The Empire had been beaten back, and the Empire had returned.
The moment the Republic fleet left the Both system, the enemy swooped in to avenge its recent loss. Its retribution would be hard and swift, showering the planet with all the brute force the Empire could muster. But the planetary shield held fast, repelling each and every orbital bombardment with relative ease. This left the opposition with only one option that could guarantee victory for the Empire: an all-out ground assault.
They would disable the shield generator and then, they would take Bothawui from the Republic - once and for all.
All of Belth Allusis' carefull planning with a handful of Jedi knights seemed sound, however, as he was awakened the following morning with the news that Grand Moff Zelos had landed his troops on the planet surface and made a secret march through the night - placing him but seven miles away from the shield generator - the Jedi Master swore and called for one of the Special Forces Squads.
As the signal was given to rouse the troops and the officers prepared their men for battle, Allusis and his chosen squad reconnoitered the local terrain. Then, when the troops were drawn up and ready to take up their positions, he called in the Jedi commanders to look at the holomap he had devised.
"Here," he said, pointing to a place on the map. "This is where we'll put the center. It's a relatively strong position; there are Corellian target-assist blaster defense turrets and embankment walls to shelter behind." He looked carefully at Caius. "The center will be your command."
The elderly Jedi knight was deeply surprised; traditionally the center was the general's post. "I am honored--" he was beginning when Allusis cut in.
"Don't be. I've given you the worst job of all. You will have the second Special Forces Squad."
Caius and the younger Jedi next to him stared at the Jedi Master in stupefaction. The center was also traditionally the position of the greatest strength. "Two hundred men and half a dozen Jedi," Allusis continued grimly. "I want Zelos to deliver his chief attack against you, Caius. I want him to think that is where I am. And I want you to hold him for as long as you possibly can."
The other Jedi recovered his voice. "Those are ten-to-one odds."
"I know." Allusis turned to the young man. "Horatius, the remaining infantry will be stationed here, behind the shield generator. The landscape will screen you from Zelos' view." The finger pointed to another mark on the map. "I will be here, with the rest of the Jedi. Behind the southernmost blaster turret." The gray eyes scanned both faces.
"From your position, Hora, you will be able to see me. When I give signal you are to charge like devils out of hell and smash into Zelos' forces." Hora nodded and Allusis continued. "But not until I give the signal. Understood?"
The young Jedi knight looked down his self-assured nose. "Understood."
Allusis turned to his oldest friend. "The brunt of this is on you, Caius. You must draw them on. And you don't have enough men to do it properly."
Caius grinned. "Well, when you see me sinking, you can run to the rescue."
The Jedi Master smiled back. "I will."
It was one of those cobalt-blue mornings you sometimes get on Alderaan, but Belth Allusis would have preferred mist and rain. The entire success of his plan hinged on Zelos being made to think that the bulk of Republic forces were in the center with Caius.
He knew he had affronted several of the Special Forces Squad Commanders by putting Caius in command of the center. Caius had been only a junior commander under Hora, and the Jedi Master's policy had been to be as conciliating as possible toward army veterans, but still he had put Caius in command. He knew the man, knew his mind and his capabilities. Caius had the fortitude to take punishment and not retaliate. It was something Hora, for example, could never do. There might perhaps have been someone among his senior commanders who could have taken up the reins of center leadership successfully that day, but Allusis did not know any of them well enough to be sure. He knew Caius and he knew Caius could do it.
Allusis had all his men in position by the time the skirling sound of Bothan whistles came echoing down the western flank. From his vantage point on higher ground, the Jedi Master could see Hora and his men hidden in the cavity behind the shield generator, further up the fortification. Allusis could not see Caius, who was to the right of both his command and Hora's, on the other side of the battlement that was screening Allusis and his men from Zelos.
There was a shout of triumph as Zelos' forces spotted one of Caius' men. The whistles skirled even louder. Then the noise began to move down the side of the fortification in their direction. The whistles and the roaring from thousand of throats came even closer. Zelos was attacking the center with the full force of his ground military force. In the moment before the battle was enjoined, Allusis had time to remember what everyone had apparently forgotten: Caius had never yet been in a battle himself, let alone command a chief contingent of forces, in one.
The deafening noise of weapons firing from the far side of the embankment was suddenly augmented by the sound of lightsaber clashing upon lightsaber. Then, more horribly, came the shrieks of the wounded.
Caius could scarcely see for the sweat that rolled down his face and into his eyes. The fighting around him was hard and vicious. He had a plan of retreat in his mind, and as it became impossible to hold the line, he fell back, sheltering behind the wall and what was left of the defense turret - shouting encouragement to his men, who were being overwhelmed by the superior numbers pounding against them.
Backing up, Caius stumbled over a prone figure. The man moaned, and Caius, thrown off his balance, began to go down. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a lightsaber coming toward him...
The training of the Jedi Temple saved him. As he fell, he automatically swung his own lightsaber up in a maneuver drilled into him by one of the Temple's renowned duelists years ago. Blood spurted, and it wasn't his.
A hand under his elbow dragged him to his feet. "This is madness!" the squad commander of the 2nd Republic Special Forces screamed in his ear. "Send for the reinforcements!"
"No!" The young Jedi general shouted back from a raw throat. "We can hold out a little longer!"
The stench of blood was in his nostrils. By the Force, he thought as he saw the colors on his left, the bastards are surrounding us. "Back!" he shouted to his men. "Fall back!"
"For the love of the Republic," Hora said savagely between clenched teeth. "When is he going to give the signal?"
Horatius would have charged five minutes ago. In fact, he had sent a transmission to Allusis to ask if he could attack. The answer had been uncompromising. "Don't move until I give the signal." So Hora waited and fumed and swore. Caius, poor bastard, was being murdered out there, while he sat here . . .
"General!" One of his officers who was closest to him, pointed toward the south entrance. He could see Allusis' imposing figure, making its way to the front of his men. Then the figure pulled back the hood of his tawny cloak and turned, looking his way - before lifting his lightsaber-brandishing arm above his head, and bringing it down decisively.
Horatius laughed with an almost savage elation. "This is it!" He turned, giving the officer a brief glimpse of white teeth and blazing gray eyes. He stood tall then - his full height cutting an imposing figure - and turned to his men.
"For the Republic!" he shouted and, whirling about, charged straight up the slope of the shattered embankment and at the massed forces of the Imperial rear.
Allusis stood as before, watching Hora's mad charge. The first ranks of some of the finest Republic infantry troops smashed into the Imperial lines and Zelos' men gave way before them. The Jedi Master turned to his own command.
"Are the 2nd and the 4th have all the glory of this day?" he shouted.
"NO!" came the resounding reply, and Allusis began to move down the south entrance. The 1st and 3rd of Republic Special Forces Squads came pouring in, behind him.
The Imperial forces, certain the day was theirs, were staggered by the dual assault. Hora's forces were trampling them down in the rear when the fresh troops under Allusis smashed into them from the left. For a moment the battle wavered in the balance.
Allusis thrust himself through the ranks of his men, slashing a path for the troopers who followed him - with his lightsaber blazing bright amber as it lit the way. The time for strategy was over. Now it was a matter of who could fight the hardest.
The noise at Hora's end of the battle abruptly changed. Allusis looked and saw, with almost unbelieving eyes, that the Imperial forces had broken and were fleeing from the field. He turned back to his own men and urged them on with greater ferocity.
As the brunt of the battle was taken off his shoulders, Caius drew breath and took the time to look around him. There, to the right of the field of battle, was the man he thought he was looking for. With his keen, farsighted eyes, Caius could make out the figure that seemed strikingly familiar. Grand Moff Zelos. Calling a few men to him, the young Jedi knight began to make his way across the battlefield.
It was fifteen more minutes before Allusis could be certain that the engagement was won. Imperial forces were disengaging everywhere and melting away into the surrounding hills and forests. The Jedi Master paused for a minute where he stood to assess the situation, and it was then that it happened...
A man in Sith trooper armor, who had been laying on the ground in front of him, apparently dead, was on his feet with lightsaber drawn and aimed directly at Belth Allusis' exposed throat. It was a picture that froze itself into the Jedi Master's brain even as his hand automatically went to his own weapon, to respond.
No, his mind suddenly said. Let it be...
He saw very clearly the other man's face, the dirt and the blood and the eyes full of hate. This will solve it all, he thought, and let his lightsaber hand drop to his side, empty. He did not look away as the enemy's blade came driving toward him.
There was a blaze of silver in the sun and the Imperial was on the ground again, this time unmistakably dead. Allusis turned and met Hora's furious steel-gray eyes.
"What in blue blazes do you think you are doing?" the other Jedi general shouted at him. And then he began to curse.
Horatius made an awesome sight as he stood tall in his gleaming battle-master armor in the middle of the battlefield. He had lost his cloak and his platinum hair shone like a helmet of silver in the sun. His shoulders under his reinforced tunic were enormous. His arms and his armored thigh plates were covered in blood.
The smaller, slimmer grey-haired figure standing beside him looked at him somberly and did not reply. Allusis waited until Hora had run out of words, and then said, "Call the men back. I don't want the Imperials pursued. And find out what happened to Zelos." With still no word of thanks, the Jedi Master turned and swept off the field.
The Imperials had been repelled for the moment but Belth Allusis knew they would be back. And he and his men would stand their ground again, bathing the fields of Bothawui in sweat and blood. For truth and freedom. For peace and justice.
For the Republic.