Into Darkness

                                                                                                Photo by  Andrew Roy

                                                                                                Photo by Andrew Roy

Part two 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, but I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it!
If you haven't already, make sure you read part one.

Into Darkness

by Anders Cahill

#

Terial Windu sat alone on the floor, cross-legged, her eyes closed. The room was quiet. The planet D’Arta loomed on the horizon. Light from the distant sun reflected off the planet’s surface and poured in through the windows, forming glowing bars that stretched across the floor, cutting through the darkness. Motes of dust flickered in the radiance.

A band of light caught the robe covering Terial’s knees. Minutes passed. The light worked its way up her torso, then her neck, until it illuminated the right side of her face. Droplets of sweat trickled down her cheeks. Her brow was wrinkled. She could sense the tiny shifts in temperature and air quality as the light graced her skin, turning the darkness beneath her eyelids from black to a warm red, but she did not open her eyes.

More time passed. An x-lite passed over her compound, streaking through the sky towards the far side of the giant moon she lived on, thrusters humming, the pitch rising as it sped closer, then dropping lower again until it dwindled from hearing. She took no notice. She was listening to something else. 

The deep roar of the Force.

For those who know how to listen, the Force fills the universe like a giant chord, every color of the spectrum playing all at once. Inside of that roar are all of the tones of life and being. It was rumored that, in the ancient times, there were a select few who could discern every tone at once. Titanic adepts of the Force, able to follow every proverbial sound back to its source, every human life, every crawling insect, every burning star. It was a staggering concept, the ability to understand the whole while also observing any one of its parts. The magnitude of that idea has always unsettled her.

But she did not need to listen for every tone right now. Only those that she had already knew. Like threads tracing back to her fingers, she could follow the ones she knew almost anywhere, the individual Forceprint of each life like a indelible mark on a blank sheet of paper.

So she had sat for hours every day, following her padawans as they journeyed to D’arta, and then onwards to Coruscant, smiling at the bright glow of Gal Matra, her old friend, and surprised to discover that this Drayma Balmorra was not just some preening business plutocrat, but an adept with tremendous Force potential.

And she sat now, through the long, brutal night as she felt each one of her padawans cut down by the unrelenting approach of the cold being. Its Force aura was opaque and impenetrable. No matter how she tried, she could not lift the veil and perceive its true nature. She sent mantras of support and healing to her padawans, and she stayed with Derson after all the others had fallen, urging him to disappear in the crowd, helping him to keep moving when he might have collapsed from exhaustion and despair.

In the end, it was futile. The dark warrior lifted its saber and brought it slashing down on Derson Ka. Sweet Derson, who had been so devoted. His light blinked out in the darkness. Her eyes shot open, and she let out a high, piercing wail. Her padawans, who had been like her children, were all dead.

#

Gal Matra paced his chambers. Back and forth. Back and forth. His brow was furrowed with concentration and he stared into some far off distance. Every few minutes he clasped his hands together and bowed his head, touching his index fingers to his lips and rubbing the coarse hair of his dark beard with his thumbs. Back and forth. Back and forth.
A part of him knew that he should sit, and breathe, gathering the focus necessary to regain his center. But he did not. Later, he thought.

His room was spartan. Alabaster white walls. A bed that folded up into the wall. A wash basin. A small mirror, which he used to groom his beard and clean his teeth. A stand, about two feet high, that cradled his lightsaber. Whenever he left his quarters, the saber came with him. In here, it rested, waiting.

Beneath the saber, on the stand, was an image of his home planet, Jarcosa. The original picture had been captured from space by a distant surveyor vessel. Someone else had applied modifications that gave the image a simple kind of life, creating the impression that the clouds were moving across the atmosphere as day turned into night and back again. The overall effect made the massive, watery planet look like a blue and white gem sparkling in the vast, starry darkness of space.

Although it wasn’t visible in the image, looking at it always made him think of  Gejisand, the island where he grew up. Where, as a teenager, he first discovered that he had a special influence over others. When he was angry, people were afraid. When he was happy, people flocked to him. He was smart and curious, and although he didn’t understand why he had these abilities, he began to explore them, to hone them.

In time, he learned how to channel his thoughts and emotions with more precision and intention, so that he could influence specific people, what they felt, even what they did. He was twenty when he met his first Jedi master, Yim Horn. The master immediately recognized Gal as an adept and took him under his wing. The image of Jarcosa was a parting gift from his parents when he went offworld with Master Horn for the first time.

Every morning, after Gal completed his ablutions, he meditated. He knelt in front of Jarcosa, his knees close together, his toes curled under, his backside resting on his heels. He chose the position because it was uncomfortable. It challenged him to focus, and he believed that it helped him maintain his mental toughness. Working as chief security adviser for Drayma Balmorra had led him down many an interesting pathway, but the attack last night had cut too close, and he was grateful that he hadn’t entirely lost his edge, even after all these years. 

This morning, as he reflected back on the path that had brought him to this day, he was also deeply troubled by the loss of Terial Windu’s padawans. He understood that his old friend would have no choice but to come out of her self-imposed seclusion. Then she and Drayma Balmorra, two of the most powerful women he had ever known, would meet. What happened then was anybody’s guess.

#

The first time he saw Drayma Balmorra, he had been thirty-eight years old. It was on the planet of Balmorra, her family’s namesake. After years away on her own pursuits, her father had died, and she had returned to the planet to take his place at the head of the planetary construction firm that also bore her family’s name.

Gal was at the event because, at the time, he was serving as an adviser and strategist for the planet’s Minister of Resources. Back when the Empire was attempting to extend its reach to the furthest corners of the galaxy, the planet of Balmorra had been caught in the middle. It was one of the most resource-rich in the galaxy. Then the Empire had fallen, and the people of the planet were left to clean up the mess, to discover what might remain of their rich, cultural heritage, scarred and battered as it was from the wars.

Unfortunately, during the reign of the Empire, the Balmorra firm had achieved notoriety as being one of the most corrupt players in the industry. Drayma promised to ‘carry on my father’s legacy, and finish what he started. Together, we will purge the system of corruption, rebuild the prestige of Balmorra, along with all of the other things that were lost in the foolish wars of the past, not just for my family, but for everyone on this planet.’

By that time, Gal had been a Jedi Knight for almost eight years. Master Horn had anointed him on his thirtieth birthday, after nearly a decade of intense study. Not everyone is cut out to be a Jedi. It is more than just obtaining mastery over some set of Force powers. Being an adept is not enough. A knight must honor and uphold the balance of life. A knight must serve the greater good in all things. A knight accepts his failings as a mortal being, and then strives to surpass them, embracing it as the work of a lifetime. ‘Jedi’ is not merely a title bestowed to some special few. It is an ethos. It is a way of life.

And it was perfect for Gal. He had never had much taste for glory or fame. Even as a young man on Jarcosa, when others his age might have used the powers of influence that he possessed to accumulate popularity or wealth, he had focused on taking care of his family, his friends, and his village. He had come to Balmorra for the same reason: Because he knew he could be of service.

Now, along came this woman, this professed economic savior, returning to the home of her namesake from the bright star that was called Rupel in the tradition of the people of Balmorra. Rupel was actually the city-planet of Coruscant, the wealthiest and most technologically advanced planet in the whole galaxy, and Drayma had built her own fortune there, apart from her family. It was rumored that she and her father had not spoken for years.

Her arrival had been preceded by an entourage of assistants, advisers, and security specialists who had accounted for every detail to ensure the event went off without incident. When she arrived, people rushed to greet her. She smiled, glowing, beautiful, serene amidst the throng of her kin, while her security detail ensured that no one ever got too close.

Gal found himself smiling. He was skeptical, as he knew he should be, but he also noticed a twinge of envy. Why were people so excited? Who was this woman, really? She had been away for a long time. Then she stepped on to the stage and spoke. His doubts receded into a haze. He felt himself filling up with positive emotions.

Her words were polished and inspiring, but it was more than that. He recognized the power of the Force in her, just as Master Yim Horn had recognized it in him. He understood that, whether she was aware of it or not, her message was not what enlivened the crowd. It was her very presence, waves of influence rolling off of her and washing over the people gathered in the room.

She was a Force adept, particularly strong with the powers of influence. Just like him. No. That was an understatement. She was even stronger. It took everything inside of him not to fall into the fugue state, where the mind succumbs, the power to choose actions becomes meaningless, and all you care about is pleasing this person who is speaking to you.

By the time she’d finished speaking, Gal was sweating with the effort of resisting her. Her presence was remarkably potent. He rushed to a nearby washroom, and was startled to see his own face in the mirror. His normally tawny skin was ashen, and his lips were pale. He took deep breaths, calming himself, relaxing the muscles in his face. After a time, he settled, finding his center. He wiped the sweat from his brow, shaking his head. Incredible, he thought to himself.

When he came out of the bathroom, she was right there. A group of people encircled her, but when she saw Gal, she stepped towards him. The circle parted. “I saw you in the back, good sir. People are usually inspired by what I say, but you… you seemed upset. Or, perhaps, you were distracted by other matters?”

He smiled, working hard to keep his emotions guarded. “You are perceptive, Madame Balmorra. I cannot deny that you are a persuasive speaker. But I find it is better to observe and see if words and reality align before I make up my mind.”

She laughed. “That is most wise. What is your name?”

“Galent Deo en Matra. Of Jarcosa.”

“Of course! I’ve heard quite a lot about you! No one told me you were quite so handsome though.” She flashed him a dazzling grin. 

His heart beat quicker at the compliment. She was wielding her influence again. But he maintained his composure, merely nodding his thanks.

She narrowed her eyes, and her cheeks dimpled with her smile. “You are a long way from home, Galent.”

“It’s true. Jarcosa is always close in my heart, but the people of your planet needed help, and I’ve been able to provide it. I have certain skills that are useful in times like this. Just like you, I am sure.”

“Not quite like me, I think.” She gestured at the lightsaber hanging from his hip. “You are a Jedi.”

Gal nodded. “Trained under the tutelage of Master Yim Horn.”

“Oh!” She clapped her hands with delight. “The same Yim Horn who descended from the esteemed lineage of Jedi Master Corran Horn?”

Gal nodded.

“Master Yim and my grandmother were intimate friends,” she said with a rich smmile. “The Horn and Balmorra families have deep ties.”

I know, Gal thought. But he didn’t say that.

“The path of the Jedi is a rare one in these times,” Drayma said. “You are obviously a man of duty and service. And our Minister of Resources,” she gestured to the man, standing close by, “speaks quite highly of you.”

The minister nodded at Gal.

“I have been looking for just such a man,” Drayma continued. “You will come work for me, I think.”

Gal could not help but laugh. He raised his eyebrows. “And you are obviously a woman who is used to getting her way.”

“Yes,” she said, with a wide, knowing grin. “Yes I am.”

At that point in his life, Gal had already journeyed to many planets, advising important thinkers and leaders, and fighting in several battles on behalf of peoples in need. But, even with everything Master Yim Horn had told him about her, Gal found himself surprised. 

He had never met anyone quite like Drayma Balmorra.

Now, he was fifty-nine. More than twenty years since he had said ‘yes’ to her proposal. He looked at himself in his tiny mirror, in his plain white room, and smiled. To this day, even though working for her had been a part of his plan with Master Horn all along, he was still not sure if he could have said ’no’ to her otherwise. Her influence was that strong. But, at this point, it didn’t matter. He couldn’t imagine his life without her. He would protect her until his last breathe.

#

There had only been one other woman who had ever left such an impression on Gal. When he was twenty two, in his third year of apprenticeship, Yim Horn brought him offworld to the Conclave, the largest gathering of Jedi in the galaxy. It was Gal’s first time leaving Jarcosa. His mind had roiled with emotion, fluctuating between anticipation, anxiety, fear, and joy.

As they climbed on to the shuttle that would bring them into orbit where Master Horn’s starjumper was anchored, Horn cast a sidelong glance at Gal and said, “You are right to be worried, Galent. This gathering is going to be a shock for you.”

“What do you mean, master?”

“Here on Jarcosa, you are extraordinary. A young man with exceptional abilities. At the Conclave, you will be just another apprentice, and one of the youngest and least experienced at that. How does that make you feel?”

“I… I am not sure. I had not thought about it, master. I like being special, I guess… But I am also tired of being alone.”

He smiled. “Well said, Galent. Whatever happens at the Conclave, remember that the most important part of your journey to knighthood is not to be the most powerful or the most exceptional. It is to be devoted. To give yourself over with everything you have, everything you are. 

“We live in an era where many consider the Jedi order to be obsolete. You are joining a dwindling circle. But when a Jedi Knight dies, the circle is not broken. It closes in tighter. A knight’s devotion to the practice is also devotion to his comrades. Yes, each of us is special. Yes, each of us is extraordinary. But together, we are so much more. We are the ring that guards the galaxy. We are the stewards of the Force. That is what you are striving to become a part of.”

“I understand, master.”

“No, Galent. No, you do not. Not yet. But you will.” He smiled again. “I am excited for you. You are at the beginning. There is so much still to come.”

#

Gal’s first hyperspace jump was even more thrilling than all the stories had led him to believe. He was pushed back into his seat, his organs rising and compressing inside. The stars turned to beams of light, and it felt like his stomach might leap out through his mouth. 

Then, just as suddenly, it was over.

At first, the difference was not immediately obvious. Had they even gone anywhere? But soon Gal realized that the stars were different. Some were just a little off from where he expected to see them. Others were wildly out of place. A few were not even there at all.

“Look, Galent. Over here.”

He followed his master’s pointed finger. His eyes went wide, and he drew in a sharp breath. A scattering of ships in a variety shapes and sizes encircled a glittering hub station. Gal had never seen anything like it, not even on the screens or holonet. The hub station was like a sort of three dimensional web, a network of intersecting beams so dense that it looked like the nest of some massive cybernetic insect, inhuman and beautiful. 

It floated above a gorgeous silver and yellow planet. “The planet of Cthlona,” Yim Horn said. “Over a thousand years ago, it was home to a race of beings we call the Sinagua. It means ‘the ones who are gone’ in the tongue of Grandmaster Tulbrent. The planet is abandoned. No one knows where the Sinagua went, but the underground civilization they left behind inspired that.” He pointed at the dense web of the hub station, and the cluster of ships surrounding it. “The Conclave. Very few people know of it. When the Jedi temple was destroyed, Grandmaster Tulbrent created the Conclave as the last refuge for our order, a roving home for all of us nomads who still walk the path towards the light.

“For all of its impressive grandeur, the old Jedi temple was too vulnerable. A giant bullseye in the Coruscant cityscape. We learned that lesson the hardest way. That is why the location of the Conclave is never the same. An encrypted code is sent out through our private network. When the code is broken, there are a series of clues inside. If you can solve the clues, then you know where to find the Conclave.”
Master Horn grimaced and shook his head. “It is all a bit cloak and blaster for my tastes,” he said, “but, so far at least, the system works. The Conclave has never been attacked, or even discovered, as far as we know. Only Jedi are allowed here. The circle is kept very tight.”

“Why does it look like that? I have never seen anything like it.”

“As I said, it was inspired by the complexity of the Sinagua’s underground civilization. The external lattice is made up of thousands of symmetrical components that have been slotted together like the repeating molecular structure of a crystal. When there is no threat, the lattice serves as the docking and visiting quarters. If we were to excavate a Sinaguan city and send it into orbit, it would look much like that.

“Incredible, when you think about it, that they were able to build with such symmetry under the surface of the planet. Even the densest rock and minerals did not seem to stand in there way. We still don’t really understand how they did it.” He shook his head. “An advanced but forgotten technology? Or maybe a special mastery of the Force? It is intriguing to imagine what their lives must have been like.”

He smiled, clearly enjoying this line of thought. “But when you pull a Sinaguan city out of the ground and put it in space? Well, then it gets really interesting. In the event of an attack, the components of the Conclave can condense, pulling together to form a thick protective barrier around the central systems. Even if the shields were breached, the barrier could withstand the assault of a small fleet of Star Destroyers. At least, that’s what I am told.” He squinted his eyes, still smiling. “It has yet to be tested.

“Of course, as we have discussed in the past, sometimes subtlety and discretion are much more effective than brute strength. Where a fleet of destroyers might fail, perhaps a small group of highly skilled, determined individuals could succeed. But imagine an intruder trying to infiltrate that vest network without an understanding of it’s layout.”

“He would be lost.”

“Yes. The symmetry becomes a trap. He is doomed to get turned around, confused, mixed up. There is a logic to the lattice of the Conclave, but if you do not understand that logic, it will overwhelm you. A skeleton crew of seasoned Jedi Knights could hold off an attack of thousands.”

Galent raised his eyebrows. He pictured himself in a battle like that, a small band of warriors against an onslaught. His eyes narrowed with excitement at the thought. That would be something for the holocrons of legend. But he said nothing of this fantasy to his master.

Master Horn was silent for a moment. He watched Gal. Then he said, “And in the center, at the very heart of the Conclave, is the Sphere. That is where the Jedi council meet. That is where we are going.”

“And there will be others like me? Other padawans?”

His master laughed, then said, “Yes, young Galent. You will finally have the pleasure of hearing someone other than me speak.”

Gal laughed too.

“Come then. I have said enough for now. It is time to meet your new comrades. Your brethren.”

#

Yim Horn and Galent paused as the door to the Sphere hissed open. “Is it is good to see so many of us together,” Yim Horn said to Gal, gesturing to the crowd of Jedi and padawans.

They made their way into the room. Yim nodded and smiled, laughing, shaking hands, hugging his comrades and peers. Gal shadowed him, doing his best to take it all in, trying not to look as out of place and overwhelmed as he felt. He had never seen such a diversity of beings in his life. And every one of them was a Jedi Knight, or a knight-in-training. These were his people, he knew, but he could not help but be intimidated.

Then he saw the hulking form sitting in a chair on a raised dais, and he stopped in his tracks.

“Grandmaster Jeyovahn Tulbrent,” Yim whispered in Gal’s ear. “Try not to stare,” he said, nudging his elbow into Gal’s ribs.

Gal turned to look at his master, and he realized his jaw was open. He closed his mouth. “I. I am sorry, master.”

Yim laughed. “It’s okay,” he said. “The grandmaster cuts an impressive form, doesn’t he?”

Gal nodded, looking back at the grand master as he did so.

Jeyovahn Tulbrent looked out at the assemblage of Jedi and padawans with his glassy black eyes. Even above the murmur of the crowd of Jedis, talking and laughing, Gal could hear the slow, rhythmic hissing of air as the grandmaster breathed in and out. Dozens of air holes lined each side of the thick, brown, scaled hide of his neck. Gal counted one of the grandmaster’s breaths for every three of his own.

Finally, Tulbrent spoke. “Welcome, my friends.” The crowd went silent. “It brings me much pleasure to have so many of you here.” His voice reminded Gal of the swollen rivers in the rainy season of his homeland. His voice was a deep, liquid flow, punctuated by the sound of stones cracking together beneath fierce whitewater. “And it has been a long time since the last gathering of the Conclave. It is not so easy to bring us all together.”

People in the crowd chuckled at the understatement.

Grandmaster Tulbrent closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he said, “We are almost ready for the first formal council meeting of this gathering. Rey Garth just docked, along with his apprentice, Terial Windu. And Caroon Nayn is also on his way with his apprentice, Pitha deGlet an Itha.”

“What of Avo Orgai?” Master Yim asked.

A Jedi that Gal had met earlier, Tose Bin, spoke up. He was short, barely half Gal’s height, and, to Gal’s eyes, he had disproportionately long arms. His whole body was roped with thick muscles, and when he walked, he used his arms and his legs to propel himself forward, quick and agile. His voice was deep, thick with an accent that Gal had never heard before. “Before I left, Master Orgai sent word that she would arrive as soon as she could, but urged us to begin without her, if necessary”

Yim nodded, satisfied.

The grandmaster continued breathing in and out, his lungs filling like great bellows. His eyes reflected the lights in the room. Looking into his eyes was like looking up at the stars, Gal thought. Without pupils, it was impossible to know where the grandmaster was looking. He could have been staring up at the ceiling, or staring into Gal’s heart. It made Gal uneasy.

His master had warned him of this. “There is no one in the galaxy quite like Grandmaster Tulbrent,” he had said. “His size is intimidating. It can also make him seem ponderously slow. But do not be fooled. He has already lived for several centuries, and those dark eyes have seen more than most living beings could ever imagine. His mind is singular. His perceptions are penetrating. Do your best to listen and learn. He has much to teach us.”

The Grandmaster turned his head towards the doorway. A moment later, it opened, and two figures entered.

“Welcome, master Rey,” Tulbrent’s voice rippled, “and padawan Windu.”

Rey lifted his hand in greeting, flashing a bright smile. He was a Nautolan, tall and handsome, with emerald green skin and broad shoulders. Instead of hair, fourteen thick, round tentacles of flesh hung from his head. The Nautolans were incredible swimmers, and these appendages were actually highly sensitive organs. They enabled the Nautolans to pick up on subtle shifts in currents, water pressure, and water temperature, giving them the ability to form a sort of mental map of whatever body of water they were in, stretching out for parsecs in every direction. The muscles in the tentacles also provided fine-tuned navigation in the water, allowing for nimble, graceful, fluid turns. Gal thought about how much Rey and his people would love the planet of Jarcosa.

The sensory receptors also made them highly attuned to the emotional states of other sentient beings. A Nautolan can detect and identify thousands of different pheromonal profiles, and can discern if someone is anxious or ebullient. Afraid or aroused. They can even tell if someone lying. Gal watched as Rey worked the room of his fellow Jedis, attenuating his charm to match the mood of whomever he spoke to.

But, as impressed as he was, Gal did not linger on Rey. His eyes were drawn past him, to his padawan. Terial Windu.

She was stunning. A head shorter than Gal, she had bright, silver hair, which made for a beautiful contrast against her clay brown skin. She glanced at him for the briefest moment, and his heart hammered in his chest.

The Grand Master spoke again, interrupting Gal’s meditation on Terial Windu’s beauty. “This is the first time the Conclave has ever returned to the same location, here above the planet of Cthlona.” His head did not move, but Gal had the sense that he was looking at each being in the room in turn. “Over a century ago, the Jedi Temple was destroyed. It was not the first time in our history that the ancient temple had been besieged, but it was, perhaps, the last. The remnants of our Order were scattered, and I left my place on the Jedi council to follow the Force wherever it might lead me. It led me here, to Cthlona. As I explored the empty, cavernous, underground cities of the Sinagua, I received a vision. A vision that gave me a new hope. In time, the vision I had became this refuge. The Conclave. A place where our circle could always connect, even in the darkest of times.

“It has served that purpose well for generations.” He paused again, his breathe slow and steady. Then he said, “But three months ago, I was given another vision. It is why I have called us all here. Not just to the Conclave, but to the planet of Cthlona.”

Everyone was listening with rapt attention.

“I wish I could say that this most recent vision left me with the same sense of hope as the last one. But the truth, my friends and faithful companions, is that it left me afraid. For the past three months, I have meditated on the possible meanings for what I saw, but the way forward is clouded. There is light ahead of us, but also much darkness.”

A heavy silence slipped over the room.

“What did you see, Master Tulbrent?” Master Tose Bin’s deep bass voice broke the quiet.

“The Conclave. Destroyed.”

A worried murmur rippled through the group.

“But we have taken so many precautions to safeguard this place,” Yim said.

“You are right,” The Grandmaster said. “Our past mistakes guided us as we built the Conclave. We have tried to anticipate every risk. And seeing a vision does not guarantee its truth. Even the most gifted seers still work in the realm of probables and possibles. And I am not the most gifted. But the nature of the unexpected is just so. It is the thing that is not anticipated. My vision is evidence that there is a real threat. We cannot rest idle.”

“Do you have any ideas?” Master Rey Garth asked. “What do you advise?”

“The path ahead is not clear. I have called this council because we must do our best to consider every option and decide together.”

He paused again. His eyes closed. Everyone waited. He opened them again. “Master Nayn has just docked. The formal council will begin as soon as he is here.” 

He lifted his massive arm, and rested it on his belly. “Padawans,” he said.

Gal and all the other padawans stood up a little straighter.

“Instead of keeping you in the dark, I have elected to share this news with you. Why? Because it affects you most of all. You are the future. Whatever the council decides at this gathering will ripple throughout your lives. Every aspect of your training will be informed by this new threat.

“Whatever we decide, it will not be made lightly. In turn, you must hold this news close. You must honor the collective wisdom of the Jedi masters assembled here. You will not be privy to all the details of our plans, but now you know how serious it is.”

Every padawan stood stock still, unsure of how to respond.

The grandmaster was silent for a long stretch of time. Gal resisted the urge to look at Master Yim. Someone coughed. Finally, Tulbrent grunted with satisfaction, and nodded, lifting his hand from his belly. “You are dismissed,” he said.

#

“Hello.” Her voice was clear and round, like the sounding of the bells of the temple of Dor en Jarca Fe, which stood high in the peaks of the mountains of Jarcasand, the largest island on Jarcosa.

Gal was speechless. He stared at her. She looked back at him, meeting his gaze, a subtle smile on her lips, a lifting of the eyes. When he realized that he was staring, his cheeks grew hot. He was, of course, no stranger to flirting. He was widely considered the most handsome man on his island at home. But Terial intimidated him. She was beautiful, confident, and very powerful. She may have been just a padawan, but Gal sensed that her connection to the Force ran deep.

“Hello?” she said again, raising an eyebrow.

He took a deep breath and tried to regain some measure of composure. He gave her his most winning grin, amplifying it with a touch of Force charm. Then, he said, “Apologies. I am being rude, just staring like this. I never thought an off-worlder could be so beautiful.”

She laughed, then said, “Don’t waste your energy. Your charms won’t work with me, no matter how handsome you are, or how much Force you put behind them.”

Gal’s cheeks grew even hotter.

She laughed again, then said, “We are all off-worlders here at the Conclave. I know it is not easy to be a first-timer, so let’s try this again.”

She paused. “Hello.” She said.

Gal let out a big sigh that turned into a laugh. He looked up at the ceiling and shook his head. Then he said, “Hello, Terial Windu, it is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Ah. You know my name, thanks to the Grandmaster’s greeting, but I do not know yours.”

Gal gave her a tiny bow and said, “My name is Galent Deo en Matra. Most call me Gal.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Galent. You are Master Yim Horn’s apprentice, yes?”

Gal nodded.

“You are very lucky. He is a great Jedi. How long have you been apprenticed to him?”

“A little over two years. He came to my planet Jarcosa three years ago. Tidal floods had killed thousands of people, causing a great disturbance in the Force. He came to help. When he met me, he took me on as his apprentice. I was nineteen. This is my first time off-world.”

Terial whistled. “Your first time? How old are you now?”

“Twenty-two.”

“And you get to come to the Conclave? You probably do not even realize how special that is.”

“I don’t know. It feels pretty special to me. What do you think they are talking about right now, in the council?” 

“They are discerning the path forward.”

“Right. I know that. I guess what I mean is, what do you think they are going to do?”

“I don’t know. And it doesn’t do us much good to speculate. We aren’t privy to the inner circle of the council, and we do not know what information the Grandmaster is sharing with them. Whatever they decide, it will be for the best.”

Gal considered this.

Terial pivoted to a lighter subject. “Did you manage to hold down your breakfast when you went into hyperspace?”

Gal chuckled, then said, “It was even better than all the stories I had heard.”

“Yes. Sometimes I forget. Take it for granted. But I have been places and seen things I never could have imagined if not for that incredible technology.”

“How long have you been studying with Master Garth?”

“I am in my sixth year of study. Rey Garth may seem cavalier, but he is an incredible teacher. The Windu legacy is not always an easy burden to carry, but master Garth has never treated me as any less or any more because of it. I am no longer just one of Mace Windu’s many distant relatives. Master Garth has helped me define myself. I am forever grateful to him for that.”

“Did you ever meet Mace Windu?”

“Yes, when I was very young. He was my great uncle. I remember he seemed so tall, so serious. I think I was scared of him, at first. But he was kind to me. Adults usually don’t really pay attention to children, too busy with their frenzied plans and schemes. But he wasn’t like that. He always paid attention.”

She reached into the folds of her cloak and pulled out a small pendant.

“I still carry this with me. He gave it to me. Do you want to see it?”
Gal nodded and held out his hand. She passed it to him. It was a small stone, surprisingly heavy, in the shape of a rough triangle. Its surface was lined with ridges, but it had a polished sheen, glinting in the light.

“It is Kal Valca, a volcano of Haruun Kal, the planet where Mace was born. Haruun Kal is a harsh world. The volcanic network is highly active, and the lower atmosphere is too toxic for carbon-based lifeforms like us. But the natives of the planet, the Korunnai, thrived in the upper atmosphere.

“Mace’s family -my family- the Ghosh Windu, came from the base of Kal Valca, just above the level where the atmosphere became inhabitable. It is said that the village elder, Manaq, climbed to the summit of the volcano every day.

“Mace never knew his parents. They died shortly after he was born. He was taken from Haruun Kal as a baby, because his force potential was already bright and distinct, and the Jedi offered support and protection to the Korunnai. Manaq gave him the icon of Kal Valca so that he would always carry his people close. It is a symbol of great meaning for our family, of all the struggles we have overcome.”

Gal passed it back to her. “Thank you for sharing that. Master Horn has spoken much of Mace Windu. He was truly a Jedi master.”

“Yes. He was.”

“I wish I could have met him.”

She looked down at the floor for a moment, then said, “Well, you will have to make do with me.” When she looked up again, her face was sad.

Gal did not know what to say. He scratched his chest.

She laughed again, breaking the silence. “Can I show you something else?” she asked him.

“Yes!” He nodded with enthusiasm, eager to move away from the hint of sadness that had threatened to intrude on his time with this wondrous woman.

She grinned and took his hand. “Come with me.”

#

They stood on a transparent floor, and the amber and golden planet of Cthlona turned below them, filling the room they were in with its reflected starlight.

“Have you ever seen anything like it?” she asked Gal.

“No. Never.”

“What does it make you feel?”

“Awe. And sadness, too. My master told me that an ancient race of beings once lived there. That no one knows where they went.”

“The Sinagua. My nan, Chepa Windu, used to tell me stories about them. She thinks that they found a doorway to another world, another dimension.”

“Is that possible?”

“I don’t know. But I do know that for all of our technology, for all of our powers, there is so much more that we don’t understand. I like to believe it might be possible.”

“Would you walk through that doorway, then? If it was open for you? Would you leave this all behind?”

She turned her head to regard him, surprised by his question. He had struck on something. “I… I don’t know,” she said.

They looked down at Cthlona in silence. Silver clouds slipped across its yellow surface.

#

“Gal?”

Gal and Terial turned to find his master standing at the threshold of the observation dome.

“Master Horn. You’re finished?”

“Yes. The council has completed its deliberations.”

The silence that followed was pregnant with Terial and Gal’s questions, but they were too disciplined to ask the master for information that had not yet been offered.

Yim Horn gave the two a grim, knowing smile. “Come. Walk with me,” he said. “Master Garth is waiting. I will tell you what I can, though I doubt it will slake your curiosity. There is much still to uncover before we will understand the depth of the grandmaster’s vision.”

#

“Does this mean I can’t go home?” Gal asked.

“Not as soon as we had assumed,” Yim Horn said. “Grandmaster Tulbrent has asked me to travel to Coruscant to meet with the Vice Chancellor, Tarly Balmorra. Master Tose Bin has agreed to step up as the interim chair of the Jedi Council, in the grandmaster’s absence. We must head to Coruscant directly to ensure that our relationship with the Federation remains strong.”

“And Jarcosa is in the opposite direction,” Gal said.

Yim nodded.

“I understand,” Gal said. Then he smiled. “I’ve heard that Coruscant is an incredible place.”

“It is a den of hssiss,” Rey Garth said, squinting his eyes and flaring his nostrils, “dangerous and deadly.”

Yim frowned. “It’s not quite so simple as that,” he said, trying to soften the edge of Garth’s pointed statement. “Coruscant is one of the most populous worlds in the galaxy. Virtually every species of sentient life is represented in its denizens. It is a broth with every ingredient mixed in. Some ingredients blend better than others. We will have to proceed with sensitivity and caution.”

Rey Garth pursed his lips and nodded.

“But what about the grandmaster,” Terial asked. “Where is he going?”

“We cannot tell you that. And, in truth, it is because we do not know. The grandmaster has selected two other Jedi to join him. I cannot tell you their names. The three of them are going to conduct discreet investigations, likely at great personal risk.

“In their absence, our mission is to uphold balance in the Federation and maintain the complex web of galactic relationships that help our order thrive. In short, we are maintaining appearances by doing what we always do.”

“Is there anything else you can you tell us?” Terial said.

“That we have more questions than we do answers,” Yim said. “And answering the questions is how we will make a path forward.”

“Enough,” Rey Garth said. “We have been talking for too long. Whatever comes next, our training is the only thing that can hold us steady as the currents whorl and shift.”

Yim nodded. “Master Garth is right. We must not let our questions distract us anymore than they have to.”

Rey Garth leaned in close to Gal. “Tell me, Galent Deo en Matra, how are you holding up under Master Horn’s tutelage?”

“That is not for me to judge, Master Garth.”

“Ah. Of course not. But - how can I put this delicately? - Horn has somewhat of a reputation.” He looked over at Gal’s master after he said this, flashing his charming smile.

“A reputation? What kind of reputation?” Gal also glanced at his master, but Yim Horn was stone faced.

“He hasn’t made you run the crucible trials yet, has he?” Rey said.

“The crucible trials?” Gal raised his eyebrows.

“Ah.” Rey’s dark eyes were gleaming with mischief.

“Master Garth,” Yim said. “Leave the young man be.” He seemed to be trying to hold back a smile, the corner of his lip twitching up for a moment before he composed himself.

“Of course, Master Horn. Of course. Far be it from me to reveal your trade secrets for transforming a hopeless padawan into a Jedi knight.”

“It worked for you, did it not?”

Gal glanced between the two men, and then over to Terial, his eyebrows still raised. Terial was wearing a subtle grin, and she tilted her head when Gal found her eyes.

“Wait. Hold on.” Gal said. “Master Garth, you studied under Master Horn?”

“Oh yes! Of course, in my case, he did not have much teaching to do. All this rare, natural talent made it easy for him.” Rey punctuated his braggadocio by twirling the hilts of his twin sabers in each hand before holstering them back on his belt.

Master Horn let out a big belly laugh. “That’s not quite how I remember it,” he said. “You may be Master Garth now, but back then you were little Rey, barely more than a youngling, and a clumsy one at that.”

Rey laughed.

“Well, Master Horn,” Gal said, picking up on the joke, “you do have an exceptional eye for talent, if I do say so myself.” It was rare for Gal to see Yim enjoying himself this much, and he could not help himself.
“Oh ho!” Rey Garth said. “I like your padawan more and more with each minute.”

Yim Horn let out an exaggerated sigh, and touched his fingers to his temples, squinting his eyes in mock exasperation. “Why do I do this to myself?” he mumbled, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Master Garth patted him on the shoulder. “There there, old man. Don’t blame yourself. You attract aspiring Jedi like durnoth to the lamplight. You couldn’t avoid us even if you wanted to.”

Yim lifted his head, narrowing his eyes at Garth. Then he looked at Terial. “You have been quiet, padawan Windu. What say you to all of this nonsense?”

She dove right into the fray. “These two keep going on about how talented they are, but all I am hearing is a lot of hot air,” she said.

“My sentiments exactly,” he replied. “Did you bring your training orb?” he asked her.

She nodded.

“May I see it?”

She nodded again, then reached down into the bag near her feet. She pulled out a white and red orb and tossed it towards Gal’s master.
He held out his hand as if to catch it. Instead, the orb halted in the air, floating about three feet from his hand. He flicked his index and middle finger as if to say ‘come over here,’ and the orb started to spin, like a planet rotating on its gravitational axis. A series of lights on its surface started glowing.

He made a satisfied sound. Then he reached up to his head and untied the ribbon of fabric that was holding his long gray hair back behind his head.

His hair fell down to his shoulders. He looked at Gal. “Cover your eyes with this,” he said, holding up the fabric.

Gal frowned, pulling his lips together. Then he shook his head and smiled. He took the fabric, wrapping it around his face.

Master Garth leaned in and wiggled his fingers. “Can you see how many fingers I am holding up, young Galent?”

Gal shook his head.

“And would you tell me even if you could?”

Even though it was a playful jab, Gal took it seriously. “Yes, Master Garth. I am nothing without my integrity.”

Garth chuckled. “Good man.” He grasped Gal’s shoulder and said, “I think he’s ready.”

“But are you?” Yim Horn asked. At the same moment, the ball stopped spinning and fired a beam straight at Rey Garth’s back.

Faster than seemed possible, Rey slipped the blast, bending his right knee to bring him out of the path of the beam’s sting. It struck the far wall, hissing and sparking.

Rey stood, and glanced over his shoulder, a smile on the corner of his mouth.

“Just making sure,” Yim said, doing his best to keep a straight face.

“What just happened?” Gal asked, his voice tinged with nervousness.

“If you don’t know,” Terial said, “then the next few minutes are going to be rather unpleasant.”

Everyone laughed except for Gal.

#

“How does this feel?” Terial placed her finger on Gal’s bare chest, daubing the minor burn with a glob of ojobu paste.

Gal winced.

“If it didn’t sting, we would never learn. That’s what master Garth always says to me.”

“Do you think he means these wounds? Or is he talking about my pride?”

She smiled.

“You were incredible back there,” Gal said. “You put up a much stronger showing than I did.”

“Working with the training orb has been part of my practice for over a year. It was your first time. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Your practicing is paying off.”

“Thank you, Galent.” She finished applying the salve, then handed him his shirt.

He slipped it on, grunting with the effort of lifting his arms.

“Gently, now, Galent” Terial said. “It will be a day or two before the swelling recedes.”

“You can call me Gal. Everyone does.”

“I prefer Galent. It has a ring of beauty to it.”

“It was my grandmother’s name. Galenta. She has become something of a legend among my people. She had the gift of foresight.”

Terial raised her eyebrows. “She was an adept?”

Gal nodded. “I remember, when I was just a youngling, she would take me walking through the forest at the base of Geji, the mountain that guards our island Gejisand. She loved to walk the game trails in those woods, all the paths cut through the brush by the animals grazing and foraging. ‘Pathways of desire,’ she called them. She would always smile a little when she used that phrase, a smile filled with love and sadness.
“I didn’t understand it then, of course, but she was thinking of my grandfather in those moments. They had met in that same forest. He was an explorer from a distant island. When he saw the threads of smoke weaving up from our village, he beached his wave skipper, and came ashore.

“My grandmother knew who he was even before he landed. She had seen his coming in a vision. She told no one else that until much later, but on the day he arrived to Gejisand, she went out to meet him in the woods. He was a stealthy hunter, but she surprised him before he could reach the village, calling out his name. Ovur Fray.

“When Ovur heard his name on the lips of this strange, enchanting woman who had emerged like smoke from the trees, he dropped to his knees and bowed his head. ‘Forgive me if I trespass, faena. I have been at sea for more than two cycles of the wandering star. I saw the smoke above your forest, and only hoped for a warm bed and a warm meal.’

“What does ‘faena’ mean?“ Terial asked.

Gal stroked his bare chin. “A sort of spiritual guardian,” he said. “When my grandparents were young, much of what falls within our understanding of the Force would have been seen as the auspice of the faena. And many other things besides. Things that even you and I, for all that we have seen, would consider improbable.”

“It is difficult, sometimes, to know where legends end and the true nature of the Force begins.” Terial said.

Gal nodded, then continued. “That night, Ovur found the warmth he had been hoping for in her bed. Even then, as a young woman, Galenta was a person of great importance on Gejisand. Her gifts had manifested as a child, and the elders had deemed her a blessing from the mountain Geji. No one doubted her when she said that her coupling with Ovur had been foretold.

“What no one knew then, except for her, was that his death had also been foretold. His arrival to our island was a fateful meeting of bloodlines. Galenta knew that she had to act. My grandfather, Ovur Fray, set out to the Great Sea again the next day, as he had sworn he would, and was never heard from again.”

“He died at sea?”

Gal nodded. “As far as we know. When my father was born, my grandmother named him Ovur Freyano, son of Ovur, and in his first month, she organized an expedition to Hetsand, the island where Ovur Fray was from. On Jarcosa, my planet, cultures and mores often differ greatly from island to island. We are all separated by so much ocean. You understand?”

Terial nodded.

“There were some on Hetsand who accused Galenta of being a dark faena, sent to corrupt the peoples of the island. But she was not afraid. In time, she brokered a lasting partnership with the people of Hetsand, a partnership that still exists today.”

“I would have liked to meet your grandmother. She sounds like a remarkable woman. Her name suits you.”

Gal bowed his head at the compliment. “Thank you, Terial. I think she would have liked you too.”

#

Gal opened his eyes, his meditation complete. He took one last look at the moving image of his homeworld Jarcosa, propped on the tiny altar in his spartan room, then he popped up to standing, reaching his arms towards the ceiling, limbering up his back and shoulders and shaking out his legs after all the time spent kneeling.

“Drayma,” he said, speaking into his com. He was one of the few people in her sprawling personal empire who had direct access to her private band. 

“Yes, Gal?” her reply came back after a moment.

“We need Terial Windu. Whoever or whatever it is we’re facing, I’m not sure we can do it without her.”

“I know,” she said. 

“You do?” he said, surprised. “She won’t be easy to convince.”

“While you were meditating, I was doing some thinking of my own. Meet me on the satellite tonight. I have plan.”

#

Drayma Balmora’s private satellite orbited above Coruscant in a liesurely parabola, completing a full circuit of the planet every four-point-three hours. It was her inner sanctum, heavily guarded and heavily shielded. A team of security droids swept for surveillance on a daily basis, and those droids could only be programmed from the satellite’s onboard computer, a system completely walled off from the planetary network.

No one came onboard except those Drayma invited.

Until tonight.

The satellite’s room com buzzed, interrupting Gal and Drayma as they discussed the path ahead. “Madame Balmorra? You have…” the voice on the line coughed. “em… a guest.”

Drayma looked at Gal, eyebrows raised. “A guest, Tortei? I am not expecting anyone. How did this guest even get access to the satellite?” Her voice was acid.

He cleared his throat. “Em… Yes, Madame,” Tortei’s voice came back. “I know it is quite outside protocol, but she is insistent. I think that you will want to meet with her.”

Drayma pursed her lips. “Since when do you presume to speak for me, Tortei?”

Tortei did not respond. A moment later, the elevator from the reception area up to Drayma’s private office hummed to life.

“Caraya's soul,” Drayma cursed. “What is that man thinking?”

Gal stepped forward, standing between Drayma and the elevator door. 

“Lady Balmorra. Stand back. There is someone of great power coming up the lift. I should have sensed it sooner, but somehow it was concealed from me.” His lightsaber blazed to life.

“Well then,” Drayma said. “Perhaps we meet our enemy even sooner than we hoped for.” A tiny blaster emerged from within the folds of Drayma’s robes. She pressed on it with her thumb. Its energy cell hummed with power. Gal glanced back, and Drayma gave him a wicked smile. “This little one is meaner than it looks.”

He smiled back. “Are you referring to your firearm, Lady? Or yourself?”

She laughed.

The elevator chimed.

Gal turned, smile gone, face deadly serious.

The door slid open.

Drayma’s blaster flew out of her hand, clattering against the ground, sliding underneath a chair.

A robed figure stepped off the lift into the room.

Gal lunged forward.

The intruder lifted her hands and pulled back her hood.

Gal swung his lightsaber at her head, but instead of slicing through her, the plasma blaze of his saber went quiet, receding in an instant back to the hilt. He finished what would have been a killing stroke, but it was just his arm moving through the air.

“I almost thought you didn’t recognize me, Galent.” She was smiling. The intervening decades had taken their steady, implacable toll, as they always will. Her face was more weathered, a filigree of wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, but the years had not dimmed the beauty of her smile or the gleam of her almond-brown eyes.

He let his arms relax, holstering his saber on his hip. He turned to Drayma and said, with just a touch of irony, “Madame Balmorra. Allow me to introduce Master Terial Windu.”

Drayma clapped her hands together, showing no signs of distress or surprise, as if she had been expecting Terial all along.

“Master Windu. It’s truly an honor. Gal has told me so much about you. Welcome to my inner sanctum. I trust you found my personal staff welcoming and accommodating.” She smiled, teeth wide and gleaming, a knowing glint in her eyes.

Despite herself, Terial chuckled. “Yes, Madame Balmorra. Quite.”

Drayma nodded. “Excellent. And now that you are here, we can well and truly begin. Gal?”

Gal stood silent for a moment, appraising the situation. Then he closed his eyes and shook his head. When he opened his eyes again, he looked at Terial and sighed. There was sadness in his voice. “I was hoping you wouldn’t find out like this, so soon, my old friend. I am sorry.”

Terial glared at him. “How should I have found out, Galent? Should I have waited for the condolence letter, where you send me a bouquet of flowers and your deepest sympathies? If so, I still have not received it. Perhaps it’s on its way now?”

Gal took in a breath. “Maybe I deserve that,” he said, “but we are still trying to make sense of it all. When we were ready, I was planning on coming to you myself. Tomorrow as a matter of fact.”

“Well, I’m here now. And I know what happened. They were my padawans, Galent. How could I not know?” She looked at Drayma. “What do you want to begin, now that I am here?”

“I, too, am sorry for your great loss, Master Windu. But I am grateful that you are here now, because there are new players on the board, powerful ones, and we are going to need your help.”

Terial glared at Drayma. “Do *not* think you can influence me like that. My mind is not so febrile.”

Drayma raised an eyebrow. “Apologies, Master Windu. My ability to influence others is a part of who I am. It is difficult for me to turn it off.”

“It does not matter if it is ‘on’ or ‘off.’ It will not impact me.” She looked at Gal. “He tried it once, when we were still young, and it didn’t work then either.”

A slight smile played on Drayma’s lips. “Then I can only hope that you will really listen to what we have to say. That reason can convince you were Force powers cannot.”

“I’m listening.”

“That… that thing. The one that killed your padawans. It’s a part of something bigger, a movement that runs very deep. Over the years, I have accumulated a whole host of enemies. Most of them are harmless. They can’t really touch me. The ones who were a real risk, well, I have dealt with them accordingly.

“But this? This is something different. We do not yet understand the whole scope if it. But no one has ever gotten so close to me before.” She paused, looking at Terial, and smiled again. “Well, that is, until tonight.”

“It sounds like you’ve fallen into the proverbial Sarlaac’s nest, madame. But that’s what happens when you trifle with the dark side.”

“Trifle with the dark side?”

“You have a gift, madame. Rather than devote yourself to understanding the roots of that gift, you have used it in service to your own ambitions. No matter how noble you are, or think you are, you are still serving yourself. That is the path towards darkness. It always will be.”

Up until now, Drayma had taken Terial’s dramatic intrusion in stride, but this comment rattled her composure. “Look,” she said, a bite in her voice, “the old binary understanding of light and dark is simplistic. I’m not interested in purity or dogma. I’m not an ideologue. I’m trying to do what’s best for the galaxy, and that means making hard decisions and compromises. While you fret over the principles of your Order, I am making the galaxy a safer, better place.”

“And were my padawans safe here?” She let the question land. A look of regret crossed Drayma’s face. “You drew down the ire of someone powerful, and it became a mess you were not prepared for.”

Drayma was silent for a moment. Then she said, “That is part of the risk we take. But at least I have not been hiding from my power on some distant moon.”

Terial drew in a sharp breath through her nose. “What have you been telling her about me, Gal?”

Gal sighed. “I told her who you are, Terial. How special you are. I am sorry if I breached our confidence, but we need you. There are forces at play who are willing to go to great lengths to get what they want. But Drayma is the most powerful woman in the galaxy. Any road to power must, at some point, lead through Balmorra Industries. Through her.”

“It is Gal’s job to keep me informed, Master Windu. He is my chief of security, and my closest adviser. Whether or not you are willing to accept it, you are near the center of this. You are also a person of great interest to me personally. He would have been remiss in his duties if he did not give me at least some information about you.”

“A Jedi’s duties are to his Order.” She glared at Gal.

He met her gaze and did not waver. He wished desperately he could tell her.

“And the Order exists to bring balance to the universe, yes?” Drayma said. “To protect those who cannot protect themselves?”

“Yes,” Terial said.

“Well, Master Windu, whether you believe me or not, I am trying to do the same thing. The Force is not the only power that animates the universe.”

Before Terial could respond, Drayma turned and gestured to the observatory window. “The view from here is magnificent, isn’t it?”

The surface of Coruscant glittered far below them, a vast network of glittering lights and gleaming buildings, like the circuitry of some massive computer.

“Yes,” Terial said, “it is. But I didn’t come here to the great den of hssiss to see the sights.”

“Please, Master Windu. Be patient. You arrived to my satellite without an invitation. At least do me the favor of letting me show you something important.”

“The death of my padawans under your watch was invitation enough, don’t you think? Why don’t you just tell me what you want? Get to the point.”

“It won’t be much longer until our orbit carries us there.”

“I don’t like to be toyed with, Drayma.”

“I am not toying with you, Master Windu. I am only trying to show you what I cannot tell you. Because words alone are not enough.”

“You have a flair for drama. Gal warned me of this.”

“Warned you?” She glanced at Gal. “It seems the information flows both ways with this, Gal.”

Gal coughed, then raised his chin, trying to look dignified. “That was many years ago, when I first took up services here, and Terial and I still… spoke to one another.”

“And you’ve always known I don’t like drama,” Terial said to him, a glint of mischief in her eyes. She turned back to Drayma. “The theater of politics is a deadly game, madame. My great uncle was one of the most powerful Jedi who lived, and it killed even him.”

“I take your meaning, Master Windu. But unlike that senator who made himself an emperor, my motives and power are out in the open. Balmorra Industries is the single most powerful corporate entity on Coruscant. Our influence in galactic affairs is undisputed. And how have I used that influence? To rebuild. To repair. To empower.”

Terial said nothing.

Drayma sighed. “You think I’m just another greedy oligarch. Maybe you even worry I’m something worse. Something darker. But I believe in the spirit of equity, that the march of progress can carry all of us forward. I am committed to this, and I know I can make a difference.”

“Everyone is the hero of their own story, madame. But how many people know you are a Force adept? How many know that the influence you wield comes with a special kind of persuasion?”

Drayma pursed her lips and nodded. “The line between discretion and secrecy is a hazy one. I did not even know myself for much of my life, until I met Gal. But you knew right away, did you not?“

Terial nodded.

“Well, so did he. For those with the means, my abilities are not masked behind a veil. I have simply chosen a different path than you. You use your connection to the Force to develop your personal abilities to levels most of us can only dream of. As much as you Jedi are loathe to admit it, you strive to become like gods among men.”

Terial scoffed, but Drayma continued. “Well, I am equally ambitious, in my own way. I have used my connection to the Force to raise up our galactic federation out of the rubble and ruin of war. You hate drama? So do I. I seek peace. And the straightest path to peace is economic.”

They stared at each other. The silence grew heavier. Finally, Drayma looked past Terial, back to the observatory window, and pointed, “There. Look. Do you see it?”

Terial turned to look. She frowned, and her brow wrinkled. “What am I looking for?”

“Enlarge,” Drayma said, then, “right seven cents.”

The image on the observatory window zoomed in, the surface of Coruscant resolving into incredible detail as the buildings seemed to rise up towards the satellite. 

And at the center of the image, the wreckage of a massive structure.

“The ruins,” Terial said. She sounded unimpressed.
 
“Yes. The old Jedi Temple. More than a hundred years later, and it still lies in disrepair. There is talk of rebuilding it, of course, as there has been many times throughout the last century. I have even thought of rebuilding it myself. I could afford to do so. But it is a symbol of the old guard. The old world. The old wars. The galaxy does not need knights anymore, Terial. The galaxy needs people like me. Builders. Merchants. Inventors. Artisans. The galaxy needs a new hope.”

Terial turned back to Drayma. Her voice was like hot steel. “My padawans are dead, and if not for Galent, you might be dead too. It seems the war is not quite so old as you think. Maybe we knights are a dying breed, but we are not dead yet. For that, you should be grateful. I do not need to see the ruins of my lineage to understand what’s at stake here.”

“I *am* grateful,” Drayma replied. “That’s why I wanted you to see this. Not just to show you that the old road is crumbling, but to offer you a chance to help us build the new road. You are more than just a knight, Master Terial. You are a leader. Together, with you and Gal at my side, we have the power to rebuild the galaxy. No force for darkness will be able to stand against us.”

Terial did not respond. Her face was a mask. She shifted her gaze from Drayma to Gal, then back again. She was still looking at Drayma when she spoke. “Galent, this woman has corrupted you. You have compromised the Jedi teachings. Everything that Master Horn taught you, and for what? So you can be part of some veiled corporate hegemony, hiding behind the banner of righteousness?”

Gal shook his head. “It’s not so simple Terial. This endless game of black and white. Good and evil. The Jedi were nearly destroyed because of our inflexibility, because of our commitment to the fiction that we are always just and right. And the Sith, for all their terrible threat, could not help but destroy themselves in their hunger for power. They always end up eating their own. There is something darker at work here. Something more complex.”

“The Sith would eat the whole universe if they could. That is their nature. But this middle way you speak of is a slippery slope. If you are willing to compromise the fundamental tenets of our Order, who’s to say what other compromises will be made in the name of this so-called mission of service. The darkness is implacable. It will creep in through every crack if you are not vigilant.”

“Terial. It has been more than thirty years since Grandmaster Tulbrent disappeared. Our masters have passed on to the Force. Master Tose Bin has done his best, but how much longer will he live? The order is withering without Tulbrent’s leadership. We Jedi cannot do this alone. We have to find a better way.”

“Your lack of devotion is disturbing, Galent.”

Gal shook his head. “Damnit, Terial. Stop treating me like a traitor.” He hadn’t been planning on having this conversation so soon, but he had to tell her something, he realized, or he would lose her. “Do you remember when I came to Coruscant with Master Horn after our gathering at the Conclave all those years ago?”

“I remember. What of it?”

“And do you remember who we met with?”

“The Vice-Chancellor. Tarly Balmorra.” Terial’s eyes skipped to Drayma.

“She was my grandmother,” Drayma said.

“Do you think it’s just a coincidence that I am working with Drayma now? Did it ever occur to you that the fate of the Jedi Order has been interwoven with the Balmorra clan for generations?”

“What are you getting at?” Terial said.

Drayma stepped in and said. “When my grandmother Tarly was a young woman, there was a young man whom she loved very much. But they were destined to do more than simply live their private lives. They were called to serve the galaxy. To help build what would become the peaceful federation that has prevailed for decades. They had to sacrifice their love for the greater good. That man’s name was Yim Horn.”

“If you would only open your eyes,” Gal said, “and look past the dogma, you might see that we have a chance to do real good here. To ensure that history does not repeat itself. That our galactic federation does not end riven with war. You can be a part of that. We need you.”

Terial paused for a long time. “Perhaps I have judged you too harshly, Galent,” she finally said. “This is your choice to make. But I can have no part of it. I’ll conduct my own investigations, and when our paths cross again, as I’m sure they will, you’d be wise to stay out of my way.” 

Her eyes were steely, and they flicked to Drayma Balmorra one last time. But they softened a little as she reached out to touch Galent’s arm. “I’m sorry, my old friend,” she said. Then she sighed, turned away from them, and walked back into the lift. The doors slid shut behind her.

“I am too,” Gal whispered after her. 

He turned to Drayma, who stood, patient and silent. “I suppose that could have gone better,” he said with a rueful grin.

“Soon, Gal,” Drayma said, “she’ll have no choice. It’s time for us to strike back.”

#

Gal Matra took in a deep, quiet breath through his nostrils. He thought about Terial, wishing she was with him, but tonight, he would have to do this alone. 

The only constant thread in his investigations had been a single name: Dothron Means and Holdings. As far as he could tell, DMH was a shell. Some sort of industrial estate and facilities investment conglomerate, far-flung property holdings and manufacturing facilities stitched together by the loose galactic regulations that allowed for a business like DMH to even exist. 

The same kind of hazy regulations that had allowed Drayma Balmorra to consolidate so much power.

He was not ignorant of that fact.

As with all realities, there is light and shadow, thought Gal. The more we strive to live in the light, the more the shadow takes root underneath us, like the nightcap mushrooms on Gejisand, which only grow in darkness. Something lurks in Drayma’s shadow, and its time to find out what.

He took in another breath, then knelt down and lifted the roof grate. ‘Tonight, I am a shadow too.’ He swung his legs down into the opening and dropped inside.

#

As he landed, he tucked into a roll, dispersing the impact, and came up on quiet feet. He stood on some sort of walkway, the upper level of a cavernous warehouse space. It was dark. There was no sound but his breathing. He mentally adjusted the filters in his retinas, cycling to infrared, but there was no sign of organic body heat. Next, he reached out with his mind, testing for any imbalances in the Force. Nothing. 

A fool’s errand? Perhaps. But he had come this far. He moved forward, cycling his retinal filters for low-light sensitivity, and looked out over the warehouse. The space was a massive rectangle. The walkway he stood on served as a sort of the third level, almost forty feet above the ground floor. There was a second level balcony about fifteen feet up that ringed the entire space, with several doors leading off into other areas. Nothing moved except Gal’s breath and heart.

His instincts were on high alert. Although he couldn’t see it or sense it with the Force, his experience told him something wasn’t right. His research had led him to expect the warehouse to be abandoned. But, although it was empty, it was in immaculate condition. Almost as if it had just been cleaned out, and it was waiting for an arrival of inventory from somewhere else. 

What kind of arrival? The space was clearly capable of housing vast quantities of materials. A squadron of fighter crafts, maybe, or even an interstellar ship.

He cycled back to his natural vision. If he used his saber on infrared or low-light, it would blind him. A moment later, there was a whisper of air behind him. He turned without thought, without hesitation, his saber flashing to life, catching the red-hot glow of the attacker’s slash. If he’d had the time to think, he would have taken satisfaction knowing that his instincts had been right. Dothron Means and Holdings was hiding something deeper. Something darker. Lurking in the shadows.

But he didn’t have that luxury. His attacker was vicious and relentless, and Gal was back on his heels. The air sizzled with each cutting arc of the red saber. The handrails on the walkway glowed in slivers of bright orange as the saber passed through them, melting clean through the metal.

Gal was patient, though. He parried each strike. keeping his guard up and buying time to take stock of his opponent. This was the one. The lithe, dark, violent attacker who had penetrated Balmorra Tower and killed all four of Terial’s padawans. Its humanoid body and face were cloaked in form-fitting black, making it impossible to know what type of lifeform it was. And just as before, any efforts Gal made with his mind to understand the Force powers of this attacker were blocked by some sort of wall. The life of this being remained hidden.

Whatever it was, its intentions were clear. Death. Gal was holding ground now, and he found himself smiling. ‘You will not find me so easy to kill, shadowed one. I am no padawan.’ As that thought came into his mind, he ducked beneath his opponent's saber, and slashed through the steel grating of the walkway, splitting it apart. His attacker stumbled as the level platform tilted, and Gal hit it hard with a devastating Force push, sending it over the railing, and tumbling to the ground far below.

Gal leaped after the attacker, landing about ten feet away. Its legs were twisted at a crippling angle. He lifted his hand to pull the attacker’s saber towards him, but as the hilt lifted up, it froze, suspended in the air. It was being held back by a counter-force. The attacker’s head shot up, staring at Gal, and it reached out with its hand, grasping the floating hilt.

Gal let go of his Force-hold on the saber and rushed in to strike. As he did so, he saw that the legs of his attacker were somehow spidering back into place. Before it could stand again, Gal was above it. He slashed up from his knees, lopping off its saber-wielding arm, then came back down through its head and into its torso. If it had been an organic lifeform, it would have been a gruesome cut, but Gal finally understood what all the signs had been telling them, what they had all been blind to.

‘A droid! Of course we could detect no signs of life Force. It is not alive. At least, not as we understand life. But what kind of droid can manipulate the Force like this?’ He knelt over the scarred metal corpse to examine it more closely.

The slash of his saber had melted through much of the inner workings of this droid, but from what he could tell, the circuitry was cutting edge. He’d never seen anything like it. But there had to be something more. Circuitry that could attune to the Force. It seemed impossible. Maybe it was some form of mimicry?

A quiet thump sounded on the floor behind him, followed by two more in quick succession. He stood up, and turned around, and found three more droids standing there, each one a perfect copy of the first. Dark, faceless, robotic killers. Their red sabers flared to life.

#

They moved with a single mind, fanning out around him, fast and precise, like a flock of dovers skimming low above the ocean waters, circling above a school of fish, hungry and deadly.

The ones on either side of him attacked together, one cutting for his head, the other for his knees. Gal leaped and twisted, using the Force to turn his body parallel to the ground. The sabers passed above and below him. As he came out of the twist, he thrust out with his hand and unleashed a flurry of micro-pushes, a technique he’d spent years perfecting. They hit the droid in quick succession, taking it in the knees, shoulders, and hips, overwhelming its internal stabilizers. It stumbled backward as he landed in a crouch on the floor.

He was up in the next instant, attacking while it still reeled. His silver white saber came down at its head. It managed a block with its red saber, but he followed with a ferocious kick to its metal torso, amplifying the strike with his mind, and protecting his foot at the same time. The droid doubled over with the kick, flying backward, and Gal turned to engage the other two.

They came together, moving with inhuman speed. Their strategy was impeccable. By attacking together, they were attempting to overwhelm him, two sabers to his one. But Gal was no stranger to this kind of combat. He lived for it, in fact. He caught the first saber in his hand, hissing blood red as it connected with the gossamer energy gauntlet that he wore. One glove for each forearm, defensive properties heightened by Gal’s indomitable mastery of the Force.

He pushed the first back, while at the same time parrying the second, his silver-white saber sizzling against the dusky red of his opponents. The three of them danced together like this, two robotic warriors, built from steel and dark Force powers, moving in and out, probing for an opening, unable to find one, as Gal moved without thought, holding every advance at bay.

Then the third was back again. Bolts of blue lightning shot out of its hands. Gal’s back tensed with pain, but he didn’t scream. An instant later, one of their sabers breached his defense, a shallow slash across his abdomen. He still did not cry out. 

Instead, he swept his hand down like swatting away a fly. The blue lightning moved as if caught by some invisible wind, spitting and arcing as it swung away from Gal and caught hold of the droid to his left. The droid stiffened in the electrical current, smoke wafting up from the cracks in its fabric armor shell, and it fell to the ground, head twitching. It didn’t get back up.

He ducked under the swing of the droid on his right, twisting as he did so, and let his saber fly like a boomerang at the droid with lightning in its hands. The saber spun through the air, a blinding disc of light, and sheared the droid in two. Its torso fell to the floor with a thud, its hands still flickering with cold blue light.

The third droid was unfazed. It was lifeless, so it feared no death. As the flying saber curled back through the air towards Gal’s waiting hand, the droid stepped in and knocked it out of the air. It clattered across the ground, well out of reach, and then the droid rushed towards Gal.
Gal came back to his feet, ignoring the cauterized slice on his side and the electrical burns covering his back. The pain was a distant background noise, just enough to let him know that he was still alive. 

His earliest training came back to him. As a young man on Jarcosa, several years before he’d ever held a lightsaber, he had used his powers of persuasion to secure a coveted spot at Fur Moldor’s dojo. Moldor was a kens alk, a master of Ken Aq Li, the Jarcosan martial art of water dancing. The fundamentals of Ken Aq Li served as the base for all of Gal’s future training: to be like water. Fluid. Steady. Implacable. Even without his Jedi abilities, his skills as a water dancer made him a formidable combatant.

The two clashed, Gal using his gauntlets to absorb the crushing strikes of the saber. But the droid moved with inhuman speed, almost too fast even for Gal, and regular punches and kicks had little effect. Without his saber, Gal had to focus on defense, waiting for those rare moments of opportunity where he could land strategic, Force-enhanced strikes to the droid’s weakest points.

But his patience was deep, like the Jarcosan ocean, and his energy was far from spent. Even in the heat of this battle, he knew it was just a matter of time. Slow and inevitable, he was taking his opponent apart. He landed a nasty strike to its knee. Another up under its armpit. A third to the back of its neck. It may not have been human, but, for some reason, it was built to resemble one, which meant that its joints had to make tradeoffs for mobility over structural integrity.

Finally, Gal damaged its elbow joint to the point where it dropped its lightsaber. Its hands started to glow blue with cold, electric light. Before it could unleash arcs of lightning, Gal dropped to a crouch, lifted the droid’s own saber from the ground, and slashed its hands off in a single arc of red heat. Another quick slash through its head, and the fight was over. The droid crumpled to the ground.

Gal called his own saber back to him. It flew through the air, into his hand. Once he had both his and the droid’s saber hanging from his belt, he smiled. He was tired and injured, but he felt good. It had been too long since he had been tested.

There was a sound of metal scraping. He turned and saw the droid he’d sliced in half crawling towards him, dragging its torso across the ground with its hands. He shook his head, still smiling. It was hard not to admire the robot’s relentless drive, even if it had been programmed that way.

He walked over, standing above it. It reached out with its hand to grasp his ankle, but he kicked its arm, knocking it away, and then, with a quick, casual gesture in the air, he balled his hand into a fist. 

The droid’s head crumpled.

Satisfied that it had no fight left, he turned to the droid that had been electrified during the battle. Its head had stopped twitching, and it lay motionless. Even if its inner circuitry was damaged from the blast of lightning, Gal thought, it was whole, and probably the one most likely to yield some kind of answers. Drayma would want her top engineers to examine it. He would call in a cleanup team to sweep this whole place, but this one was coming with him.

He knelt and lifted the droid up, hefting its torso over his shoulders and behind his neck, so that its legs hung over his left side, and its arms and neck over his right. He was surprised by how light it was. It was solid, but it weighed little more than a person of similar size. This was incredible craftsmanship; some sort of advanced blend of polymers and high tensile-strength metals that let the droid move with remarkable speed and silence, and with as little wasted energy as possible. Whoever had built these weapons was ingenious and well-resourced, thought Gal, and very dangerous.

As Gal walked across the wide floor of the warehouse with the droid slung over his shoulders, the hissing sound of an opening door came from the opposite end of the room. He turned in the direction of the sound, sweeping his eyes, scanning up each level, until he caught a glimpse of movement up on the second-floor balcony.

This is not over yet, Gal thought. Maybe the person who had made these terrible warriors of darkness was here. Maybe he would not have to wait to get answers.

He let the droid fall to the floor. It landed with a quiet thud.
The sound of laughter filled the room. It was being amplified somehow, booming in the space. It was hard to tell where it was coming from.

Theatrics, thought Gal, smiling again. Dangerous? No doubt. The droids were evidence enough of that. But this person was also hungry for something. To impress. To intimidate. Gal had always been a practical man, a man who let his actions speak, and he never cared much for theatrics. It was a sign of vanity. Of weakness. Given the opportunity, he would do what he could could to exploit that.

The laughter went quiet. Gal listened, still and silent. He listened the way Master Horn had taught him, not just with his ears, but with his whole being, his whole intuition.

He didn’t hear a thing.

He flew backward, crashing into a stack of heavy metal containers. He felt three of his ribs crack on impact, and there was a painful crunch in his neck as the vertebrae compressed together.

It was like being hit by the gale of a hurricane, but there had been no sound. No change in air pressure. No warning at all.

He had never been hit like that. Ever. His nerves were squealing with pain, and the reverberations of the blast vibrated in his bones. He knelt on his hands and knees and slowly turned his head, trying to bring his vision into focus. The ground was spinning, fracturing. Spots of light danced in his eyes. There was blood dripping onto the floor. For a moment, he was certain he was going to throw up.

He breathed deep through the pain. It washed over him. He did not fight it. The next attack could come at any moment, and he needed to get his defenses back up as soon as possible.

A series of familiar percussive thumps resounded, more than a dozen this time. He was still on all fours, but he lifted his head up. A crowd of the droids stood in a half circle around him, faceless, waiting. His vision was blurry. It was hard to get an exact count. But it really didn’t matter.

He shook his head one more time, then stood, his legs tired but steady. The laughter came again, filling the room, so loud it was almost deafening. But now that Gal had been hit with that first powerful blast, he understood what to listen for. This time, he felt it coming, just the barest whisper beneath the laughter, the slightest shift in the Force. He held up his hand in front of him as if to say, ‘Stop,’ and the waves of power flowed around him. The metal containers behind him exploded out in every direction, clanging against the walls, crumpling with the impact of the blast.

Gal smiled, a fierce, bloody grin. “You do me great honor.” His voice rang out in the space. “More than a dozen of your finest, against a solitary Jedi. I have never been tested like this. You have taught me much, and you have given my people much to consider. Now, let us be done with this.”

There was no response. The droids stood silent, watching, waiting.
Gal lifted the two sabers from his belt, silver white and red, blazing to life.

The droids swept in.

<<<>>>

Part three coming soon!


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