Disclaimer: Star Wars belongs to George Lucas. You wouldn't have guessed, right? J
'Backlash' is a sort of prequel to 'A different plan' and its sequel 'The Art of War'. More prequels are to come...
It is 1000 years after the Sith War led by Exar Kun and Ulic Quel-Droma and the war still rages on. But now the Jedi have the chance to make a difference. If they can learn of their enemies' plans beforehand they can deliver a devastating blow to the Sith armies. The key to success in a lonely traveller who has ventured much too far into hostile territory and now the chase is on....
For three months he had been on the run, moving constantly to avoid capture, drawing his hunters in circles until they though that they had him trapped. It was, in a way, quite flattering that they went to such an effort to hunt down a single Sith. They had been tracking him for half a year in total, but now he had decided to end this game. They met him on Dantooine. Six of them, three masters plus their respective apprentices. It seemed unfair, but still, Roj Kell was a bit disappointed at the small numbers opposing him. On the other hand they had managed to keep at him for the past months. But they had made a big mistake when they had decided not to wait for reinforcements. Kell suspected that they had alerted the other teams before confronting him, but too late.
In the gentle rolling hills at the edge of the plains he was waiting for them. They approached cautiously, their lightsabers already ignited. Roj Kell smiled down at them contemptuously before he made his way toward them, his steps long and measured. He relished in the expression on the leader's face as he watched him advance on them ever so slightly, subtly drawing them to the right and thereby forcing them to break up their defensive line. Their formation had seemed logical, considering the circumstances, with the masters facing him and the apprentices right behind them. But that left an apprentice at each end of the line, making the formation vulnerable to his attack. The team leader had seen that too now and waved the apprentice back while that one's master took his place. But he had made a mistake. And Roj Kell had realized that just one false move would shift the balance in the impending battle.
"The chase is over," the Jedi Master told him gravely, earning himself a small smile from the Sith.
"I guess that you will not consider to surrender to us?"
"I would not know why I should."
"Exactly what I thought."
"Then why don't we get this over with?"
"Because we need to know more."
"Do you now." Roj Kell shook his head, sending his black mane flying. "You will have to defeat me first before you can ask any questions."
Knowing the Jedi Code Kell took a step back, daring them to make the first move. The team leader glowered at him, seeing through his move immediately. "Attack," he ordered coldly and lunged at the Sith Lord.
A master had to be the first to die at his hand, Roj Kell knew and he did his best to put his plan into action. Indeed, as he ducked underneath the team leader's stroke and evaded an apprentice's blade he came up to face the second master. They exchanged a few jabs and blows before Kell kicked his boot into the other's head, or tried to. Still, he had managed to get the man off-balance and, whirling around, drew the Jedi Master into the lunge of his companion. The two Jedi were good, really good, and none did injure the other, but Kell used that one split-second of uncertainty to drive his lightsaber into the first master's belly. Without breaking stride he brought his blade up to behead the shocked apprentice who had frozen in his tracks when he saw his master fall. The Sith Lord dropped to his knees, over-balanced, but rolled around in time to block another stroke. The Jedi's lightsaber caressed his belly, making him wince in pain as the laser beam cut through his clothes and burned his flesh. But that did not distract him for long. Retreating a bit he let them advance again.
"You are no fighter," the leader commented, apparently truly astounded.
"There are other ways than that of the warrior."
"Not as effective."
"No?" Slamming the Dark Side into the second apprentice Roj Kell laughed in the Jedi Master's face when the young Devaronian toppled over, his ribcage smashed.
The other pair moved to engage him, with the leader calmly awaiting his chance. Kell quickly snatched the lightsaber of one of the fallen Jedi and blocked the onslaught, trapping his opponents' blades in a cross of both of his. Smiling at them coldly he pushed against their weight, but the lightsaber arching at his back suddenly occupied all of his attention. Releasing the twosome he feinted with one saber, then struck with the other. The Jedi Master batted his blade away easily and with a flick of his hand sent the Sith Lord flying. Kell crashed into the soft grass, slightly dazed. When he tried to stand up, reaching for his lightsaber, a boot stepped down on the handle, trapping his fingers underneath. Roaring an angry challenge Kell freed himself again, but a kick to his head threw him on his back. A lightsaber bored itself into the earth right by his head but he brought his own blade up, slapping his assailant's weapon away in a shower of warm earth. Then a searing pain froze him, making him choke in agony. The leading Jedi Master had impaled his lightsaber in the Sith Lord's right shoulder, a cold smile on his lips.
"You lose," he told Kell quietly. And then the Sith struck again.
When all was over he was on his knees, breathing hard against the pain. A few meters away he could hear the Jedi Master's rattled moans. His companions were dead, but Kell had left this one alive to die slowly. And only because he owed him.
"Why?" the man whispered suddenly.
Covering the burn across his mid-section with his left hand Roj Kell closed his eyes: "You defeated me. In a decade you were the first. I find that quite impressive."
"Thank you, I think."
"You had questions, I believe?"
The Jedi wheezed a laugh: "Hardly of any use to me now."
"Still, I owe you an answer. So ask."
"What are you planning?"
Kell closed his eyes, feeling the rising wind stroke his hair gently. A storm was coming and in the distance black clouds were gathering already.
"Here is a question for you, my friend: if you hunt down all the Sith you can find, will we be extincted?"
"No," the Jedi Master replied, after a moment's hesitation: "The Dark Side is always with us, ... with every Jedi."
"You are a wise man. No wonder they made you a leader."
"More ... praise from a Sith Lord?"
"Do you mind?"
"I ... am not ... sure."
Kell had noticed the man's voice weakening and the ever-growing lengthy pauses in between their exchanges. He smiled to himself. This one's life would be over soon.
"You will not escape."
As the Jedi Master drew his last breath Roj Kell gave a low chuckle: "Whoever said that was my goal?"
The first raindrops started falling from the sky as he rose unsteadily. Picking up the Jedi medallions from the Masters' bodies he held them in his left hand, while his right gripped his lightsaber handle. His shoulder was aching horribly and he would need some time to recover. Time he did not have. Walking slowly he pondered the fate of the Sith and his own role in the scheme. The Jedi had fought the Sith over centuries now, diminishing each others numbers constantly. It was a waste of energy. Roj Kell had revealed his identity on purpose, sensing the mood of the times. The Jedi needed another victory to justify themselves in the eyes of the public and of each other. And Roj Kell remembered the Sith War vividly, remembered the ferocity with which the Jedi had fought then. And yet, only the betrayal of Ulic Quel-Droma had led to Exar Kun's defeat. Kell had learned from that move and he intended to use it on the Jedi now.
Cresting a small hill he stopped short, a frown on his pale face. His ship had been joined by three more and he counted ten Jedi waiting for him. Growling softly he took a step forward, making it very clear that despite the previous battle he would not give up just yet. They turned to face him fully and he could feel their wariness. Maybe he should rattle them a bit more. Stopping again he threw the three medaillons on the ground between them with a contemptuous flick of his hand. Only then did he ignite his lightsaber. It was a clear provocation and they responded nicely. As they charged at him his smile deepened. They had to run uphill, giving him an advantage they obviously thought to balance with their numbers.
But Roj Kell never gave his enemies any chance if he could help it. Striding into the advandcing Jedi he kept a cool head, using his lightsaber methodically and certainly with less grace than the warriors opposing him. Fancy swordplay was not his specialty.
Blocking a wide slash he took a step back and flicked out his hand, snapping the neck of the Jedi who had just attacked him. Kell had observed it often that they were very loath to use the Force actively in battle. Instead they employed it passively, to guide their lightsabers. A foolish use of their power, the Sith Lord found. Ducking underneath another jab he stumbled when one of the warriors kicked against his left shin hard. Suddenly he felt the weakness from the previous battle sink into his mind like the black clouds overhead. Annoyingly enough the Jedi seemed to pick up his mood and the attacks became harder. He had a hard time fending off all the blows and very soon they would break through his defense. Additionally the wounds in his shoulder and across his belly had started throbbing violently, distracting him even more. Well, maybe it was time to get this over with.
Roj Kell evaded another close stroke, deliberately turning his back on two Jedi, who could not believe their luck. One struck at the Sith Lord's left, forcing him to turn around the same moment as the other kicked his lightsaber out of his hand. Growling softly Kell dropped into a crouch, ready to lunge at his adversaries. But he should not have bothered. He could feel the Jedi behind him jump even before he felt the impact and the man's hands close around his neck, pressing his face into the suddenly wet ground. Someone held his arms and legs down, but Roj Kell did not struggle anymore. He knew when he was beaten. They forced his hands on his back, binding them. But they had not killed him. Yet. When the Jedi still sitting on his back grabbed his long hair and drew his head up Kell gasped dramatically, drawing in the cool air. Damn, he was tired.
"We want him alive," a woman said coldly.
Almost immediately he could feel someone try to slam her way into his mind. Fending off the attack was easy and his eyes locked with the woman's cool gaze. She raised her eyebrows slightly. Roj Kell blinked away the rainwater pouring into his eyes.
"And here I thought that you were not allowed to use the Force in that manner," the Sith wheezed, shaking his head.
"I am obliged to defend my fellow Jedi against any danger, including you."
"By attacking my mind?"
"How else? You have shown quite effectively that you fight better with your mind than your lightsaber."
"Charming," he snapped.
"You seem tame enough right now," turning around she nodded at the remaining Jedi.
"I am tired, nothing more," Kell whispered at her back as the Jedi drew him upright. The woman gave no indication that she'd heard him, but the others next to the Sith most certainly had. He could feel their caution, teetering on the edge of violence, but he would give them no excuse to turn on him just yet.
Belana Jen bent down to pick up the three medaillons from the wet grass, her mouth twisted into a grimace. She had not planned on losing so many on this chase. If that Sith was not worth it... Stamping down on her roiling emotions the Jedi Master raised her head to look up into the storm. Jagged lightning forked across the black clouds like a bad omen. But she let the rain wash away her worries. They had won this battle, and no matter how many lives it had cost them, she had a feeling that this man's knowledge could save so many more.
"What is it, Tarla?"
The dark haired apprentice approached her cautiously.
"Team two is recovering the bodies and we are ready for take-off, but Master Kulur asks what will happen to the Sith's ship."
"Blow it up."
"I will tell him."
Following the apprentice slowly Jen threw a long look at the Sith's non-descriptive transport. No need to take any risks with that one. If they destroyed the ship it would serve as warning for any Sith who came looking for this one. And additionally it might convince them that he had perished on this planet too. As it was, he would die on Coruscant. Jen was curious. She had faced many Sith in battle, but never had she met a captive one. Entering her own ship she nodded at the crew. Tarla had taken her place next to her Talz Master Kulur, her darkish looks a stark contrast to the alien's pale skin.
"Where did you take him?"
"Aft hold. Three guards."
"Good. Take us off this planet."
Kell closed his eyes when he felt the ship's engines power up noisily. This was it then. He was committed to wherever this trip would take him. Almost unconsciously he tested his bonds, but he could tell that he would never get them off before one of the three Jedi guards got to him first. And he would not risk a fight on a ship like this. Sitting cross-legged on the deck they were eyeing him closely, as if he could turn into some sort of monster any time. He gave them a tight smile. Just then the ship lurched into hyperspace, throwing his head back against the bulkhead. Snarling wordlessly Roj Kell tried to regain his balance. This was getting on his nerves.
"Water," he snapped suddenly, having the satisfaction of seeing one of the guards jump. That one cast his eyes down in embarrassment at the stern looks his companions shot at him.
"Not yet," the obviously oldest of the three told him calmly.
"No. Now," he hissed impatiently, leaning toward them slowly. "I want water."
The one guard who had flinched rose, a dreamy look in his eyes. But before he could turn for the door one of the others caught his sleeve, dragging him back down.
"If you try that again-"
"Then what?" They shared an uneasy glance. Kell laughed at them. "Will you kill me?"
The oldest guard frowned at him deeply. Finally he turned toward the younger one and nodded: "Get him some water."
Shortly after they had made the jump into hyperspace Belana was woken from her rest when she felt a stab of fury slash through her mind. Someone was using the Dark Side. And it took no genius to make an educated guess. So, their 'guest' was making trouble. As if she had expected anything less. Rising from her bunk Belana wrapped her robe around herself and stepped outside, just in time to meet a flustered guard.
"Gyro! Where are you going?"
"He wants water."
"Did he attack you?"
The boy blushed: "I must work on my mental shields, I guess."
"Do that. Where is Master Kulur?"
"In the cockpit, I think."
"Summon him here."
He hesitated: "Master Jen, what about the water?"
"Get a cup."
"Yes, at once, Master Jen."
"Now run along."
Only a few moments later the alien Jedi Master and his apprentice had joined her. Together they entered the hold, where the remaining two guards were watching the prisoner intently.
Belana waited for the three to acknowledge their presence and one could hardly miss the malevolent gleam in the Sith's pale eyes when he turned his head toward them. He was, she found, a quite striking appearance. His long, black hair, now matted down with sweat and rain, fell down over his shoulders in a thick mane, framing a handsome face that was all edges and angles. Pale green eyes were contrasting sharply with his dark purple clothes. She noticed the black armor covering his forearms next. They seemed to be more for decoration than protection. But the contemptuous smile on his lips was what caught her full attention.
"You wanted something?"
"Water," he purred, not bothering to rise from his seat.
"And what do we get in exchange?"
He laughed quietly, shaking his head. "Dream on, Jedi."
Despite the arrogance in his tone his voice was still the most beautiful Belana had ever heard, its harmonics touching her heart and soul. The deep timbre working its way down her back was laced with chiming bells that rang in her head, making her feel dizzy. For a moment she even suspected that he was using some Dark Side trick on her, but she could feel nothing. She wondered briefly how such a vile creature could possess a magic as enchanting as this.
"I am just practical," she said finally, crossing her arms in front of her chest: "It is a long journey yet. Maybe you would want to reconsider?"
He gave her a suspicious look. Then, with a deep sigh, he heaved himself upright, rising to his full, lean height. Master Kulur stepped toward him slowly, a paw reaching out to press against the Sith's chest. Belana froze. She could sense it too now, that darkness lurking behind his forehead like a viper, ready to strike. Increasing her shields immediately she motioned for the guards as calmly as she could. But inside she was shaking. Two masters, two knights and two apprentices. He had slain six on Dantooine and he had proven already that his mind was his fiercest weapon.
When the sudden snap-hiss of a lightsaber broke the tense silence filling the hold Belana felt her skin crawl. She turned around very slowly, just in time to hear Master Kulur's tiny gasp.
An azure blade had buried itself in the Talz's back and the young apprentice hanging on to the handle stared at her dying master with dark eyes wide open in shock. Tarla's mouth formed a wordless scream before she fell back, her breathing ragged between heart-wrenching sobs. Just then the second apprentice rushed in, a cup of water in his hands. Belana took in the tradgedy that had unfolded so suddenly before their eyes and identified its source immediately. Grabbing the cup in a Force grip she hurled it at the Sith. He acted instinctively, his bound arms jerking in a futile attempt to catch the projectile. The water splashed in his face as the bowl hit his head and by then Belana was already by his side, her left hand locked firmly over his nose and mouth.
"Hold his legs!" she shouted while struggling to break through his shields again.
But he had recovered much faster than she had anticipated. In the background Tarla was screaming hysterically, crying that she had not wanted to do it. Belana was certain of that, definitely. He was struggling now, bereft of oxygen and dizzy with anger. The Jedi Master could feel the two knights rush to her side, one of them making a grab for the Sith's legs, the other igniting his lightsaber with a remarkable presence of mind. As he lay the blade to the Sith's throat Belana smiled coldly. She could sense her companions strengthen her attack on his mind and as his struggles grew lesser she pressed her palm against his face even harder, feeling him choke suddenly.
"I think you are overestimating your chances here," she told the prisoner acidly. "Stop this or else we will kill you."
The skin around his pale eyes crinkled in wry amusement. But his mind was retreating a bit, the pressure on her own shields diminished. Immediately Belana increased her mental barriers, suspecting a sneak attack. When she took her hand away at last he drew a deep breath and closed his eyes slowly as he slumped against her. Belana caught him easily, but pushed his weight at the knight to her left, appalled at his touch.
"Keep an eye on him," the Jedi Master ordered the two men and turned around to where the boy was comforting Tarla. Kneeling down next to the apprentices she tried to fight down her own agitation before speaking: "It was not your fault."
"But he is dead! I killed him..." the girl's voice trailed off in a hushed whisper as she stared at the man who had caused all this. "He made me," she added, almost too low to hear.
"I know, child, I know. Listen. Tonight we will work on your shields again. You know that I do not have an apprentice right now, do you?" Tarla nodded. "So, if you wish, I will ask the Masters if they will allow me to take over your training. Don't answer now. Take your time. But meet me tonight and take Gyro with you. Now leave. Both of you. "
Once the two apprentices had vanished Belana rose again, hiding her anger as she turned to face the prisoner again. He seemed reasonably calm now and he had his temper in check, but the smile was still lurking at the corners of his mouth as he watched her, sitting on the floor again, obviously weakened.
"You are not as valuable as you think you are," she said coldly.
"Really. Tell me, Jedi," he began softly,"how many Sith have you captured so far?"
"None. But I killed some. So beware."
Raising her hands slowly she lifted Master Kulur's body from the deck and left.
Roj Kell could still feel the blade's heat against his neck and his shoulder had started throbbing again. His mind was tumbling, but he kept it safe behind unbreakable walls of sheer will power. He was bone weary, but he could sense the two Jedi left with him stalk his presence constantly, just waiting for him to reveal any weakness. Well, they would have to rest at some point. Once again he had to remind himself that his goal was not to die aboard this ship or even escape. Not at all. But it was against his nature to give up so easily. And the girl had been such a tempting prey. He smiled a bit, increasing the guards' wariness by a thousandfold. Amusing, wasn't it, how frightened they were, how nervous. Undoubtedly such legends as that of Exar Kun were still haunting the halls of the Jedi headquarters. And the man had deserved that too. Mostly.
It was a few hours later that the woman Jedi Master returned with the girl. She nodded at the guards, who bowed deeply:
"How is he?"
"Weak, but holding firm."
"I will need your help then."
Steeling himself for a renewed attack on his defenses Kell decided to change his tactics. When they started on him again he gave ground ever so slightly, ensnaring them ever deeper in his mind as they advanced just as cautiously. He started to breathe faster and made his eyes widen with an effort he did not really feel. But as concentrated as they were on breaking his shields they did not realize that he was playing them false. Easy, it was so damn easy. But just before they could do real damage to his shields he pushed again, as if in a desperate attempt to fend them off.
"I think this is quite enough," the Jedi Master gasped. "Give him two hours to recover." Nodding at the apprentice she turned to leave and to Kell's surprise the guards left with her. What was this about? Then he remembered the promise of a lesson and understood that this was supposed to be a test for the girl. He had noticed her eyes lingering on him during the previous struggle and shortly after the others had disappeared he decided to move on her.
"What is your name?" he asked quietly.
She frowned at him, a hint of fear in her eyes: "I am not supposed to talk to you."
Roj Kell wanted to laugh at the girl's foolishness. "It would seem you have just broken that order," he told her.
The girl smiled fleetingly. "I am Tarla, " she said finally, her voice shaking.
"Tarla," he repeated, as if memorizing the name.
"What is your name then?" He merely smiled at her. But the apprentice was not quite finished. "You killed six Jedi. That is quite impressive."
Really, he wanted to say. I have killed far more on a battle-field. Aloud he said:
"Seven, including your master." He watched her flinch, but she remained remarkably calm. "Tell me, why were you tracking me at all? I found it quite astounding that you would invest so many troops in hunting down a single Sith when there are so many more who are just waiting to lay an ambush for you."
"Master Jen had a vision. She said that you are important somehow in defeating the Sith."
"Jen? So that is her name."
"It is indeed." Striding into the room the older woman gave the apprentice a cold look before turning toward the prisoner.
"Master Jen," Roj Kell greeted her cordially. "Welcome to my humble abode."
"Tarla, out," the woman ordered sharply and crossed her arms in front of her chest. The young apprentice threw Kell an annoyed glance, but vanished quickly, leaving the two of them alone.
"It would seem that your troops do not respect you."
"The girl is foolish sometimes, but she is controlling her fear and her anger better than you. Now. I know neither your rank nor title-"
"I have none."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously: "No? But you do have a name, don't you?"
"That could well be so."
"It would only be fair if you told me. You know mine now, after all." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter," she said dismissively. "You had a question for Tarla, I believe. Well, I have one of my own. No Sith would be so foolish to make this journey on his own."
"This one does."
"Which only confirms my suspicion."
"That I am your chance at destroying the Sith?" Kell smiled coldly.
"In a sense. I believe that only a scout would dare to venture this far into enemy territory and I will find out what you have planned."
"We shall see about that, won't we?"
"Indeed. You should rest now."
"So you can root around in my head again?"
"No," she shook her head with a smile. "So I can sleep."
Of course. He could feel the other passengers' growing restlessness. This woman was a harsh mistress, that was for sure. As long as he was awake none of them would rest. He smiled at that a bit. But then he nodded at Jen slowly in aquiesance. The thought of a Jedi having a vision about him made him feel slightly uneasy, but there was no way she could have possibly caught on to his plan. If she had, he would be dead already. So he closed his eyes again, calming his nerves and dropped into a healing trance that would not only ease the pain but also the Jedi. As Jen's presence faded into the background Kell let his mind drift in the secure embrace of dark oblivion. Noone could reach him here and the only company he had were his memories laid out before his inner eye, ranging back to the glorious times of the great war.
Pondering what had just happened he realized that the Jedi Master had not only given a lesson to the apprentice, but, unconsciously, also to her prisoner. Patience was what had made him survive this far, but he could still feel the fire of a warrior's heart burning in his soul. Should a Jedi have more control than he did? Maybe. But he had been cautious in employing his power, letting it sustain him rather than use it in senseless destruction that would ultimately seal his own fate.
He had seen it happen so often to his companions, had seen it eat at his own master, and he had resolved to not let himself become like them. The internal fights for dominance had weakened the Sith against an opponent that had proven time and again that team work and calmness worked better than raw power. Still, Roj Kell had been confirmed just today that ruthlessness would always win out over compassion. He had known of his value and he had known when to subside. Let the Jedi believe that he was a coward, he did not care. After all, he knew his own strength best, and with the knowledge of over thirty generations to back him up there was virtually nothing he could not anticipate. The Jedi were so easy to read, and this war had gone on for so long now that he could have played out every single battle considering the motivation on both sides. This was his advantage: he knew his enemies as well as he did his allies. And he would use that advantage to the fullest.
The voyage to Coruscant was not as long as Master Jen had threatened, as Roj Kell had known very well. There were very few planets that he had not travelled to yet and those he had shunned on his journeys were usually uninteresting backwater worlds with very little or no population at all. Although there were places that he loved for their lack of any sentients except for himself. One of those was Yavin 4, but that was for different reasons than mere solitude. The planet was full of powerful memories and ancient history. He smiled at the very thought. Roj Kell had a very acute memory and a millenium had not been able to erase any of them. In most people's eyes he would be considered very old, an ancient one himself, but in his world he had barely reached his fourties. His world was darkness, and hidden there was such vast power that fed him relentlessly, like and obedient servant, but one that lurked hungrily at the edges of his consciousness waiting for its chance to claim him. But he had grown cautious, and rash action was not his guise anymore. Only when it served his purposes. Nevertheless, he had been a warrior once, and a fearsome one. Those times were long gone though. Noone remembered him anymore and that was good. Glory was for lesser men, battles only for the foolish. And as he felt the world of Coruscant reach up to touch his mind Roj Kell knew that the Jedi would come to regret the day they had allowed him into their hearts.