Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Chapter 24- The Builders' Map

Master Uthar sifted through the contents of the wicker crate that Carth placed in front of him. Ev stood by, watching anxiously.

Among many scribbled old-fashioned paper scrolls were a few datapads, miniature statues, and one large stone tablet etched with an alien writing system. On the other side, the same untidy scribbles from the scrolls began what seemed to be a translation.

“You have done well, young one,” Uthar praised as he shut the basket again and stood. “I do hope you had to pry this from my old master's cold, dead fingers. This will certainly aid in our research, and, I suspect, leaves the tomb of Tulak Hord open for further investigations.”

Ev nodded.

“Although you have impressed me with this little crate of writings, you still have a long way to go to earn enough prestige to be declared victor,” Uthar continued, “Go now, and impress me some more. May the Force serve you well.”

Ev seemed to bite back some rude retort. “Yes, Master Uthar,” she said instead, then retreated towards the dormitories.

Collapsing back onto the bed, she sighed, “Stars above, am I exhausted! Between that neuro-toxin and all that Force lightning, it really took it out of me.”

“It's already evening,” Carth pointed out, “That crazy hermit held us there nearly all day, between being knocked out and his sadistic test.”

“And I haven't had any lunch,” Ev complained lightly.

“Dinner should be soon enough,” Carth reassured her, then added “Thanks for what you did back there, by the way.”

“You don't have to thank me,” she replied, staring up at the ceiling, “Even if it weren't your son, I would have done it. No one deserves to die that way. No one.”

“Well, regardless, thanks anyway,” Carth said.

“But, you know,” Ev added, still gazing upward, “Since he was your son, I had that extra bit of responsibility behind my actions.”

“Ev—Ren, I,” he started.

Catching his gaze, she reprimanded, “Don't look at me like that. I'm fine now. He's fine. Now we move on and keep pressing towards the goal.”

“It's too bad he didn't find his girlfriend out there,” Carth sighed. “I really wish we had some way to prove to him that these people really are evil. You'd think that encounter with the old Sith master would be enough.”

“But Jorak Un is certifiably crazy,” Ev pointed out, “Crazy people do cruel things for fun.”

“So do evil people,” Carth replied quietly.

“And crazy evil people are the worst,” Ev concluded with a light laugh. Suddenly, she she sat straight up in the bed, eyes wide. “Could it be? Carth, that night we were out in the valley—” she started at an urgent whisper.

Just then, Yuthura Ban strode into the room. “I hear you've earned yourself a great amount of prestige with Master Uthar,” she praised with a broad smile, “Well done, my friend.”

Ev quickly stood to greet her. “Thank you, Master, for your continuing support,” she said, “I don't want to let you down.”

“If you keep this up, you certainly won't,” Yuthura replied eagerly, “Soon we will be taking you to the tomb of Naga Sadow for your final test and for our little change in leadership. I am certain that you will pass. Uthar has decided that, this time, a new Sith will prove her merit by following in the footsteps of Darth Revan and Darth Malak into the heart of the tomb. It is said that this was an important step in their rise to power. It shall be the site of my rise to power as well. Appropriate, don't you think?”

Ev chuckled, “Of course. Though Master Uthar said that I am still far from earning enough prestige to win. What, do you think, is the best way to earn it in a hurry? I don't want to lose out by taking my time.” Carth watched her for a change in mood at the mention of Revan, but saw none.

“Uthar loves relics and writings, as I said before,” Yuthura replied, “So your best bet is to continue scouring the tombs. Then again,” she continued slyly, “If you have no other competitors, he will have no choice but to call you the victor. You are already down one.”

“Someone has left?” Ev asked quickly.

“Uthar was, let's just say, displeased with Shaardan when he brought in a false artifact this afternoon,” Yuthura replied with a small laugh. “You won't have to worry about him any more.”

“I understand,” Ev said darkly, “I will make certain that I am the victor.”

“That's why I like you,” Yuthura said with a smile, “Not only are you talented and powerful, but you have the drive to win.” Chuckling, she turned on her heels and headed back down the hallway.

Carth waited until her footsteps had faded away before he started, “Did you hear what she said? The tomb of Naga Sadow—”

“Is where we'll find our map,” Ev nodded solemnly, “Though, now that we know where it is, I don't think we can afford to wait however long it is going to take to convince Uthar that I'm ready to become a Sith. One of the others could beat me to it and then we won't have another chance.”

“That tomb is sealed off,” Carth reminded her from his readings, “It's off-limits to everyone except this Uthar himself.”

“So it is,” Ev replied, heaving a sigh. “Well, come on, let's return these things to the library and get some dinner. You can come along this time and eat your fill. You've earned it.”

At the library, Ev checked her pile back in at the desk, explaining that one datapad was still with Lashowe. The librarian distractedly told Ev to return the articles to their shelves herself, again pointing her towards the back of the library.

After careful examination of the call numbers, Carth and Ev were able to get the diskettes and datapads into their rightful places, more or less. When he had finished returning the last of the diskettes, Carth caught Ev staring off into space. It was the posture of one who was searching through the Force.

“Bastila?” he whispered.

“No,” she shook her head, coming back. Instead of heading towards the front of the library, she continued farther back into the stacks. Turning into one dim aisle, they practically ran into Dustil.

“You again,” he observed, surly. “I already said thanks. Don't think that stunt today earned you anything more. Leave me alone.”

Ev didn't move from where she stood while Carth fidgeted behind her. Ev cut straight to the point, “The night Selene disappeared, I happened to be out late in the valley. I overheard some Sith who were coming back from beyond the valley say they had just been out on a special expedition with a girl who had been slacking behind in performance. And they had killed her for it on orders from the academy.”

“What of it?” Dustil replied defensively.

“You wanted some proof that the Sith were evil,” Carth cut in at a whisper, “Well, here it is.”

“I don't call that proof,” Dustil retorted, “You could just as easily be making that up. It's your word against the word of people I trust. Nice try.”

“Fine,” Ev said with a shrug, “But at least think on it. Come on, Carth, let's go.” Without another word, Ev swept past Dustil and down the long aisle. As Carth past by his son, Dustil met his gaze with a defiant stare.

At least she tried. At this point, he respects her more than he respects me. I didn't risk my life to save him today. Ev did.

The academy's cafeteria was as lively as any Republic mess he had ever seen. There was the same border-line quality food and the same long tables lined with ravenous students. After Carth and Ev had slopped enough food on their trays to satisfy them, they found their place at an out-of-the-way table where Kel already sat.

“Where were you all day?” Kel demanded then, on seeing Carth, added disdainfully, “You brought your manservant with you?”

“His name is Carth. Don't worry, he doesn't say much,” Ev replied, “We were exploring the ruins all of today. After skipping lunch and helping me out, I figured he deserved a full meal tonight.”

“Fair enough,” Kel nodded, “But what were you doing in the ruins?”

“Earning prestige,” Ev replied, “We checked out Tulak Hord's tomb, ferreted out that old hermit, and brought back his writings.”

“You mean to say that old Jorak is dead?” Kel asked, eyes wide.

Ev nodded, “He's done terrorizing students for good.”

“Oh, did you hear?” Kel gossiped, “Dustil Onasi is back.”

“We ran across him in the ruins today,” Ev simplified, “He looked a little out of sorts, but otherwise fine.”

“He was probably just blowing off some steam all this time, I guess,” Kel said, “over losing Selene.”

“Probably,” Ev agreed.

“You know what else I heard?” Kel asked.

“What?” Ev asked.

“Shaardan is dead,” Kel replied.

“Yeah, I heard that too,” Ev said, “Something about giving Uthar a fake artifact.”

“That was my doing,” Lashowe said, sitting down on the other side of Kel. She didn't seem proud of that fact, however. Carth hadn't even seen her approach.

“What? You killed him, Lashowe?” Kel asked, surprised.

“No, no,” she replied distantly, “I went for the Sword of Ajunta Pall today.”

“And?” Kel asked expectantly.

“And I got it, among other things,” she continued, “But Shaardan must have seen me go in. He waited for me just inside and threatened to kill me if I didn't hand over the sword to him. I've seen him at practice, and I know he probably could have, so I gave him one of the other weapons I found instead.”

“And he brought it straight to Master Uthar,” Ev concluded.

Lashowe nodded, “Master Uthar was furious that he hadn't bothered to verify the sword's identity. He accused him of trying to pull some kind of cheap trick just to get ahead. Uthar killed him right there on the spot. When I presented him with the real sword and the other things I had found, he was not only pleased that I'd found all that, but also that I'd slipped that trick by Shaardan.”

“So that's why Uthar said I still had a long way to go when I gave him all of Jorak Un's writings this afternoon,” Ev said, leaning back in her seat.

“You killed Uthar's old master?” Lashowe regarded her with respect.

“Hey, you made it through a tomb today yourself,” Ev pointed out.

Prodding absently at her food with her fork, Lashowe started, “You know, I can't get over what I saw in that tomb.”

“What?” Ev asked softly.

“Traps? Corpses?” Kel asked.

“No. Well, yes, there was some of that,” she answered. Her voice lacked all the usual confidence. “I saw the spirit of Ajunta Pall himself.”

Carth caught himself gasping right along with Kel.

“Ajunta Pall was the first great Sith Lord, from the Second Great Scism when a group of rouge Jedi first left the Jedi Order,” Kel said quickly, “And his spirit is still here?”

“When I was going to take his sword, the door into the crypt suddenly shut behind me, and there he was,” Lashowe narrated distantly, “He talked about how proud the old Sith were, how they were cowards to flee and hide from the masters that they had betrayed. He spoke of all the secrets and powers he had horded, but how they had all destroyed each other over the secrets. Now that they're all dead and gone, the secrets still remain, belonging to no one. It was haunting.

“When he asked about if the Sith were back now, he almost seemed sad to hear that we were, and winning this war over the galaxy. He said, if I was wise, I would abandon this quest for power before it destroyed me,” she finished.

“The first great Lord of the Sith, repentant?” Ev observed.

“He even said that he wished he could return to the light,” Lashowe admitted, “And, well, I wasn't even thinking. I felt bad for him, trapped in that tomb for all these thousands of years, I told him he could probably do it if he really wanted to. And then he disappeared. I don't know what I was doing. I just wanted to get the sword and get out of there.”

Ev sat back in her chair looking stunned. Kel too was speechless.

“I,” Lashowe stammered, barely above a whisper, “I'm beginning to have my doubts. If an ancient lord of the Sith is telling me that staying here will kill me, maybe I should listen. One little overzealous slip-up killed Shaardan. But I just don't know. The Sith will give me power. They told me I'm strong with the Force, and I want to learn how to use it. This is my chance. But I don't want to end up dead.”

“The Sith are infamous for killing for power, you know,” Ev pointed out in a low voice. “Take Malak for example, or even Naga Sadow himself.”

“Yeah, well I don't need to be Darth Lashowe or anything,” Lashowe protested, “I don't need to kill my way up to the top.”

“You say that now,” Ev cautioned, “But what if you make it to the top anyway? Someone will want to kill you for your spot, I can promise you that.”

“You sound so sure,” Lashowe said hesitantly.

“Shaardan already tried to kill you today for the sake of getting ahead,” Ev pointed out.

“So maybe you're right about the risks,” Lashowe admitted, “But I'm not ready to give up on this chance at power and learning to use the Force. Who else would teach me?”

“The Jedi, for one,” Ev suggested, off-hand.

“You can't be serious,” Lashowe gasped quietly, “You didn't just say that.”

“I did,” Ev replied firmly.

“Who are you anyway?” Lashowe asked sharply.

All the while, Kel watched on thoughtfully, eyes wide.

“Isn't it obvious? I used to be with the Jedi, and I left when I found them too constricting,” Ev replied, “I don't believe that you can truly understand the universe through the Force exclusively through either the Light or the Dark. They are two parts to the whole. Sure, the followers of the two sides of the Force have very different lifestyles and ideologies. But, maybe you're more suited for one than the other.”

For a moment, Ev was beginning to sound like a more succinct Jolee.

“You're suggesting that I go to the Jedi and expect to be welcomed with open arms?” Lashowe asked accusingly. Somewhere behind her eyes, however, she seemed honestly curious.

“I know from personal experience that the Jedi will forgive just about anything,” Ev replied, “Whether that's to their credit or not, I can't say. Given their position in this war now, I bet they'd gladly accept you.”

Lashowe suddenly stood and collected her tray. She had hardly eaten anything. “Ren, you're confusing me, scaring me,” she said, “I don't know what to think any more.”

“It's your life, Lashowe,” Ev replied, “Live it how you think best.”

Lashowe pursed her lips then turned and hurried away.

Ev took a deep breath and released it slowly, then turned all of her attention on her dinner.

Carth, on the other hand, had already finished his. That was risky. If Lashowe, or even Kel, tells on her, we're done for. I hope she knows what she's doing.

For a long while, Kel and Ev ate together in silence. The general raucous of the cafeteria kept their lack of conversation from becoming awkward.

When Kel finished, he made to stand then seemed to think better of it. “You know, Ren,” he started hesitantly, “I've always thought that I didn't fit in well here. What you said, what Lashowe said, it's making me think that I really don't. My master is always scolding me for being so open and trusting, but, Ren, it's who I am. Can't I be a Sith and still be who I am?”

“That might not be as true as you like it,” Ev admitted with a sigh. “If I learned nothing else from my encounter with that old hermit today, I learned that the Sith want a very specific type of person. They want you to be ruthlessly determined when it comes to your own success.”

“I don't know if that's me,” Kel admitted.

Ev measured him up with a long gaze.

“Do you think the Jedi would really accept me if I went to them?” he asked earnestly, after glancing around to be sure that no one else was listening in.

Ev put her hand on his shoulder, “Kel, you've got a good head on your shoulders. You're strong in the Force and you're already well trained. Try the temple on Coruscant and tell them I sent you.”

“Ren isn't your real name, is it?” Kel asked.

“No, it's not,” Ev answered, “But tell them who I was with and they'll know all the same.”

Kel heaved a sigh of relief, “Thanks, Ren. For once, this actually feels right.”

Both Kel and Ev stood up. “Take care of yourself, Kel Algwinn,” she said, “Maybe we'll see each other again some day. And I hope it's not with sabers crossed.”

“Maybe we will,” Kel nodded, then walked off with his tray towards the dish room.

Ev sat back down in front of her food. There was still a little left to finish.

Catching Carth staring at her, she said, “Yes, Carth, I know exactly what a risk I took. I don't think they'll say anything. Jolee told me not to pick a fight here, trying to cut down on the number of Sith. Just call this my way of thinning their numbers and giving a few good kids another chance at a better life.”

“I don't want to hear what Kel's master would say about you, if he thinks that kid trusts too easily,” Carth half-teased. “You'd better be right.”

“When am I not?” Ev flashed a grin. She reached for her cup and chugged down the last bit of soda. “Well, I've eaten enough for a proper food coma,” she said pleasantly, “How about some hard-earned sleep?”

“I'm not arguing,” Carth replied.


~~~


Carth couldn't be sure what woke him in the middle of the night, but he immediately had a sense of foreboding.

There were hushed voices in conversation not far off.

“Someone has broken the seal into Naga Sadow's tomb,” one voice was unmistakably Uthar Wynn.

“Are you sure? That's impossible,” Yuthura replied. She sounded as if she had just been woken up. “They would have to destroy the door itself or overpower your protections.”

“No matter, someone has done it,” Uthar replied in a sharp whisper, “I felt the seal fall several minutes ago.”

“And what do you want me to do about it?” Yuthura demanded quietly.

“You are coming with me,” Uthar replied forcefully, “We will discover who has entered the tomb and why they have done it.”

“At this hour?” Yuthura complained, but by the rustling of sheets and shuffling of feet, she clearly complied. A few muffled minutes later, two purposeful sets of footsteps receded into the academy.

Finally, Carth had the courage to sit up and look around. His worst fears were confirmed. Ev was gone.

Carth dressed himself in a frantic daze. He hurried quietly along the dormitory corridors, hardly knowing what his plan was. Ev was about to be discovered by the two most powerful Dark Jedi in the academy, and he could do very little to help her against them.

He found Kel's room already empty. Ev's one guaranteed ally had already fled for the Jedi. Carth didn't dare try Lashowe. He couldn't know what kind of feelings the fiery girl held for Ev now, after their most recent conversation.

Hardly thinking it through, Carth crept into the next room. Kel had mentioned that Dustil was his neighbor.

“Dustil,” he whispered urgently, “Dustil.”

“I thought I told you to leave me alone,” Dustil hissed angrily from beneath his sheets.

“Dustil, Ev, I mean, Ren has stuck into the tomb of Naga Sadow, and somehow Uthar found out,” Carth explained quickly, “And now he and Yuthura have both gone after her. She has no idea, and there is no way I can stand up to two Dark Jedi for her.”

“I owe you no favors, father,” Dustil snapped, not even stirring in his bed.

“I know,” Carth replied painfully, “But you owe this to her. She saved your life today. She almost died for you.”

Dustil made no reply.

“You have no idea who she really is,” Carth pleaded, “Or how important she is. Not just to me, but to lots of others. Please, Dustil.”

Dustil sat up and shook of his covers. “Fine,” he replied irritably, “But remember this: maybe she was fool enough to be ready to die for me, but I'm not dying for her. That's your job.”

“Thank you Dustil,” Carth blubbered as Dustil quickly got dressed, “You have no idea...”

“Can it,” Dustil whispered sharply, “Remember? I'm not doing this for you. I'm doing this for her. I'll repay this debt now so I don't have it hanging over me later.”

The two, father and son, half ran, half crept through the academy. Once they reached the open air of the valley, their pace became an all-out sprint towards Naga Sadow's tomb.

When the reached the tomb, they found the huge stone door had been slid aside. Occasional openings in the ceiling of the tomb's corridors let in faint starlight and moonlight.

“I wonder how long it will take them to find her,” Dustil mused out loud, “Or how long it will take us to find them.”

The layout of the tomb was a logical one, with hallways branching out at regular intervals. It was in far better shape than the tomb they had explored the day before. Fully intact statues saluted them with long spears while relief sculptures decorated the walls. Carth, however, was in no mood to admire the art.

Perhaps it was fear of discovery and the deathly stillness of the tomb, or perhaps it was the prickling feeling all up and down Carth's spine, but a chilling fear grew deep in the pit of his stomach. Their pace slowed, cautiously creeping around each corner. Neither carried a flashlight. Instead they trusted in their other senses. Gradually, their eyes began to adjust to the darkness.

Dustil led his father straight along through the tomb, rarely pausing or veering from his course. Carth couldn't help but think that he resembled Ev when she was hot on some trail in the Force.

Soon, the faint sounds of voices reached their ears from not far ahead. Dustil slowed them even still. “It's the masters,” he whispered, barely audible. “I don't think Ren is with them yet. They haven't noticed us either. They're looking for her presence, not ours.”

Carth nodded and waited for Dustil to urge him on again. Backs pressed against the wall and avoiding even the shafts of starlight, they moved painstakingly along. Carth knew as well as Dustil did that they couldn't reveal themselves before Ev did. Otherwise they would be just as dead as she would be if she were to fight alone. At the same time, they couldn't allow her to confront the Sith Masters before they arrived. At least, now, they were close, and they could sprint to her defense if necessary. As they drew even closer, they began to hear the voices more clearly.

“I still don't understand why we're just waiting here, Uthar,” Yuthura complained, “When she is just ahead in the crypt.”

“She will have to come back out this way,” Uthar replied patiently, “There is no other path. Ah, here she comes now.”

Carth and Dustil reached a large doorway, whose door hung slightly ajar. Peering inside, Carth could see Master Uthar and Yuthura Ban standing on the other side of a moat. The liquid smelled sharply foul and gave off an eerie light. Clearly, it wasn't ordinary water. Moonlight poured in from overhead, illuminating them clearly. Approaching from another door on the other side of the chamber was Ev.

With a finger to his lips, Dustil motioned for Carth to take up his position on one side of the doorway while he crouched at the other. They could burst in at a moment's notice. Meanwhile, they had a good view of the room without being seen.

“Good evening, masters. I didn't expect to meet you here,” Ev said, though she didn't seem surprised.

“I see that you have decided to push up the date of final test for yourself,” Uthar observed silkily, “And you even retrieved the lightsaber. Well done.”

“The Force has served you well indeed,” Yuthura added.

Carth then noticed the second lightsaber hilt she now held in her left hand.

“You are inventive, cunning, and powerful. You take risks and bend the rules to your better end,” Uthar assessed. “I am nearly ready to proclaim you the victor. You have done what none of your peers had dared to do. The Force has made you fearless.”

“Sir,” Ev bowed respectfully.

Carth knew that Ev had no intention of winning this contest tonight. She meant to find the star map and sneak away. Regardless, she was doing a reasonable job of playing along.

“There is but one piece of this test left for you, now that you have the prize lightsaber in hand,” Uthar continued, “You must learn one more lesson from this tomb. All life must compete to survive. Those who do not struggle, who do not fight, fall by the wayside, weak and defeated. Even among we Sith, we understand this need to fight to become stronger. You must prove your drive to survive and put yourself forward, showing no mercy.”

“This is to be a duel, isn't it?” Ev observed. Her hands shifted very slightly on the two lightsaber hilts.

“How very perceptive of you,” Uthar sounded pleased. “Normally, this part of the test would be against another student, but since I have such confidence in you, your test will be to kill someone familiar: your teacher and my apprentice.”

“What?” Yuthura spat, “You planned this all along!”

“You have grown too ambitious, Yuthura,” Uthar replied, unmoved, “It is time you are replaced with a more willing apprentice.”

“Unfortunately for you, this ends here,” Yuthura gathered her courage around her again, “My pupil stands with me. It is time for a change of leadership in this academy.”

“She has lured you into her game, has she, Ren Va?” Uthar turned his attention on Ev.

“Master Yuthura has done quiet a bit to earn my respect, Master Uthar,” Ev said thinly, “I stand with her.”

“You two fools actually believe that you can stand against a full Sith Master?” Uthar was so furious he almost laughed.

“They won't stand alone!” Dustil surged into the chamber. Carth hurried in after him.

“Apprentice Onasi, is it? You have fallen in with my disillusion apprentice as well?” Uthar asked. “I had such high hopes for you.”

“My reasons are my own,” Dustil snapped.

“Had I not thought so well of you,” Uthar continued, “I wouldn't have had that pretty little girl taken out and killed for holding you back.”

“What did you say?” Dustil roared. Instantly, his lightsaber was in his hand, blood read blade cutting through the darkness.

“Your gentle compassion for her was your greatest weakness,” Uthar said provocatively, “And now you are free from it. You should thank me.”

“I'll kill you for what you did to Selene!” Dustil yelled, and with a Force-aided flip, vaulted over the acidic moat.

The battle began.

In wordlessly coordinated motion, Yuthura, Dustil, and Ev all swung in for passes at Uthar. Uthar, to his credit, managed to hold them off effectively, between calculated swipes of his weapon and bursts of Force lightning or other Force tricks. In the dimness, it was difficult to track whose blade was whose. Four red lightsabers whirled through the air, broken only by Ev's violet blade. She too, however, held a red lightsaber in her left hand. Carth was, once again, left to wait for an opening where he wouldn't accidentally shoot those he was trying to help.

Nevertheless, four blades against one began to prove too much for Uthar Wynn. He was cornered between Yuthura, Ev, Dustil, and their deadly weapons. Soon, they had him backed up against the sizzling moat.

“Enough!” Uthar roared, thrusting his hands out in front of him. Carth felt like a wrecking ball had hit him. He slammed back into the door, which swung farther open with him. Yuthura collided with the wall behind her on the other side of the moat. Ev, bracing herself, managed to stay somehow upright. Dustil, on the other hand, shot across the moat and into the corner of a jagged and crumbling statue. His head struck the statue's already shattered knee, and with a yell that turned into a moan, slumped forward onto the pile of stones at its base.

“Dustil!” Carth cried. Bruised and battered, he forcibly picked himself up and rushed over to his son. He pulled Dustil out of the rubble and cradled him in his lap. Blood oozed out of a large gash in his forehead. “Dustil, hang on,” he urged, fumbling for a med pack. All he found was a little antiseptic and some gauze. Tossing the plastic bottle aside, he took a wad of gauze and pressed it firmly against the wound.

Dustil moaned unintelligibly, but his eyes remained shut.

Meanwhile, Ev was locked in a single duel with Master Uthar on the other side of the moat. Uthar was at least twice her mass and strength, but he couldn't compare to her athleticism. She swung the two lightsabers as naturally as if she had trained all her life with them. While Carth was fighting to stop Dustil's bleeding, Ev struck down Uthar.

Panting hard, she stepped back and extinguished both lightsabers.

Yuthura pulled herself up against the wall and dusted off her clothes. “I guess that makes me master of this academy,” Yuthura said, pleased, “The Force truly does serve you well.”

“Congratulations on your promotion,” Ev said with a half smile.

“However, I am not one to share power,” Yuthura continued more soberly, “I know what you are capable of and that you are unpredictable. I will return to the academy alone.” Pulling her fallen lightsaber hilt towards her with the Force, it came alive in her hands.

“I don't want power, Yuthura,” Ev replied, not moving into a defensive stance, “I thought we were friends.”

“There are really no friends among the Sith,” Yuthura responded painfully, “Take up your weapons. I don't want to kill you defenseless like that.”

“If that's what you want,” Ev replied quietly. The deadly dance resumed, and neither Carth nor Dustil could be a part of it.

Ev cornered Yuthura time and time again, and each time the Twi'lek Sith Master managed to slip free. Ev brought herself to the point of a killing strike over and over, but never took it. At long last, one quick swipe of her red saber sliced Yuthura's own weapon in two. It fell harmlessly to the floor.

Yuthura stumbled back against the wall, hands protectively in front of her. “Please, have some mercy,” she panted, “You have overpowered me, as I should have known you would.”

“You ask for mercy from me?” Ev asked, though she sounded far from malicious, “You, a Sith?”

“I suppose I do,” Yuthura admitted shamefully, “Please.”

“I don't want to kill you,” Ev said evenly. Her weapons were still raised.

“Then what do you want?” Yuthura asked, “To be my apprentice?”

“I got what I came for,” Ev replied enigmatically, “It was never my intention to become a Sith.”

“I suppose I should have seen it all along,” Yuthura said with a sigh, “You were so different than the other students. So, you're leaving then?”

“Yes,” Ev nodded.

“What now?” Yuthura asked, eying Ev's lightsabers, “You really are going to let me live?”

Ev finally extinguished her weapons. “You could stay here and manage your academy until someone else decides to take it from you,” Ev suggested, “Or you could come with me.”

Yuthura shook her head. “I can see that you have a great destiny ahead of you, but that's not my way,” she replied.

“Maybe you should think more on what your path to be,” Ev urged. “Is being a teacher forever what you wanted when you came here?”

“No, you're right,” Yuthura admitted, “All thoughts of freeing the slaves and crushing the slavers have fled farther and farther from my mind. No, this isn't who I wanted to be.”

“You could leave this if you wanted to,” Ev said, “There's nothing holding you back.”

“I don't think I could ever go back to the Jedi, but perhaps they were right. Peace is what I needed all along. I will see if I can find it after all,” Yuthura regarded Ev with respect, “Thank you for opening my eyes again, Ren.”

Ev nodded solemnly. As Yuthura turned to go, she said, “May the Force be with you, Yuthura Ban.”

“And may the Force serve—may the Force be with you,” Yuthura replied. She leaped easily over the acid moat and retreated back into the tomb.

Somehow, Ev had turned yet another Sith away from the Dark Side. There was still one other Sith apprentice that Carth was worried about.

“Ev...” he started.

Looking over at him, she cursed, “Kriff it all! Dustil!” She vaulted over to them and immediately knelt down at his side. She gently pushed Carth's hands away and placed her own on Dustil's bloodied head. As she worked, she murmured absently, “I don't know how these Sith get by without learning how to heal.”

Slowly, the blood stopped flowing and Dustil's color returned. Ev's brow was furrowed in concentration. Finally, he moaned and stirred. His eyes fluttered open.

“Dustil, thank the stars,” Carth was almost in tears. He pushed Ev out of the way and wrapped Dustil in an hug. “I thought I'd lost you again.”

“Dad,” Dustil protested, embarrassed.

Carth pulled away and flushed. “Sorry,” he apologized.

Turning his attention to Ev, Dustil said wryly, “I guess that's two I owe you now. Here I thought I'd be paying back a debt tonight, not making it deeper.”

“Thanks for coming anyway Dustil,” Ev replied with a smile, “You may have tipped the balance even so.”

“You're okay?” Carth asked.

“Yeah, I'm fine,” Dustil replied, starting to stand up, but slumped back to the ground and buried his face in his hands.

“Dustil! Are you alright?” Carth exclaimed.

When Dustil looked up, there were tears streaking down his face. “Selene,” he choked out.

Ev put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “I'm sorry,” she said, “I'm sorry that I only was able to overhear her killers and not stop them. What they did really is evil.”

“They killed her, they lied to me about it, and they expected me to thank them for what they went through to make me a better Sith,” Dustil said tearfully, shaking his head, “I can't believe I was so blind this whole time. If I'd known, Selene wouldn't have had to pay for it.”

“Painful as it is, there's nothing you can do to change the past,” Ev said.

“But you can chose your path for the future,” Carth added.

“I can't stay here and live with what they've done,” Dustil said.

“Come with us,” Carth urged.

“I can't leave just yet,” Dustil argued, “I have friends here, and they need to know the truth too. I can't leave them to Selene's fate. Plus, I know it's going to get messy with both Master Uthar and Yuthura Ban gone.”

“Keep and eye out for Lashowe, one of the trainees,” Ev suggested, “She's got a good head on her shoulders and has her doubts that the this is the right place for her.”

“That spitfire?” Dustil asked in amazement. “You really must have a way with people, Ren.”

“Call me Ev,” she replied. With a half smile, she added, “I used to be rather well-known for my charisma. Under yet another pseudonym.”

Dustil chuckled. “And you know,” he offered, “Maybe I could gather some information for you. You know, from the inside.”

Carth smiled and helped him to stand. “You know, Dustil, I'm proud of you,” he said warmly, “You didn't hold onto a lie once you saw it for what it is. That's the son I knew.”

Dustil bristled uncomfortably.

Ev pulled out her comlink. “This is Ev Pell. Ebon Hawk, do you read me?” she called, then repeated, “This is Ev Pell. Do you read me, Ebon Hawk?

“Yeah, yeah, we're here,” Mission's sleepy voice came across. “What's up?”

“Be in the Dreshdae spaceport by daybreak,” Ev said, “We'll meet by chance in the cantina then be on our way. Got it?”

“Yup, got it,” Mission slurred, “I'll go wake up Canderous.”

Stowing the comlink again, she looked expectantly at Carth and Dustil.

“Daybreak is closer than you think,” Dustil warned.

“Our ship is fast,” Ev replied. “Come on, let's go.”

They made their way out of the tomb easily. Ev used the Force to slide the door closed behind them to hide the evidence of the night's encounters before they crossed back through the valley. Dustil was right. Most of the stars had faded away into the inky blue sky, and there was a soft red glow in the east. They proceeded silently into and through the academy.

Dustil saw them as far as the exit towards Dreshdae.

“Well, goodbye Father. Goodbye Ev,” Dustil said stiffly, “Thanks again.”

“Don't mention it,” Ev replied.

“Goodbye Dustil,” Carth said reluctantly.

“I, well, once this is all over, if we both make it through,” Dustil stammered, “Maybe you and I could give it a go again.”

“I'd like that,” Carth replied warmly.

“Don't come looking for me,” Dustil cautioned, “When I'm ready, I'll find you. Your Republic navy loves you and they'll be able to find you for me.”

Carth chuckled. “I've missed you, son,” he admitted.

“Well, don't go and get yourself killed, okay?” Dustil added in parting.

“I'll do my best not to let him,” Ev replied, smiling, “Let's go Carth. The sun is rising.”

Carth left Dustil and the Sith Academy behind feeling much better than before. He felt certain that he would see Dustil again. And then, he would have a chance to be a better father.


“Imagine seeing you here again, Ren Va,” Canderous exclaimed with a coarse laugh as he strutted over to where Ev and Carth sat.

“You don't look any more like a Sith than when I last saw you,” Jolee feigned disappointment.

“The Sith have this little contest for who can enter the academy, and I lost out,” Ev replied with a shrug, “Back to freelancing for me again.”

“I don't suppose you'll be needing a ride, then?” Canderous asked, rubbing his fingers together anxiously.

“I'm going to have to pay more this time, aren't I?” Ev asked with eyebrows raised. She sighed and stood up, “So be it.”

“Hold your engines. I'm here to get the crew some grub before we take off,” Canderous said, “We'll go once we're all full.”

“With this crowd, that could be a while,” Ev whispered mischievously to Carth.

“That Wookiee, for one, sure can eat a lot,” Carth replied.

Zaalbar rumbled something in protest.

Although there were few people in the cantina besides the staff, they still needed to put on a show. Though they were out of the academy, this was still a Sith stronghold. They weren't home free yet.

Zaalbar, Jolee, and Canderous settled down for breakfast at Carth and Ev's table, ordering two more boxed meals. Juhani and Mission has evidently stayed with the ship. They chatted lightly about nothing while they ate.

Suddenly, Ev sat straight up, looking alarmed. “We need to go,” she said urgently in a low voice. “Now.”

“What're you talking about?” Canderous grumbled.

“Someone knows we're here, and they don't like it,” Ev whispered. “Back to the ship, now.”

Canderous measured her with an irritable glance before standing up and collecting the two extra meals. “Fine,” he said.

“I have the same bad feeling you do,” Jolee slid up to Ev. “Let's hurry back there, but without looking in a hurry.”

They tried not to appear tense as they rushed out of the cantina, through Dreshdae, and towards the spaceport. Meanwhile, Ev pulled out her comlink and hailed the Ebon Hawk.

“What is it?” Mission asked.

“We're going to need to leave really soon,” Ev replied quickly, “Start prepping the ship for takeoff.”

“I don't know how to do that,” Mission protested.

“Then get T3 up there and plugged in,” Ev ordered.

“What's going on?” Mission asked fearfully.

“I don't know, but I think someone is after us,” Ev replied, “Now get working.”

They made it to their docking bay uneventfully, but the port registration officer was conspicuously not at his post.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Carth murmured. He hung back at the entrance to the bay, warily watching for anyone following them.

As Canderous and Zaalbar charged aboard the Ebon Hawk, Zaalbar roared something in warning.

“Who are you?” Canderous barked.

“I'm just...” a remarkably familiar voice stammered.

Ev hurried up into the ship after them. She, evidently, was less surprised. “Oh, it's you again,” she observed calmly, “Kionee Rinnh, was it?”

“I'll just be going now,” Kionee's said awkwardly. Carth saw her begin to descend the loading ramp.

“Not so fast with you,” Jolee cautioned, coming up the ramp himself.

“I have a pretty good idea why you would be following us here,” Ev observed slowly, “You overheard some pretty interesting things while we were fleeing the Leviathan, didn't you?”

“I—I,” she stuttered.

Just then, a protocol droid clanked frantically up the hallway to their docking bay, wailing, “Mistress Kionee! Mistress Kionee!” Seeing Carth and the others at the ship, it stopped short, “Oh.”

“Emtee!” Kionee exclaimed, pushing past Jolee. “I thought I told you to stay with the Viridian.

“The Sith, they have identified our ship as one that fled the Leviathan,” the protocol droid explained rapidly, “And now they're one their way here!”

“My ship!” Kionee exclaimed, eyes wide. She dashed down the remainder of the loading ramp and across the docking bay.

Carth blocked her way out. “It's no use, kid,” he advised, “Unless you want to be a prisoner of the Sith again. They already have your ship.”

“Dad's gonna be so mad...” Kionee muttered.

“It looks like you're coming with us, this time,” Ev said, striding a little further back down the ramp, “If your droid is right, we don't have much time. Everyone aboard!”

Giving Kionee a push, Carth hurried the last few meters to the Ebon Hawk. He waited for the wobbling protocol droid to shuffle up into the ship before charging up after it and closing up the loading ramp.

Ev already had taken charge. “Canderous and Zaalbar, I want you in the gun turrets. Carth and,” she paused thoughtfully, “Rinnh, I want you in the cockpit now. T3 already has things mostly ready.”

“Me?” Kionee looked confused.

“I need to calculate the new hyperspace route, so you'll be our copilot until that's done,” Ev replied quickly. “Mission, stay on the radio channels and see what you can overhear. Jolee, see if you can find any enemy fleets in orbit that we need to avoid on our way out with the satellite feeds. Juhani, join them on the communications deck. You're on watching the radar for incoming fighters.”

Everyone scrambled to their positions.

As Kionee scrambled after Carth towards the cockpit, his uneasiness grew. What if she had already told someone that Revan was still alive? What if some kind of records in her ship said the same? The Sith would know soon enough if she had recorded her findings.

Then again, Malak may have put the word out himself. I would rather the Republic didn't know of this just yet. We don't need that kind of panic on our hands. No one would trust the Jedi any more.

There wasn't any time for introspection, however. Carth jumped into the pilot's chair and Kionee followed quickly after. Moments later, Ev strode into the cockpit and wordlessly began working at the navacomputer.

Carth glanced quickly over the dials. T3-M4 had nearly finished prepping the ship already. Hating surprises, Carth double checked all of the systems. “How are the thrusters?” he asked.

“Uh,” Kionee scanned the displays, “Ready.”

“Main engine?”

“Idling.”

“Hyperdrive?”

“Fine.”

“Stabilizer?”

“Operational.”

“Oxygen supplies?”

“Fully replenished.”

“Anything else I should know about it?”

“It looks normal to—” Kionee replied hesitantly.

The sound of laser blasts cut through the air.

“We've got company!” Canderous hollered down from the gun turret.

Sith soldiers, accompanied by a few Dark Jedi hurried into the docking bay. While blasters could do little to the Ebon Hawk's armor, those red lightsabers meant serious trouble. Without waiting another moment, Carth engaged the thrusters and punched up into the air. As soon as they were clear of the upper rim of bay, Carth switched over to the main engine and brought the Ebon Hawk's nose up into a steep climb.

Behind him, Ev clung to a narrow handle next to the navacomputer to keep from sliding back down the corridor.

“How are those coordinates coming?” Carth asked.

“Slowly,” Ev replied, sounding strained.

“There's one Sith capital ship in orbit around Korriban,” Mission reported, yelling from the communications deck.

“That means fighters,” Ev added loudly, “Gunners, get ready. Juhani, watch the position of the Destroyer. We don't want to be caught in a tractor beam again.” Only momentarily distracted, she continued studying the vast star map on the display screen.

Very soon they would be cutting through the hottest part of the atmosphere. “Keep your eye on the Ebon Hawk's vitals, Kionee,” Carth ordered.

“Got it,” she replied tensely.

“There it is!” Ev exclaimed.

“There what is?” Carth asked, not taking his eyes off the sky ahead of them.

“A system not on Republic star charts,” Ev replied, “That's got to be where our Star Forge is.”

“Close?” Carth asked.

“Unknown regions,” Ev replied dryly, “On the other side of the Core.”

“Great,” Carth replied. “Where to first?”

“Sithspit,” Ev cursed under her breath, “We're so deep into Sith space that there's hardly an easy jump that won't lead us to another one of their systems.”

Glancing over her shoulder, Kionee offered, “How about Lorrd? That's not Sith controlled.” She sounded almost mournful at the mention of the planet's name.

“Good,” Ev nodded, “A misleading first jump, and it won't cost us too much extra time. I'll work on the rest from there.” Still clinging to the handle for support, Ev began furiously punching in coordinates with her free hand.

The Ebon Hawk broke free into open space. Now free of the atmosphere's scrambling influences, their crew on the communications deck had a use again.

“Three wings of Sith fighters heading in fast from up-orbit,” Juhani reported immediately.

“And their capital ship?” Ev asked.

“Not far behind them,” Juhani replied after only a short pause.

Now that the stabilizer had kicked in, Ev released her hand hold and dashed into the communications deck herself. “I don't like that distance and speed,” she said, “But I think that will give us the window we need to get free of the planet's gravity.” Again, she was back in the cockpit. “Carth, no matter what, keep heading away from Korriban. That's your priority. Canderous and Zaalbar will take shots at our pursuers if they get close, but getting out of this alive and free is more important than taking out a few more enemy fighters,” Ev said sternly.

“Got it,” Carth replied grimly. He expected her to reclaim the copilot's seat from Kionee, but she didn't. Instead, she stood rooted to the flooring behind them, observing with a calculating eye, like a well-practiced commander. Occasionally, she would call and order or a question at one member of the crew or another.

Their ship was not yet free of Korriban's gravity well when the first of the fighters intercepted them. Though he itched to drop back and maneuver around them, he knew Ev was right. It wouldn't be long until they would be in range of a tractor beam themselves. These fighters were doubtlessly here to distract and stall, not to kill. Setting his jaw, Carth determinedly kept his course. Meanwhile Canderous and Zaalbar harassed the enemy fighters, taking a few down in the process.

“We're out,” Kionee announced.

“Engage the hyperdrive,” Ev ordered.

Without hesitation, Kionee thrust the lever forward on the dashboard in front of her. The stars drew out long lines around them and they snapped into hyperspace.

- Next Part -

 

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