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< Knights of the Old Republic: Dark Covenant

Chapter 8

Malfon awoke sometime the next morning. After sleeping for nearly ten hours, he still felt groggy and weak, as though he had only just closed his eyes. To make matters worse, the Force felt distant to him, and its absence made his entire body feel even more fatigued. With some reservations, he returned to sleep, knowing that his master would be cross with him for missing his early morning classes.

He had returned to sleep for but a moment when he was wakened by a kick to his bed. Two Jedi Knights stood staring down at him, informing him that he was being summoned and needed to leave with them. Disoriented at first, Malfon took a moment to climb out of his bed. He discarded the wrinkled robe and old socks he wore for new ones; much to his chagrin, the two Jedi Knights remained in his chambers as he slipped on his cloak and boots. They could have been statutes with their stolid expressions, if not for the occasional blink of their eyes. Once Malfon had snatched his blade and utility belt, he bid the two Jedi Knights lead him to wherever he was needed.

Without a word, the two Jedi Knights escorted him from his room through the lonely halls of the Jedi Sanctum. It was still early – far earlier than Malfon preferred – and even seasoned Jedi Masters who took little sleep anyway remained in their chambers at this hour. The three Jedi exchanged no conversation during their walk, and the three eventually found themselves at the hangar of the Sanctum. Once inside, he headed into the small Jedi transport pointed out to him. As soon as he entered the ship, the aft doors slammed shut behind him and the small vessel began its ascent into the skies of Coruscant.

Malfon realized that his master was aboard the ship with him, and he silently made his way through the shaking transport to the seat beside him. Once seated, he saw Raystin Benax sitting across from them, deep in meditation and utterly oblivious to his surroundings. Malfon was delighted to see them both, but kept his feelings to himself. He still didn't know why they were here, after all, and that was a more pressing matter. Glancing around, he noticed that they were the only three Jedi in this section of the ship; the transport was not very large anyway, and he suspected they were the only passengers on board.

“What's going on, Master?” Malfon whispered after some time.

“Pirates seized a ship from the Colonies,” Rell answered. “They have demanded a ransom for the release of several prisoners. We were called to assist at the behest of the Alderaanian monarchy.”

“Alderaan?” Raystin's eyes fluttered open. “What do they have to do with this?”

“Unknown at the moment. However, considering the haste used to call upon our aide – unusual for politicians – I can only imagine that it was a diplomatic vessel with ties to Alderaan.”

“You are correct, Rell.”

Malfon glanced toward the ship's cockpit, where an older Jedi Master revealed herself from behind a corner. This older Jedi looked familiar to him, somehow, as though they had met some time ago. Her hair, the color of rust but fading a steely-gray with age, was worn long, unlike many of the older female Jedi Malfon knew. The few wrinkles that hugged her cheeks and brow did little to detract from her beauty; rather, they seemed to bestow upon her a matronly visage that was well-placed alongside her warm smile.

Of course, Malfon noticed her appearance for only a moment. As though her arrival had released a tempest among them, Malfon was flooded with the incomparable power that stemmed forth from her very being. The Force flowed within her unlike any Jedi Malfon had ever seen. No, it did not even flow. She seemed to guide the very currents of the Force around her as though she and it had achieved a perfect union. Hers was true mastery. Malfon felt his jaw drop in sheer awe.

“Master Sunrider,” Raystin replied before Rell could, “how far are we from our destination?”

“We are less than ten minutes out,” she noted, taking a seat by Raystin. “Rell, have you explained the situation to your Padawan?”

“I was in the process, Grandmaster.”

And then Malfon recognized her. Nomi Sunrider, Head of the Jedi Order. The leader of the Jedi and a hero of the last war. Some would say the last hero. And what's more, it seemed she was Raystin's master! Malfon rubbed his eyes. He could scarcely believe he was not still dreaming. There was no way he had been selected to engage in a mission with the leader of the Jedi herself.

Master Sunrider nodded. “I am pleased to formally make your acquaintance, Malfon. I have heard many things about you – your master and Raystin have praised your abilities.”

Malfon eyed his master in surprise. He hardly expected to learn that Rell was praising him in secret. Rell did not meet Malfon's curious gaze, and he felt something akin to embarrassment swelling up within his master. Since his master would not look at nor answer him, Malfon faced the Head of the Jedi Order. He would consult with his master on his kindness some other time.

“No, Master, it is I who is honored to meet you. I humbly suggest that what you have heard has been exaggerated.”

The old Jedi Master laughed softly. “I highly doubt that. The reports I have received are grounded in sensibility and truth. But no matter your skills, you must know what you are facing. Would you mind, Rell?”

“Of course. As I understand it, the ship is from Kattada. Idyllic, quaint, and home to a small dukedom that controls the majority of the planet. Considering the design of the vessel – a J3 Tepasi-class transport – I can only surmise that its passengers are likely wealthy ambassadors.”

“The Anointed Heart and its crew report directly to the government, yes,” Nomi elaborated. “It is critical that we save as many passengers as we can.”

“Do you know anything more about this mission, Master?” Raystin asked.

“More than that, I cannot say. The Force behooves me to silence,” Nomi replied.

“So what's the plan?” Malfon pressed. “We need to stop those pirates.”

“And we will,” the Grandmaster agreed. “But we must be cautious. There can be no mistakes.”

“There are about forty pirates. None of them are particularly threatening on their own, but they are well-armed and have reprogrammed the security droids on board the ship for their use. In total, they outnumber the passengers five-to-one, and they are spread throughout the ship,” Rell explained.

“Have we enlisted the aid of the Republic Marines?” Raystin asked.

“No.” Nomi shook her head. “We'd need to wait for the Senate to deliberate-”

“We'd have a war on our hands by then,” Rell noted.

“-To even receive one platoon. The crew and their passengers need to be saved now. That is why Alderaan called on the Jedi,” she finished.

The pilot called for Master Sunrider, informing her that they were dropping out of hyperspace in less than three minutes. Excusing herself, the Grandmaster headed back into the cockpit to discuss some final issues with the crew. Once she was gone, Raystin acknowledged Malfon before drifting back into his meditations. Rell went to grab his gear, but Malfon was too shocked at Nomi Sunrider's presence to get up, pondering over her duties here and the compliments she gave to him. She was Raystin's master, and she had praised him. The culmination of these surprises was enough to plant an oafish grin on his face that Rell immediately noticed. His master said nothing, even though he was quite sure what his Padawan was smiling about.

Even with all this good news, Malfon found himself concerned. The Head of the Jedi Order only rarely left Coruscant, and even then only on very crucial assignments. This mission, although seemingly a simple board-and-rescue, was evidently quite important. So important, in fact, that Malfon was unsure why he was here. Even with Raystin's guidance and the assistance of his other friends, Malfon considered his skills quite mediocre. Rell himself was a talented Jedi, to be sure, but the Jedi Grandmaster could have selected a different, more stellar pair of Jedi Knights to accompany herself and her learner. Even with Raystin's praises and Rell's good word, there was no way Malfon should have been on this mission. It made no sense.

Before he could ruminate any further, then they dropped out of hyperspace. At once, the Force alerted them of impending danger, creating a sort of screech that caused Malfon to wince. Raystin jumped up from his seat as the entire transport rocked violently, and Rell snatched at the overhead metal bar above the armory to keep his balance. Malfon, on the other hand, was thrown from his seat and tumbled around on the ground while the ship spiraled into an evasive maneuver. Rell worked together with Raystin to steady him, using the Force to prop him upright while Nomi returned amidships.

“What's going on, Master?” Raystin asked.

“The pilot dropped out of hyperspace a moment too early. We've been detected, and they're releasing fighters,” she explained.

“What does that mean for the hostages?” Rell asked.

“Chances are, nothing,” Master Sunrider replied. “We're one ship, and the pilot put us on an outbound vector. Hopefully, they'll assume we're spacers who punched in some bad coordinates and are just passing through.”

“How are we going to board if we're heading away from our destination?” Malfon asked, rubbing his bruised elbows.

“We don't have any cutting gear,” Rell noted. “And it will be difficult to enter the hangar while they're firing on us.”

“Lightsabers are the only cutting gear we need.” Raystin tapped one of the environmental suits against the wall. “We can use these to venture through space and reach their hull undetected.”

Nomi grinned. “No: we won't need to worry about those things. The pilot's going to fly us as close as he can. Everyone stay close, and be prepared for a quick departure.”

Malfon glanced around. The only way out of the ship was from the aft doors, and the exit was not particularly defensible; even with four Jedi, they would receive plenty of enemy fire on their way out. Without windows, it was very difficult to tell precisely where they were, or how close they were to the Anointed Heart. Without foreknowledge of their plan and lacking a lightsaber to defend himself upon arrival, Malfon was not excited about starting this mission.

Luckily, Nomi Sunrider did not depend on her eyes to gauge where they were in comparison to their target. Laser fire bounced off their shields just beyond the hull, and the ship jutted hard to port, causing the entire vessel to tremble. While it was mid-turn, the Jedi leader placed her hands on Raystin's and Malfon's shoulders. Rell wordlessly placed his hand on Nomi's seconds before Malfon's vision was flooded with darkness. Vertigo caught up with him as he tumbled along with the ship, disoriented and blinded. Even though his senses seemed numb, his entire body burned as though he had been exposed to fire, and some sort of powerful tension threatened to tear his body apart limb from limb.

And just as quickly as his vision was stolen from him, it returned. No longer was he in the Jedi transport; now, he was in the halls of a new ship. The white walls were adorned with a golden design that Malfon did not recognize, and the brightly lit walkway was further illuminated by blue floorpanels. Raystin, Nomi, and Rell had activated their lightsabers to defeat the five pirates around them. Just beyond them, Malfon saw the long stairwell that led to the bridge. Several droids and a few more pirates were closing in on them, and Malfon stood up just as the last of the nearest enemies were defeated.

Noticing Malfon recover, Rell moved to check on his Padawan. As he approached, some sort of defensive mechanism was activated around the Jedi, causing a pair of massive durasteel blast doors with energy shielding to fall into place between them. The ship's barricades separated Nomi from Raystin, and Rell and Malfon from them both. Rell immediately reactivated his blue lightsaber and stabbed the doors before him, but his lightsaber was tossed away from the near-invisible shielding.

Save your strength, Rell, Nomi's voice rang out in Malfon's head, and Rell no doubt heard it too. We'll meet up later. The fact that their defenses are active means they were expecting company. We have to act quickly.

“Are we to remain separated?” Rell asked, deactivating his lightsaber.

For now. We will work more quickly this way. I've sent Raystin to the barracks to deal with the bulk of the guards and free most of the prisoners. I am heading for the security office to disable their defenses and the cameras, the Grandmaster explained.

“And us?” Malfon asked aloud.

You and Rell are going to go to the bridge and free the few hostages there. From where you are now, there should be a service elevator that will take you to most of the way.

“As you wish, Grandmaster. May the Force be with you,” Rell replied.

And you. I'll try to keep in touch.

Without another word, Rell wheeled around on one foot and headed in the opposite direction of the blast doors. Malfon, surprised at his master's haste, took a moment before racing after him. He had already realized that they were on the Anointed Heart, but how they got here, Malfon was still unsure. He still had all his gear, which was good, and he carried his sword in hand as he joined his master on through the corridors.

“Master, how are we-?”

“Teleportation. Master Sunrider is rather adept at it, at least over short distances.”

“She teleported us all here?” Malfon sounded more shocked than he would have liked. “Isn't that exhausting?”

Rell kept his pace, but cast a glance at Malfon. “She's the leader of our Order. She will be fine. However, we have to be within immediate proximity for her ability to work, which is what kept her from reuniting us.”

“I thought she said that we would work more quickly apart?”

“That too, but I think…”

Rell trailed off. He came to a halt just short of an intersection, and Malfon nearly crashed into him. Slowly pulling taking out his lightsaber with one hand, he motioned toward the hallway to their left with his other. He held up two fingers, and then reached for the activation stud on his lightsaber. Malfon gripped his blade in a ready stance, and in a second the two Jedi sprung from their place at the edge of the wall and found themselves face-to-face with two pirates.

The rogues visibly jumped when the two Jedi came into view. Carrying a cup of caf and a small plate of food, respectively, the two pirates were ill-prepared to face their opponents and probably didn't even know there were enemies on board. Rell's lightsaber sprung to life, sending a shimmering beam of blue light right into the nearest pirate's chest. Malfon smashed the butt of his hilt into the face of the pirate before him, and he fell over without a sound.

Rell allowed his target's body to topple over. “Good work, Malfon. Finish him off.”

Malfon nodded and raised his sword to end the pirate's life. However, just before he brought down the killing blow, he hesitated. Staring into the wounded Twi'lek pirate's eyes, thoughts that he wanted to ignore came into the forefront of his mind. He had never killed anyone before. The duties of a Jedi had not demanded it. This pirate was, in a sense, a villain. However, Malfon recognized that he was just a pawn – a thug for some greater evil. Or at least, he assumed so. He knew nothing about this being before him, and now he was supposed to take his life? He couldn't accept it. Shaking his head, he returned his blade to his side.

“Master, I can't do it.”

Rell sighed softly. “Malfon, if we do not kill this pirate, he will simply go on and warn the others of our presence. And then, we will be in danger.”

“But what if this pirate was forced to do this? What if he supports a family? What if this is his last day on the job? What authority do I have to end his life? I do not know him, but he and I are not different, fundamentally.”

“Fundamentally?” Rell frowned. “Whatever his reasons, he made a choice. He has chosen this path for himself, because of depravity, poverty, blackmail, or some other reason. You are a Jedi. You have laid down your life to do what those lifeforms across the galaxy cannot do: you make the decisions that others cannot. He refused to make hard choices; it is your calling to do so. You and he are, fundamentally, entirely different.”

“But Master-”

Rell walked forward, stepping between Malfon and the pirate at his feet. With a single swing, he severed the Twi'lek's head from his neck. The pirate was probably only half-conscious when he died. Rell's Padawan looked on with an expression of horror, but he said nothing. He didn't even realize he was trembling. Satisfied that the deed was done, Rell turned to face Malfon again.

“Malfon, we can debate this another time. Right now, if we do not reach the bridge and complete our mission, we will fail. Not only will we fail the Jedi Council and Grandmaster Sunrider, but the lives of the innocent people on this ship will be forfeit. Could you live knowing you were responsible for their deaths?”

“Can you live knowing you just killed two men who didn't even fight back?” Malfon shot back.

“Yes.” Rell continued down the hall. “They have become a threat to me, my pupil, my allies, and the civilians I have been charged to protect. By threatening others, they are no longer victims to be pitied but monsters to be feared. And if I can save others from them, I will.”

“Master,” Malfon called, not yet moving, “I cannot believe that. It's… they do know understand what they're doing.”

“Perhaps not. But then, maybe you don't either. If you doubt, do not kill. I will do what must be done for you.”

Malfon pursed his lips. When Rell did not slow down, he eventually quelled his stubbornness and allowed himself to follow. He didn't like it, and Rell's words burned inside him, but he knew he couldn't leave his master alone. With sword in hand and a heavy heart, Malfon reunited his with master further down the hall.

His master could not be right. These pirates were ignorant, and their ignorance brought misfortune to them. However, they did not deserve to die for that. Rell didn't understand; whether this ideology was formed out of his noble upbringing or his ventures in the Force, Malfon didn't know. However, he was convinced that the thought was wrong. He had never disagreed with his master on anything blatantly, but this was too much. He could not lift his sword and kill anyone on this ship, even if his own life was in danger.

His thoughts consumed him during their trip. Rell stopped them at every intersection, scanning the other hallways and ensuring that the way was clear. The Jedi Knight seemed to understand that his student was pondering the outcome of their previous engagement, and he said nothing. As long as they were prepared for future engagements, the two of them were in no danger.

The halls of the Anointed Heart were emptier than Malfon expected. No pirates encountered them after their first battle, and it was almost as though they had abandoned the ship entirely. Every chamber looked the same, and it hardly felt like they were going anywhere at all. They had yet to hear from Grandmaster Sunrider or Raystin, but he and his master could only assume that they were succeeding in their tasks. Even alone, Nomi was infinitely Rell's greater and Raystin far outclassed Malfon. That fact both comforted and disturbed Malfon, but he was glad to have his master's company, all things considered.

Rell stopped rather abruptly before turning to the left and forcing Malfon to follow. Reaching the end of a hallway with a T-shaped passage extending further on both sides of them, the two Jedi found the elevator that they were looking for. Unfortunately, it seemed to have been set in some sort of lockdown, and Rell did not know how to unlock and use it. The door itself seemed to be of a similar make to the blast doors that separated them earlier; it was a strong durasteel, but it lacked the energy shield the others had. With enough time, Rell could burn through it with his lightsaber. Wordlessly, Malfon turned to watch the three-way passage behind them while Rell got to work cutting through the elevator door.

Their arrival was some unseen trigger for a trap. Several pirates, ruffians of various species with various types of bladed weaponry, emerged from doors the two Jedi had passed to get here. Knowing that Rell needed time to breach the door with his lightsaber, Malfon engaged the incoming pirates himself. Leaping into their midst with a quick Force-empowered jump, Malfon swept wide with his sword, forcing the incoming brigands to halt their advance.

Moving toward the Human to his immediate left, Malfon locked blades with the pirate's smaller knife. Though his opponent was tenacious, it was immediately evident that the Jedi Padawan was the better duelist. Without aid from his comrades, the Human pirate quickly lost several of his fingers to Malfon's blade, causing him to drop his knife. Disarmed, the large pirate fled the area while Malfon turned to face his remaining adversaries. The Aqualish and Nikto thugs both seemed hesitant to fight, intimidated by the young Jedi and his skill with a sword. Pity welled up inside him. If he didn't have to fight these two pirates, he would have avoided it; however, Rell needed someone to defend him and these two would have moved on to attack him without interference. The moment they moved in to attack him, he struck back.

His blade danced between his two enemies, just barely grazing their vibrating blades and deftly avoiding counterattacks entirely, throwing them off-balance. With the aid of the Force, Malfon practically floated around them – his speed ethereal, never remaining in one place for long. Malfon's blade connected just below the Aqualish's primary elbow, severing it with a single clean cut. A quick kick to the face sent that pirate to the floor, and Malfon quickly cut off the Nikto's legs in a similar manner.

More pirates were storming from the corridors beyond him and at the end of the T-intersection where Rell was nearly done cutting through the elevator door. Rushing forward, Malfon engaged another pair of pirates while two more scurried past him toward his master. Realizing that he had let them by, he turned to his newest foes and tried to incapacitate them as quickly as possible. However, these two were better warriors than the other pirates. Fighting in unison, one would remain engaged to Malfon and occupy his defenses while the other tried to sneak around and go for a killing blow from behind. The young Jedi used the Force to even the playing field, leaping between them and around their strikes whenever he could, but he was tiring. More pirates were approaching Rell from the left and right of the intersection and reinforcements were coming from rooms beyond Malfon; soon they would be overrun.

Jumping back, Malfon put a bit of distance between himself and his two enemies. Turning around, he was relieved to see that his master had dealt with the two pirates who had bypassed him and killed the others nearby. However, before he could return his attention to the pirates he had jumped away from, Rell gave him a look he had never seen before.

Malfon! Duck… no, jump!

Rell's words echoed in Malfon's mind. As the Force warned him of impending danger, Malfon controlled time around him, slowing it as much as he could with his remaining strength and focus. Without turning from his master, he performed a leaping backflip and contorted his body in the air to avoid any incoming attacks. Sure enough, Malfon saw a pirate's vibrosword just pass underneath his twisting form. Malfon saw Rell leap into the air, dodging two swordstrikes from his own opponents, and throw his blue lightsaber in his direction. In the sluggish motion of the Force's distorted time, Malfon could not tell where the blade was headed, but it would be awfully close to him.

His body completed its complex loop through the air as time sped up around him. And in what became a mere second, every slowed down motion happened at once. Rell's lightsaber soared through the air, spinning vertically on its way just past Malfon's ear. The blue blade cut clean through the pirate who had attacked Malfon, leaving his body in two bisected pieces that fell to the floor. However, the blade didn't stop; continuing on, it deflected a blaster bolt that Malfon hadn't seen, sending it away before it could reach Malfon's defenseless head. And then, as lightsaber and blaster bolt flew toward the the pirates charging toward him, Malfon was thrown to the ground by a powerful burst of energy from behind.

He snapped out of his dazed state a few minutes later. Coughing, Malfon wiped the blood from his mouth. Something in his chest burned at the touch, and even attempting to stand caused him immense pain. He glanced around him, only to realize that all the pirates in the area were dead. Their bodies were scattered around, but they did not have lacerations or bruises. Gripping his side and using the wall to support himself, Malfon was so disoriented he didn't even think of checking on his master.

“Malfon…!”

Turning his head, he realized that his master was on the floor next to the elevator. Malfon shouted. Using some unprecedented strength that fought through the anguish his entire body was enduring, he ran toward his master. Only when he approached did he realize that Rell Hernaster had been shot through the chest. From his classes in the Jedi Sanctum, Malfon realized that the blaster shot had likely destroyed one of his lungs, and possibly caused damage to his heart as well. At this point, it was a wonder he was conscious, much less alive. Rell said nothing, and Malfon had no idea what to say. The situation was too surreal to be true, but he eventually found himself kneeling and trying to dress the wound.

“Master? Master, what happened?”

“They're better shots than I anticipated. One of them was firing at me from the left…” He motioned down the hall with his head. “But I was dodging shots fine. Then I saw one of their gunmen take aim at you… didn't think you saw it. I jumped higher to get a better view of him, but they shot me anyway…”

“You… you were hit trying to save me?”

“I did save you. Don't…” Rell's entire body spasmed. “Killed the rest with a telekinetic burst. Don't have… much strength left after that.”

“Master… I… I didn't mean to…” Realization dawned on Malfon, and he quickly pulled some vials of kolto and field painkillers from his belt. “Don't worry, Master. I-I'll give you some first aid and we'll get you to the Grandmaster! She'll help you and-”

With strength Malfon didn't know his master had, Rell reached up and grabbed hold of Malfon's collar. Pulling himself up – with considerable effort – Rell glared into his Padawan's eyes. “Don't you dare. I know… this is it. This is as far as I go. It's just a shame I couldn't pass up the old man, though…”

“I won't let you die! Not now! You can't… I-I can't…”

“I'm not your master anymore. Take my lightsaber… my first and last gift to you. Finish the job. No, finish everything. Become… what I could not.”

“Master, I couldn't-”

“Take my weapon. Do not stop… until your powers become legendary… so I will be known as the o-one who trained…”

Malfon stared at his master's weapon, lying on the ground just beyond his reach. At Rell's urging, his trembling hands picked up the weapon and held it so his master could see it. The Jedi Knight nodded and released his student, returning to the floor. Malfon had to grip the hilt as hard as he was able to keep himself from dropping it, and his eyes were tearing up even as he knelt there with his dying master.

“Malfon.”

“Yes, Master?”

“You earned your knighthood in my eyes. You are the Jedi I always h-hoped to be. On the day you surpass me, he will be… proud…”

The last of the Jedi Knight's strength failed him, and he died with his last words on his lips, fading into a soft whisper and, at last, a harsh breath. Malfon gritted his teeth. He hated his master for talking like that. He hated himself for not being perceptive enough to protect himself. He endangered those around him due to his inability to see beyond himself. He hated it.

Tears burned against his cheeks and under his eyes as he struggled to stand. Rell would have wanted him to mourn later – if ever. Climbing through the small hole that his master had made in the elevator door, Malfon slammed his fist into the button that would take him to the bridge. Crumpling into a distraught wreck in the corner, Malfon realized how alone he was only when his crying ceased and silence joined him for the remainder of the journey.

*** ***

Malfon walked up the stairs leading to the bridge. A few pirates and official guards were dead on the uncountable steps, but there were far more damaged security droids. Chances were that these were the first casualties; the droids and the guards were trying to defend the bridge from an endless onslaught of pirates, and they eventually failed. A sorry end, and one that many more officials and pirates likely endured over the course of the engagement. The enemies Malfon had seen earlier must have gone elsewhere, pursuing Master Sunrider and Raystin.

His entire body ached as he finished the climb. Leg muscles strained from earlier acrobatics and constant motion. Arms were weary from defending against swords and carrying his own weapons. Something in his chest – probably a rib or two – had been injured, causing a burning sensation every few steps. His mind was foggy, distraught at the loss of his master and the loneliness he now endured. Even the Force seemed distant from him. But it would all be over soon.

He saw the Whiphid just inside the bridge the moment he turned the corner. Of course, the burly pirate also saw him, and several dozen blaster bolts flew toward him for his trouble. Malfon dove into the corner between the wall and the right side of the door, getting him close enough to the bridge without actually stepping inside. Malfon activated Rell's lightsaber and peered just beyond his cover, only to be greeted by several more rounds of blaster fire that he narrowly avoided. Pinned down, Malfon positioned himself closer to the floor in case he needed to roll across the doorway into new cover.

“Ahahaa! So one Jedi pup is all that remains to challenge us. How amusing! Come, boy, drop your weapon, or else we'll kill the captives.”

He heard a female scream to emphasize that fact. Malfon peeked just far enough to see into the room, and managed to get a glimpse of six pirates and their last hostage before being forced to return to cover entirely. It was a hefty Feeorin who held a young woman in a chokehold in his arms, and his numerous scars and unwieldy heavy repeater probably made him the leader. The handful of other hostages were in various states of critical injury and would not survive very long, and the young woman – a few years Malfon's junior, it seemed – was the only one in immediate danger.

“Please…” she whispered just loud enough to be heard. “Don't let them hurt me.”

“You heard her, lad! Drop your Jedi weapon!” the Feeorin growled.

“If I do,” Malfon shouted back. “Do you promise to let her go?”

“Aye. On my honor.”

Malfon considered his options. He couldn't risk disarming himself entirely, but he knew that if he refused to placate the pirates, they would kill the last hostage. They outnumbered him six to one, and it was unlikely he could take them all in a fight anyway, especially in his current condition. Assenting, Malfon deactivated his lightsaber. If they decided to betray him, he still had his vibrosword handy, but he hoped he wouldn't have to use it.

“I'm discarding my weapon. Send the hostages toward the door, okay?”

“Let's see the weapon, first.”

Malfon sighed. He threw his weapon to the ground in front of him, and he heard the pirates laugh as it clattered across the floor. The Feeorin barked something in a language Malfon didn't understand, and he heard footsteps coming toward him. Of course it was a trick. However, before he could reach for his sword to defend himself, the glowpanels inside the bridge and the hallway leading to it were shut down, shrouding the entire deck in darkness.

As soon as the lights went out, Malfon heard the Feeorin scream in pain. Worried for the safety of the last hostage, Malfon used the Force to call on his lightsaber in the darkness and reactivated it. Charging headlong into the darkness, Malfon saw blaster fire race out from the emptiness, straight for his lightsaber. With the Force replacing the eyes that could not see, he repositioned his weapon to deflect the shots headed for him. Red blaster bolts zigzagged through the air around him, lighting up the darkness in sporadic flashes. In the corner of his eye, he thought he saw another figure, closer to the gunmen than he was, who was not shooting at him.

He remained stationary as he continued to defend himself from incoming blaster fire. Screams echoed around him in the darkness. Bones broke, necks snapped, and blaster fire was redirected into the walls around them. Tired as he was, he was fortunate that none of the pirates tried to approach. He had very little physical strength left, and he probably would not have been able to fight them off in his current state.

The glowpanels turned back on just as Malfon rolled underneath an unexpected blaster shot. To his surprise, five pirates – including their Feeorin leader – were dead, lying on the ground and bleeding in different places. This puzzled him because he had not actually killed any of them. He would have sensed if any of the blaster bolts he sent back wounded a target; as far as he knew, they reached the walls beyond them, and there were black pockmarks to prove it.

Then, turning, he realized exactly how the pirates were killed. The last pirate, the Whiphid he had seen earlier, was being strangled to death by the same female captive the Feeroin had seized. Her long blonde hair was tangled, drenched in sweat, and Malfon could see blood at the ends. Her flowing dark blue dress, meant to be worn at some sort of gala, was torn at the sleeves and just above the knees, leaving her white stockings and bare arms showing. Her face was stained with ruined makeup and bruised, but her dark brown eyes reflected the unyielding spirit that kept her alive until now. Long, thick strands from her torn dress had been tightly woven and bound into a makeshift rope, and the Whiphid quickly died from asphyxiation.

Malfon stared into awe at the petite woman. For someone with little muscle mass and lacking in means to defend herself, it immediately became apparent to him that she had killed all six pirates by herself. Satisfied with her work, the young woman sighed as she stepped away from the dead Whiphid. She did not realize that Malfon was in the room with her until she looked up, visibly jumped, and lost any ferocity in her expression, replacing it with a demure look that she no doubt practiced before.

“Who… who are you?” Malfon gasped.

“Me? Isn't it polite for the man to introduce himself to a lady?” she teased.

“I-I'm Malfon. I'm a Jedi Padawan. I'm here to…” Malfon looked at the dead pirates again. “… rescue you.”

The young woman chuckled. “Oh? Well, my name is Junara Astal, Jedi. I must admit, I couldn't have killed them without your assistance. You served as a suitable distraction.”

“How did you…?”

“Defeat them?” she nodded knowingly. “We're all just skin, muscles, and bone, Malfon. I simply know how to use my strengths to cripple those things.”

“But there were six pirates here, and you killed them all-”

“Someone like me tends to get underestimated.” She extended her hand and, to Malfon's surprise, one of the pirate's blasters floated into her hands telekinetically. “Plus, I have some help on my side, too.”

Malfon's mouth dropped open, and he was about to inquire about the nature of Force-sensitivity when someone called out the young woman's name from the stairs leading to the bridge. Turning, Malfon and Junara saw Raystin, Nomi Sunrider, and several older men clamor onto the bridge. They all looked exhausted, although the old men lacked the sweat and blood that the two Jedi had on their robes. Their flowing robes and ornate headgear were barely damaged, in fact, and it was likely that they were hardly harmed by the pirates.

“Oh, duchess! You're safe!” one of them exclaimed.

Malfon stared at Junara. “Duch-?”

“Oh, my hero!” Any toughness she had seemed to fade away into a façade of helplessness. “My wonderful, strong, brave hero!”

Ignoring the arrival of the other Jedi and what seemed to be her personal entourage, Junara leapt into Malfon's arms and kissed him. Malfon fumbled about for a moment, not quite realizing what was going on, and the shouts from the older men in front of him only made the situation more embarrassing. When she realized that her show of affection was not being reciprocated, Junara stepped back and faced her ministers.

“Who is this man, and how dare he lay a hand on the duchess?” one of the oldest men growled.

“Oh, he is simply marvelous, General. When he saw I was being held captive by those nasty pirates, he leapt in with his lightsaber and personally killed all ten of them!” Junara explained.

Raystin eyed the bodies around them. “Huh, I only see six…” he muttered.

Malfon glared at her. “I assure you, that is n-”

Junara kissed him again before he could continue. “Play along,” she whispered in between breaths. “And I will reward you.”

Malfon pulled away from her kisses and separated himself from her. “As I was saying, the lights went out before I could engage them. It was pure luck.”

“That was my doing,” Raystin noted. “My apologizes. I thought, perhaps, we might disorient the pirates before we stormed the bridge. I had no idea you were already here.”

“As you can see, Raystin did a lot more than me,” Malfon pointed out to Junara.

“Oh? Is he your brother?” She winked. “Gallantry and handsomeness seem to run in the family.”

“He's not my brother!” Malfon said, aghast.

“You could have fooled me,” Junara said with a shrug. “You two look so similar.”

“Duchess, enough of this nonsense,” one of her ministers interrupted. “You are still bound to Alderaan. The wedding will not be delayed any further!”

“Wedding?” Raystin repeated.

“Indeed,” Nomi Sunrider said. “The Anointed Heart was on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan. Apparently, one of the dukes of Kattada wanted to seal a trade agreement with the Alderaanian monarchy by having his daughter marry the prince.”

The three Jedi eyed the duchess. She seemed unperturbed by the explanation at first, but she sighed rather harshly when her advisers began to urge to her to return to her quarters. Malfon, as inept as he was at sensing the thoughts of others, could clearly tell that she dreaded the entire idea of this mission.

Junara approached Malfon again. “Ah, yes. About that. I reject the idea. I have chosen a new husband.”

The general was already shouting, but Junara ignored him. Removing a small brooch from her dress, she hooked the shimmering emblem onto Malfon's robes. This sent the ministers into a frenzy, shouting and barking at Malfon as though he had just told them they had all lost their jobs. Malfon visibly flinched at the rage, but the two other Jedi and the duchess were stolid.

“Malfon. This is the man I will marry instead.”

“What?” Malfon nearly tripped over himself. “But I can't marry you! I'm a J-”

“Now see here, Jedi!” the general exclaimed, approaching him and waving his burly hand in his face. “This is a violation of the agreement Alderaan had with your Jedi Order!”

“Not to mention violating common sense!” another adviser hissed.

“We demand that you rebuke this ridiculous nonsense, Grandmaster Sunrider!” a third said. “Do not make us turn to the Senate on this matter.”

Nomi Sunrider looked at each of them in turn. “Do you expect me to decry your duchess? She is not a Jedi under my care, and this was her decision. I cannot support Malfon's agreement, but any matrimony ritual she enacted she did so willingly. I have no authority there. And I cannot speak for Alderaan, either. Can you?”

The general was visibly livid, but restrained himself from violently accosting Malfon. “Bah! Do not think you've heard the last of us on this, Jedi! Junara, we are leaving! Come, we go to Alderaan!”

“You can take me where you like, but you will not get me to marry any other than the one I have given my dedication brooch to,” she replied.

“Be safe, duchess,” Nomi said.

Junara nodded and turned to face Malfon. “If you ever find yourself retiring from the Jedi life, know that I will wait until the end of the universe itself for you. But… try not to test my patience, Jedi. Life without official duties and a dotting husband to deal with has its perks too, you know.”

With a smile and another quick kiss, Junara departed from the trio of Jedi with the rest of her advisers. Malfon was so flustered he had no idea what to do, and Raystin and Nomi said nothing until the company of former captives were well out of earshot.

“Do you think they mean to cause us trouble, Master?” Raystin asked after some time.

“Perhaps, but they are of little concern. The ministers cannot directly appeal to the Senate, only the dukes they serve can do that,” the Grandmaster mused. “Seeing the young duchess, I suspect she is fiery enough to convince the dukes to agree with her. Or at the very least, admit there is nothing they can do to counteract her decision.”

“That makes sense. I suppose we don't have to worry, then. Are you all right, Malfon?”

“I… I will be,” he stammered.

Raystin laughed, but became serious immediately. “And Rell?”

Malfon shook his head. “He… he didn't make it.”

Nomi placed her hand on his shoulder. “I'm sorry, Malfon. He was a good Jedi, and a knowledgeable man. I will do what I can to ensure he is given the funeral rites a Jedi Knight of his caliber deserved.”

“Thank you, Grandmaster.”

“And,” she continued, “I will encourage the Council to give you a master who can readily finish your own training, so you can move on to the status of Jedi Knight.”

“You are too kind, Grandmaster.”

She smiled softly, and then gazed into the distance. “You did well today, Malfon. Any praise I have to give, you have justly earned. But we have done all we can here. We ought to return to Coruscant.”

She led the way out of the bridge, on her way to where Rell had died. Raystin was quick to follow. Before he could get very far, though, Malfon raced ahead and tugged on the sleeves of his robe.

“Raystin.”

“Yes, Malfon?”

“Why… why didn't you tell them the truth?”

“About what, Malfon?”

“You know…” Malfon grimaced. “You turned out the lights. You essentially saved my life and hers. If you had explained that to the ministers and to Junara, you would have been the hero today. She would h-have, I don't know, given you the affection and attention I got. Why didn't you say anything?”

“Why didn't you reveal to Junara's ministers that she lied about your actions?” Raystin asked.

“She told me not to.”

“And Nomi has always told me not to involve myself where I don't need to be involved. We both had our reasons.”

“But Raystin… I've been betrothed!” Malfon groaned.

“So you are. But a Jedi's first service is to the galaxy, not to a lover. So you shouldn't have anything to worry about, right?” He chuckled. “Besides, I assume she only did that to escape her political duties. She knows as well as you do Jedi cannot marry, and was only using the marital trappings of her people to escape a life under a man she had no feelings for.”

“I guess you're right.”

“Then let's go home, Malfon.”

Malfon nodded, albeit somewhat absentmindedly, and the two Jedi Padawans raced to catch up with Grandmaster Sunrider.


Chapter 9

Malfon was exhausted. Ever since his mission on the Anointed Heart, he found himself tired all the time. Sleep did not come easily, and studies were difficult because fatigue distracted him. Nevertheless, he did his best, perusing scientific journals dealing with advances in neurology and experimenting on animals using the Force. He even found the time in between sleeping and studying to spend time with his friends, in spite of his lethargy.

North had been encouraged to spend more time with Raystin and the others, and he was getting used to the group. During his time among them, he seemed in a constant stupor and hardly had anything constructive to say, as though something had bound his thoughts and refused to release them. The others did not seem to notice, simply enjoying his company, but Harada was quick to tease him – as kindly as he was able, at Raystin's urging – for it.

Several months after Malfon's last mission, Raystin was abruptly called into the Jedi Council chambers. Presumably, he was answering for misgivings the Council had about a mission he undertook; however, Malfon had been told by North that the Council was going to knight Raystin Benax today. Despite his own excitement for his friend, Malfon said nothing, keeping quiet until Raystin left their group. Once Raystin was gone, the group began to drift apart. Lythi headed for the sparring chambers, as she always did, but she promised to return once Raystin had been knighted. Olnara and Harada sat down by one of the smaller fountains in the eastern atrium, leaving Malfon and North to their own devices by the colonnade nearby.

“Raystin is going to become a Jedi Knight,” North muttered, having no trouble stating the obvious.

“Indeed he is,” Malfon replied. “It's about time. He's the best Jedi Padawan in the Order, and his knighthood is long overdue.”

“I agree. But there are other Jedi who deserve it just as much,” North noted, leaning against a nearby railing and staring into the distance.

“Yeah. Lythi, Celsus Djan, and Elbrook are all skilled. I wouldn't be surprised if they were appointed Jedi Knights in the next few weeks.”

“I… I suppose so.”

“Are you all right?” Malfon asked, sensing something was amiss.

“Yeah… I'm fine.”

Malfon joined his friend, leaning over the balcony and gazing at the Jedi and droids wandering several levels below them. Without even looking at him, he knew North was lying. The younger Jedi was never distant, and when he was, he was always reading something. It wasn't like him to avoid the issue.

“What's going on, North?”

“Malfon, I… I heard about the woman on the Anointed Heart. Your wife, right?”

Malfon laughed despite himself. “I would hardly say that, North. It's more like an arranged thing. Pure ritual, nothing more.”

“That may be, but you're the only one of us that has gotten into a romantic relationship, so I thought-”

“Elbrook is more versed in the matter than I,” Malfon said ruefully.

“-I was wondering if you could give me some advice.”

“About what?”

“Lythi,” North said after a bit of thought. “It's Lythi. I… I really like her.”

“Oh?”

“That's not weird, is it?”

Malfon shook his head. “Why would you even think that?”

North glanced over his shoulder. “She's… I don't know. She's older than us, and… well, I don't think she likes me.”

“Nonsense.”

“She doesn't talk to me!”

Malfon shook his head. “You don't talk to her, either.”

North was quiet for some time. “What… what do you think I should do?”

“About what?”

“About her!”

“Have you told her yet?”

“Force above, no.” North stared at him like Malfon had asked him to jump off the ledge. “I wouldn't know how. I'd make a fool out of myself.”

Malfon turned so that his back rested against the durasteel balustrade. “So you're content with admiring her and not letting her know how you feel?”

“It's not like that, Malfon.”

“Sure it is.”

“What if she doesn't like me?”

“You won't know until you ask.”

“But what if she doesn't-”

“You're over-thinking things. Just tell her. If she likes you back, she'll reciprocate. You know she will. If she doesn't, then you just have to accept that.”

“I… I couldn't live with that. I don't want…”

“Hey, you two!” Lythi's voice rang out from across the hall. “Get over here! Raystin's back, and he's a Jedi Knight!”

Malfon smiled at North teasingly, and North returned the favor with an icy glare. Slapping North's shoulder, Malfon bid him to follow as he headed over to congratulate their friend. North lingered for a few minutes, clearing his head and collecting himself, before joining Malfon and the others. By the time they arrived, Harada, Olnara, and Lythi had finished their praises and had moved on to whimsical stories or good-natured teasing. Malfon was quick to join in the fun, while North lingered at the edge of the group and replied when necessary.

“Thank you all,” Raystin said after the commotion had died down. “You know I couldn't have done this without you.”

“Nonsense. You could have risen to the rank of Jedi Master by locking yourself in your chambers and mastering every skill known to the Order!” Lythi replied.

“Ah, but he'd turn out like North if he did that,” Harada chortled.

Raystin shook his head disapprovingly at the shorter Jedi. “Despite what you may think, this has been a journey I've taken with all of you. The road from Padawan to Knight can never happen alone. Even with the necessary skills and feats, there is always more to learn.”

“You sound more like a Jedi Master already,” Olnara intoned.

“She's right,” Malfon said with a gasp. “Who are you, and what have you done with our friend?”

“Are you kidding? He's always sounded like that,” Lythi drawled. “Drones on and on like the masters do about destinies and humility.”

“That's not funny,” Raystin said. “You know I mean what I say.”

“I know you meant it – that's the problem,” Lythi replied.

Raystin shook his head. “You're too critical.”

“And you're too serious, Raystin. But for now, let's celebrate!” Harada hollered. “Let's hear it from Raystin Benax, the first Jedi Knight from our ragged fellowship!”

There was a resounding cheer from the others, and the festivities continued despite Raystin's embarrassment about the whole ordeal.

*** ***

Malfon left the company in high spirits. It was very late in the evening now, and Jedi were returning from missions and retiring to their quarters, leaving the Jedi Sanctum quite empty. Malfon used to enjoy such things. As North was a student of the past and called to read, so he was a student of the mind and called to think, and thinking was best in the silence. However, of late, Malfon's thoughts were caught up in regret. It made studies difficult, enjoyment scarce, and was probably contributing to the fatigue he was experiencing.

He felt alone in every waking moment. He missed Rell. He still had Raystin and the others to talk to, sure, but it wasn't the same. They were wise, but not as wise as a master could have been. They were encouraging, but nothing quite matched the compliments from a master. Everything he did reminded him that he had lost his master, due to his carelessness, and now he was in this journey alone. Anger, depression, and fear were commonplace thoughts. What had he done?

Nomi Sunrider had promised him that he would receive an able Jedi as a teacher, and he believed her. He knew, as the Head of the Order, she could appoint him the greatest Jedi Master in the Jedi Order. She, perhaps, would take over his training personally. He would complete his training spectacularly, and he would become a Jedi Knight. However, in spite of all that, he still woke up in tears. He still had nightmares of that day. He still wished Rell was with him.

Lost in his thoughts, an older Jedi intercepted him, stepping directly into his path and making sure his presence was recognized.

“You are Malfon, correct?”

Malfon glanced at him suspiciously. “I am. Who are you?”

“My name is Avaran Whell.” The old Jedi extended one of his gnarled, veiny hands. “I am your new master.”

“My… my what?”

“Listen, lad, listen!” The other Jedi walked behind him. “The Council has informed me that you are in need of a new teacher. I read over your file and have decided that you are the perfect Jedi for me to train.”

That was quicker than he expected. North had lost his master many years before, and he cycled through temporary masters at an alarming rate. Sometimes, he would find himself without a master for many months. Malfon expected to undergo the same treatment. And yet, here he was. Avaran Whell. His new master. Something about that name put a bad taste in his mouth. He stared at the old man before him half-confused, half-unimpressed.

“I am honored, but I have never heard of you,” Malfon admitted.

“Understandable. Few have. However, do not mistake mystery for weakness. The unknown is one of the most powerful tools of the Jedi – using knowledge to his advantage.”

“I trust you. I am humbled to be called your student.”

“Are you truly?”

“Of course,” Malfon said, more for himself than for Avaran. “I wouldn't say it otherwise.”

“Come.” Avaran waved him toward the dueling chambers. “I want to see what you know.”

“You could not ask, Master?”

“Words are empty. Deceitful, at times. There can be no deception in combat. What the mind tries to hide comes to light during times of violence. Let me see how well Rell Hernaster trained you, young one.”

Malfon said nothing, but fell into step behind Avaran Whell. Was this old man the best Nomi Sunrider could find? He wanted to believe her, but he was confident that it had been an empty compliment. This man was far older than any Jedi he had ever seen, and he looked like he was living out his last years. Did Master Sunrider expect him to endure the death of two masters? His new master seemed weak. His gray eyes were rheumy and clouded, as though permanently blinded by age, and the skin on his face was so thin he could have been a cadaver. Prominent and dark veins traced thick lines across his flesh. Hunched over and wearing robes Malfon had never seen, Avaran looked truly anachronistic.

“Are you confused, Malfon?”

Malfon shook his head. “About what, Master?”

The old Jedi chuckled. “Your thoughts betray you. You suspect that I am not the best teacher, or even a good teacher, for you.”

“I thought no such thing, Master. I am honored-”

“Words. Like I said, we can shape words as we please. The mind does not lie.”

“I apologize, Master. I meant no offense.”

Avaran merely nodded. He said nothing to his new Padawan as they entered the room, and bid Malfon enter. Activating the lights in the training room, the old Jedi placed his overcoat on the floor just outside the boundaries of the dueling circle. To Malfon's surprise, he had an athletic build in spite of his age, in complete contrast to his earlier thin appearance. Grabbing the lightsaber from his belt, Avaran activated the lightsaber on his belt and revealed the nigh-colorless silver blade.

“Come, then. Let me see who you are.”

Malfon smiled. He knew that he couldn't underestimate the power of a Jedi, any Jedi, no matter how old they were. Wisdom came with age and experience, and he was lacking in both. Avaran was no doubt more powerful than Malfon could even realize. He would be cautious. Taking his own lightsaber and Rell's weapon from his belt, he activated both of their blades in a basic flourish and held them at his waist.

Avaran said nothing, but he waved his lightsaber around him to invite his Padawan to continue. Malfon moved forward in an instant, using the Force to close the distance between himself and his master in the blink of an eye. His blue and green blades slammed into the sole silver one, sending sparks flying into the ground. Dancing around the old man with all the speed he could muster, Malfon aimed at common weak points: wrists, thighs, waist, neck. However, no matter how he tried to strike at the old Jedi, he could not penetrate his defenses. Avaran's single blade was holding back both of his. The thought angered Malfon more than it should have.

Avaran said nothing, but his face seemed to reveal disappointment. It was as though he knew Malfon should have been better than this. No matter how perfect Malfon's cuts, how quick his parries, or how elegant his slashes were, they were missing something. It was as though he lacked the most fundamental aspect of lightsaber combat, and he was utterly incapable of understanding it at all. The look on the old man's face was one of abject hopelessness; his Padawan was failing his expectations, and there was no way he could recover from this failure.

The more Malfon considered it, the angrier he became. This was his best. Rell, Raystin, Lythi, and others had trained him to this point. He had practiced on his own and mimicked the best qualities of other duelists. As a Padawan, no more could be demanded of him. And yet, Avaran Whell demanded more. What did he want? Malfon could not become any better like this. This was his potential. As a Jedi learner, he had learned from the best. Was the best not enough?

One of his lightsabers escaped his grip as Avaran slashed at his left wrist. The attack had been so quick, he had not even had a chance to defend against it. Battering against the old Jedi's defenses with one lightsaber, Malfon tried his best to recover. However, he had no chance. With two lightsabers, he had been disappointing. With one, he was an absolute disgrace. Avaran's face said that and more, and it was not long before Malfon's arm had been grazed just below the elbow and he lost his other lightsaber as well.

“I see.” Avaran muttered, deactivating his lightsaber. “You are… skilled.”

“Master, I'm sorry,” Malfon bowed low. “I didn't mean… I am better than that! Let me try again!”

Avaran shook his head. “That is enough for now. I have seen all I need to see. Tell me, who else trained you?”

“Trained me, Master?”

“Yes. Your ability does not wholly reflect Rell Hernaster's skill. Not entirely. You have the vestiges of others in your form. Who else taught you to fight?”

“I learned from many Jedi, Master,” Malfon replied, confused by the question. “Elbrook Naldrafos, Raystin Benax, Lythi'arane, Northeus Ulsan…”

“You learned from Padawans?” Avaran asked, bemused at the response.

“I… I… yes.”

Avaran nodded slowly. “I see. That will be all for now, young one.”

Malfon bit his lip. He wanted to defend himself further, but he was unwilling to argue with his new master. Taking his lightsabers and nursing his light burns with his hands, Malfon left Avaran Whell in the training room and left without a word.

*** ***

“They what?” Harada asked.

Lythi nodded slowly. “The Council wants my master and me to travel to Arca Jeth's praxeum on Arkania. I am to complete my training there, and then attend to missions in the frontier.”

“And I am to be sent to H'ratth. What are they thinking?” Olnara wondered aloud.

“They are good academies, but none of them can match the facilities here on Coruscant,” Harada noted. “You've both proved yourself able Jedi, why would they send you two so far from the Core?”

The company of Jedi Padawans sat in silence for a moment. They were all here, sans Raystin, who was off attending to a mission on Anaxes. Malfon looked at the Jedi around him. They had received the news earlier today. At the Jedi Council's behest, many Jedi Padawans were being sent to satellite Jedi facilities around the galaxy. Lythi and Olnara were the only two Jedi in their group departing the Core, but Harada was to travel to Corellia for training there. Elbrook was being sent to Alpheridies to train, and his two friends and underlings, Rogos and Gilith, were staying here. North probably would have been sent off too, but he was in the process of switching Jedi Masters, and he needed an actual teacher first.

“There's been a steady influx of students lately,” Lythi said after some time. “Quite impressive, considering our Order took many casualties during the war. They're probably short on Jedi Masters here on Coruscant, and they need to move some students around.”

“I suppose. But there's rumors going around that Jedi Knights are being shuffled about as well,” Malfon replied.

“Mostly for training purposes, I'm sure. Can't have too many Jedi Knights here,” Olnara said.

“The other academies are rather undermanned, though,” North spoke up. “I would think this would place a burden on them.”

“Maybe it does. We can't say for sure. All we can do now is listen to the Jedi Council and do as they tell us,” Lythi said.

“Just promise us you'll stay in touch, yes?” Harada asked.

“We would never lose touch with you,” Olnara said. “We'll come back someday.”

“Here's to that,” Malfon said with a smile.

Lythi grabbed her empty knapsack and departed from the company in silence. It was about time for her to gather her meager belongings and get ready to depart. Olnara hugged North, Harada, and Malfon before taking her lightsaber and bags and leaving them as well. After some time, Harada acknowledged that he had to leave and attend to his things as well, and he said his goodbyes as well. With them gone, it was just Malfon and North, sitting alone amongst the gardens of the Jedi Sanctum. There were no other Jedi around, and only the running water elsewhere in the gardens could be heard.

“Malfon,” North said, voice hoarse. “They're gone.”

“I know,” was all he could say.

“Do you think we'll see them again?”

“If the Force wills.”

“That is not exactly encouraging,” North said with a sigh.

“Are you worried about Lythi?” Malfon asked.

North nodded.

“Don't be. She'll be fine.”

“I'll take your word on that.”

“Trust me.” Malfon placed his hand on North's shoulder. "You'll have a chance to see her again."

“I know, but…”

“But?”

“I have no idea how you know that,” North admitted. “But it's rather encouraging.”

“Don't be sarcastic with me!” Malfon said, faking his anger.

“I'm not!” North replied, equally as serious.

“Anyway, since Elbrook is gone too, what say you and I take a chance to train? We haven't fought each other in a while, and I'm eager to see how you've improved.”

“Not very much,” North said sheepishly.

Malfon grinned. “You won't know until you try.”

“And I'd rather not.”

“Don't be like that. Let's go!”

Malfon headed for the training center. North delayed himself for a moment, evidently deep in thought, but he eventually jumped to his feet and chased after Malfon. It was just the two of them for now, but Malfon was determined to continue getting better. Even if North was his only sparring partner, the two of them would fight, use the Force, and train until they became the finest Jedi Knights the galaxy had ever seen.

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