Chapter Three: Taken from Behind.
There was darkness. There was light.
Verra moaned softly as awareness slowly returned to her. The last thing that she recalled was the hellacious sensation of descending toward Thorne IV’s surface and the nothingness. She had supposed that the darkness that followed was her introduction to the Force, but as she emerged from it she felt not at all deprived of the omnipresent love she would have expected to find within the metaphysical energy field. Other than the muted throbbing of various injuries, in fact, she did not feel anything at all. That, to say the very least, was disconcerting.
She began to take her surroundings into account. Where she might have expected to find wreckage or desolated scenery, instead there was a rather quaint looking room. Sunlight streamed inward through a window, its feeling nearly regenerative upon her body. White curtains billowed as a gentle breeze worked its way into the room and across her tender physique, which in turn felt all the more rested in the wake of the atmospheric bliss. Never before had she been within a more tranquil location. She turned her head toward her other side and found that another was within the room. Instinctually, she recoiled and pulled her blankets closet to herself.
“You’ve awakened,” the other said in a surprisingly bemused voice. The source of the voice was a creature unlike any she had seen before. A soft blue in color, her countenance was vaguely humanoid, yet there was an angularity to it that defied the norm. Slender and curvaceous, even when sitting she seemed to hold more presence than Verra did in her weakened state. Her eyes were luminescent, yet held a wild and ferine appeal to them. She was a wild and exotic creature; far more beautiful than Verra knew how to properly describe. Obviously one of the home’s inhabitants, her presence provided Verra without the faintest hint of danger. “The Master will be pleased to be informed.”
Master? While she may not have known who the woman was, she was quite certain that she did not wish for her to identify any “master” of her whereabouts. Verra held her hand out to stop her with the assistance of the Force, but as she attempted to manipulate the energy field she found nothing came to her hand. Flabbergasted she attempted once more. Nothing.
“The master will explain everything,” the woman went on to state. “Please, do not over exert yourself in attempting to control the Force.” Without another word she turned and left the room, her steps ginger as she proceeded into the distance. Behind her, a tail of the same hue as her skin swayed in a pacifying manner.
Control the Force, Verra thought bitterly. A Jedi did not attempt to “control” the Force! It was an ally – no, a guide that showed them the path they need take. Only the arrogance of a Sith would endeavor to control the Force. That the woman knew she could seek the Force out at all was troubling, but Verra saw no reason to dally upon that topic for the time being. The sooner that she left the room and found her lightsaber, the sooner she could return to her mission. She winced as she attempted to turn and felt several ribs strain against repairing tissue. The crash had undoubtedly been harsh on her body. Teeth gritting, she managed to bring her legs over the side of the bed and slowly pressed them down to the floor.
Unbearable pain raced up through her, capturing her spine and sending endless signals of duress throughout her being. She let off a soft groan and fell back against the bed, her hand lowered at once to her ribs which felt nearly shattered in the single attempt at applying pressure to her body. So perhaps she would not be making an expedient escape, but that did not mean she would give up on the pursuit. If need be, she would crawl out of the room. Verra pressed off the bed once more and felt the same nauseating pain wash over her, but rather than relent in her course she placed one step before the other and began to move. Yes, that was the way. Left, right. Left, right.
The door slid shut before her, sealing off the exit and preventing her from seeing further down the hall that had been her intended path of escape. An angered growl escaped her, but she resisted the urge to strike the door to open it. To do so would be to give into anger and to give into anger would cloud her judgment. She leaned her head against the blocked gateway for several seconds and then inhaled. How else could she escape?
She opened her eyes and slowly turned to look at the distant porthole. The distance from the door to he window was well over several meters and each step that she took caused her body to relieve the stomach wrenching sensation of pain that she had weathered in simply moving from the bed to the door. Yet something as mundane as pain, no matter how gruesome, could not be allowed to stop a Jedi Shadow from completing her mission. She shuffled forth with as much alacrity as she could to clear the requisite distance.
The Force did not answer her call; it did not offer her a single glimpse of awareness. While she may have awakened from the darkness, her mind was still absent that which had always been its guide. A hand lowered to her battered ribs, where she felt restorative salve applied generously to fight the various injuries she had incurred. Yet try as she might to will the Force to assist her in her plight it would not, and not a single fiber or filament was restored under her touch. When she came to the bed again she paused and leaned against it, her forehead wet with sweat. She was half way there – half way to freedom.
Behind her, the sound of the door opening drew Verra away from her momentary stupor. She turned with as much speed as she could to look upon the newly emerged, half-heartedly hoping that it would be the woman who had left moments before and not her vaunted master. As it turned out, luck had abandoned her just as the Force seemed to have.
“You should not be standing,” the newly emerged stated. His was an appearance unlike any that she had seen before; near human, he was lean and almost gaunt in appearance, yet held a dignified and near regal air that she could not quite qualify. What may have been vestigial tendrils hung from his cheeks, framing his mouth in a manner that one might expect a mustache to. His skin was a pallid color, from either lack of sunlight or the necrotic onset of Dark Side corruption, yet in either event it did not actually detract from his appearance. Garbed in expensive looking robes, the princely appearance of the man was brought to a head by the looking of subtle command that were attributed to his orange eyes. Most surprising of all was that where she may have expected to hear menace, instead an understated compassion wafted from his words. “Please, return to your bed.”
Verra knew a Sith when she was one – even if she could not feel the Force, her eyes would never deceive her. Tensed as best she could, she sought out any means of weaponry to defend herself but found the immediate area lacking. “Absolutely not,” she replied dryly. Pained as her voice was, its underling conviction was unquestionable. “Whatever is going on here, I will not be party to it.”
A look of tumescence blossomed upon the regal Sith’s features as he heard her denial, almost as though he had expected nothing less. Rather than approach her further, he drew the chair that the woman had been sitting in closer to himself and sat down gracefully. He placed a hand to his chin and stroked it, while the other rested on his leg. “There is nothing ‘going on’ here, madam Jedi. I simply believe it would behoove you not to remain standing when your body is so close to collapse.”
Oh, there was truth to the man’s words. His voice, a seductive and gentle sound that played as waves against her mind, did not seek to force her to comply but rather persuaded her in a manner that she felt all too comforting. Aware that something was amiss but incapable of stopping the sensation, the duality of her pained ribs as well as the man’s presence forbade her from acting rashly. What harm could truly come from sitting down? With some effort she sat back against the bed and was rewarded with an unending sense of relief. “Do not refer to me as that.”
“As what?” The Sith asked, his hand lowering from his chin and moving to clasp with its counterpart within his lap. “Madam Jedi?”
“Yes,” Verra said. “I am not a Jedi, not any longer.”
She knew that the words should have brought her no duress, but after she had attempted and failed to summon the Force she began to feel there may have been some truth to them. Much to her dismay, the Sith removed his robes her holocron, which he suspended with the Force.
“If you would rather, I could well play into your ploy – you are a Dark Jedi, seeking the Sith for some foolhardy reason or another,” he demurred, almost in a tone to imply he took offense to the folly. “Or, I can refer to you as that which you are, Madam Jedi.”
The repeating of the title caused her to grind her teeth, but more importantly than her agitation was the fact that the Sith knew her secrets. Uncertain of what to say she looked between the floating sphere and then back to the Sith. “If you know who I am and why I am here, then why am I not dead?”
“Curiosity,” the Sith replied. “Morbid or otherwise.” In the wake of his utterance he offered a gainful chuckle, a sound not at all unpleasing to the ear. Yet its mirth and levity carried with it something akin to a tempting and near corrosive element. Verra was aware enough to not fall too easily into his gambit – not just yet. “What is important is that I have told no one of your arrival, save for my household servants.”
“Servants,” she murmured. “The woman that was in here when I awoke?”
“Is something more,” the Sith answered without a hint of deception. “But her position matters little to you, I am certain. I had to sacrifice something very near and dear to myself in order to ensure your safety; I would hope this might ingratiate you to my presence, if only slightly.”
Why was the man speaking to her; why had he not killed her when he discovered what she was? The Sith were amoral, deceptive, and cruel beasts that lived to harm and murder. Whatever game he may have been playing, she told herself, she would not allow herself to be drawn too readily into it. She had to remain alert. A wolf did not need to bare its teeth to hold the intention of killing. “What did you sacrifice? I am certain that credits matter little to a man of your position.”
There was a note of derision on her voice that she had failed to conceal, but rather than offend the man it caused him only to chuckle once more. “Right you would be,” the Sith stated. Though she could not directly place his accent, it held a gravely quality that she believed was shared with the alpha fighter she had dispatched above Thorne. Perhaps that was simply the way people from the planet spoke. “No, that which I surrendered held more value to it than mere credits. A man as aged as I would not think twice before surrendering his fortune for the chance to assist a creature as lovely as you.”
In that single utterance he had not only addressed himself as elderly, but her as lovely. As she had no means of adequately gauging the Sith’s age against anything else, she had to assume that the few lines she saw upon his face were in fact markers of age. The compliment shared recalled to her mind how she had felt staring at her image on the holocron, but just as she had turned away the notion then, so too would she refuse to indulge the thought further. While the Force may have been absent her, she did not at all doubt the man was trying to invade her thoughts.
“What did you surrender in exchange for my safety?”
The words left the man with such a lack of feeling that she assumed she had misheard him initially. When he did not shift under her accusatory glance, she shook her head. “How can you do such a thing?”
“Sacrifice an apprentice?” The Sith asked, genuinely confounded by the question. When Verra did not immediately respond, he assumed the answer was to the affirmative. “I could explain to you Sith doctrine and the importance of utility, but you have been too long trained against accepting our truths. Let us simply state that whatever my reasons, they were advantageous to you.”
“I would rather be dead than the captive of your kind,” Verra noted brazenly.
“Perhaps my apprentice felt the same way,” the Sith responded. “In either event, he now occupies the wreckage where you were to be found. Had no body been located, then the authorities would have become suspicious and searched more ardently. I was faced with a decision and made the appropriate one.”
There was such dispassion and yet certainty in the man’s tone that Verra found herself questioning what she should take from it. A Jedi master would never abandon a padawan – let alone sacrifice one so wantonly. “He looked up to you, I am certain and you shared with him your knowledge. You would abandon that all for me?”
“I would abandon many things for potential,” the Sith stated without a moment’s hesitation. “Yours far exceeded his; the decision was not one that I regret, not even now.”
“More the fool you, then,” Verra replied. “Since awakening, I have not felt the Force.”
But though she expected the Sith to seem dismayed he instead only nodded his head. “Of course not. During your sleep I felt it necessary to have neural disruptors implanted to… prevent you from attaining that level of awareness.” His voice dipped into a nearly apologetic tone then; the implication seeming to effect him more than the murder of his apprentice had. “You must forgive me, but I did not believe having a trained Jedi running amok in my estate would be conducive to the safety of my servants, or your plight should the authorities be informed of your presence.”
Verra forced herself not to blanch as she took in his words. She felt wronged – no, violated to know that there was something inside of her that prevented her from feeling the Force! Regardless of the man’s reasons she clenched her fist and shook her head. “Take it out of me, now.”
“I cannot,” the Sith replied.
“You cannot? You placed it in me. Now take it out.”
“I misspoke,” he answered. “I will not.” Though he still seemed somewhat genuine in his contrition, there too was a note of finality to his words. “As I said, there is more at stake here than your pride. The lives of those in my household will not be bartered under the false pretense that you might appreciate me more should I acquiesce to your demands.”
“And what do their lives matter to you?” Verra asked, impetuously. “You have already sacrificed one of your own to see me freed? What difference would the lives of the others make? Clearly you Sith have no understanding of decency or respect for life.”
“I am sorry that you feel that way,” he said once more in his stately manner, “but I shall not yield in this. Not yet. Perhaps when you relinquish hold on your blind anger, we may speak amiably and discuss the matter further.”
“Relinquish my blind anger?” The words fell from her with a weight that nearly deprived her of her senses. “What manner of Sith would dare to accuse the Jedi of being angry? You do not know me, do not deign to comment on what my emotional state might be!”
“I speak only to that which I see – that which I feel,” the Sith answered. “There are those amongst the Empire that believe you Jedi are unfeeling; robotic, inhumane… but I know that to be folly. You cherish your feelings as any sapient beings would. Is this incorrect?”
Verra narrowed her eyes. “I refuse to play this game.”
“Then I will be forced to play with myself,” the Sith shrugged. He continued his previous statement as though he had not been denied an answer. “Likewise, you believe we Sith to feed primarily upon anger and rage; passion and lust. True, there are those of us who give into these… baser instincts, but they are the mundane and often times short-lived lot. Those of us that have… ascended from that depravity, know that things such as paranoia and blind rage yield naught but an early demise. I do you a favor by preventing you from venturing down that path, Madam Jedi.”
Him, a Sith, doing her a favor by preventing her from feeling anger? If not for the fact that it would be playing into his hand, she might very well have become infuriated. The whiteness attributed to her knuckles at that moment was simply due to a pained tremor, nothing more. Conscientiously, she relaxed her fists.
“Much better,” the Sith continued. “I will have you know that before I sacrificed any of my servants to your protection, I would sooner give my life. They occupy a stratum far different from yours – from my previous apprentice. We are hammers, meant to shape. They are tools much dissimilar and could not be replaced in the same manner as you.”
The explanation struck her as extremely dry and she wrinkled her nose vaguely in the face of it. “Is this the way Sith rationalize their loyalties?”
“I spoke nothing of loyalty,” he corrected her inoffensively. “I spoke of utility. If these connections appear at best to you as loyalties, then so be it, Madam Jedi.”
“I have told you not to refer to me as that, Sith.”
Perhaps it was the manner in which she said the word Sith, or simply the protest that afflicted her voice, but the Sith paused in his statements and canted his head to the side slightly. One of his drooping tendrils shifted just a bit, giving him an almost curious look. “Then what would you rather I called you?”
“Nothing,” Verra stated bluntly. “I would rather you called me nothing at all.”
“Ah, but you are far more than that,” the Sith replied. “Though, if we are to address each other more personably, I suppose that you may refer to me as Master Garus.”
“Absolutely not,” Verra said without hesitation. “I will refer to you as Sith, for that is what you are.”
“And what, if I may ask, do you believe a Sith to be?” The Sith asked with a drawling of his voice. “If you are referring to my species, then you would be partially correct – I am of the hybridized offspring. But I do not believe the Jedi encourage discrimination based purely upon genetics, do they?”
The question was genuine enough that for a moment she found herself incapable of answering. She had been told to fear the Sith for all of her life. When they emerged back from the Unknown Regions, there were numbered amongst them humans and mercenaries that resembled humans – nothing like the stately man that was before her at that moment. The word “Sith” had to mean more than his species, of that she had no doubt.
“You know well what the word means. Those that embrace the Dark Side; that hold contempt for peace and harmony.”
“And what if I were to tell you that I do not hold the faintest modicum of disdain for either concept?” The Sith stated, his voice curling with interest. “What if I were to tell you that while we do believe peace is a lie, we do not see that as a beneficial state of being. What you believe to be peace – what the Republic thought to be peace, was clearly anything but. Were we wrong to thus state that your belief in peace was a falsehood?”
As much as she hated to admit it, she knew that there was truth to his words. There was truth to nearly everything that he said! The Republic had believed that the time following the fall of the Sith Triumvirate was one of relative peace, but as they lulled themselves into that stupor their enemies grew ever stronger. The peace was but a figment of their imagination; a false sense of security in the face of a looming threat. They had all been deceived, they had – no. No, she could not believe him. There is no emotion, she reminded herself.
“There is peace,” the Sith finished for her. “But I will not press that point further. Not today – perhaps, not tomorrow. In time, all will be addressed.”
“Time is not something I have,” Verra protested. “I do not know why you have not yet killed me, but I came here for reasons that you are clearly well aware of.”
“To locate your fellow Jedi,” the Sith answered.
Verra nodded her head. “Yes.”
“And if I were to tell you that I might know where he is – that I might show you the path to freeing him, would that incline you to at the very least humor my need for conversation?” The question crawled from him with an almost shy quality, a touch that was not lost upon Verra’s mind.
She was assigned to Thorne IV in order to track Master Zi’los down, and even if the Sith had ulterior motives the Council had given her permission to do whatever was necessary. Stripped of the Force as she was and badly wounded, she helped no one by being obstinate. Though it pained her to admit it to herself, the best way to proceed would be to abide by the Sith’s wishes. “I will never refer to you as master,” she stated.
The Sith held his hand up. “I was presumptuous in that, forgive me. My name is Ban Garus, if that is less offensive to you, then I humbly request it be what you call me.”
Verra understood her position. She was weak; defenseless. The Force, which was naturally her ally, was now being used against her. The only manner in which she could emerge from the situation was to at the very least appear cordial, and so she did her best. It would have felt better if “Verra So’Quan, Dark Jedi” were the one lying, but as her cover was blown she did not cling to the notion for long.
“Very well, Ban,” she said. “You may call me Verra.”
Ban Garus rose from his seat and presented her with a charming bow, a gesture that did not at all detract from his regal charisma. “Then I beseech you to rest, Verra. When your condition is improved, we will discuss how it is that you may set about assisting your friend.”
The very idea of trusting a Sith went against everything that she had ever been taught to believe, yet it was the only logical step that she could make at that moment. He had been given numerous chances to violate or harm her if he so pleased; why would he go through the rigmarole of speaking with her if that was his goal? His courteous nature had surprised her; it had snuck up from behind and claimed her mind in a way that she had not thought possible. Whatever the Sith’s game was, she knew that for the moment she could do nothing more than play into the next round.
Without further word, Verra placed herself back within the bed and pulled the blankets over herself. She did not know which scared her more – that she believed that the Sith could be trusted, or that she did not know what a Sith was to begin with.
“Sleep well,” Ban Garus said as he opened the door and exited back into the hall.
Much to Verra’s surprise, she did just that.