Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away

The Road to Rediscovery
Part 19 - The Final Test

Dustil's skin crawled as they disembarked near Dreshdae, the settlement he used to call home. A cool, dry wind ruffled though his short hair. It howled and whistled through the peaks and caverns of the mountainous tombs of the long dead Sith Lords. Hideously blank stone faces looked down on him from above.

Above moans of the wind, all was quiet. Deathly quiet. Even the packs of shyrack and tuk'ata that undoubtedly prowled the valley were silent as the grave. Dustil shivered.

Not that the Dreshdae and the Valley of the Dark Lords had ever been teeming with life—not in living memory anyway—but without the Sith students and archaeologists, it seemed disquietingly bleak. They were all either gone or dead.

Dustil looked over at Ev standing beside him. She stood alert and erect, staring straight ahead, down the valley towards the path to the old Sith Academy. Dustil reached out to her through the Force, but she felt distant, her presence nearly drowned out by the Dark Side energies that ebbed and flowed around them.

Relaxing very slightly, Ev turned to Dustil and asked, “How do you feel?”

Dustil tried to asses himself objectively and shuddered. “I don't want to be back here,” he admitted, “I left this place behind me and I didn't want to think about it any more.”

“And that's why we're here,” Ev replied, “To think about it. Your past is part of who you are, as much as your present and future. You must face it, confront it, and live with it if you are to live at all.”

Dustil nodded. “I just...” he started, “I have so many bad memories here.”

“Do you have good memories here as well?” Ev asked.

“Well, yeah,” Dustil responded, “This place meant a lot to me then, but now I'm not so proud to have been a student here.”

“You have come a long way, Dustil,” Ev praised. From out of the folds of her robe, she produced a third lightsaber. It was nearly identical to the hilt that hung at Ev’s right hip. Holding it out to Dustil, she said, “Here, take this.”

“Isn’t that your—” Dustil trailed off as he saw that two sabers still hung on her belt, his hand hovered over the lightsaber she held out, still unwilling to take it.

“This is Revan’s saber, my old saber, and I give it to you,” Ev explained as Dustil cautiously took it, “I found it on Dantooine, just as I found this one,” she said, patting the silver hilt on her right hip, “Right here on Korriban. They are both mine from another life, but I have no need for three sabers. You, on the other hand, need a second.”

“So you think I’m ready?” Dustil stammered, stunned by the gesture even despite having nagged Ev for months to let him begin practicing with a second saber.

“I think you’ll need it,” Ev replied, “Now, let's go.”

“Go where?” Dustil asked, hanging back as he hung the saber on his belt.

“To the heart of your past here: the academy,” Ev replied and started off down the valley.

“Wait,” Dustil nervously surged ahead to catch up with her, “Do we have to?”

“I have brought you to this place as a test,” Ev explained patiently, “Your time in the academy will expose any cracks in your resolve to follow the Light and any holes in your Jedi training. We need to be tested often to know just how we stand, and I think you are finally ready for this test.”

“I'm glad you think I'm ready, Ev,” Dustil replied at an uncomfortable mumble, “I really have worked hard to become a Jedi.”

“Yes you have,” Ev agreed as they walked. “Both of us have much farther to go as Jedi than so many of the others. You have to climb a lot further to reach the light when you are coming out of darkness. It is much easier to fall back into old, destructive habits. With our past, we have so much to prove. Being average Jedi isn't enough for others to trust us. We must be spotless.”

“It's not fair,” Dustil complained.

“Of course it isn't,” Ev replied, “Nothing about a Jedi's life is fair, except for the way we are supposed to treat people. Like it or not, we made mistakes before, and now we have to make up for it.”

They passed by the two stone pillars marking the entrance to the valley and turned into the narrow, winding path towards the back entrance of the Sith Academy.

“What if there are Sith still inside there?” Dustil asked warily.

“There aren't,” Ev answered definitively. Dustil had long learned to trust Ev's senses. She was never wrong. Though, he often forgot just how powerful and acute her connection to the Force was. Still, he hardly felt any better about returning to the academy that almost made him a Sith. If not for Ev, he would have stayed on the wrong side of the war and probably ended up dead.

They walked along the path without speaking. The crunching of their boots on the dusty earth and the wind whistling through the pass were the only sounds. As they passed the shyrack nesting cave, Ev stopped abruptly and stared into its shadowy depths. A shyrack's squeal echoed from deep inside.

“This will be my test,” Ev murmured, barely audible.

Dustil felt it too. Somewhere, deep in that cave, something was calling out to Ev.

“Come on, let's get to the academy,” Ev started again and continued around the last bend to the back gate. Dustil hastily followed.

As the bowed stone figures flanking the doorway came into view for the first time in over a year, Dustil involuntarily shrunk back. He used to imagine that they were bowing to him, an ascendant Sith student, destined to become a great Dark Jedi. Now, they seemed ghostly and terrifying.

Ev stopped several meters from the doorway and glanced at Dustil beside her. “Here, inside is your test, Dustil,” she said, “I want you to go in there and see what you find. Meditate. Explore the ruins of the academy, but, more importantly, explore the ruins of your old self.”

Dustil swallowed hard but met her gaze with as much confidence as he could muster.

“Meet me back at the Ebon Hawk in the valley when you are ready to leave,” Ev finished.

“Aren't you coming in with me?” Dustil asked suddenly. Going into the academy alone was not part of the original bargain.

“No,” Ev replied firmly with a gentle shake of her head, “This is your test. I have my own demons to face here.”

“Okay,” Dustil nodded, taking a deep breath to calm himself. Ev expected him to be fearless, so he had to convince himself that there was nothing to fear. “I'll see you back at the ship later, then.”

Ev smiled lightly, but It was a distracted smile. “May the Force be with you, Dustil,” she said in parting, then turned back down the path.

She would be going back to the shyrack cave, Dustil realized. He often forgot that powerful Jedi like Ev were still always learning and in training, just as much as any padawan or apprentice. They just did not need a teacher to guide their learning any more. That was what made a Jedi into a real Jedi Knight, he realized.

Dustil watched her until she was out of sight around the corner and then reluctantly turned back to the doors of the academy again. He gathered all of his courage and stepped forward. One step at a time, he drew closer to the academy until, finally, he was inside.

Inside, it was quieter even than the valley. Dim light filtered in through the open doorway and narrow windows near the ceiling above. Dustil shivered again. He fumbled for his lightsaber at his belt then held it out in front of him, igniting the blade. He felt better with the weapon out before him. It cast its icy blue glow on the floor and walls around him. Above, the ceiling was lost in shadows.

Dustil continued through the training hall at the rear of the academy and down the long corridor to the central main chamber. He cringed at every noisy footstep he made that echoed down the hall.

In the main chamber, he was utterly alone. Dustil felt at a loss. He made his way towards the very middle of the room where patterns in the floor drew circular patterns to the center. There, he sat down and crossed his legs just as he had seen Master Uthar do every day in this very spot. Dustil extinguished his lightsaber and laid it on the ground beside him. It clattered against the stone before it wobbled to a rest at his side.

Breathing deeply, Dustil tried to meditate. It was nearly impossible to concentrate in this space haunted by his past.

He thought back to when he had first joined the academy. Not long after he had been given his own lightsaber, Dustil had already killed two of his fellow students in an angry fit and in hopes to impress the Sith Masters. It had worked. He was advanced and praised, but two boys were dead. He could not even remember their names now or what they had said to make him so angry. It had not mattered at the time. He had been looking for a reason to kill someone. Killing was a part of being a Sith.

Dustil felt the sudden urge to track down those two boys' families and apologize, just as Ev was doing. All at once, he understood what she was doing with all of her visits. Dustil had deprived those two boys of a future and of a chance for redemption like he had been given. For years, he had forgotten all about that, but now he was sorry.

Those were far from the last people he had killed while a student at the academy.

Another time, when some Twi'lek brute took a practice sparring match against Selene too far, Dustil jumped in to intervene and killed him right there. Selene was never very good with a lightsaber, and Dustil always felt responsible for her in one way or another.

“There you are, Dustil,” a familiar voice said sweetly.

Dustil's heart twisted as he looked up to see a familiar pixie-like blond girl hurry across the dim hall towards him.

“Selene,” he choked on his words, hurriedly standing to greet her while clipping his lightsaber back to his belt. But Selene is dead. Did she survive after all? Hope swelled in his chest. “What are you doing here?”

“I've been looking all over for you,” Selene scolded gently. Strangely, she looked to be about the age they had first come to the academy. She started again, quickly and without waiting for him to answer as she always did, “You know, I've been thinking, Dustil. We should go to Korriban.”

“Korriban?” Dustil asked, startled, “What do you mean? Korriban is terrible.”

“But it will be better than this hell-on-earth of Sith Cadet training camp,” she argued, “You heard what that Dark Jedi said last week. We both have a connection to the Force. That means we could become Dark Jedi too. Think of the freedom and power we could have.”

“'The Force shall free me',” he murmured. Suddenly it hit Dustil: he had had this conversation already once before. This was not Selene standing in front of him in flesh and blood. This was a vision of the past. He did not want to believe it, even so.

“Well, what do you think?” Selene pressed.

“No,” Dustil shook his head, “That power comes at too great of a cost. The Dark Jedi tear each other apart for power. They'll kill you, Selene. You aren't strong enough for that.”

“If we stay around here much longer, we will get sent off to war and killed at the battle front anyway,” Selene argued.

This was not how it went the first time. Dustil agreed, and they boarded the next transport to Korriban together.

“This whole war is stupid,” Dustil argued, “What are people dying for? Life is sacred, Selene.”

“Dustil, you're a Sith like any of the rest of us,” Selene pointed out, “Why are you talking like this all of a sudden?”

“Because I don't want to see you hurt, Selene,” Dustil pleaded, “Please, let's get out of here. We can run away. The Jedi would take us and they would even treat us like people. I can't stay on a path like this towards killing people.”

Selene smiled. “You're right, Dustil,” she replied sweetly, “You can't.” She faded away, still smiling, as insubstantial as a wisp of smoke.

Dustil lunged forward with a cry towards where she had been. Hugging his arms to his chest, he found himself caught in silent sobs. He missed Selene so much it was almost unbearable. Feelings that he had repressed for more than two years welled up to the surface again. His heart ached in his chest, threatening to rip in two. How desperately he wished that they really had gone to the Jedi together instead of the Sith. How different their lives would have been. If they had, maybe she would still be alive now.

Dustil stood alone in the dimness, crying and aching for a future that could not be.

Ev followed the pull she felt in the Force through the winding passages of the shyrack cave. The Dark Side hung like a thick fog all over everything. The shyrack must have felt it too. They avoided her as much as she avoided them.

Deep inside, there was a wide ravine in the cave floor, but the Force still pulled to her from the other side. Resolving before her in the darkness, Ev spotted a stone bridge spanning the ravine built by ancient hands. She crossed over and let the Force continue to guide her deeper and deeper in. Shivering, she felt progressively colder the farther she went.

A tall cave wall loomed up ahead of her. It seemed like the end of the line, but as she drew nearer, she could make out the outline of a great stone doorway. Nearer still, and she could see the writing engraved on the upper lintel: 'Tomb of the Dark Lord Ludo Kressh.'

Since when can I read ancient Sith hieroglyphs?

Nothing should come as a surprise to her any more.

Ev felt with complete certainty that this was the place the Force was drawing her to. Just what it wanted of her there remained to be seen. Trusting in the Force, she stepped through the doorway and into the tomb.

She held her glow rod higher to illuminate more of the passage, but there was little to see. Bare walls framed a long passage that climbed gently to a heavy stone door at the other end. Ev continued purposely forward, all the while wondering what the purpose of this trip was for her. What could she discover here that would give light to the bewildering path that lay ahead of her?

Ev had no proof that the Sith, or any other enemy for that matter, were coming to attack the Republic again, but something inside of her knew it was true. She had only fragments of memories and elusive hints to that end, but she could not risk that it was false. Even if it was true, what could she do to stop it? Where were the enemies in the first place? Who were they? Even Revan could not stop something she could not find.

Was she better off remaining with the Jedi, trying to earn their respect so that she could advise them when the time of trouble came? Was she better off staying on Coruscant, close to Carth? He brought stability to her life where there was none without him. If she left Republic space in search of an unknown threat, did she trust herself to walk the right path alone?

One thing that was without question was this: if she left, she would go alone. Whatever danger that lurked out beyond the known regions of space, whatever danger it was that had scared Revan, Ev could not risk any of those she loved to it. She was Revan. She was powerful. Whatever danger Revan could not handle alone, any army of followers would not be able to handle either. Her own neck was the only neck she dared to risk.

Ev reached the huge stone door. It was built like most of the other doors in the the valley. She pressed her palm firmly against the large keystone in the center of the door. It responded to the pressure and, grating noisily, slid apart. Holding her glow rod high, Ev stepped into the dusty chamber beyond.

With a metallic roar of rage, Darth Malak leaped out of the shadows, lightsaber blazing.

Ev cast aside her glow rod and both of her lightsabers were in her hands in an instant. She blocked Malak's blow over her head, groaning under the impact.

“So you have come at last, my old master,” Malak taunted. “But the Light Side has weakened you. You are hardly a shadow of Darth Revan. I am the most powerful now.”

Malak is dead. I killed him myself. This is just a vision. Ev had to remind herself.

“Powerful,” Ev replied through gritted teeth. Still, his saber bore down against her two blades crossed above her head. “But at what cost Malak? The Dark Side has already destroyed you.”

Finally Malak relented, leaping back and swinging in for another pass. Ev whirled out of the way. Now free of the doorway, she had room to move. The duel began in earnest.

Malak charged in again, taunting her, “You think you have grown more powerful, but you still are nothing compared to what you were before. Without freeing your passions, without the Dark Side, you will never be strong enough to face what you are after.”

“You know what I'm after,” Ev said, blocking another powerful blow, “You went with me into the Unknown Regions. You know what I found there.”

“You know of ways to make the Jedi Council talk,” Malak countered, “You could make them help you undo what they did. They never really erased your mind. They just buried it. You have the power to reclaim it.”

“I will not use tools of the Dark Side to get what I want this time,” Ev asserted, delivering a flurry of blows at Malak, who blocked every one.

“Then you are doomed to weakness, Revan,” Malak snarled, “You are doomed to fail in your quest when your power is not enough. Without the power of the Dark Side, you will fail, Revan. You knew that last time.”

“Last time?” Ev panted, dancing back away from Malak's charge.

“Embrace the Dark Side. Use it,” Malak urged, “Don't be a fool any more and simply let the Light Side use you. You need its power. Without it, you can't even defeat me.”

“I have learned that the Light Side will always triumph over the Dark,” Ev declared, “What may appear to be a weakness is really a strength. My strength in the Light Side will be enough.”

Malak stepped back and lowered his guard. “Will it?” he asked. Ev lunged, slicing through him. Her saber met no resistance, cutting through him as easily as cutting through air. He disappeared, a spirit on the musty breeze, his final words echoing off the cavern walls, “Will it?”

Trembling, Ev extinguished her lightsabers and hung them back on her belt.

Will it?

Dustil paced restlessly through the academy. His nerves were on edge. He did not need to see another vision of a dead friend. That was too much to bear. He would rather encounter a live Sith still lurking the ruins.

Glowing lightsaber still in hand, his free hand fidgeted over the hilt of Revan’s lightsaber that hung from his belt. Uneasily, Dustil turned towards the library and slipped through the ajar door. Lashowe was sitting at one of the study tables, scanning over something on her holo disk reader. She looked up as he entered. “Oh, hi Dustil,” she said in greeting, “How has your training been going lately?”

It's just another vision, Dustil had to remind himself. Lashowe isn't really back here on Korriban with me. She's on Coruscant with the others. “Fine, I guess,” Dustil admitted awkwardly, still lingering near the doorway, “Ev is a really great teacher. I'm learning a lot from her.”

“I'm a bit jealous,” Lashowe replied, “I wish I had a master already.”

“I'm really lucky she picked me,” Dustil nodded, feeling a bit guilty. Of the group of ex-Sith trainees at the Jedi Temple, only Snow, Shasa, and himself had been chosen to become padawans, and that was only by the somewhat eccentric Jedi heroes who had destroyed the Star Forge. All three of them had lived through more than just a minor brush with the Dark Side.

“How much longer do you think you'll be her padawan?” Lashowe asked.

“Oh, at least five more years, maybe more than that,” Dustil estimated. Most people did not get knighted until their mid twenties.

“Seriously?” Lashowe asked in mild disgust, “You'd be a full dark Jedi right now if you had stayed with Master Tekkin on Korriban. You're good, Dustil, and everybody there knew it.”

“The Jedi do things differently,” Dustil pointed out, “They don't knight their students as quickly. They're a lot more careful with their training.”

“Do you really think it's better this way?” Lashowe asked pointedly, “Force is supposed to free us, not hold us back."

"Lashowe, that's Sith teaching," Dustil warned, "The Jedi say that the Force brings harmony."

"How can you feel harmonious when you know that the Jedi training is tying you down?" Lashowe asked, "Look at me. At this rate, I'll never be a full Jedi. I'll be student, chained to the kriffing Jedi Temple for the rest of my life."

Dustil did not point out that the Jedi Agricorps were a more likely sentence for her. It was better that she did not know, for the moment anyway.

"What do you think is holding you back?" Lashowe asked, "Why won't she just turn around and knight you right now? And I don't mean just because the Jedi don't do that kind of thing."

"Well," Dustil started thoughtfully, "She says I really have learned a lot. I think I mostly have a handle on the Jedi teachings and why they're better than what the Sith fed us, but I don't have the control she does. I can't always get the Force to do what I want it to. I never even get close to scoring points on Ev in dueling practice—except for when she's zoned out. I just can't coordinate myself the way she does. Ev says that I'm trying to hard to use the Force rather than letting it flow through me and use me."

"Why shouldn't we use the Force?" Lashowe demanded, "It's a powerful tool, but the way the Jedi teach us, we can't even grip the hilt."

"It seems like that's not the way it's supposed to be done," Dustil defended Ev's teachings meekly, "There's a better way to do it. I just haven't figured it out yet."

"Dustil, you know as well as all the rest of us do," Lashowe said impatiently, "Feelings and passion are the way to take the tuk'ata by the horns. The other day, when Master Kavar was leading our lightsaber class, he was telling me how my technique was too sloppy, and you know what? It ticked me off. I got mad and I used that. I was stronger, faster, and more focused, and I beat that son of a gundark. You should have seen the look on his face. He was so surprised. But then he had the nerve to chew me out for it. If a Jedi Master is allowed to get mad at me for that, why aren't I allowed to get mad too?"

"Because he knows how to control his anger," Dustil replied quickly. He respected Master Kavar and he was not about to let Lashowe slander him. "Because he didn't use it for anything destructive. If you had gotten out of control, you could have killed him."

"But I didn't," Lashowe countered, "I know how to control my anger. I know how to use it. And I would if they'd let me."

"And you'll never be taken as a padawan as long as you keep acting like that," Dustil retorted frustratedly. He would never say such things to the real Lashowe, but he had wanted to so many times before. "You're dangerous, reckless, and you'll never make a decent Jedi if you don't decide to act like one. Good decisions only come from clear, calm minds. Jedi can't help people if they're letting their passions loose all the time."

"Try it Dustil," Lashowe urged, "Just once. I dare you to act like a Sith and use all that training you got on Korriban. Use the power your passions give you and see if you can't beat Ev too. Then she’ll know you’re ready. I’ve seen how distracted she’s been lately. I bet she wants to knight you and get you out of her hair. Give her reason to."

The idea tempted him. Ev had been neglecting him a lot lately, and he knew he could take his learning into his own hands—he already was whenever Ev disappeared for a few days at a time. All the same, Ev was one of the best duelists in the entire Jedi Order. She had to know best. He trusted her to know when he was ready. "No," Dustil said firmly, "I want to be a Jedi like Ev, and I want to do it right. I don't just want power any more. I want to lead a good life, serving the galaxy, just like my dad, just like Ev."

"If that's what you really want," Lashowe said with a sarcastic smile, "Good luck. You'll need it."

Like Selene before her, Lashowe simply faded away, leaving an eerily empty library behind her. Dustil shuddered and backed out of the room and back into the hallway.

After fighting her way through a next of shyrack spawn, Ev was alone in the silent tomb again. One meandering corridor led to the next, each decorated with chipped carvings and flaking murals lauding the great Ludo Kressh. She let the tugging sensation in the Force lead her through the maze of passages. The closer she got to her goal, the more fatigue grew in her. The Dark Side energies all around her all but drained her of her energy.

Ev passed through another of the great stone doors into a long hall with deep pits dropping off on either side of the walkway. The door slammed shut behind her. A sudden feeling of foreboding crept over Ev. That was never a good sign. Turning back to the path ahead of her, she saw a robed figure waiting on the wide landing where walkway turned around a corner.

Ev rested her right hand on the cool hilt of one of her lightsabers and advanced cautiously. The Dark Side all around her muddied her senses, but she could not make out the presence of anyone else near by, good or evil. It had to be another vision of the tomb, another test of her character.

As she drew nearer and the man came within the outer range of the light of her glow rod, she could make out his unmistakable brown Jedi robes, shock of dark hair, and closely trimmed beard. “Master Waykennit,” Ev realized out loud. Why would her subconscious bring him here to test her? He had been an informal master and adviser to her for the last several months, but no more than that.

“Ev, I am glad to see you,” he began with all the warmth he that usually greeted her, but there was concern in his eyes, “I was beginning to wonder if I would see you again.”

“What do you mean?” Ev asked, “I have been continually thankful for your help.”

“Ev, well, how do I put this?” Embrik started haltingly, “I sense a feeling that—I sense that you wish to leave us.”

“Master Waykennit,” Ev started, “Leaving the Jedi for the Sith again has never crossed my mind.”

“No, that is not what I fear for you, Ev,” Embrik clarified, taking a step closer, “You wish to strike out on your own and face a challenge, a quest, that you think only you are equal to.”

Ev did not answer. She had never put it into those terms herself, but he was right. I really am the only one who can do this. If I don't, no one will.

“Ev, I beg you not to go alone,” he pleaded, “Whatever it is, it is too dangerous to risk yourself on. We cannot replace you, Ev. If you were to approach the Jedi Council, maybe they could put you at the head of an expedition. The Jedi have resources to help you.”

“No,” Ev shook her head, “The Council would shackle me with their fear and mistrust as they always do. They would brush off my fears. I don't want them to know I'm remembering. I am grateful for your support, Embrik, but you aren't on the council any more, and they don't trust me.”

“But you can't go alone!” Mission suddenly interjected. There she was, standing with Zaalbar, to Master Waykennit's left. “Ev, you can't.”

“Mission, you don't understand,” Ev argued.

“And no one will understand if you don't tell them, right?” she pointed out.

“Say the word, and I will come with you, Ev Pell,” Zaalbar rumbled, “I owe you my life and I will protect yours as you go into the unknown.”

“And where Big Z goes, I go,” Mission added.

“No, both of you, no,” Ev replied firmly, “Zaalbar, you are needed on Kashyyyk right now far more than I need you. And Mission, where I'm going is no place for you.”

“Are you calling me some incompetent kid?” Mission accused, “You should know by now that I pull my own weight.”

“I know! All the same, I can't take you with me. It's too dangerous,” Ev argued, “And besides, you want to stay with Zaalbar, don't you? I can't let him come with me. He's too important in the development of Kashyyyk right now.”

“This old man could leave Kashyyyk any time and no one would miss his meddling,” Jolee offered, appearing next to Zaalbar. “What good am I doing here anyway? Babysitting a bunch of Wookiees? Hrumph.”

“Jolee, I can't ask you to go with me either,” Ev argued.

“You and that destiny of yours,” Jolee said, “I want to be around when it happens.”

“Me and my destiny might get you and a lot of other folks killed,” Ev replied impatiently, “No.”

“You know I will follow you to the ends of the universe,” Juhani promised smoothly, “You need not even ask me.” She stood calmly on the other side of Embrik Waykennit, golden eyes boring into Ev.

“Juhani,” Ev said, feeling a pang of regret. The Cathar's intense loyalty would leave her with intense disappointment when she left. When I leave? Did I decide to go already?

“Ev, you are a person that I respect and admire greatly,” Juhani continued, “I cannot allow you to walk into dangerous territory alone.”

“Juhani, I promise I can handle myself,” Ev pleaded, “I can't risk both my life and yours.”

“And that is why I must go with you,” Juhani replied, “So that is only my life you are risking.”

“Juhani,” Ev tried to argue with her. “This is something I have to do, and I don't want to put anyone else through it. I don't know what I am up against.”

“Then why are you so convinced that you need to go?” Bastila demanded, standing next to Juhani.

“That's something I shouldn't have to explain to you, Bastila,” Ev replied, “You can sense it in me. I feel this compulsion, this fear, that I can't explain.”

“Oh, should I?” Bastila sounded resentful and concerned all at once, “I don't know how you're doing it, but you are isolating yourself from me. I can't sense you over our bond as well as I used to. I know you're hurting. Why are you doing this? Why are you isolating yourself from everyone?”

“I don't want you to worry about me,” Ev replied.

“I already am, Ev,” Bastila said and sighed. “Please, don't do this to yourself any more,” she begged, “I am here for you. We share a bond through the Force. I understand you better than anyone else. Please let me back into your life Ev. I want to help you. I don't want to leave the Jedi behind, but I will go with you. We are bound together, Ev. Use that to help you.”

“Bastila, you have your own life, you're own future,” Ev replied, “Our bonding was a lucky mistake. I need you to stay behind to look after Juhani, Dustil, and—”

“Ev, beautiful,” said a voice that sent shivers down her spine.

“And Carth,” she finished, her heart sinking. She didn't want to turn to the newest addition to her group of visitors. How could she possibly face Carth.

“I don't know why you feel the need to leave,” Carth continued regretfully, meeting her gaze with a look that almost brought tears to Ev's eyes, “But please, Ev, don't leave me behind.”

“Carth, I—” the words caught in her throat.

“Ev, after all these years I lived alone, with nothing to live for but revenge, now I have you,” he continued, “I love you Ev. You have given me something to live for, and I'm not sure I can live without you now. I need you in my life, Ev. I will give up everything for you, even my life, if I have to.”

“And that's why I can't bring you—or anyone else along!” Ev exclaimed in a half-sob with more force than she expected, “Carth, you'd just go and do something stupid and get yourself killed for my sake. I have enough deaths on my record, I couldn't go on if yours was added to the list. Sometimes I can barely keep going even now. I need to do this to atone for what I've done. I need to do everything I can to prevent the same thing from happening again. I am Revan! It is my destiny to take on the deepest, darkest things in the galaxy so that no one else has to.”

“Ev, please,” Carth pleaded.

“Please,” Bastila echoed.

“Please,” Juhani repeated.

“Please,” Jolee urged.

“Please,” Mission begged.

“Please,” Zaalbar rumbled.

“Please,” the specter of Embrik finished. All their voices reverberated off the stone walls of the tomb for an unnaturally long time, as if a hundred more friends pleaded with her not to go.

“I am going some place that I can't take anyone I love with me,” Ev said quietly, staring at the dark, stone floor at her feet.

“Don't go alone,” Carth's voice pleaded.

“Hey Ev, wait!” Dustil's voice startled Ev. She turned and saw him running up the walkway from where she had come.

“Dustil, what are you doing here?” Ev asked, “I told you to meet me back at the Ebon Hawk you were ready.”

“Ev, please don't leave me,” Dustil panted as he reached her, “I'm your padawan. You have to finish training me, or I'll never become a Jedi.”

“How did you—” Ev started, then caught herself, “You, of all people, aren't ready to follow me into the darkness. You're improving a lot, but even I can't protect you from what I'm headed into. You hardly need me any more, though. You're almost ready to take your training into your own hands.”

“You think so?” Dustil asked eagerly. “But I'll miss you.”

“Bastila will take care of you,” Ev replied. “She's a good teacher.”

“We'll all miss you,” Dustil said, then faded away like a wraith in the mist.

Ev blinked twice to clear her vision. So Dustil was a vision too. turned around and found that the visions of her other friends were gone as well. She took a deep breath and let it out in a shaky sigh. As long as Dustil passed the test of Korriban, he would be ready. Ev would have few regrets leaving him behind. Carth on the other hand...

I can't say goodbye to Carth.

Dustil wandered into the deserted halls of the dormitories where he and his friends had once resided. There were times when it was hard to believe that this had even been his life. Walking here, through the abandoned academy, felt almost surreal. Living at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, training under Ev, his Sith past felt unreachable distant.

He turned down the corridor towards his old room. He remembered the morning he prepared to leave for good. His small team of rebels, knowing of the approaching Republic force, had prayed together to the Force for mercy and good luck, then followed Ev's lead through the temple, killing all who got in their way. It was not a day Dustil ever wanted to think about again, but here it was. Killing his classmates who stayed with the Sith was not something he could be proud of. Dustil knew things like that happened in war, and he did chose the right side in the end, but he hated that the turning point in his life towards becoming a Jedi was a day of carnage.

Dustil's old room was in a back corner, without any kind of door, just like all the other student rooms. It was amazing how little privacy he had had then. It was as if the academy invited students to assassinate their rivals in their sleep. Dustil stared at his bed and the broken and looted footlocker that had once contained all he owned. It felt unreal.

The Force suddenly nudged Dustil with a sense of urgent foreboding. He whirled around, lightsaber in hand, just in time to catch the downward strike of a Force pike. His attacker was masked and dressed all in grays and black. He snarled at Dustil from behind his mask and lunged in for another pass. Two more attackers, dressed and armed identically to the first, materialized out of shimmering air, deactivating their stealth field generators.

Panic surged through Dustil. He fought desperately, somehow managing to keep his lightsaber between himself and the weapons of his three enemies. Ev said there weren't any Sith still in the ruins! How could she have been wrong? Why did she have to leave me here alone? He gave a forceful Shove through the Force and quickly grasped and ignited the saber Ev had given him. Its violet blade illuminated the room. Two of the attackers toppled backwards, but one managed to remain standing. Giving another snarl, he charged at Dustil. The other two were quickly back on their feet, rushing back into the fight again.

Breathing raggedly, Dustil tried to open himself up to the Force completely, letting the Force use him as Ev constantly advised, but he felt too shaken. He grasped for the Force, but it slipped away. It only came in spurts, moment by moment and attack by attack.

Swinging his lightsabes wildly, Dustil felt the cool, stone wall connect with his back. Another surge of terror shot up his spine. He was backed into a corner and there was not any way out. Faltering for just an instant, one of the attackers swung in high and struck his right shoulder. His lightsaber tumbled from his right hand at the sharp impact. The throbbing raced down his arm from his shoulder, growing into numbness. His right arm was practically unusable.

Unpracticed with his left, Dustil began to feel even more desperate. “Ev!” he cried out, his voice cracking to an unnaturally high pitch, “Help me!” He could not sense her anywhere near by.

The attackers bore in closer. Dustil ducked out of the way of a swinging Force pike. Lurching off-balance, he ducked himself into a roll. Although he landed hard on his right shoulder, he came back up with a grunt, away from the wall where he had been cornered. His feeling of release was short-lived, however. Backing away from the attackers again, he tripped up against the foot of his old bed. He was still cornered in his room without a way out.

“Ev! Help!” he yelled again, fear rising to a breaking point within him.

But Ev was not there. She was not anywhere.

Suddenly it all clicked into place. “This is the future,” Dustil realized out loud. A future Ev isn't part of...

As he spoke those words, the three assassins vanished as abruptly as they had appeared.

Dustil's knees gave way beneath him and he sunk down onto the end of the bed behind him. He was still panting and shaking hard. “It was just a vision,” he tried to reassure himself. But it felt like a pass with death.

Somehow he knew that those attackers were a part of his future to come and Ev would not be. It felt like a warning, and not a very distant one at that. He felt renewed resolve to learn to wield his lightsaber with both hands. What he had just done, in a panic, unpracticed, could have killed him on his own blade if it had gone on any longer. If this attack was coming again, he had to be ready or he really would die at the next encounter.

But no Ev? Dustil knew he was still far from knighthood. He should still have several more years at least under her tutelage, but that was not what it had felt like.

No, but she had her research. Dustil never asked her, but it was clear that whatever it was she was pursuing was more than just for academic curiosity. Soon, she would come to a point where all the archives on Coruscant would not satisfy her. Ev was leaving, and soon.

The whole thought left him feeling empty inside, but he knew it had to be true. He stood shakily. He wondered momentarily if he had passed his test, but realized he did not care any more. He was done with this academy and all its horrors. He was ready to leave it all behind him for good.

Dustil hung Ev’s old saber back on his belt and reclaimed his own from where it fell. Putting one foot out in front of the other, he began walking again, silvery lightsaber hilt clenched tightly in his sweaty hand for comfort.

The Darkness swirling around Ev grew thicker and stronger as she continued through the tomb. She knew she must be drawing close to its center, the chamber holding the remains of the Sith Lord Ludo Kressh. The Dark Side washed over her in waves, making her dizzy, almost giddy with it. It threatened to intoxicate her if she let it, but she could not. Every moment she resisted it, she felt weaker and weaker.

“This is my test,” she said grimly, pressing forward with all her energy. The power of the Dark Side was so heavy she could hardly reach the Light Side of the Force at all any more. It was thrilling and terrifying at once. “Ludo Kressh must have been some Sith Lord to leave a taint like this,” she murmured. “It's like I can hardly breathe.”

Her glow rod cast its feeble light on a great stone doorway ahead. It was the end of the corridor and the only place to go. This must be it. The door was more intricately carved than any other in the entire tomb. Cast metal brackets that must have once held torches flanked the door and an army of stone figures prostrated themselves inward all along the door posts and lintels. Ev stepped forward and pressed the center stone in the door. It slid away, grating and grinding stone against stone.

Ev raised her glow rod high to get a better look at the room and reached out with the Force. Amid the oppressive Dark Side energies, she felt almost blind.

The crypt was surprisingly small, given the grandeur of the rest of the tomb complex. Large earthenware pots in alcoves around the circular chamber undoubtedly had once held the food, drinks, and treasures that the deceased Sith Lord would need to enjoy his afterlife. The sarcophagus was modest in size, yet gilded and decorated with an impressive array of gem stones. Looking over it all from the back of the chamber was a great stone Sith statue with arms outstretched.

Ev stepped inside hesitantly. Instantly, the stone door closed in behind her with a loud crack. Ev jumped at the noise, startled, and braced herself for another vision of the tomb. Turning around, she found an unfamiliar figure sitting proudly on an immense throne that had not been there before in front of the sarcophagus. He wore heavy, black robes draped with ceremonial armor that finned out wide from his shoulders. A tall, cylindrical hat, resembling a crown rested on his brow. His face was red and angular with two beard-like tentacles hanging off his jowls. He looked just like the red-faced figures in the flaking murals all over Ludo Kressh's tomb. This was a Sith, a true Sith like the galaxy had not known since the Great Hyperspace War. Ev balked at that realization but tried her best not to show it. The Sith on the throne's yellow eyes gleamed as he grimaced wickedly at her.

“So it is Revan,” he observed menacingly in a language that Ev had never heard before and yet understood, “You have returned.” He paused, looking her over with disapproval. “And yet you return alone and empty-handed. Where is what you promised me?”

“I don't know,” Ev replied cautiously.

“You failed me, Revan, didn't you?” he whispered dangerously.

Those yellow eyes. Ev was immobilized under his gaze. She could not find any words to answer.

“Why have you failed?” he roared, raising his hand and clenching it into a fist.

Ev felt her air way constrict. She coughed, absently pawing at her neck as if that would make it subside. “I don't...know,” she eeked out weakly, “The Jedi... they changed me. They, they... erased my memories...” Ev could say no more. She began to feel dizzy for a lack of air.

No, you can't die here, Ev. She reminded herself. She reached out into the Force, grasping and whatever she could. The Dark Side was still hanging like a heavy curtain between her and her source of power, but she found a trickle. She pulled at it with all of her will and concentrated it towards her throat, willing it to open and resist the choking hold of the Sith. Growing even more light headed, Ev found it harder and harder to concentrate. She dropped into the edge of a trance-like state, lessening her need for oxygen. Barely conscious of the world around her, she forced outward with everything she had left. Her air way opened and she gasped for air.

Ev opened her eyes and found herself collapsed to her knees on the floor. She did not remember falling. Her head pounded, her chest throbbed, and her knees ached, but she was alive.

“Good, good,” the Sith hissed, “You may be a useful servant to me yet, Revan.” He let out a triumphant, evil laugh. He disappeared into the darkness, his throne with him, but his laughter echoed off the walls of the crypt long after his vision was gone.

Ev remained on the floor, panting and absently massaging her throat. Was that Ludo Kressh himself or some other Sith entirely? He said she was returning that she had promised him something, but where and what? The True Sith were still out there, is that what her vision was trying to confirm.

She felt the oppressive darkness around her abate and a ray of daylight trickled down from a jagged hole in the ceiling of the chamber. “Is that it?” Ev coughed, “Have I passed?”

Ev knew at her core that that was not a vision of some long dead Sith Lord. He was alive and still out there, and he was waiting for Revan to fulfill her promise, whatever it was. He was terrifying and evil; a far worse Sith—a true Sith—than Revan or Malak had ever been. Ev could not remember it now, but she knew she had met him before, if the vision spoke true, and she knew that she had to go meet him again, to whatever end. This was the task that only she could perform. She, and no one else, was Revan.

Ev stood weakly to her feet and looked up at the hole in the ceiling above her. She would much rather take that way out than return through the tomb again. One good Force Jump aught to do it. She let the Force pour into her again, braced herself, and leaped.

Ev approached the Ebon Hawk through Valley of the Dark Lords, eager to be off Korriban again. The world seemed like a lifeless graveyard in the dull, gray twilight. HK-47 stood at attention beneath the Ebon Hawk's hull, head swiveling in rhythmic awareness. As she drew near, he announced, “Statement: Your student has already returned and boarded the ship, Master.”

“Thank you HK,” Ev replied wearily, “You didn't see anything else while we were gone?”

“Statement: Negative,” he replied, “This world is dead as a grave, master.”

Ev nodded. “Do one more check of the ship and get on board,” she ordered, “We're getting out of here.”

“Statement: Yes Master,” HK acknowledged.

Ev herself hurried up the loading ramp. T3-M4 greeted her at the top with a series of excited tweets that almost sounded relieved. “Yes, I'm fine,” Ev reassured the little astromech, “The ship is ready to go?”

T3-M4 gave an affirmative chirp and rolled off towards the engine room.

“Ev, you're back,” Dustil hurried out to greet her. His excitement faded when he saw her. “You don't look so good,” he observed.

“Neither do you,” Ev replied. “But Korriban will take its toll.”

Dustil nodded in understanding.

“Come on,” Ev urged, “HK will be back on board in a minute. Let's get this ship in space. Then we can breathe easy again.”

“Fine,” Dustil agreed. He looked just as eager as she was to get away from the dead Sith world.

Dustil followed at her heels to the cockpit and slid into the copilot's seat beside her. He was becoming a decent pilot. He would never be as good as either Ev or his father, but Dustil was already a reliable copilot. The ship's security feed alerted her that the loading ramp was retracting and HK-47 was aboard.

Ev powered up the Ebon Hawk and then engaged the repulsorlifts. She sensed Dustil was both eager and reluctant to discuss what he had experienced. She let him have his peace. They would have three days in hyperspace to talk on their way back to Coruscant. There was no rush.

She fired up the main thrusters and jetted out of the valley, climbing through the atmosphere. It did not take long until they were out in space and soaring out of the planet's gravity well. Dustil held his pensive silence all the while.

“Alright,” Ev said, finishing her calculations, “Coordinates are set for our jump to Coruscant. Engage the hyperdrive.”

“I'm on it,” Dustil replied and drew down the switch. The Ebon Hawk accelerated until the stars drew out long lines around them and they snapped into the swirling blue of hyperspace.

Ev leaned back and sighed heavily. Turning to Dustil, she asked, “Hungry?”

He nodded.

“What me to whip up something on the synthesizer in the back?” Ev offered.

“Better you than me,” Dustil laughed, “Usually the stuff you make at least tastes like food.”

“Alright,” Ev said and pulled herself up out of the seat. She headed for the cargo hold where the ship's bulky food synthesizer was kept and Dustil followed shortly after her. Ev bit at her lip as she punched at the touch pad. It was pathetic that one of the fastest ships in the galaxy had a food system that was not worth its weight in bantha fodder.

“Um, so,” Dustil started noncommittally.

“Do you want to talk about what happened down there?” Ev asked.

“Yeah, I guess,” he replied. Ev sensed emotional pain in him. She could guess some of what Korriban had shown him.

“You don't have to tell me about every detail of it,” Ev qualified, “I can sense that it tested you to the very edge of your will and that you passed.”

Dustil met eyes with Ev. “I'd say the same about you,” he replied.

Ev cracked a weak smile. “And we've got a few days to recover before we have to act presentably at the Jedi Temple again,” she said.

Dustil stared at her, searching. She could feel him probing with the Force in uncertainty. He was worried. Finally, he mustered his courage and asked, “You're leaving, aren't you?”

Ev looked away. Was I really that transparent when I hadn't even decided, myself?

“I thought so,” Dustil sighed, “I thought that was what that vision was trying to tell me.”

“I hadn't decided until just today, but,” she admitted, still not looking at him, “But, please don't tell your father.”

“I won't,” Dustil promised. He seemed to understand. “But what about me? Why can't you at least finish my training or take me with you?”

“Because where I'm going, I don't dare take anyone I love with me,” Ev replied, finally meeting his gaze again. “The place my search will take me—the task set before me is one only I can do.”

“Then I'll never be a Jedi,” Dustil sighed.

“Dustil, you're ready to go on learning without me,” Ev pointed out, “That was your Trial of the Spirit, and you passed. You already faced your Trial of the Flesh, and dealing with my disappearance will be that test for you all over again. In the days ahead, I'm sure you will refine your skills so that you will pass that trial in time, but the hardest part is already over for you. Bastila lost her master before she was ready to be knighted and she still proved herself all the same. Go to Bastila for help when you need it. She will take care of you. She is already a very good teacher.”

“Thanks for putting so much faith in me, Ev,” Dustil said, “We'll all miss you, though.”

“I'll miss you too, more than I can say,” Ev admitted, “But the life of a Jedi is one of denying yourself for the greater good.”

“I hope,” Dustil stammered, “I hope, that after all this, you can find what you're looking for.”

“And I hope that by the time I return, you will be the great Jedi Knight I see in you,” Ev said encouragingly and patted him on the shoulder.

- Next Part -

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