My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 71

"This place feels like Korriban, only..." Dustil shrugged and Sarah glanced at him. His eyes were locked on a thrilled Mission, who was experiencing trees, sand, and surf for the first time and perhaps showing a little too much skin while she did it. But it was a beautiful world, a travesty considering what it had spawned.

"More alive and on a much deeper scale." Where Korriban was dusty, what little life remained there eking out a parched existence, Lehon exploded with life. All fed on the dark side, brilliantly concealed under emerald growth, sterling beaches and vibrant blue skies and seas. It was a paradise with a dark underbelly. "More like Kashyyyk." He had probably never been there, but the point was still valid. This was more than Kashyyyk, this was the source, the cradle of the Builders' society. The center of their power.

"If you say so, master." His eyes slid to Zaalbar, watching over Mission. "Does that make the wookiees suspect? If their whole homeworld has been corrupted by this...?" He waved his hand. It was supposed to be a vague motion, encompassing the beach, but his innate gift ended with his fingers pointing unerringly at the main wellspring of it within range. The Temple...

"It is an interesting question. They don't seem to be. Maybe later, when there is time to look into it, we can." If they ever made it off of this world, that was. If they could make it to the Star Forge. If they could defeat Malak. So many ifs. Had she been this doubtful during the War? At least then, she'd never been this lacking in support. Every person she had that would come after her was already here. Even Bastila...she could sense her.

It had been one thing to take an army, a navy, and a group of Jedi against the Mandalorians. It was altogether different here and now. "How long until the Navy could move on that message, if they do move on it?" She yelled up at the ship she was shading under. Carth appeared in the hole where the gimbal had been, hanging upside down, his lengthening hair swaying.

"Ahhhh... Dodonna gets the message. Confirms the message. Runs the message by the SIS. They run it by the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. They debate it. They get back to the SIS and say it's probably legit. Dodonna informs the Admiralty. They debate it. They gather a fleet without pulling too much from any one point. We have a week. Maybe two." He sighed. "Before we have company on this lovely vacation world."

That was more time than she'd been afraid of, and for once, she gave a heartfelt thanks for bureaucracy in motion...or lack thereof. "So we have about a week to repair the ship and turn off the planetary defenses before any Republic fleet will probably reach us?

"Ah...yeah...you think you can turn them off?"

"Yes." There had been a time when she had. Between Testament and the first contact team's crash and when they had achieved full control of the Star Forge, she'd had to turn them off. And later, she'd turned them back on. "How bad is it?"

He dropped from the hole to land beside her. "The gimbal's a complete loss." He sighed, sitting on her side opposite to Dustil. "Your Hammerhead there won't have a replacement, we just need to patch the hole and go without ventral guns." He shrugged. "She'll have plenty of transparisteel sections to cut a new central view port. Plenty of hull patch kits. She should also have a shielded bay section with replacement avionics and system cards. Even if those don't fit...exactly...with Mission's help I can probably convince them to work. Three, four days if they're where they're supposed to be. If not..." He shrugged. "We retire on a beautiful tropical beach for the rest of our lives."

Not an option. "They'll be there." They had to be. Eventually Malak would sense her. Bastila probably already had, but she felt no threat from that quarter. Bastila was still holding on. "But it will be dark soon. It gets dark here fast. I don't want to try that swim and that climb in less than adequate light." Even with a lightsaber to clear the way, it would be a dangerous climb around, over and through the shattered impact area of a cruiser. She'd probably be okay, but she wasn't willing to risk Carth. And he should go...he knew what he was looking for and where it should be. He was intimately familiar with the Hammerhead class. Even though she had 'commanded' her fair share of them, including Testament, her command had been hands off of the actual vessel. She had been a Jedi turned General, at no point had she ever been a ship's captain. She'd let the professionals handle the ship...she'd merely told them where it should go.

"Agreed." He stretched out in the shadow of the ship, pillowing his head on her lap. "Been a rough day."

That it had been, especially on him. "Shhhhh." She soothed, stroking the hair off of his forehead. Sleep.

He'd been reaching the point when he could turn away from her suggestions, fight against them if he wanted to, but he obviously didn't at that moment. He dropped into an immediate sleep, his breathing smoothing out, limp against her.

"He let you do that." Dustil chuckled and she nodded.

"He did. He's tired. Unless I'm really determined, he can overcome my suggestions if he really wants to. He did it earlier today. He is force aware." And probably the source of at least part of Dustil's gift. She knew nothing of Carth's late wife, he did not speak of her often at all, and she'd never asked him to. And it would be equally insensitive to ask Dustil...

"No." He answered quickly. "She wasn't. At least not that I noticed. I'd heard the rumors that he was, that nobody could fly like he does without it, but she probably wasn't." He silenced, staring at the ocean, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. "She was pretty. Very pretty."

Sarah sighed. Of course she had been, Carth deliberately avoided mentioning it, but actually hearing it did not surprise her. And it shouldn't bother her, but it did. Slightly. No, slightly more than slightly. She had been born an instrument of the Force, great and talented. Her appearance shouldn't matter, and it was not a discussion she was in the mood to have...especially with an apprentice. A new apprentice. Morgana Onasi was dead, gone. Sarah was the one sitting next to her son, with her husband's head cradled in her lap. It was beyond foolish to try to compare herself to a dead woman. She couldn't win, and she knew she didn't really want to.

"She's been gone a long time. How long have you two been together? I mean...how? You're Revan. My dad would never."

My dad would never choose Revan. But Darth Revan had died on the bridge of Coruscate just as surely as if she'd been left to bleed out. Whatever had made Sarah that remained stubbornly hidden from her memories. While the rest of her programming had collapsed, that part remained firm. She was not Revan. She was not Amasri. She was Sarah.

"Says the young Sith." Carth's willingness to accept her in spite of her flaws went for Dustil as well. They couldn't just wipe away his years at Korriban, nor would she want to.

"Your point is taken, master. What now?"

"Tomorrow your father and I board Testament for salvage." It was not something she was looking forward to. The ship whispered secrets, knowledge and a past into the wind. It remembered when Malak had been Alek. When she'd been Amasri. It had been along for it all, and now it waited for her to step on its decks again.

Dustil stared out at the beach, through Mission, towards Testament resting in the shallows. "Get some rest, then. Your Mandalorian and I will keep watch tonight. There are things here that I don't like the feel of."

Indeed.

She spent that night asleep under the Hawk's belly, next to Carth, watched over by people she trusted with that job. It was still dark when she opened her eyes, but there was the dimmest hint of light low on the horizon. Early morning, with Zaalbar on watch, Canderous dozing, and Dustil asleep. Good, good. Carth was also only lightly asleep, lying on his back next to her.

She stood, stretched and walked to Zaalbar. The wookiee sat with his back to the freighter, his eyes locked on the display of the Star Forge hanging low in the sky over that brightening horizon. It should have been beautiful, and on some level, it was.

"It is a dark thing." He growled at her and she made a noise in agreement. It was. "We are here to destroy it?"

Part of her soul cried at the very idea. Destroy it? But... "Hopefully." It had to be destroyed. She knew that. She'd run from it before, but when? Why? She'd been Darth Revan, why had she fled this? And her flight from it had given Malak the room to gain control of it... Or for it to gain control of him. And better him than me. "Anything give us too much attention on your watch?"

"There are things moving, but they stayed away. Will you be taking Mission today?"

"No. Only Carth." The fewer, the better. While she believed that Mission could get in and out of everything with an electronic system... Testament was literally dead in the water. The best slicing kit was the lightsaber at Sarah's side, and she was the best slicer with it. Mission would just be something else that Sarah needed to keep an eye on. Out here, he could do what he did best, keeping her safe and out of trouble. She was still vital, but today, she could wade around in the surf and make eyes at Dustil.

"Good."

Yes, it was good. They'd keep an eye on the invaluable Hawk, keep away whatever it was that was out there, while she and Carth went salvaging. She climbed back into the Hawk, starting breakfast and changing into her racing gear. It would take a drenching better, and clung tightly to her, all the better to avoid being hung up or snagged on debris.

"I smell caf...oh, nice." Carth ambled into the main bay, blinking sleep from his eyes. "Shades of Taris. Always a favorite." He smiled when she offered him a steaming cupful.

"Glad you like it."

They ate in companionable silence, standing almost close enough to touch, before he shucked his jacket, hanging it from a hook on the wall. "From what I see about how she's lying in the water, we should be able to access most of her entry points. The bay I need is in the port midsection."

"Just aft of the main officers' quarters?" Just aft of where her quarters and Alek's quarters should have been...and had been, before they had upgraded from Testament to their respective flagships. Before they had started to break...

"Yup."

She nodded, watching him get ready. He picked up lights, rebreathers, and tools, and packed them into a waterproof duffel, working with a cautious focus. He probably had a better idea of what it was going to take to get into Testament without cutting her open with the tried and true Jedi lockpick than she did. That was always an option, but the idea of damaging Testament anymore than she'd already been seemed like an insult to something she had once prized, once respected. My ship. My home. I trusted her to bring me here. Coruscate had not been an option to try to run the field with, incapable of atmospheric flight, landing and take off, so she'd made the decision to make the attempt with Testament instead. It had obviously not gone well at all. "I think I've got everything." He finally said after a long moment of silence. "Let's go get this done."

Dawn was just breaking when they stepped out onto the sand, and it was a truly beautiful sight. In spite of the breath of darkness endemic to their very surroundings, in spite of their predicament, she paused to marvel at the view. The sun, the ocean, the pale swath of the Star Forge...

He stepped up immediately behind her, resting his chin on her shoulder and wrapping an arm around her. "It is amazing." He breathed into her ear. "No matter what."

"Yeah. It is." And she was going to have to destroy at least a part of it. It had been there for millennia, but the Star Forge had to go. She just had to be strong enough, determined enough, to end it. If I can't have it, nobody can. And I can't have it. It can't have me. "And we've come here to blow it up."

He chuckled, releasing her and heading off along the beach, parallel to Testament. "You can swim, right?"

"Yes." There were plenty of small lakes on Dantooine to teach younglings how to swim, how to dive. It had been a major tool in teaching her force awareness, how to hold her breath and listen to her body. "You?" It really didn't matter if he could, she could get him toTestament intact.

"Yeah. My house was on the coast...Telos. We swam a lot."

She gazed at his back, that was the first time he'd mentioned his home as a simple memory, mostly unclouded by anguish. He'd lost a lot of his nihilistic edge since they'd found Dustil.

He led the way until they were out of sight of the crew, and then began to undress, packing his clothes in the waterproof bag he was carrying. He waded into the turquoise water, his gaze flicking between the water he stood in, and the ship laid out before him. She could see the images in his head, the layout and blueprints of the Endar Spire, his own passage through his ship, her original inspection on the day he became her captain. "There anything in here I should be worried about?"

She walked up next to him, scanning the water between the shore and the ship. Fish, small fish. Molluscs. Seaweed. Nothing felt even remotely threatening...and it hadn't yesterday when she'd let Mission go wading. "The only thing dangerous here is the wreck." She said, wading out into the body warm water until she reached the point when it was a struggle to remain standing, rolling up on the balls of her feet, and she began to swim.

He swam easily, strongly, cutting through the water to reach Testament's side in just a few minutes. His trajectory had been dead on, he paused, treading water just centimeters from a series of rungs leading up to a barely visible hatch. The hull here was intact, the 'hammerhead' of the forward bridge compartments had taken the brunt of the impact, leaving the waist undamaged. "Up we go." He chuckled, taking hold of the first rung and hefting himself out of the water. He did not climb with nearly the same grace that he swam with, and she watched him warily from the water, ready to catch him with a force grab if he lost his footing. He did not, reaching the hatch safely and tucking himself and the bag onto the small ledge beneath it. Once he was in a safe position, she made the climb, sitting on the opposite side of the ledge while he worked. The view was amazing, superlative...

"It's open."

...and he worked fast. Beyond the hatch should be a sealed air lock, a secure area for him to get dressed in safely. The hatch opened upwards and a gust of stale air flowed out. This airlock had not been breached in the crash, the crash she did not recall. She knew, like she knew so many other things, that she had been onboard for this crash as well. But she didn't remember a single detail about that day.

She crawled in, standing on the almost level airlock floor. He followed, grabbing his clothes and a towel out of the bag and dressing quickly, settling his belt around his hips and his low light lenses on his nose. "Out and to the left." He ordered and she got another flurry of images in her mind...the corridor that should be immediately on the other side as it appeared in his memories; well lit, clean and undamaged.

The interior airlock door was also intact, and opened with ease. Sarah scrambled to grab the rebreathers as a rank flow of air welled out of the open lock. It smelled of death, fuel and burned out electrical systems...with a strange aftertaste of salt. She handed Carth the first rebreather before she settled the second one over her face. "Ugh." She muttered. For that to be like that, it meant that the main superstructure of the ship, everything above the water line, was completely intact. The water must be working as a seal for the compartments that were breached.

"Whoever you had flying this did an amazing job. I hope you know that." Carth leaned through the lock, shining a light down both directions. "It's solid. Intact. Dry. Dark as hell."

Of course it was. The main engine ports were half submerged. There had to be water in the engines, water in the main battery complex. Salt water, at that. By now, even the emergency batteries had to be drained. "I don't sense anything...alive."

He gave her a long stare, his hand dropping to his blaster. "Alive?" He repeated warily. "I mean, sure...the crew left here would be dead. But that goes without saying. And you said."

It was difficult to describe what she felt. Nothing alive was the most comprehensible, translatable way to attempt it. But it was most certainly not empty. "It feels haunted." She settled on after a long pause. "By the living. By me. By...Alek. By what, who, we were...but are no more." There was so much force power here that it had sealed in so many memories that the ship held within it. Then it had fed them, powered them, cultivated them. "You probably won't notice any manifestations of it." Hopefully, but he was force aware. There was the odd chance he might catch something out of the corner of his eye, on the edge of his hearing.

"You and Alek were..." His voice faded off and she paused.

"Alek is as dead as Morgana. His body just hasn't figured it out yet." The Star Forge was feeding on him as much as he fed on it.

"But you were..." She recognized stubborn insistence when she heard it. And she needed to accept it herself, to say it aloud.

"Alek and I were lovers, yes." The words came easier than she thought they would. "But I really consider a concerted attempt to kill me to be the end of that." The attempted joke fell flat, she didn't need to see Carth's face well to feel his rejection of it. "Carth. That's over. He's not Alek anymore." She might have made steps to reclaim herself, but Alek had not. He had fallen into an irretrievable place. She knew it. She understood it.

"I get that. But can you kill him? I mean..." He shrugged and she understood. Once Carth loved, he loved completely. The idea of putting him into a position where he would be forced to destroy something, someone, that he cared for was a terrible thought.

"I do not remember." And for once, that was a blessing...perhaps the only true gift in all of this. She knew, but she did not remember. Carth was the only man she truly had a solid, real connection to. He was the one who was going to bring her through this, her pillar while she killed her own ghosts and demons. "You are my anchor."

His exhale was eeriely amplified behind his mask, but his touch on her shoulder was comforting. Malak just had to go away. She would, could, stand against him to protect Carth. To keep Dustil and the others safe. And to recover Bastila.



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