Chapter 16: A Different Path
"Swagger..." Flynn put a hand out. "Don't do it just for my sake."
"Both your sakes." Swagger's eyes remained on Mav lying inert on the bunk. "You've got a link to him, and he's trying to tell us something." He leaned closer to Mav. "Don't try so hard." He asked Flynn, "What did you get with the pain?"
"Nothing, just the pain. No words, no mental image."
"Okay." Swagger drew into himself and closed his eyes. Although the bounty hunter didn't want to use the Force, he hid the revulsion well. He felt it deep within and reached down to tap into it. He put a hand on Mav's forehead and willed the Force to forge a link to allow him to hear what Mav was trying to say. He didn't form a bond; had no desire to be bonded with anyone. There was something fighting to escape from Mav's mind—some vision or words—but Swagger couldn't quite get a grasp... "It's..."
"A trap!" Visas sat bolt upright in the bed in the Khoonda med-bay.
Gunner jumped back and one of the med-techs dropped the instrument he'd been holding. They'd thought the Miraluka was unconscious—in a coma.
"It is a trap." Visa's voice was weak, and she sounded like she was a long way away. "Stygiaan. His name is Stygiaan and he knows Revan is coming. He is preparing a trap."
"That is not good." Gunner pulled out his com-link. "Cap!"
There was no response.
"He might have it turned off." Carth had a hand on Visas' shoulder. It was evident she was still unconscious, but something was tearing the words from her.
"I gotta tell him before Revan decides to leave."
"Call the ship, not Swagger's personal com-link."
"Anybody hear me?" Gunner changed frequency and shouted as if his voice could carry to the ship without the com-link.
"Somethin' up?" Atton responded.
"Visas said there's a trap."
"Yeah, that's what we got on our end, too."
Flynn found himself sitting on the floor with Swagger standing over him.
"What happened?" His head felt as if it would explode, and his ears were ringing.
"Your bond with Mav," Swagger explained. "Apparently I reached him and he was able to relay to you that there's a trap waiting for us on Korriban."
"Well, ain't that a kick in the butt." He rubbed his head. "I feel like a herd of banthas ran over me."
"Stay there." Swagger smacked the door control and left the cabin.
Flynn eased over to the bunk, where he was eye-to-eye with Mav. "You okay?"
"Well, there was one good thing about this bond, I guess." He stuck a finger in his ear and wiggled it, but it didn't make the ringing stop. "Now we know there's a..."
"Frack!" Swagger was back. "Revan and Bastila are gone."
Mav's eyes grew wide and Flynn scowled and swore in Mandalorian.
Mav sat up and put both hands to his head. When his mind cleared enough that he could think at least a little, he looked at Swagger. The look said it all—it conveyed the gratitude he felt for Swagger's supreme sacrifice.
Swagger nodded briefly. "What kind of trap?" he asked, helping Mav off the bunk and letting the rattled Jedi lean on him as they walked from the room. He turned on the ship intercom system. "Everyone who's aboard, into the main hold. Now."
Atton was the first to reach the main hold. He frowned when he saw Mav still looking so weak. The man's face was white, his grey eyes looked bleached almost the color of snow.
"Mav, you all right?" he asked.
Swagger signaled for quiet and explained the dire circumstances. "We have to take the ship to Korriban," he began and was interrupted by Mav.
"N-no, it'll take too long. We have to use the Nexus."
"You know how to do that?" Flynn asked, latching on to Mav's other arm to help support him, though he was still a little unsteady himself. "You ain't got no business going after this guy, Mav. He's too damn strong!"
"No other way," Mav was barely coherent. The evil and ugliness invading him from contact with Nihilus had filled his mind with dark wraiths that inhabited his thoughts. He wished he could shut them out.
"Ya didn't answer his question," Swagger said. "Whatever this Nexus is, do you know how to use it?"
Mav considered for a moment, replaying what Revan had said, the words he'd spoken in that strange dialect—the motions of his hands. "I think I do."
Swagger went to the cockpit and fired up the engines. He lifted off and set the ship down closer the Enclave where he and the others transported Mav on the floating stretcher and followed the Jedi's instructions. Swagger planned to put his inhibitor collar back on when the time was right. Fortunately, Revan had left it behind when he and Bastila left.
Atton limped from a lightsaber wound. He'd been scheduled for a kolto treatment, but this was more important. Richelle was in Khoonda's med-bay half out of her mind. She was receiving neural treatments and the med tech working on her had told him she should have a full recovery.
Nihilus had slashed Mira's arm with his lightsaber and it was heavily bandaged. Flynn shot her a worried look as they made their way to the secret passageway. Once inside the octagonal room, they stared at the glowing colors of the doorways in awe.
"What the hell are these things?" Flynn asked quietly.
"Dimension Force doors. All things are linked through the Force." Mav gave them a shortened version of what Revan had told him. "They've already gone through the door that is a direct link to the tomb on Korriban. It's where Stygiaan thought he killed them the first time." Mav gripped Swagger's bicep, both for physical and moral support. "He'll trap them—he might already have done so."
"If we go, we could be victims, too," Atton pointed out. "And I'm having a really bad feeling about this."
"Coward!" Brianna spat. "I will go. Who else?" Her heated gaze dared Swagger.
Mav fell back on the stretcher. Gunner muttered what sounded like a real cuss word under his breath. Swagger and Flynn exchanged worried looks.
"You can't go, Mav." Carth had noted how pale Mav was—how ill he seemed.
Mira placed a hand to his temple. "You're burning up! What did that bastard do to you?"
"Get the frackin' door open," Swagger said impatiently through clenched teeth.
"None of you are strong enough in the Force to fight Stygiaan," Mav said with a moan. Huge droplets of sweat rolled down his cheeks—it looked like his pores were weeping.
"Open the door, Mav. One of us'll have to get him to the med-bay, and the rest of us go through." Flynn was about to volunteer when Gunner raised his hand.
"I'm not afraid, but I don't fight as good as you, Flynnie. I'll make sure Mav's taken care of."
Flynn wiped sweat from his forehead and realized how warm he was. "Kriffin' curd-sucker! Whatever he gave ya, I got it, too." He staggered from a sudden weakness.
"Everybody out of the room," Swagger commanded. When he and Mav were alone, he commanded, "Open the door!"
Mav closed his eyes and recalled the hand gestures, recreating them as best he could as he repeated the words. "K-korriban is r-red," he stuttered. Now he was shivering with cold.
Swagger's furious eyes met the Jedi's. "I need what you got."
Mav shuddered and his body began to go into muscle spasms. "I c-can't heal myself."
The dark eyes were snapping obsidian, then he closed them and seized Mav by the shoulders. "Give me the damn power, Mav!"
Mav was too weak, so Swagger called on the Force, using a visual push to show the damn mystical energy that he did not believe controlled his destiny what was needed. His tall frame shook as the Force pulled Mav's powers from the injured Jedi into Swagger. The bounty hunter reeled as the power filled him and lightning danced over his body, then disappeared. He stood still for a moment, feeling the power of the Force wash over him and fill him. He'd never felt such power, but it was not welcome; not something he wanted to retain once this was over.
All Swagger had to do now was put on his helmet and call the others back into the room. In his mind, he sent a pure, strong wave of healing into Mav and Flynn and watched to see what affect it had. Mav seemed to fall asleep and Flynn's face relaxed to a more normal appearance. "Everybody get your helmets on and stealth," he ordered and they stepped through the glowing red entrance.
Stygiaan had arrived after Revan and Bastila, but it did not matter. He knew they were trapped, unable to leave the tomb. He had sent his anger and doubt out through the Force and they had fallen for his deceit. He laughed softly as he made his way to the inner chamber of the tomb. The door rolled up and he saw two figures in full armor, but it would not matter. They would starve because he had used the darkest Sith alchemy to seal the room. Purple lightning criss-crossed the entrance and a web of lightning permeated the walls.
"And your arrogance was your downfall as I foresaw," he goaded them. "There will be no way out for you this time. You fooled me once--you shall not do so again, Revan.
"Let me out of here and fight me," Revan snarled.
Stygiaan tapped his fingernails lightly on his thighs, a strange smile coming to his lips. "No, I don't think so. When I leave, I'll activate the explosives I've planted and you, Bastila and this entire tomb will be reduced to rubble. My only regret is that you came by yourselves. The others won't be able to get to you in time."
"Stygiaan, you bastard!"
Darth Stygiaan's triumphant laughter echoed down the halls.
Revan unlatched his helmet and removed it, as did Bastila after a moment. Her grey eyes met his contemplative brown and she came into his arms. "Maybe we deserve this. We doomed those people to die by Sith hands. Maybe it's fate."
"There's no fate—there's only the Force." Revan neared the web of lightning and forks of it came loose to entangle him and hold him fast.
Bastila screamed and used her power to wrench him loose. He fell to the stone floor, panting, smoke rising from his body.
"That...was damned unpleasant," he murmured as she healed him the best she could. This lightning was different from any he'd ever experienced, and he knew the burns had only partially healed. "I might have to go for the Swagger look if we can get out of this." His joke fell flat as he put a hand to his crisped hair and some of the locks came loose in his fingers. "Great."
"Revan..." Bastila returned to his arms.
He shook her gently. "None of that. No saying good-bye. At least we know he won't get away."
"He will if you two don't move your asses," came a voice that made them both jump.
They stared as the back wall began to glow red and dissolve into a doorway that was not blocked by the lightning. Swagger was there and motioned for them to move.
"Stay out of that tomb," Revan advised. "It's a trap." He and Bastila stepped into the Nexus tunnel.
"Ya think?" Swagger rolled his eyes. "What, with all your knowledge of the Force you couldn't figure out a way to outwit Stygiaan?"
"You are brimming over with the Force," Revan remarked as they made their way back to Dantooine.
"Yep. Sucks!" Swagger was the first to step through the doorway into the octagonal room. "Had to take Mav's powers. Didn't need 'em after all."
Flynn snorted. "You healed Mav and me, Swag, so it wasn't a total waste."
Swagger studied Revan, noting the patch of burned hair. "Nice look," he said with his customary smirk. "You might wanna even it out a little." They started through the hallways and left the Enclave.
Revan grinned. "I guess I owe you."
"You bet you do!" Flynn said, and behind him Carth chuckled.
Swagger took Revan aside once they were outside. "You don't seem too upset about Stygiaan getting away."
"Nope," Revan said easily. "Because he won't get away. I always have a back-up plan."
"Please, don't get him started," Bastila teased. "You have no idea how many times I've heard him brag about having a back-up plan."
Revan scowled playfully. "Well, I always do."
Stygiaan walked out of the tomb's front entrance. He made sure he was a safe distance before he pushed the button on the control box in his hand, detonating the explosives that lined the door. The noise was spectacular and he exulted in the number of huge boulders that now covered the entrance. Revan and Bastila were doomed.
Suddenly, there was the hiss of a stealth generator deactivating and something appeared. It was tall, and its rust-covered plating was back-lit in the glow of the flames and smoke. One of Revan's Mandalorians?
"Threat: Take this, meatbag scum!" The voice was mechanical as the sniper blaster in its hands fired, striking Stygiaan in the chest over and over. He had no chance to use the Force. Electricity arced through his body and he could do nothing to stop it. It finally grounded and Stygiaan dropped to the ground.
"Statement: Mission accomplished, Master. Sith meatbag has been captured, and I am now putting on the Force suppressor collar you provided. Query: May I suggest torture restraints?"
The voice of his master filtered over his internal com-link and he responded, "Gleeful acknowledgement: Oh, thank you, Master! I shall endeavor to make him as uncomfortable as I can without doing too much damage to his squishy insides."
"You have done well," his master commended. "Take him to Malachor V."
"Statement: As you wish, Master. Ugh, must I always say that? HK-47 signing off."
Back on Dantooine, Carth clapped his hands together, chuckling in delight as Revan's personal assassination droid's voice spoke over the com-link. "Rev, you used HK as back-up?"
"Yes. Zherron, the man in charge of the Khoonda Militia, flew him to Korriban a few days ago. It was shortly before you and T3 landed the Seeker here. I had warning through the Force. I knew Stygiaan was up to something, I just didn't know what." Revan ran his fingers through his hair in a resigned fashion. He tucked away his com-link.
"Did I hear right?" Mav asked.
Revan and his rescue party had stopped at the Khoonda med-center to check on Mav. He and Visas were the only patients in the med-ward. Mical, Visas and Brianna had received their kolto treatments and were resting in their quarters on the Seeker. Richelle was still in serious condition and was in the intensive care cubicle in another room.
"Yes, you heard right. Stygiaan is my prisoner and I'm going to Malachor V to end what I started." Revan's eyes caught fire a moment. "Soon it'll be over."
"I want to come with you."
"No," he told Mav. "Bastila comes and that's it. You're not ready for the burden of more deaths."
Swagger did not bat an eye as he studied Revan, and his lip curled. He knew what the ex-Sith planned, and for the first time since he'd met him, he found himself liking Revan.
Revan touched Mav's arm lightly. "I'll debrief you, General, when we get back."
"This ain't gonna go bad like it does so often for you Jedi, is it?" Swagger probed.
Revan laughed. "I'm no more of a Jedi than you are, Swag."
Stygiaan stumbled as the droid with the triangular-shaped head and glowing red photoreceptors pushed him toward a platform. There were strange statues there that gave the platform the appearance of claws on a gigantic hand reaching from Malachor's depths to grab him. As he was prodded forward, he looked down into the abyss that surrounded the place--small paths had been cut into the ancient stone of the core of the planet itself. Green mist or gas floated on both sides of the narrow path, tendrils of it reaching up to touch him.
Stygiaan was strapped into a torture harness that bound his arms tightly to his sides. The collar about his neck prevented him from using the Force. Revan had won. He still could not believe it!
"Statement: Bow to the master, meatbag."
Stygiaan screamed when the current in the harness surged through him. He fell hard to his knees, his body twitching in agony. After a long and painful interval, he raised his head and saw Sith assassins, Marauders, Lords, apprentices, and dark Jedi gathered on the narrow walk-way. They abased themselves as Lord Revan walked out of the Trayus Academy and made his way to the core.
"All hail, Lord Revan," they chorused, worshipping him as he strode to the very center of the planet's core.
Revan paused as he beheld the once proud Stygiaan. He saw the confusion and fear in the dark Lord's eyes, and for a moment felt compassion for him. It faded when he recalled how the man had beheaded his double and tricked the Revanchist into killing the woman he loved. No, he thought, it ends here.
No mercy. Revan nodded to HK and the droid dragged Stygiaan to the edge of the deep pit. Stygiaan thrashed about, but the torture restraints held him in a deadly embrace. Revan nodded again and HK jerked Stygiaan's body over so that he was face up—so he could see it coming like Revan's loyal follower had.
"Sword," Revan's tone was as sharp as the blade one of the assassins handed him.
Stygiaan wanted to spit at Revan, but his throat had gone dry. He could only gaze up as Revan took a practice cut. He felt the burning sensation as the blade sliced his skin open. The next moment was frozen in time, and then it moved slowly, image by image. Stygiaan watched each movement as the sword went up, reached its apex, and then came down. He felt it touch his throat, then begin to slice through the skin. Finally, his eyes rolled back as his head was severed from his body.
"Into the pit," Revan commanded HK-47.
The droid kicked the head first, then heaved the body over the side. Revan watched it fall end over end until the thick green miasma made it fade from sight.
"All of you!" Revan shouted and sent a massive Force wave outward. All of the Sith who had served him were picked up by the wave and washed over the precipice into the pit. It seemed as if their screams would echo forever.
"Delighted statement: Had I ears, Master, other than auditory receptors, the sound of their screaming would be music to them. Query: I hope you do not mind that I recorded their last moments, Master?"
Revan's smile was grim. He spoke into the com-link. "Bao-Dur, have your remote activate the Mass Shadow Generator. We destroy Malachor V once and for all. Meet me on Dantooine, and tell Zherron that's two I owe him."
A quiet quiet male voice replied, "Yes, Admiral."
Revan rushed back to the Trayus Academy where Bastila waited for him and the passageway back to Dantooine beckoned. Once they were in the octagonal room, Revan watched the wall that glowed orange, waiting. It took about an hour, but the wall was finally just a wall. Malachor V could no longer be reached—it was no longer a Nexus—it had been destroyed.
"It's over, Bas." Revan realized how tired he was. "Finally."
In the hours that Revan and Bastila were gone, Atton sat at Richelle's bedside, talking to her, playing pazaak out loud; anything to pass the time and try to bring her back from unconsciousness. He wondered if Stygiaan was dead. There was a calm within him, and he figured Revan had succeeded.
"Ric," he said softly, kissing her tenderly on the forehead. "Please wake up, angel."
"I am so not an angel," she whispered as her eyes slowly opened.
He smiled with relief. "You are to me, Shortstuff."
"I'm height-challenged, bantha brains!"
"I think we can work something out," he said, giving her his scoundrel's smile and a wink. "Want to go off with me in the Ebon Hawk?"
She blinked. "Are you serious? My brother would track you down and kill you!"
"I'm getting a new ship's ID as soon as I can, and nobody will be able to find me—uh, us. That is, if you want."
"Atton, I'm in the military. The Republic might have something to say about that."
"I don't mean to interrupt." Carth spoke from where he was standing in the doorway. "I knew your dad, Richelle, and he used to tell me he never wanted the military for you. I have a friend high-up in the ranks. I'm sure we can pull some strings and get you an honorable discharge."
"Problem solved!" Atton said, rubbing his hands together.
Mav had just finished dressing and was glad he was fully clothed when Visas came into the room. "How are you?" he asked.
She smiled, but it was not warm, and her voice had a different timber. "I...came to tell you I am going with Mical and Brianna. Revan and Bastila are back." She gave a much abbreviated explanation of what had happened on Malachor V. "A Zabrak has come to us. He is strong in the Force. Revan and Bastila have promised to teach all of us the ways of the Force, and Mical wants to start a new Jedi Order."
"Rev will love that," Mav was unable to hold back a wicked chuckle.
"He is outside waiting to see you." She put a hand on his arm. "Mav...what you have done for me... I cannot put into words. I thought our destinies were entwined, but I see I am wrong. The last thing you want to be is a Jedi. Our...bond has been broken. I can no longer feel it."
Mav gazed at her, wishing in a way things could be different, but she was right. The last thing he wanted was to be a Jedi. Swagger had his powers now, and Mav dreaded getting them back.
"You don't have to get them back." Revan strode into the room. He had read Mav's mind with such ease that his friend had not even felt it.
Mav stared at Revan. His hair was as short as Swagger's now, and all the lines in his face had deepened—the ravages of time were now evident on the handsome visage. "What do you mean? I can't stick Swagger with them."
Revan's mouth twitched into a wry smile. "You're right. He is the one Force-sensitive I've met who's better off without the Force. Of course," he offered, "there is another."
Revan nodded his shorn head. "Yes, you. What do you want, Mav?"
"To be free," he said without a pause.
"How about keeping your healing ability? I can strip the Force from Swagger, with his consent of course, and endow you with only the ability to heal. Is that agreeable?"
Mav's face beamed. "I can go back to my life as it was? No consequences to my crew or me?"
Revan raised a hand as if making a solemn pledge. "I swear, on my love for Bassie. Deal?"
Mav shook the hand Revan held out. "Deal."
It took two days of rest for Revan to regain his full strength. When he was ready, he took Swagger and Mav back to the Enclave to perform the ritual. When they returned, Swagger was free and Mav had retained his healing ability. Swagger left Revan and Mav as they strode slowly and dashed back to his ship.
Revan accepted Mav's lightsaber and hung it from his belt, along with the one Swagger had given Mav when he'd first found out he was a Jedi.
"Do you have a ship to take you to Coruscant?" Mav asked Revan as they strolled through the tall rustling grass toward Khoonda.
"Don't need a ship. Bas and I are going to help rebuild the Enclave. We'll train Mical first, and then he can become the frackin' Jedi Master he's always wanted to be."
"Then what will you do?"
Revan's gaze followed a Brith soaring far overhead. "Bas and I will finally have a life together."
"Lay down the lightsabers for good, huh?" Mav watched the Brith disappear into a cloud bank.
"The Sith have been routed. The two Sith Lords that were a threat to the galaxy are dead. I think we deserve it, don't you?"
Mav clapped a hand on Revan's shoulder as they watched one of the moons rise in the darkening sky. "Knowing Swag, he'll be out of here soon as the ship's prepped." He stopped and looked into his friend's face. "Rev...I..."
"You're welcome, buddy. It's the very least I could do for you. Tell Swagger he would've made a great Jedi." He snorted. "I can't even say that with a straight face."
Mav moved away as he saw Bastila striding purposefully up to her man. He waved, but she was quickly pulled into Revan's arms. Mav broke into a run when he saw the lights on the Seeker blinking. It was last call for all crew to come aboard.
He almost ran into Carth as he raced to the ship. Onasi stepped aside to avoid the collision. "Mav, can't you stay out of trouble for one day?" He grabbed his friend's elbow and pulled him up the ramp. Flynn was at the hatch along with Gunner and T3. The big merc was ticking off a list of supplies on a datapad.
"Food, check. Supplies, check. Reward for saving the galaxy, nope. Extra capacitor, check." He slapped Mav on the back as the ex-Jedi passed him. "Pain-in-the-butt crewman, check." He indicated everyone step back from the hatch as he struck the locking mechanism within the ship. Mav thought the sound of the hatch sealing and the loading ramp coming up to lock into place was the most beautiful he'd ever heard.
Swagger strode into the main hold and regarded his crew. "Carth, you can fly us out of here. Gunner, engine room. T3, there's a glitch in Communications. Flynn, it's your turn to spar with me once we're in hyperspace. Mira, babe, there's a holo coming in with our next bounty. Get me the information and coordinates." His eyes lighted on Mav and he smirked. "You were late, Mav. That's one hundred push-ups. No breaks, chest to the floor." Swagger took his wide-legged stance and crossed his arms. "Starting now. One..."
As he did his push-ups, Mav realized he was frackin' happy. He was free—he could live on the ship he loved and be around his friends. And he was no longer a Jedi.
"Sixty...keep going." Swagger's voice cut into his thoughts. "And when you're done here, there's still that lightsaber mark on the floor of your quarters."
Mav's smile did not falter. Now, if he could just get through this, he'd be even happier.