“It was the day of the great Return.
The dawn of the Second Great War was upon us. Twilight had fallen.”
Varnusian Productions Presents:
Varnus Quadrant, Epsilon Sector
The planet Varnus hung serenely in space, a beautiful blue and green sphere reflecting the sunlight from the system’s calm, orange-yellow sun. The flowing, purple cloud-like Galbagos Nebula stretched across the blackness of space, filling the background. Few stars populated the darkness this far out in the Rim. One of them was approaching up from the planet’s surface, a bright white dot that grew and sped by the other sentry ships, burning for a point out-system. The shape resolved itself into the form of a ship as it passed by the picket sentry ships that were broadcasting this event down to the planet below.
The ship was a slender, graceful work of art, streamlined and sleek. Suited for both atmospheric and space flight, the hundred and fifty meter long vessel would be faster and more maneuverable than any other ship in the fleet. Armed with a host of powerful and even experimental weapons, it was readily capable of taking on ships many times its size. A new breed of starship dedicated to potentially become the mainstream capital ship for the Jedi and even the entire NI. This was the prototype test-flight. Thousands on Varnus had gathered to watch this moment, the christening of a new capital ship in the Jedi Division, and the marking of a new era in the stage of space combat. Despite the chaos of the last couple days, the test would still proceed, although security had been tightened heavily to protect against attack. Other ships dotted space around the planet, watching, as well. In an observatory in the palace below, Grand Master Xar Kerensky, Deputy Mathis Organa, Maarek Stele, and others would be watching intently.
“This is Captain Rothir,” the ship’s pilot announced from the vessel’s small bridge. Around the room, the other crew worked diligently to keep everything running smoothly for this much-publicized test flight. “The Starfire has now passed the outer defense grid and has moved into the safe-jump zone. All systems report at 100%. Today we’re going to make a quick sweep around the system, testing out the Starfire’s weapons and jump drive, and…”
“Captain!!” one of the crew interrupted in a high-pitched tone. “Look!”
Rothir looked up out the bridge viewport, and froze. Ahead of them, space twisted and contorted, stars jumping about as if scattered by an invisible wind. Then the swirling vortex began to glow, brighter and brighter, until the bridge was filled with light from the white hole in space in front of them, extending for kilometers all around them.
Then, out of the light, a wall of metal appeared, so wide it filled the viewports. It loomed ahead, so large they couldn’t even tell how close they were. And when they did, all they could do was scream as the wall rushed up to meet them…
The pristine ship slammed into the barrier, smashing the forward bridge and driving the rest of the ship forward. It was crushed and crumpled as it hit, pieces of the delicate ship shattering in gouts of fire. Then the entire vessel was consumed in a fiery explosion.
The Starfire’s death throe was merely a tiny flash of light against the front of one of two wide, massive spires jutting out of the wormhole. The spires widened into wings, which came together further on as they joined with the main body of the emerging ship. If it could be called a ship. Easily five kilometers in width, the ship poured out at speeds not even a fighter could hope to match. Intricately detailed markings and designs decorated the hull, other pieces of the ship jutting out at odd angles, each comprising dozens, if not hundreds, of levels. Yet the ship came on, revealing a set of massive fins jutting out the sides of the ship for kilometers, and a massive fin stretched across the top and bottom of the vessel, extending forward, serving some unknown alien purpose.
But no sooner had the first ship begun to emerge, than a second portal formed to its left, and a massive, round hull began to protrude. The second ship poured out, kilometer after kilometer of it, similarly intricate designs decorating the hull. This ship emerged in a more traditional shape, a more smooth, rounded form. Somewhat like a Calamari Cruiser, if one were multiplied about thirty times. Numerous, gaping hangers lined the sides of the ship, filled with scores of other vessels and thousands of fighters.
Then, impossibly, a third gateway opened to the left of both ships, and two long spires extended out, more slender and longer than the first, though still colossal in size. This ship, though shaped traditionally, its length much more than its width, had no further similarities to the first two. Odd curves and shapes molded around its sides, projections jutting out from the main body of the ship. It poured out of the gateway it had made, singular, purple-white engine flares appearing from the various drives spread around the ship. Unlike the other two ships, which had their main engine arrays in the aft, the ship’s multiple engines were spaced out and all around this massive vessel.
The glowing wormhole collapsed behind the first ship as it finally completed its emergence. As darkness settled on the vessel, all fifty kilometers of it, the titanic ship slowed, edging forward toward the planet. The other two ships, at thirty kilometers each, finished emerging as well, and the three colossal vessels coasted silently toward Varnus.
The entire palace was in an uproar. Everyone had been gathered in the observatory to watch the status of the test flight, and make sure nothing went wrong. But no one had been prepared for this. People were moving everywhere. Xar looked around the room, spotted Mathis, and moved over toward him. Icis Novitaar, the Traveler, was already gone, running screaming out of the room as soon as the ships had begun emerging. “Icis! What are you doing?” he yelled, but it was too late. The lift doors were already closing. He turned his thoughts from the man and caught up to Mathis, who was already relaying defense orders.
“Mathis! We have to organize some kind of defense!”
“Right,” the man said, staring at the viewscreen. “This place is a madhouse.”
“What we need to do is get up to the Stormwatch,” Xar put in. “You go on up while I get things organized here. Then I will join you.”
The man seemed to hesitate, staring at him. “I don’t think we’ve got much of a chance against that,” he said, pointing at one of the viewscreens hanging from the ceiling.
“Still, we do not have any choice.” Xar cut back. “Looks like the best we can hope for is an organized retreat until we can call in reinforcements. But either way, we have to move now!” He looked on at the viewscreens in horror, himself. Could this be the enemy that had threatened the NI and attacked the Satyr System? If so, the Force help them…
30 minutes later
Within half an hour the Varnusan defense force had assembled everything they had. The array of Division ships hovered in orbit, waiting for some move from the enemy. But the three massive titans just held their positions.
Maarek Stele looked out from the cockpit of his TIE Avatar as a full Wing of Division fighters streaked out towards the huge vessels. He led his own squadron, still relatively fresh out of training. Even the new TIE Avatars hadn’t been tested in live combat, yet. The Stormwatch, Dungeon Ship Lord Keto, and the Escort Carrier Liberator coasted behind them. Still, the titans waited.
Xar ran down the halls of the palace, the corridors devoid of people. An emergency evacuation and shelter signal had been sent out, and everyone was ordered to take cover. The planetary shields were up. Xar himself just had one more thing he had to do… Seal off the Palace Treasury, so no one would be able to get in and gain access to the valuables there, including the Scepter of Karanishma. He’d grab important items such as those, then he’d take his own ship, the Black Star, up to join the others.
Suddenly he stopped, sensing a strange feeling of malicious intent nearby. He turned, and behind him saw several figures approaching. He turned back to question them, watching them cautiously. Then he sensed motion behind him, too. What was going on? Why couldn’t he sense them sooner? Then something slammed into the back of his head, plunging him into darkness.
The dark-cloaked figures carrying a large case into a small transport attracted no notice at all in the confusion. Not with countless other personal craft making an evacuation at the same time. No one guessed its contents might hold the Grand Master of the Jedi Division of the New Imperium.
When they reached within one hundred kilometers of the ships, their huge hulls looming in front of them, a wave of what he could only describe as terror and panic swept through him, and the sound of a primal scream filled his mind. Just like in the Danube System. Maarek shook his head, fighting the wave, seeing other fighters pull away in fear already. “Stay in position!” he shouted over the comm. “It’s some kind of Force trick!”
Then Maarek saw the titans move. The Division fleet was on a course that would take them past the Titans and a jump point that would take them toward Moro. But they weren’t going to make it in time, he saw. The rightmost titan, a ship that seemed strangely familiar to Maarek, turned and moved across to cut them off, exposing its broadside to them.
The lead Titan moved forward, and a flash erupted from a port in between the two massive forward wings. Maarek’s sensors nearly overloaded as an invisible blast passed him and the fleet, striking back toward the planet. Then in an instant, the Golan-Three Space Platform Cauldron exploded. There was no other way to put it. One minute the space station was enveloped in white light and energy. Then a massive explosion burst out of the entire platform.
As if by that signal, all hell broke loose. Massive, continuous beams shot out from the Titans, striking the Stormwatch and also passing her towards the other Golan. As Maarek neared the lead ship, streaks of smoke shot out toward him like missiles, and within seconds they shot past his fighter group. He realized in astonishment that they weren’t missiles, but fighters themselves, ships that passed the Division ships in a flash and attacked the second Golan Warhammer, striking with miniature versions of the Titan beam weapons. Then several large objects also launched from the lead ship, approaching Maarek’s formation before suddenly blossoming out into more fighters front of him, more than he could count.
must be thousands of them!” someone shouted. Maarek didn’t try to quiet
him; he was too busy fighting the feeling of cold terror in his gut. These massive
ships were like the one he’d seen passing through the
Return fire blasted out from the Division ships, filling the sky with needles of green light. Turbolaser fire blasted out in a near-continuous stream from all the Division ships, the Stormwatch, Lord Keto, Liberator, and the space platform and remaining Golan. Few of the blasts hit the enemy fighters, but those that did barely phased them, merely knocking them off course if at all.
Piercing yellow beams of light shot out from the titans, tearing into the Platform Sentinel, cutting the base into pieces within seconds. A beam hit the Stormwatch and punched right through its shields, cutting an ugly scar in the front of the ship’s hull. Behind, he saw that the Golan Warhammer’s shields had been penetrated, impossible as that seemed, as solid mass driver slugs punched through them and tore into the hull. Beams of energy followed them in, cutting into the defense platform and opening dozens of decks to vacuum. Then Maarek’s attention was all ahead as swarms of enemy ships met his fighter wing. Ships exploded left and right, beams of energy streaking out and slicing his own ships open. Others simply rammed into the Division’s TIEs, destroying the weaker vessels but sometimes not even destroying the enemy. The Division’s fighters gave as good as they got, but their weapons might as well have been thrown rocks than missiles and laser weapons. Their laser blasts were absorbed by the enemy fighters’ shields, and missile blasts merely diverted them for a second. Maarek’s ears were filled with screams of the dying, as he fought to keep himself alive. A twin missile burst slammed into an enemy fighter and threw it to the side, but failed to destroy the craft. Then they were flying over the surface of the titan, a cityscape of intricate detail decorating the ship’s hull. As close as they were, it didn’t seem like a ship at all.
Suddenly a voice broke over the comm traffic, coming from the Stormwatch. “This is Deputy Organa! All fighters, pull back and provide cover for our capital ships on our escape run!”
“What about Varnus?!” Maarek yelled back, oblivious to who heard him. Between them and Varnus, the Golan platform Warhammer broke apart in an explosion of fire and debris.
“I told them to keep the planetary shields up and pray they survive until we get back,” the Deputy Grand Master’s voice came back. “The shields should hold off the enemy for a while. But unless we get out of here, we’ll all be slaughtered!”
Maarek turned his fighter back toward the Star Destroyer, in time to see a quad-blast of continuous beam fire from one of the fighters tear into the ship’s port sensor tower and detonate it in a massive fireball. The Stormwatch continued upwards at top speed, pushing along across the surface of the titan, weathering the intense fusion blasts from the massive enemy vessels. The smaller, more limber DGN Lord Keto managed to avoid the blasts, but Maarek realized with shock that the more vulnerable ESC Liberator didn’t have either advantage. Moving like something akin to an interstellar pig, the ship was a sitting target, one that the enemy quickly capitalized upon. Two combined fusion blasts from the lead biggest titan cut into the Escort Carrier simultaneously, slicing into it from both sides. The shields fell almost instantly, and the beams cut through, leaving glowing fire in their wake. A second later the whole ship was consumed in a massive fireball.
“That’s it!” Mathis’s voice came in a yell. “No time to calculate the jump; we’ve no other choice! Initiating emergency jump sequence! All ships, lock into the signal onboard the Stormwatch!”
“But that could take us anywhere!” Maarek objected.
“Anywhere but here, Maarek. Do it!”
“Aye, sir. I will comply.” Maarek locked his signal in with the Star Destroyer as a full spread of mines launched out the back of the Stormwatch. A ring of explosions consumed the pursuing enemy fighters and obscured the ship from the titan’s targeting long enough. As flaming fighters shot through the eruption, some still not destroyed, the Stormwatch shot into hyperspace, followed quickly by the Lord Keto and the remaining Division fighters. Maarek winced as the stars stretched to starlines, and then he was gone, wondering if they’d still be alive when they came out of hyperspace.
The three Titans remained, floating silently in space, their terrifying visages hovering over the planet Varnus.
* * *
Mathis held onto the arms of his chair for all he was worth as the Star Destroyer dropped out of hyperspace. The starlines drew back into stars, and then abruptly all they were facing was a distant starfield of space, backed by the Galbagos Nebula. He echoed the sigh of relief going around the entire bridge. They’d made it out safely.
“Damage report,” Adept Gaius Adonai, commodore of the ship, barked out.
“What about the other ships?” Gaius asked.
“Exiting hyperspace right behind us,” the tactical officer said. “The DGN Lord Keto is there, and fourteen other transport craft. We have thirty-five fighters remaining. The Liberator was lost, sir.”
A hushed silence fell over the bridge. Of the Stormwatch’s wing of fighters and the other wing sent up by the planet, only about a fourth were left. They’d lost most of their fleet in a matter of minutes out there. Mathis shook his head in dismay.
“Have all ships report damage status and pull into formation,” Gaius ordered, even his voice a little shaky. “And have the remaining fighters come onboard. Keep scanning the area. We don’t want those ships popping out of space behind us.”
He looked around at the bridge crew, most of whom were staring around in silence and near-shock. “Move, people!” Gaius belted out. “This isn’t the time to panic! You’re all officers in the New Imperium Navy! Act like it!”
The bridge resumed a bustle of activity then, many of the officers turning back to their stations in shame. Mathis shook his head. He could still feel the residual feelings of fear that had swept out at them like a wave, threatening to overwhelm them even before the enemy had attacked.
“Deputy,” Gaius spoke up, taking his thoughts. “We have to see who made it out and who didn’t. There must be many Jedi still on Varnus, and the Houses’ bases in other systems could be at risk. We have to let the NI know what happened.”
Mathis nodded numbly, then a terrible thought hit him suddenly. In the damage and casualty assessments, there had been no mention of the Grand Master. “Where’s Xar?” he asked, a feeling of panic rising up in his stomach. “Didn’t he make it out?”
“I don’t know,” Gaius said. “We haven’t received word.”
“You mean he’s still back on Varnus?”
The other man shook his head. “We can’t determine either way. There was no communication from the Black Star, which would seem to indicate he didn’t even launch.”
“Why wouldn’t he launch?” Mathis asked, bewildered. The panic became overwhelming, now. “Gaius? What happened to him? Tell me, Gaius!”
Gaius and the other Jedi just looked at him then, blank expressions on their faces, enough to tell Mathis they didn’t know.
“I left him there,” Mathis realized aloud, dropping back into his seat and putting a hand to his forehead. He knew how often Xar gave orders with his heart more than his head. If the man had decided to stick it out on Varnus, fight off the invaders by himself… But he wouldn’t have a chance. Mathis had abandoned his best friend and his leader on Varnus to die, or be captured. And they didn’t even know who their enemy was.
Mathis sank lower into his seat as a wave of depression came over him, and all the weight of helping run the Division the last couple of years sank onto him fully, crushing him. So many times he’d worried for Xar as the headstrong man went about getting himself in danger. Now he was left behind, and maybe lost forever. He had failed in his mission and abandoned his friend. He hung his head. Without Xar, what were they going to do now?
Miraculously still alive after the emergency jump, Maarek walked into the ready room on the Stormwatch and his eyes widened in shock as he saw the Deputy Grand Master, leaning over one of the tables. He thought the man was crying. Commodore Gaius and some of the other ranking Jedi were gathered around, looking on in silence. “Deputy Organa?” Maarek asked uncertainly.
“It’s over, Maarek. Varnus is gone. We lost it!” the man looked up at him, his face a mask of torment. “I lost it!”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, sir. You did the best that could be done,” Maarek countered. “Nobody could have saved Varnus… I’m as shocked as you are, but we didn’t have a chance against those guys. I don’t know if we even killed one of them!”
“We had warnings about this…” Mathis said, shaking his head. “These are the same people that wiped out the Satyr System two days ago! Our whole defense system, worth billions of credits, was nothing! And Xar’s gone, too! Nobody knows where he is… I thought he was on one of the other ships, but… He never made it…” He broke off, voice choked, and hung his head.
“I don’t know where Xar is, Mathis. But I know he’s all right. We’ll get Varnus back, sir. I think we can do it, with the rest of the New Imperium’s help. I got a good glimpse at that one Titan. I think those big hangars would be vulnerable to attack.”
Mathis nodded weakly. “I’m going to call a distress signal. It’s the only chance we’ve got.”
“All right, sir, I’ll leave you alone, then.”
Minutes later a broadband distress signal hit bases all throughout the New Imperium. Mathis’ terrified, tear-streaked face stared into the viewscreen, frantically asking everyone, anyone, for help. Only with the help of the entire New Imperium would they have a chance to drive the invaders off. And maybe not even then…
* * *
Varnusian Productions Presents:
NI Space, Epsilon Sector
2300 Hours Ship’s Time
The small band of Jedi Division vessels sat lonely in space, the few survivors of the attack on Varnus. The modified ISD-II Stormwatch floated in the center, its pristine white hull now blackened and charred with burn marks, some penetrating many levels into the vessel. Those levels had all been sealed off to prevent the decompression of further areas of the ship. Frothing, frozen bubbles of dirty-white paint clustered on her hull, where the ultra-intense fusion beams of the enemy had melted and sliced through her hull. One of the Star Destroyer's distinctive, bulbous sensor towers that sat atop the bridge command structure was gone, blown away by an enemy fighter. Only a blackened char remained where it once was, disrupting the symmetry of the command tower. As much damage as the Stormwatch had suffered, however, it hadn't gotten the worst of it. Most of the damage was cosmetic, and the vessel's fighting capabilities would not be hindered if battle came again.
The modified, refitted Dungeon Ship Lord Keto had minimal damage, attributed to its smaller size and greater maneuverability. But that was the extent of the surviving Division fleet. Other ships hadn't weathered the assault as readily. The Escort Carrier Liberator, the ship that had carried the refugees from Ar'Kell to initiate the merging and founding of the NI itself, hadn't made it to the rallying point outside the Varnus System. The massive titans that had taken and blockaded Varnus had blown the ESC away as casually as if swatting a gnat. It was an appropriate size comparison. In addition, virtually the entire Varnusian space defense network had been wiped out, providing no more hindrance to the enemy than a pack of power-eating mynocks. Maybe less.
The few surviving Division fighters, less than a Wing, compiled from all the Division ships and the planetary fighter force, were on constant patrol, alert in the case of another attack. At least two other Wings of fighters had been completely annihilated in ten minutes, only striving to buy the fleet enough time to escape. One hundred forty-four pilots had sacrificed their lives so that the ships could get out the call for help. That on top of the many others onboard the two Golan-3 Defense stations, the Liberator, and the Space platform Sentinel, all who had met the same fiery death.
Deputy Grand Master Mathis Organa contemplated these things as he sat alone in the captain's ready room onboard the Stormwatch. He hardly thought he deserved the title anymore. Grand Master Xar was gone, presumably captured by the enemy forces. Mathis had been in charge of the defense forces. His flight of fear had abandoned Varnus to the enemy, with only their planetary shields to ward of the destructive weapons of an enemy he didn't know and couldn’t imagine. He knew it was his fault, for losing Varnus, for losing Xar. He couldn't help but feel that Xar could have pulled off a victory somehow, that once again they could beat the odds and make a stunning victory. But not this time. Now he was gone, and Mathis - Mathis Organa - had the responsibility over what was to happen next. The burden of that knowledge weighed heavily on him. How had Xar been able to handle the weight on his shoulders?
On the holoscreen in front of him, a message was playing over and over again. His message, the frantic, emergency distress signal he'd sent out as the fleet was fleeing Varnus. A desperate cry for help to the New Imperium, to anyone, who could help them save Varnus. Now he looked at the screen, at his tear-streaked, contorted face. He brought a shaky hand up to switch off the device, cutting himself off in mid-plea. It was a dangerous gamble. If the enemy picked up on their position and found them first, it would be all over.
Then the chime to his quarters sounded. Quickly he turned back to the desk, took the small box on top of the desk and slid it into the lower drawer. Wearily he said, "Enter."
He swiveled in his chair to face the entrance as the doors slid open, admitting a dark-haired man a few years his junior, dressed in a crisp Division pilot's dress uniform. Mathis ran a hand through his own long, scraggly hair, conscious of his unwashed robes and jumpsuit he'd worn ever since the attack.
"Yes, what is it, Maarek?" he asked the man.
Maarek Stele, legendary Imperial fighter ace, commander of the Jedi Division’s fighter groups, looked down at him with what Mathis took to be either pity or contempt. "Mathis. It's time to get up now. We have to get moving."
"What's the point?" Mathis muttered, turning away. "It's all over, you know. Varnus is gone."
"Varnus is down for now, but we can take it back!" Maarek said, anger in his voice. "Commodore Gaius just got off the comm with Fleet Admiral Dogar. The New Imperium is coming to help us. Come on, man, the whole frigging fleet is on its way!"
"So what? Do you think they'll stop with Varnus?" Mathis yelled back, turning a dark eye toward the man. It was clear who he meant. None could forget the terrifying vision of the Titans swooping down on their prey, or the wave of fear that had taken hold of them all. "They'll come after the rest of the NI. We don't have a chance."
"Listen to yourself," Maarek spat. "You're supposed to be leading us. You're second in command of the whole Jedi Order. What kind of duty are you performing by sitting here feeling sorry for yourself? You're just running from what you know you have to do."
The truth in Maarek's words sent a shot of anger through Mathis. "I know what I have to do!” he countered. “Do you think that makes it any easier? You saw those things before any of us did, Maarek. Frankly, at the time I didn't believe you. But now I understand. The mere sight of those ships sends cold terror into your heart, paralyzing you like a viper’s venom. There's nothing you can do but sit and watch as you and all those around you die."
"I felt it," Stele nodded. "And I’ve experienced its power. But this time I learned from it instead of running in fear. That battle showed me that what we're facing is a real opponent, a military force, something we can actually fight. An enemy we can kill back. I've got some ideas about some tactics we might be able to us against them."
"Have you got time?” Mathis said in response. “How far is the fleet from here?"
"Less than a day away. But it should be enough time. I can brief everyone."
Mathis sighed. Things would happen soon. But it had already been four days since the attack. It might be too late to save Varnus. He shook his head. Stele was right. The difference in their response to the situation put Mathis to shame. Even if Varnus was gone, he still had to try. It was his duty, and he owed that to everyone in the Division, and all the citizens of Varnus. Even more, he owed it to Xar. If there was even a slight chance he was alive...
Stele gave a nod, as if he sensed Mathis's subconscious decision, and made as if to leave. But before he moved away he turned back. "Oh, right."
Mathis looked up at him. "Remember something?"
Stele nodded. "The main reason I came here was to tell you about the NI fleet's response, and one more thing you'll find interesting."
Mathis waited expectantly. "Yes?"
"One of our search and rescues found a fighter adrift near the edge of the Varnus System. An X-Wing. Guess who was in it?"
Mathis raised an eyebrow.
"The new Academy Dean, Icis Novitaar. His hyperdrive failed when he tried to escape Varnus. He only had another day of life-support, otherwise it would have been too late..."
He broke off as Mathis bounded from his chair in a sudden burst of energy. Anger suddenly coursed up through him. "So, that deserter! He left in a big hurry the instant those huge ships showed up. As if he knew a whole lot more than he was letting on about them. So he tried to escape... But got stuck instead." Mathis gave Stele a level look. "I'll be most interested to see what he has to say about all this," he said.
Stele nodded. "Sickbay three."
Mathis stormed into sickbay, eyes casting about for his target. He quickly caught sight of him. Novitaar was standing by one of the consoles with a nurse, as she took a blood sample from his arm. Mathis could catch their voices as he approached. "I'm telling you I don't need any rest," Novitaar was arguing. Then he broke off, looking up at Mathis with eyebrows raised.
"So, when the going gets tough, run away! Is that it, you traitor?" Mathis sputtered as he walked up to the tall, dark-haired man. Reaching over, he jerked the needle out of his arm. The nurse shouted in protest and grabbed him, tried to push him back. But Novitaar showed no expression of pain. His eyes just bored into Mathis', dark pools against his pale flesh.
"Get out of here!" the nurse yelled, suddenly in Mathis' face. "I don't care who you are, you won't act this way in my sickbay!"
Scowling, Mathis put a hand on her shoulder and thrust her aside, oblivious to what happened to her after that, the crashing sound. All he felt was cold inside as he stared at the man Xar had trusted so implicitly, the man he'd called Icis.
"I don't know who you are," Mathis said, his voice low. "But you're going to answer for what you've done. You betrayed us all in our hour of need. I know you knew about those invaders. Why did you do it? How could you do such a thing?"
"I'm sorry for that, Mathis. I couldn’t tell you before for fear of provoking an attack even earlier than it was," the man replied coldly. "When the Titans arrived, instinct took over. I knew what was about to happen. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered them." He blinked, shuddering slightly as if fighting a memory or thought that sprang up.
"So you ran."
"I survived,” the man’s eyebrows shot up as he leaned closer. “That's what I do. I'm a survivor, plain and simple. Besides, my presence with you wouldn't have helped anything."
"Oh no?" Mathis asked, raising his own eyebrows. "Not even to save Xar?"
Concern suddenly flashed on the man's face. "Xar? What do you mean? Where is he?"
Mathis brought up a hand to strike the man, but held back at the last second. Words would be stronger. "Xar's gone," he said, letting his full contempt and anger into his voice. "Taken by the enemy before he even got off Varnus." He sneered at the expression of shock on the man's face. "Yes, you betrayed him, and everyone else. You were supposed to stay with him, and you left him to be taken by the enemy!"
Novitaar suddenly stumbled back, sat onto one of the beds as if his strength had suddenly departed. "Mathis... Mathis... I didn't know..."
"Don't call me Mathis, you kriffing traitor!" Mathis spat, almost striking him again. "You don't have the right. Only my friends can call me that. And you're not one of them anymore."
"Deputy..." Novitaar looked back up at him with eyes of steel. "I didn't know about Xar. If I had I would have stayed, you must believe me on that. But now... Now, it may be too late."
"Of course it is, you idiot. He's probably dead by now!"
The man's head shook slightly, and he stared ahead into space as if seeing nothing. "No, he's not dead," he whispered.
Those words stopped Mathis cold. "What was that? What did you say?"
"Xar isn't dead," Novitaar said, looked back at him. He stood. "And that could be the worst thing of all."
"How do you know he isn't..." Mathis began.
Novitaar tapped the side of his head, near his temple. "I have the ability to sense important events, people who have destinies beyond the natural flow of things. I can lock onto people, their minds. I would know if he was dead." He paused. "It's the same with you, Mathis. I would know if you died, too..."
Mathis shook his head. "Nonsense. But if there is a chance to save Xar, you’d better..."
"Mathis, believe me, we don't have a choice. If Xar is alive, we have to rescue him. Because that means they aren't going to kill him. In that case, they want him for something else. And we cannot let them accomplish whatever it is they have planned for him."
"You know more about this than you're letting on," Mathis said. "You've known all along, haven't you?"
"No time to explain right now, Mathis. But let me tell you: what I have done, everything I have done, has been for the good of, you, Xar, and the whole New Imperium. The whole galaxy, in fact. But now is the time for action. Trust me just once more. We've got to get Xar back."
"Count on that. But first we have to retake Varnus." He frowned. "And I'm still not sure I can trust you to help. I'll have to keep you in the brig here."
The man shook his head earnestly, showing emotion he rarely did. "No! Listen to me. I am sorry for what I did. It was a mistake, but one that I can only rectify by coming with you. If I don't, then Xar is doomed, and so are we all. I will do everything in my power to save Xar. With or without your help, I will go. You can’t keep me here against my will, trust me.” He paused at Mathis’ snort, but then continued anyway. “That choice is up to you. But we would all be better off if we work together…” He paused, as if struggling with what else to say. “I mean this with all my heart, Mathis."
Mathis stood silently for a moment in contemplation. The man was right, in a way. He definitely didn’t trust him, but keeping here would just create more problems. And if he did have some idea about how to get Xar back… Finally, he sighed. "Very well, Novitaar. You will do more good with me than in the brig. But if you cross us again... Trust me, you’ll regret it..."
He turned, activating his commlink, feeling a renewed sense of energy and purpose. “Mathis to Command. Call Master Misnera, Commander Stele, Commodore Gaius, and the rest of the command staff. Meet in my ready room in two hours. We're going to retake Varnus." He switched off his commlink, looked at Novitaar, and nodded silently. Icis would come along.
He glanced down at his clothes, sniffed one sleeve of his cloak. He shook his head. "And I guess I need a shower."
Xar huddled in darkness on a cold metal floor. Blackness surrounded him His small, cramped cell had no method of illumination, no furnishings, just hard, metal walls. He couldn't even find the entrance. He was still partially in shock, from one minute being kidnapped from his luxurious palace, the next being drugged, stripped, and tossed in an isolation chamber. He hadn't been able to see where he was going, as he'd been blindfolded. And his Force powers, his sight through the Force, had been cut off the whole time. A field of nothingness had surrounded him, like that created by a ysalimari or Null Sphere. But the field was gone, in this cell. He still had the Force, at the moment. He didn't know it if was an erroneous oversight or a trap… His captors had seemed prepared for every contingency before.
Gathering what strength he had, he forced himself to stand. The ceiling wasn't much higher than his head. He smiled to himself, despite the pain and grogginess induced by the drugs. He might not be able to escape physically... but he had the Force. Closing his eyes, he stretched out with his senses, calling upon the Force. His sight extended outwards, out of the cell, into space. There. He was on the center ship, the largest of the three, with the massively broad wings and fins, with its engine array in the rear. The other two titans were nearby, one elongated and in a more traditional, rounded shape. The third was the other extreme. Long, thing wings and protrusions extended from the massive ship, and its engines were arrayed along the sides of the ship, some forward, some more aft. All three were hovering above Varnus. He noticed with elation that the planet didn't seem damaged badly. The shields still held over the capital city, but the area around it was blackened. But he wondered why the ships were just sitting there then, if they didn't intend to move... It didn't make sense.
First, to get out of here, he thought. His vision changed as, mentally, he stepped through his cell door, emerging into a dimly-lit corridor lined with small doors like that to his cell. On this side he could see the doors. That meant he could get out. But an escape wasn't much good without anywhere to go. He had to search for a way out. He began moving down the small corridor. His mind's eye saw the metal hallways flash by as he moved, turning corners, still seeing no-one. He passed areas filled with flowing steam from pipes, across catwalks, drawn on by an unseen source. He suddenly realized that he couldn't control where he was going, anymore. He was rapidly approaching something, something he didn't want to see. He tried to pull back, but it was like lead fillings trying to escape a magnet. Onwards he went…
He traversed a corridor, and ahead he could see red light coming from around the corner. A chill of fear shot into him, building and growing, paralyzing him, yet drawing him further. He didn’t understand where the fear was coming from, but it was as real as the steel walls of his cell. A silent scream built in his mind, reverberating through his head, an alien scream. He turned the corner...
The room was lit in blood-red light. And in front of him was a creature from his worst nightmares. Its death-white body was terrifyingly outlined against the red light. Thin, spindly legs, a dozen of them, connected to the body of the spider-like creature. Clawed hands opened and closed, grasping and clicking towards him. And its head, an array of dead, glowing eyes that stared through him, feeling as though it stared into his soul. All he could do was scream. A real Mortigena, here, on this ship. Impossible!
His Force connection broke, and he was slammed back into his own body, but the feeling still remained. The creature was still watching him. He screamed at the top of his lungs, launching himself backwards, completely in shock. His head slapped off the metal wall, and pain shot through his body. It was hardly noticed, though. He felt unconsciousness approaching, but he knew it wouldn't provide an escape from the horrible visage he had just seen. Then he fell into the darkness, and knew nothing.
The NI reconnaissance craft emerged from hyperspace, quickly pinpointing the location of the three massive ships resting in orbit of Varnus. As it did, it quickly sent a hyperspace burst of data out-system, relaying information on the titans' position and a viable attack vector. Then almost immediately it turned to head out-system again, before it could be caught. But it was too late. Though its mission was complete, the ship didn't make it. Showing an incredibly fast response rate, a lancing beam of thick yellow energy shot out and speared the craft, turning it into an incandescent fireball in space.
Moments later. The three Titans stood in silent orbit over the blue-green, serene sphere that hung in the blackness of space. Then all peace in that moment was shattered as space beside the titans rippled, dozens of invisible wormholes opening as the New Imperium Star Fleet emerged from hyperspace. In the flick of an instant, ships poured into being, flashing briefly as elongated points of light and slowing into sub-light speeds. Dozens of Imperial-class Star Destroyers, a myriad of support ships, Frigates, Victory Star Destroyers, Dreadnaughts, and countless others, surrounded by uncountable numbers of fighters that had traveled through hyperspace with the fleet. And in the center of the emerging formation, two massive Star Destroyers and an equally massive Mon Calamari Cruiser; the flagship, the Super Star Destroyer Independence, the smaller, silver-hulled Vanquisher-class Virulence, and the MC-120 Mon Cal Darkstar.
The ships started firing even before they'd fully emerged from hyperspace. They didn't need to lock onto their target; it filled the entire sky in front of them. Thousands of green, lancing turbolaser blasts shot out from all the ships, filling space with light and energy. The hundreds of fighters surrounding them let loose as they came in, as well, firing their lasers as fast as they could cycle, opening up with missile and torpedoes without waiting for a solid lock. It wasn't needed.
Thousands of green needles struck the unprotected side of the closest titan, the elongated, traditional shaped vessel with hangars lining its sides. The turbolaser blasts poured into the ship, their concentrated fire at last able to melt through the thick xenotronium hull of the ship. Rivulets of molten metal ran down the side of the ship, as more blasts penetrated the hull and rent large gashes in the side of the ship, exposing their levels to hard vacuum. Explosions rippled all along the side of the thirty-kilometer-long vessel, caused by concentrated fire from the largest New Imperium fleet ever assembled. The fighters also let loose as they came in, their laser blasts less effective; but their missile and torpedo strikes more than made up for it. Warheads uncounted slammed into the side of the ship, blowing away hull plates, penetrating inside the ship and destroying level after level. The ship, which had been caught unawares by the attacking force, began to turn into the attack, finally opening up with its own weapons. Piercing yellow beams struck at the NI ships, tearing through shields and cutting through the hulls of even the Star Destroyers arrayed against it. Smaller ships fared less fortunate, and a few frigates were dealt with a decisive blow to the midsection, slicing them in two and rendering them ineffective, reminding the NI of what exactly it faced.
Maarek Stele watched from the cockpit of his Tie Avatar, helping to coordinate the fire from all the fighter groups along with the capital ships' own turbolaser fire. But at the same time he was mesmerized at the display in front of him. In some ways, it was beautiful. Except that he knew that each explosion signaled the deaths of real beings. But, for some reason, he felt differently about the enemy. As long as it was the enemy that was being killed, he felt all right. Perhaps it was because of the slaughter he'd seen at Varnus only days ago, or the seemingly careless way the enemy blasted whole ships clean out of the sky. Perhaps it went back to his first glimpse of this ship, nearly a year ago. Either way, he knew what they were going to do. This ship was going down.
"That's it!" he spoke into the commlink, relaying a message on the entire NI fighter channel. "We caught them with their shields down! Now let's pour it on. Group two, time to try the plan. Those hangars are sitting wide open, still full of fighters, just waiting to be lit up. Take 'em out!"
He received a plethora of acknowledgements, and watched as a wing of fighters swept out of the main force and down toward the array of hangars lining the side of the ship, near its respective lower side. Above, warhead and turbolaser fire continued to pour into the ship, even as it turned into the NI forces. The ship weathered the assault, refusing to be driven back even though it was being chewed apart. For Maarek it was an awe-inspiring sight, yet one he knew spelt danger for NI forces. The ship was remarkably resilient, as if each level inside contained more armor. They had to keep up the assault on one side, or their temporary advantage would be gone. All the combined fire still had ravaged a large portion of the ship's side. At over thirty kilometers, even a heavy bomb explosion would only create a tiny flash of light along the side of the incredible ship. Still, with the might of two Super Star Destroyers, each a little over a fourth of the titan's size, pouring hundreds of turbolaser blasts a second into the ship, the damage was incredible. Maarek was fairly certain the NI ships would take the ship out. They had the upper hand. At least this titan would fall. But, with a new chill of fear, he realized it probably wouldn't be the same against the other two ships. They would be ready. He just didn't understand why they weren't involved yet, or why they hadn't encountered the enemy's fighters yet...
As if summoned by his thoughts, swarms of fighters began emerging from the titan's hangars. But Maarek smiled. They'd come out right into the face of the attacking NI fighters, which had gotten within precision striking range by now. The ship now filled the entire space in his viewport to every side, creating a false visual planetary surface. As the enemy fighters came out, he gave the order.
"Enemy fighters launching. Break and fire at will."
The New Imperium ships let loose with lasers and warheads, this time wisely doubling up and concentrating their firepower. Maarek quickly dropped his sights onto a sleek fighter heading out right in his path. The ship was somewhat larger than his Avatar, and shaped a bit more traditionally, looking more of an atmospheric-type craft, with a central cockpit and swept-back wings. He guessed it was probably designed for space and atmospheric superiority and strike capabilities. He made it his target. The targeting reticule flashed from yellow to red, and he let loose with two advanced torpedoes. He'd chosen torps because he knew they would be useful no matter what he engaged; in the escape from Varnus, his missiles had been painfully inadequate at dispatching the enemy ships.
His torpedoes hit the ship one after the other. The first hit the fighter head on, in front of the cockpit. Though its shields absorbed the impact, the fighter was spiraled off course. But not out of the path of his other shot. The second torpedo hit and detonated, finally penetrated the shields and damaging the craft's port wing, shattering hundreds of fragments from it and sluing the ship further off course. Maarek shook hid his head in disbelief that the ship was still intact. Then another torpedo flashed in from his port side and penetrated the ship's fuselage armor dead on, blowing the ship into several large chunks that he flew around and by. Fragments of metal from the fighter impacted against his shields with a hissing sound.
"Nice shot, Rent," he said, recognizing the pilot who'd made the killing blow as one of his personal squadron.
"You did all the work, boss," the man replied. His Avatar flew up on Maarek's port side. "More incoming."
The fight continued. All around them, torpedoes poured into the emerging enemy craft, destroying or crippling them before they could get a chance to unleash their death beams. But the NI forces weren't completely lucky. As more and more ships shot out, too many for the NI pilots to target and destroy, they returned fire, sending continuous lances of bright energy slicing through the TIEs. Ships exploded around Maarek, some simply turned into incandescent gas by the fusion blasts, others unable to evade the wild flight of the emerging ships and colliding head-on with the enemy craft. Unfortunately the enemy starfighters usually emerged still intact, only their shields damaged. Those NI ships were no more.
Another fighter came up in Maarek's sights, unleashing five separate beams at him at once. As the beams struck out at him, he reacted instinctively, pulling his fighter up and into a spin that sent him above the deadly shots. Inverted, he came head on with the craft, which angled up, sweeping its continuous blasts of energy up toward him. The two would collide in seconds, unless one of them was destroyed. Yelling, Maarek let loose with two advanced torpedoes without waiting for a solid lock. His shots flashed out almost instantly, striking the front of the ship in tandem. The enemy fighter was wreathed in fire, and its shots died out. The ship burst out of the fireball, its cockpit gone, flying out of control on the last heading the pilot had set in. Then he was past the ship, and the surface of the titan loomed in front of him.
"Go for the hangars, quick!" he shouted into the commlink. "We can't let this thing drag on!"
In response, he saw three Tie Avengers and two Missile boats break off from the dogfight and speed down towards one of the yawning chasms of the hangars. He pulled down to watch from a distance, to see if his idea and plan would work.
But almost immediately two of the Avengers were shot down by beams from turrets that sat inside the hangar, what he realized must have been a defense system for just such an attack. But the remaining three fighters sped by too fast for the guns to track, and were inside the hangar bay. They opened up, firing their torpedoes inside as Maarek looked on. Two of the blasts hit a parked enemy fighter, detonating the craft in a huge explosion that seemed to catch on, igniting fires all round the area. A fuel tank exploded nearby, penetrated by flaming debris shot out from the exploding fighter. The other torpedoes sped on into the massive hangar, detonating fuel tanks and command arrays. Watching through the fighters' flight recorder feeds, he could see running figures inside the hangar. Bipedal. Some, he thought, were human. How can that be? But his thoughts were banished as the last torpedoes hit a massive pipe array in the rear of the hangar, and a blinding explosion spread out much faster than it should have. He only had time to guess it as a link to one of the ship's reactors before fire consumed all three remaining NI ships.
An explosion poured out of the hangar and widened, consuming the entire opening in flame. He pulled away to avoid scorching his own fighter, and pulled around to check the status of the fight. Breathless, he hit his commlink, waited a second for the words to form. "Scratch... the hangar idea," he said into his mouthpiece. "You can't pull back out in time before the thing blows." He shook his head, fighting a momentary wave of nausea. Five pilots had just given their lives to try his idea. The damage they had caused was proportionally huge, yet such a small piece compared to the whole of the titan. The plan was faulty, and his own orders had sent those pilots to their deaths. He’d given such orders before, knew the prices and risks involved in leading, though. He wasn’t going to let those pilots die in vain. There had to be some other way. But he couldn't think about that right now. Another fighter was circling back towards him, and he had a fight on his hands. Pulling his fighter around, he reentered the battle.
The loss of one hangar had been small to the ship, but not the gaping openings caused by the thousands of turbolaser blasts pouring into the ship each second. Its return fire was devastating, destroying smaller ships outright, and renting huge gashes in the hulls of the Star Destroyers and other larger ships. But the NI was winning. Many of the beam turrets had been destroyed. The ship was now moving forward, as if to disengage from the battle, to flee from the NI assault and regroup. But it didn't have the opportunity, for now NI ships and fighters were striking all over the ship, targeting its weapons turrets, striking the engines, and even the armored decks on the front of the ship. Though it wasn't known if the bridge was located there on the bow or not, but the New Imperials weren't taking any chances. The flaming ship moved forward at high speed, as if frantically running now as its engines glowed brighter than the sun. Flames consumed hundreds of decks, spreading along the whole side of the ship. Many of the openings extended very deeply, and fires raged continuously from the oxygen supply coming from the inside of the ship, unblocked. Smoke and multi-colored gas had filled the area around the ship and battlefield, pouring out of the titan, visually obscuring one ship from another. The NI pressed its attack harder, further, more confidently now that they had the upper hand. And because of an unexpected and unexplained surprise. The other titans weren't actively engaged in the battle. They could have moved over the NI ships by now, engaging them at close range. But they only fired their fusion blasts from a distance, still causing damage, but not as great.
But nothing could have prepared the NI forces for what was about to happen. For the titan was moving forward, away from the pursuing NI fleet, but it had been facing Varnus. And it was over Varnus that it now fled.
Too late, Maarek realized what was happening. He yelled his thoughts aloud, knowing there was no time to spare. "The ship! It's out of control!" he yelled. The damage must have cut off the ship's control and maneuverability, perhaps damaging its power plant. Or maybe they really had gotten the bridge. Then another thought hit him, chilling him the most. Maybe knowing they were going to lose, they wanted to cause as much damage as possible. "It's going to hit Varnus!"
The NI forces redoubled their efforts, pouring more and more fire into the titanic ship, trying desperately to destroy it before it fell from orbit and into the atmosphere. But it was clear they weren't going to make it. The ship was just too massive, too well armored. Only one side had been seriously damaged. Then it was too late.
As the planet's gravity began pulling more strongly, the ship's pace increased, pulling it away first from the NI capital ships, then the fighters. The last few torpedoes hit the ship's engine array in a desperate attempt to cause a reaction, but to no avail. The ship began to fall. Its hull began to heat up and glow, flames engulfing parts of the craft. The massive scrollwork language painted on the side, presumably the ship's name, was burned off. The atmosphere and air parted before the massive ship. For this was no ordinary craft, crash-landing on a planet. It was a whole city crashing from space, thirty kilometers long, pointed straight down toward the ground. The ship penetrated the clouds in a flash, falling far too fast for anyone on the ground to have enough warning to escape...
The doomed ship fell like a giant meteor from the sky, directly onto a small fishing village situated in a bay where sea met land. The ship hit with colossal force, obliterating the town and everyone in it in an instant. The ship crashed into the ground and penetrated inside, then a colossal explosion consumed the entire scene. People, animals, trees and rocks were vaporized as a shockwave expanded through the air. A tidal wave of land was propelled outwards from the impact spot. The shockwave blew away vast tracts of forest on the shore, and sent a colossal tidal wave spreading outward through the sea. A column of fire and explosion shot into the atmosphere hundreds of kilometers high, annihilating the peaceful clouds that had filled the sky a moment before.
Maarek watched the entire scene from orbit, filled with horrifying terror. He could see the impact shockwave expanding, destroying hundreds of kilometers of land around it. Nothing he'd ever seen could compare to the incredible power and terror of that moment. After everything they'd worked for, it seemed Varnus was doomed to a catastrophic winter from the fallout. The massive column of fire and dirt spreading into the sky would fill the air and blot out the sun unless there was something they could do. But the two titans still remained. And for once, perhaps the first time in his life, he lost all hope.
Then, astonishingly, to both him and all the NI ships present, the remaining two titans turned away, bright flashes of light opening in front of them. They entered the wormholes they had created, and then, after the light finally consumed them, they were gone. Empty space remained, allowing a damaged yet victorious NI fleet, and a world that now had to cope with another round of devastation. But there was no celebration. Only a sense of confusion. Because everyone knew that this was only the first round of what was to come. The beginning, and no one knew what was going to happen next.
Varnus survived. The ship had embedded itself into the ground, not creating as large a fallout as would have been expected. Instead, only the surrounding, sparsely populated area of the northern continent was affected, and NI rescue teams got the remaining residents out in time. The smoke and dust cleared after a few days, revealing a sight any would have been awestruck to behold. Two thirds of the craft protruded into the sky, its hull still flaming and smoking. It would take weeks for the ship to completely settle. Floods of water fell in a massive waterfall around the huge crater that had formed a new bay. The ocean streamed in around the ship, filling the crater with water, but instantly boiling away when it touched the superheated hull of the ship. Massive columns of steam then rose into the air, forming new clouds, and sending torrential rain and storms across the land. The ship sank a bit further, water flooding into it levels where there was never supposed to be water, or even real air. All of its viewports were shattered and open. Huge pieces of armor still fell occasionally from the twenty kilometer landmark, crashing into the water with titanic splashes. At the top of the ship, what had once been the aft, the engine array was a cluster of dead, dark openings. One was still active, spewing fire constantly as it died. Another emitted a continuous column of black smoke, and would continue for months. But the damage feared by many from the fall was minimal, for thankfully the ship had fallen on the sparsely-populated northern continent, along the coastline, thousands of kilometers from Vectur, the capital. The debris in the atmosphere was contained by using the NI vessels’ shields and other equipment to bear, keeping it from spreading too far. But the collision was deadly for the fourteen-hundred that had been vaporized in the fishing village, and anyone else in the surrounding countryside within two hundred kilometers. This new landmark, this crash site, and what had transpired because of it would be made a reminder to the people of Varnus and the entire New Imperium, of what they faced, and of the price of failure.
Vectur, Planet Varnus
Deputy Grand Master Mathis stood on
the balcony overlooking the city of
Mathis spoke softly. "I'm so glad Varnus wasn't damaged badly, Maarek. I don't know why they didn't press the attack, but we’re alive because of it."
Beside him, Maarek nodded, the warm breeze stirring his dark hair. "Vectur was saved from damage, and that’s what’s important."
Mathis gazed out across the landscape of the modern city, watched the sun as it began to descend across the cityscape, silhouetting the skyscrapers in the distance. No damage, but not so for the outlying towns around the city. The planetary shields had held, but the small villages outside the shields’ boundaries had been incinerated by beam attacks that had cut deep furrows into the ground and set the plains around the city on fire. The smoke still rose off in the distance as fire ships put out the fires. All of the defense turbolasers outside the shields had been wiped out, too. But thankfully, the loss of life had been minimal, as most citizens had moved within the shields’ protection just after the attack began.
The sky overhead was streaked with jet trails, from the myriad of ships that had descended to return to Varnus to celebrate its liberation. Tonight, a grand celebration would begin. No doubt a new holiday would be created, just for today. A holiday, and a memorial, for those who had died, both on-planet and in the battle to retake Varnus. The planet, and the Jedi Division, had been saved. For now.
"I’ve realized something, Maarek,” he said. "We defended Varnus – but not just because it's our duty. Not just because of all the people we've saved. But for me... It’s because this is my home. More than anywhere else. Alderaan is long gone, and this... this is all I have left. When I'm here... I'm at home." It was true. He really didn't have anywhere else to go. The Division and the New Imperium, and their cause, had become everything to him. But despite his words, the sense of elation at Varnus' liberation was marred. And he knew the reason. Because Xar was in the hands of the enemy. He'd no doubt that Xar had been aboard one of the escaping ships. He hadn’t been found in the palace or anywhere in the city. Xar had been captured, and it struck him right to the core of his being. And as long as Xar was gone, their victory wouldn't feel complete.
Maarek didn't respond to his comment. Either because he didn't have anything to say, or because of the new presence that joined them suddenly on the balcony. Mathis heard the footsteps approaching and turned. "Novitaar..." he broke off.
"Dean Novitaar," Maarek greeted the newcomer.
"When do we leave?" Novitaar asked, straight and to the point.
"Soon," Mathis told him, nodding. "We've a few things to take care of here, preparations. With what we're facing, we'd better be prepared."
"Oh, we'll have to be. We will be." He looked askance at Mathis, no doubt noticing the dark rings still beneath his eyes. “Are you all right, Mathis?”
“I’m fine,” Mathis answered crisply. “At least, I will be, once we get Xar back.”
As the three men turned to go back inside, the first explosion of fireworks lit the sky. The celebration was beginning. But to the Jedi, there were still many things to be done. The real challenge was just beginning.
The End of
Accompanied by side story Turning Point
Next, read NI Runon 5: The Search for Xar
And then: Shadow Revealed