Cyra was adjusting her black gloves as the droid's voice came over the ship's intercom. "My lady, we have just entered Otonise's orbit. We should arrive at the executive towers within the next half hour."
"Thank you, ZX." She leaned her head back against the cabin wall. Noticing her reflection in the mirrors across from her, she reached up and pushed a strand of her golden hair back underneath her hood. As she did this, Cyra studied the reflection before her.
What a waste.
The cabin, like the entire ship, had been decorated as if it was a room from a warlord's most luxurious palace. Furniture worth more than most starships surrounded her. Priceless art hung from the cabin walls. Her crimson cloak was made from the finest cloth and trimmed with gold mesh. All of this had come as gifts from her master to reward her loyalty. And even though Cyra enjoyed such luxuries, what she saw in the mirror's reflection disgusted her. She and her master should not be surrounded by such luxuries, at least not yet. Their kind had survived by relying upon stealth and cunning, not self-indulgence and extravagance. This was not how they were supposed to live.
This was not the way of the Sith.
The time is approaching. Prepare yourself for what must be done.
The voices. For the last year, the voices echoing in her head had haunted Darth Cyra. Now, as she was returning to Otonise, the power behind them began to weigh more heavily upon her. It tormented her continuously. It called to her while she was awake. It filled her dreams. There was nothing she could do to escape it.
The Dark Side itself was calling to her.
You alone control the fate of the Sith. Fulfill your destiny.
Darth Cyra's gloved hands reached up and rubbed her throbbing temples. Was she ready for this? Did she even have a choice? She closed her eyes, hoping for once to be able to shut it out. She needed just a few minutes of peace before the ship landed. She had to prepare, for the Dark Side had ordered her to do the unthinkable.
Darth Cyra, Sith Apprentice, had to kill her master.
Although you are young, you know all that you need. There is nothing more can he provide you.
Was she ready? She had only been studying under her master for the last five years. Before that, she was nothing more than an orphan living in the slums of Ord Mandell, raised by a local crime boss after a rival gang killed her mother. Just five years of training, was that enough? She could feel the force flowing through her. She had already been able to master all that had been taught to her. But was she ready to strike down her master, and claim that she, Darth Cyra, was the most powerful individual in the galaxy - the Master of the Dark Side of the Force?
Cyra then stopped, took a breath, and regained her composure. She had fought this conflict in her mind many times in the past few months. She had often wanted to turn her back to all of this. But her chance to walk away had come and gone years before. There was no turning back. The Dark Side had too tight a grip on her. Tonight, she would confront her master. She would give him one chance, a chance he did not deserve. Either he would abandon his current path, or Cyra would destroy him.
Cyra knew she would have no problem killing him, if need be. Like her master, the Dark Side would reward her for doing its bidding. But, unlike the luxuries her master provided, the Dark Side would provide her with what really mattered - power. That power was worth any sacrifice. And above all, she would have her revenge.
Cyra relaxed. There would be no more doubt in her mind. She could now enjoy a few minutes of solitude before the ship landed. Adjusting herself in her chair, her mind began to wander. Images of the past began to permeate her thoughts. Memories of a time before she new anything about the Sith. Memories of what now seemed another lifetime.
As much as Cyra could recall, Ord Mandell had been the closest thing to a real home for her and her mother. Before that, she only had vague memories of the two of them moving between countless systems, never seeming to stay in one place for any length of time. Cyra never figured out why her mother decided to stay so long on Ord Mandell, but figured there were worst places she could have ended up. Being adopted by the head of one of the more powerful syndicates on the system, a Besalisk named Tarym, did have its advantages. Cyra lived in one of the nicest residences on the system, and she was always provided anything she wanted.
But there was a downside. Living with a crime boss exposed Cyra to the darker sides of the universe. At a young age, Cyra began to involve herself in the world her adopted father worked in. She would follow him to the bars and hangouts. Members of the gang taught her how to steal and avoid the planetary patrols. Before she had even reached ten standard years of age, she was breaking into cargo containers passing through the main port and stealing speeders. As she grew older, her interests expanded. She formed her own small gang that no longer just stole items, but had a network to sell the items throughout the system. Soon, she began to involve herself in the smuggling of various illicit cargos that passed through the port. And it was during this time that Cyra learned how to fight, and how to kill, those that stood in one's way.
Tarym did little to curb such behavior. To him, Cyra had the makings to inherit the "family" business when she was old enough. Tarym further encouraged her by allowing her to start running some of his business interests on the planet. Cyra doubted her mother would have approved of any of this. But what choice did she have? Tarym could protect her, but as her mother's death proved, you never know when it all can be taken away.
Her mother's death.
The very words never ceased to send chills through Cyra's body. Cyra's mother had worked as a personal bodyguard for Tarym. She became one of the most feared assassins on the planet, known for taking on entire gangs herself without any weapons, yet walking away without a scratch. She had quickly become Tarym's most trusted employee, which was why he adopted Cyra as his daughter following her mother's death.
Cyra was only four years old when her mother died, so at the time she understood very little of what had happened. As she grew older, she was constantly frustrated at how little she knew about what actually happened to her mother. She would often hear stories of some of her mother's more legendary exploits, and would smile as she listened to the stories over and over. But the stories would stop abruptly whenever they dealt with anything about her death. Cyra would try to ask questions to find out more, but no one would ever give her any answers. Anyone she tried to talk to would quickly turn conversations away from her questions. All she could ever piece together was members of a rival gang had taken her mother into an alley and shot her.
That never made any sense to Cyra. From what she understood, her mother was too strong to have been killed so easily. How could a few thugs have killed her when entire gangs hadn't even been able to hurt her? She knew that Tarym could answer many of her questions, yet if she ever brought up the subject, he would only get upset. He would tell her that there was nothing more to be done - all those responsible were dead, they couldn't bring her mother back, and all they could do was to go on with their lives. But Cyra had to find the truth. Through the years, she continued to learn all she could. For the most part, she never seemed to get any closer to the truth until one fateful evening.
Cyra had stopped by the local cantina to meet up with some of her partners. They had not shown up, so she decided to pass the time at the bar and order a drink. She had only been there a few minutes when she noticed that one of the older bar patrons had taken the seat next to her. While the bartender worked near Cyra, the old man sat there and said nothing, all the while nervously fidgeting with his drink. But as soon as the bartender walked to the other end of the counter, the old man leaned over to her.
"I understand last week was your eighteenth birthday. I thought you might like a small, belated birthday gift."
Cyra gave the old man a smile. She had practically grown up in this cantina, and often had to "delicately" fend off advances by overzealous patrons. However, the old man seemed harmless. "I'm sorry; I don't think you have anything I would want."
The man lowered his voice further. "Not even to see where your mother died?"
The words shocked Cyra. It was the first time anyone had said anything to her related to her mother's death. At first, Cyra regarded the man suspiciously. There were plenty of con artists on the planet, and several who would be brazen enough to lie about this. But she could sense that there was some truth in what the old man was saying. "What do you know, old man?"
The old man looked around, nervously. "It's better not to talk here. Can we step outside?"
Twenty minutes later, Cyra found herself and the old man standing in a desolate alley in one of the old industrial sectors. Aside from an occasional droid, the entire area appeared to be devoid of any other life forms. The alley itself seemed as if it had been undisturbed for years. Cyra walked along the walls and ran her hands over holes where the permacrete appeared to have been dislodged by blaster fire. Burn marks were faintly visible on the walls, and dark stains on the permacrete were evident throughout the alley. The air was still, and the entire surrounding area was eerily quiet. Everything about the place made Cyra feel cold. Soon, she felt as if something was trying to pull her out of the alley, but she refused to move. She wanted to see all of this. She needed to see where her mother had spent her last minutes.
For almost an hour, Cyra wandered about in the alley. She continued to look for some sign, anything that could tell her more about what happened that night. With her foot, she kicked at a pile of trash that had gathered in the corner. The smaller pieces of rubbish scattered in the slight breeze that blew through the alley.
When Cyra felt there was nothing more the alley could tell her, she turned back to the old man. "How do you know about my mother? Why are you willing to show me this when no one else ever told me about this place?"
The old man had been standing at the entrance of the alley. Now, he cautiously approached Cyra, his shoulders hunched as if trying to hide from some unseen eyes. "Your mother had helped me once when some local thugs tried to rob me. I never had a chance to repay her, so seeing how no one ever answers your questions, I thought this was how I could finally repay her."
His eyes wandered about the alley. "Nobody knows what she was doing here that night. Something had drawn her here, but who knows what that could have been. One of Tarym's rivals had his men waiting in ambush. It appeared she made her final stand here. When they found her the next day, there were almost thirty dead around her. She obviously didn't go without a fight. But the poor thing, her body was hardly identifiable by the time they found it."
Cyra needed to have more details. "So what's wrong with that? People die in the streets all the time here. What made this so different? Why won't anyone talk about it?"
The old man hesitated. "My child, your mother was a legendary warrior. What caused this gang to think they could take her? After the losses they sustained, why did they continue to attack? There was no reason, but they still continued to come after her until she was dead. And for them to kill her in the way they did, something evil was at work here."
"But the one thing that frightens people the most is that by the next day, any of the gang's members who survived the alley were found dead throughout the city. Nobody knows how or why. Tarym would have had them all killed, for he cared deeply for your mother. But even he couldn't have done anything that quickly. Something sinister came after your mother, and then eliminated everyone involved. So, everything surrounding her death became taboo to speak of, not only to avoid angering Tarym, but because no one really understood what had happened here."
Cyra turned as a light in the alley began to flicker. The shadows dancing on the ground drew her eye towards the center of the far wall. There, she noticed it - a large stain on the wall that ran onto the permacrete. She approached it slowly and knelt down. It was much larger than any of the others in the alley. Running her fingers along the ground, she began to sense it. This spot was much colder than the rest of the alley. Cyra knew what she had found. She was kneeling in the exact spot where her mother had been murdered.
Cyra had seen enough. She ran to her speeder and accelerated away, leaving the old man in the alley. After a few kilometers, Cyra had to stop. She could no longer see through the tears in her eyes. Crying uncontrollably, she stumbled out of the speeder into a seemingly deserted street. On her knees, she struggled to catch her breath. Her whole life, she had wanted to learn more about her mother. But now, she wanted to forget all she had seen. She didn't want to remember any of this. All she wanted was to remember her mother as the one who would hold her close and sing to her when the night was too dark. She pounded her fists into the street, hoping the pain would drive the demons away.
Finally, she began to calm down. Lifting her head, she noticed the only sign of life in the area. Another speeder was parked on the street across from her. Her sorrow quickly faded to a cloud of anger. Here was something she could take her anger out upon. Cyra drew her blaster and set the control switch to automatic fire. Aiming at the speeder, she pulled the trigger. Almost instantaneously, the speeder exploded in a blazing fireball that lit the entire street. Pieces of metal and fiberglass began to rain down upon the street.
Oblivious to the rain of debris, Cyra stared into the fireball. One thought continued to resonate in her mind. Someone had killed all of her mother's attackers. And that someone was still alive. She did not know how she would find him, but if it took the rest of her life, she would find that person. And that person would pay dearly for what they had done. Only then, could both she and her mother finally be at peace.
In the following days, Cyra's mood fluctuated between deep depression and violent fits of anger. She never left her room and refused to talk to anyone. She wouldn't eat and hardly slept. The housekeepers avoided her, fearful of what she might do to them. The only person that she would have even talked to during that time was Tarym, but he hadn't been at the house for several days, for Count Ertes had returned.
Count Ertes was a colorful figure that would appear on Ord Mandell every few years. He had been involved with Tarym in several highly successful business deals years before. Thereafter, whenever he was on the planet, he and Tarym would get together, which often led to extravagant parties that lasted for days. During that time, Ertes would spend enough credits to ensure the intoxicants flowed freely, further endearing himself to the locals. Everyone loved Ertes, except for Cyra. There was something about him that she didn't like. Cyra made sure that whenever Ertes was around, she did everything she could to avoid him.
Given her distaste for the man, it was unusual for Cyra to attend any of the Count's parties. And if she did, she would make sure never to get to close to Ertes. However, a few days after the experience in the alley, Cyra needed to talk to Tarym, to tell him about what she saw and hopefully get him to finally open up. She headed to the cantina where the Count had been holding his festivities since earlier in the week. But no one there knew where Tarym was, so Cyra found herself a booth, away from all the revelers, where she could be alone until Tarym returned.
She had only been there a short time when Count Ertes approached her table, alone. "Would you mind if I sat down for a moment?"
Cyra said nothing. She didn't want to talk to anyone, least of all Ertes. But she didn't feel like wasting the time to get rid of him. She picked up her glass, and finished off her drink.
Count Ertes sat down across from her. "My dear, you have definitely grown into a lovely young woman. I can see why Tarym is so proud of you."
Cyra didn't respond. She kept her eyes fixed upon her empty glass. She hoped by ignoring him, he would just go away, but the Count just kept sitting there. Cyra's irritation continued to grow.
"I get the feeling something is troubling you. No?"
"I'd rather not talk about it. If you'll excuse me, I need to get another drink." Cyra went to stand up to leave, but Ertes grabbed her by the wrist.
"My dear, I am here on business. Perhaps you should sit down."
Other bar patrons had grabbed Cyra before, and each had quickly learned the mistake they had made. She went for the blaster she always kept hidden under her blouse. Although it would surely displease her father, he would understand. No one touched her and got away with it.
Ertes voice remained calm. "I sense your anger. Please, do us both a favor and keep your blaster where it is. I am hardly some pitiful drunk looking for a moment of pleasure. Sit down and listen to what I have to say."
Cyra stopped and kept the blaster hidden. She wanted to just walk away. But for some reason, Cyra sat back down, although she still kept her hand on the blaster. "What do you want?"
"The time has come for you to realize your true potential. Do you really intend to stay here and become another petty criminal working in these slums? You have the abilities. You have the desire. All you need is the right training. Come with me, and I will open a new world for you."
Surprisingly, his words began to entice her. "In what way?"
Count Ertes smiled. "What do you know of the Force?"
Cyra laughed. "Please, you think you're some type of Jedi? I seriously doubt any Jedi would be hanging around in this dump, let alone want anything to do with me."
Ertes was unfazed. "In the dark corners of the universe, there are powers greater than the Jedi. I have those powers. You have the abilities to have such powers. What I am offering you is beyond any of your wildest dreams." Ertes glance shifted towards the bar. "Perhaps a demonstration is in order? There, take a look at your friend beside the bar."
Cyra looked to see Uqua talking to one of her father's associates. Uqua was a valued spy of her father's, which was the only reason that Cyra had never killed him. One night, Uqua and his friends, after a long night in the bar, had forced themselves upon a friend of hers. In the following days, Cyra had personally made sure his friends were never heard from again. But Tarym had forced her to leave Uqua alone. She always swore that one day he would pay.
"Bad things can happen to those who are deserving."
Cyra watched as Uqua's hand thrust up to his throat, and he began to spasm severely. Several patrons came to him as he fell to the floor. Soon, the entire bar crowded around, but there seemed to be nothing anyone could do. An instant later, he was dead.
Panic filled the bar. Some raced out the exits. Others argued with one another as they tried to find any rationale for what happened. Some just stood there, too stunned to do anything.
Cyra watched the chaos unfold before she turned back to Ertes. He gave her another smile. "That is but a taste of what I am offering you. No one will be able to stand against you. Will you join me?"
Cyra looked back towards Uqua's body lying upon the floor. Without any effort, Ertes had killed him. Her entire perception of the Count changed in that instant. As much as she wanted to believe she was able to take care of herself, deep down she knew that she still relied upon Tarym and the gang standing behind her. But what Ertes seemed to be offering was beyond that. Here was a power that meant she no longer had to depend on others. And this could provide her with what she needed to find the one responsible for her mother's death. Yes, as much as it pained her to admit it, she wanted what Ertes was offering.
She waited before turning back to the Count. The words she spoke would have been unthinkable just minutes before.
"Tell me what I need to do."
Cyra remembered very little of the following days. She was able to convince Tarym that the time had come for her to leave the "family" in order to go work for Ertes. As much as she hated to, she decided it was best to lie to Tarym and say the experience would help her when she had to take over the business. One day, she would explain to Tarym the real reason she had to leave. Although she sensed his sadness, Tarym told her she was making the right choice and would look forward to her return. So, following a tearful goodbye, she found herself on Count Ertes's space yacht watching Ord Mandell fade into the blackness of space.
Standing next to Count Ertes at the view port as the ship entered hyperspace, Cyra began to sense something strange. It was almost as if she could feel the aura of power around him. It seemed to surround her. She could hardly breathe. Cyra had never experienced anything like this, and she hoped the feeling would not stop.
Ertes let out a slight laugh. "That is the Dark Side you sense. That is what you crave, is it not?"
Before Cyra could respond, Ertes turned quickly, followed by a bright red flash. In an instant, a searing pain in her thigh sent her falling to the ground. Reaching down to grab at the blackened cut across her leg, she noticed the red blade inches from her face. Looking up, she saw Count Ertes standing over her.
"That was your first lesson, my dear. You have extraordinary potential, and I have the ability to give you the power you want. But at the same time, displease me and I will destroy you. From this point forward, you will refer to me as Master Infernus. Now, ignore the pain and bow before me, my young apprentice."
The pain from her wound mixed with rage as Cyra lay before Infernus. She hated Ertes now more than she had ever before. And never before had she submitted to anyone. Deep inside, she wished for nothing more than her old blaster. But then, the truth behind Infernus's words became evident. His abilities were well beyond anyone she had faced before, and there was no one around to protect her. She had given up everything to gain the power he promised. Should she resist, she would die. He controlled her now. Whatever indignities she had to suffer, she would accept them in exchange for what she hoped to receive.
Struggling, Cyra pulled herself up and knelt before him. Deep inside, Cyra fought the words, but knew she had no choice.
"I will not disappoint you, my master."
As the thoughts flowed through her mind, Cyra's hand rubbed across her thigh. Her master had not allowed her to do anything to treat the wound, so a deep scar remained. During her years of training, Cyra eventually realized what Infernus had intended a scar to be - a reminder of the power he had over her.
Cyra wiped the tears from her eyes and stood up. She no longer wanted to wait in the cabin. She made her way out the main hold of the ship. She knew the time was drawing near. Standing there, she stared out of a viewport as the port of Otonise came into view.
For the last five years, this is where she had lived and trained with her master. Otonise was the capital city of the Brekka Colonies. For years, even before Darth Cyra was born, Darth Infernus had been active in the politics of the Colonies. The Colonies were the result of a failed attempt by the Republic to gain a foothold in a region of space containing hundreds of systems rich in natural resources. Given the distance between the Core and the Colonies, the Republic chose to hire several mercenary groups to maintain control of the various colonies that were founded in the region. Instead, the mercenaries discovered on one of the planets the Ignar, a sentient species that rapidly multiplied, were easily controlled, yet extremely violent. Recognizing their potential, several warlords began creating large armies of Ignar soldiers. Backed by legions of soldiers and funded by the wealth of the various systems, the warlords began to declare their independence from the Republic.
At first, the Senate had decided to send in a few Jedi to gain control of the situation. But the Jedi were killed as soon as they arrived. While the Republic attempted to come up with another plan to regain control, wars began to break out between rival factions loyal to the warlords hoping to establish themselves as rulers of this portion of space. Seeing this, the Senate decided to wait for the warlords to weaken each other before they would attempt to retake the colonies.
During the years of conflict in the Colonies, Cyra's master had risen to the rank of Chief Advisor to one of the warlords, a Falleen named Qua Mantar. Secretly using the Dark Side to aid Qua's legions, Infernus helped Qua rise from one of the weakest warlords to one of the most powerful. And now, aside from small pockets of resistance, Qua could almost claim complete control of the Brekka Colonies.
And here was the problem. Although Qua appeared to control everything, everyone recognized Darth Infernus, or Count Ertes as he was known to all but Cyra, as the de facto power behind the newly formed empire. This was all part of her master's plan. Once Qua had consolidated his power, Infernus would begin his move to stir the opposition against him. Then, in a coup, he would assume command of the Brekka Empire and begin the quest for his ultimate goal - the conquest of the galaxy. The massive armies amassed during the Colonial Wars would begin to conquer surrounding systems sympathetic to the Republic. Fear would become the new weapon to gain allies. Eventually, Infernus predicted a great battle between his legions and the Jedi. In the end, the Jedi would be destroyed, and with Cyra by his side, a Sith Lord would finally control the galaxy.
To Cyra, the plan seemed foolish. The armies of Ignar warriors, although impressive, would never be able to withstand the might of the Jedi. The Colonies were too far from the Core Worlds to expect fear of invasion to force those systems to ally themselves against the Republic. And lastly, although the Republic was far from perfect, the people still believed in it and the Senate. No, the time was still not right for the Sith to attempt to take control. There was much that still needed to change in the galaxy.
Feeling it was not her place to question her master, she continued to do whatever Infernus ordered. She lead Qua armies into the battle. She assassinated those who were allies of Qua's in both the government and the army. Anything her master ordered, Cyra did without question.
But in the last year, as the initial pieces of her master's plan began to fall in place, voices began to call to her. It was in the midst of a great battle when they first called to her. As Cyra had stood there, watching her troops rout the remnants of a fallen warlord's army, she began to notice the whispers in the air.
You understand the ways of the Force well. You know the Force is not with the Sith. Look upon the scene before you. These warriors are no match for the Jedi.
At first, Cyra ignored the voices, feeling they were a result of her fatigue. But the voices continued after the battle had ended. More and more, they would tell her of the doom that awaited her should Infernus continue down his path. These thoughts confused her. Why was she thinking this way? She felt she was betraying the trust of her master. She tried to push the thoughts out of her head, but the voices wouldn't stop. They grew stronger within her, until at last she realized these were not her own thoughts - the Dark Side was calling to her. The Dark Side began to show her images of the future. She saw the destruction of the Brekka Colonies. She saw legions of Jedi crushing armies of Ignar warriors. She saw her master captured and executed. And lastly, she saw herself falling in battle.
The Dark Side has survived a millennium. Infernus is foolish. He will destroy it all. He cannot be allowed to continue. You are the only one able to stop him.
And while the voices grew louder, her master began to grow impatient. He wanted the wars over. He felt the time had finally arrived to take control of Qua's empire. He pushed her harder and harder to lead the armies to eliminate the last pockets of resistance. Between her master's impatience, and the weight of the Dark Side, it all became too much for her to handle. The strain continued to build until Cyra felt as if she would be crushed. Finally, she knew what had to be done. She had to get away. She needed to compose herself, and decide what the true path was that she should follow.
But how to get away was another problem. Cyra had to be cautious not to reveal any of her true feelings. And she knew her master would not be pleased by her request. Eventually, she realized she could wait no longer. One evening, when meeting with Infernus to review troop movements of another warlord's remaining armies, she decided it was time to bring up the matter. Waiting for what seemed to be the right moment, she finally found the courage to speak. "My lord, I sense I need to leave for a while."
Her comment seemed to both confuse and anger Infernus. "Leave? What do you mean you need to leave? Have I overestimated you ability to do my bidding? Or do you think you can just cast aside your responsibilities when you are needed the most?"
Cyra realized she needed to quickly provide some suitable justification. "My master, within the next few months, I sense total control of Brekka will be ours. Then, we will be forced to face the Jedi. I want to be sure the Dark Side is fully with me before then. I would like to go into seclusion to focus myself."
To Cyra's surprise, her master's attitude quickly changed. He took a moment to consider her words. "Yes, I now can see your point. You are correct. You need to prepare yourself. Go where you may. Return when you are ready. I will wait until your return to continue forth with my plan." He put his hand on her shoulder. "In time, we shall rule the galaxy together."
"Then I shall be leaving tonight, my master."
Cyra bowed and left her master's chambers. She had no idea where she was to go, but felt the Dark Side would eventually guide her to wherever she should be. Boarding her private yacht, she headed out into space without a destination. Until the Dark Side provided her a path, she would spend her days in meditation aboard her ship.
But for the first time in several months, the Dark Side had stopped speaking to her. Days turned into weeks. Still, Cyra had no idea where she was to go. Fear began to set in. Had she made a mistake? Was it not the Dark Side speaking to her, or just some irrational thoughts echoing in her head? What if her master knew of her betrayal? If her master found out of her betrayal, would he destroy her?
Cyra tried to control herself. But she found herself unable to focus on anything but her fears. As the weeks dragged on, Cyra began to panic. Questions filled her mind. What had she done wrong? Why had the Dark Side abandoned her? She was sure her master knew of her transgression. She decided she could not go back. Now, all she could do was run away. She no longer cared what the Dark Side could give her. All she wanted was to find somewhere far enough away that Infernus would never find her. And, maybe, once she was out of Infernus's reach, once the Brekka Colonies were far enough away, maybe then she could also escape the Dark Side. But having been in space so long, her yacht was running low on supplies. She needed to find a safe port to repair and resupply her ship. And there was only one place Cyra felt she could go. She had to return to Ord Mandell.
Once again, the crackle of her droid's voice interrupted her thoughts. "My lady, we are on final approach."
"Thank you, ZX."
The Dark Side is with you. Nothing can stand in your way. Your destiny will soon be before you.
Cyra could feel the yacht settle on the landing platform outside Qua's headquarters, where her master's offices were located. As the ship's outer doors opened, she was confronted with the most disturbing view. Hundreds of starfighters and troop transports were lined up on the platform. Troops were milling about. Beyond the landing platform, she could see columns of mobile artillery pieces. Cyra knew what this meant. Her master was ready to overthrow Qua.
She had come back just in time.
As she made her way down the ramp and onto the landing platform, Cyra was greeted by Entar, one of her master's personal servants. The diminutive Sullastan came running towards her, his arms outstretched. "My lady, we are so glad you're back! You have been greatly missed! We have been so worried having not heard from you."
She stormed past him. "I must speak to your master now," she grumbled as she walked by.
"I'm sorry, my lady. That isn't possible."
Cyra quickly turned back. "How dare you tell me what I can do?"
Entar cowered in fear as he tried to get the words out. "My lady, the master has been awaiting your arrival, and told me to take you immediately to his quarters once he returned. But he is currently in a meeting with ambassadors from the Republic."
Cyra glared at the trembling figure before her. She had not anticipated having to deal with the Republic. This complicated the situation - nothing could be done until the Republic ambassadors left. She would have to wait to speak to her master. "I understand. Take me to the master's quarters."
Entar bowed and led Cyra to the building's main turbolift, although he was still visibly shaken. Neither spoke as the turbolift carried them to the top floor. The doors opened into the main hallway of the floor. This was Infernus's domain. Every room on the level belonged to him. Here were the meeting rooms where her master would receive his guests, as well as his personal quarters. For the most part, since her training began, Cyra could not recall her master ever leaving this floor more than a handful of times.
Cyra followed Entar as he headed down the corridor. As she passed in front of Infernus's office just outside of the turbolift, something caught her eye. She turned her head to see her master sitting in his chair, speaking with two gentlemen in brown cloaks.
Cyra quickly moved past the window and ducked into a nearby alcove. She never imaged the Senate would send any more Jedi to Colonies, at least until the wars were over. Obviously, the Republic recognized that Qua had nearly complete control of the Colonies. Were the Jedi here to start negotiations with the new ruler of the Colonies? Or were they here to gauge Brekka's strength before launching a full assault? More importantly, could her Master be confronted by two Jedis without them realizing the true nature of the enemy before them? The situation was now far too dangerous. It was as the Dark Side had prophesized. The Sith were in danger. Cyra had to do something. She considered rushing in and striking down the two Jedi along with her master, killing all three before the situation degraded any further.
Somehow, she managed to control herself. She needed to fully understand the situation. She closed her eyes and gave herself completely to the Dark Side. Soon, she was able to sense the Jedi and their feelings. They were here as negotiators. They had no sense of the Dark Side in Darth Infernus, nor had they sensed her presence. There was no need for drastic measures. She could allow them to leave before she dealt with her master.
"My lady, are you feeling well?"
Cyra opened her eyes and looked at Entar. "Sorry, I just felt a little dizzy. Let the master know I am waiting for him." She walked past him and headed for her master's private office. She could sense the meeting was nearly over, and she needed a few minutes alone.
The guards at the door nodded as Cyra approached her master's apartment. She said nothing as she entered the room. Once inside, she walked towards the large window opposite the doorway that looked out upon Otonise. She stood there, watching the port light up as nightfall descended upon the city.
Remember what you learned on Ord Mandell.
Cyra tensed. She was already fighting to control her anger; she didn't need memories of Ord Mandell clouding her mind. But the more she fought, the more vivid the images in her mind.
When she had reached Ord Mandell, Cyra had the ship land at one of the outlying ports, away from the main cities. She had feared that Infernus had spies on the system in case she ever decided to return. As she made her way out into the port, Cyra realized she had underestimated the danger of coming back. Even after five years, nothing seemed to have changed on the planet. Cyra recognized many faces around the port. Smugglers she had dealings with, the nervous youngsters waiting for the chance to break into the cargo containers that lined the ports, Republic officials that she had bribed many times before. She pulled her hood lower over her face, hoping none of those staring at her saw enough to recognize her.
Cyra then realized how much attention she was drawing due to her elaborate cloak. She could sense more and more people stopping to stare at her. She needed to get out of sight. Just ahead of her, she spotted a cargo hauler stopped on a nearby street. Cyra rushed over and opened the door, startling the workman sitting inside. "What the hell are you doing, lady."
Cyra knew the man was armed. She sensed him reaching for a blaster under his seat. "You don't want to shoot me. You will take me to Tarym."
"I will take you to Tarym," the man repeated as the blaster dropped from his hand.
"Ask me to get into your vehicle."
"Get in on the other side, so we can get going."
Cyra walked around the vehicle and got in on the passenger side. "Don't worry, I'll tell you how to get there."
"You will let me know where to go."
It was several hours before they reached the old neighborhood. Cyra had the driver stop in an alley just behind Tarym's house. There was a secret entrance there to get her inside the house without being noticed that she had used often when she was younger. Getting out of the hauler, the driver turned to her. "What do you want me to do?"
Cyra stopped and thought for a moment. "I may still need the vehicle if I need to leave quickly. You, however, have served your purpose, and you have seen too much." The blaster that was still on the floor of the vehicle flew into her hand. Cyra took the blaster, aimed, and fired one shot into the vehicle before she headed into the house.
Using the various secret passages that filled the house, Cyra made it to her father's room undetected. As she expected, there were no guards outside the door. Although there were guards in the adjoining rooms, her father had never wanted any stationed outside this room. He always said it made him feel uncomfortable to be so guarded in his own house. This allowed Cyra a moment to compose herself. She closed her eyes, and could sense Tarym in the room. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.
Surprised by the unexpected visitor, Tarym leaped to his feet. Not recognizing the uninvited guest, he picked up a blaster off his desk and quickly fired several shots at the cloaked intruder. To his amazement, the bolts ricocheted off the intruder's outstretched hand. In his mind, he could hear a voice speaking to him. Is this how you greet family?
Tarym lowered his weapon as Cyra pulled down her hood. "Hi, Dad."
Tarym was speechless. He had not seen Cyra in five years, and was amazed how she had changed. Where before she seemed nothing more than a typical child, here was a vision befitting of royalty. He had thought he would never see her again. Composing himself, he finally was able to speak. "Melanna? Is that you?"
But before he could come from behind his desk to reach her, several of his guards came charging through the door. Cyra had quickly ducked behind the door, out of their sight.
Send them away!
Tarym hesitated, then laughed nervously. "We'll done, gentlemen. Good to see you're on your toes. Everything is fine. Return to your posts and be sure to close the door on the way out."
"Sir, there were shots fired?"
Tarym forced out a chuckle. "There was a zerbun fly in here bothering me. As I said, return to your posts."
The guards merely nodded and headed back out of the office. As the door closed, Cyra stepped out of the shadows and moved towards the desk.
"Melanna, what's going on here?"
The very word made her smile. Before she had left, before converting to the Dark Side, that had been her name. It was like gentle music to her ears. She reached out to Tarym. "It's so good to see you, Father."
Tarym cautiously took a step back. She could sense his discomfort. "Where have you been? Since you left, I haven't heard anything from you or Ertes. It's like you abandoned me. Then, after all this time, you show up announced, dressed up like this. I fire several shots, and they don't even touch you. What's happened to you?"
Cyra hoped she could calm him. "I'm sorry I haven't spoken to you in all this time. Everything is fine. I've come back to work with you again."
She could tell Tarym was still suspicious, and her words did little to put him at ease. She tried to think of what else she could say to him. But then, something seemed to pass through the room. A chill ran through Cyra's body and the air grew heavy. She closed her eyes, and heard the voices again. After all this time, the Dark Side had returned to her.
Ask for the truth about your mother.
Cyra opened her eyes. She understood what was happening. This was where the Dark Side wanted her to go. "I've come to finally learn the truth about my mother."
The very words seemed to hit Tarym like a hammer. He slowly lowered himself into his chair. "Melanna...."
Cyra slammed her fist into the desk. "No! No more excuses! I've been lied to long enough. I want to know everything. What have you been hiding all these years?"
Tarym covered his face with one of his pairs of hands. Cyra could feel the conflict in him. He wanted to talk, but at the same time, he didn't want to remember any of what had happened. But most of all, Cyra sensed something she had never seen in her adopted father before. He was afraid. He was afraid of her. Now, she could make him tell her everything, no matter how much it hurt him.
"I want to know now!"
Tarym kept one hand on his head. "Your mother would never talk about where she came from, or why she was here. It took me years and a lot of money to find out who she was. And when I confronted her with what I had learned, she finally confided in me and told me your story. Your mother had been a Jedi apprentice, a Padawan I think they're called. Years before, she had been given an assignment to escort the heir of some ruling family back to his planet during a civil war. The Jedi Council ordered her to stay on the system to protect him, while her master tried to negotiate with the warring factions. In the time she was there, certain things happened that shouldn't have. Shortly after she returned from the assignment, she learned she was pregnant. When the Jedi Council learned of this, she was thrown out of the Order."
"She didn't know what to do. She didn't know her family - the Jedi never told her where she came from. She then tried to contact your father, but fearing a scandal, he turned his back on her. Until you were born, a few Jedi helped her in secret, but she decided not to risk them getting caught and ran off with you. She spent a few years on the run, moving from system to system. Eventually, she ended up here working for me."
Not since the night in the alley had she felt such anger. Her mother was a Jedi, but cast aside and abandoned because of a mistake? Then, her real father abandoned them because of his selfishness. No, it was they who had made the mistake. They would pay. Her Father, the Jedi - Cyra would make sure they all would pay for what they had done to her mother. And what they had done to her. But there was still one missing piece of the puzzle.
"Who killed her?"
Tarym took a few moments before saying anything. "I wish I knew. Everyone blames the Yrevel gang, but they had no reason to. Somebody used them, but I don't know who or why."
Tarym shook his head, and kept his eyes cast downward. "I never understood - your mother always spoke of the shadow following her. All she would tell me was just after she was expelled from the Order, something had started to pursue her. That was why the two of you had been on the move so much. Whoever, or whatever, was hunting her kept finding her. Just before she died, she told me that she sensed she had been found again, and that this time she had to confront whatever was after her. The last thing she did was to make me promise to take care of you, since I was the only person she trusted."
Cyra struggled to understand all Tarym had told her. Why would someone want a Jedi apprentice that had been thrown out of the Order? What was her mother running from? Everything Cyra knew didn't seem to fit together.
Then, it all began to make sense. There could be only one person who would have wanted someone trained in the ways of the Force, yet rejected by the Jedi. Only one person would have considered her mother valuable enough to pursue across the galaxy. It was now clear. She finally understood why her mother had been killed. Now, there was no longer any doubt in her mind that Cyra would do as the Dark Side had asked.
But her anger was unbearable. It would take days for her to return to Otonise. She could not wait to unleash her fury. Others would feel her wrath first. Without a word, she turned and headed for the door.
Tarym stood up. "Melanna, where are you going? I thought you were here to stay."
Cyra stopped, but did not turn around. "Thank you, Dad, for everything." And with that, she walked out the door.
Leaving the old house, Cyra made her way back to the cantina where she had wasted many days in her youth. Finding a dark corner in an entryway across the street from the entrance, Darth Cyra waited, knowing he would eventually show up. Even if it took days, she would be there waiting for him.
Then, several hours later, just before the bar closed, out stumbled the old man that had spoken to her years before. Sliding out of the entryway, she crossed the street to get behind him. It wasn't long before the old man turned to head down a dark alley, likely heading to some rundown tenement where he lived. She now had him where she wanted him. Grabbing him from behind, she threw the old man into one of the alley walls. Obviously stunned, the old man fell into a pile of garbage. Cyra stood over the cowering figure.
"Do you remember me, old man? I seem to remember us spending some time in an alley such as this."
"I don't have anything! Let me go," the old man stammered out as he reached out towards Cyra.
Cyra ignited her lightsaber and held it inches in front of the old man's face. "I only want information. Who paid you to take me to the alley?"
With her face illuminated by the white glow of her lightsaber, the old man finally recognized Cyra. "It was Count Ertes. He paid me to take you there," the old man muttered as he continued to tremble. "He told me what story to tell you. I never knew your mother. I'm sorry. He offered me so much money, I couldn't say no. Please, I'm begging you, don't hurt me."
The old man had confirmed everything Cyra suspected. Just more proof of Infernus's involvement. Cyra was now blind with rage. Using the Force, she pulled the old man onto his feet. Thinking it was an opportunity to escape, the old man turned to run back onto the main street. He only managed one step before he was cut down.
The hiss of the door opening announced Darth Infernus's arrival. Normally, Darth Cyra would have turned and taken a knee until ordered to rise. Instead, she continued to look out upon the city. She had no desire to look upon her master.
Darth Infernus was unfazed by the lack of etiquette in his pupil. Cyra could feel the satisfaction within him. The Jedi had come, and were no more aware of what was truly happening than before. "Ahh, my Lady, we have been awaiting your return. Things have gone well in your absence. Surely you noticed our Jedi visitors as you came in. You may relax. They are no threat to us."
He walked over and stood by her side. "Today, we look out upon the port. Soon, we will stand in the very halls of the Jedi Temple, looking out upon Coruscant as rulers of the galaxy. All will kneel before me. And you will be there by my side."
Cyra knew she had to say something, but she could not yet reveal her true feelings. "Master, I feel the need to again express my fears in going forward with this plan. The Force is not yet with us."
Infernus hissed, disgusted. "I thought you would have dispensed with your petty concerns during your absence. As I have told you, the plan is in place. I will succeed. There is no need to concern yourself with baseless fears."
He turned his head to face her, "Your lack of confidence disappoints me. In fact, your conduct in general has been a disappointment as of late. Perhaps I have expected too much of you."
Cyra ignored his insult. She turned from him and walked to the center of the room.
It is time. He will not turn back. Do what you have returned for.
For the first time since her return, she turned back to look her master in the eye. "Master, what became of the Dark Lord who trained you?"
Infernus's face turned from disgust to puzzlement, "Why should that concern you?"
"Master, I wish to know. What became of your master?"
Cyra could feel Infernus bristle at her last word. To remind him at one time he had a master obviously stung deeply. "He had become complacent in his later years. He wasn't doing enough to return the glory to the Sith. He didn't see the potential for using Brekka to achieve our goals. The power was here, we only had to grab it." Infernus clenched his fist tightly. "There was no convincing him of the error of his ways. I knew he would sense any attempt I made on him, so I brought in several assassins to take care of him. Many failed, but finally one succeeded."
This was all Cyra needed to hear. Her anger had finally grown to a point she could no longer contain herself. "You coward! You think of yourself as invincible, yet you hide behind others to do your dirty work. Tell me, when you killed my mother, did you even have the courage to look her in the eye before your hired guns finished the job? How do you expect to defeat the Jedi when you can't even take care of a failed Padawan? But then again, that is why you have me. You are nothing without me!"
She could now sense the anger in Darth Infernus. "Insolent child! So you went back to Ord Mandell, did you? I knew you would eventually run back to the filth I lifted you out of. And why should I dirty my hands with the tainted blood of those beneath me, or you for that matter? To think I had chosen you to inherit the power of the Dark Side. I'm glad I still have the opportunity to rid the Sith of such a waste before you took over everything!" Using the Force, he opened the door and summoned the guards standing outside.
"Guards, rid me of this traitor! Kill her!"
Cyra knew that he did not expect his guards to be able to kill her. They were merely intended to wear her down, so he would have an easier time taking care of her himself. She would have to deal with them quickly, and save most of her strength for the final battle.
The two door guards were already upon her. Cyra took off her cloak and threw it over the first guard. Igniting her lightsaber, she cut down the second, turning back and dispatching the first before he could free himself from her cloak. Others were already coming at her in the room, with more coming from down the hallway. Her master must have summoned every guard in the building to his quarters. The situation was rapidly deteriorating.
The Dark Side is there to serve you. Use it!
Cyra lifted her free hand towards the incoming wave of attackers, and gave herself completely to the Dark Side. Blue energy bolts exploded from her hands and filled the room. Light fixtures in the ceiling exploded, sending showers of sparks cascading upon guards as the bolts coursed through their bodies. Those closest to her fell almost instantly, while those nearest the door struggled to get back to the hallway. Several were crushed as the door slammed closed. Furniture and lifeless bodies careened off the office walls. Mirrors along the walls began to shatter, sending shards of glass flying through the room.
Within seconds, the maelstrom subsided. Most of the lights were out, leaving the room lighted by the few remaining functioning units and the glow of the city through the windows. Bodies of guards were strewn among the scattered furniture. Darth Cyra stood alone, facing her stunned Master as the acrid smoke stung her eyes and throat.
Now, finish what you have started.
A smile came to the face of Darth Infernus. "My child, how powerful you have become. How can you doubt the time has come to challenge the Jedi? Look at you. No one can stand in your way."
Cyra was still trying to catch her breath, "You are correct. But I have not come this far just to follow you blindly. Step aside. I am the Master now. Your time has ended."
His smile disappeared as he approached her, "Perhaps you are right. Yet I will not allow you to just take what is mine. You still have much to learn!"
Infernus caught her off guard. He lunged towards her as his red blade ignited. The sound of lightsabers clashing together filled the room. Cyra barely deflected the initial blow. Before she could recover, he intensified his assault. She fought to maintain her balance while fending him off. Physically, he was much stronger than her, and his anger and hatred had given him incredible power. Cyra lost her focus. She was merely fighting to hold him back. It felt as if the Dark Side had abandoned her. Infernus forced her further back, causing her to trip over the bodies of several guards. Before she could stand up, he thrust his blade through her left shoulder.
Cyra screamed in pain. Infernus held the blade there, as the lightsaber burned the flesh surrounding the blade. Cyra's lightsaber dropped to the floor.
"It seems to me a waste to destroy such talent. But you are too foolish, and now much too dangerous. Goodbye, my young apprentice."
Cyra had failed. She had been wrong to challenge her Master. She had not been ready.
Then, everything around Cyra changed.
Cyra was no longer in the office. There was no longer any pain in her shoulder. She was someplace quiet, a place that filled her with an inner peace. There, before her, was her mother, bathed in a beautiful white light. Her mother opened her arms, and Cyra fell into them. She began to run her finger gently through Cyra's hair. She spoke softly. "At last, my little Melanna, we are together again. All that you have had to go through is over now."
Cyra stepped back and smiled. Tears began to run down her face. For the first time in years, she was not consumed by anger. The darkness had been brushed aside. She felt alive again. She reached out to touch her mother's face. It felt warm, almost soothing. This is what she truly wanted. She no longer craved anything. All she wanted was to be with her mother again.
"Let go of it all, Melanna. Let me save you."
Cyra closed her eyes. She felt her mother take her hand. In just a few moments, it would all be over.
Then, everything turned cold. Cyra looked around to see what was happening. Everything around her was bathed in a sickly green glow. She was back on Ord Mandell, years earlier. What was happening? She turned back to the vision of her mother, whose features now took on a more ghostly appearance. Her mother's hand was no longer comforting to hold.
The Dark Side had returned.
Ask your mother what happened that night.
She let go as her mother started to cry. "Mother, what is going on here?"
"Melanna, please close your eyes! Don't look at any of this! It's in the past! They're trying to keep us apart!"
Cyra tried to reach out to her mother, but stopped. She noticed another vision of her mother. But this was one from years earlier. She looked just as Cyra remembered the last time she saw her, except she appeared to have been through a terrible fight.
The night she died!
They were back in the alley on Ord Mandell. Her mother was bruised and bleeding. Her outfit tattered and burned. Her hair was disheveled, and her shoulders were slumped. Sweat was running down her face. Around her lay the bodies of countless would-be attackers, some horribly mutilated by a lightsaber blade. Cyra started to run to her, but stopped. Her mother was still surrounded by another two-dozen attackers in a semicircle around her.
Cyra then heard the voice.
"You have fought well, my fallen Jedi. You are more than worthy to join me. Put down your weapon, and I will teach you the true meaning of the Force."
She saw her mother begin to tremble at the words. "You have nothing to offer me, Sith. I'll die before I give myself to you."
Infernus chuckled. "Ah, my dear. Brave to the end. Maybe you still see yourself as some sort of Jedi. But now, you shall pay the ultimate price for your folly. It was never you I was after. Yes, for a time you would have served me. But in the end, it is your daughter that I have wanted."
Those words sent chills through Cyra's body. She heard her mother trying to call to her. "Melanna! Fight this! Please, turn away and come with me! I'm not able to fight this alone."
It was too late. The hate consumed her once more. The need for revenge was too strong. And then, Cyra heard her master speak for the last time.
"You and your Jedi ideals simply would have stood in the way. Now that I am done with you, she is mine for the taking." He turned to his minions. "Gentlemen, you may do as you wish to her after she is dead. Kill her now."
As the blaster bolts cut through the air, Cyra could no longer contain her rage. From deep within, a terrible scream came forth with all her unbridled fury...
Cyra's lightsaber came flying back to her hand. In an instant, she thrust her blade through Infernus's right arm. His hand and lightsaber fell to the ground. Before he could scream out in pain, Cyra was on her feet, continuing her relentless assault. Without his lightsaber, Infernus's body absorbed each of her slashes, stumbling backwards as he tried to get away. Finally, as Cyra's blade cut through his leg, he tumbled to the floor.
Cyra stood over her master as he tried to crawl from her. The power of the Dark Side was boiling within her. The power it had given her was beyond anything she had experienced before.
He is finished! Strike him down!
Cyra laughed. "No, he will die, but only after he suffers for all he has done!"
She reached her hand out towards him. The waves of raw power sent through his body lighted the room with a blinding glow. It was over an hour before Cyra allowed Infernus to die.
As Cyra stood over the fallen body of her former master, tears began to stream down her face. All of the emotion that she had held inside all those years came pouring forth. Finally, her mother had been avenged. All the years of pain were over. Now, it was time for her to start a new life.
You are now the Master. Carry forth what you have learned. None can stand before you now.
Yes, she was the master now. The memories of her mother began to fade from her mind. That was now part of her past. She bent over and picked up her master's weapon. She had to be sure to leave no sign that the Sith were ever there.
Darth Cyra headed to her former master's desk. In a drawer, she found the computer terminal that her master had recently installed. Cyra began entering a series of codes Infernus had given her before she left. When she had finished, a single line of text appeared on the screen. "Detonation sequence initiated."
Cyra quickly left the room. She only had ten minutes to get to her ship. In case the building ever came under attack, Infernus had installed several thermal detonators in the building's reactor room. They would now erase all signs of what had happened. Cyra headed down a little used stairwell just outside the office. She didn't have time to deal with any guards that may be left.
Darth Cyra's droid pilot pointed the nose of her yacht skywards as explosions ripped through the buildings of Qua's compound. She had instructed her droid to ignore all communications from the port authority, and head for the hyperspace point.
She took one last look at the city. Qua's empire, her master's greatest accomplishment, would soon be wiped out. In time, internal dissention would destroy all that had been created. The Jedi would descend and bring their vision of order to the systems. By then, memories of her and Infernus would have been long forgotten. She headed to her chamber to tend to her wounded shoulder.
The intercom buzzed to life. "My lady, where shall we be heading?"
Darth Cyra would need to go into hiding to allow things to settle. She wasn't sure where she should go. Then, images of a dense jungle began to appear in her mind. She imagined herself standing alone inside a great ancient temple. There, she would be able to surround herself with the Dark Side.
The Dark Side is strong there. You will be undisturbed as you learn to use your new powers. Then you shall be ready to continue forth.
"ZX, take me to the moons of Yavin."
Darth Cyra could sense a change around her. The Force was now with her. It would still take many years for the Sith to come to power.
But now, that was inevitable.
Original cover by Morian Miner. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.