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12.14.2011 , 10:21 AM | #3
Chapter II:
Life and Death

The glow from Simplicio's lantern bathed the tomb walls in blue light. Ahead, the boy's master paused at a bifurcation in the long hall. Again the strange moan that had so chilled Simplicio on the surface echoed through the caverns. Coming to stand abreast with his master, Simplicio looked up into the older Sith's face. His master's eyes were closed in concentration but he spoke.
"This place is old, Simplicio. It was ancient before the Sith Lord chose it for his tomb. The people of this place thought their god spoke to them here."

The beginnings of the moan began to grow and swell in the rocks themselves and Simplicio felt a breath of clammy air wash over him.
"I would rather not hear what their god had to say, Master."
The Sith chuckled and opened his eyes for for a moment.
"This way." He began to lead again, deeper into the tomb. "Stretch out your senses and tell me what you feel."
Grudgingly the boy obeyed.

Through the Force he could feel the lingering reverence that still permeated the walls and a dark hunger that waited for tribute. Generations had worn down these stones, walking on their knees in supplication and in search of wisdom. Though the questions were always different, the answers held something in common -- they were always what no one wanted to hear.
But that was not all, Simplicio reached further in search of something that seemed to be actively eluding his senses, something more immediate than the worship of a dead and malicious god.

"Master! There is something in here with us!" Simplicio froze.
"What do you feel?"
"There is something angry at our presence. It is like a haarhound staying just outside the light of a campfire. It circles us and I feel it… nipping at my shadow. Is it a ghost?"
The Sith began to walk.
"It may have been at one time. Now it is more like a memory. It is a thing that tried to cheat death -- afraid to move on. Now it is simply a revenant. Do not be overly concerned. It would love to hurt us but it is very weak. It is hoping an opportunity to do us harm will present itself. Do not be afraid. Fear strengthens it."
"I will have no fear, Master."
Even through the darkness, Simplicio could feel the smile spread across his master's face.
"Of course not, Simplicio."

Simplicio once more wished he was carrying his lightsaber in his hand rather than the lantern, but he would make no move to draw his until his master did so first. He would not embarrass himself by showing weakness. He tried to focus on his connection to the Force, but the things it told him were… unpleasant.
"What happens to us after we die?"

The Sith crouched down and began to look at the stones. He beckoned Simplicio to bring the lantern closer. There were symbols on the floor which the Sith traced with his fingers and then, dusting his hands off, he stood and began to walk more quickly.
"After we die?"
"Yes, Master."
"Once there was a rich businessman whose wife died. He was very powerful and had connections to the Jedi temple. After a few days the Jedi sent one of their best and brightest to offer their condolences and comfort…

"The bright-eyed Jedi told the man that his wife had gone on to join the Force, and that all living things join the Force when they die, and that he, the businessman, would be rejoined with his wife one day too.
"The businessman thought about this and asked very practically, 'Will I be able to transfer my business over there?'
"'No', said the Jedi. 'You won't need a business.'
"'How about my house?'
"'No, you won't need a house. Everyone joins the Force. There are no boundaries between people, just unity. We are all connected in something bigger than ourselves. We become one with everything.'

"The businessman thought about this for a minute and then dropped to his knees. 'Noble Jedi,' he cried, 'please kill me quickly so I can rejoin my wife!'
"The Jedi was aghast. 'No, my friend. You will see her when the time is right.'
"'You don't understand, Jedi! My wife was a very attractive woman and I had better get over there quick before she starts becoming one with EVERYTHING!'"

The Sith laughed at his own joke. Simplicio stood thoughtfully.
"The man did not understand… because he could not conceive of a state unlike the one to which he was accustomed?"
"Yes. We are all like that though. It is not a peculiar weakness of businessmen."
"So can we ever truly understand death without dying?"
"We are always dying, Simplicio. From the moment of our births, we are engaged in a great act of dying."

The conversation engaged in its own act of dying while Simplicio and his master slowly squeezed through a collapsed and rubble-strewn shaft on their stomachs. Once through the Sith signaled for them to stop and drink.
As they rested, Simplicio's mind returned to the story.
"Perhaps the Jedi should have just told him it would be exactly like the world he knew. Why confuse him with something he would not understand?"
"That Jedi was foolish. He did not understand the nature of the businessman. To understand a thing's nature is halfway to controlling it."

Simplicio sat up.
"How do I learn the nature of things?"
"Through observation. It takes time and study."
"What is the nature of Man?"
The Sith began to restow his canteen.

"Each individual has a personal nature, but there are aspects of nature that are true for all of a type. The general nature of man is conflict."
"Conflict? As in war?"
"Conflict as in conflict. Everything people do is conflicted. There is a germ of antithesis in every thesis."
"I don't understand."
This time when the moan came it was very loud. Simplicio felt they must be nearing the source of the sound.

"Let us say you went to offer your condolences to that businessman -- while you were saying how terrible it was his wife was dead you would also be thinking how nice it is that your wife is alive. When you congratulate someone there is always a tinge of envy behind it. To own something is to fear its loss. People are always trying to reconcile two opposites."
"In the temple they told us that Anger was a pure emotion -- and that Hatred was Anger with a focus."
"Nothing is 'pure', Simplicio. Emotions do not have defined beginning and ends, even though we pretend that they do by giving them arbitrary names. Tell me about the time when you felt the greatest Anger."

Simplicio thought for a moment. It wasn't hard to pick out the incident but he wasn't sure if he wished to share it with the Sith. His master might be disgusted by the boy's weakness..
"I… while at the temple some of the other students ambushed me. I tried… they stripped me and mocked me. Many people saw. If my Anger had just come to life they all would have died. I promised to have revenge."

The Sith and his apprentice were silent for a minute.

"Did you feel any emotions beside Anger?"
"Yes. I felt Hatred. I felt… Shame. Fear at my own weakness. Fear that everyone would know they could do the same and I would be unable to stop it. I vowed revenge but I knew I would never be able to take it. I knew I had lost. Is that an emotion?"
"Yes. Even that is an emotion."
"Does Anger ever come without Shame and Fear?"
"It always comes with something"
"I wish I understood the nature of Anger."
"Because then I would be 'halfway to controlling it.'"

Before them the hallway ended in a large circular hole. Around the opening sat four figures -- mummified corpses, Simplicio saw when he cast the light over them. The Sith knocked one aside and then began taking the coil of nylorope from his pack. After he had secured it to a mostly intact pillar, he tied the lantern to the other end and began lowering it into the abyss. Simplicio gasped as the light was reflected on the face of a pool of black water.
"What is it?"
"It is where the god lives."
Swinging the lantern they could make out a stone sarcophagus toward the edge of the pool chamber.
"Let's go down. You first, Simplicio."
"But, Master! We can't both go down! I should stay up here. In case anything happens I can run for help."
"Only a very foolish master would leave his apprentice in charge of his lifeline. We go down together."
"What if the rope breaks?"
"Then we die together."

The boy began to lower himself down the rope. Thoughtfully, it had been knotted to provide at least some foot and hand holds. Simplicio felt a wave of vertigo pass over him as he realized he was hanging about 60 feet above the ground. He felt his master's added weight above him. He had wished his master had waited until he had made it to the ground before coming down though he could feel the overwhelming excitement pouring off the Sith. Now they were both at the mercy of the rope… and the thing that had been following them.

Simplicio froze halfway down the rope. All that connected him to this life was a finger's width of cord. What had his master said? It is hoping an opportunity to do us harm will present itself. And here was that opportunity.
The boy closed his eyes. In his mind he saw a mummified hand open and flex. A malevolent force was, he was sure, focused on the rope and it was smiling. He winced as he imagined the hand testing the tension in the nylorope, feeling its texture, preparing to cut…

"Master, it is going to cut--"
"Simplicio, you are feeding it. Calm yourself. You are safe with me."

Simplicio felt a well of Anger grow in his chest. Anger at his master, Anger at the ghost and his own weakness. He shut his eyes and began to descend once more, hand over hand. Even while he did so, he could tell that beneath the Anger was still an undercurrent of Fear. He just hoped it was not enough to give power to the revenant.

After an eternity his boots touched the ground and his master dropped down beside him.
The Sith strode to the sarcophagus and, using the Force, sent the heavy stone lid crashing onto the floor. Inside was a coffin decorated in precious metals, which was soon tossed aside to reveal the moldering bones of a long departed Sith Lord and on his chest -- a holocron.

Simplicio's master slapped the dead hands away from the artifact and plucked it from the coffin. At the same time the pool bubbled and splashed and the moan erupted from it, so deafening now that Simplicio covered his ears.
It echoed through the halls of the tomb followed closely by his master's laughter.

When they had finished climbing back up the rope, Simplicio rolled beside the hole, panting. As his master pulled up the lantern, the light fell again on the mummies. Though he could not be sure, it looked to Simplicio as if one of them had changed position slightly while they were gone -- as if it had moved closer to the rope.
The light flashed on an object in its hand -- a mostly-rusted dagger.

At that moment Simplicio decided that when he became a master, no matter how exciting the treasure might be, he would stay up at the top of the hole.