Judgment and Vengeance

Four days later, General Riiy'enni'sansa invited Darth Nox to his command post. It had been moved from among the rubble of the fallen megalithic obelisks near the bottom of the mountain sized red stone pyramid, to the grand entry chamber inside the pyramid. A speeder, driven by an Imperial soldier in a dark gray fabric uniform, drove Nox all the way up the ramp and to the grand entrance.

Nox sat in the front passenger seat, beside the driver. Virulous was left to share the cramped back seat with Khem Val, who was miserably crammed, in the speeder, the whole way from Nox's starship to the ancient Sith temple. Virulous was also uncomfortable, but she managed because of her petite size. She giggled and laughed at the Dashade, who tried his best not to grumble, but couldn't help himself to say a few choice words to the driver throughout the trip to the temple.

At the top of the seven hundred meter ramp, on the veranda, the Dashade had extricated himself from the back seat of the VIP speeder.

"You shall drive my master and me back to the starship when we are finished here," he told the driver, "If you do not have a larger speeder for my comfort on the return trip, I shall eat you on the spot!"

The Imperial soldier, not realizing how literally the Dashade meant his words, merely snapped to attention and stomped his boot.

"Yes, Lord!" he replied.

With that off the Dashade's chest, Nox, Virulous, and Khem Val, who insisted on accompanying the two Sith lords on this trip, walked briskly into the ancient pyramidal structure.

Fortunately, for the soldier, he succeeded in getting a larger transport which could accommodate the Dashade monster. It was an armored troop transport, and while he was not its driver, he accompanied the crew in the vehicle up the ramp to wait for the dark lord and his entourage.

A lot of work had been done to repair the lighting in the grand entrance chamber, although the floor lamps were still in use, making the interior brighter than usual. Nox asked for, and was directed to, the section where General Yennis had set up his office.

The Chiss general saw the gargantuan Dashade first, over the top of his cubical divider, and quickly saved his work on his computer and rushed out of his partitioned office to greet Nox just outside with a snappy stomp of his boot and a sharp salute.

"Dark Lord, I thank you for coming! We are ready to begin the executions as you have commanded."

"Good," Nox said, nodding his head for emphasis, "I can only imagine how twisted in fear the Republic scum must be, knowing that their end is at hand."

"Actually, Dark Lord, they don't know what's coming," the blue skinned, red eyed, Chiss general said, apologetically.

"What? I don't understand. Explain yourself."

"In order to keep order and to prevent them from attempting escapes or rebellions, I've convinced them into thinking that they had become bargaining chips for political purposes. They are building prison barracks in the deep desert far from the Academy, twenty eight thousands of them. That is the target for our fleets to bombard from orbit.

"The remaining ten thousand are bound by slave collars and prison control collars. I had them shipped to the surface from where ever I could find them throughout the fleet in orbit, Dark Lord. They shall march under our control and stand at attention as we fire them up with Imperial war droids. To save our men from any psychological scaring, I have opted not to use our troops for this task, Dark Lord."

"We've captured nearly forty thousand enemies!" Nox thought, delighted, aloud Nox asked derisively, "Psychological scarring? Are our troops so weak minded?"

"We are not…, as strong as you, Dark Lord," the Chiss general answered. What he actually thought was depraved as you.

Nox cupped his chin as he thought about the concessions Yennis made to maintain order. In the end, he nodded his head in acceptance of Yennis' final solution to the problem. In the end, Yennis' plan made sense to ensure none of the prisoners escaped execution. He decided it would also be bad for the morale of his troops to go on the decline.

"They might become useless on other battlefields," Nox decided, accepting General Yennis' explanation for not using them in this operation.

Nox pulled out a datapad from a compartment on his utility belt and brought up his speech.

"I have recorded this speech. You shall broadcast it. As the speech is broadcast throughout the entire galaxy, live video images of the prisoners shall also be broadcast. At the conclusion of my speech, you shall bombard the twenty eight thousand from orbit. Be sure there are no survivors. Then you shall order the start of the executions of the remaining ten thousand, five hundred at a time, at the bottom of the ramp."

Nox thought of an added measure of cruelty to apply.

"Since they are under the control of slave and prison collars, you may leave their bodies on the ramp as you march the next group to the ramp," Nox told the Chiss general, "Let their bodies pile up."

General Yennis was already sick to his stomach. He didn't want to contradict the dark lord and explain that it would make marching them up the ramp less efficient, as the condemned would have to spend time climbing up the piles of the dead. Instead, he nodded acceptance of his orders, barely voicing his acknowledgment.

"Yes, Dark Lord."

Nox sensed his despair and revulsion, and gave the general what he believed to be words of wisdom.

"General Yennis. Once, I was a slave, beaten and made to work until my hands bled. Rather than give in to despair, I continually vowed to myself that one day I would be free. I worked hard for my masters.

"After a time, they gave up beating and berating me. They gave me responsibilities. I rose above my fellow slaves, and gleaned knowledge from my masters, until one day I was made a master over my fellow slaves.

"Though I was still a slave, I was sure to meet all of my quotas, and I was sure that none under my rule slacked off. One day, a Sith lord realized that I was Force Sensitive. He gave me a choice. Die a slave, or die trying to become a lord over all."

Virulous never knew this about Nox, it was a great revelation to her. In her view, it made his rise to power all the more astonishing, heroic even.

"It was an easy decision," Nox was saying, "If I could become a lord over all, then I could make my will the way of the Empire. Or I would die trying. I chose to risk everything, even my very existence," Nox had made a fist and shook it for emphasis, "The Force was indeed with me, or I would have perished," he said, pointing at the Dashade monster, "Lord Khem Val would have eaten me, if I were not meant to rule and direct the Empire."

Yennis was reminded of the dark lord's revelation of his ambition to become emperor a few days ago. He realized that all of his actions were aimed to that end. Nox's show of power and cruelty was meant to intimidate not only their Galactic Republic enemies, but also his rivals on the Dark Council.

"Everything I have ever done and accomplished has been because The Force was with me," Nox said to Riiy'enni'sansa.

The Chiss general could see, however, that there was real and authentic conviction in the dark lord's words and belief that he really had a sacred and holy duty to dominate the galaxy. The Force was the dark lord's god. General Riiy'enni'sansa didn't have such religious beliefs about The Force.

However, he concluded that, according to the dark lord, his place in the empire, which was ruled by the religiously zealous Sith, was only the place of obedience to them while also working to elevate himself over his peers in the military.

That part, he got right. However, he was partially mistaken to believe the other part of the lesson the dark lord was trying to impart to him. That is that he should obey the Sith lords, even as they themselves obeyed the will of The Force. The Sith did not obey The Force, but used it as their tool for power. In that sense, Yennis' ideal that The Force was Nox's god was incorrect. He also wondered about the Jedi and their religious beliefs.

"The Jedi say they value peace while they invade and attack Sith held territories. What does Peace really mean to them? Or do they have a different way of viewing peace than the rest of us non-Force sensitives?"

General Yennis turned his face towards the center of the massive entry chamber of the temple and regarded the ancient holy structure.

"Jedi and Sith are the true rulers of the galaxy," he thought to himself, "They have control over some kind of power which gives them tremendous advantages over the rest of us, The Force, they call it," he told himself, "The only question left to ask is, how do they differentiate themselves, the Sith and the Jedi?"

He was not among those chosen by destiny to rule the empire. The question was clearly above his station. All he knew was that this was the way of the Sith Empire. There were a tiny percentage chosen by The Force to rule, and the rest of the masses were chosen to be ruled.

Although the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Council were separate and sovereign entities, they were joined in a very tight alliance which made them seem to be a single governmental entity. It's because of this very tight alliance that he, and many others in the Sith Empire, and indeed within the Galactic Republic itself, mistakenly believed that the Jedi Council was a part of the Galactic Republic government.

In the Sith Empire, it was believed that the Jedi Council was the allegory of the Dark Council, ruling over the Galactic Republic with the Supreme Chancellor as the absolute ruler over the Jedi. Yennis was one of those who thought this.

In reality, the Jedi Order's Jedi Council was a sovereign theocratic government, which ruled from Tython, a sovereign world tightly allied with the Galactic Republic. Many, in the Jedi Order, however, were citizens of the Galactic Republic, which gave the Jedi Order such a strong and inordinate influence over the politics of the Galactic Republic.

This influence made it seem that the Jedi actually informed Galactic Republic policy. In short, what Yennis incorrectly believed was that the Jedi Council ruled over the Galactic Republic from the shadows. It was a deceitful rule, he believed.

Following the Galactic Republic meant following the Jedi's religious leanings. Following the Sith Empire meant following the Sith's leanings. There was never any doubt that he would follow his orders, but the philosophy he was following had to be settled in his mind.

His incorrect conclusion was understandable. The Jedi Order had members at nearly every level of the Galactic Republic government.

Force sensitive Galactic Republic citizens, members of the Jedi order, worked with the Republic Secret Intelligence Service, the SIS, and were members of the Republic military, actually leading Republic troops, and helping to plan military operations. The recent raid on Korriban was an example of this very close relationship.

"May I ask a philosophical question, Dark Lord?"

Nox was amazed that the Chiss would do anything so free spirited. He expected absolute unquestioning acceptance of what he'd said. However, the Sith Lord's curiosity got the best of him. He wanted to know what was on the Chiss general's mind.

"Ask your question, General Yennis."

"Why is the Sith religion greater than the Jedi religion, or are they actually mirror opposites?"

Nox's jaw dropped on hearing the question. Virulous drew, but did not activate her lightsaber. Khem Val uncrossed his arms and looked intently at the Chiss general.

After a moment to regain his composure, and after thinking about why the Chiss general would ask such a thing, Nox thought carefully about his answer, sensing through The Force that Yennis was sincerely curious. After a moment to think, Nox nodded, believing he had the answer.

"It is because we are honest with ourselves. We know what we want and tell everyone what it is. We are honest," Nox said, as his followers relaxed their stances and released their grips on their weapons, "Our foes know what we want, our allies know what we want. We are genuine. Everyone in the galaxy knows exactly what it is that we want. This is not to say that we do not use deceit when needed to accomplish our aims, but our aims are well known."

Nox returned his eyes to the Chiss, and asked, "Can you say that of the Jedi?"

General Yennis thought carefully. He realized he didn't know enough about the Jedi to answer that question himself, so he asked, "What is it that the Jedi want, Dark Lord?"

"No one knows," Nox answered, shaking his head, "Not even me. Not even after having a former Jedi as a wife," Nox put up his hand to forestall the general and added, "My dead wife, Ashara, was once a Jedi. Even after becoming a Lord of the Sith, she held true to most of her Jedi ways."

Virulous turned her head to regard Nox in great surprise and shock on hearing this. She never knew that Ashara Zavros held to her Jedi religion. It seemed scandalous to her.

"Until the day she died, she was a Jedi at heart. I tried to force her to abandon her Jedi ways, and to become fully Sith, but she was stubborn. It was for her stubbornness that I did not elevate her to Darth," Nox said, disappointed. Then, adding to the mystery, he said, "Despite being a Jedi that I conquered, despite being my wife, whom I loved, and who truly loved me, she supported me, backed me, saw to it my vision was carried out until the day she died at my hands. She carried out my goals, while adhering to her Jedi ways."

"Killed his own wife?!" Yennis thought, finally understanding to what lengths Nox could go in his ruthlessness. The slaughter of these tens of thousands was nothing to the dark lord, if he could kill someone he truly loved.

Virulous was also surprised to hear Nox's confession of killing his wife, and a slew of questions began to flood her mind as she considered her own relationship with him. She watched as the dark lord stopped speaking and bowed his head, closing his eyes, watching as he gulped hard, as though swallowing back a momentary spasm of grief and guilt.

After a moment, during which he regained his composure, he looked back up at Yennis.

"As a Sith lord," Nox said, "it was imperative to her, that I achieved my goals. As a Jedi, she had her own reasons for backing me," Nox paused for effect before revealing what those reasons were, "She wanted to bring peace to the galaxy.

"The Jedi believe that by destroying the Sith Empire, peace can be brought to the galaxy. This is, ironically, why they fight," Nox said, cracking an ironic grin and adding, "Lord Ashara, too, fought so very hard for peace. However, she believed that the Empire was stronger and that the Empire would eventually win our war. She wanted to aid the Empire, to bring about the end of the war sooner, and thus bring peace to the galaxy – sooner."

The Chiss general had heard a phrase uttered by Sith in the past, and asked about it.

"Is this why the Sith say, Peace is a lie?"

Nox's eye brows arched with a look of approval towards the blue skinned man.

"Very good!" Nox told Yennis, while applauding the general.

"The Jedi go on and on about peace and about the end of all wars and peaceful co-existence, and yet…"

Nox swept his hands and his eyes to indicate the heavily damaged interior of the main entry chamber of the Temple of The Sith before returning his eyes to the general.

"Yet they were here, killing everyone they could, destroying as much as they could, all to achieve peace," he said, shaking his head in amused bewilderment, then asking rhetorically, "How are we supposed to know what the Jedi are really after? Are they actually after peace, or do they say one thing to disguise their true agenda which is another thing?"

General Riiy'enni'sansa bowed his head as he descended into deep thought for a moment.

"In the end," Yennis came to conclude, "the Jedi and the Sith are two very powerful religious factions who hate one another with great passion."

After a time to think, he told the dark lord, "It seems to me that the Sith are much more direct than the Jedi about their true intentions, as the dark lord said. The Sith tell the galaxy of their intentions of conquest and of their desire to rule over the galaxy. The Sith are honest about their hatred of the Jedi and do not hide the fact that they want the Jedi dead.

"In the meantime, the Jedi seeking to attain the same ends against the Sith, go the long way around, mincing their words and hiding their intentions with well-crafted flowery platitudes about peace. And yet, they go about doing to the Sith what the Sith do to them. That is dishonest."

Nox stopped himself from saying anything in response, but instead thought carefully about what Yennis said, and in the end nodded his agreement to Yennis' conclusion.

"You understand correctly, General Riiy'enni'sansa. We Sith are more honest and direct about our intentions."

General Yennis sank to his right knee and planted his right fist onto the red stone floor of the pyramid interior.

"Thank you, Dark Lord," he said, reverently, "for granting me some of your wisdom. It was enlightening."

In truth, Yennis, didn't like the philosophical leanings of the Sith, but he realized, he had no power or voice to do anything about it. It was not his place to pass judgment on the absolute rulers of the Empire. As much as he hated the idea, he resolved to follow the dark lord's orders.

"After all, if the dark lord could find it within himself to kill his beloved wife and to slaughter tens of thousands, what would stay his hand against me?" the Chiss general thought, pragmatically.

"Rise, General Yennis," Nox commanded, "It is not common for the Sith to teach the philosophy of the Sith to commoners. It was foreign to me, but I hope that it will help you understand some of what drives us Sith forward."

"I am deeply honored, and grateful, Dark Lord."

"Take this," Nox said, handing Yennis another datapad, "It is instructions for the repair of the Dark Council chamber. I want to make a few modifications."

"Yes, Dark Lord, I'll see to it the repair team gets this," Yennis promised.

Virulous was amazed that Nox even had this discussion with the commoner, an alien at that, but she could see that the general's commitment to the dark lord's aims was firmly cemented into place. Virulous was right about the general's commitment being cemented into place, but she was wrong to think that it was because of the philosophical lessons which Nox imparted to the Chiss.

Although she had to wonder about how honest Sith actually were. She knew she had to contend with so many lies and deceitful situations when dealing with other Sith lords. Virulous briefly thought back to the lie Nox had told her to try to trick her into interacting with the Rakata mind trap, Darth Zash's old prison. In turn she remembered how she attempted to deceive her rival, Juuldis Vannithana Resh, whose mind was now entrapped within that technological mind prison.

"You can't argue with results," she told herself, thinking of how Nox had swayed the Chiss general into voluntary obedience.

It had seemed to her that the Chiss was about to decline Nox's order to massacre the prisoners at the bottom of the ramp as her master had described. She could see it on his face.

Virulous thought back to her archaeological team who, on occasion, had a thing or two to say to her when they thought it necessary, despite knowing that she was Sith, and how she had to use reason to get them to happily carryout her orders.

Thinking again on Nox's statement, that Sith were more honest than Jedi, she confessed to herself, "Well, we are honest about our intentions, but we also don't mind using deceit to get what we want."

Virulous had to cock her head sideways as she thought that over.

In the end she concluded, "We're all just a bunch of liars, Jedi and Sith alike."


Pantan Mriin, a male Arconan tailor had decided it was time to take a break from running his shop located in the Froaten Naap commercial sector of the Lower Ymmin community on Coruscant. He locked the permaglass sliding front doors of his shop, putting up his Out to Lunch sign.

As was his lunch routine, he set his spread on a tiny caf table at the back of his shop, turned on the news and relaxed, eating his home made meal at a leisurely pace, attempting to solve a mystery word puzzle on his datapad, while listening to the news with half an ear.

"Topside, over the Tyme, Garret, and Organa districts, the weather is dreary, with cloudy skies and moderate rain fall. Use caution, this is the first rain of the season, so it's bound to be quite acidic today," the meteorologist, a human female said, pointing to a map of several districts in a region on the southern hemisphere of the planet.

"Now to you, Gert," she said cheerily with a pleasant smile, which mostly only humans could appreciate.

Most species can't smile, frown, nor scowl for that matter, so they would be unable to understand the meaning of such expressions, unless they were trained in a profession that required them to understand such facial gestures, such as ambassadors, envoys, or politicians, for example.

"Thank you Kathereen," Gert, a Bith, said in his high pitched warbling voice, "Now in sporting news, the Ymmin Curb Stompers, scored another victory on their road towards the finals…."

The Bith sportscaster stopped speaking to listen to the director in his earpiece. When he was done listening, he addressed his audience.

"I'm sorry, we have a major development. We're turning it over to our anchor, Bleetha Maasst.

"Thank you Gert," Bleetha, a male Togrutan said in his baritone voice, "Negotiations between Galactic Republic envoys and Imperial military officials for the return of almost forty thousand prisoners of war has broken down with both parties agreeing to resume talks in a month. The Imperial military emissaries and Republic envoys had returned to their respective embassies on Hutta.

"As was announced five days ago, a massive raid conducted by Republic commandos, heavy infantry, and aided by a contingent of Jedi aggressive negotiators ended in disaster, when Imperial naval forces, thought to be on their last legs, suddenly appeared in great numbers and immediately destroyed several Republic ships, while damaging many others.

"The sudden appearance and overwhelming fire power displayed by Imperial naval warships, forced Republic naval forces to immediately withdraw, stranding nearly forty thousand Republic troops and nearly thirty Jedi on planet Korriban.

The number of dead and wounded was not disclosed. A military official, speaking under condition of anonymity, told our own reporter, Taddi Kham, that the situation was chaotic and that accurate casualty figures could not be given at this time.

Although it is not the capital of the Sith Empire, Korriban, if you'll remember, is the traditional seat of the Dark Council. The capital is Dromund Kaas.

"Republic High Command declined to state what the objectives of the raid were and refused to discuss whether the raid objectives were met. However, an official within the SIS, who also spoke under condition of anonymity, said that the primary objective had been met. The unnamed official also stated that some of the secondary objectives had also been met, but the official refused to elaborate what those objectives were.

"We'll keep monitoring the developments of this important story. Now back to Gert with sports...," Bleetha Maasst stopped to listen to the director.

"Breaking news, a member of the Dark Council is about to address the galaxy, and we're getting live video, delayed by distance, from Korriban."

A live broadcast of a holographic video from the red dusty world of Korriban came on. The video was of Republic soldiers, under guard of medium and heavy Imperial war droids, busily building barracks for their imprisonment on the Sith world.

Pantan Mriin, put his mystery word puzzle down and gave the news his full attention as he took another bite from his mid-day meal. Chewing slowly, he reached for and picked up a glass of plain water for a sip.

A caption was superimposed at the bottom of the holographic video.

"This is purported to be the voice of Darth Nox."

The live video of hard working Republic soldiers began fifteen seconds before the audio started. It showed a top down, angled, view of the holographic scene. Industrious soldiers, Human, Advosec, Nautalin, Togrutan, and some others, but mostly Human, all worked hard as a well-organized team.

As the holographic imager swept across the encampment and zoomed back, it became obvious that the prison of war camp was going to be the size of a cramped mid-sized city.

"Imperial Citizens, Republic Citizens, denizens of the wider galaxy," the dark councilor said, in his strong Imperial Basic accent, "I come before you to lay a case of extreme desecration, vandalism, and mass murder. Five days ago, these Republic soldiers, under the criminal leadership of corruptible Jedi, lay waste to our most holy site in the Sith Empire. They destroyed our ancient holy monuments, nearly ten thousand years old."

The live holographic video of hard working Republic soldiers was replaced with before and after images of ancient statues, obelisks, cenotaphs, tombs, shrines, and the exterior surface of the mountain sized pyramid.

The bodies of dead acolytes, and Sith instructors and administrators were shown. The holo-video showed them taken out of the pyramid and other damaged and ruined structures in the temple complex, to be buried in a newly established cemetery. There were at least a dozen Sith lords and hundreds of acolytes.

Panan Mriin could tell the difference, the Sith lords' bodies were shrouded in shiny reflective gold cloth, the acolytes were shrouded in white sheets. The thousands of Imperial troops who were also in the process of being buried, at a different cemetery, were not shown. They were not Sith.

Nox's prerecorded message continued.

"The enormity of the crimes committed against our most holy temple, the holiest of all of our worlds, and the desecration of this site cannot be forgiven," Darth Nox said, in a somber tone, adding, "Twenty nine Jedi who desecrated our holiest temple have been slain. A thirtieth Jedi escaped. A single Jedi. Fear not, however. We will find him, and make him pay very dearly.

"We understand the importance of Jedi temples. We know the one on Coruscant was grand, we desecrated it and other Jedi temples, just as the Jedi have violated other Sith temples throughout the Empire. However, the temple on Coruscant wasn't the holiest to the Jedi. That one is on Tython. As much as we hate the Jedi, we have respected that temple and have left it alone."

The audience, throughout the galaxy detected an edge of fury as he'd said that last part. That line was deliberate. After Nox's last conference with Moff Pyron, four days ago, the Moff left ten warships to patrol the star system, taking thirty warships with him, to carry out Nox's orders.

Meanwhile, Satele Shan, the grand master of all Jedi, suddenly realized what price The Force was telling her they would pay for the raid.

"Evacuate the temple complex! They're coming here!" she said in a loud voice, though not shouting.

The three Jedi councilors present, with Satele Shan, immediately rose from their seats and rushed out of the Jedi Council chamber. As they rushed down the helical ramp to the ground floor, they contacted their respective departments, ordering immediate evacuations.

In less than a minute, an alarm began to sound throughout the entire complex, followed by a speaker announcement urgently instructing the Jedi, padawan learners, and non-Force using contract workers to evacuate into the forests and mountains to escape an imminent attack by the Sith Empire.

Security personnel, checking in, as they answered the roll call, rushed to their battle stations. The ray shield operators were the only defense forces not answering the emergency check-in communications. Imperial Black Ops teams had already murdered them, and had planted explosives on the ray shield generators which would have protected the temple from orbital bombardment.

The Black Ops teams were long gone, high in the surrounding mountains that ringed the temple complex. Their mission, now, was to observe and record the destruction of the Jedi temple complex, to be broadcast later after their extraction off the planet.

Colonel Braddack Pierce checked his chronometer. It was time. He looked up at the sky and watched as the first of the Imperial warships streaked out of hyperspace high above the atmosphere. He immediately triggered the explosives.

A smile of satisfaction stretched across his bearded face, as the fire balls of explosives and the black smoke of destroyed and burning ray shield generators began rising into the pristine air in the valley below.

The residents of small towns and villages north of the temple complex, on the other side of the mountain range, could very easily see the enormous warships. They had been startled by the massive shadows engulfing some of their communities.

Imperial warships, thirty of them, had been appearing high in the sky, casting their giant wedge shaped shadows north of the temple complex. The warships were in very low orbit and the sunlight reflecting from the planet surface, very effectively, illuminated the bottoms of the gigantic warships.

Very shortly after appearing in the sky overhead, the kilometers long blue and red ion cannon beams, began to shoot down from the giant wedge shaped warships, beginning their bombardment, and sending the towns people and villagers into unnecessary panic. Their communities were not the target.

Meanwhile, Nox's galactic audience, ignorant of the wholesale destruction and massacre in progress on Tython, watched the image of the compact prison city zoom out for a long shot view of the massive prisoner of war camp, still under construction.

"As for these vile Republic criminals who lay waste to our holy site," Nox was saying, "I sentence them to death."

Pantan Mriin, couldn't believe his eyes. He set his next bite of food down onto the plate from which it had been lifted and slowly stood from his chair. He felt a terrible gut wrenching ache, as the camp was obliterated, obviously from orbit, in four blasts.

Pieces of the incomplete prison camp, were still raining down from thousands of feet in the air. The site of the camp itself had become a smoldering and burning black smudge surrounded by empty red desert sands and rocks.

The holographic scene changed, replaced by a new scene of a massive pyramid of red stone. At the bottom of the pyramid was a very long ramp which ascended up the base of the pyramid to a wide opening. The scene zoomed in to the bottom of the ramp.

At the bottom of the ramp was a formation of hundreds of men and women of various species. They stood at attention, as war droids fired their heavy weapons into the formation. Even before the last few soldiers were killed, another formation of hundreds marched, seemingly of their own will, up the ramp.

These soldiers went to work, moving the hundreds of corpses off of the ramp and dumping them to either side of it, before resuming formation, whereupon the war droids began firing on them. This cycle of slaughter repeated again and again, with the slaughter taking place about every twenty minutes.

The video zoomed in, revealing the agonized fear and dread on the faces of the soldiers as their bodies obeyed the will of their slave and prisoner collars attached to the backs of their necks.

Pantan Mriin could not watch anymore and shut down his holo-transceiver. He turned around, stepping around his chair and leaving his forgotten meal on the table. Slipping into his jacket, he left the shop, removing the Out to Lunch sign and replacing it with a Closed sign. Locking the doors to his shop, he proceeded to walk down the metallic side walk on his way to his residential apartment. He couldn't return to work in the state he was in.


Supreme Chancellor Leontyne Saresh, watched until the very end. The last of the Republic soldiers, held prisoners on that cursed Sith world, had been executed. The broken and torn bodies lay in a morbid heaps on either side of the bottom of the ramp. Every once in a while, pieces of the dead tumbled down the sides of the piles of the dead. The broken bodies of the last group of murdered soldiers, gradually slid down the blood slicked ramp.

Darth Nox's image came up, and he spoke again.

"My fellow Sith lords, rejoice!" Nox declared, seemingly with great joy, "I have avenged the desecration of our sacred temple on Korriban, avenged the death of Darth Arkous, who fought valiantly against overwhelming numbers to defend the Dark Council chamber before falling in battle. I have avenged the deaths of the overseers, at the academy, and of their precious acolytes.

"The Jedi all perished, except one. A bounty shall be put on his head; he will not last long. The scum Republic Soldiers who soiled our holy temple with their filthy presence have all been executed. Their blood flows like a river down the ramp of the Temple of The Sith.

"Imperials, rejoice! The Empire is resurging! Under my leadership, the Empire is once again on the offensive! While Darth Marr concentrates on the defense of the Empire, protecting our home worlds and consolidating our acquisitions, I shall forge ahead with our war of conquest, with our punitive strikes to teach the Republic to never again desecrate our holy sites.

"The Empire is reinvigorated and surges ahead in our glorious march across the galaxy! And I am leading it! This is a time for Imperials to celebrate! Let us all rejoice and surge forward to victory! For the Empire!"

The transmission ended and the news anchor, his voice trembling with emotion, began to speak. An aid turned off the holo-transceiver at the supreme chancellors' signal. She pushed herself back from the edge of her seat, leaning back against the cushioned back of her office chair.

Saresh tilted her head forward, leaning it into her left hand, resting her forehead on her fingertips. Doing so, brought a pile of datapads into her view. The datapads were filled with reports of a massive renewed military effort carried out by the Sith Empire, simultaneously, across eighty Republic worlds.

"I thought we were about to win the war," she said in a harsh toneless whisper to no one in particular.

Saresh closed her eyes to fight back the tears that threatened to escape. She didn't want her cabinet to see tears leave her eyes.

Another messenger entered the office and deposited another datapad onto her desk before hastily making his retreat.

On reflex, she reached for it and activated the device. After reading the contents, she wordlessly set it back down and slid it across her desk. It stopped some centimeters from the far edge of her desk. She pointed at the minister of the navy, Jangdoma Futt, and pointed at the datapad.

He got up from his seat walked to the desk and activated the datapad. As he read the contents, his deep distress registered emphatically on his face. He looked around the office at the other ministers and then read the contents aloud.

"Imperial ground forces withdrew from Corellia's surface. Imperial naval forces are now indiscriminately bombarding Corellia, after already having destroyed all of the shipyards. They are using armor piercing torpedoes to penetrate deep down into the lower levels of the mega-buildings and using fusion warheads to blast craters into the buildings," the minister set the datapad down on the supreme chancellor's desk. "Trillions are being slaughtered on that world. It's Taris, all over again," he said, greatly dismayed.

"We shouldn't have attacked Korriban."

Saresh became startled when she realized she'd said that aloud. The admiral of the navy spoke to that.

"With the exception of the wholesale slaughter on Corellia, I think they had planned these attacks all along, Supreme Chancellor. However, they seem to be using the attack on Korriban as an excuse to justify the expansion of the war," Jatteran Haastal said, soberly.

"What can we do?" Saresh asked the leader of all Republic naval forces.

"We have enough to defend. We don't have enough to defend and to mount counter operations," he told her before dropping the bad news, "If we wish to mount offensive operations, then we must abandon the defense of some of the least populated worlds."

The minister of intelligence spoke at that moment.

"These new offensive operations will give Darth Nox untold influence on the Dark Council. With these actions, both on Korriban and across Galactic Republic space, he has made himself the natural choice for the Imperial throne." Looking at all of the somber faces in the room, he concluded, "It would surprise me greatly, if he isn't crowned emperor before the end of the month."

Another messenger rushed in and placed another datapad on Saresh's desk. She looked at it as though it were a bomb. Reluctantly she picked it up and activated it. She tossed it onto her desk, shaking her head, her despair plainly on display.

"The Imperial Navy conducted an orbital bombardment of Tython. They destroyed the Jedi temple. There aren't any numbers for how many have died in the attack. None of our attempts to communicate with the Jedi Council have been answered."

Saresh realized that she, nor any of the other ministers in her office chastised the admiral of the navy for suggesting that some worlds be abandoned.

"Which worlds would we need to leave undefended, to put us in a position where we would be able fight back?"

None of her minsters said a word. They looked down in shame, conceding to themselves that the Galactic Republic had been dealt a potentially fatal blow.

"Admiral of The Navy Jatteran Haastal," the minster of the navy said, beginning his inquiry, "Where did the Empire come up with all of those ships? I thought their fleets were depleted?"

Admiral of The Navy Jatteran Haastal looked alternately between the supreme chancellor and the minister of the navy, as though trying to decide whom to answer first.

Saresh, waved a hand towards her minster. Jatteran Haastal turned to face the minister.

"Minister Futt, we are not absolutely certain how or where they hid their fleets. However, that their fleets were hidden is evidence that our campaign to destroy their fuel sources was entirely successful. With such shortages of fuel, the Imperial Navy hid four fifths of their offensive Navy. They completely localized their defensive fleets, restricting those ships' movements to whatever star system those ships were defending, effectively removing them from the war.

"The enemy fought with only one fifth of their offensive capabilities, this whole time, while searching for new fuel sources. We did not defeat the Sith Empire in time before they found a new fuel source for their fleets. They took their hidden, fully refueled fleets out of hiding and rushed across Galactic Republic Space in a sweeping operation encompassing eighty worlds, including the fifteen worlds they had previously conquered, and which we had subsequently retaken."

"But where did they hide them? Don't we have eyes everywhere in the galaxy? Why didn't we see this fleet until now?" Minister of the Navy Jangdoma Futt asked.

"We believe the fleets were hidden very far outside of the galaxy," the admiral of the navy, Jatteran Haastal said, adding, "We don't know where. We don't know how they were able to navigate out there. There aren't any navigation aids outside of the galaxy."

Minister Jangdoma Futt quietly nodded acknowledgment of the answer, but he didn't seem particularly happy with it.

Admiral of The Navy Jatteran Haastal turned to the supreme chancellor and answered her question quite bluntly.

"I want to pull naval fleets from our unpopulated backwater worlds to form up a new offensive naval group capable of destroying the Imperial fleets attacking our worlds," Jatteran Haastal said, "That will force them to redirect forces to the defense of their fleets, cutting down their offensive capabilities."

Saresh was already slowly shaking her head, No. The other minsters were also shaking their heads.

"If we are successful and Nox starts to experience failures, it will degrade Darth Nox's influence over the Dark Council," the admiral of the navy said, trying to convince them, "As his failures mount, chances that he will be assassinated by one of his own will increase. It will, again, create a power vacuum.

"During the political chaos on the Dark Council, while they bicker about who will become the emperor, we can sue for peace. Rebuild our navy and be ready for the next war to come."

"Sue for peace?" Saresh asked, incredulity in her tone, then pointing out the obvious, "Do they even have an incentive to stop the war now? They have the momentum and the numbers. Those are fresh ships and troops they have. Our navy is exhausted! They'll have no interest in stopping the war now!"

"Besides," the minister of Material Resources and Industry, Sserrett Ynir, added, "It is these unpopulated, backwater worlds which contain much of the resources that fuel our industries without spoiling our populated worlds. We can't risk losing those to the Empire, either."

The minister of war spoke, adding his two credits. "The question is how do we stop their momentum, and encourage them to decide they've had enough? Also, I agree with Minister Ynir. I don't like leaving so many resource worlds undefended. Darth Marr's fleet might swoop in to take possession of those. You may think those worlds disposable, but for the long term recovery of our economy, we need them."

Admiral of The Navy Jatteran Haastal shook his head, disappointed.

"It's the only way that we will be able to gather enough forces to fight that naval group and keep those heavily populated industrial worlds from falling to Nox's forces."

"What about our reserve forces?" Saresh asked.

"Everything we have is tied up, Supreme Chancellor."

"Without support from the Navy, my ground units will be destroyed the way you saw in that orbital bombardment," General Marshal of The Army Pellon Matts said, "Our ray shield defenses cannot withstand uninterrupted bombardments, and the citizenry will suffer from the bombardments as well. If we lose, even a few naval fleets, my armies, and the citizenry, will suffer greatly from their orbital bombardments."

"If I can't withdraw ships from our backwater worlds," Jatteran Haastal, explained, "then the only other way I will be able to get enough forces together is to activate our ready reserve naval units, with their aging, and in many cases, obsolete warships.

"These obsolete fleets will join our current fleets, which are already in the fight, too late to be of much use to our naval units heavily engaged against Darth Nox's naval group. The reason for that is that the naval ready reserve forces, will take a month to call up, and to wind up.

"Those ships need to have a good going over. Their reactors need to be re-certified and reactivated. The ships have to be re-armed, and their crews trained. This training will take more time. By the time they're up and running, we will already have lost those worlds. Even if they made it in time, those old ships will get quickly chewed up by the Imperials' modern warships."

"What about the 3039th Galactic Republic Navy?" Saresh asked, "Can't they fight?"

"Supreme Chancellor, they're tied up in battles with the Imperial fleets that we've been fighting since the beginning of the war," the admiral of the navy explained, adding, "and our reserves, which are already tasked to provide protection to our ground forces from bombardment, are not enough to fully engage them alone. They are greatly outnumbered, and a full engagement would only end up chewing up those reserves.

"Also, I want to warn you, Supreme Chancellor, that we've become accustomed," Jatteran Haastal said, "to an Empire that didn't cross certain lines in the conduct of the war. Under the previous emperor, and then under Darth Marr's leadership, the Imperial military exercised great restraint. It seems that under Darth Nox, the restraints have been removed. We must prepare ourselves for a new level of violence and slaughter. This is why I want to pull our fleets from those backwater worlds. We need to protect the populated worlds from what happened to Corellia."

"Then we are truly nearly defeated," Saresh said, gloom on her face. The ministers also had defeat on their facades. Dipping her forehead back into her hand, she told her top military commanders, "I accept your plan to move your fleets from the unpopulated backwater worlds. Go and gather your military planners and come up with a plan to hurt the Imperial Navy. I want them to feel enough pain that they would be willing to end the war with their gains, and cut their losses."

The admiral of the navy and the general marshal of the army both, quietly, rose to their feet and wordlessly marched out of her office. The weight of a possible defeat weighed heavily on their shoulders.

"Admiral of The Navy Jatteran Haastal was right," Leontyne Saresh said, resigned to the possibility of defeat, "Since Darth Nox has taken the fore in their war effort, the Imperial military has broken our agreement to limit ourselves strictly to military targets and to forbid the use of fission or fusion warheads against planetary targets. He has also crossed the line, violating the prohibition on planetary extinction level orbital bombardments."

In a sudden display of fury, Saresh screamed as she smacked her desktop with the palm of her hand. With both elbows on her desk, she buried her face in her hands, remaining that way for many long seconds. When she had recovered her composure, she leaned back in her chair, shaking her head in disbelief.

"I can't believe he's taking the war in this direction," the supreme chancellor said, meaning Nox, "I can't understand how they could find it in themselves to slaughter trillions of innocents!"

The ministers seated in her office, stinging at having to accept defeat, were all scandalized by Saresh's statement in light of the fact that she had condemned seven million Makebis to death when she refused to send rescue ships to evacuate the planet before it self-destructed. Consequently, the Sith Empire had attempted the rescue, and saved four millions, but that meant that the blood of three million Makebis was on the supreme chancellor's hands.

However, the minister of the interior, Jarred Kansta, was especially livid at her obscene hypocrisy.

"Should we give them a taste?" Minister Jangdoma Futt, asked no one in particular.

Saresh was startled by the question. She jerked her head to face the minister of the navy, her eyes were wide with disbelief that he would even think it. The minister of intelligence spoke slowly, so that there was no room for mistaking his words.

"If we retaliate in kind, Darth Nox will escalate in retaliation. He does not care. How many worlds are you prepared to lose to extinction?"

"He cared enough to save all of those people on Makeb," Minister of the Interior Jarred Kansta said, smiling inside at Leontyne Saresh's reaction. She was bitterly stung by that reminder, but he wasn't done yet, adding, "and the supreme chancellor was perfectly prepared to let them perish. I think she could find it in herself to retaliate in kind."

The ministers struggled to keep their emotions in check, as Leontyne Saresh went nearly apoplectic at the barb.

"I will not knowingly sacrifice trillions of our people!" she loudly declared, scorchingly adding, "Don't ever imply that again!"

"That's right!" the interior minister said, as though in realization, "The Makebis are not our people…"

The look Saresh gave him could have bored a hole through two meters of durasteel.

"This is not helpful," Minister of the Navy Jangdoma said, forestalling Saresh's scathing rebuttal, "Let us discuss the loss of our shipyards on Corellia. Without those shipyards, we no longer have a manufacturer of capital ships for our navy."

"Before we talk about that," Minister of Intelligence Harrend Mikkahnny cut in, "I want to state, for the record, that I agree with Admiral of The Navy Jatteran Haastal about the need to remove Darth Nox. At least, if Darth Marr takes over again, he may return to honoring our agreement on wartime restrictions."

Turning to the minister of state, Leontyne Saresh said, "On that score, Marcos, send an emissary to the Imperial embassy on Hutta to deliver a stern reminder that they must abide by our treaty on wartime restrictions. Or we will be forced to retaliate in kind."

Marcos Gantel nodded his acknowledgement and made notes in his datapad as a reminder.

"We're not retaliating for Corellia?" Minister of War Toaddin Bascc asked, greatly surprised.

Saresh bent her head to think. After a moment, she turned to Jangdoma Futt, and said, "Bombard Ziost's cities. No ground assaults." Turning to Marcos Gantel, she said, "Make that, 'or we'll be forced to escalate our retaliations.' Wait until the bombardment of Ziost has begun before delivering the message."

"Right," Minister of State Marcos Gantel acknowledged, as he updated his notes on his updated instructions.

The retaliation would not occur for a week, and a day after the bombardment of Ziost's largest cities would pass before the message would be delivered to the Imperial Department of State Affairs – eight days.


Darth Nox sat alone at the end of a long conference table in a conference room on the Harrower-class dreadnought, the Doombringer, Moff Pyron's flagship. At the empty seats along both sides of the table, a holographic representation of the other seven dark lords over all Sith were projected just above the empty seats. The Dark Council was in session.

Their ninth and newest member, Darth Arkous, had been killed in battle at the hands of the vile Jedi. He fell valiantly defending the sacred Dark Council chamber on Korriban. His sacrifice was not in vain, Nox had told the Dark Council.

"He succeeded in buying time for my forces to get there and put a stop to the Jedi's vile sacrilegious vandalism of our most holy site in the empire," Nox told the Dark Councilors, "He saved The Temple of The Sith and the Dark Council chamber from total destruction."

At Nox's suggestion, the Dark Council had voted to build memorials to Arkous' memory and to the memories of the others who fought and fell at his side. Those memorials were to be built on several Imperial worlds.

With the matter of Darth Arkous' death and the matter of the destruction of the holy site on Korriban out of the way, the Dark Council had moved on to other matters. At the urging of Darth Zash, the matter of Ziost's destruction was put on the table.

"The destruction of Corellia was reckless, Darth Nox," Zash said, in a scathing rebuke, "You've forced the Republic to retaliate in kind with the bombardment of Ziost. They bombed Ziost. Ziost! And you did nothing to stop them!"

"Yes," Nox said with obvious sarcasm and derision, "I ordered the deaths of trillions of Corellians, and in return we've only lost a few millions of Imperials on Ziost."

Ravage cracked a wry grin and chuckled merrily on hearing Nox's reply.

"To Darth Nox, seven hundred and thirty million, are just a few," he said.

Ravage was in admiration of Nox's utter ruthlessness. Mortis, merely shook his head in amazement at Nox's callousness. Both dark lords, however, were not prepared to back Nox if he made a move for the throne, both saw his actions as precursors to Nox's move for the throne.

Other than Ravage's flip observation, none of the other councilors had joined with Zash to criticize his actions and the resulting retaliation by the Republic. Their silence emboldened Nox.

"Don't you sense their fear, Darth Zash?" Nox asked his rival and enemy, explaining, "If they were serious about retaliation, they should have struck at one of our most heavily populated worlds, not at Ziost."

"Ziost was our emperor's great seat of power, where his throne was established after moving his capital from Korriban when we lost Korriban to the Jedi," Aruk said a bit dismayed at Nox's indifference about that nearly holy world.

"Darth Aruk," Nox said, in a sharp rebuke, "Vitiate disgraced himself, and is no longer our emperor. Ziost has lost some of its luster for me."

That earned Nox another "Ha!" from Ravage, along with some applause.

Nox studied the holographic images of the other members of the Dark Council. They kept silent, none had joined in with Zash's admonition. She had been left alone with her harsh criticism. He was about to score it as a victory, as evidence of his greatly increased influence, until Marr spoke.

"Your forces are deployed to maximum effect," the dark lord said, changing the subject, "However, you have not left yourself enough reserves to deal with emergent situations. For example: you didn't have enough forces to divert to Ziost to drive off the Republic. Thus Republic naval forces attacked with impunity."

Nox's mood began to sour.

"And although my fleets," Marr was saying, "have finally been refitted with their new reactors and fully fueled with our new fuel, Imperium, we have only just begun to return to Sith Empire space. I am limited by how many planets I can defend, while also establishing occupational control of your conquests.

"What are you trying to say, Darth Marr?" Nox asked, hiding his growing irritation at his rival.

"You've made quite a grand entrance onto the galactic stage, crushing the Jedi and Republic troops, who defiled our holy world, Korriban. You've also launched an offensive, encompassing eighty worlds, including those we had previously conquered. However, I advise you not to over extend your forces any more than that.

"I've received information, and evidence that the Republic may abandon the defense of several uninhabited mining worlds in order to consolidate a naval battle group capable of challenging your fleets. Proceed with caution, Darth Nox. Please, restrain Moff Pyron, he seems too energetic in this campaign."

Darth Nox was stunned, Darth Marr's words of critique were spoken in a respectful tone. Add to the fact that the very serious matter of the bombardment of Ziost had been forgotten. Nox took a chance, and returned Marr's respectful tone in his response.

"That is good advice, Darth Marr. I'll pass on to Moff Pyron your information about what the Republic might do. As for the aggressiveness and scope of the campaign, I was the one who ordered him to double the number of planets to assault.

"Moff Pyron gave me the exact warning that you did," Nox said, truthfully, but then lied, adding, "However, I'm following The Force which is guiding my instincts in this campaign. Nevertheless, I understand your concern and will take it under advisement."

Darth Vowrawn spoke, then.

"Darth Nox, your offensive operations are moving at a high tempo, and is necessarily consuming materiel at a high rate. If what Darth Marr said is correct, then your forces, once relieved by Darth Marr's troops will deploy to the next round of planets for conquest. You are going through supplies and equipment much faster than it's being manufactured. I recommend slowing the tempo of your operations, so that manufacturing can keep up."

Nox was flummoxed by Vowrawn's respectful and formal tone towards him.

"On the contrary, Darth Vowrawn," Nox countered, "production must increase to keep pace. If the Empire were to offer new contracts, then new manufacturers would take up the lucrative deals and increase total output." To himself, Nox thought, "They're testing me."

"Ah! Yes, but that would mean an increase in spending," Vowrawn said, with a smile in his tone, "We would need to increase the war budget. Our treasury is in danger of being exhausted. What shall we do about that? Shall we levy higher taxes? But I worry what that may do to our economy."

"Ironic," Darth Mortis said, shaking his head in derision, "that what will save the Galactic Republic will be our crumbling economy."

Nox finally understood what was going on. Not only were they speaking respectfully to him, giving him deference, but they were asking him to lead the Empire out of the war.

"Dark Lord Vowrawn, is our economy really in such a bad state?" Nox asked his rival.

"The fuel shortage impacted our navy gravely, yes," Vowrawn answered, "However, it has also caused our economy to nearly come to a crashing halt. It is so bad that I've kept the most critical sectors supplied with energy to keep our war potential high. However, I've had to allow other sectors of our economy to go into decline with no energy. Until we have repaired our uranium mines – Republic forces have destroyed them all early in the war – our economy will continue to suffer. It may be years before the economy fully recovers."

The matter brought forth by Zash, rebuking Nox, had been dropped by the Dark Council. They had moved on to other matters. Nox turned to look at Zash's holographic image. Her holographic representation turned its head away, avoiding eye contact. Zash had conceded to Nox, his win. She tried to bring the Dark Council together to condemn Nox, but failed and lost influence in the Dark Council instead.

"Let us offer the Galactic Republic a chance to surrender," Nox said. He could see from their holographic images that he'd surprised a few of them. They expected that he would stubbornly continue the war effort despite the Empire's difficulties. Nox said, "When we have reduced our debt, improved the economy, refurbished and increased our military, we'll find an excuse to restart the war.

"If Darth Marr's information is correct, he can start moving his forces in to occupy those abandoned planets, while I move on to capture forty more worlds. Attacking half as many worlds, I'll have a larger reserve force, able to answer any challenge the Republic throws at us. I'll be able to keep up the same rapid tempo of operations, with fewer forces on the ground, and thus would reduce the strain on our logistical and manufacturing capacity."

"That is an excellent proposal, Darth Nox," Darth Marr said, adding, "When you've deployed to your next set of targets, we'll listen to any pleas for peace from our enemy.

"It is well within reason," Vowrawn added, "This strategy will help our economy. This strategy will not exceed our economy's capacity to support your next campaign."

"Then that's it?" Ravage asked incredulous, facetiously adding, "The war ends after we've taken a mere hundred and twenty worlds? We aren't going to crush the Republic anymore?"

"Our military is below optimal strength," Marr said, in answer, "Our economy is stretched to the breaking point. We must consolidate our conquests and rebuild our forces and also recover our economy. If we continue, we will exhaust ourselves and find ourselves unable to defend anything, unable to crush rebellions and insurgencies on our newly conquered worlds. We must recover, Darth Ravage."

"I move that we vote to implement Darth Nox's strategy," Aruk said, angering Zash.

Zash had no idea, and neither did Nox, nor any of the other dark lords for that matter, but this was Aruk's second attempt to destroy Nox. First in his secret alliance with Darth Acina, and now with his secret alliance with Darth Zash. In both cases, when the attempt to destroy Nox had failed, Aruk made favorable noises in the Dark Council to mask his involvement in the plots against his enemy. For example, he voted to have Acina booted from the Dark Council, which pleased Nox.

Zash knew that Nox would investigate the attempt on his life at his private speeder port two weeks ago. In fact, she had no doubt that he was probably already investigating. She knew that the evidence would lead to Aruk, but then her involvement would be discovered. Silencing Aruk would end the trail, and hide her involvement.

"All those in favor of implementing Darth Nox's strategy," Marr polled the council, "say aye."

The vote was unanimous in favor. Zash was not prepared to risk any more embarrassments, so she voted in favor. It was a major victory for Nox.

Just before the Dark Council moved on to other matters, Nox took another step to set the stage for his ascension to the throne.

"Before we turn to discussing our other pressing issues, there is one other matter that I feel is of the utmost importance," Nox said, looking at the holographic faces of his peers on the Dark Council, arranged on either side of the conference table. "We must all gather, physically, and convene a session of the Dark Council on Korriban in the council chamber."

Darth Marr questioned Nox for the first time in this meeting.

"We are all scattered throughout the galaxy, working to keep the empire from coming undone. We have many times in the past, and are even now, convened via holo and have thus far been quite effective in our leadership. Why must we meet physically, now?"

Nox gave valid reasons, but these reasons masked his true intent.

"The galaxy watched as the Galactic Republic and the Jedi order attacked and destroyed our most sacred temple and academy grounds on our sacred home world. The reputation of the birthplace of the Sith order, and the original birthplace of the Sith Empire has been sullied," Nox said, still studying the faces of each dark lord, looking for signs that he might be over playing his hand.

"If we gather in Korriban, publicly," Nox said, "It will send a powerful message to all of the enemies of the Empire," then applying the hook, he added, "When they see us gathering for a council session, at the Temple of The Sith, they will know that our holy council chamber and our temple are not destroyed, even if our iconography on the outside has been vandalized and ruined."

He became deeply pleased by the reactions that he saw on the holo-graphic images of his peers on the Dark Council.

"There is another reason, Darth Marr," Nox continued, "Our hatred for our enemies has been dulled. We are too divided. Not all of us are making a strong effort to fight our mortal enemies, the Galactic Republic and the Jedi order."

Marr, Mortis, and Ravage showed particularly strong reactions to that statement. Marr's holographic image turned its head to face Nox. Mortis nodded his emphatic agreement, and Ravage gave a heartfelt, "Here! Here!"

"I believe it is crucial for the entire Dark Council to tour the destruction, to see it with our own eyes and to be there to breathe in the terrible desecration that has been visited on our holy world and to feel the humiliation that we have been made to endure."

"I believe this will reinvigorate our hatred for our enemies and will strengthen our resolve to destroy our foes with a sincere united front."

Zash saw an opportunity and cut in.

"It will have the effect of hardening your resolve to destroy our foes when you've seen what they did to our temple, as it has hardened mine," she said in affirmation of Nox's reasoning for the others to see the ruin visited on Korriban.

Nox was mildly surprised that Zash spoke in support of his proposal, but not too surprised. Her comment was a reminder to the others that she too had battled the enemy on Korriban. It helped her loss of face, earlier in the meeting, to be counter balanced, elevating her in the eyes of the others.

"I move in support of Darth Nox's proposal," Aruk said, further infuriating Zash. She knew what Aruk's game was, being a master of deceit, manipulation and subterfuge, herself. She became determined not to let Aruk have his way.

"I second it," both Ravage and Mortis shouted, nearly in unison.

"All those in favor?" Marr polled the dark councilors, knowing what the vote would be.

"The motion is carried unanimously," Marr said, to Nox's great pleasure.

"Because of the distances needed for travel," Zash said, "Let us set the date for our special session on Korriban for twenty days from now."

Zash determined to be rid of Aruk, a loose end. She knew that she had to act quickly, because she knew that Aruk was probably thinking the same thing of her, a loose end.

"I second it," Vowrawn said.

"All those in favor?" Marr asked the council, knowing what the vote would be.

"The motion is carried unanimously," Marr said again, adding, "The Dark Council shall physically reconvene, in a special session, on Korriban twenty days from now."

The Dark Council moved on to discuss and to vote on other pressing matters, starting with Darth Mortis' discussion about a need for more courts, judges, and prisons. After all, the everyday business of the Empire could not be neglected.

Nox had set the stage for his final move. The respect shown him here was proof that they feared his power.

"I've won!" Nox thought to himself, exultant, "The Imperial throne is mine!"

25