"Why do I come here?"
The question was allowed to hang, heavy in the air, preventing further conversation but difficult enough to answer that it could not be so immediately done. It was like a pinhole in a pirate ship... innocuous air, left unmolested, with the potential to take away anything and everything that matters to you.
She was a beautiful woman. Legs that stretched for ages. Curves, sharp and soft. The hemlines and the headlines, all proportioned perfectly. But if one looked past the perfection, the true hideousness of what lay upon the bed began to become clear. A pair of sharp, black ridges burst free from her sickly green skin, positioned approximately where a human would find the back of their lungs game a pair of thick, black skeletal folds. If needed, they would fold out into a pair of wings, capable of giving the predator lift and thrust, allowing her to more easily devour that which she desired. Even now, dripping from the fangs inside of her mouth, dribbling in familiar patterns down the bends of her chin and neck, was the fluidic remnants of her last meal. There, were, of course, more.
Despite her flaws, though, she was still a beautiful woman. Her eyes were piercing, cutting their way through you as easily as would her claws, getting past the facades that were erected, and extracting the truth as if it were your heart. Sometimes... it was. Sometimes all you wanted to do was admit that you loved the one thing you couldn't bring yourself to bear. And sometimes you wanted to know why.
"I don't understand what I get from you."
She rolled over, turning on her hips, one leg sliding over the other and driving her momentum until she could face the man at the edge of the bed. She smirked at him and he glared into the open abyss, knowing before she did it how her hands would come to fall. This was not their first attempt at this conversation; it would likely not be their last.
"I can think of something..."
Her answer was the same. It was always the same. Both knew it to be a lie, but both accepted it to be true. What a man sought in the depths of the dark and what a man found were often two different things, but what a man found and what a man received differed in the same similaristic fashion. A search for answers revealing only questions is an answer in and of itself. And sometimes a naked woman on a bed is useful for exactly what you think she would be.
"I think you know what I mean."
He turned his head, back to her. His eyes met hers and her eyes darted away. There was something dishonest about maintaining this kind of relationship; something inherently unhealthy about fucking about inside your own brain. There had to be some reason he brought himself back here, to the destroyed house in the deserted woods, to make love to his dead wife. There was something it was trying to tell him...
Outside of his head, Andrew Micheal Ahnk Rashanagok had never met Emily Montague. Not this Ahnk Rasahanagok, in any case. He'd been grown around the time that she would have been taking charge of the Sith Order, and would have been imprisoned in the temples beneath her during her reign of terror. He was eventually released after her death, but he'd have never known her, either as the naive scientist that she was, or as the monster that she became.
Of course, he did know her. He knew her as the other Ahnk had known her; as a scientist, a silent witness, a subserviant subordinate. They'd never had this kind of relationship. And even so, that wasn't the same Ahnk. It was a different body, and a different brain. The memories and feelings that were shared couldn't be strong enough to generate... this. Whatever this is.
There was something he did not see. Had not seen. Did not know. And could not figure out.
"Well, I have to go. I have a dinner to get to."
The woman on the bed smirked at him, a gesture he could feel gnawing at his back.
He frowned, and stopped at the door.
He pulled on the handle of the door, turning it in his grasp.
"Always coming and going, Mr. Rasahanagok. It's poor form."
His hand paused again.
"There's nothing more I need from you."
He'd turned his head. For a moment, they stared at each other, him frowning, her grinning. When she said nothing, he turned back around, a grin taking his features as well. She was playing with him. She nothing, and was as clueless as he was. He would need to answer his own questions.
As the man stepped from the door, his smile faded... he had not heard that name for a long time... a long time.
Andrew Rashanagok looked down at his leg. The cut was nasty, and deep. He could see clear white, telling him it had reached the bone. He sighed, reaching behind him. His backpack was a mess, but finding the bottle of Sasoma he had brought with wasn't too hard, as it was the largest item inside. He pulled it from his bag, using his teeth to rip off the top of the bottle. Then, without any further hesitation then he could humanly manage, he emptied the contents on the wound within his flesh.
He strode into the temple hall without pomp or circumstance. His entrance was silent, but not quiet, as the actions of those around him filled the dusty stone halls with conversation and speculation. Who was this man, the strange man in the black cloak? He looked like a throwback to a different generation of Sith. He wore his hair long and dark, flowing into the hood that covered his robes, his face was heavy and worn, but without the scratches normally appreciated to a master of the dark arts. He moved without hesitation and with a certain elemantal grace belying a confidence, and his silence spoke to his arrogance. This was not a place for outsiders. This was hallowed ground.
Into the deepest depths of the Sith Temple had he came. Into the very heart of the Massassi Grand Temple he walked, wordlessly. He answered no query, and took no inventory. He kept his eyes forward and unmoving, even as his legs continued to propel him forward. He had a certain destination, but he left it unstated, asking no direction. He made the turns as a man who had been here before, but turned heads as a stranger to these eyes. They watched him, and waited. He was walking into trouble.
Finally, he stopped. His flowing robes continued for a second, and jerked back as his momentum ended, falling in around his stoic form. He reached up and pulled the hood from his head, and slowly stepped from the dark black cloth.
The assembled Sith were not impressed. They looked at him and scoffed. Who was he, to flagrantly encroach upon their home? Who did he answer as? Answer to? From whom was this insult delivered? And for what reason? As they snickered at him, one face stood out amongst the crowd. And it was the face at which he store. She smirked in reply, allowing the cigara in her hand to fall, hitting the floor rather then her lips, and crushed under heel. If he was here for her, then he was here to die.
"So, stranger," she asked him, stepping forward, her black leather clutching tightly to her frame, the steel chains that crossed it allowing her lightstaber to hang free, tapping against the chains on her short black skirt, the ones that kept her blaster close at hand. "Do you have a name?"
He smiled at her. "Names are for friends, so I don't need one."
She smirked. A practical joker. "Well..."
"I know you who you are, Hellena Dritz, and I know what you are going to tell me, so do not extend this conversation any longer then it need be," the man said, still smiling that same pleasant smile.
Her expression soured instantly, frown replacing the grin, brow furrowing in displeasure. He was becoming less amusing by the second. "Alright then motherfucker, if you know who I am, and you know where you are, then what the fuck are you doing here, exactly?"
His expression became more serious. "It is my belief from my observation that your tenure at the head of this Sith Academy has allowed the fundamental pillars upon which the existence of the Sith Order exist to collapse and be forgotten, while you satisfy yourself with the power that your position provides. I find that to be an unacceptable use of the position and it is my intent to defeat you in a duel and claim the position as Dark Lord of the Sith and leader of the Sith Brotherhood."
The laughter that erupted across the room was deafening. Students of the order doubled over with the rediculousness of his statement, but the man in the middle of the room did not laugh, merely allowing his pleasant grin to return. Dritz matched his grin... she would have laughed, but she had to answer any challenge, no matter how rediculous. "Well, if you want to die, then let's dance."
He shook his head. "Not so fast. If we are indeed to dance as I desire, then I believe you are... overdressed." He raised a single eyebrow.
The chains wrapped around her hips and legs tore themselves free from her body, launching themselves into the walls, hitting against the rock and landing on the floor. The weapons they held to her body also went flying. As she looked down in annoyance, she grabbed the only weapon she was left, after the stripping of her daggers, her blaster, and her syringe, her hand found her lightsaber as the chain that held it to her hip also fell to the ground. "Amusing trick... but you're need more then that to best me. Did you come armed?"
He nodded. He reached a hand underneath his vest, pulling the lightsaber he kept concealed under the black leather garment. Dritz was taken aback when she saw it... it was long, longer then it had to be even for a dual emitter matrix. It was plain, without much decorative application, and it had an unusual bend, almost an s shaped curve at the center of the handle, offering little in the way of functionality as it would only serve to change the angles one would have normally known. At the end of each side of the saber was a small metal hook... it reflected what little light the room offered admirably, a stainless steel finish, looking lethal even as small as it was. He folded the saber to his hip rather then ignite it and hold it out, and simply waited.
The snap hiss of Dritz's saber broke the tense silence, and she charged at him, grunting with each heavy slam of leather boot against dusty rock. She swung, an overhand slash designed to sever him in half between the eyeballs, but he sidestepped, turning back to face her... and making no counter attack.
She stared at him, partly amused, partly annoyed. He was arrogant... was foolish, was showing off. She was annoyed because it seemed like he had been hiding something. He moved with a fluidity and grace, a sense of anticipation that told her he was more then just a crazy drifter making an unrealistic challenge. She met his eyes, hers blinking from the sweat, his a dead calm, resolute and unmoving, before he offered her a small nod.
She charged again. She stabbed, and thrust, but each time he backstepped, moving his torso from harms way, bending his form around her adjustments. He was good, moving to dodge before she had decided to move to strike, anticipating and reacting to her very thoughts. The amusement faded almost instantly, and she brought her saber up above her head, aiming a killing slash, hard and with all the power she could muster, aimed directly at his throat.
He ducked it before she even threw it. She stumbled forward by her momentum, and behind her, heard his lightsaber snap into ignition. She turned, and saw that he had activated only a single blue blade. "You have the power to kill, and the intensity to offer a challenge, but it is untempered and wild. Your fighting style has many holes."
She nodded, spitting on the ground. Then she charged again. This time, he raised his saber defensively, meeting her slash and adding counterpush to deflect it harmlessly aside. When she slashed, he parried. When she thrust, he parried. When she lunged, he parried. But he never attacked back, never took a swing, a stab, a thrust, a jab... never an offensive thought shown, just passive defensive fighting... it confused and frustrated her.
She took another swing at him, an upward swing, designed to parse him at the waist. He blocked it, but left his head open for her other hand. She swung, hard, an offhanded punch but a punch nonetheless. She assumed with his hands engaged the blow would land. She was wrong.
He moved his head independently of his body, but then allowed his body to follow suit. He ducked under the blow, and indeed, the entire arm, allowing his parry to lay limp as he stepped away from her press. She became unbalanced, but he was prepared to help her stay on her footing by seizing her other arm and gripping it tight. What happened next was not something she was expecting, as he swung his saber back around, rolling his wrist backwards, and cleaning slicing off her forearm.
Her screams of agony filled the room, howls and sobs, cries of unintelligible pain. She looked at what had once been a complete arm, at the burned and charred edge of her elbow, where once the arm had continued to a hand. All that remained, the smoking, molting flesh, bent and warped by the heat, cauterized, bloodless, but definitely not without large amounts of pain. Her eyes narrowed, hatred taking over her features. She looked down, her other hand, curling hard onto the metal handle of her lightsaber.
She charged, furious. He met her with the same calm efficiency he had offered before. Each wild swing, each fatally aimed arc of her lightsaber was deflected with patience and persistence. He made no further counters beyond the one which had claimed her arm, and this only served to enrage her further. His body dissapeared, replaced by a hot, red cloud, her anger losing cohesive focus, rage drawing in the blanks, giving her a center, a balance.
On one hard, overhand strike, the stranger met her blade with a perpendicular block, and pushed back with more then the force of his arms. She was sent flying, skidding across the seat of her leather skirt, coming to a stop several feet away. She paused, making no action, and he once again nodded his head at her, bowing slightly in a show of respect. "You are experiencing now what it is like to fight as a Sith. Now, I will complete the lesson, and allow you to die as one."
She did not take this as a compliment. A jerk of the hips and she was on her feet, once again charging at him, hatred being pushed through her veins, fury coursing and massaging her brain, vengeance at the end of her fingers. She aimed to drive that vengeance, the summation of her fury and her hatred, into his heart, into his chest, into his face. Each time met with the stoic minimalistic motions, answering only as was no needed, no counterforce, no unbalance. She stepped back, allowing him a free killing slash. He lowered his saber instead.
She gasped for breath. She was spent... the pain of her arm beginning to draw her back to reality, the dull throb of the missing limb seeping past the hatred. She wanted this to be over, needed him to be dead. She could not endure much more. "What do you want from me?"
"I ask only that you die with honor. Raise your weapon, and let us finish this," he said, nodding his head again.
She clapped the saber to her hip, and reached out, fingers spreading and launching sharp, jagged arcs of lightning into his chest. They broke across the leather, spreading across his entire torso, arching up and down his neck, pouring into his nostrils, covering him in sharp, white light.
But he did not fall. He did not shudder, and did not gasp. He merely... absorbed.
When she grew tired of launching the lightning, she stopped. The last few sparks poured into his body and still he showed no ill effects. Smoke poured from his body, but no blood, no broken flesh, no shortage of breath befell the mysterious warrior, no signs of damage, or even discomfort. "I don't... I don't understand."
He nodded. "Nor will you ever. Had you spent the time you did on self improvement rather then creating your garish leather outfits, then perhaps my power would be within your comprehension." He raised his saber, pointing it at her chest. "I would grant you the honor of death in defeat, but if you wish, I will execute you. I leave the choice to you."
She made her choice, a furious strike at his saber, deflecting it with a burst of strength and power. Her red blade clashed against his blue blade, her power against his willpower. The battle was drawing to it's climax, as she threw everything, every joule of kinetic energy she had left, drained every ounce of muscle fiber of any force it could muster, every thought in her head imagining him, torn limb from limb, eviscerated, decapitated.
Fantasy is such a lovely defense mechanism. Sometimes.
On this day, it offered little defense. Her overhand slash was sidestepped and then trapped low, keeping her saber at her knees. She tried to bring it back, but he finally gave her what she had wanted; resistance. She looked into his eyes, and he smiled.
His hands shifted effortlessly, smoothly spinning as if his joints had no limits. The ignition of his second blade broke the silence, and the accompanying gasp would bridge the gap between the tense moments before and after he had moved his arms. She continued to stare at him, her lips quivering. He nodded his head, and turned off his saber.
The silence hung in the air, only broken by the dull, wet thud of her head against the stone beneath.
The man at the center of the room felt the heat rising in his chest. The entire room stared at him, in shock. He paused for reasons they did not know. Only he knew that he was reconstructing the tissue in his chest, repairing the damage the lightning had done. To the outside, he was indestructible. He had killed their leader. He was the Dark Lord of the Sith.
Finally, at long last, he rose his head. He clipping his saber back beneath his vest was the first thing they heard, and then came a step, a press of leather heel against stone. It was followed by another and another still, as he began to appraise the room.
"Do you... do you know know where you are? She would ask me... you would ask me... if I know into what den, into what hovel, into what sad collection of man I have walked, and before, I thought I knew, but she was right. You were right. This is not where I thought that I was to be going. This is not the place in which I rememeber leading. You are not the men which I remember molding. This cannot be The Brotherhood Of The Sith!
"But I look around, and I see the signs of what once belonged. The fear, and the anger in your eyes. Familiar eyes. Familiar faces all. Familiar stones, boxes, and stains of blood. Inside these halls, I fought Avery, Lord of the Sith, for my very life, to prove that I belonged. Inside these halls, Bane Nothos cut off his own arm to prove that he was dedicated. Inside these halls, men fought, and bled, and died, for what they believed in.
"And look at you now. Look at you. The Sith Order. The finest the darkside has to offer. You... desecrate these holy halls. You don't train. You drink. You don't push yourself. You smoke. You don't prove your valor. You fuck around. These are not the backstreets of Corellia, or whorehouses on Ando. This is Yavin IV. This is the grand temple of Exar Kun himself. He had these walls built so that he could house an army. And now, it houses you.
"You... are an embarrassment. You are a disgrace. You do not belong! Not any of you! A part of me calls for me to evidence that now, to wipe you from history itself, to destroy you so completely that not even memories remain. To cause you the greatest pain a man has ever caused, and to rid myself of the horrible stain of the command of that halfbred bitch you call a leader.
"But a part of me knows that what you saw today has awoken something inside of you. It's reminded you of what it means to be a Sith. Not to party, and not to orgy. Not to waste time and energy on the frivelous pursuits you have enjoyed. But to expend that energy in battle. To use that power, that aggression, that pent up frustration, and turn it against your enemies. To deprive your senses until that final, glorious moment, and drink it in... drink in the taste of victory over the Jedi...
"For two long weeks I have watched you, and I have observed that you have wasted time, effort, and energy on things which further no one except yourself. For two long weeks I have formulated my opinions on each of you, and all of you. It is time for the Sith Order to rise to prominence again. It is time that we, as Sith, left the bars, and entered the battle. There is a war in that galaxy, right now. A war that you should be fighting. A war that you should be winning. From now on, you will fight, or you will fuck around. There will be no leniency. if you are not here to learn and to fight for the honor and victory of The Sith Brotherhood, then leave tonight and never return. If you remain, I will execute you as I beheaded this waste of flesh you see before you."
For effect, the man used a hand to push the carcass down to the floor, allowing it to land with a thud beside the disconnected head.
"When I walked in here, I was asked my name. I was insulted. You should all know my name. I am your leader. I am your mentor. I am your lord. I am Ahnk Rashanagok, the Dark Lord Of The Sith. And I rule this order!"
Half of the students took him at his word, ducking head and falling to a knee immediately. The other half had no intention of losing their head and followed suit.
"I am not the man that I used to be. I gave myself, gave my life, for this order. I died so that the Brotherhood could survive, and this is why my corpse is rotting? So that this Brotherhood can live? Unacceptable. I did not die so that you could waste your lives with woman and drink. This is not why I sacrificed everything that I had! This is not what I lived for and it is certainly not what I died for.
"I have said it before, and I will say it now, one more time and for the last time. Those of you who do not share my goal of the Sith Order regaining all it's former glory can leave. The rest of you, make preparations. Ready your weapons and dress for battle, because tonight, we dine on blood."
With that, Ahnk Rashanagok turned from the mass of people staring at him, and strode, without a word, from the temple. As he stepped outside, the students began to silently shift towards the corpse in the center of the room, knowing their lives were about to become something very, very different...
"I... I don't understand."
The pain began to slowly subside. He reached out with his hand, and jerked, hard. The bone snapped back to the way it was, and the pain began again, much more intense, coming in hard, sharp throbs, traveling up his spine, and overcoming his brain.
"When the time is right, you'll know."
He took the glass inside his cold, wet hands, slowly drawing it to his parched lips. His thirst told him to swallow it immediately, but the warmth of the glass told him it was better to sip the contents inside. It slid slowly down his throat, warming the surface of the flesh of his trachea, spreading beyond, into the chest, the lungs, the heart, and into the brain. The steam rising from the cup was like music to his nostrils, and he sucked it in, thankful and appreciative.
"You must have been very cold... hills not for new climbers. Must know what your enemy is, in order to defeat it."
The man with the cup chuckled. "That almost sounds like a Jedi expression."
The other man, the one with the teapot, smiled in return. "Qui-Gon Jinn."
"That explains why it's only vaguely familiar," the man said, and took another warm, deep sip. "Not really a fan of his work."
"That surprise me," the man said, offering the strange hiker a small bowl of soup. The bowl was accepted immediately. "You must be Jedi, to survive that cold, also your leg, look like nasty fall, nasty nasty fall."
"I'm not a Jedi. I'm just a crazy hiker with more balls then brains," the man said, and then pulled the soup bowl to his mouth, taking a deep sip of it. "Wow, this is quite good. I don't suppose you have any bread, do you?"
"Ah yes, of course, of course. One second, I find, I find," the man said, beginning a search of the hut that he called his home. The people who lived here, at the base of the mountains, were disconnected from the Galactic Coalition's efforts to assist the general living. They had not gotten supply packages, they had no elected consul to the government. Much of it was by choice... they chose not to change with the rest of the world, happy with their ways. The hiker respected that... and would never interfere. His pretense here a matter of hospitality on the owner of the hut, and hunger on the part of himself. The man returned with bread, and the hiker offered him a deep bow of respect, before he put the stale bread into the hot, warm soup. "Where you come from, stranger?"
"Andrew," the man said, offering his hand. The man in the hut shook it, and then shivered at how cold it was. "I'm from Naboo."
"Long way from Sinsang, long way," the man said, as he poured himself a cup of tea. "What bring you here, Mr. Andrew?"
"I wanted to see the old monestaries you have up in your hills. I was told they were remarkable and," he said, pausing to take another gulp of soup, "besides some weather damage they are in remarkable condition."
"They abandon now," the man said, but he reached out, finding a symbol dangling from a nearby chain. He pulled it down, handed it to the man with the soup bowl, who set the bowl down and took the pendant. "Used to have mass. Very quiet. Not come to town. Then dissapear, many hundred years ago. We steal wood and food, take trinket, they not come back, they not care, right?"
"Right..." the man said, not looking at him. He recognized the metal symbol... it was the Korriban Sun, the mark branded into the skin of a Sith Warrior when he ascended to the rank. The hiker found himself involuntarily rubbing his head, where his tattoo had been... lifetimes ago. It was unlikely the Sith themselves ever had a presence here, more likely the trainees were merely monks attempting to follow their teachings, unaware of what they would lead to, or where they had come from. The Book Of Dicek spoke at length of maintaining a deep connection with the force and channeling it into action, and many martial examples, but not so much focused on the why, or the what for. It was possible some on this planet may have even learned how to use the force as would a Sith... without ever knowing that they had.
"You look like you have seen ghost," the man said, and Andrew shook his head. "You know what symbol mean?"
Andrew nodded. He raised the pendant. "Do you mind if I keep this? As a souvenir... I collect ancient symbols, pendants, anything old and ritualistic."
"You take. I get more, no problem. You take," the man said. He reached to refill his cup, and Andrew waved his hand in advance, declining anymore tea. "You not stay? Have to go?"
"I'm sorry, I'd really love to stay and ask you some questions about those old monestaries, but I have to go. I'm meeting a friend in the city, and I haven't even booked us a table..."
The man perked up. "Capital city?"
Andrew nodded, taking a bite of his soup soaked bread. "Yeah... why, you know a good place?"
The man smiled. "Mr. Andrew, I am cook in the city. Big restaurant, very good food. You wait the night, I get you table."
Andrew grinned. He drained his tea cup, and the man smiled. They spent the entire night discussing Sinsang, and in the morning, Ahnk had his reservations.
By the time Ahnk walked into the restaurant, his leg had mostly healed. He walked with a limp... even a Jedi master could only heal a fully separated femur so quickly... but did his best to disguise it as he walked into the restaurant. It was as nice as he was told... solid red veneered wood paneling and inlay, with marble accents around the fireplace and support columns. It was the perfect setting for an awkward discussion.
Ahnk spotted Irtar, sitting quietly at his table. Bread and water had been delivered... it didn't look like Irtar had sampled either, his arms folded across his chest, waiting. Ahnk approached the table as stealthily as a man of his stature and an injury of his nature can while his lightsaber bounces off his belt.
Ahnk took a seat in front of Irtar, enduring his silent glare. He picked up a menu, reading from it casually. As he did, he reached out and grabbed one of the pieces of bread, slipping it into his mouth, devouring it rapidly. He was starved... the little snack aside, he'd spent 6 days in the hills in remote countryside Sinsang, exploring, spelunking, eating only the rations he had brought with him.
He realized he was being rude, and quickly swallowed the bread, lowering the menu. "Hello again, Mr. Mal'Gro. I hope that you found this place without much trouble. It was recommended by a local, actually... he says that the chicken here is excellent in every dish, so if you're at a loss for meal ideas, that is what he recommends."
Ahnk looked at him. He seemed... on edge. "Sorry, did I say something wrong? Do something wrong? I didn't mean to offend... I'm starving though... so, I dove right in... the bread is very good, by the way."
Irtar did not react. "Actually, if you're already in a bad mood already, I might as well make it worse. Why do you come here, Irtar? I know what I see in you... you have great potential to be a Jedi master... among the best, really. You are reckless and fearless in the best of ways. You have great instincts and great reflexes and I think you have a passion to do what needs to be done. But, me? I'm washed up. I lost it all, my empire is shit. I fell to pieces and I'm still on the floor. No one can put back together what I destroyed. So what do you get from our meetings together?"
Ahnk frowned. A waiter passed by, and Ahnk asked him for a glass of Cadinh Sasoma. "You don't have it? Uh... any Tionese wines? Okay, how is the local wine? Okay, bring a bottle... no, he's in a pretty bad mood it seems. Maybe bring three bottles."
Ahnk thanked the waiter before he took his leave. "Is something the matter, Irtar? It's been... how long, since we last saw each other, and you have nothing to say?"
OS: In a world of bon-bons, you are a twinkie.
Ahnk: God damn you, I am Count Chocula and you know it.
I'm not spending my anniversary night thumping my head against the wall. - Damalis, on Moderating TRF
Then tell him you want it harder, damnit! - Ahnk, on Damalis