Check out an excerpt from “The Third Lesson” below, making its debut on io9—alongside more of Oko’s artwork!
A haze of smoke hung in the air, the black residuum of the Imperial fleet’s pre-landing bombardment of Alderaan. Rage burned in Malgus, its seed grown from the word he kept hearing over Imperial communication channels: Retreat.
The Empire had lost Alderaan. Hours before Malgus had walked its surface as a conqueror, but now…
Now signal fires dotted its surface, rallying points for the Republic forces.
A counterattack was coming. Reports indicated a Republic fleet en route to Alderaan.
He clenched his fists so hard it made his fingers ache. His breathing sounded like a rasp over wood. His skin stung from burns. A Republic commando had exploded a grenade in his face, and combat with a Jedi witch had damaged his lungs. Lacerations and contusions made a grim mosaic on his flesh.
But he felt no pain. He felt only anger.
A sense of frustration that made him want to shout.
His personal shuttle roared low over the scorched landscape. Below him, buildings and bodies smoldered in the ruins of an Alderaani town. Around him, Imperial ships prowled the sky, flying escort. He tried to unknot his fists, failed. He wanted—
The presence of a light-side Force user bumped up against his Force sensitivity, a sudden flare in his perception. He looked down and out the viewport. He saw nothing but charred ruins, rubbled buildings, burnt out vehicles. He pinched the comlink he wore.
“Turn us around.”
“My lord?” asked his pilot.
“Come about, cut speed to one quarter, and reduce altitude by one hundred meters.”
“Yes, my lord.”
As the shuttle wheeled around and slowed, Malgus overrode the safeties and lowered the landing ramp. Wind whipped into the cabin, carrying the smell of a charred planet, a planet Malgus had intended to kill, but instead had only wounded.
Someone had to pay for that.
He took the hilt of his lightsaber in hand and sank into the Force. The burned-out buildings below stuck out of the scorched earth like rotted teeth, crooked and black.
“Slower,” he said to the pilot.
He reached out through the Force, probing for the light-side presence he had felt.
At first there was nothing, and he wondered if he had been mistaken, or if the light-side user had perceived Malgus and suppressed his power. But then…
He felt it as an irritation behind his eyes, an itch only violence could scratch. He shed his cloak and stepped to the edge of the landing ramp. The wind pulled at him. Anger swelled in him, buoyed him up. The Force anchored him in place. He pinched his comlink again.
“Hover above the ruins until I return.”
“Return, my lord? Where are you going? You’re seriously wounded.”
Malgus deactivated the comlink and leapt off the ramp into the open air. He ignited his blade as the ground rushed up to meet him. Using the Force to cushion the impact, he hit the ground in a crouch.
He stood in the center of a street pockmarked with craters and littered with broken glass and overturned speeders. An aircar burned 10 meters from him, vomiting gouts of black smoke into the sky. Somewhere, a wind bell chimed furiously in the gusts.
“I’m here, Jedi!” Malgus shouted, his voice booming over the ruins.
Behind him, he heard the hum of an activating lightsaber, then another.
He turned to see a male Zabrak, a Jedi, emerge from one of the burned-out buildings that lined the street. The blue line of a lightsaber glowed in each of his hands. He studied Malgus sidelong.
“Malgus,” the Jedi said.
Malgus did not know the Jedi’s name and he did not care. The Zabrak was merely the focus of his anger, a convenient target for his rage.
Malgus fell into the Force, roared, and bounded down the street, his anger lending him speed.
The Jedi held his ground. At twenty meters, the Jedi raised his lightsabers aloft to either side and drew them both down with a flourish.
Too late the rumble of the falling buildings penetrated the haze of Malgus’s anger. An avalanche of duracrete and transparisteel crashed down on him from either side of the street…
The creases on his father’s Imperial uniform looked sharp enough to cut meat, but his tone was as soft as the belly that overflowed his trousers.
“Come with me, Veradun.”
Veradun followed his father to the enormous menagerie they kept on the grounds of the family’s estate. His father, a biologist in the Imperial Science Corps, collected animals from countless worlds. The family had their own private zoo, financed by the Empire. Veradun had helped tend the creatures since he’d been a small boy.
Shrieks, chitters, howls, and a pungent animal stink greeted their entrance. His father’s voice knifed through the noise.
“You know why I enjoy these animals so much?”
Veradun shook his head. He saw himself reflected in the lenses of his father’s eyeglasses.
“Because we can learn from them.”
His father smiled cryptically. “Come on.”
Father put a hand on his shoulder andsteered him through the maze of habitats, cages, and tanks, until they reached the transparisteel cube of the kouhun tank. A thick layer of sand, dotted with a few loose rocks and some loose fur, was all that was visible. The segmented arthropod, its body as long as Veradun’s arm, lay hidden somewhere underneath the sand of the tank. Veradun walked around the tank, trying to spot any sign of the kouhun. Nothing.
Meanwhile, his father lifted a feeder rat from a nearby cage and held it over the kouhoun’s tank.
“I fed it earlier,” Veradun said.
His father dropped the rat into the tank and it froze the moment it hit the sand. It sniffed the air, whiskers twitching.
The sand near it bulged.
The rat squealed with fear but before it could move, the kouhoun erupted from the sand under it, seized the rodent in its scissor-like mandibles, and bit it in half. Blood spilled, painting the sand red.
The kouhon crawled fully from the sand, its head all mandibles and dead black eyes. Dozens of pairs of legs propelled its segmented body over the bloody bits of the rat. But it did not eat, and after a moment it burrowed back into the sand, leaving the rat’s carcass unmolested.
“Why do you think it killed the rat?” his father asked. “It was not hungry. As you said, you fed it not long ago.”
“Instinct,” Veradun said. “It’s a savage creature.”
“Good, Veradun. Good. Indeed, the kouhon kills for no reason. Does that make sense to you?”
“No, but… it’s an animal.”
His father kneeled to look Veradun in the face. “Right. And you’re not. The kouhon teaches us that senseless savagery is the province of animals, not men. Savagery is useful only if it’s controlled and put in service to an end. Do you understand?”
Veradun considered, nodded.
“The end is everything,” his father said.
You’ll be able to read more from “The Third Lesson” and other Star Wars stories when Titan Comics’ Star Wars Insider: Fiction Collection Vol. 2 hits shelves on October 26.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.
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