Chapter 1: The Good Soldier
“I do not believe the Jedi Council changed Revan, as they claimed.
They merely stripped away the surface and allowed the true self to emerge again - someone who was willing to wage war to save others.”
On Tatooine Carth realized the depth of his feelings for her.
Jagi and his mercenary backup lay dead and the suns were at their high point in the sky. Wind kicked up hot sand as Carth methodically stripped down one of the two dead Rodians, pocketing their weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies as had become the routine. He glanced up, squinting in the sun glare, and saw Canderous was still standing over Jagi, the blaster rifle clenched in his large hand. The shadow he cast over the fallen mercenary seemed longer than it should have been, given the position of the suns. He raised the rifle, pointing it at the corpse. His trigger finger tightened.
There was a tremble in his arm. Carth might have thought he imagined it, but she reached over and touched Canderous’ arm with a gloved hand. It was a light touch, fleeting, but the trembling subsided and the rifled lowered. She withdrew.
It wasn't the touch in and of itself, Carth decided later. They were a crew of seven and the Ebon Hawk was a small ship. Brushes, touches, and other invasions of personal space were commonplace. He knew Canderous had accidentally walked in on her in the shower more than once. They'd laughed about it later, even joked it probably wasn’t an accident. It clearly didn’t bother her, so Carth hadn't given it another thought.
It was that unspoken thing, the understanding that passed between them. Carth knew they were close. He didn’t fully understand it, but he acknowledged it. He couldn't count the number of times he'd found the pair together in the Ebon Hawk's garage, be it exchanging war stories or strategizing or working in companionable silence. That unspoken thing that accompanied her touch, that sense of deep and profound understanding--Carth wanted it.
As jealousy, irrational though it was, licked at his heels, and he realized this was the first time since Morgana’s death that he'd truly coveted another woman's touch. Canderous hadn't noticed and if she had she didn't say so. They stripped the mercenaries and left them to the wraids and the elements. They buried Jagi, unmolested, in the hot sand.
* * *
The bridge of the Leviathan was strewn with Sith. Only one was still alive.
Saul Karath coughed up blood as he lay dying. His uniform collar was ringed with sweat. Carth stood over him, blasters ready, but did not allow his trigger fingers to tighten that last fraction of an inch.
“Carth,” she said. “Let him go.” He immediately moved his finger from the trigger. It could have been a moment, their moment of understanding, that brief kinship that can only transpire between those who have fought and bled and watched something greater than flesh and blood die, but then--
“Carth,” Saul croaked.
“He has nothing to say to us,” Bastila said. “We need to leave.”
Her insistence was unusual. Perhaps that was why Carth leaned forward, cocking his head as his former commander murmured the truth. Saul laughed at Carth’s expression, a truly bitter sound, and died. He’d apparently achieved some final satisfaction.
Carth turned to Revan for reassurance but the eyes he found, strange in an otherwise familiar and welcome face, were cold, defensive. “Bastila?” he asked, suddenly wary.
“Carth, we don't have time,” Bastila said. “We must hurry.”
“It’s true,” Carth said. “Isn’t it?”
“Carth, please,” Bastila said. “Malak is--”
His head was swimming. “You knew all along,” he said, disbelieving. “This whole time, you knew she was a--”
“A what?” she asked, and the words stopped them both in their tracks. There was a fine, cold edge to her voice. The look on her face gave Carth a chill--Bastila too, it seemed, for the Jedi's expression grew wary as she slipped unconsciously into a battle stance.
“This is not the time,” Bastila said, her hand hovering near her lightsaber.
Carth would never forget the look the younger Jedi gave the elder. There was no mistake: the woman standing before him was Revan, the Dark Lord of the Sith. As they raced through the Leviathan he replayed every interaction, every exchange or glance, the clues piling up in his brain. How had he missed it? It was a ridiculous thing to assume, that the dead Dark Lord walked among them, bunked in the same dorm, ate at the same table, and yet--how had he not seen it?
The revelation was the first blow. Then they lost Bastila, and that was the second.
She did not ward these blows well. The weight of the past few hours was evident as they ran through the Leviathan's empty corridors toward the hangar. Carth wasn't force adept but there were times he felt he could sense the aura of the Force around her. Often it was light and energized, sometimes playful, always alert, but now it was moody and oppressive, tumultuous, as though straining against an unseen force. He made sure she was in front of him and in his line of sight for the entire return trip.
Mission audibly gasped when they boarded the Ebon Hawk. Carth couldn't blame her, they were bruised, burnt, covered in blood, armor scorched, clothes ripped and in tatters. It wasn't until Mission saw there were only two of them that she really began to panic.
“Where's Bastila?” the kid demanded. “What happened? Where is she?”
They escaped, off and into hyperspace. Once the immediate danger was gone the questions came pouring in, mostly from Mission. Jolee and Juhani exchanged uneasy glances. They were all waiting.
“If you don't tell them,” Carth said, “I will.”
Her gloved hand curled on the console, reflexively, then relaxed. “I'm Revan,” she said. No build-up, no hedging or weaving. Just the short, simple fact. It had always been her way.
Carth scanned for the crew's reactions. Jolee Bindo closed his eyes, briefly, and nodded; the old man had known, or at least suspected.
Canderous nodded too, equally unsurprised. “The Jedi--” he began.
“Lied,” she said, bluntly. “They wiped my mind and filled the void with artificial memories. Over time, fragments of my old life have started to come back to me. Not a lot, but enough to know there was more to my past than Republic soldiering.”
Mission piped up, her voice a little too quick and a little too loud. “Hey, what's the big deal, right? I mean, you're still the same person we met on Taris, you know? You're still the person that helped me rescue Zaalbar. We got off Taris together. Who cares if you did a bunch of stuff years ago you don't even remember? You’re with us now.”
Zaalbar growled softly. They were still bound by his life debt. This information changed nothing.
Juhani was silent and unreadable.
“Bastila sacrificed herself so we could finish the mission,” Revan said. Carth felt the implicit meaning in this statement was directed squarely at him. She seemed to be waiting, but no one else spoke. After a moment, she left for the showers, and no one followed.
* * *
It took the crew several days to regroup and resupply. Carth confined himself to the cockpit and the drudgery of routine ship maintenance while he came to terms with what he had learned. Bastila's absence was felt immediately. The co-pilot's chair was glaringly empty. As angry as he was, as bitter she’d kept this secret from him, he would have given anything for her companionship at that moment. He had grown to like Bastila and considered her a friend. She'd kept him company many long hours and he'd been grateful for it. They'd talked about many things, but on reflection he realized Bastila had always been careful to steer the conversation safely from Revan. Surely she had sensed his growing attraction, yet she’d done nothing to warn him or otherwise discourage his interest.
Why had Bastila and the Jedi Council done this? Bastila was captured and the enclave at Dantooine destroyed. There was no one left to answer these questions except Revan herself. They would have to talk eventually, but for now he avoided her as best the small space allowed and she permitted it. His only encounters with her in those first few days were second-hand: bits of conversation, glimpses of exchanges.
He almost walked in on an argument between Revan and Juhani in the hold. Juhani was lashing out with an anger he hadn’t seen since Dantooine, peppering Revan with heated words. Revan weathered these in silence and when the diatribe concluded she simply reached out and folded Juhani to her.
Juhani initially stiffened but soon relaxed into the hug, bringing her hands up Revan’s back to return it. She murmured something too low to overhear and Revan murmured back. It was an intimate moment. Carth backed hastily out into the hall, embarrassed at having witnessed it and bothered that those soothing words and that loving embrace had not been offered up to him.
Later that night he was an unintentional eavesdropper once again when he went to the engine room. As he approached he heard Jolee's voice, unusually soft, drift out of the garage.
“You loved him?” the old man asked.
“Even worse,” Revan said. “I thought he loved me.”
Carth knew exactly who they were talking about, though he wished he didn't. He recalled his solitary meeting with Malak during the Mandalorian Wars. Malak had been a friendly, likable man. It was shortly after their introductions when then-Commander Dodonna asked Malak about Revan. Malak replied that Revan was well, but there was something in his manner, in his tone, that betrayed his affection. Everyone knew about Revan and Malak.
Carth didn’t return to his bunk after that. He went to the cockpit, watching the stars until he fell asleep in the pilot's chair.
The next day Revan finally approached him in the cockpit. All this time he’d been mulling over what he would say and how the conversation would go, but when she entered his space he felt completely unprepared.
“We need to talk,” Revan said.
“I'm all ears, beautiful,” he replied, but the words sounded forced, even to him.
Revan took the co-pilot's seat. He was so accustomed to Bastila sitting there Revan’s taller, broader form seemed too large for the chair, almost intrusive. He still thought of it as Bastila’s chair. “I want to tell you I didn't know, but that's not quite true. I think, deep down, I always knew. When the computer on Kashyyyk recognized me, and what Master Vrook said about the Dark Lord returning...” She let it hang. Eventually, she said, “I had suspicions. The dreams of Bastila and Revan fighting seemed too familiar, too personal. But the way Bastila looked at me on the Leviathan... I knew for certain then. It had to be true.” She leaned back in the chair. “My false memories seem very real, even now. It's a strange sensation, having two lives slapped atop one another like layers of paint on a canvas. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “It does. It can't be an easy thing to deal with. If I were in your position I don't know what I'd do.”
Silence stretched between them. “The others are managing, I think,” Revan said, finally. “They don't have much of a choice. We've come too far to turn back now.”
“Canderous seems pleased,” Carth said, feeling childish and not caring.
“I'm not worried about what Canderous thinks,” she said, drumming her fingers on the arm of the chair. She wasn’t meeting his eyes.
“Are you worried about what I think?” Carth asked. Revan inclined her head. “I'm not sure what I think. You were--are--a powerful Jedi and you fell to the dark side. You turned on the Jedi and the Fleet and waged war against the Republic, nearly destroyed it. It could happen again. Can we really be expected to trust you?”
“Can I be expected to trust you?” Revan asked. “You had your blasters trained on my back the entire way back to the Ebon Hawk.”
A surge of anger welled up inside him and he didn’t hide it; he let it infuse his words. “After what I'd just learned, can you blame me? We've been fighting against Malak and the Sith and the whole time we've had his old master right here with us. How do we know that you really want to destroy the Star Forge? Maybe you're just biding your time until you can take it back for yourself.”
“You really think that?” Revan asked. When he didn't answer she said, “I've never lied to you, Carth. I've never pretended to be something I'm not.” She looked out the window. “I never got that kiss,” she added, almost wistfully.
That threw him. “This is not--this is not the time for that,” Carth said. He was still angry, and recognized the distraction for what it was, but his anger had lost traction. “We're talking about you being a Sith. Not just any Sith, but a Dark Lord. How the Jedi Council could have done this, I don't know.”
“Well, the truth's out. You know who I am, who I was. You know the worst I'm capable of.” Her tone changed: sardonic. “I'm the big, bad Dark Lord. The one that deserves to die, remember?”
“Don't be flippant,” he said.
“I won't apologize for what I was--what I am. My intentions are the same as they were a week ago and a week before that. The Star Forge must be destroyed. Malak must be stopped. That is a fact.”
Carth didn't answer.
“You need space. I get that. Just tell me one thing. Does this end what's between us?” Revan asked. She was leaning in towards him, focused and intent. She was a close-talker, always had been. He'd attributed it to her career as a soldier, living in cramped quarters on small ships, and to her intense force of personality. Normally he didn't mind, but now it made him feel uncomfortable and boxed-in. He didn't know what to say to her. He just knew he felt cramped in the cockpit. He moved to stand and she grabbed his forearm.
“Carth, please. It took me hours to work up the nerve. At least tell me you don’t hate me.”
Where her touch had been light on Canderous’ arm it was firm on his own, possessive, maybe even needy. He liked the thought of her needing him, perhaps more than he cared to admit. He slowly pulled his arm from her grip, but caught her hand before their touch was completely severed. “The General who defeated the Mandalore in single combat is afraid to talk to me?” he asked, his tone softer now. “I find that a little hard to believe.”
“You could really hurt me if you wanted,” she said.
He released her hand. “I can't hate you,” he said. “I tried. I wanted to hold you responsible for all the things you've done. But I can't...” He shook his head. “I just need time.”
She accepted this with the barest of nods. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but Bastila was a great source of strength to me. Right now, I need all the strength I can get. Will you help me?”
“I want to,” he said. He meant it more than she could possibly know.
* * *
The holomap sprang up, Dreshdae a blinking dot on the surface of the barren planet. Throughout their mission Revan had been avoiding the Sith planet, but now there were no options left. They needed the final star map. They had to go to Korriban.
Revan's reluctance to set foot on Sith soil had not been missed. Carth suspected it was further evidence of the old Revan's memories breaking through. Revan remembered Korriban. It had obviously not been a pleasant experience, even for a budding Sith Lord. He wasn't sure if he should be comforted or worried by that.
Mission started to call Revan by her former name, the name the Jedi Council had given her, but Revan cut her off before the first syllable was even finished.
“My name is Revan,” she said. She had that way about her at the moment--that cold, aloof bearing the more powerful Jedi sometimes cloaked themselves in. A flicker of hurt ran across Mission's face at being reprimanded. “If you call me Revan,” she added, more kindly, “I'll let you win the next game of Pazaak.”
“You never let me win,” Mission said. “I always win because you're just the worst Pazaak player ever.” She added, as an afterthought, “Revan.” She was trying the name out for the first time. Trying to see how it fit.
“That's a heavy yoke,” Jolee said quietly.
“I've earned it,” Revan said, in a tone that brooked no argument.
They decided Mission, Zaalbar, and Juhani would guard the Ebon Hawk. At least one Jedi needed to stay on board in case of trouble.
“I suppose I'll tag along,” Jolee said. “Someone has to protect all those poor Sith from Jedi tyranny.”
Unexpectedly, Revan smiled. “I wouldn't want you to strain yourself, old man.”
“Bah. I'm elderly and don't have much life left. Don't take my little pleasures from me.”
Carth expected Revan would recruit Canderous as well and was surprised when she said, “Carth?” Her tone was casual, but there was something expectant in the way her her body unconsciously leaned towards him.
Carth agreed. Canderous didn't dissent, but noted that if Revan, “wanted something done right,” she knew where to find him.
They prepared quickly and efficiently. By now these planet-side excursions were routine. Carth was finishing up in the cargo hold when he overheard Revan and Canderous talking as they passed by.
“...The mission is in danger of failing, you know what to do,” Revan was saying. “It's not fair to ask this of you, but the others may hesitate. I know you won't.”
“Is it--” Canderous cut himself off.
“You're in charge,” the Mandalorian said shortly.
“I am,” Revan said. “Speak.”
“Is it wise to take Republic with you?” Canderous asked. “If you're worried, I should be there.”
Revan paused. “I need him with me,” she said.
“Whatever you say. I'm here if you need anything.”
When Carth emerged from the cargo hold he saw the two standing in the entrance to the garage, each gripping the other's forearm in a gesture of farewell. For them, it might as well have been a full-bodied hug. Carth joined them at the doorway.
“We should get going,” he told Revan. “The sooner we get off this planet, the better.”
He had no idea.
* * *
Carth had never been to Korriban before and venturing onto the planet's sandy surface was no treat. Tatooine was arid, but it was a dry heat and being outdoors could be enjoyable in the early mornings. On Korriban the atmosphere was thick and oppressive, a mire of humidity and something heavy and rotten. The sand stung his skin like small particles of glass. Sand storms were frequent and sudden and the sky was constantly overcast. It was little wonder Dreshdae was the only large city on the surface.
“This may explain why the Sith are always in such a bad temper,” Jolee said.
“You think this is bad,” Revan said, “wait until you try the food.”
The Sith were vile, their academy was vile, and the errands they ran to gain prestige were vile. All of the Tombs of the Sith Lords were vile, but the Tomb of Tulak Hord was the worst, in Carth's opinion. Whatever levity they had possessed upon arriving on Korriban was drained dry by the time they made their way through the tomb.
Carth didn't remember being gassed. He was moving, then he wasn't, and when he awoke it seemed as though he'd been sleeping for an age. His movements were sluggish and his vision blurry. He groped for his blaster, found it, and was struggling to sit up when Revan began to scream. She sounded far away.
Carth snapped to alertness and saw Jolee had done the same. The screaming was behind the sealed stone door in front of them. After trying and failing to get the door open they drew their weapons and slowly, methodically began to chip away at it, blaster bolts and lightsaber swings in tandem. They'd made some progress when the screaming stopped. In moments the distinctive crackle of a lightsaber could be heard. It was Revan’s. Carth just knew it.
“You’ve got this,” he whispered, placing a hand on the door as though it might somehow transmute his words. They resumed their assault on the door.
Soon it was quiet once more. When they finally forced the door open, Revan was on the floor, covered in blood and grime, doubled over. The body of an old Sith lay nearby, charred with tell-tale lightsaber burns, and the body of Mekel was to her intimidate right. Mekel was barely recognizable, his clothes and skin seared nearly black. Steam was still rising from his corpse.
Carth went to her, stumbling over rubble, but when he reached her he suddenly felt unsure. He hesitated, hovering at her side, not touching her.
“Mekel,” she said, breathing heavily. “Turned on me at the end.” She was still fighting, it seemed to him.
“A life of constant betrayals is no way to live,” Jolee said, looking down at the young Sith's body with something like pity.
Revan stared at the charred corpse. Abruptly, her face crumpled, and she covered it with her bloody, grimy hands. “I can't do this,” she whispered, her voice cracking. All at once, she was no longer a charismatic and powerful Jedi Guardian bristling with the Force. She was a thirty-something woman, alone and bloody in a dank tomb with the weight of the past bearing down on her.
Carth was stunned. He had never seen Revan like this. Even on the Leviathan, naked and abused, she'd emanated Jedi self-control, restraint, and power. She'd looked their torturer, Saul Karath, in the eye until the moment she lost consciousness. He looked to Jolee but the old man was gone.
“The dark side is so comfortable,” Revan said. “And so easy.”
He knelt, taking her by the shoulders. “Listen to me. That's not you. Whatever darkness... whatever darkness must surely be inside you, that's not who you are.”
“No?” she asked, turning to Mekel’s still-steaming form.
“No,” he said forcefully, drawing her back. “I know exactly who you are. I've been with you, I've seen what you've done. I've seen you struggle, I've seen you resist. I know there's goodness in you; that's why you fight so damn hard.”
“Bastila's gone,” she said. “I'm not strong enough. I can't do this alone.”
“Revan,” he said, forcing himself to voice the name. “You’re not alone. I’m here with you, all the way, and I know you can--”
She kissed him. He was only dimly aware of pulling her close, pressing the line of her body against his own, feeling her heat through her blood-stained clothes. The kisses deepened, becoming more passionate, more desperate, and he was working off her armored vest. She reciprocated, her fingers sliding down his chest, fumbling with the straps of his chestplate.
They both seemed to remember where they were and what they were doing at the same time. They were in the tomb of Tulak Hord, with dead Sith at their feet, surrounded by ruin. Revan pulled away first. “Not here,” she said, breathy.
“When?” he asked, his voice husky and guarded. His hand lingered on her waist and he traced the edge of the last strap holding her vest in place.
“Soon,” she said, and he saw that she meant it.
When they ventured out into the hall, having collected themselves and whatever salvage they could carry, they found Jolee stripping components from a fallen droid. He stood as they approached, stashing the parts in his pack.
“We should return to the ship and rest,” he said, as though nothing had happened. “When you give those tablets to Uthar he'll click his heels together and do a little jig. I expect you'll have impressed him enough to take the final test. They'll probably make you go alone. You'll need your strength.”
There were no arguments. As they trudged past the Academy doors the front guard waved to them. He liked Revan. All the Sith liked Revan.
* * *
Soon, as it turned out, was sooner than Carth could have hoped. Shortly after boarding the Ebon Hawk and unloading their gear they ended up in the cargo hold, door bolted. They coupled mostly-clothed, standing up, sand still clinging to their boots.
Being with her this way, with this level of passion, was overwhelming. He hadn’t been with anyone in a long time and he came almost immediately. The aura around her was energizing and the hot press of her lips sustained him until she followed, her body clenching against him, her fingers twined in his hair. They collapsed together against the metal bulkhead.
“Excellent choice of locale,” he murmured in her ear. “Much sexier here.” She laughed softly, her face bright with the flush of sexual release.
They parted ways at the door, Revan going to the showers while Carth waited, watching her retreating figure until she disappeared around a bend in the hallway.
* * *
The surf and the sand of the unknown world were beautiful. If it weren't for the hulking carcasses of ships that dotted the island, it would have been perfect.
“This wouldn't be a bad place to live,” Carth said, rolling over.
“One problem,” Revan said. “Nothing to eat but rancors and coconuts.”
He smiled at her. “You've already put some thought into this.”
They were near a cliff overlooking the beach. They could see the Ebon Hawk, stark in the white sand. Mission and Zalbar were tiny enthusiastic dots exploring the rocky shore.
Revan propped herself up on one arm and gazed out at the horizon. Her legs and buttocks were sprinkled with sand and her robe was a tangle at her feet. Her hair was windswept and fluttered in the slight breeze. If he could keep her this way forever, he would. But there was no forever and the Star Forge was waiting.
“How do you feel?” Carth asked.
“Nervous,” she said. “I don't want to face him again. I definitely don't want to kill him. But if I know Alek--” She stopped.
Carth had never heard her call Malak by this name. He waited.
“I'm sorry,” she said. “I shouldn't be telling you this.”
“No, I want you to tell me,” he said. “I want you to be able to tell me things. You've pried everything out of me, so it's only fair.”
She laughed a little, but it was mostly reflexive. “It's not just him. Confronting Bastila will be risky.”
“Juhani is optimistic,” Carth said.
“Juhani is a straightforward person,” Revan said. “Bastila is... complicated.”
“Whatever happens, we're with you,” Carth said. “I hope you know that.”
She gazed down at the beach, watching as Mission splashed in the surf. “I know,” she said.
* * *
Ebon Hawk shot out of the docking bay and away and the Republic Fleet opened fire. Lasers rained down upon the Star Forge and the massive battle station slowly began to break apart, its destruction punctuated by explosions on all sides.
Carth Onasi saw none of it. He sat next to Revan's inert form, watching as Jolee administered the last bit of kolto. The old Jedi muttered something about a tank, but added that once the kolto kicked in there should be a noticeable improvement in her condition.
Revan stirred and murmured, “Alek.” Carth swallowed. Juhani squeezed his shoulder, briefly, and he wondered if she understood the name.
“It's Carth,” he told her quietly, taking her hand. He was gentle; two of her fingernails had been ripped off and there was a deep gash in her palm.
“The balance has tipped one way, but it can easily be tipped back,” Revan said. Before anyone could reply she was out again.
* * *
Carth woke alone in bed. He found Revan sitting at the window staring out at the Coruscant night sky, the city's glow casting a soft blue shadow against her bare skin. He touched her shoulders, encircling her in his arms, and she leaned back against him.
“What's the matter, beautiful?” he asked.
“Something is out there,” Revan said, never taking her eyes from the stars above.
One night, when he reached over and found her side of the bed cold, he knew she was gone. He'd always known it would end this way. The foresight didn't make it easier.
She'd been courageous enough to defy the Jedi Council, to fight the Mandalorians, to seek the Star Forge and ultimately destroy it. She hadn't been courageous enough to say goodbye. She'd taken the Ebon Hawk and the two droids and had flown to parts unknown. She told no one of her plans. She left no messages.
* * *
“Come in, son, come in,” Jolee said, urging Carth inside. The small apartment that had been furnished to him by the Jedi Council seemed almost unlived in. Jolee had few possessions and little inclination to become settled, it seemed. “Glad you could stop by,” Jolee continued, bustling about the tiny efficiency kitchen. He set a pot of water to boil. “All these Jedi do is mediate and talk about reconstruction. It's about as stimulating as discussing philosophy with a Tach.”
“I'm sorry I can't stay long,” Carth said. “I have to admit, I didn't come by just to catch up. I wanted to ask if you'd heard about Revan.”
Jolee's hand stopped in midair. It dropped to his side. “I figured it would happen sooner or later,” the old Jedi said. “Revan has a wandering spirit. Heck, I have one myself. But I thought... Heh, listen to me. This is what a crazy old kook I am. I thought if Revan went on another mission she'd take me with her.” He looked around the bare kitchen and a glimmer of sadness passed over his features. “I was hoping for one last adventure, to tell you the truth.”
“They say Canderous is also gone,” Carth said.
“Bah. He's not with her, if that's what you're hinting at. He went to Dxun, last I heard. He's trying to scrape together what's left of the Mandalorians.”
“No word on Revan?” Carth persisted.
“Nothing terribly reliable,” Jolee said, taking down two cups.
“Anything?” Carth asked.
Jolee sighed, filled one of the cups, added a pinch of leaves and handed it to Carth. “You can't chase Revan all over the galaxy and bring her back, son. It isn't like that.”
“Jolee,” Carth said. “If you have any information--”
“There's a rumor that the Ebon Hawk was spotted in Dreshdae. I heard this several weeks ago, mind you.”
Jolee steered the conversation away from Revan and Carth let him. They chatted amicably, sipping tea, and after some time Carth rose to leave, thanking the older Jedi for his hospitality.
“Carth,” Jolee said, and it was the first time he had ever called the Admiral anything other than son or whippersnapper or hey you. “Good luck. I don't think you'll find what you're looking for, but I hope you find something.”
* * *
Carth arrived on Korriban only to find the Sith Academy in ruins, as sand-swept as the tombs in the valley below it. The locals all told the same story. Revan came, Revan purged, and Revan left. The Sith dominated the barren planet no longer and the Academy was deserted. Only one person remained behind. She was not difficult to find.
When Carth first encountered Yuthura Ban in the ruins of the Academy he startled her. She drew her lightsaber, pointing it at him in preparation to strike, but just as quickly recognition set it. The blade retracted.
“I remember you,” she said, her violet eyes running the length of him. “She's not here. She hasn't been for some time.”
“Where did she go?” Carth asked, keeping his distance. He kept his hand on his blaster.
Yuthura gestured vaguely. “The unknown. I wanted to go with her, but... stubborn.”
Carth found himself agreeing with the assessment. “You seem different,” he observed cautiously.
“I am different. I walk with the Jedi, now.” She stooped to pick up a small fragment. A pottery shard, perhaps. “I stayed behind to salvage whatever artifacts remain.” She surveyed the high-walled room. “There isn't much. We looted most of the tombs before Revan left.”
“Did she say anything about...” Carth let the sentence hang.
“She said the Republic would be safe as long as Admiral Onasi and Bastila Shan were here to protect it. But she did not tell me where she was going or what she meant to confront, only that there was a darkness out there.” Yuthura noticed his expression and looked away. “I'm sorry,” she said.
* * *
“Dad,” Dustil said, poking his head into the Admiral's study. “The Jedi is back.”
Carth looked up. He'd been deeply engrossed in the fleet report and, being brought abruptly to the present, had a moment of confusion.
Dustil saw something in his father's face and added, quickly, “Bastila Shan. She's here on business and wanted to talk to you about an old droid you used to have.”
The flicker of disappointment died like a candle being snuffed out. It was fading more and more quickly now as time passed and Revan did not return. The fleeting hope that one day she would, against all odds and reason, return to him was finally receding, much as it had with Morgana.
Carth nodded, putting down the datapad. “Send her in, if you don't mind.”
Dustil hesitated at the door. His eyes were his mother's, but his face was very near his father's. “Dad, are you all right?”
What a question. Carth didn't know how to answer because he didn't know the answer. He gave his son what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “It's these damn reports. I've been staring at all those tiny lines of basic for so long I can't see straight.”
Dustil smiled sympathetically and went to get Bastila.
Carth sat alone in his study, looking out through the large bay windows. The reconstructed skyline of Telos was studded with cranes and half-finished buildings. He closed his eyes, focusing, trying to summon Revan's face.
He saw her in his mind as she'd been on the unknown planet, naked in the sand, propped up on her elbows gazing out at the horizon. He had no pictures of her and she'd had no belongings to leave behind. His memories and the Cross of Glory, safely tucked away in a box in his safe, were the only evidence that remained of their time together. He clung to them, knowing these too would inevitably erode, just as the monuments on Korriban and his wife's face in his memories. Already, Revan had been reduced to a presence in the bed next to him that was no longer there; a voice that called out to him in his sleep, but did not answer when he called back. In time there would be nothing left of her but whatever the Jedi Historians stored in their dusty archives.
“Admiral?” Bastila asked.
Carth returned to the present.
“It would have helped had she made him understand, but a hero of the Republic, no matter how brave, cannot understand war as Revan did.”
Chapter 2: The Tireless Warrior
"Many battles does that one have left in him... as Revan intended. A general needs an army, as he needs those he trusts.
And Canderous is a loyal beast, no matter how much he is broken upon Revan's will."
- Darth Traya
When Canderous reflected on their mission he could only think of her as Revan. The name the Jedi Council had given her was eroded in his mind. He wasn't sure he'd ever uttered it. Even when dwelling on memories as far back as those early meetings on Taris she was, always and indisputably, Revan.
He did not remember much about their first encounter in the Lower City. He'd assumed she was yet another bottom-feeding bounty hunter or mercenary and hadn't paid her any mind. It was only during their second meeting, in the Undercity, that he began to take note. He distinctly remembered her standing there, covered in filth and Rakgoul blood, surveying the area for danger. Seeing none, she turned her attention to him, gave him a once-over, and winked. He'd had his mind on business, he wanted to get the rest of his men out of there before they took any more casualties, but he noted her interest. He couldn't remember the last time a woman--a free woman, not a dancer or paid companionship--winked at him.
On their third meeting he bought her a drink and asked her to take a little trip with him.
The rest was history.
* * *
After stealing the Ebon Hawk and making the jump to hyperspace Canderous decided to allow himself the luxury of a sonic. Surely, after all that, he’d earned it. He was used to traveling alone or with a pack of mercenaries with no regard for privacy. It never occurred to him to knock on the door to the tiny refresher.
Revan’s back was to him, the ultrasonic vibrations eroding the last of the grease and grit from her body. “Shower's taken,” she said, making no move to cover herself.
If he'd had the choice, he would have chosen to walk in on Bastila. The young Jedi was a natural beauty and underneath those robes were the hints of a shapely form. She was beautiful in spite of her haughtiness (or maybe because of it; Canderous knew himself well enough to acknowledge that the challenge of bedding such women was part of their allure).
Revan was battle-worn, her back and right side covered with heavy burn scars. She was fit but looked older than her years. At the time he took this as evidence of hard-living and a transient life of soldiery. Only later, when he learned of her identity as the Dark Lord of the Sith, would he realize this agedness was the lingering touch of the dark side.
Still, after years of warfare he was no prize himself and, like any good Mandalorian, he would never pass up an opportunity for spontaneous coitus.
“Missed a spot,” he said. “Need help?”
She laughed. It was a good laugh. She turned the shower off and said, “I knew you were my type. Is that a standing offer?”
“You know where to find me,” he said.
* * *
Canderous first considered heading out on his own during the stint on Dantooine. It was a very boring planet and, according to Bastila, it would take months for Revan to train. He quickly became restless. He was bored with the farmers and their sob stories about kath hounds and mercenaries. There was no paying work, only chores and charity that the Jedi wanted done. He'd decided that as soon as another ship arrived he'd book passage. He figured Nar Shaddaa would be as good a place as any.
Several weeks passed and no other ships came. Bastila--crafty Bastila--had removed the navicomputer from the Ebon Hawk. He was grounded.
One evening he woke to Revan's footsteps in the Ebon Hawk's dormitories. He hadn't seen her in nearly two weeks. He rolled over on the mattress. She was untying her robe and digging through the compartment they'd filled with womens' clothes.
She saw he was awake and asked, “Where's Carth?”
“He went for a hike and didn't come back. He does that sometimes.” Mission and Zaalbar preferred the apartments in the enclave, but neither Carth nor Canderous felt comfortable sleeping among the Jedi. That was one thing they had in common.
Revan shed her robe, allowing it to fall around her feet like an old skin. Even in the dim light the burn scars stood out in stark relief. “I have to do something, anything, besides meditating,” she said.
He was wide awake now. Having a naked woman in close proximity would do that. He watched her rummage through the clothes, then said, “I can think of a thing or two.”
She glanced over her shoulder at him. She smiled. He smiled back. “Just for fun?” she asked.
“Whatever you want,” he said.
Soon she was astride him, her hands balled in his undershirt, and he was gripping her thighs as he thrusted. She panted as she rode him, breathless and flush in the way of a woman who truly enjoyed a good, rough lay. Eventually they collapsed together, sweaty and satiated. He could feel her heartbeat hammering against his chest.
“My, you are a fun one,” she said, in a way that drew a chuckle from him. She did not seem to be in any particular hurry to get off him, and he was in no hurry for her to do so. She was heavy, solid. He liked that. She sat up, indicating her intent to go again with a purposeful shift of her hips, and he liked that even more.
This rendezvous was followed by others. Planned meetings in secluded places in the plains. Unplanned meetings on the Ebon Hawk or the grounds. He detected no emotional attachment on her end. She'd kept her word; it was “just for fun.” Her sexual appetite did not surprise him. She was a Jedi, but he knew the type and she was in her prime. Still, he was nearly twice her age and he knew from experience--for he had been with many, many women--that this arrangement wouldn't last.
He was right. Shortly before they left Dantooine, prior to being given the mission of destroying the Star Forge, their encounters abruptly stopped. She was friendly with him but most sexual undertones vanished from their conversation. He didn't press her on the point. She would either come around or she wouldn't. Meanwhile, all thoughts of abandoning the crew and striking out on his own were buried and forgotten.
* * *
The fan in the Ahto hotel room spun lazily, cooling his sweat. Canderous lay back for a moment, resting. The dancing girl disentangled herself from the sheets and headed for the bathroom. He leaned over, swatting at her buttocks, but she nimbly dodged, scooping the credits off the dresser as she went. The door closed and after a moment he heard running water.
He closed his eyes. When she passed him the second time she was dressed and tucking her hair into place, a purse clutched in her hand.
“That enough credits?” he asked. He was getting soft in his old age.
The girl hesitated, her grip tightening on the purse, but when he made no move to get up she said, “Yes. Do you want some water? Or…?”
“No, no. Go on.”
She nodded, straightening her dress, and opened the door.
Revan was standing in the hall waiting. She exchanged a smile with the girl, who vanished into the corridor.
“Pretty,” Revan remarked, not venturing inside. He wondered if she'd noticed the superficial similarities between them--eyes, hair, skin color.
“Too young,” Canderous said. They were always too young. “What do you want?”
Revan took this as an invitation and entered. It was a reasonably nice hotel room. Not Ahto's finest, but nice. She settled on the arm of a large armchair as he sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He stood and the sheets fell away. Revan didn't bat an eye.
“The Republic embassy asked Bastila and I to go down to Hrakert Station,” she said. She tapped her fingernails lightly on the hilt of her lightsaber. “Will you accompany us?”
“Sure, I'll go,” he said, entering the bathroom and leaving the door open. He splashed cold water on his face. “But I want something in exchange.”
“Such as?” Her tone would have been flirtatious if he were Carth, but he wasn't; her delivery was even and businesslike.
“I want to know why you're messing with the GenoHaradan.”
She was obscured from his view, so he did not see her reaction. She said, “Checking up on me?”
“You know I do.”
“The overseer had the impression that I would be a convenient pawn,” Revan said, betraying a hint of irritation. She only tolerated manipulation when she was the manipulator.
“And?” he asked, toweling his face.
“I’m disinclined to further the interests of others.”
“You're a Republic soldier and a Jedi. You further their interests.”
“The Republic's interests are my interests,” she said.
“But not the Jedi’s,” he said, getting dressed.
She crossed her arms. Finally, she said, “They’re keeping something from me.”
“You wouldn’t be the first,” he said.
This was intended with some levity, but Revan did not smile.
* * *
“Is the giant shark calm now?” Bastila asked, glancing out the large viewing windows at the endless ocean encircling them. The form of a stunned firaxan shark was visible a dozen meters away, upside-down and inert in the meager light. Low visibility did not allow them to see father than that.
Revan nodded, a little wan, and stripped off the environment suit. She didn't like Hrakert Station. Canderous decided that being so far underwater unnerved her.
The scientists were waiting for them in kolto control. They'd heard the explosions; they knew which course Revan had chosen. Kono was livid.
“You destroyed mining station! You idiot! This is going to set the Republic war effort back years! Do you have any idea how much time and equip--”
Revan backhanded him with a closed fist. The movement was expertly-contained violence. Kono's nose was enveloped in a shower of blood. Sami screamed and Bastila grabbed Revan's arm. Appearances were important to Bastila and she would never chastise fellow Jedi in front of others, but it was evident this act shocked her. Grabbing Revan's arm had been pure reflex.
“He didn't--he didn't mean it that way,” Sami said, pulling Kono away as he fumbled to staunch the blood pouring from his face, her voice trembling. “We're grateful you saved us, Jedi. We're grateful for everything--”
They didn't understand. They misinterpreted the action as a sign of anger rather than a disciplinary action meted out by a commanding officer to an insubordinate. It was exactly what a Mandalorian would have done.
“Your mining station is worthless if the kolto supply is tainted or destroyed,” Revan told them. Her tone was level and matter-of-fact.
“You're right,” Kono said, his voice muffled as he held the cloth Sami had given him to his nose. “You're right. Thank you... thank you for what you've done. I-I'll just wait here...”
“We'll wait here until the official rescue crew comes,” Sami said. Her voice had steadied but her look was guarded, uncertain.
They were mostly silent on their way back to the submersible. Revan rapped loudly on the insane man's locker as they passed, saying, “We're leaving,” but he continued to rant and rave about the “fishy fishies” and refused to come out.
As the submersible headed towards the surface Bastila cleared her throat and said, “That was a difficult mission, being in such an unwelcoming and closeted place. It was taxing for all of us. Perhaps we could recite the Jedi Code together and clear our minds.”
Canderous laughed. When Bastila turned in the pilot's seat to look at him, her dislike plain, he said, “Your brains are connected and you still don't get it. He was weak. He didn't have any sense. That woman was having to take care of him. Now he’ll think twice before he opens his mouth.”
“He may not be as strong as we are, Canderous, but we have a responsibility to treat him fairly and courteously no matter what he says or how he treats us.”
“This is why people don't take you Jedi seriously,” Canderous said. “What good is power if you don't use it? It's no wonder every cantina rat we meet tries to pull a fast one. You want to sit around chanting Jedi poems? Fine. But that one needed to be put in his place.”
Bastila opened her mouth to retort, but Revan smoothly interjected, “There is no passion...” and they recited the mantra together. When they were finished neither seemed much changed.
Bastila faced frontward again, looking up at the looming surface. She drummed her thumb against the console. It was a nervous tic.
* * *
Ahto was too comfortable, a soldier could get soft there. Canderous was eager to depart for the challenges of Tatooine. When the the Ebon Hawk landed, its hydraulics hissing as it eased down to the sandy floor, the crew had already sorted out their usual landing procedure. Jolee and Bastila left to scout the area while Revan and Juhani went to deal with the dock authorities. Carth and Zaalbar set about securing the ship.
For his part, Canderous gathered excess weapons and supplies to sell. He'd just collected enough to cover Carth's estimates for routine repairs when Mission's scream echoed through the Ebon Hawk. Zaalbar tore out of the hold and charged past him down the loading dock. Canderous grabbed his rifle, checked it, and followed.
The scene at the dock was a gristly one, even by Mandalorian standards. Revan had both lightsabers drawn and crossed. On the ground before her lay a Twi’lek mercenary, his jaw completely severed. His cauterized tongue lay a few feet away on the ground. Juhani stood to the side, her knuckles white as she gripped her lightsaber. She hadn't drawn her weapon. She was talking to Revan, but Revan didn't seem to hear.
Zaalbar roared at Mission, who ran to him, burying her face in his fur. He ushered her back onto the Hawk, growling softly. This was not their concern. This was a Jedi affair.
Revan was oblivious to those around her. She raised a hand and the mercenary was lifted, choking, into the air. He squirmed in her grasp, his limbs seizing. He should have been dead by now, Canderous knew, but she was somehow keeping him alive. At this rate the man could hang like that in agony for hours. This brought two realizations:
1. The ease with which she channeled the dark side suggested experience. He'd seen Jedi struggle with that power and she did not struggle.
2. She was no Republic soldier.
Cautious steps sounded behind him as Carth walked slowly down the loading dock, his blaster drawn. When he saw the mercenary was defenseless he holstered the weapon. “You're just going to stand there and watch?” he hissed at Canderous.
“Not my fight,” Canderous replied.
“Whatever he's done,” Carth said, “he doesn't deserve torture. No one deserves that.”
Carth walked down to her, but kept his distance. Dark energy seemed to throb around Revan and her veins pulsed under her skin. She glanced at Carth out of the corner of her eye but maintained her Force grip on the dying man. He'd soiled his pants and urine dripped down his boot and onto the metal floor.
Carth looked down at the severed tongue before speaking, his voice too low for Canderous to hear. Juhani was tense, apprehensive.
Revan said something back--snapped it, from the look of it--and Carth responded. They went back and forth. Carth reached out to her, said something else. The mercenary's body crashed to the ground. He was dead before impact.
Canderous was, as always, a man of action. While the others attempted to soothe Revan’s savage temper he disposed of the body, which he learned was a Mandalorian slaver named Xor. A chat with dock security, and a quick terminal spike when the attendant was otherwise indisposed, confirmed there was no footage of the incident. He would drop a few crumbs about Xor being in debt to the Red Eclipse and let the nature of rumor take its course. Xor was not the sort of man who would be missed and no one would be looking particularly hard for him. If the authorities did feign interest a few credits ought to take care of it.
On his return he found them in the garage. Revan was poking around in one of her droids, a hydrospanner gripped in her wounded hand. The hand was badly burned, an angry welt having risen along the crescent of thumb and forefinger, but she would have to wait for Jolee to treat it. She was good at repairing machines, but never flesh.
“…What do you want me to say?” she asked. “I’m sorry?”
“That’s not who we are,” Carth said. “That’s not who you are--”
“What do you know about me?” she asked, slamming down the hydrospanner.
“You’re a good person,” Carth said. “You’re a Jedi, you’re bigger than this. Bigger than him.”
“I’d do it again,” she said. “Gladly.”
Carth threw up his hands. “Fine. Tell Bastila that, see what she says.”
Revan’s face changed. “Bastila can’t know about this,” she said, standing to face him.
“You want me to keep it from her?” he asked, slightly incredulous. “Assuming that’s even possible?”
“Carth, you’re right,” she said. “I’m stressed out, it’s no excuse. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry. He was saying terrible things to Juhani and then he hit me and… I lost it. I have to be better than this. You’re right.”
Carth’s anger dimmed. “You’re still human. You have emotions. That’s not--” He recalibrated and tried again. “I worry about you,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t believe in you, I do, but you have to let us help you in situations like this. We’re a team. We’re here for you. That’s why we can’t keep something like this from Bastila. She needs to know.”
“Carth, please,” Revan said. “Let me work this out on my own. I’ll tell her when I’m ready.”
Carth shifted his weight, clearly nonplussed, but his resistance was visibly eroding.
“I took care of it,” Canderous said from the door. This seemed as good a time to interject as any.
“I know you did,” Revan said, sounding tired. “That was my mess to deal with.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Canderous said.
Carth shook his head and left without another word. Revan watched him go before settling back down with the droid. She reached for the hydrospanner, thought better of it, and flexed her burned fingers. Usually her laser-blot deflection was near perfect. Canderous popped open the med kit on the wall and tossed a bandage pack on the table beside her.
She took it but fumbled with the seal, having some difficulty with her injured hand. He leaned against the wall next to the door. After a minute she sighed and held it out. “Could you?”
“I’m not your nursemaid,” he said.
That got her attention. “You’re upset,” she said.
“Why would you apologize for being strong?” he asked. “Because it made him uncomfortable? If he doesn’t value your strength why have him at all?”
“You think I did the wrong thing,” she said.
“I think it was Juhani’s responsibility to decide what happened to Xor and you took that from her. But what I think doesn’t matter and you shouldn’t care.”
“It does,” she said, “And you know I do. But this isn’t about what I did. You don’t like what I said to Carth.”
“You made a call and you think it was right; stand by it. If your crew can’t respect that they’re the wrong crew.”
She flexed her hand again, absently this time; it didn’t seem to bother her as much now. “I never need to apologize to you,” she said. “I like that about you.”
“Yeah?” he asked. “Is that the only thing you like?”
“Hardly,” she said.
For a moment it felt like they were on Dantooine again. All she had to do was give the word and he’d punch backwards with his elbow and hit the door lock.
There was a loud, ratcheting clank, followed by a faint, familiar plod up the loading dock. The old man was back. The moment was over. That didn’t bother him. What bothered him was the fact that she wanted it, and he wanted it, and she was holding back and he didn’t know why.
As she passed him to go to the medbay he said, “If you need anything, you know where to find me.” It seemed to him his voice was softer than usual.
It must have been, surely, for when she said, “Yes, I know,” her voice was soft too.
* * *
The revelation of Revan's identity was, in many ways, no surprise to Canderous. When he heard her utter it, her gloved hand closing into a fist on the console, he'd felt a rush of pride. He'd known she was more. He'd been right. He was almost always right.
The look on Carth’s face--grim, unsettled, wary--was all wrong. Didn't he understand? They were destined for victory. Following Revan would bring them nothing but triumphs. For the first time Jagi felt very far away in his shallow grave under the hot Tatooine sand.
Several of the others were unsettled and over the next few days Revan took the time to coax and coddle them, to smooth ruffled feathers. She didn't have to treat him like that. She knew what true loyalty was. She knew who understood her.
In the days the Ebon Hawk hung uncertainly between the Leviathan and their final charted destination, Korriban, he only interacted with her once. He was leaning in the doorway to the medical bay, dealing with a minor gash that threatened infection, when he heard her walking down the corridor behind him. Everyone in the crew had a distinctive sound and he recognized them all. Revan's steps were confident and light, favoring the balls of her feet. She slowed as she approached and, in passing, lightly brushed his back.
They exchanged nothing else. There was no need.
* * *
Canderous took a hotel room in Dreshdae, as was his custom, to have private space away from the cramped dorms of the Hawk before they left the planet. He was awakened in the morning by the woman he'd requested, which was also customary. She was exactly what he'd asked for--the usual skin, hair, and eye color. This time, however, they'd gotten the age right too: mid-thirties. That was the problem. She was a little too close to what he'd asked for.
“No,” he said, when she wasn't more than a few feet inside. “Go back.” He waved her off. The woman hesitated and he said, “Get out. I'm not interested.”
“You asked for--”
“I know what I asked for. Leave.”
She swallowed. “I can't go back without... please, isn't there anything? Don't you want anything?” She moved towards him, loosening her robe, and he stopped her with a hand. She eyed him surreptitiously. “This is a trick.”
She reached for him. “I could--”
He roughly caught her wrist. She cried out as he dragged her out and bodily threw her into the hall. She hit the wall opposite and fell to the ground on one knee, catching herself with her right hand. Her robe bowed open and she hastily moved to shut it with her left. He seized the credits off the dresser and tossed them into the hall after her. They bounced on the tile floor. She looked up at him, her mouth a little “o” of surprise, and he slammed the door in her face.
He stood there for a moment staring at the closed door, then went into the refresher and splashed his face with cold water. He leaned against the basin, water dripping from his face into the metal bowl.
“Shit,” he said.
* * *
Canderous looked when he heard Revan's footsteps, knowing what he’d see. She adjusted her robe as she crossed from the engine room to the hold, her hair in disarray and her face flushed. After a few minutes Carth also left the engine room. He paused in the hall to smooth his jacket and, as an afterthought, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
They tried to be discrete, but the Ebon Hawk was a small ship.
“It’s no skill of yours,” he said conversationally as Carth passed. He checked the rifle's sight and added, “Just process of elimination.”
Carth's expression soured. “I don't know what you're talking about,” he said, in a low voice, “and you don't know what you're talking about, either.” There was an edge of warning to it.
“Have it your way,” Canderous said.
HK-47 clanked over, a box of parts in his arms. “Query: Will these be sufficient, meatbag?”
Canderous glanced over the box. “Yeah. Put it there.” He indicated with his foot. HK-47 continued to roam the garage, but Canderous was so accustomed to the droid's metallic footfalls he hardly noticed.
Some time later Revan joined him in the garage. She'd showered and changed and had only the barest tinge of rosiness left in her cheeks. She set to work tinkering with one of her lightsabers. She was constantly making modifications to her weapons and the droids as though she had a compulsion to endlessly change things around her.
Canderous withdrew a small crystal from his belt and held it out to her. He'd been saving it.
She held it up to the light between thumb and forefinger and murmured in approval.
“Don't say I never did anything for you,” Canderous said.
“You do everything for me,” she said, levitating the lightsaber and slowly disassembling it. The parts neatly slid out and floated apart, hovering in a circle around the handle.
“Not everything,” Canderous said.
Revan met his gaze, her weapon still hovering between them. “Canderous,” she said, finally. “You’re…”
“Too old?” he interrupted. He'd been brooding on it for a while now.
The flicker of surprise that crossed her face was genuine. That mollified him a bit. She said, “No. I was going to say you're like him. You remind me of him.” She began replacing some of the lightsaber pieces. They slid into the handle, screwing and snapping into place, one at a time.
“You think I'm going to fire on you when your back's turned?” he asked.
“That's not what I mean,” she said.
It wasn't like him to pursue this line of intimate questioning, but she was fresh from another man's embrace and he'd be lying to himself if he didn't admit it stung. “When did it stop being fun for you?” he asked, sounding harsher than he meant to.
“I always enjoyed being with you.” This answer wasn't good enough, obviously. She added, “The Council slapped robes on me, put a lightsaber in my hand, and sent me out into the galaxy to win the big war. I tried to follow their rules, I really did. I know now I wasn't able to follow them the first time, either. That's comforting, in a way.” She extracted the fuel cell, guiding it to her hand through the air, then said, “He keeps me honest.”
“We're good together,” he said mulishly.
“I know,” she said. “A little too good.”
* * *
“Had enough?” Canderous asked, breathing heavily, a sheen of sweat on his face. The sand around them was deeply disturbed from their sparring. They stood in a circle of small dunes and footprints.
Revan nodded, wiping her forehead with the back of her sleeve. She'd been more aggressive than usual. He'd barely been able to keep up and he knew she was holding back. She looked much better since leaving Korriban. Better rested, healthier, more energized. He didn't give Carth much credit; most of it, he knew, was the result of Revan coming to terms with her identity. He was glad. It would have been a waste for a warrior as great as Revan to turn her back on her glorious past.
Revan hooked both lightsabers to her belt and he sheathed his vibrosword. She was distracted. He'd noticed that, too. “Need something?” he asked, walking alongside her up the Ebon Hawk's gangplank.
“Yes,” Revan said. When they entered the garage she went to the workbench and retrieved a datapad. “I've been having dreams. Recollections of the Star Forge. I've drawn as much of the layout as I can remember.” She handed him the datapad. Canderous scanned it. “I asked you to do something on Korriban,” she said.
“I remember,” Canderous said, sitting down heavily. There was a perpetual pile of weapons to be repaired and he reached for it, taking a carbine off the top. He tinkered with it a moment.
Revan sat next to him. “Before, I asked you to act only if you felt the mission would be threatened. But being in the Star Forge for that long, surrounded by all that dark energy... it's too risky, Canderous.”
“Dark, light, what's it matter?” Canderous asked.
“You know it does. When it's over I need you to make sure it's finished. Promise me.”
“So that’s all you need me for,” Canderous said, turning away from her to toss a handful of spare parts onto the workbench. “Cleaning up your messes.”
Revan remained as she was, silent, waiting.
He snapped open the carbine, removed the fuel cell, and added, “Why don't you ask him?”
“You’re my best soldier.”
“No,” he said. “You want it done, tell me why. Why it has to be me. I want to hear you say it.”
“You’re the obvious choice,” Revan said. “Should I go down the list? Where do I start? HK can't go against his core programming. Jolee would be outmatched. Juhani would hesitate--”
He grabbed the front of her robe. The movement was quick, but she brought her hands up fast enough to brace herself against his chest as he pulled her forward. She could have easily broken his hold, he'd seen her do it dozens of times in combat, but she didn't.
Their faces were close. She said, “You're the only one who can do this. It’s too important.”
“Try again,” he said.
Her hand shifted on his chest, the weight of it subtly changing. “Canderous, I trust you,” she said.
He released her robe and turned aside. He flipped the carbine over, checking the chamber. “I’ll do what needs to be done.”
After she left he sat alone for some time. When HK-47 clanked into the garage, Canderous said, “Get out,” in a tone that left no room for misunderstanding.
Amazingly, HK had no acerbic retort. He merely rotated his head slightly, then turned to leave.
“Forget it,” Canderous said. “Stay. Do whatever you were told to do.”
“Statement: As you wish, meatbag.”
Canderous pulled off the topmost layer of his armor and dropped it to the floor with a clang.
* * *
Traveling alone on the Star Forge was easier than Canderous had expected. Most of the Sith's attention was drawn to the Jedi raiding parties moving across the first and second decks. Using a stealth field generator and the layout Revan had given him, he had little trouble finding the viewing platform.
Getting inside was another matter.
The blast doors were sealed from the inside but he could still hear the faint strains of lightstabers locking punctuated by bursts of force lightning. Revan had been right, this was the location of their final confrontation.
His orders were simple. Neither duelist would leave the platform. He would allow them to fight until one remained, then he would finish the weakened victor.
He found a ladder leading to a utility duct and took it, climbing up onto the narrow metal catwalk that circled around the perimeter. The muffled noise coming from the interior wall abruptly died. He quickly checked his repeating rifle—-there could be no mistakes--and located a service panel that would give him entry to the platform. It was bolted in place and he set to work loosening it.
He kept thinking about Revan's palm pressed to his chest, her voice as she said she trusted him.
He did not know which victor he hoped to find.
* * *
It would not be the first or last time Canderous disobeyed an order. He obeyed his instincts above all others.
Revan was strangely light in his arms. He walked behind Juhani and Bastila as he carried her, legs swaying, up the main corridor towards the Star Forge's hangar. The two Jedi were talking but he could not hear their words, nor could he hear the cacophony of sound that must surely be emanating from the failing Star Forge.
All he could hear was Revan's labored, heavy breathing. For him, there was no other sound.
* * *
“Bastila, what a nice surprise,” Canderous said. A miniature of the Jedi flickered on the console in his hotel room, her form riddled with static lines. He'd only just gotten a room here the night before, but he knew Courscant security forces were keeping a close eye on his movements and Bastila, in turn, kept tabs on him through them.
“Canderous,” the Jedi said crisply. “Revan is gone. I understand you spoke recently. Did she tell you where she was going?”
The Mandalorian leaned forward, considering this bit of information, and said, “Have you checked the pazaak dens? You can get lost for days down there.”
“This is very serious, Canderous. Jedi cannot simply abandon their duties.”
“You’re assuming she’s a Jedi,” he replied, and he could actually feel Bastila's frostiness emanating from the hologram.
“I see now she didn't confide in you after all. Clearly I read too much into your relationship.” This was, he suspected, intended to sting. “Goodbye, Canderous.”
He didn't bother replying. She'd already ended the transmission, her miniature winking away and leaving the room semi-darkness.
He thought back to his last meeting with Revan a mere two weeks prior. That actually had been a nice surprise. She showed up unannounced and offered to buy him a drink. He could hardly refuse. They'd done a little catching up. He didn't have many war stories left she hadn't heard, but he told a few and she threw in a few of her own. Her personal story archive was growing rapidly now that her memories were taking firmer shape.
He replayed their conversation, going over her words, tone, and gestures in his mind. The bit about Kashyyyk began to stand out more starkly. She'd mentioned Zaalbar's return to his people and, almost as an afterthought, added, “Kashyyyk is a place for secrets. It may be the only place in the galaxy where great things can remain hidden until someone worthy finds them.”
He wasn't a sentimental man but he'd kept the sole artifact from their travels together. He took out the Cross of Glory, which he kept in a small metal box among his few personal effects. As he turned the medal over in his hands, the light glinting across its smooth surface, he decided.
* * *
Canderous opted against taking a direct flight to the forest planet. He'd been aware for some time that suspicious eyes were upon him and now, with Revan's disappearance, someone would surely take interest if he blasted out of Coruscant immediately after hearing the news. He planned a trip to several other Mid Rim planets and when he was certain he was not being followed he hired a private ship to take him to Kashyyyk.
Docking an unfamiliar vessel at the old Czerka landing port was dangerous business. Fortunately, the Wookies elected to ask questions first and shoot later. They were skeptical when he name-dropped Zaalbar and unmoved when he told them Revan had sent him. He wasn't sure why he decided to show them the medal, but when he opened the small box, exposing the Cross of Glory to light, they exchanged looks and growls.
Four warriors escorted him to Rwookrrorro.
When he saw Zaalbar striding towards him, his own Cross pinned proudly to his bandolier, Canderous knew he was on the right path.
In the Upper Shadowlands he encountered what must have been Jolee's hut. By now thick vegetation had grown over it, choking the tiny windows and camouflaging it among the roots of the wroshyr trees. The door was covered with vines, but it was new growth. Someone had been here fairly recently.
Inside he set up camp for the night. The layers of dust varied and it was evident the cooking stove, dining table, and bed had all been used in the past weeks. It could have been a Wookie scout, too tired from a day of hunting to make it back to Rwookrrorro, but he doubted it.
As he unpacked for the evening he found himself slightly missing Jolee. He'd gotten on well with the old Jedi. He hadn't seen him since the award ceremony, they'd been companions of necessity and never friends, but he'd liked him all the same.
After dinner, when he'd secured the perimeter, he took a moment to examine the hut more closely. It was spartan and cramped, about what you'd expect from a Jedi. There was a moderate collection of wood-carved animals on the mantle. It was clear Jolee had made these and had devoted a great deal of time to their creation though, oddly, he had never mentioned the hobby. A map was painted on the far wall, again Jolee's handiwork, illustrating the entire area in great detail. He was transcribing it to a datapad when he noticed a tiny x mark in the lower Shadowlands where someone had scratched away the paint. This, too, was added to his notes.
* * *
As it turned out, X did indeed mark the spot. It was raining now (amazing that rain could penetrate this far into the depths of the miles-high forest) and he'd spent half an hour digging into the freshly-packed earth in the corner of a dark glade. He did not want to risk damaging it, whatever it was, with tools, so he used his gloved hands.
He scraped metal and knew he was close. When he extracted the box it felt light. He wondered briefly if he was too late, if another had already found this place, and when he opened it, half-expecting it to be empty, he was stunned to stillness.
He stared at the mask for some time.
He lifted it gingerly, as though it were a delicate thing, though this couldn't be farther from the truth. The mask had survived thousands of years of war. He turned it over, feeling the ruddy gold surface in his hands, and put it to his face. Through the raindrops that speckled a nearby puddle he could see his refection, his eyes hidden behind the T-visor. The meaning of it all bubbled to the surface.
He was the Mandalore.
He would preserve.
He would unite.
And when Revan returned he would be ready.
“Do you wonder where she wanders now Mandalore? Why she gave you your orders then abandoned you at the edge of the galaxy?
…I can answer the question that burns within your shell, Mandalore. But there is a price.”
Chapter 3: The Jedi Who Feared the Dark Side
"Bastila? The young Jedi holds great promise... and great danger."
- Master Vrook Lamar
* * *
Of the seven Jedi who boarded Revan's flagship four remained. Bastila Shan led them to the bridge as they cut a swath through the Sith resistance. The two consulars flanked her easily, but the padawan guardian lagged behind--she was less experienced and easily cowed. Bastila regretted bringing her on the strike team, but there was no turning back now.
Outside the bridge Bastila paused. The consulars readied themselves, the elder murmuring the code under his breath. The padawan held her blade up, poised to fight. Her hands were trembling. They rushed the door and the Sith before them fell under their blades.
Revan stood at the command deck, unmoved, her back to them. It was only when they had dispatched the last of the Sith that the Dark Lord turned, her dark cloak swaying almost rhythmically as she stepped down onto the deck.
Her lightsaber ignited in that familiar, terrible beam of red.
The padawan swallowed hard, sweat pouring down her face. “It's a--it's a trap--” she gulped and before any of them could react Revan jerked her gloved hand and the padawan's lightsaber was ripped from her grasp. Bastila narrowly avoided it as it snapped to the Dark Lord's off-hand.
The consulars charged the deck. Revan rushed to meet them, her blue and red blades clashing against their own. There was a rainbow of violence--purple, red, green, blue--and the older consular was slammed into the bulkhead with enough force to render him inert. His green saber extinguished and fell to the floor.
The second consular was frozen in a static-field as his blade arced up to strike. Revan kicked him squarely in the chest and he fell over, clattering to the ground face-first. A lone tooth skittered across the floor, sprinkles of blood dotting its path. The purple lightsaber was also extinguished.
It happened far too quickly. Despite all their preparations they hadn’t been ready for this. Bastila steadied her blade, focusing. Revan lifted her right hand, lightsaber still firmly gripped, and curled her index finger towards Bastila, beckoning.
What Bastila would never admit, not to herself or to anyone else, was in that moment she felt an intense passion, a deep yearning, to strike that dark figure down and prove her true potential. Every muscle in her body responded to that curled finger, coiling to strike, but before she could begin her forward momentum the console behind Revan exploded.
The ship rocked violently, black smoke pouring into the bridge as laser fire peppered the helm. A spray of sparks scattered across the metal floor. Bastila and the young padawan were both thrown to their knees. When Bastila rose again, moving her yellow blade warily through the smoke and fumes, she saw the inert figure of Darth Revan stretched out against the deck, blood dripping from the edge of her dread mask.
It could have been over then, but it wasn't. As Bastila approached the body she felt a last flicker of the Force. She reached out to it and claimed their destiny.
* * *
“The Exile is sent away wounded and fractured, but Revan is restored,” Bastila said, watching as the Sith Lord's body floated peacefully in the kolto tank. Revan's body had been secreted to a high-security medical ward in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Only Bastila, the padawan, and the Jedi Council knew of her survival. The padawan had been sent to the outer rim on a diplomatic mission. Bastila was certain she too would have been sent away, if not for the strange bond that had manifested between herself and the Dark Lord. They were bound together and the Jedi Council accepted that Bastila would have to be included in their plans.
“You question the Council's decision?” Master Vrook asked.
“No, Master Vrook,” Bastila said. “To use her own knowledge against her is... fitting. But will it work?”
“Difficult to say. Master Vandar believes the false memory will deteriorate over time, but if you move quickly, perhaps you can gain her trust and knowledge before she resumes the dark path.”
“You feel her fall is inevitable?” Bastila asked. Master Vandar had expressed optimism that the memory replacement might change Revan on some fundamental level, but even this endorsement had been a cautious one. Repairing the physical damage to Revan's body would be difficult enough. Her back and side were blackened and red with burns, there would be scars that even kolto or the Force couldn't heal. Repairing the mental damage and constructing a false identity would be even more difficult.
“I fear if she regains her strength in the Force the Dark Lord will return. If she remains as planned--a soldier, mildly Force-sensitive, with allegiance to the Republic--then perhaps...” Master Vrook scowled. “It is foolish to guess. In my experience, young Bastila, people do not truly change. You must watch this one quite carefully.”
“I understand,” Bastila said, watching as the form undulated gracefully in the tank. It seemed to her that, as the Dark Lord's hands slowly floated up and down, her index finger beckoned.
* * *
When Bastila smashed open the hinges on the Vulkar cage, taking advantage of the melee between the swoop race winner and Brejek's men, all she could think of was neutralizing her captors. It was only after the Vulkars were dispatched that she got a good look at the person responsible.
“You're--” She very nearly gave it away. Her surprise at seeing Revan almost overrode all else, but she collected herself quickly and said, “--from the Endar Spire.”
Revan identified herself with the false name that had been seared into her brain, but Bastila hardly heard it. It was strange, speaking to Revan as an ally, hearing the voice she had only ever experienced as an echo through their Force bond, but the Jedi Council's work appeared to be sound. The heavy aura of power, the electric presence of the dark side, was gone. The Revan who stood before her now in a filthy soldier's uniform and cobbled-together armor, her face clear of the dark taint, was almost a disappointment. Bastila had envisioned many scenarios of their first meeting and had rehearsed a number of conversations in her head, but none of came close to this lackluster reunion.
“Now that I've saved you, I suppose we should move along,” Bastila said, briskly.
Revan held out Bastila’s dual-lightsaber. Bastila hesitated, and again a strange feeling descended as she took her weapon from the Dark Lord's outstretched hand. She wondered, did the lightsaber feel familiar? Did it stir a memory in Revan's mind?
“Carth Onasi is here,” Revan said. “I'll take you to him.”
They moved quickly through the lower city in silence. Once in the lift, when they were alone, Revan scrutinized her so closely Bastila felt a twinge of self consciousness.
“I know you,” Revan said abruptly, and Bastila's breath nearly caught. “You were there.”
“I don't know what you mean,” Bastila said.
“I dreamed of two Jedi fighting. You were one of them.”
A shared vision. The Council had anticipated this. Bastila recited her lines verbatim.
* * *
“We should not have dealings with this person,” Bastila said, eying Canderous Ordo. The Mandalorian teemed with violence and passion. The Council had warned her to avoid aligning the amnesiac and impressionable Revan with such people.
“We should hear him out,” Carth said, keeping his voice low.
“I'll soften him up,” Revan said.
Revan accepted a drink from the Mandalorian, who seemed amenable to her company. As they talked, and Revan leaned closer, and Bastila realized she was attracted to him. The Council had warned her about this as well. Master Zhar had explained, in delicate terms, that Revan was “fond of men.”
Bastila sat at a nearby table, heavily, and crossed her arms. Carth joined her.
“Everything okay?” Carth asked.
A waitress approached them, but Bastila motioned her away. “I am fine, Carth.”
After a few minutes, Revan waved them over. Canderous had a plan to steal a ship. Bastila was against it, but she was outnumbered.
* * *
The Ebon Hawk was on autopilot, a course plotted for Dantooine, and there wasn't a Sith ship in sight. Normally this would be a good time to relax but the bombardment of Taris left a bitter taste. The Mandalorian had thankfully sequestered himself in the garage and the Wookie was keeping the girl company in the hold. Bastila, for her part, was content to stay in the co-pilot's chair where she could think in relative privacy.
Carth asked her if she wanted to shower first, but she declined. Ever since her escape from the Vulkars it seemed as though they'd been moving non-stop. They only narrowly escaped Taris before the Sith fleet opened fire, destroying the planet's surface. Now that they were out of immediate danger she wanted to stop moving and rest.
Carth's footfalls sounded as he walked down the corridor, but stopped before he reached the cockpit.
“Well, look at you,” he said.
Revan's voice drifted into the cockpit. “Oh, that's right. You've never seen me clean before. I'm going to miss having swoop bike grease behind my ears.”
“No dirt, no grime. It's a good look for you.”
“I'm not set on it. You can get me dirty again, if you want.”
Bastila smiled inwardly. She had to admire Revan's boldness at times.
Carth chuckled. “I think we should get to know each other better first,” he said. There was a smile in his voice, but also a hint of wariness.
Revan’s reply was light and friendly, all sexual undertones absent, when she said, “My secrets are yours. Just ask.”
Bastila's amusement went cold. Revan had no idea what her secrets were. She felt a brief spark of pity for the older woman. Revan wasn't the only one who would be affected by the lie. It would ensnare everyone around her. And if Carth ever found out... Bastila pushed the thought aside. Whatever attraction there was between Carth and Revan, they were doomed from the start.
* * *
“Are you certain Revan is truly dead?” Master Vrook asked. “What if we undertake to train this one and the Dark Lord should return?”
The Masters considered this as Bastila and Revan stood before them. Revan looked to Master Zhar, and act which did not go unnoticed. Even now, after having her memory altered, Revan instinctively knew which Master would be most sympathetic to her cause.
Master Vandar made a motion to Master Vrook, something Bastila saw but did not understand, and said, “We should discuss this matter more fully in private.”
They decided. Revan would be trained once again. And once again, Master Zhar would be her teacher.
It was well known that Revan had always been Master Zhar's favorite pupil. Even after her fall he remarked that she'd been his most talented student. Bastila observed Revan’s training, noting the speed with which she progressed and the obvious pride Master Zhar took in her progress, and had the growing sense that history was repeating.
One evening, after hours of practicing lightsaber forms, Bastila found herself alone with Master Zhar in the sparring room. He seemed lost in thought as he collected Revan's practice swords. Revan rarely picked up after herself.
“Master Zhar, can I be of any further assistance?” Bastila asked. When he did not answer, she said, “Master Zhar?”
He glanced at her. “Forgive me, young Bastila. You were saying?”
“Do you need anything else, Master?”
“No, that is fine.” Master Zhar hefted the vibrosword in his hand, testing the weight. He noticed her watching and said, “I missed her, Bastila.” No member of the Council had ever been so personally frank with her. Bastila nodded, unsure how to respond. “Soon, she will leave again,” he said. “I wish she could stay here with us, continue her training. But...” Master Zhar sighed, worry etched across his brow, and in that moment he seemed paternal. Even after all these years, after everything that had happened, he was still cared deeply about his old, fallen student. “Thank you, padawan. That is all.”
Bastila left him, unable to ignore the twinge of bitterness that rose up in her. She was a model Jedi and possessed the rare gift of Battle Meditation. She'd been a great asset to the Republic and had obeyed the Jedi Council's every command. Even so, Revan was the favored student.
She remembered overhearing a conversation about how Malak had always followed in Revan's shadow at the Academy. Had Malak also felt this same bitterness, this same sense of injustice? As soon as she wondered it, she cleared the thought from her mind. She did not want to know how Malak felt, now or ever.
* * *
Bastila was sitting in the center of the floor meditating when Revan arrived at their enclave apartment. The older woman smelled of sweat and exertion, but not the sparring kind. Bastila knew something had been going on between Revan and one of the men, probably Canderous, for some time now.
Revan settled in opposite her, crossing her legs and stretching her back. She preferred to meditate in company. It had taken some getting used to, for Bastila had always been one of the more solitary Jedi at the enclave, but she'd grown to enjoy this quiet time spent together.
“The bond between us connects us in many ways,” Bastila said, her eyes still shut. Revan remained silent. She was an exceedingly careful listener, Bastila noticed, and could often recall conversations verbatim. It many ways, it was a shame such a brilliant memory had been so boldly stripped. “When you go against the wishes of the Council,” Bastila continued, “it affects me.”
“I've done as they asked,” Revan said, not defensively.
“I sense you are developing feelings for someone,” Bastila said. “I don't want to pry into your affairs, but romantic entanglements can be dangerous, especially for padawans. That is why they are strongly discouraged,” Bastila said.
“Surely there’s no harm in a little fun,” Revan said, as if it were nothing, but Bastila was not fooled. They were connected, after all.
“As Jedi we must focus our thoughts on compassionate love, rather than romantic love. Strong emotional attachments to any single person can interfere with our training. It could hinder your progress.” This, she suspected, would motivate Revan more than anything else. Revan was eager to improve and her hunger and ambition had not gone unnoticed.
“Will it?” Revan asked. Bastila was familiar with the tone, it was one people often used to imply that the Jedi were cloistered and lacked real-world experience.
“Years ago I had a… friend.” Bastila smiled at the memory. “He was handsome and kind. Gentle, patient. I thought of him all the time and as a result my training began to suffer. I could no longer concentrate, I made foolish mistakes. It was difficult, but I put space between us to better focus on my training.” Bastila shifted slightly. “I don't regret spending time together, or feeling the way I did, but I’m glad I chose to put my training first.” Bastila opened her eyes and saw Revan was looking at her. “Kavar taught me that Jedi are not made of stone, but we must be willing to make sacrifices if we wish to reach our true potential.”
Bastila wondered if the name might stir some recognition. Indeed, it seemed to her there was some flicker, a resonance through the Force, but it dissipated just as quickly. “I understand your point,” Revan said. “But what’s the harm in blowing off a little steam every now and then?”
“Is that truly all it is?” Bastila asked. When Revan didn’t answer, she added, “As Jedi we must know ourselves. Would you deny we are influenced and shaped by our intimate partners, that strong emotions toward any one person can lead to jealously, possessiveness, and anger?”
“No,” Revan said, finally.
They resumed silent meditation, but Bastila could sense Revan’s thoughts were no longer calm; her mind was churning. Surely she could understand how foolish it was to get caught up in a meaningless affair when there was so much at stake. But as time passed and Revan did not voice agreement, Bastila felt compelled to press forward. “The Council is considering a mission related to the star map. This is a tremendous opportunity. If you wish to see this through and locate the remaining--”
“You know I do,” Revan said. For the first time, her voice was curt. Even without the benefit of her memories she’d become fixated on the star maps and what they promised.
“Then we must adhere to the code to the best of our abilities and prove we are the right choice,” Bastila said. Of course the Council would send Revan on this mission regardless, but Revan didn’t know that and the extra incentive could not hurt.
“You're right,” Revan said, at length. “I'll do my best to follow their rules.”
Their rules. This, Bastila knew, was the root of the problem. Revan still did not consider the rules of the Council to be her own. She had often considered herself the exception to the rule. That was why she defied the Council by fighting in the Mandalorian Wars before. That was why she disregarded the warnings intended to guide Jedi in their training now. However much the woman before her was changed from the Dark Lord of the Sith she’d met on the flagship, she was still fundamentally Revan, and there was nothing the Jedi Council could do, no manner of memory alteration, that would change that.
* * *
They stood at the ancient computer in the Shadowlands, the alien hologram waiting patiently for further input. Trees and vegetation towered around them. This particular part of the forest was strangely quiet and, save the occasional bird call, the hum of the computer was the only noticeable sound.
Revan raised her eyebrows at Jolee. “One hundred and fifty-two times?” she asked.
“There's not much to do around here,” the old Jedi said, unembarrassed.
“Now what?” she asked the computer.
“Behavioral reconfiguration is necessary,” the hologram replied cheerfully. “I will provide you with a series of hypothetical situations. Just answer these questions as you normally would.”
Revan did so.
Strategically, her answers were sound, but they were the answers of a General intent on winning, not a Jedi. Bastila gauged Jolee’s reaction. He'd been surprised they saved the tachs without bloodshed but this, apparently, did not phase him.
The computer chirped; access had been granted. “You answered the questions as Revan might,” Bastila said. “Good thinking.”
Jolee eyed her, then made a soft, “Hmph,” under his breath. Revan didn't appear to be listening to either of them. The star map was slowly unfurling like a flower at dawn. Its light reflected in her eyes.
* * *
Bastila and Revan circled each other in the Ahto hangar, breathing heavily, their faces dotted with perspiration. Revan was not Bastila's favored opponent--in many ways she preferred Juhani's straight-forward, clean style of fighting--but Revan was unpredictable and creative. She fought like a Sith. It made for good practice, but it always left Bastila overexerted and irritable.
Bastila momentarily drew back to take advantage of a lull in their sparring. She lowered her lightsaber, pausing to catch her breath. Revan was having none of it. She lifted her right hand, the lightsaber gripped tightly, and beckoned with her finger.
Without thinking, Bastila hurled the dual-blade at her opponent.
Revan's surprise was clear. She threw herself to the side and as the blade zipped past it singed a section of her hair and came so close to the side of her neck that the residual heat brought up an angry red welt.
“What just happened?” Revan asked, extinguishing her blade.
“You're so smug, you think you can dispatch me as quickly as--” Bastila cut herself off abruptly, taking another breath. As quickly as the others? As quickly as the consulars on her flagship? She felt the edges of the Force tickling at her mind.
“What is it?” Revan asked, and Bastila slammed the mental door between them shut.
Revan, ever the strategist, chose retreat. “Fine,” she said waving her hand dismissively. “Fine.” She did not attempt to invade Bastila's space again.
Bastila boarded the Ebon Hawk, choosing to mediate alone in the cargo bay. She was upset with herself for losing her temper and lashing out, but damn it all if Revan wasn't so skilled at driving her to anger. Revan was well known for her passion and for her ability to inflame the passions of others. Once again, this was an aspect of Revan's personality she'd been warned against. Once again, she'd failed to counter it. It was one thing to know Revan was a red giant, burning hotter and faster than all the stars around her. It was quite another to avoid being sucked into her sphere of influence.
* * *
Darth Bandon ambushed them in the dunes and went for Revan with a sense of purpose. Bastila and Juhani were left to fend off the two dark Jedi accompanying him. Sand and grit swirled around them and the sun was hot through their sweaty, dirty robes as they moved about, three couples in an arid ballroom.
Revan met Bandon gladly and the air about undulated with the force of their clash. Lightsabers hissed and crackled as they they ducked and moved. Both employed the Vaapad lightsaber form but Revan's movements had a natural and strangely bewitching grace that Bandon, with his coarse aggression, lacked.
Bastila dispatched her opponent, sending her blade through his chest, at about the same time Juhani separated her own opponent from his arm. Both turned to the remaining fight. The two combatants wove so closely together it was as though they were sharing an intimate dance. Juhani met Bastila's eyes, understanding passing between them. This was not a fight they could intrude on.
Bandon and Revan twirled and slashed, their blades flickering through the air. For a minute or so it seemed they were evenly matched with neither possessing any obvious advantage. Revan’s seductive laugh echoed across the dunes. Bastila had heard the laugh few times before. It seemed like a diversionary tactic, but Bastila knew it was genuine. Revan was having fun. The laugh had only momentarily distracted the Jedi Weaponmaster at the Academy and it had not thrown off his concentration. Darth Bandon lacked that self-control and center. The laugh seemed to taunt him, inviting him to strike, and he rushed at her, screaming, “I will break you myself!”
It was his final mistake.
Revan did not even bother with the shorter saber in her off-hand. She swung her primary blade and neatly took his head. His corpse stumbled and fell bloodlessly to her side, his lightsaber extinguishing as surely as his life had.
Revan lowered her weapons, extinguishing the blades. She was euphoric in victory and an aura of almost electric power coursed around her. She grabbed Juhani, pulling her close in a clumsy hug.
Juhani gave a rare smile, her hand lingering on the small of Revan's back.
“Malak's apprentice,” Bastila said, looking down at the headless corpse.
“He's running out of bounty hunters and servants,” Revan said, stooping to take Bandon's lightsaber. She tossed the short saber into her pack and ignited Bandon's, turning it this way and that, watching the pulsing red blade. She ignited her own Guardian blade and crossed the two, the blue and red humming together.
“You're keeping it?” Bastila asked quietly, as Juhani began stripping the dead Jedi.
“Perhaps Malak will recognize it,” Revan said.
Bastila felt something crawling up her spine. “Leave it,” she said. “We've collected so many. It's... gristly.”
Revan extinguished both blades, hooking them to her belt. “What's wrong?”
Juhani had stopped what she was doing to listen. “The color,” Bastila said. “We've fought so many Sith. It's disturbing.”
“It's just a color,” Revan said, reluctant to relinquish her prize. “Red's as good as any.”
“No,” Bastila said sharply. “It isn't.”
Revan observed her for a moment before nodding. Revan always picked her battles. “You’re right. The parts are good. I'll change the focusing crystal.”
Bastila yielded. That was a reasonable compromise. Lightsaber parts were expensive and good parts were hard to come by. The Sith blade would be changed to blue or yellow or green. It would be a Sith blade no longer.
Still, Bastila felt that crawling sensation along her back and a nagging voice in her mind. Master Vrook was right. Master Vrook had always been right.
* * *
As Malak tortured her, sending Force lightning ripping through her body, searing her nerves and stabbing into her mind, there was only pain and pain and pain and then anger and finally, finally hatred. She embraced it. It had been a long time coming.
* * *
“Revan, I knew you'd come.” Bastila rose from her meditation pose on the command center platform. “Lord Malak wasn't sure you'd take the bait, but he doesn't know you like I do.” Dark energy thrummed through the Star Forge, energizing her, heightening her awareness.
Revan struck the door control panel with her lightsaber, locking the blast doors.
“You've sealed off your escape route,” Bastila observed.
“The three of us will be staying here,” Revan said.
“Isn't this the part where you persuade me to return to the light?” Bastila asked.
“This is the part where you prove you can beat me,” Revan said, igniting both of her lightsabers. The red and blue clashed ominously.
Bastila ignited her own red saber. “It's always about you, isn’t it?” Bastila asked, and her voice was whip-like.
“It's always been about me,” Revan said.
To say they fought would be an understatement. They savaged, each drawing on the dark energy of the place, and in due time it became clear who the real swordsman was.
Bastila fought hard and fought well, but it wasn't enough, and by their third pause she knew it never would be. Bastila hit the ground on one knee, her face flush with sweat, and no fight left in her. It was over. She'd lost. This revelation was not as difficult as she'd imagined. Perhaps deep down she'd always known. Ever since that initial crook of Revan's finger on the deck of her flagship, some small part of her had always understood that Revan's destiny would eclipse her own.
“For the sake of what we once shared,” Bastila said, “make it quick.”
Revan looked down at her over crossed blades. They slid inward, like brilliant multicolored scissor blades on either side of Bastila's neck, then extinguished. Bastila realized Revan was not looking at her; Revan had noticed the dark veins running along the backs of her hands.
Revan flexed her hand and the veins throbbed, but already they were returning to a normal color. “How quickly the old ways return,” Revan said. She turned, but not so much that she couldn't still see Bastila out of the corner of her eye. “I am a good fighter. Maybe a good leader. But a poor teacher. A poor lover, friend, and... Jedi, I think. I must have been forged for conflict; it’s all I do well.” She faced Bastila fully. “My place must be here.” She lifted a gloved hand to the metal walls surrounding them. The Star Forge murmured with dark energy, and that energy seemed to coalesce around Revan. “But you were meant to be a Jedi, Bastila.”
“I can never return to the Order,” Bastila said. “There is too much anger in me. I’ve failed. Kill me now, get it over with.”
“I can't kill you,” Revan said. “I love you.”
Bastila laughed bitterly.
“I know,” Revan said. “You wanted me to be your master. The apprentice can never truly love the master, the dark side makes that impossible. There must always be some anger, some hatred, between them. I understand that now.” She turned to face Bastila again. “You can return to the Jedi, Bastila. It's not too late.”
With this revelation Bastila’s anger had run out, replaced with weariness, and sadness, and despair. “I honestly wish I could,” Bastila said. “What I've done is treason. How could I ever atone?”
“I can atone, so can you. I would never have made it this far without you. You taught me more than you can ever know. Use your Battle Meditation to win this battle for the Republic. Help me finish what we started.”
Bastila closed her eyes. She wanted to think these were the hollow platitudes, but the Revan who stood before her, determined in the Force, had certainly matured from the angry, quick-tempered Jedi she’d trained with. Even a vengeful Dark Lord, murderer of thousands, could atone for her sins, and the proof stood was standing right in front of her. Perhaps it was true, after all: it was never too late to turn back.
Bastila rose unsteadily to her feet. “You're right. I have to try. I will do whatever I can to aid the Republic.” She looked towards the corridor that led to the viewing platform and said, “I cannot go with you.”
“When the tide of turns go to the Ebon Hawk,” she said. “Don't wait for me.”
The two women faced each other. In the past, there would there have been a touch... Perhaps even a hug? Bastila wasn't sure. But now, a deep ravine loomed between them. Even mere feet apart, they were isolated.
They parted. As the older woman walked away the Force flared about her and Bastila felt something almost like heat as the dark side swirled up and around Revan.
The Dark Lord--and she was the true Dark Lord here, that was plain now--had been holding back for her benefit. But now, as she went to engage her old apprentice one last time, she held back nothing.
Revan disappeared behind the blast doors and Bastila turned her attention outward, summoning the last of her strength and reaching out with the Force, rallying the Republic Fleet that surrounded the Star Forge.
It was the last time Bastila would see Revan as she knew her. The person who left the command deck, carried by Canderous Ordo, was irrevocably changed. The Revan who offered atonement died in that chamber. The Jedi who survived the duel was not the Jedi who walked into it.
* * *
The awards ceremony was nigh. Attendants moved quickly among them, dabbing makeup, straightening clothes. The crowd outside around the award platform generated a dull roar that filtered into their tent. Revan was tense. Her arm was in a sling and a terrible burn was still healing on the side of her neck. The Republic public relations advisor insisted that they plan the ceremony before she had fully healed, saying it would be “more iconic” to show a Jedi hero still on the mend from the wages of war.
The crew of the Ebon Hawk was already outside, waiting. The Jedi Masters, Bastila, and Revan were to be the centerpieces of the ceremony and, as such, were the last to be fussed over. Vandar patiently endured. Vrook merely scowled.
Revan hadn't spoken to anyone since they'd arrived. She spoke now, in an undertone, to Vandar. Bastila caught the end of it.
“...Can't do this,” Revan said urgently to the old Master. “Please, Master.”
“Have you lost your sense?” Vrook asked.
“I’m not going out there,” Revan said. “I'm not standing there while Dodonna pins that damned--”
“We need a rallying figure,” Vrook said. “If I could choose, it wouldn't be either of you, but it's not my choice. You're the one with name recognition. You're the one who started this whole disaster. You will go out there--”
“No,” Revan said.
“Your mission is not yet finished. Your atonement--”
“My atonement? You mean my brainwashing? I'll sit this one out and we'll call it even.”
“How dare you,” Vrook said.
“Revan,” Bastila said quietly, but she was ignored. She glanced at Vandar, but the Master's calm gaze was intent on the arguing pair.
“My plan was working until you decided to intervene,” Revan said. “Do you have any idea how close I was to securing the Republic? Three months, maybe less. Three months.”
“You call the slaughter of thousands a plan that is working?” Vrook turned to Vandar. “You see how she hasn't changed!”
“Judging me, Vrook?” Revan asked. “What a surprise. You're always judging me, always wanting to condemn and punish me. Is this why you exiled my general? So you would have someone to punish in my stead, someone to make an example of? Would you have exiled me, stripped me of the Force, if I weren't so inconveniently necessary?”
“What?” Vrook asked. He glanced at Bastila--had she told Revan of the Exile?--and Bastila shook her head once, wordlessly; she had not.
Revan didn't seem to hear him. Her voice rose, her temper flaring. “You always looked down on me! Always looked down on my talents! Always refusing to train me! You always tried to hold me back! I was never good enough for you, never good enough! You passed me over for others, and for what? They never commanded power as I did! They never understood the true nature of the Force like I do!”
A glimmer of something flickered across Vrook's face. Bastila sought to decipher it, but in a moment it was gone, replaced by a mask of stone.
Revan caught her breath as though she'd just witnessed a swoop accident. Her face changed; suddenly she was like a child padawan desperate to undo a temper tantrum. “Master Vrook, I'm sorry, please, I--”
“Impetuous as always,” Vrook said coldly, and left.
Revan was quickly losing her composure. It was such a foreign sight Bastila could only look on, detached, as if she were watching a holovid of some far away, unknown star exploding. Revan turned to Vandar.
“You should do as we ask,” Vandar said. His tone was gentle, but there was no sympathy in his gaze; no condolence. He turned and slowly followed Vrook's departure.
Revan turned to Bastila, extending her good hand. “Bastila...”
Bastila hesitated a second too long, realized the mistake, and quickly took the older Jedi's hand in hers. “I'm not particularly eager to be a part of this ceremony myself. We will go together. It won't take long. This is a small thing the Masters have asked us.”
The speed with which Revan rebuilt her walls was unnerving. The raw, vulnerable look that had been there just seconds before was quickly being erased, her expression smoothing into stoic neutrality.
“You were strong for me, you kept me from straying,” Revan said. “But I wasn't strong enough for you.”
“Revan, I don't blame--”
Revan dropped her hand. It was as though something between them had severed. “Bastila, I am so sorry.” The bitterness and defeat in her voice was strangely unnerving.
“I--I too am sorry,” Bastila said, sincerely. She sensed a thaw between them, but the chasm that had sprung up since that fateful parting on the Leviathan remained.
They went out together to greet the crowd.
* * *
The Ebon Hawk was enjoying a well-deserved rest. She had been outfitted, repaired, and cleaned top to bottom, but even after all these months the ship still smelled of Wookie and grease. Being on the empty ship now always gave Bastila a strange touch of homesickness. As cramped as the ship was, it had been her sanctuary for quite some time.
She had not come here to reminisce, however. The bond between herself and Revan had weakened greatly over the past few months, but one thing was certain: Revan was planning to leave. Her destination was unclear but her departure was inevitable. After attempting to coerce this information from the elder Jedi, who seemed to grow more distant with each passing day, Bastila devised another plan.
“There,” Bastila said, replacing T3-M4's front casing. The little astromech beeped, gears whirring, and rotated his eye towards her.
“You have a new mission,” she told him. “You will follow Revan when she leaves. If at any time you lose contact with Revan you will return to Republic space and find me. Do you understand?”
The droid beeped, then whistled.
“If you cannot find me seek out the nearest Jedi instead. You will not tell Revan of this program. It is for her protection.”
T3 gave a low whine.
“Yes, that would probably be a good idea. Keep an eye on that horrible machine. I question its loyalty.”
The little astromech gave another string of whistles and beeps, then rolled away, resuming his patrol of the Ebon Hawk's corridors.
Outside, Bastila said goodbye to the dock mechanic, who was making his morning rounds.
“I noticed that little droid of yours is developing some personality quirks. It's probably overdue for a memory wipe. That model can get a little eccentric if you don't give it routine maintenance. I've scheduled a wipe for this weekend, if that's--”
“You will not service the droid,” Bastila said, breezing past.
“I will not... service the droid...” the mechanic said. He blinked, then added, “Good day, Jedi Knight.”
* * *
“To believe an ideal, you must be willing to betray it.”
Chapter 4: The Gray
"Controlling your passions while being in love, that's what they should teach you to beware, but love itself will save, not condemn you."
― Jolee Bindo
Jolee Bindo remembered his first encounter with Revan quite clearly. Initially the two Jedi seemed no different than the ones who came to the Shadowlands before them, but as they moved deeper into the forest an odd calm fell. Birds quieted their calls; insects were mute and still. Jolee trailed them at a cautious distance.
The woman led the way, her dark robes swishing through the brush, and her companion followed closely behind. After a while, he spoke.
“Revan, is it wise to trust the Wookiees? There is great danger here.”
Revan continued onward. The foliage yielded easily to them and as they carved this new path Jolee became more cautious. This was a section of the forest he had not thoroughly explored. The wildlife in this region was, to put it mildly, a bit grumpy.
After some time the Jedi reached the ancient computer. Revan communicated with the hologram at length. Eventually, her companion said, “Revan, the map,” with a note of impatience.
“We must know their history if we wish to avoid their fate,” Revan said.
“We fight with the Force. We will triumph.”
She looked as though she were about to say something, but apparently changed her mind. She stepped down from the computer and as they approached the diamond-shaped structure it opened like a flower, its petals falling away to reveal the glowing starmap at its center.
The pair drank it in greedily. The man said, “It is some uncharted world. It must be.”
“There’s only one map left,” Revan said.
The man was no longer looking at the map; he was watching her. “You do not like Korriban.”
“There will be many temptations,” she said. She said this in a soft, detached way, as though the starmap had put her in a trance.
“Temptations must be faced and conquered,” the man said. “Together…” He lifted a hand to touch her back but then--ah, restraint. He allowed his hand to fall to his side. “Together, we can do a anything.”
“You're right,” Revan said. Her focus never waverered from the bright orbs that dotted the great hologram.
When they finished, and the metallic bud of the starmap closed again, Revan stepped back up to the computer. Instead of engaging the hologram she slid a computer spike into the nearest receptacle. “A precaution,” she told her companion, nodding in Jolee's direction.
Jolee backed away, pulling farther into the shadows, but the man merely waited, oddly incurious. When Revan finished locking down the computer they returned the way they'd come. Jolee let them be. Years later, he would realize that this was the second greatest, perhaps even the greatest, mistake of his life. He would come to regret it, and when an opportunity arose to correct that mistake he would seize it. He would not allow Revan to casually pass by him again.
* * *
There were no visitors of interest for years.
* * *
Jolee Bindo observed the two Jedi making their way through the Upper Shadowlands. The Guardian was Revan, had to be, but she looked different, felt different, her companion even called her by a different name. She had changed, somehow, but still offered glimpses of the purposeful young Jedi she once was.
He watched as she swatted at the mosquitoes hovering around her face. The Sentinel noticed. Raising her hand, she summoned a slight Force wind. The mosquitoes struggled in the draft before falling back.
Revan observed this before raising her own hand. Instead of summoning a wind, as the younger Jedi had done, she reached out with the Force directly, repelling the mosquitoes with sheer will.
The Sentinel smiled. “Nicely done.”
Jolee circled around them, moving ahead through the trees. He didn't want Revan to see him, not yet, but his plans were thwarted by a katarn ambush. When it was finished, he was surrounded by the corpses of the reptomammals and panting with exertion. The Jedi, drawn by the sounds of battle, approached him.
For the first time Jolee met Revan’s direct gaze. The eyes that looked back were curious but showed no signs of recognition.
“What's the matter?” he asked. “Haven't you ever seen an old man before?”
* * *
Revan was flirting with an Iridorian.
Jolee would have never believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, but there she was at a table on the other side of the mercenary enclave, leaning back casually in her chair, engaging the heavily-armored mercenary in bloody war stories. The Iridorian evidently had no short supply. He quickly downed his drinks, pleased at the audience. Whatever Revan was fishing for, she would soon have it.
Across from him Canderous Ordo nursed a brandy and watched mercenaries come and go. The enclave, like all of the establishments in Ahto, was comprised of metallic walls, sconces and arches. Lots of gray, lots of stark lighting, lots of hard edges. What the architecture lacked in aesthetics it made up for in durability and strength. The Selkath were nothing if not practical.
“100 credits he’s blushing under that big scary helmet,” Jolee said.
“The galaxy is full of weak-minded fools,” Canderous said. He took a drink. “Never fought an Iridorian,” he said. “I heard they bathe in the blood of their enemies.” When Jolee gave him a look, Canderous shrugged and added, “That's what they say.”
“Funny, I remember hearing the same about Mandalorians.”
Canderous declined to take the bait. Anti-Mandalorian sentiment never seemed to concern him. He sipped his drink, still surveying the enclave.
“Quite a selection of mercenaries here,” Jolee said. “It’s a wonder they haven’t all killed each other yet.”
Canderous grunted agreement. “You could put together a good crew. Lots of talent.”
“Why don’t you?” Jolee asked.
“Trying to get rid of me, old man?”
“Just wondering why you haven’t struck out on your own yet. You’re the sort of man who runs his own crew. You have no love for the Republic. What’s in it for you?”
“I could ask the same of you,” Canderous said. “You sat in that swamp for twenty years. Why leave now? Tired of the smell?”
“I ran out of brandy. Besides, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to antagonize a Mandalorian. They’re in such short supply these days.”
Canderous laughed. “Fair enough. I go wherever I think there’s gonna be a good fight. I haven’t been disappointed yet.”
This was undoubtedly true, but this was only part of it. Jolee had them all figured out, more or less, but Canderous--who initially seemed the most straightforward of the group--was turning out to be more of a puzzle than he’d anticipated. It was only a matter of time before the crew learned Revan’s true identity. The false identity the Jedi Council had constructed was already starting to slip and the real Revan, Revan the tactician and general, was bleeding through the veneer. How would Canderous react when he learned she was responsible for the decimation of Mandalorian troops at Malachor V? The use of the Mass Shadow Generator was tantamount to a war crime. Canderous spoke of the Jedi Revan with respect, but it was one thing to revere a faceless adversary and quite another to realize the woman sitting next to you on the workbench had all but obliterated the Mandalorians with a weapon of mass destruction.
“What’s the phrase?” Jolee asked, idly turning his brandy glass in his hand. “My Mando’a has never been too good. Something like ni kar'tay…” He was pushing his luck, but he reckoned Canderous wouldn’t throw him out a window in front of several dozen witnesses.
“It’s ni kar'tayli gar,” Canderous said, curtly. “Is this your way of suggesting I’m weak-minded?”
“You’re an experienced Mandalorian soldier, trained in Force resistance techniques. You’re impervious to Jedi mind tricks.”
“You’re damn right I am.”
“That’s how you know your feelings are yours.”
“I can’t tell if you’re trying to get in my head or just being a nuisance,” Canderous said, lifting the glass to his lips. “Mind your own business, old man.”
“I just think it’s interesting,” Jolee said. “A soldier of your caliber could go any number of places for a worthy fight, but you choose to stay here. You don’t care about credits or the Republic or Jedi. I can’t think of any other explanation.”
“You know what’s really interesting?” Canderous asked. “The way you’re always around at the most particular times. Whenever there’s a chance of something going tits up, there you are. It’s like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. You and Bastila both.”
“Look, an Echani,” Jolee said. “Perhaps he’d like to fight.”
Canderous chuckled, accepting this cease fire, and the pair continued to observe the patrons around them. Canderous described a rather festive Echani sparring contest he’d been privy to and Jolee told him the story about Andor Vex getting thrown down the reactor shaft. They shared a good laugh.
Jolee finished his brandy and went to rustle up more. As he leaned against the bar, waiting, he saw Revan had finished with the Iridonian and was sitting with Canderous, legs crossed, leaning in, completely different from how she’d engaged the mercenary. Canderous, for his part, carried the ghost of a smile. A real smile.
The bartender put a glass of brandy in Jolee’s hand and he drank without looking at it, observing. The bustle of the cantina gave the illusion of a certain type of privacy; they had forgotten familiar eyes were upon them. They were at ease with each other, an ease that came from understanding, perhaps even prior intimacy. They did indeed know each other. It also confirmed his suspicion that however much Revan cared about Canderous the Mandalorian would not provide the necessary leverage when the time came. Indeed, Canderous cared not one whit for the Republic or Jedi--all he cared about was Revan. He was his own man, he did not agree with her blindly, but he would support whichever choice she made. He could not be used as leverage because Revan need not fear losing him. He was, in some respects, like Alek before him.
When the time came Jolee would not be able to sway Revan intellectually, she was too tactical and self-assured for that; he would need to appeal to her heart. He needed to nudge her toward someone who would challenge her to do the right thing, encourage her to resist the easy path, and the sooner the better.
* * *
Jolee shrugged off his pack, scattering Tatooine sand across the floor of the med bay. “Looks like you have a little problem,” he observed.
Almost sheepishly, Revan held her hand out.
He examined it. Her fingers and palm were raw with the fringe of a blaster burn. A stimpack would do little for a wound like this, but fortunately, healing was one of his natural talents. He set to work. “Does this have anything to do with the tongue I found on the landing dock?” Jolee asked. Revan had the grace to look embarrassed. “I only noticed it because it was squishy when I stepped on it,” he continued. “It must have been kicked to the gangplank by accident. Easy to miss.”
“I'd rather not be lectured,” Revan said, moving her fingers as he worked. The angry redness was already becoming a more subdued pink.
“I don't blame you but you have to admit, you have a nasty temper.”
“I don't deny it,” Revan said, sounding tired.
He turned her hand over, examining his work. “You seem stressed lately, and you don't strike me as the type to be shaken by this 'save the galaxy' nonsense. Boyfriend troubles?”
“Why are you so good at pushing people's buttons?”
“It's a talent that comes with age,” Jolee said, releasing her hand. “The older I get, the more annoying I become.” Revan flexed her fingers, turning her hand palm up and palm down. “Better?” he asked.
“Much.” She pulled on her glove. He'd noticed that Revan always wore many layers, even in spite of Kashyyyk's humidity and Tatooine's heat. It wasn't modesty. It was something else. “I have to admit, it felt good,” she said, idly running her gloved fingers along the edge of her lightsaber hilt. “Clean.”
“I smelled urine on the landing pad,” Jolee said.
“Xor was a slaver,” Revan said.
“Don't romanticize it.”
“Fine. I tortured him, subjecting him to such excruciating pain that he lost control of his bladder. That was unnecessary, I admit.” She seemed lost in thought for a moment. “I'll continue to work on my temper,” she said abruptly, and slid off the examination table and disappeared down the corridor.
He was tidying up, for he was very particular about the medbay, when Bastila paused at the door. “You had a patient earlier,” she said.
“Kids are so careless these days,” he said. She wanted to tell him about Revan’s true identity. He could see it. She didn’t think highly of his self-imposed exile but she valued and respected him as a Jedi that she wanted to confide in him. He took it as a compliment. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
“She’s a new padawan,” Bastila said, the words a bit rushed. “She doesn’t have the experience. We’ve all had a few times like that, early in our training.”
“For some, not so few,” he said.
“Her temper,” Bastila said, quietly. “Her pride. I worry.”
“Ah. You’re worried about pride,” he said. But Bastila did seem genuinely worried about her companion. He sensed a tension in the younger Jedi, a push and pull, a sense of competition and distrust. She wanted Revan to succeed, and yet… it seemed she also hoped and feared she might fail. He had occasionally witnessed these types of of strong, conflicting emotions among Jedi sent into the field together. It usually meant the Jedi had been sent on assignment too early, before they were truly ready. When Jedi were partnered for missions trust was essential; distrust led to fear, which led to fall. He was not sure why the Council had chosen Bastila to watch and guard Revan. Revan loved and respected Bastila, but there was an underlying friction between them that seemed to grow daily, to say nothing of Revan’s own proclivities toward the Dark Side. It was understandable Bastila found it difficult to fully trust Revan, but that lack of trust--that fear--eroded the foundations between them. Doubtless the Council sensed this, as well as the lingering remnants of the Dark Side that clung to Revan. What circumstance had forced them to put a promising young Jedi like Bastila in such a difficult and dangerous position when an older, more experienced Jedi might better manage the situation?
Jolee shut the medbay door and when the lock clicked he said, “I think Revan loves and respects you, but that’s not enough and you and I know it. She must know the truth--what she was, what she can easily become--if she is to have any chance of fighting against it.”
Bastila stiffened, but clearly she was also relieved to learn she no longer carried this terrible secret alone. The soundproofed door further emboldened her. She said, “Then you understand, her pride is a danger. We must watch her carefully.”
“I do,” he said, “but we are past the point where watching is enough. And this isn’t just about Revan.”
“The Mandalorian,” Bastila said, with disdain. “We will never be rid of him. He’s a terrible influence.”
Jolee almost chuckled in spite of himself. “Canderous seems very committed to her. Why do you suppose that is?”
Bastila hesitated, apparently caught off guard by the question. “I am sure he seeks to use her for his own gain, as any Mandalorian would,” she said. “That won’t happen, I am vigilant.”
“I appreciate you want to protect her, but Canderous is not the issue,” Jolee said. “I’m concerned about you. The mission the Jedi Council has given you is a dangerous one.”
“They’ve given me a tremendous responsibility, it’s true, but I won’t disappoint them,” she said. “We will find the Star Forge and I will deal with Malak when the time comes. Revan bested him before and I will best him now. The Force fights with me.” The ease with which she said this made his heart hurt. Why was it the very best Jedi, the most talented and best-intentioned, were the ones that always seemed doomed to stumble?
“Bastila,” he said quietly, but she did not hear him.
“Why is it always pride?” she asked, more to herself. “I am confident of my abilities, but Revan, Malak… they were more than confident, they were prideful. They must have been blinded by their certainty, unable to see their hubris for what it was. Perhaps that is the difference.”
“It can be difficult to tell the two apart,” he said. “Some may never differentiate, even after it is too late.”
* * *
The days after the Leviathan seemed to take a lot out of Revan. Interestingly, her fall and actions as a Dark Lord of the Sith did not seem to bother her nearly as much as the loss of her mantle and her grip on the Republic. She approached him in the garage late one night with a datapad, one of many she’d been poring over in recent days.
“Can't sleep?” Jolee asked, not looking up from the stimpack he was constructing.
“No. The reading helps.”
“Is it that boring?”
She smiled. “No. It’s about me, actually. It fills some of the gaps.”
“Must be strange, to read about things you don’t remember doing.”
“I have to believe everything I did was for a reason.”
“That doesn’t mean the reason was good,” Jolee said.
“No, but knowing there was some logic to it all makes things easier. Realizing who Malak was, what he must have been to me, has brought a few old memories back. They’re fragmented, but it’s better than nothing.” Revan sat on an overturned crate and ran her fingers through her loose hair. “He hates me now. When we met on the Leviathan, I could feel it on my skin. He absolutely despises me.” She seemed unnerved by the memory. “There was something good between us once. We were together for a long time, far longer than we were ever apart. How could we become like this? How is it even possible?”
“Did you love him?” Jolee asked quietly.
“Worse,” Revan said. “I thought he loved me.” She glanced up, towards the corridor. “I don't want to fight him, Jolee.”
“Do you have a choice?” Jolee asked. “Eventually he will come after you himself. Not to be overly dramatic, but only one of you can survive.”
“Or neither,” she said. She was quiet for so long he thought she was finished. He began working on the stimpack again. Abruptly, she said, “Do you think he can come back?”
“Like you have?” Jolee asked.
Her jaw worked a bit. “I’m doing my best.”
“Their rules don’t make sense,” she said. “They’re not practical. The galaxy doesn’t fit into their perfect little boxes. You understand that.”
“You don’t think the Council’s rules apply to you,” he said. “And you’re right. They never have. You break the rules, you get another chance. That’s how it’s always been. So many things are just easier for you, aren’t they? But it’s not like that for everyone, and it’s not going to be like that for Alek, and I think you know that.” He put down the spanner and said, “Jedi like you get another chance, and then another, and then another. Jedi like Alek don’t. But you never answered my first question, not really. Are you afraid to say it?”
“I did love him,” she said, quietly.
“But not as much as he loved you.”
“No,” she admitted.
“When a Dark Lord takes an apprentice there’s always an imbalance between them. That’s how the Sith work, and it’s why the partnership never lasts; too much taking, not enough giving. A true partner is an equal. You never saw him that way, did you? He was a subordinate, an apprentice… but never a partner.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she snapped. “You didn’t know us. He was my best friend. I would have died for him. While we were fighting to save the Republic you were skulking around your swamp--” She stopped. Did she remember? A great many things had happened to Revan throughout her career. Did she remember an old Jedi’s gaze upon her as she strode the depths of an ancient forest? She closed her eyes, rubbing the bridge of her nose, and said, “I’m sorry. Bastila was… helping me with this.”
“Why are you so angry, Revan?” he asked.
“I suppose I’ve always been this way. Before, Alek was the one who… He was always so patient. He never took it personally. Or, at least, he pretended he didn’t. I suppose I took that for granted.” She swallowed. “Jolee, I don’t have my memories back, but I know there was a time when he was everything to me. Where did we go wrong? How could we let this happen?”
Only two people could answer that. Jolee said, “Well, it depends on who you ask. The Jedi Council will blame your old masters, Zhar and Kae. They’ll say they were too lenient, or they gave you dangerous ideas. Your peers might say it was pride or anger, jealousy, all the things people blame a Jedi’s fall on. But a fall is never that simple.”
“The person I met on the Leviathan… I have no idea how the Alek I remember could have become that person. Was I like that? Before they changed me, had I become something unrecognizeable?”
“Some fall farther than others,” he said. “But make no mistake: to fall is to fall. You fell, Revan, and you took your friend with you. I wasn’t there, I don’t know how far, or how long, or what made the difference. Perhaps you were stronger, in the end. Or perhaps you were simply the lucky one. If your places were switched, the Council might have tried to do the same with Alek.”
“You know what it’s like to go up against a Sith you once loved,” she said. “Still loved, in some respects.”
“Yes,” he said, quietly. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and I’m sorry you’re going to have to do it.”
“Aren't you going to tell me not to repeat your mistakes?”
He kept working. “You make whatever mistakes you like, and I'll make whatever mistakes I like, but don’t make the same mistake twice.”
“Could you be a bit less vague, for once?” she asked. She sounded tired.
“Don't waste opportunities where Sith Lords are concerned,” Jolee said. “You may not get another.”
* * *
“What if she doesn't come out?” Carth asked quietly.
“If she doesn't return,” Jolee said, “this chapter ends, I suppose. Destiny is rarely as straightforward as we’d like.”
They sat on an overturned column at the edge of the Valley, dust devils nipping at their heels. The tombs of the Sith Lords loomed like giant dead carcasses, the sand swarming around them like flies.
“I'm glad Dustil came around,” Jolee said. “I was a little worried about him at first.”
Carth thought before he spoke about his son. “So was I,” he said. “I wonder how differently the meeting would have been without her intervention. I thought he was going to hit me. But you saw what she did.” When Jolee didn't answer, he said, “That thing she does with her hand. It's some form of Jedi persuasion.”
“Does it bother you?” Jolee asked.
“It's manipulation. It's the dark side,” Carth said. Jolee waited for the question he’d known Carth would one day ask him. “Do they ever really come back?” Carth asked. “Is it possible?”
“Some people say that once a Jedi gives in to the temptation of the dark side it will forever dominate her existence.”
“What do you say?”
“I say it boils down to a Jedi’s motives, why they fell in the first place, and if they are treated compassionately after. If a person is supported and loved, challenged to do what is right, they can come back from the edge. But they have to want it, and they need to have people in their lives worth fighting for. My wife…” Jolee shook his head.
“We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to,” Carth began, but Jolee continued.
“My wife didn’t want to come back. I saw that when I faced her. My love and support and the promise of redemption was not enough. I didn't want to admit it. That’s why I let her go, with the hope that I was wrong, that she could change, that deep down she really wanted to. She didn’t.”
“Jolee, I’m sorry,” Carth said.
Jolee grunted. “Life’s hard and you learn things.” He spread his hands, encompassing the tombs. “These fine gentlemen were all the same. They were motivated by power, the desire to dominate. What motivates Revan?”
Carth considered. “I don't know,” he said. “But I don’t think it's power.”
“I agree. Malak wants power, and war is a blunt weapon to that end. I think for Revan war was more like a collection of tools. The Republic was a system, full of gears and levers. She was not simply tearing it down, she was modifying and rebuilding. Until we understand what she truly wanted, what drove her down this path, it’s difficult to guess what she will do next.”
“I've seen Revan do good things,” Carth said. “But I've also seen her do cruel things. I've seen the darkness in her. And it is darkness, I can’t deny it. What if…” Carth trailed off, evidently unable to voice the thought.
“She is what she is,” Jolee said. “The Jedi Council could not change her and they will have to live with the reality that she represents. Can you?”
Carth did not answer.
Eventually two women emerged from the tomb of Naga Sadow, one leaning on the other for support, their faces marred with dust and grit. Carth rose. His hand brushed his blaster, but this was habit.
Yuthura and Revan clung together for only a moment longer. Yuthura pulled away first, stepping back on slightly unsteady legs.
Revan let her go. She coughed into her fist, shaking dust out of her hair.
“Goodbye, Yuthura,” Revan said.
Yuthura nodded. “Goodbye, my friend.” The new Master of the Academy limped past the Carth, her eyes fastened warily upon him, but he paid her little mind. He went straight to Revan.
“I have the coordinates,” Revan said. “We can get out of here now.” Her mood was sour and she was favoring her right foot. “I took a bad step in the--”
Carth embraced her.
“Carth,” she said, her voice soft, the hard edges all filed away.
They held each other.
Now that they had the last set of coordinates they were upon their final destination. Jolee was certain that soon Revan's journey would split into two divergent paths. He was not so certain which one she would choose.
* * *
Carth and Dustil Onasi bid an awkward farewell with a stiff handshake and long pauses. Dustil told his father he'd decided to stay in the Academy and gather information that might be useful to the Republic, but Jolee had seen Dustil and Revan in quiet conversation several times and knew the idea had not been entirely Dustil's own.
After they parted ways Dustil met Revan and Jolee at the edge of the dock. Jolee was checking the manifest and Revan was making some final supply calculations. Dustil nodded to the old Jedi, who nodded back.
“When will you return?” Dustil asked Revan.
Revan put a hand on his shoulder. “It's difficult to say. Trust your own judgment. You don't have to stay here if--”
“No, I want to do this,” Dustil said.
Revan nodded, pleased. “Don't be surprised when the new Headmaster abruptly leaves her post in the near future. There will be a free-for-all among the upper ranks for her position. Don't get entangled in it. Remember what we talked about.”
“I understand. I'll do what I can. I'll be ready for you when you return.”
Revan squeezed his shoulder. “You're an Onasi. I know I can count on you.”
The young man left, walking back into the sandy, ramshackle corridors of Dreshdae.
“You're quite the schemer,” Jolee said.
“I learned from the best.”
Jolee didn’t think she was referring to him. He said, “You're asking the boy to play a dangerous game.”
“He's aware of the danger.”
“He may be killed.”
“It's possible,” she said. Her lack of concern was troubling, but then--was it really any more troubling than the myriad other warning signs Revan had given along the way?
“And if Dustil does die, you don't want Carth to know you put him up to spying. Otherwise, you would have discussed it directly instead of tiptoeing around having private conversations about secret missions.”
“If you're going to lecture me, old man, get it over with.” Revan inputted a few more numbers in her datapad.
“No, no. It sounds like you have everything under control. I just find it interesting that you care what Carth thinks of you on a superficial level, but not enough to be honest and fair with him and treat him as an equal.”
Revan stopped calculating. Jolee waited. Her expression was difficult to read and when she spoke her tone was equally indecipherable. “Where were you eight years ago, old man?”
“Hiding,” Jolee said.
* * *
Jolee had a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to bringing people around to his way of thinking and Revan had no trouble convincing people that what she wanted to do had been their idea in the first place. It was through their joint efforts they obtained a small supply of kolto for the final leg of the journey. The Port Official had to sell the kolto to someone, after all, and now that the Sith Base was closed his options were limited and he still, he reminded them, had many mouths to feed.
When they returned to the hangar with their cargo the Ebon Hawk was deserted; only the droids remained. Manaan was kind to tourists looking for recreation and the crew was taking advantage of this last stop.
The empty ship was the closest thing to peace and quiet Jolee had seen since leaving Kashyyyk. He helped himself to a nip of Alderaanian brandy he'd managed to keep hidden from the others (namely Canderous, though he'd learned Carth wasn't above sneaking a taste when he thought no one was looking).
Revan took off her boots and stretched out to read. She'd been going through a fresh stack of datapads for several days now.
“Wookie romance?” Jolee asked. “Those were always my favorite.”
“It's a copy of the Sith Academy's archives,” Revan said, handing a datapad to Jolee. “Courtesy of Yuthura.”
“Oh?” Jolee asked, raising his eyebrows as he scanned the small screen and noted the entry was about the war. “Admiring your handiwork?”
“Yes,” Revan said. “I traced my entire campaign to present. It was good work. I avoided seriously damaging any major resource planets, maintained major shipping lines, and crippled military targets while minimizing damage to resources and armaments.”
“It sounds like you thought of everything,” Jolee said, putting the datapad aside.
“Out with it, old man.”
“Don't rush me,” he said. “You should respect your elders.” Jolee took another sip of brandy, and when he was good and ready he said, “It's strange you weren't better prepared for your apprentice's betrayal. It seems to have caught you completely by surprise.”
Revan picked up the datapad but stared at it without actually reading it; apparently she had only needed a focal point for her gaze. “Yes, I've been thinking about that,” she said.
“I would be interested in your conclusions,” Jolee said.
She frowned. “Shooting from afar is--was--very unlike him. He was never cunning like that.”
“The dark side seems to have that effect on people,” Jolee observed.
“The dark side is a tool,” Revan said. “A dangerous tool, but a tool nonetheless. Any tool can be used to effect, provided it is used carefully and wisely.”
“Ah. And you used it effectively? Carefully? Wisely?”
“I did,” Revan said, without hesitation.
“But Alek did not.”
Revan fell silent. After a few moments she said, “The Jedi Council didn't change me. They've merely skimmed a bit from the surface. Vrook was right. I'm the same as I was. There is only one difference. Before, I had a plan that was working. Now that plan is in someone else's hands and it's not working. It must be stopped before more damage is done. I never intended for the Republic to be destroyed, only reshaped.” She tapped the datapad. “That much is evident.”
“Why?” Jolee asked.
“The Republic has to be made better. Stronger.”
“So you say, but why?”
“I don't know.” She turned on the hologram for the star map locations and the location of the strange unknown planet sprang up as a bright blue dot. “There's something out there, Jolee,” Revan said, dropping the datapad on the table. “I can feel it.”
* * *
The Jedi trio reached the topmost level of the ancient temple, their path littered with the corpses of the Sith who inhabited the place. It had been a long, slow, tedious journey. Revan stopped just outside the door.
“What is wrong?” Juhani asked, but Jolee was silent. He already knew.
“I know why you followed me across the galaxy, old man,” Revan said, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. Strands of hair were plastered against her neck. “Are you up for this?”
“I better be,” Jolee said.
They walked towards the large stone arch, but all three stopped as a shadowy form emerged. Bastila approached, her dual red blades humming.
“Revan,” Bastila said.
“Bastila,” Revan replied.
“I resisted at first,” Bastila said, anticipating the question. “But now, Lord Malak has made me see--”
Revan rushed her. They were surprised, Bastila perhaps most of all, but they quickly recovered and fell into the familiar rhythms of battle. Bastila's gains in ferocity and brute strength were offset by the predictability of her usual patterns of movement. Together, they wore her down, but Bastila was no fool. When there was a pause in the fighting she took it, quickly pulling back. This was not intended to be a fight to the death.
“You are more powerful than I realized. You are the real Dark Lord, not Malak,” Bastila said. “When I felt the dark taint within you, I ran from it. I hid. But this was folly. Now that I have embraced the dark side, I see that you are the true Lord of the Sith.”
“And your master?” Revan asked.
“Malak is a poor commander. He is not the tactician and leader that you are. The Star Forge and the Sith fleet deserve your command. Let us join against him. Together, we can salvage this war.” Then, in a voice that was so sincere and so cloying it gave Jolee a chill, she said, “Revan, this is your chance. Your plan may still be realized. Once the Star Forge is back in your control you can end the Republic's resistance. You can finally achieve the goal you came so close to realizing.”
And in that crucial moment, Revan wavered. Both the Jedi saw it. Juhani tensed, her knuckles whitening on the hilt of her lightsaber.
Jolee said, “Don't follow this path, Revan.”
“Shut up, old man!” Bastila snarled. “Revan, together we can finish what you started. If we defeat Malak now and you resume command of the Sith fleet we can make up for the time wasted by the Jedi Counci's treachery. You're the only one who can win this war the way it was meant to be won. Don’t let your tactical genius be wasted by a jealous fool who would as soon destroy the Republic as conquer it.”
Jolee’s stomach twisted. Clever, clever Bastila. Revan was finally hearing what she'd always wanted to hear: her plan was a good one and it could still be salvaged. The appeal to her pride was well played. He had underestimated Bastila. In that moment he sensed that he had one chance, just one, to sway her, to appeal to the goodness that must surely still exist in her heart. If it came to battle, Revan and Bastila would most certainly beat them. Revan must be won over now.
“Revan, Carth Onasi believes in you and loves you and is waiting for you down on that beach,” Jolee said, and it was as though he'd doused her with cold water.
Revan's lightsabers crossed with a crackle as she slipped back into a dueling stance.
Bastila's mouth set in a hard line. “You're a fool, Revan,” she said.
* * *
Returning to the Jedi, if what he was doing could even be called that, wasn't an easy transition. Jolee had to admit that running water and power were boons, but there were so many things about civilized life that got on his nerves. The Jedi as a group, for instance. And the Coruscant Security Force. And holomarketers. He was not always convinced that daily hot showers were a fair trade-off.
When he was summoned before the Jedi Council, he nodded and bowed at the appropriate intervals and answered all questions truthfully and plainly. Then, when the Council announced their decision to grant him Knighthood, he bowed politely, said, “No, thank you,” and went on his merry way.
He hadn't been sure how they'd react, but in hindsight, it was obvious. They acted as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He was given a small apartment near the Temple and was granted all the access and privileges afforded a Jedi Knight. He spent his days quietly. He explored the city, occasionally taking the time to harass the security force or young padawans. He was reluctant to become too entrenched in life. He was waiting for Revan to call on him. He was ready for the next adventure.
When he answered the door one evening and found Bastila standing there, his heart sank; he knew what she’d come to tell him. There was only one thing that could have brought her out of her self-imposed seclusion deep in the meditation rooms of the Jedi Temple. Revan's call wasn't coming.
Bastila sat in the chair he offered, her hands resting lightly in her lap. She wore the plainest of Jedi robes now, her hair shorn back into the old-fashioned style of the padawan learner. Previously she'd indulged herself in a touch of rouge, but this was a thing of the past. The face that relayed the news, that Revan was gone without a trace, was unadorned and calm.
“That isn't all,” Jolee said.
“Juhani did not take the news well,” Bastila said. “She is also gone. It is a disappointment she would abandon the Order so soon after her Knighthood.” Bastila fought some flicker of emotion, and quelled it, but only partially. For all her humble trappings, much of her pride was still intact.
“Any ideas?” Jolee asked.
Bastila regarded him. “I was hoping...” His look stopped her. “She told no one,” Bastila said, her voice slightly hollow. “Not even the Mandalorian.”
“It doesn't seem fair, does it?” Jolee asked.
“At least she took the droids with her,” Bastila said, looking out the window at the city skyline.
This surprised him. Bastila had never shown any interest in the droids before. He considered this comment, perhaps more than Bastila realized.
* * *
After his reason for waiting on Coruscant had sneaked off during the night Jolee became impatient with his usual urban wanderings. The Council, sensing his restlessness, asked him to undertake a mission. He was to go to Kashyyyk and assess the situation now that Czerka had been forcibly removed.
Jolee wasn't sure if they were sending him back to Kashyyyk because they thought he would have the highest chance of diplomatic success with the Wookiees or because they were secretly hoping he would decide to stay for another twenty years. He didn't ask. He went without a fuss.
He'd crossed Revan's path twice now--he was certain he would cross it again.
Chapter 5: The Constant Shadow
"Malak had strength and embraced it, saw his opportunity and took it." ―Darth Sion
* * *
Alek remembered her from the beginning, back when she was another face in the sea of young Padawans. The Temple at Coruscant was vast and the student body large but she stood out to him even then. After she went under Master Kae's tutelage she was noticed by others, but he noticed her first. He never forgot it.
They were both sent to the Dantooine Enclave around the same time. Dantooine was a mixed blessing; a mediocre Padawan could get lost there, but the brilliant shone out of that place. Master Kae had trained there, as had Master Vrook and Master Vandar. Alek Squinquargesimus was hopeful.
His first formal introduction with Revan was, appropriately, for a duel. He was bigger and stronger, she was faster and cleverer. Even the flicker and thrum of their blades complimented each other. When Master Zhar called the draw, giving a slight nod of approval, they both stepped back, sweat dripping down their faces. They were smiling at each other, challengers well met. Alek's grip on his lightsaber was white-knuckled, but Revan's was loose, almost careless. She bowed. He bowed. They went opposite ways.
She came to him first. She leaned in the doorway of the study, her hip resting lightly on the frame, and said, “I'm going to look for the crystal cave.”
This was a task normally reserved for the older Padawans and the prospect of such a challenge intrigued him. Wordlessly, he put down his datapad and rose to join her. It was a historic moment, though neither realized at the time; it was the start of a partnership that would last nearly twenty years.
* * *
After years exploring the plains and forests surrounding the academy they found a star-shaped bunker hidden behind several low-lying hills. It was sheltered by the topography and trees in such a way it would only be discovered by those who stumbled across it on foot, as they had. The ruins were surrounded by strange monoliths jutting from the ground at odd angles.
For a time they walked the perimeter, surveying the structure and looking for possible traps. “Alek, what do you think?” Revan asked finally, brushing a smudge of dirt from her robes. She was the only one among his peers who called him by his given name.
“I don't recognize the architecture,” he said. “I've never heard of such a structure here on Dantooine, but the Council must know of it. Perhaps it is some sort of burial site.”
Revan's eyes traced the large pillars leading up to the entrance of the ruins. “This seems like more than a grave,” she said. “It’s strong with the Dark Side. Some kind of vergence.”
“Surely there’s no harm in exploring a bit,” he said. “If it were dangerous the Masters would have warned us about it.”
Normally Revan was the bold one, but this time she was uncharacteristically cautious. “I don’t think they would want us to know about this place,” she said. “There’s so much power concentrated here… We should figure out what it is before we start poking around.”
“We’ve hiked all this way. Surely, just a look--”
“No,” she said. “Best to check the archives, see what we’re dealing with.”
They debated, but not for long. Revan always won these arguments, but he did not mind. He found he rather liked having a secret with her.
* * *
After weeks sifting through the holocron archives Alek finally found something related to the strange ruins. “Rakata.” It could be a place or possibly a name, he wasn't sure. He immediately went to tell Revan, knowing she would be delighted at this tidbit, however small, since her own searches had been fruitless. He searched the dueling rooms and, not finding her there, went to her dormitory wing. Most Padawans were out and about at this time of day, but Revan wasn't most Padawans. She'd taken to meditating in her room at odd hours.
As Alek approached he heard a muffled sound. He approached her door, raising his hand to knock, and froze. The door was ajar and through the crack he was greeted with an unwelcome tableau. Revan was sitting on the edge of her utilitarian bed, robes open, back arched, and the Jedi Knight Kavar was kneeling between her legs. Lest there be any doubt what was transpiring, Revan moaned his name, and Kavar’s grip on her thigh tightened. Alek quickly backed away, as unsettled by his unintentional voyeurism as he was by the act itself.
So the rumors were true: Kavar's training involved more than practicing lightsaber forms. Alek had noticed the banter, glances, and touches Revan exchanged with other students, but Revan was a bit of a flirt and he’d assumed that was all it was. He thought all the Padawans followed the Council’s guidance regarding physical relationships. Certainly, he never dreamed a Padawan would carry on with a Knight. Revan had always erred towards rule breaking, but this--this was different. This was not just inappropriate, it was irresponsible. No, it was beyond irresponsible, it was reckless. For a Knight and a Padawan to be together like this…
The anger that welled up in him was so sudden and uncharacteristic he was momentarily stunned. He retreated down the corridor and walked the grounds alone until he felt he'd regained control of his emotions. His jubilation at the secret word Rakata was extinguished.
Revan was one of the most talented Padawans at the academy, everyone knew that. Padawans were a privileged few, they were lucky to be here, to have the opportunity to train as Jedi. How could she risk so much for a meaningless affair? How could such a bright, talented Padawan do something so stupid? What if it interfered with her training? What if she was found out and they sent her away? Or worse--what if she fell? He’d seen his friend’s pride and ambition, her anger, and now this. The lesson was hammered into their heads again and again: passion led to the dark side. The love he and Revan shared as friends and colleagues was right and proper and good, befitting Jedi, a thing to be celebrated. What she shared with Kavar was decidedly not.
Alek intended to avoid her until he sorted out his emotions, but they were best friends and never long apart, even when things were difficult between them. He told her of his findings, but he was still upset. He tossed her the information almost carelessly, as though it were some unwanted crumb, but Revan seized it eagerly and praised him for it, and his anger faded when he saw how happy she was to learn something new about their secret ruins. He decided whatever she had with Kavar was fleeting, superficial compared to the depth of their own relationship, and he sought to put it out of his mind entirely. Her fling with Kavar was meaningless at best. The friendship he and Revan shared… that was the only thing that would ever matter.
* * *
After they were transferred to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant they visited the Crystal Cave one last time. Revan had always been fussy about her lightsaber, it was the only material possession she cared about and she was constantly fine-tuning it, so Alek was not surprised when she expressed an interest in returning before they left Dantooine.
The caves, which had held so much excitement and danger in their youth, were mundane to them now. They reached the crystal room easily. After searching among the ground crystals for nearly an hour Revan gestured towards a ledge approximately a dozen feet up. Alek boosted her. She disappeared, first torso, then feet, and was gone from sight for some minutes. He called up to her and she reappeared, leaning precariously over the edge.
She slipped. She caught the corner of the ledge with her arm and elbow, rock crumbling under her, then fell.
Alek moved quickly, maneuvering to catch her, but the angle was all wrong. They landed in a heap. Revan's weight nearly knocked the breath out of him.
“You're... heavier than you look...” Alek managed, and Revan lifted her hand triumphantly. A slender, clear crystal was between her thumb and forefinger. It was rough-hewn, but Alek recognized the crystal's potential. He realized the crystal's pulsing shimmer must be synchronized with Revan’s heartbeat. Already, the two were in tune with each other.
It almost seemed as though he could feel her heartbeat, too, and he gradually became aware of the rest of her: the individual press of her breasts, the flat of her stomach, the firm line of her thigh.
“Good find,” he said. Their faces were close.
Revan's breath had quickened. Her face was flush, a smudge of grime on her left cheek. As they lay there, face to face, a breath apart among the glowing crystals, he acknowledged some small part of him wanted to be with her, however misguided that desire was. Nevertheless, he was committed to his training. Jedi were not supposed to have romantic entanglements, especially not with each other. Revan’s flagrant violation of the rule did not change it.
“We should get back,” he said quietly.
“Yes,” Revan said, and the crystal pulsed once within her closing fist.
* * *
Revan and Kavar did not see each other often during the Mandalorian War and, when they did, they fought. Revan was restless, angry, and impatient. Her primary source of frustration was the High Jedi Council. She repeatedly asked permission to join the Republic war effort and was repeatedly denied.
Unable to join the front, she pored obsessively over battle data. No skirmish escaped her scrutiny. Her knowledge, both of the Republic and Mandalorian fleets, was becoming encyclopedic. Master Dorak and their friend Atris both recognized her affinity and urged her to devote herself to becoming a military historian, but Revan would not be deflected.
“Mandalore is drawing the Republic in,” she told Alek in private. “He'll hit them hard, soon. They won't be prepared for it.”
“How can you be certain?” he asked.
“It's what I would do,” Revan replied, and when she laid out the possible strategies her argument rang true.
Still, the Jedi Council remained cautious. Alek and Revan were frequently sent on sundry peacekeeping missions far from the skirmishes. Alek could not help but notice their assignments also took them far from Kavar. He suspected the Council had begun to view him as a stabilizing force for his talented but increasingly restless friend. All the while Revan's impatience grew.
Alek sought to console her. “They will send us when we are ready,” he said, seeking to calm her impatience with the Masters, but he did nothing to stop the deepening rift between Revan and Kavar. It wasn't just that he disapproved of their relationship. Alek knew they wouldn't be able to count on Kavar's support. He had a gut feeling about the Jedi Master, war hero or no.
“Kavar isn't like us,” he told her. “He doesn’t share our values.” He disliked opening criticizing anyone, especially other Jedi, but he felt the need to verbalize the disconnect that was rapidly growing between the Jedi who wished to fight and those who followed the Council's orders. Kavar and Atris were only two of many Jedi they now found themselves at odds with.
“I’m beginning to see that,” Revan said, staring at one of her many war holos. In it, Republic ships winked out of existence one by one. With each recorded casualty, her gaze grew harder.
Alek clearly remembered the day Revan and Kavar's relationship completely fell apart, forever severed and cast aside. He was looking for Revan (funny, wasn't he always looking for Revan?) so they could report together on a recent political upheaval on Manaan. He overheard her voice when he reached the west wing of the dormitory, and he recognized the pitch of Kavar’s voice as well, but he could not make out the words until he lifted a hand to knock and heard Revan say, “…She’s a Padawan, you’re a Master. What’s wrong with you?”
Alek paused, his hand still in the air. He already knew what the problem was, though he wished he didn’t. Rumors abounded that Kavar was having relationships with increasingly younger women under the guise of mentorship. They were not technically his students, he made a point of not formally adopting them as his Padawans, but the imbalance was clear. It was only a matter of time before these rumors reached Revan, especially after they returned to Dantooine, but Alek had hoped she wouldn’t hear about it until Kavar was back in the field so she’d have time to cool off.
“I don’t answer to you, Revan,” Kavar replied, his tone like ice. “Of course, you would only consider fraternization a problem when it doesn’t benefit you personally. How convenient.”
She laughed. “You’re calling me a hypocrite? That’s the best you have?”
“Jealousy doesn’t become you, Revan. Nor anger, nor hate. And you wonder why the Council keeps you on such a tight leash these days.”
“It has nothing to do with jealousy, you bastard!” Revan said, and there was so much anger in her voice Alek dispensed with knocking and promptly opened the door.
Both looked over at him, surprised. Kavar said, “Squint, this is private. Get out.” Alek looked to Revan for confirmation and Kavar laughed, a flat sound, and said, “You’re going to follow her like a kath hound all your days, aren’t you? And for what?”
Revan pushed him. It was an abrupt slap of the Force, a movement was so powerful it shoved him against the all, knocking the wind from him. He barely had time to put a hand out to brace himself.
“Revan!” Alek said, alarmed.
“Never speak to him like that,” she said, to Kavar. “You aren’t half the Jedi he is.”
Alek had seen her anger before, but always in private, and he had never seen her attack someone like this.
A cold silence settled over them. Kavar rose slowly, holding a hand out as though warding her off. “When will you finally see? The problem isn’t the High Council, Revan. The problem is you. It has always been you. How many will you drag down with you?” He glanced at Alek, and added, “Even one is too many.”
Alek stood aside as Kavar brushed past him out the door. “Are you all right?” he asked when they were alone, unsure he wanted the answer.
“Behold Master Kavar, the famed Jedi Guardian,” Revan said, and there was a tired sense of finality in her voice. “He fought in the skirmishes in the Outer Rim, he’s seen what the Mandalorians do, and won’t lift a finger to stop it. He's going to sit here like all the rest of them.” She shook her head. “They've held us back for too long. Mandalore is already tightening the noose. Do you know…” It was as though she couldn’t bring herself to speak the young Padawan’s name. “Kavar's student. You’re acquaintances?”
“Yes,” Alek said. “She’s not his Padawan, but I know who you mean.” He knew and liked Meetra Surik. She was a talented young Padawan who was also critical of the Jedi Council’s neutrality. Under ordinary circumstances she and Revan would have been natural allies, but rumors Meetra Surik was Kavar’s most recent subject of interest had clearly found Revan’s ear.
“She's a natural leader; the other Padawans are quick to follow her,” Revan said. “We need her. Bring her to our side.”
“I will,” Alek said.
“You never liked him,” Revan said. “You were right.” She flexed her hand, as if some remnant of the Force push still lingered. “He's a coward and a fool. He doesn’t understand. Not like you do.” It was as though she'd wiped some mounting slate between them clean. She'd chosen, and she'd chosen him. Then, more quietly, she said, “Alek, no one has never understood me like you do.”
Alek squeezed her shoulder. “It goes both ways,” he said.
She touched his hand. “Never leave me,” she said. It was soft, furtive. Strange, to hear such words from such a self-possessed and determined Jedi. He could not imagine ever doing such a thing. He could not imagine a life apart from her.
“Never,” he said. “I’m with you to the end.”
* * *
A deep gloom settled over the Revanchist camp. The Jedi Crusaders were subdued and depressed after a shared vision revealing the annihilation of the Cathar by the Mandalorians ten years prior. Evidence of the Mandalorians' war crimes was exactly what they needed to goad the Jedi Council into sanctioning their assistance in the war, but none of them were happy to find it.
Revan sat near the glow lamp, still holding the Mandalorian mask she'd found, apparently dwelling on the vision it had brought. Alek would have preferred to sit with her, to share some small comfort, but he recognized her mood and let her be. Certain types of trauma needed to be processed alone.
Late that night he was awakened in his tent by a tug at his blankets. He reached out, disoriented from sleep, and found warmth. Revan slid between the sheets, settling in beside him.
He turned to her, feeling the swell of her hip under his palm.
“Kiss me,” she said.
“You need rest,” he said.
“I know what I need,” she said, pressing her mouth to his.
Their first kiss. He had to process it. Before he quite realized what was happening, his hand was in her hair. Her hair was soft. In spite of everything, the circumstances that led them here, the horrors they’d witnessed, this moment felt right, like a natural progression. And yet…
When she broke the kiss, he said, “Tell me what you really need. I want to understand what this is.”
She exhaled, almost moodily, and said, “What I need is to fuck someone, and I’m tired of the someone not being you.”
“Ever the romantic,” he said. The first part did not surprise him remotely, but the second part… How long had she wanted it to be him? He wanted to ask, it was on the tip of his tongue, but he knew better than to go down that path. Instead, he asked, “Is this truly what you want for us?”
“What do you want?” she asked softly, resting her hand on his chest. There was no pressure or urging, it was simply an acknowledgment of their closeness.
A part of him did want her in that way, but he had seen the coldness that could fall when such relationships ended. He had never been closer, more intimately interwoven, with any other person and did not want to jeopardize what they had. He did not want her to ever look at him the way she looked at Kavar now. “What we have now is important to me. I want to fight alongside you, share victory and defeat with you,” he said. “I want to end this suffering. I want to do what’s right. To save the Republic.”
“Alek,” she said, her voice still soft. “You are too good for this war.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“We will do terrible things to win this.”
“No,” he said. “The Force fights with us. We walk in the Light. We will take the higher path and we will win, as we always have.”
“Promise me you’ll stay as you are,” she said. “If it comes to that… don’t change. Don’t follow me.”
He didn’t understand. “Revan, I go where you go,” he said. “Always. You know this. We’re stronger together.”
This did not have the effect he’d expected. Inexplicably, it seemed to sadden her. She bowed her head, wrapping her arms around him, and they held each other. They’d done this many times before, sometimes for utilitarian reasons like warmth, sometimes for comfort when they were in pain, sometimes for the simple desire to be close physically as well as in the Force. This time was different, however. It seemed to him Revan clung to him, held him tight, as though…
“I will never leave you,” he promised.
“I know,” she said, but in spite of this she held him even more tightly than before.
* * *
It was not brutality, Revan told them, it was adaptability.
“We fight a merciless enemy,” she said, “and our strategy must meet them accordingly.”
She’d led them to victory so many times her orders were followed unquestioningly. No one argued with her anymore. Not even Alek.
* * *
Revan and her General could not be more different. Revan stood tall and cloaked, her presence a shroud. Meetra was smaller, but more direct and open. Less of a fighter, but as much, perhaps more, of a leader. The two women had a tenuous relationship, even after Meetra's Knighthood and promotions.
“I'd like you to lead the orbiting fleet,” Revan said.
The future Exile considered this, scanning the map of Malachor V that flickered before her. “You think Mandalore will fall for your trap?”
“I know he will. He won't be able to resist.” Revan walked along the war table, trailing her fingers lightly over the silhouettes of ships and stars. She'd been different ever since she'd returned from scouting Malachor V. She was more electric now, more intense. She drew her followers closer to her, Jedi and Republic alike. “We will finish them there. The war with the Mandalorians will be over.”
“It won't be easy,” Meetra said.
“We have a weapon,” Revan told her. “But it must be done right.”
After the meeting, when Alek scanned the names of those assigned to serve in the bait fleet orbiting Malachor, he commented, “Troublemakers, all.”
“There are no coincidences,” Revan said, and it was the closest she ever came to admitting that Bao-Dur's superweapon was not intended for Mandalorians alone.
* * *
No one could have predicted the raw destructive power of the Mass Shadow Generator, not even the Zabrak who created it. Meetra was the sole survivor and she returned broken, her body resonating with a wound in the Force. She was the only independent Jedi who remained. Revan's loyalists had been part of her personal fleet during the battle and most survived, though they too had been wounded, albeit in a different way Alek did not yet fully understand.
Meetra was empty, strange, an echo; the condition of his old friend unnerved him. “My part here is done,” she told them in the immediate aftermath. “I must answer to the Jedi Council.”
“Go, then,” Revan said, with cold dismissal, and Meetra departed.
“Why did you let her leave?” Alek asked, when they were alone. “Her wound… I have never seen its like, nor have I seen a Jedi cut themselves off from the Force as she has. She must be studied so we can understand what happened to her and know the ramifications of it. If we cannot do that… as much as it pains me to say so, it is too dangerous to allow her to roam free.”
HK-47 looked up, interested in the possibilities, but Revan waved him off.
“She will terrify them,” Revan said, a thin edge of bitterness in her words. “There is no fear, the Jedi Council says as they sit idly by and watch the galaxy burn. Now they can be the ones to stare fear in the face.” More to herself, she added: “We’ll see how much Kavar likes his student now.” For the first time, Alek realized how deep her grudges truly ran.
* * *
He became Darth Malak, formally accepting his new name, and he was more powerful for it. It had been a long time coming.
* * *
The Rakatan ruins on Dantooine loomed before them. It was the same as before, when they were Padawans. Malak could feel the Dark Side lapping about him, ebbing and flowing. He drew in a breath, feeling power curl around him. How could he not have appreciated the power of these ruins when he was younger?
His maturity and understanding made him more cautious than before. Revan, by contrast, had become more bold. She approached the door first, only waiting for him to follow. He could not see her face for the mask, but he did not need to. He could feel her excitement and yearning. Above all things, Revan loved having her curiosities satisfied.
It wasn't until they'd plumbed the depths of the guardian droid's knowledge and felled the droids in the east and west rooms that Revan showed signs of uncertainty. She stopped at the door to the main chamber and slowly began to pace, her gloved hand resting at her masked chin. Malak had seen her do this before.
“The ancient Jedi sealed this archway,” he said, when she stopped and stood before the door. “Is it worth the risk?”
She lifted her hand and the doorway opened.
“If we go in,” he said, “we can never come back.”
Revan strode through the door, the star map unfurling as she approached. Malak hesitated, but only for a moment. He crossed the threshold to join her.
* * *
She wore the mask all the time now, so often that some of the soldiers mistook her for a man. Her wrists and forearms were the giveaway, they were a slender contrast to her bulky armor and robes, but the new soldiers saw her relatively tall stature, the heavy armor chest plate, the shapeless battle skirts and the mask, and assumed.
One morning he found her peering in the mirror, touching her face as through it were foreign territory. Even he had not seen her bare face in some time. The power and elegance of the Dark Side was etched across her cheekbones and the planes of her face, dark tendrils stretching down the length of her neck, and her eyes had begun to lighten, reflecting the intense power she commanded. She had the handsome dignity of a god. It made him wonder what the rest of her looked like, how it would be to trace and memorize the dark tendrils that wound about her body, but they were far above that type of relationship now. Sexual intimacy was meaningless, insignificant, compared to the synergy they shared through the Force.
“You're beautiful,” he said.
“Why does it manifest this way?” she asked, so quietly she might have been asking herself rather than him.
“It’s a sign of power,” he said. “Power is beauty. Be proud of how far we have come.”
She sighed. “Do you remember when we would explore together, on Dantooine?”
“The Enclave is like another life,” he said. “It's as if it happened to someone else.”
“I know,” she said, almost wistfully. She was becoming more difficult to understand these days.
* * *
Revan was growing distant. He knew why. She was looking for a replacement. Perhaps that new general of hers, Gren, or the fool assassin she liked to keep around. No doubt she was luring them in, promising them his place as her apprentice.
As time passed and he spent most of his hours overseeing production on the Star Forge he became increasingly convinced that she was cheating, lying, and manipulating while he was gone. He was so riddled with suspicion that when he did return to the fleet he was constantly watching her every move, intent on catching her in some lie or scheme. He was no longer able to enjoy any private time they had together because he always on high-alert, seeking evidence of her betrayal. It was only a matter of time, after all. It was the way of the Sith.
He began making a habit of returning from the Star Forge unannounced in the hopes he might catch her in the act. On one such occasion, when he arrived at her apartment late at night and found it empty, he went looking for her. She was conversing with her pet assassin in a secluded strategy room down the hall.
“...Breach at Sernpidal, we think,” the assassin was saying.
“What's going on?” Malak asked, feeling a prickle along his skin as he eyed the interloper. He was young, tall, dark-haired. Just her type. The longer Malak stared at the Sith Assassin the more convinced of their affair he became. He raked his eyes over both of them, looking for any sign of passion, a hair out of place, a hint of a flush. Revan was still in her night robe and he found himself surveying every wrinkle, looking for any trespass hidden in the dark silk.
The assassin was uneasy at the scrutiny, which gave Malak a perverse sense of pleasure. Revan was too preoccupied to notice and that was bothersome in its own way. “Tell him, Jaq,” she said.
“Lord Revan sent me to locate Bastila Shan, General Malak. The Jedi who uses her battle med--”
“I know who she is,” Malak said.
“The Jedi are planning a trap. They mean to draw Lord Revan out into the open. They intend to use Shan as bait, though I doubt she realizes it.”
“Bait worth having,” Revan murmured.
“You would play into their hands?” Malak asked, his irritation forgotten.
“They would play into ours. With Bastila's battle meditation we can speed up our victory. We may save thousands of troops. It's worth the risk. You've done well,” she said, touching Jaq's arm. The young assassin’s eagerness to please was palpable. Malak felt jealousy surge anew in his chest.
“Should I go back and learn more?” Jaq asked.
“Yes. Learn the fine points and report back,” Revan said.
When the assassin was gone Malak allowed his anger to show. “How can you trust him?” he asked.
Revan frowned. “What are you talking about? You mean Jaq?”
“He could be a traitor.”
“He's one of our best assassins and an excellent spy,” she said, and he realized she was looking at him very intently. “What is this about?”
“I don't like him,” Malak said. “I don't think you should put so much confidence in him. I was right about Kavar, wasn't I?”
Revan was quiet. There was something about it that made him feel as though she were dissecting him with her eyes. She said, “This war has gone on too long. Morale is suffering. The troops respond to you. They like you. Stay here, with me. They will benefit from your presence. More importantly, I'll need your advice on this matter with Bastila Shan. I trust your opinion more than anyone’s.”
“Who will look after the Star Forge?”
“I'll send Gren.”
Malak's heart sped up. Was she maneuvering Gren to replace him after all? “She's too weak in the Force. What good is she to us?”
“She can oversee production temporarily. I need you here, with me,” Revan said.
“Why?” he asked.
“We've spent too much time on the Star Forge.”
Of course, by “we” she meant him. Revan rarely visited the factory. One of the reasons he'd taken the task upon himself was because he'd sensed her dislike of the place. But now he enjoyed it; he certainly didn't want to give it up.
“Gren is incompetent and weak,” Malak said.
“Gren's one of our best,” Revan said, her temper flaring. “But fine. Suggest an alternative.”
“There isn't one,” he snapped back. “No one else can be trusted to oversee the Star Forge.”
Revan turned away from him, pacing, her night robe fluttering. There was a time when he would have been happy to watch her move, to watch the dark cloth eddy around her, but now all he could see were the fingerprints of a hundred interlopers on her clothes, a hundred whispers of betrayal in her ears and on her lips. A hundred Kavars with their faces pressed between her thighs. Out of the thousands of troops she commanded, any one would leap at the chance to replace him. It was maddening. He forced himself to look away.
At length, the pacing stopped. She said, “Alek, I need you.” She turned to him, putting her arms around his neck. His instinct was to lean in, to put his arms around her in turn, but he couldn’t shake the nagging sense she was trying to distract him. Was he close to discovering some lie? She was so clever, so astonishingly clever--was she lulling him into a false sense of security? “I need you here, with me,” she said. “Do you understand?”
Abruptly, he did understand. It was clear to him now. He needed to begin building his own power base. He should have started doing so years ago. Now was not the time to arouse her suspicions. He circled his arms around her and said, “Yes. I understand.”
“Do you?” she asked.
* * *
Malak knew razing Telos would get Revan's attention. When she arrived on the Leviathan anger crackled in the air around her.
The fight began with her saying, “How many times have we maneuvered so Telos wouldn't sustain heavy damages?” but he was tired of her plans, her politics and subterfuge. Time was wasted maintaining trade routes and cordoning off supply worlds when they could aggressively push for victory and avoid the need for extended supply lines altogether. They could strike directly with everything they had and annihilate the Republic once and for all, he argued. Why reshape the Republic when they could rebuild it entirely? As Revan became angrier and angrier, her temper rising, he felt a strange, loping satisfaction as he pressed forward, hitting all the nerves that mattered.
He had baited her before, but he pushed too far this time. Much too far. He took it to a personal level, to that itch that had been grating on him all these months. He said, “You can't see the big picture anymore because you're too distracted with your little playthings.”
“What?” she asked, and her expression made it plain that she understood his insinuation perfectly and was giving him an out. He didn't take it.
“Gren, Jaq. Whoever else has your interest for the moment.”
Revan's lightsaber ignited in hiss of red.
“How many of them are you scheming with behind my back?” Malak asked, and she whirled at him.
He attempted to parry and side-stepped, their blades locking. The two guards ran into the room, alerted by the noise, and froze.
“Call General Gren!” one yelled, and the other hurried out.
They had not dueled in some time. She had gotten better, perhaps she had always been better, and he was having a hard time defending against her. He swung at her in anger with brute force, but she was cunning with the blade and he always met energy or air, never flesh.
“How dare you!” she spat. “How dare you! After everything I've done for you!”
“Everything you've done for me?” he roared, slashing at her so viciously she narrowly had time to block. Her hood fell back. A strand of her hair singed, the burnt smell wafting towards him and vanishing. “All this time you've used me! As you sit in your Admiral's chair, thinking you are so right, so above it all. You think I don't know what you're planning with the others, with that miserable assassin pet of yours? You're a liar, a manipulator, an opportunist!” Words streamed from him. Terrible words; angry, reckless words; words that would have left him aghast in another life; and it was as though something palpably broke between them.
She swung the blade around, hard and fast, and hit him. Pain seared through his jaw and he dropped, stumbling, his lightsaber clattering to the floor.
There was commotion and a flurry of footsteps. He was barely conscious of people clustering around him as intense, burning pain radiated through his face.
“No,” Revan said. “No, no, no.” She grabbed him, pulling him towards her, and he was only partially conscious of the press of her hands against his face. “Medic!” she screamed. “Get a medic!” It sounded as though she were crying, but that was impossible; Revan never cried.
There was more commotion, another flurry of feet, and he felt hands lifting him onto a stretcher.
He did not remember the trip to the infirmary. He woke several times, disoriented and confused, and he distinctly recalled hearing Revan yell, “You fix it! Fix it now or you're all dead!”
Other voices, unfamiliar voices, stammered in protest. “L-Lord Revan, please understand, the cauterization...”
He recalled nothing else. He was engulfed by a drug-induced haze.
* * *
He became accustomed to the mechanical jaw. Eating would always be an indignity but it hampered little else. The mechanical voice disturbed him, however, and he spoke little these days. Not that there were many people to speak to. Revan's visits to the Leviathan were infrequent, and when she did come to see him she was unable to look at him.
Was he that repulsive to her?
He didn't care.
It was on Revan's last visit, the last time he saw her as Darth Revan, that she broached the subject of Bastila Shan.
“I've decided to play into their trap. I'll allow the Jedi strike team to board my ship and I'll immobilize Bastila myself. Turning her to our side may take time, but it's time well spent.” Revan fell silent for a long moment. As she gazed out the large viewing window he found himself wondering what her corpse would look like floating in space or, more imaginatively, splattered against the hull of the Leviathan. He had his lightsaber, he could strike at her now, but no. Unwise. Face-to-face combat was not a viable option, as much as he hated to admit it. He would have to wait for the opportune moment. Best to strike quickly from afar.
“I'd like for you to accompany us,” she said, turning from the window to face him. “Once we have Bastila we can end this. Once the Republic surrenders...” For an instant, it seemed as though she were going to reach out to touch him, but she abruptly turned away. “Things will be different.”
Lies. She couldn't wait to push him out the nearest airlock. As soon as the war was won he was sure she would dispose of him, replace him with whatever fledgling apprentice she'd groomed behind his back.
“Things can't go back to the way they were, I realize that, but I want to try, Alek.” That name meant nothing now and her insistence on using it, on pretending they had some connection, grated. “Do you?” she asked.
He studied her back. What an actor. There was a time he'd have fallen for it, too, but that time was past. “Of course, Revan,” he said, his mechanical voice making the words strangely metallic and guttural. “After the war is over things will be different.”
She briefly smiled at him in the reflection of the window and all he could think of was the way her back would look with a lightsaber through it.
* * *
“The Jedi strike team has boarded Lord Revan's ship,” the communications officer said.
Malak nodded slowly. He was eager to play his hand but impatience could ruin even the best-laid plans. Revan had taught him that. He allowed Karath to issue orders as he watched Revan's ship.
After approximately fifteen minutes elapsed there was a flicker of light from Revan's command deck. The Jedi had reached her on the bridge.
“Admiral Karath,” Malak said softly. “Intercept and fire upon Revan's ship.”
Karath didn't bat an eye. “Do you have a preferred target, sir?”
Karath made the order. One of the gunners hesitated and his windpipe was crushed. The others readily complied and a barrage of red lasers fell upon the ship. Lights began to wink out on Revan's ship as systems failed and, deep in his core, he felt a tremor in the Force. Revan's own light winked out, just as surely as her ship's had. Triumph surged through him.
When it was over, and the Republic fleet had rallied its survivors and escaped into hyperspace, Admiral Karath approached him.
“Lord Malak,” the Admiral said. “Shall I send a squadron to recover the body?”
Malak was pleased at this titular acknowledgment but did not let it show. “No, Admiral. Revan is gone. I sensed it.” Now that the act that had dominated his thoughts for so long was complete he took pause. He had often wondered how it would feel to free himself from her burdensome yoke and assume his rightful place. As he searched within, he found only one desire: power. It was the only thing that would ever matter.
He had General Gren brought to him. When the General arrived, bloodied and restrained, she spat at Malak's feet.
“You aren't half the commander she was,” Gren said.
Malak decapitated her with a single strike.
Revan had made a mistake in allowing him to cultivate a power base and the loyalty of men such as Saul Karath. He would not make the same mistake by leaving her allies alive. He immediately purged the upper echelons of the Sith Fleet of any Revan loyalists, including a number of high-ranking generals. Those obedient to him were promoted in their places. They would gain experience soon enough; for now, he needed subservience.
In addition to the generals Revan's personal assassins were among the first to go. Malak had a mental list of loyalists who were probably Revan's apprentices in training. He ordered them all executed, and placed bounties on the heads of the survivors. Jaq Rand’s bounty was double. Best leave nothing to chance.
Revan’s battle plans were reviewed and discarded. Revan had always held back Star Forge production, but Malak ordered that output be doubled. With the resources of the Star Forge at his complete disposal he had the strength to hit the Republic hard and he took aggressive action toward the capitol planets.
Revan was willing to make concessions to end the war early. Malak was not. He would have total and utter domination.
* * *
Anything was possible with the Force. It was one of his first lessons as a Padawan so many years ago and his training in the dark side had only reinforced it. But Revan, alive? He would not have believed it if the words hadn't come from Karath, but they had, and Karath would not have been so bold unless he was certain.
Malak walked briskly down the Leviathan’s corridors, his face bathed in red emergency light. He'd sent soldiers to the bridge but he knew Revan wouldn't be there. She would find him. It was the way of these things.
When a pair of blast doors ahead of him slid open and three figures emerged, he hesitated in spite of himself. It had been so long since he'd seen Revan with a clear face, free of the effects of the dark side. She was older and weathered, hers were the eyes of a stranger, but there was no question she was the Revan he’d trained with and fought beside.
He briefly reached out with the Force, immobilizing Bastila and the man, rendering them impotent. He wanted no distractions.
“So it's true,” he said. “I can hardly believe my eyes. Why did the Jedi spare you?”
“What greater weapon is there,” she said, “than to turn an enemy to your cause.”
He had to admit that the Jedi Council had done quite a job. They'd recruited a Dark Lord of the Sith, apparently unwitting, and had roped her into leading them all the way to the Star Forge. There was some other personality standing there, some stranger he'd never met, but just underneath the surface he could make out the faint lines and pulses of Revan. It was really something.
He could see she was struggling, trying to remember. She asked, “Why?” and he came at her with everything he had.
In a way, it was almost like the old times. She didn't have the skill of Darth Revan in her prime, but she was definitely, unequivocally Revan and they fell into a rhythm that wasn't too different from their training days on Dantooine. He hit harder, but she hit faster.
He brought his saber down in a sharp arc and she slid under it, forcing him slightly off balance as she struck at his other side. It was a trick she'd used successfully on him in the old days and encountering it now sent a strange prickling sensation down his neck, but he muscled past it and swung at her head, narrowly missing.
He used blast doors to his advantage, shutting them in her face and boxing her off when her attacks became too relentless. Reinforcements were coming, he knew, and his best chance was to keep her preoccupied until they arrived. He would not have chosen the Leviathan for a confrontation. He was weaker away from the Star Forge.
Had they gone on without interruption he wasn't sure who would have won, but there was an interruption. When Bastila sprang up beside him, her haughty face grim with determination, Malak almost laughed. He knew Jedi pride when he saw it. So did Revan. His former master opened her mouth to say--what? No? Stop? Don't?
It didn't matter. Revan lunged for them but was not quick enough. Bastila struck the blast door controls, slamming the door shut and permanently separating them. It would take high-grade explosives to open it from the outside. With the threat of Revan immobilized Malak was able to focus on the young Jedi at hand.
Bastila was well versed in forms and techniques, but she lacked experience and raw power. He beat her into submission almost as an afterthought, bringing his lightsaber down on her again and again as she struggled to shake him off with her flickering dual blades. She cloaked herself in a protective shell of the Force, but it was not enough. As soon as he had her within arm’s reach he seized her by the throat and slammed her down onto the metal floor, ending it.
* * *
The most prideful Jedi were always the ones who eventually broke. He'd learned that. The less dogmatic ones had a certain flexibility and an often surprising tolerance for pain and punishment. But the rigid, the righteous, always had a clear breaking point. And always, always, they were neatly snapped in two.
So it was with Bastila.
He'd been assigned to handle Bastila in the beginning. Years ago, though it seemed farther back than it actually was, he'd agreed to handle the reeducation of Bastila once Revan captured her. He found it fitting to follow his old master's final command now.
He hadn't always been a torturer. In fact, in the beginning he'd been staunchly opposed to it. It was Revan the pragmatist who first allowed Force torture on Jedi prisoners. She maintained Force manipulation was the only way to turn unwilling Jedi to her side. She was right, but she was never any good at it herself. She could never quite reach that special place, that place that made even the proudest Jedi yield. He remembered watching her stalk out of the brig after her first attempt and wondering if she was angry that she’d failed or disgusted she’d tried to begin with. She always delegated the task after that.
Malak was appalled to find he actually had a knack for it. He always knew just where to poke or prod, just which way to lean. Initially, he agreed to do it with the honorable notion that he was turning the unwilling more quickly, more humanely, than the Sith assassins who took up the work. But in time he did it for the thrill of dominating others. At his lowest point, when he'd lost his jaw and completely discarded any semblance of love towards Revan, torture had been a very productive outlet.
Thus, breaking Bastila was therapeutic.
When he was finished he could only admire his handiwork. Bastila Shan was the embodiment of the Sith, hungry for power and thirsty for knowledge. She was an excellent replacement for Bandon, though Malak had no intention of keeping her alive long enough to surpass his old apprentice. She would be a useful ally against the Republic and a willing obstacle between himself and Revan but, once the war was over and the Republic crushed, her usefulness would come to an end. Her battle meditation made her too dangerous to keep alive.
* * *
Finally, they met on the Star Forge.
Malak was strangely relieved to find himself face to face with his old master one last time. As soon as Karath had delivered the message that Revan was alive, he's known this day would come. In the end, nothing could have prevented their reunion--not his dark Jedi and assassins, not Bastila Shan, not the Star Forge.
She still managed to surprise him. He’d prepared well in advance and kept comatose Jedi in Kolto tanks so that he might drain the life Force from them, replenishing himself during the fight. Revan took one look at these and, without hesitation, ripped the life Force from each, murdering them all en masse and effectively ruining his “supply lines” before the battle even started.
He nearly laughed at that. Of course, Revan the tactician and pragmatist would immediately see his strategy and take steps to cut it off at the knees. Perhaps if he’d paid more attention to all her prattle about logistics over the years he would have anticipated as much.
In the beginning their strength in the Force was such neither could push or pull the other, both stood strong, physically and mentally impervious. They went to war with the lightsabers in their hands and the environment around them instead. He exploded several of the glass tanks in her face, covering her with nicks and cuts from glass shards. She threw him down the metal stairs, then uprooted and hurled a section of railing at him like a spear. They raged at each other for an eternity until finally, at last, they began to falter, their Force defenses weakening.
Revan hurtled her lightsaber at him. He avoided it and closed the distance between them as it arced back to her waiting hand. He brought his blade down on her, but she blocked it with her off-hand. Her force wave crashed into him, forcing him back, and he struggled to remain upright. He hit her hard with a direct bolt of force lightning and she fell to one knee. It was a gamble--he'd put everything he had into that last burst of energy.
He waited for her to topple, but she did not. After a moment she rose and lifted her lightsaber again.
Malak fought to meet her, but something deep inside him was broken. He stumbled, unable to raise his own weapon, and sank to the floor.
A long silence stretched between them, punctuated by their breathing and the thrum of her lightsaber.
“Alek,” Revan said quietly. She sounded ancient.
“You remember my old name.” He paused for breath. “I do not remember yours. Perhaps you were always Revan.”
She was close. She could take his head, if she wanted to. She seemed to think about it, then slowly staggered back, her blade retracting.
“This end... should be no surprise...” he managed. “I was always the pawn you kept at hand. You were the one with the real power.”
“No,” Revan said. “You were my friend. I loved you. I trusted you.”
He considered this. His vision was hazy, and it seemed she had a glow about her. “It was like that once, wasn't it?” he mused. Now that he was dying, his hatred for her seemed so far away and insignificant. It did not even feel like his hatred, but rather some foreign thing that had been planted in him, that had grown of its own accord and was now withering away to nothing. “I must have fallen too quickly,” he said. “You held back, didn’t you? You were always the clever one. But did you really think we could hold such a thing by the tail?”
“We were going to strengthen the Republic, protect it,” Revan said. “We knew there would be sacrifices, but not this. We thought we were stronger than this. I would have never…” Her voice broke. “Why?”
It could have been any question, asked of anyone. Why? He had that brief moment of introspection the dying all had. Why had they gone so far? Why had it come to this? Could it have ended any other way?
He flashed back to two young Padawans exploring the crystal caves, eager to test their limits and learn their potential. One wanted purpose, craved a sense of belonging and companionship, but what did the other want? What had she ever wanted? Who was she?
As he looked up at Revan's face, bloody, bruised, and mangled, as he sensed the tendrils of the Dark Side still radiating from her, he knew the answer. He collected his last reserves of strength. “…You belong to neither the light or the darkness. You stand alone, my friend,” he said.
The last thing he heard, before he drew final breath, was that long-forgotten name: Alek.
* * *
"He left quite a mess." ―G0-T0