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Posted on Thu Oct 21st, 2021 @ 12:03am by Thane & Amare

Chapter: Chapter VI: The Last Bastion
Location: The Invisible Hand Luxury Hotel and Resort, Coruscant
Timeline: Late Evening, Mid-Week Three

Amare quietly set foot in the midst of her master's leased lair, the hotel space was dimly lit this time not by artificial light, but by multitudes of candles with tiny flames that danced in a gentle breeze that ushered into the room from the open balcony. The Coruscanti air was crisp and warm as most days, yet so terribly lacking in humidity to such a degree that a part of her mind was dedicated to desiring a soak in a pool or under a shower just so that she could feel like a proper Nautolan whose skin wasn't feeling like it was drying away into dust.

The Sith apprentice had returned to her master garbed as a Jedi Padawan, but with the new addition of a black cloak, much like the Lorrdian one she had worn before it was lost on Korriban. She removed the hood and disrobed the cloak to hang on a peculiar antique wooden coat rack near the entrance to allow her head tendrils to breathe and feel for the pheromones of the bold man she so very much wanted to see again.

She gazed about the room, no visible sign that Lord Serus was present, but she could most surely feel the gravity of his presence. That was one of the many qualities she came to appreciate of him. Unlike her assassin's ways--skulking about in near absolute silence, hiding all knowledge of her existence to everyone but her own inward scrutiny--the one that was publicly called Thane made no effort to obfuscate himself behind intrigue or shadows. It was true that Serus wore a mask, but that was the truth disguising the falsehood underneath that was Thane. She wondered what his transformation would be when the day came that he finally and truly gave himself completely to the dark side. She longed to behold that face, the face that would mark the end of a confused and bitter Caanan prince, and the true birth of Darth Serus, Dark Lord of the Sith.

"I have returned, my master," Amare spoke aloud as she strode towards the balcony, her low-light vision having trouble adapting to revealing the gloom due to the interference of the candles. "I bring news of the Jedi, and that which you sent me to seek, though it is not what either of us would have expected."

As when she had last spoken with her master on the balcony, Serus was dressed once again in the velvety Naboo finery, and the mask he now regularly wore to conduct his illicit dealings as the galaxy's resurgent Sith Lord was held aloft before him, being examined against the backdrop of the day's dying light and awakening nightlife.

"And did you yet find nobility lingering in the hearts of the Jedi Knights?" He asked crisply, not yet looking back to Amare, as he continued his inspection of the heavy metal fail clasped between his hands, although it was also entirely possible he was examining the world beyond it, through its pair of oval holes.

"No..." Amare answered as she sauntered closer towards Serus, remembering the unreasonable fanaticism of the Togruta Jedi that nearly bested her in the Bogan Archive. She dared not try to imagine what would have happened had Zenarrah not intervened, "...not in those I met, except for one. The Light of the Force is radiant in him, more than all the others by far. I believe you know him quite well."

"I know many Jedi quite well," he said, now placing the mask down and turning to face Amare properly. The dark side was radiating from him fiercely, despite his controlled manner, and there were thick dark shadows beneath his gold-gilded eyes. Whatever activity the would-be Dark Lord had been engaged in prior to his apprentice's return, it had allowed a darkness to both inhabit and exude from him. "You will have to be more specific."

Amare was stone-faced as she removed the satchel she had with her and carefully laid it upon the table, though inwardly astonished that her master didn't intuit whom she was referring to. Had Serus divorced himself from his old life long enough to have not immediately guess who was the most important fixture of his young adult life? Perhaps it was fear, Amare wondered, or, more likely, shame still lurking somewhere within the Caanan's darkened mind of what he had done by walking away from the life of a Jedi.

"Thane's old master, the one called Sotah," Amare answered deliberately referring to Serus' birth name as if they were separate men. "I met him face-to-face, held a touching conversation with him, and yet he did not seem to see through my guise." Her gaze fell to the satchel, and as she opened it to reveal the supposed Telos Holocron, or at least its clever facsimile, her voice turned to a tone of longing and fond recollection, "He is of such power, and yet was so humble and kind. I could feel the goodness in him. It was...almost like talking to a father I never had."

Serus watched his apprentice for a few moments, his golden eyes searching her dark orbs. There was no rage portrayed by them. At least, no rage barring the natural undertone that the currents of the dark side carried, but she did see them briefly narrow as they examined her with quiet interest. Finally, he turned towards the satchel and the exposed holocron, which he hovered a hand carefully above, examining it through the Force.

"He, and the few like him, are all victims of the Jedi, too," the Human stated, his tone on the verge between dismay and pity, "although I sometimes struggle to discern how much culpability should rest with them, as well. 'Master' Sotah held sway and authority, a position on the Council no less, yet has fallen to Quellus' political manoeuvring and intrigue. Sotah's power and reputation still hold sway within the Order - that does not evaporate because of an avaricious Chagrian's edicts - yet he continues instead to haunt those halls in his blue-dyed garments, offering platitudes and comforting parables to the meek and confused."

Whatever his current opinion on the false artefact Amare had brought him, Serus now looked back to her, more defiance in his expression and tone. "So, tell me, apprentice; what purpose does such a humble, kind and good Jedi Master serve, if so unwilling yet so capable of challenging the corrupt status quo? Is he not complicit by his inaction? Or would you have such power exist only to enable others, such as wayward Caanan princes and their Nautolan charges?"

"Some of us are rebels," Amare answered, holding eye contact with him, "some of us build communities, and some of us teach. Sotah is a teacher, and I would expect no more or less from him. But regardless of how you or I feel about him, there is news you must know: Sotah has been disgraced by the Jedi Council. He recently sent a Jedi Knight, a Cathar woman named Rusasha Lahan to check on your family on Caanus, but her visit turned into an investigation of Senator Vuul. She uncovered evidence of an illegal experiment in Vuul's home, but she was caught and expelled back to Coruscant with all the evidence scrubbed. Sotah stood in her defense, as did Bomoor's old master, Thurius. Turns out Vuul demanded action be taken, and your former Reborn comrades bowed to the wishes of the feckless politicians. Both men retain their ranks as masters, but no longer have seats on the Council. Rusasha's father along with Quellus saw to that."

Serus maintained the eye contact for a few minutes, but although his eyes appeared to be searching Amare's, the Sith Lord was clearly searching within himself as he calculated his answer.

"I... have been aware of some developments," he admitted coldly.

Despite their journey to Vaa, a moon of his homeworld, the pair of them had only fleetingly ever discussed Caanus or the family of Thane. Bomoor had perhaps shared more truths of the world Amare's master had been born on, with it seeming as though the pale-skinned Human had often spoken fondly of the violet-hued world. More recently, Amare only knew that Serus had been able to access certain Caanan accounts, yet had not made any move to claim any authority or dominance over his birthright.

The comments about this Vuul and his actions, however, brought a noticeable shift in his mien.

Serus turned abruptly and used the Force to invisibly draw the queerly-shaped holocron onto the balcony ledge. He made no further immediate comment on the world of Thane's father, nor the reality that Thane's Selkath father figure was now forced to inhabit.

As the nascent Sith thrust his power into the device, the small fracture Amare had previously seen within the Jedi Temple formed within the crystal once more, spreading out again to cause the stone to glow brilliantly-white. A high-pitched tone briefly erupted, and then a small image of a female Rodian formed above the device.

"Nice to handle, nice to hold..." came the weak and whimsical voice, perfectly repeating the words it had said before, clearly an uncomplicated ramshackle gatekeeper. "Once broken, no secrets are told."

Serus' eyes narrowed, whether out of curiosity or disgust, it was hard to be certain.

"If you're talking, whoever you are, I'm afraid I cannot answer. I didn't have the time to program a proper gatekeeper into this replica holocron, as much as I would have liked to. You will have to settle for my pre-recorded message. I'm not sure who you are, but I hope you are one of Quellus' lot. You will be most displeased to know that what you hold in your destructive hands is NOT the Telos Holocron, but is a replica I placed here after securing the genuine article into my possession. I have watched Quellus' crusade against knowledge for far too long. This object contains perhaps the most valuable knowledge of all: the archive of our mistakes dating back to the original fracturing of our order and the creation of the Sith from the resulting dark Jedi. Quellus: I knew in time your fear of the Sith would turn to hatred and you would tear open this vault to finish what you started when you turned onto this self-destructive path. Now the Order faces division again as you once again deny the Outer Rim its guardians. Well, I am siding with my sisters and brothers that walked across that battlefield on Cathar. In the name of Zam Kassar and his true Jedi I claim this artefact and will ensure, with every fibre of my being and every midichlorian in my blood, that you will never have it."

And with those words ringing in Amare's ears for the second time, the dimwitted gatekeeper fizzled from existence again.

Serus did not look away from the device.

"Your achievement cannot be understated, Lady Amare," he finally said, his voice sounding both level and confident, no obvious anger detectable. "To have entered the Coruscant Jedi High Temple of the Reborn Order and to have left, unscathed, with an object they could not have considered to be anything less than the Sith's greatest relic - and to have faced numerous powerful Jedi that should be able to detect the residue of your companions... it is nothing short of a marvel."

Turning back to Amare, his pale features drawn tightly into a thin-lipped smile, he approached her and briefly placed a reassuring hand on her upper arm. To look upon the sight of this man, youthful face mottled by the corruption of the dark side and his once brilliant-blue eyes distorted with molten-gold, yet showing a modicum of affection towards his companion, was almost a contradiction in concepts, and could perhaps even be considered unnerving.

"You have come further in months than many, studying at the feet of these teachers you may yet laud, do in years," Serus continued, his voice softer. "You are more ready for the challenges ahead than you realise."

"You may take those words back after you hear what more I have to share," Amare said reluctantly after drawing in a deep breath. "I was discovered in the Bogan Archive by a Togruta padawan. He shadowed me, saw through my deception when I let my guard down. We dueled in that hidden place, almost evenly matched, but he started to get the better of me. I would have failed were it not for the appearance of Zenarrah. My mother was there in disguise as a Temple Guard, and helped me subdue the padawan. She used some kind of mind trick to muddle his thoughts by tapping his head, made his short-term memory unreliable. But she wasn't there for me; that was just by sheer coincidence. Her actual mission was capturing the Jedi Rusasha right from under the Council's noses."

Serus absorbed the information calmly, nodding at the explanations and resolutions. "Whatever your reservations regarding your talents and achievements, the fact remains; you are here, before me, having completed the task assigned to you and unscathed, and our identity remains, ultimately, anonymous. The Jedi are suspicious by nature and given the presence of not just one, but two antagonistic agents in their midst, perhaps some of their behaviour is not unwarranted, for what little good it served them. A measure of doubt regarding their flawed armour is necessary, and may lead them to direct the efforts into other fruitless endeavours as we continue our work."

He picked up the fake holocron once again and returned it to the satchel. "Your mother's objectives and drives are largely known only to her, despite her claims in months past to us, yet they do seem to skirt close to our own actions and movements at any given time. It was not so long ago that she left us to seek a path she said was quite independent of ours. It seems the galaxy grows smaller with each passing day, however."

Passing by Amare, Serus collected his mask and carried the satchel towards the balcony doors and back into the lavish hotel suite. "I shall make arrangements for our evangelistic friends to have this trinket restored to them, at the very entrance to the High Temple, once I have added a small note of my own, perhaps." He then looked back to Amare. "My friend, we are not heartless or mindless beasts. Your labours have bore fruit, I assure you. The Telos Holocron will yet be ours, and this dud device will allow us to exploit more than just the paranoia of Quellus' order. Rest now. We will be leaving in the next day."

Amare bowed to him and parted softly, "A pleasant evening to you, my master." A suppressed wave of exhaustion came over her as she turned to leave.

A few steps closer to the door found her ceasing her pace and stopping to glance once more over her shoulder at Serus. She thought about the those words, 'not heartless or mindless beasts', but the dark side was a beast like no other. For one to indulge in its boons stirred ravenous new feelings within the soul...malevolent feelings that most people would never consciously entertain.

Amare could have never imagined just a year ago that she would evolve into a skilled spy and assassin, but there she was, blood on her hands, destruction in her wake, all made possible by a cosmic galaxy-spanning energy field that molded her body with blessings of uncanny abilities and magnifications of her natural talents...

...and she loved every minute of it, and yet, under her fleeting joy on the surface, she couldn't hate herself and what she had become more. And for Serus, she both loved him, and despised him for what he was forging her into. The Coda within wanted to run to the other side of the universe and get as far away from Serus and the Red Raptor as possible. The stronger and dominant Amare, however, held the leash in her mind, and wanted to take her gradual transformation into a supreme being to its darkest extreme. She retired to her room with a smirk knowing that, in either victory or failure for the Sith, one way or another, she was going to have fun on that dark road towards destiny.



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