Jayk and Nik guided his racer, which he had named the New Light, onto the Krayt Rider. Arkon followed them. Leara and Kurie began to prep the systems, planning to pilot together. They had returned from Ennth with Zekk, all looking quite worn, just in time to turn around and leave for Dathomir.
When they dropped out of hyperspace on the day of the race, the green planet of Dathomir loomed before the Jedi. All cringed as they felt the darkness over the planet. Something here had changed.
“Nightsisters,” Nik muttered, and everyone understood. The ranks of dark Force-users here had grown in the nine years the boy had been away. Nervously glancing at him, Leara brought the ship through the atmosphere. Master Arkon’s face looking troubled for a moment at the sense of the Nightsisters, and then it became accepting, serene.
Arkon guided her to the edge of the large purple savanna where the race was to be held. After the racer was unloaded, he drew his Padawan aside.
“Remember, Nik,” the wise Master instructed. “I am not asking you to bring back a trophy or a medal. I am asking you to finish the race. I am asking you to face down your fears and race with the Force as your ally.”
Nik nodded. “I will not disappoint you, Master.” His jaw was set with determination.
Balancing on three paws, the Arkon patted the boy on the shoulder, not ungracefully. “I know you will not, my Padawan. May the Force be with you.”
And then it was time to go. Jayk led Nik and his racer to the track, and gave his friend’s shoulder a squeeze of encouragement. “You will do fine, my friend.” Kurie and Leara had similar words, and then he was off to the starting line.
Seating himself in the smallish cockpit, the Firrerreo donned his deep blue helmet and grasped the control sticks. His twilight-blue eyes scanned the readouts on his computers, and everything checked out. Nodding curtly, he started his engines like the other racers around him.
As he waited for the announcer to begin, he glanced around him at his fellow racers. Most were of species he had never seen before. They were gangly and often many-limbed. The only species Nik recognized was a Gran from Malastare, his three eyestalks swiveling around, observing other racers as well.
According to Arkon, the New Republic was striving to ensure that Podracing did not become the unsavory and often fatal sport it had been in the days of the Old Republic. Nik wasn’t convinced that it was in the New Republic’s power to even promise such a thing, but he hoped it was true. He would not be the one to act out of anger and purposely put a contestant out of commission.
The announcer began naming the racers. “The Myneyrshi, Aserto Che of Wayland....the Gran, Derent Vadd of Malastare....the Firrerreo, Niko Kitana of Yavin 4....” There was silence as the crowd realized he was a Jedi, and a humanoid species at that. Nik’s lips twitched into a smile. He wondered how they would have responded if Arkon had told them to say he was from Dathomir or Telti.
“On your marks...” Engines roared all around Nik as he prepared to accelerate. “Get set...go!”
Nik pushed forward the control sticks carefully. If he gave it too much juice right away, it would flood and stall. Gradually he brought it up to maximum speed, a screaming 723 miles per hour. Nik utilized the Force so the impact didn’t kill him. Reaching max speed was made possible by the fact that the track began in a stretching straightaway. Soon, though, Nik was forced to turn, and to slow.
He and Jayk had concentrated on improved the pod to accelerate quickly, and he had taken the lead from the first. He cleared that thought from his mind, however, and several others. Nagging worries about his return to Dathomir, his wish to impress Arkon and his friends...all became insignificant in his mind as he melded completely with the Force.
Eventually, Nik’s eyes fluttered closed. He was a part of the living Force, of the present condition. He sensed the teeming life around him, sensed the racers, and likewise sensed the not-so-far-off darkness.
His hands worked independently. They didn’t need his eyes to tell them what to do. They moved with lightening speed, evening the boost, making swift repairs, always returning to the control sticks. Never did he think of what he was doing this for, or what would happen afterwards. All he knew was that he must finish the race. And that was what he intended to do.
He had a map of the track now laid out in his mind. Every rock, every twist, every turn, every tunnel. He knew where to dodge, where to duck, where to speed up, where to slow down. And he knew where the crowd was, where his friends were. He knew that Arkon had left. He did not know why, and could not take the energy to question it. He had to finish.
He sensed the crowd ahead. He was coming up on the end of his second lap. Only one to go. He had not encountered a rivaling racer once in the contest--he had never dropped out of first place.
And then white hot pain exploded in his head. Arkon. He was hurt. He was far away. He was trying to muffle his pain, so that Nik wouldn’t sense it.
But he did sense it.
The boy’s face scrunched in an inner pain. His Master was in danger. He was sending him a message. Finish the race. Do not seek me out. Finish. Nik shook his head. He had never failed his Master, and he would not fail him now, in his moment of need.
Nik swerved his pod in an about-face away from the track, and headed out into the savanna.
As he sped away across the purple savanna, Nik set his jaw against the fear skirting the edges of his mind. He would not forget all of Arkon’s teachings now. He had to be strong and hurry to help.
Finally, after what seemed like hours but was in actuality a matter of minutes, Nik came upon the source of pain.
Arkon stood on all four paws, strong and tall, but obviously fatigued and in pain. Around him stood the largest clan of Nightsisters Nik had every seen. He had know them only to be in small groups, not huge clans like the Dancing Valley sisters had been.
And then as the Firrerreo approached on foot, he looked at them more closely. And to his dismay, he recognized them.
“And so, Niko Kitana, we come full circle.” The leader spoke, and blotchy-faced female in tattered black robes, with hints at once-colorful reptile skins beneath. The surrounding sisters were likewise bruised, a disturbing side effect that fervent, long-time dark side-users quite often encountered. “You left us light, to become dark. You return to us light, to find us dark.”
“Tyns Ja,” the boy spat.
“What happened to ‘Mother,’ my dear boy? Did I not raise you?”
“You kept me. And then you relinquished me in five years’ time. No one raised me until I reached the Jedi Academy.” He paused, forcing himself to find the peace that Arkon was silently urging him toward. “Jasava Kitana was my mother, Arion Kitana my father. Both are dead. My sister is Kurie Kitana, and she was the first I have known to ever love me.”
The bruised woman snorted. “Well, I don’t know where you found such an arsenal of information. But I do see you finally discovered the secret of your blood.” She was staring at his hair. “At any rate, this one is almost finished. You will be next. Unless, of course,” she said, smiling conspiratorially, “you would like to join us.”
“Never,” the young man declared defiantly. “I will fight you beside my Master, and we will win.”
“Oh, too bad,” the crone cackled. “You were at four right, null wrong. I knew it couldn’t last. For you see, my foster son, if you once thought me powerful, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
And as she said it, she and the women around her gathered the clouds above them. They blackened, and then the lightening and downpour started. Arkon was shouting something to Nik, but he couldn’t hear it in the rushing wind. He ran to his Master and stood before him, indigo lightsaber flashing in the conjured storm. “No!” he heard Arkon cry. “It’s over! You must finish the race while you can!”
“I won’t leave you, Master!” the boy cried. He couldn’t believe what Arkon wanted him to do. He would never leave his Master to this awful witches.
But he suddenly felt foolish. What would his lightsaber do? He extinguished it and clipped it to his belt. Gathering peace within himself, he sent his concentration of light to the sky. He stood, arms raised in the air, wind whipping his robe, his whole being drenched in the dark rain.
And as the young man concentrated, the sun burst through the dark clouds as though rising from the dark of night, making day. Light filled every corner of the landscape, penetrating every being, whether it be dark or light.
The Nightsisters, frightened as vampires in the rising sun, screamed in outrage at the boy. The flew away, propelled by their dark powers, each cursing Nik by name. Never had their power been overturned in such a way. And as she flew away, Tyns Ja dealt the final, crushing retort.
Blue-white lightening, more unearthly than anything Nik had every seen, left the dark woman’s fingers and shot across the savanna at him. She sped away, not waiting even to see its effect, only wanting to leave. Before he even knew what he was doing, his lightsaber was out and raised to deflect the energy.
But the dark lightening was of such voltage and force that Nik was knocked away like a paper doll in the wind. The lightening was unaffected by its brief encounter with the lightsaber, and continued on its course.
It lanced straight to Arkon.
The alien beast was sent flying at least fifteen meters from where he had stalwartly stood. Nik ran with the speed of the Force at his back and knelt beside his Master’s crumpled form. “Master!” The boy’s cry was frantic.
He was heartened to see Arkon’s eyes twitch toward him. “Padawan...I go...” The alien’s breathing was labored.
“No! Nothing can stop you, Master. You conquered the darkness within me!”
“No...Nik...you did. You...rediscovered...your own light. And now...it is time that...you learn to let go.”
“Master!” The Firrerreo’s voice failed him.
“Finish...your race. That is...what I want.” He grunted in pain.
“Yes, I’ll finish it. And you’ll be with me, watching!” The boy grabbed his Master’s scorched body, irrationally trying to make him stand.
A warm, peaceful smile lit the darkening features of the Tersion in an expression Nik had never seen on anyone before. “Yes, my Padawan,” he whispered in a soft purr. “I will be with you, watching.”
And as the boy watched, sobs wracking his wiry frame, Master Arkon slowly disappeared before his very eyes, and became one with the Force.