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Ghosts of the Sith by Daniel Jeyn

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How am I still alive? Heff opened his right eye, blinking, trying to focus, but seeing only the ground in front of him. His left eye was watery, and didn’t seem to work correctly. With the beating he had taken, and the subsequent pain, he suspected it was probably crushed. Even with his arms severely tied behind his body, he knew he was finished. He didn’t remember much after the stun blast until he was aware that his armor was being pulled off his body. Then he received a stomping from the mercenaries. Feeling his ribs and his organs being crushed, and his knees nearly shattered, he’d gone into an internal trance, expecting death.

It was ignominious to die this way. He was willing to make a stand. But he was brought down before he even had the chance to take a shot at Kale. He never cared much for religion or the chattering words of the old priests, but now he thought of the tales told around the campfires when he was little. About how the wise and strong warriors would live forever in the golden halls of ice in the afterworld. It once made no more sense to him than the prophecies or tales of the birth of the world, which also couldn’t possibly be true.

Feeling his life being beaten out of him, he’d taken some comfort in choosing to believe that he would soon drift off to an afterlife. He mused the path he took to end up dying this way on a distant garrison in a far-flung system. He hadn’t been content to live as a bog sailor or weedpuller, which were the fates of a farmer’s son in the Chiss colony on Ornfra. His brothers and sisters were dull enough in his opinion to desire no more than a simple farmer’s life. But he would lie awake at night and dream of something else. He took his chance when he came of age to apprentice on a trading vessel, leaving his home system and traveling to the greater galaxy. He enlisted as a trooper in the Galactic Empire, and he excelled when given his chance. He learned languages, fighting styles, shooting skills, and he was barmy with the pride and polish he felt as a stormtrooper. He was proud when he qualified to be a member of the elite garrison on Voss.

The war had mostly passed him by until now. And now he was going to be killed in it just like all the others. Maybe he’d see his brothers in the afterlife. He hoped it wasn’t just a Chiss thing, as he hoped to meet up with fallen trooper brothers much more than he cared about seeing any of his blood family again.

In the moment he saw death beckoning, he had been granted the boon of a sudden release from fear. He welcomed death if that was what was next for him. He longed for a great long sleep now; longed never needing to wake again.

But he was still alive. Naked, wounded, tied up, still in agony in the physical world. But soon enough to be discarded meat tossed into a heap. Kale probably wanted to torture him. He resigned himself to the necessity of that being endured.

He could tell that Desek and Balia were tied up beside him to the pole. His body hurt too much to turn his head very far, and he could see very little from his watery eye. We can laugh about this in the afterlife. I hope Centopt Jafan will be there, too, he told himself.

He heard the sound of servos and metal feet thumping on soil. He looked up and blurrily saw one of the Jedi’s droids, C-3PO, shuffling his way toward the Marauder trooper who was standing guard over his three prisoners. The Marauder, in his modified stormtrooper armor looked straight at the droid, raising his blaster with a hesitating sense of puzzlement. Threepio instantly stopped, raising his hands as high as they could travel.

“Oh! Don’t shoot! I have come with orders for you from Lieutenant Kale. He has asked that the prisoners be untied so that they can rest. So that they are in better shape for their questioning.”

The Marauder lowered his blaster. “Huh. He said that, huh? Why didn’t he tell me on the comm-link?”

“Oh, that’s very simple! He wants to keep radio silence because… uh, I’m sorry…” Threepio’s eyes were glowing in a strobing way as he seemed to be processing the information. Or perhaps lying.

“What is this, Droid? What the scrog is going on?”

“Terribly sorry! Slight malfunction! I was damaged by the Voss warriors, you see!”

“Uh huh.”

Heff then noticed an unusual shadow that seemed to be moving along the ground. His mind was sluggish from the beatings he’d taken, but a slight alert began to tingle his bruised mind that this was not a natural shadow. The shadow now seemed to be a dirty cloth, undulating as it scraped swiftly toward the guard from behind.

The guard leaned in to C-3PO, seemingly growing more annoyed with the droid’s loquacious procrastinations. As he did so, Skywalker’s Trandoshan servant emerged from under the cloth. Drrsala’s red scales were visibly scarred, but if he was hurt, he didn’t act it. The guard swung around and aimed his blaster. Before he could fire, Drrsala had pushed one of the Voss atlatl spears through the front of his neck. He drove it with such a violent force that it burst messily through the neck gaiter under the helmet and out the back. Gagging and impaled, the stormtrooper fell to his knees clutching at his throat while Drrsala stood straight up, his unchanging reptilian face permanently in an expression like a smile. He then unceremoniously stepped on the Marauder’s shoulder and yanked the spear back out, the iron dart-head popping out with an attendant mist of blood as the Marauder fell flat on his back. Drrsala then squatted and very efficiently began stripping the dying mercenary of his armor and weapons. He was careful to remove the helmet first. He poured out the pooling blood after taking a brief taste.

The mercenary’s body was twitching as he died, gagging on the spurts of blood that escaped from his throat. Heff could see that his eyes remained wide open, seemingly focused in the distance on nothing in particular. He felt some tinge of sympathy in that these Marauders were once stormtroopers just like he was. This would have been an upsetting sight to see, and it would have prompted some stronger feelings of compassion from him, if this had been any dying opponent on a day before today. But he was at a point of being almost indifferent to such suffering now. His sympathies soon passed.

Heff noted that Drrsala was nothing if not effective at killing things. This he may have once found upsetting as well. It made Heff money back in the barracks, collecting bets for the spectacle of the Trandoshan hunting down and devouring womp rats. He’d often wondered how the Trandoshan would be in a fight against a real opponent. He wasn’t disappointed to see it.

Threepio shuffled over, stepping gingerly over the armor being stripped from the guard’s corpse, careful not to step in the streaming blood. He kept his hands aloft as he exclaimed some ticks in Drrsala’s language. Drrsala hissed and made a series of tick noises back. He reached back and picked something up from the Marauder’s belt. Threepio took it and continued shuffling over to the members of the garrison. He bent over and displayed a small hand-held vibroknife which he used to cut the duracord binds.

Balia had been staring straight forward, not changing his expression. Desek’s scarred face turned up in hope as Threepio began working on the bonds.

C-3PO twittered nervously as he worked. “Oh, dear me. Drrsala has requested that I free you. I am afraid Master Luke is in trouble, and he says that he must have revenge on the armored man that threatens him.”

Huff rubbed his hands together after they came free.

“I’ve got similar thoughts. The rest of them are over in the center of the village, rounding up the Voss. Droid, if you can see where they discarded our overskins and our armor, we’ll lend a hand. After today, Drrsala’s getting only the finest rats my credits can buy. Either here or in the afterlife.”

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An older man of an alien race — was it Mirilian? — was sitting cross legged with his hands resting on his knees. He seemed very old indeed. He had green-to-ashy-grey skin. He wore long, brown robes with an elaborate sash. His eyes were closed. He was surrounded by a bright blue ethereal glow.

“My name is Essepura Ijafffa, little padawan. You must…” He said.

His eyes opened. He seemed to be a vision moving in slow motion. He spoke with a breathy urgency.

“You must reach out. You must take it. Take it back. Hold it. And strike with it. The Force will flow through you. Strike! Strike now!”

Panna blinked. The vision faded, but she was still suspended in what felt like a slow-moving mirror of the world. She was still on Voss. But she was also somewhere else. She felt her mind expand to understand the position of everything around her. She was aware of the heat of the breathing bodies. She felt the anger of the mercenaries, and the fear of the women and children who had been hiding in the bunker, now on their knees with their hands on their heads. Her brain tingled, sensing the volume of air in which she floated, and the numerous grains of sand on which she knelt. She could feel the brutal hand crushing her right arm, feeling the sinew and blood and fibrous muscles, as well as the poisonous mind driving it.

She reached out and felt the lightsaber her father had given her. The troopers who had come from outside the garrison took it from her and put it on a pile of confiscated Voss belongings 20 meters away. The weight and texture of the pommel was familiar in the skin of her hand. The weapon itself was alive with the Force. And though the Force, a vision of the Jedi who once wielded the weapon had spoken to her. The blade sang softly. It reached out, flowing within the vibrations of all living things that encircled them both. It wanted to return to her hand.

There was no distance now between her hand and the saber. Not any distance other than what there was in the physical world, anyway. She felt time slow and compress, pulling the very universe inward towards her. The saber was now in the air. It was coming to her as she called. It was in her hand. Still in the trance, she held the massive pommel with both hands, putting her right thumb over the crystalline ignitor button.

It happened in less than a second. But to her mind, the movements in the Force were as though she was moving slowly within a gently flowing river.

Lieutenant Kale still held her by her right arm, shaking her violently as her eyes were opaque and her body was limp. He looked down and was shocked to see that she had pulled back the weapon that was taken away from her. She held it now with both hands, pointing the ignitor end at his chest.

There was a hiss of plasma ignition and a wash of blinding yellow light as the lightsaber came alive. Panna held the weapon with all her strength as the blade exploded through Kale’s armor, exiting through his back, sending a geyser of charred gore into the air.

There was no sound for a moment save the humming of the lightsaber burning the air and a gasping exhale from Kale. His face was frozen in a look of surprise. And then confusion. Panna was panting so hard she thought she would hyperventilate. Her eyes widened with fear as Kale’s iron grip went soft on her arm, the fingers melting away.

She was on her feet now. She backed up and wrenched the lightsaber by gripping the pommel firmly with both hands. With a sucking sound, it exited from Kales’ body cavity, which had sealed itself around the plasma blade. The air was ripe with the smell of burned meat. With his eyes lifelessly open, he fell forward, slamming his face into the dirt and was still.

The rest of the Marauders were too shocked to know what to do. They didn’t fully believe what they now saw. A nine-year old half-Voss girl with an ignited lightsaber was standing over the dead Lieutenant. They instantly lifted their blasters and aimed them at the group of Voss.

“Noo!” At the voice of her younger brother, Panna turned her head to see that Qyr’s eyes were closed as he shouted. He held out his hands as though holding a pair of walls apart which were closing in on him, remembering the discipline of the Force exercises he had done with the Jedi. He grit his teeth and visibly shook from the strain.

The blasters in the hands of all the Marauders were violently pulled away. The weapons were tossed, turned in the air, and landed several meters behind the crowd of cowering Voss women and children.

Something was definitely abnormal about the pair of children. The Marauders now, for the first time on Voss, truly began to know fear. They looked at the children and back at the supposedly helpless Voss. They had been dazed from the concussion grenade, but now they were staring back with a new consciousness and anger.

The fear had a powerful effect. Already unarmed of their heavier blaster rifles, (all still had side-arms and various blades), they were unsure what to do next. The first Marauder to break turned and ran towards the freighter. The others hardly even paused to look at one another before turning and running as well, now as much to save what loot they had already stashed as to get away from this rapidly deteriorating and terrifying situation.

Intan, their commander, was the sole Marauder left standing in front of the Voss prisoners. He peered at the corpse of Kale, and back at the terrified girl with the burning blade, and the boy with hands held out. He removed his blaster pistol from his side holster and held it with two hands. The girl was terrified, but she nervously held the glowing saber to her front, unsure of what to do next.

The rest of the Voss women in the crowd now fully awoke to the reality of what was before them. Shaking off the effects of the stun grenade, they stood up from their knees and pushed the children behind them. One of the women in the back bent over and picked up one of the scattered blaster rifles. She held it awkwardly, but pointed it at Intan with a fierce look in her eyes. The others repeated this activity. Soon, all twelve discarded blaster rifles were held and pointed at him.

He didn’t move from his ground at first. He sneered and chuckled diffidently. He knew they almost certainly wouldn’t hit him even if they all fired at once. Such was the nature of wielding weapons for the first time. But he knew when the odds had turned, and he was no fool. He put his pistol back into its holster and turned his back. He replaced his own helmet back on his head. He calmly walked away.

One of the women, trembling, and with tears in her eyes, shot anyway. She saw the carnage around her, felt the violations done to her body, and her desire for revenge was too intense to ignore. The bolt exploded at the ground far wide from Intan. He continued walking and didn’t look back. The rest held their weapons, similarly overwhelmed with what had happened and with what they’d seen. The woman who fired did not fire again. No one chastised her. No one blamed her.

Panna turned the lightsaber off and the blade hissed to a stop. She fell to the ground, sobbing inconsolably. She wasn’t sorry she had killed Kale. But she was terrified that she had done so. And for the first time, she openly wept for her father. Qyr walked over and held her hand. His eyes welled with tears alongside hers.

::: | ::: | :::

Darth Bane’s presence in the Force was no longer flickering in and out of its visual form. He looked fully solid, but only when directly faced head-on. At an angle, he was semi-transparent, and his robes covered limbs that looked to be wasted and bony, as they were of a man long ago dead. His robes were ragged, like a burial shroud, but the interweaving layers flowed and danced constantly as his spectre slid back and forth, as if he were cloaked in a fire that burned with darkness instead of light. He wheeled to face Luke as he circled him. His face was hidden entirely behind the metal mask that was formed like a flattened skull. Dented, mis-colored, and partially corroded, the empty plate was the only truly solid, unchanging feature within the moiling darkness.

Luke was now standing defensively. He knew better than to draw a weapon or make an aggressive move. In here, within the Force, and facing the Dark side, he would see what he brought with him reflected in Bane.

That made him worry about the visions Bane had shown him; Luke as a Sith Lord, directing the Galactic Empire. As much as Vader had even attempted to draw him into the same promise, this vision was too solid to shake off. Bane had shown him something much more tangible. About how in the balance he could draw on the power of the Sith.

Luke spoke calmly. “You were powerful, Darth Bane. But your time has passed.”

Within the swirling darkness, a lightsaber hissed, and a red blade was drawn. Luke stood his ground and drew his weapon. The green crystal in his saber gave life to his own blade. He still held it defensively, tilted forward from his waist as Bane continued to circle him, waving his red blade alive with a living, humming sound of bending and burning air.

Bane’s voice was hollow and strained. It echoed from the realm of death into Luke’s mind.

“Are you not curious, Skywalker? The power there is within the Dark Side? You’ve seen your abilities grow. But you were only barely a padawan. Show me your willingness to have that power, and you could become my apprentice. I would cross that bridge of the living and be anchored to you in your physical form. I would direct that power. I would give you what you have seen!”

Luke remained silent and continued to angle his saber defensively, waiting for Bane to attack. He was concentrating on his breathing, feeling the Force, and not letting Bane get an angle to his flank. The spirit roared a laugh and jabbed at Luke, causing the young Jedi to twitch and dip his saber at him. Bane continued to laugh, swinging his blade almost carelessly in a wide circle around himself. A ghostly hand reached out from the black cloud and a burst of lightning snapped at Luke, cutting into him, knocking him to the sandy ground.

Luke grimaced, popping back up as the pain pulsed through his veins. Was it a phantom pain, though? Only through the remembrance of what he felt when facing Palpatine? Here in the Force, he could not tell. Separated from his body, it was only a reflection of the physical realm. He repeated it to himself in an attempt to be convinced that it was not real as he watched the Sith spectre swinging his blade around with lightning still crackling on his fingers.

“It is no matter, Skywalker. I could still consume you. Don’t become my apprentice, but instead my puppet.”

The world turned. Luke was no longer on Tatooine. He stood on a ground covered with soft ash. It was a ring with seven stone petroglyphs arranged within the circle in a random pattern. Above him was the vast, purplish night sky of the Voss, smeared as ever with a bright wash of stars and two gleaming moons. This was the temple that was under the Keep as it must have been in the age before the castle was built, back when it was an open temple for the mystics to commune with the Waskaja. At the edge of the circle, and ringing it entirely, Luke could see a wall of ghostly spectres in long, gently flowing robes of mostly white with geometric patterns as decoration. They were nearly transparent, and barely visible in the blanket of night. But their eyes were soft, red lights in the darkness. They were the spirits of the mystics that, through the centuries, had communed with the Dark and the Light here at this place. Their ashes now covered the floor. The petroglyphs were records of their rituals to mark the ages, serving as the cenotaphs for their journeys into the Force. They rested here in the Force now, watching the contest in the ring before them.

Darth Bane’s form stalked Luke, appearing to dart in front of one cenotaph and then behind another. Luke continued to wheel to face him. Bane made no sound himself, but the hissing of his saber reverberated, seemingly jumping from spot to spot, in front of and behind him.

There was an elongated hum as Bane’s spirit appeared behind Luke, taking a great swing. The young Jedi braced his feet and swung his saber overhead to parry. The strength of the blow nearly knocked Luke down. Bane pivoted, thrusting his saber in for a stab. Luke adjusted his saber to the front of his body and performed a circle parry, flicking Bane’s lightsaber to go wide. Luke was breathing heavily now.

The spirit passed near Luke. The roiling blackness swept over him, on him, and through him, burning him over his entire body. He fell to his side, yelping at the pain. Still reeling, he looked up to see that Bane had spun around, and was sending his saber on another long arc toward him.

The heat still burned Luke, making his very blood feel hot. He leapt up in a rage. He wildly struck Bane’s blade in another parry to arrest his swing. Darth Bane drew back and swung another wide attack calculated to strike down again on the Jedi. This time, Luke was ready, performing a feint, drawing Bane closer only to swipe away at his blade. Luke moved forward on the offensive, swinging his own green lightsaber again, clashing off the Sith Lord’s defensive block. Luke wasted no time in preventing his opponent from regaining his momentum. He continued to drive him back as he swung again, higher, letting Bane catch his blade above his head once more. Luke now pushed with his strength to separate the hissing blades, planted his back foot and wheeled, swinging low, cleaving Darth Bane in half at the waist.

Or so he thought. He cut through the ghostly opponent, who instantly dissipated. Luke was panting, unable to catch his breath. He still held the pommel of his humming weapon as he pivoted, turning, darting his eyes back and forth across the ring. Darth Bane was nowhere to be seen. But his distant, raspy laughter was heard in the edge of Luke’s mind.

“Very good, Skywalker. Do you feel it? The strength in this place? The power that Vader had found?”

Luke felt his nerves sparkle as though the lightning was still channeling down his body. He still felt the black fire that had singed his body, and he could feel it still longing to devour him; still smelling the charred bits of his skin flaking into the air. He thought of Anakin’s body turning to cinders, and of his hollowed visage left within the Force. Luke peered down again at his arms and he noticed he was no longer wearing the farmer’s tunic, but the interlaced scales of the black armor he’d seen in the vision. He felt his face and could feel the strain of the Dark Side pulling lines on his skin.

“You see, Jedi, I can draw you in, whether you come voluntarily or not. You are a prisoner here. The other Jedi cannot help you now. The ring of mystics have seen to that. They are a strength which I alone can draw on. Fight me, and I will grind you down. Choose not to fight me, and I will still grind you down, and I will drag your burning soul back into your body. And together, Skywalker, together, we will be a powerful dark Lord. With your living flesh and my remnant within the Force.”

Luke was panting now. “You will keep trying, Bane. You won’t win.” He hoped it was true.

He fell to his knees as he tried to slow his heart and concentrate on the Force. He could see Bane once again materialize at the other end of the circle. There would be no time for rest. No time for calm. Luke stood again and swung his lightsaber up, holding it again at his chest level as his opponent came toward him. Bane once again began wildly swinging his blade as he steadily came forward.

The spirits at the edge of the ring were silent. They were corpses posed upright as an audience of the dead. Only their glowing eyes betrayed that they watched. Nothing among them showed any motion except for the gossamer cloaks which shimmered in the starlight, noiselessly ruffling in the phantom breeze.

::: | ::: | :::

Jeet Syllba held his hands to his face. The cave now seemed to be closing in on him ever slowly. It also seemed to be washing all color away in the room.

His wound was bothering him again. He felt it through his awakening pain centers. He knew he was trapped in a pocket of the Dark Side while his body was still dying in the real cave. He turned toward the Mystic, Tylo-Ko, and she still was there. But she was panting and looking pained. It took much of her strength to keep him bound here. She was no longer as upright as she had been.

He took his chance and lifted his rifle and shot her. Even here, in the Force, where no actual bolts had penetrated her body, she winced from the psychic pain of the hit. He approached her and wrapped his hands on her throat. She was strong enough to push him away minutes earlier, but her defenses were weakening now.

“Let me out, Witch! Let me out and I will kill you quickly and without any pain.”

Her mouth was agape and her eyes growing opaque as she concentrated on enclosing the Force around Syllba. He’d entered the Force trance by his own volition by staring into the meditation holocron, but it was her will that held him here.

“I … will not… I will die in here before I … let you out.”

 Syllba was too angry to speak. He struck her across her face as hard as he could before grasping her again and returned to squeeze her neck. His confusion only multiplied his rage. How was this possible? In a place that was not in the physical world, how could he even hurt her? How could she hurt him as she had by immobilizing him like this? He screamed again.

“Let me OUUUuuut!”

Tylo made no effort to stop him now. His rage was overwhelming her, even if the blows were only psychic blows when within this space. She reached through the Force and drew it in, pulling it even further around them. They would be trapped together in this struggle. She would drain every ounce of strength which she held onto by keeping him from waking. Or he would first weaken and die of his body’s wounds.

But it wouldn’t be long, either way now. She was fading fast. She whispered into the Force with all her will.

“Fight, Skywalker. You must… fight your way out of this. I… cannot… help you any more.”

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Ghosts of the Sith by Daniel Jeyn

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