Summary: What makes a hero? His victories? His accomplishments? His character? His sins? Or his choices? The dark, gritty, novelized form of KotOR 2. Begins at Dantooine. Some violence, gore, and language. Reccommend rating: PG-13
Ryan PM Presents
A Novel Based on an Obsidian Entertainment Game
KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC
Chapter One: Reflections
Circa 3960 BBY
Coruscant, Jedi Temple
“Do you know why we have called you here?”
“I came because I chose to, not because anyone summoned me.” He stood in the Council Chambers, dressed in a robe he had taken from the Temple servants. He hadn’t worn something so… simple, so light and loose in years that he had forgotten exactly how it felt. He had been encased in armor for far too long.
Master Vrook raised an eyebrow and glanced at Master Atris, and the two of them shook their heads slightly.
“Yet Revan summoned you, and without hesitation, you heeded his call,” Zez-Kai-El remarked evenly. “You willingly disobeyed the commands of this Council and proceeded forth to a war the Jedi had publicly renounced participation in.”
John set his jaw. “Yes, Masters.”
“Although we freely gave our warnings, still you obeyed Revan, an errant Knight, on an idealistic crusade that would only serve in causing more death,” Master Vash stated.
“Yes, though I was of the opinion that all Jedi were idealistic,” John said, keeping his gaze level and focused on a particular section of glass window; he had to be sure to prevent that bastard Vrook or any of the others from reaching into his mind and finding out about-
The word was so soft, so desperate, that it broke even John’ concentration and he turned to regard Atris. She locked eyes with him and her calm façade shook, barely visible even to the trained observer. John took a breath through his nose, trying to rein in the various possible responses that urged to come spewing from his lips.
To his credit, he didn’t say, “Because you were all sitting here while the rest of the galaxy rotted under your feet.”
He didn’t say, “Because Revan was the only Jedi who gave a damn about people other than himself.
He said, “Because I felt it was the right thing to do.”
But Atris did not seem satisfied with that answer, not at all. She turned away and her blue eyes seemed to dull, shimmering into an icy form. “You consider your wisdom,” Vrook interjected, “to be greater than that of this Council?”
John returned his focus to the window. “Not at all. But you’d be arrogant to assume that you are infallible and are wiser than I. In fact, I’d safely assume none of you are any wiser than I am.”
“Watch your tongue, boy,” Vrook said tightly, and John was satisfied when the Master gripped the arm rests of his chair with renewed vigor.
“Master Vrook,” Kavar said quickly, looking at John as though he were scrutinizing a germ under a microscope. “John,” he continued quietly. “Why did you defy us? The Jedi are guardians of peace and have been for centuries. This call to war undermines all that we have worked for.”
“Is Revan your Master now?” Atris said coldly. “Or is it the horror you wrought at Malachor that has caused you to see the truth at last?”
John stiffened. “Don’t speak that name,” he demanded staunchly.
Atris cocked an eyebrow. “Indeed? And why not?”
John felt his resolve breaking and his fixation on the window fracturing. “You would not understand,” he said evasively.
One by one, the Masters looked at one another, and each nodded in some unspoken agreement.
“You will understand this,” Vrook said. “You are no longer one of us.”
“You are exiled,” Vash proclaimed. “You are a Jedi no longer.”
John’ hands clenched into fists as Malachor swam before his vision, and he released his hands as he sighed in defeat.
“Why did you come before this Council today?” Atris said in bitter curiosity. “Was it to shout your rebellion further? To prove some measure of pride? To receive help for the darkness you are submerged in?”
John’ shook in mounting rage. “You would not understand,” he repeated, this time looking directly at Atris.
“Oh? Tell me, Exile, of the horrors you must now live with. Tell me of the pain you caused, the suffering, the-“
“Atris!” Kavar started, but it was too late.
A snap-hiss resounded throughout the Chamber as John’s lightsaber buried itself in the center statue, its blue glow burning the rock away and glaring defiantly at the Masters. John stood still in his place, his eyes burning, and then he turned and marched away, out the door, and out of the universe.
He left the robes on the floor.
Ebon Hawk, En route to Dantooine
The long night began.
In the pitch black of space and of the galaxy, the universe began its dark rotation of night and plunged the Force into dusk. The stars of the night twinkled dimly, forgotten and unimpressive, holding back the dark for now, but not for long.
He opened his eyes slowly, as though coming from a half-forgotten dream, barely clinging to the last tendrils of a fleeting universe beyond his mind. John blinked in the darkness of the cabin, ignoring the soft snores of Bao-Dur in the bunk in front of his. He raised a hand to his forehead, rubbed it as he realigned himself with the world around him.
The Ebon Hawk was asleep. Atton was snoozing in the pilot’s chair in the cockpit, Kreia was in a trance in the other cabin, T3-M4 was performing diagnostics on itself, and even the Handmaiden was resting, her posture erect on her cot in the cargo bay. John felt the comfort and ease of the little niche of the world flow into him, easing his own muscles filling his breaths with peace.
Memories always came back at night. He wasn’t surprised; he had been reliving the past for the last ten years.
John was only slightly startled when Kreia sent a flicker of thought toward him, having been awakened when he left his own slumber. Come, Exile, she urged. Let us see what runs amuck in your mind, keeping you from the blissful ignorance of sleep.
John frowned, even as he knew she was right, and he found himself standing before the enigmatic old woman with sitting on the floor in front of him, arms and legs crossed, a thin smile upon her lips. “Much has transpired today which served to resurrect the past,” she said quietly as the Hawk hummed around them both, “did it not?”
He sat in front of her, taking a position identical to hers. “You could say that.”
Kreia did not move. “Atris herself represents an example of what would become of one who lives in the past and refuses to contemplate the present.”
John didn’t try to meditate. “There’s a difference between living in the past and accepting it.”
Kreia inclined her head. “Indeed. And which are you?”
John was used to her blunt and often invasive questions, but he had yet to find a way to answer them well, at least to her standards. “I… don’t know,” he admitted.
“I like to think I’ve accepted my past.”
“But everywhere I’ve gone since coming back to this blasted Republic has brought my past back to haunt me in one form or another,” he said, bitterness creeping into his voice.
Kreia probably raised an eyebrow, if her voice was any indication. “Ah. You are… angry at Atris?”
John sighed. “Maybe.”
“Or what she has caused?”
“I don’t know.”
“Or the fact that she alone is the only reminder of the horrid event you brought upon yourself when you-“
“I don’t know!” he said loudly, glaring at the old woman as she sat, a new smile creeping onto her face.
Strangely, she cocked her head and whispered, “Reach out.”
John, still angry (at Kreia? Or Atris?), opened himself to the Force through her window and felt Atton stirring in the cockpit, eyes flinching as though he had been struck. John felt him curiously for a moment before retreating back to himself in the port cabin. “Why-“ he began, but Kreia held up a hand.
“Your allies,” she said, “are growing closer to you. Your feelings to your new… friends,” she spat the word as one would spit a poison, “are growing stronger.” She paused, seeming to stare into John and he felt his spine chill. “Do not forget that they are tools to be utilized, nothing more.”
John set his jaw. “I refuse to believe that.”
“Then you are a fool.” She shook her head. “Young fool. I fail to see how you still have not learned this lesson, especially after Mala-“
John was up in a second, towering over the frail woman’s form like an avenging giant. “Don’t talk about Malachor,” he said coldly, his hands clenched into fists.
Kreia did not give him the respect to meet his gaze. Instead she said, as though she were bored, “Exile, one day you will find that your connections to others are your greatest strength. But if you let yourself become attached to them, you will fall when they do, and they are far weaker than you. Only by cutting out your feelings and letting discipline and training overtake your being can you reach your full potential.”
“I’m not some puppet for you to dance,” he said hotly. “My decisions are my own.”
“Of course,” she shrugged. Then she placed her hands palms up, facing the ceiling, and fell silent, which John took as his cue to leave.
He tried to staunch his new anger, more for the benefit of the others in the Hawk than for himself. He buried the emotion as he moved to the garage, snatching a hydrospanner from the workbench and setting to work on the scaffolding along the wall, tightening bolts and keeping himself busy.
Machines and mechanical parts had that certain beauty to them; they were easy to deal with and had black and white outcomes. They either worked or didn’t, all depending on the effort put into them. For this reason alone, they were an ideal escape for John when his emotions were rising above the various walls he had constructed around his heart.
The night progressed, its blackness as impenetrable as the darkness inside John himself.
Atton was the first to wake, and so he said, “Dantooine in about four hours, John,” as he passed by the garage to grab some food from the cargo hold.
“Right,” John replied.
Atton stopped just short of the cargo hold door, wincing uneasily. “You think she sleeps with clothes on?” he asked warily.
John smirked. “As if that would stop you.”
“Yeah…” Atton reached for the panel, pulled his hand back, bit his lip. “You know that feeling you get when your plan doesn’t seem too great in hindsight?”
“All the time.”
“I’m feeling it.”
The door slid open of its own accord, however, to admit the Handmaiden, dressed in her snowy white attire. John turned from his work and made his way down the hall in time to see her ignore Atton with all the frigidity of a snowstorm. Instead, she looked at John and asked, “Am I permitted access to the food stores?”
Wiping his greasy hands with a cloth, John shrugged. “Sure. Take whatever you need.”
“Uh, she has to help pay for that, right?” Atton said as though he were in pain as the Handmaiden began to rummage through the storage containers.
“You don’t pay for your food.”
“I fly the ship; payment through service.”
“What? You don’t pay either. Come to think of it, who does pay for all of our food?”
John grinned. “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” He snatched a protein bar from the bin and took a bite as Bao-Dur entered as well.
“Where’s the party?” the Iridonian asked rhetorically.
“The main hold,” John interrupted before Atton could make a sarcastic remark. “We have some things to talk about.”
“Roger that, General.”
Within moments they were all gathered: John, Atton, Kreia, Bao-Dur, the Handmaiden, and T3-M4. The holoprojector was displaying Dantooine slowly revolving as the Ebon Hawk neared the exit point from hyperspace.
John placed both of his hands on the projector and zoomed in on the closest settlement to the Jedi Enclave. “Alright,” he said to the assembled… crew. “We’re looking for Master Vrook-“
“The bald, annoying one?” Atton interrupted.
“That’s right,” John agreed. “If there would be any place for a Jedi Master to be, it’d be at the Enclave.”
“Not to question your judgment, General,” Bao-Dur started, “but wouldn’t a former Jedi Enclave be a poor hiding spot from the Sith?”
John inclined his head. “Probably. But it’s the only place to start. And there might be some information there about where to find him if he’s left.” John tapped the screen and brought up the small settlement south of the Enclave. “Now, this place, erm… Khoonda, is the local government. I’ll talk with the governor and see what I can find out; the rest of you are free to do as you please, provided you don’t cause trouble.” He looked pointedly at Atton, who shrugged.
“I’ll see about selling any unnecessary supplies, General,” Bao-Dur stated.
“Sounds good.” John shut down the projector. “And be ready. Dantooine may be remote, but there’s a Jedi here. And wherever there’s Jedi there are usually people trying to kill them.” He sighed. “And we’re not exactly the luckiest bunch of misfits in the galaxy.”
“Speak for yourself,” Atton smirked.
“Excuse me, Exile.”
John had been packing a backpack with essentials in the hold when the Handmaiden approached him from behind. He turned to regard her politely as his eyes drifted over her stance; hesitation, but resolve mixed with anticipation. “Yes?”
“If it is agreeable, I would like to accompany you in your search for the Jedi Master Vrook,” she said plainly.
John raised an eyebrow. “You thought I would confine you to the ship?”
“I did not know. We had not met until a number of days ago, and even then it was under… less than amiable conditions.” But she nodded very slightly to herself, as though confirming a suspicion she had already held.
“Well, can you fight?”
“Of course I can fight,” she said, indignity dripping into her words. “I am an Echani, the Last of the-“
“It was a rhetorical question,” John said amusedly, holding his hands up. “If you can fight, you can come. You have a weapon?”
She had obviously prepared for that question, because she snatched a thin hilt from the back of her belt and it instantly extended into her trademark quarterstaff. She twirled it once for emphasis.
He considered telling her, “Yeah, you’ve got spirit, Snowball,” but decided against it. Instead he handed her a blaster pistol from the containers and said, “I’ll just assume you know how to use that, too.”
“Indeed.” She paused as she accepted the weapon and attached it to her hip. “Thank you, Exile.”
He brushed the flicker of irritation away at the title, albeit with some difficulty. “Thanks for helping,” he muttered as he turned back to finishing packing for the trip.
But she didn’t leave, and he felt her inner emotions conflict with each other as she tried to ask him something. “Forgive me, but you are not… how I expected you to be.”
He actually cracked a smile at that. Atris, you did good, didn’t you? Schutta. “Oh?” he replied, shaking his head in exasperation. “And just how did you expect me to be?”
A pause… then: “Atris… she told me of your character.”
“Let me guess: gruff, rude, impulsive, rebellious, insidious, and manipulative?”
“…Yes, save for the gruff part.”
He blinked. Atris couldn’t at least have installed her little slaves with a sense of humor? “Ah,” he muttered darkly.
“But you are not so,” the Handmaiden said as though she were confused. “You are… more calm than she portrayed you to be.”
“Yeah, well,” he said as he stood, slinging the backpack over his shoulder, “some things get lost in translation.”
She frowned. “So it would seem.”
He gestured to the door. “We should get going.
“Before we do so,” she said tentatively, “I wish to ask you something.”
He paused, looked over at her warily. “And?”
“Why did you go back? Face trial?”
His mind returned to that dark place, that of the past, and he closed his eyes...
“I… apologize. It was not my intention to cause you duress.”
He opened his eyes again and looked at her; she was glancing at him in sadness and… guilt? “No,” he said quietly. “Don’t worry about it.” He sighed as he replaced his belt on his hips. “I…” He paused, frowned, reached into his mind and discovered, to his surprise, that he actually had an answer. “I think I needed to defend myself,” he said slowly. “I think… maybe I just needed to know if I had done the right thing.”
The Handmaiden nodded slightly, thinking. “I see. And… did you?”
He locked eyes with her. “I hope so,” he said, doubt flowing over his words.
Her eyes flashed with sympathy. “Thank you, Exile. It was always something I was curious about. To walk willingly to one’s sentence… it is a brave thing.”
The word echoed in his mind. Brave? John looked at the deck. “I… never thought of it that way before.”
She shrugged slightly. “You do not seem to have much confidence in yourself for a Jedi.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m not a Jedi.” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, and he winced at her piercing look.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Exile.”
Two could play at that game. “Likewise, Handmaiden.” He shook her proffered hand and she turned on her heel to leave him alone in the cargo hold.
The light of Dantooine's sun made John’ eyes burn as he stepped down the ramp of the Ebon Hawk and into the small docking station just outside the Khoonda complex. The sounds of a day of labor beginning, droids whirring, men talking, parts clanging to the deck, greeted his ears and the smell of grass and warmth bloomed in his nostrils.
It is… good to be back, I think. With a wave of his hand, his crew disembarked from the Hawk, leaving T3-M4 to stay with the ship and keep it locked down. John looked around, taking in the sights and reaching out through Kreia’s window of the Force and felt Dantooine again.
It was… different. Darker, somehow. The sky was overcast with a thick layer of clouds that threatened rain, but the feel of the whole place was off.
“We must remain wary here,” Kreia mused. “The settlers will not be peaceful towards Jedi.”
“Why not?” John asked, just as a protocol droid, green body rusting with age, approached them with a happy spring in its step.
“Greetings, Jedi,” it said uncomfortably loudly.
At once, an elderly man by a stack of crates along the wall perked his head up and turned to regard the newcomers. “Jedi?” he said suspiciously. “That droid called you a Jedi.” He stood and walked to John, slowly. “Now why would it do that?” he wondered aloud, pointing an accusatory finger.
John forced a grin to his face. “Thing must be malfunctioning.”
“Uh huh,” the man said, his beady eyes moving over the odd group.
John imagined they probably looked very… out of place. “Take a look at me,” he offered. “No robes, and no lightsaber.”
The man stepped closer and grabbed John by his armor. “Oh yeah? Well not every Jedi walks around wearing robes and the usual getup, huh!”
John placed his hands on the man’s. “Let go of me. Now.”
They stared one another down for a moment, the tension threatening to break, before the man sighed and released him. “Yeah. Fine. I guess you’re right. Not like a Jedi would come back here after what they caused.”
As he turned away and John righted himself he snapped, “What the hell did the Jedi do to you, anyway?”
The old man snarled and stomped over to John. Stabbing a finger in his face he barked, “Those damned crusaders brought Malak’s wrath upon us! He bombed us to get to them when they wouldn’t surrender in their little Enclave! My… my Dalia was killed because of them!”
John flinched as though he had been struck, and in a way he had. The Enclave was destroyed? Since when? “I hadn’t heard,” he muttered truthfully.
The man growled in irritation and stalked off back to his duties on the landing pad.
“Well, isn’t that great?” Atton muttered. “Now we have Sith and the local farmers trying to kill us.”
“We won’t have that problem if you keep your voice down,” John snapped. “Alright. Atton, Bao-Dur, split up. Go take care of supplies and selling. Kreia, you’re with me. Handmaiden…” he paused, looked at Atton’s vigorous shaking of his head, and added, “you’re with me too.”
“Where are we going?” she asked. Atton sighed in relief.
“To speak to whoever runs this place,” John said.
“Right. Whoever runs an old, run-down estate and pretends it’s a government building. Have fun.”
Run-down was just how John would have described it; the entire settlement reeked of despair and hopelessness. People sat against the walls of the building; some of them looked half-starved or sick. Many of them coughed. Even more cradled children against their torsos, whispered reassurances and promises.
The vendors half-heartedly tried to sell their wares, and their eyes kept flicking to the valleys and passages surrounding the Khoonda, as though watching for something.
But it was the small child, a girl no older than five, maybe six, who was huddled in the corner of a small shed, her arms around her, that made John's resolve snap. As a breeze stirred by the storm clouds above washed through the air she shivered, closed her eyes, murmured something under her breath. John walked forward slowly, gently, pity and compassion overriding the part of him that screamed at the injustice of it all.
"What are you doing?" the Handmaiden asked, but he was already kneeling before her.
"Hey," he said quietly, as she looked up at him with the innocence of a child. "Hey... do... where are your parents?"
The little girl said nothing, only tried to bury her nose in her elbow pathetically.
John's face softened even more. "Here's some money," he said, placing credits into her hand. "Go get some food."
Hey eyes darted from the money back to him several times before her little fist closed over the chips. Then her eyes found something else, to his right. "Mister," she whispered, "look at the butterfly."
He turned his head and spied the small insect fluttering near him, large golden winds flapping against the wind as it spiraled through the air. He smiled. "I see it," he told the girl. "Pretty, huh?"
She nodded, then dashed off around the corner, heading for some place where she could get food... or so John hoped. As he stood the Handmaiden was searching his face, then stared at the ground. Kreia was impassive as always, though he could feel her mix of irritation at being slowed and compassion for the child.
"I want to know what's going on," he said determinately. "Something is very wrong here."
“Welcome to the Khoonda Administrative offices,” the receptionist said. She sat behind a desk and tried her hardest to look important, not that it worked on John.
“I need to see your… governor,” he said.
The receptionist looked at him curiously. “You mean Administrator Adare?”
“….Yes,” he said as confidently as he could. “It’s urgent.”
“Unfortunately, sir, Administrator Adare receive several ‘urgent’ messages a day. If you wish to set up an appointment, you may do so here. Otherwise, you must wait in line.” She gestured to the gaggle of settlers littering the from room of the offices.
John frowned. “That’s not an option,” he stated bluntly. “Are you sure there isn’t any way I can talk to her for just a moment?”
The receptionist frowned deeper than him. “I’m sorry, sir, but rules are rules.” She said this in a false-sweet tone that made John’s jaw twitch in irritation.
Before he could say anything else, Kreia murmured, “There is no need to wait.”
The receptionist’s eyes turned blank and she repeated, “There is no need to wait.”
“You can go in right now.”
“You can go in right now.”
“Move along. Move along.” The receptionist turned back to her computer console without hesitation and promptly forgot they existed.
John glanced at Kreia. “Was that really necessary?”
“Time is of the essence,” she chided. “We cannot afford to be delayed now.”
“Even so, it seems an irresponsible use of power,” the Handmaiden put in. As Kreia turned to regard her coldly she looked away determinedly.
“Drop it,” John said to the two of them. “It’s not that important.” Already he could feel the hostilities emanating from the two women and he mentally sighed. He didn’t need more of his crew trying to kill each other. I’ll have to deal with it later.
So now you will ‘deal with me’? Kreia sounded amused.
John glared at her. Just play nice. At least for the next hour. That’s not too painful, right?
That would depend on the other participant in this little game.
Shaking his head, he proceeded through the double doors and into the main offices. The room was sparsely decorated but contained several benches and desks, and a large flag depicting an emblem hung above the center table at which sat a female human with black hair and tired eyes. As the trio proceeded into the room the several armored militiamen in the corners stiffened as the woman sat up straighter.
“Who are you?” she demanded softly. “I told Mareena I am not to be disturbed.”
John inclined his head apologetically. “My apologies, ma’am. I presume that you are the leader of the settlers here?”
“I am.” She stood and set her piercing, aged eyes on his.
“Then I am John Lyons.” He stopped a few feet in front of her desk while Kreia and the Handmaiden waited at the door. It slid shut behind them with a loud clang.
“You came in that ship, the Ebon Hawk?”
John blinked. “I’m surprised you’ve heard of it. I wasn’t aware it was anything particularly special.”
Administrator Adare sighed. “Indeed? Then it would appear my hopes were unfounded.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Hopes?”
“That ship once belonged to a Jedi. I was under the impression it was still, but it seems that I was mistaken.”
John instantly recognized the change in her body language and he held up his hands. “No, I didn’t kill this Jedi, if that’s what you’re thinking. The Hawk was… more or less passed down to me.”
Adare regarded him coolly. “I see.”
“And I may not be a Jedi, Administrator, but I am looking for one.”
Adare’s eyes flicked over the blaster slung across John’ back and the vibroblade inside his right boot.
“And I’m not here to kill him, either. I need his help.” That much was true, from a certain point of view.”
“Then it would appear that our goals are mutually beneficial.” Adare moved around her desk and one of her guards stepped forward.
“Adminstrator, I don’t think,” he began, but was cut off by a wave of Adare’s hand.
“It’s quite alright, Zherron,” she said calmly. As she stepped closer John wondered at her features; she still had the look of youth, but both her stance and eyes betrayed her wisdom and experience. “This one doesn’t carry himself like the mercenaries… more like you.”
Zherron shifted uncomfortably. “As you wish, ma’am.” He stepped back to his place beside the center desk.
“Now then, John Lyons,” she said, extending her hand and allowing him to shake it. “Why, exactly, do you need to find the errant Jedi Master Vrook?”
John considered how much to tell her. “Unfortunately, Administrator, that has an extremely complicated answer.”
“I’m sure.” She crossed her arms and took a step back. “But I’ve got time, apparently.”
John glanced at Kreia, who shook her head just enough for him to see the motion. He felt the Handmaiden tense as the guards did so as well and her hands drifted ever so slightly to the staff attached to her belt…
“There is a bounty hunter who wants to capture him,” he lied easily.
Adare nodded. “I’m well aware of the Exchange’s policy on Jedi. Are you a hunter?”
John shifted. “No. I knew Vrook from the… from before Revan’s war. I need to make sure he doesn’t get taken by the bounty hunter. He’s an old friend, and I owe him an old favor.”
It was a long shot, to be sure, and the story was barely passable, but if John had judged the Administrator right, she was on the verge of breakdown. She needed Vrook’s help too, he gathered, and either Vrook was in trouble or she thought he was.
As he had predicted, she said, “I see.” She glanced at Zherron and said, “Then I am afraid you will be disappointed. Master Vrook has not been seen for quite some time.”
That’s not all you know. “But you know where he might be,” he pressed.
“Perhaps.” Adare leaned closer to John. “Understand that my people hate the Jedi, but I believe Vrook’s presence is a necessity. Do you know the current political state of Dantooine, Mr. Lyons?”
He shook his head. “Can’t say I do.” But I daresay it's not anything good.
“Let me explain; the Exchange has set up a considerable mercenary base on this planet and as a result, hired thugs and thieves raid my settlers daily. These mercenaries have been terrorizing our sphere of influence for the last few years, and we don’t have the manpower to stand up to them in a physical confrontation. They block our supplies from being spread, they steal food and money, and they kidnap several people a month. Some of them never come back.
“Master Vrook’s presence prevented the mercenaries from attacking outright and taking the Khoonda.” She sighed. “If they were to do so, they would certainly kill me and my staff and instill martial law and take over Dantooine for their own profits. I and my associates are trying to keep the settlers in a democratic community, but without Vrook, those efforts will soon be to waste.”
John nodded, fully understanding her troubles. “And you think Vrook is dead?”
“I don’t know. And we have not had the time or the resources to look for him.”
John rubbed his chin, going over the various possibilities. “No one has checked the Enclave?”
“Mr. Lyons, the Enclave has been in ruins for five years. Only the sublevels are accessible, and those are dangerous enough with the infestations of laigreks. Add in the scavengers and looters, and it’s simply too high-risk to consider sending militia who could protect the people here.”
John’s eyes narrowed. “Scavengers?”
Adare apparently caught his unrest, because she nodded hesitantly. “Yes. The Enclave has been the source of looting for quite a while now. There’s hardly anything left of value to take, but that hasn’t stopped the infrequent raiders from trying to breach the sublevel to take whatever treasures haven’t been discovered.”
John’ hands curled into fists. They desecrate that place, take its priceless artifacts… violate tombs… “Vrook may have gone there,” he said testily, staying focused.
“That was my thought as well. There may be some clue as to his current whereabouts.” She shook her head uneasily. “Even so, the sublevel is a dangerous place. I doubt you and your-“
“We’ll manage,” he said quickly, holding up a hand. “Trust me.”
Adare looked from John to Zherron, then at the floor, thinking hard. With a sigh, she said, “Very well. You know what I know. The Enclave is likely where you will find him. And if you don’t, well…” she trailed off. “Then I won’t have much time to worry about it, anyway.”
John nodded, feeling confident now that he had an objective, a goal. “When I find Vrook, I’ll bring him back.”
Adare still looked unsure. “That would be… most kind of you,” she said softly.
John pivoted and marched out of the office, the Handmaiden and Kreia drifting behind him. As he passed the reception area, he heard one of the women there plead to a guard: "Please, please, they took my son, they took my son! Just let me talk to her! I'll do anything, just... my SON!"
It took all of his reserve to ignore her and keep walking.
read, albeit late
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