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As the red dot reflected from Mandalore's golden helm, Chancellor Tavion Antilles smiled to himself. He did not know who the assassin was, nor did he care. His part had been small: Simply have Merias' military contacts shuffle his security around to leave a small hole where the shooter could slip in. He didn't care how she did it-bribery, blackmail, or outright lies as to why the upstairs security had to be posted in a different wing of the building. No matter what, it could not be traced to him. He hadn't ordered anything directly. Merias' directives had to pass through layers and layers of people, none of whom knew what the others were doing. And as it all fell apart like a linchpin being removed from a bridge, he knew he would be the one to pick up the pieces.
Poor Revan! The Jedi's post-traumatic stress from the war had claimed his mind, or so the media would spin it. Tavion would publicly mourn the loss of their once great general, and would renegotiate a new peace, ceding whatever star systems were necessary to placate the Mandalorians. His seat would be secure, and that hideous Duro Senator would fade into obscurity.
A woman screamed as Mandalore fell. It was time for him to take his exit. A nearby guard rushed toward him. The room erupted in blaster fire.
The guard fell to the ground. And another. And then another.
No. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. They had a deal!
Even as he bolted over a guard's body, he could instinctively feel a red beam burning on the back of his head. He knew-just knew-that it wasn't a Mandalorian pointing a weapon at him. The same assassin had now turned his sights on him.
He fled toward the nearest pillar in a vain effort to escape the shooter's line of sight, his mind begging forgiveness for his many sins, begging for another chance to abandon his vain quest for more power and make amends to those he had harmed, begging to tell his wife how sorry he was for all the years he had wasted between them. But it was too late. The Light had abandoned him, just as he had abandoned it.
His skull lit on fire.
Alek's saberstaff lit with twin blue blades as he deflected a shot from a Mandalorian blaster rifle. Beside him, Bastila's twin yellow blades likewise ignited. He was about to yell at her to run, but one of her guards-the burly one-beat her to it.
Then the guard fell to the ground. As Alek deflected another shot, he spun around, his eyes scanning the situation. Multiple guards-some the Supreme Chancellor's, some Bastila's-crumpled, succumbing to Mandalorian blaster rifles. Onasi took a shot in the leg, and then in the shoulder, even as he dove toward Bastila. They had all been targeted with a precision that could only be explained by exhaustive planning.
Fine. Because their side had likewise planned for the worst. He spun towards Revan's general direction. His friend was fending off a slew of Mandalorians who had abandoned their blasters in favor of their vibroblades and flash grenades. Every nerve of Alek's body screamed to jump in and help his friend, despite their recent disagreement. The entire argument seemed so stupid, now.
And just as Alek was about to leap into the fight to help, he caught sight of Revan's mask-the mask that ate his friend's face like a parasite-and he knew that the eyes behind it were asking him for a different kind of help.
Alek gave him a nod, and turned to Bastila, who was now alone, her back to him as she faced down three Mandalorians. Nearly the entire room was in a panic, the queen already having retreated under the protection of her soldiers. Friendly fire from said soldiers singed the air as they made their orderly retreat-the only order in the entire room of screaming politicians and ambassadors. General Yusanis, white Echani hair flying over his shoulders, drove his vibroblade into one of Bastila's attackers, General Arren Kae following behind him to skewer another foe with her lightsaber. T3-M4 fired a few shots with his dainty little blaster. A Mandalorian returned fire, shoving the little droid back with a burst of flame and a shrill beep.
Alek tugged at Bastila's shoulder. "Let's go. Now!"
Thankfully, she obeyed, not wasting the distraction provided by their allies. They ducked into a corridor.
"Revan's surrounded," Bastila huffed as they broke into a jog. "You should go back for him."
"I'm not leaving you," Alek said, pushing her around the corner.
"I can look after myself," she hissed.
"No time to discuss this with the committee."
"I am not a committee!"
They hit a dead end, a stained glass window staring back at them. Behind them, blaster fire pummeled the hallway.
Alek shoved her forward. "Through the window, princess!"
The glass blew outward with the wave of her hand, and the two Jedi jumped out, landing in a bed of thorny jungle flowers. Bastila muttered something about not being a princess, but Alek ignored her, along with the thorns and glass sticking into the fabric of his pants. He surveyed the garden. The queen's battle droids rolled up, closing in on the building. She would restore order as quickly as possible, but would it be soon enough to get Bastila to safety?
"Come on," Alek growled.
But she didn't move. He looked behind him.
"My leg is caught," the Jedi Princess said, tugging it from a thorn bush.
"I'm trying! Why don't you help me?"
Alek knelt in front of her, smirking. "I thought you could take care of yourself."
"Just shut up."
He did, but kept smirking even as he used the Force to rip the tangling branches from her leg.
"You moron!" Bastila shrieked. "I could have done that!" The Jedi extracted herself the rest of the way from the flower bed, gripping her bleeding leg and shredded pants.
"Don't have time to be delicate. Let's go!"
They fled between stone columns and potted plants, ducking into an archway. Alek's legs were already tiring as they sprinted across a grassy lawn and into the opening in the inner wall of the palace. Their landing pad lay dead ahead.
A blast of fire, like a thick bolt of lightning, hit one of the ships on the pad. Alek could feel the heat against his face, the ground shaking beneath him. His head snapped up. That blast had come from above. The Demon Moon smiled back, shooting a beam of light through their own atmosphere.
Mandalore clutched his scorched neck with a gauntleted hand. The armor had held, but it felt like fire melting through his skin nonetheless, the high-powered laser beam having pierced where the armor was weakest, dissipating its flaming heat across his right shoulder. Such a shot would have required the kind of power that most did not carry on a sidearm. The old man growled as he crawled to his knees. He felt dizzy and sick, the scent of his burnt flesh mixing with the blaster fire overhead. His hands shook, but he forced himself to his feet, ducking behind a giant vase.
He stared at his trembling hands. Weak. So very weak. He had gone from being the young warrior who bravely-almost foolishly-rushed into battle against the Jedi forces in the Exar Kun War, to being the shaking leader of his people who couldn't even aim a blaster.
No, he would not succumb to a mere rifle shot, like some old stag in the woods. He dragged himself to his feet.
"Cease fire!" he shouted. But none heard him over the chaos. To the side, the Revanchist deflected blaster shot after blaster shot. The Mandalorian guard closed in with vibroblades.
Mandalore raised his good arm, wincing at a flash grenade's hot, white light. "Stop!"
Then he felt hands on his arm, pulling him away.
"Quickly, Mandalore! We must get you to safety."
Cassus. He let his son drag him away, even as a poorly aimed blaster shot singed the air by his ear. They dove into a hallway, Cassus driving him onward from behind.
Mandalore dug his heels into the ground, returning his hand to grip his neck. "No. I must stop this."
Cassus grabbed his free arm. "You are wounded. We will avenge you."
"I am Mandalore, and I do not run from a fight. And this fight ends here. We must sue for peace. Help me rally our men and have them withdraw to the landing pad. Then I will open communications with the Republic fleet."
A scowl ran across his son's face. "The Republic has tried to kill you."
"We cannot let this peace fail because of one faction that wants war."
"Mandalore, Bralor has already called on our fleet to attack."
"It's not too late. I must go back. Rally our men."
"As you wish, Mandalore," Cassus sneered.
The old man's reaction time was no match for his young son's swift move. With ease, the young man had him pinned to the wall by his flaring shoulder. Mandalore could hear the hiss-snap of a lightsaber, the sizzle as the blade slowly burned through the already weakened cortosis-weave of his armor. He gazed down at the metal cylinder that pinned him to the wall. It tilted downward, burning its way into his right lung. He could smell his flesh melting into the metal. His breathing hitched. Burning. Everything burning.
The defeated warrior slowly slumped to the ground, the green blade sliding out of him. He looked up at his son to see the younger man staring down at him.
Mandalore's eyes followed his son's motions as the younger Fett casually went to one knee, his face stoic. The sound of blaster fire and lightsabers hissing echoed through the hallway. Though enemies could flood this corridor at any moment, neither man moved.
The old man knew what his son wanted. He had known this day was coming, even if he hadn't thought it would happen this very day. He raised a shaking hand-the left one-to his face, as though he were following a script. He unclasped his golden helm with a wheezing breath, and let the cold metal fall from his face. Somehow, with that one act, the old man felt free. He could breath better. He could see.
Cold eyes stared back.
"You did not..." Mandalore rasped, and then swallowed. "You did not need to be my enemy...for me to love you."
"And yet now you love me even more, father."
The old man coughed, shaking his head as best he could. "No. I love you all the same." He sucked in a labored breath. "I always have. It's why I was...so hard...on you." His hand sought his son's, and gripped it with what remaining strength he still possessed. "Honor. Remember honor, my son."
The muscles in Cassus' face flinched. His son could have ended it, could have finished him off. But instead, he withdrew his hand from under his father's weak grip, lifted the golden helm, and stood.
"Go now to your rest, father. I am no longer your son. I am Mandalore."
And with that, he donned the helm, and walked away.
Another beam of fire struck the landing pad, the resulting explosion damaging two more ships. Republic soldiers screamed, some diving successfully out of the way of the raining fire, others not so fortunate.
Alek and Bastila stared up in shock from their meager cover as another ion cannon beam lit up from the moon. "They were supposed to disarm those things," Bastila muttered.
"Yeah, well, what did you expect? Mandalorians don't fight fair, and they don't care for treaty terms." The Iziz City shield went up in a wave of light, blocking the beam as it fired. The beam dissipated, but not without destabilizing the shield in return. The light above them flickered, and then puffed out.
Bastila could see smoke pluming in the distance far beyond the palace. The cannons had taken out the shield generators.
Alek whipped out his commlink. "Revan! Do you copy? Surik?"
Static. Finally, a voice crackled. "Sorry, a little busy." It was Surik.
"The landing pad is blown out."
More static. Alek could swear he heard the hiss of a lightsaber colliding with a vibroblade.
"Try another channel," Bastila said. "Maybe some of our guards are still alive."
Another voice interrupted. "Onasi here. We can't get outside anyway. I've already called in an evac shuttle for the Chancellor. Admiral Dodonna will be sending in an air strike with reinforcements. The Onderon military will provide cover fire and an escort."
"Where do we go?" Alek said.
"The rendezvous point is at the north palace wing, on the rooftop. We're making our way there."
"You mean we have to go back into that hellhole?" Alek growled. He turned to Bastila. Her eyes were closed in concentration. "No time for Battle Meditation, princess. We need to get to the rendezvous point."
"Alek," she said, her voice nearly too quiet to carry over the roaring flames that were swallowing the landing pad. "The Republic fleet is engaged." She snapped her eyes open. "I can help them."
"You can help them once we're in the air."
He grabbed her arm, dragging her to her feet.
As Canderous Ordo returned fire at a Republic soldier, he noticed from the corner of his eye a golden-helmed man running outside the palace, waving his vibroblade. The problem was, the man didn't have the golden armor to match.
"Rally to me! Rally!" the man shouted. Ordo flinched at the voice. No.
The Mandalorian delegates were already falling back, retreating from chaos within the palace wing. The Queen's palace battle droids were rolling around the perimeter, shooing away both sides from the fight. The battleground would have to be moved to the skies above. Ordo fell back a few more feet, making his way toward this impostor. The delegates made their way behind a wall, their soldiers laying down cover fire.
Canderous flung his blaster to the ground and unsheathed his dagger, stomping up to the impostor. "Where is Mandalore?" he hissed. "I saw you with him, and he was alive."
"Mandalore turned back to fight. He would not be dissuaded." The impostor turned to the other generals now gathering around them. "One of the Jedi slew Mandalore in combat. I drove him away and recovered the helm."
"You coward!" Canderous spat. "You failed to protect your liege."
Cassus Fett stepped dangerously close. "Mandalore the Ultimate was old and weak, and fell in battle bravely, fulfilling his duty. I have survived and won, fulfilling mine." The masked visage turned to the others. "Who here will challenge me?"
Canderous shot a glance at Bralor, his only ally in this. He read indecision in his face. Not here, his eyes said. It was a wise choice. They had to get off this rock and rejoin the fleet. Challenging Cassus Fett in combat would have to wait.
The grizzled old warrior sheathed his dagger, bowing his head slightly in submission to the new "Mandalore".
"Very well," Cassus said. "Status?"
General Jendri stepped forward. "We have taken out their landing pad. Ours is under fire from Republic air support, but reinforcements are arriving to escort us to the fleet. The Queen has offered both parties safe passage for their wounded, as well as escorts. She demands both parties cease fire on this planet until all are evacuated."
Cassus nodded. "That is not unexpected, but Queen Talia will soon be in no position to make demands. Continue to besiege the palace. Keep the Jedi busy. Once our reinforcements arrive, we will withdraw to the landing pad and rejoin the fleet." He paused, and laid a hand on Jendri's shoulder. "Now tell me. Where is the Jedi weapon? Has she been neutralized?"
"No. Some saw her and General Malak escape the palace. But they will have nowhere to flee until Republic reinforcements arrive."
The new Mandalore turned to Ordo. "Then I must finish what you failed to do."
Canderous' fists tightened as Fett stopped beside him.
"Move your forces to block passage into the palace, except for the north wing. That is the most likely place an evac shuttle will attempt to land. I trust you can manage that much, Ordo?"
"Yes," Ordo said.
The new Mandalore flicked a button on his wrist. Twin jets sprang from the the bulge in his backside. They were small, but sufficient to give him a few minutes of flight-enough to launch a surprise aerial attack, or more likely to escape. Fett motioned for soldiers-nearly all from clan Fett and clan Jendri-to follow him. Several of them likewise had come prepared, their lightweight jet packs emerging from their armor. Yet another reason Canderous had rarely respected clan Fett. They were always ready to run from a fight. Canderous fell in with his own clan's soldiers, bringing up the rear behind Generals Bralor and Jendri, who were already moving back toward the palace. The other Generals were barking orders over their commlinks to reposition soldiers to block off other wings. Canderous clenched his jaw. Soon. He would not let Mandalore the Ultimate's death go unavenged, nor let that Fett brat wear the golden helm unopposed.
Bastila ducked a blaster shot as they rounded a pillar, Alek trailing just behind her as they fell back behind cover.
"So much for that entrance," Alek grumbled, deflecting a shot aimed at their general direction with his twin blades.
"Shouldn't the palace battle droids be securing the area by now?" Bastila said.
"Guess they're too busy shooing the Mandos out of the palace."
"And us with them. Maybe we should have stayed inside."
"Don't worry. I'll get you reunited with your boyfriend soon enough."
Bastila felt a blush creep up her cheeks. "Shut up."
Alek shot her a rakish grin. He withdrew a small, cylindrical detonator from a pouch hanging on his belt.
"You weren't supposed to bring explosives to the summit," Bastila said, putting her hands on her hips.
"Well, they did." The Jedi swung around the pillar and threw the device. The ground shook as they bolted away. Alek whipped out his commlink as they ran, contacting Onasi yet again. Bastila rolled her eyes. She was hardly incapable of using her own commlink, but she let him take charge nonetheless. It did make him feel better about his manliness when he took care of things. Besides, it was rather touching-almost charming-to have the big, burly Jedi be so chivalrous.
The two Jedi jumped over a short wall, stopping to catch their breath as they awaited a response.
"Just go straight to the north wing, western wall," Onasi said.
"What's so special about that entrance?" Alek said, peeking over the wall to see if they had been followed.
"That's the wing we need to be at anyway," Bastila quipped, stating the obvious.
"Yeah, besides that," Alek growled, giving her a dark look as his head ducked back down.
A brief pause filled the commlink with a hum of static as Onasi conferred with palace security. "It's too far out from the landing pads for the Mandos to have it covered. We've also got Onderon battle droids clearing the way on the inside and covering the entrance."
"What's our ingress?"
Another pause. This time, an unfamiliar voice answered on the commlink. "General, there's a garden path northwest of your location that runs along the wall, with plenty of cover. Follow it around, until it swings east. You'll come to a greenhouse. Go through it. It annexes to a side door."
"Got it." The tall Jedi pocketed his commlink. "Come on, Princess."
They climbed back over the wall, racing down another garden trail, through another portico, and under an archway until they reached a much taller wall that marked the end of the palace grounds. They found the trail Onasi had described. It led past flowers, bushes, and decorative fountains.
At last, the trail turned east, the garden wall falling away until they came to a small field of grass laced with ponds and another portico. The greenhouse lay ahead, hugging the north palace wing. Alek tugged her arm, signaling her to stop.
"I have a bad feeling about this," he whispered.
"We don't have time," Bastila said. She drew in a breath, her mind seeking any lifeforms. But that was a futile effort. Lifeforms were everywhere, and short of sinking into a deeper state of meditation, she would never be able to differentiate friend from foe, nor their proximity.
"Okay," Alek said. He broke from their cover behind a pillar. Bastila followed, dashing across the lawn as fast as their legs could carry her, spongy grass squishing beneath her boots unevenly as she drew upon the Force to steady her.
The two Jedi burst into the greenhouse.
Bastila felt them before she saw them, the Force warning her sharply.
"Above us!" Alek shouted.
Armored figures punched through the glass roof, the flare of their jet packs cushioning their landing. Harpoons whistled through the air from their blasters in tangent with flash grenades.
Bastila winced, but too late. Her vision turned white, and then to spots. Instinct drove her blade to slice a harpoon aimed at her shoulder. She sensed multiple combatants lunging toward her with their vibroblades. Her own twin blades hissed through the air as she blocked and parried, blind but for the Force.
As her vision returned in a blur of colors, she saw Alek's red armor rush into her attackers. A blade pierced his armor with a loud crack.
"Run!" he howled through clenched teeth.
Bastila ducked a vibroblade, ramming her own blade through her attacker's armpit where his armor gave way to fabric. She flinched as the scent of burnt flesh and melted polyester wafted to her nostrils. There was no time to freeze, no time to ponder the implications of what she had just done. There was only survival. She had to survive. Any other option was unthinkable.
She glanced across the rows of potted plants at the wide doorway leading into the palace. Several battle droids lay smoking on the threshold, Mandalorian soldiers firing blasters at an unseen threat in the hallway. She wouldn't be able to reach the rendezvous point. She stole another glance at the greenhouse door as she swung her blade around to block another strike. Her foes were already blocking her way. There were too many to outrun, too many who could hunt her down like an animal if she tried, shooting her in the back. If they stayed together, they could at least hope to fend off their attackers until reinforcements arrived.
Bastila put her back to Alek's, standing her ground. "We're trapped," she said, parrying another blow before shoving her lightsaber through a man's exposed neck. At least nobody was wearing a helmet, thanks to summit security protocols. "I guess that means you're stuck with me."
"Fine," Alek said, swinging his blade. "Let's see where all that sparring with Revan got you."
The two Jedi fell into a rhythm. They swung their blades in tandem, always keeping their backs to one another. Alek threw another detonator-his last-along with a flash grenade of his own. Bastila pushed a wave of the Force to give herself some breathing space, only for one of her attackers to launch another harpoon at her leg, clearly intending to pull her with him as he flew back. She jumped, narrowly avoiding the sharp metal that sought to bury itself in her flesh and bone. Both Jedi pulled and pushed anything they could at their attackers-potted plants, broken glass, and even other Mandalorians. All these were mere distractions, easily shrugged off by their armored foes. The Mandalorians threw a metal web of netting at them. A Force-push from both Jedi sent the net flying back into their enemies' faces, entangling several soldiers. Their enemies did not try that maneuver again.
Alek took down another two attackers, snapping one's neck as he Force-pushed him head-first into the ground, while driving one of his blades into his attacker's already half-melted breastplate. Bastila caught sight of another soldier moving in towards Alek's other side. Her own twin blades were already locked with two other vibroblades. Her mind Force-pulled the new attacker to the side, causing him to stumble and buying Alek more time to respond.
The distraction nearly cost her her life as another attacker threw a dagger at her face. She ducked as she pushed away at it with the Force, both moves driven by instinct and years of training. Both moves were a mistake. The other two attackers drove their vibroblades all the harder into her twin blades, driving her off balance as she lost her concentration. She stumbled backwards into Alek. A vibroblade hovered over her head, about to strike.
Alek's blue blade intercepted with an angry hiss. "There's a break. Go!"
As she scrambled to her feet, she saw it. She could make it into the palace. The Mandalorians who had dispatched the battle droids had now joined the others in wearing down Alek, leaving the threshold wide open.
A shadow eclipsed the ground as she made to charge. Bastila glanced up to see another soldier-this one wearing a golden helm-standing on what was left of the glass ceiling, staring down at her through the massive hole. He was holding a thermal detonator in his hand.
She raised her hand to Force-push the new arrival away as she dove to the side. Too late.
Her body flipped through the air at the impact of the blast. Smoke, screams. Her ears rang. Glass and pottery shards had cut through her robes and buried themselves in her skin. She dared to open her eyes, wincing at the ache in her head. Fire burned around her, flowers set ablaze. Soldiers lay scattered across the floor, some unmoving, some wheezing as they writhed in pain. The golden-helmed warrior had tossed the detonator into his own soldiers. Alek was crawling to his feet. Blood oozed out of his mouth, his leg limping, one arm hanging dead at his side.
The golden-helmed warrior jumped from the roof to land behind him.
"Alek!" Bastila shouted. "Behind you!"
The Jedi snatched his lightsaber with a pull from the Force, and twisted his body to block the blow from behind. A vibroblade collided into his lightsaber. The warrior kicked Alek in the ribs, and flared the flamethrower on his arm into Alek's face.
It was over before Bastila could even fully bring herself to her feet. Alek's lightsaber flew out of his hand. The golden-helmed soldier caught it deftly as he dropped his vibroblade. Alek's blade sizzled into his own flesh, melting into his red chest plate.
"No!" Bastila cried, summoning her own blade into her hand. Alek slumped to his knees with a wheeze, and the masked warrior swung Alek's own blade in a final move to decapitate Bastila's friend.
Ignoring her dizziness, Bastila dove recklessly into her enemy. Her yellow blade slapped Alek's blue blade away. The Mandalorian turned on her, his blows fierce and focused. But he was no Jedi. However injured she was, the Force fought with her.
With all her strength, she wailed blow after blow. Her enemy responded in kind, and then shot a cord from his wrist as he swung his arm. It snapped around her lightsaber like a whip. He tugged, and she fell forward. Armored arms wrapped around her, suffocating her. Cold, sharp metal pressed to her throat. She could feel blood trickling down her neck, warning her to be still. She obliged.
"Don't worry, Jedi," the cold voice hissed from the mask's vocabulator. "I'll be happy to take you off this planet in my own ship."
She knew that voice. It belonged to Cassus Fett.
Revan swung his violet blade in a flurry of strokes. Two more down. The cortosis weave of the Mandalorians' armor took more than one thrust of a lightsaber to weaken, but weaken it did, turning into molten slag. Unless, of course, one went for the cracks in the armor that allowed the bearer to move. Revan always went for those as often as he could.
Surik fought her way over to him, dispatching another enemy.
"Sir," she said, huffing as she rammed her lightsaber into the back of another Mandalorian, holding it there to melt the armor as Yusanis' vibroblade locked the Mandalorian in place. "We've got an evac shuttle inbound, north wing. We need to make it to the rooftop."
Revan swung around, looking for more to fight, but found none. The Queen's battle droids were dispatching any who dared overstay their welcome. The only reason they did not fire at the Republic delegates was that Onderon hated the Mandalorians more, but the Republic would not be welcomed here for much longer. The Jedi General longed to wipe away the sweat that was dripping over his eyebrow and into his eye, but with his mask in the way, he settled instead for catching his breath.
"And Bastila?" he said, redirecting the gaze of his mask toward Surik.
"Trapped outside. The Mandalorians blocked off our exit. Onasi has palace security giving her and Malak directions to an alternate ingress. Battle droids are on the way to meet them inside the palace."
"Okay," Revan said, swallowing the lump in his throat. "Let's get our wounded and move out."
"Already doing it, sir."
"I know, Em. I know."
Soldiers and medics were rushing gurneys to the bodies lying on the floor. The Supreme Chancellor's body had already been whisked away down a corridor, the remains of his guard and various Republic soldiers surrounding both the gurney and the ambassadors and admiralty huddled around it. Miraculously, the weaselly politician still had a pulse, even if half his brain had been burnt away. Revan already knew that Antilles would never be the same again. A very broken T3-M4 wheeled squeakily to join the party, smoke burning from his chassis. More soldiers, some carrying gurneys loaded with wounded, rushed past him. One stopped to report.
"General Revan, sir, we found Mandalore. He's dead." The young soldier motioned to one of the gurneys rushing past.
Revan sucked in a sharp breath. "I don't understand. I saw him alive." But the exposed, elderly face that stared vacantly at the ceiling told otherwise. A two-inch hole was burned into the chest, melted through the golden breastplate.
"Where is the golden helm?" Revan said, not intending to muse aloud.
"We didn't see one, sir."
"Very well. Dismissed."
That meant someone else had it. Revan fell in with the crowd of survivors into a broad corridor. Behind him, blaster fire and explosions echoed from outside where the fight continued between the Mandalorians and the Onderon palace security. All Republic forces had gathered within the palace as much as possible, per the Queen's wishes. She herself had been whisked away into a secure room deep beneath the palace, but that hadn't stopped her from issuing her commands via proxy. They had all been politely ordered to get off her planet, or else have her battle droids turn on them. At least she was providing them some level of protection. Of course, she had little choice, given that the city shield had failed. She knew which side would fight for the planet's freedom. But once the shield became fully operational, her warm welcome would quickly end.
A wave of anxiety suddenly flooded him, dropping down his throat like a large stone straight into his stomach. The Force was warning him. The Jedi General rushed to squeeze himself between to soldiers, not bothering to apologize as he navigated the crowd toward Surik. She was already waving at him. She knew.
He jogged toward Surik, his old Dxun wound protesting with a sharp pain, and passed a man on a gurney-Carth Onasi. The pilot gripped a commlink with white knuckles as he sat up, despite the objections of one of the medics carrying the gurney.
"Sir," Onasi said, "we just lost the battle droids at the east wall of the north wing. General Malak and General Shan are not responding."
Revan's legs fell into a run.
"Revan!" Surik shouted. "Wait!"
He paid her no heed as he raced down the corridor, ignoring the pain in his leg, every fiber of his being seeking to overcome his limp. The crowd parted away from him like waves against rocks as he shoved his way through. Surik fell into a run beside him. He didn't wait for her or the Republic soldiers who followed after him as he quickened his pace. Nothing else mattered.
He passed through the corridor and the next room in a blur. His legs burned, but he drew upon the Force to carry him to the next corridor. Left turn. Then right. Soon he saw the broken battle droids littering a wide hallway. He rushed ahead, Surik shouting his name, warning him to slow down. He didn't care. His heart raced. Sweat darkened his robes.
He drew his lightsaber, the violet blade snapping to life with a vengeful hiss. Then he was outside. Saw the charred bodies, the mangled plants and shattered pottery, the broken glass. The blood. Blood everywhere.
He sensed no life, except one. Alek.
"No!" He fell to his knees beside his friend. Life barely flickered within that once strong man, like a candle about to be snuffed out by a gust of wind.
His lightsaber dropped to the ground, extinguishing itself as he grabbed his friend's face. The skin was reddened with burns.
"Alek? Can you hear me?" His throat thickened. He had always known such an outcome was possible, had always prepared for it, had kept himself distant from his friends because of it. But he had never fully succeeded in pushing his friends away. And now he would pay for it.
Alek sucked in a wheezy breath. "Rev...Revan."
"I'm here," Revan whispered. He lifted a hand, tearing his mask from his face to look at his friend. He could hear Surik's footsteps, mixed with those of soldiers, grow still. She quietly knelt on Alek's other side. Her hands spread over the gaping hole in his gut, sending a healing wave of the Force through his body. Revan knew it was futile.
"Sorry we...argued," Alek rasped.
Revan nodded. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry."
"You need to...save her. Cassus..."
Alek's body violently shook. Then he lay still, his last breath slowly releasing into the air, eyes glazing over.
Revan closed his eyes, trying not to let tears escape. The lump in his throat was quickly replaced with a violent rage building inside his chest. He shoved it down. Focus. Bastila was alive. He could feel it. He could even feel the dagger at her throat. There was still time. The Jedi leaped to his feet, snatching up his mask and lightsaber, and donning the former on his face as he broke into a run, Surik and the soldiers trailing behind.
Bastila stumbled again. The quick forward motion would have slit her own throat if it weren't for her captor's strong grip around her waist as he half dragged her, half pushed her onward. She felt Alek die, like a pebble swallowed by the ocean, never to be seen again. She knew if Cassus Fett succeeded in bringing her to the Mandalorian fleet, he would kill her. For now, she lived only because she was his bargaining chip to get off this planet without his own person or his shuttle being fired upon. At best, he would continue to use her to force the Republic fleet to withdraw from the system. Then she would die.
"Right," her captor hissed through the mask vocabulator.
She twisted right down another path. Ahead, the garden gave way to an open field. Just beyond lay the Mandalorian delegation's landing pad. Mandalorian fighters now zipped through the air, raining down fire toward the eastern side of the palace. Some were dog fighting with Republic fighters. She closed her eyes as her feet awkwardly picked their steps along the uneven path. She could feel Revan, even Surik, strangely enough, though she rarely spent so much time with her. But their signatures in the Force were unmistakable.
I'm here! she mentally shouted, desperately hoping they would hear her. She felt Revan's mind latch onto hers, like a hand grasping her own to pull her from a certain fall. The two Jedi held onto their small connection fiercely. He was coming for her.
"Faster, Jedi." The knife drew a trickle of blood. Cassus buried the hilt of Alek's saberstaff deeper into her side for additional motivation. If he ignited it, she would die.
Her eyes snapped open, and she quickened her pace as much as she dared with a dagger held to her throat. Adrenaline was the only thing keeping her on her feet. Blood seeped from a cut in her forehead, and all over her clothes where glass and pottery shards had embedded themselves. Her leg gushed blood from a deep gash that she hadn't remembered receiving. How her head ached!
Footsteps, not her own or Fett's. The hiss of lightsabers being drawn. Cassus whipped Bastila around roughly by the waist. Though Alek's lightsaber no longer posed any rational threat with Fett's arm wrapped around her waist so, the dagger pressed as tightly as ever against the tender flesh of her neck.
"Not a step closer!" Fett shouted over Bastila's ear.
Revan came to a halt, his demon mask staring back at her. Surik stood beside him, along with two soldiers aiming blasters at Fett. Both Jedi brandished their lightsabers menacingly.
"I'll be going to my ship, now. That is, if you want your sorceress to live."
Revan didn't move. Bastila could sense the turmoil of emotions within him-love, worry, frustration, fear, anger...and hatred.
"Lower your weapons," Cassus hissed, his knife breaking skin.
Revan raised a free hand, motioning to the others. He lowered his weapon. They did likewise. The dagger's pressure lightened.
Bastila's plea was choked off by increased pressure from the dagger.
"It will be okay," Revan said, extinguishing his blade as he lay it on the ground.
"Back away from your weapons," Cassus said, "and turn around." He was already beginning to drag Bastila backwards away from their pursuers.
Revan's gaze never left Bastila. The connection to her mind tightened like a rope. She knew what he wanted from her. Her muscles tensed at the ready.
Revan nodded, but not to Cassus. "HK, take the shot."
Time slowed as Bastila concentrated on the high-powered bolt speeding from a sniper rifle behind them. She twisted with a gentle Force-push as it speared toward the back of her captor's neck. Fett was already twisting with her, the shot missing his neck and instead burning through the armor on his back. The dagger grazed her jaw as she elbowed Fett and dodged to the side. Lightsabers flew into Revan and Surik's hands, but too late.
Fett's jet pack ignited, sending him over the garden wall and away toward the landing pad.
Revan ran up to Bastila. She fell into his arms, feeling sick as the adrenaline left her body.
"Are you okay?" he whispered, breaking away from their quick embrace to inspect the cut on her forehead. His gloved hands brushed the blood from her neck.
"I'll be fine," Bastila said with a nod. "Alek..."
"I know. He's gone."
She gazed into his eyes beyond the mask, even though she could not see them. The blackness of promised revenge stared back. She could feel the anger writhing within him, barely in check. Her first instinct was to mentally flinch away from the connection they had formed, but she resisted the urge, gripping their bond all the more tightly, trying to calm him.
He shrank away, and their fragile bond snapped.