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EPILOGUE

Rain stirred in her sleep, yet didn't wake. Someone was calling to her, but she didn't want to answer. In her dreams she could imagine she was still back home with her cousins, enjoying a simple but happy life. If she woke, she knew she'd have to face the truth: that life was gone forever.

Wake, Rain . . .

It had vanished the moment that the Jedi-Master Torr, his name had been-had recruited them to join the Army of Light. She hadn't even really wanted to join. But Bug and Tomcat, her cousins, were both going. They were her only family, and she didn't want to be left behind. She was young-only ten-but she was strong in the Force. And so Master Torr had let her come, too.

He had told them he was taking them to Ruusan, where they would become Jedi. Only that never happened. Their shuttle had been attacked as soon as they entered the atmosphere. What occurred next was just a blur, but she remembered an explosion and screams. One wing of the ship had sheared away and suddenly she was falling. The smoking wreckage of the shuttle became a speck in the sky above her as it spiraled off out of control and she fell down, down, down until

Rain, wake!

Laa! Laa had saved her, and it was Laa who was calling to her now. Slowly she opened her eyes and sat up, still groggy.

Rain slept long. Now Rain must wake.

"I'm up, Laa," she said to the bouncer hovering above her. Laa had saved her from that fall, catching her as she plummeted from hundreds of meters above Ruusan's surface.

Bad dreams, Rain.

"No," she replied. "Not bad dreams, Laa. I dreamed I was back home." Laa never actually spoke to her; she only heard the words inside her head. They communicated through the power of the Force, Laa had once explained to her. But whenever Rain answered, she always voiced the words aloud.

Bad dreams coming.

Rain frowned, trying to figure out exactly what Laa was trying to tell her. Sometimes when the bouncers talked about dreams they actually meant something else. Sometimes it was as if the bouncers had visions of the future. She remembered what Laa had said just before the entire forest had exploded in flames: Bad dreams, Rain. Death dreams.

The fires had killed most of the other bouncers. The survivors had all gone mad. All except Laa. Somehow Rain had saved her. She'd used the Force, shielding them both from the burning death and destruction, though she wasn't quite sure how she'd done it. It had just sort of .. . happened. Now she and Laa had nobody left but each other.

Bad dreams coming, the bouncer repeated.

A few hours earlier she had felt something strange: the ground rumbling beneath her feet as if something had exploded far, far away. Was this what Laa was talking about? Was this the bad dream? Or was her friend trying to warn her about something that hadn't happened yet?

"I don't understand," she said, looking around at the bushes surrounding the clearing where she had lain down to sleep. She didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Not yet, anyway.

Good-bye, Rain.

There was an aching sorrow in Laa's words that stabbed through Rain's heart like a knife, but she still didn't know what the bouncer was talking about.

Before she could ask, there was a sound from the bushes. She spun around to see two men come crashing into the clearing. She could tell right away they were Jedi: they wore the same brown robes as Master Torr, and she saw lightsabers dangling from their belts. Each one also carried a large blaster rifle.

"Bouncer!" one shouted. "Look out!"

They reacted so quickly their motions were nothing but a blur as they opened fire. By the time the scream left Rain's lips, her friend was already dead.

She was still screaming when the first Jedi ran up to her. "Are you okay, little one?" he asked, reaching down.

Instinctively, she lashed out at him. She didn't know how she did it; it wasn't even a conscious thought. She only knew he had shot her friend. He had killed Laa!

"What's the mat-" His voice was cut short as she snapped his neck with the Force. The eyes of his companion went wide in horror, but before he could do anything else she had broken his neck, too.

Only then did Rain stop screaming. Instead she began to cry, great heaving sobs that racked her body as she crawled over to press herself against the soft green fur of Laa's still-warm body where it had fallen to the ground.

Bane found her there: a young human child weeping over the remains of one of Ruusan's native bouncers. The corpses of two young Jedi lay nearby, their heads twisted at obscene angles to their bodies. It took him only an instant to piece together what must have happened.

The girl looked up at him as he approached, her eyes puffy and red. He guessed she was nine, maybe ten at the most. He could feel the power of the Force burning in her, fueled by grief and rage and hatred. Even if he hadn't sensed it, the broken Jedi at her feet gave mute testament to her abilities.

He didn't speak, but stood silently. The girl's sobbing stopped. She sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Then she rose to her feet and took a tentative step toward him.

"Who are you?" he demanded, his voice deep and threatening.

She didn't retreat or flee, though her reply was hesitant. "My name is Rain ... I mean Zannah. My cousins used to call me Rain, but they're dead now. Zannah's my real name."

Bane nodded, understanding completely. Rain: a nickname, a name of childhood and innocence. An innocence now lost.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

She nodded and took another step forward. "You're a Sith."

"You're not afraid of me?"

"No," she insisted with a shake of her head, though Bane knew she wasn't being completely honest. He could feel her fear, but it was buried beneath far stronger emotions: grief, anger, hatred, and the desire for revenge.

"I have killed many people," Bane warned her. "Men, women ... even children."

She shuddered but held her ground. "I'm a killer, too."

Bane glanced over at the Jedi corpses, then turned his focus back to the little girl standing defiantly before him. Was she the one? Had the Force led him along this route back to his ship? Had it brought him here at this exact moment simply so he could find his apprentice?

He asked the final, most important question. "Do you know the ways of the Force? Do you understand the true nature of the dark side?"

"No," Rain admitted, never dropping her gaze from his own. "But you can teach me. I'm young. I will learn."