W/N - This ends the book and we'll be starting the finale. We went a bit crazy and there will be three alternate endings - one bad, one glad, and one dark. We wanted to look at the bigger picture of the war too and then bring it back to the crew. Thank you so much again, Jen. You've really been inspiring us.

Fire

The children born of thee are sword and fire,
Guinevere - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Selvaris System - The Republic Naval Ship, Sovereign of Freesia – 1937 hrs

At the outer edge of a Republic world, a Sith Interdictor-Class cruiser tumbled slowly, end over end, an orange glow emanating from numerous gaping holes in its hull. Parts of several smaller vessels crashed into the hulk as it drifted along, sure signs of a fierce battle.

Aboard the newest flagship of the Republic Fleet, Vice Admiral Forn Dodonna breathed a sigh of relief. Dabbing perspiration from her brow beneath her flame-red hair, she straightened her prim gray uniform. Signs of the immense stress that she had endured were apparent in her damp tunic. The admiral pointed to the ship's Operations Officer, Commander Secura. "Go to Yellow Alert; the Sith have fled." They had stopped the enemy again.

The dim red lights on the bridge brightened to a warm white glow. Exhausted bridge officers turned and saluted their leader – a leader who had fought against incredible odds and had stopped the Sith. Vice Admiral Dodonna had secured a promotion after her victory at Thyferra and was given a Theater Command, surprising in the politically-driven Republic. Forn had fought the system time and again to the chagrin of her stodgy superiors, but she got results.

The exultation of the crew was short lived, however, as the Operations Officer pointed to the Galactic Map, displayed as a blue-green hologram. In the Dorin System, angry red dots flashed where other Sith fleets clashed with the Republic. Vast fields of red crashed down upon blue dots, representing friendly forces. The hordes of Sith vessels broke through the Republic center and many blue dots faded and vanished. Admiral Dodonna's jaw tightened. Their victory might be for nothing if the Dorin System fell.

"Admiral, the Commander of Task Force Twenty Nine on a priority channel," voiced Lieutenant Oyaya, the Communications Officer. Forn turned to receive the message. She knew the commander of TF-29 was worthless. He was a political sycophant who had led the Republic Fleet to disaster against the Mandalorians and he likely led many brave men and women to their doom now. But he had great hair and that seemed to be one of the main prerequisites for a command in the political climate of the Republic.

The hologram of a sooty Admiral Deritz appeared. His eyes were wild, full of unbridled panic. "Admiral Dodonna-" he began and then ducked as if avoiding something. "We are cut off! I need immediate assistance. My ship…my ship's main reactor is offline. The Sith are moving in behind us…starfighters attacking our flanks. I need immediate-"

The hologram blurred and then disappeared in a harsh buzz of static.

Admiral Deritz' fleet has been obliterated," voiced Commander Secura bluntly. The Twi'lek woman could not afford to show any emotion at this junction. The admiral sighed at the grim news. The loss of Deritz would actually help the Republic, but he took thirty ships with him. That might be about 60,000 souls. They probably died fulfilling useless administrative functions such as redoing inventories or filing meaningless requests. Supreme Chancellor Locarno had set the tone in the fleet that results in battle were irrelevant, administrative purity was everything. But who was she to question the wisdom of the Supreme Chancellor? She would do her part to actually fight the war where she could, nonsense be damned.

Forn studied the map carefully and then furrowed her brows. The Sith had now penetrated further than any previous threat ever could. Deritz' incompetence left the back door wide open. "Malak's forces are now poised like a dagger at the heart of the Republic; he will soon be on Coruscant."

Reality sunk into the tired crew – the war would be lost.

Lieutenant Oyaya, then turned and put a hand to his ear. "Admiral, priority message coming in on the Alpha Prime Channel." This was a frequency reserved for the Republic's National Command Authority. Forn grimaced – it was likely the Supreme Chancellor ready to shriek at her for not reporting in hourly. Didn't he have a clue that needless communication could be intercepted and exploited by the enemy? He threatened to can her when she implemented radio silence during strategic maneuvering. She was really beginning to hate the sound of his voice, but she couldn't ignore the most powerful man in the Republic for long. Looking at the map though, there wouldn't be a Republic for much longer.

The holographic image of a middle-aged man in a green Republic uniform appeared. His hair was salt and pepper gray as was his bushy mustache. Forn narrowed her eyes – this wasn't the Supreme Chancellor. A military man had no business on this channel. Something was up. "Admiral Dodonna," the man said, "this is General Phaleron, panic has gripped Coruscant with the news of Malak's victory at Dorin. His next offensive is likely to be on the Core Worlds. I wish I could give you greater laurels in the wake of your recent triumph, but it would likely be in vain."

The admiral nodded with his words, still wondering what was going on. "General, my fleet is near full strength and I am in a position to intercept any thrust against Coruscant. We must stop Malak before he can reorganize and resupply…. General, I am curious, why isn't the civilian command authority delivering this briefing per established protocol?" she asked, referring to the Supreme Chancellor's directive that his civilian representative interface with all Theater Commanders.

General Phaleron frowned. She could see in her eyes that things were bad. "Forn, it gets even worse…Supreme Chancellor Locarno has abdicated and has fled with his cabinet. Personally, I say good riddance, but he has left chaos in his wake. I have had to institute martial law to quell rioting. In essence, I am the central authority for the Republic until a civilian government is reestablished."

Forn's eyes shot open. This was shocking. "You mean the Republic no longer exists?" The end had come far sooner than she had expected.

"For all intents and purposes, no, it does not. We are under military rule," advised the General with extreme displeasure. Phaleron was a good man and a professional soldier and he swore his life to the ideals of the Republic in spite of the fact that the reality of the government often fell short. "Forn, I don't like it any more than you do, but unless Malak is stopped once and for all, there will be nothing left for us to piece together for a new Republic."

Admiral Dodonna's face became grim. What was he planning? Shouldn't the biggest threat be stopped? "Jovan, do you want me to intercept Malak's fleet? How much time do we have?"

He shook her off. What madness had gripped him? Coruscant would surely fall now. "Negative, Admiral, it would be of little use; his ability to replace losses is staggering and your sacrifice would be for nothing. I have been briefed in on a wild scheme devised by the Jedi Council and have been asked to support it. Please stand by for Senator Orrin Dakar of Deralia…. Admiral, good luck." His hologram faded and Forn maintained a cool disposition. If anyone could be trusted, it was Jovan Phaleron – he was a solid strategist who had also snuck up the ranks on merit. His action against the Mandalorians on Dxun after the disaster of the initial landings was text book.

Then, a distinguished gentleman in silk robes appeared in another hologram. His dark hair was slicked back in a perfect, aristocratic style, accentuating his noble bearing. He was likely another political animal, self serving and fawning, but if Jovan asked her to give him a chance, she would.

"Admiral Dodonna, I am a close friend and ally of Jedi Master Vandar Tokare. He will be awaiting you at these coordinates," the Senator advised as he transmitted the data. "Please rendezvous with him and he will explain all."

Forn read the data as it arrived and guessed its meaning from her last conversation with the diminutive Jedi. "We are to assault the Star Forge?" The most important and covert mission in the Republic had just been assigned to her. For a moment, she felt proud, but then remembered what happed to the Endar Spire.

Senator Dakar nodded. "Admiral Dodonna, I have sacrificed much in the defense of the Republic. Please do not fail. May the Force be with you."

The admiral settled back into her seat as the holograms faded. This would be huge. They would have to get to the Star Forge before the Sith Fleet got to Coruscant or all would be lost. It would be a race that would decide the fate of the galaxy. She thought on Senator Dakar's words and wondered about what he had sacrificed.

The Navigator entered the coordinates and the fleet jumped to hyperspace. Forn sat pensively as she reflected upon what had happened - never before had a Supreme Chancellor abdicated and fled, leaving the Republic without a functioning government. She knew that there would be chaos in the Core Worlds. The fabric of their civilization would unravel.

She pondered in silence for a time until Lieutenant Oyaya spoke, "Admiral, we're receiving a secure transmission…the protocols and transponder codes check out. It's the Jedi."

"Bring them aboard."

The Briefing Room – 0032 hrs the Next Day

Admiral Dodonna sat as Master Vandar strode in on his tiny legs. He was followed by three other Jedi Masters, along with a gray Twi'lek and a young man. The newcomers sat amid the fleet's senior officers. In the corner of the room stood a petite blonde intelligence officer, Niki Helos, who had joined the admiral's G-2 or intelligence section. In an irony of ironies, she had filled the billet left open by the death of the traitorous Commander Ergot.

Master Vandar stood on the table and addressed the gathering. "We have been sent as representatives of the High Council to assist in, what we hope to be, the final struggle. With me are Jedi Masters Kavar, Vash, and Zez-Kai El, in addition to a hundred Jedi in an assault force. We have received news, both hopeful and disturbing from these individuals who were on Korriban," he announced as he pointed to Yuthura Ban and Dustil Onasi.

Yuthura turned to Admiral Dodonna. "Revan lives-" she began before horrified gasps sounded throughout the room.

Forn's blood ran cold. The admiral shot to her feet and looked sternly at Master Vandar. "What?" What madness had the Jedi gotten them into this time?

The tiny master pushed the palms of his hands downward to calm the belligerent crowd. He briefly summarized Revan's capture and new persona. "I am unaware of how she came to realize her true identity, but from what we know, she has remained true to the light."

Admiral Dodonna shook her head in horror. This was insane. Had all of the Jedi lost their wits? "Master Vandar, you are playing with fire."

Vandar nodded reluctantly. "It is as you say, but we have no choice. Yuthura, please continue."

The Twi'lek inhaled. "Yes, there is more," she added in her low, husky voice. "After we slew Master Uthar Wynn, I attacked her and she could have easily killed me. Instead, she spared me and brought me back to the light. Revan redeemed me," she said, her hands steepled as if praying.

Dustil nodded. "She could have just let me follow the Sith blindly, but she and Juhani gave me proof of the lies that the Sith had told me and how they had killed my friends. You must believe that Revan has been redeemed…you must," he urged, his support for Revan now as powerful as it had been for the Sith, such was her charisma…and Dustil's naivety.

Forn pondered their words for a moment, noticing the near slavish devotion that was being given to this shiny new Revan; she had seen it all before…men, who would kill and die at her command; worlds that would bow at her feet; fleets that would betray all that they held dear for the sound of her voice. The admiral imagined a very familiar road, but did not drive this vehicle today; it was out of her hands. She would hear the whole story before making judgment. "So, what of the Star Forge?"

Yuthura smiled. "Revan told me that she knows its location. She will transmit it once it is confirmed."

The admiral sighed as she saw the blind love in Yuthura's eyes at the mention of Revan's name…the same look that a billion traitors to the Republic had displayed. It would happen all over again. Forn looked to Master Vandar. What could she do? Coruscant mandated this course of action. "So, what do we do until then?"

"We wait."

The Star Forge – Malak's Command Center

The Dark Lord of the Sith observed the holographic map of the galaxy with his trusted followers, Sion and Moritz, by his side. Off in a dark corner stood Darth Nihilus, contemplating the intricacies of the Dark Side. The sinister Sith lord was clad in a long, black robe with a white and crimson mask. His frame was skeletally thin, prompting comments from his cohorts.

"Is Nihilus losing a lot of weight?" asked the droidlike Moritz, her blue robotic eye cast in his direction. "I think he's losing a lot of weight."

"Well, he's always eating," answered Sion blandly. "Always says he's hungry."

"Enough," chastised Malak, annoyed at the meaningless chatter. "We must focus on the conquest of the galaxy; the way to Coruscant is open." He then turned and drummed his fingers on the metal ring about his face. "I am still worried, however, that we did not find Revan on Bastion." Had she fooled him again? Even from beyond the 'grave' she could get the better of him.

"She was always very tricky," voiced Sion. "We should be prepared for anything concerning her."

Moritz frowned, crinkling the gray skin around the metallic parts of her face. "Lord Malak, you should also be aware of the fact that Revan's return has become known throughout the fleet; there are rumblings among much of the troops about their loyalty to her."

Moritz always did a good job, ferreting out tidbits of information from his minions, but talk of mutiny was unacceptable. He knew that there were whispers of how he had failed to kill the new Revan and that she would exact her revenge on him, carving him slowly into little pieces for her pleasure. Malak slammed a closed fist into an open palm. "I knew her redemption speech was all an act; Revan intends to reclaim her title as Dark Lord of the Sith. She cannot ignore her own power…can never put aside the mantle of galactic dominion." He knew that Revan would come for him soon and the duel would be epic.

The commlink chimed and Admiral Dessler appeared as a hologram. "M'Lord, I have grave news: A Republic fleet withstood our attack in the Selvaris System and is now striking our supply lines. Also-"

Malak cut him off. This was old news. "I am already aware of that. Do not fret about Admiral Dodonna, she has remained static instead of moving to intercept our pending invasion of Coruscant. Her indecisiveness is showing and she will be too late to prevent the fall of the Republic." Nothing stood in his way, nothing…except Revan.

Dessler bowed. "Very good, M'Lord. Also, I have received news that Revan has conquered Korriban."

This was something that Malak did not know. There were gasps in the room and a palpable nervousness filled the air. For the first time in a long time, fear gripped the Sith. The Dark Lord's eyes widened and he pondered for several moments. "So Revan, it begins again. Twice now you have slipped through my grasp…there will not be a third. Admiral Dessler, take part of the fleet and return Korriban to our fold."

"Yes M'Lord."

Malak turned back to his lords. "Sion, Nihilus, go with the fleet to Korriban. Be on your guard, you know of Revan's power."

As Sion and Nihilus departed, Malak contemplated the galaxy once again. "I will bring down the Republic and Revan will be subdued," he stated, attempting to bolster his own confidence.

Beside her master, Moritz thought back on their days of glory and how Revan had outmaneuvered and outfought every adversary she had faced. "We are playing with fire," she whispered to herself.

Down the corridor to the hangar bays, Sion and Nihilus walked beside transparisteel windows overlooking the forge, where starfighters and vessels of various sizes were being created with inhuman rapidity. As the two Sith lords strode to their newly forged ship, crewmen came to attention and bowed.

Nihilus approached one trooper, who was holding a plate full of poultry and pointed a long, skeletal finger at the meal. "You gonna eat that?" the Sith lord asked in a ghostly voice. As the trooper's knees buckled and he collapsed in fear, Nihilus plucked the poultry from the plate.

Korriban – The Czerka Office

The corporate headquarters on Korriban had been converted into a makeshift hospital for those wounded in the battle. Sith and rebel alike lay on stretchers, attended to by medical droids. Kneeling among the injured, Aerin called upon the Force and healing energy swirled among them. Taking care of the men was something she had to do for those who sacrificed and fought under her banner. Even the enemy received her mercy. Aerin knew that was what Revan would do.

The cacophony of groans that had filled the room faded and some of the men began to stir. Aerin stood and walked among them, taking their hands and giving words of encouragement. A Sith officer, lying bloody in a cot, sat up and felt his healing wounds. "Revan, I am with you. Lead us to victory."

This made her smile and she could see all eyes upon her. The Jedi reached out and touched his shoulder. She then looked around the room, making eye contact with any who would face her. "You were once my soldiers. Resume your places by my side and bring order to the galaxy."

One by one, the injured stood and saluted her. This was a great day. This was her destiny.

Korriban - the Dreshdae Cantina

Canderous sat in a corner of the quiet cantina under dim lights, drinking a dark beverage as smoke from a cigara coiled around his head. Pensively, he scratched the stubble on his chin, a dark frown on his face.

Aerin walked in and ordered her own brand of poison from the Rodian, Mika Dorin. As he respectfully slid her a bottle of Alderaanian wine, she gestured toward Canderous. "What's wrong with him? I heard he emerged victorious in a duel."

Mika shrugged, pursing the lips of his long, flexible mouth. "Mandalorians…who knows? He was fine yesterday." He then bowed to her. "Revan, you have brought us triumph again. You healed our wounded. We will await your commands."

Aerin touched him on the shoulder. "I am inspired by your loyalty Mika. I intend to destroy Malak's power and save the Republic. Will you join me?"

The Rodian nodded with glee. "I will follow you anywhere, Revan." The devoted look in his eyes gave her a charge. Revan may have failed before, but Aerin would now succeed in bringing about the New Order.

"Good, take your people and the Sith who have joined us and travel to these coordinates. Remain hidden and await my instructions. When you hear from me, strike hard and fast." Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew what Malak would do. His ego would not be able to bear the affront of having lost Korriban to her. He would send a large portion of his fleet here, probably led by that brute, Sion, and retake the planet. Only, no one would be here. Malak would waste valuable time and resources.

Mika bowed and withdrew to gather his men. He would help them assault the Star Forge. Picking up her glass and the bottle, Aerin sauntered over to Canderous. She took the adjacent stool and plucked the Mandalorian's cigara from his fingers as he brought it to his lips.

He smirked without looking at her. "Yeah, whaddya want?"

She let out an uncharacteristically girlish giggle as she took a puff. Her mirth was cut short as her face burned bright red and she coughed furiously. This cigara was downright vile. How could he smoke this stuff?

Now, it was Canderous' turn to laugh. "Can't handle a little smoke, eh?"

When she was done coughing and laughing, Aerin looked deep into the mercenary's eyes. In Mandalorian she said, "Mika and Ergeron told me of your victory. We should rejoice, brave warrior." Aerin's knowledge of Mandalorian culture was returning. Revan knew their hearts and minds inside out.

He grunted slowly, but a faint smile crossed his lips – a smile tinged with both pride and bitterness. "Jagi and I were clan brothers. I trained him for his manhood trials. Mandalorians have no real term for this type of relationship, but your closest equivalent would be that we were…friends."

He gulped down his drink. Aerin knew enough to remain silent and the mercenary took a deep breath and continued, "Jagi questioned my judgment regarding my command at the Battle of Althir. I sent his wing to secure the flank of the enemy. As he began his assault, the Althirans shifted their forces to meet him and their center was exposed. I seized the initiative…. Jagi's wing was decimated. I did not see him again until yesterday."

Then, like a volcanic eruption, Canderous struck his fist on the table, toppling the glasses. "It was war! What did he expect? Revan," he said, turning to her, "you understand we Mandalorians like no other outsider. I respect you…. I will follow you to the end…to the poisonous wastes of Malachor Five if I have to, but right now, leave me be. I need some time to think."

Aerin maintained eye contact for a second and nodded. The fire in his eyes burned fiercely. Warrior to warrior, they understood each other and without a word, she departed.

In Dresdae

Deep in thought, the Jedi walked toward the exit. Canderous had given her some pause, but she knew that it was his way of processing the event. He had slain a close friend in individual combat and he would never show that it hurt him deeply. Such was the way of Mandalore. To him, Jagi had to be only one more kill…one more victory. Part of her wanted to embrace Canderous, but this was unacceptable. No Mandalorian warrior would accept such a gesture and he would think less of her for offering. Unlike she and Juhani, she would never see tears from this man. She was starting to feel the effects of so much wine and her body tingled. Through a window, she could see a large sign nailed over the entrance to the Sith Academy: 'Closed for Renovation. Under New Management.'

She laughed out loud, a somewhat bitter, sarcastic laugh. Dustil Onasi had thought that one up, showing his father's same flair for sardonic humor. As she turned to go, Dak Vesser, the former Sith archaeologist, approached. "Admiral Revan," he said humbly, "Your friend Juhani…she saved me. I would have been killed if she hadn't convinced me to leave the Sith. I am going to join Mika Dorin's fleet. I have to make it up to her."

Aerin studied him for a moment and saw that his heart was true if somewhat misguided. "We could use the help. Welcome aboard."

The remainder of the day was spent preparing the Ebon Hawk for departure. Mika filled their stocks of food and fuel and gave Aerin a powerful pair of gauntlets. In return, Aerin gave him a crate of valuable, fiery spices that had been hidden on board the Hawk by Davik Kang.

At the spaceport, Aerin approached the Hawk and glanced up at the battered old ship. She slid her hand lovingly along its gray metal hull. "Let us brave the fire once more, old friend." As rickety and beat up as this ship was, it was home. She had come to know every sound, every corner, and every space aboard her. She thought about the hidden spaces that she had discovered for her rendezvous with Carth. It seemed like a lifetime ago now. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her body.

Then, Mekel and Lashowe approached her and bowed, getting her attention. "Master, everything is prepared," they sang in unison. "Jordo has the engines in top shape and we are ready for departure."

Aerin noticed the slavish devotion they had developed toward her, but made no attempt to dissuade them. They boarded the ship and the Jedi took her place in the copilot's seat. From the left seat, Carth looked over and gave Aerin an awkward smile, seemingly unsure of the status of their relationship. The Padawan returned the smile and extended her hand to him. He took it in silence as Mission entered the coordinates to the Star Forge. It was a start. Maybe they would never be lovers again, but they could at least be friends. Maybe, but this was not what she wanted.

The Ebon Hawk – Deep Space

The captain was starting to get sleepy as the cockpit was so quiet. The thrum of the hyperspace drive faded in the back of his head as he started to doze. It was the night cycle for the speedy vessel and the interior lights were dim, adding to the drowsy effect. Canderous and Zaalbar entered the cockpit for the shift change. None too son. He'd have fallen asleep otherwise. Carth and Aerin stood and Mission leapt into the right seat.

"Mission, you should take a break," offered Carth. He knew the young lady was tired.

"No sir, I'm fine. I need more experience," the young Twi'lek countered resolutely. She was really making him proud and he began to think of her as a surrogate daughter. She would soon go to the Republic Naval Academy and become a cadet. Once, she actually said that she wanted to follow in his and Aerin's footsteps. She was no longer the lost, surly teen on Taris – a sense of maturity had come over her.

Then, there was Dustil. Never would he have thought things would have ended so well. Only in his most self-indulgent day dreams would Dustil have embraced him and called him 'father.' But, it had come to pass.

They had talked long into the night after the battle, bathed in the glow of the burning Sith vehicle. He told Dustil, explained to him, everything that had happened. How the Sith had attacked, how Morgana had died, how he tried everything to find Dustil until the poisonous fumes overtook the area. "I wanted to die with your mother," he told his son, "but Dol and Jordo dragged me off, screaming your name. I know now, it was for the best that I lived…so that I could be here to see you."

In that hard moment, Dustil's eyes softened and he wept at hearing how his mother had died and how this man sitting next to him was not the evil man he thought he was. Unlike the bitter tears that usually came on Korriban, Dustil's tears were clean and cleansing. The boy buried his face in his father's chest. "Father," he said, "father."

Carth choked up, remembering that moment and knew that Revan, his hated enemy, helped bring their reunion about. With a sigh, Carth patted Mission on the shoulder as Canderous took the left seat and Z sat at the Navigation Console. Mission looked back at the Wookiee and winked.

Aerin led Carth back past the center room toward the engineering bay. HK was shut down and T3 wheeled about, inserting his data probe into various ports. Absentmindedly, he just followed her. There was nothing between them that would make a difference now anyway.

She seemed to be going to the medical bay. Neither of them had any remaining injury. Perhaps she had a stash of liquor so that she could get drunk again. He paused. "Aerin, where are we going?" He refused to use that other name. That name could stay buried for all eternity.

She turned to face him with that mischievous look in her eyes. He had not seen that look for weeks, but he knew it so well. She tapped the control to the med bay door and it slid open, revealing an empty bed. Carth wasn't Force sensitive, but he knew what was coming. His breath quickened and he fought for clarity. This is a terrible idea.

Aerin smirked as she pushed him into the room, closing the door. Her touch on his chest was electric and a fire burned in him as she glided her fingers up his neck to his lips. He knew that touch and he gasped and all resistance vanished. She slid off her robes and guided him to the bed. He looked into her gray eyes and then down her body, her smooth, lustrous skin shining in the dim light. His throat tightened and he gulped hard. She pulled him into an embrace and it was like the warmth of a sun filling him with uncontrollable fire.

Carth nuzzled her deep, rich hair and inhaled deeply, his nostrils filling with the seductive scent of Freesian Lavender. "You've changed your perfume," he commented in a whisper. She had always favored Deralian Jasmine.

"Does it matter?"

He shook his head. Nothing mattered at the moment. As they reclined, he fought to control himself, but it was impossible; he was caught in the flames of destiny, which would consume him entirely. As he looked down into her soft eyes and planted kisses on her red lips, he only knew one thing.

I am playing with fire.