Chapter Twenty: Lies (Part One)
In a quaint dwelling in the residential district of Kaas City, there was only silence. Three figures, motionless. The mother. The father. The son. The first two lay dead, the first at the hands of the second, the seconds at the hands of the third. The Human child sat shivering in the corner, head buried in his arms as his hands shook, the very hands that were tightly clenched around his father’s neck a few minutes prior.
The boy was alone. For now. Soon, men would come to take him to his proper place. To the one of the Academies. For within him rested the power of the Force, waiting to be unlocked. A potential, one that had been kept from him. Kept from his father. The signs were there, the budding traits of Force sensitivity. But even in this time of prosperity and patriotism, some still feared the consequences of putting their young through the trials. They valued protection and obscurity over their duty to the Empire. Such thoughts required protection and obscurity themselves, lest they be extinguished by those who held the Sith’s values above all else. The Sith themselves.
Such discoveries rarely required excess mediation, as the justice of the Sith was righteous and swift. But such values rarely transfixed fully unto the minds of children. And where conflicting thoughts prevailed within the Empire, only death could follow.
Within the halls of the Dromund Kaas Academy, a gathering was taking place. A group of students, eight strong, stood in a large dueling circle, the eyes of their superiors watching from a distance. Eight of the finest Human acolytes had been gathered for one purpose, to uncover amongst them the single most powerful individual. By way of death match. One sponsored by a Sith Lord seeking an apprentice.
Lord Leshai stood next to the overseer who had gathered the eight teenagers from the Academy. The Pureblood looked upon them with a dulled stoicism as they readied themselves, showing no sign of interest amongst the candidates. The students remained focused on themselves for the most part, not daring to cast an errant glance toward their patron. The entirety of their focus was put toward the upcoming battle, which only one of them would be walking away from. Each acolyte possessed only the barest of trainee’s robes and a basic training saber. This was a measure of skill, not equipment.
As the acolytes prepared, two stood apart from the rest of the group, in position and in action. Where everyone else was silent and isolated, these two engaged in hushed whispers together.
“This is it, the chance to be an apprentice,” spoke the first. He was young, and though his face was unburdened by scars, a Sith rune had been inscribed upon the left half of his face by way of a tattoo.
“Yes, a shame only one of us can be the victor, but such is the nature of these things,” spoke the second. He matched the first in age, but in his eight years at the Academy, he had not accumulated a single scar upon his pristine face.
“Yeah, but when have we just accepted things for the way they are?”
“We are not dealing with Academy staff here, we are dealing with a wishes of a Sith Lord. He desires an apprentice. He will find one, despite our wishes.”
“He intend to whittle us down to a single candidate. But if we were the last two left standing… we could refuse to do battle. It’s not out of the ordinary for a Lord to take two apprentices.”
“It’s also not out of the ordinary for someone of his caliber to strike us both down for our insolence.”
“Then we can at least ensure that we remain the final candidates. Better than neither of us becoming an apprentice.”
“I see. Then until we’re the last ones left standing… a partnership.”
“Then let’s do this.”
The two separated as the overseer approached the gathering of acolytes. Forming a large circle, the students brandished their sabers and ignited their energy arrays. The overseer spoke of the match's conditions. A battle to the death. The last survivor would become the apprentice of Lord Leshai. Once the match had started, the only way out was to win, or to expire. To forfeit was to forfeit whatever life yet remained within the combatant.
With the deft rise and fall of his hand, the overseer had signaled for the battle to commence. The melee began with the careful studying of one another, no student willing to break formation first. With careful precision, the conspirator duo lashed out first, beginning the hostilities proper. The acolytes each focused their attention on a single opponent, splitting the battle into four concurrent duels. Each student displayed a great martial prowess, the overseer having chosen eight students of relatively equal skill and training.
It wasn’t long before the first acolyte was driven to the ground, and not long after that that he was utterly defeated. Though lacking the swift lethality of a true lightsaber, the acolytes’ weapons were sufficiently capable of brutally ending a fellow students life. The melee continued as one by one the contestants fell. Cuts, bruises, and scorched flesh plagued the dwindling pool of acolytes, but their resolve never faltered.
When only three remained, the tattooed student lashed out with one final series of strikes toward his unaligned foe. Piercing his defenses, his opponent laid at his feet his life slowly creeping away from him. As the fallen acolyte’s breath grew ever weaker, the tattooed individual looked upon his victim trying to catch his own. Amidst the heavy panting the student managed to speak.
“Alright, it looks like-”
A resounding thwack resonated throughout the chamber as the length of a training saber swept across his face. The might of the blow sent the acolyte twirling and tumbling toward the ground. As his arms struggled to lift his weakened body, the damage had already been done. His tattoo had been overwritten by the deep and burning gash that had been struck upon his cheek. As he writhed upon the floor, whatever words attempted to make it past the student’s lips were inhibited by his mangled teeth and the growing pool of blood that poured from him.
The last remaining acolyte stood over him, looking upon him with pain in his eyes. “I’m sorry my friend, but I couldn’t risk it.” Without another word, the Human raised his weapon high, and brought its weight down with the full expression of his might upon his victim’s skull. Then he did so again. And again. And again, each time a barbaric growl slipping past his gritted teeth as his eyes began to water.
When the victor finally ceased, the chamber fell silent. Lord Leshai looked upon the last acolyte left standing with the same expression he possessed before the battle. Slowly, he approached the dueling circle, eventually passing its threshold with a lackluster gait. Carefully, he walked around or stepped over the corpses that lay between him and the remaining contestant.
The young Human was bent over in exhaustion, using his training saber as support, his short blonde hair damp with sweat. He raised his head to see the Sith Lord before him. He towered over him, maybe not in height, but definitely in presence. Black robes with flowing red accents. Crimson skin. Blood-red eyes that locked with his own.
“What is your name boy?” Lord Leshai coldly asked.
“My name… is Tash,” the boy answered. Tash’s gaze lowered, where his eyes fell upon a remarkable amulet that hung from the Sith Lord’s neck. His eyes became lost in the red gemstone that seemed to glow and pulse in beat with his own heart. Then, the Human felt a creeping sting in the back of his mind.
“No. No it isn’t,” Leshai bluntly said. Tash raised his gaze once more, staring at the cold and dominating Sith.
“It is now,” Tash declared.
“Very well, but you’ll come to realize that it is pointless to try and keep secrets from me,” Leshai stated. “But regardless, you are now officially my apprentice.”
“Thank you, master.”
“Don’t thank me. I have given you nothing, and I never will. Anything you desire must be earned. I will merely provide the necessary challenges to motivate you toward such earnings. And should you find yourself insufficiently motivated, I will personally end your pitiful excuse for an existence. Is that understood?”
“Yes, master,” Tash stated.
Lord Leshai refused to break eye contact with his new apprentice, continually staring with his harsh visage. “Already a regret begins to fester within you. Such weakness will be purged.”
Without another word, the Sith Lord began to depart. Still injured from his battle, Tash could only struggle to keep up with his new master, but he knew better than to offer any words of protest. Following in the Pureblood’s shadow, the Human limped back toward the Lord’s sanctum across Kaas City.