(Teeth of the Dragon)

Mara's lightsaber sprang into her hand almost without her thinking about it as she hurled herself to the side, dodging the sizzling blast of purple-blue Force Lightning. She turned her leap into a roll, coming up into a crouch with her magenta blade ignited and angled in front of her defensively.

Everything seemed to pause for a breath as everyone in the room chose their targets, and then things erupted into absolute chaos.

Bastila hurled herself at Revan with an almost inhuman howl of fury, and he calmly met her charge with dual lightsabers ignited. She produced a double-bladed red lightsaber from within her cloak and immediately went on the offensive, spinning and slashing in a deadly dance.

The High Priestess and Mara chose each other as targets in the same moment, and their respective opening Force pushes knocked one another backwards a few steps. As she steadied her footing, Mara heard the doors to the viewing platform opening behind her, and then an angry crowd rushed in. Luke and Vader met their charge together, fighting side-by-side against the growing mob.

Mara shifted aside to avoid a blast of lightning the priestess hurled at her, and this nearly placed her head in the path of one of Bastila's wild lightsaber slashes, but her danger sense flared just in time. The humming scarlet blade came close enough, though, that Mara saw a few strands of red-gold hair flutter to the deck beside her.

To gain some space, Mara took a few running steps and threw her body into a Force-assisted twisting somersault that carried her up to the balcony spanning the rear of the room. Immediately upon landing, she threw out her hand and sent a powerful Force push at the High Priestess, one that off-balanced her opponent long enough for her to sprint forward a few steps, lightsaber raised high.

The priestess raised her hands as Mara slashed down, and bolts of lightning arced between her fingers, actually managing to halt the blade's momentum. Mara's lightsaber whined ominously in her hands from the feedback, and she stepped back, raising one eyebrow in grudging respect.

"Never seen that one before," she commented. "Nice hat, by the way."

With that, she tugged down on the elaborate metal headdress with the Force. The High Priestess cried out as the twists of metal gouged into her forehead, and Mara ruthlessly stepped in to stab her lightsaber into the woman's chest.

"And that," she scoffed as the High Priestess slumped to the ground, "is why I make a point of not wearing silly things on my head."

Once again her danger sense flared, and she reflexively twisted to the side just as Bastila landed from a long back-flip up onto the balcony, slashing out at her with one of her lightsaber's crimson blades.

Mara deflected the blow, ducking as Bastila swiveled the long hilt of her weapon and struck horizontally with the other end. She attempted to use a sweep kick on the other woman, but Bastila leaped up and back again, putting a few meters of distance between them.

For a moment they paused, eyeing one another silently. Mara had been expecting Revan to make his way up here, but out of the corner of her eye she saw he'd been caught in the press of robed figures below, and was now fighting alongside Luke and Vader.

"That was my granddaughter you killed," Bastila hissed viciously, her yellow eyes burning with fury as she spun the hilt of her lightsaber through her hands, the blades humming a fiery path through the air.

"Don't blame me for finishing a fight you started," Mara replied, calmly shifting into a defensive stance. "We told you this didn't have to turn violent."

The dark woman made no reply, but leaped forward with a cry of rage, spinning her lightsaber through fast infinity loops as she charged.

Rather than try and block the wild onslaught, Mara leaped into a high backward somersault, landing atop what looked like the remnants of a stasis tank, one of many scattered about the expansive room. Quickly she threw her lightsaber up at a power cable she'd noted earlier, one that spanned a substantial portion of the ceiling. Bastila tried to jump up to slash at her, but Mara hit her with a Force push in midair, knocking her back down.

As the Sith woman regained her footing, Mara tensed her legs, gathered the Force, and leaped up and out, catching her returning lightsaber with one hand and the now free-swinging end of the cable with the other. Her momentum carried her out in a wide arc over the main floor of the room, and she tensed, calculating angles.

When she judged her position to be ideal, Mara threw her lightsaber again, this time at the enormous viewport overlooking the factory floor below them. The magenta blade carved out only a relatively minor hole, but air pressure did the rest, and shattered the viewport back toward the factory with a great rush of wind. With a grim smirk, she noted Bastila struggling to keep her footing in the gale, finally yanking at the clasp of her cloak to let it fly away.

While her opponent was thus distracted, Mara finished her swing and let go of the cable, soaring in a long arc down towards Bastila. A tug of the Force brought her lightsaber back to her, and she caught it in midair, but did not yet ignite the blade.

She crashed into Bastila with enough force to knock her down, and they both rolled along the metal decking for a few meters. When Bastila tried to call her dropped lightsaber to herself with the Force, Mara got her own grip on it, and it hovered between them, moving a few centimeters toward one, then back toward the other.

Unexpectedly, Bastila reversed direction with the lightsaber and sent it hurtling toward Mara, igniting one of the blades on the way. Mara jumped aside, ending up dangerously close to the gaping shattered viewport, the wind tugging at her hair and jacket.

She was about to brace herself against the wall with one hand and struggle to her feet in the wind when a dark shape vaulted up and landed solidly in front of her. Revan glanced briefly over his shoulder at her, his face grimly determined, and Mara nodded once in acknowledgment.

By this point Bastila had retrieved her lightsaber, and she charged at Revan even more ferociously than she had at Mara. Their lightsabers met with a tremendous crash of sparks and noise, and for several moments Mara could only watch as they drove one another back and forth across the broad balcony, both displaying impressive skill.

Bastila stepped back a pace for a powerful overhand blow with one blade, which Revan caught by crossing his own blades in an X. She attempted to slice upwards with the other blade, but he brought his right lightsaber down to catch that strike, as well.

Their blades locked, they strained against one another, the hilts of their weapons whining and the blades sparking at the points of contact around them.

"Last… chance, Revan," Bastila grunted. "Join me again… or die."

Revan's face turned sorrowful. "It's not too late, Bastila," he said, softly enough that Mara almost couldn't hear him. "You can still turn back from the Dark Side."

Bastila sneered. "Why would I ever give up strength for weakness?"

With a powerful shove, he pushed her backwards, holding his red lightsaber between them as he gestured to the ongoing battle below with the other. "Weakness, Bastila? Look around you; this battle is lost. You cannot defeat us, and you know it. Please, don't throw your life away. Turn away from the Dark Side, as I have. It fools you into thinking you are powerful, but in the end it will be your downfall."

"My downfall?" Bastila scoffed. "I am stronger than you and your pathetic Jedi could ever dream. I could squash you like an insect beneath my boot, you and all your friends."

"Both of us know that's not true," Revan replied. "Your words are boastful, but I sense your doubt. You know we are stronger. Again, I ask you, I beg you: turn away from the Dark Side. You were a Jedi once, as I was, a protector of the galaxy. Join me, and stand at my side again."

Bastila hesitated, her uncertainty plain. But after a moment her expression twisted into a sneer again, and Revan's disappointment was clear even before she spoke.

"You are not the man I knew anymore; you've become a fool." With that she attacked, spinning her lightsaber blades at him.

Revan skillfully caught both of her blades on his own. "I am not the man you knew," he replied thickly, his voice choked with emotion. He shifted his lightsabers, slowly forcing her to raise the hilt of her double-sided weapon above her head to keep him back. "And clearly you are not the woman I knew, either."

With a sudden, violent movement, he brought his left leg up to kick her in the stomach. As she stumbled back, he whipped his red left lightsaber through the hilt of her weapon, leaving it in smoking halves. While her blades sputtered out, Revan put his entire right side into a thrust with his blue lightsaber, which stabbed through Bastila's heart to emerge from her back.

She grunted, face twisted with pain, and then slowly slipped backwards off his blade to collapse to the deck, dead.

For a long moment Revan stood over her body, his face strained with sadness and grief, his blades glowing in his hands, the wind tugging at his long black hair, until finally expression left his features, leaving them as cold and hard as the mask he sometimes wore.

Wordlessly, he let his blades disengage, then returned the hilts to his belt. He stepped over to Mara and extended a hand, and she took it, letting him haul her up to her feet.

Below, Luke and Vader had managed to seal off the door and had finished the last of their opponents. They stood a few meters apart, sharing a grim look among the slumped bodies.

Mara looked back at Revan, seeing him gazing again at the corpse. "I'm sorry," she said. "You must have cared for her very much."

"Not her," he answered slowly, almost inaudible over the wind, "The Bastila I knew, my wife, was nothing like her. She rejected the Dark Side as I did. We didn't let it twist us into… what we were here." He looked back up at Mara, and though his expression was hard, his dark eyes were filled with pain. "We have work to do," he said tersely. "Let's get to it."

Jaina paced through the main room of her quarters on the Executor, distractedly tossing her lightsaber back and forth between her hands. Her hair was tied back, and she wore the dark gray fatigues she had come to think of as her 'off-duty uniform' in her time here on her grandfather's warship.

It was odd, being part of her grandfather's army and yet not; for weeks she had worked with and fought alongside Colonel LaRone's unit, sat in on Grand Admiral Thrawn's strategy meetings, and yet she had no official rank beyond Jedi Knight. She was an agent of the Republic here among soldiers of the Empire, treated with an uneasy respect by most of the crew, those that would actually speak to her. She had only professional working relationships here, no friendships; Ami and Tahiri had gone back to Alderaan with Tionne weeks ago, and she hardly ever saw Malysa, since Thrawn kept the Jedi Master busy with… whatever it was he had her doing. Jaina hadn't even had time to ask her between all the meetings, drills, and battles with the Vong fleet they were relentlessly pursuing.

Well, perhaps there were a few friendly faces around; since his transfer to the Executor along with his fighter squadrons a little over a week ago, Colonel Fel had made a point of inviting Jaina to join his personal squadron for meals, and her conversations with him had certainly been interesting.

But she had other concerns at the moment, she thought to herself as she continued to pace, tossing her lightsaber from one hand to the other with absent, metronome-like precision. For instance, the general uneasy feeling vaguely associated with her brother had not gone away; both of her brothers, in fact. Something… something was wrong, something she couldn't quite articulate even to herself. Some kind of danger was slowly approaching Anakin, and her inability to warn him frustrated her. She could only hope he sensed it himself, he or one of the other Jedi with him.

And Jacen… his absence was somehow more unsettling than ever.

The door to her quarters buzzed, and she looked up. "Yes?"

As if he had been summoned by her thoughts, the door slid aside to reveal Colonel Fel, dressed as always in his black and red uniform and polished boots. "We're coming up on the Etti system," he said by way of greeting. "The Grand Admiral intends to launch fighters and attack as soon as we drop out of hyperspace; the stealth Interdictor he sent ahead is already in position."

Jaina allowed herself a minute smile as she gestured for him to step inside. "I'm glad we're not at war with the Empire anymore."

Fel slightly raised one eyebrow in equal humor as the door closed behind him. "So am I." He paused, then continued. "I came to ask you if you would fly with my squadron in the initial engagement; we're one short, as you know, and we could use a pilot of your skill."

"You can't just reassign one of your men?" Jaina asked teasingly.

Fel's eyebrow rose again, and the corners of his lips quirked slightly. "And miss the chance to have a Solo in my squadron? That's just bad strategy."

She let out a light chuckle, then nodded once. "See you out there, Colonel Fel."

He inclined his head slightly. "And you, Knight Solo." Then he turned and left.

As the door closed again, Jaina gave her lightsaber a slight twirl as she tossed it to her other hand, smiling slightly to herself.

On the command bridge of the derelict warship, Anakin Solo paced in front of the forward viewports in unwitting imitation of his sister, tossing his lightsaber back and forth between his hands. Beyond the viewports, the dark bulk of the warship was almost invisible in the darkness, only a few scattered running lights giving it a faint outline against the stars.

"So what does 'Khadmous' mean, anyway?" Anakin asked Bollux, who had told them the name of the warship on the way up to the bridge. "I've never heard that word before."

"Neither have I, sir," the old labor droid replied. "The warship's files offer no insight into the meaning of its name."

"Something pretentious, I bet," Blue Max said dismissively.

"It's from an old, old legend; Alderaanian, I think," said Jenn from where she sat on the edge of the command walkway, looking down into the starboard crew pit where Whistler, Max, and Corran worked. "Khadmous was a prince who was fleeing his enemies after a coup in his father's palace. A wizard gave him some magic dragon's teeth, and told him to throw them into a fertile field and tend it for three days and three nights. Eventually the teeth sprang up into fully formed soldiers, and Khadmous used them to take back his father's palace and kill all his enemies."

Max gave an electronic scoff. "Like I said, pretentious."

"So, what?" Corran said without looking up from his screen, "This ship, the Khadmous, was supposed to use those Spaarti cloning cylinders down in the cargo holds as dragon's teeth?"

Jenn shrugged. "Maybe. Any insights to offer, Bollux?"

"None, I'm afraid," the droid replied. "As I stated previously, Max and I have been unable to unlock the captain's private files to determine this warship's mission. With Whistler's help, we should be able to finally break the encryption."

"I guess Stumpy actually is useful for something," Max said grudgingly, and Whistler squawked a sarcastic-sounding reply Anakin didn't quite catch.

Jenn gave a sort of noncommittal nod, and was silent for a short time. Then she looked back down at them. "What kind of a name is 'Bollux' for a droid, anyway?" she asked, sounding amused. "A bit rude, isn't it?"

"Why, does it mean something?" Ben asked, looking up at her from his seat next to Corran and Whistler. "I thought it was just a nickname based on his designation letters, like 'Artoo' or 'Threepio', or something."

Jenn's expression shifted to one Anakin well recognized, that of an adult debating whether or not to tell something potentially risqué to a younger person. Throughout his childhood, his mother had worn it often, whenever his father had said something particularly colorful and Anakin or one of his siblings asked her what it meant.

Ben noted it, also. "We are both seventeen, you know," he pointed out. "Whatever it is, I'm sure we can handle it."

Any reply she might have made was interrupted by Whistler's triumphant bleep as they finally decrypted the mission files. He scanned them at high speed, then prepared a short summary for his master, displaying it on the screen in front of him.

"It seems Professor Talmak was right," Corran said with a slight smile as he swiveled his chair to look up at them. "The Khadmous was specially modified and outfitted for the journey out here to investigate an unusual energy reading one of the military telescope arrays picked up. Then-Chancellor Palpatine organized the mission himself, and swore the commanders to secrecy; the ship's captain and the colonel in charge of the marines were both ordered not to tell even their men the extent of the true mission, which was to investigate the energy source but also to scout out and then set up an emergency fallback base out here which the Republic could use to build up its forces in secret if the war effort went badly."

Ben frowned in thought. "Considering Palpatine was commanding both sides of that war himself, the war effort going badly must have meant if the Jedi were somehow able to survive Order 66; if they forced him out of power he'd have been able to flee out here and build up another army to use against them eventually."

"Only, the troopers grown on the way out here went insane and killed everyone," Corran said, idly running the edge of his thumb down the whiskers at the side of his chin. "Leaving this a ghost ship."

"Any ideas on what we should do with it?" Jenn asked.

Corran shrugged. "There are always uses for a warship, even one this old and deteriorated. We don't know what we're going to find out at this second Star Forge." He looked over at Ben. "Speaking of that, did you manage to find anything with this bucket's long-range sensors?"

The young man nodded, gesturing to his monitor. "There's a lot of ship activity near it; if the readings I got were even half right, the Vong are massing a really huge fleet out there, one big enough to take a dozen star systems."

"It's going to be tough to sneak in and check out the Star Forge with that many ships flying around," Anakin pointed out concernedly.

"The Sabre has some stealth capabilities, and I know a few things we can do to stay hidden besides," Corran said. He stood and gave Anakin an amused look. "If you're going to be a CorSec officer and chase smugglers, first you've got to know all their tricks."

Anakin chuckled. "You never managed to catch my dad and Chewie," he said as the group left the bridge, heading back down to the hangar where they'd left the Sabre.

Corran grinned. "That's because the one time we met before I joined Rogue Squadron, I came so close to catching Han Solo and his hairy friend that they knew better than to stick their noses into my patrol sector again."

As they left the bridge, none of them noticed the slight, almost imperceptible flicker of motion outside the viewports.


In the Millennium Falcon's cockpit, Han Solo frowned at the small holographic image of Talon Karrde. "What do you mean, nothing?"

"I mean nothing," the information broker replied, "There's been no activity from this fire cult in weeks. It's like they've gone into hiding again." Karrde gave them a half-smile. "And if I can't find anything, you know there's nothing to find."

"As you've proved a number of times," Leia said with a slight smile of her own. "We'll keep looking, as well. Contact us if you find anything."

"You'll be the first to know," Karrde promised, then signed off.

In the copilot's seat beside them, Chewbacca growled a question.

"I don't know," Han said with a frustrated shrug. "Even if we've got special permission from the Emperor, we can't just keep flying all over the Empire chasing rumors. The Vong are moving more and more troops into the Republic all the time; I feel like we should be there instead of here, especially since Fel has most of his Imperial Knights doing what we're doing."

"I agree," Leia said, frustration equally evident in her voice. "I sense… trouble, but I haven't been able to get anything more specific. We would probably be more useful back at the front."

"It's decided then," Han said, swiveling to the controls. "Chewie, plot the jump."

From what Mara could sense, Darth Vader was enjoying himself far too much as he chased the rest of the cultists down to one of the lower hangar bays. She could sense their fear and panic as he relentlessly pursued them, using the Force to slam doors closed along their route so that only one path was left open to them. She and Luke had asked Vader not to kill any more of the cultists, but it remained to be seen whether or not he would comply.

Revan had taken control of the Star Forge, and remained up in its control chamber, pushing the newly manufactured droids through repair sequences, fixing what damage they could and patching all exterior holes in preparation for the transition back to their home universe.

Mara, Luke, and R2-D2 were in the upper hangar bay that held the Argent Hawk, working to connect its specially modified hyperdrive to the Star Forge's systems. The immensely powerful reactor core of the Star Forge, drawing its fuel from nothing less than a star, was more than adequate to sustain the transfer field and return them safely to where they belonged, away from this nightmarish, distorted version of the galaxy.

"What are you thinking about?" Luke asked curiously, glancing up from his tools momentarily.

Mara set down her own hydrospanner and sat back on the deck, bringing her knees up to her chest. "Jacen," she said sadly. "I was just wondering if we should try to go back for his body."

Luke set aside his tools and sat down next to her, letting out a short, sad sigh. "It's too risky," he said. "I want to, myself, but Jacen and Qeris are dead, and there's nothing more we can do for them now."

"We can destroy the monster that killed them," Mara said darkly.

Luke looked over at her, gently reproving. "Mara, that's revenge. Jedi do not take revenge."

"You think I don't know that?" she snapped. "It's just… It's what your father wants to do," she said in a half-desperate attempt at justification.

"My father is not a Jedi," Luke replied with maddening calm. "He is no servant of the Light, as we are. As you are."

Mara sighed as she leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. "I know," she said quietly. "I know. But it still doesn't seem right to just leave, and let their murder go unpunished."

His hand rose to her shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with emotion; grief, frustration, and surprisingly, a hint of anger.

"I know what you mean," he said. "A part of me, deep down, wants to unleash Darth Vader on his grandson's killers and just let what happens, happen. I'm ashamed of that part of myself, a part that shouldn't even exist after all my years as a Jedi, but… it's there."

"That's the difference between you and your father, I suppose," Mara said, lifting her head from his shoulder to look into his deep blue eyes. "He let his emotions control him, he let that part of himself loose to do whatever it wanted, and he became what he is now. You've chosen to keep that part of yourself under tight control, to never let it out to do that kind of harm." She took his hand, and squeezed it. "You showed me how to do the same." Her lips quirked wryly. "I suppose I should listen to you more often."

"You really should," Luke replied with equal humor.

Mara smiled, leaning in to kiss him. "Come on, Skywalker," she said, getting to her feet. "Let's get back to work. We have a galaxy to save. Again," she added with a smirk.

He smiled back, but still she could see in his eyes a reflection of her own pain. Jacen was gone, but not, she knew, forgotten.

"That's right," Corran murmured to the passing flight of coralskippers, "nothing out here but boring old meteors. Just keep right on going."

The four Jedi were gathered in the Jade Sabre's dim cockpit, anxiously watching the swarm of Yuuzhan Vong vessels moving around the tremendous bronze shape of the second Star Forge above this system's sun. After surreptitiously joining a group of meteors that were passing close to the gathering fleet and then powering down almost all systems, they were observing the Vong with passive sensors relayed through a series of deployed sensor buoys, which had come pre-disguised as chunks of high-metal-content rock.

Jenn silently thanked Mara Jade Skywalker for having the foresight to keep such things stocked aboard her vessel, as well as incorporating a number of other stealth systems into the ship itself. Supposing their respective missions went well and they all met up again eventually, Mara was definitely the first person Jenn was going to for help with modifications once she got her own ship again.

She let out the breath she'd been holding as the coralskippers continued on their patrol circuit, taking no notice of the Sabre.

"I sense a Jedi on that thing," Ben announced into the tense silence, gesturing at the distant Star Forge. "Not just a Force-user; a Jedi. But I don't know if she senses us yet."

"She?" Corran asked, half-turning to look back at the young man.

"I can tell that much," Ben said. "She's female, and non-human, I think. There's something… odd about her, though."

"Yeah," Anakin agreed, eyes also half-closing in concentration. "She's alive, and using her power, but at the same time she's sort of… blank. I'm not sure how to describe it."

Jenn was about to stretch out with her own senses when a tremor in the Force made her look back to the rear of the cockpit.

She let out an involuntary startled gasp, for there stood a tall figure shrouded in an ash-gray robe, hands at his sides. The skin of his hands bore strange red, orange, yellow and black tattoos, making his fingers appear to be aflame.

"I thank you, Jedi, for showing me the way to this station, this source of limitless power," the figure said in a deep, raspy voice.

"Who-" Corran half-shouted, leaping to his feet and drawing his lightsaber.

"It's him!" Anakin shouted in alarm, reaching for his own weapon.

"How did you get on our ship?" Jenn demanded, drawing and igniting her cyan lightsaber.

Unperturbed, the figure reached up and lowered his hood, revealing a bald human head similarly tattooed to appear his skin was aflame. Between the tattoos and the scars they incorporated, his age was impossible to determine; he could have been anywhere from twenty to seventy, his face barely recognizable as human. His eyes were twin burning orange embers, gleaming with rage and madness.

"You cannot harm me," he said with a slow grin, revealing oddly white teeth. "And I will not harm you. Not yet."

"What do you want?" Corran said tautly, his blade angled toward the figure. The sensors beeped behind him, but none of the group turned away to see why, focused on the figure.

"I am Pyrron," the man rasped, ignoring him. "The Burned Lord, the Igniter of the Fire that will purify this overgrown galaxy." He spread his hands, showing that even his palms were tattooed. "Each of you four are strong. As I did, you would survive the Fire. If you accept my offer, if you will submit yourselves to pass through the flames as I did, you may join me as embers to stoke the coming inferno." He smiled again, the disturbing gleam of insanity in his smoldering orange eyes. "An inferno I will feed with this station, this ancient factory shining with power. We will incinerate the overgrowth, the unworthy, to leave only the strongest behind."

Ben drew himself up. "We're Jedi," he said firmly. "If you think we'd join you in doing something like that, you're even crazier than you look."

Pyrron flicked him a contemptuous glance. "If you are not part of the Fire, then you will be destroyed by it."

Anakin moved to stand next to his cousin. "Try it."

"You are fools to turn away from such power," the Burned Lord said warningly.

Jenn fixed him with an equally warning glare. "I've killed stronger men than you," she said. "Now get off this ship."

Pyrron turned his smoldering orange eyes back to her, and his charred lips drew back in a sneer. "I am not on this ship." He pointed past them out of the forward viewports. "I am on that one."

Jenn looked back over her shoulder to see the immense shape of the Khadmous hurtle overhead, firing with multiple banks of turbolasers at the Vong ships swarming up to meet it. The warship accelerated heedlessly, ignoring the punishing blasts slamming into its hull. She could only watch in horrified fascination as the still mostly-dead hulk soared faster and faster straight at the tremendous bronze shape of the Star Forge.

"He's gone," she heard Anakin say behind her, sounding startled.

Corran snapped his fingers, and she saw him gesture sharply out of the corner of her eye. "Turrets," he ordered tersely, and she heard the boys leaving the cockpit as Corran dropped back into the pilot's seat.

Distractedly, Jenn lowered herself into the copilot's seat, still staring at the Khadmous. One of the command towers had been blown completely away by Vong fire, but still it kept on, accelerating still more until its massive engines glowed white-hot against the blackness of space. It showed no signs of slowing down, headed right for the central sphere among the spires of the Star Forge.

The dull thump of the turrets as the flight of coralskippers came back for them snapped Jenn out of her reverie, and she bent to the controls, working with Corran to bring the ship's systems back online as quickly as they were able.

Outside, the Vong scrambled after the Khadmous like a ravening pack of predators, but it paid them no mind, now concentrating fire on an area of the Star Forge's hull. Turbolasers flashed through the inky void, slamming again and again into the armored hull of the ancient station. The targeted area began to glow magma-bright from the relentless fire, and a moment later the Khadmous released a fusillade of missiles and torpedoes.

Fire bloomed out into space, then slowly faded as the vented oxygen was consumed. Tiny pieces of debris fluttered out like a startled flock of avians, light flashing off the fragments as they spread out and away from the hole.

"Whistler, you got that jump plotted yet?" Corran asked, his hands flying over the controls. The droid bleeped back that he was almost finished, to which Corran replied, "We may not have three more minutes!"

With tremendous force, the Khadmous crashed into the hole it had blasted, slamming into the Star Forge like a giant metal battering ram. Such was its speed that the warship sank into the huge station almost to its still-glowing engines. The remaining command tower snapped off, spinning out into space, where it was quickly consumed by vengeful Vong fire.

Sparks and spurts of flame flickered out from the hole for several seconds, until finally the glowing white engines faded as well.

Then came a twinge in the Force, one that quickly turned to an indistinct feeling of roasting heat, and the Vong ships outside scattered into disorganized chaos. Though she could not feel it through the Force, Jenn recognized what was happening; the Burned Lord was turning his powers upon the interior of the station, using whatever abilities he had commanded to destroy planets to incinerate everything inside.

That she could sense nothing of all that death in the Force somehow made it all the more ghastly.

"Almost in position for the jump," Corran reported, hands gripped tightly around the flight controls.

The proximity alarm beeped again, and Jenn looked over at the monitor to see another incoming ship, this one not of Yuuzhan Vong manufacture, but made of metal and ceramic like the Sabre itself. After a further scan, the computer identified it as a Corellian corvette, heavily armed and modified.

"That must be the ship he used to follow us here," Jenn observed.

"Tractors?" Corran asked, angling away from it.

Jenn shook her head. "Not that I can see. They seem to be ignoring us."

"Good," Corran said with a relieved grin. "Because we are out of here."

Just as he reached for the hyperdrive lever, Jenn saw a flash of green turbolaser fire from the corvette. She started to warn him, but as she turned, the bolts slammed into them just as he threw the lever.

The hyperdrive gave an odd, unnatural howl, and the entire ship bucked, lurching sharply to the side. Her head hit the bulkhead beside her, and then she faded into blackness.


Author's Note: Big things happening in this chapter, and even bigger in the next one. Major thanks to hairyhen for beta reading. Till next time, thanks for reading!