It had been hardly a week since Alrik Pol returned from his missions on the Bothan homeworld of Bothawui that he met an unexpected face at the door. His Master, a middle-aged Bothan Jedi named Cale’rho, had left for a routine mission to a distant Rim world called Drukon. Saying that a young Padawan like Alrik had little to learn from the political squabbles of the planet, Cale’rho insisted that Alrik stay on Coruscant and continue his studies at the Jedi Temple. There, the young Alderaanian studied under powerful Jedi Masters such as Yoda and Mace Windu. Although his masters liked the young man’s obvious dedication to the Force, it would still be some time before he attained the rank of Knight, despite the dangerous missions he had undertaken on Bothawui.
Alrik was just finishing a round of Jedi meditation when his door chimed. Alrik rose and opened the door, sensing a familiar Force presence. He smiled when he saw the rubbery green face of his old friend Navik. Navik was considerably bigger than the last time Alrik had seen him, and he had a harder light in his bulbous green eyes. The old friends greeted one another warmly, but Navik had a grave message for Alrik.
“As you know, I’ve been working as a soldier since I left the Jedi Temple. On one of my mercenary jobs in the lower reaches of the city, I came across a disturbing rumor. They say there is a secret Jedi trainee somewhere in the lower depths.”
Alrik rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “If it’s true that someone is training a Jedi without the approval of the Council, that would be bad news. We should investigate.”
After Alrik and Navik spoke with Jedi Master Yoda, they agreed to this plan of action, and borrowed* Master Windu’s landspeeder to take to the city. There, they followed their Force intuition to the cramped, deserted city streets.
“Hmmmm. You wantss to buy ssomething? Gunss?” a black Trandoshan asked, but the pair just shook their heads and moved past the big reptile. They also met with a shabby human who offered to guide them for a fee, but also turned down his offer.
Then, they came across an old, faded woman wearing brown robes. She took Alrik by the arm and said, “You’re a Jedi. I can sense it on you. Be careful.”
The pair questioned the strange old woman, who muttered vaguely about a conspiracy in the Jedi Order. “You have to be careful. If they find out you’ve been talking to me, they could kill you.” The old woman gave them a holocron that would prove what she said was true, but when Alrik tried to access it, he found it was broken.
The two finally arrived at what seemed to be a disused warehouse. Although they tried to access it, the creature inside denied them entry. They talked back and forth: the stranger demanded to speak with Rexib, a Jedi master who had gone with Cale’rho to Drukon. Alrik and Navik demanded to be let inside. Finally, the mysterious person let them in. He was a Kel Dor male dressed in what appeared to be second-hand Jedi robes.
He told them his story. Although he was strong in the Force, he was deemed much too old to join the Jedi when he was brought before the Council. He had already had a long life history. “I am not proud of what I did in the past. I did many bad things,” he told the pair, but he wouldn’t go into further detail. “Jedi Master Rexib took me as his Padawan, and was training me in secret.” Suitably alarmed, the pair convinced the Kel Dor, whose name was Taren Tlo, to come with them to the Jedi Temple to speak with the Council. Rexib would answer for his actions.
In the meantime, a small crowd of ne’er-do-wells had gathered outside the warehouse and confronted the group as they came out. The three of them had little trouble convincing the hoodlums to back down, and returned to their speeder and the Temple.
At the Temple, the Jedi Masters called the three to their presence in the Council Chambers. “Most distressing this secret Jedi is,” Yoda said, shaking his head.
“I agree,” said Mace Windu, nodding. “Master Rexib shouldn’t have taken on a Padawan without our consent. We denied your request for Jedi training for good reason, Taren Tlo, and it worries me that you decided to go against our decision.”
“Answer for his actions, Master Rexib will,” said Yoda. “But first, find him we must. Long overdue his message from Drukon is. Fear for him, we do.”
Ki-Adi-Mundi said, “Your final fate will have to wait, Taren Tlo. I have felt a growing darkness in the Force. You must go to Drukon to learn the fates of your masters, Cale’rho and Rexib. It would seem the Force has brought you three together, and with luck, you will find them before something terrible happens.”
Although Taren Tlo expressed his hesitation to work with the Jedi, he finally agreed to help for the sake of his Master, and the three chartered a starship, a Corellian vessel named the Ghost of Kessel. When they asked the Captain about the ship’s name, associated with a planet known for its illegal spice mines, the stubbled, long-haired man grinned and said, “It’s… from a previous owner. I only do legit jobs, of course.”
The Ghost of Kessel was less than a day from Drukon when suddenly it fell out of hyperspace. “It’s some sort of gravity well,” said the captain, Derin Fewn. “It’s not on any of the charts. I’ll try to steer us around it.”
Before he could restart the hyperdrive, the crackle of ion energy shook the ship. “We’re being attacked!” Derin shouted. The trio quickly armed themselves and stood ready to fight, but Derin convinced them to hide in the engine room.
As they waited, they overheard the pirates entering and searching the ship. The two pirates who started searching the engine room were called away by a female voice. When they were gone, the voice said, “I know you’re in there. Come out. I won’t hurt you.”
With no other choice, Derin, Navik, Alrik, and Taren walked out. They were met by a pretty Twi’lek who said, “I’ll help you escape if you help me, too.”
They agreed. Although the Twi’lek wanted to take back control of the Ghost of Kessel, and Derin strongly agreed, Navik and Alrik were all for capturing the pirate ship instead. Posing as the prisoners of the Twi’lek, who called herself Tryn, the trio went on board and sabotaged the gravity drive of the pirate ship. Alrik then told Tryn to transmit that there was a power drain from the Ghost of Kessel, and the other crew were needed to check on it and to help with the loading. With the ship seemingly empty, the five made their way to the cockpit. On the way, Derin had a change of heart, and escaped in one of the escape pods instead. “I didn’t sign on for a fight. This was supposed to be a transport mission. Now I’ve lost my ship, and we’re going up against a whole ship of pirates. I don’t mind a good fight, but this is more like suicide.” And so saying, he left.
In the cockpit, two battered, bulky battle droids confronted them, their red eyes springing to life. “Halt there and identify yourselves,” one of the droids said in a mechanical voice.
Taren Tlo led the attack, chopping down one of the droids with his lightsaber. The others followed suit, and soon both droids were smoking wrecks. The fight had taken precious time, however, and a voice outside the locked cockpit shouted, “This is Sal Plotts. The Freebooter Legacy is my ship. Come on out of there!”
With their plans for escape dashed, the group threatened the pirates back, hoping for leeway. “With us in here, you’re not going anywhere,” said Alrik, gripping his lightsaber more firmly.
“All right. I’m a reasonable man. I’ll let you have your ship back, but I’m keeping your cargo and my ship.”
“Fine,” said Navik. “But we’re taking Tryn with us, too.”
“Deal,” said the captain. When the door opened, he proved to be a large man with not much hair. Although the conflict was tense enough to cut with a vibroknife, the respective parties edged past each other, and the group, minus their captain, returned to the Ghost of Kessel.
The pirates had done a number on the ship, but with a group effort and a lot of elbow grease, the group managed to get it to Drukon.
Tryn told the group her story. She was just a drifter, a girl from a boring planet that decided life among the stars might be more exciting. The life she lived was fast and hard, but she grew to adapt, trusting herself above others and struggling to get by however she could, knowing that returning home was no longer an option, and she had no-one else she could depend on. She eventually fell in with pirates, a life which proved much less glamorous and more dangerous than she had bargained for. When the chance for her to get away from the pirates presented itself, she took it.
She told the group that their capture wasn’t accidental. She had heard Captain Plotts talking with a man he only called “The Captain.” “The Captain” gave Plotts the coordinates for the hyperspace route from Coruscant to Drukon and told him to intercept a ship that matched the description of the Ghost of Kessel. She didn’t know why or what they were supposed to do with the ship or the people on board, but she knew that, by the way Plotts talked to him, “The Captain” was not a man to be crossed lightly.
Drukon was a small planet that was mostly a hot green color, as its surface was entirely made up of superheated acidic oceans. The acid created the perfect condition for the production of the mineral sortium, which was essential to the production of some kinds of artillery weapons, as well as the engines of starships. For generations, the planet had been ruled by the Highquarter family, a group of merchant-rulers. Before the Separatist movement, the Highquarters were supporters of the Republic. Because of the worth of sortium, they even had a seat in the Senate. With the war, however, the political situation had become tentative: with the potential profits of a large-scale war, the Highquarter family had taken Drukon independent, and it was rumored that they sold their precious mineral to both the Republic and the Separatists.
When they stepped off the ship, Navik, Alrik, and Taren were greeted by a man who introduced himself as the chief of security for the Highquarter family, who told them about trouble between elements in the merchant group that supported the Republic and others that wanted to join the Separatists. They then went to speak with the current Baron Highquarter, a man named Garen. Garen, a pale young man seeming ill-suited to the opulent chambers of his palace, said, “It’s good to see that the Jedi contingent has finally arrived.”
“But we’re not the first Jedi here,” said Alrik, stepping forward. “Masters Rexib and Cale’rho should already be here.”
The young man shook his head. “You are the first Jedi to arrive in the city for quite some time.”
The young Force-users exchanged looks. They could tell Garen was speaking the truth. But then what had happened to Rexib and Cale’rho?
“Wait,” said Taren. “I can tell he’s hiding something.”
“What else are you keeping from us?” insisted Alrik.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. If there’s nothing else, we can consider this meeting finished. You should send Republic aid as soon as you can, if you don’t want this city to fall into Separatist hands. We don’t have the forces required to repel an attack.”
Navik shook his head and pointed a suction-cupped finger at the Baron. “We won’t help you until you tell us everything.”
The young man sank down into his chair and sighed. “Although I hold the title of Baron Highquarter legitimately, my older brother, Klem, is also claiming that title. He has taken control of our largest sortium refinery, in a city on the other side of the planet. I have heard that there are Separatist ships coming and going from that spaceport. Some say he has already pledged the Highquarter family’s support to Count Dooku.”
“We’d better have a word with Klem,” said Alrik, turning to his companions. “He or the Separatists might have something to do with the missing Jedi Masters.” The other two agreed.
Within a few minutes, they were back aboard the Ghost of Kessel and on their way to the city of Factory Alpha. Although they found that Tryn was missing, they didn’t give it much thought. Unlike Highquarter City, which was built on impure sortium standing up out of the acid, Factory Alpha was a floating city within the acid itself. Claiming to be diplomats with an offer from Garen, the trio landed the Ghost of Kessel. Alrik sensed a familiar presence nearby: the Captain of the Ghost of Kessel, Derin Fewn. He decided that it would be best for him to stay aboard, while the Rodian and the Kel-Dor, who would probably look like any other member of their species to a human like Fewn, would go to see the self-proclaimed Baron Highquarter Several guards escorted them to a durasteel bunker where they met Klem, a broad-shouldered, dark man dressed in a plain uniform. He was talking to Derin Fewn. As Navik and Taren walked in, Derin left, apparently not recognizing them.
“You say you have a message from my brother,” said Klem slowly. “Has he finally come to reason?”
“We’ll give you the message after you answer some of our questions,” said Navik. “What do you know of two Jedi named Cale’rho and Rexib?”
The nobleman blinked at them. “What is this? Are you diplomats or aren’t you? You’re in no position to ask questions of me. If my brother wants to talk, then I’ll hear what he has to say, but don’t play games with me.”
“Do you know about Jedi in this system or not?” insisted Taren.
“I don’t know anything about Jedi. You don’t really have a message, do you?”
“Well,” stammered Navik, his mouth quivering. “He says he wants to… talk… about the situation. That’s all. We’ll be leaving now.”
Klem Highquarter laughed and turned to his soldiers. “I’ve had enough of this. Why don’t you take our guests some place they can be comfortable?”
“Well, see you later,” said Navik, turning to leave as Klem walked out of the room.
“You’re coming with us,” said one of the guards, stepping forward with a pistol.
“The hell with this!” said Navik, pulling his blaster lightning-quick and dropping one of the guards with a shot.
Taren activated his lightsaber and charged, cutting down two more of the guards. The fourth turned to run, but Taren pushed him down with the Force. Alrik, alerted by ripples in the Force, dashed out of the ship to help his companions. By the time he arrived, it was mostly over. The three walked back toward the ship, only to hear a familiar voice.
“Stop where you are! I want my ship back, you thieves!” Derin Fewn was aiming down the barrel of a blaster rifle towards them from one of the windows in the factory.
“Run!” The three sprinted across the launching pad to the safety of the ship as blaster bolts rained down on them. Alrik activated his lightsaber and parried shots, keeping the other two safe until all three were on board.
“We have to leave, now!” shouted Navik, and Taren jumped into the pilot’s seat. Within seconds, the ship was in the air, and even as the defensive turbolasers of the factory came to life, the ship blasted off into the sky.
“I knew I sensed a familiar presence,” a smooth voice said from behind the trio as they slumped in relief in the chairs of the cockpit. They turned to see a well-tattooed Zabrak dressed in fine clothes standing in the doorway.
“Dragomira? What are you doing here?” said Alrik. He recognized her as the sister of one of the young Jedi he had trained with as a boy. He, Navik, and Dragomira had known each other back when Navik and Alrik were still younglings. Even then, the well-born Zabrak was always getting the others into adventures, not to mention trouble. Now, she walked both sides of the line, both as an adventurous young woman and the heir of a vast financial fortune inherited from her noble parents. No matter what she got into, either her cunning wits or her money always managed to ensure she got out in one piece, with another story to tell.
“I thought I sensed you aboard. I ran into Derin on Factory One, and when he told me the story about how he lost his beloved ship, I knew it had to be you two. I thought that since he doesn’t have a ship now, and you do, this would be the more interesting place for me to be.”
“You two know her?” said Taren, surprised.
“This is Dragomira,” said Navik. “We were friends years ago, on Coruscant.”
“This is Taren Tlo,” explained Alrik to the Zabrak. “From what we gather, he was being trained in secret by a Jedi Master named Rexib back on Coruscant. He’s helping us try to find two missing Jedi Masters, Rexib and Cale’rho.”
“So, were are we going now?” said Dragomira, taking a seat in the remaining chair in the cockpit.
“First, we should check in with Garen Highquarter,” said Alrik. With that, he activated the ship’s comms system. “Baron Highquarter, this is Alrik. We didn’t find anything out from your brother. Are you sure there’s no other sign of the Jedi?”
“Alrik! Did you negotiate with my brother? Have you agreed on anything?”
Alrik looked at Navik and Taren. “Not as such, no. But are you sure there’s nothing else happening in the area? Something that might explain what happened to them?”
“Listen, I don’t mean to sound callous to the fate of your Jedi friends, but the situation here is getting out of control. Since you didn’t negotiate with my brother, war is almost unavoidable. You have to talk to the Senate to get us some protection, before the Separatists overrun our city and our planet.”
“We’ll see what we can do,” promised Navik. “In the meantime, is there anything else you can tell us?”
“Not much at all. There’s one thing, and I almost wouldn’t even mention it, but there have recently been rumors of Sith in a nearby system. I know it’s crazy, but there might be something else behind it. There have been ships spotted landing and taking off from the planet Sellis, which they say is completely uninhabitable because of its climate and extremely dangerous animal life.”
“Thanks, Baron. Goodbye.”
“Please, Jedi. I know your search is important, but you’re needed here on Drukon. Isn’t there any way you could help us?”
Alrik looked at the others. “I’m afraid our mission is our priority. May the Force be with you.” And then he called up the Council and asked them to send reinforcements to Drukon, although the Council expressed their concern that no such reinforcements would be possible.
On a flyby, the Ghost of Kessel dropped Navik over the planet. Using his jetpack, he found what appeared to be a structure on the surface, but he couldn’t tell much more because of the dense growth of poisonous-looking trees.
Landing on Sellis proved to be a tricky affair, and as the Ghost of Kessel set down in an open patch of land, it proved to be a plant-covered swampy lake, and the ship sunk so deep that only the top hatch was serviceable. Deciding to deal with their stuck ship later, the companions climbed out. Between their determination and skill with weapons, they sliced their way through the jungle, fighting off the hostile animals. They arrived scratched, chewed-on, but alive at a structure they had picked up on their scanners. It appeared to be a Sith temple, buried in the fast-growing vegetation of the planet. The architecture was ancient, and with no other signs of habitation, it was a mystery who had built it in such an inhospitable place and why.
Their ruminations were cut short by a burst of blaster fire from the stone door sunken in the ground, the entranceway almost completely choked with plants. Navik flew down using his jetpack and blasted at the thin slit in the door from which the barrel of the heavy blaster fired. Finally, amid a flurry of blasts and lightsaber cuts, the group tore through the door and disabled the strangely-dressed man who had been firing the blaster.
He was dressed in odd clothes, black leather and spikes, with his hair done up in a bizarre way. He was muddy and unkempt, and when they questioned him, he only opened his mouth to show that his tongue had been cut out. After rendering their prisoner unconscious, the group advanced down the sloping corridor, bypassing traps and ready for danger. They came to a huge central chamber in the temple. The tall ceiling opened at the top, a small circle letting in the reddish light from the planet’s surface.
There, they found what appeared to be a well-polished metal pedestal, and resting atop it was a holocron. Even Dragomira, who had no Jedi training but was sensitive to the Force, could feel the evil energy flowing from the holocron. When Alrik touched it, the device sent painful feelings through him: despair, anger, hate. It was clearly deeply tainted by the Dark Side.
As they bundled away the deeply evil artifact, they noticed that each of the eight hallways leading out of the room were blocked off by two men each, all dressed like the man they had met earlier. The ragged, hollow-eyed men held wicked-looking vibro-axes, but made no attempt to attack the group. They stood like ominous sentinels, as though waiting for a command or threat from the group. When Navik and Alrik tried to ask them questions, they only stood mutely.
“Who are you, and why have you come to this place?” said a silky voice. They turned to see a tall man with regal features and long, red hair step out from one of the passageways. He was dressed in a dark, flowing robe and carried no visible weapons.
“Where are Rexib and Cale’rho?” demanded Taren.
“There is no-one here but us,” said the man. As he walked closer, the four could feel the strength of the Dark Side of the Force as it flowed around and through him. “Return the holocron. You don’t know its power. It will be your undoing. You can’t possibly leave here alive with it.”
“You can’t stop us,” said Dragomira. “If you attack, you’ll risk damaging the holocron.”
“You’re right,” said the man. “But if you attempt to leave, I would rather destroy the holocron than see it fall into your hands. So we’re at an impasse.”
Alrik stepped forward and waved two fingers through the air. “You will show us what you know about the disappearance of our Masters.”
The Dark man blinked, shook his head as though confused, and then said, “Come right this way.” He turned and headed down one of the tunnels. The four hesitated, then followed, the Dark Side servants stepping aside to let them through. They came to an ancient computer, barely functional, and the man used a star chart to show them the location of the planet.
“This is Tatooine, a galactic backwater where nothing ever happens. ‘The Captain’ is based there. Your Masters are most likely in that place.”
As the four made their way toward the exit, the Dark Siders moved toward them, vibro-axes ready. But then the red haired man raised a long-nailed hand and said, smiling, “Let them go. The jungle will finish them, and we will have the holocron back before long.”
With a flourish, the man pulled a grenade from his cloaks and tossed it at the group. Although the group attempted to cast it back, with a particular effort by Alrik, the grenade exploded between them, and by the time the smoke cleared, they escaped from the temple, coughing in the dust.
After they returned to the Ghost of Kessel, the group found that their ship was in no state to take off. They sent a distress call, then settled in to wait, in the meantime effecting what repairs they could from inside the vessel. They weathered monster attacks and an ambush from cultists armed with blasters.
With nothing to do but wait, Alrik tried his hand at repairing the holocron the old woman had given him on Coruscant. He was able to get a brief message out of it: it was his Jedi Master, Cale’rho, and he could hear her speaking. “Beware the Dark Side. Its power is growing more powerful by the day. I have heard rumors of an ancient artifact of great evil, and a new group of Dark Force users rising.” Then, the message went dead.
When a starship finally arrived, it proved to be a courier vessel dispatched by the Council. Aboard was Gy Daii, another Padawan. He gave the group power cells and directed his own droid to help in the repairs. When Alrik activated a human-like droid he found in the Ghost of Kessel’s hold, he introduced himself as 2P0. The astromech droid they found with 2P0 said nothing, merely starting work on repairs. A few minutes later, a long-distance transmission was sent from the Ghost of Kessel, identified by Gy Daii. The group was unable to deduce the source of the message, but assumed it had been sent by 2PO, whom they deactivated.
The takeoff from Sellis was shaky, but the Ghost of Kessel managed to limp to Sluis Van. In the vast shipyards, the starship was repaired with Republic credits, although the Jedi Council communicated their displeasure that the group had racked up such a debt without any results. They agreed to send them to Tatooine, but the trip would be the last expense the Republic would pay for.
Gy Daii took the group to Tatooine, where they rented rooms in the spaceport Mos Espa. Alrik and Taren rented a landspeeder, then followed Alrik’s Jedi senses toward the Jundland Wastes, where he could weakly sense the presence of Cale’rho. They skirted the wild rocky area, passing through a deserted village through which Tusken Raiders were picking, but couldn’t follow any definite path: the Jedi Master was too weak, her presence dim in the Force. The group’s landspeeder continued on, noting the closeness of Jabba’s palace, and deciding to investigate.
Once inside the palace, the group was met by a cloaked Chevin, the long-faced creature directing them to a side room where they could state their business to a man known as the Captain, one of Jabba’s most trusted underlings (which isn’t saying much). Inside, they met a man in a plain military uniform who introduced himself as Bors Reynolds. They spoke with Reynolds, but weren’t able to get much out of him: he claimed he didn’t know about Jedi in the area, although the group could tell he was lying. Leaving the office, they detected the presence of two Force-using individuals: the stronger presence in the main chamber, and the weaker in the dungeon. They decided to sneak into the dungeon, knowing that the main audience chamber would be too dangerous to get into.
As they sneaked down the dungeon hall, they were greeted by the hideous scents and horrible moaning of the creatures trapped in the cages that lined the corridor. They came to one room where they discovered the limp form of Tryn, the Twi’lek they had encountered among the pirates.
“You’ve got to get me out of here! The Captain kidnapped me. I have a feeling I’ll either end up feeding the Rancor or the Sarlacc once Jabba grows tired of me. Please, help me.”
Taren pulled out his lightsaber, but Alrik was more cautious. “What can you tell us about the Captain?” he said, his hand on his own lightsaber.
“I’ve kept my ears open,” said Tryn hurriedly. “I’ve overheard him talking to someone about a Bothan in the Jundland Wastes. I think he’s working with the Sand People, selling them guns in exchange for their cooperation with something.
Taren’s lightsaber sheered through the metal bars of the cage easily. “Come on. We’ll take you back with us,” he said. As they started back down the corridor, they caught a glimpse of a Gamorrean running away from them, squealing in alarm. Alrik raised his hand and knocked the piglike guard into a wall, stunning him, but the alarm had been raised. Supporting Tryn, the group ran in a frenzied chaos back to their landspeeder. Shouts filled the air and blaster bolts whined around them. Fortunately for them, the heavy door of the palace was open for routine traffic, and they were able to return to their vehicle and escape relatively unharmed.
When they arrived back in Mos Espa, the group let Tryn stay in their quarters while they met to talk over what to do next. Suddenly, Alrik’s head snapped up. “Tryn’s gone!” he exclaimed. The others leapt to their feet, and they searched the area. Taren noticed something was missing in Alrik’s quarters. The holocron from the temple on Sellis was missing. Reaching out with the Force, Alrik pointed in the direction of the starport. “She’s heading that way!”
The group hurried off in pursuit, but before they could catch up, a starship lifted off above them, heading toward the blue sky. The four met Gy Daii in the hangar of his ship. His mission complete, the young Jedi padawan was preparing to return to Coruscant.
“Someone has taken something important from us,” said Navik. “We have to follow her.”
“Wait. The holocron is important, but our mission is even more vital. We have to find and save our Masters. If Cale’rho is being held by the Tuskens, now is our chance to save her. If we don’t act now, we might not have another chance,” said Alrik.
“I’ll do what I can to retrieve it,” said Gy Daii, clasping Alrik’s hand. “Go save Master Cale’rho.”
The next day, the group decided to return to the Jundland Wastes to search for Cale’rho. Navik, Alrik, Taren, and Dragomira climbed into the rented landspeeder and sped off across the desert. As they entered the rocky expanse, their landspeeder was hit by blaster fire. They had come under attack by Tusken Raiders hiding in the cliffs. Dragomira stopped the landspeeder, deciding to fight rather than flee. Using the vehicle for cover, the group returned fire, with the notable exception of Taren, who sat calmly meditating in the landspeeder. Alrik charged forward while Navik and Dragomira picked off one of the raiders. Finding the rocky face too difficult to climb, Alrik instead used the force to slam the remaining shooter. The blast hit hard, knocking him from his perch, sliding down the cliff to stop amid a flurry of pebbles at the base.
Alrik climbed back aboard, and Dragomira took the landspeeder into a canyon. They spotted a line of banthas, Sand People mounted atop them, winding through a narrow ravine toward the north. After letting the banthas pass, and using the Force to distract a group of Tuskens who became too nosy, Dragomira guided the landspeeder into the narrow pass.
Although Taren’s sharp eyes spotted guards along the path, the ravine was too narrow to stop the landspeeder in time. Instead, as the two Tuskens ahead raised their blaster rifles, Dragomira gunned the engines. The landspeeder swooped toward the startled sand people, whose shots scored a painful but not life-threatening hit on Taren, and the group leapt out and made short work of the Tuskens.
The ravine led to a huge cave, outside which the group stopped. Inside, they could hear the muffled roars of banthas and the harsh dialect of the Sand People. After waiting a few moments to catch their breath, the four crept slowly inside, clinging to the shadows. They entered a giant cavern, doubtless formed long ago when water ran on Tatooine. The stench of banthas was overpowering, and ahead of them, they could see the Tuskens leading the giant, shaggy animals toward the north. There, they climbed a rise in the ground followed by a downward incline leading into another cave. The four waited until the chamber was empty, save for them, then sneaked out.
While Navik, and Alrik went north, to find out where the Tuskens had gone, Dragomira moved toward a passage she saw to the northwest. After taking a moment to try to sense his Jedi Master, but failing to find more than a weak sense that she was nearby, Alrik followed Dragomira.
Navik crouched behind a boulder on the rise leading toward the north as Taren sneaked further up the slope. As he climbed down the slope on the other side, he found himself in another cave, where the Tusken were having a heated argument, their banthas lined up and loaded. Taren took one long look at the crowd of Sand People, numbering perhaps a hundred, and tried to sneak back. Unfortunately for him, his foot slipped on a rock, which tumbled loudly down the slope. The Sand People didn’t take long to fill the air with shots. Taren quickly ran up the slope toward the cave where Navik waited, staying wisely hidden, but just as he crested the rise, a blaster bolt hit him in the back. He cried out and fell, sliding part of the way down the slope toward Navik.
The Rodian leapt up and dragged his friend down the slope to hide him behind the boulder. Three Tusken Raiders crested the slope, firing down at him. He returned fire, killing one. Alrik appeared from behind them, charging with his lightsaber glowing, and pushed forward with the Force. The Tuskens toppled, disappearing from view down the opposite side of the rise.
“What happened?” said Alrik breathlessly. “I felt Taren’s injury in the Force.”
Navik nodded to his friend. “He’s unconscious. Where’s Dragomira?”
“She’s still checking out the tunnel.” Alrik crouched beside Taren and placed a hand on his chest, channeling the healing powers of his Force abilities into him. After a few seconds, Taren groaned and opened his eyes.
“We’d better hurry,” said Alrik. “Can you walk?”
“More or less,” replied Taren weakly. Navik and Alrik hoisted the Kel Dor to his feet and supported him as they stumbled toward the northwest tunnel.
Dragomira appeared around the corner, breathless and excited. “There are three of them in a small room ahead. I think they have a hostage. It might be Cale’rho”
“We’d better hurry,” said Navik. “The Sand People are right behind us. We don’t have much time.”
The group walked as quietly as they could down the passage. They came to a bend, where they hid, listening to the conversation in the room around the corner.
“We need more guns. You aren’t doing enough for us,” said one voice, gruff and angry, speaking in an accented Basic barely understandable. “We keep your captive and guard your secrets, but you don’t keep your bargain. We want to raid big cities; little villages are too poor. Give us more guns!”
“Patience. As soon as we learn what we want to from the Bothan, you’ll get your reward,” said the other voice, clearly human, speaking Basic well.
“Come on,” said Alrik, peeking around the corner. As he looked, he saw three humanoid forms, all dressed like Tusken Raiders. These were the same creatures Dragomira had seen: two Tusken Raiders, and one other, probably human, dressed like one. Alrik also saw a crumpled form in rocky alcove across the small chamber.
With a shout, Alrik raised his lightsaber and advanced into the room. Navik and Dragomira opened fire, dropping one of the Tusken Raiders. As Alrik rushed into the room, the human in Tusken Raider disguise raised his blaster and yelled, “Kill the Bothan! Do it now!”
Before he could shoot, Alrik struck. In a few seconds, the last Tusken was down, but the sound of pursuit sounded close behind them. The others back fired down the tight corridor, discouraging the sand people from attacking, but it wouldn’t hold out for long.
Alrik knelt by the side of the prone figure. It was his Jedi Master, Cale’rho, the Bothan’s fur dirty and her body bruised. The Padawan put his hand on her shoulder, giving her what strength he could, but she was still too weak to move on her own.
“Isn’t there any other way out?” shouted Dragomira, sending another green bolt from her bowcaster down the passage.
“There’s something up there!” coughed Taren weakly, pointing toward the ceiling. In a few seconds, the group gathered around a tight fissure in the rock. With just enough luck, they might all be able to squeeze up into the desert sun that filtered down through the dust.
With the sand people bellowing behind them, the four and their rescued captive climbed carefully upwards, scraping their skin on the rough rocks and struggling to keep their balance in the tight space. Dragomira, Navik, and Alrik tried to help Taren and Cale’rho, who were both seriously injured, climb as best they could. At last, they emerged at the top of a mountain, surrounded by the forbidding Jundland Wastes.
They weren’t alone. Parked atop the treacherous path that led up the mountain was a landspeeder, and crouched behind a rock was the shape of a female in Jedi robes. “Come with me if you want to live, quickly,” she said, stepping forward. She was a graceful Falleen with violet eyes and blue hair, her sharp, aristocratic features exotically beautiful.
With no energy left to question the providence of their rescue, Dragomira, Taren, Alrik, and Cale’rho piled into the landspeeder with the Falleen Jedi and headed off across the wastes.
In the dusty city of Mos Espa, Falleen Jedi introduced herself as Zelina. As they spoke, she led them to the unassuming house she was renting, a dun-colored building with sloping walls and four rooms. After helping Cale’rho to a bed to rest, she sat the other four down. Taren, despite his wounds, insisted on speaking with Zelina.
She said, “I have been tracing the activities of the Captain for some time now. For the last few months, his influence over the Outer Rim has been growing. He isn’t as powerful as the established crime lords, but he’s unpredictable and dangerous, and he has had a destabilizing influence. After I arrived on Tatooine, I learned that he was trading with the Tusken Raiders, encouraging their raids against the moisture farms and smaller towns by giving them guns. In exchange, the sand people were storing his cargos in their camps and transporting them by bantha, allowing him to trade under the nose—so to speak—of Jabba the Hutt.
“I spoke with some survivors of a Tusken attack who were able to give me information about finding the hidden Tusken camps. I’ve been watching and waiting for the Captain himself to come through the Jundland Wastes, so that I could confront him personally. When I saw that you were in danger, I decided that helping my fellow Jedi was more important than trapping the Captain.”
Alrik nodded. “Do you have a plan now?”
She smiled. “There is another plan in motion. The Captain has gathered quite a fortune from his dealings, but you can’t get involved in the black market in this sector without attracting the attention of some very dangerous people. For that reason, he’s been trying to legitimize his enterprises. I’m not sure whether he’s trying to cut his losses or if he just wants a place to launder money, but he’s expressed his interest in one of the less seedy nightclubs and cantinas in Mos Eisley, the Moon’s Shadow.”
“What does this have to do with us?” asked Navik.
“Because of the Captain’s reputation, no-one has challenged his bid on the nightclub,” explained Zelina. “I’ve managed to establish myself as a businesswoman interested in it. If I can make an offer on the place, I’ll be able to lure the Captain into an open auction. Once he’s no longer in the safety of Jabba’s palace, I’ll be able to deal with him.”
“So what’s the problem?” asked Dragomira, folding her arms.
Zelina turned a slightly lighter shade of green. “I have to get a total of one hundred thousand credits to make an offer. I just don’t have that kind of money. I’ve been able to gather thirty thousand, but that leaves us short, and the sale will be finalized in a week.”
“We’ll help,” said Alrik.
“Not so fast,” said Zelina. “If you show up out of the blue, the Captain will suspect something is up.”
“That’s no problem,” said Navik. “We can pose as criminals. After we do a little pushing here, a little shoving there, we’ll be all set. People will know there’s a new bad bunch in town, and no-one will think twice about us getting involved in the auction.”
Taren shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m not comfortable with pretending to be a criminal. We might have to do some things that would violate the Jedi Code, and I’m not ready to do that.”
Zelina listened in silence, watching the other four.
Alrik suggested an alternative. “Let’s pose as rich merchants. We can throw some money around the city for a while, and people will start to take notice. By the time the auction comes around, we’ll have enough of a reputation that no-one will really care.”
Taren nodded. “That would be sneaky, but it wouldn’t violate the Jedi Code.”
Navik looked a little disheartened that he couldn’t be a badass, but he accepted.
“I’ll meet you at the end of the week,” said Zelina. “There are more preparations for me to make.”
The four bought themselves new, expensive suits of clothing and rented a luxury landspeeder (quite possibly the only luxury speeder on Tatooine). They traveled to Mos Eisley, where Alrik dressed up as a prosperous Alderaanian noble, and Navik and Taren posed as his bodyguards.
They played a few hands at a sabacc table. Alrik, finding his luck was quickly destroying what credits (and credibility) they had, switched Navik in as he excused himself. Navik, taking over, managed not to lose his shirt, but the experienced gamblers around him also kept him reaching deeper into his pockets for credit chips.
Navik felt a hand come down on his shoulder, and looked up from his chair to see Derin Fewn, the rogue starship captain whose ship they had belatedly returned. He was wearing a new leather jacket, but his breath smelled of alcohol. “Well, if it isn’t my old green-skinned friend,” said Fewn with a grin. “I hope you don’t mind if I play a few hands?”
“Actually, I was just about done,” said Navik, rising to his feet, his hand moving toward his blaster. “There’s no reason for you to be mad at us. We got your ship back to you, and it was in pretty good condition.”
“Mad? You took my ship and left me stranded in the middle of a war zone. The Seps attacked a few days after you left,” said Fewn, still smiling as he met the group at the bar. “The way I see it, you owe me.”
“If you were a better shot, you wouldn’t have lost your ship,” returned Alrik.
“What are you doing on Tatooine?” said Taren Tlo suspiciously.
“I’ve got a shipment of bacta burning a hole in my hull,” explained Fewn, sipping a Saalian brandy. “I thought I could turn a tidy profit on it, but it turns out, Jabba the Hutt has stomped the market since the Separatist movement began. I’ve offered to sell it to Jabba, and I’m meeting his representative here soon, but his offered price is too low for me to make any profit at all.”
“Where do we come in?” asked Alrik.
“I was hoping you could do me a favor. Jabba might think twice about messing with me if I had a well-armed group with me. If you help me out, I’ll call us even.”
“All right,” said Navik, his mouth constricting a little. Then, he whispered to his friends in an aside, “This could serve our purposes, too.”
Alrik shrugged and looked around the casino. Before long, he spotted a human male who was moving through the crowd towards them. “That’ll be the guy,” he said.
The man walked up to Fewn and said, “All right, I’ve got your five thousand credits. Let’s get this over with.”
Fewn shook his head. “I’m not selling for that much, not to you and not to Jabba. Ten thousand is a bargain for how much bacta I’m offloading.”
The man laughed. “You’re in no position to barter!”
“Eight thousand,” said Navik, putting his hand on the butt of his blaster menacingly. “And that’s because we’re feeling generous.”
“Six thousand,” said the man, taking a step back. “And Jabba won’t be happy to hear it.”
“Six and a half,” insisted Navik. “We don’t have a problem here, do we?” If he didn’t have big bug eyes, they would have been dangerously narrow. Instead, he flicked his ears.
“All right, all right,” agreed the man, holding up his hands. “I’m sure we’ll still find a buyer for it.”
“I’ll make the arrangements,” said Derin with a smug grin. After the man left, he clapped Navik on the shoulder. “Thanks, buddy. I’ll call that even.”
Now remained the question of raising a hundred thousand credits. Although the group “persuaded” Derin to contribute some of his own funds, they couldn’t make the up the rest of the difference. Dragomira finally agreed to contact her family, who reluctantly agreed to offer their resources, so long as nothing was actually bought: the money would be available, but they refused to actually buy the Moon’s Shadow. Dragomira wouldn’t put in a single one of her own credits, either: she wasn’t interested in a money pit on a backwater.
The auction took place in the night club as a sort of grand opening, and what element of society Tatooine possesses were out in style. Serving droids wove through the crowd, offering drinks and snacks, and a band that wasn’t Bith played off to one side. As the four arrived, they met Zelina. She was dressed in a lavender dress that matched her eyes.
“We have your money,” said Dragomira, sounding rather put out. The others had talked her into fronting part of her family’s fortune, which left her feeling rather bitter. “I hope you have a plan.”
Zelina nodded. “I’ll try to get the Captain alone. You should deal with his bodyguards until I take care of him.” She looked worried: her green skin was more ashen than usual.
“How are you going to manage that?” asked Alrik.
Zelina only shook her head and shrugged.
“You should use your Falleen talents,” Alrik suggested.
The female Jedi shook her head. “I don’t like using that. It’s not the way of the Jedi.”
Alrik grinned ruefully. “Yeah, but we’ve come this far. None of this is really by the book, and we won’t have an opportunity after tonight to take out the Captain. We’re already putting our necks out as it is.”
Zelina nodded reluctantly. “I’ll do it, but I don’t like it. It reminds me of things I’d rather forget.” With that, she weaved through the crowd. The four could see her chat amiably with the Captain, then smile and motion her head to a quiet corridor. The two left, with the bodyguards starting to follow.
“Hey,” said Navik, blocking their path. “I think they want to be alone. We’re the Falleen’s security detail.”
“I know who you are,” said a large Trandoshan female, her black scales shining in the soft lighting. “What do you want, Rodian?”
“Let’s step outside,” said Alrik. “We have something to tell you.” He gave her a meaningful look, the Force tingeing his words.
As they walked outside, the Trandoshan was followed by her human cohorts, each of whom carried a blaster. She carried a bulky blaster cannon that bore the scars of years of combat.
“Now, what’ss thiss all about?” hissed the Trandoshan suspiciously as they stood under the stars.
“Your master is in trouble. Jabba knows what he’s been up to, and it’s not going to end well for him. It’s in your best interest to get out of here,” said Alrik.
“That’ss a lie,” growled the Trandoshan, but her voice didn’t sound sure.
“You should leave while you still can,” said Taren. “You don’t want to die with him. He’s not worth it. Imagine what Jabba will do to you if you stand with someone he’s decided to take out.”
The Trandoshan narrowed her reptilian eyes, but said nothing.
Alrik stepped forward and waved two fingers. “You will go home.”
The bodyguard blinked, then nodded, walking off silently through the dangerous streets.
This left the other bodyguards, who stood around looking at each other nervously.
“This applies to all of you as well!” shouted Navik, putting his hand on his blaster. “Get out of here.”
After a few seconds, he pulled his blaster. This was all the encouragement the guards needed. They took off through the streets, disappearing into the night.
A few moments later, Zelina appeared, her dress ripped and her hair loose. “I took care of it. Come on. We’ve got to get out of here. We need to get you to Derin’s ship.”
After a quick dash through the alleyways of Mos Eisley, kicking over stalls and startling the night denizens, they got to the docking bay, narrowly avoiding the thugs that followed.
“Come with us to Coruscant,” said Alrik to Zelina.
“I can’t,” said Zelina with difficulty, looking away. “Good luck. Maybe the Force will bring us together in the future.”
Alrik dashed up the boarding ramp to the spaceship and they took off.
A few days later, the group arrived on Coruscant. In the Jedi Temple, they first conferred with Cale’rho, who gave her story.
“I was on my way to Drukon when our ship was attacked by pirates. I tried to fight, but I got separated from Rexib and knocked unconscious. I woke up tied and gagged, my lightsaber stolen from me. They kept me weak by giving me barely enough food and water to survive. A few days later, we landed on Tatooine, and they gave me to those sand people.” She shivered at the memory. “Before I left, I was approached by an old woman, who tried to give me a holocron. I knew I didn’t have time to see to it, so I told her to try to get in contact with you. I recorded a message onto the holocron, but it was in such a bad shape, I’m not sure how much was stored.”
“Do you remember what happened to Rexib?” Taren asked anxiously.
The Bothan shook her head. “I haven’t seen or heard from him since the pirate attack.”
Taren shivered, a feeling of dread coming over him.
Alrik decided it would be best to go through the archives to investigate what they could about the holocron they had found.
The following day, they met with the Jedi Council. Unlike before, almost all of the Council was there.
“While your actions are very commendable, this situation makes us gravely worried,” said Adi Gallia. “There are dark times ahead, and if it is true that there is a new Dark Side threat looming, things may be even more dire than we have foreseen. We will need brave beings like you in the future. Alrik Pol, you and your friends are to be commended for the return of Master Cale’rho and your actions against the criminal Bors Reynolds. Alrik, it will not be long before you join the ranks of Jedi Knights. For the time being, we must see to the matter of your training. Unfortunately, Master Cale’rho is too weak to continue your training for the time being. Although it is unusual to place a Padawan so far along into the hands of another Master, I’m afraid we have no choice.”
A man stepped forward out of the passage opposite where the Council sat. The group turned, and saw a man with long red hair in flowing, rich Jedi robes. He had handsome, aristocratic features and smiled warmly at the group. “My name is Asthal Krup. I hope I will be a fitting replacement for Master Cale’rho in the time she takes to recover. I look forward to working with you, Padawan.” He and Alrik bowed to each other.
The resemblance to the man they had met in the Dark Side temple was too close for Alrik to ignore; he reached out with the Force, but sensed none of the evil the other man had projected.
“Now comes an even more serious matter,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi. “Taren Tlo, the council has discussed your status. We have taken into account your bravery in the course of the rescue of Master Cale’rho. The debate was long and hard, but we have reached a decision. Although we commend your actions, we cannot allow you to continue your training as a Jedi.”
It was difficult to see the reaction on Taren’s face as he turned away.
“The Senate has also decided not to dispatch a force to Drukon,” said Mace Windu. “The new Grand Army of the Republic is needed elsewhere. We don’t believe, however, that Drukon should be allowed to fall to the Separatists without a fight. Therefore, we are dispatching a small team to Drukon to retrieve Baron Garen Highquarter. When the political situation changes, he will return to Drukon to re-establish Republic control. For the time being, it is vital that we keep him alive and in safe hands.”
Yoda smiled at the four. “Brave your actions have been. Hope I have for your future. A few days should you take to rest and relax. For the Jedi, sometimes peace is best. Then can you resume your fight against the Dark Side with new strength.”
With that, the group left the Council Chamber.
Alrik were met by Cale’rho. Even in her weakened condition, she had insisted on seeing the meeting. “Well done, Alrik. You will make a fine Jedi Knight in time.”
“Tell me something, Master. Do you know a Jedi named Zelina?”
“I know of her, yes. We have only met a few times.”
“Why does she avoid Coruscant?”
The silver-furred Bothan shook her head sadly. “When she was young, she studied hard at the Academy, but she never had the strength in the Force that others did. She was Falleen, and she was seen with distrust by some of the other Padawans, because of their reputation for being manipulative and cold. To a degree, she played into the type, but she wasn’t happy. Then, she saw others, such as Anakin Skywalker, become Padawans at an older age, learning much quicker than she had. She became bitter, and her connection to the Force was clouded by her jealousy. She asked to leave Coruscant as soon as she became a Jedi Knight, and she has hardly returned since.”
Alrik nodded, and bidding his Master farewell, walked through the corridors to his cell, where he hadn’t set foot in weeks. His old home felt a little odd to him after his adventure, but he set his head down and rested.
Navik put an arm around each of the Rodian females sitting beside him at the bar. “So, ladies, who wants to come back to my place?”
Taren paused in the hallway when he heard a light step behind him. He turned his head, and saw Asthal Krup step out of the shadows.
“I think we have some things to talk about, my young friend,” said the red-haired Master. Taren nodded.
Dragomira hadn’t slept in a proper bed, one stuffed with the feathers of exotic birds, the sheets spun from silks native to only one planet, in too long. As she stretched out on her back, looking out the window at the skyline of the highest buildings in Coruscant, she reflected back on the turn her life had taken. It would be interesting to see where things would lead.