Heart of Darkness

Part 1?

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Two Jedi and their Padawan learners are sent on a mission to rid a back-water planet of a menacing beast, but there's more to the mission than either youngster anticipates.

Author's Notes: This is a Knights of the Old Republic story set during Revan's Jedi training, told from the perspective of the Jedi Exile. This is highly likely to become a Revan/Exile pairing, in which both characters are male. Any issue with that may be taken up with my secretary, Hanharr, who will be delighted to rip your arms off and beat you over the head with them, possibly for being a narrow-minded prude, but probably just because he wants to.

One last note – Revan's master is not meant to be Kreia. I am aware that the Exile first met Kreia on Peragus. This is one of Revan's plethora of other masters, and you can take your pick which it is, for now. I might decide to specify in later chapters.

Disclaimer: I don't own LucasArts, as if that needs pointing out to you.

I shut my eyes as I ran through the crowd, opening myself up to the Force and allowing it to steer me along a safe path amongst the crush of people while gaining on my prey all the while. I could also sense Revan not far away, level with me but making his own way through the throng. Exhilaration poured off him like billowing smoke as we exerted ourselves physically and mentally in our pursuit of this target. We had tracked him for days – a bizarre alien quadruped named Fecax whose latent Force abilities had manifested over a life spanning thousands of years until he finally became a twisted, unknowing tool of the dark side. Our masters had failed to find any information on his species in the Jedi archives, and it seemed like no one had come face to face with one before – at least, no one who still lived. His dappled flesh looked reptilian from a distance, but his long, slender, upright ears were tufted with fur, and he was not deterred by the planet's cold temperatures. His intelligence was surprisingly high for a four-footer, and he was also incredibly agile, with an extra joint in each leg and – we suspected – the ability to stand upright as well as run on all fours.

His species had a natural talent for languages, or so our Deralian guide told us, and even he was making wild assumptions. Devera, he called them, which means 'enigma' in the Deralian language, and at least on that point he wasn't far off. Dwelling in only the remotest of places, the Devera became something of a myth and like all myths they were exaggerated – although not by much. Our guide, Garon, claimed to have encountered several of the beasts and each one spoke to him in a different language, almost as if they sponged speech off the first sentient creature they came across. They may have had their own primitive pictorial dialogue of hieroglyphs and diagrams, some samples of which Garon found scratched into stone out in the wilds. Over many years of fascination with these beasts, Garon pieced together a rough history of the Devera and deduced that they were long-lived creatures rarely in tune with the Force. Fecax was a strange fluke of nature that resulted in foaming madness and a multitude of deaths.

My master, Seph Keri, expressed a great deal of annoyance that Deralia had not called for Jedi assistance sooner. We climbed over a mountain of bodies before we caught the merest glimpse of the monster Fecax, all of them killed with purpose and intent. He was after something, and Master Keri warned us that perhaps even Fecax did not know what he was hunting. He did not kill randomly but selected a victim and stalked him or her for anything up to weeks before striking. Garon had witnessed one such attack and described Fecax's ferocity at the moment of the kill, and then a sort of frustrated apathy that came over him when he was left with nothing but a lifeless corpse. Garon himself had warned the authorities not to approach the creature, which annoyed my master even more.

"First thing you do," he said to me after hearing Garon's story, "when faced with a dangerously feral beast is shoot the damn thing. We're Jedi, but we aren't fools. We don't try to reason with something unreasonable."

It was then revealed to us that someone had indeed shot him, and that a blaster bolt to the head had done nothing other than annoy him. Fecax's next meal was the man with the firearm, and then, as he always did after a kill, he vanished for a month or so. The next time he came back, the Deralians finally called us in to deal with him.

Four Jedi to deal with one problem pest. It sounded like an easy assignment, and one beneath two experienced masters with nearly-grown padawans, and Revan made the mistake of saying as much on the shuttle ride from orbit to the planet's surface. His master's lecturing on assumptions and ignorance and blind stupidity echoed through the vessel for the entire journey, and became a theme for the mission. None of us knew what we were dealing with, and we couldn't afford to make assumptions.

The chase through a Deralian mining settlement, closely in pursuit of the mysterious Fecax, came three weeks into the mission and was the first opportunity Revan and I had to really do anything. Going over and over a dozen murder scenes for clues and information was not what either of us thought of as stimulating work, nor was trekking through libraries and archives for data on the animal. On that particular evening we removed ourselves from the company of our masters, who were scrupulously re-analysing everything we had learned. The thrill we felt when we caught sight of Fecax ourselves, stalking along a deserted alley with his glowing eyes wide, was tangible. Sometimes wading through information won't get you anywhere – sometimes you have to get out there and face the enemy.

Chasing him into an area packed full of people was probably not our finest move ever, but he was too intent on escaping us to stop and maim anyone. He seemed to flow through the crowd like air, scuttling and sidling, almost dancing at times as Revan and I pushed, stumbled, and skidded along in his wake. People ran, screaming, and I knew that if Master Keri was with me he would reach out and calm their minds with an elegant twist of the Force. I could manage no such thing, and nor could Revan, assuming it even occurred to him. We both thought we weren't far from the Jedi trials, but we were arrogant and ignorant. If we hadn't been those things, we would never have given chase.

Fecax tried to foil us by leaping onto a roof, but we followed, managing the jump with the help of the Force. I landed awkwardly, skidded, and caught hold of Revan's robes. He steadied me and, with a quip about my clumsiness, was gone again across the rooftop. I sprinted after him, noticing as I ran the scoring on the heavy roof tiles. Vicious claws had scratched deep marks into the stone, despite Fecax running at a speed which meant his feet only touched the surface briefly and lightly with every step.

Ahead of me Revan had drawn his lightsaber and held the un-ignited hilt in his hand as he ran. We were approaching another alley between buildings, wider than most, and I saw our prey leap high into the air, arcing gracefully towards the distant ledge. He landed and continued to run as if no obstacle had ever been presented, and I felt a pang of admiration for him. This was a creature designed to hunt and kill, honed by selective pressures over countless millennia until the result before us represented the height of energy efficiency as well as strength and agility. In comparison humans – and indeed almost any other sentients –were bumbling, helpless fools.

On the other hand, we had the ability to command the Force.

Revan hit the far rooftop with his feet firmly together, crouching briefly to steady himself before sprinting off again. I was lagging behind now, and as I began to see how great a distance there was between my roof and the next I wondered if I should give up the chase and leave the glory of bringing down such a beast to Revan alone. I managed to stop myself before I reached the edge, and gazed across at the now distant figures haring across the skyline in the direction of the entertainment district.

I jumped down from the roof and landed in a busy street, startling a number of people. A crowd was staring up at the chase scene although by now Revan and Fecax would be far away. A few people tried to question me as I strode back the way I had come, but I ignored them.

I wandered in the general direction of the entertainment district, taking a more direct route than Revan, away from the city boundaries. I decided on my first day there that I didn't like Deralia in the slightest. The people were drab, listless individuals, both in the city proper as well as the slums. The small sun shone feebly somewhere beyond layers of dense cloud and fog, and correspondingly the skin tone of the indigenous species – the Dera – was a pale grey dappled with darker tones. The vast swamps that lay beyond the city boundaries contained similarly listless and unenthusiastic plants and animals. I hadn't spotted a single tree either within the city or outside, but according to our guide the southern hemisphere was a land of thick forests and lush habitats. I asked him why the people built their city in the swamp infested half, and he reminded me why we were there; the Devera were more common deep within the forests, or so he had reason to assume, and besides them there were a thousand other predators, both animal and vegetation that had destroyed any attempts at civilisation there. The swamps occasionally spawned flesh-eating reptiles or killer gases but on the whole they were easy to tame.

To call this civilisation took some huge leaps of imagination. No building grew over ten stories high, with residential buildings never more than two stories each, assumedly to prevent them from being too heavy and sliding into the swamp. The city was vast though, covering roughly half a continent, and was home to more than a billion beings of hundreds of species.

I ached to be back on Coruscant, where the slime was buried miles under the streets, and the colourful multitudes occasionally displayed something resembling self worth. Deralia was starting to get to me. I stomped through the streets until I reached the glowing band of cantinas, gambling bars and spice dens that masqueraded under the title of the Entertainment District. Almost as soon as setting foot there I was approached by a couple of scantily clad Twi'lek females. I averted my eyes and attempted to walk straight past.

"The pretty human just insulted us," one of them said behind me, loudly. I could sense they were following me and gritted my teeth. I hated this planet.

"He seems tense," the other countered. "Maybe we could help him relax. Sooth his stressful human head."

"Maybe he has credits for more than relaxation," the other suggested hopefully. "We have many, many skills-"

I stopped abruptly and span round. They almost trod on each other in surprise. Their slender green lekku twitched optimistically.

"Go away," I said firmly, with a slight and somewhat clumsy twitch of the Force to emphasise my words.

"He's so stubborn," said one.

"Firm," said the other.

"Masculine," the first added, smiling.

I cleared my mind and gathered the Force to me, determined to get out of this without parting with any dignity.

"You want to go and get proper jobs," I insisted, with a slight wave of my hand. I had seen my master do this a dozen times, and I'd tried it myself on certain weak-minded sentients, but only under my master's direction. The Twi'leks seemed a little startled, so I added, "prostitution is an unsavoury business. You are worth more than-"

"Ah," said one of them, her smile widening. "If the pretty human had only said. We can take him to meet our brother if he prefers."

I stared at them. Gawped is, I believe, the word. I tried to think of something coherent to say, but at that moment a snarling sound caught my attention and the next moment the monster Fecax dropped from the rooftops and pounced on one of the Twi'leks. Revan came pounding along the roof, lightsaber blurring blue as he prepared to attack.

Fecax had apparently not been expecting to land on anything organic, and almost left the girl alone before realising he could make lunch out of her. He opened his massive jaws to take her throat in his teeth, and I had the good sense to stun him quite firmly with the Force.

Revan landed in the street and stared at the tableau. The girl lay sprawled on the ground, apparently stunned herself, with the monster's teeth pressed very gently against her neck. She made the faintest of whimpering sounds, but her sister decided to scream.

"Well," said Revan, ignoring her hysterics. "I do all the work while you chat up the Night Girls? And now I suppose you're going to take credit for capturing it?" A grin toyed with his lips and I knew he was joking. I shrugged.

"We were negotiating a price… You know how it is. Lucky for you they were being stubborn, or I'd have been out of here."

Revan laughed out loud. The Twi'lek on the floor had by now crawled – very carefully – out of the creature's frozen mouth.

"How long's that stun going to hold?" Revan asked.

I shrugged. "Two minutes? An hour? I've never done it before."

"Fantastic." Revan glanced at the girls, who were hugging each other desperately and trembling in fear. Being Deralian citizens they would have heard of Fecax, probably seen pictures too, and knew the horror stories that went with him.

"It's safe now," said Revan, his voice holding more confidence than my occasional worried glances at Fecax could back up. "Go about your business. And stop being so pretty, both of you – it's distracting!"

They giggled nervously as they left, glancing back at Revan until they were out of sight. I sighed out of relief – not for the capture of the beast so much as the departure of the prostitutes – and opened my comlink to tell our masters what had happened. Revan walked around the Devera in a circle, examining it up close like no other person would ever have the chance to do.

"It's mammalian," he said, once I closed the comlink again. "Very fine fur all over its body… Its teeth suggest an omnivorous diet, but I don't remember any reports of it savaging plant-life."

"Haha," I said dutifully.

Revan looked up at me and grinned. "We did it. We completed this mission by ourselves. You and me!"

I allowed myself to return the grin. Jedi were trained against emotions, but joy was seldom actively frowned upon. Pride could be dangerous, but I didn't sense any of that from Revan – merely an intense satisfaction with a job well done.

"That's because we're geniuses," I said.

"Heroes," he added.

"Fools," hissed a voice behind us. Razor-like claws slashed across my back before I had a chance to react, and I saw the blue blur of Revan's lightsaber before I hit the ground, face-first. I heard Fecax's shrill voice hissing in a dozen different languages before it finally faded away and his body hit the dirt beside mine.

"So much for the peaceful solution," Revan muttered, kneeling beside me. I felt his hands on my shoulders and focused on them as I fought to keep the pain at bay. The instant the claws punctured my flesh, my training had kicked in and I used the Force to sooth my mind, calming the pain signals, not rejecting them but accepting them. It wasn't easy, but a dozen beatings in the training rooms had made the technique an instantaneous reaction. I could feel Revan applying some slight Force pressure to my wounds to stop the bleeding.

"Is it bad?" I muttered. Revan pulled a face.

"Worse than I can fix up, but no death for you today. In fact I'd advise against death as a whole…"

I cut off his prospective ramble with a grunt, and hefted myself to my feet. "Legs are fine," I reported. No spinal damage, then. Just flesh wounds and dented pride, and the memory of how soothing it felt to have Revan's palms pressed against my shoulders.

Revan valiantly carried the corpse back to the city centre, where the council would want to see it for themselves before they declared the danger over. I trailed along behind him, vaguely aware that the back of my robes had been torn off. Deralian citizens stared out at us from every doorway as word of our victory spread before us like ripples on water. I could feel a huge sense of relief come over the city, but worried that it was misplaced. We'd killed the monster, it was true, but a multitude of mysteries remained. The dark side corruption I felt from Fecax was unnaturally intense, albeit untamed, and I had a suspicion our time on Deralia was far from over. Judging by the look he cast towards me when a cheering crowd met us in the main square, Revan knew it too…

To be continued…?