“You are beaten, Lordan,” growled Japhta as she slashed her lightsabre inches from Sarolyn’s nose. Sarolyn, clinging to the broken metal spar, blinked as the blade whizzed past her face. “You’re pathetic!”
Sarolyn hugged the strut and gazed at Japhta. “You’re the one who’s beaten,” she said softly. She could sense a ship approaching the planet, a presence that was causing ripples in the Force. “If I die, you’ll die with me.”
Japhta, angered by Sarolyn’s impertinence, kicked her in the face. Sarolyn momentarily lost her grip.
“The Jedi don’t worry me, Lordan. They’ll be wiped out!”
The animal below roared as Japhta resumed her assault on the dangling Sarolyn, kicking her repeatedly as if she were a football. Japhta’s face lit up with pleasure as she pummelled the young Jedi.
Sarolyn began to lose her grip as Japhta’s assault grew in intensity. She knew that she could not take much more of this. There was only one way out. She let go.
As Sarolyn fell, she heard a startled scream as the errant length of railing flew up and caught Japhta. Everything went black.
* * *
The climb was tiring, but at least it was quiet on the spiral staircase deep within the institute. As he plodded upward, Ayo looked around. Neema, as usual was taking the lead alongside the Chief Zez and Thriatizedd brought up the rear. The stairs looked like they had been little used since the base had been built.
An explosion rocked the upper reaches, sending dust and debris fluttering down the stairwell. The Chief Zez hissed a warning at the band of armed females who surrounded her.
“Attention,” buzzed Thriatizedd as he floated up the central shaft. “Enemy troops.” The droid rotated his arms, bringing his twin laser cannons into play.
“Go and help the Chief, Thriatizedd,” said Neema as blaster fire pummelled the stairs from above. “She’ll need all the help she can get.”
“Complying,” buzzed the droid as he floated up beside the Chief.
Over a hundred shocktroopers piled into the stairway above, spraying the air with blaster bolts. The Chief Zez fired in return, her tusks bared in anger.
“Allow me, madam,” said Thriatizedd as he turned to face the troops.
A heavy volley of blaster bolts flooded from the droid’s cannons, cutting down the troops as if they were weeds. They tumbled down the central shaft with a clatter.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this, Yarua,” said Ayo as they added to Thriatizedd’s firepower. Yarua barked in reply as shots echoed about the shaft. Smoke and the odour of roast meat filled the air.
“Ayo! Yarua!” yelled Neema as reinforcements charged into the stairwell below. “Behind you!”
Ayo swore and Yarua roared at the sight of the shocktroopers charging up the stairs below. “This is it, Yarua,” muttered Ayo in grim resignation. “We’re done for this time.”
Sarolyn awoke to find herself lying in a pool of black slime. Every part of her body ached. She turned and squinted at the fungus-trees around her. Something unseen snarled.
The undergrowth rustled and Sarolyn looked around to see what was happening. The fungal reeds parted as Japhta Fett, bruised and bloody, strode out with her lightsabre blazing. Before Sarolyn could move, Fett stamped hard on the young Jedi’s chest. A wave of white-hot pain engulfed Sarolyn’s body as her ribs snapped like twigs.
A voice formed within Fett’s twisted mind: Destroy her. Fulfil your destiny. Japhta felt a surge of strength course through her body as she tapped the power of the Dark Side. Her hatred of Sarolyn had made her powerful. Japhta extinguished her lightsabre. She wanted Sarolyn to have a death more appropriate to the trouble she had caused, both in the Jedi Temple and out of it. A simple execution with the lightsabre would be too quick and too painless. She wanted Lordan to suffer.
Japhta watched with morbid fascination as Sarolyn crawled to her feet as if she were a wounded animal. Sarolyn fought to keep her balance. She was in crippling pain and the plantation around her seemed to be spinning. The heavy air bore down like a rug.
“Who’s the stronger now, Lordan?” taunted Japhta. “Your powers have deserted you. You’re the weakest link in an Order that will die.”
Sarolyn gasped as she tried to draw breath. Japhta seemed to waver before her. “The Dark Side doesn’t make you strong, Japhta,” she said in a small, weak voice. “In time it will engulf you like a cancer, eating away at your very being. You will rot away.”
Show her your power, my darling Japhta, whispered the voice of Darth Rakshas. Strike her down with all of your hatred and join me as my Sith Apprentice.
Japhta raised her arms as if she were a conductor bringing together an orchestra, and a loud crack filled the air as arcs of lightning lanced from her fingers and into Sarolyn’s body. The young Jedi was slammed into the trunk of a tree.
Sarolyn barely managed to repel the energy. The force of the strike was like nothing she had ever encountered. Who taught her this, she wondered with horror as the energy suddenly stopped. Force-lightning is forbidden!
“Never underestimate the power of the Dark Side, Lordan,” said Japhta as she slowly advanced. Sarolyn lay crumpled at the base of the tree. She was growing weak.
Japhta attacked again, and Sarolyn curled herself into a ball in an attempt to protect herself from this Dark Side power. Her body twitched and writhed as the lightning ploughed through her nerves, flashing from her fingertips and jumping between her teeth as she begged Japhta to end this unnecessary pain.
The attack stopped, leaving Sarolyn lying in a daze as smoke drifted around her. She turned her head and tried to speak. Staring at Japhta through half-closed eyes, she finally managed to utter a few words to her childhood rival.
“Go on, Japhta. Kill me. You won’t achieve anything.”
Japhta smiled, as if bidding a final farewell. She raised her hand and blew a kiss before releasing an electrical storm of a magnitude far greater than before. Sensing the suffering she was inflicting, Japhta laughed out loud as she sent millions of volts into Sarolyn’s wounded body.
The lightning engulfed Sarolyn, but the intensity of the strike was such that it overflowed, running out of her and into the surrounding fungi. The entire area was soon ablaze as Fett’s manic laughter echoed above the crackling of the flames.
Sarolyn closed her eyes and relaxed. The pain was now so intense that she could feel nothing. She knew that she was dying. Just as she resigned herself to her fate, the energy stopped. Sarolyn looked up in disbelief as something distracted Japhta. With a loud roar, a large, armour-plated animal leapt through the flames at Japhta, who turned and sent bolts of lightning surging over the beast as it pounced.
Unaffected by the Dark Side power, the creature howled as it landed on top of Japhta, crushing her beneath its bony flanks. It turned to Sarolyn and stared at her with sad eyes before standing up and sloping away.
The flames began to die, leaving a strange feeling of calm in the plantation as Sarolyn gazed at the lifeless body of Japhta Fett. She could not believe her eyes, for the beast was the same creature she had seen wandering the corridors of the Temple all those days ago.
Summoning the last of her strength, Sarolyn followed her mysterious saviour. Leaving Japhta behind, she entered the clearing into which the beast had crawled.
Sarolyn felt cold. The creature had vanished without trace and there was no evidence that it had ever existed, not even so much as a footprint in the dirt. Sarolyn shivered. She considered the mysterious apparition. Could it have been an hallucination?
Her hands were shaking violently, and Sarolyn felt cold and light-headed. It was getting difficult to breathe. She concentrated, drawing energy from the Force. She had to reach the control tower and stop the launch. Everything spun around her as she made her way through the undergrowth to the airlock. Sarolyn began to cough, a rough, debilitating cough that felt like a lightsabre down her throat. As she stood doubled over from the pain of her shattered ribcage, a trickle of black slime ran from her mouth.
Sarolyn immediately knew what this meant: she was running out of time.Forward to Chapter 44 Back to Chapter 42 Home