A Night in Coruscant

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Part one of a fan fiction series set in the Star Wars universe! All of the main characters are my own inventions, and the story does not align with any official Star Wars movies or books. Be warned: this has a dark ending, but I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

A Night in Coruscant

by Anders Cahill

#

It was supposed to be an adventure. After years of isolation and rigorous training, the four of us were going to Coruscant, the greatest city in the galaxy.

Master Terial was reluctant, of course, but the decades were catching up to her, and, in my opinion, her fears were unfounded. The Sith menace had been repressed almost two centuries ago. The Jedi were rebuilding. There were even rumors that a new temple was to be constructed. The rubble of the old, fallen temple would be wiped away. Our order would be restored to it’s rightful place. We were brimming with hope.

I couldn’t blame Terial for her perspective. Not after everything she had survived. But she couldn’t ask us to live like her. Not for much longer. It was the cusp of a new era. We had to set forth, back into the worlds of the life we were sworn to protect. Our time was coming.

When the transmission arrived from the chancel of D’arta, asking Terial to come the gala as his companion, she politely refused. Later that evening, she explained. “I shudder at the thought. Qhurs is a sycophant. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the so-called bright lights of the galaxy would be the greatest experience of his life, but I would be his accessory, dragged around on his arm to be introduced to any who might listen. Look! A living, breathing Jedi! From D’arta! The politicos and officers gathered there would pity him. I pity him.”

I caught Jaiq’s eye as our master ranted. Terial did not suffer fools well, and her wit was still razor sharp. Jaiq was doing her best to stifle her amusement. I almost burst out laughing. Then Mars Ton nudged me, and I noticed that Flora was frowning at all of us. I choked back my laughter, doing my best to listen respectfully.

Later, after the others had retired to our quarters for the evening, I went to Master Terial.

“Master?” I said.

“Yes? What is it Derson? What do you need?”

“The gala, Master. You should let us go in your stead.”

She studied me, drawing her hands across the thick braid of pearl white hair that hung down to her waist. She did this whenever she was thinking, smoothing out stray hairs that had escaped the binds and coils. I had been under her tutelage for more than a decade, but I had never seen it unbraided. It was always pulled back from her forehead, accentuating the delicate filigree of wrinkles that she had accumulated over the years.

I sometimes imagined what she might look like if she let her hair down, a massive billowing cloak, wreathed around her small, athletic frame. Despite her age and her hard edge, that shock of white hair contrasted against her dark skin was beautiful. She must have been ravishing in her youth. Now, as an old woman, she was still handsome and dignified. She was our master, and I loved her like a mother.

She sighed. “There is no other place like the galactic city. It seems to pull everyone and everything towards it, like some undeniable force. Perhaps it isthe Force. So many beings. All packed together. Even the least sensitive among us must feel it on some primal level.

“But it is not a harmonious expression. There is no unity in that place. It is a patchwork. Layers upon layers. Every individual life meaningless amidst the inexorable accretion of technology and culture. If Coruscant can be said to have any culture of its own, it is a culture of unending consumption. Resources. People. Dreams. All of them are swallowed up by that damnable place.”

She paused, her dark, brown eyes boring into me. “Even a Jedi. Especially a Jedi. Because you will think yourself invincible. Special. Chosen. And that will be exploited.”

What could I say to that? She had a way of shutting down your line of thought before you had even voiced it. I bowed. “Yes, of course, master.” I started to leave, and as I did, a thought occurred to me. “Perhaps, you underestimate your training, Master Terial? You have worked hard to instill prudence and humility in every aspect of our practice. And each of us has proven to be dedicated a student in our way. Do you deny that?”

She shook her head.

“But we are young and hungry. Especially Mars Ton. At some point, we need something more than sparring and meditation and Force challenges.” I pleaded with my eyes. “Will you at least give it some thought?”

She said nothing at first. Just kept staring at me. Then she gave a slight nod, and with a wave of her hand, brought my audience to an end. I bowed again, lower this time, hiding my smile, then turned and left her chambers.

#

When Terial suggested to the chancel that we attend the gala instead of her, I figured he would take it as an insult. But he seemed delighted. I suppose he had expected nothing from Terial, given her propensity for seclusion, and as we would soon learn, he was a young man who craved social interaction. With four Jedi apprentices as his personal entourage, he would have no shortage of stories to tell.

All told, the trip to Coruscant took just over a week, but most of that time was spent getting to D’Arta. Master Terial insisted that we travel by foot, to give balance to the time we would spend amidst the high technology of the galactic city. ‘It makes people lazy and weak,’ she had said.

The chancel had promised us new clothes befitting our adventure into civilization, so we packed light and moved fast, following Coldharm Pass through the mountains. At night, we watched the stars flow and disappear behind the reflected lamplight of Doriune, the gas giant that held us in the hunger of her orbit.

Every night, we sat by the fire, trading stories and jokes. Mars Ton, the youngest of us, had been in a state of perpetual amusement since we left the compound. He laughed a lot, especially for Flora, our eldest member. She was a Rutian Twi’Lek, and very beautiful. Her black eyes captured the firelight, and her indigo skin was like ink in the night.

On our third night in the hinterlands, she told us how she had first learned of the Jedi. Flora descended from the same lineage as the great Aayla Secura, and her grandfather had been a powerful senator, before the collapse of the republic. She was the only one among us who has ever been to Coruscant.

It had been years ago, well before she came to study with Terial here on the moon of Joot, and ‘bonded her heart with the Order.’ She had been only a child, but she actually met the legendary Yoda. In fact, he had been the one who told her parents of her potential.

‘Strong is the force with this young one.’ Every one of us had heard his voice, that throaty croak. There were thousands of hours of holo recordings in the archives. Lectures, speeches, public meetings, trainings. His very existence had taught us all so much.

And her imitation was excellent. We all laughed. Mars Ton wiped a tear from his eye.

When we settled down, she grew serious. ‘I will never forget the way he looked at me. It felt like I was the only one that mattered in the universe. I was so used to my parents and grandparents attracting all the attention, but he seemed barely to notice them. Even though I was only a child, I was already a little taller than him. We stood, face to face, and when he looked into my eyes, I knew that I would do whatever was necessary to become a Jedi. His eyes showed me my heart.’

Silence settled over us. The fire crackled and popped. We all stared into it. After a time, Jaiq stood and turned away from the fire, looking up into the universe.

I went and stood next to her. We watched the great river of stars, running through the blackness.

#

Despite its simplicity, D’Arta was high luxury compared to our life at the compound on Joot. We had all been given our own quarters in Qhurs’s household. Once we had showered and changed, we gathered at his table for dinner.

He was undeniably charming. A gracious and patient host, he lavished us with praise and attention. As his steward cleared away dessert and poured each of us a finger of sweet, syrupy wine, Qhurs raised his glass for the third time that evening. “I realize I must seem overeager, he said, but it is truly an honor to have you all here. Your company has brought me great pleasure. Here’s to the journey ahead!” We all raised our glasses.

The next morning, we loaded on to the hopper that would carry us into orbit. Jaiq was still quiet. She had been ever since Flora told us her story by the fire. Her presence was even muted and reserved amidst the dinner festivities last night.

I looked at her, raising my eyebrows in question. “What’s going on, J?”

She pause for a moment, then leaned close to me. “I keep wondering if maybe Master Terial was right? Maybe this is a mistake. The Coruscant that Flora described does not exist any more, Maybe it never existed. I mean, who among us ever had the chance to enter the parliament chambers and meet an elder Jedi? She comes from privilege. But the rest of us? We are orphans and ship urchins. I can’t shake the feeling that something just isn’t right.”

I regarded her. “I’ve never known you to shy from a challenge.”

She squinted at me. “This is different, D. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Okay then.” I looked out the porthole. The surface of Joot stretched out below us as we shot up into orbit. “But there’s no turning back now.” I looked back at her. “Open and sharp. Just like Terial taught us. We watch each other’s back.” I put my hand on her shoulder.

She nodded, her lips pressed tight.

#

We came out of hyperspace with a lurch. Qhurs voice came over the com. “Sorry about that! I’m still working on timing the deceleration.” We had all been a little surprised to see him step into the pilot’s cabin back at D’Arta. Apparently, he had recently taken up interstellar piloting. “It’s important to stay busy when you live way out on the fringes of the Outer Rim like us!” he had said with a big grin.

Now, his voice directed us up to the viewing deck. “Come up here. You’re going to love this.” I could almost see his big grin, already so familiar to me, plastered across his face.

We had arrived facing the night side of the planet. Spiderwebs of light glittered across its surface; the whole planet one giant city

Mars Ton let out a whoop of excitement. “Can you believe this?!”

Flora bowed her head. I could not tell if she was laughing or crying.

Even Jaiq smiled. All of us had dreamed of this moment, and none of us were disappointed. It was majestic.

“Incredible, isn’t it?” Qhurs said. “Well, wait until we reach the surface. I’m taking us down.”

#

“Do you see that tower?” Qhurs looked back at me as he pointed towards one of the tallest buildings in our field of view. I nodded. “That’s where we’re headed.”

The tower was a striking example of the massive structures that dominated the horizons of Coruscant in every direction. Even amidst a forest of similarly tall buildings, it had an imposing grace that bespoke both tremendous power and refined taste.

“What is it?”

“Balmorra Tower.”

My ignorance must have been clear on my face.

He laughed. “That name means nothing to you?”

“No. But obviously it should. Tell me.”

“Drayma Balmorra is one of the wealthiest beings in the galaxy. She has been instrumental in rebuilding the galactic networks of influence that were shattered in the last century of war. Commerce. Research. Education. You name it, she likely has a hand in it.”

“Why does she care about you? About us?”

He laughed again. “Subtlety is not your strength, I gather.”

I blushed. “I meant no offense…”

“None taken, D,” he said. “I’m sure she has no idea who we are. She has much larger bantha to herd. But her agents are legion. Someone in her vast organization has decided that the moon of Joot, our humble home, has a role to play in galactic politics, so here we are.”

As we touched down, three figures emerged from the tower and walked out onto the landing deck.

Qhurs whistled. “Look at those droids.” They were humanoid in design, and they glittered in the sunlight. “Platinum plating, I’d wager.”

But it was the man between them that grabbed my attention. He was human, tall and lithe, with the dark skin of a people from a sunbright world. He walked with measured confidence. In contrast to the shimmering opulence of the droid plating, he wore a simple white body suit that was clearly tailored to his athletic frame. His silver hair was cut tight to his head. A light saber hung from his belt.

I sucked in my breath. “Qhurs. He has a light saber.”

He raised his eyebrows. “A Jedi?”

I nodded “I think so. I can feel it. He is very powerful.”

“The influence of Drayma Balmorra ranges further than most. I can’t say I’m surprised, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. This is a woman who settles for nothing less than the best.”

As we watched them approach the ship, a mellifluous voice came over the com, “State your business.”

Qhurs turned back to the control interface and replied, “Qhurs Va, chancel of D’Arta, here on invitation for the trade summit.”

“We count five life forms on board. Your invitation was for two, Chancel Va.”

“They are my escort. Four Jedi apprentices, sent on behalf of Master Terial herself.”

While Qhurs explained our presence, I was watching the Jedi on the platform. He must have been listening, because when Qhurs spoke Terial’s name, the Jedi touched his hand to behind his ear and his lips moved.

A moment later, the smooth, confident voice on the security com said, “Welcome to you and your companions, Chancel Va. Forgive me for being overly cautious. As chief of security, that’s my job. Please disembark. One of my droids will take your ship to the nearest hangar bay, and we’ll get you all settled in.”

“Thank you, sir. We are grateful for both your caution and your hospitality. It is an honor to be here.” He switched off the com and turned back to me. “I wonder why he had such a quick change of heart?”

“The Jedi.” I pointed out the main viewing window at him. He lifted his hand and waived.

#

We came down the steps in single file, Qhurs at the front, with Mars Ton right behind him. The dark-skinned Jedi knight stood back about twenty feet from the ship. All of us were eager to see him up close. The four of us had been talking excitedly about him from the moment we realized what he was. A Jedi? Why didn’t Terial let us know about him? Do you think he knows Elder Jedi Tose Bin? He is very handsome. Where did he come from? And on and on we went.

Then Qhurs reminded us that we were here to represent D’Arta. “Children,” he scolded, “How about you act like you’ve actually been trained by Master Terial once we get out there, eh?” His tone was playful, but it was enough to give us pause.

As we came off the ship, we did our best to stay composed. The Jedi’s posture was confident and relaxed. His droids stood at either side of him, perfectly still, gleaming in the afternoon sun. As we disembarked, he nodded and smiled, beckoning us towards him. A moment later, a squat, cylindrical droid scuttled out from the entrance and dashed over to our ship. One of the platinum droids spoke, “This is K4-G5. He will pilot your ship to the nearest hangar bay for safe keeping.” The small droid chirped and rolled past us.

Qhurs glared at it and said, “Not a scratch little one. You hear me?”

The droid chirped again. It sounded annoyed. Two small boosters came out of its legs, and it hovered up and disappeared into the ship.

Finally, the Jedi spoke. “Chancel Va. I am Gal Matra, a humble adviser to Lady Drayma Balmorra.” He bowed his head slightly. “On her behalf, I bid you and your most intriguing escort a fair welcome to the Tower.” He sounded exactly as I hoped he would, with a deep, pleasing voice.

He bowed again to Flora. “Greetings Lady Flora Gendusa. Your grandfather’s legacy still echoes through the corridors of Coruscant.” He looked at each of us in turn, appraising us. He pursed his lips and his eyebrow was raised with the question.

Jaiq spoke up first. “My name is Jaiq Dia. This is Derson Ka. And this is Mars Ton Willow. We are apprenticed to Master Terial Windu.”

He bowed again. “It is truly a pleasure. Master Terial is a Jedi of great repute. She is the last surviving Windu, and she bears the legacy of that name as well as any being in the galaxy could. I have no doubt that she did well in choosing you four as her apprentices.”

Mars Ton jumped in, excited. “Then you know her? She rarely speaks to us of life outside the compound.”

Gal pursed his lips again. “I am sure she has her reasons, Mars. It is the place of the padawan to respect his master’s wisdom, is it not?”

Mars Ton dropped his eyes. “Yes. Of course, Master Gal.”

The light returned to Gal’s face. “Excellent. Well then, I must return to my duties, but these fine droids will see you to your quarters. As I’m sure you know, the trade summit kicks off tonight with quite the gala, so you best rest up.” He looked at Mars Ton and smiled. “Be assured, you are in for an experience like nothing you have ever seen at the compound. Perhaps you’ll even meet the Lady herself.” With that, he wheeled and disappeared back into the tower.

#

Mars Ton came running up to me. He had been scavenging at one of the buffet tables. It was near to overflowing with food inspired by a variety of galactic cultural traditions.

He was still carrying a plate. “D! Look.” He gestured with his free hand, towards a wide flight of stairs that led down from the second floor balcony. “It’s Balmorra.”

I struggled to catch a glimpse as she made her way down the stairs. The crowd around her thickened. Then, in an instant, it parted. No one said anything. No one did anything. Everyone just stepped out of her way, as if on cue. I remember once, Master Terial had showed us a holo vid from the planet of Rossing, famed for its terrifying variety of flora and fauna, nearly all of which were deadly. She was lecturing us on the endless subtle creative energies of the Force, but what I remember most was the footage of a wild night panther. It moved with impossible ease and athleticism. It’s very being communicated deadly power. That is what I saw when I looked at Drayma Balmorra. Her tiny frame, her fragile limbs, her pale skin could not hide the truth. She was a force to be reckoned with. It was thrilling.

Suddenly, Flora was next to us. She looked radiant, an understated black gown and silver jewelry accentuating her beautiful indigo skin. The two thick lekku tails that hung from her skull had been wrapped with translucent sheaths of silver lace. A series of gossamer chains were strung between her tails, and they sparkled when they caught the light, creating the impression of a web crystals floating behind her. She had always had a noble bearing, and now, she was in her element. “Can you sense it?” she asked us. “The Force is very strong with her.”

I nodded. “Yes. I definitely noticed. This just keeps getting more interesting.”

But Mars Ton was staring at Flora. He wore a mixture of awe and lust. He had always been attracted to her, and now she was bringing the full power of her beauty to bear. Gone was the humble, functional tunic. If Drayma Balmorra was a panther, then Flora Gendusa was a fearsome bird of prey. Mars was helpless. She smiled at him with a sort of loving pity. “Mars,” she said, “close your mouth. You’re embarrassing yourself, gaping like that.”

He blushed, a deep crimson. Flora laughed. “It’s not every night we get to cut loose like this.” Her smile was brilliant. “I am going to find Jaiq. She’ll be hopeless without me. D, please take care of young Mars here.” She disappeared back into the crowd.

I patted Mars Ton on the shoulder. “Believe me, my friend, I feel the same way. She looks incredible.”

“Am I that obvious?”

I looked at him, my eyebrows raised. “Really? You couldn’t be more obvious if you said to her you wanted to make beautiful, blue babies with her.” I laughed, and Mars laughed with me.

“She is bonded to the Order anyway, right D?”

I nodded. “You are her comrade, and ally, and friend. Never her lover. But look around you, Mars! Tonight, at least, our options are plentiful.” We could no longer see Drayma Balmorra from our vantage, but the room was rife with beautiful beings from across the galaxy. After a decade in isolation on Terial’s compound, this gala was an embarrassment of material riches, and, frankly, Mars and I were out of our depth.

#

“There you are!” It was Qhurs. He was with two young women. “Mars. Derson. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Ess and Eff. They’re sisters! From Deluva.” They were both beautiful, but they looked nothing alike. One was very tall, taller than Qhurs. Her legs seemed impossibly long, and her skin and eyes were the same color, like white desert sand. The other was somewhat shorter, just up to Qhurs’s shoulder, and her skin was a glittering purple. She also had desert white eyes. Neither of them wore much clothing, and what they had on wrapped to their bodies like paint, leaving just enough to the imagination.

We must have been staring, because Qhurs tilted his head and gave us a knowing look. “What? You’ve never heard of Deluva? Deluvian aestheticians are renowned for their cosmetic artistry.”

I was struggling to come up with some sort of appropriate greeting, but before I could, Qhurs continued. “Well, no matter,” he said, shaking his head, “These lovely young women have both told me how much they have always wanted to meet a Jedi. Unfortunately, I cannot yet count the dapper Master Gal Matra as my personal companion, but I have the great fortune of knowing you two amazing young specimens.”

I finally managed to compose myself. I bowed low. As I lifted back to standing, I took the opportunity to take a closer look at the two strange, beautiful women. “Ess,” I said. “Eff. It is my great pleasure to meet you here at this auspicious gathering. My name is Derson Ka. This is my companion and dear friend, Mars Ton Willow.” I nudged Mars with my elbow, and he too bowed.

“A true pleasure,” he said.

The tall one did not seem particularly impressed. She gave a slight nod, but did not say anything. Mars and I looked at each other.

The purple one jumped in. “Please, forgive my sister Ess. She is young, and this is her first time to Coruscant. She is still untrained in finer points of interworld pageantry, and, truth be told, she has always been the rude one in our family.”

Ess scoffed. Eff ignored her and continued, “On behalf of both of us, it is a great honor to meet you sir Jedi Ka and sir Jedi Willow.”

“Please,” Mars said, finding his footing at last, “do not concern yourself with formalities. Neither of us have met a Deluvian before,” he glanced at Qhurs, “and, I must say, although your reputation for cosmetic excellence is well known, it pales next to the reality, your shimmering beauty here before us.”

Eff laughed, a wonderful peal of sound, and touched her hand to Mars’s arm.

I did my best not to chuckle. A few minutes ago, he seemed to have eyes only for Flora. But that prize had eluded him. Now he was warming to the opportunity Qhurs had presented us. How easily we forget.

Qhurs cleared his throat. “Well, I must say, I am confident that this will go smashingly. I must attend to other business, so I bid you all a wonderful evening.” He bowed very low. “Ladies, it was a great honor to be of service to you.”

Eff bowed in return, and Ess inclined her head

“Don’t worry,” Qhurs whispered in my ear as he walked past, “I didn’t tell them that you’re still just padawans.” He smiled like a thief who had just been given the passcodes to the vaults of the Galactic Bank, then he disappeared into the crowd.

#

We stayed for a while longer, sharing drinks and laughter. Mars was undeniably witty, if a little overeager with his lightsaber jokes, and even Ess was softening. We were having fun. I kept glancing around, hoping, perhaps, for another sight of Drayma Balmorra, but she was either lost somewhere in the vast crowd, or, having made her symbolic appearance to the masses, she had departed for the real gathering, wherever that might be.

Jaiq and Flora were also nowhere in sight, so, when Mars suggested we go down to our quarters to escape the cacophony of the ball room, I agreed. My voice was growing tired anyway.

We made our way to the lift that would bring us down to the rooms in the east wing. When the door opened, two men stood inside. They both carried heavy blasters, and wore light armor on their torsos, colored a discreet matte black. They stepped off the lift. They barely looked at me or Mars, but they leered at Ess and Eff. One of them whistled. Ess made a gesture with her arm and her fist and pushed past them on to the lift. They did not stop her, so we followed her. As the door slid shut, I heard them laughing.

“Don’t let them bother you, ladies,” Mars said. “They are security goons who don’t know nobility when they see it. A couple of nerf herders, as far as I’m concerned.”

Eff gave him a wan smile, but she looked upset. I put my hand on her shoulder. “He’s right. You are both wonderful, and you do not deserve that kind of treatment. If they give you any more trouble while we are here, let us know. But we probably won’t even see them again.”

The lift door opened to our floor. Soon we were back in the room, and we put the guards out of our mind. The night wore on, pleasant and languid. The room was generously stocked with a variety of spirits. For a while, we watched entertainment shorts on the expansive holo table. It broadcasted in the full-color spectrum, not just the hazy blue we were used to, and it was utterly absorbing.

Once we tired of that, Mars tried to teach us all how to play Pithol, a card game that involved seemingly endless rounds of bidding, feinting, and attacking. My mind was hazy with drink, and I could never quite seem to get a handle on the specific sequence of play.

I was not the only one. After our fourth or fifth pitch, Ess knocked her cards from the table and stood in a huff. “This game is ridiculous.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Turn the music off.” The room computer complied, and the background music went quiet.

We all went quiet. Eff was staring at Ess. She looked concerned, but she did not say anything. Ess did not seem to notice. She looked at each of us with her pale white eyes, and I felt a shiver run down my spine. Something was wrong. But what? Before I had time to sort through this intuition, Ess started moving. There was no music, but I knew with certainty that she was dancing. Her movements were fluid, rhythmic, and aggressive. She spun, her arms extending wide then pulling back close to her body. Her long legs rose and fell in quick, staccato bursts. Her hips jutted and curled. I could not take my eyes off of her.

When she was done, she bowed very low. “That is the Deluvian dance of grieving. We dance it to honor those who have passed.” Her white skin was covered with a sheen of sweat.

“Grieving?” Mars asked. But she did not respond. She turned and walked into the wash room. Soon we heard the shower running.

Eff looked at me, her purple skin glittering and eyes watering. “I am sorry,” she said. “We were forced to do this. I swear to you, we had no choice. You should run.”

I looked at her with wild eyes.

“What are you talking about, Eff?” Mars shouted.

Suddenly, the holo table turned on. A figure was standing there. It was humanoid, wearing a tight-fitting, black body suit. Its face was completely obscured by some sort of hood or cloak that fitted to its skull, masking any identifiable features. There was no sound but its breathing, which filled the room, pouring out of the speakers that lined the walls.

Mars stood. “Who the…”

The figure lifted its arm, and at the same instant, Mars was in the air. He reached his hands up, clawing at his throat. He made a hideous gurgling sound.

“Kill the feed!” I shouted. But the computer was not responding. I tried to block the being’s stranglehold on Mar’s by using the Force, but it felt like I was trying to blow down a building with a paper fan. If anything, the hold on Mar’s got tighter. “Dammit!” I reached out, and my lightsaber flew across the room, into my hand. The plasma ignited and I slashed down at the holotable, cleaving it in half.

The figure disappeared. Mars fell to the floor. His face was purple. An alarm started ringing, filling the room with flashing red light.

I placed my hand to Mars’s neck. There was nothing. I looked up at Eff, my eyes watering. “His throat has been crushed. He… He’s dead.”

She was crying now, her whole body shaking. “Go, Derson. Run. He is coming for you.”

#

I pointed my lightsaber at Eff’s throat. “Who are you?” I lowered my voice, trying to hold it together. “Who did this?”

Ess came out of the washroom. “We are nobody Derson Ka. We are pawns in his game. Sent here to seduce you until the moment presented itself. The fact that that you are still alive might mean that we have not done enough. We may be dead ourselves.” Her expression was stony.

“Who’s game, dammit?” My voice was rising again.

“Derson,” Eff pleaded, “We do not know. But he has our youngest sister, Ev. We are at his mercy.” She lowered her head.

Ess was next to me. How did she do that? Mars’s lightsaber was in her hand. She handed it to me. “You do not have much longer now.”

“I… I can’t just leave his body here.”

“Then you are sure to join him.”

I looked at them, then down at Mars’s body. His face was contorted with pain and fear. I ran.

They were waiting for me. The two security men from the lift, in the hallway, right outside the room. As soon as I ran out, they lifted their blasters and fired. One of the beams caught me in the left arm. I dropped Mars’s lightsaber and tucked into a roll. When I came up, my saber flashed to life, and I whipped it around, deflecting two more beams before I dove around the corner.

The alarm was ringing in the hallway too, flashing red. It gave the whole scene an ominous overtone. As I considered my next move, a small, round orb rolled next to me. Before I could push it away, it flashed, a terrible, searing brightness. I rubbed my hands to my eyes. I could not see.

Blinded. One arm useless. These men were methodical and efficient. My adrenalin was pumping. I needed to calm down. Compose myself. How many times had Terial forced us to fight blindfolded, I thought. Or with both hands tied? Or one against three? This is what we had trained for.

She had taught us that pain and fear and anger could either be our allies, or our masters. I would not be ruled by fear. I would not let my anger over Mars’s death defeat me. I channeled those emotions to a steady, laser-white focus, and I reached out with my mind. One was close. He was just around the corner. He carried some sort of melee weapon, no doubt equipped to tangle with a lightsaber. The other was hanging back, probably to provide blaster cover.

I stood, my back to the wall, and drew in a slow breath. Then I spun around the corner. I hammered the distant one with a force push, knocking him back against the wall, the blaster flying from his hands. At the same moment, I swept up with my saber. The electric growl of his pulse staff met my strike. I spun again, ducking beneath his counter strike, and swung my saber at his legs. He jumped, deftly avoiding the strike, but I used that opportunity to come up beneath his guard. I kicked him in the torso, and he fell back to the ground.

He was up an instant later, and now his companion was next to him. I heard the second pulse staff energize.

“Can the two of you defeat a blinded, crippled Jedi?” I goaded them. “Come on then!”

#

“Derson? Derson?” Someone was shaking me. I recognized her voice. It was Jaiq. “Are you okay?”

I opened my eyes. She was blurry, but my vision was coming back. She touched her hand to the burn wounds on my arm and chest. “What happened?”

“They… they happened.” I pointed to the bodies of the two assassins. My hand trembled, and my voice was throaty and raw.

“You killed them,” she said, and there was fear in her voice, and awe too.

I sat there, silent, staring at the ceiling. She was right. I was a killer. I was a killer, and my best friend was dead.

“Jaiq…” I finally said. “Mars Ton. He’s… he’s dead.”

“What? Derson… Oh no. No! How?” Her voice quavered.

I started crying, the pain and fear hitting me harder than I could manage. It felt like my whole body was going to fall apart.

She soothed me then, rubbing my back, saying nothing. After a time, I calmed down. I wiped away my tears. “I think it was a Sith,” I said quietly.

Her eyes widened.

“He… whoever he was… he knew we would be here. We were in the room, and the holo table came on, and this figure was there, and… and he lifted Mars up and… crushed his throat. It happened so fast.”

Suddenly, my head snapped up. “His lightsaber!” I said, panic in my voice. 
“I had it. Where is it? I can’t lose his lightsaber.”

She stood, and found it a moment later, near the door to our room. “It’s here.” She picked it up and hitched it to her belt, and then came to kneel beside me again. “What were you doing back in the room?”

That’s when it hit me. “Qhurs! He introduced us, me and Mars, to two beautiful Deluvians. We were with them at the gala, and then we came up here. They were in on it, the Deluvians. They told me they had no choice, that they had been sent to seduce us, to leave us vulnerable to attack. Do you think Qhurs betrayed us, Jaiq? Would he have done that?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, D. If he did, maybe he didn’t have a choice either. We’ll find out one way or another, if we make it out of here.” She looked down at me. “I need to see Mars.”

I nodded.

She went inside the room. While she was in there, I forced myself to stand and take stock of the damage. I had taken a fierce hit to my chest in the battle with those two men, but I was still alive, and they weren’t. I tested my left arm. The pain was excruciating. I could barely move it.

A few minutes later, Jaiq came back out. Her eyes were red with tears. “Those women, whoever they are, are gone.” She closed her eyes and lowered her head. “Poor Mars.”

“Is that blaster fire?” I asked. I could hear a distant whine and sizzle, punctuated with shouting. Then her words from a moment ago settled on me. “What did you mean, ‘if we make it out of here?’” Panic rose in my throat. “Where is Flora?”

Her face was grim. “I don’t know where she is. The gala came under attack. Flora and I were separated in the melee. I came back to get our lightsabers, and I found you.”

“An attack?” I realized that this was not just about the four of us. Something big was going down.

“It was an attempt on Lady Balmorra herself. Master Gal and his security team got her out of there, but there was a squad of heavily armed mercenaries in pursuit.”

“We have to find Flora! We’ll come back for Mars if we can.”

We took off towards the sound of the blaster fire.

#

We crouched down on either side of a doorway, listening. The blaster fire had gone quiet. We were in a part of the tower that neither of us had been to. I made eye contact with Jaiq and whispered, “I think it was coming from the other side of that door. But I don’t hear anything now.”

She nodded. “Flora might be in there. I’ll force the door open, then we rush in, keeping to the edges in either direction. Hopefully, one of us will draw fire, and the other can get a vantage to attack, if we need to.”

“Right. Let’s do this.”

But as I stood, the doors started to slide open of their own accord.

We blazed our sabers to life, ready for whatever came through.

It was Flora.

#

Her hands were shining with power, and her black eyes reflected the heat of the energies she emitted. Her dress was in tatters, and her beautiful indigo skin was marked with burns and lacerations. She looked terrifying.

We killed our sabers. “Flora!” I shouted, running towards her. Her face softened when she recognized me, and the light from her hands dimmed and went out. She swayed on her feet, and I quickly put my shoulder underneath her arm. “I’ve got you. Here.”

Jaiq peered into the room and whistled. I helped Flora sit, leaning her against the wall, and covering her with my tunic. Then I followed Jaiq’s gaze. The room had been some sort of storage quarters. Kitchen utensils and dry goods were scattered everywhere, containers crushed or torn open. In the middle of the chaos, four more men, dressed just like my would-be assassins, lay on the floor.

“Those look like some of the men who attacked during the gala. This room probably connects up to the kitchen that services the ballroom,” Jaiq said.

I turned back to Flora. “What happened?”

She looked at us, clearly exhausted. “Derson. I cannot tell you how good it is to see you. These men,” she tilted her head back over her shoulder, towards the scarred room, “they knew I was a Jedi. They taunted me, calling me a pitiful substitute for the real thing, and led me on a chase, away from the main attack. It brought us here. They sealed the room and boxed me in, forcing me to fight hand-to-hand. Maybe they thought that a Jedi with no saber would be easy enough to manage in tight quarters. They paid for that mistake, I promise you.” She was tired, yes, but there was still anger in her voice.

“I don’t doubt it,” Jaiq said. “Can you stand?”

She nodded, and we helped her to her feet. Jaiq handed Flora her saber. “Thank you, J,” she said. “Where is Mars?”

Jaiq and I looked at each other.

“Jaiq?” Flora said, her voice pitching up.

“He’s dead, Flora.” Jaiq said, almost a whisper. “It was… It must have been… A Sith. Derson saw it all.”

I could not meet Flora’s eyes. A wave of shame washed over me. Flora’s hand found my cheek and she stroked it. “Derson. Whatever happened, it is not your fault. How could any of us been prepared for this. The galaxy has been at peace for a long time. There has been no sign of the Sith in all these years.”

I looked up at her. “Well, they’re back now. The Sith, or something just as bad.” I broke into a sob. “I tried. I tried to help him. But all my skills were nothing. The strength of this warrior… By the time I cut the feed, Mar’s was gone.”

“I am so sorry, Derson,” Flora said. “But we do not have time to mourn. Not yet. We need to keep moving.” As the eldest, and the only one of us with noble blood, command came easy to Flora. I was grateful for it. She started moving off down the hallway, and we followed.

#

“I think the ballroom is just above us.” Flora pointed. “We should be able to use this lift.” We waited, anxious, as the lift climbed towards us. I kept my eyes on the corners, watching for any approach, and listened as the bell chimed each time the lift reached the next floor. It finally opened, and we all stood ready, in case there was someone or something waiting for us. It was empty, so we stepped in.

The door opened, and we walked out, scanning the halls again for any signs of attack. “This is creepy.” Jaiq said, “where is everyone? Shouldn’t there be security at least?”

“This isn’t over yet, Jaiq. The battle has simply moved somewhere else. Hopefully, we’ll find some way to contact Master Gal. Last I saw him, he was defending Lady Balmorra, and I have no doubt he is still alive, whatever happened.”

“Can you feel him, Flora?” I asked. “Master Gal?”

“No, Derson. No I cannot. Either he is not nearby, or there is too much interference here in the tower to be sure where he is. But Terial always taught us that we must rely on more than just the obvious Force lines of our awareness, did she not? Intuition tells me he is alive, and logic does too. A Jedi with his power is not so easy to kill. We will find him.” She stopped in front of another door. It was grand, twice our height, and carved with spiraling lines and patterns. “The ballroom. We will pick up the trail here.”

Her confidence was encouraging, but when we entered, I caught my breath. When I left with Mars and the Deluvian sisters, this room had been filled with people from all across the galaxy, echoing with the din of voices and laughter, the tinkling of glasses, and strands of music. Now it was eerily quiet. Bodies were scattered everywhere.

And sitting in the middle of the carnage was the dark Sith. His legs were crossed in a meditative position, his hands resting on his thighs. His head was bowed, obscuring his face.

Flora looked at each of us, and pointing, telling us to fan out. We formed an inverted spear, with Flora at the point, and Jaiq and I flanking. Flora nodded, and we brought our sabers to life.

He did not move.

I reached out, trying to get some sort of read on him, trying to gauge his power, but it was like looking into utter darkness. Something was there, waiting, but what? We looked at each other. Jaiq’s nostrils flared, and she shook her head, mouthing the word ‘nothing.’ I started to inch towards him, but Flora held up her hand, telling me to wait. “Whatever you’re playing at,” she said to the dark warrior, “it ends now.”

He lifted his head. It was covered with a black, featureless mask, the same color as his form fitting body armor. He stood, a fluid motion, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Standing there, it was easy to imagine that he was a statue, carved from obsidian.

Then he moved. The curved hilt of a saber hung from his waist, but he did not reach for it. Instead, he made a casual gesture with his right hand, as if flicking away a bug. I lifted into the air, flying backwards, slamming back against the wall.

There was a cracking sound, and pain spiked through my torso, but I did not lose consciousness. I shook the stars from my eyes, trying to clear my head and take in the situation. Jaiq was crumpled in a corner, her head slumped down. But Flora was still standing. Somehow, she had managed to brace for the push. Her saber was a brilliant streak of blue radiance, amplifying the lush indigo of her skin.

I forced myself to stand, stifling a cry against the agony shuddering through my torso, ribs bruised or broken. I kept my eyes on Flora and the dark warrior as I hurried over to Jaiq. He still stood with his arms crossed, waiting for Flora to make the next move. As I knelt next to Jaiq, I knew before I even checked her pulse that she was dead. The angle of her neck was sickening.

I turned, my vision tunneling, my pain forgotten, a cry rising in my throat, and charged at the warrior.

Flora used the opportunity to attack, slashing down at the warrior’s collarbone. He leapt out of range, and brought his saber to life. It burned hot red. Then I was next to Flora, joining the fray. We advanced together, letting our training take over. We became a pair of dancers, communicating with our bodies, spinning and ducking as we pressed our attack. Our sabers clashed against his with a satisfying crackle. I felt a sense of purpose rise inside of me. He would answer for Mars and Jaiq.

Flora had always been the best of us. The strongest. The wisest. The most experienced. Terial’s star pupil. Even with my broken ribs and a useless left arm, fighting at her side was invigorating. She slashed and lunged with remarkable grace, turning to the side, then spinning back, her saber searching for any opening.

None appeared. Yet. He was fast and his technique was assured. But I provided cover, making it difficult for him to counterstrike, and we had the advantage.

Then I saw my chance. He brought his saber high to block a downward slash from Flora, and her strike forced his balance to his back foot, putting him in a weak position, exposing his torso. I thrust forward, aiming my saber towards his vulnerable side, anticipating the pleasure as my saber drove in.

Except it didn’t. He knelt and twisted his arm at a reverse ninety-degree angle, blocking my thrust. With his hand.

The point of my saber flared in his palm, but it did not cut through. Flora’s saber crackled above his head. Time slowed, and it seemed like all I could do was watch as he deflected my saber to the ground and swept his leg around, kicking out Flora at the knees. She fell to the floor, and he leapt up, bringing his sweeping foot up and into my diaphragm. It was a devastating kick. I crumpled forwards, my saber flying from my hand, the wind rushing out of me.

I knelt on the ground, heaving for breath.

Flora screamed.

My head shot up, my lungs still hungry for air.

The dark warrior was standing over her. His head was tilted down, staring at her through the blackness of his mask. Something was not right. Why was Flora whimpering? Then I realized that her right arm was gone from above the elbow. It lay on the floor, her blue saber still burning in her disembodied hand.

Blood surged in my ears. Sound disappeared. I stood up and raised my hand, calling my lightsaber to me. But the dark warrior slashed it out from the air, cutting the hilt in half, rendering it useless.

“Who are you?” My voice sounded weak and afraid.

He did not reply. He raised his saber above Flora for the killing blow.

“No!” I screamed, running towards him. I gestured at Flora’s saber, pulling it from her ruined hand, and shot it up at him.

He leaned back at a wild angle, somehow keeping his feet planted, as the saber passed above him and flew across the room.

“Flora!”

As he swung back to standing, she took her left hand from the cauterized stump of her right arm and swung her left arm in a wide arc, blasting him with a powerful burst of Force energy. He flew up into the air, but he tucked into a somersault and landed in a crouch.

Flora was standing again. She called her saber back to her, and readied herself with a nimble stance on the balls of her feet. Her whole body started to glow.

He stood up slowly.

“Flora, we need to get out of here!”

She ignored me.

His saber came alive again, piercing red against his black form.

“Damnit, Derson.” Her voice was pained. “Run.”

“But-”

“Derson! You must get word back to master Terial. You must stay alive. I will hold him here. RUN!”

He leapt at her. Their light sabers met in an eruption too fast to follow.

I ran.

#

I pushed my way through an old manual door, and found myself in a back alley. I headed towards the light, and came to some sort of public square. Beings of all shapes and sizes filled the walkways, streaming in and out from every direction. Two young children with copper skin and short, thick horns laughed as they zipped past on small hover boards. A diminutive creature with wings and wiry hair growing from his leathery head hovered behind a stall, haggling with everyone who came to buy his goods. Teenagers from a variety of worlds clung together in small groups, smoking and sneering and laughing. A troupe of acrobats performed an impressive comedy routine, a small, thick circle of people gathered around them.

I took it all in. It was like waking from a nightmare. Who would believe that I just watched two of my best friends get killed and left the third to die? I touched my injured left arm with my right. It did not feel like a part of me. I saw my face reflected in a window. It was the face of a listless vagrant, bruised and swollen. I tripped over a man who was slouched on the ground by a garbage chute. He didn’t move a muscle. Was he dead? I caught a whiff of his body odor, an acrid tang that smelled like my fear.

As my adrenaline faded, the pain crept in. My whole torso felt like it was wrapped in thorns. Every breath, every step, was torment. I needed a place to hide, to get a handle on the pain, to figure out my next move. I blended in with the crowd as best I could, giving myself over to the flow without a real sense of direction until I saw a cafe that looked promising. It opened out to the street, with chairs and tables filled with people, but I saw a set of stairs that led down to more seating. I peeled off and headed for the cafe, nodding at the greeter. He smiled at me, but it was an absent smile. He paid me little attention.

I sat down at a booth where I could see the stairs, but I could duck out of site if needed. I drew in shallow breaths through my nose, and expelled the air out through my mouth, overriding my natural stress response, slowing down my heart rate, just as Terial had taught us. After a few minutes, the pain dulled to a manageable throb. I ordered tea from a quiet waitress. She was young, and she would not look me in the eyes. Who could blame her? I must have looked frightening, like some confused madman.

I lay my head down on the table and wished for Master Terial. She would know what to do. She would have been able to stop that terrible warrior of darkness.

I shot up in my seat. I felt a cold choking panic rise in my stomach. Where was I? A mug of cool, dark liquid sat on a table in front of me. My tea. I was in the cafe. I must have dozed off on the table. I looked around. The downstairs room was empty. What time was it? There was no clock on the wall. My panic subsided. I was no closer to my goal of contacting Master Terial, but I was alone, and I was still alive.

I stood to stretch out my aching body, and I caught my reflection in the mirror.

I was not alone.

Sitting at a corner table behind me was the Sith. His featureless mask was facing me.

I tried to run for the stairs, but I could not will my muscles to move. I was frozen in place.

He stood.

I tried to speak, but my voice came out as a pinched choke.

He walked over to me, touching his ice-cold hand to my face. He stroked my hair in some perverse imitation of gentleness.

He stepped back. His lightsaber burned like the red-hot core of a star. He lifted it up, and the tip disappeared into the ceiling, leaving a deep scar in the metalwork.

The strangle in my throat come unstuck. Was he toying with me? “Please.” I croaked. “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

The saber came down.

“Plea-”

<<<>>>

Continue to part two


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