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PROLOGUE

Darovit made his stumbling way through the bodies that littered the battlefield, his mind numb with grief and horror. He recognized many of the dead: some were servants of the light side, allies of the Jedi; others were followers of the dark side, minions of the Sith. And even in his dazed stupor, Darovit couldn't help but wonder which side he belonged with.

A few months earlier he'd still gone by his childhood name, Tomcat. Back then he'd been nothing more than a thin, dark-haired boy of thirteen living with his cousins Rain and Bug back on the small world of Somov Rit. They had heard rumblings of the never-ending war between the Jedi and the Sith, but they never thought it would touch their quiet, ordinary lives... until the Jedi scout had come to see Root, their appointed guardian.

General Hoth, leader of the Jedi Army of Light, was desperate for more Jedi, the scout had explained. The fate of the entire galaxy hung in the balance. And the children under Root's care had shown an affinity for the Force.

At first Root had refused. He claimed his charges were too young to go off to war. But the scout had persisted. Finally, realizing that if the children did not go to the Jedi, the Sith might come and take them forcibly, Root had relented. Darovit and his cousins had left Somov Rit with the Jedi scout and headed for Ruusan. At the time, the children had thought it was the beginning of a grand adventure. Now Darovit knew better.

Too much had happened since they'd all arrived on Ruusan. Everything had changed. And the youth-for he had lived through too much in the past weeks to be called a boy anymore-didn't understand any of it.

He'd come to Ruusan full of hope and ambition, dreaming of the glory that would be his when he helped General Hoth and the Jedi Army of Light defeat the Sith serving in Lord Kaan's Brotherhood of Darkness. But there was no glory to be found on Ruusan; not for him. And not for his cousins.

Rain had died even before their ship touched down on Ruusan. They'd been ambushed by a squadron of Sith Buzzards only seconds after they broke atmosphere, the tail of their vessel shorn off in the attack. Darovit had watched in horror as Rain was swept away by the blast, literally ripped from his arms before plunging to an unseen death hundreds of meters below.

His other cousin, Bug, had died only a few minutes ago, a victim of the thought bomb, his spirit consumed by the terrible power of Lord Kaan's final, suicidal weapon. Now he was gone. Like all the Jedi and all the Sith. The thought bomb had destroyed every living being strong enough to wield the power of the Force. Everyone except Darovit. And this he couldn't understand.

In fact, nothing on Ruusan made any sense to him. Nothing! He'd arrived expecting to see the legendary Army of Light he'd heard about in stories and poems: heroic Jedi defending the galaxy against the dark side of the Force. Instead he'd witnessed men, women, and other beings who fought and died like common soldiers, ground into the mud and blood of the battlefield.

He'd felt cheated. Betrayed. Everything he'd heard about the Jedi had been a lie. They weren't shining heroes: their clothes were soiled with grime; their camp stank of sweat and fear. And they were losing! The Jedi whom Darovit had encountered on Ruusan were defeated and downtrodden, weary from the seemingly endless series of battles against Lord Kaan's Sith, stubbornly refusing to surrender even when it was clear they couldn't win. And all the power of the Force couldn't restore them to the shining icons of his naive imagination.

There was movement on the far edge of the battlefield. Squinting against the sun, Darovit saw half a dozen figures slowly making their way through the carnage, gathering up the fallen bodies of friend and foe alike. He wasn't alone-others had survived the thought bomb too!

He ran forward, but his excitement cooled as he drew close enough to make out the features of those tasked with cleaning the battlefield. He recognized them as volunteers from the Army of Light. Not Jedi, but ordinary men and women who'd sworn allegiance to Lord Hoth. The thought bomb had only taken those with sufficient power to touch the Force: Non-Force-using folk like these were immune to its devastating effects. But Darovit wasn't like them. He had a gift. Some of his earliest memories were of using the Force to levitate toys for the amusement of his younger cousin Rain, when they were both children. These people had survived because they were ordinary, plain. They weren't special like he was. Darovit's survival was a mystery-just one more thing about all this he didn't understand.

As he approached, one of the figures sat down on a rock, weary from the task of gathering the dead. He was an older man, nearly fifty. His face looked drawn and haggard, as if the grim task had sapped his mental reserves along with the physical. Darovit recognized his features from those first few weeks he'd spent in the Jedi camp, though he'd never bothered to learn the old man's name.

A sudden realization froze Darovit in his tracks. If he recognized the man, then the man might also recognize him. He might remember Darovit. He might know the young man was a traitor.

The truth about the Jedi had disgusted Darovit. Repulsed him. His illusions and daydreams crushed by the weight of harsh reality, he'd acted like a spoiled child and turned against the Jedi. Seduced by easy promises of the dark side's power, he'd switched sides in the war and thrown himself in with the Brotherhood of Darkness. It was only now that he understood how wrong he'd been.

The realization had come upon him as he'd witnessed Bug's death-a death for which he was partly responsible. Too late he had learned the true cost of the dark side. Too late he understood that, through the thought bomb, Lord Kaan's madness had brought devastation upon them all.

He was no longer a follower of the Sith; he no longer hungered to learn the secrets of the dark side. But how could this old man, a devoted follower of General Hoth, know that? If he remembered Darovit, he would remember him only as the enemy.

For a second he thought about trying to escape. Just turn and run, and the tired old man still catching his breath wouldn't be able to stop him. It was the kind of thing he'd once done all the time. But things were different now. Whether it was from guilt, maturity, or simply a desire to see it all end, Darovit didn't run away. Whatever fate awaited him, he chose to stay and face it.

Moving with slow but determined steps, he approached the rock where the man was sitting, seemingly lost in thought. Darovit was only a few meters away when the man finally glanced up to acknowledge him.

There was no glint of recognition in his eyes. There was only an empty, haunted look.

"All of them," the man mumbled, though whether he was talking to Darovit or himself wasn't clear. "All the Jedi and all of the Sith ... all gone."

The man turned his head, fixing his vacant stare on the dark entrance to a small cave nearby. A chill went through Darovit as he realized what the man was talking about. The entrance led underground, through twisting tunnels to the cavern deep beneath the ground where Kaan and his Sith had gathered to unleash the thought bomb.

The man grunted and shook his head, dispelling the morbid state he had slipped into. Standing up with a weary sigh, his mind was once more focused on his duty. He gave Darovit a slight nod but otherwise paid him no further heed as he resumed the macabre task of rolling the corpses in cloth so they could be collected and given honorable burials.

Darovit turned toward the cave. Again, part of him wanted to back away and run. But another part of him was drawn to the black maw of the tunnel. Maybe there were answers to be found inside. Something to make sense of all the death and violence; something to help him see the reasons behind the endless war and bloodshed. Maybe he'd discover something to help him grasp some purpose behind everything that had happened here.

The air grew steadily cooler the deeper he descended. He could feel a tingling in the pit of his stomach: anticipation mixing with a sick sense of dread. He wasn't sure what he'd find once he reached the underground chamber at the tunnel's end. More bodies, perhaps. But he was determined not to turn back.

As the darkness enveloped him, he silently cursed himself for not bringing along a glow rod. He had a lightsaber at his belt; getting his hands on one of the fabled weapons was one of the temptations that had lured him over to the Sith. But even though he'd betrayed the Jedi just to lay claim to it, in the darkness of the tunnel, he no longer felt any desire to ignite it and use its light to guide him. The last time he'd drawn it had resulted in Bug's death, and the memory had tainted the prize he had sacrificed everything to gain.

He knew that if he turned back, he might never gather enough courage to make the trip down again, so he pressed on despite the darkness. He moved slowly, reaching out with his mind, trying to draw on the Force to guide him through the lightless tunnel. Even so he kept tripping over the uneven ground, or stubbing his toes. In the end he found it easier just to run one hand along the rocky wall and use it to guide himself.

His progress was slow but steady, the tunnel floor becoming steeper and steeper until he was half climbing down it in the darkness. After half an hour he noticed a faint light emanating from far ahead, a soft glow coming from the distant end of the passage. He picked up his pace, only to trip over a small outcropping of stone jutting up from the rough-hewn ground. He fell forward with a cry of alarm, falling and tumbling down, the sharp slope until he came to rest, bruised and battered, at the tunnel's end.

It opened into a wide, high-ceilinged chamber. Here the dim glow that had drawn him forward was reflected from flecks of crystal embedded in the surrounding stone, illuminating the cavern so he could see everything clearly. A few stalactites still hung from the roof high above; hundreds more lay smashed on the cavern's floor, dislodged when Kaan had detonated the thought bomb.

The bomb itself, or what remained of it, hovered a meter above the ground in the very center of the cavern-the source of the illumination. At first glance it appeared to be an oblong, metallic orb four meters from top to bottom, and nearly three meters across at its widest point. Its surface was a flat, dusky silver that projected a pale radiance but at the same time devoured all light reflected back to it by the crystals trapped in the surrounding walls.

Rising to his feet, Darovit shivered. He was surprisingly cold; the orb had sucked all the warmth from the air. He took a step forward. The dust and debris crunching below his foot sounded flat and hollow, as if the thought bomb were swallowing not just the heat of the cavern, but the noise as well.

Pausing, he listened to the unnatural silence. He couldn't hear anything, but he definitely felt something. A faint, thrumming vibration running through the floor and up into his body, a steady, rhythmic pulse coming from the orb.

Darovit held his breath, unaware he was doing so, and took another tentative step forward. When nothing happened he let the air escape from his lungs with a long, soft sigh. Gathering his courage, he continued his cautious approach, reaching out a hand but never taking his eyes from the sphere.

He drew close enough to see dark bands of shadow slowly twisting and turning beneath the shimmering surface, like black smoke trapped deep within the core. Two more steps and he was close enough to touch it. His hand trembling only slightly, he leaned forward and pressed his palm against the surface.

His mind exploded with wails of pure anguish; a shrieking cacophony of voices rose from the orb, all the victims of the thought bomb screaming out in torment.

Darovit wrenched his hand free and staggered back, dropping to his knees.

They were still alive! The bodies of the Jedi and Sith had been consumed by the thought bomb, crumbling into dust and ash, but their spirits had survived, sucked into the vortex at the heart of the bomb's blast only to be imprisoned forever.

He had only touched the surface for the briefest of seconds, but the keening of spirits had nearly driven him mad. Trapped inside the impregnable shell, they were condemned to an eternity of endless, unbearable suffering. A fate so horrible that Darovit's mind refused to fully grasp the implications.

Still hunched over on the ground, he clasped his head in his hands in a gesture of helpless futility. He'd come here seeking answers and explanations. Instead he'd found an abomination against nature itself, one from which every part of his being instinctively recoiled.

"I don't understand ... I don't understand ... I don't understand ..."

He muttered the phrase over and over again, huddled on the ground, rocking slowly back and forth on his heels and still clutching his head in his hands.