I feel his presence approaching me. My breath catches in my chest as I hear the breathing-the slow, ominous breathing. It is a sound that strikes fear in the hearts of even the bravest souls.
The shots whistle outside. I press myself even closer against the wall, hoping I can hide from him, though I know it's a fruitless effort. I hear her whimper at my side; the sound pains me. "Shhh..." I hiss.
She looks up at me with cold fear in her brown eyes. I have to look away; she mustn't see my fear.
The footsteps resonate down the narrow hall. They're coming closer. I can feel him approach us. His presence contaminates everything within its grasp. I know why he is here. He is here to kill us, to finish us off, all of us. I should have seen it earlier, should have stopped it?
I shake my head. There is no time for such thoughts. The past is the past; nothing can change it now. The thing I must concentrate on is the moment, and at this moment I must get her out. My eyes dart around the small room, searching for a way.
I find one; an ache dulls in my chest just a bit. "Come on, we're going to get you out of here."
She looks at me with mild surprise but takes my outstretched hand. I pull her up on my shoulders. "You need to open the hatch. Quickly now," I whisper, my voice filled with urgency.
She does as she is told. All the while the shots outside ping; muffled shouts reach my ears. The hatch opens without a sound. "Alright, now get in there."
She climbs inside. Her tunic catches on a corner of the vent and tears, and she lets out a small, nearly inaudible sniffle as blood soaks her knee.
She lies down on her stomach, her ginger hair falling in her face, and reaches out for me. "Come on Master."
I shake my head. "No, I can't come with you."
"Master," she says, tears welling in her brown eyes.
I shake my head again. "Follow the system. When you get outside run. Run as fast as you can. Don't stop until you reach Dexter's Diner. He will help you get to safety." I pause, the muscles in my throat tightening. "Speak only to him."
She nods reluctantly. "I will." Her hand is still outstretched toward me.
"Goodbye, young Padawan."
"No, Master. You can come with me."
The footsteps are closer now, just outside the door. Muffled orders are being shouted to blast the door down.
I shake my head once more and usher her back into the hatch. She slides on her stomach further into the shaft. I close the hatch and seal it shut with the Force. I hear her sniffle inside. She calls for me.
She's so young; she deserves a chance to survive. But I know the reality of the situation. He probably has the ventilation system being watched, ready for others like me who are trying to get the younglings out. If she makes it out she will never get past the walkway. She will be killed on the spot, if he decides not to take her and torture her. If.
I hear blasts outside the door. It quivers under the power. I take a deep breath, steeling my nerves. Yes, I am scared, but I am also a Jedi. This is the moment we had never thought would occur. It was wishful thinking, foolish.
The door crumbles after another blast is delivered. Smoke fills the air and debris scatters. My lungs burn from the dust flying everywhere. He steps through the smoke. He is confident, arrogant. The man I could hate, if I weren't a Jedi, is coming in. I could allow myself to hate him; I have the capability. Of course, if I did so it would mean becoming like him.
I clench my jaw and grit my teeth. I ignite my saber; the azure light nearly dulled by all of the smoke. He stares at me from under the mask. I can't see his eyes, but if I could I imagine the cold blue eyes would turn to ice.
I feel the Force flow through me, readying me for the fight that is to come. We do not say a word. We are beyond that. I wait for him to raise his blade first. Predictably, he does. I raise mine as well and take a small step forward.
I do not wish to fight. No Jedi does. But when a fight comes, no Jedi will back down from it.
He attempts to strike at me from above. I step to the side and block his strike. My heart races; my breathing quickens. He strikes over and over again. I block him. My pulse throbs under my skin. We fight for ten minutes, perhaps less. The battle is so short. He feigns to the left and strikes to the right. I should see it coming. I attempt to parry his move from the left; I do not see his blade swing towards me.
I feel the blade slide easily into my abdomen. I hear my lightsaber clatter to the ground. I fall to my knees, clutching my wound. I can feel my life draining away. My heart slows; my breathing becomes shallow. I can't help but think that this is the last time I will breathe. He is the last image I shall ever see. The thought sickens me.
I look away, toward the only window. The sun is rising outside. The warm light begins to spill into the room. The pinks and purples fill the sky and swirl together. The sight gives me hope, helps me find peace. I watch the sun rise until the last drop of my life leaves me.
My heart stops and my last breath rattles slightly in my chest as I slump the floor.
I am with the Force now, as the sun rises.
Original cover by Smuggler_Shidakis. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.