Darth Revan peered out of the panoramic viewport. He noted the changing formations of the Republic vessels over Ord Mantel. He issued commands to the captains of his fleet, watching, calculating. He saw no intent behind the Republic movements. They were simply a smokescreen for something else. He could not anticipate what, though. A blatant movement caught Revan's gaze. Malak's flagship was pulling too far ahead out of formation.
Revan quickly rebuked his apprentice, and drew the aggressive man away from the blood, and back where he belonged. An Interdictor-class battleship did not have the firepower to seriously contend with three Hammerhead-class cruisers. Although Revan's fleet outnumbered the Republic's, it was not his capital ships that were inflicting the most damage. He had three carriers among his flotilla, and the Republic had only cruisers, corvettes, and a few battleships. As such, he had nearly three times as many fighter craft in the engagement. That they were unmanned simply added to the abandon with which he could sacrifice them to achieve his ends.
An officer approached the Dark Lord, and humbly informed him that another group of ships had dropped into the battle, behind their formation. Revan gazed at the tactical display, projected via hologram from the floor. Three Republic ships had decanted from hyperspace very close. It took incredible precision to plot a synchronized jump like that. Revan peered closer at the classifications; two small Foray-class corvettes, and a larger, Hammerhead-class cruiser. If this was the Republic's master stroke, then they knew something that Revan did not about warfare. Such a small force was a negligible threat. Revan returned his attention to the battle, and resumed coordination of his fleet.
Bastila Shan glanced around the crowded shuttle. A platoon of thirty Republic commandos and six Jedi rode in silence. Although Bastila couldn't see the other Ministry-class shuttle, she could feel the identical complement of their sister-shuttle through the force. Once again, she nervously wiped her fingers on the legs of her battle suit, and touched the hilt of her lightsaber for comfort.
A squadron of Aurek-class fighters screened the slower shuttles from any Sith interceptors that might break off from the main battle.
This plan was a risky, last throw of the dice. If they did not succeed, then the Republic was finished.
The republic shuttles screamed into the enemy hanger bay, and fired their braking thrusters, narrowly avoiding the inner wall of the hanger. Their ramps lowered even as they landed, and Republic Commandos streamed out into the hanger. Blaster fire and dying screams filled the air as technicians and crewman fell to the sudden and accurate invaders.
Two squads of commandos, as well as a pair of Jedi, quickly began to barricade and fortify the hanger. They would have to hold this position, indefinitely, against a crew of five thousand, and an infantry complement of thirty-five hundred.
"Grenade out!" Sergeant Draven shouted, hurling a fragmentation grenade around the corner. The explosion knocked out the section's lighting, plunging the hall into darkness, lit only by occasional sparks. His squad of five was quickly advancing through one of the flight decks. Their goal was to create as much noise as possible. Sound like twenty-men, was the Jedi Commander's exact words. Since they were commandos, the five men, as well as every other commando, had taken it upon themselves to sound like a frelling platoon. Return fire from a slumped shape slapped into Kyle's shoulder pauldron, but the sturdy armor held, for the moment.
Bastila ducked beneath her opponent's blade, and slashed at his legs. The Sith snarled, and blocked her golden blade with his own ruby hued weapon. Nirik's purple lightsaber neatly clipped the distracted Sith's hands off at the wrist, then tracked through the disarmed Force-user's neck.
"How close to the bridge?" Bastila gasped, wiping sweat from her brow.
Nirik shrugged, "Three decks?" he guessed, glancing over at one of the commandos, who nodded in confirmation.
"Commander, we have wounded," the captain reported grimly, pointing at two of her men, one missing an arm at the shoulder, the second a leg at the knee. A third commando was injecting them with stims to stave off shock and pain, since lightsaber wounds were self cauterizing, and bleeding was not an issue.
"Get them into a defensible position, we'll pick them up on our way back," Bastila ordered. The captain hesitated for a moment, but she knew how important this mission was. "Nelson, Danvers, get these men set up for a siege."
They would most likely not return in time to save these men.
Nirik touched Bastila's arm, "There are always hard decisions in war," he said sadly.
Bastila looked him in the eye, "War is sacrifice."
Kyle Draven paused for a moment, and took a breather. They hadn't met any resistance for several minutes. "Ricki, where the hell are we?" Draven asked. They'd had to retreat down an access corridor, after making contact with half a company of Sith infantry.
"Somewhere near the reactor core, maybe," the Devaronian told him.
"Let's go disrupt some systems," Draven suggested, and Ricki led the way. Today was a good day.
Darth Revan continued to survey the battlefield, keeping half an ear cocked to reports flooding his bridge. Commandos and Jedi knights had boarded his ship. They had come for him. It was the only possible reason. Although he was receiving sporadic sightings all over the ship, he knew that at least some of them were heading for the bridge. The other sightings were simply a smokescreen to sow confusion, and help the primary group achieve their objective. He had already stationed his best soldiers in the halls leading to the bridge, as well as a handful of the Dark Jedi. The rest were hunting through the ship, to purge the smokescreen. He had the manpower to be thorough, after all.
Bastila stepped over half of a Sith trooper, and set her gaze on the doors to the bridge. They had arrived. Only seven commandos had made it this far… but Bastila still had three Jedi at her back, ready for battle. They could do this. They must do this, for the Republic.
"Breach the doors," Bastila ordered, and the commandos wearily set up their equipment to breach the blast doors.
May the Force be with us.
Revan looked up. The enemy had arrived. He sent his men to take up positions at the rear of the bridge. He must not be disturbed.
The blast doors exploded, which struck Revan as ironically amusing, and misleading. He paid no attention though. The Republic was making a move on his right flank, a feint, to try and draw out Malak. Predictably, Malak cooperated, and a small fragment of the Sith fleet followed, becoming trapped in the crossfire between a pack of Republic corvettes and cruisers, cut off from the bulk of Revan's fleet.
Revan felt a flash of irritation, and pulled back several cruisers from their own independent gambits, and redirected them to saving his impatient apprentice.
Bastila's first impression of the Dark Lord was… poise. He exuded calm, like still, dark waters that concealed a lurking predator. Then the shooting started, and she focused on the fight at hand. There were several Dark Jedi in the room, as well as two dozen Sith infantry, and twice that number of operators in the crew pits.
"For the Republic!" Bastila shouted, and her men roared raggedly, charging.
Kyle laughed softly, and casually shot another of the Sith troopers trying to retake the maintenance booth. Ricki was buried up to his waist in a maintenance duct, fiddling on the innards of something mechanical that looked very important, and delicate. Sihdar was slumped in the doorway, the throat of his armor had not been able to stop the blaster bolt that killed him. Yorik and Greev were still kicking though, and intent to pay the Sith back in kind.
"And there goes artificial gravity on G-deck…" Ricki murmured, tossing the removed components and chips aside.
Blood pounded in Bastila's ears, even as she fought to hold her focus. Nirik, Vorn, and Castin stood at her back, their lightsabers humming angrily. The bodies of commandos and Sith were scattered all over the bridge. Only one Sith remained on the bridge, back still turned to them, coordinating his fleet.
"You cannot win, Revan," Bastila called. A chill ran down her spine, as the Sith Lord turned his head slightly, as if just suddenly noticing them.
A pair of lightsabers flipped from his belt, and into his hands, igniting red and purple, respectively.
"You do not understand," the Sith Lord whispered, his velvet voice heavy with regret.
Then battle commenced. Castin, the most aggressive of the Jedi present, was the first to tangle with Revan's blades. The veteran Jedi probed his enemy's defenses, noting with a flicker of fear, that the Dark Lord was utilizing two separate lightsaber forms, simultaneously.
Darth Revan kept the aggressive Jedi Guardian's blue lightsaber on the defensive, using Juyo with the purple lightsaber in his left hand, held in a traditional forward grip. He could feel all of the Jedi present, like pinpricks in the force, informing him of their intentions. His right hand held his red lightsaber in a reverse grip, so that the blade ran along his forearm. With it, he utilized his own flavor of Shien to keep the other three Jedi at bay. He had not been called a lightsaber virtuoso falsely.
Bastila felt her frustration beginning to rise, despite her attempts to remain calm, and centered within the Force. Even four against one, the Sith Lord proved to be untouchable. As she probed his defenses, she was staggered by his sheer presence in the Force, like a black hole. It felt like he was sucking the oxygen out of the room.
Castin screamed, and held the stump of his right arm, before a Force-assisted kick from the Dark Lord sent him crashing into a bulkhead.
Vorn intervened, his emerald weapon in sharp counterpoint to the purple blade. Revan was a flurry of movement, his two blades engaging and dueling three blades.
"Ricki, can you vent this section?" Draven asked, double checking the pressure seals on his armor.
"Yes… I think so," the devaronian commando said thoughtfully, poking around inside the command panel's guts. A pair of spindly humanoid battle droids clattered down the corridor, blindly firing at the barricade of supply containers.
"I can hear the rest of their friends coming," Greev said, worried, as he slotted his third to last power cell into his rifle.
Bastila rose from the floor, and called her lightsaber to hand. At the other end of the bridge, the Dark Lord glanced at the useless hilt in his left hand, and tossed the destroyed lightsaber aside casually. Bastila knew it had been more luck than skill on her part.
"Bastila Shan. Join me, please. With your power, I could bring an end to this pointless war, saving countless lives. Stand at my side, help me protect our people!" The Revanchist urged.
Bastila, for a moment, felt a flicker of doubt: the Dark Lord was not lying. Revan felt this seed of doubt, and tried to caress it into bloom, "Malak has fallen too far to ever be redeemed. I need a new apprentice, one who can still feel compassion, and mercy, to help me in my quest. You need not turn to the Darkside, Bastila, to help me save the Republic from itself…"
Bastila panted, confused. The Dark Lord was not influencing her mind. How then? What was this doubt? How was he so… convincing? Could it be possible? Was he… well, not right, but perhaps not completely wrong? She reeled, and in so doing, caught sight of her dead companions.
No. She slowly looked up at Darth Revan, and in her face he saw her answer.
"A pity," he shrugged.
The two warriors met in battle once more. Reduced to only a single lightsaber, Revan varied his Forms in a dizzying sequence of Juyo, Makashi, Shien, Ataru, and Niman. Bastila had never fought a practitioner of all seven forms of lightsaber combat before. She was talented, yes, but Revan was talented, and had nearly ten years of experience, compared to her two years of informal knighthood.
With a beautiful parry, Bastila's lightsaber flew from her hands, and Revan raised his hand, pinning her to the wall with the Force.
"Death is… so final. Will you not change your mind?" Revan implored her, loathe to destroy so rare and powerful a gift as Bastila's.
"I'll never turn," Bastila spat, her eyes darting to the ruby blade at her throat. Revan could feel her fear. She might believe that she was ready to die, but she was far too young to have consigned herself to the true idea of death. If presented a way out, whether she knew it or not, she would take it, Revan knew… with the proper motivation. He would enjoy breaking this one. The slower, the better, he thought coldly.
"Normally I do not offer second chances to my enemies, Bastila, but you are… unique. Think carefully. If you say no, then you are dead. You cannot help anyone. If you say yes, then later, you might have a second chance to strike me down when I am not prepared… and you get to live. You would be a hero, respected not just for your gift, but also for your courage, and skill. Think about it…"
Bastila stared into Revan's expressionless black visor, inches from her face. She felt the heat at her throat. The young woman, presented with death, or an easy way out… faltered, Revan saw. For a brief moment, she considered the possibility…
Revan was a master of persuasion. Against younger Jedi, he was devastating. They couldn't understand that brutish Force persuasion was nowhere near as powerful, or dangerous as knowing the right words to say. He could break a Jedi with their personal ghosts and shadows, insinuations and assumptions.
Malak knew only how to break the mind by breaking the body. He was a ham-handed butcher. He did not see the art, nor beauty in his master's handiwork, only weakness. Revan looked hungrily into the young Jedi's eyes. He could replace Malak with this young woman, train her… and she would come to him, willingly, to learn darker paths, in order to have more power with which to save the Republic. Just as he had done.
And then, the world went to hell.
Kyle looked up, as the ship shook, "What the hell was that?!" he shouted. Ricki shrugged, "Turbolaser?"
Bastila slowly swam back to the surface of consciousness. She hurt, and something was pinning her against the deck. Reluctantly, Bastila opened her eyes. A man was slumped over her. Weakly, Bastila pushed him off, and sat up, taking stock.
Several support beams had fallen in the bridge, and there was fire everywhere, as well as sparking consoles and power conduits. Bastila looked down at the man, and recognized the Dark Lord. Shards of durasteel had peppered him, like flechetes. One particularly large piece had pierced the left side of his head, through the hood.
Bastila smiled grimly. Saved by a Dark Lord. The Sentinel crawled to her feet. Her mission was complete, even if it had been accomplished in a most haphazard—
Bastila froze. She sensed that someone else still lived on the bridge. With growing apprehension, she traced the flicker back to the motionless Sith Lord.
Normally I do not offer second chances to my enemies, Bastila, but you are… unique.
Bastila pondered. She could leave him here to die. He had killed millions with his war. The young Jedi crouched, and carefully felt for the edges of Revan's mask. She found the catches, and pulled the mask away, looking the man in the eye.
She had met Revan once, or rather, seen him, when he journeyed to the Jedi Temple, to beg their help in his quest to save the Republic from the Mandalorian atrocities. She had been only twelve at the time, and Revan had been freshly knighted, with the zeal of a man who knows what he must do to save that which he loves. She saw him, standing before the Jedi Council, alone before the dozen greatest masters of the Jedi Order.
He had been… magnificent in his certainty, his righteous fire. Bastila compared the man from her memories to the face before her, still strong and passionate, but haunted and… broken.
No one is beyond redemption. A voice reminded her, from her childhood.
The spark of life in the Dark lord was flickering, trying to escape his mangled body. Bastila exhaled, and cradled the man's face.
Stay. She gently, but firmly grabbed hold of that spark, and trapped it within the broken shell.
And reap the consequences of your actions.
"Is this the only way?" a hooded figure asked his colleagues. The other three members of the Council looked down at the body lying on the stone plinth, cradled by the arms of yet another hooded figure.
"She has kept him alive this long. What is another day?" a grizzled man suggested. He did not know why the dying man had been saved.
"We still do not know how Revan was able to amass such a military force," a dark skinned man pointed out softly.
"If discover the secrets of Revan we must, then healing this man, unavoidable," the most diminutive Jedi present noted, deciding the fate of a life.
"Agreed, but the mind has been destroyed. What use is this shell to us?" the grizzled man argued.
"Broken yes, but destroyed… perhaps not." The small one observed.
"We must come to a decision soon, though, his body is beginning to fade without a strong mind to anchor it," the twi'lek noted.
"You are correct," the black skinned man agreed, feeling the flicker of life wriggling to escape.
They came to him, in one of his lucid moments. The painkillers had partially worn off. Kyle looked up from the medical bed he was dying in, and smiled, "Commander," he acknowledged gratingly, his voice almost imperceptible.
Commander Shan nodded to him briefly, "Sergeant Draven, we must ask you for one final service to the Republic you fight to protect."
Draven painfully smiled, a deaths-head grin, "Better ask quickly,"
"With your permission, we need you for one last mission. It will be painful, and possibly fatal. Do you agree?" Bastila asked quietly.
"I'll do whatever is… necessary… always— have," Kyle answered, the pain was startling to overwhelm him.