The year is 3,651 BBY, two years after the Treaty of Coruscant. The Sith Empire has an uneasy truce with Galactic Republic that has resulted in a cold war with various proxy wars scattered across the galaxy. One such conflict is the civil war on Ord Mantell where a government still loyal to the Republic spills blood against separatist guerillas.
Ord Mantell: Worlport, Capital
Raster Zzen popped a fresh power cell into his blaster rifle. The fine weapon didn’t gleam in the artificial light of the hallway, and its distinctive profile no longer matched the Czerka model that it once was. After being rebuilt by a highly skilled Baragwin craftsmen, it was now more of a work of art than a tool. Zzen smiled grimly beneath his helmet as he shifted the weapon’s stock into his shoulder. It was but one small part of his arsenal. Shoving the thoughts aside, he brought up the thermal imaging on his HUD and began tracking his targets. They were now only ten meters away.
The sky was a beautiful pink hue, as always, and the faint smell of an ocean breeze drifted past the general’s face. His attention fell from the startling picturesque sky down to the two hulking guards flanking his every step. It was an ever present reminder of the grim reality he was in.
The general looked to his left as he heard his bodyguard captain mutter into his comlink. “Is there a problem captain?”
“No sir. Just an airspeeder that was approaching our position. Security teams pulled them over. They were cleared and directed elsewhere.” The captain turned toward him. “General, you do know that if you didn’t insist on these walks, we could avoid the hassles of having to secure the streets for your evening sojourns.”
There was a small edge of jest to the captain’s words that was not lost on the general. “Ah Captain, if I did that, then I’d be just another fat man behind a desk. Besides, these little outings keep you security boys on your feet. I wouldn’t want your razor edge getting dull now would I?”
Ahead of them a door opened and a man in full armor strode out onto the side walk. The first thing the general noticed was the blaster being pointed right at him.
The blaster screamed as it opened fire, ruby red bolts of energy belching from the muzzle.
The General opened his eyes and realized he wasn’t dead. Looking down, he saw the captain gurgling blood and curled up in pain.
Two more shots shrilled into life. They caught the other bodyguard clear in the throat, severing his head from his body.
In utter shock, the General watched the man’s head roll across the ground, his helmet clunking on the paved street.
Slowly, he returned his gaze to the attacker. The man wore an earthly toned array of armor plates, all browns and sandy oranges. Two crisscrossed bandoliers were strapped across his chest, a pistol slung low in a gunslinger rig around his waist. And on his helmet were two black emotionless orbs that served as eyes.
Then the world went black.
Smoke curled up from Zzen’s rifle as he quickly closed in on his target. With his left hand he drew a vibro knife from its sheath and flicked the thrumming weapon into action. Reversing his grip, he let gravity drive the blade through the general’s skull as he dropped to a crouch. He didn’t bother to turn it off. His focus was already scanning down the street at the onrushing security teams. As the vibrating knife made jello out of the general’s brains, Zzen triggered a remote on his wrist.
Twenty meters away, the street erupted into a screeching cloud of smoke. Four story buildings on both sides collapsed into rubble.
The security teams were no more.
Zzen rose to his feet and briefly glanced at his chrono. Fifty two seconds. He let out the breath he’d been holding and casually drifted into an alley. The other security teams would be on their way, air and foot traffic would be locking down rapidly. But by then he’d already be free and clear.
“One dead general for the Republic…25,000 credits for my bank account. Fair trade.”
Cups of caf and the plates of nerf sausages and eggs rattled on the counter as a vibration rumbled through the restaurant. A deep thundering boom could be heard in the distance.
“An earthquake, master?”
“No.” Jedi Master Calos shook his head. “An explosion.”
The apprentice reached out with the Force and could feel the nearby panic as it reverberated among the people. “The source seems to be from that direction, five blocks.”
Calos ignored the direction of his apprentice’s finger. “And how do you presume that?”
“I felt a void at the center of the feelings of distress…the area where the bomb went off.”
He smiled. “Very perceptive Warin.” The young man’s face perked up at his master’s compliment. “I think we should investigate.” He flagged down the passing waitress.
She paused as she tallied up the Jedi’s bill in her head. “That’ll be 12.61.”
The Jedi Master raised a paw in dismay. “We our Jedi, there is no need for us to pay. We are needed elsewhere.”
“Oh, Jedi! I’m sorry, I bet you’re needed elsewhere. Go ahead, no need to pay.”
Calos’ lion faced flashed a small grin and he motioned for his apprentice to follow. He noted the boy’s frown, but did not speak until they were out on the street. “You did not approve of my use of the Force?”
The boy could hear the reproach in his master’s voice. “I’m sorry master. I don’t mean to question your wisdom.”
Master Calos’ voice returned to a more casual tone. “There is no need for an apology, Warin. You are an apprentice, and more importantly, a Jedi. It is your duty to question the things around you and to weigh their moral standing…even the actions of your master. Ignorance will as surely lead you to the dark side as much as anger.”
Warin looked up from his feet, mustering the courage to continue. “Then why did you cheat the waitress out of our bill?”
“Because we our Jedi, the pillars of the Republic. We cannot be tasked with such trivial things as ‘paying our bills’ when the Sith are out blowing up tenement blocks.” He purred a slow sigh as he saw the argument gained no merit with his apprentice. “Time is of importance, Warin. Every second we waist dallying on a few measly credits for a half eaten meal, we could be one second closer to investigating the scene of the explosion. Those precious moments could be the difference between catching a Separatist saboteur or a Sith assassin…or making sure that the local diner gets their 12 credits and change.” Now he could feel his apprentice accepting the facts for what they were. “As a Jedi you must balance such sacrifice. With the Force to guide you, you cannot go wrong. Always remember to be open to its currents.”
The boy nodded as he quickly kept pace with his master. His reasoning was sound and made sense, though he couldn’t quite escape the thought that it was the Force that felt wrong at the time it happened, and not his conscience.
Lieutenant Faerdeen was snapping out commands as he saw the two approaching Jedi. One of them was a feline species of some sort, maybe a Chathar or Trianii, with yellow skin. The other was a young human with short cut brown hair and youthful looking eyes of the same color. “Masters, can I be of assistance?”
Calos nodded. “Yes, are you in charge here lieutenant?”
“Yes sir, until Colonel Yassen arrives, that is.”
“What was their target? Was it a barracks, a supply depot…”
“No sir,” the lieutenant cut him off, “the bomb was merely a cover. We found Brigadier General Morricen dead only a quarter block away from the explosion. There was an assassin’s vibro blade jabbed into his head.”
“That sounds rather professional for the Separatists, master.”
“Yes, it does.” Jedi Master Calos narrowed his eyes.
“Do your men have any clues on the perpetrator, lieutenant?” Warin asked.
“No, I’m afraid not. There were a lot of people fleeing the scene, running from the explosion, as well as people rushing toward it. We were only able to secure vehicle traffic, so the assassin is most likely on foot.”
Suddenly Master Calos’ green eyes opened wide in shock only a moment before a crimson bolt splashed into the lieutenant’s head. “Get down!”
But it was too late. The Jedi Master’s premonition had swirled him into action, allowing him to skirt the beam across his collarbone, yet the deadly ray slammed full force into the unsuspecting lieutenant.
With lightsabers ignited, the two Jedi zeroed in on the roof top from where the shot came. “He’s on the move.” Calos growled in a predatory tone. “Follow me.”
They charged toward the building. Inside was a lobby for what looked to be a tenement building. Calos’ eyes quickly spied out the tubolifts. With two deep strikes from his lightsaber, he rendered the controls into sparking cinders. The humming servomotor’s of the lifts instantly stopped as the emergency fail safe’s locked down.
He motioned toward the stairwell. “I’ll take the stairs, you find the back of the building. Wait there and keep a look out.”
Warin nodded and headed across the lobby.
The lift doors gave a slow, stiff whine as Zzen pried them apart with his crushgaunts. Luckily he was almost on the current floor. As he pulled back the doors, he had a full meter of clearance to crawl out onto the sixth floor’s hallway.
Those kriffing Jedi will be hot on my jets now. He reminded himself. There should have been only one to contend with now, but that Trianii had slipped just under the bolt, letting that Republic lieutenant take the full blow in his face.
And now, if the lifts were out, that meant the Jedi were taking the stairs.
Better make for the windows.
He turned around and put an armored boot through the nearest door. The plastiform door swung in as the key catch broke in two. Storming in, Zzen targeted the nearest window and shattered the glass with one of his gauntlets. Acting quickly, he stuck a zip line into the bottom lip of the window frame and jumped out, letting fiber cord whine off the spindle of his belt as he plummeted to the ground. With a firm squeeze he slowed his descent. He cut the line two meters from the bottom, and rolled down with the fall.
Then he heard the unmistakable snap-hiss of a lightsaber behind him.
Warin ignited the blue blade as the assassin rolled to his feet, his blaster rifle slung across his back. “Surrender or die.” He warned stiffly.
“You’re just a pup.” Zzen laughed, and while the Jedi took a moment to blush, he ignited his flamethrower. “How about you die!”
The flames engulfed Warin before he had a chance to defend himself. It happened too quickly for the Force to warn him. The assailant’s split second decision now had him covered in fire.
Before the flames could burn the apprentice into cinders, Master Calos fell heavily behind the assassin from a wild Force assisted leap. Zzen heard the thud and snapped his flame thrower around at the new threat, however this Jedi was prepared for the attack. With a projection of his paw, the Trianii feline was able to push the flames back in a rushing ball of fire.
Zzen’s cursed to himself as he saw it happening and immediately cut the feed to the flames. The heat washed over him, but his armor took it without a hitch. Just as the flames dissipated, he saw the green, humming blade swinging down toward his neck.
Jamming his forearm, Zzen triggered one of his emergency tools. Four nozzles, placed strategically on his armor, instantly spewed out 4 kilograms of nerve gas in a blue hazed cloud.
The Jedi staggered back as the toxins drenched him in fluid. He felt his muscles growing lax, his responses sluggish. Using the Force, he bit down viciously on his conscious, struggling to maintain control.
Seeing that the master was out, Zzen turned his attention back to the apprentice just in time to see another lightsaber coming at him.
This time there was no slick tricks or lightning fast reflexes in Zzen’s repertoire. Futilely, he raised his arm to block the strike. The blue beam seared through it without hesitation. Nerves screamed in agony as muscles, tendons, and flesh were severed in intense heat, sizzling as the lightsaber sliced through the armored forearm.
Surreally, he watched his right arm fall to the ground.
“Surrender.” Came the Jedi’s calm reply.
Zzen looked into the boy’s brown eyes, adrenaline and shock pouring through his body. Yet he saw with utter clarity that there was no longer the pompous face of child Jedi.
Now he saw death.
“All right…I surrender.” There was nothing else he could do.
Warin’s voice echoed command, the Force lining his words. “Take off your helmet, drop your weapons to the ground, then kneel and place your hands behind your back.”
Zzen immediately obeyed. He popped off his helmet, revealing a pale blue eyed face beneath. His short cropped white hair made him look older than what he was, as his face was lacking in the tell tale age lines. He tossed down his blaster pistol and his blaster rifle, and his two bandolier slings with little difficulty, even with only one hand. As he knelt, the Jedi placed stun cuffs on the joints of his elbows.
Grim reflection sank into Zzen’s mind. The mission had almost been a success. He’d taken out the first target with ease, yet the two Jedi had refused to go down, even when torched and poisoned. Fifty thousand credits lost…
Then a lightsaber flashed through Zzen’s neck, and his thoughts stopped as his head tumbled in front of him.
Calos snarled at his apprentice, “I had to, look!”
Warin, stunned by his master’s act of violence against a defenseless opponent, stared slack jawed at the upright, headless body of the assassin. “What?”
“There! His hand!” Calos took his lightsaber and pointed at the left gauntlet. “The way you cuffed him it was pointed right at you. He was going to try to shoot you with it.”
Thoughts and visions were still storming through Warin’s head. He kept seeing the man’s head as it rolled off his burnt neck. There was that half second in the tumble when the man’s face had looked right at him. The look of shock frozen there in dismemberment in his cold blue eyes.
The Force felt like a boiling puddle of water. Everything felt wrong. His skin prickled, his hairs were standing up, and he was feeling a little dizzy. Yet his mind continued to race. The gauntlet. Was he trying to shoot me? A last chance of escape?
Yet in the Force he had felt the man’s utter defeat. There was no treachery in his words when he surrendered.
And how could he have removed the gauntlet when he only had one hand?
“You search for the truth, Warin, so listen. He was an assassin. He would do anything in his power to escape and to kill. We were his targets. He would have sacrificed even himself in order to accomplish that task. It is the way of the Sith.”
Warin heard his master’s words, he could feel the calm radiating from him, but something was wrong, had been wrong. When Master Calos struck the assassin, he did so not out of protection or necessity, but out of vengeance. Revenge.
At that small moment, he had been bathed in the dark side.
Calos’ cold stare lingered on his apprentice. The two of them shared the other’s thoughts, the other’s doubts, yet neither voiced their feelings. Instead, they kept it to themselves. Master Calos knew that Warin would be apprehensive now, on guard, until he managed to regain his trust. And Warin knew that his master had broached the dark side, and was not without flaw.
In the uneasy silence that followed, Calos asked Warin to call Republic command and inform them that the assassin had been killed. In those long, dragging minutes of wait, Warin wondered what hope there was in the future. Would the war bring out the dark side in the Jedi again? Would more masters and apprentices be lost to the Sith?
Or would the light triumph once again? And more importantly, at what cost?
“Do not worry, my apprentice. We will win this war. The Force always wins.” Calos’ eyes grew distant as they looked up at the pink hued sky.
Warin looked up as well. “May the Force help us persevere.”
“Even in these times of darkness.”