My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 69

"So." Sarah had taken to sparring with Dustil after Mission went to bed, she'd developed a rather hilarious crush on Dustil that was awkward and distracting when he was trying to concentrate on Sarah's words. It was obvious he'd inherited a lot of his father's easygoing nature and somehow managed to keep it intact through Korriban, because he treated the smitten teenaged twi'lek with gentle care. "When are you going to tell me what I need to know? You train me to fight, fight hard, and fight soon. We're going someplace. My old man is nervous as hell about it, he watches you. And I still don't know who you are."

She blocked his incoming thrust with a sudden, sharp strike, trying to throw him off balance. She failed, he had a tight center of balance, his grasp of lightsaber combat had been strong when he'd come to her and it was increasing day by day. Good, it had to...they arrived at Brentaal tomorrow. And from there, it was a straight line shot to the Star Forge...and Malak.

"Who I am." He had to know, she had to tell him. And he would be the first one that she actually told. "Is Sarah...your father's fiancee." He was trying to move her into a corner, to cut down on her options to evade his attacks, but she denied the attempt, rolling underneath him and hopping up behind him...pinning him in the corner instead.

"Yeah, I get that... Stepmom." He chose to use his size and bulk to break it, pushing into an overbear attack. "I also get that my dad seems to be UA, hard as that one is to believe."

"That's debatable. The Admiralty put him on this path in the first place." Admittedly, he should have checked in at some point and Dustil was correct, there was a high chance that Carth had been declared absent without authorization. It was just something that they'd have to deal with later, if there was a later. "However, since you want an introduction, my name is Amasri Idarn. Better known as Revan."

"Revan? But Revan is dead...Malak betrayed Revan in the Outer Rim, destroyed her flag. She was lost. Every Sith knows that." He said the right words, but there was a healthy thread of doubt under them. What 'every Sith knew' was suspect in his mind. Good.

"I am indeed lost to the Sith." She went into a guard, disengaging from him by retreating into the main bay before extinguishing her lightsaber. "I will not return to them. But Malak will pay, Dustil. He will pay for what he's done to me. What he's done to my padawan. And for what he's done to your father."

His gaze dropped to the deck, his brows twisting. "I...see."

"Do you? Malak ordered the bombing of Telos. That order killed your mother. He broke Karath to the point where the man who once stood by your father took those orders and carried them out. And very recently, tortured your father." If he changed his mind now, they still had a chance to get rid of him here, on Brentaal. Carth's duty station, probably equipped with a dependent support staff. "I'm going after Malak. That's what this is all about."

"And my dad? You convinced him to go along with a revenge plan? Promised him Karath's blood? You said the admiralty signed off on this?"

She sighed, sitting down at the table and motioning for him to sit across from her. "I already delivered on my promise to give him Karath's blood." She said as he sat down. "And yes, the admiralty signed off on this...well, sort of. They did at the beginning." But now? Who knew? They'd been gone for months now, chasing map fragments across the galaxy, deliberately keeping a low profile, staying on a path that had never come close to any major Republic worlds. For all the Republic knew, they could have failed, vanished, died along the way...especially if the Enclave on Dantooine had truly fallen. "But that was awhile ago." She twined her fingers together, her elbows resting on the tabletop. Dustil's gaze fell on the ring that crowned her hand, and his frown deepened. Of course he noticed it, while it was not exorbitantly large or overtly showy, it breathed with the force. It was content now, happy with what it was and where it was.

"So my Dad, his new Sith Lord girlfriend, an overly exuberant and truly annoying teenaged twi'lek, a Mandalorian and a wookiee are going to go take down Darth Malak?"

"That's the plan." She really wished he hadn't put it in quite that way, but it was accurate enough.

"And if I don't like it?" He locked her with a steady stare, an odd shadow of his father in his features. She hadn't lost him yet...

"We drop you here, on Brentaal. It's your father's current duty station, we send a message to his admiral that you've been recovered. You're still underage, and you are still legally his dependent."

"I can never be a Jedi, Sarah."

"I know. Neither can I, anymore." The Order had given it a valiant try, but now that that she knew, now that she understood, it would never work. She remembered what she had never been supposed to recover. "And you're not meant to be Sith. I don't think I am, either. I am neither. You are neither. It works, Dustil." He had to be trained, now more than ever. He was too close, too damned vulnerable, still very young.

"I'm in." He nodded firmly, standing and pulling his lightsaber. "Let's go. It doesn't sound like we've got a lot of time."

No, no, they didn't. She stood, flipping her own hilt over in her hand. She only had a handful of weeks to try to get him ready for a mission that would cause a fully trained and released Jedi Knight to think twice. After all, the Enclave had sent six of those to drag her off of Coruscate's bridge...and that would have been unsuccessful odds on their part if Malak had not thrown in. As it was, Bastila had been the only survivor...and that was because even then, Sarah would not have killed her.

At least the steady sparring with an unfamiliar opponent was helping her as well, she'd lost a lot of edge in the past year and a half. She needed it back if she was going to have any hope of squaring off against Malak.

They finished, Dustil excusing himself, heading towards the refresher while Sarah moved forward, to the cockpit. Carth lounged in the pilot's seat, his eyes closed. He was not asleep, not even close, and she sat next to him, studying the screens in front of him. Their jump course had been plotted in. There was a message draft ready to send. All he had to do was hit send, and then jump, and they'd be on their way. One last leg before the end of all of this.

"Well? Does he know?"

"He does."

He sighed, opening his eyes and sitting up. "Do we leave him here, or do we take him?" His voice was flat and Sarah's heart broke. For him, neither one would be the optimal answer. Leaving Dustil at Brentaal would cause problems. They'd just found him, Carth was beginning to make inroads into repairing a relationship. Brentaal would also not be the best place to leave a sixteen year old just recovered from Korriban. The Jedi would be all over that.

"We take him." He was needed. He should be there. He would fill Bastila's place in all of this. They needed him. She needed him. "We go, Carth. We all go."

"Is he any good? I mean, good enough to help take care of you during this? It's a lot to ask."

It was a lot to ask and Sarah had been turning it over and over in her mind since they'd arrived at Brentaal two days ago. And every time, the answer was the same...Dustil needed to be there with her. "He's more than good enough, Carth. We go."

He nodded, leaning forward and hitting the send button on the message screen. They were now committed, that message would appear on his admiral's desk in seconds, there was no way to get it back now. He completed the motion by dropping his hand to the jump throttles and gracefully pulling them back. The star field in front of her blurred, extended, and then faded into the rainbow cascade of jump space. They were on their way, all they had to do now was wait.

"Come on, big guy. Let's go get some sleep."

Sarah reclined in the dorsal gun gimbal, foot propped on the brake while she studied the tac screen in front of her. It was blank except for the counter ticking off time until end of jump in the lower right hand corner. They had no idea whatsoever what they were jumping into, and no matter how much she poked, prodded and ground against it, she couldn't remember. All she had to go on was the dubiously optimistic fact that she must have survived this jump at least one time before.

Canderous was below her, manning the ventral gun. Even with her memory's spotty return and her abilities showing, he was still the better gunner. Carth was enough of a pilot to keep the Hawk on such an angle that both guns had the best field of fire...and it was just safest to put the best gunner in the ventral gimbal. Dustil had the copilot's position, he was only adequate there, but better than Mission and much more comprehensible to Carth than Zaalbar was. He'd also calmed down a lot, not exactly bubbling with joy at being reunited with his father, but civil enough to convince Sarah to leave the two of them without a chaperone. He was also the third best gunner, leaving his father out, so he'd be on the wingtip guns. Sarah honestly had no clue just how much of a gunner Carth was, it had never come up and probably never would...he flew. He was the best at that, hands down. There was no reason to move him from the pilot's chair.

Three. Two. One. The Hawk dropped out of jump space, and any doubts that Sarah had were gone in that first split second, when she got a perfect look out of the dorsal gun's canopy. There it is. It's..glorious. Magnificent.

The Star Forge was poised over the sun, veils of solar matter flowing into was a massive wedge shape this far out, a central sphere with three stabilizing and collector fins holding it secure. It was awesome in the truest sense of the word, and all Sarah wanted to do was stare, admire...this had once been hers. Malak didn't deserve this, she had been the one to lead the way to it, the maps had always answered to her...never to him. He'd stolen it from her. He was fool, it was a dangerous thing indeed. This was why...

"Fighters inbound." Carth's voice was perfectly level in her earbud. "Sarah, is that...?"

"That's it. Send word if you can." Even if they couldn't get a message through, the Republic Navy knew where they were. Even if they failed from here on out, they'd succeeded. "We have eyes on the Star Forge."

And, as he'd noted, fighters inbound. A whole mess of them, multiple wings. "Shit." She muttered, knowing that her mic would pick the word easily enough. The last time she'd been here, this had been hers. Those damn fighters had been hers...

But now she returned in a single small freighter. It seemed laughable, was laughable. "Message off, Sarah. We can't hold, I'm running for the planet." There was no jump away from here, she understood that. And he was correct, they had no chance against those fighters. But somehow...

Somehow, she didn't have time to go offline to try to figure out why running for the planet seemed like such a risky idea. She had to stay here, alert, focused and shooting. She expected the fighter wings to try to cut them off, to prevent the nimble and versatile freighter from reaching the planet but no...

"Range." Canderous's voice snapped her back. She simply didn't have the luxury of time to try to puzzle it out, even with only one smaller squadron giving chase, they were still outgunned. But not out piloted, Carth turned the freighter into a random, neck jerking evasion path that a single seater interceptor would be proud of. Sarah opened her mind up, reading the path through Carth's mind before he even made the turns, and adapted her shooting reaction to his piloting and knowing just where he was going to take them. Canderous did not have that ability, but his skill level was up to the task.

"Acquired." She snapped, they were still pretty far out, but if Canderous thought they were in range, then they were in range. He proved the point a heartbeat later by blowing the leading fighter clean out of space. She followed by peppering the middle of the flight, much more randomly than his pinpoint accuracy, letting the force guide her shots. The wingtip guns remained still, but if Dustil felt they were out of his range, that was fine. They'd gotten this far with only two gunners...

"Contact." No matter what, the flight was going to get shots off on them. She knew that. Carth had to know it. It just went without saying. She felt a slight shift from Carth, an unfurling...a his latent sensitivity was shaken awake, and she smiled. It was rare, and that made it all the more beautiful. Any doubts that it was there fled as it shone, brilliant and...

The ship shuddered. It wasn't a hit from any of those fighters, it was something deeper. It was something catastrophic, an engine failure? They'd never had the chance to go over it bolt by bolt, and they'd expected it to bring them here? Her screen died. The gimbal lighting died. Everything just died.

"Carth?" No answer. The ship's comms were down. They were in the planet's gravity well, it was drawing them in, but the ship was dead in space. They must have been pulsed, there must have been a cruiser that they'd missed, but how in the hell could they...she...have missed an Interdictor?

She dropped out of the gimbal, without power to the guns it was useless anyway, and ran towards the cockpit...narrowly missing colliding with Canderous as he popped up out of the ventral turret. "I don't know." She stated as he fell into step behind her. "Stay here." She ordered when they hit the main bay. It was lit, but only by emergency lighting. Mission was there with Zaalbar, her eyes wide. The wookiee was silent, watchful, and Sarah didn't have an answer for him at the moment. "You guys need to stay here." They didn't need to crowd the cockpit. Canderous tended to be quiet, but if Mission descended on the cockpit, she'd rattle what little sanity Carth still had.

The cockpit was just as dark as the main bay, lit by emergency lighting. It was much calmer than she'd been expecting, Carth rocked back in the pilot's seat, his demeanor a study in forced relaxation. Dustil was staring at his screen as if he expected it to spring to life at any moment, but that was not happening. "Well?" She demanded from the doorway and Carth shrugged, opening his hands in a vague wave.

"We've hit some kind of planetary defense system. Lost every automated system we've got, and it's not rebooting for me. Atmosphere is too thin to start trying the manuals, so we wait." He wrinkled his nose, staring at the view-port... "At least we will be dragged in to the point where that's an option."

A fully manual landing of a freighter like this was a mind boggling endeavor. If any other person was in that seat, she'd be afraid. But she wasn't. "I have faith in you." Those weren't just empty words. The Force was with him, it had started to guide him the moment they'd hit the system, and she could still feel it wrapped around him. "We prep for an emergency landing. Readouts on the planet?" Hopefully they had gotten those before they'd lost everything...

"Breathable. Good gravity. Good temperature. It looked good, what little of a look I got of it. It doesn't matter, though. That's where we're going, like it or not."

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