The smile that spread across Kyp's face was almost sickening. "Please, don't stop on my account. Go right ahead and kill each other."
Mara didn't so much as flinch, though she did feel more than a little ashamed. Kam, on the other hand, drew himself into a ready-for-action position with both hands grasping his lightsaber hilt. The saber itself, however, remained unlit.
"Well, I suppose it's better if you didn't. I need her alive." He focused his gaze on Kam. "But I doubt she'd be the one to end up dead anyway."
Kam's eyes squinted a little tighter.
"Come now, Kam. Put the saber down. I have no quarrel with you. I'm only here to take Madam Skywalker along with me." He smiled a bit more pleasantly. "You should be happy, you know. You won't ever have to see her again."
"So I was right," Kam said as he turned and stepped slowly backwards so as to keep an eye on both Kyp and Mara. "She is the one who put you up to this."
Kyp let loose with a laugh. "Oh, that's rich," he said between guffaws. "Yes, of course. Master Skywalker's own wife was working against him." He rested his forehead against his hand and took a couple of uneasy deep breaths until his laughter stopped. "It's a good thing I wasn't reading you closer while I walked up. I'd have ended up rolling on the floor right in the middle of the hall. Seriously, is that what you were arguing over?"
Their awkward silence answered his question.
"I've got to hand it to you Kam," Kyp said in a peculiarly familiar way. "You really know how to justify your opinions. Hey," he exclaimed, "why don't you join me? A hothead like you is much better suited to the ways of the Sith. Especially since Master Skywalker is so often wrong."
"Never," Kam replied, though it wasn't nearly as strong a denial as it could have been.
"Suit yourself," Kyp allowed. "The offer stands, though. So, if you ever reconsider, be sure to let me know. No, no," Kyp suddenly changed his focus, bringing up a hand and looking in Mara's direction, "there will be none of that."
Mara's head felt like it was in a vise. She pressed her hands against her ears against the pain that shot through her skull and fell to her knees, her attempt to mentally contact Luke abandoned.
"Now, come along," Kyp enjoined her. "We have things to do."
"What do you want?" Mara asked, standing back up now that the mental pressure had abated. With Kam standing there, and Kyp completely aware as he seemed to be, she knew she'd have to bide her time before drawing her own lightsaber.
"Like I said, I want you," Kyp replied with a sneer. "Actually, I only want the kid. But it's kind of a packaged deal at the moment, isn't it?"
Kam was taken completely by surprise. He turned to look at Mara, his jaw hanging limp. Mara paid no attention to him, instead staring at Kyp with a focus that would have made a sane person cringe in terror. Her body tensed, ready to pounce. It might have been over in seconds, except that the attack never came.
Mara's face abruptly turned from a look of fury to fear and her muscles loosened immediately. She took a few trial breaths, and her eyes grew wide. Her hands flew to her neck in reflex. With her mouth open wide, desperately trying to take in air, she slowly slumped down again, finally passing out from lack of oxygen.
The still stunned Kam turned back toward Kyp. "What," his frail voice asked, "did you do to her?"
"Nothing to worry about," Kyp assured him flippantly. "I only caused her to faint. She'll be fine. Now," he said as he stepped in Mara's direction, "if you'll excuse me."
"Wait," Kam interrupted the Sith Lord. "Is it true?"
"Is what true?" Kyp said, in the middle of crouching down to lift Mara.
"What you said... about a child."
"Oh that," Kyp replied. "Yes, it's true. Check for yourself if you want."
Kam hesitated, but then went ahead and focused through the Force. He had no idea how to search for something like this, but took his best guess. He could sense Mara's unconscious mind, but nothing else...
No, there was something else. Another being, almost too small to notice. But it was definitely there.
"See?" Kyp said.
"One more question," Kam replied. "Is it really..."
"Oh, absolutely. She and Skywalker are the real thing."
It all came crashing down inside Kam's head. Luke's child. Master Skywalker's child. And this woman... This despicable woman... She really was his wife. And carrying his child.
Kam stumbled back a couple steps, overcome with conflicting emotions.
Kyp hefted Mara across his arms with a grunt. He turned to leave, but before he could reach the door Kam stepped in front of him.
"Put her down, Kyp," he requested. "Please."
"Put her down? But I thought you hated her?"
"I may not like her," Kam said as he ignited his lightsaber, "but you're not taking Master Skywalker's wife and child from him. I won't let you."
Kyp's eyes switched their focus between Kam and the green lightsaber blade a few times before he sighed and set Mara down against the wall beside the door. From his belt he drew the hilt of a lightsaber half again as long as Kam's.
"I told you, Kam. I have no quarrel with you; but if you give me one, I will be forced to kill you. Consider it carefully."
"You were his most promising student, but you have turned," Kam observed. "I was so blinded by my distrust of someone else that I refused to see it. But no more."
"So that's it, then," Kyp concluded as he flicked on his lightsaber. A deep purple blade shot from the hilt. His artificially friendly expression turned to a hideous image of evil as his true nature took over. "I'm going to enjoy this."
With an almost whip-like motion, Kyp brought his saber up above his head, then diagonally down at Kam.
Kam's green blade easily blocked the opening strike, though the strength behind it surprised him. He immediately leapt back and brought his blade into a vertical position with a two-handed grip, ready for Kyp's next strike. It came swiftly.
Kyp lunged, bringing the blade in a horizontal backhand aimed to slice across Kam's abdomen. Kam's quick 180 degree rotation of his blade caught the attack, then he riposted in a weak downward slice after flipping his saber around again.
The purple blade remained in a horizontal attitude as Kyp moved his hand vertically to bring the glowing blades into contact. However, Kam's blow had much less strength than it ought to, and Kyp barely managed to rotate his saber until it pointed straight down to block Kam's real attack. Bringing his left hand to the hilt, Kyp managed to block a downward green slice aimed at his right shoulder, then another at his left.
Having gotten a step ahead of Kam, Kyp took the opportunity to drive his saber at him in a double handed stab. It happened so quickly that the middle-aged Jedi didn't have time to block, only to jump back out of the way. But when he did, his heels contacted the couch, causing him to tumble on to it. The purple laser sword pulled back, then rotated around to come down on Kam, but he performed an incredibly quick Force-enhanced flip over the piece of furniture so that the only thing Kyp hit was the couch. He left a smoldering, half-meter long line in the center cushion.
Kam took the opportunity of being out of Kyp's sight momentarily to search for something to throw at him. Deciding on a table, he got a good Force grip on it and flung it in Kyp's direction, sending Mara's Z-95 to shatter on the floor.
Kyp swung around to deflect the object that was now flying at him from behind. His lightsaber slash broke the small table into several pieces, but unfortunately for the Sith Lord, the pieces still had their momentum. He turned his head aside and brought up his saber-bearing arm involuntarily as the broken wood impacted against him. He thought he felt his arm pierced by a splinter, but had no time to worry about it as Kam was driving toward him again in the confusion.
The confined space of the Skywalker suite prevented free movement, a fact Kyp had a better grasp on than had Kam, at least until his near-disastrous tumble. He leapt back almost to the wall, nearly landing on the still unconscious Mara to avoid Kam's attack, bringing his lightsaber down to deflect it if at all possible. He was only partially successful, as the tip of Kam's blade penetrated the front of his left thigh.
If it were any closer, Kyp's femur would surely have been severed, if not his entire leg. As it was, the diagonal slash sent an intense wave of pain through his nervous system. The heat of the lightsaber cauterized the wound immediately so it didn't bleed, but Kyp's motions would certainly be affected.
Affected, but not prevented. The wave of pain, and the anger that flowed with it, brought an almost inhuman growl out of Kyp's mouth as he drew forth the power of the Dark Side and with an outstretched left hand channeled it at Kam, shoving him back against the far wall.
Kyp took a step forward with his right foot, then one with his left, which almost brought him down. He passed the still-lit saber into his left hand and clenched the wounded leg with his right. He concentrated the Force on reducing the pain, then stood up again. Using his now free right hand, he stretched out his fingers. His palm-down hand elevated slowly, and with it the couch. Then, with the flick of his wrist, he sent it Kam's way.
Kam was terribly shaken from the impact with the wall, but had recovered soon enough to brace for the couch. Extinguishing his saber for safety, he dropped to the floor and pushed himself away from the wall with his feet, slipping under the flying sofa just before it hit the wall with a resounding thud. A second thud announced the couch had fallen to the ground, well behind him by that time.
Kam had no time to congratulate himself, however. He rolled to his left just in time to dodge Kyp's left-handed down stroke.
Kyp pulled the saber out of the groove in the floor and switched hands. His right-handed back swing was intercepted in the nick of time by Kam's re-ignited sword. Kam lunged at him in a virtual repeat of Kyp's earlier move, sending Kyp hopping backwards again. But unlike Kam's ill-fated evasion, there was no couch for Kyp to trip over. He was left in a position far enough from Kam to set up for a power strike.
Kyp swung his saber over his right shoulder in a two-handed grip, such that it looked more like he was using a club, then took a lead-off step with his wounded left leg. At that fateful moment, Kyp faltered.
Kam saw his leg tremble even as he started the stroke and knew that this was a golden opportunity. He lunged, starting his saber in a swing that would pass through Kyp's chest at right about armpit level.
He didn't realize until it was too late that it was exactly what Kyp had planned. Kyp not only faltered on his left leg, he allowed it to bring him all the way down, until the left knee had hit the ground, the right leg stretched ahead, and his lightsaber stretched out and upward for a head-on collision with his opponent.
Kam was run through even before his saber had swung harmlessly over Kyp's head. With his mouth hung open in horror, he slowly looked down to see Kyp's evil grin. His lightsaber extinguished for the last time as it fell from his fingers and clattered on the floor.
His eyes bulging, he watched as Kyp stood back up while keeping the saber blade embedded just below his ribcage and to the right of center. By the time Kyp was fully to his feet, the purple blade was angling slightly downward.
"Nice try," Kyp said as Kam's mouth fumbled for words. "Now, if you live long enough, I want you to tell Master Skywalker about this. But if you don't," Kyp took a look around at the debris-strewn room, "he'll get the idea anyway."
"Nooo," Kam's strained voice said, and his hands grasped weakly at Kyp's lightsaber hilt. Kyp drew his left hand down the hilt slightly to touch a certain control. Suddenly a ball of light pulsed down the lightsaber blade, instantly burning a hole more than fifteen centimeters in diameter in Kam's chest and sending him reeling back away from Kyp into a heap on the floor.
Kyp extinguished his lightsaber and picked up Mara again, then departed.
"This just isn't getting any better, is it?"
"That's just what I told him," Han pointed out.
"Thrawn with a Death Star." Lando shook his head morosely. "No need for the Sun Crusher if he's got himself a Death Star."
"But he doesn't," Luke corrected. "General Madine's message said it was the prototype Death Star that was sabotaged. Still, that doesn't mean much. It's like he has a brand new Mount Tantiss." He took a long sip out of his steaming mug then set it aside, bringing his other hand up to massage his forehead between his eyes.
"When is Madine due back, anyway?" Han asked.
"Huh?" Luke replied groggily as he continued to knead at the headache. "Oh, should be about three or four days from now." He finished with a heavy sigh that sounded close to a groan.
"Luke, are you okay?" Lando asked, rising from his seat.
"You don't look so good," Han agreed. "Do you want to lie down?"
"No," Luke replied weakly. "I'll be fine. It's just..." Luke broke off suddenly, his whole body stiffening when he heard the voice.
The mug fell from his left hand to spill its contents across the floor. His right hand fell away from his face and he stared dead ahead, though his eyes were not focused on anything in particular.
"What's wrong?" the justifiably alarmed Han asked.
Luke! the voice called again.
"M... Mara..." Luke mouthed.
"Mara?" Han read his lips. "What is it? Is she in trouble?"
Luke paid no attention to his immediate company, instead concentrating on the telepathic voice of his wife.
Luke, please help me. It's...
Her voice cut off in an instant, replaced by a brief but intense wave of anguish before he lost contact with her entirely.
"Mara!" He said as he leapt to his feet. "Mara needs me!"
Kyp had just finished ascending the ornate staircase leading upward to his goal, kicking the limp hand of a dead guard out of his way as he passed. The fool hadn't even known someone was approaching the bottom of the stairs when his neck imploded.
He paused briefly to readjust his grip on his captive. It had been a long walk from Master Skywalker's place, and his wife was a lot heavier than she looked. After coming up five palace levels already, he was really quite winded. He began to regret having broken the nearest turbolifts to discourage pursuit.
Deciding that he had enough time, he braced himself against the wall to rest for a moment. Unfortunately, his solitude was rudely interrupted.
Do you even know the meaning of the word 'subtle'?
Kyp jerked upright, away from the wall, nearly dropping Mara in the process. "I caught her, didn't I?"
Yes, Exar Kun's voice agreed. But you've just let every Force-sensitive on the planet know you're here. Do you seriously think they won't try to stop you?
"Let them!" he shouted in reply. "I'll kill them all."
Yes, of course you will. Just like the wonderful job you did taking down Solusar. How does your leg feel, by the way?
You have no sense for manipulation, either. You were clever when you hijacked that smuggler and took his fake transponder overlays to sneak through Coruscant control; it was impressive when you masked your presence through the Force; I was starting to get proud of you when you talked Solusar into inaction; but then you go and tell him the truth about the child. You should have known better than that!
"You'd be wise not to question my methods," Kyp threatened. "I could kill your chance for rebirth at a whim."
Do that, and you'll never have me out of your head, Kun countered. But enough of this bickering. Get moving before someone else shows up.
"I will move when I decide to move," Kyp declared as he stared toward the ceiling where it seemed Kun's voice was originating. "If I want to put her down and take a nap, I'll do so."
Oh, I'd advise against it, Kun intoned. Especially with Jedi trainees about.
Something in the way he said that broke through Kyp's wall of frustration, bringing his attention to the here and now, and the fact that there was, indeed, someone approaching him from the hallway ahead.
Kyp set Mara down again, then lit his lightsaber and strutted up the hallway. He could now clearly sense his opponent, something he'd missed during Exar Kun's distraction. He sensed a great deal of fear and uncertainty, but an even greater measure of determination. In fact, she was achieving remarkable success in using that strength of character to beat back her fright. Considering all the things she had lived through, he expected no less.
When Kyp had gotten to about 20 meters from her, she stopped her slow advance.
"Kyp," Leia said, then took a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds before stating her demand. "Let her go, and give yourself up."
Kyp stood watching, but did not reply. He looked her over, noting how she obviously dressed quickly into some old, mismatched fatigues. She held her lightsaber hilt awkwardly, clearly not used to it. Certainly more familiar with the weapon than the average sentient, but lightyears behind Kam.
She waited a couple minutes for him to reply, but when he did not so much as budge in that time, she switched on her saber. Green highlights appeared in response on the arches and moldings of the night-darkened hallway.
Kyp chuckled briefly. "Do you seriously think you can stop me?"
Leia nervously took a combat stance. "Yes, I do," she answered.
"This is a joke," Kyp told her as he took his first, slow step forward. "Your training is negligible. You are more suited to politics than the Jedi ways. Go back to your committee rooms and debates. You'll accomplish more that way."
Leia settled into her stance, her eyes never leaving Kyp.
"If Kam Solusar couldn't beat me, why do you think you will?"
Leia's look of determination faltered momentarily as Kyp's mention of Kam registered, but she shoved it aside in her mind, and refused to back down.
"Your strength is words. If you have any good ones, you might want to use them now. Though I can't promise that I'll listen."
Leia just held the gaze. To Kyp, it looked like threatening defiance. To Leia, there was a bit of that, but mostly she was too busy trying to control her racing heartbeat through the Force while planning her next move to come up with anything.
"Suit yourself," Kyp announced. He raised his right arm, bringing his saber high; he quickened his stride, swiftly closing the distance between them.
His first down stroke was blocked, but the impact sent Leia back a step. He brought it up over his left shoulder, then swung at her again. She barely managed to block, and lost another couple steps.
Kyp had remained fully erect the whole time, seeing no need to adopt even the slightest combat stance.
In the pause he had allowed her after the second stroke, she regained her footing and took the opportunity to strike back. Kyp sidestepped and deflected her attack so quickly that Leia almost fell on her face as she went past him.
"You should learn to use that thing before picking a fight," he taunted. "I suppose you thought it handled the same as a gavel."
With a growl, Leia lunged at him again, but was dodged just as easily as before.
"Do you recall your brother's tired old adage about 'trying'?"
She swung rather than lunged this time. Kyp knocked it away as if he were swatting at a fly.
"Obviously, you fall into his 'do not' category."
Leia attacked again with three successive swings. To her credit, the second succeeded in loosening Kyp's grip, but before the third could be delivered he had the lighsaber tightly held with both hands.
The lightsabers remained in contact for a moment, the purple and green blades sparking and hissing against each other until Kyp disengaged and swung his in a tight backward circle past his left elbow, giving him a powerful upswing that Leia almost didn't block. But this time, she was knocked off balance enough to leave her on the floor.
Kyp, however, opted not to go for the easy kill. Instead, he pulled his lightsaber in close where he could get a close look at the hilt, and started working the controls. As he did so, he looked in Leia's direction and gave her an evil half-grin.
Kyp's lightsaber emitted an accelerating pulsating thrum as he adjusted a knob, startling Leia with it's eerie similarity to the droning of an Imperial interrogation droid. The pulse of energy that accompanied the thrumming likewise accelerated in its circuit up and down the blade, until both the sound and the light became nearly constant.
The resulting weapon more closely resembled a club than a sword, but still moved with the weightless ease of a regular lightsaber. Kyp brought it to an en garde position, then motioned with his free left hand for Leia to come at him.
Once back on her feet, Leia took up a semi-crouch with her blade before her and slowly sidestepped in an arc around Kyp. She maintained a constant radius, daring not to instigate contact until the timing and positioning suited her. Come on, Mara, she thought. Wake up...
When Kyp made a great show of yawning, she struck. It was a carefully concentrated attack, with a focus of Force power that even impressed Kyp. He had intended a repeat of his casual deflections, but got a sense of her newfound power just in time to double up his parry strength.
Leia's slender green blade was very nearly engulfed by the much thicker purple one, and to her surprise she felt an incredibly strong tug when Kyp pulled his saber back. She staggered forward a few steps before turning to face him again. She assumed her combat stance again, but noticed that her saber's blade was flickering slightly. In a few seconds, however, it had returned to its proper intensity.
As usual, Kyp merely stood tall. "Skywalker ought to start a Jedi preschool, just for you."
He took three long steps forward and lunged for the first time in this bout. Leia parried, but that was exactly what Kyp had intended. The enhanced saber seemed to have a very interesting effect on an opponent's weapon. Unexpected, but not at all disappointing to the Sith Lord.
Leia's arm flew out as Kyp's saber yanked hard against hers. He had hit it in such a way that his buzzing monstrosity would drag over almost the entire length of her blade, pulling on it and drawing power away from it at the same time. Once the strike was past, Kyp pulled back to allow her time to recover.
Her lightsaber flickered again, but this time it didn't quite make it back to full brilliance. Sweat dripped from her brow, her hair now lay plastered to her scalp; her clothing was soaked with perspiration, and she clenched her left hand over her strained right shoulder. She was beaten, and she knew it. But then, she had never really planned on beating him alone. Unfortunately, her play for time had failed.
After giving her a half minute, Kyp drew up his saber again, ready for a roughly sideways blow going from right to left. Leia gripped her hilt as best she could, but it was no match for Kyp's blow.
"Can't this thing go any faster?" Lando swore.
In fact, the turbolift they were in was one of the fastest on Coruscant, but that did little to ease their sense of urgency. Neither did the fact that their destination was on the far opposite end of the Imperial Palace from where they had started.
Han took the time to check the power pack in his blaster, then set the weapon on "kill".
Luke noticed, but opted to remain silent. Han's mind was made up, and Luke realized that he had every right, if not an outright obligation, to do it. That didn't stop him, however, from wishing there was another way. Han seemed to sense Luke's unease.
"Did she actually tell you who it was?" Han asked without looking up from his blaster.
"She tried," Luke replied, "But then she was stopped. It could have been through the Force, or physical harm," he explained, hanging his head at the thought of her being injured.
"Either way, that spells Kyp," Han concluded, slipping the powerpack back into his blaster with a loud, satisfying click. "If it were only rogue smugglers or a bounty hunter, she wouldn't have called for help."
"We can't be sure of that," Luke countered.
Further conversation was curtailed when the turbolift stopped at the target floor. Luke and Mara's suite was only a couple hundred meters down the hall. The three exited at a run, but soon Luke fell behind.
Han and Lando noticed his absence quickly, and turned back to find out what had happened.
"It's Leia," Luke answered. "She's in danger... Come on!" he shouted, resuming the dash. "We've got to help her!"
Leia's lightsaber flew far down the hallway, extinguishing in midair. It bounced a couple times against the wall and floor before skittering to a stop nearly 15 meters away.
Leia fell to her knees, now without a weapon, and looked up at the face of the killer who had vanquished her. Kyp brought the tip of the saber up under her chin, not letting it touch, but still giving her a chance to feel the heat it generated.
She closed her eyes, ready to accept the inevitable...
But the inevitable didn't come. Kyp pulled back his lightsaber then extinguished it. Leia opened her eyes again to see Kyp looking down on her spitefully.
"Leia Organa Solo," he addressed her. "I'm going to let you live, but for one and only one reason. Your husband was once my friend. I owe him my life," he said in a very serious manner. "Now, I shall spare yours in return. Now go, run back to him, and never cross me again. My debt to him is paid in full. Should we ever meet again, I will not hesitate to kill you, or him."
Leia stared back at him, but Kyp paid her no mind and turned his back to her. She got to her feet as he walked away, but found herself unable to say anything. After a couple of false starts, she started running after him. She stopped short when he turned around in a flash.
"I can see you won't leave quietly," he surmised. "Very well. Be sure to give him my thanks for loaning me his ship when you see him again."
Kyp lifted his hand and made a squeezing motion. Soon Leia, as had Mara before her, collapsed to the floor without enough oxygen to remain conscious.
"Leia's down," Luke announced. His voice betrayed his feeling of hopelessness. "She's..."
"What?" Han asked urgently. They had slowed from a dead run when Luke was struck with another flood of emotion from his sister. Lando ran slightly further before slowing.
"She's... unconscious. I... I don't think she's hurt."
"I'll be the judge of that," Han gruffly replied as he picked up the pace again.
When Lando saw that his cohorts had started running again, he went on ahead, but came to a sudden halt when he came across the scene of carnage that was Luke's suite.
"LUKE!" He shouted from just around the bend. "Get over here!"
Han and Luke sprinted to Lando's side. Luke's door was wide open, the door itself bent and obviously forced back into the wall. They found Lando already inside, kneeling next to the body of Kam. Debris was scattered all over the floor, much of it from pieces of furniture that Luke had not even seen before. A few stray burn marks were visible in the floor and on the walls.
"Kam!" Luke gasped, kneeling down on the opposite side of his fallen student. The still smoldering hole in Kam's side made it look like he had been shot with a field artillery piece. Luke laid his hands on him and concentrated, using the Force in an attempt to heal. A few seconds later, Kam groaned into consciousness, but Luke already knew that it wouldn't last.
"M... Master..." Kam whispered.
"Please don't call me that, Kam," Luke asked earnestly.
"I was wrong. I'm sorry."
"Kam, what happened?" Luke questioned. "Please tell us!"
"Kyp... Kyp came for her. I..."
"You tried to stop him," Han finished the sentence for him.
Kam nodded weakly. "I failed you, Master."
Luke's eyes were by now moist and red. "No, Kam. Please don't talk like that."
"Master," he continued, his voice growing as groggy as Yoda's had, "stop Kyp... save Mara..."
"Yes, Kam," Luke assured him, at this point grasping Kam's left hand in his. "I will."
"Good," Kam said, offering a brief, weak smile that faded almost as soon as it began. "When you do..."
He paused for a moment, his eyes going out of focus. Luke could sense his life slipping away.
"Kam! Hold on!" he pleaded. "Please!"
Kam took a slow, but deep breath, then his eyes focused on Luke again. "Luke... when you do... tell her..." He trailed off again, closing his eyes this time and struggling to breathe. When his eyes opened again, they did not regain their focus. His lips moved slowly, not quite uttering the words for a few more seconds. Finally, with a wheeze that must have hurt horribly, he summoned just enough strength to go on. With his dying breath, he completed his request. "Tell Mara... I'm sorry."
"Yes, Kam," Luke answered, his own eyes clamped shut in sorrow. "I will."
"L... Luke?" Lando stuttered in fright.
Alarmed by Lando, Luke opened his eyes just in time to see Kam's physical form fade away. The hand he held became lighter and lighter until there was nothing but his own hand, squeezing itself. In an instant, Kam had ceased to be.
Lando was practically petrified by the sight. It took Han, who was really not that much better, to help him up off the floor.
"Luke," Han started, but silenced himself when he saw Luke was deep in concentration.
Just what do you think you're doing?
"It's none of your concern. Now leave me be."
You should have killed her, Exar Kun criticized.
"It was a debt of honor," Kyp replied as he clipped his lightsaber back to his belt, then flung his black cape over his shoulder.
How amusing, the voice of Kun laughed. You actually think you possess some sort of honor. This kind of honor will get you killed, you know.
"I'll subscribe to whatever kind of honor I want to. You can't order me around, Kun."
Oh no, of course not, came the ghost's smug reply. But my suggestions are well worth listening to. Like now, for instance.
"Oh?" Kyp asked incredulously. "And what bit of advice might you have to offer me now?"
A rhetorical question, actually. Do you have any idea where your prisoner is?
"Of course I do," Kyp snarled. "She's right over..."
Kyp trailed off when his eyes came to rest on only a towel lying where a woman had been before. He looked around in a panic, then charged down the staircase to expand his search.
You do realize by now that this is what Skywalker's sister had in mind the whole time?
"You know," Kyp growled, "your advice would be a lot more useful if it came at a better time."
I tried to tell you, Kun's eloquently snide voice explained, but you weren't paying any attention. By the way, watch your back.
Kyp had just gotten to the lower floor when Mara struck at him from her hiding place behind the banister on his right. Warned just in time by Exar Kun, Kyp dove to his left, barely avoiding getting sliced in two. As it was, the banister received the brunt of Mara's blow.
Kyp rolled a few meters before leaping back to his feet. Unexpectedly, he found himself doubling over in pain. Mara's stroke actually had managed to connect with him, leaving a blackened slash just below his old knife wound from Boelis. He clutched his side in agony.
Pain, however, was the least of his concern when he saw Mara charging at him, her blue saber blade raised and ready for the kill. Kyp performed a decent tuck and roll out from under Mara's attack, coming out of his ball with lightsaber lit. Now up and ready, he winced slightly but turned his mental focus on the fight instead.
Mara came at him with a stunning ferocity, an incredibly fast mixture of swings and stabs that left Kyp hard pressed to keep up. The Force gave him warning, then guided him just in time to counter, but nothing more. What was all the more surprising was that he sensed very little anger in her. Her combat prowess was practically reflexive, flowing easily and naturally, not needing the slightest bit of dark emotion to keep it focused.
But she was far from emotionless. Radiating like a nova was a sense of loyalty and commitment that went much deeper than Kyp had suspected. She had something to protect, and she was going to protect it to the best of her ability. And unlike Skywalker's sister, his wife's ability was considerable.
Kyp ducked and dodged, weaving side to side while swinging his lightsaber defensively. A diagonal stroke up and to his left was blocked high, then the return stroke blocked low, and the subsequent one-handed stab slapped aside, all in the space of less than one second. The slap aside proved to be an error, as Mara was able to circle her blade back with pure wrist motion and riposte, giving her opponent no time to block properly.
The blue blade caught a corner of Kyp's black cape, slicing a datapad-sized piece of it off as he leapt aside. His quick movement had saved him from the potentially fatal stab, at least for now.
His sideways move took him a short distance from Mara, giving him a potential chance to activate his lightsaber's enhancements. He started for the knob, but abandoned the attempt when Mara's lunge required him to make a Force-powered leap to avoid. He flipped in mid air, landing behind her. Momentarily forgetting his goal in the heat of the moment, he spun his lightsaber in a backhand arc meant to take off her head, but was surprised when the swing caught nothing but a stray lock of hair that had trailed behind when Mara ducked under his attack. He was even more surprised when Mara's bare foot impacted against his wounded side with far greater force than he would have thought possible from her slender frame, sending him reeling several meters back in intense pain.
Kyp rubbed his sore side for a moment, hastily gathering his thoughts as Mara turned toward him to press her attack. He noticed that a dark stain was spreading across his tunic, as Mara's kick had apparently broken loose a portion of the lightsaber-cauterized cut. To say this wasn't going nearly as well as it should was a gross understatement. He wondered for a split second how Skywalker would view her actions on a Light/Dark scale. It was abundantly clear that she was ready to kill, and would probably succeed if he didn't take immediate action.
She might lack raw Force power, and her Jedi training was mediocre at best, but the fact that almost three quarters of her life had been spent in training under the Emperor as his personal assassin made her more than a match for Kyp in a basically physical battle. Obviously, that meant he had to change his battle plan, and quickly.
Mara had swiftly turned to finish Kyp off with another saber lunge. Kyp, however, had used the scant seconds between the kick and the lunge to finally draw on the Force for something more than just barely reading her moves and dodging. He still had to dodge, but he used the Force to allow his leap to take him further over Mara's head this time. He managed to twist around in midair so he was facing her when he landed.
She may have anticipated that, but she hadn't quite expected the blue lightning that came her way. She'd gotten a hint of warning through the Force, and brought her saber up in a futile attempt to fend off the bolts. A few sparks were held at bay, but the vast majority of the lightning tendrils went right past the lightsaber blade and danced across her body. Mara fell to the floor, writhing in pain.
The first bolt away, Kyp was about to loose another one to finish off the troublesome wench when someone else weighed in on the issue.
Kyp looked around in surprise, but saw no one. "Is that you?" he asked, in no particular direction.
Of course it's me, fool! Exar Kun shouted back.
"Don't call me a fool," Kyp growled. He lifted his hand toward the recovering Mara.
I said STOP!
"Why should I?" Kyp shouted defiantly. By this time, Mara was on her feet, but staggering uncertainly. Her lightsaber hilt remained on the floor.
You must not harm her! Everything hinges on that!
No buts! You must not harm her!
Easy for him to say. "Then how?" Kyp asked, his frustration flaring.
There are ways, Kun assured him. If you will listen for a change, I will tell you. Now look out.
Kyp jerked into a combat stance, saber at the ready for whatever Mara might try. Unfortunately, Kun hadn't told him just what to look out for. He felt the Force-flicker at his back and fought against it, but only after his cape had already flipped over his head. Ignoring using the Force for the sake of expediency, he threw it back away from his face with his left hand.
Even Exar Kun was unable to give him warning until after the small vibroblade was embedded in his upper right arm.
Mara flung her other blade a split second after the first, but Kyp was able to dodge that one. Unfortunately, she had only slipped two of the miniature daggers into the left robe pocket before opening the door for Kam. But then, nice as an entire bandoleer of them would have been, it would be rather difficult to conceal it in a bathrobe.
Kyp pulled the blade out and threw it off to the side. Rage filled his heart as he charged at Mara, saber poised for a kill.
He may have been fully channeling the Dark Side, better than Mara could channel the Light, but he was also acting irrationally. Mara had little trouble intercepting the attack, directing it away from her body in such a way that Kyp basically bumped right into her. With his lighsaber held off to the side by hers, she took the opportunity to deliver a left elbow jab to his abdomen, then a swift kick to the same spot when he staggered back.
Kyp doubled over, the breath knocked out of him. Two drops of blood fell from his wounded shoulder while he stared at his feet. He pulled his head up to see Mara walking slowly in his direction. Apparently, the need to catch her own breath was the only reason Mara hadn't pushed the attack.
But it wasn't her breath that caused Mara to pause. A strange tightness in her abdomen drew her attention completely away from the fight. She'd never felt anything like it before, but there was only one thing it could be. And it was far from the right time.
She immediately went deep into concentration, turning the Force inward. Considering all she had been through, she realized it was a miracle it hadn't happened sooner. As if that was a comforting thought. With no idea what she was really doing, she could only hope some Jedi muscle relaxation and soothing techniques could avert the coming disaster.
"Not yet," she desperately whispered. "Please, not now."
She dropped her saber and knelt down, hands clutched across her belly. Maybe it was working. Or maybe it wasn't. A quick glance up told her that Kyp was just standing there watching. She wasn't even sure what she would do if he chose to attack.
Despite her Force meditation, panic was setting in. Sith Lord nearby... Luke nowhere near... uncertainty... fear... an intense desire to kill Kyp...
Mara mentally clenched down again, pushing the panic aside as best she could. Must concentrate... must concentrate...
Just leave her. She's doing fine, Exar Kun advised, sounding greatly relieved. Kyp, having belatedly realized just what Mara was doing, had made ready to rush over to her to help, if he could. No thanks to you. What kind of idiot are you, throwing electricity at a pregnant woman?
"How was I supposed to know not to do that?" Kyp shouted back. Mara paid no attention.
It doesn't take a genius to figure that out! Kun exclaimed. The Sith ghost sighed in disgust. Are you about ready to listen now?
Kyp, angry but reluctantly admitting his grievous error, gave up on speaking for now and just nodded vigorously.
The contractions had subsided, or at least Mara thought they had. This was, after all, a new experience for her. She knew she must remain on guard for more, but for now she sighed her relief, and thought soothing thoughts toward her child for a moment. The danger - and accompanying anxiety - had, for the moment, passed.
She soon looked up in Kyp's direction, to find him staring blankly and talking into the air, apparently deep in conversation with an imaginary friend. A quick re-assessment of her position followed. The stairway to the upper level lay beyond Kyp, as did the lower level hallway they had apparently come in through. She couldn't be sure, of course, as she was unconscious at the time. But it was a safe bet, knowing the layout of this place as she did.
Picking up her lightsaber, she conceded that there wasn't much else to choose from. This atrium was at the far end of the palace wing, and aside from the upper and lower hallways, the only other options were the turbolift - also beyond Kyp - and a door off to her left, which was nothing more than a maintenance closet. She knew of no secret passages in this area, either.
Basically, unless she wanted to dive out a window, and with a bathrobe and a lightsaber being her only equipment that wasn't an option, she'd need a distraction to get past him. Unless, of course, help arrived first; but she wasn't counting on it. With that lightning of his, sticking around to fight just wasn't an option, despite how much her instincts told her to stay and fight, both to protect what was dear to her and and to punish the one causing harm.
Blast it, Luke, she thought, what's taking you so long?
Apparently, Kyp wasn't focusing on maintaining his Force interference at the moment, because Luke answered.
Do you understand?
Kyp nodded. "I pinch those specific nerves, and I can selectively paralyze or cramp the connected muscle."
That's it. Your method for knocking her out in the first place was quite good, Kun congratulated, but it takes too long, and she might be able to fight it off. Use this technique from close by, and she won't have time to counter.
Since Kun wasn't physically there, Kyp could face any direction he wished. He opted to look away from Mara, for fear of her reading his lips. Every now and then he took a sideways glance at her, just to confirm she was still there.
She's still shaken, so it should be easy. But if you have to, keep her busy with the lightsaber, get in close, then do it. Understood?
"Yes, Master," he answered aloud, then turned back toward Mara.
Her robe, once a bright, clean white and blue was now dirty and burned, with some blood spots on it. Most likely his. Her hair was hanging in wet, lopsided clumps and tangles. Her face, however, bore an expression of determination and confidence.
"Mind if I ask you something?" Mara said, taking Kyp a little by surprise.
"I suppose," he replied, remaining where he was. Mara, likewise, stayed put for the time being.
"Who were you talking to?"
"You would like to know that, wouldn't you?" he taunted. "You will meet him soon enough. And for the rest of your life!"
"Stop it," she deadpanned. "You're scaring me."
"If you knew," he replied with a wicked smile, "you'd be terrified."
"And if you had even a clue about what I'm going to do to you..." she retorted with an even more sinister smile. She didn't feel any need to complete the threat. It was clear Kyp got the point.
He brushed it off, though not without inadvertently letting off a brief flicker of uncertainty. "I wouldn't be so sure about that. Come on, let's finish this!" With that, Kyp ignited his blade and finally managed to get the pulse generator going.
"Don't have to ask me twice," Mara replied as she re-ignited her own. Keep him off guard, she thought. Make him think I'm going to stay and fight...
The opponents faced off for a while, probing each others' defenses with both physical and mental feints. Kyp struggled with splitting his attention between the standoff; fighting back the pain in his arm, side, and leg; and listening for Kun's advice when a different voice intruded. It took him only a second to identify then block out the voice of his former Master. At that time it dawned on him just why Mara seemed so confident now.
"He won't save you, you know," he announced as they continued their face-off. "He'd never kill me. He's too afraid of falling to the Dark Side."
"He'll do it if he has to," she replied, though secretly she wondered as well. Luke was annoyingly uneasy when faced with such questions. Of late, he had all too often failed to take prompt action out of uncertainty about Jedi morality. What seemed clear cut to her was a conundrum to him. Even his most recent words to her had included no mention of what he intended to do about Kyp, just general encouragement and assurance that he was on his way. She wanted to believe what Solo had told her, but she still wondered if Luke really would have chased down Daala on his own.
"I sense your doubt," Kyp sneered. "He is far more interested in the inane philosophy of the Light Side than in his wife and child. Look at what he has allowed to happen! Why don't you just leave him?"
"No," she replied uneasily. "I won't leave him. It's just that..." She jerked her head violently to break out of the confusion Kyp had lured her into. The fact that Kyp had found something with which to bait her was immensely disturbing, even more so given what the issue was. "Hey," she shouted back, "what makes you think you'll still be around by the time he gets here?" Change the subject. Keep him off balance, don't let him unbalance me...
"Oh, I don't think that will be a problem," Kyp answered, then attacked.
Mara veered as clear as possible from the strange buzzing weapon with the glowing pummel. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good. The unexpected pull when lightsabers crossed, coupled with the flickering of her blade in the aftermath caused her to re-evaluate her earlier boast. Now she had to keep her saber from hitting his, or at least keep the contacts as brief as possible. This wouldn't be easy, but she was the type who loved a challenge, especially when it came to beating down insolent troublemakers like him. In fact, she thought with a grin, that was exactly what she was best at. This was going to be fun...
No... disengage and retreat was the plan all along, she had to remind herself. A flash of anger pulsed over her; anger at herself for having allowed that kind of mindset to bubble up. This was time for rational thinking, not instinctive lashing out. Protecting her child meant, in this case, running away and not trying to kill him now. Problem was, finding a safe time to turn her back on him...
There would be time to kill him later if Luke didn't do it first. Though, to be perfectly honest with herself, she really wanted to do that deed personally.
Kyp knew his current advantage was purely psychological. Once Mara got the hang of dodging his enhanced blade, she would surely realize that his tempo had slowed and his concentration divided. Out of all the stupid things Skywalker taught at his Academy, Kyp now regretted not keeping up with the prescribed split concentration exercises.
He mentally probed as he swung the weapon, looking for the particular nerves that Kun had mentioned. As he probed, Kun essentially said hot or cold to help him along. Anything more direct would have taken too long to explain in the high paced action.
With her blade flickering from power loss, Mara opted to leap back a little, hopefully giving it time to settle again. Kyp began to move, but a premonition of danger led him to bring his saber around to the side to intercept the vibroblade that Mara had somehow located and used the Force to send in Kyp's direction. The vibroblade disintegrated completely when it hit his blade. He knew she'd make use of the distraction, so it was no surprise that she was already charging.
Charging, yes, but not at him. She was making a dash for the hallway.
He started after her, but knew even as he took the first step that his wounded body could not keep up with her. Frantically, he kept trying to find one of those special nerves...
Finally, Exar Kun indicated he had found one.
Without warning, Mara's right thigh cramped up, not only stopping her advance but sending her crashing down to the floor. The pain was more intense than any cramp she could ever remember having. She tried to get up, but failed on the first two tries. With the lightsaber still in hand to defend, it would be almost impossible.
Kyp watched on in delight. That had worked even better than promised. He set out to find another critical nerve...
To Mara's utter horror, her right arm cramped, causing her to drop her saber. Fortunately, it shut off as soon as it left her hand. What could be happening?
The look on Kyp's face told all.
"Luke!" she projected urgently. "Luke! Hurry!"
"I said none of that," Kyp chastised, then began squeezing her mind as he had back at her suite. With Mara in little more than a crumpled heap on the floor, he stepped in close, kicking away her lightsaber when he got to it. Playing on a hunch, he reached down and grabbed her at the back of her neck and tried his nerve search again.
As he suspected, it came to him quickly. Kun had said it worked best at short range, and what shorter range was to be had than physical contact? The extremely close proximity, plus the ease of communicating with Exar Kun without the distraction of battle, let him find a dozen more spots within seconds.
"What are you going to do with me?" Mara asked, her voice horse amidst the pain in her leg, the pain in her arm, and the pain of defeat. There was simply no way to overpower him or escape like this.
"I'm not quite sure yet," he replied, "but I have some ideas." He smiled at her, a disturbingly lecherous grin. "But we can discuss it later. Get up."
"Do you think I fell down because I wanted to?" she bit out through pain clenched teeth as the cramp continued.
"Easily solved," Kyp told her. With a judicious Force tweak, the nerves that had affected her leg and arm were released, making the cramps go away as quickly as they came. "All right, now get up."
She did as he said, but he kept his hand on her neck the whole time.
"Would you please stop it?" she asked. "I'll do what you say. You don't have to pinch like that."
"Sorry," he replied sarcastically, though he did loosen up his grip a little, "but no can do. Get walking."
She hung her head, letting a false feeling of failure and hopelessness radiate from her to mask her thoughts of escape. To further ensure he wasn't eavesdropping, she made full use of the special thought pattern the Emperor had taught her so long ago that had even worked against C'baoth. As she looked downward at her bare and bruised feet, she blushed a little when she noticed that the dark blue sash that held her robe closed had worked its way almost completely loose during the fight. This could be useful...
"Kyp?" she asked carefully, in a sickeningly submissive tone.
"What is it?" he replied gruffly.
"Would you mind if I, um, tighten up my belt?"
A flicker of something crossed Kyp's emotions. Mara was pretty sure she knew exactly what it was. "Actually, I do mind," he replied, though his voice sounded slightly... awkward. "Just leave it."
Kyp was still a teenager, after all. Even the ways of the Sith hadn't completely changed that. There was, Mara recognized, still a chance for this to work.
"Not while we're walking around the palace, Kyp!" she pleaded. "Please let me keep at least a little bit of dignity."
"Um, well..." Kyp started, then blushed and silently scolded himself. With him standing this close, Mara could sense it easily. "I suppose." He sounded a bit let-down.
"Thank you." She made a bit of a show of cinching the sash tight and double knotting it. She sensed his increasing curiosity as well as disappointment.
When the task was done, she let out a relieved sigh. Then, with Kyp at his most distracted, she slowly made a fist with her right hand, cupped it inside her left... then, with the added leverage of her left arm and a quarter-twist at the waist for power, she rammed her right elbow into Kyp's gut.
She was off like a shot, while Kyp crumpled to the floor with the wind knocked clear out of him.
Mara got about ten meters down the hall before her feet went limp. She slid another three.
Kyp staggered toward her, gasping for breath. "You... yo..." he tried to say, but failed miserably. Even before he had caught his breath, Kyp reached down to grab her neck again and began pulling her up, releasing the cramped nerves in her feet.
"I told you," he wheezed, "none of that. And you promised you wouldn't!" he accused.
Mara didn't answer. Not that he intended for her to.
"Punishment is in order," Kyp informed her, having finally managed a deep, complete inhalation. Suddenly, her right arm went numb and lifeless. "You can walk now, so go up the stairs."
She took a slow step in the direction of the stairs, as Kyp indicated. "What about my arm?"
"That stays as it is until I decide otherwise. Let it be a reminder of what happens if you try anything else. You can walk faster than that. Go!"
That's going to take surgery, you know, the voice of Kun informed Kyp. You pinched that one a bit too hard.
"I couldn't help it!" Kyp replied aloud. "Besides, she asked for it!"
"Who are you talking to?" his prisoner asked. A painful but short-lived cramp in her left hand was all the response she got.
At the top of the stairs, she got a good look at the dead security guard. "So," she asked grimly, "how many people did you kill to get this far?"
"I lost count," he replied proudly, opting not to punish her for asking such an enjoyable question. "A couple smugglers, at least a dozen palace guards, and a few nosy bystanders..."
Mara remained silent for a while, studying the hall for anything that she could use to escape. But with Kyp's quick response time, she knew there was little chance to use the Force against him, and essentially no chance for anything physical.
"What happened to Leia?" she gasped, noting that her sister-in-law was currently lying unmoving in the hallway.
"She's just unconscious," Kyp answered. "Go ahead and probe her, you have my permission. But only her."
Mara did as he said, confirming through the Force that Leia was, indeed, alive.
"So where are you taking me?"
"You'll find out when we get there," Kyp gruffly informed her. "Now move! Faster!"
The trio passed several collapsed guards along the way, but when Luke showed no sign of slowing his pace, Han and Lando knew that there was no hope whatsoever that the unfortunate men were still alive. He did, however, come to a near-stop when he rounded a corner to find himself in a large atrium with a broad staircase leading upward.
"This is it..." he said with a distant-sounding tone. "This is where Mara and Kyp were fighting."
"Hmm," Han muttered, gazing at the black lighsaber burns scattered across the floor and a severed, scorched chunk of the banister. There was a discarded piece of what could only have been Kyp's cape, a clump of singed, reddish hair, and a few bloodspots. Not to mention Mara's discarded lightsaber hilt that Luke was picking up. "Wonder what gave you that idea..."
It definitely set this stairway atrium apart from the ones they had ascended from the floors below. Blasted Kyp, just had to fry all the turbolifts...
"So where are they now?" Lando asked, as Luke started walking toward the stairs.
Luke walked in silence for a few steps, his eyes shut in concentration. Just before he reached the bottom step, he opened them while letting out a long breath.
"I don't know," he confessed. "Kyp is still here, and relatively close by, but he's making it hard to pinpoint him or Mara."
"Sounds like he's jamming you," Han observed.
"You could put it that way," Luke replied. "But for now, we know that he must have gone up this way."
"So," Lando asked impatiently, "is there anything else we need to do here?"
"No," Luke answered, beginning his charge up the stairs even as the word came out of his mouth.
Another dead guard lay on the side of the hallway, and some sort of white cloth on the other, but they were of no consequence at the present time. However, the next form they happened across was of great importance.
"Leia!" Han gasped as he slid to her side.
"She's alive," Luke assured him as he took a position like he had over Kam.
After half a minute of concentrating on the Force to revive his sister, Leia's eyes fluttered open.
"What? Who? Han! Luke!" she exclaimed.
"It's okay, sweetheart," Han said, pulling her into a tight embrace. Luke, looking slightly relieved, turned away to focus his Force sense on finding his wife.
"I, uh, hate to break this up," Lando interrupted after a few seconds of silence, "but we need to know..."
"Kyp, right!" Leia exclaimed as she jerked out of Han's embrace. He looked disappointed, but not terribly so. "He has Mara. I tried to stop him, but..." she trailed off, hanging her head.
"Thank you, Leia," Luke said, his eyes still shut in concentration. "You gave her time to recover and fight back."
"Fight back?" she asked excitedly. "Then it's over? Kyp is dead?"
"Actually," Lando informed her grimly, "seems that he beat Mara."
"Oh no," Leia whispered, slumping down again. "I'm so sorry, Luke."
"She's alive. Kyp wants her for something," Luke informed her. "Kam told me."
"Kyp mentioned Kam," Leia said while Han helped her get to her feet. "Is he..."
Han merely shook his head in silence.
"He... Kyp, I mean," Leia said weakly after a moment of silence for Kam's memory, "deliberately left me alive. He said it was his was of paying you back for saving him on Kessel."
"For saving..." Han repeated incredulously. "Why that ... When I get my hands on him..."
"He said you were his enemy now," Leia recollected. "Looks like he was right," she added, a deep regret in her voice.
"Do you know where he went?" Luke asked suddenly. Obviously, his Force search had failed to yield positive results.
"No, he didn't say... Wait! I remember..."
"Well, what did he say?" Lando pressed as she took a few moments trying to remember.
"Just before I passed out, he said... That's it! The Falcon!"
"And he knows where to find it, too," Han said grimly. Then one of his more typical grins began to appear. "But he doesn't know the shortcut!"
"I'll go," Luke said firmly. "Han, you and Lando get Leia out of here."
"No you don't," Han replied, drawing his blaster for effect. "I've got a score to settle, too."
"I'm just along for the ride," Lando added, then smiled brightly. "But I'm in for the long haul."
"No," Luke said, laying a hand on the shoulders of his two friends. "Mara is my wife. Force knows she deserves better than what I've done for her lately. But now," he paused, taking a deep breath, "now I'm going to do what I should have done before."
"Go get him, kid," Han encouraged after a momentary pause. "And smack him one for me."
"I still want to go," Lando said uneasily. "Guess I feel guilty about trying to upstage you back on the Chimaera."
"It wasn't your fault, Lando," Luke assured him. "Besides, I don't want you to end up like those guards. Now please, help Han take care of Leia."
With the wet crack of snapping bone, the last guard fell to the floor, allowing Kyp clear passage to the door to Solo's private landing platform. For once, it only took Force-flipping a switch to get it open. The thick metal doors slid to each side, revealing the Millennium Falcon against the nighttime city backdrop. The ship faced to Kyp's right, leaving its currently closed ramp directly ahead. The ship itself was totally darkened, but there were some light fixtures scattered about the platform itself.
"Solo's not going to like this," Mara warned him.
"Solo's opinion hardly matters." He pinched her neck harder. "Let's go."
They stepped through the doors and headed straight for the Falcon's ramp. Kyp had just started to reach out with the Force to activate the ramp's controls from the inside when the doors behind him slid shut. He turned in alarm to check if someone had snuck up behind him. While his head was turned, he heard the sound of the Falcon's hatch opening.
A lone figure descended the ramp. A man in a black, hooded robe. He sensed Mara's flash of hope instantaneously.
"Master Skywalker," he said, his voice supremely sarcastic.
"Kyp, you have to stop this."
"I don't know how you got here before me," Kyp replied, readjusting his grip on Mara, "but you're deceiving yourself, not to mention your wife, if you think you can stop me."
"He'll stop you, all right. Just you wait."
"Did I ask for your opinion?" Kyp asked while he put the squeeze on another nerve. Mara cringed, her left shoulder feeling like it was trying to turn inside out.
"Leave her alone!"
"She's mine. I'll do with her as I please."
"I'd sooner die," Mara hissed.
"That can be arranged," Kyp growled, tweaking her shoulder into even more agony. "Now, Master, if you'll step aside and let us through, maybe you won't have to see her hurt anymore."
Luke didn't flinch.
"Why are you doing this, Kyp? You could have been a great Jedi. You still can."
"Why would I want to be a Jedi what I can be the Dark Lord of the Sith?" he retorted.
"Kyp, that's not you talking. Not the real you." Luke stepped away from the ramp, but before Kyp could take another step forward it was already retracting. "Exar Kun has deceived you, led you in the wrong direction. But you can come back, Kyp. It's not impossible."
"Deceived me?" Kyp laughed. "Hardly! Kun only pointed me in the right direction. Unlike your convoluted approach. Do you know why I decided to be a Jedi?"
"No," Luke admitted. Kyp was somewhat surprised that he would admit to that rather than spin some fanciful sob story about how the poor Kessel miner had wanted to help others with his special talents. "Tell me."
"Revenge, of course. Pure and simple revenge. Even if I had trained all the way under you, I still would have gone to hunt down Daala eventually. Exar Kun only accelerated the timetable, and showed me how to make the best use of my power toward that end. Oh, he helped a bit here and there, but this path is the path I have chosen. I control my own destiny!"
"Kyp," Luke informed him, "if that's what you wanted, then you can stop now. Daala is dead."
That took Kyp by total surprise. For a few seconds, he said nothing and just stood with his mouth slightly open. His confusion was obvious. Luke took the opportunity to move a couple steps closer. "How?" Kyp asked at last.
"I blew her up," Mara announced proudly. "There, are you happy now?"
"NO!" Kyp shouted. "How dare you!"
"Excuse me?" Mara intoned sarcastically.
"She was MINE!" Kyp insisted. "Mine by right! How dare you steal MY revenge!" He reached inside her with the Force, finding a certain nerve he had thought particularly interesting and squeezed it. With a gasp, Mara felt her entire body below the neck go completely numb. She fell like a rag doll, being saved from a hard slam against the landing pad slab only by Kyp's hands under her arms.
"What did you do to her?" Luke demanded.
"Some judicious paralysis," Kyp answered. He was still seething, but his temper had started subsiding notably. "That felt good," he added once he had calmed himself a little more.
"There was no call for that!" Luke started, then decided on a less adversarial approach. "Kyp, your enemy is dead. The focus of your anger and hatred is no more. Please renounce this destructive path you've taken."
"You know," Kyp muttered as he shifted Mara's limp form to free his right arm, leaving his left wrapped under her arm and across her chest, "I always knew a duel with you would be a war of words. You've told us all about your fight with Vader and the Emperor, and the fight with C'baoth. Know what I learned? That you win by talking your enemy to death! Not at all like your wife here. I've seen her in action, and I can't for the life of me figure out how a whining coward like you could have scored a woman like her. Better let me take her off your hands. You're not nearly man enough for this one."
"And I suppose a kid like you is?" Mara commented darkly.
"So, you can still talk?" Kyp asked of the paralyzed woman in his arms. "Maybe I should have pinched a nerve higher up."
"You may be right," Luke said loudly to cut through the growing tension between Kyp and Mara. "Maybe I'm not worthy of her. But I'm not going to let you take her. I love her."
"I guess I'm going to have to kill you after all, then," Kyp said with mock sorrow. "What a shame for her to lose her husband at such a young age. And while with child, no less! But never fear, I will be there to comfort the grieving widow." Once he said that, he raised his right hand to Mara's chin, lifted and turned it to the right, and kissed her.
Luke staggered forward a step, fighting down the flash of anger than had welled up. Though Mara couldn't fight back, it was obvious from the disgusted and pained look of her tightly shut eyes that she wanted no part whatsoever in this.
"Well," Kyp smiled at her, "what do you think, my love?"
"Don't you EVER do that again!"
Kyp did just that, though only on the cheek this time to avoid her bared teeth.
"I'm getting good at this nerve manipulation thing," Kyp said for the benefit of his captive and opponent. "I might be able to do a little bit here and there, and then she won't even remember anything before me. I've gotten much better since that accident with Dr. Xux."
Mara's face was white with horror at the mere thought of it. Luke's was in the process of turning a furious red.
Don't tell me you really have fallen in love with her? the little voice in the back of Kyp's head asked. You've got to be kidding!
In love? Kyp thought back. Hardly! But you've got to admit, turning her from the wild gundark she is into a quiet, subservient housewife is kind of appealing.
I think you're just jealous because she almost beat you.
I've got to punish her for that, and I can't think of any better way.
I can think of a few, Kun hinted.
Kyp was doing something. He could sense it.
Luke reigned in his anger, though it still sickened him to see his beloved Mara held like that. The last bit of hope of resolving the crisis without killing Kyp was essentially exhausted, and he struggled to come to grips with that fact. With his thoughts growing more clear, he reached out his senses to stealthily probe Kyp a little deeper.
What he found was an infinitely deep cloud of darkness hiding just below the surface. It totally permeated him. But something else was there... the darkness was more confused than he had felt even in Vader near the moment of his return to the Light. No, confused wasn't the word. The Darkness was in conflict, not with the Light, but with itself...
"Kyp!" Luke called out. "Exar Kun is here with you, isn't he?"
Thanks a lot Kun, Kyp thought at his ghostly ally. Just had to open your mouth...
"Yes, he's here," Kyp answered. No point in denying it now. "Why? Do you want to try to turn him, too?"
"Exar Kun!" Luke said loudly, totally ignoring everything Kyp said past "yes" and talking directly to the ancient Sith Lord. "Leave Kyp's body! Let him go! Release him from your control!"
"You seriously think Kun's controlling my every action?" Kyp laughed. "Oh yes, I'm just the poor, innocent victim. I'm possessed, and nothing I've done is my fault. You know, it's really ironic: the Sith Lord claims full responsibility while the Jedi Master makes excuses for him. Did you hear that, Exar Kun?" Kyp asked to the air. "He's laughing, too," he informed Luke. "I'll need to wipe her mind anyway, I think. Your wife is much more practical than you are. She just might kill her own child instead of letting Exar Kun be resurrected through it. As his adoptive father, I just can't let that happen, you know."
"Kyp, no!" Luke gasped.
"So..." Mara whispered. "That's what you wanted."
"Yes, of course. The two of us will raise Exar Kun as our son, ruling the Empire in the meantime."
Mara's mind and heart raced. Kyp wasn't holding her hostage at all. He had always intended to all but murder her and the child she carried. For all her training under Palpatine, for all her power in the Force, for all her personal skill and strength, she was now totally at the mercy of this killer. He would surely detect anything she tried. Her only chance stood before her, spouting his useless and annoying appeals to Kyp's nonexistant good side while trying to conceal his struggle with his own emotions.
Though her entire body from neck down was completely numb, she could still feel the tears starting to drip down her cheeks. Please Luke, she thought to herself. If ever you loved me...
At that very moment, a gust of wind kicked up, causing black cape and black robe alike to flutter. Another gust, slightly stronger, followed a second later. This one succeeded in blowing Luke's hood off his head.
Mara felt a wave of warmth and reassurance flow over her. Instead of confusion or caution, Luke's face bore a look of certainty. His eyes were fixed on Kyp, his brow furrowed ever so slightly. She couldn't remember ever seeing him look like this. He was sure of himself, sure of what he would do, and was ready to do it. Mara's heart felt like it was soaring.
At the same time, she felt a wave of fear flow off of Kyp. No, not just fear. Pure terror. Kyp was petrified for at least a minute before Luke spoke.
"Get... your... hands... off... my... wife." His words came slow, clear, and commanding.
It sent a chill through Mara. Which was nothing compared to what it did to Kyp. Before he realized it, he had released his grip on Mara; unconsciously obeying Luke's order.
The instant the grip was released, Mara found herself flying through the air to be gently deposited in a sitting position up against one of the Falcon's landing struts.
Kyp gasped in shock when he finally realized what had just happened. He had watched Mara the whole time, but it took a few seconds to register. He snapped his head back around just in time to see Luke lowering his hand from the task of lifting Mara out of danger.
"H... How did you..." Kyp, in a state of near-panic, pulled his lightsaber from his belt and activated it.
Luke followed suit.
The first strike came in a confused barrage of rage. Kyp swung time and again, hitting as hard as he could. However, while fast and powerful, he attacked without form. Luke easily deflected each of Kyp's blows, though he did need to use both hands to do it, unlike how Vader had beaten him back one-handed at Cloud City.
Luke allowed Kyp to beat him back for a time, letting the enraged warrior wear himself down. From the way he moved during the standoff and especially now, it was clear to Luke that Kyp was injured in several places.
When the fight reached about 3 meters from the edge of the platform, Luke stood his ground. With Kyp's overhead blow caught against his green blade, Luke held him for a moment, giving Kyp a chance to try pressing it back. Kyp obliged, pushing with all his might. Rather than getting closer to Luke's face, however, the sabers moved slowly but surely back toward Kyp, whose cocky grin reversed its expansion as Skywalker's counterattack began.
What had begun as a physical lightsaber equivalent of arm wrestling ended with a sudden burst of power that sent Kyp flying back two meters to land on his back. He leapt to his feet immediately and brought his saber up to parry the wide side swing aimed at his open left side. With that stroke blocked, Luke swung his saber in a loop to bring it down at Kyp's head. Kyp barely blocked that strike when Luke flipped the saber around again, aiming at his right flank this time.
Compared to Kyp's clumsy attacks, Luke's motions were pure poetry. He moved with a smooth consistence that Kyp couldn't hope to match. After all, Luke had been training with a lightsaber for years, while he had only a few weeks of practice. It was all Kyp could do to block again and again, relying on the Force to speed his reaction time and anticipate where the next strike would come from. Skywalker clearly lacked the reflexive speed and efficiency of his wife, but what had Kyp rapidly losing all the ground he had gained was the way Luke could minimize Kyp's anticipation time. Kyp could clearly feel the Force emanating from his opponent.
He was back to where he had started, maybe a little further, by the time he began to notice a pattern to Luke's strikes. Not a sequential pattern for which direction would follow which, but a pattern of style, the type of blows that came from each direction. With the straight down blows, Skywalker pulled his saber back immediately as if it bounced away. On any upward swing, he let his blade angle further down as it slid against the parry until it had passed the obstruction, and then he frequently went into a loop and a side attack. Mostly to his right.
The patterns for all Luke's strikes were gradually filling in, until Kyp was able to use his knowledge of them to keep up, rather than the barely adequate Force premonitions. With his body acting on a pattern defense, his concentration could finally be split slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, Kyp caught site of a tool box. While continuing to fend off Luke's blows, he sent it flying at his former Master.
That got his attention. Luke broke off his attack momentarily to get his own Force grip on the tool box and deflect it over the edge of the platform. Unfortunately, it gave Kyp the chance to summon a little more Force. Raising his hand, he gave Luke a Force shove as he had done so successfully to Kam.
It wasn't nearly as effective this time, sending Luke back only about a meter and a half and not even knocking him over. However, it gave Kyp a chance to activate his saber's first-stage enhancement and resume his offensive.
Luke was ready for it, a fact that Kyp hadn't realized until it was too late. During the dash through the secret passages to the Falcon's platform, Leia had telepathically warned him about it. He had a hunch, and was now prepared to test it.
Kyp swung the buzzing saber down at Luke's left shoulder, which was easily caught. From what Leia had told him, that was probably just what Kyp wanted. Luke let the sabers stay in contact for a moment, letting Kyp's confidence grow as his weapon drained away the power from Luke's.
Then, when he felt a slight reduction in the pressure Kyp was applying to his blade, he took his swing. A strong, sliding swing, moving along the length of Kyp's saber. Luke felt the pull, just like Leia described. He also felt Kyp's grip slipping, unprepared as he was for his opponent to attempt pulling the saber away from him.
Accompanied by the sound of a startled yelp, Kyp's lightsaber slipped out of his hand and flew a good distance away. The blade extinguished in mid-flight, and the heavy hilt smacked into a cargo container near the wall; the glow coming from its pummel illuminated the floor and wall in its vicinity.
Kyp turned back to face his foe, then frantically summoned the Force, channeling it into a tremendously powerful leap to avoid Luke's blade, which came slashing through the space Kyp just left. He turned two complete flips in midair before coming to land on top of the Falcon, just aft of the cockpit. His wounded leg buckled, having been stressed too much by the landing. He grabbed at it, his hand coming away slightly bloody. Apparently the shock had popped the wound open.
"Trying to kill an unarmed man?" he accused as he pulled himself back to his feet. "Not very Light Side of you."
"A Sith Lord is never unarmed!" Luke retorted, then grabbed Kyp's legs in a Force grip and started pulling him off the Falcon.
Kyp fought back, digging in with both his feet and his mind. Fortunately for him, the Falcon had so many random pipes, sensors, panels, and miscellaneous junk stuck to it that he soon found a good brace to stop his slide.
Blast it all, Skywalker's really serious about this! Time to pull out all the stops.
"Never unarmed, you say?" he taunted. "I'm impressed you noticed that. Try this!"
Kyp concentrated the Dark Side powers into a dense blast of blue energy, his Force lightning braided together into what looked almost like a half meter wide beam. Luke, however, didn't lose a beat. He raised his hand, palm toward the incoming power, and deflected it around himself. Kyp was stunned, his power so easily brushed aside like it was nothing. But once the blast had run its course, he noticed that Skywalker actually had to dig in his heels against it. This might just work after all...
He charged up for another blast, willing to bet that his power lasted longer than Luke's. Luke just stood there, apparently taking that bet. Kyp's arms tensed, ready to move forward and unleash the energy...
Before he knew it, the surface of the landing platform was spinning up to meet him. A sudden shove against his upper back had been just enough to topple him over his foothold. The energy blast forgotten, he struggled to right himself and land in a nonfatal way. He succeeded, but the pain in his ankles and repeat collapse of his injured left leg indicated it had not gone without consequences.
He turned to face Skywalker, who remained exactly where he was. That push had come from behind, and it was definitely through the Force, but it wasn't from Luke. He had been too focused on Luke for something like that from him to go unnoticed. It must have been one of the other Jedi, interfering with the duel.
Kyp looked around cautiously, never letting Luke out of his periphery. His neck protested the movement, the pain from his beating at Carida reasserting itself.
No one by the main doors... No one near the maintenance equipment... No one under the Falcon...
No one under the Falcon?
"Where is she?" Kyp shouted at Luke.
Luke didn't answer. He just smiled, unclipping a second lightsaber from his belt. Kyp snapped into a combat ready stance, then used the Force to call his own lightsaber back from it's resting place. While he did that, the strangest thing happened. Rather than ignite the second saber, Luke tossed it in his direction.
No, not exactly in his direction, and somewhat over his head. Focused on his own saber, he merely watched the thing as it arced back down, barely missing the side of the Falcon. Now rapidly approaching the deck, it abruptly changed course in a totally unnatural way, zipping horizontally back beneath the ship.
Suddenly, Mara stepped out from behind a landing strut to catch the saber with her left hand.
"No! That's impossible!" Kyp shouted.
"Guess you forgot that I can use the Force, too," she said wryly, snapping the saber to life. "I just undid what you did. Took a little while to figure it out, but I'm a quicker study than you give me credit for. I'd like to know what you did to my other arm, though."
Kyp looked nervously between the two Skywalkers. He was almost exactly in the middle of them. Fighting against one of them was hard enough; two would be impossible. Divide and conquer, then.
He slowly and deliberately held out his saber hilt, igniting it horizontally. He then twisted the pulse knob, bringing the enhancement slowly up to speed. As he suspected, Mara and Luke were waiting for him to make the first move. He continued to split his view between the two of them, letting some nervousness seep through his otherwise calm facade. Truthfully, he was nervous, but not nearly as nervous as he let on. By now, they must be thinking he was still undecided...
With lightning-quick movement, Kyp twisted and shot his left arm out in Mara's direction, surprising her with a Force shove that knocked her on her back. He then switched directions and charged Luke.
With a fierce cry, Kyp fell on Luke, swinging madly. His blows came more like chops than the slashes and stabs appropriate for a lightsaber duel. Luke fell back again, this time for real, as Kyp's modified saber essentially changed the rules for what a saber fight should feel like. Kyp broke his stride only to give another Force shove to Mara, who had just gotten back up. He didn't even look her way, he just extended his left arm behind him. He didn't care about controlling his power at this time, he just shoved her as hard as he could. She was expecting it, but not well enough, and toppled over again, sliding back a few meters.
Though he didn't turn away from Luke, the change in pace was just what Luke needed to turn the tide. He caught Kyp's saber like he had before, but he knew good and well that the same trick wouldn't work again. However, it didn't have to. He held the blade where it was until what was happening sunk in to Kyp's rage-clouded mind.
Kyp's expression changed abruptly when he realized it.
"How are you doing that?"
"A Jedi can control his lightsaber," Luke explained. "It can be used as a simple, clumsy weapon by anyone; but a true Jedi can feel the blade's motion, control it's power..."
So that explained why the power draw wasn't working this time. Kyp tried his other close up technique, reaching out to one of Luke's critical nerves. He didn't get anywhere close when Luke's power rebuffed him.
"Well countered," Kyp congratulated, his blade still crossed with Skywalker's. "Now try this!"
He hit the switch that triggered the second level enhancement. The glow in the pummel ceased, and a web of electrical bolts encased the blade, their crackle not quite overpowering his saber's buzz. Together, they totally masked the much softer hum of Luke's traditional weapon.
Luke was taken totally by surprise. He had assumed the pummel was storing energy to keep the pulse feature operating, but had never suspected this. Before he realized it, the lightning leapt over to his blade, traveling right down into the hilt and the hands that held it. He shouted in pain and withdrew from his adversary.
Electricity continued to spark along his blade, but was definitely dying down. The blade itself remained lit, as the electricity had fortunately not shorted out the electronics inside the saber hilt. The same could not, however, be said of Luke's right hand.
He switched the saber to his left hand. Although it tingled from the shock, at least it wasn't going into painful spasms like his artificial right hand. Gritting his teeth, he shoved it under his left arm, trying to squeeze it into submission.
In the meantime, with Luke momentarily incapacitated, Kyp turned his attention to Mara, who had snuck up on him during his confrontation with Luke. He parried her lunge with a tight loop, the grab of his saber being more than adequate to prevent her from trying that neat little wrist action she had nearly skewered him with earlier. She closed with him, going in for more typical slashes. From time to time, the lightning net on Kyp's saber would arc across to her fighting arm, making her shudder slightly. However, she shook the charge off quickly, using some remarkably effective Force control to keep it isolated away from her torso. Meanwhile she, too, was controlling the energy flow of her blade, though not nearly as well as her husband had.
Kyp was truly impressed. She was fighting very well... for only using her left hand. But under these conditions, she really was no match for Kyp, and it was only his desire to take her alive and unharmed that kept him from finishing her. But then, since she opted to fight instead of run again, she must know that, too. So, it was high time to try something else, to slow her down at the very least.
She already knew where the general paralysis point was, but Kyp had searched out lots more. It might take her a little while to find another one. Kyp reached out to pinch a nerve, but was rebuffed, as Mara concentrated the Force to block him out. In response, he intensified his attack against her ever-weakening blade, giving her no time to concentrate on anything but the fight. The instant he felt her mental defense weaken, he struck.
This time it was only from the waist down, but it was enough to put her out of the fight for the moment. Which was a good thing for Kyp, because Luke was ready to go again.
Kyp and Luke faced each other, daring the other to move. Kyp's anger glowed brightly to anyone who could sense it. Luke, on the other hand, was cool and collected. Yes, he was in pain, but he kept it at bay.
Kyp struck again, but Luke was well aware of the move, maybe even before Kyp was. Blades struck, then disengaged. Kyp leapt back again, reassessing his foe. For the first time, he noticed that the discharge around his saber was weakening, and abruptly vanished entirely. He checked a gage on the hilt and confirmed that the stored power had run completely dry.
Seeing that, Luke brought his right hand back to his saber hilt and readied for Kyp's next move.
Kyp uttered a deep growl and swung while he charged. Luke parried. Kyp leapt back, then lunged as he had seen Mara do on several occasions; his saber out in a long, almost graceful stretch, gaining maximum striking distance with his right arm and blade extended straight ahead of him. Unfortunately, Luke merely leapt over the perfectly executed lunge and landed behind Kyp, in a complete reverse of what he had done to Mara back at the stairwell. Unlike that incident, however, Luke attacked him immediately, not giving him the chance to even think about kicking.
Kyp brought his saber around quickly, parrying Luke's stroke down and to Kyp's left. Kyp opted to dodge to his right rather than attempt to parry the upstroke that would have cleaved him vertically. This time, his luck ran out.
Kyp felt something was wrong even before the pain registered. He rolled along the ground, coming to a stop in a kneeling but upright position. A short distance away, something fell to the ground with a thump. He turned his head slightly to find out what it was. It looked like...
Kyp screamed in shock and agony when he realized that it was his own left arm. Through the haze of action and adrenaline, he hadn't immediately noticed that Luke's blade had hit him just above the elbow. But now that he had noticed...
Kyp's period of petrified surprise lasted only a few seconds until his Dark Side-influenced instincts took over. He leapt up and rushed Luke, saber held high above his head, all the while screaming a terrible cry of rage.
Luke, however, was ready for such an action. He sidestepped Kyp's charge to let him rush past, but parried as well, catching Kyp's swing not by the blade, but cutting right through the hilt.
Having not made proper contact, Kyp stumbled as he passed Luke, falling to the ground face first. He pushed himself up as best he could with only one hand, getting back to a kneeling position just like the one he had been in before. But this time, not only was his lightsaber out, it was cut off just ahead of where he held it, black scorch marks and charred wires marking the cut line. Kyp's hand started shaking as panic began to set in, and the useless saber hilt fell to the surfae of the platform.
Kyp remained as he had been, breathing heavily and staring without focus.
Again, no reaction.
Kyp shook his head, finally hearing the voice.
Kyp, what are you doing? Get up!
And do what? Kyp thought back.
You're pathetic. I don't know why I ever chose you, Exar Kun said. The only thing left is to beg for your life.
The Dark Lord of the Sith does not beg for his life! Kyp replied.
He does if there's no other way out!
"Master Skywalker!" Kyp cried, "Please, forgive me!"
Luke was somewhat surprised by this. "Kyp, I can only forgive you if you are sincere. You've been given many chances already."
"But Master, I can change! I've seen the error of my ways!"
Luke stared at the young man for a while, studying his pained face. Kyp's dark hair was sweat-plastered to his scalp, and blood ran from his nose. He clutched the stub that was his left arm and shivered in fear. He looked thoroughly pathetic and terrified.
"Don't listen to him, Luke!" Mara shouted from where she still struggled to get back up. "He's just trying to save his own life. He doesn't mean it!"
This isn't working, Kyp mentally grumbled.
Try harder, fool!
"Master, please!" he pleaded. "Don't kill me!"
"If you surrender now," Luke said calmly, "I won't kill you." He extinguished his lightsaber as a sign of good faith. "However, you will have to answer for your crimes."
"But they'll execute me!"
"That is possible," Luke admitted, "but by surrendering peacefully, you will have the opportunity to speak in your defense, and to attempt to make amends."
Take it, Kyp, Kun advised.
But they're going to execute me!
You can escape later. Just take it!
BUT THEY'RE GOING TO EXECUTE ME! Kyp repeated.
If you don't snap out of it, we'll both die right here! And I don't want to be killed because of a sniveling coward like you!
"You died four thousand years ago!" Kyp screamed aloud. "This is my life!"
"Kyp, what do you mean...?" gasped a startled Luke.
If I could switch to another person, I would. But we're stuck like this!
"So if I go, you go with me. Is that it?" Kyp shouted, not really noticing that he was no longer conversing with Exar Kun by thought alone.
Yes! Kun shouted back. I haven't held on for thousands of years for an idiot like you to finish the job through his own stupidity! Now just do what he says!
"Damn you, Exar Kun!" Kyp cried, "I don't want to die!"
With a painful neural pop, Mara regained feeling in her legs. She had pushed herself up to hand and knees, her lightsaber pinned to the ground under her left palm. Just before she could get back upright, the lightsaber was yanked away, sending her down again, her right arm still limp and useless to brace against it.
"Luke!" she screamed as she hit the ground again. "Look out!"
Kyp jumped to his feet and snatched the saber, igniting it instantly. He rushed Luke in the vain hope that this last-ditch effort after the show of humility could catch the Jedi fatally unprepared.
Mara needn't have worried. Before Kyp could swing the blue blade at Luke, Luke had already brought his lightsaber up and ignited it. He deflected Kyp's wild down stroke to the side, then cleanly sliced Kyp from right shoulder to left hip.
Standing very still, with his blade still down to the side, Luke had a clear view of Kyp's horrified face. A strained, last gasp of breath came from the stricken Sith Lord's mouth.
"Noooo..." Kyp wheezed as his eyes went completely out of focus, Mara's lightsaber falling from his dying grip. Luke extinguished his blade as Kyp's body slumped toward the ground.
Luke jumped, re-igniting his blade when the death cry abruptly strengthened and turned into something unnatural, a hideous shriek of anger and pain. However, even this second death cry soon faded, and the body fell first to its knees, then in two pieces to the deck, silent at last and never to move again.
Luke dashed over to Mara, who had just barely gotten to her feet again and had started limping toward him, and embraced her tightly.
"Mara," he said softly, "are you all right?"
"Yes Luke," she replied, squeezing him as hard as she could with her left arm.
"What about..." Luke started, as he loosened his grip and slid his hands down her back, pulling away from her slightly and looking downward as he did so.
"We're both fine, Luke," she smiled warmly. "Thanks to you. Turns out I shouldn't have doubted you after all."
"Mara," he said, his voice serious and almost sad. He pulled back a little further, his hands withdrawing from behind her. Holding her hand between his, he continued. "You've suffered through so much because of me. It took me so long to do the right thing, it was almost too late."
"Luke, just what are you saying?"
"Mara," he replied, taking a deep breath and bracing himself. "Mara, you deserve better than what I've given you. I finally came to my senses, but after how many mistakes? I'd like to ask you to forgive me, but how can I?"
"Luke, stop it," she asked.
"I love you, Mara. I still do. But given how I've expressed my love, I can't imagine how you could still love me in return. I've failed in my obligations to you far more often than I've fulfilled them."
"Luke," she said, her voice soft and loving. She pulled her hand from between his and pressed it against his face. "I love you, Luke. I never stopped. But I was becoming afraid that you didn't love me anymore." She laughed slightly. "Given how this ridiculous relationship started, is it any wonder? Marrying you on the spur of the moment like that was the craziest thing I've ever done. But you know what?" she smiled, "I'm really glad I did. I love you, Luke. With all my heart."
"You do?" he asked, his voice in a tone of amazement.
Mara replied by drawing him into a long kiss.
Luke and Mara were oblivious to the world, and didn't even notice the blue flames that arose spontaneously to consume the fallen corpse of the last Dark Lord of the Sith. Even the severed arm ignited in its own small conflagration. By the time the couple disengaged, there was nothing but ashes left where Kyp's body had once been. As they stared in awe, arms still wrapped around each other, the wind kicked up again and blew the ashes away, leaving only a darkened spot on the duracrete surface.