Chapter Nine: Taking the Head
It was the sound of her lightsabers deactivating that brought the Shadow’s mind back to the fore. The carnage and mayhem that had ensued within the palace had come to an end; however, the echo of death still rang crisply within the air. What had begun as a mission to assassinate a single man had turned into a quest to eliminate as many people as possible, and as the final count was totaled it was a number far greater than the Shadow would have ever imagined possible. Vitae decorated her catsuit, most of which came from those that had fallen before her heightened prowess. Though she had not emerged unscathed from the massacre, she was for the most part unharmed.
Relatively speaking, that was.
The taint of combat had not at all been lost upon her; though it was a simple matter to abandon herself into her fighting, once she emerged from that zone she was confronted with all that had been done. The Sith were not fools and once they realized that the woman attacking was a Jedi that had done everything that they could to slow her. This initially meant placing inexperienced fights with weak constitutions in the fore, hoping that their pleas and nervousness would cause her to falter – it did not. When this failed, they sent forth servants to further slow her. Like meat to the grinder, they were devoured within her voracious warpath just the same.
Her body was near the point of collapse; no mortal could have engaged in the feverish fighting that she had and not wish nothing more than to surrender the will to go on. Yet with each step that she took, she forced herself to take one more. Fatigued as she was, her steps slid against the blood slickened floor and her gait was that of a tree swaying precariously within a powerful storm: one powerful gust and she would fall; there was no doubt of that.
But she could not stop, nor was she able to relent. The blood that now dripped from her gloved hands was the sole responsibility of the man that stood behind the arched doorway before her. It had been his cowardice that placed his loyal subjects before her; his weakness that necessitated her to slaughter those that rose to his call. What sort of man would be capable of standing by as those that looked to him for protection were culled in so ruthless a manner? What sort of a governor could watch those that he governed be dispatched without moving to assist them? The greedy, avaricious, despicable Sith, that was who. They were scum of the galaxy and at last, she would set to removing them all.
Ragged breaths punctuated the air as she trudged to the door and placed her hand against it. The lightsaber hilt that she had taken from the Sith, whose blade was as red as the blood that dripped from it, bashed once against the door before it gave way and allowed her to enter. She did not wish to think of how savagely she had been forced to fight as she cleared the halls; did not want to recall the sound of bone and cartilage being crushed under the battering strike of her lightsaber’s hilt, or the horrified shrieks that came from dismembered opponents as she set to ensuring that they would not rise to stop her. All of those things were the property of the Sith lord, not herself. He had forced her hand. There was nothing more to it than that.
The room that she emerged into was that which she had seen within the holo-feed. Although her visor had done well to keep stray fluids from entering her eyes, it nevertheless had taken to caking. She lifted her right hand and pulled at the screen before dropping it and allowing it to clatter to the ground. Technology would no longer be required: the fight that was before her would be one settled between mastery of the Force and experience in combat. Freed of the detritus that had previously marred her vision, she looked about the throne room.
Ornate tapestries greeted her eyes, lining the floor that separated the throne from those who were permitted audience above it. She was certain that in times past the room had been filled with sniveling vassals that requested new means by which to harm or demean their subjects. Perhaps Vitro, Prematus, and Minutia had even walked the ground at one time, scheming and plotting on how to best betray their masters and increase their own lot in the world. That thought brought to her lips a thin smile, for theirs were evil ways that would never again be relived. Vanquished into the darkness, they would be forgotten in due time – just like their master.
Even if she had been without her eyes, the Shadow would have been capable of seeing Darth Erectus. His was a presence that far exceeded the need for mere sight, as the Dark Side of the Force coalesced about him with fervor the likes of which a tumultuous storm would have easily been likened to. By his side were two smaller, though no less admirable swellings of Dark Side potential. The Shadow looked and noted that the Force came from a pair of stone-crafted maces that held unknown runes upon them. Sith alchemy, more than likely, was at play. Hardly intimidated, her narrowed gaze returned to Erectus.
“It would be a bit of an understatement to say that I am impressed with your antics to this point,” the Sith lord said as he clapped his hands without much effort. “A pity that it was all for nothing.”
She could feel the heat wafting off of his body; a strong and virile beast in itself. That intensity, coiled and chambered tightly within him, was so raw and passionate that it brought color to her cheeks simply from being within its vicinity. The man was a volcano, and she the island upon which he would erupt. Although she would never bring herself to admit it, she desired very much witness that explosion firsthand.
“I have killed everyone that has been presented to me.” The statement was without room for interpretation; the Shadow was a creature that feared nothing. Her shoulders slumped and she clenched her hands tightly upon the deactivated lightsabers in each hand. “You will perish just as they did.”
Darth Erectus eyed the Shadow as she came to a standstill at the base of the throne’s summit. “You can hardly take another step. Am I to believe you think yourself capable of defeating me?”
“I do not ask you to believe anything,” she said. “I am telling you that you will die.”
The chilled determination in her voice was more than a simple boast. Frail and exhausted as she may have been, Erectus was both incensed and intrigued by the impetus displayed by the woman before him. He looked down on her, the shafts of his maces clutched in hand. Still, he could not help but grin at her determination.
“And you do all of this for Ban Garus?”
He had expected her to deny his question, but the manner in which she did it – swift and without hesitation, bespoke something far more important than mere deception. The confidence that he had built upon the reality that Ban Garus was to blame for everything was suddenly brought into question and he felt suddenly uncertain as to how to perceive the threat before him.
“Then for who?”
The answer was so unexpected that Darth Erectus chuckled – no, he laughed. He had heard many things attributed to the Jedi; arrogance, apathy, blindness, but never before had ruthless slaughter been on said. One of the maces was placed against his broad shoulder as he shook his head. “If you believe that the Jedi would condone what you have done here tonight, girl, then you do not know the Jedi at all!”
The Shadow shook her head slightly and closed her eyes. In the void of darkness that was presented to her she heard not only the screams of those she had felled, but also saw the faces of her friends and mentors that had fallen at the hands of the Sith. “I do not speak of those that now sit in Republic space; nor do I speak of Codes or ideals… the Jedi that I do this for are those that your treacherous government and people have torn from this life and thrust into the Force. The Jedi that I speak of are those that at this moment perish at the hands of a war machine built of nothing save for hatred and malice.”
“Hatred and malice,” Darth Erectus chuckled. “Look at yourself, girl! Think of what you have done to stand where you are now! How have you done anything other than give into your hatred and malice?”
It was a boast that she did not wish to hear and certainly not one that she could abide by. She knew that something had been assisting her throughout the fight, she simply did not want to know what. The Force was an ally she knew well, and that she was not certain that it was the Force at all told her that the answer was undesirable. Yet even in the face of Erectus’ words, she refused to relent. Her eyes narrowed all the more, sizing up the Sith before her.
“You have no clever rejoinder or denial?” The Sith asked. “You have no admission to being as corrupted as the beast that you seek to slay?”
“I have but one thing to say to you.”
“And what is that?”
“You will die.”
The return of her statement this time did not fill Erectus with the same bemusement as it had the first. Her impetuous nature was a quality that he found less than endearing and that he, the Governor of Magestus, would be forced to debate with a faceless minion of a defunct order only further aggravated him. The rage that he kept so tightly coiled about himself then snapped to life as a fire fed gasoline. Roaring and boundless, it expanded as he held his hand out. “Enough words!”
The Shadow could sense the wave of intensity approach her; however, her body did not seem ready to properly react. Caught in full by the Sith Governor’s unleashed vehemence, she was thrown backward and struck soundly with the walls behind her. A mighty bellow escaped Darth Erectus as he dove from his throne toward her, each of his maces borne overhead before being brought down in a hammering motion to clobber the woman should she be unaware. Despite her frail state, the Shadow rolled to her left and heard stone upon which she had previously been positioned shatter under Erectus’ assault.
First a yellow blade and then a red; the activation of her weapons was all that she could think to do as she fought to find the strength to face the raging beast before her. The Sith lord rolled after her, his mace slamming against the wall as she ducked, while its counterpart made a near-fatal strike for her head that she evaded only be stepping backward. The Shadow moved to strike the Sith lord before he could right himself; however, as her blades sought him out she was met with a resolute parry before being shoved backward by the Force once more. Her muscles, long strained, all but surrendered upon her as she executed a slash and was rejected with authority from the larger combatant.
“This is the best that you have? I had always known Prematus and Vitro to be weak, but even Minutia’s odalisques should have been capable of stopping you!” The boast came with a booming laugh as Erectus gave a dismissive wave with his left hand. The gesture sent the Shadow backward once more, and she weaved slightly to the side in an attempt to return equilibrium to her mind. She felt the Force wafting off of Erectus and her newfound power thirsted to give into it; however, so uncertain was she of her actions that she dared not. Verra So’Quan would never flirt with the Dark Side, would she?
Erectus closed the distance between himself and his adversary with surprising speed. He swept outward with one mace while striking overhand with the other; however, Verra jumped over the former and twisted out of the way of the second. Using some of her last remaining energy reserves she kicked her heels out against his chest and sent herself backward with the Force. As her jump met its apex in mid-flip, she slashed outward with her lightsabers but was reward with nothing save for a laugh from her opponent. No sooner had her body righted itself than was she caught in her chest, mid-air, by a push from the Force. The strength of the strike sent her hurdling backward and careening into a wall, where her back slammed without mercy against it and she was given to arch. A pained moan left her then, her hands nearly dropping both lightsabers.
“How does it feel?” Erectus shouted as he thrust his hand outward and once more slammed the woman’s body against the wall. With each thrust of his hand she was given to let off one of her pathetic moans, the repetition of skin striking stone enough to fill him with untold glee before finally with a chuckle he flicked his wrist and sent her sliding across the ground. Her lightsabers each rolled from her grasp and she lay upon her stomach, eyes all but closed under the assault that she had endured. “There has to be more to you than this. Show me, ‘Shadow’! Show me how it is that you will avenge the Jedi!”
His boasts weighed upon her nearly as heavily as his strikes had, for although she wished nothing more than to rise and defeat him, she had not the energy to do so. She listened as his heavy footsteps brought him closer to her, and tried placing her palms to the ground to push up, but nothing save for trembling came from her muscles. She felt his hand in her hair then, commanding and painful as it pulled her head back. Without concern for the pain it caused, and rather reveling in her pathetic mewling, he drew her up and ripped the mask down from her face. “Not at all a bad sight. A shame it is that it will not see another day.”
The chuckling statement was followed by one of the Sith’s massive maces striking her in the abdomen. Pain unlike any other rose through her, as her previously broken ribs were once more placed onto the verge of collapse. Her eyes widened, she bent forth only to be slammed backward and against the wall she had previously been mercilessly bashed against. Erectus placed his elbow against her sternum, grinning as he held her suspended in position.
“Now then. I know that the Jedi did not send you with the specific task of killing Sith lords. That is a concept far too ambitious for those cowardly fools.” Once more he struck her, the sound resonating through the chamber room as he did so. “So, who is it that sent you?”
“The Jedi,” she said in a voice that lacked neither conviction nor determination. It was a statement that did not at all stop the undulation of the swells of pain that washed over her. Once more she felt her body slammed against the wall, and yet again did a tired moan leave her.
“Your mind can be broken, but I would sooner bring your body to its knees,” Darth Erectus chided as he pressed himself closer to her. Nearly smothering the woman with his presence, his massive hand caught hold of her neck as he leaned forth and whispered into her ear. “The Force is a powerful thing; it can be used to heal or harm. Tell me, which do you think I will unleash upon you?”
She was not given the chance to answer – not that it mattered. The smell of fabric burning met with the air as Erectus closed his hand about her throat. A heat, far darker than simple fire, washed over her body and sank into her mind, burning her with an intensity that denied physical description. She gasped and threw her head back as he tightened his hold, the sensation to gasp for air blocked out by the need to voice her pain. Carelessly he rolled her once and drew her back to him, so that her back rested against his chest and he was given better range by which to strangle her. “Continue to resist me, Shadow, and know that the last sight you see will be the wall before you.” To show that he was hardly one to jest, he increased the heated sensation and caused her to lean forth just a bit as she struggled to free herself.
“Who was it that sent you?”
That she could force the words out was a testament to her determination, but it was a showing that established nothing other than his need to harm her further. He lowered his free hand to her abdomen and struck her soundly in the ribs once more, the need to cry out silenced as he clenched his hand upon her throat and prevented a sound from escaping. He growled into her ear then, a sound that interrupted her pathetic moans for reprieve.
“Who was it that sent you?”
What sane person could possibly withstand the torment that she was being placed through? Her eyes focused upon the wall before her and she saw, quite clearly, where her body had been slammed against it time and time again. Spiraling cracks signified the force with which he used to harm her, and yet while her body was shattered her mind refused to relent. She could feel even her will beginning to slip away as the heat from the man’s hand melted away her catsuit about her neck and left shoulder. Still, she held on. Silently.
In frustration Darth Erectus let forth a mighty shout before slamming his fist into her rib cage and casting her away. The display was quickly growing irksome to him and as he watched her slide across the ground he could not find it in himself to do anything other than glower. “You weak, pathetic little girl,” he began as he lifted each of his maces by their shafts once more. “Do you not see how foolish it is to resist me further? You will give me what it is that I desire! Tell me! Who was it that sent you?”
It could have well been that her body could take no more damage, or that her mind was on the verge of collapse, but in that instance the Shadow realized who it was that sent her. To say “Ban Garus” would have been partially correct, but it was not in itself the answer that was required. The injuries that she had sustained spoke to her then, reminding her of all that she had gone through in order to now take to her knees before Darth Erectus. To even struggle up that far was a task, but as she looked up at him she spoke in a voice that required no effort to be heard.
The answer? It flowed through her then. It revitalized and rejuvenated. The answer was something that she had never wanted to admit to, but that had always been in her heart. The utterance of the word sent through her body a wave of euphoria, for once unleashed it could not be taken back.
Darth Erectus’ lone eye expanded as he heard the word. He gave an incensed shout and rushed toward the kneeling woman, his maces drawn over head once more. The Shadow held out each of her hands and willed her lightsabers back to her, then compressed the activation plates and formed a cross over her head to effectively block Erectus’ attack, but what should have been a suicidal gesture from the defeated woman instead held under his grunting disapproval. She focused her narrowed eyes on his through the interlocking of their weapons and revealed that which he could already feel.
Erectus broke removed the shafts of his weapons quickly from the embrace, his eye focused intently on the woman that rose before him. If he had been a furnace of hatred, then she had become… he did not know. Staring at her was no different than looking at the Uterus of the Force! She gave birth to the very essence that now sustained her, and unleashed it anew onto her adversary. Though that presence may have been tainted within darkness, her thirst for vengeance was one so powerful that Erectus was certain he should have killed her when she had the chance. It would have been wiser to take her head when she was kneeling, than face her now as she stood.
Had Erectus not seen her moments prior near death, he would not have believed that the woman that came rushing at him had ever been injured. She closed the distance between them with such swiftness that he was forced backward and though he swatted outward, he found that her lightsabers attacked from every direction other than those which he was capable of evading. Her lightsabers several times struck his armor; however, too persistent was he in his defense to allow her to penetrate beyond superficial wounds. Snarling, he batted outward and forced one of her lightsabers out wide, but rather than correct the error she abandoned it all together and whirled about with a nearly mortal strike that cleaved across his chest armor.
To the Shadow, Erectus no longer stood before her. He had become everything that she despised: everything that she felt needed to be slain. It went beyond the mere corruption of the Dark Side or the Sith, no what he had become was the totality of every misdeed she had ever seen. From the Sacking of Coruscant to the Treaty that followed; the emotionless Jedi that had sent her to the forsaken planet; the servants that she had been forced to slaughter on her way there. It was no longer simply a contest between Jedi and Sith – it was the Shadow against the evils of the galaxy and she refused to lose.
She struck low at him and forced him to parry, then twisted about and executed a sharp kick across his face. Erectus let off a grunt as he fell backward, but lifted his maces to prevent her from following up on the offensive. To his surprise she did not attack him directly head-on, but instead jumped into the air and descended upon him at a diagonal angle to meet with the upper half of his maces. Swiftly she dispatched a series of slashes that tore against the alchemical devices, then extended her palm and blasted herself backward by using the Force to propel herself into another back aerial. Erectus charged in after her, swinging madly with enough strength to shatter stone, but as she set to performing her back handsprings he was ever second behind her.
The Shadow crouched low and awaited his roaring appearance as with one mace overhead he bore in upon her, but she pitched forth and slid past him, only to twist about and slash at the back of his legs. He skillfully turned to deny her attack, but she swung herself forth, utilizing her legs and caught him about the neck with her thighs. With as much force as she could muster she pitched herself backwards and released as she twisted, sending the Sith lord bellowing over her and crashing to the ground. She was quick to her feet and though disoriented, Erectus rose as well.
Once more they met in a fevered melee, each vying for position over the other. The pulsating wound that Erectus had given to her torso was not at all forgotten, but rather than allow it to slow her she instead personalized the pain and brought it into herself for more fuel. She took the hatred that she felt from Erectus and allowed it to energize her; she absorbed the fear that came from his desperate strikes and permitted it to fuel her.
Verra So’Quan may not have been able to defeat Darth Erectus, but the Shadow could.
It was after the second of a pair of hellacious strikes befell her lightsaber that she struck out. She attacked not the man’s underside or his shoulders. No, in a single strike she made certain that the fight would be brought to a close. Without hesitation, without fear, she slashed across Erectus’ face and tore from him his remaining eye. An agonizing bellow unlike any other met with the air, and as he recoiled did she close in upon him to slash first his right wrist and then the left. To finish the onslaught, she cut against his leg and brought the behemoth toppling to his knees.
“I am defeated!” Darth Erectus cried out into the darkness that was before him. “Is that what the Jedi do to unarmed opponents?”
The Shadow lowered her lightsaber then and closed her eyes. He was correct; an opponent that asked for mercy should be shown it. The Jedi had on countless occasions allowed their foes to capitulate, but as the thought came to her so too did the pain from the burn he had placed upon her. “No,” she said softly.
He was not given the chance to finish his statement. A deft slash parted his head from his shoulders, leaving him to topple forth. “But I do.”
The mighty Sith lord’s fall heralded the end of her battle frenzy. All of the pain that she had experienced came rushing back upon her with such force that she was forced to slump against a wall and gasp for breath. To continue on would be a pain unbeknownst, yet to surrender at that point a failure in the face of all that she had done. She weakly pushed herself away from the wall and began making her way back toward the door. There would be no need for stealth any longer, she had slain everyone within the building.
Or had she?
A soft murmur through the Force emerged then as she prepared to leave the room. She lifted her eyes toward the throne and felt the strings of familiarity pulling at her once more. Although she could have left, she knew that to leave it uninvestigated would have been a failing without explanation. With each step that she took up the stairs a soft groan left her, until finally she stood before the now vacant chair. Where was the Force’s influence coming from?
Had it not been for the sound of a sniffle she would never have known. Shocked to hear another’s voice, she canted her head and stepped closer to the throne. A startled cry followed as from behind it emerged a young boy, seeming no older than a youngling. His features held the same mixture of characteristics that Ban Garus and Ss’elo Nicus did. The tears that wetted his face spoke more than enough as to his terror.
The boy’s presence in the Force had been masked by that of his father – it all made sense. Darth Erectus had retreated in hopes of preventing his son from being detected, and thus being kept from harm. What better way did he have to protect his son than to place his life before him? The Shadow was the aggressor and he was the defender. For whatever reason he had to protect his son, he had given his life doing so. The snot-nosed, teary eyed child that was before her certainly did not seem like much of a Sith.
She watched him for several moments, uncertain of how to proceed. He was but a child, innocent of the actions of his father. True, he might become a tyrant just the same, but his future was not hers to command. She closed her eyes and drew her breath in, the sound of the child’s sniffling drowning out the cries of terror that had previously haunted her. A single line came to her mind to answer the problem that the situation presented her. The Shadow could only do one thing, and it was whispered just before she acted.
“Leave no witnesses.”