"Forgive me Father, for I am about to sin.?
An audible sigh hissed its way through the thin screen into the dark confession chamber. ?Child, why do you persist in doing such evil??
?Is it truly evil? To stand for justice where none has stood before??
?Justice does not include murder.?
Kira Larrian shook her head in disgust. She knew this would happen ? it happened every time. The Bre?krin priesthood was known for its strict adherence to discretion and confessional confidentiality, but they were equally known for being stubbornly dedicated to the black and white terms of their faith. ?So murderers should walk free while the oppressed continue to live in poverty and fear??
?There has never been a time when two wrongs make a right.?
?Oh, spare me the pious philosophy and join the ranks of logical beings,? Kira snapped. She hadn?t meant to come across so brusquely, but the priest behind the screen, who had heard her previous confessions, was giving voice to the quiet but nagging doubts of her own mind, and it unnerved her.
?Very well,? the quiet voice replied. If there was any hint of anger or rebuke at her outburst, it was well hidden. ?Consider the logic of the battle between good and evil. When evil is confronted by good, it can be overcome and justice is done. When evil is confronted by more evil, only evil results. Good cannot come from two evils.?
?But if no one is willing to stand up for the oppressed, where is the good to fight the evil??
?It will come,? the priest said simply, with total conviction. ?At the right time, in the right way, it will come.?
Kira rubbed at her eyes in frustration. She still wasn?t sure why she felt compelled to come to confession before her missions. She didn?t even hold to the Bre?krin Creed. Her confessions always seemed to raise more questions than they answered, but she still came. ?I don?t believe you, Father.?
?My faith does not require you to believe. But your disbelief does not make my faith untrue.?
With a loud sigh, she stood and moved to open the chamber?s door.
?My child.? The quiet voice contained a sincere energy, at once pleading and yet compelling. She paused, hand on the doorknob.
?Do not do this. Evil is a snare that cannot easily be unraveled. It has already woven its threads into the fabric of your life; do not give it enough cloth to become your burial shroud. If you do not turn from your actions, you will regret it.?
?Is that a threat?? she challenged.
?No, child,? the priest said sadly. ?Just a warning about the nature of evil.?
The priest?s words echoed in her head long after she left the chamber.
Kira Larrian took a deep breath as she approached the bar, quelling the nervous fluttering in her stomach. She was deliberately violating two of her own cardinal rules with this setup: using her real name, and leaving witnesses alive. She forced calm into herself with another deep breath. As she exhaled, she let warmth and joviality settle onto her face and frame. Her deep green eyes suddenly sparkled with an openness that hadn't been there only a moment before, and a smile played at her lips.
"Hollis?" she ventured. "Hollis Farak?"
The man at the bar spun around on his barstool. "Yes. Who are you?"
"Well, frak it all, Hollis, I can't believe it's you!" Kira gushed, ignoring his question. The black material of her loose-fitting jumpsuit fluttered around her wrists as she wrapped him in a full-frontal hug. "It's been, what, twenty-five years?"
"Uh, ma'am, I'm sorry, I don't believe I know you..." stammered the man. He held his hands out to the sides as if he was afraid to touch this woman suddenly pressing her body against his.
Kira pulled back, her cheeks flushed. "I-I'm sorry, I thought since I remembered you that, you know, you might remember me, too."
The man cocked his head. "Uh, what's your name?"
"Oh, I'm sorry! It's me, Kira Larrian," she replied, shifting her shoulders back and forth a bit, looking just a bit bashful. "We grew up together on Aramin."
A smile blossomed on Hollis' face. "Kira! Yes, I remember you! Wow, you look...fantastic!" She could tell by his quick downward glance and the flush in his cheeks that he meant it.
She let her eyelids flutter as she looked down at the floor, her shoulder-length blond-flecked auburn hair cascaded forward to frame her face. "Thanks! You look great, too. How are you?" She perched on the empty barstool next to him.
"Couldn't be better," Hollis shifted to face her. "I'm a Jedi Knight," he said quietly, but with unmistakable pride.
"No kidding?" Kira's eyebrows arched. "So you made it, huh? Well, that?s great; the Jedi can always use more good people, especially with the Separatist threat growing out there. I always wondered what happened to you after you became a Chosen One." She waved at the bartender, who looked her up and down and grinned widely as he served her.
"How about you?" Hollis asked, taking a sip of his own drink. "What have you been up to?"
She shrugged. "This and that. Nothing terribly exciting, though, not like being a Jedi. Have you completed many missions?"
"No," he smiled. "I just passed my trials. This is actually my first mission as a full Jedi Knight."
"Well, I guess congratulations are in order," Kira raised her glass. "To my childhood friend: Hollis Farak, Jedi Knight."
"Salute!" Hollis clinked his glass against hers with a smile.
They both took a drink, then an awkward silence enveloped them. Finally, Hollis cleared his throat. "Kira, I'm really glad to see you made it off Aramin."
Kira's gaze suddenly bored deeply into her drink. "Well, Beltannen isn't very far away, but at least it's a different ball of rock." She shook her head. "It was hard after they took you. I mean, my family had so wanted me to be a Chosen one, and...everyone was just so disappointed." She looked up abruptly. "Not that I'm blaming you, or anything."
"I know," Hollis sighed. "That's just the way it was. Did your family move...?"
"Yeah," Kira confirmed quietly. "After only a few weeks. It was just easier to move to the mountains with the other Unchosen families. At least they understood."
"Kira, I know we were only four years old..."
"I was almost six, remember?" she interrupted him with a wink. "You were the baby of the group."
"Right," Hollis smiled wryly. "Anyway, I'm really sorry you and your family had to go through that. It just isn't right how the One is selected each year."
Kira shrugged again and forced another smile onto her face. "Well, that's in the past. Tell me what you're up to now."
Relieved to be talking about something much less painful, Hollis smiled again. "Well, I can't tell you exactly what my mission is, but it's something you would be proud of."
"Well, aren't you a mysterious one!" Kira playfully punched him on the shoulder. "Come on, what are you doing out here? It's not often that a Jedi shows up on Beltannen, you know."
"Kira, I really can't..."
"I know!" Kira interrupted him excitedly. "You're chasing someone, aren't you?" She leaned close to the Jedi Knight conspiratorially. "Is it the Cirrian Bandits? No, I know, you're here to stop the Kakk Feud, aren't you? They're asking for a good Jedi thrashing."
"No, it's none of those..."
Kira snapped her fingers. "It's Saberette, isn't it? Rumor has it she was sighted here on Beltannen not too long ago."
Hollis' eyes hardened noticeably. "Unfortunately, no. The Force knows she deserves to be brought to justice for her crimes, but we're not here for her."
Kira looked sidelong at him. "You knew them, didn't you?" she asked quietly.
"All four of them," Hollis confirmed, his voice barely above a whisper.
"The story goes that she's never left any witnesses to any of her assassinations, so no one knows who she is," Kira said tentatively. "Do the Jedi know anything about her that's not public knowledge?"
"I'm not really in a position to know anything secret," Hollis told her. "But I'm sure you can imagine the rumors that fly around the Temple. According to what I?ve heard, no one really even knows what she looks like, much less who she really is or what her motivation might be."
"You mean why she has a serious grudge against Jedi from Aramin?"
"Yeah," Hollis confirmed. "Every one of her victims grew up there, and she?s left an Aramin crystal on each of her victims? bodies."
After a brief pause, Kira ventured, "Are you scared?"
"Nah," Hollis waved off her concern with a brave smile. "I'm a Jedi, remember? There is no fear." More seriously, he added, "If she comes after me, I'll do my best to stop her, but the Force may have other plans for me. My destiny will find me one way or another."
"Well, I suppose that's one way of looking at it," Kira shook her head. "If Saberette was after me, I'd be so rattled you could use me for a baby's toy."
Hollis grinned. "Anyway, we're not here to track down Saberette. The Council had something else in mind for us, but I really don't think I should talk about it."
Objective one confirmed, thought Kira. Out loud, she said, "Okay, I won't ask anymore. But can you at least tell me who you're traveling with? Surely that can't be confidential, too!"
"I don't know..."
"Oh, come on, Hollis," Kira teased. "If you can't talk about yourself at all, this is going to be a very boring reunion."
"I suppose," he agreed reluctantly. "I'm traveling with a Jedi named Velten Tanna."
Objective two confirmed. "He's the Jedi who first visited Aramin, wasn't he?"
"The one and only," Hollis nodded. ?You know much about him??
"Well, he was a major character in Aramin's history," she shrugged. "Besides, I've always kept up on Jedi stuff, at least with whatever is public knowledge." She looked down at her drink. "I think it started because I was hoping I'd be a Chosen one another year, even though that?s never happened. As I grew up, I just kept studying, and it's kind of a hobby for me now." Kira stared at a faraway vision from a potential life lost in the mists of time before it even began. "I always wondered who I would have been assigned to if I had been Chosen. I always dreamed that Master Yoda would have taken me on as his own Padawan." Kira shrugged again, snapping out of her reverie. "Not that it matters, but it passes the time, right?"
"I suppose so."
"So, how long are you staying on Beltannen? It would be nice to spend some time catching up."
"We leave first thing in the morning," Hollis replied ruefully.
"Oh," Kira replied, crestfallen. "Well, is Master Tanna coming here? I'd love to meet him."
Hollis hesitated, then shook his head. "He went to visit some friends, but he's supposed to meet me here pretty soon. I can introduce you when he arrives."
"That would be fantastic!" Kira's face lit up with a brilliant smile. "I can't wait to meet a real Jedi Master!"
Hollis smiled uneasily and took another drink of his brew.
Affecting her best innocent look, Kira asked, "Can I see it?"
"See what?" Hollis frowned in confusion.
"Sure, why not?" Hollis reached into his Jedi robe. "Just don't ignite it. It can be very dangerous."
"So I've heard," Kira winked at him.
Hollis withdrew a blocky black and silver cylinder set with a simple handgrip and an ignition stud. He held it out, and Kira picked it up reverently.
Objective three confirmed. "Hm," she mumbled appreciatively, hefting its weight. "Nice balance. How many crystals?"
"Just one," Hollis replied, mildly surprised at her knowledge of Jedi weaponry.
"Wow," she said. Hopping off her barstool, Kira swept through a series of moves, pantomiming a pitched battle with multiple enemies. She ended with a complex spinning move that took her two steps away from Hollis and the bar. He laughed and clapped as Kira saluted him with a smile.
"Well done, Kira! You've either trained with a real Jedi, or you?re a superb actress!"
Blushing, Kira smiled back. "Thanks." She held the lightsaber out in her left hand. Hollis gestured, and the weapon gently lifted from her palm to float serenely toward him.
It was the perfect moment for Kira Larrian to strike.
With a thought, she triggered the release on the launching mechanism of the weapon holster strapped under the loose material of her right sleeve. A sleek silver cylinder shot out, and with the practiced ease of years of training and experience, she deftly caught the weapon in her hand. Sweeping it out in front of her, a brilliant white shaft of light stabbed out, bisecting Hollis' lightsaber.
The Jedi Knight froze, his face a picture of total shock.
His Force concentration faltered, and the smoldering pieces of his lightsaber bounced to the floor. Taking advantage of his momentary paralysis, Kira quickly stepped forward and drove her knuckles toward his throat. He moved to block her punch, but was too late. Kira's blow crushed Hollis' windpipe, rocking him back against the bar before he sank to the floor. Kira dropped on top of the stunned Jedi Knight, pinning him to the floor, her face just centimeters from his.
"You are a traitor to the people of Aramin," she whispered fiercely. "The Jedi, the supposed saviors of the galaxy, have turned a blind eye to the plight of the Unchosen of Aramin, letting our proud society fall into ruin. Why is that, do you think?"
Hollis couldn't have replied if he'd wanted to. She read the panic in his eyes, knowing from experience and study that his vision was starting to grey out from lack of oxygen. His struggles only hastened his demise, burning quickly through the remaining oxygenated cells in his body. She suspected that her sudden change in persona, his complete inability to sense her attack in the Force, and the physical damage to his throat scattered his concentration, preventing him from calling on the Force.
"It's because they're using Aramin as a breeding ground for Jedi!" Kira answered her own question with disgust. "Every year they come and select one student to join the vaunted ranks of the Jedi. Just one! Do the Jedi have any idea what they've done to a once proud and united people?"
Hollis's movements were becoming sporadic as the lack of oxygen to his brain took its toll. His lips moved in an effort to speak, but no sound came out.
She moved closer, her lips almost touching his, and her voice lowered even more. "By joining the Jedi, you also have turned your back on our people, and, like the other Aramin Jedi, you have forfeited your life!" She pulled back the arm holding her lightsaber, readying a killing blow.
Hollis was still trying to form words. His eyes fluttered as he stopped moving altogether, causing Kira to withhold her strike. Hollis? eyes opened abruptly again and he smiled weakly, reaching out to touch her cheek with his free hand. It was not an attack; rather, it was a gentle caress. He shook his head deliberately, once, communicating with her in the only way left to him. A single tear formed at the corner of his right eye.
Kira frowned. That was not a reaction she had been expecting.
Hollis' body shuddered, then his head rolled to the side. The single tear ran down his lifeless cheek and splashed onto the floor.
Still holding her glowing white lightsaber, Kira straightened, shrugging away her confusion. The eerie silence of the crowded bar pressed in on her, and the disbelieving stares of the bar's patrons unnerved her - she'd never before had witnesses to such actions. She needed to move quickly now. She drew a finger-shaped bluish green stone ? Araminian sea crystal, the chief export and symbol of Aramin ? from a pouch on her belt and dropped it onto Hollis? chest. A careful prod with the tip of her lightsaber melted one edge of the crystal, fusing it to the dead Jedi Knight?s clothing and ensuring that no one would steal the gem and remove the signature of Saberette the Jedi hunter. Turning, she flipped a high-denomination coin at the stunned bartender.
"When his Master comes looking, tell him I'll be waiting for him in the morning," she ordered. The bartender swallowed hard and nodded.
Kira moved quickly toward the door, sending patrons scurrying out of her way with a look.
Kira Larrian, also known as Saberette, stood behind the refueling equipment next to the Sunny Dawn, Velten Tanna's ship. Her statement to the bartender had been deliberately misleading in case anyone who heard it reported her to the authorities, but she was confident that the Jedi would understand the message. The ship was berthed in a private docking bay, so its boarding ramp was extended and open, but once Kira slipped into the bay, she had chosen to remain outside the ship. She had dimmed the lights, creating a complex maze of dark shadows sprouting from the open pipes, conduits, and cables crisscrossing the walls of the docking bay, but left everything else as it was.
Kira had known that Velten Tanna was coming to Beltannen with an apprentice, but she hadn't expected the apprentice to be her childhood friend. She genuinely regretted that Hollis had been caught in the crosshairs of her mission, but those were the consequences of his decision to become a Jedi. Knowing Hollis had provided her with an easy opening to approach him, which had made her job easier, and she gladly accepted the advantage.
Nerves fluttered in her stomach, sending shivers down her spine as she considered the upcoming confrontation. Perhaps it was because she?d never faced a full Jedi Master before, or perhaps it was because she was on the verge of fulfilling the mission to which she?d dedicated the past twenty-five years of her life. Regardless, she forced her thoughts into focus.
Kira closed her eyes and breathed deeply, reaching out to the Force. She didn't have great telekinetic control over the Force - it was a skill that she?d found hard to learn, especially without an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. She'd learned to trigger her lightsaber-launching mechanisms, but that was only after years of meticulous study and tedious practice. The one Force skill that she naturally possessed in abundance ? and at which she truly excelled ? was hiding her own Force sense. She didn't understand how the skill worked, but she knew beyond doubt that it did, and used it to constantly keep her Force presence shrouded so well that not even a Jedi Master could sense her hostile intent. It was a very useful ability that had allowed her to get close to her marks before she killed them. It also countered the advantage a Jedi normally relied upon in a lightsaber battle - her actions could not anticipated through the Force. She would pit her own swordsmanship, combat skills, and reflexes against anyone else in the galaxy with a high probability of success, and with her Force shroud, that included even Jedi.
The screech of metal on metal interrupted her meditations as the docking bay hatchway swung open. A wedge of dull yellow light stabbed into the darkened docking bay, framing the silhouette of a tall man with regal bearing. After a short pause, the shadow stepped confidently through the hatchway, his brown Jedi robes fluttering slightly with the movement. Velten Tanna was a handsome man, looking far younger than his seventy years. His gray-speckled black hair swept back from a broad forehead as if running from the hidden power in his dark eyes. With a Force push, he closed the docking bay hatch with a clang.
First, a test, Kira thought. She silently raised a blaster and triggered two rapid shots.
The Jedi Master whipped out his lightsaber and deflected the bolts to the side. The first bolt splashed into the wall and dissipated, the second burst through the power conduit running up the wall next to the hatch. Sparks showered onto the deck and plunged the docking bay into the dim blood-red lighting of the emergency lights. Kira smiled ? it was an appropriate color for the confrontation.
"Very good, Master Tanna," Kira called out of the dimness. "Come in, I've been waiting for you."
Holstering her blaster, Kira stepped out from behind the refueling equipment, and the two regarded each other for a moment.
"The infamous Saberette, I presume?" Tanna spoke quietly.
Kira acknowledged his statement with a single nod. "My name is Kira Larrian. I grew up on Aramin."
"Interesting,? Tanna cocked an eyebrow. A look flashed across his face, as if some hidden confusion was suddenly resolved in his mind. ?Well, Kira Larrian, you just killed the best Padawan I?ve ever had."
"He deserved it."
"Who are you to judge the deservedness of death?" the Jedi challenged.
Kira barked a harsh laugh. "Do you have any idea how hypocritical that question is?"
"You visit Aramin every year to select a single pupil for the Jedi Academy, do you not?"
"Have you ever seen more of Aramin than the Selection Circle? Have you walked among the people? Spent time with them?"
"I spent much time with many Araminians on my first visit," Tanna replied. "It was what allowed me to determine that it was a world full of Force potential."
"That was decades ago!" Kira grated. "What about now?"
Tanna shrugged. "I am very busy, and I simply don't have the time for an extended visit each year."
Kira nodded, jaw clenched. "Then let me tell you about life on Aramin. When you first visited years ago, the Aramin people were united and happy, and full of energy. We worked hard, we played hard, we lived life to the fullest. We were a just and compassionate society based on equality and cooperation, and although we were not a wealthy world, there was still little crime or poverty. We were an honorable people. When you selected the first Chosen one to go to Coruscant with you and join the Jedi, we rejoiced at our contribution to the larger community of the Galactic Republic."
"And Aramin should be proud of that contribution," Tanna put in.
"We were. Over the next few years, however, things changed. Your annual visit was looked forward to as the biggest event on Aramin. The competition for being Chosen increased, and the frontrunners were given sponsorships to improve their education and training. The families of those who were Chosen were given prestige and wealth."
"I was one of the best recruiters in the Jedi Order, and a certain amount of excitement frequently accompanied me when I was working," Tanna said crossly, beginning to lose patience. "I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that."
"Perhaps not, but there is something wrong with what happened to those who were Unchosen," Kira said forcefully. "After you chose Hollis Farak, my family and the families of the other Unchosens were ostracized. We went from favored to forsaken overnight. Those who courted us for our favor just one day earlier now refused to speak to us. We were laughed at and looked down upon. It was even worse for those of us, like me, who were the actual Unchosen ones ? we were spit upon and harassed to the point that we couldn't leave our houses anymore."
"Life is difficult sometimes," Tanna stated with a careless shrug. "Everyone experiences growing pains and social difficulties."
"I was five years old!" Kira cried. Emotion long suppressed and hardened into cold fury boiled over at the Jedi who was the focus of a lifetime of her hate. "No one deserves that kind of treatment, especially not a child!? She took a step closer. ?One night my sister and I were attacked by a group of men and boys. They beat us within a centimeter of our lives, and do you know why?"
Tanna said nothing.
"As they walked away, I heard one of the men say to his son that the Unchosen were rejects, and not fit to live in civilization." Her hands involuntarily contorted into fists. "My sister died from the beating, and I almost did, too. As soon as I was recovered enough, my family moved to the Unchosen community in the mountains, where we didn't even have running water or electricity. The cities refused to trade with us or even sell us food, so we were forced to live like primitives, off the land. Eventually, we were banned from even visiting the cities where we once lived in comfort and peace."
"That's not good enough!" Kira screamed. "Words can't take away the pain I've lived with my whole life, and the pain that every Unchosen family lives with each and every day! Words can't bring my sister back!"
"I'm sorry for your pain," Tanna repeated slowly, almost sincerely. "But do you really think that murdering so many Araminian Jedi makes everything right? Will killing me make it right?"
"No," Kira admitted, swiping hot tears from her cheeks. "But it will keep you from coming back to Aramin again. The healing can begin."
Velten Tanna snorted derisively and crossed his arms. "You seem to think that the social ills of your homeworld are somehow my fault. Forgive me if I disagree."
"It is your fault," Kira shot back. "You could have chosen as many of us as were ready. You could have given those not chosen another chance the next year. Did you? No. By needlessly choosing only one apprentice each year, and by forbidding anyone to apply more than once, you created exclusivity and divisiveness. Even worse, by willfully ignoring the effects of your actions, you single-handedly transformed the people of Aramin from good, hard-working, and generous people into hateful monsters!"
"'Hateful monsters' exist on every world," Tanna said reasonably. "You can't seriously hold me responsible for the actions of a few people I?ve never met."
"That kind of hatred was never seen on Aramin," Kira said softly. "Not until you arrived."
"I've heard enough," Tanna cut her off. "You're insane, and a mass murderer. You've killed Hollis Farak and four other Jedi. It's time you faced reality, Saberette, or Larrian, or whoever you are. Give yourself up, or I'll be forced to destroy you."
Kira grinned in anticipation. "I was hoping you'd say that."
Triggering the launcher on her forearm again, her lightsaber leaped into her right hand. A matching twin filled her left hand - she was a deadly swordsman with years of extensive training and experience, and she fought best with two blades. She struck a defensive posture with her left blade held out in front of her and the right cocked back beside her right ear.
"Jedi are not supposed to attack, but in your case I'll make an exception," Velten Tanna smirked. He leaped forward, surprisingly nimble for someone so old, his shimmering green blade sweeping toward Kira's head.
Kira blocked the blow upward with her outstretched weapon and thrust her other blade toward his chest. Tanna shifted to one side, barely in time to avoid being skewered on the white blade. Kira brought the pommel of her first lightsaber down hard on his forehead. He staggered backward as blood flowed freely down around his nose and into his mouth.
He blinked at Kira in complete surprise.
"What's wrong, Master Tanna?" she taunted him. "Can't sense what I'm about to do? Maybe you should have chosen me instead of Hollis all those years ago, hm?" She stepped forward, swinging both of her weapons forward in a deadly scissor motion.
Tanna threw himself backward into a roll, coming smoothly back up onto his feet, his green blade sweeping out in a fierce horizontal arc. Kira parried and spun toward him, driving her elbow into his sternum. She felt and heard the air leave his lungs in an explosive grunt. Quickly, she stepped out and spun again, knocking his legs out from under him with a leg sweep. Tanna slammed down on the hard docking bay floor.
Kira aimed a kick at his head, but Tanna managed to block it and swing his lightsaber at her knee. She hopped lightly over the green blade and swung down with one of her weapons, slicing through the sleeve of his Jedi robe and carving a strip of flesh off of his right forearm. He cried out and rolled away from her, his lightsaber skittering across the cold docking bay floor, the green blade still activated and nicking uneven chunks out of the permacrete.
Holding his injured arm close to his side, Tanna staggered to his feet, breathing heavily. Kira regarded him for a moment before closing for the finishing strike. A flicker of motion in the corner of her eye was the only warning she received as Tanna's green blade soared up from the floor and thrust toward her kidneys. She whirled and brought her nearest blade to bear, but she was a half-second too slow.
A line of agony cut across her left side where the Jedi's lightsaber slashed through her jumpsuit.
Kira finished her spin, batting her opponent's weapon away from her skin before it cut too deeply. She felt her side. There was no blood, which was a good sign - a lightsaber tended to cauterize minor wounds unless a major artery was severed. Her movement was hampered, but she could fight on. Turning, she saw that the Jedi's lightsaber had found its way back into its owner's hand. The two combatants regarded each other coldly.
"You remain hidden to the Force, even under battle stress," Tanna observed. "Impressive."
"It's what makes me so good at what I do, Master Tanna," Kira returned.
"Don't call me 'Master'," Tanna replied icily.
"At the moment I'm merely a Knight," Tanna grated.
"Really?" Kira asked, surprised but amused. ?I must know why??
"Because of you, as it turns out," Tanna laughed mirthlessly. "More or less, anyway. When your friend Hollis passed his trials, the first thing he did was start whining to the Council about Aramin. It seems that those fools share your views about my work there. I tell you this only because you will not live much longer, of course.? He added bitterly, "Regardless, it appears that we both have a very good reason to want each other dead."
?What a happy coincidence,? Kira retorted.
"Don't worry, though, this demotion is simply an obstacle that I will overcome,? Tanna continued as if she hadn?t spoken. ?It's only a matter of time until I am back in the Council's good graces, and bringing you in will be a long step in that direction. I will soon be visiting Aramin again to choose another Jedi apprentice."
"You're the most arrogant being I?ve ever met," Kira said. ?If all Jedi are like you, it?s a wonder the rest of the galaxy puts up with you.?
?The Council remains soft, but there are others like me, who believe the Jedi have to be strong to oppose our enemies,? Tanna shrugged. ?If that makes me arrogant in your eyes, so be it. It?s something I?ve learned to live with.?
"If there is any justice in this universe, you won?t live with it for much longer," Kira began circling, feinting her lightsabers in Tanna's direction.
"Justice!" spat Tanna as he mirrored Kira?s steps. "What do you know of justice? You're a murderer."
"Merely the means to an end," Kira shrugged.
"And what end is that?"
"To get help for the people of Aramin."
"And to destroy you."
"Revenge is of the Dark Side, Larrian," Tanna intoned piously. "Be careful of your actions ? they could destroy you."
"I'll take my chances," Kira said evenly. The words of the Bre?krin priest flashed through her mind, but she forced them aside.
"As you wish," Tanna shrugged. "Regardless, I'm afraid your 'justice' will have to wait a bit longer."
"'Justice delayed is justice denied'," Kira quoted the old proverb. "And it will be denied no longer!" She leaped forward, her lightsabers flashing in a flowing figure eight pattern. Tanna backed away, parrying and dodging Kira's savage flurry of strikes.
They dueled across the cold floor of the docking bay, the erratic shadows of the green and white blades dancing in the blood red of the emergency lights. Neither could gain a decisive advantage, but Kira knew her obsessed ferocity and Tanna's age would eventually give her the opening she needed. As Tanna backed up against his ship, he suddenly dropped to his knees and rolled backward, gaining shelter under the boarding ramp. Kira slashed viciously at the metal ramp, sending sparks flying. Tanna rose on the opposite side of the ramp and lunged across it, thrusting his green blade at Kira's face.
It was at that moment that his age betrayed him.
His fatigued muscles partially gave way as he thrust forward out of balance, forcing him to put one hand down on the ramp as he struck out. Kira crossed her weapons, catching Tanna's blade at the intersection point, then twisted both wrists hard in opposite directions and pivoted to the side. The sudden movement wrenched the green-bladed weapon out of Tanna's single-handed grip. In the same motion Kira tossed the lightsaber straight up, slashing through the handgrip at the top of its arc. The green blade winked out of existence as its power supply erupted in a shower of sparks. The pieces of Velten Tanna's lightsaber clinked to the floor of the docking bay.
"You like doing that, don't you?" Tanna observed dryly.
"Call it an insurance policy," Kira returned. She lunged forward, lightsabers flashing.
Tanna fell back onto the ramp, scrambling backward toward the open hatch. Kira stepped onto the ramp, calmly stalking her prey. Her face was a mask of determined anticipation - she was so close to fulfilling her lifelong obsession that she could practically taste it. Tanna partially rolled over as if to regain his feet, then turned back suddenly and flicked out a hand. A massive wave of unseen Force power slammed into Kira, throwing her several meters backward and off the ramp. She rolled across the floor until she slammed into one leg of an empty loadlifter. Kira cried out and grimaced at the sharp pain lancing up her spine. She stiffly rose to her feet as Tanna disappeared into his ship, a smirk on his face. With a sigh of released gases, the boarding ramp began to rise.
No! She could not get this close to her goal and fail.
Kira lurched forward stiffly, hurling herself bodily onto the ramp as it rose past parallel with the ground. As the ramp continued to close, its increasing angle assisted her in rolling into the interior of the ship before the hatch sealed shut.
Crouching and trying to calm her racing heart, she glanced around. The ship's layout was fairly standard, and she knew the control nexus would be forward of the hatch. Keeping her lightsabers in hand but deactivated, she trotted softly along the corridor until she could hear the clicks and beeps of a ship's cockpit. Approaching the open cockpit hatch, she saw Velten Tanna leaning over a medkit, a towel pressed to his bloody forehead.
Silently, Kira slipped into the cockpit and slid forward, igniting one lightsaber. Before Tanna could move, its tip hovered menacingly only centimeters from Tanna's neck. The Jedi slowly straightened up, wary of the white shaft of light following his movements.
"Leaving so soon?" Kira asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Like I said, I'm a busy man, and I have things to do."
"You're just going to leave Hollis' body where it fell?" Kira asked, disgusted.
"That's an odd statement coming from you," Tanna said pointedly.
Kira couldn't think of an appropriate response.
"If you're not going to use that thing, why don't you put it away and leave?" Tanna pointedly glanced down at her humming weapon.
"Your mind tricks won't work on me, Jedi," she chided. "You can't even sense me, remember?"
?How could I forget?? Tanna glared balefully at her. "Nevertheless, you really should make up your mind about what you're going to do, and then do it."
"You seem awfully confident for being unarmed."
"With the Force as my ally, I am never truly unarmed," Tanna replied piously.
"It won't be your ally much longer."
Tanna chuckled. "Ah, yes, we come back to that again. I have no doubt that my death is your intention, but I foresee a future with me once again claiming the title of Jedi Master and resuming my recruiting duties. That means, of course, that you will not succeed in your mission. You?ve had your chances, but I wonder why you haven't yet done what you say you're so dedicated to doing."
Kira twitched her lightsaber close enough to singe the skin on Tanna's neck. "I want to make sure you see it coming.? She shook her head in disbelief. ?You're the most arrogant Jedi I?ve ever heard of. I must ask - how do you hide your true self from the rest of the Council?"
"The Jedi Council is quite good at discerning threats from afar, but they are blind to the warts on their own backside. I seek power, yes, but the quest for power is not evil in itself - the evil comes from the abuse of power. So, they do not sense any evil in me." He shrugged. "It also helps that I spend very little time on Coruscant. Recruiting requires a lot of travel, you know."
"My estimation of Jedi just went down another notch, and I didn't think that was possible," Kira commented wryly.
"I'm deeply saddened to hear that," Tanna mocked. Abruptly, before Kira could move or say anything else, Tanna threw himself backward away from her lightsaber, falling heavily into the co-pilot's chair while stretching out a hand toward the bulkhead. A panel popped open and a compact blaster leaped across the cockpit toward his waiting palm.
Kira's rudimentary Force skills did not include the ability to deflect blaster bolts, which left her no choice: she hurled her activated lightsaber at Tanna like a spear.
The blaster reached Tanna's hand at the same moment ? a moment too late ? that Kira's lightsaber plunged through his sternum. The assassin?s weapon sunk in to the handle, flash-boiling flesh and bone alike and puncturing through the back of the chair. Velten Tanna's mouth dropped open, a look of shock and pain flashing across his face. He slowly looked down at the cylinder protruding from his chest. He shuddered, but the blade had impaled him to the chair, and any movement would only cause more damage to his weakened body.
Kira let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. It was finally over. She'd done it. The man that had brought divisiveness and hatred to Aramin had finally been brought to justice. The goal to which she had dedicated the past 25 years of her life had been achieved. Relief flooded through her, making her almost giddy.
Kira stepped forward and knocked the blaster out of Tanna's limp grasp before deactivating her lightsaber. As the white blade dissipated, Tanna slumped over, gasping and swallowing hard. A widening trail of blood spread down the front of his robe, too much for the cauterizing effect of the lightsaber to overcome. To Kira's total surprise, the Jedi's body shook in dry, raspy laughter.
"What's so funny?" she demanded.
"You really...have no idea what...you've done...Larrian," Tanna rasped.
"Why don't you enlighten me?" she challenged.
"Did Farak...tell you what our...mission was?"
"No, he wouldn't say," Kira replied, suddenly uneasy. "Why?"
"Up...up," Tanna wheezed.
Kira grabbed him by the arms and roughly hauled him upright in the chair. She distantly noticed that his physical body was quite frail, far more than she would have guessed after facing him in combat. Tanna winced in pain, but the new upright position helped him breathe easier, allowing him to speak more freely.
"As soon as Farak passed his Trials, he begged the Council for help on Aramin's behalf," Tanna paused to catch his breath. "He relayed much the same story you told in the docking bay moments ago."
Kira listened in stunned silence as Tanna continued disdainfully. "His whining caused the Council to investigate...they found exactly what he said?and demoted me for recklessness and insensitivity!" Bitterness twisted his face into a painful mask much more so than the fatal injury from Kira's lightsaber.
"Farak's mission...was to reconcile the Chosen and Unchosen on Aramin...and my penance was to accompany him as his assistant." Tanna smiled bitterly. "So you see, Larrian, what is so funny to me is that...in your attempt to bring healing to your world?you have destroyed the very mission?sent to do just that."
Kira's heartbeat hammered in her ears, and her vision swam as the meaning of Hollis' last attempt to communicate with her rushed back into her mind's eye, suddenly all too clear. She desperately wanted to believe otherwise, but she had spent her life surviving on the fringes of society where death and lies were commonplace, and her experience told her that the dying man before her was telling the truth. In fact, the truth hurt her more than any lie he could concoct. She fell to her knees in horrified shock.
"No," she whispered as the cockpit seemed to spin around her. "That can't be..."
"Deal with it, Larrian," Tanna sneered weakly. He gasped quickly several times, then whispered, "You...deserve it." His body shuddered again, and the life drained out of Velten Tanna's eyes.
Kira stared at the Jedi's body through tear-streaked eyes for a long moment before throwing her head back and wailing at the ceiling. Emotion overwhelmed her: she had just fulfilled the obsession which had completely consumed her for the past 25 years, only to discover it was the single biggest mistake of her life. Sobs wracked her body as frustration and heartbreak sent her mind reeling. She collapsed onto the cold metal floor of the Sunny Dawn's cockpit, weeping uncontrollably, the prophetic words of the Bre?krin priest echoing in her mind once again.
This time with the haunting ring of truth.
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