A man approached, his slow footsteps announcing his coming.
“Go away,” I said, without opening my eyes. “I’m becoming one with the Force.”
Did I sound mad? Good.
“My presence will not impede on the process, I assure you,” the stranger said with a deep, smooth voice.
“Have you been sent here to persuade me? Because you’ll be disappointed.”
He chuckled. “Far from it, Master Jedi. I was sent to kill you.”
“I don’t think I’ll need your help, thank you very much.” I hoped my words had the sound of nonchalance I did not feel.
“So it seems,” he replied dryly. “Mind if I join you?”
Polite as though his words were, he did not wait for an answer and sat down next to me on the ruin’s edge. Reluctantly I opened my eyes, blinking at the gloomy daylight, and beheld his face.
He’s handsome, I thought.
Why did that surprise me? What did I expect? Some hideous monster; a raving lunatic with a lump? The Dark Side is not a bodily infliction, after all. Yet for all my studies, I was not prepared to behold a real, living Sith Lord.
He was about the same age as me; a tall, muscular man, nearing the end of his prime. His skin was the colour of hot chocolate, a beautiful dark brown; features strong, yet gentle and open. His bald head was remarkably expressive and friendly; his broad smile charming and friendly. The stranger’s brown eyes, however, seemed oddly cold. Was there a burden behind those eyes, hidden behind a smile and good manners?
His black attire, a shape-hugging tunic partly covered by a long robe and hood, was remarkably similar to a Jedi’s. Strong hands lay open on his lap; he tried to make me feel comfortable, which strangely seemed to work. He smiled at me and met my eyes. I had to look away.
His words were like crystals; sparkling yet hard.
“I can’t say you’re making it hard on me, man. But as much as I fear disobeying my Master’s orders, I do not intend to kill you. You intrigue me.” His gaze followed mine across the valley and he sighed. “When you left it must’ve been a great loss for the Jedi Order.”
“Not that great a loss, I imagine,” I replied, shrugging. “I’ve now joined the ranks of the legendary Lost Jedi. A dubious honour. ‘Jac Eebra, previously a venerable Jedi Master, has sadly left the Order in search of his awaiting destiny,’ that’s what a Council representative said on Holonet. It was just a tiny announcement between the celebrity gossips. Sad, really. But as for how or why, I’m not telling you.”
“So be it.” Instead of expanding on the subject, he remained quiet. Possibly he thought I would start explaining if the silence grew, but I was not particularly inclined to. Instead I kept my gaze on the endless ruins in the Valley of the Dark Lords around us and thought about how this man could entrance me so. Must be the seduction of the Dark Side, which was terribly strong here on Korriban.
Yet the attraction I felt could not be denied; real or Force-fuelled, there was a soft warmth inside me when he, at last, turned towards me again and whispered conspiratorially in my ear,
“What is it that you want, boy? Really want? Truth? Love?”
“Do not mistake me for some naïve padawan,” I replied, trying to sound offended. Why did he call me ‘boy’? “Save your critique on the Jedi for the ignorant and wronged. I have no trouble with the Order or its principles.”
“If so, why did you leave?”
Curse his insight. “Personal differences.”
“Ah. Of course.” He smiled; a sly little grin. “Differences in opinions on how best to be a Jedi, I’m sure. I know you used to be something of a philosopher, pondering the Force and its ways. My guess would be that while studying and philosophizing, you realized you were not doing what you were supposed to be doing. You realized you were raised without questioning your standards, and you started to do so.”
I shook my head, smiling. “You are asking for my reasons, and I already told you I’m not telling.”
“Very well,” he said. “But whatever the reason, I want you to consider this: now that you no longer are a part of the Jedi Order, are you willing to look into other ways to use the Force?”
“You’re asking me how I feel about joining the Sith?” I asked, incredulous. I could not believe he was asking me, just like that. Somehow I had always imagined that Sith Lords tricked people into joining them. Apparently I was wrong.
“Actually, I did not say that. But I was getting there.”
I looked at him. He looked so very attractive.
“I –,” I started, and looked away. “I’m afraid I don’t feel much either way.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Pardon me?”
I sighed. Get this over with, then. “Several years ago, a padawan turned to the Dark Side. I killed him, but only after he had killed his master.”
He nodded, but remained silent.
“After the incident, I searched my feelings, but found none. At first, I thought I had found peace in their fates, but gradually, I realized it wasn’t quite like that. In fact, I couldn’t remember a time when I did have any emotions. No mourning, no anger, no jealousy – no love.” I looked up at him. “The Order raises us to have no attachments, but also no emotions. There was an emptiness inside me that was destroying me.”
“That’s when you decided to leave the Order.”
“Actually, it took me more than three standard years to figure it out, but by then I had made up my mind and not even the Council could talk me out of it.”
“Every child eventually leaves his parents’ house to make a home for himself,” the dark stranger said, and somehow his words were exactly what I needed to hear. Understanding. “To be Sith is to be living a full life, unbound by the silly chains those around us wish to force onto us. How can such a life be any lower than a life of servitude to an ancient Order without roots in reality?” He looked at me and almost whispered. “Not unlike the Jedi, the Sith live by a credo: Peace is a lie; there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me.”
I looked at him, and the Sith, with new eyes. A full life, without other people telling me what to do – and all it took was passion. The thought was quite hopeful.
He went on. “I seem to find myself in a similar position as you were in. You see, I am my Master’s apprentice only in name; he has taught me everything. Therefore he has sent me to kill you, so I can become a true Sith Lord. However, he and I both know it does not work that way. My true task, if I am to become a Master, is to kill him.” A rueful smile. “Through victory, my chains are broken.”
I was speechless. Did this man just admit his desire to kill a man?
“My Master, Darth Hssiss, has sent two bounty hunters after us; surely you must’ve felt their presence by now. They’re probably instructed to kill us as soon as we leave this spot.”
I did sense two individuals, just out of reach of any ordinary senses, lurking in the shadows. What intrigued me more, though, was the name of the stranger’s Master; this Darth Hssiss. This was getting more interesting by the minute.
“So what does this have to do with me,” I asked casually. “I mean, are you asking me to distract those bounty hunters or anything?”
I already knew the answer, but I wanted to hear him say it.
“You’d be my apprentice.”
I grinned. “I don’t suppose I can think about it for a couple of days?”
The dream, though each time subtly different, always followed a certain pattern. From the shadows of a dead empire, a great black one-eyed beast emerged, filled with hatred and anger. The beast was a dark side dragon, commonly known as hssiss, and it was strong with the Dark Side of the Force. Every time I slept, I dreamed of facing off with the beast, but every time, neither of us won or lost.
An eternal, nocturnal struggle.
For several long years had I asked Jedi Masters for an explanation of this dream, and the answers were always the same: Train yourself to let go of those you fear to lose; be prepared to face the darkness in yourself. Gradually, I realized I would not find answers amongst those who looked to the past rather than to the present or the future for wisdom.
I had committed the dream to my own ruthless logic, and dissected it into smaller, understandable parts. I found out that the fear I felt upon waking was 63% fear of dying, 3% fear for those around me, 5% fear of the Dark Side, and 29% fear of the unknown. Approximately.
The fear of dying was, in essence, a denial of the very teachings of the Jedi – there is no death, only the Force. However, it would not go away. The fear of the unknown, on the other hand, could be faced. After years of considering, it was a logical step to confront this fear by leaving the Jedi.
Dissecting the dream had felt good; the dark realm of night would not stand against the brightness of cold, hard logic. But yet, I felt something was just beyond my grasp; as if I was trying to catch smoke with my bare hands…
Days after leaving the Order, I decided to go to Korriban. Hssiss were common on several planets, but for some reason Korriban felt right. The fact that it was home to the ruins of the ancient Sith Empire seemed to enhance that feeling – a monument to a grand rebellion against the arrogant Jedi Order.
Fooling two simpleminded bounty hunters was easy even for a padawan, but my new companion showed me how to do it like a Sith; he used something akin to a mind trick to let one fear the dark. On Korriban, where the sun was about to set and shadows grew longer, there were dark places everywhere. It was mildly amusing to hear his terrified screams in the distance.
In an attempt to gain the Sith’s trust, I used the Force to increase the other bounty hunter’s blood pressure until he fainted. My newly acquired Master, who went by the name of Darth Nyx, seemed pleased with my achievement. Unbeknownst to him, I made sure the victim’s blood pressure would drop soon after we left.
This Lord Hssiss, I pondered, had to have something to do with the dreams I’d been having for the last five years or so. It was entirely possible that he was even the Sith Lord that had lured Li, the padawan, to the Dark Side, but those thoughts I kept to myself. For now it was best to let Nyx think that I was doing this for him and me alone.
Getting to the place where Darth Hssiss waited for the return of either his apprentice or the bounty hunters required a long and hazardous walk through and over many ruins of the old Sith dynasty. It was a slow journey and Darth Nyx and I spoke only when we did not need to concentrate much.
He told me about the Force and how the Dark Side had given him so much, but at a terrible prize. For every scrap of knowledge, his Master had made him suffer. “He always said it was better to learn something first hand, to realize the power of what you’re doing. Many nights I spent in agony, building the power I now possess.” He shook his head, his eyes cast down as he seemed to remember far too much of it. “It was necessary, yet now abundant.”
Before he could tell me more, Nyx pointed towards the second largest building in sight and said, “That’s the place.” It was a largely intact structure, built into the rocky mountain wall, with two massive statues in front of it; one an apparent Sith warrior, the other damaged beyond recognition. Their shadows fell over the entrance of the enormous building; a ridiculously large gate with damaged decorations of frightening beasts and muscular warriors. The decorations on the structure had largely been eroded away by the elements, but the building itself was on of the few to have weathered the centuries. Inside we went.
We walked in silence through a maze of dark corridors and empty halls, the sound of our echoed footsteps moving along with us, until at last we reached a grand hall. It was dimly illuminated by the last rays of the sun through slits in the high ceiling. There, in between two enormous pillars, stood a simple chair and some basic equipment making up a makeshift camp. In front of the chair stood a thin, black clad figure. Nyx and I approached him cautiously.
Lord Hssiss was a pale old man with piercing red eyes – no, eye; his face had a scar where once his left eye had been. The scar was almost as white as his skin, indicating that it was an old injury. Perhaps the padawan had done some damage before his turning, I thought with grim satisfaction.
It took me several moments to notice that, in fact, most of the Sith Lord’s left arm was missing, too. He used the Force to grip his lightsaber hilt and simultaneously mimic the shape of an arm inside the sleeve of his robe.
“You foolish little sand sloth,” the old dragon hissed. “How dare you return with your target unharmed?”
His words, enhanced by a strong hatred conveyed through the Force, were like poison running through my veins. This was a Sith like the Jedi had spoken of; a twisted mind of death and destruction. The meaning of my dreams became clear instantly; this was the opponent I must face.
“I return with a prize beyond your comprehension, my Master,” Nyx spoke, emphasizing the last words with dripping sarcasm. “The future of the Sith have I brought.”
Apart from smiling the tiniest of smiles, Lord Hssiss did not move. “The future looks rather boring, I must say. Please tell me you’re not considering this bantha fodder worthy of the Sith legacy.”
“I am,” Nyx said, and for some reason I felt proud. I hadn’t felt like that for years. It was a good feeling, unrestricted by Jedi rules. How could I have believed those silly rules for so long? Ridiculous chains, they were just holding me back.
“Doom on us all, then.” The old Sith Lord moved before the words had crossed his lips. Despite his old and stiff appearance, he moved swiftly and efficiently. I barely had time to switch on my lightsaber before his first strike came.
This was going to be more difficult than I had hoped for.
The Hssiss made quick movements, trying to force an opening in my defences. His fangs and claws came from all sides and all dimension – the Force itself seemed against me as all my usual grace fell to the dusty floor. Teeth gritted, I fought the war I had waged for countless nights. This time, though, a radiant darkness fought at my side, whispering.
“Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me.”
The fight was long; Lord Hssiss was very skilled with a lightsaber. His technique was excellent, and his constant attacks through the Force were very unsettling. We fought at equal levels, and rather than letting the Force dictate my moves, I learned how to direct it myself.
Eventually, Nyx and I gained the upper hand. My new Master whispered instructions, making me strong with the Dark Side. Thoughts about defeating the entire Sith Order were pushed aside, so as to better achieve the power required to defeat the evil Sith Lord. With every blow, I gained strength; with every bit of hatred, I gained ground on the old man.
As soon as the thought crossed my mind, a blinding pain shot through my legs. I found myself on the dusty floors with my eyes closed, screaming in agony. My legs were gone!
“You have fought well, my apprentice,” Darth Nyx spoke gently.
Fought well? I bloody lost my legs!
“Thank you, Master,” Lord Hssiss replied. Master? Through blinding pain and overwhelming confusion, I struggled to look up and saw the two Sith Lords kissing each other’s lips. What twisted pair is this?
Nyx looked down at me, the sympathy in his eyes replaced by cold hatred. “It seems you do feel emotions, boy. And your wish of becoming one with the Force will be granted.” He faced his apprentice once more, kissed him, and spoke, “His death will be only the beginning. The Sith will become so powerful that no-one will ever be able to stop us.” His gaze swung back to me, hatred and anger giving his eyes a crazed fire. “Your precious Jedi, along with the corrupted Republic, will fall!”
“Wait,” I screamed, “I thought you said you wouldn’t kill me!”
Nyx grinned coldly. “Hardly a promise. But I won’t kill you, boy. That honour falls to my apprentice – my real apprentice.”
A savagely grinning Lord Hssiss stepped forward, raising his scarlet lightsaber high above his head.
The great beast loomed over me, bloodlust in his red eye. His claw came down, blinding me with pain and anguish. “Deception is the way of the Sith,” the shadow whispered. “Peace is a lie. Through victory, his chains are broken. The Force will free you both.”
The Force seemed to wrap my conscience into itself; a safe haven, pain barely detectable. It whispered wordlessly to me, urging to let go; to become one with that great current of all living things. I smiled; a thing I was not even sure was physical. Emotions had come to me, after all. In their own twisted way, the Sith had done the will of the Force and had set me free.
One last tug of the Force and everything else fell away. I was free.