Tieru and Targon arrived at a government hangar where a shuttle had been prepared for them. Three Republic troopers had been assigned to join them. The commander, a Kel Dor, addressed them.
“I’m Lieutenant Ko,” he said. “The Administrator and my commanding officers asked me to convey their best wishes to you, Master Jedi.”
“I thank them,” Tieru bowed. “Though I must admit I would be more impressed if I could see them in person. But such as it is…”
“We should set off immediately,” Ko gestured to the shuttle.
Tieru boarded, followed closely by Targon. The troopers got on board after they were on. They wasted no time in taking off and zipping up through the atmosphere to the orbital station. From outside, it appeared completely normal…but Targon could feel darkness about it. And if he could feel it, Tieru must be sensing it with greater clarity.
As they approached the station, the shuttle began sending docking codes…there was no response. They prepared to enter the nearest hangar. The shields weren’t up, so they set down on the landing platform.
Across the wide hangar was a strange ship. It was small, only capable of holding a single person, and it was shaped like a claw.
“That must be his ship,” Targon supposed.
“Whose ship?” Ko asked.
Nobody answered. The ramp went down and everyone exited. The troopers surrounded the Jedi, their rifles and heads remaining on a devoted swivel. They exited the hangar and entered the corridors. There were signs of fighting – scorching on the walls and weapons and objects littered the floor.
Searching the rooms they passed, there were a few bodies. But not enough to account for the entire population of the station.
“Where do you think they all are?” Targon asked.
“They probably herded into a single area when the threat came,” Ko answered.
“That is likely,” Tieru nodded, leaning on his staff. “Targon, I want you and the others to search all living quarters and areas where the crew of the station would congregate. I will head down towards the power core.”
“The core, Master Jedi?” Ko asked. “Why would you go down there? It’s not wise to split up with so few of us. There should be a full squadron here with us, but the Administrator felt we were all that could be spared.”
“I know it isn’t wise, lieutenant,” Tieru said. “But I don’t think he’s planning on ambushing us. This fight is between him and me, and he wants to face me in a place of the greatest power.”
“Why?” Ko persisted.
“Probably for dramatic effect,” Tieru smiled.
“Master, I should go with you,” Targon protested. “You stand a better chance if you’re not alone.”
“I don’t want you near him,” his master stated. “He is too dangerous. You must see to finding any survivors.”
Targon sighed. “As you wish, master.”
“Believe me, nothing is going as I wish today.”
With that, Tieru headed off down the hall, indicating with a finger that they should start down the other. Targon and the troopers watched him walk off, and then turn a corner and disappear. Then they started down their own path.
As they went, they continued to check each room. More bodies…nobody alive. Targon felt the fear in him shiver through his body, and he could feel the discomfort and disturbance in the soldiers’ minds as well. Thinking for a moment, he considered the possibility that talking with them would alleviate their tension.
“Have you been stationed on Ord Mantell long, lieutenant?” he asked.
“I think that if we keep ourselves cool and easy, we won’t let anxiety start getting the best of us.”
The lieutenant nodded in agreement after considering the idea. “We’ve been assigned to this planet for eight months, padawan.”
“Has it been difficult? Has there been a great deal of conflict?”
“With the separatists? I’d say there’s been plenty. Firefights occur almost on a daily basis.”
Targon sighed. “And nobody has considered bringing the fighting to an end?”
“I was briefed about you,” Ko said. “I know about why you and your master are here. Personally, I find your business here insulting.”
“It’s like you’re saying that what we soldiers are doing here – dying for – means nothing. That it’s simply a hindrance to peace. Like our lives don’t matter.”
Targon was shocked. “That’s not how we view you at all!”
“Really?” Ko gave him a glance. “Well, you’re doing a poor job of showing that you care. You Jedi are the reason behind the Sith Empire’s slaughter…”
“I don’t think we need to get heated here…it’s not the place.”
Ko sighed. “You’re right, Jedi, I shouldn’t have let my personal feelings show in our current situation. I apologize.”
Targon nodded. “I guess I can understand you opinion. And I can understand if you don’t trust me. But right now, there may be survivors that need our help, and we need to work together.”
“Right you are,” Ko replied.
They turned yet another corridor, finding the area much the same as what they had seen before.
“Do you know Major Marc Avis?” Targon broached a new subject.
“Old Greyhawk? Sure I do, every soldier knows of him. He may be a bit of a geezer, even he accepts that, but he knows how to fight. Or rather, how to end a fight real quick.”
“Yes, I noticed,” Targon muttered.
“You know him?” Ko posed the question in return.
“We met today, he helped me in my endeavor. I just hope he isn’t paying for it.”
“What do you mean?” Ko asked.
Targon couldn’t answer. At that moment they opened the door to on of the major dormitories that held a mess hall. It was probably a center where the crew gathered for occasions, briefings…and cases of emergency.
The sight made the troopers gag, and Targon felt his blood run cold once again. There were no bodies…at least in the sense they were expecting. There were bones – skeletons – hundreds of them.
As one of his men leaned against the doorway, feeling sick, Ko shook his head and turned around. “I think we can assume we’ve found the rest of the station’s crew.”
Targon could not answer. He barely even heard him as he gaped at the gruesome sight. The remains were in the positions that the people had died in – positions of fear, cowering, and a few trying to protect each other. Throughout the chamber, he could feel the lingering fear and terror, as well as the darkness that had consumed them.
Something told him that their skeletal remains had been left like this on purpose. Not simply killed, not disintegrated like the two he had witnessed…a scene to inspire pure horror and to break the spirit of anyone who saw it. Or to provoke the soul to rage and vengeance. Either outcome, it would weaken his foes so that he would have the advantage.
“There are no survivors,” Targon said. To be sure of his claim, he focused his senses, trying to detect any other presence at all. A flicker of fear, desperation, confusion…any sort of sign of life. Nothing. Just a void of darkness.
“We should try to find your master,” Ko suggested. “There’s no reason to remain here.” He lifted up his men and nudged Targon’s shoulder.
Targon knew he was right. There was nothing to be done here, except pray that somehow these souls may find peace in death. He turned around and followed the troopers back out into the hall.
Tieru opened the door and entered onto a great walkway, overlooking the immense core of the station. Massive intestines of conduits ran along the walls, and walkways up above, with computer consoles adorning the sides. There was a surprising silence, despite all the machinery and electronics. Still, being enclosed by so much unfeeling metal and wiring made Tieru uncomfortable.
That was no doubt Khan’s intent.
Across the bridge was the dark one. Where he stood, it seemed the low light would disappear. His black cloak hung about him, and he appeared like a foul vulture with his pale, bare head. The glazed eyes stared at the Jedi Master.
Tieru’s staff against the metal caused a resounding echo through the massive chamber. He advanced towards the dark figure, without any sort of hesitation.
Khan’s paled head cocked and he bore a soulless grin. “Still wearing the garb of a hermit, old man? That looks like the very same deerskin I saw you wear forty-seven years ago.”
“It may be indeed,” Tieru replied. “I don’t recall. I see the years haven’t been kind to you, Khan. You look like you haven’t been sleeping or eating well.”
“I am beyond requiring any sort of mortal nourishment,” Khan stated.
“You are not immortal yet, Khan,” Tieru said simply. “You should remember that.”
“Once the last of the four are dead, that fact will be null.”
“Your slaughter ends here, Khan. I will make certain of it.”
“I’m sure you’ll try,” Khan nodded. “But you’re wrong. Death does not stop, and I am Death. When I have finished with you, there will be no one who can challenge whatever I do – or whomever I choose to kill.”
“All this time,” Tieru sighed. “And still you cling to foolish notions as pride, glory…and drama, I might add.”
“When I am immortal, such emotions will become irrelevant.”
Tieru stopped, still a distance away from him. “Immortality cannot be obtained the way you suppose, Khan. You will learn this when you fall into the darkness that awaits you.”
“Bold words,” his opponent said. “Let’s see if you can prove them with greater effort than your defeated brethren.”
Computer panels ripped off from the catwalks above and flung themselves toward Tieru. He stood unmoved and did not make any motion to dodge the approaching objects. Just before the first one struck him, he swung his staff and knocked the computer away. Then he did the same with three more that followed. The crashed against the walls as they fell into the huge pit.
Khan frowned that his first attack was handled so easily. He motioned his hand and one of the giant conduits unhinged from the wall and collapsed towards the Jedi Master.
Tieru saw it, and he raised his own hands, holding the towering object back. He pushed it back and hooked it back where it belonged.
With a snarl of annoyance, Khan hurled bolts of lightning form his fingertips at his opponent. As the dark energy streaked towards him, Tieru spun his staff around and caught the lightning and absorbed it into the wood. Immediately, he sent the energy out and back at its progenitor. Khan could only hold up his hand and deflect it into the wall, causing an explosion of one of the conduits.
Khan then ripped a huge portion of one of the walkways above and sent it down to crush Tieru where he stood.
The Jedi Master thrust up his staff and met the arrival of the rubble. Incredibly, the catwalk shattered into tiny fragments upon encountering the staff. The harmless pieces clattered off the bridge and down into the pit below.
“Your mastery of the Force is incomplete,” Tieru said.
“We shall see,” Khan pointed his outstretched hand towards his target and projected his will over the matter that made up the old Jedi. Shockingly, his power was rebuffed. The Master’s power created a barrier around him – an impenetrable barrier that hid the molecules of his body from Khan’s sight.
“We shall have to settle this in the more traditional fashion,” Khan growled, grabbing hold of his lightsaber. Activating it, the viridian blade came alive with a foul hiss. He didn’t look like a Sith – he looked something far more wicked – something dead.
Tieru was not intimidated. He held to his staff with his left hand, and his right remained calmly at his side. His lightsaber hilt unhooked from his belt and floated into the air. The metal cylinder had a leather grip and two feathers hanging from the bottom.
Reaching up with his free hand, Tieru clutched it and activated the bright yellow beam. The golden light lit up his features, bathing him in a shining glow.
Khan charged forward, his blade swinging. Tieru met him and the blades of energy crackled against each other. The attacker then swung from the lower left, forcing the Jedi to counter accordingly. Four more strikes, all blocked by Tieru.
Their fight continued. Khan pressed the offensive, trying to force Tieru to give ground. He made a bold move, but it left his side open. Tieru wasted no time in smacking him away with his staff. Khan stumbled, and the master made another swipe at his face with the cane.
Khan recovered and leaped over Tieru’s head. He landed behind him, but the Jedi quickly rotated to face him again. Khan made another swing, but Tieru held it off with his blade and forced their arms to the side, leaving his opponent open. Tieru then lodged his hooked staff around Khan’s neck and swung him through the air, slamming him onto the ground. He made a slash to finish him, but Khan rolled to the side and got to his feet.
Blaster fire struck around Khan’s feet. Both looked up to see Targon and the troopers on a walkway a little ways up. The soldiers had begun firing at Khan, while Targon called to his master.
Tieru shouted back, “Targon, take the others and get out of here!”
“Master? We’re here to help you!”
“No! Get them out!” Tieru then returned to facing Khan.
But the dark one had no intention of allowing these intruders to escape. Force pushing Tieru away from him, he hurled his saber up at the group. One of the soldiers was slashed, and his body crashed into his fellow – who lost his balance and fell.
When his saber returned, Khan began to buckle the bridge as he ripped it from its supports. The remaining persons struggled to keep their footing – the padawan went as far as to grab hold of the floor and lie on his stomach.
The last soldier, Lieutenant Ko, took a chance to fire a well-aimed shot at Khan’s head. His blaster rifle sent out a blue bolt, but Khan’s reflexes easily reflected it back at its sender, striking him square on the head. The soldier flew back from the hit and fell into the abyss.
But Khan had nearly forgotten his first opponent. He felt a hard wood smack across his face, and then a Force push hurtling him backwards. Khan barely regained his footing when Tieru was upon him, not the Jedi had taken the offensive. A slash, then a kick, followed by yet a series of successive swings of the golden saber. Khan could not keep up with the assault, and a few of the attacks made it through to slash through his skin.
In an attempt to stop him, Khan sent a shockwave through the Force that buckled the bridge, causing it to shake and contort slightly. Tieru was knocked away, but he was up quickly. He did not, however, try to charge forward again.
Khan laughed as an ideal tactic became apparent. “So much for help, and so much for protecting your weak friends,” he taunted. “You couldn’t stop me from killing the soldiers, and now you can’t stop me from killing your pathetic apprentice.”
He turned to eye Targon still holding tight to the failing catwalk. It didn’t look like it would hold up much longer. He lifted his hand to extend his power towards the helpless young man. There was no way the boy could see what was coming…
Suddenly, an intense flash struck him, and he felt his skin searing – as though it was burned. He looked down at his cloak and saw smoke rising from a charred area of his cloak. Turning to face Tieru, he barely saw a fireball headed straight for a split second before it struck his face. He roared in pain – something he hadn’t truly felt for years. Touching his face, he felt the skin charred and broken.
Tieru’s stern face stared at the abominable sight before him. The left half of Khan’s face was burned away, revealing his skull, and the other half was charred heavily. It seemed impossible for him to still be alive and functioning, but Khan’s dark eyes looked back at him just the same as they had before.
“What new trick is this, old man?” Khan hissed.
Targon struggled, but he was able to get to his knees and look down at the scene. He saw the burned face of the enemy, and something odd about Tieru. His staff was…on fire. Flames were ignited all over it, yet his hand was unharmed.
“The Force can hold flesh together,” Master Tieru stated, regarding Khan’s face. “And it can also manipulate molecular energy. Your mastery of its power is hardly complete, Khan.”
He jabbed the burning staff forward, and another ball of flames burst forth and hurled towards Khan, who could do nothing but simply endure the impact. He held up his arm, and the fire flashed around him.
Khan roared in a primal, terrifying savagery, and then charged forward. Tieru met his blade, and countered by swinging his staff to strike his blackened skin. The two continued on, blow after blow, in an intense and brutal dance. Finally, Tieru crashed his staff powerfully on Khan’s neck, sending him to his knees. He then twirled through the air and prepared to land a final stab into Khan’s chest.
But in a flash that happened so quick that Targon could barely register, Khan rose to his feet and slashed Tieru along the chest. The Jedi Master tumbled to the floor and his staff landed by his side – its fire extinguished.
A cry of anguish and despair and rage erupted from the young Jedi. He had just witnessed his mentor, counselor, protector, and essential father brought down by the monstrous coward. To see such dishonor to his master was more than Targon’s discipline and conditioning could bear.
He leaped from the catwalk and landed on the bridge before the dark one, sending a massive wave through the Force as he did so. Caught completely off-guard, Khan was thrown to his back.
Soon recovering, Khan rose and saw the padawan activate his own saber and charge forward.
Their blades crashed against each other, over and over again. The speed Targon attacked with was astounding, and the anger in his heart made his nerves tremble and spark.
Khan knocked him away and stretched his hand out. Tieru was not there to protect him now; he would be no match for…
His power was rebuffed, much more intensely this time. Through his Force-attuned eyes, he saw the padawan accompanied by the spirit of the Jedi Master he had just slain. Tieru’s body had vanished, save for his clothing, but his personage was standing there, glowing and in full regalia. He couldn’t understand, and he was stunned.
Targon felt a presence in his mind, and he heard his master’s voice.
“Don’t give into hatred and wrath, Targon,” Tieru said. “Do not let the Dark Side consume you as it has Khan. The time has come for the rock to be removed from its guard of the flower. Now prove to yourself that you are a Jedi. The Force will be with you, Targon…always.”
Targon heard his master, and he quieted the storm within his soul, until he was fully at peace inside. He felt fully in control, and he leapt forward united with the Force. His foot raised and he kicked the dark one’s chest.
Too consumed by confusion and fury, Khan could not react soon enough, and he was thrust off the bridge. Screaming like a banshee, he plummeted down into the deep darkness of the station’s core.
At last, the dark presence of Khan Arc-Saal vanished, and Targon could feel himself return to his physical status. There was silence.
He deactivated his saber, knelt next to his master’s empty fur robes, and wept.