To say that it was an unpleasant surprise would have been an understatement.
The sight of Raynar Thul's murderers filled Jaina Solo with a rage the likes of which she had not known since she'd killed the Yuuzhan Vong who had threatened to desecrate Anakin's body back on the worldship over Myrkr, when she'd summoned Force lightning for the first time in a blaze of fury.
Lomi Plo, a Nightsister of Dathomir, had been a captive on the worldship, along with her apprentice Welk, and Anakin had made the decision to free them, much to Zekk's disapproval.
Then again, Zekk may have just been opposed to the idea of helping a former comrade.
After all, Welk had been a student at the Shadow Academy, one of many young dark side wielders who looked up to and admired Zekk for being the Darkest Knight, at least until Zekk betrayed them and turned back to the light, saving the Jedi from entering the Temple rigged with explosives.
But despite Zekk's protests, Anakin had chosen to help the Dark Jedi.
And they had betrayed him.
Not only had they injured Lowbacca and killed Raynar when they took the two Jedi by surprise and stole the Yuuzhan Vong ship that the strike team had originally confiscated with the intent of using it to escape the worldship, they had stolen the only chance Anakin had left for survival.
Had they not taken that ship, the strike team might have been able to find a way to escape sooner, and Anakin could have gone into a healing trance onboard.
If not for Lomi Plo, both Raynar and Anakin would still be alive.
"You," Jaina sneered, her blood running as cold as ice, and let them both fall to the ground.
The two Dark Jedi quickly rose to their feet, and Lomi opened her mouth to speak, but Jaina closed it for her on the spot, curling her fingers into a claw and squeezing slightly, slowing crushing the Nightsister's throat with the Force just as she had done to Ta'a Chume on Hapes.
Unlike Ta'a Chume, however, Lomi Plo had access to the Force.
Jaina felt the older woman reach out with it, trying to pry away the invisible hands choking her, to tear through the thick band pressing in on her throat, and she tightened her grip.
With her own superior power suppressing Lomi's, Jaina forced the Nightsister to her knees, gasping for air.
It would have been easy to simply crush the woman's trachea and be done with it, but she wasn't about to let Lomi get off that lightly, not after everything the wretched woman had done at Myrkr. Anakin's blood was on her hands just as surely as Raynar's, and she would make the woman pay for their deaths.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Welk move towards her menacingly, a fierce snarl on his face, but he never made it more than a few steps before a white-purple blade flickered in front of his throat.
Moving up behind Lomi's young apprentice as he stiffened, Kyp pressed his fingers hard against the sensitive nerve in the younger man's neck, where too much pressure would prove fatal in a matter of seconds, and Welk froze, trapped between the lightsaber at his throat and Kyp behind him.
"You so much as think about blinking, and I'll kill you," Kyp growled softly, and Welk had enough sense of self-preservation to stay perfectly still, although the scowl on his face made it clear that he was itching to turn the tables on the Jedi Master.
The very idea was ridiculous of course, and Jaina made a mental note to laugh about it later.
Right now, she had more important things to think about.
Like whether to call for her lightsaber, or simply summon a nice volley of Force lightning to finish the Nightsister on her knees in front of her off.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't snap your neck," Jaina snarled at the woman, her veins frigid with cold, black fury, and her chest raw and heaving with unfiltered hate.
"We can be of use to you," Lomi rasped, her throat crushing in around her voice-box.
"I highly doubt that," Jaina retorted with a cool smirk that showed plenty of teeth. "You're not going to be of much use to anyone dead, Lomi, not even yourself."
"You need us," Lomi gasped out on her knees, her voice growing even fainter as her face began to discolor from lack of oxygen. "We can... help you... defeat the Vong..."
"I don't need anyone," Jaina sneered, applying more pressure.
A furious Welk twitched from head to toe, clearly aching to reach for his own lightsaber, the black hilt visible at his hip, and help his master, but he didn't dare make any move with Kyp's blade close enough to sting the skin on his throat, and the Jedi Master's fingers pressing against his vulnerable nerve.
"Making a... mistake," Lomi pleaded hoarsely, her eyes beginning to bulge slightly, even as she tried futilely to ward off the Force-strangle with her own powers. "We came to... help you..."
"And why," Jaina said mockingly, easing up just a little, so that the woman could gasp in a breath of air, only to squeeze it out of her again a second later when she tightened her grip once more. "Would you want to do a thing like that?"
"Because we want to destroy the kriffing Vong," Welk spat viciously from the wings. "Why else would we be here?"
Without bothering to tear her gaze from Lomi, Jaina raised an eyebrow, and she felt Kyp inch his lightsaber even closer to the younger man's exposed throat, eliciting a stifled hiss of pain as the heat seared the tender skin under Welk's chin.
"We didn't... come as... enemies.." Lomi insisted through ragged gasps.
"You didn't come as enemies?" Jaina echoed incredulously, and gave a bitter laugh. "Did you hear that, Kyp? They didn't come as enemies!"
"So I heard," Kyp replied coolly.
"We're... not... your ene-"
"You killed Raynar," Jaina snarled venomously, forcing the wind out of the woman's throat viscously and shoving her back into the wall so hard that the Nightsister's bones gave an audible crack as the sandstone wall creaked, trying to swallow her as gravity and the unforgiving power of the Force tried to bury her into it.
"He was..." Lomi trailed off, coughing hoarsely, and a drop of blood fell from her nose onto her lips. "In... the way."
"And now you're in my way," Jaina observed with a merciless smile. "Whatever shall I do with you?"
Lomi tried to speak, but the only sound that came out was a pitiful keening that reminded Jaina of a dying bantha, and the woman's eyes fluttered, nearly rolling up into her head. In a matter of seconds, the Nightsister would lose consciousness and stop breathing all together.
Sighing, Jaina loosened her grip, and Lomi doubled over, heaving in desperate gasps of air.
A spark of black fury rose up within Welk, and the urge to attack suddenly became almost a feral instinct.
"Don't," Jaina warned him, without looking his way. "He won't hesitate to kill you."
"And it won't be quick," Kyp added darkly.
From the floor, Lomi looked up at her, still drawing in deep, shuddering breaths, as if aware that she might lose the ability again at any moment, which was all too likely considering Jaina had yet to actually unwrap her invisible hands from the woman's neck.
"We came to join you," Lomi rasped, pausing for breath as her disheveled black hair fell across her face. "To help you fight the Vong."
"What makes you think we need help?" Jaina demanded in dark amusement.
"You may be the granddaughter of Darth Vader," the Nightsister acknowledged. "And you might have the Destroyer of Worlds on your arm." Her dark, glossy eyes flickered briefly to Kyp, full of something akin to both respect and trepidation, then settled on Jaina again. "But you're only two against millions. You need greater numbers if you wish to win this war."
"And you really think four is so much better than two?" Jaina asked with a smirk.
"It will not be four for long," Lomi answered, shaking her head. "Others will come. They will be drawn to you, and they will join you if you let them. You burn like a beacon in the darkness, that is how we found you here. Others will do the same in time."
"Others like you?" Jaina inquired coolly, partly to mask the fact that the Nightsister's words had caused something inside of her to stir, to sit up and take notice.
Kyp knew, though, and she could feel his intense gaze watching her, seeing through her into the core of her being.
What are you thinking? he asked through their rapport, but the question wasn't posed with words, so much as feelings, emotions, that didn't need to be translated.
"Many Nightsisters were killed when the Yuuzhan Vong took Dathomir," Lomi responded evenly, rubbing her bruised throat tenderly. "Those who survived had scattered and gone into hiding, but some will find their way to you if given the chance. And there are more like us than just my people, more and more find themselves drawn to the shadows in the face of the abomination that invades our galaxy."
They don't exist in the Force... they're an abomination.
Words she herself had spoken back on Hapes, what seemed like ages ago, drifted to the surface of Jaina's thoughts now, and Lomi must have sensed the general direction of those thoughts, because the Nightsister smiled with cool calculation.
"If we work together," she said lowly, putting the Force behind her words. "We can wipe them out forever."
Snorting, Jaina shook her head. "Don't try your mind games on me, Lomi," she advised with a smile that was decidedly unkind. "Or you'll find yourself with little mind left at all."
Wordlessly, Lomi inclined her head in acknowledgment.
Well? Jaina sent to Kyp, without taking her eyes off of the Nightsister kneeling in front of her. She didn't need to see his face to look at him, and while Lomi probably suspected that they were carrying on silent, private communication through the Force, there was no need to make it obvious.
I don't trust them, was his immediate, and not unexpected, reply.
Jaina didn't trust them, either, but that was beside the point at the moment.
That's not what I'm asking, she told him evenly, making sure that he understood she shared his wariness just the same.
There was silence across their bond for a long moment, and she could feel the whirlwind of thought and calculation taking place in Kyp's mind as clearly as if it was happening in her own, so she merely opened herself deeper to him, letting his thoughts flood over her.
He was hesitant about giving up their privacy, about allowing two people he didn't trust anywhere near her, and his pride said they didn't need anyone else but the two of them.
But there was no denying that numbers made them stronger against the Yuuzhan Vong.
And while neither Lomi nor Welk was anything special, their power was average at best, and they weren't a dramatic asset to the cause, they could certainly help increase how much damage was inflicted upon the Vong.
For the first time since the escape from Myrkr, Jaina thought back on the scene that a disturbed Anakin had relayed to her during the mission after his half of the team rescued the two Dark Jedi from captivity, about how Lomi Plo had used the dark side to create a murderous energy web, which had sliced a Yuuzhan Vong warrior into a thousand tiny, bloody pieces before his eyes.
It was an interesting idea, and one that she might have to consider using in the future.
Messier than Force lightning, but definitely more painful to the victim, and it would frighten any Vong who had happened to witness it and survive to tell the tale.
Still, sometimes nothing could beat an old-fashioned lightsaber kill.
Czulkang Lah's amphistaff, which rested coiled in the corner of the hut, was a testament to that.
The fanged weapon was longer and slimmer than any amphistaff she had ever seen before, presumably a relic from another era of Yuuzhan Vong history, back when Czulkang Lah was in his prime, back before his son had grown up and taken his command away from him. While effective and more than capable of destroying any enemy that crossed its path, the weapon clearly held sentimental value for the old warrior.
In that respect, it wasn't that unlike the trademark blaster her father carried, or the lightsabers her brothers had wielded until their deaths.
She was looking forward to seeing the look on Tsavong Lah's face when he saw her carrying his father's weapon.
And then she was going to kill him with it.
The smirk tugging its way onto her lips at that thought suddenly crested downward into a frown, as the words that the former warmaster had spoken to her just before his death surfaced again in her mind.
If Yun-Harla exists then so does Yun-Yammka, one cannot exist without the other.
Czulkang Lah had been trying to tell her something, that much she was certain of, but the words, while spoken in Basic as an odd gesture of respect, didn't make any sense to her.
The previous night, his words had been pushed out of her mind by hours of passion with Kyp after returning to Kenobi's hut from the battlefield, but tonight they had troubled her as she lay awake in bed next to Kyp, and they had made her sleep a restless one.
She had dreamed of a distant future where the Yuuzhan Vong had been wiped from the galaxy, where all traces of their existence had been erased, as if they had never been there at all, and it had played out before her eyes as if she were watching a scene from a holovid on the vidscreen, distant and detached.
Her parents had survived, older and wearier, but as strong as always as long as they were together, and her uncle was able to rest for once, enjoying the simplicity of watching his son grow tall with Mara at his side, while the young shaped the galaxy in his stead.
The Jedi had become strong again, and flourished on some world that she didn't recognize, but something inside of her felt that she should, as if she had been there before, lifetimes ago.
And Jacen had been there.
Alive and whole, but with a weight on his shoulders that never lessened, he assumed their uncle's place, solemn and wise enough to guide the reformed Council through the peaceful times ahead.
There had been children, little things with auburn hair and gray eyes, clinging to the legs of a patiently amused Tenel Ka, dressed not in the garb of the Queen Regent of Hapes, or even a princess, but in the simple garments of a Jedi Knight, down to the soft boots and the lightsaber at her hip.
All laughter and smiles, though, had vanished as her presence in their world was sensed.
Silent, apprehensive eyes turned in her direction, whispers that she couldn't make out carrying through the crowd of familiar, and beloved, faces as they stared back at her, and one thing was perfectly clear.
She was not welcome.
This place, this life, was not hers. She did not belong there, with them, in their world of light.
Hers was a place of shadows.
And Jacen of all people had been the one to step forward, and extend a hand, wordlessly banishing her from their domain.
Whatever might have come after that, she would never know, for a sudden and sharp whistle of forewarning had spliced right through her dream, jolting her awake with shocking speed.
It didn't matter, though, because it had only been a dream.
Jacen was dead, just like Anakin, and Jaina would avenge their memories if it was the last thing she ever did.
It probably would be, in the end.
There had been no time to differentiate between dream and reality as she flung herself out of bed, instinctively throwing out her hand and hurling the unseen intruders whose presence had awoken her from slumber into the far wall of the small hut.
She didn't have any conscious recollection of calling to Kyp, but she must have, because he was only a fraction of a second behind her, lightsaber igniting in his hand.
And when the white-purple blade had cast its glow across the figures pinned to the wall by her will, she had forgotten everything except for the blinding rage that surged up inside of her chest at the sight of Lomi and Welk.
It was just a dream, Kyp's smooth voice assured her.
Now, Jaina did spare him a glance, only to find him staring at her with deep emerald eyes, and she knew that he had just seen fragments of her dream through her memories, which slid along their rapport unconsciously.
Jaina replied, although in the most secret corner of her heart, she
could not forget the haunting image of her twin brother's dark eyes
staring at her as if she was a stranger. Pushing it aside and burying
it deep in the shadows of her mind, she shifted gears back to the
subject at hand. I
think we should let them stay. Are you sure?
Are you sure?Kyp asked, without skepticism or doubt, just curiosity.
Jaina admitted, flashing him a mental smirk. But
I figure if they get in the way, we'll just kill them. Fair
Fair enough,he agreed with a dark chuckle.
Turning her attention back to Lomi, who was still kneeling on the ground, watching them with cool, narrowed eyes, as if trying to hear their unspoken conversation, Jaina gave the Nightsister a cold smile.
"If you stay, you play by my rules or you die," she informed the older woman coolly. "It's that simple. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly," Lomi murmured, touching a hand to her bruised throat.
"And your apprentice?" Kyp asked quietly, his lightsaber still precariously close to cutting open Welk's throat if he so much as twitched a finger wrong.
Lomi glanced over at Welk, and nodded, her eyes boring into the younger man. "He'll do as he's told," she promised lowly. "Or he'll suffer the consequences."
"Good," Jaina said simply. "Because if not, he dies."
There was no need for her to even signal Kyp, he knew even before the thought passed through her mind, and moved his lightsaber away from Welk's throat, shoving the younger man forward to join his master, earning a rather petulant and dark look from the boy, but Kyp just smirked, knowing the kid was no threat.
Scowling, Welk moved to Lomi's side, and the Nightsister merely gave him a look of caution.
"Well, then," Jaina said at last, with a smirk as she folded her arms over her chest. "Welcome to the New Order."