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Heirs to the Sith

By Travis Anderson

Fantasy / Action

Chapter 1

What am I doing here? Tanith Irel asked herself, not for the first time. And probably not the last, she sighed inwardly.
Her life had become an oddity even to herself. The events that drove her into Wild Space were of her own creation but they still had a surreal air about them. Wild Space possessed a reputation for being a haven for refugees and criminals. The sparsely populated worlds certainly deserved the rep, but they also housed some of the hardiest settlers she'd ever encountered.
Abandoned long ago during the throes of the Clone Wars, the worlds of the so-called Wild Space had learned to live without the Republic, Old or New, and had been virtually ignorant of the Empire that had dominated so much of the galaxy. They formed the border between explored space and the Unknown Regions. They were too far away from the Core Worlds to be noticed by the political bureaucracies. A few research teams and expeditions ventured beyond the Civilized Galaxy every so often, but the very rarity of these events helped diminish their impact upon the Worlds Beyond.
Tanith came, as so many before her, seeking to elude others pursuing her. Months spent in the Outer Rim had finally profited her the coordinates of the world she now lived upon. Even if she'd not wormed the nav data out of the smuggler, she would have jumped to another world. Three weeks on Tatooine had been three too many. She began to see why Master Skywalker was such a hardheaded nerf herder. You'd have to be to survive that blast furnace of a world.
Her jaw clenched as she thought about Skywalker. If she'd listened to him, she might not be in her current predicament. Then again, she thought wryly, if he hadn't decided to chase Brakkis down to the ends of the galaxy, I might not be in this mess either. She tasted the lie in that thought even as it passed through her mind.

She sighed as she passed by a tapcafe on her way home. The skies of Terrescu were perpetually grey and cloudy, but never more so then at dusk. The clouds seemed to consume the planet at night. The flip side was that the rare clear night sky contained the most amazing view of the galaxy's stars she'd ever seen. One advantage to being on a fairly nonindustrial world, I guess. She thought to herself.
Tanith trudged on towards the lodgings she rented. It wasn't much, but then again she didn't need much. Everything she owned had been aboard the small freighter she'd used to get here. She'd sold that to give her a stake with which to secure lodgings and meals until she'd found employment. As usual, the first offers had come from the brothels. She'd given them the same wintry smile she'd used across the Outer Rim and told them to find the most direct route to whatever hell they claimed and to use it.
Eventually she'd found a job with a small shipping company. It was the same company that had purchased her poor cargo runner. She'd been aghast to learn they thought her battered ship was quite a prize. After reviewing her flight logs, they asked her to work for them as a dispatcher.

Her job was painfully simple. Try to route as many stops along a run as possible with minimum expenditure of time, fuel, or maintenance as possible. The navigational side of things came easily enough. She still fought with her bosses over how much, or how little, maintenance was acceptable.

The first thing she'd demanded after starting was a training program for the poor souls thrust into the dilapidated ships and hurled into space with almost no knowledge of shiphandling or crisis management. She knew the same was true Corewards, but at least the idiots either learned or were vaped in an accident. Here, there weren't enough people or ships to let that remain a viable business practice. Fortunately her bosses agreed, but unfortunately she had more deep-space experience than most of the locals put together.

After a full shift of scheduling shipping runs for a half dozen archaic tramp freighters, she then put in another two hours trying to hammer the basics of star piloting into boredom befuddled minds. She tried to clear her mind of the day's frustrations as she came around the last corner before her lodgings. She drew her cloak around her as she pressed on. Fortunately, full-length cloaks with hoods were the height of fashion here so she was inconspicuous.

Her flat was an abandoned warehouse. Her rent was affordable because it had been as neglected as long as it had been unused. In exchange for her repair work, her rent was free. In darker moments, Tanith wondered how many centuries the building had lain unattended.

Her landlord had expressed some curiosity as to why she'd wanted lodgings with so much open area. She'd floundered a bit while she concocted a story of an interest in sculpture. The landlord had merely scowled at her but had not challenged the obvious lie. She probably suspected some illicit vices were being indulged and Tanith assumed such activities would be tolerated here better than the truth.

She stopped before the large double doors that comprised her front door. She punched her access code into the locking mechanism. It reported that only fifteen incorrect codes had been inputted today. She smiled at that; the number was dropping geometrically on a daily basis.

Either they're finally accepting they can't break the code or maybe I'm losing my sex appeal now that I've been here a while? Tanith shook her head at that thought before wistfully thinking, If only it could be true.

Tanith had been warned shortly after arriving that many of the young bucks loitering around Ceratown made a game of breaking into the homes of any young women that moved to the city from the outer farmlands. Being an offworlder had added to the normal allure and she'd broken all records for attempted break-ins. She'd also set a record for foiling every attempt.

That still didn't prevent her from carrying a two-arm's span length of polished hardwood. She'd carried the staff with her halfway across the galaxy. It had been her father's and it was a cherished keepsake. It was also hard enough to brain just about sentient species in the known galaxy.

She'd been trained in its use as a child and was better at using it than the other weapon discreetly clipped to her belt. Her parents had both been teachers on Bakura before their deaths due to the Ssi-ruuk attacks. Her parents, trained as reserve medical techs, had been aboard an Imperial cutter when it was destroyed. Her life seemed bleak until Bakura's Republican allies sent Rogue Squadron on a training mission.

One of the Rogues that came to spar with Bakura's pilots was named Corran Horn. Horn was more than a Rogue, he was a Jedi Knight. Corran eyed Tanith a little suspiciously when they first met. It'd unnerved Tanith, but not as badly as when he'd told her the Force was strong with her. It sounded more like a sentencing than an observation.

With Horn's help, she managed to book passage to Coruscant where she'd meet the infamous Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker. If her heart had palpitated at meeting Horn, it thundered in the presence of Skywalker. After a series of simple questions, he'd invited her to his Jedi Academy. He'd warned her that it wouldn't be easy, especially with the anger she carried in her heart regarding her parent's death. She nodded, ignored his words, and agreed to go.

As the doors to her flat slid open, she wished for the thousandth time that she'd heeded his unspoken warnings that far off day. Trying to ignore the groaning noises of the dilapidated motors pulling the doors, she reminded herself that "far off" day was only three years in the past. The doors finished their opening cycle and she punched the activation button on the wall and the doors groaned again as they closed. She rubbed her temples and promised herself, again, that as soon as she had time, she'd oil the damn trackway.

She flipped her hood back. She ran a hand through the tangled mess of her mid-length raven hair. Even before she went on the run, she'd worn it this way. It naturally twisted and tangled on its own so she let it be rather than to constantly try and style it.

The effect made her look like she'd just been caught in a windstorm.

It gave her a slightly dangerous edge to match the subtle grace of her movements and the way her eyes seemed to constantly watch everything. Strangers were unnerved by her without ever quite knowing why. Their unease enabled her to avoid questions she'd really rather avoid.

She laid her staff aside and shucked her gray cloak. Underneath she wore a loose fitting brown vest over a black knit top. The vest became a useful place to hide her lightsaber while she was at work or shopping in town. She only wore it on her belt when she was alone or wore the cloak. With the local weather, that was still a lot more than she'd expected to.

She wore brown pants with spacer's boots. The boots were somewhere between brown and black. She'd never been sure what color they were supposed to be. She also had no idea what creature had surrendered its life for her comfort but she knew that they were comfortable.

She plucked the cylindrical hilt off her belt. She gazed at it absently for a moment before re-clipping it with a resigned sigh. She'd never been comfortable with the thing. She'd been tempted to throw it away several times, but something always held her back.

She shed the vest and moved further into her "home". It was a cavernous space. One half held her sleeping cot, a chair, and a shelf with a few holos and books. A small cryo held her perishables and a camp heater served as a stove. At least the san now worked after two days of scrubbing to make it tolerable. The building even had its own well and pump.

Half the building was empty. She left it that way so she could practice. She wasn't sure why she did that still either. She'd betrayed everything she'd been taught, so why did she still practice meditations she found distasteful? Her teras kasi exercises had a practical, if equally distasteful, pragmatism behind them.

She stopped by the shelves and stared at a holo of her father and mother, taken weeks before their deaths. She'd been eight then. A lot had changed in the nineteen years following that event. She'd been taken in by a matronly aunt and schooled at a local academy.

She'd been given an internship at a young age and served as an aide to a Bakuran Senator. It had been tedious work, but fulfilling. Tanith liked the idea that her efforts made a difference to the rest of her planet. When Corran Horn had made his offer, her imagination had leapt at the possibilities.

She sighed bitterly. Some difference I'm making now. Her mind echoed with her parent's voices, cajoling her for not living up to their example. She closed her eyes while she pinched the bridge of her nose and waited for the ghosts to fade.

She released a slow exhalation and headed for the san. As she caught her reflection, she knew it was little wonder that she thought of her mother every time she saw her own image. They could have passed for sisters. The only major sign of her father was her raven hair.

She had her mother's high cheekbones, and pert nose. She had large blue eyes that would have dominated her face if her lips weren't so full. Her face descended sharply into a rounded jaw. She suddenly realized her fair complexion came more from her father than her mother.

She'd been told often enough that she was rather attractive. She generally assumed the compliments indicated a desire to exchange bodily fluids. Emperor's Black Bones knew that enough of her recent "fellow students" had tried to compliment their way into her bed. At least that had been one thing she hadn't dealt with at the Jedi Academy.

Things had been far different at Brakkis' Twilight Academy. An advanced version of his Shadow Academy, the Twilight curriculum catered to adults. Brakkis made rare visits but when he did he weighed in on the progress of every student. His personal attention could often be brutal and was always disturbing. Two students had died during the "examinations".

She tried to put those thoughts away as her stomach growled suddenly. Tanith hadn't eaten in twelve hours and her body was gently complaining. She started for the kitchenette when she stopped suddenly. She froze as she felt someone draw on the Force.

The activation button on the door depressed and the door began its groaning cycle as it slid open. Her security had thwarted the locals because her keypad wasn't connected to anything. She telekinetically activated the drive motor with the Force. Unless you were a Jedi, the only way to activate the door was from the inside.

Her worst nightmare was realized as someone discovered that and circumvented it. She tied her hair back and moved quickly towards her staff. If her fears were wrong as to her caller's identity was, the she might still be able to bluff her way out of this if she avoided using her lightsaber. If not, she was Bantha fodder anyway and she was more comfortable with the staff than the blade.

As usual, a thick fog had enveloped the city as night descended. The figure emerged from the fog and stepped jauntily into the empty area that formed her entryway. Her breathing grew shallow and her blood chilled as she recognized who it was. Even after a year, his image was still burned brightly in her mind.

"Tanith Irel!" he shouted in a manic greeting, "I've found you at last!"

She snatched the staff up and held it in a two-handed grip, "Stay back, Gregin. I'm warning you."

His scarred face twisted into an ugly smile, "You're warning me? Why thank you. I appreciate your concern. It would have been nicer if you'd warned me last time."

Her stomached tightened as she heard his words. It wasn't from his voice being filled with anger or hate; it was the absence of such emotions that terrified her. She knew that she couldn't afford to be taken alive. If she were, she'd be pleading for death before he was done.

She was amazed he was alive. The vicious pink scar that ran down the length of the left side of his face was her doing. No amount of bacta could completely heal a wound that had been cauterized even as it was formed. The gleaming red cybernetic eye was also a result of her handiwork.

"I'm surprised Brakkis still wants me back." She commented.

Gregin shook his head, his smile growing even more feral, "He doesn't want you. He's dead. Skywalker and his Jedi smashed the Second Imperium. They're all dead and gone and that leaves just us two. This is personal."

She gave a flippant laugh that sounded hollow even to her ears, "Wanted the other side of your face carved off, eh?"

His natural eye froze over with that. He was a large man, with broad shoulders and a muscular build. He'd always worn his blonde shoulder length hair in a meticulous braid, now it flowed freely down his back. He hadn't shaved in days, another sign of his relentless pursuit of her.

Gregin had been one of the reasons she'd left Brakkis' Academy. The man was a monster. Tales of Vader's butchery were legendary, but witnessing Gregin recreate some of those tales for his own amusement had been too much a strain on her wavering belief in Brakkis' teachings. She'd left the Jedi because she thought they were passive and weak. She left the dark Jedi because they were psychotic.

Their rhetoric of using the darker, more aggressive side of the Force to restore order to the chaotic remains of the former Empire had been a lie. The dark Jedi had been thugs with the power to exercise their every whim. When Brakkis had sensed her doubts, he'd ordered her to meditate on what troubled her for a few days and then discuss her insights with him and then he'd tortured her in order to "liberate" her thoughts. Gregin volunteered to watch over her and "guide" her in her reflections. His guidance had been a euphemism for attempted rape.

After slashing him with her saber, she'd fled the Academy and had been running ever since. She'd known her side of the story would never be believed. Gregin had too much influence and had purchased too many allies for her to convince a majority of her peers that she'd been justified. Her other recourse was to challenge him to a lightsaber duel to prove who was true and who was false. The problem with that was that he was among the finest swordsmen in the Twilight Academy while she undeniably remained the worst.

What Gregin didn't know was that over the last year as she made her way across the galaxy, she'd discovered depths of herself she never known she'd had. She'd survived everything it could throw at her and came away stronger and harder. Gregin could still scare her, but he couldn't stop her. She would never surrender…never!

A shrill whining sound broke the silence of the moment and the plastisteel skylight shattered as two swoops plunged down through them. Three riders dismounted. A female Bothan, a male Duro, and a male human now faced her, wielding shock pikes and vibroblades. She should have known Gregin wouldn't face her alone.

They began to encircle her while Gregin held himself back, aloof from the events. He's saving his energy for the torture sessions, she realized. Her other three attackers moved clumsily and she knew they hadn't been in the Academy long before being drafted to hunt her down. With Gregin as their teacher on this trip, they were undoubtedly getting an education in thuggery.

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. Her fear dissipated and her resolve hardened as her anger fuelled her determination. Her anger had carried her to the Jedi, then the Dark Jedi, and then halfway across the galaxy. If she were to fight and die today, then these bastards would know they'd been in a fight!

The three toughs approaching her were of varied size and skill. The Bothan looked the most dangerous. Her race taught unarmed combat to their young as a mental exercise to prepare them for the political warfare their species was famed for. She wielded the pike as though it was second nature for her to have it in her hand.

The Duro and human each wielded vibroblades. Neither looked particularly skilled in their use. They resembled the street rabble they probably were. The moral and skill requirements to join Brakkis' Academy had been nonexistent.

Tanith ignored the saber hanging from her belt. Her grip tightened on her quarterstaff. Her father would never know how valuable his early lessons had been to her over her life. Her obvious skill and devotion to the arts had persuaded her aunt on Bakura to continue her training. That discipline later allowed her to study with the Jedi, both light and dark.

Although not as impressive as the vibroblades or the shock pikes, the staff had a few secrets of its own. Her father, bless him, had infused it with cortosis. It could withstand blows from her lightsaber with barely a scratch. Sustained pressure from a saber could sever the staff, but nothing less would. Her three opponents were about to have a harsh lesson in Bakuran martial training.

The Duro and the human lunged forward. She met the Duro under the jaw with the end of her staff. She then swung it hard to her right, bracing it between her arm and her hip. It struck the human across the face, sending him staggering to the floor. The Duro dropped to his knees, clutching his throat. Tanith knew he wouldn't be gasping for air long. His species' natural flexibility made it virtually impossible to crush their windpipes or bones.

The Bothan slashed in for the attack while these thoughts flashed across Tanith's mind. The fury behind it reminded her of the Bothan's predatory past. She tried to ignore her opponent's vestigial fangs as she pressed the attack. As she'd feared, the Bothan expertly wielded the pike.

Their duel reflected the elegance and savagery of their opposing techniques. Unlike Tanith's staff, one end of the pike emitted a paralyzing voltage. Due to this, the Bothan continually attempted to disable Tanith by striking her with it. Tanith began to see predictability in her enemy's movements. Deciding to gamble on her newfound insight she stepped back and planted one end of her staff on the floor while her arms remained coiled around it and she held it close to her body.

The Bothan wavered for a second, long enough for Tanith to catch her breath, and then thrust forward with her pike in a staggered, two-handed grip. Tanith exploded into action. With her right hand remaining at the upper part of the staff, she began to twist to her right. Her right hand pushed the staff down as her left drew it up. The arc caught the Bothan's forehand as she began her charge. She yowled in pain as the continued sweep dislodged the pike from her member and threw it away from her.

Tanith carried her spin and rotated completely around. She brought the staff through a pirouette over her head and then brought it crashing down in a one-handed grip crossing behind her body, her left hand reaching out towards her opponent. Her breath came heavily but her eyes flashed icy fire.

Her defiance and bolstered confidence unnerved and enraged the Bothan. She had never been disarmed in combat before and found it humiliating that a mere strip of a human had accomplished it. Even more annoying was the fact she'd been able to taste the scent of the human's fear before and now that taste was gone. The only flavor in the air was Tanith's confidence.

She charged headlong towards Tanith with an ear splitting shriek erupting from her mouth. Her claws were bared, as were her fangs. She would slay the human and taste her flesh as her ancestors had done aeons before. The primal lust consumed her, right before Tanith's staff smashed into her forehead.

The Bothan went down like a broken doll. Her skull shattered by the end of the staff. Tanith didn't stop there; she spun around end thrust the staff end out again, catching the Duro in the groin. Fortunately, the species shared the same location for genitals as humans and he went limp as he exhaled every trace of air from his lungs. She ended his misery and sent him to blissful unconsciousness with another blow from the staff, this time to his head.

The echoing sound of clapping made her spin around towards its source. Tanith had forgotten all about Gregin in the intensity of battle. He strode arrogantly towards her while applauding her success. The sneer on his face spoke volumes regarding his estimations of her chances against him.

Sweat soaked strands of hair clung to Tanith's face. Thankfully her hair had mostly stayed in its tail but loose strands had adhered themselves to her sweat streaked cheeks. She resisted the impulse to wipe away a particularly annoying strand clinging to the corner of her mouth. Her eyes fixed upon his and remained there.

His sneer blossomed into an arrogant smirk, "Well, my pretty, it seems you've learned a thing or two in the last year."

Her eyes never wavered, never changed, "I've always known how to fight, Gregin. The true skill comes in knowing when to back off because you're simply outclassed."

"Like you are now?" he asked snidely.

"You know better than that." Her tone was dry, "How else do you explain your new eye and those lovely scars?"

Hatred flashed across his face, "I underestimated your skills once, witch. I won't do so again."

"Seems to me you're doing it again right now." She jauntily replied.

She could feel the wave of unbridled rage that rippled off of him. She drew on the Force to refresh her weary muscles. She could feel Gregin drawing in the dark side, storing its energies like a battery. His blade ignited and he came at her in a blur that she felt rather than saw.

She parried his first strike, than another... and another... followed by another. She lost count of the blows as she struggled to block them all. She thanked the spirit of her long dead father for his foresight in modifying the staff as it deflected blow after relentless blow. Minutes passed uncounted, the fervent combat unabated until the unthinkable happened.

Gregin's emerald blade slashed through the staff, cutting it in half. Internally, Tanith wailed in protest at its loss. Externally, she deflected Gregin's sword hand with one half while she clubbed him in the side of the head with the other. He grunted in pain and blindly lashed out with the Force, knocking her off her feet.

She rolled with the momentum and came up on her feet. Snatching the saber hilt off her belt, she ignited it and its violet blade hissed to life. She raised the saber high to her right shoulder in a ready stance as Gregin shook off the last effects of her blow. An ugly burn from the molten end of her cut staff now blistered above his cybernetic eye.

His leering smile was ugly, "That was well played, but you will pay for it."

"You keep making promises," she mocked, "but you never seem to be able to deliver on them."

She heard the hiss of his breath as he pressed the attack. The clash of sabers filled the former warehouse. Tanith held him off but Gregin had the advantage in a sword fight. The unrelenting waves of hatred wore her resolve down even as his attack wore her physical strength away.

She somersaulted over his head and thrust her saber straight back. He barely avoided it and twisted to bring a slashing strike down on her back. She pivoted on her heel, angling away from his arc and swung her sword arm up. She still had her saber in an inverted grip and it freed her left leg from its stance and allowed her to deliver a powerful kick to Gregin's ribs.

The force of the blow pushed air out of his lips as he stepped back. She rotated the saber into a two handed grip and went on the offensive. Gregin blocked her first blow, having recovered faster than she'd hoped and swiftly reversed the initiative. Tanith began giving ground though she knew she would eventually be cornered if she couldn't regain the offensive.

Gregin tapped into reserves she no longer had and intensified his attack. She tried to block a swiping blow only to find him continuing the motion rotating the saber out of her hand and into the air. His left hand smashed into her mouth, driving her off balance and she fell backwards. With his right, he slashed at her saber as it fell towards the ground.

His blade sliced through the saber's focusing crystals. The resulting harmonic dissonance caused them to shatter and the saber to explode with them. The pieces rained across the warehouse.

Tanith tried to repel the shrapnel with the Force. A few molten pieces escaped her shield and singed her legs. As she swatted at the burning pieces smoldering through her pants, she could feel Gregin's power as he swatted aside all of the shrapnel near him. She also tasted her own blood as it filled her mouth from her split lip. She reached towards her mouth to wipe the blood away when the hum of his blade leveled at her throat caused her to stop and look up to meet his eyes.

His expression was smug as he stood poised over her, "You are beaten. It is useless to resist."

Her mind reeled on two tracks at these words. She desperately tried to find an escape, a final weapon she could throw at him. The other part of her mind tried to remember why those words sounded so familiar. The first part of her mind laughed at the futility of trying dredge up such useless trivia while having a lightsaber blade aimed at your throat by a psychopath.

Stubbornness overcame her fear and her eyes hardened in resolve, "You can kill me, but I'll just become more powerful than you can imagine." That was another sentiment that haunted her. The words were imprecise but the gist was all that mattered. All she knew was it felt true.

She saw a flicker in his eyes. His mouth worked in a soundless protest. He knows it too! She just wished she actually knew what they both seemed to sense.

Gregin pulled the sword back and poised it for a thrust. His newfound fear over her claim seemed to be pushing him to abandon his long plans for vengeance. Her death became a consuming need. It was also the very source of his fear.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." A deep voice advised, "If she lives, you may as well."

Gregin turned in shock. Tanith angled sideways in order to get a better view of the unexpected player in their little drama. There was a lot to see. The man was dressed all in black, with an ebon cloak and hood covering him.

"Who are you?" Gregin asked imperiously, "How dare you interfere in our business?"

The stranger laughed, "I do because I can. You're a stranger here. This territory is under my protection and that of others like me. You're not wanted here. I suggest ya leave before I decide to force the issue."

"You don't know what you're dealing with." Gregin spat.

"Neither do you, I gather." The stranger replied with an ironic humor. His voice held a lilt that Tanith had never heard before. It was obviously an Outer Rim accent, or that of a Wild Space planet. The cadence had a musical quality that lent it an amiable air. Tanith had no doubts it could relay authority or outrage as well.

Gregin stepped away from her to focus on this new threat. He obviously no longer saw her as a danger. She snorted to herself. He'd learn differently as soon as she caught her fourth wind.

As Gregin stepped aside, she could see the stranger's garb more clearly. It closely resembled Jedi robes, except that the pants were baggier than the norm. He wore black gloves and with the hood drawn up, only his jaw could be seen. No other flesh was visible.

It was a rugged square jaw, with the shadow of a day's worth of beard growth. The lips were thin but firm. Crinkles around it suggested frequent smiles and laughter. Looking at the stern expression now, that possibility was hard to imagine.

The stranger threw back his hood, revealing his face. His hair was as dark as his hood. His hair combed back except for a few stray locks brushing his forehead. His nose was wide and his features rugged. Lines matching those around his mouth lined his forehead and his eyes. His dark eyes glinted in anticipation and Tanith's heart began to beat faster as she wondered what was about to occur.

The man stepped forward and began to discard his cloak as he did so. Tanith judged him to be about a decade older than herself. He was tall and moved with an easy grace. Although the loose fitting clothes hid his physique, he held himself as a warrior. Before he was a menacing shadow, revealed he became an instrument of death.

She felt Gregin's confidence falter and wondered why his arrogance suddenly left him. She searched her unexpected benefactor and saw what had startled Gregin. Hanging from the stranger's belt was a lightsaber. It was sleeker than any she had seen before, but its purpose and function were unmistakable.

"Are you a Jedi?" Gregin hissed.

The man chuckled, "No, and neither are you boy."

"What are you?" Gregin demanded.

"Your worst fear." The man said, his voice hardening, "Yield now, and you'll leave here alive."

"Never." Gregin snarled.

The stranger shrugged, "It's your funeral."

Gregin bellowed as he charged. The stranger plucked his lightsaber off his belt and ignited it. It flared to life with a scarlet glow. It met Gregin's emerald blade and a sizzling blue corona formed between them.

If Tanith had thought that her battle with Gregin had been furious, she hadn't even pondered a contest like this. Both parties moved faster than her eye could track. They were fluid engines of destruction. She could feel the Force flow and rage as the two combatants dodged and parried.

They struck at each other telekineticaly as well with their blades. The stranger received a kick from Gregin only to flip backwards and land on his feet. He blocked the follow through as though he'd never felt the blow. He spun and ducked simultaneously.

Gregin lept high to avoid the warrior's kick. As he landed, he stumbled as the scarlet saber swung towards him. Blow after blow rained down upon him. His inner ring of defense began to be penetrated time and again. He narrowly avoided crippling cuts to receive glancing wounds.

His saber flew from his hand as he gave an anguished shout. The warrior stopped and appraised him for a moment. Something akin to pity crossed his features. He deactivated his blade and threw it aside.

"The true weapon is not the saber." He said grimly, "Let us see what kind of weapon you are."

Gregin moved forward and snapped a punch as acceptance of his enemy's offer. It was blocked and he blocked a return. Hands and feet flew at each other. Gregin back-flipped into the wall and kicked off towards the dark warrior. He spun in mid-air, executing an elegant kick that would have broken the other man's collarbone had it landed.

The warrior stepped aside and outstretched his hand towards Gregin as the dark Jedi tried to reclaim his balance. He flew helplessly against the wall and flailed as the warrior's telekinesis held him suspended in mid-air. The stranger made a clucking sound with his tongue.

"You've spirit lad, but you don't have the brains the universe gave a bloody gundark." He scolded. He flicked his wrist and Gregin's head lolled as his neck broke.

The warrior turned away from Gregin's corpse and it slid to the ground. His lightsaber flew to him and he returned it to his belt. His cloak followed and he inspected it. He sighed as he pushed dust off of it.

"What?" he asked irritably, "You can't ever dust? It's not like you'd ever have to actually lift a finger. Just push the dirt out the door."

Tanith had managed to reclaim her feet, but stared at the advancing paragon in transfixed shock. He hadn't bothered to glance her way yet, and she was glad of it. She'd spit the blood out of her mouth and staunched the blood flow with a Jedi technique, but she knew her strength still hadn't returned. She still didn't know if he planned to kill her or not. Her eyes desperately sought Gregin's lightsaber.

Her hopes plummeted as she saw it only for it to hurl itself through the air into the warrior's waiting grasp. The stranger's dark eyes finally met hers. His face broke into an amused grin. She found herself growing annoyed as he began to laugh at her expense.

"What's the matter with you woman?" he asked between guffaws. His accent thickened, "Don't ya think if I'd wanted t'kill you, you'd be dead by now?"

She nodded slowly, wincing from both the pain such a motion caused and the knowledge that he could kill her without her being able to do a thing about it.

"What do you plan on doing with me?" she asked hesitantly.

"I plan on gettin' you of this bloody rock." He said, the dry amusement returning to his voice, "After that, it's your choice."

"And if I decide to part ways?" she asked, irritation flaring in her voice.

"Then you can." He replied simply, "But at least hear what I'm offerin' before you decide t'go."

She nodded in acquiescence. She was in no shape to refuse right now anyway. She'd sold her transport and this man was obviously an offworlder. If Gregin had found her others would follow. Even if Brakkis were truly dead, others would lay claim to his title and seek retribution, using her for a scapegoat.

"So how soon can you be ready?" he inquired.

"Five minutes." She answered flatly.

"You've been on the run for a while, haven't you?" he asked appreciatively.

She shot him a puzzled look, "I thought you already knew that?"

He shook his head and that cursed ironic grin appeared again, "I don't even know the sound of your name, milady. I was set on another task when I felt you and these yobbos drawin' on the Force like the Clone Wars were being waged all over again."

"So why did you...?" her voice drifted off on the question.

"As I told the lead idiot, I'm pledged to defend this world as well as a few others." He replied simply, "It wasn't hard to discern who the attacker and the defender here were. I caught enough off o' him to know his motives were decidedly uncharitable enough to consider him a threat to both you and the locals."

He stepped closer and handed her Gregin's now ownerless lightsaber, "You'll be needin' this."

Tanith absorbed this without comment. She accepted the proffered saber hilt without comment and then shuffled off to pack. As promised, she was ready in five minutes. The enigmatic warrior had simply stood there, not making a sound as she'd worked. She waited a few minutes, and then impatience took over.

"Well?" Tanith asked.

"Well what?" he asked in return.

"When are we leaving?" she wondered.

"Soon." He sagely replied.

"How soon?" she grated.

"Soon, soon." Was all he said.

"Why did I pack so fast if we're just going to stand here?" she demanded, arms akimbo.

He grinned at her, "I only asked how fast you could be ready. I never said y'had to be ready that fast."

"Why you arrogant..." Tanith began to mutter and as her hand clenched she felt her arm drawing back.

She stopped as the warehouse began to shake. The unmistakable hum of replusorlifts filled the air. The walls vibrated as she heard a ship run through its landing cycle beside her building. She stared at the stranger in stunned silence.

He motioned towards the door, "Comin'?"

"I don't even know you're name." She protested.

"Only fair." He retorted, "I don't know yours."

"Tanith Irel." She grumbled.

"I'm Ro-Jan Drea." He replied with a lopsided grin, "I'm pleased t'make your acquaintance. If you'll come with me, I'll introduce ya t'my pilot, Alaric Brekk."

As he hurried out the door, she shrugged, "What've I got to lose?"

"By the way, y'don't need t'thank me for savin' your life." Ro-Jan's voice called back.

"Wasn't planning on it." She muttered under her breath as she followed him out the door.

Tanith exited the warehouse she'd called "home" for the last few months to discover an Imperial cutter sitting outside."

"You're an Imperial?" she asked, with a note of betrayal in her voice.

"No." Ro-Jan replied, "I'm not. My ride is."

"That doesn't make sense." Tanith replied.

"Come aboard with me and it'll make sense, I promise you."

He sounded sincere but Tanith had learned to distrust everyone so she hesitated. The dark man gave her a rough smile.

"If I'd wanted you dead, you'd be that way already. You don't honestly think you'd stand a chance against me with that?" He punctuated the final word by using the Force to jangle Gregin's lightsaber at her belt.

She clutched at the saber and his smile broadened, "You're too tired to even mount a reasonable defense against me. Come aboard, eat something and get some rest. You'll be safe from everyone while aboard that ship."

"Interesting clarification." She wryly noted.

"It's a dangerous galaxy darlin'. No tellin' who else may try something." He warned.

"Why me?" Tanith blurted out, "Why the singular attention?"

"You have a rare and precious gift." Ro-Jan explained, "It feels as though you've been partially trained on how to use it by two different masters."

Tanith reluctantly nodded and Ro-Jan continued, "And I'd be thinkin' they're opposin' masters at that."

Again she nodded and he shrugged, "Then how would you like to find a path that'll make sense of everywhere you've been taught so far?"

Tanith had to ponder this. Her training up until now had been so contradictory as to not make sense. Clarification, any at all, would be an asset to her. It would improve her odds of survival enormously.

"You can do this?" she asked.

He shook his head, "No, but my master can. Just come with us. If you change your mind, we'll take you to any planet you want to go to.... assumin' it's in Wild Space or nearby in the Outer Rim."

"Agreed." She stuck out a hand.

Ro-Jan accepted the hand and pumped it, "About time. Let's load up then."

Tanith wasn't fully sure what she expected of an Imperial cutter, even one dating back to the Empire's founding, but it certainly wasn't this. She expected drab, utilitarian, and stolid. What she wasn't prepared for was the explosion of color that greeted her. Every centimeter of the interior was brightly painted in wildly varying schemes. Even the stock crash couches for the passengers had been ripped out and replaced with floral patterned furniture.

As Tanith gaped, Ro-Jan leaned in closer and whispered, "Just don't ask about the paint scheme."

She dumbly nodded and looked around for a place to stow her gear.

"Over here." Ro-Jan said, indicating the crew and passenger lockers, "Looks like you have your choice."

There was a measure of both relief and sadness in that statement. Tanith chose a locker and placed her gear inside it. Included were the severed halves of her father's staff. Ro-Jan watched this with some interest but remained silent. Tanith resented his perceived judgment over her sentimentality. He was a cold bastard if there were nothing dear to him as well.

The pressure hatch leading to the cockpit opened and a tall, muscular dark skinned man exited. Superficially, he reminded Tanith of the New Republican hero and rogue, Lando Calrissian. The major differences lay in that Brekk was clean-shaven and completely bald. He was, undoubtedly, one of the most striking men Tanith had ever seen. His low-key curiosity regarding her and sense of loneliness bespoke of his singleness.

He'd make quite an attractive prize. Tanith thought to herself.

Tanith knew those thoughts derived from her time at the Twilight Academy. She shrugged them aside and noticed Ro-Jan visibly relax. Undoubtedly, he'd been privy to her feelings and had been ready to contest her intentions. Ha! Tanith thought vindictively, Fooled him.

"This," said Ro-Jan amicably, as though nothing had silently passed, "is my friend and pilot, Alaric Brekk."

"Hopefully a pleasure." Tanith outstretched her hand.

"Oho," chuckled Brekk, "a cynic."

"An astute student of life." Tanith replied a little more sharply than she'd intended.

Alaric clutched at his heart, "I'm cut to the quick."

"Enough banter." Ro-Jan commanded, "We need t'be away from here before the locals discover those bodies and ask too many questions."

"Yes, O Dark Lord." Alaric grinned, "Your merest wish is my command."

"If only it were true." Ro-Jan muttered.

"Wait and see." Brekk promised and headed back into the cockpit.

Ro-Jan eyed Tanith, "I'd suggest that y'get some rest now. There's food and drink in the cryo and the couches for sleeping."

"What are you?" Tanith blurted, "You're no Jedi and you're not a dark Jedi. What does that leave?"

Ro-Jan graced her with a benevolent smile, "I'm a Sith, darlin', same as you."

"How can that be?" Tanith was confused, "The Sith are extinct."

"Talk to my master and you'll learn." Ro-Jan promised, "Now if you'll excuse me, Alaric's good but he still requires a navigator."

"Suit yourself." Tanith shrugged. With Ro-Jan gone she opened the cryo and pulled out the fixings for a meal. She devoured it in minutes. Afterwards, she sat down on the couch. Within moments, she was lying on her side, oblivious to the happenings aboard ship.

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