All That Was to Come
22 Tsédíth, 1,018 DÉ (Deralín Calendar)
14.7.20375 (Republic Standard)
The feeling was always the same, being rather like a blast of hot, dry air on the back of his neck, only without the air, if that made any sense. Or maybe it was more akin to having a file dragged swiftly across one's collar, not that he'd ever experienced that. No matter that he'd never be able to adequately describe the sensation, though, since he knew precisely what it signified, and that was all that counted: a premonition of imminent danger.
"Ardig-brechad!" the curse slipped past his pale lips as little more than a cold hiss as his breath hitched in his throat.
A man clad in black and green whirled about with electric rage flashing in his slate-blue eyes as he looked upon a tiny reflective shape more than fifty kilometers distant. It was the cruiser Colossus, flagship of the 50th Fleet, and it was training its main battery on him. Treason of the highest order! A second later, the cruiser's side lit up with the flashes of turbolasers as a volley was hurled directly at him. There was no time for him to return to the bridge, but he was able to take comfort in the fact that his own cruiser, Conqueror, was graced with a clever, experienced, and (equally important at a time such as this) unswervingly loyal captain.
Upon hearing the clash of blades behind him, he turned about to face a still-more-immediate threat. A team of Jedi had boarded his flagship, (how they had done so, he did not know and could not fathom, though perhaps it was a part of Malak's coup) and four of them were presently hacking down soldiers of his Imperial Guard. Those loyal servants of his had been assigned to protect the bridge, which was a short ways down the passage to his left, and which he had so recently vacated to deal with this…distraction. Yes, there was little better word for it, as he was supposed to be the C-in-C of the Imperial Armed Forces, and not a foot soldier as he was now compelled to serve.
One of the raiders, a brown-haired woman dressed in earthy tones of tan and reddish-brown, was the first to break through the human barrier, only to halt when faced with her objective.
Bastila Shan had met Revan once before, many years ago when they were both still children, but it was from the holonet images that she knew his face best: not the face of an adolescent boy, nor that of a gifted Jedi, but that of a murderous tyrant. Revan had achieved a command of the Force by the age of twenty that had taken the greatest living masters an entire lifetime. He had been known as the finest, most powerful, and most promising padawan in the history of the Jedi Order; and even after he had defied the orders of the Council and fought the Mandalorians, he was still revered by many young Jedi. His cunning stratagems brought victory upon crushing victory, and he was hailed as the greatest hero ever to have served the Republic. Indeed, he was the man whose genius had saved the Republic. But it had all been a lie.
Once the Mandalorians had been defeated, Revan had turned on those he claimed to serve. He accused the Galactic Senate of corruption on a vast and criminal scale, denounced them as traitors to their constituents, and calling for the arrest of nearly the entire body. He proposed a new regime, one which he vowed "would be founded on absolute individual responsibility from top to bottom." There were many throughout the Republic who found little in his message to disagree with, and even Bastila was not entirely at odds with some of what he had said, in particular his charges that justice was too often trumped by bureaucratic procedure, the influence of money, or weak-minded sentiment. He had seemed at the time to share her own view that justice must be valued above such petty concerns, that the innocent must be protected and the wicked punished, but he had also claimed that the Jedi Order had itself become a pawn of a corrupt political machine, and demanded the resignation of the entire Council. This was too much for her and many others, but there were all too many Jedi (mainly those who had followed him to war) who had agreed with him and broke with the Order. He shortly thereafter departed with his fleet and his followers, and vanished into uncharted regions beyond the Outer Rim, to return not as the hero he had been, but as the Dark Lord of the Sith and the enemy of all he had once defended.
And while Bastila herself was very strong in the Force, even a prodigy, she knew that she could not face this man alone and win. No one had ever stood against him in single combat and lived, and those who had fled to preserve themselves had told of his terrifying powers. But then, as the ship bucked under the impact of heavy gunfire, the two remaining Guards fell by her companions' blades, and the odds shifted in her favor.
"You cannot win, Revan," she defiantly proclaimed as the bridge was rocked by another salvo, it dawning on her immediately thereafter how patently foolish the statement must have sounded.
The Dark Lord gave her a look of mild bewilderment that marred what was otherwise a somewhat handsome face, not that Bastila in any way thought of him as handsome at the time. In his favor, he did possess a strong jaw, a rakish moustache that tapered down to the corners of his mouth, and sandy-brown hair slicked over to one side, though his nose was slightly crooked, as if improperly set after an injury. His skin, unlike that of many Sith masters, was clear and unscarred, though strikingly pale, and leant him an air of stark coldness. His eyes were aglow with the thrill of battle, the irises not sickly yellow, but a clear, sparkling blue, as if reflecting the flash of lightning.
"I have a traitor to deal with, and no time for this," he said sharply, almost irritably. Bastila's entire field of vision was filled with searing, blinding light as brilliant as a star, and her ears rang from a thunderclap; through the Force, she could no longer feel Gillad Wenett, one of the Jedi Knights who had accompanied her on this mission. Then there was a sudden rush of movement accompanied by…well, by an absence of any real emotion to be sensed in the Force, which struck her as peculiar for a Sith. Revan felt to her in that moment like a man acting not out of rage, but out of cold, lethal instinct, and she found that somehow discomforting. Still visually blind (though perfectly aware of her surroundings), she turned to strike out at him as he came rushing past her like a human missile, but he rolled aside in mid-air, using the Force to alter his trajectory into something that seemingly defied the laws of physics. She felt a sudden rush of fear from Master Oliij, heard the telltale sizzle of a lightsaber meeting flesh, and then he, too, was gone, his presence in the flaring up for af moment before dispersing into the background current of the Force.
The attack had lasted perhaps half a second-not even enough time to draw breath-but Bastila had felt every horrible stage of it stretch out into an eternity. Her vision was returning, a splotchy red and white image of Revan drawing a lightsaber and raising his left hand superimposed over what she now saw as she turned to face him. At her side was her own Master, Ildra Ylantelo, projefcting calm serenity in the face of what seemed to be death incarnate. Speaking of which, he now stood with his right arm outstretched and the crimson, almost sanguinary blade leveled at a point midway between Bastila and her Master. Bastila ignited the second blade of her double-bladed weapon, and at the same moment saw the first flicker of blue on Revan's left hand. Time slowed as he dropped his lightsaber and swung his left arm forward, and a terrifying combination of fear and rage raced through Bastila's heart as she realized that he was aiming for Ildra. Her Master had raised her from the age of six, and had been a far better parent than her real mother. She deserved better than this.
Bastila charged, but long before she could even reach her quarry, or even before he could unleash another deadly bolt, she was thrown off her feet to the tune of a cacophonous roaring din. The air turned thick with shrapnel that slashed at her face and hands and clothing; her lightsaber was ripped from her grasp; and, just as suddenly as she had been flung down, she felt herself hauled back up off the deck by a massive, irresistible force. Rising over the overwhelming roar, she thought she heard a keening wail, and then she was upside-down in mid-air and saw Revan clinging to an exposed conduit in the ceiling. Their eyes met as she shot past him, and she thought she saw in his gaze a deep sadness and regret, as if mourning for something precious lost. It was only for an instant, however, before he lost his grip and was hurled backwards into another conduit that caught him at the base of the skull and sent him tumbling, with limbs flailing limp in the gale, end over end after her. And then, just as suddenly as the maelstrom had begun, there was utter silence, Bastila connected with some unyielding surface that forced the breath from her lungs (or what little remained in her lungs), and all was still. Her entire body ached, her head most of all, and stars swirled before her eyes as she struggled to her feet. In this she failed miserably at first, toppling back onto the deck, only to lift herself onto her hands and knees and survey her devastated surroundings.
The corridor was a shambles, now devoid of any and all debris, and also of the bodies of the Imperial Guards and her slain comrades. Revan lay a few meters from her, blood streaming from his head and neck, but Ildra was nowhere to be seen, and it was only then that she realized the significance of the stifled scream she had heard. A ragged hole three meters broad, now sealed by an emergency containment field, told the remainder of the story. She felt as though a massive weight had been laid upon her chest, and tears began to well in her stinging eyes. Her lightsaber had landed on the deck, presently resting up against the containment field, and she called it into her waiting palm with a surprising rush of energy.
No, do not give in to hate, she admonished herself as she crawled over to Revan. He did not move, or even breathe, and only through the Force could she tell that he was still alive. He was once a great and noble man. The ship shuddered under another impact, and the lights went out, to be replaced by amber emergency lamps, as she leaned over him.
"Why?" she asked aloud, as if there could be any reasonably expectation that he might answer. Why did you do it? All of it? She was to take him alive, if possible. That goal would have been impossible had the corridor not been breached, for he would surely have killed Ildra and herself, but now it was rapidly slipping away along with his life. There was a great opportunity here, she sensed. Indeed, she felt as if she had arrived at a crossroads not only in her own life but in history; that all that had come before had been but a prelude to this moment, and that whatever her choice, it would affect all that was to come after. Laying her hand over his forehead, she sought to do whatever might be within her power to save him. Yes, save him, she told herself, certain of her choice. He may yet be redeemed: there is good in him.
In a sea of black, Revan knew that his time had come. He did not fear death, only the death of his dream, and of all that he cherished and fought for…bled for...killed for. No, all the plans are in place, he tried to reassure himself as his thoughts began to drift and dissemble. Malak will die here, this day, and his kind will soon follow him…and the Jedi…and the Republic… They all will perish... and Deralí will rise again… And then he could see it: mountainsides carpeted with evergreens, rising up on either side of pure blue water to form a craggy fjord. Grey and white facades grew out of the slopes, and a great spire arose at the base of the fjord, as if an outgrowth of the mountains, of the very planet itself. A broad avenue ran along the shore, and on it were marching men and women in green and grey and black. Banners flew in the fresh sea air, caught in a stiff wind that set them snapping and fluttering to and fro, and there was music playing… joyous music… Rank after rank marched past, their faces flushed with pride and elation, their step light and steady, on and on and on… And then, quite unexpectedly, there was a presence with him, and he was sitting on a cool rock on a slope in the hours before dawn-that magical time just before the world woke-looking down upon a sea of fog dotted with the emerald islands of hilltops that poked up out of the mist. Above was spread an innumerable multitude of stars that lingered as the first pale glimmer of sunlight crept up in the east, and beside him was… Who are you?
She reached out into the Force, drawing upon the energy generated by every living being in the universe, and simultaneously reached into Revan. When she touched his essence, however, it was…indescribable. This was not the raw, unchecked, tainted power that she had felt from other Sith, but something refined and purposeful: a perfect night without end, absolute and infinite and beautiful in its clarity. Above all, it was pure. And then she found a power within herself that she had never known was there, and she poured it into Revan's wounded body.
Astonishingly, she could actually feel the cracked vertebrae knit back together, the nerves rejoin, and, a second later, Revan's consciousness flare up like a suddenly-kindled fire. She recoiled in shock and stunned amazement at what had just transpired, feeling a peculiar rush pass through her that made her head swim. Fortunately, the Dark Lord remained motionless, apart from the subtle rise and fall of his chest. As Bastila took him by the shoulders and started to drag him back toward the door, his eyes snapped open, and he gasped, drawing in a long, ragged breath, then lay back and shut his eyes once more.
"O cina ílíth rethér," he rasped. "Lín…lín."
What he said, she did not know, but then his breathing fell back into a steady rhythm, and she resumed pulling him to safety.
"I just lost starboard thrusters one, three, four…"
"Starboard ahead flank! Bring us around, bring us around fast!"
On the bridge, Line Captain Grier was rushing from one station to another, trying to salvage some kind of victory from this fiasco. Why in hell was the Colossus still firing? There was no way they couldn't have realized their mistake by now, and there were no Republic vessels close enough to the Conqueror for this to be a targeting error.
"Captain, port shields restored!" exclaimed an engineering lieutenant while still frenetically typing commands into her console. "It may be temporary."
"All green, sir, but still no reply from Colossus," replied another junior officer.
"Dammit, weapons status," Grier growled through clenched teeth.
"Sir, I've got red across the board. Their second salvo took out the primary generators, and there's no hope of restoring power in less than…"
He wasted no time in giving the order: "Signal all ships to fire on Colossus. Do not, repeat do not destroy her! Shoot to disable only."
"And where is Lord Revan?"
"He should have defeated the Jedi by now, sir," said Senior Lieutenant Arno, head of the ship's Marine contingent, in a cautious half-whisper.
"Take your men and find out if he's all right."
"Yes, sir." Halfway to the blast door, Arno turned back and said, "I do have every confidence that he has the situation well in hand."
How she had managed to move him at all in her state, she didn't know, but Bastila had dragged the semi-conscious Revan fifty meters down the hall and was nearing an open set of blast doors when heavy footfalls and shouting made her look up. A dozen men in blue-grey fiber armor, with a uniformed officer leading them, were bearing down on her with assault rifles at the ready.
"Let him go!" roared Arno in a voice like a lion.
Bastila lowered Revan onto the floor.
"Don't…shoot…her," he ordered the officer hoarsely.
"We'll get you to the infirmary right away, sir!" said one of the marines as he helped lift Revan.
"Lieutenant," said Revan firmly, the authority returning to his voice as his hand seized the front of Arno's uniform with a bloody hand, "If she is…in any way… mistreated…I will have your head."
"Yes, My Lord," replied Arno, fear in his eyes. He snapped to attention and saluted as his commander was whisked away.
"And as for you, you should consider yourself very lucky," he snarled at Bastila as two of his men seized her by the arms. "If it wasn't for that order-and I'll be damned if I know why he gave it-I would have shot you dead here and now. Who knows? He might rescind it when he comes around and I'll get to shoot a Jedi after all." He addressed his men: "Put her in a holding cell, but by all means be gentle."
As the woman was hauled off, Arno holstered his sidearm. Revan's words still echoed in his mind: …I will have your head. Whatever the Dark Lord's reasons, this woman had to be treated as precious cargo for Arno to be safe. Arno returned swiftly to the bridge, trying to divert his mind to other matters.
"Lieutenant, report!" Grier barked.
"Lord Revan was wounded, but is conscious and on his way to the infirmary. Three Jedi are missing, presumably killed when the hull was breached, and the fourth has been taken prisoner. There are no signs of the Imperial Guards assigned to guard the bridge."
"They must have been sucked out along with the Jedi," Grier grumbled. "Serves the louts right, for all the use they were."
"Captain, incoming signal from Colossus!" reported the comm officer.
"Patch it through."
The main viewscreen flickered with static for a few seconds, and then the face of Admiral Karath appeared. The admiral looked pale and very shaken.
"What the freg is going on over there?" Grier demanded, ignoring Karath's rank. (He was confident that the man wouldn't be an admiral after Revan returned from the infirmary. He would be most fortunate, indeed, to even be granted a firing squad.)
"We are experiencing some difficulty with targeting systems," said Karath in his slippery voice. "I am very sorry if…"
"You didn't have any difficulty targeting us! We're dead in space, all weapons are down, and shields are at twenty percent. If the Republic wasn't on the run, we'd all be dead right now!"
"Again, a targeting error, Captain. Our computer mistook you for a Republic cruiser and…"
"And no one bothered to look out the blinking window? Karath," Grier said, once again deliberately omitting the man's rank, "I'm finding your story very difficult to believe. We have I-don't-know-how-many dead, and their blood is on your head! Lord Revan himself was wounded, but thankfully is in good condition from what I hear, and I'm damn sure that once our doctors finish patching him up, he'll want to hear an explanation from you in person--a better explanation than the pitiful excuse you just gave me."
The mere fact that Karath did not object to the manner in which Grier was speaking to him was evidence enough that he was guilty. Grier could see it plainly now: Malak, who did not now have the courage to show his face, had attempted a coup d'état with Karath as his accomplice.
"No one is to leave your ship. Any shuttles, fighters, or escape pods will be halted with extreme prejudice. That is all."
He signaled to the comm officer, who cut off the transmission.
Admiral Grier, he mused. Karath was a dead man walking, and Grier was the hero who had saved the day against both the Republic strike force and the coup. He was sure to get a fleet command for this.
The ship shuddered lightly from a glancing blow, abruptly refocusing his attention.
"From a Republic destroyer, sir," said the sensor chief in anticipation of his next query. "They are on the run, however… There! Two of them just jumped away."
"Good," Grier breathed a sigh of relief. "Comms, signal Assurance to concentrate her fire on that destroyer's hyperdrive. I'd like to scratch off one more, if possible, before they all bolt for it."
"Frankly, sir, I'm at a loss to explain how you're even alive," said the ship's doctor while staring at his diagnostic terminal in disbelief. "I see evidence of three broken vertebrae, all of which are now almost completely healed. More remarkable is this…" he pointed at the display. "Do you see this blue here? That shows recent nerve regeneration…very recent, and very extensive, and it runs clear across your spinal cord right in line with these broken vertebrae. In other words, your spinal column was completely severed. You…"
"Should be dead. You said that already."
"My apologies. Anyway, apart from the gashes that I've closed, the only serious complication remaining is a concussion, and for that…"
"I can heal that myself," Revan cut him off.
"Of course, My Lord. It would be best, however, if you returned in…"
"Tend to those who need your care, doctor," he replied, raising his voice over the moans and screams of other patients. "I'll live."
He sat up abruptly, and, in spite of the anesthetic, was struck by a sudden swirling wave of sickness, and a fiery, stabbing pain crashing through the base of his skull. His hand, instinctively touching the area, felt the quasi-rubbery texture of a kolto patch on the back of his neck. A severed spine. I ought be dead, he thought as he swung his legs over the edge of the cold medical table and dropped to the floor. There was only one explanation for his survival that he could conceive; and it meant that the female Jedi was something special, and had he succeeded in killed her along with the others, not only would her gifts be lost, but he would now be dead. He had sensed her in his mind when she healed him, and thought he felt her even now, though that was likely just a side-effect of the concussion.
Swinging his legs over the side of the table, he let his boots drop to the floor and reeled from a sudden swirling dull ache in his head. A heavily-muscled Imperial Guard, a man of about Revan's age but far larger, immediately rushed forward to steady him, but was halted by a contemptuous wave of the hand. It was bad enough that he had been wounded in the first place, but to have people tend to him thusly was absolutely intolerable. Summoning all his will, he steadied himself, pushed away the pain, and then suddenly patted down both sides of his waist. A lightsaber hung on his right hip, but the one he normally wore on his left was gone, lost in the maelstrom of the decompression. Reaching around to the small of his back, he found the comforting shape of a PM-04 blaster-useless against Jedi, perhaps, but at least an honest weapon. Should his good fortune ever run out and he fall in this accursed war, he sincerely hoped it would be from a good, clean blaster shot, rather than from being hacked apart by an energy blade.
"Now get to work on my men," he ordered the doctor irritably as he strode out, not pausing long enough to hear the clipped reply of "Yes, sir!" He could never bear hospitals, particularly in wartime. It tore at him greatly to see those he led into battle-those who served him, who believed in him-suffer so.
They follow me, they fight with me, but they do not fight for me…do not die for me…and for that I must be grateful. They have a cause, as I do.
On leaving the infirmary, he was immediately shaken from his introspective gloom by Major General Wallen, commander of the Imperial Guard. Wallen, like his men, wore straight black trousers tucked into riding boots, a black tunic with a leather belt fastened about the waist, and a black visored cap. On each side of his collar was a silver runic device, and on his right shoulder a series of silver diamonds indicating rank. He was a particularly large and physically powerful man, in addition to being well-versed in the ways of the Force. He wore a lightsaber on his left hip, which was of a distinctly plain and businesslike design. Upon seeing Revan, he clicked his heels and saluted, then proceeded to walk alongside his leader.
"My Lord, I beg your forgiveness…" he began.
"There is no need, General. I trust that you and your men have dealt with the last of the Jedi strike team."
"We have. They were all disposed of, save the one you took prisoner. The ship is secure. I must apologize for allowing her and her companions to reach you. I have failed in my duty, and if you so wish it..."
You offer your life in payment only because you know I shan't accept, he scoffed after reading the remainder of Wallen's thoughts. The man was still loyal, but it was an ill omen that he should resort to such disingenuous exaggerations.
"I said there is no need for that. You have not failed, General. Your men did their best, but this female Jedi was more than a match for them. She is exceptionally strong in the Force…and perilously close to the dark side… She is unlike anyone else I have ever encountered."
Though I feel I have met her before…but when, and where? And what is her name? Both are puzzles to be solved in time: right now I must do what I ought have already done, and was too arrogant not to. I must be more cautious in the future.
"You believe you can turn her?" Wallen interrupted his train of thought.
"Perhaps. I want her likeness checked against our database and identified: I have a feeling I may have met her once before. First and foremost, however, I want you to take the entire 1st Company to the Colossus on the double. You are to arrest Admiral Karath and Darth Malak and deliver them to me, preferably alive."
"As you command, My Lord. Oh, and we found this, sir."
Reaching into his pocket, he produced Revan's lightsaber, which had miraculously not been sucked out into space along with most everything else in that corridor.
"Thank you, General," he said as he clipped the weapon to his left hip. "Good hunting."
Wallen smiled thinly in return, then turned off sharply at the next junction, leaving Revan with the Imperial Guard who had been standing watch over him in the infirmary. A few minutes later, after a short turbolift ride, they stepped onto the bridge.
"Attention on deck! Hail Revan!" proclaimed Grier.
"Hail Revan!" roared the bridge crew.
"Spare me the formalities, Captain. What is the status of the ship?"
"The main reactors are down. We're maintaining life support and twenty-percent shields with the emergency generators."
"And the outcome of the battle?"
"Two Republic cruisers and three destroyers have been destroyed, and the others driven off. Avenger was lost with heavy casualties; Striker was hit badly, but all primary systems are still operational; Colossus is dead in space at the moment, but I'm told that she can be underway again within a few hours. Finally, I have managed to contact Invincible, which is ninety minutes away as of now."
"And still on her shakedown cruise," Revan pointed out. "She was kept back from the front for a reason."
"Yes, but she reports all systems fully operational and ready for battle, should the need arise."
Revan gazed out the windows briefly before returning to the conversation.
"Republic forces are certain to return in the very near future. How long will the repairs take?"
"Perhaps two weeks…if we can reach a shipyard, and, even if we can be towed, there is no guarantee that our inertial dampeners will handle the jump to hyperspace."
Revan ruminated on it for several moments, reluctant to concede the loss of his flagship but also admitting the impracticality (if not impossibility) of salvaging it. "Very well. Order the evacuation of the ship: everyone is to be off within two-and-a-half hours, if at all practicable, with the exception of the Jedi in the brig, whose transfer I shall attend to personally. When Invincible arrives, you are to transfer your flag to her, Vice Admiral Grier."
Grier was speechless for a second, then drew himself up straight and replied, "At once, My Lord. You have my deepest gratitude."
"As you have mine, but thanks and congratulations can follow when we both find ourselves in lesser peril. See to your duty, Admiral."
"All right, you heard him," boomed Grier as he swiftly turned to his crew. "Signal Stormwind to come alongside and dock. I want standard evacuation procedures put in effect immediately. I want to see the orderly transfer of personnel begin the instant those airlocks are opened. On the double!"
"Senior Lieutenant Arno and Captain-Lieutenant Delaan," said Revan, addressing the marine and Conqueror's first officer, "you are to lead a boarding party to Colossus. Take command of the ship and place the bridge crew and command staff under arrest."
"Yes, sir!" barked the two officers in unison.
"And you needn't concern yourselves with Malak: I've sent the Imperial Guard to deal with him," he said as he settled into the captain's chair with slightly less than his customary grace. He shut his eyes and breathed deeply, again willing away the pain and weakness, and forcing his body to heal faster.
"Sir!" exclaimed a familiar female voice from behind.
He spun the chair slowly about to see a young woman race out of the turbolift towards him. She was pale and blonde, with narrow grey eyes and plain features, and a physique that could only be described as strapping. She wore the uniform of the Security Directorate: a grey shirt with a tall pointed collar, black breeches, black jacket with green facings, and a black peaked cap bearing a small emerald insignia. The latter came in the form of five four-pointed stars set in an arc, over which swooped the likeness of a diving falcon. On her right thigh was strapped an all-black PM-04. When she saw Revan's ashen face and the bloodstains on his shirt, her expression grew even more alarmed than it already was, and she sprinted across the few meters that separated them.
"I heard that you were wounded. Is it bad?" she asked as she knelt by him.
"Not particularly. I suspect it looks much worse than it is, what with all the blood. I don't suppose you could bring me a new jacket?"
"Of course, sir."
"Thank you very kindly, Céle."
She smiled briefly and awkwardly as she stood.
"And we'll be evacuating the ship in two-and-a-half hours, so pack your things and mine."
She clicked her heels and was about to turn to carry out her orders when she was stopped by his voice.
"And thank you for checking on me."
"It was the least I could do, sir."
With a subtle nod, he granted her permission to leave, then turned the chair back around to face the viewscreen, only to shut his eyes and slip into a healing trance.
On board Colossus, in a darkened chamber bordered entirely by windows on one side, a man of impressive stature and bulk stood in his archetypal brooding stance. He was robed in tight, rust-hued clothes that showed off his powerful physique, and his shaved head was heavily tattooed (both fashion statements that he knew thoroughly repulsed Revan). The lower part of his face was dominated by a bulky, metal prosthetic jaw, necessitated by the skillful swipe of a Mandalorian's beskad during the last war. While there existed the rumor that Revan had been responsible for his own apprentice's disfigurement, there was no truth in it, and it rankled both men, albeit for different reasons. Had Revan ever had cause (before now) to punish his apprentice, he was wise enough not to leave a vengeful man free to exact retribution; and had he ever actually raised his blade to Malak, the latter would have turned on his master long ago.
Malak had few illusions about the fate that awaited him now. He knew that his master had little love for the Sith philosophy, however much he might pretend otherwise, and wouldn't see the attempt to depose him as anything other than a despicable act of treason. Most likely, he would even use the incident as an excuse to execute anyone in a position of power who didn't see eye-to-eye with him. He had thought of escaping, of stealing a hyperdrive-equipped shuttle and jumping away, but he could sense the hundreds of guns trained on the cruiser, and knew that he would be dust the moment he cleared the hangar. No, if he was to die, better to die on his feet, rather than fleeing like a miserable coward.
Still, perhaps he could yet save his head. After all, Karath was the perfect scapegoat: he had once served the Republic, and had turned his allegiance to Revan with surprising ease. Revan had never really trusted the man, and often seemed to loathe him, and had kept him in his service thanks solely to Karath's knowledge of Republic tactics and technology. He could say that Karath had turned his coat once again, only this time against the Empire, and it was he, Malak, who had stopped the attack in time and killed the traitor. But no, Revan would see through that before he even got the words out, and he knew it, which meant that the admiral's headless corpse was more the byproduct of his impotent rage than a viable scapegoat.
Through the windows, he could see the cruiser Stormwind interposed between himself and Conqueror. Just visible to his left was Striker, parked off the bow of his own ship, her main batteries still locked on target. A much smaller ship, dark gray and of a boxy design, was now approaching Colossus at speed, quickly disappearing below the line of Malak's windows. It was an Invader-class assault shuttle, and Malak knew that it was coming for him. He reached out in the Force, wondering if Revan himself was aboard, but sensed only a contingent of Imperial Guards. While none of them, Wallen included, could begin to match Malak's power, their weight of numbers was power enough. He thought again of running, or at least of sending a signal to Korriban, where there were still loyal Sith…real Sith and not pretenders to the name like Revan. On the other hand, if they were too weak and too blind not to realize what their so-called Dark Lord would do in the aftermath of this day, then they deserved the fate that awaited them all.
As he awaited the arrival of the Imperial Guards, he cursed himself for having placed his trust in a man like Karath. At the crucial moment, the admiral's stupidity and cowardice had let him down. Had they been closer to Conqueror, as Malak had repeatedly demanded, the attack would have succeeded, but Karath was reluctant to hazard a collision.
The double doors chimed but did not open, Malak having locked them. A second later, he heard the buzz of multiple lightsabers as they slashed furiously at the door, which promptly collapsed inwards in many pieces. Wallen now rushed through the open doorway, brandishing his saber, with two dozen Guards at his heels. They swiftly formed a semicircular cordon around Malak, each one with his lightsaber drawn. As strong and skilled with a blade as Malak was, he knew that he stood no chance against twenty-five mad fanatics. And that was precisely what the Imperial Guards were: each and every one of them would gladly, even eagerly, lay down his or her life for Revan.
"Darth Malak, you are under arrest for high treason against Lord Revan and the Empire," proclaimed Wallen.
"Are you so stupid that you cannot see what happened here?" asked Malak in his deep, metallic voice, gesturing to the corpse that lay a few meters away. "Admiral Karath was the traitor here. It was I who stopped…"
He was cut off by twin blue beams that converged on his head and threw him into wild, convulsing spasms. Two of Guards armed with neural disruptor rifles had emerged from behind the main line and fired before Malak could react. Even after he had fallen to the floor, his mind a twisted mass of disjointed thoughts and images and ferocious pain, they continued firing.
"You do know those things will cause brain damage if the target is exposed for more than a few seconds," a subordinate cautioned Wallen over the general's shoulder.
"I don't see how that's an issue here. You don't suppose Lord Revan will want to have a chat with him, do you?" replied Wallen callously.
The younger man chuckled. "I suppose you're right. This bastard's just going to be burned to a cinder anyway."
"That's enough," Wallen casually ordered the shooters after another few seconds. His own lightsaber still drawn, he took a thick metal collar from his belt with his left hand and cautiously approached Malak, who moaned quietly as he lay upon the deck. He treated his prisoner like a poisonous animal that may or may not be playing dead, kicking him hard in the ribs and then backing off quickly to await a response. When none came apart from more moans, he closed in once more and flicked off his lightsaber. He fastened the collar around Malak's neck as quickly as he could, then breathed a sigh of relief.
"All right, get him up."
Bastila lay on a hard and narrow bunk in her cell, which measured a scant two meters on either side. The light was dim, the air stale, and the guard in the corridor outside kept eyeing her in a most disconcerting manner through the tiny viewing slit in the door. She could, of course, suspect the reason for this, being aware that she was an attractive woman, or at least when her skin wasn't crisscrossed by thin cuts made by flying debris. Her face was pleasantly proportioned, her eyes a sparkling blue, her skin fair and smooth, her lips full and red, and her figure athletic-yet-feminine. In short, she was cursed to having men from outside the Jedi order make advances toward her at every opportunity. She had, of course, always brushed them off, due half to her strict training, and half to her own natural feelings of superiority. She had always retained a measure of arrogance about her in spite of the near-continuous admonitions to the contrary, and her own understanding that it led to the dark side. After all, Revan's confidence in his own superiority no doubt contributed to his fall, and she often reminded herself of his example, but nevertheless found it to be a disturbingly enduring trait.
At the moment, however, she was more concerned with the unwanted attentions of her guard than she was with her own attitudes. Certainly he's been given Revan's order not to harm me, she thought. Prying into the man's feelings, though, she was relieved to find that he was more afraid of her than anything else, presumably because she was a Jedi. Still, she couldn't help but wonder at the reasoning behind Revan's order. She vividly recalled the expression on Revan's face and the tone of his words as he threatened the lieutenant's life. He had meant that very, very seriously. Maybe he knew who she was. Her rare gift of battle meditation, which she had used to enable the strike team to board the Conqueror in the first place, would be a powerful weapon in the hands of the Sith, and tilt the balance of power irrevocably in their favor. If Revan did know her identity, then he would certainly make every effort to win her over to his cause. He would, of course, fail in this endeavor, she being far too dedicated to ever turn to the dark side, but he was sure to make the effort.
"Attention: This is a fleet-wide broadcast from the Imperial Naval Vessel Conqueror," said a female voice from out in the corridor. Bastila had recalled seeing a viewscreen out there when she first arrived. "A short while ago, in an act of treason and cowardice not seen in a thousand years, Darth Malak fired upon Lord Revan's flagship while in the heat of battle with the Republic Navy. Thanks to the genius of our leader and the skill and bravery of Conqueror's crew, the Republic forces were beaten and the traitor Malak apprehended. Though wounded in the attack, Lord Revan continues to carry out his duty with unflagging devotion, having returned to the bridge within minutes of being treated for his injuries."
"Here begins a new era in the history of the Empire," spake Revan thereafter, who sounded to Bastila to be in remarkably good health. "It has become painfully clear to me that there are those within this Empire who do not hold its best interests at heart. They do not share the selfless dedication of those who fight and die every day at the front, and fight only for their own contemptible gain. Infighting…infighting can lead only to the absolute and irremediable defeat of our ideals, our aspirations, and our way of life, and for what? Petty personal ambition, an unbridled lust for power for its own sake, and unabashed avarice: these weaknesses are what today came within a hair's breadth of destroying all that for which we sacrifice…all that for which so many have given their lives. And so it shall be that, henceforth, those weaknesses will not be tolerated.
"The start of this new era will be marked by the elimination of a danger that has long lain dormant within certain elements of the Empire. This danger has, until now, been the greatest threat facing our cause: this threat is one man who allowed his own personal ambitions to blind him to the greater cause, and even to victory itself. Not only has this man betrayed me, he has betrayed the tens of millions who have spilled their blood in service of their own heartfelt convictions. And for this he will pay with his life.
"I felt the touch of death this day, but it did not claim me. Nay, it could not claim me, for my purpose is not yet fulfilled. I vow to you that I shall never tire, never rest, never relent in the execution of my duty to you, to the Empire, and to the principles upon which it was founded. I mean to see this war through to its victorious conclusion, and to do so at your side! Long live the Empire! To victory!"
There were cheers of "Victory!" from what sounded like a thousand different voices before the broadcast ended, and Bastila fought down a chill that rose up her spine.
Malak was escorted into a disheveled conference room by Wallen and four other Imperial Guards, who muscled him around the long table and toppled chairs, and between the rows of Imperial Marines who stood with assault rifles charged and ready.
"Vermin," Revan hissed as he slowly approached Malak. "You had not even the courage to face me in personal combat. You are nothing but a conniving, spineless coward!"
His pace was clearly the result of injury, and not of fear, for there was nothing but pure hatred on his face and in his voice; and an electric glow shone in his eyes, hinting at a terrible power waiting to be unleashed.
"Ámenín, draitsûlín, áthin!" he cursed, switching to a tongue better suited to disparaging someone's very existence, even though he knew Malak couldn't understand a single blessed word of Derals, not even the profanity.
"My Master, I know what you must think," Malak began as he dropped to his knees, an act which immediately had every weapon in the room trained on him, "but it was not I who gave the order to fire. It was Admiral Karath who betrayed you, just as he betrayed the Republic. He was complicit in the plot by the Jedi to assassinate you, and when he saw the Republic attack faltering, he took matters into his own hands and gave the order to fire."
"Senior Lieutenant Arno!" snapped Revan, never averting his contemptuous stare from the giant kneeling before him.
"Sir!" Arno answered with a click of his heels.
"What results have you obtained from the bridge crew and the late admiral's command staff?"
"Unanimous results, My Lord. They all agree that it was Malak who gave the order to fire on this ship. Karath acted in complicity, but was only second-in-command."
"So, then, my apprentice," he said that last word mockingly, for Malak had never been anything more to him than a weapon, "it is your word against that of thirty-four others."
"Those men would say anything to save their necks!" Malak retorted.
"If that is the case, then their efforts have been in vain. Lieutenant, you know the punishment for treason-have them all shot," Revan ordered curtly.
"And as for you," Revan addressed Malak in a harsh, gravelly voice, "it has been a long time since I had either trusted or respected you as a subordinate or a sentient being. You are a barbarian in the guise of a warrior, a criminal and an inferior in every way I can conceive, a…human pestilence."
"And you have become a weak-minded…" Malak started, having regained his courage in the face of what was now certain death. He brought himself back up to his full, imposing height, but did not long remain on his feet.
Revan said not a word as lightning flashed from his hands. Rather than firing a single bolt, he sent dozens of spidery tendrils of blue energy into the Sith Lord, deliberately seeking not to kill him instantly. Consequently, Malak let out a hideous shriek as he fell to the floor, writhing in agony, his scream swiftly morphing into a metallic howl as his vocabulator shorted. His skin charred and peeled, and his limbs twisted into grotesque poses. After a time, his cortosis-weave bodysuit burst into flames, and his entire form began to shrink and shrivel. The howl ceased, but he continued to twitch for another thirty seconds or so, and it was only when the now-unrecognizable mass on the floor lay motionless that the lightning flickered out. Breathing heavily and doused in cold sweat, Revan staggered backwards to one of the few chairs still standing on four legs, and collapsed into it.
Fool, he thought, realizing the utter stupidity of doing such a thing while recovering from a near-fatal wound. How did I recover, anyway? It must have been her--there can be no other explanation. He shut his eyes as his head was stabbed by a white-hot knife, and his stomach clenched and churned spasmodically. A flamethrower would have done just as well, but no, I had to show off, he chastised himself as good-humoredly as he could manage at a time such as this.
He thought of sending for a doctor, but swiftly scrapped the idea on principle. There was no new injury, merely the after affects of his brush with death, and discomfort and pain were foes to be conquered by the will, not dismissed with drugs. Sitting up straight in the chair, he fixed his eyes on the end of a broken cable that was hanging from the ceiling, and took long, deep, cleansing breaths. In…and out…in…and out. Pain is just another enemy, and one that I have beaten before.
"My Lord?" Wallen's voice broke through his vertigo, and he knew the remainder of the question before the general had even properly formed the words in his head.
"Eject it out the nearest airlock," he muttered. The pain and nausea faded slowly, steadily, growing fainter with each breath he took. Then he made the mistake of glancing up at the source of a scraping, squishing noise, which was, of course, Malak's hideously-disfigured corpse being dragged from the room. Acid burned his throat, water streaming from his eyes as he forced it back down, the pain in his digestive tract nearly matching the pain in his head. It was the melted eyes that did it. You thrice-cursed idiot! Why do you always look at the eyes? Blood, brains, guts, never a problem, but you're damned weak stomach always turns at the hwaichín eyes, and you always look! Now breath, you moron. In…and out… in…and out.