Chapter Seven: Inspecting Erectus
The next two Sith Lords on the list fell without much difficulty. Their homes were as grand as Darth Vitro’s and gaining entry was in no way a simple task; however, when the time came to kill them Verra did not flinch in the slightest. With Darth Prematus and Darth Minutia thus added to the list of the dead, Ban Garus’ vision came ever closer to completion. Thorne IV’s political atmosphere was thrown into upheaval, as with each Sith Lord that perished a clearer picture emerged of what was happening. When Vitro was found slain it had been attributed to an assassin finally finishing their job. Prematus and Minutia, however, who had a much more select list of enemies began to detract from the concept of random coincidence and painted a picture far more involved.
Someone was targeting specific Sith Lords and killing them off. As there was not yet enough evidence to place it at the feet of any one person, the authorities were simply left to mind that which they could. Ban Garus, despite his previous protestations, had gone so far as to hire a specialized security detail of droids to protect his household from any potential backlash. The more that fell to Verra’s blade, the more likely it was that the source of the deaths would lead back to him. She had to act quickly from that moment on; a point that he reminded her of constantly.
There had been several witnesses to the assassinations and those witnesses had nearly cost Ban Garus everything. The Empu’dunz guard that Verra had immobilized reported that before his master was killed, a pale haired woman had been seen in the compound. On the night that Prematus was slain he had been with one of his servants, who said that a woman in a black uniform had descended upon her master and made short work of him. When Minutia fell, a room of children was witness to the battle that ensued before the Sith lord was slaughtered. Verra had not been publically linked to Ban Garus, but the more that was known about this assassin, the easier it would be for a spy to place the new addition to his household as the cause for all of the disturbances. Thankfully, Verra did well to keep to herself and the clues led to nothing other than a title being given to the suspected murder: “The Shadow”.
The media took the image of this mysterious woman and converted it into a story of a vengeful wraith that sought to destroy the very fabrics of society. Holo-feeds routinely featured speculation on who this enigma may have been, ranging from a scorned Sith lord to the returned wrath of the Rutalians. In each retelling of witness stories her feats became only more fantastic. There was little concern from the general populace, who all but sensationalized the events. More powerful Sith lords, however, were hardly as amused. This “Shadow” could potentially visit them, and until they knew more of her motivations, each would have to be wary.
At that moment “the Shadow” was once more in her own company. She always seemed to be in her own company as of late. It was a situation that raised some concern from Q’leeta, but Ban Garus assured her that it was natural. Verra was simply working through things: she would emerge unscathed by what had to be done.
Ban Garus’ illustrious study was converted into Verra’s personal room. Eating in it, often sleeping in it, and always watching the screens before her – she committed her days to assuring herself that the people who were killed needed to die for more than Ban Garus’ machinations. In the case of Darth Prematus she found that he too brutalized his servants and more importantly was one of the major financers for the Sith War against the Republic. Darth Minutia had actually been an advocate for waiting before the war was waged, but she was guilty of taking children from outlying provinces and draining them of their life in order to maintain her youthful and beautiful appearance. In both, she had found powerful masters of the Dark Side – and in the case of both, she had prevailed. As the avenging hand of the Force, Verra’s unleashed wrath could not be stopped.
It was the latest Sith that she was having a hard time coming to terms with killing. Darth Erectus, the current governor of Magestus, would not only be the most difficult kill that she was faced with, but also the one with the least proof of obvious misdeed. After killing Prematus she had face the fact that the Sith were by and large cruel to people subordinate than them and if simply abusing servants meant that she should kill them then all of them should have been killed. Bearing this in mind, while it was true that Erectus may have been a cruel master, that was not in itself enough reason to kill him. At least, that was what the voice in her head was telling her.
But with each passing day, that voice became just a bit fainter.
The screen was currently occupied with holo-feed of Erectus. A tall and intimidating man, he was extremely similar to Ban Garus in his physical features. The Sith Empire was interspersed with species that she had never before heard of, but the “hybrid” look was one that could easily be qualified. While some were dark red or even pinkish, Erectus much like her current “benefactor” was of a sandier complexion. But where Ban Garus attempted to appear sympathetic, Erectus stood with a power and presence that was topped by the purple crown that adorned his head. He was a sight to behold and more than likely would be tough to handle. More important than anything else was the explosive look that radiated from his solitary eye.
Verra began to replay several different feeds, searching for a mark of depravity that would truly qualify the Sith for a targeted assassination. The food that she had been brought had long since gone cold, and even had it not she found that her need to validate the kill far exceeded her desire for food. She did not know how Ban Garus managed to find all of his information, but it had seemed more than accurate enough. Vitro had been in his dungeon, Prematus was found with one of his servants, and Minutia’s demise had come as she prepared to drain the lives from more children. If there was anything to find out about Erectus it should have been on the tapes, but there was nothing.
It was a rare sight for the servants to see Verra during the day, if at all. The young woman that had accompanied Q’leeta into the study days before was not the same that they saw at that moment. While she still held the same appearance in all, there was something decidedly lacking from her being. Whatever it was, they made certain to give her a wider berth as she walked through the halls, though they made certain to bow with abject courtesy. The delicate robes that Ban Garus had given her fluctuated in the wake of her determined stride; through the Force she not only located him but informed him that she would soon be arriving.
Had she not been singularly focused upon locating Ban Garus, Verra might have taken a moment to appreciate the delicate surroundings that she emerged into from the interior of the estate. Bathed in sunlight, the courtyard was given only a small amount of shade which at that moment housed Ban Garus. At his side, Q’leeta sat with a cup of some beverage or another held out in the event that her master-husband may desire a sip. Around her neck was a beautiful silken scarf that played well against the white décor. Two other Haur’nii women were beside her, one teal and the other near violet, each waving fans in his direction to further please their master. With the taste of Q’leeta’s drink upon his lips and the women blowing wind upon him in constant intervals, it was doubtlessly a serene moment for the Sith.
Verra came to a halt at Ban Garus’ side, opposite Q’leeta. The Haur’nii woman offered her a pleasant smile, but she did not return it. “Ban Garus,” she said in a voice that hardly seemed like her own: dry and exhausted, it related how strenuously she had been investigating the latest target.
“A moment, my dear,” Ban Garus replied as he held a hand up to silence her from speaking further. His eyes remained on the garden, in which several women danced with fluttering scarves accentuating their gestures. As his hand slowly lowered the women took to jumping to and fro, as even more began to play a soft and delicate melody that permeated through the air. The only thing that truly shattered the majesty of the scene was the gleam of one of Ban Garus’ security droids in the distance. His lips pursed upon seeing it, but he did not act to remove its distraction. Some things, it would seem, would have to be suffered until everything was in order.
Off-putting as it was to be made to stand silent, Verra obliged until the Sith looked back to her. “We have a problem with the latest.”
“Do we?” Ban Garus asked, his voice wreathed in confusion. His eyes offered a customary glance over Verra’s being. For whatever the servants found undesirable about her, he was all the more attracted. It had little to do with the manner in which the robes revealed her taut abdomen, or cinched upon her waist. No, there was a power to her that he understood well enough, but did not yet address. Q’leeta, hardly blind, saw the look – but hers was not the place to comment.
Verra shifted so that she blocked the view of the dancers and spoke, her voice nearly as narrow her eyes. “Yes, I see no justification for doing what must be done.”
“Justification,” Ban Garus repeated as though the word were foreign to him. “You mean, nothing that you feel immediately calls for action?”
The short response was more than enough warning for Ban Garus to know he could not continue to ignore the Jedi’s irritation. With an understanding nod he snapped his fingers and pointed toward the teal Haur’nii woman. “Or’us, a chair.”
“As you wish it, master.” She brought her fanning to an instantaneous halt and departed to find a chair as requested. Utilizing the strength that Verra knew was within the buxom women, she set it down before her and offered her the customary bow that each of the servants did. The Jedi sat and regarded Ban Garus coldly.
“Now then,” Ban Garus said as he turned his attention completely away from the dancers and to Verra. “What is it that has you so worked up?”
Rather than respond that she was not ‘worked up’, she instead answered to the point. “You told me that we have less time to act now that your enemies are beginning to understand what is happening. With that in mind I’ve been reviewing records and holo-feeds on Erectus, but have found nothing.”
Upon hearing the name “Erectus”, Q’leeta shifted backward in her seat. It was not an action lost upon Verra, who normally saw the woman as poised and in control of her actions. Ban Garus noticed Verra’s glance and addressed it.
“Q’leeta, Or’us,” he began. “See that dinner is prepared.”
It was a directive that seemed almost redundant: Q’leeta always made sure that dinner was prepared. But upon hearing it the woman gave an almost thankful smile before nodding her head and gesturing for Or’us to follow her. Each bowed courteously to Verra, but she seemed more intent upon watching Ban Garus than returning any pleasantries. Once the two were at a safe distance away, she squinted. “What was that all about?”
“In the future, no references to Erectus will be made in Q’leeta’s presence,” Ban Garus stated. While normally there was a level of dubiousness to his voice, on that point there was such finality that Verra had to wonder if he might lash out at her. She nodded her head in compliance, and he continued. “You wish to know why it is that I have selected Erectus?”
“I need to know,” Verra corrected. Her conscience may have been a dwindling thing, but it was still powerful enough to keep her from committing egregiously foul acts. “I know that he is the governor of Magestus.”
Ban Garus rose from his seat and clasped his hands behind his back. He turned, striding away as though in thought. “He is also my brother,” he admitted with a surprising amount of shame to his voice. “Darth Erectus, born Ss’elo Nicus, shares a mother with me.”
It explained their similarity instantly. While Ban Garus had the refined look of a statesman, Ss’elo Nicus was every bit the general by his appearance. Verra recalled then how commanding the man’s lone-eye appeared, and furthermore how powerful he seemed to be even through the holo-feed. That same quality was present upon Ban Garus, but upon him it was much more subtle and convincing in nature. But a shared lineage did not answer her question. That was a point she would not waver upon.
“I will not kill him because you dislike your brother.”
“Nor would I ask you to,” Ban Garus demurred. He turned back around and smiled sorrowfully. “It was Ss’elo Nicus’ generalship that saw the Rutalians driven from this planet. Though I fought alongside him, his was a presence that I could not emulate. In battle, he was peerless. He defeated the Rutalian monarch in single-combat and paved the way for the Sith Empire’s presence upon Thorne IV.
“But Nicus was never a wise man, nor was he a very capable ruler. The Emperor saw to it that I was given the position of viceroy and Nicus was to be my right hand. This arrangement worked well enough in the beginning, but as all things do – it eventually came to an end. Nicus coveted my post and I something of his.”
Verra tilted her head a notch. “Q’leeta.”
“Right you are,” Ban Garus murmured. “She was – is the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen. I know it would be foolish to convince you that Sith can love, but in her I saw possibilities I never imagined before her eyes settled on mine. My brother treated her poorly; he holds no stock in refinement. So it was that I began to court her.”
“Courtship,” Verra interrupted, her voice dripping in disbelief. “From a Sith? Surely you do not expect me to believe it possible.”
Ban Garus waved his hand dismissively. “I do not care what you believe, so long as you hear me out. Q’leeta and I became lovers by night. When Nicus was informed of our courtship, he became enraged but knew that he had not the position to challenge me openly. It was well within my right to take any woman that I wanted and although he was my elder brother, I was the one that the Emperor had seen fit to name viceroy. That was when the assassination attempts began.”
The glimpse into Sith politics was more than she cared to hear; to know that they established a hierarchy for who could claim what woman was in itself barbaric enough. Verra managed to fight disgust from appearing on her face.
“I was told that they began because your decisions were wildly unpopular.”
“Oh, they were,” Ban Garus agreed. “Well, amongst people of influence. The Empu’dunz, Haur’nii, and other ‘native’ people of Thorne IV were not at all displeased by my actions, but my peers saw that it spelled out disaster for them. With Ss’elo Nicus at my side they would have never moved against me, but as our bond had been fractured it was inevitable.
“Vitro, Prematus, Minutia – they all had parts in the first attempts. There were even more to be spoken of, but by now I have forgotten them. What is important is that with them dead, those that once followed them now know that the tide has been turned against them. Nicus may have never been responsible for their avarice, but he enabled it. The final ‘attempt’ on my life came by his hand.”
The Sith drew closer to Verra then and sat down once more in his seat. He looked into her eyes then and noted that they appear vaguely paler than they had before. A smile graced his lips as he went on. So enraptured was she with the story that Verra hardly seemed to notice his delight.
“Nicus challenged me to a duel. During the war he had seen that he was superior to me and combat and looked to capitalize upon that knowledge once and for all. As you have seen, he is quite a bit larger than me and undeniably fierce. Nevertheless, I accepted his request.”
A look of distant recollection bled into Ban Garus’ eyes then as he touched a hand to one of his cheeks. “When Nicus fought me, it was as though the entire world had come crashing in. His spirit was something of legend; no different than witnessing Marka Ragnos reborn. Whatever answer I had to his offense he met with brutal aggression, and throughout the duel it appeared that the fight would be entirely his. Q’leeta would be reclaimed, my throne would go to him, and his allies would be sated with my blood.
“But they had underestimated my thirst for power. The night previous I had his food poisoned. The longer that the fight carried on, the more of an advantage I was given. By holding back all of my aggression until the very end I was able to completely overwhelm him. In the blink of an eye what should have been his crowning moment was turned into my most brilliant display.”
The tale’s change in events surprised Verra two-fold: first that Ban Garus would poison his brother, and secondly that it surprised her at all. Nevertheless, as she heard of his triumph she did not feel it had come to its end. “Then why is it that you are now a private citizen?”
“I took from my brother three things on that day: his pride, his woman, and his eye,” Ban Garus recounted with surprising self-satisfaction. “The least I could do was leave him with that throne. In the current climate I would be incapable of holding it, and should I not relinquish it then he and his allies would emerge once more to see me killed. By entering the shadows, I effectively made the hunters into the hunted.”
“And you’ve waited all of this time to make your move.”
“Patience has always been my strongpoint,” Ban Garus remarked with a return of his reptilian smile. “But if you wish to find your Master Zi’los, then we must have these key enemies removed. So long as they remain in place, I cannot get to him.”
Master Zi’los. It was a name that she had all but forgotten about in her maddened need to justify what she was doing. There had been a time when meditation would have been the key, but she knew that if she allowed herself to slow for a moment she would lose focus on what had to be done. Somewhere on the horrible planet Master Zi’los was a captive, more than likely being tortured in the same way that the others on the feeds had been.
She had to wonder then, if Ban Garus actually did know anything about Master Zi’los. It was a thought that immediately placed into every action she had done, and try as she might to brave that reality she could not. The deaths of those by her hands were meant to purchase her comrade’s freedom. If it was all for naught then she was solely responsible for their deaths without proper counterbalance; a murderer and nothing more! Verra realized then that she did not believe Ban Garus because she wanted to; she did so because she had to. If anything he said to he was false, then everything she believed would come crashing down. To place her morality in the hands of a Sith lord hardly seemed to be the best decision she could make, but there was no way around it. She was, after all, a Shadow.
“You have footage of so many things,” Verra began as she tried to draw herself away from the horrible moral quandary she had placed herself within. “Why is it that you do not have any proof of what you have said – of Q’leeta and Erectus?”
There was an expression then that crossed Ban Garus’ face that she had never expected to see. Hurt, was it? The look appeared and faded so quickly that she could hardly identify it before it was gone. “Because that which he did to her is something that still haunts her. She has suffered enough indignity; keeping proof of it would betray the trust I have with her.”
It was the first time that she had heard Ban Garus refer to “trust” with absolute certainty. Verra eyed him for several more moments and rose to her feet.
“I’ll do it,” she said briskly. “But after this you had better be able to provide me with proof that Master Zi’los is close at hand.”
Ban Garus nodded. “After it,” he intoned, “Master Zi’los will be close at hand.”
The confirmation was all that Verra needed to find the courage to continue onward. Q’leeta was a kind and gentle woman who had shown her that there was someone worth trusting in the sea of Sith. Ban Garus, for all of his flaws, was a man that seemed relatively capable of keeping his word. If the two of them would lead to her rescue of Master Zi’los, then so be it. Verra turned about and began to make her exit.
“But there is one more thing,” Ban Garus said as he stood up. Verra half-turned to look at him, one of her eyes was concealed by her bangs.
“There can be no witnesses,” Ban Garus stated definitively. “This business about ‘the Shadow’ has created enough media. If you are connected with Nicus’ death, then there will be no doubt that you act as my agent in all of this mayhem.”
Verra accepted the charge without thought, her mind returning to the maps that she had seen of the governor’s mansion. Finding entrance into it would be nearly impossible and to do so without allowing anyone to see her even more challenging. She brushed her robes behind her as she started back toward the study. There was much to prepare for and precious little time to do it in.