[spoiler]Darkness plagued Jaden, the lightless ink of a singularity. He was falling, falling forever. His stomach crawled up his throat, crowding out whatever scream he might have uttered.
He still felt the Force around him, within him, but only thickly, only attenuated, as if his sensitivity were numbed.
He hit unseen ground with a grunt and fell to all fours. Snow crunched under his palms and boots. Gusts of freezing wind rifled his robes to stab at his skin. Ice borne by the wind peppered his face and rimed his beard. He still could see nothing in the pitch. He stood, shaky, shaking, freezing.
"Where is this place?" he called. The darkness was so deep he could not see his frozen breath. His voice sounded small in the void. "R-6?"
Odd, he thought, that the first thing he called for in an uncertain situation was his droid rather than a fellow Jedi.
He reached for the familiar heft of his primary lightsaber, found its belt clip empty. He reached around to the small of his back for his secondary saber - the crude but effective weapon he had built as a boy on Coruscant without any training in the Force - and found it gone, too. His blaster was not in his thigh holster. No glowrod in his pocket.
He was cold, alone, unequipped, blind in the darkness.
What had happened? He remembered nothing.
Drawing his robes tightly about him to ward off the wind, he focused his hearing, but heard nothing over the wind except the gong of his heartbeat in his ears. With difficulty, he reached out with his Force Sense through the fog of his benighted sensitivity, tried to feel the world around him indirectly. Through the dull operation of his expanded consciousness he sensed something...
There were others there with him, out in the darkness.
He sharpened his concentration and the tang of the Dark Side teased his perception - Sith.
But not quite Sith, not entirely, the Dark Side adulterated.
He tried to ignore the familiar caress of the Dark Side's touch. He knew the line between the Light and Dark was as narrow as a vibroblade's edge. His Master, Kyle Katarn, had taught him as much. Every Jedi walked that edge. Some understood the precipice under their feet, and some did not. And it was the latter who so often fell. But it was the former who so often suffered. Jaden often wished he had remained in ignorance, had stayed the boy on Coruscant for whom the Force had been magic.
Summoned from the past, his Master's words bounced around his brain: The Force is a tool, Jaden. Sometimes a weapon, sometimes a salve. Dark Side, Light Side, these are distinctions of insignificant difference. Do not fall into the trap of classification. Sentience curses us with a desire to categorize and draw lines, to fear that after this be dragons. But that is illusion. After this is not dragons but more knowledge, deeper understanding. Be at peace with that.
But Jaden never had been at peace with that. He feared he never would. Worse, he feared he never should.
"Show yourselves," he called into the darkness, and the howling wind was a mouth that devoured his words. He knew the Sith would have sensed his presence, the same as he had sensed theirs.
They were all around him, closing fast. He felt vulnerable, with nothing at his back, unable to see. He sank into the Force and denied his fear.
Finding his calm, he stood in a half-crouch, eyes closed, mind focused, his entire body a coiled spring. Even without his saber, a Dark Side user would find him a formidable foe.
"Jaden," whispered a voice in his ear, a voice he'd heard before only on vidscreen surveillance.
He spun, whirled, the power of the Force gathered in his hands for a telekinetic blast, and saw... only darkness.
It had been Lumiya's voice. Hadn't it? But Lumiya was long dead.
A hand clutched at his robe.
"Jaden," said another voice, Lassin's voice.
He used the Force to augment a backward leap, flipping in mid-air, and landed on his feet three meters behind Lassin, a fellow Jedi Knight who should have been dead, who had died soon after the Ragnos crisis.
Lassin's voice unmoored him from his calm and force lightning, blue and baleful, came unbidden and crackled on his fingertips...
He saw nothing.
The hairs on Jaden's neck rose. He stared at his hand, the blue discharge of his fingertips. With an effort of will, he quelled it.
"Jaden Korr," said a voice to his left, Master Solusar's voice, but Jaden felt not the comforting presence of another Light Side user, only the ominous energy of the Dark Side.
He spun, but saw only darkness.
Mara Jade was dead.
"Who are you?" he called, and the wind answered with ice and screams. "Where am I?"
He reached out again with his Force sense, trying to locate Lumiya, Lassin, Solusar, and Skywaler, but found them gone.
Again, he was alone in the darkness. He was always alone in darkness.
It registered with him then. He was dreaming. The Force was speaking to him. He should have realized it sooner.
The revelation stilled the world. The wind fell silent and the air cleared of ice.
Jaden stood ready, tense.
A distant, sourceless cry sounded, repeated itself, the rhythm regular, the tone mechanical. It could have been coming from the other side of the planet.
"Help us. Help us. Help us. Help us..."
He turned a circle, fists clenched. "Where are you?"
The darkness around him diminished. Pinpoints of light formed in the black vault over him. Stars. He scanned the sky, searching for something familiar. There. He recognized only enough to place the sky somewhere in the Unknown Regions. The dim blue glow of a distant gas giant burned in the black of the sky, its light peeking diffidently through the swirl. Thick rings composed of large and small particles of ice and rock belted the gas giant.
He was on one of the gas giant's moons.
His eyes adjusted more fully to the dimness and he saw that he stood on a desolate, wind-wracked plain of ice that extended as far as he could see. Snowdrifts as tall as buildings gave the terrain the appearance of a storm-wracked ocean frozen in time. Cracks veined the ice, the circulatory system of a stalled world. Chasms dotted the surface here and there like hungry mouths. Glaciers groaned in the distance, the rumbles of an angry world. He saw no sign of Lumiya or Lassin or any of the others he had sensed. He saw no sign of life anywhere.
His breath formed clouds before his face. His left fist clenched and unclenched reflexively over the void in his palm where his lightsaber should have been.
Without warning, the sky exploded above him with a thunderous boom. A cloud of fire tore through the atmosphere, smearing the sky in smoke and flame. The shriek of stressed metal rolled over Jaden. Ice cracked and groaned on the surface.
Jaden squinted up at the sky, still lit with the afterglow of the destruction, and watched a rain of glowing particulates fall, shower the moon in a hypnotic pattern of falling sparks.
His Force Sense perceived them for what they were - the Dark Side reified. He disengaged his perception too slowly and the impact of so much evil hit him like a punch in the face. He vomited down the front of his robes, fell to the frozen ground, and balled up on the surface of the moon as the full weight of the Dark Side coated him in its essence.
There was nowhere to hide, no shelter, it fell all around him, on him, saturated him...
He woke, sweating and lightheaded, to the sound of speeder and swoop traffic outside his Coruscant apartment. The thump of his heartbeat rattled the bars of his ribcage. In his mind's eye, he still saw the shower of falling sparks, the rain of evil. He cleared his throat, and the sensors in the room, detecting his wakefulness, turned on dim room lights.
"R-6?" he said.
No response. He sat up, alarmed.
The sound of shouts and screams outside his window caused him to leap from his bed. With a minor exercise of will, he pulled his primary lightsaber to his hand from the side table near his bed and activated it. The green blade pierced the dimness of his room.
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