CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Dark Messiah

The medical bay of the Ebon Hawk was small and understocked, cloistered away from the rest of the ship just off the engine room. It hosted a single, uncomfortable bed and a small array of monitoring computers. The medical supplies, never stocked to deal with more than basic injuries, had been exhausted trying to breathe life into someone with a shattered spine. A medical droid, on loan from the Jedi Academy, hovered over the bed. It was little more than a durasteel cylinder with a spider-like web of mechanical arms extending from its base. Each arm was preoccupied with a different task, some pressing buttons or flipping switches on Bastila's monitoring systems, others making constant adjustments to the medical bays self-contained life support system, and at least one seemed devoted solely to swatting at Bastila's hand in agitation every time she reached for her drink.

"I just want some water, is that really going to upset your calculations?" SHe asked as her hand was met by a mechanical parry and a chorus of angry beeps. She sighed, settling back down onto what must surely be a single slab of concrete. Her body was mostly numb from the droid's delicate tampering earlier that day, but her head was becoming increasingly sore and she'd been growing thirstier by the minute ever since it began running its seemingly endless cumulative physical examination. She glanced cautiously at the droid before creeping her hand slowly away from the bed towards the table holding her distant oasis. The hovering arm of the medical droid split open, twirling to revealing a ring of needles, each pulsing inward and out on its own internal rhythm. It lowered itself between Bastila's hand and the clear plastic glass, swiveling downwards and waiting.

Bastila groaned inwardly, again retracting her arm to her side.

"How're you feeling? Droid isn't cause too much trouble, I hope?" Carth asked, leaning just inside the doorway. "I never liked the R series, always seemed... pushy."

"Oh, I'm doing wonderfully, Carth. I'm tempted to be nearly ripped in two more often."

"Good, because there's going to be a lot of people ready to take you up on that. Some friends of yours from the council stopped by to see you. Should I tell them to get lost or are you up for some Jedi earboxing?"

"Shouldn't refuse a visit from the council. Is the Stranger coming?" She asked, glancing at Carth over her water glass.

"He left a few minutes ago with the Mandalorian. Some... special mission he wouldn't talk about. I'm really going to need an explanation on who this guy is and what you're doing before I get involved beyond my assignment, which, by the way, ended the second you were safely back in Republic space."

"I'm afraid I don't have any answers for you, Carth. I understand your concerns, but it isn't my place to betray classified information, either from the Republic or the Jedi Council."

"Alright, I'll play along for a little while more. Don't be surprised if you need ask the Republic for another escort, though. I'm not getting involved in anything that smells this bad unless I know exactly what's going on." He said, disappearing into the engine room. Bastila sighed, muttering an apology under her breath. She didn't like the secrecy this mission required, or, really, anything about this mission. She hadn't learned anything about the source of the Sith's seemingly endless fleet, either from her bond with Revan or his voluntary explanation. She didn't like him being loose and she didn't like him being anything less than a cackling villain. Sith were predictable, following only their basist emotions without any morality or chivalry to get interrupt their service of the dark side. Jedi, too, were suppose to be predictable. Honor and selflessness above all other virtues, unfettered by temptation and vice. Revan seemed to be none of these things.

"You should have known better than to engage a dark lord in single combat." Vrook's stubborn condecention was the bane of the Academy and any Padawan in the Jedi Order could recognize it instantly.

"What?" Bastila looked up, Vrook approaching her bed and Master Vandar's seat hovering beside him.

"When the Sith attacked the Endar Spire to reclaim their master, you tried to prevent his escape, did you not? Or were you injured during the Sith attack, which allowed him to flee in the first place? What exactly happened on that ship, Padawan?" Vrook's tone was as unforgiving as it had ever been. Bastila swallowed, tilting her head to look the Jedi Master in the eye.

"I released him."

Vrook's brow furled, glaring at the incapacitated woman.

"You did what?"

"When the Endar Spire came under attack, it was too late for me to use my battle meditation. We were outnumbered twenty to one and we just happened to have onboard what you yourself once described as a tactical genius. Who in their right mind wouldn't try to make use of a resource like that?" Bastila asked with an unusual fire.

"And Revan's condition was release?" Vandar hovered lower, slipping down to just above Bastila's medical table.

"Yes." She looked away. "I did what I had to do."

"You certainly did. One wonders what horrible fate might have befallen the Endar Spire if the mighty Revan hadn't been there to save it." Vrook paused, an unspoken Oh Wait carried in the silent pause.

"If I'd left him in that force cage, he would have died when the ship was lost and then Carth and I would have died on Taris along with everyone else. Where would your precious battle meditation be, then? Hm?"

"You speak out of turn, Padawan." Vrook said, his voice growing even harsher.

"Peace, both of you." Vandar looked from Bastila to his friend, folding his hands in front of him. "We cannot undo what has been done. Revan is here, as is young Bastila. While their bond holds, he will not harm her."

"And after it is gone?" Vrook asked, a statement more than a question.

Master Vandar closed his eyes, saying nothing.

The Jedi Academy was a smooth, stone building decorated with sections of dark, polished wood and a harmonious mingling of natural flora and fauna, concentrated mostly in the courtyard around a large, ancient tree. Belaya sat on the ring of stones bordering the tree, idly watching the crowd of visitors, Padawans and Jedi pass through the courtyard. She would often rest here and admire the beauty of the courtyard, the air, the plants, the many different people always hurrying through, talking, laughing, as full of life as anywhere she had known.

There was far less laughing today. Many were quiet, exchanging worried whispers or nervous glances. The Sith Armada had leveled Taris to its soil, and much of that endless fleet was preparing to onto the core worlds. The scars of the Mandalorian war were still deep and fresh for both the Republic and the Jedi... neither had the will or the resources to endure another, against an enemy the was immeasurably more terrible.

Belaya pressed her hand against the bark of the mighty tree, her longtime place of solace no longer able to bring her comfort. Quatra was dead, and Juhani had fallen. Worse, the Council had forbidden her from venturing into the grove where she had fled, or from leaving the academy at all. Master Zhar had simply assured her that Juhani would be saved. She pulled her hand away from the tree, letting it rest on the hilt of her lightsaber. If anything happened to Juhani because the council forbade her from helping, they'd...

No.

Her hand slipped from the saber and onto the grass. The council would never allow harm to come to her, if Zhar said she would be safe, then Juhani would be safe. That was all that could be said about it.

The speeder lay on its side, an almost unrecognizable ball of scrap. A trench of debris and wreckage carved into the soil for a half kilometer behind it, dust still fading into the air. Smoke rose from the center of the wreckage, steaming off of one of the speeder's still running power cells. A bloody, gloved hand emerged from the wreckage, latching onto a twisted part of the fuselage and, with effort, tearing it off onto the ground. A vague, red form crawled from the wreckage, shrapnel sticking out of it in various places. It stood slowly, turning its head past the remains of the speeder until it fixed on a nervous pile of metal, eyes flashing yellow.

"Well what the fuck was that?" A bloodied Revan yelled at the droid.

"I... I'm terribly sorry, sir, I never..."

"You jumped in front of me!"

There was a cough from inside the wreck, a great Mandalorian arm reaching out and pulling Canderous through the grass until he was free of the smoke. He stood, coughing into his hand before dusting himself in a futile effort. He remained covered in large splotches of power coolant, most of it from the speeder's shattered secondary cell.

"Not winning any swoop championships, huh?" Canderous asked the Stranger.

"It jumped in front of me! It literally jumped in front of the damn speeder!" Revan pointed an accusing finger at the protocol droid.

"Please, I... I'm so sorry..." It stammered.

"Why didn't you just run over it?" Canderous asked, frowning at the metallic servant.

"Because I have this crazy thing where I try not to crash into things when I'm zooming along at a billion kilometers an hours." The Stranger replied. Canderous stared at him a moment before turning to the wreckage of the speeder.

"Really?"

"Oh, shut up." The Stranger sighed. He paused for a moment, then whipped his head towards the wreck. "Where's the Cathar?"

The speeder's secondary power cell, by now billowing a torrent of black smoke, finally cooked off. The explosion ripped through what was left of the vehicle's left fuselage, knocking Canderous to the ground and sending debris deflecting off of the Stranger's hastily erected force shield.

"Oh, for... are you kidding me?" The stranger asked no one, grabbing a hunk of blackened steel in frustration and hurling it at the droid. It struck the stammering machine on the head, dropping it beneath the grass. "You piece of crap. Like they're going to believe she died in a speeder crash, I'm going to find out who owns you and-"

"I'm here." Juhani said. The Stranger furled his brow, turning to the source of the voice and seeing the Cathar perched deftly in a nearby tree.

"How..." He began.

"I leapt to safety once it became apparent you were no longer in control of the speeder. Which was... shortly before you swerved to avoid the protocol droid." She said, leaping out of the tree and landing softly on the grass below.

"Well... that's good, then." The Stranger said as Canderous picked himself up for the second time.

"Please... sir, if you could..." The droid stammered, appearing again above the grass line.

"You!" The Stranger pointed, marching across the field towards it. "You've got ten seconds to tell me why you jumped in front of me and the only reason I haven't disassembled you yet is because I'm dying to hear the answer."

"I... it is complicated, but... I came to the conclusion that my master would be better off if I were no longer a factor."

The Stranger stopped, lowering his finger.

"Wait, you actually... you're suicidal? Droids can be suicidal now?"

"It is not... that. Exactly." The droid said. "My master has become too attached to me. Obsessed, even. She... treats me as he dead husband."

"All the time?" Canderous asked, walking towards the pair.

"Y-yes..." The droid said, shame present even in the synthetic voice.

"Ew." The Stranger said as Canderous laughed.

"It... it is not healthy for her. I was programmed to act as her caretaker, but she has become increasingly insular. She rarely sees other people and appears fixated on seeing me as her husband. Every night, she..." The droid stopped, interrupted by the Stranger's raised hand.

"Yeah, that's gross and all but in the interest of never hearing the rest of that, I can help you out."

"You will?" The droid asked, hope glimmering in its electronic eyes.

"Sure can. I've got a blaster here I can weld to your head. Let's see her rape you when you've got a laser face." He turned to the Mandalorian. "Canderous, see if my spanner's still in the speeder somewhere and not all melted and junk."

The droid stepped backwards, shocked.

"That is not... that is not what I meant. I fled from her because I determined the best way for me to care for her would be if I were removed from her life completely. She would see other people again. Real people. Living people. I saw your speeder coming and... I sensed opportunity. I did not mean for any of this to happen, I... am terribly sorry about all of it."

"So if the only thing she cares about in the whole galaxy disappears forever out of the blue one day with no explanation... you don't think that would just make her, like, crazier?" The Stranger asked.

"I... had not considered that, no."

"Or what if she finds out you self terminated? What would that do to her? Do you have any idea the long term emotional trauma that would cause? I mean, trust me on this, I'm pretty big on the long term emotional trauma thing. I know what I'm talking about."

"Oh my... you're right." The droid twisted its head around, as if examining its surroundings for the first time. "This... this was terribly misguided of me. I must return to her... I will do whatever I can to help her, but you are correct... I must not leave her as she is. Thank you." The robot shuffled away across the plain, rocking unsteadily as it disappeared behind a large cliff. The sun hung low in the clear Dantooine sky, a single cloud floating lazily across the blue.

"Droid's really going to serve its master tonight." Canderous remarked.

The Stranger smiled, frowning only after Juhani inquired about their return transportation.

Carth Onasi sat down in the pilot's seat of the Ebon Hawk, the monitoring systems of the stationary craft beeping with only the most basic of electronic functions. He leaned forward, punching in the signal code to perform a ship wide diagnostic check, the fourth he'd done in as many hours. Trask sat in the navigator's chair next to him, several bottles of Tarisian ale scattered about the floor. His feet were resting on top of the navigation console, bits of dried mud still clinging to his boots.

"All gone, Carth." He said, waving his hand in front of the cockpit's viewing window. "Whole planet, just... Boom. Right out from under us. The Endar Spire, too... I know... next to Taris one command cruiser is just... nothing, but that... the Spire was my ship, Carth. Everyone... all the people... I fought in the war, I know what it's like to lose friends, but I've never... had to lose everyone at once." He tossed the latest empty bottle to the floor.

"I know, it's been crazy ever since the Jedi came onboard. Insane, even. I still can't believe Taris is gone, not to mention how close we came to losing Bastila." Carth said, relaxing as the computers began their self-correcting scans.

"Yeah, don't wanna lose her. Fate of the Republic hinging on a damn little girl. Not the ships, not the soldiers, not any of the billions, trillions getting poured into the war effort, no, only thing keeping us afloat is a padawan Jedi with magical moral powers. And her friend, who's supposed to be even more magical, somehow. It's all crap." Trask searched a moment for an unopened bottle of ale. Finding none, he reclined further back in his seat, letting his hands hit the floor of the ship. "Crap."

"You know, speaking of her friend..." Carth said, eying the fellow soldier. "I never saw him come on with Bastila and her friends. There were only a handful of Jedi and believe me, I would have remembered him. Now he shows up out of nowhere and Bastila is saying he's just as important as she is, but I've never even heard of him."

"No one did." Trask said, barely paying attention. "He hasn't even got a name. Always just 'The Stranger' or some stupid thing like that. Mysterious Stranger, I think I even heard once."

"Well, near as I can guess he's a turncoat from the Sith. Probably knows some big weakness or a dark, terrible secret. You know, spy holo stuff. But until someone levels with me, I could care less what he's here for, they're not getting any more help from me."

"Can you do that?" Trask asked, tilting his head slightly.

"Of course I can do that, my mission ended when we touched down in the Academy. Hell, I was never even told to escort her, that was the Endar Spire's job. Now that she's safe, I've got no business sticking around, the Republic's got to need a pilot somewhere."

"Don't need any pilots." Trask said, closing his eyes. "Just some magical Jedi voodoo, all they ever needed it sounds like."

"I don't know." Carth replied, staring up at the ship's diagnostic results. "All they ever wanted, maybe." The ship's intercom light flashed with a quick, pulsing light. Carth stared at it a moment before pressing the button down.

"Yeah? Carth Here."

"Carth, this is Bastila. Something's happened to him."

"This bodes poorly." Vrook said, robe trailing against the ramp as he stepped out of the tiny freighter and onto the landing bay. "At the very least, I want her off of that ship. The further away from him she is the better."

Vandar shook his head, chair hovering into place beside his friend.

"We cannot risk moving her in the condition she is in, and you underestimate Bastila's determination. The bond works both ways, even as Revan's corruption is in danger of seeping into her, all that is good in her has a chance of seeping into him. And by separating them, any chance of gaining his true cooperation would be lost."

"As if any chance existed at all. Did you forget who we're dealing with? Hundreds of Jedi have died by his hand, many of our own students were slain or worse in both the Mandalorian war and his direct attack against the Order. He will betray anyone and anything if it means consolidating power. You cannot use evil to fight evil, Vandar."

"I am not convinced we are." Vandar said as the two passed into the courtyard.

"Now you're just goading me."

"I did not send him to Juhani to see if he would spare her. He will return her to us, unharmed and closer to the light for her ordeal. I sent him so that he would be reminded of the tragedy that befell the Cathar, and the reason for his war." Vandar said, passing a young Jedi who sat near the central tree.

"The reason for his war was arrogance and greed. I've known him since he was but a child, he was always willful and headstrong. Combine that with a growing lust for power and a master practically a Sith herself... along with your constant refusal to interfere on behalf of the Jedi Council... could he have become anything but the monster he is? War did not forge him, Vandar. His heart was black long before the Mandalorians reared their heads."

"Let us see, Vrook." Vandar said as they disappeared into the council chambers. "Let us see."

"Hold on, need to... take a break." The Stranger said, pausing as he hunched forward, breathing heavily. "Stupid... droid."

The grassy field around them glowed with a dull yellow light from the setting Dantooine sun. It had been three hours since they first started their hike and the Stranger, already bloodied and battered from the crash, was looking quite the worse for wear. His jacket had been discarded, as had his mechanic's gloves. The gray, sleeveless undershirt he wore was slashed in numerous places and stained red in even more, though his skin had healed fully underneath.

"Want me to carry you?" Canderous asked, natural resilience and cybernetic healing implants combining to make the Mandalorian appear perfectly fine, aside from some dirt and torn clothing.

"Yes." The Stranger replied. "That would be nice."

"I... must admit to some confusion, I had thought a Jedi, especially one of your capabilities, to be more... well, capable." Juhani said.

"It's been a long time since the war, kid." The Stranger said, straightening up and taking a breath. "I haven't been on the front lines for... years and after Malachor that was mostly me standing still while everything around me died. Seven mile hikes aren't really my thing."

"It's a four mile hike." Canderous said.

"Wonderful."

"We're a mile and a half into it."

The Stranger cursed quietly under his breath and trudged forward. Canderous and Juhani exchanged concerned glances before following in his trail.

"What battles were you in?" Canderous asked as they walked.

"All of them." The Stranger replied, hesitating. "Well, most of them."

"Dxun?" He asked.

"Crashed into the canopy on a downed basilisk, killed the rider and took out one their major defensive installations with a handful of soldiers three other Jedi."

"Impressive." Canderous replied.

"That's what everyone tells me."

A low whine sounded in the distance behind them, and the Stranger turned in time to see the three speeders rushing headlong towards them through the grass, setting sun glinting off their metal paint.

"Mandalorians." Juhani said, hatred hushed just beneath her breath.

"No." Canderous corrected her, turning to the onrushing speeders. "They're nothing more than bandits, now."

"And I don't suppose they're stopping?" The Stranger said, watching the armored men inside steadying their blaster rifles. "Alright, everyone get ready."

Juhani drew the hilt of her saber from its holster as the rightmost speeder broke away, heading towards her directly. The blade from her saber flashed red as the Mandalorian's opened fire, their blasts deflected into the sky by her parries. The speeder swerved away, unwilling to approach a Jedi at melee range. Juhani braced herself against the ground, pushing the planet out from under her as she leapt across the expanse of grass, clearing thirty feet and passing just above the swerving speeder. Her saber flashed, the head of the driving Duros still sailing through the air as she landed. The speeder spun sideways, dipping downward until the front most corner pierced the dirt, turning the rest of the vehicle in to a twisting, bouncing fireball.

Canderous had lost his repeating blaster to the crash and was armed now with only the barest of weapons. A heavy blaster pistol and a single unused thermal detonator from their earlier attack. The speeder nearest to him opened fire, carbine bolts singing the air beside his head. He broke left, sprinting towards the cover of a nearby rock formation. An explosion rocked the ground from somewhere behind him, distracting the bandits on the speeder as it passed him, giving him an easy shot to wing the thermal detonator. Canderous twisted as he leapt behind the rocks, flinging the thermal detonator in a unconnected haymaker. The silver ball struck the passing speeder just below the dashboard, bouncing down into the passenger's seat as its beeping grew to a rapid roar.

The Stranger stood in place as the second explosion ripped through the air behind him, the lone remaining speeder suddenly swerving and slowing to a stop fifteen feet in front of him. Five Mandalorians emerged, fully encased in armor, one much larger than the rest. His armor was red, two massive vibro blades sat strapped his sprawling back and his belt was adorned with a half dozen lightsaber hilts. There was a smile in his voice, masked behind the helmet.

"I knew no farmer could be responsible for all of this trouble." His voice was thick, almost heavy. The armored men beside him chambered power cells into their blasters. Canderous pressed his back against the stone, watching the scene from the relative safety of the rock formation. He gripped the heavy plaster pistol in his hand, waiting for a signal to fire.

"I am Sherruk, and I will add your heads to the heads of the other Jedi I have collected, and take yet another lightsaber for my own. Prepare to pay for your medeling, Jedi."

It was at that moment that Juhani smashed into the Mandalorian leader like a comet from the heavens. Her saber flashed red behind the crimson armor as Sherruk stumbled forward. She swung down, aiming to cleave his neck from his shoulders. The red blade struck his armor and in a shower of sparks, was thrown away.

Like a streak of lightning Sherruk turned, grabbing Juhani by the throat and lifting her into the air with a single hand. A sudden, crushing squeeze caused her to drop her saber as Sherruk reached behind him, pulling one of the vibroblades from its sheathe. His men, recovering from the sudden attack, aimed their blasters at the unarmed man before them, only to find that he was not there.

Sherruk gripped the squirming Cathar tighter, her feet kicking at him uselessly. He pulled his vibro blade back above his head, poised to thrust it into the alien's hate-filled eyes when the front of his armor exploded, shards of durasteel passing through his personal energy shield and past his Cathar victim, scattering across the grass. The hole in his armor was clean, exposing a bare, evidently undamaged chest. Sherruk heaved, the sound of blood gurgling from inside his helmet. The Stranger stood behind him, palm firmly pressed against his armored back. There was a great groaning, and the mighty Sherruk fell to his knees, dropping Juhani and his drawn blade.

One of the remaining Mandalorians was ripped through the air towards the Stranger, helmet connecting with a roundhouse kick that shattered the durasteel armor. His body continued, flipping through the air into one of his comrades, knocking him to the ground. The two remaining bandits opened fire. With impossible speed, the Stranger ripped a pair of lighsabers from the still falling Sherruk, blue and violet blades exploding from their holsters as the two Mandalorians found themselves pulled, twisting, towards the spinning blades.

Juhani flinched away from the sight, although the screams of the dying men would travel with her until the end of her days.

The Stranger stood amongst the bodies and severed limbs, sabers humming in a vicious growl. His undershirt was soiled with blood and sweat, tattered. His pale skin stood in stark contrast to the black and crimsons splatters. The blades slipped once more into their hilts, the sudden silence deafening. He turned to Juhani, a slow smile creeping across his face.

"Well, that wasn't bad for an out of shape old fart, was it?" He dropped one of the sabers, reaching out and taking her hand. "You alright?" He asked, lifting her up. There was a groan from one of the bodies, the Mandalorian struggling to move the weight of the armored corpse that was draped on top of him. A single blast shot out through the still of the air, connecting the the Mandalorian's head and jerking it sideways, where lay still. Canderous stood, leaning out from the pile of rocks with his blaster held out in a single hand.

"Alright, then. Thank you, Canderous, for your aid."

"I try to pull my weight." He said, holstering the blaster. "I assuming that's our ride."

"You assume correctly." The stranger said, climbing into the driver's seat with Juhani following quickly behind. "Get in, we've got a prodigal padawan to deliver."

"Juhani!" Belaya shouted, rushing forward and embracing her love. "I was so worried! I thought..."

"It is alright, Belaya." Juhani smiled, returning the warm embrace. Belaya squeezed, tears coming slowly to her eyes. She began to speak, trying to choke up.

"I never would have forgiven myself if anything-"

"Woah." A voice interrupted. Belaya turned her head, noticing for the first time the pale, dark haired man covered in blood and dirt. "Woah." He continued. "Hugging is against the Jedi code, I mean, directly. It's right between 'thou shalt suck' and 'though shalt have a stick up thy ass', you need to study that thing a little more closely."

Belaya released Juhani, stammering, a small hint of red growing on her cheeks.

"I..." She started. "Who... who are you?"

"And amazing man." Juhani replied, resting a hand on Belaya's shoulders. "He is the one who saved me from my fall, and convinced me to return to the Jedi."

"Oh." Belaya stared, shocked. "Th-Thank you, I... I don't know if I can tell you how much Juhani means to me."

"Don't worry, I think I can guess pretty well." He gave Juhani an informal salute, heading off to the council chambers with the giant Mandalorian in tow.

They stopped just outside the main door, the Stranger turning to Canderous and pointing towards one of the hall's side doors.

"Alright, this is one of those 'For Your Eyes Only' deals, if you wanna head to the merchant district or start a fight in the cantina or something, I'll let you know when I'm done." The stranger said.

"Sure, sure, I've still got a few credits from Davik I need to burn. Come see me when you're ready to get off this rock."

Canderous turned, leaving out the smaller door, the Stranger watching the empty doorway for a moment before turning and opening the grand double door.

The council chambers were surprisingly spartan, a circular room that was almost entirely bare except for the small arrangement of chairs clustered against the far end. Each of these chairs were currently occupied by a member of the academy council, the only other living beings in the chamber besides the Stranger.

"Good, you're home." He strolled across the empty expanse, every councilor turning to watch him. "Because I've got some amazing news for you. Whats-her-face is safe and sound and you're not ever going to pull this test of honor crap with me again or I'm going to throw this entire building into the sun."

Vrook visibly bit his tongue.

"We heard of Juhani's return, and we owe you a heartfelt thanks for returning her to us." Master Zhar said.

"Yes, happy reunion, wonderful, everyone's super proud. Now maybe we can get down to the business of me saving you from an enemy you could never hope to stop in a million years." The Stranger stopped in front of the council chairs, crossing his bare, subtly muscled arms. The silver hilt of the lightsaber on his belt glistened in the fading light.

"It is a grave matter indeed." Vandar said, crossing his hands. "Many Jedi have fallen to the Sith, and even more have turned against us as agents of the dark side. The Republic and the Jedi order are still reeling from the aftershocks of a major galactic war, and we are in no position to challenge a Sith empire of seemingly limitless numbers."

"Yes." The Stranger rubbed his temple. "Thank you for that, I think I know more about the current state of galactic affairs more than anyone ever, but thank you for that completely unnecessary recap for everyone who wasn't up to speed. Which, given the company, should be no one."

"We need to know where the Sith fleet is coming from." Vrook said, edging forward in his seat. "Some of the ships are old Republic cruisers but most of them are designs we've never seen before, and in the numbers they're appearing it's like they're being built from nothing."

"Yes, well, funny that." The Stranger said, resting his hands behind his back. "They are."

"I won't tolerate anymore of your juvinile-" Vrook was interrupted by the Stranger raising his hand.

"There is a manufacturing facility, a starbase, hidden deep within Sith space. It harnesses the force as a production mechanism, drawing matter and energy from a nearby star and combining it with the force, creating massive armies of droids and endless fleets of ships from, more or less, nothing."

The council stared, silent. The Stranger could feel Vrook's disbelieving bile vitirole rising to the surface.

"There is a cave on Dantooine, the other side of the world, that holds a temple to the factory's original creators. There was, last I saw, a functional droid who can, if nothing else, reveal the existence of such a place. The temple also contains a star map of their empire, and, originally, the location of the factory." The Stranger swallowed, clearing his throat with a small cough. "Unfortunately, tide of time has damaged much of its original functionality and only a portion of the coordinates are still accessible. However... it does contain the locations of four other temples scattered across various planets all along the outer rim, and by visiting each one of these temples, all with similar star maps, it is possible to combine the damaged sequences into a completed set of coordinates that reveal the location of the twenty thousand year old and completely functional mass production facility." He finished.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard." Vrook said. "In my entire life."

"Yes, it's..." The Stranger scratched the back of his head, looking away. "It's pretty dumb."

"Assuming this is true..." Master Zhar began. "...What is your intention?"

"Well..." The Stranger said, hesitating. The fading, natural light of the Dantooine sun filtered through the windows bordering the chamber's ceiling, shining down on the stranger like a spotlight. "...If we were to collect all the available maps, I could return to the production facility, the Rakata Starforge, and take it away from the petulant child now leading the Sith."

"And what then? We trade one dark lord for another." Vrook said.

"Taris should tell you which you'd rather have." The Stranger stepped forward, resting his hands behind his back. "First Telos, then Taris... it will not end, you know. Not while Malak still has a fleet to call his own. He is an animal, simple and savage. He knows only brute force and intimidation with no regard for stability or order. I fully intend to reclaim the mantle of Lord of the Sith, and I will oust the already crippled and dying Galactic Republic in favor of a government capable of actual domestic administration and a military doctrine that does not involve invaders cutting a swath to our core worlds unopposed and an order of force users dedicated to being more than lawn ornaments."

The reaction from the council was instantanious and unanimous. Dismissal, refusal, Vrook went so far as to threatened the Stranger with imprisonment on the spot. Only Vandar said anything different.

"Why not travel directly to the Starforge itself? If such a thing exists, you would know where it was located." He questioned.

"I can point to it on a map, but I don't have the exact hyperspace coordinates. Which means shooting through a hypserspace lane by the seat of our pants and coming out a few million miles away from where you want to be, if you come out at all."

"We will investigate the cave you speak of, then... we will discuss the options at hand." Vandar said, settling into his chair for what was sure to be a long, tiring debate.

"Surely you can't be serious." Vrook said, turning to his friend. "To give even a hint of credence to his story-"

"You should return to your ship." Zhar said to the Stranger. "We will summon you when our investigation is done, and our course decided."

The Stranger gave a sweeping bow before turning on the council and exiting the chamber door.

"You're okay!" Bastila exclaimed, Revan ducking into the medical bay and plopping down on an unused metal chair next to the foot of Bastila's bed. "I... think." She added, noting the blood, sweat, and tattered clothing.

"Fine, fine. Never better." He said, reaching forward and grabbing the water beside her bed and downing it in a single gulp. The empty glass struck the table, a sigh of relief coming from her visitor.

"What... happened?" Bastila asked, Revan's pale skin standing out in contrast against the dull light of the medical bay.

"An immense amount of fun." He said, tilting his head to her. "You should have been there."

"I've had enough fun to last a lifetime, I think."

"Suit yourself." Revan said, stretching out in the chair. "I talked to the council, they're going to bicker at each other until Vandar gets his way and then we're going on an adventure. For your sake, I'll make sure to make it as unfun as possible."

"What do you mean?" Bastila tried unsuccessfully to proper herself up on her bed.

"We're going to visit exotic locales and interesting locals in a pan-galactic quest to bring Malak to his knees and give him a thumping." Revan said, crossing his hands in front of his lap. "Because a thumping is probably number one on the list of things Malak desperately needs. A wig is probably just ahead of it."

Bastila smiled for a moment, before it slowly soured.

"What happened to you?" She asked. This Dark Lord was nothing like what she'd imagined, nothing like what she'd heard. He seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be a good person if not a model Jedi. "You were great once, you were a hero in every sense of the word... you... you've fallen further than any Jedi in living memory and you act like you've done none of these things. I... I look at you and remember the stories, the datanet reports from worlds besieged by the Sith and I... I can't imagine you being behind it."

"Oh, I've done terrible things." Revan said, resting his chin on his folded hand. "I've made decisions that would make a Gammorean shudder for their brutality. But I did them all because I knew, in the end, more would be saved because of it. The Mandalorians were slaughtering Republic citizens and soldiers by the billions, they wiped out entire planets through orbital genocide, they stood poised to drive into the core of the Republic and conquer the galaxy. What good would action by the Jedi do then? When trillions are dead and the Mandalorian fleets quell dissent by turning planets to glass? When Cassus Fett brought fire to the skies of Cathar, I saw the seeds of what the Mandalorian war would truly bring, and I knew that stopping that was worth any price."

"But..." Bastila frowned, her face scrunching downwards. "The council..."

"The council understands nothing." Revan stood, sweeping his hand across the medical bay and gesturing to the Academy outside. "The walls of this place and Coruscant temple are all they ever see! They sit on their humble thrones and dictate the fate of trillions in a galaxy they will never see! They are an order of hypocrites and liars, warrior pacifists and defenders of an imaginary peace. They repeat their code of peace, knowledge and harmony while shutting out anything that might show them that the galaxy is not that simple." Revan paused, clenching his hands. "They claim peace while watching genocide, claim knowledge as they preach ignorance, profess themselves to be in harmony as the galaxy burns around them and I will not allow it anymore."

Revan stared at Bastila, yellow eyes piercing through the dim light, seemingly glowing with a luminescence of their own. His breathing was slow, labored. His voice was cold, a steel behind it she had never heard. It was the voice of one who ordered the deaths of millions.

"I saved this galaxy once before, Bastila. I will do it again."