"I am Gotal."

Harrar indicated the sackcloth. "Your attire befits a penitent more than a scholar; which are you?"

"I am both, and I am neither," the Gotal said with purposeful ambiguity. "I am an H'kig priest."

Harrar twisted spiritedly on the cushion to address his retinue. "Good fortune! We have a holy one in our midst." His gaze returned to the Gotal. "Tell me something of your religion, H'kig priest."

"What interest could you have in my beliefs?"

"Ah, but I, too, am a performer of rituals. As one priest to another, then."

"We H'kig believe in the value of simple living," the Gotal said plainly.

"Yes, but, to what end? To ensure bountiful harvests? To escalate yourself; to secure a place in the afterlife?"

"Virtue is its own reward."

Harrar adapted a puzzled look. "Your gods have said as much?"

"It is simply our truth. One among many."

"One among many...and what of the truth the Yuuzhan Vong bring you? Aver that you recognize our gods, and I may be inclined to spare your life."

The Gotal stared at him dispassionately. "Only a fool's god would thirst so for death and destruction."

"Then it's true; you fear death?"

"I have no fear of a death suffered in the cause of truth, the alleviation of suffering, or the abolishment of evil."

"Suffering?" Harrar leaned menacingly toward him. "Let me tell yu of suffering, priest. Misery is the mainstay of life. Those who accept this truth understand that death is the release from suffering. That's why we go willingly to our deaths; for we are the resigned ones."

He scanned the captives and raised his voice. "We ask no more of you than we do ourselves. To repay the gods for the sacrifices they endured in creating the cosmos. We offer flesh and blood, so that their work might endure."

"Our god demands no tribute, other than good acts," the Gotal rejoined.

"Acts that raise (unintelligible)," Harrar said in distain. "if this is all that is expected of you, it's no wonder your gods have abandoned you in your time of need."

"We have not been abandoned, we still have the Jedi." Murmurs of fellowship moved through the throng of captives.

"These Jedi are your gods?"

The Gotal took a moment to answer. "The Jedi Knights are the trustees of peace and justice."

"And this Force I have heard about, how would you describe it?"

The Gotal grinned faintly. "It is something you will never touch. Although, if I didn't know better I would swear you were sprung from its Dark Side."

Harrar's interest was piqued. "The Force contains both light and dark?"

"As do all things."

"And which are you, with regard to us? Are you so sure you embody the light?"

"I know only what my heart teaches."

Harrar deliberated. "Then, this struggle is more than some petty war. This is a contest of gods, in which you and I are but mere instruments."

The Gotal held his head high. "That may be so, but the final judgement is already decided."

Harrar sneered. "May that belief comfort you in your final hour, priest. Which, I assure you, is close at hand." Again, he addressed the multitudes. "Up until now, your species have faced only Yuuzhan Vong warriors and politicians. As of today, know that the true architects of your destiny have arrived."

He beckoned his entourage forward. "This Force is a strange, stubborn faith. If ever we are to rule here, he need to understand just how it binds these myriad beings together. We need to vanquish the Jedi Knights, once and for all."