Added July 31, 1999
Category: Science Fiction/Star Wars
Author: R.John Burke

Journey's End

In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Fifteen

DESCRIPTION: Well, gosh, I think there's gonna have to be a battle between Garreth and Thrawn. Also: A Jedi duel!

NOTICE: One last time, let me iterate (as opposed to reiterating) that Star Wars is a copyright of Lucasfilm, Ltd. and the Battle of Bilbringi was invented by Timothy Zahn. No infringement meant; this is just for fun.


Amber awoke in a sterile, gray medbay, being tended to by a Twobee medical droid. Everything ached, from her hair to her toes.

"Remain motionless," the Twobee said. "The damage is minor, but I must be allowed to work."

It emphasized its point with a medical injector node, which hissed, sending painkillers and tranquilizers coursing through Amber's blood. She faded out of consciousness again.

When she awoke again, two large, swiveling Mon Cal eyes were staring down at her. "Excellent. She appears in satisfactory condition."

"Indeed," said the medical droid. "In addition to her injuries from the crash, I have removed her appendix. An unnecessary..."

"Shut up."

"Yes, sir." The droid's lights dimmed, and he rolled over to check another patient.

The painkillers began to subside, and Amber jolted into a sit as she realized who it was watching over her.

"Greetings, young one," said the skeletal, crimson Mon Calamari. "I am called Bronn."

Amber shuddered, and could not tell whether it was from fear or medication. "Get away from me."

The alien chuckled. "In time, you will learn to appreciate me. You're strong in the Force; I can feel that. You shall be trained in the ways of the Dark Side."

"I'm not interested in the Dark Side," Amber said.

"You will be," Bronn promised. He held up the silver hilt of a lightsaber, one given to Amber by Jev Parrak. The alien touched a switch, and it lit, its blade shining silver. "Very impressive. You did not build this, I take it?"

Amber started to confirm his suspicion, but then realized something, and said, "Yes, of course I did."

"Don't try to deceive me," Bronn said. "I know very well that you are not the Jedi I seek. We will find him, though. Together."

"You're out of your mind," Amber snapped.

For a moment, the Mon Cal actually looked sad. "Yes." Then he managed to sneer--not an easy task, with his rubbery face. "But that will not save your Jedi."

"You'll never find him."

"On the contrary," Bronn said. He reached beneath his uniform color, pulled back a chunk of crystal hung by a chain around his neck. Amber's crystal. She had tried to hide it, but apparently had not succeeded. "With this, we'll find the planet. When we find the planet, we'll find him."

Amber kept her reaction carefully controlled. This Mon Cal claimed to have some connection to the Force; that might be true. If so, it wouldn't do to betray her feelings.

"Come, my young apprentice," said Bronn. he helped Amber, still woozy, from the medical bed and led her out of the bay. "We will meditate, and find your friend."

As she left the medbay, Amber found herself wondering. Bronn's crystal was half the size hers had been. He did not have all of it, though he didn't seem to know that.

Where was the rest of the crystal?

"You sure this is a good idea?"

Kerri Lynden-Evverd shrugged at her husband. "The distress call seems genuine. I sense no dishonesty."

She and Rik stood by the SKYHOOK's hatch release, preparing to open the hatch, to allow the passenger from the Ssi-ruuvi shuttle they'd detected to board. The dark-skinned Corellian grunted. "Yeah, but emotion-sensing isn't your strong point, and if he's Ssi-Ruuk, it'd be even harder to..."

"We're running out of time," she said, and that just about summed everything up. Evverd sighed, and cranked the hatch.

It hissed open, and one of the more immense aliens Dash had ever seen clambered in. Bipedal, reptilian, almost three meters long with his tail and nearly as tall as a Wookiee, the alien could only be Ssi-Ruuk. And yet his brawny shoulders were stooped, his eyes downcast...he didn't seem to have any of the typical Ssi-Ruuk arrogance.

"Many thanks," he said, forked tongue hissing out. "Should leave, speedy-quick, before human ship picked up by sensors."

"He's right," said Evverd's father Rasir. "We don't need to be dodging Ssi-ruuvi battle droids."

"All right, punch it, Dad. Mini-jump to anywhere outside this system. We'll figure a course later."

"Got it," said Rasir, and a moment later the hyperdrive engaged.

"How did your ship become damaged?" Kerri asked the Ssi-Ruuk."

"Battle droids. P'w'ecks not allowed to fly without permit. I do like Dash, dodge them good."

"Dash?" Evverd had been halfway to the cockpit, but the familiar name stopped him. "Dash Rendar?"

"Yes, star pilot. Mammal, like you. You know?"

The Corellian nodded. "He's an old buddy of mine."

Kerri changed the subject. "What's a P'w'eck?"

"Lower class. Ssi-ruuvi slave. I considered less than Ssi-ruuvi, almost as low as mammal. Offense not meant."

"Or taken," Kerri assured him. "So, er..."

"Kum Didi," he supplied helpfully.

"So, Kum Didi, why were you leaving the moon? Escaping from the slavers?"

Kum Didi shook his massive, squarish head vigorously. "No! Must find Dash. Mammals in white armor come for him and friend."

"Mammals in white...?" Evverd's eyes narrowed. "Stormtroopers?"

"Yes. They look for Dash, his friend too. Think they can find, now, with crystal..."

"Crystal?" Kerri interrupted. "What sort of crystal?"

"Here." Kum Didi opened his hinged moth wide, and pulled out a stubby chunk of yellowish crystal.

"You hid in it your mouth?" Evverd said, a little disgusted.

Kum Didi cocked his head, indicating his scaled, almost nude body. Ssi-ruuvi were not exactly clotheshorses. "How many pockets you see here?"

"Good point."

The P'w'eck wiped off the crystal and offered it to Kerri. She took it and sighed softly, her eyes closing in familiar Jedi concentration. "Yes," she said, "Give me access to a star chart. I can find the planet Jev seeks with this."

Kum Didi hissed. "Does nothing for me."

Evverd patted the lizard on the back. "Don't take it so hard. I think she makes half this stuff up..."

The P'w'eck chortled, then frowned. Evverd followed his gaze to the sleeping form of Mat, who lay on the OUTRIDER's foldaway bunk with his favorite bantha cub stuffed animal. "Ooooh...have eggs myself. How old your hatchling?"

"Almost five," Evverd said. "'Scuse me..." He walked over to the child, and shook him gently. "Hey, champ...C'mon, here's your chance to see that dragon."

Mat stirred, rubbed at his eyes, and focused on Kum Didi. He frowned. "He's not a dragon, daddy. He's too little."

He promptly went back to sleep. Evverd stared from his son to the hulking form of Kum Didi. "Too LITTLE?"

"Must hurry," Kum Didi said. "White-armors find Dash."

"I agree," Kerri said, clutching the yellowish hunk of crystal. "There's no time to waste."

"Maverick Squadron reports ready, Captain." Dainon Mo'Ret, the pink-skinned Bith at Nav/Comm, glanced up at her commanding officer. "We are now within ninety-eight percent of optimal capability."

Sedra Covell nodded tightly. Her dark, tightly braided hair contrasted sharply with the white plush material of her command chair, and not so sharply with her coffeine-colored skin. "Then begin the count."

"Aye, Captain. T-Minus two Standard minutes..."

Kristoff Narr, the bulk, redheaded helmsman, smiled at them nervously from his seat. "Anyone have any last words?"

"It's just another mission, Mister Narr." Covell then belied that statement with her next words, to Mo'Ret: "Get me Admiral Garreth, yesterday."

Mo'Ret nodded, and a moment later Garreth's lined visage appeared on the 3D hologram. "Captain."

"We're good to go, sir. The count has begun."

"Outstanding," Garreth said. "Then I'll see you at Bilbringi."

"Yes, sir." Covell swallowed hard. "Admiral...Mykel...good luck."

He smiled. "You, too. Bring my ship home in one piece."

Covell had to return the smile. Garreth had not commanded the FREEDOM for six years, and still it was "his" ship. "I promise, sir: Not a scratch."

The admiral held her eyes for a long moment. "Have you ever read Qui-Gon Jinn, Sedra?"

She frowned. "Parts of his journal, yes."

"I can't help thinking about something he wrote during the Clone Wars, the night before a crucial battle: 'If these brave knights do not return home, it will weigh heavily on the conscience of the Master who sent them into battle.'"

"It's a good plan, sir," Covell said. "We'll win the day."

The older officer was silent for a long moment. "As long as we get Thrawn."

Covell stared at his deadly-serious face for a moment, and knew most definitely that she did not want to be the alien Grand Admiral at that moment. "Save a piece for me, sir."

"I'll do that. Garreth out."

The comm flickered off, and Dainon Mo'Ret addressed her captain again. "Fifty seconds to Bilbringi launch, ma'am."

Covell nodded, her fingers drumming the edges of her command chair with nervous tension. "Here goes nothing..."

The OUTRIDER emerged from hyperspace into a blank sector of space. Dash Rendar checked the coordinates, then frowned. "This is the area you picked, kid. My scopes show nothing."

Jev frowned. There was no planet here, alive with the power of the Force. Not even a star system. Just vacuum. And yet, he knew--KNEW--this was the proper place. He had not searched five years only to be so easily sidetracked.

"Check for...I don't know...rogue planetoids. Spacial rifts."

Dash frowned at him. "HUH?"

Jev sighed. "Just look for something weird."

"Right..." The redhead sighed and began running several scans. "You sure you didn't just dream this whole thing up? Maybe after a day spent in that New Alderaan cantina?"

"Dash."

The smuggler shrugged. "Just askin'. Hey...hey, I might have something."

Jev frowned at the readouts. "What?"

"Life form reading." Dash looked up, his pale skin turning a shade lighter. "A big one."

"Where?"

And suddenly space in front of the OUTRIDER's bridge viewport flashed, and some sort of ruddy, crystalline shape passed through Jev's field of vision. "THERE!"

Jev strained his eyes. "Can you decrease the magnification? What IS that?"

Dash did better than changing the cockpit view: He backed the OUTRIDER off until the entire shape could be seen. The massive thing, well over fifty meters in length, appeared to be made out of living crystal. It ululated along like a spaceborn Hutt, but was far more graceful. Its body was multi-segmented, and had a pair of thin legs for each segment. Above it's bulk was a pair of whitish, almost transparent wings, nearly as wide as the creature was long.

"I'll be a Kessel miner," Dash said, "That's a Duinuogwuin. A Star Dragon."

Jev nodded mutely, watching the thing slide along through space. Star Dragons were the stuff of legend, though most were only ten meters or so in length. They'd been prominent members of the Old Republic, but because of a genetic flaw, only a few remained. They tended to be secret about their history and physiology, and no Duinuogwuin corpse had ever been recovered.

Jev knew what was about to happen even before the planet appeared in their path.

Dash howled a vicious Durosian spacer's curse and jerked back on the throttle. The planet was crystalline, like the dragon, but it was multicolored: Red, white, soft blues, transparent chunks of crystal, yellow and pink and orange and every color of the spectrum mixed, making the planet look like a giant, multicolored jewel in the midst of space. The Duinuogwuin paid no heed to the human ship, floating down to the planet to conduct whatever business it had down there.

The smuggler whistled softly. "Kid, you know what we've found here? This is the Dragon Graveyard. This is where they go to die..."

Jev smiled. "I wish Amber could see this...Take us down, Dash."

The smuggler's hands moved on the controls, and stopped as a proximity alarm sounded. "Uh-oh..."

"I've asked you not to see uh-oh, Dash..."

Then Jev saw what Dash had meant. The Star Destroyer RETRIBUTION was back, almost directly behind them. And she was signaling.

"This is Admiral Bronn, addressing the Jedi in the smuggling freighter."

Dash slammed his fist into the console, but Jev merely triggered the comm. "Speaking."

Bronn's harsh, gurgly voice was smug. "Hello, young one. It is a remarkable place you have found."

"I think so."

"Let us explore it together," he said. "We will go down to go down to the planet together, and discuss the best way to make use of this discovery."

Jev hissed. "Why would I agree to that?"

"Because if you do...I may allow your colleague to survive."

Jev's blood turned cold. He reached out through the Force... and felt a presence on the Star Destroyer.

"Hello, Jev," said Amber Stormcaller's quiet voice, "I'm sorry."

The Empire was waiting for them at Bilbringi.

"Not again!" Garreth hissed as all around him, alert lights flashed. On the comm, Admiral Ackbar ordered the fleet into defense positions. Meanwhile, Garreth's ships were already shifting to take on the wedge of Star Destroyers currently driving hard to the attack.

Okel gurgled. "Does nothing slip by this Thrawn?"

"Not a great deal, my friend." Garreth said. "Commander Avers, your squadron is go for launch."

"Copy," said Brynn Avers, the veteran X-Wing pilot who'd been transferred to serve as wingleader for Garreth's flagship cruiser, the GUARDIAN. On the viewport, brilliant jets of reddish ion plasma ignited as Avers' fighters jetted into the fight. Two Star Destroyers arrayed themselves against the GUARDIAN...

One was the DEATH'S HEAD. The other, the CHIMERA.

I'll see you dead and your fleet in flames, he'd promised Thrawn. Well, he might not be able to arrange the latter, but he would see to the former. And eliminating Thrawn was tactically smart, as well. Without him, a chance might exist...

"All ships from my task force, converge on the CHIMERA?"

The GUARDIAN's commander, Captain Lumas, frowned at him. "What about that other Star Destroyer?"

"Leave that to me."

Okel leaned in again and the GUARDIAN began trading turbolaser blasts with the ISD's. "Perhaps we should focus on the Interdictors. Retreat may be our only option."

Garreth shook his head, long, gray hair fluttering behind him. "If Thrawn beats us here, there'll be no stopping him. One way or another, this is the final battle."

Sedra Covell cursed as the trio of CARRACK cruisers descended upon FREEDOM and her sister ship, the frigate VALIENT. "How can we concentrate on the Star Destroyers when these festering little ships keep hounding us?"

Kristoff Narr grunted at the helm. "Maybe we should just explain to them that they're interfering with our plan."

Gaaraanzii, Covell's Wookiee first officer, howled in despair. "I do not find this situation amusing!"

"Shoot, I do," Narr chuckled. "We keep working our tails off, scratching every step of the way, and Thrawn just sweeps in and outdoes us all. It's like he can read minds..."

"That's enough!" Covell said. "This situation is plenty bad without giving Thrawn more credit than he deserves. It was a clever trap, that's all. We've fought out of clever traps before. We'll get out of this one."

Then the firing started, and FREEDOM's shields were taxed to the limit just staying alive, and Covell had to admit that she had no idea how to do that.

"Admiral, the starboard are down to eighty percent." Pellaeon was not quite worried yet, but an entire task force against one ship--even the CHIMERA--was a mismatch, and he knew it.

Thrawn's eyes glowed, and he smiled. "Mykel Garreth, again. Interesting how once more he chooses to make it personal between us. He must be very close to breaking, Captain."

Pellaeon nodded, feeling a little nervous as the shields dipped to 75%. "Yes, sir."

Thrawn studied his tactical monitor, and almost lazily, pointed. "That ship is the key, Captain. Garreth's compassion is his weakness. He will not allow his dear, old friends to be endangered."

Thrawn smiled at the display again. "Endanger the FREEDOM, and we take Garreth out of the fight."

"What's going on?" Garreth muttered, "He's not reacting right. He's planning something."

The bridge jumped around them from the CHIMERA's fire, and Okel fidgeted. "Perhaps now is not the time to..."

"Now is the only time, Chief. Thrawn's up to something..."

On his tactical monitor, the now repaired Star Destroyer CARIDA was floating up from its battle with a pair of Mon Cal Star Cruisers. Its target...

Garreth's eyes narrowed. "Damn."

"I do not..."

The gray-haired Admiral touched a helm control. "Sedra, get out of there! Get out now!"

The IMPERIAL-class Mark II Star Destroyer was driving straight for a single NEBULON-B frigate, with the name "FREEDOM" emblazoned on her hull.

Something shorted out, and Jessi Harkin dropped to the floor--dead or wounded, Covell couldn't tell. "Gaar, how we doin'?"

He rumbled. "Roughly the same as always."

"I'd hoped for better than that..."

Mo'Ret looked up. "Propulsion is down to 34 percent. Shields to 18!"

"Captain, she's not gonna hold together!" Narr said.

Covell watched the tactical display, and knew the young officer was right. The CHIMERA and the CARRACKS were bad enough. The CARIDA was the end. There was nowhere to run, and no other ships in position to help.

Which left one option. Covell hissed, throat raw from inhaling smoke. "All hands, abandon ship."

Gaar howled at the top of his Wookiee lungs. "CAPTAIN?"

"Get off this ship, Gaar! NOW!" Covell gestured at Harkin, just before dropping down into the helm pit. "And take her with you!"

She elbowed Narr away from the helm board, and set a new course. Narr's eyes widened as he saw what it was. "I don't think..."

"Don't think, Mister, just go!" Covell shoved him aside and took the helm.

Narr hesitated. "Cap, it's my job to..."

"It's not my intention to die just yet, Kris. Just leave while you can."

Narr turned away, climbed up to the main level, and clapped his hands for attention. "You all heard the Captain! Let's move it, people! Move it!"

All around the bridge, with looks ranging from resignation to utter despair, crewers were leaving their stations for the escape pods. Gaar leapt down into the pit beside Covell.

"I will remain with you," he said, his translator changing his hoots and barks into basic, "Until the end. I owe her that."

Covell patted the console. "She's been a good ship."

Gaar's reply was a sustained Wookiee hunter's cry that shook the bulkheads.

Narr called back, "Everyone's off the bridge, Cap. Good luck."

"Thank you, Mister Narr. I'm gonna need it." Covell hit the accelerator, and FREEDOM blasted towards the CARIDA.

Brynn Avers spun into a roll, then snapped back into place as the X-Wing from Rogue Squadron soared through her old position, blasting a TIE Interceptor to dust.

"Thanks, Wedge," she said. "How's the battle going?"

Wedge Antilles took a moment to reply. "Bad. We're losing ships, all shapes and sizes, and...uh-oh. Gold Leader, isn't that the FREEDOM?"

Avers spun her X-Wing to pick out a new target. As she did so, she spared a glance for the capital ship melee, which her old ship was in the thick of...

FREEDOM was limping, obviously battle damaged, straight for the forward hull of an Impstar Deuce.

Avers got off a nice shot that took the wing off a TIE Defender, then groaned. "I have a bad feeling about this..."

"Admiral," said Captain Lumas quietly, "Check Grid 2-0-4."

Garreth frowned at the appropriate tactical display, showing the FREEDOM. She was in bad shape, escape pods popping off her hull as she bore sown on the CARIDA.

"NO!" he growled. Not MY ship, he thought. Not my first command. "Divert something to help her! Quickly!"

Okel placed a webbed flipper on his admiral's shoulder. "She's already gone, Mykel."

Garreth stared at the display as the two ships inched closer, and of a thousand thoughts rampaging in his head, the one that kept floating to the top was the first line from Qui-Gon Jinn. He whispered, "'If these brave Knights do not return home...'"

Then FREEDOM and CARIDA collided, Mykel Garreth's last Imperial ship and first Rebel one mixing their atoms almost on a subatomic level as they disintegrated into balls of light.

When it was done, the CARIDA was a burned-out hull, listing uselessly to port, totally beyond repair. The FREEDOM was gone.

"'It will weigh heavily...'" Garreth swallowed hard. "Target the CHIMERA again, and fire."

"Yes, sir," said Captain Lumas, and the battle kicked into high gear.

Amber shuddered. The crystal world, though it shone with its own luminescence that had nothing to do with a stellar body, was frightfully cold. She and Bronn had stopped at the base of a massive, bluish crystalline mountain, and had been waiting for some time.

"Maybe he won't show up," Amber suggested, though she knew that was a lie.

"He will come," Bronn said, with an almost human smile.

Almost on cue, a voice rang out from above. "Greetings."

The pair of stormtrooper guards sighted with their rifles, but Bronn motioned them away. Jev Parrak stood atop the mountain, Dash Rendar at his side. Jev's brown robes blew in the chill wind, though his normally wild eyes were serene.

"I make you this offer," Jev said, clambering down without watching his feet or missing a step. "Leave this place now, without Amber, and we can avoid any unpleasantries."

Bronn laughed, a gruff, booming sound. "Ridiculous! You think I don't know about you? FAILED Jedi? Vader's own apprentice who killed his friends?"

"That's not true," Jev said. He hopped to the ground, with Dash following behind, somewhat more unsteadily. "Your last chance to accept my deal, Bronn. I warn you not to underestimate my power."

"That would be impossible," Bronn deadpanned. "For one thing..." He stepped forward, leaving Amber to the stormtroopers, and ignited Jev's silver blade, "you have no weapon."

"A Jedi needs no weapon." Jev advanced on the Mon Calamari step by step, looking totally confident, looking every bit like the holos Amber had seen of a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. "A Jedi's strength flows from the Force."

"Were you a true Jedi," Bronn taunted, "That might be close to the truth. You're a failure, a fraud." He nodded at Amber. "She knows it. All your friends know it. Soon you'll know it."

He stepped forward, and struck.

"Star Destroyer! Where'd that come from?" Evverd jerked the helm sideways, avoiding the bursts of turbolaser energy.

"Not my fault!" Kum Didi hissed. "Thought they'd be slower!"

"The Imps are never slow," said the Corellian, "when you've got something they want."

They'd popped in from hyperspace moments ago, to find this incredible crystal planet, guarded by an IMPERIAL Star Destroyer. Already it was spitting TIE fighters at them.

"Rik, you can't outrun them all. Not without going to lightspeed." Kerri watched out the viewport, her eyes still glued to the planet.

"Like that idea!" Kum Didi said. "Lightspeed! Yes! Lightspeed very good!"

"We came here for a reason," Kerri said, "Jev needs us."

"Yeah," Evverd said, his breath expelling in a hiss. "Well, I still got a few surprises left in me..."

Bronn's blade sliced down, cutting into the crystal where Jev Parrak had stood, only a moment before. He'd dodged so effortlessly, he hardly seemed to have been there at all.

Bronn swung again and again, wildly, and both times Jev had no trouble avoiding the blows.

"Coward! FIGHT!"

Jev shrugged. "I'm the coward? I'm not the one attacking an unarmed man."

Bronn struck out again, this one a head-level slice meant to decapitate. Jev ducked under it, and swept his legs low, undercutting Bronn. The alien's legs went out from under him.

The Mon Cal struggled to his feet again, cursing at his guards. "What are you waiting for? Shoot him!"

Both stormtroopers raised their weapons. A blaster bolt from Dash caught one, while Amber elbowed the other in the neck and flipped him over her shoulder.

Jev advanced again on the Mon Cal. "The game is over, Admiral."

And Bronn laughed. Not a normal laugh. A harsh, echoing laugh. A laugh that was not his own.

Jev took a step back. "That's almost sounds like..."

"C'Baoth?" Bronn called Jev's saber back to his hand from where he'd dropped it. "As well it should! You pathetic, small-minded little would-be Jedi! I AM C'BAOTH!"

"Jorus C'Baoth?" Amber said immediately. Here her knowledge of Jedi lore came in immensely handy. "He's dead."

Bronn laughed again. "Not all of him, I'm afraid. I knew we'd meet again, young Jedi. I chose this--rather unimpressive specimen--as a way to come to you. Enough of his own mind and abilities remained to give him some semblance of free will. But that is over now. He was incapable of the task I handed him, even with my help." Bronn/C'Baoth's voice took on an ominous tone. "I assure you, I am not. Choose now: Kneel before me, or die!"

Jev's chin came up a centimeter, and he gave Amber an odd sort of knowing smile. "I am a Jedi. I will never join you."

The Mon Calamari screamed, a thoroughly insane shriek that seemed to echo off the crystalline hilltops. His hands came up, palms splayed out. "THEN WITNESS THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE!"

Bluish-white bolts of energy tossed Jev backwards, his head cracking against the crystal ground. He groaned, tried to stand, and was knocked back by another bolt. Dash Rendar drew his blaster, but Bronn/C'Baoth's lightning struck him, as well. Just for good measure, he put a third bolt into Amber.

He stood over Jev now, lethal energy still spitting into the young Jedi. Jev Parrak was talented in absorption, and given a moment of preparation, he could have defended himself, but Bronn/C'Baoth denied him the time he needed, skewering him with bolt after bolt until his every synapse was agony.

Finally, when Jev lay on the ground, near unconsciousness, Bronn/C'Baoth drew the lightsaber again. It lit with a terrible hiss.

"And now, young Jedi, you will die..."

The blade swept down...

And was blocked.

An orange lightsaber had suddenly appeared in Jev's hands, stopping the blow. As though gaining strength from the reprieve, Jev stood, parrying the Dark Jedi's second below, and his third. He went on the attack, pressing Bronn/C'Baoth backwards. The silver and orange blades crossed for the first time in five years, when the combatants had been Jev and...

Kerri Lynden, who now stood at the edges of the battlefield, watching with an air of pride as Jev fought back the Dark Jedi. From the extra spurt of energy he was feeling, Jev guessed her role in the battle was not passive; rather, she'd helped him recover from his wounds and sent him a burst of strength. She remained at the edge of the battlefield, recognizing that it was Jev's fight. Elsewhere on the crystalline landscape, Rik Evverd was helping Amber to her feet. Rik's son watched Intently from his grandfather's arms several meters away, out Of the fighting, while Kum Didi and Rik's droid R2-B0 aided Dash.

Jev struck low, allowing Bronn/C'Baoth to block the attack, then swung his saber up to score the alien's chin. The Dark Jedi yelped and fell back, his blade dropping from his hand.

Jev moved in, his saber hissing back for a killing blow. though he hated it, he'd seen how unstable C'Baoth was, and if he could take over minds...well, the matter had to be ended right here. His blade swept around...

"HOLD."

Jev frowned, looking around for the source of the incredibly deep voice. He saw nothing.

Then the ground rumbled. The crystals themselves seemed to be shifting. Jev turned, amazed, and watched the blue-crystal mountain resolve itself into the largest being he'd ever seen.

A Duinuogwuin Star Dragon, yes, but at least a kilometer long. He'd never seen anything like it...

The thing spoke. "NO MORE VIOLENCE. THIS IS A SACRED PLACE."

"That's the dragon, Momma!" said Mat, tugging at his mother's pant leg. "The one I saw!"

"What is this place?" Kerri asked. "It sings with the power of the Force."

The huge Star Dragon nodded. "YES. IT IS OUR RESTING PLACE, OUR HAVEN WHEN OUR LIFE'S TOILS ARE DONE. MY PEOPLE ARE DISPOSED TOWARDS THE FORCE. WHEN WE DIE, OUR SCALES DECAY INTO THESE CRYSTALS YOU SEE. THIS PLACE IS BUILT FROM OUR REMAINS."

"The crystals," Jev said, "Are...fossils? Of Duinuogwuins?"

The huge head nodded. "YES."

Rik Evverd frowned at his wife. "You mean you've been carrying around a piece of dead dragon for twenty years? Hey, some heirloom..."

Kerri shrugged. "The galaxy is full of little ironies..."

"I think I've finally gone senile," said Rasir Evverd.

Kum Didi just stared up at the Duinuogwuin, whose reptilian features were similar to his own, though hundreds of times larger. "A handsome species. Very impressive."

Dash Rendar groaned. "I ain't gettin' paid enough..."

The huge head leaned down low enough that Jev could have touched it, had he been a bit closer. "PROTECTING THIS PLACE IS MY SACRED DUTY...AND I HAVE FAILED. I GREW OLD AND TIRED. NOW NOT JUST ONE, BUT FIVE HAVE COME, WITH THE POWER TO SEIZE THIS PLACE AS THEIR OWN. TO JOIN WITH THE ENERGIES OF THE FORCE ITSELF. WHO AMONG YOU WISHES FOR THIS?"

"Not me," Kerri said. "I've had enough responsibility in my life. My son is not ready for such a thing, either."

The Duinuogwuin nodded. "YOU ARE WISE, KNIGHT. POWER IS NOT AS DESIRABLE AS IT SEEMS. WHAT OF THE OTHERS?"

Amber laughed. "I can't even handle a remote with a lightsaber yet. I don't think I'm ready to be one with the energies of the Force."

The dragon nodded, and turned to Jev. "YOU ARE A POWERFUL JEDI INDEED. DO YOU ASK FOR THIS POWER?"

And this, Jev knew, was the moment he'd awaited for five years. His chance for ultimate power, his chance for everything a Dark Jedi would want.

He smiled and said, "Absolutely not."

Finally, the dragon turned on Bronn/C'Baoth. With some distaste, it said, "AND NOW WE COME TO YOU, DARK JEDI. NEED I EVEN ASK?"

Bronn's amphibious lips stretched into a hideous smile. "Yes, of course I want it! These fools do not understand. Only I am worthy of such a thing."

"Hey! Whoa!" said Dash Rendar, "Really bad idea, giving It to him!"

"HE ASKED," said the Duinuogwuin with a thunderous shrug.

"You not as smart," Kum Didi said, "as are handsome."

"I must protest, as well," Jev said. "This man is evil. You cannot give him such power."

"SOMEONE MUST GET IT," the Star Dragon said. "I GROW WEARY OF WAITING HERE...ALONE..."

"Then...give it to me," Jev said. "I'll stay here with you, as long as you require. You don't understand the kind of damage a man like him could do."

The Star Dragon blinked its huge, sad eyes. "YOU DID NOT WANT THE POWER, KNIGHT. STAND, DARK JEDI."

Bronn/C'Baoth stood, barely able to conceal his glee. He sneered at Jev. "You could have ruled by my side. Now, you'll be destroyed."

"PREPARE TO RECEIVE THE ULTIMATE GIFT," the Duinuogwuin said in it's booming voice. "FROM THIS TIME FORWARD, YOU ARE ONE WITH THE POWER OF THE FORCE."

With that, it dipped its massive head...

And ate the Dark Jedi in one gulp.

"What the HELL?" said Rik Evverd.

The Star Dragon returned to its resting-place. "NOW HE IS UNIFIED WITH THE ENERGY OF THIS PLANET. HIS ESSENCE WILL REMAIN HERE, PART OF THE FORCE ITSELF, AND IT WILL KEEP ME COMPANY. FOREVER."

Then the Duinuogwuin stopped moving, and became a mountain once again.

"Now I've seen everything in this galaxy," Rasir Evverd announced.

"Can we go home now?" Dash asked.

"Sure," said Kerri. "We'll have to use your ship, though."

The redhead frowned. "You didn't come in the SKYHOOK?"

"We came to the system in the SKYHOOK," her husband explained. "We came to the planet in an escape pod."

Amber Stormcaller frowned. "The SKYHOOK was destroyed?"

"Not exactly," Evverd said dryly. "There was still a Star Destroyer in orbit, you know... and I'm always the one who's gotta take care of these details..."

Captain Evins frowned at her subordinate. "There are no life-forms?"

"No, Ma'am," said Lieutenant Belder, "We think they've jettisoned with the escape pods."

"Or they're hiding," Evins said. "An old smuggler trick, concealed panels in the deck. Open her up."

"Yes, ma'am." Belder stepped forward. With the aid of a pair of stormtroopers, he forced the Corellian freighter's hatch open...

A wall of orange flame met him, taking Evins and the rest of the docking bay with it. That, in turn, impacted the fuel storage areas, which destroyed the reactor core.

Very little of the Star Destroyer RETRIBUTION was left for scavengers to sift through.

Concluded in Episode 16

R.John Burke



© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann