Chapter 1

Gherru Rhak'an had strange powers.

He was like no other Togorian warlord of his line, and like no other in history. Already, several epic ker-tarwei had been composed about his ascendancy to absolute power in the clan branch, about his daring exploits of conquest in space protected by the feeble Republic. His armor was dented with the blows of many enemies, all of whom had gasped their last beneath his upraised foot. He had drunk the lifeblood of their leaders, in the traditional ceremony, thus taking their prama unto himself and bringing it under his own dominion. Those who had challenged his right to lead were also slain – properly, in an honor duel, and their heads impaled on staves outside the royal stronghold, as visible credentials to his great destiny. His black head-fur was braided no less than five times, once for each of the knives he had suffered to pierce his flesh during his coming-of-age ceremony; he carried the weapons with him still, as marks of honor.

But if these high and ancient symbols and testaments to his superiority were not enough to convince the foolish skeptic, there was still this fact: he had strange powers. His defeat of Meerk'an Kua was legendary: how, after a pitched battle with vibroaxes, he had lifted the bloodied body of his foe off the floor and crushed his windpipe – without once touching him. And how he had foreseen the mutinous plans of his regent and had the fomenting palace rebellion leaders executed in their chambers before they could muster together to carry out their treasonous plans. How the Ancestors sent him weird dreams in which things of yesterday and things of tomorrow sometimes shone clear as things of today. How he had ingested poison and purged it from his body without the aid of a solo-tuma priest, the power of his will and his inborn sorceries accomplishing what the strongest herbs and remedies could not. His enemies feared him; his court stood in awe of his inexplicable gifts.

And yet Gherru Rhak'an was not satisfied. He craved more.

At night, sometimes, when the Ancestors sent him a dream of the past or the future, and he lay stretched out on his sleep-couch, naked beneath the gaze of the stars peeping through the slatted stone ceiling of his chamber, his fur still damp with the fearful sweat and stink of such visions, he longed for more. Each dream, each taste of power, only fanned the latent embers of desire. He knew that when such visions appeared, when such miracles proceeded from his hands, he had been granted a brief taste of prama itself, the sacred fabric of the universe, the essence of life. At such times he was Gherru no more, not even a scion of the mighty Rhak'an tribe – but something vastly more, a drop in a infinite ocean of power. He was the universe itself.

If he could find a way to master his gifts…to make them his servants, rather than he theirs…then his name would echo from the very firmament. Not only Togoria and the slavish cowards who occupied its neighboring systems, but the entire Galaxy, the arrogant Republic that claimed so much of it for itself, the rulers and lords of every other world, would bow before him. But to tame prama… sometimes he wondered if any other living being had ever dreamed of such hubris, of such frenzied rebellion against mortality. He did not care. It was his destiny.

And so he had searched, and he had consulted even strange ways, paths of knowledge outside the Togorian clan hierarchies. He had found scholars and historians, court magicians and soothsayers, bards and adepts of weird cults. And all these seemed to agree upon one thing: there were those who knew the ways of prama, wizards who possessed the same gifts as Gherru Rhak'an, but who had mastered them, brought them under submission and used them for their own obscure purposes. Mentions of such individuals were tantalizing; the discovery that there was an ancient order of such sorcerers, bound together by solemn vows, was galvanizing; the further rumor that these powerful magicians only taught their occult ways to their own chosen children was positively infuriating.

Gherru's people were pirates; he was used to taking what he could not have by other means. And so, in the fourteenth year of his reign, when internal opposition to his leadership had been definitively crushed, he set himself a new goal. He would find one of these sorcerers and make him yield over his treasury of knowledge. His followers might be content with plunder comprised of minerals, goods, technology, slaves- either droids or organics – but Rhak'an was after a vastly superior prize.

He was looking for a Jedi.

Anakin Skywalker had strange powers. That's what they said back on Tatooine, in the superstitious enclaves of the slave quarters, in the gossip-mongerers' stalls at the marketplace. He was different. He could see things before they happened, he could do things no other human was able to do – like podracing. Even his mother sometimes looked at him wistfully, an almost awed expression shadowing her cheerful, lined features, as though she were frightened that his weird gifts would somehow bind him to an unwelcome destiny.

That was then. Now, the things that made him so different on Tatooine were taken for granted by most the people in his life: by his peers, by his superiors, and most particularly by his teacher, the individual assigned to be his sole mentor and guide for the next…well, for a really long time. Until Anakin was grown up, as he understood the arrangement. It was a comfort not to be thought strange and frightening because he could sense things before they happened. Anakin might have flashes of foresight; but he knew that Obi Wan Kenobi was occasionally seized by premonitory visions that would make a nightmare seem like a pleasant flight of fancy. Anakin might have unusual reflexes; but Obi Wan could knock blaster bolts off course in mid-air with a single sweep of a lightsaber blade. Anakin was learning how to lift heavy objects in the air without touching them; Obi Wan had been known to hurl opponents across rooms and into walls with a flick of his wrist. In other words, from the perspective of the Jedi Order, weird was normal. And normal was weird. Possessions, hobbies, passions…mothers…lots of things taken for granted by most the galaxy's denizens were strictly off limits to Jedi. Anakin's new life was a study in bizarre reversals and paradoxes: he was no longer a slave but now he had a master; he had to study incredibly hard so he could learn to trust his instincts; he had to excel in martial combat so he could be a guardian of peace; he had to renounce everything he loved or might love because he needed to have compassion; and he had to give his whole life away to the service of others because he had been given an inalienable gift.

Sometimes it was a bit much to digest.


Especially when there was little else to think about.


He probably shouldn't interrupt Obi Wan's meditation, but just the other day he had endured a long lecture on the topic there is no probably, only should or should not, so he ignored the nagging suspicion and persevered.


With a long-suffering and inaudible sigh, Obi Wan finally opened his eyes and studied the gangly boy standing before him. "What is it, Anakin?"

Anakin shifted a bit awkwardly, suddenly embarrassed by the question that had seemed so pressing and monumental only a moment earlier. Still kneeling on the hard deck of the ship's cabin, Obi Wan patiently waited for him to spit it out. "Uh…I was just wondering something."

"Yes, I gathered that much." Obi Wan's eyebrows drifted upward sarcastically.

Anakin squirmed. "I shouldn't have interrupted you," he clumsily apologized.

"You interrupted me to tell me that?" his teacher inquired, brows lifting another ironic centimeter, and clipped tones taking on a distinct growl of exasperation.

Not fair. Anakin felt his lower lip tighten into a pout, despite very strict warnings not to indulge this habit, and he crossed his arms defensively. "I was just wondering," he blurted out, "What would have happened – I mean, what happens – what if somebody can, you know, feel the Force, but he doesn't become a Jedi? Does that ever happen?"

Obi Wan's annoyance melted away. He stood gracefully , and motioned for Anakin to sit beside him on the narrow bunk set into the bulkhead. "I'm sorry, Anakin. I forget sometimes….there are so many things we learn young, in the Temple. I should have discussed this with you before. What brought this to mind?"

The boy shrugged. "I was just thinking."

A corner of the older Jedi's mouth twitched. "Dangerous habit, Padawan mine. To answer your question: yes, that happens. More often than it should." He studied his hands, clasped lightly between his knees. "To be born with the gift but deprived of proper training – that is a tragedy. It can be a path to the Dark Side."

Anakin's feet almost touched the floor, but he could still swing them a little. He gnawed on his lip. "So…I was almost a tragedy?"

Obi Wan turned his head to the side, so their eyes could meet fully. "Anakin. Every one of us is a almost a tragedy, from a certain point of view. You mustn't allow yourself to dwell on such thoughts."

"Oh. I mean, yes master." Anakin swallowed, a little of the tension around his chest easing. Obi Wan was almost a tragedy, too. From a certain point of view. He touched the deck with his booted toes, to stop himself from swinging his legs like a child. "I was also wondering –"

But the rest of his inquiry was violently aborted by a jarring impact, and a dizzying whirl of motion as the entire ship seemed to slew sideways, throwing them across the small cabin into the opposite wall. If Obi Wan hadn't grabbed him in midair and miraculously turned a neat somersault before landing on the tilting deck by the door, Anakin would have smacked his head against the bulkheads.

The drives whined, a shuddering, grinding noise reverbrating through the cruiser's hull, a sickening buck and lurch following the initial jolt.

"Hey! You can't crash in hyperspace!" Anakin yelped.

Obi Wan straightened, although the artifical gravity hadn't caught up with the ship's rolling motion and the room still felt skewed. "That was a gravity mine," he barked. "Quickly."

And the next thing Anakin knew, he was pelting down the corridor at Obi Wan's heels, running flat out toward the cruiser's bridge. Danger rang loud and clear in his mind, louder than the emergency claxons blaring in every direction, louder than his frantic thoughts. A gravity mine meant only one thing: imminent attack, probably by space pirates.

A flare of panic clawed in his belly, but he quashed it. The Force was with them….and besides, his master could handle anything. Any pirates who attacked this ship were just looking for trouble.

And they were about to find it.