Death is my ally
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters except for Dymon.
Usually I write Classic Trilogy AUs, and this is my try at something new. This story is sometimes a bit on the rough side, just a warning.
The creature was moving soundlessly along the darkened corridores, its horned head swinging from side to side, sniffing the air. Suddenly it stopped short and moved closer to one particular apartment door. Eying it carefully it moved closer still, then vanished through it. On the other side of the door was a pleasantly furnished apartment, unlit now at this early hour of the Coruscant day, but to the creature´s eyes darkness had no meaning. They were glowing like molten rock now, still searching. Ambling forward on all fours, the thing was nearing the bedroom door and, just as before, slipped through as if it were empty air. There was a human couple sleeping in the bed and their nightly visitor smiled, when it found that the man was indeed the one it wanted. In a graceful arc, the creature landed on the bed, the impact nearly imperceptible. But the sleeping man was no ordinary human. He was Corran Horn, Jedi Knight, and felt the alien presence, late, but he did.
"Lights," he commanded the room computer, fumbling for his lightsaber on the table beside the bed, and the bedroom lit up suddenly. The light showed him a vaguely humanoid creature sitting at the end of the bed on its haunches, body encased in shining chitinuous armour. Its eyes, set wide in the grotesque head, were glowing red. The skull was formed similar to that of a raptor, but the "beak " revealed sharp, glistening carnivores and, instead of head feathers, two horns curved backward from the creature´s temples, their spikes nearly touching one another at the base of its neck. At that moment Mirax, Corran´s wife, came awake, saw the thing and screamed in absolute horror. Where it had been perfectly calm before, it snarled at them now, sommersaulted backwards and dropped surprisingly lightly on the floor. Then it unfolded its long limbs and stood on its hind legs. It was tall and lean, and somehow its appearance reminded Corran of a knight in battle armour. Apart from the beak, sharp teeth and claws, the being was unarmed. Probably that´s enough for it, Horn mused, then jumped, when the thing spoke.
"I must warn you, Corran Horn," it growled, a long reptilious tongue flicking out of its moth and back in again. "Urgh", Corran said. Suddenly realizing that his wife wasn´t by his side anymore he started to rise, but the next words from the beast stopped him cold:
"The Yuuzhan Vong have sworn to kill you."
"As far as I know they want to kill us all," Corran replied," Who are you?" And what, he added silently to himself.
The creature snorted. "That is irrelevant. Heed my warning, though."
"Ok," he answered, still gripping the handle of his lighsaber, "And now?"
Just then Mirax crowed triumphantly from the closet where she had been hiding, a comm-link in her hand: "I´ve called security." On cue, the door to the bedroom burst open and admitted six heavily armed New Republic guards. Before they could orientate themselves, the beast was upon them, snarling and growling ferociously. It was tearing at them madly, snapping, biting, ripping them apart so quickly, that the last drops of blood settled in the bedroom floor just as the thing turned to Corran and Mirax again.
On all fours, it regarded them with what seemed to be a decidedly malevolent air to Corran, and started feeding slowly on the next best soldier at it´s feet. "Stop that!" Corran screamed at it in outrage, igniting his lightsaber and stepping towards it. The creature swung its head from side to side, as if to get a better view, but then the Jedi Knight realized it was sniffing the air. Why, he couldn´t even guess at. When it moved forward he met it at high speed, trying to behead it with one stroke of his lightsaber´s blade. But his opponent slipped past him and stood, tripping him up unceremoniously. Corran fell heavily onto the bloody mass of dead soldiers. Turning, he could see that the thing was frantic for finding an escape route, hunting around the room. And I am blocking the door! Standing slowly, Corran moved towards Mirax, keeping his lightsaber between them and the attacker. It nodded at him, then made for the door, where the exit was suddenly blocked by blaster cross-fire. The creature dropped on all fours again. Only deep shadows would admit it an exit now, but the only ones here were those of the two humans. Both were armed, but so were the soldiers coming up behind it. It opted for the more frightened female, and charged towards her, but Mirax stood her ground and brought her blaster level with the beast´s belly when it jumped. She hit the fire button calmly just as Corran´s sudden scream of fear died away.
The alien was thrown back and impacted against the wall with a grunt. Moving feebly it was hissing and spitting at the soldiers now entering the suddenly pretty crowded room. "Don´t kill it," Corran ordered them, "Get a net and a stun cage. Quickly," he added when the beast atempted to rise again. Four of the guards complied. The Jedi Knight moved to it´s side and held his lightsaber blade to it´s throat. "Don´t move now," he told it quietly, and a sound that might have been a laugh escaped the horrible mouth. Then it kept still, and slowly it´s eyes were dimming, until the orbs had turned completly black. "Is it dead?" Mirax asked cautiously, still gripping her blaster. "I don´t know. Perhaps it is just unconscious," her husband replied slowly. Then the soldiers returned, threw a self-constricting net over the thing and carefully dragged the now tightly bound creature into the waiting stun-cage. Still, it didn´t move. Who are you? And why did you warn me? Corran was asking himself, but what he truly wanted to know was why the thing was at the same time concerned for him and that evil.
Waking up at last, the creature found itself strapped to a bed, lying on its back, a bandage covering the belly-wound. It almost laughed at that. People dressed up in white were fussing around it, scientists, it decided. Then the door chimed open. Curious, it turned its head slowly to face the newcomers. It recognized Corran, but the others with him were unfamiliar faces.
"Are you done with it?" Corran asked the head scientist.
"Yes, he´ll be transferred to a holding cell shortly."
"Actually, we´re not sure, but from its behaviour we deduced..."
The red-haired female standing beside Corran snorted and shook her head. "Women can´t be killers, is that what you mean?" She asked the white-clad man coolly and the blond man at her side laughed out loud.
"Mara, don´t take it personally. Why didn´t you just ask, doctor? Corran tells me the creature is sentient."
"He...It," the doctor corrected himself with a careful glance at a grinning Mara," was unconscious until you came in."
"Then let´s start the conversation now. It seems awake enough," Corran told them and moved to the side of the bed. "Hello again," he began. The creature huffed at him, but kept silent. Corran shrugged: "Well, maybe you would care to answer some questions? You warned me. Why?"
The creature smiled: "You called to me. You should know."
Corran took a step back, ahgast: "I am sure that I did no such thing," he claimed, but doubt was plain in his tone. Shaking ist head the creature's eyes dimmed again. For a moment the room was absolutely silent. When it spoke again Corran felt himself shiver:
"You are not aware of the calling. That is unfortunate. But you were not the only one, just the first."
"I do not understand."
"There is no need. And now I would appreciate it if you released me." The doctor stepped forward, but the alien shook ist head: "No. He will do it."
Corran found himself complying and only belatedly did he realize that he had not even noticed himself moving over to free the creature. But by then it was too late.
Rising from the table the creature crouched over him, its eyes burning into his head and he found himself rooted in place, unable to move or even think straight. Behind him he could hear the snap-hiss of a lightsaber being ignited.
"Corran," Luke called softly, "Move back."
The Corellian Jedi did not budge: "Can you feel it too?" he whispered, slightly frightened when a sudden coldness reached out for him, holding his mind prisoner. Anger, hatred, malice and an over-whelming lust for blood bled off the creature into Corran's thoughts, paralyzing him with fear.
"Sure we can," Mara told him angrily, "Now come back here."
"He can't," the creature echoed sweetly, then reached out to take Corran's chin gently in one clawed hand.
"Who are you" Luke asked, suddenly alarmed.
On cue the door swished open to admit three heavily-armed guards and Kyp Durron right on their heels. The three soldiers immediately aimed their weapons at the creature perching on the table. It snarled at them, released Corran and in one fluid movement jumped straight up to flip over their heads. Landing hard it crouched down immediately and lunged at Kyp. The young Jedi Master threw himself sideways, then whipped out his lightsaber. The creature was faster. Instead of going for Kyp it turned on the guards, killing them within seconds. Both Kyp and Luke moved in to form a defensive wall in front of Mara and the scientists. Corran still stood where the beast had left him, staring at it open-mouthed. It did not stir at all, it was just watching the two Jedi advancing slowly. Its head swaying slowly it opened ist mouth, seemingly to draw in air, but Corran had seen it do that before. Finally it started purring softly and rose again on its hindlegs, shaking itself. As if nothing had happened at all it gave them all a long look and smiled.
"What are you?" Corran asked finally and stepped closer.
The creature shrugged: "A hunter."
"You are using the Force," Luke remarked cautiously.
"So do you, Jedi," it shot back and grinned at him.
"True. But why did you attack Kyp?"
"Competitiveness," it told them and shrugged again.
Kyp seemed aghast: "What?" he almost shouted, "And that is it?" The alien nodded slowly.
"Well, whatever the reasons, I do not believe that we should simply let you walk about to attack anyone you do not like," Corran explained coldly and nodded at Luke.
"I agree," the Jedi Master said and moved to block the door.
"Do you want it the hard or the easy way," Kyp sneered at the creature, raising his blade. The beast eyed him up and down, then shook its head:
"The easy way. There is no need for violence now."
Corran bellowed a disbelieving laugh: "You must be kidding."
"Not at all."
So they transferred it to a holding cell, keeping it in a force-field since it had been able to get through closed doors. The scientists had the theory that the alien used shadows to travel between places. How, they didn´t know. Now the room was lit at any time, out-fitted with motion sensors and cameras.
The creature was seemingly asleep, when Luke Skywalker entered the cell. The eye orbs were a dull a black and it was lying on its stomach, resting its head on its clawed hands. Soon after the Jedi Master had arrived though, it slowly looked up, setting off one of the motion sensors. The high-pitched alarm it sounded was turned off only seconds later, when the warden on duty had identified the move as non-aggressive over the visual.
"Tell me more about you," the blond man asked.
"I already told you. I am a hunter."
"You hunt people?"
"Your kind of people mostly," the alien replied, baring its fangs. Luke was not impressed:
"You are a creature of the Dark Side."
At that it actually laughed: "Sometimes."
"It has been a long time since I have last met your kind."
"You said that Corran called you."
"He is worried and he is angry. He can feel that the balance is shifting. There is too much evil."
Luke smiled: "And that bothers you? How strange. But we can counterbalance the Yuuzhan Vong without using the Dark Side."
The creature shook its head: "You are mistaken, Jedi."
"In your eyes most certainly, but we are guardians, defenders."
"As am I, in a sense. But Corran knows that defense will not gain you victory this time."
"It has before."
"The past is irrelevant. You will perish if you do not fight."
"Resorting to those methods alway does end in disaster."
"Pathetic, Jedi. In your mind destruction is evil, killing is evil, so how can one protect and not do evil in some way?"
"When one kills in self-defense, for example."
"In this case self-defense would be foolishness. You have to attack to drive them back, you have to slaughter them utterly." Obviously excited by that prospect the creature started raking it´s claws over the metal floor. Then it stopped again.
"This woman, Mara, she is very sick," it mused aloud.
"How do you know that?" Luke demanded, suddenly alarmed. Now the thing turned glowing eyes on him and rose to stalk very close to the force-field.
"I know a great many things, Jedi," it said slyly.
Luke shook his head: "Why don't you make your intentions clearer."
"Clearer?" it roared angrily, "What more is there you need to know?"
With a grunt, the alien turned away: "I am hungry," it told Luke, making him pause for a second.
"I will tell them," he sighed, then left.
The creature was disturbed. It had indeed been a long time since it had fought the Jedi and nothing was the same anymore. The thing snarled at the cameras in disgust. Then it went to rest again. An hour later the door opened, and one of the scientists came in with two guards. One of them was carrying a bowl full of raw meat. The alien didn´t even look up, but noted that they raised the force-field a bit to shove the bowlful of food under it, towards the captured creature. Then they waited. Still, no reaction. "I thought you were hungry," the scientist remarked drily, a bit disappointed too. Perhaps she had hoped to get to study the beast´s feeding habits.
"It is dead," the thing growled.
"Of course it´s dead, it´s food."
"I won't eat it if it is not alive."
"Great! Great. Ok. We´ll see what we can get you then, "the scientist huffed indignantly.
"Thank you," the creature answered, with a smile. It took them a while, but in the end the threesome returned with one of the guards, the other one, the beast noticed, holding a manically kicking herbivore whose species the thing didn´t recognize. Growling, with saliva dripping from its mouth, it crouched low, preparing for an attack. It was completely focused on its prey, snarled a challenge, while the scientist motioned the other guard to lower the force-field. Just as the living food was thrown over the field wall the alien was already airborne and the scientist realized its intent with horror. "Get the field up!" she screeched, and the guard responsible for the field controls did so, just in time. Howling in pain the creature dropped to the metal floor again, its left side burned by the force field and sizzling from the heat. It roared at the three and then turned towards its prey, furious. The scientist leaned forward, transfixed by its graceful movements, as it shot towards the horrified prey. It was ripped apart by the alien´s sharp claws and teeth in an instant.
"Wow, just as Horn has described," the scientist whispered in awe. But the creature wasn´t quite finished. It took the carcass in its claws, smearing the flowing dark blood over the floor, then rubbed its injured side in the gruesome liquid, sighing deeply. When it rose again, the wounds had vanished. Turning towards the scientist, it stood on its hind legs, shook itself and smiled. "That is absolutely amazing. You use blood to regenerate," she remarked. It nodded. Smiling brittly, she added: "I am looking forward to studying you some more." Grinning, the beast watched them go. Perhaps it was time to change the rules.
"Nal Koor," it said slowly, dropping down on its haunches. "I believe they do not take us seriously." The beakened snout drew into a broad smile and it leaned its head back, howling softly. "No, not at all. Then why don't we give them something they simply cannot ignore?"
What happened next set off multiple alarms and brought both Corran and Luke to the creature's cell immediately. In front of the tightly sealed door and amidst a contingent of worried-looking guards the female scientist was waiting for them, red-faced and flustered.
"You won't believe what happened!" she hissed, waving her hands nervously.
"Not if you don't let us have a look," Corran told her drily.
She threw him a quick smile: "Of course. You will be surprised."
"We can hardly wait," Luke commented sourly as she still did not move to open the door.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Corran growled and simply pushed past her.
The door slid open and he stormed inside, expecting the worst. What he did see though truly was astounding. "Shouldn't we get him some clothes," he asked slowly after he had regained his wits again. The scientist bustled into the room, eyeing the naked man tailor-seated on the floor suspiciously: "He didn't ask for any," she explained finally. The man snorted in quiet amusement. Ignoring the scientist Corran studied the man more closely. He was tall, of slim sinewy built and the most surprising feature was a full-body tattoo, consisting of scars forming a softly curved pattern across his whole body. Remarkable about the scars was that they were slightly raised, as if the cuts had been very deep. His skin was unnaturally pale and his eyes a startling black. When he rose suddenly though the meaning and function of the tattoo became very clear. Plates of chitinous armour slid out of his body along the patterned lines, sealing most of his body. Only his head was left uncovered. Corran gasped in surprise. The stranger smiled at him, revealing a row of sharp white teeth.
"Ah, my dear Jedi friends," he said pleasantly, "What a charming surprise."
Raising his left hand, now completely encased by the armour he gestured towards the force-field controls. The shield flickered once and died. Taking a step back Corran put a hand on the hilt of his lightsaber hanging at his belt. This time he had unmistakably felt the man use the Dark Side.
"Who are you?" Luke asked. "And what?"
The man bowed with an ironic smile, folding his arms in front of his chest: "I am Dymon and this," here he stroked the chitinous plate covering his heart, "is Nal Koor."
The armour rippled slowly and for a second Corran though that he could see a beaked face stare at him.
"That did not really answer my question," Luke put in with a smile.
"I know. And for now you only need to know what you already do."
"That you are using the Dark side and that you two have formed some sort of symbiote?"
"Yes. Very good. I can see that you will go a long way, clever as you are. You do not know me, but I know your kind very well."
Luke shook his head, interrupting him: "We too know you. You are a Sith, am I right?" Dymon smiled.
"A true Jedi Master. Full of hidden wisdom," he remarked sarcastically.
"Is that it?" Corran asked suddenly. "You are here because you feel lonely or something?"
Dymon laughed: "No. You called me. I already told you that."
"And I still don't understand. "
"Then look into your heart Corran, and face the true core of your being."
Corran clamped his mouth shut, frowning deeply. He could feel Luke's eyes on him, could feel the Jedi Master's thoughtfullness. What if what this creature implied was the truth? Corran shook his head slightly.
"What happens now?" he asked finally.
Dymon shrugged: "That does depend on you. I am here to help in any way I can," he added as a clear after-thought.
"Highly believable," Corran snorted angrily and started pacing the room. He wanted to get out of here. The Sith' presence was too disturbing. Far more so than his words. At least that was what he tried telling himself.
"Corran, I did not mean to disturb you."
"Well, maybe I did. But that is not the point. I do see a darkness in you. He can confirm that."
Luke nodded slowly and let out a deep sigh: "Just find your way, Corran. I cannot help you there."
"No. He cannot help you."
"But you can?"
"Thanks, but I'll pass on that offer."
"As you wish."
For a long while they remained silent. It was the scientist who broke the spell by bustling up to Dymon, eyeing him up and down:
"That is a very interesting combination you got there. What species is Nal Koor?" Dymon smiled down at her:
"Perhaps we can discuss this in detail somewhere more - pleasant?"
She blushed slightly: "Of course, how thoughtless."
Corran moved to intercept her as she turned towards the door:
"Wait a minute: You can't just let him run around!"
"I promise to behave," Dymon told him, spreading his hands in mock surrender.
Corran glared at him warningly. But it was Luke who ended the discussion:
"Let them be, Corran. It will be alright."
Grumbling under his breath the Corellian left without turning back. The scientist followed suit, but Luke held the Sith back before he too could leave the room. "I think the two of us need to talk too. And soon," he explained and nodded at the other man, not waiting for an answer. "Yes. Soon."
Striding after the scientist Dymon was brooding. He had their attention, obviously. Now he only needed to gain control. Which was more easily said than done. Yet maybe there was a way. "Excuse me," he said, catching up with the woman, "but we haven't been properly introduced so far. What is your name?" She turned towards him with an easy smile: "I am Doctor Tegra, xenobiologist." - "A pleasure, Doctor." - "Yes. This is so very exciting!" she piped up, blushing again. When she turned away to open the door to what seemed to be her office Dymon bared his teeth at her back. This was going to be excrutiating.
"Do we have an identification?" Luke asked Mara, who was bent over her computer terminal trying to match the Sith to any of the Coruscant records. "Not yet," she sighed, rubbing her temples tiredly. "You need some rest, Mara," her husband told her sternly and started massaging her shoulders. "Nah, not yet. Wait! I have a match!" Luke bent over her shoulder, studying the face intently: "Yes. That is definitely him. Kell Lowin, bioengineer. Interesting." - "That was during the Clone Wars. He supposedly vanished back then," Mara added slowly."Why didn't he give us his real name?" she continued with a frown. "I have no idea."
Mara frowned at her husband: "But you are suspecting something?" He pursed his lips thoughtfully and nodded: "Yes. Which is why I want to talk to him alone. He is holding something back and furthermore I do not belive that he is a Sith." A look of surprise crossed Mara's face: "And what makes you think that?" - "The way he acts. He told us he is a hunter, then he told us he is a Sith, now we learn that he is in fact a bioengineer from back in the Clone Wars." - "Well, maybe he is just a very colourful person," she remarked sarcastically, "Or else schizophrenic." Luke grinned at her: "Perhaps you are right. Let's do a search on his name, Dymon."
At the edge of the Unknown Territories two men were watching the spectacular view laid out before them. Stars were scattered across the darkness of the universe, milky-white swirls painted in the distance. It was an awe-inspiring sight, but the taller of the two was not interested in beauty. Studying the star chart displayed in front of him he seemed to try to match it to the view.
"This is just perfect," he said suddenly and waved his younger companion closer.
His black armour lined with silver shone dully in the ship cockpit's single light source above their heads. Leaning forward the young man pushed the ornate mask he was wearing back to see better.
"Incredible. There are two crossings here. Which one are you going to use?"
The tall man shook his head slightly. He too wore black armour, but his was an entirely different design. Overlapping chitinous plates covered only his arms, shins and torso. The rest of his body was encased in what looked like very thick black fabric.
"I am not sure yet, Dalin. I want to give you a good head-start and ample time to catch a transport headed home. And I want to keep an eye on you for as long as I can. Maybe we can find a crossing closer to Serenphidal."
"I understand. Staging from here would cost us too much time."
"Exactly. Don't rush your assignment. Live with them, fight with them, do whatever you please. But be sure to be over the border before I close it off."
"Good. I will rejoin our vanguard once I get the signal to advance. If you are ready?"
"As ready as can be."
"Then let us begin."
Dymon was lounging in one of Doctor Tegra's visitor chairs watching her study the readouts of the scans he had allowed her to make of him. But that had been half an hour ago. In short, he was bored. "Doctor," he began pleasantly," ignoring Nal Koor's hungry whining in a range too high for the human doctor to hear. Tegra looked at him in surprise.
"What was that?"
" Doctor, do you need me further?"
"Actually yes. I would like to take a blood sample."
Dymon's smile froze: "Is that necessary?"
"Only if you agree. is there any reason why I should not do that?"
"Err, no, not really, it is just blood, after all."
"Thank you," she said and bounced out of her chair, rooting around for a syringe.
Coming back to stand over him she tapped his right arm gently: "Could you remove the armour here, please?"
Nal Koor slid the plate back into his host's body and the doctor almost shrieked when his horned head suddenly appeared apparently out of Dymon's shoulder to watch. Her hand trembling slightly Tegra stabbed the needle-point into Dyon's pale skin. Nothing happened. She frowned, looked at the still empty container and stared at the patient accusingly:
"No blood," she told him slowly.
"See for yourself."
"I can see it, yes. There is blood. You can check that on the screen."
Tegra looked back at her desk in bewilderment: "Maybe," she began and hastened over to the display.
"Doctor. You forgot the syringe," Dymon reminded her mildly and she blushed.
After she had removed the instrument she returned to study the readouts. Finally she turned back to face Dymon with a questioning glance:
"The blood is inactive."
"Congealed, as it would in a dead body."
Dymon bared sharp teeth at her: "I am very much alive."
"You are, but apparently not your body."
"Where are you going, Doctor?"
"I will call security."
"You will do no such thing."
"But - ."
"Please, Doctor. Don't force me to kill you."
She swallowed hard: "Alright. I will keep this to myself. But you first explain to me how this is possible."
The creature's arrival was lively discussed among the Jedi on Coruscant. While most had reservations concerning the sincerity of its offer to help, there were some who thought that
it could provide a stronger opposition against the Yuuzhan Vong. To Luke' s surprise Kyp Durron did not share that particular view. The young Jedi Master had become very thoughtful after the beast's attack on him and apparently he had even sought Corran's council. Now the two men were sitting together, keeping a glum silence among the heated discussion. Wandering over Luke gave both a small smile: "And what is bothering you two?" A quick grin flashed over Corran's face: "Nothing good. Remember when Dymon said that I had called him and that others had too?" Nodding slowly Luke shot a questioning glance at Kyp, who merely shrugged: "I had a dream,a vision maybe. I thought it was nothing. "A harrumph from Corran made him scowl. "Alright. I did not want to tell you because it might have strengthened your opinion that I am walking too close to the dark side. It reminded me too much of what Exar Kun tried with me." This got Luke's undivided attention: "What was it about?" Again a shrug: "Destruction mostly. The ultimate victory over the Yuuzhan Vong. I will not pretend that I did not like the thought of that. But it did feel wrong too." Tapping his lower lip pensively Luke kept silent for a while: "I will talk to him," he told them softly, but when Corran rose suddenly, a deep frown on his face, he knew that the creature had already taken that decision from him.
Dymon strode into the assembly like a krayt dragon among a herd of banthas, trailing a cloak of darkness behind him that shone like a beacon in the presence of the Light. Everyone turned towards him and Luke could feel the rising anxiety nearly suffocate him. Quickly stepping up on the dais he spread his arms wide in a gesture meant both to soothe the Jedi and to welcome their 'guest'. All eyes turning on him he gave them all a tiny smile: "Silence, please. It would seem that the source for all our questions has come to us. Maybe he is willing to give us some answers?" Striding past the front lines Dymon climbed the steps up the raised platform easily to stand beside Luke. He gave the assemled Jedi Knights a curt nod, his face for once without any hidden malice or silent mocking. When he spoke though his voice made the Jedi Master shiver with dread. It was not the words themselves, but there was a hint of disaster like a bad aftertaste in the air, as if the voice itself could spark certain doom. If there ever were a sound for what the people of Alderaan might have felt in the face of their world's destruction it might have sounded like this voice did.
"I have told you that I am a hunter, and that is what I truly am. I have been tracking the Yuuzhan Vong over a long time now, but it has not been until they made their move on your galaxy that I could truly act. Right now my mission is to scout out and asssess your present situation and to relay that information to the forces that follow. Help is on its way. But your assistance is needed too. So far what you have done is good and laudable. But ineffective. I understand your philosophy and in turn I want you to understand that this is not the same as respecting it. So do not expect me to keep your interests in mind. That is your job. Corran Horn was the first to call me so he is who I will answer to, for now."
Standing up Corran took up his new position smoothly: "What kind of help is coming?"
"A fleet has been deployed to support your troops."
"And that will be enough?"
"I doubt it. But the details are not my resort. You will have to wait for our warlord to fill you in on them."
"Is he any good?"
This time a lazy smile appeared slowly on Dymon's face:
"He managed to throw the Yuuzhan Vong out of our realm. Good enough for you, I am sure. But this time we will not stop at that. Steps have been taken to find the reasons for this invasion."
"And here I thought it was because their gods demand the liberation of our worlds."
"I do not care about that, Corran. Gods or no gods, faith is never the reason for warfare. Just look at yourself."
"The Yuuzhan Vong are not us."
Dymon merely smiled.
"And what are you going to do in the meantime? Just twiddle our thumbs and wait?"
"No. Continue your efforts. And I will prepare my troops."
"Those who dare to risk all, those who are unafraid. I have chosen you as I have chosen your comrades, Corran. You will follow me."
"And if we refuse?"
"Then you have lost already."
The same evening Luke decided to make his move on discovering the stranger's true identity. And he knew just who to ask.
Luke gave Doctor Tegra a pleasant smile. She looked up at him from where she had been working on some probes and returned the smile faintly. But her forehead furrowed a bit when she noticed Mara standing next to her husband.
"Is there something I can do for you?"
"Yes, actually you could tell us a bit more about our guest."
"He is hardly that," the doctor reminded Luke slowly.
"Well," Mara put in, "He did chose to return into custody, but only because else Fey'lya would have suffered a heart attack. The Defense Council wasn't best pleased to hear that this creature killed eight guards so far and is still alive and additionally roams around the building freely."
"I doubt that any threat uttered by any politician would give him pause."
"Probably true, Doctor," Luke laughed and gestured towards her readouts. "So. What news?"
Heaving a sigh Tegra straightened up and ran a hand through her hair in an effort to make herself look more presentable. But she just managed to muss her dark mane further:
"As far as I can tell Nal Koor is not entirely sentient. One could best describe him as Dymon's pet. They do not share the same bloodstream, in fact, whenever Nal Koor retreats into the body his armour protects Dymon's organs from the inside, closing around them as a protective shield."
"Interesting. Did he tell you were he came from?"
"Then you just have to ask him, don't you?"
The new voice spun the threesome around to face Dymon leaning nonchalantly in the doorway. Although he was smiling the shadows played havoc with is face, making him look even more predatory than Nal Koor. He left his place to walk towards the still active display and studied the readouts with interest.
"Well," the doctor began pleasantly, "Your place of origin, is that a secret too?"
He shot her a warning glare that she chose to ignore.
"Or maybe you could answer this qestion, "Luke said quietly. "Do you know someone named Kell Lowin?"
Dymon turned on him slowly, his eyes narrowing: "Kell Lowin? Are you kidding me?"
"No. Actually I think it is the other way round. Or do you claim to be this Lowin? You said you are a hunter, not a bioengineer."
"This symbiote is a result of long years of studying and a self-experiment. Nal Koor is a hunter. Combine that with a bioengineer and you have both. It is quite easy to understand."
"True. But what disturbs me is the fact that you seemingly have turned from scientist to warrior."
"To dead," Doctor Tegra muttered under her breath.
"What was that?" the Jedi Master asked, bewildered.
Dymon sighed deeply, and out of his mouth it sounded like th rumble of a landslide. He should have silenced her after all.
"The Yuuzhan Vong destroyed Kell Lowin's laboratories and killed him and his two assistants. Their deaths, this close to a crossing, opened the way for me to follow."
"And you took him along for the ride?" Luke exclaimed, suddenly catching on.
"Yes. As thanks for tipping off my prey to me. Lowin has done me a great favour and I will honor his gift by avenging him."
"A gift? You took over his body?" Mara sounded shocked.
Doctor Tegra merely shrugged. She had known the truth beforehand, after all. And Luke mused that under these circumstances he did not want to know what Dymon really looked like.
"Wait a minute," Mara said suddenly, "Where and when did that happen?"
Dymon merely smiled at her and shrugged: "Who cares?"
The woman standing on the forward bridge of the single ship cruising at the edge of the Unknown Territories on a lonely post frowned deeply when her second announced a visior. Not two, no, but just one. He strode onto the bridge with a warrior's grace, and his earnest expression was only marred a bit by the twinkle in his blue eyes. She stared at him coldly:
"Where did you leave your son?"
"Our son, dear. He is going through the bonding right now."
"I told you both to report back to me."
"Yes, you did."
Rolling her gray eyes in exasperation the woman folded her arms in front of her chest and shook her mane of pitch-black hair. He leaned forward with a smile and touched her left temple softly to stroke along the strands of white shining through there.
"We are on the bridge, you know?" she said, arching her eyebrows coolly.
"And you are my wife. No need for pretense, my love. Not here."
"You are unbelievable, Mallassan."
"And you are - ."
"Spare me," she snorted and whirled around to stare moodily into the distance.
"As you wish, Varella. Then let us speak of the business at hand. The Hunter has apparently found the source of the recent crossings. The Jedi."
"There are much more now than in the past decades. The portals are opening again," he added, awe shining through his voice.
"And what did the Hunter tell them?"
"Not much. He is preparing his troops among them and then he will strike, clearing the way for our soldiers."
"Very well. You will assume command of this battle group."
"And you will enter the Hunter's den?"
"Almost, my love, almost."
"Once Dalin is finished we will leave."
"Good. Keep an eye on my child. You and Elven."
"We will. Do not worry."
Corran sat quietly at the window, waiting for the others to arrive. The sun was setting above Coruscant, washing the room in an orange light and setting the wall aflame with gold. In the middle of it all Dymon stood straight-backed, facing the door, his armour glowing splendidly with the rays of the dying sun. The next in line was Kyp. The young Jedi Master gave Dymon a curious glance and slipped to Corran's side.
"Who else is coming?"
"Well, I met Ganner and Wurth on the way. Maybe a few others."
Corran sighed. This would be fun. But when Jacen Solo stepped gingerly into the chamber his mirth dried on his lips. Hurrying over to the youth he grabbed his shoulders angrily:
"Jacen! What are you doing here of all people?"
The young Solo raised his head haughtily: "You are all making a big mistake. I want to show you just how wrong you are in following him," he added, pointing at Dymon who stared at him curiously.
Approaching the pair slowly a smile spread on the creature's pale face and for a second Corran saw something entirely non-human lurk behind those black eyes.
"A mistake?" Dymon inquired interestedly.
"You are of the Dark Side. We are Jedi. There is no way we can work together," Jacen explained simply.
"Not entirely true," a new voice announced and Corran groaned softly.
"Luke. You too?"
"I am just curious," the Jedi Master said with a smile.
"How can we support him, Uncle Luke?" Jacen put in heatedly.
"A matter of philosophy. Contrary to what Dymon believes we do fight for what we hold dear. We guard Life and the Force. And we will fight for that."
Looking at Dymon with clear blue eyes expectantly Luke folded his hands in front of him, waiting. The creature stared at him for a long time before he broke into a contemptuous laugh:
"You call that fighting?"
Corran almost smiled at that. But only almost:
"What do you call that what you are doing? A massacre?"
"No," Dymon said softly, turning towards the Corellian, "I call it efficient. You believe in Life? Fine. The Yuuzhan Vong believe in Death. And good for them."
"What do you believe in, Dymon?"
The creature merely smiled, but did not answer. Waving the assembled Jedi forward he let them gather around:
"I have selected all of you for different reasons, but the most important is that you are all willing to fight and risk everything. You are strong and capable and though some of you may not survive, rest assured that your deaths will be honored."
Corran did not like Dymon's smile at all when he said that and more than one of the assembled men and women was frowning.
"Our task will be to rid the planets already conquered by the Yuuzhan Vong of their presence and thereby to cut their supplies."
"They can always bring in more ships from wherever they came from!" Jacen piped up.
"By the time they realize our intent it will be too late and the border closed."
"How can you close a portal between two galaxies?"
"With blood, actually," Dymon answered the youngster and bared his teeth at him. "Special blend."
"Close. But that is not our concern. Anyone who wants to leave now is free to go. All others are very welcome."
Considering the circumstance Corran was not in the least surprised that noone took his or her chance to get out of this crazy assignment. Luke is right, we are very willing to fight for what we believe in. Maybe too much so.
Mara was standing at the window of her and Luke's apartment, staring out at the traffic.
She had wrapped her arms around herself and when Luke came in she turned around quickly with a tired smile.
"Do you feel alright?"
She shook her head.
"It will pass."
"Dymon has called a team together. And you would not guess who has signed up voluntarily."
"Leia told me and she is quite upset. But she will let him go. She says it is his choice and additionally she has charged Corran with baby-sitting him."
"I know two someones who won't be happy at all."
"There you go. But it will be dangerous."
"In a war everything is."
"True. You are staying behind?"
"Yes and no. Leia will try to raise the Imperial remnant to help us. I will accompany her. If you want to come along..."
"Of course I will. That is, if I cannot be of use elsewhere..."
Luke snorted softly: "Ever the pragmatic. My love, even if there was something I would not let you go."
"Really?" she asked sweetly. "Wanna bet?"
It was three days later that three teams left for Belkadan. Corran had no idea why Dymon had selected that particular target, but he did not even bother to ask. The creature had turned even more silent than before, revealing nothing. He spent most of his time alone, seemingly in deep meditation. But there was something that was worrying not only Corran.
"How are we going to get into the system without being detected?" Kyp wondered aloud and leaned forward to rest his hands on the table in front of him. Corran sighed:
"I would much rather know how we will get out again."
"The answers to your question are very close at hand, my friends. We will reach our destination in two hours."
"Two hours?" Jacen exclaimed: "We cannot be already there! This journey takes a week at the least!"
"I do not like travelling that slow," Dymon commented drily.
"How did you do that?"
"Let me show you," the creature said with a smile and stepped up to the youth, wrapping his arms around him. Jacen squeaked in surprise, then blushed with embarrasment. Behind him Dymon laughed quietly, shaking his head: "Watch," he told the rest of the crew.
Corran squinted at the pair as Dymon walked them both backwards until they stood shrouded in shadows. And then they were gone. Only to reappear at the opposite wall of the cabin. A few astounded mutterings rose form the assembly, but Corran only stared at Jacen's waxen face. When they vanished again Corran immediately kept his eyes on the last patch of shadows at the door and really, Dymon stepped out of the darkness, dragging the boy along.
"You are using the shadows of planets to get us along faster, is that it?"
"Exactly. And that is how we will land on Belkedan undetected. No slow approach to the surface, no traces."
"Nice trick, that."
"Yes, isn't it?"
Mallassan watched the planet fall away underneath and he already was missing the warm presence of Dalin who usually stood by his side like a silent shadow. His son was on his own now. Well, almost. In a few days his small fleet would join the New Republic forces
and he would have to use all of his diplomatic skills to gain their trust. But, analyzing the recent battles between the New Republic and the Yuuzhan Vong, and after a short feed-back wth the Hunter he knew just where to strike. Dymon had told him of his impending voyage to Belkadan and what he had planned for his team's next mission.
For now Mallassan's fleet would stalk the edges of the crossing, guarding the border until the time was right. Knowing Dymon his team would move swiftly. And once they had reached Belkadan there would be no stopping the Hunter. He had taken up the scent and the warlord just knew that what he was craving now was the taste of his prey's blood. But the Yuuzhan Vong must have learned from experience. Therefore he had asked Dymon to be careful, with little results. Caution was a word as alien to the creature as the Yuuzhan Vong were to this galaxy. Well. The hunter was beyond his control and as long as he could count on him Mallassan knew that they had nothing to fear. While the Yuuzhan Vong were in for a nasty surprise...
Jacen remembered Belkadan not too fondly. In fact, he remembered almost too vividly his capture on this very planet not so long ago. He had almost died, if it hadn't been for his uncle. But this time they were not only two, fortunately. And they were not here to observe. He knew that Dymon was planning to eradicate all alien life on Belkadan, Yuuzhan Vong, their slaves and creatures. The young Jedi had come along for his own purposes, and now was the time to voice his protest.
"We cannot kill the slaves. Maybe there is a way of getting the growths off them," he told Dymon patiently and the creature was listening closely, his black eyes intent on the youth standing before him. But once Jacen was finished he walked away without a comment. "Hey!" he called after him and ran to catch up with the hunter: "Don't I get an answer?"
Not bothering to stop or even slow down Dymon nodded once: "There is a way, but it takes too long. And it might not even succeed."
"But we fight for Life!"
"You call that life? Those people are better off dead, believe me. There is nothing left of their personalities. Not anymore. And besides, we do not have the time to take care of them any other way."
"You just don't care!" Jacen shouted angrily.
He could see Corran coming up towards them when Dymon's armour slid over the creature's head and Nal Koor's glowing eyes bored into him. Dropping on his haunches suddenly Dymon ignored his companion completely, his head swinging from side to side, filtering the scents from the air patiently.
"Jacen," Corran called softly and the young Jedi went to join him. Patting the youth's shoulder the Corellian smiled at him: "The sooner we can defeat the Yuuzhan Vong, the less people will die. And he is right. We do not have the time."
"I have found them" Dymon annouced suddenly and rose again.
"Are we going to attack now?"
"Night is coming soon. We will move then. be prepared."
Es Accar was watching the sunset critically. Standing atop a small hill over-looking the fields he could sense that something was about to happen. And soon. It was just a feeling, but he had sent out his scouts nevertheless. None had returned with news so far. Wether that was a good or a bad sign had yet to be determined. He had arrived on Belkadan only three days ago to assume command after the jeedai's failed attempt at saving the slaves labouring in the fields. He snorted with contempt.
The jeedai were fools to believe that they could stand alone against the might of the Yuuzhan Vong. And yet. His commander thought them dangerous. Shedao Shai had lost two of his kin to the blade of a jeedai already and he had vowed to make that one pay in blood. He had admonished Accar to take care on his post and so he did. When the screaming started down below he was therefore not surpised to see three humans charge into the camp, brandishing glowing blades like madmen. So. They had come after all.
Smiling behind his ornate mask the Yuuzhan Vong commander listened to the hasty reports coming in through the villip perching on his left shoulder. With an almost haughty gesture he snapped out his right arm, alerting the serpent-like creature wrapped around his limb to the danger. The amphistaff uncoiled immediately, baring its fangs, then slid down into his hand at a silent command, its body shivering in anticipation. Striding into the battle unhurriedly Es Accar identified his select target immediately.
The jeedai's silver blade looked almost demure in contrast to the much brighter colors favoured by his companions. But the warrior himself was not demure at all. Moving through the lines of panicking slaves with efficient moves he spotted the Yuuzhan Vong commander almost at the same time that Accar declared him his kill. For a moment their eyes locked. Barking a sharp order Accar sent the slaves flying, clearing the way for him and closed the distance rapidly.
"A worthy opponent," he declared almost reverently and the jeedai simply snorted at him.
Facing the Yuuzhan Vong warrior Corran set his mouth in a grim line, holding his lightsaber in a tight guard. For some reason the other fighters were giving them both a wide berth, but he could feel that Kyp and Jacen were making good progress. In the midst of it all he could even sense Dymon's presence like a dark blade slicing through an ocean of nothingness. But he was careful not to dig too deep into the creature's thoughts and feelings in case he did not like what he would see there. The rest of the team was spreading out around the camp, taking care of the slaves attempting to escape while the four of them were to dispatch of the Yuuzhan Vong. Or at least try to. Apart from the one standing right in front of him Corran had seen five more warriors, and he hoped that Jacen would be alright.
Panting loudly Jacen had no time to orientate himself when two Yuuzhan Vong converged on him suddenly. He dropped to one knee, spun around and impaled the first on his lightsaber´s blade. Bringing the laser sword up he ripped the Vong open from crotch to crown, then pivoted and swung at the next, whose amphistaff caught the blade cleanly and yanked it out of his grasp, dying. Suddenly disarmed, Jacen stood rooted in place, shocked. But almost immediately Kyp was by his side.
He had used the force to jump over the three warriors opposing him when he had seen the younger Jedi imperiled and helpless. A sudden sharp pain in his right ankle made Kyp gasp, but he fought on, keeping his body between the now four attackers and Jacen. "What are you waiting for?" he screamed angrily at the youth. An amphistaff slashed at him out of nowhere. He screamed in pain when the living weapon ripped across his left arm.
Calling his lightsaber to him, and feeling its reassuring weight in his hand again, Jacen ignited it and froze when Kyp went down, thrown back by the vicious attack. Don´t panic! he told himself and jumped over the fallen Jedi Master. Bringing up his blade he stabbed forward at the nearest warrior, but the Yuuzhan Vong was too fast. He slapped down with his staff, catching Jacen above the ear. Before blacking out Jacen was aware of Dymon going for the warrior's throat with an animal snarl.
Corran had been circling his opponent cautiously, ignoring the screams and shouts around him. Suddenly though the Yuuzhan Vong moved towards him, his amphistaff flicking towards his head in a lightning -quick move. The moment Corran backed away the other ducked underneath his blade, kicking him straight in the chest and sending him flying. Crashing to the ground hard Corran shook off the pain and rolled out of the way before the amphistaff could impale him. But the Yuuzhan Vong managed to cut at him nevertheless. Another kick missed Corran just barely and the Jedi brought up his blade again, slashing at the warrior's legs. His blade bounced off the black armour harmlessly and Corran stabbed again, catching only empty air as the alien jumped clear of his reach.
The pause in their battle gave him time to check on his comrades. Jacen was out of it, it seemed and Kyp was just climbing to his feet, holding his bleeding arm. A few meters away Dymon was savagely burying into a downed Yuuzhan Vong's throat, spraying blood everywhere. A second warrior moved in to intercept Kyp. But by then Corran had his own worries as his opponent sommersaulted over his head, his amphistaff catching the Corellian off-guard. Its fangs raked across his back, leaving deep wounds and Corran froze for a second when he felt the amphistaff's poison like ice reach for his consciousness. Behind him the alien laughed in satisfaction. Dymon streaked past Corran with an angry howl, attacking at high speed to throw the Yuuzhan Vong to the ground. And then, just as the warrior evaded the hunter skillfully Corran felt it.
"Don't kill him!" he heard himself scream hoarsely, his blood singing in his ears as he fell, moaning softly.
But he needn't have bothered. Apparently Dymon had felt it too. The warrior lay unmoving, his armour ripped into shreds right above his chest and stared at the creature crouching next to his head, its red eyes stuyding him curiously.
"What is it?" Kyp asked as he hurried over.
"I do not know yet," Corran weezed, "But I could definitely feel his move before he made it."
The young Jedi Master stared at him: "What? You have been poisoned. You sure you are not hallucinating?" Corran shook his head weakly:
"No I distinctly felt it."
Jacen dropped to the ground by his side: "Felt what?"
"The Force," Corran whispered and fell silent.
He was sure that he was hallucinating when he woke up to the sound of someone calling his name. Actually it seemed more like several someones, their voices whispering and echoing in his ears. Corran opened his eyes with difficulty and stared at the being bent over him with an ironic smile, gasping in surprise. It was humanoid, but there was a hint of something else lurking behind its black eyes, as if the universe were looking at him out of the stranger's powdery-white face. Frowning a bit Corran tried to tie the face to his memories and finally he recognized the creature. "Dymon?" he whispered weakly.
Despite a certain resemblance to Kell Lowin the hunter's features were all angles and edges, his cheekbones nearly poking through the skin, the line of his jaw sharp as a knife. Except for the black orbs that passed as his pupils there was nothing round or soft about him. The corners of his mouth looked as if someone had horizontally drawn a knife across them and his eyes were mere slits set into his skull. And apparently his eyelashes had been burned away long ago by the dark fire roaring in the black distance behind. Nevertheless those demonic features had a beauty to them that was hard to grasp, as if looking through a broken mirror.
"Am I dead?" Coran asked softly, his eyes wandering over the hunter's glistening black armour.
"No. Not yet. Keep still."
"Where am I?"
"Safe. Now shut up. You have been poisoned."
Dymon reached out to lay a hand on Corran's forehead, smiling dreamily. And then he was gone. The Jedi felt his skin crawl as he found himself all alone in this misty netherworld, and a sudden coldness began seeping through his entire body. When something red flashed behind his eyes he screamed, panicking, and did not stop until he could see the hunter again, licking his lips and shaking his head in quiet amusement.
"Don't you ever do that again!" Corran demanded shakily, clutching at his throat.
"The poison had already seeped into your blood-stream. What was I to do?"
"Anything but enter my body without my explicit permission!"
"I haven't asked for permission to enter your mind either. Why should I start now?"
"You mean this isn't real?"
"Who knows? The portals are opening again. And reality is just a matter of perspective."
"Oh yes. trust me on this. And now let's go back. Your friends are worrying."
Kyp's blue eyes were narrowed suspiciously as he looked down at Corran. Apparently they had brought him back to the ship again. Shaking his head slowly the Corellian Jedi sighed.
"Are you alright?" Jacen piped up.
"Sure," he mumbled, not at all certain about that himself.
"Really?" Kyp asked coolly. "You do not experience any strange effects or something?"
"Like a sudden overwhelming urge to kill someone? The desire to use shadows instead of the doorway?" The younger Jedi was actually grinning by now.
That made Corran sit up real fast to stare at the creature standing a bit further away, smiling.
"You know what he did?"
"Yes. He explained it in all detail."
"Ah? How charming. Unfortunately he necglected to tell me anything at all."
"You were unconscious."
"That's no excuse for-. Right. What did you do to our Yuuzhan Vong friend?"
"We are keeping him in a force-field and he surely is not too excited about that."
"Is he awake?"
"Yes. And you can talk to him at length while the rest of us goes out there to take care of the slaves that escaped and any Yuuzhan Vong that might be lurking about."
"And we will burn down their fields," Dymon added quietly.
"And that too."
Heaving himself upright Corran swung his legs off the bunk he had been lying on. But he did not try to stand up. Not yet. Eyeing Jacen critically he saw the youth's face sour as he anticipated what Corran was going to say next:
"Jacen, you are staying with me."
"No but, son. They can handle this without you."
In the back of the small assembly Dymon was smiling at him openly. He gave the Jedi a small nod, then vanished from the cabin with Kyp throwing him a long, hard glance before he left too. One by one the rest filed out after them, and in the end only Jacen was left. Dropping onto the bunk next to Corran he was studying his boots quietly:
"I am not a child anymore, you know?"
"Yes. Sure. and I did not mean it that way. But I am still a bit weak and when we interrogate our fine prisoner you might spot something that I miss."
"None of us has been able to feel the Force around him, Corran. Are you sure about what you felt?"
"Yes. Come one, give me a hand here."
Es Accar was studying his prison with disdain. The jeedai had erected some sort of force-field to prevent him from getting away. And not only that. They had confined him to the ship's machine room on purpose. He smiled at that a bit. Standing gingerly in the middle of the small space he turned around when the sound of approaching feet caught his attention. Bowing slightly towards his adversary the Yuuzhan Vong commander took to examining the jeedai's smaller companion closely. This one did seem unafraid, a laudable trait in one so young. But there was something else here too. Curiosity? Disgust? He was not sure.
"I am Corran Horn, Jedi Knight. Since we haven't been properly introduced before, maybe you would care to give me your name too?"
"You are feeling well?"
"Yes, actually. Does that bother you?"
"Not at all. My name is Es Accar."
"You were the commander?"
He gave Horn a curious glance: "I still am, jeedai."
"Not with your troops annihilated. Your scars, you know? A dead give-away to your rank. Sorry we had to take your armour, by the way."
Jacen watched the Yuuzhan Vong with open curiosity. The tall warrior was indeed positively covered with scars and even without the armour he did look quite deadly. There was a quiet strength about him that the young Jedi found surprising. He did not seem afraid or anything, despite being surrounded by hated machines. Suddenly he dropped down on his haunches into a more comfortable position, regarding Jacen coolly.
"Where did you find the Hunter? Or did he find you?"
"You know what he is?" Jacen was astounded.
"Of course. We have fought him before."
"But his appearance has changed, hasn't it?" Corran asked suspiciously.
"Has it? I did not notice."
"If he is here his allies won't be far," Es Accar mused aloud.
"Too bad that you won't have any chance to report that to your superiors."
Es Accar shrugged his shoulders lazily: "It does not matter."
The Yuuzhan Vong smiled: "We have beaten them before and we will again."
Corran threw Jacen a doubtful look and the young Jedi Knight frowned back at him. Dymon had told them that their warlord had defeated the Yuuzhan Vong, hadn't he? There was something decidedly odd about this whole affair and Jacen was fairly certain that he knew who exactly was playing false here. Unfortunately they would have to wait until the Hunter returned before they could get some answers. But maybe then they could shed some light on the truth of what was real and what was not.
Luke Skywalker was quietly stalking the hallways of the warship Ralroost in search of his sister. Leia had had a hard time convincing the Senate that they indeed needed some help against the Yuuzhan Vong, and even though Fey'lya had acidly countered that she better not enlist such allies as Dymon again, he had granted her this mission. And the Jedi Master sincerely hoped that Corran's team was making some progress. They had promised to report back once their trip to Belkadan was finished and so far they had not. He was not entirely sure if he should be worrying yet. Stopping suddenly Luke frowned. He had been relying on the Force to guide him through the ship while immersed in deep thought, but now, instead of his sister's quarters, he found his own in front of him. Shaking his head he opened the door and went in.
"Luke? Is that you?" He froze upon hearing that voice. Rushing into the bedroom he stared at the dark blonde woman smiling up at him, her grey eyes twinkling. Callista.
"I- ," he began, but found himself at a loss of how to continue.
"What is it, my love? Are you alright?"
Luke did not answer. This was not real, could not be real. "Callista?"
She smiled at him. "Yes?"
"Where is Mara?"
Standing up she wrapped her arms around him, nuzzling her head against his neck:
"My poor Luke. She died. Don't you remember?"
"No. This can't be. She is alive." Shaking his head in denial Luke pushed Callista away.
Blinking his eyes he found himself back in the hallway, standing in front of the door. He took a deep breath, a very deep breath, before he opened it again.
"Mara?" he called hoarsely. There was no answer. The sadness enveloping his mind suddenly weighed him down, almost bringing him to his knees. She was dead. And he still could not believe that she had finally lost her battle against that illness. Even Dymon had been helpless, telling him that the spores were too mature for him to heal her. Stumbling blindly into his bedroom Luke flopped onto the bed, sighing deeply.
Someone slapped his face. Hard.
"Luke! Stop rambling! What is it with you?" He stared up into Mara's emerald eyes, disbelieving.
"You are alive," he stammered, shaking his head.
"You would prefer something else?" she retorted icily and propped her hands on her hips threateningly.
"No. It's good to see you - so well."
"Something's happening. I had these strange - visions - dreams, I do not know what it was. But I think it's important."
Dymon was loping ahead of the band, partly to be able to warn them if any Yuuzhan Vong showed up and partly to cool off. Being around the Jedi became demanding at times, and not only because they had twisted reality in such a fashion that he could barely recognize
their connection to the Force at all. On the other hand they fairly shone with its brightness, another thing he found hard to understand. No wonder they could not feel the Yuuzhan Vong at all.
The only bright light, and the fact that he even thought in those terms proved that being around the Jedi was really bad for his psyche, was that his troops had finally arrived. No, not his troops. His allies. They would team up with the New Republic forces and, if he was any judge, they would encounter some Jedi too. Dymon was truly curious how Mallassan would react to them. Maybe he could teach them a lesson or two. There was actually one who was showing promise, no, two actually, but two out of a hundred was ridiculous. Still, if he could show them the true way of Life they might come to embrace their post as guardians fully, as he did.
Stopping suddenly he dropped on his haunches and closed his eyes. He moved foward cautiously, amidst the vines pulsing with energy to feed the still immature coral skippers further off. Searching further Dymon followed the trail of power to its very core. With a tiny sigh he rubbed his head against the heavy roots. Well, there was no way around it.
Kyp Durron was racing along the natural pathway through the labyrinthine maze of vines when he felt a huge disturbance in the Force, darkness so black that it seemed to be on the edge of nothingness. On his heels Ganner Rhysode and Wurth Skidder were running along, leaving the rest of the band farther behind. Kyp had ordered them to guard their backs and, miraculously, they obeyed. Well, not such a miracle at all. Even though Corran was officially in command Kyp was certain that he was not the right man for the job. They could not use any caution to slow them down if they wanted to stop this invasion at all.
Panting he came to a skidding halt next to Dymon, who was standing very still, staring straight ahead. The Jedi followed his gaze and froze. Facing them were six Yuuzhan Vong warriors, apparently arguing over the vines or something. "Where are your comrades?" Dymon hissed. But Kyp simply pushed past him, ready to ignite his lightsaber: "We won't need more. They are only six, after all." When he found himself being whirled around again Kyp was taken aback for a moment, but only before his eyes met Dymon' face. By then he was positively terrified. Behind the hunter the darkness was looming up into the sky, a tidal wave of destructive feelings, a wall of anger. It had swallowed Dymon whole and only his glowing eyes were visible in the gloom. The claws sinking into Kyp's shoulders though were very real and slowly pushed him down on his knees.
"Fight them now and you will lose your troops," the creature whispered coldly.
"Be silent. They will be looking for us soon enough. They will follow our trail back to the ship. Lay an ambush within the first mile across the way. Now."
With these words Dymon's claws ripped down across Kyp's chest, as if marking him in some way. The Jedi suppressed a pained scream and rose shakily as the hunter let him go. Dymon did not spare him one glance. Looking back over his shoulder Kyp saw the Yuuzhan Vong start talking exitedly. "They have become aware of your presence here. You should be leaving." Cursing soundlessly Kyp shot a hard glare at Ganner and Wurth who both wore incredulous expressions on their faces. Well, maybe he was not in command after all. "Let's go, he told them with a sigh and waved them on," We'll inform the rest as soon as we meet with them."
Shaking his head quietly the hunter waited until they had retreated far enough. The Yuuzhan Vong had spread out in a loose line, searching, and they were coming straight at him. Stalking forward Dymon wore a smile on his lips. This one was head-strong and ready to take risks, but his approach was not worthy of a commander. He did not think ahead. And he did not realize that this battle was not a matter of butchering your enemy. It was a matter of survival. And more. Allowing his living armour to take over Dymon smiled at Nal Koor's roared challenge that echoed away through the night, raising excited comments from the warriors opposing him. They were too young to remember him, he knew, but they recognized death when they heard it. Or saw, for that matter. Straightening up from his crouch Nal Koor launched himself at his opponents in one fluid movement. Dymon laughed: Let the dance begin.
Corran had retreated back onto his bunk and was resting when he heard the others return. There was a heated discussion going on, apparently and, not surprisingly, Kyp and Dymon showed up at his door in the matter of seconds.
"What went wrong?" he asked wearily but became wide awake when he saw Kyp's injuries. "Did you run into Yuuzhan Vong?"
"That too," the younger Jedi growled and shot a hard glare at the hunter, who seemingly ignored him.
"And what's the story?"
"We - ambushed them. They won't bother us anymore. The coral skippers are dying and I guess we can call it a success."
"This - creature - attacked me."
"Ah. Nothing new there. But why?"
"He was assuming command," Dymon explained coldly. "And he nearly ruined our expedition. He thinks he can defeat the Yuuzhan Vong easily. A mistake. But that is a lesson he will have to learn the hard way if he does not change his views."
Corran smiled at him: "Since you are mentioning it: There is something I've been meaning to ask you: Es Accar told me that they defeated you and your allies."
The Hunter bared his sharp teeth in what might have been a smile: "They lost, Corran. But they are not even aware of exactly what it was they have lost. They will learn, as will you."
"What do you mean?" Kyp and Corran asked almost simultaneously and if the matter had not been so serious the consternated looks they gave each other might have been funny.
"I told you that the Yuuzhan Vong believe in death, and in doing so they do not fear it, they embrace it, as they embrace pain. It is a rather strange belief for you to understand since yours is quite the opposite. What is more, though, there is nothing the Yuuzhan Vong consider evil. Blasphemous maybe, like machines, for example, but where you protect life they seek to control it, thinking that this way they can accomplish a deeper bonding with it. Which is complete foolishness, by the way."
"So what they have lost is that distinction between good and evil, yes?"
"And what's so bad about that?"
"The bad thing is that they have apparently realized that there is something missing. Which is why they are here."
"To learn from us?"
"Yes, I think so. Indeed."
Corran gave the hunter a look. And then another one. This did sound reasonable and everything, but if he had to rely on this coming from Dymon of all people...
"And how are we going to defeat them now?"
"I already told you that our job is not to defeat them but to cut their supply lines. And as Kyp has stated we are ready to move on."
"Alright. Where to?"
"The planet is called Gaqui. We will go there next."
"What about Es Accar?"
"Keep him. I think he could be useful."
Mara was eying her husband with some concern. He had told her of his visions in great detail and what disturbed her especially was that in all of them she had died. She did not think herself weak and she would not give up easily, but still, Luke seemed to think that those visions were important. Finally shaking her head she tried to shed her somber mood:
"Why did you want to talk to Leia in the first place?"
His head came up and he looked at her in surprise:
"Didn`t I tell you? Doctor Tegra called. I had asked her to do some further research on Kell Lowin. Do you remember that Outbound Flight project before the Clone Wars?"
"I have heard of it."
"Apparently Palpatine had one going on too, under Lowin's command. They vanished, just like the Jedi Masters."
"But we know that Thrawn attacked the Outbound Flight and destroyed the ship."
"Yes, I know. But the fact that Kell Lowin disappeared before the Clone Wars does not necessarily mean that he died then too."
"The reverse is also true, Luke. But I can feel that there is something more. What were you thinking of?"
"Dymon said that Lowin and his assistants were killed by Yuuzhan Vong."
"And from the presence of that corpse Corran and Ganner found on Bimmiel we can safely assume that the Yuuzhan Vong have been to this galaxy before, scouting the area, so to speak."
"Doctor Pace said that this one was slaughtered by native slashrats."
Mara envisioned a creature with an apparently inborn hatred for the Yuuzhan Vong, with razor-sharp claws and teeth and glowing red eyes. And then she understood.
"I know what you mean. Then Dymon killed Lowin and the Yuuzhan Vong who attacked his laboratories? But when? Wouldn't he have acted earlier on the threat if he had already been here at the eve of the Clone Wars?"
"Yes, that is what I have been asking myself too. Maybe Corran can find something out."
"If he ever reports back."
Tailor-seated on the floor Dalin was meditating. So far his mission had been quite relaxing, but he had a feeling that it would not stay that way much longer. Right now he was on his way to Gaqui where he hoped to find his ticket for traveling beyond the border. His father would meet with the New Republic forces soon now and undoubtedly by then the Yuuzhan Vong would have realized that someone was raiding their supplies. They would send more forces and to prevent that Mallassan had to close off the border. He would give Dalin as much time as he needed, his son knew, but better to make it fast. If they had to make a stand at the border his own mission would be endangered. And he could not and would not risk the Yuuzhan Vong learning of it too soon.
Still, he thought that he had found an ally who would not only help him in attaining what he needed, but who would also make a very good object of studying the ways of the Jedi. Dymon had praised Corran Horn highly, his insight and his willingness to learn what others did not even dare to apporach. The other one the Hunter was quite taken with was Jacen Solo. The youth did show promise to become a true Guardian and Dalin could understand Dymon's excitement about that very well. It seemed that the Hunter was anxious to train the boy as soon as possible and that was something that gave the young warrior pause. The Hunter should be concentrating on his mission. His father and his forces relied on him, after all. Shaking his head Dalin cleared his thoughts of unwanted distractions. Dymon knew his duties and he had always fulfilled them. He would not start neglecting them now.
Luke stood at the viewport, his hands folded behind his back, studying the dagger shape of the Imperial Star Destroyer peacefully cruising towards their tiny fleet with some concern. True, Leia had met High Admiral Palleon before and she was sure that he would help, but what if it was not his to decide? Politicians sometimes took a very different view from warriors, sometimes foolish even, and, looking at what was going on in the New Republic, the Jedi Master sincerely hoped that Palleon at least was free to move in whatever direction he chose.
Turning around he gave his sister a small smile. But the worry in her eyes irritated him.
"When are we going to meet with them?"
"A few hours. There are some matters of protocol to observe first and other things. But soon enough." Suddenly she frowned at something beyond his shoulder: "What is that?"
Whirling back towards the viewport Luke stared at the five ship that had suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere. They had intersected the Star Destroyer's path and the huge warship was slowing down visibly. Undoubtedly the crew would try hailing the intruders, and when the Ralroost suddenly lurched forward Luke was certain that the Admiral did not want his potential allies to think that they might not be welcome.
"Do you get a feel of them?" Leia asked quietly, her voice tense as she too concentrated.
"No. Not yet. But we are getting closer fast. You notice anything unusual about them?"
"They are the ugliest ships I have ever seen," she answered coolly and stepped up to his side.
"Yes, you are right," Luke barked a short laugh. "But that is not what I meant. The formation. Like predators closing in on a prey."
"It's a standard deployment, Luke. You should know that."
"Not what I mean. The way they - move. It's not mechanical."
Standing on the bridge of his flagship Mallassan made a mental note of asking the High Admiral for a tour around his star destroyer. Already demands and questions were pouring in over communications, but he had ordered to maintain silence. First he wanted to know how the New Republic ships would react. When the lead ship of the small fleet assembled in open space moved towards them, her sister ships following suite, he smiled in satisfaction. Good. Whoever was in command over there was not only a warrior, but also a politician. And impulsive. Which was even better.
"Hail the New Republic flagship," he ordered the comm officer and set himself to wait.
"My Lord. Call coming in."
"Thank you. Let them know that we are friendly. Let all of them know."
Kyp Durron had not been able to sleep. Although they would reach Gaqui in a day at the most and all the others were taking the opportunity to get some rest, he felt on edge. And the reason for that was lounging in the rec couch, studying the inactivate holo-chess board. Kyp stood in the doorway, watching Dymon closely. Both did not move for quite some time, but then the hunter turned his head towards the Jedi and smiled.
"Ah. The ambitious guardian again. What did Corran tell you?"
"He said that I was second. And as long as he's alive it will stay that way."
"Do you have a problem with me?" Kyp snapped, folding his arms in front of his chest.
"No," Dymon answered lazily and unfolded his long limbs to stand up gracefully. "But I believe that you want to provoke me in a way."
"Why? Because I did not let you charge ahead? Because I did not let you get yourself killed?"
"Get myself killed? You yourself said we had to be ready to die."
"I said ready to take risks, not ready to die. Now that would be plain foolishness. What good would you be dead, can you tell me?"
"No but, Kyp Durron. Death is my ally. Not yours."
"Are you telling me that you are unbeatable?" the Jedi snorted, disbelieving.
Dymon shook his head gravely:
"Not at all. If you chose to fight me you would stand a fair chance, I believe. You might even manage to defeat me. Others have succeeded in that before. But we are working together. And that is why one must lead and the others follow."
"Corran, me, whoever knows the rules and the dangers. And you, my friend, do not know them at all."
"Fine. So I am useless, reckless and stupid. That what you're saying?"
"No. It's what you said," the hunter answered with a smile.
Rolling his eyes in exasperation Kyp threw his hands wide and shook his head:
"Great. Another smart-ass. Where is Corran anyway?"
Es Accar was precariously balancing himself on his haunches, at the same time keeping an eye on the Jedi across from him. Horn had taken a place on the ladder leading into the machine room and he had been keeping quiet so far. Accar was curious:
"Why Gaqui?" he asked slowly.
Corran snorted: "You tell me. The hunter selected that one. Dunno why."
"And you do not care? What if he is leading you astray?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't trust him."
"And trust you instead?" the other laughed, shaking his head. "I don't think so."
"Others have trusted him before and been led into disaster."
"We will not make that mistake, believe me."
Es Accar's eyes flickered in quiet amusement: "No, you are right. You will not."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, good. Not another mysterious comment by our mysterious prisoner. You know, I am getting tired of your keeping secrets."
"And yet you come here over and over again."
"Maybe you are just asking the wrong questions."
"Really? Wanna talk about philosophy or something?"
"Yes, I would like that. You serve life, you say. Yet you use this - Force - as if it were a tool."
"Not correct. Using the Force is not the same as bending it to your will. Or, for that matter, not the same as enslaving living beings and killing them piecemeal. Or training beings as weapons."
"Yet it makes us one with them."
"But not one with the Force, with Life."
Es Accar snorted contemptuously: "You speak of Life as if it were your god. Yet death is your master. When he calls you will fall. And life will not save you."
Corran stared at him for some time. But when he spoke again the anger in his voice was unmistakable:
"Then tell me, why are you here? Why don't you just kill your young ones, kill yourself, why are you still alive and existent?"
"We serve our gods. We seek to become as elated as they are."
"You are a man full of irony. But you do not understand."
"Neither do you. So we are even."
"And that is supposd to make me feel better?"
"If you want to."
Accar smiled. Horn was not easily swayed and clearly he had found a place for himself, one he was content with. But he was arrogant too. Somehow though the warrior knew that if the Jedi could be shown the truth he might become one of them. The fact that he was willing to talk at all was a good sign and if Accar could manage to make him even more curious... It all boiled down to the Hunter, didn't it? The Jedi was intrigued with the creature. Understandably. Rising slowly Accar kept his eyes fixed on Corran and the Jedi followed his lead after the slightest moment of hesitation.
"I wonder," Horn began anew." What is the Force to you?"
"What? You just said -"
"Surprised? Just because death defeats life does not mean that life is inferior."
"There is a saying, no, a statement: There is no death, there is the Force. Does that ring a bell?"
"I am not sure what you mean."
"I mean: Have you heard it before? What do you make of it?"
"Life goes on. Is that it? But death goes on too."
Corran opened his mouth as if to answer, but then his lips pressed together tightly, his eyes hardening. After a while he shook his head gently:
"I guess I'll have to think about that. After all I wouldn't know how death would change my - existence. There are theories, but I think I see what you mean."
Turning around the Jedi looked up the stairs, frowning:
"What's up, Jacen?"
"Kyp and Dymon are having a - an argument."
"Alright. I'm coming."
He threw one last look at Accar and the warrior could see the doubt in his eyes. Corran pounded up the stairs, leaving him in the silent darkness again. Settling down on the floor Es Accar closed his eyes. If he only knew what the Hunter was planning... But he had the feeling that Gaqui would bring an answer to all his questions.
"You set them up!"
"And why not? I don't see your problem, Durron."
"You don't think they have learned by now? That they might have found a way to deal with you?"
Corran raced into the rec area, eyes blazing. He could hear Dymon laugh bevor he answered:
"And you think I would just roll over and die even if they did? I have met defeat more times than you can count and I always survive. Ah, Corran. There you are," he added coolly and turned to face the other Jedi.
"What is going on here?" Corran demanded, giving each of the assembled team a hard glance. Some were grinning, others looked thoughful or even disgusted. And he had the nagging feeling that he had just missed something important: "Well?"
Kyp growled something unintelligible at Dymon before he drew himself up haughtily:
"Do you know why we are going to Gaqui?"
"Not yet. But you will tell me, I am sure. So?"
"He and his allies apparently already have chosen their battle-ground: Ithor."
"Ithor? Wait, I'm not tracking here. What has Ithor got to do with Gaqui?"
Dymon shrugged: "Everything, so to say. The Yuuzhan Vong will face something there that could spell doom for their troops and if they want to get to the root of the problem they will have to conquer Ithor. It's a tree. Native to Ithor. They will mount a major fleet to get to the planet. And we will give them a bloody nose for their trouble."
"All that effort to get them to Ithor? Why not send an invitation?"
Dymon laughed: "I had thought about that too, believe me, but that would only be half as much fun, am I right? No. Gaqui it is and we will be there any time now."
"And why did Kyp claim that you set them up?"
"An argument over the past."
"So you have met them before?"
The Hunter's eyes became black slits into infinity: "When all is said and done, Corran, I have met everyone before. Or better, everyone meets me at least once in their lifetime. The Jedi did, the Sith and the Vong. And you did too. Each one of you."
Folding his arms in front of his chest Corran leaned back a bit and gave the creature a doubtful look:
"You say you are a Hunter and a warrior, a scientist - I get the feeling that you can be whatever you want. As long as it serves your purposes."
"Very true, Jedi. There is no Life without Death and no Light without Dark, and no Good," he paused to shake his head with a tiny, delighted chuckle," without Evil."
Luke walked over to join his sister and his wife on the bridge. The two women were standing close together, watching the Bothan bent over the comm console pensively.
Admiral Kre'fey was disturbed. The five alien ships were messing up the readings. Although they were far smaller than his cruiser and the High Admiral's Star Destroyer their mass was unbelievably high. He raised his head to look over at the three people assembled farther back.
"Master Skywalker," he called softly and waited for the man to join him. Pointing at the five yellow blips on the radar readout he gave the Jedi a quizzical look: "What do you make of it?"
Luke shrugged: "I cannot get a feel for them, but they claim to be friendly. Did you try a holo-connection?"
"If they are Vong in diguise that would hardly help."
"Then we meet with them."
"Yes. Their commander has already made an offer: he will come over here. Alone."
"That is what he claims."
"We will be prepared, don't worry. High Admiral Palleon is already on his way. This should become very interesting, don't you think?" he added and turned towards the viewport. "Indeed."
It was an hour later that they welcomed the Imperial commander. Luke was impressed by the calmness he felt from Palleon and surprised by what he felt from Leia. Relief? Hope? Probably both. But he understood that they needed all the help they could get. Finally they were waiting for the last participant of this meeting to arrive. Nothing was stirring over with the alien fleet though and Luke was getting uncomfortable. But a sudden sharp intake of breath from Mara caught his attention. Turning around to the sound of blaster rifles being raised his eyes fell on a tall human stepping out of the shadows by the far wall of the conference room the rest of them was occupying. He wore a black uniform and no armour except for a collar protecting his neck. Nodding at the assembly he gave them a cool smile and Luke noticed that he was apparently unarmed. Almost immediately Admiral Kre'fey stepped up to the newcomer, looking him up and down critically:
"We have been expecting you. Some intrductions would be in order. I am Admiral Kre'fey of the New Republic task force. This is High Admiral Palleon, supreme commander of the Imperial Remnant's forces, Jedi Masters Skywalker and Jade Skywalker, and Ambassador Organa Solo. And you are?"
The tall stranger's blue eyes twinkled as he smiled: "I know all of you already, but thank you for refreshing my memory. I am Mallassan kel Lowin es Tegra, commander of this task force."
Luke's mind did a double-flip: "Kell Lowin?" he exclaimed, aghast. This man did look nothing like the one he had seen on the holo-image of the long-dead bioengineer. And nothing like Dymon either. Well, maybe a bit except for the black hair and the moustache. "A relative of yours?"
Mallassan nodded slowly: "I believe he was my brother's grandchild's son."
"You don't look that old, "Mara commented drily.
"Time has no meaning, really. I did not know of this Lowin or his family until - someone- pointed it out to me."
"The Hunter?" Leia asked and Luke could see his frown mirrored on her face."I think you owe us an explanation."
"I owe you nothing, Ambassador," the stranger replied sharply.
"Admiral Kre'fey harrumphed once: "Your task force, commander. There aren't, by any chance, some more ships?"
"Why should there be more?"
"Well, it is quite small. You have fought the Yuuzhan Vong before?"
"Of course. I see what you mean, but rest assured, we can stand our ground easily."
"Without shields?" Palleon cut in quietly. So far he had bee keeping very silent, but this seemed to be bothering him immensely.
"We don't need shields," Mallassan answered contemptuously, "They aren't any good anyway."
"Your ships must be a very strange design."
"Actually I was thinking the same of your fleet, Admiral," the other retorted and gave Kre'fey a cool smile. "Very interesting. All of your questions will be answered in time. For now though we have to move quickly. You, Admiral, I want to take your fleet to Gaqui. You will find a Yuuzhan Vong task force waiting. Not for you, though. You have a team there, under the command of one Corran Horn, I believe?"
"Correct. What about them?"
"They need some rescuing. Don't stay there longer than necessary. You, High Admiral, I would like to accompany my forces to Ithor, for that is where the Vong's main force will strike. And where we will throw them back."
Leia stepped forward cautiously. "Then there is no chance for a diplomatic solution?"
"That is not your question, I believe. Am I right, Ambassador?" Mallassan replied smoothly.
"Yes," Leia seemed surprised. "A friend of ours, went to meet the Yuuzhan Vong as emissary."
"He knows who is commanding their forces?" the warlord asked, incredulous.
"Best forget about that. Your friend is most probably dead."
"Don't tell us. You sent an emissary too?" Mara asked sweetly: "And they killed him?"
"Tried to, anyway. No. If you want peace you have to convince those who command the warriors."
"Then we are wasting our time here," Luke said slowly.
"Not at all. We will send two emissaries to the Yuuzhan Vong homeworlds. With some backup, of course.They will begin the talks with the High Priests."
"High Priests. I see," Leia mused. "And those emissaries, are they good?"
"If they weren't I would hardly send them. My son is one of them."
"He is a diplomat?" Leia inquired, now curious.
"No. He is a guardian. How to explain that best? Yes, of course. The guardians were once known under a different title. They were called Jedi."
Es Accar greeted the Hunter with a smiled. He walked closer to the force-field unconcernedly, his eyes searching the other for any clues as to what he felt. But Dymon kept silent, folding his arms in front of his chest. He was wearing his full-body armour and Accar found it strange to look into Nal Koor's glowing eyes. Additionally he felt his own body respond to the alien fiercely. Concentrating again he shook his head slowly:
"We will reach Gaqui presently."
"We will accomplish our mission, of course."
"What about me?"
"I think I have found a way. How far did you get with Corran?"
"He is listening and thinking about what I told him. A good sign, I believe."
"Yes, indeed. He will have ample opportunity to satisfy his curiosity once we are finished here."
"Then our forces are in place?"
"Yes. I want the two of you to work together. He is surely worthy and we need him."
"What about the boy? Why him?"
Dymon smiled: "The way he thinks is - different. Wise, yet naive."
"Just like you."
The Hunter hesitated:
"Tell me about your commander."
"Shedao Shai is very emotional. He believes in honour and he is righteous. Not foolish, though. But as a strategist I would fear his superior more."
"Who is that?"
"Nas Choka, the battle master."
"You will meet with this Choka."
"He is not my commander, Shedao is."
"For now. But who knows what the future will bring?"
They landed the ship undetected a few miles from the nearest settlement. It was dark when they finally left their shelter for a scouting trip and Jacen was feeling on edge, remembering the battle on Belkadan. This time they had to be more careful. Dymon had told them that there were far more troops here and that they would have to stay longer to wear them down. He had suggested quick surprise attacks and splitting up in three groups to confuse the Yuuzhna Vong and to stretch their resources. Corran had pointed out that this left them more vulnerable, but on the other hand he had agreed that this was probably their best chance. Even Kyp had had no better suggestion. Jacen suspected that the close encounter with the Hunter had started him thinking.
All the better. But apparently he still did not enjoy the commanders' trust. Dymon refused to give Kyp command over one of the teams and Jacen could see that the young Jedi Master felt set back. Which was only true, after all. But when Corran drew the Hunter aside he knew that more was going on here.
"I thought it was understood that I am in command," Corran told the creature pleasantly.
"You are commandeering my troops around as if you were in charge."
"I must have gotten carried away."
"Really. See to it that it doesn't happen again. You yourself said that this would be dangerous, more so than Belkadan. And as commander of this battle group I want all of us out of here again. Alive, if possible."
"As ordered, Corran. I will do my best."
"Good. Then let's go."
Dymon was shaking his head fiercely. He was walking a bit apart from his group, searching for the enemy, but he was preoccupied. It was all good and well that Horn was taking the initiative, but that still left Durron to deal with. The younger Jedi had not yet grasped his own role in this and if he did not do so soon he would die. Right now the Hunter was thinking hard about how to teach Kyp that lesson. To not give him command of a team would have angered him, of course, and Corran had countermanded that order. To Dymon's great dismay and Durron's pride. Well, not pride. He did not like Corran much and being treated like a prize between the two of them did rankle Durron immensely. And Jacen. The boy was cautious, which was good, but he would have to take action when it was required of him. He could not always hold back. Dymon smiled. Over all this internal squabbling he had almost forgotten the most important of all: The Yuuzhan Vong. When he had first encountered them they had been easy prey. Everyone was, the first time. Most of them. But he should not underestimate the Vong either. He was, after all, vulnerable out here. Too much for his liking. But then, maybe this vulnerability could be turned into an advantage.
Luke and Mara walked hand in hand down the dimly lit hallways of the alien forces' flagship, the Eneran. Mallassan had explained to them that this name meant 'Beloved' and that he had named the ship for his wife. Luke could still remember the pride in the warlord's voice. Leia had remained behind with Admiral Kre'fey and her brother understood that she wanted to be at Gaqui to see her son into safety. The New Republic fleet was already on its way and the High Admiral's Star Destroyer was also preparing for the jump to Ithor.
"I wonder," Mara said suddenly.
"These ships, these people. Where did they come from? Who are they? This all seems very strange to me."
"You are not alone in that, my love. But -"
He stopped short, gasping in surprise. Ahead of them an alien had rounded the corner and was coming straight at them. Luke heard Mara take a sharp breath as he pressed her against the warm, soft bulk-head to let the Yuuzhan Vong pass. The warrior did not even give them a second glance. "What the-." Mara hissed, her right hand unconsciouly wandering towards the lightsaber clipped to her belt. Laying a hand on her arm Luke stopped her, frowning. But she wasn't there anymore. Whirling around his eyes widened in shock. "Mara!" he whispered, searching. But he could not feel her anywhere. Racing towards the far corner he found more Yuuzhan Vong there. They turned to look at him impassively as he retreated again. This could not be happening! Luke shook his head fiercely. Remembering his vision about Mara and Callista he tried to think logically. The last time it had been an illusion, nothing more. Was this the same? Or was it real? Were their allies in truth Yuuzhan Vong? It seemed ridiculous.
When he blinked his eyes he found himself in another part of the ship, his wrists and ankles fastened to the wall by some sort of jelly. He did not wear anything and neither did the other occupants of the room. Humans and aliens stared at nothing out of broken eyes. Luke could see Mara down the hallway, her head lolling to one side as if she were asleep. "Mara!" he called out loud, but she did not react. A tall warrior passed him and suddenly his facial mask peeled back to reveal Mallassan's face. "What are you doing here?" the warlord asked coldly, looking slightly bewildered. Reaching out to touch Luke's forehead he frowned down at the Jedi Master. "Damn," he cursed heatedly and withdrew his hand. "I knew that this would happen." He snapped his fingers once and turned away again. "Wait!" Luke screamed after him, but then everything was different again. He stood in the empty hallway, Mara at his side and Mallassan standing there in front of them in his usual black uniform. His blue eyes were wintery cold. "I think you wanted to tell us something," Mara managed weakly. "Indeed. Come with me. This is no place to talk."
They followed him grim-faced and silent. This was unexpected and Luke had the feeling that it would get even worse. Mallassan led them into what looked like an office and gestured them over to a soft-looking couch. "Please, take a seat." He himself remained standing, pressing his hands together tightly, as if in deep thought. Finally he looked at them again, his face very earnest:
"What you have just witnessed is what we call a crossing and what you saw was a possible past, future and present. There are - ruptures, portals throughout the fabric of time and space, connecting all possibilities. As you can imagine those portals can be quite dangerous, therefore they have to be guarded. You have heard of the Outbound Flight Project?"
Luke and Mara nodded simultaneously.
"Good. The project was initiated officially to explore other galaxies. What they were truly trying to do was to establish a contact with us. Now you must be asking yourself who we are at all, am I right?"
Another affirmative. Mallassan sighed.
"A long, long time ago the Sith War was raging throughout the galaxy. It was, I am told, quite fierce and bloody. The Sith lost, as you know. But not all of them perished. A few, under my ancestors' command, discovered a portal and used it to get on the other side. But not before encountering the guardian of these portals, Dymon. He is - special. He is not really a guardian, more the opposite. When we first encountered him he came close to killing every one of us before we managed to capture him. He was furious because he had failed his assignment. You see, there were no more guardians and he had to protect the portals all alone. We promised to help him if we were given shelter on the other side. He agreed in the end "
Mara rose suddenly: "That was millenia ago! You cannot believe us this stupid! This is impossible!"
"Not at all. Please, calm down. The other side does not exist. It is all the same, just different possibilities, destinies, fates, you name it. My ancestors were enslaved by Yuuzhan Vong. We learned to live with them. But the guardian was not satisfied. We had promised him our help.
Dymon trained the first of the guardians in secret, but when the time was right we opposed our masters and Dymon fought at our side. It was at that time that I became the battle-leader of my people. They believed us defeated while we had used the crossings to trap them. Ever since we have been guarding the portals. You must understand this: I have seen this galaxy before, under the rule of the Vong and I have vowed to not let that happen again."
"What we saw, was it real then?" Luke asked finally, stunned.
"Everything is real. What you witnessed was our past, your possible future."
"But at first they did not even seem to notice me."
"Why should they be startled at seeing an ally? That was yet another possibility, one I hope to achieve."
"What? How can you even consider an alliance with them? You claim to know them, you have fought them and yet you are -."
Mara stopped herself, her face flushed red with anger. She drew a ragged breath and Luke winced in empathy. Tentatively he lay a hand on her shoulder to soothe her. She slapped him away angrily, fixing Mallassan with an icy stare:
"I know what you are going to say, but I don't like it. You are going to tell us that they are part of the Force and that it would be wrong to annihilate them. Am I right?"
"The Yuuzhan Vong have a quite distinct view on the universe. Even though they embrace pain and death they cherish life. Which is why the hate machines and why I cannot sanction a course of action that will see their complete destruction in the end. And it is true: they are as much part of the Force as you and me. I will protect everyone if I can."
"That is foolishness. We have to survive."
"I did not say I would let you perish. But I have my priorities, as have you. Maybe they just aren't the same."
Luke's lips pressed into a tight line. At his side Mara was still glowering at the warlord angrily.
Of course Mallassan was right, even if they did not like it. But how was he going to accomplis his goal? Coruscant would never agree to an alliance with the Vong, as for the many refugess who had lost their loved ones and their home... It just seemed unfair. Not to say impossible.
"I do not wish to disappoint you, but you have just brought five ships into the conflict. And we are hard-pressed as it is already. What are we going to accomplish at Ithor?"
Mallassan smiled slowly:
"I see what you are trying to do here. But I will not be swayed. Anyway. This is not important right now. What we want to do at Ithor is to throw them back. Horn's team will continue destryoing their ressources. Of course they will bring in reinforcements, which is why we have to act fast."
"How are you going to prevent the reinforcements to get here?"
"I will close the portal."
"You must understand that I am not a guardian. Therefore I will have to - take a small risk," he smiled again.
"What risk? And if you are no guardian, how are you going to do it?"
"As I said already, my son will leave for the Yuuzhan Vong homeworlds. Once he is over the border he is committed and he will not be able to close the portal without attracting unwanted attention."
"It does require quite an amount of concentration, one he cannot spare."
"That did not really shed any light on things, I have to admit."
"It wasn't supposed to, Master Skywalker. Anyway. We are leaving. If you will excuse me? I am needed on the bridge."
Stalking the deserted streets of a nameless city on Gaqui Jacen was keeping very close to Corran. So far they had only encountered the small reptoid troops of the Yuuzhan Vong and Jacen was certain that by now they had surely been alerted to the intruders. Which was why Jacen was so nervous.
Dymon's team had found temporary shelter at the other end of the town, and shelter they needed. Rhysode Ganner was watching the approaching troops with disdain. "Reptoids," he hissed, but his eyes were fixed on the six Yuuzhan Vong warriors heading their legion.
"You think they are less dangerous?" the Hunter asked sweetly, dropping down next to the Jedi.
"You have to admit it. They are - pathetic."
"Pathetic? Listen to the almighty Jedi," Dymon snorted. "I want to see you try to fight them alone."
"You can have that," Ganner snapped angrily.
"Really? Done. You take the reptoids, I take the Vong. The rest of you stay back until he falls."
"We shall see."
Dymon was mentally shaking his head. Rhysode Ganner was almost as bad as Kyp Durron: arrogant, ignorant and stupid. Time to show them differently. He waited until the Jedi Knight had left their shelter before he turned around to the rest of his team. "You heard him. He will meet defeat in approximately ten minutes. In five minutes I want you to be out there to help him. If he makes a fuss, ignore him."
"Where will you be?"
"I will do what I said I would. And then - I will have some fun."
Kyp Durron was angry. He and his team were guarding the others' escape route, in his eyes a duty almost as bad as guarding the ship would have been. And all was very quiet and silent. Much too quiet for the Jedi Master's taste. He was impatiently pacing the ground until something caught his attention.
"Do you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Skidder asked, joining him.
Kyp pointed towards the horizon:
"I thought I saw something just there - and that distant thunder... Come."
Loping ahead he led his group into the indicated direction.
Dymon was racing through the reptoids's rows, ignoring them completely. His armour was thick enough to block the soldiers' amphistaffs as long as they did not get a chance to get a clear aim and enough force behind the blow. His six targets had spotted him already and were spreading out to meet his attack. Inwardly he shared a mirthless smile with Nal Koor. Why did they always think that they could catch him off-guard by thining their formation? Feinting an attack at the left flank he threw his body around in mid-jump, landing hard. His head swinging from side to side he analysed his opponents with all his senses.
They seemed surprised, but curious too. Very slowly they fanned out to form a circle around him. Dymon smiled coldly. Think you got me now? Then watch this. When he was moving again he was moving in a blur and only someone watching very, very closely would have been able to see that at times the creature sprouted another pair of hands and claws or a second head. In the end the Vong were down and Dymon on his way to the next target. By now Corran's team had joined the fray and together they were making short work of the remaining reptoids. In passing the Hunter stopped by Ganner, who was holding on to a wall to steady himself.
Grinning, Dymon raced past him, snapping at the air to get a scent of his prey.
Corran and Jacen moved side by side, literally butchering the short soldiers and the Corellian Jedi could feel the boy's disdain at his own actions. If he could have spared the time Corran might have been inclined to share the feeling, but as it was, they were losing their momentum fast. And more troops were pouring into the small square they had chosen as their battle-ground. Hunting around with his eyes he tried to catch a glimpse of Dymon, but the creature was nowhere to be seen. So they were on their own in this. Shaking his head grim-faced Corran heaved a tiny sigh.
Dymon had found the Yuuzhan Vong easily and, playing the slightly crazed, wounded beast, managed to lure them into the small trap he had prepared for them. After all, that was what they had come here for, to eventually persuade the Yuuzhan Vong fleet to attack Ithor. But all was not going as he had planned. Apparently the ground troops were getting some support by coral skippers, if he heard correctly. The square was littered with dead reptoids and at the far end he could see the Jedi furiously trying to stand their ground. If they stayed here any longer they would be truly cornered. An angry hiss escaped the Hunter's throat as he dashed over to join Corran:
"We have to retreat."
"They are getting reinforcements. Tell the others to pull out."
"They aren't going to just leave without us, you know?"
"Suits me just fine. Come one, there are a few Yuuzhan Vong who want to say hello."
"The trees. Of course."
"Their armour will react allergically to it. But we have to leave some of them alive so they can report to their superiors."
"What about yourself?"
"The only thing I am reacting allergic to right now are the Vong," Dymon laughed. "Come one. We have to leave."
Two hours later Jacen was staring at the contorted bodies of Yuuzhan Vong warriors, suffocated by their own armour.
"What the-," he began in a hushed whisper.
"Looks nice, doesn't it?" Ganner commented drily. "Where are Kyp and the others?"
"They are taking the ship in," Corran answered tiredly. He was watching Dymon impassively
as the Hunter fed on one of the downed warriors hungrily.
Jacen followed his gaze and frowned: "That's disgusting."
"It's natural, Jacen. Come one. I can hear them. Let's show them in."
But as their ship appeared over the wrecked houses they could make out swift shadows following it quickly. "Coral skippers," Ganner breathed. "Watch out!"
They retreated towards the Hunter, who shot a quick glance upward before he vanished into one of the houses. Following him the team gathered in the darkness.
"They are going to find us, you know?" Corran told Dymon slowly, as if talking to a child.
"I know. Let your ship land first. Get aboard quickly."
"The coral skippers will have blown us up before we can lift off again," Jacen pointed out.
"Are you so certain about that, boy? They will do no such thing. Come one. Quick now."
Racing out of their shelter they made for the ship. Kyp was standing at the lowered ramp, his face dark, and Jacen could see his eyes glitter dangerously. They made it just before the first plasma bolt hit them.
"Shields holding!" Skidder shouted from the cockpit. Corran and Kyp joined him immediately.
Taking his place at the controls the Corellian Jedi waited for Dymon to arrive.
"Can you get us out?"
The Hunter shook his head. "Do you see any shadows here?"
"What about that one up there, the meteor - Oh no."
The huge Yuuzhan Vong warship was looming over the planet like a vengeful god. So, this is it, Jacen sighed inwardly, feeling a little bit sad. They had not been able to accomplish their mission of wiping out the resources on the planet. Everything had gone so fast. When a hand fell lightly on his shoulder he turned around to look up into Dymon's smiling face. "Don't worry," the Hunter whispered quietly, propelling the youth out of the cockpit. Another hit shook them off their feet. "We are getting reinforcements," Dymon said suddenly, cocking his head to one side as if listening to a distant call. "Oh, good," Jacen sighed and stood up again. "Get to the escape pods, all of you," the creature snapped suddenly. "Shields are down. What are you waiting for?"
Corran was gritting his teeth, straining to urge the ship to go faster by sheer will-power. At his side Kyp and Skidder were just as grim-faced as he was. Then suddenly space in front of them flickered once before a small New Republic fleet dropped out of hyperspace, immediately heading their way.
"It's the Ralroost," Skidder reported quietly.
"Last chance," was all Kyp had to say.
The impact threw Es Accar off his feet. For a second he almost panicked when he crashed against the force-field. But instead of being fried alive he hit the far wall with some force. Only then did he realize that the machines had stopped. Apparently the ship had lost its drives. Smiling coldly he turned around to look up the ladder leading to the deck. He could hear excited voices, orders being shouted. Good. Taking two steps at a time he made his way up, then hunched in the shadows, waiting. Noone was to be seen, but he could hear them well enough. Tracking them soundlessly he stopped again when he came upon the rear-guard. What were they doing? Another hit shook the ship, spraying metal splinters everywhere. An angry roar made him stop short.
Dymon pawed at the shrapnel buried in his flank viciously and Jacen was too frightened of being shred into pieces by the creature's sharp claws to help him. "Calm down!" the youth shouted finally, waving urgently at the rapidly filling escape pod. The creature turned on him, its mouth snapping wildly, urging him onward. Stumbling back Jacen shook his head, annoyed. But by then Corran had finished sealing up the rest of the pods. "Everyone clear," he announced, breathing hard. Throwing a glance at Dymon he nodded and the Hunter reluctantly stepped into the cramped quarters. But just as Jacen wanted to heave a relieved breath his eyes widened suddenly when he saw a shadow detach itself from the wall, turning into the grinning Es Accar. Jumping over Corran's head easily their former prisoner slammed the pod's hatch shut.
Corran froze for a second, staring at the Yuuzhan Vong in horror. He could hear the whooshing sound of the escape pods' engines firing.
"They are leaving you behind," Accar told him mockingly.
"Better than them dying here too," he shot back angrily, going for his lightsaber. Dancing out of the Jedi's way as he slashed at him the warrior laughed. "It's not as if you are going to survive either," Corran added darkly.
"No? I don't think so. Do you remember when I told you that we were not even yet?"
Corran did not answer. When Es Accar moved towards him, ducking under his blade and slapping the lightsaber out of his hands with such force that Corran found himself flattened to the bulkhead, he knew that the Yuuzan Vong had more for him in store than death. The warrior smiled down at him pleasantly as the lights went out:
"Now we are."
Leia ran into the accelerating ship's hangar bay, were the last of the escape pods had just been deposited by one of the Ralroost's tractor beams. When she saw Jacen hunch his way through the hatch she stopped short, relief pouring through her and rooting her in place. He looked over at her sheepishly, then smiled as he walked towards her. They met halfway and Leia could not stop herself from wrapping her arms around her son:
"I was so worried. When the ship went dead I thought I would never see you again."
"It's alright, Mom. Really. I am okay."
"How did your mission go?"
His face contorted into a wry grimace:
"It could have been better. Corran is- what happened to the ship anyway?"
"We could not wait. I suppose it was destroyed. What about Corran?" she added with some concern.
The reunion of the fleets at Ithor was overshadowed by the failed mission at Gaqui. As Admiral Ke'fey and his Imperial counterpart listened to Kyp Durron's report the atmosphere became more and more somber and Luke could see worried glances all around. He was dismayed more at the loss of Corran Horn than the mission though, for the primary objective had been achieved, after all. The Yuuzhan Vong would come to Ithor. Mallassan had followed the elaborate report in attentive silence, but now he nodded at the assembly to speak:
"The good news beforehand: Your friend is in good hands."
"What do you mean?" Kre'fey demanded.
" 'Es Accar', translated into Basic, means 'son of war'."
"Your son?" Mara asked at once.
"Yes. I sent him to infiltrate the Yuuzhan Vong to learn their ways as I did. This way he is prepared better for his mission."
"But, he is a human?"
"He has a protection similar to Dymon's."
"What species are they?"
"They are hunters. That is all we need to know. It became quite customary for a guardian and a hunter to work together. They formed symbiotes, protecting and complementing each other. But that is not the issue here. Admittedly I never expected the mission to succeed. It would be foolish to believe that we could destroy what they built up in the matter of days."
"Then why the effort at all?" Palleon asked quietly, his eyes narrowing.
"Two reasons: First, I want the Yuuzhan Vong to believe that we are wasting our time with laying their supplies to waste. This way they will keep troops where they believe we will strike next instead of sending them where they would be needed. Second, I am trying to aim them at Dymon. Before you ask, he knows of that plan. They will believe him the primary threat to them and I am certain that they will try everything to destroy him."
"And what is the bad news?" Kyp inquired suddenly.
"You will have to continue your missions. I know it is dangerous, but necessary."
"As soon as we are rested we are on our way."
"Good. And now we should make plans for the impending battle."
Corran could not remember much of what had happened after the ship's power had died. The only thing he was certain of was that he was still alive. Shaking his head grimly he told himself that he might as well be dead for all the chances he had of surviving. He could not move at all and he did not even try to free himself from his bonds.Where was he to go anyway? Giving his surroundings a quick once-over he grimaced slightly. Great. Trapped on a Yuuzhan Vong warship by a philosophically inclined warrior. As if called by his angry musings Es Accar rounded the corner together with two more of the aliens. And someone Corran had never hoped to see again. "Elegos," he whispered, shocked. The Camaasi was wearing mothing but a loin-cloth and his shoulders were just the tiniest bit stooped, as if he were carrying a great weight. But he seemed healthy enough. Healthier than dead anyway.
The three Yuuzhan Vong stopped short in front of him and only now did the Jedi realize that the one standing right in front of him must be some sort of commander, given the respectful distance the other two had positioned themselves in. Es Accar gave Corran a quick, ironic smile. But by then the commander had already caught Corran's attention. He nodded at the prisoner thoughtfully.
"I am Shedao Shai. Your friend -" he indicated Elegos without looking around- "has told me a lot about you, but the only thing that is important to me is that you killed two of my kinsmen on Belkadan. And I have vowed to see you dead."
"Oh, great," Corran commented, rolling his eyes. "As if I care."
"You will care, jeedai," Shedao Shai explained with a tiny smile. "You most certainly will."
"And that's all you came here to tell me?"
"We will speak more. Later."
Turning around the commander swept from the small hold, followed closely by the second warrior, leaving Elegos and Es Accar behind. Stepping up to Corran Elegos shook his head sadly:
"I wish I could help you, Corran."
"Well, I am just glad that you are alive."
"Yet," Es Accar injected coolly, stepping forward to loom directly over the Corellian. "You didn't tell me that you killed Neira Shai and Dranae Shai on Belkadan."
"You didn't ask. And besides, I don't boast my kills."
"Very wise. But this is unfortunate. I had hoped to keep you alive and as it turns out my efforts have already been blunted by your actions."
"Hey, I could hardly know what you were planning. Which reminds me: what exactly was you plan?"
"True, you could not know, and neither could I," Accar mused aloud. "Still, there is a slight chance that you might still survive."
"Oh, good," Corran muttered grimly.
"Do not despair. I enjoyed our talks too much to let you die. I will leave you and your friend alone for now."
Walking away from the Jedi's hold Dalin was shaking his head in deep thought. Of course he had known that Shedao Shai's kinsmen had died on Belkadan, but could it be a coincidence that Corran Horn had been the one who slayed them? He did not think so. No, something else was going on here and he had to find out what it was fast. When someone suddenly called his name he turned in surprise to see Deign Lian stand half concealed by shadows, beckoning him closer.
"You were fortunate to capture this jeedai and survive," Shai's second began without preamble.
Bowing his head respectfully Dalin answered calmly:
"It was not only luck that made me succeed."
"I find it strange that you succeeded alone where two failed."
Dalin's mouth twitched in anger:
"I have learned a lot about the jeedai and it was that knowledge that made me succeed. Maybe we can learn even more."
"A pointless exercise. They are not the threat that Shedao Shai and Nom Anor believe them to be."
"No? And yet they wiped out our resources at Belkadan."
"I hold you responsible for that."
About to answer Dalin clicked his mouth shut. So, that was what Lian was aiming at. Snorting angrily he shook his head:
"I share that failure both with Neira and Dranae as well as Krag Val. And that they managed to get that far proves to me that they are dangerous indeed."
"Nevertheless we will defeat them."
"Of course we will."
As Deign Lian pushed past him Dalin frowned slightly. By all rights he should have been punished for his insubordiance, but apparently Lian was preoccupied. Obviously he was disturbed by Shai's interest in the Jedi, and as a warrior himself Dalin could understand that well. Shedao was obsessed with the past and his ego. And with Corran. If the commander got his way Horn woul die, since Dalin could not risk blowing his cover to save him. He had to get across the border under any circumstances, even if he became a prisoner himself. But he would try to prevent that from happening if it was possible at all, for showing up at Overlord Shimmra's court as a prisoner would not give him the diplomatic leverage he needed. So his only hope was to trust the Hunter. Dymon had made it very clear that he would kill Shedao Shai sooner than later.
Of course that would not get Corran out of danger, but if Dalin managed to protect him until he could use the Jedi as his valve to the homeworlds he could still turn this around. For an instance Dalin considered killing the commander himself. Dismissing that idea almost immediately he heaved a tiny sigh. Well. He could manage and he would.
Luke was standing at the door, watching Dymon. The Hunter had his face pressed to the viewport of the medical ward, looking out at Ithor longingly.
"It is beautiful, isn't it? the Jedi Master said finally to start the conversation.
"Yes," the other answered slowly and turned around. His black eyes glittered in the artificial light of the room and for a second Luke thought he saw something move in their depths.
"You killed Kell Lowin, am I right?"
"What makes you believe that?"
"We did some research," the Jedi hesitated before continuing: "Mallassan told us about the portals and crossings."
"Did he now."
"Why did you not act earlier? Before all this could happen?"
"What makes you think that I could have?"
"I guess I assumed that - that it was in your interest too," Luke finished lamely.
Dymon laughed out loud and leaned back against the viewport, a shadowy outline against the bright spot that was Ithor. Folding his arms across his chest he shook his head slowly:
"I would not care if the Yuuzhan Vong annihilated every one of you. But unfortunately they would impose their culture on you, and this is what I cannot allow."
"Yet elsewhere they thrive."
"Elsewhere is not here. And the most important thing to keep in mnd when using the crossings is which reality you belong to."
"It is somehow frightening to know that you belong with us."
"For you maybe. I like it here."
"Actually from what Mallassan told us I thought that you are more of an idea, a concept, than something real."
Dymon stared at him as if he had gone mad: "I am not sure if you realize this, but there is very much you think is real that is just a concept. Take peace, for example. It is no more an idea, yet you thrive to make it a reality."
"But it is something that can be real."
"And I can't be? I would have thought that in talking to me you could be persuaded otherwise. Look, it is not important who is what. I am here to help and that is all that should count. And somehow I believe that you are just afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Of me. You have your suspicions and they are probably all justified. I killed Kell Lowin for my own reasons and one of them was because I enjoyed it. I did not prevent the Yuuzhan Vong from coming here because it was not my right to interfere. Where they come from I am someting else entirely."
"What about the guardians then?"
"I am not one of them."
"Yet you act as if you were."
Keeping silent for a while Luke let the previous conversation replay in his mind as he connected what Dymon had just told him to the rest of the knowledge and facts he had on the Hunter's allies. Mallassan had insisted that it had been Dymon who had trained the first guardians. Had he done that out of selfish reasons too? And if so, to what purpose? Obviously the guardians did stand for life, the Force, whereas Dymon seemed to be the opposite, by his own words. Luke smiled to himself. It was all a matter of balance, wasn't it?
"I think I understand," he said finally.
"Good," Dymon smiled, giving him no chance to explain what exactly he had understood. "Then we can proceed with our preparations."
What will happen next?
"What is that?" he asked aloud, awed. In his head he could feel Dymon smile:
"That is you, Jacen," the Hunter explained solemnly and Jacen's heart skipped a beat:
"Wow!" he commented, truly astounded.