Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

The Road to Rediscovery
Part 27 - The Conclave of the Jedi

Bastila hung back in the doorway to the large transport hangar of the Jedi Temple, watching the last remaining Jedi file onto the final transport, wishing she could be a part of it. The hopes of all the Jedi rested on the conclave on Katarr. Now, fewer than fifty Jedi and their apprentices remained alive. They all believed—or at least hoped—that concentrated meditation of the entire Jedi Order on such a Force-sensitive world as Katarr would finally bring them the answers about their shadowy attackers. The Miraluka were all seers, the Force giving them sight where solar radiation had deprived their race of eyes. The Jedi desperately hoped that with the Miraluka, they too would be able to see clearly.

Jedi Conclaves, through history, were momentous, dramatic moments for the Order where much was decided and much was learned. This moment seemed far from those histories. This conclave was a desperate attempt to grasp at the truth and save the Jedi. A heavy shadow weighed on the departing Jedi's shoulders: if this does not work, then what? Are the Jedi really doomed?

Bastila gave a start as she felt a gentle hand resting on her shoulder. She turned and saw the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order standing beside her, swathed in a green cloak. Nomi looked pensive and concerned. There was beauty in the wrinkles of her face and compassion in her green eyes as she stared out at the last transport. Nomi Sunrider's presence was always such a gentle one, despite her position in the order and power as Jedi, yet Bastila suddenly found herself in awe of the wispy woman. So much rested on her shoulders every moment of every day and yet she handled it with fairness, wisdom, and grace. Bastila hardly deserved to be called a Jedi, when compared to Nomi.

“Take care of the temple for us while we are gone, Bastila,” Nomi said at last, letting out a long breath.

“I will, Master Nomi,” Bastila promised, bowing her head.

“Force willing, with our return, we will bring clarity,” she said, squeezing Bastila's shoulder, “Thank you, Bastila.” She released Bastila's shoulder and strode off smoothly towards the transport, forest green cape billowing in the wake of her footsteps.

“May the Force be with you,” Bastila said numbly after her.

After Nomi boarded, the transport's passenger door slid shut and loading ramp retracted. The engines began to hum, glowing a brilliant white-blue. Repulsorlifts hissed and the ship lifted off the docking bay's deck, slowly pivoting in the air, then, with a rushing roar from the engines, it blasted out of the hangar and away.

Bastila turned back into the Jedi Temple and started slowly back down the corridor with a sigh. She followed a winding path from one hallway to another until she reached the center section of the temple again. Dustil was waiting there for her, as he had promised he would be.

“So they're all gone then?” Dustil commented as he saw her coming.

Bastila nodded, “The last transport has gone and Master Nomi Sunrider went with them. The Jedi Temple is under our care now.” Although Dustil was now officially her padawan, and had been for almost a year now, Bastila still could not bring herself to think of him as such. He was Ev's Padawan learner, and Snow was hers, but Ev was gone and Snow was dead, so they had to make do with each other.

“Why did they leave you behind here anyway?” Dustil asked.

“To take care of the younglings and other apprentices still at the temple while all of the Masters are gone,” Bastila replied, “The Masters are all too important to the conclave to remain behind here and babysit.”

“I know that,” Dustil retorted, “But why you? Not that you're a weird choice or anything like that.”

Bastila sighed. “Because I still have my bond with Ev, however weak it is now,” Bastila explained heavily, “And there are some among the Jedi that suspect all of this is her fault. They do not want me to be a part of the conclave for fear that I might leak something of their discussions and feelings to Ev through our bond.”

“That's crazy!” Dustil blurted, “Ev would never attack the Jedi like that. She's—”

There was a soft chiming sound at the other end of the hall and the lift doors slid open. Atris strode briskly out, long white tabards flapping against her knees.

“Master Atris,” Bastila gaped, “I did not know you were still here. The last transport has already—”

“I know,” she replied tersely as she brushed by them, “No matter. I will take one of the fighters myself.”

“May the Force be with you, Master Atris,” Dustil called after her, but she gave no response verbally other otherwise. Soon, she was out of sight down the hall and around a corner. “I would have thought that she would be one of the first ones on the transports to Katarr,” he thought out loud after she had gone.

Bastila nodded, pursing her lips. “It isn't like Atris to be late for anything,” she agreed, “and certainly not for something as important as this; the Jedi conclave that she herself planned and organized.”

“Well,” Dustil began with the shrug, “All the apprentices are in the main briefing hall, waiting for you. I hope you have something planned for the next week, or we're going to have lots of bored kids on our hands.”

“Master Waykennit gave me a plan of activities for them,” Bastila replied, wishing she felt as confident as she sounded. “Let's go.” Leading two hundred-some Jedi apprentices, if only for a few days, was a daunting task, and not one she had ever been trained or prepared for. Her own Padawan had been older than herself. These students ranged from toddlers still pushing toys around with the Force all the way up apprentices as old as Dustil who never were chosen by a master as the Jedi numbers grew too thin.

Dustil and Bastila started off together. They did not have far to go. Chatter in the large, circular hall was low and anxious. Apprentices of all ages were scattered throughout the chairs on each raised stair-step of the chamber, talking and waiting. Bastila felt apprehension and hope thickly in the air.

Bastila did not need to call for attention. As the apprentices noticed her and Dustil's arrival, they broke off their conversations and fell silent to many young children's insistent, “Shh!”

Projecting her voice out with the Force, Bastila began, “As you all have doubtless heard, I am Bastila Shan and I will be taking care of you all and the Jedi Temple until all of the rest of the Jedi return from Katarr. My padawan Dustil Onasi is also here to help with anything you might need.” She paused and took a deep breath, mustering all the hopeful feelings she could to project outward towards the apprehensive younglings, “The conclave on Katarr will give the Jedi clarity on the mysterious threats we face. May their mediation bring us answers.

“All of the apprentices age thirteen and up,” Bastila continued—and there were frighteningly many older apprentices these days, “have each been assigned to one or two youngling clans. Younglings, you can count on them to help you with anything you need. If you have any troubles that go beyond what they can do, please come and find Dustil or me right away.

“The Jedi Masters wish us to use this time to find peace within us. Without classes for the week, I urge you to practice, play, read, meditate, do whatever brings you peace and balance,” Bastila instructed, “Only you may not at any time leave the temple. These are dangerous times for the Jedi and we are all safest within these temple walls.”

“We want help the other Jedi too,” a youngling on the second row of chairs mewed.

“Yeah, Bastila,” Lashowe called from the back, “We want to meditate too. Maybe we can help the conclave from here once it starts. There are still a lot of us here.”

The idea was met with enthusiastic entreaties from all corners of the room.

Bastila raised her hand for silence, and the room fell quiet, to only a low murmur. “If that is what you all want, then so we shall,” she decided for them, “Master Nomi Sunrider said that the conclave should begin tomorrow evening. I will find out exactly what time, and we can all meet together here and mediate on the threat.”

Beside her, Dustil nodded approvingly. Confidence rose up in Bastila again, glad to really be doing something for the Jedi and not moping around the temple as a cast-off Jedi Knight stuck with the duty of babysitting.


***


Jolee hung around the airfield, admiring the Miraluka at their work. Jolee half expected Katarr to be a drably colored world with off-balance aesthetics, but that was far from the truth. Despite their lack of eyes and normal eyesight, the Miraluka managed to maintain a world that was both pleasing to however it was that they saw through the Force and to those seeing their world through the seven-color spectrum. The Miraluka at the airfield were tastefully dressed in a wide range of colors, even the pilots and ship mechanics. They went about their business without faltering, and without eyesight. The only part of it that Jolee found somewhat unnerving was that the direction of their head and attention was not necessarily towards the jobs they were focused on. Many seemed to be staring off into space—if they had been able to stare at all. The few Miraluka Jedi Jolee had known all seemed to have ironed out that habit, being around enough other sentients who found that unnerving. These planet-side Miraluka had no need to accommodate queasy aliens.

The last of the Jedi transports had just landed on the duracrete landing field. Jolee saw it coming in from orbit, and even sensed its approach. Four years of being back in the Jedi order, trying to think like the Jedi, had certainly honed his senses in the Force.

Jolee strolled over to it, past two Miralukan freighters. Their crew paid him no attention. The side door of the Jedi transport slid open with a hiss and a low ramp slid out and tilted into the pavement. Among the first off the transport was a face Jolee knew well. “About time you showed up Nomi,” he called, sauntering up with a lop-sided grin, “We were going to start without you if you had dragged your feet getting here any longer.”

Nomi laughed, her eyes dancing, and swept up to him. Even at her age, she still looked magnificent. “You're getting to be just as impatient as a youngling, Jolee,” Nomi teased and began walking with him away from the transport.

“Now don't you go there Nomi,” Jolee scolded, waving a finger playfully at her.

Nomi laughed again. “It is good to have you back, Jolee,” she beamed, “I don't know what we did without you all these years.”

“You keep saying that,” Jolee said, proudly rolling back his shoulders into a taller posture, “But I know you Nomi, and I know you were doing just fine before I got my wrinkled behind back in the Jedi Order, no thanks to that ambitious kid Ev. As soon as I come back, the Jedi start dying off like fruit flies. You might have been better off without me, if I bring that kind of luck.”

Nomi's expression darkened. “By the time you rejoined us, Jolee, we had already lost over half of the Jedi Order,” she said quietly, “We have lost over half again of our numbers even since then. In these days, ever Jedi counts. If only for that, I am so glad to have you back.”

“Oh, so you were fooling with me this whole time,” Jolee feigned offense, “I thought you liked having me back because the Order was missing some good old Bindo sense of humor.”

“And some good old Bindo sense of loyalty,” Nomi replied, nudging him with her elbow as they walked.

Beyond the wide field that was the airfield, the small Miralukan town of Evia spread out around them in neat rows on gently curving streets. Jolee had thought that the city plan, woven through with arcing roads and alleyways, run through by an ebbing stream or two, looked a bit like a flower beside the huge rectangle of the duracrete airfield. None of the shops or houses stood higher than three stories, and most not even that. Greenery, bushes, and flowers lined the streets. Most of the traffic was pedestrian with a few small, quiet speeders gliding through at relaxed speeds.

Evia was not the capital of Katarr, or even a capital city of any of the provinces. However, it was the site of a powerful Force nexus. If Evia was a flower, then its center was the sprawling temple in the middle, built right over the top of the Force nexus. Local history held that the famed Miraluka Jedi Tropis Langan had held his own Jedi Enclave in that very temple many centuries ago, before the Miraluka Jedi joined up with the Jedi on Ossus. To this day, the ancient temple stood as an impressive monument, cared for with pride by the local Miraluka.

As they drew nearer to the center of town, Jolee began to catch glimpses of the great domed structure of the temple over housetops and down alleyways. Miraluka paused in their work as the train of Jedi passed by. They raised their heads in silent solutes, respectful smiles on their faces. Jolee felt their respect and optimism for the Jedi. The Miraluka, all who had no more idea of the threat the Jedi faced, believed in them. They knew the Jedi were here for answers, and the truly believed that the Jedi would find the answers the sought, meditating in their temple. Jolee's spirits had lifted ever since he stepped off the transport and onto Katarr's soil, drinking in their hope. It had been too easy to feel bitter and dismal during the long hyperspace journey.

“What do you think we will see, Nomi?” Jolee asked her as they walked, craning his neck for another view of the temple they approached down winding roads.

“Or will we even see anything? I don't know, Jolee,” Nomi answered honestly. “I can only hope that it will be more than the shadows that have clouded the Force for the last months. Today, we must break through or forever be in the dark.”

Jolee sensed the doubt roll off Nomi in waves. It caught him by surprise. Usually Nomi was very guarded in her thoughts and emotions. As the head of the Jedi Order, she had to be. He stopped in the middle of the foot road and, turning to face her, caught Nomi's arm with a firm hand. “Nomi, let me tell you this,” he said, fixing his gaze steadily on her, “Even if we don't find anything today, that doesn't make you any kind of failing leader. You said yourself that these are dark times. You're doing the best I damn well know you can do. You've got worse Jedi to deal with than me on your council, and you're doing everything you can do save it. There might not be many of us, but we've been in worse spots as an order. Don't blame yourself, Nomi. If you want to blame someone, blame Mandalore, blame Revan—but I won't let you go blaming Ev for any of this—blame this boogie man that wants us all dead, but not yourself. You hear me, Nomi?”

Nomi pulled away from him and smiled distantly. “Thank you Jolee. This is why I am so glad to have you back. You always seem to see everything so clearly. I can only hope that your clarity will lead us to some answers today,” she replied. “Master Thon did say something like that a few days ago. I do always wonder what the order could have been like if he had taken the role of Grandmaster years ago, but he insisted that he did not want to sit on the council for longer than his short term during the war with the Krath. He preferred the life of an outer rim Watchman.”

“And he didn't want you to think you could go on relying on him all the time,” Jolee put in as they began to walk again. They walked the rest of the way to the center of town where the rest of the Jedi waited for them with a group of Miraluka hosts. The other Jedi from Nomi's transport had caught up and were following along right with them by the time they reached the wide field around Langan's Temple.

About sixty Jedi and Padawans milled about the field or sat on the wide steps up to the interior of the temple. Among those nearest to him, Jolee spotted the young Jedi Master Embrik Waykennit deep in a heated conversation with the Bimm seer Tyjesh Kay, swathed in her usual brilliant yellow robes.

“And I am telling you that it cannot be Ev behind this,” he said vehemently, “It does not have her signature about it. Certainly, Revan always acted with calculated subtlety, but secrecy and espionage is not her style. I do not sense her in it at all.”

“She is a changed woman, is she not?” Tyjesh argued evenly, “What is to say that she has not learned new strategies in this new mind of hers? I did hear that she had an intense research project that took her to archives all over Coruscant when our own archive could not satisfy her, spending a particularly concentrated effort at the military archives.”

“I can't tell you what that was,” Embrik retorted impatiently, “But you are right, she is a changed woman. She loves the Jedi. She loves and works for peace. She truly is repentant in this new life we gave her. Ev would never seek to do the Jedi Order harm like this.”

“Master Waykennit,” Tyjesh began seriously with an irritable twitch of her long, furry ears, “You have a blind spot, and that blind spot is Revan Roan'evrue Pell. Will you forever think back to that mewing babe in your arms as a teen or that astute child you wished you could have taken as your own apprentice? Revan was and is dangerous.”

“It is you who has it wrong, Master Kay,” Embrik replied, fighting to keep his temper even. “We will find nothing if we go into this with any sort of pre-conceived notions about who we think has been killing these Jedi.”

“And thus you should not be so fixated on denying Ev as a suspect,” Tyjesh retorted.

“Enough,” Nomi strode up to them, unable to watch the argument go on any longer. “Both of you are right. We must go into this with clear minds, free of assumptions and suspicions.” She paused, leveling warning stares at each of them in turn, “and, most of all, free of conflict. I should not have to tell you this.”

“Of course, Master Sunrider,” Embrik said, bowing his head and looking thoroughly chastised. Tyjesh Kay, on the other hand, only nodded briskly and turned away to seek out other conversation partners.

Nomi looked up and saw a cluster of regal looking Miraluka at the entrance of the temple. She swiftly mounted the long set of shallow stone steps leading up to the temple, Jolee following less gracefully after. At the top, she turned down to the grassy lawn and began, projecting loudly, “Knights, Masters, and Padawans of the Jedi Order, we have called this conclave, the first since the conclave on Exis Station forty years ago, in order to discover the source of the threat that hunts us now from the shadows. The people of Katarr have graciously allowed us into this, their holy temple of the Force in order to connect with the Living Force. Let us enter and begin this conclave.”

The Jedi, some of whom had been lazing around Evia for a day or more waiting for the conclave to begin, all straightened up with a sense of grim purpose and began filing into the temple.

Again, Jolee hung back, staying by Nomi's side as all the Jedi passed by. For nearly the entire order being present, the gathering seemed meager. Jolee had not been at the Exis Station conclave himself, but he knew it had been far more impressive and lively, but that was a more prosperous time for the Jedi Order.

As he watched the Jedi pass by, a thought occurred to him. “You know, Nomi,” he said quietly, “I don't see that old icicle Atris. I thought she organized this whole thing.”

Nomi drew back, and nodded. “You're right,” she said, “I don't think she is here. I thought she was supposed to be on your transport.”

Jolee shook his head. “Our logs said that she was supposed to be on yours,” he replied.

Nomi pressed her lips together thoughtfully. “I hope she finds her way to us in time,” she said.


***


Back in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, Bastila and Dustil gathered the Jedi Apprentices in the large debriefing hall once again. Each cluster of younglings followed on the heels of a shepherding older apprentice, quietly and seriously finding seats near their friends and clan mates. Bastila had never seen the playful children of the Jedi look so concentrated, so grave before. It was as if, somehow, even the youngest understood what was at stake, and they wanted desperately to help.

Bastila stood in the center of the circular room on the lowest level of the floor, watching the seats fill up while Dustil directed each group to an empty section. All sound in the room seemed dead, far from its usual reverberations. Bastila felt an itching at the back of her mind. She tried to fight off a feeling of apprehension, but could not when she saw it in the faces of so many others. Perhaps the Jedi on Katarr had already begun their meditations. Perhaps that was the source of the tickling at the back of her mind. Somehow, the sensation felt familiar.

She brushed away her fears and concentrated on the large lecture hall around her, counting the groups. All of the clans were accounted for.

Dustil returned to her side and nodded meaningfully. “Everyone's here,” he reported. “How are we going to do this?”

“Alright everyone,” Bastila announced, “Here we have our own conclave on Coruscant while the rest of the Jedi meet together on Katarr. Let us meditate together and may the strengths of our minds bring us answers. Close your eyes and reach out into the Force. See the darkness hiding in the shadows and pursue it. Push the fog away until we have clarity.”

With that, she glanced at Dustil and nodded. They retreated to two seats on the lowest level, sat down, and closed their eyes. Bastila breathed deeply, feeling the Force surge around them, drawing them all together as a part of the living Force itself. She sank deeper away from consciousness, letting her meditations draw her into the ebb and flow of the life and universe around her.


***


The domed hall of the ancient Jedi training temple was massive from the inside. Each footfall, comment, or even whisper reverberated from every corner of the room. The Force sang through every fiber, ever wisp of air in the chamber. It echoed with every sound and with every movement. It tied together every living being, every Jedi and every Miraluka in the temple, to the very fabric of the universe. Just feeling it around her, seeing all of her fellow Jedi joined with almost as many supportive Miraluka, Nomi's doubts and fears for the conclave began to fade away.

Stone carved reliefs, softened by the elements of the ages, and faded frescoes decorated the walls and domed ceiling. The Miraluka of Evia had generously provided over a hundred floor cushions of different shapes, sizes, and colors for the Jedi and all those others gathered with them to sit on.

Nomi knew her place. She walked among the concentric circles of cushions to find the cushion at the very center. She slipped off her low boots and set them aside, then stood on the cushion, waiting. The other members of the Jedi council formed the first circle around her, followed by the other Jedi Masters, then the Jedi Knights, with the padawans sitting behind their masters. Around the edge in several more rows were all of the Miraluka who also came to support the Jedi with their own sight in the Force. As the Jedi shuffled around, trying to arrange themselves auspiciously according to rank, the Miraluka were the first to sit down. Soon, the other Jedi got the point and, from Nomi's vantage point, the circular room was now a sea of eyes, hairlines, and foreheads.

Turning slowly around in a circle so that she could see every last person in the room, she spoke, “Knights of the Jedi Order, people of Katarr, thank you for answering my summons. The Jedi are faced with an unprecedented threat, one that could wipe us off the face of the galaxy, but we are grasping at what few clues we have without finding an answer—a source for the danger. This cannot go on any longer. A galaxy without the Jedi is not one I want to imagine.

“Today, here, we must do together what none of us has been able to do alone. We must see through the hazy darkness that has clouded the Force and discern who or what is attacking us. If possible, we must find out where it is coming from and how to stop it,” Nomi said. She raised her hands into the air for added effect and entreated, “Then join me, friends, in meditation. Let each man and woman give themselves over to the Force, so that they are no longer themselves, but a part of a greater whole in the Force. Let the Force guide us to the answers we seek.” With that, she lowered her hands and sat down onto her cushion. Her joints complained, but she tried to ignore it. She would not let her age bother her, not now. Jolee caught her eyes as she sat and flashed her a grin. She could not help but smile back him.

With a sigh, she pushed even Jolee's quirky charms out of her mind. She closed her eyes and settled into the cushion, joining in with the collective rhythmic breathing that was overtaking the hall.

Nomi sunk into the Force, letting herself go. Her own identity was swept away by the currents of the Force around her. She was no longer Nomi, she was the Jedi Order. With every individual that let go of their own self, the 'self' she felt as the Jedi grew in strength, clarity, and purpose. Nomi felt bigger than she ever had before, the Force Nexus boosting all of it together.

Slowly, something began to resolve itself in the collective mind of the Jedi.

Smoldering anger, resentment, an uncontainable desire for revenge.

Lust.

Hunger.

The Jedi balked at all of these emotions, overwhelmed by such powerful feelings that their collective presence had rarely felt before. The Miraluka mind around them reassured that these were normal, but powerful feelings, far more powerful that they ought to be.

Sith? the Jedi wondered.

Shadows. A scream of many voices, far greater than the combined voices of the Jedi here. Shadows. Pain. Malachor V.

Now there was something, the Jedi realized, a source.

The hunger, the yearning, it grew. It intensified. It resembled a being, a single signature in the Force. The hunger knew no bounds.

The anticipation for what would come. The collective Jedi conciseness reached out, probing, eager for what was about to happen. There was a rush of something—the truth—coming closer, an unvoiced scream of exhilaration.

There was


***


Earsplitting screams pierced the air in the Jedi temple. Bastila's hands flew to her ears, trying to block out the pain. She did not realize that she was screaming herself until her voice cracked, throat painfully raw. Her eyes were open, but she could not see anything. She doubled over with a pain that was beyond just herself or her own body. It was the pain of the Jedi. The Force was screaming through her, and through every apprentice and youngling in that chamber.

Bastila came to her sense and found herself again. I am Bastila Shan. This is the Jedi Temple. I am a Knight of the Jedi Order, master to Dustil Onasi, and temporary care-taker to all of the apprentices of the Jedi. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again then took in what was all around her. She knew something was wrong. No, worse than wrong. Devastating.

The apprentices were like a chaotic swarm, flailing, wailing, and crying. Some stood, ripping at their hair in gestures of anguish. Others lay collapsed on the auditorium floor, quivering with fear and exhaustion. Nearby, a cluster of the youngest of the Jedi younglings poured around one of their friends. One child tugged at his boots while another furiously shook his shoulders.

“Wake up! Come on! Wake up!” another cried shrilly.

“He's dead! Kevu is dead! Kevu's Dead!” the older apprentice who was supposed to be caring for the group screamed in horrified dismay.

Dustil, grasped at her arm and held tight. His hand trembled and his face was pale. His attention snapped up to the top ring of the auditorium, and Bastila followed his gaze. The Force screamed out a silent warning. An instant later, a silver lightsaber hissed to life. Lashowe screamed. Her eyes were wide with an insanity beyond her control. With a roar, she swung her silver blade at the nearest students. Two of them crumpled to the ground, cut in two.

More screams.

Bastila watched in horror as Lashowe thrashed her way through apprentice after apprentice, rooted to the spot. All of whom were too stunned, to confused, to overwhelmed with the wound in the Force to defend themselves.

Dustil rocketed forward, leaping up the terraced rows of seats through the masses of other youth. He pushed them aside like blades of grass in a wind-swept field, never slowing. “Lashowe!” he roared as he leaped in front of her, both lightsaber blades ignited: blue and violet.

With a crazed scream, she tightened both hands around the hilt of her lightsaber and swung hard and high. It was a stupid move. Dustil attacked like lightning, blocking her lightsaber with his left and stabbing into her gut with his right. More younglings screamed. With a gurgle and a gasp, her lightsaber hilt fell from her hands and she felt to her knees, then back onto her haunches before tipping over to the side with her eyes rolling back into her head.

A flicker of self-loathing crossed over Dustil's face, but he shook it off. He extinguished both lightsabers and leaped up onto a chair. “Everyone calm down!” he yelled, Projecting over all the frantic cries that still reverberated throughout the room. “I don't know what happened, and yeah, whatever it was, it was bad, but we can find out what it was. Screaming and yelling like this isn't going to get us any closer to the answer. Now calm down! Take lots of deep breaths. Remember where we are. We're safe in the middle of the Jedi Temple!”

The surge of pride Bastila suddenly had for Dustil was swiftly overwhelmed by the intense, familiar prickling at the back of her mind. She tried to push it off, blaming it on the shock in the Force moments before, but it only grew stronger, more ominous. Realization hit her like a gong, leaving her trembling with fear. “They're here!” she blurted frantically, “Everyone protect yourself! They're here!”

The air in the doorway, and even filling the lowest level of the room, shimmered with personal cloaking devices. With hissing, hungry roars, a dozen assassins just like those she and Snow had fought on Onderon materialized. Seeing them again sent a stabbing feeling through her heart, but revenge and mourning were the last things on her mind. They have been in the Temple all this while. There were certainly more than just a dozen. Her senses were muddled, but they were clear in at least that much.

Bastila was on her feet with her lightsaber humming in her hands before she knew it herself. Two of the assassins charged her and she swung down at their charge, using her advantage of higher ground as best as she could. She cut one down, but the second swung his Force pike fiercely, working to get behind her defense.

Around her, children screamed in terror and in pain. All around her, the assassins were slaughtering defenseless children. She faltered for a moment, as it hit her that only a handful of the oldest apprentices actually carried practice sabers around the Jedi Temple, and of those, really only the ex-Sith students knew much about using lightsabers well. At best, there were twenty other lightsabers in the entire hall.

Bastila leaped down, beating back her attacker while keeping her senses wide open to attacks from behind. Glancing around the room, the number of attackers seemed to have doubled, and yet she sensed even more. There were even fewer active lightsabers than she had hoped for. The death and pain all around her rang through her spirit as loudly as the reverberating cries of pain.

Dustil was still half way up the stairs, fiercely defending three younglings from two eager assassins. He seemed focused on nothing else. Elsewhere, the attackers had spread out across the room, taking down anyone in their path.

“Everyone run! Get out of here if you can!” she ordered, whirling herself and her saber around her to keep the attackers away. If only I could get into battle meditation, then we would stand a chance. But there is no way I can in the middle of a fight, with all of this pain and noise around me. She tried and tried again, but it kept slipping away from her.

She hazarded a glance at Dustil. All three of the younglings he had been protecting were dead. Now he fought fiercely for his own life. Suddenly, another attacker materialized behind him. “Dustil, behind you,” Bastila yelled, swinging off her own attackers.

He made a frantic glance over his shoulder, then gathered his energy and leaped over the heads of the assassins in front of him. Somersaulting in the air, he landed in the fray on the lowest level with Bastila.

“We don't stand a chance, Bastila,” Dustil yelled as he cut down two surprised assassins around him, “Let's get out of here!”

Bastila did not need any urging. She gaged the distance between herself and the doorway, backed up onto the higher step behind her then leaped up and over the assassins. Two sabers whirling, Dustil cut and batted his way through.

Moments later, the two of them were tearing down the temple corridors at top speed, taking energy from the Force to propel them forward faster than their bodies could normally handle. A few of the assassins tried to follow, but unassisted by the Force, they quickly fell behind.

“This way!” Dustil said, veering sharply down a side hallway. While Bastila fled aimlessly, Dustil seemed to have a plan. “To the hangar,” he added.

Bastila nodded wordlessly, just concentrating on their flight and probing the area around them for signs of more assassins. Her long saber hilt bumped against her leg as they ran, but she was ever ready to use it again if needed.

Fortunately, there was no need for it. The pair skidded into the hangar and looked around. Dustil dashed straight for the nearest serviceable looking speeder and vaulted inside. Bastila was close behind him. Even before she was fastened in with her safety belt, Dustil had the speeder running. He fired up the repulsor coils and grasped the steering yoke then steered it through the hangar and out.

Even as they joined the Coruscant traffic and zipped away, Bastila's heart pounded loudly in her ears and her breathing came shallow and raggedly. She sunk back into the cloned leather seat and tried to make sense of all of her thoughts and memories from the attack. “Force,” she cursed out loud with sudden realization at the decision she had made, “We just left all those younglings there to die.” Guilt, almost heavier than she could bear, overcame her.

“What were we supposed to do?” Dustil shot back, on the edge of his nerves but not angry, “Die there with them? At least someone got out to tell the tale and continue the Jedi Order. We would have died if we hadn't run.”

“I can only hope that others made it out as well,” Bastila mumbled, numb with shock. “Do you have a plan now?” she asked, feeling helpless.

“I'm taking us to the Navy headquarters. “If I throw Dad's name around, we should be able to get asylum there, and they need to know what has happened.”

“If only we even knew ourselves what happened,” Bastila replied, “Dark Side assassins attacked out of nowhere and killed all the Jedi Apprentices on Coruscant. Force! They must have known that all of the other Jedi were going to be away leaving the children practically defenseless. They must have known of the meeting on Katarr. Then the other Jedi...”

“We felt them die,” Dustil realized out loud, “All of that pain, the wound in the Force, that was all of the Jedi dying on Katarr.”

“It was more than that,” Bastila said, trying to recall the feeling she had immediately after being ripped out of their meditations. “More than just Jedi died. Thousands, if not millions, died. It felt like Taris, only worse, only all at once.”

“Force,” Dustil cursed quietly, “We have to get to the Republic Military. Someone has to go and find out what happened on Katarr.”

Bastila pressed her lips together and nodded gravely. What now? What can we possibly do now? Tears despair watered at the corners of her eyes, dried away by the wind almost instantly as their speeder tore through the Coruscant skyways.


***


Visas Marr groped wildly with her hands then stumbled and fell, tangled in her long skirts. The obstacle she tripped on felt sickeningly like the body of another person as she struggled to stand again. Even as she found solid ground, her legs wavered and her knees gave out beneath her. She fell to her knees with a weak cry.

All around her was death and pain—unimaginable pain. She wanted to scream just to be rid of it, but she had already screamed herself hoarse. Katarr was dead. The Force had utterly abandoned it, leaving her as blind as any other sentient cursed to be without eyes. Desperate tears wet her cheeks. Why?

The pain of it all overwhelmed her. She felt so weak. Shaking and hugging her knees, Visas curled up on the ground and let it take hold of her. She let herself slip into blissfully painless oblivion.


Visas awoke again to darkness. Her sight did not return, no matter how much she strained her mind. Her head throbbed and every part of her, right down to the soul within her ached with what had happened. Katarr remained as silent as the grave.

And then she saw him. Where there was nothing else to see, a man approached her with long, sure strides. Swathed in robes and armor of black, a white and red mask obscured his face. Her spirit leaped out to him as he came, as if he held a part of her spirit inside of him. The Force radiated from his being more loudly than anyone or anything she had ever encountered. It was more than a full planet's signature in the Force, all in one being. He blazed brilliantly in her inner sight.

He stopped, standing over her. He stared down through black pits of eyes at her, a puzzle to him. Reaching out a hand to her, he spoke in a language Visas had never heard before, but he forced the meanings of his words into her head. “You live,” he observed.

“Who are you?” Visas wheezed.

“I am Nihilus,” he replied, “And you are mine.”

“I...” she stammered, but had no words. She was weak, abandoned on a dead world. She took his gloved hand, and he pulled her roughly to her feet. He forced her to walk and she stumbled sightlessly with every step. She wished only to lie down and die, but the powerful being that tugged her along seemed to have other plans. Visas had no choice.


***


Atris waited for two or three days in hiding before venturing to Katarr. It had been worse than she feared. Atris could spend no more than a few exploratory minutes on the surface before fleeing the planet back into space. She had never felt a place so empty before. All life was gone. The Force was gone. She shivered at the thought of it.

In the cockpit of her small, borrowed Jedi fighter, she tried to contact the Jedi Temple on Coruscant again, but got no response. She began to fear the worst for the Jedi children who had been left there as well.

But, despite all the death, her ploy had worked. The leaked information she planted everywhere she could, telling exactly where and when the Jedi Conclave would take place, drew their enemies like a moth to a flame. Now she knew more about this enemy than she had ever hoped to before. It fed on the Force and on all life. Like the assassins that both Bastila and Thon had met, it sucked the Force away from other living beings. Their enemy was far more powerful than they had suspected, but now armed with that knowledge, she could face it.

And she might be the last remaining Jedi.

The thought chilled Atris but it did not frighten her. She would have to rebuild the order herself. First she would return to Coruscant to take the supplies and knowledge she would need, and then she would find a quiet place, far from where the enemy of the Jedi would be looking for her, rebuilding and waiting for the moment to strike it down. Patience and time would give her an opportunity.

Had the risk she took been worth it? Had the losses been worth the knowledge they brought?

She could not say. What was done was done, and now she had to move forward with her plans.

- Next Part -


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