Thal stared at the big man — his employer, his mentor, his friend — as he descended the stairs from the throne of the Sith temple.
He didn’t know what to feel.
“Hello, Thal,” Gaul said. “I am glad that you could join us.”
The ring of swordsmen surrounding Thal and Zyn stepped back and deactivated their lightsabers. They formed a wide circle around the two captives within the wider circle of the other acolytes, who had only recently arrived at the scene.
“What’s going on, Gaul?” Thal said, barely above a whisper.
“I would like you to tell me. What are you doing here?”
Thal looked from Gaul, with his square jaw and gleaming regalia, to the throne he had sat upon mere moments before. He turned his attention to the acolytes and initiates and swordsmen and other Force-users following him, gathered around the room in their haphazard armor with lightsabers at every belt. Then he looked at Zyn.
“A bit overwhelming?” said the Kel Dor.
Thal looked back up at Gaul. He drew his lightsaber, but he did not ignite it.
“You know what I am?” he said.
Gaul peered down at Thal from his towering posture. Then he nodded. Slowly.
“You are a Jedi, an ancestor to my order.”
“You know why I am here?”
Gaul began to pace. He stopped near a line of his students.
“You seek the Sith that your Council was convinced resided on Nar Shaddaa.”
Thal hadn’t turned to follow Gaul, he kept his gaze fixed on the pedestal of the throne. He ignited the blade.
One hundred more lightsabers ignited, but Thal noticed that Gaul still remained unarmed.
“Then you know that I must destroy you.”
Gaul turned to face him.
“We are not Sith, Thal.”
“Then what are you?” Thal bellowed, raising the blade and pointing it toward Gaul.
There was a collective wince of movement from the students, but Gaul stilled them with a raised hand.
“Put away your weapons, children,” he said. “Thal Lirin is an old friend.”
When the baldes had been extinguished, Gaul looked back at Thal.
“What are you?” Thal said again.
“We are Jensaarai.”
Jensaarai? Thal wracked his brain for a translation, searching through images of Sith language files. There. “Hidden followers of truth.”
“Jensaarai is just another name for Sith,” Thal said venomously.
Gaul almost looked sad at that accusation, but Thal was beyond caring. He motioned to the man’s side with his lightsaber.
“Draw your weapon, Gaul. We finish this now.”
“What is there to finish, Thal? You are alone, save for your unarmed companion. I stand before one hundred and twenty trained Defenders, ready to kill you at my command.”
“And I will slay dozens of them, executing each one personally for their crimes against the Force. Just as I did Johram.”
There was a satisfying murmur of disappointment and outrage from the students, and Gaul’s face twisted itself into a mask of grief and rage.
Then everything stilled with the raising of the Diplomat’s hand. And the Diplomat fixed a stony visage upon his face. Hard, unyielding, and bending its weight toward Thal.
“So, you persist in your Order’s foolish crusade?” he said. “I was there the day your hunters killed our founder, Nikkos Tyris. We were all outraged for years, but in the end I fought with the Saarai-kaar, arguing that there could be reconciliation. I had thought that there could be peace between our orders.”
Gaul raised a hand, called the hilt of a lightsaber to it from beneath his robes, and ignited a brilliant, white blade.
“It seems I was wrong.”
Thal fell into a ready stance. “Zyn,” he said quietly. “Fall back. You cannot help here, and I don’t want you getting hurt.”
The Kel Dor scrambled for the sidelines, falling in awkwardly among the acolytes.
Thal turned back to Gaul, the grand master of the hidden Jensaarai order.
“You embrace darkness,” Thal called out. “You spread false teachings. There can be no peace between truth and falsehood.”
“No words. We fight.”
Gaul began to charge Thal from across the chamber, throwing his immense weight into the attack.
Direct. Not what Thal would have expected from the otherwise subtle Diplomat.
“Gaul Corlana,” Thal said, bracing himself for the attack. “As a Sentinel of the Jedi Order, I have been sent by its Council to hunt down its enemies.”
The Jensaarai master continued his charge, seemingly oblivious to Thal’s pronouncement.
“You have embraced the power of the Force outside of the Council’s will and teachings,” Thal said, increasing his volume. “In addition, you have knowingly instructed others in a manner that is contrary to the Will of the Force.”
Gaul was growing close now. Thal readied himself by taking a deep breath, allowing the Force to flow fully through him.
“For these and other perversions as yet uncommitted, I sentence you to die. Goodbye, my friend.”
Their blades clashed in a brilliant flash of light. The immense force of Gaul’s charge nearly toppled Thal over, but he was able to spin out of the way of the momentum after the initial touch of blades.
“Your precious Jedi Order are the deceivers,” Gaul said, following up his charge with a backhanded slash.
Thal offered a touching defense as he continued to step further and further away from the overbearing combatant.
“They stole all their knowledge from the Sith, claiming it as their own and then punishing anyone who tried to say otherwise.”
Thal launched himself into a brief stanza of Ataru, leaping about Gaul’s bulky frame, attempting to use a greater level of mobility to his advantage.
It didn’t work especially well. He managed to shear off a few of Gaul’s ornamental armor pieces, but nothing close to a damaging blow.
“We are the true teaching of the ancient Jedi,” Gaul said as Thal backed away again, finishing his Ataru sequence. “Our founder discovered the lost, ancient teachings and has granted us a secret window into enlightenment. Why must you persist in silencing us when we could be helping each other?”
Thal met Gaul’s refined Djem So with his own circle of Soresu. The master of the Jensaarai was clearly a better duelist than Johram was. That frightened Thal. Johram had been difficult enough.
But Johram had also, ultimately, been practice. Thal was so much more experienced now than he had been at the beginning of that fight that he had no doubt he was a match for Gaul.
If only the man would stop talking and fight.
“I am a tool of the Order,” Thal said, reciting his oath. “The Council’s eyes in the galaxy abroad, and now also its blade because the Guardians are dead.”
“Can you not also be its mind,” Gaul said, while still trying to kill Thal. “The Council was hunted down and destroyed by the traitor, Darth Vader. There is none left to lead the Order.”
Thal spun away and locked himself into a brief Makashi sequence, simply to throw Gaul off-guard, before returning again to Soresu.
Gaul raised a hand and pushed Thal away with a thrust of the Force. It wasn’t the blatant, generalized destruction wrought by Johram’s use of the Force. No. This was more refined. A push focused entirely on Thal, designed simply to create some distance between the two men.
Thal allowed himself to skid backward, toward the dais.
“Think about it Thal,” Gaul said, lowering his star-white blade. “You are the center of the Order now. You must make decisions for it. You must search the Will of the Force and find what is best for the Jedi, and for the galaxy. Do not persist in this destruction. It is not our way.”
“You are not one of us,” Thal growled, tightening his grip on the hilt of his lightsaber. “Do not pretend to know anything of the Will of the Force. Imposter!”
Gaul looked saddened at Thal’s outburst, but he didn’t care. He reached forward with the Force, searching through Gaul’s body for the small, electrical pulses that were his nervous system. Affecting someone’s body directly, on a cellular level, with the Force was an intensely difficult practice, requiring a precise level of focus to even create a noticeable affect.
But Thal didn’t need much. He just needed to slow the man down a bit. Despite his size, the Force made him impressively quick.
Finding the impulses that indicated the body’s metabolism, Thal disrupted the flow, creating an irregular flow of energy to the rest of Gaul’s body.
It wasn’t quite the paralyzing effect he wanted, but it was the best he could do at the time.
“Impressive,” Gaul said, a twinge of pain showing in his voice. He began to breathe heavily. “I had forgotten your extensive study of the human anatomy. How… inconvenient.”
Thal didn’t need a second chance. He launched himself forward with the Force, falling upon Gaul with all the fury of a Djem So frontal assault.
The Jensaarai master offered up a token defense, but Thal soon knocked aside the blade and struck at Gaul’s body, landing a blow against the man’s shoulder.
The blade stuck, burning away the fabric around it.
Thal stared, wide-eyed.
Between his irregular breathing, Gaul smiled. “You didn’t think… that it was just… for show… did you?”
Thal still stared, transfixed.
The armor. The armor was built to withstand lightsaber blows. Cortosis weave, most likely.
That was not good. How many others in the room wore Cortosis-weaved armor?
“The ornamentation,” Thal said, remembering how easily the other parts of the armor had fallen away beneath his blade.
“Simply for decoration,” Gaul said, apparently recovering his breath. “The stuff is expensive.”
Thal’s blade was still stuck in the nook it had carved in the armor. He tried to pull it away, but Cortosis was notorious for doing unexpectedly frustrating things to lightsabers.
The arc of white light from Gaul’s blade slashed down toward Thal.
Releasing his hold on his own weapon, Thal diverted the full flow of the Force into his hands as he caught the blade.
It still burned. Absorbing and neutralizing that much energy that quickly was bound to cause complications. But at least his hands were intact, and he wasn’t dead.
But the energy had to go somewhere, and lightsabers weren’t blaster bolts. They didn’t go away once the initial strike was dealt with.
So Thal reached down, through the blade, and disrupted its flow. He couldn’t shut it off completely. Lightsabers were living extensions of the Force and its builder. But they were also machines in some capacity and they depended on energy.
The blade shut off, extinguishing just as Thal felt he was about to burst.
Then he did.
Arcs of lightning exploded from his palms, ripping into Gaul’s body and throwing him backward into the gathered crowd of acolytes and students.
Thal tried to hold some of it back, save it for later in the duel, but his control was gone. He had pushed himself too far, and so it all came out in a single burst of energy.
Then he fell to his hands and knees.
Gaul emerged laughing.
“So,” he said. “It seems our self-righteous Jedi has embraced a few pieces of darkness himself.”
Thal’s lightsaber lay a few meters away, where it had fallen off of Gaul’s armor during the man’s flight. But the distance seemed like the other side of Nar Shaddaa, for all Thal could do to reach it.
“Tell me, Thal Liring. How does that hypocrisy taste?”
Thal looked up at Gaul. Much of the man’s finery had been scorched beyond recovery. The cloak hung in tatters, the elegant robes were almost completely destroyed. It left exposed his full suit of Cortosis-weave armor, gleaming black and white and covering almost his entire body. He almost looked like an Imperial Stormtrooper, but only from a distance.
Thal tried to crawl toward his lightsaber. His attempt to absorb the energy of Gaul’s blade had apparently wreaked more havoc on his body than he had thought. He shuddered and collapsed before he could even get within arm’s reach.
Gaul stepped forward and set a booted foot on the hilt of the blade. Then he bent down toward Thal and spoke in a low voice.
“Believe me, Thal. I understand.”
Thal closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“During my time as a diplomat for my planet, I was initially frustrated by how much grey there is in this galaxy. Why can’t things be simple? Why can’t everyone work together for everyone’s benefit?”
The Force began to flow through him again, slowly refilling his reservoirs.
“But as I learned, I came to understand that life is built on compromises. You settle, accepting something slightly less than what you’d hoped for, because it’s still a piece of that hope. That’s why the Jensaarai are truth, Thal. We accept that compromise. We embrace true life.”
Thal took another breath, opening all the floodgates.
“I don’t tell you this because I want you to join us, Thal. I just want you to know that I understand the conflict within you. The key is to find a balance. The Force is balance, Thal. Not Light or Dark, but somewhere in between.”
Thal was ready now. Collecting himself, he shakily stood to his feet.
“Let’s finish our duel,” he said.
Gaul looked disappointed. “I don’t want to kill you, Thal.”
Gaul sighed, then kicked the lightsaber over to Thal. “Pick it up. I won’t fight you unarmed.”
Thal lifted the blade slowly. He knew he would only have seconds to react.
Sure enough, before Thal could ignite the blade, Gaul lifted his hand and pushed on Thal with an enormous wave of the Force.
Thal reached out for the approaching wave, feeling the eddies it created in the Force, and dropped a boulder in its path, disrupting its flow.
After all, in a very crude sense, the Force was just another type of energy.
The wave dissipated harmlessly, and Thal spun in with a swift Shii-Cho strike as he ignited his blade.
Gaul’s hand and lightsaber fell to the floor.
The Kel Dor had clearly been ready this time. Gaul froze in a rigid lock of terror. The other acolytes were swarming like a hive of furious insects.
Thal held the point of his blade toward Gaul’s neck.
“I realize you all love your master very much,” Thal said. “He’s a good enough man that, given other circumstances, I could agree with you. But unfortunately, I find myself your enemy.” A grim chuckle escaped his mouth. “That’s fine. I hopefully won’t regret it.”
“We will make you pay with your life for harming our master!” cried one of the acolytes.
“Oh, I’m sure you would,” Thal said. “But that’s why I’m offering you a deal. Let me and my partner go, and I won’t kill your master. Alternatively, take one step closer to me or reach anywhere close to those lightsabers, and I’ll sever his head and heads of any fool who comes close to me. Your choice.”
There was a long, tense pause as the students looked back and forth among themselves. During that time, Zyn Par slowly crept to Thal’s side.
Finally, the woman in red stepped forward and spoke up for the group.
“You may go, Thal Lirin. But understand that your protection ends as soon as this day is over.”
Thal nodded. “I understand.” Then he deactivated his lightsaber and turned back to face Gaul. “Can he hear me, Zyn?”
The Kel Dor nodded.
“Good.” He leaned closer to Gaul, keeping what he had to say between the two of them. “I know I promised to kill you, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen today. That’s fine, though. Because I want you to see what I’m going to do now. I want you to know that I’m not going to destroy you. No. I’m going to dismantle you piece by piece, slowly eating away at your little cult until there’s nothing left. I will not allow your filth and false teachings to rot out Nar Shaddaa, or anywhere else in the galaxy. Understand? I hope so. Because I will never stop hunting you and all the others who wallow in darkness.
“I am the Sentinel, and I am always watching.”
Outside, Thal and Zyn parted ways, agreeing to meet again at the same cantina in a week, after taking action to secure themselves against immediate repercussion.
After that, Thal wandered the streets of the Red Sector, feeling the eddies created in the Force by the passing crowds of people.
Suddenly, he thought he saw a brief white light glowing in the Force nearby. Turning to follow it, the light led him down a side alley. At the end, huddled in a corner, was an Aqualish — clearly homeless and starved, but still strong.
Peering inside of this creature, Thal felt the growing glimmer of the Force in him. It fluctuated with the strength of the Aqualish, but it was clearly there. With a little cultivation, the man could grow into a strong Force-user.
Thal thought back on all that had happened that night, and all throughout the week. Ever since he had opened himself back up to the Force.
This was the first untrained Force-sensitive that he had encountered in that time.
And he knew what he had to do.
Thal took a deep breath, filling his entire being with the Force.
Then he bent down and rested his hand gently on the creature’s forehead.
“What is your name?” he said.
“Daragi,” the man said in the guttural voice of his species.
Thal nodded, then began.
“Daragi,” he said. “As the Sentinel of Nar Shaddaa, I have been sent by the Will of the Force to hunt down its enemies. You have the potential to embrace the Force outside of the established code and teachings. For this, and other perversions as yet uncommitted, I hereby sentence you to die in the light of the Force.”
Reaching down within the man for that spark of light, Thal disrupted its flow, forever cutting of the being from its infinite current of power.
After all, in a very crude sense, the Force was just another type of energy.