In Ockla Prime’s orbit, the Valkoran-Alliance forces – the former of the two factions now headed by the just-promoted Admiral Sonia Morda in the wake of Admiral Marx Gravlek’s death – were clearing up any more Forceless that came into the system with fewer casualties from their side. The chances of a second Ragnirathan cropping up at this point were very slim.
As Arcidus gunned down a few more Eyewings, he suddenly sensed a disturbance in the Force and had a panic attack. “No!”
This disturbance kept him from realizing that a Matterbug was climbing up the Phantom Razor from behind, only prevented from possessing Arcidus by V7-L20 shocking it to death. A flock of Eyewings was also flanking him from the sides and behind, but they were eliminated by Hiriss.
“Arcidus, I can sense that you’re troubled. What’s wrong?” She asked.
“It’s nothing.” He dishonestly answered.
“Be honest with me, Arcidus. Zolph tried to deny to his own personal issues for six months, and it almost got him killed. If something’s wrong, tell me.”
“It’s my master! He’s dying!”
“Do you want to go to him?”
“Of course I want to, but I have a duty up here!”
Admiral Morda chimed into the conversation. “If Maesterus is in danger, you should go down there. Don’t worry about us. We can handle the Collective up here.”
“Thank you, Admiral Morda.”
Admiral Cephal also gave an order to Hiriss. “Commander Moraana, you should go with him too. If there’s something powerful enough to kill Maesterus down there, Commander Vaelor and the ground forces could be in serious trouble. Don’t worry about us either. We’ve got some other Jedi pilots on the way to help.”
The Phantom Razor and the Manthis headed into Ockla’s atmosphere while the rest of the fleet continued to fight off the Collective.
Down in the capital, Zolph had just finished levitating Maesterus’s injured form over to his position and laid him down on the roof.
The colossal Valkor promptly taunted Zolph. “Is there even a point to doing that? He’s already doomed, and he’ll be spending some time in the Pool of Souls regardless of where he dies.”
Zolph was very much tempted to shoot at Valkor to shut him up, but he had lost his blaster in the throne room and even if he still had it, it wouldn’t have even scratched him.
“Are you curious about what the Pool of Souls is? It’s where those with my blood go when they die and remain until I have more use for them. Your girlfriend was in there too.”
“Shut your face!” Zolph yelled at him.
“What was that? I can’t hear you, maggot!”
Valkor then made an announcement to everyone else in the capital.
“Alright, you treacherous worms! I’m offering you a choice. Either you pledge your loyalty to me or you spend some rehabilitation time in a place where you’ll wish you could die! Choose wisely.”
Everyone else in the city that could see him – both Alliance and Valkoran - remained defiant.
“Still rallying behind the fly whose wings I just clipped? Fine, you’ll suffer the same as the other heathens once I’m finished with Vaelor.” Valkor turned back to Zolph. “As for you, it’s now your turn to die!”
Just as Valkor got ready to smash Zolph with his fists, his arms suddenly combusted into flames and burst, and both the Phantom Razor and the Manthis flew right by him.
“What the-?! Well, if it isn’t Maesterus’s pet!” Valkor then regenerated his arms before attempting to swat Arcidus, only for Hiriss to bombard him in the mouth-eye from the side with a volley of proton torpedoes.
While the fighters buzzed around him like flies and dodged his attacks, Grein’s party arrived at the rooftop where Zolph and Maesterus. Grein could barely hold back her tears at the sight of her husband bleeding to death. She rushed over to him and removed his helmet, revealing him to no longer be possessed by the Black Matter, his skin tone and eyes back to normal.
“Grein?” Maesterus weakly addressed her as she cradled him. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long. However, I’m glad to see you again one more time.”
“Don’t say that, Seferin! I thought we were going be together again after four-thousand years! I don’t want to lose you too!” She then tried to yell desperately. “Someone, get a medic! A Jedi healer! Anyone!”
Seferin put his hand against her cheek. “It’s no use, Grein. I’m going to die, either way. But don’t cry. Death is a natural thing. You haven’t forgotten that, have you?”
Meanwhile, Armogeist and Gahmah stood speechless, the latter pondering how heartbroken he or Nazeen would be if they were to lose each other.
As Hiriss continued distracting Valkor, Arcidus briefly docked at the same building to check on his master. As he rushed over, he removed his mask.
“Master!” Arcidus yelled.
“Aiken?” Seferin addressed him. “You abandoned your priorities just so you could see me? Don’t bother asking for medical assistance. I just told Grein the same thing.”
“What will we do without you, Master?”
“After this, I will no longer be your master. You will lead my people as my successor. But before my reign ends, I have one last order: Help Zolph defeat Valkor. Get back in the Razor and help whoever’s flying Zolph’s fighter.”
“As you wish, Seferin.” Aiken put his mask back on, returned to his fighter and flew back into action.
Valkor proceeded to taunt the people on the roof further. “Oh, what a touching reunion! But we’ve wasted enough time!” Valkor prepared to fire an energy blast at them, only for him to be held back by Luke and Juganak a few levels lower through the Force. “And now, a Council member from the original Jedi Order and the current Grandmaster have decided to step up!”
Valkor tried to fire an energy blast at them, but Luke simply dissipated it with a wave of green Force lightning, harming Valkor more than most previous attacks against this form have.
“Well-played, Skywalker! You truly are the most powerful in the Order, but ironically enough, you’re not as much of a threat as Vaelor even though he’s weaker than you! Unlike him, I could give you a place in the Collective!”
Luke snarked back at him. “That’s a very tempting offer, Valkor, but sadly for you, I’ve already had a megalomaniacal Sith Lord offer me power in exchange for loyalty a few decades earlier, and even though you’re not a Sith, you’re not really that much different.”
“Oh, I wasn’t offering to have you join. I was merely making an observation. Besides, the chances of you willingly joining after everything you’ve been through are very slim, and you most likely could resist Forceless possession despite not having Vaelor’s natural immunity to it.”
As Valkor continued clashing with Luke, Maesterus addressed Zolph. “Zolph, I offer you the Black Matter in my body to take down Valkor.”
“But I haven’t learned to properly control Force-channeling. And as I am now, I’ll do more harm than good.”
“We don’t have any other options. Besides, you were willing to risk it to save Ascana Vaso and Yanto Eko from being imprisoned in the Pool of Souls, and I wouldn’t want to suffer that fate either.”
“Very well, I’ll try.”
“Even making it to knighthood, I still don’t know what that means.”
“Trying implies the possibility of failure. Tame this power. Be confident.”
“Ah, so that’s what Master Skywalker meant.”
Maesterus then addressed Grein, Gahmah and Armogeist. “Raan, Grein. I need you to get to your ships and provide Zolph some air-support. Balos, I need you to stay alive and order everyone else on the surface to evacuate. There’s not much else they can do.”
“Understood, Seferin.” Grein answered, having regained her composure. “And I’m glad to have seen you again one more time.”
Gahmah answered him in turn with a more serious tone than he usually had. “Since you were always one of my favorite clients and you have nothing left to give, I’ll do this one for free, for you, my family, and as Violo used to say, a better galaxy. It’s been a pleasure working with you, Maesty, and I’m gonna miss you.”
While Gahmah fled the vicinity to get to the Vriknash, Zolph contacted Admiral Cephal. “Admiral, order everyone to get off the surface. The planet’s surface is no longer safe and things are about to get very messy.”
“Understood. I’m guessing that’s why the capital looks darker from up here.” The transmission ended.
Zolph then put his hands up against Maesterus’s body and absorbed all of the Black Matter inside of it into his body. However, instead of being reluctant to use this, he was determined.
Valkor suddenly caught notice of this and tried to smash Zolph before he could transform, but to no avail, as his fist was blocked and disintegrated by a massive Force shield.
“No.” Valkor uttered with a slight tone of horror.
Instead of turning into a Forceless-like being, Zolph had turned into a gray-skinned humanoid creature with a featureless face with the exception of the two glowing blue eyes and four wings coming out of his back.
“Valkor!” Zolph addressed him with a distorted voice. “For your crimes against sentience, you will answer to me! Prepare yourself!”
Zolph levitated from the roof, formed an energy blade from his right arm, and flew towards Valkor.
“You have done well, Zolph. The Force is on your side.” Seferin said before expiring. Grein then silently ordered Armogeist to pick up Seferin’s body, followed her and carry him to the Blazing Manta.
Valkor fired another energy blast from his main mouth at Zolph, only for him to block it with another Force shield.
Realizing what he was up against, Valkor silently ordered a squadron of Eyewings to attack Zolph, only for a few of them to be sliced apart by his energy blade and the rest to be shot down by the Manthis. Meanwhile, the Vriknash, Blazing Manta - with Grein as the pilot and Armogeist as the gunner - and Phantom Razor flanked Valkor from all sides, and many Valkoran and Alliance dropships were evacuating the planet, even though a few were devoured before they could take off.
Some parts of Hammer, Shade and Guardian Squadrons also came down into the atmosphere to assist, but several fighters were destroyed or devoured by Valkor.
Zolph then threw a massive energy blast at Valkor to get his attention. “Focus. On. Me!” He demanded the colossus.
“Very well, then!” Valkor suddenly tore a stories-tall building off its supports and threw it at Zolph, only for him to slash it in half.
Zolph then charged towards Valkor’s head, noticing the upper-half of his smaller humanoid shell still attached to it as if were some pilot. Valkor grabbed Zolph, only for him to be set free when the Manta fired some concussion missiles to sever Valkor’s hand. He attempted to launch some tentacle blades in retaliation, only for them to be decapitated by the Razor’s wings.
Once Zolph landed on top of the head, Valkor tried to smash him with the colossus’s oversized arm, only for the Vriknash to drop a seismic charge into it and tear it to shreds.
Valkor’s puppet-body suddenly created a smaller substitute humanoid body to go along with its lost half and separated itself from the colossus.
“I guess your friends don’t want me to kill you the easy way. Very well. If you want to destroy me, you’ll need to be fast, because if I remember, that power of yours has a time limit, and I’m not going to provide you the benefit of fueling off my body.”
“Then I have plenty of time to shove this energy blade up your exhaust port.”
Valkor slashed his claws at Zolph, but it only scratched his flesh, as it was far too thick to be punctured through. Zolph then cut off his metallic right arm, only for him to replace it with a Black Matter arm. As the two clashed blades and Force powers with pseudo-Force powers, Zolph also had to contend with the colossus attacking him with jaws, spikes or Forceless Newborns created from its body.
Eventually, with a well-placed slash, Zolph decapitated Valkor’s avatar and the colossus started to fall apart.
The avatar’s severed head lightly chuckled. “You’ve done well, Vaelor. You and this galaxy just might be the most thrilling adversary I ever had. However, as I told you earlier, you’ve only killed one of my avatars, and you’ll be fighting a hopeless battle with rest of the Collective. But since you’ve been so much fun, I’ll give you a consolation prize.”
“What are you up to?” Zolph asked suspiciously.
“Dynn Manthis is alive.”
“Liar! I saw her die!” Suddenly, Zolph’s power was starting to wear off.
“Remember what I told you about the Pool of Souls. I resurrected her, hence why I said she was in there. However, she’s in a galaxy far, far away right now, so unless you invent a means for quick extragalactic travel sometime within your lifespan, you’ll never find her.”
The glowing eyes in the avatar’s mask then faded.
With the last of Maesterus’s symbiote exhumed, Zolph’s body turned back to normal. He suddenly leaped off the colossus’s head as it broke off and landed right on top of the Blazing Manta before entering the ship’s emergency repair hatch.
As the rest of the ships fled from Ockla Prime’s surface – whether they be part of the Galactic Alliance, Maesterus’s supporters or Valkor’s surviving supporters fleeing from the battle – the Valkoran Separatists and the Alliance performed a full-scale orbital bombardment of the capital to annihilate all the remaining Forceless on the planet’s surface. Once the bombardment was complete, all the surviving Valkoran-Alliance ships retreated into hyperspace.
As far as statistics were concerned, hundreds of men and women from both parties were either killed or sent to the ‘Pool of Souls’, and some of the surviving soldiers would no doubt be traumatized by that day’s events.
Back on the Manta, Zolph reunited with Grein and Armogeist. They then received a transmission from Admiral Cephal.
“Grein, this is Admiral Cephal. Is Zolph okay?”
“I’m still alive, Admiral.” Zolph answered.
“You did it! Thanks to you, we pulled through this mess! The Valkoran War is finally over!”
This seemed like a cause for celebration, but for Zolph, Grein and those who knew more about the Forceless, this was a bittersweet victory.
“But unfortunately, another war has begun in its place.” Zolph replied. “We only defeated an avatar, so the real Valkor’s still alive in another galaxy. And since we were able to defeat him and destroy the Ragnirathan, the Forceless Collective is going to take us more seriously and overwhelm us until we are defeated.”
“That’s unfortunately true. We may be dealing with an enemy worse than the Yuuzhan Vong in the days to come, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t relish this victory. Besides, several of our surviving men are getting awards for their roles in this battle, including Besh Squad. And G’Jan’s getting promoted to General.”
Hiriss, R9-C4 and a few others were also listening in on the conversation.
“Is there anything good for you that came out of this, Zolph?” Hiriss asked.
Zolph answered. “Unfortunately, we lost many good people, including Admiral Gravlek and Maesterus. However, we are no longer fighting against the majority of the Valkoran, and we have some allies to fight against the Collective with. And I have fulfilled Dynn’s last wish to some extent. Valkor may have told me we’d be fighting a losing battle against what may be one of the largest armies in the universe, but if we hold onto hope and look for solutions like we did against the Galactic Empire and the Yuuzhan Vong, we may pull through against this seemingly-endless force too. We already proved it on Ockla Prime.”
“Now we’re on the right track.”
Seefor chimed in as well. “Seemingly-infinite force of Forceless < Seefor and cohorts.”
“But you still seem troubled.” Hiriss continued.
“Before his avatar died, Valkor told me that Dynn was somehow alive in another galaxy.” Zolph answered back.
“Do you believe him?”
“I don’t know what to believe. Valkor is most likely giving me false hope just to have it crushed later, regardless of whether he’s lying or not.”
Grein chimed in. “You’re wise to suspect that, Zolph. Even if he is telling the truth, it’s best not to get your hopes too high. But even then, having a little hope is not a bad thing, especially in a situation like this.”
Hiriss continued. “You can hold on to some hope, but for the most part, it would be for the best to just move on. You don’t want to burden yourself with the thought of it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m hoping she’s still alive and that we see her again too.”
“Thanks for the advice.” Zolph told them both before ending the transmission and specifically addressing Grein. “And how you are you handling Seferin’s fate?”
“I’m still getting over it.” Grein answered. “I’ve spent four-thousand years separated from him and the only times we met again until today, we only met indirectly, and one of those times was as enemies.”
“After everything you’ve been through your whole life, I don’t blame you for breaking into tears.” Zolph then hugged the purple-eyed Chiss from her side, provoking a rare, warm smile from her.
“Thank you, Zolph, but can you please not do that while I’m flying the ship?”
“Of course. Sorry.” Zolph then retracted. “Maybe after we stop?”
Another transmission came to the Manta, this time from Arcidus.
“Arcidus to Grein. Status report.”
“We’re almost to the rendezvous point.”
“Good. You’ll be delivering Maesterus’s body and Armogeist to Admiral Morda on the Liberator. She’ll handle the rest.”
Zolph then questioned Arcidus. “So, Aiken, now that you’re the new chief, what are you going to do?”
“First, my group is going to set up a new center of operations now that Ockla Prime’s been devastated and the Doomsayer destroyed. Then, we’re going to make reparations to the Galactic Alliance for the crimes we committed under Valkor’s supervision. Thankfully, Master Skywalker and Admiral Cephal have decided to vouch for us so we aren’t sentenced too inconveniently. Also, we set up a credit account with the Banking Clan on Scipio during the war in case we lost some of our privately-owned resources, and I’ll still have enough to pay Gahmah Raan for his aid during the battle.”
“That’s good to hear. With the Forceless Collective an even bigger threat than before, we can’t afford to have you punished in a way that renders your group helpless. This whole galaxy will need to stand united if we want to survive the Collective.”
“Also, to better dissociate our group from Valkor’s loyalists, I’ve decided to rename ourselves the Knights of Maesterus.”
A few days later, Zolph took the Manthis to Mount Yoda on Dagobah. As he made his way to the turbolift to take him to the swamp below, he noticed the base was not quite as busy as the last time he was there. In fact, it was very quiet without General Ven Choi around.
After arriving in the swamp, he headed into the corrupted cave under the gnarltree he was once led into.
Once far enough into the cave, he was once again confronted with an apparition of a Forceless-possessed Dynn, but this time, Zolph was not afraid.
“So you came back.” The apparition mockingly commented.
“Obviously.” Zolph replied.
“Have you finally decided to accept the truth?”
“Yes. I have come to realize that you are a manifestation of my own self-loathing and denial, and that you’ll probably never go away as long as I live. However, that isn’t why I’m here.”
“Then why have you come back to this deadly place?”
“I’d like to tell you that I fulfilled your final wish to some extent. A good chunk of the Valkoran Empire led by Maesterus realized the error of their ways and decided to aid us in our fight against the Collective. Also, I have some slight hope that you’re not dead in some place I’m currently unable to reach. However, I’m not going to get my hopes too high and deliberately search for you. You may actually be dead, you may actually not, but either way, I promise I won’t forget about you and I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for you.”
Suddenly, the apparition’s Forceless-possession symptoms started to deteriorate and she turned back to her fully-clothed un-possessed form, revealing a genuine smile on her face. “You finally passed.” She then put her hand on Zolph’s shoulder as her body slowly faded into light particles. “If you do run into the real me again, do whatever you feel needs to be done.” She then finished fading.
“I will, Dynn. I will.” Zolph said to himself as he exited the cave.