Part VII: Exile
The door ahead of me is sleek and black like obsidian. Like a gateway to hell.
I approach it warily, my gloved hand wrapped around the hilt of my saber. The aura of the room beyond the door screams of the dark side, and on its ancient bloodstained floor there's a fresh stain in the Force, so strong that I can almost smell it.
This room is the source of the echo.
I reach forward to push the door open, trying not to think of what I'll see on the other side. As soon as I touch the door, a barrage of negative emotions slams against me. Anger. Fear. Despair. I pull my hand back like I've been burned.
Was his enemy merciful?
But then, what do Sith know of mercy?
I take a moment to gather my strength, let myself breathe. Then I pull open the door and enter. My eyes are met by a grand, pillared chamber with a vaulted ceiling. Its floors and walls are as sleek and black as the door. Red lamps glow on the walls, and red floor lights cast shadows behind every pillar.
Except for my own breathing, everything is quiet.
An apprehensive buzz starts at the base of my skull. I ignore it and step out into the open, daring all the forces of darkness to attack me. Then I see something that was hidden from view while I stood in the doorway. All at once, time slows, and the rest of the room fades away.
It's a single, lifeless body dressed in Jedi robes, lying at the base of a pillar.
Somehow my feet carry me to where he lies on his side. I stand over him, numbly observing the carnage. Was his enemy merciful? But then, is being decapitated after losing your arms a more merciful death than most? I can't say. I can't even think. I can only stare, feeling nothing, as I remember his kind smile, his reassuring touch, how quietly and loyally he loved me.
A procession of faces marches past my mind's eye.
Bao-Dur, who took his last, shuddering breath before I stumbled out of the wreckage of the Ebon Hawk
The Jedi Masters—Vrook, Kavar, Zez Kai-Ell—whose life-forces were sucked out of them by a fallen Kreia while I lay unconscious.
All the Mandalorians and Jedi who died by my hand, sucked into this merciless well of gravity known as Malachor, all because of one order I gave.
And now Mical. Here at the end of everything.
It's my fault. If it wasn't for me, all of them would still be alive. I'm the death of the Force, of everyone I care about.
Atris was right. I should've died that day on Malachor.
My vision blurs with tears. My shoulders quake as I try to control my emotions, but I can't. The dam must break at last. So I collapse on my knees next to Mical's body and let it break. My sobs are loud. Angry.
So many dead.
How many more must die before this ends?
I don't realize I've said it aloud until I get an answer: "Every last one of you Jedi."
I ignite my saber mid-turn. I know I'm about to face Mical's killer. A Sith Lord, no doubt, robed in black, with eyes like death.
But when I see him, it's like slamming into a permacrete wall. My mind reels, shocked and confused; horror pulses through me in nauseating waves.
He's on the other side of the room. Seeing him here would be shocking enough, but no words can describe the riptide of emotion I feel when I see his face.
The last time I saw it, it was his
face, handsome and familiar. Now there's no other way to describe it than as the face of a corpse. His skin is pale, clear like ice in some places. His veins are bruised and bulging, the roots of his hair gray as if withered by dark energy. But none of it—none
of it—compares to the horror of his eyes.
Where I should've seen warm, hazel gateways into the soul, I see cold, colorless orbs brimming with hatred, murder, and lust. All of it focused through tiny black pupils. Focused on me.
The sight freezes my heart to the core. He knows it does, and he chuckles. The sound is inhuman.
"My face scares you? Heh. Scared him, too." He gestures carelessly at Mical's body. "But, like your dear Pretty Boy learned, I'd have it no other way . . . sweetheart."
The endearment rolls off his tongue like a drop of acid. I stare at him, a desperate, out-of-breath feeling caught in my chest. This can't be happening. This is a vision like in the tomb on Korriban. Any second now, he'll disappear.
As if aware of my thoughts, he walks toward me with a defiant grin on his face. Oh, I'm real, babe.
I don't react until he's a couple of strides away. Then my sense of danger overcomes my shock, and I jerk my lightsaber up to his throat. He stops short, eyes flashing with annoyance, but he quickly composes himself.
"Aw, c'mon, sweetheart. You know you're just putting off the inevitable. Can't you feel the power of this place? It's draining you. Just like I knew it would. Soon you'll be on your knees before me while I'm growing stronger and stronger."
Something about his voice makes me tremble inside. His voice has changed. It's deeper, darker. And I do
feel weaker, like his words have sucked something out of me.
"Atton"—my voice breaks—"what have you done?"
"Call me Jaq."
"I said call me Jaq. Isn't it obvious what I've done? I've done what should've been done a long time ago. He's had it comin' to him since he first pranced onto the Ebon Hawk
Atton—Jaq—rolls his eyes. "Tsk, tsk. My dear, you really should know that already, smart as you are. Or do you just want a great monologue?"
He turns away with a bitter laugh, and for a few seconds I think he won't answer me. Instead he engrosses himself in twirling his saber in his fingers. Clockwise. Counter-clockwise. Upwards, downwards. I find the motion mesmerizing, eerily so, until he speaks.
" 'Dancing in the shadows for your favor.' Yeah, I overheard Kreia that day. You think a scoundrel like me can't eavesdrop now and then? But she was right, you know. I was a fool. Left myself wide open for a betrayal. And that's exactly what I got.
"Get the picture yet, sweetheart?" He turns back to me. "Or do I have to carve it into your chest? Not that I won't do that anyway."
I hardly hear his threat. I hear only one word: Betrayal.
The word crushes me, condemns me, tells me that everything I thought was true is a lie.
This is . . . this is my
fault. My fault! I thought I was protecting him by what I did. I thought he wasn't as in love with me as I was with him, and he would find it easier to let go of me. He was good at loving and leaving, he'd said.
What was more, I thought he'd changed
. Truly changed.
I was blind. Now Mical is dead, and my own death is staring me in the face. Killing Atton or dying by his hand: either way is death to me.
"Atton, I didn't know—"
"Jaq!" he interrupts with a snarl. "And don't lie to me! You knew I would've died for you, that I worshiped the ground you walked on. You knew I thought you were different from the rest of those Jedi. I was a fool!
You led me on and manipulated me, all for your righteous little quest. And then he comes along, a new toy for you to play with, and guess what? I'm out the airlock!
"You were never different from them, Exile! They lie, they manipulate, they murder innocents, and so do you!
I'm dead inside because of you, and when I run you through, it'll be nothing but justice for what you did to me!"
His shouts deafen me; his eyes burn holes in me; I can't tell if tears are really running down my face or if it's a trick of my mind. When at last he stalks toward me, his saber springing to life in his hand, I'm tempted to surrender and let him do what he wants with me. The pain is too much.
I should've died that day. Oh, Force, I should've died. . . .
"No," I find myself whispering. Resolve fills me and, with it, new strength.
I deactivate my saber and turn to face Atton head on. The dark side is strong here, but I won't let it stop me. Exerting all of my strength, I call the light side to me. Its energy flows through me and around me, building in power. Defying the darkness that is Malachor.
This won't end in death.
let it end in death.