Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 30- The Sacking of Korriban

Even after they had safely sealed themselves inside an escape pod, there were moments were Carth doubted they would still get out alive. The Star Forge exploded when they were not far enough away. Their pod, along with debris, other little fighters, and hot plasma exploded out across the battlefield. They tumbled and ricocheted against anything that came in their path. Every time they impacted, the metallic thud was accompanied by a piercing little whine from the escape pod's warning systems. Carth could tell that, despite the feebleness of the alarm, their pod was in real danger of being smashed apart. It had no shields, no guns, and its minimal repulsors were useless in resisting the inertia from the shock of the Star Forge's destruction.

Ev remained calm and confident all the while. She even dropped into a peaceful meditation for a time.

Canderous was grumbling about hitting his head against the wall during one of their collisions. Jolee seemed to be concentrating hard, with occasional sharp movements of his hands. Carth could only guess that the old man was trying to keep them from further collisions.

Anxious as he was, Carth sat back and sighed with a small smile. He recalled the last time he had been in an escape pod, fleeing just in time from the Endar Spire. Ev had been crass and irritable until the tumble knocked her unconscious. Their crash landing on Taris had been exactly what Carth hadn't wanted at the time. Now, hindsight colored it pleasantly. They got out alive, and that crash had been the beginning of their search for the Star Forge. That crash had been when he first met Ev. I guess there is at least one thing I can thank Malak for.

Ev suddenly opened her eyes and relaxed back into her seat. “Help is on the way,” she announced.


After the Ebon Hawk found their escape pod, they were dragged by its tractor beam across the battlefield and towards the Libra. A medical team welcomed them aboard and immediately ushered the entire strike team to the infirmary. Once they were all patched up and bandaged, a pair of young soldiers respectfully escorted them to a private conference room. Already waiting around the long, ovular table were the Jedi Masters Nomi and Vandar, Admiral Dodonna, and several other lieutenants Carth recognized.

Not two hours after the destruction of the Star Forge, and it was time to discuss the battle and how to proceed next. Carth was more than a little surprised that Dodonna and the Jedi should want their entire crew present. Carth took his seat along the line of lieutenants and he noticed Master Anika seat herself across from him, right next to the other two Jedi Masters. Juhani joined her, right arm bandaged and resting in a sling. Belaya followed right after her with her own head wrapped in bandages. Kionee filed in nervously after them and took the farthest seat she could from the head of the table without sitting directly at the foot.

Meanwhile, Jolee and Canderous seemed determined to upset the ranks and decisions that were forming along the length of the conference room. Jolee happily put himself right next to Carth, while Canderous joined the Jedi on their side of the table. Arna limped in on crutches, escorted by a still-stunned looking Gurtan. With only a little disdain, they sat down next to Canderous. Finally, Ev arrived escorting Bastila. Bastila had changed into some of the generic cream-colored robes, probably a spare set of Arna's, but she still looked pale. She stared at the floor shamefully. Ev, on the other hand, still proudly wore the long white robes Carth found her in on the Star Forge. There was just enough room between Kionee and Jolee for the two of them to sit. With only the seat at the very foot of the table empty, their company was complete.

As soon as the door of the conference room slid shut, Admiral Dodonna began, “Please allow me to be the first to commend and to thank you for your heroic work aboard the Star Forge and the mission which led up to this decisive battle. We have struck the Sith at the heart of their would-be empire, and in so doing, we have crippled their war effort, removed their leadership, and destroyed their morale. This could not have been done without your individual bravery and commitments to the cause.” She raised her hands and began to applaud them. The Jedi Masters joined in and soon the whole room was clapping, except for Bastila.

“I wish we could have given you more of a heroes' welcome,” she continued when the noise died down, “You are all more than deserving of it. I would especially like to recognize the efforts of the crew of the Ebon Hawk in their journeys of the last few months.”

Finding Forn Dodonna's eyes on him, Carth bowed his head respectfully.

“We would also offer our heartfelt thanks for all of your services to the Republic and the galaxy at large,” Nomi Sunrider added, “The Jedi among you have truly risen to your calling of protecting the peace, no matter the cost. Those of you who were not of our order, have done just as admirably as well. You do the Republic proud.”

“But we have not called this meeting only to congratulate you,” Vandar reminded them. Someone had thoughtfully found him a taller chair so that he could sit at eye-level with the rest of the people present. “We would have let you rest in the infirmary longer, if that were the case.”

“Master Vandar is right,” the admiral nodded, “We need to review just what went on aboard that space station, which will color our decisions on what course of action to take next.”

“We were led to believe that you, Bastila Shan and Evrue Pell, had fallen to the dark side,” Nomi Sunrider began, leaning forward in her seat. Although her tone was gentle, the look in her eyes was piercing.

Ev met her gaze evenly but Bastila immediately looked away. Ev let Bastila begin. “It is true, masters,” she admitted quietly. She lacked all of that cocky self-confidence that Carth was so used to. “At least of myself. When we confronted Darth Malak aboard the Leviathan, I intended to sacrifice myself as a distraction, letting the others escape. I had no idea that Malak would leave me alive and turn me against all that I had held so dear. After seemingly endless torture and rantings, somehow I became convinced that the Jedi Order had done me many disservices, such as withholding power from me. He made me crave the power he had, and thus, the Dark Side. I fell, masters, and I cannot ask for forgiveness for the deaths and destruction my fall caused. If not for Ev, I would have never seen the light again.”

“Powerful and terrible is the lure of the Dark Side,” Vandar said, “And more terrible still is how it can sway even the most loyal of Jedi with such swiftness.”

With a look of genuine curiosity, Nomi turned her attentions on Ev, “Then we are to believe that you did not fall, Evrue?”

“Please, call me Ev,” Ev said quickly before continuing solemnly, “I've fallen once, and that left enough destruction in my wake to last lifetimes. But no, what you believed about me throughout this battle was a lie.”

Two of the lieutenants began to whisper quietly among themselves. A sharp look from their admiral silenced them.

“As you may have already heard,” Ev continued, “Bastila met Juhani, Jolee, and I in the Temple of the Ancients on the planet below us, which the natives call Lehon. She came before us as apprentice to the Dark Lord of the Sith. Knowing our goal to destroy the Star Forge, she came to kill us. She may very well have succeeded. She had become very powerful in the Dark Side and we hesitated to harm one who had been our friend and companion. When I realized the danger, I feigned an alliance with her and threw Jolee and Juhani out of the way of danger.”

“Through your bond, Bastila did not suspect your lie?” Nomi seemed surprised.

Bastila looked up with a bit more confidence and explained, “There has always been darkness at the corners of her mind. It is something I was constantly aware of in her travels, and perhaps it was that mysterious power in her that added to my temptation when Malak decided to break me. I always knew there was darkness in her. Perhaps it was my eagerness to have her at my side again, against Malak, that made me neglect to look deeper into her intentions.”

“And this darkness, it is there still?” Master Anika asked, somewhat alarmed.

Bastila nodded.

“Then it does her even more credit that she has been able to resist the pull of the Dark Side every day of this new life of hers,” Juhani commended seriously.

“Thank you, Juhani,” Ev replied.

“I observed that Bastila's battle meditation was in full force when the battle began,” Admiral Dodonna observed, “Could you explain that.”

“I regret that I could not have done more to stop her,” Ev replied, “In order for my ruse to be believed, I had to cooperate with her for a time. While she meditated, in disguise, I watched the battle proceed. When I believed that the Sith had too much of an upper hand, I couldn't allow her to continue. I attacked her.”

Carth was a little surprised by the evenness of her voice during the narrative. Not once did she allow herself to get emotional over what had happened. If anything, she seemed to be weighed down by regret. Ev seemed to feel none of the accomplishment that Carth himself was so proud of.

“During our duel, I convinced Bastila to return to the light,” Ev continued, “Though she seemed sincere, I feared dual-dealings from her like I had been doing myself, so I knocked her out for the boarding party to find. I knew they were aboard and exactly what they would be coming for. I shed my disguise and fought my way to Darth Malak himself. As Lieutenant Onasi pointed out as he caught up with me just before I faced the Dark Lord, we could have left Malak to die aboard the Star Forge. But, Malak could have escaped or slipped away and took control of the Star Forge again. I had to distract him from the battle.” She paused and looked down at her hands, “These hands started this awful war almost four years ago. If not for me, Alek would never have become Darth Malak. It was my responsibility to see an end to it all. And, by defeating their leader in single combat, I earned the respect and fear of the Sith. We saw evidence of that on the Star Forge. By now, Sith all across the galaxy should know that Revan has returned. They just don't know in what capacity.”

“You took a great many risks, Padawan,” Master Anika scolded.

“And she succeeded, Anika,” Nomi reminded her calmly. “Perhaps we should relieve her of that title that now does not reflect her accomplishments and strength of character.”

While Juhani's face lit up at the idea of Ev being knighted, the news did not phase Ev.

“There is one other think I should mention,” Ev said quietly. She again had the entire attention of the room. “The reason so few bodies were found at the enclave on Dantooine after the attack is because Malak took the Jedi there captive for purposes of his own. He used their life force to fuel his own power. By trapping them inside the Star Forge, he killed them but did not allow them to become one with the Force, all part of his sadistic desire to become more powerful at all costs. During my duel with him, he drew power out of them, in hopes to defeat me. I had to destroy them, many of them friends from Dantooine, in order to stop him and to release their souls to the Force.”

A few horrified gasps rose up from the Jedi.

“That's terrible,” Arna murmured.

“Malak's cruelty knew no bounds,” Bastila said.

“It pains me to hear what has become of them,” Vandar said, “But I am glad they have now been set free from Malak's prison.”

Admiral Dodonna was nodding pensively. “Is there anything else the boarding parties would like to add to this report?” she asked.

“Padawan Leyi Enin, along with the Jedi Knights Embren Shadowfall and Den Far-Lon, perished while fighting aboard the Star Forge,” Anika said. She could not hide the pain from her eyes.

“And Jedi Knight Veshisht Um,” Jolee put in, “I don't think we would have found Malak and Ev in time, if it weren't for him. We owe that kid our thanks.”

Carth nodded in agreement.

“We heard your voice, Ev Pell,” Arna Falis addressed her critically, “Calling yourself to be Revan over the comm on the Star Forge. You ordered all of the crew to abandon ship, if I recall. What was the meaning of that?”

The leaders at the head of the table looked somewhat surprised.

“Very simple, actually,” Ev replied, “The stampede that followed showed us where to find the nearest escape pods. Maybe even more importantly, it spared more life that would have needlessly spent in that battle. Maybe some of those people now floating around in life pods out there will be willing to repent and rejoin the Republic.”

“That explains the sea of escape pods floating through the wreckage,” Admiral Dodonna observed, “Once we can find space and organize security for the survivors, we will begin recovery operations.”

The Jedi present nodded approvingly.

“If that's all you have to discuss about the Battle of the Star Forge, I have a suggestion to make,” Ev said.

“Oh?” Dodonna raised an eyebrow, “Please, make your suggestion.”

“This may have been the center of their operations, but the Sith still hold many systems in their control. They will be fragmented without Malak as their leader or the promise of reinforcements from the Star Forge. We should strike quickly at some of their other strongholds before new Darths can rise and take Darth Malak's place,” Ev suggested animatedly.

“You make a valid suggestion,” the admiral agreed, “Something I was thinking of myself, in fact.”

“Part of the fleet should remain here to mop up the remains of the Sith in this system,” the man closest to the head of the table suggested. “The rest of the fleet can regroup with the navy contingent in the Teta System before breaking off towards individual targets.”

“And excellent suggestion, Lieutenant Cabralle,” Dodonna agreed, “Though I would suggest Imrak III instead. Then we would not have to navigate around the core towards Sith controlled worlds.”

“One of the most important planets for this series of strikes you are planning should be Korriban,” Ev suggested, “It is where they train and educate their Dark Jedi.”

“We would need the support of the Jedi Order themselves in order to take such a planet,” Dodonna said, turning towards Vandar and Nomi.

“Support which we would provide,” Nomi assured her.

“We will take Korriban,” Ev volunteered, “The crew of the Ebon Hawk, I mean. We know the layout of the settlement from our last visit, and I even engaged a few contacts within the Sith Academy itself to work for us. If I were to speak with them, we could win the planet from within and without.”

“I see the merits of your suggestion and understand your want to keep your crew together,” Dodonna nodded, “However, I cannot allow a single freighter to attempt to conquer and entire Sith colony.”

“But—” Juhani started to protest.

“Lieutenant Onasi,” she started, “What was the last naval ship under your command.”

“The Endar Spire, sir,” he replied quickly.

“Ah, well we can't get that back for you now,” she mused, “But what would you say to taking command of a small fleet headed for Korriban? If I recall from your previous records, you have always kept your head and kept your fleet together in battles. We can assemble your convoy at Imrak III.”

“Sir,” Carth replied with a nod, “I'll do my best.”

“I know you will, Carth,” Dodonna nodded. “Now, Lieutenant Cabralle, as you suggested it, I want you to undertake dividing the fleet into those that will stay and those that will return to the Republic. We need to get closer to civilization before we can communicate securely within the military network. Aside from Korriban, we will need to know where the bulk of the rest of the Sith fleet was last seen, so as to choose our battles. Have the ships ready for departure in one standard hour.”

“If I may, admiral,” Ev put in, “Two members of our crew are still down on Lehon as hostages to my promise to destroy the Star Forge. We need to retrieve them before the fleet disembarks.”

“Very well, make it three standard hours,” she amended.

“I would like to join you on your visit to the planet's surface,” Nomi said to Ev.

“You're more than welcome to,” Ev replied.

“In that case, this meeting is dismissed,” Admiral Dodonna said. As everyone began to rise, she caught Carth's eye, “Except for you, Carth. We have a strike fleet to discuss.”

~~~

“And then, as we were staring up at the stars, it was like watching a huge supernova!” Mission narrated animatedly, “The Rakata knew exactly what happened and they started cheering. Big Z and me, we started cheering too. It was really exciting. A bunch of 'em started thanking us like we were the ones up there doing the fighting. They had this midnight party with food, music, and dancing—at least I think that was dancing. Some of them stayed up all night long. And Big Z and me, we stayed up with them, expecting to see you guys come to get us any time. When you took so long, we started to worry, you know? But everything turned out great, just like you said. Though I kept wishing that we hadn't made that promise to stay behind. We could see a big battle going on, and we were stuck down on the ground.”

“For my part, Mission, I am glad you stayed on the ground” Juhani said, “Plenty of people died. Even I could not go the whole way.”

“Are you saying I'd've gotten myself killed up there?” Mission asked indignantly.

“We could have used your slicing skills more than once,” Jolee admitted, “But because you're younger, those Sith probably would have made a target of you.”

Zaalbar added his own reassurances.

“Fine,” Mission said, crossing her arms.

“Do you remember Veshisht Um, from the academy on Dantooine?” Juhani asked. She attempted to deflect Mission's frustration.

“Yeah! He survived the attack on Dantooine?” Mission asked eagerly.

“He fought with us on the Star Forge,” Jolee said, then added quietly, “Then he died. We wouldn't have found Ev so quickly if not for him.”

“Oh,” Mission said.

“But he really wanted to know about you,” Carth put in, “He told me to say 'hi' to you for him.”

Ev stepped up behind where Mission sat and put hands on both of her shoulders. “Like it or not, that's the fate of the Jedi in this day and age,” she said, “We fight the forces of evil until evil gets the better of us, and we're dead. The reason there aren't so many Jedi Masters these days is because not many Jedi can live long enough to become one.”

“But that's not the kind of sobering reminder we really need right now,” Jolee argued with cheerful irritation, “I'd say it's more time for celebration. Wouldn't you say so, Carth?”

Carth let out a sigh of relief. “Yeah,” he admitted, “I think the end of this war is finally in sight. Between the Mandalorian wars and this, there's a whole generation that hasn't known what peace in the galaxy is supposed to look like.”

Canderous chuckled, “There will never be complete peace in the galaxy, Carth. Some group will always have a reason to fight another.”

“It's what we make of it,” Ev agreed.

“So we're going back to Korriban to chase out the Sith,” Mission concluded, “Then what?”

“We're actually heading for Imrak III to pick up a strike fleet and some more Jedi, and then going to Korriban,” Carth explained, “We'll have the support of the Republic Navy this time.”

“Imra-ma-call-it what?” Mission asked. “I haven't never heard of that.”

“You wouldn't have,” Carth replied, “It's a secret remote naval base and a barely-inhabitable planet with a small shipyard. The Republic military has been using it over the last couple of years to stage out-rim battles. Some of the ships with us will be getting repairs there, and we'll trade them for fresher ones on the way to Korriban.”

“And Lieutenant Carth Onasi will be in command of that entire fleet,” Ev said proudly. She slid over to Carth and fondly lay a hand on his arm. A pleasant shiver ran down his spine.

“In charge as he can be with her around,” Canderous chuckled under his breath. Jolee laughed too.

Carth had to agree, but he wasn't going to show it. Instead he called, “Kionee, how long do we have until we get to the Imrak system?” He had noticed her shyly slip away into the cockpit at the beginning of the conversation.

The lanky girl hurried down the corridor and stopped in the doorway. “Just about three hours, sir,” she reported, then eyed the crew assembled there nervously. Carth could see it in her face and body language; she knew she was an outsider.

“Good,” Carth nodded, “I bet it will take half a day at least to organize the ships and get all the personnel aboard, but we can't waste too much time. We have put the Sith on the defense now, and they might try to rally to Korriban. We need to beat them there, while they are still disorganized.”

“There is hope for their continued fragmentation,” Bastila said. She had been ghostly silent on the edge of the conversation until now. “I have seen the inner workings of the Sith, if only for a few weeks. There are many who were vying for the title of Darth and Malak's number two after Darth Bandon died aboard the Leviathan. They were all powerful and had small followings, but none were as powerful as Malak and none had the broad support of all the Sith. Now they will fight to take his place, rather than pulling together to recover from the loss of the Star Forge. They will turn inward and fight among themselves instead of fighting the Republic. Though, some of the brighter ones may yet give the Republic trouble. I feel certain that we will meet with at least one or two wannabe Dark Lords on Korriban, but they will be nothing compared to what you faced at the Star Forge. Most of Malak's most powerful Sith had flocked to the Star Forge to win his favor, unaware that he had already chosen a new apprentice in me. Though, there are sure to be a few powerful Sith still left on Korriban at the academy.”

“Bastila, anything else you know about the workings of the Sith or their battle plans would be invaluable to the Republic's war effort,” Carth said seriously.

She bowed her head respectfully, “I will give myself over to be debriefed by you and your superiors once we arrive at Imrak III.”

“And maybe that information you give will make you realize that you have actually been redeemed,” Jolee chided.

“It will be a start,” Bastila replied distantly.

“Do you think,” Kionee asked quietly during the lull in the conversation, “maybe, that when we're on Korriban, we'll be able to get my ship back?”

~~~

At Imrak III, Carth had made sure to include a shabby, rundown freighter in the docking bay of his new cruiser, the Sojourn. While the Ebon Hawk was too notorious to take down to Dreshdae again, the confiscated freighter looked like just the sort of unremarkable smuggling ship that went in and out of the star port every day. It was on this ship, the Agate Charm, that Ev and Carth descended once again to the surface of Korriban.

The Czerka immigrations officer seemed to find no fault with their request to land and assigned them a docking bay. As they flew over the spaceport to their given landing place, Carth spotted a brilliantly shining silver freighter parked alone in one of the bays.

“That looks like Kionee's,” Ev observed. She saw it too. “She'll be happy to hear it's still in one piece.”

They landed and disembarked, leaving two competent soldiers with the ship. Both men were skilled pilots and level-headed fighters. The would lay low in the cargo bay unless a quick escape from the planet was needed, when the could come to Carth and Ev's rescue.

Ev and Carth made their way through the familiar corridors and to the cantina. It was as full of shady-looking pilots and Sith students as it had been only a few weeks before. There was no sign, in the air of the place, that the Sith knew they were now on the losing side of the war. The Dark Jedi that ate and drank among their friends. They were as confident and cocky as ever.

They seated themselves a a vacant table among the Sith, Ev wearing her black Sith apprentice robes again. Carth had even traded his Lieutenant's uniform, which Dodonna insisted he should wear while in command, for his usual orange jacket again. Just as Ev had hoped, their presence did not go unnoticed.

A thin, pale Dark Jedi stood up and walked over to their table. Putting his hand on the table between Ev and her drink, he sneered, “I didn't think we'd be seeing your face around here again, Ren Va.”

“Ah, good to see you again too, Mekel,” Ev replied with a sarcastic smile.

“I have always said to everyone else that it was pretty suspicious; you disappearing on the very night that both Master Uthar and Master Yuthura went missing,” Mekel continued haughtily. “And here you are, back on Korriban acting like nothing has happened. Why are you here, Ren?”

“So you beat Lashowe in that little contest then?” Ev observed.

“When Master Therv took over the academy, he forgot completely about Master Uthar's contest and made both Lashowe and I full Sith apprentices,” Mekel scoffed, “But you didn't answer my question.”

“Maybe you heard that I cleared out Tulak Hord's tomb and killed that crazy old hermit, Jorak Un,” Ev said silkily, “After all that, I felt like I needed a vacation. But, I got bored again, so I'm back. I'm ready to start my training for real now.”

“Sith don't take holidays,” Mekel sneered, “There is no room for fair-weather Sith in this academy.”

“Says you,” Ev retorted confidently, “I know someone who still owes me one back in the academy. I'm sure he can convince your new master of the academy of my merits.”

“Ha,” Mekel laughed, “Who could have possibly gotten himself in your debt?”

“Dustil Onasi,” Ev answered openly, “So if you happen to see him around, tell him I'm looking for him.”

“Right, sure I will,” Mekel lied and turned his back on them. He strode back to his own table with an air of superiority, and immediately began snickering with his table-mates.

Mekel himself didn't need to pass on the message. He hadn't been the only one in the cantina to recognize Ev and to be surprised by her arrival. Practically everyone had been eavesdropping on their conversation. Ev had made it easy, speaking loudly and openly.

Not quite an hour later, Dustil himself strode into the cantina. Although he had clearly come on the rumor from a friend of his, he still seemed surprised to see them. He walked over to Ev and said, “I heard you were looking for me.”

“I was,” Ev replied with a half smile and pushed a chair away from the table for him to sit in.

“I thought you said you wouldn't tell anyone about what happened back at that tomb,” Dustil said irritably as he sat down between Carth and Ev.

“I never said anything about a tomb,” Ev argued lightly, “I only said that you owed me a favor, which you do.”

“You want to get back into the academy, don't you?” Dustil observed. Carth bought him a beer while he and Ev feigned their verbal sparring match.

“You've hit it right on the head,” Ev replied with an emphatic tap on the tabletop.

“Master Therv isn't likely to like you as much as Master Yuthura or even Uthar did,” Dustil warned.

“Hey, I'm charming,” Ev pointed out, “And besides, you're the one who owes me a favor. You figure out how to get me in again.”

Dustil leaned in closer and asked in a low voice, “What is this about anyway? Do you need information?”

Both Ev and Carth scooted closer and bent over the table with him. “We're here to take Korriban,” Ev answered quietly.

“'We' being more than just you two?” Dustil asked skeptically.

“Son, I have command of an entire fleet, including a bunch of Jedi,” Carth clarified.

“That's a bold move for the Republic,” Dustil observed, “Unless...”

“Unless what?” Ev asked.

“There have been rumors,” Dustil whispered, “Rumors that something called the Star Forge has been destroyed and that Darth Revan has returned.”

“Those rumors are true, Dustil, and the Republic victory at the Star Forge was more important than you can imagine,” Carth said.

“The Star Forge is what has been fueling the Sith War effort, building all of your ships and droids, and serving as a secret central command,” Ev explained lowly, “Moreover, Malak fell with that Star Forge.”

“But the rumors about Darth Revan? He has been dead for a couple of years,” Dustil protested.

“Revan was a she, and she didn't die after all. The Jedi 'saved' her in their own way,” Ev said darkly, “I am Revan. And it was I that met Darth Malak aboard the Star Forge in single combat, defeating him. I'm back, but not in the way those rumors make it sound. Though, that's just the way I wanted it.”

“You were Revan all along, and working for the Jedi?” Dustil put together in disbelief, “And I bet finding this Star Forge was your goal right from the beginning too. But how?”

“Your son is sharper than you are, Carth,” Ev teased, “But in all seriousness, this isn't the time or the place to go into the details of my redemption or our mission. Let's talk about the logistics of now. We want to storm Dreshdae tomorrow morning, if it can be done.”

“Depends on what all you've brought with you,” Dustil said pensively, “How many Jedi do you have with you?”

“Twenty-ish,” Ev replied.

“There are still between forty and fifty Dark Jedi at the academy, plus a small garrison of soldiers. Besides me and Lashowe, there's about eight of us now ready to break away from the Sith. We'll be fighting on your side not theirs. But, I still wouldn't bet those odds in your favor, even if you are Revan, unless we catch them at a time when they aren't prepared,” Dustil assessed. Carth felt a swell of pride for his son. “If you struck just before dawn, when pretty much everyone is still in bed, you'd have a good chance of taking the academy.”

“That's just what I was thinking,” Ev agreed, “We'll send in half of our Jedi out in the middle of the night to sneak up the mountain pass to the valley behind the academy, and the rest will come by the front in the morning.”

“You've thought this out pretty well,” Dustil nodded.

“Your group should find someway to mark yourselves as different from the rest of the Sith so that our people can tell you apart,” Ev advised.

Dustil thought for a moment, “How about armbands out of Czerka orange?”

“You can manage that before tomorrow morning?” Ev asked.

Dustil nodded.

“There is also one more thing I want to be very clear about,” Ev said sternly, “As tempting as it would be to stab everyone in their beds while they slept, the Jedi and I would rather them all be disarmed, stunned, and rounded up. They deserve the chance you got to see the light. And, if not, they'll stand trial before the Republic. That will be humiliating enough.”

Dustil nodded slowly, “I'll try to make the others understand, but there's no promising anything with them. We're still Sith apprentices, not taught like good little Jedi, remember. When I'm fighting, I consider preserving my life first before my enemy's.”

“As you should,” Carth said.

“I know,” Ev said over him, “I only ask that you guys do the best you can. When the Jedi arrive, they'll pick up the pieces.”

“Is there anything else we should know?” Ev asked quietly, “Like a fleet expected to arrive tomorrow or something like that.”

Dustil smiled wryly, “Now that you mention it, I do remember hearing about some ships coming in tomorrow, but they're due in the afternoon. If everything goes like you have planned, you should have the planet cleared off and be ready for them in the skies by the time they arrive. There's only Dreshdae to worry about, after all.”

Carth chuckled despite himself. “Do you know how many ships might be in that fleet?” he asked.

Dustil shrugged, “Rumors aren't usually very specific.”

“Well, we will be ready for them,” Carth said, “And I'll have any nearby fleets of ours standing by as reinforcements if we need them.”

“You don't have anything else to grill me on?” Dustil asked.

“No,” Carth cracked a smile, “I'm proud of you son.”

Dustil returned a flicker of a smile. It was enough to make Carth even happier. After their history, he couldn't expect Dustil to love him yet, but it was a start.

“And you're actually serious about wanting me to get you into the academy tonight?” Dustil asked Ev.

“Yes,” she nodded, “I want to be on the inside when this starts. He is going back space-side, where he belongs.”

The young man leaned back in his chair and said sourly, “So that's how it is? You're really going to pull that on me?” His voice carried loudly enough to be overheard again.

Ev grinned wickedly in reply, “I will if you don't give me a good recommendation.”

“Fine, fine,” he agreed grudgingly. “I'll take you to Master Therv right now, even. I promise, he'll be in a rotten mood.”

“All the better,” Ev laughed.

“But on one condition,” Dustil cautioned, “That thug of yours isn't coming along. Nobody liked that you brought a manservant with you last time, and I still don't like him now. The Sith academy is only for Sith, not stupid tag-alongs.”

“I guess you're fired then, Carth,” Ev said jokingly, “I wish you luck job-hunting on this barren rock.”

“Trust me, I'm not desperate enough to start looking for work here,” Carth said, “Just pay me what you owe me, and I'll be on my way.”

“How about, let's not and pretend I did,” Ev replied, standing up, “I think I want to keep my credits in my pocket today.”

Carth was on his feet, hands on his blasters.

“Bad move,” Dustil warned, patting his own lightsaber, “If you want to keep your head on your shoulders, forget about the credits and get out of here.”

Grumbling angrily, Carth dropped his blasters back into their holsters and shuffled out of the cantina. He held up the ruse of a disgruntled laborer until he was back on his own ship in the spaceport. Both soldiers met him with a silent salute and one followed him into the cockpit to take Ev's place as copilot.

No one pursued them as they took off or broke into orbit. The space around Korriban was empty except for a few other freighters coming and going. No one followed them either when they made their jump to the outer reaches of the system where the rest of Carth's fleet waited. As soon as they were aboard the Sojourn again, he would send out the Jedi landing party. The ten-odd Jedi aboard two more equally shabby freighters included Jolee, Juhani, Bastila, Belaya, and Arna Falis, as well as Master Vima Sunrider, the spunky daughter of the famed Nomi Sunrider. They also took Mission and Zaalbar along, in case any slicing should be needed. Carth felt confident with the ground mission in their hands.

Among the Jedi that would descend to the planet in the morning were a few familiar names and faces for Carth: Master Vrook was to oversee the Jedi on his team. Not that Carth was particularly happy to see him. Master Anika had insisted on being included as well, despite her missing hand. Also among those Jedi was one whose name Carth had often heard praised among the military as an unbeatable fighter: Master Kavar. When Carth finally met the man, Kavar hadn't seemed any more special than the other Jedi he arrived with. That is, except for the two lightsabers he wore on his belt, just like Ev.

Though on the eve of a battle, Carth slept easy that night. He had an entire fleet under his command, the largest force he had ever commanded in his lifetime. With that and people he trusted at his back—Ev, Dustil, Jolee, Mission, and the whole crew of their long journey—he felt assured of victory.

~~~

Instead of staying in orbit, perhaps where the commanding lieutenant of the fleet aught to belong, Carth descended to Korriban with the landing parties. He couldn't stay in space as an advising observer while the rest of his crew hashed out the battle on land. Admiral Dodonna would reprimand him later.

They took Dreshdae in a matter of minutes. The cowardly Czerka staff ran for cover, promising loyalty to the Republic forces, while the local smugglers slipped away to their ships and zipped away from the planet as quickly as they could. Those Sith soldiers that did stand guard were barely awake and either surrendered immediately or were shot down.

Soldiers and Jedi poured out of the colony settlement and onto the dusty plateau in front of the Sith Academy. As they came out into the cold, dawn sunlight it was an impressive sight to behold. Dark Jedi fled fearfully from the front gates of their school, some only half dressed. All with lightsabers blazing as they fled, only to meet more enemies. Ev, Dustil, and a team of Jedi rushed out after them. Soon, Jolee and Juhani, along with a few more Sith sporting orange arm bands, chased out a few more. The dim battlefield was alight with glowing red, green, yellow, blue, and violet.

Soon enough, all of the Sith were surrounded. They had all either surrendered, been stunned, or killed. The Jedi moved in to disarm them all and clasp them into Force binders. Korriban was in their hands and the situation was under control. With that satisfaction, Carth made for the nearest troop ship. He had a space battle to prepare for.

Canderous appeared from out of the aftermath of the battle and headed him off. They reached the ship at nearly the same time. The old Mandalorian clapped Carth on the shoulder and commended, “Decisively done, Carth.”


The expected Sith fleet arrived later that evening and the skirmish was even shorter than the morning's. Two huge silver capital ships staggered into the system, expecting sanctuary and leadership. They found their planet under Republic control, with six cruisers and their fighters in orbit around Korriban.

Carth let Ev take the comm and announce to the incoming ships that she was Revan and demand their surrender. They willingly complied. Rooting the Sith out of their stronghold had been far easier than imagined. Where they had felt most comfortable, they had not expected an attack. That day, there were almost no losses to the Sith on their front.

Other battles, Carth knew, would not be so easily won.

~~~

Coruscant.

It had been a long time—over a year—since Carth had set eyes on the teeming ecumenopolis. Huge spires of buildings towered up into the stratosphere while steams of shuttles and other craft zipped between them in tightly regulated traffic patterns.

It had been even longer since Carth had to navigate those traffic patterns himself. Carth preferred dogfights to traffic laws. Taking a deep breath, he piloted the Ebon Hawk down a prescribed entrance vector towards the city below. Ev was, as ever, a competent copilot and helped him avoid a number of potential fender-benders.

She stared at the directions feed and said, “You'll want to turn at the next left, then be ready for a quick right.”

“Which left?” Carth asked. There were still two lanes of traffic to his left.

“That left,” Ev said exasperatedly. “I though you were a pilot. Well, it looks like we can take the next one and just swing around the block with only a little time lost.”

Carth only grunted in response and, this time, managed to turn the Ebon Hawk in time.

“Now, right,” Ev said quickly.

Carth nearly collided with a small speeder car as he jerked the bulk of the Ebon Hawk around to the right. Freighters the size of their ship were at a distinct disadvantage in the sky roads of Coruscant.

Finally, after only a few more missed turns, they arrived at the Jedi Temple. Traffic immediately around the huge, five-spired structure was sparse. Carth had no trouble taking the Ebon Hawk down to its assigned landing pad. A cluster of brown and cream clad Jedi—and one balding man robed in red—already waited at the edge of the landing pad for their arrival.

With a sigh, Ev leaned back in her chair. “So here we are,” she said distantly, “The Jedi Temple of Coruscant. I'm a Jedi after all, I guess. I should be happy to be here.” With another sigh, she picked herself up out of the seat and started down the hallway. Carth got up and followed her.

When they were out of sight of the viewports, Ev leaned up for a quick kiss.

“You take care of yourself, Carth,” Ev advised lovingly, “And see if you can't convince your superiors to give you a vacation. A good long one. I think you've earned it.”

“So have you,” Carth chuckled. With an arm around her waist, the walked side by side out into garage.

The loading ramp was already lowered and the rest of the crew assembled around it.

Ev walked out of Carth's hold and observed, “So here it ends. Our crew breaks up. The Star Forge is gone and the Sith are on the run. We're all needed elsewhere. The Jedi want the Jedi, the military wants the soldier, and well, real life wants the rest of you. We did what we set out to do, and now we have to each find something new worth doing.”

“I wish we could always stick together like this,” Mission sighed.

Zaalbar rumbled his agreement.

“She's right,” Canderous pointed out gruffly, “We all have other work to do now that this war is wrapping up.”

“They are waiting,” Juhani reminded the others reluctantly, “We must stand before the Jedi High Council.”

“And so we must go,” Bastila still seemed out of spirits.

“I've got nothing to fear from that bunch,” Jolee chided, “I'm just an old man who used to be one of them. Besides, I think I've finally done enough good now to atone for my past crimes. What's the worst they could do to me, huh?”

Ev chuckled but did not answer. She looked out over the crew and began, “I want to say thanks one more time before we go. I don't think we could have done all of this if we were short even one person from this crew. Thanks guys; Jolee, HK, Juhani, Canderous, Bastila, T3, Mission, Zaalbar, Carth. Sure, you all helped save the Republic, but, in a way, you helped to save me. You all, and this crazy trip, made me what I am now. I have you all to thank for that.” She looked around. Everyone else was at a loss for words. “Well,” she started, “I guess we should get going.”

Bastila, Ev, Juhani, and Jolee started reluctantly down the ramp.

“Take care of yourselves, will you?” Carth called after them.

“Don't think you've seen the last of us!” Ev called back.

They disappeared below. Ev and the others were out of Carth's hands now and into the hands of the Jedi, where they belonged.

As Carth prepped the ship for launch again, this time with Canderous beside him, he watched his four friends be swallowed up by the welcoming party. There were many friendly gestures, bows, as well as pats on the back. Carth found his eyes following one bobbing head of messy black hair while the Ebon Hawk lifted off the platform. Ev is where she belongs now. The Jedi will take care of her. He tried to reassure himself.

“Where to now, Carth?” Canderous asked, even though he knew the answer.

“The Republic Senate Complex,” Carth answered. It was only a few blocks away. “You all are to be the special guests of Supreme Chancellor Cressa.”

Canderous chuckled at the irony of him as a guest of the Republic's leader. “And what about you? You're not his guest too?” Canderous asked, amused.

“Like I said earlier,” Carth reminded him, “I've been invited, but I've also been called by my superiors to the Galactic Headquarters of the Republic Military.”

“And when they say jump, you jump,” Canderous observed as they flew.

“And high,” Carth laughed, “After writing a nice long report for them and debriefing with Admiral Dodonna, I don't know what they would want with me so soon, unless it's to reassign me.”

“They can't let a talented guy like rest, can they?” Canderous asked.

Carth chuckled. That may have been the first compliment I ever got from him. “Well, if they let me go at all in the next couple of days, I may join you all as guests of the chancellor,” Carth said.

In minutes, they docked at senate building. The supreme chancellor himself, several senators, and guards waited to greet them. Carth did not even leave the ship as he saw off Mission, Zaalbar, Canderous, and the droids. If she hadn't arrived already, Kionee was probably stuck in traffic on her way to join their reception. They were all well received, but a political reception was one that Carth could do without. It was just as well that the military had called him in.

The Republic Military HQ Complex was only another block further beyond the senate. His welcoming party consisted only of another soldier who saluted him and promptly showed him into a conference room six floors above the docking bays.

Admiral Dodonna, along with three other navy admirals and one grand admiral sat around a long table. He had seen all their faces before and heard their names, but this was his first introduction to all of them except for Dodonna herself.

“We want to commend you, Lieutenant Onasi, on a job exceptionally well done,” Grand Admiral Weshenn said even before Carth had seated himself.

“We have read your reports and heard from Admiral Dodonna of your accomplishments of the last few months,” Admiral Kreigh added, “And we are very impressed.”

“Thank you sir,” Carth said respectfully.

“Please do sit, Carth,” Dodonna urged and he stiffly obeyed.

“Lieutenant Onasi,” Admiral Kreigh continued, “You were given the Sojourn and its fleet to command at Korriban as a test of your skills.”

“Sir?” Carth hadn't been aware that his own performance was under such scrutiny.

“Your victory was decisive, quickly, and you suffered very minimal losses,” Admiral Larsen, a pot-bellied and balding man, said, “You effectively deployed the Jedi under your command and safely took prisoners, who included many Dark Jedi. We are impressed, Lieutenant. You have proven yourself on several fronts now.”

“You have passed our test, Lieutenant Carth Onasi,” Dodonna said. With a small smile, she asked, “What do you say to a promotion, Admiral Onasi?”

- Next Part -

 

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