Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Thal spent the night ducking in and out of alleyways, cantinas, and dingy corner establishments. Furtively checking all about him the entire time.

By the time morning rolled around, Thal was on the other side of New Vertica and almost too bleary-eyed to walk straight. The adrenaline had worn off. The Force was suppressed within his lower self — he was too wary to open himself up to it again.

The warmth of the putrid street gradually growing in the sunlight lulled Thal into a strange, waking sleep as he staggered down the street. He didn’t know where he was going, and his mind was so exhausted that he only halfway cared.

Eventually, he collapsed into a heap on the side of the road. Curling up inside his black overcoat, Thal slept on the hard pavement as the sun reached its apex.

He didn’t know how long he lay there, but he was awoken by the feeling of tiny hands rummaging through his pockets.

Opening his eyes wearily, Thal turned to look at whatever child it was who was trying to steal from him.

Furry hands quickly withdrew from his coat pockets and he looked up into a near-feral, pug-nosed, little face.

Chadra-fan, he thought mechanically, the image from his mind pulling itself up almost automatically. He didn’t have the energy for any commentary beyond that, but he did manage to push himself up to a sitting position and wave the creature off.

The sun was nearing its tipping point. Soon it would be out of sight for many of the side streets, though sunset was easily two or three hours away yet.

Thal massaged his temples, trying to rub the exhaustion and pain away so he could focus.

It didn’t work very well.

I’ve got to keep going. I just had that breakthrough. I need to keep going. Gaul be damned, he’s not going to stop me. I…

He fell silent as the drowsiness took him again, dragging him to the pavement once more in sleep. Alone.

#

“What do you mean, ‘They’re all dead?’” Thal said. What the man said couldn’t be possible.

“I mean like I said, mate. The Emperor executed all the Jedi as punishment for their war crimes.” The spacer swallowed another long draught of Bothan ale before continuing. “They say his new toy — that Vader fellow, y’know? — killed each one personally in a duel to the death.”

I’m sure, thought Thal.

“But, there were hundreds of Jedi,” he said. “Thousands, maybe. How did the Empire find them all?”

“Please. The Empire controls the entire galaxy. They’ve got agents and soldiers everywhere. You think they’d let one go unnoticed?” The spacer glanced around the cantina to see if anyone else was listening in, then leaned forward to speak in a hushed voice. “They say the Emperor’s got some sort of… clairvoyance, or something. Some kind of knack for finding the Jedi — but only the Jedi, mind. You and I are safe.”

Maybe you are, Thal thought with concern.

“Besides,” the spacer said as he leaned back again. “Rumor says this Vader guy is actually a former Jedi. Finally got fed-up with all their incompetence and deception, so he swore his loyalty to the Emperor and has been helping him hunt them down ever since.”

The man fixed Thal with a curious expression as he swallowed another draught of ale. “You sure you never heard about any of this before?” he said when he had put the cup down. “I mean, it’s been a few years since the Purge started. The war ended, like, three years ago. Surely you must’ve noticed.”

Thal had noticed, but this was the first he had heard of the Jedi’s collapse as a part of that ending. As this drifter relayed the tale, Thal supposed he hadn’t heard of it because things like this — political events from the far-off galactic core — stopped being news around Nar Shaddaa after a few months. If they ever registered in the underground at all.

The Purge. That’s what the man called it. An officially-ordered, systematic elimination of everyone Thal had ever known. And worse, a former Jedi rumored to be among its chief proponents.

“Y’know, I’ve been thinking about what you said.”

Thal glanced up. What had he said? He honestly wasn’t paying attention to the conversation anymore.

“Y’know, about the Emperor being able to find all the Jedi?”

Thal nodded to show he was listening, though his mind was still occupied with the man’s news.

“What if he didn’t get them all?”

That made Thal pause and snap his attention back to the present.

He knew that tone. The tone of an opportunist.

There’s no way he could know, Thal told himself. And yet, he could feel suspicion tugging at the back of his mind. Uncertainty.

Had he slipped up somewhere? Maybe he had pounced on the news about Jedi too eagerly. He certainly had the man’s suspicions aroused by his ignorance — now the man would be asking how, exactly, had Thal escaped hearing about the Purge.

“Y’know, the Empire would probably pay a pretty sum for a Jedi — alive or dead.”

There it was. The sentiment. Expressed aloud it was akin to a threat, but only if they both acknowledged it. If Thal could somehow maneuver around it.

Ah. Simple.

“First you’d have to find one,” Thal said, in what he hoped was a casual tone.

They locked gazes for a moment, then the drifter shrugged an reached for his ale again.

“True. True. And I’d guess that’s especially difficult now. Any Jedi with a kilo of sense on them will have gone to ground for the next fifty to a hundred years. And even then, they still might not get to come out. Who knows how long this Empire’ll last.”

Thal nodded.

Any Jedi with a kilo of sense, indeed, he thought. If only I had that much.

“Gotta tell ya, though I don’t exactly feel sorry for the bastards, but it’s gotta be a lonely life for ‘em now.”

Thal nodded.

The spacer left soon after that, thanking Thal for the drink and the conversation. Thal knew he would likely move on to the next cantina, or look for some authorities, perhaps, and start spreading the story about someone who was far too interested in Jedi for the public good. Thal would have to move on quickly, but he couldn’t rouse himself. Not until he was sure.

As a sentinel, Thal regularly moved through populated areas with his presence masked to the Force. It was an ancient technique that Jedi used to hunt the Sith, and it had been passed down through the order of the sentinels for thousands of years. After all, if a Force-user couldn’t detect your presence, they couldn’t see you coming.

Unfortunately, cutting himself off from the Force meant that Thal — like any other sentinel using the technique — couldn’t use the Force, couldn’t even feel the Force. For the average Jedi, such a feeling was akin to death. Being cut off from the Force was like being cut off from life itself. But the sentinels were trained to operate both with and without the Force for just such a purpose.

Thal had often thought it an edge, and had put it to good use on many occasions, not just hunting Sith.

But here it had had an unforeseen consequence.

When a Jedi was in sync with the Force, he could feel the rippled of life throughout the galaxy. Each individual life was like a raindrop in the ocean, and whenever that life acted, they sent out ripples through that ocean in proportion to the significance of that action. For most Jedi, this was felt as a generally faint humming that soon faded into the background.

Every now and again, though, something happened to upset that static condition and create waves in the Force. Thal had heard that master Yoda felt the death of every single Jedi as if it were his own. And Thal had often thought that he could feel the pain of his master, even from the other side of a planet.

So shouldn’t the death of every single Jedi in the galaxy have created a tsunami of disturbance in the Force?

The idea made sense to Thal, and yet he hadn’t felt anything. He had been cut off from the Force then, hiding within his cloak, his haze, in order to fulfill his mission for the council. But even then, shouldn’t the Force have penetrated his defenses with the urgency of the disturbance?

Thal took a deep breath and opened himself, slowly, to the Force. It had been such a long time, and yet the meditative ritual came easily to him, naturally. This was his life. It was impossible to forget how to live.

Many Jedi could gaze into the endless ocean of the Force and identify streams of action in it, attempting to foresee future consequences. Many others could gaze into the endless ocean of the Force and pick out single drops to view individuals across vast distances. Many others still could gaze into the endless ocean of the Force and separate those who were Force-sensitive from those who were not — and some of these Jedi could even project their thoughts across lightyears to impress emotions onto those that they knew.

Thal had never been especially gifted in any of these things. His specialty lay with patterns of energy, particularly when it came to disrupting the flow of energy. But he was still a Jedi, and so had received training at this kind of long-range telepathy and Force perception.

With a deep breath, Thal cast his mind beyond the immediate surroundings, causing the cantina’s walls to fall away as he searched the system, the sector, the galaxy, for his friends. His companions. Anyone from the order that he knew.

Nothing.

Thal felt the slowly undulating, endless ocean of life itself, and could even pick out some of the faint pinpricks of light that were Force-sensitives — many here on Nar Shaddaa, even. Yet he could not identify a single Jedi among them.

He truly was alone.

And what was worse, he hadn’t even noticed.

#

Thal woke slowly from the dream to find himself on the cold pavement. It was dark now.

He wouldn’t have said that he felt rested, but his body did feel better than he had earlier in the day. And even his head had ceased bothering him.

Except for the dream, of course.

It had been a long time since he had last thought about that encounter. The memory of his realization still filled him with shame. The entire Jedi order had been killed in a matter of months, and Thal hadn’t even noticed. It hadn’t even registered on his radar.

He had recovered, of course. He worked his way back into the criminal society of Nar Shaddaa, established a new community for himself — albeit, one that he didn’t often connect with on a personal level. He forgot and moved on, burying his guilt and memories in the filing cabinets of his mind.

Until now.

Until everything had once again been taken from him.

Until he was once again alone.

Thal slowly raised himself up off of the cold, hard pavement.

He was not going to allow himself to sink into despair again. Into apathy. He would finish his task. Complete his mission. Fulfill the final wishes of the Jedi Council.

Find the Sith. Destroy them.

He was ready. He could still do this.

Thal checked his coat holsters, finding the DL-18 blaster pistols secure there. He checked his sleeve holster, securing the Bryar hold-out blaster in its place. Then he checked the pouch at the small of his back.

The lightsaber was there. He could feel its weight, reassuring him. He almost felt a warmth pulsing from it, and an almost-magnetic force compelling him to bend his thoughts toward it.

It had been years since he had wielded a lightsaber in combat. Far beyond the dangers of openly displaying the weapon of a Jedi during this time and era, Thal wasn’t sure if he still even had the skills to do so.

He left the blade in its pocket. The blasters would suffice. And if he was really in a pinch, he could use the Force.

Though that carried its own dangers.

Even so, he had a purpose. And he would follow that purpose with whatever talents and skills he possessed. Nothing would stop him now.

He was a Jedi.

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