“Master Kalu Attracees, you are under arrest!” a Captain of the Republic’s police force yelled. “Stop this now or we will be forced to shoot you down!” he commanded with more authority this time.
Kalu’s hand dripped with sweat as he laid it on his ship’s communicator switch. Thoughts of giving in and facing them thumped in his mind. It would be the honorable thing and might lessen his sentence. On the other hand, they could put him to death or worse banish him to some unknown realm. He withdrew a trembling finger from the switch.
“I know what is waiting for me if I do… I’m not stopping, Captain,” Kalu said to himself.
He wiped his hands and got a tight grip on both controls. “Let them come.”
He jerked left and his shipped banked hard—narrowly avoiding a warning shot from his pursuers.
“Z! You keep down back there or you could get fried,” he hollered back to his droid. “I don’t think they will take another lazy shot like that again.”
“We should divert three quarters power to the rear deflector shields to be safe.” Z countered back in his sequences of droid beeps.
Kalu banked back right and avoided a less telegraphed shot; clear that they intended to intensify their pursuit with each blast.
“No. If they keep up this level of attack, I want all power to the engines. We may not be able to jump to hyperspace, but we can still out run those rusty tankers.”
The ship ricocheted right, throwing Kalu into the side of the cockpit. His lightsaber and head took most of the force. A crack and sizzle came from something. He looked down. Soft sparks emitting from the weapon.
“Where did that come from?” Turning left, he saw another ship advancing on his position. Its massive laser cannons fixed on them and looked ready to fire again.
“More people are joining, Z. We’ve got to get out of here before a whole fleet of ships are on our tail. Scan for anywhere we can escape to. I’d rather fight them on land than up here.”
The silver and blue ship to their left adjusted its cannons with every move he made, but held their pursuit. Kalu looked back and noticed that the two ships behind had withdrawn theirs. Either something changed or this was the weakest hunt of a criminal in the Republic’s existence.
“Kalu.” A weak voice came through the comm. It sounded familiar, but the distortion muffled most of it.
“Kalu.” Repeated the voice.
Much clearer now, Kalu’s stomach felt like it had been ripped open. One fist shook and the other hardened at the voice. Anyone but him, he thought. How could he know so fast and be a part of the rabble that sought to bring him in. Kalu clenched his eyes closed and ground his teeth involuntarily. He raised the sweaty hand and pressed the communicator switch.
“Yes, master.” A monsoon of guilt harpooned his heart at the thought of letting his master down.
Hearing that old voice, which had guided him since he was a youngling and had always spoken calmly to him was now replaced with an icy accusing tone—the tone of an enemy.
“Kalu.” His former master returned. “A dark place you have entered, my apprentice.”
Kalu winced at the grim assessment of his current predicament. Opening his mouth, he desired to say something but words did not readily mold from his anarchic thoughts and nothing came out.
“Things have transpired that cannot be undone. Facing one’s crime is the only way back to redemption.” His former master paused as he often did to let the words find their rightful place in the forefront of Kalu’s mind. “End this. Accept punishment. Return to the Jedi Order in time, you may.”
Kalu pondered this for a moment. If he were to stop his fleeing, go back and serve time in prison for would probably be for a least a few decades, he could return to the Jedi. The possibility of rejoining after what he did had never occurred to him. All those years, his best years, spent in confinement just for a chance to come back to the Jedi—would it be worth it? The thought played on his mind like an old war drum.
“Master Zota,[JB1] what assurances can the Captain give that they will release me when I have served my time?”
The underlying static disappeared, which meant they had flipped off their communicator to discuss. Kalu didn’t like the fact that a discussion was necessary and that this hadn’t already been arranged. Certainly his former master had told the truth and this was the Captain trying to parlay a better deal that made him look good to his superiors—or was it? He didn’t know what to trust or who. The static returned.
“Kalu.” His master started with several indiscernible voices accompanying in the background. “The amount of time you must spend in prison is unclear. My word that you will be a Jedi once again, I give you.”
Time, such a simple word, he thought. But it meant everything at this moment. Would he go back in time and change what he did if he could? How much time would he serve? How would that time affect him? How much time would he have to regain his Jedi status before he died? Would that time be worth it?
He delved deep into himself and outside at the same time for any connection to the Force he could find. Its guidance was the only thing that could make this decision easier. He waited for the familiar presence to push him in the right direction. Moments turned to minutes, but nothing came.
Emotion clouded everything. His heart stung as he remembered the reason for his actions. The reason he did what he did and why the Republic’s forces barred down on him now. His breathing labored and all the ship’s instruments jittered as his anger mounted. It was a just decision at the time and remained one in his mind. Nothing had changed. No new information. No apology or justifiable explanation had come from those who had done the first wrong. They remained stout in defense of their actions. His eyes flared and fists hardened. The whole cabin shook as his anger turned to rage. His heart beat like a rancor’s as the painful memories of the past five days flashed before his eyes.
“No!” The word burst from his lips. “I will not come in. My actions were righteous in response to the tyranny of the republic. Serving time in prison would be an abomination to justice. I am sorry, master. I must hold true to myself.” He slammed both controls forward and blasted away from the pursuing ships.
A communication tried to come through, but it was heavily distorted. “Don’t give in to hate, Kalu.” Master Zota came through. “To the Dark Side, I fear it will lead y—.” The communication cut out as he put more distance between them. All three ships pursued and fired without hesitation. A barrage of blasts came from all directions. He weaved left, right, up and down, avoiding every one of them. It was only a matter of time without hyperspace that they would catch him though.
“Have you found anything, Z?” he barked back to his droid.
“Nothing… this system is full of Republic friendly planets that we would not stay hidden in for long.” Z beeped back.
A laser blast grazed the right wing, causing the ship to dip. Kalu struggled to regain control.
We don’t have much t—. A violent jolt from the back of the ship shook him from his thought. Z made no sound, so he was okay or blown to pieces. Kalu panned everywhere, but all he saw was the black of space and million white dots. If Z couldn’t find anything that meant there was nothing. No asteroid field, no desolate planet, not even a shooting star that could provide refuge.
He barrel rolled to his left like an old man trying to get up in the morning. The ship felt sluggish and had only minutes of decent flight left in it. A frack of light burst to the ship’s right just as they took another hit to the rear—still no sound from Z. Kalu panned to the light and it wasn’t coming from a laser blast. In fact he had never seen anything like it before. It looked like a schism of some sort—like a sliver of space opening to another patch of space with strands of lightening traveling along the edge.
“What is that?”
Kalu shook his head and looked again. It was still there. He could be dreaming, but he felt a force-like pull coming from it. Legends of worm or black holes were always tossed around like old fishing stories in the cantinas, but nothing of schisms had ever been mentioned. He had no time to think anymore. They needed a way out and it provided a chance.
“If you’re still with me, Z. Hold on!” Kalu yelled as careened toward the opening in space.
They blasted through and it felt like he left one dark room for another. Still the same pitch black and the white dots all around. He looked behind him and a peculiar sight made him smile: the three pursuing ships continued past the schism and did not follow. His hands went to jam the controls forward to speed up, but something held him back. He had to know if they would follow. Easing up on the thrusters, the ship slowed to cruising speed.
A few moments went by and nothing. The ships didn’t even come back to look through it and see where he might have gone.
“I don’t know what happened, Z, but I am glad that showed up when it did.”
“I believe it was a schism in the fabric of space.” Z responded.
“Well, it’s about time you said something! I thought you had been blasted.” Kalu ran his hands roughly through his hair.
“I was making repairs to the ship to keep it flying. I didn’t have time to converse.”
Kalu laughed for the first time in weeks. “Thank goodness for that. I thought she might fall apart before we could have escaped.”
He shook his head and breathed easy as they cruised away from the schism.
“I’m glad you’re with me. It’s good to have someone with everything that’s happened the past few days.”
Unclenching his hands, Kalu flipped the auto pilot on and stretched out his arms. Both of them felt tender—most likely from the first hit they took.
“Master, the ship needs to be docked for repairs. We can only sustain flight for another hour or two tops.”
Kalu grimaced as he knew the moment of solitude wouldn’t last for long.
“How long will the repairs take?”
“It is difficult to say at this time. It depends on what parts we’ll need and what we have stored on the ship.” Z paused as he often did to calculate. “A safe estimate would be two days if we have the parts.”
Kalu restrained his anger before responding. While he hoped luck would be on their side, he knew they had taken some bad hits from heavy artillery.
“I can’t see anything. Can the ship’s scanners detect anything or are those busted too?”
“They are working and have picked up something.”
Kalu smirked at the slight fortune. “As long as it has water and oxygen, I’ll take it.”
“It has both. There are scattered life-force readings as well. No information at this time as too what they are.”
“Our luck is improving. What system are we in?”
Kalu rubbed his chin. He thought to go to the place with the biggest concentration of life. On second thought, they had no idea what to expect if they bumped into something.
“Plot us a course to a spot that is discreet with the least amount of life surrounding.”
“We don’t have much of a choice. We must try to coast as much as possible. Any one maneuver could knock something loose before we have a chance to enter the planet’s atmosphere.”
Kalu shook his head. “There goes our luck.”
“I just sent coordinates to the spot suited to your liking and what the ship can handle. It is at one of the higher elevation points and has limited life within a ten mile radius.
“That will have to work.” he said as he keyed in the coordinates for the auto-pilot.
They coasted for few minutes and the planet came into focus. It had a large expanse of land that wrapped completely around it. A murky blue ocean made up the rest of it. Several tall mountains could be seen the closer they got. Kalu switched off the auto-pilot as they got to within seconds of the planet’s atmosphere. He expected a jolt as they entered, but the ship held true. The further down they went the darker it got. The white clouds turned to ash gray. He couldn’t tell if it was because of night or rain.
The clouds gently whipped by the ship and made a sound that Kalu had come to appreciate through the years of flying. It meant a smooth entrance and most likely good weather upon landing. Flying had become one of his favorite activities. It usually only required a minimal use of the force while allowing his mind to drift into pleasant thoughts. His meditations while flying usually helped answer many questions that had eluded him sometimes for months.
Breaking through the last cloud, the full vision of the land came into focus. It was dark, like dusk but grittier. Not much vegetation, which meant minimal life just like Z said. An impressive mountain range lay in front of them. Their destination lay on one of them.
“Are you sure about this location, Z?”
“Yes. Minimal life. Secluded spot for me to work on the ship.”
Kalu sighed. “If you’re sure about it I won’t fight.” he remarked as he guided the ship down into a crevice on one of the peaks.
He scanned for a landing spot on the craggy rock face. Nothing presented itself. They flew deeper into the crevice. Looking down he saw a small city with no visible movement. It had an odd color; a green hue, like a dying plant’s leaves.
Just to their left a large patch of dead ground presented itself on the side of the mountain.
“There we go.” Kalu said as he guided the ship down.
He flipped the landing gear switch and they extended like the ship was brand new. Engaging the reverse thrusters, he gently set them down with minimal jarring. He closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Well done, sir.”
“Thank you, Z…” He prattled his fingers on the armrests. “Now let’s see what we can do for the ship.”
Kalu hopped out of the ship and inspected the outside while Z ran a complete diagnostics check. The right wing and back paneling had three large blast marks. Kalu went up to one and ran his hand along the hole the shot had left. It had pierced through the metal and done some damage to the inner workings of the ship. He sighed as he continued walking around. The left side didn’t have as many marks, but it had the biggest one. Kalu scratched his head as he inspected it.
“We are lucky this shot didn’t ground us.”
He didn’t dare look deeper into the hole out of fear of the real damage remained. Turning his attention away from the ship, he hadn’t even looked at where they were. It was dark. Dark as dusk, but it didn’t feel that late. A charcoal gray sky made everything look a little ominous. The perfectly normal rocky mountain appeared harrowing by comparison in sunlight he guessed. An intense smell caught his nose by surprise. He hadn’t noticed it before. It reminded him of Dagobah with the smell of swamp, ancient dirt and sweat, but this time he could taste those sensations as well.
Behind them lay a short path, splitting the craggy rock and continued to the edge of the mountain. Part of him wanted to go see what lay below, but another thought if there were lifeforms they would be down there and might have spotted the ship. Best not to draw any more attention to himself. Ahead of them the dirt path evaporated into a rocky one and continued a few hundred yards until a blind turn. He felt like a lost child in this peculiar world, which he hadn’t felt like since he actually was a child.
“Diagnostics complete, sir.” Z said, causing Kalu to flinch from being startled.
“Uh, what sort of damage are we looking at? I don’t need to know everything, just the basics and how much time.” The droid tended to be overly thorough, like most droids, for Kalu’s taste when describing technical information.
“That is a difficult question to answer, sir.”
“Just give me an estimate.”
“It’s not a matter of the estimate. In order to give you time, I would need all the parts to complete the job.”
“There is nothing you can use off the ship to make them?”
“Not in the amounts it would take to bring the thrusters and gyroscope system back to an acceptable working order.”
Kalu sighed and shook his head. “Looks like our luck has changed.” He paused to think of where they could find help. On a place like this who knew. “What do you need to make the parts, Z?”
“Steel would suffice. About fifteen pounds of it.”
“Then how long to fix them?”
“Thirty six hours.”
Kalu let out an irritated laugh. “Is that all?”
“Yes, sir. That would be all.”
Kalu chuckled at the droid’s response to sarcasm. He panned around the area and saw no other way to go but straight ahead to the blind corner. There was no other path and he had already eliminated going the other way and possibly getting spotted. Running his hands up and down all his compartments, he touched every piece of equipment that he wanted to have on him while he traversed this odd place. The three most important were his: lightsaber, pocket lantern and commlink.
“Well, I better not waste any more time. Who knows how much light is left. Z, fix what you can fix now and I will try to find some steel. I have no idea if any exists on this planet. You said there were lifeform readings, so there might be some.”
“You may want to search for some food and water for yourself as well, sir. We had no time to pack any in the rush to leave Coruscant.”
Kalu had almost forgotten why they were here and what had taken place only hours ago. No time to waste on that now. The sky looked like he had only a few hours until complete darkness.
“I’ll see what I can find.”
With that, Kalu went ahead of the ship toward the blind turn of the mountain trail. His head throbbed and both legs wobbled as he went forward. The shot that slammed him into the side of the cockpit must have done more damage than he thought. Or perhaps it was a combination of all the hits. His adrenaline didn’t let him feel any of it at the time, but he felt it now. He remembered he did have a small palm size canteen clipped to his belt. Picking it up, his hopes dropped immediately. No more than a swig of water remained. Still, he threw it down and the warm liquid did help soothe his dry throat for a few seconds. The heat of this place didn’t help his head. With each step it seemed to get a little hotter and more humid.
A few steps from the dead end, he laid a hand on his lightsaber. He stopped and waited. The trickle of small rocks and pebbles falling down the side of the mountain were the only things making any noise. Satisfied that nothing waited on the other side, he continued. Turning the corner, a different view of the mountain greeted him as well as a cave a few hundred yards away.
Continuing on, he tried not to think about his thirst in this sweltering place. It had an old look in Kalu’s eyes, like it was one of the first things around when life began. Each rock face and crevice had a story that was told by fire or by book. He imagined that the first Jedi had started in a place world like this. That thought of his former estranged brethren brought a ball of pain that traveled from his stomach to his lungs. It made him grab his chest and try to push it back down. There was no need to go down that road right now.
He kicked up some gravel as he stopped abruptly at the cave. The opening turned pitch dark after no more than three steps. It was at the base of an impressive rock face that was too smooth to be climbed. To the side was a drop off that even a Jedi couldn’t survive. Kalu had his lightsaber as defense, a commlink just in case and a pocket lantern to guide him. With all three on his person, he crept in.
On the third step the light vanished and he pulled out his lantern. It created an orb of light – no stream or beam. He held it down near his feet and could see them faintly. Going to it up, something caught his eye—a ripped piece of cloth wrapped around something. He drew the light closer and picked it up. The cloth felt rough in his hands as if it had been stained and left for a while. He unraveled it slowly. He yanked his hand away and dropped the object it was wrapped around. A cold echo traveled down what seemed like five or six unknown passages when it clattered on the floor. Pulling the light closer, it confirmed his initial thought – a broken jawbone.
“That’s what I get for being curious.” he said as wiped the hand on his pants.
A scrapping sound came from his left. He turned in the direction and held up the light. He glared at the darkness, waiting for something to move or come closer. Floating dust illuminated by the lantern was all he could see. He slowed his breathing and focused. Trying to sense if there was anything close, he senses felt off. They oscillated between a sensations that he was not alone and back to nothing. Perhaps the events from earlier today had shook him and clouded his powers.
He turned the opposite way of the sound and walked with one hand holding out the lantern and the other gripping his lightsaber. Kalu moved slowly and tried to avoid stepping on any more debris that may lay ahead. As he went deeper, his nose fought a heinous stench that smelled like more bones. He took a deep breath and convulsed as his tongue tasted the foul reek. Shaking off the nastiness, he crept forward. He wanted to run to escape this wretched place, but with limited visibility he might plow right into a wall.
He closed his eyes and focused on finding a way out. The Force swirled inside him like it always did when he called. It felt like a tornado, shaking every part of his body. He harnessed it and sent it out to find the best path. As soon it went out, he felt it disperse like dust in the wind. Still he waited for it to return with guidance. Nothing came. The intuition and feeling of the Force evaded him for some reason. Give me something!
He killed the lantern and opened his eyes to rely completely on the Force. Kalu turned around slowly looking and tried to feel anything. A glint of light appeared in the darkness. He focused harder and several more small circles illuminated next to each other. Six tiny beads of light in the distance, how far he couldn’t guess.
He turned on the lantern and headed towards them. The six lights grew to slightly more than dim. His connection to the Force was not strong, but it remained enough to pierce this darkness and find this path. The orbs of light grew bigger as he got closer. Their opaque glint lifted his spirits. He picked up his pace just wanting to get out of this dank cavern.
The lights moved to the left then right. A terrible screech echoed of the walls. Kalu winced and covered his ears. The lights launched toward him. Something slammed into his chest and he flew back. His head rapped against stone and back twisted as he crashed to the cave floor. Another screech belted out. He threw the lantern at the lights. It ricocheted off them and popped straight into the air and he saw the beast—a massive spider with eight hideous eyes glared at him.
The lantern cracked on the floor and fizzled out. Thinking fast, he unhooked his lightsaber and flipped its switch. Nothing happened. The familiar sound, his favorite sound, the one heard in his sleep as a child before he was allowed to use one had not followed. He panicked and flipped it up and down as fast as he could. Still nothing.
The spider screeched and one of its appendages plowed into Kalu. Its bristles slashed across his face and blood dripped out. He fell back into the wall again – this time his spine absorbed the collision. The eyes thrust forward and it massive body compressed into his. Its hot breath wafted over him as its tusks clapped inches from his face. He pushed back with all his strength, but the beast compacted him deeper into the wall. Every one of his ribs prodded his organs. He tried to breath but his chest couldn’t expand enough. Desperate, he slammed both fists into the spider’s eyes. Kalu clasped both ears as the beast’s shriek nearly deafened him.
It jumped back and Kalu plummeted to floor. A shot of pain pierced both knees as they hit the stone. He swung his arms rapidly, trying to feel for the lantern. Knocking something that felt like it, he picked it up and it was a rock. He threw it aside and searched feverishly for his only hope.
Another screech rang out and the ground vibrated. He panicked because it was coming after him again. His right hand knocked something that felt like metal. The tremors grew in intensity. Bringing the object close it was the lantern. He banged on the side of it and dim light popped up. He held it up and the spider skidded to a halt. It raised both forelegs up and batted at the light. Kalu stepped forward and brought the lantern closer. The beast backed up, revealing a tunnel to its left. Without hesitating, Kalu sprinted toward it with the light leading the way. No time to think as the Force guided him around each turn a split second before the lantern could illuminate the path. A brighter light was in the distance. His legs churned faster as he knew it was his way out. He weaved through the final turns and thrust himself out of the opening and stumbled onto the loose gravel.
Swinging his head around, he raised his fists and the spider’s head shot out of the opening. He reached down and grabbed the biggest rock he could find and hurled it. The spider let out the worst screech of all as the stone pummeled it between the eyes. He didn’t wait to see if the hit dismantled his foe as he jumped up and sprinted on the only safe pathway.
Kalu heaved in and out as his body begged him to stop, but his mind said keep running. For the past hour he thought of nothing, stopped for nothing and put as much distance between he and the cave as possible. His feet throbbed and lungs stung from lack of water. He slid to a stop and bent over gasping for air. It took several minutes for his breathing to return to a reasonable level. Closing both eyes, he tried to regain his composure and focus. He repeated his mantra internally to slow himself down and reconnect to the Force. The link felt hazy like it did inside the cave. He hadn’t slept in over two days, which could be the culprit.
After several more minutes, he could focus again, but the slight haze remained. He unholstered the lightsaber and inspected it. The outer casing looked in good shape except for a slight dent near the top. That must have been from when he was slammed against his own cockpit from the laser blast. He pushed in on it and the metal held strong. Turning both the blade length and power adjust knobs, he tried switching it on and no light. Twirling it around as if the saber had ignited, he tried to see if anything shifted or made a noise internally. There was nothing though. He let out a scoff and holstered the weapon. There wasn’t much else he could do without tools to open it up. What is the matter with that thing?
Investigating the surroundings, he didn’t realize how far down the mountain he had made it. A few hundred yards to the bottom at most. One more pass over some craggy rock to the plains. For a second he thought to go back to Z and try to salvage any scraps of food he had left on the ship. Going through its inventory in his head, Kalu knew there wasn’t enough for a snack, let alone an entire meal. Scanning the plains was challenging because of the dark sky. Nothing like food or even water could be seen. His stomach rumbled and forced him to go down and try his luck in the plains.
It took him less than a minute to reach the bottom of the mountain. He could see further and more clearly now, but it appeared nothing like he hoped. There were several dried up riverbeds and ponds near him. The cracked bottoms made it look like they had been empty for some time. Vegetation was everywhere, which meant possible food and water beneath the soil.
Walking up to a few patches he latched on to a patch of sprouts and pulled up. They came up easily and part of the stalk crumbled in his hand. He ran his fingers along the roots and they were as dry as stale bread. Inspecting the sprouts, his hopes dropped further as they looked like year old hay. He sniffed them and shot back to prevent from retching. They smelled like rotten cabbage that had been forgotten in a boiling pot.
His stomach rumbled again and he could feel the acid eating away at anything for energy. Although his connection to the Force felt hazy, he could tell these weren’t poisonous. He crumbled up the foul sprouts into a ball. The retching sensation crawled up his chest and settle in his throat, causing him to shiver. I need anything I can get right now.
Kalu’s hand shook as he raised the balled up sprout to his mouth. Shoving it in fast, he gagged and had to hold his mouth shut to prevent it from spewing out the revolting food. His saliva pooled with the sprout and dripped down his throat. It tasted like garbage juice that had drizzled out of a dumpster in one of Coruscants more unsavory districts. He forced his jaws to chomp up and down. The dry sprout was more grizzled than Tauntaun meat. His stomach convulsed repeatedly as the garbage tasting juice touched it. It took all his strength to keep from regurgitating the vile liquid that sloshed inside him.
It took the better of five minutes of constant chewing for the sprout to wear down and slide down to his gullet. He immediately felt sick, not like it had poisoned him, but just that it was a foul plant. Scanning the area for anything to quench his thirst and rinse the taste out of his mouth, nothing but the dark land with miles of the black rock and the vile sprout growing everything. A mountain range outlined the entire land, making passage through it by foot look impossible. Something to his left seemed out of place though – something he had missed in his first scan of the area. It was a dark tower, blacker than midnight and standing as tall as one of Coruscant’s major buildings. It had blended into the evening earlier, but his keen eyes caught it this time. At the top there seemed to be nothing. However at the bottom two small torches’ barely broke through the darkness.
A sick feeling, maybe from the sprout, crept up in him. He reached for the Force for guidance. He felt a nudge, but it felt dulled or hazy—like before. Closing his eyes, he delved deeper into himself to the core of his being. All sound, the feeling of the wind and the darkness felt miles away as he tried to harness every connection with the Force all around. His stomach turned as he felt the dim life of the sprout. The rock, the ground, the mountains all sent signals back to him. They were bleak though, like trying to speak underwater, but from a hundred feet away. He felt the Force nudge him. It moved him like a push, rather in a certain direction. He yelled in the air as combination of no sleep, almost being killed twice, a stomach full of nastiness and no guidance from the always reliable connection to the Force boiled over. Opening his eyes, he spit every remaining piece of vegetation out and headed toward the tower.
Hunger and anger drove every step into the dirt like he was trying to gain footing while climbing a mountain. He snarled as he lashed every stalk out of his way. Forcing his eyes open and refusing to blink, he glared at the tower. He didn’t care if there were a hundred giant spiders inside, he would find food and drink somewhere as well as a way to get the parts they needed.
He wiped the dust out of both eyes, still refusing to blink. A loud crack came from his right. He shot his head to it as pile of rocks dropped from a landing to the ground. Stopping, he didn’t like the look of it. It looked set up and not a natural occurrence. His side screamed as something plunged into it. He growled through clenched teeth as the pain hit hard. Running his hand to it, he felt the culprit. A medieval looking weapon stuck in him. Blood drizzled onto his hand as he tried to pry it out. A pitch of hoots and cries startled him and he jumped back. Out of habit he unholstered his lightsaber quicker than serpent strike and raised it to a fighting stance.
A pack of foul looking creatures circled around him. They weren’t like the spider, but hideous nonetheless. They wore and each brandished a medieval weapon like a sword, dagger or bow and arrow. He dropped the lightsaber and threw his hands toward the creatures to retrieve their armaments. Several of their swords lifted up and the beasts looked around in bewilderment. Kalu increased his power to suck their weapons from their hands. Again they shifted in their owner’s hands, but would not budge more than that. He focused on two of the beasts and clenched his fingers to his thumb in a choking manner. The two dropped their weapons and ran their hands across their throat. Kalu smile as he increased the power. The beasts didn’t choke or gasp but just swatted at their necks like a mosquito had bit them. He pressed harder, desperate for it to work and suck the life out of them. Nothing happened like it intended.
Giving up, he dropped his hands to a fighting stance. The two beasts picked up their swords as the entire group barred in on him. Their murderous eyes glared into Kalu’s. The tips of their weapons were caked in rust and a black grime.
Thinking fast, Kalu waived his right hand. “You will let me go and give me food and drink.” He said in a calm, steely voice.
All of the assailants halted at once and stared blankly at him.
He waived his right hand again. “You will let me go and give me food and drink.”
They remained still until one of them spoke. It murmured a slew of words in a similar cadence to Kalu’s. He couldn’t detect the language or dialect the beast used. Kalu strode forward and waived his right hand again. “You will let me go…” he said direct and stern.
The beast muttered its undiscernible language in a similar cadence to Kalu’s.
“You will give me food.” he said as he waived his right hand.
The beast repeated in its own language.
Kalu stepped two steps from the one beast and glared at him. “You will give me drink!” he yelled, waving his right hand.
The creature muttered the words in its language, along with the others, and didn’t budge. It stared right through Kalu off into the distance. Kalu’s breathing heaved as he waited for them to move. The creature shook its head and its eyes blinked again and then looked at Kalu. It shrieked and knocked him over the head. Kalu dropped and put a hand to his wound. It throbbed as the dark world went pitch black.
Kalu roused awake by a metal ratcheting sound. A solid clanging echoed in his tender head. Reaching up he felt a contusion and dried blood. Running his hand across them, the memories came flooding back. He had killed—so many. He had escaped. He and Z landed on a mountainside. He had battled a spider and some strange creatures, who knocked him out. That brought him to here – wherever here was.
Pushing up with both hands, Kalu rose slowly as to not cause pain to his throbbing head. He used two of the thick metal bars running from the floor to the ceiling to help him to stand. A painful gasp let out of him as he straightened up completely. He squinted at the torchlight. It was dim, but with his head battered and eyes still adjusting it felt like he was a few feet from a star.
After a minute his eyes adjusted and he could take in his surroundings. A total of twelve metal bars, built into jagged stone, separated him from a long hallway with ten visible torches hanging. They were crudely put together—lacking any attention to detail or polished affect. To his immediate right was another cell, except it was empty. All that remained was a pile of soiled rags and spats of blood. To his left it was another empty cell with nothing in it. It looked like no one had been in it for some time. He peered down the long hallway. All he could see was the errant dust floating in the torch light.
He checked his belt for his lightsaber and lantern. Both were taken. He kicked the ground, but knew better than to assume his captors, although archaic, were compete fools. In the corner of the cell laid a blanket littered with moth holes. He staggered over to it. Both legs felt weak, but relatively uninjured. He picked up the filthy smelling blanket and began folding it. Getting it to a nice foot by foot square, Kalu placed it in the corner. He grasped onto one of the bars and gently let himself down on top of it. The ground was still hard to sit on, but the blanket it made it bearable.
He took in a deep breath and the musty air smelled like grime and damp. Taking in another deep breath, he sighed just as deep. What to do now? He looked at his hands and shook his head. Clearly this place had an effect on his powers. It dampened them of sorts. That was the only logical conclusion Kalu could draw after the failure with the spider and those creatures. They were obviously weak minded and should have caved easily to his mind trick. It may have been a different language, but that wouldn’t matter because it is all about affecting the creatures thought process and forcing your thought on them. Either way, he had to figure out a way to break through this haze affecting his powers and get out.
His body shuddered as the thought of being unable to regain full power in this place. A deep gargling sound came from his stomach. He hung his head and grimaced at his beaten mind, empty gut and his helplessness. Why did I let it get to this?
The all too fresh memories of the past few weeks came over him like a storm cloud. He thought back to where it all started. News came from the inner-realm that Athuan, his home planet, had been the center of some controversy. Getting the true story from the Senate was as hard as teaching an ant to do tricks. It was hot that morning, hottest day of the year on Coruscant to date. Trying to escape the bog of his quarters, Kalu retreated to the Temple’s library to take his mind off his home planet. When he had become a Jedi, he swore to move on from his old life.
He picked up a book he had never read before: The Pattern of Language Volume One[JB2] . Its basic premise was that a Jedi, opening all facets of their mind, all connections to the Force, could penetrate the barriers of any dialect and tongue, and, in time, learn any language by simply listening to someone use it in normal conversation. The first three chapters focused on studying your subject’s manner of speech. This entailed watching and listening to their: tone, points of inflection, word cadence, volume, pauses and a litany of other factors.
Kalu was in luck that a Padawan by the name of Tressic Baru was talking with another just a few tables away. Tressic was from the Noad system and his home planet of Vara spoke a rare language called Gilvarian. It was said that less than five thousand individuals spoke it in the entire universe. This gave Kalu an opportunity to further keep his mind off Athuan and practice this new skill. He listened to Tressic speak to the other Padawan.
The alien had a very distinct pattern of speech that he rarely deviated from. Tressic would riddle off three sentences quickly, then one slowly and then wait for a response. For the better part of an hour, he repeated this same cadence. Kalu could not understand the entire conversation with just this, but the few words he picked up on throughout were: Masters, trials and unfair.
From this Kalu derived the main premise of their conversation. Tressic had spent far too long a time as a Padawan and should have been a master years ago. However, he struggled mightily every time he took the trials. Leading up to them, he passed all tests with ease. When it came for the trials, though, he would get tense and both his mind and movements became stiff and stifled. He and others expressed great displeasure that one should have to formally show off their powers to be given the rank of Master. Of course Tressic never declared this publically. It was a good thing too because Kalu and most other Masters, who had been in life and death situations, knew that the trials paled in comparison to the real thing.
Feeling like he had adequately learned to pick up on this, for the time being, Kalu moved along to the middle chapters. These covered mostly physical cues: hand gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, shifting in posture and even if the person went to the lavatory or engaged in drinking or eating during the course of the discussion.
Kalu set the book down again and listened to Tressic and the other Padawan continue their discussion. This time Masters, trials and unfair came through much more clearly. A few other words became evident as well: emotion, feeling and aggression. Kalu could not put all the pieces together, but he could gather a lot from this. After making a few assumptions based on what he knew of the Varan race, he ascertained that Tressic was talking about his upbringing and makeup. Essentially he was making excuses for his failures. Tressic deemed the trials unfair to his kind because they were taught from a young age to reach out with all feeling and emotion. This of course made it hard for him to remain calm in tense situations. Kalu chuckled at this notion and wondered if Tressic should have been brought to the Jedi Temple in the first place.
The final chapters in the book focused on the most difficult and rewarding part of the linguistics pursuit: using the Force to penetrate the minds of surrounding living things. Of course Kalu did not have the power yet to see into another intelligent beings thoughts—the book did not focus on that though. It focused on non-intelligent to sedentary beings. That could be anything from a mouse, a fly or even a tree or plant.
Someone came up to Tressic and the other Padawan and started talking to them. Kalu ignored them and went back to the book.
He thought the method sounded odd at first until he read on. It detailed how these beings, however unintelligent or incapable of speech, could unlock the language. Unbeknownst to the mouse or tree, they picked up language cues when within earshot of people conversing. The unused paddocks of their simple minds would absorb and sometimes retain words and conversations being had around them. They offered limited amount of storage, but when infiltrated could offer clues to what was being said. This was called Harvender’s Secret. It was called this because the first time this method was used was with a Harvender Tree. It was possible with this and the other two studies for a Jedi to grasp basic comprehension of another’s language – even fairly quickly. Like anything though, a giant leap in comprehension came quickly, but after this initial spurt, growth was much slower and it would take years to master.
Kalu didn’t know if this would work but he wanted to try. Searching around for something to use, he spotted an innocuous green plant sitting in a corner not too far from Tressic. The other person had left them a few minutes prior. Tressic and the other Padawan had stunned expressions on their face.
Kalu grew curious as he worked his way into the life force of the plant. It didn’t have a brain in the common sense, but nonetheless its being had a system that kept it alive and could offer something. He closed his eyes and focused on the plant’s dim consciousness. A somewhat strained feeling came over him. He felt the plant’s struggle as it sat in a pot of dirt that limited its expansion and sun exposure. Delving into its rudimentary senses, Kalu started to pick up Tressic’s conversation. It sounded like they were speaking in a tunnel. He picked up the words he had heard the alien use before, but every few seconds another word or two would pop in a slightly different voice. This was the plant’s decoding and deciphering of what was being said, adding to his interpreting.
Kalu listened as Tressic went down a new line of conversation than before. The words changed from Kalu’s to the plant’s ever so subtly and worked almost like a melody. Tressic spoke in the same cadence but with less fervor than before. He rattled off lots of information in a short amount of time. It was hard for Kalu to keep up at times and he had to digest something, then go back to what was being said. He caught a pair of words that made him gasp, but they came so quickly that he wasn’t sure.
He focused harder and tried to deepen his connection with the plant. Something resembling the breath stopping words flew by again, but he couldn’t tell exactly what was said. Kalu locked on like a vise to the plant’s life force and waited for Tressic to repeat himself. The words came again. Kalu jerked back like a lightsaber had impaled him. His hands turned to fists and a surge of anger shot through him. He jumped up and yelled at the top of lungs. Everyone in the library, including Tressic were startled. Kalu threw his chair back and threw aside every table between them. Tressic drew back and trembled. Kalu grabbed the Varanian by the throat and slammed him against the wall. Tressic let out a painful moan. Tighting his fist, Kalu glared into the alien’s beady eyes.
“What did you say?” he screamed.
Tressic stammered uncontrollably and looked around for anyone to help.
Kalu backhanded him, causing his lip to bleed. “What did you say?”
The Varanian sputtered and flinched when Kalu raised his hand again. Tressic took a deep breath to calm himself. “Athuan was destroyed.”
A metal door slammed shut with a rasp and jolted Kalu out of his memory. His hands trembled as he ran them through his sweat soaked hair. He closed his eyes and took a long breath to the point where it burned. After a few more, his panting returned to normal breathing. Panning around, his situation remained the same—still stuck in the crude jail cell. Far away from Coruscant and the Jedi temple.
His ears perked as he heard two quiet, yet fierce voices somewhere down the corridor. He pulled himself up with minimal pain and crept closer. It was two creatures like the ones that captured him earlier. They looked like they were talking about something serious, but their voices remained low. Kalu put his ear between two of the bars to hear more clearly. He closed his eyes and blocked all other stimuli and focused on their conversation.
Each one spoke in short, harsh tones. Their word cadence was slow, which was good for Kalu. It sounded like a very simple language. Each word they spoke had a distinct meaning without much room for interpretation—again a good thing for Kalu. They didn’t pause much, which meant one of two things: either their minds worked quickly or they didn’t give much thought before speaking. Judging by his only interaction with them, he tended to believe the latter.
The creatures plowed through their sentences like unyoked oxen. Kalu delved deeper into the Force and hardened his senses, attuning all of them to the words. A sensation like when he ate the sprout trickled up from his stomach. His head swelled at the same time. A gnawing queasiness came from both directions and were moving toward each other threatening to meet in his chest. This haze intensified as he tried to strengthen the connection with the Force.
He held strong and kept his focus on the creatures’ conversation. Several words became clear as they sputtered on: Master, Great One, death. It didn’t make sense. Kalu continued to listen as their voices became louder. Death. Killing. Ripping. Gutting. More words came to him. He couldn’t tell if they were talking about generalities or if they were referring to something specific. Torturing. Killing. Prisoner.
Kalu froze after deciphering the last word. They were referring to him at the end. He thought for a moment, trying to put together all the words they had said that he could untangle. Would this master, great one use ripping and gutting to torture the prisoner? Was this prisoner him or someone else in the vast tower? Surely he couldn’t be the only one locked up here.
This is going to feel awful. He closed his eyes, got a firm grip on the force and drowned everything but the creatures’ voices out. Then he went to a deeper level. He could not see them, so studying their movements and gestures was out, but perhaps there was something else living in here that he could use. The haze intensified and caused a brick sized piece of bile to move up from his stomach. Kalu fought it as he continued to search for any life form.
A faint glimmer of something wafted across his senses. He followed it and found the source. A mouse. The poor little thing stood on the edge of death. Kalu felt its hunger, its fear and desperation for relief. He wanted to help it, but he couldn’t do anything. It took seconds for him to make a complete connection with the mouse.
He now heard the creatures with two brains and two sets of ears. The words came through more clearly as the mouse could actually sense parts of their language. It had probably learned some of the basics over a period of years. Of course it couldn’t speak it, but it had some intelligence back in the dark recesses of its mind.
“The Great… Master…” The creatures’ words came through as they were speaking now. “Rallying… Capturing.”
Kalu dove deeper into the mouse’s mind. He found an untapped area that seemed to spark every time the creatures spoke. Locking onto it, he refocused.
“Captured many… Master… Wants more… All… Died” the creatures stopped as the door rasped and jarred open.
Kalu shook out of the connection and stumbled to the back of the cell. Covering himself with the ratty blanket, another creature came into view. It stopped at the front of his cell and clanged a metal plate against it. Kalu pulled himself up and walked to it. In a quick motion the creature opened a skinny slot and pushed through the plate and a small cup. Kalu picked them both up as the guard left and motioned the other two to follow. The door slammed shut and he was alone again.
Kalu’s stomach grumbled as he looked down at the food. It had a sickly green color and appeared to be several things mashed together for a meal. It had a smell that would have made him retch under any other circumstances. However, he would take anything now. He dove into the food and ignored its sour taste. It was better than the sprout and now he was ten times hungrier.
It took half a minute to get down to the last bite. He went to scoop it up and paused. Searching down the corridor, he spotted what he was looking for. He threw the last piece toward a tiny cubby at the base of the wall.
“Thanks for your help. Eat up.” he said as the little mouse came out and munched on the food.
Kalu smiled as the poor thing devoured its first meal in sometime. He looked into the cup he was given. It had a golden tint and a pleasant smell. He downed half of it in one gulp. It was an ale and a good one. He shot back the other half and felt a soothing sense come over him.
The combination of food and surprisingly good drink settled his head, stomach and the rest of his body. For the first time in a few days, he felt like himself. All the turmoil of everything that had happened since Athuan seemed to drop off his mind. The haze dampening his connection with the Force remained, but he felt better equipped to fight against it if the time came.
He walked around his cell and all his extremities felt less sore. Both legs lost their slight wobble and both arms were ready for anything. He pressed both hands against the bars and leaned in with all his weight. They held sturdy. He felt good, but was still no match for steel between him and freedom.
“Sir!” a beep rang out startling Kalu.
“Sir! Are you there?” Z’s sequence of beeps came from somewhere on Kalu’s person.
He padded and ran his hands up and down himself. Reaching into a tiny pocket on the inside of his pants, he found the commlink. He cursed himself for forgetting about it. After all that had happened, he figured the creatures would have taken it along with everything else. They must have missed it while searching him.
He clicked the commlink’s responder. “Z! I’m glad to hear your voice.”
“Where are you, sir? It has been twelve hours since you left. I have tried you on the commlink periodically for the past six.”
Kalu chuckled and shook his head. This place must have an effect on everything. “I don’t know exactly where.”
“What do you mean?”
“Soon after I left you a group of creatures, is the best way to put it, knocked me out and took me to their tower. I am in a cell with no windows, so I don’t know exactly where I am.”
Z did not respond immediately.
“I am confused as to how you let something overpower you.”
“It’s not easy to explain fully. There is some sort of haze that looms over this place. It dampens my connection to the Force and most likely kept your communication on the commlink from coming through.”
“I have risked damaging our satellite to amplify the commlink’s power to reach you now as well as use a frequency never used. It as if you are on the other side of the galaxy. That must be this haze you are referring to.”
Kalu nodded and wrapped the blanket around him as the cell grew colder.
“Do you have a timetable of when you might return?”
“It’s not that simple. I don’t have my lightsaber, my powers are dampened, and I am locked in a cell.”
“I see, sir. That is a grim situation.”
Kalu chuckled even though he didn’t find his predicament funny. “How is the ship?”
“It is in working order minus the parts we need.”
“There is plenty of steel here to use to make those parts if I can get you some.”
“There is nothing left for me to do with the ship. I am coming after you, so we can get off this planet.”
He shook his head. “No, Z. If you get caught then we are both doomed.”
“That is unlikely, sir. You can guide me to you and my defenses are not Force based.” He thought about this for a moment. Z’s artillery was formidable for a droid. He had proved himself several times before. “No. We can’t risk it.” Kalu sighed because the offer was tempting. “I get the feeling that there are a lot of those things around and a few others beasts I haven’t seen yet. Plus, I am working on a way out of here right now. If I can get out and bring you some steel, we can leave this place and never comeback.”
“I do not agree with this tactic. You are in a hostile situation and I was built for such intrusions. However, I will remain here with the commlink line open for your directions.”
“I think that is best, Z. Besides, it’s not like we are rushing to get somewhere. Anybody in the known Republic wants to arrest or kill me. Looks like the feeling is mutual here.”
“I find it odd that humans attempt humor during dark situations.”
“Well, that’s all I have right now. I will keep you informed as I make progress.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And Z, be careful out there. There is no telling what is scaling that mountainside at all times of day and night. Set up camp defenses and be alert.”
“I will, sir.”
The commlink went to low static as Z cutout. Kalu clicked its communicator switch off to conserve the battery. It could still receive incoming transmissions, but not send them in that mode.
He went to the corner and rewrapped himself in the blanket. Laying his head on the stone floor, he took in a deep breath.
“Maybe luck will be with us tomorrow.” he said as his eyes drifted lazily and closed.
Kalu threw Tressic aside and ran out of the archives library. Tears streamed down as he sprinted through the halls of the Jedi Temple, not bothering to move for anyone or stop if he knocked someone over. A power surged through him as sadness turned to a vengeful hatred. His hands turned to fists and their fingernails bit into his palms.
“Master Attracees, what’s wrong?” Master Gavo asked as Kalu ran past.
He didn’t stop to answer. There was only one person he could talk to at a time like this. He turned a corner and almost slipped. He plowed into the meditation chamber’s large iron doors, ignoring the pain from doing so. He stormed towards his former master.
“Master Zota!” he screamed, causing his former master to calmly open his eyes. “Do you know what has happened to Athuan?”
Zota’s eyes carefully looked over Kalu, studying him and taking in his former Padawan as he often did. His green brow furrowed and his lips pursed. “Know of this, I do.” Zota said in a grim tone.
Kalu trembled as tears started to come. He grabbed his shirt and twisted it as his heart throbbed with pain. “How could you not tell me?” His voice came out tattered. “I had to overhear that fool Tressic instead of finding out the right way.”
Zota sighed and closed his eyes. Opening them slowly he looked at Kalu. “I regret not telling you, Kalu. However, consumed you, fear and anger have.”
The ancient Jedi climbed off his seat. He settled an inch or two taller than three feet. Holding out an open hand, he drew his cane from its resting place to him. Waiving the other hand, Zota closed the chamber doors.
“Look at yourself now. You look a moment from murder or suicide.”
Kalu took a step back and released his shirt. His other hand was balled into a fist. They both trembled as he tried to extend his fingers. Breathing heavily, he realized how it must have looked when he attacked Tressic and barreled through the temple, knocking several people off their feet.
“I am sorry for my outburst.” he slowed his speech and eased its tone. “The news caught me off guard. I was not prepared for such a thing. There had been no reports of any fighting in that part of the galaxy.”
“Even so.” his former master countered. “You are a Jedi Master. Calm and tempered your reactions must be. Sever your old life, you must.”
Kalu’s breathing returned to normal and he felt his head level-set.
“You’re right, master. However, I cannot go on not knowing exactly what happened.”
Zota frowned. “You must. Move on, you must. Nothing you do know, nothing you figure out can change the past.”
“I realize this. But I fear I may not be able move on without doing so.”
“Then perhaps we made you a master too soon.”
Kalu’s diaphragm winced as the words drove in like a dagger. “How can you be so callous, master?”
“It is not callous. It is the oath you swore—that we all did. To leave your past behind. Only in this way is inner and outer peace attained.”
Kalu shook his head. “I have to find out the truth.” he said coldly as he turned to walk out.
“Kalu, a dark place this will take you, I fear. Stay here and allow grief to move through you – make you stronger it will.”
“Goodbye, master.” Kalu said as he pushed open the doors.
“Kalu, you will not find peace, only anger.” Zota said as he walked toward him. His cane pounded on the ground as he pursued. The sound grew louder and sounded metallic. Kalu covered his ears as he walked away. He turned his head back and his master was gone, but the clanging of his cane kept going. The room started to swirl around and drifted into darkness. The clanging remained. Kalu felt something hit him. He opened his eyes and felt something wet on his face. As his sight returned to normal, he realized he was back in the cell. The clanging sound came again and he turned toward it. One of the creatures banged his breakfast plate against the cell bars. Its scowl turned to a wicked grin.
“Food… Fool.” The beast said more words, but those were the only two Kalu could make out.
It slid his plate in and walked away, saying something indiscernible, but no doubt directed at him.
It was all a dream. Although it was a dream of an event that actually took place. Almost word for word and moment for moment it mimicked the conversation with his former master. The sting from Zota’s words, “Perhaps we made you a master too soon,” remained all this time.
Kalu unwrapped the blanket and retrieved the breakfast. It was more of the same from last night. At least they gave him another cup of ale to quench his thirst. It remained the only good thing about this place. He saved it for last to wash down the bitterness of the food mash. Before finishing the last bite, he tossed it toward the mouse’s hole. The little thing popped out quick to retrieve and scurried back in. Kalu smiled.
He shifted all his weight to his right leg, then the left—no pain. He pushed both arms, individually against the stone wall and they felt a tad tender. Overall, he felt almost full strength. Leaning against the front of his cell, he peaked down the corridor and saw two new guards at the only visible entrance—the raspy door. These ones didn’t look like the chatty type. They remained looking forward and hardly blinked. No chance for Kalu to brush up on his linguistics.
For the next five hours, by his count, he meditated, paced the cell over one hundred times, and focused on small pebbles and tried to move them with his mind—nothing more than small movements before the haze became too much. The power to move things and influence another’s mind required a great deal more power than learning a language. He remained patient and hopeful though.
Lunch came just after the sixth hour. More of the same, but Kalu had grown to appreciate it for its sustenance. He could see that the mouse had put on some weight and seemed to move a little quicker. After eating, he did more of the same; meditating first, pacing the cell to keep his body from atrophying and trying to move the pebbles. It had as much affect as earlier.
He repeated this schedule for the next three days to keep his sanity. Routine offered him something to look forward to, something to occupy his mind. The nights got bitterly cold. On the morning of the third day a small amount of frost had accumulated on his nose. Just after breakfast the temperature rose dramatically to the point, just before dinner was served, Kalu had to discard all robes but his undergarments or he would sweat through them.
Each night when the guards transitioned from daytime to nighttime, he would try to contact Z. Nothing got through though. He tried all channels and every single spot in his cell, but still nothing came through. It concerned him that Z had been found out. The ship wasn’t in the easiest spot to get to with a steep Cliffside behind and a spider guarded tunnel in front. Still the creatures here were foul and perhaps they had an arrangement of sorts with the arachnid and Kalu wouldn’t put it past them to scale the mountainside. He tried to remain positive and keep his mind on more productive errands – like learning how to cope with the haze or work around it.
Kalu tossed and turned on the stone floor trying to find a comfortable position. After four days of sleeping on the surface both sides of his body felt a little tender. He turned to his back and it felt about the same. A crack in the floor pinched his skin. The creek and rasp of the metal door opening caused him to go stiff. He peaked behind the blanket as two of the guards carried a man into the cell next to his. Kalu’s eyes widened at the sight of another human. He didn’t think anything else existed on this dark world. They flung the man down and he let out an exhaustive gasp as he crashed to the floor. Slamming the gate shut, the guards walked out of the steel door. Kalu heard the familiar sound of mechanical lock on the other side.
He rose up slightly to peak into the cell next to his. The man remained lying face down on the floor. His tattered clothes were covered with streaks of blood. The back of his shirt was hewn in several spots – looking like a crude whip caused them. He pushed himself up with wavering arms. His entire body shook.
“You cannot keep me here forever!” the man yelled. “I am knight of the one true king! One day you will meet your doom! You… and your master…” The man coughed as he let out the last words.
Kalu’s breathing halted. A rabble of excitement went through him. He understood every word the man said. It was the common language of the galaxy in a different dialect than he had ever heard and with a noble-like accent. His words were something one might hear on the Outer-Rim; a cross between Jacku and Tatooine dialects. Kalu had no idea how this was possible, but thanked the Force for this bit of luck.
He pulled himself up by the bars that separated the two cells. The man had pushed himself up to his knees. His head slung down, looking like he hadn’t slept in days.
“I did not drink all of my ale from dinner tonight if you would like some.” Kalu said to the man.
He turned toward him. The man had a well-trimmed beard, but it was filled with grime and blood. A myriad of bruises around his eyes made him look like he was squinting.
“Thank you, kind stranger.” the man said as he retrieved the mug and downed it in one gulp. “I guess I should call you neighbor now.” he let out a forced laugh at his own joke.
The man pushed himself to his feet and hobbled toward the back wall of the cell.
“What is your name, neighbor?” the man asked.
“Kalu. And yours?”
“Erathan, son of Omathan, knight of the king.”
Erathan leaned to stretch his back and let out a yelp as he went too far.
“How did they capture you, Erathan?”
“Alas, a number of my troupe and I were scouting the Greywood when we were ambushed. We fought them off for a while, but eventually all fell but me. I should be dead now. Either fate or fortune staved me from their swords. They beat me and dragged me to the tower. And you, Kalu?”
“They caught me near the slopes of the mountainside.”
Erathan shook his head. “Why were you in the dark realm? Were you planning a one man assault?”
“Let’s just say I had lost my way in the dark.”
“Well, I would feel great pity on you, however, since we are both in the same predicament.”
Kalu nodded and looked down at the bars.
“Do you know why they have brought us here?” Erathan asked.
“I have been here four days and haven’t been given an explanation. Although I am not from around these parts. Do you have a guess as to why we might be here?”
Erathan scoffed. “In this land, with this foe, anything could be possible. I wouldn’t disregard the prospect of torture for our host’s amusement.”
Kalu needed more definite answers and wanted to cut to the point to get some vital information – connecting the dots of what transpired here and in this world.
“Erathan, what I am about to ask may not sound sane, but I’m running short on time and need answers.”
Erathan gave him a quizzical look.
“What is this place?”
Erathan opened his mouth in a calm astonishment. “How in all this great world could you not know where you are right now?”
“Please, Erathan. It is a long story and honestly you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
The man shook his head, but then changed his look to one of acceptance of Kalu’s ignorance. “You are in the land of Mordor. The place that no one leaves alive.”
The name sounded as bad as the land felt. It was as grim as its morning and as dark as its inhabitants. Kalu felt an unease seep into his skin at the mention of it.
“Our current quarters reside in the Dark Tower, the Dungeons of Barad-Dur.”
“Those creatures… what are they?”
“They are the serpents of Mordor. Murderers. They are the foulness who keeps the darkness ever present in this world. The Orcs.” Erathan let out a disgusted grunt as he spit on the floor. “Too many to count that which I have slain in my day and that which has slain my fellows. They do the bidding of one. The Dark Lord, who seeks to cast the world into a second darkness.”
Kalu’s eyes pieced through the gloom and saw every crevice on Erthan’s face. An anger stirred in him which he had never felt. “Who is this Dark Lord?”
Erathan’s arms drew into his chest. His breathing became loud and labored. Either the dark played tricks or his eyes seemed to jut out of their sockets.
“His name is one I have never spoken. Not out of reverence… for every time it is said it causes grief to all those that hear.”
“Please. I must know.” Kalu persisted.
“He is the one that grows more powerful each day. One that embodies evil and everything foul. His is the hand that plunges into the filth to bring the horrors to the surface…”
Suddenly Erathan’s face looked old and withered, like he had only hours to live. “He is… the Dark Lord Sauron.”
The cold stone biting into Kalu’s skin woke him. He didn’t remember falling asleep. Somehow Erathan and he stopped talking, but he couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was said last. The last thing he remembered was the name—Sauron. It took time to process everything that was said. If the Dark Lord and his Orcs were half as bad as Erathan made them out to be, Kalu had no chance of staying alive if he remained in this cell, waiting for something to happen.
He rummaged through his hidden pocket and found it. Clicking the communicator switch on the commlink, he figured he had just minutes before breakfast and the daytime guards arrived.
“Z!” he said and waited for a response. “Are you there, Z?” A low line of static was the only thing that came through.
Kalu knew that the tower and this place affected their signal, so he wasn’t going to give up that easily. “Z, do you read me?” His finger tapped on the side of the commlink as he waited for anything. The static held constant without wavering. He gave it another minute or so to see if Z was trying to get through. Nothing came.
“Come in, Z.”
After another minute of silence he knew he didn’t have much time.
“Z, I don’t have much time here, so I hope you can hear me. It’s apparent my situation is far graver than I originally thought. I have to try something today or I don’t think I will ever get out of here alive. I know you and you will want to do something. Don’t do anything! I repeat, don’t do anything! Stay with the ship. If you leave and these creatures, these Orcs as they are called, find it, we will both be stranded.”
The familiar sound of the corridor door opening broke his focus.
“I have to go. Stay with the ship and wait for my transmission.” he said as he shoved the commlink in his hidden pocket and rolled into the blanket.
“Food… Fools.” The Orc said to Erathan and him as it slid both plates into their cells.
Kalu waited a few seconds before getting up to retrieve it in the off chance they had heard him scurrying around. Erathan had already grabbed his when Kalu threw the blankets off. The mouse was already poking its nose out of the hole in anticipation of the meal. Kalu tossed the first piece to the little one and turned to Erathan. The man looked like he would retch, starring down at the food.
“It’s not that bad.” Kalu remarked before scooping in a mouthful.
Erathan shot him a doubting look before he gingerly dipped a finger into the mash.
“You might try washing each bite down with ale if you are that worried about it.”
Erathan took the first bite and quickly shot down some drink to wash the taste out. With each bite, the man eased into a mild dissatisfaction. After the last of it, Erathan tossed the plate aside.
“Tell me, Kalu, how does one pass the time in this place?”
Kalu chuckled. “There is only so much one can do. I would try anything that will keep your mind occupied.”
“No books. No sword. No window with a view. Not that the grave sight of this dark land would be any comfort.”
Kalu nodded. He looked down the corridor and the two guards remained at their posts.
“Erathan…” he said as he motioned him to come closer.
“We need to get out of here.”
“How do you suppose we do that?” Erathan remarked with hint of disbelief.
“I may have a way. But I will need some time to myself.”
“What could you possibly have that could get us out of here? Do you have a knife or lock pick?”
Kalu shook his head. “No. I am a knight like you… Well, perhaps not exactly like you, but we have our tools and weapons just as you do. Give me time and I think I can do this.”
Erathan studied him for a second. “Time I will grant you.” the man said as he walked back to the opposite side of the cell.
Kalu sat down in the corner of his quarters and closed his eyes. Slowing his breathing down to a breath ever five seconds, he entered into his meditation. This time his aim wasn’t to clear his mind, but to focus on the haze that dulled his power. Why does it limit me? How can I overcome it or push through it? Those were the two questions he sought to answer.
He brought both hands together—fingertip to fingertip. A warmth enveloped his entire body as he delved into his mind and attempted to harness the full power of the Force. He felt the blood flow from the heart through his chest down his arms and up to his fingertips. The occasional murmurs of the orc guards, Erathan’s shuffling, and all other errant sound drowned out as he sunk into this connection. It was just him and the Force. He felt the energy of the mouse and Erathan – each had a pleasant sense. He felt the stone and the Orc’s as well, but they felt dark and bitter like a tyrant’s holiday.
Why does it limit me? How can I overcome it? How can I push through it? He thrust the questions into the ether of his mind and the Force. Reaching out with all feeling, he connected with the pebbles he had been trying to control for days. He went to move them as one and the haze barred down on him, causing him to choke. Releasing instantly, his breath came back. Focusing again, he went back to them. Ten in all, so simple a task anywhere but here. Kalu had moved blasters, control switches and even small droids. Why couldn’t he move these? What existed here that was different than anywhere else in the galaxy?
He moved away from the pebbles and let his mind wander in the darkness. The Force felt different here, but it still remained. Its power was palpable and laid in wait for Kalu to call upon it as usual. As he moved, it moved—like all other times. Something remained elusive, an enigma that offered no clues. He sat and waited with the Force like two masters trying to uncover a mystery.
Something popped into the blackness of his mind, like a newly hatched star in the distant space. It had a harmonious green hue unlike any star ever recorded. Then another popped, but this one was blue. Another came and then another. They continued to pop up until ten lights of all different colors aligned themselves in a circle. Each one’s glow throbbed one at a time, in sequence, starting at the top and going clockwise. Kalu watched as they repeated this for what seemed like hours.
A singular pulse emanated from the Force and it weighted down on his chest. He exhaled. As he did, a possible solution awoke in his psyche. I am like an infant in this land. Try to run and I will stumble. But take cautious steps, one at a time, and I will reach my destination.
He brought his attention back to the pebbles. Ten of them for ten fingers. Move them individually—one at a time. He focused all energy on his right index finger. The digit grew hot as all blood flow went to it. Raising it, he picked one of the pebbles—the smallest of the group. The Force flowed through him as he channeled all power outward. The pebble rose from the ground and swirled around. He had complete control of all its movements. Harnessing it into a sustainable movement, Kalu shifted his focus to his left index finger and picked out another pebble. He brought that one to the same motion as the first. One by one, he levitated each rock with a different finger until all ten moved in harmony.
A small amount of hope rose in him as one of the mysteries of this land was solved. He practiced and experimented for hours in the darkness. Gaining confidence, he opened his eyes and saw Erathan slack jawed starring at him as the pebbles danced around. A tiny smirk formed as Kalu drew them up higher. The creek of the door echoed down the corridor. He drew the pebbles down gently and stood up waiting for the guard to bring their meal.
The Orc went to slide the tray in as Kalu walked toward it. He raised his hand and thought of a single command. The orc lost its blank expression and exposed its fangs as it went for its dagger.
“Stop!” Kalu said in a calm voice as he waived his hand.
The guard’s face turned vacant and hand dropped to its side. The one command theory worked.
“How did you do that?” Erathan said with wide eyes.
Kalu shot up an open hand to silence him. Coming back to the orc, he had the next command ready. “Unlock!”
Without hesitating the guard unhooked the key ring, took the fourth one and unlocked the cell door.
“In!” Kalu commanded the orc into the cell.
He took its keyring and dagger as it stood almost catatonic.
“Gordash, what are you doing?” The other two guards yelled.
Kalu rushed into the corridor as they sprinted at him with daggers ready.
“Halt!” He yelled.
They skidded to a stop a foot from him. Their arms lowered and faces went vacant like the other one.
They complied immediately and stood right next to their comrade. Kalu pulled the cell door closed and locked it—the sound it made was more satisfying to him than music.
“Sleep!” they dropped down and were out in less than a second.
Kalu rushed to Erathan’s cell.
“Are you sure you’re not a wizard, rather than a knight?” Erathan asked shaking his head.
“I am a Jedi. I guess they would be a little of both where I come from.”
“How are we going to get out of here?”
“I think I have a way. I have to find something that will help us get out. It would be best for you to remain here for me to comeback. Who knows how many Orcs are guarding this tower.”
“Couldn’t you do what you just did to them?”
“Perhaps, but if we run into a pack of them, it might not work. My powers are dampened in this place and I don’t want to risk it.”
Erathan sighed and looked at the three guards sleeping in the next cell. “I think you’re right. Go find what you are looking for. Do me a favor and grab a sword—if you can.”
Kalu nodded. “If I can, I will.”
He handed Erathan the keys for safe keeping because he didn’t need something jingling whenever he moved. Running to the exit, he kicked his food plate to the mouse’s hole.
“Kalu… Good Luck.” Erathan yelled.
Kalu pushed down on the door lever. Poking his head out, he didn’t see anything. Slipping through, he shut the door and ran into a larger corridor. There were no cells, but above were a myriad of catwalks that went in all directions. They went up until darkness hid them. On each side of the corridor were alcoves, possible guard hiding spots. Kalu kept his distance from them and looked ahead before passing each one.
Reaching the end of the passage, a problem presented itself. There were three doors to choose from. All of them were the same color, size and shape—giving him nothing to differentiate them. An orc screech from above echoed throughout the tower. Kalu didn’t know if it was directed at him or not. He went to the door on the right and slowly opened it. It creaked as it turned on ancient hinges. Peering in, a stench slapped him across the face. He drew back as it reminded him of the smell of death.
Shutting the door, he went to the middle one. He opened it slowly. No smell, but an orc guard with its back turned, paced the opposite direction.
“Damn.” he said to himself.
He went to close the door when he realized that this could be a good thing. Swinging it open, it slammed against the stone wall. The Orc turned and snarled at him. It sprinted down the hall.
Kalu calmly waved his hand. “Armory!”
The guard halted and gave him a curious look. Kalu walked up until he was face to face with it.
The Orc’s face lost its ferocity. It turned and pointed down the hallway to a set of doors.
“Left… Follow to red doors… Weapon symbol.
“Armory?” Kalu asked.
The orc nodded slowly. Kalu smiled and pointed away from his new path. “Run!”
The guard sprinted through the open door. Kalu closed it behind him and headed toward the left door. He slid through as there were no Orcs in sight. This hall had no upper levels but was wide enough to fit twenty large men, shoulder to shoulder.
He ran round a bend along the outer wall to make sure he saw something before it saw him. It turned left then back right. His heavy breathing and footsteps were the only things echoing in the large passageway. For several minutes nothing but black doors and the occasional pillar. The torchlight grew dimmer as he continued. Where is that door?
Kalu rounded a wide bend that turned sharply at the end. There, gleaming in the only torches for a hundred feet, were the red double doors. He smiled and his shoulders relaxed. To the right were at least thirty openings that ended right at the armory. Kalu figured they must be channels for the orc ranks to file in and get equipped for battle. In the middle of the double doors was a symbol that looked like a T with and R on both sides.
He walked toward it. “Let’s hope these fools left it unlocked.”
He pushed down on the lever and it clicked. Smiling, he put his shoulder into one door. It weighed several hundred pounds at least. He grunted as he put all his weight and strength into it. Budging it just enough to get through, he pulled back on the inside lever so it wouldn’t slam shut.
It was a massive room filled end to end with weapons. All ancient ones that Kalu had only seen in books and indigenous tribes of certain systems. There were five rows in total that stretched over one seventy five yards. Some of the armaments like bows, arrows and spears were organized into compartments or slots. While the swords, shields, and armor were in heaping piles. It was dim inside, not enough light to properly search, but Kalu dared not make it brighter. He wanted to leave everything just as it was—except for his lightsaber.
All the rows had a little bit of everything and were not composed in any sort of order. He panned down each one in the off chance it had been set in plain view. It hadn’t. He closed his eyes and focused on the lightsaber. Come! Reaching an opened hand, he moved it from one side of the room to the other. No sound of it rattling through a pile of metal set on top of it or thud like it was bumping up against a compartment or door—nothing. He hoped it would telekinetically come to him, but he wasn’t surprised when it didn’t. Drawing his hand back across the rows, a slight sensation roused his fingertips.
He opened his eyes and walked down the row his hand had stopped—the third. As he headed down the sensation grew stronger. The stacks and compartments got bigger the further back. He came to the end and felt his old friend. It wasn’t with the swords where it should have been, but it was buried somewhere in a pile or broken or defective weapons. The patch of discarded armaments contained chipped swords, bent knives and several bows that looked like they weren’t capable of being taut enough to fire.
He knelt down and slowly ran an open palm across the pile. There it is! It lay out of sight but just below a cracked shield. He carefully moved the shield and laid it tilting up. His eyes widened as he saw his old friend. As soon as he grasped it, his heart fluttered. He gripped it hard enough to pierce his skin. Holding his breath, he laid a finger on the activation lever. “Here goes nothing.” he threw the switch and felt a surge, but it dropped off and nothing came out.
Not giving up, he turned it off and on again. This time no surge or anything came. He sighed as his hopes dropped. Shaking his head, he thought of poor Erathan sitting in the cell hoping for his return. I will not let him sit there while I feel sorry for myself.
He searched for a tiny dagger in the pile, about half the size of a normal one. Finding one that had a half of its blade removed, cut across like a forty five degree angle. This will work. He slid it into a tiny crevice between the outer and inner housing of the saber. Slamming his fist into the butt of the dagger, a hard metallic cracking sound snapped. He wrenched the outer housing off and set it aside. Twisting hard, he detached the inner housing from the inner components. Why aren’t you working? He inspected it from head to toe. The emitter matrix looked in good shape, so did the connectors from the blade energy channel and the cycling field energizers. Halting at the center, he looked closer at the Kyber Crystals. The primary one looked just like new and the focusing one still had its luminous blue color as well. Kalu shook his head as he moved down to the diatium power battery. It had no leaks, dents or cracks and was decades away from expiration.
Kalu thought to himself for a moment. Everything remained in good condition, but it didn’t work. He knew as much about lightsabers as any other Jedi Master. He spent months on the construction of this one after passing the trials. For a second he thought it could be the haze, but this was mechanical and should still work. Wait a second. He remembered there was one place he forgot to check. The lens. It relayed the positive energy from the battery through the crystals and focused it through the blade energy channel. That could prevent a light saber from igniting.
He raised the weapon up into the faint light to get the best look at the lens. A smile crept up as sure enough it was off-kilter by several centimeters. It wasn’t much, all things considered, but enough to prevent the light from passing through correctly. In his chambers back on Coruscant, he had the necessary tools to make such a precise adjustment, but here all he had was the broken dagger.
Something slammed into the door of the armory. Kalu jumped back and hid below the pile of broken weapons.
“Get off me or as soon as I get my sword, I’ll stick you!” an Orc yelled as he and four others came through the doors. Kalu’s comprehension of their language had grown since learning to focus his power.
He peered above the pile as the five of them walked down his row. The lead one inspected swords as it walked. It picked up one or two and then after looking at them for a minute, the creature put them down. Kalu ducked back down as he didn’t have much time. He ripped off a small piece of his shirt and put it on the edge of the dagger, so as to lessen the chance of damaging the lightsaber’s components. Placing it along the right edge of the lens, he had to move it carefully and not pop it off or crack it. He shifted his legs into a more comfortable position and knocked the broken shield. He reached out with his only free hand and just missed it. It clanged on the stone floor and echoed throughout the entire room. Kalu cursed under his breath.
The five Orcs eyes shot toward his direction. “Looks like we may have a rat loose in here.” the lead one said.
“I hope so because I’m hungry.” One of the others quipped.
All of them advanced on Kalu’s position. He ducked down below the pile and re-wrapped the cloth around the dagger. Placing it on the right edge of the lens again, he took a deep breath.
“I smell something different than rat. I think it’s bigger.” one of the Orcs yelled. Their footsteps grew louder and quicker.
Kalu edged the clothed dagger left. He felt the lens move as he tried to listen for any cracking noise. He inched it closer to center. It stopped suddenly with a metallic crunch and made a suctioning noise—the kind when something mechanical fits into its proper place. He exhaled.
“That’s man-flesh. There’s someone behind that last pile!” an orc yelled as they broke into a full sprint.
Kalu tossed the dagger aside and picked up the inner housing. He had to make sure it went on correctly or it could damage some of the mechanisms. Lining it up quickly he pushed down and it clamped together. One last piece.
“Get the fool!” they spotted him.
He lined up the outer housing and pushed down, but it didn’t clasp together. He pushed down again and it wouldn’t click shut. The Orcs knocked over a stanchion of bows and arrows just feet from him. He hollered as he slammed down. A satisfying crunch and a jolt of power emanated from the weapon. He threw the ignition lever just as the Orcs slammed into the pile. Light and sparks burst forth. The rhythmic hum of the lightsaber played like a symphony to a Jedi’s ears.
The Orcs jumped back with looks of terror. Kalu stood with the saber held out between them. His hands shook from the power surging through the hilt.
“What is this magic?” the lead orc gasped.
Kalu smiled as he lifted the saber up into a fighting stance. “Your demise.” he lashed forward and split the lead Orc’s stomach. Black blood curdled up and then cauterized in an instant. Kalu lunged forward and decapitated two of the others with a cunning stroke. The other two turned to run away. Anger boiled in Kalu at their defiance of a quick death. He leapt over the pair and landed in front of them. They recoiled as Kalu drew his saber back. He chopped both down with one slice each. Their screams only gave Kalu strength. Time to get Erathan and break out of here.
He left the weapon running as he strode out of the armory, not bothering to look if there were any Orcs. With his lightsaber, he didn’t fear anything. He sprinted back the way to the triple doors and the orc that showed him where the armory was. Slicing through the door, he kicked the bottom section away and walked under it. The lone orc remained there and stared at his saber and its glow. Kalu pursued it. The beast turned to run, but Kalu was on top of him before it took its third step. He plunged his weapon through its chest sending a scream and its lungs out into the open. With each kill more and more rage seethed inside him. How dare these urchins run from me! Accept death from your superior.
He sliced through the next door and entered the corridor that opened all the way to the top of the tower. A cacophony of screeches belted out as he ran through with his weapon lit.
“Intruder! Intruder! Get him!” a myriad of Orcs screamed.
A pack of around twenty beasts came from a hidden passageway in front of Kalu. They moved into five ranks of four. He loved and hated their arrogance to challenge him. Who will be first? He picked out the one in the middle of their pathetic little band. Running at them, he slid under the first two ranks swinging swords and stopped at the third one. He rammed his saber through the gut of the middle orc and drove ahead into the Orcs in the last two ranks. Pulling the weapon out, he let them drop in unison.
The wind from a swinging sword fluttered his hair. His muscles hardened like steel. His blood boiled and breathing heaved in and out like a rancor’s. He turned in the direction of the pithy attempt on his life. All the Orcs trembled as they backed away.
Kalu’s teeth gnashed as every muscle in his face twitched. “You dare take a swing at me!” He hollered, causing the Orcs to jump back. “I have killed greater! Slain bigger! And ravaged more than you have in this entire tower!”
Kalu brought both hands to the saber and reared it back into the most powerful Jedi fighting stance. “I am the great Kalu Attracees! Born of Athuan! Strongest of all planets!” He strode toward the cowering pack of Orcs as more and more of the beasts came from every corridor to stop the intruder. “The youngest master! The race destroyer! The most wanted man in the galaxy! And I will kill every one of you like the scourge you are!”
All thought vanished from his mind as he unleashed every ounce of strength. He sliced through the Orcs as if they were parchment. He jammed his saber through them just to see them bleed. The sight and smell of it fueled his vengeance. He raised his hand and used the Force to lift ten Orcs into the air. They squealed as he used his power to crush them. He tossed their bodies into another pack joining the fight. Swing after swing took down multiple enemies at once. The sound of their bones crackling on the stone floor provided the perfect chorus to their screams.
A barrage of arrows from a higher bridge came raining down. Kalu sneered as he raised a hand and halted them in midair. With a flick of his fingers he sent them back, impaling the Orcs that shot them. He sloshed through the dozens of disfigured bodies lying on the ground to get to the next ranks. They took a trembling step back and some of them dropped their weapons. Kalu let out a primal bellow as he sliced through the first rank in seconds. He grabbed one of their swords and killed with both hands. Both blood and screech spouted into the air. Orcs used other Orcs as shields. They pushed one another in front to take what they thought was the brunt of his wrath. Theirs came seconds later though. Kalu looked up and saw hundreds more scurrying down the corridors, stairs and bridges to get to him.
Kalu smiled at the future victims. “Come to your death!” he hollared as he split two Orcs open. “Come be a part of the legend that is the Kalu Atracees Massacre! Be a part of history for I am the greatest of the Jedi!” He burst out as he went to decapitate a pair of the beasts.
He jolted left as something blunt knocked his head. The world seemed to turn as his vision went in and out. He jammed the sword into the floor to get it to stop and regain his footing. He went to leap up when he got knocked back again and everything went black.
Kalu shook awake as the cold gripped his skin and bones. His vision swished from side to side as he tried to see anything. The pitch black of wherever he was prevented that. Relief and depression settled within him as he was glad and surprised to be alive, but also the fact that he still remained in this place brought him down. He pressed his hand against the floor and felt the cold gritty stone like his cell. All sides of his head throbbed from whatever had struck it.
“Erathan, are you there?” his voice echoed in the darkness. “Erathan, please.”
He was greeted only by his own voice echoing through the pitch dark chamber. Shivering, he ran his hands along the floor trying to find the blanket he had before. The grit chaffed his skin as he searched. Pebbles, dust, and a film, a lot like dried blood, was all he felt. Giving up, he gently pushed off the ground and stopped in a crouch as his equilibrium sloshed like the tide. He massaged his temples and took several deep breaths trying to regain his composure. Standing up, his legs wobbled just before locking. He reached out, trying to feel for the cell bars. Taking two steps forward, his palm corralled one.
“Erathan, wake up.” he took one last deep breath and his head settled to a somewhat comfortable level. “Give me some sign you are still here.” “Erathan is not with you.” Kalu jumped back as a deep harrowing voice came from somewhere in front of him.
He panned around, trying to see who said that, but his vision could not pierce the darkness.
“Who is that?” he asked.
Whomever it was breathed like wind blowing through a cave. It didn’t have the snarl or wheezing like an orc. Kalu felt a slather of freezing sweat slide down his spine.
“I am all in this realm.” The voice encompassed the entire corridor without raising above a normal speaking voice.
Kalu backed up from the front of the cage to give him some distance from wherever this being was. He thought carefully about his next words. However, there wasn’t much to ask but one question.
“Why didn’t you kill me?” he asked assuming this might be the thing that knocked him out.
“I would rather use you.” The voice had a sharp tone to it.
“Use me for what?”
“You will see.” a deep and grim chuckle came from the being.
Kalu’s fist balled as this angered him. “I am tired of being here and being your prisoner. Give me death or set me free.”
“YOU DO NOT GIVE ORDERS TO ME!” The eruption of anger caused Kalu to stagger back.
His breaths became short and fast. The first conversation he and Erathan came to mind. He gasped as another puzzle piece fell into place.
“You’re Sauron, aren’t you?”
“I’ve had many names.” Sauron responded after a moment.
Kalu chortled softly. “Erathan warned me about you.”
“Did he now?”
Kalu nodded. “Yes. He said you are the one that keeps the darkness of this world ever present. That you are a murderer.”
“I guess we have one thing in common then.”
Kalu snorted and shook his head. “I didn’t murder your sycophants. They were holding me prisoner and came after me. They could have let me go.”
“Not them… before you came here.”
The room felt colder as Sauron’s word blew through Kalu. He trembled for the first time since being here. “How…” he trailed off as his brain and mouth seemed to disagree what his next question proposed. “How do you know anything about me?”
“I know many things. I see all in these lands and all beings within them. For I am older than ancient and was there for the beginning.”
Nervous sweat drizzled down Kalu’s forehead as once again he had underestimated this place and its inhabitants. “Then you must know what I am capable of. What I can do to anyone who tries to subjugate me.”
“That is what I want from you.”
“Don’t you fear me?” Kalu asked.
“Your power is muted here.”
“I took down hundreds of your guards and did things that none of them had ever seen. I have figured out the riddle of this place that tempered my powers.”
“It was your rage that did that.”
Kalu went to respond, but halted. Thinking to himself, he knew that Sauron might be right. He had no time to realize what he was doing, but his rage had unlocked his power during the massacre.
“So, it might have. It doesn’t matter. It was still me… I can call upon that rage whenever I need it.”
Sauron chuckled the way that was meant to be insulting. Like a father laughing at a son’s challenge to his superiority. “Rage is not something one like you can call. Rage has a will of its own. It comes when it wishes and can betray you if relied upon… Anger though. Anger is your slave. It will stay with you in all moments and help you in all moments. However, it lacks the potency of rage.”
Kalu sneered into the darkness. Sauron’s words reminded him of his former master’s. Although Zota would never teach him to rely on rage or anger, but it was the manner in which he deduced power and his knowledge of feeling. This was not the first time that rage had helped him. As a Jedi, he should never use it – a lot of things had changed though.
“I need your anger, your hatred and your rage.”
Kalu shook his head and clenched his teeth. “You are not getting anything from me!” he yelled at Sauron.
A tremor rolled underneath Kalu’s feet. He backed up, not knowing how far to the back wall. A pair of orange eyes, wreathed in flame, pierced the darkness. They got bigger as the tremors grew as well. His hands felt the cold stone of the back wall as he pressed against. He covered his ears as a wrenching metallic sound came from mere feet away from him. Something, like his cage door, slammed in the darkness of the corridor. The eyes beamed at him a few paces away.
“I will take everything from you.” Sauron’s voice reverberated through Kalu’s chest.
A door slammed open and a host of orc guards ran in with lit torches. Kalu’s eyes widened and mouth dropped as he saw Sauron for the first time. He stood two heads taller, covered in dark armor that hid every part of his body—except his fiery eyes. Protrusions like daggers stuck out from his shoulders and helmet. They alone could gut any man.
“Take him to the rack.” Sauron ordered.
Four Orcs pinned Kalu against the wall as another one put a hood over his head, leaving him in complete darkness again. His feet scuffed the ground as they dragged him out. They wound him around a labyrinth of passages. Sweat poured out of him. He wasn’t nervous, but the rooms got hotter as they continued. A couple of the Orcs scuffled and he heard what sounded like a massive door swing open. A tidal wave of heat plowed into him. It hurt to breath as the air stung his lungs.
The hood was yanked off and the orange light nearly blinded him. They had taken him into some sort of chasm. It was all rock, like the inside of a mountain. He felt fire and heard eruptions of something below a drop off some fifty feet away. The wind shot out of him as they slammed him on a flat wooden plank. They locked all four of his appendages with black iron cuffs. One of the Orcs turned a large wheel connected to a pulley and the plank rose up. It jarred to a stop and Kalu’s body drooped down as he was tilted forward at least ten feet off the ground. Directly beneath him were four crudely carved channels that looked like they were for transferring some kind of liquid. They ran along a raised rocky buildup. They were perfectly straight and went for about thirty feet until they looped around and met in a small collection pool of sorts.
“What are you doing to me?” Kalu hollered as he tried to break free of the restraints.
No one answered as they continued to move a myriad of objects in from the door they just came from. Sauron lowered himself into a throne that was carved into the rock. He lay just beyond the collection pool and directly in front of Kalu.
“Sauron!” he yelled. “Where am I? What is this place?”
Sauron made a sweeping motion with one hand. “You are in the bowels of the Mountain of Doom.”
“Why have you brought me here?”
“No more questions!” Sauron raised his voice and it caused Kalu to turn away. “You are here because you might be of some use to me.”
Kalu’s body started to shake uncontrollably and sweat came trickling into his eyes. Taking a deep breath he tried to settle himself. Regain your composure. You are a Jedi and can survive anything they do.
Sauron motioned with one finger to his guards. “Proceed.”
Four of the Orcs, carrying long wooden poles, walked up to Kalu. Two positioned on each side of him. The ones closest could reach out and touch him. The other two on each side were back a couple feet and were adjacent to their counterparts. They also had longer poles than the other two. Do not let them break you.
Without hesitation the closest Orcs swung and collided with each of his shins. A crack from the bones or the poles echoed in the chasm. Kalu’s entire body flared up as lightning bolts of pain shot through. No sound came from him, but his breathing heaved in and out. Again they struck his shins, landing on the exact same spots. His head jerked left as he quelled a wail. Before turning back, he heaved as his inner elbows were struck by the other two Orcs. A paralyzing numbness tore through both arms. It quickly dispersed and gave way to a hollow pain. They rapped his inner elbows in the same spot. Their precision was surgical. Kalu bit into his lip, causing it to bleed. Blood dripped from both arms and legs and collected in the canal.
“Harder!” Sauron commanded.
Kalu almost screamed, “No,” but caught himself. All four struck their same spots. Pain from all corners ripped through him, colliding in his gut. He winced and whimpered inside himself, almost letting it burst from his lips. They repeated five more times, each one was a new sensation of agony.
The Orcs stopped. Each one of them breathed heavily. They went back and laid down the blood smeared poles and rustled through something out of Kalu’s sight. It hurt to breath as his limbs could not support him as well in their weakened state. All his weight rested on his chest and stomach. He inspected all four of his wounds. They were mashed and purple with blood dripping from all of them into the canal. From what he could tell, the bones were still intact and did not feel broken, but might have chipped. Just looking at them made it hurt more. He turned away and let his head hang down to save energy. A fair amount of his blood had collected in the canal. It mixed with what looked like a lot of dried blood and other things that Kalu didn’t want to take a guess at. A steady stream of it had made its way to the collection pool. Why is he doing this? What purpose does it serve to collect my blood?
“Torturing me…” He winced as speaking hurt. “Torturing me will gain you nothing but the satisfaction of my suffering.” He was able to finish.
Sauron did not move or look up at him. “There is more to your suffering than the satisfaction.” The Dark Lord said dryly. “We’ll just see if you are strong enough to realize this.”
Kalu spit blood. “I hope my body breaks before your will is come to bare.”
Sauron chuckled. “Eventually all comes to me.”
The Orcs returned with what looked like a crank. It was old and soot colored. Kalu turned his head toward a whipping sound and tinge of pain shot down his neck. A massive pair of grey creatures lumbered through an opening on the other end of the chasm. A pack of Orcs lashed their whips to get the creatures to move in Kalu’s direction. The leviathans were at least ten times bigger than the Orcs and didn’t have much resemblance.
“Get moving you, bloody Cave Trolls!” the lead Orc yelled at them.
They let out a deep bellow that was amplified in the cavern. A ratcheting sound came from below Kalu. The four Orcs had inserted the crank into something directly below him. One of them wound it slowly. Kalu flinched as top and bottom sections of the plank, he was on, started to separate from the main piece. His hands moved up with one and his feet moved down with the other, but his torso remained fixed to the middle section. It halted with his body fully stretched. He went to adjust and noticed he now had some movement with his arms and legs. They were still locked but he could oscillate from side to side. This new position put more pressure on him to keep from seeping down.
“Get into position!” the lead orc commanded the trolls as they stopped, facing opposite directions.
The others put a harness on each of the massive beasts. A pair of ropes was attached to each of their backs. Were the ropes ended Kalu couldn’t see, but they disappeared under the apparatus he was attached to. Oh no! Kalu braced himself as he knew what was coming next.
“Forward!” the Orc yelled and the Trolls took four steps each.
The ropes snapped taught after two steps and strained by the forth. Kalu’s arms and legs wrenched in opposite directions. He screamed as his body was being pulled apart. Both shoulders popped out of their sockets and caused Kalu to choke on his own bile. Pain erupted like a thunder throughout his body, but most of it concentrated on his four wounds. It felt like metal spikes driving into each of their openings. Kalu bit down so hard he heard a tooth crack. He thought his eyes might pop out as the beasts went to take a step forward.
“Halt! You ignorant waifs!” The lead Orc saved Kalu unintentionally.
Blood streamed down his arms and dropped into the canal after passing the shoulders. He could hear the grinding of his muscles and tendons trying to fight back against the separating. At any second he feared all four appendages would split at their wounds. Guttural noises came out of him without his consent. White flashes popped in his vision every time he drew a breath. His eyelids batted like a bat’s wings.
“Rouse him! Do not let him lose consciousness.” Sauron commanded.
Kalu hollered and his side winced as one of the Orc’s jammed a spear into it. His eyes stopped flashing as he felt something mix in his blood stream. That wasn’t just a spearhead to the side – it was coated with something. His torso shook as a faint amount of adrenaline moved through it. He looked up at Sauron. The Dark Lord learned forward in his rocky throne with both hands clenching the armrests.
“What…” Kalu’s voice strained and cracked. “What do you want from me?” He wailed through the pain.
Sauron leaned back in his chair and put his hands together. “You are giving me what I want.”
Kalu fought back with everything he had as they stretched him for what seemed like hours, but was merely minutes. He focused on one thing to keep his mind and body from collapsing. This was a skill that he was taught as a Jedi to focus and overcome any situation. The one thing he clung to endure the greatest pain he had ever felt was —survive.
Sauron raised an open hand and the lead orc whipped both the trolls.
“Back up!” he yelled.
They walked back carefully until they were inches apart. Kalu’s arms dropped and couldn’t support him as his chest drooped down. This caused his ankles and wrists to grind into the restraints, but he didn’t care. That pain was a relief compared to being stretched.
The pack of Orcs lead the trolls out the same opening they had come in. It was back to Kalu, the four guards and the Dark Lord. Tears drizzled down Kalu’s cheeks and dropped into the canal below along with the thinning streams of blood from his wounds. He dared not look at them, for if they looked like they felt, they were surely mangled beyond use.
Sauron pushed up on the arms of his throne and walked toward Kalu. The four Orcs averted their eyes as they walked around the Dark Lord and into a fissure. Kalu’s body involuntarily winced like a needle was poking it in different spots each second.
Sauron stopped just beside Kalu. He stood almost eye to eye with him even though Kalu was hanging several feet off the ground.
“I am proud of you, Kalu.” he said with as much disdain as reverence.
Kalu tried to muster a response, but couldn’t.
“You have come further than most. That is why you were chosen.” Sauron said as he ran the back of his hand across Kalu’s face. He didn’t even have the strength to be repulsed.
“You are strong. You will fulfill your destiny for me.”
Kalu looked him in his fiery eyes. He mouthed the word, what, but nothing came out. He tried repeatedly, but it was no use. Sauron had taken his strength and his voice. The tears and sweat turned freezing as Kalu wondered what he would take next.
The four Orcs came through the fissure, each holding small buckets of something Kalu could not make out. Sauron returned to his throne. Kalu trembled as the Orcs got close to him. They dropped their buckets, which created a sloshing noise when they hit the ground. Kalu tensed and drew back as the smell hit him. It was a reek that he could never forget. Looking into the buckets, his fears were confirmed. They were all filled with the vile sprout he ate after coming down the mountain. Each one was soaking in water.
“Nnnnnnn…” he couldn’t make the word out as his teeth chattered uncontrollably. “Nnnnnnnno. No… no more. Plllllle. Please… no more.”
The Orcs turned back to Sauron. The Dark One simply nodded. All of them scooped up a heaping portion of the sprout and brought it toward him. Kalu clenched his jaw shut and reared his mouth away from their reach.
He felt a smooth sensation on his four wounds. A coolness traveled through them. He turned down and the Orcs were smearing the sprout on each one. The coolness felt good. He relaxed as it worked its way through his entire body. It peaked and turned to subtle warmth. It grew warmer – and warmer. Kalu breathed rapidly as his fear took over. He knew it couldn’t be something good.
An internal fire burst inside him. He screamed through clenched teeth. It seared his body from the inside. It traveled back to his four wounds. The burning exploded to a new level of pain when it halted on them. A guttural screech thrust Kalu’s mouth open, causing the Orcs to cover their ears. The blood that poured out the wounds had turned purple. A thick mucus-like puss drizzled along with it. All of it collected in the canal.
Kalu’s body convulsed as shockwaves of pain ignited in their own rhythm. With each pulse it felt like hands were tugging and squeezing his veins from the inside, trying to empty them. His breathing wheezed as his body seemed to shrivel up. The more the muscles and involuntary defenses in his body fought, the torture multiplied. A sludge of bile crept up from his stomach. It felt too big to come up. It halted in middle of his chest. He went to take a breath in and no air came in. He panicked and gasped rapidly for anything. His eyes bulged and a pressure compressed around his head. The sludge shot up and he retched it down into the canal. His mouth took in all the air his lungs could handle.
The fire inside him died down in a matter of seconds. His head slung down and eyes drifted wearily. Both his arms and legs felt like they were detached and then put back on. He could hear the four Orcs picking up the buckets and carrying them off. The din of their cackles echoed in the chasm.
“You are not the first to endure.” Kalu was startled as Sauron spoke, for he didn’t realize the Dark Lord was right next to him.
“There have been thousands to spill their blood here. However…” He paused. “You are the first to survive all three.” Sauron chuckled softly. “It is not just strength of body that carries one through. Yet strength of will. The will to endure… I knew you were special. Tomorrow it will be revealed just how special you are.”
The Dark Lord turned away as the Orcs returned and lowered the plank to its original spot. They unlocked Kalu and carried his slumping body out of the chasm. He drifted in and out as they passed through a multitude of rocky corridors. It seemed like only a minute had gone by when he raised his head to see one of the guards opening a cell. They laid him down inside and the last thing he heard was the crunch of the lock.
Kalu drifted back awake to the sound of metal clanging. He turned his neck, which seemed to be the only place he didn’t have extreme pain, and saw an oafish looking Orc banging his lightsaber against the cell bars.
“Wakey, wakey, great Attracees. Time for supper.” It mocked him.
Kalu scowled at the insult and disrespect to the most advanced weapon that buffoon would ever be lucky to handle. His arms shook as he went to push himself up. Pain greeted him as he tried to straighten them. He stopped and crawled over to the cell door. The orc kicked his plate through the open slot. Kalu tried to sit up to and grab his saber using the Force or by actually grasping it, but his stomach was too weak to allow it.
The orc snickered as it saw him struggle. “Not so strong now are we?” it said as it walked away, hitting the saber on each bar on its way out of the only door.
Kalu stuffed his mouth with the same mush as all his meals. He chewed slowly and tried to focus on the food and ignore the tenderness of every muscle in his body. After a few minutes he was able to finish the small portion. Looking right toward the exit door, he spotted something shiny. He thought to ignore it, for whatever it was might be more pain than its worth. It didn’t take much for his curiosity to get the best of him.
He crawled carefully over to the corner of his cell. His shins and elbows felt like they might detach. He put all weight on his hands and knees. When he got close, he knew exactly what it was. A piece of the Kyber Crystal from his lightsaber had broken off while the guard hammered it on the bars. He reached out a trembling hand and picked it up. Enclosing it in a fist, tears came to his eyes as he remembered his old life. With death inevitable, all he had was his memories.
He went to put it back in his pocket and he remembered something else of his old life – his commlink. Reaching slowly into his secret pocket, the unit felt like it was still intact. He secured the crystal first and pulled out his commlink and flipped the communicator switch. The low buzz of static came through. A small smile formed.
“Z!” His voice felt and sounded like he hadn’t used it in months. “Come in, Z.”
A high pitch of interference came through, then the static buzz.
“Z, are you out there?”
Nothing came as he waited a minute for a response. More tears started to form.
“Z. Please. Let me know that you can hear me.”
His hopes sunk as low as he felt when after a waiting minutes, nothing came from Z. The tears dripped down his cheeks. A hollowness encompassed him.
“Z…” the thought of what he would say next choked his words. “I can’t hear you if you are trying to respond. I don’t think I am going to make it out of here. These… things are pure evil. This place is pure evil. Their intentions are not clear, but I think they intend for me to die.” he closed his eyes and forced back the tears. “I hope that you are still out there and that no one has stumbled upon you. If that is so, you need to leave this place… Without me.” he sighed and turned away. “You can’t let them get you too… You are my only friend and you do not need to die too. Leave this place and never come back.”
He dropped the commlink and closed his eyes. Visions of his mother, father, Master Zota, his home world and all manner of positive memories came into his mind. For the first time in days, he felt something pleasant. He replayed every memory until his body gave in and drifted into sleep.
Kalu was awake for a few minutes before the four orc guards opened his cell door. They yammered to themselves and chuckled as they walked in.
“On your feet, maggot.” one of them ordered.
Kalu could not use his arms to turn his body over. The night sleep had not healed them nearly enough to attempt something like that. Instead he had to use his hips to rock back and forth. Gaining enough momentum, he flipped over and his spine cracked. He grimaced and held back a wail as the pain radiated across his entire upper body. Both shins felt brittle, as if he put too much weight on them they might snap. Not willing to risk it, he crawled slowly toward the Orcs. All of them wore a sordid smile, but only one of them held some food. It tossed the plate and it slid into Kalu. He stuffed a fistful into his mouth.
“Haven’t you got anything to wash it down with?” he asked them.
“Why you filthy little rat! I ought to beat you for that!” The biggest of the four yelled and walked toward Kalu.
The other three grabbed him before he could do anything.
“The Dark Lord needs him as strong as possible.” the smallest Orc said.
The big one lamented, but glared at Kalu. One of the other three walked around the corner and came back with a goblet full of ale. Kalu raised two trembling hands and cupped it. He moved the goblet up to his mouth slowly as to not spill it. The brew felt good going down and flushed any remnants of the mush in his mount into his stomach.
Two of the Orcs threw Kalu’s arms over their shoulders and carried him to the chasm. As he passed through the final opening, the heat from the magma below warmed his body. It eased some of the tenderness in his muscles. However, it had no effect on his four gapping wounds. The guards raised him up, each taking and an appendage and dropped him on the rack. Kalu grimaced and forced back a yelp.
“Take care with him, you fools!” Sauron commanded as he came around an alcove along the cliff above the magma.
The four guards looked away and made similar submissive motions. “A thousand apologies, oh great one.” one said averting his eyes.
They slowly and delicately locked Kalu down to the plank. Kalu sighed, but held a vacant expression.
“Most men would have taken their lives after a day like yesterday. As well as the thought today compiling their grief.” Sauron said as he walked toward Kalu.
“I am not most men.” Kalu responded immediately as they raised him above the canal.
“That you are not.” Sauron said contemplatively. “We will see how different you are in a little while.”
Kalu closed his eyes and tried to focus his mind on something far off. He longed to escape physically, but with his body so badly beat, it was impossible. The alternative was to escape mentally. After his admission over the commlink last night, he felt he had more control now. The fear of death was dampened by him actually saying that he would die here. Threatening his mortality had lost some of its bite. Truthfully, he wished to live; to go back to the universe in which he was more powerful than but a handful. This place though, this Mordor, had a will that was set against him and the Jedi alike. When he and Z landed here it was the closing of the tomb—today, he knew, would be the shoveling of the dirt.
He opened his eyes and stared into Sauron’s. “Do what you have to.”
“You have turned callous in such a short amount of time. Is death such a trivial matter in your culture?” Sauron asked, seeming genuinely interested.
Kalu shook his head. “We Jedi accept death as a natural part of life. My body will endure to the point it can no longer… Then I will pass and become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Sauron chuckled. “A man like you is not destroyed through physical devastation… he is crippled from within.” The Dark Lord’s eyes flared after he spoke.
Kalu felt an invisible force grip his mind. Sauron’s eyes burned and made Kalu squint. He tried to fight back, but he had no strength.
“Give me your pain! Give me your rage! Give me your soul!” Sauron’s voice made the mountain tremble. Kalu’s strength gave and his eyes shut. He felt himself traveling back to the recesses of his mind and back to the day that set this all in motion.
There he was in Athuan, his home planet. The cold wind wisped through his hair. He couldn’t breathe as he saw the smoke rise from the once magnificent capital of Jaem. It was known throughout the galaxy as the jewel of the Inner Rim. All its structures, built over five thousand years ago, were still studied as modern marvels of architecture. A mineral, only found, deep in the core of their mountains was used to construct them. Not mud, not tile, not glass, not metal, but Cavrm, the most versatile mineral in the universe was used. It could be ground by simply using water and used to make any shape the crafter intended. Once it dried, it was harder than steel and yet would not would not break or brittle like cement from age or weather. Once the sun hit it after it settled, it turned to a pearl white that never lost its luster and never had to be cleaned. Its cost was substantial to the other systems that purchased it.
Kalu staved his emotions and commanded Z to check for survivors while he headed toward the palace. His parents lived there. As his father was the Chief Advisor to the king. He carefully navigated the rubble, minding not to step on single corpse. He saw hundreds, but held strung as he continued on. The natural Athuan instinct in him wanted to bury each of them in Savra Tundra, which was tradition. It would take him years to accomplish this. His anger outweighed his grief and was the only thing keeping him going. With every carcass his pain and guilt increased, which forced him to think of the faceless villains who murdered his people. That thought and his Jedi training were the only things keeping him going.
The palace could fit a hundred Jedi Temples in it. The entire structure was suspended in air. Its only link to the ground was the Steps of Ataru, which bore the entire weight. Even after the bombing, they remained standing. The palace, however, was not so fortunate. Its pillars were dilapidated, half of its roof collapsed and not a sound could be heard.
He sprinted up the steps and burst through the decrepit doors. Thin layers of blood coated large patches of the hall. His feet stuck with every step. He broke into the throne room and scanned for his mother and father. The back support of the King’s Chair had blown off and just the seat remained. Most of the roof had collapsed, letting in the pale sunlight. He carefully stepped around the rubble and the bodies of his slain countrymen. Hundreds lay dead. Some of their corpses were completely exposed and others only their parts of their bodies could be seen from under the debris.
The clouds passed from in front of the sun and a glint of purple caught his eye. His heart stopped. The color was all too familiar. He had seen its sheen since he was a child. It came from his mother’s favorite gown.
Kalu sprinted as fast and careful as he could toward it. His legs gave out and dropped to her. “Mother!” He cradled her face. “Mother, please wake up!”
Her eyelids inched up. A weak smile formed as she realized who had woke her. Kalu held one of her hands and raised her up so her back rested against a table leg.
“Mom.” His body trembled and tears beckoned. “Are you injured badly? Do you think you can recover?” He looked down and the side of her gown discolored from what he assumed was her blood.
She looked into his eyes. “I will live, my Son.” she said softly.
Kalu kissed her forehead and squeezed her hand tightly. “Where’s Father?”
Her soft smile turned to a look only a mother could give when trying to spare her child pain. She turned her head left toward a pile of debris. Kalu instantly saw the fate of his father. A strong hand, cloaked in blood with the family ring adorning it, was the only thing visible. The rest was covered by rock, cavrm and the wreckage’s dust. His father would not want him to shed a tear for his death. He would have wanted him to be solemn, realize that his time had come, take the ring that had been in their family for a millennia and carry on their legacy. Kalu reached out, almost hesitating, and eased it off his father’s finger. He slid it on his own and felt the full weight of his father and the generations before.
“Mother, I have to get you out of here to.” he stopped short as he turned and saw his mother’s eyes closed. Reaching out to wake her, he held. The look of life had vanished. Her body was an empty vessel—devoid of the warmth, viragos, and compassion that comprised her essence.
Kalu pulled her cold body into his. Tears flushed without his protest. A gentle pain arose from the depths of him and settled on his heart.
“I stay strong for Father… I weep for you, Mother… You will be avenged.”
“Enough!” Sauron’s voice spoke only in Kalu’s mind and shot him back to bowers of Mount Doom.
“I have your pain now. Give me your rage!” Sauron commanded. Kalu’s mind tore back into its recesses—back to his crime.
The sweltering heat of the desert that is all of Tatooine bore down on him and Z as they walked along the outskirts of its capital Mos Enis. An eastern wind blew trace amounts of sand. Kalu wore cover around his entire face to keep it out. They stopped just below a large bank that hid them from any guard or citizen that might look their way.
“Are you sure that this is who carried out the attack?” Kalu asked Z.
“Without question, sir. From the limited amount I recovered from Athuan surveillance. All insignia of the enemy fighters bore the mark of the Tatooine royal family.”
Kalu shook his head. “It just doesn’t make any sense. A planet in the outer-rim possessing technology capable of destroying a city built of cavrm and catching our army off guard.” the words stung as he said them. The past days since leaving his home planet had his mind reeling in disbelief.
“I do not deny there were other forces and possibly systems at work with the Tatooinens. However, part of this does make sense when analyzed. Because of their location on the outer-rim they have limited exposure to the Republic and the risk of being caught is lowered significantly. Also, their quest to become more vital to the galaxy would need a source to build wealth—hence the bombing of Atuan to capture the cavrm mines.”
Kalu’s neck corded and his fists shook. Z’s deduction sounded nasty and devious—however very likely with all things considered. He felt his face turn red as he looked at his friend.
“Where did this come from? When did a peaceful outer-rim planet turn to such evil? Kalu fumed.
“Researching Jedi databanks in route here, I discovered that there are a mass of small time gangsters that have operated in collusion with the royal family in the past. Nothing this large or devastating, but they have relied upon their services for minor trade deals before. However, these gangster families are so small and scattered that it is almost impossible to confirm this.”
“Any of these families large enough for the Republic to take notice?”
“No. There are three that have reputations in the outer-rim such as the Bavt’s, Grends and the Hutts. Even for the outer-rim they are small time and most work is done with smugglers.”
Kalu glared at Mos Enis and the palace above it. His blood seared hotter than the sun as the hatred made him feel more powerful than he had ever felt.
“They will feel everything my people felt. They will drown under the same fire that my family did.”
“Sir, I am loyal to you, but what will become of you after this?” Z asked with concern in his voice.
Kalu hardened his scowl on the palace. “My people must be avenged no matter what the cost to myself.”
Kalu and Z rounded the lower wall of the palace. Nestled on top of a butte, it over looked the city and the entire valley below. The entire structure was chiseled out of the natural rock. A pair of guards made their rounds above. Kalu crept down below an eave to avoid being seen. There was no telling how many guards and what sort of artillery resided in the palace. This question made Kalu extra cautious. He wanted to get inside the king’s quarters and complete his mission. After that, he could care less what happened.
The guards walked past them and onto the other side of the palace wall. Kalu smiled.
“Stay here until you get my signal. Don’t let anyone see you.”
“What signal am I waiting for?” Z asked.
“You’ll know it.”
With those cryptic words, Kalu leapt up and latched onto the top of the wall. He pulled himself up and stealthily moved toward the palace’s southern entrance. There were two more guards that stood at the doors. The stairs leading up to them were so steep that Kalu hid beneath a curve in the bannister. Fools, he thought. How ignorant one could be to build in such a way that one could hide themselves using the very path that lead to their royal family. His anger grew when he thought that such Neanderthals were able to annihilate his race. This confirmed his belief that other systems or criminals had assisted them in the assault.
Kalu jumped and landed behind a pillar on the level with the guards. Peering round, he saw that they were weary from the heat. One couldn’t keep his head up for more than a few seconds without it dropping and quickly recovering. The other leaned against the wall and held a loose grasp of its spear. Kalu motioned with two fingers causing a noise to come from opposite side of where he was. Both guards turned toward it. Kalu sprinted at them. He drove his lightsaber into the stomach of one and before the other could call for help, he silenced it.
He opened the door slowly and shut it behind him. Scanning the inside there was nobody in the vicinity. He turned off his lightsaber and continued forward. The large hallway was in the shape of square and went completely around a large housed area. He knew this was the throne room. It was sealed without any visible door. For a second, Kalu thought these people might not be as dumb as previously thought. However, this changed an instant later when he saw a patch of rock with a slightly different hue, in the shape of the door, to his right. He chuckled to himself at their stupidity.
Running to the door, he saw the insignia that Z found that led them here: a flag with the two suns positioned at ten o’clock and three o’clock. He pressed it and the stone door shook and moved to the right. Dust dropped from the high ceiling as it did. Kalu removed his goggles and breathing apparatus as he walked in. He wanted them to see who had so easily broken into their palace.
The royal family turned to him from their dining table. The king, a large man, with two chins sat at the head. He had a dumbfounded expression and looked more foolish with an oversized crown sitting cockeyed on his head. A collection of what looked like Tatooine commanders and dignitaries filled out the rest of the table. Kalu’s jaw clenched and his veins throbbed as it appeared to him that they were celebrating something. Perhaps the destruction of Athuan.
“Guards seize him!” One of the military looking men yelled out.
A pack of ten guards closed in on Kalu. He held both hands up and stalled them in their place. He lifted all of their spears into the air and pointed them toward their owners. Everyone halted their movements.
Kalu couldn’t help his teeth from bearing as he sneered at the collection of cowards.
“Fools!” Spittle flew as he yelled. All of the people shot back in their chairs at his outburst.
“You destroy my people. Murder my family. And you leave your royalty so lightly guarded?” Kalu asked as he scanned all that sat at the table. Their expressions oscillated between bewildered and frightened.
“You celebrate your conquest of my great city with bootlegged wine and smuggled meats?” he said as he looked over the food and drink that looked marked for transport and was clearly stolen from a cargo ship.
“Sir, we have no fight with you. Why are you here?” An older man dressed in common robes stood up and asked.
Kalu’s face fumed as he glared at him. “Oh but you do have a fight with me. Can you not think something you have done that would bring the likes of me down upon you?”
A grave look came across the old man. “You are Athuan?” He took a step back. “But you are a Jedi, why are you threatening us?”
“Silence!” Kalu yelled. The man dropped back into his seat.
Kalu turned to the king who held onto his queen and two young children – a boy and girl.
“What is your name, great king?”
The man assured his queen and children and stood up to address Kalu. “My name is King Praedo.” the man stammered out.
“Well then, King Praedo… say goodbye to your wife and children!” Kalu yelled as he lifted him out of his chair.
Everybody screamed. Kalu launched the spears into the hearts of all the guards. The commanders hollered at him as he drew the king up and to the middle of the table. Several of them got on top of it and jumped up, trying to pull him down.
“Witness the end of your king!” Kalu opened his hand up and Praedo gasped loudly.
He coughed and gagged as his wife and children screamed and begged. Several of the men sprinted after Kalu. He drew up his lightsaber and lashed the first one while still maintaining focus on choking the king. Driving it through two commanders at once, he compressed harder on the king’s throat. Guttural gasps and groans echoed in the throne room. The king forced out a suffocated scream as his face turned purple. His head dropped with a final wheeze. Kalu threw him down, causing blood to splatter onto his family.
Kalu launched forward and sliced into the remaining men. Their screams fed his thirst for vengeance. The oldest and most decorated looking of the men fled toward the door. Kalu held out an open hand and caused him to collapse. Walking toward him, Kalu lifted his body into the air and slammed him to his knees. His military uniform was adorned with at least thirty medals.
Kalu’s body shook as he stood over the cowering General. “Which one of these was for murdering my people? We both know you had the plan.”
The man hyperventilated and eyes didn’t blink. “You are a Jedi. You’re supposed to be a peace keeper.”
Kalu jammed his lightsaber into the man’s shoulder. He screamed in agony as Kalu held it there—melting his flesh without killing him. “No one tells me what I am! I am my Father’s reckoning!”
The General tried to pull away, but Kalu held him there to feel the insidious burn of the lightsaber.
“Just kill me!” He shrieked and squirmed.
The man’s body convulsed and his squeals hurt Kalu’s ears. He held him there and inched his weapon toward his heart. Plumes of smoke from burning flesh rose. Melted skin and muscle dropped.
“I want to taste your misery! I want to digest your anguish! For you took everything from me!”
Kalu drove the lightsaber the rest of the way across the man’s chest—severing his heart.
“Your rage is mine now!” Sauron said into his head, bringing Kalu back to the moment.
“No more! No more!” Kalu yelled.
“You still have one more thing to give me—your soul.”
Kalu’s head drooped down. His entire body wheezed, causing his lungs to burn. “No… No… please spare me.”
“But what happened next was your greatest accomplishment. It is what set you on the course to your destiny.”
Kalu looked up at the Dark Lord with a pitiful expression. “That is the only thing I regret. Show mercy on me. Do not make me relive it!”
Sauron chuckled and held out his palms. “There is no quarter in my domain.”
Kalu’s vision plunged back into his memory—back to Tatooine.
He stormed out of the palace doors and looked over the city of Mos Enis below. The queen and her children had run out of the throne room before he could deal with them and now they escaped through the middle of the city’s main road. Kalu ignored them and went to finish what he had started.
“Z!” he yelled to his droid coming around the side of the palace. “Did you find what I wanted?”
“Yes, master. They had three tankers providing power here.”
Kalu smiled as he scanned Mos Enis. An aqueduct that started on both sides of the palace, dropped down sharply and encircled the entire city was his target.
“Dump a tanker into each of sides of the aqueduct. Make sure that every last drop of fuel is drained.”
“Sir—” “Just do it, Z!” Kalu barked at the droid.
Hesitating for a second, Z moved the tankers into position. Kalu saw the queen pleading with anyone she saw to get inside. Hordes of guards came from every part of the city and started massing on the main road. They marched toward the castle.
“You’re too late.” Kalu said to himself.
He walked to the left aqueduct as Z drained the last of the fuel into the right one. Reaching down, he unlatched his lightsaber and turned it on. Its pale blue made him shudder. Its harmonious sound unearthed a deep joy within him as it would enable his final stroke of revenge.
“This is for you, Mother.” he said as he lowered the saber into the oil soaked water.
A wall of flame burst and tore through the aqueduct. The blaze made its way around the entire city in a matter of seconds. Splashes of fire spilled over and ignited the entire channel itself – trapping all of the people within the city. Turning to the final tanker, Kalu closed his eyes and focused on the heavy piece of equipment. Raising a hand, he raised it into the air. Opening his eyes he watched as he moved it high above Mos Enis. He closed his fist and the massive tanker halted directly above the middle of the city.
“This is for you, Father.” Kalu drew his lightsaber back and threw it at the tanker.
They collided. The oil exploded. The ground under Kalu’s feet shook and his ears rung. A tsunami of flame rained down onto the city. His smile grew wider as the screams rang louder than the explosion. Whether it was men, women or children—their final cries were a gift to him.
“Your soul belongs to me!” Sauron’s voice brought Kalu back out of his memory.
He could still hear the screams. His entire body cringed and cowered as it felt like it might collapse into itself. What was pleasure in the moment of it happening was now torment. His vision came back in a few seconds. The Dark Lord walked toward him. Peering down, Kalu saw an unusual sight. A sphere with three different colors swirling within; one was red like Athuan’s sun on summer’s first day, one was orange like the fires below, and the last one was blue like his lightsaber. Kalu felt hollow as he stared at it. As if something was taken from him.
Sauron raised a hand and the sphere rolled down the canal. The further it went, Kalu grew weaker. Sauron’s eyes flared. The sphere dropped into the pool. A blinding light burst out. Kalu turned and closed his eyes. Turning back, Sauron had come closer to him.
“You have something. Something more I can use.” The Dark Lord said.
Kalu scoffed and shook his head. “I have nothing more…” He hacked on his last word and felt like his lungs might collapse. “Whatever I was, is no more.”
“You do have something… I can feel it.” Sauron raised his right hand. An invisible force tugged at Kalu’s pocket.
“There it is.”
The shard of Kyber crystal floated out and into Sauron’s palm. Kalu was too weak to argue, to plead or to care. In his mind he knew something that powerful could only mean more trouble, but he had no fight left in him. The Dark Lord eventually claimed whatever he sought.
“This is truly one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen.” Sauron said in a seduced voice with entranced eyes.
The Dark Lord carried it with caution over to the pool. Holding it over he let it drop. It descended slowly. The walls began to shake, building as the crystal came closer. The Kyber glowed green and pulsed. What sounded like a heartbeat thumped throughout the chasm. The pool of Kalu’s blood, suffering and soul rose up. It swallowed the crystal.
“Release them!” Sauron yelled.
A river of liquid metal that glistened like star light and magma shot down the third and fourth canals below Kalu. A hurricane wind swirled around the pool, causing the Orcs to retreat. Sauron remained and his eyes blazed. The star metal and magma collided with Kalu’s secretions. He and the Orcs blew back as the substance exploded. The white light blinded all. The pressure pummeled his battered body. Devilish voices chanted in a harsh tongue. Their cryptic and sharp words sounded like a curse. Kalu tried to block them out and box his ears with his shoulders. The restraints prevented him.
“Enough!” Sauron bellowed above all. Everything ceased.
The Dark Lord stood with a glowing fist over the pool. Something rose to it from below. The cowardly Orcs treaded lightly toward their master. They dropped to their knees and groveled at his feet. He opened his hand and the object hovered into it. Kalu’s sight returned and made out what the torture concoction had created. A hammer, glowing like all the constellations. It shimmered whether light was abound or inert. An inner craving for the hammer grew inside Kalu. He fought it back for he knew what had created it.
“You will be the gift… the gift that will bring me The One. You will be the creator of the greatest as I am the creator of you. You are… the Mithril Hammer.” Sauron’s voice boomed like a god addressing his people from on high.
“Is that what this was all about?” Kalu hollered at Sauron, breaking his focus. “All this suffering, all this torture… for some trinket? A useless symbol of your rule?” Kalu burst into laughter and shook his head. His voice was hoarse and it hurt to laugh. “You are no lord! You are a wolf who slaughters sheep when their shepherd is away.” His laughter turned maniacal as he lost control. “One day though. One day the shepherd’s staff will crack your skull and you’ll just be another dead wolf.”
Sauron’s fist clenched around the hammer’s handle and his eyes beamed into Kalu’s. “Kill him.” he ordered the guards.
The four Orcs drew their swords and skulked toward him.
“Ha! I great death with gladness! Everything has been taken from me and my life should be as well!”
All four of them raised their swords in unison. Goodbye world. Father, Mother, I will see you soon. Filaments of lightning shot out of one of the caverns. They blasted the Orcs who screeched and wilted on contact. A familiar voice came from the darkness.
“Z!” Kalu yelled as the droid flew out of the cavern to his position.
He blasted all four restraints and caught Kalu as he dropped. Sauron turned with the massive mace in hand.
“Halt!” Z barked out as he landed softly with Kalu slunk over him.
Sauron reared his weapon back, but remained in his place.
“Your magic is no use against my weaponry.” Z said.
Sauron laughed. “You know little of what I can do.”
“I am taking my master and we will be leaving. If anyone tries to stop us, they will be killed.” Z started to go toward the Dark Lord.
Kalu grabbed onto him. “Don’t! Let him be. He has what he wants.”
“And you have what you want.” Sauron said to him.
Kalu scoffed at him almost willing to send Z after him. Perhaps with both of them and his lightsaber they could defeat the Dark Lord. But he was weak and it was true, they didn’t know what Sauron could do. “I have nothing because of you. I am a barren man.”
“You remain intact. Your body will heal. In time you will realize I have given you the means to carry out your destiny.”
“You’re a deceiver. I will be a beggar for the rest of my life.”
“No. You’re a fool.”
Kalu gave Sauron a curious look.
“I have given you an open path to your rage, the deepest connection to your soul. When you become well, you will be more powerful than you could have possibly dreamed.”
Kalu tightened his fist. He could already feel his body starting to mend somehow. He turned back to Sauron. “If that’s true, I will be coming for you one day.” He held out a shaking finger.
The Dark Lord turned away and walked toward a fissure. “I will be waiting for you, if that day should ever come.” He disappeared into the darkness.
“Please, sir. We must leave now.” Z said, shaking Kalu out of his trance.
They made their way through the labyrinth of passages of Mount Doom as quickly as Kalu’s legs could handle. Z knew the fastest route and got them out fast. Reaching the outside, they were still only halfway down. The sky remained scorched and the heat outside was a relief compared to chasm.
“Latch on, sir.” Z said, extending a pair of hand clasps.
Z launched off and they flew over the barren land that was Mordor. It passed like a blur to Kalu—still weak from the past two days. They wound through the mountain passages and finally over the spider’s lair. The ship still sat in its original landing spot. Kalu tried to smile, but couldn’t. His body relaxed for the first time since he could remember.
“All repairs are complete with the proper parts, sir.”
“How did you manage that?” Kalu said surpised.
“After you told me to not search for you. I knew you had lost the capacity to make sound decisions. I took it upon myself to find the resources to make the parts and search you out.”
Kalu managed a smile at Z’s blatant disregard for his orders. “You heard that?”
“Yes. I wasn’t able to respond though.”
“How did you find me?”
“I know you well, master. I know that there isn’t much in this galaxy that would cause you to give up. With that knowledge, I looked for something that might cause that reaction in you. When I saw the mountain shooting out flame, I knew that was where you were.”
It hurt to laugh, but Kalu mustered a subtle one. “I am forever grateful to you, Z.”
“No thanks is needed. Only to fly us out of here and never return.”
They landed and Z gathered the remaining things as Kalu carefully made his way into the cockpit. He settled down gently and sealed the door. He took a deep breath as the security of his ship and its weapons reassured him.
“All set, sir.” Z Spoke through the comm.
Kalu started the ship and they rose quickly. Coming above the mountain peaks, he took one more look on the planet that nearly took his life. He thrust the controls forward and they blasted into the atmosphere and back into space. The schism was still there and he could see through its opening. He pushed the controls to full speed and shot back through into the known galaxy.
“We made it, sir.”
Kalu closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “We made it.”
“Where to now?”
Kalu gripped the controls. His strength was already starting to return. He felt like given another hour he could rip the control stick right out of its socket. The memories of his parents, his destroyed homeland, and his master telling him not to go to Athuan, to turn himself in, all came flooding back. All the switches on the control panel started to vibrate. He felt the Force swirling all around him. The haze was gone – his control had returned. An inferno brewed in his chest as the Force gave him power – more power than he had ever felt. His teeth gnashed together as the rage flowed through him at will. “To Coruscant… to the Jedi Temple… to my master… the traitor.”
The End… for now