Duel

This is fanfic, o' course. All original Star Wars characters and objects belong to and are copyrighted by Lucasfilms, Ltd.


Duel

"I hate rainforests."

The words hung in the air for several moments before vanishing from his mind. Outta sight, outta mind, you could say.

Titus Valerian continued to push through the cloud of leaves, branches and the tangle of vines ahead of him, wondering if there was an end to the torture of the constant poking, scratching and crunching that he had to endure. I hate rainforests. That was beginning to sound like an understatement.

"What would Master Skywalker have done if he'd been in this situation?" he muttered, and nearly yelled in relief when he swept aside one last wall of vines and stepped into a clearing.

Master Skywalker would not be pleased to know that Titus had touched the latest Jedi artifact a small band of NR-paid archaeologists had uncovered recently on Ossus - a strange, humming device that not even the best technicians on Coruscant had been able to figure out just yet. Titus decided it would be best not to think about the reprimand he'd get once he returned home.

A large part of him wondered, however, if he would be able to return home at all. The artifact had emanated a strange sensation that Titus was sure no Jedi had ever felt before, not even Master Skywalker. Perhaps that was why the Jedi Master had forbidden his students to go near the device until they knew more about it. Titus's natural curiousity had gotten the best of him, though, and he had sneaked into the tiny chamber where the artifact was being kept to examine it closely.

The odd, electric tingles that had shot up his arm as his fingertips caressed the smooth, crystalline surface of the small device had been strange enough. But it had nearly seemed like the artifact had been compelling him to come nearer, closer, to find out -

Or had he just been imagining it all?

And what was there to find out?

Titus dug into the pocket of his robe and held the glowing nut of energy aloft, scrutinizing it with the practiced eye of a techie. "Are you really worth all the trouble I'm going to be in for when we get back home?" he asked it mock-sternly.

The device, of course, did not answer.

He had not liked the uneasy knot that had begun to form in his guts any more than he liked the aura of death that seemed to surround the forest he had been trekking through. Something was amiss about this place. No, wait, not amiss. Titus's eyes narrowed in thought. Something did not feel right. And he, being the curious young student that he was, was going to find out why.

The clearing he had entered was large enough to serve as a landing pad for a ship the size of the Milennium Falcon, but instead of finding a ship, he found a tall stone structure that seemed out of place. As he drew nearer, his uneasiness intensified, but his curiousity drove him on.

The structure was roughly square in shape, the base a dark hue of granite, the rest of the building lightening in color up to the white marble of the tiny globe that crested the roof. Pockmarks marred the smooth surface of the beautiful piece of architecture. Titus touched one such miniature crater and flinched away; the pockmark was hot to the touch, as if a laser bolt had just burned its way into the stone a few moments before.

Did a battle take place here? he wondered, staring up at the large, massive doors that led into the depths of the mysterious building.

There was only one way to find out.

He mounted the steps that led up to the huge entrance and was startled when the doors creaked open before he even thought of pushing them open. Slowly turning, he silently reached out with his senses, warily eyeing any large tree or bush nearby. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up on end, and he had the not-too-discreet impression that he was being watched by someone - or something. This thought gave him no comfort at all, and he hurried beyond the threshold of the doors and into the building before realizing what he was doing.

The doors slammed shut behind him.

Think, Ty, think before you act! he told himself sternly, groaning aloud. How the hell was he going to get out of here now?

Sighing, he shook his head and decided to continue with his explorations. His lips quirked upwards in a sour smile. As if I have a choice now.

He stood in a large hall guarded by carefully carved pillars on either side. The hall was dark with shadows, with sporadic shafts of light spearing through the tiny slits of windows high above him. "Can't escape that way," Titus mused in a quiet, thoughtful voice.

There is no escape.

Titus whirled around - that thought had not been one of his. An alarm in the back of his mind began to ring madly as a chill crept down his spine.

In the middle of the expansive room appeared a small ball of blackness that grew larger as it sucked all of the shadows in the room into its dark depths. Titus stared at it, wide-eyed, his hand disappearing within the folds of his robe to grip his lightsaber. By now the alarms in his mind were roaring.

The ball expanded upwards, shifting and rippling like a cloak fluttering in the breeze before solidifying to frame a human figure in black.

The human lifted his head, and Titus swallowed hard. The other man had pale skin and eyes, but his hair was black and sleek, just like the rest of the tunic that he wore. He was tall and rather lanky, his face gaunt and wreathed in shadows. Oh, but his eyes . . . Titus shivered inwardly when he looked into those bronze, swirling depths. This man nearly seemed inhuman.

The man smiled, flashing perfect white teeth and nearly bloodless lips. As if by reflex, Titus tensed.

"Hello, little Jedi," the man said softly. "Prepare to die."

"Who are you?" The words escaped from Titus's lips in a hoarse croak.

”You may call me Namas K’hulu, though I suppose it won’t matter since you’ll be dead in a few minutes, anyway.”

Titus clamped down on the tendril of icy fear that snaked through his mind. He set his jaw, feeling his focus shift, feeling his senses disembody themselves from the rest of him to watch the whole scene unfold from afar. He saw himself unclip his lightsaber from his belt and ignite his brilliant silver blade.

A Jedi feels no fear.

An invisible hand suddenly caught him by the throat and began to squeeze tightly. Titus closed his eyes and hid a gasp as his body began to desperately claw for air, but it was no use. The stranglehold around his neck was much too strong for a mere human being to wrench away from.

But he was not just another human being. He had the Force.

Let go.

This thought did not belong to him, either, but the reassuring edge to the words made him relax. I can’t let go, he protested. I’ll die. I’m dying right now!

The reply was firm and strong. LET GO.

He surrendered.

Titus let his body go limp, even as the evil that emanated from his assailant grew in power and scope, seeping into his mind and searching out the most intimate parts of his very psyche for something. But what? Why was this man so intent on killing him?

His lightsaber clattered to the flagstones, the humming blade automatically shutting off as his weapon hit the ground. A moment later, he saw himself collapse in a heap.

And yet something much more powerful than this evil was at work here, enveloping him in a comforting warmth that nearly made the iron grip on his throat seem non-existent.

There is no death . . .

Then he was suddenly free.

. . . there is the Force.

Namas K’hulu’s eyes narrowed in anger, and his hand dropped. “You want to play like that now, do you?” he asked, subtlely mocking the young Knight as almost casually pulled out his own lightsaber.

Titus staggered to his feet, shaking his head fiercely to free his mind of the clouds that the invisible stranglehold had allowed to come in. He picked up his own weapon and lit it again, hearing a dim roar in his ears. The warmth was still there, almost tangible but waning as he centered his thoughts on his opponent.

There is no emotion. There is peace.

For nearly three years, he had learned and unlearned, trained and grown under the tutelage of first Masters Kam Solusar and Tionne at the Jedi Praxeum before moving to the Jedi Center on Coruscant to this time learn under the guidance of Master Skywalker himself. The famous Jedi Master had been impressed with Titus’ rapid progress, but he was also cautious; he had learned from his mistakes in teaching Kyp Durron, and he was not going to let Titus allow his impatience to overcome him, as well.

Titus was not going to let it rule him, either.

There is no passion. There is serenity.

K’hulu wielded his lightsaber like a scythe and seemed to move like liquid fire as he attacked, but Titus was not fooled. He didn’t even blink as he brought his own saber up to block his opponent’s blows.

And in the meantime, the feeling of warmth seemed to rush over him like a cascade of water, and this time Titus did not hesitate to surrender to it.

He felt his nerves sing, felt a strange heat suddenly shoot up his arms and through his fingers.

Namas K’hulu saw the young Jedi suddenly jerk and his face go blank. He frowned as the younger man lifted his head and met his cold gaze.

Namas K’hulu’s blood suddenly ran cold when he saw the look in the Jedi’s eyes. “No,” he whispered. “It can’t be possible!”

Titus dropped the defensive stance and attacked.


”Titus?”

Startled out of a reverie, Titus jumped to his feet and hastily dusted off his cloak. “Yes, Master Skywalker?”

Jedi Master Luke Skywalker regarded his young student with shrewd eyes before smiling and gesturing for Titus to join him. “Walk with me.”

Titus complied with a bare nod, wondering if the Jedi Master could sense how nervous he was. Well, of course he can, he chided himself. He’s the Jedi Master.

The two men made their way down a corridor in the large Jedi Center at a leisurely pace. Master Skywalker did not seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere, so Titus forced himself to relax and wait for the other man to speak.

Two days had passed since he had been found unconscious close to the door of the tiny chamber that had housed the small Jedi artifact from Ossus. The artifact itself had vanished, and Titus could not say where it had gone.

His thoughts returned to the duel with the mysterious Sith warrior who had confronted him on that rainforest world. Titus could still remember hearing Namas K’hulu scream as he struck the Sith down, but he didn’t remember what had knocked him out or how he had returned to his own time and place.

Time for my punishment, I guess, he thought with a grimace.

”What have you learned from your encounter with the Sith?”

Titus blinked and turned to stare at Master Skywalker in mystification. The Jedi Master patiently repeated his question. “Or should that be, what have you unlearned from your encounter with the Sith?”

”Well . . .” Titus hesitated. He had been pondering that very question since his return, and he still wasn’t sure if the answer he had in mind was the right one.

Master Skywalker smiled. “You’re free to speak whatever’s on your mind, Ty. There is no right answer. In fact, I’m pretty interested to hear what you have to say for yourself; nothing like this has ever happened before, and it would be nice to know what to expect if a similar incident ever occurs.”

”Well, I did learn two things, sir. One is not to be sneaky.” The Jedi Master’s broad grin encouraged Titus to continue. “Two is to let the living Force guide you.”

Master Skywalker raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

”It was really – strange.” Titus splayed his hands forward and shook his head. “I don’t know how to explain it. I thought for sure that that Sith would kill me, but suddenly, I didn’t seem to be the one fighting him. Something else took control of my hands and fought for me, if that makes any sense. I think it was the Force. No, wait – I know it was the Force. It couldn’t have been anything else. I just let go and let it take over, and . . . I killed him.”

Master Skywalker was silent for a long moment – long enough to make Titus start to feel nervous again. He suddenly stopped in the middle of the corridor and turned to face his young student. “I’m proud of you, Ty,” he said simply. “Not too many of my students have learned to let the Force guide them in that sense. It turns out to be a lesson that many of them learn the hard way, long after they leave the safe confines of the Academy and the Center.”

”Like Kyp?”

For an instant he saw a pained expression cross the Jedi Master’s face. “Kind of. But every student must undertake tests and trials of their own, and every one of them must make a choice: to let the Force guide them, or to let their feelings get in the way. Sometimes the best thing to do in a situation like yours is to let go.”

”Let go,” Titus repeated in a murmur.

Let go.

He glanced out the nearest viewport and watched as Coruscant’s single star began to sink beneath the endless city horizon.

Then he smiled. Tomorrow would bring something new, but today's lesson would always stay with him.

Let go . . .


06.18.01



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(c) S.M.N.