Duel at the Old Jedi Temple
Eiven Task used the air blower to carefully push away the dirt from the bones. The toothless skull of a Duros stared up at him, the strange oval eye sockets filled with caked red earth. An orange sun rose in the sky as he cleared his find, burning off the little dew that settled on the ground of the excavation site, muttering notes into the microphone hanging off his ear. Six other graves stood open in the eroded courtyard walls of the old Jedi temple, a small outpost that had been set up in the early days of Duros colonization, probably abandoned a few centuries later. The faded scraps of cloth on the skeleton resembled those of the old Jedi robes. Sunlight caught the flash of metal, and Task bent back down.
Eiven stared intently at the object as it slowly seemed to tug itself free from the soil. When the human had first suffered his injury, the searing stroke that had cleft his left side from collarbone to hip, and received the prosthetic left arm and implants that saved his life, he thought that had been the end of his abilities. The ghostly presence of his lost arm had remained with him always, as though it was still there…and in time it had become the focus of regaining his telekinetic abilities. Task felt as much as ordered his ghostly fist to close about the object and lift it free, and the ancient lightsaber came free of the soil.
Unhurriedly, he brought his prize back to his ship, the Memory of Alderaan, the exposed bones temporarily forgotten. Cool air kissed his pale, sun-burnt skin as the door slid shut behind him, and he struggled out of his sweat-stained workshirt, caught a momentary glance of himself in the mirror. He ran his flesh hand through the close-cropped mane of gold and brown hair on his scalp, matched by overgrown sideburns on his cheeks and three day’s stubble on his chin, though he’d never managed to grow a mustache. Eiven was of average height for a human, and with the exaggerated lean build that bespoke a marathoner or a drug addict. He could usually pass as full human, though some slight strain of alienage had left a silver sheen to his brown eyes. Task looked away from the mirror; even he had never really trusted those eyes.
With the press of a concealed button, a portion of the bulkhead moved aside to reveal a smuggler’s panel with his weapons, his armor, and the small treasures he had wrested from the bones of Sith and Jedi alike. Front and center was a small workplace, a half-completed mechanism laid out, a polished crimson krayt dragon pearl at its heart. The very sight of it tugged at something inside him, and Eiven Task hastily sat down, laying the old Jedi lightsaber in front of his half-completed design, and set about dissecting it.
On the left hand side of the smuggler’s shelf before him, the head of the ancient Sith droid A1S1 opened its shuttered optics, beeping as it scanned the weapon, offering hints and instructions. Across from it on the right, a tapered red pyramid of gold and crimson crystal glowed as the hologram of Darth Modas flickered to life, silent and judging. Much of the Jedi device was useless—the case had corroded and air and water had spoiled the inner circuits, the crystal was cracked, power cells long depleted—but the emitter matrix shined like new, and the focusing lens flawless and undamaged. With these final pieces, his weapon would finally be complete.
Acti Kas circled to Eiven’s right; her partner Eddi Kas moved in time to his left. Both were Near-Duros, descendants of different groups of colonists who had split off from their ancestral species over ten thousand years ago. Task tried to stay calm, focused, watching their moves in his peripheral vision, strove to see what they would do next. They struck at nearly the same moment. Acti went high, padded fist aimed at Eiven’s right temple, his Echani form flawless. Eddi swung her leg low, aiming at Task’s left knee, a perfect K’thri strike. Eiven twisted his body not to dodge their attack, but to meet it. The Duros staggered back.
Kelliban was an ancient but not especially populous or important world; still dominated by the descendants of the original Duros colonists, it was marginalized under the Galactic Empire and continued to be nearly forgotten in the Imperial Remnant, and had grown insular and wary of “aliens” like Task. After each civil war and invasion Kelliban had accepted and absorbed the Duros refugees from the conflicts, and now the cities teamed with near-Duros of every creed and color. It was the ancient birthplace of Darth Modas, and Eiven Task had followed the memories the Sith had recorded in his holocron, excavating temples and tombs.
Acti and Eddi continued to move and strike, testing his guard, reading his movements, trying to keep him on the defensive. Kelliban was also home base to a regiment of stormtroopers, recruited from the native Duros, trained and housed here between engagements. The Kas were instructors in unarmed combat; ostracized for some taboo related to their relationship, the pariahs were willing to deal with Eiven, acting as his intermediary. He provided them with the artifacts he discovered, and they turned them into credits—enough to cover his food, shelter, and training.
“Good!” Acti shouted as Task read her blow and dodged it, the padded fist missing his face by millimeters; the Echani battlemaster pressed the assault, but Eiven moved inside her guard and managed a solid knee-strike. The padded training armor took the edge off the blow, but Task still imagined his instructor would have a bruise. Almost without thought the human turned to intercept K’thri battlemaster Eddi, time enough to see her foot but not do much about it as it smashed into his face. The force knocked him backwards into the hunched Acti and both fell to the padded floor in a sprawl. Eddi’s foot came stomping down near his neck.
“Better.” Eddi said between lung-filling gasps. “That was thirty-two minutes without a fall.” She offered both Acti an arm and pulled her up into an embrace. Eiven grinned as he pulled himself up. The two battlemasters were as complementary as their different styles, roughness married to grace. With their efforts, he had refined his skills considerably under their tutelage.
“I’ll leave you two to it. Same time tomorrow?” Task called out, but the Duros were already oblivious to all else but each other.
Kelliban City was primarily a military town; the two-thousand plus stormtroopers and their support staff brought in most of the credits. But it was also a very old town, right back to the second wave of colonization; pre-fabricated buildings from last month stood side-by-side with stone houses two thousand years old. Eiven Task walked the back alleys to the hangar where the Memory of Alderaan was parked, passing the lower tier businesses and establishments, many of which let out apartments above and below. In this part of town, in this section of streets where the traffic was sparse and each minded their own business, the human could walk undisturbed and without catching much attention.
So it came as a surprise when Eiven felt eyes on him. The hangar was only a block farther, but he turned to take a longer, more circuitous route. Mapping his way in his head, he hurried over a small bridge that crossed a deep, narrow canal; beyond it the street split into four alleys, but Task dove into the shelter of the nearest doorway and stared. Before long another human crested the bridge—skin like burnt honey, with close-cropped reddish hair, a handful of dots tattooed under his left cheek—and Eiven ducked out of sight. He waited tense minutes, but his shadow never passed into any of the other streets, and when Task looked back the bridge was empty.
With a sudden bad feeling, Eiven crossed the bridge again and hurried to the hangar. The lock sat in a pool of metal slag that had cooled to grey on the outside, a cherry of dull orange in the center. He pushed it open with his boot. The door to his ship was still locked, but someone had cut a ragged oval straight through it. Task took a breath and stepped through the hole to survey the damage.
The ship was a mess. His belongings lay scattered all about, some of the plates broken where they had been thrown on the floor. Bed and tables were bolted to the floor, but every compartment that could be opened was opened—including the smuggler panels. His armor was laid out on the bed, the black visor glinting at him, but his weapons were all missing—darts, grenades, the blasters, and most worryingly his lightsaber-pike. At his work-bench Eiven noted with relief that A1S1’s head was still there and intact, but the red pyramid of the holocron was missing. In its place was a small square of local paper. He read it without touching it.
At midnight, bring the artifact from the Prophet’s Tomb to the Old Jedi Temple. Come alone. We have unfinished business.
The sigil beneath the note looked like a twin-tailed skull.
Task whistled. A1S1 blinked awake, and Eiven began giving instructions as he took inventory. The broken Jedi lightsaber remained, obviously not worth taking. A few knives in the kitchen. The long-handled trench tool used during the excavation. There were hours yet until midnight.
Kelliban had no moon. When the sun fell, the night came on and only got blacker and blacker, with only the stars to give shape to the darkness. Eiven Task set the ship down a little ways off from where he usually did, the broken door rattling the whole way with the quick patch-job he did. Task opened the door and stood framed against the light from inside for just a moment before stepping off into darkness. He could feel them out there, at least a dozen presences, waiting in the ruins. Eiven wanted them to see him; the armor was of the same form as the Imperial Royal Guard, one of the most universally feared units in the history of the galaxy—and while his was dead-white while their was blood-red, the mask inspired dread and hesitation in many. The fact that he was wielding a long-handled trench tool rather than his customary lightsaber pike diminished the effect only slightly.
They did not come at him right away, but started moving in around him as he approached the temple ruins. Imaging circuitry in the helmet helped accommodate for the darkness. They were human or near-human, dressed in tight-fitting black clothes, divided equally between men and women. In their hands were short metal clubs, long knives, and lengths of chain. A slight rush and clarity hit Task as the stimulant he had taken kicked in, and he paused before the recently-purloined graves.
When the first one that drew close enough, Eiven moved with startling speed, his prosthetic arm whipping the trench tool down at the full extant of its reach. Impact shuddered up his arm as the sharpened edged of the trenching tool bit deeply into the neck, cleaving to the bone. A woman screamed and launched herself at him, spinning a length of chain; Task caught let go the trench tool and caught the chain in his left hand, bringing his right arm straight up so the momentum of her charge helped smash her onto his fist. Her eyes went wide as she slumped to the earth, the impromptu punch dagger Eiven had made sliding out of the wound with a wet schluck.
Battle was joined. The sensitives fought by instinct; they learned to let the Force guide their blows and their steps, the fractional precognition making them react a split second before their opponent had begun to make their move. Task knew the feeling well; it was how he was used to fighting. Eiven moved among the cultists as a streak of white terror, wielding the sharpened trench tool as a pike, slashing at unprotected faces and necks. With the reach the weapon offered him and his superior awareness, he could have held his own against this lot for some time. Yet the lessons of the battlemasters served him well, his Force-driven instincts honed to a finer edge than any of the cultists had managed. One by one, as they grew desperate and sloppy, Task cut them down.
“I see your skills have improved,” A female voice called from behind him. “Last time, it took you much longer to slaughter my acolytes.” Eiven turned and saw the Sith adept emerge from deeper in the ruins. Pale blue skin criss-crossed with blue-black tattoos, to which she had added the image of a skull drawn over her face since last Task had seen her—when they had battled over the contents of the Prophet’s Tomb. Eiven had escaped with his life and his prize, leaving her entombed with her last crop of cultists. Her gear was better than that of her apprentices, black leather and black silk, her head-tails bound behind her with a cord. The pommel of a Sith sword poked out of the scabbard at her belt; a lightsaber hilt dangled from the other side. In her left hand was his lightsaber pike; in her right the glowing holocron, the image of Darth Modas examining the scene in silence. Flanking her were four more “acolytes” with blaster pistols drawn.
“Drop your weapons.” She said.
Task opened his hands. The punch-dagger and trench tool fell to the earth.
“You have the artifact from the Prophet’s tomb?”
With exaggerated slowness, Eiven unclipped the lightsaber from his belt with his right hand.
“As I said,” the hologram of Darth Modas croaked. “He has incorporated it into a lightsaber.”
“Marak.” The twi’lek said. “Bring it here.”
One of the cultists stepped forward, blaster level with his belly. Task recognized him as the one who had tailed him earlier in the day. Eiven handed the lightsaber hilt over without a struggle, his ghost hand thumbing the control. He started counting.
“I must admit, after your earlier performance I expected more of a struggle.” The Sith adept said, as Marak retraced his steps.
“He is a terrible apprentice,” Modas croaked. “But not to be underestimated.”
As Eiven’s count reached ten, the lightsaber exploded in his hand. Task lunged for the nearest acolyte. The sudden flash had ruined their night-vision, and he made it almost within arm’s reach before they had the sense to raise their weapons again. Eiven’s ghost hand thumbed the new control beneath the sleeve on the armor of his left arm. There was an electric howl and the smell of burning plastic and ceramic as the blade of the lightsaber he had just recently installed in his prosthetic arm burnt through the armor.
The bloodshine blade flashed as it moved almost of its own accord, intercepting the blaster shots, deflecting them back to their sources. In only a few heartbeats, the three remaining acolytes were dead, smoke rising from the charred holes burned in their chests. Marak lay on the ground, curled around the charred stump of a hand.
The twi’lek kneeled on the ground, setting down both his lightsaber pike and the Sith holocron. With a single backwards step she drew her weapons, and moved into a fighting crouch, putting space between them. With an audible click, her lightsaber ignited.
Eiven recognized the twi’lek had assumed a Niman form, the Sith sword was held in front of her the smaller lightsaber blade—a shoto—held in a reverse grip in her off-hand, the emitter guard keeping the foot of red-colored plasma from charring her forearm. The blade that burned over the back of Task’s prosthetic hand was about the same length, putting him at a disadvantage. He stood flat-footed, outside of the range of her thrusts, the holocron and his lightsaber pike on the ground between them.
With a sudden movement he tucked into a forward roll, his ghost hand clicking off his bloodshine blade before he burned a hole in himself with it, right hand going to his boot. The twi’lek moved forward, blade arching down to split him as he rose, be he stopped in a kneel and flung his right hand forward. The knife flew at her, and she shifted her strike to bring the lightsaber shoto forward to block; the sharpest of Eiven’s kitchen knives spattered to the ground as a lump of half-molten metal a few feet away, but the distraction bought him the time he needed to lung for the lightsaber pike.
Sith sword clashed against phrik-staff as Task clumsily raised it to ward off her stroke, then retreated, using the meter-and-a-half pole to fend off the Sith adept’s increasingly aggressive strikes. After six passes and as many steps back, Eiven had the presence to ignite the lightsaber pike; the sudden presence of the foot-and-a-half long silver-white plasma blade caught the twi’lek off-guard, moving to avoid a low slash that would have taken off her left foot.
Panting and flushing nearly purple, the twi’lek resumed her Niman form. Eivan shifted the lightsaber pike to his right hand and raised it over his head, blade pointed downward. With a flick of his ghost hand, the bloodshine blade in his prosthetic left hand ignited into life again, held low in front of him. Her eyes flickered with momentary uncertainty, swiftly replaced by cool rage. Now the duel began in earnest.
Task’s stance was a modified Soresu form, and he moved forward carefully, knees bent, feet in line, keeping his angles of attack and defense open. The Sith adept did not retreat, but moved in with a sudden burst of speed, sword and lightsaber moving in from opposite directions. Eiven moved his own blades out to meet the attack;. But where he felt the sudden impact of the sword against his bloodshine blade, Task’s lightsaber pike moved through empty space as with a click the twi’lek’s shoto blade disappeared, only to ignite again after the lightsaber pike had passed, the blade still aimed at his heart.
Panic and instinct flared before realization hit, and Eiven dropped the block on the Sith sword, his left hand blade blazing down in an arc to counter the twi’lek’s shoto. The two smaller lightsabers connected awkwardly. Pain flared in Task’s chest as the lightsaber burned a shallow cut through his armor and the flesh beneath; it was quickly followed by a sickening crunch and bright blossom of pain as the Sith sword bit into the flared neck-guard of his helmet. Eiven swung the lightsaber pike wildly, but her next blow knocked it from his hand.
Now reduced to one weapon again, Task switched to the defensive. Presenting only his profile to her, the bloodshine blade moved almost of its own accord as he fended off the Sith sabreur’s increasingly ferocious attacks, striving to clear his head from the pain of his wounds as his tireless cybernetic arm met her own Force-enhanced blows time and again. This was the first time Eiven had used the artifact from the Prophet’s Tomb in combat; he could feel his instincts sharper and more precise than ever before, the jewel set in his lightsaber always shifting his awareness to her next attack. It was disconcerting, but familiar: the same basic tactic as the Force sensitives had used before. Even as he parried and retreated through the ruins, Task understood he had been fighting on instinct—and if he continued, she would kill him just as he had dealt with her acolytes.
The next time she came at him, Eiven responded with a leap, his right knee crushing cartilage as it slammed into her nose. His momentum countered her charge, and as she fell back he pressed forward. She dropped the Sith sword as he came inside her guard and grabbed his left wrist as the bloodshine blade aimed for her face. Task’s own hand caught her left wrist that held the lightsaber shoto. They stood locked in that struggle for a moment, blood dripping from the twi’lek’s ruined nose exacerbating the skull-tattoo on her face, rage pouring off her in waves as she focused all her strength on the contest. But Eiven locked his prosthetic arm, and he moved to a K’thri grip on her arm, slowly forcing her own lightsaber blade toward her chest.
With a quick movement, his right leg latched behind her knee, causing them to fall backwards, adding gravity and his own weight to the force pushing down on her lightsaber. A moment before the tip would have driven into her, she thumbed the shoto off, and flashed Eiven a bloody smile, the emitter guard poking into her breastbone. Though she could not see it, Task smiled too—as his ghost hand flicked the blade black on. Shock washed over her as streams of smoke poured out as the plasma burned through her heart.
Eiven stood up as the lightsaber burrowed straight downwards into the earth. It wouldn’t stop until it hit groundwater or ran out of power, and he was damned if he was going to dig for it. With a click, he turned off his own lightsaber, the bloodshine blade vanishing back into his prosthetic arm. Several feet away, the hologram of Darth Modas nodded its wizened head.
“A superior effort, apprentice. Finally, you are ready.”