Darth Malak paced restlessly up and down the length of the viewing platform, his hands alternately clenched at his side or twitching behind his back.
You are nearing, Revan, muttered the Dark Lord. Your presence in the Force grows ever stronger - ah, Revan... you have always been strong in the Force, but today I have the upper hand! This Forge is a monument to the power of the Dark Side! What are you now but a pathetic servant of the Light? You were blind, Revan. All the Star Forge ever was to you was a factory, nothing more. You did not seek to discover its secrets, as I have. You sought to distance yourself from this place - I have embraced it! You thought the Star Forge would only feed upon you: you were mistaken.
The Dark Lord of the Sith paused before a group of glowing cells, in each of which hung a single, seemingly-lifeless, broken form. Regarding the occupants of each cell with an expression of pure contempt, he reached out through the Force to touch the minds of each of his captives.
Jedi! sneered the Dark Lord. Look where your slavish devotion to the Light has brought you! Each of you willingly gave yourselves to its service, almost to the death - but it is not the Light that has kept life in you - it is I, Darth Malak, using a Forge that you call an 'abomination'! And very soon, you, the sworn servants of the Light - you, who teach submission to the Will of the Force, will serve the darkness, whether you will or no... and there is none that can save you. Are you suffering, Jedi? I will end your torment... soon. Can you feel the Force, Jedi? Yes... you do. It is all around you. But not for long. Do you wish for the sweet release of death, Jedi? To become one with the Force? Ah... of course you do. But tell me, Jedi - how will you become one with the Force after I have stripped the Force from you?
An observer would have seen no indication that the Dark Lord's words had been heard - much less understood - by the battered occupants of each cell. But Darth Malak knew that he had been heard, and that his Jedi captives understood - and despaired. Their anguish and indescribable horror at the prospect of being utterly severed from the Force washed over their captor like the waves on Kamino. Darth Malak's eyes gleamed with a merciless glow as he savoured the bitterness of their grief.
Turning from the scene, the Dark Lord resumed his prowling, his mind also returning to brood upon his hatred for the Order, for the Light, and for Revan. The irony, thought Darth Malak, was deliciously beautiful: In unravelling his own legacy as Dark Lord of the Sith, Revan would be the undoing of these valiant Jedi captives.
Revan hurled himself through the door, rolling out of the way just in time to avoid being caught in a shower of sparks as the last of the Forge droid generators exploded. He sat coughing on the walkway for a while, the acrid smoke from a roomful of exploded generators still burning his throat. As he rested, Revan planned his next move. Malak, he knew, waited for him just beyond the next door. His former friend's dark presence was palpable, a horrid, angry lump in the calm stillness of the Force.
Malak is angry - very angry, thought Revan. I doubt he will even listen to anything I have to say: his hatred for me is legendary. And he will feed his anger with his hatred, fanning it into a maelstrom of rage; and in a place brimming with darkness like this? If we were to engage in a contest of Force powers, I'd likely be dead in a matter of minutes - or worse, seduced back to the Dark side through my own desperation. I guess it will have to be outright combat... only one of us will walk away, and the galaxy cannot afford for the victor to be Malak.
The knowledge of what he had to do grieved Revan doubly: ending the menace of a Sith Lord was one thing, but when the Sith Lord in question had once been a dear friend and a good man led astray by himself? It was akin to destroying the same person, twice over. Revan could not remember what Alek the Jedi had been like, or the friendship that they had shared - but that did not lessen the painful enormity of what he now had to do. Putting things right, he thought, is a greater sacrifice than obedience itself.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Revan shut his eyes and fought back a tide of emotion - guilt, sorrow, apprehension - seeking the equilibrium of mind and spirit that were now more critical for him than ever. As he sat with his back against the wall, heart racing, head ringing with the unruly screaming of a thousand and one raucous thoughts, he thought he heard - or felt - the Jedi code being whispered into his consciousness. With it came a sudden, inexplicable sense of relief - of calm assurance, confidence, and peace. Revan saw - or thought he saw - the certainty of his victory over Malak, the final destruction of the Star Forge, the victory of the Republic, the halt of the Sith advance... Accompanying these was also the unshakeable conviction that, painful as it would be, ending Malak would be the best way he could honour the memory of Alek the Jedi.
Thoroughly energised, Revan stood and marched to meet Malak, a new confidence in his step.
Juhani and Jolee stood with their backs to the immense holomap, warily watching the door in front of them. It was presently sealed - locked from the inside - but neither Jedi were taking any chances of a surprise attack by any Dark Jedi or Acolytes who might take it into their heads to come knocking. The Cathar Jedi's ears twitched as she strained to catch the slightest sound made by any approaching foe. Jolee looked over his shoulder, across the vast chamber, towards the door through which Revan had passed earlier. Bastila sat on the floor facing the holomap, seemingly enveloped by a sheer glimmering blanket.
"How long has our Great Leader been gone?" grunted Jolee to the Cathar. "I need to pee."
"A few minutes at the most," said Juhani quietly, her ears still twitching. "What is Bastila doing, do you see?"
"Girl's started playin' wi' people's heads again, by the looks of it," he whispered.
Juhani frowned. What was the old Human talking about? "What are you meaning?"
Jolee scratched at the stubble on his cheeks as he answered. "Battle Meditation...! What else is that if it ain't some kind of massive Jedi mind-trick?"
Venturing a brief glance behind, Juhani spoke again. "She... is helping Revan, do you think?"
"Of course she is," snorted Jolee. "She loves him."
"Well done, Revan. I was certain the defenses of the Star Forge would destroy you, but I see there is more of your old self in you than I expected. You are stronger than I thought; stronger then you ever were during your reign as the Dark Lord. I did not think that was possible." The Dark Lord drew his weapon and strode purposefully towards his adversary.
"Here, in the heart of the Star Forge, our destinies are to be decided... once and for all. Here, where it all began." Adopting a neutral stance, Darth Malak regarded his former friend and Master warily.
Revan's gaze wandered from the Sith Lord to the row of glowing cells directly ahead... shapes... human forms - people! Suspended in - was that kolto? He did not think so. Thinking that Revan's attention had been drawn elsewhere, Darth Malak seized the opportunity and lunged, the red blade of his lightsaber poised to impale his former friend in one swift stroke. But Revan was not to be caught off-guard that easily: leaping aside, he dodged and parried the thrust, then summoned the Force and pushed Darth Malak away.
Caught unawares, the Dark Lord of the Sith flew backwards and rolled head over heels into one of the struts supporting the upper level of the viewing platform.
"Stop!" cried Revan, as Darth Malak got to his feet and readied himself to attack once more. "Malak - we need to talk."
Darth Malak's eyes narrowed to slits, his greyed irises gleaming with a dangerous light. "We have nothing to say to each other, Revan," spat he. "Once, you were the Master, and I the apprentice; I overthrew you when I saw that I was powerful enough." He bounded towards Revan again, lightsaber flashing.
Revan blocked the Sith Lord's overhead strike. Seeing that Malak would continue attacking if no distance were put between himself and the Sith Lord, Revan pointed the tip of one of his sabers at Malak: the Sith Lord did the same. Both men circled each other slowly.
"You and I were friends before, Malak."
The Dark Lord hissed in response, a horrid tinny sound. Revan ignored him and pressed ahead. "We were Jedi, brothers in arms. It is not too late, Malak - you can still turn back!"
"Turn back?" Darth Malak's mirthless laughter echoed off the walls. His forehead creased into a sneer as he answered Revan. "You deceive yourself, Revan! We crossed that boundary when we passed through the doors of that ancient artefact on Dantooine!"
"We were wrong, Malak! Turning back was not my choice to start with - but now it is...! You can still choose - I destroyed you once, Malak. When I led Alek down the dark path..."
A blazing fury ignited in the Dark Lord's breast. Darth Malak screamed, swept the violet blade of Revan's saber out of the way, and leapt at him, the red blade of his own weapon a deadly blur. Acting on instinct, Revan skilfully turned the blow aside with one weapon whilst simultaneously raking the tip of the other across Darth Malak's exposed chest, before sending the Dark Lord flying backwards with another burst of Force energy. A sickening crack followed by a low growl of pain signalled that Darth Malak's ribcage had collided with the base of one of the glowing cells. The Dark Lord staggered to his feet and glared at Revan, his breath coming in heavy rasps. When he spoke, his voice was heavy, laced with pain.
"...it will not be easy to destroy me... Revan..." he hissed. "Not here..."
Painfully raising an arm, Darth Malak pointed at the occupant of the glowing cell nearest him. "Recognise this Jedi?...of course you do... he is one of those... at the Enclave..."
Closing his eyes, the Dark Lord drew on the darkness within him, and opened himself to the corrupting miasma of the Star Forge. An arc of Force energy enveloped the cell and its occupant: Revan could only stare in horror as the unfortunate Jedi captive writhed painfully within his confines, eyes fluttering open in terrified shock as his senses registered the indescribable agony of having the Living Force ripped clean out of him; before life itself departed with one final, tormented contortion. As the blackened shell of what had once been a noble Jedi knight fell, worse than lifeless to the floor of its cell, the Force energy Revan had seen enveloped the Dark Lord, and seemed to disappear into his body.
The hollow, mirthless laughter of Darth Malak, Lord of the Sith once again echoed throughout the viewing platform. "Ha ha ha ha ha...! Revan, do you now see the power of the Dark side? How many times can you strike me down, Revan? How many Jedi will you condemn to an eternity devoid of the Force, before you yourself share their fate?"
Revan staggered backwards, the enormity of what he had just witnessed imprinting itself painfully on his awareness. The magnitude of the atrocity, and the gashlike agony in the Force that it left in its wake was almost too much to bear. A distant memory flashed briefly to life in a corner of his mind: water... an alien planet... many, many Jedi... Masters... the Council... suddenly, a vision - slaughter, carnage... one lone voice advocating mercy, all too easily ignored, condemned to be cut down with the others, like so much grass... Another distant memory, accompanied by the most severe, heartrending pain he had ever experienced - a camp, friends... Jedi... suddenly, death: an open, bleeding gash in the Force... his own voice, shouting... he had felt it... they all had.
Memory stirred again, and recognition flared to life in Revan's mind. A wound - that's what he had felt then - a wound in the Force...!
He looked up in time to see Malak advancing on him, murder in his eyes. Leaping up to the elevated viewing platform, Revan spotted two more Jedi imprisoned in similar cells. Noting that Malak had not Force-jumped his way up to the platform, Revan decided to take a calculated risk: he flung one of his lightsabers into the cell nearest to him, keeping the other in a defensive position. Guided by the Force, the weapon slammed into the cell, causing it to explode. It disgorged its prisoner almost in slow-motion. Darting towards the destroyed cell, one hand raised to catch his returning lightsaber, Revan could not help but note the sweet expression of peace that came over the bruised and tortured face of the Jedi, as she surrendered herself to the Force one last time.
As he ran past her lifeless body, Revan thought that he felt a gentle, warm brushing at the side of his face. No words could he hear, but none were needed: the impression alone sufficed. The Jedi, whoever she had been, was thankful: in allowing her to become one with the Force, Revan had spared her an unthinkable fate.
The knowledge warmed him and gave him a new impetus. Focussing more fully on the Force, Revan drew heavily on it as he prepared to make the fastest sprint of his life. Augmenting his speed with the Force, Revan ran towards the next cell, flinging his lightsaber at it - it exploded, he caught the returning weapon - no time to look behind to check where Malak was... he leapt off the platform to the floor below, sent the retrieved weapon spinning madly into another cell... another explosion, another shower of sparks -
Darth Malak screamed like a man possessed.
"Will you free them all, Jedi Revan? The darkness and the light wage a constant war within you! I know you, I know your thoughts - I know how far you can fall! The balance is tipped one way now, but it can easily be tipped back!" A surge in the Force - Revan's heightened awareness told him that Malak was about to attack - he caught his weapon as it returned to him, and spun on his heel to face Malak. Not a moment too soon: Force lightning was already crackling through the air. Raising one of his weapons, Revan caught the blue arcs easily on its blade before swinging the weapon overhead and directing the energy back at Malak, who was forced to withdraw for the moment.
With Malak thus occupied, Revan recommenced his mad sprint, taking down one, and then two more cells...
...now, only one cell stood between him and Malak. Pausing at the top of the upper viewing platform to catch his breath, Revan made his final appeal.
"Alek...! Don't make me do this - you were my friend, once - the Dark Lord is not who you are, Alek...!"
"Alek is dead!" snarled Darth Malak. His eyes were no longer a dull grey: they were red - bloodshot, and blazing with an inferno of hate. "I am Malak now - Dark Lord of the Sith! I am the terror of the galaxy, a walking nightmare; I am Death itself! Alek was a painfully pathetic fool! As are you, Revan - savior, conqueror, hero, villain: you are all things; and yet you are nothing. In the end you belong to neither the light nor the darkness! You will forever stand alone, Revan!"
With a roar, the Dark Lord vaulted upwards, blade and robes combining into one lethal red blur. Acting quickly, Revan Force-jumped away from Malak, putting himself directly in front of the last remaining cell. As he looked into the hate-blackened face of the man who had once been his closest friend, Revan knew that Malak was beyond reason. He also knew that by rights, he should now be a bundle of nerves... but for reasons unknown to him, certainty had taken the place of worry. Somehow, Revan felt confident that the harebrained idea his subconscious was suggesting to him would actually work - and by the five Corellian hells, he was going to pull it off -
Darth Malak poured all of his hatred, bile, and pent-up invective into the seething pool of passions that raged within him, drawing the darkness of the Star Force, the power of the Dark side into himself - becoming, in a very real sense, the Dark side - and bounded off the upper platform, red lightsaber blade aimed with unerring accuracy - an unstoppable Force-augmented hurricane, intent on the kill. At the last moment, Revan dropped to the floor, and Force-pushed himself out of the way. Time seemed to slow around him as he slid backwards across the polished floor: raising an arm, Revan threw one of his weapons at the Dark Lord. The red lightsaber turned circles in its trajectory, painting a blood-red spiral in the air as it hurtled on its mission of death.
The cell exploded in a blinding flash of light as Darth Malak's own lightsaber pierced its transparisteel frame, Jedi prisoner and Sith Lord falling alike on the sharp edges of the broken cylinder. Revan's red lightsaber buried itself to the hilt in Malak's side just as the Dark Lord impaled himself on an up-sticking shard of transparisteel. Malak's cry of agonised defeat reverberated through the hall.
Beyond the droid generator room, Jolee and Juhani heard the distant echo of Darth Malak's cry, and exchanged apprehensive glances. Only Bastila seemed not to notice, the shimmering blanket of glittering light about her as bright as before.
Recalling his lightsaber, Revan stood and slowly made his way to where Alek - Darth Malak - lay. The Dark Lord's crimson robes were a darker red now than they had been before. Malak's own lightsaber lay a good few metres beyond the destroyed cell, broken in pieces, its contents scattered. As Revan approached, the Dark Lord heaved himself up, off the large, jagged shard that had pierced him through. The ugly wound on his abdomen bled freely. Revan hurried to steady his former friend, pity in his eyes; but Malak waved him away.
With a final, supreme effort, Darth Malak reached into the Force one last time, borrowing the strength he needed to see him through his final moments. The effort sapped his physical strength nearly completely: he crumpled onto the ground, his blood pooling out beneath him. Feebly beckoning, the Dark Lord of the Sith called out to his friend-turned-foe.
"I am here, Alek." Revan knelt by the dying man, a lump in his throat. He could not remember the camaraderie he and Alek had had, but the pain of losing a dear friend was something primal, something beyond memory.
"Here we are... Revan... you... and I... at, at... the end..." A gurgling sound came from Malak's throat, followed by a thin trail of red seeping out from under his metal prosthesis. Gently, Revan raised Malak's head, placing it at an angle on his knee so that the dying man could breathe freely.
"Alek, I - I am so, so sorry... for leading you astray - no friend would have done that..." Drawing on the Force once more, Revan attempted to assuage some of the pain which Malak must be feeling, hoping that this would buy them both some time to say their goodbyes.
"It is not too late to save you, Alek..." said Revan, as he watched Malak growing ever paler. "You are not shut out from the Light - not yet!" The Dark Lord's eyes shut for a second, then fluttered open again.
"Per-perhaps... you... were right, Revan. ...Still ... still spouting the wisdom of... the Jedi, I see. Maybe... there is more truth... in their Code than I ever... believed." Darth Malak paused, and gulped air hungrily.
"I ... I cannot help but wonder, Revan... had our positions been... reversed? ...if fate had... decreed I... would be captured by the Jedi? Could... I have returned to the light, as... you did? If you had not... led... me down... the dark path, ...what destiny... would I... have found?
Revan shook his head sadly and wiped his eyes with his free hand. "I... do not know, Alek. All I have are regrets: many, many regrets - you were not the only good Jedi I led astray... not the only one that I destroyed."
Malak's eyes shut, and fluttered open again. "...Bastila?" he queried.
"Good." Malak gasped painfully for breath again: Revan drew on the Force once more, willing strength into the dying man, willing him to live just a little longer - a little more! - to buy Alek more time... one more opportunity, one more chance at redemption... He made one final, impassioned plea to the fallen Sith Lord. "I did start you down the dark path, but there is no reason to continue in it. Come back to the Light, Alek... there is still time..."
The fingers on Malak's right hand, which lay across the ugly hole in his abdomen, twitched. Sensing that Malak wished to grasp his hand, Revan reached out for the searching, blood-slicked fingers and held them. They were cold to the touch.
Gone was the red glow of bloodlust in Malak's eyes. But for the traces of grey which streaked them, the brown eyes that looked up at Revan could have belonged to the Jedi Alek.
In a voice barely above a whisper, Malak said, "I suppose... you speak... truth... but I... have lost my... faith. I... must... accept responsibility... my fate. I wanted... Master of the Sith... ruler... the galaxy... that destiny was not mine, Revan. It might... have been yours... but never mine."
Another gurgle from the Dark Lord, and a thicker stream of blood than before - Revan felt Malak's shivering fingers press his hand gently, as the Dark Lord spoke for the final time: "...and in the end... as... the darkness... takes me... I am... nothing."
"Alek!" shouted Revan, as Malak's trembling fingers twitched once and then fell still.
In the silence of the vast hall, a lone Jedi knelt, weeping over the still-warm body of a Dark Lord of the Sith.
The hidden door at the end of the holomap room unsealed itself with a sharp hiss. Juhani and Jolee whipped around, lightsabers at the ready.
"Revan...!" cried Juhani. She motioned for Jolee to put his lightsaber away. "The Force be thanked - you are all ri-"
"What's with all the blood, sonny boy?" barked Jolee, alarmed.
"Malak's dead," replied Revan simply. Bastila came out of her Battle Meditation with a long sigh, and jumped to her feet with an exclamation when she saw the state of Revan's robes. "Are you hurt?" she cried.
Revan shook his head in reply, and tried to smile reassuringly at her.
Jolee put two and two together and came up with four. "He's all right, lass. Just shell-shocked is all. Must have had a hell of an experience in there. This is no place to talk. Let's go!"
Revan barely registered how they got back to the Ebon Hawk, or the top-notch piloting that Carth and Canderous pulled off on their frenzied escape from the rapidly-imploding Star Forge.
He did, however, feel intensely grateful that Bastila sat beside him all the way, even if she did fuss an awful lot.
The hovercar passed through the packed airlanes of Coruscant. The decorated heroes stood nearly back-to-back in the vehicle, sandwiched between two lines of Jedi Star Forge veterans. Masters Vrook Lamar and Vandar Tokare sat at the front of the hovercar, affecting the ravages of age and attempting to make the most of a very trying situation: first Lehon, now Coruscant. They rather feared Alderaan would be their next stop.
Carth ground the heel of his boot into Canderous' toe as he spoke through gritted teeth: "Just. Bloody. Wave! It's not karkin' going to kill you, for fierfek's sake...!"
Canderous winced discreetly, moved his foot a little to the left, and waved reluctantly at the assembled, cheering crowd, a ridiculously cheesy - and fake - grin plastered onto his face.
"Kriffin' gonna need a stiff drink after this namby-pamby nonsense," he hissed back. "Make that a double, no ice."
"Agreed," hissed Carth as he spat a moutful of confetti out of his mouth. "And I'd like to personally thank the monkey-lizard who invented frackin' confetti in the first place...!" The Republic officer spotted a HoloNet News hovercar in time to flash a brilliant, charming smile as the holocams clicked madly. Canderous followed his example.
Revan and Bastila endured the cheering and catcalls of the crowd with the stoicism of true Jedi, as Mission struggled through yet another fit of giggles.
"Wow! This is, like, totally, like super-cool, man...! I mean, look, what did I, like, even do? And I've got a medal! I mean, that's like a decoration or something, right? I mean, like, people are gonna see me now and say, 'Oh! Isn't that the Twi'lek girl who like, totalliy helped save the galaxy's ass? Can I have your autograph? Oh! You're even prettier in person, Mission!'... or something, and yeah, I'm going to like, totalliy become a star - will I get my own talk show? Huh?"
The Twi'lek teen jumped up and down in the holocar, waving madly and blowing kisses at the crowd.
Juhani raised her eyes heavenwards, counted to ten, and brought a clawed hand firmly down on the teen's shoulder. "Getting quite far, I think, ahead of yourself today you are," she chided. "So fun it will not be next week, maybe next month, if every day the HoloNet press are coming." Jolee grunted in agreement, then picked his nose and flicked a gob of something at a reporter who happened to stray too close by.
HK-47 toted his blaster threateningly and speculated audibly about the number of meatbags it would be possible to do in with a "single shot, using an Aratech sniper rifle with a tri-light scope."
The crew of the Ebon Hawk, especially Zaalbar, breathed a collective sigh of relief when the day's round of pomp, circumstance and ceremony finally ended.
Revan found Bastila late that night, sitting on a stone bench under an ancient tree in the Temple gardens.
"Hey, you," he said, as he sat down beside her.
"Hey," said Bastila softly, as she gazed across the stillness of the large pond.
They sat in companionable silence for the better part of a half hour, each lost in contemplation. Finally, Bastila broke the silence.
"I've learned a lot."
"So have I."
"There's darkness in every one of us, Revan. Even those of us with the best intentions."
"A lesson I learnt the hard way, too."
"And it's so... so frighteningly easy to fall..."
Revan nodded. "That is true, Princess. But we can choose not to."
"How do I know I won't... betray you - betray the Republic again?"
Straightening, Revan put an arm around Bastila, holding her close. "I don't know that, Princess. Just like I don't know if I won't become... Darth Revan again. But I don't want to - for both our sakes - and I purpose to choose not to, every moment... every breath. You can do the same, my love."
Bastila chewed her lip thoughtfully. "I'm glad you're with me," she said after a while.
"Nowhere else I'd rather be."
They passed a few more minutes in silence.
"Force, I was such an insufferable, self-righteous little wretch - how did you even put up with me?"
"I was insufferable too, and probably self-righteous as well. I just don't remember it. How did you even start to like me?"
"You're not answering the question!"
Revan grinned. "Maybe it was the Will of the Force, Princess."
Bastila looked down and picked at a stray thread on her new Jedi robes. "Maybe you're right."
"I think the answer is 'unconditional love'," said Revan seriously. "Everyone can do it. It's just easier not to."
Another silence followed. The night breeze picked up a little, and Bastila rubbed her nose. "I love you," she told Revan, burrowing into his shoulder.
"I love you too."
Patting Bastila's waist gently, Revan stood and shook the dew off his robes. Bastila slipped her hand into his, and together, they made their way back to the slumbering quietude of the Temple.