Part I, Book I

by H.D. Lynn

Category: Novella

Chapter One

The dream was distorted at first, just a jumbled collage of dim images and sounds, but the feelings they generated were ominous and foreboding.

The dreamer tossed and turned in his sleep as the images and sounds started taking on clarity, he slowly began to make out the blurry silhouette of two cloaked figures, one with a distinct purple bladed lightsaber, and the other one with a red blade, and they were engaged in a tense dual of shadow and light, as seen from the dreamers perspective.

A third, darker image made its appearance right as it would seem the cloaked image with the purple light saber would prevail over the darker, yellow eyed shadow, which was on the floor pleading for his life.

This new cloaked specter was alternating between a really dark blur to a lighter one streaked with blue, and the dreamer instinctively knew, this newcomer was fighting an internal conflict as intense as the one going on before him.

Suddenly, when the dark, yellow eyed blur began pleading to the third shadow, the darkness totally enveloped the newcomer, and he intervened on the dark shadows behalf, and Ja’on Windu became wide awake with his estranged cousins, Mace Windu, screaming “Anakin NOooo!” echoing in his head.

Ja’on sat upright in his tiny, modest bed in a cold sweat, his greying beard and hair glistening in the dim light with the perspiration. He could still smell and taste the ionization of the Force Lightning that had enveloped his estranged cousin.

“Oh, no, it can’t be”. He muttered to himself, as it dawned on him this was a Force induced vision of a tragedy that was taking place halfway across the galaxy.

“Ja’on, come quickly, something terrible has transpired in the Force.” He felt the head mistress, Gan Mal, summon him telepathically.

“I felt it too.” He replied as got to his feet, and hastily donned the white tunic and grey robe of a mentor in Gan Mal’s Grey Jedi council.

Strapping on the belt that his lightsaber hilt was attached to, he was wondering how hidden they truly were, on this planet in wild space, called Tara Dor.

A rocky, mountainous planet, with light blue skies, a single yellow sun and large rust colored, airless moon. The vegetation was mostly course blue-green grass, short stubby trees and thorny brush. The gravity here was just slightly heavier than what the aliens here were accustomed to, but not drastic enough to affect them adversely, and they adapted to it quickly.

Ja’on entered the hall outside his chambers, and hurried down the corridor leading to the main chamber for the teachers of this obscure Jedi Sect, called Mentors Hall. Gan Mal had left the Jedi order nearly two centuries earlier due to a conflict of theology, and sought out and started this sect in the far reaches of wild space to teach her interpretation in the ways of the Force.

She forbade the term “Master”, and substituted the word “Mentor” instead, though the trainees still retained the title of “Padawan”.

As Ja’on was dwelling on these things, he was joined by a Rodian, who emerged from an adjoining room, also attired in the same colored grey cloak and white tunic as a Mentor.

“Did you sense the disturbance as well?” the Rodian inquired in rough basic, his green snout twitching.

“Yes, Gordo. And I hope I am wrong, but I sensed the death of my cousin, Jedi Master Mace Windu, in that disturbance. I feel troubled times are before us.” Ja’on replied, thoughtfully stroking his course, grey peppered beard.

The Rodian looked down and shook his head in sympathy as he replied, “My condolences, my friend. You never got to meet him, did you?”

“No.” Ja’on replied, thrusting his dark brown hands into the voluminous sleeves of his robes. “My mother forbade it. That is why she agreed for me to come here with the late Dobo Kol when it was apparent I was attuned to the Force, instead of sending me away to Coruscant. She didn’t agree with the Jedi way of separating their Padawans from their families. She visited me several times here, before the Summertime War claimed her life on Haruun Kal.”

The Rodian mused on this in silence as they entered the massive Mentors Hall, the main conference room for Gan Mals small staff of mentors.

They greeted Kera Kol, daughter of the late Dobo Kol. She was a Twi’lek with green hued skin and piercing green eyes.

A human female entered from another doorway with short black hair and tanned skin, Raena Verus of Tatooine, followed by a furry, canine looking Bothian, Bolo Dare. The last two mentors, a red skinned Zeltron male with dark hair, Maris Tay and a Neimodian female , Perna Drury.

The last person to enter was a diminutive, wizened human female with long flowing white hair who entered from the back of the chamber via huge double wooden doors, her voluminous grey cloak swirling around her, bearing a crystal topped, ornate walking staff.

She approached the large round table where her inner circle of Mentors stood waiting behind their respective seats, her piercing blue eyes looked troubled as she acknowledged each and every one with a slight nod.

With a heavy sigh, she motioned for everyone to be seated, and with a slight manipulation of the Force, she pulled her own wooden chair out, lowered her 5’1” slight frame into it, and scooted back up to the table, leaning her ornate walking staff, topped by a blue-white Kyber crystal the size of a fist mounted to the top of it, against the table beside her.

Her age was hard to determine by studying her face, though she was well over 250 standard years old, she radiated strength and vitality despite her age, and when she spoke, her voice was commanding and strong , yet at the same time melodious with kindness and wisdom.

“Ja’on” she leveled her piercing gaze onto him, “please describe for this council the Force vision you just had.”

Ja’on cleared his throat, rubbed the top of his head covered in short, coarse black curls.

“Very well, Head Mistress” he began. “In my vision I saw the death of my renowned cousin, the Jedi Master Mace Windu, at the hands of a Sith Lord, and the turning of a young Jedi with great promise, to the Dark Side, causing a severe unbalance in the Force, which threatens the entire galaxy.”

Gan Mal nodded emphatically, “Well said, well said indeed. A Dark Lord has indeed revealed himself, the Sith have returned, and this Dark Lord has an apprentice that is very powerful, very powerful indeed. We here, as well as the other Force sensitives in the Galaxy, are in grave danger. We need to spend what little time we have left in preparing for our defense, not only for ourselves, but for our gracious hosts, the Tarahorkii, as well. They have granted us asylum here, and they must be made aware of threat we all face.

“ As soon as the sun rises, muster your Padawans, and train them in the defensive arts more aggressively, stressing they must maintain balance between the light and dark side of the force during the stressful conflict that we will face soon. “

“Bolo Dare, as soon as he rises, bring the Mandalorian Dain Rune to me and I will brief him personally, he will be needed to help the Tarahorkii organize an effective defense of their village outside these walls, and will be instrumental in the defense of this walled fortress as well.”

“As you wish, Head Mistress.”, Bolo Dare acknowledged.

“Maris Tay”, she addressed the Zeltron, “When is the next shipment of supplies from Captain Tym Pellus due to arrive ?”

The Zeltron answered promptly, “The Wanderer and her crew are due in two days, Head Mistress.”

“That is well.” Gan Mal replied, “Hopefully he will have news as well as supplies from the civilized parts of the galaxy. Right now, we need all the intel we can gather.”

Just then, a tall man with thick greying red hair and wearing a jet black flight suit entered the hall, holding close a young man of about 14 years of age that was visibly upset, his bright red hair all disheveled and intense green eyes red rimmed with tears, although now, he was fighting to put on a brave face before the council. He was tall for his age, and built like the man that was embracing him.

“My apologies for interrupting your early morning meeting”, the man stated, “but Den here has had a terrible nightmare that I feel should be very important to you, Gan Mal.”

Gan Mal rose from her seat, grasping and leaning heavily on her walking staff, came to lay a reassuring hand on young Den Runes shoulder.

“Indeed, did you have a Force induced nightmare as well, young Padawan? Please share your vision with us.” Gan Mal addressed him softly, assuring him.

The young Padawan cleared his throat, which cracked only a little, visibly ashamed for showing weakness, not only in front of the council, but most importantly, in front of his grandfather.

“I had a vision of a yellow eyed demon calling my name, and fire and bodies lying everywhere. I saw my friends, Darrawoo the Wookie, My Mentor, Ja’on Windu, my Tarahorkii friend Kiva Blut, and yourself, Head Mistress Gan Mal, all dead, and then, worst of all”, his voice cracked involuntarily here, ”I saw a black cloaked, heavily armored giant slay my grandfather right in front of me.”

Gan Mal hugged him close, laying her head on top of his.

“A very powerful vision for a Padawan to have, indeed.” She stated. “But one we will heed, for you see, that is the reason we are all gathered here, for we all have felt the same disturbance in the Force. Go get some sleep, much training we will begin when the sun rises and I would have a word with your grandfather and the council now. We need you rested up for the morning.” At this point, she grasped the youth by his shoulders and gazed intently into his eyes, “ You have great potential, Den Rune, don’t let fear eclipse that potential.”

“Yes ma’am.” He answered, and glanced at his grandfather.

“Go ahead, Den. I’ll be there as soon as I am done here. Heed all that the Mentors and I teach you. We will step it up with your Mandalorian Martial arts training as well.” Dain instructed.

Den nodded, and squaring his shoulders, left the chamber.

Dain turned to Gan Mal as Den left the room, “How serious is this vision, and how may I be of assistance?”

Gan Mal’s blue eyes were intense as she gazed up at Dain, and informed him gravely, “ For whatever reason or method, a Sith Lord and his powerful apprentice have materialized and threaten the Galaxy. The danger is very real as they are very strong with the Dark side of the Force. We need you to get with the Tarahorkii elders and organize a defense of their city, as well as our small stronghold here. I will send Gordo and Maris Tay with you at first light. The Pel tribal warlord, Balak Pel as well as war Chief Zorvo Fey must be included, I understand Hovo and Colvin Blut have entered a truce and trade agreement with these neighboring tribes.”

Dain nodded, “No problem. Young Kiva Blut and Dez Orun were staying here in the compound with us, she was awakened by Dens nightmare. We will prepare their Saga-hel mounts so they can ride back to their village and prepare them for the meeting in just four hours. I would also advise you to have Tym Pellus to acquire more orbital based defense weapons, and personal weapons as well, on his next visit.”

Gan Mal nodded in agreement. “It’s short notice, but taken under advisement. This meeting is adjourned for now. We all will need our rest for the days to come.”

The rest of the council rose to their feet, and nodding to Dain and Gan Mal, filed out of the room.

Gan Mal turned toward Dain one last time, “ May the Force be with us, we are going to need it.” She stated solemnly.

“Indeed.” Dain replied dryly, “the only thing worse than a Republic Jedi is a Sith, and I thought they were long extinct.”

“Just in hiding, it would seem,” Gan Mal mused, “and the Jedi Council, with all their arrogance, failed to sense them until too late, and now, I’m afraid, the whole galaxy will pay for their collective arrogance.” She sighed heavily and turned to go,        ” Good night, my friend.”

And with that, she turned and headed back to her chamber, Dain watched as she left for a few seconds, rubbing his stubbled chin in deep thought, then he pivoted on his booted heel and headed back to his quarters.

Chapter Two

Arriving at his quarters, Dain opened the door to find Den and two Tarahorkii youths talking excitedly at the dinner table of their small living area. They immediately came to their feet and respectfully faced Dain as he closed the door behind him.

“You’re up already, good.” He stated, settling into a chair at the table with the youths.

The Tarahorkii were a tall, slender yet muscular humanoid race, their skin tones ranged from a yellowish to brownish orange.

The female had long dark, black hair that hung in a thick single braid to the small of her back, her large oval, glowing eyes had purple hued irises, her nose was small, her ears were of average size but pointy, her fingers and toes long and slender.

A silver, metallic band encircled her head, three silvery bracelets adorned each arm. Her feet were sheathed in tall open-toed sandals that supported a metallic guard over each shin. Her skin tone was a light orange-brown. She had on a short, black, sleeveless top and wore a knee length purple skirt held up by slim, light brown leather belt.

The male had long flowing, copper colored hair, his eyes were a bright, glowing hazel. He was clearly a mixture of the off worlder and native species. He wore a green tunic and red loin cloth that supported by a wide, dark leather belt that sported a long knife in a sheath on his left thigh. He wore light brown, leather, knee high boots that had the same design of built in shin guards as the female did.

His skin tone was a very light orange-yellowish hue, and he was well over 6’1”. The female, when standing , was an even 6’0”.

The male spoke in a deep tone, in flawless basic, “ Our Sagar-hel are ready to ride, we are awaiting your instructions, Elder Rune.”

Dain nodded in approval, “Very well. I take it Den has already briefed you on the situation. Right after first light, I and two of the head Mentors here need to meet with your elders. Ride now, and let them know we are coming. Tell them a grave danger has emerged that we must prepare for.”

The two Tarahorkii rose to their feet, grabbed their short spears that were leaning against the wall.

“We shall see you there, Elder Rune”. The male said, grasping Dain by the forearm.

Dain returned the gesture of respect. “I look forward to seeing you there, Dez Orun.” And then he turned toward the female. “And you as well, Kiva Blut”.

They grasped forearms as well, and then Kiva took Den’s hands and grasped them firmly. “Stay safe, dearest friend, I shall return as soon as possible. May the Force of all things dwell within you.”

Den smiled, patted Kivas hand reassuringly, “And may the Force be with you as well, dear Kiva Blut.”

She returned the smile, and her and Dez Orun hurried out of the door.

Dain then turned toward Den, “Get some rest, in just three hours we have a lot of work to do. We have to make sure your vision doesn’t come true.”

Just two hours later, Den feigned sleep as his Grandfather donned his Mandalorian armor. It was black with red trim, complete with a dark black, kilt like Kama with large cargo pockets instead of a cape. He had on heavy boots, shin and fore arm guards that were jet black. The classic Mandalorian helmet sported two small Terentatek tusks mounted on each side, below the range finder, that curved out and in front, just shy of the helmets mouth area.

They were awarded to Dain by Wookies on Kashyyyk, on a long ago mission there, where he and a Wookie warrior by the name of Skarraroo  encountered one these beasts and her sole offspring, (at that time Terentateks were believed to have been extinct), while on a mission in the badlands of Kashyyyk.

Before donning the horned helm, Dain turned and looked fondly at Den.

“ I know you are awake, grandson.” He replied gently. “Listen well, train well and mind your temper. The training regime will be intense for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be back soon. Then I will also teach you more advanced methods of the Mandalorian martial arts that you already know, and teach you some that I have been holding back from you. You are almost at the age for the Rite of Passage trials that you would face on Concordia, it’s time to get you ready for them.”

“ Yes, Grandfather”. Den replied, rising from his bed. “I cannot sleep, I will go ahead and start my meditation routines now, and get in a little lightsaber practice before the main training.”

Dain smiled, “Very well, save some of that energy for my return, if it is early enough, we will spar.”

With that, he donned his helmet and stepped outside and into the early morning mist, blue green grass heavy with dew, the small, plump Worshi birds were just starting to chirp and whistle in the early morning light.

Den picked up a holo cube that was on the small nightstand beside his bed, and thumbed it on. The holo projection showed an infant Den, his long lost mother and father, Derri and Mave Rune, who had disappeared without a trace somewhere in the Corporate Sector when he was just nine years old. His grandfather and late grandmother, Elizabet, were posed behind them, celebrating his birth, all smiles as they showed him off for the holo projector.

He thumbed through the scenes of him at the various stages of growth with his long lost parents. Until he got to where he was nine years of age and they were no longer present. Elizabet died soon after.

He put the holo-projector down, put on his training coveralls, and stepped out into the brisk early morning air that was just getting a little lighter with the rising of the sun, with his lightsaber in hand.

Chapter Three

Dain, Gordo and Maris Tay stepped of off the repulsor lift transport in front of the high, red stone walled, circular Blut stronghold.  Tall stone watch towers faced each of the four cardinal directions, and a large wooden and metal gate adjoined each tower.

Two Tarahorkii guards in antiquated light, crimson colored metal armor, with primitive slug throwing ornate rifles shouldered, stepped aside as the massive wooden and metal rimmed gates were cranked open for the visitors.

Inside the walls, a good sized city was nestled. Three and four story stone buildings, with intricately carved columns portraying local animals and beings from Tarahoorkii mythology, radiated in a rough circle, all of the red or dull grey local stone and cut into massive blocks, topped by a gold or dull grey metal domed roof. The roads were paved with alternating brown, black and red, round stones.

A  wide parapet ran the entire length of the of the main wall, which was 8’ thick, and the guards wearing the Blut crimson armor  patrolled it in groups of three, bearing the intricately carved, dull grey metal and dark brown stocked slug throwing rifles.

They were one level open air shops, various trade craft dealers, several Inns and bars, barracks for troops, both local and visiting, these were the two story buildings. Stalls and pens for domesticated animals were nestled in between these buildings, and this was outer radius of the circular city. The next ring lay across the broad, paved street that separated them, and these were modest two to three story buildings, residences for shop owners, guild leaders and minor head warriors as well as guest quarters for low level officials of various callings.

And the third and last ring lay across another broad road, and these buildings were more ornate, three to four floors high. The higher ranking warriors, priests and kinsmen of the war chief resided here, as well as guest quarters for high ranking, visiting officials.

The broad paved roads were intersected between each building, creating narrow side roads and narrower alleyways.

In the center of the massive stronghold was a huge open air court with Zinca orchards and various fruit trees, a huge fresh water spring well lay to the east of the court yard and a stream, diverted from the nearby Kossos river, ran from metal grated channels from the northern wall, and exited the southern wall in the same manner, behind this wall was the massive four story, red stone Blut Keep.

A crimson armored, very tall at 6’5” and muscular Tarahorkii with plumed helmet came over to greet them.

“Welcome, Outworld friends, we are expecting you. “ He boomed in near perfect basic.

“Greetings, Hovo Blut,” Maris Tay replied,” We would like to thank you and your father, Colvin, for seeing us on such short notice.”

“No problem, friends” Hovo stated as he gestured for the trio to follow him. “The timing couldn’t have been better. Chief Zorvo Fey, of the Eastern Tribes and Denka Doo of the Southern tribes are here as well as Balak Pel of the Western tribes. We are talking about a trade deal; Vorda Kee of the Northern tribes is expected in three days. Hopefully we can set aside our differences for a unified defense against this threat we just heard your Force sensitives have detected.”

The small group had to weave in and out of the crowds in the market area on the broad, paved streets, as the walled village was packed with visitors and Saga-hel from the neighboring tribes here to negotiate an historic trade deal.

The little plump, crested brown Worshi birds were fleeting around from place to place, looking for a dropped morsel of fruit or local bread here and there. The males had large red crests and red beaks, their chest feathers a bright green. The females had small yellow crests, red beaks and were all dark brown.

Watching from high above, slightly larger Kerla birds, with long sharp grey beaks and blue-black feathers, kept a watch out for any dropped meat, or the unfortunate demise of any small animal to feast on.

Warriors from the different tribes wore the colored armor of their respective regions. The eastern tribe wore green tinted armor, the western tribes’ gold, the southern brown. If the North were present, they would have worn Blue.

The Bluts and local central tribes wore crimson, like the guards at the gate and the brightly plumed helmed Hovo Blut.

They made their way through the throng of brightly colored Tarahorkii and the traversed the city to the large, four story elaborately carved stone fortress in the middle of the compound. Blut Keep.

Crossing the very broad stone work bridge across the small river, they came to the massive double doors. Two crimson armored guards opened the doors for them, and they stepped  inside, the walls were lined every five feet with glowing, bright white Kadoon crystals that were mined from the Northern border regions of Blut territory.  These same crystals, if hollowed out and filled with local Jurri nectar, would come volatile on hard impact, causing an explosion set off by a chemical reaction. The Tarahorkii used these as explosive weapons on occasion.

A very large rectangular table filled the middle of the massive room, and a tall Tarahokii male with white bearded chin and ornate feathered headdress was beckoning them to empty seats on his right.

The seating order was as follows; Colvin and his steely grey haired wife Lyra sat at the head of the table, Hovo Blut and his very dark haired wife Keela were seated to his immediate right, followed then by Kiva, Maris Tay, Gordo, Dain, Dez Orun and six honored Blut warriors. Dez was there to represent his mother, Zera Thak Orun, a Tarahorkii  warrior from the northern tribes, who was mated to his human father, Mentor Zak Orun, who came from the distant planet, Gandeal. They were on a mission to help negotiate the trade deal with the Bluts and the Outworlders with the Northern tribes, along with Hovo Bluts eldest son, Heiko Blut.  On the Left side of Colvin was Zorvo Fey, who happened to be Keelas father,  Balak Pel and his eldest son Mordon, Denka Doo and his glowering wife Steela, who had thick curly brown hair, their son Bran, and five honored warriors from each of these tribes.

The table was heaped with local food, like Barabuell meat, a large bovine like animal, an herbivore but with a lion like horned head, a large set of curved horns right above a set of smaller, spiked ones , an armored ridged spine and tail and four powerful clawed feet.

Hai-el tail. An amphibious like creature from the shallow seas to the south, which looks like a cross between a turtle and an alligator gar.

Tunka-Shu, a  dark blue scaled, fresh water fish with succulent reddish pink meat.

Decanters of  Zinca wine, made from the sweet tasting and juicy, purple-red zinca berries that were also heaped onto the grey metallic plates.

Dain respectfully removed his horned helmet and set it down on a small table that was placed behind him and took his seat, along with everyone else. He noticed an old Tarahorkii female seated at a small table about six feet behind Colvin and Lyra, wearing a horned Barabuell headdress , and muttering to herself as she drank Zinca wine deeply from a plain metal mug. He realized this must be Esta Kuhl, the shamanic priestess to the house of Blut that he has heard of, but never met.

Colvin raised his ornate mug into the air, the plate before him heaped with meat and fruit, and rattled off a speech in his native tongue.

Dain turned and whispered to Gordo on his left, “I should have brought my droid, 3-A7, to interpret for us.”

Gordo chuckled softly, “Indeed.”

Then Colvin switched to basic and pointed his mug in the  direction of his alien guests, “ And to our dear friends that come here  from the vast gulf of the heavens, today we mark an historic trade agreement between tribes that we have been in conflict with for generations. In keeping with our Tarahorkii traditions, peace, trade and even arranged marriages are done over elaborate feasts and an abundance of Zinca wine. We welcome you, and raise our cups to your health and well-being!” And with that he took a long swig from his mug, as did the other Tarahorkii present with a loud roar of approval.

Then, still standing, he set his mug down on the table and his countenance and tone took on a more somber note.

“As the fates, or the Force, if you will, would have it, we are also gathered here for the common defense of our traditions and way of life. Our Force sensitive friends have felt a grave danger in the Force, which moves through all things, and are here to give us a dire warning….”

He was interrupted as Maris Tay screamed aloud and stumbled backward out of his seat, Gordo was holding his head as well, his mouth agape from some inner felt pain.

Esta Kuhl also cried out and shot right up out of her seat, mouth writhing in pain and her eyes rolled up into the back of her head.

Dain, still seated, reached for his Mandalorian heavy blaster as the gathered Tarahorkii warriors stood up and made for their own weapons. Dain scanned the crowd quickly looking for the source of the commotion.

“Stay your hands, a great disturbance in the Force has just happened”, Maris Tay, his voice thick with emotion, ordered,     ” It’s as if thousands of Jedi just screamed out in agony, and are dead or dying!”

Esta Kuhl, in a cracking voice that at same time was very ominous and carried through the great hall, replied in almost perfect Basic, “The Outworlder speaks truly. The tribes must unite and work together for a common defense. A dark shadow is just now starting to spread across the stars, eclipsing their light! Innocent and noble lives have been lost already, and many more will follow. We must send riders to the coastal and Northern tribes, and even to the savage tribes beyond the mountains of the dreaded Killa-Kuk nesting grounds. Send them with due haste, our days are numbered!”

She leveled her gaze directly at Den Rune, and addressed him and the two Mentors, “It is well known that I, and those that came before me, have never trusted you Out Worlders, and your presence here may have very well sealed our fate, but this evil I sense would have found us sooner or later anyway. Your Order is in very real danger, as is our very existence, but if we work together, WE will have a chance to survive.”

Colvin Blut interjected, having come around the table to stand by her right side as she spoke. “Fellow War chiefs and warriors, you have heard the Spirit Woman speak. We will now convene a War council between us. We must work with our alien guests to help fight this unknown evil.”

The Tarahorkii voiced their agreement, all but Balak Pel, who stepped forward to address Dain and the two Mentors directly.

“As is Tarahorkii custom, I will heed the words of a Spirit Talker. But as she has said, your presence here puts us all in danger. But if your presence can also give us a fighting chance to preserve our people, I and my tribe will fight alongside of you. Your fellow Mentor Raena Verus did save my youngest son from a winged, razor beaked Killa-kuk last season, for which I am very grateful.  But heed my words, fight well, fight true, or you may find us a formidable foe as well. It is our world, after all.”

Colvin Blut interjected angrily “These Force sensitives have been among us for nearly three generations now! I am almost 117 years here in this life, and I’ve known their Head Mistress since I was a little boy. My grandfather welcomed her and her crew here and gave them sanctuary. Some of our people have even taken mates among them, and have had offspring that have been notable and brave. These Out Worlders have been nothing but honorable and trustworthy. I and my clan will fight with them, and they will fight and defend us!”

Gordo and Maris Tay nodded in agreement, and Maris Tay replied in all sincerity, “  None the less, point well taken, Balak Pel. No doubt you would be a dauntless foe to deal with. But we Grey Jedi will not deceive nor betray those that we call friends, or to your people that have given us sanctuary here for so long a time now.”

“We must return to our Sanctuary, and see what has transpired there because of this very unsettling disturbance. We will send our warrior here, Dain Rune, back to you in a couple of days to help get a battle plan together. In the meantime, I will extend an invitation for any of you to come and be guest at our Sanctuary, to train with us if you will, or to discuss what must be done in the coming days.”

Balak Pel nodded and stepped forward, “One more thing. I take it that these dark threats we will be facing will have more technologically advanced weapons that what we have here. Any way we can get more advanced weapons, and trained on their use and maintenance?”

The Tarahorkii in the room gasped at this request, and Colvin Bluts mouth took on a stern looking line as his gaze turned to steel as he glared at Balak Pel.

But Dain Rune spoke up before Colvin Blut could interject, “ You speak the truth, Balak Pel, and I have already considered that possibility. I will see to that issue personally, and if it is possible, will provide the training that you seek. I already have a small cache of weapons coming in on the next supply shipment, they were for contingency purposes but will serve you well in light of the current situation.”

“Thank you Warrior.” Relief was heavy in Colvin Bluts voice. “Go to your people, we have much to discuss between us here.”

And with that being said, Dain, Gordo and Maris Tay left the hall and entered their repulsor lift transport, and raced back their compound.

Chapter Four

Den and the young, Force sensitive Wookie Darrawoo were sparring intently with their light sabers under Ja’on Windus and Sharrawul’s , Darrawoos mother, watchful eye.

Darrawoo stood a full head and shoulders taller than Den, his light brown fur with blonde highlights glistened from the sweat of his exertions. His dark brown eyes narrowed in intense concentration, a fanged grimace on his face and nostrils flared.

His mother Sharrawul’s fur was auburn colored with black highlights running through her fur. Her eyes were bright green, and a jagged sinister looking scar ran from her forehead, across her right eye, down to her right cheek.

She stood beside Ja’on, hand on hips, a Kashyyyk Stalker Pistol holstered on her right hip, held up by a leather, modified gun belt with extra charges. A Kashyyyk spirit blade rested in its sheath on her left hip.

Dens red hair and forehead also glistened with sweat as he parried yet another aggressive thrust from Darrawoo’s unique  silver bladed lightsaber, sparking against Den’s rare, orange blade,( the Khyber crystals were found here on Tara Dor, which had an abundant supply of exotically colored crystals), they were locked for a brief moment in a contest of wills, until Den took his left hand off his two handed hilt just for a moment and gave Darrawoo a powerful Force shove, maybe a little too powerful as Darrawoo landed in the dirt, on his back, ten feet away.

With a savage roar, Darrawoo leapt to his feet, and in single Force assisted bound, flew through the air, silver bladed lightsaber held high above his head with both hands, ready to bring it down on Den’s head.

Ja’on yelled ,”Darrawoo, NO!!!” just as Sharrawul roared loudly at the combatants.

Den stepped aside, extended his left hand, and froze Darrawoo in mid swing, suspending him in the air, causing Darrawoo to kick and wave his arms angrily but fruitlessly, snarling and growling the whole time.

“Darrawoo, listen”, Den pleaded, “I didn’t mean to shove you that hard. I’m sorry. I will not do it again.”

That only caused Darrawoo to swing and kick harder while suspended, and his snarls and growls became more intense as he struggled.

Beads of sweat dotted Den’s forehead from his effort to hold the Wookie aloft, “ Darrawoo, I can’t hold you forever. Do you accept my apology or not?” He inquired through clenched teeth.

“Put him down, Den, his mother is getting agitated as well.” Ja’on cautioned, as Sharrawul’s  hands were now clenched into  fists by her side, she was growling and muttering to Ja’on intently.

“Ok Darrawoo,” Den was panting now as he spoke, “I’m going to set you down now. But you know I consider you one of my best friends.”

He set Darrawoo down gently on his feet, and immediately the Wookie roared and charged at Den.

As Den was getting into a defensive stance against the charge, Darrawoo stopped in mid stride, thrust out both arms, his lightsaber deactivated now, and delivered a powerful Force push of his own.

Den flew 15 feet through the air and landed squarely on his back in clump of droppings that was just left behind from a passing Saga-hel with a Tarahorkii rider.

Both the rider and equine like Saga-hel, (it resembled a horse, except it has bony ridge like protrusions on its elongated muzzle, had clawed feet and lizard like tail). The Tarahorkii chuckled as he urged his mount on.

Ja’on came rushing to Den’s side, trying to stifle his laugh, but Darraowoo and Sharrawul were chortling loudly, she was patting her son on the back as they were doubled over with Wookie laughter.

“Are you ok, Den?” Ja’on inquired, grinning real big as he extended his hand to help Den up.

“ That damn furball.” Den exclaimed as he let Ja’on help him to his feet. “ I won’t be so easy on him, next time.”

Darrawoo and Sharrawul, still laughing, walked up to Den.

Sharrawul ruffled Den’s hair as Darrawoo chortled to Den as he roughly slapped him on the shoulder.

“Oh yeah, I had you, and you know it, and who are you to call someone ‘stinky’ ?”  Den countered.

“Well, you do stink now, nothing worse than wearing Saga-hel dung on your back side.” Ja’on pointed out, trying not to laugh.

Just then Den heard multiple screams inside his head, and a blinding, searing pain ripped through his skull and dropped him to his knees.

Through it all he could hear Darrawoo roar out in pain, and he witnessed Ja’on fall to his knees, holding his head.

Sharrawul was holding her son by his shoulders, looking around at the others in puzzlement and concern.

Other Force sensitives on the training grounds were affected as well, in various stages of shock and disbelief, fear and pain etched on their faces.

As the sensation passed, Den and Ja’on slowly stood up, looking at the others around them, trying to make sense of what just transpired.

Gan Mal emerged out of Mentors Hall, walking slowly and leaning heavily onto her staff, her eyes rid rimmed with tears.

Mentors and Padawans alike approached her, to stand around her and inquire all at once as to what just happened. She raised her right hand, and the murmuring stopped, as they waited for her to speak.

“ My dearest friends,” she started, quietly sobbing and fighting to maintain composure, “ I’m afraid the Jedi Order is no more.  A great tragedy, despite its flaws, for it meant well.   The  Sith have dealt a devastating blow, what we felt just now was the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Jedi deaths. Masters, Knights, Padawans, and even the… Younglings.” On this last part, she held her hand over her mouth to stifle a heavy, heartfelt sob.

Clearing her throat, she continued, “Our situation is more desperate than ever now. We are on our own. The few Jedi that may have survived are not aware of us, and my old mentor, Yoda, has cloaked his presence, and may have gone into hiding.”

Looking around at each person standing around her, her face wearing a heavy frown, she stated, “It may be months, or it may be years before this Sith menace finds us out, so we have time to prepare, and if the Republic Senate has not been totally deceived by this Sith Lord and his apprentice, they may rally and dispose of them before we are discovered. One could only hope.” This last part sounded hollow even to her own ears.

Wrinkling her nose in disgust, she turned her attention toward Den, whose face turned bright red under her gaze from embarrassment, as he could sense what was coming next.

“Ugh, young Den Rune.” She stated in mock disgust, “ you cannot face this crisis smelling like that. You should have known better to enrage a Wookie, and choose a better landing spot the next time you do.”

A low, nervous chuckle erupted from the others gathered around, and Den could only mutter a low, “Yes, Head Mistress.” He squared his shoulders, and calmly walked toward his quarters, a mixture of emotions swirling around inside of him.

As the others dispersed to get back into their training routine with more intense enthusiasm, Gan Mal placed a gentle hand on Ja’on Windus arm to restrain him from leaving.

“That one has great potential, Ja’on”, she spoke low and softly, “to hold an enraged Wookie like he did. When this Sith Lord sends his forces against us, and he will, it’s just a matter of time, I want you to protect this Padawan at all costs. He will carry on the legacy of what we are doing here long after we are gone. And your fate is intertwined with his, I cannot foresee just yet the end result, but the Force has fated you to be his Mentor in this time of crisis.”

Ja’on nodded, and softly replied,” As you see fit, Head Mistress. Den is headstrong, but determined. I do feel a bond with him that I do not feel with the others. He is the only Padawan, other than Darrawoo, that I have seen that can keep the very cocky Kai Davos of Naboo in his place.”

Gan Mal shook her head, mouth grim, “Kai Davos is more of a threat than ever now, and openly boasting of joining the newly formed Republic Military Academy to be a pilot, as soon as he is of age, which is just a year away.  If it wasn’t for the fact that he and his overly privileged family may expose our location, I would have expelled him three years ago. Unfortunately, the Force is strong within him, and he is a natural and skilled pilot.”

They looked to were the tall, black haired, blue eyed, lightly tanned Kai Davos was lightsaber sparring with a pink haired  Zeltron female who had green flecked brown eyes and was close to his own age, her name was Zerta Vale.  Rumor had it they were romantically attached, and she was every bit as cocky as he was.  Perna Drury was overseeing their exercise with crossed arms.

Kai Davos sported a dark green lightsaber blade with a dark black custom hilt. Zerta Vales lightsaber was a reddish pink in color, and her green metallic hilt was shaped like a reptile, whose open mouth is where the reddish pink blade emitted from.

Turning away and headed back toward Mentors Hall, Ja’on could only shake his head, “These are dark and troubled times, indeed. Our situation here is precarious, foes without, and potential foes within.”

“Go check on young Den,”Gan Mal suggested,” I sense Maris Tay, Gordo and Dain Rune are on their way back, let’s see what they have learned.  And tomorrow Tym Pellus and the Wanderer are due to arrive, they may have information for us from the civilized systems that we are not aware of.”

“Yes, Head Mistress.” Ja’on agreed, and laying a reassuring hand on Gan Mals forearm, turned and headed toward the quarters that Den shared with his grandfather.

Chapter Five

Spice Terminus space station was bustling with activity, as space farers, tourists, smugglers, station personnel and the occasional group of Clone Troopers passed by, patrolling the station in groups of four. The various species and races of the galaxy were well represented here ,  bustling about on their errands at hand.

In a hangar bay designated F-17, a human of medium height, sporting a long brown haired pony tail, was inspecting freight that the dock droids were loading onto his Corellian Class VI Bulk Freighter, the Wanderer.

Cargo containers of farming equipment, spare parts for antiquated star ships of various types, clothing and non-perishable foodstuffs were being loaded into the cargo hold. The man overseeing the loading of the cargo kept looking up to scan the passing crowds with piercing dark green eyes, a hint of nervous anticipation on his neatly trimmed bearded face.

He wore green heavy duty cargo pants and an old brown military style blouse with Corellian captains insignia on the shoulder lapels.

As he was looking over a holo film manifest, a lupine looking Shistavanen with dark brown fur, glowing yellow eyes and khaki spacer coveralls appeared at the top of the main ramp into the ship. He sported a thick leather gun belt whose holster was low slung on the right thigh and nestling a DL-18 blaster. He  came down the boarding ramp and approached the human male, whose back was turned to him.

“Tym” the Shistavanen addressed him in guttural basic,” Mac Enry is on his way, and apologizes for his delay.”

Tym Pellus turned toward his co-pilot, “Thank you, Haydrak Kohr, I was getting worried about his delay.”

A familiar shape caught Haydraks sharp eyes, and he growled and shook his head, “Be mindful, Tym”, he cautioned in a low voice, “ but here comes that meddlesome Chandra-Fan, Bok-Klee, how in the hell did find us here?”

Tym Pellus turned in time to see the 3’3” Bok-Klee meander his way through the crowd, and toward him. The little bat looking humanoid with brown fur like hair was wearing a yellow tunic, black wide legged pants with matching sleeveless vest.

Around his petite waist a narrow gun belt held a holstered Blurgg-1120 Hold out Blaster high on his left hip.

Tym Pellus dropped his right hand toward his own low slung DD6 Blaster, and casually thumbed the grip strap open.

“Well, well, if it isn’t my favorite little rodent, Bok-Klee”, Tym Pellus greeted the Chandra-Fan, “ why are you so different from the others of your species, as you are so damn nosey, and seem to hound me at various space ports when you get the chance?”

Bok-Klee walked right up to Tym, and stared up at him with his wide, beady black eyes, ignoring the fact that Tyms right hand was nestled on the grip of his blaster.

“ As you know, Captain Pellus,” Bok-Klee answered in a very nasal and squeaky basic,” I was enslaved by Hutts at a very young age, and learned more of their ways than my own native ones.”

He cleared his throat, hairy hands on his waist.

“My sources told me that you were here, and once and for all, I want the truth about your ‘Spacemans Joy Juice’.  Where are you getting it? And where are you getting these exotic Khyber crystals and fruits from? I know you are making regular runs into Wild Space, but where to?”

Haydrak growled low in his throat, steeping forward menacingly toward the little Chandra-Fan, as Tym Pellus leaned toward Bok-Klee, shaking his left forefinger in his face, right hand gripping his blaster a little tighter, “ Listen here you overgrown gutter rat,” Tym snarled, “ mind your own damn business. I must have told you a hundred times now, the ‘Joy Juice’ is an old Corellian family recipe, and I don’t reveal my sources. Ever” He straightened up, hoisting his gun belt up.

“Now run along, before you get yourself into trouble.” He advised.

Bok-Klee stared up at him, nose and ears twitching in quite rage, little hands balled into fists. “Your ‘Joy Juice’ and Kyber crystals are severely cutting into my ‘Red Nebula Ale’ and my own Kyber crystal trade, which Zerpen Industries are paying handsomely for now.” The Chandra-Fan’s voice quivered with emotion. “Watch yourself, Captain Pellus, I have friends among the Hutts, you would do well to cut me in on your sources.”

And with that being said, he turned on his heel and melted into the throng of  the myriad species around him.

Tym turned to Haydrak, “Damn, how does he keep finding us? Now we must find a new rendezvous point with Mac. Do a full internal and external diagnostic of the Wanderer, make sure we have no tracers anywhere.”

Haydrak replied, his nostrils twitching subtly, “Will do, Tym, and by the way, Mac Enry is approaching, hopefully that nosey little rodent is pestering another competitor somewhere else.” With that, he went up the ramp and into the ship.

Mac Enry approached the hangar bay followed by two Twi’leks and a human male, all three with anti-grav sleds carrying two cargo crates each. The male Twi’lek had cream colored skin, bright orange eyes and wore a blue spacers jump suit. His lekku had faint, black stripes running the length of them.

The female of the same species had a light pink skin tone, light purple colored eyes, a black sleeveless top and brown utility pants. Both Twi’leks sported blasters on their right hips.

The human was of medium height, lightly tanned flesh, short brown hair and brown eyes. He wore a light blue jacket over a white, collared shirt, black spacers trousers and black flight boots. A DL-44 blaster was slung low on his left hip.

Mac Enry was a tall youthful looking man, 6’1”, had a clean shaven head with dark brown skin, a thick curly black beard that only covered the rim of his mouth and chin.

Muscular with a deep chest and broad shoulders, he wore a black form fitting turtleneck shirt under a brown, plasti-steel chest plate. Thick military style olive drab pants, thick black boots, black shin guards and knee pads. An X-8 Night Sniper Blaster was cradled in its holster on his right hip.

He extended his hand out, and Tym took it, and as they shook hands, Mac Enry spoke in a deep, booming voice, ”Captain Pellus, good to see you. Did I just see you being threatened by a meter tall Chandra-Fan? He still pestering you about your Joy Juice?”

“Among other things,” Tym answered wryly. “You’re running late, any trouble?” he stepped aside as the two Twi’leks and human pushed the anti-grav sleds and their crates into the cargo hold, after waiting for the last of the dock droids to deliver their sleds and cargo. The last one was a 6’0” humanoid protocol droid, silver with striking black and red markings.

Both Tym and Mac scanned the crowd behind them as the dock droids and their protocol supervisor clumped away, and then followed the human and two Twi’Leks into the cargo hold.

“ Just a small bit excitement, one of the two Venator class Star Destroyers were taking on about twenty LAAT troop transports from this station, and jumped out of here pretty quickly. The Marauder I believe it was. The remaining troops here are doubling their numbers and stepping up patrols. We need to wrap this up as soon as possible.” Mac Enry answered, as Tym secured the cargo hold door behind them.

As soon as the door was closed, Mac nodded to his companions, “Open the containers, let him see the merchandise.” He commanded.

They triggered the magna seal controls, and the lids opened up on their hinges.

On each sled, one container held A-280 Blaster Rifles, the other held extra charge packs and charging units. Twenty five rifles in the first and second crate, twenty three in the third for a grand total of 73 rifles.

“Don’t ask me where I got them,” Mac Enry cautioned, “but I got them at a good deal. The Clone Wars are coming to an end, I hear, and if you haven’t heard yet, Chancellor Palpatine has turned the Republic into the First Galactic Empire, with his inflated ego as Emperor. Don’t know how well the Jedi are going to take that, but they have more pressing concerns than a gun runner and smuggler making deals at this time.”

Tym let out a low whistle, “Man, I’ve been in the Outer Rim far too long. We belong to an Empire now? That sounds far worse than the Republic was. That doesn’t sound good at all.” He paused for a minute, then asked,” What about the other items we discussed?”

Mac Enry clasped Tyms shoulder, a big grin on his face, and answered with a chuckle,” Man, I didn’t know how I was going to pull that last minute request off, but I managed to score an M-68 Planetary Magna Pulse cannon and generator.”

Tym looked pleasantly surprised and exclaimed softly, ”Wow! I didn’t think even you could pull that off. My clients will be pleased.”

“Oh yeah?” Mac had a childish mischievous look on his face,      ” what if I told you we managed to get one hundred deactivated B-1 Battle Droids complete with their E-5 Blaster Rifles and a command module in which to reprogram them with?”

Tym looked incredulous, “ How in the hell did you manage that?”

Mac Enry laughed as he explained, ”I told you, the Clone Wars are coming to an end. We, or I should say my daughter Kimi, found a damaged and listless Separatist C-9979 drop ship just floating in space on our short range sensors, not far from Mon Gazza. We managed to only salvage just 100 of these droids and a command module before a Republic Acclamator I Class Assault ship dropped in from hyperspace and we had to scram. But we have them, and in five hours, meet me in orbit above Drexels three moons, and I will transfer them there, away from prying eyes.”

He took a moment to look around the hold, “And now for my payment?” he inquired.

“Ah, yes”, Tym chuckled, “time to square up. We have ten cases of my ’Spacemans Joy Juice’. Several containers of the rarest colored Kyber crystals you will ever see, as well as these white glowing Kadoon crystals, and several exotic daggers and swords with hard, sharp nearly indestructible grey metal. Some rare and exotic glimmer jewels of various colors, and they are all yours, my friend.”

Mac gave a low whistle, “That is a small fortune right there, one day you must tell me where you are scoring these things.”

Tym shook his head and waved his right finger at him, “No can do friend, this gig was passed down to me from the time of my great-great grandfather. Both my grandfather and father were able to retire as fat old, happy men because of it. This gig is a family legacy that I am not willing to share, just yet.”

They unloaded the original containers off of the anti-grav sleds. And after Mac and his crew inspected the items that Tym mentioned, he nodded his approval and these containers were loaded on.

As soon as the dull metal cargo containers were secured to the sleds, Tym walked over to the wall and activated the ships intercom system. “Ok Haydrak, we are done here. All clear to exit?” He inquired.

“ A patrol just passed by, so you are clear for now.” Haydrak reported. “The internal and external diagnostic sweeps found no tags or tracers.”

Tym acknowledged him and then opened the cargo doors, and Mac and crew descended the ramp, with Tym following.

At the bottom of the ramp, Den and Mac shook hands again.

“You know when, and you know where. Watch your six, my friend.” Mac Enry advised.

Tym smiled warmly at the gun runner, “Back at you, old friend. See you in a few Parsecs.”

With that, Mac and his helpers headed briskly toward their own hangar bay where his ship, a YZ-900 Heavy Bulk Transport, Fools Luck, was waiting.

Tym Pellus made sure the cargo doors were secure, and headed up the main entry ramp into his ship.

He settled into the pilots seat, donning his headset. Haydrak was already strapped into the co-pilots seat, his own headset donned, talking to the Space Stations Flight Control Center.

“We will be cleared to take off as soon as we file a flight destination.” Haydrak informed him.

Tym took a brief minute to scan the Navi computer.

“ Plot a course for Socorro by way of Skynara,” Tym Instructed, “file that using our usual cargo of Joy Juice and food stuff.”

Haydrak transmitted the data, and after a few minutes of anticipation, was given clearance to exit the space station.

“A brief little detour, and then on to Tara Dor. “ Tym sang it as a jingle, as he piloted the Wanderer away from the space station and made the jump into hyperspace. Haydraks only reply was a slight canine like grin.

Meanwhile, standing in a dark corner behind a thick support strut for this level of the space station, Bok-Klee and a 5’10” Sullustan with an intricately tattooed head and dark grey flight suit, a DC-17 Blaster holstered in a military style, black gun belt on his right hip, watched as the Wanderer departed.

The protocol droid that helped load cargo into the hold of the Wanderer approached them.

“The tracer is hidden aboard in one of the crates, sir, and will be dormant until they reach Hyperspace.” The droid addressed the Sullustan.

The Sullustan lisped in thick accented basic when he spoke, “Thank you, EXD-7. Now go prepare my ship, the Hard Bounty, for departure. We must leave ASAP.”

He turned to a nervous and fidgeting Bok-Klee and reassured him, “Don’t worry. We will find out where Captain Pellus is going. The newly formed Empire thanks you for this information. We will find out where these exotic and powerful Kyber crystals are coming from.”

“And I want to know too, Tyber-Rex” Bok-Klee demanded,” I want in on his action, those profits he is making should be mine.”

The sinister looking Sullustan paused as he was walking off and gave Bok-Klee a cold sideways look. “Don’t worry, little Chandra-Fan, your greedy desires of entitlement will be met. One way or another.”

And with that, he meandered off through the crowd, on his way to his ship.

Chapter Six

Emperor Palpatine and his newly appointed Grand Vizier, the tall blue skinned, horned Chagrian, Mas Amedda, were talking in the Emperors private chambers, two of the Emperors Scarlet cloaked and masked personal guards standing alert on either side of the doorway at attention.

“Sly Moore has just left for the Jedi temple, to look over the Jedi holocrons again, My Lord, to learn the identity and whereabouts of any surviving Jedi. And to follow up on what we have learned already.” Mas Amedda reported to the Emperor.

They yellow eyes of the disfigured Emperor Palpatine glowered under the hood of his thick black cloak.

“Good, my friend, instruct her to go far back into the archives, as some Jedi are more long lived than others.” His voice was deep and menacing. “ My new apprentice, Darth Vader, is on his way to Mustafar to put an end to this Clone War once and for all. It has served its purpose, we must not leave any loose ends. So now tell me of what you have learned already.”

Mas Amedda nodded, “Very well, my Lord. We have learned that roughly 171 years ago a group of nine Jedi Knights and ten of their Padawans, and to our surprise, some of their families as well, left the Jedi Order over a disagreement over ideology. “

He paused to clear his throat, trying to show that he was not shaken by the Emperors intense, yellow eyed gaze. He continued calmly, “ This revolt was led by a Jedi female called Gan Mal, one of Yodas own apprentices, who, due to her being willful and headstrong, was never granted a seat on the council nor the title of master. She was in her 80’s at that time and still youthful for her age.” He continued after a short pause, “ From what we can deduce, she may have been from an unchartered planet in Wild Space called Zaradaxa, just beyond Belkadon. They are reported to be a long lived race of humans, living to about 330 to 350 years of age. They were an isolationist and pacifist society, but were heavily attacked by a band of Reavers, in which Gan Mal took it upon herself to lead a group of Jedi and Padawans to eradicate them and their asteroid stronghold, without the approval or sanction of the Jedi Council.”

The Emperor leaned back in his high backed chair, and steepled is hands in front him. “Interesting,” he replied, intrigued, “And  do we know anything else of this Gan Mal , or her possible whereabouts?”

Mas Amedda moved his staff to his other hand, “ Anything else concerning where she came from or when she started her training has been wiped clean, my Lord, except for the details I just conveyed to you, in which were gleamed from a variety of sources in the Jedi archives. That is one of the reasons why Sly Moore went back to do more research.” He straightened the front of his robe before adding, “We do know that Yoda was deeply affected by her desertion, as was Jedi Master Yaddle. Her and Gan Mal were really close.”

The Emperor sat back, eyes deep in thought. After a few heartbeats he commanded, “We will keep this between you, Sly Moore and myself for now. We will make this one of the many secret projects that we are working on.”

“As you wish my Lord.” Mas Amedda bowed slightly as he acknowledged the Emperor.

Just then Yoda himself strolled through the door, and as the Emperors crimson guards started to react, Yoda slammed them into the wall and knocked them out cold with just a casual wave of his hand.

The Emperor turned to face Yoda, who casually leaned on his gnarled walking stick. Mas Amedda looked nervously between the both of them.

“I hear a new apprentice you have, Emperor,” Yoda stated mockingly, “or should I call you, ..Darth Sidious.”

Chapter Seven

The Wanderer dropped out of hyperspace and into the Drexel system, far enough from any of the planetary based sensors on their floating city of Great Ship.

Tym Pellus and Haydrak Kohr studied their sensors as they headed at sub light speed toward the green glow of the triple moons.

“ This sector is notorious for pirates, so keep an eye out for them or any Republic patrol ships.” He suggested, and then corrected himself with heavy sarcasm in his voice, “I guess they would be Imperial ships now. What has the galaxy come to?”

“If you ask me, it went from bad to worse.” Haydrak answered dryly, then added, “We have a YZ-900 transport in high orbit around the secondary moon, and we are getting it’s transponder reading now, it is the Fools Luck. Mac Enry was punctual for our date this time.”

Tym grinned, “Setting course now, let’s get this over with. I’m craving some Barabuell steak and fresh Zinca wine, not to mention a hot, tall Tarahorkii female known as Yesa Kell.”

Haydrak laughed,” Barabuell steak and some Tunka-shu does sound good about now.”  He agreed. “ But that is several hours away, we may be a little late with this shipment.”

Tym nodded as he about to open a comm channel to the Fools Luck. ”Yeah, but only a day late. We are their only life line to the known systems, and beggars cannot be choosers.”

And with that being said, lowered the mike on his headset down, in front of his mouth , and spoke into it, “ This is the captain of the Wanderer hailing the Fools Luck. We will be coming up on your starboard side, requesting permission to couple up to your aft cargo hold.”

A young female voice acknowledged him,” Permission granted, Wanderer, I have been tracking you since you entered the system. I look forward to seeing you again, Tym.”

Tym grinned really big, “Kimi, great to hear from you. You mean your mother is letting you hang out with your dead beat dad? Does she know what you are doing?”

“Mother is busy doing an investigative story on Coruscant,” Kimi replied, “ and didn’t need me under her feet. By the way, I’ll be eighteen next year, and someone has to keep an eye on the old man. Besides, I’d rather be in Dads line of business than that of an investigative reporter for a HoloNews corporation burdened by bureaucracy.”

Mac Enry cut in on the feed, “ Kimi, haven’t I warned you about talking to strangers? Couple on up, Tym, I’m anxious for you take this cargo off of my hands. It will be much safer with you in Wild space than with me.”

“Will do.” Tym answered, while at the same time skillfully lining his ship up for the docking procedure.

Several minutes later, Tym and Haydrak entered the Fools Luck via the connecting and sealed airlocks between the two ships, a girl of medium height and slight build ran up and gave Tym and Haydrak a big hug each.

“ My goodness, Kimi”, Tym explained, “you have grown a half meter since I last saw you.”

Kimi stood at 5’6”, had light brown skin, dark grey eyes and neck length, wavy black hair, she had her Mothers nose and eyes, but her Fathers smile and high cheek bones.

Her mother was from Alderaan, Mika Tyreese Enry, and was an investigative reporter for one of the HoloNews outlets. Mika and Mac were married only briefly, as her career, and his as well, was not conducive to a long term, stable relationship. Kimi was their only child, whom they split custody with, making the time to fit her into their mutually busy schedules. Mac and Mika shared a distant but friendly relationship, especially when it came to Kimi.

“ And you have gotten a little fatter.“ Kimi teased as her father walked up, and clasped Tym on the shoulder.

“Right on time.” He praised Tym, and then turned to shake Haydraks furry hand. “Glad you can keep him punctual, Haydrak.” He said jokingly.

Haydrak grinned his lupine grin, not meaning for it to look so sinister, “No one told me it would be an easy job. Let’s go see this merchandise you have for us.

“Right this way.” Mac turned and beckoned for them to follow him. He led the way to twelve large crates and gestured toward them, they were opened for Tym and Haydrak to inspect each one and as they did, Mac explained  ”The Plasma cannon will need to be assembled dirt side , surely you have a crew capable of this?”

Tym nodded, though his voice sounded a little hesitant, “They are very capable, I’m sure they can figure it out. Besides, Haydrak and I are going to lay low for a little while at our destination, that rodent Bok-Klee has become a job hazard waiting to happen. We can help our clients if they need it.”

Mac nodded in understanding, “I don’t blame you. Maybe one day you can invite me to your secret hide away. I may need to disappear for a while too.”

Tym shrugged, face clouded with conflicting emotions, “I will discuss it with my clients, see what they say. But remember, I took an oath of secrecy, not only to my clients, but to my late father as well.”

Mac patted Tym on the back,” No problem Tym”, he said softly, “I know you are an honorable man, and would help me if I needed it with no problem.”

He then pointed to four pod like containers on the right, and one large rectangle shaped one sitting in front of them.

“The big rectangle container is the command module. You can use it to reprogram the B1 Battle Droids, by their red markings, Specialist Droids to be more precise, hard programmed primarily for security and infantry.” He then pointed toward the pods, “Each pod contains twenty five Droids, stored in upright fetal position, complete with their E-5 Blaster rifles. There is only one supreme commander, and four NCO type droids. “

He pressed a button on the control panel on the right side of the conical shaped nose of the pods. The Conical nose opened upward, to reveal five rows of five droids across held magnetically to their storage brackets. He opened all four for Tym and Haydrak to peer into for a quick inspection.

“I also have eight crates of various grenades, mortars and mortar launchers, as well as three more Z-6 Rotary Blaster cannons to add to your collection. Will that do for now?” Mac asked with just a hint of self-satisfaction etched in his voice.

Tym gave a low whistle, and Haydrak gave him a thumbs up.

“Yeah, I am impressed.” He admitted. “ My hold will be filled to almost maximum capacity this run, but let’s get them loaded.”

At that, Mac’s crew closed up the crates and pods and began loading them aboard the Wanderer.

As they were nearing completion, the human male that had helped load cargo onto the Wanderer on Spice Terminus approached the group.

“Sir,” he stated with urgency in his voice, “an Anxarta class light freighter has dropped out of hyperspace, and headed toward Drexel. Her transponder is registering her as the Tramp Trader, but it seems to be a counterfeit signature. They could be pirates, or worse.”

“Thank you, Jon Bardis,” Mac Enry  took on a commanding demeanor, ”Kimi, go plot us a course out of here, whatever crew is not helping load cargo, get the ships defensive systems primed and ready.”

Haydrak turned headed back toward the airlocks, and informed Tym over his shoulder as he was walking away,” I’ll get the Wanderer ready to jump as you see to it the cargo is secured. Mac, Kimi, it was great seeing you again, stay safe.”

“See you pirates at a later time,” Kimi stated, headed toward the Fools Luck bridge area.

Mac shook Tyms hand,” Good luck, old friend. I hope to see you soon.”

“Me too.” Tym agreed, securing the cargo hold as the last of the illicit cargo was loaded on, and the loaders were all clear.

They both hurried off in opposite directions, anticipating trouble, and wanting to leave this system far behind as soon as possible.

Chapter Eight

Aboard the Hard Bounty, the stars were stretched out into glowing streams of light as they traveled through hyperspace, EXD-7, seated just behind the Weequay copilot, turned to face Tyber-Rex, who was piloting the ship, after studying the monitor that he was using to read the tracker hidden aboard the Wanderer.

“Sir, our prey has dropped out of hyperspace and into the Drexel system. The tracker has gone back into stealth mode until they jump back into hyperspace again.” He informed his Sullstan captain.

“Thank you.” Tybe-Rex stated, and turned toward his brown, leather skinned co-pilot, his second–in-command. “ Terix Dey, mask our transponder signature, use the Tramp Trader identifier, and contact Great Ship space sport , get clearance to land. The Wanderer has detoured here for some reason, and I want to know why. I am not ready to expose ourselves to them just yet.” And with that, he dropped his ship out of hyperspace and piloted it toward the water world of Drexel.

Just then, a tall Weequay sporting a blonde Mohawk, his left eye a sinister red looking implant that had a big black iris in the middle of it that made him look pop eyed in contrast to his normal looking, black colored right eye, entered into the cockpit, half dragging, half carrying a protesting Bok-Klee by his collar with his left hand.

Blok-Klees own Blurgg-1120 Hold- Out blaster was being held to his right temple by the Weequays right hand, and the Weequay growled as he gave Bok-Klee a good shake, “Look what I found hiding in the cargo hold, we seem to have a rodent infestation.”

Tyber-Rex turned toward Bok-Klee after turning the controls over to his co-pilot, he gave the Chandra-Fan a cold menacing look with his eyes narrowed for just a few seconds.

“Give me one reason for us not to throw you out of an airlock, you miserable pest.” Tyber-Rex stated with great contempt. “Did you not trust our bargain?”

Bok-Klee squirmed as he squealed in a strangled high pitch reply, ”I just wanted to see where Pellus gets his merchandise! I have been betrayed much too often, and wanted to ensure I could see his destination first hand!”

Tyber-Rex snarled in disgust, “Put the creature down, Rasa Gorm, he is here now and that can’t be helped. He may be of some use.”

Rasa twisted the hapless Bok-Klees collar a little tighter, lifting him up to stare him in the eyes, with little effort on his part. “I really like the airlock, idea, boss.” He hissed into Bok-Klees face,” You sure you don’t want to change your mind and space this vermin?”

“I said to put him down, Rasa,” Tyber-Rex ordered with a heavy sigh, staring out the side cockpit window for just a moment,       ” we will put him to work when we need it.”

“Fine.” Rasas voice was heavy with disappointment, “but I’ll hold on to his Hold Out blaster for now.” He set the protesting Chandra-Fan heavily down on his feet, and turned and went back into the interior of the ship.

Bok-Klee, angrily glaring after the receding Weequay, straightened his vest and shirt, and then squinted up at the cockpit window.

‘Where are we?” he panted, recovering his breath,” Are we there already?”

“The Wanderer took a little detour in the Drexel system.” Irritation was heavy in Tyber-Rexs voice as he answered,” We are headed toward Drexel now, to try and learn why.”

Bok-Klee stroked his furry chin in thought for a brief moment,    ” Maybe to meet his supplier? He may be getting his cargo from a third party?”

“That is a possibility.” Tyber-Rex acknowledged with indifference.

The grey eyed, Weequay copilot with receding black hair, looked up from his instruments to inform Tyber-Rex, “ Every now and then I am picking up two ship signatures in orbit above the second moon.” He glanced at his instruments a second time, “One is a YZ-900 Freighter, and the other seems to be a match for the Wanderer, a Corellian Class VI Bulk Freighter.”

Bok-Klee could barely contain his excitement as he clapped his hands and stomped his right foot. “IT IS them! We have them now, move in to intercept, let’s take them now!”

Tyber-Rex was calm and cool when he swiveled the pilots seat around, and leaned menacingly toward the little Chandra-Fan, “You may be bankrolling this operation, Bok-Klee, but I am the captain of this ship. We are observing casually for now, as we are posing as just another merchant ship. We WILL NOT give ourselves away just yet.”

Bok-Klee gulped and step backward, bumping into EXD-7’s knee, which has been silent and observing everything as they happened around him, and his mechanical stare seem to jolt the Chandra-Fan into even more timid humility as well, “Yes, of course, that’s a great idea.” He mumbled.

Terix Dey looked up from his instruments again, and reported, ”Sir, it would seem the Wanderer has taken on cargo and is preparing make another jump, as is the other ship, which is jamming their identity. At this time we cannot get a fix on her designation.”

Tyber-Rex nodded, his fingers dancing across his flight console.

“Very well”, he acknowledged , ”as soon as they jump, notify Great Ship that we have had a change of plans, and then transmit the description of that YZ-900  to the nearest Sector Patrol Ship, use my Imperial Security code.” He glanced over at Bok-Klee and suggested, “Go join your buddy, Rasa, and you two strap yourselves in for the jump into hyperspace.”

Bok-Klee wrinkled his snout in disgust, “If you insist, but that smelly, crude Weequay is hardly my ‘buddy’”.

“There they go.” Terix pointed out, as both the Wanderer and YZ-900 sped off in opposite directions, and then simultaneously made their jumps into hyperspace.

“Transmit the communications now,” Tyber-Rex ordered, and then turned toward EXD-7, “have we got a trace yet?”

EXD-7 stroked the keyboard of his monitoring station, “It’s just now coming through, and transferring the data to the Navi computer as we speak.”

“Communications complete.” Terix reported, “a Sector Ship has the description of the YZ-900, and putting out an alert for it.”

Tyber-Rex pulled back on the hyperspace throttle as soon at the Navi computer beeped it was ready, “ And now we are off into unknown space, and to whatever lies beyond.” He stated dramatically as the stars distorted and elongated around his ship.

Chapter Nine

Dain Rune stepped out of the small, domed, grey bricked building that they were using as a communications building, located inside the Grey Jedi stronghold. He squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light of the midday sun, and glanced at the three communication dishes that were mounted fifteen feet apart, facing skyward in their perspective directions, power and data cables ran in conduits buried shallowly in the hard rocky ground, to the inside of the little building, connecting communication equipment on the inside, and a huge  solar power generator on the outside, to the north of the building, 30 feet away.

He was wearing his black flight suit with red piping, heavy commando boots and gun belt that housed his heavy Mandalorian blaster resting on his lower hip, snug in its holster.

He walked on the little path that meandered down the hill to the training grounds below and tapped the Twi’lek Mentor, Kera Kol on the shoulder.

She was busy going over light saber defensive techniques with a group of twelve Padawans, four of them were of mixed human and Tarahorkii decent.

She turned to acknowledge Dain, smiling pleasantly at him, “Yes, Dain, how may I be of assistance?”

“I was wondering if you knew where I could find Head Mistress Gan Mal? I need to speak with her a moment, and cannot reach her in her quarters or any of the training areas.” He explained matter-of-factly.

Kera pointed toward the north gate, and directed, “She is outside of the compound, meditating on the banks of the Kossos river.”

He nodded and headed toward the gate ,”Thank you, Kera.”

“You are very welcome, Dain.” She answered cordially, and she then turned and resumed the lesson that she was giving.

The ancient compound they occupied followed pretty closely the layout of the Blut compound, as all Tarahorkii strongholds did, but not as grand. This site that Gan Mal had called home for nearly two hundred years now was ancient and abandoned when she first arrived, and was gifted to her and her first group of refugees by Kordo Blut, Colvins Bluts grandfather.

Dain pushed through the plain double doors of the gate, shut them behind him, and made his way through the  Zinca berry bushes and orchards of various fruit trees, heading east toward the river.

Two grazing Barabuells stopped for a minute to warily watch him pass by, growling a warning deep in their throats, but resumed grazing when he ignored them and kept walking.

He spotted her sitting cross legged on a flat, dull white rock, palms up on her knees, eyes closed and face toward the sky, taking in the bright sunlight on her face. Her ornate kyber crystal staff lay on the ground by her right side, her grey robe lay neatly folded on the ground behind her, her wide sleeved white tunic rustling with the breeze, loose course brown pants rolled up, her brown leather boots sitting on the ground on her left side, leaving her barefoot.

He spotted this all in a glance, but she spoke to him before he got within ten feet of her. “Come sit with me, Dain Rune, I already know that the scoundrels Tym Pellus and Haydrak Kohr have just entered the system with their supply shipment, a day late no less. But they are other matters I would discuss with you.”

Impressed, Dain replied, ”As you wish.” He sat down beside her in a cross legged position effortlessly, back straight, and waited for her to speak.

She opened her intense blue eyes, turned and faced Dain with a slight grin. “Just a little while ago, I just had the strangest Force vision. I envisioned that the forces of fear and anger just birthed a creature of pure hate and terror, and at the same time, in a different place far away, a creature of despair and pain birthed the forces hope and strength. And all these creatures and forces were intertwined and related somehow, connected more deeply than by the power of the Force itself.” She paused before continuing, “In all my years, it is the most peculiar vision I have ever had. What do you think it means, Mandalorian warrior?”

For a few long heartbeats, Dain watched the river flow before him intently before answering, “ I am but a simple, Mandalorian Recon Commando and pilot. I have known my share of triumphs and failures, joy and pain. But I do know this, the dark cannot stand long before the coming of the light. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what your vision means. With the dark times that are befalling us now, there may be a beacon of light and hope starting to flicker to life somewhere out there in the vast reaches of the galaxy, to counteract this waxing darkness.”

Gan Mal stared at him in open amazement, before speaking, “It is a shame you are not a force sensitive, but maybe the Force works through you in other ways. You would have made a very powerful and wise Jedi.”

Dain scoffed, “I am no Jedi, and was very skeptical of them until my grandson started showing signs of being Force sensitive, and then we found you and your group here, and I would have no others train him in the ways of the Force but you and your leaders here.”

She smiled broadly, “Why thank you. That was one of the best compliments that I have ever received. And speaking of your grandson, I must ask a favor of you. I would ask you to conceal the Reaver in the badlands just northwest of here, and refrain from using it in the coming conflict.”

She paused for just a minute, Dain was attentive to what she was saying, but he kept his face expressionless. She cleared her throat and continued,“ I need you to lead the forces on the ground, and when it looks like all hope is lost, hide Den in the forgotten catacombs that connect our compound to the Blut stronghold, and keep him safe. When it is safe to depart, take him to the planet Takodana, and find Maz Kanata there. Tell her that I have sent you, and introduce her to Den. She will instruct you after that. I will give Ja’on Windu the same instructions, just in case some misfortune befalls you.”

He smiled wryly, “There is always that possibility, I have cheated death one too many times. Very well then, I will hide the Reaver away today, and shield her from detection.”

She smiled at him, and stated, “Thank you, now help me up please, the Wanderer is just about to enter our atmosphere, let us go and see what Tym and Haydrak have brought us on this delivery.”

“ Agreed.” Dain replied, rising to his feet. He picked up her robe and staff and waited patiently as she donned her boots. He helped her to her feet after they were on, and then helped her put on the grey robe. After she had pulled it on and settled it around her, he handed her staff, and then they headed toward their makeshift landing pad and the massive ship that was just now coming in for a landing.

Chapter Ten

The Hard Bounty came out of hyperspace a good distance away from the distant blue-green and red colored planet with white, wispy clouds high in its atmosphere, and its rust colored, medium sized moon, circling the planet in high orbit.

Tyber-Rex studied his instrumentation briefly, and then took in the scene outside of his cock pit window before inquiring,” Is this it? That was an unusually long hyperspace trip, and I feel a little disorientated from it. The ships computers can’t register where we are.”

EXD-7 looked up from his console, ”This is the last known location that the tracker transmitted from. The Wanderer is here in this system, and that is the only habitable planet here.”

Terix Day studied his instrumentation intently for few brief moments before replying, “Our navigation systems keep trying  to recalibrate themselves as we are in unchartered space. That planet does have a faint technology reading at one of the settlements, and as long as we keep that moon, which has a solid iron core as well as heavy iron deposits on its surface, between us and the planet, we should remain undetected.”

“Very well, this must be the place.” Tyber-Rex stated as he was reaching for the ships intercom button. “Rasa Gorm, take BoK-Klee and have him help you prep the two DRK-1 probe droids. One for the planets surface, its destination just shy of the settlement with the technology reading, not too close, we don’t want it to be detected. The second droid, load it into a hyperspace pod with a communications package detailing our current coordinates, with my security code and a brief description of why we are here.  EXD-7 will reverse plot our course to where we came from, and feed the coordinates into the pods navi computer when it is ready to launch. Make sure it is programed to seek out any Imperial Sector ships that may be near its location when it returns to chartered space. As soon as we get intel from the probe droid on the surface, we will include any pertinent information into its communication package, and then send it back into known space.”

Rasa Gorm sounded irritated as he acknowledged, ”Sure thing boss. We are on it. Should I prep a hyperspace pod for the little rodent as well?”

Tyber-Rex chuckled, “No Rasa, as soon you have completed your tasks, bring him to the cockpit so he can see for himself where his adversary gets his goods.” He clicked off the intercom right after Rasa growled an affirmation of the order. He turned to Terix, “Now we wait, and see what we can learn.”

Terix nodded ,and then pointed to a blue white streak speeding away from the ship, toward the planet, ”The first probe droid is on its way. We are linked to it and ready to receive its transmissions when it lands on the surface.”

EXD-7 turned and reported to his captain as well, “The hyperspace pod has just received its coordinates and is standing by to launch whenever you are ready.”

Tyber-Bex unbuckled from his pilots chair and stood up to stretch his legs, and also stretched his arms over his head. “Now to bide our time until we receive those transmissions. Any one fancy a cup of stimm spice tea?”

Chapter Eleven

The pod carrying the probe droid came down in a verdant , blue-green meadow  where a herd of wild Barabuell were grazing, its hard impact causing them to stampede away, growling and snorting.

A spherical, dark round droid with a single red eye came floating up out of the crater that was left by the impact of the now spent and open pod.

An antenna extended up quietly from its globe like body, and the probe droid took a moment to calculate its bearings, and then glided noiselessly from the meadow and through a dense forest of stubby blue leafed Jurri trees, bright green Alor trees with bright red fruit that the Worshi birds were flitting in out of the branches, nibbling on any over ripened fruit that they could find , oblivious to the venomous, dark brown and green patterned Ferra serpent with a wedged shape, horn rimmed head and fanged mouth, waiting for one of the hapless birds to get within striking distance.  Also present were the poisonous Dyer-Ro shrubs with blueish-green serrated leaves and short but sharp thorny branches, and too many other various types of vegetation to mention.

It came floating out of the forest and arrived at the banks of a wide, fast flowing river. It flitted across to the other side, and approached a rocky, small range of hills, where the settlement lay nestled that it was programmed to seek out.

Dain, Den, Ja’on,  Tym, Haydrak, Gordo, Darrawoo, Sharrawul , and Raena Verus along with 12 other Padawans, three of which were of Tarahorkii descent, were all working together to assemble the M-68 Planetary Magna Pulse Cannon and its generator on a small, semi flat plateau that overlooked the Blut stronghold to the south, the compound that was home to Gan Mal and her followers to the north, and the river, several yards away, down a steep slope, on the eastern side.

With the help of large, anti-grav repulsor sleds, welding machines, and the mechanical and engineering skills of those mentioned, it was coming along pretty quickly.

The large generator had been secured and hidden in a large, but shallow cave that was in the rock face of the southern ridge of the plateau, its power cables coupled up, and ran through farrowed out shallow trenches in shielded conduits to where they were assembling the cannon, waiting to be coupled up to the cannon itself as soon it was completed.

Dain and Gan Mal had agreed this would take priority, and although not a perfect weapon system, Dain pointed out that it could be used not only against incoming ships, but against ground vehicles too. They had picked this spot as it overlooked both of the local settlements, and would be able to defend either of them with ease.

At the same time, the Bothian male Bolo Dare and the Neimodian female Perna Drury were reprogramming the B1 Battle Droids, and setting up sixty of them in a defensive perimeter around the Grey Jedi stronghold, and the remaining forty droids just outside the walls of the Blut Fortress.

The native residents had come out and were looking over the droids with the awe of primitive curiosity, the idea of mechanical warriors a novel concept with them, even Balak Pel and Colvin Blut were looking over them with keen interest.

Maris Tay and Kera Kol  were training Dez Orun, Hovo and Kiva Blut, and fifty-five other Tarahorkki warriors on the western, wide open field outside of the Grey Jedi stronghold on the use and maintenance of the A-280 Blaster Rifles, Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannons, and various grenades. Dain and the Tarahorkii War council had agreed that the Tarahorkii would receive sixty of these rifles, sixteen Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannons and assorted grenades, and the Grey Jedi would get the remaining thirteen rifles, fourteen Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannons and a few of the grenades for their defense.

The sun was getting ready to set, and Dain and the crew working on the Plasma Cannon had huge utility lights on stands set up as they were planning to work through the night.

The Tarahorkii themselves were working diligently to prepare their own defenses. They had sent out groups of Tarahorkii to gather more Kadoon crystals, and Jurii nectar.

The Tarahorkii armorers and weapons makers were working late as well hollowing out the Kadoon crystals and shaping them to be slugs for rifles, arrowheads and spearheads for their primitive, but abundant weapons.

The young helpers and apprentices of these craftsmen were carefully pouring Jurri nectar into small, elastic bladders made from the intestines of Barabuell, and with great care, placing these into the hollows of the Kadoon crystals and sealing them in with a dull yellow type of local epoxy.

Gan Mal was overseeing some late lightsaber training with some of the remaining Padawans alongside a tall, long haired blonde male, the newly arrived Zak Orun, and his equally tall copper haired mate, Zera beside him.

They had arrived shortly after the Wanderer had landed, prompted by the same Force induced vision of dying Jedi that had galvanized the others to beef up their training and defenses.

He and Zera had informed the Grey Jedi and Tarahorkii warlords that Vorda Kee and Heiko Blut were raising an army, and preparing to march south as soon as this was accomplished, to help defend against any attack that may occur from these Sith dark lords and their forces.

Everyone worked until night had fallen, and the rust colored crescent moon began to make its nocturnal trek across the sky.

All the while, the DRK-1 probe droid flitted around the extreme edges of these activities, staying out of sight, its single red mechanical eye flashing rapidly as it transmitted what it recorded back to the Hard Bounty , hidden behind that distant, rust colored moon, where EXD-7, Tyber-Rex, Bok-Klee and the two Weequay crew members were analyzing the data, and uploading what they thought as pertinent to the communication package , waiting to be sent back to chartered space, and ultimately, the newly formed Empire.

Chapter Twelve

The Sun rose above the eastern mountains, and as the first rays of light shone down on the Grey Jedi stronghold, a few of its inhabitants began stirring.

Most had worked long into the early morning hours, and as a result, the M-68 Plasma Cannon was nearly complete, and just needed a few finishing touches to be done.

Haydrak Kohr had gathered together a small group of Padawans to help unload the last of the cargo from the ship.

Den Rune, Kai Davos, Zerta Vale, Boron Teya , who was a mixture of Tarahorkii and Tw’lek heritage, whose lekku were very short, neck length, with tufts of light brown hair between them, and Buto Gree, a young Rodian female, were “volunteered” for this detail by Haydrak.

They had risen early, and had been quarreling outside of the quarters where Haydrak was sleeping.

Tym had left to visit Yesa Kell, his Tarahorkii sweetheart, who resided inside the Blut stronghold, when they finally decided to take a break for a little sleep from working on the Plasma Cannon shortly after the midnight hour.

For a reason he didn’t care to know, Boron Teya and the slightly older, Kai Davos were in an intense fist fight over something trivial. Den and Buto Gree had come to break it up, but Zerta Vale would not let them, which led to a force induced fight between her and Buto Gree, with a lot of shoving and stone flinging.

Haydrak broke up the fight just as Den was Force choking Kai, who was kneeling of the ground grasping at his throat, face turning purple from the lack of air and had Zerta paralyzed in place, immobilized with the look of pure fury etched onto her pretty face. Buto Gree was helping Boron Teya to his feet, who sported a very impressive shiner around his left eye.

They marched sullenly down the hill to the makeshift landing pad in a single file, with Haydrak Kohr keeping a wary eye on them from the rear.

On their way to the Wanderer, they passed the few Starfighters that the Grey Order possessed, parked in their makeshift but effective hangars.

In the hangars were parked two Liberator Class Starfighters, Three S-100 Stinger Class Starfighters, Four Aurek Class Tactical Strikefighters, two N-1 Naboo Starfighters courtesy of the Davos family, and two ancient looking M3-A Scyk Fighters.

Out in the open air by itself, was an ancient 578-R Space Transport that was being repaired and updated, the Force Fugitive, one of the two original ships that had brought Gan Mal and her fellow refugees to Tara Dor all those years ago.

The other original ship, a Jedi Justice Cruiser, the Guardian, was currently being used by four mentors to seek out other force sensitive beings that were not keen on joining the Jedi academy, but who were willing and able to take the long, arduous journey far into Wild Space. They also had to agree to take an oath of secrecy, and in most cases, leave behind their home worlds and most of their possessions.

The Grey Order sent four Mentors out on this mission for five year stints. After they had returned, sooner if they had a ship full of Force Sensitive beings, they would wait three years, and send four more volunteers back out and into chartered space to discreetly begin this quest again.

The four Mentors out on this current mission were Pren Drukk, a Weequay male, Orson Bale, a Corellian human male, Erda Fann, an Arkanian Female and Lora Beldonna , a Twi’lek female.

They were scheduled to return to Tara Dor within the year.

The Wanderer was parked on a vast expanse of clearing on a small hill just beyond the hangars, and as the hapless group of Pdawans trudged up the small hill, they would exchange hateful glances toward each other, Boron Teya nursing his swollen eye every now and then.

Haydrak chuckled softly to himself, before mustering up an authoritative voice to address them, “We will not have any more problems, young people, and if they are any, I will have to report it to your Mentors and Head Mistress. However, if you were to show team work and co-operation, and finish unloading the ship in an efficient and timely manner, I may have to sing your praises and tell them what a wonderful job you did, and all done on your own free will.”

The youths grumbled a collective agreement as they arrived at the aft cargo hold, and lined up on either side of the holds hatch, Kai Davos and Zerta Vale stood on the port side, Den, Buto and Boron on the starboard side, glaring at each other as Haydrak punched in the security code to enter the hold.

The ramp extended and as the hatch door rolled up, Haydrak stepped aside, bowed low at the waist, and making an exaggerated circle with his arms and hands, pointed up the ramp and stated in a mocking tone, “You now may enter my parlor, my honored guests. Ladies first, please, and by the way, antigrav sleds and lifts will be stored on the starboard side.”

He straightened up and continued as he followed them up the ramp, “We will open and inspect the cargo before we offload it, to check it against the manifest, and by that time, our gracious host, Captain Tym Pellus, will have arrived with a transport for us to load into, and then we will disperse the cargo to its designated destination. After that is complete, you will be free to beat each other to a bloody pulp if your heart’s desire it.”

Looking sullen, they merely nodded and began moving the cargo crates with the hand held anti-grav lifts to the repulsor sleds, and as they set them down, Haydrak would open them up and compare their contents with the manifest that he held.

Meanwhile, while his grandson was helping to move cargo off of the Wanderer, Dain was checking out the various defensive preparations courtesy of his 22-B Night Falcon speeder bike.

Sharrawul, Darrawoo, Maris Tay , Gordo and five Tarahorkii of mixed decent that were trained and skilled at mechanical work, were finishing up work on the plasma cannon.

He briefed Hovo and Colvin Blut on the news that Tym Pellus  and Haydrak Kohr, (along with Gan Mal, Zak and Zera Orun being present at the Blut fortress), about the formation of the Empire, and Gan Mal emphasized the fact that it was a Sith Empire that corrupted and twisted the Force for evil purposes. He even included the Wanderers crew run in with the greedy little Chandra Fan, Bok-Klee, and the fact he could be trouble for any future supply runs.

He left there with Gan Mal and the Oruns staying behind to oversee the Tarahorkii defensive preparations to check on the B1 Battle Droid placements.

While checking the Battle Droid placements at the Grey Jedi Compound, his commlink buzzed.

“Dain,” the voice of Raena Verus came through as he answered, “We have a situation here. Please come to the communications station immediately.”

“Will do.” He acknowledged as he climbed onto his Speeder Bike and put on his iconic helmet. He stayed on the outskirts of the Padawan training grounds to travel safely at high speed, due to the level of activity on them. He skimmed past the small  cemetery that was created just a decade after Gan Mals arrival here on Tara Dor, with its laser etched, dull grey and weathered, headstones.

He parked right in front of the door of the communications station, and rushed in.

Raena Verus was hunched over the communications console, and he heard a series of garbled, mechanical gibberish being transmitted at high speed, as she had the external speaker on high volume.

Raena turned to him and reported, “It’s origin is dirtside, somewhere close. It’s being transmitted to somewhere around the moon, Lyra-Sen.”

He listened intently for a minute, then stated angrily,” It’s military in origin, very similar to what we Mandalorians use, and it’s scrambled and coded. Can you get a fix on it?”

Raena turned to her console and tapped on the keyboard, looking at the flat, 3D holographic display of sound wave signatures on her screen.

“Not yet,” she answered, “it seems to be moving around, making it difficult to pinpoint.” She paused and looked at wave spike on her screen, that flat lined suddenly. “It just stopped.”

Just then Kera Kol’s voice came over Dains personal commlink, “Dain, we have a visitor. It’s a probe droid of some kind. Please report to the North West training grounds. Gan Mal and the other Mentors have been summoned already. It has been disabled, and we need your expertise on it.”

“On my way.” He transmitted back, then turned to Raena, “Keep monitoring, I want you to put that last recording on a loop, and keep transmitting to the destination of that signal. Maybe, just maybe, we can buy some time before whoever it is knows we are on to them.”

“Yes sir.” she replied, “ And I do have a fix on the destination. It’s on the right, far side of the moon, but because of the moons dense iron concentration, I can’t get a reading on how many ships could be there, or what type.”

He thanked her as he was walking out of the door, and she turned to get started on her assigned task.

Dain raced to the North Western training grounds, where Dez Orun and Perna Drury were looking over the DRK-1 Probe Droid, who now lay quivering on the ground, a smoking hole in the center right side of its body

Dez Orun ran up as Dain approached, “It was there, behind that out cropping, when I came upon it.” Dez explained, pointing behind him to a small ridge to the west. “I went up there for a little target practice, and came up behind it. I shot it with the Blaster rifle I’ve been training with before it could get away.”

“Well done, Dez.” Dain patted him on the shoulder. ”Let’s get a closer look at it.”

An ancient looking, enclosed cab land speeder came racing up  to the scene, and when it parked, Gan Mal and the Oruns stepped out to join the crowd, along with Ja’on Windu who came galloping up on a Saga-hel.

Dain crouched over it, helmet still on, and shaking his head in disbelief exclaimed, “Sith probe droid, this far out in Wild Space. Unbelievable.”

Perna Drury noted as she turned it over as it lay on the ground, “ Its antigrav repulsors and sensor array are fried, but it’s still trying to transmit data.”

Dan turned to face her and inquired, “Can you hack into it, and keep it sending, but making up false intel to transmit until I can take a crew to intercept that ship? I believe it to be just one, if this is the only probe droid there is, are we searching for anymore?”

Perna Drury looked up at Dain, ”We have a patrol of older Padawans and  some Tarahorkii warriors that were nearby, combing the surrounding area now.”

She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips as she rolled the Probe Droid around and studied it. ” As far as hacking into it, yes I can, but I will need a personal computer console, and some hand tools, but it can be done.”

Gan Mal reached into the battered, red faded land speeder and pulled out her personal, hand held computer console, “Use mine.”

Ja’on went back to his Saga-hel and pulled off a beaten, leather satchel from the pronged horned leather saddle of his mount, “These were for Sharrawul, in this case, she won’t mind you using them.”

Dain stood up, “ It’s a good thing we had these handy, “ he stated dryly, “because we don’t have much time. Before you begin transmitting, contact Raena, time your transmission with hers, so when you begin, she can end her loop as you start yours seamlessly, and hopefully those spies in orbit will not catch on.”

He contacted 3-A7 through his helmet commlink, “Remove the camouflage disruptor net and bring the Reaver to the landing field, land just a short distance away from the Wanderer. We are going hunting.”

3-A7 replied an affirmation in his usual mechanical monotone.

Dain turned to Ja’on, “Want to show off your star fighter skills?”

Ja’on grinned,” You bet, I will go prep a S-100 Stinger now, I’ve been craving some fighter time.”

Dain chuckled as he clasped Ja’on on the shoulder, ”Let’s go then, and see what’s been spying on us.” He turned to the others, “All transmissions, from here on, are now encrypted and coded on our secret channel. Don’t give away the surprise.”

With that, Ja’on mounted up onto his Saga-hel, and Dain climbed aboard his speeder bike, and they sped away, headed on their way to the air field.

Chapter Thirteen

While they were moving cargo  outside after Haydrak had double checked the contents, Tym Pellus and his Tarahorkii love interest, Yesa Kell came pulling up in an ancient looking, battered Transport cargo hauler whose four sets of treads (two in front, two in back) growled and squeaked softly as it rolled across the ground.

Yesa was 5’8” tall, long raven black hair and flashing blue eyes. Her flesh tone was a light orange-brown color. She wore a low collared, dark blue blouse, knee length black skirt held up with a broad, dark brown belt that had a plain, circular gold buckle. On the right hip in a scabbard was a foot long, bone handle Tarahorkii dagger.

She had on knee length dark brown boots with thick rawhide laces. Each arm held four, large bracelets, alternating silver and gold colors.

Tym was wearing a big grin on his face, plain white collared shirt, navy blue utility trousers with a cargo pocket on each thigh, and his highly polished, military style pilots boots, and as usual, his blaster on was snug in its holster on his right thigh.

He and Yesa climbed out of the cabin of the cargo hauler via a pair of short steps under each door.

“Good morning, crew.” Squinting against the pre- noon spring sun, “Nice turn out Haydrak, did the one with the short lekku give you any lip?”

Haydrak chuckled as Boron Teya shot Tym a menacing glare.

“Oh no, that wasn’t me, “ Haydrak denied laughing, “this merry crew of miscreants woke me up fighting with each other. That is how they ‘volunteered’ for this detail.”

Tym laughed, “Really now,” he replied in a teasing tone,” I guess they don’t know how lucky they are. Normally Shistavanens eat the people that disturb their slumber.”

Haydrak punched Tym in the arm in good humor,” You are lucky I haven’t devoured you yet.” He grinned at Yesa Kell, “And how are you, Yesa? I see your taste in men still hasn’t improved.”

Yesa laughed and clasped Haydrak by the right forearm as she retorted, “He amuses me, and as long as he amuses me, I will keep him.”

They laughed, but then Zerta Vale, who had taken over checking the manifest against the cargo, walked out of the ships hold and called out to Tym and Haydrak, “Captain Pellus and First Mate Kohr, there is something here that you must see.”

They glanced at each other quizzically, and went up the ramp to see what she wanted to show them.

She pointed to a round, dull grey, flat metal sphere, about 6” around that was domed on one side with four dull light diodes around a protruding, circular antenna housing on top of the dome. The flat side of the sphere was attached to the inside wall of the crate magnetically.

Just then, the ships communication panel lit up, and all their personal comm links came alive with the chatter about the probe droid that was discovered. They all exchanged astonished glances with each other.

“What in the hell?” Tym exclaimed under his breath. “ A probe droid, here?”

Haydrak growled and kicked the crate, “ I recognize that device now, and it’s an old Trandoshan Hyperspace tracker. Surely Mac Enry has not sold us out? And they must have had a hyperspace pod following us, but why didn’t we pick it up?”

Tym disconnected the tracker from the crate, turning it over in his hand as he examined it. “No. No way. We have known him far too long, Haydrak. This wasn’t Mac Enry. I refuse to believe it.”

Haydrak cursed in his native language before replying in basic, “No wonder our diagnostic sweeps didn’t detect the tracker. They only track in Hyperspace, and go dormant at sublight speeds.”

At that moment, Dain Rune appeared in full armor at the head of the ramp, just inside the cargo holds entrance, “Sorry for the interruption,” he stated briskly, “but I need Den, Kai and Zerta now.”

He spotted the tracker in Tyms hand and walked over for a closer look. “Damn.” He snarled, “we have picked up an unauthorized, coded transmission originating from the planets surface and being transmitted to somewhere around  Lyra-Sen, Tara Dors moon. And now you have a Hyperspace tracker aboard your ship. It is not a coincidence, you have been followed here. Dez Orun has found and disabled a DRK-1 probe droid near the western side of the Blut Fortress. Right now Perna Drury is hacking into it, and setting up a false transmission to the ship behind the moon, so we can intercept it before it tries to jump out of here. ”

He turned toward Kai Davos and Zerta Vale, “Get into your flight suits and round up your R2 units quickly and get your N1 Naboo Starfighters ready to go. Den and I will take the Reaver, we are going to intercept whoever they are, and find out why they are here. Den, get to the Reaver, it’s coming in for landing near here now, and work with 3-A7 to prep the weapon systems. ”

Den and his two former adversaries ran down the ramp and headed toward their assigned duties.

Tym looked flustered, and stepped in front of Dain, “We took our usual precautions, and we did not detect this tracker or the Probe Droid. Let us help in some way to make this right.”

Dain mused on this minute, and Tym could only imagine the Mandalorians expression behind the sinister looking, horned helmet.

“Very well then,” he finally stated, “ we will need Haydrak and yourself to pilot two of the M3-A Scyk Fighters. We will approach them from the far side of the moon, close to its surface, and try to catch them from behind. You are familiar with the Scyk fighter type of craft, aren’t you?”

Tym nodded, “Yes, sort of. I piloted something similar when I served in the Corellian Defense Forces.”

Haydrak confirmed,” In my checkered former life before I met Tym and his father, I piloted a variety of snub fighters, the Scyk class ships being one of them.”

“Very well.” He then turned to Boron Teya and Buto Gree, “Go get some help with unloading the ship. I will contact a Mentor to help you search for anymore trackers that may be among the cargo.”

They nodded and left, and Dain headed down the ramp, “Well gentlemen, let’s go hunting, and see who it is you have led here to our sanctuary, deep and isolated in Wild Space as it is.”

As Tym and Haydrak followed Dain down the ramp, Yesa Kell grabbed Tym by the arm to stop him, and whispered into his ear,” You come back to me, Tym Pellus, come back to me alive and in one piece, for I am with your child.”

Tym gave her a long and dumbfounded look, kissed her quickly, then hurried off to join the other two that were half way the fighter hangars already.

Gan Mal leaned heavily on her Kyber crystal headed staff, tears welling up in her eyes as she watched the boat like Reaver, a Mandalorian Amphibious Interstellar Assault Transport, the two bright yellow N1 fighters, the two dull grey and brown Scyk Fighters, and S-100 Stinger fly low overhead. They were going to fly low over the surface until they got into the foothills of the northern mountains, then they were going to climb toward the moon, trying to  keep the moon between them and the mystery ship or ships so they could sneak up on them.

She turned toward Kera Kol, who came up beside her and hugged Gan Mals shoulder to comfort her.

“The end is beginning, my child.” Gan Mal whispered, her voice full of emotion, “our time is running out, for I fear, we have been discovered by an adversary most foul.”

Kera Kols face took on a look of grim determination, “Then we will fight, Head Mistress. We fill fight for what we have built here, this is our home. It is the only home I have ever known, as I was born here. We will fight for the Padawans, the Tarahorkii, and most of all, we will fight for you.”

Gan Mal returned the heart felt hug as she smiled wanly, “And for that, I am very gracious. May the Force be with us, my child. Your family has been very kind to me through the years, ever since your great- grandfather, Koba Kol, volunteered to come here with me as a young Padawan all those long years ago.”

She watched as the speeding ships disappeared over the horizon, “We will fight. We will fight indeed.” She sighed softly, still gazing at the area where the ships have disappeared from sight just a little while longer.

Chapter Fourteen

Tyber-Rex was sleeping in his tiny, cramped cabin when EXD-7 called him over the ships intercom system, “Captain Rex, we have an issue with the Probe Droid, please come to the Bridge.”

He rubbed his eyes as he sat up, and pressed the transmit button, “On my way, EXD-7.” He pulled on his boots and buckled on the gun belt, and pouring a metal cup full of spiced Stimm Tea from a plain metal pot on a small warmer, headed toward the cockpit area, what EXD-7 kept calling a Bridge.

Terix Dey had already arrived, sitting in the co-pilots chair, reading over his instruments, as had Rasa Gorm, who was leaning over EXD-7s chair, looking over the console with the Droid.

Tyber-Rex leaned against the arched entrance into the cockpit, nonchalantly taking a sip of his tea before asking, “What’s the issue? Have they discovered the probe droid?”

EXD-7 and Rasa Grom looked up at the same time, ”Undetermined as of yet, sir.” EXD-7 answered promptly, “for several minutes we have received no transmissions, then we started getting a looped recording from the droid, it seems it may have been doing some sort of internal calibration for several long minutes. It is transmitting fine now.”

Tyber-Rex looked thoughtful as he squeezed by Rasa Gorm and  sat down in the pilots chair, gazing out the cock pit window, taking a long sip of tea.

“Has there been any unusual activity on the planets surface?” He inquired as he began looking over his own instrumentation panel.

Terix looked up at Tyber-Rex from his console briefly, shaking his head as he answered, “None at this time. But keep in mind, this moons properties not only shields us from them, but shields them from us as well. I am trying to maneuver the Hard Bounty to the farthest edge of the moon that I can, so can get a better reading on the planets surface, without them detecting us at the same time.”

Tyber-Rex nodded, lips pressed together in a hard line. “very well, Terix, very well. Has the hyperspace pod with the communications package been updated yet? I want it to be able to launch at a moment’s notice, just in case.”

Rasa Gorm straightened up, and looking at Tyber-Rex, his bionic eye reflecting the light of the nearby moon, answered, “Yes, Captain Rex, the Probe Droids last communication package has been edited and uploaded, it is ready to launch as soon as you give the command.”

At that moment Bok-Klee entered the cock-pit, nose twitching as he glanced at each individual already gathered there.

“What’s going on?” He asked, trying to peer past Rasa and EXD-7 to see the console that EXD-7 was monitoring. “Are we going to land yet and put an end to that criminal, Tym Pellus?”

Rasa looked down at the Chandra fan with contempt, “No, Bok-Klee, as a matter of fact, we were discussing the best way to cook a pesky Chandra Fan for breakfast. What seasoning would it take for you not to taste as bad as I imagine?”

Bok-Klee gasped and step back in disgust, “I warn you Rasa Gorm, I warn all of you, I am well connected with several Hutt clans. Keep pushing me, keep belittling me and you will be made to pay for it.”

Tyber-Rex swiveled his chair around angrily, and glared at Bok-Klee, “ May I remind you, you vile little runt, that we are far, far away from any Hutt influence here. And no, we are not going to land so you can hijack Tym Pellus and his operation here, we are gathering intel for the newly formed Empire, and if you keep trying to usurp my command, I will be happy to let Rasa here kick you out of an airlock.”

Rasa Gorm rubbed his hands in glee, “Just say the word, captain, and it will be done.”

Bok-Klee stepped back in fear, mouth agape, was about to speak, and thought better. He leaned against the bulkhead and moped sullenly.

RXD-7 looked up from his console, oblivious to the exchange that just happened, and reported in his emotionless mechanical voice, “Captain, the probe droid is transmitting indigenous wildlife, fauna and landscape images, and nothing of the rogue Jedi and natives activities. It would seem we have been hacked.”

Tyber-Bex swiveled back to his console, and urgently ordered out a series of commands, “Terix Dey, scan for any incoming ships. Rasa, launch the Hyperspace pod now, just in case. I will prep our ship to jump out of here shortly, it’s going to take time for the Navicomputer to orient itself here in uncharted space, even with the jump coordinates already pre-loaded by EXD-7. Bok-Klee, strap yourself down into the jump seat, and keep your mouth shut.”

Rasa hurried off, Bok-Klee climbed into the seat just behind the pilots chair, still sulking from the exchange that had just happened.

Terix Dey looked up from his instruments, glanced out of the cockpit window toward the moon, “Captain, it’s hard to get a reading with the proximity of the moon, but I am getting some anomalous readings from the moon’s surface itself.”

Tyber-Rex looked perplexed, “What kind of readings?” Anxiety had crept into his voice.

Terix didn’t answer right away as he consulted his instrumentation, then he half stood to peer out of the cock pit window as if for a closer look, “Hard to say, but it seems we have some fast moving blips approaching us a low altitude on the, oh crap, we have incoming!”

And just as the Hard Bountys defensive alarms started wailing, Rasa chimed in on the intercom system, “Hyperspace pod updated and away, damn, what is going on?” He exclaimed.

There was a loud boom inside the ship, and the Hard Bounty shuddered violently, Rasa let out a stream of Weequay curses over the intercom that was still activated, and Bok-Klee let out a high pitched squeal of fear.

Terix was slammed back down into his seat, but managed to look over the ships diagnostic readings, “Shields holding at 93%.  We were hit by a concussion missile from below. We can’t get a reading on the bandits just yet.”

The Hard Bounty shuddered twice again, back to back, as the unknown assailants pressed their attack.

Rasa called out over the intercom, “I’m headed to the twin turbo laser cannon now, Captain, just saw a Mandalorian Amphibious transport and several small fighters out of the port side viewport.”

Terix confirmed, “Our shields are down to 80%, they are targeting our Hyper drive engines and life support. Rasa is correct, the bandits are one large transport, two N1 fighters, two older model Scyk fighters and one S-100 Stinger class fighter. They came from the moon’s surface, and hit us from below.”

Tyber-Rex was piloting the ship away from the moon,” We will jump in just a few more minutes, that is all we need. Arm the modified forward guns and missile launchers, we are going to have to fight our way out of here.”

EXD-7 reported calmly, “The Hyperspace pod has successfully made the jump into hyper space and on track to known space.”

Tyber-Rex, with a grim smile, replied wryly, “Well, at least that is done, and if we don’t make it out of here alive, the Empire will be alerted about this place.”

Bok-Klee buried his face into his hands, and sobbed.

Chapter Fifteen

Dain led the small group of fighters over the northern mountains, and then they climbed toward the heavens. He was dressed in full armor, and piloted the ship, Den was in the co-pilots chair, and had on his jet black armor as well, except his had burnt orange trim and no Terentatek tusks adorned on his helmet.

A-37, the dark brown and yellow humanoid droid with insectoid looking head and large, broadband photoreceptors, an RA-7 model, sat at the weapons and navigation station.

“Weapons online and primed, Dain.” He reported.

“Confirmed.” Dain acknowledged, and then opened a secure channel to the other ships, “Stay in close formation, and stay with your wingman most of all. Ja’on, you will be my wingman, so watch my six, we have no idea what we are up against.”

“Affirmative, Dain.” Ja’on replied, speaking into the mike of his helmet, obviously taking great joy in piloting the old model S-100 Stinger-class Starfighter, olive drab in color with dark black trim. His gold and tan flight helmet was on and tinted visor covered his eyes.

Dain then ordered Kai and Zerta vale in their N1 Naboo Starfighters, “ Kai, Zerta watch out for each other, no heroics, this is not training, this is for real. Pay attention to the data your Astromech droids will send you. One slip up here, and either of us could die, including you.”

The affirmed as did their astromech droids, Kai was paired up with R2-B4, who was Dark Blue with light green trim. Zerta Vales droid, R2-C7 , was white with bright orange trim.

Kais ship was dark yellow with crimson pinstripes, Zertas was also dark yellow with light blue pinstripes. The both wore the Naboo style leather and burgundy cloth flight suits  and dark brown flight helmets with tinted yellow visors.

“We read you loud and clear, Dain”, Tym chimed in before Dain could address him, “Haydrak and I will cover each other, and follow your lead.”

Tym and Haydrak piloted the two sleek, dark grey with brown trim M3-A Scyk fighters, with swept back wings and bulbous type cockpits.

“Very well then,” Dain replied, “We will come up on this side of the moon, and fly close to its terrain, keeping low until we can get a visual on the intruder or intruders. This close to the iron rich moon, our long range sensors will be useless, but that will help shield us as well. Watch out for your buddy, and at the same time keep an eye on the sky for any ships.”

They had just left Tara Dors gravity well, and flew straight toward the rust colored moon in close formation.

They entered its thin, airless atmosphere and skimmed just above the rocky, mountainous terrain. They flew in silence for a short while, when Den pointed up through a cockpit window.

“Grandfather,” he exclaimed excitedly, ”I just saw a dark silhouette outlined against the stars and what looked like thrusters firing, at our ten o’clock and fifteen miles up.”

Dain hailed the other ships, as he angled the ship left and nosed up “Stay on me, and start you assault runs. Tym and Haydrak , take point and hit their underbelly, targeting their aft engines. We will follow up and hammer their belly the full length of their ship, it looks like it is only one ship, after all.”

“Will do.” Tym and Haydrak both replied simultaneously, and they gunned their ships upward past the Reaver, and toward the unsuspecting ship.

“They have launched some kind of vehicle, looks like a pod of some kind, and it is speeding away.” Den reported anxiously.

Dain studied his flight computer, “It looks like a hyperspace pod, and we will never catch it in time before it jumps out of here. All ships, we need to concentrate our fire on that ship, don’t waste your time on that pod!”

All of his fellow pilots affirmed his order, and began setting up their attack runs.

The first two attackers closed the gap in no time, and Tym swooped in, targeted the aft engines with concussion missiles. Haydraks fighter was equipped with twin, light rapid fire laser cannons.

The Scyk fighters could only be equipped with one or the other as they were a light class, but very effective, snub fighter.

Tym got a target lock, and fired a concussion missile to score a direct hit just right behind the large, rear thrusters. Haydrak followed up with a laser cannon barrage on the targeted area, weakening the hapless ships shield even more.

The Reaver followed after, and fired two concussion missiles  that impacted the bottom of the big ship right in the middle.

Den looked up from his instrumentation panel, “Grandfather, that ship is a modified Anxarta –class light freighter, the transponder reads her a being called the Hard Bounty. We have caught them by surprise.”

Just then the big freighter returned fire from its double laser cannon, and just barely missed the port side, oversized  sublight engines. The Hard Bounty started to lumber away from the proximity of the moon, into open space.

Dain grunted as he banked right, “They have recovered from their surprise, and are fighting back. Ja’on, we will strafe that laser cannon from the starboard side, you hit it with a proton torpedo on the port side. Kai and Zerta, draw his fire with a strafing run across their bow, blasters only, save your proton torpedoes for a better target.”

“Yes sir, Captain Rune. Follow me, Zerta, let’s light them up!!” Kai hooted, rolling his N1 fighter to the right, followed closely by Zerta, they sped toward and over the bow of the ship, lasers strafing its bow and cockpit.

The Hard Bountys double laser cannon tracked the duo, firing at the dodging and weaving, nimble fighter craft.

The Reaver swooped in, Den was handed the fire controls on his console, and fired both twin laser turrets at the top mounted laser cannons, spoiling the gunners aim.

Ja’ons banked left in his S-100 Stinger from behind the Reaver and got the weakened laser turret in his cross hairs. He fired one of his eight proton torpedoes and the Hard Bountys top mounted double laser cannon erupted into a ball of flame.

Dains crew cheered over the comm systems, just as another voice cut in, a high, squeaky voice that was frantic, screaming,

“We surrender, we surrender!! Tym Pellus, this is your old friend, Bok-Klee, please spare me, I will surrender this ship!”

Another voice with a lisping accent cut in, “This is not your ship to surrender, rodent.” They heard what sounded like blaster fire as the transmission was abruptly cut off.

Tym Pellus swore, “Bok-Klee, that damn little Chandra-Fan!! I should have known.”

Haydrak swore in his native language, then stated in basic, “Dain, I’m picking up a plasma leak coming from the rear of the freighter, permission for Tym and I to attack the engines again.”

Dain acknowledged, “Permission granted, they are revving up for a jump. Kai and Zerta, attack their bridge area again, delay them, but don’t get too close, they still may be armed.”

“Yes sir.” Zerta vale replied,“ Kai, let’s angle our attack across their front axis, and swoop over them, just like we practiced on the simulator in the training area.”

Kai voice was heavy with excitement as he agreed, “Let’s do it, we will buzz their cockpit and wave at these guys as we pass over them.”

“No show boating!” Dain ordered, “Just strafe them, and then disengage!”

At that moment, Tym and Haydrak fired on the area where the plasma leak was coming from, Haydrak strafed the hull with laser fire, and Tym followed up with two concussion missiles this time.

A bright green tinted explosion erupted from the rear of the Hard Bounty, nearly taking Tyms fighter out in the blast.

“Whoa”, Tym exclaimed, piloting his ship out of the resulting fireball, his ship suffering only slight charring. “I about got scorched there! It’s a safe bet their Hyper drive engines are disabled!”

“Confirmed, their Hyper drive engines have been destroyed.” 3-A7 reported.

Kai and Zerta lined their ships up for a head on attack, Kais fighter several feet above Zertas.

They charged the Hard Bounty with blasters firing, strafing the cock pit area. Suddenly hidden laser turrets opened up on the N1 fighters. Their R2 units protested in high pitched electronic screams.

Kai and Zerta reacted by rolling away from the blast, but Kai rolled right into the path of a concussion missile that had just been launched.

Aided by the force, he counter rolled away from the missile, but not before it glanced off of his R2 units domed head and detonated, destroying the R2 unit, a stray laser bolt struck his starboard engine, disabling it.

“Kai!!” Zerta screamed out in horror, she had flown underneath the Hard Bounty to escape the surprise attack. She came about hard, in a tight 180 maneuver, and came up at angle underneath the cockpit, and fired both of her Proton torpedoes at almost point blank range.

She managed to maneuver away as the laser turrets and concussion missile tubes were destroyed, taking the bow and cockpit of the ship with it.

The Hard Bounty listed, secondary explosions lighting up her aft and bow, and she fell toward the moon’s surface, trailing debris as she crashed hard onto the surface of the moon.

“Kai, do you read me?” Zerta pleaded, looking for his ship.

“I’m headed to Tara Dor, will try to land. R2-B4 is totally destroyed, and my controls are not responding well.” He replied, voice shaky with fear and exertion.

Dain and Den both looked out the cockpit window toward Tara Dor, and could make Kais N1 fighter speeding toward the planets atmosphere, it’s starboard engine trailing fire.

“Kai, throttle back, we will try to catch up to you, and pull you into the Reavers hold.” Dain ordered, bringing his ship around to intercept the disabled craft. He continued, “ Ja’on, I want you, Tym and Haydrak to sweep the area, make sure no life pods, hyperspace pods or anything else escaped that ship.”

Kai replied with the anxiety in his voice more pronounced,” I can’t, my ship is out of control, the planets gravity has got me, I can’t stop it!”

“Damnit, man, use the Force to slow you down!” Den exclaimed.

Dain glanced at Den, but remained silent.

“I can’t, it’s too powerful!” Kai wailed, and then his transmission stopped suddenly, as his ship plunged out of control into Tara Dors atmosphere.

“Kai!” Zerta sobbed, but there was no reply. She flew alongside the Reavers port flank, as they sped toward Tara Dor , to try and save Kai Davos.

Ja’on watched all this play out from his fighter’s cockpit, closed his eyes and searched the Force. He sensed Kai was still alive but afraid, and breathing a sigh of relief, he addressed Tym and Haydrak,”Let’s get to it, you scoundrels; we have a job to do.”

Chapter Sixteen

Kai, sweating profusely, fought to keep the ship stable as it hit the atmosphere of Tara Dor a little too fast. Alarms were going off around him in the tiny little cock pit, the N1 fighter was glowing bright orange from the friction of re-entry.

The starboard engine started to burn even more intently now, pieces of it flying off in burning chunks. His efforts to extinguish the fire through the ships computer system were futile due to the extreme heat of his hard re-entry.

His ships navigation systems were going haywire, his communications were no longer operable, and he couldn’t get a good visual through the cockpit due to the extreme heat of the atmospheric friction.

He tried to fire his retro thrusters to slow down; the ship shuddered and bucked violently, sending the little fighter into an uncontrolled spin toward the surface.

Panic swelled up inside him, and then recalled Den calling out to him over the comm system to use the Force. “Damnit, man, use the Force to slow you down!” He muttered to himself, and said it again two more times like a mantra.

Closing his eyes, and fighting vertigo in the crazy, spinning and burning fighter, he forced himself to calm down, and reached out to the Force.

Slowly at first, the fighters spin began to slow down, and after just a few more moments, it slowed down even more and began to stabilize. As it started to slow down, and flying somewhat straight, the fighters metal skin began to cool down, and the fire in the starboard engine started to sputter, and finally went out, although scorched black and heavily damaged.

The alarms inside the cockpit were not as clamorous now, and he able to look out of the carbon scored cockpit and make out where he was.

He was far from his adopted home and high over the wild western mountains, and headed right for the Killa-Kuk nesting grounds as far as he could tell.

He tried to gain altitude, but couldn’t get the fighter to respond. He was able get the nose up as he sped toward the ground, and managed to get the retro- rockets to fire one last time to slow him down as he careened into the rocky ground of a sparsely vegetated, small plateau.

The highly aerodynamic little fighter skipped across the ground two more times, then plowed nose first into the ground for several hundred feet, plowing through some kind of soft, dull white, mottled rock along the way and crashing into a couple of hapless animals in the process, throwing their bodies into the cockpit canopy and over the top of the ship, and actually causing the transparisteel to spider web with several small, blood and dirt smeared cracks that impaired his vision to the outside world.

When the ship came to a stop, nose slightly angled downward into a small furrowed out crater, Kai let out a sigh, and let go of the controls that he had a death grip on, his hands and arms feeling rubbery and sluggish.

He tried to open the cockpit canopy, but it was jammed and would not budge. He tried two more times in exasperation, and finally, in angry determination, gave the canopy a very powerful Force shove, and it went flying off, end over end , to land several feet away from the front of the ship.

Kai unbuckled from his seat, clambered out of the cockpit and next to the socket where R2-B4 was supposed to be.

All that he saw were shards of metal where the droid had been, the exposed parts of the droid were completely missing, and all that was left were charred remains of burnt, mangled metal and melted wiring.

Kai sat down heavily just behind the cockpit, bracing his feet on top of the seat on the inside. He removed his helmet, set it down behind him, and buried his sweat soaked head into his gloved hands, and wept with long, shuddering sobs for a few moments.

A distant peculiar crooning and shrill call jolted him out of the moment of self-pity that he was having, and prompted him to take a closer look at his surroundings.

He found himself in a natural, bowl shaped depression surrounded on all sides by high, jagged rocky cliffs.

Several feet behind him, where his fighter had plowed through the ground, he saw several shards of what looked like mottled white porcelain that lay broken all over the ground, except these busted up pieces were covered with a milky looking mucous like material, with little pieces of bloody, down covered meat lying strewn all across the ground.

A few of these porcelain looking “rocks” were still intact, and they were about a foot tall, and very decidedly egg shaped.

“Oh shit no.” Kai exclaimed softly, grabbing his helmet and putting it back on his head to protect it from any attack and then he leaped to the ground.

He crouched down low beside his downed fighter, and whipped out his Naboo S-5 heavy blaster pistol with his right hand, and intently scanned the skies around him.

A large, winged shadow passed overhead, silhouetted against the sun, and two more crossed from opposite directions, shrieking to each other in their blood curdling call.

Kai looked around, and saw a small natural path, a water worn but rocky, shallow gulley that meandered up the south east cliff face, that led all the way to the summit, which was about 40 feet up.

Crouching low, Kai dashed toward it. The flutter of wings and rush of air behind him warned him of the attack, and he dived sharply to the left and rolled into a crouch just as a large, pinioned winged animal struck the ground where he had just been.

It turned to face him, hissing and clucking, razor sharp beak filled with sharp, needle like teeth, its long lizard like tail ended in a leathery like ball, the size of an infants’ head, filled with serrated spikes.

Its green eyes had pupils that were slitted. It had dull black scales with tufts of feather like down, black as midnight, on them. Its narrow shaped head was framed by a fierce looking mane of feathery like black down that ran the length of its long, scaled neck to its very bony and spiked spinal cord. It had leathery pinion like wings, powerful looking hind legs that ended in long, sharp talons, with arms that were of shorter length that ended in claw like hands, with razor sharp talons as well.

What frightened Kai Davos the most was its size, it stood four feet tall, and its eyes seemed to burn with a primitive and malevolent intelligence.

It was the vicious Killa-Kuk, the dreaded monster that even the brave Tarahorkii warriors feared.

It hissed and snapped its beak as it waddled toward him menacingly, it’s claw like hands reaching out toward him.

Kai fired his blaster, striking it in the chest, the blast flinging it backward to fall limply to the ground.

A chorus of shrieks sounded above him, and a half dozen of the predators came swooping at him, with more either circling in the sky above, or perched on the edge of the cliffs watching the scene below them.

Kai fired rapidly and wildly into the air, causing his attackers to veer off and claiming two of their lives, they thudded to the ground heavily.

He was running now to the water worn gulley, blaster in his right hand, and using his free hand to unhook his black hilted lightsaber from his belt.

Three more of the dreaded Killa-Kuks took the place of the ones he had just killed, and eight of the deadly predators swooped at him from all directions.

He ignited his lightsaber, and the dark green blade shimmered to life. Leaping high into the air, he managed to behead one with his blade as he shot another one point blank into the face.

He tucked and rolled as he landed, barely missing the whipping tail of a hovering Killa-Kuk. He countered the strike with a back handed blow that severed the six foot tail in half, causing it to shriek out in pain and rage, and at the same time shot another in the neck that was coming down at him, its taloned feed outstretched to grapple him.

For every one that he killed, three took its place, and he was starting to feel overwhelmed with fear and despair. He twisted to avoid another close attack, severing an outstretched, clawed arm, and fired off two quick shots that killed two other attackers that were swooping in on him.

A spiked tail caught his right arm, making him cry out in pain and sending his blaster flying. The serrated spikes had cut through his thick leather, tight fitting gloves, and sliced the flesh of his forearm. The wound burned as if set on fire, and as he screamed out in pain, he stabbed the offending beast in the belly, just as its feet talons sliced through the leather chest covering of his flight suit, just grazing the skin underneath.

His wounds burning like fire from some sort of poison or venom, he screamed loudly in anger and Force shoved the dozen Killa-Kuks that were swooping in on him from above.

They tumbled backward through the sir, screaming in rage and fear; three of them were force slammed into a nearby cliff face, ending their lives by blunt force trauma.

The other nine recovered at a height of thirty feet, and screaming in rage, were starting to dive after Kai, just when a rapid burst of blaster fire tore through them, tearing them asunder all at once.

A familiar looking, sleek yellow and blue blur roared by overhead, lighting up the southern cliff face with blaster fire were shorter, male Killa-Kuks were spreading their pinioned wings to join the attack on the hapless human.

“Yes!” Kai Davos cheered, his body starting to feel clammy and warm, “I knew that you love me, Zerta Vale!” Reaching out with the force, he reclaimed his blaster, and started blasting the Killa-Kuk nearest to him.

His vision started to get blurry, but he made out the huge boat like Reaver, with a huge round sublight engine on each wing, come gliding in just above above the cliffs to the north, strafing the Killa-Kuk that were perched on the cliffs as it passed overhead with its own laser turrets.

Zerta made another pass overhead, and tipped her starboard wing in greeting as she sped by overhead.

The Killa-Kuk had scattered far and wide, and the Reaver came in lower to hover close, about ten feet above his head.

The rear cargo hatch opened and lowered, and Den Rune appeared at the end of the ramp, dressed in his black and burnt orange armor.

“Are you able to leap up to me, Kai Davos, or should I come down and carry you aboard?” Den called out, relief in his voice despite the ribbing he was dishing out onto Kai.

Kai laughed, even as his head was starting to swim, “I will not give you the satisfaction of that, Den Rune.” He called out, and mustering what he could of the Force, leapt upwards, and barely grasped the edge of the ship’s cargo ramp.

Just as he thought he would lose his grasp and fall, a black gloved hand caught him by the injured, right wrist, and hauled him up.

Kai cried out in pain, as fire shot up through his arm from the poisoned injury, and Den hauled him up, and dragged him into the ship, closing the cargo hold door behind him.

Den removed Kais helmet, and saw that he was pale and clammy, but Kai managed a grin.

“I never thought I would see the day where I was glad to see you.” He managed to say weakly, and then his face took on a green hue, “I think I’m going to be sick.” He rolled over and retched.

Den activated his helmets comm unit; “Grandfather, Zerta, he is safely aboard, but I need to get him to the med bay. Erma, we have incoming, prep for lacerations and Killa-Kuk venom.”

“Affirmative, young Den,” the ships standard IM-6 medical droid replied in its pleasant female synthesized voice, “Do you need assistance?”

Den had already helped a rubbery legged Kai to his feet, and half dragged and half carried him a few feet before answering, ”Yes, Erma, we need a med sled and Bio Hazard disposal kit at the rear ramp, as soon as possible.”

Dain came across the communication channel, “We are approaching the compound now, Den. We will be touching down in five minutes.”

“Copy that, sir.” Den stated, and then added, “Zerta, we have him, despite being poisoned by Killa-Kuk venom; I think he will be fine.”

Zerta acknowledged, relief in her voice, “Thanks, I am forever grateful to you and your grandfather for this.”

“No problem, we are all in this together.” Den stated, and he really felt it on the inside.

Den sighed in relief as Erma showed up with a med sled, they loaded Kai aboard, and she handed him the Bio Hazard kit, and then she floated away, pushing the antigrav med sled before her.

He opened up the Bio Hazard kit, opened a brown packet and poured the yellow- greenish powder onto the puke that Kai had thrown up. He waited as it bubbled and boiled, and when it was done, a dull yellow powder was left behind, in which he vacuumed this up with a small, hand held vacuum device.

He put this back into the disposal kit, sealed it shut, and headed toward the cockpit after dropping it off in the Med Bay.

Just then Ja’on came through on the comm system, “Dain, our sweep was clear, we could find nothing else that was left behind by that freighter, but we have a new visitor.”

Dain was just setting the Reaver down in the area where he was hiding it as Gan Mal instructed, he aborted the landing and hovered it in place just as Den arrived in the cockpit and sat down in the co-pilots chair,” More trouble?”

Ja’on replied in a voice dripping with annoyance, “More or less, it’s Bryson and Stella Davos, with their personal security detail, coming in aboard the Davos Raptor. We are escorting them down to the surface now.”

Dain shook his head and he went ahead and landed the Reaver. Powering his ship down, he took off his helmet and turned to Den, “This little hidden planet of ours has just become a hot bed of activity lately, and seems to be busier than Coruscant.”

He and Den unbuckled and stood up at the same time, and as they were getting ready to exit the ship, he paused for a minute, and turned toward Den, “Help 3-A7 cover the ship with the camouflage Disruptor netting. But do not move Kai until Erma gives the word he can be moved, I don’t care if his parents and Zerta Vale demand it. Only we, Gan Mal and Ja’on know where we are hiding our ship, so no visitors, understand?”

Den nodded, removing his helmet, “Yes sir, I understand. I take it that when we do move Kai Davos, he is to be heavily sedated?”

Dain nodded, patted his grandson on the back, ”Unfortunately, yes, that is how it must be. Now I must go and brief Gan Mal on what has happened, the Tarahorkii war council will be present as well.”

Before leaving, Dain walked up to an intercom system on the bulkhead wall. ”Erma, please inform me of any change to your patient, let me know as soon as he can be moved.”

“Yes, Dain” she replied in that soothing, mechanical female voice,“ I have counteracted the venom, but he will require rest for at least two days before he can be moved.”

“Very well, if nothing changes, we will come back for him in two days. Thank you, Erma.” He opened up the starboard hatch and the ramp lowered to the ground.

“No thanks is necessary, see you in two days, Dain.” Erma replied pleasantly.

They stepped outside into the late afternoon sun that was creeping lower behind the western mountains. Dain secured the ship and then he retrieved his speeder bike from its storage area.

He turned to Den, “Come straight to our quarters as soon as you are done here, we have some technical studying that needs to be done. You did very well today. I am very proud of you.”  That being said, he climbed aboard his speeder bike and powered it up. He then sped off toward the Grey Jedi compound, ten miles away.

Den watched him until Dain rounded a bend between two low, rock strewn hills, and then he turned to get A-37 to get started on the task at hand.

Chapter Seventeen

Ja’on, skillfully piloting his S-100 Stinger Fighter, was ahead of the escort that was leading the Naboo J-Type Star Skiff, the Davos Raptor , down through Tara Dors atmosphere to the make-shift landing field situated between the Grey Jedi and Blut Clans strongholds.

Haydrak Kohr was slightly behind on the port side flank in his Scyk fighter, Tym Pellus piloted his on the starboard flank, flying parallel to Haydrak.

“I don’t understand why we have to have an escort.” Bryson Davos complained over the comm system, causing Ja’on to wince, ”We didn’t need one four years ago, my wife is already feeling ill from the long hyperspace trip, and now you tell me this is for our safety? And where is our son?”

Ja’on closed his eyes to center on the Force to find his patience, as it was running thin, he then opened his eyes and replied in a pleasant as possible manner, “ I told you once already, sir, we just had an incident, and we are escorting you to take precautions not only for your safety, but ours as well. You will be briefed about Kai once we land.”

A females voice took over, frantic in her queries, “ What do you mean, briefed about Kai? Is my baby hurt? Is he in trouble? Oh I know we should have taken him to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. I’m sure Sheev Palpatine would have ensured his safety, despite the revolt there, instead of sending him way out here into Wild Space with a planet full of primitive, orange primates.” Stella Davos was cut off abruptly.

“You know what happened at the Jedi Temple, Stella, and what Palpatine has become. And don’t forget how Palpatine has treated us. At least Kai is still alive. He is alive, right, Mentor Windu?” Bryon Davos interjected.

Ja’on sighed heavily as he piloted his ship through some heavy cloud cover and into clear sky, the landing field was in sight now and he began the landing cycle for his ship, “Yes, Mr. Davos, he is alive. We will also need you to brief us on what has transpired in the civilized galaxy, and why you are here. And Mrs. Davos, the Tarahorkii are far from being ‘primitive primates’. They are our hosts, and you would do well to remember that.”

They instructed the purple and gold colored Davos Raptor to land several feet away from the Wanderer , and Ja’on, Tym and Haydrak piloted their respective fighters toward their designated hangars.

Zerta Vale was waiting for the Davos family, hugging herself nervously and fidgeting, her pink hair shimmering in the setting suns light.

The first two people to come down the rear facing entry ramp belonged to the Davos family security detail. As he was the owner and operator of a small rechargeable power cell and plasma company, Davos Power Cells, that had been in his family for generations, he felt he needed personal body guards to protect him from competitive off world business rivals , and was moderately wealthy enough to have private security on his payroll.

The first two guards were Caleb Orson, a tall stocky man with bushy, iron grey eyebrows over hard, flinty grey eyes. Beside him was the pilot, Dar Haran, of medium height, with dark brown eyes and golden tan. Both were natives of Naboo, and both wore the S-5 heavy blasters of the Naboo security forces in their holsters.

All of the security detail wore the same uniform consisting of a black and silver flared, military helmet with black tinted visor raised up on the top. The helmet was secured by a snug fitting chin strap.

Their uniforms were a thick dark blue leather blast dampening, long sleeved tunic with a short collar, matching long sleeved dark blue leather gloves, red tactical style pants, and high brown leather boots. Just above the left the breast area of the tunic, the Davos company logo was emblazoned, a bright yellow lightning bolt going through the center of a silver spiral galaxy.

A tall striking, dark skinned female with light brown eyes, came next, and she had holstered a sleek DH-17 blaster. This was Jenna Serra, formerly of Socorro. She was closely followed by a tall, stocky man with a head full of grey hair and flashing blue eyes, and a much younger, slender blonde haired, brown eyed woman who was a full head shorter and years younger than the man she was holding hands with. This was the parents of Kai, Bryson and Stella Davos.

He wore a dark blue, long sleeved embroidered dress shirt, dark red slacks, high, shiny black boots and a sleeveless burgundy robe over this.

She wore a long flowing mustard colored embroidered dress with long sleeves and a high collar. She had on red leather ankle high boots and wore a burgundy sleeveless robe that matched her husbands.

Her long blonde hair was neatly piled on top of her head, and interlaced with strings of bright jewels. Her ears sported large, burgundy feathered earrings. She wore flashy, jeweled rings on the middle three fingers of each hand.

The last two uniformed security guards followed them down the ramp side by side, Jeb Reesus, a swaggering hazel eyed Corellian with light blonde eyebrows who wore a low slung, holstered DL-44 Blaster, and a tall, muscular dark eyed and dark haired, slightly tanned farm boy from Dantooine, Erik Tull, who sported a DL-18 Blaster on each hip.

They formed a loose circle around the Davos couple as soon as they stepped onto the ground, but they let Zerta Vale through, who gave Stella a tight hug, Stella returned the hug with less enthusiasm.

“What has happened to Kai, Zerta?” Stella asked a little too shrilly as she gently pushed Zerta back and held her by the shoulders, staring intently into her eyes.

Zerta had tears in her eyes as she answered meekly, ”Kais N1 fighter was hit by missile and laser fire. As a result, his R2 unit was  totally destroyed and fighter damaged by spies in orbit above Lyra-Sen. He survived the crash landing, but was attacked by a flock of Killa-Kuk, and poisoned by them. He fought bravely and killed a number of them before the Runes and I could rescue him. He is alive, but very ill, and being cared for by the Runes IM-6 Medical Droid.”

Stella clasped her hands in front of her mouth and stared in horror at her husband.

Bryson Davos hugged his wife and demanded,” Take us to our son, we want to see him now.”

A tall figure in black and crimson armor, wearing a sinister looking horned helmet, pulled up on a black and blue 22-B Night Falcon speeder bike. He parked and dismounted.

“Hello Bryson and Stella.” Dain greeted, removing his helmet as he approached the huddled group.” I am sure by now that Zerta Vale has informed you of Kais condition, and I can reassure you, he is doing fine and will recover. However, he needs his rest, and my medical droid has informed me that he will rejoin us in two days, once he has rested and healed. He has been through an ordeal, and does not need any more stress at this time.”

Bryson voice was edged in anger; his right hand was clenched, and seethed, “He is our son. We demand to see him now.”

Dain held up his free hand, palm out as the security detail eyed him warily, “ Yes, he is, but you left him in our care, remember? To train him in the ways of the Force, and it’s been what, four years now, since you last came to visit your son? And when you visited the last time you had an ulterior motive, to avoid a contract dispute with the Hutts. You came here to hide until your lawyers could sort that mess out.  So what is it this time, something to do with the newly formed Empire and your former senator crowning himself as Emperor?”

Bryson’s face turned bright red, and his mouth got rigid. “Nothing like that.” he huffed, and Dain could see he was lying, “We just came to see Kai because we have missed him.”

Dain glanced furtively at the security chief, Caleb Orson, who shrugged and rolled his eyes.

Dain then stated in softer tones, “Very well then, it’s getting dark. Zerta Vale will show you to your guest quarters. Get some rest from your long journey, and tomorrow we will see what we can do about you seeing Kai.”

“Thank you, Dain Rune.” Stella replied, ”I want to see how much my baby boy has grown.”

Dain nodded as he turned away, glancing again at Caleb as the group was walking away, who saluted him with his right finger to the edge of his helmet. Dain nodded to him, donned his helmet, and mounted his speeder bike.

Ja’on went looking for Gan Mal as soon he changed out of his flight suit and donned his grey robes.  He found her, meditating on her knees, in the fading light of the setting sun at the head of the small cemetery. He got down on his knees beside her, and sat with her in silence for a few moments.

She finally opened her blue eyes and looked at him, sadness clouding her eyes. She gestured with her staff in the headstones direction when she spoke, “ It doesn’t seem like that long ago, when some of the great men and women who lie here at rest now, followed me here in support of my grand vision for serving the Force.

Which was my dreams and ideas of balancing the rigid code of the Jedi with the chaotic desires of the Sith. Was I foolish to think we could embrace both natures? Seems like it now, with the Sith so close to finding us out.” She cocked her head sideways as she looked at Ja’on, and asked, “Did you learn the nature of those that were spying on us?”

Ja’on raised his head looked up at the darkening sky as he answered, ”Dain Rune thinks they were mercenaries, working for Tym Pellus’ former friend turned bitter enemy and competitor, the Chandra-Fan, Bok-Klee. They used military grade hardware and codes, and managed to launch a hyperspace pod off before we could intercept it. Tym and Haydrak are planning on flying the Wanderer to Lyra-Sen tomorrow, to inspect the wreckage of that freighter.”

Gan-Mal bowed her head, shaking it slightly. ”So it begins. This hyperspace pod, when it reaches the civilized space lanes, will the catalyst that will bring the Sith down up on us. Our confrontation with them will be soon, very soon.”

Meanwhile, Tym Pellus sat on the parapet of the western wall of the Grey Jedi compound, drinking Zinca wine straight from the bottle and watching the sun slowly disappear behind the mountains.

Haydrak came up and sat down beside him, “There you are, Yesa Kell sent me to find you.” He stated jovially, “I didn’t expect to find you hiding behind a bottle and watching the sun set all by yourself.”

Tym glanced sideways at him, and stated in a low voice, “What a hell of a day. You know, we brought about this trouble that we had here today, and who knows what was in that hyperspace pod that got away.  And I was wondering how to make things right.”

Haydrak shrugged, “ We help them, like we did today. We help them prepare for what may come. That is all we can do for now.”

“What do you think about weddings?” Tym asked abruptly.

“ What are you talking about?” Haydrak was bemused by Tyms sudden statement, “how much have you had to drink? I like you, you are a good friend and like a brother to me, but I don’t like you that damn much.”

Tym ignored the joke and flatly replied, “Yesa is pregnant. I plan on making her my life mate, you know, make it official. With the Tarahorkii mating ceremony and all that it involves. Being nearly singed by the fireball, and this whole mess being mostly our fault, has made me think about a few things. Like responsibility.”

Haydrak sat dumbfounded for a moment, mouth agape and just staring at the horizon.

Tym took another swig, slapped Haydrak on the back, “So, old friend, are you feeling up to being my best man?”

Haydrak gave him a sideways look, “ Let me get this correct, Yesa is pregnant, with your baby?”

“Yes.” Tym retorted, “Are you suggesting it’s not mine?”

“No,  that’s not what I meant at all.” Haydrak declared defensively and chuckling, ”It’s just the fact I can’t imagine a tall, half naked, orange version of you running around this damn place.”

Tym stared him angrily for a heartbeat, and then burst out laughing. They laughed together as the sun disappeared totally behind the mountains, and night fell.

Dain and Den were inside their dimly quarters going over a holographic technical display of the M-68 Planetary Magna Pulse Cannon together when they were interrupted by a knocking at their door. They both were dressed casually for the evening wearing dark grey short sleeved undershirts and black cargo pants and boots.

Dain switched off the holographic manual and grabbed his heavy blaster; Den retrieved his lightsaber from his belt.

“Who is it?” Dain challenged their visitor.

“Caleb Orson, old friend, we need to talk.” Was the muffled reply from the other side of the heavy wooden door.

Dain opened the door, and Caleb looked around to make sure no one was observing him, and then stepped inside the tiny building.

Dain scanned the area as well and then shut the door, he and Caleb shook hands.

“It’s good to see you again, old friend.” Caleb stated, removing his helmet to reveal a head full of neatly trimmed iron grey hair. “A lot has happened in four years, and I don’t have a lot of time, so I will make it brief.”

Dain gestured toward the dining area in the next room, “Grab a seat at the table and fill me in. Would you like a mug of pale Correllian ale?”

“No, not tonight, I have to get back to the guest quarters soon and check in on Bryson and Stella. The galaxy has changed since you left it, Dain Rune , things have taken a turn for the worse.” Caleb settled into a chair at the table across from Dain and Den.

“I have heard. Palpatine has made himself Emperor of a fledgling Empire. I have never trusted that shady man, he was very shifty and condescending.” Dain opinionated, leaning forward, arms crossed on the table before him.

Caleb nodded in agreement, fidgeting with his helmet sitting on the table before him.

“I agree with you, I never have voted for him. And Bryson was no fan of his either.” Caleb began in a world weary voice. “However, Stella was, until recently.”

Dain leaned forward in interest, ”What happened to make her change her mind?”

Caleb cleared his throat and began, ”Bear with me as it is quite a story. Right before the invasion by the Trade Federation, Sheev Palpatine took a small interest in Davos Power Cells for a side project he was working on. He set up a joint venture with Damask Holdings and the Banking clan for research concerning kyber crystal power output. “

He paused to stare at the wall a minute, “ After the invasion, it was found that some of the Trade Federation ships and droids had Davos power inverters and power cells installed into them, and Bryson was facing charges for treason. The charges were dropped on the grounds that he was not aware of what the equipment was being used for, and Palpatine intervened on his behalf.” He nodded his thanks and smiled at Den who just brought him a glass of water before continuing. “ To make a long story short, this issue has haunted the Davos family business in the years following the discovery on those power cells and inverters in Trade Federation equipment, and profits plummeted. Then there was that fiasco with the Hutts. That is when he came here and spent a year and a half to clear the bounty on his head, and all of that because he was late paying on a loan to save his floundering business.”

Dain shook his head in disbelief, but then asked out of curiosity, “That is a sad state of affairs, but how does the Emperor fit into all of this?”

Caleb Orson shifted in his seat, “Stella, as you know is very spoiled, and believes that she is entitled. She would petition then Chancellor Palpatine for help concerning their struggling business, which went unanswered, with the Clone Wars going on, I would assume. In frustration she did a little digging on the deal that Palpatine had helped set up with Damask Holdings, and had found some vague connection between Palpatine and the Banking Clans that had  occurred around the time of the invasion by the Separatists and their Trade Federation allies. She took it upon herself to try and blackmail the Chancellor with the information she had uncovered.”

Dain was in awe, “Wow, she did this on her own? I imagine it didn’t go well.”

“ Oh no, it didn’t.” Caleb re-affirmed. “Shortly after, some old documents surfaced linking the Davos company to clandestine trade with the Trade Federation, and a suspected money laundering scheme with the Banking Clan that helped bankroll their military expansion. The Davos family business assets were seized, as was his expensive summer home and property on Naboo.  The newly formed Empire got involved as they deemed the Security Forces on Naboo were too lenient by giving him house arrest while the investigation was ongoing. I got word that a Clone Trooper contingent was on its way to take Bryson and Stella into custody, and I have my suspicions about the whole situation and that rat Palpatine, and that is how we came to be here at this time. Unfortunately, it has taken its toll Stella Davos, she has become emotionally unstable and even more neurotic than usual, and forgets things real easy now.”

They all sat in silence for a moment, Dain and Den taking it all in, and Caleb Orson sitting in quite reflection of the events he just narrated.

Dain stood up, “We can use your expertise and help here. I fear you only bought them a little more time. We have a big meeting tomorrow at noon at the Blut fortress. Join me there, to understand what I mean.”

Caleb stood up, securing his helmet to his head via the chin strap, and then he shook Dains hand. “I’m an old military man, despite the fact I come from a pacifist world, and I can you are preparing for a fight here. And we have nowhere else to run.”

He walked out of the door into the late spring, night air. “Good night, my friend. I will be there in the afternoon.” He stated solemnly.

“Good night, Caleb Orson.” Dain returned the sentiment, and he watched as Caleb walked off into the night. Dain shut the door, and suggested to his grandson, “Let’s get some sleep, it’s been a very hectic day, and the next few days do not look any better.”

Chapter Eighteen

Emperor Palpatine sat rigidly in a high backed chair at the edge of the Jedi Temple training grounds flanked by four of his crimson clad guards, watching his apprentice Darth Vader getting acclimated to his new cybernetic limbs and mobile life support system, encased in its iconic suit of distinctive black armor.

He was wielding his newly created red bladed lightsaber, sparring with four training remotes, dodging and deflecting the low energy bolts that they shot at them, although fairly clumsily at this point in time as the suit was brand new, and he was not accustomed to it yet.

As he was watching the exercise with keen interest, a lightly tanned man in an Imperial grey uniform and matching cap, thick black moustache, hooked nose and beady brown eyes, approached the Emperor, who gestured to the guards to let him approach.

“Major Nevan Odell,” The Emperor addressed the Imperial Officer of the newly formed Imperial Security Bureau(ISB), who removed his cap and bowed toward the Emperor, ”what news have you brought me?”

The 5’8” man stood up and replaced his uniform cap, then reported briskly,” Sir, I bring you plenty. Is it safe to talk here?”

Palpatine looked toward Darth Vader, and called out to him, “You are doing better than expected, my apprentice. Go get some rest and get a diagnostic done to see how well your cybernetic attachments are taking to the stress of this exercise. If you are doing well, report back here to me.” Darth Vader deactivated the lightsaber as the training remotes retreated and settled onto a table just outside the training arena. “As you wish, Master.” He turned and exited through a door on the far side, his long black cape billowing about him as he walked away.

The Emperor turned his sickly looking gaze back to the major, “Plenty you say? Well then, fill me in. And by the way, what do you think of this place being my future Imperial Palace?”

Major Nevan Odell took a long look at the former temple around him, and then replied “I think it would be a grand idea, your majesty.”

He turned back to the Emperor, and started giving his report, “Your experimental clones have reached maturity and ready to be implemented. However, my Lord, out of the Three Thousand that we cloned from dead Jedi and that arm we recovered on Geonosis, only 250 have shown any Force Sensitive capabilities, they have been with equipped with personal dura-armor blast shields and lightsabers with synthetic kyber crystals. And I just received word their initial training is nearly complete.”

Emperor Palpatine rubbed his thin thoughtfully, “Only 250? That is all? The other 2,750 we will use as a regular troopers. Those Force Clones will help us hunt down and annihilate any surviving Jedi and be a great boost to the Inquisitor program that we have implemented. Have you any news of the rogue Jedi that I wanted you and your agents to find information about?”

Major Odell clasped his hands behind his back, “Our forces have just engaged and tried to detain an old Jedi Justice Cruiser trying to escape with some Force sensitives and their families from Dantooine. Its transponder registered it as the Guardian. We tried to take it intact, but they must have self-destructed their ship when the Protector, a Venator Class Star Destroyer, had it in its tractor beam above the frigid moon of Naos. They were trying to jump into Wild Space, their destination we do not yet know.”

The Emperor stood up and came around his chair to stand before the major, his disfigured face lit up with the malevolent grin,” Yes, we are close, so very close. The Guardian was one of two ships that these hidden Jedi used to break away from the Jedi council, and as we have learned from the Jedi archives, Naos was the last place Yoda confronted this rebellious Gan Mal, before letting her go. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place.”

Just then Major Nevan Odell’s communicator chirped, he looked apologetically at the Emperor,” I must apologize your majesty, but unfortunately that is all we have of these rogue Jedi that you wanted me to look into. We could gleam nothing from the wreckage of the Guardian.”

The Emperor nodded, “Go ahead and answer your call. You have nothing to hide from me, do you my faithful spy?”

The major stammered, “No, no of course not your Highness, I’ll take it here.” He removed his commlink and opened the channel, “Major Odell here, make your report.”

The voice that came through was female, “Sir, the Sector Ship the Indomitable has just intercepted a hyperspace pod that came out Wild Space somewhere near grid Q19. It was intercepted in the Nedij system. A DRK-1 probe droid was inside the pod, and carrying a communications package and that communication package included the coordinates of an unknown planet deep in unchartered space, a planet that seems to be home to a sect of unknown Jedi that are hiding there among the indigenous people of the planet.” She paused for a moment as  she conversed with someone else out of the commlinks audio range. “Sir, the person that sent the pod with the communications package was one of your agents, Tyber-Rex of Sullustan, his Imperial Security Code was included in the message.”

The Emperor and the Major exchanged surprised glances, and the Emperor commanded, “ Have that probe droids message routed to my personal quarters, you will accompany me there, as will Darth Vader.”

“Yes, my Lord.” The Major then spoke into the commlink,”Well done, Lieutenant. Have the message sent to the Emperors personal channel in its entirety. We will review it there.”

“Yes Sir.” Was the reply and then the Major ended the transmission.

The four crimson robed guards fell in around the Emperor as he headed toward the same door that Darth Vader had exited through earlier, Major Odell kept pace on the right side of the Emperor and his bodyguards. The Emperor turned toward the Major with a sinister grin on his face, ”We have a mission to plan, Major Odell, and a great test for my new apprentice in the making here. How would you like the chance to visit an unchartered planet in Wild Space?”

The Major answered nonplussed, “If that is your will, My Lord.”

On the far away planet of Tara Dor, a celebration was taking place in the massive Blut Keep dining/meeting hall. A melodious upbeat tune filled the hall performed by Tarahorkii musicians playing native stringed instruments and flutes.

Several tables, including the enormous main table, were heaped with food of all kinds. Decanters of Zinca wine and local ale were abundant.

The newly married and Tym Pellus and Yesa Kell were dancing in the middle of a crowd of Tarahorkii and off worlders of different races and species. Tym was in a royal blue dress uniform with red piping on the pant legs, and Yesa was wearing a full length brown lace Tarahorkii wedding dress with transparent veil covering her head and face.

Haydrak Kohr was wearing a red tunic, black vest and pants.

Dain Rune was attired in a dark grey military like dress uniform.

Caleb Orson and Dar Haran, both in dress clothes and Naboo robes that matched the uniforms they arrived in. All of these gentlemen were sitting at a table in a corner drinking Zinca wine and eating Barabuell ribs and various vegetables and fruits.

Den, dressed identical to Dain, was dancing with Kiva Blut, whose hair was wrapped into a tight bun, and wearing a purple and crimson ankle length dress, not far from them were Bryson and Stella Davos , in expensive looking, matching, his and her burgundy and gold clothes they brought with them from Naboo.

Kai Davos dressed like his parents but in a grey/green combination, was wobbly on his feet and still a little pale looking was dancing with Zera Vale, decked out in a stunning dark blue, sleeveless dress, hair pink hair put up in a loose bun.

All this as Gan Mal took in as she took conservative sips of Zinca wine, she was sitting on the right of Colvin and Lyra Blut, who were talking intently in their native language with Hovo Blut while his wife Keela looked on bemused.

Hovo turned toward Gan Mal and stated after taking a long drink of Zinca wine, “Father thinks we need to bring out the old weapons that helped us stop the Vorden-Kullak invasion, the weapons that the human warrior Hadon Weese helped us create shortly after you arrived here. The Brakka-Bauma, Sturma-Xeda and Sturma-Yohudii, do you agree, Gan Mal?”

Gan Mal abruptly turned her attention to the Bluts in stared at them in astonishment for a few minutes.

Two years after her renegade group found this remote planet, a severe drought began at spring and ended in late fall. That late summer, the more savage tribes desired the land next to the much diminished Kossos River for its water. At the same time, a civil war was being fought in the North between two brothers over who would be the Northern War Chief after their father suddenly died without appointing his successor.

The western Spirit Talker, Valka-Cro, convinced the rebel younger brother, Zerren Kullak to join forces with the western War Chief, Malik Voraden, and invade the Blut lands, and massacre the aliens among them. Valka-Cro believed that the Out Worlders presence was responsible for the drought, and reasoned that if they were wiped out, the drought would end.

The newly allied tribes began raiding the outlying farms and settlements of the Blut lands, and massacred everyone they raided. They began probing the Bluts fortress defenses with a series of skirmishes to determine their strength, preparing for a full scale invasion.

A young Mandalorian who was just promoted to Mentor from Padawan Knight, Hadon Weese, had fallen in love with a Tarahorkii female, Suri Alwadda. Her family had a huge orchard and farming settlement in the extreme northwest of the Blut territories.

Hadon Weese had managed to rescue Suri during one of these raids, but her family was massacred. So, Hadon, an antique weapons enthusiast, helped the very skilled Tarahorkii metal and Kadoon craftsmen fashion some automatic and very devastating slug throwing weapons.

Weapons like the Sturma-Xeda, translated as Xeda storm. Xedas were thumb sized flying insects that loved to harvest the nectar of the local fauna for food. Normally harmless, unless you disturbed their nests high in the various trees, their stings caused massive swelling, intense pain and severe abdominal cramps.

This was a magazine or optional belt fed weapon that fired 10 mm sized Kadoon crystals or metal projectiles at 100 rounds per minute.  Its maximum effective range was 200 yards.

The Stuma-Yohudi, which meant the death storm, belt feed 40 mm explosive packed Kadoon crystals or metal projectiles fired at 200 rounds per minute. Its maximum effective range was 150 yards. This weapon could be pulled by Tarahorkii Battle Wagons, a modified cart pulled by two Saga-hel. The Battle Wagon was manned by a gunner, a loader, a driver and passenger armed with a simple Tarahorkii carbine. The main gun was rear facing out of the wagon, until at a later date when it would be forward mounted.

And finally, the Brakka-Bauma, meaning the thunder tree, which fired a 155mm explosive projectile up to 16,000 yards, roughly 9 miles, sending shrapnel in a 360 degrees pattern of destruction.

These weapons were very effective in repealing the invasion, and then were used to help depose of the warring brothers in the North so their cousin, Lee-Varen Kee, could take the title.

They were so effective and deadly, the Tarahorkii wanted to destroy them, to prevent other tribes from trying to develop their technology, but Mentor Koba Kol convinced them to hide them away and to protect them from rust and degradation. He predicted that they would be needed for a future crisis that only had the foresight to see.

As she reflected on all of this, Gan Mal realized that the time he foresaw was now.

“Yes, yes indeed,” Gan Mal slightly stammered in her reply, “it is indeed time to bring these weapons back to serve us in our moment of need once more. It has been foreseen that they would be needed again, and that time is definitely now.”

Colvin Blut grunted in self-gratification, his satisfaction etched on his aged and wrinkled face as he looked smugly at his son.

Just then Gan Mals vision began to blur, and everything got fuzzy and out of focus before her, overwhelming fear and dread enveloped her.

Suddenly she found herself back on board the Guardian, standing in the passenger hold, the smell of ozone and burnt insulation was heavy in the air, women and children were sobbing in abject fear.

Suddenly before her, the Arkanian Mentor Erda Fann appeared, considered middle aged at 83 years old, with lightly tanned skin, white hair and eyes. She was born on Tara Dor. Her father, Ordo Fann, was just a young man when he left for Wild Space with Gan Mal and his family, three other Arkanian Jedi and their loved ones left with them as well.

Erda Fann addressed her in this hazy and terrifying day dream, “My apologies, Head Mistress, but we must sacrifice ourselves and these poor innocents to protect you and the others on Tara Dor. Evil has engulfed the known galaxy, and the Jedi order is no more. Force Sensitives are either being hunted into extinction, or worse, for those that are not killed face a fate more horrible than death.”

Erda Fann turned to look behind her, and then turned to face Gan Mal once more. “Fare thee well old friend, and may the Force be with you.”

A bright, blinding light flashed in front of her eyes, and she felt as if she were falling through space.

She came too abruptly; Ja’on Windu, Hovo Blut and Esta Kuhl were standing over her. Esta was shooing people away from her and growling at them, “Leave her be, she is on a spirit walk, she will have news for all of you soon enough.”

Gan Mal staggered to her feet, using her staff to help her stand; she waved people off as she stumbled away from the table, to stand in the middle of the great hall.

“My friends, I must apologize for the interrupting the wedding of Tym Pellus and Yesa Kell, but I have very tragic news that I must share with all of you.” She paused as she gazed around the room to ensure she had everyone’s attention. Then he continued in a voice that carried loudly and clearly through the hall, and it was edged with anger and pain, “Our beloved Mentor, Erda Fann has reached out to me through the Force. The Guardian has been destroyed by the forces of the evil Sith Lord. They have sacrificed themselves to keep our location secret just a little longer.” Her voice cracked with emotion, she paused for a minute to regain her composure, “They are getting closer to finding us out, the Hyperspace Probe should have returned to chartered space by now, and whatever it carried back with it will be making its way to the Emperor shortly.”

She held her head high in defiance and slammed the bottom her staff against the floor as she commanded in a passionate but resolute tone, “So yes, Colvin and Hovo Blut, bring the weapons that Hadon Weese helped your tribe create all of those years ago out of hiding and rebuild the war wagons that were destroyed so long ago to carry some of them into battle, replenish their arsenal, and if we must die, we will die fighting, and not as slaves to this evil and vile Empire!”

With that, all the Tarahorkii in the hall let out an uproarious cheer, as the aliens in the room looked around them in astonishment.

Chapter Nineteen

The Emperor sat in his high backed chair in the sunken area of his private office of his executive quarters, flanked by two of his crimson guards.

He sat facing the guests that were seated in a semicircle around a holo projection pod on a small table before him which included his Grand Vizier Mas Amedda, his assistant Sly Moore, Major Nevan Odell, the newly appointed Grand Moff, Wilhuff Tarkin and Darth Vader, who stood rigidly with his arms by his side at the right side of the Emperors Red Guard.

They were watching the recordings the DRK-1 probe droid took on Tara Dor before it was disabled. They could see the Padawans and Mentors training with rare, exotically colored lightsabers, the natives and other Padawans and Mentors training with the A-280 Blaster Rifles and Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannons. They could make out the 578-R Space transport and a Class VI Bulk Freighter out in the open, but could not get a clear visual of what was inside the makeshift hangar looking type of buildings.

The probe droid focused in on Gan Mal and Ja’on Windu walking together on the training field. The DRK-1 zoomed in on Gan Mal and the viewers got a good look at her ageless face and the Kyber crystal topped staff.

Grand Moff Tarkin looked up and toward the Emperor, his dark eyes filled with interest, but his gaunt face belied any emotion, he stated coolly, “These exotic looking Kyber crystals would be handy for Project Stardust, and may provide the power source we are seeking for its weapons system.”

Darth Vader turned his helmeted head toward the Moff, his breathing raspy yet mechanical through his respirator, “Indeed, Grand Moff Tarkin, but how far away is this planet into Wild Space, and would it be reasonable to expend our resources getting there?”

Major Odell cleared his throat, and looked to Tarkin apologetically, “May I answer the question, Grand Moff?”  And when Tarkin nodded, Major Odell explained, “It is a five day, maybe seven day, Hyperspace jump my lord, according to the recovered hyperspace pods read-outs, but our analysis of these crystal emitted blades on the lightsabers shown here indicate these crystals have a higher power output than normal, so it would be feasible to send out a ship or two to investigate. We have retrieved some sample crystals that were sold on Spice Terminus by a Captain Tym Pellus , who pilots the Corellian Class VI Bulk Freighter, the Wanderer that you see in the holo-projection.”

Tarkin leaned back in his chair and folded his arms,“ A jump that long would be very taxing on the hyper drive power plant, and not mention the physical effects on the crew. But we could compensate by enlarging the hyper drive cooling element, and mildly sedating the crew.”

Major Odell nodded, “That is the conclusion of the ISB research team as well, Grand Moff Tarkin.”

Sly Moore leaned forward and addressed the Emperor, “And what of these Force wielders, my Lord. They being so far away, would they be a threat to us?”

Darth Vader turned toward his master as well in anticipation of the answer.

The Emperor placed his hands flat on his chairs arm rests and leaned forward, “Yes, we destroyed a ship of theirs trying to flee the chartered systems with a group of Force Sensitives they had recruited from various worlds abroad. Yoda apparently knew of this place, as their master, Gan Mal, was once an apprentice of his. Yoda, Kenobi and other surviving Jedi may have sought refuge on this distant, wild planet.”

Darth Vader clenched his fists at the mention of his old master, Kenobi, the man he held responsible for the death of his beloved Padme, and stated angrily, “Then send me to this planet Master, to eradicate these rogue Jedi and root out any survivors of our purge.”

The Emperor chuckled as he sat back in his chair and clasped his hands before him, “Patience my apprentice, you will go, and lead an exploratory task force there, along with Major Odell, who has three ships already picked for this task, and you will be accompanied by the former Pau’an Jedi Temple Guard, whom I have designated as The Inquisitor, to help confront this unknown Jedi sect, and as you are about to see, additional help has been added for just for such a scenario.”

The Emperor manipulated a control panel on his right arm rest, and the rooms red holographic projection screen lit up to show a group of Clone Troopers standing in formation. They were dressed in the typical Clone Trooper armor, except these troopers were equipped with a shorter version of the Clone Riot shields on their left arms that were Grey and Black with the new Imperial Crest emblazoned on the front, they held generic looking lightsaber hilts in their right hand, held up right at waist level in arms presentation, their mass produced synthetic Kyber crystals emitted a blueish white, shimmering blade. Holstered on their right hip was the DC-15S Blaster Carbine.

Darth Vaders raspy breathing increased slightly as he fought to quell the outrage rising up in his chest, he recognized these for what they were, cloned Jedi, and he felt a wave of repulsion and anger threaten to envelope him.

Emperor Palpatine raised a hand in cautionary matter as he stood up and approached Darth Vader, “I sense the anger welling up inside of you, my young friend, but these are for your benefit.” He came over, his shrewd yellow eyes gazed up into the dark mirrored eyes of Darth Vaders mask, and continued, “You are not fully accustomed to your new, mechanical body as of yet, and these are but mere tools to help you vanquish an unknown foe with unknown capabilities.” He gestured toward the holographic projection, “They will be the catalyst, as will the Pau’an Inquisitor, to help hunt down and eradicate the surviving Jedi in the galaxy. They are at your disposal, my faithful Padawan.”

Darth Vader fought to suppress his anger as he bowed toward the Emperor in respect, and coldly stated, “As you wish, My Lord. When we do we depart?”

Emperor Palpatine smiled wickedly as he turned toward Major Odell, “What have you managed to put together for this endeavor, Major Odell?”

The Major answered the duo promptly, “I have managed to put together three ships with capable leaders, My Lords. A brand new Venator Class Star Destroyer, the Relentless led by Admiral Brynn Dekkle, it will carry the 250 Force Clones as well as the, Uh,” he paused searching for a way to word what he wanted to say, then continued, “ as well as 1,750  of the new batch of Clone Troopers that you wanted to field test my Emperor.”

He shifted his hands from being clasped in front, to clasping them behind his lower back, “We also have assigned the Devastator, an Acclamator I Class Assault Ship under Captain Vyrgil Plummons, with the remaining one thousand new experimental Clone Troopers, and 15,000 thousand hardened Clone war veterans.”

He nodded toward the Grand Moff  and added, “And per Grand Moff Tarkins request, a Gozanti Cruiser, the Wandering Star, under Captain Raymon Twill,  was added with an excavation crew and equipment to mine some of the Kyber Crystals that we believe to be on this planet, which according to the holo recordings, these renegades call Tara Dor. They will fill the hold in special containers filled with these Kyber crystals, and deliver them to the Grand Moff for his special project.”

The Emperor walked back to his chair and sat down, a faint smile on his ghastly face, “Good, Major, good, when will they be able to depart?”

“In two days they will be fully outfitted and modified for the trip, you’re Majesty.” Major Odell readily replied.

The Emperor nodded, “I want you to accompany Darth Vader on this mission. You will seek out their holocrons or whatever records they may have for me. I also want some of their Padawans for the fledgling Inquisitor program, let’s see how quickly some of them convert to the Dark Side.”

“It will be done, Emperor.” Major Odell bowed.

“Then we are done here.” The Emperor spoke with finality, “go, and speak nothing of what has transpired in this room.” He then addressed Vader, ”Go and prepare for this confrontation, train more intently and get used to your suits cybernetics strengths and weaknesses, make any adaptions you deem fit to aid you.”

“As you wish, my Master.” Was Vaders stoic reply. He then turned and exited out of the room ahead of the others.

Everyone filed out of the room as the Emperor swiveled his chair to stare out of the big, tinted window behind him, his face set in hard lines as he was deep in thought.

Darth Vader was still fighting the emotions that were in turmoil inside of him as he walked out of the Emperors private quarters. The idea of cloned Jedi was repulsive to him, but the Emperor was his new master now, and Vader felt he must trust in his judgement, even if he felt uneasy about it.

As he was walking through the hallway of the Republic Executive Building, a decorative full length mirror caught his eye; he turned to stare at his reflection, the tall dark black armor with the chest plate control panel, the voluminous cape, the dark lenses of his alien looking mask staring back at him.

“I don’t know you anymore.” He heard Padmes voice inside of his head suddenly, “Anakin, you’re breaking my heart! You are going down a path that I cannot follow. Stop, stop now, come back, I love you!”

Vader bristled, fists clenched, raspy breathing shallow and fast, he said aloud, “I cannot come back now. What have I done?”

“I beg your pardon?” An elderly Twi’lek woman who was passing by with data sheets clasped in her hands stopped and asked, a couple of humans of unknown origin were stopped and staring at him as well.

“Go about your business, this does not concern you.” He commanded with the aid of the Force, and the bystanders went about their business.

He walked out on the landing platform where his Daystar DC0052 “Intergalactic” speeder was parked, and he climbed aboard the craft.

He was taking off and headed toward the Jedi Temple, soon to be the Imperial Palace, when subconsciously he turned to look toward the distant Senate Apartment Complex where he and Padme had lived together.

He hadn’t been there since his return and medical convalescence from Mustafar. Suddenly he turned the Intergalactic speeder toward the apartment complex, skillfully maneuvering around and through several other commuters who were caught off guard.

He climbed out of his speeder after he landed and entered the now abandoned apartment, memories assailing him as he entered. He imagined he could still smell Padmes perfume lingering in the air, or see C3-P0 clamber by on some errand out of the corner of his eye. He turned and looked around sharply as he could have sworn R2-D2 was whistling and beeping behind him.

His heart beating faster, and his medical suit working to compensate, he wandered through the various chambers, stopping to run his hand across the wish globe in the sitting room, the couch where he and Padme sat and cuddled together. It was here that he felt the baby, his and Padmes baby, move under his one good hand for the first time.

Images of her flashed through his head as he went from room to room. Her standing in the different rooms as he entered them, preparing a meal in the kitchen, getting ready for bed, standing on the balcony watching the sun rise, and his sadness only fueled the anger that began to take its place.

Memories of the last time he saw her on Mustafar came into his mind suddenly, the shame of his force choking her and slamming his pregnant wife against the floor out of anger, of Obi-Wan being there, and making him the monster that he was today.

He heard snippets of their last conversation, “I was so worried about you, Obi-Wan told me terrible things.” “

“What things?” he had asked sarcastically, already knowing what they were.

“He said that you have turned to the Dark Side.” her voice had been choked with fear and sorrow, “That you killed, Younglings.”

He heard her say as she rubbed her hand through his hair, and he could feel her sweet breath on his face, “Anakin,” she had pleaded,” all I want is your love.”

He stopped and held his head with both hands, trying to stop the swirling tide of emotions swirling around inside of him, he dropped his hands and turned to head back into the sitting room, and to his horror, he saw Padme sitting on the couch next to his long deceased mother, Shmi Skywalker, and they were cradling and cooing to a swath of clothing that Padme was holding between them. They both looked up at him and smiled, and in chorus they stated together, “Ani, we love you.”

Padme and his mother held the baby out to him, and the swaddling clothes fell away to reveal a monstrosity of burnt, smoking flesh and missing limbs. Obi-Wan appeared suddenly behind them, standing with his hands on his hips.

“Anakin, look at what you have done.” His former Master admonished him.

Darth Vader roared, his scream sounding mechanical to his own ears. He whipped out his lightsaber and the red blade hummed to life, and he was yelling incoherently as he sliced the couch in half.

He then started going around the apartment, trying to destroy all the memories that he had of when he was Anakin Skywalker.

He destroyed the two bronzium statues of Shiraya, the moon goddess of Naboo, at the mouth of the veranda that led to the docking area, the wish globe was sliced into little pieces, and not one piece of artwork or furniture was spared throughout the apartment.

“Sir, are you ok, what is the situation here?” A voice behind him inquired cautiously.

Darth Vader whirled about, lightsaber paused to strike, when he saw a squad of Security Officers standing on the landing platform, and three of them had entered the apartment to investigate the commotion that was going on here, their response vehicle hovering in the background.

With help from his medical suit, Vader was able to calm down and he lowered and deactivated his lightsaber, and clipped it back onto his belt.

“Commander”, Darth Vader addressed the man that had asked the question, “I want this apartment condemned and gutted, and all of its contents disposed of, immediately.”

“As you wish, Lord Vader.” The commander stammered, and the Security Officers parted before him as Darth Vader made his way to his speeder, and climbing aboard, he sped off toward the former Jedi Temple, still shaking from his emotional outburst.

Chapter Twenty

Both of the compounds, Gan Mals Grey Jedi sanctuary and the Blut Fortress, were a flurry of activity, as people of all types of races and species were preparing for the worst that was yet to come.

Gan Mal and Colvin Blut were leading a team of people into the catacombs that were hidden below the temple of the moon goddess, Lyra-Sen.  They had taken one of several entrances, using the one hidden below the ancient alter that stood before the bronze colored, 12’ statue of the sword wielding lightly armored goddess, whose face was pointed skyward, and sword pointed toward the heavens as well.

The blueish-white Kyber crystal on top of Gan Mals staff glowed eerily in the tunnel, aided by the electric lamp that Colvin Blut held aloft.

Ja’on Windu, Dain and Den Rune, Zak, Zera, and Dez Orun, Kiva and Hovo Blut, Balak Pel, Zorvo Fey, Denka Doo, Maris Tay, Kera Kol and Esta Kuhl followed them through the 15’ wide, 20’ tall corridor.

“In the ancient times,” Colvin Blut was explaining, “the priestesses of Lyra-Sen would use these catacombs as burial chambers for their sect, interring the dead in vaults carved into the rock wall.”  He pointed to several rows of 3’ sealed archways etched into the rock wall with Tarahorkii writing carved into them. “But these catacombs also served as a sanctuary to the young, infirm and women expecting children during times of war. They are unique to Tarahorkii culture, as the Blut territory was the central location of the Lyra-Sen sect, and only the local order knew of its existence, as they dug them out with the founding of this fortress.”

They stepped aside as two dozen muscular Tarahorkii warriors pushed lantern festooned carts laden with heavy looking wooden boxes along the corridor going the opposite direction of the group.

Colvin pointed to the carts, “That is why we decided to hide these terrible weapons down here; we knew they would be secure and well hidden.” He pointed down the corridor, and they kept walking in the direction he was pointing toward.

“These catacombs come out in two places; one is the original ancient Blut compound that you have inhabited for generations now. Its entrance is in the old temple of Lyra-Sen there, but is located in the cellar through a hidden doorway in the wall, and the other exit is by the banks of the Kossos River, underneath the old stone fishing and boat pier that is there. It is built 10’ lower than this level, because during the late spring, early summer storms, it is partially submerged. A metal rusty but very stout gate is at its mouth.”

As they walked through the dark and musty catacombs, Dain marveled aloud, “You mean to tell me this ancient Sect of warrior priestess women tunneled this out for a length eight miles to connect the two compounds using only primitive tools?”

Esta Kuhl laughed cryptically, “They had help, men and beasts aided in the task, but the Priestesses of Lyra-Sen were very resourceful. I and Yesa Kell are direct descendants of these Priestesses, and I and my followers are the remaining members of this sect, whom we made Gan Mal an honorable member a century ago.”

Gan Mal chuckled and turned to Dain, “I bet you never suspected that I was a moon goddess high priestess as well, did you Mandalorian?”

Dain smiled and shook his head, “You are full of surprises, Head Mistress.”

Esta Kuhl stopped and stepped up to a 3’ wide metal tube that hung down from the vaulted ceiling. She folded down two metal handles to lock them in place vertically, and opened a metal door that swung downward, to reveal a glass window a foot wide.

“Every ten feet, you see these metal tubes, we call them ‘Radidorii eyes’, for the furry small burrowing rodents that we try to keep out of our gardens. They are attached to several hidden mirrored lenses that are hidden among the landscape so we can see what is happening on the surface if we are hiding down here, it lets us know what our next move will be if we are ever besieged by an enemy force.”

The other tribal leaders that were with them murmured in amazement in their native tongue for a moment. Denka Doo, a tall, young looking muscular and tattooed man with a shaven head and green eyes stated in admiration, “No wonder the Blut Clan is so successful in war and never have been successfully conquered, this is ingenuous.”

Balak Pel agreed, “You and your clan have managed to gain my respect and admiration again, Colvin Blut.”

Colvin Blut nodded his thanks to his Western Tribe counterpart, and motioned for them to follow him down the tunnel.

They came to a fork in the road, one tunnel leading off to the left, and one to the right, which had a slight breeze coming from it.

Colvin pointed to the tunnel on the right, “This is the way toward the river, and this other, the old original temple entrance.” And he headed down the left tunnel for about 50’, coming to a dead end. On the rock wall to his left, two kneeling carved statues of the kneeling Lyra-Sen goddess faced each other, and was mounted to the natural rock wall, they were 8’ 6” feet apart; a faint seam was barely discernable between them, in the outline of a door.

Colvin nodded to Esta as he stepped up the one on the right, and she approached the one on the left. In unison, the pushed them in and then turned them sideways, and a huge 8’ door swung inward.

The group stepped inside to the candlelit cellar of the temple that was located inside the Grey Jedi compound, to the astonishment of the two youths that were making out on a makeshift bead of robes and blankets in a corner next to the door.

Kai Davos and Zerta Vale struggled to cover themselves up as they stared wide eyed at the group that seemed to materialize from the wall.

Gan Mal glanced at them as the group walked by, some were laughing, some just shaking their heads.

“You two get this mess cleaned up and get up to the training grounds; can’t you see we have guests?” She scolded them.

“Yes, Head Mistress.” Kai stammered and he struggled to get his boots on, and Zerta began picking up a pile of blankets.  After they gathered up their robes and blankets, they hurried up the broad stone staircase that led up to the main floor of the temple.

Chuckling to himself, Colvin and Esta approached the carvings that matched the ones out in the tunnel, and pulled the outward and turned them right side up. The heavy door closed quietly and effortlessly, and once more became just a wall that was decorated with the various deities of the Tarahorkii mythos.

“And here we are, in your compound. This secret will serve you well when the time arrives to need it.” Colvin replied.

Gan Mal turned to Dain and Ja’on and stated sincerely, “When all looks lost in the coming attack, this is where you must secure young Den until it is clear to re-emerge again.”

She then turned to Den, Kiva and Dez, “You three have been chosen to protect the young children, the elderly, the infirm and pregnant women that will be sheltered here when the forces of the Sith Lord attack. Do not shirk your duties; their lives will be in your hands. Dain and Ja’on will join you here at the safest time available, but until then, the defense of the helpless will be up to you.”

The three youths were very somber as they acknowledged the order just given to them.

“Now go join your fellow Padawans in training, and have Kai and Zerta report to me directly in thirty minutes inside Mentors Hall. I will speak with these other leaders in private for a minute.”

They acknowledged, and headed toward the staircase. After they left the cellar, Gan Mal turned toward the remaining people.

“Dain, could you and Sharrwul help them set up, check and place these weapons? And have you a plan for the snub fighters?”

Dain nodded thoughtfully, “Caleb Orson, Tym Pellus and I are working on a plan for the fighter craft and other ships. I am also putting together a team for that customized, armored assault speeder that Tym Pellus and Haydrak Kohr salvaged from the wreckage of the Hard Bounty on the surface of Lyra-Sen.” He paused for a minute to look around at the others, “We are already placing the Brakka-Bauma in the foothills of the southern pass that lead into this valley. Erik Tull and Jenna Serra are helping with this placement as they have some experience with artillery. But yes, Gan Mal, we will help them.”

She smiled and patted him on the arm, “Thank you Dain, with your help and these Warlords assistance, I feel better about our chances. Let us go prepare a meal for everyone, and see the progress that has been made. The seasonal storms will be here soon, and I hope we are done by then.” She paused thoughtfully for a minute, then turned to him, “Isn’t tomorrow Dens and Kivas birthdays? They will both be fifteen, correct? It’s ironic how close those two are, and born on the same day even.”

Hovo Blut and Dain glance at each other with knowing smiles on their faces, “Yes.”, Dain answered, “Tomorrow they both turn fifteen.”

Esta Kuhl stated somberly, “It would seem they were to be fated together, and the coming storms will be sporadic but powerful. Let’s hope this is not a sign of what the fates have in store for them.”

“Indeed.” Gan Mal answered solemnly, as they all headed up the stairs, talking among themselves about the preparations at hand.

As Dez Orun, Den Rune and Kiva Blut headed toward the training grounds, Kiva pointed out to the dark clouds in the southeast, “The seasonal storms will be here soon, in a day or two they will begin, and tomorrow is the celebration of our births.”

Den looked at the skies about the distant mountains, and replied thoughtfully, “Who would have known that a boy born on distant Concordia would meet and share a birthday with a pretty lady here on Tara Dor, deep in Wild Space. Was that the Force, fate or just consequence?”

Kiva grabbed Dens arm to halt him as she turned toward Dez, “You go ahead, find Kai Davos and Zerta Vale and have them report to the Headmistress, I would have a word with Den Rune, alone.”

Dez grinned at them knowingly, “Sure thing, Kiva, but you two sweethearts catch up to me as soon as you’re done. I’m going to check out that floating Battle Wagon that Tym and Haydrak brought back from Lyra-Sen.” He ran off between the building and headed for the south gate.

Kiva pulled Den into a corner of the two story, pillared building they were next too, she was slightly taller than Den, and stared into his green eyes with her purple ones looking very intense.

“Tomorrow, we celebrate fifteen years in this life, and in Tarahorkii custom, I am of the age to get betrothed. Mordon Pel has already asked my father for my hand, and he has left it up to me. But I want you, Den Rune, to be my betrothed, I love you so much, you make me so happy.”

Den grinned softly as he caressed her face and hair with his right hand, and grasped her left hand in his.

“I care for you very deeply, Kiva.” He answered softly, “But as soon I am done training here, I was planning to go serve Mandalore, and free them from the grips of Pre Vizsla and his Death Watch faction. Would you be willing to leave all this,” and he gestured at the buildings and trees around him, “and travel with me to an alien world you have never known, and a people who have never seen the likes of you?”

She grasped him by the face and kissed him deeply before she answered him passionately, “Yes, yes I would, Den Rune. I would follow you to the end of the universe and back.”

He stared into her eyes for a minute, passion and confusion surging through him, finally he stated in a heavy, impassioned voice, “Ok then, let’s do it. I can’t imagine life without you Kiva Blut, and the more I try to keep you at arm’s length, the more I want to take you into my arms and hold you tight. Let’s make the announcement tomorrow.”

She smiled, and laughed as her purple eyes lit up with joy. ”Oh thank you, Den Rune; this is the best birthday gift ever!” And they kissed passionately for several minutes before they stopped, holding each other tight.

“Now let’s go check out that customized speeder with Dez.” Den suggested, stroking her dark hair.” Who knows, we may be able to take it out for a test drive.”

“Ok.” She agreed, “I will race you there, and win.” She pushed him down and ran off laughing. He picked himself up, laughing too, and chased after her.

As they arrived at the main training grounds, it was a hotbed of activity. Padawans and Mentors were going through the different styles of lightsaber fighting, and others the various styles of hand to hand combat.

Heavy Saga-hel carts were pulling the ancient weapons that were placed in the catacombs below. They were of dull gray metal with a long, thick cylindrical barrel, butterfly style triggers, and mounted on a swivel bi-pod. These were the belt fed, 40mm projectile firing Sturma-Yohudi. There were one hundred and twenty of them in total, and fifty were being donated to Gan Mals fortress to be mounted on the parapets facing south, where they had agreed any major land offensive would come from. The other seventy were being carted to the Blut stronghold.

One hundred and sixty of the Sturma-Xedas and eighty of the Brakka-Baumas were stored closer to the Blut Fortress. These were being placed around the Bluts stronghold, some in the outlying foothills overlooking the southern pass.

The Sturma-Xedas were carried by select Tarahorkii warriors, and most were fed by box like magazines, ten were belt fed and had metal tripods were support.

The Brakka-Baumas on a wooden wheeled platform were pulled into place by a team of four Saga-hel. These fired a 155mm explosive round, were breach loaded and had a range of nine miles.

Den was reflecting on these details that his father and Hovo Blut had discussed this morning before the tour of the catacombs, as he and Kiva were running through the various throngs of people and Saga-hel, to see the modified speeder that Tym and Haydrak recovered from the wrecked freighter on the moon two days before.

Dez was there already, sitting in the turret behind a mounted Z-6 Rotary Blast Cannon that had a customized, mechanically fed concussion missile tube mounted on each side of it. Dez was experimenting with the foot controls which could spin the turret in a 360 radius either left or right.

The modified, dark green and black trimmed SoroSuub speeder had two air cooled Thruster Turbines mounted just behind the sealed cockpit doors, just under the raised turrets. The passenger side window had a single, swiveling laser cannon mounted in front it, the firing controls inside the cab.

The driver had firing buttons on the steering wheel for two stationary twin laser cannons on the bottom, front of the speeder.

Tym and Haydrak had found it crated up in the Hard Bounty’s cargo hold, it’s manifest read that it was intended for Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine, but of course, it would never reach him.

Haydrak Kohr was keeping a close eye on Dez and the other youths that were crowding around and climbing in and out the speeder, Tym and Yesa had slipped off to spend some time alone.

Kiva walked the length of the modified assault speeder, running her hand down it, as Dez saluted her and Den from the turrets seat. “Haydrak,” Dez called out, “You think Den, Kiva and I can take this thing for a test run?”

Haydrak, in put his hands on his hips as he looked up at Dez, “Dain, Tym and myself have already  tested it on this end of the Killa-Kuk nesting grounds, and it performed like a dream, we will pick the team that operates it soon. Now climb down from there before you accidently shoot something up.”

Dez obliged hesitantly, and joined Den and Kiva on the ground.

Dez leaned over and whispered into Dens ear,” Do you think you can convince your grandfather to let us take it for a ride?”

Haydrak looked at Dez sideways, “Do you really assume that with ears like this I can’t hear you? You can ask him, but a responsible adult will accompany you if he agrees, we can’t have you kids wrecking the hardware when we need it the most.”

Just then Dain walked up, and caught the tail end of the conversation, he chimed in, “You three can ride with me as we park it close to our quarters, it’s time to eat. It will be dark soon, and we have a duty roster to put together. Climb back up there Dez, but DO NOT touch or breathe on any of the controls.”

Haydrak stepped aside, and growled low under his breath to Dain, “Better you than me, I want to live a long fruitful life.”

Dain laughed as he climbed into the sealed cockpit, “One day I hope to meet your pups, you are a natural with kids Haydrak.”

Haydrak laughed and rolled his eyes as he stepped back from the speeder, motioning to the Tarahorkii kids and other Padawans to step away as well. As the customized speeder cruised away with Dez waving at them from the turret, Haydrak addressed the youth around him.

“Go get cleaned up and get ready to eat. I’m hungry, and some of you are starting to look tasty.” He teased. The kids laughed and ran off to their designated quarters to get ready, and Haydrak sauntered off toward his quarters, praying that Yesa and Tym hadn’t disappeared there.

Chapter Twenty-One

Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin disembarked from the Eta-class shuttle and into the main hangar bay of the Venator Class Star Destroyer. They were followed by a tall, slender man dressed in a heavy black, full length robe with the hood pulled up over his ashen colored face, yellow colored eyes peered out from the shadows the hood cast over the strangers face.

They passed several platoons of Clone Troopers and their officers standing at attention on either side of the shuttle.

They walked past these orderly ranks of Troopers to where Major Nevan Odell was dressed in the grey-green Imperial Officers uniform and matching cap.

To his right was a dark skinned man of average height in the black double breasted dress tunic, officers cap and rank that designated him as an Admiral, between them a black bodied and grey domed R2 unit stood motionless. Behind them standing at attention several rows deep, the brand new Force Clones stood at attention with their Riot Shields on their left arms.

The two officers saluted as Vader and Tarkin neared them.

“As you were, gentlemen.” Tarkin returned the salute, “Admiral Dekkle, congratulations on your recent promotion. I would hope next time you would wear the proper uniform that suits your new rank. But concerning your stellar performance during the battle of Felucia and orbital support of the 327th Star Corps, we will let it slide, this time.”

The dark eyed, dark skinned admiral of average height nodded, his broad nostrils flaring at the subtle scolding, and replied, “Thank you, Grand Moff Tarkin. It will not happen again. However, it is an honor to host you and Lord Vader aboard this ship that I now command. I await your orders.” He glanced nervously at the dark clad stranger hanging back behind Lord Vader and the Grand Moff.

Tarkin smiled coldly, as he gestured toward Vader and the dark stranger with his thumb, “As you know, you will be escorting Lord Vader and his guest on a secret mission into a deep, unchartered region of Wild Space. I see that R4-K5 is already here, so the Eta-2 Actis-class interceptor must already be onboard as well.”

Major Odell nodded, “It is my Lords.”

Darth Vader inquired sternly,” And are my quarters ready, complete with my new Meditation Chamber for this extensive trip?”

Admiral Dekkle nodded, “It is my Lord, whenever you are ready, I will have an officer escort you there.”

“Thank you, Admiral; I pray, for your sake, that it meets my expectations.” Vader stated coldly, and strode to the frontline of the Force Clones, looking over their ranks impassively. The dark robed stranger joined him and stood by his side. For once Darth Vader was thankful for the much needed mask that he wore, for he knew that the look of disgust would have been clearly etched onto his face.

They felt wrong, they were an affront to the Force and he could sense it, but they were crucial to the mission at hand, and it was the will of his Emperor.

Tarkin then clasped his hands behind his back and stated briskly, “Very well then, I will leave you gentlemen now so you can be on your way. May the Force be with you, and I look forward to your return.”

And with that, he turned on his heel and returned to the shuttle that he came in on.

As the departing shuttle cleared the Hangar Bay, Darth Vader addressed the Admiral, “I will retire to my quarters now.  Major Odell and I will brief you right before we drop out of hyperspace. All reports that are outside of the routine operations of this ship will immediately be routed to me and my apprentice as well.”

“Yes, Lord Vader, it will be done.” The Admiral confirmed, and gestured for a young female officer to come forward. “Lieutenant Kardis, please escort Lord Vader, his guest and his R2 unit to their quarters, he is to have access to all of the ships reports and communications.”

“Yes Admiral.” The lightly tanned, dark haired, grey eyed Lieutenant saluted him and turned toward Darth Vader and the dark stranger, “This way my Lords.”

As they walked off, Admiral Dekkle signaled to the other officers, and they dismissed their respective Troops, who went about their assigned duties, or returned to their down time activities.

“Well, Major, he is a very imposing figure, and you say he was badly injured during the war? He must have been a powerful Jedi at one time.” Admiral Dekkle observed.” But who is the mystery man?”

“That is only conjecture, and I am not at liberty to say.” Major Odell stated as-a matter-of-factly. “Now, if you don’t mind, I will retire to my quarters as well. I would like to have access to any reports that Lord Vader receives, and may I remind you, this is an ISB request, and not a personal one.”

Admiral Dekkles mouth formed into a hard line, “No problem Major, and I will remind you this is MY command, just in case you forget. We will jump within the hour, and you will be updated when we do.”

Major Odell chuckled ominously, “And may I remind you, that when Lord Vader is aboard, this is HIS command, just in case you forget. If you anger him, you will lose more than just your rank, Admiral.” Major Odell sneered. He turned to walk away, “I bid you goodnight, Admiral. Lord Vader and I would like to inspect the fighter hangar bays in the morning.”

Admiral Dekkle watched the ISB Major walk away, stewing in resentment, and turned to headed toward his quarters, when a tall, blue eyed man with Captains rank approached him.

“Admiral, the Devastator and Wandering Star have reported in, and are ready to jump when we are. We will be jumping into Wild Space within thirty minutes.” The Captain reported confidently.

The Admiral nodded, “Thank you Captain Kester. Make sure the fighter bays are ready for inspection in the morning, Lord Vader himself will be making the tour, it needs to be as immaculate as possible.”

“Will do Admiral.” The Captain acknowledged, and was about to walk away when the Admiral stopped him again.

“One more thing, Captain,” the Admiral added, “have the Quarter Master prepare me a regulation Imperial Admirals uniform, it’s time I let go of my pilot officers attire.”

The Captain smiled real big, “It will be done Admiral, and it will be ready in time for the inspection in the morning.”  And the Captain saluted and walked briskly off.

Admiral Dekkle made it to his quarters with no further interruptions, took off his cap revealing closely cropped, dark coarse hair, hung his cap on a peg, and settled down into the chair behind his personal desk. Above him on the wall were crossed spears over a shield, they were ancient Korunnai weapons from Harrun Kal. Although Brynn Dekkle was born on Coruscant, his father was from Harrun Kal.

His father came to Coruscant to study hyperspace engineering, met Brynns mother who was from Socorro, and stayed on Coruscant to raise their son, although his father told him extensive stories and the legends of Harrun Kal.

For the first twelve years of his young life, Brynn and his family lived in the upper levels of the massive planet sized city, until an accident claimed the life of his father. His mother struggled for a while to stay where they were, but eventually they had to move to the mid-lower levels, and life there was a lot harder than what they were accustomed to.

He poured himself a glass of Correllian whiskey and keyed up his personal computer and updated his personal log.

After he manually updated his personal log, he settled back into his chair and sipped the whiskey. His eye caught the holographic picture of the crew that his was with when they shipped out to Felucia.

He was wearing his pilot’s uniform, a fledgling flight commander leading Clone pilots to support the ground elements. He was posed with Clone Commander Bly and Jedi General Aayla Secura.

He had heard the Order 66 go over his communications system, and from above, watched as the Clones turned on and butchered their commanding officer.

Outraged, he took his Z-95 Head Hunter fighter into a steep dive to attack them, the Clone pilots warning him to stop or he would be fired upon, and the other non-Clone pilots, just six in all, threatening them if they did not disengage their threatened attack on him.

As he was making his dive, he spotted a small detachment of well camouflaged B2-HA Super Battle Droids and rolling Droidekas advancing on the unaware Clone Troopers from each flank, and took his rage and sorrow out on them instead, calling on his detachment of fighters to follow his lead. He won a medal and received a promotion for his actions.

General Secura was a great and compassionate leader, and ever since her death, he questioned his service to the Republic, and when it became an Empire, he was convinced he was fighting on the wrong side.

He raised a toast to the image of the blue skinned, Twi’lek Jedi General, and muttered softly to himself, “Here’s to you, General, murdered by the command of the Emperor himself. And here I am, escorting the Emperors personal devil to who knows where, for who knows what. So here’s to you being on the wrong side of a blaster, and to me being on the wrong side of history.” He turned the glass up and downed it in one gulp, and then he reached for the bottle to pour another glass.

Without warning the sight of dead, Padawan Younglings and Jedi came unbidden to the surface of his long buried memories.

He was part of the detail that had been tasked with the unfortunate job of cleaning out the bodies at the Jedi Temple shortly after being summoned from Felucia to be awarded for his actions there.

He drank three quick shots of the whiskey and struggled to bury that waking nightmare again.

The ships intercom beeped, “Sir, we have jumped into hyperspace, the Devastator and Wandering Star are right with us. All systems are normal.” The Duty Officer reported.

“Thank you, Commander, ensure that Lord Vader, his apprentice and Major Odell are informed as well.” He ordered in a forced, calm voice, hands shaking, and switching off the intercom, downed two more quick shots in succession.

Morning on Tara Dor, Den rose early, before the rising of the sun, it was still dusky dark. He was eager to get the day started as it was his fifteenth birthday and Kivas as well.

Late that night several of the other mentors and Padawans arrived from the southern tribal areas, they had been going through the trials that Gan Mal and some Tarahorkii war chiefs had devised years ago, to test their mettle to see if they were fit to make the transition from Padawn to Mentor.

Those that returned were the very haughty twins Dex and Bax Ernest, from distant Kuat, the Weequay/Tarahorkii mix, Oran Kaul, whose dark orange leathery skin earned him the nickname of Ugly Oran, Raja Kowl, an Arkanian/Corellian mix with pale skin and blue eyes, Zian Charr’d, another mixed Tarahorkii, but with Zabrak Iridonian, whose horns that rimmed the top of his head poked through his shoulder length black hair.  Mera Fann, of mixed Arkanian and Tarahorkii descent, Erda Fanns granddaughter, whose father Lyric, Erda Fanns son, was killed by Killa-Kuks eighteen years ago.

Den jumped onto his 22-B Night Falcon speeder bike and sped off toward the Blut Fortress, a small backpack strapped on over his black flight coveralls.

He wanted to see Kiva before their short birthday ceremony was to begin.  And then afterwards there would be a huge meeting between the various tribal leaders to finalize their defensive measures that would be implemented.

Half way to the Bluts stronghold, he came across her galloping in his direction on her white and tan Saga-hel. They stopped short of each other.

“What are you doing here?” Den asked, bemused, “I was on my way to see you.”

Kiva dismounted from her steed and quipped, “And I was on my way to see you, Den Rune. I was on my way to give you a combination betrothal and birthday gift.” She was wearing knee high rawhide pants, leather riding boots, and low cut sky blue blouse. A wide belt held a Tarahorkii short sword on her left hip, and a dagger on her right. Her hair was double braided, the braids resting on each shoulder,

Den laughed as he slid off of his speeder bike, “And I have a gift for you as well. Let me see yours first.”

She held the leather satchel that she had just removed from her saddle horn behind her back,” Oh no, I must see yours first. It is Tarahorkii tradition for the male to present the gift first.” She teased.

Den shrugged off his back pack as he grinned sheepishly, “If you insist, Kiva Blut.” He handed it to her, “Take it and see what’s inside.”

She reached for it hesitantly, “It had better not be a Ferra Serpent, Den Rune.” She joked.

He was taken aback from her comment, ”Why would I do that?” he retorted.

She reached in and pulled out a Blurrg-1120 holdout blaster with four extra charge packs.

“I wanted you to have it.” Den explained as her eyes widened and her mouth gaped open. “With the possible attack coming, I wanted you to have a better means of defending yourself.”

She hugged his neck tight and kissed him on the face profusely, making him blush scarlet.

Finally stepping back, she turned it over gingerly in her hands, and asked awestruck, “Where did you get it?”

He shrugged, “I bought it off of Haydrak Kohr, he said it was a recent acquisition, and would say no more about it. I traded two dozen glitter gems for it.”

She tucked it into her belt, “Will you show me how to use it, and care for it?”

He nodded, “Of course, now where is my gift?” He asked teasingly reaching out his hand.

She handed him a the satchel and stated apologetically, “ It is not as grand as yours, but I spent the last three months with a blade master showing me how to forge and craft it, just for you.”

He pulled out an 8” knife, with the razor sharp dull silver colored blade. The cross guard was black metal whose tips were shaped like tiny human skulls.

The dull grey hilt was made of Barabuell horn, and carved into it on each side was a very artistic detailing of his Grandfathers Terentatek tusk adorned helmet.

He whistled his appreciation, ”Kiva, this is a far, far better gift that I have received. You spent three months on this? For me? I am so flattered.” He hugged her tightly.

Just then Mordon Pel and Bran Doo rode up on their mounts, their short throwing spears in their left hands. They rode around the couple on their spirited mounts, Mordon was addressing Kiva aggressively in their native language, pointing at Den several times with his Kadoon crystal adorned spear.

She was equally aggressive in her response, and pulled the Blurrg Hold Out pistol and brandished it at the two young warriors.

“Kiva, wait, you don’t want to do that.” Den cautioned as he slowly approached her, hands outstretched.

Mordon guided his mount to closer toward Den, raising his short spear like a club to strike at him. ”Be still your filthy tongue, you alien scum!” He shouted in thickly accented Basic, “She will be my mate, and never yours!”

He swung the short spear down toward Dens head, Den raised both hands and with a powerful Force shove, he knocked Mordon out of his saddle.

Bran charged Den on his mount,  leaning low in the saddle, seeking to skewer Den with his spear. Den side stepped deftly as Bran galloped by on his snorting Saga-hel, and Force shoved the hapless mount and rider into Mordon, who had just got to his feet, and was running toward Den, preparing to thrust with his short spear.

For a minute, they were all tangled up, the mount got free bellowing, kicking and snorting, striking Mordon in the leg, causing a deep laceration from its clawed feet, and breaking his leg with the force of the blow. He lay on the ground and howled in pain as his Saga-hel galloped off at full speed.

Bran tried to stop the bleeding by ripping off his emerald tunic and wrapping the leg with it, Kiva ran over to help, pleading with Den, “Please help, my Grandfather just secured peace with his tribe, I will not see it broken.”

Den raced toward his speeder bike and removed the first aid kit from its compartment.

Just as he reached them, the beat up, ancient looking enclosed cab land speeder that Gan Mal rode in pulled up. Gordo, Maris Tay, Raena Verus and Gan Mal climbed out approached the hapless group.

“What have we here, Den Rune, a severe case of jealousy?” Gan Mal inquired, bemused, kneeling down to examine Mordons wound, who was swearing and jabbering in the Tarahorkii language.

“I was merely defending myself and Kiva, Head Mistress, I swear I didn’t strike out of emotion.” Den stammered as he was pulling items out of the first aid kit to use.

Gan Mal countered, glancing at Den with a slight grin on her face. “I did not accuse you of the jealousy, young Rune. Now put that away and learn something of the Force, we will not jeopardize Colvin and Hovo Bluts hard won truce with the tribes these two represent. I only hope these two miscreants have learned their lesson.”

Gan Mal laid a hand on each side of the wound, covered with the bloody shirt. She closed her eyes, and exhaled heavily, and bowed her head.

Mordons ranting came to a stop as he looked down at his leg in wonder. The deformity caused by the break seemed to line itself back up, and the bleeding slowly stopped as the lacerated flesh seemed to pull itself back together and seal off the bleeding. Even the bruising around the wound seemed to lighten up and faded away.

Gan Mal staggered to her feet and leaned heavily on her staff, and admonished the two Tarahorkii males. “This breach of the truce will be reported to your fathers. And Mordon, Kiva is free to choose whom she wishes to be with. And this is their sacred day, of all things, and you violated that as well. Tell me, sweet Kiva, what is the Tarahorkii punishment for aggressively attacking someone unprovoked on their birthday?”

Kiva glared at Mordon, hands on her hips, as she answered, “Twenty lashes with a river reed.”

Gan Mal wagged her finger at them and gruffly pointed out, ”That’s on top of the fifty lashes for breach of truce, and the ten for losing your Saga-hel mount. Maybe these two will help you and Bran go get it back, but I leave that choice up to them. If you manage to retrieve it, all of you need to report to the Blut stronghold, we have a busy day today.”

Gan Mal and the Mentors returned back to the land speeder, and Reana Verus turned and winked at Den and gave him the thumbs up as she got into the cab, and they sped off.

The four youths just stared at each other a minute, then Mordon asked Kiva and Den meekly, “Well, will you help me retrieve my mount, and save me ten lashes?”

Bran was busy putting his bloodied shirt into his saddle bag when Kiva answered, “In the name of the truce, we will help. But know that I am promised to Den, and he is promised to me from here on out.”

Mordon just nodded his agreement as Den mounted his speeder bike.

“Get on behind me Mordon, and let’s go catch your mount before it gets too far away.” Den offered.

Mordon climbed on, and they sped off, with Kiva and Bran following behind them on their Saga-hel mounts just in case it doubled back for some reason or other.

The sun had just risen above the eastern mountain when the ancient land speeder carrying Gan Mal and her small entourage had pulled up to the northern gate.

They exited the land speeder and entered the gate that was cranked open for them by the guards in the watch tower.

The fortress was bustling with activity. The weapons masters and crystal crafters had been busy all night making the ammunition going by the instructions that Hadon Weese had written out, and Tarahorkii scribes had copied in their own language over a hundred years ago.

The finished projectiles were being delivered by the crate full to the reinforced gun placements both inside and outside the walls of the Fortress. They were in place at both compounds and were manned in four hour shifts by the natives and alien settlers voluntarily.

Gan Mal and her group made their way to the great hall where Colvin Blut was located, and the throng of people parted before her as she made her way through.

Inside the great hall, the tables were being set, and the smell of cooking food wafted through the air from the kitchen. Twenty-five places of honor were being set up at the great table, as twenty-five birthdays were being recognized on this day.

Den just arrived in his black and crimson formal uniform tunic and pants with red piping, blaster at his side. He was flanked by Caleb Orson on his right, and Dar Haran on his left. They were in their personal body guard uniform with their helmets under their left arm.

Bryson, Stella and Kai Davos with Zerta Vale on his arm followed closely behind them, the Davos family wore the dark blue and red formal clothes and Zerta Vale a dark blue blouse, black tight fitting pants and high black boots.

Jenna Serra, Jeb Reesus and Erik Tull followed up the rear of this group.

Ja’on Windu, came in leading the majority of Padawans and Mentors for the combination of celebration and meeting.

Raena Versus, Ugly Oran, Zian Charr’d and Bolo Dare had volunteered to stay behind with several Tarahorkii warriors and monitor the communications terminal and stand guard.

The twins from Kuat, Dex and Bax, were flying the M3-A Scyk fighters in a sweep pattern just beyond Lyra-Sen, keeping an eye out for any intruders that may drop out of hyperspace.

They were joined by Raja Kowl and Mera Fann in two of the Aurek Class Tactical Strike fighters flying the sweep from the opposite direction.

Everyone mixed and mingled while the celebratory feast was being prepared. It was held unusually early to get it done and out of the way, as the meeting that was to follow was about the final touches to their defensive preparations.

Tym Pellus, Yesa Kell Pellus and Haydrak Kohr came strolling in.

Tym and Haydrak were dressed in a neatly pressed and clean light brown flight coveralls, and Yesa was dressed in a full length aqua colored dress with a wide belt with plain golden buckle around her waist that held her dagger in a scabbard on her left hip, as well as a newly acquired DC-17 blaster in a homemade Barabuell leather holster on her right hip.

Keela and Lyra Blut started seating the twenty-five honored guests at the huge table that had several tables added to it to accompany every one.

The Tarahorkii, Twi’lek mixed Boron Teya was one of the honored guests, as well as fourteen older adult Tarahorkii, and eight young adults, two were missing.

Keela Blut looked at her mother-in-law and asked in her native tongue, <” Where are Kiva and Den Rune?”>

Lyra scanned the room, and smiling a mischievous grin elbowed Keela gently in the ribs, <” Maybe they are making you a grandson.”>

Keela shook her head as she helped a young Tarahorkii girl into her seat, <”Tsk, tsk, husbands mother, they are not even betrothed.”>

Just the Den, Kiva, Mordon and Bran rushed into the hall. They were slightly dusty and Mordon and Dens hair was disheveled.

Ja’on Windu, Maris Tay, Dain Rune, Caleb Orson and Jenna Serra were all having a discussion together, when Ja’on noticed the four young adults enter.

He nodded toward their direction and asked in a bemused tone, “What in the world have they been into?”

Before Dain could approach them, Keela and Lyra had rushed up to them and were ushering them toward their seats, scolding them as they went. Dain and Ja’on couldn’t help but laugh at the sight.

As soon as they got to their seats, Colvin Blut and Esta Kuhl entered the hall and approached the great table.

Colvin wore a dark purple tunic, dark brown leather pants and high leather brown lace up boots. He wore a cape made of down covered Killa-Kuk hide.  He wore his ceremonial helmet with a Killa-Kuk down crest.

Esta Kuhl work a forest green hand woven gown, high leather slip on boots, her Barabuell hide robe and horned headdress.

As they approached the great table, the twenty-five guests stood up and faced Colvin, waiting for him to command the to be seated.

Colvin addressed the great hall at first in Tarahorkii, then in Basic.

“Friends, family and honored guests,” his voice boomed across the hall, ”welcome as we help these twenty-five individuals celebrate the anniversary of their birth.”

He looked intently at the people around the room,“ Some of these honored people are entering their twilight years, some are starting their journey as young adults, a few are very young that are seeing another year in what hopefully will be a long and fruitful life. We celebrate with them, and will drink and feast to their health. Unfortunately we must make their celebration brief, as we have much to discuss concerning our defensive preparations, so let the feast begin!”

After the cheering died down, Colvin looked around the table, a wile smile on his face, “I understand one of our birthday honorees has a statement he would like to make.” He pointed toward Den, “Young Rune, have you something to announce here today?”

Den paused as he was about to put a fork full of Barabuell meat into his mouth, it felt like his stomach just dropped to his feet, he looked over at Kiva who was staring at him in apprehension.

He set the fork down and slowly stood up, and searched the crowd until he found Hovo Blut and Keela standing close together at a smaller table, looking at him expectantly.

“ I would like to ask Hovo Blut a question,” he asked nervously, out of the corner of his eye, he could see his Grandfather tense up, apprehension in his face. “ I would like Hovo Bluts permission to take Kiva Blut as my betrothed, to be mated to her as soon as we reach the minimum age for the mating ceremony.”

Dain rested his head in his hand, exasperated, as Ja’on and Maris Tay clapped him on the back in congratulations.

Hovo and Keela Blut stepped forward. “I accept on one condition, young Rune.” And Hovo turned toward Dains direction, and addressed him directly, ”Will you take my Kiva and treat her as your own daughter, and protect  and guide her when I am not around or able to?”

Dains face was unreadable as he hesitated a few moments, then he sighed and his face softened, “Of course I will, Hovo Blut. Kiva is an honorable and smart young lady. I would be honored to accept her into Clan Rune as my future daughter-in-law.”

The room erupted in thunderous cheers as Hovo, Keela and Lyra Blut walked up to Dain and embraced him.

Kiva stood, her face beaming as she smiled at Den. Den was blushing bright red, but managed to grin at her as well.

Colvin laughed and clapped, and then threw both hands dramatically into the air, “It’s a double celebration then! Musicians, play some lively music and let the feast begin!”

Two hours later, as they were getting ready for the big meeting, Dain approached Den, who was talking with Kiva, Dez, Mordon, Bran and Buto Gree in a far corner.

“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, may I have a moment with my Grandson?” Dain asked, standing beside Den. He then turned to Kiva, “Kiva, I meant every word I said. Welcome to the family, I am honored to call you granddaughter.”

Kiva gave Dain a big hug, “And I am honored to call you grandfather.”

Dain then put his arm around Dens shoulder, steering him away from the small group of youths, and winked at them, “Don’t worry, I will return him shortly. Maybe.”

He led Den to a sparsely populated corner of the great hall, and turned to look the young man squarely in the eyes.

“Damn, Den, that was a bold move, you do know what this kind of commitment means, right? I knew you too were close, but not that close. She’s not pregnant is she?” Dain addressed him gently, but firmly.

Den recoiled at the question, “No, Grandfather, she is not. It’s just the future is not certain right now, and damn it, I do love her. I know you think I’m too young to know what love is, but I love being around her, and when I am not with her, that’s where I want to be.”

Dain smiled wryly, “As a matter-of-fact, I don’t think that at all. I was your age when I first met your Grandmother, Elizabet, and I felt the same way about her that you do for Kiva. I just know you had plans to go back to Concordia as soon as your training was done, to take up the cause there. Or will you stay here now, and join the Blut clan as a warrior?”

Den stared up at the ceiling, and then back to his Grandfather, “Kiva is willing to travel with me wherever that I may go, despite the risk of others finding out about the existence of her people. I am torn on this, I really am. But with so many different species in the known galaxy, would anyone really pay attention to her that closely?”

Dain sighed heavily, ”At one time I would have agreed with that sentiment. But the galaxy has changed since we were there last, and there have always been those willing to exploit something new and unusual. There would be a risk in taking her into known space, but if you two are willing to take that risk, there is no doubt in my mind that you two would overcome any obstacles that you may face.”

Gan Mal approached them, and hugged Den tightly. She then held him at arm’s length and stated, “ Kiva told me that I could find you here. That is a good union, Den, and I congratulate you two. Let Mordon and Bran know that in light of the celebrations here, I will keep that incident that we know about as our little secret, for now. Now let us get back to the main area, the meeting is about to start.”

As they turned to head into the main area of the hall, Dain laid a restraining hand on Dens shoulder, “What incident? Is that why you four were late?”

Den smiled and stated cryptically, “You heard the Head Mistress that is our little secret.” He laughed at the perplexed look on his Grandfathers face, “C’mon, Grandfather, I will brief you on that later. We have a meeting to attend to now.”

The meeting was wrapping up as everyone had agreed to the placement of the weapons and B1 Battle Droids.

The last thing on the agenda was the pilot roster, and who would man the customized attack speeder, christened the Raging Barabuell by majority consensus of the Padawans.

Dain was at the head of the great table and going over strategy in a clear and commanding voice, “Thanks to the Davos family, who donated their ship, the Davos Raptor, which will lead the orbital defense group. It will be piloted by Dar Haran, the navigator will be Jeb Reesus, and the gunner, Erik Tull. Jenna Serra and Caleb Orson will be the responsible for the safety and wellbeing of Bryson and Stella Davos on the ground.” He nodded to them as he mentioned them.

Dain continued, “Tym Pellus and Haydrak Kohr will take the Wanderer into low orbit around Lyra-Sen to use the moon as cover to be our sentry ship. Bjorn Cassisus has volunteered to be their Gunner, and Brenna Bale will be their Communications Officer.”

He paused to get a drink of water before continuing, “The fighter pilots are as follows, Kai Davos will pilot the remaining N1 Naboo fighter with R2-C7. Zerta Vale will be his wingman in one of the Aurek Class Tactical Strike fighters. Maris Tay and Gordo will be paired up in another set of the Aurek Class fighters. Oran Kaul will be piloting one of the Liberator Class Starfighters, his wingman will be Zian Charr’d flying an S-100 Stinger Class Starfighter. Anton Skree and Eman Kerz will be paired up in the remaining two S-100 Stingers. The twins Dex and Bax will partner up in the two M3-A Scyk Fighters, last but not least, Raja Kowl will pilot the remaining Aurek Class fighter, aided by Mera Fann in the last of the Liberator Class snub fighters. Anyone have any questions?”

No one volunteered, so Dain continued, ”We don’t yet what types and numbers of forces we will be facing, so it would be foolish to send our fighters against any Capital Ships that may arrive. We will use them for ground support only, mix them up with their own fighters and ground forces to thwart any heavy, orbital bombardment. Dex and Bax will escort the slower Wanderer and provide cover for her in case they are assaulted.”

Dain looked grim, and paused for a minute, “It’s not much, but that’s what we have. We will move the fighters to the eastern mountains and hide them until we need them.  The Magna Pulse Cannon takes two minutes to recharge after firing, so we will wait until their Capital ships are in low orbit before we fire to ensure a direct hit the first time. Our best bet is to make it a ground offensive for them. They may have the troop and fighter numbers, the technology and superior firepower, but they will be far from home and reinforcements, while we are on our home turf, and have an overwhelming number of brave Tarahorkii warriors that could overwhelm them, plus our resources are close at hand.” Dain received a standing ovation for this last part.

Colvin approached the table and stood by Dain, and raised his hand to silence the crowd. He was very solemn looking as they became quite, and spoke with confidence, “We all here have a job to do, whether you be full or mixed breed Tarahorkii, or alien refugee. No matter what tribe or planet you come from, we will fight as one people, we will fight for each other to preserve our traditional way of life here. We will fight to remain free, and to maintain our well founded friendship.”

This got a standing ovation as well, and Colvin silenced them once more, and motioned for Gan Mal to approach the table.

“You are the leader of the aliens here, would you like to speak?” He asked as Gan Mal walked up beside him.

She smiled, tears shimmering in her eyes, and stated, “You have expressed my sentiment well, old friend. All I can do is thank you and your people for letting us settle here 151 years ago. I have seen so many people be born and die since I have arrived here. I have witnessed the savage tribal wars of the past become the peaceful trade endeavors and mutual cooperation for a common defense that we see today, and I am proud, so very proud to call Tara Dor home. In closing, May the Force be with us all.”

She received a thunderous applause, and Colvin shouted above the clamorous crowd, “Go ahead, feast and drink today, for tomorrow we tighten up our fortifications just a little more, and prepare for the grand battle that is to come!”

And feast and drink they did through the rest of the day, and into the night.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Admiral Brynn Dekkle was ready for this trip to be over with, six days in hyperspace and he was ready for some dirt time. He even considered leading some of the ground forces or flying a fighter himself just to break the monotony.

He was standing beside the ISB Major Odell on the observation platform as Lord Vader and his Pau’an apprentice were instructing the Force Clones in various lightsaber fighting techniques in the vast, main hangar bay.

He was attired in the correct grey-green officers uniform with cap, as was Major Odell, the only difference was their rank designation.

All of the sudden the warning klaxon sounded an alarm followed by a females coldly professional announcement, “We are preparing to drop out of hyperspace, everyone to your stations. I say again, we are preparing to drop out of hyperspace, all personnel are to report to their duty stations immediately.”

Darth Vader dismissed the Force Troopers and the gaunt Pau’an and climbed the stairs to the observation platform to join the Admiral and Major who were just starting to head for a turbolift to make their way toward the bridge.

“I hope we don’t come out of hyperspace to close to the planet, Admiral.” Darth Vader warned as they entered a lift. “We need to see what we are up against, and we don’t need to warn them of our presence just yet.”

Admiral Dekkle shot a scathing look toward the towering Dark Lord, “My Lord, all that we have are the coordinates the ISB gave us. Being in uncharted space, we have no way on knowing where we will come out at.”

Darth Vader stared at the Admiral long and hard before replying, “You have a valid point, Admiral. I hope your bravery serves you well in battle. I, however, will not tolerate any insolence again. You have been warned.”

Admiral Dekkle grimaced and stared at the wall of the turbolift as it came to a halt and the doors opened before them.

“The coordinates are what we took off of the Hyperspace Pod, My Lord.” Major Odell explained as they stepped onto the bridge. “We should be on the far side of their single moon.”

And sure enough, the moon loomed close out of the ships forward viewport, and the other two ships dropped out of hyperspace on either side of them.

Tara Dor was barely visible on the left edge of the moon, a blue-green and white crescent in the distance, the single  yellow sun glowing brightly in the distance on their extreme left, the viewports windows tinted automatically to compensate for the glare.

“Any readings from that planet?”, Darth Vader asked in a very blunt and authoritative tone, “Any indication that they are aware of us?”

A male lieutenant was leaning over a female technicians chair and stood up to answer, “Because of the moons high iron concentration, we cannot get a clear reading from here my Lord. It stands to reason, they wouldn’t be able get one on us either.”

Admiral Dekkle nodded toward the blue eyed, blonde haired lieutenant, “Thank you, Lieutenant Ammons.” He turned toward Darth Vader. “What is your, command, Lord Vader?”

It was several nervous heartbeats before Vader answered Admiral Dekkle, “Take us in, let’s get a closer look.”

Sitting on a barren, airless rust covered plain surrounded by jagged high mountains and shallow craters, the Wanderer was enveloped in shadow on the dark side of Lyra-Sen, a Scyk fighter on either flank sitting idly by. Off in the distance, 600 yards away off of the port side, the wreckage of the Hard Bounty could barely be seen glistening in the starlight.

Tym Pellus was reclined in the pilot’s chair, his booted feet propped up on the console and hands clasped behind his head taking a quick nap.

A subtle alarm chimed on the console, jolting Tym awake and causing him to sit upright in his pilot’s chair.

He put on his headset and keyed the intercom system, ‘Haydrak, get up here, we have something. Bjorn, Brenna get to your stations. Dex, Bax, stand by.”

Dex replied dryly, “That is all we have been doing for the last five days, Captain Pellus, is standing by.”

“Cut out the chatter, Dex, and wait for further instructions.” Tym admonished the young man as Haydrak slid into the copilot’s chair.

Haydrak consulted his instrumentation cluster as he asked, “ Do you think it’s them? Damn moon, can’t get a proper reading on anything.”

Tym was peering up through the cockpit window and gave a low whistle, “Yes, it is. Look.” And he pointed up.

Haydrak looked up to see a distant wedged shape craft gliding against the star field. Two other craft materialized as they dropped out of hyperspace, and his heart sank and a feeling of overwhelming dread came over him.

Tim opened a channel on the intercom system again, “Comms silence. NOW!” Then he immediately cut the feed.

Tym shook his head as he stared at the distant, blinking lights. “I hope they didn’t detect that transmission.” He muttered.

Haydrak, watching the distant ships too, shrugged his shoulders as he replied, “With us sitting on the surface of this moon? I doubt it. But just in case, we are primed to go. I just hope the twins follow suit.”

The distant ships picked up speed and headed toward Tara Dor.

Tym watched them just as the faded from sight, the opened the comm channel. “Dex, Bax we are going to jump to the other side of the moon and send a pre-recorded, encrypted comms burst. Bjorn, power up that gun. Brenna, get that burst ready to transmit, we are going now.”

The Wanderer lifted off and flew off to the far side, sunlit side of the moon, the Scyk fighters staying in close formation.

Rounding the curve of the moon and entering the sunlit side, Haydrak ordered Brenna,“ We are in range now. Transmit. And include the number and type of ships headed their way.”

Brenna answered coolly and promptly, “Done, they should be receiving now.”

Bax chimed in, “What do we do now?” He asked, eagerness in his voice.

“We wait for the Magna Pulse cannon, and then we make our move.” Tym informed him.

Perna Drury approached the Communications building, the hood of her robe pulled over her head to protect her from the downpour. The seasonal rains had started up yesterday afternoon, and it hadn’t quit raining yet.

She stepped inside and took the rain soaked hood off. “I’m here to relieve you, Raena, and to get out of this cursed weather.”

Raena turned, smiling and was about to reply when the Communications console alarmed, causing Raena and Perna to jump.  Raena turned on the external speakers so Perna could hear as well, at the same time she signaled Dain on her personal commlink.

“They have arrived, one Venator class Star Destroyer, one Acclamator class assault ship and one Gozanti class cruiser have entered the system, and headed our way.” Breanna reported after the pre-recorded burst went through.

Dain came through Raenas comlink, “I copied that transmission, the Magna Pulse Cannon Crew has been alerted, it is charged and ready to go, fighters are on standby alert.”

Raena stood up, and let Perna sit at the communication console. “I’m headed toward the Great Hall. May the Force be with you.” She gave Perna a hug after she donned her grey robe.

“And you as well.” Perna hugged her back, then put on the headset and focused all of her attention on the communications board as Raena stepped out into the downpour and shut the door behind her.

Dain stepped out of quarters and into the downpour in full armor and his black Z-6 jetpack with missile on his back. Lightning flashed and thunder clapped overhead, as he tried to reach Den on his commlink again.

“It’s one helluva day for an invasion.” He muttered to himself as he activated the commlink. Den and Kiva were close before, but five days after their birthday and betrothal, they were inseparable. He activated the mike in his helmet again. “Den, do you have a copy, damn it?”

He was rewarded by a static filled reply, “On my way, sir, from the Blut stronghold. The alert has gone out far and wide, and the rains have caused some landslides on the route home. My ETA is three minutes.”

Dain breathed a sigh of relief, and but told Den, “Go get your armor and jetpack on, anti-vehicle missile load. We don’t have much time. As soon as you are outfitted, make your way to Mentors Hall, and get all non-combatants into the catacombs. Get your speeder bike in there as well, if you have to go to Blut Fortress for any reason, use the catacombs only.”

“Yes sir”. Den acknowledged.

Sharrawul came across his comlink then, notifying him that her, Bolo Dare and Darrawoo had the Magna Pulse Cannon primed and ready to go, the fire crew in place and they were just now getting the incoming ships on the cannons sensors.

“Wait until the last possible minute, and target the closest ship, this storm is not only going to play havoc with their targeting computers, but our as well.” Dain instructed her.

She growled an affirmation, and signed off.

He watched as the lightning slashed through the sky and thunder clapped ominously, sounding like the battle had just begun.

He then ran toward Mentors Hall, saving his jet pack for when it mattered.

The blue-green planet loomed large in the forward view screen on the bridge of the Relentless. A heavy electrical storm was occurring over the target area, they could see the lightning flashing inside the angry looking dark grey cloud that was centered before them. Darth Vader was framed by the panoramic scene before him, as he stood still as a statue watching the flashes of blue white light dancing erratically throughout out the dark cloud. The Pau’an apprentice was nowhere to be seen at the moment.

A communications officer looked up from crew pit and informed Admiral Dekkle,” Sir, we have picked up an encrypted signal that originated somewhere near the moon, and terminated at the target area on the planet’s surface.”

Darth Vader whirled around abruptly and approached them. “They are aware of our presence here. Move into low orbit and ready the ground assault and fighters, including my own. Have four V-19 Torrents investigate the source of that signal that came from the moon.”

Another officer reported from the crew pit, “Sir, meteorology is reporting that the storm will pass in thirty minutes and slow to a drizzle, we should be able to get a proper read out on the target location then, without all of the ion interference from the storm.”

Darth Vader turned toward Admiral Dekkle, “We attack now, before the rogue Jedi can escape us. No further delays, move your ships into position now.”

Admiral Dekkle swallowed his rebuke, and turned to Captain Kester who was standing patiently beside Major Odell.

“Have the Devastator move into position, and tell the captain of the Wandering Star to hold back until we can secure the surface for the excavation crew.” He ordered resentfully.

Lieutenant Kardis announced over the ships intercom system, “Lord Vader’s fighter is ready to launch as well as his four escorts. Their pilots are standing by.”

Vader turned to Major Odell, “I want you to join the ground assault forces, so you can see the action firsthand for your report to the Emperor. My apprentice will accompany you.”

Major Odell replied briskly, “As you wish, Lord Vader.”

As Darth Vader turned to head toward the hangar bay where his fighter was docked, a ball of plasma came streaking up from the surface and stuck the Devastator in the belly, knocking her systems offline and causing her to list aimlessly.

Tym Pellus and Haydrak Kohr saw the plasma strike streak upward from the surface of Tara Dor that temporarily disabled the Acclamator Assault ship via series remote viewers that were wirelessly linked together and transmitted from the light side of the Lyra-Sen to the Wanderer.

“That’s our cue, let’s go!” he yelled over the comms system, and fired the thrusters at maximum power, followed by the Scyk fighters.

Haydrak pointed to the left cockpit window, “ Four bandits at eleven o’clock, coming in fast.”

“I’m tracking them.” Bjorn reported over the intercom system from the Gunners station.

“We are moving to intercept them.” Dex reported in, “Cover us Bjorn.”

The two Scyk fighters moved to intercept the four V-19 Torrents at full speed.  Dex took the lead as he was in the fighter with twin, light rapid fire laser cannons, and he strafed the two V-19s on the right.

The V-19s fired with their own laser cannons, and using the Force, Dex and Bax weaved in and out of the streaks of laser fire.

Bax got a missile lock on one of the V-19s and scored a direct hit, the V-19 flew apart in a fiery explosion.

Bjorn cut loose with Wanderers laser cannon turrets, catching a V-19 that was coming up on Dexs rear right flank. The V-19 erupted into a fireball.

“Thanks, Bjorn.” Dex replied, disabling a V-19 with a well-placed laser barrage, leaving it to float off, powerless.

The remaining V-19 turned to race back to the capital ships, when Bjorn strafed it broadside, and blew it apart.

“Whoo-hoo!” Tym exclaimed, “Now to target the life support and hyperdrive engines on that disabled Acclamator Assault Ship. We only get one chance at this, so keep an eye out for fighters and those two capital ships. A quick hit and then we run for the surface.”

The twins acknowledged as they made a run for the listing ship.

They managed to target the engines with three concussion missiles and a laser barrage, taking out he hyper drive engines then a swarm ten of ARC-170 and five Eta-2 Actis –class light interceptors came roaring at them.

“Evasive actions, evasive actions!” Tym screamed into his mike.

Bjorn took out one of the ARC-170s, but not before a black and grey Eta-2 took out Dex , disabling his Scyk fighter and causing him to careen out of control and to crash and explode against the disabled Acclamators hull.

“Dex!” Bax screamed out, and fired the last of his concussion missiles at the dark colored Eta-2. The pilot of the dark craft maneuvered effortlessly out of their line of fire, and one of the concussion missiles slammed into one of his Eta-2 escorts, which erupted into flames.

“I’m out.” Bax said wearily, as an Arc-170 blasted him from behind.

“Oh hell, we are on our own.” Bjorn screamed, firing wildly at the ships that were bearing down on them. He managed to score two more ARC-170s, even as a third started to strafe the rear hull of the Wanderer.

Tym flew the Wanderer into Tara Dors atmosphere at full speed, even as she was taking a torrent of laser fire, klaxons started to alarm, and his ship shuddered as a proton torpedo ripped into her rear cargo area.

All he could think about at that moment was Yesa Kell and his unborn baby. “Get to the escape pods, we are going down. Hustle Bjorn, Brenna, abandon ship now!”

“Bjorn is gone.” Brenna sobbed, “They just took out the laser turret!”

Tym and Haydrak unbuckled and fought gravity and inertia to get to the customized escape pods. There were four in all, two port side, and two on the starboard side.

“I’m aboard one on the starboard side, where are you guys at?” Brenna called out nervously.

“Get out of here!” Tym ordered, “We will meet you dirt side.”

Haydrak opened the one of the portside escape pods and practically threw Tym inside, and then piled in behind him.

They ejected, and as they sped toward the surface through the pouring rain, they caught glimpses of the Wanderer being hounded and shot up by the enemy fighters. She was flaming like a meteor as she fell to the surface.

Tym buried his head into his hands and wept, and then the escape pod  slammed into a hard surface, and all went dark.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Den Rune came out the quarters that he shared with his Grandfather fully dressed in his Mandalorian armor and jet pack. The whole time he was fretting about Kiva, who at that time was at the Blut Fortress with her mother and father.

He saw the plasma bolt streak upward into the sky, to disappear into the angry looking clouds that were sending down the torrents of rain and lightning.

He ran toward Mentors Hall and was joined by Ja’on Windu, his hooded robe saturated from downpour of the storm.

“I’ve been looking for you. Your Grandfather has been sent to the Blut Fortress, they think the brunt of the attack will begin there. You are needed in the catacombs right now!”

As they ran toward Mentor Hall, the Raging Barabuell went gliding by, headed toward the southern gate.  The person in the turret waved at them, and Den could see it was the human Tarahorkii half breed, the auburn haired Micah Neelan. A makeshift tarp was mounted over the turret in a pitiful attempt to keep the occupant dry.

They dashed into Mentors Hall, and Gan Mal was standing to the right side of the doorway, watching the rain pour down and lightning flash.

“I can sense the Dark Lord that is up there.” She stated cryptically staring up into the sky, “And he can sense me.”

Ja’on lowered the rain drenched hood off of his head and approached her,” Come with us, and get to the catacombs, be safe and live another day. We have decoy refugees who will cross the swollen Kossos River for the dense forests in the east, so the invaders will think the women and children escaped that way.”

“No!” Gan Mal replied shrilly, a weird light in her eyes, “I will not go into the catacombs, and I will stay and fight here. I must confront this Dark Lord. You, Ja’on Windu, are to protect him.”

She pointed a gnarled finger at Den. “Now be gone, and see to those that need to be in the catacombs, and do what you can to protect them.”

“Yes, Head Mistress.” Ja’on was reluctant, but did as she asked.  Den looked back at her as he followed Ja’on toward the catacombs. Gan’Mal had stepped outside, arms lifted slightly above her head, the Kyber crystal atop the staff in her right hand glowed with an eerie blue light, the rain streamed down he upturned face, and her eyes were closed.

Dain was outside of the walls of the Blut Fortress on a small mountain a mile south of the compound, overseeing the gun placements and B1 Battle Droid deployment when he saw the Wanderer streaking through the sky in a fiery death, the attacking fighters veering off and heading their way.

“Poor Yesa.” He muttered to himself, shaking his head sadly.

He then keyed up his helmet comms, “We have incoming.” He transmitted.   He lowered his helmets rangefinder and scanned the stormy skies to the south. He zoomed in on some distant dots barely visible, moving through the clouds.

He counted forty Republic Gunships and their V-19 escorts headed for the open southern plain just beyond the jagged mountains and its broad gap only ten miles away.

He turned to look back at Blut Fortress just as three Eta-2 Interceptors and eight ARC -170s strafed the tough, thick walls and the inside of the compound at they sped over it.

The crews manning the Sturma-Xedas and Sturma-Yohudis fired from their fortified gun positions from the parapet near the top of the Fortress’ wall at the incoming ships, but the Starfighters were too fast for them to score a hit.

He heard Zak Ora over his headset, “We have casualties inside the Blut compound, and we need medical trained personnel at the market center now!”

Dain activated his helmet mike again, “ Dar Haran, you are up. We have bandits attacking Blut Fortress. We need air support.”

“Roger that, ETA two minutes Dain.” Dar Haran acknowledged.

The Magna Pulse Cannon fired again, this time at twenty Republic gunships coming in low over the distant mountains to the east. These were carrying Republic AT-TEs, All Terrain Tactical Enforcers.

One of the Gunships was struck by the plasma blast, and it fell out of the sky as it lost power and crashed into the side of a rocky peak. It exploded after it bounced and rolled three times down the steep slope. All this Dain could see through his range finder, with the naked eye all you could make out was the distant flash of the explosion.

The Eta-2s and ARC-170s turned their attention toward the Plasma Cannon, and flew in a tight attack formation toward it.

Dain yelled into his helmet mike, “ Bolo Dare,Sharrawul, Darrawoo, get your crews clear, you have incoming!”

Dain could make out the Plasma Cannons defensive gun emplacements light up as they fired at the incoming fighters.

One of the ARC-170s was struck by five 40 mm explosive rounds and its cockpit canopies were severally damaged, it veered off crashed into the side of the plateau. Several more 40 mm rounds made one of the lighter colored Eta-2s veer off, trailing smoke.

The remaining Eta-2s strafed the Plasma Cannon as two Arc-170s launched a Proton Torpedo each at the base of the cannons swivel mount. The Plasma Cannon erupted into a huge fireball as the attacking fighters streaked away.

“Damn.” Dain muttered. Praying the Wookie’s were clear of the blast. His Terentatek tusks were awarded to him by Darrawoos Grandfather, Sharrawuls father-in-law, the fierce albino Wookie Skarraroo.

Sharrawul growled and hooted into his ear, letting Dain that her, Darrawoo and three of the crew escaped, but just barely. The other seven and Bolo Dare didn’t make it.

Dain was relieved that the Wookie’s were ok and mourned for Bolo Dare. “Sharrawul, take your crew to the Grey Jedi compound, we could use you there.”

She acknowledged him, and then he turned to look south again, he could see nothing there just yet.

Just then the small squadron of fighters being led by the Davos Raptor came screaming low over the northwest mountains, and flew east to where the Eta-2s and ARC-170s had joined with the Republic Gunships carrying the AT-TE Walkers, and they were rapidly approaching both compounds.

Dar Haran led his small group of fighters in a V shape formation with the Davos Raptor as the point of the wedge, five ships to each side of him.

Dar called to his small squadron on his headphone mike, “Here we go, ladies and gentlemen. We are greatly out-manned and out-gunned, so we need to hit them hard and fast. Kai and Zerta, you guys concentrate on those Eta-2s. Raja Kowl, Mera Fann, Oran Kaul and Zian Charr’d, you guys take on those ARC-170s, your Force abilities will give you the edge to keep those fighters off of us while the rest of us try and make a dent in those Republic gunships and the Walkers they are carrying. And pray they don’t send any more fighters into the fray.”

They sped over the Grey Jedi compound and the two Eta-2s and seven ARC-170s  were flying full speed to intercept them.

Jeb Reesus turned to Dar from the navigators station, “Sir, we have bandits coming in, smaller fighters, they just entered the atmosphere and coming in at our one o’clock.”

“Dain.” Dar Haran stated grimly, “We are going to need surface to air support, we have more bandits coming in.”

Dains reply was thick with static, the lightning and rain starting to slack up a little. “ We are on it. We have air burst rounds loaded into some of the Brakka-Baumas now, and we have some of the Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannons in place to serve as anti-aircraft guns. Still ,make your run quick, and hopefully we can get them off of your back long enough to get back to your staging area to load up more missiles.”

Dar Haran gave, a short quick acknowledgement as he rolled right and made a steep dive to avoid two proton torpedoes that zipped by over his head, the other ships maneuvering out of his way.

“Stay close on those damn ships, those missiles will be looking for targets to home in on, let’s give them back to the enemy.” He commanded, even as Erik Tull was firing onto an ARC-170 coming at their right flank, striking it and sending it into a fiery spiral to the ground.

“Breaking off to engage the ETA-2s. Zerta, on me.” Kai calmly reported. Since his recent recovery, he had been more humble and not as haughty, the other Padawans were just starting to warm up to him as a result.

The duo flew at the ETA-2s, lasers flaring from both side, and both groups were utilizing the Force, and their ships screamed by each other without scoring a hit.

Oran Kaul in his Liberator and Zian Charr’d in his S-100 stinger engaged four ARC-170s making a run at the Davos Raptor.

Stretching out with the Force as he fired, Zian fired two proton torpedoes into both ARC-170s broadside, blowing both of them out of the sky. Oran Kaul scored one with two concussion missiles, blowing it totally apart.

The two ETA-2s made a tight 180 degree turn just as Kai and Zerta executed the very same maneuver. Zerta Vale was prepared for the blue and yellow striped ETA-2 that she was going against, firing a proton torpedo as soon as she lined up on here antagonist, just slightly above and angled down toward him.

The proton torpedo tore through the cockpit canopy and the resulting explosion ripped the ETA-2 apart.

She howled in delight, and looked around to see if she could see Kai anywhere close. Kai just had to out maneuver the returning homing proton torpedoes, while the black ETA-2 fired on him as Kai had to roll right. One of the laser blasts took out R2-C7, and punctured the right wing just shy of the engine pod, but striking the fuel lines and igniting the fuel, the flames billowed from the damaged wing, his ship started to arc, flames growing more intently, toward the ground.

Zerta screamed, “Kai, get out, bail out now!” As she raced to hit the dark colored ETA-2 from behind.

As she fired her lasers, the black ETA-2 climbed sharply  and turned to fly over her upside down. She looked up and got a quick glimpse of the sinister looking masked pilot as he flashed by.

At that time, Raja Kowl and Mera Fann had engaged and blasted apart two more ARC-170’s, and the Davos Raptor flanked by Maris Tay and Gordo in their Aureks, managed to down four of the walker carrying Gunships, dropping one of them into the wide, storm swollen Kossos River.

The Tarahorkii warrior women, with young Tarahorkii youth of warrior age, were fighting the current of the river to give the impression of women and children feeing the attack, and witnessed the Gunship and AT-TE crash into the river and sink only fifty yards away from them, they were terrified of the aerial battle above their heads, but fortunately, were only feet away from the opposite bank.

Dain shouted over the comm system, “ As soon those Tarahorkii in the boats get ashore and into the forest, get your guys clear, Dar Haran, we will hit them with artillery. Go to your mountain top rally point and get your missiles reloaded.”

“Will do.” Dar Haran answered, engaging another Gun ship which began firing its air-to air missiles at the Davos Raptor. Dar managed to dodge them Eman Kerz came roaring up in his S-100 stinger from below the gun ship, fired a proton torpedo and destroyed the AT-TE it was carrying, Anton Skree then hit the damaged gunship from above, with his own S-100 finishing it off.

Zerta at that time had come about and was chasing the ETA-2, firing at it wildly, when the remaining ARC-170 attempted to blindside her, but Gordo caught it with a barrage of laser fire on the ARC-170s port flank, knocking him out of the sky.

“Thanks Gordo.” Zerta stated, firing at the fleeing ETA-2.

“No problem, let’s go get that guy. The Force is strong with him, and he is an ace pilot.” Gordo answered.

At that moment, Dar Haran chimed in, “ The Tarahorkii are clear and the V-19s are lining up for their attack run on us. Get clear, and go replenish your missiles while we have the cover.”

The pilots all acknowledged, except for Zerta, who flew toward the surface and Kais downed ship. As she got low, the Brakka-Baumas opened up with their air burst rounds, sending red hot, fast traveling shrapnel into the remaining Gunships, causing the Black ETA-2 to veer off from his attack run toward Zerta Vales descending ship. The ETA-2 flew out of range, and went to link up with the distant V-19s who had just aborted their attack run, and were heading south suddenly.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Haydrak Kohr came too with rushing water cascading over his head and face, Tym Pellus had opened the hatch on the life pod, and it was filling with water. Tym was trying to pull Haydrak up and out of the hatch.

“Come on Haydrak, we crash landed into the river several miles north of where we need to be, we have got to get out of here!” Tym was yelling above the rushing water and the thunder rumbling from the storm.

His head was pounding, and rubbing a hand across it, Haydrak felt a lump forming on the back of his head. He must have slammed his head against the bulk head when they crashed into the river. He pushed himself up, the rain and the river soaking through his clothes and fur.

The life pod was bobbing wildly in the water, floating down the swift current, getting lower and lower into the water as it filled up.

“Go on, jump out, Tym! I’m up and moving now, and your blocking my damn way!” Haydrak growled gruffly.

Haydrak managed to grab a survival bag and strap it on as Tym climbed out of the hatch and dove into the raging river.

Haydrak clambered up and out, and dove into the angry looking raging river, nervous about the lightning that was streaking through the sky. He caught glimpses of Tym bobbing several yards away down river, and tried to call out to him, but every time he did, his mouth would fill with water as struggled to stay above the surface.

All of the sudden a bright flash and loud crack filled the air, and splinters rained down around him. Lightning had stuck a limb hanging over the river, and that limb fell and struck Haydrak hard, it’s thorny branches snagging in his clothing and fur, and dragged him underwater with it, to bounce and skid off of the rocky bottom of the river bed, bruising and cutting him.

Tym struggled to keep his head above water as he was swept downstream. For a few minutes could see Haydrak bobbing in the water behind him, several yards away, then the lightning struck close by, and he didn’t see him after that.

He kept calling out for Haydrak, but received no reply. He made for a rocky outcropping that jutted out of the river on the west bank. He slammed into it pretty hard, scraping his left arm and hand and bruising his ribs in the process, but he managed to hang on and crawl out of the river.

He stumbled into the tree line and rested under a tree with dense branches and large purple colored leaves to give him a little respite from the rain. He took a look at his wounds and was relieved to find they were only superficial.

However, he felt like he was soaked to the bone. His shoulder length brown hair was plastered to his skull. He took off his pilots boots and poured the water out of them, and then took off and wrung out his socks.

After he put them back on, he took the DD6 Blaster and checked it over, luckily it was still in good shape. With it clutched in his right hand, he went deeper into the forest, gingerly side stepping some of the thorny trees and brush.

He paused and crouched behind a big boulder when heard what sounded like an R2 unit whistle and beeping from a thicket in front of him. He could smell burnt metal and wiring.

He crawled up to some thick logs at the edge of the thicket and parted some of the brush to peer at what was beyond the foliage.

An orange and white ETA-2 had crash landed into the thicket, tearing up the ground, brush and bowled over some trees. A Clone pilot was looking over his green and orange R2 unit. The pilot stood up to look at a shallow cave that lay just beyond and to the rear of the damaged ETA-2.

Tym could see the pilot was sporting a DC-15S Blaster Carbine in a holster on his right hip, and on his left was clipped a light saber? Tym was intrigued, and then he saw the three furry little flat faces with bony knobs on their foreheads, peering out of the cave at the pilot.

“Oh no. Don’t go near them.” Tym whispered to himself, wiping the rain from his eyes.

The pilot stepped closer out curiosity, and suddenly a roar erupted from deep inside the cave and a 7’ long and furry, fanged nightmare came charging to the mouth of the cave as the younger creatures scurried back inside.

Clearly female from the milk glands on her underside, three on each breast, the creature had short, coarse fur, a flat face with dark brown eyes, and sharp fang like incisors.

Short curved horns protruded from the forehead above each brow, the nostrils on its flat, broad nose were flared as it snorted and growled, its clawed feet pawing the ground. Tym knew it to be a female Boro-Gor. Very rare to see as they were usually shy, but very territorial and protective of their young.

The R2 unit shrilled in alarm, and stepping back, the Clone pilot removed and armed a fragmentation grenade on his belt, and tossed into the cave at the feet of the enraged female Boro-Gor. The explosion was loud, and she managed to howl before the explosion ripped her apart and at the same time her cubs squealed out in pain before they went silent abruptly.

The Clone pilot went to examine the damage, and didn’t hear the crashing through the underbrush at first due to the thunder crashing overhead. But Tym did, and he tried his best to climb under the log he was hiding behind.

The male Boro-Gor charged through the thicket and at the surprised Clone, 8’ of fanged and clawed fury. Its thick horns sprouted from its forehead and curved down each side of its head.

It stopped and pawed the ground several feet from the hapless pilot, and then reared up on its hind legs and roared loudly in rage and pain at the loss of his mate and cubs.

It went back down on all fours, and growling and snarling, circled around the front of the pilot, trying to put himself between the Clone pilot and the still smoking den.

The Clone pilot unclipped his light saber, and forced leaped over the Boro-Gor as it suddenly charged him. His light saber barely grazed the right shoulder of the massive beast, and it howled in pain and anger.

The Boro-Gor whirled about and charged again, and once more the Clone pilot Force leaped over the beast, and as he flipped over the beasts head, it stood up and swiped at him with its massive claws and barely missed the agile Clone pilot.

As the pilot came down to land on his feet, he brought the bluish-white saber blade down, slicing the beast from its left shoulder down to its right hip. The Boro-Gor yelped once, and then its smoking, wet flesh slid apart into two halves along the charred, smoldering cut.

Seizing the moment, Tym Pellus leapt to his feet and squeezed of two shots from his blaster at the Clone pilot. The pilot had whirled around to deflect the blasts with his light saber but was too slow. The blaster bolts caught him in the side and chest, searing through his armor and flesh, and into his organs.

The Clone pilot toppled over dead, to lie on his back on top of the Boro-Gor he had just slain.

The R2 unit started trilling and whistling as it vibrated from side to side in fear and surprise. Tym casually shot the R2 unit into its barreled body, taking it out of commission in a shower of exploding sparks.

Sliding his blaster into his holster, Tym walked over and bent over the dead Clone pilot. “Sorry about that, but I had no delusions about taking on a Force wielder in a fair fight. And besides, I need your comms to know what is going on around here.” So saying, he removed the Clone pilot’s helmet and belt. Something about the Clone pilots face looked familiar. He had close cropped sandy blonde hair and his eyes were a dark blue. Tym had seen that face somewhere before, but couldn’t place him at the moment.

He tried to buckle the dead trooper’s belt on under his own gun belt, but it wouldn’t fit around his waist. So he slung it over his left shoulder, donned the helmet, and with the DC-15S Blaster in hand, headed south toward the Grey Jedi’s sanctuary, the rain mixing with the blood of the dead behind him, and the R2 unit was immobile and dark now as the rain water streamed down it in rivulets, except for the smoldering blaster hole through its torso that sputtered and sparked in the pouring rain.

Haydrak grasped the thorny log as it floated back the surface of the raging river. He managed to get his upper body over the log where the thorns were either blasted off by the lightning, or broken off on the rocks of the river bottom. Gasping and spitting out water as he regained his breath, he scanned the western river bank, which was closest to him, for any sign of Tym Pellus.

At one point he thought he could hear a creature’s blood curdling roar coming from the thick woods on the western bank, but between the roar of the rushing river and the rumblings of thunder he couldn’t be sure.

It seemed like he floated for a long while when he saw the aerial battle in the distance, but getting closer by the moment. Twice he saw the burning wreckage of ARC-170s hit the far eastern bank and explode. Then, out of the corner of his eye he spotted the ancient stone pier that was just north of the Grey Jedi’s compound and he was approaching it rapidly.

He was closer to the aerial battle now, and saw the N1 fighter go down in flames, and was starting to get concerned about burning debris falling down on him. And then suddenly the defending fighters veered off, and a few second later, the artillery shells began to pepper the sky and oncoming Gunships with shrapnel.

He pushed himself away from the log and dove underwater toward the pier as the red hot shrapnel and burning craft debris pelted the water around him. The current helped carry him and he found himself under the pier, and barley missed one of the stone columns that were cemented into the river bed that supported the pier.

Reaching out, he grabbed a metal grate that was in the stone wall of the river bank just under the pier. He felt it give slightly.

Grasping the grating with both furry hands, he placed his feet against the wall and fought the current to get the hinged grating open. When he got it open far enough, he slipped through, the current slamming the grate closed behind him, just barely missing his feet.

Haydrak fell six feet headfirst into a catch basin filled with frothing river water. He came up gasping for air, and then he spotted a ladder with metal rungs against the far wall. He swam for it, clambered up and as he made the lip at the top, he crawled onto cold stone floor, and rolled over and lay on his back to catch his breath for a minute, water puddling around him on the stone worked floor from his wet clothes and fur.

As he lay there, staring up into the dark, his keen hearing picked up echoes of peoples voices coming from the darkness. He sat up, and took off the survival pack on his back, and rummaged through it in the dark.

He found a fusion lantern, and switching it on, it illuminated the vast stone chamber he found himself in. An arched doorway was several feet away, and getting to his feet, he set the lantern on the ground long enough to put the survival pack back on, and as he picked up the lantern with his left hand, slid his DL-18 Blaster out its holster with his right hand.

Shivering from being soaked, Haydrak walked through the arched doorway and down a stone worked tunnel with intricate carvings and Tarahorkii writing on the wall. The voices started to get louder, and he picked up the pace as heard familiar voices echoing down the tunnel, he heard Ja’on Windu and Den Runes voices raised in an argument, he heard the mechanical whine of a speeder bike start up, take off and speed off into the distance.

He saw the flickering of lights through another arched doorway and ran toward it. He came out into a small band of elderly and very young Tarahorkki people, and startled them. Ja’on was about to leave and was talking to an elderly Tarahorkii female wearing faded crimson colored armor.

He turned to see what the commotion was all about and saw Haydrak standing in the entrance that led to the river, soaking wet and shivering, fusion lantern in one hand, Blaster in the other.

Ja’on stopped what he was saying, and approached Haydrak with concern, “Are you ok, Haydrak, what has happened to you?”

Haydrak, teeth chattering, smiled and stuttered, “It’s so good to see you all. Have you got any dry clothes? I am soaked through to the bone.”

Sharrawul and Darrawoo were leading the five surviving  Tarahorkii Pulse Cannon crew members down the narrow trail of the plateau the Cannon was on top of, as the enemy fighters came screaming in on their attack run.

Sharrawul had them take cover behind the boulders that lined the rain slicked trail as the enemy fighters strafed the Pulse Cannon, and then the ground shook violently as the proton torpedoes impacted the Cannon, blowing it apart.

Two of the Tarahorkii were struck by shrapnel, killing them instantly. Sharrawul checked on Darrawoo and the other three Tarahorkii, two males and a female, to see if they were injured. Luckily they were not, and she contacted Dain and let him know they were okay.

She and Darrawoo were carrying their Wookie bow casters, one of the male and the female Tarahorkii were armed with magazine fed Sturma-Xedas, the other Tarahorkii male, a tall muscular fellow, carried a belt fed Sturma-Yohudi with a forward mounted tri-pod.

The Tarahorkii were dressed in their crimson armor, plain metal helmets with Killa-Kuk skulls mounted on the top.

Sharrawul looked over the two deceased Tarahorkii males, and removed the six Sturma-Xeda magazines and two thermal detonators from one, and a 200 round belt for a Sturma-Yohudi and three shrapnel grenades from the other body. She passed these around to the survivors, and they hurried down the rain slicked, mud covered path as the aerial battle was being waged in the stormy skies above them.

Before they could get to the bottom of the path and make the rocky but somewhat flat ground between them and the sanctuary just three miles away, a damaged Republic Gunship plowed into the ground 300 yards away, between them and their sanctuary.

The AT-TE was torn apart on the impact, strewing wreckage and Clone Trooper bodies behind it as it was ripped from the grappling arms that held it. The Gunship nosed into the ground, and settled up right in the muddy crater that it had made from the impact.

Ten armed and armored white and blue striped survivors emerged from the wreckage and ran toward the blazing AT-TE wreckage, looking for other survivors.

Sharrawul and her party crouched behind some boulders, and she motioned to a deep, rain filled gulley that ran from the compound to the river. Its path ran roughly ten feet in front of the down Gunship, and she intended to use it for cover.

Another damaged Gunship managed to get low enough to drop its slightly damaged AT-TE cargo to the ground before crashing and exploding on the far side of the plateau. The AT-TE was smoking from its damaged mass-driver cannon on top of the vehicle, but it was still operational, and started lumbering toward the other Gunship and its other survivors.

The fighters broke off their dogfight above as the Brakka-Baumas air burst artillery started exploding among them and the approaching Republic Gunships, taking a heavy toll out on them.

Sharrawul and her small group were staying close to the gulley wall as they fought against the waist deep, fast flowing rain water in the gulley. She raised a balled fist into the air to halt the group as the sounds of battle erupted suddenly above them from the direction of the downed Gunship, not far from where they were now.

She could hear the Walker’s laser turrets as well as the individual Troopers firing their DC-15A and DC-15S Blaster rifles as well. In the distance they could hear the report of a Z-6 Rotary Cannon and laser cannons firing, and the low whine of a speeder vehicle.

Sharrawul and her group exchanged glances, astonishment on their faces. She gestured toward the rain slicked, muddy rock wall of the gulley, and they scrambled up it, staying low to observe what was going on.

They could see the Raging Barabuell barreling down and firing all of its available guns at the functional Walker and the Clone Troopers, who had managed to pull ten survivors from wrecked AT-TE, and now they were taking cover in the wreckage and returning fire. The functional AT-TE, minus its main gun, had changed direction and clanked toward the speeder.

The Z-6 Rotary Cannon chewed up the metal cover of the wrecked walker, and fired some it’s limited supply of concussion missiles, striking and killing three Clone Troopers in the process. The armored speeders forward laser turrets were raking the functional walker, only the pitting the thick armor that steamed from heat of the blasts and the pouring rain.

Darrawoo, seeing that the Clones and Walkers had their back to them, chortled to his mother, suggesting they strike the Clone Troopers while they had the element of surprise. She mulled on it a moment, then tousled his raid soaked, furry head as she agreed.

She pointed to a row of boulders on her right, twelve feet away, and motioned for the Tarahorkii to run toward them. Her small group clambered out of the gulley and ran toward the boulders.

The speeder had turned sharply to put the wrecked walker between them and the one that was firing and clumping toward them. The speeders turret swiveled toward the oncoming laser spewing walker. The Z6 Rotary Cannon rained fire down on the AT-TE tearing chunks out of the armor and taking out the guns under the Walkers mechanical head.

Ten of the Clone Troopers scrambled to get on top of the wrecked AT-TE and fire on the speeder as it was headed toward their left flank as the other seven were racing to the left of the wreckage to take on the armored speeder as it passed by.

Sharrawul and her group were in place, the Tarahorkii with the Sturma-Youhudi had the tri-pod down, and lining up his shot. Sharrawul dropped her hand in a chopping motion, and they lit up the Clone Troopers on the wreckage.

The explosive 40mm rounds exploded among the ten Troopers that were setting up to fire at the speeder from the top of the wrecked Walker, blasting eight of them off to slam them onto the ground, lifeless.

Sharrawul and the other two were raking the other seven Troopers with her bow caster and the Sturma-Xedas. Sharrawul shot one in the head, and caught another in the torso, knocking him lifeless into the ground.

The Sturma-Xedas 10mm rounds struck the other five, their explosive rounds knocking them off of their feet, and tearing chunks out of their plasti steel armor.

Only three surviving Clone Troopers crawled behind the wreck legs of the downed walker to get to cover, the other two remained motionless on the ground, the remaining three on top of the wrecked Walker were laying low alternating their fire from the speeder coming around the other side, and the young Wookie that was running at break neck speed toward the AT-TE that was just beginning to turn around and fire its remaining guns at the group attacking them from behind.

Sharrawul howled in alarm as her son dashed toward the rear of the AT-TE, deflecting its rear mounted gun blasts with his silver bladed light saber. He forced jumped to the top rear, and ran toward the damaged Mass-driver cannon turret.

A clone trooper popped up in the damaged turrets hatch and fired at Darrawoo, who deflected the blast and in the same motion decapitated the Trooper, who fell back inside the Walker, headless. Darrawoo armed two thermal detonators and dropped them into the opening, and then dove off and rolled onto the ground, and ran toward his mother.

The Thermal grenades thudded inside the AT-TE, and it blew apart from the inside, and crumpled to the ground, billowing black smoke as it burned.

The armored speeder rounded the corner and the Z-6 Rotary Cannons dispatched the remaining Clones, and then glided toward Sharrawul and her group.

“Glad to see you survived the attack on the Plasma Cannon.”  Micah Neela stated, standing up in the turret and grinning at them. “Now climb aboard, grab a handhold and let’s get you back to the compound before those fighters come back around.”

Kiva and Keela Blut with Yesa Kell Pellus, who was just starting to show signs of her pregnancy, were escorting a group of thirty elderly and very young Tarahorkii to the temple of Lyra-Sen.

Kiva and Keela were dressed in their full crimson colored battle armor, but Yesa was clad only a loose fitting grey metal chain mail shirt and helmet due to her pregnancy.

Zak, Zera and Dez Orun were clad in very similar armor, and were following up the rear helping with the stragglers.

Boron Teya came running up in the pouring rain and stopped before the group. “That is the last of them, the decoys are getting into their boats now and heading across the river, and we just got another small group safe and secure in the catacombs.” He reported.

Keela replied, wiping rain from her face, “Yes, once we get these people secure, only the able bodied fighters will be on the surface.”

Just then the three ETA-2s and the eight ARC-170s came roaring at them through the rain, blasting the eastern wall, taking out a two man Sturma-Yohudi crew and five Tarahorkii warriors on the parapet.

They strafed the inside the compound as they streaked by overhead, striking the rear of the group they were escorting, the people in the group cried out in fear and pain. A male warrior that was galloping by on his Saga-hel was struck as well, and both he and his mount were lying on the street, the rain washing their blood down a nearby storm drain.

Zak activated his commlink and was calling for medical help as Dez and Zera were attending and looking over the wounded. Kiva came running up to help as Boron Teya, Keela and Yesa were ushering the survivors toward the temple.

Twelve were hit, eight of them dead including three young kids. The four wounded were three young girls with minor laser burns and one elderly male who had his right arm blasted off.

“What can I do to help?” Kiva asked, and gasped as she saw blood starting to trickle out of a smoking hole in the right abdomen of Zeras armored breast plate. Kiva caught Zera as she stumbled and fought to remain standing.

“Mom!” Dez yelled, running to her side, and that caused Zak to look up as he was kneeling and holding the hand of an elderly Tarahorkii female that had just died. Zak jumped up and ran to his wife’s side.

She smiled at them as the trio helped carry her to the overhanging balcony of a Weapons Master shop whose walls were pitted with smoking blast craters from the strafing run, to get her out of the rain.

“It’s ok. It’s just a scratch.” She mumbled weakly, and rubbed Dezs face affectionately and smiled at her husband.

Other warriors had gathered and were helping attend to the other wounded, helping to get them to their feet and moving toward the temple.

Everyone sought cover as the enemy fighters screamed by overhead again, but only to attack the Plasma Cannon this time.

Esta Kuhl walked up as Zak was rolling Zera over on her side to look at her back, and sure enough, the laser had burned its way straight through her armored abdomen.

Kiva jumped up, and stammered, “I’ll go get the Head Mistress Gan Mal, she can help her, and I saw her heal Mordon Pel.”

Esta Kuhl was helping Zak and Dez remove the plate armor so they could stop the bleeding, the wound was cauterized on the entrance and exit, but not all of the internal damage was cauterized, causing her to bleed out.

Colvin and Lyra Blut, both in their armor, walked up, and Colvin restrained Kiva, as Esta Kuhl looked up at Colvin and Lyra and sadly shook her head.

Colvin embraced his very upset grand-daughter, and then looked into her purple colored eyes that she inherited from him. <“My sons daughter, she cannot mend a wound so serious. I have seen her try many times. A superficial wound yes, but a wound this mortal, no.”> He explained in his native language.

A look of profound sadness crossed Zaks face as he cradled his wife’s head and stroked her hair, tears welling up in his eyes.

Dez jumped up and trying not to cry, asked in basic, “What are you saying War Chief? That my mother is dying? Let’s go get Gan Mal and let her at least try!”

Esta Kuhl had bandaged Zera, and stood up as Colvin was gently replying to Dez’s demand, “Dez, I am sorry, but all of us have limits to our abilities, and this is Gan Mals. If I knew it would help, I would send for her now, for your mother is a brave warrior, and her father will feel her loss greatly as I do. I must send a rider to inform him, in the meantime, spend her last moments with her, and send her off in love and peace.”

And so saying, Colvin walked up to a mounted warrior that was nearby to have him deliver the sad news to Zorvo Fey.

“Son.” Zera called to Dez weakly,” Come let me see you, and hold your hand.”

Dez reluctantly turned and went to his mother’s side, fighting hard to stop the tears that were running down his face that mingled with the rain dripping from his hair.

Kiva walked over to stand by his side, laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder as he knelt down to grab his mother’s hand, his father still cradling her head in his lap.

“My Dez.” His mother stated, fighting to find her breath now. “Such is the end for a warrior, and an honorable death, as well, trying to protect the weak and helpless from harm. I am leaving soon to enter the spiritual realm of Lyra-Sen, and will enter it fulfilled knowing that you are my very brave son, and your loving father is my life mate. Avenge me in the upcoming battle, and avenge those that have died here today, and know that I will love you two, always and forever.”

She smiled wanly, and then her breathing stopped, and eyes fixed and glazed over, and she went limp. Zak and Dez hugged each other and sobbed over her body, and even Esta Kuhl had the look of profound sadness on her face.

Kiva burst into tears and burrowed her head in her grand-mothers shoulder, and Lyra held Kiva close, even as tears welled up into her eyes.

Den and Ja’on were helping to get some of the very young and elderly Tarahorkii settled in on their end of the catacombs. Den was getting anxious, and wanted to get topside to see what was going on.

“You have an assigned job here Den. You are to protect these people, Kiva and Dez should be arriving soon to help.” Ja’on Windu reminded Den for the third time as he passed flasks of water to the twelve elderly men, women and small children huddled against the wall.

Den was following close behind them, passing out bags of Zinca and Alor fruit. He protested again, “Yes, Mentor, but I am Mandalorian after all, and Force trained. I need to be out there and helping with the defense. That is how I can serve these people, with my Force abilities.”

Ja’on and sighed, and stated exasperated, “Look, one of your unique abilities is that you are able to mask your Force abilities from other Force sensitives, so they cannot detect you as a potential Jedi. That is one of the reasons you are here, you can mask your presence, and help keep these people hidden.”

Suddenly Den felt a twinge in the Force, and felt that Kiva was in sorrow and pain. He handed his bags of fruit to Buto Gree who was handing out a few Tarahorkii woven blankets.

“I’ve got to go now, Kiva needs me.” He stated urgently, running for his speeder bike that was sitting nearby for fast access between the two compounds.

“Wait Den, what is it that you just sensed, we need you here!”  Ja’on demanded as Den fired up his speeder bike, and revved it up.

“I will let you know once I find out. Buto, go get a message to my grandfather, comms to the surface don’t work so well down here. Let him know that I will be at the Blut compound. Something has happened there.” He demanded, and then turned toward Ja’on as Buto Gree ran off to do as he asked. “Kiva needs me, and I intend to return here with her.”

And he sped off down the tunnel, some of the other Padawans helping in the catacombs jumping out of his way as he sped down the corridor, ignoring Ja’on when he called out to Den.

He made the eight mile journey in no time, and exited the catacombs under the entrance hidden beneath the alter of Lyra-Sen. He secured the entrance to ensure it stayed hidden, and ran outside to find Kiva.

He ran almost fully into Boron Teya, Yesa and Keela, and asked them urgently, “Have any of you seen Kiva? Is she ok?”

Keela told Yesa and Boron Teya to get the group they were leading into the catacombs, and then pointed toward the market area, “She’s in the Market Ring and is fine. However we were just told that she is helping with Zera Orun, who was hit when the fighters attacked. Come with me, and we will go there together.”

They hurried through the throngs of warriors moving about, some mounted and some on foot, to the Market Ring.

On the way they encountered Esta Kuhl and Lyra Blut leading a procession of warriors that were carrying make shift litters bearing the dead of the recent attack. In the forefront of this procession, Zak and Dez Orun, assisted by two other warriors, carried the litter with Zera Orun on it. Kiva was walking by their side.

Den and Keela stepped aside as the procession walked by, removing their helmets in a sign of respect. As the procession headed for the temple, Kiva ran up and embraced her mother and Den.

“They will be interred in the temple until we can properly cremate them, freeing their spirits to join Lyra-Sen.” Esta Kuhl explained to Den in passing.

Keela pointed to a knot of warriors helping Zerta Vale support a wounded Kai Davos as they walked toward the temple.

Keela, Den and Kiva ran toward them to see what they could do help.

“I’m ok, just a little scorched.” Kai, leaning heavily on Zerta Vale, waved at them. His face and right side of his torso were badly burned. “Please don’t let my mom find out.”

“Too late.” Kiva stated, as the ancient land speeder that normally carried Gan Mal came through the north gate, and no sooner did it pull up, did Stellas and Bryson Davos jump out, followed by Jenna Serra and Caleb Orson. Jenna had driven it for them.

“Kai, oh my baby, where is the nearest medical facility?” Stella sobbed hysterically, pushing Zerta away and holding her son tight, causing Kai to cry out in pain as she put pressure on his burnt arm.

Bryson looked over his son’s injuries gingerly, and demanded angrily, “You heard my wife. Do you primitives even have a medical facility?”

“Your best bet would be to get him to Gan Mal, she would be better at helping him than anyone else.” Den advised. “What happened, by the way?”

Jenna answered as Stella shot him at dirty look, “We commandeered the speeder as soon as we saw the fighter get shot down, Stella insisted. They went against our advice to watch the fighters engage each other from the parapet at the northern compound. We apologize for taking the speeder, but we were in a hurry.”

Caleb Orson looked toward Zerta Vale, “Thank you young lady for landing beside him and pulling him from the wreckage. If it weren’t for you, Kai wouldn’t be with us now.” He jerked his thumb at Bryson and Stella, “These ingrates would never thank you, but Kai is lucky to have you around.”

Bryson walked up to Caleb and glared at him face to face, “May I remind you that you work for me, and will not disrespect my wife and me this way.”

Caleb Orson bristled and retorted gruffly, “We quit, since you can’t pay us anymore. Remember the Empire seized your assets, and you are here hiding out so you don’t get arrested. Now the Empire is here, and we are the only thing standing between you and them. From here on out, you do what WE say. Or we will leave you to figure this mess out by yourselves.”

Bryson and Stella stepped back in disbelief, and Jenna was nodding her head in agreement with Caleb.

The Caleb ordered them, “Now help Kai into the speeder, we will take young Runes advice, and take him to Gan Mal.”

They sheepishly helped Kai into the land speeder, and Jenna got back into the driver’s seat and waited for Caleb.

Caleb then turned to Zerta, and stated sincerely, “Thank you, once again, but you need to get back with the other fighter pilots. These recent attacks were just probes to test the defenses of these Fortresses. The main assault will begin soon. Hop in and we will drop you off at your fighter.”

Caleb waved at Den, Kiva and Keela, as he climbed into the old speeder, and they headed back to where they came from.

Then Den heard his Grandfather over his helmets comm system, “Places everyone, the main assault is starting, they are done playing. We have incoming from both the south and east, and it’s going to be furious.”

Den grabbed Kivas hand, “Come on, the main assault is starting already, we have got to get you to safety.”

Kiva stopped him from dragging her away, and stated angrily, “Don’t feel you have to protect me, Den Rune. I am a warrior too, remember? I will stand and fight with you, and my family, but don’t treat me like some delicate flower that you must protect.” She looked to her mother, and saw her smiling at her daughter.

Den apologized, “You are right, Kiva. But we have our assignments, let’s at least check on the people that we are supposed to protect inside the catacombs, then we will join the other warriors.”

She nodded solemnly, gave him a hug, and together with her mother, ran toward the temple of Lyra-Sen.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Admiral Dekkle paced on the raised bridge of the Relentless, listening to the static filled reports that came in from the storm swept planet below them.

He went to the communications station and hailed the captain of the Devastator, “Captain Plummons, what is the status of your ship?”

The holographic image of Captain Vyrgil Plummons portrayed a tall slender young man with curly, sandy blonde curls under his officer’s cover with hazel eyes and a narrow boyish looking face.

“We are affecting repairs on the hyper drive engines, Admiral; they were heavily damaged in the recent assault. The minor damage to our life support systems have been repaired already.”  Captain Plummons was very formal in his report.

“That is very well, Captain.” The Admiral stated. “I would like for you to send down twenty Gunships carrying AT-TE walkers and assault the northern compound. Come in over the ocean from the east, and then over the mountains to avoid going straight down through those storm clouds in a direct assault. Let’s see if we can speed this campaign up a little, shall we?”

“As you wish, Admiral.” The captain replied coolly.

“And Captain Plummons, as soon as that storm lets up, set the Devastator down at the rally point on the southern plain to establish a command base there, and as a starting point for the main assault, that was what Lord Vader had ordered.” Admiral Dekkle stated, trying not to sneer at that last part.

The captain acknowledged, and Admiral Dekkle signed off.

Captain Kester approached the Admiral, “Sir, Major Odell and the Force Clones are departing now to set up an advance base on the southern plain. He has expressed concern that their advance through the wide gap in the mountains going into the target area could be a potential area for an ambush.”

Admiral Dekkle stared out of the viewport toward the storm ravaged planet beyond it, and answered it in a very measured tone, “Lord Vader is aware of that, and thinks it will be a good test for the Force Clones if it were to happen. He has handpicked sixty Force Clones for a mission that only he is privy too.” He turned to his First Officer with a sudden thought, “What about the reading on the Kyber Crystal deposits, anything from Captain Twill on those?”

Captain Kester cleared his throat, and then reported in a professional crisp manner, “The latest report stated that the storm was still interfering with the preliminary scans, but he believes he found a large deposit in the southwestern mountains and some in the eastern mountains as well. He has stated if these initial scans are correct, these are some of the largest kyber crystal deposits he has ever seen.”

“Interesting.” Admiral Dekkle replied, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

“The Clone sniper team has managed to get a coded transmission through. “ The Captain continued in his assertive manner. ”They have survived an attack that brought down the Gunship that they were on and managed to free up their BARC Speeders from the wreckage of the Gunship. Fortunately they survived the crash intact, and are approaching their designated area of observation.”

Admiral Dekkle thanked the Captain, and he was hoping that his plan of assassinating the leader of the Rogue Jedi would help end this mission sooner.

Lieutenant Kardis approached them to report, “Sir, their defenses are primitive, but effective. We have taken our first planet side casualties.” She handed Admiral Dekkle a data pad and he skimmed over it.

“Damn it!” He exclaimed, “Lord Vader is playing with them, and wasting lives and equipment in the process!”

He stormed off to stare out the forward viewport window for several long minutes, listening to the reports and communications chatter around him.

He then turned and went to the duty station that Lieutenant Kardis and Lieutenant Ammons had walked over to monitor with the Junior Tech Officer assigned to it. ”Have my Z-95 and two personal wingmen prepped and ready. I may have to go down see what we are up against here. I would rather take my fighter than a shuttle.  ”

Darth Vader watched as the N1 Naboo fighter fell, its starboard wing flaming fiercely, toward the rain soaked ground.

All of the sudden he felt the female coming up behind him through the Force in the Aurek Class Tactical Star Fighter. He made his ETA-2 climb sharply and rolled it on its back, to fly over her fighter. He glimpsed a helmeted Zeltron female looking up at him as he zipped by her.

“The Force is strong in these pilots.” Darth Vader called out to the ships that were flying with him. “Try to double team your attacks on them.”

“Yes, Lord Vader.” They all replied.

He let her chase him, and saw one of ARC-170s come about and make a run at her and then, coming out of nowhere, another Aurek took out the would be attacker.

Feeling a premonition in the Force, Vader ordered over the comms system urgently, “Break off, get clear, they have something planned!”

He saw the defenders veer off suddenly as he had two Aureks chasing him, and suddenly they broke off the attack. He spotted the one with Zeltron female veer off and head for the downed N1.

“They must be lovers, and to believe they would allow such a thing here.” Vader mused allowed, with a hint jealously, and he came about sharply and started to make a run on the lone Aurek fighter.

Suddenly air burst shells started exploding all around them, and R4-K5 shrilled in alarm as shrapnel started flying all  around them. One managed to scar the transpiristeel  on his port side cockpit canopy.

“ All pilots, head toward the rally point.” Darth Vader ordered, “and prepare for the main assault. I want to know who was responsible for sending those Gunships and AT-TE walkers down too early.”

Tym  Pellus was huffing and puffing as he traversed the dense, rock strewn forest, he had walked for several miles over the rough terrain trying to get back to the Grey Jedi compound, his clothes were soaked from the rain and sweat, but at least the Clone pilot’s helmet was keeping his head from getting any wetter.

He started picking up coded bursts over the helmets comm systems among the normal chatter that he was hearing from the Clone Pilots and survivors of downed Gunships.

He spotted two speeder bikes parked at the foot of a tall rocky, tree lined knoll overlooking the high valley that the compounds were nestled in. They didn’t look like the Mandalorians speeder bikes of the Rune family.

He slipped behind a clump of trees and removed a pair of Elctrobinoculars from the confiscated Clone Troopers gun belt and started to scan the top of the knoll.

He spotted two Clone Troopers in camouflaged armor, the one on the left looking through the scope of a DC-15A Blaster Rifle modified in a sniper configuration, the one on the right peering through a hand held rangefinder into the compound.

Tym lowered the Electrobinoculars, and sat down on a wet log to ponder the situation for a minute. Putting the Elctrobinoculars  away, he grasped the DC-15S blaster in both hands and made his way stealthily up the knoll.

As he neared the top, he could hear the two Clone Troopers talking.

“See that beat up ancient looking land speeder coming through the gate, One-One-Nine?” the one on the right asked.

“Yes, Three-Null-Six, think the target could be inside?” The one with the rifle asked.

“We are about to find out, they are parked in front of that large structure located in the inner ring of buildings.” Three-Null-Six  replied, adjusting his range finder.

After a few minutes, One-One-Nine gave a low whistle, “Do you recognize the man with the greying hair? That is Bryson Davos of Naboo, there is an alert out for him.”

Three-Null-Six looked at his partner, “Damned if it is, what’s he doing way out here?”

Before he could answer, Tym,  who was creeping closer to them, slipped on a wet rock and went down on his right knee, hard, and grunted in pain.

The two Clones whirled around at the sudden noise, and paused to see a man in a Clone Troopers pilot helmet, sporting a DC-15S Blaster carbine, but wearing a dirty and rain soaked brown pilot’s coveralls with muddy spacer boots.

“What in the hell?” One-One-Nine exclaimed incredulously.

They paused for a minute to look at each other, and Tym took  advantage of the moment and blasted One-One-Nine in the face and Three-Null-Six in the chest as he was drawing the hold out blaster in from his boot holster.

Tym gathered up the DC-15A sniper rifle after slipping the DC-15S into its holster, and  half limped,  half slid down the rain slicked knoll. As he got to the bottom, the thunder was fading to a low rumble, the lightning had all but stopped, and the rain was starting to slack off.

“Thank the Force for the rain slacking off!” Tym stated , face raised toward the sky.” I am sick and tired of being wet!”

He was rewarded with a response over helmets comm module, “Cut out the unnecessary chatter, AS-103 , and get to the rally point. Where have you been anyway?”

“In a wet hell.” Tym replied dryly, and yanked off the helmet and tossed it away from him.

He picked out the BARC Speeder on the right, stored the DC-15A in its carriage on the side, and powered it up. He went racing for the Grey Jedi compound, looking forward to a change of clothes, a hot meal and steaming mug of Caf, but most importantly, news about Haydrak and Yesa.

Dain had just got done alerting everyone that the main assault was coming, and he was still watching the Republic Gunships and ranks of shield bearing Clone Troopers leading AT-TE Walkers as they  headed toward them from the distant  southern gap.

Balak Pel and a mournful, yet angry Zorvo Fey rode up to Dain on their Saga-hel mounts.

“The guns and our Calvary units are in place. There is no doubt in my mind that our ambush will route their forces.” Balak- Pel stated with haughty confidence.

Dain raised his Rangefinder and looked at Balak- Pel. “Your mounted Calvary will be slaughtered by those Troopers, let the forty B1 Battle Droids do what they are programmed to do first.”

Zorvo Fey snapped angrily, “Those metal fake men will not avenge my daughter for me! My sword and Calvary will!” And he raised his dull grey serrated sword to the sky, looking fierce in his Boro-Gor horned helmet.

Dain was resigned when he dismissed them in frustration, “Very well. Go and prepare your warriors to die.”

The two war chiefs gave Dain a perplexed look and wheeled their mounts around and galloped down the mountain, Zorvo headed to the eastern ridge, and Balak-Pel veered off to the western side.

Dain turned to the tall, young, blonde haired, brown eyed Tarahorkii human half breed in crimson armor standing behind him.

“Vynce Hara-Dor, when those ground forces get beyond the pass, and after the surviving ambushers have withdrawn from the attack, fire the Brakka-Baumas when they are eight miles out.” Dain instructed to the very attentive warrior. ”And when their fighters and Gunships attack, aim a little above them with your Sturma guns to ensure a direct hit, and pelt them with the air burst artillery from the Brakka-Baumas.”

“Yes Dain, we will do as you command.” Vynce Hara-Dor replied.

Dain was smiling under his helmet as he stated with confidence, “I will wait here with your brave crew a little longer to see how this crazy plan of Balak-Pels plays out, and then I must get back and check on the two compounds and see to their defensive situation.”

Vynce Hara-Dor smiled broadly, “Don’t worry, my crew and I will follow your orders to the letter, Dain Rune.”

Dain looked at him and responded solemnly, “I know you will, it’s not you that I am worried about.”

Gan Mal was engaged in a very intensive conversation with Raena Verus, Kera Kol, Sharrawul and Darrawoo, (the two Wookies were  soaking wet), just inside the Lyra-Sen temple, when Bryson Davos and Caleb Orson came barging in through the heavy , double wooden doors half dragging, half carrying a weakly protesting, badly burnt Kai Davos between them.

A near hysterical Stella Davos and very annoyed Jenna Serra followed closely behind them. Jenna paused to shut the double door behind them, the down pouring rain was just starting to slow down outside.

The two men eased Kai down into a sitting position on a small round, barren table sitting against the wall to the left of the double doors.

Bryson, helping Kai to sit up, turned toward Gan Mal as she was walking over to look at Kai, demanded in a very urgent tone, “I was told you can help heal my son. Please do, if it is indeed possible.”

Stella was sobbing loudly, holding Kais uninjured hand and burrowing her face in his shoulder.

“Mom, I will be ok.” He stated weakly, his voice cracking with the pain from his wounds on his neck and face,” The Killa-Kuk did worse than this.”

Gan Mal looked over him, and waved Buto Gree down as she was headed toward the alters hidden door with a basket full of fruit and Tarahorkii bread.

“What have you gotten into this time, Kai Davos?” She asked gruffly, and turning to Buto, “Please go to the infirmary and bring me some burn wrap and Bacta gel. I’ll do what I can, but I must save my strength for the coming battle.”

Brysons face turned bright bed, “YOU WILL do all that YOU CAN! My son is more than likely the best Padawan you have here, and his prowess will be needed…ACK!” He grabbed his throat as if choking on his own words, his face turning even redder, and fell to his knees.

Caleb Orson had to rush and help steady Kai as Bryson let go, Stella was looking between Gan Mal and her husband in horror, and Caleb and Jenna looked confused by the spectacle before them.

Gan Mal bent over and stared Bryson Davos into the eyes, her blue eyes taking on a malevolent gleam. ”You are nothing here, you miserable excuse of a man and father. I AM in charge here. I WILL decide what I must and must not do. Your son was taught humility by the Killa-Kuk and has proven himself worthy to be here of late. I will help him start the healing process, but I CANNOT drain my energy in the process. Either keep your mouth shut and stand by, or you and your over -dramatic harpy can wait outside in the rain.” She let go of the Force choke, and he fell to all fours, coughing violently as he fought to catch his breath.

Stella opened her mouth as if to say something, but an angry glare by Gan Mal shut her up, and she gripped Kais hand with both of hers, and started to choke her tears back.

Smiling wanly, Kai turned toward his mother and stated in a soft chuckle, “Isn’t she great?”

Gan Mal laid her left hand on Kais hip where the clothes were burned through, and with her right hand covered the burn on the right side of his face that his pilot helmets didn’t cover.

Jenna was helping Bryson to his feet a little roughly, and her and Stella gasped as Kais burns started to fade and lighten in severity.

Kai gasped and sighed at the apparent relief that Gan Mal had brought him. He smiled broadly, “Thank you, Head Mistress. I can get back into the fight again.”

Stella pointed her right index finger at him, “Oh no you won’t. We are getting our ship back and going home. We just arrived nearly a week ago and we have nearly lost you twice.”

Kai stood, a little unsteady on his feet at first, and looked at his mother and father defiantly. Bryson was now standing beside her, looking sheepish and embarrassed. “I am eighteen now, and free to make my own choices. And where are we to go mother? We have no home to go to, remember the Emperor has seized your assets and will arrest you two, maybe even kill you, on sight.”

He pointed toward the door, “And as we speak, your once precious Emperor Palpatines forces are here, on the only home I have ever known since I was six years of age, killing my friends because we can channel the Force.” He pointed toward Caleb, “Caleb Orson has told me what happened at the Jedi Temple, and of the Jedi purge that is going on even now. I will stay here and fight. I will fight for Gan Mal, the Tarahorkii and for Zerta Vale, because like it or not, I do love her, and I don’t give a damn if you approve of her or not.”

Bryson and Stella were in open mouthed astonishment at their son’s tirade, but Jenna, Caleb, Gan Mal and the other Mentors present were beaming with pride.

Buto Gree had brought the burn wrap and Bacta gel and gave them to Kai. He smiled at her and thanked her.

Then turned to his dumbfounded parents, “ And now if you would please excuse me, I need to go treat these now minor burns and change clothes. If you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of an invasion, and my lightsaber is needed.”

He turned and went out the double doors and headed toward his quarters.

Holding Stella close, Bryson and meekly asked the Mentors there, “Thank you. What can we do to help out?”

At that moment a commotion outside the doors caused the group to run out and see what the excitement was.

Tym Pellus had ridden through the north gate on the BARC speeder, prompting some of the Padawans to run up to him, excited to see him as everyone feared that he was dead.

“I am very much alive.” Tym was responding laughing, “But in dire need of dry clothes, some Caf and in need of a kiss from my bride. Is she ok?”

Haydrak Kohr stepped out through the door behind Gan Mals group dressed in a clean olive drab flight suit, and answered, “She is pregnant, but alive and uninjured. Where have you been, and where did you get the speeder bike and weapons?”

Tym had jumped off of the speeder and was running up to embrace his co-pilot, but Haydrak held up both hands to ward him off and stated firmly, “Fire your retro-rockets, buddy, I just got clean and semi-dry. Let’s go get you some dry clothes. And by the way, have you heard anything from Brenna Bale?”

Gan Mal interjected as she stepped up to the duo, “I was just going to ask the same thing. I didn’t sense her passing, where can she be?”

Tym shrugged, “Things were a little hectic when we baled. Haydrak and I wound up in the river several miles north of here in our life pod, before we got separated, and we jettisoned from the port side life pods. Brenna must be even further north, as she escaped via the starboard side, which did face north at that time.”

Bryson Davos was looking over the BARC speeder and asked in curiosity, “Where did you get the speeder bike? In my youth I was a Swoop Racer, and would be interested in helping out with the defenses on this speeder bike.”

Tym shook his head emphatically, “No way pal. As soon as I get some dry clothes on, some hot food and drink in me and see Yesa, Haydrak and I are going back for the second one, donated by a now deceased Clone Sniper team. This mess has happened because of us, and we intend to make it right with these speeder bikes.” Tym and Haydrak started walking toward their designated quarters, “Gan Mal, Mentors, I will brief you on that when we return.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Darth Vader landed his ETA-2 in the vast, verdant field on the Southern low lying plain next to several parked ARC-170s and V-19s.  Republic Gunships and shuttles were landing and discharging personnel and equipment into the improvised staging area.  Three AT-TEs lumbered by to get into formation with others, speeder bikes zoomed to and fro on various errands.

Vader disembarked from his fighter and instructed R4-K5 to keep his fighter ready to fly at an instants notice.

He walked through the wet blue-green grass and the rain that was just starting to slack off as the worst of the storm was headed north and slowly losing its strength.

Darth Vader breathed deep, wishing he could feel the rain on his face and the wet grass beneath his feet. He missed the clean, refreshing smell that the rain left in the air as it passed on by.

“Damn you Obi-Wan for making me into this monstrosity of a man, and damn you Padme for bringing him to Mustafar.” Darth Vader thought bitterly to himself, and then reigned in the emotions that the thought provoked.

He headed toward a clump of officers standing near two LAAT/i Gunships that were sitting nearby, one was ISB Major Nevan Odell. He was decked out in Imperial officer battle armor, grey-green like his uniform. It consisted of torso armor with rank insignia and an Imperial blast helmet with the goggles raised up above the brim. Next to him was a grim looking Pau’an male dressed all in black with ashen skin and red markings under his eyes and on his high forehead.

Major Odell and the three Clone Officers salute Vader as he approached.

“We are nearly ready to start the assault Lord Vader.” Major Odell reported curtly, “The Devastator is getting ready to enter the atmosphere now.”

And as he spoke, they could hear the distant boom of the big ship breaking through the atmosphere and coming in to its designated landing area.

Darth Vader turned his masked gaze toward Major Odell, “On whose orders did the twenty Gunships carrying AT-TEs get deployed? It was a foolish waste of men and equipment.”

The Clone Commander reported, “We have been fishing survivors of that failed mission out of the river to the east, my Lord. They indicate that Admiral Dekkle himself gave the order.”

Vader looked up as the Acclamator class Assault ship, the Devastator, came down from the north east with an escort of twenty V-19 Torrents and forty Republic Gunships on each flank.

He then faced his officers, “I will deal with Admiral Dekkle later. In the meantime, assemble the Force clones in front of the infantry formation, flanked by Artillery Walkers, and AT-TEs. I will need sixty of the top performing Force Clones and my fledgling Inquisitor in two Gunships  flying alongside me. I will be flying my ETA-2. We will take four ARC-170s and four V-19s as escorts.”

The Devastator hovered for a minute and then touched down.  The bay doors opened, and the ramp extended to the ground.  Thirty-Eight AT-TEs lumbered down the ramp followed by fifteen Self Propelled Medium Artillery walkers, (SPMA) and Twenty-One Unstable Terrain Artillery Transport walkers(UT-AT).

A tall man with broad shoulders and a narrow waist in a Captains Uniform and also sporting Imperial Officers battle armor approached them on a BARC Speeder Bike.

He stopped short, dismounted and came over to Darth Vader and the other officers, and saluting them he stated professionally, “Captain Vyrgil Plummons awaiting your orders, My Lord.”

Vader replied impatiently, “ Very well, Captain, you will hold the majority of your men and equipment here as a reserve force until further notified. As I was just stating to these other officers, I and my Inquisitor will lead the two Gunships of Force Clones with a Fighter escort south, and then across the western mountains and then head north.”

“We will come east and engage the Rogue Jedi directly.” Vader continued after a short pause, “In addition, we will also send another group of Advanced Recon Commandos from the east with fighter escorts, and these will engage the southernmost compound, softening up their primitive, but formidable defenses for our main assault which will be launched from here.”

Darth Vader addressed his Inquisitor directly,“ The only survivors we pick will be the ones we select for the Inquisitor program, and a few choice native slaves to help mine the kyber crystals here.” He turned to the others as he ordered, “Everyone else will be terminated. Understood?”

They acknowledged. ”Very well. Inquisitor, Gather the chosen  Force Clones and get them to their gunships, we leave at once. Everyone else, prepare to move out on my mark.”

The Inquisitor bowed low at the waist, “As you wish, My Lord.”

The others gathered acknowledged the order and then everyone went about their assigned duties, as Darth Vader turned and headed back to his fighter.

The Pau’an hesitated, but then called out to Vader before he could walk off too far, “My Lord, may I have a word with you for a moment?”

Vader waited as the Pau’an came up beside him, looking around, he spoke to Darth Vader in low conspiratorial tones, “Master, I did some cross checking on these so called ‘Force Clones ‘ and may have found something. “ He paused for a moment, and continued as Vader was staring at him, waiting patiently, “These Force Troopers designations share the initials of Jedi that were either killed on Geonosis or by General Grievous. For example, SJ could be short for Sephjet Josall, QJ, Qui-Gon Jinn, AG, Adi Gallia, see the pattern here?”

Vader looked off into the distance for a minute as the Pau’an waited patiently for a response. Vader was bristling with anger and the feeling of betrayal, but did not want to believe the betrayal was intentional. Vader turned toward his new apprentice, “Have you seen any of them without their helmets on to verify this theory?”

The Pau’an shook his head, “Unfortunately no, my Lord. They are well disciplined and stay in uniform the whole time they are outside of their berths, which were well guarded at all times. They were separated from the other Clones, and had their own deck to themselves.”

Vader turned to walk off toward his fighter, “We will deal with the mission at hand first, and let’s see how they perform in battle, and then we will know. I assure you I will get to the bottom of this. Get to your strike team, we deploy soon.”

The Pau’an bowed deeply, “As you wish my Lord.” He straightened up and headed toward the rally point.

Dain was studying the force marching on him from the south when Den contacted him via the helmet comms, “Grandfather, we have more incoming from the east. Looks like twenty Gunships, dozens of V-19s and  about thirty of the bigger fighters,” Dain heard his grandson engage some other people in conversation, then corrected his last report, “Dez and Kiva have agreed it is fifty of the V-19s, they have cleared the mountains and are closing fast!”

Dain yelled into his helmets mike as he ran toward an outcropping on the north side of the jagged mountain he was on, “Den, you and Kiva get to your stations in the catacombs now! That is a direct order!”

Dain watched helplessly as the V-19s and ARC-170s came roaring in through the drizzling rain and made a concentrated attack run on the Blut Fortress, firing lasers and missiles at the thick walls.

The Blut Fortresses defenses opened up with a barrage of Sturma wepons fire, Brakka-Bauma air burst shells and Z-6 Rotary Cannon fire on the attackers.

The defenders had learned their lessons from the last strafing run, and managed to take out twenty V-19s and five ARC-170s on this run. The toll on the defenders was just a bad though. The eastern wall had huge chunks blasted out of it, three Brakka-Bauma fire teams were lost as well as five Sturma-Yohudi crews.

Dain cursed as he saw a black armored figure with a jet pack fly above the walls and take down one of the ARC-170s with a jet pack fired missile.

“Damnit, Den! Get to your assigned post!” He berated his grandson over his helmets internal head set.

The attacking fighters had flown west, and were now turning about to begin another attack run.

“Dar Haran, where are you?” Dain demanded. “Blut Fortress needs air support, ASAP!”

“We are inbound, coming up on the bandits from behind.” Dar Haran reported, and then his small fighter group came screaming from the direction of the western mountains and right toward the fighters that were hammering the western wall of the Blut Fortress now.

The attackers broke off their assault on the western side of Blut Fortress to defend themselves from the fighters firing on their rear, losing three ARC-170s and five V-19s in the process to Dar Harans small fighter squadron.

One of the ARC-170s fell in a blazing arc and crashed and exploded into the second ring of building inside the fortress.

Before he could activate his comms, Den hailed him to report, “I am ok, Grandfather. The area was vacated for the most part, casualties were light. The eastern wall has taken a beating though. We are diverting some of the gun crews from the northern wall to replace the ones we lost there. Kiva, Keela, Dez and I are helping to move the wounded into the catacombs.”

Dain let out a sigh of relief, “Great job, Den, you and Kiva get to the Grey Jedi sanctuary and see how they are doing there.” He paused to watch the aerial battle that was sweeping back and forth above the Blut Fortress for a minute.

Vynce Hara-Dor came running up to Dain, and fighting to keep his excitement at bay, reported, “The ambush has just been sprung, our forces have taken out five Gunships and two walkers already, not to mention several of the enemies foot soldiers.”

Dain clasped Vynce on the arm and they both ran toward the overhang where they could see the southern gap off in the distance.

Lowering his Rangefinder, Dain could see that the forty B1 Battle Droids, twenty on each side of the gap, were emerging from their rock covered hiding places and firing onto the ground crews along with the Brakka-Baumas, Sturma-Xedas, Sturma-Youhudis, Z-6 Rotary Blasters and various mortars and shoulder fired rockets firing down on the invaders from each slope of the gap. Ten Republic Gunships, four ARC-170s, six walkers, three AT-TEs and three artillery walkers were burning on the ground, Dain could make out seven of the shield bearing Clones on the lying on the ground, as well as twenty of the Regular Clones and they were not moving.

The surviving snub fighters had climbed high to escape the barrage, and were turning to dive onto the ambushers, who were well covered from aerial attack by the sheer rocky cliffs and overhangs.

Suddenly, the surviving shield bearing clones raised their shields over their heads in one motion, and the projectiles and energy based beams were slowed down quickly and almost came to a stop, and then they reversed direction and headed back toward their origin of fire, to explode among the ambushers.

And then the shield carrying clones divided and began to leap high onto both slopes, and Dain saw them activate blue-white blades and they began slicing though the B1 Battle Droids, deflecting any fire that came into their direction.

Dain could not see any Jet or booster packs, and then it hit him, these were Cloned Jedi, and somehow the Force ability was carried over in the cloning process.

The enemy fighters began strafing and bombing the ambushers on the higher slopes to avoid hitting the Jedi Clones, driving them deeper into the caves and crannies of the cliffs.

Balak Pel and Zorvo Fey led their Saga-hel mounted Calvary, five hundred strong each, down from their concealed location on the northern most slopes of the Gap, and charged at the Clone Troopers firing their primitive guns and their explosive tipped Kadoon crystal arrowheads at the Jedi Clones and regular Clone Troopers.

The Jedi Clones had finished off the B1 Battle Droids and some of the ambushers on the lower slopes, and the majority of them turned their attention to the charging Calvary, while the rest of the Force sensitive Clones pressed their attack on the ambushers. These Force Clones leapt among the ranks of the Calvary, cutting the riders out of their saddles, forcing the AT-TEs and returning Gunships, who also had climbed to get out of the ambush, to stop firing into the charging Calvary. They had already decimated three dozen warriors and their Saga-hel mounts.

Dain felt his heart sink and stomach flip, and called to Ja’on and Gan Mal, “Be aware, Gan Mal, Ja’on Windu, the Empire has somehow managed to clone Jedi, and they have decimated what was beginning to look like a successful ambush, and are now tearing apart the Calvary of Balak Pel and Zorvo Fey.”

Ja’on Windu, whistled low, and asked incredulously, “Have you got any good news?”

Dain hesitated but a moment, and replied grimly, “As soon as I get some, you’ll be the first to know.”

As the aerial battle was being fought overhead the Blut Fortress, Den, Dez, Kiva and Keela Blut were helping some injured Tarahorkii warriors and merchants with their modern med kits and primitive medicine bags.

Boron Teya, Buto Gree, and Raena Verus along with Hovo, Colvin and Lyra Blut, with the help of a few able bodied warriors, were helping to get the more seriously wounded into the temple and the catacombs underneath.

Esta Kuhl was on the observation platform that ringed the domed roof of the temple, helping to direct the fire of two Tarahorkii Sturma-Yohudi gun crews, two Tarahorkii human half breeds with Z-6 Rotary Blaster cannons, and two more Tarahorkii warriors that sported a shoulder fired ground-to-air missile launcher each.

She had three young priestesses and three young priests of Lyra-Sen helping to reload and move with the ammunition to where the crews needed them. The aerial battle seemed so close to them, and several times a stray blaster bolt or fighter debris would flash by too close to them for comfort.

Kai Davos came running out of the temple and toward Den and the group that he was with. He was wearing a dark grey and navy flight suit with his gun belt strapped onto his waist with his lightsaber clipped to it, and had on heavy military style boots.

“Has anyone seen Zerta Vale’s ship? Is she ok?” He asked, kneeling in front of Den.

Den pointed behind him and toward the sky with his thumb, “I just saw her Aurek fly by and she just took down another V-19, she is doing great up there. While you are here, you don’t mind giving us a hand do you?”

Before Kai could respond Esta Kuhl cried out, and Den and Kai looked up to see her crew running to where they could see over the eastern wall.

They heard an explosion that shook the ground from that direction, and rising to their feet, Den, Kai, Keela, and Dez ran toward the commotion, even as Den heard Esta Kuhl cry out, “They have breached the eastern wall, we need warriors there now!”

They cut across the broad expanse at the middle of the compound toward the eastern ring of the Fortress, the sound of blaster and primitive gun fire and grenade blasts getting louder.

The running knot of people saw five Imperial Gunships firing at the wall as they hovered above and outside of it. ARC Clone Troopers were firing at the defenders on the wall as they rappelled out of the Gunships to the ground and then ran through a breach in the wall at the ground level, where four of their fellow Troopers lay lifeless inside the blasted hole among the smoldering rubble.

Twenty ARC Troopers had made it inside and where taking cover behind the buildings of the inner ring and were firing on the defenders that were arriving to repeal the invaders.

Den keyed up his helmet mike as he drew his heavy Mandalorian Blaster, wishing that he had taken the time load another missile into his jetpack. “Grandfather, the Eastern wall  of the Blut Fortress has been breached. ARC Troopers are making their way in.”

“I copy.” Dain replied, Den could hear the Brakka-Baumas and Sturma guns firing in the background. “I have my hands full right now, and will be there as soon as I can.”

Maris Tay cut in, “Zerta Vale, Gordo and myself are breaking off to help with that issue, watch out for flying debris below. We have the attacking fighters on the run for now.”

The three Aurek fighters came thundering by overhead, framed against the drizzling rain in the grey sky, the rain was slowing  and petering itself out, and the defenders were thankful for that.

The Aurek pilots fired a proton torpedo each and three of the Gunships hovering over the wall veered off in flames to explode against the ground, causing the ARC Troopers on the ground to scramble for cover.

The other two Gunships fired on the fighters in defense as the last of their ARC Troopers hit the ground, and began to peel off as the Aureks came about and strafed them with their heavy laser cannons. The Gunships, flaming, fell nose first into the ground.

“We have thirteen more Gunships inbound from the east, moving to intercept. May the Force be with you.” Gordo stated with grim determination.

Den, Dez and Kiva were taking cover behind a thick, fallen pillar and were firing at the Clone Troopers, Dez had an A-280 Blaster rifle and picked off two of the Arc Troopers who had made it to the balcony of two story building. Kiva took out another with her Blurrg-1120 hold out blaster that was running to the cover of the buildings from the hole in the wall. Den took out three that were making their way between two buildings.

Thirteen other Tarahorkii warriors were behind various forms of cover and firing on the intruders as well. Esta Kuhls fire teams on the distant temple roof were firing at the gaping hole in the wall in controlled bursts, keeping the ARC Troopers on the outside of the wall at bay for the moment.

Zak Orun called out over the comm system, “We are bringing re-enforcements. Den, get Dez and Kiva to the catacombs as soon as we get there. Help with the wounded there.”

Den relayed the message, and Dez smiled a deviously at Den, “Not before I exact some revenge for Mom.”  And so saying, he activated bluish-green lightsaber, and handed Kiva the blaster rifle. “You two cover me.” He ordered.

“Dez, wait, don’t throw away your life needlessly!” Den warned, and it fell on deaf ears as Dez sprinted across the broad avenue to the outside ring of buildings.

Den cursed as he squeezed off a blanket of blaster fire at the ARC Troopers as Kiva switched the Blaster Rifle to full auto and lit up the corners of the building closest to the wall where ARC Troopers where firing from.

Dez Force leapt onto one of the second floor balconies and went in through the blasted out doorway, light saber in hand.

Kiva turned in desperation to Den as she waved over a couple of the Tarahorkii warriors, “Go get him back, Den, we can’t lose him here. We need him.”

Den grumbled to himself, he leapt into the air and activated his jet back to fly over to the same building. As he flew over, he spotted three ARC Troopers setting up a tripod mounted Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannon through a blown out first floor window. Den pulled one of his two fragmentation grenades, armed and hurled it, with help from the Force, through the window. The resulting blast could be felt on the balcony as he landed on it.  Taking his orange bladed lightsaber in his right hand, and his blaster in his left, he ran through the shattered doorway, looking for Dez.

He ran through the room that the window led to and found Dez deflecting some blaster rifle fire with his light saber at the head of the broad stone stairs.  Two ARC Troopers each were crouched behind the two stone statues at the foot of the stairs on each side of the broad stone staircase. They were firing at Dez, and then at Den as he appeared just behind Dez.

Dez took advantage of the distraction and jumped over the banister to the ground taking on the two ARC Troopers behind the statue on the right. Den, deflecting the remaining blaster fire, did a huge front flip leap to land on the floor next to the statue on the left, deflecting a blaster bolt back into the chest of one of the ARC Troopers, he rushed forward in one fluid motion and his backhanded slash took off the ARC Troopers head.

Dez had slashed through the chest armor of one of the Troopers, and twisting to avoid blaster fire from the second, impaled the Trooper through the heart with his light saber.

“Too bad you had dropped out of training, Dez.” Den stated, “You are a natural sword man.”

Dez shrugged, “Father was really hard on me, and I wanted to explore my Tarahorkii warrior culture in depth.”

Ten more ARC Troopers came blasting their way in through the rear entrance, Den and Dez deflected the shots, three of which struck and took out the shooters. Dez and Den charged into the remaining seven, their light sabers flashing to the left and right.

Kiva had gathered fifteen more Tarahorkii warriors and they, along with Esta Kuhls distant fire team, were keeping anymore ARC Troopers from entering, however thirty were still inside, behind buildings, piles of rubble, blown out windows and behind blast marked pillars laying down a heavy blanket of fire at the defenders.

Zak Oran, Hovo and Keela Blut, Raena Verus, Boron Teya and Buto Gree along with twenty more Tarahorkii warriors arrived armed to the teeth.

Zak Oran, leaning on his Blaster rifle, tapped Kiva on the shoulder as she was firing at the three ARC Troopers at the first floor window of a building on her right. Using the force, Zak pulled the Troopers out through the window and they were hit by barrage of fire from the defenders. The ARC Troopers were dead before they hit the ground.

“Where is Dez? What has he gone and done?” Zak demanded, oblivious to the blaster hire hissing through the slow drizzle of rain around him.

Kiva pointed toward the heavily damaged two story building before her, ”He went in through the balcony there and Den went after him, about five minutes ago, I haven’t seen them since.”

Suddenly three ARC Troopers went flying through air behind the building she was pointing at, to fall lifelessly to the ground and four more ARC Troopers walked backward into the space between buildings, firing at an unseen target behind the designated building.

Den and Dez leapt high and landed among the Troopers, slicing and cutting into them.

Zak and Kiva, followed by their group of defenders, ran toward the two young light saber wielding young men , firing at the ARC Troopers that were trying to take advantage of the moment to fire on the moving defenders.

The Tarahorkii warriors split up to sweep the buildings on either side and to engage the last of the invaders taking cover in them.

Zak hugged Dez as he and Den deactivated their light sabers, and then grabbed him by the shoulders, “Listen young man, I understand you want revenge for your mother. I do too, she was my beloved wife. But you cannot throw your life away and risk your friend’s lives in the process.  Gan Mal has ordered you, Den and Kiva to report to the catacombs. You will report there, now. Raena, Boron and Buto will accompany you.”

Hovo and Keela Blut hugged Kiva, and Hovo looked his daughter sternly in the eye as he said, “You young people have done very well here, but we order you to join your betrothed in the catacombs until you are needed, Kiva. We are bringing more warriors to meet the invaders beyond the breached wall, and your mother and I want you safe.”

Kiva, tears welling in her eyes, protested, “But father, these are my people here, this is my home, I want to help defend it.”

Keela hugged her daughter close, “And you have, my darling Kiva, and you will again. This battle is far from over. You will have plenty of chances to fight. Now go, gather up Kai, he has joined Esta Kuhl on the temple roof, looking out for Zerta Vale. We can’t have his meddlesome parents getting in the way if they come looking for him.”

Kiva looked sheepish as she acquiesced, “ I will do as you ask, mother and father, and May Lyra-Sen keep and protect you.”

“And may she protect you and your betrothed as well. Now get going, we will see you as soon as we are done here.”  He started gathering up the fallen ARC Troopers weapons and passing them out among his warriors as his daughter and her group headed toward the temple. The remaining ARC Troopers that had made it through the breached wall were disposed of by the warriors sweeping the buildings, four of which lost their lives in the process.

Hovo and Zak took position on each side of the breach in the wall,  Zak waved his greenish-yellow light saber at Esta Kuhls  fire team to ensure they wouldn’t resume firing. And then both men threw a thermal detonator each through the breach. And right after they had exploded, Zak and Hovo led forty-five warriors through the hole in the wall to engage the ARC Troopers on the outside.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Dain watched helplessly as the AT-TEs and Jedi Clones routed the Saga-hel mounted forces of Balak Pel and Zorvo Fey. Their Calvary units were in disarray and were attempting to retreat.

Dain could not see Balak Pel or Zorvo Fey, but Mordon Pel was at the lead of the retreating forces as three ARC-170s and two V-19s came roaring down on the hapless mounted riders. The ARC-170s fired a proton torpedo each at the lead riders and the V-19s strafed the ones in the rear.

Mordon Pel and several of his mounted troops disappeared in the fiery explosion, and the ones in the rear were torn apart by the blaster fire. The surviving riders split up and headed for the high ground on each side of the gap in blind panic.

Dain turned to Vynce Hara-Dor, “Fire the Brakka-Baumas now, alternate between air bursts and impact artillery. Fire at will, they are in range.”

“Yes sir.” Vynce Hara-Dor stated as he turned go and instruct the gun crews.

A Clone Ship, disabled by one of the Liberator Class fighters, was trying to make its way from its attack on the Blut Fortress to its rally point in the south. It crash landed in the side of the mountain on the southern slope below Dain and his well-hidden gun crew.

Surviving ARC Troopers were climbing out of the wreckage when the native born gun crews opened up on them from the top of the mountain with their Sturma guns, blaster rifles and Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannons.

The Brakka-Bauma started firing right as Dain was answering Den over his helmet mike.

The Jedi Clones were running at them and the Blut Fortress, but running at them supernaturally fast. They were deflecting the incoming artillery rounds to either side of them as they ran, and were pulling away from the main body of the assault group as they ran at the unnatural speed.

Vynce tapped Den on the shoulder as he was watching the spectacle below. Dain whipped his helmeted head in Vynces direction. “Sorry to startle you, but I think you had better see to the defenses of the two Fortresses and check on your grandson while you still can. We will hold them off as long as we are able and buy you all the time that we can.”

Dain nodded as he studied the tableau in the valley below him for a minute longer.

The Sturma guns and Rotary Blast Cannons were silent now, having dispatched the surprised survivors of the Gunship crash.

The Brakka-Bauma shells were landing among the main body of the invaders and three more Gunships were shot down from the Brakka-Bauma air burst rounds, and several of the regular Clones that were on foot suffered grievous losses.

Dain grasped Vynce Hara-Dor by the forearm, and Vynce returned the sign of respect. “May the Force be with you and give them hell, my friend.” Dain stated solemnly.

“It’s been an honor to know you, Dain Rune. I hope to share several cups of Zinca wine with you after this battle is done.” Vynce replied in a confident voice.

Dain just nodded, saluted Vynce, and turned to walk calmly toward his speeder bike.

Zerta Vale, Maris Tay and Gordo flew at the max atmospheric speed toward the thirteen incoming Gunships and the ten V-19s that were rushing down from the upper atmosphere to intercept the defenders.

“Dar Haran, we have more incoming. We will need support here.” Maris Tay called over the comm system.

Dar Haran answered in a perturbed tone, “Trying to get to you. We are slowly weeding these fighters out and we just lost Raja Kowl, these guys are putting up one hell of a fight.”

Maris Tay cursed under his breath, and then ordered his two wingmen, “Fire your remaining torpedoes at point blank range, and then strafe them until your guns nearly over heat. We will take out as many as possible before those V-19s reach us.”

Zerta vale gulped as she acknowledged, but Gordo sounded resigned to his fate.

The Gunships started mass firing with their air-to-air rockets, Composite Beam lasers and two Mass-driver missile launchers as the Aureks came roaring in and firing all of their Proton torpedoes and lasers into the formation of Gunships.

Six Gunships exploded from the torpedo hits, but Gordo had to barrel roll to miss three incoming missiles and counter the barrel roll to avoid four more, right into the path of two Mass-driver missiles. His Aurek disappeared in a massive fireball.

Maris Tays voice was choked with sorrow as he was weaving in and out of the incoming missile and blaster fire, “ We just lost Gordo.” He strafed two Gunships, blasting the Cockpit Canopy out of one, and tearing off the starboard wing of another, they both spiraled out of control to hit the ground below.

Zerta strafed another from above, hitting its Mass-driver missile magazine and blowing the Gunship into smithereens.

And then the V-19s came speeding into the fray, firing blasters and launching concussion missiles at the two Aureks, Zerta barely dodged two missiles.

Panicked, she yelled into her helmet mike, “We need help here!”

“Hold out a little longer, we are on our way!” Dar Haran yelled back, as a Liberator dispatched the last of the fighters that his group was engaging.

Maris and Zerta dove their ships into the middle of the fighter squadron, spoiling their chances of shooting at them for fear of hitting one of their own ships. The duo, however were not so constrained, and fired wildly into the fighters, taking three of them out.

Perna Drurys voice came over the comm system, “The Sanctuary is under attack! We need any available air support now!”

Daran Haran swore under his breath, “ Oran Kaul, Mera Fann on me, the rest of you, take those remaining Gunships and V-19s out!”

As the Aureks were engaged with trying to keep the V-19s from shooting them down, the four surviving Gunships went in low, firing missiles into the Blut Fortress, and landing long enough to discharge its payload of ARC Troopers.

The 120 ARC Troopers scrambled for cover as the three S-100 Stinger fighters went roaring by overhead, their missiles striking the four Gunships and blowing them out of the sky as they were trying to gain altitude. And then the S-100s sped off to help out Maris and Zerta Vale.

Dar Haran and the two Liberators were speeding north when fifteen ARC-170s and ten more V-19s were coming up on their rear.

In front of him, he could see two Gunships, four ARC-170s, four V-19s and a single ETA-2 headed for the Grey Jedis compound.

“How am I going to get out of this one?” he asked himself.

Oran Kaul sounded resigned as he called out over the comm system, “Go on, I got this. May the Force be with you. It’s been nice knowing all of you great people.”  He then peeled off to confront the fighters on their six.

He gunned his Liberator, firing his four remaining Concussion missiles at the incoming V-19s and ARC-170s. He scored three v-19s and one ARC-170 and started raking the rest with his laser cannon, taking out two more ARC-170s and two more V-19s in the process.  However, he could not out maneuver the wall of missiles that were headed his way, and his ship was disintegrated by multiple missile hits.

Zerta Vale, Maris Tay, Zian Charr’d, Anton Skree and Eman Kerz managed to take out the seven V-19s they were up against and speeding toward the Grey Jedi compound when they heard of Oran Kauls fate.

As they got into visual range, they watched as Erik Tull took out a V-19 with the Davos Raptor turret gun, and Mera Fann blasted an ARC-170 out of the air.

Then suddenly a missile tore through the port engine of the Davos Raptor, forcing it to make an emergency landing under the intense laser fire of a single V-19 that followed it to the ground. Somehow, the gunner managed to blast it out of the sky before the Davos Raptor skidded into the rain slicked ground hard, coming to a stop at the far edge of the training field.

The ETA-2 and the remaining ships teamed up on Mera Fann, and she managed to blast a V-19 out of the sky before her ship was ripped apart by a combination of blaster fire and missile strikes.

The Gunships were hammering at the compounds defensive positions as they approached it, with missile and laser fire.

They peeled off when the five surviving fighters came at them with blasters blazing and the last of their missiles firing, bypassing the fighters to take on the troop transports.

One of the Gunships had to make an emergency landing onto the field outside of the compound, and then the twenty-two enemy fighters swarmed the last of the defending fighters.

The ETA-2 led the attack, followed by fifteen ARC-170 fighters and six V-19s; they came in fast, firing their missiles, laser and blasters.

The defending pilots maneuvered to dodge the massive volley of fire and returned fire to defend themselves.  Zian Charr’d’s ship was struck down by the ETA-2, firing its blasters from above him.

Three ARC-170s ganged up on Anton Skree in his S-100. Anton managed to return fire and take out one before he was torn apart by multiple blaster strikes.

Zerta blasted two V-19s into oblivion before the ETA-2 blasted her thruster, causing her to fall toward the surface out of control.

She managed to crash land, but hit the ground hard, her inertial dampeners failed, and she hit the cockpit canopy hard with her helmeted head, knocking her unconscious.

She missed seeing Eman Kerz take out the two remaining V-19s, only to have two ARC-170s blow him out of the sky.

Maris Tay blasted two of the ARC-170s , but the ETA-2 and three ARC-170s hit him at the same time, and as his burning wreckage hit the ground, the rain came to a stop.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Ja’on Windu, Gan Mal, Kera Kol, Raena Verus, Den Rune, Kiva Blut and Kai Davos were on the west walls parapet, watching as their small fighter squadron got decimated right before their very eyes.

Kai cried out as Zerta Vales ship plowed into the ground, and jumped down to the ground eighty feet below. He flagged down the Raging Barabuell as it was following Tym Pellus and Haydrak Kohr who were racing to the crash site on their newly acquired BARC Speeder Bikes.

Den called out to stop Kai, and when he didn’t stop, Den jumped after him, but had to run toward the crash site on foot as he missed out on a ride to the crash site.

Caleb Orson and Jenna Serra were in Gan Mals old enclosed land speeder, headed for the wreckage of the Davos Raptor, to see if they were any survivors.

Tym was wearing the armored chest plate and helmet of one of the Clone Snipers, Haydrak Kohr had on the other armored chest plate, but opted for old pilots goggles as the helmet wouldn’t fit on his lupine shaped head.

Maris Tays ship crashed into the ground several yards away as they reached the wrecked and smoking Aurek class fighter, and the enemy fighters were now coming around to attack the ground vehicles.

Tym watched as three red and yellow Z-95 Headhunters flew from north to south at slow speed and low altitude, the ETA-2 broke off its attack run to follow them. However, the other fighters were coming at them fast, and then the defensive guns on the wide parapet opened up on the attackers, driving the majority back, and taking out four ARC-170s and one V-19 in the process.

Three V-19s came at them at tree top level from the north-west, and Micah Neeley took out two with Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannon and missiles.  Kai managed to deflect four blaster bolts with his light saber as he ran toward Zerta Vales fighter.

Tym and Haydrak angled their BARC Speeders up and climbed toward the surviving V-19, nearly reaching the maximum altitude for the speeder bikes.

They fired simultaneously with their twin light blaster cannons, and the V-19 erupted into a ball of flame. They executed a mid -air 180 degree turn in opposite directions, and headed back down to the proper altitude.

Kai had to cut the canopy of the Aurek off to get to Zerta, and he lifted her up and set her on the ground, and removed her helmet. She was breathing fine, and only had a small knot on the right side of her head. The helmet had protected her from sustaining any damage that could have been detrimental.

Remi Bale climbed out of the passenger seat and was helping Kai get Zerta Vale into the backseat of the Raging Barabeull, when Haydrak called out, “The Gunships and fighters are returning, clear the area!”

Micah Neela swiveled the turret on the Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannon toward the attacker and fired at the incoming ships the same time the defenders on the wall did.

Kai ran to put himself between the armored attack speeder and the fighters, deflecting their blaster fire with his light saber as the Raging Barabuell began to turn and make its way back into the compound.

Gan Mals ancient land speeder passed by them just behind the Raging Barabuell.  Caleb and Jenna managed to pull Erik Tull and a very injured Jeb Ressus from the wreckage, but could not pull the body of Dar Haran from the wreckage without mechanical aid.

Den, who had reloaded a missile into his Jetpack launcher, paused long enough to home in on the lead ARC-170 and fired, hitting the attacking ship broadside, causing it to veer to the west, trailing fire and smoke as crashed into the ground.

The Raging Barabuell and the ancient speeder made it inside the west gate safely, and Kai breathed a sigh of relief, rubbing the itchy burn wrap on the right side of his neck.

Tym Pellus and Haydrak Kohr were firing their hand held blasters up at the incoming ships, as they were speeding toward Kai and Den to pick them up and carry them off to safety.

The two Gunships peppered the thick walls of the compound with laser fire and Mass-driver missile attacks, some clearing the walls and striking the inside of the compound, and then came in low to hover over the northwest corner of the training field.

Sixty shield bearing  Clone Troopers and a tall gaunt, pale figure  dressed in black discharged from the Gunships and hit the ground running, and half of them activated their pale blue light sabers while the other half that were leading the charge, were firing their DC-15S blasters from the cover of their raised blast proof shields. The tall, gaunt man in black activated two red bladed light sabers, one long and one short.

Haydrak  stopped his speeder bike next to Den, who jumped onto the back of the BARC Speeder, and they raced toward the compound, both of them firing at the sixty approaching Force Clones.

Kai climbed on behind Tym as he pulled up on the other BARC Speeder, and as they were headed toward the gate, Kai deflected a Mass-driver missile fired from one of the Gunships as it was taking off.  It veered off but hit the ground too close to them, its explosion sending the BARC Speeder Bike end over end, catapulting the riders through the air, where they came crashing down and bounced off of the ground hard, and then lay there unmoving.

Darth Vader was bringing his ETA-2 around to attack the defenders caught out in the open when he saw the trio of Z-95s fly by.

He opened his comms and commanded, “Inquisitor, land the Gunships in the field and lead the Force Clones to assault that compound on foot. I will rejoin you shortly.”

“As you wish, my Lord.” The Pau’an answered impassively.

Vader followed the Z-95s as they flew over the southernmost compound, where ARC Troopers were fighting a group of defenders outside the easternmost wall, and crossing over a small mountain peak where a fierce pitched battle was being fought on the slopes with a mixture of Force Clones, regular Clones and large force of native warriors who were defending the high ground.

Admiral Dekkle called to Vader sarcastically over the communications system, “Lord Vader, thank you for the escort, but I can find the staging area on my own.”

Vader was fuming, but held his anger in check, “I would have words with you Admiral, face to face, out of respect for your command.”

“Very well, Lord Vader.” Admiral Brynn Dekkle replied, disturbed by what he had witnessed on his fly- over of the target areas.

He and his wingmen, who had been with him since before Felucia, and were with him on that grisly detail on Coruscant at the Jedi Temple, were talking on a private, coded channel before he switched to an open one to taunt Darth Vader.

Admiral Dekkle and his two wingmen, one a dark  brown, deep voiced man with dark brown eyes, Commander Jai Morn, and Jon Ore’al, a lighter tanned man with hazel eyes, were horrified by what they had seen.

They saw men, women and what looked like young children defending themselves from an invading army with superior weapons against their primitive ones. And all three pilots had arrived at the same consensus; this is not what they had signed up for.

Dekkle and his wingmen landed the Z-95s next to the Devastator, and Captain Plummons was waiting on them with three other minor officers.

Vader landed his ETA-2 right behind them, and climbed out of his fighter and walked toward Admiral Dekkle with a purpose in his stride.

Admiral Dekkle looked up from a data pad that Captain Plummons had just handed him, fury etched onto his face.

As Vader walked up, Admiral Dekkle pointed to the data pad and demanded, “How can you justify these losses, Lord Vader? We lost this many men and this much equipment to primitives with mostly antique like weapons? How do you...ACK!”

He felt a very terrible pressure constricting his throat, and he grabbed his neck as he fought for air and collapsed to his knees.

“Your insolence and insubordination can no longer be tolerated, Admiral Dekkle. You are hereby relieved of command.”  Darth Vader sneered and then turned toward the wingmen as they went to draw their blasters and were running to the Admirals aide, perplexed as to what was happening to the man who they considered a friend as well as superior officer. “If you don’t want to share his fate, you will stop and stand down.”

The two wingmen stopped, watching their Admiral choke to death, helplessly.  As he went limp, Vader Force hurled the Admirals body to the side, and approached the two wingmen, who stepped back in wary alarm. “Dispose of his worthless carcass, and then get into your fighters and help with the assault on the compound just north of here. Fail to comply with my orders, and you will meet the same fate as your commanding officer.”

The two men reluctantly picked up their friends body, and dragged it off to be incinerated.

Darth Vader then turned toward Captain Plummons, “Inform Captain Kester he is in command of the Relentless now, and to send in the fighters and Troopers that Admiral Dekkle had been holding is reserves. In addition, Have Captain Twill bring the Wandering Star down into the western mountains and start excavating the Kyber crystals for Grand Moff Tarkin. We will provide any slaves that he may need soon enough.”

Captain Plummons saluted and bowed low at the waist, “Yes, Lord Darth Vader, it will be done.”

“See to it, or else.” Darth Vader warned as he headed back toward his ETA-2.

Dain Rune piloted his speeder bike through the southern gate of the Blut Fortress, and paused to look back at the mountain top he had just departed before the gates closed behind him. He could see the flashes of explosions and hear their distant thudding flare up across the summit in various locations.

Lyra Blut approached him through the throng of warriors and Saga-hel moving about on various errands, her face and armor covered in blood and soot, her hair loose and disheveled.

“Warrior, our grandson and granddaughter are at the sanctuary of Gan Mal, and are safe as of the last word we have received, but the sanctuary has just been attacked, please go and keep our grandchildren safe.” Lyra pleaded in earnest.

Dain looked around him, taking in the blast cratered streets and buildings, some with gaping, smoking holes in them. Some of the one story buildings on the outer ring were just rubble now. He could hear the sounds of a pitched battle coming from the east, and could see Esta Kuhl and the fire team on the temple roof shooting into that direction.

“How are you doing here, are you all holding up ok?” Dain inquired, looking Lyra over for any obvious wounds. He found none that he could see.

“So far we are keeping the invaders outside the breached eastern wall with the help of some the Force Warriors of Gan Mal.”

She beamed proudly as she added, “Our grandchildren, with the help of Dez Orun and some of Tarahorkii warriors, drove the armored warriors out of the Fortress when they initially breached the wall. They fought bravely and killed many of the enemy.”

Dain reached out to her, and they grasped each other’s forearms as Dain promised her, “I will return to help as soon as I can. It is an honor to fight alongside brave warriors such as you and your family.”

She smiled, a hint of sadness in her green colored eyes, and patted Dain’s hand with her free hand, “Go, and see to our grandchildren. May both the Force and the spirit of Lyra-San be with you and your family.” She let go of his arm and stepped back to give him room to maneuver the speeder bike.

“And you as well.” Dain returned solemnly and then threaded his way slowly toward the northern gate through the throngs of Tarahorkii warriors, both mounted and unmounted, some whole and some wounded.

As he went through the northern gate and up the gently sloping road toward the Grey Jedi Compound, he increased the speed of his speeder bike and thought to himself that it was probably for the best that he didn’t ask about Colvin Blut.

Major Nevan Odell was standing slightly behind and to the left of the AT-TE he had been riding in, looking up at the steep, rugged little mountain he was at the foot of through a pair of macrobinoculars, and consulting with a white armored and blue striped Clone Commander beside him, peering around the now immobile right leg of the walker.

“Commander Sonny One, have four returning Gunships swing by here to pick up a contingent of Force Clones to press the attack on the northernmost compound to re-enforce Lord Vader and the Inquisitor. And then have another group, let’s say three Gunships this time, pick up another load of ARC Troopers and attack the largest and closest compound from the south. Captain Plummons has already sent re-enforcements to the troopers on the eastern side of their wall. We are almost finished here, let’s get mounted up and make for the summit.” The ISB Major commanded firmly.

Commander Sonny One relayed the messages, and ordered the requested troops to make their way to the foot of the small mountain to wait for their incoming ships.

“It is done, Major. The Force Trooper Commander has reported that only a small group of indigenous defenders are left at the summit, and are putting up a fierce defense with their backs against a tall, sheer cliff face on the northwestern side, just below the summit. They are too rooted in and concealed for our fighter craft to have any affect.” The Clone Commander reported as the climbed aboard the AT-TE to stand by eighteen Regular Clone Troopers riding inside with them waiting to deploy when the command was given.

The AT-TE lumbered up the hill, having to walk around the wreckage of downed fighter craft, other walkers that were destroyed or disabled, blasted enemy gun placements and the dead bodies from both sides that littered both sides of the broad rough trail that led up the mountain.

Vynce Hara-Dor passed out the last of the Sturma-Xeda rounds, three thirty round magazines each, to the twelve warriors that had them. Thirty warriors were dug in with him among the dark grey, nearly impervious rocks of the small mountain they were on. A jagged wound of dried blood ran down his left cheek, and another down his forearm where the armor didn’t cover the flesh, his helmet was gone. He crouched low as he moved from warrior to warrior. For the remainder of the warriors that had captured blaster rifles from the enemy, he handed out an extra charge pack each.

A young female dressed in the green armor of the eastern tribes, her raven black hair spilling out under her green helmet, followed behind him handing out one grenade each to the weary and bloodied warriors. The grenades were a variety of types; thermal detonators, fragmentation, concussion or stun grenades.

Following her a very young, shaven headed male dressed in the golden armor of the western tribes, handed out a small sealed flask of water and hard bread out of a leather bag slung over his shoulder.

Vynce, after handing out the last of the ammo, took a swig of water from a hardened clay flask and took a hard long look at the warriors that were gathered around him.

Twelve were in the western tribes golden armor, fifteen in the eastern green, and the rest in the crimson armor like he wore.

“They will come in force this time.” Vynce stated solemnly to his little group, “We must buy the defenders of both fortresses as much time as possible. Time to strengthen their defenses and time to get the infirm, young and elderly into a shelter.”

He took a moment to look at the grim faces turned toward him, and continued, “We can’t let these invaders take us alive. According to Dain Rune, they will either enslave us, torture us or both. We, as Tarahorkii and Tarahorkii descent, cannot allow this to happen.”

His fellow defenders voiced their agreement, resignation deep in their voices, they could hear the distant clanking of the walking machines getting closer, the artillery walkers were laying down a blanket of fire that at the moment that was falling short of their position.

Vynce settled behind the two boulders that he was taking cover behind, aiming his A-280 Blaster Rifle through a small opening between them.

“Die bravely, my friends. It’s been an honor to fight alongside all of you.” He said right as the artillery shells started falling around them, exploding among the nearly impervious rocks and sending shrapnel flying through the air.

The defenders hunkered down, but three lost their lives during the intensive bombardment, which fell off as twenty white and blue armored men crested the summit they were on.

Vynce and his small group of defenders opened fire on the armored invaders, ten fell before they could fully make the top of the summit.

The ten surviving ARC Troopers scrambled for cover and three of them hurled fragmentation grenades toward the defenders as they dove behind a group of boulders. The grenades fell short, but were effective in making the indigenous defenders lay closer to the uneven ground to protect them from the shrapnel ricocheting off of the boulders.

Thirty more Clone Troopers crested the small summit, and by their green stripes, were regular infantry clones. These Troopers spread out across the opening, firing non-stop into the defenders positions, giving enough cover for the ARC Troopers to try and flank the defenders.

Vynce pointed to a warrior on his left, and one on his right. These two warriors armed thermal grenades and hurled them to either side of their positions.

They exploded in a bright flash with intense heat that caused both defender and attacker alike to shield their eyes and find the nearest shelter from the blast.

When the smoke cleared, fifteen regular Troopers and five ARC Troopers were lifeless on the ground, their armor twisted and melted from the blast, the rain hissing and producing steam as it hit the charred armor.

The defenders fired at the remaining invaders, taking out three more regular Troopers that were sheltered among insufficient cover in the rocks.

Thirty more regular Clone Troopers crested the lower summit, firing into the rocks the defenders were hiding behind, two warriors lost their lives to random shots striking them through small opening in the blaster scoured boulders they were hiding behind.

An ARC Trooper came up on the right flank, fired a grappling line from a launcher on his right arm at an overhanging ledge. As he rode the line upward, he threw a concussion grenade among the defenders, and the blast took out ten defenders who were at that time pulling their own grenades from the leather bags tied to their belts.

His ears ringing, Vynce Hara-Dor turned and raked the ARC Trooper with blaster rifle fire before the hapless trooper could scramble over the top of the ledge.

The other ARC Trooper scrambled over the rocks on the left flank and strafed the defensive position with blaster fire, killing five defenders.

As she was hit in the chest, the female Tarahorkii warrior fired her Sturma-Xeda on full auto into the ARC-Trooper, the exploding Kadoon crystal rounds tore his armor apart and sent him flying through the air, arms and legs separated from his body.

The remaining three ARC Troopers and five regular Clones hurled concussion grenades over the defensive positions. The explosions were deafening, and ten defenders lost their lives, leaving three badly wounded.

The three remaining ARC Troopers charged the position, and Vynce and the other two defenders shot into them with the blaster rifle and two Sturma-Xedas, blowing them backward to the ground.

The other Forty-two Clone troopers crested the defensive positions, wounding Vynce in the chest and killing the other two defenders.

“Can you understand me?” A Clone Trooper demanded as he and the rest of the Troopers climbed over the rocks and climbed down among the ruined defensive positions. The rocks were steaming and hissing from the blast craters as the drizzling rain hit them. “Drop your weapon and surrender.”

His face burrowed into the ground in pain, Vynce could see through an opening in the rocks as three AT-TEs crested the summit.

He stealthily removed a Thermal Detonator from a pouch on his belt as he was wedged between two boulders where the Clone Troopers couldn’t see his movements.

Looking toward the walking machines again, he saw a man in grey uniform and armor, sporting a thick moustache, with three important looking Clone Troopers walking with him toward his position.

Vynce laughed as he thrust his arm toward the grey, drizzling sky, grenade in hand, and then it exploded, and the Clone Troopers couldn’t get away fast enough to escape the blast.

Twenty three of the Clone Troopers died in the fiery blast, ten were mortally wounded, and eight sustained minor wounds.

Major Nevell and the three Clone officers picked themselves up off of the ground. The Major wiped at his nose as he felt moisture on it, and saw that his nose was bloodied by the blast. He then turned and walked among the dead and injured Clone Troopers to climb over the rocks and looked over the bodies of the defenders.

Angrily shaking his head, he jumped down to the somewhat level ground and walked back toward the AT-TE. He growled angrily at the three Clone officers as he passed them, “Get these Troopers to medical, and let’s take the rest and make these savages pay dearly for their resistance.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Zak Orun, Hovo Blut, Boron Teya and three hundred and fifty Tarahorkii warriors  along with seven other Grey Jedi and Padawans, three of  which were of Tarahorkii and Twi-lek decent, two of Tarahorkii and human decent and two humans males.

These were family groups that had chosen to live in the Blut stronghold as they were mostly descended from natives that had lived there for generations.

The nine Jedi were deflecting the blaster fire and missile strikes of a sizable force of ARC Troopers and regular Clones that were pressing the attack on the breach in the eastern wall as Tarahorkii defenders on the rubble choked wall and on the ground were firing a few blaster rifles, primitive Sturma guns and even more primitive bows and arrows.

Five AT-TEs had joined the fray, and three more gunships were flying in from the east with ten V-19s and five ARC-170s coming in as an escort for the Gunships.

“Get back inside the wall!” Zak Oran yelled over the din of battle, his greenish-yellow blade flashing as he deflected several blaster bolts that were meant for him.

Several of the defenders lay lifeless on the ground around the breach, as well as the bodies of ARC Troopers and regular Clones.

Before they could make the wall, a heavily armored Colvin Blut came charging out of the breach on a lightly crimson armored Saga-hel, waving his three foot serrated sword and had a bow and Kadoon crystal tipped arrows strapped to his saddle.

He was followed by seventy other armored riders, with riders bearing the green and gold armor. The survivors of the ill- fated Calvary charge during the battle of the southern gap.

The defenders, who were hunkered down behind destroyed fighters, walkers and gunships, watched astounded as the elderly Tarahorkii War-Chief led the charge at the oncoming walkers and troopers.

Hovo Blut called out to his father in his native language in a mixture of alarm and anger; his father just saluted him with his sword as he galloped by.

“The damn fool is going to get himself killed!” Hovo screamed in helpless fury at Zak Orun, and then took off running after his father.

Zak shook his head in resignation, his mud and blood streaked face took on a grim façade as he turned to his fellow Grey Jedi that had gathered around him. “We must go and protect the tribal Chieftains.” Zak stated in a very vexed tone.

The others glanced at each other in knowing and sad acknowledgement, and they rose and sprinted after the receding Tarahorkii leadership.

Seeing this, the remaining Tarahorkii warriors let out a savage battle-cry and joined in the suicidal charge after the Grey Jedi and their War-Chiefs.

Esta Kuhl, her face streaked with rain, grime and gunpowder residue, watched as Colvin led the foolhardy, but brave charge and shook her head in disbelief. Now her gun crews could not get a clear shot at the invaders on the ground, and did not want to risk bringing an enemy ship down on top of the heads of their fellow defenders.

Suddenly, the warning gongs sounded from the southern perimeter of the Fortress, and Esta Kuhl turned to see three more gunships and three new types of enemy fighters flying toward them from the south, and could barely make out the massive ground force coming in from the same direction behind the gunships.

“Bring the guns around, fire on those sky ships!” Esta Kuhl ordered franticly, “They are attacking from the south now!”

The defenses on the southern wall fired at the incoming ships, just as the invaders started hammering them with missile and blaster fire.

Commander Jai Morn and Jon Ore’al flew just behind the lead Z-95 Headhunter being flown by a Clone Pilot known as ZK-1213, otherwise known as “Zeke”.

After they had disposed of their friend and commanding officers body, Captain Plummons had ordered the duo to accompany this Clone pilot, who would take over the late Admiral Dekkles Z-95, on an attack run on the southern side of the Blut Fortress.

They were furious and saddened by the death of the man they had served under for so long now. And while monitoring the regular communication bands, were talking to each other on their private and coded channel.

“Jon, this Darth Vaders reputation is notorious at best. No doubt he will kill us at the slightest failure or offense. I don’t want to go out like that. If I have to die, I want it to be for a noble purpose, not genocide.” Commander Jai Morn stated thoughtfully.

Jon Ore’al was quite for a minute, then answered, “I’ve been thinking the same thing from the moment Lord Vader killed Admiral Dekkle. And then he approached us like he did. And these are women and children that are dying here.” He paused for a minute as they crossed over the small mountain where bodies and vehicles were burning on the slopes and summit.

“Let’s try to even the odds a little bit here, and then make a run for the northernmost compound and seek shelter with the people there, and help them fight back.” Jon suggested.

“Deal, that is if the Empire don’t blow us out of the sky first.” Jai agreed, “No matter what, I’m sick of this crap. First Order 66, and then the massacre at the Jedi Temple, and now Admiral Brynn Dekkle. Let’s do this for him.”

Jon gave him a thumbs up through the cockpit canopy, and suggested, “Let’s start with Zeke the freak and then hit those gunships.”

Jai laughed, “Rolling lightning?” He asked, smiling at his friend through the cockpit.

“ Yes, let’s hit him. NOW!” Jon ordered, rolling right and below Jai, who rolled high and left above Jon, wing tip laser cannons strafing the lead Z-95 as they rolled, turning it into an arcing fireball that plowed into the ground below.

“Torpedo a few of those walkers, and then help me with the Gunships before the fighters figure out what is going on.” Jai ordered.

“Roger.” Jon acknowledged and dove for two walkers clustered close together as they lumbered toward the distant Fortress, fifty Force Troopers following behind them.

He fired a torpedo at each walker, an Artillery walker and AT-TE, and destroyed them with each hit. He strafed the Force Troopers, killing six before they started deflecting the fire.

Jon then climbed to join Jai to take on the Gunships, but two ARC-170s lit him up with laser fire and two proton torpedoes before he could evade them. His ship disintegrated into a ball of flame.

Jai managed to shoot down a Gunship, and it hit the ground to explode among the ranks of several regular Clone Troopers below, killing  a dozen of them.

The wall of the Fortress was approaching fast and the defenders were firing at him. Jai managed to weave, but a V-19 Torrent shot up his port side rear thruster.

Jai lost control as he flew over the wall, spinning wildly.  The V-19 made it unscathed past the defenders, and managed to score another hit on the Z-95.

The Z-95 plowed into the roof of a temple like complex, where a group of defenders were hammering the attacking V-19 with a Z-95 Rotary Blaster Cannon and primitive weapons, and it erupted into flames and crashed into the buildings below.

Keela Blut was running with a Blaster Rifle by the temple toward the eastern wall when the fighter crashed into the roof, exploding on impact and sending burning debris and chunks of masonry down around her.

She dove for the cover of an overhanging balcony across the street, when the body of Esta Kuhl smacked the flag stone pavement eight feet away from her. Two more temple roof defenders joined her in the fall to their deaths.

Keela staggered up, her heart catching in her throat, and she walked over to the body of Esta Kuhl and knelt down beside her.

As she did, the second star fighter crashed into the buildings behind the temple in a fiery and loud explosion.

One of the Barabuell headdress horns was broken, and blood was puddling on the pavement around her head in a halo.

Sobbing, Keela said a prayer in her native language, and gently closed the lids on the fixed and rolled up eyes of the Lyra-Sen priestess.

She motioned for a couple of female warriors to come over and move the bodies, and jumped to her feet and ran toward the breach in the eastern wall, Rifle and hand, and leaped over the fallen masonry to behold the battle on the gently sloping hill below her.

The star- fighters, Gunships and ground based Clone Troopers had torn into the Tarahorkii mounted charge, killing the majority of them. The star-fighters passed over head, blasting the inside of the city.

The Grey Jedi and Tarahorkii led by Hovo Blut where trying to fight their way through the heavy curtain of blaster and laser fire to get to Colvin Blut, who was pinned under his slaughtered Saga-Hel mount.

Even though he was pinned, he managed to free his bow and arrows and fired two explosive tipped Kadoon arrows at five Clone Troopers running at him. His aim was true, and the exploding arrows ripped apart the breast plates of two of the Clones.

Colvin managed to wiggle free of his fallen mount, grab a Clones blaster rifle, and blasted the other three laying prone behind the carcasses of two more fallen Saga-hel.

The Gunships were circling overhead firing into the group of native warriors. The Grey Jedi were deflecting the blasts away from Hovo who was firing a blaster rifle at both the Gunships and enemy troops on the ground as he tried to reach his father.

Colvin staggered to his feet, and fired at two other Clone Troopers, but they managed to land two shots into his armored chest. Colvin stumbled backward, but managed to stay on his feet and shoot the two troopers in the head.

As he stumbled to turn toward his son as he got closer, the Door Gunner on one of the Gunships strafed the area Colvin was in. Five of the Composite Beam blasts ripped into him, and he crumpled lifeless to the ground.

Hovo screamed at the top of his lungs, as he fired his confiscated DC-15A Blaster Rifle at the Gunship, killing the Door Gunner and two Clone Troopers standing ready to rappel down.

He knelt on the ground as he cradled his Fathers head in his lap as lasers and missiles struck around him. The Grey Jedi were deflecting the blasts away from him as fast as they could.

Zak Orun was sweating heavily, his long blonde hair plastered to his head. He had lost three Grey Jedi on this foolhardy mission, and Buto Gree just got hit, she wasn’t fast enough to deflect the two Blaster bolts that struck her in the head and chest.

“We have to fall back, Hovo! “ Zak Orin yelled, “We are going to get torn to pieces out here!  I’ve already lost Senca and Rendo Vorrs, and just lost Erin Stonn and Buto Gree! We need to regroup!”

Hovo nodded, laid his Fathers head down gently to the ground, and stood up.

“Fall back to the Fortress in defensive waves!” He commanded in both basic and then in his native language.

They started to fall back, when three gunships appeared over the wall above the Fortress, and fired down on them from the direction they were falling back too.

He could see his wife Keela and five other warriors firing into the fortress, and then a new breach was blown into the wall from the inside. Keela and the other five disappeared into a cloud of dust and smoke, and two walking machines came through the newly made hole firing into the retreating force, cutting most of them down.

Zak growled in frustration as the two walkers fired their Mass-driver Cannons , taking out another large swath of warriors.

He turned to see Boron Teya get blasted by a circling gunship as he ran toward his fallen parents, Vezil and Nera Teya.

He and the remaining twenty warriors were surrounded by ARC and Clone Troopers who were demanding that they surrender.

Zak looked in turn at the remaining Grey Jedi, the Tarahorkii  half human Doro Stonn with short red hair, her husband Laman Stonn with receding brown hair, and their twenty year old son, red haired Veran Stonn, and they all nodded in unison.

They forced pushed the closest Clone Troopers and then leaped among them as the Tarahorkii warriors unsheathed their melee weapons and attacked as well.

Zak saw Doro and Laman go down fighting back to back, having taken out ten Clone Troopers each.

Veran Stonn slashed two Clone Troopers and impaled a third before a hail of Blaster fire cut him down.

Zak deflected three blaster shots back into the bodies of the shooters, and decapitated another when he was shot in the back.

He went down to one knee, and in his anger and fear, tapped into the dark side of the Force, and stretching out his left hand,  he summoned a torrent of Force lightning from his fingertips, dousing six Troopers in the blue, crackling aura, causing them to flare up and catch on fire underneath their armor. They screamed in pain and writhed on the ground in agony before dying.

The surrounding Clone Troopers gunned him and the remaining warriors down in a hail of blaster and laser fire.

Zak lay on his back, staring up at the grey sky and the Gunships and fighters passing by his field of vision. He was coughing and spitting up blood, but managed to whisper, “Zera, Dez, forgive me.” And the world went red, and then black to his fading vision.

Major Odell strode through the remains of the doorway of the blasted and gutted Blut Great hall and looked about at the bodies that lay among the rubble.

The sound of sporadic blaster fire and explosions could be heard throughout the huge, sprawling city within its high walls.

A bloodied, white haired, orange skinned old lady charged him from behind a pillar on his right, swinging an antique looking, serrated two foot long sword.

He casually whipped out his SE-14r light repeating blaster and shot her between the eyes. She was thrown backward and fell heavily onto the stone worked floor.

He turned toward the two Clone commanders that were with him as he holstered his weapon. “ We should be secure here, now on to the last objective, and we can make the long trip back home, into familiar space.”

“Yes sir.” Sonny One stated, then reported, “ We will leave a small detachment here to mop up and secure prisoners. The rest of the Troopers have been sent north to join Lord Vader and the Inquisitor.” Major Odell took one more look around, ”Very well, Commander. Let’s go join them as well.” And then they headed toward their waiting AT-TE.

Chapter Thirty

Tym Pellus woke up, his head pounding as if a heard of Banthas were stomping on it. He found himself lying face down in the wet grass, and wearing some kind of helmet.

“Man, that must have been some kind of drink.” He mumbled to himself as he rose his head up and propped himself up on his forearms.

The sound of blaster fire and thudding explosions brought him back to where he was.

He pulled the DC-15s blaster from his holster and took a quick look around him to get his bearings.

To the front and a little right of him he saw the ruined and burning BARC Speeder he had been riding. He watched as the Raging Barabuell come through the heavy western gate, Z-6 Rotary  Blaster Cannon and forward laser cannons firing to his left somewhere.

Hanging on to the turret and riding the stabilizers that held the side mounted thrusters was Den Rune on the left, and Darrawoo on the right. Behind them Sharrawul was firing a bow caster and leading the sixty B-1 Battle droids through the gate, who were running at full speed and firing their blaster rifles as well.

Three dozen Tarahorkii volunteers and a small group of  fifteen Padawan’s and masters, led by Ja’on Windu, with a variety of multi-colored light sabers followed them into the fray.

Raena Verus, Yesa Kell , Kiva Blut , Dez Orun, Kera Kol and Gan Mal were on the parapet of the wall observing the battle anxiously. Raena was firing the captured DC-15A in sniper configuration judiciously, having picked off three of the Shield Clones before they adapted and deflected her shots with either shield or blade.

Kiva, Yesa, and Kera  were firing blaster rifles at the invaders and Dez had picked up a Rotary Blaster Cannon off of a fallen defender and was using it to help keep the circling Gunships and a few fighters at bay.

Looking over his left shoulder, he cringed at what he saw at the edge of the training field several yard away to the left and behind him, he saw a multitude of dark shield carrying Clone Troopers led by a tall, black clad Pau’an who was deflecting the blaster fire with two red light sabers, one long and one short.

He noticed five of these shield bearing Clone Troopers had broken off from the main group and were headed in his and Kais direction.

“Kai!” he exclaimed to himself, and ripping off and discarding the helmet due to its cracked lenses, turned around and saw Kai moaning and starting to move behind him.

He low crawled toward Kai, and examining he real quickly, noticed that a jagged shard of hot shrapnel sticking out of the side of his lower back.

Getting up on a knee, Tym leaned down an asked, “Kai, are you ok? Can you get up?”

Kai groaned, and answered in obvious pain, “There’s a chunk of hot metal stuck in the side of my back, and I have already burned my hand trying to get it out. Man, it is not my day.”

Tym gave a low chuckle before countering, ”You’re telling me. I get my ship, my livelihood, destroyed and then had to hike through the wilderness to get back here, only to get into this mess. At least I got to see a rare Boro-Gor today.”

Kai, despite his pain looked up at Tym with an incredulous look and inquired sarcastically,” And you lived to tell the tale? How did you do that?”

Tym shrugged, ”It was a brief encounter, it split before I could get too close.  Let’s get this out of you, we are about to have company. I am not going to lie to you, this is going to hurt a lot.”

And before Kai could protest, Tym grabbed the shrapnel with his armored gloved hand and yanked the hot piece of shrapnel out of Kais back, and tossed it to the side, waving his hand in the air to cool it off. “Damn, that is hot!”

Kai groaned,” No kidding, I owe you a beating when this is all over.”

Tym was reaching into his aid kit on the belt, and ripping the cloth of Kais coveralls open, put on a sticky Bacta dressing after pouring dry granules of disinfectant into the wound.

“Save the threats, the real fighting is about to begin.” Tym said dryly, helping Kai to his knees with one hand and firing into the approaching five Shield bearing Clone Troopers with the other.

Den and Darrawoo had jumped off of the Raging Barabuell and were headed toward Kai and Tym, light sabers ignited and deflecting blaster fire that was directed at them.

Kai struggled to his feet with Tyms help, and unclipped and activated his lightsaber with his left hand, Naboo blaster in his right hand.

Tym saw Haydrak Kohr come through the nearly destroyed gate of the compound on the BARC Speeder and headed in their direction as well, and Tym felt relieved to see him.

With shields raised and light sabers ignited, the five Force Clones charged Kai and Tym who were firing on them, only to have their fire deflected by the shields.

Kai ran and leaped high, landing clumsily behind the Troopers and cleaving a Force Clone right down the middle from his head to his chest.

Grimacing in pain, Kai parried a slash and a thrust from two Force Clones, rotating his wrist and locking the blade of the thrusting  Force Clone Troopers with his, he sent the enemies blade flying as he dislodged it from the Troopers hand and impaled him through the belly.

A third leaped high and sideways over Kai to avoid the slash to land behind Kai, and thrust his lightsaber through Kais back, the blade exiting through his chest.

Kai stumbled forward, a look of shock on his face, and managed a back handed slash that cut the offending Clone Trooper in half at the waist.

Tym started firing at the remaining two Clone Troopers that had engaged Kai, he shot one on the back as just as he slashed Kai across the chest. Kai and the Trooper collapsed to the ground, with the Clone Trooper falling over Kais body.

The remaining Force Clone did a back flip as Tym was running and firing at him, and blocking Tyms fire with his shield, he whipped the shield up and smashed the bottom edge of it into Tyms armored chest, and as Tym staggered back, he thrust his lightsaber forward and stabbed Tym through the heart.

Tym fired point blank into the Force Troopers abdomen before he could withdraw the blade, they both fell lifeless to the ground in a death embrace.

Haydrak Kohr pulled up close to the bodies on the Barc  Speeder and jumped off to pull the deceased Force Trooper off of his buddy, and held Tyms lifeless body for a moment before lifting it up and draping it over the back of his speeder bike.

Den and Darrawoo came running up, and Den removed his helmet as he hugged Haydrak, “Haydrak, I am so sorry, I wish I could have gotten here sooner.” Den was close to sobbing as he spoke.

Darrawoo rumbled his apology in low growls and chortles and awkwardly hugged Haydrak as well.

Gan Mals beat up speeder pulled up and Stella and Bryson Davos jumped out followed by Caleb Orson, Jenna Serra and Zerta Vale. Stella and Zerta were sobbing uncontrollably, and tears of rage ran down the face of Bryson Davos.

Bryson pulled the dead Force Troopers body off of his son and kneeled over him, burying his head in Kais chest as he sobbed.

Den and Darrwaoo looked up as the ETA-2 came screaming at them from above followed by two V-19s.

“Get to cover, get out of here!” Den yelled, activating his orange bladed light saber.

Darth Vader had taken the time to land and observe the mop up operations at the Blut Fortress, and to see for himself the carnage and devastation that the defenders had wrecked on his forces.

The Clone Commander in charge had taken him outside the eastern wall to see the destruction there.

For a brief moment, Darth Vader felt a twinge of sorrow as he saw the body of a young Twi-lek half-breed lying on the ground, reaching for the remains of what was obviously the boy’s parents lying together just a few feet away.

For a brief moment, images of Dart Vaders mother swam up in his memory, and the heart wrenching vision of Padme and his mother handing him the swaddled, burned disfigured baby came unbidden to the forefront.

Vader fought that image down, his anger rising up in his. “That was Anakin’s mother, Anakin’s wife. I am Darth Vader. I destroyed Anakin Skywalker.” He told himself.

Now he was flying the ETA -2 toward the rogue Jedi compound, escorting two fighters ahead of six Republic Gunships carrying the remaining Force Troopers to engage the inhabitants of the compound on their last objective of this mission.

He saw the ancient looking land speeder pull up to a group of people huddled over two bodies on the ground. He watched as the blonde older female and red skinned Zeltron female mourning over the body of what he deduced was a young rogue Jedi. Five deceased Clone Troopers lay among them.

“Strafe their vehicles, and then hit the defenses on the walls, we will leave them stranded out in the open.” Darth Vader ordered, once more fighting the conflicting emotions inside of him as memories of his mother and Padme surfaced again.

The mourners on the ground scrambled and fired their blaster fruitlessly into the air as the ancient looking Land speeder and speeder bike were destroyed.

Then Vader flew in low and strafed the turret and cabin of the modified, armored land speeder  that was darting back and forth firing on the advancing Force Clones. The land speeders armor held up for the most part from the intense barrage, however the turret and gun were billowing black, ugly smoke.

“Attack their walls, we will dismantle their defenses and hit them on the inside. Prepare to have the Gunships bombard them from the south and west. They must know by now their time is ending.” Darth Vader ordered.

Yesa Kell was being restrained by Gan Mal and Kera Kol. She was crying and yelling hysterically trying to get out of the compound and get to Tyms body.

Gan Mal finally managed to hold Yesas face still with both hands, and while looking into her tear filled eyes Gan Mal stated in a calm and soothing voice, “Don’t throw your life away. You must protect the child you carry. Tym Pellus would want you and the baby safe. You are tired and need to sleep.”

Yesa slowly calmed down as Gan Mal spoke, and slowly and emotionally repeating what Gan Mal had just told her. “Yes, I must protect the baby. This is what Tym would want. I am tired and sleepy.”

Letting out a sigh of relief, Gan Mal turned toward Kiva and Dez, “Get her to the catacombs and see to it that she is made comfortable. And stay there. I will ensure Den joins you shortly.”

The two Tarahorkii youths acknowledged, and each of them taking an arm, escorted Yesa toward the ancient temple and the catacombs underneath.

Gan Mal turned toward Kira Kol. “We must go and get Den. He must get into the catacombs. We haven’t much time left.”

Kera Kol agreed, and they ran outside the western gate in time to see the ETA-2 strafe the old Land Speeder and BARC Speeder as it flashed by at barely tree top level, and then it took out the turret on the Raging Barabuell.

Dain came flying up to the Grey Jedi’s southern gate as he saw the ETA-2 and V-19s go screaming past on the eastern side of the compound.

Looking behind him, he saw the group of Gunships and other fighters in the distance, and could make out several pillars of smoke rising up from inside the Bluts Fortress. His heart sank.

Turning his speeder bike east, he raced along the outside circumference of the wall, and when he reached the eastern side of it, he spotted the burning land speeder and BARC Speeder Bike, and several bodies lying nearby.

And then he saw Darrawoo and Den engaging a dozen Jedi Clones, along with Haydrak Kohr, Caleb Orson, Jenna Serra and Erik Tull. Bryson, Stella and Kai Davos were all lying in heap on top of each other, and they were not moving.

He gunned his speeder bike and sped toward them.

Den dove and grabbed Haydrak Kohr and Jenna Serra by the waist as the ETA-2 strafed their vehicles, Darrawoo grabbed Erik Tull and Caleb Orson and followed suit. They hit and the ground and covered their heads as the speeder bike and land speeder went up in flames.

Zerta Vale had leaped in the opposite direction, and Bryson had dove on top of Stella, and they fell on top of Kais body.

Two V-19s followed the ETA-2 on the strafing run, and Den, Darrawoo and Zerta managed to deflect the fire with their light sabers.

“Bryson? Stella?” Zerta vale called out and ran toward the couple, who were lying in a heap on top of their son. Stella on top of Kai, Bryson on top of Stella.

She stopped short, and with her free hand covered her mouth as her eyes filled with tears. Den took a closer look at the family just lying there so still and saw why. Their bodies were riddled with still smoking blast wounds that went through all three of them.

Zerta Vale fell to her knees and sobbed as Haydrak checked out Tyms body on the destroyed BARC Speeder. It was a smoking ruin, and Haydrak  just stood and stared at it, a scowl on his face and left hand clenched into a fist, his blaster gripped firmly in his right hand as he slapped his thigh with it.

Darrawoo howled and shook Den out of his shock as he stared at one and then the other of the mourners, feeling his own sorrow and anger at the losses of these people.

Caleb Orson and Jenna Serra had drawn their blasters, Erik Tull had drawn both of his, and they were lying prone behind the bodies of the dead Force Clones and firing at the incoming twelve Force Clones that were charging at them, led by the gaunt black clad Pau’an.

The Force Clones were deflecting the fire with their shields, and the Pau’an was weaving his two scarlet bladed light sabers effortlessly as he deflected the fire was meant for him.

Haydrak Kohr howled long and loudly as he started firing in the Force Clones direction, and Zerta Vale screamed loudly in anger as she charged, igniting her dark pink blade.

“Zerta, wait!” Den warned loudly, but it fell on deaf ears.

Ja’on Windu and his small group were swinging their light sabers furiously with the forty-five Force Troopers in a dual of light and sparks.  Most of their Tarahorkii forces were down, twenty-six dead and Ja’on had ordered the rest back to the compound as he and the Grey Jedi covered for them.

Sharrawul was several feet away firing her bow caster into the ranks of the Clone Troopers. Twenty of the sixty B1 Battle Droids were down, their blaster fire being deflected by the shields of the Troopers, and the Force Clone Troopers were cutting them down effortlessly.

The Force Troopers were very skilled with their shields and light sabers, and had only lost five of their members since the two parties clashed, but it was a testament to the defenders as well as they managed to hold off a force of superior numbers.

Five Grey Jedi and two Padawans lay lifeless on the ground when Ja’on spotted the Pau’an leader and his twelve Force Clones charging toward Den and his small group.

Gritting his teeth, he knew he couldn’t get clear to go help, and had already ordered the damaged assault speeder to pick up Den and his party and take them inside the compound.

Suddenly a bright blue bolt of electrical energy flashed by and struck six Force Clones in a bright flash of electrical discharge. The six slumped to the ground, smoke pouring out from underneath the armor.

Another bright blue electrical discharge streaked by and struck ten more Force Clones with the same devastating effects as before. The twenty-four surviving Force Clones started retreating backward, shields raised, toward two more Gunships that were landing on the far side of the training field, discharging sixty more Force Clones who were setting up a makeshift staging area.

Ja’on turned to see Gan-Mal twenty yards back wheezing and leaning on her staff, the crystal glowing bright blue at the top.  Kera Kol was supporting her, and yelled at Ja’on. “Get Den, and get back inside the sanctuary. Those fighters will be making another pass soon and we will be cut us to pieces out here. We need to make our stand from the inside!”

Ja’on waved at her and turned toward an adult human male that had very light strains of Tarahorkki descent. “Torren, get these people back to the sanctuary, and help Gan Mal get back inside the gates, I will join you shortly.”

Torren nodded, and the survivors took off for the compound.

Sharrawul howled at Ja’on and pointed toward Darrawoo and  Dens location, and then motioned to the Droid Commander and his thirty-nine B1 Battle Droids to pursue the retreating Force Clones and keep pressing the attack on them.

Ja’on went running toward the skirmish with Dens group, trying to keep a wary eye on the skies above and the Force Clones gathering eight hundred yards away.

Zerta Vale, Darrawoo and Den concentrated their efforts and Force Shoved the oncoming ranks of the Force Clones and their Pau’an leader.

Three clones and the gaunt Pau’an were caught off guard and went sprawling backwards to the ground, tripping up the nine remaining Troopers.

Haydrak, Caleb, Jenna and Erik fired into the group and five Force Clones were left lifeless on the ground.

The Pau’an and surviving force Clones recovered quickly and  using the Force, hurled wreckage from the various fallen star-fighters around them at the defenders.

Caleb Orson was hit and impaled by a piece of fuselage that killed him instantly and Erik Tull had his right leg cut deeply by a jagged and burnt piece of metal. Jenna’s helmet shielded her from a piece of thruster, but it still managed to knock her down and ring her ears.

And then the Force Troopers were upon them, and the light sabers hissed and sparked as they clashed.

Darrawoo used his claws on his free hand to rip aside and Clone Troopers shield and impale him with his silver bladed light saber.

Den force flung two Force Troopers into each other, and thrust his light saber between the shoulder blades on one of the Clone Troopers. The other one recovered quickly and Force shoved Den to the ground.

Zerta Vale found herself locked in a heated battle  with the black clad Pau’an male, frantically weaving her light saber to block the blows from both of his, a look of intense desperation on her face.

Den was scrambling backwards on his rear and deflecting the saber blows of two attacking Force Clones. One of the light saber blows glanced off of his Mandalorioan helmet, cutting a deep swath of it and exposing Dens face underneath. He had a cut on his right check and the bridge of his nose as a result.  Haydrak circled around and shot one of Dens attackers point blank into the head, killing him instantly.

The other Clone reacted by shoving his shield into Haydraks body, and barely grazed his side with a misplaced thrust. It still hurt enough for Haydrak to stumble backward in pain.

Blaster fire erupted from the south east, and Dain came swooping in on his speeder bike, blasting the shield out of the troopers hand that was attacking Haydrak, and hammering the Pau’an who had just Force Shoved  Zerta Vale down on her back and was about to strike her with both blades, when he had to defend himself from the blaster fire from the speeder bike.

Just then Ja’on Windu and Sharrawul came up from behind, Sharrawul shot an unsuspecting Force Clone in the back and Ja’on cut another down as he whirled around to defend himself.

Dain had to quit firing to keep from hitting his allies, and pulled his speeder bike up close to Den and Darrawoo, who were taking the time to check over Haydrak, whose right side was scored by a light saber strike.

Ja’on  had engaged the Pau’an, and Zerta Vale charged the dual wielding light saber Sith from behind.

Without missing a beat, The Pau’an  parried a blow from Ja’on and kicked his right leg straight back, catching Zerta Vale in the groin and making her double over in pain.

Deflecting a thrust from Ja’on with the light saber in his left hand, he half turned and brought the hilt of his light saber in his right hand down hard onto Zerta Vales head, knocking her out cold. In a single smooth motion he deflected and counter thrust Ja’ons attack, and impaled the Grey Jedi Mentor in the stomach.

Ja’on fell to his knees in pain, grasping his mid-section.

The Eta-2 and two V-19s which had encircled the whole compound to get its lay out, and came roaring at them again, their engines screaming.

The Pau’an and three remaining Clone Troopers leapt to one side, Dain and his group to another as the inbound fighters blasted the area with blaster fire.

Dain fired his back pack rocket as they passed by, hitting a V-19 in the rear and causing it spin out of control, and explode as it hit the ground.

Raena Verus managed to pick off one of the Force Troopers from her position on the wall as he recovered from his jump, and hit the ground hard as the well placed shot tore through his armored back.

The Pau’an and the surviving Force Trooper were running for the staging area, Zerta Vale slung over his black clad shoulder like a rag doll as the Force Trooper covered his rear.

Just then the damaged Raging Barabuell pulled up, and Dain was saddened to see the badly burnt and smoking body of Micha Neela still in the turrets seat.

He helped Haydrak climb aboard, and Darrawoo and Sharrawul helped to load Erik Tull and Jenna aboard. They managed to squeeze Ja’on into the back seat with a bacta coated compress from Dains med-kit pressed against his stomach.

“Get back to the compound now, the attack will resume soon enough.” Dain ordered a blood and grime covered Geoff Perren.”Make sure the wounded get to the catacombs.”

The overloaded and damaged assault speeder lumbered off toward the Grey Jedi sanctuary. Dain, with Den on back, followed behind them on the speeder bike.

Den had discarded his damaged helmet, and looked back at the bodies they had to leave behind, sadness deep in his eyes.

He twisted to look were the enemy were setting up a staging area for the final assault, hoping to catch a glance of Zerta Vale.

He didn’t catch a glimpse of her, but did see the last of the B1 Battle Droids get cut down, and more Gunships were coming in.

Dain  asked Den if he was ok when they got back inside the compound, and Den had mumbled that he was fine.

Then Dain ordered him, Kiva Blut and Dez Orun into the catacombs to help care with the wounded.

Den, Kiva, Yesa, and Dez were helping to change the bandages for Haydrak and Ja’on when Dain came to get him so he could talk to his Grandson privately.

They walked down the corridor that led to the river for a short distance, and then Dain stopped, removed his helmet, and grasping him gently by the shoulder with his free hand, began talking in a gentle tone.

“You have fought well today, Grandson, I am so very proud of you. But from here on out, Kiva, Dez and you must remain here. You must use your ability to mask the Force for Ja’on and yourself. The Blut Fortess is gone,  and the last assault will be launched any minute.” He paused for a minute as he saw Den had some questions.

“Gone, the Blut Fortress is gone? What of Kivas parents, her family? “ Den stammered the questions.

Dain bowed his head in sorrow, ”When we are done here, we will inform her and Dez together, but listen to me. Do not risk your life needlessly. If anything happens to me, take my armor, make it your own, and as soon as it’s clear, you take what people that are willing to go, get to the Reaver and get out of here. Ja’on will go with you, he knows where to take you.”

Dain held up his helmet toward Den, “Like I said, take my armor. My helmet will be my calling card for you. Old allies, especially the Wookie’s, will recognize it and help you anyway that they can. So if I die here, bury me here, but my armor will be yours.”

Den choked back tears as he nodded, and Dain offered his free hand, “Now let’s go see your betrothed, and together we will break the bad news to her.”

Instead of holding his Grandfathers hand, Den hugged him close, and hugging his Grandsons around the shoulder, they went to inform Kiva and Dez of the grim news.

Chapter Thirty-One

The Defenders in the Grey Jedi compound had only a two hour respite when the main assault began. The sun was past its zenith when it appeared from behind the clouds, only a few hours of daylight remained.

It was a three pronged attack, one from the south, the other from the west and a small force of ARC Troopers from the east.

The ARC-170s and V-19s flew sorties over the wall, attacking the gun placements on the parapets. At the first the defenders held their own and destroyed a few of the fighters and disabled a dozen more. Then the AT-TE and Artillery Walkers opened up and wore them down, breaching the eastern and southern walls.

They were followed up by the Gunships who came roaring in above the wall, Mass-driver missiles blowing up buildings and composite beam lasers firing at the defenders on the walls and on the grounds.

One hundred and eighty-eight Force Clones jumped from the Gunships open  bay doors and leapt to the ground to engage the defenders directly.

One hundred and twenty ARC Troopers scaled the eastern wall and engaged the defenders on the parapets stationed there.

One hundred regular Clone Forces deployed from the five AT-Te’s that came through the breached walls or through the busted heavy gates.

Darth Vaders ETA-2 came flying in, hovered above  the compound and the Dark Lord of the Sith jumped to the ground, red bladed light saber flashing in his hand.

R4-K5 then flew the ETA-2 out of the compound and landed it in the staging area outside the walls.

The Pau’an was leading a group of Force Troopers to the central ring of buildings in the compound, where Sharrawul and Darrawoo were engaging them with a group of thirty Tarahorkii warriors.

Sharrawul was firing her bow caster at the invaders coming in from both her east and south, and directing the Tarahorkii fire teams to address both threats.

Her team managed to take out ten regular Clones and five Force Clones before the Force Clones closed in on them and started cutting them to pieces.

Sharrawul  and Darrawoo were with fifteen surviving Tarahorkki that were engaged in fierce hand to hand combat with the Force Clones just inside the ruins of a two story building with broad steps leading up to its broad doors.

Darrawoo, his silver colored light saber flashing, jumped into the middle of a group of Clone Troopers, and killed six of them  in a flurry of vicious slashes.

Sharrawul had her back against the wall, her bow caster was suddenly ripped from her hands by the Pau’an in a Force attack, and screaming her rage, and she grabbed a nearby shield bearing Force Clone and hurled him at the Pau’an.

Laughing, the Pau’an side stepped the Force Clone as he flew screaming by him, to thud hard into the remains of a stone wall nearby.

The Pau’an charged forward,  and at the last minute avoided two huge swipes from her claws, and slashed her across the chest. As she lurched forward, he slashed her across the back, and she fell headlong off the top of the stairs to the rubble strewn streets below.

Darrawoo saw his mother fall, and yelling furiously, he let the Dark Side of the Force take over as he used the Force to hurl three Clone Troopers away from him.

He charged up the stairs and leapt high, his brown eyes taking on a sinister red glint, and brought the silver bladed light saber down onto the crossed blades of the Pau’an.

Darrawoo howled in rage as he struck one savage blow after another on the Pau’ans dual sabered guard, wearing him down and making him sweat.

A Force Clone came up on Darrawoo from behind, who sensed him and with a savage back slash took the Troopers head off, but giving the Pau’an an opening. He thrust the longer red light saber into the Wookie’s left shoulder, and thrust the shorter one at the Wookie’s head.

Darrawoo howled in pain, but managed to spoil the aim of the blade going for the center of his head, and instead it struck his right eye and burned a furrow down his right cheek.

He dropped his light saber and staggered back to the edge of the stairs, and the Pau’an, in his rage, Force lifted the hapless and enraged Wookie and hurled him through the air.

Darrawoo crashed through the intact window on single story building across the street, and lay still on the remains of heavy table that he demolished as he landed on it.

Jenna Serra and a limping Erik Tull were holed up in a one story building on the outer ring of the Southern wall with eight Tarahorkii firing at a squad of regular Clone Troopers that were advancing on them. Erik had both his blasters firing and Jenna and the Tarahorkii had captured Clone rifles that they were using.

Suddenly an AT-TE rounded the corner as the Clone Troopers withdrew to get out of the way and fired a Mass-driver missile into the building.

“Get down!” Jenna yelled as the missile impacted the wall next to the right window.

The missile tore through the wall and exploded inside the building, killing all of the Tarahorkii defenders, and wounding Erik Tull and Jenna Serra severely.

Jenna, her back and legs peppered with shrapnel, crawled over to Erik, who had sustained a gaping head wound. She helped him up into a sitting position, and took a thermal detonator out its pouch and armed it right before seven Clone Troopers busted into the door way firing into them.

Jenna Serra and Erik Tull fell over, and the grenade rolled out of her hand, to explode at the Clone Troopers feet.

Darth Vader was leading one hundred Force Clones toward the main hall at the center of the compound, and they were cutting their way through the Padawans and Tarahorkii that tried to block their way, the sun was getting lower on the horizon and the coming night was promising more rain.

Perna Drury and Raena Verus stood their ground as he approached and between them dispatched six Force Clones before Lord Vader engaged them directly.

Vader parried a slash by Perna and side stepped a thrust by Raena, his lightsaber flashed in a downward arc and Raena screamed as her sword hand was severed at the wrist, she stumbled backward only to be cut down by three Force Clones.

Perna performed a high back flip as a Force Clone tried to attack her from behind , she split him in half as she came down.

Vader out stretched his left hand and fallen masonry and wreckage started flying at Perna from all directions. She managed to deflect and dodge a few, but then a huge stone slab struck her in the back of the head and sent her sprawling.

The Force Clones slashed her to pieces at a gesture from Darth Vader.

Kera Kol, who had just dispatched five ARC Troopers, screamed loudly, and ran toward Mentors Hall at full speed.

She wielded her blue bladed lightsaber, deflecting a hail of blaster fire from the Clone Troopers that had fought their way into the area.

She outstretched her arm and sent debris flying at the Dark Lord and the Force Clones behind him. They deflected the debris effortlessly at first, but three of the Force Clones went down from the debris storm.

She came in slashing at Darth Vader and the Force Clones that were running to his aid, and managed to cut down four more of the Force Clones, and cut the sword arm off of another, but the Dark Lord parried and countered her attacks with ease.

She went for a downward slash, and Vader stepped sideways to avoid it and slashed back high, taking her head off in the process.

Gan Mal then stepped out of  Mentors Hall, her white hair wild and disheveled, her blue eyes glowing with a malignant light.

The Kyber Crystal on the end of her staff was glowing blue and white with red streaks running through it.

“You must the Master here.” Darth Vader stated sarcastically, “Teaching a perverted way of the Force. You are either Jedi or Sith, you can’t be both.” Gan Mal cackled in derision as she retorted, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes. Here we seek the true balance of the Force. We encourage love and affection, fear and anger, for that is what we are. We are creatures of emotion, and the Force helps us balance those emotions, and that brings balance to the Force in return, and then you came here, and you have destroyed everything!”

She pointed the Kyber Crystal toward Darth Vader and a huge coherent blue white beam flecked with red streaks flared outward with a hissing roar.

Darth Vader barely got his light saber up in time as the beam of energy swept over him and the eighty-six Force Clone Troopers that were with him.

They were fried on the spot as fire flashed from under their armor, and they fell into an ashen heap, their armor rolled around spilling out ashes.

Vaders medical suit was working overtime, and alarms that only he could hear were going off inside his helmet. The pain was intense, the Force beam was nothing like he had ever encountered before, and for a moment, he felt like he should succumb to the pain and let it end him, and that feeling of defeat angered him, and the pain started to fuel his rage.

He staggered to his feet, leaning into the blast, and through the energy beam he could see the old ladies face distorting into an evil old hags mask, her eyes turned yellow and her laugh became an evil cackle, just like what had happened to the Emperor.

Darth Vader roared in defiance, holding his light saber against the beams, his mechanical arms shaking from the effort. He started channeling that energy back into the crystal, and it started to flicker from blue, white, red and yellow over and over again, the flickering becoming faster and faster.

Fear was starting to dawn on the old hags face, and the flickering became too fast for the eye to see and the Kyber crystal grew brighter and brighter and began humming loudly.

Suddenly it exploded, and the blast incinerated Gan Mal on the spot. The shock wave knocked down the front balcony and pillars of Mentors Hall and sent Darth Vader and the surrounding people flying, Tarahorkii, Clone Troopers, Grey Jedi and Padawans alike.

The Pau’an and his Force Clones were coming to Darth Vaders aid and were flung over backwards. Ten of his Force Clones were killed instantly, and the Pau’an hit his head against a disabled AT-TE and was knocked out cold.

Dain rune was helping fight the ARC Troopers in the eastern part of the compound when he felt and then heard the explosion coming from the direction of Mentors Hall.

He tossed a concussion grenade at three ARC Troopers behind a ruined wall and then ignited his jetpack and flew up and towards the center of the compound as the grenade took the troopers out.

He was saddened to see that the quarters that he had shared with Den were destroyed by the wreckage of an ARC-170, and landed near it to see what he could salvage from the ruins.

He managed to get two concussion grenades and an anti-personnel missile  for his Jet Pack launcher, and then he ignited his Jet pack once again and flew off into the direction of Mentors hall.

From the air he saw the crater where the explosion had happened, and saw that the front of Mentors Hall was demolished. He saw the remains of the staff and shattered Kyber crystal inside of the crater, and then saw the charred and smoking remains of Gan Mal next to them.

The armored giant in the black helmet and cloak staggered toward the edge of the crater and looked down into it, his red bladed light saber in his right hand.

Dain came in fast and fired his missile in the direction of the armored giant, who managed to side step the projectile, but the explosion still knocked him on his back.

Dain landed between the Sith Lord and the ruins of Mentors Hall, whipping his GALAAR-15 Heavy Mandalorian Blaster Rifle from its cradle on his jet pack and he fired it in auto  mode at the armored giant as he was struggling to his feet, striking him in the leg and arm as he deflected the rest of blasts with his red bladed light saber.

Darth Vader yelled in pain and rage and Force hurled two fallen shields at the Mandalorian in the horned helmet. Dain dodged them, rolled to his left and squeezed of another burst in the Dark Lords direction.

Darth Vader stretched out his hand and Force yanked the rifle from Dain’s hand. In one fluid motion Dain drew his DE-10 Blaster and fired at the flared helmet. Vader barely dodged it as it glanced off his helmet, staggering him.

Vader reached out and Forced choked the Mandalorian, lifting him off of his feet. Dain managed to pull out a concussion grenade and hurled it at the Sith Lord.

Vader Forced knocked it aside, but lost his choke hold for a minute as it exploded too close and the concussion nearly knocked him off his feet.

Dain ignited his back pack and came down right behind the Sith as he drew a combat knife and began to thrust it into the armored giants back.

However, Vader spun around quickly, grabbing the Mandalorian by the knife wrist and twisted it away, causing the knife to fly out of Dains hand due to the wrist breaking, and then Darth Vader thrust the red bladed light saber through the armored chest plate of the warrior with the tusks on his helmet. Vader held him like that for a long minute, and then threw his lifeless body to the ground.

“Sweep this compound, have the ISB Major find their Jedi Holocrons and bring them to me. Where is the Inquisitor?” Vader demanded, wheezing heavily, his medical suit working hard to compensate for the damage it had just sustained.

One of the Force Clones came forward and answered, “He was injured my Lord, we are having him air lifted to a Med-Bay right as we speak.”

Darth Vader was feeling a little weak, and his suit was in need of repair, he was about to summon R4-K5 when he spotted the Force Clone with the severed arm.

He had his helmet off as a regular Clone Trooper with an aid kit was overlooking him. His hair was cut to Imperial specifications, but there was no mistaking the sandy blonde hair and blue eyes.

“What is your designation, Clone?” Darth Vader asked, breathing heavily, his anger mounting.

The Force Clone jumped to his feet, and stammered, “AS-0068 my Lord.”

Vader looked at him for a long minute, and then turned to another Force Clone nearby, ”Remove your helmet and tell me your designation.”

The Clone did, revealing a hawkish face with brown hair and blue eyes. “QJ-103, Lord Vader.”

The next two Force Clones he approached were the same AS series as the first, and Darth Vader erupted into a blind rage.

He started to slash, cut and hurl the surviving sixty five Force Clones.  The first half were shocked and did not move as he darted and slashed among them at super natural speed, and the other half that fought back only fueled Darth Vaders wrath even more and doubled his ferocity.

It was well after dark when Vader finished slaughtering the last of the Force Clones, and the other Clone Troopers, along with Major Odell, looked on in horror.

Darth Vader, unsteady on his feet, pointed at the dead Force Clones with his light saber, and stated in heavy, drawn out breaths, “Like the people that were in this mockery of a Jedi temple, these Clones were an abomination, and had to be purged, like the rest of the Jedi in the galaxy. If anyone wishes to question my judgement, step forward now.”

He looked at each and everyone around him, and no one challenged him.

“Very well.” Vader stated, “Any surviving force sensitives, kill them. What natives we can’t use for slaves in the Kyber crystal excavation, kill them as well.”

He then summoned R4-K5, climbed wearily aboard his fighter, and flew off toward the Relentless.

Major Nevan Odell watched as Darth Vaders ETA-2 streaked through the darkening sky toward space, stroking his mustache. “I must prepare a report for the Emperor, Commander. I will need a transport back to the Devastator as soon as possible.”

“Yes Major Odell, we will have one ready ASAP.” The Commander acknowledged.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Den, Kiva and Dez were staring through the Radidorrii eyes that faced Mentors Hall when they witnessed the deaths of Gan Mal and Dain Rune.

Den started screaming and wailing, and Kiva and Dez had to physically restrain him from rushing out to the surface to excise  his anger and sorrow onto the Dark Lord and the Clone Troopers.

“My betrothed, we have lost so much today, I cannot stand to lose you as well.” Kiva was crying as she hugged him close.

Dez was fighting to keep his emotions in check and stated in a voice choked with emotion, “ Gan Mal had plans for you, and you cannot fulfill her wishes if you run out there and get yourself killed. Those Dark Lords are too powerful for any of us, and you how hard that is for me to admit it.”

Den sat on the floor hugging his knees until Kiva and Dez called him over to witness Darth Vader slaughter the Force Clones until he got out of view of the Radidorii eyes.

Haydrak came limping toward them, and peered into the Radidorii eyes, he grimaced when he saw Dains body lying on its back, masked head facing toward the dark sky and the sprinkling of rain that was starting to come down.

“Come on, let’s get to the main part of catacombs, it’s too dangerous right here at the moment. Who knows how long it will take for them to discover us.” Haydrak suggested.

Den took a longer look at the body of his Grandfather as several Clone Troopers passed back and front of his view, and reluctantly followed Haydrak and his friends into the deeper parts of the catacombs.

Yesa Kell Pellas was up and moving around, checking on Ja’ons deep wound in the stomach. He was running a fever and in and out of consciousness.

She looked up at Haydrak as he and the trio of friends walked over to check on the Mentor.

“He has a fierce infection, but the herbs will help him fight it off. He is strong and will pull through this.” Yesa informed them as they had inquired about Ja’ons health. “How goes the battle?”

The look on their faces said it all, and a look of profound sorrow crossed her face.

“Now is the time for waiting.” Yesa sighed heavily, “And no excursions to the surface until the threat has passed.”

The sun was rising above the eastern mountains when the Eta class shuttle came in for a landing next to where the Mentors Hall used to be.  A larger Nu-class shuttle was parked nearby, and  as the Inquisitor walked down the ramp of the Eta-class , a light med-wrap around his head, he watched as the ISB Major and several Clone Troopers were removing  sealed crates of primitive documents  and a few holocrons from the large building that the native prisoners called “Mentors Hall ”and into the massive Nu-class shuttle.

The Inquisitor and the two Clone commanders then turned to enter the ringed built up part of the city. The Inquisitor had a nagging hunch all night, and wanted to check it out before leaving the system with Lord Vader, as they had been summoned back by the Emperor.

He stopped where the female Wookie lay face down on the pavement, her fur damp from last night’s rain and early morning dew. Some trophy hunter had already removed her native weapons sometime during the night.

The Inquisitor stopped to take his bearings, and walked over to the one story building with a busted out window. It was one of the most intact buildings in its ring, except for the window of course.

He opened the door and stepped inside, and looking to his left, he saw the young Wookie lying on the busted table. Dried blood on his shoulder, and the right side of his face covered in dried blood. His right eye was burnt out and an ugly looking light saber burn scar ran from his damaged eye and across his right cheek.

The Inquisitor knelt down looking over the full length of the young adolescent Wookie for any signs of life. He noticed the shallow rise and fall of his hairy chest, he was still alive, but just barely.

The Inquisitor stood up and commanded the two Clone Commanders, “Have a team move him to my shuttle. The Emperor wants another live one, and we have found one.”

The Commanders went about to following his orders.

After the Wookie was safely aboard the shuttle and the Pau’an was about to board  Major Odell waved down and approached the Inquisitor.

“ Greetings my Lord, I was hoping to run something by you before you departed.” The Major stated as he saluted and then bowed toward the Inquisitor.

The Inquisitor faced the Major squarely and snapped impatiently, “Well go ahead, Major, I am a little pressed for time.”

The Major cleared his throat, “I had heard that the Relentless will be headed back to Coruscant later today, and I was told that I am to stay behind with the Devastator?”

The inquisitor clasped his hands behind his back and leaned toward the ISB Officer, his yellow eyed gaze unwavering, “That is correct major. You will remain here with Captain Plummons until he gets the hyperspace drive engines repaired on his ship. While you are here, you will finish the sweeps here for any known Jedi fugitives and comb any records that may have possible locations of other Jedi fugitives. Captain Twill will be done with the Kyber crystal excavation in two days, he may need your security expertise until he leaves. You are now assigned to the Devastator. Is that clear?”

The Major saluted, “Yes, my Lord.”

The Inquisitor turned to ascend the shuttles boarding ramp, “Now if you will excuse, we have to update the Emperor, and prepare to jump. He has summoned Lord Vader and I back to Coruscant at our earliest convenience .”  And without a backward glance he entered the shuttle and the ramp retracted behind him.

Two nights of waiting and Den couldn’t wait no more. He conspired with Dez to help him recover his Grandfathers body that night after he discovered Dez had been making early morning forays for weapons and information.

Dez had a captured helmet mike from a deceased Clone, and they were listening to the comms about a group of invaders just east of here being attacked by four foot monster birds with razor sharp beaks.

They had to move to the edge of the river side entrance and sat on the ledge of the basin to pick up the transmissions.

“The Killa-Kuk are attacking a new set of invaders. “Dez informed Den and Kiva, who they had brought in on their little plot even though she did not agree with it, “ They will have to send some of their warriors to defend them, tonight will be our chance to get Dain Runes armor.”

Kiva nodded reluctantly, “Let’s get to some Radidorii Eyes and see what is happening, then we can plan it better.”

And so saying, they went and watched through the hidden Radidorii Eyes as three Imperial Gunships took off with thirty troopers each aboard.

“We help with the wounded, and then wait until everyone is asleep, then the three of us will take an anti-grav sled and bring Dains body back here.” Dez instructed.

They tended the wounded as they waited for night to fall.

Haydrak was healing pretty fast, and Ja’on was getting better now that the fever had broken several hours ago. He was sleeping a lot now, and  the old Tarahorkii medicine woman told them that was good thing for his body was trying to mend itself.

As they were sharing a meal with Haydrak, Yesa and several of the young Tarahorkii children, the hidden helmet mike began to chatter heavily.

“What is that?” Haydrak inquired, his ears perking up.

Dez, Kiva and Den shared sheepish looking glances with each other and Haydrak demanded with more authority, “Is that what I think it is? What have you kids done?”

Dez retrieved the mike from his bed roll, and they all listened for a minute.

Apparently a large force was attacking from the south, hitting the staging area on the southern plain and the commander was panicking as he had just sent a sizeable force east, and the recent assault had taken its toll on their resources as it was.

Haydrak laughed, startling the younger kids.” Who did this? What a brilliant move, as long as they can’t track us down here.”

Yesa smiled and explained, “Denka Doo and Bran no doubt. The reinforcements are two days late, but finally arrived.”

They listened as the Captain of the Devastator ordered all non -combat personnel back to the ship, he stated they would be making for high orbit in thirty minutes.

Another Captain chimed in and said he had enough Kadoon and Kyber crystals and that he was heading home in five minutes and that the casualties were high from the monster birds, and the rest of the Clone Troopers were leaving to confront the enemy to the south.

Den jumped and ran toward the Radidorii Eyes where he could see his Grandfather, and sure enough, he caught glimpses of receding Walkers and Gunships. Kiva, Dez and Haydrak rushed in as he was about to leave to gather his weapons.

“What is it Den?” Kiva asked concerned.

Den was excited as he explained, “We don’t have to wait until tonight, all the forces are either heading south or for that ship, the Devastator. I’m going to recover my Grandfather and his armor before the Kerla birds and Killa-Kuks come to feast on him.”

Haydrak shook his head and warned, “You may be putting us all in danger, let’s think about this for a minute.”

“I’m going, now.” Den said defiantly, “I dare anyone try to stop me.”

And he rushed for the main part of the catacombs and his sleeping roll to don his battered chest plate and worn gun belt.

Dez and Kiva ran after him, “You cannot do this alone.” Dez stated as he and Kiva rounded up their own individual weapons.

Kiva put on her sword belt and checked the Hold out Blaster that Den had given her.

“I know a faster route, through the Mentors Hall next to where your Grandfather is lying Den. It’s supposed to be a Blut family secret, but since you are my betrothed, I guess that makes you family.” Kiva explained, and led the way down the hall to a series of crypts with intricately carved figures on the wall.

She stopped in front of one that had two carved depictions of  Lyra-Sen kneeling on one knee, grasping her downward pointed sword, her head bowed over her sword hilt. They were eight inches tall.

The twin carving faced each other over a large sealed up crypt awning with Tarahorkii writing carved in the stone work that sealed the crypt.

She turned to Den as she grasped the carving on the left with her left hand. “We must turn their heads toward each other, and then push in at the same time for the door to open, or it will not work. Are you ready?”

Den nodded, and stepped up and grasped the other carving, and turned to Kiva, “Just say the word, whenever you are ready.”

Kiva counted to three, and they twisted and pushed, but nothing happened as Den was a little slower than Kiva.

She chuckled, “We must turn at the same time, let’s return them to the original position and try again.”

On the second try it worked, and the heavy stone slab slid downward, revealing a narrow corridor beyond the archway.

They had to step over the lower ledge that made the arch, Den holding a lantern in his left hand, and Kiva rubbed a Kadoon crystal clock wise with her palm three times and it lit up.

The held their lights in their left hand, and blasters in their right. Kiva carried her Blurgg-1120, and Den his DE-10.

Dez and Haydrak followed closely behind, Dez was armed with a captured DL-15s blaster carbine and Haydrak had his trusty DL-18 blaster.

They walked for two hundred yards, and Den estimated this based on the fact that the grand temple was directly across the great court yard from Mentors Hall.

The tunnel was only wide enough to for two to walk abreast of each other, and just like the bigger tunnel, had intricate carving and writing on the large stone block wall, and the low ceiling was vaulted.

Kiva stopped short in front of a huge slab that had depictions Lyra-Sens mate, the Tarahorkii sun god, Luma-Sen, fully armored and holding his flaming sword over his head with both hands.

Kira took a moment and slid a carving depicting a Boro-Gor and Barabuell locked in battle aside, and peered into the room beyond the wall.

It was the old wine and food cellar of Mentors Hall, and Gan Mal had used it to store what few Holocrons and manuscripts that she had made over the century and a half that she had been here. The room had been torn apart, but at the moment it was clear of any people.

She then went and stood before the Luma-Sen carving on the left.

“It’s the same here as before”, Kiva instructed Den a little sternly, “remember at the same time.”

Haydrak, his nose and ears twitching, laid a restraining hand on Dens arm, “We have company. Coming from the far end of the corridor. Multiple people, smells like blood, sweat and carbon residue.”

Den turned off his lamp and Kiva stuffed her glowing Kadoon crystal into a leather satchel that was slung across her right shoulder and rested on her left hip. Dez wore one too and Den and Haydrak wore large empty backpacks for scavenging weapons and other supplies while they were out.

They heard multiple people talking and saw the dim glow of lights coming up the corridor, and Den and his small group crouched low and readied their weapons.

Kiva gasped in surprise, her ears picking up her native language and a very familiar voice, Haydrak picked up on it too, placing a hand on her shoulder, restrained her from jumping up and running down the hall. “Wait.” He whispered into her ear, “They could be prisoners.”

The lights were brighter now and they could barely make out six silhouettes outlined from the glow of three Kadoon crystals.

The six people stopped short twenty feet away and held their lights aloft. Den could see they were armed with swords and looted enemy blasters. One of them called out in the native Tarahorkii language.

Kiva answered, and one of the new comers came limping up the corridor, and they seemed to favoring their left arm.

Den re-ignited his lamp, and the light shone on a very blood and mud crusted Keela Blut limping toward them.

Her leg left leg was crudely bandaged, her left arm in a makeshift sling. She had a nasty gash that ran from the right side of forehead, across her light eye and cheek. It was a miracle from the depth of her laceration that she still had use of the eye.

Kiva ran up and hugged her mother, who grunted in pain but managed to hug her daughter back.

The other five stepped forward and Den saw that four of them were members of the decoy refugees that went across the river to the east before the main fighting began.

The fifth person was a young auburn haired female with bright green eyes in battered gold armor, one of the late Balak-Pels tribal members. She too sported crude bandages on her limbs.

Kiva asker her mother in their native language what had happened to her, and Keela, being mindful of the aliens in the room answered in Basic.

“I was looking for your father and grandfather when I got caught up in the fighting just outside of the eastern wall. An explosion brought pieces of the wall down on me and the warriors I was fighting beside, as the enemy at that time were attacking from within the Fortress as well as outside of it. I survived but was pinned underneath the rubble, and that turned out to be a blessing as the enemy soldiers passed by me when they were looking for wounded and survivors, whom they slaughtered.” Keela choked up a little here, but continued, “Last night I managed to free myself from the rubble and make it to the river bank undetected. I was looking for the entrance to here when I came across young Berrit Pel here.” And she gestured toward the young Tarahorkii in gold armor. “She is Balaks youngest daughter, and survived the slaughter of the southern pass, and got separated from other survivors in another skirmish, Thorik Frey and his group are from the ones that went across the eastern river. They showed up early this morning, and came back to see how things were here.”

Den spoke up at this point, “I am so thankful that you are alive and well, but Berrit Pel and you are in dire need of medical attention. Kiva, take them to Yesa and the medicine woman, Danu Kal, Dez, Haydrak and myself can finish the task at hand.”

Kiva whipped around and pointed a finger at Den, “Don’t think that for one moment you are going up to the surface without me, Den Rune. I will help you recover your Grandfathers body and armor. I will not be down here in these catacombs while you risk your life up there among these invaders.”

Kiva turned to her mom, and hugged her again. “Den is right; Berrit Pel and you need medical attention.  Show Berrit the way there, and maybe Dera Von and Risa Kana can help you if you need it?”

She looked at the tall, slender pale orange skinned girl with grey eyes and sandy blonde hair, Dera Von, and the other female of average height, dark orange skin, brown hair and hazel eyed Risa Kana. These two agreed, and they helped Keela and Berrit as they limped off toward the main catacombs.

The very tall, 6’7” Tarahorkii whose blonde hair was turning white, Thorik  Frey, stepped up to Den and his companions. Thorik wore a leather eye-patch over his right eye, and his left eye was a bright blue. His face had old scars etched into the orange-yellowish flesh. He stated in a deep voice,” Kerrin Yaw and I would like to join you. We may be older, but we still have some fight left in us. We would to assist you on your task.”

Kerrin Yaw nodded, he had iron grey long hair, brown eyes, and his orange-brown face was scarred as well. He carried his 6’3” frame ramrod straight, and carried a double bladed Tarahorkii battle axe in his hands.

Haydrak nodded at Den, “Why not. The more the merrier and these guys look like they would be handy in a fight.”

Den reluctantly agreed, and he and Kiva activated the levers, and the huge stone door swung in noiselessly.

The six warriors stepped through the door into the expansive ancient cellar and found the place had been ransacked with broken wooden shelves, tables and loose leaf parchment strewn all over the flagstone floor.

They heard voices speaking basic from an antechamber on their right, and peering stealthily around the corner, Den saw three men, two bare headed but armored Clone officers flanking a normal human officer in grey chest armor with a flared blast helmet on his head, the invaders had their backs to the archway of the antechamber as they loaded some artifacts and a small amount of holocrans into two portable cargo containers.

Den grimaced as he saw his Grandfathers helmet perched on the edge of the table, its tusked adorned front facing him, and a wave of anger washed over him.

“Is this the last of the items you need, Major Odell?” The helmetless Clone on the left asked the Imperial Officer in the middle. Den could see the Clones helmet was on the table before him.

“Yes Commander Sonny One, this will do it.” The officer in the middle answered.  He pointed towards Dain’s helmet, “Along with my little souvenir here, that should do us, and we can go see what the commotion in the South is all about.”

Den and Dez were creeping up on the trio, and when they were about ten feet away, they ignited their light sabers.

The three Imperials whirled about drawing their blasters and Den and Dez jumped in and cut the two Clones down before they could raise their weapons.

Den brought his orange bladed light saber down onto the Imperial Officers wrist as he leveled the SE-14r blaster at Dez. The hand was severed and the wrist, and fell to the floor still clutching the blaster.

Major Odell screamed in pain, and Dez slashed him from the left shoulder to his right waist. The Imperial officer fell back onto the table behind him with a heavy thud; his eyes fixed and mouth agape in death.

Den deactivated his light saber and set it on the table long enough to put his Grandfathers helmet on. It was a perfect fit.

Picking up his light saber, Den and Dez motioned for the other four  to follow them, and they made their way to the broad stone staircase that led up to the main floor of Mentors Hall.

Scanning the area at the top, and seeing no one there, Den motioned for the others to follow him as he and Dez led the way, and Thorik and Kerrin followed up at the rear.

Stepping onto the landing at the top, Dez pressed his ear against the heavy wooden double doors with metal trim, and motioned that he couldn’t hear anything.

Den lowered the helmets range finder and had to sync the computer of his personal armor to his Grandfathers helmet, which only took a few seconds, and then he selected the thermal setting on his left wrist controls.

He scanned the door, and picked up no heat traces beyond it. He motioned to Kiva and Haydrak and pointed toward the door as he and Dez took positions on either side with their hands on the door handles,

The pushed the handles down and the doors swung inward, Kiva covered the left flank and Haydrak the right as they entered the massive hall way beyond, Thorik and Kerrin followed behind them and then Den and Dez pushed the doors shut behind them.

The smell of death and decay assailed their noses, and Kerla and Worshi birds fluttered away at their approach, having flown in through the gaping blast holes in the ceiling and the outside facing walls.

Bodies of Tarahorkii warriors and a few Clone Troopers lay prone in various rooms and alcoves as they traversed the hall, and the Kerla birds had feasted wherever they could find bare flesh and exposed eyes.

Haydrak held up a hand in warning, and motioned for the group to take cover in rooms on either side of the double doors they were approaching.

Den, Kiva and Haydrak scurried into the darkened room on the left, and Dez, Thorik and Kerrin scurried into the semi lit room on the right, the light filtering in through blast holes in the wall and two, small busted out windows.

The double doors opened and four Clone Troopers strode through, one talking into his helmet mike, “Commander SN-1101, do you have a copy? Commander Sonny One, we have been ordered to the Staging area, do you copy?”

“Must be the thick walls.” another Clone opined, “Let’s get the rest of the Majors items loaded into the Troop Transport quickly, they say another sizeable force is headed toward us from the North, and that they took out several of our fly boys that went to check them out.”

A third stated, “Let them come, I’m ready for another fight. We lost too many buddies on this dirtball, I want more payback.”

“Be careful what you wish for.” Den chided as he stepped from the darkened room after the Clone Troopers walked by. He then thrust his light saber into the back of the nearest Clone Trooper, impaling him between the shoulder blades.

As the Clone Troopers turned their attentions and weapons toward Den, Dez sliced another Clone Trooper from his collar to his chest.

Kiva jumped on the back of another, and wrapping her long legs around the Troopers waist, wrapped a thin silver wire that she had picked up from the room around his neck under his helmet and twisted and pulled on it with all of her might, leaning back to keep him off balanced.

Kerrin bashed the last one into the side of the head with his battle axe, knocking the Clone Trooper to the ground, his helmet askew as he hit the floor. Thorik finished him off with a sword thrust to the neck.

The one Kiva was choking had dropped his blaster carbine and was staggering around, clawing at his neck. He managed to get his armored fingers around the strand of wire around his neck, and bucked forward suddenly, twisting at the waist in the same motion.

Kiva rolled with the motion, jerking the wire as she did. She lacerated her palms on the wire, but snapped the Clone Troopers neck in the process, killing him instantly.

Den removed a med-pack from a Clone Troopers belt and applied a Bacta compress to each of her hands, wrapping them up. “You should have thought that one through, sweetheart.”  He admonished.

“It was quiet and did the job, so don’t complain.” She quipped.

They hid the bodies in the darkened room, and Haydrak handed Thorik a blaster carbine and attempted to hand one to Kerrin who shook his head and held up his battle axe, speaking Tarahorkii as he did.

Thorik translated for him, “He says he has the only weapon that he will ever need.”

Haydrak shrugged, and muttered “Suit yourself.” Sticking the carbine into his backpack.

Den and Dez opened the door, and entered the main lobby of the hall, and it was covered in rubble and bodies, most of the ceiling and roof was gone, as was most of the outside facing wall.

Two Clones stood on each side of the destroyed doorway, facing outward. The balcony on the second level and pillars that supported it were nothing now but a pile of rubble in the courtyard.

As they made their way across the rubble strewn floor to the where the doorway used to be, Kiva saw a body lying in the alcove on the left. She stopped, and ran toward it.

The two clones turned at the sound, and Den reacted by using the Force to pull them in violently into the building. Dez jumped in to help Den neutralize the Clone Troopers with their light sabers.

Den turned to the rest of the group, “Keep an eye on that opening just in case anyone saw that.”  And went to see what Kiva got excited about.

He found her kneeling in the gloomy alcove, the bodies of two very young Tarahorkii , human half breeds lying on the ground before her.

“I was there when these twins were born, and it angers me to see them like this.” She explained, sobbing as Den placed a hand on her shoulder. The Kerla birds had feasted on their bare flesh and it was not a pretty sight to see.

“I know, sweet Kiva. I helped train Merri and Kerri Perren, and it saddens me too. As soon as it is safe, we will give them and the others a proper burial ceremony, I promise.” He stated, helping her to her feet and hugging her close. “Let’s go rejoin the others now.”

As soon as they rejoined their group, they made their way to the now vacant ruined doorway and peered outside from the cover of the ruined wall and broken pillars.

They could see the blast crater that was made from Gan Mals exploding Kyber crystal, it had accumulated water from the previous night’s rain, and they could see the charred skeletal remains of Gan Mal lying in the middle, pieces of her staff and Kyber crystal strewn about around her.

Den lowered the range finder and looked across the way; Den could see his Grandfathers body, ravaged by the Kerla birds and small rodents where the armor did not cover him. A Republic Troop Transport was parked nearby, and three Clone Troopers stood beside it, looking north.

Den saw six ARC-170s and four V-19s streak by, headed North. To the east he spotted a distant Gozanti class cruiser climbing upwards toward space from the southwest.

No else was sight but the three Clone Troopers and several deceased bodies. Den crawled over and picked up one of the DC-15A Blaster rifles that the Clones stationed at the door had dropped when he Force dragged them inside the building.

He gestured to the other long rifle and asked the group, “Who else here is a marksman?”

Haydrak, Dez and Kiva rose their hands, and Den groaned at having to make the choice. Kiva made it for him by grabbing the other rifle, and sighted it in on the Clones across the court yard.

“How do you want to go about this?” She asked, sighting each Clone Trooper in turn.

“Well, it goes like this,” Den explained, amused at her confidence, “I take the one on the right, and you take the one on the left, and then we double team the middle guy before he can sound the alarm.”

“Are you ready?”  She asked in a teasing tone as Den settled in behind his rifle to site it in.

As soon as he said yes, she shot the Clone Trooper on the left and the one in the middle in the head in rapid sequence. The remaining Clone was just starting to react when Den shot him through the chest.

Den shook his head in disbelief and turned toward Kiva, “Where did you learn to shoot like that?”

She smirked and replied, “Your Grandfather. When you were training in the ways of the Force, I had you Grandfather teach me about these advanced weapons, especially in the area of marksmanship. He did say that I picked up faster than you did.”

Den laughed, and then turned somber as he looked over at the body of his Grandfather. He set the long rifle aside, and jumped and ran toward his prostate body.

Den kneeled down beside him, removed the tusked helmet from his head in respect for his Grandfather, and placed a hand on Dain’s armored chest.

“I swear to avenge you, Grandfather. I swear to you that I will hunt down this Sith Lord and make him pay for your death, and the deaths of everyone here, or I will die trying.” Den stated, speaking in Mandalorian.

He then set about removing the armor and weapons that his Grandfather wanted him to have, and was devising a way in his mind to repair the damaged chest plate.

He got everything in the oversized back pack that he had brought, except for the GALAAR-15 rifle, which he picked up.

His Grandfathers jetpack was destroyed by the Sith Lords light saber, and Den had to discard it.

“Guys, a large number of Saga-hel are approaching from the north; we may want to get back to the catacombs.” Haydrak warned, pointing toward the northern gate, the only one in the whole compound that wasn’t damaged.

Dez looked at Haydrak with a puzzled look, “These invaders don’t ride Saga-hel.”

“They may have started to.” Haydrak shot back in defense.

A large, distant rumble from the south caused everyone to look in that direction. In the distance, beyond the southern gap, they could make out an Acclamator 1 class assault ship climbing upward through the sky.

“Where are they going?” Haydrak wondered aloud.

Thorik then pointed to the Northern wall, and stated in a perturbed tone, “The warriors of Vorda Kee have scaled the wall and will soon crank open the gates. Don’t they know that the other three gates are gone, and easier to come into? Of course they invade now, that the fighting has been done for them.”

Kiva laughed and ran toward the northern gate, “Thorik Frey, you should remember that we have had a peace treaty with the Northern tribes for a long time now, and my brother Heiko Blut may be among them.”

The Gates swung outward, and thirty Saga-hel riders in Blue armor came riding in. A rider in red armor was one of the ones leading the way. The warriors that opened the gates were running down the stairs that led up to the parapets to rejoin their group who led their Saga-hels in for them.

Dain and the other five joined Kiva as she hugged the red armored warrior with crested helmet that had just dismounted.

The tall, powerfully built Heiko Blut had finally arrived with reinforcements from the Northern tribes. His hair was black like Kivas but his eyes were sky blue.

“Den Rune, Dez Orun, my  you have grown since I saw you last, and Den, wearing your grandfathers helmet. But enough of greetings, what news of our Blut Fortress, and has Denka Doo attacked yet from the south?” Heiko asked.

Kivas joy turned somber as she answered, “Our Fortress is mostly destroyed, and a large force of invaders now occupy it. Mother is alive but injured, and is in the catacombs with other injured, the elderly and infirm. I have had no news of father or our grandparents.”

Heiko hugged her close, and promised, “We will find out, sweet sister, and honor them when we do.”

Haydrak interjected out of curiosity, ”We saw star-fighters fly north to intercept you, how are you guys dealing with them?”

Heiko laughed and motioned toward a Saga-hel rider in the middle of the group. Brenna Bale, in her battered flight suit, approached them on her mount. Haydrak howled in joy.

The half Tarahorkii daughter of Mentor Orson Bale, she had blue eyes and blonde hair, her skin tone had only a hint of orange to it.

Haydrak Kohr lifted her off her mount and hugged her close, and asked. “I thought you were dead! What happened to you after you escaped from the Wanderer?”

“My life pod flew far north, and after a few scary days on my own, I ran into these guys.” She stated. “ As far as the fighters go, we came across the wreckage of several fighters from our little space battle on the way here. Working with the metal workers, we improvised some shoulder fired artillery with the proton and concussion missiles that we had scavenged. We hide when the fighters fly overhead and shoot them down, and then collect their missiles.”

Haydrak laughed, “Simple, but effective. And luckily for you guys, we have plenty of weapons lying all around us. The Clone Troopers haven’t collected all of them yet. If I were you, I would gather what I could for you offensive attack on your home Fortress.”

Heiko translated this to the hawk faced, dark eyed, dark haired man in blue armor next to him. This man laughed and nodded with enthusiasm.

“Vorda Kee agrees. It’s been a long while since he spoke basic, but he is a quick learner.” Heiko explained, and then turned toward Kiva, “I would like to see mother now.”

Thorik raised his hand, “I will go get her and the others. I’m sure they want out of the catacombs for a little while. And I and brave Kerrin will go and bring back the warriors that are sheltering in the caves in the eastern foothills, so we can participate in the battle.”

Kiva agreed, and Heiko motioned for the other warriors to come in through the gate. Heiko and Vorda Kee then instructed several dozen warriors to go and round up weapons from the fallen fighters, both friend and foe.

Brenna Bale ran up to Haydrak, leading her Saga-hel by the reins, and asked, “Where is Tym Pellus? Is he shacked up in the catacombs with Yesa Kell Pellus?”

Haydrak choked up as he answered, “He’s gone Brenna. He went out fighting though. Yesa and the baby are fine, and in the catacombs, but Tym, he is no longer with us.”

They walked in silence for a minute, and then Brenna stated in earnest, “We will bury him with honors. He deserves that.”

“That he does.” Haydrak agreed emphatically.

As they were all making their way towards Mentor Hall, two All-Terrain Recon Transports, or AT-RTs, came running up from the far side of Mentors Hall, looking for the Clone Troopers that were not answering their comms.

They fired two mortars from their launchers at the group of warriors as they were scrambling for cover.

Den saw the mortars were headed right for Haydrak and Brenna, and yelled for them to get down. He went running toward them and channeling the Force, deflected the mortars away from them.

He then deflected the laser fire from the transports with his light saber, and Haydrak and Kiva blasted the riders of the AT-RTs right of their seats.

“Thank You, Den, you saved our lives.” Brenna Bale replied, clipping her own light saber back to her belt.

Dez came running up listening to the helmet mike that he took off of a dead Clone Trooper. “The main commander of our enemy is calling for all troops to report south, Denka Doo and his forces are now attacking them in Force and making their way north. He has been joined by eastern and western tribal forces.”

Heiko turned and told his forces in Tarahorkii, and they cheered loudly. His forces were still pouring through the northern gate, and Den estimated the warriors to be over a thousand now.

The refugees in the catacombs were emerging from the direction of the ancient temple, Ja’on Windu among them. Thorik Frey was supporting the injured Mentor and helping him walk toward the gathering warriors.

Some of the warriors that Vorda Kee and Heiko Blut went out were returning now and handing out blasters, grenades, Sturma Guns and whatever else they could gather.

Heiko and Kiva were embracing Keela together, who had cleaned up a little, and Berrit Pel was asking  Vorda Kee if she could join his army for the assault on the Blut Fortress, and he agreed.

“That helmet looks good on you.” Ja’on stated as he walked up to Den. ”So sorry to hear about Dain, I know how much you loved and admired him.”

Den nodded, and stated, “I’m ready to go out and seek justice for the crimes committed here today, and you look like you could use some help from Erma.”

Ja’on nodded, “Indeed. But Keela wants to go ahead and honor the dead here while we have the people to help. The Blut Fortress deceased will have to wait until it is retaken by the warriors. Join us for the ceremony? It’s in two hours, if we don’t get attacked again.”

Den nodded, “Yes, I will stay and honor my Grandfather, Gan Mal, Darrawoo and the other dear friends that we have lost here. And then we leave as Gan Mal wished, to finish my training, and track this Sith Lord down.”

Ja’on  leaned heavily on Dens shoulder, “Be careful about wanting to seek vengeance young Padawan. You do not want to become the thing you hate.”

Chapter Thirty-Three

The ceremony to honor the fallen was short and very solemn.

Gan Mal, Dain Rune, Tym Pellus, Sharrawul, Darrawoo and all of the fallen Mentors and Padawans were interred in the cemetery that Gan Mal had created over a century and a half ago.

The Fallen Tarahorkki were honored as well. Those that were followers of Lyra-Sen were interred in the sacred crypts of the catacombs, and those that were not were cremated as their beliefs mandated.

Den was loading his and some of Dains things into the newly acquired Republic Troop Transport and was talking to Brenna Bale.

“You sure you don’t want to come with us? You are handy with a light saber and a decent pilot. We could use you.” Den stated, loading the last of his and Dain’s meager belongings aboard.

“This is the only home I have ever known, Den.”  Brenna explained. “And I want to be a part of this assault to reclaim the Blut Fortress. And if we are successful, hopefully we can rebuild here, and I can carry on Gan Mals legacy. But only with the descendants of these Grey Jedi and Tarahorkii. I doubt very much any outsiders will be welcome here for a while.”

They shared a brief moment of silence and then Brenna hugged Den, and said in a voice heavy with emotion, “Thank you, Den Rune.”

“Why are you thanking me for?” Den asked puzzled.

Brenna playfully punched him in the arm, “Because, silly, without you I wouldn’t be here now. Remember the walkers with the mortars? Because of that, you have allowed me to carry on Gan Mals legacy here, and where ever she may be, I am sure she is proud of you.”

Kiva walked up, her crimson armor had been cleaned up, and her hair was bound up in a long thick braid and she carried her battle helmet under her arm.

“I’ll leave you love birds alone now. I need to go don my armor and prepare for the assault. May the Force be with you, Den Rune.” And with that, she walked back toward the crowds gathered outside Mentors Hall.

“You are all dressed up for our trip.” Den teased, “I really don’t think you will need the battle armor in hyper space.”

Kiva fumbled with her helmet, and then blurted out in barely controlled sobs, “My sweet, sweet Den Rune. My betrothed, I cannot go. My place is here, with my people, to help rebuild the Blut Clan as we have nearly been decimated from alien invaders.”

She looked toward the sun as it was slowly sinking in the west.

Turning back toward Den, who was fighting to hold back tears, she declared, “Den Rune, I release you from our betrothal. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, because I do indeed. But we were only fated to be together for a short time. A short time I will never forget as long as I live. May the Force be with you, and Lyra-Sen always keep you safe.”

She then embraced and they kissed passionately for several heart beats, and then she pulled away. “I love you, Den Rune.”

And Den stammered, ashamed of the tears running down his face, “I love you too, Kiva Blut, and I will never ever forget you or Tara-Dor, for as long as I live.”

She smiled, and turned to walk quickly away.

Haydrak and Ja’on walked up with Yesa Kell , Dez Orun and Keela Blut.

“Young love.” Haydrak said, shaking his head and grinning.

Ja’on elbowed him in the side and Haydrak yelped, and growled softly, “Careful, I’m still tender there Ja’on! How would you like it if I just gut punched you?”

Dez grinned, and he and Den grasped forearms. “Never a dull moment with Haydrak around. I’m really going to miss you guys.” Dez and Keela were both clad in polished crimson armor.

“ And we are going to miss you.” Den replied, giving Dez a hug.

Keela walked in and gave Den a hug, “You will always be a son to me, and are welcome here as long as I am alive. But we will not take in any more outsiders like we did before. We have paid a terrible price, and this battle has not even begun yet.”

“Promise me you two will keep Kiva safe.” Den requested, “And I promise I will return one day, after I have gotten revenge for my Grandfather and all of Tara Dor.”

“Thank you.” Keela stated, “But it is a terrible, but noble quest you are on. Don’t let vengeance rob you of being the good person you are.” She paused as if she wanted to say more, but stated instead, “ We must go prepare for battle. May the Force be with you.”

Yesa hugged the three men, and turned to Haydrak, “You will be happy to know, if the baby is a boy, I will name him Tym. If a girl, Tyma.” She turned to the others, “It has been an honor knowing all of you. May Lyra-Sen keep and protect you.” She then hugged them all again, and then walked away.

“Poor kid.” Haydrak sighed, “With a name like that, it hasn’t got a chance.” And when he noticed Den and Ja’on looking at him astounded by his insult, Haydrak held up his hands, “I’m kidding guys, c’mon. Tym would understand, he had a sense of humor.”

They all boarded the Republic Troop Transport and Den guided it out of the northern gate and headed northwest.

He activated his helmet comms, “A-37, prepare the Reaver for take- off, We lift off in thirty minutes.  Enact code 0007A. Dain Rune will no longer be with us. And have Erma prepare the med-Bay, we have wounded incoming.”

“Affirmative, Den.” A-3 acknowledged. ”My condolences for you loss. For the record, I will miss him too.”

“Thank you, A-37.” Den stated solemnly, and the rest of the ride was in silence.

They boarded the Reaver, leaving the transport behind. Den helped Ja’on get settled in the medical bay as Erma cleaned up Haydraks wounds.

And with Ja’on in the care of Erma, Den settled into the pilot’s seat and Haydrak into the co-pilot’s seat. They buckled in, and they lifted off and headed for space.

The sun was just slipping behind the western mountains as they started gaining altitude and escape velocity.

Den turned toward to Haydrak and thoughtfully inquired, “Would you agree that we should go assist old friends for one last time? ”

“Let’s do it.” Haydrak agreed, and Den changed direction for the Bluts Fortress, where the warriors of the northern tribes and the surviving Blut warriors had just joined in the battle with the southern tribes.

Den could see that Gunships,  V-19s and ARC-170s strafing the thousands of native warriors that were assaulting the fortress, and the Walkers and Clone Troopers on the ground and Clone Troopers in the parapets firing in defense of their newly acquired base.

Their fighter numbers were pitifully low from the previous battles, as were the gunships and walkers.

“A-37, tap into the Imperial communications, and let’s hear what they have up their sleeve.” Den commanded, and he turned to Haydrak, “Ready the concussion missiles and laser turrets, we are going in hot.”

“Roger.” Haydrak replied as he operated the control console before him.

Den took the Reaver into a steep dive and flew at the Clone Forces at full speed.

They fired their missiles at the Walkers and gunships as the lasers took out several fighters.

Several V-19s broke off their attack to go after the Amphibious Interstellar Assault Transport ship, and tapping into the Force, Den evaded their missiles and lasers, twisting and turning to dodge their incoming fire.

A-37 turned from the communications station, “Den, the commander on the ground has requested orbital bombardment onto his position. He has been over run.”

“Oh no, no!” Den muttered, then ordered, “Key up external speakers now A-37!”

And Den went in low, risking a hit from ground fire and yelling over the external speaker link, “Get out of there! Get to shelter, they are going to bomb you from orbit!”

“Den.” Haydrak sounded panicked, “Our shields are taking a beating, we have got to get out of here!”

Den cursed in Mandalorian and nosed the Reaver up and shot for the upper atmosphere, six V-19s in pursuit.

Haydrak remote fired the rear laser turret taking out a V-19 when they broke through the atmosphere and into space.  Haydrak took out another V-19, but the Reaver shook from multiple hits and Den went full speed toward the Acclamator class Assault ship and targeted its primary engines as he sped by, weaving in and out the ships defensive fire, causing them to unintentionally hit the pursuing V-19s, and destroying them in the process.

His missiles scored, and all the work that had been done to repair the Devastators Hyperspace Drive was undone.

Den increased his speed and headed for the moon of Lyra-Sen, “A-37, enter the coordinates for Concordia, quickly please.” He requested.

“Processing.” A-37 replied impassively.

Den activated his rear view screen and watch helplessly as the Acclamator class assault ship fired a torrent of lasers and missiles toward the planet’s surface.

“Kiva.” Den whispered. “Kiva please be safe.”

The navi computer beeped, and Den activated the hyper drive engines and the stars stretched out before him, and he left the Tara Dor system far behind.

End of Book One

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