View Full Version : The Shroud of the Dark Side

19 October 2007, 09:07 PM
This is something I've been working on for a long, long while. The characters have been around, at least in my head, since well before Episode I came out, and the basic story outline hasn't changed much over the years. So far I've got around 30 full pages done, and have the next 30 or so in the works. Needless to say, it's gonna be a long one. The story itself takes place about 50 odd years before the Battle of Ruusan, around 1,050 years BBY.

Anyway, here is the first 20 pages for your reading amusement, split into 3 posts. I'm still not satisfied with the the last 10 pages I've written, so those'll get posted as I progess. All in all, if I decide to finish it, it'll be somewhere between 100 and 150 pages, maybe 40-50,000 words total. It might be just amatuer fanfic, but its really helping me cement my peculiar and particular writing style. And its a lot of fun. Who knows, maybe someday I'll end up writing an actual book, with paper pages and everything.:)


The Shroud of the Dark Side

It is a time of great peril in the galaxy. Sith armies have spread across the galaxy, sowing death and destruction with each new planet they conquer. Though their leadership is fragmented and disorganized, their march across the civilized worlds of the Republic spells certain doom unless their threat can be countered.

The JEDI KNIGHTS, guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, are pushed to their limits trying to maintain the fragile balance of the government. The Republic’s military forces are stretched thin as they battle on hundreds of fronts from the Core Worlds to the Outer Rim.

One Sith Lord, known only as The Teacher, hatches a plan that could shake the very foundations of the both the Republic and the Sith Empire. As he searches for ancient relics of vast power, he secretly plots to unite the Sith under his rule….

Part One: Cloak and Vibrodagger

The halls of the ancient keep were clean and well lit, but the hooded figure cast an unnatural shadow as she walked past the alabaster statues and guards standing at rigid attention. Her black zeyd cloth cloak fluttered slightly as she strode forth, her steps both quick and measured. None of the guards, clad in their ceremonial armor, even so much as blinked as she passed their posts. As she came upon the central chamber, a pair of burly humans stepped aside and bowed low before her. She paid them little heed as she made her way deep into the chamber. When at last she reached the lone chair occupying the rearmost area of the massive room, she knelt before the seated figure, removed her hood and lowered her head in obeisance.
“What is thy bidding, my master?”
“Rise, Lord Sero. I have an important task for you.”
“As you command master.”

Aleena Sero, Lord of the Sith, rose to face the old figure seated on his throne. Her master addressed her in the traditional fashion of the Sith, using the genderless title of Lord instead of Lady, as many of the female dark lords seemed to prefer. Known only as The Teacher, even among other Sith, he was a man of small stature, but nonetheless commanded great respect. His mastery of the dark side was considerable, enough to make other Sith lords wary of moving against him. The Teacher’s forte was knowledge of all things, and he used this knowledge to secure his place among the other dark lords. While many Sith were masterful warriors and powerful orators, The Teacher was more subtle, capitalizing on his great wisdom and depth of mind to sway others to his cause and frighten his opponents into submission. His mind was as sharp as any Sith blade and cut through his foes as a lightsaber cuts through plasteel. Physically weak, it was his will that gave him power, power to command his own army of assassins and soldiers. When he needed a physical solution to a problem, he had Aleena Sero to wield as his weapon.

“What task would you have me do, master? I long to move against our enemies.”
“I know you do, my child. That time will come soon enough. But first we must weaken our foes before we move in for the kill. Fear is our ally.”
“I understand, master. But I am restless. I have not yet learned the patience you possess.”
“In time you will, my child, in time. For now I want you to go to the Corellian system and speak with a Rodian crime lord. He has information which I require. You will obtain this information, and you will leave no witnesses.”
“I understand, master. This Rodian, is he a threat to us?”
“No, by himself he is a trivial matter. But he has a tendency to…acquire data he should not possess. He leads the Khy-Vic Syndicate. You have heard of them?”
“Information brokers, I believe. Based out of Coronet.”
“Your studies have served you well. This Rodian, Beelo Klessh, is not to be trusted. He will no doubt have many safeguards and securities. Be mindful of your training and use your talents well. These pathetic aliens are no match for your prowess, my child.”
“I understand, master. I will not fail.”
“See that you do not. We do not wish to arouse suspicion of our involvement just yet. While the other dark lords bicker and squabble, we will use their lethargy to our advantage. Soon it is I who will control the destiny of the Sith.”
“I shall leave at once, master.”
“Go forth, my child and trust in the dark side. Contact me when you have completed your assignment.”
“As you wish, my master.”

Bowing low again before her lord, Aleena swiftly turned and marched away. With only passing notice, she saw that The Teacher’s guards stiffened at her approach and dared not look her in the eyes as she strode past. She cared little for them and only barely acknowledged their presence. They served her master well enough, but their purpose was largely decorative. They would fight and they would die and that was it. They were tools in his arsenal, just as she knew she was. Only she considered herself more than simply a sword to be wielded. In time, she would make her master aware of these feelings.

As she made her way towards the compound’s upper levels, Aleena thought about the task given to her. She wondered when she would truly get a chance to perform a mission of great importance. Killing some information dealer seemed beneath her abilities. What use was having command of the dark side if she could not fully exercise her powers? Aleena secretly wondered if she truly shared her master’s goals. She had power and ability, and was naturally strong with the Force. One day she would have her own plans and goals, and would no longer require someone to guide her destiny. But first she must overcome her doubts and fears. Despite her abilities, she had yet to master her emotions and control her passion. Passion fueled the powers of a Sith, and no Sith could survive long with a focus clouded by doubt and indecision. If only she could rid herself of these fearful thoughts, perhaps she might accomplish the dreams she buried within her heart. But that day would not be today.

Aleena’s mission was one of stealth, secrecy and violence. She required her own tools to perform her task adequately, so she had summoned a small group of The Teacher’s best assassins. Former mercenaries and special operatives, this group was both well-equipped and talented. They cared little for ideals and were paid handsomely for their services. Their devotion to her master was dependent on credits, of which were in abundance. As long as they were paid, they were loyal tools that Aleena planned to use. She would not risk her own skin when these lackeys were available. Eight of the professional killers met her in front of her transport, a sleek craft designed for speedy travel and quick exfiltrations. The men bowed to her, as they were required to do, though she knew it was not out of respect for her. These men would follow her commands, but she knew where their true loyalties lay.

The assassins looked nearly identical in their dark fatigues, but she could sense each individual clearly through the Force. Their leader was a man named Jerek, a former Republic soldier who had killed his own commander for incompetence in battle. Jerek was unfeeling and merciless, a bare shell of a man who only lived for the thrill of combat. He was dangerous, but predictable. Aleena felt nothing but contempt for the man.

“Jerek, are your men prepared?”
“Yes Lord Sero, we are ready. Our orders?”
Aleena could feel his anger like a living thing. She knew he despised being commanded by a mere female, but he was also engulfed by fear. Jerek knew what she was capable of and he knew well enough to at least feign his obedience to her.
“We travel to Corellia. There is an alien that needs to be taken care of and information to retrieve. Failure in either of these tasks will not be tolerated. No witnesses.”
“Understood, Lord Sero. Our equipment is stowed and my men are ready. We have been compensated and are ready to follow your commands.”
“Good. Prepare the ship and await my arrival. I shall return in twenty minutes.”
“We shall be ready.”

Ignoring the man’s slight at not using her proper title, Aleena swiftly turned on her heel and made her way to her quarters. The Teacher allowed her a small section of his keep as her own to do with as she saw fit. He cared little for the way she lived, as long as she performed well and was available at his whim. She kept several training rooms, all adjacent to her living quarters, which were decorated in an obscure but fashionable style rarely seen in modern times. Echani by birth, her quarters reflected the dual nature of her personality well. With the plush velvets and reds common among Sith and the sparse elegance of her people’s warrior traditions, her chambers presented a clash of style that was both pleasing and disturbing to the eye, much like she was.

Aleena’s classical Echani beauty and grace were apparent to anyone familiar with her people. Lithe yet muscled, she represented the ideal form of the quick and agile warrior maiden. But the dark hues of her dress and the many tattoos of ancient Sith mythology gave her appearance a markedly dangerous quality. Holos of famous Echani warriors stood side by side with carved statues of ancient Sith masters. Her lightsaber rested near a wooden mantle bearing several Echani vibroblades, all crafted with the cortosis weave they were renowned for in centuries past. This contrast of style was evident on her face as she passed a mirror and took a moment to glance at her own features. It was said that heavy usage of the dark side could bring terrible changes to one’s appearance, but Aleena saw no outward evidence of such trauma. Perhaps the dark side chose to exact its toll in other forms not readily apparent to the casual observer. She feared that if she chose to look too deeply into the mirror, perhaps that corruption would expose itself.

Shaking away these thoughts, she quickly packed a few outfits into a small duffel and collected her lightsaber and a small throwing knife which she tucked into her left boot. She kept a small collection of weapons and equipment aboard her ship, so there was little else she required from her chambers. Shutting off the ceiling glowstrips, she left her quarters and made way for the hanger.

Jedi Master Jaren Dane stood calmly in the center of the room, high atop the tower that housed the esteemed Jedi Council. Clad in his usual dark grey robes, he waited patiently for his turn to speak.
“Master Jaren, I trust you know why we’ve called you here,” said Dav Shenuri, the senior member of the Jedi Council and Jaren’s former teacher. Master Shenuri’s bald pate glowed faintly under the dim lights of the council chamber. Though he was approaching seventy standard years old, he was still as imposing as he was in his youth. It was said Dav Shenuri could disarm a man just as adeptly with his voice as with his lightsaber, a fact Jaren had seen demonstrated more than once during his long years of training under the old Jedi.
“I have some idea, yes master.”
“Your apprentice returns from her assignment shortly. We wanted to assure you that Rena did remarkably well for her first mission. She completed her task with much enthusiasm and accolades from the governor.”
Jaren bowed slightly, keeping his features neutral, though he knew the council members could easily sense his feelings. Lesko Vel-Dan, the only Duros present on the council and a strong empath, raised an eyebrow as he sensed Jaren’s surface thoughts.
“You are pleased then Master Dane? Joyed to hear that your apprentice is on her way to becoming a Jedi Knight?”
“Yes master, quite pleased as I’m sure you can guess.”
“Be careful of your attachment Master Dane. We of the council are all aware of your strong emotions. Do not let them interfere with Padawan Rena’s further training.”
“Despite my emotions, I believe she has proved herself, has she not Master Vel-Dan?”
“That she has, but she is not fully ready to take on the mantle of a Knight just yet. Her feelings for you are just as strong as yours are for her.”
Jaren said nothing in response.
Master Shenuri raised his hand just as Vel-Dan was about to say more.
“My friends, let us leave this discussion for another time. Jaren’s emotions are his concern for the present. Our concern is his next assignment.”
Jaren perked up slightly at the mention of a new mission. It had been some months since the council had any assignments for him. He had recently focused his time on his apprentice’s training, and had briefly resumed his position as one of the temple’s combat instructors while she was away on her first mission. He longed to be back in the field where he felt he had always belonged.
Kuroth Anan, a Zabrak master, spoke next. “Jaren, we have a critical assignment for you. We have lost contact with an important source of information to us, and it is the council’s decision that only you can help us with this matter.” Master Anan rarely minced words and was as straight forward as any Jedi could be.
“You are familiar with Beelo Klessh I believe”, the Zabrak said.
“Beelo? What has happened to him?” A brief instance of shock ran through Jaren as he heard mention of his old friend’s name.
“We don’t know,” said Master Shenuri. “He sent a cryptic transmission three days ago and we’ve not heard from him since. The only clear part of the transmission was his request for you.”
“For me?”
Pressing a button on his datapad, Master Shenuri replayed the audio-only message. A thickly-accented voice began speaking, the transmission displaying intermittent static.
“Pay heed JD, our friends in black move about. Come quickly to my humble abode, where I shall tell thee tales of grand importance.”
The transmission ended with a short burst of electronic bleeps. Jaren stood motionless, translating the cryptic message in his head. He and Beelo had developed their own esoteric code as youths, using it to befuddle their instructors at every opportunity.
“It is our belief that whatever information he wanted to share with us was for you and you alone to deliver.”
“Is he still on Corellia?”
“That is our belief. The message was heavily scrambled, so we can’t be too sure or its origin. But we do know that is has been sometime since Beelo was off-world.”
Jaren frowned in silence.
“As soon as your apprentice arrives, we want the two of you to make for Coronet and attempt to locate Beelo. His message indicated urgency and he used his particular code for Sith activity.”
“Our friends in black, yes I know.”
Master Vel-Dan once again directed his gaze towards Jaren. “I sense some distress in you Master Dane. Are you feeling up to this assignment?”
“Yes master. If Beelo is in trouble, I will do what I can to help him. I owe him that much.”
“Yes, the two of you were Padawans together for many years. The bond between you still runs strong. But do not let your feelings cloud your judgment, Master Dane. The information he has is your mission, not his safety. He abandoned the Order long ago and his nature is dubious at best.”
“I understand master. With your permission I should like to prepare to leave at once.”
“Of course,” Master Shenuri said. “And may the Force be with you Jaren.”

Bowing quickly, Jaren turned and strode towards the turbolift at the rear of the chamber. Though he could not sense emotions through the Force as other Jedi could, his innate ability to read body language told him that the council was worried about something. Ever since Beelo had left the Order, he had maintained discreet contact with them, passing on information as he saw fit. He held no ill will towards the Jedi, but neither did he feel he owed them any favors. He had become one of the most powerful information brokers in the Core, but he never once had he asked directly for assistance. Something must have happened that even Beelo, with his formidable resources could not handle. The thought left Jaren with more than a little fear for the safety of his old comrade.

Westport was crowded as usual. Throngs of beings moved to and fro, creating a living, breathing mass that seemed to act of its own accord. Jaren moved swiftly through the crowd, his Jedi robes allowing him to pass with greater ease. Despite this fact, he kept his hand firmly on his lightsaber as he made his way towards the landing berths. It simply wouldn’t do for a Jedi Master to have his weapon pick-pocketed by some riffraff.

Finally making his way to the incoming arrival berths, he stood patiently as he waited for Rena’s flight to arrive. He received many nods and welcomes from a wide variety of species, several of which he had never seen before. Jaren had always found certain things about the Jedi amusing. Most Jedi wore simple robes and clothing in order to represent their service to the everyday citizens of the galaxy. Strangely enough, this trend only made them stand out even more. Though Jaren himself avoided the typical browns favored by the majority of Jedi, he still carried himself in that manner of one completely centered, a manner that only Jedi seemed to possess. Inwardly he smiled to himself, wondering if perhaps the Jedi should just go ahead and issue standard uniform robes to all of its members.

An announcement returned him from his musings, as he saw that his padawan’s flight had docked and that its passengers would be debarking momentarily. It was only a few seconds later that he saw Rena bound down the ramp, full of youthful enthusiasm. As she spotted her master, she burst into a short run and embraced him openly.
“Jaren, I’m so glad to be home!”
Laughing, she hugged him fiercely, drawing a few bemused stares from bystanders.
“It’s good to see you too Rena. I trust you’re ready to get going again.”
“We have a mission then?”
“Yes, straight from the council.”
Smiling, Jaren gently released himself from his apprentice’s grip and guided her towards the departure area of the massive spaceport.
“Our flight leaves in an hour. We can walk or take a metro-cab, whichever you prefer.”
“Let’s walk, master. I’ve been stuck on that ship for two days, my legs need the exercise.”
Side by side, the two Jedi walked through the throng as Coruscant’s primary began to slowly sink below the horizon.

Three men bowed low before The Teacher, their heads nearly scraping the marbled tile. They had the appearance of professional soldiers, their uniforms fitting almost like second skins. These three were The Teachers most loyal troops, bound not by credits, but by willing obedience to the dark side. Though they themselves were not sensitive to the ebb and flow of the Force, they still felt drawn to its presence. One of them, a lean man with officer rank on his tunic, was the only once who raised his head to speak as The Teacher addressed him.
“Follow Lord Sero. You will ensure she completes her task.”
“As you wish, my lord. And if she does not?”
“Then she is of no use to me. Kill her and obtain the information I require.”
“And of her mercenary troops, my lord?”
“Destroy them as well. I want no traces leading back to me. The other lords must remain in the dark until I am fully prepared.”
“We shall do as you command, my lord.”
“See that you do. Once the artifact is in my grasp, perhaps then we will see about your rewards.”
“We ask for none, my lord, only the opportunity to enforce your will.”
“Leave me. Conduct your search and return with my information. With Aleena Sero’s head in your hand if necessary.”
Smiling wickedly, The Teacher cackled softly as he waved his men away. Despite their supplication, he knew these men desired to wield the Force as he did. If the artifact he sought was truly as powerful as he believed, perhaps he could enable them to do so. It might be amusing to see how these men would react when empowered with the Force. It would make for an interesting experiment at any rate. For now, though, The Teacher had more important things to occupy his time. Soon he would require a new apprentice, one far less powerful and ambitious than his current one. After all it was the way of the Sith to ascend the ranks through treachery. And he knew Lord Sero was capable of much treachery indeed.

Jaren found it difficult to rest. While Rena had fallen asleep almost immediately after takeoff, Jaren was troubled by the disturbances he sensed in the Force. Unlike nearly every other Jedi in the galaxy, he was completely blind to empathy, telepathy and advanced precognition techniques. He could not read thoughts nor see into the future to guide him along his way. He could, however, sense the ripples in the Force just as any Jedi could. He had always been frustrated at his lack of ability to influence the ether of the Force, but had more than made up for it in his complete mastery of his own inherent abilities. He only wished that now he could foresee the cause of these troubling disturbances he felt.

He glanced at his sleeping apprentice, smirking at her ability to sleep under nearly any circumstance. For the last seven years, the two had been as close as father and daughter; a fact the Council never ceased pointing out to him. Jedi were supposed to avoid deep attachments, but Jaren felt that mandate ran counter to his own view of the Force. He believed their emotional bond only strengthened their connection to the Force, and he was not quite ready to sever that connection just yet. But he had to admit that Rena was nearly ready to complete her ascension to the rank of Jedi Knight. Unlike her master, she was competent in all aspects of the Force. Her only weakness was the attachment she in turn had fostered for him. He hoped that her feelings for him would not jeopardize her chances of becoming a great Jedi.

These thoughts troubled him, but what really was on Jaren’s mind was his old friend Beelo. It had been many years since Jaren had last seen the wayward Rodian. Throughout their early training, the two had been nearly inseparable, both strong willed and talented padawans. Where Jaren’s abilities lay in the physical realm, Beelo was a master of mental manipulation. It was easy for Jaren to see how he had become such an influential figure in the Corellian underworld. While many Jedi saw him as nothing more than a fallen apprentice-turned-criminal, the more open-minded among the Order saw his value as a partial asset and potential ally. It was said that if Beelo could not acquire a piece of information, it was because there was none to be had on that particular subject. Jaren wondered just exactly what he had found recently that had aroused the curiosity of the Sith. He hoped that whatever it was that Beelo had found, he could keep it hidden long enough for Jaren to reach him.

Aleena’s vessel had touched down outside the city limits. She and her band of killers used the cover of darkness to infiltrate the city, allowing no one to witness their passing. Since Coronet was such a populous city, it was inevitable that they came across more than a few late night passersby. The Sith assassin’s were quick to deliver silent and fatal blows to those who crossed their path. The bodies were dumped into the sewers or simply left to rot in the streets. It wasn’t uncommon to find mysteriously murdered victims in some of the Blue Sector’s seedier alleyways.

The headquarters of the Khy-Vic Syndicate wasn’t hard to find, but just as her master suspected, it was heavily secured and guarded well. It would be no easy task to slip inside the compound unnoticed. But luck must have been on Aleena’s side. After only an hour of observation, the Rodian crime boss emerged from his sanctuary. Several dozen well-armed Rodians escorted Beelo to an armored groundspeeder. One of his bodyguards had a heavy case chained to his arm. Aleena suspected that the contents of that case were the object of her mission, but she couldn’t be positive.

She would have to follow them to their destination and intercept them there. She nodded at Jerek as the man directed one of his men to fire a tracer beacon at the speeder. As the beacon took hold, a small dot appeared on the man’s datapad, superimposed on a digital map of the city.
“Beacon placed my lord. We can track them at will.”
“Very well Jerek. We’ll need transportation.”
“Already taken care of my lord. Dustel has stolen a small cargo speeder that will hold us all adequately.”
Aleena frowned as she stared at her mercenary commander. She hadn’t sensed that one of the men had left the group. She felt her concentration on the moment slipping from time to time. There was something in the Force causing her to lose focus. But she had no time to ponder this mystery. Their mission came first.
“Let’s follow them then. Discretely.”
“Of course my lord. We know of no other way.”
Again she frowned. Aleena was sure that her men knew other, more violent ways.

Silently she signaled her mercenary companions to follow her as they mounted the speeder and made their way through the winding streets of the city, careful to follow the progress of the Rodian’s speeder from a distance.

Beelo Klessh was nervous. He usually projected an air of intense calm which had thus far enabled him to diffuse nearly any situation he had come across. In all his years as an information broker, he had never once had the need to resort to his well-concealed lightsaber. Though he was not supposed to own such a weapon, he had built a new one soon after he had left the Order. His forte was information, not violence, and his Jedi weapon had remained undrawn in conflict for the last twenty years. But today he felt its weight more than usual. He sincerely hoped today would not be the day he would need to use it.

Beelo had built the Khy-Vic Syndicate from the ground up over ten years ago. When he first left the Order, the only employers he could find willing to pay him enough were the Hutts. It was in their employ that he had met many members of his own species, dissatisfied with the reputation they had gathered over the centuries. While the vast majority of Rodians were simply hunters and common folk, the galaxy seemed content to judge the species on the actions of a few well known criminals and unsavory individuals. The Khy-Vic had worked hard to change that opinion through conscious action. The Khy-Vic brokered in information only, and anyone who was anyone on Corellia turned to them when they needed knowledge. The resources they provided assisted both sides of the law, though generally Beelo favored CorSec and various other reputable agencies. But in the end, they were seen as merely criminals by most of the populace. Beelo found it ironic that he himself had become one of those infamous figures after all.

Glancing over at the rear viewscreen, Beelo wiped pungent sweat from his forehead. One of his top lieutenants, a burly specimen named Tuulpor, noticed. Tuulpor spoke in Rodese, the seldom used native language of their species. Most Rodians spoke either Basic or Huttese, but rarely used their own tongue. Among the Khy-Vic, it was considered rude to use any language but their own among themselves, something Beelo had encouraged from the beginning.

“Sir, what’s wrong? We’re quite safe in the speeder.”
“But we aren’t safe from the machinations of the Force, Tuulpor. I feel great changes ahead.”
“Shall I have more guards sent to the warehouse then? I can have men there in only a few minutes.”
“Yes, that might be prudent. Have them arm themselves accordingly.”
“Of course, sir. May I ask, these changes you feel, are they….”
“I can’t explain it, my friend, but when it comes, you will understand.”
“If you say so, sir. So far I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
“You don’t have the curse of vision, Tuulpor. Just promise me you’ll keep the syndicate in order after I’m gone.”
“Sir, no one is going to die today, especially not you.”
Tuulpor patted the heavy blaster at his side. He wouldn’t allow any harm to come to his friend as long as he was still breathing. And he knew Beelo had his Jedi training to protect himself.
“I wish I had your faith, my friend. But fear not, the Force has a plan for us all. We don’t always agree with it, but there is nothing we can do to alter it.”

Leaning back in his seat, Beelo tried to put on his air of calmness, but utterly failed. Despite his preaching, he was not immune to fear. He just hoped that Jaren would reach him before whatever terrible events lay in his near future.

Tracking the speeder, Aleena’s group made quick progress through the night. They soon came to a derelict warehouse just over ten kilometers from the Khy-Vic headquarters. Though walled and fenced, it was a simple matter to breach the compound. Inside the walled area was a large pre-fab building surrounded by a yard containing all manner of junk and debris. The place had obviously been abandoned years ago, but was strangely free of vagrants and slum-dwellers. Aleena figured it to be one of Beelo’s many secret meeting places.

Jerek led his men over the compound wall and had them set up a hasty perimeter. In the dark they were barely visible, their shadow suits absorbing all light. Only the dim reflections of their snooper goggles and weapon scopes revealed their presence. Jerek crouched low behind a chunk of duracrete, holding a small thermal imager in his hand. Aleena kneeled next to him, her dark cloak covering her pale complexion.

“I count twenty beings inside, my lord. All armed, all Rodian.”
“So it would seem our dear Beelo is nervous, as he should be.”
“They appear to be over-cautious my lord.”
“Not cautious enough. Place two men inside, up in the rafters. Instruct them to fire only on my command.”
Jerek steamed, but complied. He felt a white hot anger rise up inside of him. Before he came into The Teacher’s service, he never would have allowed a woman to speak to him in this manner. But he knew Aleena could kill him without so much as sweating, so he endured her arrogance. If his assumptions were correct, The Teacher would deal with her soon enough. Using silent hand signals, he communicated to his men. Two of the black-clad killers moved stealthily into the warehouse and made their way to the upper floor. Using his thermal imager, Jerek confirmed that the men were in place a moment later.
“They’re set, my lord.”
“Good. We enter silently and take them by surprise. I’ll handle Beelo. You have your men concentrate on removing the others.”
Jerek seemed much more pleased now. Killing was not merely his job, but a special passion. And kills from the dark inflamed that passion doubly so.
Aleena regarded the man with a cold stare. She could sense both his anger and his enthusiasm.
“Make no mistake, Jerek. If any of your men so much as shoot near Beelo, I will personally slice their heads off. He is mine and mine alone to deal with.”
Jerek gulped slightly and nodded his head. He could see her normally clear blue eyes beginning to take on a yellow sheen. Once he had seen her in throes of a dark Force rage and it had frightened him beyond belief. While he despised her with all of his black heart, he valued his life too much to cross her in the midst of a fury.

A silent signal from one of his men told Jerek that the Rodian guards had finished their security sweep. Withdrawing her lightsaber from her belt, Aleena was surprised to feel a ripple in the Force around the Rodian syndicate boss. The Teacher had not indicated that Beelo was a Force-user of any kind. She doubted anything of such importance would slip by her master, so she assumed this must be another one of his tests. Jerek’s men moved swiftly and readied weapons. A Rodian guard standing post outside the rear entrance suddenly fell to the ground, a poisoned dart in his neck. With the sentry dispatched, they moved silently into the warehouse.....

19 October 2007, 09:35 PM

“That was a pretty quick trip.”
“You’ve been asleep for eleven hours, Rena. I’m surprised you even noticed we landed.”
“Well, I didn’t get much rest coming back from Clak’dorr. It’s hard to sleep with a Bith mozz box player blaring in your ear the whole time.”
Jaren laughed as he nudged his padawan toward a nearby speeder rental kiosk. The kiosks’ clerk, an older Drall, was rather shocked when Jaren returned his rental form with the destination clearly marked.
“I don’t think you want go there, Jedi. That Khy-Vic HQ,” the alien said in halting Basic.
“That’s right, friend. I have business there. I can pay more credits if needed.” Jaren smiled pleasantly, trying to reassure the little being.
“Credits you have be fine, but outcome might be bad. You sure ‘bout this, Jedi?”
“Positive. Can I have the keycard now?”
“Sure, here card, But be carefuls. Khy-Vic dangerous. Rodians not be trusted.”
Nodding his thanks, Jaren claimed the keycard and the two Jedi searched the lot for the correct speeder. Jaren wasn’t happy about the Drall’s racist comments, but as a Jedi he had to remain level headed and impartial. He had to admit that he had met several unsavory Rodians himself over the years, but that didn’t give him the right to judge the entire species. Of course the Drall did have a reasonable concern for worry. The Khy-Vic were notorious, despite the syndicate’s non-violent nature.
Jaren, not much of pilot, graciously handed the card to Rena when they found the vehicle.
“Why don’t you drive, Rena.”
“Oh come on Jaren. One of these days you’re gonna have to learn how to drive one of these things.”
“It just won’t be today, that’s all. Really, I’m not afraid of it.”
“Uh-huh, sure.”
“Look, just because I’m not a hotshot pilot doesn’t mean I can’t drive.”
“So now I’m a hotshot pilot? I like the sound of that.”
“Don’t get too full of yourself.”
“Wouldn’t think of it.”
“You want me to drive? Fine, give me the card.”
“No thanks. I’ve heard about your driving.”
“One time, one time I had an accident.”
“It was a seven-speeder pile-up, as I recall.”
“It wasn’t my fault.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“Don’t make me order you to hand over that keycard.”
“Order away, you still can’t drive and you know it.”
Jaren couldn’t help but smirk a little bit. He knew Rena was only teasing him, but in this case she was right, he couldn’t drive very well at all. As her master, he was supposed to be due a great measure of respect. Jibes and teases like Rena’s would normally never be tolerated. But theirs was a strange relationship compared to that of most Jedi. They were more like father and daughter than master and apprentice, complete with arguing, whining, fussing and even genuine affection. Rarely, if ever, did she call him ‘master’, and just as rarely did he ever correct her. She suspected he didn’t approve of titles very much. Rena had come to regard Jaren as more than just an instructor. He was everything to her and she loved him. Occasionally that affection drew the ire of the Jedi Council, but Rena was convinced that their relationship was as the Force intended it to be. She was sure that Jaren felt the same way.

“So why the Khy-Vic headquarters? Do you think Beelo will actually be there?” Rena asked as she pulled the speeder out of the lot and turned onto one of the city’s expressways.
“I doubt it, but his men should know to expect me. They can tell me where to find him.”
“I hope he’s okay. I’ve always wanted to meet him after all the stories you’ve told me.”
“I’m sure Beelo will be pleased to meet you too. He always said I would be the first to take an apprentice.”
“What do think he has that’s so important? Knowledge of a hidden Sith base or something?”
“Possibly, but I suspect its something even more sinister. The Sith are everywhere nowadays. A hidden base shouldn’t cause Beelo much alarm, unless it was here in Coronet.”
“And I don’t sense anything of that magnitude. Whatever it is, it’s got you worried, that’s for sure.”
Sometimes, with his Force blindness, Jaren forgot that Rena was a talented empath. After their years together, she didn’t need to concentrate to read his emotions. Sometimes he wondered if he was the right master for her at all. There were many things about the Force he was unable to teach her due to his condition. But despite this, Rena had become a capable young Jedi.

After a short drive, Jaren pointed out an exit and Rena steered the speeder onto the narrow streets of Coronet’s Blue Sector. The Blue Sector, while not as well known as Treasure Ship Row, was nonetheless a hot bed of criminal and gang activity. CorSec made its presence firm in the sector and Coronet’s own local law officers could be found here more often than not. Rumor had it that much of the Blue Sector was secretly run by the Hutts, though there was no hard evidence of that fact. Jaren had been here a few times in the past, but never actively seeking out anything or anyone dangerous. This would probably be the first time a Jedi had come to the Khy-Vic’s doorstep asking for information.

The Khy-Vic compound was relatively easy to find, but difficult to access as the two Jedi discovered when a trio of heavily armed Rodians blocked their passage leading up to the facility’s front gate. Rena lowered the window as one of the guards approached. She handed him their Republic ident cards, which identified them as a members of the Jedi Order. Their ident cards were supposed to allow some diplomatic immunity, but the Rodian merely frowned as he scanned them. He kept his blaster noticeably pointed in their direction. He spoke in fluent Basic, but it was clear that it was not his preferred language.
”What do you want? “ he said, apparently displeased by their presence.
“My name is Jaren Dane. I’m a Jedi Master here to see Beelo Klessh. He is an old friend of mine.”
The Rodian was wary, but after verifying their cards, he returned them and allowed the speeder through the gate. Several Rodians milled about the inner area of the compound. Jaren noted that all of them were packing some brand of firepower. As their speeder pulled to a stop and the two Jedi emerged, an older Rodian wearing an expensive suit hurried forth to greet them. So far he was the only unarmed man they had seen so far, but both Jedi were alert for any signs of danger. Something felt wrong in the Force, and much of that feeling centered on Beelo’s absence.
“You must be Master Dane,” the elder alien said in crisp Basic. “We’ve been expecting you. Please forgive the guards, they’re paid for discretion, not manners.”
Jaren nodded and folded his hands into his robes before giving the man a curt bow. He spoke in Rodese in order to put the man at ease. “No trouble, I assure you. I’m aware of your group’s reputation for discretion. This is my apprentice, Rena Sherea.”
The elder Rodian’s antenna turned about in surprise, but he quickly recovered, bowing in return. He looked worried, but Jaren could tell he wasn’t worried for them. He did seem pleased that the human spoke to him in his own language, and noticeably relaxed his shoulders.
“Beelo has left, as I’m sure you have guessed by now. I can give you directions to his location, but you must leave quickly to protect him. He believes he is in great danger. Having a Jedi on hand might assure his survival.”
“What exactly is it that Beelo fears? His message to me was unclear.”
“As you know, Beelo is a collector of information. He recently came across some data he found…distressing. It involved the Sith, who have become a particular, if distasteful fascination of his.” The elder Rodian wrinkled his snout as he mentioned the Sith. It was clear that he was in no way a supporter of their ideals.
“I will do what I can to help Beelo., I give you my word.”
The Rodian almost laughed. “Your word is not enough. Bring Beelo back alive and then we can talk about your word.”
Jaren chuckled in response. “Just like a Rodian. Trust deeds, not words.”
“You catch on quick, Jedi. If you weren’t so ugly, perhaps we could be friends. But I think not. Jedi don’t make such good friends from what I hear.”
“That is true, to some extent.”
“I had expected a mind trick or two coming from a Jedi Master. Perhaps you are losing your touch, no?”
Jaren smiled in response, saying nothing. Let the Rodian believe he could affect his mind if he wanted.
“Enough talk, you are correct. This datacard contains directions to a hidden meeting place of Beelo’s. You will need to decrypt it first, however. I hope you brought a slicing droid.” Handing Jaren a slim data wafer, the Rodian grinned widely.
“That won’t be a problem. I thank you.”
Bowing before the elder alien, Jaren turned and headed towards their speeder.
“Rena, I trust you can slice this card?”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. I picked up a few new protocols on Clak’dorr.”
“Interesting. Was this before or after you completed your assignment? Which you still haven’t told me about, by the way.”
“During. And I’ll tell you all about it once this Beelo situation is taken care.”
“I look forward to hearing it. Now, slice that card and let’s get going. I don’t care for all these blasters pointing at me.”
Smiling at him, Rena fired up the speeder and turned them back onto the expressway. Placing the vehicle on self-pilot, she slid the datacard into her pad and activated a slicing program. Rena had always been technologically minded, and her fascination with slicing was not lost on Jaren. He wondered exactly when during her early years as a youngling she had discovered that particular talent, but it wasn’t something he discouraged. On the contrary, her knowledge of programming had saved their hides on more than one occasion. A particular incident in CoCo Town was one such event he remembered all too well. A bleep from Rena’s datapad drew his attention back to the present.
“There, got it. It’s an old warehouse in a run-down sector about fifty blocks east of here.”
“Well that was fast.” Jaren was quite impressed. Her skills seemed to have improved over the last few weeks.
“I told you, those Bith can program. If I wasn’t a Jedi….”
“I know, I know, you’ve told me a million times. You’d be a corporate slicer.” Jaren groaned slightly in jest.
“Laugh all you want, but I’m pretty good, and that’s not arrogance.”
Jaren had to admit she was good. But his feelings were short-lived. A tremor in the Force jolted through him suddenly. He looked over at his apprentice and saw that she had felt it too. The disturbances he had felt on the voyage to Corellia had only grown stronger once they had surfaced. This one was powerful enough to shake the both of them.
“Whoa, what was that all about, Jaren?”
“I’m not sure, but it wasn’t good. You’d better grab the wheel and step on it.”
Complying wholeheartedly, Rena released the autopilot and accelerated the speeder well beyond the legal limit. Luckily, speeding wasn’t a major crime within the Blue Sector.

Aleena and her team of killers silently took position in the warehouse. The lights were faint, creating pools of shadows they used to hide amongst. The warehouse itself was large and fairly open, with only a few stacks of battered shipping crates and cargo shelves left intact. One of the mercenaries made his way to the rear of the warehouse, moving towards the building’s power generator. He readied himself to cut the power on Aleena’s command. Two of her men were already inside, emplaced in the rafters above, their weapons trained on the targets they identified at the most threatening. Jerek and the remaining four mercs aligned themselves close by, merging into a tactical formation with her at the vanguard. The Rodians seemed unaware that these deadly assassins were present.

Beelo and his bodyguards had formed up near one of the warehouse offices. The Rodian with the case chained to his wrist never strayed from Beelo’s side. Aleena was unsure of their purpose here tonight, but she aimed to find out. Emerging from the shadows, her cloak trailing behind her, she stepped forth into the light.

Beelo was the first to turn at this newest arrival. The ripple in the Force was unmistakable. How he had not sensed it before, he couldn’t fathom. His eyes widened in shock as the dark figure strode purposely towards him. He noticed the inactivated lightsaber in her hand and the yellow glare of her eyes. Drawing his own weapon, he thumbed his lightsaber to life, its distinctive snap-hiss echoing loudly in the silence. His blue blade shone brightly, casting all shadows aside. Beelo’s crew spread out quickly, raising their rifles at the intruders.

This was not part of Aleena’s plan. She had no idea she would be facing a Jedi, but the thought of killing him brought her a warm rush of pleasure. She had fought several Jedi before and had savored each victory. She brought her own crimson blade to bear and continued walking forward, heedless of the nearly two dozen rifles moving to target her. Her signal was clear. At the first sound of her lightsaber igniting, Jerek’s men opened fire and the power went out in the warehouse. The only light provided now came from a pair of energy blades, blaster discharges and the faint green sheen of the mercenaries’ snooper goggles.

The Rodians were quickly slaughtered. After only a few seconds of combat, most of them lay dead on the warehouse floor. Only one of the Sith mercs had been killed, the rest seemingly unscathed. Beelo and Aleena stood toe-to-toe, neither having made a motion to attack the other. The few living Rodians lay wounded and dying, out of the fight completely. The two assassins in the rafters smoothly jumped down and rejoined their comrades. Soon enough, the mercs would coldly dispatch any survivors. And true to Aleena’s threat, not a single one of her mercs fired at Beelo.

“What is you want, Sith? Have you come for my head? Take it, if you can,” Beelo threatened.
Aleena smiled wickedly, her eyes beginning to burn as fiercely as her blood-red blade.
“I want what’s in your head first.”
“Hmph. Whatever it is you want, you won’t be getting it.”
“That’s too bad. I suppose I’ll just kill you and take that case over there.” She glanced towards the dead bodyguard, the metal case still chained to his wrist.
Beelo wasn’t fazed. “The case will do you no good. Take it if you want. You may strike me down, but you won’t do so without tasting my blade.”
“Is that so?”
Aleena summoned the Force and hurled a blast of dreaded Sith lightning at her foe. Beelo managed to catch most of the discharge on his lightsaber, but a few tendrils of the deadly energy enveloped him, sapping the very strength from his bones.
“Excellent, Jedi. I didn’t think you would be skilled enough to stop that.”
Beelo, slowly recovering, did his best to hide the pain that wracked his body. “You’ll find I am not defeated so swiftly, Sith.”
“Sith. You say that with such hatred. Unbecoming for such a noble Jedi.”
“I’m no Jedi.” His voice was harsh and filled with defiance.
“No? Then this just won’t be any fun then, will it?”

Aleena was about to lift her saber to attack when a blaster bolt caught Beelo in the back, The bolt traveled through his chest and headed straight for the female Sith lord. In an instant her lightsaber reflected the bolt harmlessly into the ceiling. She was furious. Anger welled up inside her like a living entity. Beelo said nothing as he collapsed lifelessly to the floor, his lightsaber switching off and rolling away into the shadows. One of Jerek’s men off to the rear held his blaster loosely; smoke still trailing from the barrel. The man seemed pleased, as if he had done something deceitful and worthy of a Sith. Aleena did not see things that way.

Raising her hand, she sent waves of dark power towards the foolish assassin, gripping his throat and squeezing the air from his lungs. The man dropped his rifle and clutched his neck, but it was of no use. His flesh was no match for the power of the dark side of the Force. Aleena began intensifying the pressure until finally the man’s trachea crushed in upon itself with a sickly snapping noise. He fell to the floor in a heap and did not stir.

Turning on Jerek, she pointed her weapon directly at him and shouted.
“Your man’s foolishness has jeopardized this mission, Jerek! He paid with his life. Will you pay for it with yours?” Yellow flame danced in her eyes and a wave of tangible fear permeated the air around them. Jerek immediately went to his knees. Not out of respect, but out of terrifying fear.
“My lord, he disobeyed your command, and died. I am…I am…fully responsible for his errors. My life…is yours.”

Jerek was cowering before her now. The wave of fear gripped around his heart like a steel cage. Terror sought to overthrow his senses and drive him further to the ground. But just as suddenly as it came upon him, the fear stopped. The burning fire in Aleena’s eyes receded and she lowered her lightsaber. Despite her fury, she realized Jerek’s man had acted of his own volition. Strangely, she felt a sudden pity for Jerek, an emotion she was unused to. She would have to examine these feelings when her assignment was complete.

“Perhaps. But the next man who chooses to ignore my orders meets a similar fate. Is that understood?” She eyed the remaining Sith assassins, all of whom nodded emphatically and bowed low before her.
She looked down at Jerek, still battling with his fears and struggling to regain his senses.
“As for you, Jerek, I tire of your insolence. You think I can’t sense it, but I can. Keep your thoughts in check, or your throat will be the next one crushed.”
Turning away from the mercenary leader, she strode towards the metal case nearby. Severing the chain with a swift stroke of her lightsaber, she picked it up and handed it to one of the mercs.
“Open it and see what you find. Now that your foolish comrade has robbed us of a living source of information, that case is our only chance of completing this mission.”
“Yes my lord.” The merc replied. He quickly set the case down and pulled a security kit from his belt pouch. The security lock was complex, but not complex enough to resist the determined assassin’s efforts. Within minutes, he had disabled the mechanism and opened the case.
“Data cards, my lord. Several of them. All appear to be encrypted.”
“Good. Secure the case and return to the ship at once. Stop for nothing along the way. Wait for my return before you begin decrypting the cards. And take a man with you, that one.” She pointed at one of the other mercs and the two broke into a run as they made for rushed toward one of the Rodian speeders outside.

Jerek, having regained his composure, stooped to retrieve his weapon and moved to Aleena’s side.
“My lord, what is our next move?”
“Have your men kill any survivors and remove all trace of our presence here. Then move outside and set up an ambush.”
“Yes, my lord. Do expect company?”
“When Beelo fails to check in, someone will be come to investigate. Perhaps they will have some useful information.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
“Commend your remaining men, Jerek. They showed discipline under fire and obeyed my commands, as did you.”
Jerek was taken aback by Aleena’s unexpected display of courtesy. He had never before heard her speak to him this way. He could see the pride swelling in his men’s chests. Perhaps her Echani honor was slowly beginning to emerge, perhaps it was something else. For the first time, Jerek felt a measure of true respect for this woman. She had complemented him and spared his life when any other Sith lord would have gladly taken it from him. He supposed there was more to this woman than met the eye. He would have to watch her more closely from now on. Jerek was thoroughly rotten to his core, but even men like him needed allies. And her credits were just as good as those of her master.

The Jedi’s speeder pulled up to the backside of the warehouse hoping to remain undetected. The disturbance in the Force they had both felt was strongest here. Jaren felt no emotions through the Force, but he could sense the disarray.
“Death. All I can feel here is death, Jaren. I don’t think anyone is alive inside.”
“I don’t feel Beelo’s presence. I think something terrible has happened here.” Jaren hung his head slightly and cupped his chin with a hand. “Stretch out with your feelings, Rena. Try and sense the area around us.”
Rena nodded and closed her eyes. She reached out telepathically through the Force, trying to feel its currents as she guided her thoughts towards her surroundings. After a moment of concentration, she opened her eyes and shook her head.
“Nothing. It’s like there’s a hole where I should sense something. I can feel life in the area, but hidden, shadowy.”
“We should investigate inside. Perhaps we’ll find the answers there. But be cautious, Rena. I have a gut feeling we’re not going to like what we find.”
Jaren and Rena leapt high over the compound and dropped lightly inside. Crouching low, the two Jedi crept around to a side entrance, which was locked. Jaren eyed the lock curiously. It was an old-style mechanical mechanism that required a key for entry. Feeling its current in the Force, he gestured and ripped the lock from its hinges, flinging it onto the ground a few meters away. Jaren mused that if he wasn’t a Jedi, his powerful telekinetic abilities would make him quite a successful burglar.

Inside the warehouse, all was dark. The smell of charred flesh and blaster discharges were omnipresent in the stale air. Extracting a small glowrod, Rena swept the device’s beam to and fro, revealing dead bodies everywhere. With his own glowrod, Jaren examined each body carefully. All of them, save two, were Rodians. The Rodians had been cut down by pinpoint blaster shots at close range. The dead Rodians were obviously all Beelo’s men, but the two dark-clad figures were a mystery to him. One seemed to have no blaster burns, though the man’s neck had obviously been broken.
“Jaren, come quickly!”
He rushed to Rena’s side and felt his heart sink as he saw the body highlighted by her glowrod. It was Beelo Klessh. A single hole in the middle of his chest revealed the manner of his death. His lightsaber lay nearby, deactivated and seemingly untouched by the carnage around him. He knelt next to his friend and laid a hand on the Rodian’s lifeless shoulder. Rena turned and allowed her master a private moment alone.

Rena had never witnessed this much death in one place, and the feeling of dread nearly overpowered her. Only her Jedi discipline kept her from bursting into tears and sobbing on the warehouse floor. A sense of powerful darkness hovered over the entire scene, giving her the chills as she battled to control her feelings.
Coming to her side, Jaren held her tightly. “I’m sorry Rena. If I had known you would see this…”
“It’s alright, Jaren. I have to face death sometime, right?”
Suddenly, the lights in the warehouse flared back to life and the tremor in the Force swelled drastically.

“How touching,” Aleena Sero said mockingly, “two little Jedi crying over spilled aliens.”
In an instant, the two Jedi had moved apart, drawing their lightsabers and igniting them in a swift and practiced motion. Jaren slowly moved off to the left, his emerald blade casting an eerie glare over his features. Rena’s own blue blade was held high in an opening Ataru stance.
Jaren eyed his apprentice with concern.
“Rena, don’t act, react. Follow your instincts.”
“Pitiful advice, Jedi, “ Aleena said harshly. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
“I know enough,” Jaren retorted.
The Sith lord smiled as she ignited her own lightsaber. She moved about slowly, measuring her steps and putting her men in optimal firing lines. She’d never fought two Jedi at once before, and she wasn’t about to let them team up on her. If a blaster shot took one of them out, so much the better. But her men held their weapons in check, waiting for a critical moment in which to strike. They too were wary of assaulting a pair of Jedi Knights.

“You think you know your enemy, oh great Jedi? Guess again.”
Aleena moved without thought. Raising a hand, she sent a powerful thrust of Force energy toward Rena, lifting her and slamming her into one of the warehouse walls. Rena was caught by the sudden violence of the act and slumped unconscious as her head impacted with the ferrocrete surface. Her lightsaber deactivated and slipped from her grasp, rolling a few inches away. Aleena was pleased that her tactic had worked so effectively.
Jaren held his ground and waited for the female’s next move.
“Such reserve, such discipline. Your little friend is out of the picture, yet you stand firm.”
“Your taunts won’t work on me. Try something else.”
Aleena wasn’t prepared for the Jedi’s mental resolve. “Fine, you want a real fight then. I’ll give it to you.”
She moved with blinding speed, sweeping her saber low towards Jaren’s knees. He easily avoided the blow and countered her blade, shoving it back towards her. She flowed with the counter and reversed direction, coming down at an angle, barely missing his left shoulder. Jaren recognized the move. The female was using Juyo, one of the most chaotic forms of lightsaber combat. There were few ways to counter Juyo’s deadly ferocity and unpredictability. And with his Force blindness, Jaren could not rely on using precognition to anticipate her strikes. Their lightsabers clashed over and over, each blow barely countering the other. They were locked in a deadly dance of whirring energy and light. But Jaren was not without skill of his own.

For many years, Jaren had been a combat instructor in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. He was considered one of the finest duelists in the Order, focusing on his own innate skill rather than allowing the Force to guide his actions. Jaren was a true warrior of old, relying on posture, technique and body language to attack and defend. Despite lacking the ability to predict an opponent’s movements, the Force allowed him to amplify his own natural abilities to an astounding degree. Even at a young age, he was able to best the most prominent Jedi Masters in single combat. Jaren was familiar with all of the seven classic lightsaber forms, but where he truly shined was in the raw strength of Djem So. The pure power of Form V allowed him to batter through an opponent’s defenses and deliver devastating attacks.

For the first few moments of the battle, Jaren had adopted a Soresu stance, using the defensive nature of Form III to keep the female’s blows from landing. Her strikes were crisp and wild, combining wide sweeps with tight thrusts designed to baffle an enemy. But Jaren had studied enough of Juyo’s nature to understand its limitations. As she slashed from low to high, aiming to slice through his torso vertically, Jaren switched abruptly to Djem So, catching her completely off balance. His counter shoved her back a full meter. Stumbling to regain her footing, she was awed by the sheer force of his counterstrike. From then on, Jaren held nothing back.

His blows landed like boulders rolling down a mountain. Aleena was forced to retreat, dodging and ducking out of the way as he delivered strike after strike. All the while, she sensed nothing but pure control coming from the grey-robed Jedi. She had hoped to anger him, forcing his emotions to rule him and break his concentration. But the Jedi was relentless and in complete harmony with the Force. She kept moving and defended herself as best as she could, but Aleena was tiring. Juyo was a form that took a vast amount of physical and mental energy to utilize, and she was already running low on both. Desperation began to sink into her thoughts as she struggled to fend off his seemingly never-ending rain of cuts, slashes and thrusts.

Jerek and his men remained at the ready, but the two combatants were simply moving faster than their eyes could follow. What began as a duel had turned into a frenetic whirlwind. Even though none of them were sensitive to the Force, they could feel a sense of power through the both of them as they darted through the warehouse.

Aleena was a skilled lightsaber duelist in her own right, but this Jedi far outclassed her. She tried every trick she could think of but it was of no use. He seemed to have a counter ready for her every move. Even her Echani training couldn’t prepare her for the skill he demonstrated. Aleena tried to find an opportunity to summon a burst of Sith lightning, but her foe never gave her a chance. Glancing back, she saw her one chance to gain some breathing room. Leaping high and to the left she made for a catwalk above. Landing with grace, she darted across to the other side and tried to catch her breath.

Jaren didn’t hesitate for a second. Leaping after her, he charged forward, his lightsaber held low at his side. Seeing nowhere to run to, Aleena jumped swiftly back down to the ground in the midst of the Rodian corpses littering the floor. She hoped the bodies would provide an obstacle for the relentless Jedi. Jaren followed and slowed his pace somewhat. Aleena was slightly relieved, but she was also quite tired. Never before had a battle taken so much out of her. As the Jedi picked his way through the tangle of bodies, she saw a single opening in his defenses. He continued to hold his weapon low, its blade almost scraping the ground as he walked.

The Echani fighting forms were closely relating to dancing maneuvers, and combined with her Juyo skills and Force-enhanced agility, Aleena saw the chance to deliver a single fatal strike. Lunging forward like a seasoned ballet dancer, she thrust her blade forward with lightning speed and aimed directly for the Jedi’s chest. Jaren saw the subtle alteration of her stance and quickly reacted. Tossing his lightsaber over her lunge, he caught the weapon in his left hand and struck out with his right as he dodged to the side a fraction of a second before her blade would have skewered him. Grabbing her wrist, he pulled her arm forward and toward him, moving her along with it. Reaching over her left shoulder with his lightsaber, he brought the green blade to her throat and held her back to his chest.

Aleena was completely stunned by the move. She was now held hostage with no chance of escape. The Jedi’s blade hovered millimeters in front of her throat. With only a slight twitch, he could send her head flying from her shoulders. The shame of utter defeat swept through her like a disease. Never before had she been so thoroughly beaten, not even by her master and his deadly Sith sword. The same shame she felt she saw in Jerek’s eyes, and those of his men. Though they had the Jedi dead in their sights, but they knew now that just as Aleena’s life was forfeit, so was theirs. Their mission had failed.

“Tell your men to lower their weapons, “Jaren said harshly in her ear. He could smell the stench of fear on her.
Aleena gulped as she found her voice. “Do it. Do as he says.”
Jerek and his men lowered their rifles, but kept a firm grip on them.
“You win, Jedi. You’re good, really good.”
“Tell me who you are and what happened here, “Jaren said, trying to even his voice. He was feeling some anger, but pushed aside the emotion. He could sense that Rena was still alive. It wouldn’t help matters any to feed his anger.
“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with. I’m not big on small talk.”
“Jedi don’t kill their prisoners. Just tell me what happened.”
“Oh this is great. First I’m your hostage, now I’m your prisoner. Please, just kill me.”
Jaren was slightly rattled by her sudden change in attitude. At first she was full of pride and arrogance. Now she was resigned and fatalistic.
“I won’t kill you. But I want answers. Now.”
“I don’t talk too well with a lightsaber at my throat.”
“If you think I’m stupid enough to just let you go, then it’s you who doesn’t know who you are dealing with, “Jaren said. He was tiring of playing games with this woman.
“It’s a pretty long story.”
“We have plenty of time.”
“I wouldn’t count on that.”
“Then I guess I’ll have to knock you out, tie you up and drag you out of here then.”
“I like the tying up part, Jedi, but I think I can do without the dragging.”
Jaren was again baffled by his captive.
“Was that a joke? What kind of Sith are you?”
“A dead one soon if I don’t get out of here.”
“I already told you, I’m not killing you.”
“Its not you I’m worried about.”
“Who then, your Sith master? Is he here too?”
“No, but he’ll send somebody if he hasn’t already.”
Jaren was growing tired of this stalemate. Whatever it was she feared, he didn’t have time for it. He glanced down and eyed her lightsaber, still ignited, and the blaster holstered at her side.
“Toss your weapons. Slowly.”
Aleena did as she was told, switching off her lightsaber and gently throwing it a few meters away. She did the same with her pistol, keeping her movements slow and steady.
“There, satisfied? Now I’m unarmed.”
“I doubt that, but less dangerous at least. You’re Echani, aren’t you?”
“Good guess, Jedi. Read my mind, huh?”
“No, your fighting stance. Distinctly Echani.”
“Ten credits for the Jedi. Any more observations?”
“You’re scared.”
Aleena said nothing in response. She was scared. Again the fears and doubts clouded her mind as they frequently seemed to do in times of crisis. Bordering on panic, she tried to breathe slowly and still her trembling hands. Aleena knew if she was to be released, her life was over. The Teacher was not a forgiving man. If assassins were not on her trail now, they soon would be. Jerek and his men would be of no help here. This Jedi could probably dispatch them before they could aim their weapons, and no doubt they knew it as well. Her master’s knowledge had few limits. It would only be a matter of time before he learned of her failure here. In this Jedi she saw an opportunity to continue living. She didn’t think her master’s hand could reach inside the Jedi Temple.
“Okay, so now I’m your prisoner. Let’s get me to my prison and then I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
“I can’t trust you.”
“Of course not, but you can trust a pair of binders and a quick hop to Coruscant, right?”
“So, now you want refuge among the Jedi, is that it?”
“Look, if my master finds me, I’m dead. I’m not quite ready to die just yet.”
“A moment ago you were begging for me to kill you.”
“Yeah, but now that I know you’re a nice guy and all, I figure I may have a chance here.”
“You must be the strangest Sith I have ever encountered.”
“I’m pretty sure my Sith days are just about over now, Jedi.”
“Are you seriously asking for my protection? This is absurd.”

“She’s not lying, master.”
Jaren turned his head slightly as he saw Rena approach. She appeared somewhat disheveled, but apparently unharmed. She brushed herself off as best as she could and cast a quizzical look at the captive woman in Jaren’s arms.
“Are you positive, Rena? This is a Sith here, not some common criminal.”
“I’m positive. Her fear of death is genuine.”
Aleena turned her head as best she could and gazed on the young Jedi. She was young, but pretty. Aleena attempted a weak smile, but felt embarrassed and turned back.
“Sorry about throwing you into the wall, kid. No hard feelings, right?”
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t accept your apology” Rena with a slight trace of bitterness.
“Hard feelings then “ Aleena sighed.
Ignoring the Sith woman’s comments, Rena continued on. “Jaren, she’s telling the truth, and I don’t sense any deception from her. At least none involving attacking us.”

Jaren contemplated this dilemma for a moment. Everything he had been taught about the Sith told him this woman was evil, pure and through. But trembling in his arms, and sweating fear from her brow, his real world senses told him something different. He couldn’t be sure this wasn’t a trick of some sort, but he had to trust his padawan’s feelings. She was strongly empathic and had never misled him before. Moving his lightsaber to his side, he released his captive and stepped back, still ready to defend himself if necessary.

As she turned to face him, Jaren was confronted by her beauty for the first time. Even through her billowing cloak, he could see she was fit and trim. Echani women were known for their elegant looks and classical lines. Rubbing the circulation back into her wrist, she no longer appeared quite as evil as she had at first glance. If she hadn’t just attempted to murder him, Jaren might have said she was quite beautiful. She looked at him, her blue eyes pale and clear as she gestured towards her scattered weapons.
“Can I pick those up or not?”
“My apprentice will collect those.”
Rena moved quickly to gather Aleena’s fallen weapons and tucked them into her utility belt.
“Okay, fine. You hold onto those then. I guess I won’t need weapons in my comfy Sith-proof cell, right?”
Jaren rolled his eyes slightly skyward. “Let’s just go before any more bad jokes stared popping into your skull.”
“Right, right. Off to prison then. Jerek, are you coming or not?”

Jerek looked completely stunned. He had never before witnessed such an event as this, and literally had no idea what he was supposed to do. It was obvious in their failure that he could never go back to the Sith, but he hadn’t come up with any kind of future plans as of yet. His men still held their weapons, but fingers had moved away from their triggers. They seemed just as stunned as Jerek.
Jaren was becoming more and more annoyed by the second. “Just who are these guys anyway?”
Aleena sighed. “They used to work for my master, but without protection, they’re just as dead as I am.”
Jerek agreed and looked at his men. They shook their heads in concurrence. It appeared that for now, Aleena was their new master and the Jedi was their means of survival. Jerek still hated the woman, but he had to admit, she was much more lenient with her punishments than The Teacher. And if the Jedi offered them protection as well, at least they would live. Better to live in a Jedi cell than die painfully in a Sith torture chamber.

“We’ll follow you, Lord Sero. We seem to have little choice now,” Jerek said, a touch of regret evident in his voice. “Though we still have two men at the ship. They should come with us.”
Jaren was wary of this new development. With Beelo dead and a handful of prisoners to watch over, he wasn’t sure what was to become of his mission.
“Do you have a ship, Jedi? If not, we should take mine.”
Jaren turned to Rena, his all-too-human senses unable to fully perceive the truth.
“She’s telling the truth again, Jaren. She has a ship.”
“Alright then. We’ll take your ship. And there had better be no surprises along the way. But before we go, you will tell me why you killed my friend.”
Jaren’s tone indicated that he would not be swayed in this matter.
“I didn’t kill him. I mean, yes, I was going to kill him, but one of my men shot him in the back first.”

Jerek nodded his head. “Its true, Jedi. We had orders not to kill the Rodian. But one of my men was too…enthusiastic. He paid for that disobedience with his life.”
Rena perked up. “He’s not lying either, Jaren. She didn’t kill Beelo.”
“But she didn’t hesitate to kill one of her own.”
Aleena lowered her head slightly. She suddenly felt shame in killing the mercenary. Strange feelings were welling up inside her, feelings she had thought completely suppressed. She began to wonder if perhaps she truly was evil. But contemplation would have to come later. Survival was more important now.

Turning to face the Jedi Master, she tried a smile, though it would probably do little to ease his distrust.
“Jaren is it? I thought apprentices were sworn to say ‘Master this’ and ‘Master that’?”
Jaren regarded Aleena with a frown. “My apprentice and I have a unique relationship.”
“I’ll say. Well, you can call me Aleena. Aleena Sero. Ex-Sith lord “ she said with a strange grin.
Jaren nodded, but said nothing. He regarded the body of his dead friend Beelo nearby and walked over to his lifeless form. He crossed the Rodian’s arms over his chest and smiled one last time. Beelo had joined the Force now, and hopefully his spirit was at peace. He promised to contact the Khy-Vic and offer his condolences as soon as he could. Retrieving his friend’s lightsaber, he tucked it into his belt and rejoined his apprentice and their strange new companions.

Rena noted her master’s look of disappointment as he moved to her side. “What now Jaren?”
Facing his apprentice, Jaren sighed. “I suppose now we’ll never know why Beelo contacted the Order. The council won’t be too pleased.”
“Maybe not,” Aleena said. “We took some datacards off your friend’s bodyguard here.” She pointed towards the dead Rodian nearby, the chain she had severed still fastened to his wrist.
“What?” Jaren was clearly surprised.
“Datacards, a whole case full of them. I sent one of my men to the ship with them.”
“What was on them?”
“Not sure. Probably whatever you and my master were both looking for.”
“This changes things considerably. I need those cards.”
“Fine by me. This job was getting stale anyway, being evil and all.”
Jaren wondered if perhaps this Aleena was insane or emotionally disturbed. He attitudes seemed to fluctuate drastically. Perhaps it would be best to have the council take her in. Maybe there was some way they could help her, or at least keep her from harming anyone else. Or herself.
“Alright, let’s get you and your men out of here. But I warn you, no tricks. One blaster points the wrong way and our alliance is forfeit.”
Jerek nodded his agreement. “If you can promise us safety, we’ll follow you.”
Jaren frowned. “You switch sides pretty casually.”
“We look out for ourselves first and foremost.”
Jerek’s men gave their assent as well with a chorus of nods. A choice between sanctuary with the Jedi or the retribution of the Sith was simple. They would choose to live.
Nodding, Jaren walked towards the exit and made for one of the Rodian speeders, his odd new companions following. He felt bad about not returning his own rented speeder, but the small craft held only four. The council was already going to be displeased, doubly so for having to pay for the speeder, which would likely be little more than spare parts within the hour.

The Teacher slammed his fist against the hard granite of his desk. “Betrayal!”
An aide hovered nearby, an ugly lump of a man with a weasel-like mouth. He turned off the hologram that had disturbed his lord and bent close. “Sero was always fickle, my lord. You knew she would eventually turn on you.”
“Yes, but not by siding with a Jedi. This is most unexpected. She could derail my plans.”
“She is weak my lord, she always has been. She lacks resolve.”
“She’ll sell me out to the Jedi for a chance to live, be sure of that.”
“Of course my lord, of that there is no doubt. But the Jedi are stretched very thin, and your men are on her trail.”
“They’ll be hard pressed to defeat her and a Jedi. What of Jerek and his men?”
“The report was unclear my lord.”
“Activate the ship’s trace beacon. I want men following that ship in case my three assassins fail.”
“Yes my lord. Shall I have another team standing by?”
“Have three teams alerted.”
“Three my lord? Is that not overkill?”
“I want Aleena Sero, Jerek, his men and the Jedi killed before that ship leaves the system. The ship is to be scoured for information. If what I seek is not aboard, I will use other means of acquiring what I need. Am I clear on this matter?” A hint of The Teacher’s anger showed in his eyes. The aide moved back a step in fear.
“Yes my lord, it will be done” the aide said, trembling slightly. Though he had The Teacher’s full confidence, he knew he was merely another tool in his master’s schemes.
“See that it does. I will not be stopped so close to my moment of triumph.”

More to come....

20 October 2007, 12:41 AM
Ah...posted it at last, eh? Good stuff! :)