It didn't take long for Ben to decide that this might have been a bad idea after all.
As the team of Jedi ran up the stone staircase, they found themselves entering a low-ceilinged corridor. Sith soldiers spilled into the hallway from a door at the far end; at their head was a pair of Lessers, red lightsabers ignited. They hardly seemed surprised to find a group of Jedi in their midst. The pair at the front – a Twi'lek and a Chagrian – sneered; the Twi'lek pulled out a comlink a spoke into it.
"The Jedi are in the basement, my lord. Engaging now."
Ben looked back at the others as he deflected blaster bolts. "We've got to get to a computer terminal and find where they're keeping the kids."
The two Lessers ran forward to meet them; Ben ducked, and as he did so, Elias sent a wave of Force energy crashing into them. They weren't strong enough or smart enough to block it, and went tumbling backward into the path of the soldiers. While the Lessers struggled frantically to disentangle themselves from the soldiers, Ben and Elias ripped their lightsabers from their hands. Kohr and Ames followed suit, going after the soldiers' blasters. A few of them were able to hold onto their weapons, but by the time they got over the initial assault, Ben had already sliced through the barrels, rendering the blasters useless.
The Lessers tried to get out of the way, but it was too late; Kohr and Ames skewered them with matching green blades. The soldiers in the back reached for their vibroblades; a second later they were on the ground, holes smoking in their chests. Ben and Elias deactivated their sabers and looked back at the others.
Ben frowned. "Where's Allana? And Anakin?"
Valin was busy destroying the blasters that Kohr and Ames had taken from the soldiers. He looked up at Ben. "Through that door, looking for a computer." He gestured toward an open door halfway between them.
Anakin and Allana emerged from the room a moment later. "Nothing," Anakin said, eyes narrowed. "I sensed a strong presence above us, one floor up by the feel of him."
Ben exhaled. "It's only going to get worse the farther up we go."
Kohr and Ames kicked the bodies of the Lessers; Ben felt something cold hit his stomach as he noticed the hunger in their eyes.
"That's enough," Ben said roughly, pushing the boys forward down the corridor.
"Ben?" It was Elias's voice, coming from a room near the end of the passage. "I found something."
He knew from the tone of Elias's voice that the children weren't in the room, but that didn't stop Ben from imagining the worst. He'd seen enough of Mezzon's atrocities to fill his nightmares for the rest of his life, and try as he might, nothing – not even the Force – could push out the images that flashed before his mind's eye. He stepped over the bodies of the soldiers and entered the room.
It was empty, save for a dozen or so sets of shackles bolted into the walls and floors.
Ben took a deep breath. "Come on," he said softly. "Let's get out of here."
Elias and the others followed him as he left the room and jogged toward the door from which the Sith had come. On the other side was another staircase, this one leading up to the main level of the mansion. The walls were made of a smoother stone than the ones in the cellar, and they seemed to be in better condition. He could hear someone giving orders; the words were unintelligible, but they echoed down the stairwell. Ben activated his lightsaber.
Should have stayed on Tatooine, he thought wearily, trying to fight the heaviness in the air. The Force was so thick here. It was like coming down off a mountain peak and being overwhelmed by the richness of the oxygen, only instead of relishing it, Ben felt as though he were being slowly suffocated.
He paused for a moment before mounting the bottom step.
"Just one step at a time, kid."
Ben bowed his head to hide the smile that had crept onto his lips. Uncle Han had always had a way of telling Ben just what he needed to hear – even if the advice was coming from a decade in the past.
Ben inhaled for several seconds and brought his lightsaber up in front of him. Then he began to sprint up the steps, aware that the others were close on his heels. As he emerged from the stairwell at full speed, he realized they were just outside the mansion's great entry hall. An enormous stone arch – painted in the crimson and cream of the House of Malreaux and marred by fire – formed the doorway into the hall, and on the other side a half dozen soldiers stood in close formation, blasters raised.
The Jedi burst into the entry hall, and every lightsaber came up to deflect blaster bolts. Three of the soldiers went down immediately, and the other three started to back away, looking for cover. Ben spun his weapon in front of him and glanced behind him, searching the chamber for another way out.
Anakin beat him to it.
"Over here!" His grandfather's voice rose above the hum of the sabers. He was pointing toward a narrow corridor, one that looked as though it led further into the interior of the mansion. Ben and Elias covered the others as they fell back into the side corridor. Two more soldiers fell lifeless to the floor, and the last one disappeared through an archway across the room, calling for backup. Safe for the moment, Ben followed his team into the corridor.
He had just left the main hall when a laser bolt went sizzling past Ben's ear. He looked over his shoulder to see a pair of soldiers defending a door several meters behind him. Kohr and Ames reached the soldiers first, dispatching them with minimal effort. Ben expected the door to be locked, but Kohr opened it without any trouble. Ben and his team entered the room quickly and shut the door.
The room was filled with computer terminals, vidscreens, holoprojectors, and every other device necessary to monitor and control the various security systems in the mansion. There was only one thing it was missing: someone to do the monitoring and controlling.
"Looks like this was their control room," Kohr said. He stepped toward the center of the room and ran his fingers over the surface of a long table made from what looked like obsidian. Ben noticed a computer terminal at the far end.
Valin's eyes roamed the room for a minute as he lowered his lightsaber. "Then why aren't they in here?"
"A mansion this size?" Ben cut in. "This isn't the only control room. They'd have a backup somewhere, probably on a higher floor. But that doesn't mean we can't find something useful here." He rounded the far corner of the table and waved Kohr over. "Check it."
As Kohr made his way over to the computer terminal, Ben hurried back to the door, opening it halfway and motioning for Anakin to join him. Together, they watched the hallway while the others huddled around Kohr. Every few seconds, Ben would glance over at Kohr, waiting for news.
It only took a moment for the boy to get past the computer's security, and once he had, a green circle appeared on the transparent vertical display in front of him. He tapped his finger on the upper right quadrant, and it expanded to show countless streams of data. Kohr quickly scanned the image on the screen. "According to this, there are thirteen younglings left. Nine humans, two Quarren, a Togruta, and an Iktotchi."
"Only thirteen?" Ben's insides felt as though they'd twisted in a knot. "Where are they?"
Kohr looked up at him, worry creeping into his eyes. "Fifth level, east wing."
Valin put a hand on Elias's shoulder before meeting Ben's gaze. "We're on it."
Ben felt a tremor – no, more than that – in the Force. Another squad of soldiers had just entered the main hall. "Hurry," he said, activating his saber as he listened for the sound of footsteps. Next to him, Anakin did the same. "We'll hold them off as long as we can."
"Wait!" Kohr held up a stopping hand. "There's a hidden passage here in the schematics. Right after the second door down."
"To the right."
Ben opened the door all the way and leaned out to look. "There's no door. Just a tapestry." His eyes narrowed. "You think… behind the tapestry?"
Kohr nodded. "It should take them right up to the fourth floor, just one below the kids."
Elias moved out into the corridor, brushing past Ben. He motioned for Valin to follow. "Wish us luck," he said to Ben.
Ben gave him a wry grin. "No such thing," he answered, clapping Elias on the back. Valin and Elias hurried down the hall, pulled back the tapestry, and disappeared from sight.
"Right," Ben said, turning to look at the rest of his team. "Time to do some distracting."
Arden watched the steady fall of rain from inside Myri Antilles's ship, waiting for the signal. It was the most maddening thing she'd ever done, just waiting in the cramped cockpit, listening to Myri hum the same tune over and over again. It wasn't the older woman's fault; Arden had been known to sing a song or two while waiting for the captain and his team to return from a job. But that was back when the captain was a captain, not Ben-wanted-in-almost-every-known-sector-Skywalker. Back when their jobs involved things like theft and smuggling, not the heroic rescue of Jedi children from the heart of Sith space.
Arden chewed the edge of a thumbnail as she began to pace back and forth behind Myri's chair. There wasn't much room for pacing, but she managed to do it, her gaze still locked on the rain and on the outline of the Daybreak just a few kilometers away.
Myri stopped humming and perked up, tilting her cap back on her head. She swiveled toward the radar and let out a breath that sounded more like a hiss. "That's not good," she murmured, flipping a few switches near the radar.
"What is it?" Arden asked, leaning over Myri's shoulder. A large mass of light was moving toward the spot where the Daybreak was hidden.
"Wanna know how this ship got the name Last Call?" Myri dimmed the cabin lights and pressed a few more buttons. Beneath them, the engines started to hum.
Arden backed up from the chair and wondered if she should mention that she hadn't known what the ship was called until this very moment. "I'm guessing I'm about to find out," she muttered.
Myri tossed a wink and a grin over her shoulder so casually, she might have been reporting the weather. "Get on those guns, girly. Things are about to get crazy."
The great entryway looked almost exactly as it had the last time Anakin saw it, minus the shattered and scorched remains of dozens of combat and assassin droids. He thought of Obi-Wan, of how they had charged into the mansion without backup and taken down its security forces without suffering a single injury. He remembered how easy it had been, how powerful he felt as he sliced through the droids. Like nothing could stop him.
Anakin jerked his arms to the side and spun, taking down a soldier who had dared to come too close. He and the other Jedi had returned to the main hall and assumed a defensive position outside the side corridor, but as more soldiers filled the hall, they found themselves being pulled away from each other. Allana, Kohr, and Ames were closest to the corridor, trying to keep the soldiers from following after Elias and Valin. Anakin and Ben had moved toward the center of the room, picking off soldiers who strayed too far from the squad.
As another Sith trooper crumpled at his feet, Anakin felt overwhelming relief. Gone was the foreboding that had plagued him since his arrival in this time. Gone was the fear and the hesitance. He felt strong again, like his old self, only better. Every movement of the enemy was so clear, so precisely mapped out in the Force. It didn't matter if they had to fight a hundred soldiers. Force-sensitive or not, they were no match for him. A whisper of thought swirled around his brain, reminding him that this was what he was born to do. Even though he knew that the Chosen One was meant to bring balance – not war – he couldn't help feeling at home right here, a surging vehicle of destruction.
Anakin and Ben were back-to-back now, turning in a slow circle as they continued to carve a deadly path through the soldiers.
"Getting tired?" Ben called over his shoulder.
Anakin flung out his free hand and sent two soldiers flying through the air. "I'm just warming up. You?"
Ben muttered something under his breath and deflected a blaster bolt straight into a soldier's chest. The man's armor absorbed it, but he was knocked off his feet. Ben let out a frustrated grunt and nodded at Anakin. The two men switched positions without missing a beat.
"You know," Ben said casually as he cleaved through the end of a blaster and elbowed the owner hard in the temple. "I really wish these guys would take turns."
Anakin smirked. "Guess we oughtta teach them some manners." He whipped around to block several laser blasts that were aimed at Ben.
His grandson eyed the would-be assassins, now lying dead on the floor. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." A warning spiked across Anakin's senses, and he jerked his head around, looking for the source. Ben followed suit, and they both turned in time to see a giant stone come crashing down from the ceiling. Allana, Kohr, and Ames threw themselves out of its way, and then they were obscured by a massive cloud of dust and debris.
A new sound echoed across the suddenly quiet chamber: the deep, ominous hum of multiple lightsabers activating. At first Anakin could only see a few red blades, but as the dust settled, he saw six Sith standing across the room, flanked by another dozen soldiers in black armor. By the feel of her, the blonde woman at the center of the group was the most powerful, although the muscular, dark-haired boy next to her wasn't too far off. Anakin felt Ben tense up for a moment.
"Kill them all!" the blonde woman shouted. She surged forward, the others fanning out behind her. Anakin glanced over his shoulder, still unable to see where Allana and her companions had gone. Half of the newly arrived troopers were sprinting toward the rubble from the stone; the blonde Sith and two lightsaber-wielding Twi'leks were with them.
Anakin tore his gaze away from the leader of the Sith and turned to meet the dark-haired boy, who had already outrun his backup. Anakin and Ben stepped in unison, raising their sabers to deflect the boy-Sith's attack. He was as powerful as Anakin had guessed, but that hardly meant he was a match for two Skywalkers. Ben battered the boy's blade with his own while Anakin slipped past his defenses and cut him across the abdomen. The only thing that prevented Anakin from finishing the job was the arrival of two other Sith.
These two, a dark-skinned human male and a humanoid of a species Anakin didn't recognize, were substantially weaker than the boy, but they were quick. Their clumsy lightsaber work, in combination with the Sith soldiers who were firing from a few meters away, was just enough to keep both Anakin and Ben busy.
There was another rumble, and the entire chamber quaked as a second stone dislodged from the ceiling. Across the room, Anakin saw the blonde Sith draw her hand in a broad, sweeping motion. Ames shoved Allana out of the way, and several of the soldiers went down, too, as the stone crashed to the floor. The blonde Sith leapt over the debris and went after Allana and Ames. Kohr was nowhere to be seen.
A blaster bolt singed Anakin's tunic; he pivoted just enough to deflect a second bolt, which went through his attacker's forehead.
"Allana!" Ames shouted over the noise. "Get out of here!"
Anakin spun around in time to see Allana duck into one of the other corridors, one that led back into the interior of the mansion. He moved to go after her, heedless of his own safety as he turned into the line of fire of seven blasters. He batted their shots aside as though they were mere nuisances; nothing mattered if he couldn't get to his granddaughter. He carved a path through the soldiers, unaware of whether they lived or died as they fell under his blade.
He was halfway to the corridor when another dozen soldiers came pouring out of it. Anakin leapt out of the way of a dozen streams of blaster fire, rolling to the side. He took in the situation, scanning the room quickly as he ducked and weaved through enemy fire. Ben was still fending off one of the Sith and several troopers on the opposite side of the room, and Ames was locked in battle with the blonde Sith, struggling to hold her off.
Anakin muttered a few Huttese obscenities and glanced one last time at the hallway Allana had disappeared into before vaulting across the room to help Ames.
Allana ran into the side hallway and took the second door on the left, a plain but solid wood door that – like so many others in the great house – swung open on hinges. She sensed at least a dozen people running down the hall in her direction, so she stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind her.
Instead of a room, she found herself facing the bottom of a narrow, spiraling staircase. It was dimly lit; she wondered if the power source was faulty or if the place had just taken too much abuse over the centuries. Allana took a few steps up the staircase, pausing for a moment to listen for the soldiers on the other side of the door. She didn't sense anyone above her, so she kept climbing until she came to another wooden door.
As she pushed open the door, she noticed that it was much more ornate, with roses carved into it. In some places she could see remnants of the same crimson and cream paint that decorated the entry hall. The room before her was large and empty, with an elaborate crystal chandelier dominating the ceiling. From its relative lack of grandeur, Allana determined that the stairwell she'd ascended was most likely a servant's passage and that this imposing room might have been a dining hall or a ballroom at one time.
Allana took another step into the room, and as she did so, she noticed that the chandelier was the only part of the room that was intact. All along the walls, paintings had been pockmarked by blaster fire, and the delicate wooden roses in the molding had received similar treatment. There were even bloodstains in the thick carpet.
Why hadn't she listened to Ben? Why hadn't she stayed on the ship with Syal? Now Kohr was bleeding out on the floor and Geridan was fighting that big Sith woman on his own. Allana reached up with both hands and grasped the end of her braid, running her fingers over its dusty length. She should go back. She couldn't leave her friends to die.
A soft thumping sound caught her attention, and Allana realized she was not alone. She stared across the room at a pair of grand doors that had opened, revealing a solitary figure.
He was a pale, dark-haired human, and he tapped the hilt of his lightsaber against his thigh as he approached her. Like the steady tick of a chrono, he continued tapping, continued walking toward her. Behind her, the door to the servants' passage slammed shut. Allana grabbed her lightsaber off her belt and activated it. As the newcomer stepped into the light, recognition hit her.
She remembered Ben telling her about this one and his brother, twin Jedi younglings kidnapped years ago and corrupted by the Sith. She'd been forced to memorize the holos. Her opponent had to be Darth Festus, the shorter of the two. He was small but wiry, with a manic look about him that chilled her to her core. His eyes seemed to glow in the dim light, irises edged in flame. As she raised her lightsaber in front of her, he drew up short, staring at her sideways, almost lazily.
"If it isn't the little princess," Darth Festus said, tilting his head to examine her. He might have been handsome but for the sick smile creeping onto his face. "Hello, Allana. It's been a long time."
Allana swallowed hard and readjusted her grip on her lightsaber. How did he know her? Had they met when she was younger? She had the bizarre mental image of the Sith Lord bouncing a redheaded child on his knee. She banished it quickly.
"Stay back," she warned, trying not to wince at how young and feeble she sounded. The Sith Lord's smile grew wider and, if possible, more disturbed.
"Now, Princess, is that any way to treat an old friend of the family?"
Allana shook her head, holding her lightsaber up a little higher. "Not my friend."
He stopped a few meters away from her and hung his head as though hurt. And then he chuckled. He actually chuckled. She was still trying to wrap her head around the idea of a Sith Lord chuckling when he charged forward, igniting his lightsaber and diving at her in one smooth, lightning-fast motion. Allana dropped her guard and jumped out of the way. Before she could fully recover, he was upon her, beating her backward with his blood red saber.
"Would you like to hear a story?" Festus swung hard, and Allana parried. "It's about a little Jedi boy and a little Jedi princess." His voice took on an eerie sing-song quality as he flew at her with a series of frenzied strikes, each one coming closer and closer to her neck. "They had all kinds of fun together."
Allana stumbled a little as she tried to put distance between herself and the Sith. He was there in an instant, catching her lightsaber blade with his in a quick motion that knocked her weapon from her hands. He wrapped his right arm around her, saber still in hand, and held her close.
"But one day," Festus continued, "the Jedi left the boy to die, and the princess went on living a happy little life with her master, the worst traitor of them all."
Allana tried to shake her head. "You're crazy," she said, out of breath but still fighting his grip on her.
There was a vicious gleam in his eyes as he smiled and said, "Didn't your cousin ever tell you it's the crazy ones you have to look out for?"
Festus smashed his fist across the side of her head, sending her to the ground. The world slanted around her as she crawled away from her attacker, grappling for her lightsaber. A strong hand grabbed her by the collar and lifted her into the air. The next she knew, she'd been pinned up against a wall, legs dangling. Festus pressed his body against hers and raised his saber so she could see the hazy glow of its red blade.
"You shouldn't fight me so much," he hissed. Her skin crawled as she felt his lips graze her neck. For a moment she thought he might sink his teeth into her flesh. Allana closed her eyes tight and silently recited one of the lullabies her mother used to sing to her, an old spell of the Singing Mountain Clan. The Force pulsed through her like blood.
Festus tightened his hand around her throat. Allana's eyelids fluttered open, and her vision began to return. She slammed her knee into the Sith's groin, and he dropped her with a furious growl. Allana tumbled to the floor and gasped for breath as she tried to get up and run. She had lost her lightsaber somewhere… Ben would kill her if she didn't find it…
She had just gotten to her feet when she felt something smash into her, bringing her down by the knees. She crashed to the floor again, stretching her hands out to protect her face. Dazed, she looked over her shoulder to see Festus, his arms wrapped around her legs. He was crawling on top of her, his eyes like fire.
"Ben!" she screamed, trying in a panic to kick the Sith Lord off of her. "Ben! Geridan!"
Festus was on her back, pinning her arms down. He grabbed her by the hair and wrenched her head off the floor. "Shut up!" he shrieked in her ear. "Shut up! Shh… no one's coming, Allana, now hold still."
Festus activated his lightsaber again, holding it a hair's breadth from her neck. He shoved her face into the grimy rug and dug his knee into her back. All she could see out of the corner of her eye was the red-white core of his saber.
Help me, please…
Allana held as still as she could and squeezed her eyes shut. She hoped the Sith would be quick.
The weight on her back lifted suddenly, and Allana heard a crash across the room. She looked up and saw a tall figure standing over her, right arm extended. The Force was ferocious and alive around him, sparking like electricity, like a lightning storm in her mind's eye. It burned so intensely, she thought it might consume her. She stared hard at the person in the center of this maelstrom, waiting for her vision to come back into focus.
And then, hazy recognition.
Her rescuer didn't look at her, though, and she followed his gaze to the opposite side of the room where Festus was suspended midair, clawing desperately at his throat. Anakin's thumb and forefinger pinched the air, the distance between them closing. As Festus's strangled cries grew softer, Allana realized what was happening.
"Don't!" She pulled herself onto her hands and knees and sucked in several short breaths. "Not like this!"
Anakin didn't seem to hear her, however, and for the first time Allana really felt the oozing weight of Vjun, the dark heaviness that choked the atmosphere. She wondered why it had come on her so suddenly, and looking up at Anakin, she knew she already had her answer.
"Please, stop!" Tears slid down her cheeks as she reached out to Anakin. Why was she crying? Shouldn't she be glad that he was killing the Sith, that he was forcing the life out of him? "Anakin, please!"
He jerked his head back as if breaking out of a trance. Festus was dumped unceremoniously to the ground where he lay for the moment, a moaning, pathetic heap. Anakin lowered his hand and looked down at Allana. She breathed a sigh of relief as he scooped her up in his arms and retrieved her lightsaber.
"Thank you," she murmured, her head resting against his chest.
"No, don't fall asleep," Anakin said, nudging her head with his shoulder. "You have to stay awake. Come on, we'll find Ben."
She struggled to keep her eyes open as he carried her from hallway to hallway, searching for the others. He was so strong; she knew she could just go to sleep in his arms and be safe. She remembered feeling like this a long time ago, with her father.
Anakin made a disgruntled noise. "You should have let me do it."
Allana closed her eyes and smiled faintly. "No, I shouldn't have." She squeezed her arms around his neck. "You'll thank me later."
She lost track of how long they wandered the hallways of the great house, looking for another way back to the others. Part of her didn't want to find them. Part of her wanted to stay.
"Here," Anakin said, lowering her until her feet touched the ground. "You need to walk now, okay?"
The room seemed to spin for a moment as Allana moaned and pressed a hand to her forehead. It was pounding like crazy. "Where's my lightsaber?"
He slapped it against her palm. "Can you walk?"
"Sure," she answered, blinking her eyes several times to regain focus.
"Good, because things are about to get nasty."
Allana snapped her head up to look at him, ignoring the pain. "What?"
Anakin ignited his saber. "The others are just up ahead, and I think they need help."
She frowned at him. "You know, when you rescue someone, you're supposed to lead them away from danger."
Anakin grinned and put a hand on her shoulder, drawing her close. "Stay right behind me, okay?"
Allana felt something tighten in her chest. "Okay." She reached out and grabbed his arm. "Anakin?"
She looked up into his eyes; in them she saw fear and sorrow, but also hope and love, and for some strange reason, that gave her strength.
"I truly am glad to have met you."
He smiled, then leaned over and kissed the top of her head. "Me, too, Allana. Truly."
Ben wiped the sweat from his brow as he watched the surviving Sith soldiers flee from the great entry hall. There was no use going after them. As soon as Elias and Valin rescued the children, they had to be able to make a quick exit. And now that archway that led back to the caves had collapsed, the quickest exit was right through the giant front doors of Château Malreaux.
Ben crossed the room to get to Ames, stepping over bodies as he did so. The boy was kneeling next to a lifeless-looking Kohr. Ames had torn a strip of cloth from his shirt and wrapped it around his friend's head. The cloth was already soaked with blood.
Ben knelt beside Ames and tore off some cloth from the bottom of his own shirt. From here he could see that Kohr was still breathing. "Here," he said gently, moving Ames's hands so he could dress the wound. As he tied off the makeshift bandage, he glanced sidelong at Ames. "How are you holding up?"
Ames's eyes wandered over to the headless body of the blonde Sith, Darth Misra. "I'm okay," he muttered.
Ben raised one eyebrow at him. "You sure?"
Ames shook his head. "She was going to kill me. I was as good as dead."
"You fought a Sith Lord, Ames." Ben gripped his shoulder and gave him a reassuring shake. "Not many Jedi have done that and lived to tell about it."
This time Ames nodded, but Ben could see he was still a bit shell-shocked. Watching one person decapitate another could have that effect.
Speaking of Anakin, where was he anyway? Ben had lost track of him during the battle, not long after Allana disappeared.
Ben tightened his grip on Ames's shoulder. "What happened to Allana?"
Ames seemed to snap out of his stupor a little. "They were closing in on us… I told her to run." He looked toward one of the interior corridors, but said nothing else.
Ben was about to respond when he felt a familiar presence approaching. He touched Kohr lightly on the forehead, then stood and unclipped his lightsaber from his belt.
"I feel it, too." The boy looked down at Kohr, uncertain. "Should we move him?"
Ben eyed the front entrance and wondered how much longer Elias and Valin would be. "Move him closer to the front doors. We'll have to cover him until the others get here."
Ames carried Kohr across the room while Ben activated his saber and watched for signs of the Sith. He should have known Darth Dominius would be here. Darth Misra was, after all, one of his lieutenants and a devoted servant. Wherever she was, her master was never far. He wondered if Dominius would be upset about her death. Falleen were so slow to anger, and despite being a Sith Lord, he was unusually level-headed.
The soldiers appeared first, row after row of them, at least as many as before, if not more. They filed into the room, weapons raised, forming a half-circle around the Jedi. Ben was acutely aware of the danger he was in. Kohr was close to death, and Ames was too worried about Kohr and Allana and nearly being killed by Misra to focus on the moment. Ben was alone.
What was it his dad used to say? "Not alone, Ben. Never alone."
That's right, Dad. A Jedi who has the Force is never alone.
But some more back-up would sure be nice.
The rows of soldiers parted to reveal a trio of Sith Lords. On the left was Darth Ferrus, who Anakin had cut across the abdomen in the earlier battle. Someone had patched the boy up, but he was hunched over a little and breathing funny. For a brief moment, Ben pitied him.
The Sith on the right he recognized as Darth Raze, one of the more hot-headed members of Krayt's order. He looked mad as hell and eager to murder someone.
"Where is he?" Raze shouted.
"Patience, Lord Raze." Darth Dominius stood in the middle, and even though he was addressing Raze, his eyes were on Ben. The Falleen's skin was its usual cool green color, and a devious smile was perched on his lips.
"I am tired of waiting!" Raze passed his lightsaber from one hand to the other. "I want the man who gave me this." He held up his right hand, which was made of a shiny metal, and pointed it at Ben. "I know he is here, Jedi! Where is he?"
Ben looked away from Dominius and shook his head. "It's your mansion. You tell me where he is."
"I'm right here."
Even though he hadn't shouted, Anakin's voice filled the hall. Ben turned toward the sound of it and saw Anakin standing behind him, Allana at his side.
Ben expected Raze to utter some more threats; instead, the Sith Lord sprang forward, disregarding Dominius's command to stand his ground. The soldiers looked around as if unsure whether they should engage. Dominius held up a hand to stay the troops. He seemed almost amused by Raze's lack of restraint.
Anakin pushed Allana behind him as Raze vaulted across the room, snarling and grunting unintelligibly. Ben made a move in their direction, but a barrage of blasterfire made him reconsider. While Ben was repelling fire, Darth Ferrus appeared at his elbow, moving much faster than his wound should have allowed. Ben ducked as the boy sliced his lightsaber horizontally through the space where his head had been. He brought his weapon up to block and caught sight of Dominius standing back with about fifteen soldiers. The Sith Lord was smiling and shaking his head slowly. As though this were all just a game to him.
Across the room, Anakin and Raze were locked in battle. Ben caught a brief glimpse of it every few seconds, but from what he could see, Allana was blocking the soldiers while Anakin had Raze backed up against a wall. There was no doubt that his grandfather was winning.
Ben sidestepped another thrust from Ferrus, and Ames appeared out of nowhere, grabbing Ferrus by the arm and knocking his saber from his grasp. Ben could feel the anger coming off of Ames in waves. They had known each other as younglings, Ames and Ferrus. This was personal.
"Nice work, kid!" Ben deflected several blaster bolts back at their owners. A few of them went down, but too many remained standing. Ben grunted his displeasure and was about to say something to Ames when he noticed the kid wasn't even listening. He was too busy punching Ferrus repeatedly in the head. The Sith fell down hard, unconscious. Ames raised his lightsaber and aimed the blade at his enemy's heart.
Ben threw out his hands and used the Force to shove Ferrus out of the way; Ames's lightsaber went through the stone floor. Before Ames could protest, a blaster bolt ripped through his shoulder. Ben lunged forward to catch the boy; lasers singed his shirt as the two of them went down.
"I've got you, kid," he whispered, blindly raising his lightsaber in front of him.
"And I've got you," another voice replied. Ben looked up, past the blade of his own saber, into the eyes of Darth Dominius, who was standing just meters away, weapon ignited. His soldiers had formed a circle around them. The Falleen Sith gestured with his lightsaber for Ben to stand. Ben laid Ames down on the stone floor and slowly rose to his feet. He could still hear the sound of blasters as Anakin and Allana continued to fight their way through the soldiers. He hoped they wouldn't try anything idiotic, like trying to save his life. It would really tick him off if they wasted the precious time he was buying for them here.
Ben took a deep breath and met the Sith's eerie yellow stare. "Dominius."
The Falleen nodded curtly. "Skywalker. By now you realize you're pitiful attempt at a rescue has failed."
Ben tried to reach out for Elias and Valin, but it was too chaotic. The Force fed him nothing but destruction. He glanced around the circle, gauging the strength of the soldiers. "You haven't killed me yet."
"I soon shall. Have you finally decided to stop running from me?"
Ben gestured wide with his free hand. "I'm here, aren't I?"
Dominius licked his lips and brandished his lightsaber. "Indeed. I've been looking forward to this day."
Ben cocked his head to one side and grinned. "You want me? You got me." He raised his saber. "Let's make this quick."