There is a world, far from the civilized hub of the galaxy, which wanders on an erratic orbit around a small and fitful sun. Of the four other planets in its system, two are bloated gas giants, and two barely more than raw lumps of rock, airless and freezing. This world is little better, a once-barren rocky planet hacked into barely habitable shape by generations of determined colonists.
In the northernmost reaches of its largest land mass there is a range of mountains. The colonists name them the Roof of the World, and the name is apt. Clouds form impenetrable layers of mist around the mountains' shoulders, and above the clouds the peaks continue to rise, vast and trackless slopes of stone tapering to vicious points.
High up among the peaks, where half a dozen smaller mountains cluster around the base of one ten-thousand-metre monster, there is a valley with a stream winding through it. Even at the height of summer there is ice in the water, and the sound of the stream as it sings over the ice echoes among the rocks and mingles with the sound of the wind.
At one end of the valley, by the gash in the rocks where the stream bubbles out of them, there is a shrine: a cave, carved into a flat-walled room by removing surplus stone, and the rock taken from the mountainside shaped into slabs for steps and a low altar. A tattered prayer flag flutters above it, the thin branch it hangs from resting in a socket cut into the rock. The flag is old and worn, the colour that was once blood-crimson faded to dull reddish-grey.
Inside the shrine, on the low altar, stands a stone bowl filled with fire. The flame in that bowl has never gone out: every day a white-robed acolyte from the temple on the other side of the valley will come to put fresh oil into the bowl, and to put a fresh bunch of feathery white mountain flowers at the base of the altar.
But not to pray, because the shrine is not to a god. It is sacred, and hallowed in a way few places are, but it is not to a god.
The shrine is not old; barely twenty years have passed since it was cut out of the rock. The same abbot who oversaw its creation still reigns in the temple. The elders of the temple and its attendant village still remember that winter, and the time when what was then only a cave became holy.
It had snowed earlier that day, and as night fell the valley was still coated with pristine, undamaged sheets of snow. The stream was silent, frozen solid, a line of gleaming black ice snaking its way from one end of the valley to the other. It was then that the stranger came, a young man clad in black, stumbling down the thread-thin path into the valley.
He saw the lights of the village, and the long pale shape of the temple perched on the mountainside at the other end of the valley, and with a heavy heart turned his back on them to go the other way. At the closer end of the valley, where the stream began, there was a cave, only a shallow alcove in the rock, but sheltered from the snow and from the freezing, biting wind.
Later that night, he saw another black figure make its way down the path, the cumbersome armour it wore protecting it from the cold and the bitter wind. It followed his footsteps, coming up the slope to the mouth of the small cave.
It was then he knew for sure that his flight ended there, high in the mountains of another world, under skies that were not his own. The Dark Lord had come for him, as he had come for all the few surviving Jedi, and at long last there was nowhere left to run.
He stood with difficulty as the Dark Lord approached the last few steps, and stood facing him in the cave's mouth. Blue light blazed in the darkness as he took up his weapon for the last time, followed by deep ominous crimson as the Dark Lord accepted the challenge.
The battle was not long.
Another young Jedi died there, the last of his life leaking away as he watched the Dark Lord walk away down the slope. At the end, there had been no real pain, only numb acceptance as his weapon was dashed from his hand, and then brief burning heat as the Dark Lord's red blade buried itself to the hilt.
In the morning, the monks from the temple came. They had seen the blades flashing in the night, and had known what they must surely mean.
They gave the young Jedi a tomb cut out of the rock, and made an altar there for the memorial flame. They squared off the walls of the cave and cleaned them, to make the place into a fitting shrine.
The dark stain on the floor of the cave where he had fallen, they left.
For they never knew his name; he was merely one more Jedi, and that was the best memorial they could give him: the remembrance that he had died fighting against the darkness, and that his blood had been spilt for the sake of the light.
Original cover by Nemesis. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.