I smiled inwardly as I reviewed the data Acolyte Alif had provided; his entire story had been confirmed The murder had been the doing of Esorr Kayin, and Alif was being set up to be nothing more than the convenient scapegoat for the crime. This is not right. No doubt, Harkun assumed I would feel compelled to kill Alif for his disobedience, and that doing so would somehow break my spirit. How wrong he was, and how delightful his frustration would be.
“The man was speaking the truth about the murder, he is to be released and taken somewhere safe.”
The torturer seemed shocked by my decision, his mouth so wide open I was surprised not to see drool coming out. I suppose it must be surprising, though. Justice and mercy are not common traits in a resident of Korriban.
“I shall do as you command, my lady. I will deliver my report immediately and ensure he is safely off-planet on the first available shuttle, as well.”
I nodded and turned, leaving the two men behind and trying my best to gather my thoughts.
The boy had suffered through years of oppression as a slave and another terrible year at the academy and lived only because he had me as his judge and not one of the dozens that would have killed him without a second thought. To them, his entire existence is merely an inconvenience or an opportunity to outdo the viciousness of their rivals.
I shuddered at that thought; life was too precious to be thrown away so haphazardly. The utter disregard the Sith had for the lowliest on Korriban was made obvious to even the newest arrivals – like those on my shuttle. We had been provided basic accommodations; a bedroom shared with another apprentice, simple clothes that looked more like rags, and terrible food. It was as if they had Ayrs cooking for them. Remembering my brother made me smile and feel like crying at the same time.
From the Sith point of view, I suppose that all made sense – given the low survival rate of the average apprentice, there was little reason to waste resources until numbers had dwindled. A cold and cold an efficient policy. A very Sith policy. They destroyed every part of you until all that was left was hate and anger and pain, and all you wanted to do was make others feel the same way. I knew I would have to guard against that, lest I become the monster I wished to destroy.
They removed Linus’ charred corpse from the dormitory yesterday; he had been found murdered and today was already forgotten and unmourned. Today it was Gerr’s body that was taken outside the academy, barely held together after how violently Ffon had ended his life. The pureblood had not shown even the slightest hint of remorse, and Harkun had done nothing but encourage the spectacle.
The Sith claimed this place was one of learning and personal growth; the reality was that it was nothing more than a murderous factory for all of the worst that sentient beings can offer. There was no room for the positive emotions, camaraderie or hope for the majority of those attending. There was nothing but a grim drive for survival, even as people that had once been friends turned against them.
Perhaps it was for the best that most students died before they ever realized the depths of the hell they had been thrust into.
The door slid open to reveal my room that was already darkened. I saw Kory already covered by the blankets and made my way to my side of the room as quietly as possible. Maker knows she could use all the rest she can get. I shook off the harsh robes they had presented us with upon arrival, and changed into an old tank top and shorts that I had brought with me. I caught my reflection in the mirror as I turned towards the bed and saw a stranger. My face and features were still the same, save for the scar above my right eye from the cut that had refused to heal. Something was…missing…though, something intangible but whose absence felt all too real.
I sat down, sighed and glanced over my shoulder to check on Kory. Her already thin frame had been looking increasingly and worryingly gaunt since the training began, and I worried for her well-being. She was a sweet girl who had thought she was ready for what lay ahead but seemed to be learning. I could see it in the defeated expression on her face she only revealed when she returned to our room, in her dull and lifeless eyes that had once glowed with a fervor for life. As I watched the blankets rise and fall with her shallow breaths, I reached out to her with the Force and felt nothing but a dull ache, almost as if she was only alive because she did not know how to die.
It pained me to see her this way.
She had been different while we were still en route to Korriban; lively, funny, a reminder that even with all I had lost there were still people in the galaxy that could mean something to me. She had helped me protect myself from the likes of Vular and – more importantly – reminded me not to lose myself to my own rage and despair. I remembered father’s lessons about the dark side well, but they weren’t enough, not any more. No amount of Jedi self-control would bring my friends and family back to life, no platitudes would bring those responsible to justice. It is easy to fall back on the Jedi code when you speak in a time of peace and without loss in your life. Or, so I told myself. The dark side was a dangerous temptress, and if I gave in to it I would become the kind of monster I sought to destroy.
I looked back at Kory, gently brushing away some hair that had fallen over her face. Today it had been Gerr, when would it be her turn? Kory might have made a future for herself with the Jedi; she was not untalented with the Force, and she had a keen mind for analyzing the world around her. She also was a gentle soul and lacked the capacity for making the hard choices that were sometimes required in life, even for someone who was not Sith. The galaxy was cruel to have had her born in the Empire and sent here. Perhaps there was still a chance for something better, but life had taught me that it was foolish to pin your hopes on chance; you needed to be willing to seize what you needed, not just hope it would be brought to you.
Once I reached the courtyard, the darkness didn’t seem quite so threatening any more. I had noticed that few of the other students ever took the time to visit this place. Perhaps they felt it demonstrated a weakness; a longing for the galaxy they should be dreaming of controlling. Perhaps they had nowhere or no one to think of as they gazed into the night sky. I might never know, but I also did not particularly care. The field of stars was a reminder that there was a life for me outside this place, if I could just find a way to make it there. It would no longer be a comfortable and boring life on Ithaca, it almost certainly would not be somewhere in the Core like I had foolishly dreamed of all those years ago. It might be as limited as bringing down those that had destroyed my old life, but it was still something.
I would never escape that day; never outgrow it, never forget it, never move past it. Whenever I closed my eyes at night, I never had the naïve, pleasant, dreams that Kory did; I could only see the same thing, the same people, the same horrors. It had all begun like any other day would have; Dio and I off to school while our mother went through the usual routine of getting Ally ready. Everything had happened like it always did, every moment transpired like I had known it would; everything until I was on my way home from Claire’s house.
The first hint of trouble had been the loud whines of speeders moving along Arundel Highway to my west; it might have been the major thoroughfare in the area, but that wouldn’t explain that much traffic. I still wished I could have stopped there, found some hiding place in the forest and never left; that way I would have never seen what they did to our friends, never seen them mocking my mother’s corpse, never heard Ally’s screams.
They found me cowering in fear behind the Tyndalls’ barn, a scared little girl who had lost everything but didn’t know it yet. They had assumed I would be another easy victim, but they had been wrong. I was not some meek, defenseless child; my father had taught me the ways of the Force, my mother had taught me how to fight. When it was over, both of their corpses were smoldering; my father had always cautioned against using the Force aggressively, but I didn’t care. They were bad men, evil men, and I had no regrets.
I clenched my teeth and felt hands ball up into fists. I had killed three other men before the others overwhelmed me, led by the gray-haired man who smiled and laughed even as I choked back tears and inhaled the strange-smelling smoke. He had even laughed when they showed him the corpses of the men I had killed.
I will find that man. Whatever it takes, I will hunt him down and I will end him. No more smiling, no more laughing. No more joy at other peoples’ pain. No more Ithacas.
I wondered what my father would have thought of me, of what I had become. He had died years before the girl that had been me did, but his stories and instruction were still with me. And his love. I tried to push that thought out of my head, tried to pretend it was just a distraction I couldn’t afford. Mostly, I just realized he would have felt betrayed by what I was willing to do. He had been a Jedi, after all.
The Jedi say that emotion is dangerous, that one must learn to control one’s emotions and not give in to them in order to remain free from the dark side’s influence, no matter how tempting or hard it might be to maintain that detachment. Perhaps I was merely too weak to adhere to such a high standard, but the years of captivity had weaned me from my blind faith in the Jedi. I understood full well the dangers of the dark side, but detachment was fraught with its own perils.
The Jedi had not been there to protect Ithaca, Tomaasi or Irrol or any of the other Outer Rim worlds that had been attacked; they had taken no action to bring those responsible to justice afterwards, either. I had no illusions about the danger I was putting myself in, but I could not – would not – accept complacency in the face of injustice.
The Jedi might condemn the attack on Ithaca as a gross violation of everything good and right, but their inaction was damning, and something I could not understand. How could the guardian of the Republic stand by and allow such actions for philosophical reasons? In their rush to contain the potential risks of emotional decisions and actions, it seemed the Jedi had also lost some of their ability to remember the human cost. In their drive to remain squarely within the light, they unwittingly left countless innocents to suffer in the dark.
Righteousness is a potent weapon, when wielded by the right hand. The Jedi fear it, though, and subvert it for use as a crutch, an excuse for inaction.
But, even if the Jedi were too afraid or unwilling to act, it did not mean that the suffering could not be fought. The darkness of Sith and Imperial oppression can obliterate lives and worlds, but it is not impenetrable, and the Sith and Imperials are not invincible. The Republic holds against the Empire. A lighthouse guides the lonely ship through the night. A lone candle can drive back the darkness in an entire room.
I will be that light in the darkness, the righteous flame that drives back the night. I am willing to make the sacrifices I must, to suffer whatever fate is required. I have already lost everything, but I will do everything within my power to keep others from doing the same. To keep what happened on Ithaca nothing more than an awful memory.
They say there is no justice among the Sith, that Justice herself is blind in the Empire.
They are wrong.
Justice is not blind, for I am her eyes.