The Light of Truth, one of the many Jedi cruisers that had been incorporated into the Republic fleet after the Ruusan Reformations, landed with a soft thump on Ambria's desolate surface.
"Be ready for anything," Master Tho'natu warned his team as they prepared to disembark.
Back before he achieved the rank of Master, the Twi'lek had served as a Jedi Knight in the Army of Light on Ruusan. He had been assigned to Farfalla's ship, luckily in time to avoid the effects of the thought bomb, but not before he'd had ample opportunity on Ruusan to witness first-hand the kind of atrocities the Sith were capable of. He wasn't about to take any chances here.
They'd been dispatched in response to a message drone that had arrived on Coruscant a few days before. The anonymous message inside had been cryptically short, and somewhat disquieting in its lack of detail. It contained only a set of landing coordinates and four brief lines of text.
A Sith Lord still lives. He killed five Jedi on Tython. He is now on
Ambria, under the care of a healer named Caleb. He is badly injured and helpless.
Less than two weeks ago Master Farfalla and four companions had hastily taken off from Coruscant, leaving behind word they were heading to Tython in pursuit of a Dark Lord of the Sith. They hadn't been heard from since. The message drone offered a grim explanation of their fate, and it drew an immediate response from the Jedi Council.
They'd quickly assembled a team of fourteen Jedi, six Masters and eight Jedi Knights, and sent them to Ambria under Tho'natu's command to apprehend the man responsible for the massacre of Master Farfalla and his companions. The journey had been made with all possible haste, but now that they were here they intended to proceed with caution, wary of walking into a trap.
The landing coordinates had set them down a few hundred meters from a small wooden hut and a tiny campfire. A cruiser with the name LORANDA emblazoned on its side was parked nearby.
The landing bay doors opened, and Tho'natu and the others leapt to the ground, ready to draw their lightsabers at the first sign of trouble. The air around them trembled with a strange and unfamiliar sensation of power, though beneath was the unmistakable taint of the dark side.
"First and second units, go check out that ship," he said. "Third unit explores the camp with me."
Nine Jedi rushed off toward the Loranda, while Tho'natu and the others approached the camp. What they saw as they drew nearer filled them with revulsion: Someone had been literally chopped to pieces.
Eviscerated chunks of human anatomy littered the ground around the campfire. Arms had been hewn off at the shoulder, then sliced again at the elbows and wrist. The same had been done to the lower limbs, dismembered into feet, legs, and thighs. Even the torso had been carved into quarters. The clean, cauterized cuts left no doubt the butcher's weapon of choice had been a lightsaber.
Only the head remained whole, placed like a trophy atop an upside-down cooking pot resting on the ground. A human male with long, black hair, he appeared to have been forty or fifty years of age. His features were twisted in a gruesome mask of pain and terror; Tho'natu wondered how many of the wounds had been inflicted while he was still alive.
"What kind of madness could make someone do this?" one of the others asked, but Master Tho'natu had no answer.
At a nod from their commander, the Jedi ignited their weapons. They crept toward the small shack, their commander in the lead. As a unit, they stopped when he heard a soft sound coming from inside the building: hard ragged breaths broken by trembling sobs and whimpers of fear.
A tattered blanket hung down across the building's open doorway, obscuring their view. The Twi'lek reached out with the Force to try to sense whoever was hiding inside, but something-likely the strange, underlying power of the campsite itself-blurred his awareness.
"I am Master Tho'natu of the Jedi" he called out, flicking off his lightsaber's blade. "We're here to help you."
A scream of incoherent rage erupted from the shack. A young man burst from the doorway, brandishing a golden lightsaber above his head in his left hand. His right hand was nothing but a stump, and there was a crazed gleam in his eye.
"No!" he shrieked as he charged at them, flailing wildly with his weapon. "You'll never get me! No! No! No!"
Master Tho'natu ignited his blade as the man fell on him with the fury of madness, his cries turning to mindless, beastly howls. The rest of his team reacted on instinct, leaping to their commander's de- fense. The battle lasted less than three seconds, the raving young man cut down by a swarm of Jedi lightsabers.
When it was over, the Jedi took up defensive positions facing the shack, weapons poised as they braced themselves for another potential attack. For several seconds nothing happened, and there were no further sounds of life from inside. Motioning for the others to stay back, Tho'natu crept forward and pulled aside the blanket covering the doorway.
The room beyond was empty except for five lightsaber handles lying beside the door. The Jedi Master stepped inside the small building, his keen mind quickly piecing together what must have happened.
He recalled that Farfalla had used a golden blade, just like the one the man had attacked them with. The lightsabers here were trophies, taken from those who had died on Tython by their killer. The man outside was young, but the Jedi were taught that the dark side led to quick and easy power-power enough to kill Farfalla and the others, especially if they'd been led into some type of trap. The Sith had slain the Jedi and claimed their weapons, though he must have suffered grievous injuries in the battle, including the loss of his hand.
He had probably tried to call on the power of the dark side to heal himself. But the Jedi Master knew the dark side couldn't heal; it only caused harm. The misguided attempt was likely what damaged the young man's mind. Wounded and half mad, he had come to Ambria to seek aid from the healer. By the time he arrived at this place he would have been near death, and completely helpless.
That's when Caleb must have dispatched the message drone to warn the Jedi.
A Sith Lord still lives. He killed five Jedi on Tython. He is now on Ambria, under the care of a healer named Caleb. He is badly injured and helpless.
He must have sensed who and what the young man was as he healed his horrific injuries. But Caleb had underestimated the Sith Lord's power-and the degenerating state of his madness. Before the Jedi could arrive, the Sith had recovered enough to torture and kill Caleb for exposing him. The healer's prolonged and visceral death must have further fueled the young man's psychosis, reducing him to the raving creature that had lunged at them from the hut.
All the pieces fit. It all made sense.
"Master," one of the other Jedi said, peeking in through the door. "The rest of the camp is deserted."
"What about the ship? The Loranda?
"Nobody on board," he reported. "It looks like somebody sabotaged her before we got here."
Probably Caleb, Tho'natu realized. He wanted to make sure the Sith couldn't escape. If the young man had found out, that could explain the brutality of Caleb's death.
"It would probably only take two or three days to make the repairs," the Jedi informed him.
"Leave it for the junkers," the Twi'lek said with a shake of his head. There were only two things he wanted to bring back from this accursed place. "Collect the healer's remains. We'll give him a proper burial on Coruscant."
The man nodded and scurried off to relay his orders.
Master Tho'natu bent over and gathered up the lightsabers of his fallen comrades from Tython, so they could be given a place of honor in the Temple. The loss of Farfalla and his companions was a terrible tragedy, as was what had happened here. But at least he could go back to the Jedi Council and tell them with absolute certainty that the last of the Sith Lords had died on Ambria.
He exited the small shack and headed back to his ship, knowing that the memories of the gruesome massacre on Ambria would haunt him for the rest of his life. He never thought to examine the small sleeping mat in the corner. He never noticed the trapdoor built into the floor beneath it. And he never sensed the apprentice and her unconscious Master, masked by Sith sorcery, hiding silently in the cellar just below his feet.