“He seriously did that?!”
“Saw it with my own eyes, Malik! I swear!”
“Serra, come on. I know Yoda always says ‘do or do not, there is no try, ‘ but this seems to be firmly in the ‘do not’ category.”
“Hey, check the security holograms if you don’t believe me. It’s all there.”
“Wow ... Anakin Skywalker actually landed the Invisible Hand and saved Chancellor Palpatine in the process. I always knew he was a great pilot, but that’s beyond anything I’ve ever heard of! Unbelievable!”
“Believe it,” came a voice from behind the pair.
“Master Windu! Good to see you!” Malik Ran said as the Jedi Master approached.
“You as well, Malik. Serra Keto, always a pleasure.”
“Likewise, Master Windu.”
“Malik how was your reconnaissance mission? Any luck?”
“A few leads,” the young Jedi replied. “Several sources indicated that the Separatists have their eyes on setting up camp on Utapau, that is if they aren’t there already.”
“These sources reliable?” Windu inquired.
Nodding, Windu replied, “That’s reliable alright. During the rescue mission yesterday, General Grievous escaped and went on the run. If what you’ve found is true, he may well be on his way to Utapau as we speak.”
“Then we’d better get someone after him right away!” Serra interjected. “We apprehend him, we end the war.”
“I’m just on my way to the Jedi Council Chambers to discuss the matter. Rest assured, ending this war is our highest priority. The sooner we can restore our Republic to its intended democratic protocols, the better,” Windu reassured her.
“Thank you, Master. Let me know if you need my presence before the Council,” Malik said.
“I will, but I doubt that will be necessary. Master Ki-Adi-Mundi was working with you, and is actively tracking Grievous as we speak, so his information should be enough for us to act. I’ll see you later, then.”
“Take care, Master Windu,” Serra said.
As Windu took his leave, the two young Jedi strolled through the corridors of the temple together. They said nothing, only enjoying each other’s company. Soon, Serra broke the silence.
“I’m glad you’re back ... I missed you.”
“Me too,” Malik replied. “I’ll be glad when this war is over. No more cloak-and-dagger secret missions, back to being guardians of peace rather than generals...”
“And back to the High Council being as inflexible as ever...”
“Yeah,” Malik sighed.
As they turned a corner, she casually brushed her hand against his, feeling the warm touch of his skin.
“Woah, not here,” he said, pulling away. “Someone could see.”
“I know but ... I’m tired of pretending this isn’t real,” Serra said. “Malik, what we have is stronger than any normal friendship. Remember how close the Council was to kicking me out of the order, saying I was a loose cannon? All that changed when we met. You’ve been the best influence I could’ve ever asked for, even better than Master Drallig.”
“Be that as it may, the Council would kick us both out if they discovered this. You don’t deserve that, not with as far as you’ve come.”
“Do you really think we’re the first Jedi to have faced this dilemma?” she asked, cocking her eyebrow.
Sighing, he replied, “No ... we definitely are not. Not if the rumors about Qui-Gon Jinn are to be believed, anyway.”
“And there are others too, supposedly. Who, I can’t say. But the fact remains that this is nothing new, Malik. We should at least consider every option, don’t you agree?”
Thinking for a moment, Malik said, “How ‘bout we wait at least until the end of the war. With any luck, Grievous will have been brought down by the end of the week. Once things quiet down, we’ll have a better idea of what to do. Agreed?”
Realizing he was right, she nodded. “Agreed.”
The pair said their goodbyes and Serra departed towards the lightsaber training area. She was to help her former Master, Cin Drallig, with his lessons that afternoon. As she left, Malik caught himself once again admiring her form. Serra Keto was not only beautiful, but also strong and intelligent. Her hair was a gorgeous shade of raven, and she always kept it tied back in a pair of loose pigtails. Her body was fit and athletic, yet also possessed ample curves to go along with those muscles. Her porcelain skin stood in beautiful contrast to her dark hair, and her legs were long and powerful. At twenty-two years, she was as strong as she had ever been, and would only continue growing over the next several years. She was the perfect combination of warrior and woman, and at three years younger than him, no less! Shaking his head, Malik pushed those thoughts from his mind; he had to remain disciplined, after all. As he continued down the hallway, he spotted a friend coming towards him.
Skywalker looked up, appearing startled and a bit apprehensive. “Malik? Wha... ?”
“Congrats! Successful rescue operation, landing the Invisible Hand in the middle of Coruscant’s financial district, people are saying you’re a real-life hero!” Malik said, shaking his hand.
“Oh! Well, thank you, but I can’t take full credit,” Anakin replied. “The entire mission was Obi-Wan’s idea, after all.”
“True, but as he would say, ‘Ideas are good and useful, but executing them is an entirely different matter.’ I’d say you executed to perfection.”
“That’s true, I suppose.”
The pair moved to a nearby window, gazing out on the bustling metropolis of Coruscant. Every citizen seemed to move with a hurried apprehension, which was understandable. After all, the Clone Wars had just affected them in the most personal way possible less than twenty-four hours before. Their fear and uncertainty made perfect sense.
“Do you ... do you ever wonder what will happen to the Order once the war ends?” Anakin asked.
“All the time,” Malik replied with a nod. “Seems you do too.”
“I do. I’ve traveled to so many war-torn worlds over the last few years. I’ve seen and done terrible things, all in the name of restoring peace. I see the galaxy changing forever with every passing moment. I wonder ... how does that change affect us?”
“As Master Yoda loves to say, always in motion is the future. I guess all we can do is hold firm to our principles. We have to remain the rock for our Republic.”
Anakin gave him a questioning look. “Do you really believe in all of our principles?”
Returning Anakin’s gaze, Malik asked, “Anakin, what’s wrong? There’s ... something different about you.”
Looking away, Anakin replied, “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just ... I’m tired of fighting.”
“I agree, but I’ve seen that look in your eye in others, Anakin. That’s not the look of someone tired of fighting a war. It’s the look of a man tired of fighting an inner battle.”
“You know nothing of inner turmoil...”
“Try me,” Malik replied with a grin. “Don’t think I haven’t seen how frequently you visit the Senate Chambers.”
Anakin glared at him. “Don’t think I haven’t seen how friendly you and Serra Keto have become.”
“Fair enough. So who are you visiting so often at the Senate?” Malik chuckled.
“None of your business,” Anakin muttered, turning to leave.
“Anakin,” Malik said to him. “In spite of our disagreements with the Council, don’t forget how much good we have done and can still do. When it’s all said and done ... the Republic needs us. We owe it to the Republic to work out our inner demons.”
Stopping for a moment, Anakin looked at the floor. “You are right, of course. Thank you for listening to my ramblings.”
“Not at all. Take care of yourself. I’m around if you need to ramble again.”
A few days later, Malik Ran reported to Master Vokara Che, the chief Jedi Healer of the Order. She was a gruff old Twi’lek, yet highly accomplished in her field; most credited her for the Jedi Order having lost as few Jedi in the Clone Wars as they had. Malik himself was one of her best healers, though his methods were quite unorthodox as compared to others. While most healers relied on an intense connection to the living force, Malik used his vast anatomical knowledge to heal specific body parts through the Force. This allowed him to inspect them for damage on a far more intimate level than most could ever dream of. While some in the Order called this unnatural and against the balance of the Force, Malik had proved his worth time and time again by saving injured soldiers who would normally be beyond saving.
“Master Che,” Malik said, stepping into her office.
“Ah, Malik, there you are. What can I do for you?”
“I understand that Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has been given the assignment of apprehending General Grievous. He’s hiding out on Utapau, yes?”
“That is correct.”
“I would like to accompany his battalion as their medic.”
Shaking her head, Che replied, “I cannot in good conscience allow that, Malik. I admire your dedication, but you have served five consecutive tours of active duty already. You need to rest, lest you push yourself too hard.”
“Master Che, this is the most crucial mission of the entire war! If Kenobi is successful, then the Separatists lose! Not to mention how many Jedi Grievous has already slain. They need me!”
“I have already assigned their medic, and their ship has long since departed. By now, they are already on Utapau. I’m sorry, Malik, but this matter is closed. Go home, rest, recover. You have served with honor and distinction, and will need your strength to continue to do so.”
“I ... yes, Master.”
Malik took his leave, frustrated with Master Che’s decision. Still, her logic was sound; he had been working overdrive for the latter half of the Clone Wars. Though he disagreed with her, he refused to allow his frustration to boil over into anger. He needed a calming presence. Taking the elevator down to the ground level of the Jedi Temple, Malik made for the Meditation Gardens.
Entering the serene green space, Malik’s mind began to quiet. He always had his best thoughts here. In fact, this was where he first discovered his natural talent as a surgical healer, spurring him on to research how he could heal bodies too far gone under most normal circumstances. Yes, here he could make sense of anything. Here, he was in complete control of himself.
Turning, he saw Serra approaching. “Serra! Man, am I glad to see you!”
“I saw you heading this way. You always come here to think things over, so I figured I should check on you. Everything ok?”
“Yeah ... it’s just that Master Che denied my request to accompany Master Kenobi on his mission to Utapau. I’m the best medic in the Order, and it’s the most crucial mission to date ... yet here I am, stuck at home.”
Serra moved closer, rubbing his shoulder with her hand. “She’s right, you know. You’ve been pushing yourself so hard. Many of us have been worried about the amount of stress you’re placing on yourself. I know you want to be out there in the thick of it, but you need to recover from all the good you’ve already done.”
Sighing, Malik admitted, “You’re right, Serra. Thanks. You always know just what to say.”
“What can I say? We’re good influences on each other,” she replied with a sweet giggle.
Their eyes locked. The pair could feel that they were being drawn together. It was as if the Force itself was calling them. Serra’s cheeks flushed. Malik’s breaths became more labored. Unable to help herself, she leaned closer, beginning to move her lips closer to his, bit-by-bit. He was so kind, so honest. She couldn’t help herself.
The pair was startled by a voice from behind them. Spinning around, they found Master Mace Windu standing nearby, his arms crossed and wearing a facial expression of displeasure. They knew they had been caught.
“Serra, I just received word from Master Drallig. He needs to see you in his office right away,” Windu said.
“I’ll ... go right now. Bye, Malik. I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Bye.” As she left, Malik could not escape the glare of Master Windu. “M-Master, I can explain-”
“Walk with me,” Windu said with calm conviction. As the pair strolled through the garden, he continued, “I know what you are feeling. It is, after all, human nature.”
“Then why do I feel like I’m walking to the gallows?”
“Malik, you and I both know that we Jedi must hold ourselves to a higher standard than human nature. You accepted this in your promotion to Jedi Knight. The path you and Serra were about to start down may seem innocent and harmless now, but down the line leads to the Dark Side. Love may not be a dangerous emotion in and of itself, but it must come without condition. Choosing one individual above all others ... that is a dangerous condition.”
“I understand your premise, but I disagree with your conclusion,” Malik replied.
“The Council’s wise words often contradict each other. One minute, Master Yoda talks about how the future is ever dependent on our choices. The next, you talk of destiny and the unavoidable lure of the Dark Side. I agree with the ideals, but there must be a more practical way to achieve them.”
“I know. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. In truth, this is a somewhat common issue for us to work through. Again, human nature.” Turning to him with a stern look, he continued, “You may disagree with the Council if you wish, in words. You may be looked upon with disapproval, but you won’t lose your career.”
“And be branded a Gray Jedi...”
“I don’t think that’s warranted. A Gray Jedi actively calls upon both the Dark and the Light Sides of the Force without being devoted to or consumed by either. But if you take any action in your disagreements with the council ... such a title might make sense in that case.”
“Perhaps ... but this does bring up a question that’s been rattling around inside my mind,” Malik said.
“What is that?”
“What happens to the Jedi Order once the war ends? Is it really as simple as us going back to the way things were before? After all, many citizens of the Republic have grown to resent us, thinking that we were the catalyst that started the war in the first place.”
Windu sighed. “No, it’s not that simple. How I wish it were. As much as the Council tries to hold to our traditions and ideals, we cannot deny the drastic changes the Republic is undergoing. I suppose ... some changes in the Jedi Order may be inevitable. What those changes look like, I cannot be certain. But one thing I am certain of is our need for Jedi like you, Malik. You see things from a certain point of view, one that can at times provide you greater insight into a situation that would baffle some of the more traditionalist Jedi. Those like you and Serra Keto ... you will be necessary to ensure our future. Of this I have no doubt.”
“Does that mean Serra and I would be placed on the Council?” Malik asked with a sly grin.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Windu fired back with a smile. “The Council remains ... quite discerning in regards to its membership.”
Malik’s face turned serious. “Is that why Anakin Skywalker was allowed onto the Council yet not granted the rank of Master?”
“Don’t concern yourself with that situation. It’s beyond the scope of your influence, and thus should not be dwelt on.”
As the sun began to sink in the late afternoon, Master Windu’s holocom signaled an incoming transmission.
“This is Master Windu.”
“Master Windu, it is Master Kenobi.”
“Obi-Wan! You alright? Did you find Grievous?”
“I did. I have just destroyed him in combat. He’s gone. My battalion has moved in and is working with the warriors of Utapau to liberate the system. It will not be long.”
“Excellent work! I’ll deliver this information to the Chancellor. I only hope he reacts ... favorably.”
“I understand. May the Force be with you, Master.”
“And with you as well, Obi-Wan.”
“Well, that’s great news!” Malik said.
“It is. I have some business to attend to. Malik, I would ask that you meditate on everything we have discussed today. I sense that you are still conflicted, and I do not wish that for you. I would also recommend some time away from Serra for now, so that you may both think more clearly.”
“I understand, Master.”
Bowing to each other, the two Jedi parted ways, Windu heading for the hangar and Malik for his quarters. Once there, he meditated for an hour or so, attempting to come to terms with his inner conflict. He found little success, and was still torn between the code of the Jedi and his growing fondness for Serra.
Every time he tried to convince himself to leave her be, he began to feel a tug from the Force, something telling him that it was not the right course of action. Now as confused as ever, he exited the Jedi Temple to get some fresh air.
As he traveled through the skies of Coruscant in his airspeeder, Malik began to feel more at ease. Flying in his favorite open-cockpit vehicle was always a freeing experience that allowed his concerns and worries to melt away. As he merged into a skylane, Malik saw that he was approaching the residential area for many of the senators of the Republic. As mundane an experience as that would be under most circumstances, something odd caught his eye. Up on the higher floors of one of the apartment buildings, he could have sworn he saw the flash of a lightsaber.
“Huh, strange,” he muttered, slowing and pulling out his electrobinoculars. As he zoomed in, he realized, “That’s Chancellor Palpatine’s apartment!”
Thinking the Chancellor was under attack, he set his airspeeder on autopilot, bringing him closer while also allowing him to continue to monitor the situation from afar. As the apartment came into view, Malik was shocked by what he saw: Master Windu was fighting the Chancellor, and both had lightsabers! All of a sudden, a brilliant flash blinded him for the moment, forcing him to look away. As he looked back, he now saw that the Chancellor was attacking Master Windu with Force Lightning.
“No ... the Chancellor’s a Sith?!”
Realizing he had not a moment to lose, Malik resumed control of the airspeeder and rocketed towards the apartment to render aid. He began to sense a growing presence of the Dark Side in the apartment, and was now worried that Master Windu could be outnumbered. Feeling a sudden burst of dark power, Malik looked up just in time to see Master Windu being blasted from the apartment window by the Chancellor’s Force Lightning. He adjusted course and aligned his speed with Windu’s to be able to safely catch him.
“Master Windu! Hang on!”
The Jedi’s form was easy to spot against the backdrop of the building, as his body still sparked and crackled from the Chancellor’s blast. With great effort, he managed to catch him at last just as Master Windu was about to be hit by an oncoming airspeeder. Malik laid him across the back seat and began to inspect him, knowing he would need to work quickly to save his life.
“Severed hand ... hyper pulse rate ... he’s not got long,” he observed.
Calming himself with the Force, Malik first focused on Windu’s heart, working to bring his pulse back down to normal levels after the electric shock. Soon, it began to slow, and his breathing, though still labored, became more metered and regular. Next, Malik turned his attention to the stump where Windu’s right hand once was. Before he could begin his work, Windu suddenly regained consciousness with a gasp.
“Master Windu, you’re alright! Just relax, I’m working on healing you,” Malik instructed. “What happened? Can you tell me?”
“The ... Chancellor ... is the Sith ... we’ve been ... tracking,” Windu eked out.
“Did he do this to you?” Malik asked, pointing at the stump on Windu’s arm.
“Then who? Who, Master?”
“S ... Sky ... Skywalker...”
“Anakin Skywalker?!” Malik asked in disbelief.
“He has ... turned ... to the Dark Side ... I can sense it...”
Feeling his vitals begin to drop again, Malik resumed his work. “Master, your body is still in shock from the pain of losing your hand. I need to put you into a trance so that you can heal.”
“No!” Windu shouted. “Do what you ... must ... for the damage ... and the pain ... but my work ... is not done ... that’s an order.”
Sighing in frustration, Malik followed Windu’s instructions. Rather than place him in a healing trance as was customary, he instead focused on the nerves in Windu’s arm, now a cauterized stump. Concentrating with the Force, he managed to numb them for the moment, making Windu’s pain far more bearable. This had a pronounced and immediate impact on the Jedi Master, as he was then able to sit up of his own accord.
“We’ve got to get back to the Jedi Temple,” Windu stated. “Palpatine ... he’s been behind everything. Count Dooku, the war, Skywalker ... his goal has to be to wipe out the entire Jedi Order all along.”
“On it!” Malik said, climbing back into the pilot’s seat.
Serra Keto sat in quiet meditation on the balcony of her quarters, reflecting on the events of the day. She was worried about what eventual punishment might soon befall her and Malik from their encounter in the gardens. Still, even knowing what might happen, she did not regret her actions. He was one of the few good, honest men in the galaxy, and selfless to boot. Malik would gladly run into a sea of blaster fire to save an injured friend, no hesitation. His resolve and kindness made Serra’s heart leap. The fact that he was also handsome didn’t hurt either. His lean, compact form, short blonde hair, and icy blue eyes ... they were all intoxicating to her. Through everything that had happened, she knew how she felt about this man.
Turning to the entrance to her quarters, she saw her old teacher. “Master, good evening.”
“How are you feeling?” the older man asked, joining her on the balcony.
Serra was still a bit apprehensive, as the two had engaged in a heated argument earlier over her actions with Malik. Sensing this, Drallig sought to comfort her.
“Serra, I want you to know that our disagreement earlier changes nothing regarding my feelings for you. You are, and remain the most incredible pupil I have ever had the pleasure of teaching.”
“You mean that, Master?”
“I do. In a few years, I would not be surprised to see you replace me as Battlemaster!” he said with a grin.
“I ... would love that,” Serra admitted. “Still, I doubt the Council would see fit to grant such a promotion, what with me and Malik...”
Though he at first thought to try and reassure her, a strange sight in the distance captured Drallig’s attention.
“Serra, do you see that?”
“Huh? Republic troop transports ... why are they heading this way?”
“I don’t know, but I sense a dark presence with them.”
“Yes ... I feel it also, Master. There is danger approaching.”
“Get your equipment ready. I’ll go alert the guards,” he said as he left.
Drallig hurried through the hallways of the temple, alerting everyone he could that trouble was likely on its way. Soon, he arrived at the balcony overlooking the Jedi Archives and main entrance to the Temple. Below, he saw his old friend, Jocasta Nu, talking with another Jedi. He could not be sure from the angle, but it appeared to be Anakin Skywalker.
“I need access to the Jedi Temple beacon,” the hooded figure said.
“On whose authority?” Jocasta replied.
“By the authority of the Supreme Chancelor.”
Drawing her blue lightsaber, Jocasta backed up a step and stated, “That is not within the Chancellor’s power. Only the Jedi High Council can authorize access to the beacon.”
Drallig watched the horrifying scene unfold, seeing his old friend flung through the air and into Skywalker’s grasp. Jocasta Nu was soon impaled on his lightsaber, and he tossed her lifeless body aside. The other Jedi in the Archives immediately sprang into action, seeing Skywalker as a traitor. As Drallig was about to leap down and join them, he saw a battalion of Clone Troopers enter through the main gates, flanking Skywalker and opening fire on the Jedi.
“Master! Can you hear me? What’s going on?!”
Picking up his comlink, Drallig replied, “Serra, it’s Skywalker. He’s gone rogue, just murdered Jocasta Nu in cold blood.”
“It’s about to be a bloodbath, we need you down here.”
“Don’t think that’s wise. We’re also under attack at the east wall, holding firm but fading fast.”
“I’m on my way, just stay alive!”
Drallig bounded through the temple at breakneck pace, enhancing his speed with the Force. As he ran, Clone Troopers began appearing from the windows, crashing in with jetpacks and grappling hooks. Drallig drew his green lightsaber and made short work of them, slicing through the first few as he continued his sprint. After a minute or two, he finally reached the east wall of the Jedi Temple. Seeing an enormous hole in the wall, the hallways were now under siege from a large number of clone troopers. As a nearby trio turned to fire upon the Jedi Master, a whirling green lightsaber flew past, beheading each of them.
Looking up, he saw his student. “Serra! What’s our status?!”
“The younglings are hidden, taken up to the Council Chambers. Right now, priority is containment. There’s just too many of them...”
“Then let us tip the odds back in our favor,” Drallig replied with a sly grin.
As another group of clones turned to attack him, the wily veteran activated his ace-in-the-hole: using the Force to move so fast he left afterimages of himself across the battlefield. The unsuspecting clones were so confused that they didn’t even know what had hit them by the time Drallig cut them down. Speeding off, he then approached a pair of clones with their backs turned to him. Drallig snuck up behind them and placed a hand on each one’s shoulder.
“Soldiers, the Jedi need your help,” he said calmly, probing their minds with the Force.
Glancing at each other, the clones said in unison, “The Jedi need our help.”
Having been mind-tricked, the pair turned upon their fellows, opening fire on a nearby group of clone troops. Their forced betrayal was short lived, though, and a lieutenant soon eliminated them with a flurry of blaster fire. But this distraction provided just the opening Serra needed, igniting her second green lightsaber and leaping into the fray. Her furious strikes took the remaining clones by complete surprise, which combined with Drallig’s speed and cunning for a devastating combination. As they dropped the last of the clones, a loud noise sounded from the hole in the east wall.
“Master! Two AT-RT walkers approaching!” Serra shouted.
The pair shifted to acrobatic maneuvers as the walkers entered the Jedi Temple, opening fire with their heavy blaster cannons. As they evaded, each tried to think of a way to combat their new adversaries. They could cut their legs, but the ankles were reinforced with small repulsor shields designed to resist lightsabers and blaster fire. But soon, Serra realized their fatal weakness: the open cockpit housing the pilot.
“Master, cover me! I have an idea!”
Drallig stood in front of Serra, shielding them both by levitating the large pieces of rubble strewn about the hallway. Meanwhile, Serra concentrated with her all on both of her lightsabers. In most instances, she would not dare use this attack, as it left her quite vulnerable. But today there was little other choice; she had to pull out all the stops. Drawing on the Force, she flung both of her lightsabers into the air. They spun towards the walkers and, before the clones could react, beheaded the two pilots.
“Whew ... I can’t believe that worked!”
“Well done my friend,” Drallig said with a smile. “Now, we’ve got to get to the beacon. Skywalker wanted access to it, no doubt to lay a trap for all the Jedi off world.”
“Let’s go, then! This way!”
As Serra dashed off down a nearby hallway, a concussion missile from the gunships outside suddenly rocked the temple. This resulted in a statue falling to the ground, blocking the hall and separating Serra and Drallig.
“Serra, I’ll find a way around! Wait for me!”
“I can’t, Master. Anakin’s up ahead ... I sense him. I ... I’ve got to stop him.”
“Serra, don’t! He’s too much for you alone; you need my help!”
“I won’t stand by and watch him cause any more pain! I’m sorry, Master ... I have to go.”
Sprinting down the hallway, Serra soon reached one of the large instruction rooms. She was then besieged by blaster fire from a trio of clones, but was able to defend with ease. Killing two of them by reflecting their shots back at them, she leaped high into the air and landed with a thunderous kick in front of the final clone, slicing off his head before he could react. As the helmet clattered to the ground, Serra now saw the person at whose feet the helmet had landed. It was Anakin Skywalker himself.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” Serra stated, glaring at him.
“Serra ... Cin Drallig’s greatest pupil has come to greet me.”
A sinister smile grew on Skywalker’s face; he relished this moment to embarrass one of the most skilled young Jedi in the Order. He ignited his blue lightsaber and leapt to the center of the training room, beginning his offensive assault on Serra Keto. Despite his relentless strikes, Serra was able to defend with relative ease, given her mastery of fighting with dual lightsabers. Her green blades clashed with Skywalker’s, defending against his furious fighting style while seeking to find a weak point to strike at. Soon, their blades were locked together as the two combatants stared each other down. Knowing he was far stronger and more skilled than she, Serra decided to adopt a strategy of forcing Skywalker into a mistake through his recklessness.
“Seems the rumors are true,” she mused.
“What are you babbling about?”
Serra smirked. “The Dark Side does make you ugly.”
Growling in reply, Skywalker swiped at her with his weapon as his anger began to grow into hate. The superiority of all the Jedi ... it disgusted him. They needed to be put in their place, and he was just the one to do it.
“TAKE THIS!” he shouted, whirling around with his lightsaber like a tornado.
“Woah!” Serra said.
After evading and deflecting his blows, Serra flipped over his head and attempted to grab him in a stranglehold from behind. Though she was successful in grappling with him, she was unable to run him through as she had planned.
Skywalker, picking up on her strategy, used the Force to fling both of them straight backwards into a nearby wall, stunning Serra from the blow and forcing her to release him. He then attempted to end the duel then and there, striking at the center of her chest, but Serra managed to parry and leap out of the way, gaining a bit of breathing room. Noticing a large piece of machinery attached to the wall, she called on the Force and jarred the equipment loose, flinging it at Skywalker. He rolled out of its path at the last second, slicing a piece of the machine off as it flew past him.
“You’ll wish you hadn’t done that...” he seethed in anger.
As he charged Serra’s position, she was caught off-guard by the renewed ferocity of his attacks. Twirling his lightsaber in one hand, the power of his blows skyrocketed and he began enhancing his speed and strength with the Force, driving her back. She attempted to Force Push Skywalker back to interrupt his momentum, but he simply shrugged off the attack and pressed on. With a pair of backflips, Serra soon had to retreat to the balcony encircling the training room from the upper level. Skywalker followed without hesitation, resuming his assault on Serra. She was once more being driven back and now was running low on stamina. Serra knew she would have to end this quickly or she would not survive the battle.
Defending against a few more of Skywalker’s blows, she managed to find an opening to deliver a kick square in his chest. This threw him back and pinned him against a nearby pillar. Seeing her chance, Serra rushed forward, attempting to decapitate Skywalker with her twin blades, but he was too fast for her. He leapt out of the way at the last instant, causing Serra to only slice the pillar in half. Thinking fast, Skywalker called on the Force and began to topple the pillar on top of Serra. She saw what he was attempting, but was too exhausted from their duel to defend properly. Her evasion attempt failed, and she was thrown from the balcony to the floor below, the pillar landing on top of her before rolling away.
Cin Drallig had arrived just in time to see his friend and pupil fall to the floor, her body now cold and limp. He glared up at Skywalker, still prowling on the balcony above.
“Your favorite student is no more,” he taunted.
Without a word, Drallig ignited his green blade as Skywalker leapt down to engage him. He seethed with righteous fury at the loss of his student, yet refused to channel the Dark Side; Serra’s vengeance deserved to be pure, he reasoned. Defending against several of Skywalker’s power strikes, he channeled as much energy as he could and Force Pushed the traitor out a nearby window.
When he landed on the outer terrace, Drallig charged after him without hesitation or fear of any danger; Skywalker had to be stopped.
Malik and Windu arrived at the Jedi Temple in his airspeeder, horrified at the devastation being wrought on the residents. As they made their way through the hallways, they discovered the bodies of both Jedi and clones alike. Though many of the Jedi had been slain by blaster fire, it was evident to the pair that the stronger ones had been struck down by a lightsaber instead.
“Skywalker,” Windu sighed.
“Where would he be headed, Master?”
Thinking for a moment, Windu realized Skywalker’s goal. “The beacon!”
Working their way towards the center of the temple, they soon came upon the lightsaber training rooms. Seeing that a nasty battle had taken place here quite recently, they began to search the area for survivors. Both were horrified to discover the crushed body of Serra Keto on the floor ahead of them.
“Serra! NO!!!” Malik cried, rushing to her side. Inspecting her body, he at first mourned her apparent death, but soon was able to sense the truth through the Force. “She’s alive! Hanging by a thread, but she’s not gone yet!”
“Can you save her?” Windu asked.
“It’ll take some doing, but I think so. She’s lucky the pillar rolled off her,” he replied, nodding at the nearby piece of stone.
Malik drew on all his knowledge and abilities as he inspected Serra’s body. Her pulse was faint, and her breathing was almost nonexistent; he knew he hadn’t much time. He first attempted to use the Force to strengthen her heartbeat, hoping that would bring her out of the shock of her injuries, but to no avail. Out of desperation, Malik began to try anything he could think of to save the girl who meant so much to him.
“Serra, you’ve always said I’m such a good influence on you, provided logic and reason where your emotions would blind you, but you’ve also been the same for me. So you aren’t leaving, not after all this!” Feeling something strange awaken within him, Malik placed his hands on Serra’s chest and pressed down.
Before he could even comprehend what he had done, a charge of electricity flowed from Malik’s hands and into Serra. Her body twitched at the sudden introduction, and upon further inspection Malik could tell that she was close to recovering. Though he had no idea how, he managed to shock her once more, causing Serra to gasp and startle herself awake.
“NO!!!” she screamed on instinct.
“It’s ok! You’re ok, Serra! It’s me, Malik.”
“M ... Malik?” she asked, coughing and heaving.
“Yeah ... you gave us a scare, but you’ll be-”
Serra silenced him by planting a kiss on his lips. She was unable to help herself; she already knew how she felt about this man, and now he had just saved her life! Malik was so stunned he couldn’t believe what was happening. He knew this was wrong, but she was so beautiful. With her soft lips pressed against his, Malik was powerless to do anything to stop her. At last, they parted, panting and heaving from the experience. Serra then caught sight of Mace Windu out of the corner of her eye.
“More important things to deal with right now, Serra,” Windu replied, waving her off. “Malik, do you have any idea what you just did?”
“I think so ... Force Lightning.”
“Yes, but unlike any I’ve ever seen in a Jedi as young as you. You managed to draw out a power of the Dark Side without being consumed by it ... only one other Jedi has managed to do that.”
“Master Plo Koon?”
“Indeed. He calls his ‘Electric Judgment, ‘ of course, but the principle remains the same. You may have far greater potential in you than I ever realized. After all, you used a power of the Dark Side to give life, rather than take it!”
A muffled gasp from Serra interrupted their thoughts.
“Shh, easy there. You’re still hurt,” Malik said. “You’re breathing, but I think your ribs are broken. Hold still ... this may hurt a bit.”
Focusing on Serra’s ribcage, Malik channeled the Force into her cracked and broken bones. She squirmed in pain and discomfort, but he assured her the process was working. He could sense her bones being mended, and continued to provide a stabilizing touch with his hands. Finally, the pain subsided and Serra was able to sit up without much discomfort.
“Thanks...” she sighed. Hearing a commotion outside, she realized that Cin Drallig had likely engaged Skywalker. “Master!”
Serra leapt to her feet and dashed to the broken window ahead of her, followed by Malik and Windu. She peered out onto the terrace, seeing her Master’s blade locked with Skywalker’s. Drallig was giving the war hero everything he could handle, dashing around the terrace at blinding speeds and attacking from every angle imaginable. But Skywalker was cunning, and telekinetically shifted some of the rubble on the terrace to trip Drallig up. The veteran slowed, but still managed to defend against Skywalker’s counterattack, Force Pushing him to gain some breathing room.
“Always a powerful warrior, yet so impatient,” he lectured. “You failed to learn how to be fully at peace with the Force and so turned to the Dark Side.”
“I ... am no longer ... the LEARNER!!!” Skywalker shouted in rage.
Using the Force to sense and predict Drallig’s movements, he anticipated his oncoming attack and hurled his lightsaber into the air. Before any could comprehend what had happened, the blade was lodged in Cin Drallig’s chest, killing him instantly. One of the greatest swordsmen the Jedi Order had ever seen was dead.
“No ... Master...” Serra cried from the window.
“Serra, get down!” Windu scolded her, pulling them out of sight of Skywalker.
“What are you doing?! We have to stop him!” she protested.
“Engaging him now would not be courageous, it would be foolish,” Windu replied. “He is not just drawing on the Dark Side, I have no doubt he has sided with Palpatine to become a true Sith! We three are nothing to him. Malik specializes in healing, not combat. You nearly died a moment ago. And I’ve lost my weapon ... and my hand. No, attacking would not be the prudent move at this point.”
“Besides, Skywalker thinks you two are dead,” Malik observed.
“That’s true,” Serra realized. “We have the element of surprise ... but how to use it to save the Order?”
“By now, it may be too late,” Windu admitted. “The Jedi Temple has fallen, and I can only imagine that Palpatine has some contingency plan for the clones to turn on the Jedi. I would wager he has executed it already. As for the beacon, I could override any false message Skywalker placed within it ... if the security access were not coded to my right hand.”
“So there’s nothing we can do...” Malik realized.
“Right now, no. I recommend we make our escape,” Windu agreed. “The fact that two of us are supposed to be dead is a tremendous advantage, and we must bide our time until the opportune moment.”
“It seems you’re right,” Serra agreed. “So how do we escape undetected?”
“Follow me,” Windu said with a grin.
The trio made their way through a series of hidden passages and stairwells, traveling deep into the depths of the Jedi Temple. None of these areas had been touched by the onslaught; Malik and Serra speculated that only the Council knew about them. They soon arrived at a secret hangar containing a single starship.
“What is that?” Malik marveled.
“That is one of the most treasured relics from the early days of the Jedi,” Windu explained. “She’s a Defender-class corvette, the last of her kind. The High Council has had possession of her for generations, taking the initiative to preserve and maintain the ship. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore...”
“Talk about an escape plan,” Serra mused.
“The only situation in which we are to use this ship is an emergency. I think tonight qualifies as just that. You two get on board and start the departure process, I’ll open up the hangar,” Windu instructed.
Serra and Malik traversed the boarding ramp and made their way to the cockpit, powering up the ship’s systems. Meanwhile, Windu activated the hangar doors, which began to slowly slide open. But as they did so, they were surprised to see an approaching gunship of clones. When the ship placed its searchlight directly on Master Windu, the Jedi knew they were discovered.
“Go! Take off!” Windu shouted into his comlink.
“What?! Master, we won’t leave you behind!” Malik protested.
“That’s an order, Malik!” Windu replied, dashing towards the ship.
Sighing, Malik said to Serra, “Get us in the air. I’m going to try and help Master Windu aboard.”
Malik hurried to the boarding ramp, keeping it open as the ship began to rise into the air. He saw Master Windu running in his direction, narrowly evading the missiles and blaster fire from the gunship.
“Master! Grab my hand!” Malik called out.
Windu called on the Force and leapt into the air, managing to just grab the edge of the boarding ramp with his remaining hand. Malik dove forward, grabbing the hand to try and keep him from falling. By this time, the gunship had turned its attention to their new ride.
“Serra, I’ve got him! Get us out of here!”
The thrusters roared to life and Serra blasted the ship off into the night air of Coruscant. But with the gunship hot on their tail and peppering their hull with blaster fire, gaining enough altitude to break the atmosphere was difficult. Meanwhile, Malik struggled to try and bring Windu aboard.
“You’re hand’s too sweaty, Master! I need your other arm!”
Try as he might, the toll from Windu’s previous battle with Palpatine was weighing heavily on his body. His muscles still ached from the electric shocks he had endured. Attempting to use the Force to help lift him up onto the ramp, Windu’s hand slipped from its grip.
“No!” Malik cried, desperately grabbing his wrist. “Master ... hold ... on!”
“I ... don’t think I can...” Windu heaved with resignation.
“No ... no, don’t give up!”
“It’s ok, Malik. I’ll be ok ... I was never supposed to survive that battle with Palpatine anyhow. This ... this is the will of the Force.”
Malik struggled for a few moments more with Windu’s weight, but it proved to be too much. Soon, the Jedi Master had slipped from his grasp and fell to the city streets below. All the while, Mace Windu kept the same look of confidence and determination on his face that he had become famous throughout the Order for. Soon, Malik could no longer sense Windu’s presence in the Force. He was gone. Walking up the ramp and into the ship, Malik sighed as he closed the access hatch, preparing the ship for entry into outer space. As he entered the cockpit, Serra gave him a concerned look.
“Where’s Master Windu?”
“He ... he couldn’t hold on. Not with one hand, and not with his injuries. He’s dead, Serra.”
Reaching over to hold his hand, she replied, “You did everything you could, Malik. It’s not your fault.”
Before he could respond, the ship was again rocked by blaster fire from the gunship on their tail. But now that Malik was on board, they were capable of defending themselves. He pulled up the remote targeting systems from his copilot’s chair and fired a series of precision shots at the gunship. Though it was heavily armed, the clone vessel had little in the way of armor or shields. A few light hits were all it took to throw them off the trail. Now in the clear, Serra engaged the thrusters and took off into the stratosphere. The two Jedi had no idea where they would go or what they would do. They only knew that they no longer had the Jedi Order to rely on. For the time being, the were on their own...