Disclaimer: The following story takes place in the Star Wars Universe created by George Lucas. No characters from his movies or novels have been used, although the setting belongs to him and is being used here without his permission. No infringement is intended or renumeration anticipated and all other characters are original fiction, and any resemblance to real persons, either living or dead, is completely unintentional.

Now that the legalese is over with, on with the show.


by Michael R. Vickery ©2002

The night is young and I’m bored. Boredom is a dangerous emotion for a warrior, but I’m not on assignment just yet. I’m just making my way through the press of bodies on Coruscant to meet with my Master. I’m not late, not quite yet, but I felt like walking anyway. It’s so much more interesting to make my way through a crowd, tasting thoughts and emotions as I go, keeping an eye out for anyone interesting. Everyone seems to be feeling festive tonight as the government celebrates the 500th anniversary of the re-founding of the Republic, and hardly anyone is in a bad mood. That’s a large part of why I’m so bored; when people are angry, crowds get so much more interesting.

I collide solidly with Siroccan, a short, thick race of scaled tripeds. The Siroccan rears back and hisses at me, and I give it my best grin. Go ahead, I invite it silently. Teach me some manners. Unfortunately it just shakes its head and pushes deeper into the crowd. I’m disappointed, but it’s just as well. There’s no way I could win a fight against a Siroccan without revealing my speed and strength. Lord Urdan bade me to come quietly and attract no attention. I’m in his good graces at present, but his temper can be mercurial. It’s just as well I didn’t get into a fight on my way to meet him.

I move on, swift and sure as I slip through openings that weren’t there a second before, or shouldn’t be there to begin with. I let my senses roam and pick out the quickest path to my destination, savouring the rush of power and pride as I do so. No stumbling about blindly like the noisome masses around me, oh no. I am greater than any of them, greater than all of them. I am like a giant among pygmies. No, I am like a snake among cattle, sleek and quick and deadly. Only on occasion am I required to force a path, and when I do so it is accomplished before anyone realises something out of the ordinary has passed them by. I am like the storm cloud that passes by leaving fear and uncertainty behind.

Something young and inviting presses bare flesh against my body, and I take a brief second to admire it, giving it a quick squeeze before I continue on my journey. I’m sure she didn’t realise what just happened, but I’ve marked her and will come back this way some other time. She was young, her innocence shouted to the world with her thoughts and manner, but that will change. I looked forward to the opportunity to teach her the ways of the world, to show her some of the things she can look forward to.

I slip into a well-known pub only a few minutes late and order a drink. I must keep up appearances, after all. I barely taste the pink, frothy liquid on my way to the stairs. Unlike others of our kind, Lord Urdan likes to meet in well-lit, highly conspicuous public places. At this time on this day, the building is packed with happy, drunken people getting ready for the big celebration.

The jumble of thoughts and emotions being broadcast are almost overwhelming, but I know what I’m looking for. I force my way up with almost reckless abandon, carefully shielding my mind as I probe out here and there. It’s almost like a game, a hunt; even now that I’m largely autonomous, my Master likes to think he’s teaching me things. At the third floor I pause, sensing his presence radiating like a raw nerve. Uh oh, he’s not happy about something. Surely my little detour couldn’t be the cause, certainly not to this degree.

“You’re late,” he snaps as I take my seat. The hood of his cloak is thrown back to reveal the fine, patrician features he’s so proud of. No hiding for Urdan, certainly not. Not a politician, but a respected member of the community nonetheless. He’s a philanthropist, ironically enough. His face is easily recognisable if you watch the news. Somehow, nobody notices him here and no one listens in on our conversation no matter how loud we might become. It’s a trick he has yet to teach me; I think it’s his way of reminding me who is Master.

“I’m sorry, Master,” I reply as I get comfortable. A chair surreptitiously edges closer to our table as I lift my feet and settle them on it. “I narrowly managed to avoid a fight on my way here. A reveller who didn’t watch where he was going.”

“More likely, he didn’t watch where you were going, my young apprentice.” Urdan glares at me from under his bushy eyebrows. “I know your habits, so be mindful. You may be the most talented apprentice I’ve ever seen, but it will avail you naught if you arouse my displeasure.”

I glow at the praise, even as I cower visibly. One must keep up appearances, even if neither of us is fooled by it. The forms must be observed. “Yes, Master,” I say contritely. There’s more going on here than mere annoyance at my tardiness. I can feel it.

He waits for a moment to establish his dominance before he continues. “I have an assignment for you, Striker. It is dangerous, of course, and highly unusual. It must be accomplished tonight.”

My eyes are wide open, and my brows must be trying to hide under my scalp. We never do rush jobs, never. It’s sloppy, and it gets a man killed. Lord Urdan spent nearly twenty years impressing on me the need for patience. This must be very sensitive and very important he expects me to accept and accomplish the assignment in the same night.

“Master, this is very unusual….” I’m not allowed to finish.

“This comes down from the highest levels of our Order,” Urdan says with a sweep of his hand. “It is given to me to choose the most highly qualified agent, but the timing is not open to negotiation. The target is a Republic Senator, Mar Jolan. Tomorrow he will propose a bill to the Senate that would effectively abolish the Army of the Republic and drive us into hiding once again. The Senator is very popular right now and should have enough votes to force the President to sign. Tonight he will be attending the gala celebration with the rest of the Senate. It doesn’t matter when you terminate him, be it before, during or after the event, but the Senator must not live to see the morning. You will be paid ten times your usual fee after your mission.”

Once the shock of Urdan’s words pass, fear sets in. “What of the Jedi? What happened to their policy of tolerance for the sake of balance within the Force?”

“The Jedi are opposed to Jolan’s politics, but they have agreed to protect him nonetheless. He will have a bodyguard assigned to him by the Jedi, but I have the utmost faith in your ability to dispatch whomever they send. Your skills are unmatched among any of the so-called warriors of the Jedi.” Urdan’s handsome face twisted into a sneer as he spoke of our ancient enemy. “They know the consequences of Jolan’s bill becoming law, yet they do nothing. They are as weak and blind as they have ever been. This should teach them that the Sith are not quite so tame as they would like to think.”

The thought of striking back at the Jedi, of inflicting damage on even one of them lights a fire within my breast. There is fear, of course, but anger and hatred drown it out. It’s a common trait among the Sith. We all have our own reasons for hating the Jedi. Mine, like so many others, is because I was one of them once. Any objections I might have had fall away. I’ll do this in part because my Master and the Lords of the Sith command it, but mostly for my own reasons. I have a score to settle with the Jedi, and I savour this opportunity. Clearly, I was destined for this role.

Urdan passes me a data chip, and I make it disappear within my robes. “This gives you all the information we have on Jolan and the Jedi we think will be assigned to guard him. You will have all the support you will need to accomplish your mission. You may not contact me as I will be busy making appearances elsewhere, but the chip provides you with a name you can trust.”

That’s an odd statement among the Sith. Even we acknowledge our weakness when it comes to working together; it’s difficult to trust someone you know will shoot you in the back at the earliest opportunity. It’s the reason we haven’t combined our strength and skills to wipe out the Jedi as they once tried to do to us. Only Palpatine managed that feat, and he did so by manipulating all sides at once before crushing them. I admire Palpatine, even if I secretly doubt I could live up to his example. I don’t have the patience for the sort of machinations he and Urdan favour. I much prefer to strike directly when my prey is most vulnerable. I derive too much satisfaction from my work.

Urdan orders another round of drinks for both of us, and we maintain the pretence of typical revellers engaged in celebration like everyone else. Once we’ve drained our glasses, he stands and I quickly follow. We make our way to the exit where we part without another word or look at each other. I catch a transport back to my apartment where I can study the data in peace. I’m almost shaking with my eagerness to begin, but I force myself to be calm. The time will come soon.

Mar Jolan is something of a bore to me. A human from the Corellian system, he appears to have done nothing noteworthy except curry favour with the right people at the right time to steadily work his way up the political ladder until he became a Senator. As a Senator he made a name for himself as a champion of the weak and downtrodden, a protector of rights for those who cannot speak for themselves. This earned him a place as leader of the Alliance Party, a nostalgic group of political whiners who claim to hold to the values of the Rebel Alliance and consider themselves watchdogs for the ethical climate of the Senate. I think they fancy themselves as sort of modern-day Jedi Knights without the lightsabers. They’re pathetic, really, but they’re allied with the current President so they have some real muscle to throw around when they find a pet project.

Right now, Senator Jolan is complaining about excesses within the Army of the Republic, and questioning the need for a standing army when there’s been no war to fight in generations. He claims that the Army has become a breeding ground for bullies and ruffians, fertile soil for recruitment among the Sith. That leads directly into his hardline stance against the Sith, those ruthless practitioners of the Dark Side of the Force. Point of fact, Jolan’s complaint is entirely accurate. The Army is primarily where the Sith go to recruit new members, like myself. What Jolan either doesn’t know or isn’t making public is that the core of the Army of the Republic is made up of failed Jedi.

Contrary to what the Jedi would have you believe following the Dark Side does not automatically make a Force-sensitive individual evil. It makes them impulsive, hot-tempered and quick to join a fight, but not necessarily evil. I’ve known quite a few decent fellows in the Army whose only fault was to have a bad temper. If that’s the only criteria for evil, there’s a lot of evil walking the streets carrying blasters, brooms, data boards and even Senator’s robes. I don’t hear anyone calling for a ban on them, do you?

The New Republic, after fighting with remnants of the old Empire and xenophobic alien races, decreed the formation of a standing Army to act as a front line against hostile forces. The idea was not to create a new elite as the Empire had done, but to provide an outlet for those individuals with destructive tendencies while maintaining a defensive force. At least, that was the theory. With the approval of the Senate, the Jedi Academy began dumping their rejects into the Army. Before that, their washouts had been forced to return home to public humiliation and indignity. It was felt that an alternate career in the Army was preferable to the prejudice people gave to failed Jedi; the infamous oppression of the Empire had given people like me a bad name. Most of the rejects accepted this opportunity, while a small minority disappeared into obscurity. In this way, the Sith were reborn.

The Jedi knew that we were coming back. Our numbers were low and our influence was limited, but they knew. They knew about us as we knew of them: the Force enables those with the will to see. We learned to cloak our activities, but we couldn’t hide our presence completely. At first there was fear that the Jedi would hunt us down and destroy us as they had before, but this didn’t happen. Instead, the Jedi attempted to corral us, to keep an eye on us and push us back when they felt we were getting out of hand. They maintained a balance of sorts, allowing us to exist but never to gain the upper hand. Urdan has told me stories of purges by the Jedi when they felt the Sith were becoming too numerous, but the official records never say a word about them. If we were capable of working together as the Jedi do, we would be unstoppable. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s never going to be. Each and every one of us has our own agenda, our own hunger that doesn’t involve pandering to someone else. If anything, the Sith are as traumatised by Palpatine’s ascent to Emperor as the rest of the Galaxy. We remember how we were betrayed and destroyed under Imperial rule, and we’ve all vowed individually that the same will not happen to us. This isn’t official policy, it’s just understood. A Sith Lord accused of following in Palpatine’s footsteps isn’t likely to see another dawn.

Mar Jolan wants to go back to the bad old days of the Old Republic when the Jedi roamed the Galaxy freely and the Sith were forced to hide their very existence. Obviously, that cannot be allowed to happen. The Jedi refuse to do anything about it, so we will. They even know this, which is why they’ve assigned a bodyguard. The individual they’ve chosen is a Calamaran, newly risen to the rank of Knight. This poor sap is said to be a good swordsman as Jedi count such things. I know better. Unfortunately, the Knight has a reputation for exceptional foresight which could complicate matters. It’s hard to plan a good ambush when your opponent can literally see it coming. I’ll have to be extra clever for this assignment, but I’m not worried. This is what I do best.

The glimmerings of an idea come to my mind and in the darkness of my apartment I grin. All the foresight in the galaxy won’t save this Jedi from me.

Before two hours have passed I’m in position and waiting for my prey to arrive. The Senator is presently attending a special meeting of the Senate where the President is pledging another five hundred years of continued peace and prosperity for the Republic. I must confess my agreement with the sentiment: business has been good of late, and I’d like nothing better than for it to continue. In a short time the meeting will end and the Senate will disperse for various official functions and public displays. Senator Jolan in particular will be presiding over a display of fireworks and live entertainment in one of the sectors he’s made into a pet project. He’s funding the event largely out of his own pocket, although other philanthropists (such as Urdan) have been quick to pledge their support. I can think of no better place for him to meet his end.

Everything has been prepared as well as I can make it in two short hours. I would really prefer two weeks, or even two months for a job of this magnitude, but two hours will suffice. The brilliance of my plan is in its simplicity. I have dressed myself in an entertainer’s outfit, masquerading as a solo juggler and acrobat. It’s an unworthy role for someone of my skills, but it will allow me to get close enough to the Senator to set my plan into motion. I still have another hour before he arrives, and I must wait. I’m bored, but I’m professional enough to ignore that. I’ll take no foolish chances while I’m on assignment just because I’m bored.

“Hey,” calls a short, stocky individual with a data tablet. “I don’t recognise you. What’s your name?”

I look up at him and briefly toy with the notion of setting his frilly hat on fire. No, that would not be subtle. Instead, I give him a decisive push. “I’m Fingers. I’m standing in for Dack. He couldn’t make it.”

“Blast that Dack,” grumbles the little fellow. “All right then, you stand over there in the far corner.”

That would put me too far away from the Senator. I can’t have that. “No,” I suggest reasonably with another push. “I’d better stand over here.”

“On second thought, you’d better stand over here,” comes the expected response. It’s too easy. “But you’d better be good. You’ll be right in front of the Senator, and after all he’s done for us we don’t want to disappoint him, do we?”

“Oh no,” I agree. “We wouldn’t want that at all.” I’m starting to get annoyed with him, so it’s time for him to be on his way. “You’d better get moving, fatso. You don’t want to be late, right?”

He looks at a chronometer and gasps. “Blast! I’ve got to go! I’m gonna be late!” He toddles off shouting instructions at anyone within earshot.

I watch him go with immeasurable satisfaction. I would have enjoyed toying with him further, but he isn’t worth the time or energy. I fold my robes a little closer around me and settle in to wait. It’s difficult, but I’m able to master myself. I learned something of patience in the Army, and even more under Urdan’s instruction. Thinking about that makes me scowl, and I hide it under my hood.

It’s not as though the Jedi hadn’t done me a favour by sending me to the Army. As a matter of fact, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, because it led directly to my recruitment by Urdan. That’s not what I hate them for. What I hate them for is because they took me away from my family and the life I might have had, then pronounced me unfit for their Order. They recognised my talent and my potential and I was continually praised for my strong instincts and ability to learn quickly. But they also admonished me for being too quick to react, too brash and too eager to fight. They dared pass judgement on me as if I was unworthy of them. It burns in my craw that they would toss me out like rubbish because I didn’t fit neatly into their vision of a proper Jedi. They couldn’t stand that even when my opinions were unorthodox, I was usually right. So they drummed me out for being a “Dark Side risk.” No more training for me, not from the Jedi.

Once I was safely packed away into the Army where I was safely “neutralised,” they continued to meddle in my life. For years I sweated and toiled in the name of the Republic, and what thanks did I get? A promotion to corporal. I wasn’t offered an officer’s commission in spite of my requests for candidate training. I wasn’t even made sergeant; instead I was made to suffer under the auspices of a number of petty dictators who thought themselves my betters. Thanks to our early Jedi training we made excellent soldiers: accurate, intuitive and effective. Many of them were outcast apprentices like myself, but none of them could hold a candle to me. We knew each other, the rejects, but we didn’t talk about it. We probably would have fought each other except for our handlers. Oh, it isn’t mentioned in any official report, but the Jedi keep a close eye on the Army because of the “Dark Side risks” within their ranks. Many of our commanding officers were Jedi in military clothing. They never announced themselves as such, but we all knew it. I wasn’t allowed to be an officer candidate because I wasn’t a full Jedi and never would be. Officers were the ones who gave the orders for us to die; they never sullied their own hands with killing. Whenever the rejects got too numerous, they’d create a “galactic emergency,” some “threat to the Republic” and send the Army in. The weak among us would die, and the strong would remain and remember. I don’t know how many thousands and millions we killed that way, but I remember. Most of all, I remember the faces of those “officers” who sent us in to kill and die.

That’s why I hate the Jedi, most of all. So many people had to die just so they could maintain their control over us. Even with our Jedi training, the law of averages in a firefight ensured that we would take casualties, and so we did. Our casualties were particularly high if we received bad intelligence, which was common. I have no problem with death and killing in general, but the Jedi spent the lives of the Army and the opponents they set us up against like pawns on a chessboard. It was a waste, pure and simple, and I will never forgive them for it.

A shout goes up, and the frenetic activity of the arena increases. The senator must be arriving. It’s time for me to go to work. I retrieve my toys from my robe and toss the garment in a corner where it won’t be noticed. Around me entertainers are warming up and getting ready. I shake my limbs out and limber up, then begin to toss geometric objects into the air. Within a few minutes, I’m juggling everything in my possession with exquisite precision.

I’ve never juggled before, although I’ve seen it done and spoken with a few that practice it. It isn’t that hard to learn, it’s just a matter of training your body and reactions. The key is to establish a rhythm of movement after which you begin to add complexity into the routine. The most difficult thing to do is to not to juggle more objects, but to juggle things of different shapes and sizes. The different shapes interfere with the rhythm and force you to adjust your motion, strength and grip. All this I know in theory; I’ve never actually done it myself.

On the other hand, a master practitioner of the Force such as myself can appear to be juggling a dozen different objects at once without ever missing a beat. Add into that the jumps, flips and various tomfoolery that look like showy acrobatics and you have what looks like a world class act. I know this because I can feel the excitement and enthusiasm of the audience around me, and I hear their applause and shouts of excitement. It would be easy for me to get swept up into the moment, show them real feats of strength and dexterity but that would give me away. I must limit myself to the skills a normal human could produce, even if I appear to push the boundaries of that skill. I’m not just juggling a few balls, or even a few balls and batons. I juggle spheres, cubes, pyramids, cylinders, hexagrams and all manner of oddities. I have in the air eighteen objects of differing shapes and sizes, and I do it without appearing to break a sweat. I’m good, very good. The crowd screams their delight and I soak it up.

Right on cue, the fireworks begin. Dazzling explosions of light and sound fill the sky and the crowd sighs with pleasure at each one. I begin to pay more attention to my juggling, timing each throw with the explosions. The shining metal of my toys reflect the light in glittering facets that are easily as dazzling as the fireworks themselves. In spite of my exertions I force myself to relax, to flow and look further and further ahead, to give me as much advantage as I can in order to spring my trap. Again, in spite of what you might have heard, the Sith do not disdain any skill or talent to achieve our aims. We are not purely Dark Side followers. If a skill of the Light Side will serve us, we will use it. The Dark Side comes to us when we need its strength and its speed. That’s something else I learned in the Army: never discard a tool that could save your life.

I see it: the moment I need to prepare for. I see the events leading up to it and what I must do when it happens. It’s so simple, and the Jedi bodyguard is so dazzled by the show he doesn’t see it coming. I feel a spike of disappointment but immediately quell it. I have a job to do.

The moment approaches, and I’m ready. The timing of my juggling is precise. My trap waits for me to spring it. The Jedi, the Senator and the mindless drones around us are blissfully unaware of the fate prepared for them. The fireworks explode in a furious climax, and it’s time.

The Jedi frowns, reaching for his lightsaber as I strike. Frankly, I would have been surprised if he had reacted any later. Even caught by surprise, Jedi are hard to kill. Reaching out with the Force, I trigger the blaster rifle I’d set up earlier in a window. At the same time I snatch my own lightsaber from its downward trajectory and scatter the rest of the camouflaging objects from my presence. The Jedi ignites his own weapon and barely deflects the blaster bolt in time. If he’d had time to think about it, he’d realise that the Senator isn’t in any real danger; I hadn’t been able to pinpoint his location precisely enough when I placed the rifle. I trigger off several more shots anyway, to maintain the pretence and to send the crowd into a panic. I refrain from activating my blade as it would draw attention to me too early.

The Jedi deflects the rest of the blaster fire easily, redirecting them back toward their source. Had I actually been behind the rifle I would have been forced to duck or be fried by my own blasts. It’s a good trick, one that Jedi train relentlessly to perfect. In this case it’s pointless. Once I stop triggering the rifle the Jedi whirls and shoves the Senator back. He shouts something I can’t hear and they’re off toward safety. They’re running precisely where I want them to go.

I slip down a side alley that I had scouted out earlier. I had predicted with a high degree of probability where the Jedi would go once the attack began. He’d want to run in the opposite direction of the unknown sniper to keep the Senator away from hostile fire. He’d also want to make sure they were relatively isolated so he could sense the approach of the assassin and decide whether to stand and fight or keep running. If the latter he’d want to make sure there was transportation nearby, either the Senator’s personal vehicle or public transport where they could hide. Most of all, they’d need to move as quickly as possible.

My way is quicker. My heart races faster than my feet as I push myself to get ahead of them. The Senator should slow the Jedi but there’s no reason to take chances. I want to be in place before they get to the intersection. I succeed. I take a moment to revel in my own cleverness and savour the anticipation of victory, not only in fulfilling my assignment but also in striking down one of the overbearing Jedi.

I hear them before I see them. The Jedi has wisely deactivated his blade to keep from being too conspicuous, but he’ll keep it in hand against need. The Senator is breathing hard, trying to catch his breath to ask a question. The Jedi isn’t going to let him. I step into their path, blocking their exit unless they choose to turn around and go back. I know they won’t; the Jedi can’t take the chance that there are assassins behind them.

“This is Jedi business,” I’m told in an officious tone. “Step aside, citizen.”

I step back so they can see my face and give them my grin. “Oh no. The Senator and I have matters to discuss.”

The Calamarian frowns as he looks me over, trying to decide if I am what he thinks I am. I activate my lightsaber so the blade glows red in the half-light of the alley. He nods sharply as if he’d expected this and ignites his own, its blue-white blade glowing in challenge to mine.

“You realise I can’t let you harm him,” the Jedi warns me.

“You talk too much,” I tell him, and attack.

Fighting with lightsabers is tricky work. Usually in duels like this the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The moment battle is committed, decisions are final and any mistakes to be made will be done. Seconds later one will stand victor over the dead. This is in part due to the destructive power of the lightsaber, but mostly due to nature of the duel itself. A battle that lasts ten seconds has lasted too long.

We meet in the center of the alley and clash, our weapons flaring in the darkness. We part, settle, size each other up and meet again. He strikes high and I parry, knocking his blade aside before sweeping low to cut his legs out from under him. His weapon is there to stop mine and we hold, the energy from our lightsabers crackling. Then we part again, settle and resume.

The Jedi is very good. He must have studied long and hard to become so good with the lightsaber. In all honesty, I confess to a sense of professional admiration for his skill and technique. In time he might have been an inspiration to young Jedi apprentices, only he isn’t good enough.

The component that sets a battle apart between Force-wielders and ordinary opponents is the way we look into the future to anticipate the next attack. When both duellists are sufficiently skilled in battle, victory will go to the one with the quickest wit to take advantage of the future he sees. This Jedi has a reputation for foresight, and that reputation is well earned. He just doesn’t have the wit to react in time. I parry his attack and swiftly riposte. He leaps to dodge, but my riposte is a feint; I’m already in the air with my blade sweeping through the space I know he’ll occupy. We land heavily on the ground: me on my feet, and him in pieces.

I take a deep breath as the thrill of battle and victory course through me. A moment laster I take control of myself and look around for the Senator. He’s kneeling beside the dead Jedi, whispering something I can’t hear.

“Senator,” I call to him. “It’s time to discuss your politics.”

He stands and turns to face me. In his hand he carries the deactivated hilt of the Jedi’s lightsaber. I laugh out loud.

“Oh come now, Senator. You don’t think you’re going to defend yourself with that, do you?”

He ignites the blade and settles into a classic stance. The Senator has held a lightsaber before, that much is obvious. “I think I’m going to try, Sith.”

I step gracefully into the classic answer. This should be painfully short for the Senator, but I’m sensing something I hadn’t noticed before. There’s an aura of power about him that escaped me previously. Could he be Force-sensitive?

I rush toward him, intent on overwhelming him with my attack. He meets it with surprising grace and turns it aside. I strike at him with a dozen lightning-swift thrusts and slashes, but he’s there with every stroke to stop me. I step back with eyes wide.

“You’re no Jedi,” I declare as I shift my stance. He watches me with amusement.

“No, I’m not,” he replies as he adjusts his footing to compensate for my shift. “I thought I would be once, but my Master decided otherwise. Rather than accept the retirement they proposed, I chose to disappear quietly. It takes a long time to be forgotten, but it’s worth it. All I needed was patience.”

“Why this, why now? Why attack the Army? You’re not Jedi and you’re obviously not Sith. You had to know this would bring us down on you.”

“I have my reasons, Sith. Go back to your masters and tell them I am not so easily destroyed. Walk away now and I promise you will be safe.”

I shake my head. I maintain my stance, lightsaber held high over my head ready to strike instantly. I’m watching carefully, but Jolan is offering no threat against me. “I can’t do that, not unless you back down in the Senate.”

“Then you’re a fool, boy,” Jolan snaps. “You have no idea of what you face.”

Conversation is over, and he attacks. It takes every erg of skill and strength within me to meet his attack and turn it aside. I realise that this battle has a foregone conclusion, and it doesn’t favour me. I can only prolong the inevitable unless I yield.

I can’t do that.

“Slay me,” I gasp as we part and settle. “Slay me and more will come. The Sith will not tolerate this threat.”

“Let them come,” Jolan tosses back easily. He’s not even winded by our exchange. “Perhaps this will incite them to cooperate, or maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I will not be turned.”

I press the attack, but only briefly. In a few short strikes Jolan has me on the defensive once again and I’m forced to back away. It’s clear he’s toying with me, perhaps to give me the chance to yield and deliver the message he wants me to send. Fear rushes through my body, fear as I’ve never felt even under the instruction of Master Urdan. My fear is swiftly replaced by anger. Anger at being toyed with, anger at being outmanoeuvred like this, rage at the way my fate has been decided for me. I hate Jolan for what he’s doing to me, and I hate Urdan for putting me in this position. Anger and hatred, those most potent of allies. The Dark Side of the Force fills me and flows through me, empowering me to a degree I’ve never known before. For a moment, I see a glimpse of the true nature of the Force and the potential it offers.

Jolan hesitates as if sensing the change within me. He shifts his stance and waits to see what I’ll do next. I envision his body lying cold and headless on the ground at my feet and give him my most ruthless grin, the one I save for my victims before I kill them. I attack.

Again he meets me and turns aside my blows. Then he spins away as flying debris narrowly misses his head. A sweep of his blade causes a half-empty alcohol container to explode, and I’m on him again. The alleyway is filled with a storm of trash swirling and circling around us, striking at him incessantly as my lightsaber seeks a hole in his defenses. Jolan backs away, truly on the defensive for the first time since he revealed his nature to me.

I summon all the rage and hatred in my soul and press my attack. He will die this night by my hand. He will pay for humiliating me like this. He will not toy with me ever again. I focus it all into every stroke of my blade, pounding at his defences as if I mean to break his arm with the intensity of my blows. Peripherally I’m aware of each object I’m holding through the Force, sensing their shapes and density, even glimpsing some of the histories that go with them. I also sense more from Jolan, his fear and anger, his intents and hopes. He thinks to become another Emperor, to follow in the steps of Palpatine. This sends my anger to new heights and I bellow, throwing everything in the alley at him with gleeful abandon even as my arm directs my weapon.

Jolan is a blur of motion, deflecting my strikes even as he dodges and destroys the detritus in the air. A shock runs up my arm and it’s over. I release my hold on the storm around us and the clatter of junk fills the air. Jolan and I stand facing each other for a long moment, staring at each other while we try to figure out who won.

I fall to my knees, my severed arm already lying there smoking where his blade had sliced through cleanly. It can’t end this way. I’m not meant to die like this.

“You can still live, boy,” Jolan says as he limps toward me. His lightsaber is poised, ready to end my life. “Go back and deliver my message. I’ll let you live.”

“You’re a fool,” I spit at him. My stomach burns with the intensity of my fear, but I can’t help my defiance. “You will never be Emperor. The whole galaxy will rise against you, Jedi and Sith alike.”

Jolan sighs in exasperation. “You understand nothing. Nothing. Palpatine was a fool. He thought to rule on a throne. He made himself a target in his greed for glory and power. I won’t be Emperor in name, but I will rule in fact and no one can stop me. Oh, the Sith will see it eventually, followed by the Jedi, but by the time they understand it’ll be too late. Just like it’s too late for you.”

He lifts his blade and I close my eyes. My ears are filled with the buzzing hum of the weapon as it descends toward me. In the split second before it connects I see a vision of the future, a vision of madness. A future where Sith and Jedi fight together side-by-side against Jolan. I see in the future Urdan’s eyes staring sightless into the sky as he joins me in death.

The darkness falls swift and painless.