The Sands of Time (PG)

By : Jeff 42

Archived on: Monday, July 30, 2001

Five hundred years after the Battle of Endor, Obi-Wan Kenobi is reincarnated by the Force to find a galaxy much different from the one he left, and a Jedi order much different from the one he remembers. Now he must take the lead as a new generation of Jedi, including a descendant of Luke Skywalker's, battles the resurgent Sith menace.

Author's note: This story was originally written as a thread on the Jedi Council fan fiction forum. It was created by Old Juan, and the early stages of the story were written by Nanai Akira, JadeSkywalker, Old Juan, and Jeff 42. Shadowen and blackjedi also made smaller contributions. From Chapter Eleven onward, everything was written by Jeff 42. To see the original version of the story, go to this url:


There is no death; there is the Force.

The Force. He realized he was aware of the Force. He could feel it around him, within him.

There is no death; there is the Force.

He felt the Force. With a shock, he realized that he was no longer immersed in the Force. He was aware, thinking, feeling. Like waking from a long, deep meditation, he was slowly beginning to acknowledge himself again. He was separate from the Force now; he could feel it. No longer was he a drop of water in an endless ocean. He was a rock upon a shore, the water flowing around him.

Obi-Wan. My name is Obi-Wan. No, my name was Obi-Wan. That life is gone now. I am not that man any longer. I am at one with the Force.

But he was not, his mind answered. He was alive again, his body reminded him. His body! His eyes flashed open. He could see the blue sky above him, wisps of white clouds floating by. Impossible! How could this be? He died, he remembered dying. He remembered after: Yoda, Luke, then eventually only the Force itself.

He felt his body gasp for air. Damn fool, he berated himself, you've forgotten how to breathe! He'd forgotten he needed to breathe. He took in a deep breath and let it out. Impossible, it may have been, but that felt good.

An insect buzzed annoyingly close to his face. He saw a hand reach out to swat the insect away. He stopped; it was his hand, he realized. He stared at it, fascinated. He willed his hand to make a fist and it did. In awe, he opened his hand again and turned it back and forth in front of his eyes.

Cautiously, carefully, mindfully, he put his hand to the ground beside him and pushed himself up until he was sitting. He was in a grassy clearing near a slow running stream. There was no one around him, no buildings, no ships. He listened for any sound of civilization and heard only the water burbling, the breeze blowing through the leaves and grasses, insects buzzing. He closed his eyes for a moment and took another deep breath.

He felt better than he had in years, better than he could remember feeling. This must be a dream, a hallucination. But dreams are for the living, I am dead. He didn't feel dead. He was alive! He was . . . thirsty! He suddenly realized what the nagging sensation was: he needed water! Almost giddy, he brought his knees up under his weight and stood.

He walked toward the stream. Is this really what it was to be alive? Everything seemed too vibrant. If I am not careful, this will overwhelm me.

He knelt at the stream, cupped his hands in the water, and splashed the water over his face. He brought his hands down to the water again and froze. He looked in the water, disbelieving. This could not be his reflection. That he had a reflection at all should not be possible, but this . . . this he could barely grasp. The face that stared back at him, it was so young!

He brought his hands up to his face, and his reflection did the same. It was him! Looking at the reflection, he guessed his age to be maybe thirty, thirty-five at the most. But that was so long ago!

He spoke to his reflection, "Obi-Wan, you old fool, what have you gotten yourself into this time?"


Judu Kah was deep within her Force meditation. She was sitting on her meditation pillow in her quarters at the Jedi Temple on Yavin IV . . . and yet she was not. Her body was left behind on the planet; her mind was deep within the Force.

These deepest of meditations were now becoming a regular practice for the Jedi Master. Master Judu Kah was one of the strongest Jedi at the Temple; she considered it her responsibility to explore the Force on the deepest level possible. Another might say that she was searching for something in the Force, and maybe she was. But she had long ago learned to let go of striving in her meditation. She allowed herself to open to the Force and follow where it led her. Searching, struggling, those never got her closer to her goal. No, she must only immerse herself in the deep waters of the Force and allow clues and insights to come to her.

For several years now, the members of the Jedi Temple had been aware of a deep disturbance in the Force. It was not anything that was overt or obvious. The Jedi could only feel hints and shadows of something disturbing. Judu felt a gathering, pulling in the web of the Force. But all of these sensations were so subtle and elusive that no one could pinpoint the source. It seemed to be at several places at one time, and then nowhere. Judu Kah had made it her mission to collect and analyze these stirrings in the Force. The Jedi must find the cause, and soon.

The woman sat, barely breathing now; her meditation was so deep. She was not aware of her body at all. Judu was swimming in the sea of the Force. Like an ocean, the Force contained currents and eddies. The Force flowed around her awareness, allowing her occasional glimpses of the life that created the energy field.

In the midst of this calm, clear ocean, there came a sudden storm.

Judu was not sure what it was. She had felt nothing like it before. She felt almost as if she were thrown to the side of the storm as it brushed past her awareness. It did not feel evil, exactly, just focused in its intensity. The storm was quite powerful. Judu followed the path of the storm as it tore through the Force as long as she dared to. Already with her awareness that there was something not right here, she was slipping out of the deep trance she had been in. It was the depth of the trance that allowed her to feel this storm in the first place. The more aware and alarmed she became, the less she could feel the disturbance.

Her eyes opened wide. I must tell the others.

Obi-Wan sat in the grass, looking at the beautiful planet around him. As far as he could see the ground was lush with vegetation. He realized suddenly that he was not able to see very far; the growth of the plant life was so thick around him.

Obi-Wan glanced at the foliage around him, examining every detail he could to gather clues as to where he was and what he was doing there. He was unable to name the planet just by looking at the plant life, nor was he able to eliminate many possibilities. He had no idea where he was. But he had the vague feeling that he had been here before; he had lived on this world.

Earlier he had become hungry and foraged for some fruit. He thought about following the stream to see if it led to a town, but then he had decided against it. The Force had brought him to this spot for a reason. He would stay here until he received some sign from the Force that it was time to move on. Obi-Wan sat patiently in a meditation pose, or at least he tried to. For some strange reason, he could barely sit still. He did not remember it being so difficult just to sit and wait. He thought he had become a master at patience in his later years. Maybe that is the problem, he suddenly realized, I am no longer that old man. These young bones aren't used to being so quiet and peaceful. They want to move.

Obi-Wan took a deep breath and let it out slowly, counting the seconds, trying to make the breath last as long as possible. He looked up to the sky. The sun was coming closer to the horizon now. The light was becoming dimmer. And still no sign from the Force.

As Obi-Wan glanced at the sky, he noticed something very odd. The sun, now that it was lower in the sky and less intense, was very strange. The yellow ball of fire was round, but there were long tendrils of plasma trailing off to one side. He realized what he was seeing. Another body was pulling off the sun's upper layers. He looked, but could not see what it was. Probably another sun that had collapsed into a dwarf star. The gravitational pull of the dwarf would be enough to pull matter away from its sister sun. He was in a binary system, but he did not ever remember seeing such a phenomenon so closely.

The sun was setting now and the stars were becoming more visible. He was on an Outer Rim planet, that much he could tell. Obi-Wan could see the galactic core splashed across one quadrant of the sky. As the sky grew darker, Obi-Wan laid back on the ground to get a better view of the sky. If he could find enough familiar stars, he should be able to figure out where he was.

Obi-Wan watched as the sky began to display its full glory of light. His eyes darted around, searching for the most obvious markers, stars that were well known for their nebula or particular color or brilliance. A chill began to creep up his spine. He almost stopped breathing. Obi-Wan had hoped to find a few familiar specks of light to allow him to name the planet he was on. As he looked at the sky, however, he realized that not only did he recognize all of the marker stars . . . he recognized the entire starfield. He knew this sky! He knew where he was. He looked now in disbelief at the lush vegetation swaying in the warm breeze. He could be on only one planet- Tatooine.

Judu Kah hurried down the corridor leading to the main hall of the Jedi Temple. Her long dark hair streamed behind her. As she walked, she twisted her hair into a knot and secured it with a long wooden needle she had grabbed as she left her quarters. She wore the same loose pants as the rest of the Temple members, but she had on only a close knit top instead of the Jedi tunic that the others would be wearing. With such important news to convey, no one should bring up the lack of formality, Judu thought as she neared the doors to the main hall.

As she threw open the doors, all eyes turned to her, feeling her distress before they had time to recognize its source.

"Judu Kah, what is the matter?" Master Daan Teido frowned at her, concerned.

She bowed to the fellow Master, collecting her thoughts. How can I explain this? I don't even understand what happened myself. She spoke now to the Jedi Master, loud enough for everyone in the hall to hear. "I have felt a great disturbance in the Force."

Others in the room exchanged glances. This was nothing new really; they had all felt the stirrings in the web of the Force. Master Daan tried to soothe the woman's obvious distress. "We have all been feeling this for some time. We have asked you to use your deep connection to the Force to trace these patterns. . . ."

Judu cut him off. "No, this is different, completely different. I have felt something much stronger. Something has happened, an event that I have never felt before."

Chrod Mikyu silenced the rising murmurs of the other Jedi with a look. "Master Kah, do you think that the stirrings in the Force we have been feeling these past years have come to a head?"

All eyes turned to Judu. She was still trying to analyze what it was she had experienced. It was so difficult to pin down . . . "I am not sure if this is a result of the disturbances or just a coincidence."

Master Daan spoke again. "What do you believe has happened?"

Judu thought for a moment that perhaps she had been too rash. She really did not know what was happening, only that the Force had allowed her to feel that something was happening. Judu almost blushed as she realized how ridiculous this must sound to her fellow Jedi.

"Judu, are you all right?" Master Daan now spoke so only she could hear.

Judu pulled out of her own thoughts and looked to the eyes of her peers. She scanned the faces, seeing their concern for the situation and for her. "I cannot tell you what has happened, I do not know myself. But I think I have traced the source of this particular disturbance . . . Tatooine."

Chancellor Duressk Bor'lya's amplified voice echoed through the vast, round chamber of the Galactic Senate. The Bothan spoke passionately as he neared the conclusion of his speech. "So, fellow representatives of the Republic, even though we are in the middle of the longest era of peace and prosperity for millennia, there are still worlds where millions of Republic citizens must go to bed hungry, where children cannot get a proper education, where only the rich have access to modern medical treatments. We could help these people, but instead we waste huge amounts of our budget on an ancient organization that serves little purpose in today's galaxy!"

A few of the vast chamber's occupants gave shouts of outrage, and Bor'lya allowed himself a barely noticeable grin. Then he continued. "If you approve my new budget, we will cut wasteful military expenditures to a bare minimum, allowing us to put the credits where they need to go. Galactic war is ancient history! No new threats have arisen for centuries, and there is no reason to believe any will for the foreseeable future. Cutting back on the military is, without a doubt, the best course to take for our Republic. Approve these cuts, Senators, and the golden age of the Republic will not only continue, but will spread to all the systems and all the citizens of our galaxy."

As the speech came to its close, applause began to fill the Senate chamber, soon turning into a raucous ovation. There was little doubt now to the outcome of the upcoming budget vote. Military spending would reach its lowest level, adjusted for inflation, in the Republic's history.

Across the galaxy, hundreds of billions of sentient beings watched the proceedings at the Senate. One of these in particular was very pleased by the results.

Obi-Wan was in a calm state of subconsciousness. Letting the Force flow through him like a river. Searching for answers he might never find. Nothing happens by accident. It was a lesson learned from Qui-Gon Jinn, his long-ago Master. Last night's revelation only added to his burning desire. He was on Tatooine. That much was certain. But why? There was a reason for his resurrection and the answer eluded him. It taunted and teased at his soul. Just out of his reach . . .

Obi-Wan opened his eyes. He knew he wasn't doing himself any good. Until the Force was ready to reveal it, he was blind to the truth. He would wait. Obi-Wan had come to the conclusion that it may be a good thing. He wanted more time to explore his surroundings. He had a strange premonition that once the truth was his, he would have no more free time. Better use this time well, who knows when the truth will come, he thought to himself. From where he sat, Obi-Wan could see brownish . . . almost sandy tones in the shape of a sliver through the venerable wall of lush green thickets. Curious, he thought. He approached the area with caution, not sure about the environment outside the paradise-like realm he was absorbed in. Slowly, ever so carefully, he spread the vines apart, to see . . .

Here was the Tatooine he knew. The never ending ocean of sand and dirt, rolling dunes and hills, the herds of Dewbacks slowing marching on. It was clear to him now that he was in an oasis. Without the power of two suns, the planet was now able to retain more moisture then before. Obi-Wan knelt down and tightly grabbed the fine grains, rotating them firmly throughout his hand, and then gently letting the sand descend through the crevasses between his fingers. The sand wasn't as dry as it once had been. He thought about it for a little while and could only come up with a question. When was he? Another question to leave to the Force. As he peered eastward he could faintly make out the outcroppings of structures. It had to be either Mos Eisley or Mos Espa. Maybe he could find some answers there. Obi-Wan looked back to the paradise he was leaving for the hell he was entering and wondered if he really wanted to leave. He finally decided he couldn't stay here forever. He would have to leave eventually; it was probably best he leave now before getting too accustomed to the gorgeous view. Obi-Wan entered the unforgiving desert. He pulled his hood over his head to shield himself from the unrelenting heat. Even though there was only one active sun, the heat remained quite intense.

Obi-Wan entered the city limits. He was in Mos Eisley, or at least what remained of it. The structural layout of the area provided information needed to make the call. The place hadn't improved much since he was last here. The more things change, the more they stay the same, Obi-Wan thought. He proceeded down the curvy enclosed roadway. Housing and shops to his left and right, barterers and traders' thrifty lots built off to the sides. The street was bustling with activity. Groups of people socialized, children played, and business boomed. The city had more energy then he remembered. To his left he saw the Mos Eisley Cantina. The tussles he had had there brought a smile to his face. He entered the aging saloon wearing a wide grin. Tables still rested in the same places and had withstood many years of abuse. Overall, Obi-Wan was amazed how the planet fared. He knew he was in the future. How distant a future was yet to be known, but it seemed that the sands of time, however long or short, had been kind to his onetime home. He approached the bar with an air of confidence. Obi-Wan Kenobi's stride and appearance commanded respect and awe from every one around . . . almost everyone, at least.

"I'll take one of those," Obi-Wan spoke to the bartender as he pointed to his selection on the menu that hung above the barkeep. He had no credits on him, of course, but if things were as they had been centuries ago he could put the purchase on a tab. And right now, he needed something to drink.

Receiving his order, Obi-Wan slowly took a sip. A sour taste drowned his taste buds in agony. The drink wasn't to his liking. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, he nursed the drink while he engrossed himself in his thoughts. He replayed through his mind his life in its entirety. The good, the bad, and the ugly. His failure with Anakin Skywalker forever tainted his heart and soul. Even though both Master Yoda and Master Qui-Gon told him many times that it wasn't his fault, he would forever be haunted by the experience. It was a wound that would never heal completely. He had gotten better about it, but the feeling would never leave. Obi-Wan was brought back to reality by the sharp sensation on his left shoulder. A deformed human had been tapping there. He featured a large muscular body that told of years of hard work. The man was hairless and had had a face that only his mother would dare love.

"You're in my spot," The man's voice thundered. Everybody in the room was silent and intent on watching Obi-Wan get brutally beaten.

"That's funny, I don't recall seeing your name on it. I was here first. Go sit someplace else," Obi-Wan retorted, showing no emotion in his words but gesturing in a defiant manner.

The large man was furious. He grabbed Obi-Wan by the collar and proceeded to shake violently. Obi-Wan responded by grabbing the man's wrist with both his hands. With Force-enhanced strength and reflexes he snapped the giant's bone as if it were a mere twig. The man howled in pain as he fell to his knees. Holding his broken wrist with his other hand he cried for mercy. Obi-Wan gave a casual glance to him and turned around. He proceeded to leave the cantina . . . but was stopped by an excited voice.

"Wow mister! You sure showed him!" A praise sent by a small redheaded boy. Obi-Wan smiled at the child and rubbed his head.

"Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You must be cautious," Obi-Wan advised the young lad as he exited the saloon.

Obi-Wan continued further into the city, still thinking about the circumstances and meaning for his rebirth. He had to admit that he enjoyed being alive. It was the first time in a long time that he felt real. Being one with the Force was something special but being alive was better. For you could directly affect things without having to work around the obstacle of being a phantom. As Obi-Wan reached the city limits something came to him. His hut might still be intact. He contemplated returning to his place of exile. I might as well investigate, he decided, while I still have the time.

He was almost there. As he sprawled over the last rock he saw his home. It too had survived that test of time. The hard rock from which it was conceived never faltered. It was faded to be sure but it still stood. He walked up to the entrance. The blast door had been incinerated some time ago. The faded burn marks served as evidence. He entered his place of exile. The memories of the years spent here overwhelmed him. The guilt of his failure came back in full force. The hut was a reminder of that failure, that pain. His self-imposed exile to this place was his penance for the role he played in the sad affair of the Old Republic's demise. As he looked on, all he could see was an empty home. Robbed of what little was there in the first place. Empty, it seemed as if every single thing he faced he did so alone. He sat down on the hard stone surface and through the hole that substituted for a window peered out to the horizon. The blowing sand combined with the suns' heat produced the mirage of a vast ocean of sand whose waters were rough. Waves crashed against each other. A hostile environment in which no one would survive.

The planet itself came into mind. Obi-Wan realized . . . perhaps for the first time that Tatooine was no ordinary Outer Rim world. Almost all of the major events that the Force was strongly a part of began here on this world. Just then Obi-Wan remembered an old Jedi Myth. It had to do with the creation of the universe. He had heard the story many times during his stay at the Jedi Temple. It was said the universe began with a large explosion of power. That power swept through the infinite space creating everything known. Over time that power began being referred to as the Force. The second part of the legend stated that that initial explosion of power left a marker behind. That marker was said to be the most significant focal point for the Force in the entire universe. Obi-Wan was convinced that Tatooine was that maker left by the Force after creation. It was early afternoon, many hours before night would claim the day. Obi-Wan continued to watch the horizon.


"You'd think Master Skywalker could have had the good grace to be born someplace a little more . . . civilized," Larisa Kendalion groused as she sat down in the tent that served as the dig site's mess hall. Across the long table from her, fellow Jedi Varian Deszo looked scandalized. Any comment that disparaged the legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker was sacrilegious to her. Andiell NiMalle stifled a sigh as she took her place next to Larisa. She was forever playing mediator between those two; Varian was an avid scholar of the legends surrounding who many said was the greatest Jedi Knight. Larisa, on the other hand, hadn't even wanted to be part of the expedition to Tatooine. Her former Master had recommended her to be part of the detachment of Jedi that accompanied an archaeological crew to Tatooine to search for traces of Luke Skywalker's existence. Larisa hadn't realized when she agreed to go that it would mean spending months exploring the ruins of a great citadel in the middle of a desert. She was used to the temperate forests of Yavin IV and the climate here was hard on the willowy Jedi's system.

Andiell took a spoonful of the tasteless porridge the Twi'lek chef had prepared this morning, trying to think of a tactful way to forestall any comments from Varian. She was too late. "This dig could be the most significant find in the history of the Jedi," she argued. "Don't you want to learn the truth about our heritage?"

"Not if it means crawling around in that ruined castle another day," Larisa retorted, flinging her long brown hair over one shoulder. "Ugh. The place reeks of decay. I don't see how you can stand it."

"I agree with Larisa," Andiell said. "Whatever that place was, it was never home to Luke Skywalker. There's too much of a darkness to it." She shuddered, remembering the huge skeleton of some monstrous carnivore they'd found the day before. The whole area around it stank of death and terror. Andiell wasn't anxious to go back there again. She had the sense they were wasting their time. There was something else, something far more important happening somewhere close by-something she had no intention of missing out on. Andiell had been drawn to the project on Tatooine for a reason she couldn't define, and she had assumed that reason could be found among the ruins. Yet ever since she'd arrived, she'd felt that the dig was merely a distraction from what she was meant to find. Lately, a strange restlessness had plagued her, growing stronger day by day. Andiell knew she had to leave the dig and soon, but she had no idea where she was meant to go from there.

Varian pushed away her breakfast dishes. "Well, I intend to carry on my work, but you two are certainly free to stay here if you want," she said. "Or maybe you want to join some of the crew on their day off. I hear they're taking a couple of speeders to one of the oases out past Mos Eisley."

"Yes!" Andiell exclaimed, startling Larisa and several others who sat nearby. "Yes, I think I will," she said more quietly, but she knew that this was it; this was the opportunity she'd been waiting for.

Duressk Bor'lya collapsed back into his large, cushy chair and let out a long sigh. He was certainly pleased by the results of the Senate vote, but he had been feeling very stressed lately. So much work to be done, so many deals to be made . . . After relaxing for a moment, he pulled out his desktop computer, punched in a code, and accessed his credit records. To his surprise, there had been no new transfers to his account. Why that double-crossing . . .

Suddenly, a figure stepped forward from the shadows of Bor'lya's office. The Chancellor had not even noticed him before. He was of medium-height, well built, and wore a black cloak that concealed his face. "Who . . . who are you?" asked Bor'lya, trying without success to keep the nervousness out of his voice.

"That is none of your business," said the dark figure in a deep, menacing tone. "I was sent to deliver a message. You did well in the Senate tonight. However-"

"So it's you!" interrupted Bor'lya. "Why haven't I received my next payment?" he demanded angrily.

"If you'll be quiet, I was just getting to that. There will be no more payments. My Master has decided that they are no longer necessary. If you continue to do as he says, then he assures you that Bothawui will remain safe, and no word of our little deal will get out. If, however, you-"

"You can't do this to me!" spat out Bor'lya. "I'm the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic, and-"

"So you feel you're being treated unfairly?" said the dark man, his voice as cold as a night on Hoth.

"Ah, no," replied Bor'lya. "I will, ah, be glad to follow your . . . master's orders. It's . . . been a pleasure."

"Excellent." With that, the cloaked figure turned and strode from the room.

Keiran Foranoll, Jedi liaison to the Senate, quickly walked through the halls of the Senate office buildings. He had sensed a disturbance in the Force, one like all the Jedi had been sensing these past few years, but this time it seemed to be nearby. Keiran passed two blaster-wielding guards and turned a corner. As he did so, he saw something that looked very out of place. At the other end of the hall was a black-cloaked figure, and the two guards looking straight at the figure seemed unaware of its presence!

Keiran increased his pace, pointed a finger at the dark being, and yelled "Guards!" This snapped the guards out of their stupor, and they raised blasters and charged the intruder. But before they could fire, the figure pulled out a cylindrical object and turned it on, causing a red beam of light to emerge. The guards fired stun beams, but the figure moved his weapon so the beam intercepted and deflected the shots. Then he rapidly cut both guards to pieces.

Sudden recognition clicked in Keiran's mind. The weapon was a lightsaber! It was an ancient Jedi weapon which had gone out of use in the past couple centuries, and Keiran wondered how this strange man had come upon one. But there was no time to ponder that now. Keiran raced down the hall, and the dark figure ran away from him and around a corner. As Keiran reached the corner, a crimson beam swung at him, and he quickly back-flipped away. He escaped the assault unharmed, but just barely. The lightsaber's beam had singed his robes.

Keiran nervously backed away, searching for something that might be effective against his assailant. He reached into the other's mind with the Force, but the dark warrior easily resisted. Then two more guards appeared in the corridor behind the black-cloaked man. He turned to face them, easily deflecting their stun beams. Keiran knew this might be his best opportunity, and he quickly grabbed it. He concentrated on a sculpture that stood on a table decorating the hallway. It quickly flew into the air and toward his target's head. The warrior sensed it, but was not quite quick enough. It grazed the side of his head, and he tumbled down to the floor. Before he could recover, Keiran used the Force to pull away the lightsaber. The Jedi pointed it down at the dark warrior, then quickly turned it off and smashed the cylinder into the other's forehead. The mysterious intruder was knocked unconscious.

"Guards!" The two guards approached nervously, clearly shaken by what had just happened. "I want him taken to a holding cell. Make sure that it has no windows, and no objects inside the cell itself. And be careful." The guards nodded, and picked up the black-cloaked man.

After they had left, Keiran remained standing in the hall. He looked down at the lightsaber that remained in his hands, and a chill ran down his spine. He would have to report this all to the Masters, of course. If they were lucky, the man Keiran had apprehended was responsible for all the disturbances in the Force, and their problems would now go away. But the Jedi Knight was not feeling optimistic.

The Dark Lord of the Sith sat silently in his meditation chamber, thinking about everything that had happened in this eventful day. The new Senate budget would help his plans greatly. However, the later events at the Senate were most unfortunate. Darth Sabre was the weakest of his apprentices, but the mere fact that the Jedi now had some hard information to go on was a blow to his plans. The Dark Lord stretched out with the Force and made contact with his young apprentice. He gave Sabre his simple orders, then quickly broke contact.

One other thing had taken place that day, far from the galaxy's center, but it could be the most important of all. There was a new disturbance in the Force, one unlike anything he had felt before. He would have to do something about it.

As the Dark Lord left his meditation chambers, he sent a mental signal to someone he knew was nearby. Then he strode over to a transparisteel viewport. As he looked out the window, he smiled. A fleet of Dominion-class warships hung in space, each five-kilometer-long vessel bristling with sensors and weapon emplacements. Soon the fleet would be ready. He looked past the fleet to the stars, the stars that would soon be his. . . .

"You called me, Master?" The Dark Lord turned to see a young woman standing before him. She had long, jet-black hair and was dressed all in black.

"Yes, Lady Mala," he said. "I have a mission for you."

"Ah." She grinned maliciously. "Is it time to move against the Jedi?"

"Patience, my young apprentice," he said reprovingly. "The Republic is growing weak, and soon it will be time to strike. But not yet. . . ." In fact, the need for caution in their moves against the Republic had been increased by Sabre's capture at the Senate. But he could not tell her this, for he felt it safer for his apprentices to be unaware of each others' existence. "I have sensed a great disturbance in the Force," he continued. "I need you to go to the planet Tatooine to investigate."

"As you wish, Lord Spectre." Darth Mala bowed, turned, and left, leaving Darth Spectre to think about his upcoming conquest of the galaxy.

Keiran Foranoll looked on as a guard keyed in the combination to open the cell's door. Inside was the dark warrior Keiran had fought earlier. It was now time for an interrogation.

The door swung open, and Keiran instantly knew something was wrong. The guard turned to the Jedi and said, "He appears to be unconscious, sir."

"No," replied Keiran. "He's dead."

As evening drew closer and the outside temperature started to fall, Obi-Wan decided to take a walk around his old home and see how much of the landscape had changed. He started out toward a bluff that would give him a good view of the surrounding land. As he walked, he considered his position.

Five hundred years. From the conversations that he had had in town with the villagers, he was able to put together that it had been just over 500 years since he last walked these sands of Tatooine. Obi-Wan looked around in amazement at how little had changed. Much of the topography of the planet was the same. The dunes had drifted and changed shape with the wind, but most of the major landmarks still remained. The citizens of Mos Eisley were all new to Obi-Wan, but he smiled at the thought that they had not changed much either. This was still a backwater dead end world. Life had continued without ever developing much beyond what he remembered.

Slowly, Obi-Wan realized that he was heading in the wrong direction. He had wanted to go to the bluffs to get up above the surrounding sands. But now he realized that he was headed elsewhere. Obi-Wan stopped and looked around, puzzled. Could he be that distracted? He looked ahead in the direction he had been walking. Why am I going this way? Realization washed over him; he was headed toward the oasis where he first awoke. Obi-Wan chuckled to himself. If the Force wanted him at the oasis, then that was where he would go.

Judu Kah settled into the seat of the shuttle and reached for the communications array. She had twice tried to contact the archaeological team on Tatooine and had experienced only static and dropped connections. Now that the shuttle was only another few hours away, she hoped that the transmission would be improved.

"This is Master Judu Kah, I am trying to reach the Jedi archaeological team on Tatooine. Can you hear me?"

Judu was answered only with a hiss from the speakers. She frowned. She was beginning to worry that perhaps the event she had sensed earlier had proved harmful to the team of Jedi on the planet. It did not seem that way, but then why could she not contact anyone from the team?

Suddenly, the speaker crackled to life. "This is Jedi Varian Deszo from the archaeological team. We are having some trouble receiving your transmission; please boost your signal."

Judu breathed deeply in relief and adjusted the controls to boost the signal as much as possible. "Varian, this is Master Kah. I am en route to Tatooine now. I should arrive within two to three hours. What is the status of your team?"

As Varian answered, Judu could hear her confusion. "The team is fine, we are not having any problems."

"You did not feel any . . . disturbance in the Force some hours ago?"

There was a pause on the other end. She must be checking with the others to see if they had felt it. "No, no one here felt anything." Varian confirmed. "Is there something we should watch for?" She was growing concerned now.

"No, nothing in particular, I will be there soon. Maybe then we can track down what I felt earlier. Master Kah out." She broke the connection and leaned back in her chair. I have a bad feeling about this.


Obi-Wan arrived at the oasis and looked around. Nothing had changed. He sat in the same spot he had sat in earlier and closed his eyes. As the sun drew closer to the horizon, Obi-Wan could feel himself opening to the Force, quietly asking for guidance.

Again, there was nothing, no direction, no leading, no thought of what to do next. Obi-Wan was growing frustrated with this situation. Surely he had not been brought back to life just to wander the sand dunes of this pitiful excuse for a planet!

"You must have patience, Obi-Wan. All will be revealed in time."

Obi-Wan's eyes flew open at the voice. There, standing before him, was a spirit vision of a Jedi. Obi-Wan's heart sank briefly as he looked at the Jedi before him. He was expecting his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, or perhaps Yoda or even Anakin. Instead, there was a man that Obi-Wan did not even recognize. The man was dressed in traditional Jedi robes. He looked like one of the old Masters he remembered from his days at the Jedi Temple. The man was quite old, his hair thin and white, like his beard.

Obi-Wan was puzzled. Usually Jedi were visited by someone very important to them: a teacher, Master or parent. But who was this?

The apparition smiled at Obi-Wan's confusion. "You once knew me, Obi-Wan, but you left my life much too early. It is good to see you again, my friend."

Stunned, as the realization hit him, Obi-Wan staggered to his feet. He was almost having trouble breathing and tears welled up in his eyes. "Luke! Luke, is that really you?"

The apparition laughed, "The tables have turned on us, my friend. Here I am the old man coming to give my young friend some guidance." He grew serious again. "I am sorry that you were never able to see the Jedi I became in later years, Ben. By that time you were so deep within the Force that I was never able to reach you. I always wanted to thank you for being my first teacher Ben. It was your teachings that allowed me to believe in the good within my father. We owe much to you, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Obi-Wan stared at the Jedi before him. He did not know how to answer. As a Jedi, he gave up so much of his life for the greater good. It was the Jedi way. He did not ever expect thanks for his effort and now that he was receiving it, he was not sure how to handle it.

The apparition walked a few steps and sat on a rock. He gestured to Obi-Wan to sit as well. "I am sure you are much more interested in why you are here, young man. We have much to discuss."

The door opened, and Kalri Darnol charged the black-faced Twi'lek on the other side. Kalri swung his right arm toward the Twi'lek, but his target easily sidestepped and tossed Kalri to the ground. Before Kalri could recover, a bolt of energy surged through his body, and he screamed out in pain.

"Get up," ordered a guard wearing black body armor. The guard pointed a blaster at Kalri, and he realized that he did not have much choice in the matter. He slowly struggled to his feet, then shuffled down the corridor along with many other beings, human and nonhuman alike.

Soon they came to a large room, where the black Twi'lek stood next to a tall, thin man with ghostly-white skin and dark robes. "Halt," ordered a guard. Kalri did so; he was too weak to resist anyway. Once all the room's occupants were still, the tall man raised his hands, and then everything went black.

He awoke. Who am I? He looked around the room he was in to see many other confused-looking beings. How did I get here? Then he saw a tall man wearing dark robes at the end of the room. I must serve him.

The oasis was stunning, full of lush vegetation with a crystal clear stream running through it. It was several degrees cooler here than in the surrounding desert, and the crew, excited, clambered out of the speeders as soon as they arrived. Even Larisa seemed to cheer up. So why, Andiell wondered, did she feel even more restless now than she had at the dig site? She followed behind the other Jedi, carrying a basket of food that they'd purchased in Mos Eisley. Andiell set it down next to a fallen log and watched as the others set up a net stretched between two poles. One of the crewmembers, a female Sullustan, produced a ball.

Andiell felt a tug at her robes. It was Larisa. "Come on," she said, "You're not just going to sit and watch, are you? This was your idea, after all!"

"I don't know how to play," Andiell protested. But Larisa wasn't interested in excuses. She dragged Andiell with her to the makeshift ball court. As Andiell had predicted, she wasn't a very good player. She'd never been good at team sports and with her mind as distracted as it was, she missed even the easy shots. The Sullustan lobbed the ball at Andiell, who completely failed to catch it. The ball went wild, crashing into the underbrush. "I'm sorry," Andiell said sheepishly to the other players. "I'll get it."

She pushed her way through the growth, hoping that it had landed somewhere nearby, but she found no trace of the ball. Suddenly, she heard voices coming from up ahead. Despite the warmth of the late afternoon sun, Andiell felt a shiver run down her spine. She crept forward carefully and peered through the fronds of a large plant. She had to stifle a gasp at what she saw. Two men dressed in Jedi robes were in the clearing-one encased in a glowing blue aura. Andiell felt as if she knew both of them somehow, though that was impossible. This was the reason she had come to the oasis, Andiell realized. She leaned forward to try to hear what they were saying.

Luke glanced across at Obi-Wan. He's so young! Luke had never seen Obi-Wan at this age, and he had to admit he had never considered that Obi-Wan had been young at one time. Now, here was this vibrant, intense young man sitting in front of him. Once again, Obi-Wan was their only hope. "Obi-Wan, I think you realize how much time has passed since you were last alive, but I know you cannot understand how much has changed.

"The Jedi of today are very different than in your time, very different from my time. They are still master negotiators and have a very deep connection to the Force. But they have taken the maxim of using the Force only for knowledge and defense to the extreme. They are pacifists, without knowledge or training to use the Force in combat. This philosophy has served them well in the last few hundred years, as there has been little conflict in the galaxy. But now a new danger looms. The Sith have returned."

Luke watched as Obi-Wan processed this information. Obi-Wan's eyes had grown wide at the mention of the Sith. Luke could feel the emotions, both good and bad, conflicting within the other Jedi. His teacher had lost so much to the Sith, as had the rest of the galaxy. Obi-Wan controlling his anger well, nodded to Luke. "Then I am here to kill the Sith Master."

Luke considered Obi-Wan for a moment. If only it could be that simple, that easy. "Obi-Wan, the Sith have changed as well. No longer do they limit themselves to only a Master and an apprentice. There are many Sith now, and they are biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to wipe out the Jedi." Luke watched the shock spread across his teacher's face. "You are here, Obi-Wan, to fight, but also to teach the Jedi to fight. Only together will you be able to face this menace."

Andiell pulled stood up straighter in the brush she was standing in. She could not believe what she was hearing! Who were these men? She watched as the younger man put his elbows on his knees and rested his chin on his hands. He looked down at the ground, deep in thought. The spirit figure turned his head and looked directly at Andiell. She was frozen in his stare. What would he do to her? But then the man just smiled warmly at her, nodding slightly in greeting.

Andiell heard someone approaching from behind. She turned to see Larisa walking up to her, reaching for the ball. Andiell was in such shock, she could say nothing. Larisa grabbed the ball out of Andiell's hands and started back toward the others, muttering behind her. "I really wonder about you sometimes, Andi . . . "

Still stunned speechless, Andiell turned back to the clearing with the two Jedi. The spirit was no longer looking at her. He was looking into the thickly bearded face of the young man.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "How could they have strayed so far?"

"Obi-Wan, you must understand that the galaxy is much different then when we were alive. Peace has reigned for generations. No one remembers war. The Jedi now have adjusted to their circumstances."

Obi-Wan rose and paced a few steps away from the other Luke, agitated. Did these new Jedi look down on his generation as being thugs for using violence when necessary? "A Jedi should always be able to defend himself! Even if it means harming another!"

"They have never had a need to defend themselves with violence-until now. You must teach them, Obi-Wan. Teach them to fight, but teach them also the traditions and the ways of the Jedi."

Obi-Wan looked off away from the spirit, frustrated with the situation. He turned back, "Master. . ." He cut himself short. Luke and Obi-Wan exchanged an amused look. Looking and talking to the elderly Luke, Obi-Wan naturally addressed him as he would have addressed his old Masters from the Temple.

The laughter helped to diffuse some of the tension that had been building in Obi-Wan. The path is in front of me now. I know what I must do. "Luke," he paused looking deep into his old student's eyes, "I will teach them, Luke. The Jedi ways will continue."

As Obi-Wan looked away, feeling the weight of the decision he had just made, he could feel the other Jedi's spirit fading back into the Force. He smiled at the thought of Luke as an old man. "The Force will be with you, Obi-Wan Kenobi." With that, Luke's voice and presence disappeared completely, leaving Obi-Wan alone with his thoughts.

This is not going to be easy. Seeking strength, and even some comfort, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and opened himself up to the Force. I am alone now. Or maybe not . . . Obi-Wan thought he felt a familiar presence near him. Was Luke returning to tell him something more? He frowned and opened his eyes, looking in the direction of the presence he felt.

As Obi-Wan spotted the woman hiding behind some foliage, he saw her jump back, startled, as if he had yelled at her. An eavesdropper, eh? He smiled to himself and walked toward the woman's hiding place.

Andiell seriously considered for a moment just running away as fast as she could. But there was one thing that stopped her: she was almost positive that the spirit figure she had seen was Master Skywalker himself. If the man who had established the modern Jedi order saw fit to speak to this man walking toward her, she should speak to him as well. Gulping and silently asking for courage, she stepped forward slowly out of the foliage.

The Jedi smiled reassuringly at her. Andiell straightened her robes, trying to pull her thoughts together. What should she say to this man who was so important he'd been visited by the spirit of Luke Skywalker? She decided that it was best to be direct. "Hello. I'm Jedi Andiell NiMalle. I was sent here to find you."

The man nodded in reply. "I'm Obi-Wan Kenobi." He paused a moment, as if he expected Andiell to recognize the name. Though it jogged some faint memory in the back of her mind, she couldn't quite place it. However, the Jedi didn't seem upset at her failure to recognize him; he looked more amused, and perhaps even a bit wistful. "I was sent here to teach the Jedi," Obi-Wan added.

"To teach us how to fight," Andiell clarified.

Obi-Wan looked somber as he nodded. "That's right. You must learn to defeat the Sith."

Andiell frowned. The spirit Jedi had said as much to this stranger, but she couldn't understand how that could be. The Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice. If they picked up arms and fought-or worse, killed-how could they claim that they acted in oneness with the Force? "But the Jedi never act out of anger, fear or aggression," she argued. "We use the Force for knowledge."

"The Force is for knowledge and defense," Obi-Wan answered. "Sometimes the only way to preserve good is by destroying evil."

"That doesn't sound like what the Masters taught me," Andiell said.

"That's why you need a new teacher," he said with a faint smile. The smile quickly disappeared, though, as he continued to explain. "You heard what Luke said. The Sith have returned, and are more dangerous than ever. You may know of the Sith, but I have seen the destruction they can wreak when unopposed. Believe me, they will not sit down and negotiate peace treaties with you. They must be destroyed."

So the spirit had been Luke Skywalker! Andiell's awe faded as the rest of what Obi-Wan said registered. "How can you possibly know what the Sith can do? They've been extinct for centuries! Where are you from, that they still have power?"

"It's not where I am from, it's when," he replied. He gestured at the oasis around them. "I lived on this planet when it was still a vast wasteland, and it was here that I began training a young man named Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Force. I gave my life to save him, and I was one with the Force until it decided I was needed here and cast me up like a pebble on a beach." Andiell started to protest. It was clearly impossible! No one returned to life after-how long? Five hundred years, if his story of teaching Master Skywalker was true. But even as she opened her mouth, something in his eyes stopped her. Andiell looked deeply into them, reaching out with the Force, and knew that he had seen things she could never understand: the atrocities of war and the pure beauty of the Force.

"And you have come to help us," she said, hoping she understood, but wondering if she truly ever could. Andiell extended her hand to him, knowing she had committed herself to Obi-Wan's cause, whatever it might lead to. "Come with me. We have a comm unit back at the dig, and we can contact the Masters from there. They must hear what you have to say."

Keiran walked down the shuttle's ramp and into the warm, humid atmosphere of Yavin IV. Glancing around, he saw thick jungle vegetation on all sides. All sides but one. Directly in front of him stood the ancient temple that served as the Jedi Academy. One of his fellow Jedi, a female Sullustan, walked out to greet him.

"I must see the Masters immediately," said Keiran.

"Very well," replied the other. "Master Nonen is currently available."

Keiran smiled. Sai-Ten Nonen had instructed Keiran in the ways of the Force when he had been a Jedi apprentice. He wondered what his old Master what think of his recent discovery.

" . . . and when I went to his cell, he was dead. Apparently he had managed to stop breathing. After that I immediately came here."

"Interesting," Sai-Ten Nonen stroked his graying beard in concentration. "So, Keiran, what do you believe should be done about this?"

Keiran had already prepared an answer for the question he knew would be coming. "I believe that there is someone else behind these disturbances. We should seek him out before more damage is done. After my experience with this warrior, I think I would be a good choice to be part of any such mission."

Master Nonen frowned and said, "You must still learn patience, Keiran. You crave adventure, I can tell. This is not a good trait for a Jedi. It reminds me of . . ." The Jedi Master's voice trailed off.

"Of what?"

"Of . . . my first apprentice."

Keiran could tell that there were some painful memories there for Nonen, but his curiosity overcame his inhibitions. "What . . . what happened?"

"Well . . ." With some hesitation, Master Nonen told the story. "We were out on his first real mission, pursuing a major crime lord. We had traced him to Coruscant and were chasing him among the planet's tall buildings. My apprentice recklessly ran ahead, was caught in a trap, and fell to his death."

"Oh, I'm . . . I'm sorry," said Keiran. He briefly wondered why he had never heard this before. I suppose this isn't something he would want to bring up in conversation.

"Now then," said Nonen. "Let me have a look at that lightsaber."

Keiran handed the ancient weapon to the old Jedi, and Master Nonen switched it on. A crimson beam appeared, and he swung it around a few times before de-activating it. Then he found a tool and began to pry open the saber to take a look at the inside. "Ow!" the Jedi Master suddenly exclaimed, dropping the saber to the floor.

After making sure his teacher was all right, Keiran carefully picked up the cylindrical weapon and examined it. The insides had melted.

As Darth Mala entered the cantina, many of its occupants' eyes turned toward her. She observed that, of the patrons who didn't look her way, quite a few were in drunken stupors. She met the gazes of those looking at her, and one by one they quickly turned away. Then she walked to the bar and took a seat.

"Hey, baby, let me-" began the man next to her in a slurred voice. She shot him an ice-cold glare, and he was silenced immediately.

Mala turned to the bartender and ordered a drink. After receiving it, she sat back and used the Force to enhance her hearing. She listened intently as snippets of conversation drifted across the room.

" . . . Twenty thousand, all in advance. . . . You see the shockball game last night? . . . No, I would not like to go back to your place! . . . Yeah, I was up near that Jedi excavation today. . . . "

There. The Sith Lady silently sprang from her seat and walked over to a nearby table. Two humans and a Devaronian were seated there. "Excuse me," she said, tapping one of them, a burly man with long red hair, on the shoulder.

"What do you want?" he growled, turning to face her.

"I believe you were discussing a Jedi excavation. I was wondering where it might be."

"Yeah, and what's it worth to you?" he asked, annoyed.

"Your life," she replied, allowing menace to seep into her voice. She made a fist and the man instantly clutched at his throat with both hands.

"Please," he gasped. "I'll . . . tell you."

She released the Force grip, and the man quickly spilled out the location. "It's near that oasis, about five kilometers to the northeast of here."

Without another word, Darth Mala walked away from the table. She flipped a coin onto the bar beside her untouched drink, then left. Outside the cantina, she got on her sleek black speeder and started it moving. As she raced down the street, her thoughts turned to her destination. After all those years of training, finally I get to face the Jedi. A smile appeared on Mala's face as she thought of sweet death and destruction.

Keiran Foranoll hung his head as he slowly walked down the deserted back corridors of the Jedi Academy. His idea for a mission to seek out any others like the dark warrior he had fought had been rejected. And they didn't even take the time to seriously discuss it! Sure, the Jedi were supposed to use the Force for knowledge and defense, but sometimes he felt that they were getting a bit too passive. And with a real threat arising again, it could prove to be their undoing.

Keiran paused as he walked by the fading mural of Luke Skywalker that decorated one of the walls. The great Jedi Master was portrayed as a young man, holding a green lightsaber and striking a defiant pose. I wonder what it was like to be a Jedi back when there were actual wars to be fought. I bet it was a more interesting job. Keiran continued to gaze at the mural, looking right into Skywalker's eyes. They seemed to stare straight back at the young Jedi. But then again, he thought grimly, I may find out for myself soon enough.


Obi-Wan casually followed the two female Jedi. Both were anxious to get back to the excavation site. The newest revelation concerned not only the welfare of the Jedi order but that of the Galactic Republic as well. Obi-Wan felt slightly overwhelmed. His task of training them would not be easy. He and Yoda had managed a rudimentary procedure with Luke. But that had only been one student, and an especially gifted one at that. The sheer number of new trainees he would have to take on, as well as their previous notions of what it was to be a Jedi, could make Obi-Wan's task here much more difficult . . . his thoughts were interrupted as they arrived at the scene. Andiell dashed the rest of the way across the sand. The young woman was filled with mixed feelings of fear and excitement. Apparently, she wanted to be the first to tell the others the news.

"You guys, Master Skywalker is not just a legend anymore. He really existed once!" Andiell exclaimed as she skidded to a stop outside the tent. Varian approached her slowly and looked her over carefully.

"What makes you so sure? There has been no physical evidence so far to prove your claim," Varian skeptically retorted.

"You won't find any either." Varian's eyes moved to take in the new arrival, a stranger. He was a young man, bearded, clothed in beige robes. Varian looked upon him with keen interest. She could feel Force disturbances swirling around the stranger. There must be great power within him . . . so where did he come from?

"So you're the cause of the disturbances we've all felt. What makes you so sure we won't find evidence of Skywalker's existence here?" Varian bluntly stated with an edge of irritation in her voice. There was something strange about this man. Something in the power he obviously carried. Something she didn't want any part of. But she couldn't place it.

"First of all: you're not even looking in the right region. The area you are looking for is located about thirty to forty kilometers southeast of here. This site was once the property of a galactic gangster by the name of Jabba the Hutt. Secondly: You wouldn't find anything anyway. The sands of time long ago erased any physical evidence of his existence," the strange man calmly answered. Varian shot him a look of contempt. She could not believe the arrogance that emanated from this man. Who was he to say where they should look?

"Excuse me, sir, but may I have the pleasure of your name and why you think we should listen to you?" the other Jedi, Varian, inquired. Obi-Wan could feel her hostility. He casually smiled at her. Such hostility for a Jedi . . . this should be interesting.

"This is Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was the man who taught Master Skywalker. I witnessed Master Skywalker's ghost speaking with him in an oasis not far from here. That's how I know that the legend is true. Please, Varian, you must listen to what he has to say. We are all in great danger," Andiell beseeched her fellow Jedi.

Darth Mala peered down upon the expedition. She smiled in delight as she saw her prey. They were cattle to the slaughter in her penetrating eyes of death. She started her speeder. . . .

Varian continued to argue with Andiell. Both were stubborn, not prone to give in easily. Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped forward, perhaps wanting to intervene, but then-

"MOVE!!" Obi-Wan commanded as the speeder zipped toward the two women. Both Andiell and Varian barely dodged in time to avoid being run down by the vehicle. Even though they were alive, they had not escaped injury. Andiell had a long slash mark down the left side of her back. The burned skin bubbled and pussed as swelling quickly appeared around the injury. She let out a faint cry of pain. Not being used to physical injury put her in a state of shock. Varian moved to tend to her comrade as best she could. She felt equally in shock. Never before had she seen anything like it. Varian glanced over to see the speeder had been cleaved in two. With a look of horror she saw Obi-Wan and somebody else, obviously female, with . . . lightsabers!

The blue blade of energy hummed a voice of greeting to its wielder. Obi-Wan intently studied his opponent. Through the Force he was able to pick up on strengths, weaknesses, and strategies she would deploy. He knew right away this was to be her first real duel. She wasn't even returning any sign of comprehension. She was so intensified with hatred and lust for death that she didn't bother to size him up the way he did her. This was her biggest weakness.

It was much like the calm before the storm as the dark woman-Sith Lady?-harnessed her power in anticipation for the first strike. Obi-Wan was ready. His opponent unleashed a barrage of swings and slashes aimed for the upper body and head. Obi-Wan casually defended and parried her attacks with ease. The Jedi was controlling the battle. He continued on with his centered attitude, never hinting at his true skill. From this fight he would assess the amount of training that would be needed in order to prepare the Jedi for the coming conflict.

The Sith had been consistently changing her combinations of strokes and speed in hopes of throwing Obi-Wan off. Obi-Wan played on with it enough to make the two appear equal. He had come to a conclusion. The Jedi would need a major rehaul in order for them to stand a chance. This female was a skilled and dangerous adversary. The Sith had not missed out on their training in the fighting arts. Blades red and blue violently danced together as they made contact. The explosion of sound that resonated when the two energy blades connected sent palpable fright through the spectators. Never before had they seen such a fierce conflict. Never before had they seen such skill. Obi-Wan pushed these thoughts aside; he would deal with the Jedi after dealing with this Sith.

The battle raged on. Slash by slash, stroke by stroke, the two warriors met each other. Darth Mala was starting to worry. She was running out of strength and her reserves had been completely used up. She noticed that the young man . . . whoever he was . . . was unaffected by the battle. He wasn't breathing heavily, sweating, or showing any signs of deterioration. It was just as the Jedi began another combination that Darth Mala had a realization. With horror sweeping through her, she understood that she had been tricked. This Jedi was a master of the arts. He had masked his true skills through his youth and deception in battle. The hatred boiled though her. Embarrassed that she could be taken in so easily, she made a final effort and swung as hard and viciously as she could at her despised foe.

Obi-Wan foresaw the move and casually sidestepped. As he came around he followed through with an intentionally placed diagonal slash that ripped the Sith Lady's back open. The woman howled in pain as she staggered around. She wasn't grounded quite yet. Obi-Wan executed a backflip and landed gently in front of the Sith. His icy blue eyes penetrated his opponent's soul as he slid the blue blade into her right leg. The Sith screamed in agony as she dropped to her knees. She still held her lightsaber in one hand and raised it in defense. It was a futile effort as Obi-Wan plugged his weapon into her shoulder. The pain was unbearable as she cried out again. She dropped her weapon and the crimson blade returned to its origin. Obi-Wan looked down at her, expressionless. No hatred, no rapture, nothing. He was above those petty feelings. He raised his blade, prepared to deliver the killing blow.

"Finish it!" the dark woman spat at Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan swung downward. The defeated Sith was evidently prepared to face death. The spectators all turned away in shock. The butt end of Obi-Wan's lightsaber handle collided with the bridge between the woman's eyes and nose. She hit the ground hard. The eyes all turned back to face what was expected to be a corpse. Obi-Wan looked up to see expressions of relief that he hadn't killed the female. But the sheer horror of what he done to her would not end with the battle.


The group of Jedi was silent, appalled at the events. They seemed to Obi-Wan to be frozen in indecision. Finally, Varian stood and walked over to Obi-Wan and the fallen form of his opponent.

Varian was almost stuttering in her dismay. "How could you do such a thing?" she hissed at Obi-Wan. She stared him up and down as if trying to figure out what he was. "And you call yourself a Jedi?" Obi-Wan could feel her scorn of him.

Obi-Wan was astounded. How could these Jedi not understand how he had just helped them? "What would you have has me do? Allow this Sith to kill Andiell?" He indicated the unconscious woman at his feet. "She would have slain all of you had I not been here to intercept."

Varian sneered at him. "So what if we had died? I am not so arrogant to believe that the universe would come to an end with my death."

Obi-Wan stared back at the woman in disbelief, speechless. Before he could utter a response, he felt a wave of pain touch him-Andiell.

"We don't have time for this," he said over his shoulder to Varian as he rushed to Andiell's side.

Varian followed him as he knelt down beside the young woman. Obi-Wan glanced up at Varian. "Or am I not supposed to help heal her and let her die?"

Varian blanched. "Of course we will help her. Andiell is hurt; the Jedi are healers."

They both relaxed somewhat, coming to a truce. With the injury of their fellow Jedi, this was not the time for a philosophical debate.

Andiell was on her side facing Obi-Wan, supported by one of her friends. Obi-Wan looked into her eyes. She had come back to consciousness, but was in shock. She attempted to smile bravely at him. He gave her an almost sad smile, full of concern. "It will be all right, Andiell, I promise." She closed her eyes as another wave of pain engulfed her.

Obi-Wan rose up on his knees to peer over her side. The wound that slashed down and diagonally across her back was very deep. His first thought was surprise that the woman was not already dead. He was not sure if there was anything for him to do. But no, he had promised her, he would help.

Obi-Wan looked gravely up to Varian. "We need to get her to a medical facility. Now."

The only sound audible to Obi-Wan was the loud humming of the speeder's engines. He glanced over at the Jedi beside him, but she continued to stare straight ahead as she drove the speeder. He could easily tell that she did not approve of him, but he also picked up subtler feelings beneath that sense of disapproval. Finally, he decided to speak up. "Varian, I can tell that there are a lot of questions you want to ask me."

The female Jedi looked over at him, startled. "I, uh, yeah," she said, obviously a bit embarrassed. "Like for one thing," she continued, her voice turning colder, "Who are you?"

"Well, I guess you could say that I'm an ambassador for the Old Republic," Obi-Wan said dryly.

"Old Republic?" Varian asked, a bit puzzled.

"That was what we called it after the Empire took over," explained Obi-Wan.

"Empire . . . oh, yeah, the Galactic Civil War. But I'm sure tales of that incident have been greatly exaggerated," said Varian, her voice too casual.

"I doubt that. I was there, you know."

"How can we be sure?" she asked skeptically.

"You saw my lightsaber," replied Obi-Wan.

"Ah yes, your lightsaber. I find it hard to believe that a true Jedi would use such brutal methods."

"And you would just let her attack you?" said Obi-Wan, gesturing toward the enclosed back part of the speeder. Inside it were the injured Sith and Andiell. The former was in a deep, coma-like state; the latter drifting into and out of consciousness

"Yes," replied Varian. "The Force is my guide. I have no need to resort to violence."

Obi-Wan snorted. "Turning your cheek the other way is only an invitation to be slapped all the harder. And if the Jedi do not stand up against the Sith, who will? It is our responsibility to defend those who are incapable of doing so themselves."

"I don't know," said Varian. "How can you be sure that it would even be necessary for the Jedi to fight?"

"I've seen what the Sith have done in the past. No one thought the Old Republic would fall, but that didn't stop it from happening. This time we have an opportunity to be more prepared, but if the Jedi do not take it they will be wiped out again."

Obi-Wan could sense uneasiness in the other Jedi, but she did not respond to his last comment. "Well, here's Mos Eisley," she said. "We should reach the medical center soon."

I'm dying, Andiell thought as the speeder jolted to a halt and the pain wracked her body. I don't want to die. She had always heard that Jedi were calm, serene in the face of their impending deaths. If she was afraid and reluctant, did that mean she wasn't going to die? Or just that she wasn't a very good Jedi?

She felt strong hands lift her up from the speeder's back seat, and bit off a scream as someone accidentally touched her wound. Andiell looked up into Varian's horrified face. "I'm sorry," Varian gasped. "I didn't mean to!" Andiell didn't answer; she had no energy for anything as trivial as speech. The pain was getting stronger and her tenuous hold on consciousness weaker. She closed her eyes and ground her teeth together. Every shallow breath sent tremors through her.

"Careful!" Obi-Wan's voice admonished. "Use the Force. Levitate her the way you would any object." Andiell felt herself turn, but this time without any fresh bursts of pain. Some beings would have been alarmed at the feeling of floating in mid-air, but to her it was a relief. There was nothing to touch the gaping slash running down her back, nothing to rub against her burns. Nothing holding her but the Force, and she trusted the Force. She went limp in its protective embrace.

Andiell wasn't aware she had blacked out until she opened her eyes in the medical center. She had no memory of the trip from the speeder, but that was probably just as well. A medical droid loomed over her; behind it she could make out a figure in Jedi robes. Obi-Wan's face swam into focus as he leaned toward her. "Andiell, can you hear me?" She nodded slightly, as much as she could manage through the persistent throbbing of her wound. "Don't be frightened," Obi-Wan continued. "I'm going to put you in a healing trance to speed your recovery, but it will work better if you help me. Can you do that?"

Andiell sent him an affirmative thought. She knew how it was done, had helped heal one of the archaeologists when the citadel's wall had crumbled in on him and pinned his leg. She had never done it on herself, though. "That's all right," he told her. "I'll guide you." She reached out to the Force, following Obi-Wan's lead, and the room started to grow dim around her. As her consciousness was fading, Andiell caught the edge of Obi-Wan's thought: She is surprisingly strong, or perhaps not surprisingly, considering her ancestry. . . . The image of a young man with blond hair in Jedi robes accompanied the thought. She realized that his features were the same as those of the spirit Obi-Wan had been talking to at the oasis. Luke Skywalker? she wondered sleepily. My ancestor? Before Andiell could pursue this tantalizing thought any further, merciful blackness engulfed her.

Varian was keeping watch over the still-unconscious Sith woman when Obi-Wan returned. She hastily wiped the tears from her eyes. She would show no weakness to this barbarian. "How is she?" Varian asked. "Will she be all right?"

"Andiell's going to be fine. The medical droid finished closing her wound, and put her in the bacta tank to treat her burns. She's in a healing trance," he answered. "She's a brave woman, and her will to live is strong." He stopped and peered into Varian's face, and she drew back, not liking to be the object of his scrutiny. "Have you been crying?" Obi-Wan asked with a frown. "Over the Sith?"

Varian pulled a defensive shield over her emotions. She should have known better than to try to hide her feelings from another Jedi, even one as base and churlish as Obi-Wan Kenobi. "I wouldn't expect you to understand," she answered stiffly.

"Try me."

She scrutinized him, trying to decide if he sincerely wanted to understand or if he merely wanted to argue with her again. Varian decided that either way, it was her duty to enlighten him and bring him to the truth. "Perhaps where you come from, this violence is an everyday occurrence. Maybe you maim a dozen sentients a day, but I have never seen anyone purposefully hurt. And you say that unless the Jedi take up arms and fight and kill, we will die. But if we do become like you, so used to brutality, the Jedi will have died anyway."

Obi-Wan felt himself beginning to lose his temper at this woman. Does being young make me so quick to anger? he wondered.

"Do you want to know what the Sith did to me?"

Varian gazed at him haughtily.

"They destroyed my entire way of living. They took my master. They took my student. They took my life!" He recovered his composure, realizing that his near-fury at the recalling of his own life's tragedies was being directed at her.

"The Sith upset the balance of life. That balance must be maintained if we wish to stay in these peaceful times." He paused, searching for the proper words. "If they upset the balance, they must be either changed, or . . . removed." His eyes narrowed. "And if you think I enjoy it, you have completely misread me."

She snorted condescendingly. "How can I be sure you're telling the truth?"

A bit of his youthful playfulness came back to him, quickly tempered by the seriousness of what he was about to do. Master Yoda had told him to use this power sparingly, as the person who he used it on could experience something so real it could damage them.

"You really shouldn't have said that." He reached out slowly, non-threateningly, touched her temple with two fingertips . . .

Varian gasped as another world exploded in front of her eyes. A lightsaber was in her hand, lit. She watched through a pinkish, fuzzy tint as two men-one long-haired and bearded, the other shaven and tattooed-battled hard with their own sabers. One she recognized as her mentor, Qui-Gon. The other was an unnamed creature of horrifying ferocity.

The crackling of their sabers was like thunder in her ears. It seemed that Qui-Gon was fighting a losing fight. That would be remedied; soon the field would come down and she could rejoin the battle.

And then, suddenly, the Sith monster ran Qui-Gon through.


The scene before her again changed. Her hand was reaching out to a young blond man hanging from a stone precipice. About a hundred meters below was a bubbling pool of lava. Both he and her were cut and bruised. The young man reached out as well . . . but then his expression changed and he pulled his hand away. "Better dead than one of you!" he spat, and he let go, tumbling into the lava below . . .

Again the scene changed. ". . . now I am the master," the giant in black before her said.

Varian heard herself saying, "Only a master of evil, Darth!" And then they were on each other in a flurry of blows. She was appalled by the fact she was actually fighting, and yet, it made her blood flow. Still, she felt . . . old, for some reason.

And then, something caught her attention. A young man bearing a striking resemblance to the one who had thrown himself off the precipice and three others-two humans and a Wookiee-were running towards a beat-up old ship that had the look of a freighter. And she realized what she had to do.

Her lightsaber came up before her face, and as the red blade of the Sith Lord swung toward her, she closed her eyes and prepared herself. There was a searing pain and then . . .

Varian gasped again as the vision ended. The man claiming to be Obi-Wan stood before her, his arm dropping.


Varian took a step back in shock. Suddenly, both Varian and Obi-Wan became aware that there was someone else in the room. They turned and looked at the intruder.

Before them was a tall woman with long dark hair. Her mouth was open with shock and Obi-Wan could feel that she was just barely in control of her anger.

"Master Kah," Varian began, but she was silenced with a glare from the other woman.

She now turned that glare on to Obi-Wan. There was such power and barely constrained anger in the woman's face that Obi-Wan almost took a step back. "What did you do to her?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

Obi-Wan raised his chin slightly in defiance. "Varian did not believe that I was answering her questions with honesty. I showed her the truth though my own eyes."

The woman turned, squaring her shoulders with his. The adjustment in her stance brought her easily within arm's reach. She's trying to intimidate me! Obi-Wan grew amused. She obviously is one of these pacifists, but does she realize she's practically picking a fistfight with me?

She was sensing his amusement with her. Her eyes narrowed at him, her whole face growing tense. She brought up her right arm, her index finger pointing centimeters from his chest. As she opened her mouth to speak, Obi-Wan could not help but think to himself Oh, I dare you to touch me, lady!

Before Judu could speak, the door opened behind her. One of the medical aides walked in and immediately froze at the sight of the tableau in front of him. Judu relaxed slightly and turned to him. "Yes?" She managed to sound somewhat calm.

"Uh, the patient was asking for her Master?" He spoke nervously, looking at the strange young man and back to Judu several times.

"Her Master? The Master who was in charge of her training is not here." Judu spoke aloud, but almost to her self, trying to figure out whom Andiell was asking for.

"She must mean me," the strange man said confidently as he strode to the door.

Judu grabbed his arm, stopping him. "I will speak with her." With her grab, they both became tense again.

Andiell felt weak, but she did feel better than she had hours ago. She remembered mumbling something to the medic, and then he had left. But she could not stay focused long enough to remember what she had asked him. She almost started to fade away again when she heard the door open. In her heightened sensitivity to the Force from the healing trance, she could feel waves of anger and frustration coming from the door behind her.

It's the Sith coming to finish me! Andiell thought to herself. She immediately started to struggle, trying to get off the bed, mumbling "noooo, nooo."

She saw the young man, Obi-Wan, come rushing around the bed. "Andiell, Andiell, it's just me, it's all right." His face was full of concern as he eased her back into the bed. Obi-wan held her hand and brushed back the auburn hair from her forehead. He smiled comfortingly to her. Then he pursed his lips and looked in the direction of the door.

Andiell turned to see one of the Masters from the Temple, Judu Kah. Relieved, Andiell moved her arm to reach to the Jedi Master. Immediately, Kah stepped forward and took her hand, smiling at the ailing woman. Andiell just smiled weakly back and closed her eyes for a moment, reveling in the Force that she shared with the other Jedi.

The man, who apparently went by the name of Obi-Wan Kenobi, spoke quietly to Judu over Andiell's resting form. "We should try to limit any . . . negativity around her. It obviously upsets her and will slow her healing." Judu nodded to the man; it was a reasonable request. She smiled again at Andiell. She looks so young and helpless, Judu thought to herself.

Just then Andiell opened her eyes again. "Master Kah, we are going back to Yavin IV." It was not a question, almost a statement of fact as if the journey was already underway. Judu looked up to Obi-Wan quizzically.

Obi-Wan just shrugged. "She could be seeing the future; she is in a very lucid state." he explained, whispering, to Judu.

Andiell turned to Obi-Wan and a ghost of a smile passed over her face. "I am so glad you are coming with us to the Temple, Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan looked up at Judu apologetically and gave her another small shrug.

Judu shook her head in resignation, "Of course, you are welcome to join us at the Temple, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

It was a beautiful sight. Three Peacekeeper-class cruisers floated in formation against a background of stars. Admiral Serra Harsekk took no pleasure from the sight, however. She was watching the scene from a small shuttle; watching the final flight of the grand Republic starships. They had been brought out here to be destroyed.

Only one of the ships had actually seen any battle. It had been a brief skirmish with some under-equipped insurrectionists in the Ton-Mummd system. That was no excuse for the huge cuts on the military, though. Serra realized, as did most of the Republic's high-ranking military officials, that in the event of an attack it was always best to be prepared, even if said attack was a very unlikely event. Better safe than sorry. The Admiral chuckled without humor. Some sentients had suggested that that phrase should be the military's motto. But it's true.

Serra had lobbied hard against the Chancellor's new budget, but she and her supporters had not been able to bring many of the politicians around to the military point of view. She knew that they were making a mistake, but there wasn't much she could do about it now.

A tone sounded in the shuttle's cockpit, bring her out of her reverie. As she watched the starships, fireballs began to appear on their gleaming hulls. Strategically placed explosives ripped the Peacekeepers to pieces. Soon the mighty warships had been turned into scrap metal. Before the fires had completely died down, small vessels moved in to salvage the parts for other uses.

Tears began to form in Serra's eyes, not only for the fate of the destroyed vessels but also for the galaxy itself. The chances of a major threat appearing were undeniably slim. But if one did arise, she had little doubt that the Republic would be destroyed.

It was a beautiful sight. Three Dominion-class cruisers floated in formation against a background of stars. Darth Spectre, Dark Lord of the Sith, smiled at the scene before him. The ships had just completed a series of drills. His new soldiers were performing even better than expected, and their ranks grew with each passing day. And the size of his already impressive fleet grew as well.

Of course, not everything was going perfectly for the Dark Lord. He had lost contact with his apprentice on Tatooine. He did not believe her dead, but another presence in the Force had overwhelmed hers. When he could sense her again, it was possible that he would have to send the same brief signal he had sent to Darth Sabre on Republica, and thus lose two Sith in a matter of days This was only a minor worry, however. Surely whatever the cause of this strange disturbance was, it could not pose a threat to him.

Darth Spectre continued to stare out at the massive, enormously powerful warships. As he did so, he had no doubt that the Republic would be destroyed.


Tae Sorian smiled as the mottled sky of hyperspace shifted to starlines, then to a familiar normal space view. The planet Coruscant was directly in front of him. He calmly maneuvered his modified YT-4200 freighter, Corusca's Chance, toward the building-covered planet, feeling pleased with himself. He had just completed another successful run, and he was a good 20,000 credits richer for it.

Coruscant grew at a steady rate from Tae's point of view. But suddenly, unexpectedly, this apparent growth stopped. An alarm sounded in the cockpit, and Tae quickly checked his sensors. They showed that his freighter was caught in a tractor beam. But no other ship was nearby! He pushed his throttle to full and slammed the control stick down, trying desperately to escape the unseen force that was drawing him in. But it was no use. His ship began to drift backwards, and Coruscant began to shrink depressingly.

For the first time in a long while, Tae was scared. And the fact that he had no idea how this was happening made his fear all the worse. All he could think to do was to keep up his efforts at evasion, but this proved pointless. All right, settle down, he finally told himself. Top priority right now is to get out of this alive.

He ran over the options in his mind. Unfortunately, they were very few in number. It had become obvious that there was no way he could break the lock on his ship. He could try fighting back, but what was he supposed to fire at? The Chance meant a lot to him-the ship was his only truly prized possession and, more often than not, his home as well-but if he wanted to get away from whatever it was that was pulling him in, there was just one real choice. . . .

Finally, his fingers shaking, Tae pressed a combination of buttons on the ship's control panel. Then he ran out of the cockpit and to an escape pod. His thoughts turned to the credits in his cargo hold, but he decided not to risk getting them. He had no idea how much time he had. And besides, that 20,000 was insignificant next to what he had already invested in this ship.

The escape pod's hatch closed, and Tae pressed a button to release it into space. He watched out the viewport as his ship continued to drift toward its unseen and unknown captor. But whoever was tractoring the Chance would never lay hands on it. Less than ten seconds after Tae left his ship, it exploded.

While Varian and Judu Kah were speaking quietly in the cockpit of the freighter, Obi-Wan slipped out of the room and down the hall toward the crew quarters. This freighter had been meant to haul artifacts uncovered from the excavation on Tatooine back to Yavin IV. Now, the freighter was headed to Yavin, but with a different cargo.

Obi-Wan arrived at the quarters and the door swooshed open. The lights were dim but he did not adjust them to be brighter. He walked into the room and sat on a chair near the room's only occupant. Obi-Wan watched the sleeping woman, his face full of concern. Andiell was healing well, better than any of the doctors expected, but Obi-Wan was still concerned. Why, he asked himself. He was confident that Andiell would pull through this injury, although he knew it would take time.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and opened to the Force, reaching out to the injured woman, feeling her presence in the Force. The corners of his mouth turned up as he remembered this sensation from before. Each person had a distinct "signature" in the Force. Sometimes it was difficult to pick one signature out and know who the person was, but there was no mistaking the familiarity here. This was the same signature he had felt before in the Skywalker line. But Andiell seemed unaware of her ancestry.

The Skywalker line. Why do I keep getting drawn into their lives? There seems to be something I have to teach to them. Obi-Wan smiled to himself. He was happy to be a part of the Force's will. Who was it that said that when the student is ready to learn, the teacher will appear? He would teach Andiell, but first there was something he needed to tell her.

As Andiell slowly returned to consciousness, she was surprised to find a presence hovering nearby. She blinked once, then recognized the concerned face of Obi-Wan Kenobi. "I hope I did not wake you," he said softly. "How do you feel?"

Andiell smiled sleepily. "Much better, thanks to you. I have never been able to use the healing trance on myself before." She was embarrassed to admit this, but it was true.

Obi-Wan frowned before speaking. "Andiell, you seem surprised that you have ability in the Force. I spoke to Master Kah earlier; she said that you have always been very timid in your use of the Force. You have great latent ability, yet you choose not to access it. Why?"

Andiell was not expecting this kind of confrontation with her worst fears and anxieties. She knew she had always been something of a disappointment to the Masters at the Temple. They were all aware of her strong presence in the Force. And Andiell did have some ability to use it, but she knew she was not living up to her potential. She suddenly found herself desperately trying to hold back tears. "I try, Obi-Wan, I really do, but I am just not as strong as people think I am."

Looking at the sadness and frustration in her eyes, Obi-Wan wondered if this was the right time to bring this up. But she must know who she is. Perhaps the knowledge will give her strength. He reached over and took Andiell's hand in his own. "Andiell, do you remember what I was thinking when I put you into the healing trance?"

"You were surprised at how strong I was."

Obi-Wan nodded in encouragement. "Yes, and what else?"

Andiell shook her head as tears started to well up in her eyes again. "But Obi-Wan, you are wrong, I am not strong! The Force-it slips away from me when I try to use it. Everyone else at the Temple is stronger than I am! Sometimes I wonder why they even allow me to be there!"

"Andiell, listen to me. I touched your mind when I put you into the trance. I saw for myself. The Force is strong in you. Now listen, before you turn away." His other hand reached out for her chin. She was trying to not even look at him in her frustration and embarrassment. "Now listen, what else was I thinking?"

Andiell closed her eyes and tried to think back. She had been so close to unconsciousness at that point. But she did remember an image of a young man. And the words, what did Obi-Wan say? "You were not surprised at my strength, considering my lineage." She opened her eyes to look at Obi-Wan quizzically. "But what lineage do you mean?"

"You know, Andiell. Search yourself, you know the answer."

Obi-Wan watched the woman's eyes flit back and forth as she searched her mind for clues and found nothing. She started to shake her head that she did not know what he meant; then she stopped. He could see the realization dawn on her that the answers were to be found in the Force. He felt her presence in the Force grow stronger as she tapped into its power. Slowly, the insight began to build within her. In shock, she turned to Obi-Wan, looking into his eyes, seeking confirmation. He smiled at her and nodded.

"I am a daughter of the Skywalker line?"

Andiell laughed bitterly. "Then Master Skywalker must be very disappointed, to see his line come to this." She thought of the times that she had tried but failed to use the Force with the same ease as the other Jedi. Andiell had always felt that something was lacking in her life, but no matter how hard she worked to find that missing piece, it remained just out of reach.

"On the contrary," Obi-Wan told her. "I'm sure he's very proud of you. You remind me of Luke when I first met him. He had potential that he was unaware of, as do you."

Andiell smiled. "You're very kind to say that, Obi-Wan."

She was as stubborn as her ultimate grandfather, as well, Obi-Wan thought. Belief, and lack of belief, could be insurmountable barriers. As long as Andiell believed that she was weak, she would be. But how to prove to her that she had the inner strength she needed? "Come," he said, extending a hand to her and pulling her to her feet. "I want you to try something. I don't suppose there's such a thing as a training remote anymore?"

Andiell frowned. "Training . . . ?"

"No, of course not," Obi-Wan sighed. No need for them, since Jedi didn't use lightsabers now. "Never mind, we'll improvise." He looked around the cabin, trying to find suitable replacements for the remote and the blast helmet that he'd first used to train Luke. He came up with a small dish and a length of bandage. Obi-Wan tossed the dish up into the air and levitated it. Next, he unclipped the lightsaber from his belt and handed it to Andiell. Her eyes widened.

"Oh, I can't . . . " she started to protest.

"Yes, you can," Obi-Wan cut her off. "This lightsaber is a tool, nothing more. It can be used for good, for the defense of the innocent, or for evil. I trust you to use it only for good and only when necessary. But you must learn to use it if we are to defeat the Sith."

Andiell took the lightsaber from him, though reluctantly. She turned it over in her hands, examining the metallic cylinder carefully. "Press that button," Obi-Wan instructed her. She did so, gasping as the blue blade sprang forth.

Andiell swung the lightsaber in a few wide arcs, trying to get the feel of it. She looked very much the way Luke had when he first tried his father's lightsaber. An expression of wonder slowly spread across her face. "This feels . . . I don't know . . . right, somehow," Andiell said.

"Good," Obi-Wan replied. "It should feel natural, like an extension of yourself. Now, I want you to try to use the lightsaber to strike the bowl." Andiell frowned again, shaking her head. Obi-Wan cut her protests off before they even began. "It's a bowl," he explained patiently. "And there is nothing evil about hitting a bowl. Remember, your blade is a tool, and good and evil depend on how you use it." She still seemed unconvinced, but bit her lip and took a tentative swipe at the dish that hovered in front of her. Obi-Wan used the Force to move it out of range. She gave him a pleading glance, but he motioned for her to try again. She took a few more swings before putting down the saber. "Obi-Wan . . . "

"You doubt this exercise has anything to do with using the Force, don't you? Would you be surprised to learn that this was the first thing I taught Luke Skywalker?" He stepped over to Andiell, wound the bandage over her eyes, and told her, as he had said to Luke so many years before. "Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them." She hesitated a moment before activating the saber again. She tracked the dish as he moved it from side to side, swinging but just missing it twice. On her third try, the blade connected solidly with the bowl, and it fell clattering in two pieces to the floor. Andiell tore the bandage off of her eyes. "I did it!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," came a cold voice from the doorway. The two Jedi turned to see Judu Kah standing there. Her eyes were fixed on Obi-Wan. "But what have you done?"

Obi-Wan returned a dry smile to Kah. The Jedi Master entered the room. Her penetrating gaze never left his form. She approached Andiell with looks of both concern and disappointment. She reached for the cylindrical object that rested in Andiell's hand. Just before she could capture the weapon, it flew from the young woman's grasp and back to its owner.

"This belongs to me, thank you very much," Obi-Wan replied coldly as his icy blue eyes met those of the other Master. She fixed her gaze back upon him. He could feel her anger swelling. She was on the verge of erupting.

"You must remain calm. I am of no threat to you or the Jedi," Obi-Wan gestured warmly. But he was cut off sharply.

"On the contrary, you are a threat. You come here to poison our lives, our very way of living with your twisted teachings," Judu argued.

"Master Kah! Please! You must believe him. He-"

Andiell's pleas were fended off. "Who are you to say anything anymore? You have already been corrupted by his sorcery. You took pleasure in the destruction of a mere bowl," Judu finished. The Jedi Master's cruel words had taken Obi-Wan by surprise. After all he had been through he thought it would a long time before it ever happened again. He had to come to Andiell's defense. Master Judu Kah's words had put the young Jedi hopeful in tears. She was starting to believe in those words. Obi-Wan had to assure Andiell he would be with her.

"Just hold on a minute. You have no right to speak to her in that fashion. For someone who claims to be the epitome of peace and justice your anger and hostility at someone lower then you burn brightly. You dare call yourself a Master! I assure you she took no pleasure in the destruction of the bowl, but in the light of being able to harness her gift!" Obi-Wan vehemently countered. The tenacity of Obi-Wan's words took Judu Kah equally by surprise. After a few moments she came to the apparent realization that he was right. A look of shame washed over her face. Then she stepped forward and reached out to Andiell.

"I'm so sorry, Andiell. I didn't mean it. I lost control. Please forgive me," the Jedi Master spoke, holding the young woman in her arms.

Obi-Wan peered down at the two women. He had managed to break some barrier between himself and Judu Kah. He wasn't sure if it would be enough.

"Master Kah, may I speak to you in private, please?" Obi-Wan asked after the moment of apology had passed. She looked at him warily.

"I'm not so sure I should . . . "

"I simply want to convince you that the old Jedi were justified in their ways," he soothed.

Judu Kah eyed him. "Whatever you wish to say, you can say to the both of us." She glanced over at Andiell, as if to ask her approval of the opinion. She nodded.

"All right. Let me put it this way: would you consider Luke Skywalker a brute?"

Both of their facial expressions answered for him. "I thought not. You must remember, he killed. He killed many people. He probably shot down a score or more of Imperial pilots, used a blaster on many stormtroopers, and killed with his lightsaber. He also delivered the deathblow to the first Death Star. There must have been a million people aboard that space station."

They did not seem to believe him, but he pressed on. "But he did it so that still more could live. He did not take death lightly, and after becoming a Jedi killed only as a last resort."

Andiell seemed to be swayed by Ben's words, but Judu Kah apparently was having a much tougher time digesting the information. "That's probably just nothing more than a war story, blown completely out of-"

"You believe in becoming one with the Force?" he asked.

"Of course," she snapped. That question was something one asked a ten-year-old trainee.

"All right. Would it surprise you to believe, then, that I came to Luke through the Force after my death? That I saw him barreling down the Death Star trench, followed closely by Darth Vader? That I whispered words of advice into his head that allowed him to fire that legendary shot?" She arched an eyebrow.

"I'm still having trouble believing you're Obi-Wan Kenobi."

He shrugged. "That is not what I asked. Suspend your disbelief, and answer what I did ask: Would it surprise you to learn I did all I described?"

A pause. "No."

"Then you accept the possibility that Luke Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, your most revered historical figure, killed."

She nodded, this time with less hesitation than before.

"Then why is it so awful for a Jedi to do the same, if it is justified?"

She smiled, believing he had opened himself wide for what she believed was the last word in this conversation-or at least, the last one that mattered. "But that was in a time of war. We are at peace now."

Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed. "Hardly. It was a Sith who injured Andiell, Master Kah. A Sith. They are not some phantom menace from the past; they are real. And if you-if all Jedi-do not learn how to defend yourselves, you will be slaughtered and enslaved. And the rest of the galaxy will follow."

Her eyes had widened, as if to compensate for his becoming slits. "That is what the Jedi were in the Old Republic, and in the beginning of the New. The guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. They would fight, if necessary. They would kill, if necessary." He leaned in close. "It is necessary to do so now."

"Hold on a minute. What did you say happened to you?"

Tae Sorian took another swig from his drink, a Corellian brandy, before responding. "I had just entered Coruscant space. Suddenly, a tractor beam locked onto my ship, even though no other ships were nearby. I had to use the self-destruct and flee in an escape pod."

The large man sitting next to him chuckled, then said, "My friend, I think you've had a bit too much too drink." Tae glared at him, but it didn't stop the man. Instead, he stood up and announced in a loud voice, "This man right here claims that an unseen ghost ship attacked him in Coruscant space. What do you say to that?"

Tae reached for his blaster, but when he realized that all the bars' patrons were staring at him he decided it was best not to draw it. He merely stood up next to the man who had insulted him. "Look, everyone, you can believe what you want, but I tell you something weird is going on around here."

This was greeted by hoots of derision, and Tae briefly flushed red. Remarks about his drinking habits were shouted from a few of the bars' occupants. "Look, people, I'm not drunk, and my story's true. In fact . . . " Tae reached for his half-empty flask, then cringed as he accidentally knocked it to the floor. The laughter's volume doubled, and Tae blushed again. "Sithspit, people, if you don't believe me it's your loss!" he shouted angrily. "You just better watch it when you're flying around this system!" The words did nothing to quiet the other patrons' mocking.

But then another voice spoke up, one unfamiliar to Tae. "There may be something behind this, you know." The laughter quieted as another man stood up. Tae turned to meet his eyes. The man was tall with blond hair and wore black leather clothing. "Kalri Darnol disappeared a few days ago, and I've heard other stories as well. Maybe we should be on the lookout for strange happenings."

For a moment, the room was almost silent. Then someone loudly exclaimed, "Invisible ships? Ha!" The disdainful laughter returned, this time directed at both Tae and his lone supporter. Tae tossed a coin onto the bar, then angrily stormed out of the establishment. As he did so, the blond-haired man nodded at him. But Tae paid little attention to this. He was not in a good mood.


Bri'jana Dais sat at her ship's console, trying desperately to keep her thick black hair away from her eyes. She frowned in frustration and let out a deep sigh. "Emp, can you get me a reading on the leak?" There was a small rustle beside her and she turned to her crewmate in annoyance.

Looking more like a mutated plant escaped from the ground than a sentient being, the Neironkhan looked slightly out of place against the controls of the ship. Its greenish eyes focused on hers and again she heard the small rustling sound of its leafy arms. Emp was nowhere near the name, but Bri had long ago learned it was far too hard to pronounce any real Neironkhan name; it was better just to use names they'd offered.

She sighed once more and slammed her fist down against the console, growling softly. "We need to get some repairs done on here if we're ever going to make it to Dantooine! And being in the middle of nowhere isn't helping!"

"Patience," came a soft voice echoed from beside her. The Jedi Master opened his eyes and stared at her calmly. "Frustration will only prevent thinking."

Bri'jana's cargo consisted of six Masters who were traveling to Dantooine to help oversee the evacuation there. Natural disasters had wreaked havoc over much of one side of the planet, and many lives had already been lost. It was certainly one of the more important jobs she'd had as a pilot for the Republic. But now her ship had unexpectedly and unexplainedly dropped out of hyperspace parsecs from its destination, the hyperdrive had taken damage and begun to leak, and . . . something didn't feel right.

"Sithspit," she muttered softly under her breath. "Emp, can you see what the computer says about all these repairs?"

A small tendril extended from somewhere under the leafy exterior, then very slowly slipped into the large mesh of wires and metal. The system worked just as well as with a droid, perhaps even better. A few numbers scrolled against the screen. Then another set of data appeared, and Bri's eyes widened.

A small vessel, tentatively identified as an assault shuttle, had just come out of nowhere and was initiating docking operations with her ship.

The chills ran up and down her spine as she tapped uselessly on the keys. She'd learned long ago never to ignore the impulses; it kept her from ever being boarded by pirates and generally out of danger. But no pirate would want Jedi!

The six Jedi Masters all raised their eyebrows in question at her emotions, but said nothing. One by one they went back into meditation. There was a sudden movement from down the hall-someone was coming.

She ducked behind a corner and slowly pulled her flight jacket tighter, until she realized she'd left her blaster on the pilot's seat.

Several shadows came into view, and Bri gasped.

Armored troopers, dressed all in black with faces hidden and carrying large blaster rifles, marched down the corridor. "What in blazes?" she hissed softly to herself.

The soldiers didn't even seem to notice her, but kept walking. They came to the small room that held the six Jedi. The Masters stared back, seemingly puzzled, at the troops-more importantly at the blasters they held.

One of the Jedi fell into a limp pile against the floor. The others stared in sudden shock and confusion, unsure of what to do.

Five more shots. No noise, no screams. The Jedi had been helpless, so well trained in their pacifist ways that they'd forgotten what it meant to defend themselves.

Bri stared in horror but could do nothing but watch. As the soldiers turned from the Jedi corpses, another, different set of footsteps came from the hall. There was something very wrong with this new presence . . .

Bri closed her eyes and tried to stay calm, only one thing coming to her mind. She rarely used the Force, for fear of someone finding out. She dreaded thinking of life as a Jedi; her family had always been pilots from generation to generation and she couldn't have lived as anything else.

But now, she had to send a warning before she too was found. She felt the Force around her, endless webs of life. Bri traced the delicate lifelines, searching, searching . . .

Then a cloaked figure appeared before her. She looked up into a pair of blood-red eyes, felt the dark intrusion into her mind-and knew instantly that her life was over.

As the ship started its descent toward Yavin IV, the Jedi aboard had agreed to leave the debate alone for the moment. All knew that they would be facing even tougher discussions and decisions soon.

Obi-Wan had confined himself to his quarters for the rest of the flight to the Jedi Temple. Tempers had been flaring too easily lately. He needed to meditate to clear his mind and prepare himself for the trials to come. He had agreed not to teach anything more to Andiell for the time being. He knew-or at least hoped-that this would soon change when they arrived at the Temple and he was able to explain the situation to the other Jedi. Surely someone at the Temple would understand his position. Obi-Wan knew that if he could find one ally, the others would soon follow. They must, I will not fail them. But I cannot do this alone . . .

Soon, Obi-Wan heard the braking thrusters that meant they had arrived. He reached out through the Force. . . . Tears welled in his eyes as he felt the minds of the others. There were hundreds of Jedi! How long had it been since he had felt anything like it? For so many years he had wondered if the Jedi ways would die out. He regretted having to walk in and start arguing with these people-his brothers and sisters in the Force. He wanted so much to walk into the Temple and be embraced by this community. A community that he had lost so long ago. He sighed. But that is not to be. . . . It is no use wishing things were different. His purpose here was clear. He was here to teach, here to train. Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Jedi Knight.

He stood and instinctively checked for his lightsaber at his hip. He was ready.

Keiran Foranoll was sitting at a computer terminal, reading through some ancient Jedi lore, when the sensation hit him. He felt a strong presence in the Force, and it was getting nearer. Keiran briefly shivered as he recalled his encounter with the dark warrior, but he quickly determined that this new presence was on the light side of the Force. It was unlike any Jedi he knew, however . . .

Keiran shut down the program and rose from his seat. As the presence grew nearer, he sensed that it was accompanied by several other Jedi, and that they were coming in on a ship. He left the small room and strode quickly down the academy's stone hallways, making his way toward the landing pad outside the ancient temple.

The ship was just touching down as Keiran reached the pad. With a slight touch of repulsorlift power, it came to a perfect stop. The ramp lowered, and three female Jedi walked down it together. A moment later, a young man wearing Jedi robes followed. Keiran did not recognize him, but-

A lightsaber! The ancient weapon of the Jedi Knights hung at the young man's side. Where could he possibly have acquired such a thing? wondered Keiran. He quickly stepped forward to greet the man. "Welcome to Yavin IV, ah . . . "

"Obi-Wan Kenobi," supplied the man tersely.

"Welcome, Obi-Wan." The name seemed vaguely familiar, but Keiran could not place it. He felt his cheeks flush slightly as he glanced back down at the lightsaber. "I couldn't help but notice your lightsaber. It's not everyday that you see one of those."

"Yes, I'm sure," replied Obi-Wan, throwing a hard glance over toward the three Jedi who had accompanied him on the ship.

"Although I did actually encounter one recently," interrupted Keiran.

"Really," said one of the other Jedi, the first word any of them had added to the conversation. Keiran identified her as Master Judu Kah. "And just who are you, anyway, to interfere with this important business?"

"How was I supposed to know that it was important?" countered Keiran, not answering the question. He had had a feeling that this was very important, in fact, but there was no need to tell them that.

As the young Jedi looked back to Obi-Wan, he saw a small smile appear on the other man's bearded face. "I would like to know your name, if we are going to become acquainted with each other."

"Keiran Foranoll," replied Keiran.

"Oh, you," said another one of the Jedi, one whose identity he was not sure of. "I've heard stories about you. Apparently your recklessness and tendency toward fighting nearly got you kicked out of the Jedi order." She turned to face Judu Kah, gesturing toward Obi-Wan at the same time. "I don't think it's a good idea for these two to be near each other. Jedi Foranoll might pick up some . . . ideas."

"Perhaps," replied Kah. "Well, I can see that we all have a great deal to talk about. Let's head inside."

Obi-Wan followed Judu Kah and Varian Deszo down the halls of the Jedi Academy, while Andiell NiMalle walked beside him. Keiran Foranoll was still tagging along behind them, as well. Obi-Wan smiled at the thought of the young Jedi. In a way, Keiran reminded Obi-Wan of himself-About 530 years younger, he thought wryly. The young Jedi was certainly different from the others he had encountered so far, and Obi-Wan had already begun to think of Keiran as a potential ally.

Bringing himself out of his reverie, Obi-Wan noticed that they had entered a fairly large room. He looked around, taking everything in, as memories of a time long ago came back to his mind. It was hard to believe that he was now standing on Yavin IV in his physical body, centuries after he had guided Luke Skywalker into battle here in spirit form.

"This is Obi-Wan Kenobi, or so he says," said Judu Kah. Obi-Wan noticed that she was talking to another Jedi, a human male with a graying beard. "He claims that he was brought back to life by the Force; centuries after his death. He also claims that he knew Luke Skywalker."

"Luke Skywalker?" exclaimed an astonished voice from behind Obi-Wan. He turned to see that Keiran had spoken. "So that's where I recognized your name from. You were Master Skywalker's teacher!"

"Well, I suppose so. Actually, another Jedi Master was responsible for the majority of his training. But I most certainly did know him."

"And why should we believe your claims?" asked the older Jedi, whose name Obi-Wan still did not know.

"He has a lightsaber, Master Nonen!" chimed in Keiran. "No Jedi nowadays has one of those. But of course, there was-"

"What is he talking about?" interrupted Varian. After a moment's silence, she explained, "He said he saw someone with a lightsaber earlier. I want to know where he got this strange idea."

"Well, actually . . . " A worried look appeared on Master Nonen's face as he presented another lightsaber to the assembled Jedi. Its design was unlike anything Obi-Wan had seen before, but it was unmistakably one of the ancient Jedi weapons. "Keiran?"

"I got this from a warrior who I fought at the Senate building."

Judu Kah and Varian both frowned at his words. "Fought?" said Kah disapprovingly.

"Well, yes, I didn't have much of a choice."

"I see." Kah gave the young man a stern look, then turned back to face Nonen. "And what do you think should be done about this?"

"At first I thought there was no real need for us to take action. But a moment ago, we received a report of six Jedi Masters disappearing on a mission."

"Six Jedi Masters disappeared?" put in Obi-Wan incredulously. "Then I don't see how you can even debate this anymore. The Jedi must prepare for battle."

"Ships have been known to vanish without a trace in hyperspace," said Varian, her expression that of one who had little faith in the words she spoke.

"That's ridiculous," said Keiran. Varian glared at him, but he went on anyway. "We must do something to combat this threat. And I volunteer to be a part of any mission we put together."

"We've-" started Nonen, but Obi-Wan cut him off.

"Interesting offer, Keiran," he said. "Although you will need to learn more first, as will all the Jedi. What exactly is your job?"

"Me? Well, I'm currently the Jedi liaison to the Senate."

"On Coruscant, then," said Obi-Wan.

Keiran's reaction came as a complete surprise. The young Jedi actually laughed out loud. "Coruscant?" he managed to reply. "That's a very odd idea."

Apparently the seat of government had changed, noted Obi-Wan. "Where is the Senate, then?" he asked.

By now Keiran had settled down. "It's on Republica, of course."

"Republica. So you must be a fairly important Jedi."

"Not really," said Keiran sheepishly.

"It's traditionally assigned to Jedi who can't handle more important duties," interrupted Varian, a note of superiority in her voice.

"Interesting," said Obi-Wan. "I see the galaxy has changed very much since I left. Very much, indeed."

"I'm sure it has," said Varian. "But I'm still not convinced that we should adopt your ways. Not at all convinced."

"Nor am I," said Kah. At the same time, however, Obi-Wan noticed the Master silently chiding Varian for her attitude.

"Excuse me, but what exactly are you proposing?" inquired Nonen.

"I believe that the Jedi must re-learn their old ways in order to defend the galaxy from the new Sith menace. And to do so, I must be their teacher."

"And how do you know that this will be necessary, or that it is even a good idea in the first place?" asked the bearded Master. "Jedi are not supposed to use violence to solve conflicts."

Obi-Wan tried not to roll his eyes. He was beginning to tire of these Jedi's rhetoric. "I know what the Sith are capable of, and I don't want the Jedi to be caught off-guard again. You must listen to me, or billions will suffer."

"Really," said Nonen skeptically.

"Yes, really!" Obi-Wan's outburst surprised even himself. He took a deep breath, ridding himself of the brief flash of anger, then continued more calmly. "I am sure that this is the best path for the Jedi. I can start with a few trainees, such as Andiell here." He gestured toward the young female Jedi, who had not spoken during the whole conversation.

"And why her?" asked Nonen.

"Because she is a descendant of Luke Skywalker."

"You are?" asked Keiran, his eyes wide.

"Yes, she is," replied Obi-Wan.

"Well, then, I'm, uh, very pleased to meet you, An-Andiell." said Keiran, stuttering.

Obi-Wan could sense a bit of embarrassment coming from the young woman. "Likewise, um . . . Keiran," she replied. Then she turned to look at the other Jedi, her eyes sweeping across the two Masters present. "I know that you may not like it, but I would be honored to receive Obi-Wan's training. I believe him when he says that we are in danger. It seems that all we are capable of is debate." Her voice rose a bit as she said this. "And if that's all we can do," she continued quietly, "Then there's no way we can ever stop these . . . Sith."

Obi-Wan nodded at her words of wisdom, and he noticed Keiran doing likewise. The other three Jedi still regarded her skeptically, however. She's certainly right about one thing, he thought morosely. This debate is going nowhere.


"All right," Obi-Wan said. "Counterattack."

A bit clumsily, Andiell tried to knock away Obi-Wan's plasteel sword, which he had managed to cobble together from spare parts, enough that she could get past his defenses. He, however defended against her well enough that he managed to reverse the situation, pushing her similar blade to the side.

"Wait," he said. She froze in her position. "Don't lose your patience. You must be sure not to let your own defenses down when you attack your opponent."

She nodded. "Now, defend." He tried a few strikes, and she managed to block them all, and when he lunged was even able to put him into a compromising position, leaving him open.

"Wait. Very good. Turning your opponent's momentum against him when he lunges; it is extremely effective when done properly." She smiled, feeling slightly proud of her accomplishment. "Counterattack."

This time, she let the Force guide her, and had all the grace and skill of the finest swordsman; the only thing she lacked were the "safety switches" experience placed in technique.

Just as she slipped past his defenses, he said, "Wait." She paused, looking almost annoyed at his stopping her. "Wonderful. You are improving. And disarm." A precautionary deflection of his blade and carefully controlled swing for his neck, and he was pinned by the sword point half an inch from his jugular. "Excellent."

She relaxed, smiling, and placed the blunted sword on a nearby table. "Now," Obi-Wan said, giving her a friendly smirk, "Imagine doing it with a lightsaber and at twice the speed."

She mock grimaced. "I don't think I'm quite ready for that, Master."

"You will be, eventually," he said. "Your only equal in this area of training is Keiran, and he is only doing that well because he didn't fear fighting in the first place." She nodded, feeling proud. "But," he stressed, "You still have a long way to go before the Sith fear you and not the other way around."

"Of course," Andiell replied. "Is today's lesson over?"

"Yes," he said. She bowed, then started off for the door. "Oh, wait! One more thing!"

She turned to face him again, and one of the swords on the table flew to his hand, and in an instant, he was after her. Her reflexes and instincts were barely able to react in time, but she managed to deflect his first few attacks, then tried a different approach. Putting all her power into it, she swung for his sword and managed to knock it from his hand. Before he could call it back, the flat of the sword was against the side of his neck.

He raised his eyebrows. "Good reaction time. You defended yourself well in a surprise situation." She let the sword fall away. Obi-Wan had not put his full array of powers into play for this training session, but the young woman's skill was nonetheless impressive. "Perhaps you don't have to go as far as I thought."

Obi-Wan brought his practice sword up, calmly parrying yet another blow from his opponent. For a moment, the two combatants stood still. Obi-Wan stared into Keiran's eyes, and the young man stared straight back. Then Keiran unleashed a series of swift attacks, which Obi-Wan again blocked with ease.

The two continued to duel, Obi-Wan letting Keiran take the offensive. He had little trouble blocking the blows, but the young man was certainly showing signs of improvement. Keiran was probably the most skilled fighter of Obi-Wan's students at the present time. Those students were now four in number. After hours of debate-No, argument, Obi-Wan corrected himself-the Jedi Masters at the Academy had finally agreed to a trial period of sorts in which he would give Keiran, Andiell, and two others some preliminary saber training. It was probably more to get him off their backs than anything else, Obi-Wan mused. None of the four were exactly high ranking in the Jedi order. Although in the cases of Keiran and Andiell, at least, those positions did not reflect their true abilities.

A sudden attack brought Obi-Wan back to the present. He barely deflected the blow, jumping backwards as he did so. The young Jedi across from him smiled, then moved in with a wide swing to the midsection. Obi-Wan dodged instead of blocking, then brought his sword in hard, calling on the Force to stop it bare millimeters from Keiran's shoulder. "Wait," said Obi-Wan.

Keiran relaxed, his shoulders slumping a bit as he lowered his sword toward the floor.

"That move was too aggressive. You allowed me to get past your guard. You must learn more control."

"Yes, I know," replied Keiran. "I'm still just learning."

"True, but this is an important lesson. Most of the Jedi of today are too passive, but being too aggressive is just as bad." Obi-Wan paused, staring long and hard at his young student. "If not worse. Anger and aggression lead to the dark side of the Force. To the ways of the Sith."

"The Sith," Keiran repeated. "Why won't the Masters do anything about them? The threat is obvious!"

"I agree, although the Masters are right as well, to a certain extent. When dealing with the dark side, one must always use caution. However, there's a thin line between too much caution and not enough, and the Masters here are well past it." Obi-Wan sighed. "I just hope that they will be brought around to my point of view before it's too late."

"Me too," said Keiran. Then the young man brought his sword up and took a fighting position.

"No more for right now," said Obi-Wan. The disappointment was evident on Keiran's face, but the young Jedi slowly brought his sword back down. "You've had a good session today, Keiran. Now I want you to think about what you have learned."

Keiran slowly approached the table and its single occupant, holding his tray of food close to his body. He soon reached the table, one of many in the Jedi Academy's cafeteria, but the other person sitting there still did not look up. "Um, excuse me," he said.

"Yes?" Andiell NiMalle looked up from her meal, a hint of surprise appearing on her face as her blue eyes met Keiran's.

"Is, um, anyone sitting here?"

To Keiran's surprise, Andiell laughed. It was a sound completely devoid of humor, however. "What?" asked Keiran, a bit embarrassed.

"Well, I haven't exactly been very . . . popular around here since I started training with Master Kenobi."

"I know how you feel," replied Keiran, taking a seat across from her. Some of his fellow Jedi seemed to be making subtle efforts at ostracizing him, as well. "But I think it's worth it."

"I suppose so," replied Andiell without any enthusiasm.

Keiran looked at her for a moment, then moved his gaze down to his meal. It was nerf steak. Again. He slowly sliced off a small piece, then stabbed it with a fork and moved it to his mouth. It was fairly tough, but otherwise not too bad. You'd think that in this day and age we could have more interesting meals, though, he thought. Then he shook his head. But why am I thinking about that right now, anyway? He looked back up at Andiell. Neither one of them had spoken for over a minute. The other Jedi, like Keiran, seemed to be concentrating mainly on her food. Finally, he decided to break the silence. "So, what's it like?"

"Hmm?" she mumbled through a mouthful of food. She looked a bit startled to hear his voice, and she quickly swallowed. "I'm sorry. What do you mean?"

"What's it like to be related to M-Master Skywalker," managed Keiran.

"It's . . . strange," she finally replied. "I mean, a few weeks ago I wasn't even sure that he ever existed. And now all this. . . . It certainly changes things for me. It's hard to believe that I, of all people, am his great-great-great-great . . . well, you get the point. I've never been very strong in the Force."

"I'm sure you'll do fine," said Keiran reassuringly.

"I hope so," said Andiell. "But these Sith . . . "

"Yeah, I know!" exclaimed Keiran. "I wish we could do something about them."

"That's not-" began Andiell, but Keiran continued to speak passionately.

"The Masters are acting like fools over this matter! Six Jedi Masters have disappeared, in addition to at least two other incidents, and they're still cautious? Sometimes I think I should take matters into my own hands."

"Well, I'm sure that Master Kenobi knows best," said Andiell. "You should heed his advice."

"Yeah, I guess so," replied Keiran. Then he took a deep breath and began to slice off another piece of steak.

Dano Sculder was brought out of his slumber by a gentle beeping sound. As he rubbed his eyes, an amplified voice made its way into his ears. "This is your captain speaking. We've just dropped out of hyperspace in the Coruscant system. We will be landing within one half-hour. Thank you."

Even though he was tired, a smile instantly appeared on Dano's face. He was home at last! Not that he particularly liked his home, but home meant family. His family! In his mind's eye, he could see his beautiful wife and his two young children. How they must have grown in the long, hard year of his absence! But it would all be worth it now. He had earned enough money that he and his family could move to a new planet and start a new life. It had not been easy work, but thoughts of his family had kept him going, and now he would finally get to see them-

Suddenly, the shuttle shuddered, and Dano lurched forward out of his seat. A few of the other passengers gave brief shrieks, but it was surely nothing to worry about. It couldn't be! Dano glanced out his small viewport, and there was nothing visible except for a field of stars. He was about to settle back into his seat, but then the ship shuddered again, and this time a dull, reverberating sound accompanied the motion. What's going on? he thought. Well, I'm sure they'll tell us soon.

Sure enough, the captain's voice soon sounded over the intercom. "This is your captain. We have-" Suddenly, a brief burst of blasterfire was audible, and the voice stopped in mid-sentence.

Panicked voices began to fill the shuttle now. Dano stood up to look around, and at that moment an explosion appeared and the passenger compartment's door was blown off. Black-armored soldiers began to pour into the room, wielding dangerous-looking blaster rifles. Dano quickly ducked back down into his seat, but he knew it would do no good. A cacophony of voices and blasterfire filled the shuttle now, and all Dano Sculder could do was sit and watch as his future disappeared around him.

Darth Ebony entered the room to see his master standing still, facing the other way. Gazing out at his stars, as usual. The Twi'lek stopped two meters from Darth Spectre and bowed his head.

A minute later, the Sith Lord turned to face his apprentice. "What is the latest news, Lord Ebony?"

"Our latest raid was again successful, my master," replied Ebony. "We have captured fourteen vessels and added over five hundred sentients to our ranks."

"Excellent." A smile appeared on Darth Spectre's long, wrinkled face. "I will be ready to . . . treat them shortly." Then the Sith Lord slowly turned back to look out over the stars.

For long minutes, silence reigned. Ebony could tell that his master was thinking deep thoughts. The Sith apprentice had not been dismissed, however, so he remained standing dutifully by his Lord's side. But finally, the Twi'lek began to tire of the silence. He took a long, slow breath, then spoke. "My lord?"

Darth Spectre turned and, somewhat surprisingly, did not rebuke his apprentice for speaking out of turn. Instead, he raised one arm and gestured toward the stars, and the warships that Ebony knew floated among them. "Prepare the fleet. The time has come for us to make our first move against the Republic."

Obi-Wan swung his practice sword in a straight line and at a relatively low speed. His opponent moved to block, but missed yet again. The Jedi Master stopped his weapon a centimeter from the Bothan's furry head, then stepped back and sighed. "Sarn, what was that?"

"I'm, uh, sorry . . . Master," mumbled Sarn Zor'sya. "Perhaps I'm just, um, too awed by your great skills."

Obi-Wan sighed again. He managed to avoid becoming angry, but it was not easy. The young Bothan who faced him was very enthusiastic about learning, but that seemed to be the only thing he had going for him so far. He had come to the Academy a few months ago, but no Master had taken on the task of training him. So now they were putting him in Obi-Wan's hands.

"Relax; let the Force flow through you. I think you may be trying to hard. You must be at peace to harness the Force's power."

"Yes, Master," replied the Bothan.

"All right, Sarn, take a break for now." Obi-Wan turned to Cilian Dakar, his fourth trainee. The Mon Calamari had been observing Obi-Wan and Sarn's practice, while Keiran and Andiell were studying elsewhere at the moment. "Your turn, Cilian."

Tae Sorian tossed down the channel-switcher in disgust. One thousand channels, and nothing on. I suppose I should do something else, but there's not much to do around here. He looked around his small, filthy apartment, a deep frown appearing on his face. Space is my home, not this nerf-stable. But I won't be going back up there anytime soon! Tae began to reach for a bottle of liquor, but he was interrupted by a buzzing. For a moment he was puzzled. Then he realized that it was his door signal. Why would anyone want to see me? he thought, slowly getting up from his seat and walking toward the door. When he reached it, he looked at the small black-and-white image on the viewscreen beside the thin metal door. A man stood outside. The man was fairly tall, had light-colored hair, and wore a leather jacket. He looked vaguely familiar, but Tae couldn't quite place him.

"What do you want?" snarled Tae.

"I want to talk to you," replied the man. "We met before, last week at the tavern."

It took a few seconds, but soon Tae remembered. "That's not exactly an incident that I like to think about a lot," he replied bitterly. "So why exactly are you here?"

"Just open the door."

Tae did so, but he drew his blaster first. When the door slid open, he had his weapon instantly trained on the other man. But then, with a sudden flash of movement, the tables had been turned. The blaster was now in the blond man's hands, and it was pointed squarely at Tae. "Let's step inside, shall we?"

"I guess I don't have much of a choice." Tae stepped back to allow the other man entrance. His visitor closed the door behind him, never taking his eyes off Tae. Then he spoke.

"I'm here with a . . . proposal, if you will. I know that you're concerned about the recent disappearances around here. And I want to do something about them."

"How are you going to do that?" snorted Tae.

"I was thinking of putting together a little, ah, delegation to the Senate on Republica. I thought that you might be of help."

"You think they'll listen to you?" replied Tae incredulously. "And people say I'm crazy. Besides, I couldn't go to the galactic capital. There are warrants out for my arrest in at least ten systems!"

"There are ways that you could be disguised," replied the blond man.

"Maybe, but this will still never work."

"Perhaps it won't, but I think it's worth a try." The man's blue eyes met Tae's, and remained there in an unnerving gaze. "If this works, you'll be back in business. If not, well . . ." The man glanced around the apartment, then looked back at Tae. "Do you want to live the rest of your life here?"

"You've got a point," replied Tae with a sigh. "I guess I'll think about it. But who are you, anyway?"

"That's not important right now. And you don't have much time to think about it. We're leaving tomorrow. So are you in?"

Tae briefly weighed his options. The man was right, he realized. He didn't have much to lose, but he had a whole lot to gain. "I'm . . . I'm in."

"Uh, sir?"

Commodore Pheylan Vladivosk of the Republic Peacekeeper-class vessel Pacificator turned to face his bridge sensor officer. "Yes, lieutenant?"

"We just picked up something a bit odd on sensors."

"What is it?" asked Pheylan.

"Well, it looked like a few large ships, class unknown, came out of hyperspace a minute ago, but the signatures only lasted for less than a second. Then they just disappeared."


"Yes, sir."

Pheylan Vladivosk furrowed his brow in concentration. There was, of course, no reason that a ship would simply disappear, so he gave the most likely explanation he could think of. "It's probably just a sensor anomaly. Stay alert, though."

"Yes, sir." The lieutenant turned back to his sensor displays, and Pheylan turned back to gaze out the large bridge viewports of the Pacificator. The Republic cruiser was the flagship of the Sorius System Defense Fleet, of which Vladivosk was the highest-ranking officer. Of course, "Fleet" was something of a misnomer. The recent budget cuts had sliced the Sorius defenders' firepower in half, and the Pacificator now made up one-third of the Fleet in ship numbers and over eighty percent of its tonnage. Oh, it was enough to deal with the occasional pirate. If any serious attack were made, however . . . but everyone knew that could never happen.

"Anything more, lieutenant?" asked the commodore, glancing back at his sensor officer.

"No, sir. You're probably right; it was just an anomaly."

Pheylan shook his head. Sensor malfunctions. Yet another sign of the military's deterioration. He moved his gaze back to the vast field of stars, and at that moment both of the frigates flanking the Pacificator exploded.


"We're taking missile hits!" exclaimed a panicked officer on the Pacificator's bridge.

"From where?" asked Pheylan, incredulous.

"I don't know, sir! Sensors don't show any ships in range, and to make matters worse, we aren't even picking up any incoming warheads. But they're still hitting us!"

The Republic commodore concentrated hard, trying desperately to block out the alarms that were wailing through the bridge. He knew he had to think fast if there was any hope of survival. "Ah, where are the most missiles hitting us?"

"On our starboard side, sir."

"All right, I want all turbolaser batteries to open fire, with scattered fire covering as wide a range as possible to starboard. And I want all pilots to their fighters," he added, knowing full well that the battle would probably be over before any Republic starfighters launched.

Crimson beams of energy shot out into space from the massive cruiser, but they had no apparent effect on the incoming attack. Missiles continued to explode against the Pacificator, constantly weakening her shields. Pheylan shook his head in disbelief. "Lieutenant Harston?" he said, turning to his young, blond-haired communications officer.

"Yes?" she replied.

"Open up a Holonet transmission. I want it sent to the flagships of all Republic fleets within a radius of twenty light-years."

The lieutenant pressed a few buttons, then looked up and said, "Transmission opened."

"This is Commodore Pheylan Vladivosk in command of the Sorius System Defense Fleet," said the commodore, staring into the audio-visual pickup. "We've come under attack by-"


Pheylan turned his head, and he quickly caught sight of three huge warships out the bridge viewports. Each one was at least the size of a Peacekeeper, painted black, and was bristling with weapons emplacements. As he looked on, the attacking ships began to open fire with emerald-colored lasers. "All weapons, fire on those ships!" he ordered. "Lasers and warheads!" Then he turned back to the Holonet transmission. "By, ah, three warships of unknown origin. Any available Republic forces, please respond. We require assistance as soon as possible!" Pheylan paused, then said, "End transmission."

"Where did they come from?" asked a shocked officer.

"They . . . they must have been cloaked," replied the commodore.

"But everyone knows that cloaking devices have no practical application in combat!"

"Apparently these people don't," Pheylan said dryly.

He glanced down at his tactical displays, and then yet another alarm sounded over the bridge. "Our shields are out!" exclaimed a bridge officer.

"They've switched over to ion cannon fire," reported another.

"Keep up the weapons fire," ordered Vladivosk. "We aren't giving up without a fight."

His crewers returned to their duties determinedly, but the efforts proved useless. The lasers and missiles of the Pacificator poured toward the targets, but the return fire was much heavier. Within minutes, the bridge lights began to flicker, then failed. Commodore Pheylan Vladivosk looked around his darkened bridge for a few moments, then needlessly said, "We've been disabled."

"Any available Republic forces, please respond. We require assistance as soon as possible!"

The message ended, and Vice Admiral Ace Whitef, commanding officer of the Redlum System Defense Fleet, slowly turned in his chair to face Jesmin Ackdool, the Mon Calamari captain of his flagship Basilisk. "What do you think of this?" he asked, gesturing with one hand back to the Holonet viewscreen. It still held the frozen image of one Commodore Vladivosk, a fairly young man with a head of thinning brown hair who, not surprisingly, had a tense expression on his face.

"Well, sir," began Ackdool, choosing each of her words carefully, "this is certainly a very . . . serious situation."

"Yes, indeed, very serious," echoed Whitef with a snort.

"Sir?" said Ackdool, surprised by his tone.

"It's more likely some sort of joke, and a terrible one at that," explained the vice admiral. "Come on. They're under attack by warships of unknown origin? Preposterous!"

"I can see your point, sir," replied the Mon Cal, making a conscious effort to avoid acting insubordinate, "but we shouldn't just . . . ignore this. I agree that it seems unlikely, but if this is true then someone must respond."

"Yes, of course, but if it's true, then we couldn't afford to leave Redlum uncovered. If we go to Sorius, these unknown warships could come here," said Whitef, a bit sarcastically.

"Then what are we going to do?" asked the captain.

"Relay the message to Republica," said Whitef with a slight grin. "We'll let them take care of things."

Coward, thought Jesmin Ackdool, but all she said was, "Yes, sir."

"The Republic cannot ignore this attack on one of its member systems." High Admiral Raoul Antilles, Supreme Commander of the Republic Navy, spoke into a voice pickup as he addressed the galaxy's legislative body. "The Senate must approve military action to Sorius."

"Admiral," began the Senator from Bastion, "Why didn't the local system commanders respond to the distress call when they received it?"

If only they had, thought Antilles. Then we wouldn't have to go through this bureaucratic nonsense. The system commanders had the jurisdiction to take such action in emergency situations, but once the decision was sent on to High Command Senate approval was needed before further action could be taken. "According to the commanders, they did not have enough ships to respond to the attack and leave their own systems adequately covered," answered the admiral. "Which is largely due to the recent cuts on the military," he added, throwing a glare toward Chancellor Duressk Bor'lya. A few senators began to murmur angrily at this comment, however, and Antilles quickly said, "But that's not important right now. What's important is that Republic citizens are in danger."

"Very well," said the Bothan chancellor. "Now if no one else wishes to speak, we will vote on this measure."

Each senator keyed in his or her opinion, and soon the voting period ended. "Here are the results," said Bor'lya. "Sixty percent in favor of military action, twenty-nine percent against, eleven percent abstaining."

High Admiral Antilles gave a sigh of relief at the results, but it was accompanied by a frown. In a reasonable Senate, the vote would have been much closer to unanimous, he mused. But in a reasonable Republic, he added bitterly, Senate approval wouldn't even be necessary for this military matter. He knew that there was nothing he could do about that for the time being, however, so he began to think about the upcoming action. The nearest fleet base to Sorius with enough vessels to spare was . . . Kuat. We'll deploy a squadron from there.

Light-years away, Darth Spectre also frowned at the results of the vote. He had hoped that the Senate would ignore his first attack. But this was not a major setback, merely an inconvenience. And the measure had only been approved because he no longer had a Sith warrior at the Senate to subtly influence the representatives' minds. I'll have to remedy that situation shortly.

Obi-Wan Kenobi strode purposefully into the large control room, heading toward a group of three Jedi Masters who were conferring by a wall full of various displays. Although the events he had come to discuss were not pleasant, he could not keep a small amount of satisfaction from showing on his young face. "What is it?" asked Judu Kah, sounding a bit annoyed, when Obi-Wan had reached them. It was obvious, however, that she knew exactly why he had come.

"I've heard the reports of the attack at Sorius," said Obi-Wan.

"And?" replied Kah.

"And I believe that my position has just been strengthened considerably."

"Perhaps," said Sai-Ten Nonen, stroking his beard thoughtfully. The other two Masters, however, reacted even less open-mindedly than him.

"These reports have not been confirmed," said the third Master, a nonhuman who Obi-Wan did not recognize, in a harsh voice.

"And what will you do when they are confirmed?" inquired Obi-Wan, his gaze meeting each of the other Jedi's in turn.

"If they are confirmed," corrected Judu Kah. "We will discuss it then. I find this supposed attack to be rather unlikely myself."

"Very well," replied Obi-Wan. There were a million other things he wanted to say, but he knew there would be no getting through to Master Kah. Maybe even until it was too late. But when this report is confirmed, thought the Jedi, they'll have no choice but to come around to my point of view. Obi-Wan nodded to the three Masters, then turned and left the room.

Obi-Wan was resting in his quarters. It was the first time since he left Tatooine that he had had some quality time to himself. He found himself reflecting on the events of the past few days, along with his resurrection. Why me? he thought to himself. Out of all the Jedi the Force had to choose from. Why was I tapped?

"You already know the answer, Obi-Wan" A voice echoed through the room. Obi-Wan brought his head up and saw the tall, glowing figure appear before his eyes. He gave Obi-Wan a warm smile.

"Master, it has been a long time," Obi-Wan responded as he stood straight and then bowed in respect to his former teacher.

"Please, Obi-Wan, call me by my name. I am no longer your superior. If anything you are superior to me," the spirit of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn spoke to his former student.

"You know I can't do that, Master," Obi-Wan countered with a sheepish grin.

"Please . . . call me Qui-Gon," Qui-Gon Jinn insisted.

"Yes Mast . . . I mean . . . Qui-Gon. To be honest with you I really don't understand why I was chosen for this. Certainly there are better Jedi available to-" Obi-Wan was cut off by a rather disgusted Qui-Gon.

"How many times do you need to be told that Anakin's turn was not your fault? Anakin's fall from grace was his own doing and nobody else's. You can't keep punishing yourself for his actions. You are stronger than that," Qui-Gon sternly spoke. Obi-Wan in return gave his master an equally stern look.

"I am sorry, Qui-Gon, but it is easier said then done. You did not experience his betrayal first hand. You did not have to watch as your student used the skills and teachings that you had passed onto him to hunt down and destroy your extended family. You never had to live with the fact that your student would take the gifts you bestowed upon him and use them to kill what would be millions of people. All the men, women, and children who would die at the hands of Darth Vader had families. How about the fact that the galaxy would be under the iron heel of a dictatorship for over twenty years because you were an arrogant hothead who thought he could instruct as well as his masters who had years of experience while he was just newly Knighted? You come here telling me I shouldn't feel guilty when I have every right," Obi-Wan forced back to his former master. The tears were flowing down his cheeks as the emotions were released. Qui-Gon looked to his friend with a deep sorrow.

"You're not the only one, my son. How did you think I felt? I had to watch all that happen. I had to watch as the Jedi were hunted down like dogs, powerless to help save them. I had to watch as the boy whose cause I had championed . . . became the one thing that the rest of the council feared. The one thing I was sure he never would have become. I was the one who insisted he be trained. For a long time my guilt over what happened was just as great as your own. But then I remembered that, ultimately, Anakin's choices were his and his alone. It had nothing to do with his training. Even if Master Yoda or I had trained the boy his decisions would have been the same-he would have gone to the dark side. You must let go of your guilt, Obi-Wan. The Jedi of tomorrow will need you at your best. You are only at your best when you have full confidence in your abilities. You must give them a reason to believe in you. If you lack confidence in yourself, they will too," Qui-Gon finished. Obi-Wan had calmed himself down to a degree and looked directly into his former master's eyes.

"Why me?" Obi-Wan pleaded. Qui-Gon smiled and returned a stiff chuckle.

"Your life experiences have humbled you my friend. Had you retained your youthful cockiness along with your newly restored body you would know the answer. But seeing as that's not the case, I guess it is my responsibility. You, Obi-Wan Kenobi, are the greatest Jedi to have ever lived. You are the only one to meet and exceed your potential. Not even the Skywalkers were ever able to reach the level of mastery in the Force that you achieved. You are the best that ever was and ever will be. To put it simply, you are the only choice," Qui-Gon finished. Obi-Wan had a calm demeanor painted on his face. He had processed all that Qui-Gon had spoken. Years ago it would have made his ego much larger. But now it only made him strive not to let these new Jedi down. They were counting on him. Qui-Gon smiled at his former student. He was clearly proud to be part of this great Jedi that stood before him.

"The Force will be with you . . . always," Qui-Gon spoke as he slowly vanished from Obi-Wan's view.

"Thank you, Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan softly spoke aloud.


"One minute until the reversion to normalspace."

"Good." Admiral Dib Sarcova turned in his command chair to look over his ship's bridge. "I want shields up and turbolasers charged."

The bridge crew went about its business, and Sarcova turned his gaze back to the mottled sky of hyperspace that filled the large viewports in front of him. The Twi'lek stroked one of his lekku as he pondered the situation. He was in command of the Republic Fleet sent from Kuat to respond to the distress call from the Sorius system, and his ships would be the first Republic forces to arrive since the attack. Six days, he thought bitterly. It had been six days since the message had been sent, six days in which Republic citizens might have been dying needlessly. If only-

"Fifteen seconds." Sarcova nodded at the report from one of his bridge officers. He felt anticipation begin to grow in him as the seconds ticked down. His fleet was sixteen ships strong, and he couldn't wait to deal out vengeance on the mysterious attackers. "Three, two, one . . . "

The mottled sky in front of him turned to starlines, then to a starfield with a large blue, green, and white sphere in the center of it.

"Report," said Sarcova, keying up his display screens at the same time.

"We're only picking up one warship in the entire system," said his sensor officer in a puzzled voice. "Looks like a Peacekeeper class, one of ours."

Sarcova peered out through the viewport and squinted as he examined the space in front of his ship. He was barely able to make out the Peacekeeper as a tiny shape near the planet. Then he glanced down at a holographic image of the ship that was projected in front of him. It showed signs of recent battle damage, but was completely intact. An instant later, the ship's ID appeared next to the image. "Open communications with the Pacificator," ordered Sarcova.

"Yes, sir."

Soon the comm screen lit up with the image of a human male wearing a Republic commodore's uniform. The image was familiar to Sarcova; he had seen the same face in the frantic message and had replayed it countless times.

"This is Admiral Dib Sarcova of the Republic Navy. We're responding to a distress call sent out approximately six days ago from your ship."

"Thank you, Admiral," replied Commodore Vladivosk in flat tones. "However, your fleet will not be necessary. The message should not have been sent."

"Really," said Sarcova skeptically. "Then why was it?"

"Someone was playing a joke. And believe me, whoever it was, they're going to be in big trouble," said Vladivosk, his voice almost completely devoid of emotion.

"I'd, ah . . . I'd hope so," replied Sarcova slowly. This response was completely unexpected. "But where is the rest of your fleet, and why does your ship show signs of recent damage?"

After a pause, Vladivosk said, "The other ships of the fleet are out on exercises right now." The second question was curiously left unanswered. "Again, I thank you for your response, but you can leave now."

"Very well," replied Sarcova. Then the transmission from the Pacificator ended. The admiral had a very strange feeling about this situation, but there didn't seem to be much he could do. "Signal the rest of the fleet," he said, his voice resigned. "Set a course for Kuat, and prepare to make the jump to hyperspace."

Loud, clanging sounds filled the room as two plasteel swords repeatedly impacted against each other. The two combatants fought fiercely, each one looking for an advantage, neither finding it. The blond-haired young man suddenly moved in with three rapid overhead strikes, left, right, left, then swung his sword down low. His female opponent parried each blow, however, then brought her weapon up in an arc that caused the man to jump back. Both combatants paused a moment to catch their breaths, then locked swords again.

"Hold on," said Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the battle instantly ended. Keiran Foranoll and Andiell NiMalle grinned at each other as they brought down their swords, then turned to face Obi-Wan. The powerful Jedi smiled inwardly at the sight; his two trainees were quickly becoming friends. "You are both doing very well," he continued. "In fact, I believe that you will soon be ready to construct your own lightsabers."

"If the Masters approve," pointed out Keiran.

"Yes, but I have a feeling that they will once the attack on Sorius has been confirmed." Then Obi-Wan reached for his own lightsaber. "Now there's something I want to show-"

"Wait," interrupted Andiell. "Someone's coming."

Obi-Wan quickly realized that she was right, feeling a bit surprised at the same time that he had not noticed the approaching presence first. But although these Jedi had much to learn of fighting, he reminded himself, they could still be his equals or even betters in some of the other areas of the Force.

All three Jedi turned to face the room's entrance, and at that moment Varian Deszo strode in. Obi-Wan saw Keiran scowl at the sight of the other Jedi, but Varian ignored it. "Word has just come in from the Republic fleet sent to Sorius system," she said, a smug look on her face.

"And what did they say?" asked Obi-Wan.

"There was no attack. It was all a big hoax."

"What?" exclaimed Keiran, and Obi-Wan was thinking the exact same thing.

"I just thought you'd like to know," finished Varian with a sickeningly innocent grin. Then she turned and left the room.

"There's no way that's true," said Keiran. "There was an attack, and the Sith were behind it. I'm sure of it!"

"I believe you're right," replied Obi-Wan with a sigh. "And this could mean that the Sith are even more dangerous than I had thought."

"Can't we do something about it?" pleaded Keiran. "We could go behind the Masters' backs. They wouldn't be able to stop us."

"Patience, Keiran. Right now, the best thing for you to do is concentrate on your training. The time to fight will come eventually."

"I know," replied the young man. Then he left the room, shaking his head.

Obi-Wan turned to face his other trainee. "What do you think about this, Andiell?" he asked.

"I think you're probably right about there really being an attack. But I'm not sure that I'm ready to face the Sith yet."

"Don't worry, Andiell. I don't expect you to be ready just yet. But you are making great progress. I feel that you will live up to your ancestors' name."

Andiell smiled at the compliment, but she did not say anything more. She remained standing there, however. Obi-Wan sensed that there was something else she wanted to talk about. "What is it?" he asked.

"It's . . . Keiran," she admitted. "I'm a bit . . . worried . . . about him. I know that he's very skilled, but sometimes he seems just a little too eager to fight."

"His willingness to fight is a breath of fresh air compared to most of the Jedi around here," said Obi-Wan with a chuckle. But then, more seriously, he continued. "You may be right, though. I'll keep a close eye on him. And if there's ever something you want to talk about, don't hesitate to come to me."

"Thanks," said Andiell. Then she too left the room, leaving Obi-Wan alone with much to ponder.

"It will probably be a few days before the Senate finds time to listen to our plea, so make yourselves comfortable."

"Sure," muttered Tae Sorian, looking around the low-rent apartment in the bowels of the planet Republica. But even though it wasn't much, he had to admit that it better than his place back on Coruscant. Then Tae turned to his roommate, a Gran. "You know that guy?" he asked, gesturing toward the doorway, where their blond-haired leader had been a moment ago.

"No," replied the alien, shaking his three-eyed head. "And I've been talking to the others; none of them know him either."

"Something strange is going on here," said Tae. "I just hope that this mission will improve the situation back at Coruscant, but I must say I have my doubts."

"So do I," said the Gran, shaking his head again. Then he turned to begin unpacking his luggage, leaving Tae to contemplate the situation he found himself in.

The so-called "delegation" was a motley collection of sentient beings, with three humans and nine nonhumans. Six of its members were male, five female, and one a droid. It was a pretty strange group, and Tae had never met any of them before. All they had in common was that each one lived on Coruscant and each had purportedly suffered because of the unknown force marauding the system. And then there was their leader, quite the enigmatic character. Why had he chosen these particular beings out of the hundreds of billions that still lived on once-proud Coruscant, and what were his true motives in this matter? Tae didn't know. In fact, he wasn't at all sure that he would ever find out.

A harsh beeping sound brought Keiran Foranoll out of a strange dream. The young Jedi quickly came awake and shut off his alarm. Instinctively looking at the time, he saw that it was 0400 hours. Perfect. It was time to put his plan into motion.

Keiran slid out of his bed and dressed himself. He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm his racing heartbeat, then stepped out onto the cold stone floor of the hallway.

The Jedi Knight moved down the hall with a combination of stealth and speed. He paused for a moment to look at the old mural of Master Skywalker, then continued on his way. He took a right turn down another corridor. Seconds later, he had reached his destination.

Keiran silently slipped into the room, his gaze fixed on its sleeping inhabitant. Master Kenobi stirred a bit as the young Jedi entered, and Keiran sent out waves of calm through the Force, at the same time praying that the other Jedi would remain asleep.

Kenobi turned in his sleep, but soon settled down again. The rhythmical sound of his breathing filled the room. Keiran remained still for a few tense seconds before he cautiously crept forward. He slowly moved his gaze all around the dimly lit room, grimacing when he found what he was looking for. Kenobi's lightsaber was attached to the Master's belt, still hanging at his side.

Beads of sweat appeared on Keiran's forehead, even though it was quite cool inside the ancient temple. The young Jedi took a few more calming breaths, then stretched out with the Force. He managed to unhook the lightsaber from the belt without physically touching it, and the cylindrical weapon slowly rose into the air. Suddenly, Kenobi reached out one of his hands and almost grabbed the weapon. Keiran nearly cried out in surprise, but quickly realized that the other Jedi was still asleep. In that moment of shock, however, he lost his grip on the saber. Only for a moment. He caught it just a centimeter above Kenobi's body. Now the ancient Jedi weapon hovered motionless in the air.

Keiran let it stay there for a moment, again using the Force to calm the sleeping Jedi. Then he began to pull the lightsaber in toward him. Slowly at first, gradually picking up speed, and a few seconds later Keiran gripped it in his hand.

It felt so good! Keiran had held a lightsaber before, but the Sith weapon had felt wrong, somehow. Kenobi's saber, on the other hand, felt just right. Keiran smiled as he examined the cylinder for a moment, then slipped out of the room, as silently as he had entered. He looked both ways as he entered the hallway, finally turning to his left and heading away from his sleeping teacher. Soon he would reach the Academy's landing grounds, and then . . . Where? The young Jedi had never really thought about where he might go to find the Sith. The Force will guide me, he decided.

Andiell woke with a start. She was instantly filled with a strange feeling that something terrible was happening. She quickly jumped out of bed and crept toward the door to her room. She heard footsteps, faintly but clearly, moving down a hallway nearby. Andiell reached out with the Force and immediately identified the source. Keiran.

She cautiously exited her room, glanced around the dark corridor, then began to run toward Keiran's presence in the Force. Now his footsteps became louder; her fellow Jedi had picked up speed as well. Andiell raced around a corner, down a hallway, then through another turn. She could not see Keiran, but she could sense him clearly moving away from her. Andiell dashed down the hallway and found that she had reached the Academy's entrance. Panting, she emerged into the cool night. Directly in front of her was a shuttle, and she sensed Keiran inside of it. Andiell called on all her strength for a final burst of speed, but it was too late. The shuttle's engines roared to life. The heat caused Andiell to jump back, and then the craft began to rise. Wait! she cried silently, a last ditch effort to stop Keiran from leaving. But there was no response. Andiell watched helplessly as the shuttle zoomed away into the vast, star-filled sky.

As the shuttle cleared Yavin IV's atmosphere, Keiran was hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion. Keeping a Jedi Master from waking while simultaneously taking his lightsaber had used up nearly all his energy, and now the adrenaline flow he had been running on was wearing off. Keiran yawned and let his head drop into his hands, rubbing suddenly heavy eyelids. He nearly drifted off into unconsciousness, but he shook himself out of it. He would have time to rest once he made the jump to hyperspace.

Out the shuttle's front viewport, the red gas giant of Yavin loomed large and was continuously growing larger. Keiran took hold of the small craft's controls and turned it away from the massive planet. Then he took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes, and stretched out to the Force. Presences, shapes, various sensations; all swirled around him as he dove into the mystical energy field. He let it guide his hands as they slowly adjusted the controls. The small shuttle floated through the depths of space. Its trajectory gradually changed, up and down, left and right, until-There! Keiran opened his eyes. All he could see ahead of him was a vast starfield, but he knew that this was the direction he wanted to go. He punched the shuttle's hyperdrive activator, then sat back and watched as the stars turned to starlines, then to the colorful, swirling sky that was hyperspace.

Obi-Wan was roughly jostled awake in the middle of the night. His eyes snapped open to see young Andiell NiMalle looking down at him, an anxious expression on her face. "Wha-my lightsaber!" he exclaimed. Instantly, he realized that the weapon he carried everywhere, that had indeed become an extension of his self, was missing.

"Oh, no," muttered a worried Andiell. "Keiran must have taken it!"

"He what?" asked Obi-Wan, incredulous.

"I woke up a few minutes ago and heard Keiran sneaking through the Academy's halls. I followed him, but he outran me. Then he took off in a shuttle," explained Andiell. "He must have stolen your lightsaber before he left." The young woman paused, then said, "I have a bad feeling about this."

You can say that again, thought Obi-Wan. Quickly calming down, he said, "Keiran must be going after the Sith. We'd better wake the Masters."

"I guess so," replied Andiell. Obi-Wan got out of bed, grabbed a robe, and followed his trainee out into the shadowy corridors of the ancient temple. They walked in silence for a few moments. Finally Andiell asked, "What do you think led him to do this?"

"He's impatient and eager to fight the Sith," said Obi-Wan. "You recognized this yourself. I've lectured him on his impatience in a few of our training sessions, most of them, now that I think about it, but I guess I didn't do a good enough job."

"Well, even so, I . . . I don't think there's any way you could have anticipated this." Obi-Wan smiled briefly; he could tell that it took courage for Andiell to speak up like this. "I just hope he'll be all right."

"I'm sure things will turn out okay," said Obi-Wan reassuringly. Indeed, he sensed that this seemingly unfortunate event would likely lead to good somehow. But at the same time, he knew that great difficulties would come before that.

"Here's Master Kah's room," announced Andiell, interrupting Obi-Wan's thoughts. He nodded, smiling grimly at the young Jedi. He was not eager to hear the Jedi Master's reaction.

All six of the Masters who were at the Academy had now gathered in the large control room, along with Obi-Wan and Andiell. The young woman quickly recounted the night's events. Then the pair waited for the Masters' reactions. All six showed varying degrees of disapproval, but none spoke harshly. Not yet, anyway, thought Obi-Wan.

"What do you think Jedi Foranoll intends to do?" asked Master Daan Teido.

"I'm sure that he means to find and confront the Sith," answered Obi-Wan.

"It's unlikely that he'll find anything," said Judu Kah. "However, this is still a serious matter. Jedi Kenobi, what do you believe we should do?"

"I would like to go after him," replied Obi-Wan in flat tones.

"I do not think that that would be wise," said the powerful female Master. She turned to the other Masters in the room and continued. "Jedi Kenobi's instruction is obviously what convinced Jedi Foranoll to make this rash move. I recommend that we terminate the lightsaber training program immediately."

The other Masters all nodded at her advice; Andiell reacted very differently. "But-" began the young Jedi. Obi-Wan, however, shook his head at her.

"Stay calm," he murmured. He knew that provoking the Masters would not be helpful. Then, addressing all the room's occupants, he said, "What will become of my students?"

"They should be put on probation for a period of time," put in Master Chrod Mikyu. "Then they will return to their former positions."

"A wise suggestion," said Judu Kah. "Except that Jedi Foranoll, I believe, should be removed from the Jedi order."

For a moment, anger began to rise in Obi-Wan, but he quickly quelled it. If only they could see the truth, he thought sadly. Keiran has his flaws, but he is one of the strongest Jedi in the order. Obi-Wan could only hope that things would change before the runaway Knight returned.

"As for Jedi Kenobi here," continued Kah. "I recommend that he be put under house arrest here in the Academy. We cannot let his ideas poison any more minds."

Obi-Wan bowed his head in response. Now was not the time for action. Beside him, a brief flicker of outrage emanated from Andiell, but all she said was, "And what are you going to do about Keiran?"

"I will go after him," said Master Sai-Ten Nonen. All the room's occupants looked at the bearded Jedi in surprise. "He was my apprentice once; I know him best. And I can't help but feel partly responsible for this."

"You aren't saying that this isn't Jedi Kenobi's fault," said Judu Kah, as a statement rather than a question.

"Of course his influence played a very large part," replied Nonen, looking sternly at Obi-Wan. "But perhaps I should have noticed these signs in young Keiran. In any case, I feel that I am best suited to bring him back."

The other five Masters conferred briefly. Then Kah said, "Very well. If you wish to pursue him, we will not stop you. Now then, Jedi NiMalle, please return to your quarters. Jedi Kenobi," she said, looking at Obi-Wan with an ice-cold gaze, "Please come with us."

Jedi Master Sai-Ten Nonen cautiously piloted the advanced shuttle away from the Jedi Academy's landing pads. He hadn't flown an interstellar transport in a few years, but the skills were quickly coming back to him, and the modern shuttle's controls were quite simple. Also advantageous was the fact that it had the fastest hyperdrive of any ship at the Academy. Keiran had left about two hours before, and those hours could be precious indeed.

As the shuttle cleared the jungle moon's gravity well, Sai-Ten stretched out with the Force. For the Jedi Master, it was fairly easy to sense Keiran's path across the stars. Sai-Ten quickly aimed his shuttle in the proper direction. But as he made the jump to hyperspace, he sensed dark things ahead.

Obi-Wan sighed as he felt Sai-Ten Nonen's presence disappear from the Yavin system. He had been concentrating on the old Jedi for quite some time; now Nonen had apparently gone into hyperspace. It seemed a bit convenient for Judu Kah that the bearded Master, who Obi-Wan felt was the most likely to be convinced of his point of view, had gone away on a mission at this time. But Nonen had volunteered, and Obi-Wan couldn't argue with his reasons for following Keiran. May the Force be with you, thought Obi-Wan at the departed Master. What Nonen found on his mission could play a huge part in the fate of the entire galaxy.

Obi-Wan lay back on his bed. He had been confined to his quarters with a permanent guard outside the door. The powerful Jedi would have no trouble eliminating the guard, of course, and perhaps the other Jedi at the Academy were even expecting that. But I'm not that barbaric, thought Obi-Wan wryly. Still, if the situation did not improve soon he might have no choice but to take some action.

Obi-Wan forced these thoughts from his mind as he closed his eyes, welcoming the onset of unconsciousness.

Ace Whitef squeezed the firing trigger and grinned ferociously as another enemy fighter went down under his guns. Only three more, thought the pilot. He pushed his ship's throttle forward in hot pursuit of another target.

The enemy had launched a surprise attack on an important Republic space station, coming in hard with a large array of deadly starfighters. But the attackers would not find success. Not against Ace Whitef's squadron! The enemy's numbers had quickly been decimated, and now it was only a matter of mopping up.

A melodious tone announced the acquisition of a targeting lock on the next fighter, and Whitef prepared to take it out. But suddenly, another, harsher tone interrupted him. It was the signal for an urgent message. Whitef grimaced, thinking, I told them I was working on some important business. He continued to pilot his starfighter, but then a gravelly Mon Cal voice sounded through the cockpit's speakers. "Sir, this is very important!"

Vice Admiral Ace Whitef sighed and hit the "pause" button on the fighter simulator, watching as the image on his viewscreen froze in place. He would never fly an actual starfighter, of course; he came from a long line of high-ranking officers who thought that piloting wouldn't be "proper." But he had always harbored secret fantasies of being a top fighter pilot. Maybe it was just his name. The admiral spent much of his time in his private simulator, flying exciting missions, getting away from the dull monotony of system patrol. He never put much effort into his real job, but no one else seemed to care. "Sir!"

Finally, Whitef hit a button to activate his com-link. "What is it, Captain? And this had better be good."

"Good isn't quite the word I'd use, Sir," replied the voice of Captain Jesmin Ackdool. "We're under attack."


Keiran sat up straight in his pilot's seat, his right hand poised over the shuttle's hyperdrive control. He could sense that he was getting very near to his destination. He did not know where he was headed, but-

Suddenly, Keiran was jerked forward as the small craft rapidly dropped out of hyperspace. Quickly recovering, the young Jedi looked out the viewport. For a moment, he did not notice anything, but then he realized that a fairly large portion of the sky contained no stars. Keiran focused in on this area and soon discovered that a large vessel, painted all in black, lurked there. I've arrived! he thought, but his excitement was tempered by the realization that that strange ship must have pulled him out of hyperspace with a gravity well generator. And that almost surely meant that they knew he was coming. I must be very cautious, he decided, adjusting the shuttle's controls to fly toward the other ship. This proved unnecessary, however, as it quickly locked onto the Jedi's shuttle with a tractor beam.

As Keiran drifted toward the dark vessel, he saw that it was built for war. The massive ship was heavily armored and covered with weapons emplacements. It also had many sensors mounted over its large surface, as well as some strange-looking devices that Keiran did not recognize.

The shuttle continued to drift closer as the tractor beam drew it in. After a few minutes the Jedi was able to pinpoint his destination. A large hangar bay, which had appeared quite tiny from a distance, began to loom in front of his shuttle. As it grew larger, Keiran made out a polished metal interior, in sharp contrast to the black of the ship's hull. A few ships were scattered sparsely across the bay's floor. There were not many beings present, however. In fact, as the shuttle passed into the ship's interior, Keiran realized that the only occupants were four soldiers wearing dark armor and holding large guns. The shuttle slowed, then was set down smoothly beside the foursome.

Keiran clutched Obi-Wan Kenobi's lightsaber as he walked toward the shuttle's exit. He took a few long, deep breaths, reaching out to the Force at the same time. He would have to be ready to call on his powers at a moment's notice.

The Jedi Knight keyed open the shuttle's door and calmly walked out. All four guards brought up their weapons at once, pointing them at Keiran. "Stop right there," said the first one in a mechanical voice.

In response, Keiran reached out to touch the guard's minds, saying, "You cannot see me," in a hypnotic voice.

"What are you talking about? I said stop right there." The closest guard stepped forward now, gesturing at Keiran with his gun.

Uh-oh, thought the Jedi. He had not expected mere foot soldiers to be resistant to his Force powers. He briefly contemplated slashing them to pieces, but decided that killing should be left as a last resort. "Come with-" began the guard, but he stopped in shock as his blaster was ripped from his hands. Keiran grabbed it from the air, then swung the long weapon into the soldier's helmeted head. The guard dropped to the ground, while the Jedi leapt high into the air. He quickly felt for the blaster's settings and found that it was set to stun as he came down behind the other guards. They turned, weapons at the ready, but were not fast enough. With three bursts of blue energy, the soldiers all slumped to the metal docking bay floor. Keiran fired once more, into the first guard, then began to walk from the docking bay.

He soon entered a hallway and was surprised to find it completely vacant. The Jedi paused, stretching out with his Force senses. A dark presence became apparent now, and it was nearby. Keiran followed it, slowly walking down the metal corridor. Less than a hundred meters later, he came to a thick blast door. He knew that this was his destination, that what he had traveled light-years to meet waited behind that door. The Jedi let his stolen blaster clatter to the deck as he pressed a button beside the door. It slowly came open with a groan. Keiran knew that he should have been surprised, but he wasn't.

The young man cautiously peered into the room beyond the doorway. It was dimly lit, and he could barely make out a large chair facing away from him at the other end. Behind it was a large viewport that exhibited a sky full of many stars. This is it, thought Keiran, stepping into the room. The door shut behind him, the dull sound of its closing echoing throughout the chamber. Then the chair turned slowly around.

Its occupant was ghastly in appearance. An old man, tall and incredibly thin, sat in the chair. His face was long, pale, and wrinkled, and the rest of his skin was obscured by his dark robes. Unhurriedly, the man came to his feet, his gray eyes meeting Keiran's in a piercing gaze. "Welcome, young Jedi," he spoke. "I have been expecting you."

Keiran did not reply, merely reached for the lightsaber that hung at his belt. "You have come to join me?" said the old man.

"No," replied Keiran calmly as he ignited the blue blade. "I've come to kill you."

"Perhaps you are mistaken about your intentions, Jedi," said the man, the Sith Lord. "But if death is what you have come seeking, then you will find it." The Dark Lord then drew a lightsaber of his own. With a snap-hiss, the weapon was activated, and a chill ran up Keiran's spine. This lightsaber was not crimson like the other Sith's, nor was it azure like Master Kenobi's blade. Instead, it glowed an eerie black, somehow seeming to give off light and absorb it at the same time.

Keiran shook his head, then slowly began to move forward. He held his lightsaber steady in front of him, and his gaze locked with his opponent's. The Sith held his ground, a confident grin on his colorless lips. Keiran continued to creep forward, finally stopping just two saber-lengths away from his enemy. Time seemed to stand still as the two motionless warriors stared at each other. It soon became apparent that the Dark Lord was going to let Keiran make the first move. Calling on all his strength in the Force, the Jedi did so.

Keiran lunged forward, feinted a low strike with his blade, then swung straight toward his opponent's head. The Sith casually turned the blow aside, making no attempt at counterattack. Keiran stepped back slightly, then unleashed a fierce left-right-left attack with his blue saber. Again, the blows were parried, and again no counterstrike was made. "Is this all the Jedi have to offer?" said the Dark Lord. "I'm disappointed."

"I'm sure you'll be more disappointed when you lie dying on the floor," countered Keiran. He swung his blade hard again. As soon as it was blocked, however, the Jedi leapt, Force-assisted, into the air. The two blades remained locked as he flipped over the Sith's head. Coming down, Keiran drew back slightly, then quickly struck at his enemy's backside. The Dark Lord managed to counter, but this time some exertion was apparent in his motions. Keiran did not pull back after this move, swinging his weapon down low and then sliding it up along the other's black blade. The Sith was forced to jump back, and Keiran followed with a fierce swing at his opponent's midsection. This strike was also blocked, and then the other saber came in high at the young Jedi Knight. A bit surprised, Keiran still managed to block easily. He quickly resumed his attack then, slashing down toward the Sith's knees. The air sizzled as the two blades met, again and again. Attack, block, attack, block. The duel was quickly becoming a fierce battle.

Keiran launched a hard attack at the Dark Lord's right shoulder. It was turned aside, however, and the Jedi realized that he had overextended himself. He was forced to leap back as the other blade came humming in at his belly. The Sith took advantage of the opportunity this time, pressing forward with a quick series of blows. Keiran found himself on the defensive. He had to continuously move backwards as the strikes came in fast and hard. The Jedi began to sweat as he fought to parry each blow. The Sith merely sneered as he doubled the ferocity of his attacks. Keiran had to jump backwards to avoid being singed by the dark blade. He landed with a jolt, feeling pain in his backside. He had run into the Dark Lord's throne! The young man stumbled as his ghastly opponent moved in again. The black blade came down hard, and Keiran barely managed to parry the blow. Now feeling a bit desperate, Keiran called on all his strength to push the other's blade away, then kick out with his left leg. The Dark Lord groaned as he was struck in the abdomen. Keiran back-flipped away, over the large chair, and landed just centimeters in front of the thick transparisteel viewport that separated the ship's interior from the cold vacuum of space.

Keiran did not return to the attack immediately. In fact, he could not. The Jedi stood in place, panting hard after the heavy exertion of the battle. He hoped that his opponent would not press the attack right away, and fortunately his wish was granted.

"Not bad, young Jedi," said the Sith Lord, although he did not even seem to be breathing hard. "You could even become a great warrior if you simply accepted me as Master."

Keiran could feel the dark one pushing the suggestion into his mind with the Force, but he fought it off. "Not likely," he spat out between deep breaths of air.

"We will see." With that, the Dark Lord of the Sith brought his glowing black blade up again and began to move forward, a malicious grin on his long, pale face.

Keiran took a few more deep breaths as the Sith Lord came around the large metal throne. Then the Jedi sprang up and forward, flipped over the chair, and came down into a roll. Quickly coming to his feet, he charged the Sith with his lightsaber extended. The first high blow was blocked. Keiran swung low; again his attack was parried. He blocked three swift counterattacks, then swung hard yet again. But no matter what combination he tried, the Dark Lord fought off the attacks.

Before long, the fight began to take its toll on the young Jedi. He was forced backwards again, this time in the direction of the room's entrance. The Sith Lord swung hard toward Keiran's midsection. The Jedi blocked, then brought his saber toward his opponent's neck. But as this blow was parried, Keiran suddenly found his blade knocked out of his grasp. He jumped back to avoid the Sith's next vicious swing, reaching toward his saber at the same time. He could not retrieve it, however, for in mid-air the Jedi was hit with a burst of white-hot energy. He was thrown ten meters back and landed with a jolt against the wall. Keiran began to struggle to his feat, but the Dark Lord gestured with his hand and sent another deadly lightning bolt into the young man. Keiran groaned as the energy coursed through his body, singing his skin and hair. He slumped down the wall as a third blast hit him. As the Sith approached, Keiran tried to get back up, but the pain was too great.

The Dark Lord stopped five meters away, holding his dark blade in front of him with one hand and pointing toward Keiran with the other. The young man looked up into his enemy's eyes, and at that moment he felt his mind and soul bared to the Sith. Thoughts and emotions were ripped out of Keiran's head, and dark suggestions poured into it at the same time. Maybe he's right. Maybe I should join him, thought the Jedi. NO! screamed another voice in the back of his mind, but it was getting fainter by the moment.

"So, Jedi Foranoll," said the Sith. "I see that you are an outcast among the Jedi order. Your ideas are suppressed, your powers wasted. Don't you wish to be free? Join me, and you will have access to all the power in the galaxy. No one will tell you that you can't use a lightsaber, or that you're too violent. You know that you want it."

Keiran almost answered in the affirmative before he managed to gasp, "Never!"

"Then you wish to die, Jedi?" said the Dark Lord, bringing up his glowing black blade.

Before Keiran could reply, the blast door beside him slid open with a groan. "Keiran!" exclaimed a familiar voice.

"Master Nonen?" said Keiran incredulously.

For a brief moment, the Sith Lord seemed surprised. Then he said, "You're next, Master," with a sneer on his face.

The Dark Lord slowly moved toward the two Jedi. Master Sai-Ten Nonen looked at the black-cloaked figure, then down at Keiran, then back at the Sith. At that moment, he apparently came to a decision, for he extended his right hand. In an instant, Obi-Wan Kenobi's lightsaber appeared in it, and the Jedi Master ignited the blue blade.

"Master!" exclaimed Keiran, getting to his feet. "You can't-"

I know, Keiran, came the reply, echoing through the young man's mind. Now run!

Keiran glanced over at his former Master, who wore a calm expression on his bearded face. The old Jedi nodded his head, and Keiran began to move toward the door. A bolt of energy shot toward him from the angry Sith Lord, but it was deflected by the other Jedi. Quickly! Keiran glanced back to see Master Nonen locking blades with the evil Sith, then raced out of the room.

The young Jedi Knight ran at full speed down the hallway and into the hangar bay that he had arrived in. His vision was blurred by tears as he looked over the vessels in the bay. Next to the shuttle he had come in, another, newer model sat. Keiran ran to the new shuttle and quickly entered. As he made his way to the pilot's seat, he could sense the fierce battle raging nearby. It was obvious, however, that Master Nonen would lose. The young Jedi briefly considered going back, but realized that he would not be able to accomplish anything by doing so. He fired up the shuttle's engines and steered it out of the large bay. Keiran sent the throttle to full as he entered the vacuum of space, then glanced down at the shuttle's displays. Fortunately, the gravity well projector was no longer activated. Keiran was about to make the jump to hyperspace when a brief message entered his mind. He listened intently to the words from his former Master. Then the young Jedi was hit by a great feeling of emptiness as Sai-Ten Nonen ceased to exist. I'll get you for this! thought Keiran, suddenly turning the shuttle back toward the enemy warship. He clenched his teeth as he aimed the small ship toward the docking bay. His fast craft had almost re-entered when the sound of an alarm cut through his rage. Enemy fighters were approaching! Keiran turned to face them for a brief moment. No, he thought suddenly. I can't let his sacrifice go in vain.

Keiran turned his shuttle away from the enemy vessels. Tears flowed freely from his eyes as he made the jump into hyperspace.

"This is a very serious matter. The lives of millions, nay, billions could be at stake. Fellow Senators, I-" Suddenly, Senator Doran Viadl sat up rigidly in his chair, his eyes wide. He quickly relaxed, but then started to mumble incoherently. An uneasy murmur began to rise among the assembled representatives at the sight. Viadl was an eloquent speaker, one of the Senate's most respected members, and an apparent slip-up like this was completely unexpected.

"Ah, what was that, Senator?" asked Chancellor Duressk Bor'lya. The Bothan leaned forward as he looked down at Viadl, a worried expression on his fur-covered face.

"I, ah . . . I was saying," continued the senator, acting as if nothing strange had happened, "that this allegation seems very suspicious in light of the recent Sorius hoax. It could very well be a copycat case. The Republic, I believe, should not waste resources responding to such . . . unsupported claims. Until definite proof comes in of the purported attack, I recommend that military action be put on hold."

What?!? High Admiral Raoul Antilles nearly spat as he reacted to Viadl's speech. How could he say such things? Just moments ago, he had been speaking of how the lives of billions were at stake. And to top it off, none of the other Senators seemed to care! "That's preposterous!" roared Antilles, unable to restrain his outrage. "There's no way in hell that two reported attacks in such close succession could have any non-sinister explanation. The Republic must have a powerful new enemy, and the Senate must respond! Please, Senators-"

"Admiral, I do not believe that you were called upon to speak," said Chancellor Bor'lya in a cold voice. "Now, Senators, let us vote on this matter."

"But," began Antilles, but as he said it the sound from his vocal pickup was cut off. A few of the representatives in the vast chamber looked toward the admiral in surprise. Yet the majority seemed to have vapid expressions on their faces as they began to key in their votes!

High Admiral Antilles could only sit there, his anger simmering, as the Senators quickly entered their opinions on whether or not military action to the Redlum system would be approved. Before he knew it, Chancellor Bor'lya began to read the results. "Sixty-five percent against . . ."

Raoul Antilles did not hear the rest of the Chancellor's words. His head began to pound, his vision began to cloud over; everything seemed to move in slow motion as he realized the awful truth. The representatives of the Republic were condemning their constituents to death. And hardly anyone even gave a damn about what was going on! He looked around the vast chamber, reading the looks on the faces that were close enough to be discernible. Most of the Senators wore emotionless expressions, several smiled, and all too few showed disappointment or anger. The prodigious Hutt Senator in particular seemed outraged at the results, but this was a rare exception to the rule. The admiral then looked toward Duressk Bor'lya. The Chancellor wore a wide grin on his face! Antilles did a double take; the pleased expression had disappeared. But he was sure it had been there! Was he going crazy?

No, he decided. Something very strange is going on here, and I intend to find out what it is.

"Now, on to our next order of business," said Bor'lya, but High Admiral Raoul Antilles was already moving toward an exit.

"I want trustworthy military intelligence agents placed in the Senate at all times that it is in session, and I also want constant surveillance on Chancellor Bor'lya. Can that be done?"

"Sir, I'm not sure that . . ." said Lieutenant Ken La'faulet, his voice trailing off. High Admiral Antilles's top aide and most trusted advisor scratched his head as he looked across the large desk toward the admiral. "Why do you think this is necessary?"

"I think that something strange is going on . . . in the Senate," replied Antilles. "There may . . . " Here goes, he thought apprehensively. But if anyone can be trusted with this, it's Ken. " . . . may be some sort of conspiracy against the Republic Navy or the military in general, with the Chancellor a key figure in it. I have no idea about the details, but . . . we could have a very serious problem on our hands."

"Yes, sir," answered La'faulet.

"Then it can be done?" asked the admiral.

"I'll see what I can do, sir."

"Thank you, Ken," said Raoul Antilles with a slight smile, the first time he had worn such an expression all day. Lieutenant La'faulet nodded, then turned and exited the room.

Tae Sorian sighed as he flipped through the channels on the holo-vid display. Just like back at home, he thought bitterly. The group had been on Republica for three days now, and they had not done anything in the way of their supposed mission so far.

As the images on the screen continued to flash by, one caught Tae's eye. He stopped switching the channels as an image of the Republic Senate building appeared before him. That was where he was supposed to be going with this so-called "delegation" in the hopes of acquiring aid for the planet Coruscant. But at the moment, that did not seem like it would be happening any time soon.

Outside the huge stone building, a large group of sentients stood assembled. They appeared to be chanting, and many carried colorful signs. " . . . live from outside the Senate building, where a protest against the recent decision not to send a naval squadron to the Redlum system is taking place," explained the holo-vid reporter. At that moment, the camera zoomed in on the crowd. It was made of beings of a wide variety of races, some of them not even familiar to Tae. He began to read the writing on one of the signs, but then suddenly, without warning, the human female carrying that sign swung it straight at the head of the Mon Calamari standing in front of her! The alien fell to the ground, and then another Mon Cal spun around and charged the attacker. A Quarren jumped onto the second Mon Cal's back, while a Devaronian punched the human in the face. Soon more beings entered the fray, and before long the peaceful demonstration had turned into a tumultuous free-for-all.

"Fighting has just broken out at the Senate building!" exclaimed the reporter. "Republic security forces are already . . ."

The sound of the door buzzer took Tae's concentration away from the screen. He walked over to the apartment's entrance, identified the visitor, and keyed the door open. "Hello," he said flatly as the tall, blond leader of their group walked in.

The other man nodded, then said, "The Senate has finally agreed to listen to our plea. We will have a hearing this afternoon."

"It's about time," said Tae's Gran roommate, walking in from the refresher.

"I'll say," put in Tae. "But have you heard-" he continued, glancing back at the holo-vid unit. To his surprise, however, most of the crowd had already dispersed.

"What?" asked the other man.

"Never mind," replied Tae. "Well, I guess I'm ready to go."

"Not quite," said the other man coolly. "There's still the matter of your disguise."


"A shuttle has just dropped out of hyperspace in-system."

"It's Keiran!" Andiell instantly recognized. The Jedi Knight sprang to her feet in excitement. She was in the Jedi Academy's main control room. Now that the lightsaber training program had been discontinued, she was spending much of her free time here, waiting for word to come in from Keiran or Master Nonen. And now, apparently, it had.

Andiell paused to stretch out with the Force toward the incoming shuttle. The presence inside was, without a doubt, that of her fellow Jedi Knight. A relieved smile on her face, Andiell raced out of the room and into the Academy's stone hallways. She quickly made her way down the corridor, heading toward the landing field where Keiran had left on that awful night just a few days before.

As she stepped out into the daylight, Andiell looked up to the sky. The shuttle was visible as a small speck now, rapidly growing larger. Soon the noise of its approach grew to drown out all other sounds, and Andiell was hit by a gust of wind from the incoming ship. Then it slowed with a sudden burst of repulsorlift energy. The shuttle set down shakily, the landing that of a novice pilot. Andiell walked forward, a bit of worriment returning to her. Keiran wasn't known for his piloting skills, but he normally would have no trouble handling this model of shuttle.

A few seconds later, the shuttle's ramp lowered and Keiran appeared at its top. Andiell was hit with a sudden shock at the sight. He looked exhausted, grief-stricken, like he's been through hell and back. The Jedi Knight slowly began to walk down the ramp. "Andiell," he said quietly.

"Keiran, you . . ."

"I'm back," he said, with a failed attempt at a grin.

"What . . . what happened?" asked Andiell.

Suddenly, Keiran staggered down the rest of the ramp. Andiell sprung forward, reaching out her arms. She wrapped them around the other Jedi, then felt the weight of his body against hers. For a brief moment the position was held. Then Keiran regained his balance, a surprised look on his face, and Andiell took a step backwards. "Are you all right?" she wondered.

"Oh, I doubt that." Andiell immediately spun around to see that Master Judu Kah had emerged from the temple. "Jedi Foranoll, you have returned," continued the Jedi Master. "But where is Master Nonen?"

"He-" began Keiran, pain evident in his voice. Andiell glanced back, just as a sudden look of defiance appeared on his face. "I'll tell you what happened," he declared. "But only once I've seen Master Kenobi."

"Master Kenobi has been placed under house arrest," Kah informed him. "I am not sure if you will be allowed contact with him."

"What I have to say is incredibly important, for the entire galaxy," said Keiran. "I must speak with him."

Judu Kah continued to look skeptical. "Please, Master Kah," said Andiell, her gaze shifting back and forth between the two other Jedi. "I am sure that what Keiran says is true."

"He may believe it to be true," countered the female Master. "But I suppose that no harm would be done by your speaking with him," she admitted. "With the Masters present, of course. Now follow me."

Keiran's face was streaked with tears as he completed the tale of his experience on the Sith warship. The expressions of all others present in the room, however, were of utter shock. Obi-Wan moved his gaze across the faces of the six Jedi Masters present, weighing their reactions. They were clearly trying to remain calm, but Keiran's revelations had obviously moved them deeply. Finally, Master Judu Kah broke the silence. "If what you say is true, then-"

"I sense no deception from Jedi Foranoll," interrupted Master Chrod Mikyu.

"Nor do I," agreed Master Daan Teido. "I believe we should take this story at face value."

"Then this is a very serious event," said Kah, her expression grave. "If the Sith have truly returned . . ."

"We may have to . . . re-examine our positions on certain matters," put in Daan.

"Master Nonen realized the truth at the end," said Keiran. "You must do the same."

"Jedi Kenobi?" prodded Judu Kah, turning to face Obi-Wan.

"I believe that Keiran's story speaks for itself," he replied calmly.

"Very well," said Kah. Then, gesturing toward both Obi-Wan and Keiran, she said, "Please leave us now. We have much to discuss."

Obi-Wan nodded to the Jedi Masters, then turned and strode from the room with Keiran on his heels. When they emerged into the hallway, they found Andiell anxiously awaiting them. "What did they say?" she asked.

"They have not reached any decisions yet," replied Obi-Wan.

"But after what I've been through, and what . . . what Master Nonen did," added Keiran, pain again returning to his voice. "They'll have to take action."

"I agree," said Obi-Wan. "Still, it is never easy when the beliefs one holds about the universe are suddenly shattered. For many Jedi, it could be very difficult to face the task of taking up arms."

"It's still hard for me, sometimes," admitted Andiell. "But I realize that it is necessary. We can only pray that the Masters will do the same."

Obi-Wan nodded at the young woman's insight. Then the threesome fell into silence. Andiell stood still, looking a bit nervous, while Keiran began to pace back and forth across the hallway. Obi-Wan, however, remained completely calm. His mind began to replay all the events that had happened since that fateful day in the oasis on Tatooine. The oasis! The thought only underscored how amazing his experience had been. Being brought back into his physical form after centuries of being one with the Force had been a huge shock. Seeing what had become of the Jedi order had almost been a greater one. But now, the reason for his return was crystal clear. It was time for the Jedi to battle the Sith once again, and they needed Obi-Wan's help to win.

About half an hour after Obi-Wan and Keiran had left the large meeting room, the door slid open to reveal one of the Jedi Masters. "You may come back in," he announced.

Keiran instantly moved for the door. Andiell looked questioningly to Obi-Wan, and he nodded. The young woman followed the two men into the room, where the six Jedi Masters awaited them. Obi-Wan's gaze was instantly drawn to Judu Kah. The Jedi Master's normally calm facade had turned to a distraught expression. She hesitated for a moment before beginning to speak.

"After discussing the events described by Jedi Foranoll, we have decided that a Council of Masters will be called immediately, here on Yavin IV. This is a gathering of all the highest-ranking Jedi in the galaxy, except those who are on business too important to be interrupted," she explained for Obi-Wan. He felt surprise come from both of his students at the announcement.

"The last time a Council of Masters was held, it was before I was born," whispered Andiell in astonishment. Obi-Wan nodded in satisfaction. They were finally beginning to take the Sith menace seriously.

"We have also . . ." began Kah, but her voice trailed off. It seemed that she couldn't bring herself to say whatever they had also decided.

"We have decided," broke in Master Daan, "that the lightsaber training program will be restored, and that any Jedi who wishes will be able to receive training from you, Jedi Kenobi."

Obi-Wan sighed in relief. He felt sudden joy inside both Andiell and Keiran, but then the Jedi Master finished his statement. "Except for Jedi Foranoll."

"What?!?" exclaimed Keiran, his face bright red.

"Keiran," began Obi-Wan, but the young Jedi would have none of it. He instantly stormed out of the room.

"That is all for now," said Master Kah, ignoring Keiran's outburst. Then Obi-Wan and Andiell began to leave together, and the young woman looked up to Obi-Wan with a worried expression on her face.

"I can't say that I find fault with the Masters' reasoning," said Obi-Wan with a sigh. "Keiran appears to be treading dangerously close to the dark path, and there's no telling for sure how his encounter with the Sith affected him. I'll have to keep a very close eye on him." I can't lose him like I did Anakin, he added silently, and Obi-Wan shivered as he continued to move down the hall.

Varian Deszo entered the large auditorium, casually surveying the scene before her. A few dozen of her fellow Jedi sat in a cluster on the stone floor. Some of them were Knights, others still trainees. In front of the group, Masters Daan Teido and Judu Kah stood on the slightly raised dais. Varian looked at their faces to try to ascertain what this meeting might be about, but she could gain no clues from their impassive expressions. The Jedi Knight sighed, then settled into a cross-legged position amongst the other Jedi on the floor.

The two Masters did not address the group yet, waiting for stragglers to come into the room. A few of the Jedi whispered to each other, mostly on the topic of just what was going on. Varian remained silent. Finally, a few minutes later, Master Daan stepped forward and began to speak.

"We gather here today on a very serious matter," he said. The Jedi Master paused, letting his gaze sweep across all the room's occupants. "First of all," he continued, his voice grave, "it pains me deeply to inform you that Master Sai-Ten Nonen has passed away."

Astonished gasps were audible from a few of the Jedi in the room, but the noise quickly subsided. "He was killed in an incident in deep space, near the Rhinnal system," explained the Jedi Master. "Let us all pray for his soul as it goes on to become one with the Force." Master Daan bowed his head, and the room descended into silence.

A surprised Varian pondered the Master's announcement. Master Nonen, dead? She had heard that he was going away on a mission, something involving . . . Keiran Foranoll. Could the rash young Jedi somehow be responsible for the Master's death?

"Secondly, on a related matter," continued Daan. "We have just received conclusive evidence that the Sith, an ancient cult of dark side warriors, have resurfaced and could threaten the peace and stability of the Republic. I know that you have been taught to abhor all violence, but now we may be forced to . . . alter these traditions in order to defend the citizens of the galaxy."

What?!? Varian's shock was obviously shared by most of the others present, as the room was suddenly filled with cries from the sitting Jedi. Some were excited, others fearful, and the majority seemed outraged. And for good reason, thought Varian.

Master Daan gestured for silence, and the command was quickly obeyed. "I know that this will come as quite a shock to most of you," he said. "We have not yet decided exactly how we will respond. However, for right now, if any of you wish to receive training in how to battle these warriors, you may receive it from Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Varian Deszo scoffed at that notion. Even if the report was true, she would never be trained by that barbarian. I'd rather die.

Keiran wandered aimlessly down the long, stone corridors of the Jedi Academy, just as he had been doing for the past hour. How could they do this to me? he thought for the hundredth time. Sure, maybe he had been just a bit rash in going after the Sith. But if it weren't for him, the Dark Lord could still be gaining power, completely unchecked! If anything, he should be rewarded, not punished! Although I was partly responsible for Master Nonen's death . . . came a more rational voice within his head. But even so, he decided, being denied the lightsaber training was completely unfair.

As Keiran continued to wander, he realized that he had come into an area of the great temple that was unfamiliar to him. In fact, it looked as if the dimly lit hallway had not been used in ages. Dust covered the ground, and small cracks appeared in the walls. Keiran walked deeper into this ancient section, glad to get away from the other Jedi. Soon he came upon a rusting metal door. This might be a good place to get some solitude, he decided, keying open the door. It rose with a groan, and Keiran stepped inside.

He appeared to have come into an abandoned storage room. Spare parts for all sorts of machines littered the floor, many of them rusted away to the point of being useless. There were also a few deactivated droids present. As Keiran stepped forward, one of them sprang to life. "Hello there," said the droid, its eyes lighting up. It had a golden-colored humanoid form and was covered by a layer of dust. Beside it, another droid awoke from its electronic slumber with a series of chirps. This one was a strange-looking automaton, short and barrel-shaped.

"Who are you?" asked Keiran, somewhat annoyed that he was not alone in the ancient room.

"I am See-Threepio, human-cyborg relations," replied the golden droid. "This is my counterpart, Artoo-Detoo."

"A protocol droid. But what's that?" asked Keiran, pointing at the shorter of the pair. The little droid warbled a reply, somehow sounding like it had taken offense at Keiran's remark.

"He is an astromech droid."

"Astromech . . ." echoed Keiran, confused. He had never heard of such a thing. "And you are a protocol droid?"

"Yes, indeed," answered See-Threepio. "I am fluent in over six million forms of communication, and would be happy to be of service."

"Only six million?" said Keiran. "You must be pretty old."

"Why, I was merely . . ." began the dismayed protocol droid. "But it would appear that you are correct. According to my internal chronometer, I have not spoken to an organic being in . . . approximately 273 years, 42 days, one hour, and eighteen minutes." Approximately? thought a bemused Keiran. "That is Coruscant standard time, of course," added the droid quickly. "I believe that we are currently on Yavin IV."

Why would they use Coruscant as the standard? wondered Keiran, but he quickly remembered how Master Kenobi had said that Coruscant was the former capital. "Yes, we are," he confirmed.

"And, if I may ask, who might you be, good sir?"

"I'm Keiran Foranoll. I'm a Jedi Knight, or at least I used to be."

"A Jedi Knight?" said the golden droid. The "astromech" followed this with an excited series of beeps. "In that case," continued the protocol droid, "I believe Artoo has a message for you."

At that, the little droid emitted a holographic image of an old man. He was clad in robes, and had a white beard to match his thinning hair. "Greetings," spoke the image. "I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. . . ."


"Now that my saber training program has been restored," said Obi-Wan to Andiell as the pair walked through the Academy hallways, "I believe that it is time for you to begin work on a lightsaber of your own." The young woman smiled nervously, and Obi-Wan continued. "I have to build a new one for myself, and I could show you how as I do so."

"I would be honored," answered Andiell after a moment of thought.

"Good," said Obi-Wan. "Then-"

Suddenly, Keiran Foranoll raced around the corner up ahead and nearly crashed into the pair of Jedi. He came skidding to a halt, an excited look on his face. "I've just discovered something incredible!" exclaimed the young Jedi. All signs of his earlier mood had disappeared.

"What is it?" asked Obi-Wan.

"Come on, I'll show you," said Keiran, waving his hand at the two Jedi. He turned and went back around the corner, and Obi-Wan and Andiell quickly followed. But when they had come into the cross-corridor, Obi-Wan stopped dead in his tracks. Two very familiar droids were coming toward them, their motions awkward as if they had long been out of use. One was a golden protocol droid, the other a blue and white astromech. Could it really be? wondered Obi-Wan. Many droids looked very similar, and it had been five centuries . . .

The astromech unit let out an excited squeal. "What was that, Artoo?" asked the protocol droid in a voice Obi-Wan remembered all too well. It is! he realized. Artoo-Detoo quickly sounded another series of loud beeps. At this, See-Threepio exclaimed, "Master Kenobi!"

"You know these two?" asked Keiran, incredulous.

"It would appear that I do," replied Obi-Wan with a wry grin. Artoo and Threepio! These same two droids had watched him die at the hands of Darth Vader back on the first Death Star. And now Obi-Wan himself had returned, so should this come as such a great surprise?

"It is a pleasure to see you again, Master Kenobi," said Threepio. "Although I must admit that I am a bit baffled by your appearance."

"You aren't the only one, that's for sure," replied Obi-Wan. "Well, Keiran, this certainly is an incredible discovery."

"But that's not even the most amazing part!" said Keiran. "Show him," he continued, gesturing at Artoo.

The droid complied, projecting an image of an aging Jedi Knight. A very familiar image, for the man looked exactly the same as the spirit Obi-Wan had spoken to on Tatooine! "Greetings," he said. "I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight."

"Is there more?" asked Obi-Wan.

"You bet there is," said Keiran. "I've only briefly looked through it, but this, um, astromech unit seems to contain a series of recordings plus a large text file. From what I could tell, all the material comes from Master Skywalker."

"Truly amazing," said Obi-Wan. His mind was already racing with ways he might use this discovery to further convince the other Jedi of his point of view. "It seems that the Force was with you."

"So does that mean you'll give me more training in the saber arts?" asked the excited young man.

Obi-Wan's expression quickly wiped the grin off of Keiran's face. "I'm . . . afraid not," he replied. "Based on your recent actions, the Masters made the only logical decision they could."

Keiran looked like he was about to storm off again, but he did not do so. "So, you . . . you won't fight the decision?" he asked.

"I will, Keiran," said Obi-Wan. "But only when I am absolutely certain that you have learned your lesson. The dark side will beckon, and I must be sure that you will not heed its call."

"I understand," said Keiran, bowing his head. He turned to leave, but Obi-Wan stopped him.

"There's something else," said Obi-Wan. "Something I don't think you're telling me. It's about your encounter with the Sith."

"It's nothing," the young man replied, too quickly.

"I don't believe that. If I am to train you again, I must be able to trust you completely."

After a moment of silence, Keiran slowly answered. "All right. It's . . . Master Nonen, before he . . . before he died. He sent me a message through the Force. He said that the Sith Lord was a former Jedi. His . . . his former apprentice." The last phrase was spoken in barely more than a whisper.

Obi-Wan considered Keiran's words. It was not difficult to surmise why he had not previously told anyone.

"Is there anything else you know of this former apprentice of his?"

"Master Nonen had told me a story about him earlier," replied Keiran. "It was his first apprentice, and on their first mission together they went to Coruscant on the trail of a powerful crime lord."

"You're saying that . . . that the Jedi of today sometimes hunt down criminals?" interrupted Obi-Wan. "I would not imagine that such pacifists would do something like that."

"Well, as I'm sure you can imagine, Jedi can usually capture suspects without using violent methods," explained Keiran, and Obi-Wan nodded. "Sometimes the Republic security forces ask for help, and there are usually Jedi willing to volunteer. But some of our order still argue against this, even though no violence is involved.

"Anyway," continued the young man, "Master Nonen said that he and his apprentice were on Coruscant chasing this crime lord, when a trap was sprung on them. His apprentice fell from one of the planet's tall buildings and was thought to be dead."

"And now he returns as a Sith Lord," said Obi-Wan.

"Apparently so. It may seem unlikely, but I am sure that Master Nonen would not falsely identify him."

Obi-Wan nodded again. This revelation brought up many new questions, and it also made him even more aware of the caution that was necessary to avoid the lure of the dark side.

"Is that all?" asked Keiran.

"Yes, for now. But remember what I told you. You will be trained, but only once I am absolutely certain that you have learned your lesson."

Keiran nodded, then turned and strode down the long stone hallway. Obi-Wan let his eyes linger on the departing young man for a few seconds. Then he moved his gaze to Andiell, who had remained silent for quite some time. The young woman looked back into his eyes, not speaking. Her mood had become very subdued during Obi-Wan's conversation with Keiran.

"Well, Andiell," said Obi-Wan. "I suggest that you get out your practice sword and go over what you've learned. The training program resumes tomorrow, and I want you to be ready. If I get enough trainees, I may even need you to help teach them."

"Yes, Master," the young woman replied, her expression not changing. Obi-Wan could sense that she was a bit nervous at the role she might be put into, however. But she was strong, like her ancestors. He knew she could meet his expectations.

"Now I have a lot of work to do," said Obi-Wan. Andiell nodded and began to walk away. Obi-Wan watched her go for a moment, then looked to the two droids. His attention quickly focused onto Artoo-Detoo. He could hardly wait to discover what secrets the little astromech held.

"It had been a year since the last time I saw my husband," said the dark-haired woman, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "He was finally coming back home to my little children and me. I got a message from him before he boarded the shuttle back to Coruscant, but he . . ." her voice faltered, and she paused to wipe her eyes. Finally, she went on. "He never made it home.

"I believe that something strange is going on in the Coruscant system," continued the woman. "And I beg you, good representatives of the Republic, to do something about it. So that no more families will suffer the same fate mine has."

This was the fifth such plea that had been spoken in the past fifteen minutes, but most of the Senators in the vast Senate chamber remained unsympathetic. "We will consider your words carefully," said Chancellor Duressk Bor'lya, his voice cold. "Now, moving along. Next on the list is . . . Sid Trachas."

After a moment of puzzlement, Tae Sorian realized that the Bothan was referring to him. He glanced down at his hands, which, like the rest of his skin, were now colored in an unfamiliar dark shade, before speaking. "Honorable Senators," he said, beginning the speech he had gone over countless times in his mind, "I have a similar story of woe to tell, again due to the unknown forces marauding the Coruscant system. I was returning home in my personal ship, and had just come out of hyperspace. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, a tractor beam locked onto my ship and began to pull it in. I managed to get into an escape pod, but my ship was lost. And if I had not gotten away, I am sure that I would have been enslaved or killed."

"An interesting tale," said the chancellor. "However, as we all know, the planet Coruscant is infested with smugglers, pirates, and worse. Why, I ask, should we waste resources chasing after shadows, when the only ones to benefit will be lawless criminals? There are other planets where our aid is needed much more urgently, and where the citizens are actually deserving of our help."

Tae let out a low growl as Bor'lya's words were met with widespread applause from the Senators within the chamber. What was wrong with these people? He wanted to scream something that would make them come to their senses, but knew it would accomplish nothing.

"There may be some residents of Coruscant who are below the law, but this is true of all inhabited systems in our galaxy." Tae turned his head and was not surprised to see the delegation's leader speaking. "There are also many innocent civilians there, who are now forced to live in fear because of the horrid specter of these disappearances. The Republic cannot allow these people to suffer without attempting to help."

Again, the words were met with a cold response by the Senators. "Innocent civilians, on Coruscant?" scoffed the representative from Dubrillion. "Unlikely." Then the Senator paused as an aide whispered into his ear. "Wouldn't you agree, Mister Trachas?" he continued, his eyes somehow boring into Tae's from almost halfway across the chamber. "Or should I say . . . Mister Tae Sorian?"

How- thought Tae, shocked. How could he possibly know that?!? "I have no idea what you're talking about," the disguised Coruscantian sputtered, trying desperately to keep a somewhat calm expression on his face.

"Then you deny that your name is Tae Sorian?" inquired Chancellor Durresk Bor'lya.

"Of course I do!" exclaimed Tae. He glanced back at the tall, blond leader of the Coruscant delegation. The man's face still betrayed no emotions. His cold blue eyes met Tae's in a piercing gaze, and Tae could not help but look away.

"Who, exactly, is this Tae Sorian?" asked Bor'lya then, looking to the senator from Dubrillion.

"A smuggler," replied the senator, looking down at his datapad. "He's a wanted man in . . . twelve systems now."

"Interesting," said the Bothan, baring his teeth in a feral grin as he looked back toward Tae. "Very interesting, indeed."

"You have no evidence that Mister Trachas is this . . . this Tae Sorian character," said the delegation's leader.

"I'm sure you could enlighten us on that, Mister . . . what is your name?" said the Dubrillion senator. Again, his aide was speaking into his ear. "Oh, I believe you are known as Black Vornskr."

An astonished gasp ran through the vast chamber, and Tae recoiled in shock as his gaze spun back toward the blond man. Black Vornskr was the name given by the still unidentified sentient who had claimed responsibility for the assassination of Vice Chancellor Zurev some seven months ago!

The blond man's eyes widened for the briefest moment, then he regained his calm facade. "I believe you are mistaken," he said, but Tae sincerely doubted it.

The Senate was in an uproar now. Security forces swarmed in from all directions. Some of the beings present dove for cover, apparently afraid that the assassin meant to strike again. Their fears, however, were unwarranted, as "Black Vornskr" was quickly apprehended.

How could this be happening? wondered Tae. He had had his suspicions all along, but never suspected that the truth would be anything like this. The question still remained, of course, as to their leader's motives. Had he been forwarding some strange scheme all along, or had he been working out of his own form of twisted altruism? But as the guards moved in toward Tae, he realized that it didn't really matter.


Although I have no recollection of it, I'm sure that the beginning of my life was very exciting.

I was born, along with my twin sister Leia, in a time of great turmoil for the galaxy. The Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine had taken control of the Republic through his sinister machinations. He replaced the rightful government of the galaxy with a totalitarian Empire, built on the principles of xenophobia and Jediphobia. When my sister and I were born, the Jedi Purges were in full swing, led by the most feared man in the galaxy: our father.

Our father, the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, conceived twin children with a woman whose identity remains unknown. While she was carrying us, however, Anakin fell to the dark side of the Force. He fought the great Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, his master, and was defeated. But he did not die, not physically, anyway. Instead, he became Darth Vader, a Sith Lord who was half-man, half-machine, and the evil Emperor's right-hand man. His black suit of armor was feared throughout the galaxy.

Fortunately, the Emperor and Vader were not aware of the children carried by my mother. It was imperative that the secret remained. Palpatine knew that any children of Anakin's could be a threat to him, and he would be sure to make every effort to destroy us if our existence became known. Our mother went into hiding, aided by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Leia and I were born in secret, most likely on some backwater world. Then we were spirited away to our new homes: Leia's as a princess of Alderaan, mine as the nephew of moisture farmers on Tatooine.

Indeed, the beginning of my life was a very exciting time. The following two decades, however, were rather dull. . . .

Obi-Wan Kenobi could not keep the wide smile off his face as he read through the words on a holographic display screen. Luke had left behind a history of his life! The value of this discovery was unthinkable. Oh, how the Jedi would be amazed when the full truth about their most revered hero was made known! After a more thorough examination, Obi-Wan decided, he would show the data to the Jedi at the Academy. And soon after, the Council of Masters would meet, and wouldn't they be surprised when they saw this! Obi-Wan's grin became even wider at the thought.

As he skimmed through the various text passages and holographic recordings contained in the little metal body of Artoo-Detoo, the Jedi lost track of the time. Before he knew it, it had become very late. He wanted to go on, to continue examining the incredible discovery, but he knew that the next day would be a very important one. He decided that he had best get a good night's sleep.

Obi-Wan quickly got ready for bed, then lay down on his mattress and pulled up the sheets. But sleep would not come. He tried a Jedi relaxation technique. Even that proved fruitless. His mind remained full of thoughts, keeping him from slipping into unconsciousness.

He was still very excited about the discovery, of course, but that was not the cause. Now that he had determined what exactly Luke had left behind, the issue did not preoccupy him. Another one had taken its place. Obi-Wan's thoughts kept returning to the other revelation Keiran had made in that conversation in the hallway.

The Sith Lord was a former Jedi. Just like Darth Vader.

Obi-Wan shivered as images of times long ago returned into his mind. He remembered the fateful battle with his young apprentice. He remembered the terrible aftermath, and the horrific purges led by the Jedi-turned-Sith-Lord. He remembered the second battle, this one on the Death Star, and his own death. But the memories did not stop there.

"I can't kill my own father," Luke had said, in the swamp on Dagobah.

"Then the Emperor has already won," replied Obi-Wan, in spirit form. But he had been wrong. It was Luke's inability to kill his father that had been the Emperor's undoing.

And now another Jedi had fallen down the dark path, had become a Sith. Could this one, too, be redeemed? Obi-Wan could feel that a confrontation between himself and the Sith Master was inevitable. Should he risk an attempt to redeem him, to pull him back to the light? If he did, it could put him at a disadvantage in the battle. But if he didn't, he could be dooming a soul that still had the potential for good in it. What would he do?

"When the time comes, you will know."

The familiar voice echoed through Obi-Wan's mind. He looked up, surprised. "Anakin!" The shimmering spirit of his former student, now in the form of a large, gray-haired man, stood before his bed.

"Greetings, my old friend," said Anakin Skywalker. "It seems that you need some advice."

"You could say that," replied Obi-Wan wryly. He pulled himself up into a sitting position under his sheets and stared into the glowing, translucent form of his friend.

"You wonder whether the Sith Lord, the fallen Jedi, can be redeemed," prompted Anakin.

"I was wrong about you," said Obi-Wan, glancing down at his knees. He could not help but feel a bit ashamed.

"Yes, you were," replied Anakin. "But you could not have been expected to be right." Obi-Wan looked up, surprised. "There was only one thing in the universe which could have redeemed me: a child's love. Luke saved me. If you or anyone else had tried, except perhaps Leia, then I am sure they would have failed. And there may be no one who could provide such love for this Sith."

"But we don't know that for sure," said Obi-Wan. "The situation is different for everyone, and it may be that even I could convince the Sith Master to give up his evil ways."

"And it may be that the exact opposite is true," said Anakin. "Think of another Sith Master. Could the Emperor have been redeemed? I thought long and hard about this after I died, but I could never bring myself to believe that there was any good left within him. I knew him better than any other being in the galaxy. He was evil incarnate, far blacker than even I was in my darkest hours. Sometimes, I believe, redemption is impossible."

"But as you yourself demonstrated, sometimes when it seems impossible, that is not the case. I don't know . . ."

"I trust you will make the right decision, my friend," replied Anakin, his strong gaze meeting Obi-Wan's. "My master. You were truly a great Jedi, and I do not believe that anyone could be more capable of the task set before you. When the time comes, you will know."

"Thank you, my old friend," said Obi-Wan, a slight smile on his lips.

"Goodbye, Obi-Wan," replied Anakin. "May the Force be with you. . . ."

Anakin's shimmering image faded out, leaving Obi-Wan to stare at the wall behind it for a full minute. Then he slowly stretched out and laid his head back down onto his pillow. This time, the Jedi quickly drifted off to sleep.

Thoughts swirled in Obi-Wan's mind as he made his way through the long, stone corridors of the Jedi Academy. If he hadn't already had the amazing experience of being reincarnated, the Jedi would have had much difficulty believing that everything that had happened the previous day was real. Keiran's return, the Masters' pronouncements, the discovery of the droids, the data they held, and his conversation with Anakin . . . Obi-Wan pondered all these things as he strode down the hall.

He had an enormous responsibility set before him. But out of all he must accomplish, he knew that the most important was the restoration of the old ways of the Jedi order. Today, that task would finally begin. He would be teaching any Jedi who wished to learn the combat skills necessary to battle the forces of evil. As he thought of this, his hand moved reflexively to his belt. But his lightsaber was not there, he immediately remembered. That was another thing he had to begin work on today. . . .

The sensation of a familiar presence approaching brought Obi-Wan out of his reverie. He looked up just in time to see Varian Deszo rounding a corner ahead of him. The female Jedi immediately glared at Obi-Wan, locking her eyes onto his. He returned the gaze calmly, but Varian continued the harsh stare. "Good morning," said Obi-Wan as the two neared each other. Varian did not respond, merely scowled. She did not look away, but quickened her pace as she passed Obi-Wan. Apparently she wanted to get away from him quickly.

Obi-Wan turned the same corner that Varian had come around. Soon after, he came to his destination. He was about fifteen minutes early, but when he entered the training room he found two others already there. Their identities did not surprise him.

The young Bothan Sarn Zor'sya danced from side to side, in a somewhat clumsy manner, as he swung a practice saber. Andiell, meanwhile, sat near a wall, in silent meditation. "Good morning, Master Kenobi!" greeted Sarn enthusiastically as soon as he noticed Obi-Wan's presence.

"Good morning, Sarn," Obi-Wan replied. "I take it you are ready to resume your training?"

"I certainly am," said the Bothan, nodding his furry head. Then he turned away and went back to his practice.

Obi-Wan watched for a moment, then walked over to where Andiell sat. The young woman looked up with a nervous smile. "I'm ready, also," she said. "Or at least that's what I keep trying to convince myself."

"Don't worry," said Obi-Wan. "You'll do fine."

"I'll try to help as best I can, if necessary," continued Andiell. "But to be honest, I'm not sure that many of our order will wish to receive your training."

"That may be true," said Obi-Wan with a sigh. "I guess all we can do is wait and find out."

"I greet you, my fellow Jedi," said Obi-Wan, his gaze moving slowly across the faces of the six sentients who sat on the floor before him. Andiell, Sarn, and Cilian were all there, along with three newcomers. His new trainees were a female Togorian, a male Rodian, and another human female. It was certainly a smaller group than Obi-Wan had hoped for. But this is just the first day, he told himself. More will come in time.

"As I am sure you all know, I intend to train you in the fighting arts so that you may aid in the defense against the dark side warriors known as the Sith. Your tasks will not be easy, for more reasons than one. The Sith are formidable opponents. In addition to that, learning to fight after being inculcated for years with completely pacifist values will undoubtedly be difficult at first. But I am glad to know that you six, at least, have open minds."

"Master Kenobi," growled H'tashi Taurin, the Togorian, waving one of her furred hands in the air.

"Yes, H'tashi?" said Obi-Wan.

"You mean to teach us to fight. Most Jedi say violence is never the answer to problems. When, do you believe, is fighting necessary?"

"That is a good question," replied Obi-Wan. "And not a simple one, at that. If we used violence to solve all our problems, we would quickly fall to the dark side. But in general, when we have no other way to protect ourselves or the safety of others, we must fight back."

The six Jedi all nodded at his words. "Are there any other questions before we begin?" asked Obi-Wan. The response was silence, so he continued speaking. "The primary tool that a Jedi uses to fight is a lightsaber." As he said this, Obi-Wan walked over to a table and picked up a practice sword. "A lightsaber is a cylindrical hilt that can emit a beam of energy when activated. This blade will deflect blasterfire and cut through most objects, and one lightsaber's blade will block another's. Unfortunately, due to recent events, I no longer have a lightsaber in my possession. I will have to construct a new one, as all of you will hopefully do in the future.

"Instead of an actual lightsaber," continued Obi-Wan, "you will be trained with practice swords such as this." He held the blade out in front of him to demonstrate. "Its hilt is similar to an actual lightsaber's, but it has a lightweight plasteel pole attached to it rather than an energy beam."

Obi-Wan paused, looking into the eyes of his six students. They all looked up expectantly, and he went on. "When using a lightsaber, it becomes an extension of your self. You must be fully immersed in the Force to wield it most effectively. With the Force, you can anticipate your opponent's moves before they happen. And after much practice, you will be able to react to these moves without thinking. Are you all following me on this?"

A series of nods was the response. "Good," said Obi-Wan, moving into a fighting stance. "Now I'll begin with some basic moves. . . ."

"So, Andiell . . ."

"Yes, Master Kenobi?" said the young woman, her eyes moving up to meet Obi-Wan's.

"You know these Jedi better than I do. How do you think the training session went today?"

"It went . . ." Andiell paused, and a look of deep thought came over her face. Silence reigned for a few seconds. Andiell glanced down at her crossed hands, then spoke. "It went fairly well, I suppose. I know from personal experience that it is not easy to adjust to your teachings. But these new students, I think they all show promise."

"All three," replied Obi-Wan with a frown. The Jedi then shook his head. After all his efforts, he couldn't help but feel just a bit frustrated at the slow progress.

"But I'm sure there will be more. . . ." said Andiell, a hint of worry in her tone. "There are hundreds of Jedi; in time many more will come along."

"I know." Obi-Wan gave his student a slight smile. "I didn't mean to sound so harsh. It's just . . ."

Andiell nodded. "When they see what Master Skywalker left behind, I'm sure you will gain support. In fact, I'm wondering . . . what are you waiting for?"

"I've already informed the Masters of the discovery," explained Obi-Wan. "They want to examine the data before it is revealed to the full body of Jedi. Also, I will have to do some deep thinking about this so that I can give the best presentation possible. This is a pivotal moment in the history of the Jedi order."

"Where's Keiran?" Andiell blurted out suddenly.

"Odd that you should mention him," replied Obi-Wan with a half-smile. "He's been in his room all day, studying the records that Luke left behind."

"Maybe he'll learn something from them," said Andiell hopefully.

"We could all learn something from Luke Skywalker," said Obi-Wan.

"You're right," replied Andiell. For a moment, an awkward silence filled the room. Then Andiell gave a forced smile and spoke again. "Well, I think we've put this off long enough."

"I can't disagree," said Obi-Wan. The young woman did not need to explain what she was talking about. It was time for the two Jedi to begin work on their lightsabers.

"Does this look right?" asked Andiell, her gaze moving back and forth between the two attached components in her hands and the similar set in Master Kenobi's.

The other Jedi peered down toward the object in Andiell's hands, and she could feel him examine it through the Force as well. After a moment, he nodded and said, "Looks perfect."

"Good," said Andiell, a bit sheepishly. Why am I so nervous? she wondered silently. This is just the first step! I hope things will get better as I get farther along. "Um, what's next?" she said then, looking up at her teacher, who had a quizzical expression on his face.

"Hold on a moment," he replied. "Something's bothering you. Are you sure you want to go through with this? I don't want you to feel like you're being forced into it."

"No, I'm okay," said Andiell. "It's just . . . I feel a bit worried about this. I don't know . . . If I do something wrong, then . . ."

"Then you could be seriously injured," said Master Kenobi gravely. "You're really sure about this?"

"I want to do this, and I know I can," replied Andiell. "But I just can't shake this strange feeling. I don't know what it is."

Master Kenobi took on a thoughtful expression before saying, "Well, for most Jedi, the construction of a lightsaber is a process of solitude and introspection. Given the exigencies of our situation, I felt that it was appropriate to lessen those aspects of your task, especially considering that the only manual for building a saber that we have is the one in my head. But in the old days, a Jedi built her lightsaber by herself, and that could help explain your strange feeling."

"I guess so," said Andiell. "Don't get me wrong, I really do want to do this."

"I know," said the Jedi Master. "Now calm yourself. You must be at peace."

Andiell nodded, then closed her eyes. She slowly drew in a breath of cool, refreshing air. As her lungs were filled, she could fill the Force flowing through all parts of her body. It swirled up through her head, down through her midsection, out toward her fingertips and toes, and back. She felt energized, but at the same time completely calm. Andiell smiled slightly as she let the air out and opened her eyes. "I'm ready."

Master Kenobi regarded her for a moment, then spoke. "Good," he said, picking up the beginnings of his lightsaber and then the next component to be attached. "Now the next step is . . ."

The man in the holographic image spoke in a calm, yet commanding, voice. Although he was not physically present, he seemed to exude both peacefulness and power at the same time. Judu Kah, as she watched the recording, could only wish that she felt so calm.

The Jedi Master felt strange emotions rising within her as the aging man, supposedly Luke Skywalker, went on. Fear, anger . . . these feelings had been dormant in her ever since she was a child. The appearance of Obi-Wan Kenobi had begun to bring the dark emotions to life again, but this so-called "discovery" was even worse. I am a Jedi! she told herself in a silent scream. I cannot feel these things! But Skywalker continued to speak in his maddeningly calm voice, and the fear and anger continued to gnaw away at Judu's insides.

This . . . this can't be real! she decided then. It's a fake, some kind of sinister hoax. A Jedi Master would never say these things! Yes, that was it. The words Skywalker spoke, not to mention the lightsaber hanging at his side, went against everything Judu had been taught since she had joined the Jedi order as a young girl. Could all the values she had been instilled with for her entire life be wrong? No! She was not living a lie. She was the manifestation of a true Jedi, a being one with the light side of the Force, and this recording was the falsehood. It must be. Obi-Wan Kenobi is desperate. He was forced to sink to this level, because none of the true Jedi would follow his savage ways. But deep inside, the Jedi Master was far from sure of this. Uncertainties remained. Keiran Foranoll's tale, the rumored attacks by strange warships . . .

"What do you think of this?"

Judu Kah spun around, then sighed in relief at the sight of Master Daan Teido. "I, uh, didn't know you were here," she stammered. How could I not notice? she wondered silently. The recording must have been bothering her more than she wanted to admit, even to herself.

"I'm sorry," replied the other Jedi Master calmly. "Well?" he then asked, gesturing toward the now frozen image of the man claiming to be Luke Skywalker.

"I . . . don't know," admitted Judu softly.

"It is hard to decide what to make of it," agreed Daan. "But it's certainly an important discovery."

"If it's real," countered Judu.

"That's true," replied Daan. "We have some technicians working to find that out right now."

Judu looked over to the image of Skywalker, which was actually one of several copies of the data that had been made, and nodded. "Well, I hope that . . ." she began, but her voice trailed off.

"Hope that what?" asked Daan.

Judu shook her head in reply. "I don't know what." There was a moment of silence, then she continued a bit hoarsely, "Well, I'm going to go to my quarters. I . . . have a lot to think about."

Daan Teido nodded to her, then began to move toward the Skywalker recording as Judu headed for the room's exit. She quickened her pace as she neared it, at the same time moving her hands up toward her face. Tears were beginning to form in the Jedi Master's eyes.

Obi-Wan held one arm up, hand extended, as he calmly watched the small, round rock that floated in the air before him. Just beyond the stone was a golden-furred feline, who held a plasteel practice sword in the ready position. Obi-Wan watched his trainee in silence for a moment. Then, with a slight hand gesture, he said, "Begin."

The plasteel sword arced down toward the rock. Obi-Wan called on the Force, and the stone jumped to the side. The sword quickly followed, but the rock was again gone when the blade reached its position. A third time, the sword was swung, and a third time, the rock danced out of the way.

This pattern repeated itself several more times, until the Togorian let out a frustrated growl and began to swing her blade in a haphazard manner. Obi-Wan pulled the rock away and raised his other hand. "Calm yourself," he said. The furry Jedi nodded, and Obi-Wan continued, "Now act on your instincts. Let go your conscious self."

Another nod from his trainee, and Obi-Wan sent the stone back into range. A calm expression came over the Togorian now as she followed each jump of the little rock. She was still not able to hit it, but her sword came closer and closer with each swing. Obi-Wan looked up into her eyes, and at the same time let up just the slightest bit on his control of the rock. It was quickly batted to the floor, and the Togorian let out a triumphant growl.

Obi-Wan glanced down at the stone as it skipped into a corner, then returned his eyes to his student. "Good, H'tashi," he said with a smile.

"Thank you, Master Kenobi," replied H'tashi Taurin, baring her sharp teeth.

"You are making good progress," continued Obi-Wan, and he meant it. Of the three new students, H'tashi seemed to be the most promising most far. "Now go do some practice on your own."

The Togorian bowed her furred head slightly, then gracefully strode away. Obi-Wan's gaze quickly moved to another corner of the room, where two young women were locked in a duel. Andiell NiMalle blocked the incoming blows of Jana Starchaser, a human with brown skin and long, dark hair. After a few parries, Jana swung her practice sword in a wide arc, which Andiell dodged. The more experienced woman took advantage of the opening to bring her blade within centimeters of Jana's midsection, before halting its movement.

The two women were frozen in place for a moment; then each one took a step back. Andiell spoke a few words, motioning with her sword as she did so. Jana smiled, and Obi-Wan could not help but feel the same expression come to his face.

Andiell is doing very well, he thought. I know it can be hard for her, but she is living up to her new responsibilities. She will do her ancestors proud. The previous day, she and Obi-Wan had each built about one-fifth of their respective lightsabers. Before long, they would complete them. Obi-Wan looked around the practice room, imagining each of the other students with sabers of their own. In time, all of his trainees, even Sarn, would be able to wield an actual lightsaber effectively. And when he presented the messages from Luke, hopefully in the next couple of days, more students would arrive who would eventually take up sabers as well.

Everything seemed to be going fairly well. Obi-Wan still had worries, however. There was, of course, the issue of Keiran. But much worse than that, there was the ever-present menace of the Sith, lurking somewhere in the galaxy. There was no telling when they might strike again.

I am finally making progress in overcoming the steadfast ways of these Jedi, thought Obi-Wan grimly. I just hope that it's not too late.


High Admiral Raoul Antilles rubbed weary eyes as he read and re-read the information on his datapad. The frown on his face grew progressively deeper as he continued to pore through the data. There had been another reported attack by unknown warships, this one in the Derra system. And to the admiral's complete lack of surprise, the Senate had promptly denied his request to send in the Navy.

A low growl emerged from Antilles's throat as he stared down at the screen. What's that stinking Bothan up to? he wondered angrily. With this thought in mind, he pressed a button on his desk, then turned his chair to look out toward the night sky as he waited.

Massive buildings dominated the skyline of Republica. Although it was night, myriad lights were still present, blocking out all but the brightest celestial objects. Many of these lights were on buildings; others, starships and speeders, flitted across the sky. In the distance, he could barely make out a thin sliver of the glittering surface of Lake Endor between two towering buildings. The rest of the view was made up completely of stone and metal.

A buzzing sounded, and the admiral turned to see Lieutenant Ken La'faulet stride into the room. "What is it, sir?" asked Antilles's top aide.

"The galaxy's falling apart, Ken, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it," grumbled the admiral. La'faulet remained silent, a somewhat bemused expression on his face, as he waited for Antilles to tell him the purpose for his summoning. After a pause, the admiral did so. "So, Lieutenant," he said. "Have you uncovered anything in your investigation of the Senate and Chancellor Bor'lya?"

La'faulet cleared his throat. "I'm . . . afraid we don't have anything approaching conclusive evidence so far, sir. There are a few leads that are being followed up on. I certainly can't name any names yet, though."

"I'm not surprised," replied Antilles. "But we can't underestimate the importance of this. Tell the agents to work harder."

"Yes, sir."

"Dismissed," said the admiral with a wave of his hand. Lieutenant La'faulet nodded, then turned and exited the office. Antilles watched him go before moving his gaze back to the night sky. The commander of the Republic Navy let out a long sigh as he wondered, Just what exactly is going on here?

Obi-Wan Kenobi took a long, deep breath and stretched out to the Force with all his senses. He silently surveyed the large crowd that sat before him, on the stone floor in the Jedi Academy's main audience chamber. Beings of all shapes, sizes, and colors were gathered there. All of the Jedi at the Academy, as well as some high-ranking members of the order who had already arrived for the upcoming Council of Masters, were present. Obi-Wan stood on a slightly raised dais, flanked on one side by Master Daan Teido and on the other by Artoo-Detoo.

As the Force enhanced his senses, low whispers coming from many of the crowd's members filled Obi-Wan's ears. There was a definite undercurrent of excitement running through the gathered Jedi. The vast majority seemed very curious as to what the mandatory meeting was about. A few Jedi, more often than not Masters, obviously disapproved of him, but Obi-Wan knew that he would have the rapt attention of most of the audience.

At that moment, Master Daan Teido took a step forward and raised his arms. The noise quickly died away to nothingness, and the powerful Jedi Master spoke. "We have called you here today on a very important matter. A discovery has recently been made, one that could force us to re-evaluate many of our philosophies. This discovery is especially important in light of the recent return of the Sith. Now Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi will present to you his findings on this matter."

Obi-Wan took a step forward himself as Daan concluded his speech. "Thank you," he said, bowing slightly toward the Jedi Master. Then he turned to address the entire crowd.

"I am sure you have all heard of the Sith," began Obi-Wan. He was answered with a multitude of nods, although some of the recently arrived Masters looked skeptical. "Long ago," he continued, "these dark side warriors battled the Jedi in wars that spanned the millennia. Most recently, one Sith Lord managed to take control of the galactic government for a period of about three decades some five hundred years ago. The Galactic Civil War was fought to overthrow him and restore the galaxy's freedoms. And in this war, the Jedi's greatest hero, Luke Skywalker, played the leading role.

"Unfortunately," said Obi-Wan, "the Jedi had lost all records of this time period. Knowledge of the Sith was reduced to apocryphal tales, and some even believed that they never existed. But now, a new discovery has been made, one that we must learn from if we are to stand a chance against the resurgent Sith threat."

Obi-Wan paused to let his words sink in, then gestured toward Artoo-Detoo. The astromech droid gave a short beep and projected a life-sized holographic image of an old man wearing Jedi robes. The words he spoke were very familiar to Obi-Wan, who had replayed them countless times over the last few days. "Greetings. I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight."

A gasp ran through the crowd. Shouts went up from a few of its occupants, and frenzied conversations began. Some of the Jedi yelled questions at Obi-Wan, but he could not make them out through the cacophony. Beside him, Daan Teido raised his arms, but to no avail. The wide range of sounds echoed across the large chamber, ringing in Obi-Wan's ears. "Silence!" came a cry from beside him. Obi-Wan looked over at Daan, just a bit surprised at the strength of the Master's voice. It was effective, as the noise soon dissipated.

Now the Jedi looked up toward the dais, their gazes switching from the hologram to Obi-Wan and back again. A few arms were raised in the stunned crowd, and Obi-Wan pointed toward one of them, a Jedi Master.

"Yes, Jedi Kenobi, I must say . . . how do you know for sure that that is really Luke Skywalker?"

Obi-Wan smiled and glanced over to Master Daan. "We have no other recordings of Skywalker to compare this to," said Daan. "However, our technicians have analyzed the data very carefully, and it is most definitely from the correct time period. For that and other reasons, we think it very likely that this is indeed Luke Skywalker."

The questioner nodded, looking only half-satisfied. Then Obi-Wan pointed toward a young Jedi student. "Excuse me," she said, "but I have always thought that Luke Skywalker was supposed to be the greatest Jedi Master. Why would he call himself a Knight?"

A few of the older students seemed amused by the apparently insignificant question, but Obi-Wan nodded approvingly toward the query's source. He had thought long and hard about the exact same question himself. "That is a very good question," he said. "As you all know, a Jedi should be humble, and Master Skywalker is certainly displaying that quality by referring to himself as a mere Knight. Also, in the Jedi order, the rank of Master is normally granted by one's peers. Because he was never formally given this rank, Master Skywalker may have felt uncomfortable with it. But whatever he believed, I know that he was the greatest Jedi Master in history."

The young student nodded, and Obi-Wan moved on to another questioner. After replying to a few more queries, he signaled Artoo to begin the next section of the message that he would be playing. This one, he knew, would be very important.

"As Jedi," said Luke, "we have a threefold duty: to ourselves, to the Jedi order, and to the entire galaxy. We must keep all three aspects of this duty if we wish to be true Jedi Knights. And in order to do this, we must constantly be on guard against dark forces, both internal and external. We must always ward off the temptations of the dark side, no matter how strong. If we succumb to the darkness, our souls will be consumed by it and we will no longer be Jedi. At the same time, we must always be ready to protect those who cannot protect themselves in the galaxy at large. If the forces of evil strike against the peace and security of the galaxy, as Jedi it is our sacred duty to fight back."

As the hologram of Luke spoke, feelings of astonishment spread like wildfire through the gathered crowd. Many looked on with wide eyes. Some even sat with their mouths hanging open. When the recording finally came to an end, all the Jedi present sat in stunned silence. No one spoke, no one moved. The reaction was not surprising to Obi-Wan, and it was certainly better than the other possible response he had thought might happen, one of outrage.

A smile fought its way onto the Jedi's lips as he scanned the silent crowd. He knew it would take most of the Jedi some time to adjust to this revelation. But he had a feeling that there would be a lot more people at his lightsaber training class the next day.

As Obi-Wan made his way out of the audience chamber, he felt a pair of eyes staring into his back. He stopped in place and quickly turned around to meet the gaze of Varian Deszo. The female Jedi's eyes moved to the floor as he did so, and Obi-Wan could tell that she felt very uncomfortable. "What is it, Varian?" he asked, taking a step toward her.

"Oh, hi," she said in a strange tone of voice. "So, um, what's that?" she then asked, pointing at Artoo, who had been following Obi-Wan out of the large chamber. "I've, uh, never seen a droid like that before. . . ."

"It's an old friend," said Obi-Wan wryly. "And I don't think that's the reason you were staring at me. If there's something you want to tell me, then do it."

"I-" said Varian, her voice faltering. She looked down at the floor again as her face twisted up in an expression of pain. Obi-Wan peered down at the other Jedi in surprise. It looked like her eyes were beginning to grow moist.

"Yes?" prodded Obi-Wan.

Varian shook her head, then looked back up. "I'm . . . I'm sorry," she stammered. "I was wrong about you. I admit it." The words suddenly flowed rapidly out of her mouth. "I thought you were a barbarian, but you're more of a Jedi than I've ever been. What Master Skywalker said proves it. He would never speak untruthfully."

Obi-Wan was taken aback for a moment as she finished speaking. Finally, he nodded slowly and said, "Thank you, Varian. I know this is very difficult for you. . . ."

"There's something else," the other Jedi said, now in a quiet voice. "I . . . want you to . . . to train me." Again, the expression of pain returned to her face as Varian stared down at her feet.

"You're sure?" said Obi-Wan, amazed by the sudden reversal of the stubborn Jedi's sentiments. "You don't need to do this if you don't . . ."

"Yes, I'm sure," replied Varian forcibly. After a deep breath, she continued, "We may have had little common ground in the past, but I've always agreed with you on one thing. Luke Skywalker was the greatest Jedi Master ever. And I must follow his example."

Wow, thought Obi-Wan in silent wonder. For a moment, he did not reply. Then he said, "Well, Varian, I'm . . . glad you feel that way. So I guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow morning?"

"Tomorrow morning," echoed Varian. She nodded, then turned away and began to walk off. Obi-Wan could only shake his head in amazement as he watched her go.

Keiran Foranoll crossed his arms over his chest as he stood just beyond the threshold of the room being used for lightsaber training. A scowl came over his face as he surveyed the twenty-some students spread all throughout the room. Some dueled with plasteel swords, others stood by and watched them, and a few were receiving instructions from Master Kenobi. I should be in there too, thought Keiran. He knew that he could handle a lightsaber better than any of them. Well, almost any of them. The young Jedi smiled for a brief moment as he caught sight of Andiell, her practice sword locked with another student's in a fierce duel. The female Jedi moved gracefully as she danced from side to side and moved her sword through tightly controlled arcs. It was obvious that she was possessed of great skill in the saber arts. If there was anyone more deserving of Master Kenobi's training than Keiran, it was she. But that doesn't change the fact that I should be training as well.

The sight of an approaching form broke into Keiran's thoughts. Realizing that it was Master Kenobi, he quickly put a forced smile on his face to greet him. "Good morning, Keiran," said the other Jedi. "How have you been lately?"

"I'm fine," replied Keiran. "And I think that I'm ready to start practicing my saber skills again."

"I'm sorry, Keiran," said Kenobi gravely, "but I am still not sure that you are ready for this."

"But I am!" pleaded Keiran. "I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. I understand what I did wrong, and I won't do it again. I promise."

"You understand what you did in your mind," replied Kenobi, tapping his right temple with two fingers, "but that is only half of what you must do. I still sense uncertainties in your heart."

"But-but you're training Varian!" protested Keiran, pointing toward where the female Jedi Knight was carefully swinging a practice blade. "She can't be more qualified than me!"

"Perhaps," said Kenobi. "She volunteered, however, and I feel that she can handle this responsibility. I am still not sure about you."

"I-" began Keiran, but he quickly realized that further argument would be useless. "All right," he said with a sigh. "Well, I . . . good luck with your new students."

"Thank you," replied the other Jedi. "And Keiran, I sincerely do hope that you will be able to join us again soon."

"Yeah," muttered Keiran. He took one last look into the training room. Then he turned away and began to walk slowly down the hall, his gaze steady on the floor.

"Kill as many as you can."

"As you wish, my lord." A feral grin appeared on the hideous creature's face as he growled the words. Darth Spectre felt pleased at his apprentice's response. He looked down at the kneeling Sith, a thin smile appearing on his face. Darth Varelse was a hulking mass covered with brown and black fur. His muscular arms ended in large hands, each with four vicious claws, and his feet held similar apparatuses. Varelse's fearsome visage was dominated by pointed ears, eerie red eyes, and a menacing, toothy snout. The Sith wore no clothing, save a black belt holding his lightsaber.

More than a match for most any Jedi, thought Darth Spectre as he continued the instructions to his apprentice. "There are three, however, that you must make special note of. The first two are known as Keiran Foranoll and Andiell NiMalle." Spectre sent mental images of the pair into Varelse's mind, the former from his own duel with the young Jedi, the latter ripped out of Foranoll's own thoughts. His apprentice nodded, and the Sith Lord went on. "I wish that you take them alive, if at all possible."

Darth Varelse frowned. "Why is that, my lord?"

"That is not for you to know, my apprentice," replied Spectre coolly. Varelse gave a slight scowl that would inspire sheer panic in most beings, but the Sith Lord stared harshly into the creature's red eyes until Varelse himself was forced to glance away. "The third," continued Spectre after a moment of heavy silence, "is Obi-Wan Kenobi. He is the most skilled of all the Jedi in the fighting arts. You must take great care when you battle him."

"Yes, my lord," replied Varelse with a tooth-filled grin. His previous foul mood was quickly replaced with a grim eagerness, and Spectre allowed himself a slight smile. "I am sure he will be no match for me."

"Excellent," said Spectre, although if young Foranoll's opinion of Kenobi was the truth, he knew that his apprentice would by no means have an easy time. "Now go and prepare your troops. You depart for the Yavin system tomorrow."


"Is that it?" asked Andiell hopefully, holding up the cylindrical object in her hands after she had carefully attached the last component.

Master Kenobi looked down at her lightsaber for a moment, then met Andiell's gaze and nodded. "Looks like it is. Now all we have to do is test them."

Andiell considered the lightsaber in her hands, which had been built over the past five days. Then, with a nervous grin, she said, "How about if you go first."

"All right." Master Kenobi took his own newly built saber from his belt and brought it up into a guard position. The Jedi took in and then let out a long breath of air before pressing down the activation button on the metal hilt.

With a snap-hiss, the lightsaber's glowing azure blade quickly extended to its full length. Andiell stared down at the humming beam of energy, noting to herself that it appeared to be the exact same color as Master Kenobi's previous saber. Which Keiran had-

"Looks good," said Kenobi, breaking into her thoughts. "Now go ahead, try yours."

"Um," said Andiell, shaking her head. Then she slowly brought up her lightsaber. "All right. Here goes nothing."

Andiell paused for a moment before igniting her own weapon. A radiant blade, its color blue but darker than Master Kenobi's, emerged from the hilt. Andiell smiled, then suddenly froze in place as a chill washed over her body.

"What is it?" asked Kenobi in a slightly worried voice.

Andiell shook herself. "A strange feeling . . . it's probably nothing, though."

The other Jedi looked skeptical, but did not respond. Then Andiell began to wave her saber around in a series of slow arcs. It was a similar sensation to her work with the practice swords, but at the same time completely different. A feeling of awe came over the young Jedi. Centuries ago, her ancestors had wielded weapons not unlike the one she now held, battling against the forces of evil. Soon she might have to do the same thing.

The constant hum of the two lightsabers suddenly changed in pitch and volume, as Master Kenobi locked his own blade against Andiell's. The two weapons held firmly against each other, and Kenobi nodded. "Looks like they work. And this is good timing, too. The Council of Masters is set to begin tomorrow."

"I wonder what they'll think of this?" said Andiell wryly as she brandished her newly constructed weapon.

"I don't know," replied Master Kenobi in sober tones. "All we can do now is wait and see. And hope for the best. . . ."

"Frankly, Jedi Kenobi, I was rather disturbed when I arrived here to learn that you have been training over a score of our order in the methods of violence."

Obi-Wan let out a frustrated sigh as Jedi Master Doonin Naba, an aging Aqualish, spoke. He had thought that his battle to gain acceptance from these Jedi was nearly over, but now that the Council of Masters had convened it looked like he might have to start all over again. The Jedi looked slowly around the large circle of chairs that he was a part of, searching for signs of sympathy on the myriad Jedi Masters' features, but he found none.

"The Sith have returned in force," Obi-Wan finally said. "We can't just let them kill us, and take over the galaxy, without putting up a fight."

"But how do we know, for sure, that these Sith really have come back?" asked Kat'al Lioran, a human Master with dark features and flowing gray hair.

"I am sure you have all heard of Jedi Foranoll's encounter with the Sith Lord," said Obi-Wan.

"Yes, but if you'll excuse me for saying so," said Lioran, "Jedi Foranoll has developed a certain, ah, reputation."

"Whatever you think of his reputation," spat out Obi-Wan, "I don't think that he's insane, and I seriously doubt he would make up such an incredible tale." An ember of anger began to flicker inside the Jedi as he spoke, and realizing this, Obi-Wan cut himself off. He took a long, slow breath before continuing in calm tones. "And besides that, Keiran's story is far from the only evidence we have of the Sith's resurgence. There is the still unexplained disappearance of six Jedi Masters near Dantooine, and there have also been two other cases where Sith warriors engaged us in battle. I defeated one on the planet Tatooine, and Jedi Foranoll managed to disable the other on, um, Republica. In both cases, the Sith was apprehended, by the Jedi on Tatooine and Republic security on the capital world. I believe, however, that both died in captivity."

As Obi-Wan spoke, several of the Jedi Masters around the circle exchanged glances with each other. They didn't know about all this before? he wondered, somewhat incredulously. No one responded to his words, however, so he continued to speak. "In addition to these incidents, there have been several reports of attacks on Republic member systems by warships of unknown origins."

"Those reports . . . I believe they were all declared hoaxes," said Master Naba, his tone a bit unsure.

"Yes, but if the Sith are behind the attacks, it is not difficult to imagine how they could deceive the Republic into thinking that."

Obi-Wan waited to let his words sink in, and Master Lioran finally broke the silence. "Well, if all you say is true, then . . . we would appear to have a very serious situation on our hands. We must take some sort of action-"

The Jedi Master was suddenly cut off as a blaring alarm split the air in the large meeting room. Obi-Wan sprang to his feet, instinctively reaching for his new lightsaber as he did so. He felt a strong disturbance in the Force. . . .

Obi-Wan's gaze slowly swept across the stunned faces of the gathered Jedi Masters. With a grim shake of his head, he spoke. "It's too late."

"There are six of them," said the near-panicked young woman, pointing to icons representing assault shuttles on a display screen, "It looks like they'll land in about five minutes. And I don't know where they came from!"

"They didn't, ah, just come out of hyperspace?" asked Obi-Wan.

"No," said the woman firmly. "If something drops out of hyperspace, we can tell with our sensors. These things just appeared out of nowhere."

"Out of nowhere," echoed Obi-Wan. His tone was somewhat skeptical, but he wouldn't put it past the Sith to pull off a trick that would make the shuttles seem to magically appear. "So do we have any way to stop them from landing?"

"I don't think so." Obi-Wan turned to see a worried looking Daan Teido standing behind him. The Jedi Master wore a deep frown on his face.

Obi-Wan sighed, then stretched out toward the incoming shuttles with the Force. He sensed that they were full of sentient beings, presumably soldiers, although he was surprisingly unable to pick up any emotions from them. But there was one presence among them whose emotions were quite tangible. Anger and hatred raged from within the being, and Obi-Wan had no doubt it was another Sith warrior.

He returned his gaze to Daan. "In that case, we must get everyone out of here as quickly as possible."

Keiran was intently reading a passage from Master Skywalker's memoirs when the blaring alarm cut into his concentration. The Jedi suddenly became completely still, concentrating for any signs of what might be happening, but to his frustration he did not sense anything. "What's going on?" he wondered aloud.

"I'm afraid that I do not know, sir."

Keiran turned in his seat to look at the golden protocol droid See-Threepio. "Well, whatever it is," said the young man, "I don't like the sound of this." He rose from his chair, quickly strode over to the door, and pushed the button to open it.

Chaos greeted him as Keiran stepped out into the hall. Jedi Masters, Knights, and apprentices alike ran in both directions down the stone corridor, their faces showing signs of confusion or even panic. He glanced both ways, looking for someone he recognized, but all the various beings merely dashed by and ignored him-until he heard a familiar voice call his name.

"Andiell!" Keiran snapped to his right as he greeted his fellow Jedi. The young woman's red-brown hair was disheveled, and in her blue eyes he saw worry, even fright. Then he glanced down to see that Andiell's hands held an unlit lightsaber. "What's going on?"

"The Academy's come under attack!" replied Andiell. "Enemy troops are landing. We've got to get to a transport!"

Keiran gave her a quick nod, then turned to look back into his room. Threepio and the "astromech" droid Artoo-Detoo stood waiting in the doorway. "I think we'd better take them with us," he said, gesturing toward the pair of metallic beings.

"Right," said Andiell. Fingering her lightsaber's hilt, the young woman looked back and forth down the emptying hallway. "Now let's go."

How could that barbarian have been right? thought Doonin Naba as he ran down an Academy hallway with two other Jedi Masters. The Aqualish found himself panting for breath; he was not used to physical activity. But he could not stop going, for it would likely guarantee his death.

It was ironic, reflected Naba as he continued to move down the corridor, that the Sith had arrived just as Obi-Wan Kenobi told the Council of Masters about the threat. Maybe he's one of them! thought the Aqualish for a fleeting moment, but no, he decided, that didn't make sense. And besides, no one would be able to deceive an entire roomful of Jedi Masters like that.

But in the end, it didn't really matter. The impossible had happened; the Sith had returned and were now attacking the Jedi in full force. Naba, along with most of the other Jedi Masters, had been wrong, and it might now cost many of them their lives.

Before long, Doonin Naba began to slow down, unable to keep up the quick pace. The other two Masters, both younger than him, were having less trouble. "We have to keep going; I sense danger nearby!" said one, glancing back at Naba, who was now lagging behind. The Aqualish nodded, gasping for breaths of air as he struggled to keep up the pace. Before him, the corridor seemed to stretch on endlessly, even though it was actually less than fifty meters to a right turn that would lead to one of the waiting transports. But Naba could go no further. He staggered, fell to his knees, and then onto his hands as well. Head down, the Master tried desperately to regain his wind in time to escape. His heart raced inside him, faster than was healthy, and his breathing was ragged. Naba glanced up slowly, and was taken by surprise at the sight of the two other Masters racing back toward him.

Have they come to help me? he wondered hopefully, but then he saw the black-armored troops come around the corner beyond them. His fellow Masters reached Naba, then passed him with barely a glance in his direction. As the troops neared, the Aqualish managed to push himself back onto unsteady feet. There were eight of them, he saw, each one holding a dangerous looking blaster.

Doonin Naba's voice was hoarse as he spoke, but he used all of his remaining energy to put the full weight of the Force behind it. "Drop your weapons," he managed.

The soldiers barely hesitated before releasing a barrage of blasterfire from their guns.

Master Doonin Naba was dead before his body hit the ground.

Obi-Wan Kenobi felt waves of fear and distress flow all around him as he jogged down the stone corridor. "Keep it up!" he yelled, looking back at the large group of Jedi, made up of all ranks of the order, that followed him. Inwardly, Obi-Wan grimaced. I'm the only one in this group who can fight.

They rounded a corner, and then the troops came into view. There were twelve in this group, and all quickly pointed their blasters at Obi-Wan. His glowing blue lightsaber sprang to life in an instant. Laserfire sizzled toward him, but he deftly parried each shot, deflecting the bolts into the floor, walls, and occasionally the enemy troops. Obi-Wan felt amazement ripple off of the Jedi gathered behind him, but he could not relish their awe. He moved forward slowly, having to block a good three or four shots for each step he took. A few of the blaster bolts passed him by, and pained shouts went up from the other Jedi. Obi-Wan ignored these as well, continuing toward the troops as he fought with a vengeance unlike in any battle he had faced since the Clone Wars. Finally, he reached the troops, whose number had been cut in half by returning fire off his sword. The azure blade slashed through the air faster than any normal being's eyes could follow. Then it sliced through armor, flesh, and bone as the troops were summarily skewered and dismembered. The last two turned to retreat, but Obi-Wan tossed his saber toward them after taking out the rest. The fleeing pair was cut down as well.

After calling his weapon back into his grasp, Obi-Wan bent down with his hands on his knees to regain his breath. Even though he was physically in his prime, the battle had been a taxing one. But he knew he could not take long to recover.

After a few moments, Obi-Wan stood up straight and turned back to the Jedi gathered before him. "Let's go," he said, but not a one moved. They merely stood there, at the same time stunned, awed, and horrified by what they had just witnessed. Obi-Wan shook his head vigorously as he stared at the group. "There are more troops coming," he said grimly. "Now let's get moving!"

One by one, the Jedi fell in line, and finally the entire group began to trot past the carnage on the floor. Obi-Wan led the way, lightsaber brandished before him as he moved toward the next inevitable battle.

With steps both quick and powerful, Darth Varelse strode down the ramp of his assault shuttle toward the contingent of troops that awaited him in the grassy clearing. The Sith warrior paused as he reached the ground, sniffing the jungle air, then stretched out with the Force to the ancient building before him.

His was the last of the shuttles to land, and many of the Jedi were already wounded or dead. But there were still plenty more for him to deal with, and a powerful presence in the Force told Varelse that Obi-Wan Kenobi was alive and fighting. The Sith smiled dangerously as he thought of the coming encounter.

Darth Varelse's eyes then locked onto the black-armored troops, who stood at rigid attention with blasters held across their chests. The Sith drew his lightsaber and ignited the crimson blade. Pointing the weapon at the Jedi Academy's main entrance, he simply snarled, "Move."

Andiell and Keiran moved quickly through the Academy hallways, while behind them Artoo and Threepio followed as fast as their mechanical legs could carry them. The two Jedi Knights were about twenty meters from a turn in the corridor when Andiell suddenly came to a screeching halt. Keiran stopped two steps later, then jumped back behind his companion as the familiar troops of the Sith began to spill around the corner.

With a snap-hiss, Andiell quickly ignited her lightsaber, and a deep blue blade came blazing into existence. The troops opened fire-Stun beams? thought Keiran, surprised. He shrugged, then watched as Andiell began to fend off the attacks.

The blue energy beams intersected with Andiell's lightsaber, but rather than being sent back toward the enemy troops they merely dissipated away after contact with the glowing blade. Andiell skillfully turned each stun beam aside, showing no signs of tiring. But she also showed no signs of going on the offensive. Other than her arms and the blue blade extending from them, the young woman seemed a statue. Seeing this, the Sith troopers began a cautious advance.

Keiran quickly extended his hand and yanked away the lead soldier's blaster with the Force. The young Jedi fired a stun beam at the disarmed trooper, considered for a moment, and then switched over to deadly blaster bolts.

Andiell continued to deflect the attacks, while standing back and just to the left of her Keiran now unleashed a vicious assault of his own. Deadly red energy beams sizzled rapidly into the advancing mob, charring the troops' armor and knocking them to the floor. As their numbers began to diminish, the remaining soldiers went into an all-out charge. Keiran's knuckles were white as he squeezed down on the trigger, desperately trying to hold off the assault. The troops came closer and closer-and then the last one fell at Andiell's feet.

Keiran quickly moved forward, among the bodies of the two Jedi's fallen attackers. He picked up another blaster, then, after glancing back and considering his three companions, tossed it back to the floor. But after doing this, his gaze slowly moved back to Andiell and the expression on her face.

The female Jedi seemed to be in a trance. Feet planted firmly on the ground, mouth hanging open, she stared at Keiran with unblinking eyes. The young man stared right back for a moment, then murmured, "Andiell?"

For a few seconds, the other Jedi Knight remained still. Then she managed to stammer, "You . . . you killed them! You could've-"

"Stun beams have a much lower rate of fire," explained Keiran tersely. He paused for a moment, grimacing at the sight of Andiell's unconvinced expression, then continued. "There's no time to waste. There are more troops coming, and we've got to get out of here. Now let's go."

When Jana Starchaser saw the Sith Lord, her heart stopped.


With a gesture of one of the fearsome creature's clawed hands, the Jedi fell to the floor, clutching at her chest. She writhed in pain for a few awful moments. Soon, however, Jana became still as a rock. Her eyes were frozen wide open, staring upwards in horror from her dark, panic-filled face.

Darth Varelse kicked the pitiful Jedi's body aside disdainfully as he strode down the stone corridor. At its other end, two more Jedi who had accompanied the woman were fleeing rapidly. The Sith signaled toward his troops, and a barrage of blasterfire cut down the pair.

Varelse growled deeply, an expression of feral pleasure. Nearby, he could sense a large group of the light side users. Fear emanated from all of them, save one.


They continued through the Academy in an efficient pattern, one that Andiell found rather disturbing. She and Keiran would dash along a corridor, allowing their two droid companions to fall behind. Then, when the next group of troops came into range, the Jedi duo would come to a halt. Andiell would take the defensive, intercepting each incoming stun-beam with her lightsaber, while Keiran mowed down their attackers with grim precision. By the time all the enemy troops were dealt with, Artoo and Threepio would have caught up, and the group would once more go on the move.

A jolt was sent through Andiell's body with each soldier who fell lifeless to the cold stone floor. Another group of the black-armored troops was coming into view now, and the young woman tried to push down her emotions as she prepared yet again for the coming onslaught. The firing began suddenly, blue beams of energy flying down the hall toward her and Keiran. Andiell had no trouble fending them off, but she was quite troubled by her companion's return fire.

This isn't the Jedi way! she thought, many years of instilled values beginning to overcome her recent training. These people don't need to die. They're not even trying to kill us! For a brief, desperate moment, she considered laying down her weapon and letting the Sith take her. But before she could act on the notion, the last of the troops was taken out by Keiran's unrelenting fire.

Andiell shuddered as she again began to trot down the hallway. How could she think such things? It would be sheer insanity to give herself up to the Sith. The consequences . . . she could even become a tool of the dark side! And yet-

"We're almost there," came Keiran's voice from beside her. Andiell merely turned her head and nodded, feeling too numb to speak.

With a feeling of elation, Obi-Wan realized that they were just a couple of turns away from the passage to one of the Academy's ship fields. Against all odds, he had managed to successfully shepherd almost all of his large flock to-

Suddenly, the Sith Lord appeared, seeming very much like a vornskr out of hell. The warrior's monstrous appearance matched perfectly the raw emotional fury that boiled off it and smashed like a roiling wave against the calm barrier of Obi-Wan's mind. A red lightsaber, the Sith trademark, was already ignited in one of the creature's clawed hands, and a vicious sneer appeared on its face as its gaze met the Jedi's. Despite the obvious signs indicating otherwise, Obi-Wan found that it was somewhat difficult to imagine that his enemy could be a sentient being. But there was no time to ponder that now.

"Get back," said Obi-Wan unnecessarily to the group of Jedi behind him. He himself took a few steps forward before assuming a defensive posture, glowing blue lightsaber held before him. The Sith stood in place, although its massive shoulders heaved up and down in its barely controlled fury. Obi-Wan merely waited, and then his opponent made a quick gesture with its unoccupied hand.

The Jedi felt cold tendrils of dark side energy grasping at his internal organs, but he easily fought them off as he concentrated the Force inside him. This brought a toothy grin to the Sith's face, and its crimson blade was brought up in preparation for battle. Obi-Wan stared back at the creature, his own countenance betraying no emotions.

And with lightning speed, the Sith warrior attacked.


The incredible ferocity of the charge forced Obi-Wan to retreat a few steps as he brought his sword up to meet the first overhead blow. As soon as the two glowing blades made contact, the Sith pulled back slightly, then made a tight swing at Obi-Wan's knees that the Jedi barely managed to block. After this, however, the more experienced of the pair quickly recovered. Obi-Wan pushed his opponent's saber away, feinted high, and then unleashed a quick combination of side-to-side strikes. The Sith monster scrambled to block these before counterattacking once more. Obi-Wan again parried, then continued his own attack. Soon the tables had turned; the Sith Lord was now retreating back down the hall.

The Jedi went at his opponent with grim, carefully restrained intensity, a stark contrast to the wild creature's uncontrolled fury. The battle was fairly evenly matched, however, and Obi-Wan felt it would take quite some time to wear down the Sith. But a sudden barrage of blasterfire down the corridor told him that he did not have such time.

Obi-Wan pushed the other's saber back, then spared a glance past his opponent. A group of the black-armored troops had appeared and were unleashing a steady stream of red blaster bolts. None were aimed at him, however; each shot sizzled to the left or right of the two combatants-directly into the crowd of defenseless Jedi behind him.

Obi-Wan knew he had to act quickly. After a low strike, he sidestepped his opponent, then turned one hundred eighty degrees. His back was now dangerously exposed to the enemy troops, but he sensed that they would not take the golden opportunity. He quickly jumped back and away from his opponent. After landing, he immediately went into a backflip that placed him right in the middle of the swarming troops.

Obi-Wan brought his saber down, then swung it out and spun in a single, deadly circle. The four troops around him were slain in the blink of an eye. Another soldier raised his blaster; Obi-Wan sliced down through the weapon and then up between his enemy's legs. He continued in a fluid movement to impale the being he sensed behind him, then took out the one ahead of him with a kick to the helmet. The last of the troops was relieved of his blaster arm, and Obi-Wan turned back to face the Sith Lord.

Just in time to see it swinging its blazing crimson blade at the front row of Jedi!

Obi-Wan quickly charged, but a golden blur beat him to his target. Fur flew as the Togorian H'tashi Taurin collided with the surprised Sith. Both dangerous beings were thrown back by the impact. Obi-Wan agilely leapt past his fellow Jedi, putting himself between his opponent and those beings he had sworn to himself he would protect. The Sith recovered quickly, bringing its red blade up to meet Obi-Wan's. The battle was joined once again.

Keiran rounded yet another corner, then found himself suddenly crashing into Andiell's backside. The young woman lurched forward, barely managing to keep her footing, while Keiran himself quickly jumped away from her. The reason for Andiell's sudden halt was immediately obvious.

In the middle of the hallway, a titanic battle unlike anything Keiran had seen in his life raged on. Master Kenobi's azure lightsaber clashed repeatedly against the red blade of a strange, fearsome creature. It was obviously a Sith. Much more powerful than the one I faced at the Senate, Keiran decided, thinking back to his previous encounters. Probably not the equal of the Sith Master, but the sheer emotional fury is incredible!

Keiran moved to stand beside Andiell as he surveyed the rest of the stunning scene. Dead bodies littered the floor. Those in between the combatants and the pair of Jedi were blaster-scorched members of their own order, while the ones beyond the Sith and Obi-Wan were black-armored soldiers who had been gruesomely felled by a lightsaber. At the far end of the hallway, a few more Jedi fled the scene, running around a turn that Keiran knew led to the nearby landing field.

He and Andiell slowly began to walk toward the dueling pair, both with wide eyes. The constantly changing hum of the blades filled Keiran's ears, and the two beams of light flashed brightly across his vision. Master Kenobi and his opponent each took turns attacking, blocking, and counterattacking, but neither could gain the upper hand. Keiran and Andiell continued their cautious approach, and then Master Kenobi spoke. "Keiran. Andiell." He did not spare a glance in their direction as he said it. "Get to a transport now."

But we can help him! thought Keiran, feeling a bit worried. What if we leave, and he dies because of it?


"Sir, I do believe that that is an excellent suggestion."

Keiran turned to see that Artoo and Threepio had come up right behind him. He hadn't even noticed their approach. "All right," he said, shaking his head. Andiell began to move forward again, hugging the wall, and Keiran quickly followed with the droids behind him. The Sith, its concentration fully on the battle, made no move toward the foursome as they passed. Once they were a safe distance away from the deadly blades, Keiran glanced back. The duel continued ferociously, but as he stretched out to the Force the young Jedi thought he could feel the Sith's stamina beginning to slip. Keiran sighed, then began to jog after Andiell to the landing field.

Suddenly, an alarmed exclamation from Artoo-Detoo caused the Jedi to stop in his tracks and spin back to face the combatants.

Master Kenobi groaned as his sword was pushed to the side by a vicious blow. Keiran could only look on helplessly as the Sith swung its blade in yet again, murder glowing in its red eyes.

Throughout almost all of her life, it had been a very rare event when Judu Kah cried. Ever since joining the Jedi Order, the powerful Master had been taught to remain in a constant state of peace, to never allow her emotions to take control of her. Only then, she knew, could she be at one with the Force.

But Judu had found calmness to be very hard to come by for the past week. The rapid changes in her previously static way of life brought on tremendous inner turmoil, at times more than even a Jedi Master could bear. And as she watched the receding form of the Jedi Academy through one of the ship's viewports, Judu was not even surprised to find herself openly weeping.

On the outside, the ancient stone temple showed no signs of damage. The massive structure had existed for millennia, and it would surely remain long after Judu left the physical universe. But inside, she knew, wounds had been dealt that would never fully heal. More than half of the Jedi who had been present at the Academy were dead. The Council of Masters which had recently begun, rather than helping to fend off the attack, had only exacerbated the Jedi's grim situation. In the past half-hour, nearly a dozen of the most powerful Jedi alive had been slain. They were defenseless against the Sith attack, and Judu could only thank the Force that Obi-Wan Kenobi had managed to guide her and several others to safety.

Kenobi. It was appropriate, somehow, that the controversial Jedi, along with his followers Keiran Foranoll and Andiell NiMalle, was one of the few who remained alive within the temple. Judu could still sense him through the Force, fighting on against the hideous being who had led the terrible onslaught. The Jedi Master found herself almost hoping that the troublesome trio would not escape alive. But after looking into the Sith warrior's eerie red eyes, she knew that Kenobi was at worst the lesser of two evils.

"Master Kah?"

Judu quickly wiped tears from her eyes, then turned from the viewport to face Varian Deszo. The other Jedi looked completely shell-shocked, yet deep within her was a determination to survive and fight back that Judu, despite her apprehensions about fighting, could not help but admire. "What is it, Varian?" asked the Master.

"We've just received a signal from the other transport," was the reply. Judu nodded; she knew that only one other Jedi vessel had taken off thus far. Each one carried up to twenty beings. "They want to know what course we should set."

"Hmm," began the Jedi Master. She gestured with her hand, then pondered the question as she followed Varian into the ship's cockpit. There was one fairly obvious choice, and Judu could not think of any reason not to take it. "Let's head for Republica," she said, as she entered the crowded room.

The pilot turned to her and nodded. "Hear that?" he said into a voice pickup.

"Got it," came the reply from the other transport. Then, suddenly, "We're under attack!"

"What's going on?" asked the incredulous Judu.

"We just picked up another ship on sensors, a big one!" said the panicked pilot. "They came out of nowhere, and-there goes our other transport."

Judu Kah felt the disturbance in the Force as still more Jedi's lives winked out of existence. How could this be happening? she wondered, feeling a deep sense of melancholy. The already too small group of survivors had just been cut in half, with no warning whatsoever. . . . and the ship Judu was on might now be the only one to escape. To get word out about what has happened.

"They're coming into range," said the transport's pilot urgently.

"Set a course for the capital," ordered Judu. The pilot nodded, quickly pressing several buttons.

Judu Kah felt a sudden tremor in the Force from the jungle moon below-

And then her ship disappeared into the cold depths of hyperspace.

Obi-Wan felt momentarily afraid as the killing blow came in toward him, just as it had centuries ago on the Death Star. Once again, a red lightsaber arced in at his defenseless midsection. Except that this time, he was not ready to die!

But then everything seemed to slow down, and the Jedi could sense his opponent's moves with perfect clarity through his deep connection to the Force. Obi-Wan smoothly swung his own saber up and across his body. The blue blade sliced cleanly through the Sith's furry wrist.

The tremendous outburst of rage from his opponent hit Obi-Wan like a physical blow. He felt himself pushed backwards, then quickly turned himself to the side as the still-lit red saber hurtled past him and crashed into the wall. At the same time, pain exploded in his right cheek as the creature's remaining clawed hand instinctively lashed out at the Jedi. Obi-Wan felt the urge to scream, but quickly calmed himself and brought his blade to bear once more.

The Sith, however, had collapsed to the floor after dealing the vicious blow. It clutched at its wounded arm, and Obi-Wan felt a mixture of anger and fear coming from the monster. He pointed his saber at the Sith Lord's throat, but at that moment three more troops appeared at the end of the hall.

Obi-Wan quickly jumped back, moving his blade up in an arc to deflect the immediate barrage of blasterfire. Even after the taxing battle, he knew he could defeat these troops without much difficulty, but there was no reason to waste more time. "Go now!" cried Obi-Wan to the two Jedi who still watched from behind him. Then he began to walk backwards down the hall, keeping up his defense against the incoming blasts.

Once he had reached the corner, Obi-Wan turned and dashed down the next hallway and to the nearby exit. Quickly passing through it, he surveyed the Academy landing field outside. One ship, a sleek transport, had its ramp down, and he could sense three Jedi inside.

Obi-Wan entered the ship and rapidly made his way to the cockpit. He was not surprised to see Keiran, Andiell, and the droids. The other Jedi, in the pilot's seat, was Sarn Zor'sya.

"Take-" began Obi-Wan, but the Bothan quickly interrupted him.

"Master Kenobi!" he cried, his panicked gaze on Obi-Wan's face.

Obi-Wan quickly moved his hand up and touched his right cheek with two fingers. Pain coursed through him at the contact, while his fingers felt sticky. He moved his hand in front of his face to see his digits covered with blood.

"It's all right, Sarn." Obi-Wan wiped more blood away, then took a deep breath and began a quick Jedi healing exercise.

"I hope so," replied the troubled Bothan.

"Don't worry. Now take off."

The Jedi apprentice did as ordered. Obi-Wan watched as he handled the controls, admiring the young Bothan's deftness. Before discovering his Force sensitivity and coming to the Academy, Sarn had flown ships for a transport company. He had still made little progress with his sword practice, but his skill at piloting was obvious. Perhaps the Force is aiding him in areas other than physical combat.

"We've cleared the moon's atmosphere," reported Sarn shortly. "There's one other ship on sensors, a big battle cruiser. It won't come into range, though."

"All right," said Obi-Wan. "Now set a course for Cor-er, the capital. The Senate must be notified of this attack at once."

Darth Varelse roared in anger and pain as he sprawled on the cold stone floor, clutching at his handless arm. The wound had been cauterized, but that did not stop the horrible burning sensation that coursed up his wounded limb and through his entire body. The Sith continued to writhe around pathetically for several moments. Then he focused his anger and called on the dark side of the Force to shunt his pain. The wound still stung, but after releasing his rage for a few heartbeats he felt energized once more, fully in command.

The Sith Lord pushed himself up onto his feet, then turned to face the three soldiers who stared at him through their black helmets. The trio's faces were not visible, but that did not hide their shock and fear from a Force user. Idiots! In a sudden outburst of rage, Varelse pulled his lightsaber from the ground, re-ignited it as it flew through the air, and watched as it sliced through the nearest soldier's neck. The helmeted head cluttered to the ground and bounced to the side, while the rest of the body collapsed to the ground in a lifeless heap. Varelse called his sword back into his one remaining hand, then set his fiery glare onto the two standing troops.

In his mind, he knew that the Sith soldiers had been brainwashed by his Master. They had little will of their own. But he did not regret his action.

"My lord?" one of the troops finally managed, his mechanically filtered voice nonetheless sounding tentative.

Darth Varelse did not respond. Instead, he stalked forward, shoved the pair aside as he went between them, and continued on through the Academy and toward his shuttle. The two soldiers quickly followed behind.


Keiran sat on the floor of his cabin in Sarn's ship, his back against the cold metal bulkhead, as the sleek vessel roared through hyperspace. The young Jedi Knight's head rested on his knees. Silent and still, he replayed in his mind the events of the day.

The Sith attack had shocked all the Jedi. Keiran, at least, unlike most of the others, had been prepared to fight. He had already encountered the Sith troopers once in the past, and although this time he had no lightsaber, he was still able to handle their attack. With help from Andiell, of course. And the young man would have been pleased with how he performed, except . . .


Her disgust at the violence had disheartened Keiran greatly. She had not spoken a word to him since they boarded the ship. It burned at Keiran inside. He had immediately been drawn to Andiell, had indeed become friends with her, but never before had he realized just how important she was to him. And now, to feel her cold disapproval of his actions was almost too much to bear.

What if she's right? What if I was using the dark side?

But how could that be? He had done what was necessary to escape, to protect his life and hers. He could have stayed with stunbeams, but then he or . . . or Andiell could have been captured. Which would be even worse than . . .

And yet the thought remained. What if?

A sudden knock at the door brought Keiran out of his brooding. Could it be? . . . No, it was Master Kenobi, the young Jedi immediately sensed. He quickly pushed himself up off the floor, then walked across the sparse room and keyed the metal door open.

The other Jedi regarded Keiran silently for a moment, then said, "How have you been holding up?"

"Not bad," replied Keiran, half-honestly. He took a step backwards, allowing Kenobi to clear the doorway.

"Sit down, Keiran."

Obeying, the young man took a seat on the edge of the room's single bunk. He glanced at the wall for a moment before finally meeting the Jedi Master's gaze.

"Andiell told me about what happened," said Kenobi. "She's pretty upset."

"I know," replied Keiran, hanging his head.

"But there's no reason for you to be."

"Huh?" Keiran looked back up now, feeling a bit of hope.

"I know you killed a lot of people today," said Master Kenobi, his tone stern. "So did I. It is never something I enjoy, but sometimes there is no other reasonable choice. I grieve for the deaths of those soldiers. However, their dying was necessary. And that is something Andiell must learn, in time. I believe that you did well today, Keiran."

"Thank you, Master." So does that mean that you will give me lightsaber training? But Keiran did not voice the thought, knowing that he should be patient.

"I am glad to see you not immediately asking about your training," continued Master Kenobi. Is he reading my mind? "And soon, I believe, you will be ready. . . . Or perhaps it will become necessary whether you are fully ready or not. But not just yet."

"Yes, Master."

The other Jedi gently patted Keiran on the shoulder before turning to exit the room.

The sound of metal clicking against metal entered Darth Varelse's ears as the Sith Lord made a fist with his new right hand. Sharp, robotic claws contacted the equally metallic palm of his hand to produce the sound. He could have gotten a more realistic replacement for the severed part, of course, but that would have taken more time. And time was of the essence. It was just a convenient side effect that his new hand had twice the strength of the already powerful one it took the place of.

Best of all, thanks to special neurotransmitter systems in the robotic appendage, he would still be able to feel Kenobi's body as the vicious claws raked through it.

Varelse grinned maliciously, then shifted his gaze from the new hand to the officer who stood before him. "Captain," he growled.

"Yes, my lord?" The slim, balding man flinched as he met Varelse's eyes and spoke in tones that betrayed his obvious nervous feelings.

"Have my private transport prepared. I will be leaving shortly. Remain in orbit here until you receive further orders."

"Yes, my lord." Varelse sensed the captain's relief that the Sith would be leaving. Very well, he decided, it is good that these people fear me.

Varelse had easily deduced that the Jedi would flee to the capital world of Republica. He could not return to his master in shame, having failed to capture Foranoll and NiMalle and having been embarrassed by Kenobi. He would follow them to the capital, and encounter the Jedi once again. But this time, the Sith warrior promised himself, the outcome would be quite different.

The Jedi apprentice Sarn Zor'sya leaned back in his pilot's chair, facing the other three Jedi who stood in his ship's cockpit. Behind him, the mottled sky of hyperspace swirled through the transparisteel viewports. "We'll be coming up on Republica in one more day," announced the Bothan.

"Good," replied Obi-Wan. Silently, he added, Space travel has changed since my previous life.

Andiell, standing to Obi-Wan's left, said, "What will we do once we arrive?"

"First of all, the Jedi must regroup after this attack. Then we will go to the Senate and report what has happened. We will have to organize a swift strike at the Sith before they can become too powerful. We may not have much time before that happens."

"But there's a problem," said Keiran, from Obi-Wan's right.

"I know," replied the Master, turning to face the young man. "We don't know where the Sith's main base is located. You, Keiran, are the only one to face the Sith Master and live to tell about it. Any ideas?"

"It was in deep space, near the . . . the Rhinnal system," recalled Keiran. "But I didn't see any sort of base there. Just a single, large warship. Do you think that Rhinnal could be the Sith home?"

"I don't know. . . ." Obi-Wan shook his head. "We need to be more sure of where to go before we strike. If the Republic makes a major commitment of resources to this, it could leave the capital uncovered. And if that happens, and we attack the wrong system, we would have major problems."

"Do you . . . do you sense anything through the Force?" asked Andiell.

"I'm afraid not. The Force is our guide, but we cannot just sit back and let it take care of everything. Perhaps in this case, we will have to do much of the work ourselves."

Where could the Sith base be? Andiell wondered as she sat alone on her bunk. She did not really believe she could figure it out herself, but it was something to focus her mind on. To pull her attention away from the awful things that had happened so recently. She had never imagined that an actual fight would be that terrible an experience, but it was. . . .

Stop thinking about it! Concentrate on the problem at hand, the location of the Sith's main base!

Andiell shook herself, then reached over to grab a datapad from where it lay on the covers. The full text of Master Skywalker's memoirs had been copied to it, and now she pulled up that document, hoping to find some inspiration.

The young woman had already skimmed through the entire thing. It was of unique interest to her, being the self-recording of the life of her famous and heroic ancestor. She had paid particular attention to the passages about his Jedi training. Now she opened a different section of the document, one much later in Skywalker's life.

The Sith had been defeated long ago, at the Battle of Endor. Or so everyone thought. But periodically, ever since I achieved full Jedi status, I have sensed disturbances in the Force. Tremors that seem to have dark side origins.

Andiell's eyes widened. Could a clue, even the answer to their problem, be contained in these words written by Master Skywalker so long ago? She scanned through a few pages; then a passage of text stood out to her like a bright beacon of light.

Over the past few years, I traced these disturbances throughout the known galaxy. Now, finally, I have discovered the planet where they originate.

The young Jedi Knight read on, and suddenly everything made sense.

Keiran, in his cabin, was also reading from Master Skywalker's memoirs as the transport continued on its course to Republica.

After I had trained for several weeks with Master Yoda, I made the biggest mistake of my life.

Through the Force, I received a vision of Han and Leia in great pain. They were at a city in the clouds, which turned out to be Cloud City on Bespin. I knew instantly that I had to help them. But my training was not yet complete.

Yoda, as well as Obi-Wan's spirit, counseled me to remain and complete my training. But I could not do that, not with Han and Leia's lives at stake. I ignored their advice, and raced off in my X-wing to save my friends. Little did I know that I was walking right into a trap.

Darth Vader had captured my friends for the distinct purpose of luring me into his clutches. Young and rash, I was unable to recognize the danger. Not fully trained, I was unprepared to face it.

When I arrived at Bespin, Han had already been frozen in carbonite, while Leia was a prisoner. There was nothing I could do to help them. Instead, I was led into the carbonite freezing chamber, where Darth Vader awaited me.

We engaged in a vicious duel. I thought I could take him at first, but the Dark Lord was merely toying with me. Eventually, the fight moved to a small walkway by the city's reactor core. Our lightsabers clashed several times, and I managed to land a blow to his armored shoulder. But I could not win the battle. He forced me down with an unrelenting attack. The blows continued to rain down, and then I felt one of the most excruciatingly painful moments of my life. My right hand, along with my saber, was sliced off and sent tumbling down hundreds of meters into the pit below us.

I was helpless now. But instead of killing me, Vader did something that at the time was even worse. He told me that he was my father. I refused to believe it at first, but deep down I could sense the truth of his words. Then he told of his plan for me to join him, defeat the Emperor, and rule the galaxy at my father's side. I can remember it as clearly now as if it had happened yesterday. I hung desperately over a seemingly endless pit, looking up into Vader's-my father's-expressionless black mask. "There is no other way," he said in his deep voice. I almost gave in.

But at the last moment, I decided to give up my life. I plunged down hundreds of meters, and through incredible luck-or the Force-I was sucked into a tunnel and eventually found myself hanging below Cloud City. Again, I found myself above a tremendous fall, but this time there would be no chance whatsoever of surviving it. I called out through the Force, first to Ben, but he could not help me. Then I called to Leia. I didn't know it at the time, but as my sister she had a deep connection to me through the Force, and to my surprise the Millennium Falcon came to my rescue. But that did not change the simple fact: My rashness had come unthinkably close to getting me killed.

At this sentence, Keiran could go on no further. Tears welled up in his eyes, distorting his vision, and he gently tossed his datapad to the side as he held his head in his hands. Master Skywalker's story brought his experience on the Sith warship rushing back into his mind. He had been so stupid, Keiran realized. I thought I could do it all myself, but I was completely wrong. And just like Skywalker, Keiran's rashness had nearly gotten him killed. In the case of Skywalker, he had come away with the loss of his hand. Keiran had not taken much physical damage, but had lost his friend and teacher so that he could survive. So why did it take me so long to learn my lesson?

It doesn't matter now, he told himself, as the tears continued to flow. Everything . . . will . . . be . . . okay.

Obi-Wan Kenobi stopped dead in his tracks as he was strolling down the ship's main corridor. He felt something from behind the door beside him. Keiran's room, he quickly realized. Obi-Wan silently stepped up to the metal barrier. He could hear faint sobbing coming from inside.

The Jedi Master reached out to the Force to gently probe the young man's emotions. At that moment, he finally knew that Keiran was ready to be trained.


Lieutenant Ken La'faulet's step had a slight spring to it as he strode through the corridors leading to High Admiral Antilles's office. La'faulet's investigation of the admiral's purported conspiracy against the Navy had been very frustrating at first. For days, little progress had been made. But now, at last, the intelligence agents working under him had come up with a good, solid lead.

Supreme Chancellor Durresk Bor'lya, who Antilles believed was a key figure in the conspiracy, had received repeated visits from an aide to Cos Orison, the senator from Dubrillion. There were no legitimate items of business in the Senate that would suggest contact was necessary between Bor'lya and Orison. Attempts to obtain video surveillance of the meetings had proved fruitless, heightening La'faulet's suspicions. At last, he had decided to go ahead and question the Dubrillion senator. Orison had been completely surprised about the frequent meetings. He had also said that this particular aide was a recent hire, and he thought a thorough background check had been done. Either the senator was a very good actor, La'faulet had decided, or his aide was up to something very strange.

La'faulet reached the door to High Admiral Antilles's room and stopped before it. The admiral was not expecting him, so he pressed down the door buzzer rather than entering immediately. A good fifteen seconds passed, but there was still no response. Frowning, La'faulet keyed in his personal entry code.

The door slid open, and the lieutenant took a few steps forward before coming to an abrupt halt. Mouth agape, he stared down at the bloody corpse of High Admiral Raoul Antilles.

The well-trained aide hesitated just a fraction of a second before grabbing his com-link and switching it on. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of red-

At about 0930 ship's time, Andiell entered the ship's lounge to find the other three Jedi aboard sitting around a table, munching on their breakfasts. She paused, reaching out to the Force to get a sense of how they were doing. Keiran, oddly, seemed to be relieved, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Master Kenobi was his usual calm self. Sarn, as a nonhuman, was harder to get a read on, but the Bothan seemed both a bit nervous and a bit excited. The young woman moved forward again, and Master Kenobi greeted her.

"Good morning, Andiell."

"Morning," she replied. Then, casually, she announced, "I know where the Sith are."

All eyes suddenly locked on hers. For a few heartbeats, it was dead silent in the room. Kenobi, unable to hide his surprise, finally said, "Very well. Where do you believe they are?"


The elder Jedi's young eyes went wider, and Andiell could not suppress a grin. "And how did you figure that out?" inquired Master Kenobi.

"I was reading through Master Skywalker's writings, and I discovered that he had traced a dark side disturbance in the Force to the planet Coruscant. He apparently was never able to track down the exact location, just that it originated from that planet. So it must have been related to the Sith, and it remains there today."

"That's-" began Kenobi.

"I know, I know, that isn't enough evidence to be sure. But I've been doing some thinking, and there's more to it than that. Sai-Ten Nonen's first apprentice, who is now the Sith Master, disappeared on Coruscant. It makes sense that his base would be there. And Keiran, you encountered him near the Rhinnal system. That's on nearly a straight line between Yavin IV and Coruscant, presumably where you were traveling to. The Sith Master must have sensed you coming, then set up his warship to pull you out of hyperspace short of their base. It all fits together."

"That's very good, Andiell," said Master Kenobi.

"Do you really think she's right?" asked Keiran. "I mean-"

"It feels right to me, somehow," said the Jedi Master. "Except . . . even for a Sith, it would be difficult to hide a major military base on a densely populated planet. There are still a lot of people there . . ."

"Right," said Keiran. "If I remember correctly, Coruscant, while one of the galaxy's poorest planets, is also in the top ten as far as population goes."

"Perhaps, um, perhaps . . ." Sarn, previously silent, spoke up tentatively. "Maybe their base is hidden elsewhere in the system."

"Quite possible," said Kenobi. "And if it is, we should be able to find it through the Force.

"Excellent job, everyone. We can take all this to the Senate, and prepare for our counterattack as soon as possible." The Master moved his gaze again to Andiell. "Especially you, Andiell. This would not have been possible without your sharp thinking."

Counterattack. Suddenly thinking back to her recent combat experience, Andiell gulped worriedly. Then she stuttered, "Th-thank you, . . . Master Kenobi."

Several hours later, the four Jedi and their two droid companions were all crowded into the cockpit in anticipation of the arrival at the capital. Sarn, in his pilot's seat, supplied a terse countdown. "Three, two, one . . ."

Starlines flashed suddenly in the viewport, then became shining points of light. In the center of the view was a large sphere, the planet Republica. Obi-Wan gazed down on the new capital, noting instantly its similarities and differences to the one he had known so long ago. It was readily apparent that, like its predecessor, this planet was one big city. Huge buildings covered most of the planetary surface. Their metal and transparisteel surfaces glittered with reflected sunlight, making for a vivid sight. But on Republica, unlike Coruscant, other colors intermingled with the sparkling buildings. Stripes of green wove their way between huge stretches of structures, and blue shapes also dotted the surface. Obi-Wan quickly identified these as forests and bodies of water. Besides these, there were also small, dirty-white icecaps at the planet's northern and southern ends.

It appeared that the government had made an effort to keep a bit of nature present on this capital world, perhaps with the oppressiveness of the never-ending Coruscant cityscape in mind. Obi-Wan remembered well his time there. Although the enormous buildings were without a doubt awe-inspiring sights, the Jedi felt that being constantly among these artificial structures was not good for the spirit. On Republica, there was a chance for the residents to get away from all that for a while, and Obi-Wan nodded in silent approval. Yet as he reached out to the Force, it felt as if there was something very odd-almost unreal-about it. It was like the entire planet had been designed and constructed, and nothing there was truly natural. Not that that was necessarily a terrible thing, but it made Obi-Wan a bit uneasy. He was about to inquire as to whether his suppositions were indeed true when Keiran spoke up.

"There's a Peacekeeper," the young man said, pointing up and to the right at a large warship that floated in the opposite direction the Jedi's vessel was traveling. "Think we should contact them?"

"Good idea," replied Obi-Wan. "If we are to strike quickly at the Sith base, the military will need to prepare as soon as possible. Sarn?"

The Bothan nodded, then activated the ship's comm system and spoke into it. "Republic Navy vessel Alderaan VII-"

"What did you call it?" asked Obi-Wan, quickly cutting off the Jedi apprentice, as a chill ran up his spine.

"The Alderaan VII," said a puzzled Sarn. "So?"

From behind him, See-Threepio spoke up. "Alderaan? Oh my . . ."

"Alderaan . . . wasn't that a planet that was destroyed back in the Galactic Civil War?" said Keiran.

"Yes." Obi-Wan grimaced at the thought. "I remember it well. . . . Um, go on, Sarn."

"Yes, Master Kenobi." After a brief pause, the Bothan turned back to the comm. "Republic Navy vessel Alderaan VII, this is the transport Starseeker. Do you read us?"

"Transport Starseeker, this is Navy shuttle AA-23," replied a gruff, male voice. "You can't contact the Alderaan VII."

Sarn glanced at Obi-Wan, who could only shrug. "And why is that?" asked the apprentice.

"If you must know, it's because we're taking it out to be scrapped. There's no one aboard."

"S-scrapped?" echoed Sarn.

"Haven't you heard of the military budget cuts?" said the voice, sounding quite annoyed. "Just what do you want, anyway?"

"We, er . . . we've just come from the Jedi Academy on Yavin IV," answered Sarn. "It's been attacked, and we were forced to flee."

There was a moment of silence before the reply came. "And what do you expect me to do about that? Look, I have a job to do here."

While Sarn sat in bewilderment, Obi-Wan broke into the conversation. "This is Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight. I would suggest that you bring that ship back into orbit and begin preparing it for battle."

"Oh really."

Obi-Wan considered the situation for a few seconds, then said, "That cruiser-it's called the Alderaan VII. Do you know why that is?"

"Because it comes after the Alderaan VI," replied the other, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "What's it to you, anyway?"

"Well, if you must know, Alderaan was-"


Obi-Wan, surprised by the sudden exclamation, took a moment before slowly asking, "What is it?"

"It's High Admiral Antilles," came the shocked reply. "He's been found murdered!"

"By the Force," muttered Keiran.

"Antilles?" Obi-Wan repeated the familiar-sounding name.

"Supreme Commander of the entire Navy," explained the voice, now distraught in tone. "Where have you been, anyway? But that doesn't matter right now," he quickly added. "This is bad. . . ."

In his pilot's seat, Sarn had activated the holo-vid unit. He flipped through several channels before coming to the news. "-Antilles was found in his office, along with another victim, Lieutenant Ken La'faulet. Both were wounded by an unknown weapon, apparently some sort of high-energy blade." Obi-Wan shivered at the description. "There are currently no suspects in the case."

"The Sith-it must have been them," said Andiell. "And that means they're here on Republica."

"Yes," said Obi-Wan grimly. "But why?"

Silence was the response, and he turned back to the comm system. "Now do you think you had better turn that ship around?"

"Y-yes," was the stuttered reply. "Yes, s-s . . . sir."


Obi-Wan sat back in a comfortable, cushy chair in the conference room, gazing out at the cityscape as he waited for the others to arrive.

After entering Republica airspace, Sarn had piloted his ship onto the landing pad on the roof of a fairly average looking building. As Keiran had explained, this building-or the top five floors of it, to be precise-held the Jedi's Republica headquarters. It certainly wasn't very impressive compared to the old Jedi Temple on Coruscant . . . but then, Obi-Wan wasn't really surprised at that. For one thing, the main Jedi base was now the Academy at Yavin. For another, the Jedi Order seemed to play a smaller role in the galaxy these days than it had during the late Old Republic era.

After landing, they had been greeted by an old Wookiee Jedi Master and five Knights, who were apparently the only Jedi present at the time. Several Masters had gone from Republica to Yavin for the recent Council-they were likely now dead. The six Jedi had told them that they had received a distress call from Yavin, and then Obi-Wan and the other new arrivals filled them in on the details. The other Jedi transport, slower than Sarn's, had not yet arrived then, so they had then been shown to their quarters. Now, finally, the rest of the survivors had shown up.

The last of the stragglers filed into the room, and Obi-Wan scanned over all those present. He recognized a few of the newcomers, including Judu Kah-the female Master gave him a brief scowl-along with his trainees Varian Deszo and Cilian Dakar, the Mon Calamari. All the Jedi took their seats, and the Wookiee Jedi, Cashacca, spoke up in growls. They were quickly followed by Wookiee-like Basic translations from a small device on the left side of his head.

"I was quite dismayed to learn about the attack on our Academy. It seems that the survival rate was rather low. I have spoken to Jedi Kenobi, who told me what all happened to the best of his knowledge. I know now that the Sith have returned, and that we are in much trouble. But the question is, what should we do?"

Obi-Wan quickly decided he would speak up first. "I have been thinking about that," he said, immediately after the Wookiee fell silent. "I believe that we must strike back quickly. We have determined that the Sith base is located at Coruscant, most likely not on the planet itself but elsewhere in the system." Obi-Wan explained how that conclusion had been reached, while a few murmurs rose and subsided through the room. Then he said, "We should go to the Senate, and demand military action against the Sith threat. The Navy will move in to attack their fleet, while we land a Jedi strike team on their base. I believe that I should lead it."

Judu Kah frowned deeply as Obi-Wan finished speaking. "I can see asking the Senate to send the Navy in," she said, "but a Jedi strike team? Must we resort to such violent methods?"

Cashacca rumbled a response. "I would have agreed with you very recently, but I think this attack shows our previous philosophy was a bit flawed. It appears that the very survival of our order is at stake, and we should fight back."

Kah shook her head, but seemed to have realized she was in the minority now. "Do you have more to add, Jedi Kenobi?" asked the Wookiee.

"Well, this is obviously only a rough plan at the moment, and it will need much refining. But it's clear to me that we will need more Jedi armed with lightsabers. In the interests of time, I think I had better construct the new ones. If no one objects?"

No objections were raised, although Judu Kah looked as if she had one, and Obi-Wan nodded.

Andiell stood beside Master Kenobi, looking over the room containing all the rest of his lightsaber trainees. Those who survived the attack, that is. Shaking the grim thoughts from her mind, the Jedi looked over each of the students' faces. She paused for a moment on Keiran's; then, when his eyes met hers, looked quickly away.

"I would prefer to be here with you, helping to improve your skills," said Kenobi to the gathered group. "Unfortunately, we have a very urgent matter at hand, which I am sure you are all aware of, and I must spend most of my time now in the construction of new lightsabers. Usually, a Jedi builds his own saber, and this is an important task in his training. But we do not have the time for that now, and we certainly can't afford rush jobs. So you will have to practice without me.

"You should all have some basic lightsaber skills right now. If you have any questions, you can ask Jedi NiMalle here." He gestured to Andiell, who gave a brief smile. "And now, I must leave you to your practice. May the Force be with you."

Obi-Wan turned and walked out the door, while the rest of the group dispersed about the room. Most moved off into dueling pairs, while a few went to work on their moves alone. And one walked right up to Andiell.

"How about a little go at it?" asked Keiran, hefting a practice sword. Andiell tried to hide her grimace. She still wasn't sure that he was ready to fight, not after what he had done back at Yavin. Horrible memories rushed back into her mind-she pushed them away, shaking her head. It was Master Kenobi's decision, not hers.

"All right," she finally replied. Andiell then drew her lightsaber and ignited it. The deep blue blade came humming to life.

"Um," said Keiran, glancing at the glowing weapon and then at his own plasteel sword.

"Oops." Andiell allowed a nervous grin to pass over her lips, then switched off the saber and re-attached it to her belt. Then she pulled a practice sword into her hands with the Force and raised it into a battle position. "Let's go."

Keiran struck first, a surprisingly tentative blow that Andiell easily parried. She then went into a quick combination that her opponent, apparently a bit rusty, barely managed to block. They exchanged blows a few more times. It seemed as if Keiran was holding something back, but Andiell shrugged it off and was quickly swept up into the fight.

The blades repeatedly clanked together. Andiell deflected a high blow-she swung down toward Keiran's legs-blocked a counterstrike-unleashed a high-low combo-jumped over an attack-pushed in again and again . . . everything outside the battle disappeared, and the young woman found herself swinging harder and harder against Keiran's blade. She barely felt the exertion, however, as the Force flowed through her body, across her sword; it connected Keiran and herself and seemed to whirl around them as the battle raged on. Time had no meaning in this bubble; everything was the motion of the two combatants and their blades, and Andiell continued to fight. Left-right-left-suddenly, the other's sword went spinning aside, and she had an easy opening for the killing blow. Andiell took it, barely remembering in time that this was only practice, not a real battle-this was her friend she was fighting-and lightly touched the plasteel blade to Keiran's midsection. Then she dropped the sword and bent over in exhaustion.

Sweat poured down Andiell's face, and her breathing came quick and ragged. She felt a hand on her shoulder, looked up to see Keiran, and then brushed him aside. He stepped back, looking startled, and Andiell slowly stood up straight to find that they were surrounded by all the other occupants of the room.

"Quite a display, you two," said Varian Deszo. "I think you would make Master Skywalker proud."

Andiell looked blankly at the other woman for a moment, then around the rest of the group. "You can . . . you can go back to your practice," she managed. There was no movement to do so, so she said more forcibly, "Go."

The others slowly moved back to their own training, and Andiell turned to face Keiran just as slowly. "Good fight," he said, although he didn't look as tired as she was.

"Yeah," she grunted in reply. Then there was silence, which quickly became longer and more awkward. Finally, Andiell said, "Is there anything else you want to say to me?"

"How about you?" snapped Keiran, and Andiell flinched. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't mean . . . well, I, um, I know you didn't exactly like what happened during the Sith attack."

"You could say that," replied Andiell, trying to keep her voice calm.

"Well, it bothers me. . . . I talked to Master Kenobi, and he said, well, you know . . . I guess killing people is part of a Jedi's job sometimes, and I can't apologize for that."

"He told me that too," said Andiell, feeling miserable. "It's just that-this is all happening so fast!" Suddenly, there were tears streaming down her face. "I just don't-don't know if I'm . . . ready . . ."

"You'll be okay." Keiran gently placed his hand on her shoulder again, and this time she made no attempt to remove it.

"I hope so."

"Don't worry." Andiell looked up to see a shy sort of grin on the other's face. "You come from a strong family."

Obi-Wan had just completed his work on the first of the new sabers when there was a knock at the door to his room. "Come in," he called, not bothering to ask who it was, because he had recognized Andiell's Force presence.

The young woman entered the room, then stopped, standing two steps beyond the doorway. Before speaking, Obi-Wan looked at her and ignited the just-finished lightsaber. A brilliant green blade sprang to life, its emerald glow illuminating the dimly lit room. "Like it?" he asked.

"Looks pretty nice," said Andiell noncommittally.

"I think I'll give this one to Keiran," added Obi-Wan. A brief flicker of unidentifiable emotion passed over Andiell's countenance at the mention of her fellow Knight's name, but quickly disappeared. Obi-Wan examined her face for a moment, then switched off the blade and said, "What brings you here?"

"I, uh . . . well, since we're pretty sure the Sith are at Coruscant, I decided it would be a good idea to check for recent news about it. And I think I may have found something."

Obi-Wan's interest was perked. "Go on."

"Well, a couple weeks ago there was a delegation to the Senate from Coruscant requesting aid. They said that many citizens of the planet had been disappearing in the past months, and thought the Republic should do something about it. Nothing was ever done, but I think those disappearances were caused by the Sith."

"You're most likely correct." Then Obi-Wan had a sickening realization. "And that means . . . those people were probably used as soldiers . . . like the ones who attacked the Jedi Academy. Innocent people! And I killed many of them myself-as did Keiran." Andiell looked shocked, and Obi-Wan understood this perfectly. He felt rather terrible himself at the moment. "But we can't change that now," he continued. "In future engagements with the Sith, we'll just have to make an even greater effort to avoid casualties."

"But . . . but how would the Sith make innocent people fight for them?"

"Brainwashing, perhaps. . . . I just hope that if that's the case, the process can be reversed." Obi-Wan considered this for a moment, then motioned with his hand as he said, "Did you have anything more to say?"

"Well, yes," replied Andiell. "I checked up on where all the members of the delegation have gotten to. The leader seems to have vanished without a trace, while the rest returned to Coruscant. Except for one. Tae Sorian is currently being held in a prison here on Republica."

"Why's that?" asked Obi-Wan.

"He was wanted for smuggling," explained Andiell, disdain evident in her voice.

"I encountered a few smugglers in my day," said Obi-Wan, thinking of one in particular. "They can sometimes be of great help. . . . In any case, I think we should talk to this Tae Sorian. We might be able to get some useful information, if nothing else."

"I guess I have to agree," said Andiell, but then added, "Still . . . a smuggler?"

"Perhaps the Jedi have forgotten what it's like to interact with the common riff-raff," replied Obi-Wan sternly. "To win this war, you may have to do some re-learning."

Keiran's plasteel blade sliced through the air, arcing toward its invisible target. He felt the nonexistent contact, pulled back, and prepared to block the next move.

The Jedi was alone, but in his mind his opponent was so close he could almost feel her. Andiell. As Keiran maneuvered his weapon, he went over every move of their recent duel. The duel that he had lost.

Of course, it had been a while since he'd picked up a sword, but afterwards Keiran had realized that that was not the main reason Andiell had defeated him. It was because he had not been giving it his all, while she quite obviously had. It was practice, sure. . . . But it seemed to him that in a real fight, he might be even worse.

I'm afraid, he thought. Afraid of lapsing into the dark side. And yet fear leads to the dark side. . . .

It was a paradox, to be sure, but Keiran knew one thing for certain. He had to get rid of this fear if he was to fight the Sith again.

The Jedi Knight's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone at the door. He keyed it open to see Master Kenobi waiting inside, with-Keiran's eyes went wide for a moment-a lightsaber held in his hand, one in addition to the hilt hanging from his belt.

Keiran stepped back to allow the other Jedi entrance. Master Kenobi, without preamble, held up the saber and said, "This is the first new one I've completed. I think you should have it."

"Thanks." Keiran tossed the practice sword aside, then reached out his hand. But before touching the weapon, he suddenly pulled back. It felt like there was an invisible force around the metal cylinder that was repelling him. Keiran thought back to the last time he had held a saber. He had stolen it from Master Kenobi, then run off to fight the Sith-and with disastrous results. What would he do with this one?

"Is something wrong?" asked Kenobi.

"No, I'm all right." Keiran extended his hand again, and this time took the saber firmly in his grasp. Then he moved it into a guard position and, fingers trembling slightly, pressed the ignition button.

With a snap-hiss, the weapon sprang to life. The glowing blade was green in color, and Keiran quickly noted that he'd never seen a saber of that hue before. Except in pictures of Master Skywalker.

Keiran tested it with a few swings. "Thanks," he repeated then. "I like it."

"I'm glad," said Master Kenobi with a smile. "Well, I'm awfully busy right now, so I'd better go. . . . If you need anything, though, don't hesitate to come to me."

"Sure." Keiran nodded, and Kenobi turned and strode from the room. The young man shut the door after the Master.

And then he brought his new green lightsaber to bear, returning once more to the battle with Andiell.

"We have been given a hearing at 1100 Senate Time tomorrow morning," said Cashacca, the translated Wookiee growls filling the small room.

Obi-Wan, sitting across from the graying Master, nodded. He would have preferred for the Senate to see them sooner, but this was as good as they could realistically have expected. He glanced around the table, also occupied by Masters Judu Kah and Daan Teido, before saying, "There is something else I think we should do before then. Jedi Andiell NiMalle has made an interesting discovery." Obi-Wan relayed what Andiell had told him, and then concluded, "I believe it would be best if we could speak to Tae Sorian today, before we go to the Senate."

"You said he's a smuggler?" questioned Judu Kah, seemingly almost automatically finding a point of contention with Obi-Wan's idea.

"Yes, or at least smuggling is what he is charged with," replied Obi-Wan. "Still, I don't see how merely speaking with him could cause any harm."

"Perhaps not," said Cashacca. "But I am not so sure I like this. I will not stop you from going to this smuggler, but I do not particularly want to meet him myself."

Daan Teido expressed sentiments similar to the Wookiee's, and Obi-Wan found himself suppressing the urge to roll his eyes. "All right," he finally said. "I suppose it's not necessary for any of you to accompany me. But I myself am certainly going. This man may be a smuggler . . . but at the same time he could be able to provide us with something that will save the Jedi order, or indeed the Republic itself."

"Not likely," said Kah.

Obi-Wan met her eyes; then, suddenly, he felt a ripple run through his body. And he sensed that . . . "In fact, I think it's very likely," he countered, still staring at the female Master. "I have learned over the many years of my existence to trust the Force, and right now it is telling me that meeting Tae Sorian is of the utmost importance."


Obi-Wan and Andiell were led through a maze of gray corridors as they made their way to Tae Sorian's cell. On either side of the hallway, durasteel doors appeared at frequent intervals, each one with a small, barred window about head-high. At a few of the doors, faces peered out at the two Jedi and the human female guard who walked in front of them. Obi-Wan shivered slightly at the sight of two bulbous yellow eyes, then glanced over to see how Andiell was doing.

The young woman had actually insisted on accompanying him, but now it looked as though she might be regretting the decision. To a Force-sensitive, this prison reeked with the dark side emotions of anger and fear. Obi-Wan merely noted this fact and put it to the side, but for Andiell it was not nearly so easy. She wasn't at all used to being in a place like this, and she constantly glanced from side to side with nervous eyes. Obi-Wan did not speak, but sent out waves of calm through the Force in an attempt to ameliorate her mood. He did not see whether this had any effect, however, for at that moment the guard stopped in front of a cell. "Here we are," she said in a bored tone, turning to face the two Jedi. Then she pulled a card from her pocket and slid it into a slot by the door. The durasteel barrier slid open.

The guard entered first, then gestured to Obi-Wan and Andiell. They followed her into the small cell. It was a square room, each side a bit over two meters in length. The walls bore the same drab color scheme as the corridor they had just left. In one corner was a simple 'fresher station, and along the opposite wall was a cot. Sitting on it was Tae Sorian.

Obi-Wan regarded the Coruscantian who had been charged with smuggling. Sorian wore typical prison garb and had a head of scruffy-looking brown hair. His hazel eyes looked bitterly up into Obi-Wan's.

"You have fifteen minutes," said the guard, making no move to exit the cell.

"Um, perhaps you could leave us?" said Obi-Wan.

"I don't think so."

Andiell looked over to Obi-Wan and said quietly, "Is that really necessary? I think it will be all right if she stays."

"It depends," replied Obi-Wan. On just what this man knows, he added silently, hoping that it would indeed be enough to warrant the guard's departure. Then he turned to the prison worker and said. "We are representatives of the Jedi order. I think you can trust us."

The other did not seem impressed. "I'm following regulations here," she replied.

"If you insist," said Obi-Wan wryly. Then he waved his hand in front of her face and, calling on the Force, added, "You can leave us now."

"I can leave you now," said the guard blankly. She turned and began to make her way back down the hallway.

"Well," said Obi-Wan, turning back to face Tae Sorian. "I think we can begin."

Tae looked up at the two Jedi, the only visitors he had had since being put in prison here. He was being held in temporary quarters, waiting for all the systems with charges filed against him to decide what they wanted to do about his capture. Whenever that happened, he would presumably be taken to who-knows-where for a trial, then whisked off to some Outer Rim prison world for at least a decade of hard time. Not something he was looking forward to, to say the least.

The bearded male Jedi, who appeared to be in charge, broke the silence. "I'm Obi-Wan Kenobi, and this is Andiell NiMalle. We're Jedi Knights, and we would like to speak to you about the events leading up to and including your hearing at the Senate." Obi-Wan Kenobi spoke in a calm yet commanding tone, and kept his piercing gaze trained on Tae the whole time he spoke. The Coruscantian thought back to how this Jedi had just moments ago pulled off some sort of hypnosis trick on the prison guard. It was not a very reassuring thought that he could likely do the same thing to Tae.

"What do you want to know?"

"First of all," said Kenobi. "I would like to know if the smuggling charges are true."

Tae grimaced. "And why do you care?" he growled.

"So I can have a better idea of what type of person I'm talking to. And don't try lying to me."

"All right." The warning didn't seem to be an empty one. "Yes, I am a smuggler. Or I was, at least. But I was born and raised on Coruscant, and it's kind of hard to make an honest living there. Not that you'd know anything about that. I guess smuggling kind of runs in my family." Tae thought back to his father-who had been killed in a dogfight when Tae himself was just seventeen.

"I won't say I condone your line of work," said Kenobi. "But I won't hold it unfairly against you, either."

"Sure," said Tae skeptically. I bet you won't.

Kenobi seemed to pause at the unspoken words, but said nothing of it. "Now that that's been cleared up, I'd like to know about the disappearances around Coruscant."

"Before I tell you," countered Tae. "I'd like to know what you plan to do about them. We asked the Senate for help, which didn't exactly work. Just look where I ended up."

Kenobi glanced at the female Jedi, who had not uttered a word since the guard left, then said, "We believe the disappearances are caused by the Sith, a group of dark side warriors. We are planning to strike back at them, and any information we could get would be most helpful."

"Dark side. . . ." said Tae, repeating the unfamiliar phrase.

"The dark side of the Force," explained Kenobi. "The Sith are somewhat similar to the Jedi in certain aspects, but they use their powers for evil."

As opposed to the Jedi? thought Tae. I don't remember them doing a whole lot of good for the galaxy anytime recently.

"And in this case," the male Jedi continued, "we think that their plotting involves capturing innocent civilians in Coruscant space. If we were to defeat the Sith, the disappearances would come to an end."

"A whole lot of good that would do me," said Tae with a scowl. "I didn't exactly come to Republica with altruism in mind. The Sith, or whatever this unknown force is, were hurting my ability to make a living. Naturally, I didn't like that, so I came here. But if I'm going to be in prison for the next ten years, what's going on back at Coruscant isn't really my concern."

Kenobi sighed. "If I really wanted to, I could make you tell me all about what's happened. But I'd rather not. If you can tell us something that helps lead to the Sith's defeat, however, I'm sure your punishment could be lessened. Now go on, explain to us what happened."

"Fine," said Tae finally. I guess I don't have much to lose, he decided. "It all started one day when I was returning to Coruscant in my personal freighter. I had come out of hyperspace, and was approaching the planet, when suddenly a tractor beam locked onto my ship. The weird thing was, there was no one else anywhere nearby, at least according to my sensors. I couldn't break the lock, so I had to abandon ship. And as you can probably tell, that kind of put me out of business for the time being."

"Interesting." Kenobi appeared to ponder what he had said. "It seems that the Sith have some sort of cloaking device. I never recall those being put to any practical use, but with the Force, perhaps. . . . Well," the Jedi continued at last, "what happened after that?"

"I managed to make my way back home. Later, I was at a tavern, and I told someone what had happened to me. He didn't believe it, of course, and soon everyone there was laughing at me. But one guy actually supported me. It didn't help, though, and I left. Not long after, that same guy came to my apartment. It turned out that mine wasn't the only strange experience someone had had, and a lot of people were turning up missing on their travels through space. He talked me into going to the Senate with a group from Coruscant, and off we went.

"Finally, after waiting around for days, our delegation went before the Senate. But the strangest thing happened there. No matter what any of us said, and some of them had tales that mine paled in comparison to, it seemed like hardly any of the senators cared. I didn't think we had much of a chance of getting help, but when my turn to speak came things got even worse. I was in disguise, and had a false identity, but somehow one of the senators knew who I really was. And then it turned out that our leader, the guy who first came to me, was an alleged assassin. The security guards came in, and that was the end of that."

Kenobi took on a pensive look, then turned to his companion. "If the Sith have a presence in the Senate, it would explain what happened there. This could be very useful information indeed." She merely nodded, and the male Jedi looked back to Tae. "I sincerely thank you for your time."

"Hold on," said Tae, suddenly feeling curious. "When is this attack on the Sith supposed to be?"

"We're going to the Senate tomorrow to ask for military help. I think we'll be able to get it, and then it should be . . . I don't know, I guess a few days to a week before the actual attack takes place."

"So this-this attack will involve space combat?" asked Tae, an idea beginning to form in his mind. Perhaps he would be able to get out of prison after all. . . .

"Yes, it would," replied Kenobi. "Why?"

"Well, you'd probably need all the help you could get, wouldn't you?" said Tae, his thoughts racing to make this proposal sound as good as possible. "What if I went back to Coruscant, talked to a few people I know, and roused up some sort of fleet to help the Navy? I've heard about the military cutbacks and all . . . I think if I got enough people, it could really help your chances."

There was no response for several moments. Then Kenobi said, "An . . . interesting proposition. I will have to consider it for some time before answering. But I believe we must be going now. I will get back to you soon."

"Please do," said Tae, nodding with only half-feigned enthusiasm. He wasn't sure his idea would actually work, but whether it did or not it should get him out of here. And if he got out onto Coruscant, finding him again would take too much effort to be worth it for the Republic.

"We'd better be going now," said Kenobi, looking briefly at his still silent companion. "Again, thank you."

"Thank you," said Tae. Then the two Jedi left, the door closed behind them, and he was alone once more.

"Do you trust him?" asked Andiell as the two Jedi walked back down the long, repetitive corridors and toward the prison's exit.

Obi-Wan quickly replayed his conversation with the smuggler in his mind. "I'm not sure," he said after a moment. "I didn't sense any real dishonesty. . . . It seemed like he really did want to go back to Coruscant and try to get a fleet together, but he was perhaps not sure that the idea would actually be successful."

"That's about the impression I got," said Andiell.

"Of course, he would obviously stand to gain a lot if we actually let him do this," continued Obi-Wan. "If it did work, that would be okay. But I don't think most of the other Jedi would care much for this plan, not to mention what the prison officials would think."

"True." The pair continued on in silence for a few seconds. Then Andiell said, "Well, I was kind of skeptical about this idea before we came here. But right now, for some reason I . . . I think we should let him go for it."

Judu Kah's reaction to Obi-Wan Kenobi's words was one of automatic disgust.

The Jedi Master had tried not to let it on to anyone, but the attack on Yavin had seriously shaken her previously firm belief in what a Jedi ought to be. But whether or not they should take up arms, the Jedi still had to uphold high moral values. And now this . . . fraternizing with smugglers? It was more than she could bear.

"Jedi Kenobi, although I may not like it, I don't have much of a choice about going along with your idea of a 'Jedi strike team.' But I do hope you aren't seriously suggesting we ally ourselves with criminals?"

Kenobi turned to face her, meeting Judu's eyes with his usual annoyingly calm expression. "I haven't completely made up my mind as of yet," he said. "But we all know the Republic's military is weaker than it should be. If we need help, and we have an offer of help, we ought not refuse it. And I ask you this, Master Kah . . ." It seemed like there was a bit of wry humor in the way he spoke her title, but perhaps she was imagining things. "Which is worse, a mere common criminal, or a Sith Lord? I would hope the answer is obvious."

It was, indeed, but that did not make the idea of joining forces with the lawless any less palatable. But what if it was necessary to defeat the Sith? The very survival of the Jedi order was at stake . . . but if steps like this one were used, would the order truly have survived? Judu shook her head, trying to clear her mind of distracting thoughts.

It came as a relief when Cashacca broke into the conversation. "I am not so sure about this plan either," said the Wookiee. "And I certainly would not want to let this smuggler free by himself on Coruscant."

"Of course we would send one of our own with him, if at all possible," said Kenobi, and Judu wondered who among the Jedi would ever agree to do that.

"Of course," rumbled the Wookiee. "Yet there is another issue. If we do agree on this plan, which may not happen anyway, but if we do . . . How are we going to get this Tae Sorian out of prison? I would never agree to breaking him out."

"I am sure a way will present itself," replied Kenobi. "But there will be time to discuss all this later, after the Senate tomorrow."

The Senate. All of this scheming first hinged on the Republic's governing body approving of a strike at Coruscant, and whether that happened would be decided tomorrow. Judu would be among the Jedi delegation, along with Cashacca and Kenobi. What would she say there? She still had not decided.

"Speaking of which," continued Kenobi, "I have a request. I would like Jedi Nimalle and Jedi Foranoll to come with us tomorrow. Both have first-hand experience which would make for valuable testimony."

"I would not object to that," said Cashacca.

"Nor would I," put in Master Daan Teido, who sat across from Judu. Then all eyes turned to her.

She remained silent for a few heartbeats, then sighed. Her input would probably make little difference anyway. "Fine," she said at last, although it was with a frown.


Darth Varelse stood at the roof's edge on a tall building, peering down into the depths below him. About a kilometer away, and a few hundred meters down, the Galactic Senate building stood at the center of a large duracrete plaza. The Sith warrior could make out groups of seemingly tiny beings congregating around the huge stone structure, but he cared much more about those who were inside the building. The Jedi.

And Kenobi was among them.

Varelse slowly made a fist with his cyborg hand, gazing down at the beautiful steel claws, then released it. He would soon have his revenge. It was only a matter of finding the right time to strike.

The Senate chamber was packed to its full capacity. Representatives from all corners of the galaxy, along with their various aides, occupied nearly all the available seating space. There was also a small group from the military present, led by the new High Admiral, Serra Harsekk. And then there was the delegation of Jedi.

Noise of conversations echoed across the vast room, but it died off quickly enough as Chancellor Duressk Bor'lya gestured for silence. "The Galactic Senate welcomes the honorable representatives of the Jedi Order," said the Bothan, although his tone seemed a bit dry. But Obi-Wan Kenobi was not paying much attention to the words.

There was a disturbance in the Force, and it was of the dark side. The tremor was faint, but undeniably there, and it was coming from within this very room. So I was right, thought the Jedi. The Sith do have a presence here. And he knew it was up to him to do something about it.

"Keep them occupied," said Obi-Wan, turning to speak to the four other Jedi who shared the delegation's box. "I have some business to take care of. I shouldn't be long."

Obi-Wan glided swiftly and silently down the carpeted hallways surrounding the main Senate chamber. He passed statuesque guards from time to time; otherwise the corridors were practically deserted. That was a good thing, he thought, for the less distractions there were, the better.

He was closing in on the Sith warrior, but he still had quite a ways to go. The Senate building was truly enormous, and the presence he felt came from the opposite side of the chamber to where the Jedi were. He hadn't picked up on the exact location, but as he got closer he knew he would be able to. And he most certainly was getting closer, with each step he took. The disturbance in the Force, which still would have been unrecognizable to most observers, even to many Jedi Knights, was getting stronger and stronger to his well-tuned senses. Perhaps a couple hundred more meters of travel before he would reach it. . . .

There was a sudden flash of awareness, and Obi-Wan knew he had lost the element of surprise. The Sith had detected him coming, but what would the dark side warrior do about it? The question was quickly answered as, several seconds later, Obi-Wan sensed rapid movement.

The Jedi picked up his pace, beginning to run down the hall now, but he soon realized that it was too late. The Sith had made his escape, and once he exited the building it would be extremely difficult to find him quickly. Obi-Wan sighed and turned around, feeling rather disappointed. But it wasn't all bad, he thought as he began the long walk back to the other end of the building. With the Sith no longer present, the influence on the senators should be likewise gone. And that could make all the difference.

Darth Varelse paced back and forth on the rooftop, his mind deeply connected to the Force. He was planning his strike at the Jedi, but then-what was that? Yes, there it was. . . . It was a Force-user, coming in his direction. A Jedi Knight?

Of course, what else could it be? Yet there was something different about this one. . . .

The Sith Lord shrugged it off. As he focused his awareness, he realized that this Jedi was not aware of his presence. Excellent, he thought. Varelse called on the Force to try and keep it that way, setting up a sort of cloak around himself. At the same time, he reached for his lightsaber.

"The Sith attack on the Jedi Academy was absolutely devastating. There is no doubt they could do the same thing elsewhere in the galaxy. The Republic must fight back if this threat is to be stopped."

When Obi-Wan returned to the Senate chamber, Judu Kah was speaking. "Excuse me," he said. The female Jedi Master turned to him, her face showing signs of emotion. "I have something very important to say."

Kah did not move for a moment, then slowly nodded and moved to the side. Obi-Wan stepped forward to address the huge audience. "Senators, I have made a discovery that should startle you." He paused briefly before going on, as a few voices were heard through the chamber.

Once silence returned, Obi-Wan said, "My fellow Jedi here have just been telling you about the Sith. It turns out that one of these dark warriors was closer than anyone thought. Right here in this very room." Several beings present gasped at these words, and Obi-Wan quickly moved to reassure the worried parties. "The Sith Lord is not here now. When I discovered his presence, and began to pursue it, he left this building. But I believe that for some time now, perhaps a long one, the Sith have been influencing your minds, causing you to make decisions that aid their quest to conquer the Republic. The military cutbacks, and then the recent refusals to respond when systems sent out distress calls . . . the Sith were behind it all. And now we finally have a chance to change this."

As Obi-Wan spoke, he began to pick up a flicker of emotion. His words were making someone in the chamber very nervous . . . and before long, he managed to locate the source.

"Chancellor Bor'lya," he said then. "Do you know anything about these activities?"

Even from a great distance away, Obi-Wan could see the Bothan's eyes widen. "I-I don't," the Chancellor began. But then he hung his head and said two words that sent the entire chamber into an uproar. "I resign."

Darth Varelse could sense his adversary moving about below him. The Jedi was following a very strange pattern-he seemed to be avoiding the building's security forces.

Why would a Jedi want to do this? Varelse did not know, but he could use it to his advantage. The Sith reached out to the security guards' minds, subtly influencing them to alter their patterns of movement. Now if the Jedi wanted to stay away from the guards, he would only have one way to go. Up.

Up to the roof where Darth Varelse waited, eager for the chance to spill some Jedi blood.

After the shocking turn of events, the Senate seemed more than happy to grant all of the Jedi's wishes. The authorization of military force to send to Coruscant quickly passed, with ninety-eight percent voting for it and two percent abstaining. After the results were announced, High Admiral Harsekk addressed the chamber.

"The Navy will be glad to assist the Jedi in ridding the galaxy of this threat," she said. "But I am afraid that our forces are not in top form. We should be able to assemble a fleet within five to seven days, but I cannot guarantee that it will be adequate for the task at hand."

Obi-Wan saw his opportunity, and without consulting the other Jedi he quickly took it. "Senators, if I may . . . I recently spoke to Tae Sorian, a resident of Coruscant who came here to speak to this body but was then detained under smuggling charges. He offered to try to get together a fleet of Coruscantian ships to help with this attack. It sounds to me like this would be a good idea . . . and I would ask the Senate to order this man released from prison, and put into Jedi custody so that we may attempt his plan."

As he spoke, Obi-Wan could feel Judu Kah glaring at him from behind, but he did not turn to face her. He kept his eyes on the senators seated before him, both near and far. Ordinarily, he doubted very much that they would consent to releasing a criminal such as Tae Sorian. But these were very extraordinary circumstances.

"Does anyone wish to comment on Jedi Kenobi's proposal?" asked Dach'mrr Edorai, the acting Chancellor.

"I would," said Admiral Harsekk. "I believe that the Senate should approve it, because, although I hate to admit this, we will need all the help we can get." There was a murmur of assent at this.

"Anyone else?" There were no other comments, so Edorai said, "Then let us vote."

Five minutes were allotted for the senators to enter their votes. During this time, Andiell came up beside Obi-Wan. "Do you really think this is going to work?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," he replied. "But I have a feeling it will."

"Well . . . I hope it does."

A few minutes later, the acting Chancellor spoke once more. "Here are the results. Fifty-seven percent for the proposal. . . ."

The turbolift rose quickly past the floors of the building, bringing Darth Varelse's enemy inexorably toward him. The Sith Lord waited behind the rooftop shed that the lift ended in, on the opposite side from the doors. He could sense the Jedi inside the lift, along with the churning mechanisms that brought him upward. Soon he would be arriving. . . .

With an audible hiss, the doors opened. Darth Varelse immediately sprang to the top of the shed and ignited his lightsaber. He expected to see the Jedi's unguarded backside-but instead, his opponent stared right back up at him. The Jedi was a young human male who wore dark robes. As the turbolift's doors slid shut, he drew and ignited a lightsaber of his own.

Varelse received a momentary jolt when he saw the blade's color. Red, like his own saber. But that didn't mean anything, did it? The Sith warrior quickly let go of this thought and leapt forward.

His blade came crashing down into his adversary's, and sparks flew as the two crimson beams met. The Jedi was forced backward, and Varelse continued his assault with a feint to the head, then a low blow that the other pushed aside. He had barely recovered when the Sith swung his blade once more, and the Jedi fell onto his back to avoid it.

Varelse's saber arced downward, but his opponent rolled to the side and got to his feet as the red blade sliced into the duracrete of the roof. The Sith pulled it out just in time to parry the counterattack, then jumped back. The two combatants stared each other down for a moment before going at it once more.

The fight raged on, going back and forth, back and forth, but Varelse soon realized he had the definite upper hand, even though he had not unleashed the full range of his abilities. The Jedi was slowly but surely retreating in the face of his relentless blows, and that retreat could not go on forever. The roof's edge was just meters away, and beyond that lay certain death.

Darth Varelse blocked a particularly fierce series of strikes, then paused for a heartbeat. "Not bad," he said to his opponent, looking him in the eye. But then he sneered and added, "for a Jedi."

Although he's not as good as Kenobi, the Sith Lord thought idly as he let out a burst of rage and took his attack to the next level. A few swings of his blade, and the Jedi's saber went flying from his hands. The Jedi himself fell back and over the roof's edge as the metal hilt clattered across the duracrete.

Varelse halted the movement of his enemy's blade with the Force, then strode over to the edge. As he had thought, the other had not fallen to his doom. Instead, he held on to his life with a precarious grasp. A slip would mean a plunge of hundreds of meters.

The Jedi looked up at the Sith with both fear and puzzlement in his eyes. "I'm no Jedi," he said.

"Then what are you?" countered Varelse mockingly.

"What are you?" shot back his opponent.

Varelse moved one of his clawed feet toward the other's hands. "I don't think you're in a position to make any demands here."

"Fine. I'm a Sith."

What? "Impossible," Varelse snarled after barely a moment's pause. "There can only be two Sith. I am one; my master is the other."

The being who was supposed to be a Jedi now looked very confused. "That's what I thought," he said. "But I'm one of the Sith, along with my master."

"Your master. . . ."

"Lord Spectre," supplied the other.

Varelse suddenly felt an empty feeling inside of him. This could not be! He was the only Sith apprentice, not this pathetic creature! But the words rang with the unmistakable aura of truth, and Darth Varelse sighed. Then, resignedly, he reached out his incredibly strong cyborg hand to grasp onto the other Sith and began to pull up, speaking as he did so. "I think our master has some explaining to do."

Tae Sorian could hardly believe his eyes. Standing outside his cell were two figures. The first was a prison guard, and the second . . .

He had done a double-take at the sight, but this only confirmed his initial thought. Obi-Wan Kenobi had returned! Tae eagerly got up from his bed as the guard opened the cell's door.

"The Senate has ordered you placed into Jedi custody," she said, sounding very perturbed. Tae grinned at her, perhaps a bit cruelly, before walking out the door and standing beside Kenobi. "Jedi Kenobi, you may take him from here." The guard remained by the now empty cell as the Jedi gestured for Tae to begin walking down the hall.

After they had gotten out of earshot, Kenobi spoke. "You seem pleased to get out of there."

"What did you expect?" asked Tae, smiling.

"True. Well, we'll be heading back to the Jedi headquarters now, and you'll have to stay there for a short while before we get the details of this mission worked out. I'm sure you'll be smart enough not to try anything funny."

This news was a bit disappointing to the smuggler. "Can't you just put me on a ship and send me off?"

Kenobi looked at Tae with an expression that said, Do you think I'm an idiot? "We're not just going to let you go. A Jedi Knight will be accompanying you to Coruscant."

Tae suppressed the urge to curse. So much for getting out of the Republic's clutches. . . . But still, it beat prison. "A Jedi . . . you, by any chance?"

"No," replied Kenobi. "I have other business to attend to. We have not decided who will go with you yet."

"Oh." Tae shrugged, and then they continued down the gray corridors in silence.

The command room's table was surrounded by the highest-ranking officers of Home Fleet, and High Admiral Serra Harsekk sat at the head of it. The new Supreme Commander of the Republic Navy could not help but feel a bit nervous. She was most certainly an experienced and decorated officer. That didn't necessarily mean a whole lot in these peaceful times, but she had still spent many years in command of starships. Yet the situation she found herself in now was an entirely unexpected one. Raoul Antilles's murder had come as a huge shock to Serra, and her selection as his replacement had been almost equally surprising. And now she was thrown into the biggest conflict to hit the Republic in more than a century. The recent military cutbacks only compounded her distress. But if this battle was to be won, Serra could not dwell on these problems.

The admiral took a long breath, then spoke to the assembled officers. "All right. We're hitting a target at an unknown location in the Coruscant system, defended by an unknown amount of firepower. The plan is to pull ships from Home Fleet, Corellia, and Bilbringi to meet up with a fleet near Kuat. Then we'll head in to Coruscant. The Jedi believe they can locate the Sith's base for us. And then we'll just have to hope our task force is good enough."

"What about the smuggler fleet?" asked Admiral Rains.

"We don't know for sure if that's going to come through, so we're going to plan that it won't. If it does, that's a bonus."

Rains nodded, and then Commodore Zrorsk spoke up. "High Admiral, have you decided who will command this task force?"

Serra was silent for a few moments before replying. "I will. And my flagship will be the cruiser Alderaan VII."


Darth Spectre sat silently, shrouded in darkness within his private meditation chamber. The Sith Lord was immersed in the Force. He stretched his concentration across light years of space, and his immediate surroundings became virtually nonexistent. His focus was on a larger scale, and he considered carefully the position of his campaign to gain control of the galaxy.

The Sith attacks on nearby star systems had come to a halt. That was not a problem, however, as he now had gained enough resources, both material and sentient, that he should be able to successfully wage war on the Republic. But now the fools in the government had apparently been alerted to the threat. And that meant-yes, he decided. The time had come for the single most important strike of all.

He would draw his forces together, then launch them at the planet Republica. The capital was fairly well defended, even in these peaceful times, but the forces surrounding it would still fall under the massive onslaught that the full Sith fleet could bring. And the Republic would be caught off guard, especially with the cloaking devices employed by his vessels. But the window of opportunity might close soon, so there was no better time than now to strike.

Spectre came out of his meditation, then sent a signal through the Force to the mind of Darth Ebony, commander of his starfleet. He received a quick mental acknowledgment from the Twi'lek Sith Lord. Then Spectre slowly stood up and began to move toward the chamber's exit.

He could sense his apprentice approaching, and-something was wrong. The Sith Master concentrated harder, but could not quite figure out what it was. A vague sense of trouble gnawed at the back of his mind. . . .

Then the door slid open, and he was greeted by the sight of three glowing red lightsabers.

For a brief moment, Darth Spectre felt afraid. He took a step backward as Darth Varelse and Darth Ruin followed Ebony into the chamber. Each of his apprentices wore expressions of rage, and Spectre knew that, although he was without a doubt the most powerful being in the galaxy, the three well-trained Sith together could overcome him. But he was the Master, and his power was far more than just brute strength. For his apprentices to bring him down, they would have to put their minds fully to the task of uniting against him, and that was something Spectre was capable of preventing.

"My apprentices," he said cautiously. "This is a surprise."

The trio of Sith remained silent. Their lightsabers, all pointed at their master, spoke for them. And their body language said volumes as well. Varelse's countenance was twisted into feral rage, and his red eyes burned fiercely. Ebony's face, tattooed in the deepest, darkest black, was barely discernible, but it was obvious that he had a bone to pick. And Ruin, the lone human of the trio, stared at Spectre with cold anger, a stark contrast to the burning-hot of Varelse's but equally dangerous.

"You are surprised, as well, I know," Darth Spectre finally continued. "Surprised at each other's existence. You each thought that you were the sole Sith apprentice, that you were special. But I am afraid you have overestimated your importance to me." Varelse growled, but Spectre did not react to the sound. "The times of only two Sith are past. The galaxy is a huge place, and it takes more than two to conquer it in a reasonable amount of time. But once it is conquered . . . yes, there will be plenty of space for each one of you to rule."

Ebony's eyes gleamed, but when the Twi'lek spoke his reaction did not seem so favorable. "Then why do we need you at all?"

"Why, indeed? Think, my apprentices, and the answer is obvious. Without me, you could never hope to successfully bring down the Republic. Yes, right now you may have deluded yourselves into thinking you want to kill me . . . but you really want to kill each other. Do not deny it. And with me gone, how could that be prevented? And don't believe that you could get rid of me, then your two fellow apprentices, and take everything for yourself. Could any one of you alone control my vast legions?" Spectre did not answer the rhetorical question. Instead, he laughed at the thought. And it was apparent that his words were beginning to take effect. The boiling anger that had previously been present in the three Sith had been replaced by uncertainty. The cold logic behind his speech had hit the mark, and there was no way now that they would carry through with their threat.

"You can switch off your weapons, my apprentices. Yes, you won't be needing them for the time being." All three hesitated, not wanting to seem weak. Then Spectre applied a slight mental pressure, and the crimson blades simultaneously winked out of existence.

The odd red glow that had filled the chamber was replaced by almost total blackness. "You may go now. But do not worry, my apprentices, our conquest of the Republic will come soon enough."

The three Sith turned slowly and shuffled out of the room. Yes, the conquest would come soon enough. But perhaps, after this unfortunate event, it could wait a few more days.

Obi-Wan was deep in thought as he strode down a hallway in the Jedi's Republica headquarters. He was headed to a meeting of all the members of the order who were present here, one that would surely prove very important. For at this meeting, the Jedi would have to decide what their plans would be for the attack on the Sith, as well as just what they would do about Tae Sorian.

Sorian. That was the issue that took up the bulk of Obi-Wan's concentration. The smuggler would have to leave Republica very soon to have a chance at pulling together a sizeable fleet in time, and it had not yet been decided who would accompany him to Coruscant. Obi-Wan himself obviously couldn't, as he had explained to Sorian earlier. There was no way Cashacca or Judu Kah would go, and the Knights who had not been trained in combat would probably not be safe on the journey. Then there were Keiran and Andiell, but Obi-Wan knew he would need them to help battle the Sith. And besides, he wasn't sure he could trust either of them to be all right by themselves on the galaxy's former capital. Obi-Wan shook his head. Precious few possibilities remained, and none of them were as well prepared as he would have liked. But if this plan were going to go through, he would have to choose someone.

Obi-Wan came to a door, turned, and entered the conference room. It was filled with Jedi of a variety of races. He quickly took a seat and spoke without preamble.

"We do not have much time left. The Republic fleet is set to leave here in four days for Kuat, and by then we will have to have our plans for the battle finalized. But right now, there is a more pressing concern. Tae Sorian must leave by tomorrow morning, and someone must go with him to Coruscant."

There were no immediate volunteers, but Judu Kah did speak up. "I have said it before, and I will say it again. Is allying with smugglers really necessary? We could simply give him back to the Republic. And whoever goes with him will not be able to . . . to fight in the battle." The Jedi Master's voice became softer as she concluded, but it seemed she had finally conceded that fighting would be necessary.

"I have a feeling about this. . . . I think it is important that this man help us, even if he is a smuggler. Now does anyone wish to accompany him?"

Obi-Wan slowly swept his gaze across the room. Cilian Dakar was silent, bringing to mind the Mon Calamari race's traditional disdain for smugglers. But then, finally, someone spoke up.

"If no one else will do it, I am willing." It was H'tashi Taurin, the Togorian Jedi, and Obi-Wan nodded as he met her eyes. H'tashi was one of his most promising lightsaber pupils, and although he would have liked for her to join the Jedi strike team, he also knew that she was one of the best choices for this task.

"Thank you, H'tashi. I will discuss the details of your mission later, in private. Now if you will come here, I have something for you."

The golden-furred Togorian got up and walked gracefully across the room. Obi-Wan also stood, and H'tashi stopped a few feet in front of him, then bowed her head.

Obi-Wan reached for his belt and pulled from it a metal cylinder. He could see H'tashi's eyes widen at the sight. She managed to remain under control, however, and Obi-Wan extended the object to her while speaking. "This is a newly constructed lightsaber. It may be useful on your journey. Use it well."

H'tashi hesitated barely a moment before eagerly grabbing the Jedi weapon in her right forepaw. She stared down at the hilt for a few seconds, then looked up into Obi-Wan's eyes questioningly. He gave a slight nod, and she responded with a toothy grin as the lightsaber was activated.

A deep violet blade sprang to life. The gathered Jedi fell into total silence, and the hum of the weapon became the only sound in the room. H'tashi swung it back and forth a few times, getting a sense of its weight. Reflected purple light danced over her glowing eyes.

Then the blade was switched off, and H'tashi looked at Obi-Wan with a fierce grin. "Thank you very much, Master Kenobi."

"You are welcome." Obi-Wan watched the Togorian return to her seat, then turned to face the rest of the Jedi. "Now we must move on to our plans for the battle.

"I have spoken briefly with Serra Harsekk, the Navy's highest-ranking officer. We are planning to bring a fleet into the Coruscant system; then, hopefully, we will be able to detect the Sith base through the Force. The fleet will make a microjump to reach its target and attack. With the Sith defenses confused, we should be able to land a Jedi strike team on the enemy base. I would like to have two separate shuttles carrying three Jedi each, if possible."

Cashacca, the Wookiee Jedi Master, growled approval. "I am not an expert in military matters, but that sounds like a good plan, Jedi Kenobi," translated the small device on his left cheek. "Have you decided which Jedi will land on the Sith's base?"

"I have five of the six, actually," replied Obi-Wan. "Keiran Foranoll, Andiell Nimalle, Cilian Dakar"-the eyes of all the beings in the room moved together, looking over each Jedi as he or she was named-"Varian Deszo, and myself," concluded Obi-Wan. "I would like to get one more member, to round out the second trio."

Not too surprisingly, Sarn Zor'sya immediately spoke up. "I would join the strike team, if you need me."

But the young Bothan had not yet attained the level of Jedi Knight, and his combat skills were still lacking. "I'm sorry, Sarn, but I don't believe you are ready for this job yet." Sarn looked away as this was said, but the hurt was still evident in his eyes, and Obi-Wan wished he could do something to make his apprentice feel better. And perhaps-Sarn was a gifted pilot, so . . . "How would you like to help out in another way? If the Navy agrees, I think that you would be a good choice to assist in leading the starfighter attack."

Sarn was incredulous at first. Then a somewhat nervous grin appeared on his face, one that began slowly but before long became quite wide. "I would be glad to. . . . I haven't flown fighters all that often, though, but . . . I think I could handle it."

"I think you could too." The Bothan had been an excellent pilot even without any Force training, somewhat reminiscent of another youngster Obi-Wan had encountered long ago . . . or two others, in fact. Of course, Sarn was not a Skywalker, but it seemed that he still had sufficient ability to expertly fly a starfighter into combat. "I will have to talk to Admiral Harsekk, but if you do some time in the sims and impress her enough I'd guess that she will give you the job."

"Thank you," said Sarn, with an expression similar to H'tashi Taurin's of a few minutes previous. Obi-Wan nodded, glad to have come up with this idea. But that still left him lacking a sixth member for the strike force.

"Now that that is done with, is there anyone else who would volunteer to join the assault?"

Obi-Wan slowly moved his gaze around the silent room, and he was disheartened by what he saw. No one present had had extensive saber training. A few of his more promising candidates had been killed in the attack on the Academy, and of those remaining . . . well, perhaps he would have to settle for a team of five. But six would be so much better. . . .

"I suppose I could go with those I have already named, but I feel that adding one more would significantly improve our chances for success. Now, is there anyone, please, who will join us?"

No one answered for several seconds. Obi-Wan's heart began to sink-

Then the silence was broken, and he was quite literally astonished.

"I . . . I will join you." Judu Kah had spoken. She sounded hesitant, to be sure, but Jedi Master Judu Kah, Obi-Wan's most vehement opponent in the order, was the one now volunteering to join him in combat. "I cannot wield a weapon, but my powers can still be used for defense, and if that is what it takes to defeat the Sith, then . . . then I will do it."

Obi-Wan did not speak for several moments, stunned by the female Master's words. And most of the other Jedi present were even more amazed. The room was utterly silent, and it seemed as if no one could even blink their eyes. Many unexpected things had happened since Obi-Wan's appearance, but seeing Judu Kah offer to go into battle was perhaps the most unlikely of all.

Finally, Obi-Wan said, "That is a very generous offer, and I will most certainly accept it. Now, we will need two groups of three. . . ." He ran through several combinations in his head, then decided, "I would like Keiran and Andiell to come on one shuttle lead by me, and to have Master Kah lead Varian and Cilian for the other group. If you do not object, Master Kah?"

She still looked reluctant to go along with any idea of Obi-Wan's, but Kah agreed to his plan.

"Then it is settled. And now, we must begin our final training for the upcoming battle."


The orange sunlight of an early morning on Republica streamed down through enormous transparisteel windows. Outside, the spires and towers of myriad buildings were silhouetted against the rising sun of the capital planet. Speeders and starships skittered across the many-hued sky, while pink clouds dotted the horizon. It was quite a view-and then Tae Sorian looked in the other direction.

"This is nice."

H'tashi Taurin had obviously picked up on the sarcasm in his voice, for the Togorian Jedi scowled at him. She did not reply verbally, however, and Tae continued to look over the grubby spaceport the two were in.

Stains from various foods and beverages were commonplace on the cheaply carpeted floor. A single rundown cleaning droid slowly worked its way around the terminal, but its efforts seemed to be mostly in vain. The seats arranged in rows throughout the room, with their worn padding, were about one-third full. Most of the occupants looked like they had seen better days, whether they were washed-up tough guys or simply poor sentients trying to scratch together a living. Tae had been in a lot of spaceports in his life, and even with his line of work, this was not one of the better ones. Republica was for the most part a clean, shiny place. Obviously that pristine quality did not extend through the entire planet.

"Begin boarding for shuttle flight 427 to Coruscant," said a mechanized voice. Tae glanced at Taurin. The Jedi got to her feet and he followed her toward a ramp leading to the shuttle platform. They briefly entered open air before making their way into the transport, which was at least three decades old. The conditions inside it were not much better than they had been in the terminal itself, and Tae grimaced as he took a cramped seat.

On a typical day, there were only about fifty flights leaving from the entire planet of Republica with Coruscant as their destination. Most residents of the capital had no business on its predecessor, and vice versa. Of those flights, perhaps two or three could be deemed as approaching luxurious. Apparently the Jedi Masters had not thought it necessary to book one of those voyages.

Taurin sat next to Tae, and before long the time of departure had come. The transport vibrated slightly as its engines roared to life. A few seconds later, it lifted off the platform and began its rise out of the atmosphere.

"This is your pilot speaking," said an alien voice, its gender indeterminable to Tae's ears. "We will be reaching Coruscant in approximately sixteen-point-five hours. Enjoy your flight."

Sure, thought Tae, rolling his eyes. But he knew that, once their destination was reached, things could get very interesting.

For a few heartbeats, Sarn Zor'sya was enveloped by pitch darkness. Then dim lighting came to life, and he found himself in a familiar place. The cockpit of a spaceship.

It was a bit smaller than what he was used to, as this was a starfighter and not one of the medium transports most of his flight experience had come in. And, of course, this was not really a ship at all, merely a very realistic simulator. But the starfield in front of him was a sight the Bothan was very accustomed to seeing.

"Ready to begin?" the voice of a male Navy officer asked through Sarn's comm.

"Ready," he replied.

"All right. We'll begin with several one-on-one engagements, with escalating difficulty. You'll go on to two-on-ones, three-on-ones, and four-on-ones as long as you survive."

"I copy," said Sarn. There were no further instructions, so he sat in silence, waiting for the first target to come.

Feel, don't think.

The words flowed through Sarn's mind as he sat there.

Use your instincts.

Master Kenobi had given him the advice before he had entered the sim. Sarn knew he would be wise to take it. He gently gripped his flight stick as the wait continued. The form of the stick in his hands reminded him somewhat of a lightsaber, and at the thought Sarn felt a slight heat rise in his cheeks. He had wanted so much to succeed in his training, to go into battle like the heroic Jedi Knights of old. Perhaps he would never be able to. Sarn could not deny that it hurt, but if he did well here it might help ease the pain.

And suddenly, the first ship appeared.

"He's flying against actual pilots, correct?"

"Yes," High Admiral Harsekk replied to Obi-Wan's query. "We're starting him out against flight cadets; the skill level will go up for each new ship." There was a pause, then: "Do you really think he can do this?"

"Sarn is an excellent pilot, there's no doubt there. . . . He's only had a little experience with starfighters, but he's definitely got the skill."

Harsekk looked only half believing. "We'll see about-"

Her voice was cut off by a beeping. Both Obi-Wan and the admiral's gazes shot to a holo display of the simulated battle. Sarn had already knocked out his first foe.

"Not bad," said Harsekk dryly as another fighter appeared on the display.

The sleek, gray-hulled X-80 shot toward Sarn, its lasers blazing. The Bothan, piloting a ship of the same type, calmly deked around the fire. It was so easy, he realized with a bit of surprise. He didn't even have to think about it; he could feel where the incoming shots were going and how he could avoid them.

Just like Master Kenobi had told him.

As the range closed, the other pilot dove down and to starboard. Sarn followed, zeroed in his targeting brackets, and squeezed the trigger. And just like that, the other fighter exploded.

Obi-Wan suppressed a chuckle as he glanced over at High Admiral Harsekk's slack-jawed face. The effort was probably not necessary; the Republic Navy's Supreme Commander's eyes were clearly glued to the holo display of the ongoing simulation. Sarn's long string of apparently easy victories had rendered her speechless.

The Jedi reached out through the Force to touch his young apprentice's mind. Sarn was still calm, fairly relaxed, although signs of weariness were beginning to show. But that was probably to be expected, considering that he had been in non-stop starfighter combat for a time of half an hour and rising.

The exercise was very nearly ended by the shot from behind. Sarn, concentrating on eliminating the fighter in front of him, had lost focus on its wingmate, and he paid the price when his shields dropped suddenly to below fifty percent charge. More simulated energy beams lanced in, but they encountered only vacuum as Sarn rocketed up and to port. He followed this with a barrel roll, then dove back down and between the two remaining craft of the trio he had been tasked with destroying. Both ships raced in to get on his tail, but they had been too eager. With a toothy smile, the Bothan reversed throttle and watched his opponents shoot by him. They tried to imitate the maneuver, but were too late. The closer X-80 was blown into shrapnel by a volley of lasers. Its companion was rocked by collateral damage; finishing off the wounded starfighter was now child's play. Sarn increased his shield recharge rate as he watched the explosion and began the wait for his next foes.

It was not a long one. Four starfighters-he'd gotten through the three-on-ones!-dropped out of hyperspace in tight formation just two klicks away. It was obvious they meant business; the quartet entered firing range and opened up their lasers within seconds. Sarn let loose a few blasts, then went into a dizzying series of evasive maneuvers as a full barrage shot toward him. The fighters were quickly past him, and he re-oriented his own ship as they split off into two pairs to attack him from opposite directions.

Sarn veered off toward one of the groups, firing as he went. The two fighters turned in and charged toward him, unhindered by his shots. He just couldn't get a lock-on in the face of the unrelenting lasers streaming toward his ship. They came closer, closer-Sarn cut his throttle, and warnings began to sound as enemies converged on him from both directions. A shot impacted against his shields, then another-the fighters came closer still-

Use your instincts.

Sarn did so, not taking time to think as he rocketed forward and out of harm's way. From behind him an explosion came. He glanced at his sensors. . . .

Two of the incoming ships had collided! Sarn let out a gleeful whoop, but another pair remained. He entered a tight turn, got one in his sights, squeezed the triggers-

Suddenly, everything went black.

"So what do you think?" asked Obi-Wan, his voice measured.

It took a few seconds for Harsekk to reply. She turned, slowly, to meet his gaze, and finally said, "That was . . . quite impressive. I certainly didn't expect him to last that long. Those last four were among the top pilots of Home Fleet-and he took out three of them! Still, I'm not sure about this. He has no real combat experience. . . ."

"Of course, you must make this decision yourself. But may I remind you of what we're up against here." The Sith. There was no need to mention the name explicitly.

"Of course." For nearly a minute, High Admiral Harsekk remained silent, deep in thought. It would be easy to subtly alter her mind . . . but Obi-Wan did not even consider doing this. She was the one who could best decide this matter, he knew, and he could only hope that whichever choice she made turned out to be correct.

"Well, he would still need some training, and there's not a lot of time. . . ." Harsekk said finally. "But to be honest, none of our pilots really have that much combat experience either. He has some incredible talent, and considering the situation, I think he would be a good choice for the job."

"Very well," replied Obi-Wan. "Then let us tell him now, so that the training that needs to be done can begin."

What if I'm not ready?

Keiran Foranoll stared blankly across the Republica cityscape and toward the blazing sunset. Shapes moved across his field of vision, sounds filtered into his ears, but it was all a blur. Standing on the edge of a rooftop, a kilometer above the ground, the young Jedi was consumed by his inner thoughts.

What if I'm not ready to face the Sith?

The battle was coming, only a few days now until departure, and he could not put these feelings to rest. They were irrational, he knew-Obi-Wan thought he was ready, and there was no better judge alive! But still . . . he had fought the Sith Master once, and failed. He had nearly fallen to the dark side of the Force, become an agent of evil. The delicate balance of the galaxy could have been tipped in the wrong direction by his foolish action.

But he knew now, in his mind and his heart, what he had done wrong. He could never turn to the dark side-think of Master Nonen's sacrifice, of what Master Skywalker would do, of the effect it would have on . . . on all the Jedi. He had prepared for this time, been given the best training available, and there was no reason he could not do it. Yet . . .

The sun disappeared under the horizon, and a chill wind whipped through Keiran's hair. Instinctively, he pulled his robes tight against his body to ward off the sudden feeling of cold.

Yet there was still something missing.


A familiar presence. He had been too deep in thought for its approach to register in his conscious mind. Keiran turned to see Andiell, her brown robes and auburn hair flowing in the wind, coming toward him from the roof entrance. "What is it?"

"Just . . . just wondering what you're doing up here." There was an almost palpable sense of uneasiness hanging in the cool air. It seemed as if Andiell was holding something back, deep down inside her.

"I was thinking," Keiran explained tersely.

Andiell's blue eyes flashed as she replied. "About?"

"You know . . ."

For a few long seconds, the only sounds were the wind and the distant roars of airspeeder engines. Then Andiell sighed. "The battle."

"Yes. I'm . . ." Keiran looked away briefly, a diving stelhawk catching his eye. He hated to admit this, especially . . . "I'm worried."

"Worried? Well, I won't deny that I am too. But why you, Keiran? You're plenty good at fighting." There was just a hint of bitterness in Andiell's last words, and Keiran could see visions of carnage in her eyes.

"Hey, I-well, you're not bad yourself." This brought a small grin to the young woman's face. "It's just . . . the Sith Master. I don't know if I can face him again."

"It's all right. We all have to face our-fears. And Master Kenobi will be there."

"Yes, he will."

Andiell took a few steps forward to stand beside Keiran, and both gazed silently into the distance for some time. Then the female Jedi gestured down to the building under their feet. "You know what they're doing down there?"

Keiran could sense it. Minds, intensely concentrating on their individual tasks at hand. Some practicing battle skills, others making plans . . . "They're getting ready," he said.

"Yes. We have to be ready too. And I'm sure . . . I'm sure you'll be fine."

"I know," Keiran replied. "You will too." But inside, he was not truly sure of his own readiness. He could feel a vague sensation, telling him that there was something he lacked.

The two Jedi turned as one and walked back to the roof entrance as night fell on Republica.

The first thing H'tashi Taurin noticed when she exited the shuttle was the smell. It was certainly not overpowering, but a strange mix of unidentifiable odors nonetheless clawed unpleasantly at her nostrils. So this is it, the Togorian Jedi thought, looking around as she made her way slowly across the landing platform. Coruscant.

"Home again." H'tashi glanced over at Tae Sorian, who walked beside her. The smell did not seem to have an effect on the smuggler; he had probably grown used to it through years of residing here. H'tashi wrinkled her nose at the thought.

"So, ah . . . is the whole planet like this?" she asked.

"Pretty much," Tae replied grimly. "I can't say I missed it."

"No," said H'tashi, her eyes moving to the distant horizon. As on Republica, the view was literally full of buildings. But instead of shining grandeur, these ones were visions of decay. The tops of several of the skyscrapers were crumbling, and on the nearer buildings it was evident that windows were frequently cracked or missing.

And there was just a dirtiness to the whole place. H'tashi could not imagine anyone voluntarily living here, but many did not have much of a choice. She pawed at her new lightsaber before turning back to her companion.

"We don't have much time to waste. We had better get this plan of yours going. So where to from here?"

"I figured we'd start at an old watering hole I know. It should be about a half-hour's air-taxi trip away."

When they entered the bar, Tae was immediately struck by its emptiness. There were a few people there, but-

"Tae Sorian?" exclaimed an astonished voice. Tae's eyes went right to its source, a graying man sitting at a corner table. It was Frens Makovin, an . . . acquaintance of his. I don't know if I'd call anyone I know my friend.

"Yeah, it's me," said Tae, moving toward the table. "I'm back."

"You sure are. I thought I'd never see you again." Frens shook his hand, then looked up at the feline form of H'tashi. "And who's this?"

"H'tashi Taurin, Jedi Knight," replied the Togorian.

"Ooh, a Jedi. You must have made some powerful friends while you were gone." The old man took on a wistful look for a moment before saying, "So, tell me, Tae . . . what happened?"

"I was going to ask the same thing of you," replied Tae. "As for me, it's a long story, one I'd be glad to tell you later. But right now we've got more important things to discuss. Whe-where is everyone?"

"They left, those who could. I heard about your ghost ship story, Tae, and I've gotta admit I didn't put much stock in it myself at the time. But it seems you were right. The disappearances continued, and most folks with a way out of the system took it."

Tae shook his head. He had noticed, off-handedly, the unusually small amount of traffic during the trip here, but this . . . It certainly seemed to make his job here tougher.

"Well, to tell the truth, that's the reason I came back. Hasn't anyone tried to do something about this problem?"

"Sure," said Frens dryly. "Your little Senate delegation. I guess it didn't go so well, huh?" He chuckled, then said, "But seriously, what could any of us do about it? No one knows what's causing these disappearances, let alone how to stop them."

"I guess you're in luck, then. We do know what's causing them. The Jedi figured it out." Tae gestured toward H'tashi as he said it. "It's the Sith, a group of dark warriors . . . or something like that. I guess they've got a base hidden somewhere in this system. But anyway, the Republic's going to attack in a few days, and I volunteered to see if I could get some help for the battle from the residents here."

"Volunteered?" Frens smiled as he sipped some brandy. "I didn't know you were so altruistic, Tae."

"It was either that or jail time," Tae admitted. "But that doesn't change the fact that I do want this effort to succeed. The Sith have devastated the lives of millions-I've got first-hand experience. They need to be stopped.

"So what do you think?"

Frens scratched at his goatee before replying. "I know a lot of people would want to do something if they could, and this gives them the opportunity. Resources are a problem, but if we could get something going around the whole planet . . . then maybe, just maybe, it could work."

"Then let's get the word out," said Tae. "The Republic fleet arrives in less than four days."

Judu Kah could still hardly believe what she was doing.

Preparing to go into battle. It was something she had never thought of in her entire life. Until now, of course. Now everything had changed. The Sith . . . Obi-Wan Kenobi . . . what was she getting herself into? The objective of this attack she was participating in was to eliminate evil. That she could not deny. But violence was evil, she had always been taught. And while she would not be wielding a weapon herself, she would be aiding those who did. Helping them to kill-killing could never be justified by her understanding of the Jedi code. Two wrongs did not make a right . . .

But was fighting really a wrong, if for a just cause? On the other side of the room, Varian Deszo and Cilian Dakar were engaged in a mock lightsaber combat. The two young Jedi were the other members of her strike team. Strike. The word itself put a bad taste in her mouth. Yet watching the pair, she could detect no dark presence around them. They seemed perfectly in the light, even though they had been trained in those barbarous methods by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Why? Why did he have to come here? Everything was perfectly fine until he arrived! But Judu knew the thoughts were false ones. The resurgence of the Sith was the precursor to Kenobi's return, not the other way around. She remembered well the first time she had met him, on the far-away planet Tatooine. Kenobi had defeated a Sith in combat-but not slaughtered her when she had been rendered defenseless. So perhaps there was a sense of morality in him. Yet everything she had been taught as a girl . . .

Judu shook her head in deep frustration. Try as she might, it was impossible to resolve the issues in her mind. With a sigh, she turned her attention back to the two others in the room, who had just completed an exercise. "Varian. Cilian."

"Yes, Master Kah?" said the human female of the pair as she and her Mon Calamari comrade made their way toward Judu.

"It's-it's getting late. You two ought to get some sleep."

Varian and Cilian bowed their heads, then turned toward the room's exit. As Judu Kah watched them depart, she knew that there would be little rest for her until this was all over.

Late at night, almost all activity within the Jedi building had subsided. The halls were empty-save for two droids. One walking, the other rolling, they slowly moved along the dim corridors.

"Oh, Artoo," said C-3PO, keeping the volume of his vocabulator low so as not to wake any sleeping Jedi Knights. "Why does this always happen to us? Hidden away for years, and we are discovered just in time for another galactic war? I believe we must have been cursed with an incurable case of bad luck."

R2-D2 beeped a query, to which Threepio replied, "Yes, I do know what Master Kenobi would say about luck! But he is only human, you know, and humans, by their nature, cannot always be correct about things. Oh dear-I still cannot fully comprehend how he is-alive."

The little astromech's reply was that there were some things droids could not understand, and with that Threepio could not disagree. Yet he would not give up his assertion that he had been somehow frowned on by fate-although that itself was a concept strange to his logic circuits.

Five centuries ago, the protocol droid had been caught, more than a few times, in the violence of the Rebellion against the Empire. He had played prominent rules in several conflicts afterwards before being hidden away in a Jedi Academy storage room. Then he and Artoo were apparently forgotten. As the dust gathered, Threepio spent most of the following years in shutdown mode. He had awoken at self-programmed intervals, which became farther and farther apart as on each occasion there was no sign of any organic lifeforms nearby. The droid had gotten a bit lonely during this time, even with Artoo there, but after Keiran Foranoll discovered the pair Threepio had been horrified to learn that the galaxy was once again at war. The Sith had returned, those dark beings-like Darth Vader. Threepio had an odd feeling that he himself had been involved in galactic conflict even before the Rebellion, although his memory banks contained no recollections of such events. And here he was . . .

"Well, Artoo, I certainly hope that they do not require my services during the upcoming battle. I have had quite enough adventure for a simple protocol droid during my lifetime."

Chuckling electronically, Artoo told him not to worry, because-

"Obsolete? Why, I-well, so are you, you rusted, malfunctioning waste receptacle!"


It was late morning on Coruscant, but none of the sun's light shone down to where H'tashi Taurin stood. As the Jedi looked up toward the sky, the buildings on all sides seemed to stretch up forever. It was like she was at the bottom of an infinitely deep canyon-and naturally, a dark one, too. Everything H'tashi could see was masked by shadows. It seemed to be a fairly well-hidden place, but hiding from the Sith? The Togorian could feel the fur on her back stand up. For all I know, they're perfectly aware of what we're doing here.

A highly modified freighter sat in the middle of the clearing. Several workers and droids crawled over it, welding on sensors, weapons, and anything else that could help in the battle. H'tashi was no mechanic; she could merely observe the operations. Tae Sorian stood beside her.

"Looking good, guys," he called to the crew. A Rodian looked up, nodded, then went back to concentrate on the tool he held in his green hand. "Now let's get this one finished; we've got more ships to work on."

The enhancements to the vessel went on in earnest. After a few moments, Tae turned to H'tashi. "We've got people doing this all over the planet. If everything goes well, we should have a pretty sizeable fleet. No capital ships, but a lot of transport and fighter-class, at least."

"How much of the population actually remains here, do you think?" H'tashi asked.

"Oh, the vast majority, I'm sure. . . . Problem is, most of them are too poor to contribute anything to this effort. The people who have left make up a small percentage of the population, but a large percentage of the planet's wealth. Fortunately, there were so many here to begin with that we've still been able to scrounge up a good number of space-worthy vessels. Still, I wish there were more."

"We've got to work with what we've got, I suppose," H'tashi replied. She had wondered how billions of people could have evacuated a planet in a matter of weeks. It was apparent that that was not what had actually happened. Perhaps only a few million or less had actually fled, but most who remained simply had no choice in the matter. It was sad-

Out of the corner of her eye, there was movement. H'tashi quickly locked her gaze onto a young human child. Dressed in rags, his face dirty, the boy crept along the clearing's edge. A pitiful sight, to be sure, and H'tashi could not help but feel for the child.

Suddenly, he realized that he was being watched. And just like that, the poor boy scurried away and was gone.

There's so much suffering in the galaxy. I'm a Jedi; I should be helping people like that. But how?

Pondering over this, H'tashi soon came to a conclusion.

If her coming to Coruscant helped bring down the Sith, it would help everyone here. Perhaps they would not become instantly prosperous, but it would lift the shroud of fear, give them new hope in life. Then things would be bound to improve in time. There was no better way for her to fulfill her role as a Jedi Knight.

"Three, slide port, Four, to starboard."

The two X-80 starfighters obeyed Sarn Zor'sya's commands just in time to avoid a sudden barrage of laserfire. Four more X-80s raced toward them-and right into the targeting brackets of Sarn and Iota Two, his wingmate. Each launched a pair of missiles, and in seconds the battle was won.

"Good job, Iota Squad," Sarn said into his comm as the simulated remains of his opponents dissipated into nothingness. His three squadmates-or, to be more accurate, the three pilots under his command-shared congratulations with each other. They were well deserved; each had flown more than adequately in their victory. But Sarn knew that he had been the deciding factor in the dogfight. With his grasp of the Force, he could give commands in response to events split-seconds before they occurred. In starfighter combat, that advance warning could be the difference between life and death. Sarn had never been in command of a fighter squadron until three hours ago that day, nor had he made any great strides toward becoming a Jedi Knight. It seemed, however, that that did not matter. He felt so right doing this. I have found my life's calling, the Bothan thought at that moment. Yes, this was what he was meant to do-fly for the Republic, leading pilots into battle to protect the innocent sentients of the galaxy. When he had been in lightsaber training, Master Kenobi had said he was trying too hard. But when he was at the controls of a spaceship, the Force flowed effortlessly. It was like piloting actually augmented his connection to the mystical energy field. It was a wonderful sensation.

Sarn pushed up the cover on his simulator and stepped out into a bright white chamber. The other seven pilots who had participated in the mock engagement were already there. Four were clustered on the other side of the room, while the other three Iota members approached Sarn with grins on their faces.

"Nice job, Lead," said Iota Three, a female Falleen. Her name-Shenta Xizeen, that's it. The green-skinned pilot gave Sarn a hearty pat on the back.

Iota Two, a human female named Jen Horddan, and Four, a male Sullustan called Mien Lorn, nodded their agreement. "The Sith will never know what hit them when we arrive," said an enthusiastic Jen. Sarn was about to reply when another voice cut him off.

"Not bad, rookie." The words themselves seemed harmless, but the tone was menacing. Sarn turned to see a human male approaching from the other foursome, his three squadmates following. The man looked older than most of the pilots Sarn had met.

"Thanks," Sarn replied casually, if a bit nervously, when the other pilot had stopped less than a meter away. "I'm Sarn Zor'sya. . . . You?"

"I know who you are," was the gruff reply. "And you can call me Gunner. I'm the commanding officer of Home Fleet's starfighter squadrons."

Sarn nodded slowly. So that's why he's in a bad mood. It was understandable, to a certain extent. This guy was supposed to be the boss, and now Sarn had arrived, younger than him and with no combat experience, to take over his job. And to top that off, he'd just defeated "Gunner" in a sim. The resentment was not too surprising. "Nice to meet you," the Bothan said at last.

"You too," the human replied, obviously not meaning it. "And good luck commanding." He grinned, not in a nice way, and took a dramatic pause before adding, "You're gonna need it."

Space around the planet Republica seemed cluttered with Navy vessels. Frigates, corvettes, and cruisers alike drifted across a starry background, along with smaller auxiliary craft which shuttled crews back and forth between the warships. Republic High Admiral Serra Harsekk, sitting in her command chair on the Peacekeeper-class cruiser Alderaan VII, watched the scene with a frown. Those ships were spectacular in appearance, with gleaming hulls, but their exteriors only served to hide what was inside. The Republic Navy was an aging one; most of the vessels out there had been around for a decade or more. They were in top condition, having seen little or no combat, but if the enemy fleet was equipped with newer technology-better engines, weapons, shields, and sensors . . .

Bad things might happen. And Serra's soldiers could hardly be deemed experienced, either. That was what happened in a long period of peace. You just hope it doesn't end when you're around, she thought. I guess I was unlucky. The Republic would probably be able to outnumber the Sith, at least, but there was no way to know for sure, and the admiral was not feeling extremely optimistic.

This train of thought won't help anything! Serra knew she was right, and tried to shift her mind to something more pleasant . . . such as Sarn Zor'sya. That was one of the rare bright spots that had come about in the battle preparation. The Bothan was making extraordinary progress, giving a completely unexpected resource to the Republic fleet. He had won some, lost some in his practice engagements as a commander-the wins were rapidly becoming more common. It would be preferable not to have such a green pilot in such a high position, but the kid was incredible. He would surely bring up the Republic's odds a notch.

Now if only we had a bunch more people like that. A bunch more Jedi who could suddenly take on command positions in the fleet? Not very likely . . .

Four X-80 starfighters zipped past the bridge viewport. Serra followed them with her eyes until they were out of sight, then glanced down at a chrono. 1800 hours-

Her comm pinged. Right on schedule. The admiral pressed a button, and a holographic image of the Twi'lek Admiral Dib Sarcova appeared before her.

"Admiral Sarcova," said Serra, her gaze meeting the holographic visage of her subordinate. "How go the preparations at Kuat?"

Sarcova, the commanding officer of the Navy's Kuat fleet, replied crisply. "We have sixty-two percent combat readiness, ma'am. Current estimates are that all vessels, except for corvettes Gabriel and Cossin and frigate Justice, will be set for departure at the deadline."

Except. It should be every single ship, but that was just the way the military was these days. "Very well, Admiral. Reports from the Corellian fleet are similar. We are set to rendezvous in the Coruscant system"-Serra paused, briefly looking down at a display screen-"in 71.9 standard hours."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Thank you, Admiral Sarcova. Have you anything else to report?"

"Not at the moment," replied the Twi'lek. "But . . . I have to say, ma'am, I'm eager to get out there and fight these guys."

Serra nodded. "I just hope your crews feel the same way."


Sarn Zor'sya pushed his throttle to the max, and the engines of his starfighter roared to life.

This time, they were real.

In his accelerated training, Sarn had already moved out of the sims and into an actual fighting vessel. It was an X-81, the newest model to come off the Republic production line. Similar to the X-80, but with improved shields, weapons, engines-well, just about everything-there were very few of the Eighty-Ones in existence.

Before now, Sarn's only starfighter experience had come about a year ago in an old X-60, owned by the shipping company he had worked for before leaving to become a Jedi.

"Try to stay on my tail. I'll be flying over, under, and around the various ships of the fleet."

"Copy," Sarn replied. He was being led through some quick training maneuvers by one of the Navy's squadron commanders. Things had gone so fast, Sarn hadn't even picked up his name.

The lead X-81 zoomed toward a massive cruiser, then dipped down to pass under its hull. Sarn matched the move precisely, then turned to starboard as the other pilot went to skim the warship's surface. Seconds later, they shot out past the cruiser and into open space, but only briefly as a frigate soon loomed near. A quick flyby of this, a loop around a corvette, a lap of one of the huge orbital defense stations-Sarn quickly fell into his instincts, and they served him well. He sensed the other's intent through the Force, and each maneuver was imitated to near perfection. They raced from one side of the fleet to the other and back. Who knew how much time had elapsed? Sarn didn't care. All he felt was exhilaration, from the Force flowing through him and from the g-forces acting on him. The latter were present due to his slightly dialed down inertial compensator; he preferred to keep it that way as it gave him a better feel for his ship.

They skimmed over the top of the cruiser they had started by, and at last the lead X-81 began to decelerate. Before long, Sarn was cruising comfortably alongside the other starfighter. His comm opened up with his fellow pilot's voice. "Nice fly-"

"Commander Zor'sya." That was High Admiral Harsekk! And she had called him commander. Commander Zor'sya! The name sounded very good.

It was a few seconds before Sarn managed to reply. "Yes, ma'am?"

"You looked good out there," Harsekk said, bringing a smile to Sarn's face. "How do you like that starfighter?"

"Oh, it's great!"

"That's what I thought you'd say. Would you like to have it?"

To keep? "Well, I . . . of course I'd like to."

"Very well. It's yours. As long as you stay in the military, of course. You can fly it at Coruscant, and if-"

If? There was a pause, before "Er, and right now, you can fly it back to the Jedi headquarters if you want to. I think you've had enough exercises until tomorrow."

The words brought on a yawn, as Sarn realized that it had been quite a long day.

"Thank you, ma'am."

With a touch of repulsor energy, Sarn set the X-81 down on the Jedi's rooftop landing pad, right next to his own transport ship. Before exiting his new fighter, the Bothan gazed at his other vessel for a long moment. Things had changed so quickly . . .

But he was ready to face the challenge before him. Sarn pushed the cockpit cover release and carefully exited the X-81. When he hit the ground, he realized Master Kenobi was standing there, waiting for him.

"Things went well today, I take it?" asked the Jedi, Sarn's teacher.

The Bothan smiled and nodded.

The distant roar of engines entered H'tashi Taurin's ears. The volume increased rapidly, and the Jedi looked up to see three shapes which quickly resolved themselves into starfighters approaching. They raced down the deep Coruscant canyon and toward the spot where H'tashi stood. The high-powered engines soon drowned out all other sources of sound as the three colorful craft shot overhead. Then they opened fire.

H'tashi watched as a heap of scrap metal was blasted into slag by crimson lasers. The first fighter let off a volley, the second followed immediately with one of its own, and the third-

"Shavit!" A couple meters away, Tae Sorian reacted to the lack of armed response from the final starfighter of the trio. The smuggler turned to the Rodian mechanic who sat beside him. "Looks like that one will still need some work."

H'tashi observed this silently. She was here to keep an eye on Sorian, make sure he didn't have any tricks up his sleeve-unless, of course, those tricks were directed at the Sith who menaced this planet. There had been no problems so far; Sorian seemed quite sincere in his effort, and for his part he had done well in rounding up a resistance on Coruscant. But there were bound to be a few glitches with the mostly ancient equipment they were working with, as evidenced by the malfunctioning starfighter. Hopefully, everything could be worked out by-

A sudden tingling sensation raced up H'tashi's spine. What was this? She narrowed her eyes, looking in all directions for signs of danger. There was nothing, but she had clearly felt a disturbance in the Force.

There it was again. It was like . . . like someone was tapping into an enormous power source. A dark one. That made little sense to H'tashi, but it was the image that came to her mind. Then the sensation disappeared once more.

What does it mean? The Sith were in this system somewhere. Could they be on the planet Coruscant itself?

No, that was impossible. The Sith clearly had amassed a large army; there was no way they could hide it on this densely populated planet. And H'tashi had not sensed their presence before now. So what was it?

The Togorian Jedi shook her furred head. Right now, she had other things to deal with.

But if she got the chance, she would have to investigate this phenomenon.


"Who is your enemy?"

"The Jedi."

"Who do you hate?"

"The Jedi."

"Good." Darth Spectre smiled at his apprentice, Darth Ruin. The two sat across a table from each other in a shadowy room, preparing and training.

For the inevitable confrontation with the Jedi Knights. And the complete destruction of their pitiful order.

"Now focus your hatred." Ruin glared back at his master, and Spectre could sense a well of black energy growing inside the young man. It swelled, nearing a breaking point. "Hold it . . . hold it . . ."

Spectre called a holocube into his hand from across the room, then set it down in the middle of the table. He made a subtle gesture, and the cube lit up with the image of a lightsaber-wielding Jedi.


The dark pit exploded from his apprentice, and with a sudden burst of light the cube was turned into a sparking, simmering molten material.

"Excellent, my apprent-"


The mental call cut into Spectre's words. He was being signaled by another of his underlings. The Sith Master turned his head to see a blinking red light beside a deactivated holo display on the wall. Spectre casually drew on the Force, and an image appeared where a moment before there had been nothing. As the picture of Darth Ebony sprang to life, an obvious sense of resentment rose in Ruin. Darth Spectre ignored it.

"What is it?" he asked, making Ebony perfectly aware of the annoyance he felt.

"My lord," said the black-skinned Twi'lek, sitting in his command chair on the bridge of the Dominion-class cruiser Spectre's Fury. "We, ah, have had reports of strange activity on the planet Coruscant. Preparations for battle, it appears. . . ."

Spectre did not speak for several seconds, silently mocking his apprentice. "Do you think I am not aware of that?" he finally said. "Of course they are making ready for battle, but that is nothing for you to worry about. We will crush them shortly, along with the Jedi Knights."

Darth Spectre gestured to the wrecked object at the center of the table before adding, "Just like this holocube."


With utmost care, Obi-Wan Kenobi placed one last component into place, and he was done. He had completed work on yet another lightsaber, and now, finally, he had no more to build.

In his previous sixty years of life, Obi-Wan had only constructed a few of the Jedi weapons. In this new incarnation, he had now built a total of six, and four of those had come in less than a week. Building a lightsaber was no easy task, and his effort had been a taxing one, especially with all the other business he'd had to attend to. I hope everything works right.

Still holding the saber in his right hand, Obi-Wan picked up the other one that sat before him in his left. These were the last two he had made; the two before them had already been given to Keiran Foranoll and H'tashi Taurin. Obi-Wan regarded the two metal cylinders for a moment, then switched them on.

Both sprang brightly to life, and a resonant hum filled the room. The first saber shone silver, while the second was a radiant yellow in hue. Obi-Wan nodded, pleased. The silver blade would go to Cilian Dakar, the other to Varian Deszo. Cilian, one of Obi-Wan's first trainees, had shown himself to be a capable fighter. Varian had taken a much different path to this point, but since being convinced by the message from Luke that she could take up a weapon she had worked harder than anyone to get in fighting shape. Now the two were set to work with Judu Kah in the attack that would commence a bit too soon for Obi-Wan's liking. But that was the way things went when one was battling the forces of the dark side.

I wonder what it would be like to fight with two sabers at once, Obi-Wan thought then, a small grin coming to his face. I think one suits me just fine. He brought the two blades together, pulled them apart, then locked them again more forcefully. No problems were evident to the Jedi's highly trained senses. Satisfied, Obi-Wan shut down the two weapons. The sound of their deactivation was accompanied by a long sigh.

With all that had been going on-the battle plans, the training of Sarn Zor'sya as a fighter pilot, and most of all the building of these sabers-Obi-Wan had had little time to concentrate on his own role in the upcoming attack. He would be leading the strike team that included Keiran and Andiell, and he knew that he would have to confront the Sith Master. Whether it would be alone or with help from his two gifted trainees-or with other Sith to oppose him-was unsure. Always in motion is the future. But Obi-Wan felt certain that a confrontation between himself and the head Sith was all but inevitable.

The Sith Master, the fallen apprentice of the Jedi Master Sai-Ten Nonen. In fact, he had slain his old master when Nonen had gone to bring Keiran back from the Sith's clutches. Like Darth Vader, this lord of darkness was a fallen Jedi. So was there hope for redemption? Obi-Wan had still not decided this in his mind.

When the time comes, you will know, Anakin had told him when his spirit visited Obi-Wan one night.

The time would be coming very soon.

The air sizzled as a burst of crimson blaster bolts shot across the room. But before they could meet their target, a blazing yellow lightsaber cut across their path, and the bolts were scattered in all directions. Even as the first shots disappeared into the padded walls and floor, a second barrage came in. This one was likewise turned aside by the Jedi blade.

Obi-Wan made a hand gesture, and the blasterfire ceased. "Good, Varian."

"Thank you, Master Kenobi." Varian Deszo turned to face her instructor as she said it. A few meters away, Keiran, Andiell, and Cilian stood in a group, observing, while Judu Kah was beside Obi-Wan.

"Your turn, Cilian," Obi-Wan said. The Mon Calamari Jedi took Varian's place, and a few seconds later he was deflecting incoming fire.

Obi-Wan watched intently, looking for any errors that would need to be corrected. Most of the lightsaber training he had given these Jedi had been in dueling. Using one's saber to defend against gun-wielding enemies was similar in some regards, but quite different in others. Andiell had apparently held her own in this manner when the Sith attacked Yavin-but more training could certainly help, for all four of the young Jedi. So Obi-Wan had obtained a couple of sentry droids from a local dealer. For these exercises, their blasters were set on low power.

"That's enough, Cilian," Obi-Wan said, using the Force to deactivate the droids. "Not bad. Your backhands could be a bit quicker, though."

"Yes, Master," replied Cilian with a short bow. Obi-Wan then approached his four students.

"I think we'll call it a night. We leave tomorrow morning, and you could all use some rest. There will be more time to practice while we're in transit to Coruscant."

Coruscant. The mention of the galaxy's former capital had an obvious affect on the quartet of young Jedi. Their moods ranged from somber to apprehensive, and it was clear that none were eager to face the Sith. Not that Obi-Wan was, either. But departure was tomorrow, whether they liked it or not.

"Now remember, there is a chance that the Sith's foot soldiers are innocent people under mind control. When you fight them, you must avoid killing if possible." Obi-Wan could sense reluctant approval from Judu Kah at these words. "However, do not hold back in your abilities. You must give your all if you expect to win this battle.


The four Jedi slowly made their respective ways from the room, Keiran and Andiell walking together. After a few seconds' silence, Obi-Wan spoke to Judu Kah. "Are you prepared for this?"

She scowled ever so slightly before saying, "I suppose I must be." The Jedi Master had volunteered for this mission, but Obi-Wan doubted that he would ever be one of Kah's favorite people.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I appreciate your willingness to help. This will not be an easy battle."

"No, it won't," replied Kah. It looked as if there were many more things she wanted to say, but no further words passed her lips, save, "Good night, Jedi Kenobi."

As the powerful female Master left the room, Obi-Wan wondered just what all was going on inside her mind. But he sensed there was little he could do now for Judu Kah. She must decide her own fate. I hope she chooses the right one.

The small cafeteria in the Jedi building on Republica contained only six tables. Now, just one of them was occupied. It was midnight, and the lighting was dim. Keiran Foranoll took a long sip from his drink and looked back up into Andiell's blue eyes.

"You know," he said slowly. "We've never really talked."

"We've talked a lot," replied the young woman, grinning. "What do you mean? Are your nerves getting to you?"

That might be expected, as the two Jedi and their comrades would be departing for Coruscant with a military task force in less than ten hours. They should be in their beds right now, but Keiran did not feel like sleeping. Andiell had admitted feeling the same, so here they were.

"Yes, that could have something to do with it. The battle is coming up, and I . . . I just think there are some things that should be said before it. Between-us. You never know what could happen."

"True." Andiell's expression sobered. "And I guess I know how you feel."

You do? Keiran's heart was lifted by these words, and he went on before he had a chance to stop himself. "Well, I just wanted to say that . . . I've always admired you, ever since I first met you. I found out almost right away that you were Luke Skywalker's descendant, and-wow. But it's more than that. You're one of the most incredible people I've ever met, whether it's your Force skills or just that I enjoy your company. And I wanted you to hear this-in case one of us doesn't make it back. I'm glad that I've had the opportunity to get to know you."

Even with the near lack of light, Keiran could see Andiell was blushing. At the sight, he felt his own cheeks begin to turn red. Then she said, "I . . . I guess I have some things to say also. I've admired you, too. It's hard to admit, but I'm really in awe of the way you can fight without-freezing up, or anything. I look up to that; I wish I could do the same. And you're a wonderful person too. I'm very glad I met you. You've been-you've been a great friend."

Keiran smiled. It felt so good to hear her say that! Then he took a deep breath. Here goes . . .

"You've been a great friend too, Andiell, but there's more than that. This is something I should have known, should have told you, a while ago. But somehow I didn't realize it until recently." Andiell's eyes were locked on his, and Keiran could feel heat rising.

"Andiell, I . . ." The moment seemed to stretch on into eternity, and then-

"I love you."

They said it at the same time.

A sudden sensation of joy filled him, and Keiran realized that it came not only from inside himself but also from another. He was unexpectedly plunged into Andiell's Force sense, and at that moment he knew her better than he had known anyone else in his entire life. It was unlike anything Keiran had ever felt before. The two Jedi Knights' feelings swirled around and into each other's, becoming as one. All was utter warmth, happiness, excitement . . . Keiran could tell that he wore a big, stupid-looking grin on his face, but that was okay. Andiell's expression was the same.

And there was peace, too. This is what I was missing! His inability to admit his feelings for Andiell, to himself and to her, had been the obstacle in his path to readiness. Now, he was not just battling as a single being. He was doing it for someone else, one he was connected to and whom he deeply cared about. He could face the Sith with no more worries.

Across the table, they slowly leaned toward each other. Closer and closer their faces came-

They kissed. The warmth turned even warmer. This was the most joyous moment of Keiran's existence, and he knew immediately, as if it was natural he should, that Andiell felt the same way.

All else was forgotten. It did not matter that they would be going to Coruscant tomorrow, that they would be encountering the deepest, darkest evil imaginable, that they might die in doing so. These thoughts were temporarily erased from the pair's minds. They would deal with those things in the future.

For now, at this moment, there was only each other.

It was a dreary morning on Republica. Gray clouds filled the sky, sending down a light drizzle on the enormous buildings below them. On the roof of one of these massive structures, the Jedi headquarters, a group of beings stood together. They paid little heed to the rain.

Eight Jedi were there. Seven of them would be leaving very soon.

Andiell NiMalle was among those seven, standing very close to Keiran, and to her the rain and the clouds might as well have been a perfectly sunny sky. She felt warm inside, even though a chilly breeze blew across the rooftop. Andiell glanced over to look at Keiran, and the two exchanged huge smiles. Last night had been wonderful! Their first kiss-Andiell had wished it would never end. Of course, that was impossible, but the joy she felt had still not gone away.

She did not know exactly when she came to love Keiran. They had been through a lot together, that was for sure. And now things just felt so right. Keiran's new-found confidence had rubbed off on her, too. Living up to her potential as a Skywalker heir would still not be easy, but there were no longer any traces of fear when Andiell thought of going into battle-with Keiran. They could take on the universe together! No Sith would be able to stop them!

A rumbling Wookiee voice broke into the young Jedi's thoughts. Cashacca, the graying old Jedi Master, stood at the front of the group. "Today," he said through his translator, "you seven go to do something no Jedi Knights have done for centuries. We thought that the warriors of the dark side were no longer a threat, but we were wrong. And now you will carry on the tradition of Luke Skywalker and the other Jedi of old by facing our sworn enemy, the Sith.

"It will not be an easy battle, but I know you are all capable. May the Force be with you."

The Wookiee's speech was brief but effective. "Thank you, Master Cashacca," said Master Kenobi, bowing to the ancient Jedi. "And now we must depart."

"Oh dear me . . . Master Kenobi!" an overly cultured voice suddenly exclaimed. Andiell turned to see the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO emerge onto the wet roof. Drops of rain spattered off their metallic bodies. "I just wanted to wish you good luck in your endeavor-all of you." R2-D2 spoke up with a series of loud beeps, and the protocol droid added, "Artoo expresses similar sentiments. Good luck!"

Andiell chuckled. "Thank you, Threepio, Artoo," said Master Kenobi with a smile. Then the six Jedi who would form the two strike teams moved together toward a waiting shuttle, while Sarn Zor'sya walked over to his new starfighter. The Bothan waved to the others as he climbed into the cockpit. Andiell, standing on the shuttle's ramp with Keiran, gave herself one last look across Republica's vast cityscape. Keiran squeezed her hand, and she moved her gaze to his wonderful green eyes.

"You ready for this?" he asked.

Andiell smiled, then gave him a brief kiss. "You bet I am."


"Go to hyperspace on my mark." Admiral Dib Sarcova kept his eyes on a countdown timer as he gave the order. Ten, nine, eight . . .

The Corellian fleet had already departed, while the one at Republica would be leaving shortly. Here, at Kuat, the time was now.

The clock hit zero. "Mark."

An instant later, the starfield in front of Sarcova turned to starlines, then the mottled sky of hyperspace. The Republic Navy's Kuat fleet was on its way to Coruscant.

The familiar face of High Admiral Serra Harsekk greeted Obi-Wan when he stepped into the hangar bay. "Welcome to the Alderaan VII," said the Republic Navy's highest-ranking officer. "I am very grateful for your assistance with this mission, all of you."

"We are merely doing our duty, Admiral Harsekk," replied Obi-Wan, as Judu Kah took her place beside him. Obi-Wan glanced back to see Varian and Cilian exiting the shuttle; then Keiran and Andiell came side by side. An obvious change had come over those two. It was clear to Obi-Wan's keen senses that they had become much more than just friends. He sensed it would be good for the both of them.

"We will be leaving for Coruscant quite soon," continued Harsekk, and at that moment a loud voice boomed over the ship's comm system to confirm her words.

"Attention, crew. The jump to hyperspace will commence in ten minutes. Repeat, jump to hyperspace in ten minutes."

Hearing this, Harsekk said, "I'm sorry, but I have to get to the bridge. Lieutenant Izzic, here, will take you to your quarters." The admiral gestured toward a human female of dark complexion and hair. "Lieutenant?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Harsekk turned to leave, and Izzic stepped up to face Obi-Wan. "Follow me," she said tersely, before heading off toward a nearby lift. The six Jedi did as she commanded. Izzic took them up a few decks, then to the left along a wide corridor. They made their way in silence through a few more turns and down another lift. The lieutenant did not seem to be the talkative type.

Finally, the group came to a halt in a hallway with intermittent doors on both sides. "Here you are," said Izzic, moving her hand to point out six rooms. "Beds and 'freshers in there. To get to the mess or exercise room, take that lift at the end of the hall."

The Jedi each moved to different doors and opened them, while Lieutenant Izzic began to go back the way they had come. "Wait," said Obi-Wan. She turned slowly, standing a few meters away. "There was something you were wondering about?"

Izzic's face showed a mixture of fear and embarrassment. She's not used to being around Jedi, noted Obi-Wan. The order has become too far removed from ordinary people.

"Yes," the lieutenant admitted at last, her eyes not meeting Obi-Wan's. "It's . . . how are you planning to find the enemy base?"

"Through the Force, an energy field created by all living things, we should be able to sense the presences of the many beings who will presumably be around the base," Obi-Wan explained calmly. "If it is indeed in the Coruscant system, that is . . . and we have many reasons to believe that that is the case. Then it is a simple matter of guiding the fleet to the proper location."

"Oh," mumbled the woman. "Thank you."

"My pleasure."

Without saying any more, Izzic turned and walked away down the hall. Obi-Wan keyed open his own room and entered. It was small, but would suit his purposes. He certainly had no need for opulent living spaces. The Jedi dropped his small duffel onto the bed and sat beside it. Just then, a barely discernible vibration rumbled through the ship's hull, and at the same time the nearby presences of Republica's trillion inhabitants became very far away.

The fleet had made the jump to hyperspace.

Looks nice. Very nice. Tae Sorian, having completed his walkthrough of the modified YT-4200 class freighter Firebird, plopped down into its padded pilot's chair. Out the transparisteel viewport, all that was visible was the side of a building. Tae had seen the same sight quite often lately. But soon, he would be back where he belonged . . . among the stars, flying through space.

Tae ran his fingers over the YT-4200's familiar instrument panel. His former ship, the Corusca's Chance, had also been a 4200. The Chance and the Firebird had both undergone heavy modifications, and by different people, so the two vessels were far from identical. But they were similar enough that Tae would feel quite comfortable piloting this ship into battle.

He had been forced to activate the Chance's self-destruct system and flee the ship on that awful day that had started the crazy chain of events Tae now found himself in. He had had no idea what was going on at the time, but he knew now. The Sith had been responsible for the destruction of his most valued possession. "It's payback time," Tae murmured, gripping the control for the Firebird's warhead launchers. He would do his best to make sure the Sith got what they deserved. And not just because of what they had done to his ship. The dark side cult had ruined the lives of an untold number of people.

Satisfied that everything was in order, Tae got up from his seat and strolled out of the cockpit. The interior hallways of the Firebird were somewhat grimy, but that didn't really matter. His work crews had only had time to deal with the important things . . . and that they had.

Tae made his way down the ship's ramp and out into the familiar Coruscant canyon. He took a few steps away from the freighter, then turned to look it over once more. What struck him most when looking at the Firebird was without a doubt its color scheme. The dominant hues covering the hull were gaudy reds and oranges, a stark contrast to the industrial gray of the Corusca's Chance. This ship's irregular ovoid shape was familiar, however, as was the streamlined front part of the cockpit that protruded from the main hull about halfway between left and center from Tae's point of view. A difference between the Chance and this vessel was that the Firebird had a spherical gunner's bubble on its port side, containing a quad laser array. Tae had always flown solo before now. The other armaments packed by the ship were a turbolaser above the cockpit and a twin-tubed missile launcher in the freighter's belly. Sensor emplacements dotted the hull, both top and bottom. The backside was not visible to Tae at the moment, but he knew it contained very powerful engines.

Enough admiring my new ship; it's time to get down to business. Tae pulled his gaze away from the vessel and turned to face H'tashi Taurin, who waited in silence a couple meters away. Off to the side, several other beings sat, chattering idly among themselves. Tae stepped toward Taurin and spoke.

"Everything looks good with the ship. So, the Republic fleet is arriving . . . ?"

"They should be here today," supplied Taurin.

"That's what I thought."

"I do not know the exact time they are set to enter the system, however."

"That's okay. Today is all I needed to know." Tae paused a moment before saying, "If you agree, I would like to get our little fleet up into orbit so we'll be ready when the Republic gets here. Starting now." The Sith would probably notice, of course, but there was no way his enemies could be caught completely off-guard. And if the Republic Navy did indeed arrive today, it would be best to have the Coruscant fleet ready to go.

Taurin, perhaps mulling over the same thoughts in her mind, finally replied. "Yes, I believe that would be a good idea. Go ahead."

Tae nodded, then pulled out his com-link and flipped it on. "This is Sorian. We're go. Spread the word." Several voices acknowledged the message, and Tae switched off the com-link. The contact system he'd developed would be sending the orders around the planet at this moment, and if things went well the fleet should be ready to fight within the hour. "And what are you going to be doing during the battle?" he asked Taurin.

"I plan to remain on the planet. I have sensed . . . something." The Togorian Jedi pawed at her lightsaber as she said this. "I must investigate it."

"Well, whatever you like. And-good luck."

"And you. May the Force be with you."

Tae had never given much thought to the Force before, but he supposed it couldn't hurt. "May the Force be with you," he replied, then turned to the Gand who would be manning the gunner's post on the Firebird. "Let's get going."

His pace quicker now, Tae returned to the ship he would soon be flying into battle. Nearby, starfighter engines roared as they came to blazing life.

Darth Spectre's mouth twisted up into a wrinkled grin as he surveyed the viewscreen before him. A real-time shot of the planet Coruscant was displayed there; much more important than the planet itself were the myriad ships hanging in orbit. This motley collection of small vessels would soon be encountering his mighty fleet, and even though a sizeable force from the Republic would also be along there was no question what the results would be. Would they still take this action if they knew? Fools.

The Sith Lord reached out to touch the minds of his completely loyal soldiers. Their weak brains had been easily malleable by his powers, and now he had an army of battle machines. They might as well have been droids . . . but this way was less expensive, and where was the sense of power in controlling mere mechanical beings? Darth Spectre would only be truly satisfied when every thinking being in the galaxy bowed to his will. Of course, many would have to die before that happened, but after this battle the resistance would no doubt crumble.

His soldiers were ready to fight, even to die so that the Jedi and the Republic would be wiped out. This was the only thought that occupied their minds right now. Spectre fed their desire for destruction, then moved the concentration of his Force sense beyond his nearby fleet. Three groups of Republic Navy vessels hurtled through hyperspace and toward the Coruscant system. Soon, very soon now, they would arrive. And shortly after that, the battle would begin.

Darth Spectre gave one last look to the viewscreen, then, without moving a muscle, switched it off. It was time to call on his apprentices.

H'tashi Taurin was surrounded by darkness. She held her violet lightsaber in front of her, but the sphere illuminated by the glowing blade was much too small. The Togorian Jedi cautiously moved forward, following her instincts and the Force.

When she began this search, H'tashi's feelings had told her to go downward, so descend she had. She was underground now, remarkable considering that most business on this skyscraper-covered planet was conducted stories above ground level. But she was getting closer to her goal.

The first time she had felt it, there was only a brief sensation which quickly disappeared, yet was still undeniably evil. Now there was a faint but constant dark presence that grew stronger as H'tashi went on. She had been searching for hours, through dank caverns and the remains of millennia-old buildings. How much longer she would have to travel, she had little idea. That did not matter. I have to find this, whatever it is.

A few meters later, H'tashi came to a halt. A dead end. She looked left and right, trying to make out a path in the darkness. She reached out with the Force . . .

And found that this was not a dead end after all. H'tashi peered into the wall ahead of her and saw a rusted, slimed-over grate. A few slashes with her lightsaber, and it was gone. She stepped forward-and was hit by a terrible stench. What was this, an ancient sewer system? Well, no one ever said this was going to be fun. H'tashi continued on into a tunnel that, for all she knew, could be kilometers long.

This was the right way, she still felt it. She took a few steps more, and then stopped dead in her tracks once again. What was that? She spun around, waving her lightsaber at an unseen assailant. She could feel it swooping down on her, full of predatory hunger. There was a high-pitched shriek-

And then a small creature flapping leather wings became visible. But only for a moment, as it quickly retreated upon coming into the dim purple glow cast by H'tashi's saber. Dim, yet extremely bright compared to what this strange beast was accustomed to. H'tashi remained still for a few seconds, then turned and continued to trudge onward.

What dark secret will I find at the end of this journey? the Jedi Knight wondered as she moved deeper and deeper into blackness.

At first glance, the view of Coruscant from space reminded Obi-Wan very much of what it had looked like over five centuries ago. Artificial structures completely covered the planet; there was no sign whatsoever of nature. This had not changed over those long years, but to a powerful Jedi it was clear, even from this distance, that things were actually very different. He could sense an uncountable number of sentient beings on the planet, but there was an underlying current of fear and despair beneath all their presences. Nothing of the sort had been there when Obi-Wan lived on Coruscant during his Jedi training. It was worse now than even after Palpatine had taken over. Of course, back then most citizens of the Republic had not been aware of what was truly going on. In this age, the people of Coruscant knew perfectly well that they lived in some of the poorest conditions in the galaxy, and the recent disappearances which had plagued them only compounded their problems. To Obi-Wan Kenobi, all this was evident. To an untrained observer, however, the only difference between this view of Coruscant and the same one five hundred years ago was that the planet's surface was a bit less shiny.

As Obi-Wan made these observations, the Republic fleet approached the planet and the ships waiting in orbit. All the Republic forces, 126 vessels in all, had arrived within minutes of each other, and now they would hopefully be joined by another sizeable fleet. Coruscant came closer, and Obi-Wan began to see the small, metallic forms of numerous spacecraft arrayed in orbit.

"Coruscant ships," High Admiral Serra Harsekk spoke. Harsekk sat in her command chair on the Alderaan VII's bridge, near where Obi-Wan stood. "This is High Admiral Serra Harsekk in command of the Republic Navy. Are you prepared to enter battle?"

"This is Tae Sorian, aboard the freighter Firebird," replied a male voice. Obi-Wan smiled. The smuggler had made good on his plan. "We are ready, and await your orders."

"Good. We should have the coordinates of the Sith base shortly. Stand by." Harsekk switched off her comm. "Jedi Kenobi, Jedi Kah?"

Obi-Wan and Judu Kah, who stood on the other side of Harsekk's command chair, stepped forward. The admiral pressed a button, and a holographic representation of the Coruscant system appeared in front of them. "Ready?" asked Obi-Wan. Judu Kah nodded, and the two Jedi closed their eyes and reached out with the Force.

The presences of the beings on Coruscant glowed brightly on the mental image that Obi-Wan created. This was due to one thing: the sheer number of people there. Obi-Wan quickly passed over them; there was no sign of the Sith base on the planet itself. Next he sensed the Republic troops in the fleet, and then the relatively small number of beings on Coruscant's moons. He lingered on these satellites for a few moments, but could feel nothing to suggest the Sith were there. So he cast his probe out toward the vast space occupying the rest of the system.

Obi-Wan could feel Judu Kah searching at the same time. Her mental probe crossed his on several occasions as they went about the enormous area they had to search. There was a whole lot of empty space to deal with. Occasionally, Obi-Wan came across the presences inside a starfaring vessel, but traffic in the system seemed light. Not a surprise.

He was coming to the outer reaches of the solar system now. He searched across hundreds of millions of miles, trying to feel those presences he knew must be-There! A cluster of mind senses, larger than anything Obi-Wan had felt outside of the planet itself and the ships around it. There were many beings there, yet there was something very strange about their presences. They all felt wrong somehow. Brainwashed. And at the core of all this wrongness was the dark presence of evil.

Obi-Wan opened his eyes. An instant later, Judu Kah's eyelids snapped upward. The two Jedi pointed toward the holo display, and Obi-Wan saw that they were indicating the same spot near the edge of the system. There was no question now; they had located the Sith base.

"This is where our target is," Obi-Wan said. Admiral Harsekk saw this, nodded, and switched on her comm.

"Republic and Coruscant fleets, this is High Admiral Harsekk. We have found the Sith base. I am transmitting coordinates now. When I give the order, we will make a microjump to those coordinates."

Obi-Wan remembered in-system hyperspace travel to have been a bit risky in his time, but perhaps the technology necessary for such maneuvers had improved during his absence from the realm of the living. Then Tae Sorian's voice spoke up. "Coordinates received, Admiral, but what about those ships that are not hyper-capable?"

Harsekk was silent for a moment; then she looked to Obi-Wan and Judu Kah. "What do you think, Jedi? Is there any danger in bringing some of the Coruscant vessels aboard?"

"I do not sense any," said Obi-Wan, and after a pause Kah admitted likewise.

"They can make the transit in the hangars of some of our cruisers," Harsekk answered then.

"Thank you," said Sorian. Soon after, ships began to approach, a wide variety-and a thought came to Obi-Wan.

"We don't know for sure what kinds of vessels the Sith will be using," he said. "Could you have your computers identify all friendly ships before we enter battle?"

"Good idea," replied Harsekk. She gave orders to that effect, then said, "And stand by to make the hyperspace jump."

"We need to get to our shuttles," said Obi-Wan, gesturing to himself and Kah. "It will be a few minutes."

"Very well," the admiral replied. "We'll jump when you are ready."

"Remember, Sarn, use your instincts. The Force will guide you. I know you can do this."

"Yes, Master-thank you," Sarn Zor'sya replied. The Bothan Jedi apprentice-and now Republic starfighter commander-was docked in the same bay as the pair of Jedi strike team shuttles. Obi-Wan looked up to Sarn, who sat in the cockpit of his X-81.

"May the Force be with you," he concluded.

"And with you," Sarn replied, smiling. The young Jedi seemed a bit nervous, but very determined at the same time. He sealed his cockpit down, and Obi-Wan turned to enter his shuttle. If things went as planned, that shuttle would soon be landing on the Sith base.

Obi-Wan greeted Keiran, Andiell, and the shuttle's pilot, then spoke into a comm. "We're all set to go, Admiral."

It was time.


Almost as soon as it had entered hyperspace, the freighter Firebird dropped back out. Tae Sorian's hands were ready at the controls for whatever awaited him, and he saw-

Nothing. Looking straight out of his viewport, the only objects visible were stars. Other ships were there, in his peripheral vision, but they were all allied forces. No sign of the Sith.

"What's going on?" came a voice over the Firebird's comm system, that of the freighter's gunner.

"I don't know," said Tae. "Wait and see. They have to be around here somewhere. . . ."

"We don't pick up anything on sensors," Serra Harsekk said. "What do you think, Jedi Kenobi?"

"They must be cloaked," Kenobi's voice replied. The Jedi was currently in his shuttle, still docked in the Alderaan VII's bay. "They can't hide forever, though. Move forward, but be careful."

Serra activated the comm frequency for the entire Republic force. "All ships, maintain current heading, but proceed with caution. We suspect the enemy is hidden under cloaking devices. Fighters, exit your cruisers and form up around the fleet's perimeter."

In response to her orders, scores of tiny Republic and Coruscant ships were disgorged from the hangars of the massive vessels which carried them. The fighters swarmed into space, then grouped up into squadrons and moved to their positions around the fleet. Hundreds of warcraft now moved steadily forward through the cold vacuum, waiting for the battle to begin.

Lord Ebony.

Yes, Master?

Darth Spectre paused, savoring the moment. His greatest victory was at last imminent, and a thin smile crept upwards on his wrinkled face. The Sith Lord sat in his command room, flanked by Darth Varelse and Darth Ruin. He looked briefly to each of the two warriors, taking pleasure at the controlled fury within them, before sending a mental signal across kilometers of space to his one other living apprentice.


Sarn Zor'sya cautiously piloted his X-81 forward, watching intently for any signs of danger. He flew in the lead position among a full squadron of X-81s, while similar-looking X-80s stretched out across space to either side. Just behind them, the mighty Republic fleet cruised toward its unseen target.

"Hold steady, Gray Squadron," ordered Sarn, as a group of X-80s crept forward, a bit out of the formation. "Stay on the lookout for enemy ships."

"I don't see any enemy ships," replied an angry-sounding Gray Leader. Sarn recognized the voice-it was "Gunner," the commander of Republica's starfighter forces whom the Bothan had had an unpleasant encounter with after defeating in the sims.

"They're out there," began Sarn; then he felt a sudden sensation of terrible danger. "Go evasive!"

For a split-second, the X-80s did not respond-and then they were wiped out in a glowing emerald barrage.

"We're under attack!" exclaimed a panicked bridge officer. "Turbolaser barrages and torpedo strikes! Several starfighters down, and-capital ships taking hits!"

Serra cringed as she watched a pair of frigates go up in flames. Rubbing suddenly sweaty palms together, she tried to fight down her nerves. What a way for her first major combat engagement to begin!

"Track the source of the attack," she ordered. "All ships, open fire!"

A sudden wave of fear rolled over Obi-Wan, but before he could even comprehend its meaning he was hit by a far greater disturbance in the Force. It was like a sharp claw tearing into his very soul. In the blink of an eye, thousands of lives had been ended, and the terrible destruction did not stop. It became even worse. The Jedi was reminded of the complete annihilation of the planet Alderaan he had sensed so many years ago. This time, the scale was much smaller, but the deaths were much closer by; the shock he felt was nearly as great.

Sitting across from him in the shuttle's passenger compartment, Keiran and Andiell were obviously feeling the same things. Andiell gasped, while Keiran muttered a curse as the disturbance hit them. Perhaps for those two it was even worse than for Obi-Wan. Both were well-tuned to the Force, and chances were that neither had ever encountered this much death at one time.

"This is what real battle is like," Obi-Wan said, shaking his head. "Such killing is a terrible thing, but sometimes it cannot be avoided."

"Just sitting here makes it worse. I want to do something about this!" said Keiran, and Andiell nodded. Deep inside, Obi-Wan felt the same way. Being in the midst of such violence and unable to do a thing to stop it was not a good feeling. Before they had come to the Coruscant system, he would have preferred a few more days of preparation before the battle. Now, however, he wanted to get into action as soon as possible. These thoughts were not brought on by rashness, arrogance, vengeance, or any other such dangerous feelings. Rather, Obi-Wan had a very strong sense of duty, and he knew that the Jedi were the key to this battle.

But they would have to wait until there was an opening for the shuttle to exit this ship and fly onto the enemy base. There was no telling how long it would be until that happened-and the deaths continued.

Sarn nearly panicked when the first shots were fired. The sims could never have prepared him for this. Before they had even seen their enemies, the Republic forces had lost a sizeable chunk of their fleet! The Bothan brought his breathing back to a steady rate, drawing on the Force to calm himself, then surveyed the situation. Most of the starfighters under his command were flying wild, uncoordinated patterns as barrage after barrage of turbolaser fire shot past them in both directions. There was still no indication, however, of whether the return fire from the Republic fleet was hitting its targets. If it's not, we're in trouble.

"Form back up!" ordered the Bothan. "Enemy fire is concentrating on our capital ships, but stay alert." The numerous squadrons of starfighters slowly obeyed his commands, regrouping into somewhat sloppy formations. Sarn reminded himself that most of those pilots had just as much real-life combat experience as he did-absolutely none-and unfortunately, they did not share his extraordinary gifts.

The endless streams of red and green lasers continued to light up space. Several more Republic ships went down before there was finally a sign of the enemy.

Where a moment ago there had been nothing, a line of warships appeared against the starfield. Small explosions dotted the hulls of a few, but all continued to send out their deadly fire toward the Republic fleet. It was a strange mixture of vessels. A few were huge, menacing cruisers with black hulls. But there were also some familiar models there, even a Peacekeeper-class. The Sith had obviously put the craft they had captured to use.

"All ships, continue attack. Close for engagements with enemy ships," came Admiral Harsekk's voice. Sarn glanced down at the displays in his cockpit. The new vessels present were greatly outnumbered by friendly ships-but he felt certain that not all of the Sith's forces had appeared from under their cloaks. And there was still no sign of the base itself.

"Squadrons . . . Howler and Blade, set up attack runs on the enemy cruisers," ordered Sarn, as he piloted his X-81 forward. "Target weapons and shield systems. Everyone else, watch for enemy fighters."

Seemingly in response to Sarn's words, a cloud of starfighters roared outward from the Sith fleet. Like their capital ships, these were a strange combination of models. Many were deadly-looking black fighters, but a multitude of other designs were present.

By the time Sarn had processed this thought, the Sith starfighters were opening up with their lasers. "Iota Squadron, form up on me," Sarn said, speaking to his own squad. "Let's punch a hole through that swarm!"

Flanked by scores of allied vessels, the Peacekeeper-class cruiser Alderaan VII drove into the heart of the enemy formation. Turbolasers flashed through space on all sides, missiles and torpedoes roared toward their targets, and myriad starfighters danced among the capital ships. Republic forces were dropping by the minute, but so far the Alderaan VII herself had taken few hits. The cruiser's shields were holding strong. A very good thing, Serra Harsekk reflected. For this ship carries a precious cargo.

The pair of Jedi strike teams had not exited the cruiser's hangar yet. The Sith base had still not shown up on sensors, and it would be best if the assault shuttles could avoid any lengthy periods of dogfighting. There was no telling how many ships the enemy could throw at them, and those shuttles were much safer protected by the Alderaan's shields as well as by most of the Republic fleet. For the time being.

The admiral kept a close watch on the course of the battle, her eyes constantly moving between various sensor displays and the view out the transparisteel viewports of the bridge. "Group Five-Delta, set course at bearing thirty and try to get past their first line of defense," she ordered.

"Yes, ma'am," replied the commander of the specified group's flagship. Forward and slightly off to starboard, a Peacekeeper, along with several frigates and corvettes, broke from the Republic formation and charged ahead. Serra flicked her gaze over to port, where two Peacekeepers flew side-by-side-exchanging turbolaser fire with each other! She did a double take, but it was true. One of those ships must have been captured by the Sith and converted to their sinister uses.

Serra looked down to a sensor display, checking on Squad Delta-Five's progress. She cringed as the icon for a frigate winked out of existence. The squad's Peacekeeper slowed to engage a pair of enemy cruisers-and then a trio of corvettes slipped through!

"Follow those corvettes!" exclaimed Tae to the four allied fighters who flew alongside the Firebird. He watched excitedly as three Republic ships flew into empty space, gunning his engines to catch up to them. The enemy base could be near . . .

Suddenly, an explosion rocked his ship. "Shavit!" he muttered, realizing that one of the friendly starfighters had been blown up at close proximity. He glanced down at his sensors to see where the killing shots had come from. A very unfriendly freighter hung on the Firebird's tail. YT-4300. A similar, slightly newer model to the ship he flew. Let's see what they've got.

"Take 'em out," ordered Tae. He sent the Firebird into a downward loop, grinning as his gunner opened up and scored a hit on the enemy. The other freighter juked away, but was then bombarded by one of the Coruscant fighters. Tae glanced at his sensors. Two more enemy ships were charging toward the fray. Better make this fast.

Pushing the Firebird's capabilities to the max, he made a tight turn, got onto his foe's six, and popped off a concussion missile. A brilliant explosion lit up the cockpit's viewport. The Firebird shot straight through the cloud of YT-4300 debris-and when it came back out, a good fifteen enemy capital ships were visible where there had previously been empty space. And they were showing no signs of going easy with their weapons.

"Two, cut throttle," ordered Sarn. His wingmate did so, and the Bothan likewise throttled down his starfighter's engines. Just as his instincts had told him, a burst of laserfire shot in, but thanks to the quick maneuver it missed-and an instant later the source of the attack zoomed out in front of his ship. A trio of Sith fighters suddenly found themselves right in Sarn's targeting brackets, and within seconds all three were destroyed. Two of the kills went to Sarn, the third to Iota Two.

Fortunately, the enemy fighters did not seem to be possessed of a great deal of skill. Unfortunately, neither did most of the Republic's own pilots. Sarn gave a quick check to his sensor display as he swept around to look for more targets. The allied forces had already suffered great losses.

Up ahead, a Republic frigate and a Sith vessel of similar size were slugging it out. The two warships, side by side, exchanged nonstop barrages of deadly fire with each other. Blast after blast of glowing turbolasers leapt across the vacuum between the dueling vessels, impacting against shields and occasionally finding hull. A large explosion appeared on the Sith ship-but almost immediately after, an even larger fireball completely engulfed the friendly frigate. Sarn, vectoring toward the pair, watched as two squadrons of the deadly black enemy starfighters raced through the wreckage. Checking their course, he realized instantly where they were headed. Sarn's eyes bulged. They were going right into the heart of the Republic fleet. They were going to attack the Alderaan VII!

"After them!" Sarn growled, transmitting coordinates to all nearby Republic fighters. He pushed his throttle to the max, and the sleek X-81 burned through space toward the enemy squadrons. The Sith ships seemed just as fast, however. They would likely be able to get some shots off. Hopefully not enough.

Sarn watched as the Sith fighters opened up with their lasers. The Alderaan returned fire with blasts from its turbolaser cannons, but hitting such small ships was a difficult task. The Republic flagship's shields were holding-suddenly, a salvo of missiles streaked away from the group of Sith craft. At this distance, Sarn could only hope they did not do any major damage.

He glanced at his targeting display. The range was dropping, dropping . . . Now! "Open fire!" exclaimed Sarn, squeezing hard on his trigger. Red laserfire flashed outward from his cannons and those of the fighters with him. They were still rather far away, but a couple hits were scored on the enemies. A few of the Sith ships changed course, heading back toward the Republic fighters. The rest continued their attack on the Alderaan VII.

The newly incoming ships did not dally in turning their laser cannons on their former pursuers. "Four-" began Sarn-but before he said anything more an X-81 exploded off to his starboard side.

"There's a hole in our forward shields!"

"Redirect shield energy!" ordered Admiral Serra Harsekk. She watched tensely as a group of Sith fighters continued their unrelenting barrage on her flagship. One was obliterated in a flash of red turbolasers, but a good ten remained. And then they let off another round of missiles . . .

"Redirecting energy . . ." reported a bridge officer. "Hull breach in sector twenty-seven!"

The first loss of a ship from his own squadron shocked Sarn. Then an enemy laser blast glanced off his own fighter. His shields dropped-but no real damage was done. Stay calm, he ordered himself. The Bothan called out to the Force, and it was there to obey his commands. He whipped off a barrage to take out one of the Sith fighters, then flew right past the rest and toward the ones that still harassed the Alderaan. He did not let go of his firing trigger, spraying the space his enemies were in with destructive blasts of energy. And their responses were far too slow.

Serra breathed a sigh of relief as the last of the nearby Sith fighters was destroyed. "Hull breach stabilized," came the report. "Forward shields ten percent and rising."

"Good," she said. "Maintain present course. . . . Any sign of the enemy base?"

A pause, then, "No, ma'am. Not yet."

Tae Sorian let out a whoop as he skimmed the surface of a Sith cruiser. Appropriately, the Firebird left a burning trail in its wake, as the Coruscant ship's gunner raked the capital ship's surface with quad laser bursts. None of the return fire was on target, and before long the YT-4200 shot out beyond the cruiser's engines. It was accompanied by a pair of Coruscant fighters-

"What in-" began Tae. He left the curse unfinished, as he was rendered speechless by the sight before him. One of the allied fighters had somehow disappeared, for a moment; then an explosion had come up in its place. And an instant later, a massive dark structure sat in space less than a hundred meters from the Firebird. Tae finally managed to whistle weakly in astonishment. Apparently the little fighter had crashed into a cloaked-

"Admiral Harsekk?" he said into his comm. "I think we've found the enemy base."


"We've found it, all right," Admiral Harsekk reported to Obi-Wan. "The Sith base has appeared on sensors. Unfortunately, the bulk of the enemy fleet is between us and our target. We're currently plotting the best course to reach it, as well as scanning for a good docking location for your shuttles. We've got starfighter escorts standing by."

"Good," replied Obi-Wan. "We're ready to launch whenever you are. And the sooner the better, as far as I am concerned."

"Right," said Harsekk. Obi-Wan heard her begin an order to her bridge crew; then the comm cut off. He turned to regard the other two Jedi who waited with him.

"That's good news," commented Andiell. "This waiting seems to last forever." She and Keiran sat close together, hand in hand. Obi-Wan sensed them working as one to ward off any nervousness or fear that tried to sneak in and undermine their preparation. It was a good feeling.

"It can seem like that," he agreed. "But the important thing is not to let that or any other distraction affect you. We must succeed." For if they did not, the deaths of tens of thousands today would all be for nothing.

"We've been assigned with escorting the Jedi assault shuttles," said Sarn to his squadmates. "We're to hold steady with the Alderaan VII until further orders come in."

"Copy, Lead," said Iota Three. "Any idea how long that's gonna be?"

"Not really. . . ." Sarn's sensors beeped as a pair of Sith fighters approached, but both were destroyed before they entered his range. The Bothan kept a casual hand on his controls. His X-81 drifted forward as the nearby Republic flagship began its careful entrance into the most heated zone of the battle.

Darth Spectre closed his eyes, then slowly moved the full focus of his senses onto the numerous minds under his control. The battle was going well so far, with Republic casualties far outnumbering those of his forces. But Sith losses were rising. There was so much ongoing action, so many complex maneuvers . . .

He felt a drain on his Force abilities. He felt slightly . . . weaker. It would not affect the outcome, of course, but he was even beginning to momentarily lose his grasp on a few of those minds.

He needed more power!

"My apprentices." Darth Spectre re-opened his eyes and raised himself from his command chair. "Come with me."

The Peacekeeper-class cruiser Alderaan VII unleashed the full power of her turbolaser batteries at her target. Vicious red beams of energy repeatedly pounded away at the Sith cruiser that sat in front of the Republic flagship. The return fire was just as heavy, and both ship's shields were steadily dropping. If we can just take care of that one cruiser . . .

"Corvettes Santi and Flame, move in," ordered Admiral Serra Harsekk through clenched teeth. She knew that she was most likely sending those ships and the beings aboard them to their ends. But if, in dying, they could clear away this obstacle and bring the Republic to victory . . .

The two corvettes, tiny in comparison to their target, came in on both sides of the Sith warship. With concentrated firepower, they began to rip holes into the enemy's energy shielding. They would not be able to withstand the heavy assault they were taking, however. The steady back and forth barrage continued for a few seconds. Then, not surprisingly, the Santi turned into a bright fireball against the Sith cruiser's black hull-

"Their shields are down!" Serra's eyes shot to a sensor readout. It was true! The little corvette must have gotten in close enough that its destruction caused collateral damage to take out the enemy's shielding.

"Missile barrage!" she ordered, just as the Flame was destroyed as well. Scores of warheads raced from the Alderaan's launchers, adding to the torrent of turbolasers. Before long, explosions appeared all across the enormous hull of the enemy cruiser.

"They're taking heavy damage," reported an officer. Serra smiled grimly, soaking up the expectant air that pervaded the bridge. She peered down at a display screen, then glanced back at the main viewport-just in time to see a massive ball of flames rip through the midsection of the Sith cruiser. Her crewers let out a brief but jubilant cheer as the enemy ship was split into hundreds of pieces. Debris scattered throughout the area, and when it had dispersed Serra got her first clear view of her adversary's base.

It was a roughly circular structure, its diameter perhaps twice the length of a Peacekeeper-class. Off to either side, long, thin walkways extended, presumably for ships to dock with. There were none there now. The station's hull followed the same color scheme as the Sith's battleships. They sure do love darkness.

The base appeared to grow larger as the Alderaan VII cruised toward her target. Serra watched a distance display, measuring out times and probabilities in her mind. At last, the proper moment came.

"Assault shuttles, launch now."

At last. The shuttle's engines roared to life, and within seconds the ship had cleared the Alderaan VII's hangar bay and entered vacuum. Nearby, the shuttle carrying Varian, Cilian, and Judu Kah followed a similar course. Obi-Wan quickly made his way to the vessel's cockpit to get a visual reading on the situation.

Up ahead, the Sith base loomed large. The presence of the dark Master was now readily audible to Obi-Wan's senses. Confrontation was near.

Closer by, Republic starfighters flew in an escort formation. "Master Kenobi?"

"Sarn, is that you?" replied Obi-Wan, smiling.

"We're right with you," the Bothan's voice came back over the shuttle's comm. "No enemy starfighters are going to get in your way."

"They had better not." Obi-Wan's words were only half in jest. Quite a few Sith fightercraft were already heading in their direction.

Before any enemy fighters could get within range, their Republic counterparts had surrounded the pair of Jedi shuttles. "Just follow us," ordered Sarn. "We'll take you in."

"Copy, Iota Leader," replied the shuttle's pilot, and at that moment Sith lasers flashed green.

Fortunately, they were too far away to do any damage to the assault shuttles. Errant shots were lost in the cold vacuum, while the Republic fighters quickly returned fire. One Sith craft went down, another; then a friendly fighter exploded. It wasn't Sarn, Obi-Wan knew immediately. He reached out to touch his apprentice's mind and found an aura of calm confidence that was only slightly blemished. This really is what he was meant to do, thought Obi-Wan, smiling. He was proud of the young Bothan. Sarn would be safe in this battle, he felt.

But that was not necessarily the case for the other pilots. Another Republic craft was shot up by enemy lasers. It went spinning away, and a second later was out of sight. The Sith fighters seemed to be dropping faster, but there were more of them attacking as well.

The enemy base came nearer and nearer. Now Obi-Wan could make out sensor emplacements, access hatches, and many other structures, including some strange devices which must have been the cloak generators. His strike teams were almost there. If those fighters could be held off a few seconds longer, the shuttles would be able to dock.

Then a pair of the Sith craft broke through the Republic formation. They let loose a barrage toward the Jedi-carrying vessels. Obi-Wan's shuttle took a few hits, but they were absorbed by shields. The pilot went into evasive maneuvers-

Suddenly, the assault shuttle was rocked by a powerful blast. Obi-Wan was jolted forward, and had to grab onto the pilot's seat back to maintain balance. The man turned to face him, eyes wide. "Engine's been hit!"

Judu Kah's assault shuttle flew through the expanding debris cloud from a Sith starfighter, and at last they had reached their target. As the pilot began careful docking maneuvers, Judu strode quickly toward the shuttle's exit. "This is it," she said.

Varian and Cilian nodded, both gripping the lightsabers that hung at their belts. For a brief moment, Judu felt naked, defenseless. No. The Force is with me.

She felt a vibration beneath her feet as the shuttle docked with the massive Sith base. An exit hatch slid open, bringing the Jedi Master face to face with another metal barrier, this one painted black. She called on the Force, feeling the door's internal mechanisms with her mind, and within seconds this hatch too came open. Danger! a voice screamed in her mind.

But there was no one in her immediate vicinity. The other Jedi strike team was in trouble! The sensation went away quickly, however. They must be all right, she decided. Hopefully Obi-Wan and the others would arrive here soon.

Varian and Cilian stepped out first, taking cautious steps. Judu followed and found herself in a long, dim corridor. "That way." She gestured in the direction of the strong, dark presence that was the enemy leader. The trio walked a few meters, but then Judu felt something strange. The Sith Master was . . . getting farther away?

Obi-Wan let out a sigh of relief as the Sith base's hull filled the assault shuttle's front viewport. The pilot decelerated carefully as he prepared to dock at an entrance hatch. His task was made more difficult by the fact that one of the shuttle's engines had been knocked out of commission. Fortunately, the pilot had managed to escape the enemy onslaught without sustaining any further damage, and with the help of Sarn and his squadmates had gotten into the clear. And now, within minutes, Obi-Wan, Andiell, and Keiran would be joining their Jedi compatriots aboard the prodigious enemy base. Somewhere inside it, their most powerful foe awaited them.

Obi-Wan could clearly see the target hatch now. As they came closer, he could even make out the small symbols painted beside it. One-one-three-eight . . . "What's that?" he asked, catching a streak of movement out of the corner of his eye.

The pilot soon saw it too. "It's a shuttle. Looks like it just exited one of their docking bays."

Obi-Wan instantly locked onto the enemy craft through the Force. He could sense evil presences within it. The Sith Master! "Abort docking procedure, and follow that shuttle," he ordered quickly. The pilot hesitated a moment, then did as he was told. Obi-Wan, probing deeper with the Force, found that there were three dark siders aboard the shuttle. The Master and a pair of his apprentices? The Jedi had already faced Sith apprentices on two separate occasions since his return to physical existence. The woman on Tatooine . . . despite medical efforts, she had died shortly after the duel. But the beast-like warrior Obi-Wan had locked blades with on Yavin IV was still out there, and he got the feeling that that creature was aboard the shuttle they were now following. This should be interesting.

"Try to get close, but be careful," Obi-Wan told the pilot.

"Got it-huh?"

The Sith shuttle had just disappeared. Cloaked? No, Obi-Wan found instantly, the dark presences had gone away as well. "They must have made the jump to hyperspace."

The pilot nodded, checking out his sensor displays at the same time. "At that bearing," he reported a few seconds later, "It looks like they went to Coruscant."

Obi-Wan stretched out with the Force. He found the large presence of the planet Coruscant quickly. It was not long before he realized that the Sith Master was indeed there.

His primary mission here was to confront that Dark Lord, so-

"We've got fighters approaching." The pilot's voice interrupted Obi-Wan's thoughts. "What should I do?"

"Follow them," the Jedi decided immediately. Then he called back to Keiran and Andiell. "It looks like we've had a little change in plans."


They had gone about one hundred meters down the corridor when the dark presence disappeared completely. It had been getting steadily farther away for half a minute; now it was gone. "Stop," said Judu Kah, coming to a halt in the middle of the long, dim hallway. Varian and Cilian did likewise, and each looked around in puzzlement. They had obviously sensed the same mysterious occurrence that Judu had.

"What's going on?" Varian asked.

"He's . . . he's not dead," replied Judu. "I would have felt it if his Force presence was extinguished. He must have gone away in a ship, gone into hyperspace." But why? she added silently. It was a good question. Would the Sith Master flee from this battle? Judu was not exactly familiar with the thought processes of beings under dark side influence, but she doubted it.

"So what now?" Varian wondered. The younger woman looked just a bit disappointed, as did Cilian, who clutched at the hilt of his lightsaber. Judu herself could not help but feel a certain amount of relief. She had certainly not relished the idea of battling a dark side master. But that was what they had come here to do. . . . Hopefully, Obi-Wan, Keiran, and Andiell would be able to take care of it, wherever their enemy had gone.

"I don't know," she admitted. "The shuttle that brought us is gone by now."

"Then I guess we'll have to find another way off this thing," said Varian. Then Judu sensed something.

"And that won't happen without a fight," put in Cilian an instant later. The Mon Calamari's gravelly voice was grim, and he activated his silver lightsaber. Varian's yellow blade soon flashed to life as well.

Sure enough, several beings were approaching the trio from either direction. Their presences were strange-Judu remembered feeling similar ones when the Sith attacked the Jedi Academy. But it was easy to tell that they had killing on their minds.

High Admiral Serra Harsekk could take a certain amount of solace from the fact that, according to reports, the Jedi strike teams had successfully reached the Sith base. Other than that, however, it seemed that very little was going right with this battle. It was apparent now that the combined Republic and Coruscant fleet had started out with an advantage in firepower at a ratio of about four to three. Thanks to the allies' massive initial losses, those numbers were now fairly even, and before long the Sith could very well have the advantage. Republic ships were dropping like flies under the enemy onslaught. Those from the Coruscant fleet were faring somewhat better, but they did not have anything that could go toe-to-toe with the largest of the enemy warships. Too bad my troops don't have the same experience as those Coruscant scum, thought Serra. It was probably true that most of the Coruscantians were criminals of some sort, or had been in the past, but right now she was in no position to complain.

Tae Sorian swung his ship hard to starboard, narrowly avoiding a burst of turbolaser fire. Then he brought the Firebird arcing around in the opposite direction and bore in on a medium-size capital ship. The Sith vessel, which in all likelihood had been stolen from Coruscant space and converted to evil uses, continued to send a stream of deadly lasers in Tae's direction. He dodged the blasts, while both he and his gunner sent out targeted fire toward their enemy. The shots impacted against shields, then began to overload them, and within seconds one of the Sith's generators had blown.

"Nice shooting," said Tae, swooping up and away before he got in too close.

"I don't know how much it'll help," replied the Firebird's Gand gunner. "Leadership in this battle is sorely lacking, if you ask me."

Tae had to agree. Admiral Harsekk seemed like a good woman, and he respected her, but the lack of experience as a whole by the Republic commanders was obvious. Now that the Jedi had been delivered to their target, there was no coherent strategy. The engagement was turning into a free-for-all. The allied forces still had to do something; if the Jedi were successful but the Republic fleet was obliterated it wouldn't help the situation much.

Tae sighed, hoping that that would not be the end result. The battle was far from over. "See that frigate thirty degrees to port?" he said then. "Next target."

All three Jedi stood in the cockpit now as the shuttle plunged down into Coruscant's atmosphere. They could see the craft they pursued as a small, moving dot up ahead. Before long, it disappeared behind a tall row of buildings.

"Stay after them," said Obi-Wan to the pilot. The assault shuttle roared over the tops of decrepit old structures as it continued on its course. Looking down, the Jedi saw that this area of the planet's surface seemed to be in worse condition than was typical. There was little sign of life among the blasted shells of huge buildings. Smoke rose into the air from several locations. A definite dark presence loomed nearby, and Obi-Wan felt that it was caused by more than the three Sith they were pursuing. The blackness seemed to creep up from below ground and into the sky. It was almost as if this evil aura dimmed the light of Coruscant's sun. There was also a faint light side presence in the vicinity, or at least Obi-Wan thought there was. Whatever good he sensed, it was almost completely drowned out by the darkness. It's hard to believe that this is the same planet that was once the glittering jewel of all galactic civilization, he reflected. Yet it was, after all these years. . . .

"For all things begin and end with Coruscant," Obi-Wan murmured, breaking the silence in the cockpit.

"What's that?" asked Keiran, turning to him.

"An old saying. One that appears to be holding true. . . ."

The wrinkled grin on Darth Spectre's aging face grew wider as he strode into the main chamber of the ancient Sith temple. All he could sense was darkness, in two ways. Below the surface of Coruscant, there was little light, of course, but that was insignificant next to the spiritual darkness that enshrouded the room. The place was very strong with the dark side of the Force, and the Sith Lord reveled in the feeling of power it gave him. It had been too long since he had come here, too long indeed.

Spectre took a moment to gaze at the beautiful sights around him. Most beings would find no pleasure here, but that was due to their own weakness. Foreboding stone architecture dominated the chamber, some of it showing signs of wear brought on by the ravages of time. Dust covered the floor. But the enormous statues that were spaced around the room's perimeter looked as new as they must have the day they were carved. Made from smooth black rock, the hooded figures rose high up into the shadows. They seemed to mock all those whom they looked down upon, except for the Sith Master himself. For he had control over all this power.

At the center of the room, a massive throne sat. It was composed of the same material as the statues, except that the arms and headrest were decorated with bone. This chair was the nexus of the dark side currents that flowed through the temple. Seated in meditation there, Spectre had fallen deeper into the Force than was possible at any other location he knew of. He cackled in anticipation as his eyes rested upon it.


The Dark Lord spun around to glare at Darth Ruin, one of the two apprentices who accompanied him. "The . . . Jedi are coming, my Master."

"Let them come."

Ruin nodded slowly, while Darth Varelse bore his teeth in an expression of feral glee. Saying nothing more, Spectre made his way to the throne and took his place there. He drew all of the temple's power to him, exalting in it, letting it fill his body and mind. Then, with renewed vigor, he returned his focus to the ongoing battle.

The black-armored soldiers came into view from both directions at the same time. There were about a dozen total, evenly divided between the two groups. All carried blaster rifles, and they did not take their time in charging toward the trio of Jedi.

Varian faced to one side, Cilian to the other. Both held their sabers at the ready. Judu stood between the two young Knights. When the enemy troops had come near, she drew on the Force and spoke to them in a commanding tone. "We come in peace. There is no need for you to harm us."

Intellectually, it was not really surprising when her words had no effect, but it came as a shock nonetheless. The Jedi Master had never encountered minds this difficult to get a grasp on, except for those of powerful Force users. These soldiers clearly could not use the Force. Their minds had been twisted by one very skilled at the task.

Tricks of the mind were not the only ones Judu had up her sleeve, however, even without any physical weapon to fight with. She reached out with the Force and grabbed away one of the lead soldier's blasters, sending it clattering off in a random direction down the hall.

Then the rest opened fire.

"I don't know how it's possible, but it seems like they're just now coming on harder than ever!"

"I get the same feeling," Serra replied to the holographic image of Admiral Dib Sarcova that stood before her on the Alderaan's bridge. The Twi'lek stroked one of his brain-tails; at the moment, the gesture was clearly one of nervousness. The Republic high commander could understand the feeling perfectly. Her soldiers were getting worn out by the intense battle, and now the enemy's were suddenly fighting with increased determination? They must be motivated in powerful ways, reflected Serra.

"We have to do something," Sarcova continued. "We're getting hammered here. Those heavy cruisers of theirs are just too damned powerful. . . . If we could find some weakness and exploit it . . ."

Serra nodded in concurrence, then moved her eyes to a tactical display. The Sith's massive cruisers were without a doubt the toughest and best equipped warships in the engagement, and four of them remained. One of the four was currently having it out with Admiral Sarcova's Peacekeeper. In fact, Serra noted, that particular enemy cruiser had been flagged with a high probability of being the Sith command ship.

Nearby, the icon designating a Republic frigate winked out of existence. The sight had become so familiar that it hardly drew a reaction from Serra.

"Hmmm," she said, looking back to Sarcova, but then the Twi'lek's eyes bulged.

"We're having . . . little trouble here," he said. The image was marred by static as Sarcova rapidly moved his gaze around the unseen bridge of his vessel. "Ma'am?"

And then, in the blink of an eye, the image disappeared completely. Communications disruption? Serra hoped. But no, she saw immediately. The Peacekeeper cruiser had been destroyed, and Admiral Dib Sarcova was dead.

Serra's eyes bored into the tactical display. Sarcova had been one of the Navy's top commanders. She could not let this disaster continue.

"All available vessels," she ordered, switching on a comm system. "Concentrate firepower on the enemy's flagship."

Varian's yellow lightsaber flashed across her vision as she moved it to intercept bolt after bolt of blasterfire. It was just as Master Kenobi had taught her. She did not have to think consciously of where the next attack would hit. Her blade would be there before the shots were even fired. Blaster bolts bounced off her weapon in all directions. One actually struck an enemy trooper, sprawling him unconscious on the hard floor. Behind her, she could sense Cilian doing the same. Nothing had gotten through the Jedi's defenses as of yet. And thanks to the efforts of Master Kah, the amount of incoming fire was decreasing.

One by one, the powerful Master stole away the blasters of their assailants. The helmeted soldiers' facial expressions could not be seen, and their minds were hard to read, so there was no way to tell for sure-but it seemed that they were unfazed by the loss of their weapons. Once all the blasters had been sent flying, the troops began a slow advance. They were trying to overwhelm the Jedi, apparently. Varian held her blade in a guard position, not moving to attack or retreat. Not that there's any retreat from this position, anyway.

"You do not have to do this," Master Kah tried again, and again was unsuccessful. Then the soldiers charged.

There was no way to avoid it. One of the troopers was skewered on Varian's blade, and as she drew back another lost half an arm. She could feel horror radiating off of the Jedi Master behind her, and Varian herself felt much the same way. She had never killed anyone before. Was that soldier dead? Yes, he most definitely was. Thick red material spilled out of the hole that went clear through his abdomen.

Fortunately, this convinced the rest of the Sith troopers to flee. Varian shook her head, trying to get rid of the feelings of shock and disgust that could, perhaps fatally, detract from her concentration on the task at hand. Master Skywalker must have done things like this, too, when there was no other option, she reminded herself. Then she heard Cilian's voice. "It looks like there's a docking bay down that way. Maybe we can find a ship to escape."

"Let's go," said Master Kah. The three Jedi took up a rapid pace toward their destination, but Varian knew that they would not get there without encountering more enemy troops.

Sarn Zor'sya blasted another enemy fighter into pieces and out of his way as he raced toward the Sith flagship. The cruiser's dark hull stretched out at least two kilometers in either direction, completely dwarfing Sarn's craft and those that accompanied him. His target, which sent out dangerous blasts of energy in rapid fashion toward any Republic ships that came near, showed little sign of damage. Now let's inflict some.

"Prepare to launch warheads," he ordered. As the young Bothan pilot tapped the appropriate buttons in his cockpit, he thought suddenly of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sarn had never figured out for sure what had happened to the assault shuttle that carried him. He knew that his Master was still alive, however, and got the sense that the Jedi would soon be doing something of grave importance.

The Force be with you, Master Kenobi, Sarn said in his mind, just as he opened up with the first torpedo volley.

They had arrived.

"Land," Obi-Wan ordered, pointing toward a clear spot on the ground. The pilot glanced at him, then nodded, and soon the shuttle was in a rapid descent. As it dropped, the darkness grew. The shadows cast by Coruscant's tall buildings deepened, while the evil presence grew steadily nearer.

By the time the shuttle had been brought to a smooth landing, it seemed to be night outside. "So should I . . . wait here?" the pilot asked, looking out with fear in his eyes.

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied. "You'll be safe."

"Okay . . ."

"Don't worry," Obi-Wan reassured him, already turning to leave the cockpit. He had little time to waste. The space battle had not been going particularly well when they made the jump to hyperspace, and things could be getting worse by the minute. Defeating the Sith Master would put an end to it, he hoped. In addition to that, the longer it took to find their enemy, the longer he would have to set a trap for them. Not that the Dark Lord would necessarily do that, but at the moment Obi-Wan simply wanted to get this started as soon as possible so he could get it over with. He could not allow this pollution of the Force to continue.

"How far do you think it'll be?" asked Keiran, as the three Jedi walked down the shuttle's ramp.

"I can't tell," said Obi-Wan. "Hopefully not very."

"It's so dark," commented Andiell, looking around their dismal surroundings. She shivered, then took a step closer to Keiran.

"If we do our job, maybe that will change. Here." Obi-Wan walked to a hole in the ground he had spotted about ten meters from the front of the shuttle. "Follow me."

He drew his lightsaber and ignited its azure blade. Behind him, he heard the distinctive snap-hiss sounds as Keiran and Andiell brought their own weapons to life. Obi-Wan peered into the hole, pointing his blade down into it. The pit looked dim and dirty, but he could make out its bottom. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and dropped.

Obi-Wan went into a crouch upon impact. Several crashing sounds followed-pieces of debris falling from the decaying ceiling. Dust rose up all around him, sparkling in the blue light cast by his blade. Webs built by arachnid creatures were evident along the walls. Behind him, there was only a dead end. In front of him, the passage stretched on toward what looked like a stairway descending deeper below ground. Obi-Wan came out of his crouch, advanced a few meters, then turned and loudly whispered toward Keiran and Andiell. "Come down."

Andiell appeared first, and Keiran followed seconds later. Their sabers, hers deep blue and his emerald, added to the chamber's lighting, but there still wasn't much. The two young Jedi surveyed their new environment for a few moments, then turned to Obi-Wan. "Makes the surface look like a sunny day," said Keiran.

"It will only get worse," replied Obi-Wan. "Now, you're both ready for this? I know you are capable of the task ahead, but I am also sure you have never done anything so difficult."

Andiell and Keiran exchanged brief, warm looks. "We're ready," said the former.

"All right. I'll take the lead. Watch your backs; you never know from where something might be coming at you. And concentrate on the Force. It will guide us."

Obi-Wan crept forward, using his lightsaber as a torch. Just as he had thought, there was a stairway some twenty meters beyond their entrance to the underground. He paused at the top, then began cautiously down it, testing each step before putting his full weight there. The stairs were made of crumbling gray stone, but seemed stable enough that they would not collapse completely. By the time the trio had gone down about twenty-five of them, all natural light had disappeared. No end to their descent was in sight.

The Jedi continued downward slowly. No one spoke; the only sounds were of breathing and the humming of lightsabers. The tunnel they were in became narrower, and Obi-Wan had to duck his head. He held his saber low and peered down past it, but could still see nothing at all. There was one thing he sensed very strongly, however. The dark presence. Obi-Wan felt it slither up the stairway and try to slip into his soul. He fought it off without much trouble, but there was no telling how strong it would be at its source. There is no fear, he said through the Force, and could feel Keiran and Andiell affirming his statement.

After what could have been two minutes or ten, the stairway finally ended. The passage opened up, and a large chamber now appeared before them. There was some light here, coming from unseen sources, but certainly not much. And the eerie silence continued.

Obi-Wan stepped out into the open and looked around. "I-" Andiell stopped, perhaps startled by her own voice. "I wonder how far down we are," she finished quietly.

Obi-Wan glanced back at her. "Far enough," he murmured. Yes, he could sense it clearly now. Their final destination was at hand.


Andiell moved her gaze slowly around the large, shadow-filled room. The walls to her left and right were rough, like those of a cave-but not quite natural. Side passages receded into the darkness in a few places, but she could tell that the imminent confrontation lay ahead of her. An aisle ran forward at the cavernous chamber's middle. Black pillars flanked it on either side. Littering the floor behind those pillars were . . .

The Jedi Knight looked away in disgust. Corpses were scattered about on the floor. They were mostly just bones, but ragged, rotting flesh hung off a few of them. It was a most unpleasant sight, one among many in this terrible place. If I were here by myself, I'd probably go crazy! Fortunately, Andiell was not alone. The strong presences of Keiran and Master Kenobi were there to squelch any fear that might arise, and she got the sense that perhaps someone else was accompanying her as well. Someone from long ago, yet still familiar to her. Maybe I am crazy, she thought wryly, but she had the feeling that she was being watched by none other than her ancestor, Luke Skywalker himself.

Then it hit her. This place was what he had been searching for! In his memoirs, Master Skywalker had spoken of his quest to find the source of a series of recurring dark side disturbances. He had narrowed down his search to the planet Coruscant, but had never discovered the exact location. And now, centuries later, the Jedi had finally found it! It had to be . . . this place was strong indeed with the dark side, and something here could easily have been the cause of all the strange tremors.

But this is no time for history. We can deal with that afterwards.

Apparently satisfied with what he saw, Master Kenobi gestured with his lightsaber for the trio to move forward down the room's central aisle. They continued to go slowly. With each step taken now, the dark presence seemed to grow. Focusing in, Andiell could make out the distinct shapes of three separate dark siders in the Force. All, however, seemed relatively insignificant next to the malignant, over-riding power that blanketed this whole place. There is no fear, she reminded herself once more. This was her time; she must take up her destiny. She could do this.

Before they had gone too far, a doorway became visible in the dim lighting up ahead. It was quite large, almost two meters by three, and arched at the top with black rock. Beyond it there appeared to be a murky shape, perhaps a person . . .

He's in that room, said Master Kenobi. Andiell was surprised for a moment; she was not used to speaking mind-to-mind. But for the situation, it was appropriate.

Where are the others? asked Keiran.

Master Kenobi paused, then replied, Lurking to the sides. I can't make out their exact locations.

Neither could Andiell. The three Jedi made their way up to the open door. Andiell peered through, and could discern the shapes of dark statues rising up into nothingness around the perimeter of a large, circular room. And at the center of it all sat what was without a doubt the most evil being she had ever laid eyes upon. The Sith Master smiled maliciously, but did not say a word to the intruders. He merely sat there, waiting for them to approach.

Master Kenobi regarded their enemy for a few long heartbeats. Then, finally, he sent Now-just as Andiell felt a tingling sensation of danger run up her spine.

She spun to the right and saw a glowing red blade flying toward her. In an instant, her own saber was up and ready to block it. Her attacker, a cloaked human male, did not take his time in continuing the assault with a rapid combination, and Andiell had to stagger backwards to avoid going down. She felt Keiran behind her, facing a dark foe of his own. Andiell reached out, touching their bond in the Force and drawing strength from it. She parried a low blow, then went into a quick counterattack and managed to push her opponent away. In the split-second she gained through this maneuver, she glanced into the adjacent chamber. She could see Master Kenobi-

Suddenly, there was a flash of light, accompanied by a loud crackling sound. Then a huge stone structure crashed down across the doorway. The ground shook, and pieces of rock rained from above. It was fortunate that the Sith she fought was just as startled by the occurrence as she was. He recovered quickly, however, and within seconds two pairs of blades clashed once more as the twin battles were taken up in full force.

The Sith Master did not move from his chair. He let his leering eyes rest on the collapsed statue for a moment; then they returned to meet Obi-Wan's gaze. "So, you have arrived at last . . . Jedi."

Obi-Wan remained calm, holding his lightsaber steadily before him and not looking away from the other's piercing stare. "You make the title sound like an insult," he said, "yet you were once a Jedi yourself."

The response to this was an outburst of pure hatred. "I was a fool then, as you are now," spat out the Dark Lord. "Perhaps you are stupid enough to believe you can redeem me? Ha! I have discovered the Force's true power here, and you are too pathetic to feel it. Now, shall we continue to waste time, or shall I destroy you?"

Obi-Wan could only shake his head sadly. He sensed no spark of good hidden within that dark shell of a man. The time had come at last, and he now knew that redemption, in this case, was impossible. Like Emperor Palpatine, all trace of the light had been obliterated in this being. He was pure evil.

Replying to the threat was unnecessary. Obi-Wan took a deep breath, pulling the Force around him and pushing out this place's foul presence. Then he began to move steadily toward the Sith Master.

The air sizzled as Keiran's green blade crashed against the Sith's red one. The dark warrior growled as it blocked the strike, and Keiran felt himself shoved backwards. A ferocious series of blows followed. The young Jedi moved his saber in a swift pattern to deflect each one. He backpedaled further as he did so, then felt another body behind him. Andiell gasped, and Keiran could sense her stumbling briefly for control. She regained it quickly, and Keiran returned his full attention to the creature who advanced on him. Another deadly combination came in rapid fashion. Keiran could feel his pulse racing as he struggled to keep up with the vicious blows.

The Sith monster he fought had a very different fighting style from its Master's. Keiran had observed it dueling Master Kenobi during the attack on the Academy, but that experience had not fully prepared him for the unrelenting assault he now faced. The Sith slashed down toward Keiran, followed this up with a pair of low swings, then pulled back for a moment. It spun its crimson blade once, then thrust it straight at Keiran.

He sidestepped quickly, pushed his opponent's blade aside, then found himself forced into a half-turn. Another blade sliced in at his side; he pulled back his own and caught it. As he moved to face the second Sith apprentice, he caught sight of Andiell agilely rolling and coming up to take on the snarling, furred menace. Keiran exchanged blows with his new foe, breathing hard with the expended effort. These guys are good! he thought.

If we work together, replied Andiell through the Force, we can defeat them.

The Dark Lord finally made a move when Obi-Wan had come within three saber-lengths of him. He slowly came out of his seat, looking disdainfully toward the Jedi as he stood. Then the Sith drew and ignited his lightsaber. It glowed-black, a strange sight indeed.

"Jedi Kenobi," he said, a malevolent grin on his wrinkled face. "I will enjoy this immensely." The Sith Master took one step forward; then, instead of striking with his lightsaber, he raised his free left hand. A white-hot bolt of lightning shot from it. Obi-Wan easily caught the blast on his blade.

"Very well," cackled the dark former Jedi. Then he took another step forward and attacked.

They had almost reached the nearby docking bay, and the means of escape contained there, when another four troopers charged down the hall. The attackers opened fire immediately, spraying red blaster bolts at Varian and her two companions. The Jedi were forced to a halt as she and Cilian brought up their lightsabers to block. Master Kah stood behind them and took up her own method of defense.

Varian blocked a shot to her head, then brought down her saber and deflected another one. The returning bolt knocked out one of the black-armored soldiers. Beside her, Cilian's silver blade flashed across the paths of more incoming fire, scattering it in all directions. As she had before, Master Kah used the Force to one by one remove the trooper's weapons. It was not long before the new obstacle in their path had been deal with-but, Varian noticed with a frown, it was long enough. More soldiers, many more in fact, were already rushing in, and a quick glance behind her confirmed her feeling that just as many were approaching from the other direction. The docking bay was in sight, but there was no way to get there. Within seconds, they were completely surrounded.

Varian took a deep breath and went back into her guard position as a barrage heavier than she had ever faced began.

By now, the Sith's command cruiser had become the focal point of the battle. A wide array of Republic and Coruscantian vessels attacked the massive cruiser from all sides, blasting away with their energy weapons and warheads. Numerous Sith craft had come to their flag's aid, however, and were fighting back with a ferocity that High Admiral Serra Harsekk's crews did not seem to be matching. She watched as ship after friendly ship raced in at the target, only to turn into another bright, expanding fireball.

The Alderaan VII, her own flagship, was near the center of the fray. Most of its powerful weapons had been brought to bear on the Sith cruiser, and that ship was beginning to show signs of damage. Yet it did not seem to be ready to go down any time soon. Smaller Sith vessels maneuvered their way into attacks on the Alderaan, and several alarms lit up on the Peacekeeper-class cruiser's bridge.

"Shields back down to ten percent," reported one of her officers.

"Redirect energy at fifteen percent," Serra ordered, knowing it would cut back slightly on her ability to do damage, but at the same time realizing that she had to survive if the Republic fleet stood a chance of holding together. Many of her top subordinates had already met their ends in this bloody battle.

Serra shifted her gaze to a tactical readout. "Warhorse, go to intercept enemy ships at point six," she told a frigate. "Frierin and Pacer, move to attack their flagship." She watched for a few seconds as the icons followed her commands, then turned her eyes to a display of the Alderaan's shield power.

And the steadily dropping numbers that glowed there.

The first few blows of the duel were tentative. Obi-Wan and his opponent moved their blades in basic patterns, each testing the other's abilities. It was quickly obvious that this would not be an easy battle.

The Dark Master was not as agile as the female Sith Obi-Wan had fought on Tatooine, nor as physically strong as the creature he had faced on Yavin IV. But he possessed surprising amounts of both qualities for one who appeared so old, and he easily surpassed his apprentices in Force power. That was expected, of course. Obi-Wan had known exactly what he was getting himself into when he came here. His mission was to put an end to this evil.

All right, he decided after perhaps a minute had gone by. Let's get down to business.

The Jedi took a step back, then surged forward with a rapid high-low combination. He followed this up with a pair of strikes at his foe's middle, then a quick upward swing. The Sith Lord backed off a few meters, parrying the blows, then counterattacked with a swing at Obi-Wan's thighs. This was turned aside, and then Obi-Wan unleashed another combination. His blue blade intersected the Sith's dark saber over and over, searching for an opening but not finding it. As they continued to trade blows, the two combatants slowly circled each other. Obi-Wan found himself with his back to the massive throne that stood at the room's center. He hesitated a moment, then called on the Force and leapt backwards to land behind the chair. He could feel the Sith honing in on him, and within moments Obi-Wan went into a forward roll past the chair and came up swinging at his opponent's side. The Dark Lord barely managed to deflect the azure blade; then he jumped back to avoid the next strike. Obi-Wan pressed his attack, raining down blows on his enemy, and the Sith was forced further and further back across the room. The Jedi aimed a particularly swift blow at his foe's chest, but this was blocked, and the counterstrike by the black blade pushed Obi-Wan away.

The Sith Master paused a moment, then leered at the Jedi. Obi-Wan frowned. He sensed a disturbance in the Force . . .

He spun around just in time to see a barrage of small rocks flying toward him. Debris from where the giant statue had crashed to the floor-he brought his saber up, at the same time calling on the Force to protect him. A large chunk was bisected on his blade, while the other pieces rushed past on either side. Obi-Wan, unscathed by the surprise attack, ran forward and then executed a twisting roll to face his opponent once more, now from a distance of several meters. He brought up a Force-built protective bubble, anticipating the second rock barrage. Again he was unharmed-but more and more of the sharp pieces began to swirl through the air.

This Sith Lord was extremely powerful, that was for sure. And the location of the duel, Obi-Wan realized as he struggled to keep up his defenses, gave the dark sider a definite advantage.

Keiran found himself again squaring off with the monstrous Sith creature. The two traded strikes and counterstrikes, now at a pace a bit slower than it had been at the battle's beginning. The dark warrior showed less signs of fatigue than Keiran felt, however. The young Jedi's breath came in gasps. If it were not for the Force and his bond to Andiell, he would already have succumbed to exhaustion. Now he felt that that might happen anyway, before the fight went on too much longer.

Keiran scrambled to parry a vicious, slashing combination, then attempted to turn the tables on his foe. He feinted a high strike, then moved his blade into a quick downward arc. This was blocked, but Keiran was already shifting gears for the next blow, toward the creature's thick neck. The Sith managed to duck-and in the blink of an eye its bright red blade was about to cleave through Keiran's knees.

The Jedi's only option was to jump, and he did so. But as he reached the top of his leap, the Sith gestured with its clawed hand, and a sudden, invisible force smashed into Keiran's chest. He was thrown backwards, his arms flailing-then a sharp pain raced through his backside as his flying body was halted by the unforgiving surface of a stone pillar. The jolt knocked Keiran's green lightsaber from his hands, and he slumped down against the black pillar. He recovered quickly, reaching out to retrieve his weapon with the Force. But he was not quick enough. Keiran groaned as he felt a vise clamp down on his extended arm. His gaze shot away from his fallen saber to look straight ahead. Straight into a pair of angry red eyes.

The Sith tightened its grip, holding Keiran with an obviously mechanical hand that must have replaced the one it had lost to Master Kenobi. No attempt had been made to hide the device's artificial nature. The creature's hot breath hit Keiran like the stench of a decaying bantha corpse, and as those fiery eyes bore into his the Jedi could feel his innards convulsing. The Sith raised its lightsaber, still glaring down at Keiran. There was no way to break the monster's hold, no way to escape . . .

Andiell! he cried out silently. Help!


At the same time that Andiell received the desperate cry from her fellow Jedi, she felt a wave of pain rush over her through the Force. Keiran was in grave danger; he could be brutally slain at any moment. She had to act immediately.

Redoubling her effort, Andiell attacked the young human Sith Lord with decidedly inhuman speed. Left, right, up, down, her deep blue blade was a blur as it tore into her opponent's defenses. The Sith rapidly retreated, and she could see the fear in his eyes as he desperately tried to stop her. Andiell executed a forehand swing, then repeated the move with greater force. The Sith's red blade was pushed aside, and Andiell let her momentum carry her into a spinning kick that connected solidly with the dark warrior's abdomen. The Sith apprentice was sent sprawling to the ground.

All this had taken mere seconds, but those seconds were precious ones indeed. Without pausing to catch her breath, Andiell hopped backwards, then did a high backflip and landed a meter from Keiran's assailant. In one fluid motion, she swung her saber around and slashed down across the creature's muscular back. The deep wound froze the Sith for a moment; then it roared in pain and fell in a heap.

Keiran looked stunned for a few seconds. His unblinking eyes moved back and forth between Andiell and the fallen Sith Lord. At last they rested on Andiell. "Th-thanks," he managed, his voice hoarse.

"You'd've done the same for me," replied Andiell, grinning. This brought a smile to Keiran's face, but Andiell knew that she could not take time to enjoy it right now. The other Sith apprentice was behind her, and surely had plenty of fight left. She turned to face him, but the dark young man had made no move to approach the two Jedi. He had gotten to his feet, but he could only stand there, quaking with apparent fear.

"Help," exclaimed a weak voice. Andiell looked down. The other Sith was speaking! She stepped back from the heavily wounded creature, as did Keiran, who now held his green lightsaber in his hands.

The monstrous Sith extended its natural hand toward the standing dark sider. The sight was a bit pathetic, very different from the vision of the menacing, red-eyed beast that had first attacked them. "I could have killed you once, but . . . saved you. You owe . . . life to me . . ."

The other Sith looked at his comrade, but his feet seemed rooted in place. "Please!" gasped the fallen creature, a very strange word to hear from a Dark Lord's mouth. The human Sith hesitated, took a step forward-then dashed away in the opposite direction.

His crimson blade glowed in the darkness as Andiell's foe raced toward an exit. If he escaped, she realized, the Sith order could go on, even if she and her companions were victorious today. She glanced to Keiran, and the two began forward in pursuit. . . .

But what was that? Andiell thought she sensed a familiar presence. What could it-

Suddenly, a radiant violet blade burst out of one of the side passages. H'tashi Taurin! The Togorian Jedi emerged right in the fleeing Sith's path, swinging her saber toward him. In her excitement, however, the first blow went wide, and the Sith connected with a glancing hit on her shoulder. H'tashi growled, then came on with a vicious series of blows. She quickly found an opening, and just like that the Sith's torso was separated from his legs.

Andiell and Keiran rushed toward their injured fellow Jedi. H'tashi clipped her deactivated lightsaber to her belt and pawed at the wound on her shoulder. She did not seem to desire aid, however. "No," spoke the Togorian, slipping into a meditative position. "I will be fine. Go to Master Kenobi; I sense he needs you."

Obi-Wan was surrounded by a whirling, dark-side-generated vortex. Rushing air whipped against his body, and tiny rocks spun all around him. He moved his lightsaber to pick off those he could, calling on the Force to deflect the rest. The task was becoming exponentially more difficult with time.

The darkness of this place was beginning to envelop the Jedi. Touching the light side grew increasingly difficult. The Sith Master threatened to overwhelm him.

One pebble bounced off Obi-Wan's back at high speed, then another, then several more. He began a pain-reducing exercise. . . .

Then the dark wind picked up, and Obi-Wan found his feet leaving the ground. He flailed against the movement, trying to focus the Force and counteract his enemy's control. But the darkness was too strong. More rocks impacted against him, sending pain shooting throughout his body.

The vortex shifted, and Obi-Wan was suddenly slammed onto the hard stone floor. The Sith Master cackled loudly. As Obi-Wan struggled to push himself upwards, he could see his enemy approaching. The Dark Lord extended his arms and pointed his withered digits at the Jedi. Obi-Wan, still leaning back on the ground, raised his lightsaber in one hand. He caught the first bolt of Force lightning on the blade, then the second-

With the third, the Jedi was not so fortunate.


The only way to reach Master Kenobi was through the arched doorway connecting the cavernous chamber Keiran and Andiell were in to the adjoining circular room where their teacher battled the Sith Master. Unfortunately, the giant fallen statue created a major obstacle in the two Jedi Knights' path. They quickly began to carve into the huge sculpture with their lightsabers, but the stone was thick, and cutting their way through would take some time.

Keiran could sense Master Kenobi's presence weakening as he was assaulted by dark power. He glanced over at Andiell. The young woman wore a worried expression on her face as she bore into the rock. But before long, her countenance had shifted to one of determination, and Keiran found himself again thinking how glad he was to have her by his side. Andiell had saved him from the monstrous Sith creature. Now, together, they might have to save their teacher from that dark warrior's master.

Keiran moved his focus to his green blade as it melted away the dense, black stone. It was a fairly menial task, not even requiring any skills in the Force, and his eyes soon began to wander upward. There were some markings above the doorway. Writing, Keiran quickly realized, in an ancient-looking script but still legible. And one passage jumped out at him almost immediately.

In the hour of greatest light, a Jedi will fall, and the Sith will rise again.

"Look up there," said Keiran in an excited whisper. Andiell glanced at him, then up to where his free hand was pointing.

"A Jedi will fall, and the Sith . . . Master Nonen's apprentice!" she exclaimed, echoing Keiran's thoughts. "In the story you told us, he . . ."

"Fell to his death from one of Coruscant's tall buildings, or so Master Nonen believed," finished Keiran. The mention of his deceased Master still hurt Keiran, but the pain was tempered by the knowledge that success here would make Nonen's sacrifice worthwhile. "He must have found this place, somehow, and used the dark side energy here to revive himself. And then he was corrupted, and over time became a master of evil."

"And those beings?" wondered Andiell, gesturing back to the decayed corpses scattered across the room's floor. Two recently deceased bodies had just been added to the large count.

Keiran pondered this for a moment. "Acolytes of the dark side, perhaps, waiting here and keeping up their temple. Maybe they even brought Master Nonen's apprentice here in the hopes that he would fulfill the Sith prophecy!"

"And look at what it got them," said Andiell, shaking her head.

"The poor fools." Keiran returned his gaze to the fallen stone statue, and found that they had nearly gotten all the way through. Molten rock sizzled as the two glowing blades cut into it. The pair of Jedi had carved out a roughly circular hole in the rock, and now Keiran felt that the end of his saber had gone through into the space on the other side of the statue. He slowly moved the weapon to take out the last few decimeters of dark stone. Very soon, now, they could break through and come to Master Kenobi's aid. . . .

As if their minds were on the same wavelength, Keiran and Andiell simultaneously turned to each other and locked lips in a passionate kiss. It was so wonderful, to taste the sweet sensation of their shared love-but by necessity, the kiss was a brief one. The glowing green and blue lightsabers sliced away the last of the stone obstacle. Seconds later, the two Jedi were charging into the next chamber.

Sarn was about to begin another assault on the seemingly impenetrable shields of the Sith flagship when he felt a sudden sense of danger. His eyes shot to his cockpit displays, but no enemy craft had their weapons locked onto him. The danger was not directed at Sarn himself, then, but at-

Out of the corner of his eye, the young pilot caught sight of a freighter flying a wild pattern through space. He quickly saw why; the brightly colored vessel was being pursued by a trio of starfighters. Their lasers chased it across the vacuum, most sailing wide but a few impacting against the ship's shielding. The freighter looked like a YT-series, and was identified on sensors as a friendly.

And Sarn got the distinct impression that the Force was telling him to help that ship.

He banked his X-81 into a hard turn to starboard, then throttled up and quickly got the enemy fighters into his sights. The Bothan pilot squeezed down on his firing triggers, and red lasers flashed out into space. The first enemy craft was caught completely off guard; it was quickly consumed by an explosion in its engines. The other two began evasive maneuvers as they continued to follow the freighter. Sarn took out another within a few seconds. The friendly ship took a hit, then another; then Sarn eliminated the final threat to it and the freighter was in the clear.

"Thanks, Iota Leader," a human voice came over Sarn's comm as the red and orange vessel swooped in toward the enemy command ship.

"No problem, Firebird," the Republic pilot replied.

Tae Sorian was indeed thankful for the assistance. Without it, his YT-4200 might have been destroyed within the next minute. "All right," he said, peering out through his main viewport at the massive warship before him. "Let's set up for a run on their bridge shield generators."

"Copy," replied the Firebird's gunner. Tae vectored his craft in toward the appropriate location on the enormous cruiser. Scattered turbolaser fire tried to convince the Coruscantian that he would be best off not messing with this target. Tae dodged the blasts instead, while keeping his basic course dead on toward the enemy's bridge.

They came into range, and the Firebird opened up with its quad- and turbolaser arrays. The energy they sent at their target was merely absorbed by the shields. "Keep it up," muttered Tae, clenching his teeth as he flew in a bit closer than he was comfortable with. The dark Sith cruiser now filled almost his entire viewport. He fired over and over with the cockpit-mounted turbolaser, while on the other end of the ship his gunner did likewise with the quad lasers. Sensors showed the shield beginning to weaken. . . .

"Shavit!" exclaimed Tae as a green turbolaser shot lanced straight at him-and the Firebird was rocked as the heavy blast impacted the freighter. Tae did not see any immediate damage, but shield readings had plummeted, and-

No . . . A flashing red display signified a breach in the freighter's hull. Even worse, it was directly over the gunner's bubble-shaped compartment. It couldn't be!

"Still with me there?" Tae asked, his voice shaky. Silence was the reply. The freighter quickly went into automatic repair sequences, but his gunner-not to mention about half of his ship's firepower-was gone. And the Firebird was losing power. As the turbolaser barrages around him intensified, Tae realized that there was little hope of escape.

His course had taken him quite near the Sith flagship's bridge. Perhaps he could slip in and . . .

Tae had never intended to sacrifice himself when he got into this whole mess. The Sith had started it, taking away his most prized possession, the YT-4200 freighter Corusca's Chance. But now, with little chance of survival, there was an opportunity for revenge.

"This is for the Chance," Tae said aloud. Then his thoughts, unbidden, turned to the planet that, despite its myriad troubles, was his home. "And for Coruscant," added Tae. He pushed his throttle to the max as the Firebird plummeted toward the Sith flagship's bridge.

A cacophony of alarms filled Serra Harsekk's ears. Red lights flashed throughout the Alderaan VII's bridge, as damage reports lit up nearly every display screen visible. The Republic flagship had suffered the loss of its forward shielding, along with multiple breaches in its thick metal sides. Schematics of the Peacekeeper showed more and more compartments turning crimson to signify loss of hull integrity-and, perhaps, to symbolize the blood of those unfortunate beings who had been inside when those vacuum-exposed sections of the ship were hit. Things were not looking good, not at all.

Serra had her eyes on the Sith flagship, and the complete lack of visible damage there, when an explosion appeared on the giant cruiser. A pyre of flame shot up into space an instant later. Finally, Serra thought-and then one of her bridge officers let out a loud cheer.

She was about to question the over-exuberance of her subordinate, when she realized that the outburst was completely appropriate. The explosion had taken out the Sith cruiser's bridge!

"They've stopped firing, ma'am," reported another excited officer. The enemy flagship guns had indeed fallen silent. The deadly warship floated slowly through space, still looking almost pristine save for the blasted-out hole where its bridge had been.

"Republic fleet, attempt to disable rather than destroy enemy command ship," Serra ordered. "Shift focus to other attacking craft."

The many other ships of the Sith fleet were still coming on, but their attack seemed to have lost all semblance of organization in the moments following the destruction of their flag's bridge. The enemy vessels had fallen completely out of their formations. It appeared now that their fighting skills had even dropped below the less-than-admirable capabilities of the Republic fleet.

Alarms slowly ceased on the Alderaan's bridge as the damage was brought under control. The tactical displays before Serra showed her a battle whose tide was beginning to turn. We can win this thing yet.

Keiran was shocked by what he saw when he burst through the hole in the fallen statue. He had known the duel was going badly, but he had not expected to see Master Kenobi's form writhing on the floor. Keiran leapt forward just in time to extend his green blade and catch a lightning bolt directed at his teacher. Andiell was beside him instantly, and the two Jedi Knights stood over their fallen comrade, lightsabers pointed at their enemy. "Keiran, Andiell," choked out Master Kenobi, looking up at the pair.

"Ah, so Jedi Kenobi's little students have arrived," the Sith Master said, turning his attention toward the newcomers. He wore a malicious grin on his face as he regarded the saber-wielding Knights. After a few moments of silence, the Dark Lord's eyes bore in on Keiran's, and he spoke once more. "Jedi Foranoll, you are still following the teachings of this fool? You know that the dark side is where the true power lies; I can feel it. Just imagine how strong you would be if you set aside your pathetic Jedi ways. Feel the power, give in to it, join me!" The Sith stretched his arms up and outward on either side of his body. With the eerie black lightsaber pointing from his right hand and the long, pale fingers of his left, his gesture encompassed the whole of the chamber that he stood at the center of. The huge statues rising up into the shadows, the twisted throne, the darkness resonating through it all. . . .

Perhaps the dark side was more powerful, Keiran realized as he looked all around the vast, circular chamber. But I can't give in! screamed another voice in his mind. And what was that? The old fear again, creeping up through his bones. . . .

Then Keiran's gaze came to rest on the beautiful woman who stood beside him. "No," he said, his voice strong. "I fight out of love, not hatred." Andiell smiled at Keiran, and her blue eyes sparkled in the darkness. The power of the dark side was nothing next to what he had!

"Love," the Sith Master echoed in a mocking tone. "A pity. One so promising, and now I must destroy you."

Keiran could feel the dark sider drawing power into his withered form. The young Jedi reached out to his bond with Andiell, feeding strength into it. Their combined Force energy was a beacon of light in this black place. Together, the two Knights sent their power toward their weakened teacher. Slowly but surely, Master Kenobi's presence began to grow stronger, over-riding the darkness that surrounded him. He pushed himself up onto his knees, picked up and ignited his blue lightsaber . . . the powerful Jedi seemed to shake for a few seconds; then, at last, he managed to regain his feet. "Thank you," he murmured, not looking back at the duo behind him. And then Master Kenobi began a cautious but steady advance on the Jedi's foe.

The air sizzled with energy as countless blaster bolts shot through it and two lightsabers arced across their paths. Judu Kah was at the center of it all, trying desperately to reduce the intensity of the attack. But with each weapon that she pulled out of a trooper's hands with the Force, it seemed that another of the black-armored soldiers came in to take up the assault. There was no telling when the enemy's reserves would run out, and the relentless barrage was clearly wearing down the valiant defensive efforts of Varian and Cilian. I have to do something else to help them, the Jedi Master decided.

The hot red bursts of energy continued to pour in. . . . Energy. Judu could manipulate it through the Force, perhaps. Provide a shield of some sort. It was worth a try; if she did nothing the Jedi might soon be struck down by the blasterfire. Judu closed her eyes and breathed deeply as she drew on the Force. She could feel the strange, murderous presences of the black-armored Sith troopers. The fatiguing presences of the two Jedi Knights who fought on either side of her. Focusing on the points in space just beyond Varian and Cilian, she began to concentrate her Force energy. She brought up walls there, not made of any tangible substance but powerful nonetheless. She could feel blaster bolts absorbed, and allowed herself a brief feeling of satisfaction. It had worked.

Judu opened her eyes. The Sith troopers were still firing, but most of their shots now dissipated into thin air before reaching their targets. The few that got through were easily turned aside by Varian and Cilian's glowing lightsabers. The two Knights moved smoothly, gracefully, deflecting each blast with no apparent effort. For Judu, however, the effort was extreme. Keeping up the shields was not easy.

She could feel her power slowly but surely draining. She could not hold on to these defenses forever! And right now, it seemed like forever was the length of time that this attack would last.

The untiring troopers blasted away. Already, Judu could feel her defenses beginning to slip. How long had she lasted? A minute, maybe two? She had tried her hardest, but that was not enough here. Her whole array of powers was basically insignificant in this heated battle.

More shots got past the failing shields. Judu reached out to the Force to reinforce the defenses, but could barely touch it, she was so worn out. Varian and Cilian still had not let any shots through to her-

The Jedi Master's eyes fell on the two young Knights, with their bright weapons, and at that moment a realization came. They truly looked like Jedi. Varian and Cilian were a picture of what the Jedi should be. Theirs was the way of the future, and it had been the way of the past as well. Obi-Wan Kenobi had been right all along. And Judu Kah's way would not exist in the Jedi order from now on.

My time has come, Judu decided. She closed her eyes once more, fell to her knees, and drew all the energy that she possibly could into her body. Then, with a final outburst of strength, everything was released.

Varian blocked another incoming shot, yet another after that-and then her hands faltered. Time seemed to freeze as the red blaster bolt bore down on her. She could see it was going to impact her chest, burn horribly through her robes and her skin, but there was nothing she could do about it. She was too exhausted; the assault had gone on too long, and now-

Suddenly, an expanding wave of pure energy washed over her. Varian was stunned to see the bolt disappear completely. Then the wave reached the enemy soldiers. Their firing stopped immediately, and one by one they collapsed to the ground, unconscious, in a pile of black armor. By the Force, what has just happened? Varian wondered incredulously.

She turned slowly to see Cilian looking at her, the Mon Calamari wearing an expression that mirrored her disbelief. Behind him was another pile of fallen troopers. But between the two Knights-

Jedi Master Judu Kah was dead.

Obi-Wan regarded his opponent coolly, a grim smile creeping upward on the Jedi's face. Moments ago, he had been near defeat. Now, thanks to Keiran and Andiell, he felt just as strong as he had when the battle first commenced. The two young Knights, standing slightly behind and to either side of Obi-Wan, sent a steady stream of Force energy toward him. It invigorated him, made him ready to take down his foe. The Sith Master, alone, had no such assistance, but he could draw power of his own from the very room they stood in. . . .

The Sith smiled back at the Jedi, then raised his weaponless left hand. Obi-Wan could feel dark energy pooling there, swelling to the breaking point-then, with a gesture, a tremendous bolt of white-hot lightning was sent crackling toward him. Obi-Wan reached out to the Force, raised his blade, but how could he possibly deflect such an enormous blast? He prepared himself for the painful impact-

A wall of light side energy pushed forward from behind Obi-Wan, slamming into the lightning bolt, knocking it back to where it had come from. The shocked Sith Master was hurled backwards, and his black throne was shattered into a thousand pieces as the energy tore into it. Obi-Wan backed away from the explosion for a moment as shards of rock were sent in all directions. He glanced from side to side at Keiran and Andiell, amazed at the power they had sent forth. Both gave Obi-Wan looks that seemed to say Now take him. He nodded, then stepped forward toward where the Sith Master had gotten to his feet and waited, holding his black saber at the ready.

As Obi-Wan's feet hit the stone floor where the destroyed throne had been, he noticed a pair of words there. Darth Bane. The burial place of an ancient Sith Lord? In fact, the lingering presence of this Bane could be the source of the temple's evil power. . . .

Obi-Wan was upon his enemy in an instant, slashing his azure blade downward. The Sith parried the blow, tried for a counterstrike-but Obi-Wan easily turned it aside, then went for an attack at his opponent's middle. He followed this up with a left-right-left combination, then a quick pair of low blows. The Sith slowly backed away as he blocked each one of the strikes. Obi-Wan continued on with an upward swing that barely missed the Dark Lord's head. The Jedi dodged the counterattack, feinted low, then went for the other's chest. The Sith managed to push him back, opening up some distance between the two combatants. Then the dark sider raised his free hand and made a whirling movement.

Obi-Wan spun around, slashing through a good-sized chunk of the smashed throne that had been aimed at his head. He followed through by going right into another series of strikes on his opponent. The two blades, black and blue, intersected repeatedly. Obi-Wan let loose with a fierce combination, but found he had over-extended himself slightly. The Sith swung hard at his abdomen. Obi-Wan leapt upward and flipped over the other's deadly weapon, then landed behind his opponent. Both combatants turned as one to lock blades again. Obi-Wan caught a glimpse of Keiran and Andiell now. Both were completely caught up in the ongoing battle. They continued to send in refreshing energy, counteracting the horrible darkness that still surrounded Obi-Wan.

The Jedi unleashed another vicious series of attacks, going high to low and then slashing four times at his enemy's middle. The Sith Master was now forced back to the middle of the room. Keiran, Andiell, sent Obi-Wan through the Force. The two Knights quickly picked up on his plan. Side by side, they began to move quietly toward the duel, and the Sith's unguarded back. The dark sider, not surprisingly, sensed this, and shifted toward Obi-Wan's left. After blocking one of the Jedi's blows, he reached out with his free hand and sent a heavy barrage of lightning toward Keiran and Andiell, stopping their advance almost ten meters away. As the Sith continued his sideways motion around Obi-Wan, his eerie eyes locked back onto the Jedi's-

Obi-Wan, calling on the Force for a burst of extra strength, shoved his saber upward against his opponent's. The dark blade was pushed up and out of defensive position, and those eyes suddenly filled with incredulity. But only for a moment-then Obi-Wan's glowing weapon cleaved into the Sith Lord's body.

The dark one's form collapsed onto the stone floor. The sight brought a great feeling of exultation, just before Obi-Wan Kenobi was overwhelmed by lightness.

Andiell saw Master Kenobi strike down his foe, saw the Sith Master's body fall to the ground. She was staring at the shrouded corpse when a great flash of light filled the room. The young Jedi was blinded for a moment. The silhouettes of Master Kenobi and the fallen Sith seemed burned into her eyes against a stark white background. Andiell blinked several times, shaking her head, as her vision slowly returned. She could make out the shape of Keiran standing beside her. Through the Force, she felt that he was just as amazed as she was. And something else had happened, something incredible.

It was the darkness. It had disappeared! There was no longer any evil presence here, no stench of the dark side. There was only a sense of perfect clarity and balance. As Andiell's eyes re-adjusted, she noticed that the physical darkness in the ancient chamber had diminished as well. A beam of light streamed down from above, apparently coming from a hole that had somehow been created in the distant ceiling. The light pooled on the ground near the room's center, at the spot where-

Master Kenobi and the dead Sith Lord had both disappeared.

This guy's pretty good, thought Sarn as the Bothan maneuvered his X-81 in an attempt to get an enemy starfighter centered in his targeting brackets. The other craft bobbed and juked in random patterns, completely evading Sarn's periodic laser blasts. It seemed that even the Force wasn't enough to get a lock on this pilot.

And then the enemy fighter's movement came to a complete stop. It continued on in a straight line, directly in front of Sarn, not changing its path in the slightest. It would be easy to blow the craft into molecules-but something told Sarn not to do so. He reached out with the Force to touch the mind of the enemy pilot. Still only a Jedi apprentice, the young Republic commander was not very skilled in such matters. He could tell, however, that a change had come over the being in the other craft. There was a sense of confusion, and Sarn could detect no malice whatsoever.

Then the Bothan moved his gaze from the enemy fighter, still locked into its straight-line course, to take in the rest of the combat zone. What he saw was astonishing. All Sith vessels in the area had ceased firing.

There was only one possible explanation. The Jedi had hypothesized that the enemy soldiers had been brainwashed, and now that mind control must have been lifted. Master Kenobi has done it!

Varian felt tears well up in her eyes as she looked down at the fallen form of Judu Kah. The Jedi Master had been a great influence on Varian's life, and the young Knight had always felt close to Kah. Now she was gone.

"She sacrificed herself . . . for us," said Varian.

Cilian nodded, bowing his head. "Even though she did not want to be a part of this battle."

It was true. Judu Kah had set aside her own feelings for the greater good, and what she had done today was indeed great. "We must make sure that the Jedi remember her as a hero," declared Varian.

"Then we had better get going."

Varian turned away from Master Kah's body, casting her eyes toward the docking bay that lay less than a hundred meters down the corridor. But something closer caught her eye. One of the black-armored troopers was moving. He slowly pushed himself up and got to his feet, not holding a blaster. Varian pointed her yellow lightsaber at the soldier, waiting for any sign of an attack. What came instead was completely unexpected.

The trooper removed his helmet, revealing the face of a human male, and tossed it aside. He looked at Varian with an expression mixing bewilderment and fear. "Wha-what's going on?" he asked.

A trick? No, Varian could sense through the Force that there was no deception here. "You honestly don't know?" she asked.

"No. I don't know-anything! I mean, I know who I am . . . Kalri Darnol, I think . . . and I can remember things that happened a long time ago . . . but I have no idea how I got here, or what I'm doing here!"

The sputtering words of this "Kalri Darnol" gave Varian a feeling of elation that nearly overcame her sadness at Master Kah's loss. She glanced back at Cilian and, in an excited whisper, said, "I think we've won."

"We're getting a comm signal from one of the enemy ships, ma'am."

"Send it through," said Serra, fighting to keep a wide grin from bursting onto her face. They had actually done it. The Republic had won the battle, when minutes ago it had appeared likely that all would be lost. The sudden ceasefire from the enemy ships had certainly been a surprise, but Serra would take it.

A human male's face wearing an odd expression appeared before her in hologram form. "Ah, am I speaking with the, um . . . enemy commander?" asked the man.

"Yes, this is Republic High Admiral Serra Harsekk. And who, if I may ask, am I addressing?"

There was a pause, then, "Dano Sculder. And Admiral, to be honest, I don't really know what is happening. We're all pretty confused over here. It seems like we're in the middle of a battle, but I don't know how that happened . . . so if we're fighting against the Republic, I guess the only thing to do is surrender to you.

Serra allowed herself a smile now. "I will gladly accept."

H'tashi was waiting for them when Keiran and Andiell emerged from the hole in the fallen statue and returned to the long, dark chamber they had fought the Sith apprentices in. The Togorian Jedi looked to be in perfect physical condition, and showed little sign of the wound she had received not too long ago. Yet there was a sadness about her. "He's gone, isn't he," said H'tashi, her gaze on the floor.

"Yes," replied Andiell. She, too, could not help but feel a bit melancholy. It had come without warning-one moment, Master Kenobi was standing over the body of his slain enemy; the next moment, he had disappeared in a blinding flash of light. All three Jedi Knights in the dim chamber shared the feeling of loss. Master Kenobi had affected their lives in indescribable ways. At the same time, however, there was a sense that . . .

"His job here was done," Keiran said, forcing strength into his voice. "He was ready to move on."

Andiell nodded. Keiran was right, of course. Master Kenobi had been plucked out of the eternal sea that was the Force and thrown back onto the shore of the physical universe after five hundred years of peaceful immersion. It was clear now why he had been sent; the Sith would have crushed the Jedi order as it was before his return. But now Master Kenobi had guided the Jedi back to their rightful place as guardians of peace and justice, and had fulfilled his duty when the Sith were defeated. Keiran, Andiell, H'tashi, the others Kenobi had trained-they would be able to pass on his teachings, assure that their order never again fell so far. There was no longer any need for the great Jedi to remain with them. In that flash of light, he had returned to his rightful position, one with the Force.

Silence reigned in the cavernous room as the three Jedi mulled over these thoughts in their minds. Finally, H'tashi spoke again. "Yes, he is gone, but . . . we will make sure that he lives on forever." She peered past Keiran and Andiell into the now-empty chamber beyond the fallen statue, then, after a few moments, turned in the other direction. "Now let us leave this place."

Andiell glanced back into that circular chamber one more time herself. She could still glimpse one of the black statues stretching up and out of her field of vision, but it no longer seemed imposing. It was just . . . there. The darkness had been cleansed from this ancient abode of evil. In the future, she knew, there was no chance that this temple would spawn another Sith Master. The bright presence of the great Jedi who had returned to the Force here would forever guard over the subterranean chambers and keep away any tendrils of the dark side that tried to creep in.

Keiran's eyes were lingering on the same spot as hers, Andiell noticed. She turned to him, and the two exchanged smiles. It was time to go, but they would never forget what had happened here.

The three Knights made their way down the pillar-flanked aisle and to the long stairway that rose upward from the other end of the room. They climbed the stairs at a relaxed, moderate pace, letting their green, blue, and violet lightsabers guide the way. The journey did not seem nearly as dark this time, nor as long. Soon the trio came to the room that Keiran and Andiell, along with Master Kenobi, had first come upon after the landing of their shuttle. Looking up out of the hole in the ceiling, Andiell was surprised to find that the sun was shining directly down into it. She basked in its heat for a few seconds, feeling warm both inside and out. "The shuttle's up there," said Keiran.

H'tashi nodded, then extinguished her glowing lightsaber. The Togorian crouched briefly before easily leaping meters upward, out of sight and onto Coruscant's surface. Andiell was about to do the same when she sensed a presence behind her. She turned, touching Keiran on the shoulder. The two Knights looked back the way they had just come, and in front of the stairway's dark mouth they saw a shimmering vision.

Andiell immediately recognized the first figure. An old, bearded Jedi, she had seen him speaking to Master Kenobi back on Tatooine and then later viewed him in the holographic messages retrieved from R2-D2. Luke Skywalker, her great ancestor, smiled broadly at her and Keiran, and Andiell felt an immense feeling of satisfaction inside.

The Jedi Master was not alone, however. The spirits who accompanied him were not familiar to Andiell, but somehow she knew their names. A beautiful woman, streaks of gray in her red-gold hair, stood next to Master Skywalker. In the woman's aging face, Andiell thought she could almost see a reflection of her own. "Mara Jade Skywalker," Andiell whispered.

On the other side of the bearded Jedi was a large, well-built man with a warm countenance. "Anakin Skywalker"-Luke's father, Andiell realized. Beside him was another Jedi Master, with long hair and a beard of his own. "Qui-Gon Jinn," she murmured. Standing in front of Jinn and Anakin was a short, green creature who somehow looked to be incredibly wise. "Yoda."

The five Jedi spirits beamed expressions of approval toward the two Knights. Andiell was filled with a sense of awe, and could sense that Keiran felt likewise. Then one more spirit shimmered into being.

Despite his much older appearance, this last arrival was unmistakably Master Kenobi. He looked at Keiran and Andiell with the widest smile of all, then spoke. "The Force will be with you. Always."

It was so wonderful! Andiell had fulfilled her role as a Jedi beyond her wildest imaginings, and now the great members of the order past were here to show their appreciation. The Force was indeed with her. Just as pleasing was the knowledge that Master Kenobi was happy now, back among his old friends.

The spirits lingered for perhaps a minute before fading away into nothingness. Keiran and Andiell were once more alone in the room. They turned to each other slowly. Neither spoke. They were too awestruck to do so. Andiell gathered Keiran into her arms, and the two shared a happy embrace. Then they moved into position below the hole in the chamber's ceiling. Andiell, then Keiran, jumped up onto the surface. The assault shuttle was still there; H'tashi was already inside.

Keiran and Andiell remained still for a moment as they let the enormity of their experience sink in. All around them, buildings rose up into the heavens. The structures were still old and decrepit, but they were no longer gloomy. With the bright sun shining downward, the whole place seemed awash with joy.

The two Jedi Knights turned to face each other and exchanged smiles again. Then, hand in hand, they walked slowly back toward the waiting shuttle.

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