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THE WAYS OF THE SITH

A Star Wars Fan Fiction Novel by Simone Welz and Maik Godau

 

It was a fairly warm, smog-filled late summer day on Coruscant in the year 120 ABY which saw fourteen year old Trin Eskell being sold to slave traders by her own parents.

 

The Eskell family descended from a line of impoverished proprietors of a small industrial enterprise who had been doing rather well some decades before, manufacturing servicing droids and household appliances. For a while, Eskell Services had been pretty well off – even allowing Trin’s parents to afford a comparatively spacious apartment in one of the better-renowned parts of Galactic City, located at medium height, even letting in some sunlight in some of the rooms and permitting view towards some of the posher skyscrapers, including the former Jedi Temple in the distance. As a child, Trin had always enjoyed letting her gaze wander over the city once in a while, and she had been fascinated, from the very beginning, by the distant temple building which offered an even more monumental look after its restructuration by the Yuuzhan Vong – a fascination, however, she had never found an explanation for.

 

Just a few years after Trin’s birth – following her elder sister Lian, born two years before her – the Eskell family’s assets began to diminish rapidly. Business was declining since countless competitors had appeared in the meantime, like fungus spreading on the wet soil of Dagobah, who offered better sales prices for their droids and appliances than Eskell Services did. When Trin turned fourteen, her family’s situation was so critical that utter impoverishment seemed imminent.

 

Certainly, it would have been a quick step towards abandoning the apartment in order to look for a place to stay on the lower levels of Coruscant – a decision, however, no one would take lightly. Lack of natural light, environmental pollution and the horrendous crime rate would make any sensible being hesitate before entering this sort of neighborhood. The same was true for the Eskell couple.

And there was another, decisive factor which influenced them.

 

Lian had always enjoyed her parents‘ appreciation. She was intelligent, friendly, adaptive and – which counted most for them – blessed with a straightforward, easy-to-handle character, making it easy for the Eskell couple to imagine a corresponding future for her working in their own company, or perhaps in service of a renowned Imperial authority.

Trin was a different cup of caf. No less intelligent than her elder sister, but with a personality greatly different from her. She had a leaning towards reflecting, sometimes even pondering over things, and her character seemed to be quite the opposite of straightforward. Undoubtedly, she could be friendly, too, but adaptiveness clearly wasn’t one of her strong features, and once in a while she behaved in a more or less peculiar way. Sometimes she said something other people just did not seem capable of grasping, or her parents couldn’t help feeling strangely embarrassed – as if someone had tried to interrogate them or made them reach a specific decision – while talking to her younger daughter. As the years went by, these feelings grew stronger and stronger, without anyone being able to offer any explanation. If the Eskell family had been aware of what was really going on with Trin, things might perhaps turned out in a totally different way.

 

Trin was Force-sensitive.

 

She was not aware of it at all; no one had told her, and the mind manipulations she unawarely and involuntarily applied to her parents made them experience extreme anxiety. She was untrained, but her powers were sufficient to create an atmosphere around her which was prone to making other beings feel uncomfortable.

There was no justified reason for rejecting Trin just for the sake of it, but as time went on her parents found her more an more uncanny. When the moment had come, finally, to take an ultimate decision – which was either to descend into Coruscant’s lower levels or sell one of their two daughters to slave traders as a last desperate attempt to use the money to rehabilitate their company poised on the edge of bankruptcy – Gared and Yona Eskell did not really find it difficult to choose between the two girls.

 

At least, the „agency“ had promised that Trin wouldn’t have to work as a prostitute but find her place in a „reputable“ family as a house servant. The amount offered soon eliminated the parents‘ last remaining qualms, making them discard Trin from their lives in favor of concentrating on the financial rehabilitation of their enterprise and the potential success of their elder daughter.

 

The day the „agency“ people – a broad-shouldered Nikto and a human woman of medium height – arrived to take her with them, Trin picked up her traveling bag containing her clothes and personal belongings and followed them into the speeder without even sparing a last glance at her parents and Lian.

 

Soon, the „reputed“ family was revealed to be the household of an imperial administration official wherein a clean and rather luxurious home clashed with the landlady’s violent temper. Marienne Ovorann loved to adorn her place with human domestics, bossing Trin around and shouting at her whenever possible, which turned the job, relatively easy under normal circumstances – normal household work which could actually have been taken care of by any droid – into hell for Trin.

 

One day, after she had already been working at the Ovorann household for several months, Trin accidentally dropped an apparently rather precious vase while dusting. She had been working on top of a ladder when the vase slipped from her fingers. Appalled, she tried to catch it, but her fingers reacted too slowly. The horror she felt made the following two seconds stretch like flexiplast. There was a peculiar humming inside her head, and she had the weird impression of the vase stopping dead in the middle of the air. Then the vision blew like a soap bubble, and the vase crashed to pieces on the floor.

 

As if Marienne Ovorann had only been waiting for her stage call, she sped towards the site, her face turning red at the sight of the broken fragments. Without saying a word, she turned around, dragged Trin from the ladder, grabbed the collar of her service overall and, before Trin could utter a single word of excuse, hit her in the face.

Trin recoiled with her cheek burning. Instinctively, she sensed that her employer had been waiting for just this sort of occasion, that she was basking in her irascibility and would continue to hit her hard until Trin would be ready for medi droid treatment. Another slap hit her other cheek, then her forehead. She tried to back off, but Marienne Ovorann held on to her. „I’m going to teach you a lesson !“ she spat.

 

When the woman’s arm swung back for the third time, Trin spontaneously exclaimed the words coming to her mind this very second.

„You don’t really want to do this, Madame Ovorann. You don’t want to hurt me.“

 

Marienne Ovorann froze in the middle of the movement. Her face took a strangely ruminative expression; her mouth was twitching. She looked as if she was fighting for words in her mind, lowering her arm. For a moment, Trin thought she would let her go. Yet, a few seconds later the unexpected change receded from the woman, and she hit Trin in the face once more.

 

All of a sudden, incredible, seething hot anger rose inside Trin, flaring like a flame wanting to consume everything she had been forced to experience so far. Her parents. Her happy, successful sister. And, especially, Marienne Ovorann, the woman claiming the right to have her at her command, to humiliate her and to mistreat her whenever her beloved husband wasn’t home. Especially her. Suddenly a picture appeared before her mind’s eye – showing Marienne Ovorann, slumping all of a sudden and dropping lifeless to the floor, just as if she’d suffered a heart attack or a circulatory collapse. That very same moment Trin began to feel her anger physically, it left her breathless, racing through her blood like liquid fire – and simultaneously she noticed that Marienne Ovorann loosened her grip on her clothes as a hollow thump briefly made the floor vibrate.

 

Trin staggered back, opened her eyes and saw her tormentor lying twisted at her feet on the fine Mashvar carpet covering the living room floor. As her breath slowly went back to normal, she knelt beside the woman, touching her carotid.

 

Nothing. Marienne Ovorann was as dead as a bagful of Nerf manure.

 

She felt neither fright, nor fear, nor guilt. The fire of anger had been replaced by the icicles of cold satisfaction and, after a while, malicious rejoicing in her enemy’s death. Her mind was totally clear, and she knew that it was time to retreat rapidly and without leaving a trace before Yan Ovorann returned home and discovered what had happened.

It was her firm intention to be far away from this place when that moment came.

 

Trin Eskell took a deep breath, shifted a few unkempt strands back from her forehead, quickly packed her bag with the few belongings she had brought and disappeared from the Ovorann’s apartment in order to go into hiding. It was in the evening when she got a job as a waitress in a bar in a reasonably livable part of Coruscant, on a level barely allowing people to move around without being confronted too often with a blaster muzzle pressed to their ribs or a vibro knife rammed through them.

 

The proprietor of the establishment, a Twilek called Tab L’atisa, had felt sorry for her from the beginning. For the first time in months, Trin’s life turned lucky for once – lucky to have a paid job as a regular employee, not as a servant, and to have a room upstairs which she shared with another waitress, a Mirialan.

 

For the next two years, Trin worked for Tab L’atisa, ocasionally pushing her wages with small thieving jobs and handling stolen goods, as she began to establish contact to regulars. During those extra jobs she managed more and more often to sneak out of many a precarious situation with the help of thought manipulation – and one day she realized that she might be in contact with that mysterious „Force“ people used to talk about once in a while.

 

She began testing her abilities intentionally, and while she was still having some difficulties at first she noticed that she found it increasingly easier, as the weeks passed by, to distract potential witnesses of stolen goods being transferred, to make a suspicious theft victim suddenly experience a feeling of artificial safety, or simply make unaware patrons order a few drinks more, thus raising both her employer’s sales and her tips.

 

Her quantum leap came when one evening a drink slipped off her tray, the way it happens from time to time to any waiter. At first, she was scared, but then, within fragments of a second, the strange humming in her head was back, the way it had been present during the mishap with the vase in the Ovorann household. Only, the feeling was much stronger – and all of a sudden she saw the glass containing the drink leaving its dangerous, actually inalterable diagonal position at the edge of the tray and slipping back into its middle, upright, without spilling even a single drop.

The bar was well attended, and no one had watched the brief gaffe, but Trin was dumbfounded. Now she was certain. She was definitely Force sensitive – and determined to bring her abilities to perfection.

At the same time she sensed that her days in Tab L’atisas bar were counted.

 

She had come to training regularly in her spare time when her roommate was at work, trying to make objects float, to switch appliances on and off and to grasp things with the Force. At the same time, she opened herself to the flow of the Force, teaching herself to let it stream through her to be able to make use of it in the right moment. Her various exercises gradually came up with improved results until easy maneuvers no longer presented a problem. As to mind tricks, she also advanced, and her tips increased tremendously.

 

And there was one more thing Trin had become aware of. Even though she possessed the Force, she would never be a Jedi. She was much too determined of using it to work her way out of this life, to rid herself of her past and the countless cases of abuse other beings had exposed her to, and to take advantage of everything. In this awareness, she also felt that the thought of others being harmed or even put to death by her use of the Force did not cause her any qualms – something she had noticed when she had killed Marienne Ovorann. No, she would never be a Jedi, she was much too selfish. And for being a normal person who just happened to be Force sensitive, she was much too ambitious of reaching her aims and gaining power over others, this she felt more strongly every day.

It took her almost the entire time she spent working in Tab L’atisa’s bar to find out what got her going; and when she was short of turning seventeen, she finally realized.

 

Her thoughts and feelings were those of a Sith.

 

Her fate was sealed when she was attacked one night while she was shopping for groceries after her shift, close to the bar. A medium-sized man sporting bristly, blond hair and a long scar on his left cheek held a vibro knife in front of her face and demanded her credits.

Trin moved very slowly while she could already feel the all-consuming anger welling up inside her within seconds. She pretended to take her wallet out of her pocket, her attacker grinning while expecting to take his prey any moment. What he got, however, was death. All of a sudden, his supposed victim raised her arm rapidly, as if she wanted to grab the knife; and the next moment he felt himself being grasped by an invisible hand and slammed violently at the wall of the building behind him, so hard that his neck broke.

Again, no one had spared any attention during the incident – the safest way to behave on Coruscant. Only a Dug hopping by gave her an appreciative wink.

Trin stood there, breathing heavily, and enjoying her victory – and her first conscious step onto the Dark Side.

 

The next evening one of the patrons happened to be an imperial officer; and when she served him his second drink she decided to take care of pushing her career a little with the help of her improved abilities. First and foremost, she was in need of some money enabling her to develop her life further the way she imagined, and for this purpose the wages Tab L’atisa paid her weren’t sufficient.

 

She put the mug of Corellian ale down in front of him and asked him in a casual voice whether or not he might have a job for her. At the same time, she focused her concentration on his mind.

However, there was hardly any need for manipulative action, as she sensed he liked her looks. The officer hesitated for a second, took a good draft from his beer mug and finally smiled back at her.

„Well, what would you be interested in ?“, he asked after a while.

Trin was certain that her abilities would make her a reasonable spy.

„Surveillance. Espionage. Whatever you got. Try me.“ She focused her concentration once more.

Again, he smiled, half lewd, half impressed, and threw her a covetous look. „We’ll see. Report tomorrow afternoon to Section Administrator Faruk Heysz“, he said, handing her a small datapad. „Here’s my card. And the address. Two o’clock Standard Time – don’t be late.“

 

She let the datapad slip into her pocket and gave him both the radiant smile of a waitress who had just received the tip of her life, and a slight mental push. Suddenly, the officer appeared to be in a hurry, paid his bill and left the bar. Trin moved behind the counter to tell Tab L’atisa that she would be going separate ways as of tomorrow, to have her remaining wages paid off and to thank him for having offered help when her life had been difficult.

Then she went upstairs and packed her bag.

 

The job interview went by rapidly the next day. Trin did not have to put much effort in trying to be assigned a position in the local surveillance office, where – contrarily to her work at the bar – regular daytime hours and partially rather interesting insights into the structure of imperial administration awaited her.

When it was over, she went to rent a room close to the office building. She was certain this would not cause any trouble.

 

Trin’s new overall job referred mostly to collecting and evaluating data within the authority, far from being outright dangerous espionage, but she was content with it, at least for the time being. She was keen on sparing her energy and physical health – what for, she did not yet know exactly. At least, yet, she was sure that this occupation did not represent the final step in a row of changes in her life.

Often she was assigned field work in civilian clothes, doing individual monitoring while making use of her recently discovered ability to withdraw her presence from the Force. The persons she tailed wouldn’t have noticed her even if she’d performed Rodian belly dancing in front of them, and therefore she was first choice for this sort of assignments.

 

Parallel to this, her work was enhanced by basic training in self-defense, weapon technology and use, Secret Service regulations, several foreign languages and a speeder licence. Soon, Trin had turned into a quite respectable blaster shot, was able to drive landspeeders and speeder bikes and fly small skyhoppers. Besides her mastering of Coruscanti Basic, she became fluent in Huttese and Corellian and was further capable of expressing herself in at least three other languages pronounceable for humans. Moreover, she gradually collected helpful knowledge regarding computers and all sorts of other electronic devices.

As a bonus, topping all these achievements, Trin got to see – and especially to hear – a lot of things, also with regard to the political situation.

 

Emperor Roan Fel was said to find it increasingly difficult to maintain his sovereignty unscathed. Rumor had it that the ancent Sith order was about to rise again, after more than one hundred years following its decline evoked by Lord Darth Vader’s death.

 

Now, that sounded most interesting. She began to systematically collect information about this ancient order, as far as the official database would provide something; and as the days passed, the pining for the teachings of the Sith grew stronger inside her. Trin used her interesting and versatile job to absorb extra information like a sponge. So, while her popularity at work continued to increase due to her dexterousness and her assiduous work as imperial data collector, her knowledge about the Sith, their history and intentions, grew as well. She knew that this order had been existing for many thousands of years but had altered its outward appearance several times as time passed. In the beginning, there seemed to have been a more or less incoherent group of individuals which had been transformed, little more than a thousand years before, into the Brotherhood. From it, in turn, Lord Darth Bane had emerged, establishing the Rule of Two. The order had stuck to it for a very long time – up to the former Emperor Palpatine, alias Darth Sidious, and his executor, Darth Vader, who had epitomized this structure. Then, however, the Sith had disappeared in the darkness.

 

Until now. In her job, Trin hardly missed a single piece of information and was, understandably, to a great deal more up to date than any normal citizen who merely extracted his knowledge and half knowledge from the Holonet. This allowed her, in the course of the following years, to clearly recognize that something was in wait on the horizon. Something massive and dark, even darker than the sinister threat the Yuuzhan Vong had once represented. Dangerous and menacing to all beings, in the entire galaxy.

Except to her.

 

As the years went by, Trin realized that whatever it was that was lying in wait for them all seemed to have a future for her in store. She had long internalized the original Sith code and was now preparing for the change her life would take in a not too far-off future. More and more often, of late, she also used to have strange dreams which kept coming back, showing her the same scene in endless repetition. Even though the picture was somehow blurred, her mind’s eye presented to her a man, tall, muscular and radiating the authority of a sovereign. She never managed to recognize him, but each time she saw him, at first, in clothes reminding of the Tusken raiders resident on Tatooine; and then, suddenly, clothed in an outlandish armor, full of protruding horns and spikes. Then the picture used to fade, leaving nothing behind but an aura of power and nefariousness. And each time she sensed that her future life would be closely entangled with this man’s ways.

 

Came the year 130 ABY. Trin turned twenty-four, and Darth Krayt finally seized power with his Order of the One Sith, overthrowing Roan Fel’s government and having the remaining Jedi Academy on Ossus destroyed by his executor Darth Nihl and his troops. With his followers, he moved into the former Jedi Temple on Coruscant, turned it into the Sith Temple and prepared to take the galaxy’s reins into his hands.

 

When Trin saw a picture of Darth Krayt for the first time in the imperial database, she knew that her fate had been utterly sealed.

He was the man from her dreams.

 

That night Trin found her Sith name. It just lit up in her mind, just as the image of Lord Krayt had done earlier, and she was instinctively aware that this name, and only this one, would be appropriate to encompass her personality as a Sith. It was short and concise, bearing the literal meaning, in one of the ancient civilized languages mastered nowadays only by a few scientists and museum curators, of „ashes“. The ashes left of her former life inevitably burning up behind her; the ashes left of her enemies after she had finished with them. She liked that. For the outside world, she would still be known as Trin Eskell for the time being, but her new name now inextricably belonged to her.

 

Cinis.

 

Now she also understood why she had always enjoyed watching the distant former Jedi Temple as a child, when she had let her gaze wander across the sector of Galactic City visible from her home. Even at that time, after its modifiction by the Yuuzhan Vong, this building had impressed her in an eerie and at the same time fascinating way. The presence of the Jedi had been entirely extinguished from the place, and the Yuuzhan Vong had left their mark on it. Where majestic columns and soft curves had once dominated its outline, jagged struts now projected, while the edges of the Temple pyramid had been robbed of their paneling as a testimony of the cruel minimalism the Yuuzhan Vong had applied in their earlier attempt to submit Coruscant to the transformation according to their ideas.

 

That was long ago; the war was over, the Yuuzhan Vong were allies – and the Temple’s assignation had finally been renewed. Now Darth Krayt was residing inside it, leader of the Order of the One Sith and new Emperor after the violent seizure of power – even though exiled Roan Fel, supported by his numerous Imperial Knights, strove to put an end to all this. At the moment, however, he did not have any real chances; all he could do at the moment was to stay hidden in exile, making plans, backed by those who had remained faithful to him. The galaxy was in the hands of the Sith.

 

Only a few days later Cinis took her final decision. It was early in the evening, with dusk just having begun to spread across Coruscant. Outside, beyond the large windows of the Section Administrator’s office, where Cinis was currently delivering her monthly report, the city lights sparkled before the orange sun setting in the pale blue of the evening sky, joining the reflections of the countless aircrafts on their way high above the galaxy’s largest city.

 

Cinis had just finished her report when her superior asked her to wait a few minutes until he finished updating the information in question at his terminal. As she stood in front of his desk, she turned her head a little, watching the skyline. It was then that she felt a sudden pang deep inside her.

There again, on the horizon, it was: the Sith Temple, even less distant than it had been from her former home; beckoning her, calling to her with its flaming red position lights and torchlike beacons added by its new inhabitants which bestowed it with an aura of grueling ultimateness. Inside it, she clearly felt, lay her future, her life and the refinement of her abilities.

So far, she had absorbed this view once a month while delivering her report, also before the final transformation of the Temple; but never before she had sensed such fascination which now made her realize that she had to follow the call of the Sith.

The Section Administrator, Intel Department, finished his updating. „All right, Agent Eskell, that’s it. You may leave“, he said.

 

Cinis did not move. „Any further questions ?“, her superior inquired, raising his eyebrows.

She hesitated only briefly and then pronounced what was on her mind. „I would herewith like to submit my resignation.“

He threw her a puzzled look, then watched her closely. „Don’t you like your job anymore ?“ He shook his head slightly. „We would regret losing you. You are a competent intel agent. Remember that your abilities support us in our service of our Emperor Darth Krayt.“

How quickly people could turn around.

 

„I haven’t forgotten, on the contrary“, she replied. „However, I have other plans for my future. I have always liked cooperating with you, and I have always seen my work as interesting and many-faceted. But, as you rightly say, I serve our Emperor Darth Krayt – and now other responsibilties are calling me, which will allow me to serve him even better.“

 

Hearing this rather mysterious utterance, the Section Administrator preferred not to insist on the matter any further. He cleared his throat. „Hum. Pity. Please report to my office tomorrow morning Standard Time with all your papers. I will make sure you receive an excellent job reference. Well, Agent Eskell – we’ll be missing your competence.“

 

The next morning around eleven o’clock Standard Time Cinis, dressed in civilian clothes again, was holding her letter of dismissal in her hand and repaired to her room in order to cancel her tenancy agreement and to pack her belongings. Then, carrying over her shoulder the very same bag she‘d already had with her upon her involuntary abandonment of her childhood home, she called a hovercab which was to take her to the Sith Temple.

 

About one block distant, she got off the cab on the Temple’s entrance level, a spacious square, and deliberately continued on foot. She was not afraid of being attacked. First, there were hardly any persons around in this part of the city for well understandable reasons; secondly, Cinis‘ abilities had meanwhile progressed to a point that she would have finished off any attacker without effort.

Thus, she concentrated on absorbing the view of the approaching Sith Temple, preparing to enter its spell and tuned her inner perception to what would be waiting for her inside.

Choppy gusts of wind had risen, making the surroundings appear even more uncanny and hostile; but this only strengthened her in her decision.

 

A row of stairs led to the main entrance, flanked by two Sith warriors wearing black hooded coats over their black clothes consisting of tight-fitting pants, heavy boots and a sleeveless shirt. One of them was a human with a jet black crew cut, the other one was a Devaronian; yet both had something in common. They looked athletic and sinewy; their irises were yellow interspersed with weird orange-reddish streaks, and their skin was of bright flame red, laced – as far as visible – with black tattoos in intricate, abstract patterns which, serrated and angled, radiated relentlessness and looked brutally fascinating, like the claws or teeth of some predator. Cinis was certain that this had a deterrent and forbidding effect on most beings. Not on her, however. Even though she didn’t sport the same looks she felt that she was already one of them.

 

The two guards were armed with simple blasters in thigh holsters – standard equipment. The very fact that the Sith guards weren’t carrying any more spectacular weapons made them appear even more dangerous. After all, genuine Sith – not necessarily their agents or executive personnel, but definitely the actual Order members – were Force sensitive. Those working as Temple guards might have been considered lower-rank inside the Order, but nevertheless they were part of Coruscant Temple personnel, therefore belonging, as low as their internal rank might have been, to Darth Krayt’s direct environment and being close to his high-ranking servants.

 

Without even the tiniest bit of fear, Cinis ascended the stairs and came to a halt in front of the guards who examined her attentively. What they saw, however, caused no great impression – at least at first. They looked down on a relatively short human female, her mere body height well below the average attributed to humans. She was slim but not skinny; instead, her body appeared compact and musculous. Her eyes were of a light, slightly reddish brown; her skin had almost the color of copper where exposed to sunlight and reminded of white caf on the other. In her combination of practical boots, simple, grey pants made of sturdy fabric and a black, sleeveless shirt she did not look very commanding. Only her hair – or head fur, according to what a species liked to call it – was impressive, even now while held together at the back of her head by an elastic ribbon. It was pretty long, slightly curled and of a shining, metallic red. Its most amazing feature, however, was the jet black streak mingling with the rest of her red hair to the right of her face. Cinis herself had no idea where it came from. She’d already had it as a child, and she had always liked to have a black streak in her otherwise red hair without having to artificially induce it. Now she felt that the combination of these two colors would serve a new purpose.

 

This alone made the guards hesitate, preventing them from simply hissing at the woman to clear away quickly. Something in this basically rather inconspicuous human female was special; something exceeding the sheer strange color of her hair. They perceived something vague, like the reverberation of energy in empty space, and finally they realized.

This little person was apparently Force sensitive.

 

„What do you want ?“, the human male finally asked in an authoritative tone.

„To become one of you“, Cinis replied. „I am here to join the Order of the One Sith in order to be able to serve Lord Krayt.“

The guards‘ eyes opened wide at this answer which was the least they had expected. Nevertheless, they chose not to react accordingly at first.

„So what makes you so sure that Lord Krayt is in need of your services ?“, the man asked while the Devaronian flashed a grin.

„This is something I will tell him myself. And now get me to see him“, Cinis snapped, touching the Force at the same moment.

 

The two guards felt her power storming at them, raw and untrained; and it would have taken more in order to really make them obey her command with the help of the Force. Yet they proved impressed, which was sufficient. „Wait here“, the Devaronian said, giving the second guard a quick nod and then disappearing inside the Temple. Cinis was left alone with the human Sith warrior who took a bold stance in front of her, eyeing her with arms folded. None of them said a word, but an almost unbearable tension was gradually building up while the wind continued to blow across the Temple’s forecourt with an eerie howl.

 

Not long after the Devaronian returned with a second person who turned out to be a tall, very skinny female one could well imagine to have pale skin and violet eyes if she, too, hadn’t been tattooed red with black patterns and her eyes hadn’t glowed in that fiery reddish orange characterizing those who served the Dark Side. Her long black hair was mostly hidden under the hood of her coat. Cinis wasn’t sure which species she belonged to. She was humanoid, but significantly taller and slimmer than an average human woman, to the extent that she might have looked delicate, despite her height, hadn’t it been for the incredible strength radiating from her which felt a lot more intense than the two guards‘ aura.

Under her coat she wore the same clothes as the guards – with one exception. A lightsaber was hanging from her utility belt.

 

The Devaronian resumed his place, and the apparently higher-ranking Sith woman he had asked to join them caught Cinis in an investigating gaze. When she perceived Cinis‘ connection to the Force, she took a deep breath, then simply said „Follow me.“

 

Cinis followed the Sith woman into the Temple. Following a relatively long turbolift ride, they walked along a row of gloomy corridors, lit by a dim red glow, until they reached a door opening into a smaller room containing merely a computer terminal and another door in the rear wall. Silently, they entered, and the door closed behind them.

The Sith woman stopped, then moved towards the terminal and asked: „What is your name ?“

„Do you wish to know my given name or my Sith name ?“ Cinis asked back.

The Sith raised her eyebrows, giving Cinis an attentive look for the first time. „You do have a Sith name ?“

„Yes. It came to me after I had called my life as a common human closed, having realized that my way is that of the Dark Side“, Cinis replied.

„Give me both names“, the Sith woman ordered.

„My given name is Trin Eskell. My Sith name is Cinis“, Cinis pronounced firmly.

The Sith woman entered data, verified information, waiting for a result. „You are Force sensitive, I can feel it“, she said after a while. „Remains to be determined to which extent. Tell me why you wish to finish your way to the Dark Side.“

In brief words, Cinis began to tell her story, remembering to mention the most important reasons that had brought her here: To take revenge on those who had mistreated her. To win power and influence over others. To accept her anger and turn it into a weapon. To subdue the Force under her will and use it for her own purposes – at this point, she recounted the two occasions she had used the Force to kill.

In order to attain all this, she finished, she had decided to serve Lord Krayt; not from a distance but directly and with all her abilities.

 

„You are certainly aware that it is not me who will decide whether or not you will become one of us, but Lord Krayt himself“, the Sith woman finally said. „I will now report to Lord Krayt, and you shall be submitted to a test. Wait here and prepare for the examination to be imposed on you.“

With these words, she pressed a signalling button. The door they had both entered through opened, and another guard came in; a human male again. He, too, hardly showed any difference from the other members of the Order – it was easy to recognize that red-and-black tattoos, jet black hair – as far as any was present – and black clothes were the basic characteristics of most Sith, no matter which species they belonged to. The tattoos did not seem to be compulsory, the bizarre body adornment rather appeared to be regarded as a form of a decoration of honor. Some Sith, even the highest-ranking ones, however, seemed to have decided not to follow this custom – as an example, Cinis had learned from her former sources of information and several holonet transmissions that Lord Krayt’s executor, the Nagai Darth Nihl, did not fit the standard. True, his long hair was thoroughly black, but his eyes glowed in a more ember-like red, and his pale skin merely featured large sections that were tattooed dark grey – the area around his eyes, the lower half of his face as well as parts of his arms and legs. The dark surfaces finished in menacing jags, shaping a bizarre contrast with his naturally bright skin.

 

The Sith female left the room, leaving Cinis alone with the warrior sentinel. There was no place to sit down, and Cinis made use of the Force to slightly reduce the sensation of her physical weight after quite some time had passed. She noticed the surprise in the guard’s face when he felt her touching the Force, but he did not talk to her. She did not care; as time went by the feeling of a moment filled with both greatest significance and cruelty approaching grew stronger and stronger.

 

When she sensed that more than standard hours must have passed, the door at the rear wall of the room suddenly opened, providing view into a great hall which in former times must have served as a place of assembly for the Jedi. Now it served another purpose.

In the center of the room, lit by synthetic torches and various red illumination panels on its walls, a pedestal of stairs rose, surrounded by rectangular columns, in front of a huge, round window consisting of several individual segments and offering a fascinating, dimly reddish view over this part of Coruscant’s skyline. Cinis realized that she was actually enjoying this symbolical sight she had already been captivated by in her former life the other way round – right from the very heart of the Sith Order.

On top of the stairs there stood a throne, occupied by the man from her dreams and her future master, Lord Krayt, forbidding and terrifying. Now was the moment she saw him from up close for the very first time – the bizarre, grey Vong armor full of barbs and spikes encasing his body almost entirely, the horn-adorned helmet, the non- human right hand that looked like a claw. She saw him observing her in silence; she felt him examining her in the Force. His presence almost paralyzed her, and she might have stopped dead in her tracks, hadn’t it been for a figure emerging from the shadows near the wall – the Sith female who had interrogated her – whispering to her „Step forward.“

 

Cinis moved towards the throne in the center whereupon Lord Krayt was residing. Then, without saying a word, she dropped to one knee and bowed. She had arrived.

Darth Krayt looked down on her in silence. For a while, nothing happened. When he finally spoke, he uttered but one word.

 

„Cinis“. He pronounced her Sith name, his voice sounding powerful and sonorous.

 

„Rise.“

The Sith female, still standing by close to the wall, sucked her breath with a sharp hiss.

Cinis rose to her feet, now standing face to face with her master. One yellow-reddish eye, and one with a metallic, blue shimmer looked at her through the helmet’s front mask; his exposed chin was adorned with black tattooed stripes, but otherwise, as far as she could see and judge, Lord Krayt had also kept his natural skin color.

A tremendous rush of different emotions raced through her. Fear of the Sith Lord’s presence, of his cruelty and malignity. Greed for power and strength; for revenge and for bringing herself to perfection. And the willingness to totally and unconditionally submit herself to him in order to obtain all this.

 

Without warning, he raised his hand, and all of a sudden she was caught in bounds of blue lightning which hurt and shook her, pushing her towards one of the columns. Cinis moaned with pain, trying to shake off the lightning, but didn’t manage. Instinctively she knew that this was a part of the test, and that all which was further going to happen depended on her. Yet she had difficulty concentrating. With her back pressed against the column in front of Darth Krayt’s throne, she writhed in the Sith fire she was engulfed in. Pain lashed through her body. She didn’t have enough strength to free herself, and when the situation hadn’t changed after one full minute, she began preparing for death by his hand.

Abruptly, however, a wave of strength rolled through her despite her recognition of imminent annihilation. Right in the middle of the Sith lightning, she found a moment to catch her breath when she realized that Darth Krayt, by doing what he did, was actually honoring her.

He could have swept her away like an annoying buzzer fly. Without even the slightest effort, he could have increased the intensity of the lightning and simply burnt her to ashes. But he hadn’t done either of the two.

 

That very second, Cinis opened her eyes and looked at Darth Krayt through the veil of blue – and just as she felt the Force rising up inside her so that she could grab it and make use of it, the lightning ceased.

Cinis gasped for air, seeing Krayt lowering his left hand again, staggered two steps forward and fell to her knees before him. „My lord“, she panted, breathlessly. „I am yours.“

„You will serve me. Without condition“, Darth Krayt replied. „Here is your last test.“

 

A smaller door in the lateral wall of the throne room, hidden in the shadows so far, opened, and a Sith guard entered with a prisoner who turned out to be a young human woman with shoulder-length reddish-blond hair who seemed to be hardly any older than Cinis herself. She was cuffed, and deadly terror reflected in her face as she tried to grasp her surroundings and to realize what was actually happening to her. Her expression became appalled when she caught sight of Lord Krayt; but all remaining color finally faded from her cheeks as Cinis rose to her feet again and turned to face her.

 

„Trin !“ she called out desperately.

Cinis froze when she recognized the woman. No one but Lian, her elder sister.

For a brief moment, she even felt something like sympathy stirring inside her. Finally, a sign of life from her family… after all these years… Lian, who had never done her any harm, who simply and unfortunately used to be the child her parents had always preferred. Nonetheless she was her sister…

But then Cinis sensed the emotion withering away. In all those years, had anybody cared about a sign of life from her ? Had her sister ever taken any efforts to find her, to help her ? No one had given a damn about her. It had never mattered to her family – including Lian – whether or not she made it or not, lived or died. The only reason why Lian was now calling her name was because Cinis was her only hope. Now, that others needed her, she was good enough again; others who would otherwise have dropped her without remorse, like a hot kardar spud.

 

Lian looked at her entreatingly. „Trin, help me“, she called. „Tell them it’s a misunderstanding. I haven’t done anything… Please help me !“ Her entire body was shaking as she waited for a reaction.

The reaction came, but it wasn’t the one Lian Eskell had hoped for.

 

„Lian, it’s you…“ Cinis said after a while, smiling a bitter smile. „My dear sister.“

 

„Yes, it’s me… you’ve got to help me !“ Lian exclaimed. „They abducted me and brought me here. I haven’t done a thing !“

And exactly this was your biggest mistake, Cinis thought. You haven’t done a thing. All the time so far.

Watching her sister shaking with anguish, she was filled with the same cold satisfaction she had experienced when she had discovered that she had killed Marienne Ovorann using the Force.

 

„By the way“, she said, „my name’s no longer Trin.“ Her merciless gaze was fixed on Lian who, in her mortal fear, let out a hysterical shriek.

„What’s that supposed to mean ? But you’re my sister ! Help me ! Get me out of here !“

 

„I was your sister“, Cins replied coldly. „Now I am a Sith.“

 

Lian’s eyes widened with horror, as she tried in vain to comprehend that which was beyond comprehension.

Cinis sensed her anger welling up in her, and suddenly she realized what the last test was meant to be.

She held out her hand, using the Force to give shape to her anger and lust for revenge, and did to Lian the same she had done earlier to the man who had made the mistake to attack her in the streets of Coruscant.

 

The Sith woman’s eyes flew open in disbelief as Lian’s body sagged liflessly to the floor.

Something like half a smile, cruel and cynical, flickered up in the corners of Lord Krayt’s mouth, as he watched Cinis for quite some time, while two Sith warriors, at his command, carried away Lian Eskell’s body.

„Now you are mine. A Sith with heart and soul. Look here“, he finally said. A movement of his hand made a flickering, glistening surface appear in the air in front of Cinis‘ eyes, like some sort of mirror. In it, she saw a clear reflection of her face as recognition left her thunderstruck.

Her eyes had assumed the yellowish red attesting to her having given in to the Dark Side entirely.

 

Darth Krayt signalled to the Sith woman who had witnessed the incident from the side of the throne room. She approached Cinis, acknowledging her with an appreciating nod.

„I am Darth Levouan and will take care of your training. Come with me.“

Cinis bowed her head. „Mylady.“

One last time, she knelt before Lord Krayt, then followed Darth Levouan into a new life.

 

 

A figure dressed in black strode through a brightly lid corridor – a Sith, on his way to the Sith Temple, since Darth Krayt, leader of the Sith Order, had called for him. He hesitated briefly before opening the door to Krayt’s residence with a simple movement of his hand and entering. In the center of the huge hall a man who could only be described as commanding and terrifying was sitting on his throne: Darth Krayt, founder of the new Sith Order.

„Come closer, Lord Thrakon !“

 

Thrakon obeyed, approached the throne and bowed slightly.

„You have called for me, Mylord ?“, the Zabrak began.

 

„Lord Thrakon, for this one time, let us disregard the rules of conduct“, Krayt interrupted. „I have ordered you here for a reason both specific and urgent. I do require a special Sith to accomplish an important task. Perhaps you will remember the day on Korriban when I uttered my disapproval of you recruiting a man without asking for my permission beforehand.“

„Yes, Mylord…“ the Zabrak retorted, insecurity creeping into his voice.

„Now“, Krayt continued, looking deep into the other Sith’s eyes, „I need this man !“

„With respect, Mylord, but he has not even received a formal training. At your command he has been refused both theoretical and practical schooling, and he has found a suitable task inside the Sith Order by his special connection to the Force only…“

 

With a wave of his hand, Lord Krayt gruffly interrupted Thrakon’s speech. „So he will enjoy his training now. I need a Sith for a crucial task, and…“, he broke off for a moment of silence, before continuing: „He should be someone no one expects. Thus, your discovery is just the right person for me. You said yourself he was strong in the Force, back then, and had also made use of the Dark Side several times ?“

„I saw him killing three men with the Force !“, Thrakon replied. „Without ever having enjoyed any sort of training !“

„Good !“ Krayt said. „So where is he now ?“

„As far as I know, he is on Korriban, working under the command of the honorable Lord Vondyr.“

A brief laughter emerged from Krayt’s throat. „Yes, indeed, I am aware that you are not particularly fond of Vondyr. This is why I am ordering you – and who knows, perhaps you will take pleasure in it – to notify Darth Vondyr of my request to have this… what is his name ?“

„Korto“, Thrakon interjected, „Korto Artasis.“

„… to have this Korto transferred to Coruscant immediately. Time is short, Lord Thrakon !“

 

„Allow me to ask a question, Lord Krayt !“

The leader of the Sith Order nodded, and Thrakon began to speak: „If time is short, why don’t you fall back on a fully trained Sith instead of having an untrained man start his first lessons ? This will take time. Korriban is full of well-trained, promising Sith who would be only too eager to serve you !“

„Do not question my decisions, Lord Thrakon !“ Krayt said curtly. „In this regard I have another iron in the fire. Your … discovery merely represents a reassurance I may, perhaps, never need; but if I will need him, it will be so in ten standard years at the earliest. This will be sufficient for his training which, by the way, will take place here, in the Sith Temple – far away from the eyes of those suspecting new talents to arise on Korriban. Do you understand ?“

 

„Yes, Mylord“, Thrakon answered.

„Then go and execute my order ! Certainly I do not have to mention that this matter is to be treated with absolute secrecy ?“

„Of course, Mylord.“

„Leave me now.“

The Zabrak bowed briefly and walked out of the throne room while Darth Krayt’s gaze followed him. He had hidden the most important reason from Thrakon why he required Korto, of all Sith, for this mission. Korto, namely, was blessed with a special ability – an information Krayt had no intention to reveal to everybody.

 

 

Korto Artasis was a Sith. Not a real Sith, though, if this notion was taken too literally; and if one investigated further, he might have considered him not to be a Sith at all. Since Darth Krayt had brought the new Sith Order into being, however, no one got granular on things any more, which provided Korto with the opportunity to call himself a Sith even though, of course, he did not bear the title of honor „Darth“. For the latter, he was too insignificant – a small cog in the wheels of Sith intel, having been assigned the task of searching for ancient Sith knowledge hidden somewhere or tracking down lost Sith artifacts on remote worlds.

He was of average height, but able-bodied, wearing his hair long, with a few strands being held together with ribbons according to the tradition on his homeworld Jabiim; only they no longer bore the colors of his clan but were utterly black. He was clad in the black coat everybody here was wearing.

 

Korto was sitting in the library of the Sith Temple on Korriban, filing some of his latest findings into the archive. Nothing special, though. A Sith artifact from Dathomir had revealed itself to be a fake, and another one, dating back to the dim and distant past, had been damaged in a way that it hardly allowed to extract any information at all. Even though the Jabiimi possessed the special talent to access even the most cryptic data even in badly damaged objects by drawing on the Force, this thing brought his abilities to their limit. Korto Artasis leaned back and let his thoughts drift into the past, to his homeworld, Jabiim.

 

The Artasis clan was one of the oldest clans on Jabiim, albeit not one of the most influential ones. Too often, clan members had decided to assume a political position running contrary to the will of the majority of their civilisation. True, the stance the clan members had taken always proved to be correct in the end – but by then, it was already too late in most cases; and thus the Artasis bloodline remained respected due to their past, but its members could gain no access to the upper ranks of their society.

During the Clone Wars, the clan had attained its greatest fame, but the Jedi’s treason redounded upon all those who had been following them, including the Artasis dynasty. Since then, the Artasis clan appeared to be cursed by the poison the Jedi had spread….

 

It was a day like any on Jabiim. Exhausted from his work in the mine, Trasko Artasis returned to his home. Since the Separatist conquest in the days of the Clone Wars, Jabiim’s natural resources had been exploited in a ruthless manner, the situation changing during neither the first Galactic Empire nor the short-lived New Republic. The present Empire, concentrating on building its strength, required the world’s resources as well, which resulted in most Jabiim citizens making their living on mining. As bitter as it felt for a descendant of Jabiim’s most famed warlord to live on work ranking only slightly over that of a slave, it allowed his family – and the entire Jabiimi population - to survive.

 

Leaning back, Trasko watched his wife Shani prepare dinner for their family of five. In the garden, his two sons Andar and Korto and his daughter Lairna were playing together.

The two boys always tried to boast about their strength before their sister, in an attempt to make them appear superior. Trasko didn’t object, since a member of the Artasis family always strove to be on top. Mostly, his favorite son, Andar, turned out to be the winner, and Korto withdrew, sulking. Trasko liked watching those games, since he preferred his firstborn son Andar, and it filled him with gratification to see him maintaining predominance in the run of the children’s games; even though his elder son had a tendency towards picking on and ridiculing his younger brother afterwards. Today, though, something was different. When Andar, once again, had won one of the games and challenges, and Lairna clapped her hands together laughing, something strange seemed to happen to Korto. He rose to his feet and looked Andar deep into the eyes with a threatening expression. Then he made a quick gesture. The next instant, Andar saw himself pushed onto the nearest wall where he stayed glued, wondering what was going on.

All of a sudden, Korto’s mind was filled with a raging storm he had never known before. Red light interspersed with glaring lightning appeared before his mind’s eye, leaving him without any explanation for this phenomenon. The only thing he knew was that it felt good somehow.

Korto looked over to his sister, asking her in a hollow voice: „Now, are you still laughing and applauding ?“

Lairna only stared back at him with eyes wide open and did nothing.

 

Korto came back to his senses when his father slapped him into reality.

„You’ve got the Jedi poison in you“, Trasko spat angrily. „If you weren’t my son, I’d kill you right here and now !“

„Dad !“ Andar called. „His eyes were so strange !“

His anger making his cheeks turn red, Trasko slapped his son in the face once more. „Members of our family do not play around with this Jedi sorcery !“, he shouted at Korto. „The very moment I’ll catch you once again with that kind of thing, I’ll give you a thorough beating !“

He took Andar and Lairna by the hand and walked back into the house with them. Korto remained outside on the lawn, his eyes beginning to fill with tears. So far, his father had only treated him with disinterest, but recently he seemed to have begun to be downright angry at him, as if it was his fault that the once-proud Artasis clan now was confined to a life on the verge of poverty.

At that moment, Korto’s life had begun to change.

 

Korto turned his attention back to his work, but the minimal information content of the artifacts left him with little hope. He filed the data and prepared to approach his next project, when his master, Darth Vondyr, entered the room. Korto rose in order to show his respect to the Sith Lord, but Vondyr stopped him with a wave of his hand.

„Korto“, the Quarren addressed him, „A shuttle will be waiting for you in docking bay 4 in four standard hours. Lord Krayt has called you to Coruscant.“

 

"Lord Krayt ?" Korto asked, suddenly out of breath.

"Lord Krayt !" Vondyr confirmed.

„But..“, Korto stammered, „what could he want from me ? I do not even bear the title of Darth !“

 

Vondyr answered: „I cannot say, for I do not know. Yet since Lord Krayt wishes to see you, you should not ask questions but obey. Darth Krayt is the leader of the Sith Order, and it is not up to us to question his decisions. Maybe he has a special task for you, maybe he wants to kill you. It is no one’s decision but his. All that counts for you at the moment is to be there in time for the shuttle’s departure !“ As a sign of farewell, Vondyr briefly patted the Jabiimi on the shoulder with his Quarren hand, gave him a quick nod and then left the room, leafing Korto behind musing.

 

Starting a new project did not seem to make much sense. Sleeping, with view to the short time remaining until his upcoming departure, wasn’t the most reasonable option either; thus, Korto went to his quarters, packed his meager belongings and than laid down on his berth, while his thoughts were once more rushing back to his home world, Jabiim…

 

„Have you been playing with your Jedi poison again ?“, Trasko shouted, his face red with anger.

Trembling, Korto cowered in one corner of the dog kennel – a luxury Trasko insisted on affording despite their critical situation. Whenever a family member pointed out the high expenses this pastime caused, he used to counter: „Artasis clan members have always possessed a number of fine dogs !“ Now he was standing in the center of his „sanctuary“, boiling with rage. Since his father had found out about his Force abilities, Korto hadn’t had any more peace and quiet. Whenever something went wrong, whenever the family encountered an adversity, it was Korto’s fault now, because of the „Jedi poison“. Korto’s fault, who only conjured up disaster with his abilities; the Jedi curse haunting the family for generations. And now Trasko’s rage was close to boilover, for his favorite dog lay dying, which, doubtlessly, could only be Korto’s fault. „If he dies“, Trasko snarled, „I will beat you to death even though you’re my son.“

„It’s…it’s not my fault“, Korto stammered.

 

„Don’t talk“, Trasko snapped, fueling his own rage with his words. „I know that the corruptive Jedi poison is flowing through your veins. You attract disaster ! And you’re trying to blind me with your mind tricks, but no member of the Artasis family has fallen for the Jedi lies since the Clone Wars. You are no longer my son ! Leave my house and don’t ever come back !“

 

Korto remained motionless.

„Do I have to beat you out of my house first ?“, Trasko shouted, grasped a cudgel and approached Korto menacingly.

Korto raised his hands in defense, holding them out towards his furious father, when suddenly a dark cloud began to surge in his mind. All of a sudden, there was no more room for fear and anxiety; the only thing he was now feeling was anger. His eyes began to shine in a reddish glow, as he rose abruptly and slowly walked towards his father.

 

„What is this ? Your eyes… Stay where you are !“ Trasko howled. „Stayyy….“ His voice cracked, as he was filled with horror staring into his hated son’s eyes.

Korto continued his slow path towards him. A swift gesture caused Trasko to be pushed against the wall behind him. The same hand, twisted into a claw, then cut off his breath. Terrified, Trasko saw an evil smile crawl over his son’s face. „Let…me…go !“ Trasko gasped, but Korto was beyond any clear thought. His head was filled with swirling gales of hatred and raw anger, and all he could do, with his teeth clenched, was curl his hand into a fist with all his might.

With a frighening crackle, Trasko’s neck broke.

 

Seeing his father’s dead body sag to the floor, Korto felt a brief trace of grief and guilt, and he stared down on his hands, slightly terrified. But it didn’t last long. Soon, a certain degree of satisfaction settled, as he realized all the humiliation and degradation he had been exposed to for years had made an tremendous anger grow inside him which had now found a way to the surface. He looked at his hands with amazement, sure of having discovered in him a new ability promising him a new, interesting future. His days on this world, where he would be regarded forever as an outcast and criminal, were counted.

 

Korto left the dog kennel, sparing a last look at his parents‘ house where his mother and siblings unsuspectingly pursued their respective activities. Then he turned away, left his family’s property and sallied forth to the nearest spaceport. Upon arrival, he realized all at once that he had no money to book a passage on one of the emigrant ships which allowed dissatisfied Jabiimi to leave their home world. The discontented’s number was growing, as the aristocratic system on Jabiim had collapsed, forcing the members of even the most noble clans, like Korto’s father, to hire themselves out in the mines. It was clear that this situation pushed the prices for ship passages to allegedly better worlds to unmatched heights.

 

Just as Korto came close to giving up hope, he perceived an elderly yet hale man taking effort in loading cargo onto his ship. He looked like a smuggler which he probably was, and his cargo seemed to give him a little problem. Korto approached him, and without saying a word he began helping the man to stow away the cargo crates.

When they had finished, the old man addressed him, uttering a severe cough: „Say, boy, are you looking for a job ? These gornts in spaceport management charge an enormous sum each time if you want to have their droids working for you, and it’s messing up my profit. I could use a burly young guy like you. What do you think ? ‘Course, I’ll pay you.“

The old man’s offer made Korto feel as if he had just won the grand prize in the local lottery, and, both surprised and pleased, he replied: „Sure. There’s nothing here that would hold me back. Why not ?“

The old man let out a roaring laugh. „Good. Get your stuff and board the ship !“

„I haven’t got any baggage“, the young Jabiimi retorted. „We can take off whenever you’re ready.“

Narrowing his eyes, the old man asked: „You’re in some trouble, right ?“

Korto froze, but the man just continued: „Well, whoever helps an old derelict like me simply can’t be a bad person. You’re hired. ‘Sides, I’d like to know how to call you, boy.“

„Korto“, Korto answered.

 

„Korto, all right“, the old man grumbled. „Korto Whoever… never mind. I don’t care. You can call me Flynn. Hasn’t been anybody calling me any different for fifty standard years. And don’t you dare addressing me „Captain“, that’s poodoo. If you do, I’ll throw you out of the air lock. You get it ?“

„Absolutely, Cap… Flynn.“

„Now, get on board“, Flynn grumbled.

 

Shortly thereafter the Grinning Rancor, Flynn’s ship, left the spaceport, while Korto was aware that he would most likely never set foot on Jabiim again, for he was a villain now, cast out of his former home.

 

Korto tore himself loose from his memories, taking a look at the chronometer telling him it was time to go to the docking bay. Somehow, he didn’t care if a new chapter of his life would begin here and now, or if it would come to an end altogether, especially since he didn’t really have a choice. He grabbed his traveling bag and let his gaze wander once more across his quarters before he left, heading towards an uncertain future.

 

When he arrived at the indicated docking bay, the shuttle was already waiting for him, with an imperial trooper greeting him at the boarding ramp. „Lord Korto ?“, he asked, obviously troubled. „Lord“, Korto thought. No one had ever called him „Lord“. The trooper seemed to be almost melting with awe or fear, only because he was a Sith, albeit without rank or title, which, of course, the other man couldn’t know. „Lord !“ It sounded good to him. Without a word, Korto gave him a quick nod and pulled his hood farther into his face.

„Please follow me, I will show you your cabin, Mylord !“, the trooper said, even seeming to bow a little. Korto felt a pinch of awkwardness, and he couldn’t help smiling. Fortunately, the large hood hid his changing expression well, and thus he only nodded once more briefly before following the trooper into the shuttle.

 

The cabin was spacious and looked comfortable. Korto couldn’t remember ever having traveled in such a convenient manner.

„I hope these modest quarters are to Mylord’s satisfaction“, the subservient trooper hurried to point out.

Korto was really beginning to feel embarrassed. His position within the Sith Order was by far subordinate, and he would never have expected this sort of servility from others. Somehow, it also gave him the vague impression of being undeserving of such reverence. On the other hand, however, he was a Sith, and even though he was without rank or Sith name, he was still capable of killing the trooper without effort. He had always been a person to quickly adapt to new circumstances, which now made it easy for him to simply reply: „I am satisfied. Now leave me alone !“.

Again, the trooper bowed slightly before leaving the cabin.

 

Musing, Korto watched him go, then threw his baggage to the floor and took off his heavy coat. Shortly after the takeoff vibrations had faded, the cabin door buzzer came to life. „Enter !“, Korto called.

The door opened, and a protocol droid carrying a tray walked into the cabin and intoned: „This ship’s commander is honored to present his compliments to our illustrious guest by means of this modest refreshment.“

In the center of the room, the droid came to a halt, waiting for further orders. Pointing to the table, Korto said curtly: „Put it down there. Thank you.“, whereupon the droid did as ordered and promptly left the cabin again. As the door closed with a smooth, sucking sound, he thought: „A droid ! The sent a droid ! They’re afraid of me ! If only they knew I’m little more than a librarian !“

Korto checked the contents of the tray, helped himself to a light meal and then lay down on the couch, letting his thoughts wander back into the past again.

 

Gambling was on at several tables of the dim joint, with high sums shifting from one proprietor to another. One of the gamblers was a young Jabiimi trying to make enough money to afford a trip away from this place. His former employer had retired and sold his ship, which left the young man without both income and means of transport, being forced to try his luck with the few credits he had put aside, and to continue hoping. The game of dice he was playing was sort of primitive, but the stakes were high, and a dexterous player could win decent amounts – especially if he made use of the „Jedi poison“ in crucial situations. Meanwhile, Korto had developed his abilities to the point of influencing the rolling dice, but he resorted to this option only in specific moments. The other players being of the no-compromise type, there was a risk of tempers flaring if the cheating became too obvious.

 

„All right“, Korto began. „I’m dead tired. I’ll make this one game, and then I’ll go get some rest !“

„Good“, the Trandoshan opposite him grumbled. „The jackpot goes to the winner of the final round !“

At the sight of almost fifteen thousand credits to be collected the other players swallowed hard but nodded in consent, as the Trandoshan handed the dice cup to the Devaronian next to him. „Your turn !“

„Hokay“, the Devaronian replied, shook the dice cup and got a twelve. The Trandoshan squinted his eyes, briefly shook the dice cup and rammed it down on the table, only to lift it very slowly. One six, one four and one one – eleven altogether. Angrily, he flung the cup onto the table, rose abruptly and left the bar without saying a word. The Corellian, whose turn it was next, took the dice cup, shook it for a little while and put it down on the table. When he lifted it, one four, one five and one six appeared – fifteen altogether. Now it was the Devaronian’s turn to rise and leave.

Only Korto was left at the table. Slowly, he took the dice cup, threw the three dice inside and shook it briefly. After a quick moment of hesitation he emptied the cup onto the table. One four, one six… and the third die continued to spin. While the attention of all viewers was drawn towards the still rotating die, Korto used the occasion to make a swift, inconspicuous gesture. The die’s rotation slowed down, bringing it to a final halt showing a six. Silently, the Corellian rose, gave Korto a brief nod and walked away from the table.

Korto collected his prize money and moved to the bar for a last drink. What he didn’t notice was that he had been watched closely all the time by a figure dressed in black.

 

When he sallied forth to his quarters, some time later, he was about to encounter exactly what one should expect of a place like that. In the shadows of a narrow lane, three figures approached, blocking his path.

„You were extremely lucky tonight !“ one of them hissed. Korto recognized the voice as that of the Trandoshan who had lost in the final round. „Too much luck, as far asss I can sssay !“

„Yeah, but this is gonna end now !“, a second voice growled.

„Give us the money, and we’ll let you live… maybe !“, the Trandoshan hissed. His other fellow, having remained silent so far, uttered an evil giggle, as Korto saw light reflecting from a vibro blade.

Shocked initially, he suddenly felt an unexpected rage well up inside him. A rage he hadn’t experienced since his father’s death. In his wallet, he was carrying the ticket to a new life, and these three thugs dared to claim it for themselves. He narrowed his eyes to slits, gnashed his teeth as if he wanted to make them crumble and raised both hands slowly and carefully. The Trandoshan’s face showed a twisted grin, as he commented: „That’sss fine. Now pick up the money real slow and throw it to me !“

All of a sudden, Korto’s arms swung forward. The reptile was pushed back several meters, while a quick movement of the Jabiimi’s hand into the direction of the guy who had giggled made his neck break with a well audible snap.

The third assaulter tried to flee, but Korto’s anger was too far developed for any mercy to be dispensed. Another quick gesture from him made a piece of scrap metal rise from the street and crash against the head of the escaping man. He was dead even before his body collapsed.

Now Korto slowly approached the Trandoshan who was lying on the floor, estimating his chances. „You !“ Korto intoned in a hollow voice.

The Trandoshan gasped. „Hey“, he said hastily, „no offense meant. Just joking ! Really ! We only wanted to scare you a little.“

„You’ll never again assault people in the dark ?“

„No, no, I promissse, never again…“

„Yes“, Korto interrupted him. „I’m sure you won’t.“ He made another quick gesture, and the Trandoshan’s neck broke.

Slowly, Korto’s anger faded away. As he stood and watched the result of his fit of rage, he noticed someone close by. Quickly, he bent down and searched the Trandoshan, finding a blaster. He unlocked the weapon and pointed it to where he suspected the fourth villain.

„All right !“ he called. „Now come forward. I know you’re there !“

A dark figure rose from the shadows. Korto pointed the blaster directly at it.

 

„That was most impressing, young human“, the figure said. A brief gesture, and the blaster flew away from Korto, landing in the other one’s hand.

„You are not going to need it. Just like you did not need it earlier.“

„Who… or what are you ?“ Korto asked, confused.

The figure moved closer. Yellowish-red eyes glowed under his wide hood.

„I am a Sith“, the man replied. „My name is Darth Thrakon.“

Korto swallowed hard. A Sith ! He’d alread heard of them. They were almost like Jedi, only more dangerous.

 

The Sith approached him, taking off his hood. When Korto saw his horn-adorned and hairless skull, except for a long mane at the back of his head, he recognized him as being a Zabrak. His face was covered with a pattern of red and black tattoos which made him look scary. The eyes, however, fascinated Korto most. They seemed to stare directly into his innermost self.

„What is your name, human ?“ the Zabrak asked.

„Korto“, the Jabiimi stammered. „Korto Artasis. I’m from Jabiim.“ And quickly, he added: „Mylord !“

„I have watched you during the game of dice, and I felt you tampering with the Dark Side. You have made use of the Force in order to manipulate the game.“

Korto swallowed. „But…“

The Sith cut off his words with a movement of his hand. „I was curious to see how far your abilities are developed. So I hired these three creatures and asked them if they felt like paying you back. I wanted to see what you can do, and I must admit that I am impressed.“

 

„And if they had killed me ?“ Korto asked.

„Then you would not have been worth the effort.“

 

Korto stared at him. „So what’s going to happen now, Mylord ?“

 

„Do you want to come with me, Korto Artasis of Jabiim ?“, the Zabrak asked him in a hollow voice. „Do you want to bring your abilities to perfection and become even more powerful than you already are, now, without any training ? Do you, Korto Artasis of Jabiim, want to become a Sith ?“

„A Sith… me ?“ Korto whispered. The Sith was offering him something he would never have expected to be offered in his whole life. Sith were distant, mythical figures, exerting essential influence on the galaxy’s fate, and it was regarded best to avoid their company as far as possible. Until a few moments ago he hadn’t even met any of them face to face. And now he was to become one of them ?

„But… why me ?“, the Jabiimi asked, perplexed.

 

„You are strong in the Force. You have access to the Dark Side. And you show amazing results for someone who has not been submitted to any sort of training whatsoever.“ With a meaningful gesture, he pointed towards the three bodies, the result of Korto’s furor. „I feel you could become a powerful Sith. Will you follow me ?“

 

Korto considered it briefly. What had his life given him so far ? His adolescence on Jabiim – a mere accumulation of rejection and pain. His existence as a smuggler and tramp – vile and repugnant. His activities as a gambler – profitable but degrading.

He looked deeply into the Sith’s menacingly gleaming eyes and made a decision.

„Yes, Mylord ! I’ll follow you !“

„Good“, Thrakon replied. „Good indeed ! My congratulations on your decision. Had you given me a negative reply… I would have been forced to kill you. Now come along ! My ship is waiting.“

 

 

In the medical section of the Temple, Cinis found herself submitted to a thorough examination and recording of her physical features. Medi droids rushed around her, measuring her height, weight, heart and brain activity and the functions of all her organs and taking samples of all kinds of body substances. Cinis was registered as a member of the Sith Order, and – what was perhaps the most significant point – a blood sample was used to take a definite measurement of her MC value.

Darth Levouan flinched at the result. Her own MC content was around 7,000 – a very substantial value for a living being, taking into consideration that a certain attunement to the Force could be taken for granted starting with approximately 5,000 MC units. Cinis‘ own value showed roughly 9,500. That was incredible ! And unimaginable that this woman had not been discovered earlier ! She didn’t even try to figure out what might have happened if the attention of the remainders of the Jedi Order, still existing in scattered bits and pieces, had been attracted somehow to Cinis. How well the Dark Side had intervened in this case – or had it been Lord Krayt’s doing ? Anyway, she didn’t know and didn’t want to know.

 

„You are highly Force sensitive“, Darth Levouan disclosed to her apprentice once the tests were finished. „Our files tell us that besides your intel activities for imperial authorities you have also received self defense and weaponry training. A Sith with your abilities is entitled to engage in lightsaber combat training. Have you ever used a lightsaber ?“

„No, Mylady“, Cinis answered.

 

„You will do so as of now. As soon as we are finished here, storage droid X6-15 will provide you with all necessary components required for building a lightsaber as well as a selection of tools, including a Sith crystal. Your former training has incorporated knowledge with regard to electronics and technology in general which will be enhanced by your Force sensitivity, so you should be capable to accomplish this task.

Your first test will be the construction of your own lightsaber. You will accomplish this in your quarters, and you will receive neither food nor drink before your lightsaber is ready. If you succeed, we will meet again. If not, you will be dead.“

 

„Yes, Mylady“, Cinis said without showing even the slightest emotion. From her earlier studies, she was well aware that the construction of a lightsaber was a task for well advanced individuals. It was dangerous; just one incorrect electrical connection inside could make the weapon explode in the hand of its luckless potential user. Yet, Cinis was certain to be capable of mastering this challenge: her connection to the Force told her so, as well as her unusually rapid acceptance by Darth Krayt. And her MC value of over 9,000 clearly gave her a place in the top ranks, Jedi or Sith. Now she also realized why she had found it relatively easy to train herself in the course of the past years, without any master or any other person who would have introduced her to the secrets of the Force; and why she had killed two people with the Force, without even thinking of it, just by relying on her feelings.

For the second time, she noticed that she was being honored.

She sensed that her future inside the Sith Order wouldn’t just dissolve into nothing – quite the opposite.

 

The quarters Cinis was assigned a little later were located in a different wing of the Sith Temple, modest but not without a certain degree of basic comfort. The room was windowless, lit only by reddish illumination panels set in two of the walls, but otherwise gave a rather pleasant impression. There was a bed clearly superior to the usual novice’s pallet, a working area with desk, office equipment, comlink and a computer terminal, and a separate refreshment area with restroom and a small shower one would expect to find in a hotel room. In the middle of the room a little table stood to which the office chair could be rolled as well.

She noticed that her traveling bag had been brought here; it was lying on the floor in front of the closet.

“This is not the usual kind of novice’s quarters”, Darth Levouan remarked. Cinis’ yellowish-red eyes met her gaze as she continued: “Such premises are assigned only to privileged Sith. This should make you realize the importance Lord Krayt attaches to you.”

Once more, Cinis bowed her head. “Mylady.”

“The droid will turn up any minute. Report to me via comlink when you have accomplished your task.“

Darth Levouan turned and left the room.

 

All at once, Cinis felt her knees go weak. She sagged down on the pleasantly padded bed, rolled on her back and took a deep breath, as she considered the great number of events that had taken place until now. She had become a Sith, on her way to her next test. Before the droid arrived to introduce her to her task, she intended to catch her breath and revel in the full extent of her pride. The memory of her sister had already faded from her mind – thinking of her would have been a mere waste of energy. She had turned into what she always had wanted to become: one of those who took what they wanted, without feigning respect for others; one of those who would always be found among the winners, just because the others would never prove strong or ruthless enough to take the place they deserved or at least hoped to take.

A shudder ran across Cinis’ arms as she opened to the flow of the Force, mentally preparing for the test waiting for her.

 

The door opened, and the storage droid rolled into the room. It placed a toolkit onto the floor and a small metal box onto the table in the center of the room, beeped briefly and disappeared again.

Cinis opened the box, looking down on the shimmering components of her future lightsaber. There were wires, electronical components, an energy cell, switches, connection elements, ray regulation units, black carbonite for creating the handle – and two deep red Sith crystals in the center.

Again, a shudder ran over her body. Being awarded the crystals was another great honor. She knew from her studies of the history of the Sith Order that numerous Sith adepts were expected to deal themselves with the manufacture of these special, synthetic crystals. The fact that Cinis did not have to face this task only told her that she was too interesting for the Order of the One Sith eager to assign a permanent scope of duties to her as soon as possible, without wasting too much time for tests bearing a somewhat archaic note in those days.

 

She set about inspecting the contents of the toolkit, which provided fine pliers, screwdrivers and thin working gloves – the crystals must not be touched with bare hands. She put on the gloves while submitting the ensemble of individual components once more to a thorough examination, then switched on the work light and began fulfilling her task.

 

Cinis proceeded with extreme care, concentrating on perceiving the continuous flow of the Force inside her during her work. Recalling the knowledge gained during her previous occupation, she began assembling the various elements. The lightsaber’s body slowly took shape as she went about mounting the electronic parts inside. She connected the sides of the small cavity destined to house the energy cell with the wires leading to the ray regulation and the main switch. She inserted the crystal into its place and fixed the emitter disk. She adorned the metal cylinder with carbonite ornaments, thus personalizing her lightsaber which now represented a crossover of classical design and the bizarre shapes the Sith preferred.

Time seemed to expand endlessly. She ceased to perceive what was going on around her as the Force shielded her from hunger, thirst and exhaustion. Cinis’ task was the only thing on her mind. She did not know how many hours had passed when, finally, the crucial moment came: inserting the energy cell and activating the weapon.

Cinis held her breath while pushing the energy cell into its place inside the lightsaber. Nothing happened, which she took as a good omen. Now the decision for either life or death had come.

She rose to her feet, stepped into the center of her quarters, next to the small table, closed her eyes and pressed the activating button.

 

For a split second, her heartbeat paused while the lightsaber came to life, emitting its characteristic hiss. The blood red energy blade bathed the entire room in flickering red light.

 

It was done. The Dark Side had guided her hand, enabling her to build a functional lightsaber which was to accompany her forever as of this moment, since now she would have to learn how to use it.

 

A hot wave of euphoric joy raced through Cinis. She grabbed the handle tight with both hands and held the weapon up in front of her as in salute, admiring the shining red of the blade and listening to the eerie hum of the emitter. Then she switched it off again and put it carefully back onto the table – she would not make the mistake of wanting to swing it around her without having enjoyed any training whatsoever, at least not while she still considered ten fully intact fingers a must. Now the moment had come for Darth Levouan to fulfill her task by submitting her to lightsaber combat training.

 

All of a sudden, the state of euphoria broke, and exhaustion swept over Cinis – despite her strength in the Force, the hours of concentration without water nor sleep burnt away the last bit of energy. It was only now that her gaze fell on the chronometer integrated in the wall: thirty standard hours had passed from beginning to accomplishment of her test.

She had just enough power left to set off the requested com signal before her mind plunged into darkness.

 

 

Korto grew more nervous any minute as the shuttle approached to land, though having contact with Sith, even with the more dangerous Sith Lords, had become a mere routine for him. True, the dream of the ever-powerful Sith promised to him by Thrakon on Nar Shaddaa had dissolved into a rather drab occupation, but at least it provided a stable existence. Actually, he had expected to receive training in the somber arts of the Sith; sometimes he even dreamed about leaving his mark on the galaxy. However, the highest Sith Lord, Darth Krayt, had forbidden his training. Instead, he had recognized Korto’s ability to discover the secrets of ancient artifacts; and as unsatisfying this occupation might seem, it was nevertheless far better than wasting away in a Jabiim mine, aimlessly crossing the galaxy on a smuggler’s ship or spending his time in gambling joints while risking to be blasted to pieces by angry losers. Besides, his job offered him the chance to learn a great deal about the history of the Sith, enabling him to gain as much knowledge as his position allowed without intervention of others. Yet, being called unexpectedly before the ruler of the Sith Order frightened Korto quite a bit.

 

The ship touched down, and after a few minutes the cabin door opened. Saluting, the obviously nervous trooper reappeared.

“Lord Korto, we have landed. Please follow me !” Eager to please, he grabbed Korto’s baggage before he could get a hand on it himself. Together, they left the cabin and then the ship.

 

With amazement, Korto gazed at the buildings of Coruscant during their speeder ride to the Sith Temple. Never before had he seen cities of such dimensions. Coruscant seemed like a jewel against simple pumice compared to Jabiim or the numerous rim worlds he had hung around on – even Korriban didn’t make a match. Overwhelmed by his impressions, he was suddenly brought back to reality by a voice calling out “We have arrived, Mylord !”

 

The speeder landed. When Korto emerged, accompanied by the trooper, a figure dressed in black awaited him, easily recognizable as a Sith.

“Korto Artasis !”

It was more ascertainment than question, and Korto nodded. The Sith turned to the trooper, gave him a brief nod and said: “Dismissed !”.

The trooper fled, visibly relieved.

 

Accompanied by his guide, Korto strode along a dark corridor which appeared to be stretching endlessly. Nevertheless, after a while they crossed a passage leading into a larger room, at the far end of which a figure stood with his back to them, clad in both a menacing aura and an armor laden with spikes. They reminded Korto of depictions of Yuuzhan Vong he had seen somewhere earlier.

Slowly, the figure turned around and began walking towards Korto and his companion.

 

„Korto of Jabiim !“, the figure said while dismissing the other Sith with a gesture of his hand.

“Yes… Mylord !”, Korto stammered, moved closer and knelt before the Emperor.

 

„How long have you been serving the Sith Order ?“

“It ought to be up to six standard years now, Mylord”, Korto replied.

“Well… Are you satisfied ?”

“Satisfied ? Actually no, Mylord. Even though this is better than everything I used to do before.“

„Hmmm…“, Krayt grumbled. „Would you like to be satisfied ?“

A sudden rush of boldness made Korto answer: „I am not certain whether satisfaction should be a worthwhile aim for a Sith. On the other hand, when I made my decision to serve the Sith Order I had imagined something a little more demanding than what I am currently doing.”

 

For a few seconds, Krayt caught him in his firm gaze, before replying: „Your wish shall be fulfilled. I require a Sith for a… specific task. However, this task may only be assigned to a fully trained Sith Lord. Even though you seem apppropriate, your training still requires completion. Your Force abilities are untrained. You have not yet been submitted to detailed instructions. I hear you are capable of killing with the Force, but what you are in need of is intense combat training.”

 

He turned sideways and called into the darkness: „Lady Rancina, you may now step forward.”

Korto saw a Togruta emerge from the shadows, bearing the usual red and black tattoos.

Darth Krayt turned to Korto again, saying: “This is Darth Rancina. She will be your instructor with regard to the teachings of the Sith, lightsaber combat and several other techniques.”

And, to Rancina: “Take your new apprentice with you, Lady Rancina ! Turn him into a true Sith ! If you do not succeed, I will kill you both. Now leave !”

 

The first few months passed rather quietly, as the largest part of the training consisted of meditation and learning to wilfully touch the Dark Side, for which Korto showed some aptitude, as his earlier more or less random achievements and the knowledge he had attained rather incidentally provided a helpful basis. Almost one year after having started his training Korto finally ran up against his teacher in his first combat training lesson.

 

The Jabiimi was impressed by the premises the size of a hall. Not only by size, but by its design the training room was frightening at first sight. Korto looked around. The abstract ornaments the place was adorned with deliberately seemed to avoid any symmetry. The color of the walls was somber, and a sallow, reddish light shining down on the two Sith provided the only illumination.

 

Lady Rancina, dressed not in loose robes the way numerous male Sith did, but wearing practical clothes accomodating her task as combat teacher, approached Korto.

“Have a good look, young human, for this place will be your second home. All this has been created by the Sith !” she called, gesturing at the design of the training room.

“Do all Sith come here to practice ?”, Korto asked.

“It is possible”, his teacher said with a slight, arrogant smile. “But unlikely. There are many rooms like this one all over the Sith Temple. But now let us stop chatting, for this is not what we came here for. You are now inseparably bound to me, young human. If you fail, we will die both. If I fail, likewise. So, let us want to achieve the best !” With these words, she handed him a lightsaber.

 

„Until Lord Krayt allows you to build your own lightsaber you will use this one for practicing.”

“Whose was it ?”, Korto asked.

“My latest apprentice’s”, the Togruta answered, “he is no longer in need of it.”

“Did he build a new one ?”

“No”, the Sith said, “I killed him.”

Korto swallowed hard… and then the training session began.

 

„I will start with a few simple attacks. Try to open to the flow of the Force and parry my thrusts !”

Rancina showed him how to activate the lightsaber, then stepped back a little. A disbelieving expression on his face, Korto held the weapon with the gleaming blade in his hand when his teacher prepared to make her first move. Korto managed to ward off the Togruta’s two first thrusts, but the third one hit him, opening a painful would on his left arm.

“Become one with the flow of the Force, I said !”, Rancina spat. “You have got to fight the way you read your artifacts !”

The Sith attacked anew. This time, Korto managed to parry some more of her attacks, but after a little while the blade hit him once more, biting into his right thigh.

 

When the training session finished, Korto had taken several woulds. Rancina sent him to the medical section and remarked: “You have got a good go at it, but you must fight with more passion. As far as I have heard, you have already killed with the Force. That was passion. Take this emotion and use it to guide your lightsaber ! Now go !”

 

 

When Cinis regained consciousness she felt refreshed. The feeling of being dried out completely had ceased; her stomach had stopped protesting painfully, and her bladder appeared to be empty. She sat up, noticing she had been resting on a gurney in the medical section. A medi droid moved to her side, gave her an examining look, then activated the comlink.

Shortly thereafter Darth Levouan entered the room and gave Cinis an appreciating nod. “Good. You have passed your test. Come with me.“

Cinis shifted herself off the gurney, and a slight vertigo made her sway before she regained her inner equilibrium. Then she followed her master back to her quarters.

 

The lightsaber was still lying where she had put it down. Darth Levouan approached the closet and opened it, to reveal that it now contained a complete set of clothes in different variations but only one color: black. Four sets of boots, looking heavy and menacing at first sight, but rather comfortable at closer looks, combining maximum flexibility and thorough protection of the wearer’s feet and lower legs. One set of tight pants. Several belts, with and without holding brackets and holsters. Sleeveless, tight shirts. Socks and underwear. Three lightweight chest armors adapted to Cinis‘ body measurements, made of moving segments and featuring bizarre red patterns reminding of the tattoos the Sith wore. Gauntlets sporting the same design, to protect her wrists and forearms. Finally, two of the heavy hooded coats so characteristic of the Sith.

A separate compartment contained a basic set of weaponry: manual blasters, vibro blades, needle throwers – however, she would hardly require these, since the lightsaber was going to be her main weapon.

„Wash and get dressed“, Darth Levouan commanded. “I will be expecting you in thirty standard minutes for your first lightsaber combat training.”

She left the room.

 

Cinis removed the civilian clothes she had been wearing so far. She folded the pieces neatly, tucked them into her traveling bag and shoved it into the farthest corner of the closet. One thing was certain: She would no longer be in need of her old clothes, and the probability of having to appear incognito in a specific situation – provided she decided against bearing the classical Sith tattoos – was extremely low. The Sith serving under Darth Krayt were proud of being recognized as such.

 

She went into the refreshing area equipped with body cleaning liquids and towels and washed dirt, sweat and the last remainders of her previous life off her body, then she put on her new clothes: briefs, pants, socks, boots, shirt, gauntlets and corslet. Again, she used the elastic band to hold her wet hair together, to prevent it from hanging into her eyes during combat training.

Then she hooked her lightsaber to her belt and stepped from her quarters at the time prescribed.

 

Hours later she had gained an initial impression of what it felt like to wield a lightsaber, having begun her first training session in one of the training rooms of the Temple. Darth Levouan had used a special practicing lightsaber to avoid that one of her hits hurt Cinis badly or even killed her. Nonetheless, she had taken numerous wounds; particularly her arms were strewn with characteristic lightsaber cuts, and once she had been hit in the rib. Her armor had prevented the worst; had it not been a training battle, however, she would have been dead by now, or, at least have lost one arm. She was sweat-drenched and physically exhausted, and it dawned on her that the clothing provision department would have to equip her with a new set of pants and shirt just again.

 

Wielding a lightsaber was a task requiring a great deal of habituation. The ray’s emission field caused all usual characteristics to change, and the gyroscopic effect, combined with a dangerous top-heaviness, made her aim her thrusts into the wrong direction countless times because she had wrongly estimated the respective arc parameters. It was incredibly difficult, even for her, to tune in to the Force and master the fact that the lightsaber seemed to have a life of its own, thus turning it into a part of herself.

On the other hand, she had not hurt herself with her own weapon; and towards the end of the training session Cinis had even managed to parry a few of Darth Levouan’s attacks.

Despite all this now, finding herself on her knees before her master, gasping, sweating and with wounds burning, she could not help feeling a tinge of relief when she saw Darth Levouan switching off her lightsaber and giving her a nod.

„Not bad for the very first time. We will meet again tomorrow at the same hour.”

Thus she was dismissed.

Cinis hurried into the medical section in order to get Bacta patches on her lightsaber cuts.

 

Some time later, the pain faded, and when the Bacta had done its work she took another shower, put on fresh clothes and settled on the meditation mat in front of the bed to let herself consciously permeate by the flow of the Force.

Reflecting on what she had achieved so far, she perceived great, truly passionate pride for the process of refinement she was undergoing.

 

 

Again, Korto was overcome. For a while, it had seemed as if he could manage to defy his teacher’s attacks, but in the end, the Togruta only had to apply one or two rapid combinations to bring him to his knees. Meanwhile, Korto was familiar with every single tile in the medical section, and he speculated that since his arrival Bacta consumption had reached frightening heights. For three years now, he had been trying to learn the art of lightsaber combat. Sure, he was making progress, but only slowly.

Once again, he was lying on the floor, holding his right arm which bore a gaping wound.

Enraged, Rancina threw her lightsaber from her, grabbed Korto by the collar and spat: “What is wrong with you ? Each time, at the beginning of the battle, it looks as if you could handle the situation, and the longer the training session takes, the weaker and less inspired your fighting becomes !”

 

Korto didn’t know what to reply. He was aware of the fact that he continuously failed during lightsaber combat; yet, he didn’t have any explanation either.

 

„I know what your problem is !“, the Sith hissed. “You have mastered the technique, and you can use the Force, but you fight without passion, Korto Artasis ! This is why you fail. This is why we fail. And this is why we are going to die.“

She pushed him away. „But, before we step before Lord Krayt to notify him of our failure, I will kill you personally, to spare my master this effort, at least !” She held his apprentice in an irate gaze, then added: “Same time tomorrow.” Grabbing her lightsaber with the Force while walking out of the training room, she left him behind.

 

 

A sad Jabiimi sat in his quarters and stared at the wall, his right hand clutching the lightsaber. So this was how his life was going to end. Failing, at the threshold of what had been promised to him six years earlier ! Some time Darth Krayt would be inquiring about the results of his training, and the answer would seal his fate – his own, and that of his teacher. The latter was the worst point for Korto; as his life had been a mess for many years now, and this disappointment would only be one more in a long row of failures. But somehow he had a liking for the Togruta female, despite her appearing tough, merciless and full of anger, and being responsible for her death felt almost as bad as disappointing her.

Passion. Yes, passion was everything, thus the Sith Code said. And it was exactly what he was missing.

Korto activated the lightsaber and stared into the hissing blade. Just a brief movement of the weapon, and his problems would have gone forever – just like himself. But would that be a satisfactory solution ? Maybe for a normal person. Not quite for a Jabiimi descending from the ancient royal houses. Not at all for a Sith.

He switched off the weapon and put it aside, then sprawled on his bed and soon fell asleep. Confused dreams started haunting him, the most prominent one featuring his father trying to hack at him with a lightsaber, laughing diabolically. Shivering, Korto sat in one corner, but his sneering, grinning father came closer and closer. He swung the lightsaber, hurting Korto’s arm first, then his leg; then he even pulled the gleaming blade across his chest, laughing like mad. All of a sudden, Korto was able to move again. His entire body seemed to burn with anger, hatred and rage. He rose to his feet, feeling as if he was wrapped in flames, stretched his hands out towards his father and shot deadly lightning at him. As his father was writhing in pain on the floor, Korto couldn’t stop yelling with anger and hatred, and with every shout the lightning his hands emitted seemed to become stronger…

 

„Get up !“

The curt command tore him from his dream. Confused and drowsy, he opened his eyes, only to see Darth Rancina stand in front of his bed. He sat up, and before he could say a word, the Togruta activated her lightsaber. “Defend yourself !”

Instinctively, Korto grabbed his lightsaber with the Force, activating it the very moment he rose to his feet. Without waiting any further, Rancina began attacking him. Korto’s mind bore no place for clear thought; he didn’t even seem to recognize his teacher properly. A mixture of the unexpected situation and the memories of his dream formed a grey cloud inside his head; and without even thinking, he parried every single one of his teacher’s attacks, then moved on to attacking her and hit her violently, his emotions turning to fury which made him carry on.

Step by step Darth Rancina was forced to retreat, and when she stood with her back to the wall, she conjured up her entire capacities in order to fend off her apprentice’s attacks which grew more dangerous every second. When a feint from Korto made her lightsaber fly from her hand, she managed to save her life only by shoving her apprentice against the opposite wall with a brief bout of Force lightning.

 

The impact brought Korto back to reality. Amazed, he looked down on his lightsaber, as if he had no explanation for it having found its way into his hand. He switched it off.

Rancina moved towards him, smiled, and held her hand out in order to help him up.

 

„There you go. That was passion !“, she began. “I know one day we would manage to reach the point where you would give in fully to the Dark Side.”

“What… happened ?”, Korto asked, feeling slightly dazed.

“I have been meditating”, the Sith replied, “and perceived your dreams. I saw you literally bathing in hatred and anger. The Dark Side was stronger in you than I have ever known before. It was stronger than in most others I have ever known. This was the moment I knew to be the right time for a training session.”

 

„I… I’d been dreaming of my father“, Korto replied in a low voice. „He was taunting me and wanted to hurt me…“

„And you wanted to kill him ?“

„Yes.“

„Do you still feel like killing him now ?”, the Togruta asked.

“I already killed him. Many years ago. But in my dreams, he sometimes comes back, and…“

Korto clenched his fists and gnashed his teeth.

 

„Good“, Rancina said. „Now keep this emotion in mind and learn to activate it deliberately ! If you manage to do this, you may become one of the most feared lightsaber fighters ever. Towards the end of the battle I had great difficulty staying alive.”

She bent forward slightly. “You wanted to kill me ! This is the right spirit. From now on, you will try to kill me in every single battle, and I will do the same. If you go on fighting the way you just did, and even improve your skills in future, I will find it more and more difficult to defend myself. This is why I will give you lessons in Force lightning projection and defense no earlier than towards the end of your training.”

 

The Togruta looked around, and, perceiving the extent of destruction her short training session had aroused in Korto’s quarters, she grumbled: „Maybe I should order you to be given a different room.“

Then she walked away.

 

The next few training sessions were extremely successful. Whenever his dexterity seemed to be on the verge of faltering, he conjured up the image of his sneering, mocking father in his mind, and a red cloud sank onto his consciousness which remained open for nothing except the ongoing battle. It wasn’t so much a mindless furor that befell him than a cold clarity which made him seem to sense the next moves his opponent was going to make. A few weeks later he no longer required the picture in his mind. Within a split second, Korto was able to make this both cold-blooded and powerful ecstasy come over him in battle, and his teacher saw herself forced more and more often to resort to Force lightning to ensure her survival. The following months merely served as a basis to improve Korto’s fighting technique.

 

„Those bouts of lightning have started getting on my nerves“, Korto sighed one day, after Rancina had stopped him just one more time by resorting to this last means.

“Your lightsaber combat is improving greatly”, the Sith replied. “I am afraid you have already outperformed me in this regard.”

“I’m sorry about that !”, Korto grumbled.

“You should not be”, Rancina answered. “Sympathy is not an emotion for a Sith. No Sith expects sympathy. No Sith perceives it. Accept your own strength in the Force and use the weakness of others. When you defeat me in battle, my task will be accomplished. Darth Krayt will be satisfied – and leave us alive. Now let us finish today’s training.”

“Yes”, Korto replied, „but it’s not pity for you. I just feel sorry to be continuously roasted in your lightning.”

A slight grin appeared on Rancina’s face.

They bowed briefly and left the training room.

 

When Korto returned to his quarters late in the evening, after having spent hours in the meditation hall, he perceived a presence. Someone was here with him. He gripped his lightsaber but did not activate it. His eyes slowly got used to the darkness, and he saw a figure lying on his bed, with gleaming, yellowish eyes.

„Now, young human“, he heard a voice he quickly recognized as his teacher’s. “Passion has other ways as well.” The Togruta sat up, and Korto saw she was completely undressed. She reached for his shoulders and pulled him towards her, whispering: “We Sith do everything we do with passion.” Kortos hands slid over Rancina’s body, and the Togruta said: “Come to me, Korto, show me your passion !”

“A teacher’s command must be obeyed, right ?”, Korto answered before kissing her passionately. “But this time can we leave the lightning aside ?”, Korto grumbled as they sagged onto his bed, embracing each other closely.

 

From this moment, the lightsaber combat training sessions only intended to make Korto learn to tap the Dark Side at will. The actual combat training hours became fewer and fewer, especially because Rancina kept having increased difficulty stopping angry Korto while he was really going for it. His skills got more refined as time passed, and in the course of the weeks and months of his training he began to outperform his teacher.

 

One day Korto was waiting for his master in the training room. She entered the arena, and the Jabiimi assumed his usual battle stance, activating his lightsaber.

“You will not need this today”, Darth Rancina said, stretched her hands out to Korto and encased him in Sith lightning.

Korto was hurled back onto the floor and uttered a painful moan. “Hey, I didn’t do anything yet…”

“Would you like to be able to do this, too ?”, Rancina asked him in a mocking tone.

“Yes !” Korto replied, “Indeed I would, and if it was only to pay you out in kind !”

Rancina laughed, and then the special training sessions began.

 

 

From now on, Cinis‘ daily routine followed strict rules. Her day began at six o’clock standard time with an hour of sports and fitness. Following this, she washed and then went for breakfast – there were no fixed meal times; the Temple’s kitchen was on standby around the clock in order to be able to provide food to Sith returning from assignments at unusual hours.

 

After breakfast she used to visit the media hall to spend two hours of detailed instruction regarding the history of the Sith order. Darth Meral, a haggard Pau, used to make her plunge deep into the deeds both heroic and evil of the order’s great personages, examining on the respective next day how much knowledge she had absorbed.

 

Following education she spent the next few hours doing intel work, rather similar to the occupation she had fulfilled within the imperial authority. Last item on her daily agenda, after a light meal and before she had some free time to relax and meditate, was lightsaber combat training with Darth Levouan wherein she improved so rapidly that after a few months only she took fewer and fewer wounds from it – a fact which made Darth Levouan soon put aside the training lightsaber and switch to her own weapon. The deadly challenge only stimulated Cinis. When her mistress charged at her, she let her anger flow through her at will, wishing nothing more eagerly than to separate Darth Levouan’s head from her shoulders with a well-directed swing of her blade.

She learnt not to let her anger blind her but use it as a weapon – the way she had already done it earlier, unconsciously – and these were the moments when she fought best, focussing her anger and directing it into her hands while she imagined mowing her mistress down. And one day, finally, it was up to Darth Levouan to back off just in time while the blade of Cinis’ lightsaber merely ate into her shoulder. She let out a scream, pulled back her arm, and the smoke drifting up from the cut in her clothes bore witness to how close she had come to being killed. Normally, lightsaber wounds hardly bled; yet, Darth Levouan’s blood was streaming down her arm. For a moment they stood motionless, facing each other, then Darth Levouan switched off her lightsaber and said: “Excellent. You wanted to kill me. Very good. You are on the right path.“

She bowed ever so slightly – signalling to Cinis that she was slowly leaving her position as apprentice while turning into a Sith of equal rank.

 

This time it was Darth Levouan’s turn to visit the medical section.

 

Not long after Cinis decided to undergo the ritual of Sith tattooing, though in a different manner than most Sith around her. She had decided not to give her skin that distinctive, basic red color but to adorn her body in selected areas with abstract, black patterns. For this purpose, she chose her upper arms and her chest, whereas she only had her eyes encircled and her lips dyed black, thus avoiding that her face became too mask-like The only extravagance was a spiked ornament on her forehead, giving her a martial expression.

 

When, after two hours, she left the medical section where the tattooing had taken place she was highly satisfied with the result. She could be clearly recognized as a Sith even though she had preserved part of her individuality; and her gleaming, red hair with the black strand looked even more appealing this way than if her skin had been red. True to the Sith guideline that everything is passion and passion is everything she wished to look attractive as a human female and revel in her victims’ desire before she took their lives; and she was certain that by this she was serving her master best. Lord Krayt had not given her any directives in this regard. Indeed, she had not seen him face to face since their initial encounter. She was convinced that reports of her training were being delivered to him on a regular basis – but if and when Darth Krayt deigned to concern himself with her again was in his discretion alone.

 

Despite the good progress she was making it took Cinis over six standard years until her training was more or less complete. When she had fully absorbed the teachings and the history of the Sith order, her working time with Sith intel was correspondingly prolonged. Her combat training with Darth Levouan became more and more demanding; basically, however, her daily routine stayed the same. When giving in to the Force she took turns in doing so in her quarters and in one of the meditation rooms where she found herself in the company of other Temple inhabitants from time to time.

So far, she had not yet personally met any member of the inner circle around Darth Krayt – which was theroretically possible – but merely other Sith active in different sections of the Temple: warriors, archivists, intel personnel – including an attractive, long-haired Jabiimi who sometimes worked a few terminals away from her own, well recognizable by the fact that he, just like her, had done without the full body tattoos – in brief, persons who kept the internal machinery of the Sith predominance running.

Yet this was about to change.

 

The encounter was short but bore considerable significance.

 

One evening, when Cinis once again visited one of the Temple‘s official meditation rooms, she briefly froze as the door closed behind her and she realized who was in there with her strengthening his connection to the Force.

 

None other than Darth Nihl, Lord Krayt’s right hand and executor, knelt on one of the mats. The sinewy Nagai warrior was resting on his lower legs, his hands comfortably on his thighs, his unusually long, bizarre lightsaber on the floor in front of him, as he let the Force stream through him at will. For the first time, Cinis saw him up close; and she perceived a plethora of details during the few seconds she dared to behold him: the way his dark grey tattoos formed a contrast to his pale skin, bathed in the reddish glow of the room’s illumination; his martially looking chest and shoulder armor, adorned with red crystals and shaping itself into elements reminding of naked ribs; the tunic consisting of individual stripes of cloth which hardly managed to veil his muscular legs; his long, black hair; his hands with the pointed, claw-like nails.

And the somber glow of his deep red eyes as he suddenly turned around and looked at her.

 

As it was common upon meeting a Sith of higher rank, Cinis dropped to one knee and bowed into Lord Nihl’s direction. He nodded just sligthly, then turned back to his original direction of gaze.

Cinis chose her place on a mat way behind Darth Nihl, closed her eyes and opened herself to the flow of the Force. Such, she missed to see how Lord Nihl cringed briefly and turned around once more to take another look at her. What he was seeing – a relatively inconspicuous human Sith female of low rank – contrasted sharply with the tremble in the Force he had perceived the moment Cinis had become one with it.

For a few seconds, he let his gaze wander over the figure resting in meditation stance with her eyes closed; then he turned away for good.

He had not forgotten her, however.

 

 

Korto woke from a seemingly dreamless sleep. Yesterday’s training session had been rather successful. For a short moment, he had even managed to emit a tiny bit of Sith lightning from his hand. Darth Rancina appeared satisfied; and Korto, now having experienced how it worked, was certain to be able to bring this ability to perfection in the future.

He took a brief wash, preparing for another day full of combat training, when suddenly his cabin door opened. Korto spun around, but as he tried to grab his lightsaber with the Force, his visitor – no one else but Rancina - already held it in her hand..

 

Your time as a user of this lightsaber, my apprentice”, the Togruta began, “is over. Last night I reported to Lord Krayt about the progress you are making, and he has given order to permit you to build your own lightsaber.”

She waved briefly to a droid who pushed a wheeled crate into Korto’s quarters. “Here you will find everything you need. Become one with the Force, and you will know what to do, and how to do it !” With these words, she handed him a small box.

“It is common practice for a Sith to grow his own crystals. Yet, Darth Krayt insisted on you skipping this time-consuming procedure. He seemed rather impatient. In this box you will find two crystals.”

Korto let her put the box into his hands.

“You will get out of here only when you have been successful”, she commanded. “Or, when you are dead.”

 

Lady Rancina turned to leave. “Do not disappoint Lord Krayt !”, she said as she walked out of the room. “And do not disappoint me !”. Then she was gone.

 

Korto knelt in front of the box, opening himself up to the flow of the Force. His thoughts frayed out, only to become composed again. Like in trance he opened the crate, taking a closer look at the tools and materials. Automatically, his hands began acting out what his mind, floating in the Force, commanded. His hands worked feverishly while his mind remained deeply immersed in the Force.

Assembling the components wasn’t so much of a challenge, but when the moment came to insert the crystal Korto entered a stage of meditation so deep he hardly felt any connection with the outside world any more. His hands worked like in trance, his thoughts swirling around in the dark side of the Force.

 

 

Then it was done. Korto stood in his quarters, holding his lightsaber in his hand. He had deliberately refrained from giving the weapon the sort of organic design currently en vogue with the high-ranking Sith. His weapon gave a somewhat cold, technical appearance. The handle was rather short, as Korto was used to wield it mostly with one hand only. Instead, he chose to add a diffusor allowing to adjust the blade’s penetrating power.

 

Now the moment of truth had come. Korto held the weapon in his outstretched, right hand, and his thumb moved towards the power button where it paused. Korto knew that in case he should have made a mistake he wouldn’t even have the time to think about it after igniting the lightsaber. He hesitated – and then pushed the button, holding his breath.

 

Accompanied by a sharp hiss, a red blade sprang from the handle. A grin appeared on Korto’s face. He swung the blade around a few times, then switched the weapon off again. All of a sudden, he felt exhaustion sweep over him. When he checked the chronometer, he saw that more than a standard day had passed, and concentration was taking its toll. He tried to reach the cabin door but collapsed on the floor.

 

Korto awoke from a long period of unconsciousness. Despite the dizziness that overcame him, he grabbed his lightsaber, activating it once more. Satisfied, he watched the gleaming blade. So it hadn’t been a dream after all. He had really made it.

He walked over to the cabin door and opened it.

On the other side there stood Darth Rancina, looking at him. “I have felt it – and others, too. Lord Krayt demands to see us. Come with me !”

Even though Korto felt absolutely worn out, he followed his mistress.

 

 

In the Empire’s throne room, a slumped figure presided – Darth Krayt, founder of the new Sith order and Emperor. Before him, a Togruta female knelt.

„Darth Rancina“, the Emperor’s voice rang out. “Several years ago I entrusted a young man in your care to have him trained in Sith combat techniques. Now report to me concerning the results you have achieved !”

 

„His combat training is completed, Lord Krayt“, the Togruta replied. “In some respects he has come to outperforming me.”

 

„Good“, Krayt answered. „I suppose you brought him here, as commanded ?“

„Of course, Mylord.“

„Then call him in !“

 

Bonded to her apprentice by the Force, Rancina had no difficulty to make him enter by unspoken command.

Korto entered the throne room.

 

„Come closer, Korto of Jabiim !“, Krayt ordered.

Korto obeyed.

 

„I hear you have successfully accomplished your training in Sith combat arts.“

 

„Yes, Mylord“, Korto answered. „Lady Rancina is a very good teacher.“

 

„We shall see.“ Krayt waved briefly, and two figures emerged from the shades in one corner of the throne room, tattooed red and black and carrying activated lightsabers.

Instinctively, Korto grabbed for his own weapon, when he heard Krayt exclaim “I hope you have made sufficient progress”, and, with a look towards the two other Sith: “Kill him !”

 

The pair attacked. Korto activated his lightsaber and opened himself up to the flow of the Force. All of a sudden, his exhaustion melted away. When the first warrior came up with a simple feint, Korto whirled him back with the Force, just to concentrate on the second attacker, a Twi’lek carrying a double bladed lightsaber he kept wielding rapidly. Korto parried several of his blows, then attacker number one returned to the scene. All Korto could think of was “It’s two against one”, and there it was, this dark red cloud of anger, helping Korto to delve even more deeply into the dark side. Suddenly, he seemed to be able to anticipate the blows and feints of his opponents, and with ease he parried each of their attacks without ever growing tired.

 

Soon he realized that the warrior wielding the double bladed lightsaber mostly carried out mock attacks with the aim to confuse him and lure him into imprudence. The other fighter with the regular lightsaber was undoubtedly good but surely could not reach Darth Rancina’s level. His attacks mostly concentrated on brutal thrusts and immense blows. Another advantage for Korto was the fact that the two Sith got into each other’s way while attacking. The Twi’lek, for example, not only had to take care not to hurt himself with his double blade but to make sure he did not accidentally kill his companion.

 

When his two opponents began to feel the first traces of exhaustion, they became impatient and surged ahead together. Korto made a Force-enhanced jump carrying him out of reach of the two deadly blades. With a final somersault, he landed right behind his surprised adversaries, spun around, cut off both of the Twi’lek’s hands close to his lightsaber and then hit the other one in the center of his body. Separated into two pieces, he rolled across the room and lay still. His other opponent knelt on the floor, staring with amazement at the stumps of his arms.

 

Korto switched off his lightsaber, turned towards the Emperor and dropped to one knee before him.

 

„Very impressive“, Krayt admitted. „You are right. Rancina is a good teacher. Lady Rancina, you may leave now. And you, Korto, rise !”

The Togruta woman bowed and threw Korto a last look before leaving the throne room.

 

Darth Krayt gazed at the dead Sith, then at the one still staring, appalled, at his severed hands.

 

„Korto, you have proven that you are good at fighting. Now prove that you are a genuine Sith.” He looked the Jabiimi directly into the eyes. “You see the one whose hands you have taken ?”

“Yes, Mylord.”

“Kill him !”

 

For a split second, Korto was scared, but then he remembered that the Twi’lek would have taken his own life without hesitation. He rose and walked over to the Sith crouched on the floor.

 

„We live and die“, Korto began to speak in a low, husky voice, “the way Lord Krayt commands.”

Then he put both hands on the Twi’lek Sith’s head cowering on the floor and gaping at him with wide eyes. The red cloud of anger had not yet entirely dissolved, and thus Korto had no difficulty to plunge once again into the fury which had helped him to master the battle. From the Jabiimi’s fingertips, lightning shot with an intensity he had never before perceived. The Twi’lek began to shake when Korto’s Sith lightning hit him, and before long, after a brief moment of agony, his victim dropped dead to the floor.

 

Korto turned towards Lord Krayt and knelt before his master.

 

„Good“, Krayt intoned. „Most impressive ! For a moment I was afraid of having to kill you for refusal to obey my command. But I see that Rancina’s abilities as a teacher have proven fertile.

Now listen well. I have an important mission for you. Just as I said, however, I require a fully trained Sith Lord. I feel scheming and agitation within the Sith order, and I need a static pole.”

 

Krayt rose from his throne, his daunting figure looking down on Korto who was still on his knees.

 

„Korto Artasis“, Krayt’s voice rang. „Herewith I bestow upon you the title of… Darth Stator.”

Surprised, Korto looked up.

 

„Lord Stator, pledge allegiance to me !“

“I pledge allegiance to you, my Lord.”

 

„Good.“ For a moment, Krayt seemed to ponder over something.

“Darth Stator ?”, he asked all of a sudden.

„Yes, Mylord ?“

„Rise !“

 

Korto rose to his feet.

“Follow me to the large window, Lord Stator !”, Krayt commanded, and they both moved over to where the panoramic view over Coruscant stretched out before them.

 

„Lord Stator“, Krayt began, „my vision of the One Sith is still far from being fully implemented. It is a fight against time. The creatures implanted into my body by the Yuuzhan Vong are about to take control soon.”

Krayt turned towards Korto. “I am in urgent need of a cure; where from does not matter. Somewhere in the countless records of the Sith there must be a clue as to putting a halt to my demise.”

 

Krayt bent forward, clutched Korto’s shoulders and looked directly into his eyes. “Darth Stator, your abilities to extract information from ancient sources will be of great use to me. Certainly the old holocrones contain clues other Sith – even myself and Lord Wyyrlok – have overlooked. To start with, you will inspect the records at our disposal on Korriban and here. But you might also be required to look for information on far-off worlds, even to fight for it.”

 

He turned away, walking back towards his throne. “I will instruct Darth Wyyrlok to grant you full access to the Sith holocrones both on Coruscant and Korriban. You will travel to Korriban tomorrow in order to begin your studies with the holocrones stored there. Darth Vondyr will also be instructed to support you in fulfilling your task as effectively as possible.”

“As you wish, Mylord !”, Stator replied.

 

„Furthermore, it is my will that this discussion, your task as well as your rank within the Sith order remain secret. Your status as Darth is official, but your task is known to me, you and Lord Wyyrlok alone. I expect this not to change. Even Vondyr will only receive those bits of information he definitely requires. Apart from that, you will be equipped with a holoprojector enabling me to stay in touch with you. Now leave me alone”, the Emperor ordered.

 

Korto, now risen to the rank of a Sith Lord named Darth Stator, bowed once more before Lord Krayt and replied: „As it is your wish, Mylord, so it shall be done !“. Then he left his master and went to his quarters to pack his belongings.

 

 

Upon Korto’s arrival in the given docking bay, a trooper diligently hurried towards him at once and saluted while attempting to appear as brisk as possible on a military scale – but even if he hadn’t been Force sensitive, Korto would have felt that the trooper wasn’t at ease at all.

 

„Lord Darth Stator ?“ he asked, choosing the full title for safety reasons and, adding, after a split second of hesitation, “Sir ?”.

Korto just gave him a brief nod. “Correct”, he replied.

 

„Er, I have orders to escort you into the ship, Mylord. Er… Sir”, the trooper continued, not realizing that he was still standing motionless.

“Then execute your orders, trooper !”

The trooper jerked, shed his freezing and nodded. “Of course, Mylord, Sir. Please follow me !”.

 

Darth Stator entered the Invidious behind the trooper who showed him his cabin, then prepared for withdrawing rapidly which made Stator feel a tinge of curiosity.

“What is your name ?”, he asked all of a sudden.

The trooper froze again, then whirled around, remembering just in time that a Sith Lord had asked him a question.

„Trooper Anson Trask, Mylord“, he replied.

Stator perceived his uncertainty. Not long ago he had felt similar.

“You are new, aren’t you ?”, he asked quickly.

The trooper’s flickering gaze rushed over him. “Yes, Mylord. Rookie in the Joker Squad.”

Several seconds passed. Stator probed the young man’s mind and discovered that shortly before he had had an unpleasant encounter with a high-ranking Sith that had ended in a rather unconventional way – with the Sith’s death, namely.

Stator took a quick, sharp breath, then gave the young soldier a curt nod.

“Carry on, trooper.”

The trooper saluted and hurried out of Stator’s reach. His inner gasp of relief could be felt in the Force for kilometers.

 

The Sith put his baggage into place and made himself comfortable on the berth. Shortly after the ship’s pilot contacted him via comlink. “Lord Stator, sorry for disturbing you ! I am Captain Drillath, the ship’s commander. Should you be in need of anything do not hesitate to let us know. The entire crew of the Invidious is eager to take your orders. Drillath Over.”

“Thank you, Captain”, Stator answered. „Except for the meals I do not wish to be disturbed. Inform me one hour before reaching our target. Darth Stator Over.”

“As you request, Mylord. I wish you a pleasant flight ! We will take off in just a few minutes.“

 

Stator used the largest portion of the flight for meditation and tuning in into his new role as a Sith Lord. Except for the meals brought to him by a service droid the journey did not hold in store any remarkable events.

When the crew informed him about the imminent landing on Korriban, Stator was long ready. The dark aura the Sith’s home world had built up around itself in the course of the past twenty thousand years had gotten through to him in the Force hours ago.

 

 

For quite some time, Korto had been waiting for Darth Wyyrlok to receive him. Since he had begun to walk the path of the Sith, his appearance had undergone great changes. When Korto had been bestowed the title of Darth, he had decided to underline this promotion visually. His face now sported tattoos; yet he had refrained from having his skin tattooed red the way it was common practice around him. This color, laid on his features, would have reminded him too strongly of his father’s face he used to remember hardly different than red with anger.

Apart from that he had insisted on keeping his beard and long hair along with the black ribbons wound into it. He did not feel like dropping his identity as a Jabiimi entirely, even though he no longer wished to openly display his affiliation with the Artasis clan.

His clothes were black. Below the heavy hooded coat he wore combat gear consisting of a loose shirt, pants and a leather doublet. Conform with tradition he wore his lightsaber at his belt, not on his back.

 

Abruptly, the door opened and the Chagrian Darth Wyyrlok, the voice of Krayt, walked into the room.

“Lord Stator ?”, the tall figure asked.

Darth Stator bowed. “Yes, Mylord.”

“Come with me !”

 

Behind Wyyrlok, Stator entered another room.

“Lord Stator, my… our master, Lord Krayt has instructed me to grant you access to the Sith holocrones the ancient masters created. I cannot quite conceal my lack of understanding what has led my master to take this decision. Nonetheless I shall not question any of Darth Krayt’s instructions.” Wyyrlok handed him a data card.

“On this card you will find the access codes to the secret libraries. Take good care of it ! Should I see this in the hands of unauthorized persons I shall kill you without delay !”

Having made this clear, Lord Wyyrlok left Stator behind with the data card in his hand.

 

 

The Order of the One Sith went about expanding its reign of terror onto the galaxy while the political situation became more precarious by the hour. The forces of the two Empires existing side by side had come to wage war openly, and the Sith troops serving Darth Krayt fought to the finish the remaining followers of exiled Emperor Roan Fel. Battles and skirmishes took place in numerous sectors, both on planetary surface and in space; and as if this wasn’t enough, the Galactic Alliance – the remainder of what had once constituted the Rebel Alliance in Emperor Palpatine’s era only to later represent the army of the New Republic – got into the act as well, on the threshold of a possible alliance with Fel’s men, in order to curb the tyranny of the Sith. The galaxy was on fire, and the Sith proudly raised their heads in its flicker as they played off people by people and species by species against each other.

 

In these war-ridden times, Cinis‘ task was the transmission of information about activities of Roan Fel’s remaining followers reported by Sith troops on field missions. She worked in a subordinate section of Sith intel which, however, was entirely sufficient to keep her up to date with regard to what was going on in the galaxy.

 

Of course, the large amount of facts and status reports was accompanied from time to time by one or the other half-truth as well as various rumours. One of these sounded particularly interesting – supposedly, a descendant of an ancient and venerable Jedi dynasty had reappeared from nowhere after he had gone missing for seven years; a young man named Cade Skywalker who apparently seemed unable to make anything out of his legacy.

A little cautious research revealed that indeed a young man by the name of Cade, only a few years younger than Cinis, was currently making his living as a pirate, smuggler and bounty hunter together with two companions – a dark-skinned man and an attractive, blue-haired Zeltron female. In case he should indeed turn out to be a former Jedi or Padawan it was obvious that he could hardly be farther from the ways of the Jedi than by what he was doing at the moment.

On the other hand, in this case he would nonetheless be the son of Kol Skywalker, the head of the recultivation project following the final alliance with the Yuuzhan Vong who had lost his life during the attack on the Jedi academy on Ossus seven years ago – about the time when Cinis had become one with the Sith Order. Cade, fourteen by then, had vanished without a trace after the massacre – his name had not turned up in Darth Nihl’s closing report; and thus it was easy to suppose he had escaped and eked out a living well hidden, successfully masking his past as a Jedi adept.

 

Subsequently, it was to be supposed that this young man whose name suddenly turned up again in various insinuations and fragments of reports – provided he was the one bearing that great name – would be very strong in the Force, at least as strong as his ancestors among whom had been the famous Luke Skywalker and none other than Darth Vader himself.

 

Such were the days framing a radical change in Cinis’ field of duty.

 

For quite a while she had now been wondering if the time hadn’t finally come for her to be bestowed the title of Darth, a title proudly borne by numerous Sith in both indoor and field service without being part of the inner circle around Darth Krayt – and without coming even close to Cinis with view to their Force strength. Besides her frequent training sessions with Darth Levouan – whose other tasks inside the Order had not been disclosed to Cinis – as well as with one or several training droids, she had begun accomplishing regular training battles with other Sith little more than a year before – and she had come to defeat every single one of her opponents, Darth or not. However, after Darth Krayt had honored her by accepting her into the Order he had not called for her any more so far.

She wondered what might be the reason for still being in wait for her promotion, although there was no doubt her performance would have justified it. It was more than unlikely that Lord Krayt was dissatisfied with her, otherwise she wouldn’t have been alive any more.

The more often Cinis pondered over the subject, the clearer one possibility stood out: apparently he feared her strength, thus striving to deliberately keep her on a subservient rank.

 

Cinis had come to be one of the strongest Sith in the entire Temple – with the sole exception of the inner circle – and it was only her mistress Darth Levouan who still managed to overpower her – her blows regularly afflicted wounds Cinis had to take care of by means of Bacta treatment. Her arms were covered with scars that she bore with pride as they testified to her work in bringing her lightsaber combat to perfection. One day the moment would come when she would defeat Darth Levouan, and she couldn’t help wondering whether or not she would be expected in this case to kill her mistress. Of course, she would execute the command without hesitation; on the other hand, however, Darth Levouan represented a precious and powerful potential within the Temple definitely worth preserving for the sake of the Order’s further good. Some time, Lord Krayt would make his decision – be it with regard to Darth Levouan’s death or to Cinis’ promotion – and she would bow to his will the way she had done until now.

At that moment she couldn’t imagine that the situation would change in a not too far-off future.

 

Cinis had just finished filing a number of reports transmitted by various troop units of the Sith army when a service droid moved up to her workplace and signalled to her to resort to the central office of Sith intel immediately.

 

This was a place she had never been to before. The central office harbored Sith intel administration under the command of Darth Maladi, a high-ranking subordinate of Darth Krayt, and there were only two things Cinis knew about it: that it was reserved to high-ranking Sith and members of the inner circle, and that the offices stretched into spacious laboratories wherein Darth Maladi conducted her biochemical research and interrogated prisoners.

 

She made her way to the premises indicated by the droid, three stories up. Just as she intended to activate the buzzer fixed to the steel door at the end of the corridor, the door opened all by itself, allowing view into a state-of-the-art office / laboratory combination. Contrarily to the dim, reddish illumination prevailing in almost all other rooms of the Temple, this place was bathed in glaring white light – the kind of light accompanying scientific research, experiments and nameless cruelties.

Cinis‘ gaze fell on a workplace equipped with desk and computer terminal; on glistening, chrome-plated tables, shelves full of various technical appliances for carrying through all kinds of physical and and chemical experiments, containers filled with diverse substances and different types of instrument sets.

 

In the center of this mercilessly bright room there stood a tall woman of austere beauty, radiating an aura of lustful cruelty. The black tattoos on her red skin pointed out her Devaronian origin: like most Devaronian females she’d had the two short horn projections on her forehead removed and then tattooed. Her eyes were surrounded by extensive black tattoos, while jagged patterns adorned her naked arms. She wore a relatively plain, high-necked and sleeveless, smoothly elegant robe emphasizing her shoulders and upper part of the body and opening into a long, straight skirt slightly widening at the bottom. A wide belt equipped with a large, round decorative buckle only accentuated her slim waist. Her black hair, almost reaching down on her hip, had been combed back tautly and covered with some sort of cap or coronet framing her narrow face and protruding cheekbones; a number of exotic metal clamps bound it into a mighty tail. In a way, Cinis felt reminded of Darth Levouan, even though this woman was dressed in a totally different manner, but her yellowish-red, flaming eyes gave an even more unpitying look.

Cinis realized that she was facing Darth Maladi, member of the inner circle and head of Sith intel, and bent her knee before her, as Order rules demanded.

Maladi gazed at her expressionlessly, before commanding: “Rise.”

 

Cinis obeyed and awaited Darth Maladi’s further instructions. “I am at your service, Mylady”, she said.

 

„As of now“, Maladi began, „you will be working for me. I require a competent agent for both indoor service and field assignments to capture wanted individuals.”

She paused briefly, took a few steps forward towards Cinis, then continued.

 

„You will continue to work in intel, only you will do so in an office on this level, and report to me directly from now on. In case of field assignments you will execute them promptly. At my command, you will capture persons and bring them here, or eliminate them on the spot.

I have personally suggested you to Lord Krayt for this task. You are strong enough in the Force to accomplish it.”

 

Pride welled up in Cinis. “I feel honored, Mylady”, she said.

 

Maladi continued. „You will depart right now on board of the Firestorm to locate a spy on Ansion who is secretly working for the Galactic Alliance, strengthening their cooperation with the followers of the former emperor. You will kill this person and return without further delay after having accomplished the mission.”

She handed Cinis a data card. The victim was a Gotal called Ral Toghir, displaying a seemingly harmless existence as a dealer of raw materials. Besides his sales of various minerals and gases, however, he apparently sold different kinds of information as well – unfortunately, to the wrong party, which had led to several skirmishes ending with the death of the concerned members of the Sith army. With the help of Ral Toghir, the Alliance and Fel’s followers had found a way to support each other mutually, and this had to stop. The link had to be cut – in the true sense of the word – rapidly and effectively.

 

„The Firestorm is ready for takeoff“, Darth Maladi finished. “I shall be waiting for your report.”

Thus Cinis was dismissed.

 

„Yes, Mylady“, Cinis replied, bowed once again and quickly made her way to her quarters in order to pack her traveling bag and then move to the Temple’s hangar.

 

She felt Darth Maladi’s gaze burn on her neck, making the hairs on her arms raise. Her acceptance into the Order, little more than seven years ago, when her eyes had changed their color, had been the last time she had felt as proud and fulfilled by the dark side of the Force as she was feeling now.

Among other tasks, the future would be presenting her with assignments coming astoundingly close to the activities of one of Lord Krayt’s “hands”.

 

The journey consumed slightly more than one standard day on board of the Firestorm, a heavily armed Sith infiltrator flown by an experienced imperial pilot and equipped with a dual magnetic grappler for towing objects or even other small ships. It also featured a training room with droid, allowing Cinis to accomplish her lightsaber combat training even in transit; and her cabin was equipped with a meditation mat.

 

After she had gone through a training battle, slept for five hours and eaten a light meal Cinis settled on the mat in her cabin and opened herself to the dark side. As usual, it came over her in a wave of somber euphoria.

She took a deep breath and immersed herself into the Force. Before her mind’s eye, she visualized Darth Krayt’s throne, felt his fixed gaze resting on her, and devotion filled her with might as she took pleasure in her submission under his will. Outside the Sith Order Cinis had to show obedience to no living being – quite on the contrary – and her pride as a Sith flared up hot. To serve Darth Krayt was an honor she had been craving for, from the bottom of her heart, as a youngster and very young woman. Now, finally, as he had stripped her of her former life, he appeared to remember her abilities and appoint her to higher tasks.

 

A shiver ran through her entire body, then she focused her thoughts on the mission awaiting her. Lady Maladi had not given specific instructions as to how she was expected to proceed; and she decided to act as quickly and directly as possible.

 

As a member of the Sith order, Cinis did not have to expect any difficulties from Ansion customs officials. The imperial clerks received her with fearful politeness; and when Ral Toghir’s working day neared its end Cinis entered the lobby of the office block. She now wore one of her black coats over her usual clothes, with the hood covering her head – thus presenting a deeply uncanny look clearly reflected in the receptionist’s expression, a chubby, middle-aged human female with dark brown, pinned-up hair. She stared at Cinis with wide eyes full of horror – it was obvious that this was the first time she ever met a Sith in person.

 

When Cinis focused her attention on her, it was apparent that she would have loved to crawl under her desk and hide there.

Cinis gave the employee a piercing look. “Ral Toghir’s office ?” she asked curtly.

There was no need to use the Force. Shaken by fear, the receptionist reacted at once.

“F-fifth floor, Mylady. Third door on the right”, she stammered.

 

Cinis averted her gaze, walking over to the elevator. From the corner of her eyes she noticed the receptionist, relieved to be still alive, slumping and wiping cold sweat from her forehead. The shock would even keep her from triggering an alarm. Some persons needed no more than the mere presence of a Sith to reduce them to a shivering bundle. Good.

 

In the elevator, Cinis allowed herself a thin smile. This was the first time somebody had addressed her as “Mylady”. She felt that she would be bearing the corresponding title soon.

 

She didn’t make an effort knocking. The office door opened with a nonchalant move of her hand, and Cinis simply entered. Ral Toghir sat behind his desk, staring at her appalled. Cinis shoved back the hood and dropped her coat onto the floor behind her. The door closed, and Toghir sprang to his feet; apparently he was seeking cover behind his desk.

Cinis reached out with the Force, grabbed him by the collar and pulled him violently towards her, around the piece of furniture.

 

„You – are a Sith…“ he exclaimed in Basic, in the attempt to couch what was so incomprehensibly apparent.

Instead of an answer, Cinis took her lightsaber from her belt, activating it. Ral Toghir was too paralyzed by horror to defend himself, and thus a brutal swing of the humming red blade brought Cinis’ mission to accomplishment the very next moment.

 

No two standard minutes later Cinis bent her knee before Darth Maladi’s image rising before her from the portable holoprojector. In one hand she held Ral Toghir’s severed head into the transmission field.

“Mylady”, Cinis said and bowed. “My mission is accomplished.”

 

The Firestorm received Cinis to carry her back to Coruscant.

Darth Maladi welcomed her with an appreciating nod. “You will be notified in time about when your next assignment will be due. In the meantime return to your work.”

 

For a while, Cinis‘ daily routine in the Temple, consisting of sports, meditation, intel work for Lady Maladi and combat training with Darth Levouan and several other Sith, took turns with various field assignments of a similar nature. Cinis fulfilled her task proudly, killed the selected victims without hesitation or took them prisoner to deliver them afterwards to interrogation and torture in Lady Maladi’s laboratory. There was no place for qualms – hadn’t she chosen this path in time, life would have done to her what she was now doing to others.

 

The more meticulously she executed her orders while further improving her martial art at the same time, the more strongly permeated she became by the dark side. There was only one ability she had not yet mastered: how to emit Sith lightning – but she was convinced that she would learn to do so. During her meditations, she concentrated again and again on releasing this deadly energy; so far, she had only managed to evoke a corona of blueish sparks dancing around her fingertips.

Cinis felt she had to open herself up to the dark side in an even more intense way; and she was determined to become one with it entirely – the more so as the felt she was on the right track.

 

 

A figure dressed in black stood in the hall harboring the Sith’s most secret records. Darth Stator sat down on the floor, put Darth Bane’s holocron in front of him and activated it.

The image of a tall man, wearing an impressive, organic-looking chest armor and helmet materialized before him.

 

„Lord Bane !“ Stator addressed the apparition.

“Who are you ?”, the hologram hissed.

“I am Darth Stator, of the Order of the One Sith.”

 

„Ah, so you are one of the fraud’s servants !”

“My master is no fraud, he is the head of the Sith Order !”, Stator protested.

 

„The head of the Sith Order…“ Bane’s hologram echoed. „There should be two Sith only. The master epitomizing power and the apprentice striving for it. No more, no fewer”, Bane’s voice resounded.

“The more Sith exist, the weaker the individuals will be. Your Lord Krayt has betrayed the legacy of the Sith by creating too many of them !”

 

„But he had a vision: the entire galaxy as One Sith !“

“Stupid !” Bane spat. „The vision of the One Sith is a sacrilege. A Sith strives for power, not for obedience ! When I was alive, I used all my force to exterminate the abomination the Sith Brotherhood represented. After a long time, I reintroduced the title of Darth, and only two persons have the right to bear this title at the same time.”

 

Stator grew thoughtful.

„Your teachings are interesting, but they are not what I was looking for.“

He deactivated the holocron and left the library.

 

It seemed that Darth Krayt had personally consulted the holocrones so often that they already knew him. For Stator, it seemed impossible to extract constructive information from the activated holocrons. Especially those of the great, powerful Sith had been imbued with a remarkably lively presence of their creators Stator could only wonder at. Indeed, these holocrons seemed to embody a part of their creator’s consciousness.

Darth Stator suspected that the method he had used so far would not be crowned with success.

 

 

Four bad lots hurried through the narrow lanes of Nar Shaddaa. Their job were all those things honest people didn’t want to have anything to do with but often paid well for. They specialized in assassination, particularly because it used to look like a regular holdup murder afterwards.

Drakk and his fellows didn’t quite care which sort of nasty job they were doing, but recently business hadn’t been going so well any more. The Black Sun took care of their own matters, and the Empire was controlled by the Sith – and those latter needed neither secrecy nor other people’s skills once they zeroed in on eliminating someone.

 

„Hey, Drakk, Captain, where are we going ?“, one of his men dared to ask.

Don’t concern you, Gobbo !”, Drakk snapped. “I got some good business ahead, that’s all you need to know for now !”

„All right, another one of your little secrets“, the guy addressed Gobbo griped. “All I know is that these jobs have always gone awry.”

 

„Shut up, you stinking bag full of Nerf poodoo ! I got a job for us allowing us to catch enough creds to let us get away from this blasted moon, you get the picture ?”

“Yeah”, Gobbo grumbled, “Just would be nice if we could have some info beforehand to avoid standing up to our knees in Bantha poodoo afterwards.”

 

„You’re as stupid as your mother’s ugly“, Drakk snapped. “We’re gonna meet a guy who’s got his pockets full of credits and who only wants us to do a little job for him. Oughta be there any second.”

 

Drakk looked around and hesitated for a moment.

 

All of a sudden, a figure dressed in a black coat emerged from the darkness. The four accomplices held their breath.

 

„Oh, by the moons of Iego !“, Gobbo moaned. “It’s a Sith…” The final word came out as a whisper.

“Shut up, you murglak !”, Drakk hissed, walked towards the Sith and bowed.

 

„Be greeted, Mylord !“

The dark figure just waved his hand.

“I have a mission for you. You are to eliminate a man who has gotten in my way. Any trace leading to me is to be avoided. Best to make it look like a holdup.”

 

„This is our specialty, Mylord“, Drakk replied in a deferent tone.

“Good”, the Sith answered. “Very good !”

 

„Who is the … target ?“ Drakk asked.

 

„It is a human male, dressed just like me. He calls himself Darth Stator.”

 

„We’re supposed to kill a Sith ?“ Gobbo aspirated, astonished.

 

“I said shut the heck up !” Drakk hissed from the corner of his mouth.

 

„He is not a real Sith, he just pretends to be one. I want you to finish him. That is all.”

He threw a bag full of credit chips to the floor in front of Drakk.

 

The assassins‘ leader picked up the bag, weighing it carefully.

“Where’s it supposed to happen ?”

“On Tatooine !” the dark Lord answered. “He will be asking for a dealer by name of Drey’sya.”

 

„On Tatooine ?“, Drakk asked, surprised. “It’s gonna cost us some money to get there.”

A second bag full of credits landed at the gang members’ feet.

 

„This should suffice“, the Sith grumbled. “Certainly I do not have to tell you what will happen to you should you fail.”

 

„No, no, Mylord, certainly not“, the four criminals hurried to assert.

“Good.”

 

Having said so, the Sigh disappeared again in the shadows.

 

„Now, if you ask me, Drakk, Captain, for me this sounds like a pile of nerf poodoo.”

“Well, nobody’s asking you, Gobbo !”

“This guy was a karking Sith, and we’re supposed to kill another karking Sith. I’ve heard about these guys, they can floor you with one movement of their hand ! And you wanna waste one of those ?”

 

„He ain’t no real Sith“, Drakk answered.

“How d’ya know ?”

“Our client told us.”

Slowly but surely Gobbo’s perpetual nagging really got on Drakk’s nerves.

 

„And you believe him ?“

„Why should he lie ?“, Drakk asked his companion.

Gobbo burst out laughing. “The guy was a karking Sith. They lie you empty in the head if you ain’t careful.“

Drakk whirled around, grabbed Gobbo by the collar and hissed: “If you ain’t careful; I’ll turn you into Rancor chow, you son of a gornt. We’ve got a job and we’re getting paid for it.”

 

Drakk let go of Gobbo’s collar. “And we’ll finish our job. If you don’t like it, you can shove off !”

 

“Never mind, it’s all right with me, boss, Captain”, Gobbo grumbled. “It’s just that I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

 

 

One of Cinis‘ upcoming missions brought along a new, interesting hint. She had been instructed to pick up a target wanted by the Sith – a Bothan named Hosk Trey’lis - from an imperial reception center in the city who had been delivered there after a bounty hunter had handed him to his agent. Cinis had never before heard his name and didn’t care, as this was regularly the case with some of her missions. It was true that she obtained a great deal of information on the background of her research, but eventually some degree of secrecy was maintained towards her as well in case Lady Maladi or another high-ranking Order member wished thus.

 

She took one of the small Temple shuttles destined for inner city traffic on Coruscant to reach the authority where she was already being awaited.

 

The receiving officer bowed politely. “This way, Mylady.”

Cinis followed him, enjoying the respect shown for her.

When they reached the office of the responsible commander, Cinis read the name tag at the door, and her heart skipped one short beat.

Apparently the career of Faruk Heysz, her former superior from a time when she had been Agent Eskell, had evolved in a favorable manner. This was his office.

 

Heysz quickly stepped forward from behind his desk and bowed before Cinis as well. “I am at your service, Mylady”, he said. “The prisoner will be delivered to you at once.” He signalled to a subordinate who hastily moved towards the arrest block.

 

As soon as Heysz had the occasion to take a closer look at Cinis, he froze. His eyes widened in disbelief, as he recognized the Sith standing next to him as his former agent who had unexpectedly quit the service a little more than seven years ago. Now he knew why.

 

Heysz worked up all his courage. “Do I happen to know you, Mylady ?”, he asked carefully.

 

Cinis threw him a brief look, then retorted curtly: “Not me. What you believe to know, Commander Heysz, is my former self. The person you used to know as Trin Eskell does not exist any more.”

 

Having said so, she turned away; and Faruk Heysz preferred to remain silent from now on. To enrage a Sith wasn’t the best idea one could have.

 

A few moments later the subordinate officer returned with the prisoner. The Bothan looked run-down; his clothes were messy, his fur disheveled and his body unwashed. His gaze was tired, and he did not pay much attention to Cinis. His hands were tied, and his overall impression was that of someone who had already spent quite some time in his cell and whose strength was now rapidly declining. However, this was merely the outward picture.

When Cinis watched him, it hit her like a blow. Between her and this Bothan, the Force pulsed and made her blood boil, allowing only one conclusion.

Hosk Trey’lis was a Jedi.

 

He sensed the Sith receiving his connection to the Force; and for a moment their looks met.

 

Cinis approached Heysz again. „Who delivered him ?“ she asked.

 

„A pirate and agent for bounty hunters called Rav“, Heysz responded. “He is a Feeorin residing on Socorro where he transacts business.”

 

Cinis nodded slightly. One last question forced itself onto her lips. „Which one of Rav’s bounty hunters made the delivery ?“

„One by the name of Cade“, Heysz replied.

 

Like in a jigsaw puzzle, the piece of information quietly slipped into its predetermined place. Now it was clear why Lady Maladi wanted the Bothan arrested.

 

Darth Krayt wanted him, because he suspected this man named Cade in fact to be the former Jedi adept Cade Skywalker, and he was now trying to obtain information about this person.

Why he was doing so, however, Cinis could not guess.

 

Cinis took Hosk Trey’lis on board of the shuttle without saying one more word; and hardly one standard hour later torture began for him in Darth Maladi’s laboratory.

 

What did Darth Krayt want of the alleged Jedi descendant who appeared to have left his past behind once and for all ? She took efforts to find out something, but all corresponding research which could have led to a useful trace ended up in blocked data channels. The only apparent fact was that the information in question had been deliberately labeled classified – by Darth Wyyrlok, Lord Krayt’s counselor and confidant.

 

Something immense was going on – and Cinis felt she would be a part of it sooner or later.

 

 

Following his detailed studies of the Sith holocrones which proved far more interesting than the fragmentary artifacts he’d had to deal with earlier, Darth Stator moved to his quarters. He ordered a light meal, then immersed himself in meditation in order to process the information obtained during the day. He had found out that this often helped him to reach findings on the records he had studied which he could not come by during the examination itself. Shortly thereafter, however, his holoprojector lit up.

The figure of Lord Krayt appeared. Stator bent his knee before his master. “Mylord !” he said in a low voice.

“Darth Stator !” the head of the Sith Order resounded, „I want you to come to me as quickly as possible. It is urgent.”

“Yes, master”, Stator replied.

 

The hologram faded, and Stator prepared for travel. Krayt’s order did not come inopportune. In any event, he had wanted to consult the holocrones already residing in the Sith temple.

He instructed Vondyr to have the holocrones of particular interest for him transferred to Coruscant soon.

Darth Vondyr seemed surprised. “These artifacts have always stayed on Korriban, so why should they now be taken away from this place ? What will Lord Wyyrlok say ?”

 

„We all live and die as Lord Krayt commands, Lord Vondyr. Just like all Sith who have pledged their allegiance to the Dragon we do our utmost to obey his will. I do so. Lord Wyyrlok does so, and I am sure you, too, Lord Vondyr, do so. The Sith Temple on Coruscant is now the center of the Order. This is why the most important Sith artifacts should be stored there. My task is to study the artifacts, and my time is limited. I cannot commute repeatedly between Coruscant and Korriban.”

 

Darth Vondyr bowed before Stator who almost felt a little embarrassed about it, taking into consideration that the Quarren had been his direct superior for some time. “I will act Lord Krayt’s and your will, Lord Stator.”

“Thank you, Lord Vondyr. Make sure that the artifacts will arrive safely on Coruscant.” He handed the Quarren a list.

The two Sith bowed before each other, and then Stator left Vondyr, the library and Korriban behind him.

 

One interstellar trip from Korriban to the imperial core world later Darth Stator knelt before his master who was sitting, slumped, on his throne, looking down on his new servant. “Rise, Lord Stator !”, Krayt commanded.

Stator rose to his feet.

 

„Lord Stator“, the Emperor began. “I have received information about a dealer on Tatooine in possession of a Sith artifact. This dealer is a Bothan by the name of Drey’sya. I want you to depart immediately for Tatooine, secure the artifact and, if necessary, eliminate the Bothan. Do you understand ?”

Stator nodded slowly. „Yes, Mylord. I shall leave at once.“

 

Krayt dismissed him with an impatient shake of his head.

 

 

When Darth Stator left the ship and walked out onto the streets of Mos Eisley, the desert planet's scorching heat rushed at him, forcing him to delve into the Force in order to cool down his body a bit. Doing so, his attention was drawn towards a man loitering at the curb, seemingly uninvolved. Stator approached him.

 

"The dealer named Drey'sya. A Bothan. Where do I find him ?"

"Drey'sya ?", the person asked. "Of course. I'll lead you to him Mylord !"

Eager to serve, he rose and signalled to Stator to follow him.

 

"Damn it, Drakk, Captain", Gobbo's continuously nagging voice sounded again. "This guy looks like a karking Sith, he moves like a karking Sith, and I'm a Bantha herder's bastard son if he isn't a karking Sith."

 

"Shut up, Gobbo", Drakk retorted. "Just look how he got tricked by Clyss' acting. Whoever's such a credulous type simply can't be a Sith. A Sith senses your lie before you even pronounce it. And this guy immediately fell for Clyss' line. Clyss will be leading him to where we're lying in ambush, and then…" He grinned and made a meaningful cut-throat gesture. "Easy money, Gobbo ! Nothing but easy money."

Drakk grabbed Gobbo by the shoulders. "And, if this works out, maybe there'll be even more of a reward from this Sith, who knows ?"

"I still have a bad feeling about this !", Gobbo grumbled.

"Oh, come on, let's just do our job !"

Still grumbling, Gobbo followed his boss.

 

"It's not far anymore, Mylord", the person who had introduced himself to him as Clyss said in a subservient tone. "Just a few more steps."

Stator sensed a trap, but if this was a trap it was surely one leading him to his target. Thus, he pretended to be unsuspecting and followed the creature calling itself Clyss.

As the lanes they strode through narrowed, Stator suddenly found himself in a dead end street with his guide. All of a sudden, his guide's behavior changed, as he turned around, pulling a blaster out from below his clothing and pointing it at Stator. At the same time, the Sith heard a voice behind him: "Don't move, don't turn around, just stay where you are !"

 

Darth Stator touched the Force, detecting two more assailants standing behind him. Number four was hiding behind a pile of garbage, more or less two meters to his left.

Two blasters began firing, and he made a great Force-supported jump at just the right moment. His guide and one of the two people who had been standing behind him dropped down dead – they had shot each other.

Stator landed behind Drakk, using a Force grip to disarm him. Once more, the dark cloud he had become familiar with from earlier experiences like this, shrouded his conscience, and this time it felt good. Slowly, he moved towards Drakk.

 

"Captain, jump !", someone suddenly called out. Stator knew it was the man behind the garbage pile, and from the corner of his eye he saw another blaster being pointed at him. Again, he used the Force to push Drakk against the wall with his right hand, while his left hand unleashed Sith lightning in the direction of the fourth attacker. The lightning wasn't deadly – Stator still wasn't skilled enough to conduct a precise killing at this distance – yet it made the man drop his weapon. The thug sprang to his feet and began running away in panic. He did not get far. With an audible snap, his neck broke, and his body dropped to the floor, grotesquely twisted.

 

Darth Stator moved towards Drakk who was lying on the floor, trying in vain to hide his horror.

 

"Where is Drey'sya ?", Stator asked.

Drakk gasped. "There ain't no Drey'sya. It was a trap !"

"Set up by whom ?"

"I don't know his name. He was a Sith like you."

Stator smiled maliciously. "Good you told me the truth, otherwise I would have taken pleasure in killing you."

Drakk appeared to be breathing a sigh of relief.

"But in this case, I will do it simply because it is necessary !" Before Drakk could utter a reply, his neck, too, snapped under the Sith's terrible Force grip.

 

Stator left the narrow lane and the whole planet behind him. Somebody would have to pay for this. Now he only had to find out which Sith was seeking his life.

Once more, a malicous smile appeared on Stator's face. Somehow, he was looking forward to it.

 

 

When Cinis entered the training hall one day in order to accomplish her daily lightsaber combat training session, she recoiled with surprise. Neither Darth Levouan nor any other of the lower-ranking Sith awaited her, but someone she would never have expected.

Ready for battle, no one but Darth Nihl stood there, Lord Krayt's "hand" – or, more precisely, one of his two "hands", as not long ago a young Twi'lek female had been assigned to him who was supposed to share his field of duty – something he, as could be heard, did not appreciate at all.

 

For a few seconds, Cinis, stunned, stared at Lord Nihl, then she knelt to salute him. He gave a slight nod, holding her caught in the gaze of his dark red eyes; and his long, black hair fell forward as he made a quick movement to remove his light spear from his back holster and activate it. With one hand, he signalled to her to rise to her feet.

 

"I am honored to fight against you, Mylord", Cinis said reverently, activating her own lightsaber.

 

Without warning, Darth Nihl sprang forward, striking out. At the very last moment, Cinis managed to jump to safety; and even though her swift, Force-supported jump brought a considerable distance between her and her opponent, their lightsaber blade still clashed. The air filled with the red flicker of the energy blades and the humming drone they emitted. Nihl turned the spear in his hands, swung it around and hit Cinis' shoulder from the front. Only her chest armor saved her from being hurt. She made another jump and tried to hit Lord Nihl, but he moved out of reach, seemingly without any effort.

 

Soon, Cinis discovered she had to do her utmost in order to survive this training battle – the toughest one she had ever fought – relatively unharmed. Nihl harried her without mercy; sweat was trickling into her eyes, and despite her bond with the dark side she began to tire. She hardly had any chances of attacking and was forced to spend an incredible amount of strength and skill for her defense. Hadn't she been so strong in the Force, she would long have been ready for a time-consuming and intense Bacta tank treatment.

Nihl seemed to sense it, as he continued stalemating her more and more. And finally it happened. With a directed thrust, he lifted her off balance, making her fall to the floor backwards. At incredible speed, he moved towards her, quickly striking out with his spear, and Cinis raised one hand in a rapid knee-jerk, parrying gesture. More she could not do at that moment, as her lightsaber had fallen from her hands when she had collapsed.

 

All of a sudden, the room was filled with blue fire for a few seconds. Lightning flashed from Cinis' fingers, throwing Lord Nihl back several meters. He gasped with surprise, as he collided with the wall behind him and his light spear moved away from his – supposedly – easy-to-overcome opponent.

Then it was all over; but the spare seconds had sufficed for Cinis to get to her feet and let her lightsaber fly into her hand. She stormed at Darth Nihl, who, for his part, managed just in time to assume battle stance; and on this occasion her blade missed his body by a hair.

 

Nihl's eyes flew open. He turned sideways, pushed Cinis away with one hand and struck out once more with his spear. This time he hit her. An elongated wound, smoking at the edges, appeared on Cinis' arm, bleeding as heavily as a lightsaber injury could.

Pain bit into her arm like an enraged Nexu. This injury was worse than everything Darth Levouan ever had inflicted on her, despite the numerous bloody cuts she had sustained. She couldn't help uttering a cry of pain as she dropped to her knees and then flipped on her side. Her sword rolled into one corner. And the next moment, Darth Nihl was over her, putting one foot onto her chest – and bringing the tip of his blade to a halt one centimeter in front of her throat.

 

Cinis' ears were filled with a strange hum, resounding not only from the blade floating above her. Her power was completely run down, as she stared up to Lord Nihl who didn't even seem to have started sweating, feeling a burning rage over her defeat while his triumphant look rested on her.

And yet – despite all anger – she sensed some sort of dark triumph deep inside her at the same time. She had managed to get just this far; she had fought a training battle against one of the strongest and toughest Sith of the inner circle; and, which must be born in mind as well, she had successfully unleashed Sith lightning for the very first time. She was certain that she would be able to repeat it at will in future.

This was something she would be proud of, no matter what would be happening now.

 

"Kill me, Mylord, if you want to", Cinis hissed through clenched teeth.

 

For the first time she heard Darth Nihl speak.

 

"No", he said.

 

His voice sounded harsh and surprisingly hushed – the voice of the perfect assassin who has learned to strike without words and who had long before broken the habit of speaking in a loud voice.

With an electronic hiss, the light spear was switched off, and the red glow in front of Cinis' eyes disappeared.

 

"You are too valuable."

 

Having said so, Darth Nihl simply turned around and left the training room, holding his light spear in his right hand.

 

Moaning, Cinis slowly sat up, let her lightsaber shift into her hand and switched it off. She touched the Force to alleviate the pain raging in her arm. The wound was deep, but not extremely – well calculated, so it seemed.

She perceived an overwhelming mixture of slowly subsiding anger, physical agony and wild pride at the thought of having fought against Darth Nihl, and while it was true that he had defeated her, this had to be expected. More importantly, for a split second she had had a real chance and shown a strength she had not been able to tap into until this moment. She had impressed Darth Nihl, and so he had honored her even in defeat.

She was determined to bear the scar which would be left from the injury he had inflicted on her with particular pride.

 

With effort, Cinis rose to her feet to resort to the medical section and immerge her mistreated arm in one of the many Bactaquariums.

 

Two days later, when Cinis' would had almost healed completely and she had just returned to the Temple from a brief acquisition job on Coruscant, her door buzzer sounded, just as she was coming out of the shower, preparing for her meditation. Using the same nonchalant move of her hand she had utilized earlier in Ral Toghir's office, she opened the door to see one of the Temple's numerous small service droids taking care of the mundane side of life – mostly cleaning and kitchen work – roll into her room. Luminescent green letters appeared on the small display integrated into its hull, revealing the text PERSONAL MESSAGE FOR YOU – PLAY YES / NO ?

Cinis closed the door, then said in a low voice: "Yes."

 

The droid played the rest of the message. It was short, consisting merely of the words LESSER HALL IN THIRTY STANDARD MINUTES. Who had sent it remained unapparent. All Cinis could extract from it was that the matter was of official nature, which remained in stark contrast with the sneaky method that had been used to convey the message to her.

Contrarily to the large, representative throne room where Darth Krayt had accepted her into the Order and where he used to receive external visitors, the Lesser Hall was an audience room approximately half the size of the throne room used to settle official matters pertinent to Order members only. For example, this was where Darth Talon, the Twi'lek female Darth Krayt had appointed his second "hand" not long before, had been assigned her new task. Internal strategic conferences took place there as well; thus, Darth Wyyrlok, Lord Krayt's confidant, could be found there rather often together with his master; and it was also the place where Darth Krayt made his decisions public to Order members. Apart from all that, however, one of the principal purposes of the Lesser Hall was to serve as location for bestowing a common, low-ranking Sith with the title of "Darth", turning him or her into a Dark Lord or Lady – the Sith equivalent of what the Jedi called their "Masters".

 

Cinis couldn't make head or tail of the whole thing. One one hand, the fact that she was being summoned to the Lesser Hall could only mean that Lord Krayt had finally decided to make her a Sith Lady. On the other hand, she was wondering why he did not call for her officially. Why this secretiveness; why sending this droid with its ciphered message ?

 

She turned to the droid again. "Repeat message", she commanded.

A few lights on the droid's hull flashed. On the display, the words NO MESSAGE EXISTING – PLEASE SPECIFY appeared. A few seconds later, the line MEMORY DELETED lit up.

Shaking her head, she watched as the droid turned about and left her quarters through the door which she had opened for him in time.

 

Reddish crepuscule welcomed Cinis as she entered the Lesser Hall. In addition to the dark red illumination panels, its walls were adorned with the flickering synthetic torches the Sith liked to use in order to create a mystical atmosphere. The room was empty except for a mark in its center.

Cinis advanced to that point, knelt down and waited for Lord Krayt's arrival, her head bowed.

 

A few minutes passed, then she heard the door open with a whisper and footsteps approach her. Their sound, however, perplexed her. They sounded surprisingly light-footed; not at all like the heavy, almost thudding walk belonging to Darth Krayt in his protruding armor. Moreover, the resonance she perceived in the force was all wrong. This was not Lord Krayt.

 

Recognition hit her like a blow as she suddenly sensed who had approached her. At the same time, she heard that low, harsh voice recite the first words of the Sith Code into the emptiness of the Lesser Hall.

 

"Peace is a lie."

 

She lifted her head and stared at Darth Nihl, unbelievingly, as he gazed down on her expressionlessly and simply continued to speak.

 

"There is only passion.

Through passion I gain strength.

Through strength I gain power.

Through power I gain victory.

Through victory my chains are broken."

 

Cinis' blood ran cold. She swallowed and tried to retain her composure but could not turn her gaze from his red eyes as Lord Nihl continued without a word of explanation.

 

"Herewith I bestow on you the title of Darth, appointing you to the rank of a Dark Lady of the Sith. Rise, Darth Cinis."

 

She was like paralyzed. Finally, what she had been waiting for all the time had happened – but it was all different from what she had expected.

 

Somehow she managed to rise to her feet, standing eye to eye with Lord Nihl – no longer as a common Sith, but almost pari passu. From now on, she would have to bend her knee only before Lord Krayt – as to the members of the inner circle, it would suffice in future to bow briefly, while the low-ranking Sith she had dealt with so far would have to bow before her as well.

She reveled in the thought. Wild euphoria got hold of her – even if she understood that, for the time being, it would be necessary to keep her title on an unofficial basis only in order to prevent attracting unwanted attention.

 

"You are honoring me, Lord Nihl", she said, briefly bowing her head once more.

Darth Nihl let his gaze rest on her for a while, apparently satisfied by the fact that she wasn't asking any further questions.

 

"Follow me", he finally said, turning towards the door. Having reached it, he hesitated for a few seconds as if to sense if no one was around. Then the portal opened, and they stepped outside into the similarly dim corridor. The row of windows offered a view onto Coruscant's skyscrapers, and thousands of lights flickered in the nocturnal abyss of the giant city – their glare reflecting in Cinis' pride which flamed inside her. Anyone observing the scene would have registered with horror the yellow-red fire gleaming in her eyes.

 

On their path through the Temple corridors they met no one, not even a service droid like the one that had rolled off to meet ist subsequent duties after having transferred its message. The door where they eventually came to a halt was that of Lord Nihl's quarters.

He opened it quickly, and they entered. When Cinis had stepped inside, he sealed the door with a wave of his hand, then he said abruptly "I have to speak with you."

 

Nihl crossed the room, released his light spear from the back holster and placed it in the fixture mounted on the wall. "Certainly you can imagine who is responsible for you having been assigned to your new field of activities", he started.

 

Slowly, Cinis began to understand. As if he had been reading her thoughts, he explained: "Lady Maladi suggested you to Lord Krayt for the new position, that is true. But she did so following my recommendation.

What you have not known so far is that Lord Krayt is fatally ill. His body is decaying, forcing him to repeatedly spend extended periods of time in stasis. The more quickly this decay is making progress, the more forcedly he attempts to preserve his power.

This, then, is the reason why he is so desperately searching for this boy – Cade Skywalker, the son and padawan of Kol Skywalker whom I killed on Ossus seven years ago, and who is said to be bestowed with extraordinary power. Cade Skywalker may have left his Jedi past behind, but the Force is strong in him; and there is something of particular importance to Lord Krayt: rumor has it he is blessed with healing powers exceeding by far the abilities of normal persons, even Force sensitive beings. For this reason, he seems to be Lord Krayt's only hope."

 

Cinis felt as if further small jigsaw puzzle pieces inside her joined to form a complete picture. "I understand", she said.

 

Lord Nihl continued to speak.

"However, as long as he has not yet gotten hold of Cade who could rid him once and for all of the illness he is infested with, Lord Krayt will try with all his might – and with the help of his closest confidant, Lord Wyyrlok – to maintain his position and to defend himself against all influence – and this also refers to members of the Sith Order who have developed slightly too much strength and independence for his taste. Like me. Or like Lady Maladi, whose scheming is sometimes hard for him to see through.

Or like you."

 

He paused briefly and leaned forward, resting his hands on top of his desk, then continued.

 

"Why do you think he has not yet promoted you to become a Lady, even though you deserved it ? I have been watching you for quite a while, and you are precisely the type of Sith who could represent a long-term danger to Lord Krayt.

I strive to be on the safe side and be prepared for Lord Krayt's possibly forthcoming decision to eliminate me. Currently, he still appreciates my service. Yet, the fact that he deemed it necessary to pair me up with a second "hand" proves to me my efforts are no longer sufficient and that he might grow weary of me one day in a not too far off future – despite the fact he made use of the most brutal means to forge me into his reliable servant and executor when he accepted me at his side."

 

Cinis listened attentively as Lord Nihl continued to speak after another short break.

 

"Like you, I was not born and trained on Korriban. I was a warlord on Nagi before I pledged myself to the ways of the Sith. My people was in constant conflict with invaders, and it is me to whom my home world owes its first victories within the clasp of permanent oppression.

From afar, Lord Krayt sensed my strength and took hold of me. I went with him, abandoned my people and swore to serve him. His way of thanking me for my submission was to torture me in the Embrace of Pain in order to suffocate inside me any feelings for other beings. He has been successful – with one exception: myself."

 

This barbaric method, originally used by the Yuuzhan Vong, was not unfamiliar to Cinis. The victim was bound in living shackles – for hours and often even days – which caused horrid overall physical pain which increased in intensity the more one tried to squirm free. There was no other way than to open up to pain and anger, to let these emotions consciously flow through oneself until one was ready to serve one's tormentor without condition. The perfect tool for a Sith.

 

"I have sworn to serve him, just like you", Lord Nihl continued. "But I do consider myself as too valuable to give myself up entirely. When he released me from the Embrace of Pain, I was no longer the same person, and in my rage I went forth, killing the inhabitants of one entire village – without any reason. I was proud to be his "hand"; and as long as he was fully satisfied with me I saw in him the meaning of my new life as a Sith. But I am not willing to let him simply push me aside. If the moment should arise that Darth Krayt seeks to annihilate me and Lady Maladi, I intend to be prepared – and to fight him.

So this is where you join the game."

He looked attentively at Cinis.

"Your position – which you have been assigned due to my interference – offers you insight into areas which remain inaccessible to other Order members. I need someone to acquire information and carry out observation for me. Someone who will not attract attention in doing so, as this will be part of his everyday work in service for Lord Krayt.

Lady Maladi and I obviously cannot fulfill this task, as Lord Krayt would become suspicious. However, if you will work for me and for her, we could form a temporary alliance should things turn out worst case."

 

Cinis nodded. "You are right, Mylord", she said. "If everything you say is true we could indeed be in danger – at least in future. Serving Lord Krayt, for me, too, is what gives my life meaning, but nevertheless I am determined to protect myself from betrayal. In fact, I would rather prefer to be first in betraying others. We are Sith, aren't we, Mylord ?"

 

Darth Nihl allowed himself to a grim smile. "Good you do see things the way I do – otherwise I would have been forced to kill you that very moment."

 

He moved around the desk and stopped beside his bed.

 

"I want you to be my eyes and ears towards Lord Krayt. Your position will certainly mask your acquisition of internal information regarding the Sith Order – such as records made by Lord Wyyrlok. Upon your return to your work tomorrow, Lady Maladi will hand you a data card featuring all access codes you will be needing. In order to keep things inconspicuous, your new rank will not be listed in the Temple files.

In case you should notice something unusual or alarming, you will inform Lady Maladi immediately. Do not try to contact me in person. Be assured I will learn of it."

 

Cinis bowed her head. "I will cooperate with you, Lord Nihl."

 

Nihl nodded briefly to confirm their agreement, then fell silent. In vain, Cinis waited for him to signal to her she was allowed to leave.

Instead, she saw him ridding himself of his shoulder and chest armor which he placed on the table.

 

As he continued taking of his remaining clothes, he waved her towards him.

"Come to me."

 

A few seconds passed before she understood – and the very next moment she felt the sweet swelling of physical desire south of her navel.

Without saying a word, she, too, removed chest armor and clothes while her body began longing to be touched.

So far, her life in the Sith Temple had followed a comparatively quiet path with regard to physical passion, far from the sexual speculations the general public loved to fill their rumors with. The principal difference to the Jedi, in this matter, was basically the fact that the Sith accepted their desire instead of suppressing it. When it happened to take hold of Cinis she made use of and enjoy it provided the situation allowed to do so – either alone, or, time and again, with another Sith, since Order members were subject to extensive medical care.

Becoming one with someone else physically did not mean creating an emotional attachment – quite on the contrary, as the physical pleasure was used to help oneself open up even further to the Dark Side which traditionally stood for passion and intense emotions. While the Jedi sought to sublimate and decrease the intensity of their emotions by means of meditation, using the flow of the Force rather as a means for reaching internal equilibrium, the touch of the Force aroused a Sith, mentally and often physically, too. Sith meditations culminating in an orgasm were not rare.

 

Yet, what Cinis was feeling now was stronger than everything she had felt before. Lord Nihl caused a desire unknown so far to burn inside her; and she perceived the Force rushing through her blood which made her become soft and woke the irrepressible desire to be taken by him.

 

For a few moments, they let their gaze wander mutually over their naked bodies, then she stepped forward towards Darth Nihl who had settled on his bed, resting on his legs as in meditation. She knelt over his body, fixing her gaze onto his deep red eyes, as he laid his hands onto her breasts, kneading them gently. A moan escaped Cinis, and Nihl, too, gave in to the flow of his desire. His hand slid between her legs – carefully, to avoid hurting that most sensitive part of her body with his long, claw-like nails – and savored her wetness.

Cinis spread her thighs wide and enjoyed the pleasure his touch was giving her. Nihl raised his other hand and grasped her neck, pulled her towards him and kissed her. In the best of Sith traditions, he let her and himself burn in passion for a while, rhythmically pressing himself against her from below without penetrating her entirely.

Nonetheless, he could not resist for long his arousal raging through him like liquid fire. His hands slid along Cinis' bottom; then all of a sudden he grabbed her hips tightly, pulled her down on him and filled her.

 

Cinis uttered a little scream as Lord Nihl became one with her. His breathing was heavy, his eyes were half closed, and when she intensified their mutual pleasure by gently rotating her hips he began moaning uncontrolledly, as she let one of her hands wander down, additionally stimulating herself with one fingertip.

 

Like earlier, when meditation had turned into sexual desire, Cinis touched the Force, using it to intensify her arousal when something happened which had never manifested itself until now. Unexpectedly, she not only felt her own pleasure but that of Lord Nihl, too, flaring, powerful, hot – and the effect seemed to reproduce in him. His eyes flew open as he forced her lips down on his once again; and she enjoyed being held in his tight grasp when she sensed he would not be able to hold back his climax for very much longer.

All of a sudden, his hands slid onto her back, and the next moment she felt his claws digging into her skin. She could not help it, she had to scream – with pain and lust; and as she felt her blood trickling down her body she gave in to Darth Nihl entirely and perfectly, in a way reserved, so far, for Lord Krayt exclusively. For the second time now she exclaimed the words which had left her lips on the occasion of her examination by Darth Krayt.

"I am yours, my Lord."

Then her orgasm ripped through her, while Lord Nihl followed her the next second.

 

They woke like from a trance. Darth Nihl's gaze was veiled as Cinis slowly rose from his body. Sweat and blood covered her skin; sweat moistened Nihl's hair. Incredibly slowly, he moved his hands off her, inhaling sharply through his teeth.

 

"Serve me, and we can be of use to each other in order to protect us, should things turn the worst", he said, still a little out of breath. "I have enjoyed becoming one with you physically, and this will not be the last time. Now wash, dress and go to your quarters." His eyes gleamed in the dim light of the room.

 

Cinis did as ordered while Lord Nihl, still naked, pleasurably lounged on the bed, watching her. She cleaned up in the refreshment cell of his quarters – the scratch wounds on her shoulder blades had stopped bleeding – and put her clothes and chest armor back on.

 

When she was finally ready to leave, she fell to her knees before him, regardless of her new rank. She took pleasure in submitting herself to him – as intensely as bowing to Lord Krayt had caused her to feel. And yet, it was different. Darth Krayt symbolized her life, her service, her submission. In Darth Nihl, blood, lust and obsession crystallized.

Nihl sensed what was going on inside her; his grim, cold smile testifying to it as he watched her.

 

"I am at your disposal, Mylord", Cinis whispered, letting her forehead touch his outstretched foot.

Then she rose and left Lord Nihl's quarters to return to her own.

 

The remaining night did not bring on much sleep, as the encounter with Lord Nihl flared inside her like a fire out of control. With arms outstretched, she lay on her bed, emotionally tracing the bond he had created between them in the Force.

An interesting point was that she sensed even more. A similar bond between Nihl and Lady Maladi – only in this vision he was the one bleeding…

Confused dreams washed over her.

 

When she showed up at her workplace in the office next to Lady Maladi's laboratory the next morning, after having accomplished her usual fitness session and taken in a light breakfast, Darth Maladi handed her the data card as Lord Nihl had announced.

 

"Take good care of it", Maladi said in a warning tone. "Neither Lord Krayt nor Lord Wyyrlok must suspect that you are having access to classified information. I have assured that you will be able, for the time being, to work in this office alone."

Cinis nodded, took the card and started her research.

 

First of all, she delved into Darth Krayt's past in order to find out more about what had happened to him. The codes allowed her to access internal records made by Lord Wyyrlok which provided her with knowledge she would never have expected to obtain.

She found out that Lord Krayt had been alive for a very, very long time – exceeding the natural life span of a human being, even a long-lived one, by far more than one hundred standard years. Long ago, even before Emperor Palpatine had assumed power, in the so-called Clone Wars, Lord Krayt had been a Jedi, a human named A'Sharad Hett who had been raised by the Tusken raiders on Tatooine and had subsequently taken on the belief to be a Tusken himself. He had been fighting side by side with Anakin Skywalker who had later succumbed to the Dark Side, becoming Darth Vader.

Now Cinis realized why Darth Krayt had always appeared to her in her dreams in the garb of a Tusken raider first, before the picture shifted to show him in the full, dark grandeur of his Vong armor.

 

In the wake of the commotion following Emperor Palpatine's coming into power, when Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi sought to protect Anakin Skywalker's son, raised by relatives on a moisture farm on Tatooine, from danger, doom had befallen A'Sharad Hett. He had been unlucky enough to bring his Tusken clan too close to said moisture farm, causing Obi-Wan Kenobi to appear and challenge him to fight when he refused to be sent away. Hett was defeated, lost his right arm and was cast out by his Tusken tribe. Dishonored and homeless, he went forth to lead the life of a bounty hunter until he happened to land on Korriban on the occasion of his pursuit of one of his victims. Strong in the Force as he was, but filled with despair and bitterness, he fell under the influence of the presence of XoXaan, one of the founders of the original Sith Order, and thus things took their course. Hett opened up to the Dark Side, and the seed of the Sith began to bear fruit inside him.

 

When the New Republic arose from the ruins of Palpatine's Empire and the Yuuzhan Vong invaded the galaxy, Hett fell into their hands. They brought him on board of their scout ship, torturing him in the Embrace of Pain. As if this wasn't enough, they also replaced his left eye by one of their creatures, his missing right arm by a Vong implant, and they planted the coral seeds into his body – those which were now furthering his slow internal decay.

Caught in the inhuman grip of the organic Vong torture rack, consciously giving in to horror and pain, Hett eventually received his vision of the new Sith Order, led by him as Darth Krayt, a name he chose in remembrance of his past among the Tusken raiders, and designating Tatooine's most dangerous predator, the Krayt dragon.

Time passed, and the day came when the Dark Side had finally allowed him to accumulate sufficient power to escape and return to Korriban in order to make his vision gradually come true.

The Jedi A'Sharad Hett had been extinguished. From his ashes, the Sith Lord Darth Krayt had arisen, lusting for power.

 

He left the galaxy to the atrocities the Yuuzhan Vong spread over it and began instead to assemble followers at his side. Darth Wyyrlok I. became his advisor and confidant who also assured Darth Krayt could repeatedly spend long periods of time in stasis which considerably prolonged his life span, despite the coral seeds planted into him by the Vong. Over the years, the influence of the new Sith Order slowly grew – and when the war against the Yuuzhan Vong was over and Roan Fel's Empire came to power, Darth Krayt decided it was time to reveal himself and his Order of the One Sith to the public.

The rest of the story was known to Cinis – it was part of her own.

 

But this wasn't all. Her research also confirmed that Darth Krayt was not only desperately trying to get hold of Cade Skywalker in order to force him to free him of his ailment with the help of his inbred healing powers which would allow Krayt to further bring his vision of the Order of the One Sith to perfection without being threatened by imminent death.

Parallel to his own search, he also made use of one of his subordinates Cinis recognized as the Jabiimi she had already seen a few times in the meditation room as well as in the open plan office where she had been active earlier, before she had begun to work for Lady Maladi directly. A desirous shiver went through her as she remembered having become one with him physically some time ago, when her immersion in the Dark Side had once more turned into lasciviousness. She had enjoyed this encounter a great deal.

 

She felt a slight pinch of jealousy at the fact that this man was bearing his Darth title quite naturally, whereas she was forced to keep hers secret and continue appearing as a common, low-ranking Sith. He was called Darth Stator, and he had taken over a very important task which had made him cease his previous occupation in favor of his new work for Darth Krayt personally. Obviously Lord Stator was a specialist for Sith artifacts and holocrones imbibed with magic. Lord Krayt had assigned him to search and acquire such objects and to examine them with regard to their possible healing potential which could be used by his master.

So far, these examinations had remained unsuccessful which incited Darth Krayt even more. Stator, whose former name had been Korto Artasis, had originally been working in an inferior position as some sort of librarian in the large archives of the Sith Temple on Korriban, until, some years ago, he had been recalled by Krayt who had ordered to submit him to Sith training, including lightsaber combat, on Coruscant. Having accomplished his education, he had immediately been made a Lord and begun to fulfill his special task for Darth Krayt.

 

The amount of data furnished another interesting point: obviously Darth Wyyrlok did not seem to be too happy about Lord Stator's promotion. This fact made Lord Krayt's loyal confidant appear in a totally different light. Was Wyyrlok himself secretly striving to assume absolute power ?

It was clear that Lady Maladi – and, consequently, Lord Nihl – would greatly appreciate this piece of information.

 

Cinis wasn't quite sure what to make of Stator. Still, she had no clue where his quarters were (their earlier encounter had taken place in Cinis' rooms) or in which section of the Temple exactly he worked.

She resolved to approach him on the occasion of their next meeting in the meditation room to ask him for a training battle in order to test his strength and, if possible, to talk to him a little, without any engagement. If necessary, she could pretend to feel attracted by him – which was the truth, anyway.

 

One standard week passed, but Lord Stator seemed to have disappeared, and Cinis' research regarding Darth Krayt's plans stagnated as well. Even the secret access codes did not furnish any spectacular news – which, basically, indicated that both her clients and herself were relatively safe, at least for the time being.

 

However, one day the system informed her that Lord Krayt's second "hand", Darth Talon – actually hunting down Princess Marasiah, Roan Fel's daughter, with the aim to force the exiled Emperor to abandon his safe cover – had obviously stumbled across Cade Skywalker and his companions on Vendaxa, together with the Princess. A battle had ensued which had proven Skywalker's stamina to be higher than expected. Darth Talon had called for recruitment, which, as a consequence, had caused Lord Nihl to be suddenly recalled to Vendaxa, meaning that he had spent a few days away from the Temple.

This happened from time to time; as Lord Krayt's "hand", Darth Nihl had a large number of tasks to fulfill. However, it was important to know beforehand, if possible, whenever he would not be personally accessible in order to be able to evaluate when small delays could occur in the flow of information on the background of their secret cooperation.

 

In this conjunction, of course, it was extremely interesting to see Nihl's assignment plan for the following week: apparently, he was supposed to accomplish a mission on the planet Melkenda together with Darth Stator. The focus of this mission was not on eliminating Lord Krayt's enemies but on providing military support to Stator whose strength clearly lay not in battle but rather in his special abilities regarding Sith artifacts. It was obvious that Lord Nihl would very much appreciate this pairing, as it would offer him the chance to find out more about Lord Krayt's "sabacc up the sleeve".

She was determined to get to know him more closely.

 

This afternoon, during lightsaber combat training, Cinis defeated Darth Levouan completely.

The fight had developed as always until Cinis had managed to launch a decisive blow which cut through Levouan's armor, hurting her so badly that she dropped on her back with a scream and her lightsaber was ripped out of her hand. Desperately, she unleashed a bundle of lightning onto Cinis who, however, parried them automatically with her blade at incredible speed.

That moment Darth Levouan realized that her time as Cinis' mistress was over.

 

The battle bore surprising similarity to the one Darth Nihl had fought against Cinis, only with roles swapped. Cinis stormed forward, and Darth Levouan's fixed gaze told her that she prepared herself to die.

Just like Lord Nihl had done it to her, Cinis stopped immediately before the deadly blow, making her former mistress stare into her gleaming blade. Darth Levouan swallowed, unsure as to what would happen now.

 

"Lady Levouan", Cinis said after a few seconds, "Lord Krayt has never given me order to kill you once I should defeat you in battle. I will obey his command by giving you the opportunity to continue fulfilling your task within the Order of the One Sith."

She switched off her lightsaber, and Darth Levouan sat up, moaning with pain. She looked up to Cinis and nodded slightly, then said: "We all live and die at Lord Krayt's command. His will is our will."

 

She made efforts to rise, her hand pressed onto the lightsaber wound, and watched Cinis for a while. Then she remarked: "You have it in yourself to be a Lady. It is not up to me to question Lord Krayt's decisions, but I do not understand why you were not made Darth Cinis long ago."

 

"When the time has come Lord Krayt will certainly take this step", Cinis answered while thinking to herself: 'If only you knew. Apparently a few things here aren't going the way they should.'

Darth Levouan nodded again, got to her feet and bowed briefly before Cinis who returned the gesture. They parted no longer as mistress and adept but on equal rank.

From now on, the training battles would no longer be part of an education program but merely serve as permanent exercise in order to bring her abilities to perfection.

 

That night, Cinis dreamed of Lord Stator. She could not remember any details afterwards, but she felt the Force flare up inside her as, once more, desire rolled over her.

She felt that this man would soon play an important part in her life.

 

 

"A trap, you say", Darth Krayt reacted to his servant's account. "Are you sure ?"

 

"Rather sure, Mylord", Stator answered. "That man was beyond telling lies."

"It was not worth it, I would say", Krayt said.

 

"He was doomed from the moment he dared attack a Sith."

"Well said, Lord Stator. And it was a Sith that ordered to kill you ?"

"That is what the man said. However, I am not sure if people of his kind are capable of telling a genuine Sith from a fake."

 

Krayt stared at Stator for a long while, before he said in a contemplative tone: "Remains the question who outside the Sith Order knows you so well that he believes you could put him in danger."

"This is what I thought, too, Mylord", Stator replied.

 

"Perhaps you can be of even greater use to me than I first thought", Darth Krayt mused. "If my opponents focus their anger on you, it might be easier for me to recognize them."

"I shall always be at your service, Mylord. Even as a lure."

A brief bout of raspy laughter emerged from Krayt's throat. "I will accept your offer, Lord Stator, even though I would rather… spare you with view to this sort of task."

 

Abruptly, Krayt rose to his feet, and Stator, who now had to look up to his master, once more felt fascinated by his aura. "Let us put these schemings aside for now. I have a new mission for you, but for the moment retreat to the back of the hall and make yourself as invisible in the Force as you can."

Stator bowed and obeyed.

 

Krayt sat down again on his throne and sent an inaudible call through the Force: "You may now enter, Lord Nihl !"

The door opened, and a tall and slim yet stalwart figure entered the throne room. Contrarily to the Sith habit of bearing red and black full body tattoos, his pale, almost light grey skin was covered with dark tattoos. The archaic appearance of his body armor hinted at his Nagi origin. He carried his lightsaber on his back, the handle of which was extraordinarily long. Stator recognized the man, as he had already seen him time and again. He was part of the Inner Circle around Darth Krayt: his executor Darth Nihl.

 

The Nagai moved towards Krayt's throne and bent his knee before his master.

"You have called for me, Lord Krayt !"

"Rise, Lord Nihl !"

The Sith did as commanded.

 

"Lord Nihl, there is a certain system in the Outer Rim which is of no actual importance for the Empire. However, recent reports have pointed out that a man of certain… abilities has assumed power there. It is said that he is capable of referring to the powers manifesting themselves in a specific object which allow him to control the population of the entire planet."

 

"Do you want me to kill him ?", the Nagai asked.

 

"Perhaps, should this prove necessary. But chiefly I want to know which sort of magic he is employing. For this reason you will be accompanied by one of my assistants who specializes in this field. He has great experience in extracting hidden secrets from ancient artifacts. Lord Stator, you may now come forward."

Stator emerged from the shadows behind the throne. Darth Nihl squinted, since Stator had withdrawn himself so effectively that he had not sensed the Jabiimi's presence in the Force.

 

"I command you to fly to the Melkenda system to investigate in this matter. Now leave me !"

Stator and Nihl exchanged quick glances; the Jabiimi's reverent, the Nagai's rather taunting, and both left the throne room.

 

"Now, Librarian", Nihl remarked curtly as soon as they had left the Emperor's residence, "meet me in 45 standard minutes at docking bay 23 ! Do not be late !" And thus he turned and left Stator alone.

 

As his belongings were still packed from his recent expedition to Tatooine, Stator made use of the remaining time to collect some information about the Melkenda system. Melkenda, a planet with a mild climate, was the home of two intelligent species. One of them were the Mel-Crim whose mental strength had remained rather low compared to their muscle-packed, immensely strong bodies. The other one were the Mel-Exeem – short, emaciated figures blessed, as compensation, with enormous mental power. They were even slightly Force-sensitive which allowed them to control the mentally inferior Mel-Crim. Languages used were a considerably archaic Basic as well as several tribal dialects of their native language.

The planet as such was rather insignificant; neither provided it any raw material deposits nor had it ever played any part in the numerous galactic wars. The inhabitants hadn't even come close to developing something like space travel. Hardly any relevant industry was present, and the word "meaningless" in all regards appeared like exaggerated praise when used in conjunction with Melkenda. That was about all Stator could extract from the records about this world.

 

Grabbing his baggage, he moved to the given docking bay.

He arrived first, and just a few minutes later the Nagai turned up, accompanied by a Devaronian woman. Several meters away from Stator they halted, turned towards each other and looked into each other's eyes for a short while. Then Darth Nihl turned and walked over to Stator. The Sith female, whom Stator recognized as Lady Maladi, turned around and left the hangar.

 

"I see you are at least on time, Librarian !", Nihl greeted the Jabiimi.

"This is what librarians are famous for, Mylord", Stator retorted.

The Nagai seemed confused for a split second, surprised to receive a similarly uncouth reply to his teasing, but he simply turned and said succinctly,"Let us board !"

 

Stator followed the Sith. Once inside the ship, Darth Nihl ordered him to retreat to his cabin and to remain there until he would give him order to return. Stator felt a pinch of anger at the Nagai's teasing remarks, but then he forced himself to remember Lord Nihl's merits and to accept his fate for the time being. He moved to his cabin and engaged in some lightsaber training in order to direct his aggressive feelings into more useful channels.

 

When they had arrived at their destination, Lord Nihl instructed his companion.

"Your job is to take care of the artifacts, Librarian. Leave fighting to me and stay in the background as far as possible. I do not feel like having to inform Lord Krayt about the demise of his new toy."

"As you wish, Lord Nihl", Stator grumbled indignantly. He had begun being sick of the Nagai's condescending attitude.

 

The ship landed, and the two Sith left the vessel side by side. No one was around, which was rather unusual, as on worlds so remote any landing spacecraft were generally eyed with great interest. This planet, however, did not seem to fit into the usual scheme.

They decided to approach the town rising before them. The buildings were rather low, but didn't give too primitive an impression – at least, architecture seemed to be a skill the inhabitants had apparently mastered.

 

When they had advanced a few hundred steps, Stator suddenly had a bad feeling. He quickly looked over to Darth Nihl who glanced back at him. "I have felt it, too, Librarian !" He turned his gaze into the direction they had come from. "Hide yourself !" he whispered hoarsely to Stator who nodded, stepped back a little and seemed to become one with the surrounding landscape.

 

All of a sudden, some sort of primitive chariot came rolling towards the Nagai. Stator was fascinated to see Lord Nihl, seemingly untouched, maintain his position in the middle of the path, facing the approaching tank-like vehicle. The chariot was about as high as two men, and about twice as wide, its front being armored with durasteel plates apparently removed from crashed spacecraft. On top, there was some kind of turret equipped with a quadruple laser which seemed to have been salvaged from a shipwreck as well.

Darth Nihl pulled his light spear from his back holster, activating it. When the tank had approached to about twenty steps, it stopped, and the turret turned to aim for the Nagai. With an incredibly quick move, Darth Nihl threw his weapon towards the vehicle. The lightsaber cut through the primitive armor exactly where the two front plates met, rushed through the chariot, then turned around and cut once more through the primitive construction which blew up even while the Nagai was finally catching his weapon with his left hand.

With a grim smile, the Sith watched the destruction he had caused, whereas Darth Stator's attention was drawn towards something else.

"Lord Nihl, you should take a look at this !"

 

The Nagai turned around to him and remarked laconically: "Didn't I order you to remain hidden ?" Nevertheless, he chose to take Stator's call seriously, as he watched two heavily built figures carrying some sort of palanquin wherein sat a weazen old man who wore nothing but some toga-like garment. Yet, around his neck he wore an amulet which caught Stator's attention immediately.

The two giants put the palanquin down. Now a crowd of people began to appear in the background, dominated by the Mel-Exeem's slim figures. The Mel-Crim held primitive-looking, heavy weapons in their big fists with more or less threatening gestures. Stator discovered that with few exceptions the Mel-Exeem were unarmed; only three or four of them carried some sort of energy lance. But these persons kept a rather big distance to the center of activities.

 

"Xrangers !", the old man in the palanquin began to speak, availing himself of a rather outmoded variant of Basic. "You have arrived here unwanted. Now submit yourselves to the will of the Max-er, who I am !"

"We did not come to submit ourselves !", Darth Nihl hissed. "We have come to subdue you !"

"Then you shall die !", the old man, obviously incapable of pronouncing the letters "st", retorted. He reached down to touch his amulet, mumbling something inaudible, when a sudden transformation befell the men carrying the palanquin. All at once, they seemed to be twice as muscular as before, while their bodies showed horn-like protrusions. They moved towards the two Sith.

Nihl activated his lightsaber, whereas Stator decided to neglect the order to stay in the background in favor of getting ready for battle. Just like Nihl, however, he soon discovered that his opponents were surrounded by some force field resisting to both lightsaber blows and other Force manipulations. Moreover, the mutant inhabitants began tearing the rapidly replaced horns from their bodies, hurling them at the two Sith who found themselves busy fending them off with their lightsaber blades.

The battle threatened to become a stalemate which would turn into a defeat for the Sith the moment the energy cells of their lightsabers would be exhausted.

 

As they kept fighting, Stator threw a glance at Nihl, just to find out that the Nagai didn't seem to have any idea either as to how to overcome the two colossi. His fierce expression made clear that he was quite annoyed at this fact.

 

Stator delved deep into the Force and discovered that the old man who had called himself "Max-Er" radiated the presence of the Dark Side, apparently emerging from the amulet the Mel-Exceem was clutching with both hands. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to have gone into some battle meditation.

Suddenly, Stator had an idea. He threw his lightsaber over his opponent, aiming for the old man, who sat motionless, holding on to the amulet with his eyes closed, when the blade of Darth Stator's lightsaber cut through his chest.

 

Abruptly, the spell dissolved. The men Lord Nihl and Stator were facing now were no more than muscle-packed humanoids. Nihl's opponent didn't have enough time to consider this change of situation before his body sagged to the floor, neatly separated into two halves. Stator, however, had a different thing to deal with, as he had thrown his lightsaber; and the colossus was approaching him with a mean grin on his face. Quickly, Stator glanced over to Nihl, but the Nagai didn't make any efforts to assist him.

Stator shrugged, grabbed his lightsaber with the Force and activated it as it came flying towards him. On its way, it killed the Mel-Crim who dropped dead to the floor in front of Stator.

 

Stator caught his lightsaber, switched it off and hung it back onto his belt. Then he looked over to Darth Nihl who gave him a taunting glance. "Not bad for a librarian."

"We should have a look at the amulet now", Stator suggested, still feeling annoyed by the Nagai's behavior.

"This is your part, Lord Stator", Krayt's hand replied, waving to him to proceed.

 

The two Sith walked over to where the body of the old man was lying. Stator bent down, took the amulet and tore it off the dead man's neck. Rising, he watched the artifact.

"Is it Sith magic ?" Darth Nihl asked.

"I do not know yet, Lord Nihl", Darth Stator answered in a low voice. "But for sure I shall find out soon."

 

As Stator continued eyeing the amulet, another Mel-Exeem, by far younger than the one Stator had killed, suddenly moved towards two Sith, escorted by four Mel-Crim.

"You xrangers !" he began. "You have killed the Max-Er. Now I am the new Max-Er as it has been promised to me. Give me the amulet and await my judgement !"

 

The Nagai squinted sneeringly and activated his lightsaber. "You have nothing to demand except death !", he spat.

"Lord Nihl, wait before executing him", Stator slowed the enraged Sith down and held the amulet up. "Maybe there is more where that came from !"

He turned to the young Mel-Exeem. "Where have you got this from ?"

"I don't have to tell xrangers like you !", the young man snapped.

"In that case I shall have to provide a little motivation to your willingness to cooperate", Stator grumbled. "Lord Nihl, I dare claim this young man will be capable of leading us to the remaining artifacts… when he has suffered the loss of one hand. Would you not say so ?"

 

A nasty grin flashed up on Nihl's face, and a rapid swing of his weapon made the young man's right hand drop to the floor.

The Mel-Exeem sagged to his knees, staring at the stump of his arm. There was hardly any blood, as the wound had been cauterized immediately.

 

"Now…", Stator began, bending forward towards the Mel-Exeem, "you will certainly lead us to the place where you found this amulet ? If not, my master, Lord Nihl, will be pleased to demonstrate some more of his lightsaber skills."

 

His resistance broken, the physical pain reflecting in his eyes, the man signalled to the Sith to follow him. When the four bodyguards prepared to come along, Darth Nihl simply turned around, flashed an emotionless smile and swung his lightsaber in a brief, complicated arc. The four Mel-Crim stayed behind at once.

 

The young Mel-Exeem led the two Sith to a rock hiding a secret entrance leading to something reminding of a tomb. Except for a few insignificant interior designs, the crypt harbored nothing but a sarcophagus.

"Here is where one of our ancexors found the amulet. For centuries, it has been a symbol of this world's sovereign. My predecessor was the firx to find out what it's capable of", the young Mel-Exeem recounted. Apparently, they seemed to be affected by a strange speed impediment, making them pronounce each "st" like an "x".

 

"Let us look at the sarcophagus", Stator suggested. With a powerful Force blast, he pushed the lid aside.

 

The tomb contained what was to be expected – loose bones within a pile of dust and withered textiles. However, the skeletal hands were closed around an unusually well preserved cube Stator identified at once as an antique holocron. Clearly not a Sith holocron, the device nonetheless reminded only faintly of Jedi holocrons either, seeming to carry attributes of both types. Carefully, he took the object.

 

"Lord Nihl, this young man has fulfilled the required task. Now show mercy towards this creature, and…" – the Mel-Exeem looked up to him expectantly – "deliver him from his pathetic existence !"

The young man's expression petrified. Seconds later, his head, separated by Darth Nihl's lightsaber, rolled across the floor of the crypt. Stator stashed the holocron in the pocket of his coat and turned towards Darth Nihl. "I take it our work here is done."

"It obviously is", Nihl replied after a moment.

 

As the two Sith left the tomb and headed for their ship, Nihl remarked, again in his usual tone, gloomy and teasing at the same time: "You are the most merciless librarian I have ever come to meet. Surely your path is covered with hundreds of dead bodies of all those who have not returned their borrowed holocrons."

Scowling, Stator grinned.

 

After take-off, Darth Nihl abruptly addressed Stator. "You did not grow up on Korriban either ?"

"No, Lord Nihl", Stator replied truthfully. "It is true I spent several years there, but only to do… librarian's work. It was not what I imagined when Lord Thrakon, well, discovered me. Nevertheless, it was better than being killed at once. It seems to me that it is harder to pursue a career inside the Sith Order if one did not grow up on Korriban."

 

Darth Nihl looked at him thoughtfully. "So where do you come from ?"

"I am from Jabiim."

"Jabiim, all right", Nihl replied. "It is a mining world, isn't it ?"

"Yes, today it is", Stator grumbled, "but it has not always been." Before his mind's eye, he was seeing Jabiim now.

"My clan, the house of Artasis, used to be famous for spawning the best of warlords. A proud tradition which would doubtlessly have continued, if the Jedi had not come to destroy it all."

Stator clenched his fists. "Since then, our clan has been deprived of all rights and honor."

 

All of a sudden, Nihl seemed very interested and observant.

"Imagine you could return to Jabiim", he asked, "would you want to lead your clan back to the top of your civilization ?"

Stator looked at him for a few seconds before responding. "No. No, I do not think so. I am a Sith now. As the leader of the Artasis clan, I would only be able to rule over my ancestors' territory. As a Sith, the whole galaxy is open to me. Besides, members of my own clan have betrayed me. Today, I would have only one reason to return to Jabiim: to annihilate them all !"

 

Looking impressed, Nihl nodded slowly before leaving Stator who immediately began to examine the artifacts they had obtained.

 

Upon their arrival on Coruscant, neither Lady Maladi nor any other high-ranking members of the Inner Circle awaited them. Instead, a young Sith female welcomed them at the docking bay. She wasn't very tall, which, however, did not diminish her aura of dangerousness. Her chest armor was covered with battle traces, evidence of numerous assignments.

She walked towards Nihl and Stator who realized he knew her by the name of Cinis. He had already met her a few times in the Temple, and once they had even made use of the occasion to strengthen their connection to the Force by becoming one with each other physically. Never before, however, had he felt the sheer intensity of the Force flaring inside her.

 

The woman approached them and bowed.

"Lord Nihl", she began, "Lady Maladi awaits you. Lord Stator", she turned to the Jabiimi, "proceed to see Lord Krayt at once."

Thus he was dismissed. Stator watched Nihl and the mysterious woman leaving the docking bay together, before calling a shuttle to honor his appointment with Krayt.

 

 

Darth Stator entered the throne room and bent his knee before his master. "Lord Krayt, you have called for me ?"

 

"Ah, Lord Stator." Once more, the Emperor looked terribly enfeebled. "Your mission report ?"

Thus he gestured to Stator to rise.

 

"Mylord", Stator began, "the acquired artifact bears simple Sith magic. The inhabitants had found it inside a tomb which also contained a holocron, as we ascertained later. It was the tomb of a renegade Jedi who had killed his Padawan in order to make use of this amulet and other Sith artifacts the two of them had stolen from a Sith tomb for himself. His only ambition was to expand his leadership on this insignificant planet."

 

"What happened then ?" Krayt asked.

 

"He died", Stator replied, "and took all his knowledge with him. He had established a petty reign on Melkenda and had been enthusiastic in studying the Dark Side arts, intending to unveil the secret of essence transfer to become immortal. However, he was not successful. Death took him before his exploratory urge could be satiated; and even though the Dark Side had helped him to reach an astounding age, he was nevertheless doomed in the end. Some time later the Mel-Exeem found the amulet, and again thousands of years later they happened to discover the word required for activating it. A primitive artifact having effect on truly ignoble beings alone."

 

"So again there is no clue as to how I could find a cure", Krayt mused. "The secret of essence transfer could have been a way out. Now leave me and continue your studies !"

 

"As you wish, Mylord !" Stator bowed and left his master.

 

 

"Now, Darth Nihl", Maladi greeted the Nagai, "how was your excursion with the Librarian ?"

 

"Quite enlightening, Mylady", Nihl replied. "We should keep an eye on the man."

"Could he represent a danger to us ?"

"Not if we are careful, but perhaps he can be of use to us."

 

"How come you think so, Lord Nihl ?"

"He did not grow upon Korriban. Like me. Like you. Like Cinis. I can feel he wants more than Krayt is willing to give him. We should keep a watch on him. Perhaps we can make him take sides with us."

 

"Can this be done ?", Maladi asked.

"I do not know, but I believe so."

"Then we should seek to make him go on another mission together with someone who is loyal to us", Maladi mused.

A sinister smile appeared on the Nagai's face. "How about Cinis ?"

 

Darth Maladi stared at him for a few seconds. "I will think about it."

 

 

One more time Darth Stator activated Darth Bane's holocron. His studies had revealed that after a certain time a holocron no longer reflected the entire personality of a specific Sith Lord but merely some kind of echo. In need of instructions, he intended to suggest to the Sith Lord's frozen consciousness that he wished to follow the Rule of Two.

Bane's features appeared in front of Stator.

 

"Ahh, the fraud's lackey !", Darth Bane's hologram resounded.

"I am not calling you as anyone's lackey. I am calling you because I wish to learn about the Rule of Two."

"I already told you about it. There can be only two, the master who embodies power, and the student who strives to gain it. That is all."

 

"What if the student kills his master before he has learnt everything from him there is to learn ? Does not Sith knowledge become lost in such a case ?"

 

"If the student can kill his master, he has learned enough to be master himself. If the master cannot fend off his student's assault, he has ceased to be the master. A Sith must always strive to become better than the previous Sith. A Sith who is content serving and does not seek to accumulate power, is no Sith. He is but the shadow of a Sith, but can never truly become a Sith."

 

All of a sudden, Darth Stator looked ruminative.

"I thank you, Lord Bane. Soon, I will request further teachings from you."

"You are welcome, as opposed to the fraud's other servants !"

 

Stator deactivated the holocron and pondered over what he had just heard as he left the library.

 

 

After Cinis had been forced to wait for a long time for a corresponding occasion, few time passed following her meaningful dream and the meeting at the docking bay before she saw the Jabiimi again. Only two days later, Cinis met Lord Stator in the meditation room. Deeply enwrapped in the Dark Side, she waited until he finished his meditation, then she followed him outside and addressed him.

 

"Lord Stator", Cinis said, bowing before him. "I would feel honored if you felt like engaging in a training fight with me."

 

The Jabiimi let an alert gaze wander over her, clearly revealing that he also remembered their physical encounter with pleasure. Again, Cinis lost herself in his sight – the long, unrestrained and undyed dark blond mane, the martially looking beard, the strands at his temples, bound in Jabiimi tradition with black leather ribbons. He, too, had refrained from receiving full body tattoos while simply choosing black patterns on the naturally bright skin of his face: jags around his eyes, giving him a wild and fierce appearance, as well as a stylized pattern, reminding of fangs, which highlighted his lower lip.

He wore heavy boots, sturdy pants sporting a number of useful pockets, a wide, long-sleeved shirt, leather cuffs on his lower arms and, on top of his shirt, some sort of doublet made of a material reminding of rancor leather and adorned with a relief-like pattern of leather strips and metal pieces on the chest. On his wide belt, his both elegant and deadly-looking lightsaber hung.

 

"My pleasure", he replied. "You are Cinis, if I am not mistaken ? Well, you should be aware that I am not as experienced in lightsaber combat as your master – or your mistress ? Nonetheless, I will be glad to compete with you. Honestly speaking, I do not encounter many occasions allowing me to fight."

 

Cinis nodded. "My mistress is Darth Levouan", she answered. "But certainly you have long outperformed your master, otherwise you would not be a Lord. Who were you trained by, if I may ask ?"

"Darth Rancina", Stator remarked, "do you know her ?"

Cinis affirmed; from time to time she had also fought against the agile Togruta woman in the training room, but so far she had never managed to defeat her. "Lady Rancina is an excellent fighter", she said, "but Lady Levouan should definitely not rank behind her. Have you already fought against her ?"

For a while, they exchanged some more details regarding their training, their fighting styles and their respective strengths, before arranging the training battle for the following day.

 

When Cinis entered the training room, Darth Stator was already waiting for her. He had removed his outerwear, leaving only his pants, boots and cuffs on. Nodding towards her, he activated his lightsaber.

Cinis bowed, then raised her weapon, too. Without warning, Stator rushed forward, swinging the brilliant, red blade.

 

The attack was furious yet well-calculated. Cinis almost had trouble parrying it; and during the exchange of blows which followed she had to discover that Lord Stator – even though he had emphasized being a rather unexperienced fighter, alluding to his profession – was by all means on her level, taking into consideration that he was fighting with the upper part of his body completely unprotected. He compensated lacking technique with passion, transforming standard maneuvers of the various lightsaber combat forms into dynamic successions of movements which made it hard for Cinis to stay on track. In fact, none of them managed to gain advantage for very long. When Stator's attention faltered for a few seconds, Cinis' blade rushed past his hip at a dangerously low distance; and immediately, he paid her back by letting his blade crash into her chest armor the very next moment, managing to cut her skin below. Cinis took a sharp breath, instinctively warded off Stator's lightsaber and administered a Force blow with her left hand which hurled him back several meters.

 

Instead of attacking again, once he found his balance, Lord Stator unexpectedly switched off his lightsaber and gave Cinis a nod.

"If you do not mind, we may leave well enough alone", he suggested, slightly out of breath. "It is not a life-or-death battle, after all."

Cinis bowed briefly, deactivating her lightsaber as well. "As you wish, Lord Stator." Meanwhile, she was also sweating and longed for the battle to end. And maybe for more.

 

"You are a good fighter", she said. "There is no reason to downplay your skills. Even though you are less experienced, as you said so yourself, I take it you are frequently accomplishing training battles like everybody else. Are you working in Temple administration ?", she asked at a venture.

 

Stator remained silent for a moment, then he answered: "Indeed I am in urgent need of the training battles to stay in shape. You are right in assuming that my task is of an administrative nature."

Silently, Cinis amused herself thinking that this was quite some understatement. Now she had to act quickly, or she would never again have the chance to turn Lord Stator into a potential ally. She decided to act the way Lord Nihl had done with her.

 

"Would you like to come with me ? You can take a shower in my quarters and have a little conversation with me, provided your schedule allows it." She made sure these last words were accompanied with a coquettish wink which would tell Stator unmistakably other things than conversation would be involved as well.

He grinned at her. "Let us go."

 

They had taken a shower and were now lying on the bed, side by side. Stator's hands rested on Cinis' breasts as he struggled to maintain his concentration while she was talking to him.

 

"As you can certainly imagine, I have not asked you here without reason", Cinis began. "First of all, I must ask you a question: If you found out that Lord Krayt, to whom you have pledged allegiance, was striving to eliminate you because in his opinion you had either grown too dangerous or become useless – what would you do ?"

 

Stator looked into her eyes, hesitated briefly, then replied in a neutral tone: "In this case I would not see any other possibility than to turn against him. I have sworn to serve him, and this I will do as long as this constellation is preserved in a reasonable manner. Even if he was dissatisfied with me and mowed me down in anger, my death would not be in vain, as I would thus fulfill his will.

Yet, if he tried to betray me I would no longer see any reason to remain faithful to him. He is my and your master – but all of us are Sith, and eventually each of us is loyal to one single person alone: himself."

 

Cinis nodded and continued. "Now – as you have provided me with such important information regarding your personal opinion – I must inform you that I know more about your profession than you have suspected so far. Where I have obtained this knowledge from shall not matter for the time being, but I am aware of the fact that Lord Krayt has ordered you to search for Sith artifacts in order to make use of their immanent knowledge or magic to overcome the ailment he is affected with."

 

Stators eyes widened, and for a moment he even forgot to let his fingers play with her hard nipples. Cinis smiled and decided to go for the top.

 

"No need to deny, just take it for granted. Well, what would you say if Lord Krayt grew weary of you from one day to the next because he has found a more efficient method to rid himself of his illness and to continue prolonging his life for all eternity ?"

Stator bent forward and kissed her. "Just tell me."

 

"Does the name Cade Skywalker ring a bell ?", Cinis asked abruptly.

"Skywalker !", Stator spat angrily, and Cinis was surprised to feel a sudden tremble in the Force. "You know this name ?" she asked.

"Is this not the descendant of that famous Jedi lineage who lost his life seven years ago on Ossus, together with his father and all others ?", Stator asked coldly.

"You are wrong. Cade Skywalker could not be more alive. The way things have developed – and as Lord Krayt found out only recently – he managed to flee during the attack on Ossus, and he is now making a living as a pirate and bounty hunter, using his first name only. Normally, this should not be something to make us worry, as the young man has apparently turned his back on his past and is leading a most ordinary life. Not long ago, however, a perseverant research initiated by Lord Krayt – and it interesting to note that you had not been informed about it – has revealed that this person is indeed the former Jedi Padawan and that he is extremely strong in the Force, as everyone in his family has been. Remember, Lord Darth Vader himself is one of his ancestors !

 

But which is even more important and you will have to keep an eye on is that Cade Skywalker is blessed with particular healing powers. Powers which would allow him to eradicate Lord Krayt's illness with a focused touch of the Force, making him regain his full strength in one split second. Consequently, this would allow Lord Krayt to expand his vision of the Order of the One Sith in a way that it would soon consist exclusively of Sith born on Korriban, trained from their early childhood and unconditionally loyal to him. Then he will be able to eliminate those individuals who joined the Sith Order from outside and replace them by his Korriban brood – from the lowest up to the highest ranks.

Even if this should remain a long-term objective for the time being, he would certainly cease to be in need of my service first of all.

As you said, we have sworn to serve him – even in death – but not to suffer useless betrayal by his hand. It is beyond question that in this case he will not need your service any longer either; and it is not hard to imagine what will happen to you then."

She let her words sink in and perceived Lord Stator's thoughts in the Force which had begun to reel.

 

"I presume you are considering this information as personally crucial", she finished. "Should you decide to believe me, I could tell you even more, and we will be able to work on a plan to protect us against possible future betrayal."

 

Stator nodded. "I believe you", he retorted. "But what makes you suggest all this to me ? Does this not put you in danger ?"

"No more than the danger I am already in", Cinis answered. "Look at you. Look at me. Look at persons like Lord Nihl, for instance. None of these corresponds with Lord Krayt's ideal image of the Sith battle machine without its own personality, even though we are – still – faithful to him. I do not want to be simply disposed of by my master's hand. And if the worst scenario should come true – war among the Sith – I shall see to it that I will save myself and eliminate Darth Krayt together with some like-minded individuals in order to assume leadership of the order in future."

 

Stator looked into her eyes for a long while. "You have ambitious plans, Cinis – or, should I rather say, Lady Cinis ?"

"So far our master has not felt inclined to bestow onto me the title of Darth. And if you wish you may paint your own picture about this fact", Cinis replied.

 

This turned the balance. "I will think about what you have told me. And I will remain silent – and keep watching", Stator said.

"Just make sure you are in the meditation room rather often", she whispered as he wrapped his arms around her, let his hands wander over her entire body and kissed her nipples. "Certainly some more meetings will be necessary in order to keep you informed – which, as you can imagine, cannot be done in public – and in order to prepare ourselves for what is very likely to happen."

Instead of an answer, Stator pulled himself up onto her, and Cinis gave in to him in the Force, in lust and passion.

 

 

Back in his quarters Stator pondered over the news Cinis had provided him with. In particular, he wondered about the fact that the name of Skywalker seemed to be mysteriously tied to his former family's life, the Artasis clan. He recalled the tales his grandfather had used to tell, especially those highlighting how the Skywalkers had conjured up the doom of the Artasis clan.

 

At that age, more than 150 years before, the galaxy had been writhing in suffering in the midst of the Clone Wars. Jabiim, too, had been a hard-fought world, presumably due to its mineral resources. Whereas some Jabiimi joined the Separatist movement under their warlord Stratos, the Artasis clan, like many of their kind, supported the Republic. When a Jedi by the name of Anakin Skywalker landed on Jabiim accompanied by his clone troops, asking the local population for support, the Artasis family was among the first to join the fight for the Republic, even though the war was grueling and the Separatists' superiority seemed crushing.

Thus was the situation the Jabiimi found themselves in, when the Jedi betrayed those loyal to him, took his troops and left the planet. The Separatists assumed their rule over Jabiim, expropriating and enslaving all families who had fought for the Republic and executing the clan leaders in public.

 

About 20 years later, after the Battle of Yavin, another Skywalker came to Jabiim. Luke, the Hero of Yavin, who had annihilated the Death Star almost all by himself, asked the people of Jabiim for support to the Rebel Alliance. Some clan leaders – among whom was Demio Artasis – advised not to believe in the Jedi's promises but rather to deliver him and his companions to the Empire, but their call faded without being heard. The Jabiimi hid Skywalker and his friends, helping them to escape.

Darth Vader's revenge was terrible. Meanwhile, Stator had found out that Vader was no one but said Anakin Skywalker who had already betrayed his people and his clan once.

 

And now the moment had come for a Skywalker to enter his, Darth Stator's, life. Again it seemed as if a descendant of this despicable family once more threatened the existence of a member of the Artasis clan. The Jabiimi shook his head in anger. No ! Not this time. He was no longer an Artasis. He was a Sith now. In case Lord Krayt should consider to make a Skywalker become his only hope, Stator's mission would be in vain.

So far, the Sith had savored just enough power to make him determined that he would not accept being deprived of this emotion again. There would be only one solution. Skywalker had to die. There had to be a way. Secrecy, perfidy and patience – the ways of the Sith, as pronounced by Darth Bane.

 

 

In the weeks that followed Stator consulted Darth Bane's holocron more and more often, showing himself increasingly impressed by his teachings referring to the "Rule of Two".

 

"Lord Bane, you say that an apprentice is ready to become the master when he manages to kill his master. But how does an apprentice realize when he has become sufficiently powerful to challenge him ?"

 

"When he feels that his master is is becoming weak. Sith, too, will gradually become weaker and die finally. It is the apprentice's duty then to eliminate the former master, as weakness must not be tolerated in a Sith. We Sith stand for strength and the will to obtain power. Every apprentice, as loyal as he may be to his master, will strive to reach the point of overcoming him to become master himself."

 

"I will meditate about this, Lord Bane." Stator deactivated the holocron and remained on his knees for a few more minutes, pondering over what he had just heard, before he rose to move to his quarters.

 

Darth Stator had just entered a state of deep meditation when his holoprojector announced an incoming message. For a moment, Stator concentrated before activating the device. Contrarily to what he had expected, the figure shaping itself in the projection field was not that of Lord Krayt, but his Voice, Darth Wyyrlok.

 

"Lord Stator", the Chagrian resounded. "Tomorrow at six o'clock standard time you will turn up at docking bay 7. You will be met there by another Sith Lord. Prepare for a mission !"

"As you wish, Mylord !", Stator answered.

Without replying, Wyyrlok broke the connection.

 

The blunt attitude Krayt's Voice was showing towards him annoyed him increasingly; and the unexpected mission order, reaching him the very moment he had attempted to become one with the Dark Side of the Force, surely did not contribute to alleviating his annoyance. Since he had assumed his new position he could not help feeling that Lord Wyyrlok was doing his utmost in order to keep him from continuing his studies. Briefly, Stator thought about this idea, then suppressed his musing in order to get ready for travel.

 

 

The next morning Stator arrived at the designated docking bay, only to find that the other Sith he was supposed to meet there was already waiting for him. Touching the Force, Stator recognized the man who had discovered him, Lord Thrakon.

"Mylord", he greeted him briefly.

Thrakon looked at him amazed. "Ah… Lord Stator. So it is you, Korto. I see you have finally been granted full Sith training."

 

"So it seems, Lord Thrakon. And eventually, the promise you gave to me on Nar Shaddaa has come true."

"Well", Thrakon began, "in this case it seems to be an act of providence that our mission orders us to depart for Nar Shaddaa. Let us board the ship, and I will provide you with further details during our journey !"

Stator nodded, and the two Sith entered the Zabrak's ship, the Rakoth's Bane.

 

"We have received information that three Jedi, accompanied by their Padawan learners, are stranded on the smuggler's world after a crash landing. Apparently, their ship is beyond repair", Thrakon instructed the Jabiimi. "While they were looking for a spacer who could give them a ride off-world, one of our allies has become aware of their efforts, informing us immediately. Our task will be to eliminate the Jedi and, if possible, to recruit one of the Padawan learners for the Dark Side."

 

Darth Stator was surprised. "No artifacts I am supposed to categorize ? No Sith holocrons offered for sale by some obscure dealers ?", he asked.

"I am sorry, Lord Stator, but it seems your particular abilities are not called for on this mission", Thrakon replied.

"Good !", Stator remarked. "I should appreciate a little change !"

 

Upon their arrival on Nar Shaddaa, Thrakon investigated as to the Jedi's hideaway, while Stator used the other Sith's absence to bring forward his own scheme. First of all, he went to visit the drinking holes he still knew from his former life in order to establish a particular contact. He was looking for a hacker capable of making absolutely perfect copies of data cards, making them indistinguishable from the original.

In a joint called "Roaring Rancor" he found what he had been looking for. The young man was skilled enough to do a good job, and clever enough not to claim too many credits for it. During the transaction, Stator wore a light brown coat as a disguise, with a hood allowing him to hide his face, since he did not wish to be recognized as a Sith.

The man disappeared for a short while, then returned with a data card plus a perfect copy. Stator took the data carriers with a nod, paid the man and applied a brief Force push, making him forget all about his latest business. Then he left the bar. In the street, he stopped for a moment, shifted his hood back and took a deep breath.

 

All of a sudden, a familiar voice resounded somewhere behind him. "Kooortoooo !"

Darth Stator turned into the direction the call came from and recognized Flynn, the old smuggler who had once provided him with a living.

"Korto, me boy !", the old man bawled, his voice blurred by considerable amounts of Corellian ale. "I knew youd' come back one day."

Stator did not answer.

"Hey, d'ya know I got a new ship ?", the old man babbled on. "Seems I was just too bored, ain't that right." Flynn took a generous sip from his flask. "I mean, I could use a young guy like you ! What do you say ? Just like in the good old times !"

 

Stator looked deep into the old spacer's eyes. Suddenly, the spacer's alcohol-obscured brain seemed to finalize the correct deductions when he saw Korto's tattoos and his glowing, yellowish-red eyes. "Wow, so you're one of these Dark Side guys now ? I say it ! I've always known…"

"Flynn !" Stator whispered hoarsely. "I was never here, and you have not seen me." Saying so, he gave him a gentle Force push. "You are only dreaming this, because you have been drinking too much !"

The old spacer stood there bewildered, careening slightly, while Stator made use of the delay to hide in the shadows.

"Whoa, that karking booze !" Flynn moaned. "I'll be damned if I haven't imagined seeing good old Korto again !" Puzzled but happy, he stumbled from the scene.

 

The Sith watched the drunk old man stagger away. He could have killed him. But to some extent Flynn had contributed to him being a Sith now. If the old spacer hadn't offered him a ride from Jabiim, back then, he would most probably be dead now, executed as his father's murderer. True, gratefulness was not exactly a Sith virtue, but Flynn's death would not have made Stator enjoy it as a victory over an enemy. His death would have been useless.

With a mixture of amusement and dislike, Stator watched Flynn throwing up into the gutter, only to take a new sip from his flask afterwards. "To my old pal Korto ! He's a fine buddy of mine !", the old man bawled, finally disappearing from Stator's sight.

Stator made a face, then turned to the task waiting for him.

 

Meanwhile, Thrakon had located the Jedi's hideaway, meeting Stator on the spot.

"Lord Stator, I believe it would be helpful to find out whether or not there is a back door. Could you take care of that ?"

Stator nodded briefly.

"And hide yourself in the Force – we do not want to cause unnecessary confusion to our friends !"

"As you wish, Lord Thrakon !" Stator replied, and they parted.

 

The dwelling was shabby, but Jedi do not strive for luxury, which made only one thing unpleasant for the three Jedi and their Padawan learners: waiting. Their ship had crash-landed, and the lives of the six men had only been spared due to them delving deep into the Force during the accident. However, Nar Shaddaa was far from being a safe haven, which forced them – three Jedi Masters and their Padawan learners – to stay in this place, waiting for a ride off the smugglers' moon.

 

"Master Tik", one of the Padawan learners piped up. "What if the spacer betrays us and delivers us to the Sith ?"

Disapprovingly, Heruin Tik looked at his Padawan before replying: "The spacers dislike the Sith almost as strongly as we do. And even if one of them should betray us, have trust in the Force, my young apprentice, then you will…"

He broke off and abruptly stared at the door, together with the two other fully trained Jedi. "Sith !", Master Ashram, a Mon Cal, said in a hollow voice.

"I have felt it, too", Zeera Twan, the third Jedi, a human female from Corellia, retorted.

 

"Master Ashram, take the Padawan learners and leave the building through the back door", Tik commanded. "Zeera and I will hold up the Sith."

As the Mon Cal was leaving the room together with the Padawan learners, the two Jedi assumed battle stance. The moment they activated their lightsabers the door burst apart, making room for Darth Thrakon, Dark Lord of the Sith, who entered the building.

 

"Why are we fleeing, Master ?", one of the Padawan learners asked.

"Your training is not yet complete", Ashram replied. "Even for a Jedi, fighting a Sith is a difficult matter. For a Padawan learner it is simply deadly. But you are the future of our Order, and it is imperative that you be taken to safety. In order to be able to stand your ground against a Sith, you still have to learn a great deal – and still more in order to defeat him."

 

The had reached the back door. With a quick move of his hand, Ashram made the Padawan learners stop. He delved into the Force but could not detect anything suspicious.

"It seems the way is clear", he said to his fosterlings, opening the back door.

 

When all Jedi had left the house, a figure suddenly rose from darkness, much to Ashram's astonishment. He could see the man, but still not sense his presence in the Force.

"Who are you ?", the Jedi asked, obviously surprised.

"I", Stator replied with a slight grin, activating his lightsaber, "am your worst nightmare !"

 

Almost simultaneously, the four Jedi activated their lightsabers, but before they could assume battle formation, Darth Stator leaped over them with a giant somersault, beheading two of the Padawan learners with a wide swing of his weapon and hurling the third one onto the next wall with an enormous Force blow. Then he turned to deal with the Jedi.

Stator felt this one would be harder to defeat, and thus he began with a few petty attacks used in the first few sessions of lightsaber training. He attempted to make the Jedi feel safe which seemed to work. When the Jedi brought a few attacks forward, Stator pretended to be able to parry them only scarcely and with great effort. The false feeling of security made the Jedi careless after a while; and when he imprudently chose a daring form of attack, Stator cut off his sword arm at the elbow with a skillful move. With the Force, the Jedi tried to get a grasp on his lightsaber with his other hand, but again he was met by Stator's blade severing his left hand directly at the wrist.

 

Now Stator turned towards the remaining Padawan learner who had just woken from unconsciousness and was trying to grab his lightsaber. With a quick Force move, the Sith let the weapon fly into his empty left hand.

 

The Padawan's looks alternated between Stator and the dead Jedi. "You are so powerful !", he stammered.

Stator bent down slightly towards him. "Would you also like to be as powerful ?"

"Yes !", the young man whispered. Stator threw him his lightsaber, pointed to the wounded Mon Cal and said: "Then kill him !"

The Jedi apprentice stared at him appalled. "I… I cannot do that !"

Stator bowed his head in a mixture of regret and disdain. "Why not ?"

"He… he is my… my master. I owe him so much…"

 

"Owe him !" the Sith retorted contemptuously. "Jedi babble ! If you want to become as powerful as I am", Stator swung his lightsaber in a complicated mix of movements, letting it come to a halt inches before the Jedi Padawan's throat, "you will only be able to achieve it if you allow the Dark Side to wake inside you. Kill your master and become a Sith, or spare him and die together with him as Jedi !"

Stator stepped back a little, waiting for the Padawan's reaction, who stared at his lightsaber, then at the Dark Lord. He offered the youngster a somber smile and deactivated his weapon. "Or let your rage speak and mow me down !"

 

The young Jedi's looks alternated between the deactivated Sith weapon and his own, betraying him of his own uncertainty as to what he should do next.

 

"Are you afraid ?", Stator asked, and the young Jedi nodded, speechless. Hereupon the Sith threw his lightsaber aside.

"Now I am unarmed, young Jedi. Mow me down with all your hatred and anger, and give in to the Dark Side ! Or kill your… master, and become my apprentice. No matter how you decide, you cannot win. Or do I have to quicken your determination a little ?"

 

Saying so, he pointed into the direction of the injured Jedi, unleashing a cascade of Force lightning onto him which made him writhe in pain. Appalled, the Padawan stared at his suffering master and, with a sudden decision, he activated his weapon.

"No ! Don't do that !", the Mon Calamari shouted at his apprentice. "He wants to pull you to the Dark Side !"

The young Jedi didn't pay any attention but continued to stare at his opponent, who could feel the boy's growing anger in the Force.

 

"No !", he suddenly called out. "I'll never be a part of the Dark Side !" With youthful impetuosity he launched an attack onto the Dark Lord who easily parried the boy's spontaneous blow by taking his sword hand into a Force grip.

"You are already halfway there, young Jedi apprentice. You have just attacked an unarmed man with the intention to kill him." With these words, Stator hurled the young Jedi back.

"You cannot win, little Jedi. Whatever you do – whether you kill your master or me – it will carry you onto the Dark Side, and then you will be serving Lord Krayt as well."

 

Furious, the young Jedi stared at the Sith. Then he looked at his injured master, gazing deep into his eyes, switched his lightsaber off and looked back at Stator.

"You will never manage to pull me to the Dark Side ! I am a Jedi." Having spoken thus, he threw away his lightsaber.

"So be it", the Sith replied. "You will die both." A brief combination of lightsaber blows ended in two heads rolling over the pavement.

 

The moment Stator deactivated his lightsaber, Darth Thrakon stepped through the door.

 

"What has kept you so long, Mylord ?", Stator asked.

"Well", Thrakon answered, "these Jedi are sometimes tougher than you would think."

"Yes", Stator replied slowly, looking at his four victims. "Sometimes they are."

 

"Have you not managed to win any of the Padawan learners for the Dark Side ?"

"I have tried, but he preferred facing death together with his master. I presume I lack the talent for such negotiations."

"Maybe", Thrakon admitted, "but in return you are blessed with other talents which have left your skills unmatched so far."

"Of course I am", the Jabiimi grumbled. "I can extract information from ancient Sith toys nobody else is capable of extracting, and nobody else has any use of."

"No, this is not what I mean, Lord Stator", the Zabrak contradicted. "You are capable of withdrawing your presence from the Force in a way no one will perceive you, not even a Force sensitive being. Or do you think the four Jedi would have resorted to the back door if they had sensed your presence ? The did sense me, and left two of them behind in order to stop me while four others were fleeing. No, these four Jedi definitely have not perceived you in the Force !"

 

"I should say", Stator replied, astounded, "Sith should not be greatly challenged by outwitting Jedi."

"Not only Jedi", Thrakon whispered insinuatingly. "Not even I have sensed you, Darth Stator. For a moment, I even thought you had not assumed your position. Only when you activated your lightsaber I felt your presence again. Now imagine how surprised the Jedi must have been !"

Stator let his gaze wander over the massacre he had just committed, then nodded thoughtfully. "Apparently."

"I say, our work here is done. Let us return."

 

The two Sith left the site of horror without wasting a single final look at their victims.

 

When they arrived at their landing point, they noticed another ship beneath the Rakoth's Bane, about twenty meters long. In former times, it had certainly looked quite impressing, but time had taken its toll in the course of the years. The vessel's construction seemed to date back to the Galactic Civil War, sporting meteorite blows and traces of light blaster bolts all over its hull which had been given makeshift repair only. Frankly speaking, the ship was no more than a heap of scrap metal which appeared to be still flying only because some Imperial bureaucrat had forgotten to sign the scrapping order.

 

An Imperial pilot was standing in front of it. When he recognized the two Sith, he stepped towards them.

 

"Lord Thrakon, Lord Stator ? I am Lieutenant Thar Masson. I have a message for you."

 

The soldier produced a holoprojector and activated it. Darth Wyyrlok's hologram appeared.

"Lords, your mission has changed. You, Lord Thrakon, will return to Coruscant immediately. You, Stator, have orders to accompany Lieutenant Masson to Bespin. The local administrator is suspected of making a deal with the exiled Emperor Fel. Your presence shall serve to remind him that he has pledged allegiance to the Empire which is currently personified by Lord Krayt.

Notify me as soon as you have arrived on Bespin !"

The hologram faded. Amazed, Stator looked at Thrakon, as punishment missions or similar assignments weren't normally part of his line of action.

 

"Well, Lord Stator, it seems we are to part company once again." The two Sith bowed briefly, then made their way to their respective ships.

 

Stator entered the ship, and the pilot showed him the interior. "Please excuse the age and state the ship is in, Mylord", Masson explained. "However, the mission was urgent and no other, better means of transport was available for the moment."

"It will serve its purpose", Stator replied, and followed the officer on his tour through the vessel.

 

The cockpit featured only one seat in front of the controls, but two auxiliary seats further back; moreover, the ship was equipped with two rather spacious cabins. Two pointed projections, the pilot explained, were mounted just below the wings; the left one containing an escape pod, and the right one a cargo hold. The Vector, thus the ship's name, sported a Class 1 hyperdrive as well as two laser cannons mounted on top of the wings. Two more could be found at the rear.

The entire ship gave the impression of a private leisure shuttle which had undergone provisional modifications to fit it with weaponry. Even though it was completely outdated, Stator found himself liking it somehow. As the left cabin was filled with cargo, he selected the other one and stowed away his baggage.

 

Since the journey from Nar Shaddaa to Bespin would take some time, Darth Stator chose to delve into deep meditation, making him touch realms of the Force he had never reached so far, as he had never before remained in Dark Side meditation for so long. Shortly after falling into trance he sensed the pilot's conscience, then he penetrated further into the Dark Side until he suddenly beheld Darth Bane's countenance. The long death Sith Lord looked deep into Stator's eyes and conveyed a subconscious message to him: "There shall be only two. No more. One master, one apprentice. Only thus the Sith cult will live on !"

Stator plunged even deeper into the Force. The obscure figures of ancient Sith appeared before his eyes, but the utterances they made were in languages he didn't understand. Just as he intended to reach an even deeper level of Dark Side meditation, he all of a sudden lost his concentration. A disturbance in the Force pulled him back to reality.

 

Stator blinked to accustom his eyes to the darkness the room was filled with. Wondering what could have pulled him out of his deep Force meditation, he quickly touched the Force and discovered that he was apparently alone on board. Stator rose and walked towards the cockpit.

As he expected, he found it empty. A brief check indicated that the escape pod was missing.

 

When Stator evaluated the data provided by the navigation computer he found that the ship's course had been set for the nearest sun, condemning it to rapid destruction in the nuclear fire of a star. This looked just like the second time someone was out to kill him. And who knew, perhaps even his recent missions on Melkenda and Nar Shaddaa had been no more than traps. The only thing that had saved his life so far seemed to be the fact that the assassin obviously possessed insufficient information as to his skills and knowledge.

Grinning, Stator remembered old Flynn. The spacer had always been hot for booze, and in order to keep drinking during travel, he had begun early to provide young Korto with profound spaceship piloting training. Now, this training enabled the Sith to reprogram the navigation computer.

 

"Good old Flynn", Stator thought. "Now this is the second time he saved my ass without knowing it."

 

The Jabiimi programmed a course leading not to Bespin but elsewhere. If he was to be officially considered dead, no one would ask any further questions about him, and he would be free to put into action the plan he had long been eager to go about. Determined, he programmed the new course and disappeared in hyperspace shortly thereafter.

 

 

It was in the small hours when Cinis was violently ripped from sleep. Outside, it was still dark, and relative quietness prevailed in the Temple; yet she sensed a strong disturbance in the Force. Something was going on, and it felt as if a foreign presence had intruded into the Temple.

 

Without losing time, she jumped out of bed and got dressed. When she left her quarters, she surrounded herself with that cloak of inconspicuousness she had already made effective use of in her earlier years, then she followed the summoning of the Force which guided her deep into the Temple's guts, down to the lower levels dedicated to logistics and garbage disposal, until she reached a facility used to collect wastewater which, before being shifted to a city sewage plant, served to house and feed a Dianoga.

Quickly, Cinis climbed onto a maintenance catwalk above the wastewater basin, wrinkling her nose, as, well understandably, the place wasn't exactly what one would call fragrant. With the help of the Force, she pushed back the disgust rising inside her, since the feeling that something would happen any second rapidly grew stronger and stronger.

 

The same moment the feeling of a foreign presence became overpowering, she noticed a movement in the dim light of the service illumination. Two figures were sneaking along the walkway beside the wastewater basin, trying to avoid making any noise. When they moved towards Cinis, she recognized one of them as the Bothan Jedi prisoner Hosk Trey'lis who was wearing a dark coat obviously handed to him by his companion. With him, there was a young man sporting bright blond, disheveled hair of medium length. He was dressed in tight fitting black pants, heavy boots, a torn black sleeveless shirt as well as a segmented chest armor, adorned with a stylized black symbol and looking worn and twisted. Below his belt from which – Cinis could hardly believe her eyes – a lightsaber hung, a wide, red sash was visible; red were also the cloth bandages he wore around his lower arms, and his tattoos – an abstract symbol and some kind of skull with crossed bones below it – on his left arm. His hands were covered by black gloves; and now he stopped dead in his tracks, pulling the lightsaber from his belt.

 

Abruptly, Cinis understood whom she was seeing, when the isolated pictures she had viewed now and then during her intel work fell into place with his overwhelming Jedi presence. The young man was no one but Cade Skywalker, and apparently busy releasing Hosk Trey'lis from Sith imprisonment.

 

That same moment sirens wailed into life while powerful lights bathed the walkway next to the basin in a merciless white gleam. Instinctively, Cinis retreated further into the remaining shadows on the maintenance catwalk and delved deeper into the Force to avoid attracting attention. However, she was spared the decision for or against possible action when a third figure stormed towards Trey'lis and Skywalker from the other side of the walkway.

 

When the figure activated a lightsaber, Cinis recognized her as Darth Talon, Lord Krayt's Twi'lek hand. At incredible speed, the Sith raced towards the two men, in her full, exotic beauty with her Lekku swinging wildly behind her; and in running, she lifted one hand, hurling the Bothan towards the rear wall with a well-aimed Force push which left him unconscious. Without halting, she jumped onto Skywalker with her lightsaber raised in front of her, but after a brief exchange of blows he parried her attack with his shining, green blade, seemingly without effort.

They were shouting at each other. Cinis took a sharp breath when she saw Darth Talon's lightsaber fly from her hand while Skywalker now threatened her with his own weapon. All of a sudden defeated and vulnerable, the Twi'lek woman crouched on the floor before him, but he did not get a chance to wield the killing blow. The next moment, Skywalker was pushed back and began gasping for air. His hands raced up to his throat, his lightsaber flew out of reach.

 

Seething with rage at her own gaucheness, Talon rose slowly, as Cinis watched the figure of Darth Nihl move out of the shadow and towards Skywalker, with his Force grip tight on the young man's throat. He squatted beside the gasping man, intensifying his grip until his victim lost consciousness.

 

Cinis heard Darth Talon spitting angrily: "I do not need your assistance, Nihl."

The Nagai didn't even so much as look at her, concentrating on Skywalker instead, and replied laconically, imitating Talon's impolite way of speaking: "I am not doing this to help you. I am doing this because I am interested in him." Again, he lifted his hand, intending to deliver Skywalker from unconsciousness to death – and was forced to stop when Talon's lightsaber blade came to a halt only centimeters from his face. Cinis heard her snarling brusquely at Lord Nihl, savoring her small triumph: "I am here at our Lord Krayt's command. He wants Skywalker alive."

 

Slowly, Nihl moved back from his victim, pulled back his hand and grumbled: "Too bad." The gaze he threw at Talon when he lifted his head and looked into her face was filled with rage he wasn't taking much effort to conceal. Apparently the only fact that kept him from decapitating Talon for her impertinence was his own commitment to Lord Krayt and his demanded submission under his will. He rose to his feet and, holding back his anger with difficulty only, spat: "But if Lord Krayt demands it, we will obey, won't we ?"

Abruptly he turned and walked away to report to his master, leaving Talon, Skywalker and the Bothan Jedi behind.

 

With care, Cinis retreated. She had seen enough. Surely, Skywalker would now be taken to Lord Krayt or Lady Maladi. To ensure no one would suspect her presence, she decided to return to her quarters, to continue with her fitness training and then turn up at her workplace no earlier than the usual hour. However, she had hardly covered two thirds of the way leading from the service level to the inhabitants' quarters inside the spaciousness of the Temple when a hand grabbed her by her upper arm and pulled her with strength into a murky corner of the corridor filled but with dim service lighting.

When she whirled around she stared into Lord Nihl's red eyes.

 

"Do not make any sound", he whispered. "I know you watched what happened."

Cinis froze first, then nodded. Apparently her shield had sufficed to remain hidden from Darth Talon whose perception seemed to be a little more rough-textured compared to the Nagai warrior's sharp senses; and both Trey'lis and Skywalker had been distracted well enough by the Twi'lek's sudden appearance. Darth Nihl, however, she had not managed to fool.

 

"This very moment Cade Skywalker is being taken to Lady Maladi's laboratory where he will be interrogated in presence of Lord Krayt", Nihl whispered. "Of course, you cannot enter there right now. But maintain your contacts as well as you can; make use of this coming day ! It is possible – and I have any reason to suspect so – that this encounter will not end with Skywalker's death. He is too valuable. Rather, Lord Krayt might even convince him to join us – be it voluntarily or by force. Try to find out what will happen !"

Having spoken thus, he released her and disappeared in the labyrinth of corridors.

 

For Cinis, the day began with the usual routine. Following her fitness training, she washed, had breakfast and turned up at her workplace, only to discover the meaningful fact that Lady Maladi was absent. She tried to find out something about what was going on, but no pertinent information could be found in the system. However, when she used the hacker codes to access Lord Wyyrlok's internal data she learnt what was on schedule for Darth Stator. Shortly, he was due to accomplish a mission on Nar Shaddaa together with Darth Thrakon, a Zabrak Cinis had not yet got to know in person: a group of Jedi on the run would meet their annihilation there.

 

When she had accomplished her lightsaber training consisting once more of two training battles – the first, as usual, against Darth Levouan, and the second against a rather impetuous Rodian – Darth Maladi finally called upon her to meet her in her private office.

The door closed behind Cinis, and she bowed before Maladi. "Mylady", she said, "I am at your service."

 

Maladi gave her a slight nod, then began to speak.

"This is for your information, Lady Cinis. I understand you are aware that Cade Skywalker has intruded into the Temple and has been detained. He has been interrogated by me and tested by Lord Krayt, with the result that we are entirely convinced of the overwhelming potential of his healing powers. The test was of a very personal nature which even increased the authenticity of the result, as we have made use of his companions Jariah Syn and Deliah Blue. In fact, he has managed to heal these two persons within just a few minutes from the effects of the Yuuzhan Vong coral seeds I planted into them at Lord Krayt's command.

Lord Krayt wants Skywalker at his side, and he has agreed to pay attention to his further commands in order to save his friends. In three days' time, another discussion is scheduled; and for reasons which are of no further importance here I do suspect that neither Lord Nihl nor myself will take part in it. Therefore you are ordered to concentrate your research, following this conversation, to Lord Wyyrlok's personal records in order to find out which result this discussion will furnish. With view to Skywalker's Force potential, you will understand this will be of utmost importance. Bring me the information I require."

 

Cinis nodded. "Of course, Mylady. You may rely on me."

Maladi gave her a piercing look, then continued.

"Meanwhile, I have another mission for you. You will travel to Corellia to deliver another traitor to his fate." She informed Cinis of the details. "When you have killed him, you will return without delay. You will depart at once."

Cinis bowed. "As you command, Mylady."

 

Darth Maladi dismissed her, and Cinis prepared to have dinner on board of the Firestorm before eliminating another enemy of the Sith order early the next morning.

 

Three days later, when she was busy viewing Darth Wyyrlok's internal records as commanded, Cinis could not help but be amazed at Lady Maladi's foreboding. Following Lord Krayt's revelations regarding his own history, Cade Skywalker had indeed defected to the Sith Order. Whether he had done so by conviction or for strategic reasons remained unclear; however, Skywalker was in fact a member of the Sith Order now. He had been clothed and received his quarters while no one else but Darth Talon had assumed the task of providing his training.

Cinis was certain that Lord Krayt had chosen this constellation to be able to keep an eye on Skywalker, since trust in someone else was something a Sith could not afford to have. Talon was meant to serve as reassurance to put Skywalker to the test and find out his true intentions in case it should turn out he was trying to deceive them, but also to conjure up his very own conviction that the ways of the Sith were the only way for him. She was to train him in martial arts as well as the Order's history, and it was her mission to do her very best to make Skywalker wish to become one with the Order. For this latter point she was authorized to use any means she deemed useful, including her physical attractiveness. In case she should fail binding Lord Krayt's last hope to the Sith Order by conviction, then she would perhaps be successful by resorting to passion.

 

Darth Maladi didn't seem greatly pleased about the latest news – at least, Cinis sensed so in the Force when she delivered the requested information to her mistress. It almost seemed as if Cade Skywalker's enlistment in the Sith Order was the alternative she liked least, for reasons Cinis could but suspect. Perhaps Maladi had been speculating for Lord Krayt's death in order to assume power herself afterwards and to reign over the Order with Darth Nihl as her Hand. Apparently, somebody capable of bring Darth Krayt healing and prolong his life – and, thus, his reign – was a thorn in her side.

Naturally, Maladi kept her feelings well hidden, commenting Cinis' report with her usual, brief nod before dismissing her.

 

Cinis was pleased not to receive any further assignments for the time being. Skywalker had aroused her interest, and she took up to accomplish a training battle with him some time later when he would have become accustomed a little to life in the Order. She was eager to get the chance to exchange a few words with this living legend, and decided to contact Darth Talon soonest possible in order to fix a training date with Skywalker.

Another reason for her great interest was the fact that Lord Stator had never returned from his mission with Darth Thrakon. Actually, he should have turned up in the Temple again days ago – it seemed as if he had received another field mission immediately after having accomplished his previous one. So far, the records had not provided any information as to what had happened to him; and Cinis was rather happy to have something she could concentrate on, as in the recent past she had been thinking about Lord Stator more than just once in a while.

 

The next morning she contacted Darth Talon. The Twi'lek's image appeared in the holoprojector's transmission field, and Cinis dropped to one knee before Lord Krayt's Hand.

"Lady Talon", she said, bowing. "I hear you have a new apprentice. I should be glad to challenge him for a training battle in order to further both his and my own exercise."

Talon offered her a thin smile, apparently she felt flattered. "You are Cinis, aren't you ?", she asked, in a tone not unfriendly yet slightly condescending which was typical for her. Cinis nodded.

"You are free to have a training session with my apprentice", Talon continued. "If you wish you may arrange a training battle with him as early as tomorrow afternoon. So far, he has fought against me only, and his performance would easily allow to challenge a different opponent as well."

"Thank you, Mylady", Cinis said. "I will await you and your apprentice tomorrow afternoon in the training room."

 

It turned out the date for the training battle had been chosen well. The next day, Lord Wyyrlok's records laconically proclaimed that Darth Stator had been killed on his way to his next mission on Bespin directly following his assignment on Nar Shaddaa, in an accident resulting in the destruction of his shuttle.

 

That moment Cinis was glad that Sith, just like the Jedi, did not allow themselves to create emotional attachment to others, as this would definitely have done harm to her now. All she sensed was a slight pinch of regret at the fact that she would now no longer be able to sense the attractive Jabiimi in the Force – and inside her body – then she pushed away all further thoughts, concentrated on her plans for the current day and delved into the Dark Side helping her to transform the emotions trying to press themselves on her.

She forced herself to be angry at Stator. Even though she had to make up an artificial reason for it deep inside her, she nevertheless managed, at least partially. A thought that helped was the fact that in case they made the mistake to create a mutual emotional attachment they would probably be ordered to kill each other.

 

Darth Talon was already waiting for Cinis in the training room, with Skywalker at her side. The young man cast a curious look at her when she entered, and Cinis was impressed by his awesome appearance she had only gotten the chance to check out from a certain distance during her recent nocturnal activities. The clothes he was wearing reflected the looks of his previous equipment, only now all elements were black and accentuated in red, including the segmented chest armor and newly added arm pieces, reminding her of her own gear.

The tattoos Skywalker wore were not Sith style, and Cinis guessed he would never sport such; only his right upper arm and the back of his left hand had received two abstract, black patterns which suited him well.

 

He let the gaze of his blueish-green eyes wander over her – significantly, they had not yet taken on the color typical for a Sith – when Cinis gave him a nod, then bent her knee before Darth Talon.

Darth Talon turned to Skywalker and said briefly: "Today you will not fight against me. This Sith has requested a training battle with you."

 

Skywalker flashed a boyish grin. "What if I don't want to fight against her ?", he asked.

"You have nothing to demand", Talon retorted. "I am your mistress, and I have granted her this fight with you. Give your best."

Having said so, she walked out of the room, leaving Cinis and Skywalker behind.

 

Rising to her feet, Cinis activated her lightsaber. "Let us begin", she said.

Skywalker nodded, lifted his weapon and, after a moment of hesitation, launched an attack – so rapidly that Cinis found it hard to become attuned to his fighting style. He was indeed incredibly strong in the Force – stronger than herself, she realized with discomfort. Merely the fact that so far he had not received regular and painstaking lightsaber training – a fact the relatively short time during which he had been training with Darth Talon had not managed to change to a great extent – allowed her to crow over him. His technique was first class, the combination of various styles and alternating attacks and parries no less than masterly, but after a while Cinis realized he was tiring rapidly. He fought well, but lacked concentration; his thoughts were on other things all the time. Thus, without him managing to strike so much as only once, she managed to end the fight with a powerful blow into his chest armor. The moment Skywalker raised his hand to hurl her away with the help of the Force, Cinis beat him to it, launching a heavy Force push on him, then storming forward, letting her lightsaber blade penetrate his armor and hurt his shoulder.

Skywalker gave a brief shriek, staggered back and crashed to the floor, his lightsaber rolling away. Cinis jumped upon him and closed their encounter by putting the tip of her blade to his throat, similar to how she had done it in her victorious battle against her own mistress.

 

“I guess that’s it“, she reckoned, switching off her lightsaber. Skywalker cursed, sat up and loosened his chest armor, revealing a gaping wound. Stepping back, Cinis said: “A case for the medical section. But beforehand, I would like to exchange a few words with you.”

Again, that grin lit up on his face, as if he wasn’t feeling any paint at all. “No problem, Mylady”, he answered. “Just a moment.”

 

Later, Cinis knew she would never ever forget the uncanny spectacle that had taken place right in front of her eyes. She saw him raising his hand to his injured shoulder and closing his eyes for a second. All of a sudden, his body seemed to be wrapped in blueish light, similar to Sith lightning but nevertheless slightly different. He writhed, gasping for air, and then his eyes met Cinis’ in a piercing gaze. She cringed when she saw his eyes change their color – from his natural blueish green to the yellowish red of the Sith.

Then, the next moment, the corona around him disappeared, he straightened up and rose to his feet. The injury was gone. Hadn’t it been for the jagged rent in his shirt, he looked as if he had never been hit by her blade. And just a few seconds later his eyes had resumed their natural color.

 

Cinis‘ eyes widened. She was aware that Skywalker disposed of such powers, but to personally witness a healing process so spectacular proved to be a stunning experience. Apparently he could make use of the possibility to deliberately switch to the Dark Side but keep it from assuming control – contrarily to the Sith whose eye color attested to them having turned, with body and soul, into a servant of the Dark Side.

 

He was still grinning at her, reveling in her astonishment.

“You know who I am ?” he asked.

“Yes”, Cinis replied. “I do. You are a living legend, do you know that ?”

„If you choose to call it like that“, Skywalker reckoned. “I’m just trying to find out which way to go. That isn’t always as easy as it looks, you know.”

„Your duty is to become one with the Dark Side of the Force and to bring your immanent Sith potential to perfection”, Cinis reminded him. “In order to serve Lord Krayt the way he demands it from you.”

Skywalker nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face. For a while, he remained silent, then he said “I have sworn to Lord Krayt to serve him in order to save my friends.”

 

„The mistake you are making is to allow yourself to develop strong emotional attachment to other beings”, Cinis reproached him. “This impedes your development and prevents you from being able to truly use the Force to your advantage. I have realized the potential which lies in the Dark Side of the Force, and I take advantage of it. From it, I draw passion, strength and power, as expressed in our Code. And one day, when my time will have come, it will lead me to my own, personal victory.

Yet, there is one thing we have in common. I, too, have sworn to serve Lord Krayt, and this is what I am doing – besides other things, by supporting your training and contributing to the improvement of our mutual fighting skills.”

 

„I don’t want to argue with you, Mylady“, Skywalker said, “but for now take it for granted that I intend to keep my promise. I am a member of your Order, and I will serve Lord Krayt.” He gave her another haunting look. “I see you aren’t bearing the usual tattoos the way most Sith do”, he continued. “Are you originally from Korriban ?”

 

„That would be none of your business“, Cinis replied, “but to answer your question: No. I was born and raised on Coruscant, and” – her voice now resounded with pride – “seven years ago, when Lord Krayt assumed his current position of power, I joined the order of my own free wil, entirely based on my own decision. I left my former life behind and betook myself to the Temple to request admission. Lord Krayt has submitted me to his test and found me worthy of becoming a Sith. That moment I finally became one with the Dark Side, and I am proud to contribute to making Lord Krayt’s vision of the One Sith come true.”

 

Skywalker took a deep breath. “May I ask what your test was ?”

Cinis paused, her gaze fixed on him for several seconds.

“I have killed my own sister”, she then said snippily. “And before you ask: I did not care. She no longer had a meaning to me; indeed she meant just as much – or as little – to me as I did to her and the rest of my family at that time. She was the touchstone; her death was necessary in order to irrevocably unite me with the Dark Side, enabling me to serve Lord Krayt and his vision.”

 

It was clear to see that Skywalker was taking great effort not to let the horror he was feeling become visible to her. Nonetheless, he could not prevent himself from becoming perceivable in the Force when he couldn’t help envisioning what could have happened if Darth Krayt had ordered to infect him with the Vong coral seeds, too, and then had made him choose between saving his friends and his own healing – even though this did not correspond with the plans Lord Krayt had for him. But intelligent beings are usually blessed with a vivid imagination, and Cinis enjoyed sensing how much this idea was torturing him.

 

„If you like we can arrange another training fight any time“, she finally closed the conversation. “I am certain you are enjoying an excellent training by Lady Talon. Whenever you feel like practicing I will be glad to join you, as it is for my own benefit as well. And in case you should seek a change I can recommend my former mistress. Ask for Darth Levouan. She is an outstanding fighter and has been training me for seven years.”

 

For a long while, Skywalker didn’t say a single word, trying to make up his mind with view to Cinis’ revelations about her devotion to the Dark Side of the Force. Judging from the carefree sort of life he had been living so far, it seemed he had never before taken into consideration such serious decisions. Obviously he was convinced to be standing there with expressionless features, but Cinis perceived the traces of his emotions racing like shadows over his face; invisible for non-Force sensitive beings, but mere pleasure for a Sith.

Then, however, his features grew cold and hard – apparently, he was now using a technique for hiding his feelings deep inside him – and answered: „I’ll be glad to accept your offer once in a while. Tomorrow I’ll ask for Lady Levouan, and I will be glad to fight against her.”

Cinis nodded slightly, and Skywalker repeated the movement, imitating a bow, and thus they went separate ways.

 

As a matter of course, Cinis contacted Lady Maladi without further delay. In the privacy of Maladi’s office, she told the head of Sith intel about her training fight and her conversation with Cade Skywalker, while the Devaronian woman listened to her attentively.

 

„Stay close to him as well as you can“, Maladi ordered her when she had finished. “Lady Talon will certainly take care herself of the largest part of observation on Lord Krayt’s behalf, directly and intensely.” A trace of a slightly derisive smile crept in the corners of her mouth. “But with everything you are watching and finding out you can do me – and Lord Nihl” – the derisive smile intensified – “a service no less valuable.”

Cinis bowed. “As you command, Mylady.”

 

When, following her dinner in the Temple’s refectory, she entered her quarters to finally take a shower, get rid of her clothes and go to sleep after a last session of meditation, Cinis wasn’t too surprised to find Darth Nihl in her room. News did indeed travel fast inside the Temple.

 

„You have had a fight against Cade Skywalker ?“, he began without greeting, indicating merely a slight bow with his head.

Cinis responded, bowing her head slightly as well: „Yes, Mylord. He is a good fighter and very, very strong in the Force. But his concentration is low. His thoughts are on a thousand things, anything but what he is actually doing. This weakens him. And, of course, there is his attachment to his friends, which makes him vulnerable and easy prey. If he wants to serve Lord Krayt with all his strength – provided that is his intention - he will have to work on himself a great deal.”

 

Lord Nihl nodded. „I had the same idea when I was fighting against him. As you know, this was definitely a life-or-death struggle, yet despite his enormous strength, Skwalker’s concentration was not a jot better than what you have just described to me. This is why no blood has been shed. But you are surely aware he will represent a danger for all of us, should Lord Krayt manage to shape him according to his requirements ?”

 

„Of course, Mylord. If he pledges his allegiance to the Sith order, we must assure us of his loyalty”, Cinis said.

„That is true“, Lord Nihl admitted. “As Lady Maladi has already advised you, you should stay close to Cade Skywalker as long as possible. Watch him, accomplish training battles with him, talk to him, sleep with him, if you like and if he joins in. In our striving to guard against possible betrayal he is of utmost importance.

“I will do that, Lord Nihl”, Cinis replied.

 

„Good“, the Nagai said, then let his gaze wander over her, full of unveiled desire. “Now take off your clothes and come to me so that we can enjoy each other.”

Cinis got undressed, fell to her knees before him, and once again nothing existed for both of them but the blazing of their mutual desire as Darth Nihl indulged in his pleasure together with her.

 

 

When the Dark Fist – thus Stator had called the ship he had taken possession of – emerged from hyperspace, it orbited a moon known in the galaxy as Endor. Some called it the Sanctuary Moon, as it had remained almost completely untouched by civilization. Stator was looking for the orbit where, more than a hundred years before, the second Death Star of Palpatine’s Empire had exploded. It was there where the last Lord of the Sith who had stuck to the Rule of Two had lost his life.

 

Having reached the correct orbit, the Sith manipulated the ship’s controls to ensure they would activate, the moment he generated a certain impulse, the thrusters in a way that they countervailed the moon’s rotation.

Satisfied with his work, Stator delved deep into the Dark Side of the Force. When he had accomplished half of the complete orbit, he suddenly felt a deep obscurity, and he generated the impulse required to activate the maneuver he had programmed.

 

He sensed a presence of the Dark Side he had so far perceived in this intensity from Darth Krayt only.

„Darth Sidious, is that you ?“, he asked, his breath almost catching.

A crooked figure appeared before his mind’s eye, seeming to consist of no more than a wrinkled cloak. Under the hood, however, yellow eyes flared.

“Who are you to seek me out in my desertion ?” a brittle voice sounded.

“I am called Darth Stator !” the Jabiimi answered.

 

"Daaaarrrtthh…" the specter retorted. „So the Sith have survived after my death. Are you the apprentice or the master, Darth Stator ?”

„At the moment there are many of us. Our master is Darth Krayt, Galactic Emperor.”

 

The Force presence of the ancient Sith Lord burst into malicious laughter.

"Hahahahahahah……..when I was Emperor there was hardly anybody who knew that I am a Sith…secrecy, perfidy and patience are a Sith’s weapons. The way Darth Bane taught it…many Sith…that is heresy…Only two there may be, otherwise the galaxy will succumb to the chaos of the Sith Wars.”

 

Stator interjected: „You were the last Sith who lived according to the Rule of Two, but you, too, have failed.”

“Because I had but inadequate apprentices. The first one, Maul, was only keen on fighting, a battle machine, without the will to press ahead with the Dark Side. The second one, Tyranus, was an aristocrat, incapable of arranging his views as a nobleman with the teachings of the Sith. The third was rather promising at first, but Vader still had too much of the Light Side of the Force in him. Deficient, like all the others.”

 

„Now a large number of Sith exists, and all of them are united under the banner of our master, Darth Krayt. His vision of the One Sith is meant to unify the galaxy. The entire galaxy – one Sith !” , Stator replied.

“Nonsense !” Palpatine’s ghost let a bundle of lightning shoot from his hand. “Only two ! Only two there may be. What sort of Sith are those ? Some of them nothing but battle machines, the rest of them blind servants. Which of them has the potential to kill the master and take his place ?”

 

The face of Darth Wyyrlok III. imposed itself on Stator, but he ignored it, listening, spellbound, to the words of the long dead Sith master.

 

„And what if this one Sith dies ?“, Sidious continued. “Then the Sith will savage each other again, just like they did when Naga Sadow died, when the Sith Emperor died, and uncountable times before and after. Look at your ‘Order of the One Sith’ ! Isn’t it already full of schemings, power struggles, perhaps even assassinations, to prepare for this time ?”

 

Tatooine…Melkenda….Nar Shaddaa….his own descent into the sun. Suddenly Stator realized that Sidious was right. The specter of a Sith who had been dead for more than a hundred years was presaging what might happen. What would happen.

All of a sudden, he awakened to all what was wrong inside the Sith Order. Persons calling themselves Sith, even bearing the title of Darth, but serving as battle machines and tools, as assassins and mercenaries. Krayt’s vision of the entire galaxy living under the Sith philosophy now appeared to him as a profound abomination. Some time in the future there would be a “Darth Nerfherder” or a “Darth Miner”.

 

Stator clenched his fists. He had to go back in order to disentangle the matted threads, to lead the Sith back to their only and true existence.

“I must leave you now, Lord Sidous !”

„Stay !“ the ghost of the former Galactic Emperor retorted. “I sense an ability in you I can train.”

„What would that be ?“ Stator asked.

„You can extract hidden information from lifeless objects. There is a people, the Kiffar, who can do something similar. They can read objects. This ability can be acquired and brought to perfection by using the Dark Side, especially with view to objects which have been exposed to the presence of the Dark Side for a long time.”

 

The young Sith’s attention had been aroused. “And can you teach me this skill ?” he asked.

“I can do that.”

Thus Darth Stator decided to remain just a little longer in the orbit of Endor.

 

 

In the course of the following weeks Cinis made several attempts to come near Cade Skywalker, but with little effort. The mysterious young man proved surprisingly tight-lipped; and even though Cinis tried to sound him out after each of the two additional training fights she accomplished with him during the two weeks that followed, Skywalker hardly revealed anything about himself Cinis hadn’t already come to know by her own research. The only subject she managed to extract a few words from him on was the way he accomplished his spectactular healings – presumably because he was proud of it himself, Cinis realized with a taunting smile. Pride – an important emotion for a Sith.

Skywalker was closer to the Dark Side than he believed – even though he tried hard to maintain the illusion of his devotion to the Order.

With view to the continuous half-heartedness of his fighting and the lack of concentration his aura indicated she soon concluded that he either deliberately pretended to have defected to the Sith Order, or he was struggling to convince himself of this fact although it wasn’t the truth.

 

He used to see other persons like a pattern of red lines, he had explained to her. Wherever these lines showed anomalies he purposefully directed his imminent power onto the respective place in order to untie the knot and initiate the healing process.

 

More and more often, Cinis got the impression that he pondered over what might happen if he administered the flux of his powers in a way that they exceeded their beneficial effect and became strong enough to tear apart his victim from inside. That which heals can kill, too. He was really incredibly close to the Dark Side – and yet he made himself withdraw from it each time he indulged in using it.

She had tried to apply her persuasiveness to seduce him, but Skywalker hadn’t let himself be carried away to more than exchanging a few passionate kisses. Cinis could feel his arousal, but he took great pains with containing himself. It was clearly difficult for him, and Cinis was annoyed to realize that she would have no occasion to share with him to the full extent the pleasure the touch of their lips and tongues gave her. She felt a strong conflict inside him each time he forced himself, after a short while, to turn away from her and ask her to leave him alone.

Cinis stared at him as the knowledge what Darth Talon would do to him shortly struck her like lightning. This time he would not be able to hold his fire.

The thought swelled her arousal even further, and she hurried to her quarters to take time enjoying it.

 

Lady Maladi, in her role as contact between Cinis and Darth Nihl, proved little pleased about the fact that Cade Skywalker seemed to resist almost all attempts to extract information from him. Nevertheless, she seemed relieved to see his obvious lack of ambition which made it easy to distract him.

When Cinis followed along this train of thought she discovered the apprehension which fueled their doings. The main focus of everything wasn’t merely on delivering Darth Krayt from the effects of the Vong coral seeds and restoring his health. Regardless of that, Lord Krayt was nevertheless old, very old; and even if he achieved perfect health again within one single day, his death would be inevitable some time, within a foreseeable distance. No one lives forever, not even a Sith having achieved an unnatural extension of his life span with the help of the Dark Side of the Force. Lord Krayt, too, even if he was completely healed, would die some day in a not too far-off future – and therefore he was looking for a worthy successor. Somebody young, vibrant and energetic enough to accept his inheritance – Lord Krayt’s visition of the One Sith. Who would be more appropriate than Cade Skywalker, provided he committed himself to the Dark Side by undergoing his training to become a powerful Sith ?

Neither Maladi nor Nihl put sufficient trust in Krayt to let one of them take his place. Talon was too unexperienced, Stryfe too impulsive and Wyyrlok, in his current position as consultant, too important to change it.

 

Now Cinis realized why she had always felt Lady Maladi radiating a slight tinge of fear whenever she had been speaking to her about Cade Skywalker. Maladi was sensing Skywalker’s power – he was strong enough to eliminate them all, should Lord Krayt appoint him as his successor.

 

A few days later, however, the bearer of that great name crossed himself out of the equation, at least for the time being.

 

Cinis was on her return flight from one of her field missions she still had to accomplish as her official scope of duties. Just a few hours earlier she had done her job in a rather seedy part of the city, delivering death to a Muun banker suspected of supporting the Republic by providing money to the followers of the former Emperor. Cinis had put an end to this by ramming her lightsaber blade through him, just before the bastard had managed to fire the blaster he had suddenly produced from where it had been hidden in his sleeve. Admittedly, she, too, had to act rapidly, as the moment she stood face to haggard face with her potential victim she perceived a slight trembling of the Force in his presence. Not much, just sufficient to accelerate his movements a little.

During his everyday work, this had certainly proved an advantage for him when dealing with entirely non-Force sensitive beings, but he had no chance against the reflexes of a fully trained, highly Force sensitive Sith.

This was one of the aspects Cinis liked about her work – that the strong triumphed over the weak, simply and clearly, without dodging, fishy compromises and weakly babble over explicit situations. The weak succumb and die. The strong are victorious. No more, no less.

For a moment, she had to think of Cade Skywalker again. For him, all these things were infinitely complicated. Inside him, the strength of an immensely high Force potential met the weakness of sympathy for others. If he didn’t manage to submit his personality to an essential change, he would continue standing in his own way for the rest of his life.

 

The Temple’s hovercab was making its way to its docking place, and Cinis was watching the Sith Temple below them through the porthole. They were approaching the Temple’s hangar when the vessel suddenly started shaking wildly. Flames and smoke shot from the hangar gates, and the pilot fought hard to swerve just in time. For whatever reason, an explosion must have taken place inside the Temple. Cinis touched the Force to avoid being hurled against the cabin wall, but the next moment the effect of the blast wave faded.

Fortunately, the pilot – an experienced soldier who had been serving the Order for a long time – was familiar with his routine instructions. Quickly, he changed course to approach one of the Temple’s three emergency landing platforms located in various upper levels. On their way to the platform, Cinis’ breath caught when she saw that the large window in Darth Krayt’s throne room had been shattered. When she whirled around hectically, she could only just see the silhouette of the Mynock, Cade Skywalker’s ship, racing away at high speed. She now guessed what had happened. Skywalker had shed the mask of the Sith apprentice and had fled, in his characteristic, chaotic style.

 

The moment the hovercab descended, minutes later, with screeching engines onto the landing platform, Cinis was already on her way. She jumped off the ramp and ran into the Temple, heading for Darth Krayt’s throne room she soon reached after a powerful sprint. The Temple’s alarm was wailing, and hangar personnel was doubtlessly busy confining the impact of the detonation – obviously a bomb with the sole purpose to distract from Skywalker’s escape.

She hardly noticed that she had pulled her lightsaber from her belt and was storming through the corridors with activated blade. Anyone trying to get in her way now would have been inevitably mowed down.

 

In the throne room, chaos reigned. Debris from the broken window framing and pieces of red-tinted transparisteel covered the floor. No trace of Skywalker – as expected – but apparently no one at all seemed to be present, neither Lord Krayt nor anybody else. Cinis looked around, searching, and all of a sudden she perceived a presence in the Force.

At the opposite end of the room, near the door, she noticed a figure squatting or cowering on the floor; and with horror she realized that it was Lord Nihl.

 

Following his impact on the floor of the throne room and the subsequent, brief unconsciousness, Darth Nihl had struggled to pull himself to his knees with the help of his remaining left arm and was now using all his powers to alleviate his pain. With his left hand, he was clutching the stump of his right upper arm which had been cut plain in half. Shuddering, Cinis spotted Nihl’s right arm and hand on the floor several meters away, the fingers pointing upward in a claw-like twist. The Nagai warrior’s light spear was lying in the opposite corner, deactivated.

 

Cinis switched off her lightsaber, raced towards him, dropped to her knees and touched him in the Force. “Mylord”, she gasped, out of breath, “what happened ?”

 

Lord Nihl raised his head and looked at Cinis, his pain reflecting in his eyes.

“Skywalker..” he exclaimed. „He has tried to flee…a fight broke out. This time he did not fight half-heartedly.” Despite his state the final remark almost came out in the taunting tone he normally spoke with.

„He would have killed me“, Nihl continued. “He rammed his blade through Talon, and I do not know if she is still alive or if she is dead. He would have finished me, had not Lord Krayt himself – without actually wanting – have kept him from doing so. Skywalker cut off my arm and used the occasion to attack me with Sith lightning. I would be dead by now, had not Lord Krayt requested him, that very moment, to kill me. As expected – at least I would not have expected anything else – he, of course, did exactly the opposite.”

 

Nihl took a deep breath, unable to hold back a moan, yet he continued to speak, in a low but determined voice.

“And then, when everything was over – you would not believe it – Lord Wyyrlok saved my life. Lord Krayt had activated his lightsaber, seething with rage, and went forward to separate my head from my shoulders. The moment I prepared to die, Lord Wyyrlok intervened. He managed the impossible – appeasing Darth Krayt. Instead of killing me, he divested me of office as his Hand – by the way, Lady Talon, too, should she still be alive – and, by a twist of temper, appointed Darth Stryfe as his new Hand. Further, he commanded Lady Maladi to destroy my severed arm and to equip me instead with a Vong arm in order to humiliate me.

 

I had nothing more to lose, this is why I told him frankly that I did not deserve to be treated that way. During all those years, my loyalty had earned me my place at his side, and I am not willing to put up with this. Had Lord Krayt simply killed me, it would have been an honorable death – but this harassment is beneath me.

I knew I had failed, and still I was angry about the way Lord Krayt just dropped me – the way I had predicted when we talked recently. This moment has now come. And it makes me even angrier to know that I now owe Lord Wyyrlok my life”, Darth Nihl finished.

 

„Can you walk, Mylord ?“ Cinis asked. She stretched out her hand to touch him, then, following an inner impulse, she bent down and kissed him, perceiving his physical pain the way she had felt his pleasure before, and an ice cold shiver ran down her spine.

 

Just as she rose, trying to help Lord Nihl to his feet, she heard the echo of rushing footsteps on the floor of the throne room. Cinis turned around to see Lady Maladi heading for her and Nihl. When she reached the two, Maladi sank to her knees behind Nihl without a single word, wrapping her arms around his torso. Cinis knew what she had to do.

 

Shortly after, when she returned accompanied by a medi droid and a stretcher, Maladi was still holding Nihl in her arms. Cinis sensed a strong pulsation of the Force and realized that Maladi was supporting the Nagai in restraining his pain. When she saw Cinis approaching, she gave her a nod, seeming to really perceive her for the first time only now. Together, the carried the injured Sith along with his severed arm to the Temple’s brightly lid medical section, where the first thing Cinis beheld was Darth Talon, floating almost naked and lifeless in a full body Bacta tank, a gaping lightsaber wound in her midsection. Apparently Lady Maladi had taken care of Talon first, either because the Twi’lek’s wound, contrarily to Nihl’s, endangered her life, or at Lord Krayt’s command.

They did not exchange any words, there was nothing to discuss, at least for the moment, but all the more to do.

 

Cinis helped to prepare the second Bacta tank; and while the reddish liquid rushed into the cylinder, Lady Maladi’s skilled fingers implanted a special Vong seed into the stump of Lord Nihl’s arm. Then she removed the Nagai’s armor and clothes, attached the waistcloth and breathing mask used during Bacta treatments, and lowered his body into the healing liquid.

 

A sudden, uncanny silence fell after the past minutes of fast-paced activity. Maladi drew a deep, shuddering breath, resting her hand on one of the operating tables. Never before had Cinis seen her so troubled, and it was clear to see that Maladi would have preferred to pass this moment of weakness she was involuntarily revealing without any witness. In order to avoid enraging her mistress, Cinis knelt before her and bowed deep. Then she said straightforwardly: “I know what happened – Lord Nihl told me before you arrived. I am at your service, Mylady.”

 

Once more, Maladi gave her that quick nod Cinis had learnt to interpret as the way Maladi used to express her benevolence towards her subordinate.

“Be vigilant, Lady Cinis”, she said briefly. “What we have been preparing for has now occurred – sped up by Skywalker’s escape.”

 

She hesitated for a moment, then continued to speak. “What I am now telling you I have never told you. Do you understand ?”

Cinis nodded. „Of course, Mylady.“

 

„I sense more and more clearly that it is not only betrayal by Lord Krayt we have to fear. There is apparently another person whose schemings aim at eliminating us in order to become leader of the Sith Order. You will learn who this is in due course of time, as soon as I will have achieved certainty – with the help of your research. Even though I can imagine you are already suspecting whom I am speaking of.”

Again, Cinis nodded. “Yes, Mylady. I can.“

Lady Maladi gave her a blazing look. “You will remain silent, Lady Cinis, or you will die.”

 

„Your will is my will, Mylady“, Cinis replied, bowing once more before the head of Sith intel before adding, „Dying is not what I intend to do in the near future.“

A flicker of a smile appeared in the corners of Maladi’s mouth when she pulled a data card from the wrinkles of her garment, handing it to Cinis. “For your work. New codes. From now on, use only these and destroy the previous data card“, she said curtly.

Cinis took the card. “As you command, Mylady.”

 

„Now leave me alone“, Maladi said in an almost gentle tone, and Cinis rose to retreat to her quarters for meditation. As she left the medical section, she turned her head once more slightly, only to see Maladi, facing the second Bacta tank, embracing Lord Nihl in a passionate gaze.

 

The Order of the One Sith was tumbling towards its first great crisis, and Cinis found herself in the center of activities; transformed, in the true tradition of the Sith, from an unconditionally loyal servant of Lord Krayt to a conspirator acting on three scenes at the same time. Too bad Lord Stator could no longer witness the development – she was certain that this delightful intrigue would have pleased him.

 

 

A seemingly endless number of orbits around the moon of Endor later Darth Stator was ripped from his deep trance by the ear-piercing wail of an alarm. Confused, he tried to straighten his thoughts, when he noticed first thing that the artificial orbiting stasis he had induced on the ship caused the moon’s gravity to exert an increasing influence. The distance between the ship and the moon’s surface had lowered to a critical point, and Stator hauled himself behind the ship’s controls in order to avoid the crash.

 

But even his frenziest efforts with the controls could not seem to stop his trundling descent. The moon’s surface came closer and closer, and every attempt to halt the dive failed. The automatic sublight routines could not be activated, and both the moon’s proximity and lack of time ruled out a hyperspace jump.

 

When he had almost let go of all hope to come out of this alive, he suddenly deactivated the automatic routines and grabbed the steering panel. Delving deep into the Force, he plunged into a nosedive. Despite the rapidly increasing speed which pressed him into his seat and squeezed almost all his breath out of him he allowed the ship to go faster. Above his left eye, a blood vessel popped, and a stinging pain flashed through his head. One with the Force, however, he captured the right moment to send the ship upward in a steep parabola. Screeching, the Dark Fist’s mechanical components protested, but the momentum was sufficient to tear the ship from the moon’s gravitational clasp.

 

Minutes later the Dark Fist found itself in safe space. Stator’s breakneck maneuver had caused a few circuits to burn out, but the hyperdrive seemed to be operative. The overall state the ship was in, however, was desastrous. It was obvious that several circuits needed replacing, along with other repair and maintenance work. Apart from that, the Sith also envisioned a number of modifications destined to provide the vessel with a new identity as a Sith tool.

Seeing that Bespin wasn’t too far away, Stator programmed a course leading to Cloud City, which, ultimately, corresponded to his original orders.

 

Hyperspace travel took no more than a few hours, and soon the Dark Fist was approaching Cloud City.

 

„Unknown ship, identify yourself !“ the flight deck officer’s voice sounded from the com.

„This is the Dark Fist. On board is Darth Stator, Dark Lord of the Sith !” Stator grumbled into the microphone.

The short break which followed caused Stator to imagine the consternation and perplexity that now reigned in Cloud City’s control room, and a somber smile appeared on his face.

 

After a little while, another voice, sounding both officious and servile, rang through the com. “We are very pleased about your visit, Mylord, and kindly request you to use the landing coordinates we will be sending you shortly. Bespin Over !”

“I understand. Dark Fist Over !“ Stator replied. A few seconds later, he received the coordinates and initiated the landing procedure.

 

When he left his ship, several apparently high-ranking, finely dressed persons were awaiting him. A plump, bustled-looking man standing in the middle of the group stepped towards him and addressed him.

 

„Lord Stator“, he said, bowing slightly, „I am Administrator Adwar Dassk. I hope you had a pleasant journey. How can I be of service to you ?”

 

„I am here as a representative of our Emperor Lord Krayt. There have been rumors disputing your loyalty. Thus I have been ordered to come here in order to verify the validity of these reports.”

 

„Mylord, Bespin has always been loyal to the Empire !”, Dassk retorted.

Stator answered curtly: “My task is to verify exactly that.”

 

He enjoyed the trepidation spreading over the administrator’s face. “You may begin proving your loyalty to the true Emperor by overhauling my ship. It is pretty old, and besides I am keen on a few alterations and modifications to be effected. Do not worry about the cost, the Empire will pay all expenses.”

 

„Lord Stator, I will instruct my team of technicians to contact you at once. And may I add that on behalf of Cloud City we would be honored and glad to effect the necessary work on your ship free of charge.”

 

„Your cooperation pleases me, Administrator Dassk. Whether or not this will suffice to convince Darth Krayt of your loyalty, however, shall be proven later.”

 

Dassk bowed a second time. “I am aware of that, Mylord. But you will notice that the Emperor has no reason to entertain any doubt about our faithfulness.”

 

He waved to one of his subordinates. “Take Lord Stator to his quarters and remain at his disposal for any request he may utter !” The administrator bowed briefly before Lord Stator as he walked past him, accompanied by a Cloud City employee.

 

Shortly after his arrival in his quarters, the technical crew contacted Stator via com. The Sith explained his requirements, not failing to accept some of the technicians’ proposals, and agreed with them on the necessary work to perform on the Dark Fist. Following this conversation, a service droid brought him something to eat; and after dinner Stator engaged in a little meditation before going to sleep.

 

For two days Lord Stator had been staying on Bespin. The technicians were busy working on his ship, and Cloud City’s officials proved rather cooperative and diligent. Nevertheless, Stator could not help perceiving a slight layer of hostility in the Force. Everything appeared to be going too smoothly, making things look staged. Especially the generous proposal to take care of all repairs without charge made Stator grow suspicious.

 

It did not take long for his suspicion to be confirmed. When the Sith examined the work being performed on the Dark Fist, one of the higher-ranking Cloud City employees suddenly approached him to speak to him. “With respect, Mylord… may I have a word with you ?”

Stator made a half-turn towards the man and let his gaze wander over him. “Who are you ?”, the Sith asked.

“My name is Tasko Menedas. I am one of Administrator Dassk’s confidants.”

„What do you want ?“

„I have information for you.“

Now Stator turned around to face Menedas and asked „What sort of information ?“

 

Menedas whispered: „The administrator is in collusion with the former Emperor Roan Fel. He wants to get rid of you soonest possible, this is why he has staged this charade. He has ordered an agent to sabotage your ship by means of an explosive device. He wants to butter you up to make you leave Bespin, and on your flight back, once you will jump into hyperspace… wham !” He emphasized the final word with a corresponding gesture.

 

Stator nodded slowly. „I have felt something like that. And it corresponds with the information I have at my disposal.“

“What will you do now, Mylord ?”

„Nothing, for the time being“, the Sith replied, „but as soon as my ship will be ready for departure, I will pronounce my intention to leave Bespin. Make sure you will be present during the farewell ceremony !”

„I will do that, Mylord“, Menedas answered and bowed as the Dark Lord left the repair hangar.

 

 

On the planet of Bastion, Emperor Roan Fel was standing in his audience room with his back turned to the two Imperial Knights standing at attention.

 

„Master Draco, Master Krieg, as you know the situation is critical. Lord Krayt has usurped my title, and his Sith are holding my Empire in their brutal clasp. We do not know what else they might be up to. We know neither their plans, nor their intrigues and schemings.”

 

He turned to face the two knights. “This is why I have come up with the following idea”, he continued. “We will seek to detain one of the highest-ranking Sith and interrogate him. I reckon Darth Maladi would be the most rewarding target for this purpose. Or what do you think, Master Draco ?”

 

„I agree with you, Emperor. Only… how can this be accomplished ? I do not believe that a Sith lets himself be invited and taken prisoner so easily.”

 

„That is correct“, Fel retorted. “We must provide an alluring bait. One the head of Sith intel could never resist.”

Roan Fel took a step towards his two servants. “Aren’t the Sith always looking for scattered Jedi to eliminate or interrogate them ? Now if it could be brought to their attention, in some way or the other, that a powerful Jedi is hiding in a specific place, their interest should be aroused.”

 

„But what makes you so certain that Maladi herself will turn up there ?“, Ganner Krieg asked.

 

“Darth Maladi loves schemings a great deal. She will never be prepared to let any other Sith set his hands upon a pawn as valuable as a powerful Jedi.” Fel smiled lightly. “Prepare everything necessary, Master Krieg, Master Draco. Now leave me !“

 

The two nights bowed and left the room.

 

 

Stator woke just before the buzzer on his cabin door sounded. He got up, dressed himself in a dark coat and opened the door by touching it in the Force. In the corridor there stood a droid, informing him that the repairs on his ship had now been accomplished.

The Sith waved the robot away and finished dressing, then betook himself to his ship. Everything seemed to have been carried out according to his requirements, even the way the ship had been painted. Satisfied, Stator tried to test his newly obtained skills. As Darth Sidious’s spirit had taught him, he laid his hand onto the hull of the Dark Fist and delved into the Force. The Dark Side currents were weak but perceptible; and he sensed the presence of the explosive device right below the cockpit.

With a satisfied grin on his face, he turned round to the droid.

 

„Inform the administrator that I intend to leave Bespin at once !”

Eager to do as ordered, the droid set forth, humming.

 

Less than twenty minutes later the hangar harboring the Dark Fist filled with people. Smiling, the administrator stepped towards him: “Lord Stator, it is to our great regret that you are announcing your departure so soon !”

 

„Save your set phrases, Administrator Dassk. I am pleased to note you have had my ship overhauled, but it would please me even more if you had done without installing the explosive device.”

Having spoken thus, Stator walked straightaway over to the Dark Fist and tore aside one of the hull plates, revealing the explosive charge beneath it. Then he turned around to face Dassk.

 

„Mylord“, the man stammered, „rest assured I had no idea…“

That moment the Sith took the administrator’s throat in a Force grip. Dassk dropped to his knees, gasping for air.

„Administrator Dassk !“, Darth Stator’s voice resounded. “In the name of the Empire I sentence you to death for treason. The judgment will be enforced at once.”

 

For a brief second he released his choke-hold, savoring the administrator’s horror. Then he slowly raised his right arm, clenched his fist, focused his powers and hurled a deadly storm of lightning onto the treacherous bureaucrat which made him writhe and scream in pain until he fell silent and lay lifeless on the floor. The remaining viewers were frozen with terror, and the Sith drank their emotions like sweet wine.

 

Stator looked down on the remains of the former administrator for a while, then said in a raspy voice: “Tasko Menedas ?”

„Yes, Mylord !“ the man responded.

“As of now you will be administrator of Bespin. Ensure the explosive charge will be removed from my ship, as I wish to depart as soon as possible.”

 

„As you wish, Lord Stator“, Cloud City’s new administrator replied.

Only half a standard hour later the Dark Lord of the Sith boarded his ship and left Bespin behind.

 

The journey to Coruscant would take some time; therefore, having accomplished the jump into hyperspace, Darth Stator decided to make himself somewhat familiar with his new ship’s history.

Searching the data banks, he discovered some sort of log which, however, had not been updated for quite a long time. As Stator had suspected, the Corellian Star, thus the ship’s former name, was no more than the fancy toy of a high-ranking industrialist, which also explained the relatively luxurious furnishing of the two cabins. The businessman’s family had used the ship for excursions, but it had also been used for commercial purposes. Apparently, it was an Incom Corporation special model, as the type code TC-119 did not ring a bell for Stator. even though during his time as a spacer’s co-pilot he had seen many spaceports and acquired some basic knowledge about current ship types.

 

Some day the ship had been sold to an Imperial Moff at a knockdown price. It seemed that the industrialist’s business didn’t go on so well any more. Or he died. The Moff renamed the ship Vector and had it equipped with weaponry plus a Class 1 hyperdrive. Without mentioning any specific reasons, the log listed the Imperial fleet as the next owner. The ship had been used for courier services, inspection visits to remote outposts and, in some cases, in battle, too. At this point the records broke off. Stator suspected that the Vector had been rusting in peace somewhere in a deserted hangar until someone required a ship to murder a Sith Lord.

 

Stator grinned nastily. Of course, sacrificing a new ship wasn’t in the run. The Sith closed the file after adding the following entry: “New ship name: Dark Fist. New proprietor: Darth Stator, Dark Lord of the Sith.

 

The repairs which had been carried out on Bespin had entirely restored the full operativeness of the Dark Fist. The hyperdrive had been submitted to a complete overhaul, partially replacing electrical cables which had been scorched in some places, and installing new energy cells for the ship’s arms. Moreover, he had ordered to replace two of the four laser cannons by vibro missile launchers. The two remaining laser cannons had been adapted to the latest technological level which almost doubled their firing capacity To complete the modifications, the Dark Fist’s rear section had been transformed in a way to hold a proton torpedo launcher destined to improve the ship’s general chances during possible escape flights. Stator had also ordered to intensify the shield generators’ capacity and give the Dark Fist an unusual coat of paint. Now the ship was almost entirely black, its idiosyncratic shape emphasized only by a few silver and red lines. Its belly, close to the boarding hatch, had been adorned with a stylized red fist; and the ship’s name was painted in red onto the tips of its wings.

The chief technician had mentioned with regret that he had been unable to replace the escape pod, since the piece had been a custom-made item. Instead, Stator had ordered to transform the extra space into a second storage room – planning to decide later what he intended to use it for.

In the other, already existing storage room the technicians had found two R4 astromech droids. One of them was burnt out beyond repair, but the other one could be fixed. Stator had made the technicians remove the astromech’s running gear and install the droid in the ship’s controls, which would allow him to leave the cockpit during hyperspace flights.

He did not deem it useful to remain in the pilot’s seat all the time when he had two comfortable cabins to choose from right behind him.

 

The Sith was satisfied with his ship. He leaned back, letting his proud gaze wander over the Dark Fist’s controls.

Shortly after Stator left the cockpit and resorted to one of the cabins to meditate – first of all, about who could be seeking his life.

 

 

"Lady Maladi !"

 

The Sith who had just entered the Devaronian woman’s laboratory bowed deep.

 

„Rise !“ Maladi took a step towards him. „I have a mission of utmost importance for you. In fact, I would prefer to take care of it myself, but I am currently not free to do so.”

 

„I am honored by your trust in me, Lady Maladi.“

 

The Sith woman waved aside gruffly. “You have proven so far that you are very successful with this kind of task. And you are currently available. It is true that you were not my first choice, but at the moment”, her look wandered over to the Bacta tank holding Darth Nihl’s body, “you are the only choice I have.”

 

„What is it all about ?“, the Sith asked.

 

„Come with me, I will provide you with details concerning your mission !” Maladi retorted and signalled to him to follow her.

 

 

„Coruscant flight control to unknown ship. Identify yourself !”

 

„This is Darth Stator on board of the Dark Fist, formerly known as Vector. I am transmitting the codes for my landig permission on Imperial territory. Stator Over.”

 

„Copy, Dark Fist, we will verify the codes and assign a docking bay. Please be patient for a moment. Over. !“

 

„Feniston, you’ve got to be joking“, the second flight control officer grumbled. “There’s a damn Sith waiting outside, and you’re asking him to be patient ?”

“You stop being funny, Gavill”, his colleague answered, checking the codes. “How do you know this guy’s really a Sith ?”

 

„What do you mean, is something wrong with the codes ?“

 

„The codes are all right. Only… the ship was reported destroyed several weeks ago. The pilot left the Vector in an escape pod and had recorded that the ship’s passenger, a Lord Stator, had been killed in an explosion. Taking into consideration the ship’s age, everybody believed him.”

 

„Well, seems he’s been lucky. These Sith can be pretty nasty if someone’s trying to meddle with their affairs. So what are we going to do now ?”

 

„You’ll direct the Sith, or the guy pretending to be one, to a remote platform. I’ll inform Sith intel. That’s their business !”

 

„Good idea.“ As Feniston got ready to walk out of the control room, Gavill added: „And… thanks for taking care of the Sith. My blood always runs cold when I look into those motionless, tattooed faces.”

„Same goes for me, Gavill, you can believe me. But somebody’s got to do it.”

With a sulky grin Lieutenant Feniston left the flight control office.

 

Deactivating the holoprojector, Darth Maladi, head of Sith intel, looked thoughtful.

After a few seconds, she called for her assistant. “Tell Cinis I wish to speak to her. Quick.”

The Sith bowed briefly, then left the laboratory.

 

Shortly after a woman entered the room, accompanied by Maladi’s assistant.

“You wish to speak to me, Mylady ?” It was more statement than question.

 

Maladi turned towards Cinis. „I want you to investigate something. Currently, a ship which had been reported destroyed is landing in docking bay 33P. On board is a person claiming to be… Darth Stator.”

 

Cinis looked up, surprised. „He was presumed dead !“

 

Maladi nodded briefly. „The ship was presumed destroyed as well.“

 

„A fraud ?“ Cinis asked. Recently, it seemed alarmingly easy to intrude into the heart of the Empire, even into the Sith Temple.

Maladi bent her head forward slightly. “Go and find out. If he is a fraud, bring him to me for interrogation. Should he refuse, you will kill him.”

 

„And if it is really Stator ?“

“In that case”, the Maladi replied, “I would be very eager to learn his story.”

 

Cinis nodded, bowed sligthly and left the office to hurry to the given docking bay.

 

On 33P stood a ship hard to spot before Coruscant’s night sky. His proprietor seemed to have found it funny to give his vehicle an almost complete coat of black.

Cinis slowly came closer and touched the Force. Nothing. Walking over to the ship, she saw the large red fist painted on its belly. As she intensified her touch of the Force, she suddenly felt something. Behind her.

As quick as a flash, she turned around, her lightsaber activated even before she finished her turn. Her first blow, however, was parried by a second lightsaber with a red blade. Cinis paused, confused. Her opponent switched off his weapon. In the gleam of her own blade she recognized Stator’s familiar features and tattoos.

 

The Jabiimi offered her a grim smile. “Are you waiting for me, Lady Cinis ?”

Cinis switched off her lightsaber as well. “I heard you were dead”, she replied laconically.

“People talk”, Stator interjected. “Not everything you hear is true.”

 

“That was some dangerous game of yours. I almost killed you !”

“Exactly what happened to me several times recently – to be almost killed.” The Sith grinned again. “I did not want to lose the skill.”

 

Cinis nodded towards the Dark Fist. “A nice ship you have got there.”

“It happened to fly into my direction. I did not want to shoo it away. We Sith are not completely heartless, you know ?”

“Let us save the small talk for later. Lady Maladi wants to see you !”

 

The Jabiimi raised his eyebrows, the tattoos giving his face an astonished look. “Lady Maladi ? Am I to be interrogated ?”

“I do not think so, Lord Stator. It is just that nobody else is present who could welcome you. Follow me !”

Together, the two Sith left the docking bay.

 

„Wait here“, Cinis said when they reached Maladi’s laboratory. “I will inform Lady Maladi about your arrival.”

Then she left him and disappeared through the laboratory door.

 

Not long after she returned. “You may enter now, Mylord.”

 

Stator nodded curtly and entered the laboratory, looking around amazed. This was the first time he set a foot into Maladi’s sanctuary; and the first thing he noticed were the two Bacta tanks holding Krayt’s Hands, Nihl and Talon. Stator squinted musingly. Something must have happened, but he decided to deal with that later.

In the center of the laboratory stood Maladi.

 

„So it is really you, Lord Stator. I heard you were dead !”

 

„Apparently news about my death seem to be traveling faster than my death itself, Mylady.” Saying so, Stator bowed slightly.

Maladi browsed in a few documents. „The Vector’s pilot landed on Malastare in an escape pod. He reported a detonation on board of the ship which had ripped apart most of the Vector’s starboard section and killed the passenger – who appeared to be you. He managed only by the skin of his teeth to rush into the escape pod and to leave the wreck before it tumbled into the nearest sun. People believed him, as the ship was pretty old and up for imminent scrapping. It seems to me, however, that he has been lying.”

 

“Most of it is true, except for the detonation, my death and the ship’s destruction.“

 

Answering to Maladi’s questioning look he told her the whole story.

 

Having listened attentively, Lady Maladi looked deep into Stator’s eyes and delved into the Force. “It seems you are telling the truth, Stator. But there is one more thing. I sense in the Force that this is not the first assassination you have escaped.”

 

 

"That is correct, Mylady." And he told her the tale of his mission on Tatooine which, too, had almost cost him his life. When he had ended, Maladi gave him a nod.

"Lord Stator, you have supplied me valuable information – more valuable than you might think for the time being. I assume you do suspect a certain person to be seeking your life."

 

"It is a vague suspicion, Mylady. First of all, it cannot be Lord Krayt – why should he have sought to establish me a reputation if he intended to destroy me later ? Anyway, he would not require any such schemes to kill me. Second, it cannot be you, otherwise you would not have sent Cinis to bring me here but, perhaps, Darth Stryfe who would have mowed me down without hesitation. It cannot be Darth Nihl either, since he has had more than just one occasion to slay me on Melkenda. As to Darth Talon, I do not think she is capable of such intrigues.

I will tell you the name of the person I suspect of being the one."

 

Darth Stator took a deep breath and whispered the name in such a low voice that even an accidental listener – as improbable as his presence might seem – would not have understood him.

 

Darth Maladi transfixed the Jabiimi with her looks, then nodded slightly and replied: "This is what I thought, too."

 

She let a few moments pass before continuing to speak. "Since Darth Krayt is currently reclining in stasis, Lord Wyyrlok has left the Temple to fly to an unknown destination, and Lord Krayt's hands, Nihl and Talon, are in my custody for the time being", she said, letting her gaze wander over the two Bacta tanks, "you will be likely to accomplish a few assignments for me."

 

"I would be glad, Lady Maladi."

The Sith nodded and gave him a piercing look. "Is there something else I can do for you ?" she asked.

"Well, if you ask", Stator began, "this ship I arrived with…"

"Oh yes, the…" Maladi leafed through her files again, "… Vector."

 

"It is now called Dark Fist, Mylady… well, I would like to keep it."

 

Maladi looked at him, amused. "Does it mean anything to you ?"

 

"Meaning is not the word I would choose, Lady Maladi. It is just that I would like to possess it."

 

The Sith woman laughed briefly. "Your wish be granted, Lord Stator. Had you admitted that the ship means something to you, I would have ordered you to destroy it by your own hand. But greed is a Sith emotion. The Vector no longer exists for the Empire. Whatever souvenirs you bring along from your journeys is your own business. I shall ensure your new ship will be equipped with special codes. Now leave me !"

 

Stator bowed once more, a little deeper this time, and prepared to leave the laboratory.

"Oh, by the way, Lord Stator !" the Sith stopped him in his tracks. "Certainly I need not point out that this discussion has never taken place. Cinis has taken you directly to your quarters. You have never seen this laboratory !"

"Of course not." Stator bowed once more before leaving, this time for good.

 

Outside, Cinis was waiting for him. Stator gave her a tired smile. "I am afraid I am currently not in the mood for a training battle."

Cinis smiled as well. "How about tomorrow evening ?"

"My pleasure", the Jabiimi replied. "I fear my technique has suffered a little in the course of the past weeks."

"So we should seek to change that !"

"We better do."

 

Both turned to walk away together. After a brief while, Cinis asked: "I assume you do not want to tell me about your wondrous rescue ?"

 

"There is not much to tell. I presume this is because I have no experience in dying. Thus I manage to do so so rarely."

 

Enraged by this uncouth answer, Cinis grabbed the Jabiimi's shoulder, swinging him around towards her.

 

"Lord Stator, there is something going on, and I would like to know what it is, taking into consideration that I am right in the middle of it", she hissed. Stator looked at her for a while, then lifted her hand from his shoulder, saying "Lady Cinis, I am not allowed to speak about it. I have sworn an oath to Lord Krayt. Do you remember our conversation, when you asked me what I would do if I felt that Krayt was betraying me ?"

"Yes", the Sith woman said dryly.

 

"Then let me tell you, Mylady, it is not Lord Krayt who has betrayed me and who wanted me dead. Take it and do not ask any further questions for the moment."

 

Meanwhile they had reached Stator's quarters.

"If you will excuse me now, I need a little rest after my journey. As agreed I will be expecting you to turn up for the training battle tomorrow evening."

"I will be there, Mylord. And this time, I will defeat you, I swear."

 

"I shall be eager to see that, Mylady", Stator retorted. "Just do not try to kill me ! According to my experience, this strategy is little successful."

With a taunting smile, Stator bowed before Cinis. "I shall see you tomorrow, Mylady." Then he turned away to enter his quarters.

 

Angry, Cinis tromped off. In some way, she felt attracted by the long-haired Jabiimi; but on the other hand his half mysterious, half derisive behavior got on her nerves a great deal.

Suddenly she stopped dead. All the time, Stator had addressed her as "Lady Cinis" ! Did that mean he knew about her secret promotion, or had he simply chosen this form of address because he was used to it from his conversations with other Sith ?

She decided to have a closer look at the Jabiimi after the training battle scheduled for the following evening.

 

 

A ship emerged from hyperspace, its cockpit harboring a Sith. The system he was approaching was called Khyldrea. The planet itself was uninhabitable, but quite a long time before one of its moons had been a spaceport serving as hub for three trade routes. This place exactly was where he was heading.

He went into a loop, delving into the Force. This deserted moon was said to be a powerful Jedi's chosen exile, and he had been selected to detain this Jedi.

Probing the force got him speculating. In any case, he was sensing a presence which, however, was rather diffuse and even seemed to be splitting or dissolving from time to time.

Before landing, he sent a holo message to Darth Maladi.

 

"Lady Maladi, the whole situation appears to be a trap. In case I should not report to you within five standard hours regard my mission as failed ! I will land now." Thus he broke the connection and initiated the landing procedure.

 

Not long after the ship touched down on the moon. The Sith disembarked and walked towards the only building left from the former spaceport. As he opened the door, he suddenly saw himself opposed to at least twelve Imperial Knights. Even though he immediately activated his lightsaber he was already holding in his hand, his resistance was no match for such superiority.

Despite the fact, he kept fighting – or, perhaps, because of it.

 

 

Having woken from a deep, almost dreamless sleep, Darth Stator washed and dressed before engaging into a short meditation session. Following it, he rose and left his quarters to enjoy a substantial breakfast.

With his stomach full, he decided to continue his studies of the ancient holocrones. Since he suspected that Darth Wyyrlok attempted to distract him, by all means, from more intense studies, he deemed the moment of his absence more than perfect.

 

When he arrived in the holocrone library, he first of all noticed that Darth Andeddu's holocrone was missing. Stator squinted his eyes. Should this be connected with Wyyrlok's sudden, mysterious departure ? He pushed the idea aside, as he was currently not interested in Andeddu. Instead, he once more produced the holocrone of Darth Bane, initiator of the Path of Destruction. He briefly went into a Dark Side meditation before activating it, and then the ancient Sith Master's hologram appeared before him.

 

"Ahh, the fraud's inquisitive servant ! Are you still looking for a way to heal your heretical master ?"

 

"No, Lord Bane. I seek to bring healing to the Sith's innermost essence. I feel deep unrest and the beginning of intrigues and power struggles within the Order of the One Sith, the way you predicted it in my presence. I see Sith bearing the title of Darth who are no more than blind, obedient fighting machines, and I see others, without title, who would be a hundred times worthier of being awarded it but are waiting in vain. I see obedience as the Sith Order's central power. This seems wrong to me. Lord Bane, what should I do ?"

 

 

"Lord Stator… wasn't that your name ?... you surprise me. Not by asking me thus, but by not knowing what to do", the long dead Sith Lord's slightly flickering avatar responded.

 

"If you believe, Lord Bane, that I ought to follow suit in exterminating all other Sith in order to reestablish the Rule of Two, your trust in my capacities honors me. Yet I doubt I am powerful enough to manage; as strong in the Force as is required to walk this path."

"Perhaps you will only require more time, Lord Stator. Secrecy, perfidy and patience are a Sith's most important traits of character."

 

"I thank you, Lord Bane. I shall be meditating for a long time about what you have revealed to me."

 

"Now you surely wish to learn how your master can be healed ?", Bane's hologram retorted.

 

"I am not sure if I still want to", Stator replied, surprised at his own answer.

 

"Well, the Dark Side cannot help him, just as it could not help me to rid myself of the orbalisks. I required the powers of a Jedi healer in order to get rid of the parasites feeding on the Dark Side. You master will not find healing in the Dark Side either, as the creatures consuming him are feeding on the Dark Side as well.

Now, Lord Stator, I would like to let you partake in Darth Revan's legacy. I was the last Sith capable of activating his holocron; and following to this attempt it destroyed itself. If you wish to learn even more about the Rule of Two, listen well."

 

Bane's effigy faded to make room for a dimly figure, its features hidden under a mask. It wasn't real, looking rather as if someone had created an imaginary picture of Revan. But that aside, the apparition began to speak:

 

"I am Darth Revan, Dark Lord of the Sith.

Those who use the Dark Side are bound to serve it. Those who understand this fact understand the essential philosophy of the Sith.

The Dark Side offers power for the sake of power. You must desire it and never stop striving for it. You must seek power more intensely than anyone else, without diffidence or hesitation.

The Force will change you, transform you. Some do fear this change. The techniques used by the Jedi are focused on fighting and mastering this transformation. This is why those who serve the Light are limited in what they can reach.

 

True power can only come to those who accept the transformation. There can be no compromise. Mercy, sympathy, loyalty: All those things merely keep you from claiming what is rightfully yours. Those who follow the Dark Side must push aside such delusions. Those who do not, who follow the path of moderation, will fail, pulled into the depths of their own weakness.

 

Those who accept the power of the Dark Side must also accept the challenge that lies in keeping it. It is the nature of the Dark Side to promote rivalry and conflict. This is the greatest strength of the Sith: weeding the weak out of their Order. But this rivalry can also be our greatest weakness. The strong ones must take care not to be overwhelmed by the ambition of those who are below them once they begin to cooperate. Every master who teaches more than one apprentice is a fool, because as time goes by these apprentices will unite their powers and subdue the master. This is inevitable. An unalterable law. This is why each master may have only one true apprentice.

This, too, is the reason why there may be only one Dark Lord. The Sith must be ruled by one single leader who embodies the strength and power of the Dark Side. When the leader becomes weak, another one must rise to overthrow him. The strong ones rule; the weak ones' destiny is to serve. This is how it has to be.

My time here is over. Take what I have taught you and use it well."

The hologram fell silent, and Stator deactivated the module. Well aware of the fact that it would take some time for him until he would have digested these latest findings, he rose and left the library, lost in thought.

Lord Banes utterances had been triggered by his view of the galaxy. In his era, the Brotherhood of the Sith he had erased, had been no more than a dark shadow of the Jedi Order. In Stator's era, the Sith were a great deal more powerful.

 

Darth Stator felt he would not find a quick solution to all this, and so he went to have a light meal and then prepare for the training battle with Cinis.

 

This time the Coruscanti was already waiting for him when he entered the training room. When Stator took off his loose Sith coat, Cinis saw he was wearing the same battle gear as last time – loose pants, boots, gauntlets and nothing else. His lightsaber was still hanging from his belt, whereas Cinis had already activated hers, practising a few blows.

"Lord Stator !" she greeted him, bowing only subtly – a part of her strategy to find out if he knew about her secret promotion to the rank of a Darth.

"Mylady !", Stator returned her curt greeting.

 

"Mylord, let me suggest a game. Each time I will have maneuvered you in a position allowing me to kill you, you will provide me with the truthful answer to one question !"

A wide grin appeared on Stator's face. "If you accept that this arrangement will work the other way round as well, I will agree", he replied.

 

"So be it !", the Sith woman retorted and assumed her attack position. The Jabiimi unhooked his lightsaber and activated it. Swinging the weapon round him in a number of complicated arcs, he abruptly launched his attack. Cinis parried his blow without effort, and when Stator whirled round her to attack her from the other side, the Sith woman had turned around at incredible speed, parrying his repeated attack just like the first one.

After a brief exchange of blows the opponents separated for a moment, stalking and watching. Like in play, Stator threw his weapon from his right into his left hand as they circled each other. The moment Stator was holding his lightsaber in his left hand, Cinis used the opportunity to attack, but the Jabiimi quickly switched his grip and parried her blow. Immediately, he launched a counterattack, but all three blows were warded off by Cinis.

The sequences which followed soon revealed that the two opponents were almost on a par. While Stator resorted to a style both dry and playful, Cinis technique was more similar to an outbreak of furor. Stator sought to determine his opponent's weaknesses by means of feints and mock attacks, while Cinis' blows were directed against all facets of her respective opponent, aiming at hitting any weak point whatsoever.

 

As the fight continued, the two adversaries began mutually imitating their styles. Suddenly, Stator got the idea of ramming his lightsaber blade towards her in a straightforward move, but Cinis simply ducked, raising her weapon to administer a fatal blow and stopped the blade's movement just inches from Stator's right rib.

 

"One question for me", Cinis said, deactivated her lightsaber and moved a few steps back.

"Since you returned you have been addressing my by the title of Lady. It is a known fact in the Sith Order that I do not officially bear the title of Darth. So why do you keep calling my like that ?"

 

"I assumed that a Sith of your capacities is worthier of bearing the title of Darth than many within this Order. Even though you do not bear the title officially, in my opinion you more than deserve it, Mylady. Besides, your question tells me that you do bear the title of Darth, if only unofficially. Thus I was not quite wrong."

 

That very moment he flung himself into a somersault, flying over Cinis and landing just behind her. When Cinis reacted by activating her lightsaber, Stator's blade already stopped in front of her throat.

 

"Now it is my turn to ask a question", the Jabiimi countered. "Lord Nihl and Lady Talon are undergoing Bacta tank treatment. Lord Krayt is in stasis, and Lord Wyyrlok is absent. What happened ?"

 

Cinis took a deep breath. She wasn't sure whether or not she was allowed to pass this information on. Besides, she was angry at herself for having let herself be taken by surprise. Yet, she had an arrangement with this Sith, and so she replied: "Cade Skywalker had intruded into the Temple. Lord Krayt wanted him to become a Sith, but he managed to flee. He badly injured Talon and Nihl, and escaped."

 

"Skywalker !" Stator ground his teeth. "Are you saying that someone intruded here, discarding three of the most powerful Sith ?"

 

"This would be the next question, and its answer still remains to be earned, Lord Stator."

Saying so, she pushed the Jabiimi from her with the Force, attacking him at once with a few forceful but well-aimed lightsaber blows. Stator had trouble warding them off and was maneuvered more and more into a defensive position, until Cinis managed to make his lightsaber fly from his hand. With the Force, she grabbed Stator's weapon before he could do so.

 

Triumphant, holding both lightsabers, she stood before him. "Now, Lord Stator, here is my next question."

"Go ahead !", Stator groaned.

 

Cinis switched off Stator's lightsaber and handed it to him. "Mylord, please explain why you have been reported dead even though you have obviously survived ?"

Stator took his weapon. "Someone inside the Sith Order is seeking my life", he replied bluntly. "It was all a scheme to assassinate me which did not work. That is all."

 

Cinis eyes flew open. "Who inside the Sith Order could seek to kill you ?"

 

Again, Stator let his taunting grin flash. "This, Lady Cinis, is the next question, and you, too, will have to fight for it to be answered." With these words he activated his lightsaber and began covering her with a sequence of feints and blows. Cinis had little difficulty to ward them off but decided to remain in a defensive position in order to be able to rigorously exploit any weakness her opponent might reveal. However, before the two Sith, stalking each other, could indulge in continuing their fight, Cinis' holoprojector came to life.

Darth Maladi's image appeared. The two Sith briefly looked at each other, switched off their weapons and bent one knee before Maladi's holoprojection.

 

"Cinis… Stator… how useful to see the two of you together. I have a mission for you. Come meet me in my laboratory at once !"

"Very well, Mylady", Cinis replied, while Stator only nodded in silence.

 

On their way to Lady Maladi's laboratory Cinis whispered to him: "We have not yet finished our question-and-answer game, Lord Stator !"

"I am aware of that, Lady Cinis."

"So should we continue it soon ?"

"As you wish, but first of all let us find out which task will be assigned to us for the time being."

 

Shortly after the two Sith entered Darth Maladi's laboratory. Cinis and Stator bowed before the head of Sith intel.

 

"Lord Stator…Cinis…" the Devaronian woman began to speak in a dry voice. "I intend to install an outpost of my laboratory in the near future, on Wayland. This planet has always been penetrated by the Dark Side, but since the Yuuzhan Vong have restructured the entire place, this world has become even gloomier. I want you to fly there to determine an appropriate location for my studies. Of course, this mission must remain secret. For this reason, Lord Stator, it comes in rather handy that not long ago you acquired a ship which is registered neither as Empire, nor Sith Order property, which will cause its moves to remain absent from any duty rosters."

 

Darth Stator managed to suppress a grin at the last instant. So this was why Lady Maladi had been so easily ready to convey the Dark Fist to him.

 

"Depart as soon as you are ready !" Lady Maladi handed Stator a datacard. "These are the new ID codes for your ship. Report from Wayland as soon as you will be in a position do to so !"

Thus she dismissed the two Sith.

 

Having left the heart of Maladi's realm, Stator said to Cinis: "I fear our question-and-answer game must be postponed. My ship is not really small, but I am afraid the available space is insufficient for lightsaber fights."

"Do not worry, Mylord", Cinis answered. "If that which I heard about your missions is true, there will be no shortage of occasions to train our lightsaber skills."

Stator grinned sourly before continuing: "When do you think you will be ready for departure ?"

Cinis offered him a wide grin, replying: "When will your ship be ready ?"

"In one standard hour approximately."

"Then I will wait for your there !"

Stator nodded, and the two Sith parted company.

 

At the given time Cinis arrived in the Dark Fist's hangar. Stator greeted her, asked her to board the ship and showed her her cabin.

"Quite luxurious !", the Sith woman commented, looking at the ship's interior design. "You know how to live well, Lord Stator !"

Grinning slightly, Stator bowed his head and replied: "The furnishing is left from its previous proprietors. But I must admit that during long journeys a certain degree of comfort is not unpleasant." He continued to show her round.

Cinis found herself appreciating especially the first class sanitary area – long journeys in space sometimes implied being unable to wash properly – or even at all – for a certain while; a necessary evil they would definitely be spared this time.

"I hope you are feeling well on board of my ship !" Stator finished his tour.

Cinis just nodded. Stator bowed slightly and retreated to the cockpit. Only a few standard minutes later the Dark Fist rose into Coruscant's night sky resplendent with colorful lights.

 

When the ship had left Coruscant's orbit, the Jabiimi fed the coordinates of their destination into the R4 unit, letting the droid calculate the hyperspace jump. He had only just finished, leaning back a little, when he suddenly felt two hands on his shoulders. Turning around in his pilot's swivel chair, he looked at Cinis who had rid herselfof her chest armor and the remaining battle gear and was now giving him a flirtatious smile.

"I hope, Mylord, you will not spend the entire journey in this cockpit !"

"No", Stator answered, grinning. Knocking onto the domed head of his R4 droid, he added, "This is what I have got him for."

He turned back to the controls, verifying the hyperspace jump calculation one last time. Then he activated the hyperdrive; and while the stars in front of them expanded into seemingly endless lines, the Jabiimi turned around to face the woman again.

"Well, Lady Cinis, I am fully at your service now." He rose, moved towards her and put one arm round her body. With his other hand, he grabbed her neck and kissed her intensely. Then the two of them retreated to Cinis' cabin.

 

 

Following the onrush of their passion, they had sprawled pleasurably on the bed without putting their clothes back on. Stator was giving Cinis’ shoulders a light massage.

“Now, Mylady, you said that we had already detained Skywalker. What happened then ?”

“He pretended to be willing to become a Sith, and his training had already begun”, the Sith woman answered. “Then, however, something must have gone wrong. He had been provided help; somehow he managed to escape, and Krayt’s Hands suffered severe injuries. I do not know how he managed. During the training fights I did not have the impression that he had been focusing his concentration on what he was doing.”

 

Suddenly, Stator interrupted his massage. “You have fought against Skywalker ?”, he asked, surprised.

“Indeed, I had asked Lady Talon, his mistress, for a training fight with him, and my request was granted. Skywalker was good, but his concentration was low. I managed to defeat him rather easily.”

 

„You should have killed him !“ Stator snapped abruptly.

“Why ?”, Cinis asked, amazed.

„Because a Skywalker cannot be trusted. A Sith should never trust anybody, let alone a Skywalker !”

 

Just as Cinis prepared to utter a reply, her holoprojector activated itself, and Lady Maladi’s image appeared. A little, amused smile crept over her austere features when she realized which situation her two interlocutors were in. “Cinis…Stator… again, I am lucky to come across the two of you together. Interrupt your journey immediately and travel to the third moon of the Khyldrea system. A Sith is in danger there. He is currently carrying out one of my missions. Help him ! Maladi Over.”

 

Surprised, Stator and Cinis looked at each other. “In that case I will have to resort to the cockpit”, the Jabiimi grumbled, rose to his feet, dressed and left Cinis’ cabin.

 

 

„Master Halko, what will happen now ?“, the young knight asked as he was keeping watch together with experienced Denios Halko.

“We are waiting for a prison ship equipped with the necessary facilities to safely transport a captured Sith to Bastion where he will be interrogated”, the older Imperial Knight replied.

 

„Couldn’t we get him there in one of our Predators ?“

“This, Master Kazano, is something you would regret rapidly. We are only able to hold the Sith in there”, he pointed at the building behind the two men, “at bay because four of our most powerful knights are uniting their Force skills to prevent him from ridding himself of his shackles. Do you remember when he was taken prisoner ? Three outstanding Imperial Knights paid with their lives for the success. With him as the sole passenger you would not have the ghost of a chance.” Looking deep into the younger master’s eyes, he added, insistently: “None of us would.”

 

The two knights‘ conversation was interrupted by a com message informing them that a ship had just emerged from hyperspace and was now heading for the moon.

 

„Maybe the Masters Draco and Krieg are coming in order to pick up the prisoner ?“, young Kazano asked.

“Maybe, maybe not. Go inside and inform the others !”

The young knight bowed slightly and did as commanded.

 

 

„Lady Cinis, before engaging the landing procedure, I ask you to withdraw your presence from the Force as far as you can. I will do the same”, the Jabiimi curtly told his passenger.

Cinis gave him a brief nod. A moment later the two Sith made themselves invisible in the Force, in a way that even the best of the Jedi and many of the great Sith would no longer have perceived them. Stator provided the R4 unit with the necessary data for landing and leaned back. Not long after the Dark Fist came down on the moon.

 

„You are aware of the fact, Lord Stator, that our camouflage will blow as soon as we will activate our lightsabers ?”, Cinis interjected.

“Absolutely !”, the Jabiimi retorted. “But until that moment we will remain invisible. I wish to see first of all what sort of adversary we will have to face. Look, I guess there is already something going on.” Saying so, he pointed to the dilapidated-looking building at the edge of the docking bay. Six Imperial Knights were heading towards the newly landed ship.

 

„A bunch of Fel’s would-be Force users !“ Darth Stator hissed. He turned to Cinis. „We will disembark now. Get your lightsaber ready, and remember everything you have learned so far. We will need it !”

 

Stator activated the exit ramp, grabbed some sort of remote and signalled to Cinis to follow him. As soon as the two Sith had left the ramp, Stator pressed two buttons on the control pad. The first one closed the ramp; the second one activated two high-performance flood lights which lit up the entire area, blinding the knights.

This was the moment Stator opened himself up to the Force, thus realizing whom Roan Fel’s henchmen had detained. Of course, their camouflage blew at the same time, but it was no longer required anyway. Stator, Cinis and the Imperial Knights activated their lightsabers almost simultaneously.

 

„Now you have to delve into the Force again, Cinis !“ With these final words, Stator flung himself into battle. A somersault catapulted him right between the three opponents he was facing, and with a well-aimed Force push he hurled one of them off his feet. The second one parried his lightsaber blow, launching an immediate counterattack. The third one, too, resorted to a somersault to fly over Stator to reach his back, but the Jabiimi ducked to the side, thus avoiding his two opponents’ blows.

Using her boisterous fighting style, Cinis plowed through her opponents. Since she seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, the Imperial Knights mostly got into their own way without managing to develop an effective attack strategy. Suddenly, a shrill scream testified to the death of one of the Imperial Knights when Cinis’ blade hit the unarmored spot below the chest armor of one of her opponents.

 

Meanwhile, Stator had also killed one of his adversaries, but the two others were harrying him heavily. When his lightsaber blade hit the gauntlet of one of the knights, it suddenly extinguished.

“Cinis !”, the Sith shouted. “They’ve got Cortosis gauntlets ! Try not to hit them !“

 

He took his useless lightsaber into his left hand, using his right one to unleash a load of Sith lightning which at least helped to slow down his two opponents. Quickly, he used the Force to grab the lightsaber belonging to the knight he had killed and activated the blade.

All of a sudden, the door of the building swung open, and four other knights came storming towards them, holding up their activated lightsabers. Now Stator and Cinis were fighting side by side, with no fewer than eight Imperial Knights to face. One of them, apparently the mission coordinator, moved towards them. “You cannot win, Sith brood ! Give up, and your lives shall be spared !”

 

Stator threw Cinis a quick look. She shook her head ever so slightly.

The Jabiimi grinned. Then he turned to face Fel’s liegeman and said slowly: “Peace is a lie. There is only passion. Through passion I gain strength. Through strength I gain power. Through power I gain victory. Through victory my chains are broken. This is our code. The notion ‘to give up’ is not part of it.”

“So you will die now”, the knight declared.

 

That very second the door behind them was shattered into a thousand pieces. The splintered debris mowed down three knights, and in the brightly lit door frame there stood a Sith, rid of his shackles, and full of rage. He was unarmed, but lightning flickered from his fists raised high.

At the same time, Stator’s lightsaber came back to life. In a low voice, Stator said: “Lady Cinis, it seems the Sabacc cards have just changed their value in our favor !”

 

Hardly had he finished his sentence when the Sith hurled his lightning on two of the knights. Simultaneously, Cinis and Stator began their attack. In the course of the battle, Stator, who was not accustomed enough to fighting with two lightsabers at once, threw the weapon he had taken from the dead knight to the other Sith. Now the tables had turned, and victory was a mere question of time. Within just a few minutes the followers of exiled Emperor Fel were defeated.

 

Among their overthrown enemies, three Sith stood, examining each other. Stator bowed before the Sith they had rescued. “Lord Thrakon.” Addressed thus, Thrakon bowed as well. „Lord Stator. Discovering you has indeed become an act most meaningful to me. Apparently everything a Sith does always has a deeper meaning. Greetings to you, too, Cinis”, with these words he addressed the woman. “I have already heard a great deal about your fighting technique. Now I know the reports have not exaggerated a thing.”

„I have heard much about you as well, Lord Thrakon. It was an honor for me to be… of assistance to you somehow. May I ask how you have gotten into this situation ?”

“It was a trap, and I suspected it thus. Yet, I had to let this trap close on me in order to determine its initiator. I assume Lady Maladi has sent you ? I had been acting upon her command.”

 

„We are also on one of Darth Maladi’s mission, and in fact she ordered us here. But now we will have to depart in order to follow our original assignment”, Darth Stator replied. “If you wish to join us, there is sufficient room on my ship”, he added.

 

„You have your own ship ? Your career seems to develop more splendidly than I could have dared to guess back then on Nar Shaddaa. Nevertheless, I must decline your offer. My ship is standing somewhere here, and I must return to Coruscant immediately in order to report to Lady Maladi.”

“Thus we will go separate ways once more, Lord Thrakon !” Stator bowed, and, as he could see from the corner of his eye, Cinis did the same.

Thrakon, too, bowed slightly in farewell, before turning around and walking away – presumably towards his ship, the Rakoth’s Bane.

 

The two Sith watched him leave for another little while. “So this is Darth Thrakon !” Cinis said. “Very impressive !”

“He is”, Stator answered. „Always in service of the Order, invisible, but efficient. Inconspicuous but deadly. Now, Cinis, let us board the ship ! Wayland is waiting for us, do you remember ?”

Without saying a word, Cinis nodded briefly, then followed the Jabiimi into the Dark Fist.

 

 

On the Emperor’s throne there sat Darth Krayt. Some hours ago he had left the stasis chamber he had been forced to retreat to since Cade Skywalker’s spectacular escape. With him was his counselor and spokesman, Lord Wyyrlok, who had already informed his master about the incidents which had taken place during Krayt’s recreational break. However, there were a few points Krayt’s voice was not up to date with; and for this reason the Emperor had called Lady Maladi, head of Sith intel, to him. She was just entering the throne room.

 

The Devaronian woman approached the throne, bowed deep before Lord Krayt and said: „You have called for me, my master. I am pleased to see you before me back in full force.”

 

„Spare me your toadyism, Maladi. I have not ordered you here for this. I want to know which progress you have made in your search for Skywalker. Lord Wyyrlok was unable to report any successful outcome of his efforts, thus I hope you have been more efficient !”, Krayt snapped.

Darth Maladi twitched briefly, but almost imperceptively.

„Mylord, I have sought to obtain information from the social levels this Cade uses to keep company with. Smugglers, pirates, bounty hunters and similar scum. These creatures are always for sale, and thus I believe to be rapidly able to collect useful knowledge eventually leading to Skywalkers detention.”

 

„You have embellished your inefficacy by means of pretty words, Maladi. I cannot say I am greatly pleased by this report. I expect you to more than double your efforts. This refers to you, too, Lord Wyyrlok !” Krayt added, turning to face his counselor.

“Of course, Lord Krayt”, the Chagrian replied, bowing briefly.

 

„How is Nihl’s Vong arm doing ?“ Darth Krayt changed the subject, now addressing Maladi again.

 

„Very well, Mylord. I think Lord Nihl will be back in full force in just a few weeks.”

“This is good. In the near future I will need every high-ranking Sith I can get hold of. Lord Nihl will receive ample opportunities to make up for his failure during Skywalker’s escape.”

 

„Then you will certainly be pleased to hear that Darth Stator has returned, Mylord.“

Darth Krayt whirled round to Wyyrlok, his eyes filled with a dangerous gleam. “You have reported his death. Apparently your safe sources are not as reliable as you believe. Or as you wanted me to believe. I warn you, Wyyrlok. Do not play games with me. I am sick enough of having to deal with Maladi’s schemes !“ Again, he turned to Maladi. “Where is Stator now ?”

 

Maladi informed her master of the mission she had sent Stator on together with one of her subordinates and of his assumed whereabouts somewhere near Wayland. Apart from that, she told him that Stator now possessed his own spaceship, the Dark Fist.

She noticed that Wyyrlok seemed to be listening very closely in particular during this episode.

 

Krayt listened attentively, and once the Sith woman had finished, he gave her a frowning look.

“Once and for all, I want to make it clear that Lord Stator is my subordinate alone. Both of you, Maladi and Wyyrlok, will refrain in future from sending Stator on fruitless and unsuccessful missions I have not explicitly authorized. I need the man here. Now leave me ! Both of you.“

 

Thus addressed, the two Sith bowed and left the throne room, glad that Krayt’s anger had not erupted again in an uncontrolled, violent manner, the way it had done so many times before.

 

 

The Imperial ship had just emerged from hyperspace and was now orbiting the moon it was heading for. Two Imperial Knights were standing in the cockpit, behind the flight team, watching the surface of the celestial body they were soon to land on. The knights were unusual passengers on this type of vessel, since the Hostility was a prison shuttle, designed specially for transporting dangerous captives.

 

„There’s something wrong down there, Antares“, one of the two knights murmured to the other. “I have a very bad feeling about this.”

 

„I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ganner. I do not feel a thing”, the other one replied.

 

„This is exactly what I’m worried about. We should be able to perceive the Sith, or at least the knights down there, in the Force, but as hard as I try to sense them, I can’t feel anything.”

 

The two Imperials‘ looks met. “In that case we should land as soon as possible and find out what is the reason !”, Antares Draco retorted. He turned to the shuttle’s captain. “How long still ?”

“Just a few standard minutes, Master Draco.”

 

As the pilot had promised, the Hostility touched down not long after on the third moon of the Khyldrea system.

 

„You stay where you are“, Draco commanded. “Master Krieg and I will disembark first.”

 

Shortly after the two Imperials stepped onto the floor of the small spaceport. They were met by a horrifying scene. The ground was strewn with the bodies of Imperial Knights, lying among the scattered fragments of their suits of armor. Appalled, Krieg and Draco looked round. The entire area in front of the docking bay was covered with bodies, and no trace of the Sith could be found.

Shocked, the two knights slowly walked in silence towards the building they had noticed in the background. The door had been completely shattered; some of its splinters having been the direct cause of death of at least two of the victims.

 

„How powerful must the Sith have been who is responsible for all this ?“, Draco asked, shuddering.

 

Ganner Krieg was about to reply when he noticed a movement from the corner of his eye. He activated his lightsaber and turned into the direction of the assumed danger, while his comrade activated his weapon a second later. But the next moment both lightsabers were returned to their respective belts, and the two knights hurried across the square.

 

The movement came from one of the felled Imperial Knights. Krieg and Draco reached him almost simultaneously. Krieg knelt at his side, and while he was still saying, “This one is still alive !”, Draco had already lifted his com to his lips to order a medi droid to the site.

 

„Master Kazano ! What happened ? Did one Sith do all this ?“, Krieg spoked to the badly injured man.

“Master Krieg…not just one…three…there were…three of them !” the young knight aspirated before he lost consciousness.

 

„The crew shall collect the knights‘ bodies and transport them on board of the ship. They will be given a funeral of honor !” Antares Draco commanded as they arrived at their ship with the injured knight. “This one is still alive, he requires Bacta tank treatment immediately. If he doesn’t survive we will never learn what happened here.”

 

Less than half a standard hour later the Hostility took off, carrying a macabre cargo.

 

 

Wayland. Formerly a pleasant, green planet, as the ancient chronicles stated, but now a victim of the failed terraforming attempts. Dangerous species had always been present there, however, the creatures roaming the world now were multiple times worse and more poisonous – the result of the sabotaged biotechnology procedures applied by the Yuuzhan Vong.

This was already the third time Darth Stator orbited Wayland without locating an appropriate landing spot. Admitted, another reason for his research was to find possible traces of Palpatine’s technology hoard inside Mount Tantiss; yet the proliferating Vong vegetation made any orientation based on the old maps impossible. Concentrated, Stator stared at the planet’s surface, when his holoprojector activated itself.

 

The hologram showed the silhouette of his Lord and master, Darth Krayt.

 

Stator bowed as well as this was possible for him sitting in the pilot‘s chair, and said in a low voice “Lord Krayt !”

“Lord Stator”, the Emperor’s voice resounded. “I herewith order you to abandon this mission and to return to Coruscant at once.”

“As you command, Mylord !”

“Yes. As I command ! There is a number of things you will have to explain to me. Darth Krayt Over.”

 

For a few more seconds, Stator kept staring at the deactivated holoprojector, then slowly took the comlink and began to speak: “Lady Cinis ? If you wish to take a look at Wayland you ought to come into the cockpit very rapidly.”

 

Just half a minute later Cinis was standing behind Stator, watching the exotic, hostile-looking planet. “What a comfortable place”, she sarcastically commented her observations.

“Do you already know where you are going to land ?”

“We will not land at all”, the Jabiimi retorted. Cinis looked at him, surprised.

“Lord Krayt has just ordered us back. The Wayland mission is to be regarded as officially aborted. I am afraid we will spend some more time in hyperspace.”

 

„Looking at what is down there, hyperspace seems to me the lesser of two evils.“

“The same goes for me. I feel almost tempted to long for my library.”

 

Saying so, Stator began calculating the hyperspace jump which would carry them back to Coruscant, the Sith Temple and Darth Krayt.

 

 

A Nikto pirate named Drasskoth leaned nonchalantly against the bar of the “Shackled Rancor”, a spacer joint located in the somewhat shabbier regions of Coruscant. Currently, he was sipping his second drink, waiting for his contact. He had been offered a lucrative business, and declining this offer meant to be totally stoopa. His contact, however, seemed to be late. He had no idea that a figure dressed in dark clothes was approaching in the background, asking about him.

 

Just as he took another sip of his drink, a hand suddenly fell on his shoulder. When he wanted to turn around on impulse – his right hand instinctively reaching for his blaster – the grip on his shoulder grew more intense. “Do not turn around !” a low voice, sounding as if it was well used to giving orders, commanded.

The spacer’s hand touched nothing but empty air. A second hand suddenly put his blaster onto the bar, directly in front of Drasskoth who was intelligent enough to realize he had no chance.

 

„What do you want ?“he hissed, slightly angered to have let himself be trapped so easily.

 

„We have a date. My client wants a certain ship to be destroyed. A regular pirate attack. Unfortunately, the crew offered resistance, and so the ship was destroyed. Including all passengers. Is that clear so far ?“

 

„More than clear. What sort of ship is it ? And what’s in it for me ?“ the Nikto asked carefully.

 

A datapad was put onto the bar, along with a pile of credit chips, right before the pirate’s eyes. The Nikto reached for the data card, activating it.

 

„A small, outdated luxury cruiser ? That’s easy money. Maybe we could also board the ship and claim ransom for the passengers. Imagine who can afford this sort of toy..”

“No !” the voice interrupted him. “The ship must be destroyed, no one on board may survive.”

 

„What a waste !“, the pirate sighed. “How could I have the heart to do that ?”

A second pile of credits was deposited on the bar in front of Drasskoth.

“Will this sum be sufficient to appease your qualms ?”

 

The Nikto swallowed hard when he considered the amount in question, the equivalent of half a month of putting his nose to the grindstone. “The job is as good as done. How can I inform you about the successful outcome of the operation ?”

“This will not be required. My client will know if you have been successful. In case you have not, you will no longer be in a position to report about it.”

 

„You’ve got some exhilarant temper“, the pirate retorted sarcastically. When he heard no response, he turned around carefully, but his interlocutor had disappeared. Hastily, he pocketed the credits, paid for his drinks and left the bar.

 

 

The exiled Emperor, Roan Fel, angrily trudged to and fro in his throne room on Bastion. Before him stood the two Imperial Knights Draco and Krieg.

His plan to detain a high-ranking Sith had failed in the most pathetic manner.

He came to a halt in front of the two knights.

 

„All of them dead ?“

„Almost !“ Antares Draco confirmed. „There was one survivor. Thanks to his report we know what happened on the third moon of Khyldrea.“

„Tell me !“

 

„According to plan the knights had taken hold of a Sith. Unfortunately, it was not Lady Maladi whom you had hoped to capture. It seems she has suspected something. The trapped Sith bore the name of Thrakon. Capturing him already was a tough piece of work, but then, unexpectedly, two more Sith turned up. The knights grew careless, faltering in their effort to hold Darth Thrakon down, so he managed to free himself. Together, these three Sith succeeded in annihilating the entire task force.”

 

„Two Sith. Nihl and Stryfe, I assume ?“

 

„Not at all, Emperor. A few names seem to have risen to the surface inside the Sith Order. The surviving master reported they had been a man named Darth Stator and a woman addressed by the name of Cinis. Judging from the way she fought she is definitely a Sith, too.”

 

„These Sith are becoming a greater annoyance each day !“, Fel cursed. “Twelve knights, and they are defeated by three Sith !”

Fel resumed his angry trudging. “Our trainers should adapt to this new situation. We need new strategies. I wish Treis Sinde was here !”

 

“As far as I know he is still on Dac, Emperor.”

“Yes, I know, and he should have been back long ago.” Fel paused, musing for a moment, then turned to his two knights.

 

“The knights killed in action will receive a funeral of honor. The surviving knight will be decorated. Instruct intel to find out as much as possible about these characters – Stator and Cinis. I want them to be arrested and called to account with regard to their crimes against the Empire. Now leave and carry out your duty !”

 

The two Imperial knights bowed and left Fel’s audience hall.

 

Since orbital space above Coruscant was continuously overcrowded, Stator decided to emerge from hyperspace a little farther away from the planet. Even though this procedure would make the journey last two days longer, the Jabiimi was willing to take the delay. Two more days during which he would have the occasion to meditate about what might expect him. It was obvious that Lord Krayt was not pleased about the fact that he spent his time traveling across the galaxy instead of looking for ways of healing for his master. Another obvious point was that this situation was not his fault but that he had acted on Wyyrlok’s or Maladi’s command. Nevertheless, he was well familiar with the supreme Sith’s short-tempered character who did not care about reasoning when enraged.

 

Now the moment had come. The Dark Fist emerged from hyperspace. Just as Stator was mentally preparing for an unhurried, boring sublight journey, he noticed four bright dots on the cockpit display. Almost at the same time, they appeared beyond the cockpit window as well.

“Headhunters”, Stator grumbled, deactivating the autopilot. With one hand, he grabbed the controls of the manual flight control panel, while his other hand reached for the comlink.

“Lady Cinis ! Brace yourself. We are under attack !“

 

The four headhunters were coming for the Dark Fist. Darth Stator maintained his present course and accelerated. With a fierce grin he waited for the moment when he would be entering the hunters’ shooting range. Four more seconds, three, two, one second. That moment he went into a steep dive, the hunters’ laser cannons hitting nothing but empty space. Subsequently, Stator pulled the ship up, firing from all four cannons.

Meanwhile, the headhunters had approached him. One of them fell victim to Stator’s fire; and the Dark Fist shot upward directly behind the three remaining opponents. The three ships tried to reverse their course, but Stator went into a U turn which pushed him hard into his seat. One of the three headhunters appeared in his range, and without hesitation the Sith activated his laser cannons.

Now only two headhunters were left.

 

Stator was pulling the ship into a large loop when he felt he was no longer alone in the cockpit. In her cabin, Cinis hat gotten enough of being shaken and had decided to move up front. If she was to die now, she was eager to see how it happened.

 

„Ah, Cinis !“ he grumbled. „There is an auxiliary seat in the corner. With seatbelts !“

„The way you are flying, I am going to need them !“, Cinis snapped back, but quickly did as ordered.

 

In the meantime, the two remaining headhunters had agreed on heckling the Dark Fist. Both had maneuvered themselves into the blind area of Stator’s ship – a standoff, since their position didn’t allow them to launch an effective attack on the Dark Fist. Not much later Stator had located the pirates’ mother ship and began heading for it. Thus, the two pirates, losing their head, tried to move behind the Dark Fist in order to destroy Stator’s ship before he could reach the mother ship.

Stator sensed it, suddenly activating full reverse thrust. From behind, he heard Cinis gasp for air; but apart from that she remained silent.

 

The two headhunters shot past the Dark Fist. One collided with the pirates’ mother ship, the other one tried to fly a loop but only managed to maneuver himself into the Dark Fist’s shooting range. A brief burst from the laser cannons ended his existence.

For a moment, Stator regretted that his ship wasn’t equipped with frontal proton torpedoes which would have allowed him to destroy the mother ship as well. Before he could finish his train of thought, the pirate ship disappeared into hyperspace.

 

Stator checked the ship’s systems, registering no relevant damage.

Behind him, Cinis took off the safety belt. “Damn it, Stator, where have you learnt to fly like that ?”

“In my former life I was a smuggler’s co-pilot. There were many situations like this one. And since my captain was drunk most of the time, I had to learn rapidly.” The Jabiimi turned around to Cinis.

„So, are you disappointed ?“

Cinis gave him a taunting grin. “Not at all. I used to work as a waitress, do you remember ?”

“Ah”, Stator retorted, “I cannot help imagining what you did to all those people who tried to dine and dash !”

“There were none”, the Sith woman said curtly.

 

Stator turned back to the controls. Shortly, Coruscant, the Temple and Lord Krayt would welcome them back.

 

„One more question, Lord Stator. What do you think this was ?”

“It looked like a pirate attack.”

“Pirates attacking a Sith ship ? Pretty improbable, unless they are weary of life.”

 

Darth Stator turned around slowly, looked Cinis directly into the eyes and replied:

“Perhaps they just have not been told that their target is a Sith ship.”

 

Cinis‘ eyes flew open. „You mean they were hired ?“

 

The Jabiimi bent his head slightly. “Judging from what I have witnessed in the recent past, I would not be surprised. But whoever it is who is seeking my life”, saying so, he turned back to face the controls, “he keeps making the mistake of underestimating me.”

 

 

When the Dark Fist had landed on Coruscant, the two Sith were greeted by Darth Wyyrlok as they left the ship. Slowly, Cinis and Stator walked towards Lord Krayt’s counselor and bowed.

 

„Stator, Cinis ! Our master demands to speak to you at once. Follow me !” Thus he turned around, striding away rapidly. For a split second, the two Sith looked at each other in silence, then followed the Chagrian.

Arriving at the throne room, Wyylok signalled to Cinis to wait there. “You first, Stator !”

The Jabiimi bowed slightly, then entered the throne room. Strangely enough, Krayt’s voice did not join him.

 

Stator walked slowly towards the throne upon which the head of the new Sith Order was presiding.

“Mylord !”, Stator greeted his master and bent his knee before him.

 

„Rise, Lord Stator !“, said Darth Krayt, and as the Jabiimi did as commanded, he continued to speak. “I was told you were dead. Apparently, this information was incorrect.”

 

„It seems so, Mylord.“ Saying so, Stator updated his master about the circumstances of the failed assassination following his mission on Nar Shaddaa.

 

„So our mysterious enemy has attempted a second time to take your life. But why have you not reported back immediately ?”

“The ship was too greatly damaged. I had been drifting through space for weeks, kept alive by the Force alone.” The Jabiimi decided to shield himself from the Force to an extent that successfully shrouded his little lie. “During that time, I have acquired an amazing skill, my master. You are doubtlessly familiar with the Kiffar’s ability to read objects ? I have this skill now, too; however, it usually works only with objects which have been exposed to the Dark Side of the Force for some time.”

 

„Can you prove this ?“, the Emperor grumbled.

“With your permission”, said Stator, stepped towards the head of the Sith Order and touched his armor. Just a few seconds later, he jerked back, his eyes wide open with terror.

 

„What is it, Lord Stator ? Has your esoteric skill left you ?”

 

„No“, the Jabiimi stammered. „You intended… to make Skywalker your successor ?“

 

For a moment, Lord Krayt looked surprised. “No one knows this. Not even Wyyrlok. You are amazing, Lord Stator. And dangerous.“

 

„This is exactly the impression others have of me, too, Mylord. Lord Krayt, you must not trust Skywalker ! Kill me if you wish, but desist from this man. He will destroy the Sith Order. He is no worthy successor for you !”

 

„Do not worry, Lord Stator. This idea has already left my mind. I want to obtain Skywalker, use him and then kill him. This, and only this is the reason for my search for Cade Skywalker. And you, too, will be assigned this task, since your other research regarding possible healing for me has remained unsuccessful so far.”

 

„Not entirely, Mylord. I have meanwhile found out that healing cannot come from the Dark Side of the Force. It seems Darth Bane’s holocron has only held back this information because he did not want to admit he had been forced to resort to the support of a Light Side healer. For this reason, I am in doubt with regard to Skywalker’s possible success. He is playing around with the Dark Side, but it cannot help you.”

 

„He is a trained Jedi. Perhaps I am really in need of the Light Side to help me, but my vision inevitably requires me to regain my full force. He will heal me, and then I will destroy him ! Find Skywalker, Lord Stator ! Find him, and your future in the Sith Order will be a splendid one. Perhaps, in a not too far-off future, I may require a new head of… Sith intel.”

Stator twitched, but the Emperor didn’t seem to notice.

“Now leave me, Lord Stator. Find Skywalker. My vision depends on it. Send in Cinis as you go !“

 

The Jabiimi bowed deep. „As you command, Mylord !“ Thus he left the throne room.

 

At the door he met Cinis who looked at him expectingly.

“Lord Krayt has given me the order to look for Cade Skywalker”, Stator explained. “He wants to speak to you now. I think it would be best to meet again once you have finished your discussion with him in order to exchange the results of our individual meetings with Lord Krayt and to talk about our further proceedings. But now enter, do not let him wait. I will be in contact with you.”

Cinis nodded curtly and entered the throne room while Stator departed towards his quarters.

 

The throne room was permeated with the dusky, reddish atmosphere the head of the Sith Order like to surround himself with. Meanwhile, the damaged window had been repaired, and nothing disturbed the saturnine majesty Darth Krayt welcomed Cinis in. She stepped right in front of his throne, knelt before him and bowed deep.

A few seconds of silence passed before Lord Krayt began to speak.

 

„Cinis“, he said slowly. „How come you have accomplished a mission together with Lord Stator, and not even at my command ?“

 

Cinis looked up at him, and answered. “I have acted upon Lady Maladi’s command. She ordered me to travel to Wayland together with Lord Stator in order to explore the local terrain. Apparently, Lady Maladi wished to launch a new project there. Following the sabotage of the former recultivation the world had turned into an unpredictable jungle, and we were given the task to inform Lady Maladi about its current condition in order to allow her to continue her planning with the help of the data we would have provided. All I know is that Lady Maladi obviously planned to establish a base or laboratory on Wayland – for what purpose, however, I have not been told.”

 

Krayt mused for a moment, then continued, in a slightly irritated tone, but obviously less irate than would have been expected.

“You are aware that your tasks here in the Temple as well as your field assignments for Lady Maladi – and by this I am referring to your elimination and acquisition operations – require your full attention. I want you to inform me about this sort of missions exceeding your normal sphere of competence. As your master I will then decide whether or not you will assume this task – be it on Lady Maladi’s command or not.”

 

„Yes, my Lord“, Cinis said, bowing once more. Lord Krayt had not ordered here to rise, and so she remained on her knees, awaiting his further commands.

 

Even though you have acted without my direct command, accomplishing a mission which has exceeded your regular field of duty, you have supplied me with an interesting piece of information”, Krayt continued to speak. “I doubt that I would have learned otherwise of Lady Maladi’s plans, since she likes to conceal her doings not directly linked to my instructions. For this reason, I shall not punish you but give you another chance It is time for you to make up your mind about your feelings and, at the same time, be reminded of whom your loyalty should be aimed at.”

 

Cinis gave him a questioning look as Lord Krayt’s merciless gaze hit her.

 

„You will be submitted to an ordeal I have made only one of my subordinates go through so far. At the beginning of his career at my side, Lord Nihl has been awarded the dubious pleasures of this treatment, and I believe it is quite the right thing for you to give you the occasion to think about your position inside the Order. Do you know what I am talking about ?”

 

„No, my Lord“, Cinis lied, although she realized with terror that Krayt was referring to the Embrace of Pain Lord Nihl had already told her about. She shuddered at the thought that she had now been selected to suffer this torture session, noticing at the same time that Lord Krayt obviously didn’t know anything about her contact with Lord Nihl. Good. She lowered her gaze to the floor again to prevent Lord Krayt from reading the truth in her eyes.

 

„It is called the Embrace of Pain“, Krayt carried on, “and you will suffer it for one night. It will not kill you, but you will learn to bear the pain and the fear, to work with them and to use these emotions in order to be forged into an even more efficient tool of my reign.”

Cinis attempted to lift her head once more to look at Lord Krayt, but that very moment, as a foretaste of the ordeal which was waiting for her, she felt his Force grip on her neck. He held her like in a vise, bending her down without any chance to resist. Instinctively, she tried to rebel against it, but then she understood that this, just like her admission to the Sith Order, was just another test. She complied, giving in to his grip, and remained on her knees before him, her torso bent to the floor. Even though she was meanwhile acting on various stages, her devotion to Lord Krayt was still present, and after a few seconds her initial protest turned into ecstatic surrender to her master and the Dark Side.”

 

„Treat me as you will, Lord Krayt“, Cinis took pains exclaiming. “I am yours.”

 

From one second to the next she felt him releasing her. Cinis gasped for air, straightened her back and heard the door opening, just as she was shaking her hair out of her face.

A figure stepped towards her and curtly signalled to her to follow.

Cinis gave Lord Krayt a final look as he was sitting motionless on his throne, and obeyed.

 

When she dared to throw a look at her companion outside the throne room, she froze. Although she had already seen numerous recordings which had made her at least basically familiar with the characteristics of this species, this was the first time in her life she was meeting a male Yuuzhan Vong in person – apparently one who had joined the Sith Order, despite the fact that this species was now completely deprived of any connection to the Force they had had in former times. The humanoid was several inches taller than Cinis, yet that which amazed her most wasn’t his height, his massiveness and his black clothes – a sight Sith were used to anyway – but the large number of ritual piercings in his face. Even though you knew what a Vong used to look like, you jerked back when you saw them up close. Cinis stared at the coarse contours of the edged skull, the long black hair held back with a ribbon, the slightly diagonal eyes, the countless metal rings and bridges anchored in lips, auricles, rudimental ala and root of the nose and the area where humans had their eyebrows.

 

Unbidden, he began to speak, with a slight accent.

“I am K’ayu K’shyan. Come with me and let us fulfill Lord Krayt’s will.”

 

The way he presented himself, and the fact that as a Yuuzhan Vong he could not touch the Force implied that he was one of the numerous lesser servants of the Temple. Cinis supposed that due to the foreign nature of the installation he was responsible for the “Embrace of Pain” which appeared to be found inside the Temple. As the torture rack was very much alive, the organic contraption required supervision and care, and it was clear that its inventors were those most appropriate for this task. Obviously, that man, for whatever reason, belonged to the Caste of the Shamed Ones and, in his despair and bitterness which, despite his hereditary insensitivity, opened him to the Dark Side to a certain extent, had found a new home in the Sith Order, albeit as a servant.

 

She returned the Vong’s look as insistently as possible, taking efforts not to reveal her disgust. “Let us go. Lord Krayt’s will awaits to be fulfilled.”

 

Together they covered a rather long distance into a shut-off section of the Temple, its end being marked by a massive door leading to the chamber of pain. K’ayu K’shyan held a data card onto the sensor, and the portal retreated into the wall.

Inside, a nightmare come alive awaited them.

 

The organic Vong torture rack covered the entire rear wall of the relatively small room. From the floor to the ceiling, a tangle of tentacles or tendrils stretched, half animal and half vegetable, twisting and curling languidly in the dim light. The air inside the dungeon was warm and humid, permeated by a slightly moldy smell, reminding of a hydroponic greenhouse. Despite the sultry air, Cinis shuddered again, trying to conceal her reaction. Even though the Force was strong in her she couldn’t help feeling a chill run down her spine.

 

„Remove your armor and clothes except for light clothing. Lord Krayt has ordered that you shall feel the Embrace without protective armor”, K’shyan remarked in a neutral tone.

Cinis took off her boots, gauntlets, chest armor and her belt with her lightsaber. K’shyan took the objects, depositing them in a wall niche. She left her shirt, pants and underwear on, as despite the high room temperature she didn’t want to have to bear this naked.

When she had finished she gave the Vong a nod. He signalled her to stand in front of the wriggling tentacles, with her back towards the wall. Cinis followed his instructions, and he subsequently touched specific areas on the tentacles, accompanying his proceedings with a few hissed words in his own language. Immediately, the tendrils wrapped themselves around Cinis’ arms and legs and lifted her up, then contracted powerfully on her torso, making her body stretch as if on a rack. Finally, a somewhat thinner tentacle wrapped itself around her neck, exerting just sufficient pressure to make breathing hard for her without choking her to death. The whole thing was not yet hurting extremely, but rather felt unpleasant and uncomfortable, but Cinis had no doubt that the next hours would bring her suffering she would only be able to bear with the help of the Dark Side of the Force. She tried to mentally prepare for the ordeal, but had to realize that currently she wasn’t really capable of doing so, since her emotions ran wild. She was afraid of this unknown atrocity, and despite her devotion she began to feel angry at Lord Krayt for doing this to her. Lord Nihl, who had been submitted to this torture session more than just once, must have felt the same.

 

„These are the rules“, K’shyan whispered. “Move – and suffer. Hold still – and suffer with dignity.”

Having said so, he turned around abruptly and left the room, leaving Cinis behind in murk, humid air and living shackles.

 

For the first few hours, Cinis managed to stand the Embrace relatively well, but then her body began to long desperately for assuming another position which wasn’t possible. Even worse, every single little movement of her limbs, every slightly deeper breath caused the tendrils to contract further, tearing at her extremities, squeezing her torso and choking her.

As time went by, this effect intensified itself to a great extent, as Cinis just couldn’t manage to hang there without even the slightest movement. Her muscles began to cramp, her joints hurt intolerably from the unnatural position she had been forced to remain in, and even though she tried to breathe as shallowly as possible, the grip around her body slowly but surely became more intense.

She struggled to fight back the fear of being simply killed by this soulless entity, trying instead to concentrate on her anger seething inside her like mad. However, this only led to her making numerous slight, involuntary movements which made things even worse. She was now wheezing with pain. Appalled, she realized that she was no longer able to think clearly. A part of her already wanted to entreat Lord Krayt to redeem her; at the same time, her pride, abhorring this idea, only fueled her rage. The angrier she got, the more she moved, and the more intense her torture became.

 

In addition to all this, her own body had begun to tantalize her. Sweat was running over her skin, wetting her clothes; hunger and thirst racked her, and her bladder was screaming for release. Cinis began to realize that she would not survive this night with sane mind if she didn’t act. There was only one possibility: to open up entirely to rage and agony, thus permitting the Dark Side of the Force once more to fully take possession of her. She was well aware that this was but Lord Krayt’s attempt to break her will, and she was intent on passing this test. Only the Dark Side could make her reach this aim.

 

Cinis took efforts concentrating on what she was feeling. Her Sith training helped her to mentally separate the individual emotions and to perceive them one by one, in a totally conscious manner. Physical pain, straining her to the limits of her cognitive ability. Ice cold fear of this alien thing she wasn’t sure whether or not it would always obey its keeper’s commands. The inconveniences her own body was giving her. Red-hot anger, like a bubbling cauldron over a fire. Compared to all this, weariness and exhaustion, although overwhelming, were almost hard to feel.

And then she took a breath as deep as possible, opening herself entirely to the Dark Side of the Force. Consciously, she recalled all those moments during which she had enjoyed the devotion to the ways of the Sith and the submission under Lord Krayt’s will, and used them to take hold of her again. Contrarily to the Jedi who would have opened themselves to the flow of the Force in order to attenuate their feelings, Cinis now took a direct grasp on the Dark Side wave filling her, amplifying her emotions, similar to the way she had done it during her physical encounter with Lord Nihl. A scream escaped her as pain and anger suddenly changed their nature. The tentacle around her neck contracted just a little further, but this was the very moment all those negative sensations and emotions melted into the ecstasy of the Dark Side.

 

At the same time, an image flared up before her mind’s eye, reminding of the dream visions of Darth Krayt which had haunted her before she had joined the Order. She looked down onto a barren landscape, full of rocks and dust. At the edge of a high cliff, the vague contours of a building could be seen. Unmistakeable noises – blaster shots, the hissing and humming of lightsabers and screams in the distance – implied a battle taking place not far away. In front of her, on the dusty plain, she perceived two figures. One of them was lying on the floor, mortally wounded, close to dying, despite the massive armor in which a hole burnt by a lightsaber was gaping – Lord Krayt. For the first time, Cinis was seeing him without his helmet, since the other figure, clad in black and horned, was holding it in his hands. As he bent down over Krayt, she recognized Lord Wyyrlok, his master’s voice and counselor.

 

The two seemed to exchange whispered words, ending with the Chagrian putting aside his master’s helmet. Krayt raised his hand and tried to sit up, as despite his agony his eyes reflected for the last time the fanatic gleam of his vision of the One Sith. He seemed to murmur something to Lord Wyyrlok almost imploringly, who smiled and nodded in reply.

And then Cinis watched in horror as Lord Wyyrlok raised his arms like in slow motion in order to ultimately deliver their master from life to death with a storming cluster of Sith lightning.

 

Abruptly, the vision faded. Cinis twitched, gasped for air, trying to understand what she had just witnessed. Lord Krayt being murdered by his closest confidant whose family had been serving him for three generations. Could this become true ? Had the Force shown her what would happen ?

She felt the tentacles tearing at her body. The physical pain was still present, but now it felt as if it had receded behind a wall. Cinis’ head was clear again, she felt like herself again, and she had preserved her will. Like a true Sith, she had risen above what had plagued her, had used her passion, in accordance with the Sith Code, to gain strength and power in order gain victory over the pain and – in the true sense of the word – break her chains. She was now certain she would live until the next morning – and beyond. From now on, the world would no longer be the same. The future demanded change; the change Lord Nihl and Lady Maladi had been talking about; and with somber certainty she realized she had seen the future.

The days of Darth Krayt’s reign were numbered, and the Order of the One Sith would have to be watchful to prevent lacerating itself from inside.

 

The vision had not given her any clue as to when this meaningful event would take place, but Lord Wyyrlok had not really looked aged when he had flashed his deadly smile at Lord Krayt. She doubted that what the Force had shown her would come to pass no sooner than in ten standard years. No – presumably a great deal earlier.

Lady Maladi, and Lord Nihl, too, as soon as he had recovered, would have to learn about this. But for the time being, Cinis decided for her own safety to bury this insight deep in her mind, even though she was aware that she would have to act in time in order to preserve and, if possible, improve her position within the changing Order in future.

 

She was still engrossed in Force meditation, hardly perceiving pain, sweat and thirst, when she suddenly felt a light shining onto her. When she opened her eyes, Cinis saw the Vong guardian entering the chamber. K’shyan, followed by a second figure, approached the Embrace of Pain, gently touched the tentacles in several places and uttered some more incomprehensible words. The Vong creature released its grip and lowered Cinis to the floor, then let go of her entirely.

Although she tried to rise, her numb limbs refused to work properly. Hardly feeling her own arms and legs, she couldn’t prevent sagging to the floor.

In the final second before she slumped onto her belly, she caught a glimpse of the second figure emerging from the shadows to tower over her.

Lord Krayt.

 

At first, Cinis was too weak to lift herself to her knees, but Krayt seemed satisfied with her position. Moaning, she lay prostrate before him, her forehead on the floor in front of his boots, while a painful tingling told her that the blood had slowly begun to circulate again in her arms and legs.

Lord Krayt made her lie before him for a while, letting his cold gaze wander over her. Apparently, he was convinced that her will had finally been broken.

Eventually, Cinis forced her body to rise. Incredibly slowly, she pulled herself to her knees and bowed deep before her master. Yet now her devotion mingled with the memory of the anger she had felt, and the vision she was preserving in her mind.

 

Krayt began to speak.

„What would you like to do most now ?”

Cinis raised her head and looked directly at Lord Krayt.

“Kill someone”, she hissed.

A faint flicker of amusement showed in the corner of Krayt’s mouth. „Do not worry. You will receive further countless occasions for this in future. I have submitted you to this test in order to ensure your loyalty belongs to no one else but me. You are mine, and you will stay mine, until death.”

 

„Yes, my Lord“, Cinis replied, bowing deep before him again. “I am yours. You are our master, and by serving you I serve your vision of the One Sith. You will is my will.”

 

Until death. Remained the question, whose death.

 

There was a silence for a few moments while Darth Krayt let his scrutinizing gaze wander over her. Then he spoke one single sentence which made her jerk.

 

"Rise, Darth Cinis."

 

With eyes wide open, she stared at him. Like in trance, she rose, her legs still hurting, until she stood face to face with her master, barefoot, with sweat-drenched, tangled hair.

Finally, she could speak again. “I feel honored, my Lord.”

“Go now, draw new strength from the Force and restore your physical performance. Your change of status will be recorded immediately in the Temple files. I will be expecting you in the throne room in five standard hours.”

Cinis bowed once more. “As you command, my Lord.”

 

Krayt turned around and tromped off brusquely. Cinis fought back the vertigo trying to rise inside her, noticing that K’shyan was holding the bundle containing her armor, boots and weapon to her. She grabbed for it, put on her boots and belt, and when the Vong opened the door for her, she made her way to her quarters, staggering slightly and carrying her gauntlets and chest armor in her hand.

 

Inside, she dropped everything she was holding to the floor, rushed to the bathroom and then adjusted her com unit to wake her after three and a half hours. Then she kicked her boots into a corner, sank onto her bed and lost consciousness.

 

When the alarm rang, Cinis’ mind felt reasonably refreshed thanks to the fact that she used to open herself to the Dark Side of the Force during sleep. Now it was time to wash, to exchange the sweat-soaked clothes against fresh ones and to put her boots and armor back on. Having finished, Cinis called for a service droid and ordered to get her a light meal as well as a drink of water from the Temple kitchen. She was busy brushing her long, red hair with the black strand which had already begun to dry, when the droid returned with a tray, handed it to her and retreated again. Cinis reached for the sealed water container, opened it and drank carefully in order not to overload her stomach. Almost at once she felt herself returning almost to full force as her blood thinned and the last remainders of drowsiness left her.

 

She was just about to rivet on the light meal – a standard food ration from the Temple’s refectory the Order members used to eat most of the time – when she felt a tinge of fear arising in her mind, as if the Force was giving her a warning. It felt as if something inside her was crying out, and a shiver ran over her arms.

Without further thought, she pulled the thin metal foil back over the food container, rose quickly to her feet and walked straight into the medical section.

 

Luckily, no one was there at the moment, except for one of the medical assistants who was busy supervising monitors at the other end of the room. He didn’t throw Cinis so much as a look.

She moved up to one of the chemical analyzers, slipped the food ration inside unobtrusively and got rid of the container in one of the garbage chutes nearby. While she was waiting for the result of the examination, her thoughts returned to her promotion.

So Lord Krayt had finally deemed her worthy of bearing the title of Darth. Why now ? It was obvious he was strongly seeking to ensure her loyalty. Was he feeling that his powers were leaving him ? Was he trying to ensure that Cinis helped to pursue his vision in his name, should he no longer be capable of doing so ? And what role was Lord Wyyrlok playing in all this ?

She could not find any satisfactory result to her train of thought. Of course, she was pleased about her promotion and the fact that she was finally entitled to officially and proudly bearing the title of a Dark Lady of the Sith – but a certain amount of doubt kept eating away at her mind.

She would have to speak to Lady Maladi as soon as possible.

 

The analyzer’s beep tore Cinis from her thoughts. The display lit up, showing a list of the food portion’s components the machine had examined. They were the usual ingredients of a standard Temple food ration, enriched with vitamins and minerals.

And, of late, a lethal dose of a highly efficient poison which would have killed Cinis within seconds, had she consumed as much as a tiny bite of the food.

She felt a tinge of nausea, not only because she hadn’t been eating anything for one standard day. It seemed she would also have to speak to Lord Stator again soonest possible as well, because now they had something in common: Someone was seeking their lives.

 

 

Once more, Darth Stator decided to trust his intuition. As Skywalker used to keep company with the galaxy’s scum, he could surely be found where this sort of scum met regularly. Thus, the Sith had made his way to an ill-reputed area where a run-down joint named “Rik’s Bar” attracted the worst kind of creatures. Anyway, the name was misleading, since a Hutt female, calling herself Queen Jool, ran the place. Besides that, she was an information dealer.

 

He entered the bar and let his gaze wander around the place. Some patrons briefly looked into his direction, but returned their attention quickly to their respective drinks and conversations. Pacing slowly, the Sith crossed the bar, heading for the counter. In the middle of the room he came to a halt, when he suddenly felt the presence of two persons very close to him. Turning around slowly, he saw two huge fellows, both considerably taller than the Jabiimi, grinning at him. Apparently, they were the only ones around who didn’t have the slightest idea what or who they were dealing with.

 

„Queen Jool would like to talk to you !“, one of them growled, while the other one just kept grinning. “Wrong!”, Darth Stator replied slowly. “I want to speak to Queen Jool. And I do not intend to ask for it !”

One of the musclemen suddenly produced a vibroknife. Baring his teeth, he hissed: “Your manners leave a lot to be desired, little man !”

Briefly, the Sith touched the Force, moving his hand subtly. The guy holding the knife suddenly rammed it into his colleague’s arm who shrieked in surprise. “You damned…” That was how far he got. Stator had raised his hand, forming it into a claw, when the giant all of a sudden began to gasp for air, his eyes rolling. A few seconds later he dropped to the floor unconscious. Stator pulled back the hood of his coat, revealing his Sith tattoos. With a somber smile, he said: “You may now accompany me to Queen Jool !”

The second man’s look alternated between the Sith and his partner, lying seemingly lifeless on the floor. He was clearly confused; and since he did not seem to get along with this situation all too well, he considered it safest to bow briefly. “Of course, Mylord. Please come with me.” Thus he turned around, walking away. Stator followed him.

 

Queen Jool, leaning at a counter specially manufactured for Hutt anatomy, was smiling. She had already noticed that one of her henchmen was missing, which had made her put two and two together.

“I am pleased to welcome a member of your splendid Order here. It is almost too great an honor. May I ask your name ?” the Hutt female purred.

“I am Darth Stator. And I do not want anything to drink“ the Sith replied drily. “I want Cade Skywalker !”

“Oh, I’m afraid I won’t be able to fulfill your request. Cade is such a bad boy… he hasn’t paid me a visit for a long time.”

“Where can I find him ?”, Stator growled.

“Ohhh, I do sell information, that’s true. But if I provide you with some information about my dear friend Cade, what’s in it for me ?”

 

The Sith looked deep into the Hutt’s eyes and retorted in a sepulchral voice: “Would staying alive be an acceptable price ?”

Queen Jool seemed surprised and annoyed at the same time. Never before had she been forced to put up with an open threat on her own turf, but so far, however, no Sith had ever entered her bar. She was clever-minded, and so she quickly changed her plans. “He was seen last in Rawk’s Nest on Iego.”

 

The Jabiimi delved deep into the Force only to perceive that the Hutt was telling the truth – at least, from a certain point of view, but she didn’t seem to know more. He gave her a brief nod and left the bar without a word.

 

Rik, the official proprietor of the bar, stepped towards the Hutt female from behind. “Do you think it was wise to reveal one of your contacts to the Sith without getting anything in return ?”

“My dear Rik”, Jool grumbled, “I deal in information. I buy information, and I sell it. Sometimes I give away information for free, provided I, in return, get information for free as well. Today, I was provided, totally free of charge, with the information that apparently the Sith are looking for our dear friend Cade. Furthermore, I know who has been assigned the task of looking for him. And in addition to that, I know someone who has been rather interested lately in finding out what a certain Darth Stator is doing, and where he will possibly turn up in the near future.”

 

„You’re talking about the disguised Imperial knight who visited us recently, aren’t you ?“ Rik replied in a low voice.

Queen Jool didn’t say anything but looked at the door the Sith had used to leave the bar.

After a few seconds, the bar’s proprietor left the Hutt alone.

 

 

Shortly thereafter Darth Stator stood before Darth Krayt, reporting to him. “With view to this information”, he finished his argumentation, “I intend to travel to Iego in order to pursue the lead.”

 

Darth Krayt looked at his subordinate for a few seconds. “This seems reasonable to me, Lord Stator. I approve of this journey. Keep me updated permanently with all that arises !”

“I will do that, Mylord !”, the Jabiimi replied, bowed deep and left the audience hall.

 

When the door closed behind him, he saw Cinis facing him. The Coruscanti seemed rather excited. “Stator !” she hissed. “Someone within the Order has tried to kill me !” The Sith looked deep into her eyes before replying slowly: “Welcome to the club !”

“There is something going on, Lord Stator. And it confuses me. We have to do something !”

“I know. Inform Lady Maladi ! I must leave for Iego. Lord Krayt has instructed me to look for Skywalker. Since I will have no time to update Lady Maladi on what is going on, you will have to take care of that.”

 

„I will ! If I can. I do not know which direction the Sith Order is taking, but I feel disturbed at the sight of these schemings.”

“Peace is a lie, Lady Cinis !”

“Yes, I know. There is only passion !”

“And passion gives us strength !”

“And strength gives us power !”

“And power leads us to victory !”

“And through victory…” Cinis began, and together they finished the sentence, “…our chains are broken !”

 

For a moment, the two Sith looked each other in the eyes before the Jabiimi gave Cinis a silent nod, then strode off quickly. Cinis let her gaze follow him briefly before preparing for her encounter with her master, Lord Krayt.

 

She struggled to push her confusion aside as she entered the throne room.

Inside, Lord Krayt awaited her, meeting her with a stern look. She went down on one knee and bowed before him.

“I am at your disposal, my Lord.”

“Rise, Lady Cinis”, the head of the Sith Order retorted. “I have a mission for you.”

Cinis rose to her feet and, for the first time after a very long time, dared to look directly into her master’s eyes.

 

„As of now, you will be working for me exclusively. Your activities for Lady Maladi may wait until you will furnish exploitable results.”

“What shall I do for you, my Lord ?”, Cinis asked.

“You will begin your search for Cade Skywalker”, Krayt replied. “This mission has highest priority. Since you have been so eager, in the recent past, to cooperate with Lord Stator, I am herewith letting you know that I have assigned this very same task to him as well. Lord Stator will begin his research on Iego where Skywalker often used to go into hiding earlier. Parallel to this, you will visit other places known for Skywalker having spent a great deal of his time. This will continue until you have found him. Either you, Lady Cinis, or Lord Stator will bring him back to me, or you will die. Both of you.”

 

Cinis bowed once more. „We all live and die at your command. I shall commence my search with an important link to Cade Skywalker – the pirate Rav’s bounty brokerage office. As you know, my Lord, Skywalker has been working for him for a long time. The Bothan Jedi who was in our hands not long ago, before you killed him, had come from that source.”

Krayt nodded slowly. “This seems to me a good point to start with, Lady Cinis. Trace Rav and extract the information you require from him. If necessary, detain him and bring him here !”

Cinis nodded. „I will do this, my Lord.“

 

Krayt turned away from her halfways, thus signalling her that she was dismissed. But she remained where she was, and after a few seconds he threw her a questioning look.

“Is there anything else you want to report to me, Lady Cinis ?”

“Indeed, my Lord, there is something”, she replied, determined to inform her master of what had happened to her. “I have been the victim of an attempted murder.”

Krayt looked at her, interested. „Tell me“, he invited her.

 

Cinis continued. „After you had released me from the Embrace of Pain, I took a few hours of sleep and then sent for a droid do get me something to eat. As soon as the food ration had been put in front of me I felt the Force giving me a warning. I did not touch the food but carried it into the medical section to have it analyzed. It turned out it had been poisoned – with an extremely efficient substance which would have killed me right after the first bite.”

For a moment, Krayt remained silent before asking in a taunting tone: “What makes you report this incident, Lady Cinis ? What makes you believe that the schemings my subordinates are staging against each other might be of any interest to me ?”

 

„First of all“, Cinis answered, „the fact that you have shown interest by allowing me to tell you my story. And, apart from that, there is the possibility that the person in question may choose you as his or her next victim.”

 

She let the weight of her words sink in briefly and then continued, while Lord Krayt’s musing gaze rested on her. “It is a conspicuous fact that such assassinations are directed against Sith who have been working directly for you for a certain time. Lord Stator has informed me that he has already escaped several assaults, and doubtlessly you are familiar with that situation since you have consigned him to take over specific missions he was to account for to you personally. Now you have sent him to search for Cade Skywalker – a mission you are attaching highest importance to.

As concerns me, you have just honored me by awarding me the title of a Dark Lady of the Sith. Immediately afterwards, someone tries to kill me. Would it not be possible, my Lord, that someone is purposefully attempting to eliminate all those you have assigned important tasks to and who are faithful to you, just to prepare for taking your place without having to expect resistance from those who serve you ?”

 

Again, Krayt remained silent for a long while, focussing Cinis with his grim look. Finally, he remarked: “You may be right. Before beginning your research, I want you to inform Lady Maladi about this and hand her the analysis file you have obtained. I shall expect from her a detailed report about who, except for herself, has access to this sort of substances and which situations this poison has already been used in on the background of her activities for the Sith Order. It is beyond question that such proceedings shift her into the center of suspicion… on the other hand, I do not believe Maladi to be so stupid to skate on such thin ice, and, in addition to that, by using a method which will be associated with her at once.”

 

He pierced her with his looks. Again, Cinis felt that uncanny, discarnate grip on her neck, forcing her to her knees and bowing her down until her forehead touched the floor.

“I do not suppose you are considering this sort of ideas yourself, since I take it you appear to be rather well informed about certain things ?”, Krayt asked, his almost amused tone grotesquely contradicting the iron grip he was holding her in.

 

„Why then should I be telling you about this, my Lord ?“, Cinis uttered. “If I was making plans to eliminate you I would be the last person to make herself conspicuous in any way. I would avoid revealing to you even the tiniest little fragment of information concerning my doings, let alone make any insinuations. I am a Sith – secrecy and perfidy are our virtues, and I would make use of them to the greatest possible extent, should I intend to take the throne from you.

You know well that this is not the case, my Lord. I am yours, the purpose of my life is to serve you.”

Cinis couldn’t keep a shiver from running over her arms when she remembered her vision that moment. No, she would definitely not tell Lord Krayt about it.

 

„At least what you are saying sounds plausible”, Krayt spat, letting go of her abruptly. “Now leave. Speak to Lady Maladi and point out to her that I wish to see her at once as soon as she comes up with a result. Then begin your search for Skywalker.”

“As you command, my Lord”, Cinis replied, bowed once more deep before him, and left the hall.

 

Not much later, after Cinis had obtained a printout copy of the chemical analysis she had done in the medical section, she watched the doors of the laboratory Lady Maladi was working in open in front of her. Cinis went down on one knee before her and bowed her head, then rose again quickly. Maladi gave her a nod in her familiar, short-spoken manner. “Lady Cinis”, she greeted her curtly.

 

„I bring you a message from Lord Krayt“, Cinis began. “I must inform you that he has withdrawn me until further notice from my usual field of duty as your agent, since he intends to use me for a personal mission. Therefore I will neither be in the office, nor be able to work as your assassin for the time being – respectively, to make further observations.” Her voice got considerably lower during that last part of the sentence.

 

Maladi squinted her eyes. „Can you tell me the nature of this mission ?“

„Lord Krayt has not mentioned it to be subject to secrecy – apart from that, I have no doubt that you would know, in the twinkling of an eye, what it is all about, Mylady”, Cinis answered, smiling slightly. “Independently from each other, he has assigned the mission to both me and Lord Stator to find Cade Skywalker and bring him here.”

“Oh, yes”, Maladi drawled, “I can imagine why. Well, I herewith take note. This piece of information is rather interesting. Now go and fulfill your task for our master, Lady Cinis.

But there is still more, isn’t it ?”

 

„Indeed, Mylady.“ Cinis handed her the Flimsiplast printout of the analysis. Maladi took it from her, raising her rudimentary horn projections in question.

“I have been the victim of an attempted assassination”, Cinis recounted. She told Maladi briefly what had happened, finishing: “This substance was contained in the food ration I would almost have consumed, had I not felt a trembling of the Force in the very last moment. Lord Krayt wants you to report to him immediately with regard to who inside the Temple, except for yourself, has or could have the possibility to obtain this poison and on which occasions it has already been used by us.”

 

Maladi quickly ran over the page, then took a sharp breath. “This report is going to be brief”, she commented. “This poison has so far been used only once, on Wayland, in order to sabotage the world’s recultivation by the Jedi alliance in order to trigger the war which helped Lord Krayt ascend the throne. At that time, the substance had been used in conjunction with Vong biotechnology to provoke abnormal plant growth. As luck would have it, you were supposed to verify, together with Lord Stator, how things have developed on Wayland… If Lord Krayt had not summoned you back, you would have been assigned the task of installing a laboratory for me on the spot with Lord Stator and one of my Vong assistants.”

 

Her eyes gleamed. „But maybe you have not been ordered back by coincidence – just as the fact that our master’s suspicion falls on me is no coincidence either.

No one inside the Temple except for myself has access to this substance, neither my assistants nor medical professionals. No one – officially. But…someone who is of a sufficiently high rank allowing him to bypass all security barriers… someone of a reputation so renowned that no one would suspect him…” She broke off, musing as she gazed at the report in her hand.

 

„Lord Stator, too, has told me of assaults he has been victim of“, Maladi continued after a pause. “And he has uttered a suspicion identical with my idea of what is going on – especially since it proves the importance of your previous observations for me and Lord Nihl.”

She bent forward, using one hand to activate a jammer integrated into the laboratory table, normally used for keeping her interrogations secret and shielding off screams. Then she lowered her lips to Cinis’ ear, whispering to her one single word, before switching the jammer off again.

Now it was up to Cinis to nod, perplexed, while her blood was running cold when she thought of her vision.

 

„Yes, that might well be true“, she commented. “Rest assured, Mylady, I will be careful in every regard.

Should you wish to reach me”, she added, “I will be on Socorro in order to interrogate Rav.”

 

„Another fragment that fits“, Maladi said. “Not long ago I had the dubious pleasure of a discussion with him – however, not in person, only via holocom.

I could reveal quite a number of things to you, Lady Cinis, but I prefer not to do so – at least for the time being. Perhaps for the sake of your own safety. I still need you.”

„As you wish, Mylady“, Cinis retorted. “I am honored by that which you have entrusted to me.”

She hesitated briefly, then brought herself to make a decision. “I could also tell you about something which might deliver a hard blow to the Sith Order’s future, should it come true. Perhaps you have heard that Lord Krayt submitted me to the Embrace of Pain before officially making me Darth Cinis. During this time of torture, I had a most upsetting vision in the Force; and only the fact that it was merely a vision, not a real observation, has so far kept me from telling anybody about it.”

 

„Let me propose something, Lady Cinis“, Maladi said curtly. “You will travel to Socorro, interrogate Rav and, upon your return, you will let me know about your vision.”

Cinis nodded. “I will do that, Mylady.”

Maladi smiled slightly. “Perhaps you will appreciate to hear that Lord Nihl’s recovery is making progress. He should be capable of get back to action in due course of time.”

“Every single member of our Order is needed, Mylady”, Cinis answered, “and Lord Nihl is doubtlessly essential.”

“Indeed”, Maladi said in a low voice, dismissing her servant with a final, benevolent nod.

Cinis bowed and made her way to the hangar in order to depart for Socorro on board of the Firestorm.

 

The journey provided her with the occasion to give her body all it had been forced to do without during the past hours: sleep, food, fitness and lightsaber training with the battle drones available on board. When Socorro appeared on the ship’s monitors, the pilot announcing to her that they would contact Rav’s brokerage house in just a few minutes, Cinis felt once again fully refreshed and ready for further action.

Sometimes long hyperspace travel had its advantages.

She went into the cockpit in order to watch the landing procedure.

 

 

A black ship was orbiting a planet which had remained hidden for many years. Iego had been feared for centuries, and some systems had even enacted a ban on approaching it. Yet, even though the inhabitants of the celestial body, having spread fear and terror for so long, were long gone now, Iego was a deserted, rarely visited place. Following several orbits, Darth Stator had detected the stronghold known as “Rawk’s Nest” – the residence of a gifted repair kingpin who had bailed out quite a number of spacers in the past.

The Sith landed the Dark Fist in a certain distance in order to avoid attracting suspicion, and instructed the R4 unit wired to his controls to fire at anything that might approach his ship in an aggressive manner. Then he stepped into the open.

He inspected the landing site and nodded, satisfied. The ship was resting on a hill surrounded by shrubbery – hard to see, easy to defend.

 

Stator wrapped himself into his Sith coat and began moving towards Rawk’s Nest. Though being of an exhausting nature, the path did not cause any trouble to the Jabiimi who used the Force to get on quickly. No more than around twenty standard minutes later he arrived at his destination. The domicile of the mechanic and constructor looked like a bastion, and presumably it was no less. On the tower, Stator saw a laser cannon – and, apart from that, he noticed something else. The stronghold seemed to be deserted. Touching the Force deeply, however, the Sith perceived the presence of two persons. He surrounded Rawk’s Nest, discovering that the front gate had been forced open.

Stator squinted his eyes while his hand instinctively moved down to reach his lightsaber. He took the weapon from his belt and entered the patio of Bantha Rawk’s citadel.

 

Something was wrong. It was too quiet. Much too quiet for the alarm resounding in Stator’s brain.

And then he felt it. The wall at his left ! When he turned towards it, he noted a movement from the corner of his right eye which distracted him for a fraction of a second. Then the world seemed to explode.

The blast wave hurled the Sith off his feet, but he touched the Force to brace himself. With its the help, he managed to ward off the first large chunks of debris flying into his direction, but some of the remainders of the front wall hit him hard. His lightsaber flew from his hand, and he drifted into a light state of unconsciousness.

 

The entire left side of his body was hurting. Using the Force to alleviate the worst of the pain, he noticed two figures approaching him. He looked at them through eyes half closed.

One of them, a Rodian, murmured to his companion, a middle-aged human: “We’re done for ! This is one of those Sith !” He but whispered the final word.

„Don’t get nervous !“, the other one grumbled. “He’s as dead as ten year old Gornt poodoo. Sith can die, too.”

“And if he isn’t dead ?”, the Rodian asked.

“In that case he will be soon !”, his companion replied, producing a vibro blade. That moment he noticed Stator’s lightsaber, picking it up.

“This is going to get us loads of credits !” he explained triumphantly, turning to the Rodian. “In case Bantha’s Nest doesn’t yield any useful booty.”

 

Stator seethed with rage, yet he continued playing dead man. He had defeated assassins, Jedi and Imperial Knights. Even Sith. And now he should succumb to simple looters ? His anger made him get a hard grip at the Force, helping him to activate his lightsaber which the looter had carelessly pointed at his companion. Without a sound, the Rodian fell to the floor, dead. Horrified, the outlaw dropped the weapon and stepped back with eyes wide open with shock. That moment Stator opened his eyes and unleashed a rage-fueled cluster of Sith lightning onto the looter. In the past, he had used this weapon merely as a support, yet his anger was burning inside him so intensely that he managed to literally roast his opponent. When no more than smoldering remains were left of him, Stator dropped unconscious, exhausted by the strain and his injuries.

 

 

The holoprojector lit up, transmitting the figure of the port commander, a gawky human whose task it was to assign landing space to Rav’s visitors. The Firestorm’s pilot reacted immediately: “Imperial Infiltrator Firestorm approaching. Awaiting coordinates for landing platform assigned to us.”

The air traffic controller looked somewhat featherbrained, since he had no idea what this ship was up to. He hadn’t been informed about the arrival of an Imperial Infiltrator; however, a large number of foreign ships landed daily near the Crimson Axe, used by Rav, former pirate and current head of a transfer site for goods, hostages and bounties of all sorts, as his headquarters anchored deep in the rocky surface of Socorro.

 

He decided to ask routine questions. “What is your assignment. And, er, what do you mean by Imperial ? Are you visiting us on behalf of Emperor Roan Fel ?”

He was not aware that asking this simple question would have made him lose his life, had he spoken to a more impulsive character, such as Lord Stryfe. The Firestorm’s pilot was no high-ranking Sith but belonged to the military forces and could therefore not be recognized as being part of the Sith Order.

Cinis pushed her pilot aside and stepped into the holocom transmission field. The air traffic controller’s eyes widened with horror when he recognized her as a Sith; and he jerked when Cinis hissed: “We are here at the command of our Emperor Lord Darth Krayt in order to have a discussion with Rav and expect immediate assignment of a landing platform. I am Darth Cinis. Report to Rav that I wish to speak to him without further delay once we have landed.”

 

At once, the air traffic controller was overflowing with politeness. “Of course, Mylady. Landing is authorized on platform five, right next to Rav’s main office. I will arrange for you to be escorted there.”

Cinis nodded briefly, then broke the connection.

 

Doubtlessly, hectic activity would be breaking out down there now. Certainly Rav would have to cancel or postpone some of his appointments. She did not believe that the pirate had ever received a personal visit by a Sith before.

 

Platform Five was located directly next to the Crimson Axe’s entrance. With a hiss, the air lock opened, and Cinis stepped outside, now dressed in her dark, hooded coat she used to wear over her normal clothes during field jobs. A sharp bust of wind blew over the rocky ridge, twitching the seam of her coat. In front of her, the monumental silhouette of Rav’s ship, anchored vertically on the mountain ridge, rose. She threw a brief look upward, letting her gaze follow the contours of the former pirate cruiser, then she lowered her gaze again, concentrating on the escort approaching to pick her up.

The escort consisted of merely two persons – a wiry Kiffar and a sturdy, beefy-looking human with short, bright blond hair and greyish-green eyes. Both wore classical pirate’s clothes – tight pants, boots, short-sleeved shirts – and carried blasters at their belts. Despite their martial appearance they looked distracted, and when they were no more than just a few steps away they bowed before her.

 

„Welcome, Mylady“, the Kiffar said. “Please follow me. Rav is awaiting you in his office.”

Again, Cinis gave a brief nod – a gesture she had copied from Lady Maladi – and departed with the two henchmen while a group of technicians, supervised by her pilot, went about overhauling the Firestorm – at Rav’s charge, of course. Indeed, she was the first Sith who had ever come here – or would Rav have been willing to face expenses, had it been any different ? He must be shaking in his boots.

 

The group passed through the entrance, the former air lock of the Crimson Axe, and moved into a turbolift which took them but one flight up. Upon their arrival, an armored door opened in front of Cinis and the men accompanying her. Behind it, Rav, sitting at some sort of desk, was waiting for them. Apparently he used this office to control his business transactions which were subsequently sealed in the ship’s own bar.

Rav rose to his feet and walked around the desk. “Chip, Anson”, he addressed his employees. “You may leave now.”

The two bowed again briefly before Cinis, then turned on their heels and left the room – relieved, as it seemed. The door closed behind them.

 

Full of expectation, Cinis stood on the expensive Vaada carpet, absorbing the interior with just a few looks. Rav obviously liked pompous furnishings and lots of decoration. The interior design of the office, full of memorabilia, trophies and accumulated wealth, reflected in the appearance of the massive, green-skinned Feeorin who was several inches taller than Cinis. He sported chains and bracelets of doubtlessly considerable value, and on his head tentacles he wore numerous decorative rings. His clothing was rather light: a flexible chest armor, a sash with utensil belt around his waist, and loose, comfortable pants reaching down to his knees. His right lower leg and foot had been replaced by a cybernetic prosthesis; the footgear he wore on the left also looked lightweight and comfortable to wear. Even though he had retreated from an active pirate’s life, Rav, muscular and strong, still radiated an aura of agility and flexibility – quite a contrast to some of the flabby, adipose creatures Cinis had been forced to challenge from behind their desks with her lightsaber during past assignments.

Whether or not Rav would stay alive would be up to her decision. However, it was rather probable to keep him alive as a useful source of information – the question being merely if this was going to stay the way it was.

 

Rav bowed deep, smiled at her and began to speak.

“Lady Cinis, welcome to my humble office. Apparently, there are matters of essential importance to discuss, since I have not yet had the honor so far to welcome a member of your highly esteemed Order on my premises. I assume you are visiting me on behalf of Lady Maladi ?”

 

For a moment, Cinis was confused, but she let iron self-composure cover her brief insecurity. Deep inside, however, she registered that there was obviously something Lady Maladi had not revealed to her yet. True enough, she had insinuated that she had not yet done so and would only speak to Cinis once she had learned the content of her vision upon her subordinate’s return. Cinis only wished her mistress had updated her concerning that point, since it seemed to be something important.

Hauntingly, she looked into Rav’s gleaming eyes. “Indeed. I require from you additional information enabling me to continue acting on her behalf.”

Rav’s confident attitude seemed to crumble a little. Almost out of breath, he sputtered: “Please assure Lady Maladi that everything is going on according to her requirements. It goes without saying that I will stick to my part of the engagement, but things do take time. Perhaps you know that Cade is an erratic character. I have to wait for the right moment to trap him.”

Cinis took note of all this, realizing with surprise that Lady Maladi was apparently making her entirely own plans with regard to Cade Skywalker.

Again, she nodded and said: „I must know where I can find Cade now. Tell me.” As a precaution, she didn’t pronounce his last name.

Shaking, Rav bowed his head. “Unfortunately, Mylady, I cannot do that – for the simple reason that I do not know myself. This is why I told you I will have to wait for a favorable moment – which means, the moment I get to know where he is.”

Cinis decided to frighten him a little in order to make him fully compliant. “You are lying”, she hissed, raised one hand and grabbed his throat with the Force. Not too tight; she didn’t want to kill him or make him unconscious, just play with him a little. “Where is Cade ?”, she asked once more in a commanding tone.

Rav gasped for air, and his eyes widened in horror. “I swear I don’t know, Mylady”, he panted. “If I knew I would tell you, that is beyond question. I am telling the truth !”

“Is that so ?”, Cinis retorted, finally releasing him. Sagging, Rav rubbed his throat and began to speak rapidly.

 

„A few weeks ago I saw Cade for the last time. He turned up here together with Jariah and Deliah Blue, accompanied by Chak the Wookiee, the captain of the Grinning Liar, and his copilot Kee, dropped a number of sappy remarks and went pretty crazy.” Deliberately, Rav concealed that Cade had threatened him, making him the laughing stock of his entire crew as well as all bounty hunters present at that time. “He went terribly on my nerves”, Rav continued, “and then he disappeared with destination unknown, as if he had some sort of problems again. That’s what Cade is like. Here today, gone tomorrow. And that is nothing but the truth, Mylady. Immediately after Cade’s departure I was in contact with Lady Maladi, but you are certainly informed about this.“

 

Cinis shook her head slightly. Through the Force she could feel that Rav – as rarely as this might happen – was telling the truth.

“Do you have any idea to which place Cade could retreat to, or where he is often spending time ?” she asked.

“Well, in case he’s in trouble, he might try to retreat to some hideouts, but I don’t know them. Perhaps he’ll contact relatives, perhaps he’ll travel with Deliah to her home world Zeltros for some cuddling. Perhaps he’ll try to do some business on Nar Shaddaa. I don’t have the slightest idea”, Rav explained, looking attentively at the Sith woman.

 

Cinis decided to stop the interrogation. Something inside her told her that Zeltros might not be the worst choice after all. Somehow, she could feel Cade’s presence there when she took the effort to trace her feelings when the planet’s name was called – but unfortunately, she was unable to say if this perception referred to the recent past, the present or the near future. Nonetheless, it might prove helpful to depart there.

Once more, she gave Rav a nod. “I shall be returning to my ship. Stay prepared to provide the Sith Order with further information upon request.”

“Of course, Lady Cinis”, Rav said in a servile tone. “I will be at your disposal.”

 

Turning around, Cinis left the office; and shortly thereafter the Firestorm was rising into the Sky of Socorro, moving rapidly away from the planet’s surface.

 

None of the persons present close to the ship during Cinis’ discussion with Rav had noticed the bounty hunter lurking around the Firestorm, dressed in a worn coverall and chipped armor with paint peeling off it – for good reason. Karun Tassey was Force-sensitive, and he was capable of withdrawing his presence. Not perfectly, but to an extent sufficient to allow him to mind his own business sometimes – those jobs he chose not to pay any commission to Rav for. Or those which were too hot to be handled in public.

Like this one. No one – not even the Sith – guessed about the tracker he had secretly attached to the Firestorm’s hull. Just like Rav didn’t have the slightest idea that one of his bounty hunters was making and maintaining contacts dangerous in these days.

 

Tassey retreated into a quiet corner, activating his portable com. The projection field lit up, displaying a tall human figure wearing an impressive uniform consisting of a tight, black pressure suit and brilliant red armor.

The bounty hunter bowed ever so briefly before the image of the Imperial Knight, then whispered: “All went well. I have attached a tracker to the Sith delegation’s ship. You should be able to trace them shortly.”

 

 

Regaining consciousness, Stator analyzed his injuries first thing. Since his left foot was strangely twisted, he assumed that his lower leg must be broken. There was a dull pain in the left side of his chest which turned piercing whenever he took a deep breath. His left arm was numb.

The Jabiimi concentrated briefly, using the Force to pull his lightsaber into his right hand. Attaching it to his belt, he looked around. Nothing useful could be found in his direct surroundings, but as far as he could remember some shrubbery, tough and gnarled, grew in front of the stronghold. Slowly, suppressing the worst of the pain with the help of the Force, Stator crawled forward bit by bit, until, after almost one standard hour, he finally reached the patch. He used his lightsaber to cut a few sturdy branches from the bush closest to him. Then he tore several stripes from his coat and positioned everything on the floor next to him. Looking down on his twisted foot, he carefully reached for it with both hands, took a deep breath and abruptly jerked it back into its natural position. With a cry of pain that sounded almost unhuman the Sith lost consciousness once more.

When he came to again, he began splinting his leg with clenched teeth. Around his broken lower leg, he grouped six branches, tieing them together with the fabric stripes he had torn from his coat. Two of the sturdier branches were made into crutches. Then he stripped off the remains of his coat to avoid unnecessary dead weight and struggled to rise to his feet. Again, he used the Force to alleviate the worst of the pain, but despite that the procedure was nonetheless an ordeal. Stator drew a sharp breath through his teeth when he tried to walk the first step… then the second and third…

 

 

The hyperspace jump into the Zeltros region did not take too long, and the Firestorm re-entered regular space in due distance from the system. The Sith ship was approaching its target when Cinis was suddenly torn from the meditation she had been enwrapped in, kneeling on the mat in her cabin. She jumped up and raced into the cockpit when the Firestorm was hit by an enormous blast. Cinis was thrown against the corridor wall, and even her quick reflexes could not stop one of the metal struts from bruising her temple. Blood was streaming down her cheek as she regained her balance and stormed into the cockpit.

 

„We are under attack, Mylady“, the pilot called out to her at once. “Buckle up.” Quickly, Cinis dropped onto the narrow passenger seat – the copilot’s place was occupied by the navigation droid – and closed the safety belt around her hips. With the back of her hand, she wiped the blood from her face. “What is going on ?” she asked abruptly.

A look to the cockpit windows and the screens answered her question immediately. Three headhunters approached her ship at high speed, and they were neither pirates, nor smugglers nor Imperial ships belonging to Lord Krayt’s fleet. Nevertheless they were of Imperial origin – Cinis recognized them as the ships flown by the followers of exiled Emperor Roan Fel. She realized that a group of Imperial knights was after them, no matter how they might have managed to track them down.

When the Firestorm shuddered under a second blast, the pilot pushed an emergency button, temporarily assigning to the navigation droid the additional task of flying the ship, and activated the weapons. Using the rotating twin cannon integrated in the Infiltrator he began to fire at the renegade Imperials.

 

Unfortunately, as time passed, it became more and more obvious that the pilot had been trained primarily to fly a ship. He was certainly capable of firing a few well-aimed shots, but he lacked the experience of a proven marksman. The headhunters caught grazes at best, whereas the Firestorm was now shaking for the third time under their fire, and a flashing red light on the cockpit controls indicated that they were about to lose one of their shields.

 

Cinis turned to the pilot. “Concentrate on fighting as well as you can. I will support you.”

Having said so, she took a deep breath and relaxed as deeply as possible on the passenger seat. Even though she had acquired detailed theoretical knowledge about this technique, she had not yet practiced battle meditation so far. Now it seemed the moment had come to implement the theoretical knowledge Darth Levouan had passed on to her.

She took efforts distracting her thoughts from the menace of imminent death and to visualize before her mind’s eye and influence instead the battle raging outside the ship’s bulkheads, drawing power from her connection to the Force. Within seconds, Cinis opened to the flow of the Force, then gave in to the Dark Side. As usual, a shiver of ecstasy rushed through her, even in this dangerous situation, then she suddenly saw the battle site clearly before her. She concentrated on Emperor Fel’s headhunters and made them deviate from their course, visualizing, at the same time, her pilot’s fingers on the weapon controls. Her eyes were closed, sweat was running down her temples, mingling with her blood; and the very moment Cinis became truly one with the Dark Side, her pilot began firing with greater precision. The next shot dissolved one of the headhunters into myriads of glowing particles, and less than one minute later, the second was gone. The Firestorm caught one more graze, then the third ship finally burned up in the depths of space.

 

She awoke like from a trance, with sweat-drenched hair and a piercing headache. Battle meditation obviously was more straining than she had believed. The most important thing, however, was that she was alive and therefore capable of continuing to fulfill her mission.

Her pilot, too, was exhausted. The power Cinis had guided through his hands had almost been to much for him. He deactivated the navigation droid’s piloting function and bowed his head before her. “Mylady”, he said. “Your strength has saved us.”

“Yes”, Cinis retorted briefly. „The dark side burns strong. Now give me a damage report.”

Quickly, the pilot checked all systems and remarked: „Our shield generator is damaged. We should visit a repair shop in order to guarantee our shields will be fully functional again as soon as possible.”

“Do that”, Cinis replied. “I assume on Zeltros they will be able to provide this sort of facility. Apart from that, we will have to find out how these knights were able to trace us. It is possible that someone has attached a tracking device to our ship, otherwise I would hardly have an explanation for all that.”

 

Just as they were resuming their course toward’s Deliah Blue’s homeworld, their tracker came to life again. With a mixture of rage and exhaustion burning inside her, Cinis watched, helpless for the moment, five more headhunters of Imperial origin emerging from hyperspace.

“Initiate an emergency jump !” she hissed. “No matter where ! Our shields are almost down, and I do not have sufficient power to repeat this sort of battle meditation !” This was the truth – there was no time for false pride, otherwise Darth Cinis would cease to exist at once.

 

Hastily, the pilot entered some coordinates, then let the ship’s navigation computer do the rest of the work. The moment the first headhunter began to fire, the Firestorm accelerated beyond the speed of light, disappearing beyond the veil of reality.

Roan Fel would not be pleased when he learned about this.

 

 

Stator continued to drag himself along, having to take a break every twenty or thirty meters in order to renew his improvised leg splint and to relax a little. The strain of walking and having to permanently use the Force in order to keep his worst pain under control tired him rapidly, forcing him to take a brief nap on every third or fourth halt in order to accumulate sufficient strength to manage the next portion of the way. Meanwhile, the pain was so strong he could hardly keep it on a bearable level even with the help of the Force; but nonetheless he struggled on.

 

It took him almost two days to reach the Dark Fist. With effort, Stator crawled up the ramp, dragged himself into the cockpit and hauled himself onto the pilot’s seat, screaming with pain. “The next thing to be installed on this ship is a medi droid !” the Sith grumbled painfully. He was carrying a few medipacks in the storage compartment, but when he weighed up the pain he was already feeling against the strain of trying to get them up front, he clenched his teeth and disposed of the idea. He activated the takeoff procedure, and when the ship had departed and left Iego’s atmosphere he programmed a hyperspace jump to Coruscant.

When the Dark Fist had left regular space, Stator, checking the ship’s systems, received a message by his R4 droid. “Message recorded. Play now ?”

“No !”, Stator retorted. „That can wait. Currently I am not fit for taking up missions anyway. Wake me when we approach Coruscant !” he ordered the droid. Then he dragged himself into one of the cabins, dropping into a deep, dreamless sleep once he had finally found a position which did not cause him too much pain.

 

 

Hyperspace travel took almost one day before the Sith ship emerged into regular space again. Entering the cockpit, Cinis was greeted with a panoramic view of a greyish-brown planet. She wrinkled her nose slightly when she perceived a presence she felt somehow connected with. This time she was certain that this was a remainder from the past. Somehow it reminded her of someone she knew, even though she could not explain why.

 

„Where are we ?“ she asked.

 

„We are approaching Jabiiim“, the pilot reported. “I have already contacted the capital’s spaceport. They will assign us a landing pad and repair our ship as quickly as possible.”

Cinis nodded. Now she had an explanation for the strange presence she had felt. Jabiim. Lord Stator’s homeworld.

 

In the spaceport Cinis and her pilot were welcomed by the head of the repair team whose appearance made the Sith jerk. She couldn’t help piercing him with her looks for a few seconds, astonished, before she regained composure. The technician wore a dark grey coverall, boots and some sort of checkered shirt; a peaked cap was sitting on his head, and his belt featured an impressive selection of all kinds of tools – a common thing to see in this place. Apart from the clothes and equipment, however, the man standing in front of her could have been Lord Stator. Except for the tattoos, he looked incredibly like the Sith, from his height and the shape of his face to his hair and beard; he was even wearing his hair braided at the temples with ribbons plaited into it.

 

The Jabiimi bowed before Cinis. “Mylady”, he began to speak, “I am this spaceport’s chief mechanic. My team will immediately begin repairing your shield generator, which, according to my estimation, will take just a few hours. Do you wish to refresh yourself in the meantime ?”

Cinis shook her head. “No. I intend to stay inside my cabin. Keep me updated regarding the progress of the repairs”, she said in that shortspoken, arrogant tone she had reserved for non-Sith.

“As you wish, Mylady”, the technician replied.

 

„Two questions“, Cinis said before he could turn around to get to work.

“Yes, Mylady ?”, he replied, looking at her attentively.

 

„First – I have every reason to suspect that a tracking device has been attached somewhere on the hull of our ship. Find it, detach it and destroy it”, Cinis commanded. The chief mechanic nodded.

“As you wish, Mylady.”

“And second”, she continued, “tell me your name.”

The technicial looked startled. “My name is Andar Artasis”, he said after a brief pause, giving her a questioning look.

 

So it was true after all. The strong feeling Cinis had been caught in from the first moment of their encounter was real – she had just met a relative of the person who had become Lord Stator.

She decided to go for broke. “Tell me”, she asked, “did you ever have a brother called Korto ?”

The expression on the technician’s face changed abruptly; a mixture of fear, disgust and pain flaring up in his eyes. For two seconds he allowed himself the luxury to remain silent, then he reluctantly answered to the Sith.

 

„Yes, Mylady. I once had a brother of that name.“

 

„What became of him ?“, Cinis asked her next question.

 

Again, she noticed how much the man had to force himself to reveal things to her which were but incredibly painful memories of a highly personal nature for him. Refusing to fulfill a Sith’s command, however, would have meant immediate death; thus he finally overcame his resistance and replied in a somber tone: “He has become a disgrace to our entire family. When he, myself and our sister were children he killed our father, then fled from our world. Since then, no one has heard of him again. Maybe he is dead, maybe he has become a pirate or a smuggler. For me he is as good as dead. However, I must admit I’d like to know what he is doing now, so that I’d be able to track him down and take revenge for his dishonoring of our clan.”

He fell silent, standing there with shoulders sagging, and Cinis felt his memories torturing him.

 

She smiled, ever so slightly. “The need for taking revenge is something quite natural”, she said. “At least for a Sith.”

Amused, she watched him jerk.

 

„Effect your repairs. Before I depart I have one more message for you.“

 

He nodded and bowed, then turned away in order to begin the necessary work together with his team.

 

Just as Cinis was beginning to move up the ramp in order to bridge the waiting time meditating in her cabin, she noticed two figures, from the corner of her eye, storming at her from the other side of the repair hangar. She whirled around to view them, immediately preparing for battle while trying to look surprised. The crimson armor spoke for itself: two Imperial Knights who appeared to have refused to withdraw after the failed attack in space, followed her trace and were now trying on their own to eliminate her in close combat.

 

The attackers activated their lightsabers, and blueish-white light flared, followed by Cinis‘ own blood red blade. Trying to make them feel on the safe side, she let the knights approach – a dark blond man and a woman with pinned-up brown hair. Humans who were not used to indulging in their emotions normally used to become both carefree and unassertive whenever they tried to; and Cinis knew that an Imperial Knight’s training, except for the extremely mystical attitude towards discipline and self-control, hardly differed from that of a Jedi. These two were about to advance on unknown terrain by opening themselves to their hatred for the Sith – a modus operandi they, quite contrary to a fully trained Sith, were not familiar with.

And they were not aware of the fact that this made them vulnerable. All they saw was that the Sith woman was alone and they were two, that they now saw a chance to eliminate a dangerous member of the Sith Order, and thus, despite their good training, they neglected their cover.

 

While Andar Artasis and his team were running like mad for safety up the ramp and into the Firestorm, Cinis swung her right arm high and unleashed an enormous, lightning-crowned Force push onto the male knight. The impact of her blow, catching him unprepared, flung him backwards against one of the struts inside the repair shop. Caught inside the corona of Sith lightning, he could no longer control his movements, which made his armor, meant to protect him, actually cause his death. His body twisted, and the edge of the strut hit his unarmored neck with deadly precision.

 

All this had taken place at incredible speed. His female companion had merely covered two thirds of the path through the hangar when Cinis killed him seemingly without effort. The female knight let out a cry of anger and launched herself at the Sith, intending to cut her in half with a quick movement. But Cinis parried the attack, then began at once to push back her opponent with her typical fighting style, a quick succession of brutal blows.

The female knight tried desperately to defend herself, not managing to turn defense into attack again. Cinis let her blows crash down on her without mercy. From this moment on, the Imperial knight had no more chance. With a bold move, the Sith cut off her right arm which, still clasping the lightsaber, flew away at a low angle. Uttering a cry of pain, the Imperial knight dropped to her knees; and her eyes reflected her horror when she became aware she had failed as Cinis rammed the full length of her lightsaber blade in to her opponent’s chest, cutting the armor from a distance that close as if it were no more than a patogga.

 

Dead, Roan Fel’s servant fell to the floor; and when Cinis deactivated her blade and turned around to the ship, she noticed Andar Artasis carefully peeking out of the ship’s entrance. Apparently his curiosity had overridden his fear. Rage flared up in Cinis, and she grabbed his throat with the Force. “Have you arranged that ?”, she hissed.

 

Artasis‘ eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets, and, shaking with fear, he gasped “No, Mylady ! I swear ! None of us knew Imperial Knights were here !”

 

„Did any ships land here during the past hours before my arrival which have aroused your attention ?“, Cinis asked, still not releasing the Jabiimi from her grip.

“No, nothing that would have hinted at the presence of Imperial Knights. During that period of time only two ships landed here, both of them merchants requesting a routine overhaul of their vessels”, the chief mechanic struggled to reply.

 

Cinis touched him with the Force, feeling that he was telling the truth. It must have been the way she already imagined. Nothing but the tracking device attached to the Firestorm had brought the knights here; and merely the fact that Roan Fel’s followers still underestimated the abilities and ingenuity of a fully trained Sith had prevented Cinis from getting into serious trouble so far. On the other hand, perhaps, the exiled Emperor simply could not afford to send larger delegations of his people hunting for Sith. Good for her and the Order, since this gave Darth Krayt and his servants the chance to prepare for a possible extensive attack somewhat later.

All that counted for the moment was the rapid detection of the tracking device to avoid even more enemies setting themselves on her trace, be it on their own initiative, or directly at Roan Fel’s command.

 

She let go of Artasis. He jerked back, gasping and coughing, and his hand touched his throat while he stared at her stricken with fear. That was good. Fear made other beings compliant.

 

„Now go and effect your repairs as quickly as possible. I wish to be on my way before this day is over. And concentrate your attention on detecting the tracking device. Finish this task first, before repairing the shield generator !” she commanded in an authoritative tone. “I want to see the device in your hand and personally watch it being destroyed !”

Artasis bowed before her and waved to his teammates who were doubtlessly waiting for his instructions, hidden behind him in the Firestorm’s main corridor. The repair team got down to business, and Cinis tromped up the ramp, passing the men respectfully making room for her and into her cabin.

 

No more than half a standard hour later the buzzer at her cabin door sounded. Cinis rose from the meditation mat, moved her hand and opened the door with the Force. In the corridor there stood Andar Artasis who bowed respectfully, holding out to her on his palm a small, round and inconspicuous looking object.

“The tracking device, Mylady.”

Cinis nodded. „I will now accompany you to the waste disposal facility of this repair shop, and you will throw this object inside before my very eyes.“

This happened as ordered, and Cinis watched with some gratification as the tracker was being devoured by the scrapping unit.

Feeling released, she returned to her cabin on board the ship, abandoning herself once more in meditation.

 

Another four standard hours later Andar Artasis reported the repairs to be finished. He was clever enough not to mention the subject of possible payment.

Eventually, Cinis made him carry through a scan to exclude the possible presence of another tracking device – trusting anybody would have meant to neglect the rules of the Sith Order. Having given her pilot the order to prepare the ship for takeoff, she turned to Artasis for the last time.

 

„You have uttered the wish to learn what became of your brother, and where he is staying“, she said. “Your wish shall be granted. Only, I am afraid your longing for revenge shall not be assuaged.”

 

The Jabiimi looked at her firmly and full of anger.

„The person who once bore the name of Korto Artasis does not exist anymore“, Cinis said emphatically. Before the question could make its way onto his lips, she continued to speak. “Your former brother has found his way into our Order and is now a well-trained, powerful Sith Lord called Darth Stator, in service of our Emperor Lord Krayt. I know him in person and have already cooperated with him several times. By the way, you do bear a striking resemblance to him.”

 

She enjoyed his despair and horror welling up, like breakers on a beach, his mind wildly screaming that this could not be, that she was lying, and how he struggled like mad to keep his words from being spoken. Artasis stared at her with eyes wide open. For a few seconds, a direful silence reigned, then he regained composure. He swallowed, looked directly into Cinis’ yellowish-red eyes and said with a trembling voice “I thank you, Mylady. You have freed me from the wish to take revenge on him. He is out of reach for me. My brother is dead.”

 

„I shall now bid farewell”, Cinis explained in a slightly mocking tone. “And rest prepared to render a service to the Sith Order and our Emperor Darth Krayt whenever the call reaches you.”

 

With tightened lips, Andar Artasis bowed and watched the Sith woman board the ship. Not long after the Firestorm rose on its repulsor field and moved out of the hangar. Outside, the sublight engines roared to life, and the ship rapidly disappeared from sight.

 

 

Awaking, Stator didn’t realize for a moment where he was. The entire left side of his body was aching, and the rest of his body seemed numb. When the confusion had worn off, he recognized what had torn him from sleep. His R4 droid had effected the jump from hyperspace and woken him. Again, the display showed the lines “Message received. Play now ?”.

„Yes. For all I care !“, the Sith grumbled, making his troublesome way to the pilot’s seat. The image of Lord Wyyrlok lit up.

“Lord Stator. Your mission is aborted. Lord Krayt has ordered your immediate return to Coruscant. Report to the Temple soonest possible. Wyyrlok Over !“

 

The Chagrian’s hologram faded. „All right, I am on my way“, the Jabiimi mumbled. His arrival on Coruscant was still some time away, and thus Stator used the time to delve into the Dark Side of the Force in order to abate his pain a little. He was neither a healer, nor had he ever attached any importance on this part of training, but nevertheless he managed to achieve a slight improvement of his overall condition.

 

When the Dark Fist finally entered the orbit of the Imperial core world, Stator contacted traffic control at once. “This is the Dark Fist. On board is Darth Stator. Assign me a landing spot !“

A few seconds later, he received an answer. “Your landing pad is platform Z23. Our guide beam will direct you, Mylord. Please switch your controls to automatic function. Touchdown will be in approximately twelve minutes standard time.”

“Good”, the Sith growled. “Send a shuttle to the landing pad. I am badly injured and must resort to the Sith Temple’s medical section at once.“

“We will do our utmost to organize a free shuttle for you… yes, there we have got something. It happens to be standing on the landing pad already. Its designed passenger will have to wait for the next one.”

“Very well. Stator Over !”, and thus the Jabiimi switched off the com and the ship on autopilot.

 

Not long after the Dark Fist touched down on the landing pad. With effort, the Sith dragged himself to the ramp, then, before leaving the ship, he made himself pull himself together in order to avoid looking too invalid. Yet, he couldn’t afford doing without at least one of his improvised crutches.

His face strained with pain and anger, he limped down the ramp. The shuttle was in place, but some commotion seemed to be taking place near it. A man wearing superb clothes, apparently a distinguished industrialist, was standing in front of the shuttle’s pilot, gesticulating wildly and talking in loud voice. “This is a scandal, I am telling you ! A scandal ! I have ordered this shuttle here in order to be in time for my business appointment. Why am I being denied access ?”

 

The officer tried to remain quiet and composed, but it was clear to see it was becoming more and more difficult for him every minute.

 

„Sir, the shuttle has been assigned a more important purpose on short notice. Would you please be patient and wait for the next one ?”

 

„Wait ? I am supposed to wait ? Who do you think you are ? Apparently you do not know whom you are dealing with ! This will entail consequences, I promise you. You will spend your future life emptying garbage cans in the lower levels ! I am an important representative of Coruscant’s upper class and a personal friend of Emperor Krayt.”

 

All of a sudden, the officer turned his gaze from his counterpart who became even more annoyed.

„Will you kindly look at me while I am talking to you !“

But the officer at directed his full attention to Darth Stator who had meanwhile limped close.

 

„Is this my shuttle ?“, the Sith asked in a raspy voice. The officer bowed briefly. “Yes, Mylord. Please follow me !“ He turned around.

 

Enraged, the businessman whirled around to Stator, hissing: „I was first to reserve this shuttle…“ At that moment he realized whom he was facing, and his eyes widened in horror.

“Is there any problem ?”, Stator asked calmly.

“No…not at all… no problem. Your shuttle. Of course. How could I assume…If you will excuse me, Mylord.“ He bowed clumsily. “Good”, the Sith retorted, moving towards the shuttle and ignoring the businessman completely.

 

After takeoff, one of the technicians remarked to his colleague: „Frankly speaking, I ain’t fond of these Sith at all, but I’m happy this puffed up sonofabantha got snubbed !”

“Yeah, you’re right, my friend. It’s always a pleasure to see folks you can’t stand pick on each other.” Laughing, they resumed their work.

 

Having arrived in the medical section of the Sith Temple, Stator submitted himself to an examination. “Both tibia and fibula of your left leg are broken”, the medi droid began his enumeration. “Apart from that you have a craze in your pelvic bone, four broken ribs, a dislocation of your left shoulder and countless abrasions, contusions and hematomae. I am afraid several days inside a Bacta tank will be unavoidable.”

 

„If it is absolutely necessary… Inform Lord Krayt of my presence !“ he addressed the communication droid called for earlier.

“Negative. Lord Krayt is currently not staying on Coruscant”.

“Then inform Lord Wyyrlok or Lady Maladi !”

„Negative. Both have gone together with Lord Krayt…“

“Then approach any other member of the Inner Circle ! What about Lord Nihl ? Or maybe Talon, or Stryfe…”

„Negative. Lord Nihl is still undergoing treatment in Lady Maladi’s laboratory. Lady Talon and Lord Stryfe also have accompanied Lord Krayt.”

Exasperated, Stator leaned back. “Then just put a message into the Temple’s records: ‘Darth Stator has followed Lord Krayt’s call and is currently staying in the medical section’ !”

 

Following this tiring dispute with a machine Lord Stator entrusted himself in the medi droid’s care.

 

 

It was only now, halfway to Zeltros to resume her original search for Cade Skywalker at Darth Krayt’s command, that Cinis noticed how much time had passed. It seemed Lady Maladi would have to wait just a little while longer until she would learn of her vision.

The Firestorm had approached the planet almost far enough to initiate the landing procedure when a holocom message from Coruscant arrived. Cinis was extremely surprised to see the image of someone appear in the transmission field she had never expected to see. Lady Maladi perhaps, yes, or even Lord Krayt himself. But not Lord Wyyrlok.

 

She went down on one knee and bowed. “Lord Wyyrlok”, she greeted him.

The Chagrian nodded briefly, then began to speak. “Lady Cinis”, he explained curtly. “In the name of Lord Krayt I herewith order you to return without further delay to the Temple on Coruscant. Your orders regarding the search for Cade Skywalker are herewith void.”

 

Cinis was too disciplined to let her surprise show. “As you wish, Lord Wyyrlok. My course shall be altered right away. I assume you wish to speak to me ?”

“Not at the moment”, Wyyrlok replied. “I will shortly be departing on a secret mission, thus I will not be present in the Temple. All that counts for you is the command for immediate return which – let me emphasize it once more – is given, of course, on behalf of Lord Krayt.”

 

„Certainly, Mylord“, Cinis said and bowed her head. “I am on my way.”

 

Darth Wyyrlok gave her another brief nod, then broke the connection. Cinis took a deep breath, supporting herself with one hand on the transmission table. A chill was running down her spine. Deep inside her she felt that it was no longer necessary to tell Lady Maladi of her vision, since her mistress, along with all other members of the Sith Order’s Inner Circle – maybe even including Lord Nihl, depending on his state of health – would become part of it only too soon.

All of a sudden she felt dizzy. Her vision was on the verge of becoming reality.

She hurried into the cockpit to instruct her pilot to change their course. Not long after the Firestorm left Zeltros behind to begin its long trip back to the core worlds.

 

Entering the Sith Temple, Cinis began to perceive a strong disturbance of the Force at once. Something had happened, and she could almost guess what it was. Lord Krayt’s massive presence, along with that of the other members of the Inner Circle, was completely gone – except for a very small fraction she had no current explanation for. At first sight, the Temple gave a deceptively normal impression: as far as Cinis could estimate on her tour through the building, the regular staff, consisting of Sith Lords and Ladies who were not part of the Inner Circle around Lord Krayt, low-ranking Sith, servants and droids, were pursuing their respective business in offices, intel centers, refectories, training and meditation rooms, kitchens and quarters, but except for that subliminal impulse there was no trace of her master and his closest entourage.

Something seemed to draw her towards the medical section, and so she made her way there.

 

Upon her arrival, her gaze was immediately attracted by one of the five Bacta tanks, the only one currently operational. In the middle of the reddish liquid, a mangled figure floated, its body covered by cuts, lacerations, abrasions and contusions. Cinis stepped closer and, not without a certain degree of surprise, she recognized Darth Stator who was obviously recovering from a mishap which must have occurred to him on his latest mission – to Iego, if she remembered correctly. He looked as if he’d had a narrow escape from death; in some places of his body one could see that the bones had been broken, and he generally gave such a battered impression that Cinis – without suspecting how close she came to the truth – couldn’t help thinking Stator had come too close to a detonating explosive charge.

She was still watching the badly injured Sith, hovering towards his recovery in the depths of the Bacta, when she suddenly perceived a sharp presence behind her, close to the entrance, which was clearly different from that of the medical assistants and droids who were busy with their work, not paying any attention to her. Freezing, she paused for a moment. She could feel no danger but great interest instead – interest in herself and the news she might bring.

 

When she heard that low, raspy and familiar voice behind her say „Welcome back, Lady Cinis“, she slowly turned around and looked at Darth Nihl who let his gaze wander over her.

 

The tall, slim Nagai was wearing his usual combination of functional clothing and pieces of armor; with his lightspear resting in his back holster. His long, black hair flowed over his menacing, barbed shoulder armor, and Cinis perceived the intensity of the look from his crimson eyes almost physically. Shivering, she bowed before him.

 

„Lord Nihl. I can see you have recovered.“

„Indeed“, he retorted, as Cinis‘ gaze wandered from his face down to his right arm.

Not too long before, she had witnessed what had happened to Lord Nihl after Cade Skywalker’s blade had cut it in half right in the middle of his upper arm. Now Darth Krayt’s former Hand gave an impression uncannier than ever before.

The Vong creature having assumed the task to form Lord Nihl’s right arm was of a shocking foreignness which made Cinis immediately recall her gruesome night in the Embrace of Pain. Vaguely, the shape reminded of an arm with a five-fingered hand, but did not allow any conclusions as to its composition. Instead of flesh and bones, it almost looked as if it was made of some sort of wood, with numerous barbs and outgrowths like the basis of branches or twigs; the fingers were jagged and of an irregular shape, more claws than extremities, and the whole thing did not really have much in common with the arm of a humanoid being.

Despite all this, Lord Nihl seemed to have come to terms with it pretty well. Apparently, he was not suffering from any pain, and the arm replacement radiated an aura of raw, physical strength which complemented his martial personality.

 

„You are admiring my new arm“, Nihl said in the slightly mocking tone typical for him. “In fact Lord Krayt could not have done me a greater favor. The Vong creature is tougher and stronger than I could ever have imagined, and it has increased my physical power. With one single grip of this hand, I could break your neck.”

 

„It is good to know you are back in full force, Mylord“, Cinis said. “During my absence and your recovery several things have occurred here which require our attention, since they are doubtlessly connected with the results of our earlier discussions – even if the tide of events appears to be moving into a direction different from what we first assumed. We will be needing each other, Lord Nihl.”

 

The Nagai nodded slowly, stepping near her. “I can feel you are right, Lady Cinis. When the medi droid released me from the Bacta tank three days ago, after finishing my treatment, the official Temple records only told me that except me not a single member of the Inner Circle is present. Lord Krayt has departed on a mission – on short notice, as it seems – together with Wyyrlok, Maladi, Talon and Stryfe; but where to and for what reason the records do not say. But now, since I have been lucky enough to have you at my disposal, I will surely know the reason soon.”

 

„So this is why I have been unable, upon my arrival, to perceive any member of the Inner Circle around Lord Krayt, except for the presence of one single person“, Cinis interposed. “I returned less than one standard hour ago, and you can be assured I, too, absolutely wish to find out what is behind this mission – for things have occurred to me as well recently you will have to learn about now.”

She began telling of her mission together with Lord Stator, her surprising recall to Coruscant, her meeting with Lord Krayt and her torture in the Embrace of Pain before her official appointment as a Dark Lady of the Sith.

 

Lord Nihl took a sharp breath. “I have been feeling something all of the time, but I did not know what it was”, he observed. “We are now united by just another bond in the Force. You have been submitted to the same ordeal as I have, and the agony you have suffered has bound us together. Let us concentrate on this bond in order to sense together what the future brings.”

Taking her chin into his left hand, he bent towards her and kissed her passionately. His gaze was full of desire when he forced himself to retreat from Cinis in order to hear the rest of her story.

 

Cinis continued, letting Lord Nihl in on the command to search for Cade Skywalker both she and Lord Stator had been given by Darth Krayt, briefly telling of her visit to Socorro and finishing, for the moment, with her renewed and inexplicable recall to Coruscant as well as her suspicion that Lord Stator had been caught in a trap on his latest mission.

 

„So you say the command to return to Coruscant had been given by Lord Wyyrlok ?“, Nihl asked insistently.

“Yes, Mylord. Meaning the order was given on behalf of Lord Krayt but by Lord Wyyrlok”, Cinis answered.

Nihl nodded, and his look darkened. “As it happens, things are turning out differently from what we first apprehended – but in a way no less dangerous for us. I will need you, Lady Cinis. You have sworn to me to stay at my side in my fight against possible treason by Lord Krayt – will you do the same in sight of this other danger ?”

Cinis went down on one knee before him. “I will, Mylord. It is in your own interest as well as in mine. The most important thing will be to quickly update us on the recent events around us and then act just as quickly. And certainly Lord Stator” – she pointed her hand at the motionless figure floating in the Bacta tank behind her – “will fight at your side, too, as long as this will be required.”

Silent, Nihl stared down at her for a few seconds, and she could feel in the Force how he constrained himself and his lust for her.

 

Rising again, Cinis said: „Before ensuring our access to the internal Temple database, I must tell you of two things one of which I have not revealed to anyone until this very moment.

First, you will certainly find it interesting that immediately after I had been awarded the title of Darth by Lord Krayt I have been the victim of an attempted poisoning. The only reason I am still alive is that the person who sought to murder me – and I reckon you are, meanwhile, thinking of the same name as I do – had not taken into account that my ability to sense menaces in the Force is as pronounced as it is. I am telling you this to allow you to be careful. For me, this was the first definite attempt to seek my life; Lord Stator, however, has been confronted with several such occasions so far. I guarantee you to be the next target.”

 

„Why, then, has he cared to save my life ?“, Nihl mumbled to himself, shaking his head slightly. “But go on, as you intended to tell me about one more thing.”

 

„You are the first person to know“, Cinis continued. “Not even Lady Maladi has been made aware so far. Actually, I had intended to do so upon my return, but now it is too late.

During my torture in the Embrace of Pain I had a vision.”

 

All of a sudden, Nihl took a deep breath and abruptly grabbed her arm. “Follow me, Lady Cinis. Before learning about your vision I prefer to find out, first of all, what has happened here.”

 

Not much later they arrived at Cinis‘ internal workplace. The office door closed behind them as Cinis sat down at her terminal, using the secret data card Lady Maladi had given her earlier to obtain access to Lord Wyyrlok’s personal records. Nihl was standing beside her, staring expectantly at the holoscreen, and let his hand slide under her long red hair, gently massaging her neck and adding spice to his touch by letting his pointed nails give her an occasional, slight scratch. Cinis found it difficult to concentrate, and she couldn’t help imagining what it might feel like to have Nihl’s Vong hand touch her body.

The thought wasn’t quite unpleasant.

 

It was disappointing to see that Lord Wyyrlok had refrained from including too many details even in his private records – for safety reasons, so it seemed. Yet, several important elements fit into the overall picture like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

Lord Krayt and his entourage had traveled to the world of Had Abaddon in order to engage in a meeting, for two important reasons, with the spirit of an ancient, powerful Sith Lord called Karness Muur who, as it seemed, manifested himself from the body of an attractive but unknown young woman.

 

Cinis recalled the knowledge obtained on the background of her training regarding the beginnings of the Sith Order and Lord Muur. Just like Lord Krayt, he had been trained personally by Lady XoXaan. An extremely dangerous individual and greedy for power, he had managed to create an amulet of tempting, dark beauty and to finally transfer his spirit, upon his demise, into the piece of jewellery imbued with Sith magic which allowed him to continue his existence until the day when he would take over a new, young body to bestow physical life on him anew.

The young woman, whose name was said to be Celeste Morne, was wearing the amulet round her neck, which explained why the undead Sith Lord spoke through her. However, a brief verification of her name revealed the most unsettling fact that she was obviously a Jedi from the dawn of the Old Republic – which meant that currently she must be over four thousand years old. Nevertheless she looked fresh and very much alive.

Even though Cinis and Nihl didn’t have any idea as to the relation of this person with Lord Krayt, the enticing offer Lord Muur had made to their master made sense to them.

One of the reasons why Lord Krayt had been so eager to follow his call was obviously the fact that Lord Muur had detained Cade Skywalker.

The other reason was Lord Muur’s promise that – even if Skywalker’s abilities should fail – he would be capable of healing Darth Krayt from the effects of the coral seeds planted into him and to fully restore his health.

 

Cinis‘ breath caught. „It is a trap“, she said in a low voice. “Now, Lord Nihl, it is time to learn about my vision without further delay, since this is where all details converge. It is possible what I saw has already happened.”

 

Nihl squared his shoulders. „Let us go to my quarters“, he suggested.

 

Upon their arrival the Nagai pulled his lightspear from his back holster, put it into its wall holder and rid himself of his armor. “Tell me”, he commanded as he continued to take off his remaining pieces of clothing and settled down on his bed with his legs folded under his body.

And Cinis let Lord Nihl partake in the ominous vision that had haunted her in the Embrace of Pain.

 

When she had finished, Lord Nihl was incapable of any sort of reaction for several seconds. He maintained his meditation position, piercing her with a look that would have made any other person run away screaming, while he tried to mentally digest what he had just heard.

Eventually, he bent his head forward. “It must have happened exactly as you told me, I can feel it”, he said slowly.

“Even if it is hard to comprehend, but you are right. No matter how much rivalry and power struggles are regarded as Sith virtues, if we – that means you, I, Lady Maladi and Lord Stator – do not stick together, at least for the time being, our Order will crumble. Wyyrlok will ensure that the Sith will savage each other, just to assume leadership afterwards. Undoubtedly, he will first try to cover up what happened and to make us believe Lord Krayt is still alive, allowing him to act as he pleases. Our primary task will then be to find Lord Krayt’s body and confront Wyyrlok with his deception.”

He continued. „However, as long as we do not have any proof we will have to continue to act as before. I can only hope Lady Maladi has escaped this desaster unscathed. But at present I can only wait for a sign of life from her, hoping she will be capable of furnishing additional information.”

 

„The Sith Order must survive“, Cinis retorted. “And for this purpose your survival is imperative, as well as that of Lady Maladi, Lord Stator and myself, in order to form a temporary alliance against Wyyrlok’s treachery. When the occasion comes along, we should concentrate on finding a weak point in Wyyrlok’s existence, a sore spot allowing us to take action in order to eliminate him.”

 

Nihl nodded in agreement, and Cinis continued to speak. “I am thinking of another person we could possibly convince, in the meantime, to take sides with us: Lady Levouan, my former mistress. As you know, she has trained me, and we are a well-rehearsed team, both with regard to fighting skills and personal compliance. In all those years we have shared a large number of things whenever this contributed to making us mutually stronger. Should you deem it reasonable, I could approach her in the coming days in order to find out how deeply devoted she is to Lord Krayt and, of course, what is her opinion regarding the current events. Naturally, this means that she will have to be let in on our doings. Would you wish me to proceed thus, Lord Nihl ?”

 

The Nagai mused briefly. „Yes“, he said. „In the current stage of events one more ally is better then one less. If she can be convinced, she might be capable of efficiently proceeding against Lord Wyyrlok. If not, I presume you will kill her at once, Lady Cinis.”

 

„Of course“, Cinis replied. „I shall contact Lady Levouan soon.“

 

„Until then“, Nihl continued, „it is important to ensure that the bond between us will be as powerful as possible. I suggest we work on it right away.”

 

He leaned back on his bed, seemingly relaxed, but his body spoke a different language. Understanding the hint, Cinis also took off her clothes and came to him.

He rose and pulled her toward him, turning her onto her back. Now she was feeling the strange Vong hand on her skin, and it aroused her infinitely. Nihl bent down over her and kissed her again, taking turns in letting his lips and sharp nails wander over her body, and, just like the first time, made them mutually burn with unspeakable desire, until they were more than ready. When he finally slid into her, they resorted to the technique of using the Force to intensify their lust until it became almost unbearable; and their mutual orgasms, following each other at rapid pace, forged an inseparable bond between them, giving them strength to face whatever the future might bring.

 

 

Enraged, Emperor Roan Fel tromped to and fro in front of two Imperial knights standing before him in his audience hall. “You have failed !” he hissed. “In a most despicable manner.” He stopped in front of Ganner Krieg. “I had presumed that detaining two low-ranking Sith and bringing them here would be a task an Imperial knight should fulfill with ease.”

 

He stepped towards Antares Draco. “So you insist on explaining to me you have not managed to catch this Cinis woman even though she was presented to you almost like on a silver plate ?”

Fel resumed his angry stomping, only to stop again, after a while, in front of Master Krieg. “And as far as Stator is concerned, you have not even found him. What you brought me instead are the remainders of a Sith coat and a story about two dead looters.” Shaking his fists against the sky, he shouted “Am I but surrounded by bunglers ?”

He continued his stomping, stopping in front of Draco again. “Both of you have disappointed me. Now leave me alone and wait for further orders !”

 

The two knights bowed and left their Emperor. Staying behind, Roan Fel propped himself on his desk and began to muse about the situation’s development. Maladi, Nihl, Wyyrlok, even Krayt were familiar constants he was confident to be able to see through, at least to a certain extent - after all, this had allowed him to stage his escape. But these two new Sith threatened to shatter his plans. Unable to hold back his anger any further, he swung his arm, sweeping his desk empty. Then, scowling, he retreated to his quarters.

 

 

Cinis had instructed the medical staff to report to her at once as soon as Lord Stator had fully recovered. She was just in the middle of a meditation session when her comlink buzzed. In a slightly gruff tone, she replied “Yes ?”

 

„Mylady, Lord Stator has just woken up from his healing trance and will leave the medical section shortly. You instructed us to inform you about this change of status.”

 

„Yes, all right. I will be with you in a moment.“ Cinis cut the connection and hurried to the medical section, where she met a placid Stator busy testing the newly achieved mobility of his limbs. When he noticed her, he succinctly remarked: “Ah, Lady Cinis ! What makes you honor me by visiting me at my sick bed ?”

 

Cinis grinned. „Mylord !“, she said, bowing slightly. “It seems you are out of luck.”

“Not really, Mylady”, Stator retorted. “Without my legendary luck I would be dead by now. However, just as I told you before, dying is not one of my talents.” He grinned at her tauntingly.

The Sith woman grimaced, giving him a sour look. “Apparently you are much better off again. At least, your mocking tongue is back with full force”, she snapped.

 

Stator bowed his head and replied in a low voice „This is what fascinates you in me, Mylady. Or is that not so?”

Hearing this insinuating remark, Cinis grinned again.

“Well, Mylord, I am eager to find out if your fighting technique has deteriorated during your long recovery. Since our game of question-and-answer had been interrupted so suddenly by our mutual duties, I should like to propose a training fight.”

 

Stator stared at her for a few seconds before replying: “Anytime, Mylady. Let me know when you are ready. Then I shall be there.”

 

Once more, the Sith woman felt provoked by Stator’s uncouth, sarcastic way of expressing himself, and she hissed “In two hours, same training hall as last time !” Whirling round, she left the Jabiimi, throwing one final remark at him: “And try to be on time !”

 

Subsequently, she hurried to meet Lord Nihl in order to inform him of these latest news.

 

 

When Cinis had left, Stator got dressed and decided to briefly visit the library before the training fight. Something was wrong. He had no idea what it was, but something inside him told him that a strong trembling in the Dark Side of the Force must have taken place while he had been enclosed inside the Bacta tank.

As he was just about to activate his access datapad, he suddenly sensed the presence of a strong Sith. Slowly he turned around, only to face Darth Wyyrlok, voice and consultant of the head of the Sith Order, Lord Darth Krayt.

 

„Lord Stator“, the Chagrian addressed him. “Lord Krayt has decreed that you shall no longer be entitled to study the secret holocrones. Your latest mission has failed. Lord Krayt and myself have meanwhile found a solution to the problem, and your services are no longer required in this regard. Now give me back the datapad containing the access codes !”

 

Stator’s eyes flew open in surprise. “I should like to speak with Lord Krayt regarding this matter !” he replied.

“I believe you do”, Wyyrlok said, stretching out his right hand demandingly, “but Lord Krayt is currently in stasis. Before entering it, he has authorized me to divest you of your task. The datapad !”

Taking a deep breath, Stator handed the access code to the Chagrian. Wyyrlok’s hand remained outstretched. “Lord Stator”, he began slowly. „I suppose you have obtained a copy of the data card. And I want it, too.”

 

Stator also handed to Krayt’s voice the copy which had been made on Nar Shaddaa. Wyyrlok nodded thoughtfully. “Now resort to your quarters. Lord Krayt will decide in what way you will be able to serve him in future. Now leave me !”

 

The Jabiimi bowed and left the library’s vestibule, his left hand patting the secret pocket hidden in his tunic where he kept the second copy of his access data – the one he had obtained during his stay on Bespin. Smiling ominously, Stator concluded that it was always good to be one step ahead of your opponent.

Yet now he had to hurry if he wanted to rest for another little while, as the hour of the intended training fight with Lady Cinis was approaching.

 

When Stator entered the training hall, he stopped dead in his tracks. Instead of the Coruscanti woman someone else was waiting for him inside: Darth Nihl, Lord Krayt’s former Hand.

“Ah, Lord Stator”, the Nagai greeted him. “I am pleased to see you fully recovered.”

Still astounded, the Jabiimi replied: “Well, Lord Nihl, I should say the same about you. But, I beg you pardon, I was actually expecting Lady Cinis to meet me here.”

 

Darth Nihl gave him a cold smile. “I am well aware of that, Librarian. Lady Cinis uses to report to me in a very exact manner. This is how I also learned about this training fight, which made me decide to take Cinis’ place. Hopefully you do not object ?”

 

„Of course not, Mylord“, Stator replied, although a slight uncertainty threatened to rack him.

“If you believe my moderate fighting skills are sufficient for your training…”

 

The Nagai bent his head slightly forward.

“Yes. Lady Cinis has already told me that you tend to understate your figthing skills. She has also informed me about your question-and-answer game, and I would like to suggest to play this game during our training session.”

 

Stator bowed. „If you wish, Lord Nihl !“

„You bet I do !“, the Nagai retorted, activating his weapon. Darth Stator, too, switched on his lightsaber, and the two Sith assumed their respective starting positions.

 

 

After Lord Nihl had signalled to Cinis that he intended to take her part in her training fight with a recovered Darth Stator, she went about inviting Darth Levouan for a discussion in her quarters she had scanned and made bug-proof long ago. Since the comlink channel did not offer this absolute safety, and Cinis did not want to have her message conveyed by a droid, the way Lord Nihl had done it earlier, she used a pretext to ask her former mistress to join her. Pretending to be interested in composing a paper on lightsaber fighting techniques, Cinis had made a date with Lady Levouan.

 

So far, Cinis had never deemed it necessary to give attention to Lady Levouan’s personal details; but the plan to integrate the intelligent and fierce Sith woman into their schemings made a precedent look at her file inevitable. Thus, Cinis finally found out that her former mistress was an Umbaran female responsible for two principal tasks inside the Temple: personnel administration – i.e. the entire Temple staff – and training of promising newcomers. She couldn’t hold back a grin when she realized it wasn’t much different with her – on one hand, she was acting as an espionage agent in a regular intel office; on the other hand, she worked from time to time in the field as a hitwoman, eliminating persons who were a thorn in the Order’s side.

A subsequent brief research in the Order’s personnel files revealed some more interesting facts.

 

At the sound of the buzzer, Cinis used the Force to open the door of her quarters from her bed where she had assumed a comfortable position, her legs folded neatly under her body. Darth Levouan entered and bowed briefly, and Cinis bowed her head in reply. The Umbaran female was wearing her usual black battle gear, consisting of tight pants, flexible boots and a sleeveless shirt, but she had refrained from donning the armor she normally wore as well. Her long black hair, reminding that of Lord Nihl, which she used to wear pinned up, was flowing freely over her shoulders and, in conjunction with the tattoos on her red skin, emphasized her exotic beauty reflecting in the sparkle of her eyes.

 

„Lady Levouan“, Cinis began to speak once the door had closed again. “You can certainly imagine I have not asked you here in order to speak with you about an intended essay concerning fighting techniques.”

 

Levouan tilted her head and raised one eyebrow. “Well, actually I had taken both possibilities into consideration”, she said, smiling slightly. “After all, I have trained you, and I would feel honored if you made use of the knowledge provided by me to add to the training library. However, I can well imagine there are more important matters to settle currently.”

 

Cinis nodded. „Indeed there are. Let me get to the point at once. Two questions: Have you noticed recently that, number one, Lord Krayt is either absent or in stasis extremely often, and, number two, a large number of rather young members of our Order, whose Force sensitivity is not exactly what I would call excellent, have been appointed to responsible positions ?”

 

For a few seconds, Darth Levouan pondered over the question, then, deliberately ignoring the fact that Cinis had obviously been doing some research on her own initiative both in her own file and the Temple’s personnel data, she replied: “That is correct. Lord Krayt has not turned up in person for quite a long time now. Lord Wyyrlok speaks for him, announcing either his absence or his sojourn in stasis. And as to the recruitment, or, more aptly, promotion of young Sith of moderate strength, you are also right. Recently, a comparatively large number of rather young, low-ranking Sith – persons who normally would have been in charge of mere administrational tasks inside the Temple, or who would have kept watch on several occasions – have been assigned a field of activity which might overstrain their corresponding aptitude. Sith warriors with rather limited skills have been allocated to potential infantry groups demanding higher skills than these individuals can manifest. Civilian flight deck personnel has been turned into pilots preparing to fly into battle. All of them have one thing in common: Their training was finished not long ago; all of a sudden, they find themselves in high-ranking positions, with every one of them bearing the title of ‘Darth’ in front of his name.”

 

Cinis took a sharp breath. She would never have imagined things had already gotten that far. Rage welled up inside her as she remembered for how long Darth Krayt had let her stew in her own juice, for how long he had denied her this title she deserved so much by her own abilities. And now all these arrivistes were bearing it, whereas it should have been reserved to those Sith who had excelled by their extremely high Force sensitivity and consequent expansion of their knowledge.

 

„You were present the day I was called into the Order and swore to Lord Krayt to serve him”, Cinis continued. “You have trained me for seven years, and you know that I am faithful to him – just as I know you are. What do your feelings tell you with view to the latest developments ?”

 

„It does not make sense“, Darth Levouan replied. “I remember well how much time Lord Krayt has let elapse until he decided to appoint you to the rank of a Dark Lady, even though in my personal opinion you would have deserved this long ago. When you defeated me for the first time during this legendary training fight, and had the choice between killing me or leaving me alive, I was on the verge of challenging our master’s decisions. What is happening now is a blatant opposite of all Lord Krayt has been doing so far; and even if I put myself in danger by saying so – and as far as I see it, I am already doing so anyway by this whole conversation with you – I would say that this is not Lord Krayt’s doing.”

 

A few seconds passed until Cinis chimed in again.

“What would you say, Lady Levouan”, she began, “if Lord Krayt was dead and someone else was trying to take over the Order in his place ?”

 

It took a few moments for the Umbaran Sith woman to digest this assertion before she could answer: “If you look at it from the right angle, this idea does not seem so absurd, since it complements what is happening around us. Lord Krayt has not been present for a long time, and his Voice is pronouncing his orders in his place. Or should I say what is supposed to be taken as Lord Krayt’s orders, because I can see what you are hinting at.”

 

„Lady Levouan“, Cinis continued to speak, “I have invited you to this discussion mainly because in you all virtues of a high-ranking Sith are present. You are ambitious, passionate, intelligent, sly and an excellent fighter. Although you have never been part of the Inner Circle around Lord Krayt, you do not rank behind its members with view to your skills. And exactly this is what puts you in danger. Take a look at the following scenario.”

Levouan, who had meanwhile taken a seat on Cinis’ desk chair, gazed attentively at her former student, who now seemed to turn into her future co-conspirator.

 

Cinis started to explain: „Lord Krayt is dead – either succumbed to the ailment he was suffering from, or to an assassination. Darth Wyyrlok, well used to pronouncing Lord Krayt’s will, perceives his chance to usurp the leadership of the Order and starts off by covering up Lord Krayt’s death and pronouncing his own ideas, requests and orders as those of our master in order to rule out any possible resistance. All decrees given from this moment on are no longer Lord Krayt’s will but that of Lord Wyyrlok who strives for nothing else but introducing a hereditary monarchy into the Order, on the basis of the fact that his family has served Darth Krayt for generations as consultants and Voices – with him on top, and his daughter Saarai as his successor.

At the same time, he appoints a large number of low-ranking Sith to responsible positions, leading to some of them being overstrained, others to become lost in delusions of grandeur. Even if striving for power is one of our Order’s virtues, this feeling of false safety is deceptive, as it makes its bearer vulnerable and, first and foremost, expendable. Those who are bestowed with but moderate abilities should better work on bringing their skills to perfection – even as Sith – before being overly proud of them, as pride, savored prematurely, makes one careless, which is often deadly.”

 

Levouan had propped her chin onto her hand and gazed at Cinis thoughtfully as she listened to her explanations.

Cinis continued. “Lord Wyyrlok intends to gradually replace all high-ranking, responsible positions inside the Order by his marionettes – persons who lack the strength to advance to the corresponding ranks by their own abilities and, due to this fact, will be even more willing to play the role of his mindless tools. Warriors and battle pilots who only strike without ever using their heads. He further plans, in due course of time, to get rid of all existing, high-ranking Sith who could represent a danger for him by having preserved, besides their loyalty, their intelligence and their ability to follow a train of thought and to ask questions. Apart from the Inner Circle around Lord Krayt, I am mostly thinking of Sith like you, Lord Stator or myself. Of course, the final aim of this step will be to command an army of compliant warriors who will execute his orders without asking. When this moment will have come, the time will come for him to drop his mask, to make Lord Krayt’s death public and to officially proclaim himself head of the Sith Order.”

 

„And as regards the Inner Circle ?“ Darth Levouan chipped in.

 

„Well, I believe Lord Stryfe will not be in too great a danger“, Cinis remarked. “He is a first-class warrior, of incredible physical strength and brutality, but mentally he comes close to fulfilling the scheme Lord Wyyrlok prefers. Brute force which obeys commands without thinking. I reckon he will keep him and make him his Hand.

As to Lady Talon, I am not really sure. In any case, she is a Sith who would never have dreamt of questioning Lord Krayt’s decrees, since she is extremely focused on him. However, I do not know her well enough to forecast how she would react when being confronted with the fact of Darth Krayt’s death.”

 

Levouan nodded. „I can only confirm your observations. What about Lord Nihl and Lady Maladi ?”

 

„As you can certainly imagine, these two are in extreme danger. Despite his loyalty to Lord Krayt, Lord Nihl has preserved enough of his own will and, especially, personality in order to turn up on the black list. The same goes for Lady Maladi – even though her ingenious abilities have always made her enjoy Lord Krayt’s benevolence, he has more than once frowned upon seeing her mingling her own plans too intensely with his orders, tieing them to the concerns she was pursueing herself – true to the Sith virtues of perfidy and secrecy”, Cinis replied.

 

For a few seconds, silence reigned, while Darth Levouan pondered over what she had just heard. Then Cinis spoke up again.

 

„You know that at Lord Krayt’s command I officially work for Lady Maladi, as a hacker, spy and assassin”, she said. “In fact, besides this official task – and I am telling you this under the pledge of secrecy – I also act as personal agent for Lady Maladi and Lord Nihl. In the beginning, we believed that Lord Krayt himself would betray his closest confidants, but we were wrong. Darth Wyyrlok is the danger, and not only for Lord Krayt’s closest confidants. I have invited you here to ask you if you wish to join us – Lord Nihl, Lady Maladi, Lord Stator and myself – to take on the challenge of escaping certain elimination by the usurper. Our aim is to take charge of the Order in his place – how this is to be done remains to be discussed in detail. At the moment, it is crucial that a sufficient number of Sith with correspondingly high mental and physical abilities make a stand against the current endeavors in order to secure our survival and to restore the normal distribution of power inside the Order. And, of course, to stand our ground on the galaxy’s throne. If Lord Krayt is in fact dead, and our opponent will have been overcome, the Empire will need a new leader. Until then – even though this might feel like going against our individual striving for power – we must stick together against this menace which threatens us all.

I am now asking you, Lady Levouan: What is your decision ?”

 

The Umbaran Sith woman remained motionless for a long while, holding Cinis in her musing gaze. Cinis desisted from urging her, well knowing that any answer given without enforcement and time pressure was worth more than anything else.

Darth Levouan bowed her head, sweeping a streak of her long hair from her forehead.

After a few minutes had passed in silence, she finally said: „Irrespective of the obvious fact that you have been ordered to kill me in case I should not appreciate your statements – don’t you deny it – I sense you are right. I cannot help agreeing with everything you have explained to me, provided it is true and our master is truly dead.

Let Lord Nihl and Lady Maladi know that I am on your side.

You know where you can find me.”

 

With these words, and another brief bow, Darth Levouan left Cinis‘ quarters.

 

 

The two Sith fought in silence, yet highly concentrated. Stator found it difficult to adapt to Nihl’s fighting style. He had already fought against various Sith, as well as Jedi and Imperial Knights, and dual blades were no challenge to him. However, the way the Nagai was swinging his weapon made Stator face his own limits. One moment, Krayt’s Hand swung the weapon like a sword, the next one he used both hands, and, then again, he made use of the entire length of the handle. The Jabiimi had just warded off one of Nihl’s feints when the ring-shaped handle of Nihl’s weapon hit him hard in the face without warning. With a kick, the Nagai sent him to the floor; and before he could react, Nihl followed him in a somersault, landed on top of Stator with legs akimbo and put the tip of his light spear’s blade to the Jabiimi’s throat.

 

Bowing his head, he flashed his usual taunting smile and said: „The first question is mine, Lord Stator !“

He stepped back a little, allowing the Jabiimi to sit up while he continued to speak.

“I heard that you have been the victim of several assassination attempts. You have uttered to Lady Maladi a certain suspicion as to who inside the Sith Order could be seeking your life. Are you still of this opinion ?”

 

Stator felt no surprise at the fact that the information flow between Maladi and Nihl was excellent; apart from that, he was quite sure that Lady Cinis was essentially involved in the entire matter as well.

“You are right, Lord Nihl. I am of the opinion that Lord Wyyrlok is behind all these doings. It is him alone who would profit from eliminating me, to prevent me from rummaging in his library and, perhaps, coming across matters he would rather keep secret from our Lord Krayt himself.”

 

Thoughtfully, Nihl looked down on him, but that moment the Jabiimi started his counterattack. The Nagai could scarcely parry the first blows, requiring a few seconds in order to ward off Stator’s attacks. With the help of a few feints, combined with the advantages his unusual weapon offered, he soon pushed Darth Stator into a desperate situation, wrenching his lightsaber from his hand. Once again, the tip of Nihl’s light spear blade came to a halt in front of Stator’s throat.

„Now, Lord Stator, you are uttering a rather dangerous suspicion by claiming that Wyyrlok could betray our Lord Krayt. What gave you this idea ?”

 

„Lord Nihl, today Wyyrlok withdrew my access authorization for the Sith library, claiming that he was doing so at Lord Krayt’s command. I felt he was lying. This strengthens my suspicion that no one but him is behind the assassinations both myself and Lady Cinis have been victim of.”

 

The Nagai looked more thoughtful still, which, however, did not keep him from being alert, allowing him to parry the Jabiimi’s next vehement attack well. This time the exchange of blows took a little more time. Gradually, Stator managed to adapt to the tall Nagai’s fighting style which made it increasingly difficult for Krayt’s Hand to remain in control of the situation. Finally, however, he was lucky once more. Stator made an essential mistake which the Nagai, in true Sith tradition, exploited quickly.

 

Holding the blade of his weapon close to Stator’s neck, Nihl spoke up. “Lord Stator, if Wyyrlok approached you, promising you power, what would be your decision ?”

“I have sworn to be faithful to Lord Krayt”, Stator replied, “and I am but his. If Wyyrlok betrays Krayt he deserves nothing less than my loyalty. Perhaps I would agree in pretense, but in reality I would do my utmost in order to eliminate the man who has betrayed my master !”

 

Nihl grinned, almost impalpably. Stepping back, he asked: “And what if Lord Krayt were dead ? What if the Order’s future was shrouded in darkness, and Wyyrlok was making you his offer in such a situation ? How would you decide ?”

 

„Lord Nihl“, the Jabiimi answered, „if things turned out that way, and Lord Krayt was no longer alive, I would not join the man who apparently spent a great deal of energy to eliminate me. A Jedi could do that, perhaps, but for a Sith acting this way would be merely stupid. I do not think I am stupid, Lord Nihl. If Lord Krayt is gone, I will be free of any troth, and all that will count will be what I can profit from !”

 

„Frankly spoken, Lord Stator“, Krayt’s Hand replied. “You have fulfilled my expectations entirely. Lady Cinis has done well by making me aware of you. Since you have answered two questions following your latest defeat, I will now grant you one question before we finish the training session. Ask your question, Lord Stator!”

 

Addressed thus, the Jabiimi rose to his feet, hung his lightsaber onto his belt, looked firmly into the Nagai’s eyes and asked: “Where is Lord Krayt ?”

 

A hint of a smile played in the corners of Darth Nihl’s mouth. “You cannot feel his presence, can you ?”, he returned the question.

 

„That is correct, Mylord !“, the Jabiimi replied.

 

„The same goes for me, Librarian. He is imperceptible in the Force. And I fear Lord Krayt is dead.”

 

„Dead ?“ Stator stared at the Nagai with eyes wide open. „Lord Krayt dead ? But how…“

 

„Lady Cinis had a vision she told me about“, Nihl continued. “She saw Wyyrlok kill our master. Another point supporting this theory is the fact that Wyyrlok was the only member of the Inner Circle to return from Had Abaddon unscathed. Talon, Stryfe and Maladi are currently still on Korriban, undergoing treatment of their injuries. Wyylok could have made use of the absence of potential witnesses.”

 

„Wyyrlok !“ Stator grumbled. „He wants to take charge of the Order ! Lord Nihl, if Lord Krayt is really dead, he will want to present a scapegoat. We should assure he is not going to select us, or Lady Maladi, or Cinis…”

Suddenly, Nihl flashed a wide grin. “Do not worry, Lord Stator. I already have a plan which will help me directing Wyyrlok’s wrath off us and settle a personal matter at the same time.”

 

The Nagai deactivated his weapon and returned it to his back holster. “The Order of the One Sith is too important to be destroyed, and it is not made to fall into Wyyrlok’s hands. If Lord Krayt is dead – an assumption for which numerous facts speak – you are no longer bound by your oath and can choose to follow another Sith Lord – one you trust he will pursue Krayt’s vision. And improve it. Lord Stator, are you prepared to serve me ?”

 

Astonished, Stator looked at the tall Sith. The Nagai radiated self-confidence, power and energy.

Without hesitating any further, the Jabiimi bent his knee before Krayt’s Hand, saying: “If Lord Krayt is dead, I believe you are the hope of the Sith Order. I swear to be faithful to you, Lord Nihl.”

 

Satisfied, Darth Nihl looked down on his new follower. “Good”, he retorted. “Now rise, Lord Stator ! It was a pleasure for me to hone my fighting skills with your help. Whenever you will receive information concerning our plans, just contact me or Lady Maladi. In case neither of us can be reached, you may approach Lady Cinis who is devoted to our cause as well.” Before leaving the training room, he remarked: “Lord Stator, the Sith Order will soon be facing a change leading it into a grand era. Make sure you will be part of it !”. Thus he left the Jabiimi alone.

 

Stator remained inside the training facility for a few moments, musing over what he had just heard.

Lord Krayt dead. Sure, this would explain why he had no longer sensed him in his mind when he was released from the Bacta tank. At first, he had thought it to be an aftereffect of the treatment, but gradually the emptiness caused by Krayt’s absence in the force disturbed him more and more.

Lord Krayt dead. Abruptly, the forebodings of the ancient Sith came to his mind, warning of what would happen in such a case. And he, Stator, seemed to be in the middle of everything, aware that he had just joined one of the parties which would soon be revealed. Was that wise ? Well, refusing the offer seemed to be simply a bad idea. In order to veil his plans, the Nagai would certainly not have hesitated to eliminate Stator as an unwanted confidant. It was plain to the Jabiimi that Darth Nihl had only been playing games with him during the training session.

 

Rising, Darth Stator resorted to his quarters. He decided to fill the coming days and weeks with more battle training and Force meditation than he had used to do before.

 

 

The days passed by, and nothing seemed to be happening. No one approached Stator with tasks, missions or even simple transactions inside the Temple. Two days ago, Lord Nihl had departed to Wayland together with Maladi. Wyyrlok kept hardly any contact with other Sith and stayed mostly in the throne room where he tried to run the Empire, while the Sith activies on Dac and the vainglorious regent, Grand Admiral Morlish Veed, seemed to attract his entire attention. Of course, Darth Stator knew why. If the Chagrian had in fact betrayed and murdered Lord Krayt, he was forced to consolidate his position of power not only within the Sith Order, but also as the ruler of the Empire.

 

Stator had no intention to let this period of idleness go by unused. Countless training battles contributed to honing his fighting technique, enabling him to be victorious in several confrontations with his former mistress Rancina. Apart from that, he also arranged training sessions with other Sith. In case he did not manage to find a partner, he simply roamed all training rooms known to him, hoping for Sith he could challenge to a duel. Once he was lucky enough to come across Cinis’ former mistress Darth Levouan. Fighting against her was tough but balanced. Although her style was completely different from that Rancina used, he managed to avoid defeat by concentrating on the experience he had made with Cinis’ fighting habits.

 

Mostly, however, he used to delve into deep meditation. During one of these sessions, he suddenly felt a trembling of the Force – nothing strong, just a brief disturbance he wouldn’t normally have perceived hadn’t he been so deeply immersed in the Force. Stator rose, dressed and left his quarters.

A little careful research revealed that Darth Wyyrlok had surprisingly and suddenly left for Korriban.

 

Having found out thus, the Jabiimi decided to make use of the situation by using the copy of the access codes Wyyrlok had demanded back earlier in order to once more explore the locked library. Appalled, he discovered that all important holocrones had disappeared. Verification of the matter showed that Wyyrlok had ordered them to be returned to Korriban.

Petrified, Stator stood for a while inside the library. It was clear that the Chagrian intended to play it safe, and, of course, he had suspected that Stator was keeping another copy of the datapad ! Just to be on the safe side, then, he had removed the holocrones from Stator’s grasp. The Jabiimi clenched his teeth, wondering how he could have been stupid enough to believe that a ploy as simple as that would be sufficient to take in a Sith as powerful as Darth Wyyrlok.

Stator left the library. On his way back to his quarters he destroyed the datapad which had now become useless to him.

 

 

Having returned from Korriban, Darth Wyyrlok first of all resorted to his quarters, his thoughts racing frantically. No one else but himself had stowed away Krayt's body in the stasis chamber. No one else but himself had killed him. Krayt could simply not have disappeared ! Nevertheless, Wyyrlok was relieved to note that Nihl, without even having been pushed into that direction, had suspected that it was Talon who had killed Krayt and abducted his body. This scheme made things a little easier for him, merely requiring him to confirm Nihl's suspicion instead of having to fabricate an explanation the clever Nagai would have doubted in the first place. Fact was, he would never have come up with this very idea. If there was one Sith who was unconditionally obeisant to Krayt, it was Darth Talon. Apparently, Nihl's hatred for the Twi'lek and the prospect of being allowed to kill her had clouded his judgment. Yet, Wyyrlok was well aware of this advantage being ephemeral. As soon as Darth Nihl would have killed Talon, thus appeasing the most part of his rage, he would continue to ask questions. And when this happened, Wyyrlok, Krayt's voice, better had a good plan at hand.

 

Upon examining his security data he noticed that somebody must have visited the library during his absence. Following up the matter, he soon found out the intruder's identity. The Chagrian squinted his eyes. Darth Stator. It seemed that the Jabiimi was playing a rather obscure part. The fact that Krayt had decided to submit this man to Sith training now gained new meaning. Probably the head of the Sith Order was more up to every trick than Lord Wyyrlok would ever have thought. Perhaps Stator was even involved with the disappearance of Krayt's body ?

Musing for a while, Wyyrlok finally reached for the comlink.

 

"This is Lord Wyyrlok. I require an assassin. The best one available. Right now."

 

He sat down on his chair and leaned back. Not long after the door to his office opened, and a woman entered the realm of Krayt's adviser and representative.

 

"Lord Wyyrlok !" she greeted him, bending her knee before the Chagrian.

 

"Rise, Lady Cinis !". The Sith woman obeyed.

 

"Certainly you have already noted that the Sith Order is currently being shaken by a certain… unease. Lord Krayt, our master, has now spent quite some time in the stasis chamber, since the events that took place on Had Abaddon have weakened him in a more intense manner than we had suspected."

 

Wyyrlok rose and approached, towering over Cinis.

 

"In this situation, some Sith believe they could make use of our master's absence for their machinations !", the Chagrian thundered. Cinis jerked slightly. Was he referring to her agreement with Nihl ? Had the hour of her death come for her ? She swallowed drily.

 

"In order to keep the vision of the One Sith alive and fulfill Lord Darth Krayt's will, it is our task to find and eliminate this traitor."

 

Cinis stared at him blankly.

 

"I have identified one such traitor, Lady Cinis."

Her heart seemed to stop beating. Had he found out about her conspiracy with Nihl ? Or had the Nagai even lured her into a trap in order to watch her, sneering, falling prey to Wyyrlok's revenge ?

 

"This is why I have sent for you, Mylady. You have been chosen to destroy this traitor who has risen among us."

Cinis breathed a sigh of relief. For a split second, she had almost seen the end of her existence, and all of a sudden she seemed to be on top of things again.

 

"Just tell me the name and the place, Lord Wyyrlok !"

 

"I was sure you would answer thus. Your target is Darth Stator. He is likely to be staying in his quarters at the moment. Kill him, then return to my office !"

 

It took her some effort not to jerk, but Darth Cinis managed to hold back her reaction to this shocking surprise. Bowing before the Chagrian, she replied: "As you command, Lord Wyyrlok !", then turned and left the room.

 

On her way to Stator's quarters she could not keep her mind from reeling wildly. On one hand, she would never have imagined to be forced into a situation, one day that expected her to kill the Jabiimi. On the other hand she was a Sith. And if he had in fact betrayed the Order of the Sith, his life was forfeited. The next moment, however, she remembered her vision, wondering if Stator had maybe found out something which might prove it to be true.

Was she on her way to execute a traitor, or was she on the verge of acting in service of a traitor ? She had to make a decision, and it wouldn't be an easy one.

 

When she arrived at Stator's quarters, she was relieved to notice that the Jabiimi was apparently absent. Even though she reached for him in the Force, she couldn't manage to sense him, which gave her time to delay her decision a little.

Using the universal codes Lady Maladi had given her, she opened the door to Stator's apartment. Slowly, feeling her way in the Force, she entered, holding her deactivated lightsaber in one hand. All of a sudden, she perceived the characteristic hiss of a lightsaber being activated. Behind her.

 

"Do not turn around, Lady Cinis !" she heard Lord Stator whisper at the same time, making her freeze at once. Damn ! Like a child she had run into the trap ! Why couldn't she have remembered that Stator was able to withdraw his presence from the Force completely ?

"Now drop your lightsaber !" For a moment, Cinis hesitated, but then did as ordered. Using the Force, Stator grabbed the weapon, pulling it into his left hand and activating the blade. "You may now turn around to face me, Mylady !" he said.

When she had done so, he looked at her for a second, then remarked: "So far, I have always appreciated your visits, but something tells me that today your passion is seeking other ways of fulfillment."

 

"Lord Stator " Cinis' voice sounded hollow. "I have not come on my own initiative !"

 

"Of course not. I am certain Wyyrlok has sent you."

 

"You are…"

Before she could finish the sentence, a heavy chill ran over her entire body. Her eyes widened, and she took a gasping breath, shaking slightly. Dizziness swept across her, forcing her to reach for the edge of Lord Stator's desk. All of a sudden, a deep, fundamental certainty washed over her, despite all facts which seemed to contradict it; and from the corner of her eye she saw Stator was feeling no different. The Jabiimi stood like petrified, gasping for air like her; then he deactivated both lightsabers and croaked: "You have felt it, too. He is alive. Lord Krayt is alive ! Whoever intended to kill him has failed."

 

"I have not sensed him again since that mysterious mission on Had Abaddon. I had a vision. I thought he had…"

 

"I thought the same."

 

"Now what are we going to do ?", Cinis asked, almost whispering.

 

"Well, you can continue attempting to kill me. As to myself, I intend to leave for Korriban immediately. You could tell Lord Wyyrlok you have missed me. Maybe he will kill you for this. It is up to you."

 

Stator handed Cinis her lightsaber. "But if you go to see Wyyrlok, watch him closely ! Watch his emotional reactions." Taking her weapon, Cinis nodded: "Yes, I will do so", she said.

 

"Then we better be quick !", Stator replied. As Cinis quickly retreated from his apartment, the Sith grabbed a prepared baggage bundle and hurried towards his ship, the Dark Fist.

 

When Lady Cinis reached Darth Wyyrlok's office, she found the Chagrian in company of his daughter Saarai. Both looked very crestfallen. Cinis bowed before them and began to speak: "Lord Wyyrlok, Stator was not in his quarters, and I learned that he left Coruscant shortly before. I have failed, Mylord. You may kill me now !"

 

For a little while, Wyylok looked down on Cinis, confused, before replying in a somewhat throaty voice: "No, Lady Cinis. It is not you who has failed. Not you." He turned away from her. "Lord Stator is no longer of importance. Now go and wait for further orders !"

 

The Sith woman rose and left the office. Wyyrlok's reaction was more than illuminative. Unfortunately she was unable to inform Stator about what she had witnessed, since he was already on his way to Korriban. She would have to manage on her own until he, Lord Nihl or Darth Krayt returned.

 

Still, the fire of this strange sensation was raging inside her; that very moment Lord Krayt's powerful grasp was flaring in her mind more intensely than any other presence she had ever perceived. Cinis hurried back to her quarters and knelt on the mat in front of her bed. What she was experiencing at the moment was too intense to share the effect with others in one of the meditation rooms; nonetheless, she had a feeling that the other members of the Order were going through a similar rush of emotions. She relaxed as thoroughly as possible, closed her eyes and gave in to the flow of the Force when a new vision hit her.

 

In front of her mind's eye, her master – Darth Krayt – appeared, and he looked frightening. His body reminded of a mummy, corrugated, shrunken and resembling a corpse more than any living being. Only his characteristic eyes – the right one gleaming with yellowish-red Sith fire, the left one with the blueish shimmer of the Vong creature he had once received – testified of the spark of life, in opposition to all he'd had to go through.

The vision stared at her; the picture was as clear and precise as the one she had seen when the Embrace of Pain had held her and which had revealed to her Lord Krayt's betrayal. Krayt watched her intensely, a trace of amusement flickering in his stare. He did not say a word, yet, Cinis seemed to hear his voice, commanding her to prepare for his return.

 

Now the vision showed Lord Nihl and Lady Talon at his side. It was only now that Cinis understood the real dimensions of what she was seeing. The figures seemed to appear before the backdrop of corridors, glowing in dim red light, and hinting at places imbued with a Dark Side potential exceeding by far that present in the Sith Temple on Coruscant. There was only one possibility: the vision was setting Cinis' sight on Korriban, directly into the heart of the Sith Order. The looks of Nihl and Talon were directed to her, while Lord Krayt had his iron gaze mercilessly fixed on her, the fingers of his emaciated left hand stretched out towards her. At the same moment, his figure underwent a sudden, dramatic change. From the corpse-like body arose the founder of the Order of the One Sith, fully recovered, brimming with power and zest for action, bereft of his confining Vong armor and clothed in armor and tunic resembling the gear Order members wore. He looked younger and more energetic than ever, radiating power and potency, and leaving no doubt that Darth Krayt was eventually assuming his rank as Sith Emperor, in full possession of his mental and physical strength, after having come closer to death than any one of them.

A moan escaped Cinis. Even though she was alone, she bowed deep before her master under the vision's influence, the way she had done so often when she had been on her knees before him, while his iron Force grip on her neck had bent her down in order to underline her subservience to him. The words of the Sith Code resounded in her mind when the vision finally faded, and passion washed over her.

 

The buzzer tore Cinis from her trance. Still swaying slightly, she rose and commanded the door to open.

Outside stood Darth Levouan.

Quickly, the Umbaran woman entered, and when the door had closed again behind her, she started to speak without digression.

"This changes all our plans, doesn't it ?"

Cinis looked at her. "Oh yes. But it need not necessarily mean bad things. Remember, Lady Levouan, that the matters we have recently discussed were based on the idea that our master, Lord Krayt, is no longer among us. Apparently this is not the case. Now I can tell you that I had seen his death in a vision, as well as – just several standard minutes ago – the proof that he is again among the living. All servants of the Dark Side have received our master's call and are now waiting for his commands.

Irrespective of that, our further considerations are remaining in force – and you are certainly aware of the fact that this is causing quite a good deal of trouble for Lord Wyyrlok."

 

"Indeed", Darth Levouan replied. "Thus we are back at the point we started at. You will continue to serve Lord Krayt, the way I do; and first of all we will just have to wait and see when he will decide to let us know his orders."

 

"According to what my latest vision has shown me, he is in company of Lord Nihl and Lady Talon. It seems that Lord Krayt is currently staying on Korriban – which explains why Lord Wyyrlok has felt so safe", Cinis said. "Apparently he has killed him, trusting he would never again have to look into his eyes. It must have been a hard blow for him to realize that his master has come back to life and is now acting his will from Korriban. Well", she shrugged her shoulders, "it could hardly be any better for us. We have always served our master well, now he may assign new tasks for us on the background of his vision of the Order of the One Sith. Should he wish to kill us, he would certainly already have done so."

 

"I agree with you", Darth Levouan admitted. "I reckon the best we can do is wait for what is going to happen next. I am prepared to continue serving our master."

"So am I", Cinis replied. "The Force is strong in us – as opposed to all those upstarts we have been talking about. Together with you, I shall wait for Lord Krayt's command."

 

Lady Levouan nodded, bowed briefly, and left Cinis' quarters, not without arranging another training fight with her former apprentice for the next morning.

The last thought Cinis had before setting her mind onto a fitness session and a subsequent light meal was that she had not heard again from Lady Maladi for quite a long time, which honestly surprised her. But since she felt that this latest enigma refused clarification, at least for the moment, she preferred not to waste energy trying to solve it. There was one thing Cinis was absolutely certain of: if something was important enough to know about it, she would know about it.

 

 

A signal tore Stator from the Force meditation he had delved into during the dull hyperspace journey. On its small communication screen, the R4 unit wired to the pilot's console announced the imminent return jump to normal space.

 

When the Dark Fist had left hyperspace, Stator used the manual controls to orbit a few times the red planet upon which he had spent so much time charged with the menial job of a librarian. Now he was returning. What would he be up to on Korriban ? Would he find a new aspect of the Dark Side he had given in to years before ? Or would he maybe find death ?

Determined, he headed for the landing platform in front of the central temple, bringing the Dark Fist down a few minutes later. Stator switched off all controls and quickly left the ship. As he slowly approached the central temple, a tall figure moved towards him. Darth Nihl.

 

Stator bent his knee before the Nagai who walked up to him. "Lord Nihl !", he croaked, "is is true ?"

Addressed thus, Nihl just stood still and, instead of replying, gave him a cold smile as he turned around without saying a word. From the shades surrounding them, two more figures appeared. All of a sudden, Darth Stator felt a presence of an intensity he had never perceived before, and that moment he knew it was him. Lord Krayt. The Supreme Master of the Order of the One Sith. The Emperor. At his side, Darth Talon strode. The Twi'lek woman was holding her lightsaber up high, ready to activate it the instant someone would come too close to her master.

 

"Rise, Lord Stator !", the voice of the supreme Sith now sounded, and the Jabiimi obeyed.

"So you have heard my call. It must have come to you with great urgency, making you depart for Korriban at once. A token of your loyalty." Krayt looked deep into Stator's eyes.

"Except if you were here at Wyyrlok's command in order to finally annihilate that remainder of me he left alive!"

 

Stator swallowed drily. "No, my master. The main reason I am here is to prevent Wyyrlok from killing me. I take it to be the truth he attempted to eliminate you."

 

"He did attempt it, yes. I feel almost tempted to credit his courage. But even while I was apparently weakened he did not manage. His treason shall not remain unavenged."

 

"Lord Krayt", Stator retorted. "May I kill him for you ?"

 

Darth Krayt looked at him thoughtfully for a few seconds before answering.

"No, Lord Stator. This is something I must accomplish myself. Just like in the old times. When an adept believes himself to be powerful enough to challenge the master, there must be a fight. A fight where only one can be victorious. But you may accompany us, Lord Stator. My two Hands and I intend to depart for Coruscant without further delay."