Chapter Twenty Four: Lies (Part Five)
War was afoot. And yet, even a year after its initiation, Lord Tash found himself kept from the front lines. Aside from the collection his master insured he wouldn’t get his hands on, the Sith Lord inherited all of Darth Leshai’s holdings. His assets. His followers. The old Pureblood had kept much from his apprentice, and soon he was finding out that just as many people were indebted to him as he was indebted to others. For once in his life he found himself holding some sway over others. Some measure of power.
Connections to the Reclamation Service. Low level officers and warriors. Both Imperial and Sith subordinates. All once controlled through the utter fear and intimidation wrought by Leshai. And now they looked to his successor for guidance. For answers. Tash didn’t possess the same capacity for mental intrusions as his master, but he knew the mind didn’t need to be read to be controlled.
The Sith offered something his followers had always desired, a strong guiding hand, tempered with a respect and benevolence. Tash had seen what manifested from brutality and domination. Nothing but a lust for escape and revenge. For once in his life, he was comfortable in his position, and he didn’t want anyone needlessly usurping it.
He offered kindness, and received such in return. The Sith Lord had experienced what it felt like to control others. And he enjoyed it. He decided it was time to take on an apprentice. The Korriban Academy was already starting to field students, but Tash’s interests laid elsewhere, back where he himself received his trials. Back on Dromund Kaas.
It had been decades since he had walked the halls of the Dromund Kaas Academy. It brought back no fond memories. There was little familiarity with the staff, enough time had passed for teachers and overseers to have come and gone. Wandering the halls, he observed the various students as they proceeded with their day. He had no trial planned, no tasks for any overseer. He had only the conditions for apprenticeship firmly within his mind. He knew exactly what he wanted in an apprentice, and he knew exactly when he would see it.
And see it he did. A young human male by the name of Vai Thorel. A child of only eight years, but showing remarkable progress. The same age Syrosk was when his master took him under his wing. Tash knew from personal experience the dangers a teenage Sith could pose if given his freedom. He intended to forge the boy into a powerful Sith, but one that would serve him, and wish to serve him. And he needed a malleable young mind. But as much as he intended to shape his apprentice’s mind, he didn’t want any others getting into his head. And for that, he required someone with special training.
Once more Tash had returned to Korriban, after he was sure his old friend wasn’t out recruiting with his master.
Within Darth Omnus’ chambers, Syrosk sat at a dining table, eating a simple meal alone, when a knock at his door caught his attention. The alien was intrigued to see Lord Tash standing at his doorway, a young child standing by his side.
“You’ve got a child,” Syrosk curiously rasped. The alien’s appearance varied little in the passing years. His skin had never been without a wrinkled, leathery facade. Lord Tash meanwhile seemed to be aging gracefully as he neared fifty years of age.
“An apprentice, more appropriately,” Tash replied in a jovial fashion. “I figured it was my duty to take one on as I am without a master. And I figured I’d take him away from the Academy before, well, you know what those places can do to a kid.”
“I never actually attended any of the Academies.”
“My point exactly. Here you are, a respected alien Sith Lord, having only trained under the guidance of one dutiful master.”
“Well, the levels of ‘respect’ are ever shifting these days. Omnus still has trouble dealing with some of the more traditionalist figures,” Syrosk admitted. “But if you’ve no interest in enrolling him in an Academy, what are you doing on Korriban?”
“I came seeking your help, old friend.”
“Have you, ‘old friend’?” Syrosk repeated before looking to the child. The young human stared right back at him, a wide smile smeared across his face. “Well, he hasn’t recoiled at the sight of me, which is more than I can say for most of children I’ve dealt with over the years.”
“Yeah, he’s a got a good head on his shoulders. One I’d hope you’d be able train.”
“You want the me to give him the same mental training you received?”
“Something like that,” Tash admitted. “But such business can be discussed later. Can we come inside?”
“Sure,” Syrosk stated as he stepped away from the door. Tash and his apprentice stepped into the cramped Academy dwelling as Syrosk returned to the dining table. Tash took the seat across from him, whilst the young apprentice wandered the area. “You know, you never did tell me about what happened… with Darth Leshai.”
“The day Omnus made you a Sith Lord…I went to see him. We had been drifting further and further apart. I was sick of the way I was being treated. I wanted something, anything , better than what I had with him. But he had told me that he had some… vision, of his death. Said it was his duty to see it fulfilled. He challenged me. Said if I didn’t end him then and there, I would be killed. He tried to read my mind, but he couldn’t. Turns out your help saved my life.”
“Why would he outright attack his own apprentice?”
“I don’t know. I’ve always felt a disconnect with him, him being a Seer, me not,” Tash proclaimed. “Tell me, has your master had a vision that he didn’t see through?”
“I can’t say that he has. Omnus always said that visions were to be considered a gift, and that to ignore one could lead to negative consequences.”
“I often wonder if in his later years he was losing his mind. There was always an intense darkness within him. Maybe he was at odds with his precognitive abilities. He was driven, dedicated, but a relentlessly cruel man. I don’t intend to treat my apprentice the same way. If anything I was hoping to emulate Omnus.”
“My master always did tell me to be cautious around yours. To this day I do not know what he gave up to earn me access to Leshai’s training facilities. And as much as I could not think of losing my master, I know that not all pairs possess the relationship we do.”
“Your master understands the importance of cooperation. For a time, the entire Empire did. But as time went on, we began to lash out at each other. One would think our war with the Republic would remind everyone what we are fighting for, but it seems things are just getting worse. The other Sith think our enemies too weak. They already scramble to take over the domains of any Lords who fall in battle. Things need to change.”
“And how do you propose bringing about such change?”
“I inherited everything my master owned when he passed. When I met with the officers and Sith whom used to report to him, there was a fear in their eyes. They had expected me to treat them as my master did. But I wouldn’t. I treated them with respect. I wasn’t soft, but my no means did I needlessly beat them down. Nothing done without purpose. I may not have taken his place as a Darth, but I’m in a position to bring about some change.”
“You really think you have enough to make a dent in the established order of things?”
“It’s a start,” Tash declared. “And think about it. You and your master, just two people, hold a great sway in who is accepted into the Korriban Academy. This place is on the verge of becoming the Empire's premier training institution, more so than any other Academy. The Dark Council is planning on establishing their chambers here. You have direct ties to the headmaster. You are Omnus have a hand in the formation of the next generation of Sith.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“We cooperate out of more than just some petty sense of bettering ourselves. We both stand in a position to influence how this Empire evolves. I control the past. You control the future. I deal with artifacts and ancient knowledge. You deal with the students who may yet become Sith.”
“I don’t know. My master gets enough grief because of me. He serves the Empire, and I know he’d do anything to see it prosper but… we cannot afford to make waves. If either one of us step on the wrong toes, it’ll be the end of us both.”
“I understand. The Empire’s prejudices are rather deep seeded,” Tash confessed. “It is a shame you don’t receive the respect you deserve. If you ever want to join the war effort proper, I could insure you receive that respect.”
“Thank you for the offer, Tash. But my master needs me on Korriban for the time being,” Syrosk explained. “Finding new students is aiding the war effort. We’re in this for the long haul.”
“I see. You know, I‘ve always wondered, if there are more like you. Force sensitive aliens. I imagine most of them are purposely overlooked. But as the Empire conquers more and more territory, it seems inevitable that the regions you could recruit from would expand accordingly. The Empire could use a few more like you, if you know what I mean.”
“I can’t say I disagree,” Syrosk admitted. “But like I said before, we can’t afford to take radical actions at this point…” The alien’s speech seemed to drift off toward the end as he eyed the cold meal that remained in front of him. “You asked if Omnus ever had a vision he didn’t act upon. He hasn’t. But I have. I’ve seen visions, visions of Force-sensitives to be. Aliens. Slaves. Outcasts. I’ve told Omnus about them, but… he says we cannot afford to bring them into the Empire.”
“Hey, things can change. Especially in times of war,” Tash comforted. “No reason to give up yet.”
“I suppose,” Syrosk commented. “Alright, as for the present, I’ll help you train your apprentice.”
“Excellent! Apprentice, come meet your new tutor!” Tash warmly called out to the young one. The child rushed over from the living area to stand between the two Sith Lords. He offered a quick bow of the upper half of his body to the alien.
“What is your name boy?” Syrosk inquired.
“Vai. Vai Thorel,” the child answered.
“And what is that you desire?” Syrosk continued. The boy puzzled for a moment, looking to his own master for guidance. Tash offered an affirming nod of his head.
“I want to be strong!” Thorel exclaimed, filled to the brim with adolescent eagerness.
The alien let out a raspy chortle. “Well, I’m sure that can be arranged. Do you wish his training to start now?” Syrosk asked, turning to Tash.
“No, that’s okay. I have a few things I’d like to take care of beforehand, I just wanted a confirmation before proceeding. You’ve been more than a valuable ally, Syrosk,” Tash declared, extending his hand. Syrosk added his, and the two Sith lords shook hands. With a wave of his hand, Tash instructed his apprentice to follow, and the pair was on their way. “We’ll be in touch. Say goodbye, Vai.”
“Goodbye!” the child waved as he stepped from the alien’s home. Syrosk watched as they were on their way, the words of his fellow Sith Lord stirring in his mind.
Time passed, and it was business as usual. There was an attempted assault on the planet by a Republic fleet while a rogue Sith did battle within the Academy, but such things were expected to happen from time to time. Over the next couple of years, Tash would drop off his apprentice on Korriban whilst he did battle on the outskirts of Imperial space. Syrosk would train the boy in areas his true master found himself lacking in.
In time, Omnus’ visions became few are far between. Syrosk kept to himself, lest an errant Force visions give him knowledge of a potential student he knew he could do nothing to recruit. As the Korriban Academy became more populated with suitable students, many Lords began to question the need for Omnus or his apprentice. With the war effort ignited, Imperial families were more than happy to send their children to be forged into the Sith of the future. There was less and less need for ‘hidden’ candidates.
The biggest shock came years later, when Darth Omnus was called forth to the frontlines.
Lord Tash once more found himself on Korriban alongside his teenage apprentice. The two walked a pleasant walk even under the harsh sun that beat down upon them from above. Entering the Academy, they saw an institution bustling with activity. However, as they traversed deeper into the facility, there was nothing but a stillness outside Syrosk’s dwelling.
A knock on the door, and they received a greeting a few seconds later. Without a word, the alien Lord invited them in. As the pair casually entered, Syrosk’s moments were unusually brisk. He had a hurried aura about him as he paced around the sanctum.
“Something wrong Syrosk?” Tash concernedly inquired.
“It’s Omnus. He’s been asked to take part in an ongoing campaign. On the frontlines,” Syrosk hastily explained.
“Darth Omnus? He is powerful to be sure, but no warrior,” Tash commented, scratching his chin. “Why would they call him away from the Academy? I thought things were going well here.”
“They are. Too well in fact. They don’t need recruiters of his caliber anymore. They offered him the role of a strategist, but he turned it down. Said there’s something he has to do,” Syrosk informed.
“Did he have a vision or something?”
“I don’t know, he wouldn’t tell me. The whole situation’s been chaotic.”
“Why aren’t you accompanying him. I know you’re still a great fighter.”
“His orders. He says we can’t risk both of our lives. But I don’t care, it’s not like I could accomplish anything without someone like him supporting my actions.”
“Don’t say that,” Tash chastised. “Look. If there’s nothing we can do about his deployment, I can at least keep an eye on him. Accompany him. Protect him.”
“You could do that?” Syrosk asked, a warmth in his eyes.
“Of course. It’s the least I could do, what with you helping out my apprentice. You keep an eye on him, I’ll keep one on Omnus,” Tash suggested alongside the extension of his hand. Syrosk immediately accepted the handshake, and supplemented it with a firm hand placed upon his friend’s shoulder. The two shared an silent agreement and a mutual nod of respect. “I’ll keep in touch, give status updates. That sound good?”
“Yes, thank you Tash,” Syrosk said, before casting a quick glance towards Thorel. “Do you think your apprentice is ready for the higher tiers of training?”
“Of course he is,” Tash declared, patting his apprentice on the back. “Run him through the mental gauntlet. And who knows, it might help you take your mind off of things.”
It had been a couple of days since Tash and Syrosk met. Darth Omnus had been sent to the threshold of Empire’s territory, to help push Imperial forces into Republic space. The Sith had their eyes on the Mid Rim, and on their way to Bothuwai, they sought to take control of a small, unpopulated planet to use as a staging ground for future invasions. It was without a civilian populace, but the forested world did, however, possess a number Republic outposts.
On the planet’s surface, the elderly Darth Omnus walked with a small accompaniment of Imperial troopers following him. The Sith was garbed in slightly more form-fitting black robes than usual, but he possessed nothing in the way of armor or personal reinforcement. As the squad of soldiers slowly advanced with their rifles raised, Omnus advanced with a polite walk with his hands neatly kept behind his back. Which each step, the group’s boots sunk into the wet grass and mud that stretched around them in all directions. The planet was lush with green, doused with moisture, and beset by an ever blinding fog.
“Lieutenant,” Omnus spoke up. “We are approaching the assigned coordinates, but I do not sense any outpost nearby. Contact base, see if you can't confirm our intelligence.”
“Right away, my lord!” one of the troopers stated. Omnus paused his advance, as did the squad behind him. A moment later, the lieutenant spoke up. “Command is rechecking our coordinates. They say there’s a chance the Republic fed us some false-“
The lieutenant was cut off by a crimson blaster bolt striking him dead in the chest. The other soldiers immediately began searching through the fog for the source, cycling the vision settings on their helmets. It would prove useless as more bolts emanated from the fog in all directions. Expertly place shots downed each of the soldiers, leaving only the Darth unscathed, who had yet to budge from his previous position. With utter calm, he watched as Republic troopers slowly emerged from the ethereal veil, the white-clad squad having him completely circled.
Omnus cautiously panned his gaze amongst the enemy soldiers who had their rifles trained on him but refused to fire. One figure, however, stood out from the rest. Clad in white plates like his comrades, but beset by a heavy brown cloak, head uncovered by any helmet. His visage was colored and alien, that of a Togruta. A Jedi.
“I must commend you Jedi,” Omnus stated. “You did an excellent job masking your group’s presence. I’m quite humbled that you managed to sneak up on us.”
“Quiet Sith. We have you surrounded,” the Jedi declared in an authoritative tone. “I’m offering the chance to surrender.”
“Then I suppose I’m honor bound to offer you the same.”
“You’re in no position to make such an offer.”
“I’ve studied the intricacies of the Force for over fifty years. I’m more than capable of handling a single Jedi,” Omnus stoically boasted.
“Are you forgetting about the squad of soldiers, each ready to shoot you dead?” The Jedi prodded.
The Darth let out a brief sigh. “I suppose you’re right.”
The Sith took a deep breath and closed his eyes. A moment later, he released a torrent of Force energy, kicking up a wall of mud all around him high into the air, completely blocking the trooper’s line of sight. As the pillar of wet dirt stalled and fell back to the ground, the soldier's were stunned to see the Sith Lord was missing. Their target lost, the troopers could do nothing but ponder as a fine mist of water settled on their armor.
“A fine show, Sith, but-“ the Jedi began to say, before being interrupted by the howling yelp of one of the troopers under his command. One by one the circle of soldiers began to panic, waving their weapons around in all directions.
“Oh no… oh no! AH!” one shouted before discharging his rifle, sending a blaster bolt flying into a nearby compatriot. The formation began to break, each soldier seemingly fighting some invisible foe. Meanwhile, the Jedi looked on with confusion, eyes dead set upon the elderly Sith who had not budged an inch from his original spot.
“What are you doing to them?!” The Jedi shouted.
“The mind is a curious thing, you know,” Omnus commented. “It’s a shame they don’t receive the same training I assume you Jedi do. And don’t bother trying to help them. They can’t hear you, or me. And if you lay a hand on one you’re liable to get shot.”
“Stop this. NOW!” The Jedi commanded, drawing and igniting his lightsaber. As the blue beam pointed at the Sith, he still refused to budge.
“The offer to surrender still stands,” Omnus stated. “I can save the remaining few.”
“I’ll never surrender to you, Sith! You can’t control my men if you’re dead!” The Jedi declared as he charged toward the Darth.
“Predictable,” Omnus grumbled. As the Jedi ran forward, a blaster bolt surged toward him. The Jedi quickly raised the saber to deflect, sending it back to its shooter and killing him. More and more bolts were sent toward the Jedi, halting his charge as he focused on defense. “Of course. I mean, after all, they are just a few lesser beings getting in the way of our conflict. What do their lives matter if you have the chance to strike down one of your Order’s mortal enemies. In all this time, still the Jedi haven’t changed one bit.”
As the Jedi deflected the blaster fire, one managed to strike him in the back of the leg, forcing him to take a knee. Then another one struck him the shoulder of his saber arm. As he struggled to keep his weapon up, the Jedi used his last moments of life to cast one final despicable glare toward the Sith Lord. The two locked eyes, before the Jedi succumbed to the overwhelming blaster fire.
Looking around, what remained of the panicked squad was still deeply engaged in combat with the mental projections of a Sith Lord's physical onslaught. As he lessened his grip on the troopers’ minds, they slowly began to recover. However, almost immediately they began to suffer from some unknown malady. One by one they dropped their weapons and began clutching at their throats.
Darth Omnus began to turn on his heels, searching for the source of the onslaught with the first signs of panic brewing in his visage. As more and more of the Republic forces breathed their last breath and crumbled to the ground, Omnus finally laid eyes upon a new figure. Beyond the veil of fog a shadowed figure was approaching. It was not the outline of the figure that signaled his presence, but the shining of a crimson blade that bounced with each step taken.
Omnus reached out with his mind, trying to uncover the identity of the mysterious figure. All attempts proved fruitless. No matter how hard he tried, he could not penetrate the mind of the figure approaching him. But that proved to be as good a confirmation as any.