My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 78

And she was alone in a large, vaulted room, well lit for the Star Forge. She'd give anything, everything, to just step back a couple of meters...to be there with them, her family. Her beloved, when he needed her the most, but she couldn't. She had to go on, and she had to do it quickly. Now it wasn't just the fleet getting chewed up, people she didn't know dying for this. Now it was all too close. And even if she wanted to, she couldn't. That door was locked behind her.

"The only way out the ass is through the throat, ad'ika."

There was a hum, a gathering light and one of the stations along the wall came to life. She stared at it warily, igniting her lightsaber. There was another door, open at the other end of the bay, teasing, beckoning, but she knew better. She'd never make it in time before it crashed down and locked. She was exactly where Malak wanted her to be and it wasn't going to be easy to get out of here...wherever here happened to be.

A flash, and a security droid appeared in the station. And in each of the other stations, the same gathering light...the same working hum. It had taken the Star Forge just seconds to produce the one...she took quick stock of her situation. One security droid was nothing. A dozen was a mild challenge, but a dozen every five seconds...

Shit. She powered into her combat form. If she went with her first instinct, which was to attack the terminal attached to each station, it would do worse than nothing, it would lock the station into its last programmed mode. And that last mode was obviously expedited production. They'd never stop coming then. She couldn't just take them all on, the Star Forge had the capacity to create fleets of capital ships, keeping this working indefinitely would not even be a noticeable drain on its resources. But it would wear her into the ground.

No, her only choice was to turn the stations off, one at a time, here through their terminals. They needed to be sliced. Which meant she would need to extinguish her lightsaber, turn her back on the droids, and do her damnedest to remember how...while the droids chewed her apart. Why hadn't she brought Mission?

Even if you had brought Mission, she'd be in that hallway behind you right now, trying to deal with Carth.

Probably true. No, definitely. She hit the first droid hard, she needed to peel these down before she got started on the first station. It was going to be... awful. Worse than the Leviathan. Hell, it was already worse than the Leviathan. For all of the pain he'd experienced there, Carth's life had not truly been threatened during the torture. That had been designed to be non lethal. She couldn't say the same about here and now.

I need to remember how to do this. She took down six of the droids before she turned her attention to the nearest terminal, and turned her back to them. She had to just focus through the pain, and she had to do it without bleeding out onto Bastila or Carth. Bastila's focus had to remain on what she was doing, supporting the fleet. And Carth could not help shoulder this at the moment. It was all on her. And she had to do it without accepting the Star Forge's offer of aid. If she promised it anything, if she gave it that foothold, it would all be over.

Agony again, but this time it was all hers. She focused on the screen, her fingers dancing over the input board. Let me in.

It felt like it took forever, but she understood it was moments, less than a minute, to get the first one all sorted out and that station disabled. But in this situation, moments were a lifetime...she could feel blood trickling down her back, she could smell her own burnt flesh. But she remembered, and she was still alive, upright and aware. The next station would be a fraction of the time, as would the others after it. But now...she flicked her hand out and reignited the lightsaber; it was time to trim the numbers down again.

It was the longest five minutes of this life, the one she could remember, but at the end of it, the droids had stopped coming and the door still stood open. Had there been worse than this during the War? On Malachor? Had she already survived something on this order before?She sank to her knees, fumbling with her pockets, aware that Malak was watching her through cameras, gloating, but she had to do something. The med pack and stim combo hit her like a charging bantha, crashing away pain and flooding her system with drugs all trying to do different things to her at once...many of them contradictory. All she wanted to do was sit there and tremble, but she couldn't. She didn't have the time or the luxury and she wasn't nearly done with this yet.

I have to get up.

She took a deep breath, forcing herself up onto her feet and stared ahead. Another fucking corridor, but this one was short and ended in another elevator. There better not be another trap here. Well, that was stupid. There probably was another one, and she'd just have to fight her way through it.

If there was another trap, she didn't notice it, making her way to the elevator and heading up. She sensed it before she even stepped onto the level... Malak, but she was expecting that. What she hadn't been expecting was the sheer, oppressive weight of the dark side eddying through this area. She'd only sensed this a few times before and all of those were memories that slid away from her. They were the bandaged, isolated memories of how she had fallen.

So the last time I felt something like this, I lost myself to it. Check. Alek, Alek, what have you been doing?

Alek is dead. He's been dead for a long time. You can't go into this thinking he's still in there. No, she had to go in there to face Malak. To protect her family and support the fleet that she'd brought here. It was the only way out of here. It was the only way she was going to have what she truly wanted... a future with the man who loved her. A future with the man she loved. That man deserved what he wanted and she intended to fight to give it to him.

The door opened and for a moment, it was all breathtakingly beautiful. All she saw was the view, the black backdrop of space, the stars, the glow of Lehon, and the fleet battle underway, just beyond those windows.

Malak stood with his back to her, his arms folded over his chest. "Revan. I am...impressed."

Oh, great. We're gonna talk about this. But she needed to hear it. She needed to understand something that was inexplicable. Without that, she wasn't going to be able to do things she needed to get done. She needed to understand exactly what she was ending here, so that she could leave with a clear conscience. "Malak."

"There is more of you left in there than I was expecting. I was certain that the defenses of the Star Forge would destroy you but the Council did a superlative job." He turned, staring at her out of those dark, blank eyes. Once, they'd been a depth of humanity, of heart, a reflection of a great soul. Now they were just dead. "It's been awhile since I've seen you, Amasri. But now you face the world with your own face, again."

The last thing in the world she was going to admit was that she'd misplaced it, her face on the world. The mask. A burden and a reminder of what she had once stood for...gone terribly wrong. She had no idea where it was. What had happened to it. "Why should I deprive the world of my magnificent visage?"

"More like why would you hide from who you are best known as? This..." He waved in her direction, "Is more of a deception than wearing the mask ever could be. Do you honestly believe what the Council tried to imprint upon you? Do you honestly believe you can be someone, something, other than Revan? Wash your hands of it and walk away?"

Yes.

"I do not understand." And he was still talking. Was that the point, to lull her into a false sense of security? To let her bleed out during this monologue that she needed to hear? "How you could have come through this. You are stronger than I thought, stronger than you ever were during your reign as the Dark Lord. I did not think that was possible."

Stronger? What the hell was he aiming at here? Why would he bolster her ego? Was he trying to pander Revan out of hiding? Play the sycophant to get the response he wanted? She could feel blood trickling down the back of her pants, into her boots...hardly the strongest she'd ever been and he had to know it. He had to sense it, didn't he?

"This is the end of it, Malak. You and me." It was time to move this along faster, to get to whatever she was supposed to learn here, before she passed out.

"Indeed. This time our confrontation can only end in death...yours, or mine. Once again, we shall face each other in single combat and the victor will determine the fate of the galaxy." The unfortunate thing was that he was correct, and it wasn't simply hyperbole. If she didn't stop him here, now, the Republic would crumble. He lit his lightsaber and she sighed, following suit. Whatever she was supposed to have learned, she hadn't. Now, he wanted to fight. And she really didn't want to. He was uninjured and her fickle memories chose then to let her know that he'd always been a strong duelist, perhaps better than she had ever been. He knew all of her tricks, her style, he'd fought at her side for years. And she remembered nothing of his...

Your style was perfected fighting his. Of course you remember it. Small. Tucked low. He'll try to pound away at you, and you won't let him. He'll try to use his size against you, and you won't let him. He'll try to rock you back, force you into putting too much weight on your ankle and then overbear you to keep you there.

She came out, not swinging, but spinning away from him, denying the first barrage of hits, protecting her ankle. His attack was odd, he was offset, he was expecting... he was expecting her to pull her shoto. Except she didn't have one... he was still fighting Revan. Not Sarah. She was the one who had changed. She was the unfamiliar one. She just had to ignore that she was injured, stop trying to out think the cocktail of painkillers and adrenaline she'd given herself and let it work. She had to move, she had to dance. The tail of her hair whipped around as she gave into it, parrying, flowing. He was big. Strong, but slow. If he got a solid hit on her, she'd be in trouble. But he seemed oddly willing to let her get hits in on him... It was like he really didn't care. He felt them, but they seemed unimportant. She could wear him down to the same condition she'd started at without much trouble. Something was very, very wrong here.

She was expecting the knock back, the force push, and she rolled with it, hopping back up to her feet. It was the only tactic he'd used so far that made any sense at all...

"Not bad, not bad at all. You continue to amaze me, Revan." He breathed, opening up space between them. More compliments. Why? He was moving towards what her mind had first categorized as yet another droid manufacturing station. She'd noted it, but her attention had been on so many other things, her senses dulled under the clamor of the wrongness in the air and the drugs she'd hit herself with. "If only you had been the one to discover the true power of the Star Forge you might have become truly invincible."

There was a form suspended in the station, and her stomach fell. That's not a droid. That's a person. I knew that person. That was a Jedi, from the Enclave. And that was why Malak was out of her reach now. He'd done things that she had suspected were possible, but she'd turned away from them. This is what I would not do. This is where I turned away. This is why I am redeemable and he is not.

"But you were a fool. All you saw was an enormous factory. All you ever imagined was an infinite fleet rolling forth to crush the Republic. You were blind, Revan. Blind and stupid!"

No, no I wasn't. I saw it. I saw it all. You are the fool here. He'd given the Star Forge everything it had needed to consume him, to devour what had been left of him. And then he'd sacrificed Jedi to it. They were dead, but held here... their tie to the force feeding the Forge. And they would feed Malak through this. It would be like fighting all of them, their power flowing through him, overwhelming and terrible. She had to deny them to him, release them from this. She had to destroy them. This was what she needed to understand, and now she did. She jumped into motion, throwing her lightsaber ahead of her, ignoring any other words that Malak might have spoken. She had to stop this abomination. That was why she was here. Forget the Council and their machinations, this was why the force had seen her way here. She was responsible for this. It was her job to end it here. Only then could she be free to have that future.

The lightsaber throw was a good hit, bouncing back from the capsule to land in her hands... and the Jedi it had hit was gone, now truly dead and released. Next... she could hear Malak screaming at her, but she refused to listen. It was just words. Empty sounds.

A flash, and jolting pain ate through the painkillers, the smell of ozone and storms...for a second it reminded her of...someplace, someplace familiar...home. Home. That city in the cut, hidden... and it was gone before she had to decide whether or not to take it. It was not an option when Malak was trying to fry her, but he was not going to stop her. She had to release them all before she could turn to face him. It was the droid factory, all over again, but this required skills she remembered and she could keep running, outpacing Malak...not a sitting duck.

"You are a fool, Revan! You could heal yourself with them. I know that you're injured, I can see it. Feel it. Just open up to it. It's the only way that you can defeat me!"

Bastard. You will not get me back that way. Carth...Let me be what Carth thinks I am, even if it kills me. Take your best hits while you can, Malak, because here I come.

Up the opposite side, moving faster than she thought possible, back in that place of thoughtless grace and perfect responses. Back in her place with the force. An instrument of resolve, justice, protection. Not destruction. Not this. I am not Revan.

She was slammed hard, lifted into the air and tossed before she made it to the last one. Shit. There was no good way to land from this, and she chose to land hard, flat on her back, rather than try to land on her feet and put that much force on the ankle that Malak was desperately targeting. The impact jarred her to her bones, knocking the breath out of her and she smelled blood, her own...while she laid there, stunned and winded.

Only one left. There was no way she'd stop him from getting there, but this gave her a moment to catch her breath and use the second med pack combo she was carrying. If I don't get back up, I'm dead anyway.

Her heart galloped in her ears, the room swam, but she got back to her feet. It was time to end this. "Come on, Alek. Let's get this over with." She

"Yes, Amasri. Let us get this over with. Finally." He came in for the attack and she watched him come. He was still, still going for her ankle. And maybe it was time to let him have it... She wavered, seemingly uncertain, and he went for it, extending his reach and slamming his weight down into the attack. She bowed slightly, sucking her arm and elbow in as closely as she could bring them, letting the stroke go by without parry. The sweep burned through her sleeve and a few layers of skin, but she wasn't there. He overbalanced, stumbling forward into her, the rosy blade of her lightsaber held at the ready. She was falling, but he was coming down with her... on top of her. Her elbow struck the decking, something audibly popped, but he had no chance of recovery from this. She could break every bone she had, bleed out right here, but Malak was a dead man. She hit the decking and he landed on top of her, impaled. It was fatal. He was dead. She'd done it.

"A...masri."

Oh, please...stop talking. Not now. I...can't take it. I loved you. I still do. Just die in peace, please.

"Alek." He outweighed her by almost twice over, and he was a dying weight across her chest. All he had to do was rest his own lightsaber across her throat and end it, she had no chance of stopping him. Their very absence would determine the fate of the galaxy.

"I'm...sorry. I don't know what happened. What went wrong. I loved you. You know that."

"Yes. I know that, Alek. I love you. And I am so, so very sorry that I brought you here, to this." And then it was just over. He was gone, back to the force, where he belonged. My friend. She struggled to move him, and when she finally managed, she had nothing left to give. It was over. She curled up on the deck next to him, burying her face in his side and sobbing. There had been a time when her deepest held dream was very close to this, to die at Alek's side. The thought of living without him had been a horror, a nightmare for the coldest nights. And now, she had been the one to kill him. Was it fitting that he be the one to kill her?

No. You need to get up.

"Out of the question." She muttered it aloud, but why the hell the not? There was no one alive here to hear her. She could hear the sound of her own blood hitting the sub-flooring. She was dying.

Carth will not leave you here. If you don't get your ass up and move, he will die here. Canderous swore to you that he would protect your family. He will not leave Carth to die. Bastila will come after you, but she's been successful. Look out of those windows and gaze upon the death of everyone you care about.

She opened her eyes, staring straight ahead. Those were Hammerheads, maneuvering into a firing position on the Star Forge.

You can curl up and die later. Get up. Leave Alek and go.

She staggered to her feet, tearing her eyes from Alek's corpse and staring at the second exit. She had to go. They weren't going to die here because of her. They hadn't done all of this to die after succeeding...

"Canderous." Her voice sounded almost normal when she keyed her mike. If he tells me Carth is dead, that's it. I am done. I stay here. "Malak is dead. The Republic Fleet is maneuvering into firing positions on the Star Forge."

"Oya! We'll get flyboy back on his feet and we'll get the hell out of here."

"Sounds like a plan, ori'vod. I'm on my way." She cut back through the droid factory, ignoring the dark glistening patches on the decking. None of it mattered. She was going to have to walk herself out of here...it was probably going to take both Dustil and Canderous to get Carth out of her quickly enough. And sure enough, they both had him up, each with one of his arms slung over their shoulders. He looked pale, washed out, but he was alive. Conscious. And when they saw her, they hiked him up into a basket carry.

"Hey, babe." Carth gave her a lopsided smile and her stomach knotted. She couldn't tell him. She couldn't tell any of them, yet.

"Hey, flyboy. Come on, we don't have all day. I'll bring up the rear, Bastila will take the front when we pick her up. She couldn't lead... it would be too obvious from the back.

It was terribly slow going, but it couldn't be helped. Bastila was pacing, twisting her hands in her tunic and muttering loudly to herself when they appeared, and there was nothing faked about the utter relief on her features. "We don't have much time. They've already started to fire on the Star Forge. I've been messing with them to give us time, but..."

"You did just fine, Bastila. Lead the way out of here."

Such a long way. It hadn't seemed that way when they'd fought their way here...so silent. So empty. Sarah bit her lip and pushed to keep going, listening to the bombardment growing louder, feeling the Star Forge superstructure shake under the assault. She had never seen anything more beautiful in her entire memories than the Ebon Hawk on the docking bay, her engines idling, turned around to run, her ramp down and Zaalbar anxiously on watch.

"They're here." He called over his shoulder and the engines pitched louder.

"Carth, take the pilot's seat." It wasn't optimum, he had the same vaguely glazed look in his eyes that she felt in her fuzzy brain, but he was still their best pilot. And they needed that for just a little bit longer.

"Aye, aye, General." Yup, he was a little slurry and goofy. Hopefully he was a great drunk pilot because they were going to need him to be. She watched them go, Canderous and Dustil still supporting his weight, the others nervously following. Sarah simply brought up the ramp, closed the iris and walked slowly towards the med bay. She'd done it. They'd done it. All Carth had to do was get them the hell out of here and it was truly over with.

"Ad'ika?" Canderous was moving quickly, much more quickly than she was, and he caught up with her just as she made it to the med bay. He had managed to get Carth into the cockpit and he must have run back here, probably for supplies. "Are you...shit." He grabbed her, swinging her up into his grasp like she weighed nothing at all and depositing her on the main bed in one swift turn. "You are not dying on me." He growled under his breath. "Not now. Not here."

She couldn't seem to hold her eyes open anymore, all she wanted to do was drift. She was safe. She was back... The engines caught, and the ship screamed out of the docking bay, the impetus throwing Canderous off balance and into the nearest bulkhead. "Listen to him." The Mandalorian spat, "Listen!" He must have tuned the med bay comm into the cockpit, she could hear Carth muttering to the ship as he piloted. "You are not going to leave him alone again!"

He has Dustil. He's not alone. I gave him that.

"What the hell is...oh, fuck. Is she dead?" Dustil's voice rose from the doorway. "She can't be dead. She's Revan, for fuck's sake!"

"She's not dead. You're not dead, are you?" The sound of rending cloth and the touch of air on her skin. Then cold liquid and a quick jab. Damn Mandalorian.

"Ow!"

"Carth, you made it!" Dodonna's voice, here? No, she was picking up the transmissions from the cockpit, from Carth. If she didn't hang on, he'd lose another woman he'd given himself to, on his watch. She couldn't, wouldn't, do that to him. There would be no terrible story late about how he'd held his second beloved as she died in his arms just as his first wife had.

I am not going to die. I refuse. I will not go. I am Revan. I have cheated death before, and I will do it again.

"She's stabilizing, somewhat." Dustil's voice was laced with relief. "She still needs a real med bay. So does my father. One of those capital ships must have one..."

"We wouldn't let you start the victory party without us, Admiral!" Carth's voice, triumphant, enthusiastic, it was a joy to hear, a balm to her battered soul.

"What the hell did you give him?" Dustil groused to Canderous, his hands gentle as he patted down sensors onto her bare flesh. "He's toasted."

"You don't want to know. It'll fade off in a couple of days. A week at the most. But you are right, they both need a better med set up than we happen to have here." Sarah could feel him reach over her and depress one of the communications buttons. "Admiral, this is the Ebon Hawk's med bay. We are declaring a medical emergency and requesting immediate transit to a vessel able to receive our wounded."

"Understood, Ebon Hawk. Reroute to these coordinates and expedite. Hospital ship Huerta is on standby in fleet pocket... her comm staff will pick you up the minute I drop this conversation. Good luck." A slight pause, while Dustil held her fingers...his hands were so warm.

"What's going on back there? Where's Sarah?" All of the slurry levity was gone from Carth's voice, he sounded almost sober and an edge of panic colored his voice.

"We've got her back here in the med bay. She's hanging on, but do us all a favor and get her to a real hospital. Now fly while I talk to the hospital ship... Yes, Huerta, this is Ebon Hawk, we have two wounded...one critical. One serious..."

She opened her eyes, gazing straight into Dustil's very dark stare. He gave her a lopsided half smile, exactly as his father did so often. "Hold on." He whispered, "You need to stay. For my Dad. For me."

"I'm not going anywhere." It felt very far away, but once again, Carth was flying with high speed and pinpoint accuracy, pushing the freighter to her limits.

"Mission! When we land I need the iris open and the ramp down as soon as possible. Go! Bastila, there you are. I've done all I can for her, I'm going to go herd flyboy now. He's gonna try to hit the deck running and we can't have that, either."

"Of course." Bastila brought a flow of calm with her while Canderous squeezed by her and out into the corridors. "Sarah." She breathed, resting her forehead against Sarah's. "The Star Forge is gone, you did it."

It was? Why hadn't she felt it? Was she that bad off? Or was Alek's loss so encompassing that it drowned out everything else? "I killed him, Bastila."

"I know. There was no other way, Sarah. He was too far gone from us, it had to be done. But now you just need to rest, recover. Marry Carth. Live happy. You've earned it."

I've earned it. We've earned it...


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