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Lightsabers

Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

To Jonathan MacGregor Cowan,

whose love, intelligence, imagination, sense of humor, and sense of wonder constantly inspire us—and challenge us.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Lillie E. Mitchell for her spectacular typing and her love of the books, Dave Wolverton for his input on the Hapes Cluster, Lucy Wilson and Sue Rostoni at Lucasfilm for their constructive comments and their vision, Ginjer Buchanan and Lou Aronica at Berkley/Boulevard for their wholehearted support and encouragement, and Skip and Cheryl Shayotovich for being some of our most faithful cheerleaders.

1

Daybreak at last spilled across the treetops on Yavin 4, where Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, listened to the stirring, rustling sounds of the awakening jungle. The looming stone blocks of the ancient temple had absorbed the deep night’s chill, and now glistened with dew.

As the morning brightened, he wished his spirits could lift as easily.

Cool and stiff, Luke had been atop the Great Temple for a long time already, sitting patiently in the primeval darkness and thinking. He had used Jedi relaxation techniques to dispense with sleep; in fact, he had not rested thoroughly for some time, so great was his concern over the growing Imperial threat to the New Republic.

Jungle birds cried out and took wing, searching for a breakfast of flying insects. The enormous gas giant Yavin hung overhead, luminous with reflected light, but Luke stared beyond it with his imagination, envisioning all of the galaxy’s dark and secret corners where the Second Imperium might lie hidden….

Finally Luke stood and stretched. It was time for his morning exercises. Perhaps the exertion would help him think more clearly, get his heart beating harder, tune his reflexes.

At the top of the pyramid, he went to the sheer edge of the enormous, vine-covered blocks that formed the sides of the towering temple. It was a long drop to the next level, where the ziggurat widened toward its base. Each squared-off set of blocks displayed decorative etchings and crenellations, carved into the stone thousands of years earlier during the building of the ancient structure, weathered by scorching attack and passing time. The dense jungle encroached at the rear of the temple pyramid, embellishing the massive stones with thick vines and overspreading Massassi tree branches.

Luke paused for a moment at the edge, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes to center his concentration. Then he leaped out into space.

He felt himself falling and rotated in midair, executing a backward somersault that brought him into position, feet down, just in time to see the cracked old stones rushing up at him. Using the Force to slow himself just enough for a hard landing, he rebounded and pushed off toward the nearest vine. Allowing himself a brief laugh of exhilaration, Luke snagged the rough jungle creeper and swung up onto the lichen-flaked branch of a Massassi tree. He landed smoothly and ran along the branch without pausing. Next he jumped across a gap in the jungle canopy and grabbed a small branch overhead, hauling himself higher, climbing, running.

Each day Luke challenged himself, finding more difficult routines in order to continue honing his skills. Even during times of peace, a Jedi Knight could never allow himself to relax and grow weak.

But these were not quiet times, and Luke Skywalker had plenty of challenges to face.

Years ago, a student named Brakiss had been planted in Luke’s academy as an Imperial spy to learn the ways of the Jedi and twist them to evil uses. Luke had seen through the disguise, however, and had tried unsuccessfully to turn Brakiss to the light side. After the dark trainee had fled, Luke had not heard from Brakiss again—until recently, when Jacen, Jaina, and the young Wookiee Lowbacca had been kidnapped. Brakiss had teamed up with one of the evil new Nightsisters—Tamith Kai—to form a Shadow Academy for training Dark Jedi in the service of the Empire.

Panting from his workout, Luke continued to climb through the trees, startling a nest of ravenous stintarils. The rodents turned on him, flashing bright teeth, but when he nudged their attack instincts in a new direction, they forgot their intended target and scattered through the leafy branches.

He swung himself up and finally reached the jungle canopy. Sunshine burst upon him as he pushed his head above the leafy treetops. Humid air filled his burning lungs, and he blinked again in the morning light. The lush world around him seemed very bright after the filtered dimness of the thick underlevels. Looking back toward the stepped pyramid of the Great Temple that housed his Jedi students, Luke considered both the new group of fighters he had brought here to help protect the New Republic and the trainees at the Shadow Academy….

In the past few months, the Shadow Academy had begun recruiting candidates among the disadvantaged young men and women of Coruscant, taking these “lost ones” to serve the Second Imperium. One of these had been the teenager named Zekk, a dark-haired, green-eyed scamp who had been a good friend to the twins, especially Jaina. In addition, the TIE pilot Qorl—who had spent over two decades hiding on Yavin 4 after the first Death Star was destroyed—had led a raid to steal hyperdrive cores and turbolaser batteries from an incoming New Republic supply ship.

All this and more had led Luke Skywalker to the conclusion that the Shadow Academy was gearing up for a major battle against the New Republic. Since the death of Emperor Palpatine, there had been many warlords and leaders who had attempted to rekindle the Imperial way—but Luke sensed through the Force that this new leader was something more evil than just another pretender….

Bright sunlight fell across Luke, warming his hands. Brilliantly colored insects flitted about, buzzing in the new day. He shifted against the rough branches and drew a deep breath of the fresh air, catching mingled scents from the lush jungle all around him.

The Shadow Academy was still out there, still training Dark Jedi. Luke hated to rush his training of those who studied the ways of the light side—but circumstances forced him to attempt to bring out powerful defenders faster than the Shadow Academy could create new enemies. A fight was brewing, and they had to be prepared.

Luke grabbed a loose vine and let himself drop, drop, drop until, landing with a jarring thump against a wide Massassi tree branch, he set off, running at top speed back to the academy.

The workout had awakened him fully, and now he was ready for action.

It was time for another gathering of students at the Jedi academy—and Jacen Solo knew that meant his uncle, Luke Skywalker, had something important to say.

Life at the academy was not a constant series of lectures and classes, as he had experienced during tutoring sessions back on Coruscant. The Jedi academy was designed primarily for independent study in a place where Force-sensitive individuals could delve into their minds, test their abilities, and work at their own pace.

Each potential Jedi Knight had a range of skills. Jacen himself had a knack for understanding animals, calling them to him, and knowing their thoughts and feelings. His sister Jaina, on the other hand, had a genius for mechanical things and electronic circuits, and possessed engineering intuition.

Lowbacca, their Wookiee friend, had an eerie rapport with computers, which allowed him to decipher and program complex electronic circuits. Their athletic friend Tenel Ka was physically strong and self-trained, but she usually avoided relying on the Force as the easiest solution to a problem. Tenel Ka depended on her own wits and strength first.

In his quarters Jacen’s exotic pets rustled in their cages along the stone wall. He hurried to feed them and then ran his fingers through his unruly brown curls to remove any stray bits of moss or fodder he might have picked up from the cages. He poked his head into his twin sister Jaina’s chambers as she, too, prepared for the big meeting. She quickly combed her straight brown hair and scrubbed her face clean so that her skin looked pink and fresh.

“Any idea what Uncle Luke’s going to talk about?” she asked, drying drips of water from her chin and nose.

“I was hoping you’d know,” Jacen said.

One of the other young Jedi trainees, Raynar, emerged from his room dressed in garishly colored robes with an eye-popping display of intense primary blues, yellows, and reds. He seemed terribly flustered as he brushed his hands down the fabric of his robe, let out a sigh of dismay, and ducked back into his rooms.

“Bet the meeting has something to do with that trip Uncle Luke just took to Coruscant,” Jaina said. Jacen remembered that their uncle had recently flown off in the Shadow Chaser—a sleek ship they had appropriated from the Shadow Academy in order to make good their escape—to discuss the threat of the Second Imperium with Chief of State Leia Organa Solo, Luke’s sister and the twins’ mother.

“Only one way to find out,” Jacen said. “Most of the other students should be in the grand audience chamber already.”

“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Jaina said, and took off with her brother at a brisk clip down the corridor.

Beh ...