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The Barely Legal Jedi

Gestahlt's Avatar

01.17.2012 , 08:11 AM | #11
Chapter Ten: Hard to Swallow

The room was dark.

No matter how much she scrubbed her hands, the taint of blood could not be washed away. She rubbed and rubbed, trying her best to remove the crimson fluid from her fingers, but with each gesture she only saw it renewed. The sound of the faucet running was a poor attempt at drowning out the echoes of death that cloaked her every thought. The splashing was punctuated with the horrified cry of a servant, or the pitiful shout of a startled bystander. There had been many innocent lives in the palace – many lives that she was forced… no, had chosen to end. Their blood was now on her hands and their howling on her mind. Though she was rubbing her hands raw, it was all that she could do to keep from slipping into insanity.

Pain was her anchor within reality. It was that raw, physical pain that slipped far beyond the reaches of her emotional distress and gave her a sensation that no amount of phantasmal crying could drown out. The stinging that came from her hands was but an after-thought when compared to the searing agony that came from where Erectus had burned her chest. Initially she had hoped that after she killed him that torture would abate; however, now that she understood how it might be utilized she was almost thankful for it. It was her anchor and her sanity the ship that was ever close to blowing away should it be lifted.

How could she have done it? That was the question that continued to repeat itself, interlaced through the many shouts of agony that coalesced in her mind. She could no longer see the faucet or the water that it spilled. The only image that presented itself to her was that of the boy with his large, black eyes looking up at her with abject fear and terror. How could she have brought herself to strike down a child? A poor and innocent child, whose mind could have easily been salvaged if she had only made the effort. She had claimed that the action was because Ban Garus demanded that there be no witnesses to the slaughter, but she knew it was something far worse.

She had killed the boy because in his eyes, she saw everything that she had become. She did not want to see that – she did not want to witness the corruption that had taken her so completely.

The image of the child’s death faded from her view, but in its wake the very water from the faucet appeared to have turned red. Blood – the blood of the innocent, rushing past her and vanishing down the drain. A pitiful cry crept up her throat and escaped in a bubbling gasp as she fought to keep from weeping, but the realization that she was the cause for something so horrendous would not relent. It was impossible that she could have done such a thing – she was not to blame, she could not be to blame!

Yet those rivulets of blood only continued to plummet before her. Each a new strand of guilt circling the basin before vanishing as those before them had. The excruciating conflagration that was resident to her bosom only increased its fervor, and her muted sobbing was turned to a pained gasp. Never before had she known such pain; such horror. The world was crashing in upon her and there was nothing that she could do other than suffer its comeuppance. Incapable of holding her gaze upon the faucet anymore, she lifted her eyes.

The person that stared back at her was foreign. While there had always been a mirror within the refresher, she had never taken the time to look into it – no, she had avoided looking into it. There were always excuses that she could ply: time was of the essence and she could not be bothered to look at herself; a Jedi did not concern herself with mundane issues such as appearance; there was nothing to be gained from seeking what she was becoming. They had seemed logical when she thought of them, but she knew now they were nothing more than rationalizations. For the only thing worse than to see what she was becoming, was to see what she had become.

Was this the final face that the poor boy saw?

Where once her skin had been bright and vibrant, now did the pallor leave her complexion a near ashen pallor. Her hair, previously light blonde, had become almost white in the passing events. Her eyes were sunken; features deprived of vitality and replaced with an exhaustion that she felt with every passing second. But more important than any of these changes was the small patch of what she feared to be necrotic skin forming upon her left cheek. Her hand lifted to touch against it, and revulsion washed through her being as the desiccated flesh brushed back upon her. She had become everything that she loathed – she was a monster.

No! The thought preceded a scream of rage as she struck out at the mirror. Blood filled her vision once more as the mirror splintered into several fragments, a few dropping with plangent crashes as they met with the basin. She lowered her bleeding hand to the porcelain basin and heaved a furious huff. She had exchanged all that she could to see that Master Zi’los was returned to safety. How could the Force have so abandoned her – how could she have been turned into such an ugly monster? Her eyes lifted again and returned to the blood-splattered mirror, whose few remaining chunks reflected several smaller images of herself back at her.

This was not Verra So’Quan, the Jedi that was sent into Sith Space. This was the Shadow, a beast that had been born from the wreckage of her ship and unleashed upon the people of Thorne IV. Without hesitation she grabbed one of the large chunks of glass that were before her and turned her wrist over. It was possible to slay the monster before it harmed anyone else; with one cut, she could bring it all to an end. The pulsations of her veins at that moment droned against her ears, and she inhaled as though to find the courage to do what must be done.

She could have slashed her wrist in her sleep if she wished to; she could have killed herself without even needing to consider it. But she hesitated as the fragment was moved closer to her arm. Mortality was a fragile thing, she knew. Vitro, Prematus, Minutia, and Erectus had all been Sith lords – but when they were stricken down, they died with just as much ease as Erectus’ son. Though the fight in a man was variable, how simple it was to kill him was not. Strike blood, reap the rewards. The fragment touched her skin, sc****** with a mildly exhilarating chill as it did so. She could reap the rewards; freedom from her corruption would be more than fitting.

The burning in her chest became unbearable then, a sensation the likes of which no pain to that moment had been capable of comparing to. Was it possible that her sanity was attempting to prevent her from doing what she must, or was this the catalyst that would push her over the edge? The anger and hatred that she felt for herself boiled to a point, and she could slowly begin to feel the edge of the fragment piercing her skin. Her teeth ground against one another as she gathered the courage to do what she must.


The sound of Q’leeta’s voice was so unexpected that it startled her into an emergency reaction. Where once she would have turned expectantly to see the smiling face of the Haur’nii woman, she instead whirled about and flung the shard at her. She did not want her to see her; she did not want anyone to see her. The feeling of the shard leaving her hand was only intensified by the realization that she utilized the Force to send it at a speed nearly imperceptible toward the alien female. The sound of her cry was all that drew her mind from her rage and toward the horrifying realization of what she had done.

Suspended, the piece of mirror hung before Q’leeta. To be capable of stopping the attack so quickly described to the Shadow a mastery over the Force that she had not expected to find, and though she should have been stunned a bit of irritation welled within her. She may not have intended to kill the woman, but she also did not want to appear weak before her. The glass fell and shattered against the ground, and Q’leeta drew closer to the injured woman.

“Paurneux,” she repeated. In her hands was a new pair of clothing, the silken fabric discernable but how its rich quality reflected the faint light that streamed into the room via the twin moon’s presence. Her words, as always, were tinged with compassion and as she set the clothing aside and upon the bed, she stepped closer to Verra even as the Shadow attempted to step away from her. “You are wounded, allow me to assist you.”

The Shadow’s eyes moved toward her nightstand, where the bloodied hilt of her lightsaber resided. She could easily will it to herself and slash the woman to pieces. Ban Garus had done this to her – he had taken everything that she loved away; how was it not fitting to do the same to him? But as the thought manifested the Shadow felt a new presence weigh upon her mind. Calming, sensually elegant: it quieted the fire that roared within her and bade her to calm. It was not Ashla, often referred to as the Light Side of the Force, but it was something similar.

“Please,” Q’leeta insisted as she came to stand before Verra. Ashamed of her appearance, she looked away. The Haur’nii woman’s scarf billowed faintly in a gentle breeze before she lifted a hand and placed the tips of her fingers against Verra’s delicate jaw. “Paurneux, you must not abandon hope.”

“What do you know of it?” The Shadow asked hotly in reply to Q’leeta’s calm voice. The burning sensation upon her chest increased then, causing her to sweat as she glared with eyes that she knew were now more amber than green. “Look at what you – look at what all of you have made me become!”

The tearful shout was not at all lost upon Q’leeta, who offered a soft shushing sound. “If I were the Master, Paurneux, I would never have sent you after him… for although I did not doubt you would prevail, I know that his is a presence that exists long after he is gone. While it brings me peace of mind to know that he will never harm another, it pains me to see that he has left his mark upon you as well.”

There was something in the way that Q’leeta spoke that drew the Shadow away from her denial and protestations. She swallowed softly and looked up to the taller woman. “It began before him,” she began to state. “I should have never…”

“It does not matter what you should never have done,” Q’leeta interjected as she carefully trialed her fingers down the ruined catsuit and to Verra’s fingers. “All that matters is what is, and what shall happen as a result.” There was sage wisdom to the words – the kind of wisdom that she knew Master Doseir would have given her. In recalling the man she felt no lack of shame. The Sith had been what destroyed him and yet she had become all but one in name. The very thought brought to her mind more acrimony, but Q’leeta preempted it by guiding her gently to the bed and sitting her down. From the nightstand she recovered a few medical supplies.

“You speak as though you understand,” the Shadow said faintly. “You speak as though you can comprehend that which it is I have done. I have betrayed my Code; the Jedi would see me as no different than the filth that I have slain.”

Q’leeta listened to Verra speak and examined her wound. Carefully she removed what fragments of the mirror that remained from her palm, and then set to applying bacta to the present wound. While the salve worked well to end the stinging laceration, it was the feeling of her Q’leeta’s hand that provided her with true comfort. “I understand more than you give me credit for,” she answered softly.

The admission caught the Shadow by surprise. That surprise was further intensified when the Haur’nii lifted her hands to her scarf and began to unwrap it. Once she had, a garrulous mark could be seen within the moonlight. Charred and dark, it only vaguely resembled a hand.

“Is that…”
“Nicus’ handiwork,” she finished.

The words were spoken with no lack of humility, though there was a quiet strength that came from her as used her scarf to wrap Verra’s wounded hand. “You needn’t worry about your own. My mark was gained from years upon years of his abuse – yours, while painful, will fade within time. I can only advise that you do not fight that pain, for it is born of hatred and so hatred shall further feed it.”

The Shadow lifted her free hand toward the burn upon her chest. The more that she thought of it the angrier she had become; was it possible that she was driving herself mad by perpetuating the emotion?

“You supposed many things when first we met,” Q’leeta went on to say as she looked into Verra’s eyes. The Shadow attempted to break the hold, but Q’leeta’s gaze was one that commanded her to continue to look at her. “You believed, for example, that I had been ordered to wait on you – hand and foot. To the contrary, it was I that requested to be given that honor.”

The Shadow hesitated then. She had nearly forgotten their first exchange, but to hear Q’leeta speak of it there was nothing short of canon that needed to be discussed. “Why would you wish to wait upon me?”

“I did not feel hatred in you,” Q’leeta stated. “I did not feel jealousy or rage. When the Master returned you to our home, I knew that in you there was a good person.”

“I am not a good person,” the Shadow quickly protested. She drew away slightly, her eyes lowered to her wrapped hand as she did so. “I have done things that no good person would do.”

Q’leeta grabbed hold of Verra’s wrist and tugged gently. The waves of compassion that she had felt before returned to her then, wafting over her as the Haur’nii woman sought to calm her. Meekly, the Shadow’s eyes lifted to hers. “I do not know the ways of your Order, nor do I know the Code by which you live. But what I do know is that a person is not ‘good’ because he never does wrong, just as a person is not ‘bad’ because he never does good.”

“But what I have done,” the Shadow began in a shallow voice. The memory of the dying child returned to her and she felt the pain in her chest intensify.

“Is ultimately forgivable,” Q’leeta said without hesitation. “Our actions often carry with them consequences that we can never imagine. Yes, you may have done ill – I can see that upon you, but you need not abandon yourself to that reality. You can pull yourself free of this, I know that you can.”

The dogma of the Force had nearly always dictated that once a person had “fallen” then they were no more. The Shadow had emerged because Verra So’Quan had perished, yet to hear Q’leeta speak it was as though she sought to return the dead to the living. It was a wildly preposterous and insane idea, yet part of the Shadow – that part which should have been dead, wished to hear more.

“How?” She voiced, bereft incredulity.

Q’leeta lifted her hand and placed it brazenly upon the burn mark that marred Verra’s chest. Though the latter may have retracted slightly, she extended her arm all the more to ensure that it remained in place. The feeling of Q’leeta’s cool presence, mingling with the superheated burn, brought to her skin a chilled sweat that she found entirely overwhelming. “You must accept what you have done as the fault of none other than yourself.”

She said it as though it was a simple thing – as though a Jedi could ever reconcile the fact that she had killed a child with her duty. The Dark Side was pervasive, it corrupted and it destroyed. It made her into the monster! To take responsibility to for actions would be to admit that she had failed everything that she believed in; to take culpability for all the mayhem that followed in her wake. She had paused before she killed Darth Vitro, yet days later she slew a child without hesitation. That had to be the fault of the Dark Side, didn’t it?

The Shadow’s eyes returned to Q’leeta then and found that the woman’s steady gaze had not faltered. Even if she wished to say the words that needed to be said, she could not feel them escape from her with any greater alacrity than ice through a strainer. Slowly, perhaps it would melt, but the entirety of the situation was so inopportune that any sane person would look away. Internally she wished that Q’leeta would look away from her; turn her luminescent gaze to the world outside and allow her to slink back into the shadows.

But she did not.

For seconds, minutes, and then an hour the two women stared at each other. Each time that she felt she would slip back into her bereavement, the presence of Q’leeta’s fingers only roused her and brought her to the surface. The studied patience that the woman had was a marvel in itself, and the Shadow could not help but feel that perhaps her determination would begin to pay off.

“Who is to blame for all that has occurred?”

“Ban Gaurs,” the Shadow replied instinctually. It had been the Sith that forced her to do what she had in order to rescue Master Zi’los. Zi’los, who for all she knew had never even been on Thorne IV. “Is Master Zi’los even here – does Ban Garus know of him?”

“Those are answers that will be addressed tomorrow,” Q’leeta said unwaveringly. She waited another minute before speaking again, her voice as symmetrical as before. “What is important now – here, is tonight.”

“Who is to blame for all that has occurred?”
“The Sith.”
“Who is to blame for all that has occurred?”
“The Council.”
“Who is to blame for all that has occurred?”
“Who is to blame for all that has occurred?”

Not once had Q”leeta’s tone risen from her questioning voice, and as the Shadow was faced with her unrelenting questions she could feel desperation coursing through her. She did not want to confess; she did not wish to state that it had been her choice to do everything that she did. She may have internalized it, but that did not mean that she was ready to say it. The truth was a hard enough thing to swallow – nevermind forcing it to come back up.

But Q’leeta’s eyes were just as commanding as her voice, and she held Verra’s gaze intensely, refusing for a moment to grant her reprieve from the glaring truth. She watched as hot tears accumulated in the troubled Jedi’s eyes and placed her hand to her wounded one once more. “Paurneux, who is to blame for all that has occurred?”

“I am.”

Her confession erupted from her with no lack of despondency as she pressed herself closer to the Haur’nii woman and took to wetting her attire with her tears. Q’leeta carefully placed her arms about Verra and held her against her body. “You will be fine,” she said evenly.

Verra looked up from her position near the other’s bosom and blinked, her tear-stained features shimmering in the glow of the moonlight. “How can you say that? I have done so much wrong.”

“And yet you can still cry – you still feel guilt, pain. Yours is not a soul beyond redemption,” Q’leeta whispered as she brushed Verra’s bangs away from her eyes. “Your beauty is that within you, love shall overcome malice.”

The words were not empty – they were not spoken to placate her. Although Verra was certain that she looked hideous, Q’leeta’s praise fell upon her with genuine compassion. This time, through the Force she could actually detect just what the woman felt, and the warmth and adoration that flowed back over her were so unmitigated that it caused her to blink in surprise.

Q’leeta lifted her fingers and traced them tenderly along the curvature of Verra’s jaw, then once more brushed her bangs, this time to place them behind her ear. The gesture was brought to completion as she smiled, an expression most benevolent.

“Yes, Paurneux?”
“Before… I lied to you.”

Those words left her with no grace, but were forced outward nevertheless. The feeling of Q’leeta’s warmth, be it from the Haur’nii sensations that her touch brought or simply the kindness of her words, had done well to destroy the pain and suffering she had felt moments before. Remnants would remain, but those would have to be dealt with in time.

“And what did you lie to me about?”
“When you asked me if the Jedi ever had… feelings.”

Q’leeta practically blushed then, though she tried her best to conceal it. “Yes, Paurneux?”

“We do.”

The words did not leave Verra immediately, but she refused to back down from her trepidation. Q’leeta had kind enough to see her through the darkness; the least she could do was be honest with her. She was still uncertain as to who she truly was; Verra So’Qan, Jedi, Jedi Shadow, the Shadow, Dark Jedi – the titles and names were varied and many. She knew only what she did not want to be, and that answer came from her with abject sincerity.

“I do not wish to be alone tonight.”

It was a desire that Q’leeta saw absolutely no reason to deny.

Gestahlt's Avatar

01.17.2012 , 08:12 AM | #12
Chapter Eleven: Exploited

The sound of the landspeeder’s engine humming did well to keep Verra focused upon present. After awakening and finding that Q’leeta was still within her room, she had taken the time to shower and dress in the fresh clothing that the woman had brought her, another silken ensemble that fit well against her body. The fear of finding that Q’leeta’s words were incorrect forbid her from looking into the fragments of the mirror that remained, so while she was certain that she wore the garments correctly, she did not know what they looked like. Following that decision she had done something she had not in far too long. She meditated.

If sleep was necessary to protect one’s mind, then meditation was for her spirit. So thoroughly engrossed had she been in the pursuit of Master Zi’los that she rationalized it was better to be focused than to be inactive. Meditation could wait a day, a week, however long it took for her to find him. But without that close connection to the Force in which her mind was freed of its inhibitions, she had begun to misinterpret its will and by proxy, devote herself to just cause for unjust reasons. If Q’leeta was correct and the Force could accept her for what she had done, then perhaps she could do the same as well.

Initially, it had been the screams of the dead that met her mind. Still fresh within her conscience and holding a good part of her spirit, the transgressions she made returned to her as vengeful wraiths. At the center of that maelstrom was the hybrid boy that she had slain, silently staring up at her while the world became a series of painful recollections. She felt the burning return to her chest; the sting of her hands being lacerated by the glass. If she was to reconnect with the Force, then first she would have to brave the storm that was before her.

The outside world could no longer matter; its influences had to be relegated to a status of nothingness. There was but one person to blame for everything that had occurred, and that was she – Verra So’Quan, Jedi. It had been her decision to work with a Sith lord, and her desire to see the Sith suffer that guided her in that action. True, Ban Garus had been wise enough to keep her from communing with the Force when first she set out, but there were several times when she could have acted and chose not to. Rather than watching holo-feeds she should have been meditating; rather than asking Ban Garus for his opinions, she should have been dedicated to the Force.

But she could not go back and change those things, she could only learn to accept that they had occurred. The very notion of acceptance seemed, to her, an effrontery to those that had fallen. It was just penance to hold onto the guilt she felt; her contrition would be in suffering through each agonizing cry. Yet the Jedi did not form attachments; not to other people, not to emotions, and certainly not to suffering. Those that had perished could not never be returned, and her self-sacrifice would in no way bring them back. She had to purge them from her mind.

It was not a simple task to remove the misery from her mind though, for while she fought to overcome it, the weight was so fresh and untested that she knew not how to begin. Had she been within Republic space there was no doubt that she would have instantly fallen to the Dark Side and more than likely have been put down by a fellow Jedi; however, in an odd change of events it was within Sith space that she was given a chance at redemption. The Council was not there to watch over her, to guide her or to tell her what she could not do. Whatever actions she was to make would fall solely upon her, and it would only be then that she could walk free of her burden.

“You must relinquish your anger, my padawan,” Master Doseir’s voice whispered through the purgatory within which she found herself. “You have held onto it for too long, believing that if you abandoned it that I would be shamed.”

In disbelief, Verra felt the familiar sensation of her fallen master’s presence wash over her. Catching her directly in the face, it spilled about her in a manner that refreshed her countenance and soothed her grieving heart.

“But if I let it go, then you will be no more.”
“If you truly believe that, Verra, then I have failed you in more ways than one.”

She thought back to the night before and all that had occurred with Q’leeta. It had not been the first time that she had expressed that desire, but it was the first time that the words left her mouth. She did not know if the sensation she felt was actually Master Doseir or simply the Force working to soothe her, but she addressed it with as much veracity a she could muster.

“I loved you, master.”
“I knew that then as I know it now.”
“And I cannot forgive them for what they did to you.”
“If truly you loved me, you must.”
“And why is that? Why is it that the Sith can love unremittingly, but the Jedi must abandon themselves should they feel similar urges?”
“Because if you hold onto this hatred – this despair, it will consume you. How do you think it would make me feel, my padawan, if I knew that I was the reason for your downfall?”
“But if I let you go, I shall have nothing.”
“That is untrue,” the spirit stated comfortingly. “You will always have the Force.”

Those words still hung within her mind as she and the others progressed toward Master Zi’los location. Ban Garus, all but tumescent after hearing of Darth Erectus’ demise, could hardly be bothered to complete his meal before he gathered a small group and set out to live up to his part of the deal. Verra had seen the Sith smile before, but this was the first time that he seemed genuinely happy. It was in that way that the four of them came to occupy the speeder: Auris, driving in the front; Ban Garus sitting beside her; and Q’leeta and Verra in the back.

Since their union, neither Q’leeta nor Verra had taken the initiative to speak to one another. Verra, for fear that she might say something inappropriate had waited for the demure alien to guide their conversation, but when she next saw the woman she seemed all but detached from her. A hood had been placed above her head, concealing her from the overhead sunlight, while she sat with her hands in her lap and her eyes cast toward the floor. Any attempt at finding warmth from the woman was to be forgotten, it seemed.

And Verra was quite alright with that. Or, she told herself that she was. Her eyes directed themselves to the scarf that was still wound about her hand, a token of affection that was undeniable. With the wind whipping about them it was given to flutter in a manner no different than it had when Q’leeta had guided her from her physical depths of despair, and informed her of how to deal with the emotional. She was still not quite sure if she was doing that correctly, but what she did know was that there was nothing more to do than wait. Once Master Zi’los was recovered, they could leave the planet and it would all be forgotten.

A distinctly nauseating overcame Verra as the speeder approached its location. She flinched and turned the side as a sharp pang filled her mind, like glass shattering or nails running along a board. It was a harsh, sharp, yet short lived sound that continued with increasing velocity as the speeder moved. Flashes of reality returned to her: looking down at the ground from above; the spiraling of a vehicle; panic; despair.

Q’leeta’s hand found itself upon the back of Verra’s. Just as before, her touch managed to curb the pain that she felt, though the silence that was left in its wake was nearly just as jarring. “Be calm,” the Haur’nii woman demurred as she patted her hand in place. “You will be alright.”

From the front of the vehicle, Ban Garus turned slightly and looked over his shoulder. She had been too engrossed within her melancholy to notice it before, but when he looked at her it seemed that he was searching for something. She addressed his stare with one of her own, until he smiled pleasantly and looked back to the front.

“I should have warned you that this would happen,” Ban Garus stated. “The location that Master Zi’los can be found at is not at all foreign to you.”

Considering that she had been to relatively few places on Thorne IV, Verra furrowed her brows in thought. “Not foreign to me? You mean to say that he was within one of the mansions all along?”

“Not quite,” Ban Garus answered. “But we will soon address everything that is to be said about that.”

If there was one thing she had little reason to suffer at that moment it was more cryptic babbling, but just as her temper began to flare she felt Q’leeta’s hand squeeze her gently. While the woman may not have been as affectionate as she was before, Verra was quickly realizing that she was not as detached as she had imagined. Silently, she suffered through the odd migraine and waited for them to arrive at their destination. The moment that they began to see it in the distance, Verra was certain that something was wrong.

Bent metal, charred surfaces, and shattered glass composed the skeleton of the starfighter. Although it was far beyond being recognizable, Verra knew instantly that it was the ship she had been within. The speeder came to a halt not more than twenty meters away from the wreckage before being powered down. Auris left the vehicle first, followed by Ban Garus, and then Q’leeta. A harrowing chill washed over Verra as she looked at the ship and dared not approach it. She should have died in it – there was no way around that fact.

Ban Garus turned and addressed her with his ever pleasant smile. “Come along,” he commanded with no lack of authority to his tone. He lifted his hand and curled two fingers inward rapidly, which motivated Verra to rise from her seat and slowly exit the vehicle. Whatever was to follow, she knew, would not be what she expected.

“You told me that you would be taking me to Master Zi’los.”
“I have.”

The statement seemed to come from every direction as it descended upon her, deafening her for several moments as she looked to the desolated ship before her. She looked toward Q’leeta but found that the woman’s hood prevented her from making eye contact, and then back to Ban Garus.

What was he like?”
The Master’s apprentice? He was a human,” Q’leeta had stated. “Like you.

“No,” Verra breathed through a shaky sigh as she shook her head and took a step away. The previous fear that she had; that everyone had been killed for nothing, rushed back upon her with such intensity that she could hardly breathe. She placed a hand to the speeder for support and gasped, the weight of everything far too much for her to handle.

“I must apologize to you for my deception,” Ban Garus stated warily, “but I felt that it was only proper considering that the Council did no less to you.”

Verra fought to lift her eyes from the ground, but could not. Before her she saw her hand slowly begin to leak with the blood of the innocent once more; a river of vitae that spilled down the side of speeder and pooled upon the ground. It hurt to breathe; it hurt to think. She gasped and shook her head weakly as her own line of defense against the walls of reality crashing down.

“Master Zi’los, if that is what you must call him, never existed,” Ban Garus began as he drew closer to the torn woman. “That name, as far as I have come to understand, was a cover created in order to remove him from the eyes of others. This ‘Shadow’ business of yours seems to rely more on deception than anything else.”

She wished to do nothing more than look away from her hand, but she could not. As the blood had returned, so did the hollowing wails of dismay from the dead. Her eyes closed, fighting against the return of her afflictions only to find then stronger than ever.

Ban Garus brought his approach to a halt as he looked toward Verra. She nodded her head and so he continued to speak. “The man that you came here to find – that you were sent to recover was Jedi Master Ophirus Doseir.”

Everything went silent. The pain, the suffering, and her agony were all brought to a concise end point as those words weighed in upon her. Denying that as a possibility was the first thing that came to her mind, but even as she began to she recalled that the Force had visited her in the form of her master; a presence that would have been difficult enough to project given Thorne IV’s turbulent atmosphere and more importantly, her own fallen status as a Jedi.

“From what time I spent with Ophirus, I came to understand that you meant a great deal to him,” the Sith lord continued. “It was I that discovered him on Thorne IV and while he was a powerful Jedi, he was truly no match for my prowess. Rather than die and be forgotten on this forsaken planet, he instead capitulated to my demands after I expressed to him the glorious future I envisioned.”

But she had seen pictures of Master Zi’los! She had seen – that there were similarities even back then. Younger images no doubt, touched in a way to prevent her from recognizing who the man was.

“When you arrived, he knew that it had to have been a sign from the Force. He asked me to transfer his life essence into you, and although it was a great gamble – I complied. As I said, I could feel that the Force acted upon you in a way that I had not seen in quite some time. I was honest with you in that; a sacrifice was made and you were allowed to live as a result.”

Verra opened her eyes and felt the tears pouring from them. The blood that she saw on her hands, be it genuine or metaphorical, had sent to tapping against the ground as it made its descent from the speeder’s side. “You’re lying.”

“I am afraid not,” Ban Garus intoned. “I admit that deception has been used in this, but only so much as to enable you to see the falsehoods of your Jedi Order. Think well on this, Verra. As a Jedi you were hardly capable of surviving that crash, but what you have become? You brought down an entire palace!”

She could do nothing other than remember that she had brought down the palace. Blood, screaming, and death were the only things that seemed real to her anymore.

“I saw his body burn,” Verra whispered. “I watched him join the Force.”

“You saw a body burn,” Ban Garus corrected. “I cannot say that I fault the Jedi for what they did. Your former master explained to me that after Coruscant was sacked he was filled with uncontrollable anger. That anger he manifested into a tool that the Jedi sent forth into the distant reaches of Sith space. By declaring him dead they ensured that none would look for him unless they wished for them to.
“Of course, the danger of prevarication is that the threat of exposure presents itself. When Ophirus no longer sent his messages back to the Council they became worried. He had either been killed or had been turned; in either event, they could not venture out to see for themselves as they would be presented with the same danger. This, I gather, is why they selected you. If you were to confront Ophirus then you would have the best chance of returning him to them.
“As I understand it, they selected you because in the grand mathematics of the Force, you were expendable.”

She was expendable. A tool to be exploited for their gains and then cast aside. Verra could feel the distant burning returning to her chest as she balled her hand into a fist. If everything that Ban Garus said was true then she was nothing more than a pathetic excuse for an errand girl. Of course, trusting Ban Garus had placed her into that position in the first place. She could feel her hatred returning; her ire rekindled.

How do you think it would make me feel, my padawan, if I knew that I was the reason for your downfall?

That singular thought returned to her a sense of calm that penetrated the rising clouds of anger and spoke to her heart. Though she still trembled in rage, she did not allow it to completely overcome her. It was a ray of light against a sea of darkness; a gust of fresh air in a stagnant pit of malice.

“I believe that I should expand upon something directly related to last night’s… festivities,” Ban Garus said as he indicated for Auris to approach. As she did so he held out his palm and was rewarded with the Haur’nii woman placed his lightsaber within it. Verra’s attention was shifted from her bleeding hand to the Sith Lord. “Of course I knew of it; I have been involved in nearly everything that has happened to this point.”

“What Q’leeta expressed was not something that you could command.”

“I do not doubt that you feel that way,” Ban Garus said. “But I will have to elucidate further on a previous discussion we had. Do you recall when I told you that I poisoned my brother before he was defeated?” Verra looked to the hooded Q’leeta but found that she was without expression. “I do not believe that was properly explained.”

“You see, my brother was not going to accept a strange gift or a promising token from me and allow himself to be poisoned. I instead had to sacrifice something far greater to ensure that I emerged victorious,” Ban Garus waved his free hand as he spoke. “The touch of the Haur’nii is something that goes far beyond the sensations that you felt – it has within its presence the ability to poison just as it heals. That night I sent him Q’leeta; that night she did what I asked her to.”

Verra looked to Q’leeta and noted that the woman turned her head away. Seeing that the Sith lord had prepared his weapon, Verra lowered her hand to her side and began to will her lightsaber into her palm. “You would give away your wife for a meager gain?”

“I would give away many things for power,” Ban Garus explained.

“But you abdicated the throne,” Verra muttered. “You won only to lose.”

Ban Garus chuckled and shook his head. “I fear it is anything but. As I said, had I held onto my throne I would have been deposed in the successive years. By removing Vitro, Prematus, Minutia, and Erectus you have effectively eliminated any deterrents I may have had to my ascension, but even then I would have to cope with the fact that in time factions would rise again.

“So it is that I opted upon a more… beneficial solution to the problem. By building your mystique and grandeur, I have created an entity that the people of Thorne IV fear. Predictably, when I slay the Shadow, then their fear will be projected upon the only man powerful enough to do so.”

The sound of Ban Garus’ lightsaber activating caused Verra to do the same. Though she may have been distraught, he presented her with a target upon which to project all of her emotions. “If I killed them, I can kill you.”

“I do not doubt that you hold a prowess to contend,” Ban Garus admitted. “Which is why, last night, I had Q’leeta perform the same ritual upon you that she did my brother.”

The betrayals were without end. Verra looked once again to Q’leeta and this time found that the woman was looking directly at her. The hood of her cloak had been lowered, enabling her striking beautiful features to be detailed within the overhead sunlight. She fought to understand how it was a person could express such love and yet be so malicious, but as she opened her mouth not a sound escaped her.

However, in Q’leeta’s eyes she did not see anger, hatred, or even sorrow. There was an emotion there that she could not quite qualify, but whose embrace she had felt before. Q’leeta seemed to be speaking to her with her eyes, and the message was a short one: Be calm.

How could she be calm? The entirety of the events that had transpired were placed solely upon her. There was no one else that could be blamed for her being duped, for Master Doseir’s demise due to her bumbling attempt at a rescue mission, or for the lives that were lost in her rampage. But just as she had utilized Q’leeta’s conviction before to steel herself, she gave a last ditch effort to abide by her command then. Be calm, she told herself.

And so calm she was.

Ban Garus drew closer then, his steps languid as he sized Verra up. “You played your part exceptionally well, Madam Shadow.”

“I am not the Shadow,” Verra said defiantly. “I am Verra So’Quan, Jedi.”

The reply earned from Ban Garus a merry laugh as he shook his head. “A Jedi? A Jedi would not slaughter innocent children; a Jedi would not murder the defenseless. You are no Jedi. You are no Sith. You are the shadow that exists between the two and it will be my honor to claim your life.”

Verra closed her eyes and inhaled. She had to remain calm. When her eyes opened again, Ban Garus was nearly within striking range of her. “I do not hate you, Ban Garus.”

Her words left her bereft any sign of dishonesty. Ban Garus was driven to slow in his advance as he heard her. “Then you are a fool. I have used you; I have every intention of ending your life. If it is not hatred that motivates you to hold your lightsaber, then what is it?”

“Justice,” Verra stated.

It was then that Ban Garus lifted his hand to project the Force toward her, but as he did so Verra did not flinch. The Sith’s eyes widened as though he felt that the Force should have been acting through him, the more that he attempted to will it forth, the less its presence could be felt. In disbelief he looked toward Q’leeta and found that the Haur’nii had turned away from him.

“No,” Ban Garus shouted in anger. “No!”

That denial was the last word to leave his mouth before Verra’s lightsaber cleaved through his neck. No different than Vitro or Erectus, Darth Conseptus fell before the Jedi and collapsed into the sand. A soft gasp escaped Verra as she released her activation plate and lowered her saber arm.

Q’leeta looked away from the corpse of Ban Garus and to Verra. She approached her with the same floating grace that she had displayed before.

“You poisoned him?” Verra asked.

“I did,” Q’leeta stated without feeling. “As I said before, you often operate under preconceived notions. When you heard that I was married to him – you questioned if the Sith could love me. You did not ask whether or not I could love the Sith.”

Verra looked in disbelief to the fallen form of Ban Garus, who had moments before been quite intent upon killing her. “But why would you save me?”

“Because you saved us,” Auris said as she came to stand beside Q’leeta. “Madam – Paurneux, when you slew the Sith lords you began to galvanize the people of Thorne IV. Now that Erectus is dead and Conseptus has joined him, the Sith will turn upon themselves and battle for who will emerge victorious.”

“This,” Q’leeta added, “will be when we are given chance to fight back against them at long last.” She placed her hand to Verra’s shoulder and squeezed affectionately. “You were correct to wonder how it was that we could easily accept the yolk of master after master; it was because we had forgotten what it meant to be free. Before the Sith there were the Vi’aegris and before them the Vael’traeks. We became so accustomed to following others that we forgot at one time, the Haur’nii were led only by the Haur’nii.”

They were indeed inspirational words, but Verra could not help but feel guilt even in them. “But eventually the Sith will stop fighting and you will be killed for resisting them.”

“Perhaps,” Q’leeta agreed, “but we would rather die fighting than live cowering. Because of you, the Sith now have a reason to fear more than their own kind – they fear the Shadow.”

“But the Shadow is no more,” Verra said without question.

“Of course, Paurneux,” Q’leeta chuckled. “But they do not need to know that, do they? It may buy us all the time that we need if they fear to react to what has happened.”

Verra looked toward the wreckage of the ship. If Master Doseir was within it, then it would only be correct if she were to take care of him and offer him a proper burial. That thought came to an end, however, when the sound of another speeder approaching broke through the silence that was about them. Verra placed herself defensively before Q’leeta and Auris, and lifted her lightsaber once more.

The speeder came to a halt several meters from them. Inside of it was a lone figure, who emerged from its interior with no lack of finesse. He wore the uniform of the Sith and held a mask upon his face that indicated he was part of the flight group that Verra had tangled with upon approaching Thorne IV. Instantly, Verra thought to lash out at him, but as she began to move Q’leeta grabbed her shoulder and held her in place.

The pilot continued to approach them until finally he was a meter or two away. He was a towering specimen, easily capable of dwarfing Verra and standing taller than both of the Haur’nii women. The tension of the moment ended when he fell to his knee and bowed his head before Verra. The Jedi, completely confused, looked back to Q’leeta.

“We owe you everything that we have and that we will come to know,” the masked one stated. After he spoke he lifted his head and removed his helmet. The features that looked back at Verra were unlike any that she had ever seen before: strong and squared, the brow bone was slightly pronounced. More importantly than any structural difference though was that the man’s eyes were just as luminescent as Q’leeta and Auris’.

He was a Haur’nii male.

“This is my brother,” Q’leeta said. “Phor’ssk. He was part of the security force that you encountered upon arriving in Thorne space.”

Verra thought back to the space battle and recalled that she had allowed only one man to survive; the pilot that had ejected. That he would also be Q’leeta’s brother seemed to her, perhaps the greatest showing of the Force’s benevolence that she had ever experienced.

“We have long awaited the chance to gain our freedom back from our oppressors,” Phor’ssk explained. “The few males of our kind that remain have been plotting and scheming, but each time that we acted the Sith cut us down. With all that you have done we will be able to gather support and lead our people back to freedom – or die trying.”

The words brought tears to Verra’s eyes. “Please, do not kneel before me. I do not deserve to be honored.”

“We will have to disagree on that,” Phor’ssk stated. He rose from his kneel despite that and indicated his speeder. “I will be taking you the spaceport and giving you a starfighter that will take you back into Republic space.”

“But I have to properly attend to Master Doseir,” she said.

“That was done the moment that we found him,” Phor’ssk replied. “It was a small ceremony, but attended by all the Haur’nii that could do so. We knew that you – or he – was of Republic origin. Any that would venture into Sith space are deserving of respect.”

The explanation should have placated her, but Verra did not feel especially reassured. She did not want to leave Q’leeta, Auris, or Phor’ssk to finish the battle that she had begun. She did not want to abandon the people that would need someone with her talents to fight – to protect them against the Sith. Once more, it was Q’leeta’s kind touch that drew her from her consternation.

“I can remain and fight with you.”

“No,” Q’leeta said sorrowfully. “You cannot. You have sacrificed much for us; the rest of this fight depends on our own sacrifices.” She drew Verra into an embrace and then stepped away. “We of the Haur’nii thank you for all that you have done, Paurneux.” To indicate that she spoke with the utmost respect, she bowed in the same fawning manner that she had when first they met. Following her lead, Auris did the same.

“You gave me my life back,” Verra started. If not for Q’leeta she did not doubt that she would have perished long before Ban Garus explained all that had gone into his nefarious machinations. “I wish there was something that I could give you.”

Q’leeta rose and smiled winsomely, her features aglow. “You have, Paurneux.”

“I have?”
“You’ve given us hope.”

Verra accepted those words with abject reverence and nodded her head. She began to follow Phor’ssk, then turned and looked back to Q’leeta. “Will you do one more thing for me?”

The question drew from Q’leeta a canting of her head. “Of course, Paurneux, what is it that you desire?”

“Call me Verra. Thorne IV is yours now.”

A few tears came to Q’leeta’s eyes as she heard that, and she bowed once more. “Then may the Force be with you, Verra.”

“May it be with us all.”

Gestahlt's Avatar

01.17.2012 , 08:13 AM | #13
Epilogue: Shadowy Seconds

Naturally, she had not told Master Doris everything. What she had seemed to be more than enough.

The elderly Jedi master that sat before her seemed torn between praise and condemnation. As she had recounted most of what occurred – from her meeting with Ban Garus, to the assassination of the Sith, and finally the Sith lord’s treachery, she had seen something akin to surprise spread across his features. Jedi, who were trained from childhood not to readily express their emotions, were hardly expected to reveal surprise; especially not those that were masters. In a way, that was reward within itself.

They were situated within one of the normally vacant rooms inside of the Jedi Temple. Initially Verra had expected to be seen by the masters in the Council, but she had a feeling they were loathe experiencing what she may have become at their behest. Recalling what she had seen in the mirror on Thorne IV, she did not blame them for their concerns. Simply being within the Temple once again felt good – no, it felt right. That thought brought a very small smile to her lips, which Master Doris returned, if not slightly apologetically.

“I would simply like to say that we are very pleased that you have returned to us,” Master Doris said as he cleared his throat. “Your work on Thorne IV will surely have lasting and far-reaching effects on this war.”

“I know,” Verra confirmed, her smile unending.

Master Doris attempted his best to conceal it, but Verra knew that he was inspecting her. With Q’leeta’s help she had turned away from the darkness that was before her, and although her appearance had healed for the most part, she also knew that there were still small indications of the shadowy world she had emerged from. In time, she was certain, that they would fade. The burn mark that Erectus left upon her already had.

“About Master Doseir,” the Jedi master began. Verra shook her head and waved two fingers slightly in a dismissive wave.

“I understand why you did what you did. We need not address the matter further.”

It was a far more understanding answer from Verra than he had expected. Before leaving there had been a perceptible level of distrust and anger inside of her; however, he had assumed that would only further endear her to the Sith. To find her now calm after returning from the mission was truly a marvel. Incredulously he attempted to feel if there was any hidden malice within the woman, but found that she revealed nothing but tranquility.

“Be that as it may… I do feel that I should apologize for not being forthright with you.”
“Master Doris, you gave me a mission – I accepted it. In the end, good was done. What more could a Jedi ask for?”

Her rationale was astute enough to keep him from pressing the matter further. “And you were okay with what you did… what you had to do?”

Barely legal activities?” Verra questioned, her finely-crafted eyebrows lifting a notch.

Master Doris nodded.

There came a shift then as Verra looked more directly into the master’s eyes. “I have done things that I never thought I would do; seen things that I will never be able to un-see. My hands have been coated in blood; my face in similar fluid. I found myself pressed intimately against the Dark Side and felt its lips descend upon my neck, Master Doris.” She paused and then went on, her tone surprisingly even. “Through all of this I found myself, and understand more of the Force now than I ever did before. I have learned that it takes a certain type of person to be a Shadow, and that I happen to be that type of person.”

As the explanation came to its end, Master Doris resisted the urge to pull at the collar of his robe. It had become surprisingly hot in the room, had it not? Yet he could see the verity in her eyes; feel the conviction in her voice as she spoke. He did not know what it was that Shadows went through, but he knew that she had emerged from it victorious. He lifted from his side a datapad and placed it on the table. “Then we have another mission for you.”

Verra did not flinch as she accepted the datapad. “And what does this entail?”

Master Doris hesitated and then smiled. “There was another Shadow that we dispatched on a mission to rescue a Force sensitive girl from slavers,” the Jedi said warily. “After he failed in his mission he was driven insane with grief. As we understand it, he believed that the Force told him to allow the girl to die, and from there proceeded to state that he was forever done with the Jedi.”

Jedi had left the order before – she understood the quandary at once. A rogue Jedi was dangerous enough, but a man that was already slipping into darkness? While the Jedi tried not to act upon preemptive action, there were always cases when the future was simply too dark to allow someone to live. From the manner in which Master Doris spoke, this was one such occasion that had been misjudged.

“We should have stopped him,” Master Doris said, the weight of his guilt placed upon his words. “But we did not. For that, innocent people have been made to suffer. His most recent transgression has given us cause to believe that he can no longer be allowed to operate freely. This is where we require your expertise, Verra.”

If nothing else, she appreciated the Jedi master’s candor.

“And you wish for me to seek him out and… aggressively neutralize him?”

“Unfortunately,” Master Doris said with a sad nod. “There seems to be no other way to deal with his menace.”

Verra lifted the datapad and ran her finger along the screen. It was true that she had turned away from the Dark Side, but something told her that the life of a Shadow would present her with that risk time and time again. She vowed that she would never again slip into the routine, but if someone was harming innocent people then she would have to act as a countermeasure. Q’leeta knew the dangers of rebellion and still her people were fighting the Sith – who was she to turn down a mission for fear of a similar demise?

“Who will I be hunting?” The Jedi Shadow asked as she looked away from the datapad and to Master Doris. After being deceived once, she would rather hear the words directly from the man’s mouth. To his credit, Master Doris did not at all misunderstand her and even offered an understanding nod of his head.

“Starbreeze,” the Jedi master stated. “Zael Starbreeze.”

Xilanada's Avatar

01.23.2012 , 09:21 PM | #14
01 - Backroom Face Time:
You have a nice sense of pacing and spacing. Larger paragraphs broken up by standalone lines of dialogue are a nice visual way of drawing reader attention to points while not making the reader's eyes glaze at wall'o'text.

Candidly, my eyes glazed a bit anyway at the first three paragraphs. Lots of descriptive detail isn't to my taste, though, and I'm hardly representative of the average reader.

I do like how you establish the fugitive status of the Jedi from the get go. Does a nice job of making the whole fiction feel consistent. A suggestion in the detail; show instead of tell. Which is to say, use dialogue as a way of revealing what she knows and the reader doesn't.

Good use of Jedi Mind Trick. Not especially cheesy but actually appropriate, judicious and wisely used.

Great use of dialogue in general to move the story's action from the opening description chunk into the character knowing where to go and what to do.

I totally was expecting a trap. I like the way you tricked me with the good kind of ambush there in the presence of the Jedi Master.

Nice touch on Revan's backstory and the telltale omission/gap in her knowledge. The reader who's played the games is in the know but the character is appropriate puzzled, which makes the story feel authentic and leaves the reader feeling rewarded for having done their homework. I like it.

I'm not sure if your take on Jedi Shadows and their 'barely legal' approach lines up with mine. That's okay. Your writing is solid and pleasant enough that I don't mind the difference in perspective. And your interpretation is perfectly legitimate so no worries there.

Great opening chapter. I'll read the rest when I get the time. Thanks for writing!
Serenity is making peace with the evil you do but never making peace with evil

Gestahlt's Avatar

01.25.2012 , 06:18 PM | #15
Just to be a little clear on the part about the barely legal thing.

When I first started this story the Jedi Consular advance classes had not been named. In fact, it wasn't until I started on Exposed that they came out. So there are a few things that just won't work. For example, Verra uses a single bladed lightsaber for this and The Primal Vice.

elexier's Avatar

01.27.2012 , 11:21 AM | #16
Just about to give this a read but I had to say this.

First WOW thats a long one (I love a good read)

Secondly Does the title and the chapters designed to mislead one to thinking the ummmm yeah you know lol.

LOVE the titles and chapters.
Adia Stormsaber, Hero of Tython, Paladin of house Organa.
Adia and Kira's story Burnt Orange
Let get it done

eliholman's Avatar

02.18.2012 , 08:25 PM | #17
Well i'm going to have to read this one