but I know the path I must walk."

Alek and Vann were once again back-to-back, their weapons held weakly as Nihilus prowled around them like some feral beast. Though the pair were positioned to defend themselves, in their current state there was little they could do against a powerful attack. The Sith knew this and his blade flashed menacingly as he drew it back for a rending blow, the wicked hiss only drowned out by his ghastly howl. But the attack never hit. Instead, it was parried with enough force to knock him back almost a meter. Twirling gracefully, Visas swung her lightsaber around for a second slash that was barely blocked. There was finesse to her fighting style, showing that she had obviously been trained as a melee fighter before she ever held a 'saber.

Falling back with a sigh of relief, Vann mentally ran through his next options. His frustration with the situation was already causing faint sparks to appear at his fingertips, but since the revelation on Nar Shadda he'd been hesitant to summon that ability. Exhaustion still dragged at his limbs and made his chest feel heavy. He wondered if this was something that he could heal using the Force provided that he could find enough light… Something that was in direct conflict with his lightning. As those emotions warred a vague memory floated through his mind. He saw himself sprawled across a different battlefield, a grisly baster wound burned into his inner thigh as blood pooled thickly around his leg. Beside him crouched a younger and physically whole Alek whose hands glowed brightly with healing energy despite the supreme vexation on his face. When the vision faded, the former mercenary considered this new option.

Despite her strong entrance, Visas was already struggling to keep pace with Nihilus. She was good, but she couldn't take the Sith on her own. Turning to Alek, Vann gave the other man a shove with one hand as he began to gather lightning in the other. "Hurry up and heal yourself so that you can help her. I'll cover you for now!"

Without waiting for a response, Vann drew upon his depleted energy reserves and made the blackish-purple sparks dancing in his palm grew hotter and more volatile. They were wreathing up his forearm when he released the surge, directing all of the bolts directly at Nihilus who let out a garbled shout. Despite the Sith's speed, there was no way for him to avoid the attack and his shrouded body shook uncontrollably as he was electrocuted. Panting hard, the former mercenary tried to keep the electricity streaming forth but he was rapidly growing weaker. Suddenly, the electrical storm ceased as one leg collapsed beneath him, forcing him to his knees.

Strong hands wrapped around Vann's shoulders, hauling him upright. "You always push yourself past your limits." Alek leaned closer, sighing mechanically. "And in case you haven't figured it out, I can't heal anymore. Not since the Star Forge."

The words echoed through the former mercenary's mind and he replayed their earlier argument. 'I fell, but the Star Forge dragged me down further than I ever thought possible.' Shuddering at the implication he muttered a few curses as he allowed himself to be pulled to the side. Up ahead he could see that Nihilus had been slowed down by the lightning, but that only increased the Sith's rage. As Visas dove towards him, aiming to slash open his shoulder, he darted out one arm and caught her in midair by the throat. Lifting the woman above his head, a yellowish-orange glow surrounded his hand as he began to drain the Miraluka's energy.

Jolting forward in alarm, Vann let out a shout as he subconsciously released a burst of power. It wasn't much, at least compared to what he usually produced, but the push wedged directly between Visas and Nihilus, driving them apart. The Sith stumbled backward while the visibly dazed Miraluka was thrown in the opposite direction. Seeing an opportunity, Alek wrapped his own power around the black-robed figure, holding the Sith back with one hand as he used the other to half-drag and half-carry the exhausted former mercenary across the ground. They stumbled to where Visas was curled, her slender figure suddenly seeming so small.

It was no surprise when Nihilus broke out of Alek's grasp and raced towards the group. What shocked them all was the dual-bladed lightsaber that swung in front of the charging Sith, blocking his path. The hilt was almost identical to an Echani ritual brand, complete with flared guards built into each end. But the blade itself was the clear, deep blue that Vann associated with Jedi Guardians. Of course, it wasn't actually a Jedi wielding the weapon. Brianna's style was clearly that of a sword duelist yet she still used her 'saber with remarkable skill. The Sith was immediately overwhelmed by his former apprentice, buying the others a few precious seconds.

"You can heal!" Alek yelled at Vann as he tried to haul Visas to her feet, pressing her lightsaber back into her slack hands.

"Not when I'm this exhausted!"

"And normally I wouldn't push you to in this state but…" Still supporting Visas who was swaying on her feet, Alek stared at his former friend. His gaze softened. "There's nobody else who can help and I know you can do it."

Peering over his shoulder Vann could see that Meetra and Atton were still struggling against Sion, sweat beading on their foreheads as they pushed their exhausted bodies to keep fighting. While the Lord of Pain looked no worse than when he'd arrived, both of the former Jedi were clearly marked with injuries that the blonde hadn't been able to treat. If they could keep going, so could the former Revanchist. Clenching his teeth he nodded wearily, which drew a bright flare of hope from Alek. Clinging to the burst of light, Vann couldn't ignore the nagging sensation that it was incredibly wrong to be drawing strength from Malak of all people. But behind that was another, quieter whisper that soothed those fears, assuring him that he'd relied on this man thousands of times before.

The flicker of pride and the sheer, unyielding belief was growing by the second and the former mercenary focused on the brilliance of those emotions, drawing them into his presence until the familiar warmth of healing surrounded him. Reaching out he placed a palm on both of his companions and sent the energy into them, the sensation different from closing a wound since there was no visible injury to treat. Instead, he was using his power to replenish whatever Nihilus had stolen. A bright pulse of light engulfed the trio for a second before vanishing, instantly repairing the worst of the damage. Visas came to full consciousness with a gasp, jerking around just in time to see Brianna drive her former master back with a series of stabs that she punctuated with a hard kick to his chest.

"It's working!" The Miraluka tugged at Alek's arm. "We must help her. Hurry!"

Igniting his lightsaber, the taller Human nodded quickly before glancing at Vann. "You stay here. I can tell that you're beyond exhausted so just rest. We can handle this."

Scowling after his companions' retreating forms, the former mercenary resisted the urge to stick out his tongue. "Yeah, okay. I'll just sit here." He barely had time to roll his eyes before he was climbing to his feet and summoning more lightning by drawing solely upon his irritation.

Somehow, Brianna was causing Nihilus's impossibly agile maneuvers to grow sluggish and uncoordinated. It made him an easy target for Alek, who sliced a long wound across one hip that almost prevented the Sith from dodging Visas's blow to his stomach. He sidestepped at the last second before shoving the Miraluka back with a Force push. But the move left him open and his former apprentice seized her advantage, diving in with two hard chops to his shoulder and ribs. His screech of agony was enough to make everyone pause and wince, which seemed to give the Sith a moment of clarity. He used it to whip around, carving a gash into Alek's side before stabbing upward and catching Visas across the bicep. Sensing her allies' pain caused cold fury to swirl around the Echani and she let out a howl as she jumped into the air, trying to bring her blade crashing down on her former master's skull.

But Nihilus anticipated the maneuver. With a wave of his hand, he froze Briana in midair before clenching his fist to wrap the Force around her throat. She kicked and wheezed, her free hand clawing at the invisible hold around her airway, but nothing could release the grip. Seeing the Echani's distress, Alek charged forward and took a vicious swing directly at the Sith's shoulder. But with his former apprentice immobilized, the Lord of Hunger could once again move with inhuman swiftness and he easily ducked beneath the strike, all without loosening his grasp.

At least, Nihilus was fully mobile until the full force of Vann's lightning struck his body. The heat of the attack made the air shimmer and it was only the former mercenary's precision with the ability that prevented any of his allies from being struck by stray sparks. Bolt after bolt of blackish-purple electricity relentlessly pummeled the Sith, driving him to his knees as he twitched and convulsed. With a final surge of power, Vann forced his opponent to release the hold on Brianna, causing her to drop heavily to the ground with a hoarse wheeze. But even gasping for breath she managed to ignite her lightsaber directly into her former Master's gut. He screeched in agony and Alek raised his weapon to deliver the final blow, but Visas caught his wrist.

"Not you." Holding out a hand, she helped Brianna to her feet as both women kept their eyes and blades trained on Nihilus as he struggled to stand. The Echani delivered a palm strike to his chest to stop that effort.

Nodding respectfully to Alek, Brianna explained, "We must be the ones to end this."

Bowing slightly in understanding, the Human stepped back as the two women moved to surround their fallen foe. They spoke to him, the words too hushed for Vann to hear, though he could feel their emotions through the Force as anger and resentment whipped around them in frigid gusts. Yet, there was no hatred behind all of that darkness, just the golden glow of relief as Brianna stabbed her blade into the Sith's heart. His death reverberated, a sudden chill that made everyone shiver even as the surrounding temperature subtly warmed.

"I didn't realize it was so personal for them." Contemplation creased Alek's forehead as he watched Visas burrow her face into Brianna's shoulder and release a sob.

"With the Sith, it always seems to become personal." Arching a brow at his former friend, Vann quipped, "Except for our last fight. That was just business."

Alek ignored the verbal jab. "I told you to stay here and rest. The last thing any of us needs is for you to die from your own stupidity."

"And I stayed exactly where you told me to, honest. I barely moved at all."

Even with his prosthetic jaw, Alek managed to perfectly mimic the expression of supreme vexation that Vann had seen in his memory.

Before he could mention this fact, Meetra came sprinting by. There was a limp to her gait, but that didn't slow her much as she called, "Okay everyone, time to duck!"

Atton was right behind the blonde and he hurriedly explained, "Bao-Dur 'fixed' the turrets. Hit the ground now!"

Nobody needed to be told twice. There was a brief moment of chaos as everyone dived down simultaneously, Vann going last as he instinctively reached out and shielded as many individuals as he could through the Force. His protection wrapped around his allies just as a deafening boom shook the area, leaving behind a high-pitched ringing in both ears. He felt a second explosion, and then a third, though he didn't dare lift his head high enough to see what was happening. It was only when the ground remained still for several seconds that he carefully peered upwards, noting that Alek and Meetra were also doing the same. The former Consular flashed a hand signal that he recognized as 'all clear' and he withdrew his power before slowing standing back up.

The nearby paving was charred and cracked, the duracrete smashed into a large crater surrounding a battered body that shouldn't have remained whole. But Sion was no ordinary creature and even as his clothing smoldered he attempted to rise once more. But Meetra was there, pressing a boot between his shoulder blades to shove him back down as she aimed her lightsaber at his throat.

"Stop."

Sion chuckled dryly. "You are impressive but you forget that I am not made of flesh and blood. No matter how many times you break me I will reform, unchanged and unbowed."

Grinding her heel against the Sith's cracked flesh, Meetra shook her head. "Then you've learned nothing from Kreia. She doesn't want a student who clings stubbornly to old experiences and refuses to grow."

"Enlighten me, Exile. What does she truly seek?"

"She wants someone who moves beyond their past and looks to the future for guidance. A student who learns and grows rather than stagnating like a walking corpse."

"And how do you, the wound of Malachor, represent this lesson?" There was mockery in the Sith's voice, yet he also appeared intrigued.

"How do you think I defeated you again and again? Unlike you, I can't take a 'saber to the gut and keep fighting. I had to learn and adapt as I went. But you… Your strategy never changed. After the second time you popped back up, nothing you did surprised me. In the end, it was my student's ever-evolving ingenuity that knocked you down for the final time."

"I will stand back up."

"No, you won't." Meetra pressed her boot down just a little harder. "Your time is over, Sion. We both sense it. You keep dragging around a body that should have been dead a thousand times over and for what? You never learn or change. You're a dead thing that became obsolete a long time ago. If you have any pride left in that shell of a body you'll accept your fate rather than rotting away useless and forgotten."

"Perhaps you are right and my time has finally come." The Sith sighed, a sound caught between sadness and relief. "But know this, Exile. Her love is a twisted thing and it will break you the same way it broke me. Worse, perhaps, because she loves you more."

"Kreia? She doesn't love me any more than she mourns for her lost hand."

"No, Exile, she truly loves you. But that is a curse, not a blessing." Sion's good eye narrowed, his voice growing strained. "She has many names though only one reveals her true identity. It is the title I know her by, a title you already dread. If these are to be my last moments, then respect my parting words. Walk away while you still can."

Something about the Sith's warning clearly disturbed Meetra, but she quickly shook it off as she raised her lightsaber. "Rest, Sion. There is no death, there is the Force." Bringing the silver blade down in one clean slice she cleaved her opponent's head from the shattered corpse he called a body. This time there were no signs of him rising again, only a faint chill as he finally accepted death. The former Consular's eyes were hard as she turned to face the others. "Where's Traya?"

"I haven't seen any signs of the third Sith Lord. She might be above the planet, commanding the aerial assault." The scream of cannon fire punctuated Vann's statement, causing most of the crew to look up just in time to spot a pair of unique vehicles soaring low overhead as they shot a Sith fighter out of the sky.

"Wait, are those…?"

Vann nodded to Alek. "Basilisk war droids. It looks like the Mandalorians are on our side this time."

"I thought all of those droids were destroyed on your orders after the war."

"Nope." Smiling at the memory of his time with Clan Ordo, Vann added, "And I'm glad."

But Meetra just looked perplexed. "Who called Mand'alor?"

"Not me." Gesturing towards the sound of blaster fire, Vann somehow found the energy to begin jogging ahead. "We can figure it out later. For now, let's help clear the base!"

It didn't take long for the group to arrive within the base's walls. There were still some Sith troopers inside, though they were no match for the combined efforts of six Force users. As they sliced their way past, the trio of veterans slipped into the same easy synchronicity they had rediscovered during the earlier battle. The pair of former Guardians flowed gracefully around each other as the Consular used her powers to cover them. Time and memories blurred as Vann leaped upward, using both of his blades to carve into a trooper who was trying to snipe a Republic soldier. To his right he glimpsed Alek cutting down a pair of grenadiers just before they detonated the last of their payloads. Behind them, Meetra was deflecting shots away from the rest of the Republic forces.

As he neared the center of the base Vann sped up, trusting that his allies would take care of any stray Sith he sprinted past. He could sense Bastila nearby, joined by multiple familiar Force signatures, all of them forming a loose protective circle around the entrance to the base's central building. When he rounded a corner the group finally came into sight, all of them breathing hard with bloody blaster marks marring their robes. But they were still standing strong, their blades flashing as they turned to face whoever was approaching. Suspicion was replaced by relief when they recognized their leader.

"Vann!" Bastila's grip on her lightsaber was fierce, though her expression was tired. "I, we, felt something through the Force. What happened?

"Nihilus and Sion are dead. We don't know where Traya is, but for now…" Hesitating to make a proclamation that was too good to be true, Vann drew a deep breath. "For now, it seems like we won."

Juhani exhaled heavily. "Thank the Force. I do not know how much longer we could have held out."

"They're not surrendering, just regrouping. The loss of their leaders may have surprised them, but they're Sith. They have another plan." Narrowing his eyes, Jolee glanced up at the faint streaks of light that marked the beginning of the Sith's retreat.

"If they withdraw to heal and rework their strategy it gives us more time to do the same. Plus, they're down two Sith Lords. I'd say that this battle ended in our favor."

Tutting at Vann, Jolee noted, "And we're still down a lot of information. It's a hollow victory at best."

"What, you ran off for two years to chase down clues and we're still fighting blind?" Cold outrage surged through the Force as a dark-haired figured stomped closer, a scowl tugging at his familiar face. He'd put on muscle since Vann had first met him on Korriban, teenage lankiness giving way to a broad frame that closely resembled his father's.

"Hey, Dustil. How did you…?" The punch to the jaw came out of nowhere, the former mercenary only sensing it at the same moment that a fist connected with his flesh. He stumbled back a step, mildly dazed as he rubbed his stinging face. While he'd guessed that the teen was angry at him based on how pointedly he'd been avoided during his initial return, this was still unexpected. "Ow! What the kriff?!"

Wincing in pity, Jolee chuckled, "I hate to say it, but you deserved that."

"He sure as hells did! He left us all without any warning. One day he was here and the next…" Scrubbing his hands over his face in a habitual gesture that mirrored his father, Dustil let out a growl of frustration. "I know why you did it, okay? Bastila explained what happened and it's not like I can't feel the darkness that's gathering. But you weren't the one who had to look at my Dad's face every day and see the heartbreak in his eyes. I understand why you left, but that doesn't make it right, or fair, or kind!"

"I kriffed up, okay?" Throwing his hands up in defeat, Vann snapped, "Sorry I tried to make the galaxy a safer place for you and every other person in the karking Republic!"

"Yeah, well… At least you're back." Dustil's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You are back, right?"

"Er, well…"

Placing a comforting hand on her master's shoulder, Bastila informed him, "No matter your plans, you are going to have to stay here long enough to explain two very concerning issues."

"I'm guessing one is Malak… Er, Alek?"

"Obviously." Pointing towards the base's entrance, the Padawan added, "And the other would be the Basilisk war droid that just landed in front of a Republic base."

"Shit! I can see how that might be a problem."

By the time Vann reached the landing site, Meetra was already trying to smooth out the tensions between the surviving guards and the new Mandalore. She was doing an admirable job, though no amount of polite words could erase the resentment caused by years of violent warfare.

"He's fine… They're fine!" Vann called when he saw another Basilisk touch down nearby. "They're with us. They helped save all of our asses, in case you didn't notice. "

"We certainly did save your sorry asses." Though Canderous's words were modulated by his helmet, his voice was still recognizable. "But don't think that we suddenly developed sympathy for Republic pawns. We're only here because someone very important to my clan personally called to ask for our aid."

The comment caused Vann to finally notice a figure hovering towards the edge of the gathered crowd. Her usual bravado was replaced with an almost child-like bashfulness as a blush the same shade as her hair spread across her cheeks. Slowly walking forward, Mira bowed awkwardly to the armored Mandalore. "Hey, Pops. Thanks for lending a hand. Is uh, is Ma around?"

The second Basilisk's rider was already dismounting and tugging off her helmet, her icy blue eyes visibly wet as she jogged towards the younger woman. "Mira! When you commed us and explained the situation, we knew this was a battle that we had to join. I heard your voice and… I would have answered your call even if Mand'alor did not."

"Any chance to stick it to the Sith is a fight worthy of our effort. And any chance to see my daughter is…" Despite the modulator, Canderous's words were thick with emotion. "It's an opportunity that I can't pass up. You did us a great favor, Surik. I owe you a debt."

Rocking back on her heels, Meetra smiled meekly. "I'm pretty sure I didn't do much of anything. Honestly, it was all the will of the Force."

"Huh. A few years ago I would have called that a bunch of bantha shit, but now? Now I can believe it. Still, you have my thanks."

Looking up at the new Mandalore, Mira drew a deep breath. "I'm sorry I left. I know I abandoned our people in their time of need, that I broke the Resol'nare and shouldn't even be worthy of your aid right now. But I just…"

"Our people were defeated and the clans scattered to every corner of the Outer Rim. Many who still wore our armor had no honor and the Resol'nare was little more than a memory to us all. You did what you thought was necessary to survive. We are taught to take advantage of our situations when opportunity presents itself and you found an opportunity for a better life than the one we were scratching out."

Veela nodded, placing an armored hand on her daughter's shoulder. "When you ran away we were disappointed, but we felt no shame. There was nothing left for you. Until two years ago there was nothing left for any of us."

Gazing up at her father with a sense of reverence, Mira grinned. "You found the mask."

Jerking his head towards Vann, the Mandalore chuckled. "We had some help."

"I want to help you reunite the clans if you'll let me. It would be my honor to serve you, Mand'alor."

Holding out his hand, Canderous waited for his daughter to reach out and grasp his gauntleted forearm before returning the gesture in a warrior's handshake. "And it would be my honor to once again count you among our people."

"But there's, uh, there's just one thing. The Jedi over there…" Glancing at Meetra and her crew, Mira loudly whispered, "I gotta help them see this Sith thing through to the end. They need me, you know?"

"I understand. More than you realize." Giving his daughter a firm push towards her allies, Canderous barked out a laugh. "They sure as hells tend to need all the help they can get. But when you're done, come home to us."

"We can drop you off. I'm pretty familiar with the moon…" Meetra's words caught in her throat as her eyes went wide and she was doubled over in pain. A thin whine was all she could manage before collapsing to the ground, her knees curled to her chest as her hands gripped her abdomen.

"Shit!" Rushing to the blonde's side, Vann reached out his awareness to check for any injuries that might be causing this new agony. While he sensed a few lightsaber burns and the odd cut or bruise, nothing was severe enough to cause this reaction. He felt a cold surge of panic in his gut, his awareness sensing that the rest of the Ebon Hawk's new crew was experiencing the same alarm.

"What is it? What's going on?" Atton was racing towards the group, his eyes wide.

"I don't know, I can't find any injuries! You were the one fighting next to her, did you see anything?" Recalling his own fight with a Sith Lord, Vann wondered, "Did Sion do anything to her through the Force?"

"No! At least, not like what Nihilus was doing to you."

"Then I have no idea why she's in so much pain." Attempting to summon healing energy, Vann muttered, "Meetra, come on, talk to us!"

"Kreia…" the blonde gasped. "It's Kreia."

Punching the ground in frustration, Atton hissed, "Kriffing hells, it's the damn Force bond she has with that old witch!"

"The old woman who was traveling with you is causing this?"

"It has to be!" Nodding thoughtfully, Atton recalled, "Something similar happened back on Peragus when Kreia lost her hand to Sion."

"If that's the cause, I have no idea how to fix this. I might have before the crash but…"

Alek let out a mechanical sigh as he crouched beside Meetra, ignoring the glares he received from nearly everyone in the area. "You can't fix a Force bond. Especially not for someone like her who forms them so easily."

"She… what?"

Giving Vann a pointed look, Alek explained, "You must have felt it when we were fighting. We had a bond during the war and her mere presence was enough to reconnect it. It's the same type of bond that she shares with her current crew."

"What are you trying to say?" Atton narrowed his eyes.

"Haven't you ever wondered why the entire crew understands her so easily? Why you trust her without question?"

Sneering at the former Supreme Commander, Atton shook his head. "I trust her because she's trustworthy, unlike you!"

"I'm not saying that she wouldn't have your allegiance without a bond! I'm merely explaining that your connection runs deeper than you realize." Alek paused, carefully considering his next words. "She commands your loyalty because of who she is, but you understand why she's so deserving of your devotion because of the bond you share."

"If what you're saying is true, why can't we help her?"

"Because right now, nobody can!"

There were a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, punctuated by Meetra's soft whimpers of pain as she writhed on the ground. Everyone was still muttering helplessly when she let out a shout, her eyes going wide as her hands desperately grabbed at Atton's jacket. The thin, raspy words that she managed to grit out were almost inaudible. "Malachor! We have to go to Malachor."

Confusion flowed through the Force as Vann and Alek stared at each other with a combination of concern and thinly-veiled horror. But Meetra didn't notice as she collapsed into an unconscious heap.


"When you say 'poisonous gas,' do you mean poisonous to the average person, or to Force users as well?" Vann arched a brow as he looked at everyone attending the planning session.

"To anyone. The planet was cracked down to its very core and the gasses released are toxic to almost any species regardless of their connection to the Force." Meetra's skin was still unusually pale and dark circles hung beneath her eyes. Yet, she still looked better than she had two days ago while lying unconscious in the Rakata Base infirmary as her crew hovered nervously nearby.

Despite his best efforts, Vann only saw her twice during that period. The rest of his time had been spent trying to smooth over the continued presence of a small Mandalorian fleet and an escaped former Sith. Once it was made abundantly clear that Alek wasn't willingly returning to the Jedi's custody, the problem of what to do with him was debated for over a day. Eventually, Carth convinced the rest of the base's officers that they were in no way equipped to detain a Force user and that the best solution was to place the former Supreme Commander under Vann's watch.

It was an arrangement that was currently working because the pair needed to cooperate as they tried to discern why Meetra was being called back to Malachor V and if landing on the planet was even possible. According to Bao-Dur it was, but it would be a logistical nightmare.

Frowning, the Zabrak added, "It's not just the gases that you have to worry about. The local fauna isn't exactly friendly thanks to all of the trauma that the planet has suffered."

"Plus there's the academy." All eyes turned to Atton, who glared accusingly at his former master. "Did you not tell them about that?"

"'There's a Sith academy on Malachor Five that I used to break any problematic Jedi who refused to fall in line with my regime' didn't exactly come up in polite conversation!"

Glancing between Alek and his former assassin, Vann snapped, "Are you kriffing serious?"

"You discovered it!" the larger man insisted, as though that improved the situation. "I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect that Malachor's connection to the dark side is why you chose it for the Mass Shadow Generator."

Nodding uncomfortably, Meetra frowned. "I was never told about any academy, but I will admit that even before the weapon detonated the planet felt unusually dark."

"So, the planet is connected to the dark side, the surface is littered with poisonous gas vents, and there's an academy that's probably infested with Sith? Well, this just keeps getting better!"

Ignoring Vann's complaints, Alek looked worriedly at the former Consular. "What I'm confused about is why Kreia is summoning you to Malachor Five. More importantly, why do you feel the need to go?"

"Kreia has one final lesson for me. It's about betrayal."

"Wait… Betrayal? Does this have anything to do with the last Sith Lord?" Concern laced his tone as Vann asked, "Do you think Kreia was captured by her?"

"I'm almost positive that Kreia is Darth Traya. Or, at least, a part of her is. I didn't realize it until Sion mentioned that she has another title that we already dread. I don't know how I'm so sure but I just… I sense the truth in my suspicions."

Atton gritted his teeth."It's probably the damned bond."

Nodding to her pilot, Meetra concluded, "If I'm right, Kreia was probably controlling Nihilus and Sion the whole time even if they didn't realize it. That's how she knew we couldn't defeat them on Korriban and why she kept herself hidden from Vann, the Republic's best strategist."

"If she was manipulating everyone, even me, then Malachor is the last place we should be going. This has to be a trap!"

"You don't have to come with me. But I need to go, to confront what I did to that planet…" Meetra bit her lip, looking even paler. "And what it did to me."

"But what if the Sith Emperor is there?"

"I doubt it." Upon receiving an incredulous glare from Vann, Alek explained, "As I've already mentioned, I had a lot of time to meditate on everything that happened. I realized that the Emperor won't risk revealing himself this soon, not while the Republic is still so well protected. These current Sith Lords are just another way for him to destabilize its defenses. But the fact that he won't be there to confront us might work to our advantage."

"How? He's going to force us to face him again at some point."

"I'd prefer if we found a way to avoid that scenario." Alek's eyes slid to the side, the cold chill of fear wrapping around him. "As I recalled my various studies I realized that the Emperor might be close to immortal in his current state. Sith are often obsessed with their legacies, possibly because they can't become one with the Force after death, and many find ways to extend their lifespans far beyond their natural limits. From what I'm aware of, the Emperor has lived for centuries."

Desperation gripped Vann's chest. "Then how do we beat him? How do we defeat someone who potentially can't be killed?"

"We prove that what he's after isn't worth his time or energy. It's a big galaxy and there are other places for him to conquer. I'm not entirely sure how we can do this, but I think the key lies in defeating his last minion."

An idea was already forming as Vann recalled his time in Nyriss's employ. "We need to humiliate him in the process. The Sith purebloods are an arrogant species and getting outsmarted yet again by the same Humans will be a huge blow to the Emperor's ego. It's not too far fetched to believe that he might withdraw from his campaign against the Republic just to save his pride and his reputation amongst his people."

Meetra hummed, clearly impressed. "Alek, how did you figure all of this out?"

"When I first started meditating in my cell, I found my mind wandering to all of the Sith studies I'd undertaken over the years. At first, I thought I was just feeding my anger out of frustration, but I eventually realized that I was focusing on those lessons because I wanted to make amends for all of my mistakes. I recognized that within those studies lay the key to actually saving the Republic from the Emperor."

"Pretty wise for a Guardian." Grinning, the former Consular gave her friend a playful shove in his shoulder.

"I wish I could take credit for my epiphany, but…" Trailing off, Alek's modulated voice grew quieter. "I know that I felt some sort of outside influence guiding me, showing me that there was a way to victory beyond rage and violence."

Snorting derisively, Vann crossed his arms over his chest. "Oh, that's comforting and definitely not the Emperor trying to control you."

"I told you, I broke the last of his control when you almost killed me." Alek's eyes narrowed. "And I know what a Sith feels like. This wasn't that type of darkness."

"It could have been one of the Jedi." Meetra looked thoughtful. "They were tasked with holding you."

"Perhaps. Either way, I owe that individual a debt. They made me realize that true repentance for my mistakes begins with solving the threat that nearly destroyed me in the first place. I saw that, despite all of my unforgivable actions, I still have a chance to save billions of innocent lives."

Meetra balled her hands into fists, her eyes growing hard. "That's the same reason I need to go to Malachor. I lost almost everything on that planet… And I took so much more. But there's some type of justice, of penance, in going there and saving the Republic one last time."

"It sounds like you're still planning on flying off alone on a suicide mission. Sorry, but that's not happening." Atton snorted at the idea as he gazed affectionately at the blonde. "You can go to Malachor Five and kick some Sith ass, but you're not going in alone. The rest of us are coming with you… Along with some additional backup to make sure that Vann also gets out in one piece."

The former mercenary narrowed his eyes. "What is that supposed to mean…?"

"From what I've been told, our crew will be joined by numerous members of your own enclave." Bao-Dur flashed an amused smile. "Bastila and Juhani were particularly adamant about joining this mission. The respect they have for you is admirable."

"Oh no, they are not…"

Interrupting Vann's planned tirade, Atton smugly announced, "Your boyfriend is also coming since you clearly need adult supervision."

A mixture of anger and absolute terror coalesced within the former mercenary, rendering him speechless as he stumbled out of his seat. Frantically gesturing between Meetra and Alek, he ordered, "Watch him. Make sure he doesn't try and take over the Republic while I'm gone. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go yell at my 'adult supervision'."

The march out of the conference room and through the base's hallways was mostly a blur, with Vann acting on muscle memory as he swept through the familiar corridors. Most of his anger had burned away, leaving behind a frigid lump of fear that made his chest heavy and his breath coming in panicked gasps. A cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck, running down his spine and making him shudder. To distract himself he began to mentally list the myriad of reasons why Carth should stay on Rakata Prime rather than traveling to a poisonous planet filled with Sith and other unknown horrors.

While Vann didn't like the idea of his students traveling with him into such a perilous situation, he was beginning to accept that it was their choice to make. They were Force users, and if this situation was set ten years prior they would be Revanchists marching into battle right behind him. The war was over but his allies still felt the same responsibility to the people of the Republic, wanting to use their gifts to save those in danger. It was a sense of duty that Vann had tried to foster in his own unique way and it pleased him that the others took the lesson to heart.

But Carth was different. Though the captain had pledged himself to serve the Republic, he didn't wield the Force like Bastila or Juhani. He wasn't a match for a Sith Lord. More importantly, he'd already lost his wife and his home in the course of his service and the thought of him losing his life was too much to bear. The other man deserved to grow old surrounded by family and friends, telling war stories to the next generation of heroes. Being shot down over a distant, crumbling graveyard was the last thing his dedication should earn him.

It wasn't long before Vann had found himself outside of the captain's office, typing in the door code that he'd sliced from the base's security system just over two years ago. It appeared that nobody bothered to change it in his absence. Drawing a breath, he prepared to deliver what he hoped was a compelling speech about why his partner should stay the kriff away from Malachor V. The door slid open with a pneumonic hiss, revealing Carth standing in front of his desk pinching the bridge of his nose. He held up a placating hand when the former mercenary started to speak.

"Before you start yelling, I'm coming to Malachor. According to the specs that I've been sent, you're going to need air support and a very tricky extraction. That means you need a good pilot who's also familiar with the Sith."

"There has to be someone else you can send."

"While there are a few other options, sending someone else to watch your back isn't a choice I'm prepared to make." Carth waited until the door breezed shut before walking over to his partner and gently cupping his face. "When you were missing, the only thing I wanted was to be at your side. I kept thinking that if I could just fly you out of danger one more time that would make all the difference."

Vann blinked back his surprise, murmuring, "But your place is here with your son, protecting the Republic…"

"My place is wherever you are." Pressing a gentle kiss on his partner's temple, Carth added, "It should also be noted that my son has decided to come with you, so that made my decision a little easier."

Fear made Vann choke on his words. "But what if you don't make it out?"

"I'll be up high, doing what I do best. And if it's my time then, well, I went out protecting the Republic and the person I love." Carth looked directly into the other man's eyes, his voice gentle yet firm. "You know that I'm speaking from experience when I say that if I die and you survive, it will hurt. You'll cry and scream and ask the universe why you're the one who lived to see tomorrow. Hells, you'll probably want to crawl into a hole along the Outer Rim and never come out. But you also have friends who will convince you to keep moving forward and remind you that life is worth living. Eventually, all of that pain will hurt a little less and you'll smile a little more. It never goes away, but it becomes bearable."

Vann dropped his gaze. "Sometimes I think that I got off easy by losing my memory. I don't have to wake up every morning and remember the pain and loss like you, or Meetra, or even Alek. And shit, that feels weird to say."

"It's been a pretty kriffed-up week."

Laughing at the blunt truth of that statement, Vann flung his arms around Carth's shoulders as he burrowed his head against the other man's neck. "Why do you have to be so damn brave?"

"Honestly, I should be the one asking you that question." Rubbing comforting circles into his partner's back, the captain assured him, "And you didn't get off easy. I see the same pain in your eyes that I see in everyone else's. If anything, you have it worse because you don't always remember why it hurts."

Still clinging tightly, Vann tried to slow his breathing by focusing on the steady thrum of his partner's pulse. This close he could feel every beat, the rhythm helping to ground him and quell his rising panic. He could also sense the familiar hum of the crystal he'd gifted Carth a few months after the Star Forge, the lump noticeable even beneath the heavy material of a naval uniform. With a faint twitch of his finger, he used the Force to shift the item a few centimeters so that it rested directly over the other man's heart. This made the crystal resonate louder, the Force flowing through it in bright waves.

Tilting his head up, Vann claimed a quick kiss before heaving a sigh as he accepted the reality of the situation. "I guess we're going to Malachor, the site of my greatest triumph and biggest karking massacre."

A thin smile tugged at Carth's lips. "It's a little ironic that we're traveling to the location of the last decisive battle of the Mandalorian Wars so that you can save the Republic yet again."

"By that logic, it should be Meetra's turn to save everyone. I'll just be there for moral support."

"If that's true, she's going to need all the support she can get." Carth's expression sobered. "From the information Bao-Dur sent me, the planet is worse than I imagined."

"It's that fun, huh?"

"The Mass Shadow Generator turned Malachor into a living hell."

"Oh good. That's just what I wanted to hear." Regret made Vann shiver as he subconsciously replayed the accusations of the hallucinatory Meetra who had tormented him on Korriban. 'Revan the butcher, the mass-murderer.' 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 11 - MALACHOR V PT. I

Now (3953)

As she picked her way across Malachor's cracked and barren landscape, Meetra felt her head begin to pound as her stomach roiled dangerously. She was taking care to step around the fissures that occasionally spewed forth a noxious green gas but it was nearly impossible to avoid the fumes in the air. While she technically had a gas mask, it pinched her forehead and limited her field of vision while doing very little to actually filter out all of the toxins. She'd removed it soon after landing, which unfortunately made it difficult to tell if she felt ill because of the poison or from the mental strain of being back on this damned planet. Drawing a shaky breath to calm herself, she was surprised when she involuntarily doubled over and started heaving. Though she only brought up a mouthful of bile, the experience left her unsettled.

Standing an arm's length away, Atton nodded sympathetically. "I know exactly how you feel."

Wiping the back of her hand across her mouth, Meetra frowned. He didn't know a thing. There was only one other person who could look at the crushed wrecks of fighters and warships that littered their surroundings and feel anything remotely close to the satisfaction entwined with disgust that she was currently experiencing. But Bao-Dur was unavailable to commiserate, having noticeably distanced himself from the others the moment that the Ebon Hawk exited hyperspace a few hundred meters away from the debris field that surrounded the ruined planet. Even within the Force, he felt closed-off, his mental walls surprisingly strong for someone who was still a novice with the technique. Wanting to give her student space to process his complex emotions towards the Mass Shadow Generator, Meetra had left him to his thoughts. But now she wished that she had pried just a little, if only so that she felt less alone as she led her crew across the nightmarish graveyard that she'd created.

"Meetra, come in? I repeat, Meetra, come in! Where are you, and more importantly where the hells is the Hawk?"

The former Consular answered her comlink with uncharacteristic fumbling, Vann's worried tone filling her with a fresh jolt of anxiety. "I read you, Sojourn. We're already on the surface and Mira is currently taking the Hawk back into orbit to provide aerial support. What's the issue?"

"Scanners… jamming…"

The static-y response caused Meetra to frown. While her team had experienced noticeable static upon entering Malachor's atmosphere, it hadn't been enough to affect their landing. For a moment she wondered if Atton's Jedi training enabled him to compensate for any mechanical issues, but she realized there were more than enough Force-sensitives on the Republic ship to balance any shortcomings that Carth probably didn't have. This had to be a more serious issue than whatever they'd encountered. Gesturing for her mechanic to come closer, Meetra called, "Bao-Dur, I think the other team is having some sort of sensor malfunction!"

That snapped the Zabrak out his private brooding and he hurried over. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Vann, can you describe exactly what's happening?"

"The readouts… scrambled and…" Another burst of static swallowed the rest of the former mercenary's words as Meetra and Bao-Dur exchanged worried glances.

"Sorry, but you're cutting out. Can you repeat that?"

There were a few tense minutes of silence, interrupted only by the mechanic speculating, "The Ebon Hawk was originally a smuggling vessel, so it's been outfitted for travel to less-than hospitable planets. But that Republic courier might not be as well equipped. That could be why they're having more tro…" A loud pop swallowed the rest of the Zabrak's words as the comlink suddenly cut back in with two voices yelling simultaneously.

"The canyon, aim for the canyon!"

"What do you think I'm trying to do?! Maybe you can use the Force to give me a little help steering?"

"Sorry, but Force and I are currently busy acting as your kriffing navigation system. Go left! Wait, what is happening…?"

"It looks like this entire canyon is caving in!"

"Kriff, this isn't a canyon. It's some type of energy vent and the surge that's collapsing the surrounding rock is dragging us down with it. Pull up! Pull…"

Apparently, the comm unit had remained on amid the sensor malfunction and it continued broadcasting as the Republic vessel was sucked into one of the many deep trenches hammered into Malachor V's crust. Carth and Vann's panicked tones were quickly drowned out by the blare of alarms and the transmission became a mixture of sirens punctuated by roughly shouted curses. Suddenly terrified for her friends, Meetra gestured for the rest of her crew to remain in place as she apprehensively waited to hear what happened next.

"Brace for impact! In three, two…"

The harsh, metallic screech of a ship colliding with solid rock filled the speakers and the former Consular covered her mouth in horror. She'd had her share of bad landings, but she'd never listened to one as it occurred. "Vann, what's happened? Are you alright? Vann?!"

There were a few moments of eerie silence before the former mercenary shouted, "Carth? Carth! Shit, no-no-no!"

The sense of dread that had been building in Meetra's chest dropped into her gut, her fingers turning white from her stranglehold on the comlink. "What's going on? Talk to me!"

"It's Carth! He's, he's not…"

Desperation clutched the former Consular's throat. "Not what?"

"Shit, this is bad!"

"For Force sake, just breathe! The last thing we need is for you to pass out as well." Alek's modulated voice was a surprise, though not unwelcomed. For the first time, Meetra was glad that Vann had insisted that the 'prisoner' ride in the Republic cruiser.

"I am breathing, you karking asshole! I just… I don't think there should be this much blood."

"It's a head wound, probably caused by the same thing that broke the panel right above him. This type of injury tends to bleed a lot, especially when it's not cauterized by a 'saber blade like you're used to seeing." There was a pause and a rustle, followed by a metallic sigh. "The good news is that his pulse is strong, even if his breathing seems a bit labored. Right now your job is to stop the bleeding, check for other injuries, and while you're at it calm the hells down."

Distantly, Meetra recalled that Alek actually had more training in field medicine than she did. His ability to heal using the Force had never been particularly strong, so he'd supplemented it with practical knowledge in assessing and treating injuries mundanely. Initially, it seemed humorous that a Guardian would take an interest in such things, but as the war dragged on it was a practice that many Revanchists emulated. Except, ironically, their leader. Revan had never possessed any interest in healing and it was honestly surprising that Vann had gone on to learn the power.

"What's going on? I sensed an alarming amount of distress just as we…" Gasping in surprise, Bastila didn't help the situation by shouting, "Carth! Oh stars, that's a lot of blood."

"Kriffing hells… You have two options right now. One is to walk out of this cockpit and find someone who can assist us while remaining calm. The other is to compose yourself and then help Vann heal our pilot. The choice is yours."

"Excuse me, but I don't take orders from you anymore!"

"Bastila, can you just… ignore him and help me? Please?" The vulnerability in Vann's tone must have cut through his Padawan's indignation because a few seconds later she could be heard murmuring encouragement over the continued beep of the ship's consoles.

"Can someone kindly tell me your current situation? Is anyone dying? Do you need an extraction?" Irritation crackled beneath Meetra's skin, mostly owing to how helpless she felt.

Alek must have recognized the frustration in her voice because he hurriedly responded, "I assume you're aware that we had a… less than ideal landing. Onasi hit his head and knocked himself out in the process, though he should be fine given who else is traveling on this courier. I can't see any reason why we won't be able to continue forward, assuming that our new location is reasonably close to our original destination."

Exhaling in sheer relief, Meetra replied, "I'm sure you need time to assess your new position. Comm me once you know more."

"I copy." There was a faint commotion in the background, mostly consisting of Vann shouting in audible joy. When he spoke again, Alek sounded less strained. "Right now, your best option is to continue on to the rendezvous point. That way you can press ahead even if we can't join you. As you know, this mission is more important than any one person."

"It is. Hopefully, things go smoother from here on out and we'll see you soon. Over and out." There was no response from the Hawk, not that Meetra expected one. When she was sure that there were no further transmissions incoming, she waved over her crew. "I'm not sure if you heard, but the other team ran into some complications. We're still following the original plan but things might change at any moment. Be alert and prepared for anything."

Chuckling humorlessly as he drew his main lightsaber from beneath the back of his jacket, Atton twirled the hilt without igniting the blade. "Well, it's not like we didn't expect some problems, especially since Malachor is one of those planets that gets more fun the longer you're here. There are just so many wonderful features to enjoy on this kriffing heap of bantha shit."

As the former assassin stalked forward, he kicked a strip of metal out of his way. Though it was weathered from time and exposure, the bright red paint that decorated one edge marked it as part of a Republic vessel. It skidded across the rocky ground before coming to a stop a few centimeters from Bao-Dur. Gently picking up the shredded bit of outer hull, the Zabrak exhaled loudly as he turned it over in his palms.

"This is the final resting place of thousands of brave soldiers who gave their lives to stop the Mandalorians and end the war." The item crunched when Bao-Dur's prosthetic hand inadvertently clenched around it. "Maybe you should try and show a bit more respect."

But Atton brushed off the comment indifferently. "They're dead, they don't care."

"Well, I care!" Bao-Dur's guilt and regret surged through the Force, bitterly cold as the emotions swirled with the storm of pure rage that he directed towards himself. "There was no way for any of these individuals to know the horrifying ends they would meet when they entered this battle. The least you can do is honor their sacrifice."

"And what will that accomplish? If you want to feel guilty over the choices you made to win a war, go ahead. I can't stop you. But none of that will bring back those soldiers or anyone else who died on this planet!"

Charging towards the brunette Meetra felt her own annoyance rising. Whether it was towards him or the whole complicated situation was difficult to discern, especially with her emotions still on edge from the Republic cruiser's rough landing. "Atton, you don't have to be such an ass about it!"

"Do you really think that I don't know how thousands of soldiers died here, along with dozens of Jedi? I'm well aware. I even know that some of those Jedi didn't die on the battlefield. No, they met their 'horrifying ends' screaming in cells." When the rest of the crew stared at him in confusion, Atton barked out a harsh laugh as he turned to glare at them. "You didn't figure it out, did you? This isn't my first time on this planet. I've been here plenty of times before, all of them after the war. This is where Malak turned any Jedi who he deemed too dangerous to leave to their own devices. Some of them were a threat to his position while others had abilities that he wanted to utilize. Either way, the results were the same."

"And he turned you here?" Meetra tried to keep her tone gentle even as shock made her body feel numb.

"Nobody had to turn me. By the time the war ended, I was a willing murderer who operated from this planet when I was tasked with hunting down other Jedi. Once I had a target it was my job to find the best method to capture and break them. I was good at it, too, I had fun. Most of those Jedi fell without much of a fight, but the ones who didn't… What does it matter if a few more bodies are rotting in the canyons when this entire planet is a cemetery?"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Staring blankly at Meetra, Atton stated, "I did. I already told you that I know exactly how you feel being back here." Shaking his head, he gestured towards a path around a destroyed cruiser. "Come on, the rendezvous point is through the canyon up ahead. We wouldn't want to keep your friend Alek waiting."

"Atton…"

Glancing at the woman as she rushed after him, the former assassin snorted. "I'm not saying that he can't change, because Force knows I'm trying to do the same kriffing thing. I just think that you're too willing to forget everything that he did."

"I wasn't in Republic space when he was Supreme Commander." It was a hollow excuse, even to Meetra's ears. She still hadn't forgiven Alek for Dantooine.

"His eyes stopped being blue long before that. Maybe you just didn't notice because they never shifted back and forth like Revan's. Or maybe you didn't care. Your eyes never turned, but you still managed to do all of this and call it a necessity." Atton gestured to the destruction surrounding them.

Grabbing her companion by the arm, Meetra jerked him around until they were face-to-face. "It was a necessity!"

"Was it, General?" Bao-Dur was standing just in front of the crushed Hammerhead-class. "Sometimes I lie awake at night just thinking about how there had to be another way."

Anger surged through Meetra as she stared at the two men. The sharp bite of their doubt cut her to the core, but she tried to push it down and view the situation objectively. These individuals were her friends and she would never tell them that they had no right to question her decisions. But they didn't understand war the way Revan did and they couldn't recognize the absolute necessity of the Mass Shadow Generator, both probably unaware of just how close the Republic had come to utter defeat. Clenching her jaw, the former Consular spat, "War isn't pretty. But the important part is that we won."

"Did we?" Staring at the wreckage, Bao-Dur murmured, "Because from where I'm standing, I'm pretty sure we lost just as much as the Mandalorians."

"But we could have lost everything. They survived and so did we." Revan's voice echoed through Meetra's head as she explained, "Sometimes winning isn't an outright victory, it's simply holding your ground long enough to prevent defeat."

"It's true." Brianna and Visas had been so quiet up until now that it was almost possible to forget they were present. The taller woman looked bashful as she spoke for the first time since landing on Malachor. "One of the first lessons that Echani children learn is to read the flow of battle, to fall back when outmatched and to press one's advantage when the opportunity presents itself. But… I have also learned through my time with this crew that what is strategic is not always what is right."

"During the war what was right included what was necessary to protect the Republic and its people. We made sacrifices and some of them were… extreme. But for every life lost, thousands if not millions more were saved." Staring hard at her crewmates, Meetra demanded, "What's worse, one Malachor or a dozen more Serrocos?"

But Atton remained unswayed. "Sometimes you really do sound like Revan and I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. He also used to claim that, provided the Republic triumphed, the ends ultimately justified all of the kriffed-up means we used to win."

"But you don't believe it?" Even though Meetra's words remained steady, she felt the same creep of nagging doubt that she experienced during her first years wandering aimlessly along the edges of known space. It was a sensation that seeped out from the wound that Malachor had ripped into her very being.

Scoffing, Atton waved away the question. "What I personally think about the morals of war doesn't matter. You know what I became after it was all over."

"Nothing about war supposed to be personal!" Once again it was Revan who Meetra was echoing.

"General, forgive me for saying this, but everything about this planet has become personal for us."

Bao-Dur's words sat heavy with Meetra even as she tried to ignore them, the undeniable truth stinging like an itch just beneath her skin. But that didn't weaken her resolve to keep pushing forward, her eyes trained straight ahead so that she didn't have to look at the surrounding carnage. She tried to draw calming breaths to keep her frustrations distant and focus her mind just as she'd been taught, but it was quickly proving impossible. Over the past seven years, she had convinced herself that everything she'd done during the war was entirely justified because the Republic continued standing even after she fell apart. But that was before she'd seen the remains of Malachor V. It was one thing to know the destruction she'd wrought and another to walk across the aftermath, the lingering pain reverberating through her wounded presence.

The crackle of her comlink startled the former Consular and she hurriedly answered it so that she'd have something else to focus on. "Please tell me that you have good news."

"Thankfully, we do." Bastila's tone was far more relaxed than earlier. "Both Carth and the cruiser will be alright and the former can still fly the latter into orbit to provide aerial support."

Sighing, Meetra flashed an 'all good' sign to her crew. "And how is Vann?"

"Better since he realized that, aside from some bruised ribs, the damage was fairly superficial. I think he still blames himself for not shielding the rest of us, though I believe we can all agree that's a ridiculous notion."

"He's always been hard on himself. Either way, are we sticking to the original rendezvous point?"

"Our landing actually placed us closer to that location, so Vann still feels it's the best course of action."

"He always knows best." Even though the compliment was entirely genuine, it came out oddly flat. "If there are no changes, we'll keep heading in our current direction."

"Excellent. I suppose we'll be seeing each other quite soon." While Bastila's comment was supposed to be friendly, it somehow sounded ominous.

"Right. Over and out." Clipping her comlink back to her belt, Meetra drew a steadying breath as she continued her march through the canyon. Atton was a few paces ahead while the rest of her crew trailed behind, giving her a little too much space to think as she moved through the wasteland of her own making.

But was she the one to blame for this devastation? All of the old outrage and resentment that the former Consular assumed had burned away during her self-imposed exile was swiftly surging back to the forefront of her mind as the crew trudged past the evidence of her slaughter. 'This was all necessary,' she told herself even as the words grew increasingly meaningless beneath the weight of her regret. 'Revan thought it was necessary and he's the tactical mastermind. He made it sound so simple.' She hadn't been lying when she told Vann that the decision to use the Mass Shadow Generator was entirely hers, but recognizing her own culpability didn't quell the bitterness that simmered in her heart.

All of those thoughts were swirling through Meetra's mind when her group reached the rendezvous point. Vann was waiting for them, his tension palpable, though whether it was caused by his partner's recent injury or the planet itself was difficult to discern. His concern only deepened when he spotted his former co-commander. "Are… Are you okay?"

"No. I'm back on this planet and the Sith are trying to conquer the Republic yet again." Meetra tried to force a smile, but her face wouldn't cooperate. "It's a little difficult to be cheerful."

"You don't have to be on the surface. If Mira is willing to exfiltrate you, I sure as hells wouldn't mind having your eyes in the air." The complicated thing about Revan, and later Vann, was that his violent temper was counterbalanced by a great deal of compassion. These traits gave him the courage to be an unquestionable hero who frequently utilized the tactics of a villain. It could be infuriating.

The old animosity that stemmed from all of Meetra's unresolved feelings towards the war exploded unexpectedly. She honestly thought that she was better at controlling her outbursts, but she had believed several things upon arriving on Malachor V and so far none of them had been true. "I didn't tell you this before, but I spent years being angry at you over the Mass Shadow Generator. You were the one who had the idea for a superweapon, the one who made it sound like it was the only option we had. And I believed you because your tactics always felt like the best course of action. It helped that you had all of the facts and figures ready. Hells, you even warned me that there were risks, that being close to so many deaths might reverberate into the surrounding Force with unexpected consequences."

Vann didn't seem surprised at this confession, as though he'd been expecting it for quite a while. "I'd like to believe that I would never order someone to use a kriffing superweapon if they didn't know all of the potential dangers."

"The problem wasn't what you said, it was how you said it. You made using the weapon sound so simple. And maybe for you, it was. After all, there's nobody in the galaxy who understands war the way you do. I don't know what your thoughts were when you gave me the orders to use the Mass Shadow Generator, but maybe you assumed that I could manage any potential repercussions just as efficiently as you would have. But I didn't."

"Don't blame him." Alek was imposing as he straightened to his full height. "You made a choice and all of this is the result. You're the one who ripped a hole in the Force after I warned you that using a weapon of mass destruction was a bad idea!"

"I did it because he made it sound like our only option!" Gaze growing distant, Meetra couldn't stop the memories from rushing back. "He said it was necessary, just like accepting seventy percent casualties provided we won the day. Or embracing just a little bit more darkness because it would allow us to see things more objectively."

"Yeah." Wincing, Vann muttered, "That all sounds like something I would say."

The blunt acknowledgment only fueled Meetra's long-contained outrage, mostly because the only thing she currently wanted was the reassurance that she'd always depended on Revan to provide. She needed to confess all of her doubts so that he could explain them away, soothing her worries by assuring her that their actions were entirely necessary. During the war, his conviction that they were on the right side of history had given others the strength they needed to keep fighting. But right now, he just seemed lost. It shattered the last of the former Consular's self-control and she couldn't stop herself from lashing out in frustration. "What, you're not even going to defend yourself? Maybe throw all of my former positivity back in my face? Say something, dammit! Defend the orders that you gave!"

"You know that he won't and you also know exactly why!" Glaring sternly, Alek challenged the blonde to contradict him.

But she said nothing because they were both well-aware that Vann had more guilt about the past than the rest of them combined, an emotion exacerbated each time he was presented with proof of his penchant towards unmitigated violence. Beneath the exterior of the shiftless mercenary and calculating commander lay a person who was deeply insecure about every choice he'd ever made. It wasn't that he lacked the darkness he'd possessed in the war, the rage that sometimes turned his eyes sickly yellow was proof of that, it was merely that he kept witnessing the results of his decisions without any recollection of why he'd originally made them. He didn't remember enough of the past to recognize what they'd gained, all he saw was everything they'd lost.

"If the person who gave the original orders can't defend them, how am I supposed to continue justifying my actions? I've spent seven years convinced that this was the only way to win the war. But… was it?" Gesturing to the broken landscape, Meetra's tone cracked as she pleaded, "How is this any better than seizing control of the Republic to defend it against an even greater threat?"

Alek pointedly refused to answer those questions, even as his expression softened. Instead, he repeated the same words that he'd offered a hundred times at the beginning of the war when the former Consular was still mourning each casualty that paved the way for their victory. "What do you want to hear? What do you need me to tell you so that you can keep moving forward?"

Just like during the war, Meetra found herself pouring out her hopes and fears. "For years I've been assuring everyone, myself included, that I turned this planet into a graveyard for some higher purpose. Tell me that I wasn't wrong. I'm already a murderer, don't make me a liar too."

"If you didn't stop the Mandalorians, we wouldn't be fighting the Sith today because they would have already won. I don't know if the Mass Shadow Generator was the right answer, but it was the solution we found. And to be perfectly honest, I didn't hear anyone else coming up with anything better." Atton stared at the three former Revanchist leaders as he slunk beside Meetra. "I learned a long time ago that living with your past isn't about believing that you were right. Sometimes it's about accepting that you were wrong and trying to learn something from it."

It was an answer, even if it wasn't exactly what the former Consular wanted to hear. But she'd asked him to tell her the truth. "And what am I supposed to learn from this?"

"That right and wrong are too complicated to divide into neat categories? Maybe that even the best leaders are still fallible? Or you can just be glad that we won the kriffing war. It's like you said, one Malachor is still better than a dozen Serrocos."

"That doesn't feel like enough."

"And maybe it's not." Atton shrugged. "We all made choices, now the hard part is living with them."

Meeting the former assassin's gaze, Meetra pleaded, "How do you do it?"

"One slow, painful, gut-wrenching step at a time." The wry smile that Atton gave her was one of the most heartfelt gestures he'd ever displayed.

"We should keep moving." The flatness in Vann's voice was alarming, as was the defeated hunch of his shoulders and stiffness in his gait. Though his Force presence was carefully shielded it wasn't hard to read his current mood. A myriad of emotions was hidden behind his emotionless mask, the same as during the war. Bastila was already rushing up to offer gentle encouragement, even as he brushed her away.

Guilt welled up in Meetra. She'd released her frustrations on the easiest target even though the person she was really angry at was herself. "Vann, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…"

"Don't." As he waved off Bastila's lingering attempts to coddle him, the former mercenary drew both of his lightsabers as he stoically stated, "I sense the academy up ahead, which means that they probably know we're coming. There's a lot of Sith inside. Be ready for a fight, because this is going to be a hard one."

The chilled breeze that was blowing from their north could have been mistaken for a natural phenomenon if not for the ominous sense of dread that crept across the butchered terrain, making the air feel thick as tendrils of darkness curled around the crews. It was a sensation only produced by dozens of dark Force users working together in a single space. Meetra shivered as she drew her own weapon, nodding to her students to do the same. Up ahead, Vann and Alek moved to lead the way just as they'd always done. From behind they looked almost identical to the men they'd once been and it was easy to forget everything that had passed between them. Bastila flanked them, joined by Juhani and a dark-haired teenager who strongly resembled his father.

"Bastila, is there any way that you can use your battle meditation to help us move through that academy?" Vann's tone was guilty, showing his reluctance to make this request. "I know that you need a safe place to sit while you use it and I can't guarantee that here."

"I can guard her."

"Dustil… are you sure?"

"Juhani's more experienced than me with active combat and Jolee is better at crowd control. You can't afford to leave either of them out here just so that you can keep an eye on me." The teen rolled his eyes, standing up a little straighter. "I know you think that I'm just a kid, but I can do this."

Vann didn't look convinced. "And what if the local fauna attacks? Or the Sith?"

"Then I'll wake Bastila up and we can fight together." Pointedly clearing his throat, Dustil quipped, "I'm wise enough to recognize when I'm outmatched."

"We're lucky that the Onasi common sense is as genetic as their damn stubbornness." An older Force user who Meetra recognized as Jolee chuckled. "Let the boy guard Bastila. I wouldn't mind having her battle meditation supporting us in that rancor pit."

"Alright, fine." Pointing directly to Dustil, Vann added, "But if you get hurt your dad is going to blame me!"

The teen merely snorted at the warning. "He cracked his head open less than three hours ago, so he really doesn't have room to complain about anyone else ending up in the medbay."

"I'll go find a place to meditate, preferably away from both the academy and the gas vents." Bastila placed a comforting hand on her teacher's bicep as she turned to look at everyone else. "Good luck to you all and may the Force be with you."

As the two younger Force users moved away from the group, Jolee grumbled, "Pfft, we're going to need more than luck, kid."

"I know that's only part of your plan. Care to share the rest?" Alek arched a brow as he looked at Vann expectantly.

"They know that most of us are here, so stealth isn't an option. But there is one of us they might not have sensed and who's already familiar with the building. Atton, would you be willing to sneak in using the cover we provide to scout ahead and pick off any easy targets?"

Atton scoffed. "You mean assassinate them."

"Call it what you want. Is that a yes or a no?"

"Hey, I know what I'm good at. It'll be pure pazaak."

"As for the rest of us…" With an almost self-deprecating grin, Vann turned to Alek." I figure that we can utilize the same tactic I used against the Revanchists on the Star Forge."

The former Sith's expression was completely deadpan. "You literally just charged into the room."

"I believe Canderous calls that 'shock and awe'. Besides, they might not be expecting us to have support from Bastila and a direct charge might overwhelm them early."

"Fair point, as usual." Alek nodded towards Meetra's crew. "You'll know when she's in place, by the way. We should be ready beforehand since there's no telling how long she'll be able to hold her position."

The mood was somber as the group closed the last hundred or so meters between the canyon and the long pathway that loomed just beyond. It was brightly lit, surprising for a planet that was uninhabited by sentients, and led up to a huge building composed of soaring archways and sharp angles. The cold chill it exuded was palpable and it made the poisonous air thick with dread. Even without extending her awareness Meetra could practically taste the anticipation filling the atmosphere, the Sith craving the bloodshed they knew was coming. During the war, she might have met that reaction with equal fervor, but now all she could manage was grim determination. Adjusting her lightsaber, she ignited the blade just as her boot touched the paved walkway leading to the singular door that marked the entrance to the academy.

All at once the Force seemed to snap taught around them, warmth burning in Meetra's chest as she was filled with a sense of hope that she hadn't experienced in years. Glancing around she noted the same glow of optimism surrounding the rest of her crew, their bodies relaxing as they all fell into step. It wasn't like what the former Consular did when she threaded her allies together to temporarily bind them into a cohesive unit. This sensation was more complete, opening everyone's minds to each other and allowing them to think as one. Even without searching their bond Meetra knew that Atton was already flanking around to trail the group so that he could slip in behind them. It was strange but felt completely natural, a dozen little pinpricks of consciousness alighting amongst her own thoughts and making her aware of everyone's actions so that she could subconsciously complement their choices.

"Bastila's in place, so I guess it's party time." Vann flashed a near-feral grin as he shifted into a ready stance just in front of the entryway.

But Alek hung back, allowing the others to pass him as he lingered just beyond the building. Even without the battle meditation, Meetra knew why he was hesitant and she moved to stand beside him, placing a reassuring hand on his forearm. Malachor V had too much history for both of them. While her painful reminders were littered across the landscape, all of the former Supreme Commander's lurked within this academy.

With a wave of his arm, Vann flung the door open as he charged through, both of his lightsabers humming as he prepared to clash with whatever Sith were looking for a fight. Juhani remained by his side while Jolee trailed the pair to provide support. The moment the trio entered the building the Force erupted with brilliant bursts of energy as powers were unleashed while the air filled with the wicked hiss of plasma blades. Behind her, Meetra could sense her own crew's anticipation as they awaited her orders. A single thought sent them surging forward, their weapons whirring as they burst into the huge entrance chamber of the Trayus Academy. The room's eerie red lightning was momentarily distracting and helped to disguise the black-robed figures who melted out of the shadows with their crimson 'sabers flashing.

Two Sith immediately descended upon Meetra, their movements fierce as the dark side roared around them in a frigid gale. They were clearly expecting her to be an easy target and she knew why. Despite being the infamous Jedi Exile she didn't cut an imposing figure, but that didn't change the fact that she once commanded an entire fleet and sliced her way through Mandalorian warriors as though they were flimsiplast. She was the same person who nearly destroyed this very planet with a single command and despite the tough years that had passed since then she was still far more than she appeared.

The blast of power that left Meetra's hands knocked both Sith to the ground and before they could regain their footing the former Consular tackled them with two solid swings of her lightsaber. The silver blade hissed as it sliced past layers of black fabric, carving into the abdomen of one individual before slicing through the other's throat. Frustration coursed through the blonde, enhancing her strength and allowing her to parry a blow from a third opponent with enough momentum to push them back half a meter. They stumbled and she seized the opening by lunging forward and stabbing her weapon between their ribs before delivering a strong kick to their gut. Dodging to the side, she summoned the Force and froze another enemy moments before they attacked Bao-Dur from behind. He sensed the rush of energy and turned to give his teacher a thankful nod before whirling on his incapacitated opponent with a strong chop that carved a deep gash in their chest.

All around Meetra the Force surged, pulsing in time with the hum and sizzle of over a dozen lightsabers. Though the setting was strange the situation was still familiar. She had been part of similar battles many times prior and she drew from the chaos, pivoting lightly on the ball of one foot as she pushed forward and slashed another adversary along the hip and thigh. From this angle, she could see the others fighting with similar fervor. Visas and Brianna were utilizing the synchronicity they'd discovered on Rakata, while behind her Bao-Dur continued to duel with the same steadfast ferocity that he'd always possessed. Up ahead, two figures fought in tandem as they worked to clear the way. Despite his initial reservations, Alek's motions were as confident as they'd ever been and Vann was still a whirlwind of aggression.

Guided by the battle meditation even as she followed her own instincts, Meetra made her way towards her former co-commanders, her path made easier when Juhani somersaulted through the air and landed on the closest Sith's shoulders. The Cathar's lightsaber easily carved through their skull before she spryly lept away. Off to the side, Jolee held out his hands as waves of energy flowed forth, pinning two Sith against a wall just beside Brianna and Visas who took advantage of the opportunity. The Echani eliminated their enemies with a whirling slash of her dual blades as the Miraluka unerringly covered her back. Sprinting past, Meetra gave the pair a nod of approval that made the surrounding Force glow with pride. But there was no time for the former Consular to dwell on her students. She fell into step behind Vann and Alek just as the men shoved open the heavy door that blocked the academy's grand entrance hall from a smaller corridor leading deeper into the building.

"I have a feeling that the Sith that greeted us were only bantha fodder designed to slow us down a little." Vann was breathing hard but appeared otherwise unharmed by the fight.

Laughing sardonically, Alek grinned with his eyes. "I wouldn't doubt it. It's the same tactic I used with you on the Star Forge."

"It didn't work then and it's not going to work now." Shaking his head Vann charged forward, both of his lightsabers raised in anticipation of any incoming opposition.

But the hallway was almost eerily silent, the long passageway devoid of any signs of life. Reaching out her awareness Meetra could sense that there were more Sith somewhere up ahead, but the sheer number of individuals in the building combined with the oppressive weight of the dark side made it difficult to discern their positions. Vann seemed to be having the same difficulty, his pace slowing as he stalked further into the academy.

Moving to flank the other man, Alek whispered, "There are doors all along this corridor, making it perfect for an ambush."

This assessment came less than a second before Meetra felt a cold chill race down her spine. Freezing in place, she raised her lightsaber defensively even as Alek moved to partially shield her smaller form. She was about to scold him for treating her like a helpless child when a deafening boom rocked the area, brilliant flashes of light filling the narrow space as multiple grenades exploded simultaneously. Diving down, the former Consular pressed herself close to the ground to make her body a smaller target and moved both arms to protect her head. A second round of detonations went off all around, the air heating uncomfortably as the vibrations rattled her teeth. Yet, the eruptions of flame and shrapnel never physically struck.

Stillness descended just long enough for Vann to peer over his shoulder and check on the others. At that moment Meetra finally noticed the protective field extending from his presence, surrounding the trio and deflecting the energy from the grenades. The skill was just as surprising as it had been on Rakata, an ability he'd never displayed during the war. Her astonishment must have shown because her former commander offered a weak, almost apologetic shrug before twisting to his feet and dropping the shielding. His power shifted as he wrapped the Force around a pair of grenadiers and dragged them through the partially open door of a nearby room. They yelped as they were pulled across the floor but the sounds quickly ceased when Alek flipped forward and effortlessly dispatched them with a single chop.

Unfortunately, this put the larger man directly in the path of more grenades when another squad released their payloads. Vann sensed the danger and sprinted closer as he summoned the protective field an instant before the explosives detonated, shielding both men from a majority of the damage. But this change in positioning meant that Meetra was inadvertently exposed to the full concussive waves of the blast. Her ears immediately started ringing as every bone in her body ached from the reverberations. She could taste blood on her tongue, but she shook off the sensation as she used the Force to increase her speed so that she could race ahead of her friends and pounce on the second group of grenadiers.

The silver lightsaber hummed as Meetra swung it hard, the blade slicing past her first opponent's armor and into their abdomen. They gurgled weakly, finally collapsing in a splayed heap when she delivered a hard kick to the wound. Whirling around she slashed upward, catching a second grenadier in the shoulder. Driving the blade deeper she twisted harshly to bisect the joint before raking the weapon downward and shoving it through her opponent's back to end the fight.

Behind her, Meetra could hear the others catching up even as the former Revanchist leaders continued to push past grenadiers and move down the hallway. The crews had merged back into a single unit by the time they reached the next area of the academy, a large room that was guarded by multiple troopers armed with heavy repeating rifles. They started firing the instant they saw movement. Falling back, the former Consular began to deflect the bolts so that Vann and Alek could move ahead of her, their blades singing as they dove directly at the gunners with sweeping slashes. One dropped immediately when a pair of lightsabers pierced their chest, another of their companions joining them when an orange blade sliced through their helmet and into their skull. If this was all that awaited them, they'd have an easy time getting past this distraction.

Visas's quiet voice cut through Meetra's sense of confidence. "Be wary, their ammunition appears strange to me."

Shifting to study the Miraluka, the blonde was about to ask the other woman to clarify this comment when a searing pain pierced her side. She gasped, immediately recognizing the familiar burn of a blaster bolt wound, and tried to cover the spot with her palm. But her arms were frozen in place. Startled, she attempted to dash off to the side to assess her injury only to discover that her legs also refused to move. Panic gnawed at her mind as she gradually realized with dawning horror that her entire body was now completely paralyzed. Visas's words suddenly made more sense as it became obvious that the Sith had stun rounds in their rifles.

Struggling to fight past the effect, Meetra could only watch as the other Force users sprinted past, doing what they could to avoid the bolts as they also began to sense the danger. Still trapped in place, the former Consular felt a fresh jolt of dread when she heard the hiss of lightsabers igniting in the shadows as a new wave of dark Force users swept in for a surprise attack. Her limbs were beginning to tingle with the first signs that the stun was wearing off when one of the Sith turned and spotted her helpless form. They smirked sadistically and turned towards their defenseless target, charging with unnatural speed as they swung their lightsaber directly at their victim's throat. But before the crimson weapon could hit, someone tackled Meetra from behind and rolled her against the nearest wall.

"Getting knocked out by that gas on Telos suddenly doesn't seem so stupid now, does it?" Atton grinned, though the expression was tight with concern.

Flexing her fingers as they slowly regained their motion, Meetra sighed with relief. It was still a struggle to speak, but she managed to mumble, "Fine, you're not an idiot for getting knocked unconscious."

Igniting his main lightsaber, the former Sentinel deflected a bolt. "While you're stuck here listening to me, I might as well explain that this academy is laid out in rims around a central Core that's suspended over a massive well of Force energy. I did my best to clear the way deeper in, but I stopped before the final ring because… Because of what I sensed." He turned to the blonde. "She's waiting for you at the center."

Meetra didn't need to ask who her companion was talking about. Even amidst the chaos of Malachor, she could feel the presence of her former mentor. Their bond thrummed, resonating through the same place where the overwhelming pain had sprung from weeks before. "Then I know where I need to go."

As the former Consular shook off the last of the stun effect, Atton reached out and grasped her wrist. "Wait. Before you charge ahead to save the day I just need to… I need to thank you. For everything."

"I didn't do anything."

"Yeah, you did." For a moment they knelt face-to-face, staring at each other as a battle raged on around them. It was absurd, and yet somehow fitting.

The tension broke a second later, Meetra shrugging weakly as she reignited her weapon. "If something I did helped you, then you're more than welcome." Smiling sheepishly, she gave her companion a quick peck on the cheek before gingerly climbing to her feet and rushing towards Vann, calling, "We need aim for the Core of the academy!"

It was Alek who nodded in acknowledgment. With a jerk of his head, he gestured towards a set of doors at the opposite end of the room and then sprinted towards them, trusting his co-leaders to follow. They were close behind as he dove through the entryway, flanking him as all three plunged deeper into the building. The rest of their allies remained behind to provide additional cover, an arrangement that they instantly understood thanks to the mental link forged by Bastila. They'd only gone a few dozen meters when it became obvious that Atton had kept his word and cleared the way. Multiple bodies were scattered across the corridors, though there were just as many Sith who were only unconscious, their chests rising and falling evenly as they sprawled against the floor. Meetra wasn't sure how to interpret the decision to spare their adversaries, but it made a tiny smile tug at the corner of her mouth.

As the trio slipped down the short hallway leading to the final rim of the academy, the invisible thread of Force power binding their minds and infusing them with hope suddenly evaporated, causing them to stop abruptly in surprise. Worry creased Vann's forehead and he closed his eyes, his presence flaring brightly as he reached out to his Padawan. A few tense moments passed before he exhaled, his shoulders relaxing minutely.

"Bastila's alright. She and Dustil were overrun by a group of those storm beasts, probably looking for an easy meal. They're handling things, though."

"Good." The vocabulator kept Alek's voice neutral, though relief flickered in his eyes. "It looks like we're going forward alone."

"We did pretty well during the war without Bastila's assistance." Meetra tried to sound casual as she looked between the men, though she couldn't hide the fondness that crept into her tone. "Besides, we're not alone. We have each other."

Snorting at the sentimentality, Vann pressed close to the wall as he crept forward. Despite his outward incredulity, a flicker of appreciation shone through the Force, setting their old bond alight with a warmth that hadn't passed between them all in a very long time. Alek also sensed it, though he just rolled his eyes as he fell into place behind his former friend. Grinning to herself, Meetra stayed a few paces back to provide cover, just like always. As they moved to surround the final door it was difficult to remember that seven tumultuous years had passed since they last fought together as Revanchists.

A single hand signal from Vann stopped the others, warning that he sensed something dangerous up ahead. Extending her awareness, Meetra also felt the cold brush of multiple dark Force users and she nodded in recognition. Spotting the confirmation, the former mercenary gestured a count, telling the others to be ready to move in three, two…

Gathering her power, Meetra burst through the door less than a second behind the men, ready to trap any potential opponents in a stasis field so that the former Guardians could cut them down with ease. However, her entrance wasn't greeted by the hum of lightsabers clashing or the screech of bolts whizzing past. Instead, all she heard was a confused intake of breath, followed by a mechanical wheeze.

Six Sith were standing along the walls of the room, their hands folded before them as their eyes stared out from beneath the shadows of their hoods. They didn't move when Meetra approached, though they simultaneously turned to look at her. She gaped at the sight, subconsciously taking in the various burns and other signs of wear on these individuals' robes, proof that they had seen some combat, unlike the inexperienced individuals who had greeted the crew when they entered the academy. These Sith's signatures also felt stronger, pulsing through the Force in frigid waves.

Vann and Alek were obviously as taken aback as the former Consular, their weapons held at the ready even as they remained in place to reassess the situation.

"What the hells…?"

Meetra was about to agree with Vann's sentiment when one of the Sith finally spoke. "Darth Traya waits for you, Exile. You may pass into the chamber beyond."

"Only you may pass." Yellow eyes stared coldly at the trio, the color contrasting starkly against black-veined skin.

"Uh-uh. She's not going alone."

Holding out a hand, the closest Sith shook her head at Vann. "Darth Traya has no more lessons for you or Malak. Allow the Exile to go on alone to seek the guidance that she has earned."

"Or are you jealous that your student has the potential to become stronger than you? That she is now a threat to your power? After all, you tried to kill her once because of that very same fear."

"I what?" Vann's arms dropped a fraction as he blinked back his shock. "No, I didn't! I tried to kill Alek once or twice but that was completely different."

The Sith kept speaking as though his point hadn't been refuted. "Revan, you knew the destruction that the Mass Shadow Generator would wreak and you recognized that any in its path would be destroyed."

"The Jedi you sent to the Battle of Malachor were individuals whom you considered expendable… or whom you wanted dead. They were Jedi who questioned your methods or disagreed with your teachings. Those who saw that you were falling and lost faith in you."

"I… don't remember if that's true." Glancing desperately at Alek, Vann silently begged the other man to confirm or deny the accusation.

But the former Supreme Commander could only sigh. "I honestly don't know what choices you made regarding that weapon since you left me out of the decision process after I refused to use it myself. But, if I had to make an educated guess based on knowing you for over half of my life…"

"It sounds like something I would do. Shit."

One of the Sith smiled. It was an oddly vacant gesture. "Revan admits that he later tried to kill the same man whom he originally tasked with using the Mass Shadow Generator. So, Exile, can you now stand here and deny that your commander sought to eliminate you? That he originally sent you here to die?"

Clenching her jaw, Meetra jerked her chin up defiantly. "I was sent here because my commander trusted me."

"You were sent here because he wanted to get rid of you. Sith know to eliminate any threats to their rule, to kill any who may become stronger than them and challenge their power." A pair of yellow eyes turned to study Vann. "You may have never taken on the title, but you think like a Sith. You battle like one, too."

"Don't deny it, Revan. How else were able to out-maneuver Darth Malak, a Dark Lord with the entire Republic military at his command? How else are you able to provide a challenge to even the Emperor? You are Sith, just like us."

"And what do you know of the Sith?" Alek cocked his head, his eyes narrowing. "I'm sure it's petty teachings at best, scraps of information passed second-hand from those who only wield the dark side because it's easy."

One of the black-robed figures laughed, the sound completely without mirth. "We know only what you taught us, Darth Malak. After all, you were the one who gave the orders for our creation in this very academy. We would still be Jedi if not for you."

It was Alek's turn to look stricken as he took in the six wraiths standing around the room. His knuckles were white around the hilt of his lightsaber. "Kriff."

"Perhaps you'll take comfort in the fact that it wasn't you who turned us to the dark side. It was your assassin, Jaq." The Sith glanced at Meetra with a smirk. "Exile, would you like us to tell you what he did to break us? To make us fall so far that we have no hope or care for the redemption that he now so desperately seeks?"

The former Consular barely heard the words, her head buzzing with too much information. Had Revan really tried to kill her? It made sense given the context, and now that she really thought about it she realized that many of the Revanchists who were assigned to Malachor had begun to disagree with their commander's increasingly utilitarian tactics. But she wasn't like that. In fact, she had been willing to die for her leader. So, did it really matter if he had wanted her dead when she was already prepared to give up her life for his victory?

'Of course, the context matters. To sacrifice your life for someone who values the gift is far different than being sacrificed to further another's selfish goals.' Kreia's voice was stern. 'Just as knowing that someone is a torturer is far different than witnessing the results of his work.'

Nausea rose in Meetra's stomach and she swallowed down the urge to vomit for the second time on this Force-forsaken planet. All of the Sith were looking at her once more, their yellow eyes empty and impassive. She shuddered. While she had heard all of Atton's confessions and seen the anguish that he'd caused Brianna, at the time they felt like understandable mistakes made by a man far too young for the horrors that he was exposed to. Every Revanchist had made their share of bad decisions but looking at these six blank faces wreathed in darkness somehow made the former assassin's choices seem unforgivably despicable. Worse, he'd committed his atrocities on Alek's orders. Glancing at her friend, she barely suppressed a scream as the full horror of Darth Malak finally sunk in.

Vann sensed all of the turmoil just as he always did, concern drifting off of him. That felt so ironic coming from Revan, the man who had possibly tried to kill her and the same individual who had taught them all so much about the dark side. In many ways, he was a Sith in everything but name. But what did that make her? She had made the conscious decision to destroy this planet and the two fleets surrounding it, all without remorse, before spending seven years justifying those deaths as a mere necessity. Weren't those also the actions of a Sith? But those choices had felt right in the moments that she made them and in truth, all of the dark paths the Revanchists embarked on had seemed honorable at one point or another. Suddenly Atton's voice echoed through her head. 'Right and wrong are too complicated to divide into neat categories... even the best leaders are still fallible.'

They'd all made mistakes and the hardest part was living with the aftermath all while moving forward. Dwelling on those errors, revisiting them time and time again, picking them apart until they each questioned every action they'd ever undertaken, would only cause them to be stuck in place. Just as Meetra had been for seven long years and just as she'd be again if she let her current thoughts consume her. Anger rose, washing away all of her doubt with chilled fury as she bared her teeth at the nearest Sith and charged at her with a shout.

"Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!" Swinging her blade around, the blonde caught her opponent by surprise and sliced cleanly into a black-robed torso. "You don't know anything about the choices we made! Or how hard it is to live with them every day! Or how much of ourselves we gave up so that the Republic could survive!"

The Sith gasped wetly as she collapsed to the ground, but the five others had already drawn their lightsabers and were advancing with deadly purpose. Vann and Alek were back-to-back, though they were far more apprehensive than they'd been earlier. Meetra didn't share their concerns, still fueled by her own outrage. Diving past the former Guardians she continued to vent her frustrations.

"We are far from perfect, but we tried. We did our best and made the decisions that we thought were necessary." Slashing her blade upward, the former Consular blocked a swing before parrying it with a strike of her own that burned into a Sith's forearm. "We acted when the Jedi lacked the conviction to fight and the Republic lacked the skill to win. Maybe we're not the heroes that everybody wants us to be, but we're all they've got. And we're ready to keep fighting for its people until our last kriffing breaths. If that's not good enough, I don't know what is!"

A chuckle passed through Meetra's mind as the accompanying voice whispered, 'Ah, there it is. The spark of potential. Ignite it.'

It was pure fury that fueled the blonde's form as she moved forward, using her smaller size to her advantage when she ducked beneath two of the Sith's blows before turning to drive her own blade into their thigh, searing through their flesh. The shout of pain was satisfying, though it didn't distract her enough to prevent her from rushing to meet the next opponent with a growl. He was stronger, but she had long become used to winning against more physically capable opponents. Dodging to the side, she threw the taller figure off balance, swaying lightly on the balls of her feet as she used the Force to speed up her movements. It worked, at least until a lucky hit broke through her defenses and cut deeply into her left shoulder. She let out a yelp, slinking backward as the wound burned coldly through her.

Even as she clutched the gash Meetra gathered her power, striking out instantaneously with a push that lifted the Sith off the ground and threw him through the air so that he landed in an uncoordinated heap atop one of his allies. Before either could climb to their feet, the former Consular clenched her fist with a sneer, cutting off their airways and watching impassively as they clawed desperately at their throats in an attempt to draw a breath. Behind her, she could hear the familiar hum of her friends clashing with the other Sith, but that felt distant as she watched the life fade from her enemies' vacant eyes.

'Just as that wound burns through your shoulder and gives you strength, you are a wound that burns through the very Force. It is pure power and at last, you know what you truly are.'

"Kreia." Resentment surged through Meetra, an icy cascade of emotion that urged her forward. She trusted that Alek and Vann could handle the last of the Sith so that she could enter the building's Core alone. Perhaps it was the bond, but she somehow knew that just like everything else about Malachor, this final confrontation was personal. Dashing through the last third of the room, she used the Force to push open the final door leading to the ominous heart of the Trayus Academy. Not slowing for an instant she sprinted through the archway and onto a shockingly long bridge that extended for over a hundred meters, leading to a single round platform that was ringed by claw-like columns.

The jagged rock of Malachor V's crust completely surrounded the Core while a palpable geyser of Force energy flowed below it, so potent that it glowed faintly in the gloom. Many meters above the platform was a small opening that provided a perfect glimpse at the stormy, cloud-darkened sky. After the Mass Shadow Generator, it was impossible to tell day from night on the planet's surface, which seemed fitting. Darkness and light had become so muddled to the former Consular that sun and shadow seemed to merge. In many ways, she had created this place so it was only right that it reflected her so perfectly.

Drawing a slow breath, she prepared to meet her mentor and whatever final lesson awaited her. 'Betrayal,' a voice whispered, though whether it was hers or Kreia's was impossible to discern. 'It lays at the heart of every sentient.'