"Wake up Lon-Chi, it's time for practice." Said Carek Argonaut shaking his still groggy room mate awake.

"I guess this four o'clock in the morning wake up stuff is supposed to build character." Said Lon-Chi as he yielded to Carek's insistent rousing and rolled out of his bunk. "While it is my firm belief that four A.M. is a great way to end a day, it is my further belief that it is definitely not a way to start a day."

"You knew going into this, that becoming a Jedi would require some sacrifices." Carek laughed and turned for the door. "You've got five minutes to get to the meditation room, or when Master Havsoltek is through with you, you'll wish that you had stayed an apprentice mining supervisor on Essowyn. I'll see you there."

Lon-Chi Wilks watched his room mate exit their spartan quarters. "It's just not fair, he comes from an agriculture world, he's used to this getting up before the sun stuff." He sighed heavily. "I've got to get me a roomie that understands the fine art of sleeping in."

The would-be Jedi dressed quickly and regarded himself in the mirror. He didn't possess the solid, beefy build of most miners, being only a hundred and seventy-four centimeters tall and a sparse seventy-three kilos. His lips and nose were too strong for him to be considered handsome, but the twinkle that shone in his deep set green eyes, showed the kindness of his heart and despite his size, he had been a cherished member of his mining crew for his uncanny ability to locate deposits of ytterbium and more importantly for his "premonitions." Not a single member of his crew had ever been injured in a cave-in while Lon-Chi was working, his "premonitions" always steering them clear of trouble. It was a "premonition" that had brought him to the starport city of Lyndon on Chanlot and to Master Havsoltek.

He took an extra second to smooth his tunic before he noticed the time. "Burning stars! Thirty seconds to get downstairs!" Lon-Chi took off at a dead run, knowing full well the consequences for being late.

The Jedi temple of Yevgenny Havsoltek, was a split level sprawling structure that had started out as a plantak processing plant. The tall native plantak grass was, when properly processed, a highly sought after designer fabric that was as comfortable as it was strong. The plantek craze had reached it's peak several years ago, and many of the smaller companies had gone out of business. Havsoltek had purchased the old factory in the outskirts of Lyndon's industrial area for a pittance. He had the upper floor offices converted to austere living quarters for the six aspirant Jedi and himself. The cavernous main floor of the warehouse had been turned into the training area. Meditation room, obstacle courses, library, and gymnasium. Lon-Chi raced down the stairs taking them three at a time, certain that he would be the last to arrive. He took his place in the circle of aspirants and glanced at his fellow students, to his right was Philla Kalrendis, a tall, striking, brunette with the lithe build of a dancer. She had been a nursing student before coming to the temple less than six weeks ago.

Next to her stood Conrad Davies, a ruddy, big boned, bull of a man as solid as a ferrocrete piling, his face was a series of crags and angles that only a mother could love. He had become Havsoltek's first student, when the Jedi Knight had sensed his potential after he had been subdued by Havsoltek during a factory workers revolt that the Jedi had been called in to mediate.

Jenall Cadson was to the right of Davies at the head of the circle, a wiry youth from the sere steppes of the desert world Seracco, Cadson was small of frame and big of heart. He was deeply tanned and kept his long black hair braided in an elaborately tied top knot.

Wilk's room mate Carek Argonaut was to his immediate left. Carek was of medium height and build, A handsome man with dark brown hair, grey eyes, and a winning ready smile. Carek of the House of Argonaut was his formal title, but to Carek it always sounded so pretentious that it bordered on being pompous. He was the second son a a minor noble on the agricultural world of Beaufort, he had left his home to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a Jedi Knight.

The last of the students was Oos Felorren, he was the only alien at the temple. A Ho'Din, Oos was tall for his race and considered quite handsome.

Still winded from his mad dash, Lon-Chi began calming his breathing, he was still exhaling his second breath, when Master Havsoltek entered and took his place at the head of the meditation stone completing the Jedi circle.

"I see you're still pushing the envelope Mister Wilks." Said the Jedi Knight. "You've been here long enough to know that. Even though the Council of Masters is no longer available to grant me the rank of master, I still expect you to abide by the letter and the spirit of the rules I have established for your training. Since you seem to have a problem with rising in time for our four A.M. work call, for the next week you will rise at two A.M. and stand in contemplation here at the base of the meditation stone, where you will have time to reflect upon the Force and your decision to become a Jedi."

Lon-Chi could only wince and nod in silence.

"Today's training will consist of the Gauntlet, repulsor field gymnastics, and the first lightsaber cadence. Kalrendis, Davies and Argonaut will run the gauntlet. Wilks and Felorren will go to the gymnasium and conduct two hours of calisthenics with the repulsor field set at 1.4 Gee. Cadson you will remain with me and perform the first cadence. You have three minutes before we start."

The aspirants split up to head to their assigned training.

Enroute to the intense geomorphic obstacle course that had been dubbed "The Gauntlet" by Davies, Philla broke the silence that had followed Havsoltek's pronouncement. "I wonder how he's got it configured this time?"

"I know one thing for certain," Davies replied. "no matter what you have in mind, it will not be what you suspected and it will be more difficult than you imagined possible."

"That last part goes without saying." Added Carek. "When I first got here I foolishly thought that, after my first time through, the Gauntlet would get easier. Flaming Suns and Comets was I wrong about that! The sad thing is, that mistake was only the first in a series of miscalculations about becoming a Jedi that I've made in the six months that I've been here."

"Carek my friend, we've all found that there's more to becoming a Jedi than any of us bargained for." Said Davies stopping before the door that led to the dreaded Gauntlet. "Who's first into the breech?"

"Well tradition says 'ladies first.'" Quipped Carek.

"Well you can stuff that 'tradition' where ever you got it from. Carek of the house of Argonaut." Keyed up by the pending test, Philla responded sharper than usual. "I say we flip a credit chip, odd man goes first."

"I was just kidding, Philla. Coin toss is fine by me."

Carek was the odd man and rather than prolong the inevitable, he plunged through the door and right into the thick of the Gauntlet. At one minute intervals, Philla, then Conrad followed.

 

Hours later, Carek and Lon-Chi were using Jedi meditation techniques to unwind from the exhausting physical and mental regimen that had, in the last few weeks, become the routine fare at the temple of Master Havsoltek.

"I think I've finally figured out his plan Carek." Said Lon-Chi massaging a particularly stubborn cramp in his left calf.

"Oh really, well would you be so kind as to share your epiphany with me?"

"It's all quite simple really, he runs us ragged for a year, anyone that survives the process, become Jedi by default."

"That's unusually cynical even for you."

"Sorry, I guess I'm just venting."

"I don't blame you for that, I've recently found myself wondering, if I might have failed to think this Jedi thing through enough."

"Look at us." Said Lon-Chi pouring himself a hot cup of Rendis, a beverage made from the bark of a Hazalroot tree, Rendis was known for its soothing effect to tired muscles and more importantly, for its ability to restore minor damage to muscles and blood vessels. "I've been here five months, you've been here six and for most of that time, our training has been demanding, but well within reason. Now that Master Havsoltek moves us to the next phase of our training we start whining like a couple of lonely Ghandel birds."

"Well, this must be another of those tests of character that he's always springing on us. We've just got to suck it up and endure."

"That's seems to be the only option we have, aside from quiting and I'm not about to do that." Lon-Chi looked at his chronometer. "I hate to have to end this thrilling philosophical debate, but as you know, I've got an early start tomorrow, so I'm going to turn in. Good morrow to you friend Carek." He said slipping into the formal speech of Essowyn.

"Peace to you friend Lon-Chi." Responded Carek with the formal reply. "I'm going to go see if any of the others are still about. I'm just too keyed up to sleep. See you in the morning."

"Right."

Carek found that the day's training had been difficult for everyone, the only other aspirant that hadn't already gone to sleep was Philla, whom he found pacing cat-like in the long hallway that led to the meditation room.

"I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one too wired to sleep." She said when she spotted Carek. "I don't know how much more of this pace I can stand Carek, running the Gauntlet almost killed me today."

Sensing that she was nearing the end of her tether, Carek reached out to his friend and cradled her gently.

"Come on now Philla," He said softly. "I know you're stronger than that. You took a pretty mean hit from that stun staff, but you have more strength than you give yourself credit for, we've all had set backs, you just have to trust in the Force to show you the way."

Wincing from both the physical pain of rotating her shoulder and the memory of the day's training, Philla suppressed a shudder. "Carek, I never saw that stun staff coming. Usually I can sort of sense when an attack is coming, I'm not saying I'm good enough to parry everything that comes my way, but even if I fail to parry, I have enough warning to roll with the blow. Today I didn't even know it was coming."

"Don't be so hard on yourself Philla, I couldn't believe how tough the Gauntlet was today. The stun staff that hit you was concealed in a tree in the middle of a holographic forest and it ambushed you while you were already under attack by a pair of practice droids that had you flanked."

"You got past it okay."

"Philla, I've been here six months, you've only been here six weeks, I only avoided that trap by vaulting between the droids. If I had tried to fight my way through them, I'm certain I would have been hit too."

"So, it was one of those 'find the least line of resistance' tests."

"See, I told you, you were smarter than you give yourself credit for."

"You said stronger."

"Stronger, smarter, what's the difference? All I know is you'll make an excellent Jedi one day if you can learn to trust in the Force."

"You haven't been here long enough to be able to see the future."

"True. However I do know people, and you are one of the smartest, strongest, and kindest people I've ever met. And if that isn't the very definition of a Jedi, then I don't know what is."

Philla canted her head as she thought about what Carek had said, then her face that had been tight with anxiety, softened and she smiled. "Thank you Carek. I think I might just be able to sleep now."

"The House of Argonaut stands ready to be of assistance at any time, M'lady."

"Now don't go getting formal on me." She laughed. "See you in the morning Carek."

"That you will."

 

When his chronometer's alarm went off at one-thirty the following morning, Lon-Chi cursed and rolled out of bed, moving quietly so as to not disturb Carek. He got dressed and took his place at the base of the meditation stone five minutes before two.

"Okay, I know there must be some hidden test, or message that I'm supposed to get out of this." He said to no one in particular, his gaze sweeping the room and coming to rest on the meditation stone.

He knelt down and idly ran his hand across the face of the obelisk.

"I don't suppose you can tell me something?" He was about to make a scathing comment about losing his mind for talking to a rock, when he felt the stone begin to resonate, caught by surprise he was unable to comment on the phenomenon before being gripped by a powerful vision.

The room melted away and Lon-Chi felt himself being swept into a maelstrom of brilliantly colored lights that quickly resolved itself into a vast metropolitan vista that could only be Coruscant. The perspective changed from bird's eye to that of someone standing on the highest ramparts of the Imperial palace. Lon-Chi was swept into the palace at breath taking speed and into a small side chamber. Lon-Chi felt his pulse quicken when he recognized two of the three occupants in the room. One was the hulking, black cloaked Darth Vader. The second was the aging form of the Emperor himself! The third man could only be a Jedi Knight, his ragged clothes and disheveled appearance could not hide his regal calm and demeanor.

Lon-Chi's vision began to cloud, but he could faintly hear the Emperor snarl a single word. "Submit." The Jedi Knight responded in a voice as peaceful as eternity itself. "I can not." Even through the mist that had all but completely obscured the scene, Lon-Chi could see the visage of the Emperor twist with hatred. The vision ended with the sight of jagged bolts of blue lightning striking the Jedi Knight and his horrible scream.

Lon-Chi was over come by the all encompassing blackness that followed the pain in that scream, a blackness that continued long after Lon-Chi knew that the vision had ended and he was once again in the relative safety of the meditation room. He managed to break physical contact with the stone before he collapsed from the awe inspiring power of the vision.

When Lon-Chi's eyes fluttered open, he was looking into the concerned face of his Master. "M-M-Mast...Master. I didn't..." He half croaked, trying to explain what had happened.

"I know Lon-Chi, I know you didn't fall asleep. I had hoped that you would attempt to further yourself and experiment with the stone, unfortunately there is no way of knowing what visions that you will be shown. I didn't mean for you to come to any harm, or for you to see so grim a version of our future. You need to relax for few minutes, I'm here and you are going to be okay."

After the room stopped spinning Lon-Chi asked "W-Who was that Jedi?"

"His name was Locean. I only met him once, years ago, but he was a good man and he deserved far better."

"Could we have helped him?"

"You still have much to learn Lon-Chi. The Force can show you things that have been, things that are, and things that will be. What the Force just revealed to you, occurred six weeks ago."

"If the Emperor is hunting down the Jedi, aren't we in danger?"

"The way of the Jedi has always been fraught with danger. You have chosen to enter an honorable profession at a dangerous time. It is not your fault that the Masters allowed themselves to dwindle and to become reclusive and isolated. Our teaching tradition was once one of enlightened knowledge, freely shared at a number of venerated Jedi academies. Now our ranks have sunk to the point that our formal training program has collapsed. Is it any wonder that the evil that the Jedi have held in check for millenia, is taking full advantage of our weakness to try and eliminate us once and for all?

"Palpatine is but the latest in a long line of Dark side champions that have tried to turn the Jedi to the Dark side and I'm sad to say that he will not be the last. We do however, face our greatest threat since Exar Kun seized the title of Dark Lord of the Sith four thousand years ago. Greater, as we do not have the infrastructure that we had then. And even with that intricate support system and mass of experience, it took the full might of the Jedi to stop Kun. So you need not blame yourself for the times we live in, or for events that have been building since the time of the Clone wars.

"I know this will be difficult after what you have just seen, but I want you to calm your mind and use your remaining time, before the others rise, meditating on meaning of what the Force has revealed to you."

"Yes Master."

"Excellent. I will see you in a hour."

 

Lon-Chi stood at his place in the meditation room and smiled as he watched the other students file in. He smiled for today was the last day of his week of penance. "It has also been a week since you let Locean die too." Some dark portion of his mind intruded, causing his smile to fade instantly.

"Now where did that come from?" He thought as he played back the dreadful day of his vision in his mind.

Although he was still reeling from the implications of what he had seen, Lon-Chi had managed to calm himself enough by the time the rest of the students arrived, that he was able to keep his vision to himself and to somehow make it through the day's training. He had ultimately chosen not to reveal what he had seen and despite the unease that vision had caused him, he had continued to use the meditation stone to try and fathom the vision's significance. However, the Force had only seen fit to show him mundane images that even he could see were of no consequence.

Master Havsoltek took his place and gazed slowly at each of his students.

"I want you all to know that I am very proud of all of you. The pace of training has been difficult and you have all met that challenge without wavering and without complaint. In the past month you have all noticed an increase in the intensity of the training and I think it is a testimony to your character that you have all continued to persevere in the face of such adversity. Today's training will consist of the Gauntlet for all of you, except for Argonaut who will execute the first cadence.

"I want you to be aware that today, the Gauntlet has been configured to be a test of teamwork. Oos Felorren will be team leader. You have one minute to prepare yourselves. Mr. Argonaut come with me."

Havsoltek spun on his heel so abruptly, that Carek had to trot to catch up. When they reached the duelling circle, Carek was surprised to see that the candelabrum had actual candles with wicks, instead of the usual ball bearings atop a wax cylinder.

"This is a low tech version of the standard cadence." Said Havsoltek before Carek could ask. "The object is instead of destroying a ball bearing, you must light the candle without damaging the wax. The wicks are larger targets, but lack the uniformity of size of the bearings and thus, this version is just

 as difficult to execute as the more modern version."

"Master, may I ask why the change?"

"I have always preferred this version as it is more aesthetically pleasing, but it is more advanced the the standard ball bearing test. You have all progressed to the point that it is time to begin with this version. Now, no more delays. Begin."

Carek brought himself to the ready position and ignited his blade.

 

"That's it Carek, let the Force flow." Said Havsoltek. "Shut off the conscious part of your mind and let the Force guide your hand."

Carek completed the cadence, closed his lightsaber down, and turned to face Havsoltek.

"You did very well with that last exercise, I think you're ready to move to the next stage of your training. Now, I want you to repeat the exercise left handed."

"Yes Master." Carek replied, shifting his lightsaber to his off hand and looked glumly at the task before him.

Havsoltek could clearly see the doubt on his student's face.

"You can do it Carek, just trust in the Force."

"Yes Master I will do my best."

"That's what I expect from you at all times. You do know how important it is for you to complete your training don't you?"

"Yes Master I do." Was what Carek replied, inside he thought. "Actually I have no idea why you're driving us so hard."

"Let's hope that you do. Begin."

Igniting his lightsaber, Carek began the exercise again.

"A great darkness has been set free to feast on the galaxy and precious few will survive it's grim harvest." Havsoltek thought as he watched his student and let his mind drift. "The death screams of the Jedi slain by Vader and Palpatine have slowed to a trickle and I fear that the visions that have tormented me of a galaxy bereft of Jedi may come true. The events of the future are never set until they have happened, but for now, the days of the Jedi are clearly numbered. I may not be able to stop the darkness that is upon us, but as long as these young Jedi can carry the spark of our order, then there will always be hope that the Jedi can be born anew. I can only hope that the other remaining Jedi Knights are doing the same to keep the flame from going out, so that some day, somewhere, some one will rise up and end this madness."

The still morning was suddenly shattered by the distinctive double sonic boom of at least two ships making a very fast re-entry.

"Who in the blazes is that!" Carek exclaimed as he halted in mid swing. He turned and saw his Master standing with his eyes unfocused, his face grimmer than Carek had ever seen.

"Carek! Round up the rest of the students and bring them here!"

"Master, tell me, what is wrong?"

"The Empire has arrived. NOW, MOVE!"

Carek raced out of the meditation room and up the stairs, calling for his fellow students.

Havsoltek turned and walked calmly to his meditation stone. The huge engraved stone platform was two meters square and a half meter thick. It had been carved at the ancient Jedi academy on the planet Ossus from a solid block of Valardine, a deep blood red stone found only on that world. The Jedi cherished Valardine above all other material for it's unique ability to absorb the psychic essence of someone it was in direct physical contact with, this property allowed the stone to become a focus to aid a Jedi when he called upon the Force. This stone had been a treasured heirloom of the Havsoltek family for more than a hundred generations and had been deeply ingrained with the Light side of the Force.

"Please forgive me this final self indulgence," Said Yevgenny as he caressed the fine runes that had been worked into the stone. "but I must know how my students will fair." The stone responded to his caress by gently starting to resonate.

"Light and Dark...Dark and Light..." Yevgenny gasped at the power of the vision. "a path of death and betrayal, but still one of hope..."

The clatter of feet on the stairs broke his concentration and forced him back to the here and now. He stepped clear of the stone and reached out with the Force. The stone slowly rose and revealed a narrow passage leading down.

"Hurry, there is precious little time." Said Havsoltek.

"Master what is going on?" Asked Lon-Chi. "Just before Carek alerted us to come here, I caught a glimpse of an Imperial assault shuttle."

"Now is not the time. Go!" Havsoltek pushed Lon-Chi into the passage and allowed the stone to drop back into place.

The passage was dimly lit from some unseen source above them and led off in four directions.

"Follow me. I will explain as I go." Havsoltek said as he struck off down the leftmost passage. "You are all aware that, since the Clone wars, the Jedi have been in decline. Our numbers have fallen to an all time low. That is one of the reasons that you have been training with me, instead of with a true master and at a proper Jedi academy. The second reason that you aren't training with a true Jedi Master, is that there aren't any left to teach you."

The apprentice Jedi all blinked in disbelief then they all tried to speak at once.

"What!"

"How can that..."

"Master, you can't be..."

"I know you have been wondering why I have been drilling you so hard in the last few weeks, but none of you have had the time to progress to the point where you could sense through the Force the horror that has befallen the sad remnant of our order. The Emperor and his foul lacky Darth Vader, have systematically hunted down the remaining Jedi Masters and have forced them to either submit to the Dark side of the Force or be destroyed. It would seem that most of them chose to fight, as their death screams have rippled through the Force like shockwaves, but I have not felt one of them in more than two years."

"Master Havsoltek?" Kalrendis managed to croak, her voice thick with emotion. "I...I have been troubled by a recurring dark dream in which I can hear someone, I don't know who, crying out in agony, then the scream cuts off with a horrible finality. You mean I've been hearing the 'death screams' of Jedi Masters?"

"Yes Philla, but what has disturbed your dreams, have been the death screams of Jedi Knights. The Masters have all been eliminated, now the Emperor has turned his attention to us. I have been trying to complete as much of your training as I could, in the little time that I have remaining with you."   Havsoltek had been setting a crushing pace through the twisting maze of tunnels, but this last statement brought all the students to an immediate halt.

"What do you mean 'little time remaining?'" Said Felorren. "Where do you expect us to go, if not with you?"

"And where is this maze taking us?" Added Cadson.

"We've got to keep moving." Havsoltek answered, redoubling his pace. "I'm taking you to the starport. I have a friend there named Toris Mons, he owns a freighter and more importantly, he also happens to owe me a favor. If we can avoid those stormtroopers up there, we stand a decent chance of escaping."

"You didn't answer my question." Said Felorren. "Why did you say we didn't have much time remaining together?"

The students could see the play of emotions on their master's face even in the gloom of the storm drains.

"I have foreseen that my destiny is not to finish what I have started. I knew that when I began teaching you, but my goal was not to save the Jedi personally, but to spread the living flame of the Jedi. I can not say for certain what will actually transpire, for the future can be changed by the choices made now, but either way, You are to be my greatest legacy. If you remember nothing else that I have taught you, remember that as long a spark remains, the Jedi are not defeated. One day there will be a return of the Jedi."

The Jedi students were too stunned by the power of their master's words to respond, so they followed him through the dank tunnels each lost in their own thoughts.

The frenzied march lasted close to an hour, before Havsoltek reached the access hatch that he had been seeking. He paused and extended his senses with the Force to carefully search the area around the hatch, before he quietly eased the hatch open. The alley was deserted and the fugitives quickly exited.

"Mons is in docking bay twenty-two. The name of his ship is the Tigershark." Havsoltek said to his students. "We are just outside of docking bay nineteen, this is as close as we can get below ground, from here on we will just have to trust in the Force.

"The stormtroopers will have the starport under heavy guard. We should be able to blend in with the crowd as long as you don't give them any reason to be suspicious, just remember the calming techniques I have showed you and we will be okay."

Havsoltek waited until the exit of the alley was obscured by a group of passing pedestrians before he, coolly exited from their hiding place. However all of his precautions failed to account for just how throughly the stormtroopers had been briefed. As soon as Havsoltek rounded the corner, he was challenged by a squad of stormtroopers.

"Halt! You are under arrest!" Barked the sergeant.

"I believe you are mistaken." Havsoltek said calmly as he reached out with the Force to take control of the man's mind.

"I believe I am mistaken." The sergeant parroted.

"We are free to go."

Before the sergeant could continue, the rest of the squad snapped their weapons into firing position. Havsoltek had to release his control of the sergeant and desperately dodge the intense blaster fire, drawing his lightsaber as he evaded away from the troopers.

Conrad Davies burst from cover, lightsaber ignited and at the ready. "You have made your last mistake!" He said slashing the sergeant in half.

Havsoltek took full advantage of Davies' diversion the finish off the rest of the troopers. Havsoltek's attack was so thorough that the troopers were unable to score even one hit. But the damage was done, the troopers had managed to send a frantic call for help that had broadcasted the location of the fugitives to the Imperial commander.

"Run for it! It's our only hope!" Havsoltek called out as he rallied his students.

The Jedi had covered less than a hundred meters, when they spotted at least a company of stormtroopers approaching from three sides. One platoon blocked the corridor that led to docking bay twenty-two and it was against this platoon that the Jedi fell upon with desperation.

The Jedi were in such close proximity to their comrades that the disengaged platoons could not fire. The stormtrooper captain ordered half his men to close into hand-to-hand range and the other half to set their blasters on stun. The delay gave the Jedi time to shatter the blocking platoon and make a break for docking bay twenty-two.

"Conrad, you take point." Yevgenny hollered somehow making himself heard above the roar of the blasters. "I've got the rear! Everyone stay alert!"

The Jedi raced the last fifty meters to the huge bay doors.

 

Toris Mons was assisting his co-pilot Drex Dunhill make minor repairs on the Tigershark's lateral thrusters when the sounds of the furious blaster fusillade overpowered the din of the powerspanner that he was using.

"What in the moons of Nar Hutta is..." Said Mons wrenching off his safety goggles, his mouth dropping open in shock. "Yevgenny! I might have known." He added when he spotted his friend. "Drex close that panel! We're making an unscheduled lift!"

"Unscheduled lift he says." Drex responded cringing from the stray blaster bolts that had started to strike the ship, but the delay cost him his life.

The captain of the stormtroopers had realized that his quarry was about to escape, and not wishing to be assigned to a penal battalion, had called for reinforcements. As the students were sprinting for the Tigershark and as Drex rolled down from the top of the ship, a second company of stormtroopers arrived and the already intense volume of blaster fire doubled.

Drex was the first to die. He had reached the base of the loading ramp when he was hit by a volley of fire that tossed his broken body aside like it was a rag doll.

The student's were as yet unharmed due to the skill of their master. Yevgenny's lightsaber flashed through the air like a living thing, deflecting the deadly bolts away from his beloved students. However, even though the Jedi had decimated one of the platoons of stormtroopers, there were still more than two hundred and fifty of the Imperial shock troops firing on them and not even a fully trained Jedi Knight could deflect the mass of fire that they faced.

The students formation had become strung out in the mad dash for the docking bay. Davies was leading the pack by virtue of having been told to take point by Havsoltek. Close on Davies' heels was Jenall Cadson, who was taking every advantage of his upbringing as a Seraccan steppe runner to evade the deadly hail of blaster bolts. Oos Felorren and Philla Kalrendis were in the middle of the fleeing Jedi, while Carek Argonaut and Lon-Chi Wilks, with their master covering the retreat, brought up the rear.

When the initial volley from the second company of stormtrooper's scythed toward the Jedi, Yevgenny was forced to make the hardest decision of his life. He was helped by the fact that as he trusted to the Force, Davies and Cadson managed to board the Tigershark milliseconds ahead of the blinding wall of fire, making Havsoltek's job easier by one third.

"May the Force forgive me for not being able to cover them all!"

Unable to extend his protection to the two students farthest from him, Yevgenny concentrated on trying to save Carek and Lon-Chi. Yevgenny became a blur of motion and even though he stretched his Jedi talents to the limit, it just wasn't enough. Lon-Chi was hit square in the sternum and instantly crumpled. Carek somehow managed to catch his room mate, but took a bolt in his left shoulder doing so. Carek fought off the pain that threatened to engulf him and stayed on his feet and continued to move toward the Tigershark.

Unprotected by their master, and possessing no special training of their own, Oos Felorren and Philla Kalrendis were both hit immediately. Felorren was shot to pieces as he sacrificed his dying body in a final and futile attempt to save Kalrendis.

Facing the certain death of Carek and Lon-Chi, Yevgenny reached down to the very core of his being and where he had been a blur before, he became a ghostly apparition behind a wall of lambent light cast by his lightsaber as he closed on the nearest Imperials.

The stormtrooper captains didn't even notice the two wounded Jedi reach the battered old freighter, as both were too stunned by the sight of the lone figure charging into and completely annihilating a platoon of troopers. After a second of shock, they both ordered their entire companies to open fire on the deadly menace.

Toris Mons had to make a hard decision too. When he saw his friend charge into the Imperials, he knew what Yevgenny was doing and why, with tears streaming down his face, he began punching in the code that would over ride the safeties on the repulsor drives.

"Must make it!" Carek said with single minded intensity as he forced his body to cover the last five meters to the boarding ramp. He had to ignore the bodies of his friends Oos and Philla. He had to ignore the blood that flowed freely from the gaping hole in Lon-Chi's chest. He had to ignore the agony in his shoulder. Carek's life had become the boarding ramp. He could see Jenall waiting for him on the ramp, his subconscious mind even noticed Davies enter the Tigershark's dorsal turret and begin firing on the troopers.

Once both of Carek's feet were solidly on the boarding ramp, the Tigershark lifted. The unexpected movement caused Carek to pitch forward and both he and Lon-Chi sprawled headlong. Jenall pounced from where he had taken cover in the airlock and pulled Lon-Chi inside.

"NNNOOOOOO! WAIT! The Master isn't aboard yet!" Carek roared as he rolled over and looked back for the missing Jedi Knight. Toris Mons chose that moment to pivot the Tigershark around for the exit and the movement allowed Carek to catch sight of Havsoltek. The beleaguered Jedi Knight was surrounded by a mound of stormtroopers. Havsoltek's robes were in tatters from multiple blaster burns.

"Carek! Give me your hand!" Said Jenall from the airlock. "You've got to come in!"  Carek whipped his head around to face Cadson. "NO! The master is still alive. We've got to save him!"

"What's that damn fool's problem?" Snarled Toris Mons who had been waiting to engage the boarding ramp's closing mechanism. The comm system was pinging furiously and Mons saw the docking bay doors begin to close, knowing he was unable to wait any longer, he punched the close switch and slammed twenty-five percent above rated maximum power into the repulsor drive.

The sudden motion caused Jenall to stagger back from the airlock's hatch. The closing ramp caused Carek to slide toward the airlock. As he slid to safety, from the corner of his eye, he saw Havsoltek stagger. The Tigershark was pulling, thanks to the safety over ride, five Gs and Carek had to fight to keep the sight of his master in focus, but the last thing he saw before the hatch closed, was Havsoltek's empty robes collapsing upon themselves.

"Th-Th-That can't be." He stammered as Jenall pulled him out of the airlock.

"What can't be?"

"Didn't you see what happened to the master?"

"No. I was too busy getting Lon-Chi into the rec room. What did you see?"

"Nothing. I...I guess I'm just seeing things. Is Lon-Chi going to make it?"

"I'm sorry Carek, Lon-Chi is dead. He died saying something about joining someone named Locean. Whatever that means. You, however are going to make it as soon as I can get a medpac on you."

"What are we going to do?"

"That my friend is an outstanding question."

 

"Five minutes to realspace children," The intercom crackled. "you'd better strap in. I'm pullin' an old smuggler's trick and usin' a sandstorm to mask our arrival from approach control and I can guaranty it's goin' to get rough."

Carek and Jenall were sitting in the Tigershark's tiny lounge contemplating their now uncertain fate. Carek looked at his chronometer as he strapped in.

"Five days. Can it really only be five days since...since..." He started, but could not finish. The pain was still too new, too sharp to face straight on.

"I know Carek." Said Jenall Cadson. "I can't believe that our master is gone either."

"I've known for a long time that Jedi didn't have a place in the Emperor's the New Order, but I just couldn't bring myself to believe that the Purge was real. I guess there's no doubt about that now."

"Where's Davies?" Jenall sneered, contempt for his ex-comrade plain to see.

"In the cockpit I suppose, after all he is the new co-pilot for this old tub."

"I still can't believe that he would betray everything the Master stood for so easily, he was the Master's first student and was with him longer than any of us. Davies should have been the first to suggest joining the rebellion."

"I know Jenall, but he's made his choice and there is nothing we can do about it."

Jenall started in again about betrayals and loyalties and that made Carek sigh deeply. He had had this discussion with Cadson several times since Davies made his stunning decision that he would be replacing Drex as Mons' co-pilot and that he was forever

renouncing becoming a Jedi. Jenall just could not accept Davies' decision and the two had very nearly come to blows when Davies first announced his decision.

Davies had entered the cargo hold where Carek and Jenall were practicing the first lightsaber cadence with a crude facsimile of the candle and ball bearing test they had managed to construct. Davies asked to borrow Cadson's weapon, who although mystified by his friends request, agreed. Davies tossed his own lightsaber into the air and sliced it into three pieces.

"I've agreed to become Toris' co-pilot. If you two have any sense, you'll find yourself some out of the way, loser planet and become a nerf herder."

"I never had you pegged as a coward Davies." Cadson responded quietly, his hands flexing rapidly open and closed.

Davies stopped and looked at Cadson with eyes as hard as flint.

"If you knew anything about my life before I met Havsoltek, I would break every bone in your scrawny body. Because we were once friends I will remind you this just once, I am no longer bound by the Jedi code. You had better remember this if you ever choose to accuse me of being a coward again."

Davies walked out of the cargo bay and had not spoken to Jenall, or Carek again.

The two remaining Jedi were so stunned by the revelation that the man they considered their leader would not lead them, that it was up to Toris Mons to give them direction again. Short on ideas at the time of the rapid departure from Chanlot, Mons had chosen to make contact with a mutual friend of Havsoltek and his, a Twi'lek by the name of Dag Caltare who lived on the remote planet of Tatooine. Dag was an information broker and Mons figured that, if anyone could find a home for the two young Jedi it would be Dag.

When Mons explained this to Jenall and Carek, Jenall perked up for the first time since they entered hyperspace.

"Does this Caltare have any contacts with the Rebellion?"

"Uh...I'm...not sure." Mons replied, clearly holding something back.

"Please, Captain Mons I beg of you. We have just lost everything we owned and most of what we believed in." Jenall said with eyes bright with tears. "I have to get in contact with the rebellion. They are the only ones that are trying to stop that maniac Palpatine. I owe it to Master Havsoltek to take up the fight he couldn't be here for, please help me do what's right."

"Son, danged if'n you don't want to go from the black hole, straight into the super nova. You're already wanted for bein' a Jedi, why would you want to hook up with the only other people that are as high on his majesties wanted list."

"I owe to the Master."

"We owe it to the Master." Added Carek with a determined nod.

"Okay, okay. If'n you two are so fired up to jump down the Sarlacc's throat. Yes, Dag can get you in contact with the rebellion. We'll look him up in the Mos Eisley cantina as soon as we get there."

The rest of the flight to Tatooine had been an exercise in boredom. Carek and Jenall had spent a fair portion of the journey trying to figure out how they had escaped from Chandlot so easily, after the intensity of the attack they had to endure to get to the ship.

"Well I'm not too sure about how we pulled that off either. I was certain when we broke orbit, we were about to make the final jump." Said Mons when the two Jedi eventually came to him for the answer. "I made as much use of Chandlot's southern pole's magnetic interference as I could, but that's an old, old trick. I guess that the captain of that Dreadnaught cruiser must not have had any anti-smuggler patrol experience. He had his fighters at the wrong latitude for an intercept. I dropped straight down off the galactic plane until we were free of the planet's gravity well and hit the jump sequence for lightspeed. I guess we just got lucky."

The Tigershark began to vibrate and a violent shudder shook the entire ship as Captain Mons fought with the raging, winds that tossed the ship about with a jolt that brought Carek out of his revelry.

"And I thought our departure from Chanlot was a wild ride." Jenall grunted as the ship pitched down alarmingly, almost righting itself, then rocking violently from a huge explosion.

"ABANDON SHIP!" Mons managed to make himself heard above the scream of the dying ship. "Get out and get out now! The repulsors have failed and we're going down!"

Carek and Jenall looked blankly at each other, then they each punched the quick release on their safety harness.

 

In the cockpit, a quick glance at the status board told Mons all he needed to know. The sandstorm's negative ionic charge had caused the primary repulsor field coil, which unknown to Mons had microfractured from his earlier over load, to depolarize and shatter. The resultant explosion had caused a fire that activated the safety shut down of the main fusion reactor, cutting power to the ship's sublight drive and thrusters. Re-initiating the reactor would take longer then they had time for, the Tigershark was going to crash.

Mons turned to face his new co-pilot, and found Davies staring at the rapidly approaching surface of Tatooine.

"WHAT ARE YOU WASTING TIME FOR? GIT!"

"Not without you. I've already lost one mentor this week. I'm not going to lose another."

"Look Conrad, The inertia dampners are offline. If someone doesn't hold the old girl steady, centrifugal force will keep anybody from reachin' the pod. Now, I'm givin' you an order. Get to the pod!"

The look on Conrad's tormented face made it clear what he thought of that order.

"It's okay son. I got us into this mess and I'm going to get you out of it."

"If anyone can do it, you can sir." Said Davies as he finally turned and raced for the pod.

Once he was alone, Mons rerouted power from the life support emergency backup battery to give him partial maneuvering thrusters.

"I'm not goin' to be needin' life support where I'm goin' and it'll give me just enough control to save those young'uns."

 

In the main cabin, Jenall and Carek had freed themselves and were struggling for the pod. As they fought to keep their feet, an automated abandon ship siren started to sound, triggered by a ground proximity sensor, a strident voice burst over the intercom.

"WARNING! IMPACT WITH SURFACE OF PLANET IMMINENT! IMPACT IN TEN SECONDS. TEN. NINE. EIGHT..."

Despite Mons' efforts to keep the ship stable, the wildly careening deck was making it all but impossible for the scrambling Jedi to reach the pod.

"SEVEN. SIX..."

Jenall had had the fortune of being closest to the escape pod when the evacuation order came over the intercom and once again, his years as a steppe runner aided him. When he reached the pod, he looked back and saw that Carek was a good five meters from safety and was not going to make it.

"FIVE. FOUR..."

  Knowing that Carek outmassed him by twenty kilos and that he would never be able to pull his friend aboard the pod in time, Jenall made a decision.

"THREE. TWO..."

In the cockpit, Mons could see the ground clearly and knew it was time to play his last sabacc chip. He rolled the ship slightly to starboard, so that the escape pod, which was mounted on the port ship of the ship, would be able to blast high and clear. The roll however, put the exposed cockpit closest to the ground. Mons knew this, as it also ment that cockpit would absorb the initial impact and give anyone who didn't reach the pod a very slight chance of surviving the "decelleration trama" of the crash.

"ONE..."

"There's only one way to handle a heavy load..." Thought Jenall as he spun around and grabbed Carek's arm, using the momentum of his pivot, and adding his full wiry strength, he swung Carek into the pod. "...you put your back into it." The natural reaction from his swing, caused Jenall to be flung away from the pod. Jenall stabbed at the lunch control and watched it seal and blast free. He had less than a second to register Davies' strangled gasp behind him and to savor the priceless look of surprise on Carek's face, before the Tigershark impacted with bone crushing force and everything went black.

 

"Jenall how could you..." Carek croaked from the escape pod's tiny viewport. "you were safe. Why would sacrifice yourself for me?"

Carek did not actually see the crash of the Tigershark, when he reached the viewport, the ship had already flipped on it's back, exploded and was completely engulfed in flames. The pod was caught by the fringe of the sandstorm and by the time Carek and the autopilot gained control, the dark plume of smoke that marked the passing of the Tigershark, was no longer even visible.

Alone and far from help, Carek had to make the toughest choice of his life. The pod did not contain sufficient supplies to mount an overland trek into kilometers of trackless desert, Carek's only viable option was to head for the nearest settlement.

The Tigershark had gone down just ahead of sunset and the twin suns had sunk below the horizon, bathing the bleak landscape in twilight. Carek had gathered the survival gear he would need for the fifty kilometer hike to Mos Eisley. He stood silently and faced the first of the stars that had begun to sprinkle the vast open sky.

"Davies. Felorren. Kalrendis. Wilks. Cadson. Havsoltek. I will never forget you. I will honor your memories by never giving up the Master's dream of keeping the spark of the Jedi alive. I don't know why I have been chosen to carry on your legacy, but by the Force and all that is right in this galaxy. I swear, I will see the return of the Jedi!"

Guiding on the distant glow of Mos Eisley, Carek began his journey.