Part 28 Caedus watched. Large spherical blossoms of bursting colors, blue. Lightning following. The explosion expanded briefly, fire weaving through the ionized energy. Panels dropped, fell to hit the panels of the ship around it. A chair near the front, red and simple in design, burst from a craft's cockpit and soared past, a yard between them. It was a familiar chair. He had spent nearly 5 years in that seat. Sleeping, meditating, even testing new abilities in the space around him. Equally-familiar panels tore from one another, were eaten by the fire or crisped by the fluctuating energy. He felt the vibrations of the small ship's eruption through the deck of the hangar. Like ripples in the Force cascading from a death. Darth Caedus slowly rose from his feet. He had been holding his breath. Why, he asked. He felt no fear. He was fury, a pillar of solidarity wrapped in flame. Why, he asked, was he reacting at all to the loss of his primary form of egress. He was here to kill two men, not to leave the quickly-dying vessel named for his lost brother. It was nagging him. With time slowed as it seemed to be, he had time to note this. An errant thought logged like a shift clock. He turned back to the aforementioned men. Jedi. Knights of Order, old friends. Kyp Durron. Kyp. Kyle. Luke. Han. Fond memories, rose, ebbed, threatened to bubble and burst on the surface. They were hushed. They were easy to hush. Breathing deep, he walked slowly, calmly. Caedus closed his eyes, continued forward. Anger, in it's rawest form, rushed through his lungs. It was thicker than air. More satisfying. Caedus felt his muscles tense, ease, and repeat once more. He rolled his head around his neck several times, remembering the lessons of the pain incurred at the hands of the Vong. It was fulfilling, like a good ale out of reach for years. It had not driven him mad. At least, he didn't believe it had. Questioning whether he was mad was enough to convince Caedus that he was not. With his sanity apparently in check, it was simple enough to embrace the Force. Summoning it unto himself in zephyrs, the air shook around him in the tide. Pilots stumbled back from their rush to-and-fro. Most brushed it off as just another level of the madness coalescing around them, but some were awestruck. They did not rise. Caedus noticed them in the Force as his awareness expanded outward. There they were: Jedi. He had touched upon the surfaces of the Jedi Masters Katarn and Durron. They were clearly aware of his attempted probe, and they had come prepared to defended their consciousnesses. Perhaps he would have easier access during the fight, but it occurred to him that such measures may not even be required. Voices. Soft voices, rippling. Possibly shouts hushed by rushing winds. It was the Jedi. They were attempting to tell Caedus something. No, Caedus thought, they were attempting to tell Jacen something. The Jedi remained ignorant. To them, Jacen and Caedus were still somehow separate entities. Two people within a single mind, as Tahiri had once been. Darth Caedus was not, nor had he ever been, more than one person. He was simply himself on another stone on the path. They couldn't see the stone, the path, or even the forest. That were blind, and they would lose. Caedus was fully aware that this would be his defining moment. In the past, he had wondered if people were often aware of the importance of great moments as they were happening. He now knew. They continued to shout, and he received their surface emotions: anger, fear, sadness. All the same emotions that supposedly led to his dastardly ways. The righteous Jedi Order, Caedus thought. His smirk transformed into a twitch of the mouth, then his right eye, then ceased. Caedus became aware of his Lightsaber's hum within his grasp. He had activated it without thought. A lot of his upcoming actions would likely be similar. The bustle of pilots and crew thinned and Caedus finally opened his eyes, looking toward the two Jedi. They were older, though Kyle was the only one who let it show. Kyp appeared the same age, if not younger than the Sith Master. Kyle Katarn seemed to wear every act he had committed on his shoulders, and that he had been carrying them for some time. They were not righteous men. They still saw the universe in the form of proverbs and smoke. Caedus took a heavier step, and the durasteel gave way beneath his tread. The absolute and unwavering truth the Sith Lord held within him sped the Force further and tighter around him. Kyle looked as though ready to strike upon a nexu with his bare hands. Master Durron motioned for him to hold, and shouted something more. It was likely a final plea for what they perceived as reason. The words remained meaningless to the Sith Lord's focused mind. Caedus casually looked away from the Jedi and at a small cargo lifter. The single-seat vehicle left the ground with impressive speed and soared at the tan-robed men. Caedus was still aware of the two Skywalkers many decks above, and of the countless fighters outside. He could see the path to his survival, but it required precise turns at precise paces. Kyp leapt directly up and the lifter tumbled loudly beneath him. Before his feet returned to metal, a focused wave crashed into him. He took the brunt of the blast against his crossed arms, but the momentum sent him into a far bulkhead. Kyle had simply rolled backwards. His sky blue blade was already ignited and the aging Jedi Master began sprinting toward Caedus. Caedus felt the anger radiating off Katarn like a star. Kyle was throwing away all pretenses that he was still operating as a Jedi. No, the Sith Lord realized with a smile, Kyle was finally being honest: He was here with intent to kill. Caedus looked down. A bead of sweat fell from his brow. It seemed to fall impossibly slowly. He looked back up, and his path shone brightly, a gracefully winding road of pure red light. Kyle brought his lightsaber down toward Caedus' neck. Caedus ducked beneath the swing, knocked Kyle's arm aside, and brought a right knee into the old Mercenary's midsection. Caedus took the brief moment to inhale deep, sucking in the thick air, and Kyle slammed his forehead into Caedus' own. Kyle swung heavily back across Caedus' waist, but he leapt back. The Sith lightsaber hilt cut through the air and nestled into his grasp. The red blade was already in motion as it came to life. A series of quick strikes around Kyle's torso pushed him back. The Mercenary was full of hate, but having spent half of his lifetime as a Jedi, it was not honed. Kyle returned strikes, heavier as before, but Caedus blocked each without extraneous effort. Kyle forced his way forward with each strike. The next swing was stronger than the last. Katarn closed the distance to nearly nothing with a quick strike at Caedus' chest. The Sith Lord looked into Kyle's eyes, searching for the perfect opening, and Master Katarn slammed his boot into the Sith's leg. Caedus growled as bone cracked, but did not give. The surprise turned to anger, to hate, and then into lightning that erupted from the abrupt ending of Caedus' left arm. Kyle screamed as the energy crawled over and through him. The timeless Jedi robes began to darken and fray. Katarn finally shook himself with enough effort to roll backwards, free of the cracking tendrils. He shook his head, returned to his feet, and assaulted Caedus once more. The younger man had to admit that with such skill and seemingly endless rage, Katarn might have been an even more powerful Sith than himself, given the right training. Caedus foresaw a particular strike, and parried Kyle's blade nearly out of his hand. The Sith Lord slashed clean down before Kyle leapt back. A thin trail of ionizing blood turned to vapor. Kyle looked at the gaping crevice of black fringes within his right shoulder apathetically. It didn't seem to slow his defense of Caedus' proceeding assault. Darth Caedus' strikes were wide and varied, attempting to throw the furious Jedi off-balance. Kyle retreated one slow step at a time, keeping pace with the oncoming crimson blade, but just barely. Kyle caught one last upward swing and used a combination of momentum to jump backwards once more. His breaths were deep and dry. He looked to his right and saw Kyp finally rolling from under another fighter that had entangled with the cargo vehicle. The younger Jedi stood and shrugged away the frustration. Kyp saw Kyle's wounds, but noted that he didn't seemed phased by it. Master Katarn turned back to Lord Caedus, spat, and shouted. His words rang well through the frantic hangar. “So this is what you wanted, brat? Do you think that you're anything special? Caedus, you're just another turn on the same damn wheel! Vader before you, Palpatine before him, and countless others just a while before that. It's a sick pattern, just playing out.” Kyp began approaching Caedus and joined in. “Master Katarn is more or less correct. We were supposed to offer you a doorway, a sort-of get-out-of-holding-free option to turn around from your dark path.” He ignited his blue 'saber. “However, I don't think that's what Jaina would have wanted.” Kyp leapt toward Caedus, arm extended. Caedus casually threw a wave at the oncoming Jedi, but it was cast aside. Master Durron spun through the air, casting the outer coat of his Jedi robes toward Caedus. Caedus swung through the oncoming mass of fabric out of reflex, cleaving it to several pieces. In the same moment, Kyp continued to spin around the strikes and brought the back of his heel up and into Caedus' left shoulder. Another crack vibrating through flesh. The Sith Lord immediately began of flurry of attacks at the quick Jedi. Kyp deflected some, but chose to step back and dance away from the majority. Kyle chose that moment to rush back into the fray. As he picked up pace toward the Sith, Kyle hurled his lightsaber forward. It spun, cutting through the air as though a disc of flashing blue. Caedus took one last strike at Kyp before spinning back around and directing the spinning blade away with his left wrist. The lightsaber hissed as it bounced against a wall blade-first before soaring straight back into Kyle's waiting hand. His weapon returned to him just as he closed distance with Caedus. Kyle swung upward, than down, around left, left again, and once more. Katarn swung with little grace, more resembling a man swinging a mining tool with fervor. With two hands, Darth Caedus would easily block and parry every swing. As it was, he was beginning to feel the first notes of strain in his right wrist. Caedus could still see the path to survival, but the wind was eroding it quickly. Darth Caedus planted his feet and blocked two more swings before focusing on the bulkhead panel beneath Kyle's feet. The metal floor immediately gave way, warped, and shot upward. Master Katarn flipped backward off of the misshapen panel. Caedus brought his lightsaber low and began to rush toward Kyle, appearing to prepare a killing blow to the falling Jedi. Kyp saw his opening and charged the Sith Lord. Darth Caedus planted his right boot deep into the durasteel. He urned immediately, focused the Force into a downward stroke that slammed Master Durron's lightsaber out of his grasp, then swung through Kyp's chest. Small strands of robe frayed away, chasing escaping drops of blood. Kyp fell to his knees in the same moment that his lightsaber's kill switch cut the weapon off. He sighed and looked up at the Sith. “Close your eyes and die, Jedi. Your time has passed and you know it. Do what your kind does and embrace the Force.” “You're too much-” Kyp began, coughing. “-too much of an asshole for the Force to not find a way to stop you.” The dying man directed his arm toward Caedus, and the fallen lightsaber activated and rose toward Caedus. He rushed to block the lightsaber, and a spear of pain erupted through his right leg. The floating weapon fell once more as Caedus rolled away, causing the pain to spiderweb through his leg. The Sith Lord turned and immediately knew that Katarn had put a lightsaber straight through the back of his right calf. Caedus allowed the question to run through his mind: how could he be having so much trouble with two lowly Jedi? It infuriated him, the anger renewing and furthering his connection with the Force. It wrapped around his leg and moved it as he willed. If his muscles would not propel his body, then he would make sure that the Force did. Such control was terribly draining, and Caedus' eyes were quickly shifting from a sickly light yellow to progressively deeper shades of pink, thin hairs of red veins expanding to crimson rivers. Darth Caedus reached toward the nearest fighter, the newest model of the long-standing X-Wing series. A quick lift and pull, the craft was being propelled toward Master Katarn very much not under its own power. Kyle jumped over the deafening clamor of skidding craft, and streaks of white lighting appeared just behind him. The lighting coursed over the surface before reaching the compressed Tibana gas and turning the X-Wing into a fireball. Kyle felt the back of his robes nearly turn to cinder as he rolled to a stop. Katarn rose and slowly approached Caedus. Caedus expected more banter or dark witticisms, but none came. Instead, with calm focus, Kyle stepped forward and began a series of far more controlled swings. Perhaps Kyp's final moments had given the Mercenary a moment of clarity, or this was simply another stage of his anger. Kyle maintained the force in his attacks from before, but they were much quicker now. Sets of four strikes on alternating quadrants of his body, to harder crashing swings, back to sets, then a stab bought back around into another heavy strike. The pain was beginning to build, and Caedus could no longer use the Force to numb himself as he needed to keep his legs working in tandem. Attempting to push the tide of the duel back, Caedus stepped aside and lunged hard with a stab. Kyle easily stepped aside from the attack, but Caedus slammed the remains of his left arm against Kyle's chest and began converting the Force rushing around him into powerful electricity. The hot lightning's focal point was Caedus' severed wrist. He screamed as Kyle's body shook. The energy continued to dance across the hair, fabric, and flesh of the two men. The crackling finally stopped only when Caedus no longer had enough control to steady his wounded leg. The Sith dropped to a knee. Jedi Master Kyle Katarn fell to the floor. He had come to rest on his side, Kyle's eyes still staring at the winded Sith. Caedus could feel the rage still combusting from within Katarn. Kyle opened his mouth and coughed weakly, thin smoke and thick blood. Caedus couldn't smile, nor scowl, nor really react in any way. He could simply breathe. The Sith's heart continued to race, knowing that a pause such as this was wasting precious seconds. “You can kill me.” Kyle said. “You can kill Luke. You can kill young Ben. Kill everyone in your way.” He coughed again, this time less smoke, more blood. “You will on your little throne for a while. Then one day, you will be killed by someone you least expected. You're be remembered, if ever, as just another child who didn't know what to do with the galaxy when he finally got it.” “Even if your tale holds true,” Caedus said, “You will still be dead, and the Jedi and Sith will return to killing one-another. Your balance is just another form of chaos that would be better-off controlled, and you Jedi know nothing of control.” “Always an answer, always a way out,” Kyle said. His robes were being dyed quickly. A tinny voice came from the comm unit within Caedus' robes. With little energy left between them, the two wounded Force-users listened. “Attention all channels: A Hapan Battle Dragon has entered the edge of engagement range. Strike that- four, six, more Battle Dragons are jumping in.” Caedus smirked down at Kyle. “I try.” “The Hapans have opened fire on Alliance cruisers! Their primary target looks to be the Anakin Solo. Issuing fall-back orders to the Fifth Fleet.” Caedus' smirk slowly fell. Kyle didn't have the energy to grin, or laugh, or spit in the Sith's face. Considering how well Jaina and Tenel-Ka had known each other as children, he was surprised the Hapans had taken this long.