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Drake

Force Flight Alpha

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Drake

This is a fic about an idea I had concerning a group of Jedi who specialize in the power of Force flight. I'm going to work on it like an RPG sorta thing so I'll post snippets whenever I feel the urge.

CHARACTERS

Kiro Zaa

Alla Odai

Jod Lier

Rayza Togor

Calia Wynn

Master Falcon (flight instructor)

Master Sparrow (headmaster of FFA training)

Master Owl-Eye (lightsaber instructor)

Joden Thrast (Grand Master of the Kyrest Jedi Order)

Bull (Rokor)

Grinder (Rokor)

Salik Jand (Palpatine's Hand)

LOCATIONS

Kyrest (planet)

Drop Zone (cliff training grounds)

Pashendor River

Indamark Highlands

Kyria City/Grand Temple

Edited by Drake

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Fall or Flight

~ 19 BBY ~

Eyes opened to the contrast of shadow and light. Ears tuned to the sound of wind and voice. Senses focused on the here and now.

Kiro Zaa remembered where he was. This place was called the Drop Zone by his peers and those who had undergone this process before him. It was an alcove, carved by the elements, in a vertical cliff face. Though he was easily well over one thousand metres from the ground, Kiro felt no fear or anxiety. Such heights were not uncommon on his world. Kyrest was a rocky planet with tall mountains, cliffs, and wind-swept steppes spotted by two small oceans and winding rivers.

At this moment, Kiro was meditating. He, like the four others seated near him, were Jedi initiates, around the age of fourteen. Since Kyrest sat tucked safely away in the Unknown Regions, they remained outside the influence of the greater Jedi Order. Instead of being sent to the Temple on Coruscant for training, Force-sensitive children were given to the Masters on Kyrest.

Kiro, and his comrades, were not quite Jedi Knights yet. They had passed all of their training save this. This was their final challenge and the initiates were eager to topple it. What they were to learn today was what made the Kyrian Jedi truly unique.

A tall, lanky man appeared from a small cave opening at the back of the alcove. The man, like most of the 'near-humans' on Kyrest, had slicked-back blue hair and a hawkish face that was all lines and angles. He wore the traditional Kyrian Jedi garb which consisted of an aged leather cuirass; branded with the symbol of that Master's House, black hide pants, and a short cape. This particular Master was called 'Master Falcon.' Kiro did not know if that was his true name but some of the Masters went by names that reflected their personality or profession.

Falcon strode in front of the five initiates until all had opened their eyes and focused on him.

"Welcome, Jedi. You all know who I am, I know who you are, and you all know each other so we shall pass the formalities and go straight to the good stuff. You five have been chosen by your previous Masters to join the House of Aeras and, as members, further unlock the mysteries of the Force." Master Falcon grinned. "Welcome to basic training for Force Flight."

Force Flight. The very name struck a chord of pride in Kiro's chest.

Masters of the House of Aeras were members of this elite group. They protected the people of Kyrest from the skies above. Kiro's grandfather was a member of Force Flight Alpha, the best of the best. The Jedi of Alpha knew no fear and were some of the most powerful Force users on all of Kyrest.

Master Falcon continued speaking, "Fall or flight. That is a mantra you will soon take to heart." He walked over to the edge of the alcove and looked out at the vast canyon below. "Rise and join me."

Kiro and his companions did as instructed. Kiro stood, taking a brief moment to stretch his cramped legs. He went over next to Master Falcon and looked out. Across from them was a similar cliff face to the one they stood in. Both rock walls stretched away to either side as far as the eye could see. Looking down, Kiro could spot the Pashendor River far below. It was one of Kyrest's largest rivers that spanned three quarters of the planet.

"Take this moment to meditate further," said Falcon. "Breathe in the wind. Make yourself a part of it. That is your first lesson."

Kiro looked next to him to one of his companions. Alla Odai was a small girl with short, vibrant blue hair that was spiked back. Kiro had grown up with Alla through their initiate Jedi training and they remained good friends. She had closed her eyes in meditation. Kiro did the same.

Breathe in the wind. Make myself a part of it. Fall or flight.

He took a deep, calming breath. The wind was cool against his skin and felt refreshing and pure as he drew it into his lungs. Sinking further into the Force, he felt the air flow into him. He could sense the oxygen as his blood stream absorbed it and carried the life-giving essence to the rest of his body. Kiro felt at one with the air. He felt as though he could blow away in the next strong gust that passed through the alcove.

"Focus. Meditate. Breathe. Fly. Remember this," Falcon said. Kiro felt a sudden wave of amusement from his Master. He opened his eyes just as Falcon smiled and lifted his hands. An invisible Force hand swept Kiro and the other four initiates off the edge of the alcove and sent them plummeting through the air towards the Pashendor below.

It was the meditation that saved Kiro from panicking. He felt a spike of fear at the prospect of falling to his death but his mindset had given him confidence and a clear head in the face of the sudden toss off the cliff face.

After a moment, Kiro realized that he was tumbling end-over-end in the air. He quickly righted himself by adjusting the positions of his arms and legs and using a touch of the Force. He felt a surge of the Force and, when he glanced to his right, saw Alla in the same position he was in except that she was beginning to slow down her descent. He felt more surges through the Force as the others followed Alla's lead. Kiro focused and sank into the Force once again. He breathed in through his nose, feeling the air flood his body in a live-giving stream that spread from his core all the way out to his fingers and toes. Immediately, he felt himself slow as the Force lightened his weight.

Unfortunately, the ground was coming up far too fast. Kiro knew they would have to do something to slow themselves to a stop soon or they would end up at the bottom of the mighty Pashendor. On the other side of Kiro, Jod Lier, a tall and wiry boy, let out a pang of anxiety and fear through the Force. There wasn't enough time to worry about them. Kiro had to worry about saving himself first.

He had used the Force to lift, move and throw large objects with the Force before. Why should I be any different? Kiro thought. He closed his eyes and concentrated, wrapping himself in the Force. He saw himself as one of the many boulders he had levitated in his training. Kiro saw himself lift the boulder, drawing it up into the air with the Force.

He immediately began to slow further and soon came to a stop. When he opened his eyes, he found himself and the four other Jedi suspended a few metres from the rushing river. It was then that Kiro realized that he had not stopped himself at all. He looked around from where he was floating and found a larger man on the far bank. From what Kiro could see, the man was clearly laughing and having a good time doing so. The boy frowned as the Jedi Master pulled them to him with the Force. As the five initiates drew closer, they saw that the man was much taller than any ordinary Kyrian and also much larger. He was a burly man with a wild head of blue-black hair and a full, bristly beard. Like Master Falcon, this man was also of the House of Aeras.

When the five Jedi were unceremoniously dumped to the ground, the larger Jedi chuckled and said in a gruff voice, "Like baby birds being thrown from the nest! Except you lot still need to grow your wings! Heh heh heh!"

Kiro stood and brushed the dirt from his jerkin. "Master?"

"Call me Sparrow, lad!" He said with a laugh and a clap to Kiro's back. "None of that 'Master' business for me." He looked over the five initiates, studying them. "Hmmm...you lot will take some work but I can certainly handle it!"

"Mas...umm...Sparrow?" said Alla. "May I ask how we are supposed to get back up?"

Sparrow laughed hard. Kiro looked to Alla who just shrugged in response. Once the large Jedi had finished, he pretended to wipe a tear from his eye and said, "My dear! That's what I'm here to teach you!"

"So that whole three hours of meditation and the speech about focus and breathing was just a show so that we could get knocked down the cliff?" That was Rayza Togor, a well-built boy that, despite being the same age as the others, looked three years their elder. He had dark skin, marking him as from the Indamark Highlands in the far north. Right now, he fixed Master Sparrow with a harsh gaze.

The burly Jedi just laughed again and said, "Of course, my boy! You certainly could have started your training down here on kyra firma but then you wouldn't have been able to get a feel for what it is we Aeras do! Besides...Falcon always gets a kick out of throwing the new birds down to me. I'm pretty sure he's some kind of sadist!" He grinned and laughed again.

It was hard to resist Sparrow's infectious smile and Kiro felt his mouth curve up to match.

Master Sparrow began to move toward a cluster of boulders near the cliff wall. There was some training equipment set up there. The big man beckoned them to follow. "Come, my ugly little ducklings! I'll make swans out of you yet!"

***

Over the course of their training, Kiro and the other Aeras initiates slept in tents next to the Pashendor. They would wake up at dawn, eat, then meditate for three hours to focus their minds for the coming day. After meditation, Master Sparrow instructed them on levitating rocks and moving river water with the Force. Sparrow told them that these were just warm-up exercises and dealing with these elements were for the other Houses. After this, the initiates struggled with moving air with the Force. Air was the second-most difficult to control after fire, Sparrow had said, it was always on the move. As Aeras Jedi, they would have to learn to bend the air to help take them where they needed to go. So far, all Kiro had managed to do was bend the grass a little.

They worked with the air until midday then took a break for lunch. After they ate, Sparrow took them on a hike in the surrounding area. Upon returning, the group would be given a couple hours to their own. They were allowed to explore, study, practice, workout, or whatever they chose. During the first few days, a couple of the initiates took naps. After free time, Master Sparrow would teach them the art of levitation. It was taxing, at first, but Sparrow encouraged and helped them and pretty soon they were able to move through the air, albeit slowly and with effort. After this, the Jedi would eat dinner and retire to their tents for the night.

Once a week, Sparrow would have the initiates pack up their camp and hike for an hour down the river where they would set up camp and continue with training.

***

After one month of this, Kiro and the others had developed their skills to the point that levitation and aerial movement was no longer as taxing on their energy. They could move the air around them in gusts that could knock over one of the tents. In fact, Jod Lier had done so with Sparrow's tent. The Master just laughed and informed Jod that he would carry both tents in their next move.

It just so happened, that their next move wasn't quite as long as those prior. Instead of marching for an hour, Sparrow wanted them to simply relocate to the other side of the river. With a laugh, the burly Jedi rose into the air and flew to the far side where he waited for them to succeed or fail.

The five Jedi came together to discuss the situation.

"This move will be far more taxing than even the hour long hikes we had to do before," said Alla. She took a moment to look at their gear and then over the span they needed to cross. "We're going to need to levitate ourselves and the gear at the same time."

Rayza shrugged and said, "That's no problem. How hard can it be?"

Calia Wynn added, "I don't believe our chances are as good as you think, Ray." Calia was a tough girl who was particularly adept and hand-to-hand combat. She had close-cropped violet hair. Normally, she thought along the same lines as Rayza but this comment showed that she had her doubts as well.

"The other side is far and the river is deep," said Jod. "And I have to carry two tents!"

They all laughed but Kiro thought it over. Right now, they were all unsure of their ability to move themselves and all of their gear. Even Rayza, who spoke of confidence, gave himself away through the Force. They would have to work together if they wanted to get across.

It was then that Kiro noticed the others looking to him. Over the past couple weeks, he had begun noticing how his comrades looked to him for advice and help. He supposed it was because of his grandfather and the fact that he was in the Alphas. Kiro had never thought himself a leader but it seemed that it was not his choice to make.

At last, he spoke. "We are all skilled and I don't doubt that we can each do this alone. However, if we each carried our own burden, there is a chance that one of us could fail." He paused then said, "When I was just a youngling, my grandfather told me that the most important power any member of Alpha could have was their team. We need to help each other in this. Share our strengths to overcome our weaknesses."

Kiro saw the confidence he exuded reflected in their eyes. He knew then that he would be their leader.

He continued, "I propose we make a bridge. We levitate ourselves into equal distances across the river. The closest on this end will pick up a load and float it over the bridge, where the next person will help the one before, and so on until all of the gear is across."

The others nodded in agreement.

"Jod, you stay on this side and start the chain," Kiro said. "Next will be Alla. Calia, you will be at the far shore with Rayza next to you. I will be the center of the bridge."

It was easy to fly into position. They had been training to do so for the past month. Kiro took his place at the top of the arc in their bridge and focused himself for the coming challenge. He immersed himself in the Force and felt excitement from his peers. On the far bank, he could sense amusement from Master Sparrow.

When the first load of gear came floating across, he was ready for it. Once the bundle passed over Alla's head, he grabbed it with the Force, gently moving it in tandem with Alla and Jod's Force grasps. Once it was over his head, he felt Rayza take hold. His was a little more forceful and nearly caused them to drop a piece of equipment but Kiro let the Force swell into his grasp and he stabilized the load. Once it was out of his hands, he gave himself a moment to focus again then took hold of the next load.

It was another several minutes before they got all of the equipment and gear across the river. Once Jod made it over with the rest of them, Master Sparrow came over with a big grin on his face.

"Well done, my birds! Well done! I couldn't have thought of a better plan myself!" Sparrow clapped a hand on Kiro's shoulder. "Excellent work, my boy. Way to use your head."

Kiro shrugged and said, "I couldn't have done it without my grandfather's advise."

Sparrow nodded. "Aye, lad. He was the best flier I've ever met. There could be no better person to take advise from, if you ask me! Now...let's get this camp set up and go to sleep! We have another big day before us tomorrow!"

They set up their camp, ate a quick meal and turned in to bed. Kiro lay awake for a few minutes, thinking of what had happened and how he had stepped up as the leader of the other initiates. He was wondering about the events of the next day when his eyes sank to a close and he drifted into sleep.

***

Dawn came and Kiro woke, ready to face the new day. He still felt a little weary from the previous day's move across the river but his strength would recover during his meditations. He changed and exited his tent. Outside, he found Jod and Calia sitting next to the fire. They greeted one another and Kiro sat next to them. After a few minutes Alla and Rayza came out of their own tents and joined the group.

Master Sparrow was absent. This was not uncommon as he often left to speak with Falcon or the other Aeras Masters at the alcove. Sometimes he did not return until part way into meditation.

The group cooked breakfast, took a quick bath in the river, then began their meditations. After three hours of this, Sparrow had not yet returned.

"He has never been gone this long," said Alla, with a hint of worry in her voice. "He always returns during meditation."

Rayza just shrugged. "So what? He probably just has other things to take care of first."

"He is a Master after all," agreed Calia. "It's his choice to come and go."

Kiro looked at Jod, who remained silent and unreadable. The wiry boy was usually like that, though. He only spoke when he had something important to say.

It was then that Kiro closed his eyes and called upon the Force. He reached out and located Sparrow's presence. He was not at the alcove but he was above them and nearby. Their Master was probably at the top of the cliff. Kiro had trouble reading the elder Jedi but he managed to glean a vague sense of danger.

Opening his eyes, he looked at the rest of his companions. They were all staring back at him. He gave a small smile and said, "Master Sparrow is nearby. He is doing something that requires all of his attention. I can't say for sure but I think he may be fighting something."

"We should go and help him!" said Rayza.

"With what?" Alla argued. "We only have basic lightsaber training...not to mention the fact that we don't even have lightsabers to fight with!"

Kiro nodded in agreement. "She's right." He already knew what Rayza what going to say even before the boy started to object. "Besides, we won't be able to fly all the way up to the top of the cliff without expending dangerous amounts of energy. Even if we could all make it up there, we won't have the strength to face whatever Master Sparrow is fighting."

The others nodded. Rayza looked upset but nodded in agreement as well.

"I want to help him too, Ray...we all do," said Kiro, "But the best way to do so is to continue honing our skills down here."

"You're right," admitted Rayza. He grinned, "Besides, it's not like the big guy can't handle himself, right? He is a Master after all."

They carried on with their normal daily routine, practicing levitation and moving air. It wasn't until midday that Master Sparrow returned. He was covered with dirt and blood. Some was his own but most was greenish-black and stank like a rancor's breath.

Alla was the first to rush over to him. "Master! Are you alright?"

"We felt you fighting at the top of the cliff," said Kiro. "What happened?"

Sparrow held up a hand to silence their questions before speaking. "There is no time for answers now. We must leave right away. Take nothing with you. We make for the Drop Zone. No questions! Now fly!"

He practically pulled them all into the air before they even had a chance to think about it. Sparrow led the group and lent them his own strength through the Force to aid their flight. Kiro could sense that Sparrow was weakened from whatever it was he fought atop the cliffs.

They were almost at the alcove base when Kiro heard the shrieking. He risked a quick glance over his shoulder and spotted the dozen bat-winged horrors swooping down the opposite cliff-face.

Furies!

The general populace of Kyrest knew little about Furies, only that they were mythical creatures of evil. Parents would often tell children that the Furies would come and snatch them from their beds if they didn't do their chores or eat their vegetables.

The Jedi knew better. In truth, Furies were once the dominant species on Kyrest. They enslaved the native Kyrians, using them as cattle and food. It wasn't until the Jedi Order discovered the planet and fought the Furies that the dark beings were sent into hiding. Under the protection of the Jedi, the Kyrians eventually developed into a prosperous civilization. Some of the Jedi even remained on Kyrest, starting the new academy. The remaining Fury population gradually decreased without their main food source.

It wasn't common to see one these days, let alone twelve. They must have gotten bold to challenge the Jedi again.

The group made it to the alcove just as Master Falcon and four other Masters flew out, wielding a lightsaber in each hand. They landed and Kiro caught the start of the aerial battle, the Aeras Jedi striking out with their blades of light versus the Furies that lashed out with whips and spears and claws and teeth. Master Sparrow palmed a console button and the alcove blast shields dropped into place, shutting the battle from view.

Sparrow let out a heavy sigh, revealing just how much his fight and flight had drained him. The initiates remained silent and looked to one another for reassurance amid the muffled shrieks and screams heard on the other side of the blast doors.

After a long moment, Sparrow spoke. "Sorry you kids had to witness that. In truth, the Furies have become an increasing threat over the past few years. Their population has tripled or more. The Houses don't know how but it seems they have found a new food source. We will need to step up your training right away. It is time you all built your lightsabers."

Sparrow let the comment hang. The five young Jedi all looked to Sparrow and then to one another in surprise. Normally, initiates did not receive lightsaber construction training until their fourth month. That they were to get it now, in their second month, showed how big of the threat the Furies had become.

"Report to Master Owl-Eye in the Convocation Room for training." Sparrow began to turn away.

"Master?" said Kiro. "Are you alright?"

Sparrow turned and gave him a reassuring smile. "Yes, my boy. A shower and a little nap and I'll be as right as rain."

With that, he disappeared down a connecting corridor towards the Masters' rooms.

The young Jedi made their way down another corridor toward the Convocation Room. The sounds of the battle outside diminished to silence as they traveled further into the rock of the cliff. They walked on, each in quiet contemplation on the events that had just took place.

As they passed a closed door, Kiro could hear heated voices on the other side.

"...ulation has tripled!" said one of the voices. "The other Houses are mobilizing their forces. We should do the same!"

"I sense something terrible from Fury territory. A dark presence." This voice came from a female.

"A Virago?" came a third voice.

"You can't be serious!" exclaimed the first. "All of the Virago were wiped out in..."

The voices fell silent as Kiro passed. He looked back and saw Rayza standing next to the door. Kiro gave a little tug with the Force, pulling the other Jedi forward.

"Hey, what gives?" asked Rayza.

Kiro stopped and turned to face him. "It's not our place to listen to the conversations of Masters. They will tell us what we need to know when we need to know it."

"What do you think a Virago is?" Alla asked.

The others shrugged. Kiro said, "I have no idea but I think whatever it is may be the reason why the Furies have grown so bold."

The group carried on in silence. Kiro tried to divert his thoughts from the business with the Furies. He looked at the construction of the hallway around him. He had read that, long ago, the Jedi from the House of Rokor used the Force to shift the living rock to create the passages and chambers within the facility.

He was still marveling at the subtle craftsmanship of the Rokor stone-shifters when they reached the Convocation Room. Inside, they found a circular room that could seat up to forty Jedi. There was a dais in the middle of the room with benches and stone work tables surrounding it in concentric circles. Each circle of seating was on a tier raised above the one below it, allowing all seated an unobstructed view of the speaker on the dais. There were three tiers in all.

The initiates made their way down stone steps towards the dais where an older man stood hunched over the raised stone surface. The dais was covered with various pieces of equipment and metal. The old man was tinkering with them and did not seem to notice the five young Jedi stop behind him.

After a few moment, Kiro cleared his throat, "Master Owl-Eye?"

The old man twitched and turned to face them. He had an untamed mop of white hair and an elongated face that resembled a sort of canine snout. His skin was a pale blue and he had long, slender fingers with three joints each. He looked past them with large, milky eyes.

Kiro tried not to look too surprised. Master Owl-Eye was one of the remaining few native Kyrians. It was said that, over time, the Jedi and human colonists of old took Kyrian mates and eventually the two races blended into one. Kyrians of today resembled humans in body shape and facial structure while taking on the Kyrian features in their blue hair and longevity. While normal Kyrians aged slower than humans, living to be around two hundred years old, Kiro had read that the natives lived to be five hundred years or more. From the look of Master Owl-Eye, it seemed that he was close to that age. It also appeared that he was blind.

"Welcome! Welcome, friends!" Owl-Eye said in a wispy voice. "You must be the group that Sparrow sent." He chuckled. The laughter sounded like a bird's song. "So you wish to learn how to make a lightsaber, eh? Hmm...yes. Take a seat over there." He waved toward the work tables they stood in front of.

Once the group sat themselves, Owl-Eye began to speak again. "The lightsaber is the weapon of the Jedi. A symbol of the Order and a shining beacon of hope and light in the darkness. Think of it not as a tool but an extension of yourself. The construction of a lightsaber reflects the mood and personal style of the Jedi creating it. There is no wrong way to build a lightsaber. Well...I suppose if it doesn't work then something must be wrong!" He laughed again. "Once I'm done with you, nothing will go wrong!"

They were each given construction materials to chose from in order to build a lightsaber. Owl-Eye told them that these were merely the base materials and that they could customize and upgrade the weapon later, if they wanted. The old Kyrian would often speak to them while tinkering with the equipment on the table.

A part of Kiro remained skeptical over the ancient Jedi's abilities. How would a blind man be able to teach them about the fine details of lightsaber construction?

Seeming to read his mind, Owl-Eye turned and looked straight at Kiro. His pale eyes staring right through him. "After this, I will also be teaching you some lightsaber combat forms. Exciting, no?" With a smile, he turned back to his tinkering and continued with the lesson.

Kiro shook his head and looked at the others next to him. Alla and Jod were listening intently on the Master's lessons. Calia seemed slightly bored and distracted. Rayza, on the other hand, looked just as confused as Kiro was feeling. Was this old blind man really going to teach them how to fight with their lightsabers?

Meanwhile, Owl-Eye waved a hand next to his ear, shooing away a small pebble bee. When it returned a moment later, he grew annoyed and shooed it away with a little more force. When the bee came back a third time, he swatted it back then called his lightsaber to his hand. In a flash, the blue blade appeared. The ancient Jedi twirled the weapon around in a graceful sweep that ended when the blade met the bug in a spark and fiery end.

Kiro smiled. Inside, he chided himself for doubting the elder Master. Even though Owl-Eye was physically blind, he could see better than ever through the Force. He looked up and saw that the old Kyrian was smiling back at him and nodded knowingly.

"Now, if there aren't going to be any more nuisances," Owl-Eye said, "let's get building!"

Edited by Drake

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***

It took two months to build their lightsabers. Under the guidance and instruction of Master Owl-Eye, the initiates assembled the pieces, both by hand and with the Force. They chose from a selection of crystals, meditating over each to determine which properly reflected their own moods and abilities. Rayza chose orage crystals for his blades. Calia picked violet, a match to her hair colour. Alla chose turquoise crystals. Jod took emerald. Kiro picked silver-blue. The five Jedi spent the weeks putting their tools together, making sure that each part fit perfectly.

And since the Aeras Jedi were trained primarily in dual-weilding, the initiates got to build two.

During the two months, they trained for a few hours a day with Sparrow next to the river, below the alcove. They heard nothing else about the Furies nor about the attack that originally brought them to the safety of the Drop Zone. However, the Masters took no chances.

The three months after that were spent training in lightsaber combat. They first learned the ground-based forms then specially developed aerial forms. By the end of their training, they were soaring through the canyon, chasing and sparring one another. Flying came naturally to the five young Jedi now. They could move themselves and the air around them with barely a thought and with no effort.

***

It was on the very day, half a year after they had started their training as Aeras Jedi, that Masters Falcon, Sparrow, and Owl-Eye called the five Jedi together. They met in the outer room where the young initiates were first flung to the river below those long months ago.

"Welcome initiates," said Falcon. "You have come a long way in your training and, as your Masters, we are proud at what you have achieved. However, your time for learning with us has come to an end."

The five teens looked to one another with nervous anticipation.

Sparrow grinned as Master Falcon continued. "You will learn with one another. You are a team."

"Though you are strong alone," added Owl-Eye, "You will always be stronger as a group."

"Now we will fly west of here," said Falcon. "The journey will take us a few hours so prepare yourselves. Take only what will fit in a pack on your back as well as your lightsabers."

"You're gonna need these too, sooner or later," said Sparrow with a chuckle. He passed them all pairs of special goggles. "Keeps the bugs out of the eyes. Unfortunately, you're going to have to learn to like the taste!" He laughed. "Now run along, we don't have all day!"

Kiro and the others quickly returned to their quarters to gather some of their belongings. Though their destination had not been revealed, Kiro knew that they would be traveling to the Grand Temple in Kyrest's capital, Kyria City. His grandfather used to speak of it, his words and eyes filled with awe, wonder, and pride. The Grand Temple wes the gathering place for all of the Jedi on Kyrest. It was where the Houses met to share information, spar, or just to get to know one another. It was also the location of the Jedi Libraries, containing all of the records and histories of Kyrest since the coming of the first Jedi and the war against the Furies.

Once Kiro had his pack ready, he strapped it across his back and went out to join the others. When everyone had returned, Master Owl-Eye bid them farewell, saying that long flights were no longer his speciality. Falcon and Sparrow led the five initiates out of the alcove, up the cliffs and out over the flats above. It was a sparse plain that stretched to the horizon, with long grasses and small copses of tress scattered at random.

The Masters set a good flight speed that let the younger Jedi control their energy usage. They stopped once next to a lonely lake for lunch then continued on. The sun was still high in the sky when they could spot the Grand Temple in the distance. Kyria City was a bustling metropolis built in and around a wide bowl-shaped valley. Floating above the city proper was the Grand Temple. It was a massive contrust, built out of metal and rock and held aloft by an array of repulsors. It looked like an island was plucked out of a fantasy and left hovering over the city.

Kiro could feel the excitement build in his companions and he felt the same. This was truely a place of wonder and the pinnacle of the Jedi's achievements on Kyrest.

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They flew into the city, passing over the sky lanes of crisscrossing speeder traffic. The city itself was a marvel. It's people having come a long way since being slaves to the Furies those thousands of years ago. They began to ascend toward the edge of the Grand Temple. Ahead of them was the city proper where the Kyrian Council of Nine met as the planet's governing body.

They passed over the edge of the floating island and found themselves looking out over a small sea of green. Lush vegetation and meandering streams covered the lower level surrounding the Temple. There were Jedi roaming through the gardens, tending to the wildlife. The group flew overhead, taking in the swell of life through the Force.

The upper level contained the shimmering spires and glass domes of the Temple itself. They passed over a wide stairway of white marble, leading up from the lower level, and passed over a marble walking road that led to the Temple. On either side of the road were statues carved from obsidian stone, depicting many of the greatest Kyrian Jedi of the past. One of them was of Kiro's grandfather.

They soon arrived at the main Temple gates. The group landed and entered the enormous building. The entry chamber appeared to be a scaled-down version of the lower level of the Temple, complete with a small forested garden and artificial waterfall. They passed through this area, entering through a vapour lock and into the more sterile central corridor beyond. It was a large hall that was fairly busy with other Jedi coming and going. Kiro spotted members of the different Houses. There were other Aeras like them, wearing their goggles atop their heads. He saw clusters of Rokor, they were bulkier and larger than the rest, a result of working with the living rock and earth of Kyrest. He spotted several of the House of Tidalis, their blue robes flowing around them like the water they so love. Kiro saw some members of the House of Ignan, with their hairless heads and red leather garb.

At the end of the hall, the Masters led the young Jedi up a flight of stairs and into an anteroom. At the far end was a large set of ancient wooden doors. In its surface were carved the insignias of the Houses.

Falcon stood before the doors. "Through this entrance is the Council Chamber where the wisest of the Houses meet to lead the Order. It is in here that you will all pass out of your days as initiates and into your futures as Jedi Knights.”

Bearing big smiles, the Masters pulled open the doors, ushering the five young Jedi Knights-to-be. Kiro and the others stepped through into the circular room. Seated in a circle were five Masters. Four were representatives of the Houses. The fifth, and the eldest of the Masters present, was Joden Thrast, the Grand Master of the Kyrian Jedi Order. Though he looked old and frail, Kiro could sense the immense power this man radiated through the Force.

Falcon and Sparrow led the five nervous Jedi into the middle of the circle of Masters. They bowed and the younger Jedi followed their lead.

Rising, Master Falcon said, “Grand Master Thrast, House Masters, thank you for seeing us today. The House of Aeras brings you five new Jedi initiates. They have passed their trials and are ready to become Knights of Force Flight Alpha.”

Joden Thrast nodded and looked at one initiate to the next until, at last, resting his gaze on Kiro. He felt as though the Grand Master were looking into his very soul. It made him feel uncomfortable but he knew that it was necessary to reveal himself to the head of their order.

The Grand Master smiled and looked back to the two Aeras Masters. He rose from seat and spread his arms in a welcoming gesture. “Today is a good day! The skies have opened to bring us five new Jedi. Each with their own skills and strengths to add to our Order. They compliment one another as the elements of life and the Force work as one.” He held out his hand to Jod Lier. “Step forward to receive your mark.”

Falcon and Sparrow stepped to either side and Jod nervously approached the Grand Master. The elder Jedi had procured a black metal brand that bore the insignia of the House of Aeras. Joden Thrast held up the metal and looked at it. Immediately, the end of the brand began to glow red hot as the Jedi Grand Master heated it with the Force.

“Jod Lier,” The Grand Master said. “Bear this mark so all may know a Jedi Knight has come.”

The elder Jedi pressed the red hot brand to the centre of Jod’s chest. The leather of his cuirass blackened and sizzled as the heated metal left its mark. After a few seconds, the Grand Master pulled the brand back, revealing the perfectly scorched insignia of the House of Aeras on Jod’s chest.

Joden performed the ritual on Calia next followed by Rayza, Alla and lastly Kiro. Before pressing the brand to Kiro’s chest, the Grand Master leaned forward and spoke into his ear, “I sense greatness in you, Kiro Zaa. You are destined for something important.” He smiled and stepped back, finishing the ritual marking.

When he was done, Joden put aside the brand and held out his arms once again. “By the power of the Force and in the presence of these Masters, I hereby declare you Jedi Knights. May you leave here and make your mark on the Universe.”

One by one the four other House Masters rose and bowed, giving the new Knights their blessing. When all was done, Falcon and Sparrow led the five from the Council Chamber and closed the doors. In silence, they returned to the main corridor and took a right, through a set of automatic glass doors and out onto a wide balcony overlooking the lush lower level and the city below them.

It was then that the alarms sounded and the Jedi could see the fast approaching black cloud on the horizon.

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As the dark mass rose to block out the sun, a sense of danger and despair washed through the Force, shadowing any hope or joy the Jedi had felt.

Alla clutched at her chest and stumbled back as if struck. Kiro grabbed her before she could fall. Alla had grown the most sensitive to the Force of all of them.

"Cold...it's too much..." she managed to gasp out.

Kiro opened himself to the Force and poured strength and reassurance into the smaller girl. Over the course of their training, the group had formed a natural connection through the Force. Master Falcon said that, over time, this 'battle-meld' would allow the group to practically think and act in unison. He could feel the others join the meld, adding their feelings. They were mixed but Alla was already better. She was standing again, looking towards the approaching cloud.

"I don't think that's a storm," said Jod.

"By the Force..." said Sparrow. "It's a Fury Swarm!"

Kiro could see Master Falcon grip the nearby railing, his knuckles turning white. All around them, Jedi were on the move. The Aeras were already taking to the skies, sheathed in the Force with their lightsabers ablaze. They were met by squadrons of Kyrian fighters that were scrambling to meet the Furies before they reached the city. Two of the large Rokor trudged past the bewildered group, most likely on their way to the lower level to see what they could do to help.

Falcon turned to them, his face a mask of grim determination. "Sparrow and I will do what we can out there." Before any of them could object, he added, "You five go down to the city. Protect the escape shuttles." He pointed to the metropolis below where ships and speeders of all sizes were making hasty escapes. "If we fail...save as many as you can."

Sparrow gave them a smile. It seemed forced, like he didn't have the heart for it. Kiro understood. There looked to be thousands of Furies versus only a couple hundred Jedi and several squadrons of defense fighters whose pilots had never seen real battle.

How had this happened? How could they have snuck up on the Jedi? Didn't the sensor nets pick them up? What could be behind this sudden Fury attack?

He had so many unanswered questions but there was no time. Already, Falcon and Sparrow were bowing in farewell. "May the Force be with you...always," said Falcon. Without a final look back, they flew into the air to join the other Jedi of their House in battle.

Kiro knew that this was the last he would see of them again.

He looked back to the group and found them looking back at him. He still hadn't gotten used to that. They were each Jedi Knights but they were also a team, a unit of Force Flight Alpha, and he was now their leader.

Pushing back his feelings of almost overwhelming despair, he tried to flood their meld with confidence. He said, "We have to do what the Masters said. Let's fly down to the city and help in the escape."

"Are you crazy?" said Rayza. "We have to go help them fight!"

"We have to go help with the evacuation," Kiro returned, calmly.

"If we don't help them, they'll be killed! Can't you see that, Kiro?" Rayza asked. He was visably upset at the situation.

Truthfully, Kiro felt the same. Everything inside of him screamed to fly out into the swarm of Furies, lightsabers swinging. However, he knew that the Masters often saw things in a bigger picture.

"They knew what they were doing, Rayza. Don't you think they knew that they would be killed? They told us to go so that we could live. We have to live to fight another day and we have to live to help the people of Kyrest survive." He fixed Rayza with a hard stare. "Don't question me on this again, Ray. You have a lot to learn." He looked down and sighed. "We all do. Maybe that's why Master Falcon and Sparrow wanted us to live."

The Fury Swarm had gotten a lot closer. Kiro could see the Kyrian fighters darting around the cloud, carving swaths of deadly blaster energy through the black horrors. It seemed that, for every Fury that they shot out of the sky, another ten seemed to fill the gap. Soon the fighters were overwhelmed, sent tumbling in torn scraps to the ground.

All that were left were the brave men and women of Aeras. Kiro could see tiny flashes as their lightsabers cut through the Furies. He saw gusts of wind sweep through the enemy mass, knocking the beasts into eachother. A trail of the dead creatures was left from the fallen. But the Swarm kept approaching, like an unstoppable juggernaut. It all seemed so unbelievable.

"Kiro, come on!" Alla's voice pulled him out of his trance. He looked at his childhood friend, her shoulder-length blue hair bouncing as she tugged on his arm. "Save the evacuees, remember?"

"Right." He shook his head, shifting his attention from the cloud of doom that was coming for them. "Let's fly!"

Kiro slipped his goggles over his eyes and wrapped himself in the Force, creating an invisible shield around his body. Lifting himself into the air, he called upon the wind, moving it and himself in unison to propel his body through the air. He shot into the skies, feeling through the meld that the others were behind him. They flew out over the lower level of the Temple island in a V-formation with Kiro as the point.

Below, Kiro saw Jedi from the other Houses rushing to the edge to meet the oncoming threat. He could see that a lot of them were Rokor and Ignan. He felt a cool presense on the upper level behind them and knew that the Jedi priests of Tidalis were in deep meditation, calming their fellow Jedi and using the Force to summon storms to their aid. Already, he could feel it in the air as condensation was pulled from the surrounding area. Dark clouds began to form and swirl high above the Grand Temple.

As they reached the edge of the lower level, they could see that the mighty Rokor were already using the Force to carve large boulders from the living rock and hurl them with alarming speed and power at the oncoming Swarm. The Ignan were working in small groups to summon huge balls of fire which they also threw into the midst of the Furies. The Tidalis storm had reached a size matching that of the Swarm. Lightning crackled throughout the thunderhead as it began to drift towards the Furies, building to meet them head-on.

The five young Jedi Knights bypassed the line of fire and dropped down below the edge of the lower level. Below them sprawled Kyria City. To Kiro, it appeared to be in a state of organized chaos. Anything with guns was flying in the direction of the Swarm while everything else that could fly was scrambling to go in the opposite direction. There were jams everywhere and the air traffic had slowed to a crawl in between the tall buildings. Kiro could hear the shouts and horns even from this high above the city.

Kiro used the meld to impress it on the others to find jams and work on clearing them, backing the command with a sense of urgency and confidence.

He could sense the others split up behind him, veering off to find people to help. Focusing ahead, he saw a large, gold-plated vessel, bearing the the markings of the Council of Nine. It was boxed in by a slow-moving transport and a pair of passenger shuttles. It was obvious that the pilot was trying to squeeze through without damaging the expensive-looking craft. Additionally, he was probably being yelled at from all sides by the Council members.

Kiro mustered his confidence and flew toward the jam. It would take all of his patience to deal with politicians.

Edited by Drake

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It was a fairly simple matter, stopping the Council vessel. All Kiro had to do was float over and knock on the viewport. The pilot jumped at the sudden appearance of the Jedi and almost lost momentary control of the ship.

Kiro had already slipped a comm unit into his ear and had adjusted the frequency to match the larger vessel.

"Vessel bearing the Council of Nine, my name is Kiro Zaa. Jedi Knight of the House of Aeras. Please stop immediately."

The pilot leaned in to switch on his transmitter. "This is Captain Jakus aboard Regal One. Request confirmed, Knight Zaa. Stopping now."

Kiro smiled and slowed his backwards drift along with the Regal. "Thank you Captain. Now we'll need..."

He was cut off when a group of men and women, clearly dressed as the Councillors and their aids, barged onto the bridge. They all looked mad and none of them seemed to see the Jedi floating right outside their ship.

"What is the meaning of this stop, Captain!?" shouted one.

"We need to escape as soon as possible!" said another. "Or didn't you notice the swarm of bloodthirsty beasts outside the window?"

The Captain was practically smiling. "No Councillors. But I did notice him," he said, pointing to Kiro.

All of the Councillors looked in the direction he was pointing. Once they saw Kiro, their jaws dropped.

The first who started yelling was the first to take a big gulp and offer a sheepish smile. "Master Jedi! We didn't see you...flying there. What can we do for the Order?"

Kiro gave them a false smile. He really didn't want to have to deal with politicians. Especially ones that only seemed interested in saving their own skins. Despite this he said, "I am only a Knight, Councillor...and you can do exactly what I tell you."

The Councillors looked to one another. The man spoke again, "I don't think you understand the importance of our survival, Jedi. We need to get out of the city as soon as possible!"

"I understand your situation fully, Councillor. That is why the Order sent me to protect you and your vessel."

"Re...really?"

"Yes," Kiro said with a nod. He was beginning to grow impatient with these people. "Now, if you follow my instructions, I can help you...and your voters...get out of this city safely."

That put it into perspective for the politicians. They all nodded with ernest.

"First, I want you all to go back to your seats," instructed Kiro, emphasizing his words with the Force. "You need to trust that the Captain and I will get your ship moving on its way."

The Councillor nodded and gave the Jedi a big smile. "Yes. We trust you to get us moving on our way!"

The politicians left the bridge without another word, leaving Kiro and Captain Jakus.

Jakus smirked. "You weren't really sent here to protect just us, were you?"

Kiro shook his head and said, "Not really. It's true my mission is to help everyone in the evacuation. Not just these political windbags."

The Captain rolled his eyes. "At least you don't have to sit in the same ship as them for more than ten minutes."

Kiro laughed as he turned to look in front of the vessel. "Looks like you have a clear path now, Captain. All we needed was a little patience."

"Many thanks, Knight Zaa," said the Captain, throwing a quick salute. "Your granddad would have been proud!"

Kiro was momentarily stunned by the comment. How did this man know my grandfather? I suppose he was a famous Jedi Master but...how did he know I was his grandson? As these questions passed through his brain, the Regal One flew past, on its way out of the city.

The young Knight took a quick look around. It seemed that most of the traffic problems had been cleared and were now feeding into the steady flow of ships escaping Kyria City.

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A thunderclap drew Kiro's attention behind him. It was then that he saw the Grand Temple. The Fury Swarm had reached it and were now assaulting the grounds. He spotted a few glimpses of an occasional lightsaber on the lower level but they were quickly disappearing. The fighters and the Aeras had long since been defeated and it was only a matter of time before the gargoyle-like beasts broke through the defenses of the Temple. The thunderstorm raging overhead grew blacker and wilder. Lightning arced through dozens of Furies at a time but they only grew madder in their attacks. It was only a matter of time before they broke through and slaughtered the Tidalis inside.

Kiro could only stare in horror at what was happening. He almost missed the trio of winged beasts approaching from his blind spot had they not shrieked at him first. Snapping to attention, Kiro shot up into the air, narrowly missing a pair of razor-sharp claws that would have torn him open from naval to nose. The three Furies shrieked again and swung back around, their terrifying faces reflecting their maddened rage. Three bloodied maws gaped open, revealing rows of dagger-like teeth. It looked like they fed recently.

That only meant one thing. Kiro called upon the Force and it came to him. He immersed himself in it, opening himself to its will. Lightsabers appeared in his hands and activated. Their silver-blue blades giving the wielder the look of an apparition come back from the dead.

The Furies screamed and came at him, with lightning speed. But the Jedi was faster. He shot forward, directly into the midst of the enemy. He held his lightsabers to his sides, their blades pointing to his feet. They looked like ghostly streamers trailing behind the flying Knight.

Everything slowed down for the Jedi. He was flying straight in between the three Furies. The beasts tried to rake at him with their claws. They tried to bite at him with their teeth. But he was too fast. In what seemed like a graceful ballet, he spun as he passed between them and brought out his lightsabers.

Real time caught up to the Knight and he slowed himself, turning to face his foes. Two of the Furies were dropping to the ground, cut to pieces. The last swung around and roared at him. In a last suicidal effort, the Fury flew directly for him. Its claws aimed at his chest and face and whatever other vital area they could sink into.

The Jedi was calm. The Force saw to that. There was no more fear, no more despair. Only a determination that he would live. There was no such thing as death at this moment. Well...except for that Fury.

The Knight held his ground. He did not move. The bloodthirsty beast was only moments away from tearing him apart but he did not move. Though he was only a boy of fourteen, he felt like he had aged so much. Something had unlocked inside of him and he felt like he could do anything.

Two lightsabers flew from his hands, spinning in two opposing arcs, heading directly into the path of the oncoming creature. A split second before it died, the Fury tried to turn back...but it was too late. One of the blade sliced through its midsection while the other removed its head.

Arcing back, the lightsabers returned to the Knight's hands. He deactivated them and returned the Jedi tools to his belt. With a sigh of relief, he let the Force leave his body. A sudden sense of coldness washed over Kiro. He looked up at the Temple and saw that the Furies had finally breached the walls. Already, the thunderstorm was ebbing as the Jedi of the Tidalis House were killed.

Kiro let out a heavy sigh. He was about to call his team to him when he spotted her.

A woman flew alone above the broken Temple. Her leathery black wings holding her aloft as the Fury warriors swarmed about her. She was looking back at Kiro. From across the distance, her depthless black eyes stared into his very soul. Despite her beauty, he could sense immense evil from her and right then he understood everything. He knew what she was and what she was doing. He saw her, in that moment, for what she was.

Dark Jedi...Virago....

Something heavy pressed against his chest and he suddenly couldn't breath. He realized at once that it was the woman. The female Fury. One of the rare Virago, as that Master surmised so long ago. She used her skills as a Dark Force adept to control the male Fury swarms. Right now, she was using her power to send him into oblivion. Blackness swam at the edges of Kiro's vision and he suddenly felt like he was falling.

The last thing he saw was the woman, her eyes as black as the Maw, flying above the Grand Temple as her minions destroyed the repulsors...and the pinnacle of Jedi achievement on Kyrest fell.

He fell with it, the blackness taking hold of everything.

"Kiro!"

Did he recognize the voice? He thought he did...but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore for it had all fallen to black.

END OF CHAPTER ONE

Edited by Drake

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The Last House

~ 10 BBY ~

I should have died that day. I fell when the blackness took hold of me.

Those eyes....

I would have died if she didn't catch me. My little guardian angel...Alla Odai. She plucked my unconsious body from the skies before I hit the city below. She saved my body but my mind was another story.

My team carried me away from Kyria City with the rest of the refugees. The capital of Kyrest had fallen to the Furies in under an hour and it didn't take long for them to catch up with the survivors. While the majority of the Swarm had remained in the city to round up those could escape...to feed...two dozen were sent to hunt down the ships that had escaped. I was aboard a medical transport near the head of the convoy when they reached those at the end. We lost a lot of innocent people in that raid. The Regal One was one of them. We were leaderless. My team fought them off but the Furies didn't leave without first leaving their mark. All of them bear scars from that day. Calia got the worst if it...her left arm was shattered beyond repair and had to have it amputated and replaced with a machine.

My body won that battle but my mind still fought on. The Virago...that Dark Jedi woman...she had done something to my mind. I fought against her even then. If it hadn't been for the meld I shared with the others, I would have fallen into madness. Their strength kept me sane.

I awoke two weeks later, a changed man. To this day, the darkness still haunts me. Those eyes. I can still feel it inside of me, waiting to consume me once again.

We've been on the run since that fateful day...nearly ten years ago. The Furies have retaken most of the planet. The last handful of Jedi that remain have regrouped. Most of the Masters are gone. We've taken to guerilla tactics whenever we can. It is our duty, now, to protect the last bastions of Kyrian civilization still free from the Swarms and the farms. It's all we have left....

Edited by Drake

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The Jedi Knight crouched next to the cave he was to stand watch over. Dawn was approaching, the night already giving way to the new day. Alla had told him that today was special. It was his twenty-third birthday.

He didn't care so much these days. The passage if time was meaningless if every day was the same as it had been for the past nine years. Sure, he felt older, his body having grown. The past decade had forced him into adulthood fast.

Kiro Zaa's eyes scanned the plains around his place of hiding. The ground for kilometres around was strewn with small hillocks and rock formations. The land was flat here, giving him a clear view of the skies. This was the perfect cover against anyone...or anything that might be looking from the skies.

The cave he protected was the home of three hundred twenty-two Kyrian refugees and forty-nine other Jedi. His comrades were comprised of remnants of all of the Jedi Houses and they were all working together to help them survive. The Rokor had constructed their underground home from the rock. The Tidalis produced water for them. The Ignan made furnaces and created heat for the community. They also forged weapons, armour and defensive machines for those without the Force for protection. The Aeras used their skills to provide air flow through their home as well as aerial recon of the area.

Kiro had become the leader of the whole community. It had happened a few years ago when the Master who led them was slain in a Fury raid on the Drop Zone complex. Owl-Eye was the last official Master of their group but his time was spent training the younger Jedi in lightsaber combat. So, in the end, the task went to him.

As the sun began to peek over the horizon, the boulder disguising the entrance to the cave rolled aside. Alla Odai came up the spiral stairs, carved into the rock, and sat next to him. He didn't bother looking over at her, his eyes continuing to scan the horizon for movement.

Though Kiro didn't show it outwardly, he thought of Alla often. She had grown into a beautiful young woman. Even when he didn't look at her, he could see her clearly in his mind's eye. Her long, blue hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her soft skin and bright blue eyes concealing the fierce heart of a warrior and leader. Over the years, she had become like his second-in-command and he confided in his childhood friend. Some days he even thought that perhaps they could be something more than just friends.

"Happy Birthday, Kiro!" she said, giving him a little squeeze from the side.

"Is it?" he asked. His voice seemed distant and uninterested as he looked from the skies to the eyes of his comrade.

She frowned and gave his shoulder a playful punch. "I've only been telling you for the past week, you big oaf!"

He smiled at her genuinely this time. "Yeah, yeah. No parties though, right?"

Alla rolled her eyes. "Nope. None. You know, you're the only one who didn't want one. Everyone else loved the idea. Anything for a little change from the norm."

"You know things won't change that easily," Kiro said with a sigh. "We're being hunted until we're either dead or cattle. Unless we can do something to turn the tide, I fear that there will be no more birthday parties for us."

His childhood friend threw up her arms in mock defeat. They often had this similar conversation and nothing she could say would change his mind. They all knew that the only way to have a chance at winning was to cut off the head of the snake. That meant finding and killing the Virago once and for all. Kiro had not seen her on the battlefield since that fateful day nine years but he knew that she was still out there, hunting him. She was in his dreams constantly, haunting him. He knew that he would have to kill her before he got any peace. It was his destiny and his curse.

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***

After passing off watch duty to Alla, Kiro descended down spiraling steps from the surface. Around one hundred feet down, the stairs ended and he rode a cargo lift down the remainder of the way. At the bottom, he was met by two large Rokor Jedi. The bigger of the two was called Bull and the other was Grinder. Their job was to watch camera feeds from up the stairway and lift above. If any Furies were to overwhelm the Jedi on watch and gain entry into the base, the two Rokor would collapse the lift tunnel with the Force.

Kiro passed them with a nod and continued down a long, straight corridor. This was another precaution against attack. If the Furies happened to get past the Rokor defense, they would be forced to come down this corridor. At the end were stationed two Ignan Jedi who would flood the passage with fire in that situation. Kiro nodded to them as well, passing into the first chamber of the base. This chamber served as a sort of Jedi Temple. It was a large cylindrical room with a dozen levels, housing Jedi sleeping chambers, meeting rooms and places for meditation and training. Few of the other Jedi were awake at this hour so he continued on, past the marble fountain in the middle of the chamber, and into the main chamber.

Beyond the entrance to the Jedi chamber was a huge cave. It was naturally made, for the most part. The cave was wide and flat on the bottom with gently sloping sides and a ceiling one hundred metres above that was covered with hanging stalactites. There were lights strewn across them as well, providing an unnatural glow to the natural beauty of the cave.

The floor of the cave was covered with vegatation. The Jedi of the Tidalis grew and nurtured the plants that would serve as food for the survivors. Small gardens surrounded the fields, giving the people who lived there places to go for some sense of peace in a chaotic world.

All along the walls of the cave were the living quarters of the Kyrian survivors, the civilians whom the Jedi protected. Their homes were carved into the rock walls. At the back of the cave was another exit. It was built by the Rokor during the early days of their residence here as a means of escape in case the Furies attacked the main entrance. It was sealed at both ends by dozens of feet of rock that only a Jedi could break through.

Kiro smiled wearily. He had taken as many precautions as possible to prevent any more Kyrian deaths. His people were safe.

***

He could feel the presense of the Jedi somewhere below. It called to him like a beacon in the blackness of space. It was something he had not felt in a few years. The Jedi of the galaxy were quickly being hunted down and exterminated. How this planet had remained out of the eyes of the Empire, he did not know. All that mattered was that his Master had sensed the Jedi here and sent him to deal with them.

During the voyage to this backwater world, he occasionally wondered why his Master didn't just send Lord Vader to do the job. Perhaps this was a test, he thought. Perhaps his Master wished him to surpass Vader. Or maybe this was to be a death sentence for him. If his Master thought it too much, perhaps he was being sent to this planet to die.

He did not think so. He had fought and killed for his Master. He had hunted down and purged Jedi in the name of the Empire and the New Order. If his Master had wanted him dead, he would have killed him personally. No, this was indeed a test of his loyalty and skill.

The man turned, his black cape swirling around him, over his red and black armour plating. He was once a member of the Royal Guard but was selected for advancement by the Secret Order of the Empire. He still wore his armour as a sign of his skill and a warning to those who would take him lightly.

Looking out over the bridge of the Star Destroyer he currently commanded, he smiled inwardly. He enjoyed the power and freedom his position entitled him. He could command armies for his Master but, more often than not, he was sent out alone to assassinate and spy. The man turned back to look out the forward viewports and the planet below. Soon he would land on this world. Kyrest it was called. Soon he would hunt down the Jedi that were here and liberate the people here in the name of the Empire. That was his duty and his Master's will.

His name was Salik Jand and he was the Emperor's Hand.

Edited by Drake

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***

It was later in the day when Kiro awoke from a short and restless sleep. He was often plagued by nightmares of the horrors committed by the Furies. He had never seen any of the things he saw in his sleep so he guessed that the Virago was somehow sending them to him. He would often spend hours in meditation, trying to calm his mind and purge the negative emotions. It was hard. Some days Kiro felt like he was on the very edge of a dark chasm and one little nudge could send him tumbling into the abyss.

He took a quick shower and changed into a clean set of clothes. Before leaving, he slipped on his hardened leather cuirass. It was old and worn from years of combat and the occasional resizing but the insignia of the House of Aeras was still clear where it was burned during his Knighting Ceremony nine years ago. After cliping his lightsabers to his belt, he left his quarters and levitated himself down to the floor of the Jedi Chamber.

Kiro immediately spotted the other three members of his team. Rayza Togor had grown to be the largest of them all. He almost looked like he could be one of the bulky Rokor. Over the years, Rayza had grown out of his rebellious attitude toward Kiro. He had come to realize who the leader was and respected Kiro's choices. Calia Wynn was next to him. Unlike Alla, she was hard-edged and toughened over time. The loss of her arm only pushed Calia to prove herself more. Jod Lier was next to her. He was the tallest of the group and still wiry. He was the first to see Kiro approach and waved in greeting.

"Good afternoon, Kiro. Sleep well?" Jod asked.

Kiro shook his head. "As well as usual."

"That bad, huh?" said Rayza. "How long have you been having these nightmares?"

"Too long," he said. "And the longer we wait around here, the worse they get."

Calia grunted. "Then we need to strike now. A new batch of Knights has just finished training. There will be no better time then when we are at our peak."

Kiro nodded. He knew that she was right. They had to attack now with all of their available Jedi. The new Knights bolstered the Jedi numbers up to fifty-seven. Kiro also knew of several other hidden groups like this one. He would have to find a way to communicate with them if they wanted to lead a combined assault.

"Alright," he said. " It will take at least two days to coordinate with the other surviving groups and another two to work out an attack plan. Prepare the others."

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***

Kiro was true to his word. He communicated with the leaders of the other major groups of survivors left in the area and gathered as many as he could. It took two days to do so and then another two to work out a plan of attack against the Furies. The primary objective was to strike hard and fast directly at the heart of the enemy. They would need to locate and kill the Virago. The Dark Jedi woman who controlled the Fury Swarms. All of the other leaders agreed. Cut off the head and the snake would inevitably die.

The Jedi would lead the assault with the remnants of the Kyrian Armed Forced following by land and air in tanks and fighters. Kiro knew that the odds were stacked against them. Barely one hundred Jedi and two hundred KAF troops against a thousand, or more, Furies was madness. He supposed that they all had to be a little mad to have survived this long.

The Jedi of old lacked one thing we have now. He thought as he looked over the assembled strike force. A will to survive at all costs.

***

So on the fifth day, the wind-swept plains ran red and black with the blood of Kyrians and Furies alike. The will to survive had pushed them through enemy lines all the way to the edge of the valley where the Virago made her nest. What was once a stunning metropolis now stood in ruin. Kyria City had been tranformed from the head of a prosperous civilization into a twisted, nightmarish copy of that which was once great. There were rumours that the Furies would capture batches of Kyrians and release them into the city, only to hunt them down and feed upon them.

Kiro hoped that, after today, that would no longer be the case.

The Jedi's twin silver-blue blades of light swirled in wide arcs, dealing death with each pass. Furies fell in pieces around him and four comrades. Kiro could feel their excitement building through their shared bond in the Force. He sent them thoughts and feelings of imminant victory and they pressed their attack.

Below them, Kiro could feel the other Jedi at work. The Rokor waded through the bodies the Aeras Jedi had sent down. Some weilded their great lightsabers carving Furies into smoldering chunks as the enemy swooped down to attack the land-walkers. Others used the Force to hurl boulders into the flying Furies. Ignan followed close behind, lending their fire attacks and slaying the fallen Furies that were not quite dead. Behind were the Tidalis Jedi. Many took up the task of field medic, using their healing powers to tend to the wounded. It was hard but Kiro had ordered everyone to leave the fallen behind. Their strength came from pressing the attack and the Tidalis would tend to the injured.

The Kyrian Armed Forces took up the rear, driving in with tanks and heavy weaponry that would be useful for levelling buildings. KAF fighters patrolled the flanks of the Jedi force, occasionally moving forward to make quick strikes into the enemy before falling back.

It was almost a surprise when the Furies retreated. At one moment, Kiro was surrounded by a flurry of leathery wings, dripping fangs and razor-sharp claws. The next moment, they were gone, turning away and flying back to the middle of the city.

While other Jedi around him cheered their small victory, Kiro looked across the distance. The retreating creatures were circling en masse around the ultimate target of the strike force. The Furies were fortifying their queen's nest atop the dead island that was once the Grand Temple of the Jedi.

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***

On the side of Kyria City opposite the Jedi strike force, Salik Jand, the Emperor's Hand, stood before a mass of twisted metal that was once a building. Now, it served as a road block to anyone who tried to enter, or escape, the ruined city by foot. The whole valley was ringed by them, keeping the people inside trapped like cattle while the flying creatures kept harried them from above. Several dozen of the black monsters flew out to meet the Imperial landing force when they approached the city but they didn't stand much of a chance against the onslaught of an entire legion of Stormtroopers and one Dark Jedi.

Salik Jand kicked aside the recently decapitated head of one of the beasts. "Disgusting creatures," he said, "But I sense a common purpose behind their actions. As though they are being controlled. The Force is heavy with anger and fear in this place."

"As you say, sir," came the speaker-augmented voice behind him.

Jand turned to face Commander Faust, the officer leading the Stormtrooper ground forces, the 221st Legion. Faust was a veteran soldier. He had survived the Clone Wars and was a clone from the Jango Fett stock. Despite his age, artificially increased by the clone creators, Faust was a fully capable leader and formidable warrior.

"I find your lack of faith...curious, Commander," Jand said. "You fought with and then against Jedi during the Clone Wars. You've seen the Force in use by them, Lord Vader, and myself and yet you still seem to doubt it. Why?"

Commander Faust's facial expression was concealed by his helmet but Salik could sense the smirk tugging at the corners of the trooper's mouth. "I've seen it all and more, sir. In the end, mystical powers and shiny swords are no match for a good blaster at your side...and the might of the Stormtrooper Corps at your back." He paused, then added, "No offense, sir."

"None taken, Commander. Remember, I was once like you. I was a soldier who saw the Force as just a mystery, something I could never understand. But now..." He smiled and suddenly changed the topic of the conversation. "Commander, how would you and your Stormtrooper Corps recommend removing this building from our path?"

Faust stepped up next to Salik Jand and looked over the debris of the fallen structure. After a few seconds, he answered, "Aside from ordering a full aerial assault on those creatures to hold them off while dropships relocated my men over the block...I would have the heavy artillary move up from the rear guard and blast that scrap to slag."

Jand nodded, looking thoughtful. "Indeed." He closed his eyes, bringing the Force to him. He filled himself with it and grew stronger with it. "I said that I could have never understood the Force. Now I know better. Like the wind, Commander Faust, the Force cannot be seen...but you can see and feel its effects. Like the wind, the Force can also do some devastating things..."

The Emperor's Hand set his legs apart on the rocky ground and lowered into a sort of crouch. He held out his hands, palms up, making it look as though he were going to pick up a heavy crate or rock. Reaching out with the Force, Salik Jand took hold of the fallen building and lifted. The durasteel girders groaned and strained under the power of the Force before, finally, a large section of the wreckage, a couple hundred metres wide, tore free and rose into the air. Jand shifted his hands to the right and the debris followed his actions. When it was clear of the newly formed gap, he lowered the section of building into the streets beyond.

Salik straightened and turned back to Commander Faust and the rest of the 221st Legion. He gave the elder Stormtrooper a questioning look. "My way was faster."

"Yes, sir," said Faust. There was a hint of humour in his voice when he added, "But I could have shot you in the back of the head several times before you could turn around."

The Emperor's Hand gave the Imperial Commander a wolfish grin. "Touche, Faust. I guess I'll have to watch my back then." He turned and, without looking back, Salik strode forward, down into the gap he had just opened up.

With a signal to the rest of the landing force, Commander Faust and the 221st Legion followed the Dark Jedi into Kyria City.

Edited by Drake

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***

At the same time that the 221st Imperial Legion was entering Kyria City, the Jedi and Kyrian Armed Forces were forging a path through the ruined streets. They ran into little resistance in the form of a few small Fury hunting packs.

There were also groups of Kyrian survivors. There were a few that were from the fall of the city, years ago, but most of them were newer arrivals that were captured alive during Fury raids on Kyrian camps. All were there for one thing: to serve as prey for the Furies. When a Kyrian was taken, they would be released into the city and then hunted down and fed upon for sport. Some would find groups and those groups would be able to survive amongst the ruins for long periods of time, but they would inevitably be found. Those who the Jedi discovered were sent back to the rear lines of the army where they received care and protection.

When, at last, they reached the base of the cliff to the Fury Nest, Kiro called for a halt.

"What is it?" asked Jod Lier, approaching from behind Kiro.

"I sense something is amiss," said the Jedi leader. "I have a bad feeling about this."

Jod closed his eyes for a moment before returning his gaze to Kiro. "I sense it too. Perhaps it's just the Virago. It knows we are coming."

Rayza, Calia and Alla joined the two Jedi. They were all looking up the cliff. It was a steep rock face that was once the side edge of the Grand Temple floating island. Now it served as a natural defense and barrier against those seeking to attack from the ground.

"Easy for us to get up there, boss man," said Rayza. "But how are the rest going to scale the cliff?"

Kiro looked over at the dark skinned Jedi. "The Rokor have a plan. Something about rock elevators."

Even now, the Rokor Jedi were retrieving large slabs of duracrete rubble from surrounding building ruins. They loaded the slabs with Ignan and Tidalus Jedi and Kyrian troops before using the Force to lift the duracrete up the cliff face. Aeras Jedi escorted the groups up because, once they reached the top, they would no doubt come under attack from the Furies guarding the Nest.

Kiro flooded the Force bond, he shared with the others, with confidence. "We better go up and say hi."

Following the Rokor elevators, the five members of Force Flight Alpha flew up to the top of the cliff to face the terrors that awaited them.

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The Force bristled like static as the Jedi atop the first elevator began attacking the Furies speeding down to meet them. Incinerating balls of flame fired from the palms of the ever-calm Jedi of the Ignan House, burning apart leathery wings or blasting charred chunks through the chests of the dark abominations above. Similarly, the Tidalus Jedi summoned bolts of lightning, from the static charged water particles in the air, to achieve much the same effect. This visual display was joined, in concert, by a cacophany of sound, which echoed off the steep stone walls, as the Kyrian Army fired their projectile ammunition into the attackers on-high.

Once at the top, the occupants of the makeshift lifts hurried off and onto the lower rise of the Grand Temple grounds. The Jedi spread out ahead of the armed forces, holding back the Furies as they formed ranks.

Kiro flew to the head of the battalion, around six hundred Kyrian men and women rallied from various survivor groups, and hovered a couple metres about the ground in order to address them.

"We don't have much time so I will make this quick," he said, using the Force to project his words to all assembled. "This is our last stand and the pivot on which rests the fate of our world. If we die here, on this rock, then may we die so our children and grandchildren can grow up to know only peace and freedom! For Kyrest!"

The soldiers gave a unified cheer.

Kiro waved his arm forward, towards the upper reaches of the Temple. "Move out!"

The Jedi flanked the soldiers as the battalion pressed forward, in a column, towards one of the enormous ramps leading to the upper level. The once beautiful and lush vegetation of the lower level seemed to have been completely drained of life. As the Kyrian force made ground, they passed through rows of dead, grey trees and trampled atop dried and broken foliage. Where once the Jedi gained strength from the swell of life in the Force, now this place left them hollow and cold with impending death. Yet they continued on, with Kiro and his Flight at the head of the assault.

The Fury attacks grew more and more frequent every step closer to the Temple. By the time the battalion reached the top of the upper level, they had lost several Jedi and over fifty soldiers to the Swarm. Their deaths were not without sacrifice, however, as nearly two hundred Fury beasts lay massacred along the way.

***

Salik Jand stood at the base of the looming cliff before him and looked up. "Faust..." he said, letting his sentence trail off.

"Will you be using the Force again, sir?" the Stormtrooper Commander asked.

The Emperor's Hand turned to look at the aging clone with a look of amusement. "I was thinking dropships, actually."

Jand was sure Faust snorted a laugh inside his helmet because it took a second before he said, "Of course, sir." The Commander's mic went silent once again as he undoubtedly sent orders to the dropship pilots waiting at the edge of the city. Within minutes, the ships would arrive to carry Salik and his men up to the top of the cliff and the strong Jedi presence that could be felt there.

***

"Lieutenant Colonel," said Kiro to the commanding officer of the Army battalion. "It's time."

The man nodded then began to relay orders over his radio. "All units, move to stage two. Split into your platoons and make your way through the upper level buildings until you reach the Temple. Kill anything with wings and teeth!"

Likewise, Kiro turned to his Jedi. "You know your jobs. Two with each platoon. The rest of you with Alpha Flight." After a moment of silence, he added, "And may the Force be with us all."

The Jedi around him echoed the sentiment and split up to join their platoons. Only sixteen Jedi, including the four in his team, and two army platoons remained with Kiro. They would be the group to head directly to the heart of the Temple in an attempt to find and kill the Dark Jedi leader of the Fury Swarm: the manevolant Virago queen.

Kiro Zaa could feel confidence radiating from his group. They were both sure of victory yet ready to sacrifice themselves if need be. He returned a glowing sense of pride and purpose through the Force bond and that, in turn, radiated out to touch the soldiers in the platoons. "Move out!" he cried, setting off at a run. He didn't need the Force to know those behind were following, as the ground shook with one hundred booted feet.

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The group ascended a causeway until they found themselves staring out across the once gleaming marble pedestrian boulevard leading to the gates of the Temple proper. The polished marble had fallen into disrepair. It had faded and cracked and there were countless scratches across its surface where Furies had been. The obsidion statues that depicted the once great heroes of the Kyrian Jedi Order now lay toppled and broken.

Kiro saw the statue of his grandfather in pieces next to it's pedestal. I'll make him proud, Kiro thought as he ran on. He suddenly realized he was broadcasting his thoughts when agreement flooded the close Force bond he shared with his four flightmates.

Alla Odai ran up beside him. "I'm already proud of you, Kiro," she said, adding onto her expressed emotions. "You've grown up so much. We all have. We're not the fun-loving kids we used to be."

"No we aren't," he agreed. "It's not safe enough for fun. Soon, Alla...soon we'll have peace and a safe, secure world."

Alla looked like she was about to say something when the sound of gunfire drew their attention. A pack of Furies had flanked the group and was now attacking from the left. A whoosh sound momentarily drowned out the sound of slug rounds being fired into the shrieking mass of black bodies as a pair of Ignan Jedi sent columns of flame into the midst of their attackers.

A cold, black presence alerted Kiro to another attack seconds before it happened. A pair of silver-blue blades jutted from the hilts of the lightsabers in his hands a moment before plunging into the torso of an onrushing Fury beast. A blast of the Force knocked the dead monster away before its inertia careened into Kiro. He didn't need to look back to know that Alla had his back. A silent acknowledgment in the Force sent his thanks.

Alla's turquoise blades appeared beside Kiro, blending with the glow from his own as they cut down attacking Furies. A cry from their right and a sudden shift in the Force signalled the death of a Jedi. Another two fell before all of the beasts had been killed. Additionally, they lost sixteen soldiers in the fray. On the plus side, however, they didn't run into any more ambushes for the rest of the run to the Temple.

They reached the gates to the Temple, which now lay open and on the ground. They had been twisted and torn free of their ancient hinges. Kiro led the way into the building, lightsabers still lit, with Alla, Rayza, Calia and Jod close behind and the rest of the Jedi and soldiers following.

Once inside, the only light came from the lightsabers of the Jedi and the soldiers' gun-mounted flashlights. The great skylights and windows that once gave the Temple the feel of being open to the world had been coated in a dark-grey web-like substance. Almost every surface had been covered in it, Kiro realized.

"They're like bugs," said Calia, her voice revealing a hint of disgust.

Rayza grunted an acknowledgement as he slashed through some web hanging in his way. "So this is what a Fury Nest looks like on the inside. I'd hate to see how they procreate."

Everyone muttered their agreements but, for the most part, they continued on in silence, keeping their senses and the Force alert for any sign of attack ahead.

Edited by Drake

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They didn't have to wait long.

"I have a bad feeling about this," said Jod, breaking the silence.

"You don't say," Calia said. "Could it be because we're walking into the heart of the nest of a horde of bloodthirsty, Force-forsaken beasts?"

Kiro paused at the head of the procession of Jedi and Kyrian soldiers. He looked around as if listening.

Jod nodded. "That might have something to do with it."

"Quiet," Kiro said, holding up his hand. Once again, silence fell across the hall and the only sound to be heard was the soft crunching of web underfoot as the people shifted uneasily in the dark and alien place. Suddenly there was something new; a chittering sound from the wall to the left and then another from above. Those were soon joined by more, increasing in number and volume with every second.

"I'm guessing it was this," said Jod.

"What is that?" asked Alla. "It sounds like bugs."

Rayza took a step back as the web beneath his feet started to shift and bulge as something moved under it. "We are in a nest, afterall. It's probably their young." He plunged his lightsaber into the bulge and whatever was underneath screamed in pain. It was a high-pitched squeal that immediately caused the chittering to become more frantic. "A'gosh!" he swore.

The Lieutenant-Colonel of the armed forces spoke up, projecting his voice over the rising din. "Soldiers! Break into squads! Cluster up and shoot anything that's not Kyrian!" To Kiro, he uttered. "This is going to be messy, isn't it?"

Kiro nodded. "There will be much sacrifice."

"That's all I ask," said the officer with a brave yet sad smile. A second later, he was back in military-mode, rifle at the ready and aimed at a shifting patch of wall. "Open fire!"

The sound of the creatures was instantly drowned out behind the cacophony of automatic weapons fire. Slug rounds pelted the web on the floor and walls, causing shrieks of pain and anger to ring out. Chunks of web and Furies rained down from above.

As the beasts in front died, the ones behind surged forward. When those were torn apart, more took their place. Soon live and angry Fury spawn boiled out of their burrows and swarmed at the assault force. Each of the Fury young were anywhere from one to three feet long. They were black, covered with hairy spines and bore a twisted resemblance to spiders.

The Jedi stepped forward to hold back the wave of beasts. Streams of fire and bolts of lightning torn through the mass of spiney limbs while the others used their Force-given talents or their lightsabers to kill or push back the black tide. Ever the masks of calm, those Jedi that were overwhelmed did not cry out but simply continued to kill as many spawn as they could before they died.

A couple minutes into the fight, the floor beneath one squad of soldiers suddenly bulged and tore open as a full-grown adult Fury shredded through the web. One of the soldiers was killed by slashing claws while still two more fell into the hole the Fury came from. Moments later, the beast was joined by two more.

The Lieutenant-Colonel went over to Kiro. He was splattered in black blood and bore several cuts to his face. "Master Zaa! The Council Chamber is at the end of the hall! My bet is that the Fury Queen is in there! You and your flight should go take care of her! We'll keep these monsters busy!"

"I'm not a Master yet," said Kiro.

"Could have fooled me!" the officer said with a smirk.

"What's your name, Lieutenant-Colonel?"

"Radik, sir. Jas Radik."

Kiro nodded. "May the Force be with you always, Jas Radik."

"You too." Radik slapped a fresh clip into his slug thrower and began emptying it into a pack of Fury spawn. "And good luck!"

Alpha Flight, time to move, he broadcast to his group. Clear a path.

The other four Jedi moved over to flank Kiro and, as one, they began moving away from the rest of the assault force. When a swarm of spawn surged towards them, they cut them down in a flurry of lightsabers. When a pair of adult Furies swooped down on them, they lifted their hands and hurled a mighty Force wind into them, sending the beasts crashing into the ceiling.

One of the adults crashed through the web and smashed clean through the glass sunroof behind it. Suddenly their section of hall was flooded with natural sunlight. The Fury young around Kiro and his companions suddenly screamed in agony and skittered from the light.

"Shoot the sunroofs!" Kiro shouted back to the other group. Radik heard and started relaying the order. Soon more light started flooding into the grand hallway and Fury spawn were scurrying, screaming, into their burrows. All that remained were the adults and more were appearing as time went by.

But there was no time to worry about that now, Kiro remembered. They had to finish what they came here to do. Kill the Virago, Queen of the Furies, and end her control over the beasts. Ascending the stairs to the Council Chamber, Alpha Flight encountered little resistance. The adult Furies were easily killed and the spawn wouldn't cross the sunlight. At the top of the stairs, they passed into the large anteroom.

"By the Force and all its elements..." uttered Rayza.

For what they found there was even more horrifying than the thousands of skittering young.

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Lining the walls of the anteroom were dozens of alcoves made from some kind of chitinous substance that may have been secreted by the Furies. Within each alcove was a captive Kyrian. They were all restrained at the wrists and ankles with more of the secretion. Surrounding each captive were clusters of fist-sized gray ovoids.

Alla moved over to the nearest captive and placed a hand on his sweat and grim-covered face. He flinched a little at her touch and opened his eyes. They were slow to focus on her. He had clearly been drugged or was under some kind of mental influence.

"Help..." he managed to say.

"They're still alive," she said.

Jod was a few alcoves down, a dark look cast about his face. "They must prefer warm meals."

"What?"

Calia sighed sadly. "Those are eggs clustered around them. Once they hatch, they eat the people."

Alla looked appalled and took a step back. It was then that she saw what had upset Jod. The alcove he stood in front of bore a dozen broken eggs and a skeleton. The bones had been clearly gnawed upon. Instantly her lightsaber flared to life and, with a cold precision, she sliced apart all of the eggs around the man before her. Once finished, she cut apart the restraints and helped him to the floor. "We have to help the rest of them!'

"We don't have the time," said Kiro. His voice was heavy with sadness and he sound almost apologetic. He clearly wished that they could stay to help these people but the fact of the matter was that they had to kill the Virago Queen. Once their mission was complete, they could return. Alla seemed reluctant to realize that but after a long moment of indecision, she relented and nodded sadly, saying nothing.

Kiro put a hand on her shoulder when she approached, tears threatening to burst from the corners of her eyes. "We'll come back for them."

"We might not have to," said Rayza, trying to help. "The army was doing well when we left them. When they're done, they'll come here and provide these people with proper medical attention."

That seemed to put the group at ease. Kiro took that moment to fortify their goal. "That's right. Now let's get moving. The sooner we kill the Virago, the sooner we can end this mess once and for all."

The five walked ahead, in silence. They cast glances from side to side, unable to avoid seeing the depths of horror the Furies were putting their people through. They neared the giant wooden doors which led into the Council Chamber. The last time they had been here was nine years ago, the day they had been declared Jedi Knights. It had also been the day that this hell had started.

The doors themselves, once bearing a healthy warmth, were now a dull gray as though all life had been sucked out of them. The ornate carvings upon its surface had long since been torn away by the thousands of scratch marks littering the dead, ancient wood. They also failed to budge when Kiro tried to open them.

"Sealed probably," said Rayza, giving the doors a little more forceful shove, to no avail.

Jod placed a hand on the door, reading what lay beyond. "I can feel them. They are waiting for us on the other side. An ambush."

"Then let's show them who they're dealing with." Kiro took a step back and gathered the Force to himself, focusing it into the palm of his hand. The others did the same, lining up to either side of him. Their shared link through the Force unified their actions, allowing them to move as a single unit. Hands snapped forward, releasing the stored up energy like five cannons going off simultaneously.

The large doors shattered under the Force blast, sending splinters as large as a Rokor hurling into the former Council Chamber with deadly speed. Screams emerged from within as a dozen Fury guards were torn apart in the assault. Several more, which had missed the deadly splinters, swooped down, screeching.

Lightsabers were lit and in motion when the beasts arrived. The Force was burning hot in the five Jedi and a handful of Furies wouldn't stop them from their mission. In moments, the creatures were cut down, leaving the Jedi seemingly alone. An eerie silence fell across the Chamber, giving the group pause.

Taking a moment to glance around, Kiro noticed that the room was surprisingly well kept. There was no trace of the vile webbing that coated nearly every surface in the rest of the Temple. In fact, even some of the furniture remained. One difference, Kiro noted, was that the walls had been painted a dark red, almost brown. As soon as he thought it, he realized that it was blood. Kyrian blood. The bones of the victims had been stacked and combined with the chitinous secretion to form a cruel and dark throne, which sat in front of the darkened windows at the far end of the Chamber.

The throne was empty.

Okay, thought Kiro. Where are you? I can feel you nearby... He hoped that this venture hadn't been for nothing. All of the sacrifices people made getting here would have meant nothing if the Queen wasn't here.

An invisible weight suddenly settled over the group. It wasn't a physical weight but a mental one, broadcast through the Force. It practically obliterated the link the Jedi shared and dulled their metaphysical senses. Kiro found that his movements had grown sluggish, as well and he had the powerful urge to close his eyes...

A very feminine laugh emerged from a darkened corridor to the side of the Chamber. "Are you looking for me?" The voice asked. It was definately a female voice, one that bore a hint of sensuality that belied the truth of the speaker. Sure enough, the Virago stepped out of the shadows, revealing herself to the five nearly subdued Jedi. She was tall, nearly seven feet. Her black, leathery wings reached even higher and would moreso if stretched open. Her arms and legs were scaled and her torso was armoured with a black carapace. The chitin conformed to her body, revealing a deceptively provocotive female form. Her skin, where shown, was pale, almost white, giving a stark contrast to the rest of her body.

None of that mattered to Kiro as much as the eyes. He remembered those eyes when they bore into his soul from kilometers away those many years ago. They turned to meet his again now. Black and soulless, they sought to engulf him completely.

He had vowed never to let them do that again. Not since her gazed had forced Kiro to black out in midair nine years earlier. With all of his remaining strength and willpower, he fought the overwhelming urge to close his eyes. With what little remained of his Force link, he could tell that the others were doing the same.

The Virago, meanwhile, had walked casually from the corridor and moved to stand in front of her twisted throne of bones. "I rarely get willingly visitors in my home," she said. "I apologize if the furnishings are not to your liking." She smiled. "Why don't you rest those weary feet of yours." She waved a hand and the Force brought the Jedi to their knees. "That's better. Now, how about we discuss the terms of your surrender and subjegation?"

Kiro growled. His hands twitched as he tried to force himself to take up his lightsabers. It was an uphill battle, however, with the Queen's immense will pressing down on them. His fear, at that moment, was that none of them would be able to break free and they would die on their knees, unable to do a thing about it.

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