Our group of students continued to dwindle rapidly.
Two of the younger ones had been assigned to Ffon Althe when he had been tasked with recovering a relic from a nearby tomb. The Sith, already favored by Overseer Harkun, returned with the ancient trinket; the others did not. Althe also was responsible for the death of Namara, a female Zabrak that had been finding inner strength in resisting the corruption of Korriban, even coming close to becoming another friend to Kory and me. That personal growth did her no good, nor did the established rules that were meant to prohibit one student from murdering another, even with the telltale wound from Althe’s blade in her chest.
I worried for Kory more than ever. Her condition had been deteriorating for some time, but things were only getting worse and worse as time went on. She spent long periods of time just staring blankly into the small mirror we had in our room, and no longer came with me during my evening walks along the perimeter of the academy. Her presence in the Force was just as worrisome; faint, flickering, uncertain. I wanted to ask if she had already given up, but was too afraid of the answer to do so. I have to bring her back, whatever it takes. I can’t do this alone.
The academy was quiet and dark at night, yet was still less sinister to travel through than during the day. Not so surprising, the building is not the frightening thing, the people within it are.
It also reminded me of how lost and alone I was, and how unsure I was about what lay ahead tomorrow, let alone far in the future. I had told myself that I would act like a parasite; drain the Sith of the knowledge and skills I needed and then strike back at them from within, the silent killer that would strike when least expected.
What a stupid girl I had been.
I was learning, yes, both about the Force and the people around it. But I was also failing at everything else; Kory was fading, the other students were dying, and I…I could hear the whispers in my mind, always there unless I made the effort to ignore them or drown them out. My father had warned me about the temptations of the Dark Side; it was easier to turn to, easier to utilize to the fullest extent….easiest to be turned by. Every day had become a struggle for me; it would not be enough to strike back for my family, my friends and Ithaca, I had to take care not to damn myself in the process.
That was easier said than done. The smug faces of the lowliest of Sith at the academy seared the hole in my heart. The joy they took at every misdeed, every minor act of inhumanity and cruelty…each time felt like a slap across the face, so much so that my cheeks felt like they were burning in response. There was nothing more I wanted in the world than to retaliate, to have those monsters experience even a fraction of the pain they caused. A casual flick of the wrist to snap their neck, a slash of the vibroblade into a vital organ, an imperceptible push with the Force to send them flying from a great height.
No. I cannot lower myself to their level. I cannot become a brutal, callous, monster like them…like the people who…
I shook my head, trying to clear my head and focus. In my distracted state, I nearly ran into a woman wearing the deep blue robes of Sith Intelligence. I grit my teeth and bowed my head subserviently.
“My apologies, my lady.”
Strangely, she seemed as distracted as I was. “No matter.” She dusted the front of her robes off as she spoke, then cast a suspicious glance in my direction. “Ah, I recognize you. And I have use for you.” That worried me. “Tell me, what do you know of the Jedi?”
I bit my lip to avoid saying anything that would create trouble. “I know they are weak – unwilling to use the gifts the Force has presented them with. I know they are cowardly – refusing to fight unless presented with no other option.
I also know they are sworn to destroy us, all of us.”
She seemed satisfied enough with my answer. “I am Inquisitor Urinth, of Sith Intelligence. We captured a Jedi shadow who was attempting to infiltrate the academy here. The fool. He was brought to my interrogation chamber for further…study. Do you believe you could assist us with our work?”
I nodded, not knowing what else I could do or say.
“After deliberation, we have decided to allow this Jedi to ‘escape’ from Korriban and return to the Jedi Order. Not truly escape – of course – but with a carefully manufactured understanding of what he witnessed and accomplished while here courtesy of our treatments. You are of a similar age to him, and attractive enough to further distract him from any sense of unease. Speak to him, gain his trust, and help him in whatever ways are required to convince him you are assisting in his escape.”
I raised an eyebrow in response. My throat was too dry to respond and I felt distinctly uneasy about the entire situation. Is this some sort of trap set to determine my loyalties? Have they discovered who my father was?
“I am slightly confused – you said I am to help him escape. Won’t I get in trouble for assisting a Jedi in escaping?
I do not wish to be punished if you’ve led me astray.”
She shook her head furiously. “ No, this is an officially sanctioned operation, you need not worry. The hour is getting late, however, so if you plan on assisting I recommend you move quickly. The Jedi’s name is Quorian Dorjis. Good luck.”
Well, this is new.
I made my way towards the interrogation rooms. I had previously made a point of avoiding them at all times – not because I ever feared becoming one of their victims; it was just…the sounds that came from them were horrific even to my ears. I did not want to imagine what went on there, because every time I even thought of what took place it felt like some little part of me died and was replaced by someone I did not want to be. I wondered how badly they had treated Quorian Dorjis, and what would be left of him for me to talk to. Let alone what I will say.
My fears proved unfounded.
He was sitting cross-legged In his cell, apparently unperturbed by his predicament. Close-cropped hair, finely-chiseled features. Well-built too, for a Jedi.
I felt like slapping myself. He is a shadow, not some Jedi historian who has never seen the world outside a temple.
I stood outside his cell, somewhat awkwardly, deciding how best to get his attention. Fortunately, he solved the problem for me.
“You…Sith?” His eyes looked somewhat glazed over and his voice was unsteady. No doubt they were feeding him all sorts of drugs, possibly enhanced by Sith alchemy. I felt a pang of sympathy for the man as he struggled to bring himself to his feet. A proud man, and not as defeated as Urinth must think. He’s definitely not at his best, though.
“What…what do you want?”
I frowned, not having thought that far ahead. “I’m here to help you. To get you out of here.”
His eyes were still foggy, but he seemed to be seeing me more clearly now. “Help…me? I don’t understand. You’re a Sith.” He said the last word as if damning me with it. To be fair, you would use the same tone of voice.
“I am not
a Sith.” I grimaced slightly, realizing how combative I must sound to him. I softened my voice. “I’m not one of them, I swear to you. I feel the same about them that you do.”
He gazed into my eyes with an intensity that would have been either unnerving or flirtatious in any other context. “I sense…you are right. But…my mind is unclear, my connection to the Force is weak. And my equipment was taken from me. I can’t leave without it, without the information on my datapad. You need to get it for me.”
I grit my teeth. Not just a Jedi, a
. I balled my hands into fists and placed them at my hips. “I’m trying to free you. You seem awfully eager to disrupt the attempt.”
He surprised me, giving me a slight smile. His right eye closed, then re-opened quickly. Did he just wink at me?
“Rest assured, that isn’t my goal. I simply don’t want to go home empty handed, and I doubt you’ll come back with me.” His smile grew after I flushed slightly. “The interrogator from Sith Intelligence mentioned having it. A Urinth, if I remember correctly.”
“You’re lucky killing you doesn’t suit my purposes.” Or Urinth’s, as far as she goes.
“Where is your equipment, I will gather it for you while you prepare yourself. Try not to get distracted.”
His smile had been dying, but my last comment revived it in full. What an infuriating man.
“You’re a good person, even if you don’t believe it yourself. I don’t need the Force to tell me that. Even if you weren’t getting out of here, I would never betray you.”
I found myself at a loss for words. Rather than embarrass myself in front of the Jedi, I turned and escaped into the hallway, making my way back to Urinth. She had an expression that mixed disgust and impatience as she show me approach.
“Inquisitor, I have secured his confidence. However, he refuses to leave without his equipment. He claims it has essential data on it.” I hoped I wasn’t being too presumptuous, or else I might bear the brunt of her anger. Instead, she nodded.
“That is acceptable. We have altered the data he obtained to better server our purposes. Also, I applaud your ability to secure his cooperation so quickly. No doubt, you can be very convincing when you need to be.” Her voice took on a salacious tone with that last bit, which sent a spasm of anger through my body. Of course a Sith would be gleeful over twisting and using another person like that.
We walked in silence towards her office, nodding slightly at the few guards still patrolling. The Sith were fearsome enough most of the time, but they could be as sloppy as any other organization. I had noted their lax approach to security when the higher-ranking Sith weren’t around A weakness, however small. Something to expose and exploit.
Urinth quickly grabbed a satchel from her desk and presented it to me before moving back in the direction we came from. I lengthened my gait to catch up with her.
“Any further instructions, my lady?”
She smiled slightly at that, but shook her head. I expected her to remain where I had found her, but she followed me towards the interrogation room. I began to sweat slightly, beads of it forming on my neck and around my forehead. How can I warn him about the implanted memories if she is around?
My mind raced furiously.
“My lady, if you walk in with me, will he not suspect something is wrong?”
She frowned at that, but my impulsive analysis came through. “You’re quite right. I will monitor things from the hallway until you have him moving.”
I stepped into the room, taking a large breath to clear my thoughts and try to regain control of my beating heart. One bluff down, one to go.
I strode towards the energy cell’s control panels, punching in the code to deactivate it. The Jedi sprung to his feet, surprising me with his physical recuperation from his treatment. Perhaps the thought of freedom, of escape. I handed him the satchel containing his equipment.
He regarded me with slightly suspicious eyes. “Not that I’m one to look a gift bantha in the mouth, but you never did explain why you're doing this.”
And so we come to it. How to let him know what games Urinth is playing without overplaying my hand? How to reveal the truth of my heart without having it known by anyone else?
I took another deep breath, seeing no other way.
Then I gripped his robes with both of my hands, pulling him towards me and kissing him fiercely, like I hadn’t kissed anyone in years. He surprised me yet again by not questioning, not pulling away. Some part of me didn't want to let go, I didn't know why. When I finally did move back a half-step, his expression had curiosity in place of suspicion, and his fast breathing revealed as much about him as anything else he had said. I had a strange feeling in my chest, but I pushed that aside. Now is not the time.
“Listen to me. The data in your pad, the memories in your mind. They’re a Sith set-up. I’m sorry, you won’t bring any information home. But at least you will be there.” I gave him a slight smile. “Now, hold my hand. Our cover will be that we are two young Sith lovers, embracing their passion.” I winked at him, even though I really had no idea why, didn't know what I was doing. I trusted in the Force.
He nodded, any doubts he still had vanishing into the night. Perhaps he is just easily turned by a pretty face.
I decided to allow myself a little vanity.
Urinth was nowhere in sight as we entered the main hall, hands held like I had held Aaron's hand back on Ithaca. We passed a couple of guards on our way out of the main entrance, both of whom seemed amused by the sight of Quorian and I going for what was ostensibly a romantic walk in the Korriban night. This is not a world for romance.
His grip was reassuring, though I could not quite say why.
At last, we reached the shuttle pad Urinth had indicated to me in her instructions.
He swiveled to face me, his eyes searching my face for something. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry you were born in the Empire and made to come here.” His voice sounded sad, almost as sad as mine did.
“I wasn’t born in the Empire, though I was made to come here after the Imperials and their dogs killed the life I had lived. They killed my family, they killed my friends, they destroyed everything I had ever cared about.” I paused, wondering if I could bring up Ayrs. My brother was out in this Jedi’s Republic. The fantasy died a moment later. No point in nursing such foolish hopes.
“I’m sorry about that too.”
He flinched at that, and I felt a pang of guilt. He meant well, he couldn’t have known.
As my thoughts meandered through my head, he fixed his eyes on mine.
“I’m sorry about that too. You would have been a great Jedi. You might still be some day.” Quorian leaned in, too quickly for me to react, and kissed my cheek gently. “If I could get my hand back, though?” His voice was gentle, almost apologetic.
I glanced down and realized that I was still gripping his hand tightly in my own, like a child holds on to their parents’ hand when they’re scared. I blushed and released it, glad it was a dark night so my reaction was known only to me.
A flash of movement and a twirl of his cloak and he was gone into the night and out of my life, leaving me alone again, alone with tears I could not shed and regrets I could not escape.
I tried to remember my father’s words and teachings.
I am not alone. The Force is with me.
Somehow, that just wasn’t enough.