Argon’s Death

Clones_maridunThe article below is a longer piece than what we normally publish here at TMS.  It is a work of fiction set in the Star Wars universe during the height of the Clone Wars.  If you aren’t the type of nerd that knows what that means then this might not be for you.  But if you are that kind of nerd then take a look and let us know what you think!
Kol Argon sat on the grassy slope looking down across the long valley as the sun slowly mounted up above the far hills.  The dawn-light stretched across the waving fields of yellow and pale-purple grass but had not yet touched the depths of the valley before him; one of the planet’s two moons was still faintly visible above the rising sun.  There was a briskness to the morning air that spoke of spring and rejuvenation.  Argon, sitting beside the two crippled swoop bikes and the corpse of his friend decided this was as good a place to die as one could hope for.

On the grass before lay his weapons: two mismatched lightsabers, a pair of DC-17 heavy blaster pistols, a belt of grenades, and a DC-15x sniper rifle.  He had killed an ARC trooper for the guns and grenades and the smaller of the two lightsabers had come from the dead Rodian laid out behind him.  Only the second lightsaber, the one with the greel wood inlays, was his own weapon.  It was not the first lightsaber he had built but it was the weapon that he had used for nearly six years now and it was the weapon he had used to kill Bwoki Thrusp and four other Jedi Knights.  He thought of each of those Jedi being cut down by his crimson blade but none of them triggered the same emotion that had crushed him last night after he had taken Thrusp’s life.  None of those Jedi had been his friends.

Dantooine

Dantooine

He scanned the distant horizon but even using his macrobinoculars he could see nothing.  They would be there soon enough though.  Thrusp had not come to Dantooine alone and pursuit was not far behind.  Argon had come to Dantooine as a kind of last resort, a place to disappear after the debacle at Ord Mantell had left him with no more allies and added another Jedi to the list of those he had been forced to kill.

He frowned.  Forced to kill.  No, he had to accept his own responsibility.  That was what Thrusp’s death had brought home to him.  He had chosen to leave the Jedi Order.  He had chosen to embrace the fury and the passion and the power of the Dark Side.  Those had been decisions that he had made, not actions that had been forced upon him by the rest of the universe.  Every step of the path that had led to him killing Thrusp here on the rolling hills of Dantooine had been shaped by his own decisions.

Responsibility.  He took a deep breath as the word rolled through his mind.  He had abandoned his responsibilities to others- to the weak, to the Republic, to the Order- when he had started down the path of the Dark Side.  Now he was faced with the reality that just because he had walked away from all of those duties did not mean they could no longer touch him.  Instead they had come back and laid claim to him again.  There was no escape from the universe, no evading the Force, and sooner or later everyone would be held to task.  Today, he knew, was his day.  His last choice was simply to decide how he would face it:  as the Sith lord he had spent the last six years trying to become or as the Jedi Knight he had abandoned so long ago.  He picked up the two lightsabers, holding one in each hand and studying them, feeling the weight of them in his hand and the resonance of them in the Force.

As he embraced the Force and stretched out his senses he felt the Dark Side roiling just beneath the surface.  He did not actively reject it, that was more than he felt capable of, but he refused to sink into it.  He could feel it tugging at him, wanting him to embrace his anger, to twist the guilt he felt about Thrusp into shame and self-loathing.  It wanted him to blame himself and to blame everyone else and rage against the failings of the galaxy to fit his desires.  It did not want him to accept responsibility, to accept that he had failed, to acknowledge that failing and learn from it.  It would be so easy to fall into that surging power, to turn his guilt outward and use the power to lash out as he had done so often in the past.  Fighting that urge would be too much, so instead he pushed it aside, he refused to dwell on the emotions that Thrusp’s death brought up.  All that mattered were the lightsabers right now and he filled his mind with them, focused on every detail of them.  He compared each minute difference in his mind until there was no room for anything else in his thoughts.

He had built the lightsaber even before he had officially left the Order, constructing it in secret as the final marker of his rejection of the Jedi.  The crystal had once been part of an ancient Sith Lord’s weapon, a relic that he had found in the vaults of the Jedi Temple.  Once he had completed the weapon he had fled the Temple- even at the height of his pride it had been difficult to rationalize the manner of his leaving as anything other than flight.  Another Jedi had been sent to find him- not to capture him because no one had yet known of his turn to the Dark Side- and the first person Argon had killed with the weapon had been that naïve Jedi.  Like any Jedi he was intimately bound to the weapon; he had forged it by merging with each piece through the Force and infusing it with his personality.

Thrusp’s lightsaber had no such sense of connection for him.  The weight was wrong, the grip was too small for his big hand, and the activation stud fell awkwardly low.  He was certain he could fight with it but it would never feel so natural as his own weapon.  For the first time in years he resented the loss of the weapon he had wielded for so many years as a Jedi Knight.  He had destroyed that weapon entirely when he left, dumping it into an incinerator along with his old robes.  But this was not that weapon.  This was the weapon of his old friend Bwoki Thrusp.  He could not use it to fight the other Jedi who were coming; it would be sacrilege.

Still… He found that he did not want to face these final pursuers as a Sith.  He had failed to achieve anything of note in his six years of Dark Side-fueled adventures.  The highest he had ever risen had been to command a motley gang of mercenaries, bounty hunters, and other space scum.  It had been enough to convince the Jedi to divert some Clone troopers and Jedi to finally bring him to justice but not even enough to draw the attention of Count Dooku.  That irked Argon.  Part of the reason he had left the Order had been to follow the example of Count Dooku- though he had not known that Dooku was himself a Sith Lord at that time- and it was disappointing that Darth Tyrannous had never turned the slightest attention on him.  Once he had hoped to become the Sith Lord’s apprentice but instead he had muddled his own way through whatever Sith teachings he could find.  Once he had been a Jedi Knight of moderate skill and achievement and then he had become a Sith Lord only in his own mind.  He did not want to die as a some ignorant Sith pretender.

The weapons came apart before him.  This was far harder, he found, than he had expected.  Building one lightsaber had been a test of his concentration and his skill at wielding the Force; holding two of them in this disassembled state was more than twice as complex.  They floated above his open palms in two gently rotating clouds of components; beads of sweat started to form on his forehead.  He had to maintain those two clouds of parts separate if he was going to have a working weapon.  Except for one part.  Carefully he reached into the heart of each cloud of parts with his find and plucked out the crystals.  From his own weapon came the ancient, synthetic crystal forged millennia ago by a Sith Lord whose name Argon had never even learned; it glittered with crimson sparks as the dawn’s warm light illuminated it.  He brought it to hover a few inches in front of his eyes as he opened them- it was even more difficult to hold the lightsabers in this state without keeping his eyes closed to focus and the Dark Side screamed out to be used.  He ignored it; the Dark Side offered more power and fed on his frustration, but it would not give him any more focus.  He considered the Sith crystal for what felt like a long time… and then he flicked it away with a thought.  It vanished quickly, too tiny for his eyes to track it long, somewhere down the valley’s slope.  The tiny green jewel that had been the heart of Thrusp’s weapon took the place of the Sith crystal before his eyes and he spent an even longer, straining time in contemplation of it.  Finally, confident that his Force awareness had encompassed the crystal’s entire structure, he lowered it down into the heart of his own weapon.  Delicately he reassembled the weapons simultaneously.

He nearly collapsed panting as he came out of the semi-trance he had been maintaining.  That had been perhaps the most challenging use of the Force he had attempted in his life.  The Dark Side never demanded, and never rewarded, such intense and focused concentration.  The amount of raw power it had taken was almost trivial but the mental strain had been tremendous.  He hoped it had been worth it.

He set Thrusp’s lightsaber on the ground beside his thigh and lifted his own weapon vertically in front of him.  Bringing his heavy breathing back under control using a Jedi meditation technique he thumbed the activation stud.  The *snap-hiss* of the igniting blade filled him with a rush of relief.  The green blade hummed in the air before him, bisecting the risen orb of the sun almost perfectly.  The fully risen sun.

Argon scrambled to his feet, realizing that he had lost nearly an hour while in his semi-trance.  He deactivated the lightsaber and clipped it to his belt then brought his macrobinoculars back up to scan the horizon again.  He almost didn’t need them.  There, speeding over the steppes were the four swoop bikes he had been expecting.  They were no more than ten minutes away.

RodianJediThrusp had caught up with him around midnight and had wasted no time in disabling Argon’s own bike with a well-placed saber slash.  Argon had not even known who the Jedi attacking him had been at first but his rage at being run down had more than fueled his Dark Side power.  It had been an instinctual move to cripple his opponent’s own bike with a burst of Force lightning.  Only afterwards had he realized that with both bikes disabled he had succeeded only in stranding himself two hundred kilometers from the nearest settlement.

Kol had leapt from his derelict swoop bike before it crashed into the hillside, lightsaber blazing crimson in his hand.  The cloaked Jedi had also survived the wreck of his bike unscathed and had already assumed a high guard.  The moons were both below the horizon and the only light on the vast plain other than the sweep of stars above came from the guttering fires of their swoops and the red and green blazes of their lightsabers.  Kol had still not recognized his opponent, the Jedi had the hood of his robe pulled far forward hiding his face.  Fueled by the Dark Side, he surged forward in an aggressive series of attacks, forcing the small-figured Jedi back steadily.

Once it would have been easy for Kol to recognize Thrusp by the Jedi’s swordplay; they had trained together in the Temple as younglings and had sparred countless times while padawans.  But that sort of recognition required an awareness and contemplation that was impossible while in the grip of the Dark Side.  Both Thrusp and Argon had spent their Jedi careers mastering the traditional Soresu form; the defensive nature of the form had been incredibly useful against the standard blasters and projectile weapons used by the pirates and mercenaries that most Jedi had had to deal with before the Clone Wars.  Lightsaber-on-lightsaber combat had become such a rarity that fewer and fewer Jedi Knights had devoted themselves to the dueling forms favored by the likes of Dooku and Windu.  Kol’s own style had changed hugely in the last six years however as he had learned to channel his rage into his swordsmanship and had gleaned what he could from recovered Sith manuscripts.  He unleashed attack after attack and the frustration as the small, quick Jedi turned them each aside only helped to fuel the torrent of Dark Side energy coursing through him.

There was no conversation between them, the pace of the duel left no room for any.  Out here on the broad Dantooine plains there was no place to escape to, no terrain that might allow either opponent to break away or gain a tactical advantage.  This was a pure duel of skill and Force and Kol, gripped by the Dark Side, had no intention of allowing for any quarter.  Thrusp was driven back and back, retreating from the wrecked swoop bikes and maintaining a web of lightsaber light that Kol could not yet penetrate but unable to launch any offenses of his own.

Kol’s frustration and rage rose until he could hold it back no longer, until even the aggressive swordplay he had maintained was no longer outlet enough for the Dark Side.  He thrust savagely at the Jedi only to have his blade deflected once more.  That was ok though, he had expected that.  Kol quickly shifted from the two-handed grip he had been using for the majority of the fight to a weaker left-handed grip, letting the Jedi’s block push both weapons further out of line instead of fighting against his opponent’s strength.  He swept up his now-freed right hand, fingers hooked a claw-like, and unleashed the Dark Side power that had built to a fever-pitch within him.  The Force lightning tore into the Jedi as if it had a hunger of its own, spider-webbing across the rough-spun cloak and tan robes and lancing into the depths of the hood.  The Jedi spun away, trying to bring his lightsaber back to catch the tendrils of Dark Side energy but they both knew it was too late.  Kol maintained the Force lightning and though the Jedi was able to catch much of it on his lightsaber now, it was clear that too much had already gotten through.  The Jedi tried to gain distance from his attacker with a Force-enhanced leap backwards but it was clumsy and his hold on the Force tenuous.  Kol released the lightning and followed it up with a powerful shove through the Force that caught the Jedi mid-air and slammed him into the ground.  Another burst of Force lightning caused the Jedi to convulse and his lightsaber’s blade died as it left the Jedi’s hand.  Kol snatched the Jedi’s weapon up with the Force, the triumph of his victory and his pride creating a new surge of Dark Side energy within him.

It was only as the Jedi’s lightsaber settled into his hand that he realized what he had just done.  Failing to recognize Thrusp’s style in the midst of their duel was one thing, but he had helped the Rodian construct this lightsaber almost twenty years ago; he knew it almost as well as he knew either of the two weapons he had built for himself.  They had gathered their crystals together from the Crystal Caves of Ilum under Master Yoda’s instruction.  That had been one of the most challenging and most rewarding days in all of their training and neither one of them would have succeeded had they not learned how to work together.  There was even a piece of stone in the pommel of Thrusp’s lightsaber that Kol had found in those caves; he had thought it was his crystal at first but that had proven to be an illusion.  Kol had tried to give the stone- still thinking it a lightsaber crystal- to Thrusp because they were running out of time before the door to the cave froze shut and the Rodian had not yet found his crystal.  The generosity of the act had opened Kol to the Force in a new way and revealed the location of his true crystal just as the selflessness of rejecting it had opened Thrusp to find his.  The Rodian had incorporated the false crystal into his weapon as a memento to that act of friendship, and not a little so that he could rib Kol through the years about how he had once thought a simple piece of granite could be a lightsaber crystal.

He rushed through the tall grass and dropped to a knee beside the Jedi, his gut dropping at what he knew he would find.  The Jedi’s hood had fallen back and even with nothing but starlight to see by now, Kol recognized his friend’s face.  One of the Rodian’s large compound eyes had burst and the left side of his face charred and blackened, the once-green skin peeled back in several places to reveal flesh and bone.  The Rodian’s one good eye glittered with the reflected light of the stars and Thrusp struggled to twist his head to fix Kol in his gaze.

“Why?” Kol asked.  “Why did you make me do this?”

Rodians could not smile in the same way as humans but Kol had long ago learned how to recognize the facial mannerisms of his friend and what he saw now was one of Thrusp’s mocking expressions.  “Always the victim, Kol.  We had no choice, not after what you did on Ord Mantell.  You had to be stopped and I knew I should be the one to do it.  I am sorry I failed,” His speech was slow and obviously pained.  “You are so much stronger than I remembered.”

Kol cursed the Jedi, not Thrusp himself but the entire Order.  “You should never have come after me, Bwoki.  This was not your fight.”

Thrusp shook his head and Kol was surprised that the Jedi could even manage that much.  Aside from the damage done by the Force lightning he was certain that he had broken the Rodian’s spine when he had Force-slammed him into the ground.  “I failed you, Kol, I should have realized how close you were to the edge and pulled you back.  I was the closest to you and when Master Tollis died I should have known how you would react.  You were my responsibility to save then and my responsibility to stop now.”

“Well you failed!” Kol snarled, pushing down the memory of his master’s death.  He had already been a Knight for nearly a decade when Master Tollis died but it had still affected him deeply.  Thrusp was right to recognize that Tollis’s death had been the incident that pushed Kol down the path to the Dark Side.

“Did I?”  The Rodian was fading quickly now.  “Did you… think… I was… alone?  Others are coming… behind me.  I… just had the fastest… bike.  They’ll catch up soon.  You’re… trapped out… here now.  Goodbye… Kol.  I am sorry I… failed you.”

Kol knelt beside his friend as he died and he remained by the Rodian Jedi’s body for hours that night, thinking.  He was unable to find any solace in the Dark Side and had even attempted traditional Jedi meditation only to have it elude him.  Responsibility.  The concept had stayed with him all night, unavoidable to his mind.  Thrusp had taken the responsibility for everything Kol had done since turning to the Dark Side onto his own shoulders but Kol was finally beginning to realize that there was only one person who could truly be blamed for the death and destruction he had caused.

Standing on the hillside, with the sun adding only a little warmth so far, with the four Jedi bearing down on him and his friend’s body laid out behind him, Kol Argon finally accepted upon himself that responsibility.  He moved quickly, pulling Thrusp’s body over toward the nearer of the two swoop bikes and into the minimal protection it might offer.  He folded his friend’s narrow hands across the chest of his burnt robed and curled the stiff fingers around the hilt of his lightsaber.  It was the best he would ever be able to do now.  Surely the other Jedi would take his body back to the Temple or at least see it its proper funeral.

Having done what little he could for the protection of his friend’s corpse, he moved quickly back to his paltry assortment of weaponry.  Neither Jedi nor Sith had ever relied on much other than their lightsabers and the Force so he supposed he should be thankful he had even this small collection.  He was not sure if he regretted the killing of the ARC troopers from whom he had taken the blasters and grenades.  They had been the first pursuit to catch up with him on Dantooine, a full squad of them deployed to stop him back at the tiny settlement he had landed at.  They had failed but they had slowed him down enough that Thrusp had been able to catch up to him later on.  They had been in his way, they had been trying to kill him, and they were just clones.  He accepted his responsibility for killing them- he supposed he could have made more of an effort to evade them rather than killing them all- but he was not sure he truly regretted their deaths.

The blasters would be less than against so many Jedi and he tossed them aside.  The grenades however… they might be very useful.  He pulled all four of them off the belt and weighed them in his hands and in his mind.  With the Force, still ignoring the call of the Dark Side roar, he scattered the grenades around him into the tall grass.  He fixed them each with his mind.  This was something he had always been very good at.  He had never been so powerful as Skywalker or as skilled as Kenobi but his ability to use the Force to enhance his spatial awareness was second to none.  Most Jedi often had to see something in order to manipulate it with the Force, but Kol had honed his ability to memorize an area, to absorb its details into him.  He was certain that, regardless of the chaos of the upcoming battle, he would be able to pluck each grenade from where it was currently nestled.  That might give him a bit of surprise, a bit of an edge.  Not that it would be enough.  He had no hope of it being enough.

He knelt in the grass, leaning his weight back on his heels and resting his hands, one holding his lightsaber in a loose grip, on his thighs.  Closing his eyes and keeping his back straight he inhaled deeply and slowly.  His Force-senses flowed out around him, absorbing the surrounding area.  He was not trying to study the area now, not forcing its layout onto his memory, he was just letting himself be aware of it.  The approaching Jedi blazed in the Force and Kol was not surprised that each of them had already extended themselves through the Force and were probably feeling him out in the Force.  He did not try to hide from them but he also did not reach out toward them.  The Dark Side within him lapped at the back of his mind, a snarling nexu that tried to fill his hindbrain with fear, anger, and rage.  He ignored it.  He could not hate these Jedi, they had done nothing against him and the actions they were about to take were wholly due to his own failures.  His failures.  The Dark Side could not induce him to hate the Jedi it seemed, but that little twitch of self-doubt and recrimination was a crack the wall of his will.  It could easily grow and the Dark Side was very good at insinuating into the smallest cracks in an individual’s will.

The Jedi did not come straight in on him, the deep valley between them forced the quartet to turn to the south and loop around but it cost them little time and he had nowhere to go and no means to go there.  He waited as patiently and calmly as he could as the Jedi surrounded him, parking their bikes in a square around him at a distance of about twenty meters.  He had not yet opened his eyes but he could hear the bikes as their engines cycled into standby mode, could sense the Jedi drawing the Force about them in readiness, and he could never mistake that distinctive snap-hiss as anything other than a lightsaber igniting.

He stood slowly, letting his arms hang loose at his sides and he felt the three Jedi who had ignited their blades shifting warily around him.  He opened his eyes and looked down the slope at the one Jedi who had not yet ignited her weapon.

She was a Bothan Jedi and one he knew well enough; Rysi Fey’lar.  She was a few years older than he was but she had been one of the Padawan’s who had most often helped to train his and Thrusp’s class of younglings.  He had always thought she was haughty and demanding during those sessions but after he had become a Padawan he had learned to reassess her.  Teaching younglings was both a privilege and a huge stressor for new Padawans; many of them adopted a very cold demeanor in order to appear more confident of themselves than they really were.  Kol had done exactly that when he had started teaching classes as a Padawan and he had had enough other interactions with Fey’lar to understand that she had done the same.  As a fellow Jedi Knight he had found her to be intelligent, compassionate, and very well-balanced at all times.  He would not have been surprised had the Council made her a Master already though it seemed they had not.  He recalled sparring with her a few times; she was a skilled practitioner of the Ataru form but he was certain he could have defeated her had she been alone.

He turned and looked at the other Jedi, moving slowly and keeping his hands down.  On his left was a Gotal female he did not recognize wearing the kind of dark-colored robes that Skywalker had made fashionable among many of the younger Jedi who looked up to him.  Directly behind him, kneeling beside Thrusp’s body and checking his neck for a pulse, was a Verpine Jedi that Kol might have seen once or twice in the Temple but could not have named for his life.  The final Jedi, on his right, was a human male Padawan.  Probably Fey’lar’s.  The young human was visibly excited and Kol could feel his nervousness and his eagerness boiling through the Force.  Not long under Fey’lar’s training then.  None of the other Jedi were so loose with their emotions.

“Kol Argon,” Fey’lar said when he had completed his slow turn.  “You are under arrest for crimes committed against the Galactic Republic and for the deaths of two thousand sentients on Ord Mantell.  Put down your lightsaber and come peacefully.”

“No.”

Bothan faces were difficult to read but Kol felt the flicker in her emotions through the Force and spotted the shift in the fur of her neck.  “Kol, there is no hope of escape and you must know that.  It is a shame that you have fallen so far but you can still make the right decision now.”

“Did you send Thrusp ahead thinking that he could get me to surrender?”

Fey’lar shook her head, “No.  I ordered him to wait for the rest of us to arrive but he disobeyed.  Thrusp had far more confidence that you might come peaceably if he could talk you down.  I see that he was wrong.”

“We never had the chance to talk,” Kol said.  “I killed him before I even knew it was him.”  He shook his head, “I regret his death and I regret what I did on Ord Mantell but I cannot come with you.  The Jedi failed me and I failed the Jedi.  I cannot go back to them.”  The morning wind blew across them all, tugging at their robes and sending undulating snakes of motion through the tall grass.

“Kol-“There was an old Jedi maxim that Kol had always liked: if outnumbered, always attack.  It was not the easiest maxim to reconcile with the other Jedi teachings about using the Force only for protection and defense, but Kol recognized that the best defense was often offense.

Before Fey’lar could finish speaking his name, Kol leapt at her, his lightsaber blazing to life and a wave of Force energy surging up and through his muscles.  He had the high ground and he might have been able to use that against Fey’lar by making her come at him but the other Jedi would have neutralized that advantage.  He could not hope to accomplish anything with a static defense.  He would have to keep moving, keep the Jedi from being able to box him in and come at him together; he had to punch his way out of their containment.

He closed the distance to Fey’lar in a blink and her lightsaber met his, catching his downstroke with a horizontal block.  Ataru was a form full of acrobatics and rapid movement and Kol felt her as she gathered the Force to leap aside and around him.  He used that and leapt at the same time she did, pushing off her blade.  She went to her right and he went up and over her, flipping and twisting around so that he landed facing upslope.  He had surrendered the high ground- all of the Jedi were facing down at him now- but he had gotten out of the box.  Instead of being surrounded by Jedi he now faced them in a jagged line arrayed before him.  Fey’lar had already turned to face him and she was the closest threat.  She was also positioned near one of his grenades.

She spotted the cylinder as soon as he plucked it out of the grass near her feet and the flash of recognition was instantaneous.  Instead of leaping at him as she had been preparing to do, she instead jumped back up the slope, trying to shove the grenade away from herself and toward Kol but his grip was too tight.  He had already depressed the switch as he lifted the grenade and now he released it.  The detonation of the fragmentation grenade sent a cloud of flames and tiny shrapnel in all directions and boomed across the prairie.  Kol, prepared for this, used a wall of Force energy to divert the energy and shrapnel of the blast aside and he felt one of the other Jedi doing the same on the upside of the slope, protecting the Jedi.  That was fine, he had not expected to cause much damage, just to buy him some more breathing space.  The grenade had thrown up, for a few seconds, a wall between Kol and the three Jedi Knights, leaving the Padawan as the closest and most immediate threat.

As Kol had expected he did not have to take the fight to the Padawan.  The young human charged at him, confident in the numbers backing him and in having the benefit of high ground.  Kol wondered if there had ever been a Padawan who wasn’t overly confident about such things.  He caught the Padawan’s attack in a tight parry, using his greater strength to push the Padawan off his line of attack and opening him up for a hard kick to the youth’s hip.  He could have drawn his lightsaber across the boy’s chest as the kick propelled him down the slope but he refrained.  Instead he flung out his left hand and added a shove through the Force that knocked the Padawan off his feet and rolled him several meters downhill.

The other Jedi were on him by then and he spun back to catch the lead attacks.  The Gotal was first with a powerful slash that Kol recognized was designed not to penetrate his guard but to set him up for the Verpine coming in on Kol’s left.  He refused to play along.  Instead of engaging the Gotal’s lightsaber with a Soresu guard, Kol flung himself backwards and to his right, dodging the blue blade and giving up even more altitude to the Jedi.  But they had come together too much, the Gotal and the Verpine were only a few meters apart laterally and Fey’lar was behind and between them; that made it easier for Kol to evade them all.  He poured the Force into his muscles and raced diagonally to the right and upslope, seeming to make toward the Gotal’s waiting swoop bike.

The distance was far too great of course; as fast as the Force could make him it could make his opponents just as fast and they had a shorter line to travel.  Fey’lar Force-leapt between Kol and the swoop, slashing horizontally at him as she did.  Again it was clear that she was working with the other Jedi, trying to force Kol to engage her blade-to-blade and allow her partners to close and trap him.  But Fey’lar was clearly more skilled at this than the Gotal and Kol had no choice to dodge this time.  He deflected the Bothan Jedi’s blade aside, the two green blades sparking and hissing against each other, and tried to catch her with a snap-kick to her midsection.  She danced back from it, disengaging their blades and opening some room between them.

The flick of Fey’lar’s eyes was all Kol needed.  He turned and caught the downstroke of the Verpine’s blade and turned it into the ground.  The smell of burnt grass rose up around them as the blades passed through the lavender stalks.  The Gotal was on Kol’s left with a thrusting attack that Kol had to slide away from instead of parrying because he had not had time to disengage from the Verpine.  The Gotal’s lightsaber burned through the outer layers of Kol’s jacket but did not catch his flesh.  He backed away up the hill from the pair, holding them off with a flickering Soresu defense.  A twinge through the Force warned him and he threw himself in a backwards roll without an instant of hesitation; Fey’lar’s blade slashed through the air where his head had been.  He came back to his feet to find himself once again outside the closing net the three had woven around him and he smiled.

That was when a fist of Force energy slammed into his chest with tremendous power.  He was flung back and off his feet a good dozen meters before impacting the ground again.  He coughed and pain wracked his torso- broken ribs for certain.  No time to think about it though because the three Jedi were moving toward him across the slope and the Padawan had almost returned to the fight.  Kol used the Force regain his feet quickly though the move sent another wave of pain through him.  The three Jedi must have hit him together; the only Jedi Kol knew who could have hit that hard was Skywalker.  The Dark Side scratched at the wall in his mind, practically begging to be used, to hate these arrogant Jedi who thought they had the right to hurt him.  He took a deep breath despite the pain and shoved the Dark Side back down.  He deserved this.  He did.

Because I am a failure.

He was practically back to the place from which he had started the fight.  The three Knights were spreading out along the slope of the hill and closing from one side while the Padawan was running up the hill beneath them.  Again Kol could feel the Padawan’s poorly controlled emotions, could practically feel the way the youth was burning through his stamina in order to get back into the fight.  He plucked a second grenade from the ground and flung it toward the three Jedi, detonating it without even looking to see the effect.  He only wanted a moment to deal with the Padawan.

Timing was important here but also strength.  The Padawan was using the Force to fuel his race up the slope and he was clearly not expending much effort to maintain his awareness of the area.  Still, Kol had to be a little subtle; anyone would notice several hundred kilograms of metal being flung at him.  He reached out with the Force and used it to rip several tufts of grass out of the ground and throw it into the Padawan’s face.  The young Jedi snarled and waved them away from his eyes with a rough gesture and a sloppy bit of Force energy.  He barely even slowed down, and why should he?  He was almost within range of his enemy.  Kol’s guard was down, both hands outstretched as he used the Force to continue throwing grass at the boy’s face.  Clearly he was an easy target for the Padawan.  The youth raised his lightsaber and Kol saw the grin of supposed triumph break across the boy’s face… Just before Fey’lar’s swoop bike, held firmly in Kol’s Force-grip slammed into his back from downslope.

Kol released the bike as it hit the boy, instead pouring the Force down through his legs and leaping straight up.  The Padawan hit the ground with rag-doll limpness and the bike rolled over him; Kol cleared them both by a solid meter, almost seeming to hang in the air at his apogee for a moment before he came back to the ground.  He had snatched up one of the blasters with the Force during his leap and it settled into his hand just as he landed.  He flicked the selector to ‘stun’ and pumped a trio of azure bolts into the Padawan’s back.  If the boy’s back hadn’t been broken by the swoop bike collision then he should survive today.  Better than Kol was expecting.

The three Jedi were arrayed in an arc before him, the tumbled swoop bike and unconscious- Kol hoped he was only unconscious- between them.  Upslope on his left was the Verpine, the Gotal downslope on his right and Fey’lar directly in front of him at the center of their arc.  There was a largish patch of flattened, burnt grass between them where the second grenade had detonated.  His two remaining grenades were both behind him.  The Jedi had all stopped though and despite their disciplined calm, he could feel some of their confusion.  Sith did not use stun bolts after all.

“The ARC troopers reported you were using a lightsaber with a red blade,” Fey’lar said.  “Is that Jedi Thrusp’s weapon?”

Kol shook his head, “Thrusp’s crystal, my lightsaber.”

“Are you Sith?”

He considered the question longer than he needed to, using the time to take further stock of his injuries.  The fight had already started to drain him- throwing the swoop bike had required a huge amount of his strength- and the cracked ribs sent pain through him with every breath.  The Dark Side cried out for him to use it, telling him that it could take his pain and not only hide it from his mind but could use it to make him stronger than these Jedi could ever hope to be.

“I was a Jedi,” He said finally.  “And then I tried to be a Sith.  Do you need me to use a crimson blade to assuage your conscience when you kill me?”

“I do not want to kill you at all, Argon.  Come back with us, let the Council and the courts try you fairly.”

The bitter laugh that came out was not something he could have stopped if he had tried.  “There is far too much blood on my hands, Fey’lar.  And what kind of fair trial could a Sith ever get from the Jedi?  No, we’ll finish this here.”

“This is foolish.  Put down your sword!”

Kol spread his arms wide in a theatrical display, grinned broadly, and then shifted into a Soresu ready posture.  With his off-hand he beckoned the Jedi to come for him.  “Some of you might make it back to Coruscant,” he said.  “But I never shall.  Let’s see this through.  For Ord Mantell and for Thrusp.”

Fey’lar shook her head, “Fine then, Argon.  For the dead in your wake.”  She gestured for the Gotal to take him.

Kol shifted his stance slightly toward the Gotal but that Jedi had not moved.  Instead it was the Verpine coming from the other side.  Clever Bothan.  The insectoid Jedi made an astounding leap- at least a dozen meters- and came at him over Fey’lar’s tumbled swoop bike.  The Jedis’ subterfuge was not enough to slow him more than maybe a half second but it was enough to throw his defense off of his top form.  He was backpedaling, parrying and blocking each of the Verpine’s lightning-quick strokes and desperately trying to slip back into the rhythm of high-level Soresu defense.  He could not recover it, not with the Verpine Jedi so furiously assaulting him and the knowledge that Fey’lar and the Gotal were rapidly closing on him.  Aggravation flooded through him and the Dark Side snarled all the louder, further distracting him and making it impossible to fall into the flow of the Force completely.

The Verpine was gone suddenly, pulling back, but there was not a moment for Kol to catch his breath or recover his poise before the Gotal was hammering at him.  They had changed their tactic.  Without so much as a word exchanged they had abandoned their attempt to flank, encircle, and trap him.  Instead they were coming at him one after the other.  They were going to wear him down.  While each of them needed to maintain the pace of their attack for only a short while before one of the others stepped in Kol would be forced to defend himself with every scrap of his ability for the entire fight.  And he would have to constantly shift his style of defense to accommodate the different styles of his opponents.  The Verpine seemed to be using the Djem So form, Fey’lar Ataru, and the Gotal, surprisingly, was apparently one of the few Jedi who were able to employ something of Vapaad.  There were Soresu counters for each of those styles; Soresu was the master defensive form after all.  The problem was that each form required a different mode of Soresu and shifting between them added an unwanted strain on Kol’s combat.

The Dark Side screamed within him and he knew it was himself screaming.  He could not win this fight with frustrated Soresu and a few Force throws.  He was injured and he was going to tire much faster than they were.  Take the fight to them!  The Dark Side roared within him, begging to be used.  He was a failure it screamed to him, a murder and a fool.  Some Force lightning could slow them, put them on the defensive long enough for him to gather himself and attack.  He should drive them back not retreat before them!  Break them and make them kneel before his power!

He felt himself snarling but distantly; he was fighting himself now as much as the Jedi.  He was fighting to get back to equilibrium, to a point where the Force could flow smoothly through him and guide his movements.  And that was hopeless.  One could not fight their way to calmness.  He was accomplishing nothing except to fuel his own frustration and anger.  The Dark Side was no longer a beast snarling at his hindbrain, it was a nest of creeper vines closing in all around him.  He had been a fool to think he could hold it aside in such a fight as this.  These damnable Jedi were going to push him right back into the grip of the Dark Side just when he could have gotten free of it.

It burst within him as the Verpine slid in under one of Fey’lar’s leaps in order to renew his assault on Kol.  The frustration was too much to hold back.  Not just frustration at knowing his Soresu was breaking down but his frustration at everything.  Being stranded out here by Thrusp, the failure at Ord Mantell that had cost so many lives, the relentless pursuit by the Jedi.  And most of all it was that thought that he had been so close to escaping the grip of the Dark Side.  His mind had cleared itself last night, catalyzed into action by having killed Thrusp but he now knew that moment of clarity had been an illusion.  He belonged to the Dark Side and there was no escape.  The irony was not lost on him, that it was his anger at being unable to escape the Dark Side that was now driving him straight back under its sway.

His scream of frustration and rage was accompanied by a raw wave of Force energy, undirected and ugly.  It flattened the grass in a wedge before him and buffeted the robes of the Jedi, surprising them even if it was not strong enough to physically slow them down.  It was still enough, just a split second of hesitation by the Verpine.  This insect should never have been good enough to challenge Kol Argon.  Would never have been good enough to trouble him in a fair fight.

Immediately he felt stronger.  Not better, the pain in his ribs did not fade- the Dark Side did not offer comfort- if anything it was worse.  But that pain no longer hindered him.  It fueled him.  The acid-fire of the Dark Side burned through him, energizing his limbs in a way that the gentle flow of the Jedi’s Force never could.  Yoda called the Jedi “luminous beings” and they were, but they were a dull glow, a firebug in the darkness; with the Dark Side filling him Kol knew he was a creature made of lightning and supernovas.

Taking the offensive against the Verpine Jedi from an off-footed Soresu was the most dangerous option available to him.  The insectoid Jedi’s Djem So form had been designed around the concept of the counter-attack.  As much as Kol had been angered by his inability to recover his poise, it was clear that even a sub-par Soresu defense frustrated the entire concept of Djem So combat- with no attacks coming at him the Verpine’s style was severely limited.  The Sith combat techniques Kol had learned would have been better employed against Fey’lar’s Ataru; many of them had been developed by the ancient Sith Lords specifically to tire out Jedi opponents relying on the intensive acrobatics of Ataru combat.  Even the Gotal with her rough Vapaad would have made a better target- Vapaad placed its wielders right on the edge of control and Kol was certain that he could push the Knight over that edge.  Unfortunately it was the Verpine who currently faced him and the other two Jedi were hanging far enough back that trying to get at either one of them would only open him to a fatal blow from the Verpine.

But a Sith never shied away from the dangerous path.  To the Verpine Kol’s sudden shift to the attack surely had the appearance of desperation.  The change from Soresu to a Sith technique that looked far more wild than it was caught the Jedi only slightly off-guard and the insectoid deflected the looping strikes and moved into a perfect Djem So counter attack designed to end the fight.  The problem for the Verpine was that Kol’s attack was what it seemed to be.  The ‘wild’ slashes Kol had used were actually meant only to distract an opponent, a pattern that Kol had drilled into his flesh so deeply that he could use them without any concentration.  That freed his mind up so that he could gather the Dark Side.  The Verpine’s vertical cut should have cleaved through Kol from scalp to groin after the Djem So counter had knocked Kol’s blade so far out of line that he could offer no effective defense.  Sith, however, did not rely on defense.  Kol blurred to his left, the moment of concentration having allowed him to gather the Dark Side and giving him speed beyond even that of Jedi reflexes.  He actually dropped his lightsaber so that both hands would be free and thrust them toward the right side of the Verpine’s thorax.  A combination of Force lightning and a telekinesis slammed into the thin Jedi.  The Verpine was thrown back- just as Thrusp had been some small part of Kol’s mind noted- with snakes of blue energy crawling in burning lines across its robes, shorting out its lightsaber, and filling the air with the smell of burnt ozone.

It was the Gotal Jedi who was quickest to take the Verpine’s place.  Fey’lar, instead of launching into the attack again broke off, using the Force to catch the Verpine and lower it more gently to the ground.  Kol glimpsed her rushing to the insectoid’s form and checking it for life signs.  Some tiny part of Kol was still hoping that the Jedi would survive but most of his mind was swallowed by the joy and rage of the Dark Side.

He could feel the Gotal female’s anger and frustration, her deep concern for her fellow Jedi that bordered so close to fear for his life.  It was a rich, almost intoxicating aura that flowed out from her.  With most Jedi there would never have been such an open broadcast of emotion but the Gotal was using Vapaad rather than one of the more traditional and staid combat forms.  That form bordered so close on the Dark Side that very few Jedi dared to use it and only Master Windu and one or two others had truly mastered it.  The Gotal would be channeling all of her inner ferocity into the fight and, if she were really good, would be using the aggression that Kol himself was putting out in the Force.  He grinned as he parried and blocked the heavy, bold chops of the Gotal’s blade.  They were locked together, each pouring energy into the Force and into each other, a vicious feedback loop that rose higher and higher.  He saw the Gotal grin as well, enjoying the passion of the combat just as Vapaad required.  This was a Jedi skating as close to the unbridled passion of the Dark Side as they could, and maybe stepping a little too far.  It was all about control, Kol knew.  So long as she could control her passion then she could use Vapaad without falling as he had but the danger was tremendous for her.

Their blades clashed against each other again and again, not in a smooth dance but in a series of whip-crack bursts.  This was all-out attack on both sides, each of them wasting as little energy as possible on defense.  There was no time to parry or for elaborate maneuvers, only quick blocks becoming furious retaliations.  Sweat was pouring down Kol’s back and his ribs screamed with every movement but all of that was easy to ignore as the Dark Side swept through him.  He breathed in the Gotal’s passion and exhaled his own fury.  He flung a burst of Force lightning at the Gotal and she caught it on her blade, batting it down into the tall grass and starting a fire that burnt itself out as the two combatants moved past it.  He threw a punch of Force energy at her gut but she twisted around it and retaliated with a kick to his knee that almost buckled it.  Snarling he retreated so that he could take his weight off that leg.  She came at him with undiminished fury, closing the distance as quickly as he opened it.  Her blue blade flickered around him; high, low, the sides and he wove his defense of verdant green light.  For a moment, as she sunk as deep into Vapaad as she dared, her lightsaber seemed to be in all those places at once.

And then it wasn’t.  The opening appeared for a tiny fraction of a second but the Dark Side erupted through him and that split second was enough.  His lightsaber stabbed through the side of her extended right knee as he flung himself in a sideways roll.  A tiny flick of his wrist would have separated the lower half or her leg from the upper half but instead that tiny splinter of his mind that still remembered Thrusp caused him to turn the lightsaber off as he completed his roll and then reignite it.  The wound was still a debilitating one and the Gotal collapsed under her own weight, a scream of pain rending the air.  The feeback loop that had joined them through the Force collapsed as her presence in the Force drew itself inward.  It was replaced by the thrill of another victory and the thirst for more.

He rolled to his feet just in time for the detonation of a grenade to send him flying forward onto his chest, his lightsaber knocked from his hand.  Pain lashed through his chest and his back simultaneously as the impact on the ground further damaged his ribs.  His back had to have been torn apart by the grenade’s blast such was the level of pain he felt.  It was enough damage that the Dark Side fled his control, slipped out of his grip.  He was abandoned.

He tried to regain the Force, tried to whip himself with his failure in order to summon the state of angry fugue that would fill him once more with the Dark Side, but the pain was too great, his mind had no focus.  And he was rapidly losing strength.  His breathing was rough and difficult and no matter how much he tried he could not suck in enough oxygen to fill his lungs.  There was a bubbling wetness to every breath and though his mind could hardly grasp the concept he knew that his lungs must have been punctured by shrapnel.

A shadow fell across his eyes though he could see nothing except dirt and grass.

“You lost yourself,” Fey’lar’s voice poured down into his ears, somehow cutting through the red haze of pain that filled his mind.  “The Dark Side clouded your judgment from the day that you left us and turned your back on what help the Order could have given you.  And today, you lost yourself to the fury of your own imagined power.  Could you have imagined that you would lose track of your own hidden traps had the Dark Side not erased your awareness of self?”

He wanted to respond, to say something in his defense but he could think of nothing and he was certain that he could not have spoken even if he had.  Blood was filling his throat, a thick, cloying taste of metal.  She was right.  Could he have stood against the four of them without the Dark Side?  Of course not, he had never been nearly good enough for that.  But surely he would have been defeated honorably by one of their blades, bested in true combat.  The Dark Side had given him the strength to fight two of them into the ground but it had blinded him and allowed Fey’lar to take him out with his own trap.  He had lost track of where the grenades were hidden and she had found them.

“The Sith always defeat themselves, Kol.  The Annals are clear about that.”

The mention of the Jedi Annals sparked a faint hope within him.  He would be recorded there.  Despite everything that had gone wrong in his life he knew that much would be true.  He would not join the ranks of Exar Kun and Count Dooku as Sith Lords in those histories perhaps but the Jedi would never forget him; he would be recorded in the Annals of the Jedi Temple and the Temple would never be destroyed.  Even if Count Dooku- Darth Tyrannus- succeeded and took Coruscant he would surely preserve the records of the Order; Dooku had once been a Jedi after all and no Jedi, no matter how far gone, would destroy that trove of history and lore.  And so Kol Argon’s name would never be lost.  Was that all I wanted?  He wondered.  Surely it had been a part of the reason he had left the Jedi- that desire to be more than just one more Jedi among a thousand.  Perhaps that was his victory.

“Goodbye, Kol Argon.  I am sorry that we could not save you.”  He heard the snap-hiss of her lightsaber igniting but he did not feel it as the blade separated his head from his body and ended his pain.

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