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Truth in Fire's Light

Posted on Thu Nov 14th, 2019 @ 12:05am by Thane & Zenarrah Sozo

Chapter: Chapter VI: The Last Bastion
Location: Near the Red Raptor, Former Mensix Mining/GalactaWerks Facility, Mustafar
Timeline: Follows "The Mustafar Method", Week Two (Over one week after Chapter V.)

ON

Thane was at the tail of the group returning to the Red Raptor, nestled as it was one of the two landing pads built into either side of the facility’s primary structure. Like the ageing Corellian freighter, the old construct formerly of GalactaWerks’ ownership, who themselves had inherited from a long-defunct corporation known as Mensix, the facility was bordering on ancient, in traditional terms.

Whilst he had not been able to confirm any exact dates when first uncovering the facility, its custodian droids and the software still installed within the functioning machinery both being of GW stock, Thane knew it dated back to the last days of the First Republic. Although large swathes of its original structure had been lost to the elements or subsequently reconstructed by GalactaWerks during their brief dominion over the dolovite-rich region, the amount of ancient material still standing was a testament to the original builders’ work and resources.

Captain Vickers had voiced concern about landing the Raptor at the location, wondering how long it had been abandoned and how fragile the landing supports might have been, but Thane had confidence in the decision to come to this place. The Force was strong here, and if the building had weathered this much time on the chaotic volcanic world, he had faith that their end would not come courtesy of crumbling struts.

The still-functioning custodian droids had maintained the integrity of their home well since their abandonment, and they took to naming the Red Raptor crew as their masters in stride. It had taken little extra work for Thane and the others to prepare minimal furnishings and establish the basic amenities they would require to use it as some form of base, should the need arise. The locals, as he had discovered early on during interactions he had forcibly engaged them in, had little to no interest in this region, although both they and the facility’s databases confirmed the unusual stability of the local terrain. There were undoubtedly meteorological reasons for the local climates uncharacteristic normalcy, but Thane considered that the Force may even be at work on this occasion.

Since his studies of the dark side had truly taken root, he had grown increasingly conscious of how much the Force influenced and structured the universe they inhabited. The nature of the cosmic power was becoming more real to him than it ever had during his time as a Jedi Knight. The young Human found it entertaining how the Sith had brought him closer to understanding the Force than any tutelage from any sage or Jedi Consular. He intended to adventure to the nearby fallen fortress he had discovered in his most recent meditation soon, but there was still work to be done in completing their refurbishment of their new holding.

Watching as the last of his companions finished their advance up the ramp, Thane brushed away some of the thin layer of volcanic dust from his singed robes, took one last look at the ash-laden skies, and then turned back to their ship.

"Serus!" called out a now familiar woman's voice from atop the Raptor. Zenarrah Sozo had been concealed beneath the cloak of the Force from her perch above the cockpit of the ship. She did not look down at Serus as she rose from her kneeling meditative position.

"I admire your willingness to take risks and push my daughter to her limits, especially on a nightmarish wasteland such as this," she noted with the fires of the lava flows glinting brightly off her solid black eyes, then turned and looked down harshly at the human, "Though I must advise you to know when to show restraint." She leaped up, did a full mid-air somersault, and landed in front of Serus with the grace of a feline and took what appeared to be a spare training lightsaber in hand. "A fatal accident could have very undesirable consequences for the so-called 'master' that chooses to act like a stoopa in his quest for power." The blade ignited at her side, pointing to the ashen ground, revealing a familiar amber hued blade powered by the same crystal that had previously inhabited Thane's now destroyed original lightsaber.

Immediately halting and turning his head, Thane regarded the older former Jedi with narrowed eyes, although he kept his calm composure almost casual in its outward appearance. He had not sensed his apprentice's mother before her reveal, admittedly, but he was present and mindful enough to not surrender to infantile reactions. It seemed there was provenance for Amare's natural affinity for Force concealment, after all.

The young Sith's eyes examined the familiar golden blade of Zenarrah's weapon, deducing more about the origins of the crystal 'heirloom' Amare had revealed to him during their fateful first encounter on Nar Shaddaa. A part of him longed to learn more about the Forcely article, but this was clearly not a suitable moment. It seemed the elder Nautolan was retaining her previous disposition towards him, keen to challenge or educate him in some way. As he listened to the low hum of the former Temple Guard's lightsaber, he wondered what 'way' she intended.

"No more duels today, Madame Sozo," Thane said, moving to resume his original path into the Red Raptor, almost as if the interruption was trifling to him. He had elected to not ask of how Zenarrah had come to know his Sith name just yet, although hearing it spoken aloud had briefly troubled him, too, the word echoing within his mind. As he moved to step past the armed Nautolan, he wondered if this woman was, in truth, some mounting obstacle it would ultimately be necessary for him to overcome, or if she were, instead, actually some boon to his burgeoning Sith enterprise.

"So, she exceeded your expectations after all," Zen said with a slight chuckle as she disabled her sparring weapon, her voice sounding a touch deeper and raspier than usual. Her armor was missing wearing only her tattered sleeveless Jedi travel clothing, and the skin of her lower neckline was exposed, a faint horizontal scar across the front of her neck as if someone had managed to slash her throat in the past. Insulting Thane had only been an attempt to psyche him up for Juyo training, but she decided engaging his mind with the truth would prove more useful.

"All it took was a little white lie from me for her to embrace her talent," she continued. "She believed I was guiding her movements through the Force, but not even I can perform such a feat, even through the bond I share with her. The same bond that revealed your true nature to me. I know everything from the day she joined you, Serus. I know the whole story of Lorrd, and how much it pains her to retell the tale the closer she gets to her meeting those Jedi; she loved them very much and took no joy in their deaths. I know about what you did to her on Yavin 4 and that it only solidified her yearning for you, and I know about the holocron, and that you exposed her to its influence. I was wrong to insult you just now. You are far beyond anything I could have possibly imagined. Not even Master Sotah could have seen this coming."

Thane had halted his advance into the Red Raptor the moment Zenarrah repeated his dark alias once more, initially glowering at the lowered ramp onto the ship as though he were staring straight at the Nautolan. He had listened carefully to the woman's confession, digesting the sudden and unexpected revelations with as much rapid consideration as he could muster. With the final parting comment regarding his former mentor, he turned his glare upon Zenarrah, glinting gold rims lining his beryl eyes.

"Bold admissions," he said darkly, although his dignified tone lost none of its lustre, despite the thinly-veiled menace lurking behind the young Sith's words. "You must have great faith in your abilities or value to declare such things openly to me, Madame Sozo. Tell me; what role do you envision for yourself in the schemes of Serus and Amare, you who know so intimately the provenance of my relationship with your daughter? These things you comprehend so well, I also wonder what it is you hope will become of your child?"

Despite all that Zenarrah had confessed to know, secrets and developments known only to Thane and Amare, Thane continued to be at a loss for the elder Nautolan's purpose in travelling with them. She had knowledge of his overwhelming punishment of her daughter on Yavin, as well as the terrible trials she had endured because of him on Lorrd, yet remained stalwart in apparently supporting his Sith mastery over the young woman. After years of believing she was protecting her, far from the clutches of the Jedi Order, the former Temple Guard seemed at ease with the dark path Thane had inducted Zaracoda Wolph upon, with all of the physical and psychological torment that had - and would - entail. From the perspective of his former colleagues within the order, Thane had undeniably 'fallen' to to the dark side, consensually or otherwise, but he wondered just how far Zenarrah had slipped.

Zen's demeanor relaxed with her shoulders as she casually sauntered with a slow pace perpendicular to where Thane stood his ground. She eyed him for a brief moment just before he finished speaking, and displayed a wry smile to him.

"What if I told you that for almost two decades," she resumed her truth-telling, choosing not to answer him directly just yet, "the Nightsisters of Dathomir had eyes within the heart of the Reborn Jedi Order? Twenty-two years ago, those eyes–my eyes–learned the secrets of the Temple, and discovered its hidden vulnerabilities. When you were barely more than a toddler, I was sent on a mission to Dathomir that changed me forever. The Sisters there killed two padawans, and captured me. They performed many dark magicks on me, tormented me with pain and nightmares you couldn't begin to comprehend. It was a test, and it required me to resist them so hard, that I would have no choice but to give in to the dark side just to survive...and of course I did."

Zen began to slowly move towards Thane, inactive lightsaber still in hand. "I had to," she added, "I was with child, and they knew it. Zara's egg growing inside me was the only reason I was spared. I became one of them, embraced the Sisterhood, drank in the spirit ichor, and...after Zara was born, I was forced to endure a terrible sacrifice as a consequence for embracing my new powers."

She clipped her weapon and held her empty hands in front of her for Thane to see, palms up.

"In my left hand I held my lifeless first-born son, Naju," she said calmly, gazing deep into Thane's eyes, her tendrils sensing Thane's strong tension from the pheromones that gave away his emotional state to her. "In my right, my second deceased son, So'Quon. The youngest of three, Zara, killed them both shortly after hatching; drained them of their essence without even knowing what she had done. Their power in the Force became her power. They were my babies in the spawning pool, and my sons were sacrificed to give rise to she who was destined to become your apprentice."

She rested her hands at her side and added, "I support your 'schemes', as you call them, Serus, because Amare was born to serve the dark side...to serve you. I am like any other parent; I want only what's best for my child. She's all I have left; my life is small next to hers. The Light has failed this galaxy far too many times. It is intolerable. If the two of you are going to restore the power of the Sith, you will need allies. I can provide you with underworld contacts and skilled acolytes to serve your cause. Through Amare's claim to her birthright as my daughter, you could assume control of the Coterie of Nightsisters and use their magic to further the power of your new Sith Order."

There it was again, Thane mused darkly, considering the Jedi traitor's explanations carefully, that mention of destiny. He had always found it strange how invested his compatriots were in such beliefs, that the Force or the wider universe had some grand design for the comparatively small creatures inhabiting it; for the most part, this 'Unifying Force' belief had found a strong following in the Reborn Jedi Order, and was only challenged by a minority of Jedi, Master Sotah and Bomoor included. Ironically, the gatekeeper to Darth Bane's holocron espoused a similar faith in prophecy, even if jaded by the collapse of his mortal progenitor's thousand-year lineage.

A lineage Lord Serus was restoring, Thane countered to himself, as Zenarrah's words resounded with more gravity in his mind, the more he considered them; the lady confessor had claimed to hold knowledge and connections that would see his fledgling enterprise enlarge, the seeds of his power planted further than he could sow, at least in his current circumstances.

There was, however, a certain bitterness in his mouth, knowing that Zenarrah's treachery against the Jedi and submission to the dark side stretched so far back, winding back into his own history within Quellus' Order. It was a strange realisation, being unexpected after these many months apart from them, set upon the course he had chosen.

"A Mandalorian I knew once told me that his kin had exterminated the Nightsisters, generations ago," the Caanan retorted noncommittally, although he did not doubt the verity of her claims or professions of loyalty to his and Amare's burgeoning cause. "You would trade your people's hard-won seclusion and allegiance for the promise of Zaracoda's destiny realised, and the Republic's rot torn from the galaxy." It was a statement more than a query, said plainly as the Sith Lord stepped away from his apprentice's mother and towards a nearby railing. A crimson glow lit up his face, the smouldering lava bubbling within the pit far below bright against the volcanic dugout the landing pad was suspended far above.

"I would trade the galaxy for her," Zen stated firmly. "I would burn the Jedi Temple to the ground a thousand times over for her. That is why I seek to train you so that you may teach her to surpass us all. Try not to take this personally, but...if she grew powerful enough to destroy you someday, then what I offer to you will have been worth everything I have endured until now."

Thane looked back from the scorching slag below, although he did not yet release the railing from his grasp, an intense gaze falling onto the other Force adept. Her words resonated with him, more than he had expected, both enthusing and convincing him at once. The vision this woman beheld, one of Amare triumphant, eventually over her master, even, was the same as his own and that of Darth Bane’s. She expected no ultimate victory nor any rise to power for her own person, but accepted her role in achieving that for her daughter; the daughter’s victory would be the mother’s, a culmination of her life’s work and meaning.

In Zenarrah, the Sith had won another supporter in the grand game.

A ripple of dark Force energy lanced into the railing from Thane’s grip, the metal denting and twisting under the sudden strain as he continued to listen to and watch the Nautolan, a golden glint encircling the rims of his eyes.

"Perhaps you have not realized," Zen went on, "but we have been training together just now, simply by talking. To know the way to the darkest of power is to know the truth, and the truth lies shrouded in shadows as it is with all valuable secrets. Perhaps you have delved into that variant form called Vaapad? Do not be fooled; it is a poor Jedi substitute that mocks the genius of your Sith forebears. To conduct oneself in the greatest fighting form is to embrace Juyo, but it is not about learning to swing your lightsaber in ways different from the traditional arts. It is a state of mind driven by raw instinct and the empowerment from one's own inner passion. It can be passion for the thrill of combat itself; passion born out of wrath; or even the most dangerous passion of all: that which is derived from love. Be mindful of this when training Amare, for her hearts are filled with love; for herself, for others she views as her 'family'...and even for you. Love is, after all, the very essence of her name."

“So it is,” Thane replied, releasing the now-malformed railing to advance towards Zenarrah once more, his belief and faith in her, for now, assured, and requiring no spoken confirmation from him for her to know that, either. “Your devotion to your daughter and the epitome of power she will undoubtedly hold and represent humbles me, Mistress Sozo,” he said honestly and in even tone, “as does your offer to reveal to me these arts.” He extended a hand to Zenarrah. “I pledge to impart all knowledge and opportunity that Amare will need to become all that you desire her to be, that I will ensure she finds her path to greatness. I would accept your offer of training.”

Zen glanced at the offered hand, appearing a bit confused by it. She had witnessed from afar the first Sith Lord in centuries formally anoint his apprentice, Zen's own daughter, and thus saw the rebirth of the Sith Order on the former stronghold world of the legendary terror of the old Jedi Order, Darth Vader. To take his hand in hers seemed wrong on every level. The wayward prince from Caanus who had risen to become a Jedi Knight had reached a new level altogether; that which was royalty was far greater than anything he had been before.

"If this were any other day," Zen said, "I would accept your friendly Human gesture, but I am no longer your equal. Your first lesson from me is to remind you who you are now, and the respect your title as a Dark Lord demands."

She bowed low to Thane as if he were the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic himself.

"It shall be my honour to teach you what little I know, Lord Serus," Zen concluded as she rose up.

He watched her as she genuflected with an intensely attentive and considered expression, which gave way to a small, meaningful nod of acceptance to the former Jedi Sentinel. Without perhaps meaning to, she already paraphrased Bane's inaugural lessons to him, even if his simulacrum of a Sith master would abhor her maternal devotion.

It was in that moment that Zen felt a presence that she did not sense moments before. She turned and looked up to see Amare standing in perfect silence at the top of the boarding ramp, glaring seemingly with smoldering antipathy at her mother, a dull glow of crimson red in her eyes. Before Zen or Thane could say anything, Amare, with hands balled up into fists at her sides, turned away and strode into the ship's interior. Zen, astounded how easily Amare had masked her presence in the Force, realized in that instant that her daughter had heard everything that was said to Thane, secrets that weren't even shared in their mind-link. Now Amare knew the black truth about her biological brothers, and her role in their murders.

Zen frowned, deeply ashamed she hid that truth, always trying to protect her little Zara from painful memories and dark deeds. It inspired a moment of clarity as she considered that perhaps her time as a protective, ever-watchful yet non-participatory parent had come to an end.

Thane had watched the wordless interaction between mother and daughter with great interest, saying and doing nothing, as had been his way with the Nautolans' burgeoning, difficult relationship. Zenarrah had a part to play in the new age's rise of the Sith; accordingly, she had a large part to play in the rise of Amare, Sith Lady.

"There is power in truth," he stated without emotion.

Zen turned to Thane and said with a shake of her head as she fought a valiant emotional struggle within to hold back the tears, "I can't be there for her anymore. She's no longer the child I brought into this universe. When you touched her over there in that strange way I had never seen before, I saw...I...I saw the death of my baby...my Zaracoda. That is my pain now, but it's also my source of pride. Only through you can she reach her true potential. I fully accept that now. By your good grace, I will travel with you only long enough to pass on what you need to know, and then will I take my leave and return to walking my path alone. Whatever happens between you and the forces of Quellus and Zam Kessar in the years to come shall be your affair to face as their sworn enemy. The day you come into contact with another Jedi, that is when a new war across the stars shall be set aflame. If you are not prepared, I see no good future for the galaxy."

She took a step back away from Thane and reignited her lightsaber and saluted him with the blade in front of her as a traditional Makashi-style duelist would, and then flourished it to her side. "Today, I declare unto the Force that the stars themselves shall begin to tremble, for you, the first Dark Lord of the Sith in over a thousand years, shall remind them that their pitiful light cannot resist the infinite ocean of darkness for long!"

Thane's own blade ignited, its amethyst blade humming with a low menace, as he began pacing slowly towards Zenarrah. There is power in truth.

TBC

 

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