An eternal storm rages amid the floating debris of what should have been the Cularin system's fourth world. A ring of asteroids host to pirates, fugitives, lifeless stone, and the ruins of a distant planet held captive by merciless gravity, this stolid circle is constantly rippling with energies from the glowing rage that rips along its edges and ravages anything unfortunate enough to drive into its unforgiving maw.
Very little survives passage through the withering time storm; anything entering is either torn apart by conflicting fields of power or ages to dust long before reaching the other side. One object in a million goes into the Lenarian Vortex and comes out unharmed...
...making it somehow fitting that Darrus Jeht, a man with no appreciable luck at all, should finally have his fortune come due.
Sight returned first. This was something of a mercy, as it let Darrus become aware enough of being something other than nothing before the pain began. Not waking up to agony, which the sensation flowing through his body quickly became, was a relief to be sure. He was able to focus on the dark lighting panels, cracked and powerless, as his nerves all screamed to life at the same time. It was like being on fire without the benefit of dying afterwards.
Darrus doubled over in pain, lying on the floor with his arms across his chest. Reaching out to the Force for surcease, he found nothing. The Force was with him, but in theory only. Whatever power he might have had within him was gone, used up as thoroughly as an old nedjer fruit squeezed for every last drop of juice. He was, worse than ever before, empty.
That disturbed him even more than the pain. He'd expected to die, had intended to sacrifice himself to destroy the Shadowblade before it could reach Cularin. Either he was dead and in the afterlife there was no Force or he had somehow survived. He couldn't believe the former was possible. The latter, he didn't think bore considering. There was no way he could have survived purposefully dragging a superweapon into the timestorm. The odds of that were...
...another shockwave of pain ravaged his body. From head to toe, his muscles felt like they were tearing free of the bone. He would have screamed if his mouth could open; every joint was locked. The Force could quiet his pain, help him heal, but again there was nothing there. He was completely without energy.
How could this be? All living things were in touch with the Force. As long as there was a spark of life in him, he should be able to use that field of power. To not have any connection to the Force would mean he really was dead. As soon as he could move again, he took a deep, fearful breath and put his hand on his chest.
Relief flooded through him at the feel of a heartbeat. He was alive, or at least as alive as could be determined. Pain was still flaring along his limbs but he was able to move of his own accord now. It wasn't much but it was a start.
First things first, he had to sit up. Balance proved to be an issue as he tired and failed to rise. Twice. The third time was a little better; he managed to force himself into a sitting position and lean on his vaguely responsive arms fast enough to keep from falling again. He felt broken, though everything seemed intact. He felt savaged, but he didn't seem to have any wounds. Looking around, he took stock of his immediate surrounding in the dim light. Two arms. Two hands. Ten fingers. Two legs. Two feet.
And a chamber full of cold, still corpses.
That snapped him out of his pain-induced reverie. He was still where he'd expected to die - the bridge of the Maelstrom. Nothing seemed to be operational. Every light, every control panel was completely dark, devoid of any function. Many panels were cracked or burned out; the same held true for the light panels above. The only reason he could see the bodies was because the front viewing ports were frozen open, ice crystals outside the transparent steel as thick as the stone blocks of the Almas temple.
Outside the ship, there was some kind of radiant field just outside the bridge's field of vision. It was bright enough to illuminate the room but not enough to see by clearly. To Darrus' sensitive eyes, it was more than sufficient to count the corpses. Ten, all in armored uniforms, all known to him as his command crew. Brave soldiers and loyal ship mates, dead to a man.
He couldn't walk yet but that didn't matter. Darrus dragged himself by his arms, wincing as each forced pull wrenched his shoulders and made his back scream in pain. He moved to the nearest trooper and pulled off his helmet. He could feel they were dead, but he had to see it for himself. These men deserved, at the very least, for someone to care about their passing.
Darrus had not known what to expect but the sight he revealed was worse than he'd imagined. The clone trooper was most certainly dead, but his corpse was dry and withered. He wasn't just deceased; he was actually disiccated. The man's body was a drained, almost ashen husk.
The world-weary Jedi was no stranger to death, especially in recent days, but this was different. He'd seen a lot of people die, even caused more than a few of them himself, but this face of the reaper was a new one. To him, it had only been a few moments since the last time he'd seen this soldier alive. Granted, those few moments had felt like an eternity of oblivion, but this body looking like it had been a literal aeon since the clone's demise. How?
Were they all like this?
His exhausted arms paid the price of his curiosity. Feeling was returning to the rest of his body as he dragged himself from corpse to corpse. Instead of being helpful, his physical awakening just seemed to make the pain of living more acute. Biting back screams as his back popped with each new direction, he checked every man and refused to feel sorry for himself. A little agony was a hell of a lot better than being dead; he could hurt. They no longer could.
Ten helmets removed, ten dead crewmen. Each one as dry and cold as the last, they looked like they had passed on years ago. How long ago, he couldn't exactly say. His skills at anatomy were limited to knowing what parts a foe could live without. Beyond that, dead was just dead.
Which they were and he wasn't. That begged a new question. Why wasn't he dead?
The answer, or at least a clue, came to him as he moved back to his command chair and levered up into it. His legs were still not working, but he wanted a higher vantage point to the room. Looking up from the floor was only hurting his already aching neck. It was only when he glanced over where he'd awakened that he noticed something out of place.
Or rather, everything out of place. The entire bridge was covered in shards of glass and dust from the broken lights in the ceiling except where he'd been laying. There, in a perfect circle about six feet wide, there was nothing. The floor was completely clean. Spotless.
That made him look down at himself again, this time with a critical eye for his clothing. The armor his dead troopers were wearing showed signs of age and neglect, yellowing along the ceramic composite plates and gray stress lines in the undersuiting. His own? Pristine. His bodysuit wasn't even overly creased. His attire, armor and all, looked as fresh as if he'd laid down for a five minite nap.
Darrus' head was throbbing but even though the headache, he could figure out at least part of why he might be alive. The Force wasn't dead here; he'd just used it up. His reserves, the ambient power in the area, even the...
He stopped dead cold. Disiccated. The bodies were dry and drained, like something had leeched the life right out of them. No.
Oh, by the Powers, no.
He stared at his hands, trembling now from something other than searing pain. His men were dead, and he was alive because of it. The horror of what he'd done dawned on Darrus and his vision went black again. One shock too many, the revelation sent him right back into the bliss of unconsciousness.
Darrus had always heard that some traumas were so severe, the person suffering them would retreat into a catatonic or insensate state of mind until they could cope with the source of their mental collapse. He had never really believed it could happen until now, until he returned to awareness sitting in the middle of the clean spot on the floor surrounded by every single component of his lightsaber all arranged in a half circle in front of him.
Most of the parts were badly damaged; they appeared to have been the victims of the energy flare that took out the Maelstrom's systems and lighting. The saber's power core was a charred cylindrical wreck, the emitter was a melted slag inside its warped and ruined housing, and even the weapon's grips were the victim of its apparent meltdown.
A meltdown... just like his. He felt more than a little akin to his ruined weapon, broken and melted, a tool of violence far past the point of being whole ever again. He bid his lightsaber a final good bye and started numbly collecting its few salvagable parts.
As he did so, he checked himself. This was not really his saber. This was the stunsaber, a weapon he'd built from the masterfully crafted weapon of his friend and colleage Qui back on Cularin. He smiled slighty, a bit of emotion managing to pierce the dull haze of his guilt. Those days had been simpler ones.
He picked up each of the weapon's shock arms, turning them in cold fingers and watching as the light of the viewports glittered off the crystals set into each one. Before its destruction, this weapon had been a perfect match for Master Qui-Lan; it could incapacitate rather than kill through the flow of electrical power along its prongs. Qui had always been looking for alternatives to killing; Darrus had been happy to gift him with a birthday present that gave him exactly that.
Now, it was a memory - a ruined pile of metal scraps so charred a Jawa would turn its nose at them. Assuming they had noses; Darrus had never really been sure on that point. He'd only known one in anything more than a passing capacity and that one was an insane little lifeform who never took his blast helmet off.
Darrus felt his mind wandering. In his hands, the four pieces of the stunsaber he could save rested peacefully. Fragments of a weapon in the hands of a killer. He found that fitting in a macabre way, to be sitting in a room filled with his victims holding the ruins of his focus as a warrior. If this was the last moment of his life, if he died in his next heartbeat, it would all be perfectly poetic.
Only he didn't. It wasn't. He kept breathing, his heart kept beating.
He was almost disappointed.
Slowly, he pocketed the four pieces, taking care to put its Viridian crystal in a smaller pocket at his hip. They were beautiful when charged, glowing with a silver-green hue, but outside of a lightsaber Viridian gems were notoriously fragile. He'd already lost so much; he wanted to save this one little part of his past if he could.
Right... like he'd been able to save Lx from the Jedi Hunter's bomb.
Or Karaturana from Thaerian mercenaries. Or Aayla from betrayal on Fellucia.
Or even Trill. He hadn't even been able to save her.
At that last thought, another emotion pushed its way past the pain. Tore its way through, more like, with claws of fire. Hate. Rage at his best friend's treachery. At his own incompetence. At trust turned into weakness. At loss. Fury surged through him, unchecked and unregretted.
And suddenly, the pain was gone. The weakness fled the power of his heated emotion. His legs throbbed once in agony and then felt nothing more than the urge to stand. Riding the crest of this mind rush, Darrus willed himself to his feet and reached out with the Force. He wasn't drained any more. Far from it, there was an instant flux of raw energy. His hands, outstretched and trembling, began to crackle with arcs of blue-white electricity. Around him, a wind began to whirl. Dust rose up, a squall of air and darkness spiralling to life in the middle of his lifeless bridge.
Within moments, he was standing. A second later, he was rising into the air on the force of his vortex. The wind was rushing around him now, catching loose armor plates, pieces of shattered glass, and even vacant helmets. The ruins of the stunsaber joined the dancing debris as lightning flared between his hands. So much! So much energy!
He threw his head back and screamed in rapture as the lightning played across his body and arced out to spiral in the storm of his own making. "Yes!" he cried out, caught in the overwhelming heat of his channeling. "Power! Unlimited power!"
And in his mind's eye, in the corner of his thoughts not yet taken over by the sweet seduction of this newfound strength, his own words echoed direly. Where had he heard that before? It was a memory, but not of his. No, it reverberated through his soul not as something he had witnessed or endured but as a shadow in the Force. Something of such import that he could not ignore it, could not turn away from it. The moment in Time that his words called up slammed full-force into his consciousness.
The vision lasted but an instant. One moment, he was held aloft on winds of frenzied ascension. The next, he crashed to his knees under the weight if his own immeasurable dispair. Through the eyes of the Force, he saw the Grand Chancellor's office on Coruscant. Through the ears of the Force, he heard his words roar like thunder from Palpatine's mouth.
And through the soul of the Force, he felt Mace Windu die. He felt the only father he'd ever known assailed by the very energies he was letting surge through his body, slain by the same Force he was so eagerly embracing now.
It took everything he had, perhaps more than he could give, but shock and revulsion turned his acceptance into loathing, his bliss into crushing shame. He forced the power out of him, wanting nothing to do with it, wanting it as far away as he could cast it out! Lightning crashed all around him, searing at his skin and tearing holes in the deck. Arcs flared in all directions, powdering corpses and setting the bridge alight in a shower of sparks of flame.
Darrus shuddered, wanting every mote of this terrible energy out of his body. He didn't care if it hurt him, didn't care if it killed him. He had just danced on the edge of the Abyss and regardless of the cost, he could not... would not let it drag him in. Pain returned in waves as the storm took its due; the darkness would not be so easily denied.
Finally, mercifully, Darrus lost his grip on consciousness. The peace of an oblivion he had never meant to escape returned.
All become silent. All became cold.
And in the void, the Maelstrom burned...