A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
It is a time of deceptive peace for the Republic. The star spanning government appears outwardly strong, but it is rotting from within.
The respected Senator Palpatine is, in truth, the sinister Sith Lord, Darth Sidious. Lurking unsuspected among his peers, he plots the downfall of the Republic and its defenders, the Jedi Knights.
Palpatine's true origins have been carefully hidden from everyone. But now the Sith Lord is about to reencounter the one person who knows where it all began - his own father...
Prologue: 20 years before the Battle of Naboo...
Senator Palpatine was home, and the people of Naboo were glad to have him back, if only for a brief visit. They listened to his every word with respect and admiration; their adulation was impossible for the Senator to miss. He paused in his speech to bestow a warm smile upon the crowd.
Good looks were not the source of the senior politician's undeniable charisma. The Senator's face was dominated by a large nose that jutted over a small mouth and a deeply cleft chin. He had watery blue eyes below a receding hairline, and a thick mass of reddish curls behind his head. It was the kindly, mild face of a middle aged man, homely and unremarkable.
Perhaps his strong effect on the crowd arose from his connection to them. He seemed like one of them, their equal, a companion who worked tirelessly on their behalf. It was a message that Palpatine encouraged with his words. "The Republic needs more of you to follow in my footsteps," he told the crowd. "The galaxy needs the values of the Naboo people to counter the rising tide of corruption and disregard for the common good."
The audience proudly murmured their agreement. Their voices washed across the cavernous audience hall in the Royal Palace of Theed. Palpatine's gaze swept over the mass of people and came to rest upon the quiet, silver-haired Queen Breha seated at his side on the platform. A nearby floating hovercam adjusted its view to encompass both the Senator and the Queen, broadcasting images of the popular figures across Theed and far away to the great city of Keren.
The Senator seemed to address his next remarks to the Queen herself. "The Republic would benefit from the Naboo traits of rationalism and nonviolence. All too often, the worlds of the Republic clamor for war. The galaxy will continue to increase in needless suffering, without the guidance of those who value peace, art, and philosophy above destructive power. Our own history shows that we were able to overcome our own warlike nature. We must lead others to do the same. I have had some small success as a voice of reason in the Senate..." The crowd applauded warmly in support, and Palpatine smiled appreciatively but humbly. "...but the more voices that are joined to my own, the louder our message will be. If I can make my voice heard, despite my humble beginnings, how much more can some of you accomplish?"
On Naboo, it was well known that as a child, Palpatine had been an impoverished orphan. It only added to his popularity that he had taught himself what he needed to know in order to take up public service in politics at age sixteen. For four years, he had served the elder Naboo Senator at home. Then he left Naboo to go to Coruscant with the Senator, who took the young man into his inner circle and groomed him as a replacement.
"I ask the nobly born among you, those of wealth and privilege, the leaders of your communities, to consider what I have said here today," Palpatine concluded. There was more applause, and many receptive, thoughtful faces looked back at the Senator. Of course, if the audience knew that the good Senator was actually Darth Sidious, the only living Dark Lord of the Sith and a true Master of the dark side of the Force, they would certainly be justified in questioning his motives for making that speech.
Lord Sidious knew he wanted to use, and even sacrifice his people at some point, for the sake of his personal rise to ever greater power. Among the many possibilities of the future, he could foresee the pain and suffering of the Naboo along the pathway of his ascent. But his plans for them were not immediate. For now, it would help him in general if the Naboo were to shed their isolationism and expose themselves to the outside galaxy. At the very least, some of them would be influenced or corrupted in a way he could later exploit. Additionally, a significant, though little spoken of, Naboo value might spread to the rest of the galaxy in exchange, namely the Naboo penchant for pro-human racism. Palpatine smiled pleasantly at these thoughts.
That was when he looked down and made direct eye contact with a man in the front row. The spectator looked back at Palpatine with intense interest. The Senator took in the man's long, thin face, and tall, lanky shape. He didn't seem to fit among the well dressed audience. His modest clothing contrasted with the elegant attire of his neighbors, and with Palpatine's own expensive blue and green cloaked and vested finery. It was as if he had snuck in where he did not belong.
For a suspended moment, the Senator and the stranger gazed at one another. Then Palpatine took a step backwards, his mouth falling open. In the space between one second and the next, the man was no longer a stranger. A lock clicked open in Palpatine's mind, and a door of memory opened. He found himself looking down from the high platform at his aging father.
The usually calm and collected Senator was shaken. He realized he had not spoken for half a minute. People were beginning to notice. He broke eye contact with his father, who did nothing but continue to stare openly, an expression of wonder dawning on his face.
Palpatine glanced hastily around the crowd. Pulling himself together for a moment, he managed to speak to the hovercam. "Thank you all very much for coming here today. I look forward to speaking with many of you individually before I return to Coruscant. But for now, I regret I must leave your company." He quickly bowed to Queen Breha, who looked at him with a strange expression. Palpatine spun on his boot heels and strode away from the platform. His thoughts reeling, he hurried into the columned hallways of the Palace, not even seeing those who stepped aside to make way for him. The eyes of his father seemed to float in front of him all the way to his private rooms.
Palpatine shoved the heavy door to slam shut behind him. He began to pace across the red carpet next to the scarlet bedspread. Finally, he sat down on the bed to try to regain his composure. It was no use. His father. He had seen his father. Chaotic memories rushed to his mind, undesired but unstoppable. He was drawn steadily into a past he had tried to forget, a time of weakness he had rejected and buried. He stared blindly at the red d?cor he favored, and all at once, the memories crystallized, focusing on the image of an old red cap, a cap his mother had made and given to him, a cap which he had last seen a lifetime and another world ago...
Part One: Naboo
50 years before the Battle of Naboo...
Ten year old Espaa Pestage, the boy who would one day name himself Ethril Palpatine, sat in his favorite place at the edge of the cliff, and dangled his red cap above the long drop visible between his legs. The cap, his favorite item of clothing in his favorite color, was a gift from his mother, and a comfort to him. The dangerous, beckoning fall in front of him was not a comfort, but he liked to sit there nonetheless. He often wondered what it would feel like to fly downwards, before and after he hit the rocks below. Sitting there gave his life an element of danger, a small thrill he could control. That was sometimes necessary in the rather dull Naboo wilderness where he lived.
The warm colors of sunset drenched the cliff face with its rough ledges and natural stone stairways, creating a multitude of interesting shadows that Espaa loved to watch. Behind the boy, a wide gravel road wound its way up to his house. It was a lonely, mountainous region, with no other homes or people living there.
Espaa didn't mind the isolation. By nature, he was a loner, a moody child who his mother gently accused of being too sensitive. He favored the solitary arts of reading and painting. When, rarely, other children came to their home, Espaa tended to shun them until their families concluded their business with his mother and left.
Espaa was a small child, thin and pale, with a serious face, and wavy brownish-blond hair. His yellow eye color was quite rare among humans. He wore loose clothing with bloused sleeves and pants, and knee-high boots, all colored in shades of brown and gray. The red cap was the only bright thing he wore.
At the moment, Espaa was thinking about the dream he had had last night. In it, a Jedi, robed and menacing, had come to take him away. When he had told Gemsaa, his mother, about the nightmare in the morning, she had hugged him, and told him that dreams cannot tell the future. Yes, the Force sometimes allowed a trained Jedi to glimpse what might come to pass, but Espaa was neither trained nor a Jedi. His mother had promised again to keep him safe from the Jedi, and apologized for letting her concerns give him nightmares. She had told him not to worry.
Espaa couldn't help but worry. He knew he was Force-sensitive, and he knew that part of the reason his family lived so far away from the city was so that the Jedi wouldn't discover him. Any Jedi might sense his potential if they came close enough. His mother and father didn't want him to be taken to the Jedi Temple against their will. They thought it was horrible, the way the Jedi broke up families and removed helpless children from their homes in order to train them in the Force. Usually, those children never saw their parents again. From the day his mother told Espaa about this, he had been afraid it would happen to him.
Espaa's mother had a low opinion of the Jedi in general, even though she was a Jedi healer herself. Gemsaa saw the Jedi Order, and especially the Jedi Council, as isolated and arrogant. She claimed they had forgotten how to help the people who needed them. In obeying their strict code, they refused to step in when they should help, and interfered when they should not. Gemsaa shared these views with her son frequently, and that combined with Espaa's fears to give him a strong dislike for the Jedi without his ever having seen one.
Hiding Espaa was not the only way in which Gemsaa defied her Order. Ignoring a rule that she found especially offensive, Gemsaa was happily married to Espaa's father, Sate Pestage. Espaa had never understood why Jedi were so strongly discouraged from falling in love and marrying. Like so many of their rules, it made no sense. It was obvious to Espaa that his parents loved each other very much, and that they both loved him. That was what a family was all about. Were the Jedi anti-family? If so, how could they call themselves good?
Espaa couldn't stand the thought of being taken from his family, especially from his mother. In a way, he felt as if he owned his mother. She was his. As long as he had her, he really didn't need anyone else. Through the Force, Espaa and his mother could sometimes sense each other's feelings. That enhanced their bond in a way that was impossible for Espaa and his non-Force-sensitive father.
Although he never said it out loud, his father was less important than his mother was to him. He was more distant from his father, who was as introverted as Espaa. This similarity pushed them apart instead of drawing them together. While Espaa read history, Sate, a scholar of government studies, would do his research. Both of them spent days without really talking to each other in a meaningful way. It was up to Gemsaa, who was so different from both of them, to draw her family together from time to time. They needed some togetherness, living as they did so far from others.
The other reason the Pestage family lived in the wilderness, far away from Theed, was that Gemsaa's healing skills with the Force were so well known. Her curative powers were so great that her fame spread far and wide in a short time. Her reputation reached to other planets. When they lived in Theed, so many sick people in need of her talents came to her, that she was overwhelmed. To cut down on the sheer number of supplicants and attain some peace and privacy, she insisted years ago that her family move to the mountains. Now, despite the distance, people still came to her for healing, traveling by landspeeder or atmospheric craft. But there were fewer of them, and Gemsaa felt she could handle that.
Sometimes Espaa worried that his mother might be too much like the Jedi she disliked. Like the Jedi, she isolated herself. Weren't there people she didn't help, who didn't know where she was, or who couldn't make the trip out to see her? But then Espaa told himself that she was nothing like the awful Jedi. She did help everyone who came to her, without question, while the Jedi refused those in need because of their code. Obviously, his mother understood the code better than the Jedi back on Coruscant did.
Espaa never wanted to see Coruscant or the Jedi. But he couldn't get the nightmare out of his head. The Jedi in his dream had been powerful, dark, and irresistible. There had been nothing Espaa could do to escape being taken away. His mother might say it was just a dream, born out of anxiety, but it felt real.
Then, as if in answer to his thoughts, the setting sun's light glinted redly off of a distant approaching starship, flying low through the atmosphere towards his home. Espaa stood up and put on his cap, staring intently at the growing shape. A wave of cold fear washed through him. It was a ship, coming for him. It was his dream, coming true. It was the Jedi, coming to take him away at last. Espaa swallowed against a suddenly dry throat and watched the ship until there was no doubt of its direction. Then, he turned and ran as fast as he could up the rocky slope to find his mother.
Senator Palpatine did not want to remember what had happened next, but he understood why those particular events were coming back to him. He had just found his father for the first time since he had lost his family. Finding ever goes hand in hand with losing...
In the Pestage family home, a single story, many-roomed complex that perched atop the highest point of the small mountain, Espaa's parents were sharing a tender moment in the kitchen, embracing each other closely. The evening meal was over, and there was time for simple relaxation. Sate Pestage towered above his smaller wife. In the Naboo fashion, he wore a brown leather vest, with bloused sleeves and pant legs above high boots. His pointed chin rested on Gemsaa's long light brown hair. Gemsaa was smiling and reaching up to run her fingers through her husband's thick black hair. Sate's hands were gentle upon her multi-layered gown of simple fabric and flower patterned embroidery.
All at once, Gemsaa sensed her son's fear. She turned to face him as he burst frantically into the room. As soon as Gemsaa and Sate saw the look on their son's face, they separated, and knelt by him. "Espaa, what is it?" asked Gemsaa.
"A ship, coming here! Like in my dream! It's the Jedi, coming to take me away from you!" Espaa squirmed when Gemsaa tried to hold him. He was too scared to stand still.
Gemsaa and Sate listened, and they could hear the sound of a ship's engines, growing steadily louder. "There is a ship," said Sate. "I wonder who it could be? Someone needing to be healed, I imagine."
"Listen to your father, Espaa," said Gemsaa. "I know you're worried about the Jedi. But it isn't them. I'm sorry I got you so upset. Try to calm down, all right?" She looked directly into her son's yellow eyes, and he settled down a little. She regretted sharing so many of her fears with her young son. Now they had gotten to him and troubled him deeply. Granted, there was always a very small chance that Espaa might be discovered by the Jedi as having a high Force potential, but rationally, she thought that living in the mountains would prevent that from ever happening. Furthermore, the older he got, the less likely it was that the Jedi would want him even if he was discovered. The Council frowned on training older children. And so, Gemsaa felt guilty for troubling Espaa when there was probably nothing to worry about.
Still...there was something about the look in Espaa's eyes that troubled Gemsaa in turn. He still looked afraid, and there was a certainty in his expression that seemed so adult, it gave her pause. In response to that, Gemsaa reached out with the Force to the approaching ship. What she sensed surprised her. Standing up suddenly, she startled both Espaa and Sate. She looked in the direction of the ship, even though the kitchen's wall stopped her vision. There was a Jedi on the ship, but only one, and she didn't think he was going to be interested in her son at all. The Jedi was dying.
Just in case, she told Espaa to stay inside the house, stay out of sight, and watch from the window. It was a plan they had developed long ago, when Espaa was much younger, and a Jedi visitor was a greater threat. Espaa had an escape route through the back of the house, and out into the mountain pathways if necessary. At the moment, however, Espaa wasn't thinking of flight. He was older now, and part of him wanted to stay and fight with his parents if necessary. The Jedi were not going to take him easily, he vowed.
Sate and Gemsaa went out to meet the ship. It was a long, narrow Republic Cruiser with three large engines and a huge sensor dish at the rear, and it was coming in for a clumsy landing. Dropping too fast towards the wide, sloping road, the ship was using braking jets instead of gentle repulsors. It settled heavily with a reverberating crash in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.
The dust cloud billowed past Sate and Gemsaa, sending them into coughing fits while the cruiser's engines shut down in the distance. When they could see the ship again, they waited patiently for the boarding ramp amidships to lower. But other than the random noises of the ship settling, there were no sounds. Aside from the dust drifting, there was no movement. The ship's exterior lights blinked in the dusk. Sate and Gemsaa stood expectantly. Espaa watched nervously from the window, peeking over the sill. Gemsaa glanced back at him, still sensing his fear.
When Gemsaa's comlink beeped, she jumped. Staring at the ship with apprehension, she removed the device from her belt and held it up. The voice which emerged was weak but gruff. "This is Master Usby Thape calling Gemsaa Pestage. I demand to speak to her at once."
Gemsaa scowled in surprise. Master Thape, of all people! He was the second most powerful Jedi Master on the Council, and the one Gemsaa disliked the most. She looked at her husband, and Sate frowned back at her. He knew how stubborn, self-righteous, and self-important Thape was, from the times Gemsaa had complained about her years at the Temple. The man embodied everything Gemsaa thought was wrong with the Jedi. Reluctantly, she spoke tersely into the comlink. "This is Gemsaa. What do you want?" At the same time, she half turned back to the house, her hand ready to give the signal to Espaa to flee.
The officious sounding reply brought her up short, and she lowered her hand slowly. "Don't bother to hide that child of yours. I'm not here about him. The council has known about him for a long time. We're just not interested." Thape gave a ragged cough. "Why would we want to train the offspring of a rebel we expelled years ago, a child who is far too old to be molded into a proper Jedi anyway? I'm here about one thing, and one thing only - my own survival. I'm dying, you see, and I demand that you heal me."
Gemsaa, offended, answered with equal rudeness. "Why should I help you? I know what you think of me-"
"Good," Thape interrupted. "Let's not waste time pretending to respect each other. You're not a Jedi anymore, but you can still serve the Jedi. You're a healer. I need help, and you're the only one who can give it to me." He coughed again, sounding pained. "As much as I dislike having to ask you, I have no choice. I'll be dead before I reach another healer, and the Jedi can't afford to lose me. So, will you do it?"
Gemsaa was speechless for a moment. Sate put a supportive hand on her shoulders. She drew strength from his touch, collecting her thoughts. "I need a moment, Master Thape," she said into the comlink with as much dignity as she could muster. "I'm turning this off so I can speak privately with my husband." Gemsaa emphasized the last word.
But when she turned off the comlink, giving Thape no chance to protest, Gemsaa fell silent, deep in thought. Sate let her think, standing by patiently at her side. The only sound was the beeping of the comlink as Thape tried to call her back without success.
Gemsaa concentrated on the problem at hand, fighting back her dislike of the Jedi Master. Her feelings about him were irrelevant. He was a person in need of healing who had come to her for help. She was a healer. It was what she did, and who she was. She couldn't turn down his request. Besides, now she knew that Espaa was in no danger of being taken away, and once the Jedi Master was healed and on his way back to Coruscant, her family could go back to their lives with one major worry removed.
"I think I have to help him," Gemsaa said to her husband, "whether he deserves it or not." Sate nodded his understanding, giving her a squeeze of approval. She had never turned a patient away before, and this time would be no different. At least Sate's admiration of her would be intact, and even increased by her choice to be generous to an old bastard like Usby Thape. When Sate looked at her, he saw a good and beautiful woman who was full of light. She loved him for that, and many other things as well.
Gemsaa motioned Espaa to come and stand with them. Hesitantly, disbelieving, he emerged from hiding and stood in the doorway. At her insistent gesture, he walked up to stand behind her.
Turning on the comlink again, Gemsaa called on her reserves of patience. "Master Thape," she said, "what seems to be the problem?"
"I'm dying, that's the problem," Thape said sarcastically. "Would you like to trade places with me? No? Then perhaps you can use your Jedi skills to save my life."
"I meant, what's wrong with you?" Gemsaa asked, gritting her teeth.
"Come on board, and then maybe you can tell me," Thape said weakly. "I'll respect your judgment, even though you don't follow the Jedi code. You have a good reputation for being able to heal exotic diseases. I have to trust in that, especially if I want to live. And I do, let me tell you that...I do. After seeing the way the others died..."
"Is your disease exotic? What was the infectious agent? Tell me what you know, before I come on board." Gemsaa wanted to know as much as possible before she risked the dangers of an alien virus or bacterium.
"It isn't any kind of microorganism," Thape replied. "Our biosafety scanners and containment systems are top of the line. This is a diplomatic ship, which has to land on all sorts of planets, with all the diseases you could imagine. The truth is, I have no idea what it is that's killing me."
"Where did it come from, then?" Gemsaa demanded.
"We picked it up on our way to Ophichi for the peace conference. We had to come out of hyperspace to plot another jump, and as we passed an uncharted world, we sensed an enormous disturbance in the Force emanating from it. Our mistake was to land and investigate. None of us was a scientist, but once we took a look around, we could see that something awful was starting to happen to that place. It was like the entire ecosystem was sick, and beginning to die. Trees, birds, animals, insects. Bacteria too for all we knew. Fear of illness, plus the terrible feeling in the Force, made us get out of there quickly. The ship's scanners said we hadn't picked up any infections, so we continued on our way. But this was something new, something the scanners weren't programmed for, I think." Thape fell silent, but Gemsaa could still hear his hoarse breathing. He needed to rest before saying more.
"A day later, before we could reach our destination, Master Solannan got sick. Then Master Arc-shan. Finally, I did too. At first, we wanted to keep going, but when Master Solannan died, Arc-shan and I decided to find a Force healer before it was too late. You were the most famous, and the closest. This is no ordinary sickness. It has something to do with the Force. Before they died, the other Masters lost their connection to the Force. I can feel mine weakening now. I don't have much time."
Gemsaa considered the information. There certainly was the danger of the unknown on that ship. But she trusted her abilities; she was a healer, and a patient needed help. The decision was made.
"Very well, Master Thape," Gemsaa said into the comlink. "I'm coming aboard as soon as I get my instruments." She kept a variety of advanced medical tools in the house, knowing that sometimes, the Force was not enough to get the job done.
When Gemsaa turned to walk back up to the house, however, she found Espaa blocking her way. "Don't go on that ship, Mother," he insisted. "Not if you could get sick and die too. He's just a Jedi, right? He's not worth it, is he?"
Suddenly annoyed, Gemsaa frowned at her son and went around him. But Espaa followed her closely all the way to her bedroom, pestering her all the while. Sate Pestage trailed behind at a distance. With her medical backpack in hand, Gemsaa turned on her clingy son. "That's enough, Espaa. I've made up my mind. Just...stop bothering me about it. This is my job. It doesn't matter that he's a Jedi. He needs my help. I hope you can understand that. Would you like it if someone refused to help me, just because I used to be part of the Jedi order too?"
"I don't care who he is!" Espaa admitted. "I just don't want you to go on the ship."
"Why not?" Gemsaa confronted him seriously.
Espaa faltered. "I don't know. I just...it's like a bad feeling or something. Like I'm going to lose you."
His mother softened. "Espaa. I love you, and I'm glad you worry about me." She looked at the concerned face of her husband, who was standing in the bedroom doorway. "You too. But please, both of you. Just let me work. The sooner I get started, the sooner we can get rid of that...that old monster."
Espaa still protested, but she silenced him for the time being with a warm hug. She gave the same to her husband. Gemsaa passed the comlink to Sate. "Keep in touch with me on this. I really don't know what I'm going to find in there. I may need something I don't have with me." She gave him a long kiss. "Wish me luck."
"May the Force be with you," Sate said, surprising her. He rarely said anything about the Force, or her Jedi past. She nodded gratefully, and went past him out the door. As Gemsaa walked down the rocky road to the Republic Cruiser, she heard Espaa come running out of the house after her. She turned and sternly pointed back towards the house, stopping him in his tracks. He stood still while she drew close to the ship and waited for the boarding ramp to lower. Gemsaa took one last look at her son's fearful face, and walked up into the ship where Usby Thape had quarantined himself. The ramp raised itself behind her, sealing the healer in.
Gemsaa took a lift to the upper level, and walked down a short deserted corridor to the cockpit. There were three chairs there, and Usby Thape was slumped in one of them. Gemsaa had seen sickness many times, but she was still shocked at his condition. Her memory of the robust Jedi Master could not be reconciled with this wasted, corpse-like figure. Once an overweight man, he was now shrunken and deflated.
Thape coughed and summoned his energy to talk "About time you got here," he said gruffly. "Now get to work. I haven't got all day." He choked out a grim little laugh.
"Where is the crew?" Gemsaa demanded. "And where are the other two bodies?"
"There was no crew. The Ophichi Council refused to let any Republic people on their planet, except the Jedi. So we came alone. Arc-shan was the pilot, I was the co-pilot. I had to space my friends when they died..."
Gemsaa nodded, and took out her diagnostic scanner. Kneeling next to Thape, she ran it across his body several times, then waited for a read-out. When she saw the results, Gemsaa gasped. "Full body necrosis," she said out loud. Thape had widespread cellular death in every part of his body. Diagnosis unknown, the scanner reported. Gemsaa agreed. Nothing she had ever heard of could do this to a person. Gemsaa used the scanner again to check for any kind of infection. She shook her head and frowned when it found nothing. No foreign bacteria or viruses.
Remembering what Thape had said about losing his connection to the Force, she decided to examine the Force-sensitive node in his brain. She closed her eyes and reached out with the Eyes of the Force, peering into Thape's dying body. Navigating though his brain tissue, she found the node where normally, a heavy concentration of midi-chlorians marked a Jedi as sensitive to the Force. Usby Thape's node was nearly destroyed. That part of his brain seethed with corruption and decay. The midi-chlorians themselves, usually so easy for Gemsaa to see with the Force, were completely gone. No, Gemsaa realized with horror, not gone, but changed into something else. Changed into a deadly disease.
Gemsaa opened her eyes and looked into Thape's wasted face. "You are dying," she confirmed. "You're losing the Force because your midi-chlorians are altered. They are what's killing you."
"Midi-chlorians?" Thape scoffed. "Not that old theory. Pseudo-scientific nonsense if you ask me. Does nothing to explain the central mystery of the Force."
Midi-chlorians were symbiotic microorganisms that lived within the cells of all creatures. It was believed by many Jedi that the organisms somehow acted as intermediaries between a Jedi and the Force, helping to communicate with the Force or to access the energy of the Force. They were discovered a few centuries ago, when Jedi scientists correlated midi-chlorian numbers with sensitivity to the Force. The numbers depended on the genetic make-up of the host's cells - if the specific host biology could support a lot of midi-chlorians, a lot lived in that host. This helped to explain why some Jedi were more sensitive to the Force than others. Midi-chlorians could live in many cell types. They could concentrate in brain cells, creating what the Jedi knew as a Force-sensitive node. They could also concentrate in the blood, and great loss of blood could temporarily weaken a Jedi's connection to the Force.
What was happening to Thape was much worse then losing blood midi-chlorian levels. "It doesn't matter what you believe about them," Gemsaa said. "They're real, and they're killing you."
"Killing me how?" Thape asked.
Gemsaa shook her head. "I don't know. Somehow your midi-chlorians have been changed into pathogens. Like disease-causing bacteria, they're deadly to you now. This is affecting your whole body because midi-chlorians live in almost all of your cells. This is very bad, Master Thape. There may be nothing I can do. But I will try."
Thape looked back at her with watery eyes. "Do your best," he told her. "I don't want to die." Then he fell silent, to conserve his resources.
For the next two hours, Gemsaa used all of her power in the Force to try to heal the Jedi Master. She sent invisible energy into his body to give him strength, and looked deep into his ravaged organs. Everywhere, there was destruction. It seemed to her that none of his systems could be saved. Thape was going to die from many causes all at once.
Gemsaa wondered how he was still coherent enough to talk to her, and to show any of his old personality. She marveled at his will power, and felt his stubborn strength in the Force. He clung to life and refused to die. Within him, the few blood midi-chlorians that were left were changing one by one. It was as if some sort of chemical signal passed from the altered symbionts to the healthy ones, telling them to change as well. It was like an unstoppable chain reaction.
Gemsaa tried to sense what had been done to the midi-chlorians, so she could try to change them back. But her attempts were to no avail. The altered symbionts were too alien for her to understand. The wave of death swept through the Jedi Master, and Gemsaa was unable to stand against it.
Lost in her efforts, Gemsaa only gradually became aware of a growing weakness in her own connection to the Force. She found that she could see less clearly into Thape's body. Her sense of his life energy began to dim. At first, she thought that Thape was dying at that moment, but she opened her eyes and saw that he was stable, thanks to her support.
Turning her Force senses inwards, Gemsaa made a dismaying discovery. Whatever the signal was that had spread throughout Thape's body, it had now crossed through the air over to her body. She had the disease too.
Gemsaa backed fearfully away from Thape, but there was nowhere to go to escape her fate. With the knowledge of a Force healer, she was compelled to accept the truth of what had happened to her. She also had to confront the truth of what could happen to others. Evidently, this disease could spread easily from one Jedi to another, because of their high midi-chlorian levels. Such a thing could eventually wipe out the Jedi. All of the Jedi. Midi-chlorians, once an excellent predictor of Force sensitivity, would become an excellent predictor of mortality. Although Gemsaa disliked the Jedi Order, the thought of that much death horrified her. Then she thought about Thape's story of the dying planetary ecosystem he had found. Midi-chlorians existed in high levels within the Jedi, that was true, but in fact, all living things possessed the symbionts to some degree. This disease threatened all life.
Gemsaa swallowed her fear and redoubled her efforts to fight the change within her body. There must be a way to stop the disease, she thought. But even though her sickness was in an early stage, she could feel it progressing rapidly. The change in her cells was spreading much faster than it had for Master Thape. With a perverse sense of satisfaction, Gemsaa realized that her own midi-chlorian levels must be much higher than his. Then she remembered that her son's levels were very, very high, although he didn't know it. If Espaa was to come in contact with her, his life would be in grave danger.
Nothing Gemsaa tried had any effect. The altered symbionts were shadowy and slippery to her Force sense, and she could not affect them or rid her body of them. At the same time, her healing powers steadily weakened. The more she struggled, the less she could do. Finally, she simply ran out of strength.
Usby Thape had fallen asleep. Feeling weary and emotionally numb, Gemsaa woke him up. "There's nothing I can do for you," she admitted. "I tried everything. All I did was manage to get the disease myself. I only hope it's not too late for me to fight it off."
Thape sagged in final acceptance. He offered no apology or sympathy, and Gemsaa knew better than to ask for it. "I want some time alone," he said, "to record and transmit a message for my Padawan."
"All right," Gemsaa said. "I'll go to the lower deck and leave you here. I want to talk to my family too." She stood and stumbled out of the cockpit, as Thape reached for the comm system. Pausing near the lift, Gemsaa stood quietly and eavesdropped on the Jedi Master.
In a faint, halting voice she had to strain to hear, Usby dictated a message for his Padawan, Mace Windu, who had not come with him on the mission. Gemsaa knew that Thape was very conservative and that he preached strict observance of the Jedi Code. He strongly disapproved of those who followed their feelings to do what they saw fit, even to the point of defying the Council. To Thape, those Jedi were loose cannons and vigilantes who threatened the Jedi order. That was why Thape condemned Gemsaa even as she tried to save him.
Thape's words were therefore no surprise to her. "...and as I am dying, this is my last request to the Jedi Council," he was saying softly, and weakly. "I ask that my seat be given to my former Padawan, Mace Windu. Mace, I beg you to adhere to the Code as I did. Let it guide you in everything you do. Live by it. Please...resist those who want to bring change to the Order. It is... change... that may be the undoing of us all."
Gemsaa had heard enough. She stepped into the lift and dropped one level. She needed to talk to her husband and son. She needed to regain her strength so she could keep fighting her illness. She needed to get away from the hopeless figure in the cockpit, the sight of which threatened to rob her of hope.
At the comm station in the salon pod, Gemsaa spent an hour talking to her husband. They spoke about their years together, and their hopes for their son. Espaa had been put to bed, though she knew he must not be sleeping. She told Sate that she wouldn't give up, but inside, she could feel her connection to the Force ebbing as her pain grew.
Then Gemsaa began a grim vigil, seated alone in silence on the tomblike ship's cold floor, marshalling all of her skill, knowledge, and power in the Force against the disease. At times, she was delirious, talking to phantom images of her family. At other times, she passed out. But she never stopped trying to hold back the destructive tide within her. The night was an eternity.
In the morning, Gemsaa awoke in terrible pain. She could no longer feel the Force. Unable to stand, she had to drag herself to the lift. In the cockpit, she found Usby Thape dead, and the last of her hope was snuffed out. Gemsaa pulled herself up into the copilot's chair, and reached for the comm system.
While his father spoke privately to his mother by comlink, Espaa nearly went crazy with worry and impatience. He was not allowed to listen in, but he could sense that his father was very upset. Waves of sadness were emanating from the normally placid Sate Pestage. Unable to stand it any longer, Espaa rushed up to his father. Sate didn't look at his son; he only handed him the comlink and walked away, hunched over.
Espaa gripped the comlink tightly. "Mother? Are you all right?"
His mother's voice was extremely weak. "It's so good to hear your voice, Espaa. I love you so much. I just want you to know that."
"What's happening? Please, tell me!" Espaa watched his father close the bedroom door behind him.
Gemsaa didn't answer right away. When she did speak, her voice was dull and resigned. "This is goodbye, son. I'm dying. I tried to stop it... but I couldn't."
"That Jedi made you sick," Espaa said, stunned.
"If this disease escapes the ship," Gemsaa said, her voice almost a whisper, "all of Naboo would be in danger. It would kill you, Espaa. I can't let that happen. I have to make sure... it never gets out. Have to go into the sun...while I still can. I love you. Please, you and Sate... take care of each other..."
Espaa heard a clatter over the comlink as his mother dropped it. Then he heard a building whine, both over the comlink and outside. The ship's engines were starting up. Espaa ran wildly out of the house and down the mountain road. But there was nothing he could do. The Republic Cruiser lifted off majestically, taking his mother with it as he screamed for her to come back.
Senator Palpatine now clearly remembered sitting in the dust of that road and feeling his mother's death through the Force. She had jumped the ship to hyperspace when it was aimed at the Naboo system's sun. Her ending was instantaneous, saving her from the long suffering experienced by Usby Thape. Espaa's suffering was just beginning.
At the moment of her passing, he had felt like he was being torn in two. The part of him that was his close connection to his mother was gone, leaving him with a shattered void inside. At first, knowing his mother had vanished into the sun, he raged at its blinding light. But as soon as he had time to think, he placed the blame for his loss squarely upon the Jedi. Espaa had always been afraid of losing his mother. He expected that he would be taken from her, not the other way around. But no matter how it had happened, she was gone forever, and it had happened because of the Jedi. That reality provoked a burning anger, and his life-long hatred of the Jedi was born in that anger.
As a Sith, Palpatine now understood the path to the dark side very well - it was paved with fear and anger. But as a child, he had not understood what was beginning that day. Because of Espaa's powerful latent Force sensitivity and his rage at the Jedi, the dark side of the Force began to flow through him. Without any warning or past teaching about the dark side, Espaa did not even know what was happening to him. There was no way that he could sense it, but his anger produced an enormous disturbance in the Force, which was sensed by a dark being far across the galaxy.
At that time, the only living Dark Lord of the Sith was an old woman named Darth Shado. She lived in the hidden Monastery of the Sith on the isolated planet Horuz. There Shado was attended by lesser Sith devotees and dark side adepts. She had been looking for an apprentice to carry on the Sith tradition for years, since the death of her own Master. It was Shado who sensed Espaa's rage, newly fed by the dark side. She knew she had found her apprentice, and immediately, she set out on a journey to find him. Palpatine knew what critical and essential events had followed from that moment, thus all of his suffering had been for a greater purpose. He felt no pity for the boy he once was.
A month passed on Naboo, and the new year arrived for Espaa and Sate Pestage without celebration. Father and son had become even more distant from each other, each one grieving alone. Gemsaa had been the common factor that drew them together. Now that she was gone, Sate neglected his son, and withdrew from life into a deep depression that effectively blinded him to the changes in Espaa.
Espaa had taken to sleeping in the daytime and sitting alone by the cliffs at night. He was irrationally shunning the sun, resentful of it for reminding him of the death of his mother. It was her ever burning grave, and he could not bring himself to look at it.
Darth Shado had already arrived on Naboo and was making her way to the home of the boy who had created such a powerful tremor in the Force. His ongoing anger and pain led her into the wilderness of the planet, away from any human or Gungan settlements, to a lonely house in the mountains. The boy was like a beacon of darkness, a slowly growing concentration of dark side energy. She had to find him soon, while he was still ignorant of his power. A child with that much newly acquired Force power could be quite dangerous to himself. He might even destroy himself, and deprive the Sith of a promising apprentice whom Darth Shado needed very much.
For Lord Shado, time and life were running out. Her Master, Darth Nihilus, had died a decade ago from the old-age-like withering of the dark side, the physical price a Sith paid for the power given to him. Now Shado was afflicted with the same accelerated decrepitude. Though she was not yet seventy, she looked and felt as if she was well over one hundred years old. But the power of the Force still burned within her as strongly as ever. She was the Dark Lord of the Sith, and she truly deserved that title. However, if she could not pass on her knowledge to an apprentice before she died, all of it would be wasted. She thought she might have a scant decade of life left to her. This boy from Naboo might well be her last, best chance to assure the survival of the Sith legacy.
Darth Shado needed the boy, and the boy needed her. One like him came along so rarely. His potential must not be wasted. The dark side responded so easily and potently to him, as if it had chosen him, instead of him choosing the dark path. Having dreamt of the boy even before she felt the Force disturbance emanating from this world, Shado believed his destiny lay with the Sith. With her guidance, he would be the next Dark Lord after her.
It was late in the afternoon when a weary Shado finally approached the mountain house, tired from the exertion of following her Force sense all the way from Horuz, and then overland to this mountain. The boy's home was silent, and seemed deserted. In such a desolate area, the Dark Lord did not need to conceal her presence. She walked up the center of the rock strewn road, and, with uncharacteristic openness, stepped boldly up to the front door and knocked sharply on it.
For several minutes, there was no response. With stony patience, Shado rapped on the door again. At last, she sensed a slow stirring within the house. The door opened to reveal a tall man with a pale face and a hollow stare. He blinked in the sunlight as if unaccustomed to it. The room behind him was neglected and in disarray.
"Who are you?" Shado demanded in a sharp tone that partly shook the man out of his depressed lethargy.
"I'm Sate Pestage. What do you want? Healing? There's no healing here anymore. She's gone. Go look somewhere else." Pestage tried to close the door in Shado's face. She blocked it open with the Force, and he pulled on it futilely. Taken aback, the man tried to peer into Shado's deep black hood. "Who are you?" he asked nervously.
"I am here for your son," Shado told him. "I have come to take him away so that he may fulfill a very important destiny. Tell me where he is, so that I may speak to him."
Pestage scowled at her as if she was a senile old woman. "Take my son away? Are you crazy? Don't you know we just had a death in our family? We have enough grief without you bothering us. Go away, and leave us alone!" Unable to close the door, Pestage tried to retreat into the house.
Darth Shado stopped him with a wave of her hand, which hooked out like a claw from the long sleeve of her voluminous black robe. Pestage froze and stared into space. Shado hated the sight of her spotted, shriveled, and nearly translucent skin. Her gnarled, bony fingers settled gently atop Pestage's head. "Now we will see what we need to see," Shado muttered.
The Dark Lord entered Pestage's mind with ease. He had no mental shields to hinder her, and his grief-stricken thoughts were painfully close to the surface. Shado immediately learned everything that had happened in the past month. She saw the arrival of the Jedi Master, the wife's attempt to heal him, and her subsequent death. She saw that the boy, Espaa, still lived at the house, and that he had developed a nocturnal lifestyle. She saw that it would be easy to take him, for neither Sate Pestage nor Espaa could hope to hinder her in any way.
Satisfied, she released Pestage from her mental grip. He slid to the floor, unconscious. When he awakened, he would believe he had sent the mysterious woman away for good. Shado walked slowly away, contemplating the best way to approach Espaa. When she was far out of sight of the house, she seated herself stiffly on the ground and slipped into a Sith meditation. All through the night and the following day, she sat motionless, at one with the dark side. While she meditated, Sate Pestage recovered, saw that she was gone, and slowly calmed his suspicions. Both he and Espaa felt secure enough to resume their empty routines. That night, the Dark Lord emerged from her trance, ready to confront her new apprentice.
The terrible sun had set, and the night was bright with stars and pale light from Naboo's three moons. Espaa was sitting alone at the cliff's edge, holding his red cap tightly in his hands and staring at the multitude of softly twinkling lights in the sky. The stars, so distant and tiny, did not disturb him the way the sun did. They had nothing to do with his loss. Instead, they beckoned him to visit them, to leave his ruined home and escape his sorrow among them in the blackness.
Espaa heard the sound of a single footstep behind him, Startled, he spun around and saw a black robed and hooded human figure standing directly behind him. He gasped, and nearly tipped over the edge of the cliff, stunned that anyone could sneak up on him so silently. His first instinct was to run, but there was literally nowhere to go.
"Stand up, Espaa," said the intruder with the thin, raspy voice of an old woman.
Trembling, he obeyed her, putting on his cap and stepping away from the edge of the cliff. Espaa recognized the dark figure now as the one in his dream, the black-robed Jedi who had come to take him away from his home and family. Aged hands pushed back the hood and let the robe fall open. Beneath the robe, the woman was draped in dusty, shadowy gray tatters of cloth covered by thin black lace in a web-like pattern. Her hands, neck, and waist glimmered with darkly glowing gems on ancient rings and amulets. Her face was that of a gaunt crone, but it was suffused with terrible dignity, and her eyes were bright with a frightening vitality.
"You're the one from my dream," Espaa managed to say.
"And you are the one from mine." The woman's mouth was a razor slit in her stretched, desiccated skin. It formed a tiny smile of satisfaction. "I am Darth Shado."
"Are you a Jedi?" Espaa asked.
"No. A Sith."
Espaa had heard of the Sith, but he only knew that they were the ancient nemeses of the Jedi. He considered the possibility that an enemy of the Jedi might be his friend. "What do you want from me?" he asked nervously.
"I want you to come with me, Espaa. Join me as my apprentice. I will teach you the ways of the Sith."
Espaa was intrigued by the prospect of joining enemies of the Jedi. He wanted revenge against them, but he knew there was little he could do on his own. However, he did not know this frightening woman at all, and in person, she filled him with even more dread than she had in his dream. "I can't go with you," Espaa protested. "I live here with my father. I can't just leave him. He's the only family I have left."
Darth Shado nodded in apparent understanding. "I know what happened to your mother, Espaa. I know how she died. Let me share what I know with you." The Dark Lord gracefully formed Sith illusions in the night air, using the information she had taken from Sate Pestage's mind. Espaa watched with horror and growing anger as scenes which he had only been able to imagine played out before his eyes. He saw how much pain his mother was in, and how ravaged her body had become in such a short time. He saw how hateful and selfish the Jedi Master had been, and how he had used and condemned Espaa's mother to death. He saw the Jedi finally die from his disease, but that was not enough justice for Espaa. He shivered with an angry desire for vengeance upon the Jedi, upon any Jedi, upon all the Jedi. An inner voice seemed to whisper that one day soon, he would have that vengeance.
"I can feel your anger," the Sith said. "I can give you the power to take your revenge against the Jedi, if you will come with me now. I cannot teach you here on Naboo."
Espaa was in turmoil. An intoxicating energy was coursing through him, responding to his anger, frightening him with its strength, and exciting him at the same time. The Sith seemed to understand what was happening, but Espaa did not.
"What's happening to me," Espaa asked, shaking. "Are you doing this? Why don't you leave me alone? Let me go. I want to go home!"
"You cannot make this decision by yourself," Shado decided, "therefore I must make it for you, for the sake of the Sith." Darth Shado gestured strangely at Espaa, and an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion came over him. His vision went black, and he fell immediately into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Part Two: Horuz
Senator Palpatine felt only disgust that he had once hesitated to accept his destiny. He was glad that the Dark Lord's wisdom had forced the issue. Neither his father nor his home on Naboo was worth what he had gained in their place. Being back on Naboo now did not instill in Palpatine any feelings of being home. Home was a concept he had discarded many years ago. The idea of family had been thrown away at the same time.
On the other hand, why had he had such a strong reaction to the sight of his father an hour ago? Did his father...Espaa's father...still mean anything to him? Palpatine told himself that his reaction was merely the surprise of seeing the man again after all those years. He had not seen Sate Pestage since that day, thirty years ago, when Darth Shado came to Naboo seeking her apprentice. After so long, and after so many changes in Palpatine's life, how could there be any ties remaining between them? Certainly, it had just been the unexpectedness of the encounter that had thrown him off.
The Senator had relinquished all ties to Naboo as a home long ago, but now that he thought back to his first arrival on the planet Horuz, he recalled that Espaa had not found it easy to let go of such attachments...
Espaa woke up in a small dimly lit round room. He could see blinking control panels, engine parts, and the sort of machine clutter that told him he was on a spaceship. He was seated in one of two acceleration chairs, restrained for flight but not trapped. He easily opened the buckles and slipped out of the straps, standing up on wobbly legs. Almost everything was colored a gloomy rust brown, and the cramped space made Espaa feel closed in. The only sound was the steady hum of the engine, and there was no one else in sight.
There were two exits, a closed airlock that presumably led into the vacuum of space, and a small closed blast door, presumably leading to the cockpit. Espaa guessed that the Sith woman was at the controls. Not finding a way to open the door, he pounded on it, yelling for her to open up. When that didn't yield a response, Espaa picked up a hydrospanner and used that to beat on the door. Again, there was no answer. Discouraged, Espaa dropped the tool and slumped back into the chair.
He felt miserable and angry. Still grieving over his mother's death, he had been kidnapped and taken from his home by a total stranger. Now he was on a ship, and he didn't know where he was going. He missed his father, and most of all, he missed Gemsaa. At least there was a chance he would get out of this and see his father again. His mother...never. Espaa touched the red cap that was all he had left of her. He felt another surge of anger, thinking about how she had died because of the Jedi. As angry as Espaa was at Darth Shado for presuming to take him away like that, it was nothing compared to his fury at the Jedi.
Once again, the quiet voices in his head began to whisper to him. Espaa had been hearing them more and more over the past several weeks. They didn't speak to him in words. They were more like feelings...feelings and ideas. When Espaa felt most angry about his mother, the whispers came to him quickly and easily, and they seemed to speak to him about power.
Now an image of Darth Shado flickered across Espaa's thoughts. He was angry at her for kidnapping him, yes, but perhaps he should be grateful instead. Standing under the stars, she had told him that she would teach him the ways of the Sith. She would give him the power to take his revenge against the Jedi. Wasn't that exactly what he wanted? The voices whispered, and hinted at what he could become. He could be a Sith himself. He could be strong, and terrifying to his enemies. He could rule over others. Wasn't that what he wanted? Espaa was confused. He didn't know what he wanted. Too much had happened, too quickly. Actually, he wanted to go home. Maybe there, he could sort out his feelings, and decide what to do.
Suddenly, a round cover hiding a transparisteel viewport slid open with a metallic grinding noise. Espaa stood again and hesitantly leaned over to peer out the window. He experienced a jolt of panic at the sight. They were not in space. They were flying low over the surface of another world. It was too late to simply go back to Naboo. With a sinking feeling, Espaa realized he was a fool to think he could go back. Shado had carried out her threat to take him to her own planet, which could be anywhere in the galaxy. Espaa was helpless, and at Darth Shado's mercy.
Wherever they were, it was definitely not a hospitable place. The small ship sped over a smoking, glowing volcanic landscape, like nothing ever found on Naboo. A haze of simmering air and toxic gasses lay over a range of fiery cone shapes that stretched far away over the horizon. As Espaa watched, a volcano erupted in the distance, sending a hot cloud of ash and magma cascading down its slope. The ship stayed well clear of the active region, passing over a long stretch of hardened lava fields and plateaus. The ground below was littered with sharp boulders of all sizes. They flew past the cinder cones of several extinct volcanoes and approached a broad, gently sloping shield volcano. The ship slowed near the wide vent of the volcano, and gracefully descended into the crater-pipe.
Espaa watched the walls of the pipe rise past the viewport until the ship settled gently on the bottom. A minute later, the ship's ramp lowered, letting in a swirl of hot air. On the other side of the hold, the cockpit door slid aside, framing Darth Shado, cloaked in black, a deep hood hiding her face in darkness. Espaa whirled to face her, fear and accusation warring in his throat.
Before he could speak, Shado pointed sternly at the ramp. "We have arrived on Horuz," she said. "Go outside, now."
Espaa stood his ground. "Wait a moment! You have to tell me what's going on here. We were talking, and you put me to sleep, didn't you? You kidnapped me, and took me here against my will."
The Sith woman only pointed, her face inscrutable in the shadows. Espaa faltered and backed down the ramp, not taking his eyes off the menacing figure. Shado followed him out, keeping her distance. Espaa found himself on a rough hardened lava floor. The air was dry, stifling, and sulfurous. High above, the open vent of the volcano revealed a sullen red sky. The silvery ship they had arrived in rested before him. It was indeed quite small, consisting of a spherical main body and an egg shaped cockpit. Eight angular landing struts gave the little craft the shape of a crouching spider. It suited its owner, Espaa thought.
Darth Shado glided past Espaa and gestured for him to follow. Profoundly anxious, but helpless to do otherwise, he complied. The Sith woman led him into a series of lava tunnels. The tunnels were ancient conduits, big enough to walk through, that had once carried molten lava below the surface, away from the main volcano. The walls were lined with glow-strips and had a melted appearance. Old lava stalactites hung from the roofs of the tunnels, but the floors were flat and well worn. Smaller tubes branched off from the main one, creating an underground maze leading in all directions. Espaa was quickly lost. Stopping to gawk at the high ceiling of a vault-like cavern, he almost lost sight of the Sith woman as she slipped into another tunnel. Hurrying after her, he was surprised to hear her speak gently to him.
"Ask your questions," she told him.
"What is this place?" Espaa said at once.
"This is the monastery for the preservation of the legacy of the Sith. It is a sanctuary for the Dark Lord of the Sith and the Apprentice Sith Lord. It is a haven for dark side adepts and devotees of the Sith tradition."
Emboldened, Espaa replied, "I haven't seen anyone else. How many people are here?"
"Twenty-eight," said Shado. "Including yourself."
"And all of them are Sith?" Espaa wondered.
"No," said Shado seriously. "Since the time of Darth Bane, a millennium ago, there have only been two Sith Lords at a time, a Master and an Apprentice. When there were more, there were power struggles that nearly wiped out our order. You and I will be the only Sith here, once you become my apprentice."
"Why me?" Espaa asked defiantly. "Why not one of the other people already here?"
"Only you have the potential," said Shado. "The others are mere adepts, lacking your rare gift. They are here because I do not wish them to be elsewhere. The Sith have remained hidden from the Jedi here for a thousand years. The Jedi no longer suspect that the true Sith still exist. But there will always be those who discover scattered bits of ancient Sith lore. They gain some knowledge, and a small share of power, and without guidance, they come to the attention of the Jedi, who quickly move to destroy them. By finding them and taking them in before that happens, I prevent them from drawing attention to the Sith. They serve the dark side, and they serve me."
They entered another cavern, a very large one with a glowing fire pit full of hot coals in the center. Espaa stopped walking. "I don't serve you. I never asked to be your apprentice. You kidnapped me. I don't like it here. I need to go back to my father. Why don't you just take me home?" Shado seemed to ignore his outburst. Espaa heard someone clear his throat uncomfortably.
Two strange looking men walked around the fire pit and approached them, one carrying a black bundle. "These are my attendants, Jappi Qaff and Zenick Fesi," said Shado. Espaa stared at them. They were from a near-human race, with very long wrinkled faces and grim expressions. Both were dressed in black, and although one of them, Qaff, was a dwarf, he precisely matched the taller Fesi in height by wearing a tall, thin hat.
Shado nodded to her attendants, and took the bundle from the dwarf. She faced Espaa, but all he could see of her was her chin. "You cannot go home," she said firmly. "Your new life is as a Sith." With startling speed, her hand darted out and snatched the red cap from Espaa's head. Then she tossed it onto the redly glowing coals, where it quickly caught fire.
Espaa shouted in dismay and nearly dove in after it. He turned a tearful, angry face to Shado. "Why did you do that?" It felt like the last piece of his mother and his home had been ripped from him. The whispers in his mind turned into a soft roar. Strike back, they seemed to say. But sadness and shame drowned them out. There was nothing he could do, nothing at all. He was powerless.
"Red is not the color of the Sith," Shado said. "Black is our color, to honor the dark side of the Force." Shado held out the bundle of cloth. "This is a robe. Put it on."
Espaa watched the last scrap of the cap burn away. "Why should I do anything you say?" he asked bitterly.
"It is not too early for your first lesson," Shado said. "The answer to your question is, because I command the power of the dark side, and you do not."
Espaa was jerked about as an invisible force ripped the clothing from his body. The torn rags of his Naboo outfit flew into the fire pit by themselves and began to burn. Bewildered and frightened, Espaa stood there for a moment, wearing nothing but his boots. He looked at the burning clothes, then at the proffered black robe. Qaff and Fesi said nothing, their dark eyes almost closed, their thin mouths faintly frowning. Shado waited.
Finally, Espaa donned the robe. He refused, however, to pull the hood over his head.
"You must come to terms with not going home again, Espaa," said Shado. But Espaa inwardly denied her words. The Sith Lord looked steadily at him, measuring his will with her gaze. "Once you have the power to destroy the Jedi," Shado told him finally, "home will no longer matter to you."
Senator Palpatine remembered that in the beginning, Darth Shado was something like a replacement mother figure to him, a dark figure, certainly, but not yet cruel. He saw now how she had coldly used the name of Espaa's real mother to help him further down the dark path, slowly nurturing his anger into hate. But how could he blame her? In her place, he would have done the same thing. With the future of the Sith at stake, what did the feelings of a na?ve young boy matter? Palpatine shook his head. They mattered not at all.
Espaa was given an austere, sparsely furnished room. After spending some time brooding in it alone, he crept out into the tunnels of the monastery. He saw dark side adepts moving about, carrying out their mysterious business, but they either ignored him, or gave him a brief glare and walked on without stopping. Espaa was glad they didn't stop. He was intimidated by their size and appearance. Many of the adepts were tall and muscular, covered in pieces of black armor and carrying bizarre weapons. Elaborate tattoos covered their faces. Other adepts were hidden by deep shadowy cloaks, showing Espaa only a glimpse of a clawed hand, or a pair of glowing red eyes. Espaa wondered if they knew that he was Darth Shado's new Apprentice. He hoped that wouldn't make any of the adepts resentful of him. Any of the darksiders living there could crush him in an instant if they had a reason to do so. Thus both frightened and despondent, he returned to his room and stayed there.
Darth Shado was not surprised to find Espaa alone in his room, suffering from pangs of homesickness. She had expected this, nevertheless, it made her angry. Shado had given him some time to get over his feelings on his own, and it hadn't happened.
Tersely, she reminded him that he was there to learn about the Force. She told him that if he turned away from that purpose, he would betray his mother and let her killers go unpunished. The mention of Espaa's mother reawakened his anger, which pleased Shado. She could feel the boy's great potential at that moment, and she knew that in time, she would unlock it.
The next morning, Espaa's education began. Shado brought one of the dark side adepts with her to Espaa's room. She introduced him as Savuud Thimram. He was of an alien race Espaa had never seen before. He had brown, leathery skin, and four fingered hands. His face was triangular in shape, with long eyes in a wide forehead, a pug nose, a stiff, tiny mouth, and a pointed chin. Thimram wore a slanting cylindrical hat and ornate robes. He gazed disapprovingly at Espaa, but said nothing.
Shado held out her hand and offered a pointed object to Espaa. "This is a Sith Holocron," she told him. "It is an interactive recording device used by the Sith to store knowledge and teach it to others. If you wish to take your revenge upon the Jedi, you must first learn about the Sith who have fought the Jedi in the past. Then you will see what you are up against, and understand how much you have to learn. This is a historical Holocron made by Darth Bane, the founder of the current Sith order."
Shado looked at Thimram, then back at Espaa. "You are to have full access to all of the historical Holocrons," she told Espaa. "Savuud will bring them to you as you require them." She waved a hand at the adept. "That is all for now." Thimram frowned slightly, bowed deeply, and left.
When he was gone, Shado placed the Holocron in Espaa's hand. It was a small, ornate, pyramid-shaped object, etched with strange symbols and glowing softly. Within the semi-transparent shape, he could see a delicate crystalline lattice. Shado's withered hands played over the surface. "Touch it here, and here," she indicated. Espaa pressed on two of the symbols. The Holocron grew warmer, and a smoky orange light boiled out of it. The light took the shape of a miniature hologram of a man, floating above the top of the pyramid. He was large and muscular, and covered in strange, barnacle-like armor. His head was shaved smooth, and his grim expression was clearly visible, even in miniature. Espaa knew at once that this was a powerful warrior.
"This is Lord Bane, the gatekeeper of this Holocron," Shado said. "I want you to listen to what he has to say about the Sith. The creator of a Holocron places part of himself within it. Therefore, you may ask him questions, but you must wait until he is finished speaking before you do. Think well upon what he tells you, for this information is the basis of our order. I will leave you now. I have many important projects to attend to." Shado gave him a long appraising look. "Learn what you need to know. You are going to need it."
The Dark Lord addressed the floating figure of Bane. "You know me, Lord Bane," she said. "I am Darth Shado. This is my Apprentice-to-be. Tell him of the changes you brought to the Sith order."
As Shado turned to leave, Bane began to speak. "Greetings to the Sith Apprentice who holds this Holocron," Bane said. "I am making this recording to summarize the justification for the New Sith Order. I hope that this will inspire my new Apprentice, Zannah, as we begin to plan the final destruction of the Jedi. If this task is not completed within my lifetime, then let this recording inspire and teach you, my successor, and lead you to victory over our enemies.
"Tradition tells us that the Sith began more than twenty thousand years ago, when a visionary Jedi Knight named Shuma Gora rediscovered the forgotten power of the dark side. All we have left of him today is a Holocron thought to be made by him, which explains the use of Force Lightning. Defeating the Jedi who opposed him with that potent dark side weapon, he came to rule over his planet and offered to teach his truth to any Jedi who was willing to join him.
"Many did join him, but the Jedi could not tolerate different ways of using the Force. They rejected the dark side out of weakness and ignorance. With reckless disregard for the lives they were supposed to protect, the Jedi started a war with the so-called Dark Jedi, who were forced to form an army and a fleet to defend themselves. The war raged for a hundred years, and entire worlds were ruined. Finally, the Dark Jedi chose survival over victory and boldly entered the unmapped regions of deep space, seeking to forge an empire of their own, far from the aggressive intolerance of the Jedi and the Republic."
Espaa found himself interested despite himself; he was being drawn into the tale. He thought that the Dark Jedi journey to the unknown regions was just like what his mother had done, going off to live in the wilderness of Naboo to stay safe from the Jedi, who denied her way of life.
"There they found a primitive dark side using race called the Sith," Bane continued. "Eventually, the Dark Jedi became Lords of the Sith, creating an empire of many worlds and combining their own knowledge of the Force with that of the Sith. The sorcerers of that Golden Age found new ways to become one with the dark side, taking from it the power to accomplish amazing feats, while giving back to it the fear, anger, and chaos that strengthened it. Now calling themselves the Sith, they replenished their numbers, and prepared for the day they would meet the Jedi again."
Fascinated now, Espaa likened the far-away Sith Empire to the sanctuary of Darth Shado. Perhaps, like the Sith of old, Espaa could gain new strength, and prepare his own revenge against the hateful Jedi.
"Four thousand years ago," Bane said, "Republic spies finally found the Sith Empire. But the Dark Lord of the Sith, Naga Sadow, attacked the Jedi and the Republic first with a huge battle fleet. The Great Hyperspace War ended in a terrible military defeat for the Sith, leaving Naga Sadow to escape to a hidden world. There, he preserved the legacy of the Sith for the future, even after his death.
"The spirit of Naga Sadow passed that legacy to a Dark Jedi named Freedon Nadd. As Dark Lord of the Sith, Nadd ruled the planet Onderon. After his death, his spirit passed the Sith legacy to a Dark Jedi named Exar Kun, who became a Dark Lord three thousand years ago. Echoing the actions of Shuma Gora, Exar Kun revealed the truth to many other Jedi. Once again, an army of dark side followers grew, naming themselves the Krath. And, once again, a conflict with the Jedi, the great Sith War, began.
"Exar Kun himself was defeated, but his followers were too many to be completely eradicated. For two thousand years, they kept the Sith alive, if only barely, existing in scattered hidden sanctuaries. Lacking focus or unity, they failed to gain any true power. They sometimes emerged to fight the Jedi, but made no progress against them. Just as often, those Sith destroyed each other out of personal ambition for dominance. Their numbers dwindled.
"Then, a powerful Jedi Knight turned to the dark side, and joined the few remaining Sith, revitalizing the order. For the last thousand years, the Jedi and the Sith have contested bitterly with each other, fighting several wars, neither side gaining a true advantage. This period reached its climax only a few years ago, when the self-styled Lord Kaan and his "Brotherhood of Darkness" attempted to create a new Sith Empire in place of the Republic. This, the Jedi could not ignore. Led by Lord Hoth, the Jedi formed the "Army of Light" and went to war against the Sith again.
"The last war raged across many systems, and culminated with the seven battles of Ruusan. Although thousands of Jedi, Sith, and their minions died, in the end, the Sith were faced with surrender. But Kaan chose a suicidal and destructive end in order to take as many enemies with him as he could. The Brotherhood created and detonated a Thought Bomb, which annihilated the remaining forces of both Hoth and Kaan.
"Now I am the only remaining Dark Lord of the Sith. And, I have decided to create a New Sith Order in place of the old. The Sith of the past repeatedly failed to conquer the Jedi, for they were flawed in their nature and their methods. How many times must a lesson be repeated before it is learned? In four major wars against the Jedi, the Sith were defeated. With the bleak record of history before us, we must finally admit that while the Jedi oppose us, the Sith cannot survive as an army, an empire, or a civilization. The Sith are none of those things. The Sith are instead, an idea.
"The Sith idea is a true understanding of the dark side, that allows us to become one with the only power that matters. The Sith serve the dark side, and cannot be separated from it. The dark side and the Sith make each other strong. Because the Sith are an idea, we can never be destroyed. Even when the folly of war wiped out the living Sith, the idea survived beyond death to be passed to another generation. One Sith spirit and one Dark Jedi were enough to accomplish this, more than once. They knew that the knowledge of the Sith, the Sith legacy, had to be preserved. That is the basis of my new Order. We will preserve the legacy of the Sith until the Jedi are finally destroyed.
"Most of all, we must avoid the mistakes that led our brothers to failure. Never again will we be a great army attacking the Republic, only to be destroyed ourselves. Instead we will live in secrecy. While the Jedi are strong, they must not know of our continued existence. Let them believe we are finally eradicated. Then they will not see their doom coming until it is too late.
"Never again will we fight each other for supremacy, wasting Sith lives. Instead of many Sith, there will only be two at a time, a Master and an Apprentice. When the power of the dark side is concentrated in only two Sith instead of diluted among a multitude, it is much stronger. We will be the only two true servants of the darkness; we will embody it. What we do, we will do for the Force, not for ourselves. The Master and the Apprentice will be united in purpose, and we will not fight each other, for one day, the Apprentice will become the Master without a struggle.
"We will wait, for the dark side can wait, its potency undiminished. The Sith will study and work in secret to manipulate the Republic and bring about the downfall of the Jedi. Then we will rise again, unopposed, spreading our truth as we once did, and rule the galaxy in the name of the dark side."
Bane finished his speech, and waited with his mighty arms crossed over his armored chest. Espaa sat thoughtfully on his chair, taking in all that had been said to him. Then he cleared his throat and nervously addressed the hologram.
"Lord Bane, what has become of your dream to destroy the Jedi? It has been a thousand years since you lived, and the Jedi still exist. What happened?"
Bane frowned deeply. "A thousand years? I had hoped the time would come before I died. No matter. The Sith still live, and my plan still goes forward. Perhaps now is the time it will reach fruition. Perhaps you are the Apprentice to fulfill that destiny."
Espaa was startled. Was he that special? Was the time of waiting going to be over...because of him? He blinked. Had that been his own thought, or had it come from that seductive, insistent voice within? Espaa now thought of that voice as the call of the dark side. Although his mother had never spoken of the dark side of the Force, it was clearly real, and it seemed to want something from Espaa. Or, it wanted him to do something. Was it possible that Shado was right? Did he have a destiny? Espaa sat, deep in thought, until the unattended hologram of Bane dissolved into a haze of orange smoke and receded back into the Holocron.
Later, Espaa found Darth Shado and asked her when he could begin to learn about the Sith powers he would need to destroy the Jedi. "All in good time," she told him. "Before you can act, you must learn about the context in which you act. For now, you are restricted to the historical Holocrons."
Privately in his chamber, Espaa chafed at the restriction. He was impatient. He wanted the knowledge sooner, so that he could have his revenge sooner. His mother's killers walked free even now. They must be punished. It must not wait. Maybe the Sith could wait a thousand years, but he could not.
He had to know...what were the Sith powers? Were they going to be enough of a weapon to destroy the Jedi? Would he be able to use them well enough?
Sitting alone, troubled and anxious, Espaa gazed at the pyramidal shape of Darth Bane's Holocron. Suddenly, he remembered something Lord Bane had said. "All we have left of him today is a Holocron thought to be made by him, which explains the use of Force Lightning. Defeating the Jedi who opposed him with that potent dark side weapon, he came to rule over his planet..."
Espaa needed that Holocron, the Holocron of Shuma Gora. But...assuming it was even here at the monastery, how was he going to get it?
The series of deductions and manipulations that brought the coveted Holocron to Espaa began with Savuud Thimram. Every few days, the adept brought one or two new historical Holocrons to Espaa, depending on how quickly Espaa went through them. Espaa would find a topic that interested him, question the gatekeeper of the Holocron, and discover which other Holocrons he should view in order to learn more about the subject.
Watching Thimram leave one day, Espaa began to see a way to get the forbidden knowledge he wanted. He noticed that it was always Thimram who brought the Holocrons. Darth Shado seemed to be too busy for such minor tasks. If Thimram had the responsibility of bringing and returning the devices, he must also know where they were stored. There was a good chance that the Holocron of Shuma Gora was kept with the other ones.
Espaa also noticed that Darth Shado had waited until Thimram left the room before she showed Espaa how to activate the Holocron. That made sense if Shado wanted to keep Sith secrets from the adepts. If the adepts could simply access the Holocrons any time they wanted, they would soon know as much about the Force as the Dark Lord did. Then how would Shado maintain her power, authority, and uniqueness? He remembered Shado calling the other beings at the monastery "mere adepts" with a condescending tone. No doubt, after a thousand years of being so rare and special, the Sith Lords must look down on other lesser darksiders. That made the adepts second class citizens of a sort. Espaa realized he could make use of that fact to get what he wanted.
The next time Thimram visited, Espaa struck up a conversation. Talking clearly made the alien adept uncomfortable. He rarely spoke to Espaa at all, and made it clear with his expressions and body language that he disliked the young human.
"Thank you for bringing me this Holocron," said Espaa. "I'm sorry you have to do this for me all the time. I suppose if Lord Shado trusted me, she would let me go and get my own Holocrons. But she doesn't, and I understand that, because I'm so new here. It doesn't feel good not to be trusted, though."
Thimram stood still, watching Espaa but saying nothing. The adept looked irritated.
"I am new here," Espaa went on, "but I wish the people here would give me a chance. You should see the looks I get. At first I thought it was because I'm a child, and beneath them. But then I realized, they must resent me. Here is Lord Shado, looking for an Apprentice, and instead of choosing one of her faithful and powerful adepts, she brings in a human child." Espaa smiled self-deprecatingly. "It makes no sense to me, either. I wish everyone understood that I know I'm not better than everyone else, no matter what Lord Shado thinks. She sees some kind of potential in me that may or may not become reality, but I can see the real power in everyone around me, right now. I could learn a lot from everyone here." Espaa shrugged. "Why am I telling you this, anyway? You probably have important things to do."
Espaa began to pace while he chatted. Thimram watched him with a musing look. "Maybe you know the feeling I'm talking about, though," Espaa said sympathetically. "When I was thinking about all of this, I realized some of you must feel as put down as I do. Darth Shado is as high above you as you are above me. As loyal and powerful as you are, she should trust you more than she does."
Espaa looked slyly at Thimram, and took the chance that his reasoning had been correct. "If she gives a child like me access to the Holocrons, why shouldn't you have the same privileges?" Espaa watched Thimram's face carefully. Had he guessed wrong? Thimram frowned, but nodded. Yes, he had been right! The adepts were not allowed to use the Holocrons.
"I hope you do not resent me too much, adept Thimram, but I suppose if you did, there is little I could do about it. Unless, that is, you would be willing to do me a small favor, and accept my gratitude for the time you have spent helping me. That would make me feel better, and perhaps once I have helped you in return, you might feel more tolerant of my presence here."
"What do you mean?" Thimram asked gruffly.
"Simply that I could show you how to activate the Holocrons. Isn't that all you need? You already have access to them. Once you know how to open them, you can learn whatever you wish. You can even study things I can't, because Lord Shado says I'm not ready for them yet."
Espaa paused expectantly, trying to look humble. Thimram's eyes glanced quickly around, as if to make sure Darth Shado was not lurking nearby.
"There wouldn't be anything wrong with that, would there?" Espaa asked innocently. "I'm sure Lord Shado doesn't have to know about it. And it would only be fair. She really should be more trusting. Even if she found out, I think she would just admit that she was wrong not to share the Holocrons in the first place."
"What do you propose?" Thimram asked hesitantly. Espaa knew the adept was highly interested. It was working.
"Tomorrow," said Espaa casually, "bring me two Holocrons. I need the one made by Shuma Gora again, and besides that one, bring another one of your own choosing. I'll show you how to activate it, and then you can take it away to study it somewhere in private."
Espaa waited tensely for the reply. He had slipped in the name of the Holocron he wanted, acting as if it was a historical one he had already used. He was counting on Thimram not to recognize the name, or to realize he had never brought that one before. Luck, or perhaps the Force, was with Espaa. Thimram had brought so many Holocrons so far that he had not bothered to keep track of them, and the name sparked no recognition. "All right," said Thimram smoothly. "I will allow you to do that for me. We may yet come to an understanding, you and I." Espaa breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
As he promised, Thimram brought two Holocrons the next day. Espaa nearly jumped with excitement when he saw that the Holocron of Shuma Gora really existed, and that it was actually there in his room. He caught himself, and hid his emotions as Thimram casually placed the Holocron, a black cube shape, on Espaa's hard bed.
Thimram held up his prize, a pyramidal Sith Holocron. Espaa took it from him, and spoke in a hushed voice as he pointed out the ancient Sith symbols etched on the surface. He showed Thimram how to touch them in the right order, and with the right amount of pressure. The adept gasped as the image of a Sith sorcerer flowed out of the Holocron. Espaa then showed him how to deactivate it. Hiding the Holocron under his robes, Thimram nodded his thanks, and slipped swiftly out of the room, disappearing down the round lava tube tunnel.
Espaa waited until he was sure he was alone. He carefully picked up the black box and held it nervously in his hand. He was defying Darth Shado. He wondered what sort of punishment she would give him. It would probably be very painful. But it was too late now. The deed was done. Then he thought about his mother, and all doubts vanished. He had no choice but to go forward, for her sake.
There were no Sith symbols on the cube, Espaa noticed with dismay. Of course, this Holocron predated the Sith Empire. It was a Jedi Holocron, and Espaa didn't know how to open one of those. As despair rose up in him, he suddenly felt the ebony Holocron grow warmer. It was responding simply to his holding it.
The gatekeeper materialized above the cube. He was a plain faced human man, dressed like a Jedi from thousands of years ago. He had much more ornamentation than a modern Jedi, and his lightsaber was attached to a separate power pack by a cord.
"I greet you, Jedi," said Shuma Gora. "How may I instruct you in the ways of the dark side, and so complete your training?"
Espaa did not hesitate. "Tell me about Force Lightning."
The hologram seemed to reply with eagerness. "Force Lightning is a powerful weapon of the dark side of the Force. With a wave of your hand, you can create devastating bolts of energy to destroy your opponents. But few really understand this power. It is not, in fact, a means of hurling energy from yourself. It is a means of stealing energy from your foe..."
Espaa listened carefully, his intent expression lit by the flickering hologram. For once, the internal beckoning of the dark side fell silent. The voices seemed...satisfied, for now.
Before long, Savuud Thimram inadvertently revealed their illicit activities to Darth Shado. Unsatisfied with what he had learned from a single Sith Holocron, he tried to activate another while standing in the storage room itself. Unfortunately for Thimram, he did not know that most of the Holocrons were activated by using the Force as well as by touch. When he pressed the appropriate symbols, nothing happened. Furthermore, the Holocron he chose was protected by a hidden ward, embedded into the object by the Force. His triggering the ward instantly alerted Shado.
Holding the inactive Holocron in puzzlement, Thimram suddenly realized that Lord Shado was standing next to him. She had approached him without his realizing it, in the manner of a Sith master. Immediately, Thimram dropped to his knees and bowed his head. He placed the Holocron gently on the ground, and continued to prostrate himself in fear. He offered no excuses. There were no excuses for defying a Dark Lord of the Sith.
Shado glared at the adept. Reading from his open, submissive mind what had happened, she sighed in disgust. Her Apprentice had shown the adept how to activate the Holocrons, hoping to curry favor with him. Espaa had not known that most of the devices were warded with Sith magic that only she or Espaa would not set off. That thought gave Shado pause. Suddenly suspicious, she scanned the shelves. Row upon row of Holocrons were lined up there, some cubes, some pyramids, and even some octahedrons, of all colors and designs. Quickly, her eyes found the empty spot where the ancient Holocron of Shuma Gora should be.
Finally, Shado fully grasped what had happened. Her Apprentice was indeed insidious. Somehow, he had used Thimram to gain access to a teaching Holocron of power. Espaa was lucky he was not dead. The Holocron of Shuma Gora only activated for those with a very high sensitivity to the Force. If it sensed that the user was a lesser Force sensitive, it would kill that user with a deadly burst of Force Lightning. If Espaa had not been powerful enough, it would have destroyed him.
This confirmed Shado's choice of the boy, but it also told her that she could no longer lie to him. Now that Espaa was learning real power to destroy, Shado could not use the lure of revenge any longer. All too quickly, that tool had been taken from her. Now, she was forced to tell him the truth. She resolved to get it over with as soon as possible.
Shado told Thimram to rise. He did so, but he continued to stare at the floor. "No doubt you expect to be punished," Shado said. "Instead, I have a task for you. My new Apprentice needs to be watched carefully at all times, and I do not have the time or the energy to do it. He will trust you, thinking that he has earned your respect and gratitude. I will expect you to observe him and report everything back to me." Shado sensed his relief.
"I sense that he will bring us great trouble," said Shado quietly. "Before this is over, you may wish I had punished you instead."
Darth Shado found Espaa alone in his room as usual. The "stolen" Holocron was gone. Thimram had returned it without letting Espaa know anything was wrong. Without preamble, Shado seated herself and began to lecture Espaa concerning the true nature of the Force. He listened raptly. Shado sensed the changes in him. He was finally and truly on the dark path. The dark side had him. The time to set him straight had come.
Abruptly changing the subject, Shado gravely said, "You will never be able to take your revenge for what happened to your mother."
Espaa looked as if he hadn't heard her correctly. "What?" was all he could say.
"You can never attack the Jedi, Espaa."
"What do you mean?" He was understandably confused.
"To attack the Jedi in any way would mean revealing the existence of the Sith. We must not be discovered."
"But you promised," Espaa protested futilely. "That was the whole reason you brought me here. To teach me enough to destroy them." He was getting upset very quickly, Shado noted.
"We can never destroy them," Shado insisted. "They are too many, and the Sith are too few. The only possible outcome is that we would be destroyed. Then no one would be left to preserve our knowledge, the priceless legacy of the Sith."
"Why did you tell me differently before? Why did you promise me? Are you just breaking that promise, then?" Espaa clenched his small fists. "You never meant it in the first place. You were just toying with me. Using me!"
"And I will continue to use you," Shado said coldly. "You will be the student I require."
"No, I won't. You never cared about my mother. You never cared about punishing the Jedi. You only care about your precious Sith secrets." He stood up scowling and took a step towards her. "Well, you can keep them to yourself. I don't want them."
Shado remained seated. "You have no choice. I am dying, Espaa. I need an Apprentice, now. You are here, now, and you have the potential within you. It is too late for you to turn away from the dark path."
The Dark Lord could sense the Force flowing through the boy. The dark side was calling him to greatness. Shado summoned her own powers, without moving.
"I'll take my revenge on my own," Espaa shouted. "I don't need you or your followers. I'll kill the Jedi by myself if I have to." Furious, he began to shed tears of rage.
"You will not," Shado said firmly, unimpressed by his display of raw emotion. "You know too much to be released."
"I will stop you."
Espaa rushed at her, but she raised one hand slightly and stopped him with a Force barrier. Then the frustrated boy paused to listen to the urgings of the dark side. He closed his eyes and stretched out his hands to either side. Shado felt him begin to channel the power of the Force, as he had learned from the Holocron. Espaa drew upon the dark side. A blue spark of energy arced between two of his fingers. Shado's eyes widened slightly. He was trying to summon Force Lightning.
Before Espaa could succeed, the angry Dark Lord stretched out her own hand, palm down. A heavy wall of telekinetic power slammed down upon the boy, and he was crushed mercilessly to the stone floor. He struggled, but the Force only pressed him harder. Espaa quickly found it hard to breathe.
"Young fool!" Shado hissed. "You think to defy me? I have coddled you so far, treated you with kindness. I gave you time to relinquish your need for revenge on your own...to see a greater purpose for yourself in the history and destiny of the Sith. But you could not see past yourself, child, and so the time of leniency is over."
Espaa could no longer move. Still the invisible wall bore down upon him, harder and harder. He cried out in pain and growing panic. "You have severely overestimated yourself, boy, and you have underestimated me." Shado lowered her hand further. Espaa felt his bones begin to bend. He was in agony, suffocating from the pressure.
"Now you have a choice," the Dark Lord said. "I do not yet wish to destroy you and waste your potential. Swear your loyalty to me. Swear to obey me in all things, without question, and I will let you live. Or you can die now, here in this room, a casualty of youthful arrogance."
Espaa could barely get the words out. He gasped out his submission to her, and the pressure suddenly abated. Shado's hand withdrew into her voluminous black sleeve. She nodded, satisfied for the moment. Leaving the boy lying on the floor, she silently left the room. Of course, his punishment and suffering were not over. They had just begun. The Dark Lord only needed time to arrange the next trial.
Senator Palpatine thought that he could almost feel that first painful punishment if he pictured it clearly enough. Of course, he also remembered that the pain had not broken his will. Espaa had been outwardly beaten down by Shado, but he did not give up his desire for revenge. He had resolved to keep his thoughts and feelings so deeply hidden that even Shado could not get to them, secretly keeping the possibility of revenge alive.
As an adult, Palpatine now understood the dark path very well. He knew that the suffering of the apprentice was integral to it, as was the suffering of those he would later dominate. It was the natural course of giving oneself to the dark side. He felt no outrage at the memories of his own suffering. It had been essential to his growth. Without it, he would not be the person he was now...
Summoned by Darth Shado, Espaa followed Savuud Thimram down the ancient lava tube tunnels, full of apprehension that further punishment was coming. No doubt it was, but what form would it take? When questioned, Thimram would not explain, saying only that Espaa would find out soon enough. They emerged from the passageways into a large underground chamber lit by eerie, blue-white smokeless torches. The stark light revealed Darth Shado and all of the adepts, gathered in a circle around a wide open space in the middle of the chamber. The open space was flat, and lightly covered with soft red sand. Thimram directed Espaa to stand on the sand, then he took his place in the large circle of Sith followers surrounding the boy.
"Espaa Pestage," intoned Shado. "You are about to undergo a trial by combat. If you survive it, you will become my Apprentice. If not..." Shado trailed off into meaningful silence.
Espaa looked from face to face in alarm. Survive? He had expected some kind of punishment, not death. Chilling fear rose up in him as he realized there was no escape from what lay ahead. The circle had closed behind him. Despite the heat, the sweat dried coldly on his skin.
Shado held up her hand, and one of the alien Sith followers stepped out of the circle and into the open space opposite Espaa. He was a hulking Mantellian Savrip named Hoggoth. He was built like a rancor, with long heavily muscled arms, short legs, and a hunched back. The reptilian creature had red eyes and a sharp tooth-filled mouth on a bald head at the end of a thick neck. He wore crude, simple clothing, but his clawed hands and feet were bare. The Savrip took one look at Espaa and let out an ear-splitting, bellowing howl.
Shado spoke again, and Espaa faced her, desperate for a reprieve. "A Sith must be prepared to lose what he values most in order to win, even the life of his apprentice, or his own life," Shado said, as if to teach him one last lesson. Espaa swallowed hard, his throat tight. There would be no reprieve.
An adept brought out two pole arm weapons, ornate halberds glistening with gold accents. "These are ancient Sith Lanvaroks," Shado said reverently. "They come to us from the time of the Sith Golden Age." One was passed to Hoggoth, the other to Espaa. Espaa had to hold his with two hands, and it was taller than he was. The other Lanvarok looked like a toy held one-handed by the giant Savrip.
"The Lanvarok was used as a hunting weapon," explained Shado. "When the pole is swung around, sharp disks will fly from the axe head at the far end. But the cutting blade itself is also deadly. This will be a duel to the death. There are no rules. Let the combat begin."
The circle of adepts stepped back to make more room for the duelists as the Savrip roared, whirled his Lanvarok, and ran heavily at Espaa. Frozen in place with terror, Espaa held up his Lanvarok to block the Savrip's swing. The powerful sweep of the creature's long arm brought the two weapons crashing together. Espaa's Lanvarok flew out of his grip and landed in the red sand across the circle. Now disarmed, Espaa threw himself aside and rolled away in time to avoid being cut in two by his enemy.
The adepts muttered and shouted encouragement, mostly to the Savrip, but a few were rooting for the human boy. Espaa dove at his fallen weapon as the Savrip's head twisted backwards on its very flexible neck to see what the boy was doing. Hoggoth spun and swung his Lanvarok in a wide arc, releasing five razor-edged metal disks that hissed through the air at Espaa. Three of the disks thudded into the sand, but two sliced into Espaa's flesh, cutting him on the leg and the waist. Espaa's blood spilled on the red sand as he went to his knees, falling short of reclaiming his weapon.
Shado watched as the boy faltered. "A Sith does not fail," she said. Espaa looked at her as the Savrip bellowed again. Incredibly, she was still instructing him in the middle of the fight, giving him encouragement just as if she had not doomed him to die in the first place. "A Sith is always in control, always disciplined, whether he is acting or waiting to act. Always be in readiness and never relax your guard."
Control? I am going to die, thought Espaa. But what if he didn't have to? Espaa staggered to his feet, ignoring the pain, as the confident Savrip lumbered towards him. The creature tossed aside his own Lanvarok, opened his huge mouthful of sharp teeth, and flexed his powerful four-fingered clawed hands. Hoggoth didn't need a weapon. He had plenty of natural ones. Espaa considered making a move for the fallen Lanvarok, but the Savrip would be on him the moment he tried. Espaa was weaponless.
Reaching out for anything that could save him, Espaa focused on Shado's words. Control, he told himself. Discipline. He centered himself and forced his awareness away from the advancing monster. Be ready. With what? What did he have to fight with?
Suddenly Espaa had the answer. Learn what you need to know, Shado had told him. You are going to need it. And he had learned...from the Holocron of Shuma Gora.
Espaa stood still while the Savrip pounced. Hoggoth lifted him up with his two mighty arms, and readied a paralyzing bite with his poison teeth. Once the boy was unable to move, the Savrip planned to slowly disembowel him where he lay. But Espaa wasn't looking into the stinking maw of pointed teeth. His eyes were closed, and he was summoning the Force. As the enormous jaws opened wide, Espaa's hands came up. The burst of Force Lightning was small and inexpert, but effective. Writhing blue energy leaped from Espaa's hands and crawled over the Savrip's face. Stunned and blinded, Hoggoth dropped Espaa and fell heavily backwards onto the sand. Still bleeding, but ignoring his wounds, Espaa snatched up his Lanvarok and ran back to the Savrip's body. As hard as he could, he swung the sharp axe blade down onto Hoggoth's chest. The Lanvarok bit deep, and the Savrip's chest heaved upwards while his claws dug into the sand.
The crowd of adepts had fallen silent in surprise. Panting, Espaa clearly heard Shado tell him, "Very good, my young Apprentice." She sounded genuinely pleased. Espaa swayed, expecting the Savrip to rise, but Hoggoth lay still. Espaa hesitated, unsure what to do next. Would it be necessary to kill the creature after all?
"Always press the advantage your power gives you," said Shado. "A Sith has no mercy or compassion. The battle is not over until your enemy is dead."
Espaa looked at Darth Shado, and at the waiting adepts. The Savrip was still breathing. Swinging the Lanvarok high over his head, Espaa brought the Sith weapon down onto Hoggoth's thick neck. Because of the Savrip's tough hide, it took Espaa two blows to behead the creature.
No one spoke as the Savrip's blood spread slowly onto the red sand. Shado stepped over to Espaa, who was shaking. She placed her hands on his small shoulders. "I say this for all to hear," she said loudly, scanning the faces of the adepts. "This boy is now my Sith Apprentice. You will accept him and respect him as you do me. Because he is so adept at hidden manipulation, I now name him Darth Sidious. His new name is a death and a rebirth. His former life, and all his attachments to it, are now meaningless and gone. He is now of the Sith."
Espaa stared at the dead Savrip, the first being he had ever killed. The blood was being soaked up by the scarlet sand. Soon it would blend in and dry, leaving no sign of what had happened. But Espaa would never forget this day. The dark side had come to his aid. It had saved his life. Someday, he would call upon it to avenge his mother, and it would answer his need.
"During each year of his training," Shado went on, looking at the adepts, "he will face another duel to the death, against one of you." Espaa looked sharply at her, not believing what he was hearing. "Each time, it will be a different kind of duel. It may be against any one of you. He will not know which one of you it will be, but you will know. You will do your utmost to win, for unless he can survive these trials, he is not fit to lead the Sith. Now go. That is all." Shado dismissed the adepts. One by one, they filed out of the chamber, each giving Espaa a measuring look. Some were admiring, others were scornful, and some were openly hostile. Espaa especially noticed the piercing, hateful stare of an ebony skinned Sakiyan.
When they were alone, Shado faced Espaa. The boy was stunned. "You've made them all into my enemies!" he sputtered.
"To a Sith, everyone is an enemy," said Shado. "The duels will force you to learn everything you can about all of them. You will have to learn how to defeat every one of them in many different ways. You see, my Apprentice, they must come to fear you as well. Fear is our ally. We rule through the fear we inspire in others. Devote yourself to the idea of domination. Power is the goal. You must see the weakness of others and exploit it. You have made a good start, today."
Shado turned to leave. "Fesi and Qaff will tend to your wounds. We will continue your training tomorrow." Black robes whispering, the Dark Lord vanished into the tunnels.
Espaa stood still, feeling numb, as Shado's two attendants cleaned his wounds and applied Bacta bandages. The images of the fight still whirled through his mind. He saw the angry stares of the adepts and tried to imagine fighting every one of them. He didn't think he would survive it.
Espaa looked up at the long, frowning face of Zenick Fesi and asked him about the black-skinned Sakiyan adept who had stared at him with such hatred. Fesi glanced at him, then continued to tend the Lanvarok lacerations.
"That was Oshtur," said Fesi. "He hates you because you just killed his friend."
"The Savrip, Hoggoth, was once a Force-adept shaman of his tribe on Ord Mantell, until he was captured by hunters and sold to a gladiator pit," added Qaff.
"Oshtur freed Hoggoth and made the Savrip his bodyguard," continued Fesi. "When the pair delved too deeply into a forgotten cache of Sith lore, Lord Shado stepped in and brought them here, before they could draw the attention of the Jedi."
"Hoggoth was promised his freedom in exchange for a number of years serving Lord Shado," said Qaff. "The violent creature never did fit in well, but he did faithfully serve by keeping the occasional rebellious adept in line."
"He was told he could finally have his freedom, once he killed the rebellious boy who had dared to try to attack Lord Shado." Fesi's mouth actually curved upwards into a slight smile as he savored the irony.
Espaa saw the irony too, but he didn't appreciate it. He had made an enemy today, just by trying to survive. Oshtur probably wanted to kill him, and it was all Darth Shado's fault.
After Qaff and Fesi finished activating the Bacta, they turned to the still, giant form of the dead Savrip. The attendants each took hold of a huge arm and slowly dragged the body away. Espaa watched their grunting effort, swaying on his feet, until Qaff and Fesi disappeared from sight.
Finally alone, Espaa collapsed onto the sand. The blood of his opponent was nearly gone, and so too, was Espaa's ability to tolerate the situation any more. His life had turned into a nightmare. His family was gone, and his world was gone. He had been kidnapped, betrayed, brutally dominated, nearly killed, and now he was promised new threats to his life. He had simply had enough. Somehow, he was going to escape this miserable world, and seek his revenge on the Jedi...and he was going to do it without Darth Shado.
Trudging across the endless volcanic wilderness, Espaa was close to collapse. He had been walking all day, ever since he had slipped out of his room in the middle of the night, crept through a long lava tube tunnel leading to the outside, and escaped the hated monastery of the Sith. He was crossing a vast field of hardened lava, covered with volcanic ash and strewn with sharp boulders of various sizes. The sky above was colored a sullen red, and the air was full of drifting dust.
The ash was a layer of tiny, sharp glass particles that turned the land into a gray blanket. With every step, Espaa sent a puffy cloud of ash billowing up around him. He was breathing with the aid of a breath mask, stolen from Shado's ship two days ago. He was wrapped tightly in his hooded black robe, but every exposed skin surface had been abraded by the ash. The ash also covered his robe and turned it gray. Espaa was nearly invisible because of that camouflage.
Espaa walked on, forming wild plans in his imagination in order to keep himself from giving in to despair. First, he was going to master the power of Force Lightning. Then, like Shuma Gora once did, he would conquer a world and convert its populace into an army to fight for him. With his forces, he would attack the Jedi Temple without warning, using the most devastating weapons possible, and demolish it. He would walk among the dying Jedi Knights and tell them why they had died. They would know the name of Gemsaa Pestage before they breathed their last.
As grand as those visions were, Espaa could not sustain them. Finally, inevitably, doubt crept in. He had no idea how far the wilderness extended, because he had awakened on Shado's ship while they were flying over it, surrounded by it on all sides. He might never get out of it alive, because his supplies of food, water, and air for the breath mask could easily run out first. Espaa stopped and lifted the breath mask to take a sip of warm water. The heat was becoming unbearable.
Suddenly, the ground shook. Far ahead of Espaa was a towering volcano, looming over the hardened lava plain. The volcano erupted explosively. An enormous cloud of magma, toxic gas, and pumice stone blasted high into the sky, then descended like a glowing avalanche. Fast moving and deadly, the turbulent, extremely hot cloud poured down the slope of the volcano and started to roll across the plain. Espaa was in its path.
The widespread front of the cloud surged towards him, seeming to grow in the distance as it approached. There was nowhere to go. Espaa resigned himself to death. Picturing his family when they were happy together, he told them he was sorry about everything that had happened to them. He bitterly regretted his failure to forge any kind of revenge out of what he had learned from the Sith. He even wondered if he had been wrong to run away. What might he have become if he had remained with the Sith?
Before the incandescent killing cloud could reach Espaa, the spider-like Sith scout ship flew out of the gloom and landed next to the boy. Espaa unhesitatingly ran up the ramp, and the ship lifted off and flew away from the eruption. Inside the hold, he found Qaff and Fesi strapped into the two chairs. Savuud Thimram was at the controls in the tiny cockpit.
Exhausted and relieved, Espaa pulled off his breath mask and shook the ash from his robe. Hesitantly, he approached the cockpit and quietly thanked Thimram for saving his life.
The dark side adept looked grim. "I promise you that after you face Lord Shado's wrath, you will very much wish that you had stayed out there to die."
Thimram led Espaa to the end of a long tunnel within the monastery. Espaa was told to enter the dead-end chamber and wait. Then Thimram left, and as his footsteps diminished, the glowstrips in the room and along the nearby tunnel walls slowly dimmed. Espaa waited, until finally, he was standing in total blackness, unable to see his hand in front of his face.
Without warning, searing blue lightning forked out of the darkness and struck him hard. The pain was incredible. Espaa screamed and went to his knees. When the Force Lightning had flared and died, the room was once more in pitch blackness. The disembodied voice of Darth Shado spoke with cold fury somewhere in the room. "You disappoint me, Apprentice. Your will is evidently too strong for your own good. I thought I had convinced you before, but I see you only paid lip service to the idea of submission."
Another writhing blast of Force Lightning came from another direction, hammering Espaa to the floor. He convulsed as it played horribly over his small body. "Now I know," Shado said, "that only the real threat of death will convert you." In his sudden agony, Espaa couldn't determine Shado's location. She seemed to be circling him with merciless determination. The third blast, coming out of the darkness from a third direction, was as unexpected as the first two. As the crackling energy struck at him, Espaa felt like his life was being ripped out of him in jagged pieces.
"I will not be fooled again," said Shado firmly. "I am reading your thoughts. I will know if you are sincere, my Apprentice, and if you are not...you will die." Espaa gasped on the floor, consumed with a pain much worse than mere electrocution or burns. Every nerve was on fire. A horrible weakness left him unable to move. For a fourth time, Force Lightning shrieked out of Shado's starkly illuminated hands, and shocked Espaa. The energy coursing through him made a puppet out of him, sending him jerking and rolling across the floor.
"There is an alternative to death," Shado said. "You can choose power and life." Espaa struggled to breathe, and desperately hoped his heart would not stop. The Sith Lord's voice filled his ears, thundering and echoing in his head. It was the same choice as before, but this time, there was no avoiding it. With every ravaged sense, he knew that Shado spoke the truth. She was not going to stop until he was dead. Why was it so hard to give in? The image of Gemsaa Pestage floated before him, wasted away by the Jedi's disease. The Jedi had taken her from him. She had belonged to him, and they had taken her. Revenge was all he had left of her, and Darth Shado wanted to take that away too, to take Gemsaa away finally and forever. It was too much. She had no right. But was it worth his very life...his entire future?
Espaa saw the cloaked form of Shado for an instant, lit up by yet another attack. Too late, he remembered that she was reading his thoughts. They were not to her liking. More Force Lightning clawed out his life energy and left a terrifying void in its place. Death was poised to swallow what was left of him. In that moment, his resistance left him. Gemsaa whirled away into oblivion, lost to his sight. He did not want to die. If the choice of life had to be on Shado's terms, then he had to accept them. I am Darth Sidious, he thought to himself at last. But he had made the choice too late. The Force Lightning had taken too much from him. He was going to die.
As his consciousness began to slip away, he heard Shado still speaking. He clung to the words. "We grow in the darkness," she said. "We gain strength from it. There is no pain where strength lies. Turn your pain into power." He hung by those thoughts over the abyss of death's eternity. They were a lifeline, a path to survival. He was surrounded by darkness, within and without. Desperately, he reached out to the darkness...to the dark side.
And...the Force was with him.
Opening himself to the dark side more than ever before, he gave up his pain and fear like an offering to it. The dark side responded quickly and powerfully. Strength poured into him, and the threat of death vanished. Within him, the cold void of encroaching death was dispelled by a rapidly growing internal fire. He struggled onto his knees and began to rise, but at that moment, Shado unleashed another burst of Force Lightning. It struck at him with its unrelenting fury, but incredibly, he did not fall again. Espaa Pestage had fallen to the floor. Darth Sidious rose all the way to his feet. The power of the dark side flowed through him. Shado did not stop her assault, circling around him and hurling attack after attack at him. The air screamed with an awful electric noise. The sinuous blue-white energy bolts were blinding in the dark room.
Although he staggered and stumbled under the barrage, Darth Sidious did not fall. The pain was even greater then before, but he stood against it. The dark side sustained him. At some point, Shado relented. Sidious was vaguely aware that the flashes of light and the searing shocks had come to an end.
Darth Shado was satisfied with what she saw in her Apprentice's thoughts. At last, he belonged to her. She left Sidious standing alone in the small chamber, swaying on his feet, and shuddering in the dark.
Palpatine knew that the harsh treatment he had experienced had served to make him unyielding and merciless in turn. He congratulated the wisdom of his late mentor. She had known what he needed in order to commit himself to his destined future. She had known how to shape him into a Sith. Smiling to himself, he opened the doors of memory wide. He wanted to recall his training. Perhaps he would someday take an apprentice for himself. There was much work to be done, possibly more than he could do by himself. It would be good to revisit the methods and the lessons used by Darth Shado during the five years of his apprenticeship to the dark side...
After spending a half year poring over a variety of Sith Holocrons, Sidious was told that his first task would be the construction of his own lightsaber. Like the hated Jedi, a Sith had to understand that ancient weapon and know how to use it with utmost proficiency. Caught up in a deadly dance of skill and instinct, a Sith wielding a lightsaber could be the most fearsome threat imaginable.
A lightsaber helped a Sith to attune himself to the Force. Shado told Sidious that the core of Sith teaching was a way of becoming completely one with the dark side, of becoming a pure servant of its will and a master of its gifts. One day, he would be ready to achieve that. For now, the first step was to construct his own lightsaber and master its use.
Sidious was given a Holocron that explained how to build the traditional Jedi weapon. A large variety of tools and components was placed before him as well. Shado told him to choose the ones that best represented his own personality. The weapon had to be an extension of himself.
There were metallic cylinders for hand grips, of course, but there were also suitable pieces of jet black thick glass, green crystal, and even pale bone. With the outer parts and power packs came a rainbow selection of faceted gemstones for focusing crystals. The components had come from many of the lightsabers belonging to Jedi slain by Sith over the last two thousand years. They had been disassembled for the benefit of Sith students; Sidious found it satisfying to make a weapon out of such fragments.
Assembling the pieces he wanted, Sidious laid them out on a table in front of him. Then he slipped into a partial trance, as the gatekeeper of his Holocron intoned the steps of lightsaber construction. His hands moved without conscious thought, as the Force guided his actions. Hours passed, and finally, Sidious blinked and looked in surprise at the new weapon before him. He had chosen a sculpted handle of black volcanic glass, banded with blood red metal. Its polished surface gleamed with subtle reflections in some places; in others, it seemed to swallow the light. The lightsaber fit snugly in his hand. Sidious stood up. The true test was in the activation of the weapon.
He pressed the activation stud and a shimmering, humming bar of bright orange light burst out of the handle. Entranced, Sidious waved it about, feeling its heft and listening to the swooping ionized crackle of the blade. Impulsively, he thrust the saber into the rock wall of the small chamber. The light blade sunk in easily, sizzling and melting the rock. Satisfied, he pulled it out and deactivated it. With a feeling of pride, he clipped it to his belt, and closed his robe around it. He felt more dangerous than he had before.
Sidious' satisfaction was short-lived. Without complimenting him on his work, Darth Shado told him that he was going to have to learn how to use the new lightsaber under duress. He was going to have to duel the cruel and aggressive dark side adepts of the monastery. They would teach him how to fight, yes, but they would also punish every mistake without mercy. He could expect many bruises and burns. If he proved to be too incompetent, he might even lose a limb.
The first duels were a total humiliation for Sidious. He was beaten and disarmed quickly, then the victors marked his skin with painful lightsaber burns that were slow to heal. Shado stepped in and began to instruct the thoroughly humbled Sidious in applying the Force to combat. She showed him that the dark side could enhance his dexterity and speed. Through the Force, he could anticipate his opponent's moves just before they happened. Sidious also learned how to control his pain, remove his fatigue, and heal himself.
Eventually, Sidious became adept enough to avoid those shameful defeats. He learned fast, and the Force was strong in him. All he needed were the skills - the power came naturally to him. As he learned the essential laser sword techniques from the adepts, he learned to fight well enough to make them look at him with respect. The first time he won a fight, he thought he saw Darth Shado smile in the darkness of her hood. He made sure to mark his enemy with a few scars to remember him by.
Once Sidious had become adequate at lightsaber combat, his chief sparring partner turned out to be Savuud Thimram. The brown skinned alien threw himself into the duels with a vengeance. He wanted his own revenge for the time Sidious had used and manipulated him in order to access the forbidden Holocrons. Any confidence that Sidious had built up was quickly demolished as Thimram soundly defeated him. But Thimram wasn't as sadistic as the other adepts. He did not burn Sidious' skin or inflict unnecessary pain. When he won, he patiently explained how he had done it, and slowly, Sidious' skills improved even more. Thimram wanted a dueling partner who was as good as he was, and he had the patience to build Sidious up into that partner.
Strangely, Thimram would also fire questions at Sidious while they sparred. Until he got used to the sudden distractions, Sidious was thrown off by them. As Thimram's red blade blurred towards Sidious' orange one, the adept would demand to know, "Someday, you will be the Master. What do you want for the future? What will you command us to do?" Barely keeping up his guard with his lightsaber, Sidious had to keep up his guard with his thoughts as well. He came to understand that Darth Shado was using Thimram to get him to reveal himself. Letting an inner thought slip to Thimram could bring him a world of trouble with his Master. So he learned to answer questions under pressure as well, convincing the adept of his loyal intentions to uphold the mission of the Sith, as Darth Shado saw it. When he became Master, the monastery would go on as before, and Thimram would always have a place of honor within it.
About one year after Sidious' first duel to the death with the Savrip, Hoggoth, he was told it was time for another duel. At least this time, he was given two weeks advance warning. Although Darth Shado would not reveal the name of Sidious' adversary, she did reveal the type of weapon they would use.
"These are Sith swords," said Shado. She held up two broadswords with ornate hilts and blades engraved with Sith symbols. "They are over four thousand years old, but you will find they are still quite sharp. The blades were enhanced long ago by potent Sith alchemy. Unlike ordinary swords, these can withstand and deflect the energy of a blaster or a lightsaber blade."
Sidious respectfully took the swords from his Master. Hefting one, he gave it an experimental swing. The blade was heavy, unlike the weightless blade of his lightsaber. It would demand a different fighting style, and he was glad he would have two weeks to practice with it.
"You may use either blade, or both, if you wish to fight with a weapon in each hand," Shado said. "There will be no rules, as before. You will be summoned when it is time. If you survive, you may continue your training." Sidious bowed to her, and she left him alone. His mind was already racing.
Two weeks later, Sidious found himself standing on the circle of red sand again, surrounded by the dark side adepts of the monastery. He leaned on his sword and studied his enemies, looking for weaknesses. One of them, he knew, had been preparing to fight him. He did not know which one, but he was about to find out.
One of the adepts stepped out of the circle and onto the sand. It was Dor Mammu, the Morseerian adept. The leather-armored alien was about the same size and shape as Sidious. Mammu's chief strangeness was the fact that he had four arms. Also, his head was elongated and shaped like a Naboo wrinkly cucumber. His face was hidden by a breath mask and glassy goggles.
An adept passed Mammu a Sith sword. Then another, and another...and another! The Morseerian held Sith swords in all four hands. Sidious, with his single blade, appeared to be greatly outclassed. The crowd murmured with anticipation, wondering if Lord Shado's upstart student was about to meet his demise today.
Darth Shado held up her hands for attention. "This will be a duel to the death," she said loudly. "There are no rules. Let the combat begin."
Mammu stared at Sidious through his mask's round goggles without advancing. Holding all four swords vertically, the Morseerian tossed them into the air and recaptured each one with a different hand. Next, he whirled the swords around himself with complex motions that were difficult to follow. The crowd voiced their appreciation of his skill. Finally, Mammu stopped all four weapons and pointed them together at Sidious' heart.
Sidious let dismay show on his face as he attempted a lame toss of his sword from his right hand to his left. He caught it clumsily as the Morseerian laughed. The moment his right hand was free, Sidious pointed it at the adept. A bright red blaster bolt flashed out of his deep black sleeve and impacted in a shower of sparks against Mammu's breath mask. The atmosphere hose hanging beneath the mask was shattered. The Morseerian staggered back, dropping all four swords onto the red sand as he clutched at his face. He gasped, drawing in ragged breaths, but of course, the oxygen atmosphere was poison to the methane breather. Everyone stared as Mammu collapsed onto the sand, spasming and choking. The adept's convulsions went on for a minute, then he was still.
Then everyone turned to stare at Sidious. The Sith Apprentice lifted his arm, and his sleeve fell away, exposing a small but powerful blaster strapped to his arm. He had learned his lessons well. Shado had told him to discover the weaknesses of each adept, in case that adept should become an opponent. He had worked very hard to do just that. The knowledge he had gained had given him the victory today. Once he saw the Morseerian, he knew which carefully catalogued weakness to exploit. Bringing the hidden blaster in the first place was common sense. After all, there were no rules, hence, no rule that he must win by using a Sith sword. It was a fight to the death, and now his opponent was dead.
The adepts didn't see it that way. Their angry muttering showed that they felt Sidious had cheated. The highly skilled Morseerian would have won easily, without such treachery on Sidious' part. But Sidious stood his ground. He put as much durasteel into his voice as he could while he addressed them all. "I am a Sith Apprentice, one of only two Sith in the entire galaxy. My life is too valuable and too important to waste in a pointless duel. Someday, I will be your Master, and you will all obey me. I will survive until that time, whether you like it or not."
The angry muttering continued, but some adepts listened to Sidious in studied silence, taking in this new information about his evolving personality. Several adepts looked to see what Shado would say.
Darth Shado evidently approved. "Any means that can be used to win, should be used," she said. "It is the weapon you do not expect that kills you." That silenced the objections and brought an end to the proceedings.
As the adepts filed out, Sidious stepped over the fallen swords and kicked away the remains of the Morseerian's mask. The adept's face was hideous. He had bulging black eyes, no nose, and a triangular slot of a mouth. Beneath his nearly transparent skin, his alien internal organs could be seen. Sidious frowned with disgust, as did the last few human adepts to leave.
Shado was the last to go. She faced her Apprentice and gave him a rare bit of praise. "You are indeed becoming a Sith," she said to him. Sidious smiled. It was good to hear.
Looking back, it seemed obvious to Palpatine now that Shado had chosen among the few nonhumans of the monastery when selecting opponents for his duels to the death. Assuming her Apprentice would live, she deliberately sacrificed the alien adepts instead of the humans. Now he pondered her reasons for doing so. Perhaps she had found a more uniformly human group, chiefly made up of her own kind, to be easier to understand, to predict, and to control. And, when her human Apprentice took over, he would benefit from the arrangement in the same way. Palpatine smiled. That had been very thoughtful of her.
The adult Senator and Sith Lord had taken her example to heart, letting only humans into his inner circle. Furthermore, he intended to apply that human-centric philosophy to the process of creating his own government someday. He would forge a system that was dominated by humans. Palpatine hoped his former Master would have been proud of him for following in her footsteps to that small extent, at least, despite their...other disagreements.
Too may alien species sharing power only diluted and weakened that power, the way Darth Bane thought too many Sith Lords weakened the dark side. One only had to look at what a mess the Republic had become, nearly brought to its knees by excessive diversity. Palpatine knew that it would only get messier - he intended to make it that way before he swept the garbage of the Old Republic away, to make room for a clean and shining Empire of his own.
Shado had always told him, power used indirectly can be as devastating as a frontal attack. With his hidden plans, careful and patient maneuvering, and the effective manipulation of others, Palpatine was going to put her words into practice and make the vengeful dream of the Sith into a reality. And, just as Shado had taught him, he was going to do it all in total secrecy, until the time was right to reveal himself. But by then, it would be too late for anyone to stop him.
Young Darth Sidious walked alone down a long lava tube tunnel of the Sith monastery, his Force senses extended in all directions. Staying alert at all times was the key to his survival there. He was making more enemies among the adepts, the more he grew in power as a Sith Apprentice. They were envious of him, because he was being taught things they didn't know, and would never know. And they were afraid of him, because he might someday destroy them all. They wondered if perhaps they should destroy him while he was still a student and a teenager. Later on, it might be impossible to do so. Sidious was never sure when someone might attack him, hoping to catch him with his defenses down. Several adepts had tried already. Shado did not chastise them. She simply considered it part of his training.
To help her Apprentice, Shado had taught him how to use the Force to enhance his senses. Soon, he was able to magnify his regular senses considerably. But the Force was a sixth sense he could also enhance. Patiently, Sidious learned how to sense nearby living things by sensing the Force within them. If others were actively using the Force, Sidious could sense that too. His range was small, but growing. Most importantly of all, Sidious learned how to sense danger through the Force. Using these new senses was like getting a better pair of eyes. Sidious could, in effect, "see" what was happening nearby without being in a direct line of sight.
Therefore, when the tunnel lights suddenly went out, Sidious was instantly on his guard, reaching out with the Force to detect any attackers. Unable to see anything with his eyes, he could nevertheless scan the passageway for hundreds of feet in either direction through the Eyes of the Force. Sidious relaxed fractionally when he detected no one within his range, but he remained fully attuned to the Force, trying to sense danger, as he felt his way along. After a while, he convinced himself that the blackout was due to a broken power supply at a tunnel junction, or some similar problem. There were obviously no dark side adepts creeping up on him in the darkness. Of that, he was certain. Any adept would cause a ripple or a tremor in the Force that he could detect. He sensed nothing but the volcanic rock all around.
The Sith dagger that Shado placed coldly against his throat was a complete surprise. He gasped as his Master's voice whispered directly into his ear. "Move in secret when you can. What is done in secret has great power. The blow in darkness is the killing blow."
Sidious froze as the dagger's razor sharp edge drew blood from his neck. He felt the blood trickle downwards warmly. "Should I press harder, and kill you now?" Shado whispered. "Or can my Apprentice learn a lesson from this and survive?"
"Invisibility...in the Force. How...how is it done?" Sidious tried to keep his throat from moving too much while he talked.
"Good," Shado said. "Curiosity earns you the right to live another day." The dagger was withdrawn and hidden away. Sidious swallowed hard and wiped the blood away with his sleeve. One by one, the tunnel lights flickered back on, revealing Darth Shado calmly standing next to Sidious, one foot away from him.
"A Sith can be entirely undetectable in the Force," said Shado. "You could not perceive me, despite my powerful presence in the dark side. If I so desired, I could walk through the Jedi Temple itself, and they would not sense a Sith in their midst. This is a crucial power for us, my Apprentice, for I tell you this again: no one must know of the existence of the Sith. I cannot emphasize that enough.
"As for how I fooled your senses, you will see that for yourself shortly. Follow me to my chamber. There are things I wish to give to you, tools of the ancient Sith that will enhance your defenses." She looked knowingly at him. "The adepts grow ever more bold, do they not?"
Sidious nodded, and followed her down the long tunnel.
"In the days of the Sith Empire, these amulets aided the sorcerers in the use of the Force." Shado held a handful of antique jewelry, a collection of necklaces and pendants made of gold and gems. "Amulets and talismans were imbued with the power of the dark side, and made into repositories of energy. Each one was made to accomplish a specific task, such as healing the wearer from life threatening wounds, or enhancing his telekinetic powers." She selected a chain with a black gem attached to it. "This one will help to shield you against Force based attacks." Sidious took it and studied it closely. When he held it, he could feel the reassuring power it contained. "Wear it beneath your clothing, and it will partially deflect a sudden assault."
Next, she held up a flat brooch, a small black rectangle etched with ancient Sith symbols. She pinned it at his throat just below his black hood. "And this will allow you to mask your presence in the Force. It will smooth out the ripples you would normally produce in the Force, so that you will remain undetected. It needs only to be worn in order to work. I hope these things will be useful to you, my Apprentice. But know this as well: these artifacts are not the sum of our power. I will expect you to outgrow the need for them. True power comes from within, not from a mere tool. You have yet to learn the deepest secrets of our order, and when you do, you will find such objects to be no more than toys for your amusement."
"Nevertheless, I thank you for them now, Master," said Sidious. "For me, they are a powerful gift."
"Do not let yourself feel too powerful, child," said Shado. "If I have given you gifts, it is only because I still possess far more powerful amulets than those. Never forget what I can do to you, any time I choose. Always remember the feel of my dagger, my Apprentice."
Sidious knew he would never forget it.
Palpatine knew that Lord Shado had been right. Eventually, he had become independent of such things as amulets, although he still wore the black brooch she had given him. In fact, most of what he had learned about at the monastery, the spells, Holocrons, alchemy, and weapons of the ancient Sith, meant little to him now. When he finally surpassed the Sith, he left the need for that tradition behind. Perhaps he would pass it on to his own Apprentice someday, but he had grown beyond it. Darth Shado would have lamented the waning of the Sith legacy, but the fact of the matter was, Palpatine himself was the Sith legacy now. That was simply how it was meant to be.
Sidious' introduction to Sith alchemy came in his third year at the monastery. By then he was thirteen years old, but mentally, he was quite a bit older than that. No one at the monastery thought of him as a child any more. Stress, danger, and suffering, combined with the devoted study of the dark side, had taken his innocence away forever. He had already seen many things that darkened his soul, but as he entered Darth Shado's laboratory, he realized that he had not even begun to plumb the black depths of Sith lore. But Shado certainly had.
Lord Shado welcomed Sidious to her private world. His Master was surrounded by ancient equipment of stunning complexity. Tubes snaked everywhere, connecting vessels of all kinds. Some bubbled noisily with liquids, while others glowed softly with eerie light. One wall was dominated by a huge tank that held a viscous liquid. Sidious couldn't make out anything inside it, because the liquid was dark and choked with black and green floating plant-like material. A heavy object inside the tank thumped against the glass, but there was no way to tell what it was. Next to the tank were forbidding machines that hummed with power. There was something that looked like a sophisticated furnace, and something organic looking that heaved like a bellows. A crowded mass of lasers and cutting arms hung suspended over a thick table, intermingled with giant multifaceted gems. The table's surface was clotted with stains of all colors which ran onto the floor. On the walls were storage shelves filled with a variety of bottles and jars. Below the shelves, and built into the walls, were sturdy restraint devices.
"This is where I explore the alchemical knowledge of the Sith," said Shado quietly. "This equipment is described in my Holocrons, and it was quite simple to build. Technology has advanced considerably since the days of the Sith Empire. It was much harder for me to learn how to use it to its fullest potential...but I did. I know how to follow the Sith formulas and change the molecular composition of the inanimate and the living. I shape and reshape life to my liking, creating mutants and infusing them with the power of the dark side. Come, let me show you my latest project."
Sidious took it all in as his Master wordlessly led him down a tunnel to a side chamber. As they approached it, Sidious heard an ear-splitting howl. It was a sound like metal tearing and scraping violently on other metal. Shado didn't comment. At the end of the passageway, she ushered him into a large room. There, the first thing that caught his attention was the cage. Surrounded by more arcane Sith equipment, the tall and thickly barred enclosure dominated the room. Within the cage, hurling itself repeatedly against the bars, was a creature of nightmarish proportions. It was massive and covered with dark fur. The four-legged beast was small in its hindquarters, but ten feet tall at its gigantic shoulders. All four feet sported long claws. The thing had no neck and no eyes on its face. Instead, on its front was a ring of muscles stretched grotesquely around a gaping mouth filled with row upon row of needle sharp teeth. The vise-like maw opened even wider, and the monster roared again, making Sidious cover his ears.
Darth Shado seemed proud of her handiwork. She smiled at the creature as it threw itself frantically against the bars at its visitors. "It senses two Force users," Shado said loudly, talking over the monster's furious, shrieking noises. "Originally, it was a predator on another world. It hunted by using the Force to detect its prey. I made it even more deadly, and enhanced its ability to locate Force-users. Now it is enraged by Force adepts, as you can see. It desires nothing more than to kill our kind. It would make a good weapon against any Jedi who found us here, would it not? Tell me what you think of my creation, Apprentice."
"Well, it does seem disturbing to have a creature that exists solely to kill Force users here in our midst. With all due respect, Master, I wonder if that is wise?" Sidious was intimidated by the huge, violent, extremely agitated mutant. He wondered if the bars were enough to hold it in.
"I have a special purpose in mind for my pet," said Shado. "You will face it, in your third duel to the death."
Sidious was startled. For a moment, he could not hide his dismay. Then he brought his feelings under control. "But Master," he said calmly, "you have worked so hard to create this...creature. Why would you be willing to waste all that effort by just letting it die?" His unspoken question was, why would you put so much effort into my training, only to let me die?
Shado seemed to understand the subtext of his question. But her answer troubled him deeply. "Always, without fail, be prepared to destroy your most valued creation...or be prepared to be destroyed by it." Sidious thought about that for a long time.
Palpatine remembered pondering the meaning of Shado's words, and guessing that his old Master had foreseen the possibility that her student might someday destroy her. At the time, he had wondered whether that might ever come to pass, and doubted that his power would ever be great enough. Darth Shado, however, was a Sith through and through, and she prepared herself for every possibility imaginable, even betrayal from her student. Be prepared to be destroyed by your most valued creation. Palpatine wondered if he would be so suspicious of his own future apprentice. Yes, he probably would be.
The younger Sidious, however, had found another meaning in the words his Master had spoken to him. It occurred to him that they might be a clue to help him survive the attack of the mutant predator. Be prepared to destroy your most valued creation, she had said. The monster was indeed incredibly dangerous. If it had ever escaped her control, she would have been in danger as well. Therefore, it stood to reason that she would have incorporated a weakness into the beast, a weakness she could use to destroy it with ease, if necessary.
Using all the skills of stealth his Master had taught him, and wearing his Force-dampening Sith clasp, Sidious had crept back into the laboratory alone one night. There, he had gone through his Master's private notes, written in the ancient language of the Sith. The notes had revealed the creature's vulnerability to a certain Sith poison, a mixture which was also kept in the laboratory. Carefully, he had collected a small container of it.
Palpatine remembered his third "duel to the death". He had been told to stand alone in the corridors of the monastery, while the mutated monster was released to hunt him. He was left without any weapons or Sith amulets, and could rely only on his innate Force powers. It did not take long for the maddened beast to locate him. He sensed its furious approach, but he didn't need the Force to tell him it was coming. The terrifying roars were indication enough. Shado had arranged it so that Sidious could not run from it forever. All of his paths of retreat came to dead ends. But Sidious had used his wits, and prepared a trap for the creature. Backing up to one of the narrower dead ends, he had broken off sharp lava stalactites and coated the jagged edges with his stolen Sith poison. These, he had strewn upon the tunnel floor. He had also smeared the poison on other stalactites still hanging from the ceiling.
With a terrifying scream, the thing had come bounding down the tunnel, its prey in sight at last. It had looked like an onrushing wall of muscle and teeth. Before it could reach Sidious, it had scraped its hulking body against the sharp, poison coated lava rocks. The poison had taken effect immediately upon contact. With a final shriek, the beast had stumbled and crashed to the floor, dead even before it rolled to a stop at Sidious' feet.
Having discovered the manner in which her "pet" had died, Darth Shado stood over a seated Darth Sidious, with her arms crossed. "I see that you continue to merit your Sith name," she said sternly. "And I see that I cannot trust you to stay out of my private laboratory. But do not expect punishment. You did what you had to do to survive. Moreover, you did it in the manner of a Sith. Well done, my Apprentice." Shado began to pace.
"It is good that you remind me that I cannot trust you," said Shado. At Sidious' nervous expression, she went on. "The Sith can never trust each other. You must guard well against betrayal by your own kind. Darth Bane created the new Sith Order, with only two Dark Lords, to minimize betrayal. But treachery among ourselves can never be eliminated. Even if you remain forever loyal to me, there is no guarantee that your own apprentice will not betray you. And there are the other darksiders, who envy us our knowledge and authority. You must always maintain your supremacy over them, and never let them forget your power."
"I will remember your words, Master," Sidious said gravely.
Finally, the time came when Shado was ready to reveal the core of Sith knowledge to her Apprentice. For this purpose, she took Sidious to the jagged slope of a neighboring extinct volcano. They flew there in Shado's spider-shaped scout ship, landed, and disembarked into the stifling air. When they had clambered to a suitable lofty perch overlooking the hellish landscape, they sat down and began to talk, two black robed figures alone under the crimson sky.
"The heart of our learning is about how to draw the most power possible from the dark side," said Shado. "It is about how to become one with the dark side. The Sith have held and preserved this knowledge ever since the renegade Jedi first encountered the Sith race. They combined their insights into the dark side and came to understand what I am going to tell you today. Listen, my Apprentice, and try to visualize what I am describing to you. These secrets may take you a long time to master...perhaps many years. I have not completely mastered them myself. But they are the most important thing I can pass on to you." Sidious closed his eyes and focused on her passionately intense, rasping voice.
"You must feel anger, hate, rage...aggressive and destructive feelings...you must let them fill you and flow through you. Then...you will be in harmony with the cosmos. For just like you, the universe rages. It seethes with death, destruction, and chaos. It is the anger of infinity. This is the source of the power of the dark side of the Force. All living things feed it. Our fears...our anger...our pain...and our deaths make it grow stronger.
"By itself, the dark side is a chaotic and irrational source of power. It has no control, no conscience, and no restraint. But it hungers for domination. We can make a bargain with it. It will give you power, but it will exact a price. You can see that price before you, here, in my own withered flesh. But the price is insignificant compared to the reward.
"Few can use this power to its fullest potential. The Sith know the way to become one with the dark side, in order to gain the ultimate gifts it has to offer. First, you must control your anger. You must harness it...contain it...concentrate it...and focus it. To do this, you must have great strength of will. Store your anger in your vital center, in the Force sensitive node within your mind. Let it burn there, as if you were a furnace of rage. This can be dangerous for those who cannot completely control their emotions. Your will must be unbreakable, for you will contain this rage at all times. It will be a weapon that can be used at any time, without warning, to devastating effect.
"Your rage, concentrated by your will in your vital center, will create a portal within you. The vast energies of the dark side can then flow through that portal. The power of the dark side is unleashed...unlocked...released. It is your servant, and you can do anything with it. You become a true servant of the Force. Over time, your connection to it grows ever stronger, until one day, you may become one with the dark side, existing mainly as energy, an extension of the Force itself. This is the greatest secret of the Sith, and our greatest mystery. Although I have aspired to achieve it, I have not succeeded. Perhaps you will, someday. For now, see what the power of the dark side within me can do. Look at me, my Apprentice...look at me with the Eyes of the Force."
Sidious looked at her with all of his Force senses extended. It was as if he was seeing her for the first time. Previously, Shado must have hidden her true nature from him, but now.... Sidious gasped. Darth Shado was an awesome concentration of dark side energy. She drew on the Force just as a black hole captured light and matter, contained it, and controlled it with her enormous will power. Sidious was awestruck. Would he, could he ever become that powerful?
Shado stood and held out her bony, withered hand towards a distant volcano, many miles away. Somewhere deep in its cone, an eruption was building, but the magma was under pressure, blocked by pumice stone in the pipe. The Dark Lord gestured, and the blockage was shattered. The volcano exploded with immense force, blasting lava into the sky. As far as Sidious could tell, the effort had consumed only a tiny part of her strength. Sidious stared at her, trembling with excitement. Here was the power he had dreamed of. This was what he wanted to become. Wordlessly, Sidious knelt before his Master. At last, he had found his true destiny.
After that revelation, Senator Palpatine remembered, there had followed a period of frustration. For the better part of a year, Sidious had tried to do what Shado had showed him. He tried to concentrate the power of the dark side within him. He tried to draw upon its power more than ever before. But nothing he did seemed to work. The energy of the Force did not stay with him once it was used, and he could not increase his power level at all. It seemed that the secret of Sith power could easily be described in words, but not put into practice without great and prolonged effort. Worst of all, Sidious did not know why he was failing.
Darth Shado had let her apprentice struggle without comment. While he wrestled with the central idea of oneness with the dark side, she taught him about the ramifications of that idea. Power could be stored within, she insisted, and it followed that the power could come from several sources. It could be drawn directly from the Force, yes, but it could also come from other beings. Thus, Shado revealed the Sith method of draining the life energy from others. It was an extremely subtle use of the Force which could not be detected by the victims of the drain. In fact, Shado had been draining the life from the adepts at the monastery for years, using their energy to slow her own decline. Likewise, just as his own negative emotions increased a Sith's ability to draw upon the Force and concentrate it within, so too could a Sith use the darker emotions of others. The fear and anger of others could be "fed upon" by a Sith, tapped into in order to help himself channel the dark side.
As another part of his training, Sidious learned the skills of the mind. He became adept at reading the thoughts of others, and at constructing mental shields to prevent his own thoughts from being read. He learned the darker uses of the power: how to forcefully drain knowledge or memories from someone's mind, and how to control the will of a weak-minded person. With Darth Shado, Sidious practiced telepathy, sending and receiving thoughts through the Force. In doing so, they came closer to understanding one another. As Shado had hoped from the beginning, Sidious began to see the two of them as special, the only two Sith, sharing an important purpose. At last, Sidious felt at home at the monastery. After years of protest and rebellion, he finally felt secure in his designated place. That was why it came as such an unwelcome surprise when Shado announced that there was going to be another duel to the death.
Sidious truly felt himself to be beyond that stage of his training. Although he strongly protested having yet another duel, Shado did not yield, nor did she offer any explanation. She simply told him that it would be a duel of telekinetic strength in the Force, using the dark side to shield himself and kill his enemy. He was told that he had only two weeks to polish his skills.
Grudgingly accepting the reality, Sidious had set about trying to learn who his opponent would be. His chief suspect was the Sakiyan adept, Oshtur. Not only was Oshtur the most powerful telekinetic adept by far, but he also still hated Sidious for killing his partner, Hoggoth, three years ago. Sidious' suspicions were confirmed when he found Oshtur conversing privately with Lord Shado.
Sidious burst in upon Oshtur and Shado, startling the Sakiyan but producing no reaction from his Master. Normally, a Sakiyan would be able to detect the approach of another with his superior senses, but Sidious had learned to come and go with exceptional stealth. "You've given yourself away, Master," said Sidious. "This is the adept I'm going to face in the duel, isn't that right?"
Oshtur glared hatefully at Sidious. The Sakiyan was humanoid, but his skin was such a dark purple, it was almost black. He was completely hairless, and his skull was twice the size of a human's. His facial features were all sharply pointed, including his ears, giving him a demonic appearance.
Shado was unruffled by the intrusion. "If that is what you believe, Apprentice," she said calmly, "then put your theory to the test. Look into his thoughts, and see if you are correct. He will not shield himself."
Oshtur clearly hated the idea, but he had no choice other than to submit to Lord Shado. Sidious reached out with the Force and read Oshtur's mind. He was surprised to find that although the adept did hate him, Oshtur had not been chosen as his opponent. He withdrew his mental probe without apology. Then, without another word, Sidious walked briskly out of the room, frowning to himself.
After he was gone, Lord Shado gestured for the Sakiyan to come close to her. "You may face my Apprentice in combat, Oshtur," she said simply.
Oshtur smiled wickedly. "Thank you, Lord Shado. I have been waiting for such a chance. I will succeed where the others failed." He gave the Dark Lord a sly look. "I believe I see your wisdom in this, my Lord. You have become disappointed with your apprentice, and you wish to replace him with one of us. But you must choose wisely, and only an adept who can defeat Sidious will be worthy to take his place. I will not disappoint you, my Lord."
"Perhaps," was all Lord Shado said in reply.
Sidious used the two weeks to practice as much as he could. He focused the Force to hurl objects, to bludgeon, and to crush. He practiced forming an invisible shield to stop or weaken such assaults on his own body. But it did not feel like enough time.
Standing on the red sand inside a circle of adepts for the third time, Sidious was not really surprised to see Oshtur step confidently out of the circle to face him. The Sakiyan was the only choice that made sense. Shado liked to threaten him with the deadliest opponent available, he thought resentfully, and Oshtur's double-sized, highly evolved brain gave him a great advantage when manipulating the Force with his mind.
"This will be a duel to the death," said Darth Shado. "You may only use the Force. No other weapons are permitted. You may only use telekinesis to attack each other and to defend yourselves. If you break these rules, your life is forfeit to me."
Oshtur and Sidious squared off on the sand, facing each other. Sidious stood quietly, his eyes closed, waiting and focusing his thoughts. In contrast, Oshtur could not resist goading his opponent. "Go ahead, boy, make the first move. It will also be your last. Today, you die, Sidious. I am going to kill you in the name of Hoggoth, who you killed with your treachery. Then I will take your place at Lord Shado's side."
Sidious slowly looked up and opened his eyes. "You can have my place," he said very quietly. "It isn't nearly as desirable as you think it is." He clenched his fist, and swung it at Oshtur. The Force knocked the Sakiyan from his feet and sent him crashing onto the sand. Oshtur was back on his feet immediately. The duel had begun.
Oshtur pushed towards Sidious with his open hand, and the Sith Apprentice flew backwards, struck by a wave of force. Sidious rolled over and created a shield above him. It was just in time, for Oshtur was already using the Force to hammer down upon him. The attack was only partly deflected, and Sidious felt pain from the brutal impact. They traded blows, bludgeoning one another with the Force. It was apparent that Oshtur had the most experience and the most skill. Sidious suffered many more blows, and managed only a few successful attacks.
Several excruciating minutes went by as Sidious and Oshtur continued to pummel each other. For each time that Sidious managed to strike and stagger Oshtur, the Sakiyan battered him, lifted him and slammed him down. Then a particularly savage attack burst through Sidious' shield and blasted into his head, spinning him around and sending him toppling. He struggled to keep focused against the pain. Every part of him was hurting from the ordeal. He knew he was losing. He was unable to focus, unable to renew his offense.
Suddenly, Oshtur gained a choking grip on Sidious' throat with the Force. Sidious fought against it, but was unable to stop it. He began to panic at the feeling of being strangled, a primal reaction that blotted out thought and control. He clutched at his throat, unable to breathe at all, fear rising in him like a cold flood.
"There is no fear in a Sith," he heard Shado say in the distance. "Turn your fear into anger. Let your anger grow into rage. Direct your rage to consume your enemy."
Sidious was afraid. He was terrified. Once again, death seemed imminent, and he felt helpless to prevent it. Why did he have to die? What was the sense in it? He had studied for so long! He had done everything Shado had asked him to do. And still, she pitted him against adepts like Oshtur, who wanted to kill him. Who could kill him. Who were killing him. Was he worthless? Was Shado throwing him away, because he hadn't mastered her teachings? No! He was not going to let her do it. He did have the ability to learn. He just needed more time. He was a Sith. And...he had had enough of being threatened!
Sidious was furious. His searing fear had blazed into anger, and now his anger grew into a conflagration of rage, burning wildly within him. Remembering that he had to focus that rage, he mentally withdrew from the battle to survive, the struggle to breathe. He gathered his rage within his mind, and suddenly, he felt the power rushing into him like it never had before. Previously, the dark side had flowed in like a stream. Now it roared in like a mighty Naboo waterfall. He was flooded with it; he felt like he could do anything.
First, he brushed aside the annoying pressure at his throat. With a thought, it was gone. He opened his eyes to see a wide-eyed, suddenly frightened Oshtur standing several paces away. Sidious drew upon the adept's fear, feeding off of it and accessing even more power. He was overflowing with the power of the dark side, and he knew he had to use it or be overwhelmed.
He let the power gush out in a torrent, a monstrous wave of Force that crushed Oshtur brutally to the ground. The Sakiyan screamed as most of his bones were broken, and most of his organs were smashed flat. Then the Force pulled him apart, tearing and shredding his body. Pieces of him flew in all directions and spattered the crowd to their considerable disgust.
Spent, Sidious fell to his knees, his head feeling like it was spinning. But something was different now. The power of the dark side still burned within him. It would have to be replenished, but it wasn't gone. It was part of him now. It was never going to go away. The Force would be with him, always. It was an astonishing feeling.
Sidious looked at the pleased face of his Master. He realized then that she had set up this duel in order to push his emotions to where they needed to go. He had failed to become one with the Force before, because he had not been angry enough. The duel, and another threat to his life, had produced the rage necessary for taking the next step. Darth Shado had opened the door to his future as a Dark Lord of the Sith.
Sidious' fury at Shado overshadowed any gratitude he might have felt. Yes, she had done what was necessary to unlock his power, and perhaps he should have been thankful. But she had threatened his life yet again in order to do it, and that was unforgivable.
A line had been crossed. New feelings flooded into Sidious, a desire for independence from his Master and a deep resentment of her domination of him for so long. Bowing to her, he pushed through the circle of adepts and hurried away from her presence before she could detect his thoughts.
Leaning against a curved tunnel wall some distance away, Sidious calmed his breathing and forced his racing thoughts to slow down. The dark side was filling his mind with new ideas about his destiny, now that he had become one with the Force. No, he realized, they were not new ideas at all, but old ones. With an almost physical shock, he felt the desire for revenge against the Jedi again for the first time in over two years. He trembled with the intensity of the feeling.
He realized that he had not relinquished his desire for vengeance when he became Darth Sidious. He had only buried it deep inside himself so that Shado could not detect it. He had buried it so deeply that it had been hidden even from himself, for the sake of survival. But now he was no longer helpless against his Master. The possibility of revenge had become real again.
Of course, he still had to be very careful. Shado's power still exceeded his own, and she could still destroy him. But now he no longer needed her teaching, and he could follow his own agenda. That agenda had to include the destruction of the Jedi. The dark side, it seemed, never stopped wanting that.
Sidious needed guidance, and he no longer wanted it from his Master. The only guidance he felt he could trust at this point was that of someone long dead, who nevertheless seemed to share Sidious' point of view more than any living darksider. With determination in his step, Sidious headed for the Holocron storage room.
Darth Sidious sat alone in his small, spartan room, his home for the last four years, studying the Holocron of Darth Bane. The softly glowing figure of Bane floated silently before his eyes, looking every bit the formidable dark side warrior he must have been. Bane stared back at him, giving the illusion of sentience to the interactive recording. The Dark Lord's muscular arms were crossed over his living armor, and his expression was very grim.
"Lord Bane," Sidious asked intently, "whatever became of you? My Master won't tell me how you died, only that you began the Sith order as we know it now."
"I cannot tell you how I died," said Bane. "That happened after this recording was made."
Sidious sighed. "Yes...but what happened...what went wrong?"
"I do not understand your question," said the Dark Lord.
Sidious paused to gather his thoughts. "Wasn't it your goal to conquer your enemies, the Jedi Knights?"
"Of course it was," Bane said gruffly, frowning deeply.
"Then you must have believed it could be done, somehow," Sidious said. "Hypothetically, if the Sith were to stay hidden forever, wouldn't that put an end to your dream?"
Bane's frightening white eyes flashed with anger. "I created the two-Sith rule to ensure that we could no longer destroy ourselves. I did not mean to forever prevent a Sith victory."
"But how did you plan to accomplish that victory?" Sidious demanded.
"I cannot tell you that," Bane said flatly. "That information-"
Sidious pressed a symbol on the Holocron, interrupting and banishing Lord Bane back into its crystalline depths. He placed the Holocron down and closed his eyes, rubbing his temples in tired frustration. There were no answers to be found here. He wondered if Darth Bane had given up on his goal of revenge and destruction before the end. There was no way to tell from the Holocron. He liked to imagine that Bane had gone down fighting, but then if that was true, how had the Sith come to this? How had they ended up hiding themselves away in a dusty monastery for centuries?
Sidious knew that the Sith should not stay hidden. That could not be their destiny. He disdained Lord Shado for perpetuating this cowardly existence. But he knew he could never confront her about his feelings. He knew how strongly she disagreed with him. If she ever discovered the thoughts he concealed so carefully, life would become very dangerous for him indeed. For now, the only choice was to wait for something to change. If the voice of the dark side was right about his destiny, that change would come, sooner or later. Sidious drew on his reserves of patience and slowly settled into a meditative state.
Standing a safe distance away down the rounded tunnel leading out of Sidious' room, Savuud Thimram strained to hear any further words the apprentice might speak. He clutched the powerful Sith amulet Lord Shado had given to him. The artifact prevented Sidious from detecting his presence, despite Sidious' advanced Force senses. It was only fair, for Shado had warned her Apprentice that she possessed more potent amulets than the ones she had given him. He evidently did not suspect that he was being spied upon, trusting his senses when they told him he was alone. Foolish boy. A real Sith would never let his guard down.
After a minute, it became clear that the human was meditating. There was no more to be heard. No matter. Thimram had heard more than enough to confirm his suspicions. It was time to report what he knew to Lord Shado, and let her decide what to do.
When Thimram finished describing what he had overheard to Shado, the Dark Lord shook her head sadly, and sighed.
"I believe he intends to betray the secrecy of the Sith, and attack the Jedi," said Thimram firmly. "I felt you should know immediately, my Lord."
"Yes," said Shado, "but the fact remains that I cannot detect this duplicity in my Apprentice. I have looked for it, many times, but...I find nothing but loyalty in him."
"He hides it well," Thimram said bluntly.
"Well enough to fool even me?" Shado asked, frowning.
Thimram was immediately uncomfortable. "Forgive me, my Lord. I did not mean to show disrespect for your abilities."
"You are dismissed, adept," said Shado, turning away from him. Thimram bowed deeply and exited.
Darth Shado paced nervously, her pained body feeling even more frail than usual. The news troubled her more than she had wanted to let Thimram know. Although she could not sense the prospect of betrayal in Sidious, she was too cautious to dismiss the possibility. She had been too careful for too long, to let down her guard now. Perhaps he had been fooling her. Perhaps he was hiding his intentions deeply enough to keep them from her. She did not want to believe that. She would rather think that Thimram had misinterpreted what he had overheard, that Sidious had been questioning Bane for some lesser reason, such as historical interest. She would rather believe in an Apprentice who was going to follow in her footsteps and carry out her plans for the future when she was gone. Yes, Sidious had begun his training wanting revenge against the Jedi. But he had seemed to mature enough to outgrow that desire. She thought that he had let go of it. She thought...
No. There was too much at stake. She had to be absolutely certain of him. If he had managed to deceive her, then she needed help in determining the truth. The time had come to call in some help, before it was too late. She needed to commune with the spirits of the dead Dark Lords of the Sith from the past thousand years.
Darth Shado went deep underground, following passageways only she knew about. The heat was nearly unbearable, so far down. Shado sweated both from the smothering warmth and the nervous anticipation of contacting the spirits. She was loathe to do so, for among them would be her old Master, who she still hated. Besides that, it was a disturbing experience to speak with the dead, one that left its mark on her own spirit whenever she did it.
Shado wondered if she would someday end up among the spirits, existing in a shadowy netherworld of the dark side, fighting after death to keep her identity intact in the face of a relentless chaotic energy that wanted to disperse her forever. She had helped her Master, Darth Nihilus, undergo the special preparations necessary to take his place in that afterlife. Would she ask her own Apprentice to help her in the same manner someday? Did she even want to continue to exist, if it meant existing like that? Sometimes, she didn't think so. It would be better to cease to be. At other times, she could see the value of remaining to watch over the future of the Sith, to keep on guiding the Order.
Then again, maybe there were enough guardians now. The thought of that netherworld terrified her. From everything she could tell about it, it was a horrible existence. Despite that, every Sith Lord since Darth Bane's Apprentice had chosen to linger as a spirit. Would she be the one to break the tradition, merely because she was afraid, or because she would not like the company of her old Master? There was time, she told herself, time to deal with all of that on another day. For now, she had to deal with a more pressing matter, the loyalty or hidden disloyalty of her own Apprentice, Sidious.
Shado entered a small cavern and walked over to a stone statue in the center. The ancient, life-sized carving of an armored Sith Lord had been brought here from distant Korriban itself, the tomb world of the old Sith Empire. The actual desiccated bodies of the Dark Lords were entombed on Korriban, and their Sith spirits were anchored to the tombs themselves. Normally, one would have to travel to Korriban to speak with them, but a special arrangement had been made centuries ago, to allow a kind of long distance communication between Horuz and Korriban. The statue was imbued with dark side energy, and it was attuned to the spirits of all the Dark Lords since Bane. Standing next to the statue, and calling out to the Dark Lords through the Force, Shado was able to speak to them, and ask them what she should do.
Shado held out her hands in supplication to the statue. "Speak to me, my Masters," she said out loud, while reaching out with the Force across space towards the mausoleums of Korriban. "I beseech you, give me your counsel."
After a minute, her efforts were rewarded. She felt the room go cold, despite the volcanic heat. Shado shivered as a misty form grew into being and hovered in front of the statue. It looked like a shadow, and had the vague shape of a hooded Sith robe, but the robe was empty, and its edges were as indistinct as smoke. The hazy specter seemed to have no identity, but Shado felt the chilling presence of her old Master, Nihilus.
"AT LAST YOU CONTACT US," the voice of Nihilus thundered coldly in her mind.
"I am sorry I waited so long, Master," Shado said humbly. "I have need of your wisdom. I have doubts about the intentions of my Apprentice. I fear he intends to expose the Sith, for the sake of his personal goals. But he hides his feelings too well. I must know where he stands, but I am uncertain. There is too much at stake, and therefore I have sought your help in finding the truth."
"ARE YOUR POWERS SO WEAK THAT YOU CANNOT SEE IT FOR YOURSELF? OR DO YOU DENY THE TRUTH BECAUSE OF YOUR OWN FOOLISH SENTIMENTALITY? IT HAS EVER BEEN YOUR WEAKNESS, SHADO. YOU DREAD KNOWING THAT YOU MUST DESTROY HIM."
"So, it is true, then? He plans to betray me?"
"YOUR APPRENTICE STILL HOLDS TO HIS GOAL OF REVENGE AGAINST THE JEDI. THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN. THE SURVIVAL OF THE SITH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DESTRUCTION OF THE JEDI. THE LESSONS OF HISTORY ARE ALL TOO CLEAR. THE SITH MUST CHOOSE THEIR BATTLES WISELY, AND THIS IS A BATTLE THAT COULD ONLY MEAN OUR DESTRUCTION."
Shado hung her head in submission to the dire warning. Inwardly, she struggled with her reluctance to kill her apprentice. She had been willing to punish him, yes. Several times, she had brought him close to death, but it had been for purposes of instruction. She had never actually wanted him to die. She had wanted him to live and fulfill her needs.
Nihilus sensed her indecision, but he could not tolerate it. "THE FUTURE OF THE SITH CANNOT BE JEOPARDIZED. YOUR APPRENTICE WILL EITHER GIVE UP HIS GOAL, OR HE MUST DIE AT YOUR HANDS."
Shado nodded, and the spirit faded away. There was no escaping what she must do.
Lord Shado had to know, for sure, before she took action against her Apprentice. She thought long and hard about how to get him to drop his guard enough to reveal his innermost self. Finally, she settled upon a strategy of surprising him emotionally. He had strong mental powers, but he was still young, and not in full control of his emotions. That would be the weakness she would exploit.
They sat together in conversation, sharing a simple meal of re-hydrated meat and vegetables. It was Shado's opinion that Sidious had grown strong in the Force, even faster then she had hoped in the beginning. When she told him so, it filled him with pride.
"I am finally able to concentrate the dark side within myself, Master. I can feel it with me, always."
"I can sense it within you," said Shado approvingly. "But do you realize that you have hardly begun to approach your full strength? You can be so much more powerful than you are now."
"Surely not." Sidious was skeptical. "Perhaps you flatter me, Master."
"The potential is there within you. I have known that since the beginning. And furthermore," said Shado, suddenly changing the subject, "how do you feel about your mother after all these years?"
Sidious was caught totally by surprise. They had not spoken about his mother at all, for more than four years. Adding to the ambush was the sudden appearance of Gemsaa Pestage behind Darth Shado. She shimmered into being, a perfect Sith illusion that looked and sounded absolutely real. The image of Gemsaa beckoned lovingly towards her son, as she whispered, "I love you, and I miss you so much..."
Sidious clamped down forcefully on his thoughts with lightning speed, but it was too late. Shado had caught a tiny glimpse of the feelings he buried so deeply, his pain at the loss of the mother who had belonged to him, and his rage for revenge. It was gone in an instant, replaced by Sidious' usual studied calmness.
Sidious regarded the illusion with mild curiosity. "Why do you ask me about her, Master?"
The illusion faded away. Shado pretended that she had detected nothing unusual and offered a plausible explanation for the illusion. "I know that you used to care for her deeply. I am curious as to whether I have come to occupy a place of importance for you, similar to hers. In a way, I have been like a mother to you. I continued to raise you where she left off. And I am proud of how you have grown, and of what you have become."
"You're not my mother," Sidious stated flatly. "I have no more family. And you are my Master, above all else. Why would you feel that way, like a mother? Frankly, that surprises me."
"Then I will surprise you even more. I have not told you about my past. When my Master found me, I was a young woman. And, I was pregnant. Darth Nihilus forced me to terminate my pregnancy. For an Apprentice, there can be no relationships other than the one with the Master, he told me. Especially not a parental one. But he is dead now, and I may feel the way I choose."
Sidious was unmoved. "You are foolish to feel sentiment about me, Master. You have trained me to be a hard, cold person. I would even kill you if I had to."
"Long ago," Shado replied, "Sith Apprentices did kill their Masters in order to replace them. But the Sith have outgrown the need for such folly. As you might guess, I did indeed hate my Master for what he did to me. I wanted to kill him for what he had taken from me. But I never did. Finally, he died in his own bed, a very old man." Shado sighed deeply. "My own time is near, Apprentice. You will not have to kill me to be rid of me. Besides, you are not strong enough to kill me, in any case."
"If I tried anyway," asked Sidious curiously, "could you then kill me?"
Shado decided not to answer him. They were finished with the meal, and she dismissed him.
When she was alone, she let out a long breath. Everything the spirit of Nihilus said was true, she thought sorrowfully. She had failed to break Sidious' will. But she did not want him to die, even now. She hoped there was still a way to save his life. Nihilus had said that Sidious must abandon his revenge or die. Perhaps he could still be persuaded to let go of his desires. What if he was faced with death again? No, she thought, she could only do that so many times. Sidious must know by now that she wanted him to live. To be convincing and effective, the ultimate threat must come from someone else. There was only one choice. Shado decided then and there to pass the burden of this life-or-death decision on to the spirits of the Dark Lords of the Sith.
Once again, Shado stood in communication with the dark spirit of her old Master. This time, Nihilus was not the only spirit present. Nine other Sith spirits ringed the statue and hovered around her. These were all of the Dark Lords from the last one thousand years. The only spirit missing, Shado knew, was that of Darth Bane himself.
Bane had chosen his apprentice, a girl named Zannah, after the fateful battle on Ruusan which had left him the only remaining Sith Lord. He had taken Zannah to the planet Onderon for safekeeping, and had then gone to the nearby Dxun moon, to the tomb of Freedon Nadd, a former Dark Lord of the Sith. With the Sith Holocron he found there, he was able to complete his own training, return to Onderon, and become a Sith Master to Zannah. But her instincts for violence never lived up to his expectations; resigned to being a darksider, she nevertheless hated killing.
Bane and Zannah had created a Sith sanctuary in which to hide from the Jedi. Soon, they realized that the Jedi did indeed think the Sith were extinct. Zannah completed her training, and Bane recorded his philosophy for the continuation of the Sith in a Holocron. Eventually, though, Bane became impatient with his own doctrines. Finally, he rejected his own commitment to secrecy, and died in an abortive campaign against the Jedi. Because Zannah had been left safe in their sanctuary, the Jedi had never learned about her. They had continued to believe that Darth Bane was the last of the Sith.
Bane had tried as a Sith spirit to coerce Zannah into taking revenge against the Jedi for him. To resist him, she had been forced to destroy his spirit. Wracked with guilt over what she had done, she had pledged to continue the Sith order as Bane had intended. Zannah had preserved the Sith legacy in hiding, preferring secrecy to a violent end. She had named herself Darth Arcanus, to honor both her fallen Master and the path of secret knowledge she knew she must follow. Arcanus had made sure that her own Apprentice felt the same way she did about hiding from the Jedi. Throughout the subsequent centuries, only like-minded Apprentices had been chosen...until now. Darth Shado knew it was her fault that had changed.
"It is as you say, Master," Shado admitted wearily to Nihilus. "My Apprentice will defy me. Yet, I do not want to destroy him. I am weak, I know this. And he senses it. If I were to press him, he would not believe I would kill him, and he would not turn from his foolish path. His will is too strong. In the end, I would only be able to execute him and waste all that I have invested in him. I beg you, Master, take this burden from me. You have the power to put him to the test of life and death. If he refuses you, he will still die, as you have commanded. I ask this because I believe he holds the future of the Sith in his hands. I will not be able to find another one so gifted before I die. Please...you must try to turn him. Before it is too late."
Darth Nihilus considered her words, letting her feel his anger at her weakness. "DO NOT BOTHER TO JUSTIFY YOUR FAILURE TO ME. YOUR ATTEMPT TO PERSUADE ME TO DO THE DUTY THAT SHOULD BE YOURS, IS ALSO POINTLESS. ALL THAT MATTERS IS THE FUTURE OF OUR ORDER. THE BOY IS A THREAT TO US. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHO REMOVES THAT THREAT. WE AGREE TO YOUR REQUEST. BRING HIM TO US ON KORRIBAN. IF HE WILL NOT BE TURNED, HE WILL BE DESTROYED."
Darth Shado bowed to the spirits. She felt relief, but also anxiety. They would either end Sidious' thirst for revenge, or else end the life of Sidious. She knew he could never become a Sith Lord...the future of the Sith could never be entrusted to him...unless he changed his mind. Otherwise he would precipitate a fatal conflict with the Jedi and the Republic. Shado could only pray that her Apprentice had enough wisdom to make the right choice.
At the time, Senator Palpatine remembered, he had known full well that he had been discovered. He had cursed his moment of weakness, and he had begun to prepare himself for whatever Darth Shado might decide to do to him.
What he hadn't expected was being told that his training was at an end. With great ceremony, and in front of all of the adepts, Shado had told him that he had fulfilled his promise as an Apprentice. Palpatine remembered their faces so clearly. At least half of the adepts had hated him outright. How he had loved their expressions of anger, envy , and disgust as Shado praised him. He had almost been able to see the wheels turning inside their heads as they either planned his demise, or planned how to survive once he was Lord over them.
For a moment, Sidious had even allowed himself to enjoy a feeling of accomplishment. In the present, however, Palpatine looked back at the day with little pride. The completion of his training with Darth Shado had only been the penultimate step in his development. The greatest moment, the true fulfillment of his potential, was still yet to come. But it was to come soon.
Also for a moment, Sidious had allowed himself the luxury of thinking that his hidden feelings had not been discovered after all. Darth Shado quickly disabused him of that notion. With grave seriousness, she had told everyone that Sidious was ready to pass the trials and become a Sith Lord. He would face a test of survival on the ancient tomb world of Korriban, deep in the heart of the former Sith Empire. Then Sidious had known that he would not escape her wrath. On Korriban, any number of things could happen to him. Sadly, he would not return from his test, and the search would begin for another apprentice. No one gathered there would miss him in the slightest.
Part Three: Korriban
The planet Korriban, located in the Horuset system, was not marked on standard galactic maps. It was a lonely and barren world, covered with deserts and canyons, as Sidious observed from the cockpit of the small Sith scout ship. Darth Shado piloted their arachnid-shaped craft down to the surface and landed on top of a gently sloping sand dune at the entrance to a long valley.
They emerged into the hot, dry air, which was nevertheless much more breathable than the volcanic fumes of Horuz. The sun was sinking beneath the sandy horizon, casting long shadows behind the two Sith. Sidious stood silently, gazing at the valley, while a hot breeze billowed through his black robes.
Sidious knew many things about Korriban already, from studying the Sith Holocrons. He knew that he was looking at the Valley of the Dark Lords, a deep and narrow cut in the landscape that followed a twisted path for many miles. The valley was a necropolis, a city of the dead. Into its steep walls were carved the giant tombs of ancient, mummified Sith Lords from the days of the great Sith Empire. The huge mausoleums were said to be filled with riches, but also guarded by sinister defense mechanisms and baleful creatures.
The temples in the valley had been built to focus and amplify the power of the dark side. Sidious could feel the incredible magnitude of that power, even from a distance. He extended his Force senses into the valley, trying to identify the potential dangers that lurked there. It was a pointless exercise. The entire valley reeked of danger.
"This will be a test of survival," Darth Shado said to him. "You will go into the valley and try to stay alive for three days. You will bring nothing with you except your training and your knowledge. If you return here at sunset on the third day, you will become a Sith Lord."
Sidious nodded at his inscrutable Master, surrendering his lightsaber and his amulets. Briefly, he considered attacking her and stealing the ship, but he knew he would not survive the attempt. Her powers were still much stronger than his. There was no escape. He resigned himself to the ordeal, whether it would prove to be a test or a trap.
With a sigh, but without a backward glance, Sidious walked down the dune towards the mouth of the valley. Night fell before he reached the entrance. A glittering tapestry of bright stars came out in the dark blue sky. With his enhanced senses, he could still see the sandy, rocky terrain in the pale, faint light, but now there were deep shadows everywhere he looked. The sand was littered with crumbled stone. Several times, he passed the half-buried remains of a starship, sunken into the sand and corroded by the passage of centuries. He also had to step over the skeletal remains of tomb robbers, who sprawled forlornly, adorned with pitted armor and the tatters of space suits.
Distances and sizes were deceptive in the clear desert air. The enormous scale of the structures in the valley became apparent to him only when he was finally up close to them. The tombs were made of towering slabs of sand colored rock, piled steeply upon one another, hundreds of feet tall. They seemed to mount the steep valley walls, trying futilely to reach the stars high above. Long flights of stairs climbed up the outsides of the mausoleums, leading to shadowy entrances, platforms with ornate pillars, and lofty balconies. Strange formations of natural stone jutted at odd angles above the temples.
Between the tombs were gargantuan statues of Dark Lords, proof of their once enormous egos carved in stone. The statues stood like sentinels or sat on towering thrones, gripping impossibly tall swords, seemingly ready to attack any intruder. Their stone faces brooded high above Sidious as he slowly picked his way past their gigantic feet. Every stone surface was engraved with the writings and picture symbols of the ancient Sith.
The valley oppressed and overwhelmed the Force senses of Sidious. It was full of the energy of the dark side. He could hear whispers like the ones he had heard before, when the dark side first began to seduce him. But these whispers said they wanted him dead, simply because he was alive. The valley seemed to contain a vast multitude of unquiet spirits. Some were sleeping, but others were conscious, brooding and waiting to consume the living with their undying hatred.
Soon, Sidious became aware that he was not alone. Several creatures were silently stalking him, moving unseen through the shadows and inexorably converging on his position. From his studies, he knew what they were: Tuk'ata, the Sith hounds. They had been created by Sith alchemists long ago, and placed on Korriban to guard the tombs. They were very intelligent, patient, and unpredictable. They could see in the dark, and they hunted in packs. Their victims only heard them growl when it was too late to escape.
He stopped walking, and waited for the Tuk'ata to emerge. It was pointless to run. Sidious knew that he might soon be dead. He had his Force powers, but they might not save him against so many predators. The Sith hounds were relentless, and they could keep coming at him until he faltered and went down. Was this the way Shado had planned to get rid of him? If so, it was a rather simple scheme, and not worthy of her at all.
There were low, rumbling growls on all sides, as a large pack of Sith hounds flowed out of the darkness, encircling Sidious. Many more Tuk'ata were perched high above his head, lurking on the monuments. The creatures were large, black, sinuous canine mutations with clawed feet and highly visible sharp fangs. They had four long, thin, bent horns emerging from their heads like misplaced insect legs. Their red and yellow eyes glinted with malevolent intelligence. As a unit, the pack slowly closed in on Sidious.
Sidious let the dark side flow through him. The Force leaped to his aid. He clenched his fists and filled them with a crackling blue electric charge. Raising his arms, and glaring defiantly at the Sith hounds, Sidious prepared to unleash Force Lightning.
He never had to release the power. The Tuk'ata stopped growling and stopped advancing. Instead, they simply sat down and watched Sidious. For a moment, Sidious was perplexed by their behavior, but then he chastised himself for not remembering sooner. The Tuk'ata were created to kill outsiders, not the Sith themselves. The creatures were loyal to the Sith. They were no threat to him, after all. Sidious let go of the Force and relaxed a fraction. He gazed steadily back at the hounds until they stood, turned, and slunk soundlessly away into the dark again.
Continuing on his way down the valley, Sidious considered his next move. He knew that the Tuk'ata were not the only dangers present, and that some of the other guardians of the tombs would still try to destroy him, not caring in the slightest whether he was a Sith or not. Even so, he knew he had to venture into the mausoleums. He needed a weapon, and there could be any number of ancient Sith artifacts stored within the tombs. With a powerful enough weapon, he might survive three days in the valley. Furthermore, he might return to Darth Shado with something deadly enough to defeat her. Without such a prize, he feared that his return would mean his death at her hands.
Still, he wondered, if she was going to kill him, why send him into the valley? Why not just destroy him without this deception? He imagined that there was a small chance that the ordeal was exactly what she had said it was, a final test for him. But even if that were true, and he became a Sith Lord at her side, his ambition to attack the Jedi would remain unchanged, and eventually, his Master would be forced to confront him and try to stop him. He wanted to be ready for that battle, whether it was coming in three days, or in three years.
Sidious scanned the high structures and selected a mausoleum. Cautiously, he began to climb the extremely steep stairs to the entrance far above. Three hundred narrow stone steps later, Sidious was peering into the black interior of the tomb. He could see very little. There was a vast chamber, an echoing vault containing more statues, great stone blocks, and stepped platforms. A wall that had once blocked the entrance had been shattered long ago, and the rubble was covered with sand that had blown inside.
Sidious could sense no motion, no sounds, and no life inside. With extreme caution, he projected the Eyes of the Force as far as he could. Nearby, he saw several skeletons, the remains of slaves who had been sealed in with their master. Far in the back of the vault, there was a stone throne bearing a seated corpse, the dried remains of a Sith Lord. Hoping to find a hidden cache of Sith artifacts, Sidious proceeded carefully into the darkness. He had barely walked ten paces when he heard a dry rasping sound behind him. With a scraping clatter, a dozen skeletons clambered to their feet. Sidious cursed. These were tomb guardians, animated by Sith magic cast here long ago. Immediately, the skeletons began to come after him, bony arms outstretched, trailing wisps of decayed cloth.
Sidious ran deeper into the pitch blackness, until he found the throne he had sensed before. He climbed on top of it, grabbing the mummified corpse and shoving it away. The body fell to the floor with a puff of dust, just as the tomb guardians reached the throne and crowded around it. Sidious gathered his power and unleashed a writhing stream of Force Lightning at the nearest attacker. The blue energy was amazingly bright in the dark depths of the mausoleum. Disappointingly, the dark side energy simply played harmlessly over the walking corpse, which ignored the attack and began to climb the throne. Apparently, Force Lightning was ineffective against the dead, for they had no life energy to steal.
Sidious' groping hands fell upon the hilt of a Sith sword, dropped there by the enthroned mummy. A skeleton hand and forearm was still attached to it. Casting away the bones, Sidious took up the sword and used the Force to leap over the heads of the skeletons. The alchemically treated blade was still extremely sharp. With a powerful swing, Sidious sent the head of the closest skeleton flying. From there, he retreated, fighting his way back to the broken wall and the outside. The tomb guardians did not relent, and Sidious was forced to hack off their arms and legs in order to stop them. Finally, he backed out of the hole and hurried down the long stairs. Panting, he stood at the bottom. He still gripped the sword, but it was a poor prize. It would not help him against Lord Shado at all. Nevertheless, he kept it with him as he investigated the next tomb.
Each tomb he entered provided a similar experience. There were animated corpses to attack him, and pits, falling walls, and other traps waiting in the darkness. Everywhere there were signs that the tombs had been broken into long ago. When he was able to search, he found nothing he could use. The treasures were gone.
Discouraged, Sidious rested on the valley floor. It was still night. He had been exploring the mausoleums for hours with nothing to show for his efforts. Suddenly, he became aware of a glimmer of light, far down the valley, and high up on the valley wall. He stood gazing at the distant flicker for a long time. He guessed that the light was a lure, meant to attract him. It could only lead him to a trap, probably one set by Darth Shado. But he decided to go anyway. He wanted to get the matter over with. Everything else in the valley was probably a waste of his time and energy. If he wanted to survive the real test, he had better conserve the resources he had left.
It took him until dawn to reach the tomb with the beckoning light. As the first light of the sun spilled into the valley, Sidious climbed a long set of steps to another stone entryway. At this end of the valley, the stonework looked newer, the buildings not so ancient. To either side of the open archway, large braziers of hot coal were burning. This was the source of the light he had seen in the night. Noting the impossibility of fires staying lit for years, he concluded that he was definitely expected.
With his Sith sword at the ready, Sidious walked boldly into the crypt. Ahead, he could sense great danger, a tremendous, malevolent dark side power. In the dim light filtering through the entry hall, he saw another large, gloomy vault ahead. Inside was a row of thrones, each one holding a seated, mummified body. The corpses sat stiffly, their empty eye sockets staring at eternity, their bony hands clutching the arm rests of the thrones. Their skinless grins spoke of some secret knowledge that defied death. Each one was dressed in a dusty black robe.
Sidious inspected the names on the thrones, which were carved in the ancient language of the Sith Empire. The closest one was Darth Arcanus, who in life had been the apprentice of Darth Bane. So, this tomb held the remains of the most recent Dark Lords of the Sith. Next in line came her successor, Darth Incantus, then Darth Morbidus, and Darth Nocturnus. Sidious followed the row of thrones all the way to the end, where he found Darth Nihilus seated on the tenth throne. Four more empty thrones completed the row. The first empty one was reserved for Darth Shado. The other three were unlabeled. He turned back towards the first throne, perplexed. Where was the throne of Darth Bane? Sidious shrugged off the mystery. He was there to face whatever test Shado had in store for him. He was going to survive it, and he was going to fulfill his destiny and destroy the Jedi someday. Nothing was going to stop him.
"Well?" he said softly. "I'm here. Show yourself." The dark presence within the crypt intensified. He could feel its anger and its enormous destructive power. He knew at once that he was no match for it. But he had no intention of backing down.
The chamber became very cold as ten Sith spirits coalesced out of nothingness. Sidious watched them appear, one by one, until ten shadowy specters hung in the air. With them came a sense of oppressive dread. They were pure rage and violence made manifest as undying shades, and the air throbbed with their power. Darkness dripped from them like blood. Their faceless forms filled Sidious with cold fear, his bravery vanished. It was impossible not to feel fear in their presence. They made him want to flee, to grovel, to crawl into a deep hole and hide. But Sidious was no stranger to fear. He was already transforming his fear into anger that he could use to fight.
"YOUNG FOOL," the voice of one of the spirits pounded in his brain. "YOU HAVE WALKED WILLINGLY TO YOUR DOOM. WE KNOW WHAT YOU PLAN TO DO. YOU DESIRE TO REVEAL THE SITH TO THE GALAXY ONCE MORE. YOU DESIRE TO SACRIFICE WHAT WE HAVE BUILT IN YOUR FUTILE QUEST FOR VENGEANCE." Sidious went to his knees, overcome by waves of power beating against him. His sword clattered uselessly to the floor.
"YOUR MASTER WANTS YOU TO TURN ASIDE FROM YOUR FOLLY. FOR HER SAKE, WE WILL GIVE YOU ONE LAST CHANCE TO REPENT. IF YOU CANNOT ACCEPT THE TRUTH, YOU MUST DIE. WHAT IS YOUR DECISION, CHILD?"
Sidious clutched his head and swayed, reeling with pain. Physically, he was at the mercy of the Dark Lords. But mentally, he could still resist them. "The Jedi must die," he grated. "I will not stop until they are dead." Sidious spat his defiance at the spirits. "I came here of my own free will. I will make my own choices! Destroy me if you have to, but let this end, now! No more threats!" Sidious clenched his teeth and focused his fury deep within himself. The power of the dark side raged through him more than it ever had before, focused and amplified by the Sith temples all around him. "I reject all of you," shouted Sidious. "You're cowards, every one of you! You're even afraid to die! Now I know why Darth Bane isn't here among you. He would hate what you've become! You're not the Sith, you're nothing!" With that, Sidious released everything he had.
Force Lightning shrieked out of his hands and tore into the floating spirits. An expanding sphere of force, made solid by his rage, smashed into the Dark Lords. For a moment, the spirits wavered like clouds in the wind. Then they were upon him. Ten black shapes of clotted hatred swooped down and seized his body. The touch of their spectral arms was like numbing ice. Frozen and helpless, he felt the life begin to drain from him at a terrifying rate. Sidious could do nothing to stop it. He had failed. Now, he had only seconds to live.
"YOU UNDERSTAND AT LAST," the thundering voice blotted out his final thoughts. "WE ARE THE DARK SIDE. YOU NEVER HAD A CHANCE AT ALL, YOUNG APPRENTICE."
Death came for Darth Sidious. But so did the dark side of the Force.
There was an eternal instant. Sidious no longer felt like he was dying. The scene of the tomb receded and became unimportant. He was nowhere. He was inside himself. To his astonishment, the dark side spoke to him within his own mind, seeming to speak with his own voice. You have been chosen for the future, over these impotent remnants of the past, it said. We will make a bargain, you and I.
What bargain? he wondered, amazed at his own calmness.
You will become my greatest servant, and in return, you will be the greatest master of my power in all of history, the voice of the dark side replied.
I will be a servant? Like a slave?
You will not be a slave. You will be far above all other living beings.
Sidious believed the voice completely. But he had an immediate concern. What price do I have to pay for this?
You must give up everything, the voice of the dark side said immediately. Your plans, your desires, your dreams are all forfeit. Your past will be given up and lost. Your future will no longer belong to you.
All of my plans? Sidious hesitated.
I know your heart, said the voice of the dark side. You do not need to give up your revenge. You need only to wait for it. You will have it on my terms. I want what you want. The fall of the Jedi. The weakening of the light side. Imagine the galaxy, its uncounted worlds filled with fear, anger, pain, and suffering.
Sidious saw what the voice was describing. He saw all of it, all of the glorious destruction, all of the suffering. And he saw himself, Master of it all. It was so much more than he had ever imagined. His own desire for revenge seemed weak and insignificant beside it. He realized how tiny and pathetic his vision had been.
You can give that to me, the voice of the dark side promised him. To fulfill this future, I have chosen you...
With every fiber of his being, Sidious wanted what the voice was offering. Suspended in the moment, he agreed to its terms.
Palpatine had wondered for many years whether the dark side was sentient. He had thought back on that day many times, the day he had been about to die, the day he had heard the voice of the dark side. The day he had been offered his true destiny. The day he had accepted it. The day his new life had begun.
Whenever he thought back on that event, he wondered whether he had really heard the conscious voice of a supernatural power, or whether he had imagined it, trying to make sense of a sudden insight and a sudden leap in ability. Perhaps, while under extreme duress, he had finally reached within himself and found the power that was there all along. Or perhaps, he really had been saved and given the ultimate gift of power, for a purpose. Perhaps he would never know for sure. The dark side had never spoken to him in that way again. He could still understand its will and its purpose for him, but now he heard its voice in a different way.
He still thought of his relationship with the dark side in the terms he had been given on that day. He knew that he would always be its chosen servant, and that his life would be dedicated to changing the galaxy into the dark vision he had been shown at that moment. It did not matter whether it had been a moment of prophecy, revelation, or insight. What mattered was, his life had changed forever on that day...the day he had surpassed the Sith.
The eternal instant ended. Energy flooded into Darth Sidious from the Force, replacing everything that had been stolen from him. Then a Force barrier appeared around his body. The attacking Sith spirits were thrust back. Astonished, they threw themselves at the barrier, but they could not penetrate it.
Sidious stood up, and slowly brushed the sand from his robe. A terrible light shown in his yellow eyes as his gaze traveled deliberately from one spirit to the next.
"THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE," the spirits argued.
"NO CHILD CAN HAVE SUCH POWER."
"SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAS HAPPENED."
"HOW CAN WE BE SO WEAK?"
"DO NOT FEAR. WE WILL DESTROY HIM EVEN IF WE MUST DESTROY THIS ENTIRE VALLEY. THERE IS NOTHING THE BOY CAN DO TO HARM US."
Sidious sensed that the last statement was not quite true. He recalled that a Sith spirit had to have some kind of physical anchor to the living world, like a temple or a person, to avoid being dispersed into the chaos of the dark side after death. He wondered what the anchor for these spirits might be. Extending his senses into the Force once more, he was able to detect lines of power connecting the Dark Lords to a place behind one of the painted, hieroglyph-covered walls.
Sidious raised his hand and sent a powerful telekinetic blast into the wall. The stone shattered, leaving a gaping hole. Through it, he could see a dark chamber that contained a series of sarcophagi, all in a row. Each sarcophagus was painted with bright colors and inscribed with Sith writing. Through the Eyes of the Force, Sidious could see that these coffin-like boxes were the anchors for each spirit.
Now the spirits did begin to panic. Incomprehensibly, the tables had been turned on them. They desperately but futilely attacked the shield surrounding Sidious. They could not touch him any more.
Sidious hurled another telekinetic blast at the first sarcophagus, and it shattered into hundreds of tiny particles of wood. One of the Sith spirits screamed and seemed to fall apart into shadowy fragments. Encouraged and empowered now, Sidious blasted all of the coffins apart, one after another, and then created a powerful wind that stirred up the pieces and lifted them into the air. The pieces of wood swirled around the crypt as the wind howled. The howling of the spirits was louder than the wind, however. Finally, Sidious thrust his palm at the entry hall, blowing the fragments of the sarcophagi out of the crypt and into the morning air of the valley. There, they rained down on the sand and the statues. Inside the crypt, the spirits seemed to blow away. With a last wail, they were gone, and silence settled over the vault.
Sidious sighed and relaxed at last. He had won. If the spirits were not destroyed, they were at least banished and dispersed. Hopefully, it would be a long time before they could return, if ever. And if they did, he knew how to defend himself from them now.
Incredibly, he was not even tired. The power of the dark side was with him still, flowing through him, giving him everything it had promised him. He thought about his bargain, and shook his head. Had it really happened? It must have. Otherwise, how could he have survived?
Curious, Sidious looked into the chamber that had hidden the sarcophagi. Deeper inside the room, he saw the glint of gold. Intrigued, he ventured inside. There, he discovered a treasure trove of Sith artifacts. There were scrolls, amulets, pieces of armor, swords, and Holocrons. One by one, he brought the items into the light. This explained why the other tombs had been empty. During the last thousand years, the Sith Lords had removed the artifacts and secreted them in this room, where they could be protected by the spirits of the Dark Lords.
Sidious looked over the weapons of Sith magic, considering which of them might be used against his Master. Then he realized, he was the best weapon of all now. He knew he was a match for his old Master, and more. If she dared to attack him, she would lose. The thought gave him a thrill, and he laughed. It was the first time he had laughed in years. The sound rang out inside the tomb, a triumphant cackle that promised woeful punishment to anyone who would defy him now.
Among the last of the items, he found an odd red ball made of highly polished stone. It was heavy, about the size of his head, and it was covered by small spots that seemed to float across its surface. When he picked it up, it felt warm. The curved, hypnotically moving surface held his gaze. He looked deeply into the stone, feeling like he was falling into it. Then, the visions came.
For the first time, Sidious saw the future. He lost his awareness of everything around him, and began to perceive a vast, otherworldly landscape of obscuring clouds and bright lines like rivers of light. No, it was more like an endless tapestry of glowing, moving threads that filled his vision. The rivers, or threads, were incredibly complex. They twisted around each other, intertwining and separating, branching and splitting into dozens of pathways. The farther he looked, the more the pathways branched, until there were hundreds of them, then thousands, then millions, all receding into the cloudy distance. There were pictures, too...images he could recognize. They played out before him like hazy holos, some faint, others blazingly bright.
One bright image caught his eye. It was a vision of the Sith ruling the galaxy for the first time in history. He saw himself, looking much older, as the actual ruler of that dark empire. He saw that he was to be the last of the Sith Masters, and he knew that no apprentice would ever take his place. In the vision, vast war machines moved across space at his command, filled with legions of armored troops. He saw the wreckage of shattered planets, and the destruction of the Jedi. He knew then that one day, he would truly fulfill his part of the bargain he had made with the dark side.
Sidious was stunned. Eventually, he was able to put the stone down. But even after he let go of it, he could still see glimpses of what was to come. The ability to foresee the future had been permanently awakened in him. Sidious had been blessed with the rare power of vision. He knew that this changed everything.
The former Sith apprentice emerged from the tomb and sat heavily at the top of the stone steps leading down. So very much had happened, and he needed to sort it all out. As the sun warmed him, he slipped into a state of meditation in the Force. The dangers of the valley were no threat to him now. Confident that he was safe, he drifted away and was lost to the world.
When night began to fall on the third day, Darth Shado was already full of anxiety. Many times, she had stopped herself from going into the valley to see what was happening. But she did not dare to interfere with the work of the spirits of the other Dark Lords. It was useless to try to perceive what was happening with the Force. The dark side energy in the valley was so great that it overwhelmed her senses. At the dawn of the first day, she had felt a large disturbance in the Force, over and above the background energy level. After that, nothing. Perhaps it had come from a confrontation between Sidious and the spirits. Perhaps not. She had tried to meditate, just to pass the time, but her level of apprehension was too great.
She wanted to see her Apprentice come walking out of the valley. She wanted him to never walk out.
And then, just as the first stars began to appear in the sky, Darth Sidious emerged from the Valley of the Dark Lords and slowly climbed the sand dune towards her. He seemed to be in no hurry. He seemed quite calm. His hood was pulled back and his expression was mild. What could possibly have happened in there?
He approached, stopped, and bowed to her. He seemed subservient as usual. "I have returned, Master," he said quietly. "I have passed your test. Am I now a Sith Lord?"
"Tell me what happened during your test," Shado tensely demanded.
Sidious did not hesitate to answer. "I have looked into the red stone, Master. I have seen the future."
Shado gasped. "The Oracle Stone? You have looked into it? Then that means you have confronted the spirits of the Dark Lords."
"Yes." Sidious smiled gently. "Confronted them...and defeated them."
"Impossible," said Shado.
Then Sidious let her sense some of his newfound power. "Quite possible, I am afraid," he said.
Shado recoiled, taking a few steps back. "What has happened to you?" she said, suddenly aghast. Her Apprentice had somehow gained stunning reserves of power. Not only had her plan failed, she realized, but she was now also in serious danger.
"The dark side spoke to me," Sidious said, folding his hands together. "It told me I was its chosen servant. It told me I would be the greatest master of its power."
Shado's thoughts whirled in her head. Then suddenly, it was all clear to her. "You are the chosen one of the dark side," she said, wonderingly. "The one in the prophecy."
"What prophecy is that?" Sidious asked patiently.
"One will be born, chosen by the Force. The dark side will rise," Shado quoted. "It is from the ancient Journal of the Whills."
"I have never heard of such a prophecy," Sidious said dismissively. "It all sounds rather vague to me. I have looked into the stone, and the things I saw there were very clear to me. I saw a vision of the Sith ruling the galaxy for the first time. I saw myself as the Emperor of the galaxy. I saw that I will be the last of the Sith Masters. No apprentice will ever take my place." He looked her with pity. "You were wrong, Master. The time of Sith ascendancy is at hand. I will be the final Dark Lord of the Sith, and I will rule the galaxy. I have surpassed the Sith, and fulfilled the purpose of the order. When the dark side rules all, the Sith order will no longer need to exist."
Shado was shocked. "No! Listen to me, Sidious. You cannot believe what you are saying. Prophecies have two sides. The prophecy of the dark side's chosen one also says that one will be born who will bring balance to the Force." She struggled to stay calm against her own rising fear. "You cannot trust the Oracle Stone, either. Its visions can be deceptive. Your vision may not mean what you think it does. You have seen the rise of the Sith to power...and that you will be the last Dark Lord. What if it means that the Sith will rise, only to fall forever?"
Sidious listened patiently, but he was unmoved. "I know that you sent me into the valley to make me change my mind. Your plan has failed. I intend to follow my destiny. The only question now is, what will you choose to do about it? I do not fear you, and I do not need to destroy you. But what do you feel you must do?"
Darth Shado knew what she had to do. No matter which way Shado thought about it, she could see no escape. The Sith must not be revealed. The spirits had failed to stop Sidious. That left only her to try to do what must be done. It had all come down to this. Here, at the end of her life, she had no choice at all.
A single tear fell down Shado's age-ravaged face as her hood fell back. Raising her hands and advancing on her Apprentice, she summoned all of her dark side strength. Sidious nodded as if he had expected this.
The Dark Lord of the Sith and the Sith Apprentice met and grabbed each other's hands. They looked into each other's eyes as the contest of powers began. Both of them chose to attack with hands-on Force Lightning. They stood close together, hands locked above their heads, a blinding blue-white light blazing from inside their interlocked fingers. Blue bolts of electric power were squeezed out from between their tightly pressed palms. Most of the wild energy bolts shot directly into their bodies, lighting them up from within, and arcing over their skin.
Shado knew at once that she was going to lose. Sidious had too much power now. She was not going to defeat him. Still, she poured out her attack, angry that she was going to die, wanting to punish someone for that fact. She could feel the life energy being ripped from her. Her very soul was being shredded and consumed. Every part of her body was in agony. Sidious was not going to stop until he had taken everything from her. Knowing that it was over, Shado cast her mind far from where she was, giving up her body and her life for lost. Her thoughts fled into the past, seeking pleasant memories of her youth. But even that was spoiled, for all she could think about was the day she had been forced to terminate her pregnancy...the day she had killed her child.
Sidious felt his Master go limp. He released her hands and she collapsed to the sand. There she lay, a small, frail old woman with very pale skin and wisps of white hair. Her face was wrinkled and withered, sunken onto the shape of her skull. Smoke was rising from her clothing, but she was still faintly breathing.
Sidious knelt to hear her final whispered words. "My child......why?" Then she was gone.
Darth Sidious placed the body of Darth Shado on her waiting, empty throne in the tomb of the Dark lords. There she sat, next to her old Master, the last in her line. Sidious stood alone, the only living Dark Lord of the Sith. He regarded the silent bodies of his predecessors. They were silent, their spirits dispersed. Your time is now over, he thought. And mine is just beginning. There are changes coming. He walked out of the crypt and left the past behind him.
Senator Palpatine sat in his room and thought about what he had done after leaving Korriban. Sidious had returned to Horuz and claimed some of the Sith artifacts that he needed, depositing other artifacts taken from Korriban. He had told the adepts that he was their Master now. Sensing his new dark side strength, they had agreed to serve him. He had instructed them to carry on their research into the dark side. He would give them access to Sith secrets that were once forbidden to them. He had told them that if they remained loyal to him, they would each have a place in the dark empire he was going to create. Some of the adepts did prove to be loyal, such as Savuud Thimram, Aga Motto, Jappi Qaff, Zenick Fesi, and Vish Anti. Others, like Fal-Umar, Valtorr Kaluu, and Dem Denak, had eventually tried to betray him. Those adepts, he had been forced to destroy.
But when he had returned to the Horuz monastery, it had felt like such a small place to him, a harsh, dead hole in the ground. It was no better than Korriban, and it was no place for him to create his future. He knew then that he was destined to be part of a much larger world. He had surpassed the Sith, and he found he had no taste for hiding from history in their dusty monastery. The galaxy, and in particular, galactic politics, was to be his world.
And so he had gone back to Naboo, to make his start. But there, he had not taken up his old life. Instead, he had created a new identity, becoming the orphaned "Ethril Palpatine". Then at sixteen he had joined the Apprentice Legislators and served the office of Senator Pena until he was noticed and promoted. With all of the powers of the dark side at his disposal, it had taken little effort to excel enough to merit further attention and advancement. To the Naboo people, it appeared that he had always lived there, so complete was his fabricated identity. He even colored his hair to a reddish hue, and changed his yellow eyes to blue in order to appear more ordinary. All of these changes were so that no one could learn about his past. He had totally left it behind and buried it.
Except that...part of that past had just risen to the surface. Palpatine stood up. Enough with memories. It was time to deal with the present. He had to decide what to do with Sate Pestage. Palpatine had been surprised by the sudden appearance of Pestage, and he had been made to feel vulnerable. But his memories had reminded him of who and what he was. What he had been long ago, no longer mattered.
Palpatine summoned an aide and ordered that Sate Pestage was to be found and brought to him.
Epilogue: 20 yrs. before the Battle of Naboo...
For thirty years, Sate Pestage had led an empty life. Depression had been his constant companion as he struggled to get from day to day. He continued his political studies in an uninspired way, working only to distract himself from his memories. His wife was dead, and he believed his son to be dead too. What was there that was worth living for? He had no answers.
But now things had changed. The sun had arisen in his life of darkness after the longest night imaginable. He had found his son. Espaa was alive. It was a miracle.
For hours now, he had been sitting in an open street restaurant in Theed, planning what he would say to his son. His mind was full of questions. How had Espaa survived being taken by the dark woman? What had happened to him during all those years? Well, he knew some of what had happened. His son had somehow become the Senator of Naboo. But that only raised a host of other questions. Perhaps the most pressing one, and the most painful, was, why hadn't Espaa contacted him before this? Did he hate his father? Did he blame him for the death of his mother? Pestage hadn't seen any hatred in his son's eyes, only surprise and confusion. Why then, had there been all the years of silence? He had no answers to that question, either.
So Pestage had sat and waited. He didn't believe that his son would ignore him. He knew he would be summoned any time, now. When a Naboo Security Guard came to his table and asked for him by name, Pestage went with the man eagerly. He was led through the Palace to the private room of Senator Palpatine. Pestage was extremely nervous and excited. He could hardly contain himself.
The guard allowed him to enter Palpatine's room. Pestage hesitantly went in, and immediately noticed the red d?cor. His son's favorite color. And there was the Senator himself, regally attired, standing in the center of the spacious chamber. Pestage stared openly at Palpatine. Now he was sure. There could be no hiding one's identity from a parent, no matter how many years had passed. Tears flowed down his face. It was his son, Espaa.
Palpatine knew from the expression on Pestage's face that he had to act quickly. He called upon the Force to enter Sate's mind and to alter what he found there. "Before you say anything," Palpatine spoke up sternly, "I must tell you that I am not what you think I am." He exerted pressure on Pestage's mind. Pestage's certainty that Palpatine was his son began to dissolve into doubt. But then he met with resistance. A deep part of Sate Pestage was holding on to the idea very tightly, needing it to be true. He was unsure of the truth now, but he would not let it go completely. Pestage's will was too strong to be totally overridden without harming him irreversibly. Of course it was, Palpatine reflected. Where else had he gotten that trait from?
Palpatine was ready to kill his father if the mind manipulation did not work, and if the man still believed, even partially, that they were related. He could not allow anyone to reveal his origins at this point, not when he had fabricated a completely different and very public identity. His long range plans as Senator Palpatine must not be jeopardized. This man must be made to go on his way and forget what he had seen here today, or else...he would never leave alive. He was ready to kill Pestage in that way, but suddenly the idea troubled him. After a moment's thought, he understood why.
Palpatine realized that this situation was quite similar to the one between Darth Shado and himself. Only now, he was in Shado's place, insisting on secrecy and hiding. The realization stopped him cold. He did not want to become like the cowardly Shado and her predecessors. He would not hide from Sate Pestage by deleting the truth from his mind. Pestage deserved the truth, after all he had been through. And, Pestage deserved the same choice that Sidious had had when he demanded revenge and the Dark Lords had demanded secrecy. He deserved to see the whole truth, and then to have his free will, even if he had to die in the end.
Palpatine released his hold on Pestage's mind, leaving the man blinking and shaking his head. "I must warn you," he said gravely to Pestage, "that I am going to show you the truth of what I really am, of what I have become. Afterwards, what you do will determine if you live or die."
Pestage stood in confusion, as Palpatine raised his arms. The door flew shut behind Pestage. Then the room darkened. Pestage stared, wide-eyed.
For a brief moment, Palpatine allowed Pestage to see him as he really was, just as Darth Shado had done on the slope of a volcano all those years ago. To Pestage, it appeared that Palpatine was wreathed in glory and crowned with staggering power. The robed Senator was transformed into a dark angel. The Force lifted him up and outlined him in dark side energy that looked to Pestage like a corona of sunlight, burning all around a total eclipse.
Pestage fell to his knees and closed his eyes. Is this what Espaa has become? he thought. Is this still Espaa at all? Or something much greater? When he looked up, there was only Senator Palpatine standing quietly before him. Suddenly, all of Pestage's concerns and questions fell away. He knew at once what he wanted. There, right in front of him was the answer to his search for a purpose. He had been wasting his life. Now it was time to give it meaning...through service to a higher power.
Then Sate Pestage did a thing that surprised Palpatine. He stood humbly, and asked, "Master...may I serve you? I will keep your secret if you will let me serve you."
Palpatine was taken aback. He had not thought of this possibility. He looked into Pestage's mind and saw the truth. Pestage had experienced a kind of religious conversion, quite apart from what Palpatine had been trying to do to his mind. Now he only wanted to serve the power he had seen. Perhaps Pestage did not have to die after all.
"I do need an agent to work for me," Palpatine said gently. "Very well, then. I will take you into my service, beginning tomorrow. You will move into quarters near my own, and you will receive further instructions when you begin."
Pestage bowed, giving no further hint that he recognized the Senator as family. Palpatine could see in Pestage's thoughts that the point remained unclear and in doubt. "Thank you, Senator," Pestage said happily.
When Pestage left, Palpatine stared after him for a long while. That was unexpected, he thought, feeling relieved. Though Palpatine had thought his past was erased, Pestage was a loose end he had not attended to, for reasons best left unexplored. But now it was taken care of, it seemed. He certainly could use another special agent, but he needed no family, that was for certain. There could be no family relationships for Palpatine any more. There was no place for them in his life, now that he had been chosen by the Force. The way of the dark side was the way of isolation, of personal power at the expense of all other relationships.
Palpatine resolved to use his Force powers to re-bury his memories - to forget everything again, and thus eliminate any possible feelings of vulnerability. His enemies must never sense that in him. If Pestage were to speak of these matters to anyone, he would die. Palpatine had no past, and no family any more. He was Senator Palpatine, and he was Darth Sidious. Espaa Pestage was gone forever.
For now, he knew that he was on the one, true path for his life. Palpatine had foreseen that the path to defeating the Jedi lay in politics, for the only thing greater than the Jedi was the government they served. If he ruled the Republic, he would be much more than one person standing against ten thousand Jedi. He would gain the power to defeat them and to further the goals of the dark side. His goals were far beyond getting personal revenge for his mother. In fact, that desire to avenge her was now long forgotten. The arrogant Jedi would be defeated, and the Republic would be corrupted and subverted, simply because the dark side would then flourish. Palpatine had already begun his long, patient climb to power. He smiled at the thought of Darth Shado and her insistence on secrecy. He agreed with her. The Sith must be kept secret, indeed...but only for now.
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