Ralina cursed aloud. Her hand in pazaak had failed her, and now she was left with nothing but a rather warm glass of Corellian ale and a few credits to keep her company. She had spent nearly two thousand credits gambling, trying to make a fortune here on Dantooine. She figured it wouldn’t have been too hard making some money off dreary spacers and droll farmers. After all, she had earned some winnings last time she had come here.
She won nearly all the games she played when she first arrived, nearly doubling the amount of credits she started with. However, about half way through her tenth match, a large crowd had entered the cantina with new players in tow. Since then, her smuggler’s luck had run out, and she had lost all the credits she won plus the credits she had brought with her. She knew restraint, but only because if she had continued gambling, she’d have lost her ship as well. Fetcher would be furious when he discovered that Ralina lost most of their money in pazaak matches, but he would have been even angrier if she’d lost the ship. Considering the circumstances, she had thought she did well for herself.
Sitting in a booth by her lonesome in the Wild Mynock Cantina, Ralina listened to the raunchy ballad that played on the bar’s loudspeakers. Hoping to drown out the music with alcohol, she gripped her glass and swallowed its lukewarm, bitter contents. It didn’t help, and it just made her feel nauseous. The taste of warm ale lingered in her mouth, and she hated it. The alcohol was terrible in comparison to the Iriaz Cantina she generally frequented, but she was not allowed to return because she ‘drank too much’ for the barkeep’s taste. She didn’t agree, but perhaps he was influenced by that barfight she started after a spacer ogled her. She wouldn’t have been surprised. She had managed to break quite a few glasses—and tables—in the process.
A vicious ringing in her head caused her to groan quietly to herself. She hadn’t slept well after her crew’s last real job, escorting those two Jedi to Polus. It had been several months since then, and she thought that perhaps once they were gone, she could start sleeping again. Over the past year, Ralina had lost quite a few members of her crew, and the fact that each casualty was her fault constantly gnawed at her spirit. The fact that she could remember each mission with haunting clarity did not help her find solace, either. Nightmares came and went, but she kept falling asleep and finding herself seeing Halendot dying, or leaving Tserne behind on Polus.
She hoped the alcohol would ease her suffering. She’d try anything at this point. “Hey! I need another Corellian over here,” she called to the barkeep.
“A drink?” the bartender asked. A smile spread across his face as he motioned toward a half-drunk man sitting nearby. “Or do you want this hearty Coruscanti to keep you company tonight?”
A few of the more rowdy males whooped and hollered at the thought, but a quick string of profanity from Ralina promptly silenced them. She could have walked over and pummeled the poor bartender senseless for his comment, but she couldn’t find the strength. Instead, she cupped her head in her hands and tried to close her eyes. She could still hear the racy songs, but she didn't care. She needed some time to relax and escape the responsibilities placed on her. That’s why they had come back here, supposedly. But this wasn’t relaxing, this was tedious, and she was not enjoying herself.
At least she could separate herself from the crew for a while. If Fetcher, or smuggling-gods forbid, Manda saw her like this, Ralina would be forced to step down as captain until she recovered. She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t force any of her crew to take on the duty of acting-captain. The burdens of leadership were hers to create and carry. Her crew could provide emotional support for her, but that’s all she would allow them to do. She had earned her position, and all the pain that came with it.
Lost in her introspection, Ralina suddenly felt nauseous and weak. She wanted to head to the refresher and rethink those last few drinks she had, but she just couldn’t force herself to stand. As she settled in her seat, a man joined her, sitting across from her in the booth. He held two glasses of Corellian ale in his hand, and he extended one to the weary captain.
“You wanted another glass, Miss?” he asked.
Ralina looked up at the man. He might have been old enough to be in here, but he was still boyish. Hardly old enough to be in the military, much less a cantina like this one. He had amber hair that was as scattered and messy as hers was, if far shorter, and his lightly tanned skin had burns and scratches that caught Ralina’s attention. He wore a dark breastplate underneath a gray overcoat that covered his arms and was almost long enough to conceal his black trousers as well.
She didn’t dare turn down the drink. Taking it without a word, Ralina took several gulps before turning her attention to the man. “Thank you. What brings you here?”
“I have a question to ask you,” the young man said plainly.
“No, I will not.”
Ralina sighed, placing her glass on the table. “I know what you’re thinking—like every other depraved drunkard in this place—and the answer is no,” Ralina insisted.
The young man chuckled softly. “You misunderstand me; I have no desire to sleep with you, Miss. I guess I phrased my thoughts poorly. That’s my fault. I have something to request of you.”
“Fine,” Ralina said. “I owe you for the drink, but not much else.”
“Have you ever seen a Jedi?” the man asked, his friendly tone suddenly turning dark.
Ralina had started drinking again, and she nearly choked on the ale. Taken aback by the question, she stared at the man. “What is it to you?”
“I ask because…” the man hesitated for a moment, kneading his temples with his forefingers. “I… need your help.”
“I may be an acquaintance of one or two. Why? Who are you?” she asked, reminding herself that her blaster pistol was still resting at her side.
“We need your help. Please?”
“My brother and I.”
“Listen,” Ralina said, slowly. “I don’t know you, and I hope you don’t know me. I don’t know what you want with the Jedi-”
“Can you enter the Jedi Enclave?” the man asked, his voice fluctuating a tad.
Ralina sipped the drink the man had given her, but it dawned upon her that it might have been drugged. Coughing and placing the drink at the edge of the table, Ralina struggled to politely smile at the man. “Can’t you do that by yourself?”
“Tried,” the man shot back. “Failed. Didn’t let us in.”
“Well, if you weren’t let in, perhaps you aren’t supposed to be in there.”
“We need to go in there. Need to question. Need to learn.”
“Listen, I’d really like to help you. I really would. But I think it’d be too dangerous, and I can’t guarantee I’d be any help to you anyway. So if you don’t mind…” Ralina summoned the will to stand and rushed out of the booth.
She thought the man had called out to her, but she didn’t dare turn back and look at him. Ralina made a beeline for the door, hoping to avoid any further confrontation. If she was pursued, she had a blaster and a vibroblade to protect herself. Admittedly, it was hard for her to stay on her feet very long; the alcohol coupled with her exhausted body limited her stamina significantly.
Suddenly, an explosion in the distance rocked the bar, sending Ralina to the ground with a shriek. The other patrons began to clamor amongst themselves, trying to figure out exactly what had happened. Another explosion followed, and then another. Soon, the ground was perpetually shaking, throwing people and fragile items to the floor. Ralina was still lying on the ground, unable to find the strength to stand up.
Damn, damn, damn.
When the explosions finally stopped, Ralina tried to stand, but her legs were still weak. As she wobbled toward the bar counter, something grabbed her arm. Turning, Ralina realized that the man from the booth had grabbed her. She gasped softly and wasted no time kicking him in the chest, trying to free herself from his grasp. He deftly dodged her strike and silently threw her arm over his shoulder, serving as a crutch for her.
“What the hell are you doing?” Ralina asked, still enraged and a bit flustered.
“If you’re going to help us, we’ll need to get out of here,” the man said. “It’s not safe here.”
“How do you know?” Ralina began, but she realized her predicament and changed topics. “Doesn’t matter. I’m not going anywhere with you!”
“Would you rather stay here with the crazed drunks and the startled crowd?”
Ralina said nothing, so he continued.
“Hold onto that barstool for a moment. I’ll come back to help you once the door is clear.”
Ralina glanced at the front door, and she immediately noticed that a beam from the roof had fallen down, blocking the exit. Several patrons were trying to move it, but they were hardly making progress. “The front door’s blocked,” she finally said.
“We’re not using the front door,” he muttered gruffly. Letting go of her, the man sprinted toward the back door.
Unlike the man entrance, nothing kept patrons from leaving via the back door except a burly Trandoshan bouncer. He seemed unfazed by the peculiar occurrences—his only concern was protecting the bar’s profits. The Trandoshan growled at the man as he approached, threatening to shoot him with a slugthrower. The hulking reptilian was lightly armored, but his slugthrowing rifle was certainly enough to dissuade a drunk from starting an unnecessary fight. This man kept coming, and the Trandoshan shot his arm as a final warning.
The metal slug tore through the man’s left arm just above the bicep. Blood raced down his arm even as the Trandoshan growled fiercely in a final attempt to stop the man’s advance. When he found himself face-to-face with the bouncer, the man drove his knee into the bouncer’s groin. The Trandoshan recoiled with a hiss, and Ralina could tell that it had been a painful strike. Grabbing the bouncer’s throat, the man head-butted the large reptilian. The Trandoshan, unable to defend himself, collapsed to the floor in pain. The engagement was over in an instant, and the door was clear.
Returning to Ralina without a word, the man propped her upright and helped her reach the back door. The two escaped the bar and found themselves in the lot behind the building. There were very few speeders and hovercars parked, since most patrons lived within walking distance. Spotting her speeder, Ralina figured she could make a run for it—if she could just get rid of her unwanted companion. Her arm was slung across his back for support, but she could stand on her own if she tried. Since they were nearly walking side-by-side, Ralina took the opportunity to punch him in the chest. As she expected, he hardly flinched due to his armor plating, but Ralina managed to escape his grasp anyway.
“Back off,” she said. “I’m leaving—by myself. If you try and follow me, I’ll…” Her voice trailed off when she reached for her side to discover her blaster was missing.
“It slipped out of its holster during the earthquake,” the man said, holding the weapon in his outstretched hand. “I assume you want it back.”
Ralina eyed him cautiously. “Yes.”
“We still need to go to the Jedi Enclave.”
“I could just leave you here,” Ralina quipped.
“We could just shoot you,” he countered.
Ralina reached for her earpiece comlink, but the man noticed her sudden movement and pointed the blaster at her forehead. She didn’t know if he was bluffing, but she didn’t want to risk it. She slowly moved her hand away from her ear and silently chided herself for not turning the comlink on earlier. She had a knife on her, but she couldn’t get close enough to use it. She could have thrown it at him, but he had just resisted a slug to the arm and bashing heads with a Trandoshan. He wasn’t going to go down easily.
“We’re not getting anywhere while we argue. Let’s make a deal,” Ralina suggested.
“I’ll take you to the Jedi Enclave, but only if there’s no danger.”
The man thought for a moment. “Once we get in, you won’t be in any danger.”
“Well, once you have what you need, you and I will part ways. And you’ll allow me to keep my blaster and my speeder. We both win.”
“That sounds reasonable. We accept.”
Ralina sighed with relief. “May I use my comlink now?”
Ralina turned away from the man and switched on her comlink. I always get the wild ones, she thought. She listened to static for a moment, but it didn’t take long for her personal comlink to establish connection with her ship. “This is Captain Venli. Is anyone there?”
“Ralina? Captain!” Fetcher’s gruff voice called out through the other end. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, for now. Why? What is it?”
“The Sith are attacking Dantooine! We were forced to abandon system when the Sith fleet arrived, but we’ll return as soon as you give the word,” Fetcher explained, a bit distraught.
“Wait,” Ralina said. “Who gave you orders to jump system? How did you escape?”
“Delvin told us the Sith were coming,” Fetcher said. “He told us to make a jump to Ord Biniir because of the Republic garrison here.”
“He told you the Sith were coming? Before they arrived?” Ralina asked.
“He…” Fetcher paused as Ralina’s insinuations dawned on him. “I’ll speak with him. Would you like us to return to Dantooine?”
“No,” Ralina said. “You’ll just get destroyed. Wait until I’m ready for pick-up. And then get in, get out. No entanglements.”
“Yes, Captain. Fetcher out.”
This is going to be a suicide mission, either way, Ralina realized. “All right, you nutjob. Let’s get this over with,” she said, addressing her temporary companion.
“Please,” the man said, “call us Jhosua.”
Ralina and Jhosua hopped into her green landspeeder, and Ralina—driving the speeder—headed for the Jedi Enclave. She drove it not only because she didn’t want him in control of her vehicle, but because she hardly trusted his sanity. As they passed the rivulets that ran across the Dantooine countryside, Ralina felt an odd sense of peace when the sound of rushing water became louder and louder, rising above the low rumbling her speeder’s engine. Even as birds and other local fauna fled across the orange-brown grassy hills away from the Jedi Enclave, Ralina kept her present course.
Aside from the sounds of nature beyond the speeder, the drive was silent for some time. Ralina had no desire to speak with Jhosua, and he seemed lost in his own introspection. His eyes were closed, and he had his arms folded across his chest, seemingly oblivious to the impending destruction.
“Do you need something?” Jhosua asked.
“You’re staring at me. Shouldn’t you be watching so we don’t accidentally hit a tree?”
Ralina grimaced and reddened with embarrassment. “I’m not staring! I was just wondering why you haven’t said anything, that’s all!”
“Nothing to say.”
“The Sith are attacking the planet, and you’re having us drive right toward the place they’re most likely to strike the hardest. What do you mean you have ‘nothing to say’? Ralina replied.
“We need to go there. If the Sith are going to attack, then that’s all the more reason for us to hurry,” Jhosua explained.
“We could both end up dead, you know.”
“The quicker we get there, the sooner we can move and avoid the Sith attack.”
“Maybe you don’t get it,” Ralina snapped, nearly raising her right hand to strike at Jhosua. “The Sith are attacking. Don’t you know what they did to Taris? When they were done, the entire city was leveled. The whole damn planet-wide city. This place isn’t even worth their time; the only thing worth bombing is the enclave, and they will destroy it.”
“Ralina, the Sith fleet still needs to get into position before they can begin their attack in its entirety. But we hurry, we can still enter, get what we need, and leave,” Jhosua said, reassuring her of his confidence in his plan.
Ralina muttered something to herself and returned her attention to the wildlife in front of them. It was easy to navigate the speeder through the rolling hills of Dantooine due to the lack of architecture and other vehicles. Sith starfighters were soaring over them, thousands of kilometers in the air, spoiling her idyllic view. If the destruction of the entire planet wasn’t at hand, Ralina would have quite enjoyed the drive.
“How did you know my name?” Ralina asked, a bit off-handedly. “I never told you.”
“Your comlink was rather loud.”
Ralina smiled. “I hadn’t noticed. I’m used to a rather active comlink, and I’m used to people screaming in my ear.”
“Oh? What do you do when you’re not getting deathly drunk?” Jhosua quipped.
“I’m a smuggler,” Ralina said plainly. “Spice runs and weapons, mostly. Although we do occasionally steal a few things and escort clients when necessary.”
“Smugglers generally don’t have their associates screaming at them through their earpiece comms.”
“You’ve clearly never been forced to work for nobility,” Ralina said with a sigh, but her tone made it clear she was being facetious. “Speaking of, where did you get that breastplate? It’s awfully fancy.”
His breastplate wasn’t Republic-issue, because it was black like obsidian and emblazoned with gold trim. It seemed sturdier than standard military armor as well, jagged in shape and made of a material Ralina didn’t recognize.
“I acquired it while fighting on Wayland. It was part of the spoils,” Jhosua said.
“Spoils? Are you a soldier, Jhosua?”
Ralina’s eyes lit up. “An army-boy, huh? Honestly, I could almost doubt that. You don’t look like a soldier.”
“So I’ve been told,” Jhosua noted. He referred to himself as ‘I’ for the first time in some time, and Ralina noticed. However, she said nothing, and the remainder of the drive was silent.
They reached the Jedi Enclave without being attacked by the increasing number of Sith fighters that patrolled the clouded skies. Ralina parked her vehicle behind a large rock face at the eastern entrance of the building. There was only one facility on this side of the enclave, and it was defended by a single security droid. Everyone else—Jedi, civilians, and tourists—seemed to have retreated within the enclave itself, even though it offered little protection against Sith bombs.
Jhosua disembarked from the speeder and replaced the blaster cells in both of his blaster pistols. Ralina took a moment to make sure her vehicle was safe before joining him. She had fulfilled her end of the bargain, but she didn’t know if Jhosua still needed her help. Either way, she didn’t want to stick around for much longer; she could almost feel the approach of the Sith fleet.
“How are you going to get by that droid?” Ralina whispered.
“It’s not the droid that’s the problem,” Jhosua corrected her. “The droid has been programmed to admit certain individuals into the facility. Without reprogramming the droid, we’d have no way inside.”
“So… what’s the plan?”
“Just distract the droid while I disable it,” Jhosua said.
“That seems too easy.”
“For you, perhaps.”
Ralina headed out from behind their cover at Jhosua’s urging. The security droid spotted her immediately, but it didn’t raise its blaster rifle to attack. She supposed that the machine didn’t identify her as a threat. How embarrassing. Picking up a stone at her feet, Ralina threw the pebble at the droid. A clink told her that the stone had collided with its metal chassis, but it didn’t respond to the feeble attack. Ralina scooped up a handful of stones and started throwing them at the droid to keep its attention. She was sure she looked absolutely ridiculous, but she didn’t care. Jhosua eventually figured that Ralina had done all she could, and he revealed himself. His first blaster shot disabled the droids admittedly poor shielding, and the second shot blasted its head right off its shoulders.
“Take the blaster rifle it had,” Jhosua called out.
Ralina warily approached the headless body of the droid. When she realized that it could do nothing without its head in place, she quickly got to work separating its rifle from its mechanized digits. Jhosua bypassed her and removed the droid’s voice box from its damaged head. Using the droid’s voice as a key, Jhosua unlocked the door to the Jedi Enclave.
Ralina secured the blaster rifle in her arms before returning her attention to Jhosua. “Didn’t you say you were ex-army? Were you involved in tech?”
“I didn’t think you army-boys had any technical prowess,” she said tauntingly. “Clearly, I was wrong.”
Jhosua grimaced. “I don’t have any technical skills. He did, though.”
“He?” Ralina asked.
“My brother,” he said flatly before heading inside.
“Wait! Weren’t we supposed to meet up with him? Where are you going?” Ralina called after him.
Jhosua didn't answer her. He didn’t turn around to see if she followed him, so she abandoned him. She had a weapon now, so she could protect herself against him if he returned and fought her. Backing away from the enclave, Ralina retraced her steps and returned to her speeder.
Activating the comlink built into her vehicle, she sat patiently, waiting for the static to clear. However, it became clear that her comlink couldn’t connect her to the Hound’s Sapphire, and she was wasting her time. The Sith were likely blocking communications now, preventing any Jedi from calling for reinforcements. If she couldn’t contact her crew, then she couldn’t escape this planet before it was bombed into ruins and dust. Jhosua had abandoned her, and he wouldn’t return without being intercepted by the Jedi.
“No, no, no… not now. This can’t be happening. It can’t,” she muttered amidst the static from her comlink. Jhosua was gone, and her crew was too far to help her. She was alone.
Jhosua noticed Ralina’s absence immediately. His brother walked alongside him, lightsaber in hand. Their speed matched perfectly; Jhosua never got in front of Ibrays, and his older brother never tried to move quicker. However, that did not mean they did not need haste. In fact, Ibrays had a pensive look on his face that made Jhosua move quicker than he normally would.
“You should have gone back for her,” Ibrays told him. “We had an agreement.”
Jhosua shook his head. “No. It wouldn’t have been worth it. I’d waste too much time.”
He tried to keep up his pace, but he found himself moving slower than he would have liked. Ibrays slowed accordingly, and the two sluggishly made their way through the Jedi Enclave. Jhosua wanted to move quicker, but something told him that Ibrays wanted to go back and have Ralina accompany them. He wouldn’t do it. They needed to reach the archives before the Sith arrived, and if they turned back now, Jhosua knew they would lose their chance. Silently, he communicated this to Ibrays, and the two picked up their pace.
After leaving Wayland, Ibrays had found his way to Jhosua. At first, the young soldier was confused. Had his older brother never really died, or was this some kind of ghost, communicating with him from the afterlife? He had no idea, but the concept of his brother following him around, giving him ideas and telling him what to do, became easier to deal with after a few months. It had become so natural, in fact, that Jhosua was assured that his brother was alive and always referred to himself and Ibrays as a pair; even when others seemed not to notice the Jedi Knight, Jhosua referred to himself in the plural.
A fountain rested in the center of the antechamber to the enclave’s sublevel. Massive stone basins fed water into pools beneath them, and this water gurgled and splashed wildly, often soaking the stone floor at its edges. Besides the sound of water flowing through the fountain, the sublevels were silent when Jhosua and his brother entered. Hardly anyone was present in the subterranean levels of the enclave, and they carefully avoided contact with the few Jedi Knights who were still present. The rooms all looked the same: their gray walls were all lined with old lighting, and no significant markings distinguished one room from another.
Eventually, Jhosua navigated through through the passageways and arrived at the computer archives at the far end of the lower levels. The room itself was empty except for the titanic computers stored within. Glancing around to ensure no one else was nearby, Jhosua headed inside with his brother in tow. He had never been to Dantooine before, but Ibrays told him what to do. Approaching the nearest computer, Jhosua began entering information without even thinking about it. It was as if he had seen this type of Jedi console before. He could see himself standing in front of the console, he could feel his fingers sliding across the holographic keypad, and he could hear the tones as search results popped up.
“Go, Jhosua. You don’t have much time,” Ibrays said.
“You’re right. You’re right. I’m working.” He frantically typed in his brother’s name into the query bar at the farthest corner of the screen. Ibrays Weros.
The results flashed on the screen. ‘Ibrays Weros — KIA (Wayland) — Subject: Classified.’ He was taken aback for a moment. He hadn’t realized that his brother had died on Wayland; if he had, he wouldn’t have known how he would have prepared for the battle several months earlier. He clicked on the name, hoping to reveal more information surrounding his death. How confusing. He was dead, and yet, he was standing right next to him. A large file of text filled the screen, detailing biographical information with an accompanying psyche profile. He ignored the information about Ibrays’s life; he knew everything he needed to know about that. Focusing on the psyche profile, he discovered that his brother had been mentally sound and in good spirits before he left for the Mandalore War. On Wayland, Ibrays suddenly refused to follow orders from his leaders, and he was subjected to psychiatric care at the Wayland Medical Facility.
Jhosua didn’t know what had affected his brother, and the profile wasn’t specific enough. Muttering profanities under his breath, Jhosua typed in his own name instead. Jhosua Weros. The results were similar. ‘Jhosua Weros — Rep. Army (discharged ~ h) — Corporal.’ He clicked his name, but there wasn’t any further information.
He had gotten this far, made his way to the Jedi Enclave just before the Sith rained hell upon it, and the entire trip had been useless. He banged his fists against the solid platform under the holographic keypad. The Jedi had no idea why he could now see Ibrays, why there were voices haunting him while he was awake and while he slept, and why he felt so deathly cold. He had been sick since he started seeing his brother, but he did not know why.
Something was wrong. When he had hit those mines on Sluis Van, he could have sworn he had heard his brother’s voice calling out to him and begging him to recover. But that was impossible, because Ibrays Weros had killed himself during the Mandalore Wars nearly a decade and a half earlier. He didn’t hear him aain until he defeated the Mandalorians on Wayland. It was in the back of his head, creeping around like an uninvited guest. He recognized it, but it didn’t feel familiar. Ever since then, he had heard it constantly. Telling him to do things, telling him how to act, and telling him where to go. Then, suddenly, he started appearing. It was unnatural, but Jhosua didn’t know what to do.
Cupping his head in his hands, he shouted as loud as he could. He had lost his chance to remedy himself. He didn’t know if this voice was the same thing that led to Ibrays’s death, and now he would never know. Previously oblivious to everything else around him, Jhosua realized that his angry screams had awakened someone in a nearby room. Jhosua headed out of the computer room and followed the source of the voice to the infirmary. Kolto tanks lined the walls on the far side of the room, and a few cots were set up to admit recently-ejected patients.
A single patient—a young woman fitted in a standard-issue medical smock—was resting on a cot near the far side of the room. Her hair, red like blood, was tied into a ponytail behind her head. Her skin tone was unnaturally pale, even by Human standards. This sickly coloration was most evident on her face, where it heightened the visibility of several scars and burns that she had received from some unknown assailant. He would have assumed that the Jedi gave her those wounds, but she reeked of the bitter smell of kolto, so she must have been recently immersed in one of the tanks for healing. Her breathing was steady, if labored, and she was undoubtedly alive.
“… Master…” he heard her say.
“Who are you?” Jhosua asked while bending down on one knee so their gaze could meet.
“Geryon?” Jhosua repeated. “Is that your Master?”
She didn’t respond to him, but her eyes, which were closed until now, suddenly opened and revealed her true nature. Her eyes were a hauntingly yellow color, and malice flowed through them as though they were windows into her soul. A telepathic shockwave tossed medical equipment around Jhosua, and cots were torn from their position and sent flying throughout the room. She realized that her attack had not affected Jhosua—much to his own surprise—and attacked again. The telepathic whirlwind that followed shattered the glass of nearby beakers, vials, and kolto tanks and whipped up the thrown medical equipment so it flew around the woman as he stood and faced Jhosua.
He stood in the midst of the flying medical tools and shards of glass, ignoring the potential danger he was in. His brother had disappeared now, and he was suddenly alone. Face-to-face with the woman again, she stood at her full height and spat at Jhosua. She tried to use the Force to snatch one of his blaster pistols for herself. When that failed, she simply grabbed it from his holster. Jhosua replied in kind, stepping back and pointing the blaster he took from Ralina at the woman. The two of them said nothing, both staring at each other through the sights of the blaster pistols.
“Who are you?” Jhosua asked again.
“You first,” she sneered.
The woman’s eyes widened, and she lowered her weapon for a moment. “Jhosua? No… you can’t be. He was so young…” she muttered.
“I met someone named Jhosua on Sluis Van,” the woman said. “But he was weak, pale, and from what I heard, he couldn’t even hold a blaster properly. You don’t look a thing like him.”
“It’s been several years since Sluis Van, and I’ve grown,” Jhosua noted. “Who are you?”
She shook her head, almost shocked at the question. “You don’t remember? I’m… I’m… Lamyia.”
“Lamyia?” Jhosua repeated. He thought for a moment, but he was certain he did not know anyone by that name. “Never heard of you.”
“But you have! I came to check on you for…” she paused. “What was his name…? We talked about your brother!”
“My brother?” Jhosua asked, looking around for the specter who had recently disappeared. “Fine. What’s his name?”
Jhosua kept his blaster pointed at Lamyia, but he became noticeably less tense. “No. You may know his name, but you look like a Sith. A Jedi Knight came and checked up on me while I was wounded. You’re just a spy—and a bad one, at that.”
“I’m not a spy!” Lamyia protested. Suddenly, the spinning vortex of IVs and glass fragments fell to the floor, and she stopped her telekinetic control over the various pieces of medical equipment in the room. Returning the blaster to Jhosua, she sat down on the cot behind her.
Jhosua frowned. Returning both of his weapons to their holsters, he backed away from Lamyia. She seemed to be masquerading for a Jedi that he had encountered on Sluis Van—he didn’t remember her name, but it wasn’t important—and saved his life more than once. She was a spy, that much was certain.
“I feel… faint. Jhosua, can you fetch my things?” Lamyia asked in a hushed voice.
“No,” Jhosua said. “I still don’t trust you; I’m leaving.”
“Jhosua,” Lamyia called. “You will fetch my things.”
Jhosua felt a mental tug at his mind, as though she was trying to convince him against leaving. However, her persuasion was rebuffed by his mind and he instantly realized what had happened.
“She tried to manipulate you with her power! And you were thinking of helping her,” he heard Ibrays growl.
“Jhosua!” she shouted.
“Where are your things?”
Lamyia smiled. “They’re in that footlocker over there.”
Jhosua glanced at the small metal crate she pointed to, situated comfortably near a broken kolto tank. Walking over to it, somewhat hesitantly, Jhosua opened the crate and pulled out a pair of robes. They were fashioned like Jedi robes, but they were more ornate and were stained with enough blood for the blots to be designs on the cloth itself. He withdrew a few crystals and trinkets before finally pulling out her lightsaber—vicious hilt, with spikes near the emitter and a hook at its base.
“Did you find it all?”
“Yes,” Jhosua assured her, “but you’re not getting any of it.”
“What?” Lamyia asked, shocked.
“I’m keeping these things to make sure you can’t hurt anyone, spy. You can stay in here and face the bombardment for your crimes against the Republic,” Jhosua said. He turned and walked away with all of her belongings in his hands.
“You don’t even have a transport out of here!” Lamyia shouted after him.
Jhosua smiled. “No, I don’t. But I think I can fix that.”
Ralina was still sitting against the bumper of her speeder. Her eyes ached as the last few tears raced down her cheeks. After killing hundreds of Sith, from the cockpit of a starfighter to the comfortable seat of her own smuggling vessel, she was going to be killed in the most helpless way possible. She couldn’t even contact her crew to tell them how sorry she was. To tell them how much they all meant. How much she would miss them. It was just too late.
She could see the Sith Interdictor-class cruisers now. Their hulls encompassed the midday sky, eclipsing the Dantooine sun and causing a looming darkness to fall over the entire continent. Their turbolasers lit up the clouds, firing blue bursts of ion and red bursts of energy from space, tearing up foliage, earth, and metal in the distance. Explosions rocked the ground beneath her, and the sound of the laser fire’s impact with the ground could have stopped her heart cold. Sith bombers flew overhead, screeching through the clouds above as they unleashed explosives upon the unsuspecting countryside, paving the way for its ultimate destruction.
Suddenly, her earpiece chimed. The surprise nearly sent her stomach bounding into her throat. “Fetcher? Manda? Is that you?”
“Sorry, it’s just me—Jhosua,” the man on the other end replied. “However, I’ve got some news you’ll want to hear.”
Ralina almost cried out in pain. “Jhosua, we’re all going to die here! And it’s your fault! I don’t want to hear your voice before I die.”
“Just listen, please. I’m here in the comm room, and I can send a long-range communication for you, so you can call for help. Can you do that?”
“What’s the catch?” Ralina asked, sighing aloud.
“We’ll need to alter our deal,” Jhosua admitted. “I have no way off Dantooine, and I’m not particularly keen on undergoing the lively sensation of having my flesh and bones atomized by the Interdictors overhead. Would you mind giving me a lift?”
“Considering the only other option would be to join you before you I get blasted into tiny bits, I guess I’ll just have to accept,” Ralina said.
“Excellent. Also, some Force-sensitives may want to catch a ride. There are a lot of Jedi here, you know…”
“Jedi? No!” Ralina screamed into the comlink. “No Jedi. You can come… if you must. I suppose you’ve earned that much. But no Jedi!”
“You’ll either help me transport these Jedi, or we’ll die here,” Jhosua offered plainly.
“Damn you. Just get me a link to the Hound’s Sapphire. I’ll give you its coordinates if you need them.”
“Very well. Just give me a minute.”
Static overwhelmed Ralina’s earpiece, but Jhosua worked quick. Fetcher’s voice chimed in on the other end of the channel. “Ralina? You’re still alive?”
Ralina smiled widely when she heard her first mate’s voice. “Fetcher, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to hear your voice! I’m alive, but in a few minutes, that may change. I could use a pickup. Where are you?”
“We’ve been lingering at the edge of the system for some time,” Fetcher said. “We’re ready for an emergency evacuation, just tell us where.”
“Oh, Fetcher,” Ralina said, chuckling, “You aren’t going to like this. I’m… we’re outside the Jedi Enclave.”
Fetcher sighed. “So this is either going to be the greatest rescue in the history of the Republic, or the fastest suicide run? Wonderful. I suppose we’ll get recognized either way. See you on the other side, Captain. Fetcher out.”
The Sith attack had taken the Jedi by surprise. Using rapid deployment dropships and rocket packs, Sith soldiers and Dark Jedi had fallen right on top of the Jedi Enclave itself, striking at the Jedi’s vulnerable heart. From the central courtyard, Sith troopers gunned down dozens of unprepared and confused Jedi before they could set up a proper defense, and by then, the Dark Jedi had already arrived to aid them in battle. Lightsabers clashed in the courtyard and dormitories, and the casualties mounted quickly on both sides. The three leading Jedi Masters of the enclave, Kalthar, Bolook, and Tar’eelok, called on the surviving Jedi—numbering about eighty in all—to retreat to the Council chambers.
The Jedi bunkered themselves in the Council chambers while the Sith wasted time and resources trying to break down the doors that separated them. The Jedi took the chance to heal their wounded and take a brief respite. Jedi Master Kalthar, leading the defense despite his proficiency as a healer, received a transmission from the sublevels of the enclave.
“Who is this?” Kalthar asked, his voice weary.
“This is Corporal Jhosua Weros, Republic Army. I’m in the sublevels right now, and you should know that a Sith spy is here.”
“Who? Where?” Kalthar asked, monitoring the situation around him as he talked.
“In the infirmary. She’s a Sith named Lamyia, I believe,” Jhosua said.
“What?” Kalthar’s voice told Jhosua he was shocked. “Battle reports from the skirmish over Polus told me that she was Nyalla Danters, a Republic naval officer!”
“That seems impossible, sir,” Jhosua said, but it was clear that he was hardly interested. “She can use the Force, and she identified the red lightsaber in the footlocker across the room as hers. But that’s not important. If you want to save any Jedi, you need to send them to the eastern entrance; a ship will be waiting there to pick up as many Jedi as you can send.”
“You don’t understand, Corporal Weros. The Jedi are safe here. We shall resist the Sith threat by utilizing the sanctuary our enclave provides,” Kalthar said, his voice raspy and a bit distant.
“The option is there. Please consider it,” Jhosua said. “Jhosua out.”
While the Jedi fought what they considered their last stand, Jhosua fled the Jedi Enclave, meeting Ralina where he had left her. To his surprise, the Sith hadn’t bothered attacking her; they probably didn’t even know she was here.
“Where’s the ship?” Jhosua asked, somewhat impatient.
“Not here yet,” Ralina barked back.
“What?” Jhosua shouted. “Where is it?”
“Hey, you lunatic. Next time you want a ship to navigate through a Sith blockade and land in the middle of a warzone at the speed of light, why don’t you call up your own pilots?” Ralina snapped.
“I would if I knew anyone who was just sitting in-system…” Jhosua stopped talking as Ralina’s attention drifted from him to something behind him. Turning around, he saw Lamyia, still wearing her rather-revealing medical smock, limping toward them. “Lamyia! What are you doing?”
“I remember his name!” Lamyia said, ignoring Jhosua’s question.
“Ducian! Colonel Eto! He sent me to check on you!” Lamyia said, smiling and laughing as she approached.
“Jhosua,” Ralina said, “I thought you came here looking for something important.”
“This woman is important to you?” Ralina asked, shaking her head.
“That’s not what I meant!” Jhosua stammered. “I wasn’t looking for her! She found me while I was searching for what I needed and-”
“Excuse me!” a voice called out from the enclave’s entryway. To the surprise of Ralina and her guests, a small group of Jedi emerged. They were led by a fiery red-haired Jedi Knight and his Bothan ally. It was the red-haired Jedi who had called out to them, and he continued: “Are you the individuals who have a ship to travel offworld?”
“Yes,” Ralina said. “Who invited you?”
“He did,” the young Knight pointed toward Jhosua. “Master Kalthar didn’t want us to come, but we did anyway. He thought we’d be safe inside the sanctuary, but the Force told me that we’d all be in trouble if we stayed there.”
“You told the Jedi they could come?” Ralina screamed at Jhosua. “I thought I told you no Jedi!”
“You said I could come, and I told you I was changing the deal!” Jhosua retorted.
“No Jedi! That’s all I said. That was the only request I made of you, Jhosua!”
“Excuse me,” the red-haired Jedi Knight interrupted them. “This really isn’t the time to be arguing. The Sith Interdictors are coming, and there were Sith following us.”
As if on cue, a blaster shot tore through the shoulder of a Whiphid Jedi Padawan standing near Jhosua. Several more blaster shots followed, prompting the dozen or so remaining Jedi to activate their lightsabers. About fifteen Sith troopers emerged from the eastern entrance, lined up to fire at the Jedi and their allies. Jhosua, Ralina, and Lamyia took cover behind the rock face that hid Ralina’s speeder from view. From their position, they could shoot at incoming soldiers with relative ease. While they hid, the Jedi remained in the open, deflecting blaster fire and drawing attention away from their allies.
Several white-armored Sith soldiers fell before the next Jedi was killed by their crimson-colored blaster fire. Jhosua noticed that the Jedi were having trouble protecting themselves from blaster fire, and more Sith troops were coming to reinforce their allies. Most of the Jedi that had left the enclave, it seemed, were Jedi Padawans and Jedi Knights, meaning that they were not as experienced as they could have been.
“Adar!” the Bothan Jedi Knight called out to their red-haired leader. “We can’t hold this position forever. What are we going to do?”
“We will hold this position, by the power of the Force! Just stay strong a little while longer, for the Padawans!” Adar urged.
Four Dark Jedi emerged from the entryway to the Jedi Enclave. Dressed in black robes and hiding their faces behind cowls, they charged at the six remaining Jedi. The first two attacked Adar and his Bothan companion, while the other two doubled up and attacked the last four Padawans. They ignored Jhosua and the two women and left them to the Sith troopers.
“Jhosua!” Lamyia cried. “Give me my lightsaber!”
“Why?” he asked.
“I can aid the Jedi! They won’t stand a chance on their own!”
“No. I don’t trust you!” It was blunt, but it was true.
Lamyia’s voice was cut off by the roar of an engine. The Hound’s Sapphire rapidly descended into the plains nearby. The freighter was being pursued by two Sith starfighters, but some quick turret shots from the Hound’s Sapphire ended their attack before it could begin. The ship’s cargo bay doors opened up, and Fetcher was waiting inside—rocket launcher in hand—to help his allies into the ship. Ralina laughed and dropped her blaster rifle at her feet. Turning from the battle, she sprinted madly toward her ship. Jhosua and Lamyia followed her, but the Jedi couldn’t break off and join them.
Fetcher helped Ralina, Jhosua, and Lamyia into the ship with his free hand. Once they were safely inside, he launched a few rockets at the Sith troopers in the distance.
“Are we ready to go?” Ralina asked the Shistavanen pilot.
“Whenever you are, Captain,” he replied.
“Wait for the Jedi!” Lamyia said. “This is their only chance!”
“They’re doomed,” Ralina noted. “They can’t fight those evil Jedi. They’re too strong.”
“She’s right,” Fetcher said. “Besides, the Leviathan is coming. If we don’t get out of here, fast, we’ll be bombed into dust by Darth Malak’s ships.”
“Just wait! Have faith in their abilities, please!” Lamyia pleaded.
“Orders, Captain?” Fetcher asked.
“… Leave them. Let’s go,” she commanded.
“Wait,” Jhosua said. “Do you have a sniper rifle in here?”
Fetcher thought for a second. “Not a sniper rifle-”
Fetcher took the combat slugthrower off his back and threw it to Jhosua. Kneeling, Jhosua made sure the weapon itself was level before peering through the scope itself. It was a poorly constructed pair of sights, and the crosshairs were slightly off. It didn’t matter. He slowed his breathing as much as he could, calming his nerves. Checking the magazine one last time, he held his breath and aimed at one of the Dark Jedi fighting two Padawans.
The slug ripped through the Dark Jedi’s head. A bloody mist whipped up behind him, and his skull exploded into tiny fragments. The Force had failed that Dark Jedi, and his headless body flopped, freeing two Padawans from a similarly gruesome fate. They sprinted toward the Hound’s Sapphire in an amateur display of Force-empowered sprinting. At Adar’s behest, the Bothan broke off from his Dark Jedi foe, and Adar—wielding two lightsabers—engaged his own opponent and the Bothan’s. The Dark Jedi fighting the last two Padawans managed to kill one, but another shot from Jhosua’s rifle saved the life of the other.
The three surviving Padawans and the Bothan Jedi Knight reached the Hound’s Sapphire safely, but Adar was still fighting his two Dark Jedi opponents. Jhosua managed to shoot one of them in the throat, but the fallen Dark Jedi was replaced by several more, complimented by Sith troopers, from inside the Jedi Enclave.
“Run, boy!” Fetcher called out to the last Jedi.
“He can’t!” the Bothan noted. “If he retreats now, the Dark Jedi will cut him down, or just follow him to the ship.”
“I can still save him!” Jhosua called out.
“Captain, Fetarollias. If we do not leave now, our chances of avoiding the Sith fleet will be even closer to zero,” Jon’s automated voice spoke up. “Recommended departure time: 15 seconds and counting…”
“Just go!” Adar called out, his voice overpowering the ship’s engines for a moment. “There’s no point waiting for me!”
“Don’t leave him!” a young female Padawan called out. “Please save him!”
“We have to leave!” Ralina said. “Jon, close the doors. Start the engines.”
“No!” the girl cried. “No, no, no! Don’t leave Adar! Don’t leave him! Please!”
Jhosua took several more shots, killing a few Sith troopers that happened to stumble into his line of sight, but it wasn’t enough. There were far too many Sith now. Groaning, he took aim at one of the six Dark Jedi that moved toward Adar, but his shot missed. He moved to reload the weapon, but he realized he didn’t have any spare slugs on him. “I need some more ammo!” he called out.
“Sorry,” Fetcher said. “We’re out of slugs.”
The doors closed even as the young, brown-haired Padawan tried to escape and help Adar. Lamyia held her back, even as the girl continued kicking and screaming. The Hound’s Sapphire took off, and Jhosua thought he could see Adar charge into the host of enemies closing in on him just before the cargo bay’s small viewport was enveloped by the blackness of space. He threw the rifle to the ground in otherwise silent frustration.
“We’re not out of trouble yet,” Ralina said. “Just because we escaped the planet, doesn’t mean the Sith fleet won’t come to bid us farewell. Fetcher, join me on the bridge. The rest of you can stay here, if you please.”
Ralina and Fetcher left the cargo bay, and Lamyia sat down with the young girl to comfort her and try and dry her tears, leaving Jhosua alone with the confused Jedi in the back of the room. Stumbling over to some empty crates, Jhosua sat down against them and cupped his head into his hands. It was over, but they weren’t done. It was just like Ralina said. They weren’t out of trouble just yet. Ibrays had left him, it seemed, ever since he met Lamyia. Then another realization dawned on him: he had been injured—his arm was caked in blood from earlier, and he had taken a few shots from the Sith troopers. The shock of this revelation, and the howling pain in his head, drove him into bitter unconsciousness.