[Knights of the Old Republic] As the Sith and Republic fleets battle above Lehon, the series of events that began with Revan's departure to fight the Mandalorians finally reaches its end. Not quite...
KOTOR - Capricorn
a Knights of the Old Republic alt.
"You want me to fly the ship ... into _that_?"
In this case, 'that' being a throwdown of truly epic proportions. The area of space they were heading for was ripe with blasts of turbolaser fire being exchanged between capital ships, as well as showers of green and red sparks that flashed briefly, only to be extinguished moments later as their charge dissipated. Swarms of fighter craft fell upon one-another, even as the more ordered formations of bomber wings lined up for attack runs against their respective targets.
And amidst it all, the grand artifact that was the Star Forge hung, seemingly held up by the four extensions that sprouted from the spherical main body and reached downwards, where their ends met a molten stream sucked upwards from the very star it orbited.
The Ebon Hawk may have been a fast ship - a true hotrod of a light freighter, retrofitted for speed and maneuverability, and with armor plating that could and had stood up to more punishment than one assumed such a relatively small craft could take - but it was still only a light freighter, with all the limitations a hull of that size imposed.
"We've come this far," the man in the copilot's seat shrugged, fastening the acceleration harness over his chest. "Might as well go the distance ... unless you do not think you still have the _mettle_, Mandalorian."
"Why you ..." growled Canderous Ordo, glaring for a moment before letting a grim chuckle escape. "Alright. You want to get in there, I'll get you in there. Getting out, though ... that might be a little tricky."
"When's it ever not?"
"True. Very true," the Mandalorian replied, and firewalled the throttles. The hum of the engines momentarily changed into a high-pitched whine, as Ebon Hawk accelerated into the combat zone.
Forn Dodonna, Admiral of the Galactic Republic Navy, did not swear.
She did not curse, or fidget, or show any sign of the tumult that raged behind her steel-grey eyes.
Half an hour ago, the battle had been joined. The task force she commanded had jumped into the Lehon system on information provided by a trusted source, and had found what they'd been searching for all along.
The source of the Sith Empire's seemingly never-ending supply of materiel was right there, as if taunting her with its presence ... and they'd pushed forward in the realization that this was the battle that could end this civil war here and now.
Hammerhead cruisers, supported by squadrons of blockade runner corvettes, were on the whole more mobile than the Sith capital ships they faced. Unfortunately, that went with being outgunned by those same Sith ships by a noticeable, perhaps even significant margin on a ship-to-ship basis.
The Republic doctrine which had been developed in the course of this conflict emphasized and relied on superior tactics and mobility to counter their foes' sheer amounts of concentrated firepower, and Dodonna had been one of the chief tacticians party to the development of said doctrine. He crew and task force had been drilled extensively, and had proved themselves effective in prior engagements ...
... which only made what was happening now all the more frustrating.
Ever since Malak had taken over the reins of the Empire, Sith forces had begun to rely more and more on the overwhelming advantage of firepower and numbers, rather than taking a tactical approach. And they could well afford taking this path, seeing as _somehow_ their rate of materiel resupply exceeded that of the Republic - something that would have been thought impossible, when you took into account that the Republic still held most of its shipyards and spacedock facilities, if it were not for the simple fact that it _was_ happening.
Here and now, though ...
"Coordinated precision strikes, counters to the attacks our feints should hide ... how are they _doing_ this?" She whispered, faintly enough as to not be overheard.
Or, almost faintly enough.
"I have seen its like before," came the reply from beside her, where Vandar Tokare stood, his gaze locked on the tactical plot. "Not from the Sith, though."
The diminutive Jedi Master looked up at the Admiral with an expression that spoke of sad realization. "This is the ultimate expression of Battle Meditation. It is tragic, but it seems as though Bastila has fallen to the Dark Side."
At this, Dodonna almost did lose her cool. "Can't you do anything against her?"
"Would that I could, but at this distance, the effects would be so small as to be unnoticeable," sighed Master Vandar. "She is a true prodigy, and ..."
The Admiral shot him a look as he paused, mid-sentence, his aged face taking on an increasingly confused expression.
"I sense something," the diminutive Jedi said after a moment, his voice nearly a whisper. "A presence I have not felt in ... no. No, it is impossible ..."
"Ma'am! Sensors report a fast moving contact, coming in from outside the combat zone! It's almost right on top of us!" One of the bridge personnel exclaimed in surprise.
Then the viewport window of the Hammerhead cruiser's bridge was momentarily obscured by maroon and white armor plating, and balefully glowing engines, as something flashed past and in front of them.
"We have a positive identification. It's not showing transponders of any sort, but it's profile matches the ship Captain Onasi described. It's the Ebon Hawk!"
The clatter of a walking stick falling to the floor made Dodonna turn to face Master Vandar again. His face, despite being small, wrinkled and above all - green - was also the closest to a shade of pale the Admiral had ever seen from the Jedi.
What the diminutive Master said then, although only a single word, made the blood rush from her own face as well and a cold shiver run down her spine.
"Ma'am," the commo officer reported, breaking her out of the stupor. "Green Squadron has broken through the enemy lines. The assault team is on the way!"
"There's a breach."
"I see it," Canderous said. The Ebon Hawk weaved between two swarms of fighter craft, catching several stray shots on its ventral armor that did little other than scorch the already marred paintjob. "The problem is, _they_ likely see it too!"
"Let me worry about that," was the reply.
"What, you can make them _un_see it? Some trick."
"No, but I can make them not really realize they're seeing _us_ in there ... if you would be as kind as to stop talking and let me concentrate."
The assault craft rocked as a concussion warhead exploded in close proximity. And close counted with those. In fact, you could say they were built around the whole idea of 'close'. Fortunately, in this particular case, just close not quite close _enough_.
It rolled with the explosion, bringing a less damaged section of the shields up between them and the next strafing run ...
Sith starfighters didn't have too much of a kick individually, when compared to the heavier designs of the Republic, but they were usually fielded en-masse and all that firepower added up.
Fortunately, assault shuttles were shielded and armored enough to withstand quite a bit of damage. That was the whole point of them - fast enough and armored enough to get the strike teams in their bellies to the target. Not really very nimble, but then, they usually didn't have to be.
Still, with a talented enough pilot, even that drawback became less of an issue.
For Carth Onasi, this wasn't just an area of expertise. It was second nature.
You didn't dodge everything. One reason being that you really couldn't, and another that some shots, you needed to take. There was a tradeoff between evasive action and speed.
"We've got incoming!" Came the voice of one of the Republic soldiers manning the ship's two defense turrets. "Coming in hot, five high! What the ... that's not a Sith ship ..."
In the troop compartment, Jolee Bindo's head snapped to one side, a frown coming to his face.
The power was intoxicating. It flowed all around her, and then through her, letting her mind act as quicksilver and filling her wit ha nervous sort of energy and anticipation.
She was the eye of the storm, directing the winds of war around her like a maestro did an orchestra, and no longer limited by what her own reserves allowed her to access ... in this heart of darkness, the very nerve center of the Star Forge, using the Force came as easily as breathing.
She was ... startled when a ripple formed in the pattern she had made the battle outside into, spreading out and towards the Star Forge itself while she tried, and failed, to affect its passing.
It was nebulous, obscured, and difficult to even spot. Moving against it proved futile, as her attempts seemed to be deflected before they could as much as take root.
"Master," Bastila Shan, Sith apprentice, said, and the Force echoed with her words, carrying them to Darth Malak. "There is a slight problem."
They were met with fire and steel. Or close enough for government work, at any rate.
It was fortunate that the Star Forge _had_ originally been simply a giant manufacturing plant. Oh, there were plenty of security measure in the main concourses, but energy weapons emplacements in the landing bays were not among those.
Which, at the moment, was sort of a moot point, given the sheer number of assault droids streaming into that particular landing bay.
The Ebon Hawk swept in, much like its namesake, raking the front line with its wingtip lasers even as the ventral repeating blaster was deployed and went to work.
Energy shields flared, even as the assault droids' return fire did little but leave scorch marks on the Hawk's armor. Then the first flickered and failed, and the droid that had been using it was battered around by the kinetic impacts before being turned into so much swiss cheese as armor integrity failed.
The ship settled, undercarriage hissing, and its loading ramp deployed.
For a moment, it was as if the world held its breath, and capacitors conspired to expand their energy stores all at the same time.
For a moment the droids' weapons were silent.
It was enough.
A blur of tan and inky black shot from the loading ramp, and into the landing bay, and with an electric-sounding snap-hiss was suddenly trailing a blade of pure energy that stabbed through energy shields with little difficulty, and through armor as if it weren't there.
It was followed by a deafening war-cry, and something few had ever walked away to talk about. The charge of an enraged Wookie.
A lightsaber overloaded a point in an energy field by virtue of sheer focused energy.
A vibro-blade, which did little to no damage outside of that which came from having a long piece of sharp and pointy rammed through you by virtue of sheer physical power, was another story.
Energy shields stopped part of the former, you see. The latter ...
... and with the sheer brute force of a Wookie behind it to boot ...
... ripped into the assault droids' ranks and went through them like a hot knife through butter, leaving torn and cleaved armor, sputtering electronics, and mangled artificial limbs in its wake.
The repeater joined in, then, providing suppressive fire and keeping the droids not being mangled from being half as effective as they could be otherwise.
Then, all was silent, save for the hum of a lightsaber ...
The addressed turned, her eyes wide and wild, her limbs shaking with the sort of fevor that came after intense battle ... only to snap into sharp focus a moment later.
"I am in control, teacher," the Cathar said, after closing her eyes and bringing her breathing back to normal.
"Good," the man walking down the loading ramp said. He was of average height, and slender built, with a shock of short dark hair on top of his head and eyes like twin chips of jade, marred by specks of gold. "You are the master of your emotions ..."
"... they are not the master of me," Juhani nodded crisply, returning her lightsaber to her belt.
"Yo, Rev! So, how're we doing this?" The question came from someone who, in other circumstances, would have looked almost comical. In this situation, however, the fact that Mission Vao's high powered sniper rifle was almost as long as she herself was tall and probably weighed a quarter of the petite Twi'lek's own bodyweight. Her light exo-skeleton made carrying and using the weapon a triviality, though.
"Juhani, myself and Canderous," the addressed motioned to the Mandalorian, once more clad in his peoples' signature battle armor, stepping onto the landing pad. "Will make for the command deck. That's where Malak and Bastila are sure to be. I'll leave it to you, Zaalbar and T3 to make sure we have something to come back to when we're done."
It was a testament to how far she'd come since Taris' destruction that Mission did not object to any supposed 'coddling'.
Korriban had certainly driven the point of just how important having an exit strategy in place was home.
Zaalbar roared his acquiescence, and the Ebon Hawk's ventral repeater swiveled up and down in the approximation of a nod from the utility droid patched into the ship's fire control.
"Yeah, the big guy, the little guy and me'll make sure you've got an exit ... just make sure you guys come back to use it," Mission snarked.
"This is the Star Forge ... the Jedi call it an 'artifact' of Dark Side power," the man once known as the Dark Lord of the Sith grinned a wry grin, and closed his eyes. "Being here lets me make use of certain _advantages_."
He extended his right arm, towards the security door to one side of the landing bay, and motioned to one side as if shoving aside a curtain. With a protesting screech that turned into an affirmative chirp halfway, the physical locks slammed open, as did the gateway itself a moment later.
Revan opened his eyes, and for the briefest of moments Juhani could have sworn the jade pupils had turned a baleful yellow. "Let's finish this."
"Come on, move it, move it, move it!"
They had good reason to. Really, they should have expected something like this - after all, the Star Forge was, at its core and ignoring all the really esoteric explanations about how it drew power, a massive production facility - but the expectation and the _reality_ of having to fight for almost every step they took were two different things.
For ever assault droid they did away with, it seemed like there were immediately two others to take care of.
"Agreement: As entertaining as proving my obvious superiority over these unfortunate examples of poor engineering is, compared to the simple enjoyment of ending Meatbags, it proves inadequate."
Well, there was _one_ member of the assault party that didn't seem to mind, but then the rust-red assassin droid didn't seem to mind anything that let him engage in some recreational dismemberment too much. Not for the first time, Carth wondered just why they hadn't simply left it back on Tatooine after negotiations with the Sand People had concluded.
Of that HK-47 was a supremely capable unit where battle was concerned, there was no question, but the homicidal tendencies which had apparently come with its core programming were deeply disturbing.
You could swear it was crackling in glee as it hosed the line of fresh assault droids with the twin disruptor rifles it wielded with the sort of ease Carth himself did his two blaster pistols.
A wave of crackling energy passed over them, making the assassin droid give a moment's pause before resuming its work, even as the next wave of attackers stumbled as said energy started messing with their systems.
"That will hold them for a while," said Jolee Bindo, who still claimed that he was most definitely not a Jedi, mystical powers and lighsaber and all those trappings aside. Still, the old man was definitely not a Sith, which was a point in his favor - and when Bastila had still been with them he'd held her respect.
"Right, the schematics say the command deck is that way," Carth indicated. "Let's make that 'while' last. HK, you're rear-guard. Katarn!"
The marine demolitions specialist nodded, ducking low as his squad-mates, the Jedi who'd made it aboard the Star Forge with them, as well as Carth and Jolee made their way further into the heart of the ancient station. Mines would likely only slow down whatever pursuit would be following, but once you'd lived long enough in this line of work you found that every little bit counted towards survival.
"Observation: Like shooting bantha. Blind, deaf, and crippled bantha. Only without the squishy bits."
The energy weapons barrage that flashed far too close for comfort over Katarn's head was very inspiring.
"Query: Why? Why are there no squishy bits?"
Katarn was suddenly inspired to work even faster.
'Was this damn detour really necessary?' Canderous wondered, letting loose another burst from his heavy repeater. It was obvious that Revan's memory of the Star Forge was picture perfect, and his connection to the place ... unnatural, even by the standards of some of the ridiculous feats the Mandalorian had seen the onetime Jedi and Sith perform during their travels these past few months.
Every so often, he'd direct them off the main concourse, and through twisty paths of nearly intertwining gears and energy conduits, only to exit having circumvented one obstacle or another. And he'd chuckle in a way Canderous had learned to recognize as his 'I just pissed someone off beyond all rational measure and I'm having fun doing it' one.
This time, though ...
Canderous ducked behind a support pylon that jutted away from the wall, putting his back to it even as his hand drew a thermal detonator from his belt, armed it, and slung it around said pylon's corner in a practiced motion. The custom fuse the Mandalorian had put on it would respond to any sudden change of momentum, like, say, one that came from impact or _someone_ using their Jedi or Sith mumbo-jumbo to shove the explosive away.
More often than not, it worked like a charm.
This time, he'd as much as told them to get ready for heavy opposition. Then he'd ripped one of those heavy security doorways clear out of its moorings with the Force, throwing the armored plating into the concourse beyond with dismissive ease ...
Canderous and Juhani had followed him into the breech, coming out in the middle of what looked like a small army of droids and black-clad lightsaber wielders ... whom they'd caught completely flat-footed.
The Mandalorian and the Cathar had hit them hard and fast, biting into their ranks like a vibroblade into someone's gut ... but their own attacks' momentum hadn't been enough to take all of them, and Revan had simply disappeared on them ...
The concourse - a circular pathway leading around a central pit from which, like clockwork, new Sith fighters seemed to emerge and head upwards - wasn't the worst possible place for a holding action, but he could imagine better. And he was more than a bit irritated that Revan hadn't as much as told them where he was going off to.
One of the droids that had been setting up for a firing solution on the blur of black and flashing violet that Juhani currently resembled was suddenly lifted into the air, squawking in indignation before the noise was replaced with that of tearing metal.
Savagely, the droid's limbs were yanked away from its body, which itself was hurled down and to the side. The mangled metal shape slammed into and through another droid, before embedding itself into the concourse's wall with the wet squelch of violently compressed meat ... the impromptu missile having caught one of the Dark Jedi between tiself and said wall.
"I'm sorry. I needed to check on something," said Revan, stepping from a side-passage.
"And this somehow stopped you from actually saying anything?" Canderous threw over one shoulder as he stepped out from behind the pylon, capitalizing on the sudden lull as droids recalibrated their threat assessment routines and Dark Jedi paused in surprise ... and not a little fear.
Because Revan had, somehow, in the time he'd been absent, exchanged the bastardized set of light armor he'd tinkered with since Dantooine for something far more profilic.
The seedlings of fear within the minds of the Dark Jedi had suddenly, almost of their own accord, exploded into suffocating vines of near-catatonia, hampering their reflexes and making them sluggish, and almost blind.
To Canderous, it was an invitation, and he took it up without hesitation as he sprayed the terror-stricken enemies with his repeater.
It wasn't even a fight, as much as it was pure and simple slaughter.
The droids, much to both his and Juhani's surprise, took no action whatsoever.
"Why the hell didn't you do that _earlier_?!"
Revan gave Canderous a wry look in response. "Because I couldn't. I may be able to affect an extent of the Star Forge itself without being on the control deck, but the assault droids and defenses are something that came with the Sith."
"And now?" The Mandalorian asked.
"Now ... I have my backup and _their_ master override codes," was the reply.
"Still, it is more than a bit ... unsettling," Juhani said, her eyes nervously taking in Revan's garments.
"Call it what you will. I prefer to think of it as a testament to my arrogance ... or my paranoia," Revan shrugged.
They continued on, leaving the group of droids behind them, still as statues.
It was the sound of the doorway opening that broke her concentration, jarring her out of her Battle Meditation and bringing her attention to the most immediate here and now.
She rose with an easy grace, her weapon falling into her grip even the Dark Side filled her veins with liquid fire.
The apprentice grasped that feeling, wrapping it around her like a shroud, and then hurling it forward. To her senses, brought to hyper-acuity by both the meditation and the song of the Force, it was a beautifully terrible scream that rent the air and twisted around their forms, binding their limbs but at the same time assuring they would remain conscious ...
It simply would not do to deprive them of the show, thought Bastila Shan ... a moment before she felt a stab of surprise that she moved to ruthlessly squash.
"Revan," she spoke. "I knew you would come for me, just as my Master foretold."
The man gave no response, despite being free of the Force-wrought bindings she'd placed on his two companions.
Bah. Companions! A failed, pale imitation of what a true Sith was, and a Mandalorian barbarian! Truly a fitting entourage for one fallen so far from true Power.
"So silent. Such a change! No glib remaks? No caustic comments? But what's this ... do you think to regain even a piece of your former glory by merely dressing the part? You attempt at intimidation is amusing, failed though it may be."
Still, there was silence.
"And even if you were at your best," she smirked darkly, igniting her dual-bladed lightsaber. "This is the Star Forge! The power of the Dark Side is strongest here, and it heeds _my_ will! While you played at being a sad little gun for hire on the Rim, barely more than a sad shade of who you once were all the while, I spent the time honing my abilities, further increasing my power. You cannot possibly ..."
"Shan," Did he just close his eyes? "Just who the hell do you think you are? More importantly, though ..."
She didn't even have time to gasp as Revan's eyes snapped open, balefully yellow, and the Force surged around him like a maelstrom ...
The meditation chamber was huge - circular, with the platform she stood on in the center, its edge several meters from the wall and the middle of said platform taken up by a huge holographic display of the Star Forge and its environs - and in an instant she was assailed by vertigo as a wave of pure power picked her up and sent her hurtling through the air, to come down in an awkward crouch on the opposite side.
"Who do you think _I_ am?" Revan's voice echoed through the chamber, even as the man himself turned away from her. "You're even less suited to walking this path than your so-called 'Master' is."
She saw red.
With a scream, Bastila leapt, the golden blades of her weapon drawing twin arcs through the air, heading for their apparently oblivious target.
An angry, electric crackle-hiss sounded through the chamber as a violet lightsaber blade clashed against one of hers, halting the blow.
"Wha ... what? How?" Bastila momentarily gaped at the very much _not_ immobilized Cathar who had deflected her attack.
"If you must ask," Juhani growled. "Then you likely should not know."
"Indeed," Revan nodded. "I'll leave this to you. You might be getting an interruption soon, though."
For a moment, the two weapons were deadlocked against oneanother, crackling their fury even as their wielders took each other's measure.
Then the moment was gone, and the Sith apprentice was sliding back even as the Cathar finished her swing. It was no application of the Force, rather, it was pure physical power.
Well, then ...
The security gateway closed behind a departing Revan's back as Bastila reached for the Dark Side, finding it as responsive as ever as it lit her nerves and surged down her left arm. It only took an instant to lash out, arcs of lightning burning their way through the air and reaching for the Cathar ... who was no longer there.
Juhani soared, the top of her leap bringing within a hairsbreadth from the chambers high ceiling.
She had strength on her side, as well as speed, whereas her opponent's edge lay in the realm of skill and pure power. That was alright, though ... she'd just have to finish it quickly.
The onetime Jedi came crashing down, leading with her lightsaber's violet blade.
It missed, the angry sizzle of metalloy being scorched its only dividend, as Bastila backpedaled.
Juhani followed, uncoiling from her crouch with the sort of feral grace and speed her race had been famed for. She knew she had to play to her strengths, and deny her foe the use of theirs. Press her, harry her, keep her off balance.
She had no illusions, especially not in this place, that she could best Shan when it came to using the Force.
Her anger may no longer have been an enemy, no longer something to be feared and suppressed, but she had no illusions what relying on it would bring her if she did so there and then. She rode the wave, letting it carry her forward and sing to her senses, but did not reach out, did not attempt to kindle that vengeful flame ...
It would mean a loss of control, be it ever so marginal. Not something she could allow herself.
Because while Bastila Shan's grasp of the Force, even bolstered by the Dark Side influence of the Star Forge, was nowhere near the kind of pure, controlled power that Revan had wielded with seemingly little to no effort at all, it was still formidable and superior to her own.
Violet met gold again, sending sparks flying from the point of impact as it lashed out, once, twice, three times ...
Keep attacking. Do not let her gather a response.
Shan's weapon was an offensive one, its forte attack - the dual-bladed lightsaber, or saber-staff, was made for grand, sweeping attacks and rapid reversals. For raining a flurry of powerful blows against an enemy's defense and barging through it, rather than finding a way around it.
Defensively, it was ... awkward.
But every time Juhani's lightsaber flashed, it was there. For every blow, no matter how oblique the angle and how vicious the cut, a counter came ...
It was more immediate, incomplete, and not nearly as effective, but it was also the most direct and instinctive expression of Battle Meditation.
The blow caught Juhani almost unawares, and with results akin to taking a sledgehammer to the gut. The ground was swept away from beneath her feet as she tumbled through the air, like a puppet with its strings cut for a moment, before she managed to recover and controlled her fall.
Not a moment too soon, either, as she felt the ebb and flow of the Force around her and towards Bastila. The electric crackle was a more immediate warning ...
This time, she could not evade.
Fortunately, she still had other options.
The Cathar steeled herself, grit her teeth, and instead of trying to get out of the way stepped forward, straight into the torrent of Force Lightning. It felt like fire, like darkness, like pain ...
But then, Juhani was well acquainted with two of them, and had a distinctly more than passing familiarity with the third.
In a second that felt like several lifetimes, she immersed herself in the Force, focused her connection, and swept her lightsaber down in a perfect overhead blow.
Had she been able to see Shan's face, she would have witnessed a flash of surprise flicker over it as the arcs of energy she was channeling wound around Juhani's saber blade as it passed, like spiderwebs around a passing limb, and were grounded when the violet blade touched the floor.
Juhani panted briefly, trying as best she could to recover from the effort and ignoring the feeling of burns lingering along the outside of her arms and shoulders. She had little opportunity to do so, though, as her opponent decided to let her experience her own strategy from the opposing end.
Bastila's charge was a blur, the golden blades of her dual saber appearing simply as twin arcs of light.
Off balance and still out of breath, there was little she could do but meet it head-on.
The parry was clumsy, the Cathar simply slashing her weapon upwards with all her considerable strength. Fields of focused energy crackled as they met.
This was what the double bladed lightsaber had been made for. Juhani could see it in her mind's eye - the first strike coming from above being reversed, with the weapon's other blade coming in from below now, using her own parry's momentum against her.
She could have tried to bring her own weapon back down to parry this blow as well, and then struggle against a mounting series of thrusts and slashes. In her mind's eye, she could see it play out, and knew that staying on the defensive would mean one such blow would eventually make it through. And sooner, rather than later.
So she didn't even try to block the follow up. Instead, she ducked _forward_, contorting her body in ways no human could match and rolling beneath the lethal arc.
Juhani came up in a crouch, moving on instinct alone as she brought her weapon up and to one side and backstepping ... there was a flash of impact and the crackle of lightsaber blades against one-another sounded again, even as she felt her shoulder hit something and heard Shan swear.
She acted before the realization that she was suddenly back to back with her opponent became a conscious one, moving in accordance to Shan's body shifted, blocking another blow from the opposite direction with as close to a perfect parry as she'd ever come to.
So close, it was definitely her advantage again ... if she could keep it at this distance, it would no longer be a duel. It would, instead, become something quite different. Something where long reach was a liability. Where it was fists and feet, and elbows, and knees, and even teeth ... if nothing else, her formative years in the streets of the Taris Undercity had seen her well prepared for this kind of fight.
And Shan could tell, because rather than attempt another slash Juhani felt her back shift and the Sith apprentice go down into a crouch ... no ...
Juhani was airborne, cartwheeling through the air in an almost picture-perfect Ataru dodge, before Bastila could sweep her feet out from under her. The follow-up slash of Shan's lightsaber missed her by no more than a hairsbreadth.
This time, it was the Cathar who swore. Every move, every attack, every tactic she attempted was countered ...
She was pushed back, and as she'd predicted, losing ground. Shan's attacks went from merely fast to striking against her guard in a staccato of angry energy discharges.
As she'd _predicted_ ...
There and then, Juhani could have almost cursed herself for a fool.
The deadlock was not complete.
More sensation than sound ,electrifying and invigorating, and covering his skin in goose-bumps. How long had it been since he'd allowed himself to feel like this?
And it was all falling down down down around him, collapsing together like a house of cards.
Not that he cared. In a way, this had been what he'd anticipated. A flawed, chaotic mess that pretended to be a plan in his mind. It had many faults, but for all that, it was all the more infallible. This pattern withing chaos within patterns ... ad nauseum ... was a tangled web which only he knew the beginning and the end of.
The gateway opened with a hiss of ancient hydraulics, though it was all but inaudible given the ambience. The humm that went all the way to his bones intensified, seemingly feeding back upon itself, traveling up from his soles to the top of his head and then back.
He stepped through, on feet silent as always, even against metal railings, and the figure in the center of the chamber, gazing out at the battlefield outside through the huge observation windows.
The word rang. It echoed.
And the addressed spun on reflex, hand going to the lightsaber hilt on his belt, then froze.
"Revan ... so it was you," Darth Malak was an imposing man of impressive stature and a presence to match. The cybernetic voice-box that replaced his jaw and the crimson armor he wore only compouned those initial impressions. "I had thought the defenses of the Star Forge had been overcome far too easily. It seems like you've retained more of your former self than ..."
He was interrupted by a sharp, harsh sound that took a moment to register as a laugh.
"Former," Revan seemed to taste the word, smirking faintly. A flash of light from the outside, as the reactor integrity of a Republic Hammerhead failed rather spectacularly, cast stark illumination upon his hooded features, and reflected against the golden hue of his irises. "Why, whatever do you mean by that?"
"You ... impossible! You will not trick me with this simple a deception," the red-clad Sith seemed to recover. "I _destroyed_ you, Revan. The Jedi merely expedited the process, and no matter how you may pretend, this is a mere shadow that stands before me now. There is no use in pretending. Your presence in the Force is not what it once was."
"Really? Come now, Alec, be honest, do you see me as that _brave_ a man?"
It was almost palpable - as soon as he'd said it, he felt the Force surge, coiling around Malak as if he were the eye of the storm. A mote in the eye of an angry god, one made up of deadly crimson.
The attack was quick, precise and beyond the shadow of a doubt powerful. The myriad of emotions, anger chief among them, exploded through the Sith Lord's body, driving it beyond speed, and almost beyond perception.
And then crimson met crimson.
Malak's eyes were dark with malice, even as he embraced the Dark Side, and their glare bored into Revan's - a counterpoint to their baleful golden luminescence - even as lightsaber blade pushed against lightsaber blade, in a battle of wills as intense as the physical clash, or perhaps more so.
Time stretched, losing all meaning, and a heartbeat became eternity ...
And it was over as soon as it had started, as Revan seemed to fade to one side, both his body and his presence in the Force as nebulous as the morning mist, slipping away from the focused intent of Malak's strike.
Again, lightsaber blades clashed. And again. And again.
The Dark Lord's strikes were strong and sure, his presence itself cutting away at the space between his blade and its target, while Revan's replies and ripostes seemed barely enough to deflect them and make them miss their mark by the slightest of margins.
But they rang. They echoed. They _carried_. The Force rippled as blows were exchanged, its harmony almost percussive as the Star Forge's ancient metal roared with every single one.
Forget being taught. Concentrate on learning. When you're sure, question everything.
That was one of his favorite sayings, and Juhani had taken it to heart. In a way, it had been Revan's march through Taris, during the Mandalorian Wars, that had started her along this path.
That day, it had been Revan, at the head of a squad of republic soldiers, who had stormed the Mandalorian slave pens and began the course of events that eventually had a Cathar girl arrive at the Jedi Enclave on Dantooine. She had wanted that for herself.
Foolish and romantic notions of justice had never quite seemed so real as they had there and then.
It would be years before she truly realized just what it was she wanted, and what it was that she had seen that day. After she'd tried to mold herself into a form that simply disagreed with her, and with nearly disasterous results, she had seen it again. Dismissed it at first as some sort of cruel irony, a taunting Force wraith born of her own grief and memories ... until it had demonstrated to her, beyond doubt, that it was very much real.
A person who held their fate firmly within their own hands.
She was fighting a Sith apprentice who merely happened to be Bastila Shan.
She was not a former padawan who simply happened to be Juhani.
She was Juhani, who happened to have been a Jedi padawan at one point, but who was also plenty of other things besides.
Most prevalent of those being the fact that she was a Cathar, and Cathar are predators. Some things come easier to them than others.
Slowly, with every blow that fell against her guard, and every one she dealt in return, she focused inwards.
For one minute, then another, and another as her stance became increasingly unbalanced by Shan's onslaught.
And there it came, so fast that she'd almost missed it ...
Lighstaber blades clashed, and Juhani's wrists were forced to bend awkwardly to absorb the force.
Her stance was off by that crucial bit, and she hissed in pain even as she was forced to relax her grip.
Shan grinned in triumph.
The violet bladed lightsaber went flying, tumbling end over end before the blade sputtered out, and the apprentice brought her weapon around ...
And failed to realize that Juhani wasn't there. Or rather, she was there ... but her presence in the Force had vanished.
The strike went wide, even as the Cathar abandoned her weapon and went in low, close to the ground, forcing her way inside her opponent's guard in a single bound.
For a predator, it's all in the pounce.
Juhani's carried her above the arc of Bastila's follow-up - one that had been meant to cleave her in twain at the waist - her hands planting themselves firmly on top of Shan's shoulders.
Followed by the noise of her knee planting itself firmly in Bastila's face as momentum carried the Cathar forward, and ... mostly ... over her opponent's head.
Which was the sight that greeted the Republic strike team as they stormed into the chamber using the doorway opposite to the one Canderous, Juhani and Revan had.
The air shimmered as they passed, and metal hummed and rang in resonance.
From a certain level onwards, from a certain point of view, every battle, every conflict, had a rhythm and flow, created by the interaction of the conflicting sides' tempo.
Motion faded into the background, into subconscious realization and triggers of muscle memory. Djem So directed, Soresu flowed with it, Makashi punctuated and Juyo provided a counterpoint. Ataru swept in and out in arcing transitions, and Niman skirted the edges, while the beat of Shii-Cho echoed in the background.
The Force sang, its cresting waves crashing in synchrony with the energy blades of the two combatants.
"Impressive Revan," Malak commented, a series of powerful, precise blows battering against his opponent's elusive defense. "As impressive as I remember it being."
With a clash, the crescendo broke, the two combatants striking as one and the two focused intents smashing against one-another. Energy hissed angrily against energy, and they were both thrown back by the backlash, both physical and not, skidding back until there was several meters between them.
"I'm flattered," deadpanned the former Dark Lord. "No, really. Do go on."
"And that," Malak's voice was strong, as was his presence, though the Dark Side bubbled underneath the surface. "You always did have a talent for getting under peoples' skins. Pity I know it so well."
The Force was a cauldron, swirling around the chamber, and around the two of its occupants as they began to circle.
"And pity that, for all your brilliance, the true power of this place remained a mystery to you," the crimson-clad man could no longer smile, not having a lower jaw or a voice-box, but there was a dark mirth to the tone of the words his cybernetic replacement let him utter. "Maybe then, you could have been truly invincible. But you were a fool! All you saw was an enormous factory, and an infinite fleet ... truly, a general until the sad, sorry end."
The sudden stillness was almost unnatural, until Revan staggered back, the momentary reverb of Force energy that pulsed into being making it seem like his body was being rung like a bell.
"But the Star Forge is more! Far more! Like a living creature, it hungers. And it can feed on the Dark Side within all of us! Below us, the Jedi who fell when I attacked Dantooine lie, suspended just past the edge of death, and kept from becoming one with the Force via the Forge's unique technologies. Their power is restless, and suffering, and slowly becoming corrupted. It resonates with the Forge, and the taint is transferred ... to _me_!" There was no blur. No physical sign of warning. Merely a faint line of light, as Malak was suddenly _there_.
It was lightyears beyond simple speed and mere power, tearing up the metal floor in its wake and leaving an ugly, ragged scar across the chamber.
Arcs of electricity jumped along the edges.
Evasion was impossible.
"You always did like to hear yourself talk," said Revan, calmly. "The brave hide behind power, Malak. The foolish hide from it."
Revan stood, unmoved, the burst of kinetic energy that had been part of the monstrous charge having blown his cloak into mere tatters ... and one arm raised, open handed, lightsaber clipped to his belt.
Air shimmered. Air compressed. Air smoked and sizzled as Malak stared in soundless incomprehension, the full force of his strike still trying to press his lightsaber's blade forward.
And failing, leaving the humming energy that seared flesh and metal with equal ease suspended several inches from Revan's open palm, seemingly be nothing at all.
"But the clever have power, and hide it."
Air shimmered. Air shuddered. Air decompressed, picking Darth Malak up and tossing him, end over end, across the room where he landed in a shaky crouch and kept staring.
Amber eyes stared back, with cool, collected detachment. The darkness behind them placid and mirror smooth.
"I did not force this path upon you," Revan continued, stepping forward, to one side of the furrow Malak's charge had carved into the chamber floor. "Still, you chose to walk it, and it was following me that led you to that decision. You speak to me of power, and style yourself as a Sith ... when your weapon marks you as a simple and pathetic Dark Jedi."
Metal groaned, and twisted, and curled upwards with a sound that tore at the soul, to rest in Revan's outstretched hand.
Glints of light reflected from the plain, unadorned blade.
"Your fear herds you, your anger _tempts_ you, and makes you little more than a plaything for ambition ..."
"No!" Malak shouted, and lashed out.
This was no mere lightning. No simple arc, nor even a fan. It was as if a storm had been unleashed within the chamber, turning the interior into a cacophony of light and sound and destructive energies that seared into the ancient metals with ridiculous ease. It raged, twisting and turning, before suddenly converging onto the advancing figure ... where it settled, focused into a point of blinding light in Revan's cupped hand.
"You bind yourself to power, and let it _chain_ you," the onetime Dark Lord spat, sneering, and clenched his hand into a fist, extinguishing the mote of dazzling power like one would squash a firefly, as Malak roared out his defiance and leapt.
Steel blade met focused energy ... and held, as it was sheathed and reinforced with pure Force energy.
"But most importantly," Revan said, and for a moment he looked melancholy, letting Malak feel his ... disappointment. "You _still_ don't watch your back."
The sound of a single, high powered disruptor shot momentarily drowned out any others, and Malak's lightsaber clattered to the ground, followed by his suddenly numb body.
"Irony's a bitch, isn't she?" Revan said, reversing the grip he had on his impromptu sword and ramming it downwards, through Malak's chest.
Outside, the battle raged.
Inside, a raspy metallic voice echoed in the sudden stillness.
"Statement: Thank you, Master. That was supremely satisfying." The crimson armored assassin droid spoke, emerging from the shadowed access doorway of the chamber, disruptor rifle in hand.
Revan looked down at the inert corpse of one he'd called friend once, and shook his head sadly. Both at the course of events that had led him here, to this conclusion, as well as the way in which it had come to be.
"Took your sweet time getting here, didn't you?"
"Apology: I'm sorry, Master. The inefficiency of organic meatbags is to blame for that, I assure you. Query: Shall I take care of them so that they will not hamper my progress again, Master?"
"No, leave it be, HK," Revan replied, looking past the droid. "I didn't mean you."
Jolee Bindo stepped from behind it, arms folded. "It wasn't exactly a walk in the park for anyone, least of all this decrepit old man."
"Somehow, I don't see decrepit, and as for the other? I've said it once already, you'll likely as not outlive us all, Jolee," the armor-clad man replied, shrugging. "In one case, you already did."
"Well, your sense of humor hasn't improved any in the last few years, at least," Revan heard the older man mutter.
The chamber was thrown into stark relief once more, this time by the explosions dancing across the hull of a Sith Interdictor, it's tumbling hull passing what looked like a hairsbreadth from the support struts.
"It's served me well," he spoke after a moment. "As have many other things. Your presence here does surprise me, however. Did you reconsider returning to the Order, then?"
"Hah!" Jolee laughed. It was a short and sharp sound, and lasted for only an instant at any rate. "No. I'm here because of my own curiosity, Revan."
"Curiosity ..." Revan muttered. "I suppose I can understand that."
"Why, Revan? Why all this? And don't try to sell me any of that bullshit. If I'd believed that, I wouldn't have picked up your little 'friend' here on Tatooine when the kids were too busy frothing at the mouth at finding the Star Maps," the older man inclined his head towards the crimson armored HK-47.
"Because I always finish what I start, Jolee. And this is just that, a finish."
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
"The Mandalorian Wars."
The strike team had lost half their number, most of those being Jedi. Of those, almost every one had fallen.
It had something to do with the feel of this place, which apparently affected the Force blind soldiers less than their Sensitive comrades. It slowed their reactions, made them sluggish, and in one case it had caused one of the Guardians to break down in a gibbering heap as they set foot on this level for no other discernible reason.
There was scarcely a dozen of them left, now ... and running headlong into the sights of a Mandalorian's guns and the glare of what he assumed to be yet another Dark Jedi was far from comforting.
As the last time Carth Onasi had seen this particular Mandalorian had been during his visit on Dantooine, in the company of Darth Revan, he was understandably less than enthused. That they hadn't been shot at was surprising, though.
"... I'd say you'd be better off keeping her out, though," said Mandalorian commented, casually cradling his light repeater with the muzzle pointed vaguely in the direction of the Republic troops. "She's about as stable as a tripped proximity mine."
'She' being one of the strike team's objectives, which was one of the reasons the Republic troops hadn't opened fire. Getting her handed to them on a silver platter wasn't something they'd been expecting.
Or Carth, for that matter. "What do you get out of this? And where's Revan?"
"We, Republic, get one less _headache_," the Mandalorian said, cheerfully. "And himself as much as said that he doesn't really care one way or the other. You want to take it up with him? Take a number."
And wasn't that an odd thing to see, when a Cathar _wasn't_ trying to rip a Mandalorian's throat out, a voice in the back of Carth's head noted.
He was jarred from his deliberations by the Jedi who'd been put in charge of a broken-nosed and previously unconscious Bastila Shan stumbling back with a shout of pain and alarm, one hand pressed against the side of his face and blood tricking from beneath it, even as Shan herself screamed bloody murder, her eyes wide and wild in panicked disorientation ...
Another of the Jedi approached, and was summarily shoved from his feet as the air distorted between him and Shan for a moment, tumbling to the ground with a pained grunt.
Shan's almost feral-sounding, enraged shout cut off momentarily, as one of the Force blind troops stepped up and rapped the butt of his carbine against her temple, putting her out once more before she could properly focus on him.
"Do not say we did not warn you," the Cathar's voice sounded from across the room, carrying with it audible amusement.
"Damnit, Jolee, what were you people _thinking_ ..." Carth's glare faltered as he realized something. "What the ... Sithspit! Where the hell are Bindo and the damn droid?! They were with us when we ..."
"I'm coming, I'm coming, you don't need to shout, Onasi," spoke a voice. From almost directly behind the Mandalorian and the Cathar.
"We're done here, anyway."
Carth turned on his heel, face locking into an expression of outrage when he realized that, no, Jolee Bindo had _not_ been present save for the moment when they'd entered the chamber. For that matter, judging by the reaction of the the Cathar and Ordo, they hadn't noticed his passing either.
And, if Carth's actual memory was accurate, he and that damn droid had _walked_ right past them.
There was the electric snap-hiss of an igniting lightsaber, and the Cathar's crimson blade was at Jolee's throat in an instant. The man looked nonplussed.
"Juhani," a pair of baleful golden eyes glinted in the shadowed depths of the corridor the dark-skinned man had exited before their owner emerged also, and his appearance, heavily worn though his armor may have been - with its 'robe' portions having entirely torn away - was instantly recognizable. "Master Bindo and his entourage were just leaving."
The audacity and presence only made realization so much more swift and sure.
"Darth Revan," Carth Onasi said, trying to keep his tone level and succeeding for the most part. "In the name of the Galactic Republic, you are to be brought in on charges of grand treason ..."
"I am not," Revan's voice cut through, with a glacial sort of calm and coldness, "in the habit of repeating myself."
"Really? Because you look like you're _repeating yourself_ just fine, traitor, and if you think for even a moment that we're just going to turn around and _leave_ because of some thinly veiled threats, you've got another think coming you two-faced bastard!" Carth snarled, raising his blaster pistol. "Because, Revan, no matter how hard you try and pretend, and play with the lives of others as if they were nothing, _you are not a god_!"
Before anyone could react, though - either the Republic troops, the Jedi, or the Mandalorian - Revan stepped forward and towards Onasi.
Arrogance and foolishness, one and the same, was the first thing to come to Carth's mind. After all, the so called Dark Lord had stepped into his pet Mandalorian's line of fire with that, and he had no doubts he could shoot before the Cathar could react.
It would be a simple thing to just ...
"Go ahead," Revan said, and smiled pleasantly, and suddenly Carth was covered in cold sweat and shaking at something he couldn't really put a name to. "Why don't you ..."
... pull the trigger and find out?
The voice boomed through the chamber, coming not from Revan, but from the bulkheads, the floor, the ceiling. It came from their very bones, and threw them to their knees because there was nothing at all implied about the malice therein.
Carth Onasi was a veteran of many a battle, often snatching life from the jaws of seemingly inevitable death. He'd faced down Mandalorians, Sith, and more other dangers than one would care to name. He'd thought he'd looked fear in the face and knew its nature.
He'd thought wrong.
Or, if you intend to stand there like a blubbering idiot, take the little pretender, take your men, and make haste ... lest I teach you the true meaning of terror.
"What the hell was that about?" Canderous asked, having regained his voice first. They were, the three ... no, the four, including the crimson droid that was following Revan like some kind of deranged, murder-happy pet (judging by the comments) ... of them alone, the clang of the closing security door that marked the Republic strike force's rapid departure still echoing in the chamber.
"Expediency, I suppose," Revan shrugged.
"Observation: Master, it would have been equally expedient to simply do away with the annoying meatbags. Also, not as disappointing," said the droid. "Suggestion: That is still within the realm of possibility though. May I attempt to catch up with them and expedite their departure, Master? Please?"
"Not unless they attempt something phenomenally stupid. And while this is Onasi we're talking about, I expect Bindo to keep their heads level."
"The Jedi?" Canderous scoffed.
"He's no more Jedi than I am, Canderous. And less Sith. Besides, he has what he's come for."
"Enough about them, are _you_ alright, Revan?" Juhani asked, eyeing the ... admittedly mostly cosmetic ... damage to his attire.
"I have been better," the man shrugged in reply. "Then again, I have been worse as well, so I suppose it all works out."
In response, the Cathar snorted and threw her hands above her head. "Once. Just once. Would it kill you to give a straight answer just once?"
"Yes, it would entirely ruin the impression that I know what I'm doing," Revan grinned. "Can't have that, now can we?"
"Yeah, yeah," Canderous shook his head. "Wise mystic guy schtick, we get it already. We done here?"
"We, yes. Me? Not so much."
Juhani eyed him levelly. "Why do I not like where you are going with this?"
"Because, after clearing out all that Jedi fluff, you turned out to have a keen, insightful mind," retorted Revan. "I am serious, though. For this last part, I want you two and the Ebon Hawk away."
Any objections were cut off in their formative stages as he raised his hand.
"No, it is simply because while there is fairly little that can do me harm why I am in ... resonance, you could say ... with the Star Forge, this does not apply to anyone else."
"What about the tin-can?" Canderous asked.
"Commentary: Do not assume my form to be as fragile as that of yours, organic meatbag."
"His manner aside, he has a point," Revan interjected before Canderous could take offense. "He does have the best chance of survival, besides which, I have a task for him which he happens to be uniquely suited to."
"Query: Shall I kill something for you, Master?"
"In a manner of speaking. Go to the secondary core several levels below us," the man's golden eyes narrowed. "There, you will find several husks and the devices that keep them from their natural course. Dispose of them."
"I'm going to have you court-martialed!"
'It certainly didn't take him long to get back to his usual self,' noted Jolee Bindo, as he half-ignored the Republic commander's tirade.
"In case you've forgotten, kid, I'm not a soldier. Heck, I'm not even a Jedi. I only came along with you as an advisor, and I _advised_. In this case, I advised us to get the hell out of here."
Shan's condition, and those of the other sensitives present, notwithstanding, he had a fair idea just why it would be very very bad to be in any sort of proximity to the Star Forge in the near future.
"Revan will not be joining us in our departure, Mission," Juhani replied tersely, stepping aboard the Ebon Hawk.
"What? Did something happen? Is he okay?!" The Twi'lek girl asked in rapid-fire fashion.
Zaalbar's roar echoed the sentiment.
"Relax," Canderous said as he came aboard himself, hitting the 'close ramp' switch. "He says he knows what he's doing, and he doesn't exactly stike me as suicidal."
It wasn't that Mission didn't believe him ... it was that the blue-skinned Twi'lek knew, after having traveled alongside the man for the past few months, that a Mandalorian's idea of 'suicidal' wasn't the same as most peoples'. If nothing else, their Basilisk war-droids made this abundantly clear.
"Finally alone ... well, mostly," Revan muttered. Even with the damage his confrontation with Malak had wrought on the chamber, the quiet words carried and echoed. The air was heavy with the smell of ozone, and the floors, bulkheads and even the giant windows that made up much of the overhead dome bore patches that still glowed white-hot.
Above and beyond the dome, stars shone in the distance ... and far, far more immediately, battle still raged.
It was easy here. Hardly any effort at all, actually. Just focus, visualize, and see through the Force which ran so thick he felt he could almost reach out and physically grasp it with his hands.
Sith aggression, Republic desperation ... without Shan's battle meditation, the forces were roughly equal, and from this seat of power tipping the scales would be a trivial thing.
There were the Dark Jedi, on board the various Interdictors and those still within the Star Forge. There was the unmistakable and familiar presence of a Jedi Master, on board the Republic flagship.
His own presence within the Force rolled past them all without drawing notice, elusive as fog, before turning back ...
There was Jolee Bindo, the old onetime Jedi as unique here as he was of personality, almost merging with the flows of the Force around him without any noticeable ripples.
And there was Juhani, her own presence startlingly similar, though not nearly as subdued.
Both making their way from the Star Forge.
At least to her and the Ebon Hawk's crew, and perhaps to the old man too, he felt some residual loyalty. Some sense of obligation.
He'd done all he could.
People struggled and died. Reactors exploded. Metal was torn.
But at this point, any grand intervention he would make would be purely academic in nature, in regards to the end result. An idle thought sent a wing of Sith starfighters veering off from their attack vector on the Ebon Hawk, suddenly gripped by a sense of unease and fear, and the sensation of almost choking pressure.
That much, he would do before he turned his inner eye to what remained.
The Star Forge itself hummed with barely restrained power, but at the same time he sensed the deep, lurking hunger within, always beneath the surface ...
Malak had gotten that much right, at least. The Star Forge was almost alive, and it most certainly did desire sustenance.
In that way, its presence in the Force was akin to that of a parasite, and Revan had long since known how to manipulate Force flows to ... motivate ... said parasite towards taking action.
But where for Malak, it had been simply power, to be used and relied upon while ignoring that its very nature twisted the user further and further, for Revan it was a means to an end.
He'd had his suspicions before even going off to join the Republic fleet, back when the world was still all ... sweetness and light. They were proven correct later, on Malachor V, and after he'd dueled Mandalore there suspicion had become certainty.
And he'd been left with ludicrous accusations he'd known to be true, but which none would have truly believed.
The Masters certainly never would have done so. People, even Jedi ... or perhaps especially Jedi ... believed what they wanted to believe, and saw what they want to see, and they would have seen someone with more blood on his hands than a number of armies can boast bring them yet another _excuse_ for more conflict. They were all of them convinced he had already fallen, and in a way they were correct. For a given value of 'fallen'.
As for the Republic Senate? That had been an even worse proposition.
Ambitious and flush with victory, and with the better part of the Republic Fleet loyal to _him_ first and foremost ... he had been their savior, and the Republic's hero, returning hom at the head of the most powerful fighting force of the known Galaxy.
So _of course_ he must have been planning a coup. After all, it was what they would have done in his place, they'd reasoned, and were they not the most stalwart defenders of the Republic? If even they knew the temptation, what did a war-forged general of a religious zealot know?
The tenth or so assassination attempt against him carried out by a member of the Republic Intelligence Office had robbed him of any desire to try and convince them of his findings.
And really, if he'd as much as mentioned the True Sith to them, he'd have been condemned as having fallen to the Dark Side in a heartbeat.
The instigators the Mandalorian Wars lurked beyond the Outer Rim and watched, and schemed. Not the pale imitations that the Dark Jedi were, nor the self-styled Sith Lords like himself, but a whole race with the ability to touch the Force, and the ruthlessness and drive to power that made going against them a daunting proposition.
From what he had recovered of the Infinite Empire's histories, the Rakata had been in conflict with the Sith a long, long time ago, and had been repelled - the might of a Galaxy-spanning Empire based on Force artifacts and slave-worlds had not managed to guarantee victory.
While the Rakata were no more, the Infinite Empire having collapsed upon itself when their ability to use the Force waned and the slave-races rebelled, the Sith were still there. And while they had but a fraction of the might recorded in the Star Forge's memory buffers, the Republic was no Infinite Empire either.
Why he did not simply disappear at that point, even Revan did not know for sure. Certainly, he owed the Republic nothing more, after what he had done, and held no real love for it either after what they'd attempted to do to him in return.
If he were to guess, he'd wager on his arrogance.
He had undertaken the task when going to fight the Mandalorians, and from his perspective, it remained unfinished.
So he schemed. And he planned. And finally, a possible solution came to him. It was not a solution that a Jedi would have even considered, but then, he hadn't really think himself a Jedi at that point.
After all, were the Thought Bomb, the Mass Shadow Generator, and a score of other, less profilic but equally destructive devices something one of those would ever contemplate, much less use?
The Star Forge was the cornerstone. The pivot point. The one thing that the whole of the plan hinged upon. It's creative capacity was of paramount importance, but given the Republic's stance towards their 'returning hero', he would likely be given no chance to as much as think on using it. What need had they of an even larger fleet, even at peace-time? What reason had they to use an artifact that fairly reeked of the Dark Side?
Informing them of it would have been foolishness in and of itself.
And so, he had improvised.
A fleet was a means of projecting power, and power a means of achieving victory.
The foundations, the power base, of an empire geared towards conflict and conquest were already in place.
And so he had used them.
And then used them again, because a leader draws all eyes to him, and all targeting sights also. Submerging his personality and forging a Force bond had been child's play, compared to the rest of this grand game.
And the Star Forge fed. And the Star Forge produced. And the Star Forge hungered. Every day, every year, every passing moment just a little more.
Ah, there it was.
Revan smiled a faint, wry sort of smile as the irregularity he could ill afford in what he was about to attempt gradually faded. HK had found the secondary core, and the Jedi husks Malak had boasted of, and was doing what he did best.
One by one, the minute disturbances were dealt with. Bit by bit, the Force flows changed.
It was time.
Revan stood, in the center of the ruined chamber, Malak's corpse several feet away ... closed his eyes ...
And everything came into stark, wonderful focus.
The very structure of the Star Forge vibrated as the onetime Dark Lord of the Sith reached out with the Force, his once nebulous presence now solid and clear as it reached out and merged with that of the artifact.
His heart beat in tune with the star below, his eyes looked to the stars beyond and saw, and his lungs filled with what felt like boiling quicksilver.
It raged, and the cresting wave almost carried him with it before he regained focus.
Below, the system's primary star flared, and for a moment the Star Forge was engulfed in blinding light and searing heat.
Sith and Republic fighters were incinerated, Interdictors and Hammerheads battered - here and there shields failed, and capital ships were seared, damaged, destroyed by the fury of a star's reflection of the Forge's hunger.
Nothing he could have expected, but that didn't really matter. As he'd thought, the question of the victor had become academic, as the respective fleets lost up to half their number in one fell stroke.
It was a fleeting realization, though, as most of his attention focused on directing the Force flows of the Forge towards his intended goal.
Deep, deep within the bowels of the Star Forge, he can feel it. Malak had never quite grasped how much the Forge itself drew on the Force for its operation ... had never seen the parallel between it's production ratios and the size of their Sith Fleet.
Then again, it was better this way.
Through the Force, everything is connected.
It was this that Revan was making use of, and with every heartbeat and breath, every moment of resonance with the Star Forge, he reached for those connections.
And with him reaching through them, the Star Forge did likewise.
Every fighter, every Interdictor, every piece of technology to have been manufactured by the Star Forge which the Sith took with them ...
Where the Sith went, where their Dark Jedi went, there was strife.
And where there was strife, the Force was filled with negative emotional impressions.
'Strife,' Revan remembered the Jedi Masters saying, 'brings with it the Dark Side.'
How very true.
The Sith had spread throughout the Galaxy, bringing strife with them.
And now, through the connections the Star Forge had reestablished, its essence flowed.
The Forge fed.
It was panic, as for an instant, the Force flows in every place where an Interdictor was stationed, every place that the Sith maintained a presence in, faded almost to non-existence.
The Forge _worked_, more frantically than ever, attempting to channel this sudden influx of power with the full force of its own purpose and Revan's will behind it. It seemed almost too much, straining at both its superstructure and through that, at Revan's body, stretching muscle to near its tearing point even as it was nearly burned by the sheer unadulterated power ...
For a moment, there was only struggle.
What little part of Revan's Self was still aware of what his body's senses were telling him saw the world outside the Star Forge warp, heavy with potential and energy ...
With an almost inaudible groan, the massive factory seemed to shift ... and Revan _laughed_.
He laughed like a madman, or a man possessed ... and neither of those was really far from the truth, there and then.
The Star Forge's operations were organized chaos as he simply set it to produce, produce and produce. It didn't matter what, as long as it required power. More power.
Still more power.
It was almost automatic from that point onwards, letting him take a moment to regain focus.
Whereupon, with a single stroke, he grasped the nexus of the Forge's power, grasped the connections established, and without even a hint of hesitation ... severed them.
It was sublime pain.
His mind felt as if it were being ripped apart into a million pieces, each aflame.
It was the most excruciating thing he had ever experienced, as the Forge's resources expended themselves in mere moments leaving behind an insatiable _hunger_.
His old experiment had proven to him that it _could_ be done, but he knew that doing it on this scale was ... vastly different from the piddling parlor tricks Nihilus practiced.
His body was on its knees, screaming its throat hoarse with its head against the floor ... but he felt none of that, his mind driven by every last shred of resolve he could muster.
The refusal to surrender.
Fear of failure, of it all being for naught.
He took all his pain. All his humiliation. All his rage, and fear, and determination, and grasped them, while his perceptions blurred.
They tore, and spiraled back together, directed by records from within the Forge's core and his own memory ...
They soared between stars, and skipped across black holes. They touched upon planets, and searched for ... for ...
... there ...
Teeth clenched so hard his gums bled, Revan grinned in a feral sort of satisfaction as he touched the mind. Touched dozens. Hundreds. Millions and more.
The connections snapped into place almost immediately.
The Star Forge, its hunger once again fully manifest, after millenia of starvation, grasped them.
Drew on them.
Devoured them whole, even as the very metal it was made of was cannibalized. Even as Lehon's star erupted once more, in a storm of solar flares which curved around the artifact, feeding it the raw materials it craved.
It was then that Revan realized that something was wrong.
That there was simply too much.
Whether because of the time it had been idle, or simply because he had underestimated the potential influx ... physically, the machinery was struggling to keep up. The raw materials influx, on the other hand, was insufficient. Even operated on the edge of its capacity, the Star Forge groaned in strain as the Force flows wound around it.
They twisted in a maelstrom, as more and more energy was added, and while the hunger did not abate, the capacity remained unchanged.
The last fading flicker he felt in the back of his mind proved that he'd been successful ... but the artifact he'd used was now being ripped apart from the inside as machinery tried and failed to keep up with what it's presence in the Force dictated it should do.
More than that, he felt more and more pressure, as the parasitic presence of the Star Forge attempted to flow into his own.
With a pained scream, Revan fell back, forcibly ripping his own Force presence away from that of the Forge, lest he be consumed by this self-destructive reflux.
It felt somewhat like what he imagined cutting his own arm off would feel like.
He lay there for what could have been hours, but was more likely mere seconds, before he collected enough of his wits about him to try and get up ...
... and noticed the sky was burning.
Or close enough.
Streamers of superheated metals and gasses swirled around outside what was left of the Star Forge, carried by wild surges of the Force and slowly but surely devouring and searing away at the artifact's hull ...
No. It only seemed slow.
Considering the Forge's immense size ...
"Oh," Revan said, and because that fell rather flat as a statment, proceeded to add: "Frack."
It was immediately followed by the realization that, no, he couldn't make it to the hangars before the combined forces of the rampant collective energies raging out there and the agitated star raging immediately _below_ did away with any concerns he may have. In fact, he winced, he was fairly sure that there were no more hangars ...
He spat, levering himself up to his knees somewhat unsteadily, and getting back to his feet. "You think I'm just going to lie down and die here like a piece of Bantha fodder? Not happening. Not now. Not _ever_."
Reaching out through the Force, momentarily feeling frantic and energized despite the pain, Revan sought a possibility of survival among the fracturing future ... and found one.
It was magnificent.
And utterly terrifying ...
Admiral Dodonna watched as Lehon's primary star seemed to flicker, even as tongues of plasma reached out and wound around the Star Forge, eating away at it bit by bit as it shuddered.
If the Master Vandar had not warned her to move the fleet away, it would _all_ be gone, instead of just those most immediately engaged in the battle ... still, the losses were terrible.
She could console herself with the fact that the source of the Sith fleet and military might was even now slowly being devoured by an angry star.
Or so it appeared.
Which was when Vandar Tokare cried out, stumbling towards a bulkhead and leaning on it heavily.
"Terrible," the diminutive Jedi Master spoke, his voice haunted. "Such a terrible sensation."
"Master Vandar? Are you alright? What's wrong?" Dodonna asked, and the Jedi seemed to shake for a moment, before looking at her with wide, uncomprehending eyes.
"It was ... it was as if billions of voices, far, far in the distance cried out in a anguish," he spoke, slowly. "And were suddenly silenced as one."
Alarming did not even begin to describe that statement, but before Dodonna could inquire further, one of the sensor technicians called out: "Ma'am, it's the Star Forge. It's disappeared!"
"What? Good. Let it burn, and good riddance ..."
"No, ma'am," she was interrupted, the voice of the sensor tech noticeably shaken. "Not destroyed, ma'am. The debris is still there, but the structure ... it did't fall into the star. It just vanished!"
Elsewhere, elsewhen, for a moment all was still.
And then, there was a flash of light.
But that, as they say, is another story.