Interlude – Dementia
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Interlude – Dementia
The vacuum of space absorbed the cadence of the battle raging around the Star Forge, silencing even the loudest explosions. Through the windows, engaged crafts and exchange of laser fire could be seen, yet the quiet gave the deck a false sense of solitude: separating it from the war, shrouding it in a pregnant silence that waited to be shattered. Tanks, glowing in bioluminescent blue-white, ringed the deck. At its center Malak stood, his arms crossed in a gesture of disdain for his nemesis. A challenge: presenting his back to her, daring her to make a treacherous kill.
Launia did not rise to the bait, but approached him at an almost stately pace. One foot in front of another, with deliberate languidness, her boots tapping against golden glowtiles.
“Malak,” she said simply, no threat, no bravado. Merely his name, all the battle cry she would need. And all the condemnation, all the curse. Bastila’s despair and her plea for death were still too vivid.
And he turned to her, his half-cape whirling in a whispering purr. “So you have come,” he spoke, his inhuman resonance grating like a rusty hinge and setting her teeth on edge. “As much as I admire your resilience, know this, Revan: your attempt is futile.”
“I’m not Revan, and you can babble about my futility when you’ve won, when I’m dead and cold.”
Twin snap-hisses of simultaneous ignitions rent the air. “That you will be, before long,” Malak vowed.
Launia started with a vicious string of attacks. The Force directed her movements, and her form blurred, never there when Malak’s lightsaber cleaved. He seemed taken aback by the fervor of her onslaught, and backed away. Launia had every intention of ending this swiftly and dogged his steps. A series of quick feints successfully misled Malak, and she found an opening. The tip of her blade dragged down from his shoulder to his hip. Armor and synthetic fiber hissed and smoked.
“Not so easy, Revan,” Malak growled, clutching at his wound and reached out for one of the glowing restraint-containers. She had not paid attention to it before, but now she could see what was inside – a human’s body, held suspended with magnetic shackles. Malak extended his arm toward it, and jagged shards of scarlet light raced out of the body and into him. “Behold the true power of the Star Forge – a power that you were always blind to. Power enough to trap these Jedi’s lives to fuel mine.”
The skin beneath his armor knitted together and closed as Launia watched in mesmerized horror. He was recuperating unnaturally, at a rate far faster than any Jedi’s healing could accomplish. The Jedi’s corpse – it had to be a corpse – collapsed in upon itself, shriveling into a dry, boneless husk that curled into a fetal position. Then the fight was truly on.
A mottled amber sheen flickered into being as Malak’s red lightsaber came within singeing distance of her robe. The Verpine shield absorbed the blow, charged particles intercepting the blade’s energy field and rendering it ineffective. Launia used the moment to twist to one side, delivering an assault that glanced off her opponent’s jaw-covering apparatus.
The metal sizzled, the sound all too hushed, as if to emphasize how impotent her strike had been. “You resort to an energy shield,” Malak taunted. “Don’t you trust in your precious light, Revan? Isn’t it supposed to protect and strengthen you, come what may? Isn’t that what the decrepit fools brainwash you with?”
“I’m not here to represent any light,” she retorted, timbre dripping venom. “I’m here for myself. I’ve come to make sure that you stay down once and for all. No space for you to run to this time, remember? Not anymore.”
“A contest for the Dark Lord mantle, then.” Lightning coalesced around his fist, and he shoved it at her. Launia raised her saber to meet the brunt of it, dodging and weaving her way between the tanks as she went. She threw her weapon in Malak’s direction as she retreated, as if in desperation. He sidestepped it with scornful lack of effort. “Where are you aiming, Revan?”
She didn’t deign to answer. Turquoise beam burning with residual currents, the saber spun end over end toward two containers behind Malak. Fireworks erupted at the contact, releasing the not-quite-alive bodies. Launia could feel their tearing, eagerly, away from their mortal coils and embracing the source that had given them life. “Not for the mantle, Malak,” she snarled as she snatched her lightsaber out of the air. “Never that.”
They reengaged, macabre partners in a dance where an erroneous tread would be fatal, and the reward for staying ahead of the tune their very lives. Launia slashed downward and was countered; a backhanded blow from his fist sent her reeling. She didn’t resist, allowing it to carry her to lessen its shock. Even so, when she scrambled to her feet, she was spitting out blood and a tooth.
Malak came after her, and she could feel his certainty, his focus honed into a lance’s fine point. She began to regret expending so much energy in her initial attack, and was shortly reaping the fruit of her folly. She had demolished two, but there were many, many more Jedi bodies remaining. She should have felt outrage at their fate, but her concentration to survive overshadowed all else. Her arms shook uncontrollably, and every collision of the lightsabers sent a new spike of agony shrieking through her muscles. Malak was unleashing his full might upon her, fast driving her backward. Too late, she found herself at the perimeter of the upper platform. One step too many, and she slipped over it.
An invisible hand gripped her, its fingers circling around her throat. “It has become personal between the two of us, Revan, I see it now. You hate me for telling you the truth, don’t you?” He clenched his fist, and the Force-hold tightened.
Launia gasped, clawing at her throat and trying to gather the Force to counteract. Her feeble efforts only drew a gloating chuckle from him. Her head began to feel light and her vision began to dim, her will running out with her breath. The hold suddenly released her and tossed her aside casually. She slammed into one of the beams supporting the deck’s roof and slid down, limp as a ragdoll. The blossoming pain in the small of her back told her that a rib or more had cracked. She lay there, trying to inhale air, trying to overcome the pain and do something. Her limbs wouldn’t obey her; she couldn’t even feel anything below her right hip. Her pelvic bone must have fractured.
Malak advanced toward her even as she dragged herself away from him, pathetically slow on her arms and her good leg. She struggled to keep from whimpering as she crawled; death was inevitable now, but at the very least, she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of her completely pitiful defeat. Malak had reached her now, and seized her by her hair, painfully dragging her eyes to meet his. “I want you to know, Revan,” he grated, “how I have longed to do this. You under my thumb at last, no longer, or ever again, at the helm.” He raised his saber, close enough to almost caress her flesh. She flinched from it, struggling to free herself.
The glow of life registered in her awareness – the Jedi in the restraint tube. Launia didn’t waste time debating the decision. She instinctively drew it in hungrily, consuming the power. It coursed through her veins, mending her bones and closing her injuries in a heady rush that momentarily made her forget everything else. It renewed her, and she verged on feeling drunk – drunk on an overflow of life-force.
Her weapon arced across the deck as Launia tore herself from Malak’s hand, rejuvenated and strengthened. An expression of perplexed alarm spread over what remained of his visage; he had not anticipated that, if he could drain the dead Jedi, then so could she.
The dark side had betrayed him.
The knowledge of this was written on his countenance as Launia’s fingers closed around her lightsaber. Abject astonishment had slowed him, and he was in no position to raise a solid defense. The turquoise shaft of energy seared through his flesh and found his heart. His head jerked up as his form spasmed and went slack. If he had any last word to breathe, she didn’t give him the opportunity to utter it. She pushed her blade upward. The smell of scorched flesh tore into her nose; Malak’s hoarse scream ripped into her ears. His dark eyes were wide and his face was contorted as what passed for his soul abandoned his ruined body.
There was no sense of triumph.
She couldn’t understand why. Darth Malak was dead; she had dethroned the head of the Sith armada. Here was this man, lying at her feet, gone forever. He deserved no better; he deserved only hatred at worst and cool pity at best. Yet something in her responded, something deep and alien. Despair of an immeasurable loss came, and with it tears that surged up unbidden.
Revan – for that was who she was – let herself weep, and for the first time came the bleak understanding: how big a lie Launia Andem had been, and how fragile her self was.