"Do you believe?"

"Believe in what," he had asked.

He had felt her shrug as she had lain beside him. "Anything, really. Something that gives you purpose, that makes you do the things you – do."

He had noted that slight hesitation before she had finished. It had made him angry. "You believe I have no purpose in life? Then you have truly learned nothing," he had scolded her then. He could still remember her smile when she had turned over to look down at him and say, "If you truly believe that, you are not the man I have always thought you to be."

That had been then and this was now. Raising his head with a blank look in his pale eyes Roj Kell stabbed one end of his quarterstaff in the dusty ground beneath his feet and paused. Belief. What did anyone know of it? What did mere mortals know of faith and the power it commanded? Well, he knew, but he was no mere mortal. He always had to remember that. He had a purpose, no matter how twisted it had become over the course of millennia. It was his faith that gave him strength, that had made him survive for so long. Really? Then why have you fled that damn little Jedi instead of crushing him for his ignorance? a tiny little voice at the back of his mind sniggered nastily. You gave him a riddle that will take him ages to solve. You could have broken his mind so easily with the truth instead. Why didn't you? Because of what I have faith in, he replied to his self, feeling reasonably calm, but just a tiny bit annoyed. It was true. The confrontaton with the Jedi Master Yoda had upset him. There was an enemy worth keeping an eye on. Then why are you here at the edge of the galaxy, where keeping an eye on that gnome is quite impossible? You are hiding! Not on the edge, beyond, he answered mildly. Far beyond. Civilisation does not rule here, this is raw, this is simple, basic. I can feel it all around. Can't you? It is chaos, his darker self replied. It has potential, yes, but it is far easier to play where people are used to being manipulated. It is not easy I am looking for. There is potential here, yes, and it will become a beginning. You killed the apprentice and that Jedi killed the master. Why can't you just admit that you just cannot let go of the past? It is all I have left. The past, and the future. This is a future, I can sense it. And a past too, though why I cannot tell yet. It is chaos, yes, but it is my chaos, and the opportunities it offers are mine alone to exploit. This is true faith. It is home.

He stopped his thoughts right there, his mind going blank, shutting down the evil little voice that kept on screaming and ranting at him about the past, about the home he had lost, the people he had left behind to die, the ones he had killed, the souls he had left broken. It was a trap, that, had to be. A test of his abilities. It was true, though, this place had called to him on a subconscious level. And when he had left Yoda he had truly fled, fearing that the Jedi's honest empathy would tear to shreds the shields he had so carefully constructed around the precious gift that he had been guarding jealously for the past two thousand years. Twice now those shields had failed and twice he had been rendered helpless by the unbending light of a kind soul. First Belana Jen, then Hagen Dycos. If he had allowed Yoda to find the way to unlock the fortress of his soul … unthinkable. He still was the Heart of Darkness, until he had found a suitable successor. For a blissful moment he imagined that he could find that successor here. He imagined that he would be free, that he would be his own self once more, complete at last. Then a gust of dry wind shattered that fragile moment and made him cough out loud. What a miserable place. But it harboured such faith! Such faith that he had been drawn here like a priest to his prayer. Peace flooded his mind, and a fervour matched only by the gentleness that ran at its side. He did believe. Belief was all that was left to him. It was his purpose. It could be no other way.

The dusty plains went on for as far as he could see, but there he thought he could make out a crack, a crevice, maybe. Perhaps it would offer some shelter from that accursed wind. Gritty dust was blowing all about him as he marched onward. There was life here, twinkling bright stars in his own personal universe. Intelligent life too, he found. Of course, only sentients could truly believe in something. Everything else simply believed. He smiled at that observation. Just like himself. And yet, he was in two minds about his faith, that was clear to. A part of him was guardian to the memory of an ancient people, and more, the other was a cynical sadist, who liked nothing more than playing games. Curiously, most of times those two were working toward a common purpose. That was the reason, Kell thought, why he had not been neutralised yet. For where he was in two minds about his calling, what had given him his power was not. It knew his purpose and whenever he threatened to steer away from his plotted course it would intervene and he would do foolish things, like letting himself be defeated by a boy's grief for his enemies or intimidated by a Jedi Master he could have so easily crushed. It was a strange comfort, to know that he was being watched over so carefully, but over time he had deluded himself into believing that he could be independent and make his own rules. Comfort had been replaced by annoyance. How many times had he tried to shape the Sith into what they had once been, to recreate the people he had lost at the very beginning of his journey? He had always wanted to return to the simple, intense life he had known among his own, but outside of Os'jen'thana everything was complicated. Civilisation? You could keep it. And that, he mused, was a stupid thought. Civilisation was the perfect playground for a mind like his and for his purposes. Else he would have to have their utter loyalty and faith, which was impossible, or he would be fighting all the time. Which he would not be allowed to do. His hands clenched into tight fists in remembrance of too many occasions where he had been forced to stand back instead of doing things the simple, right way. His way. You have been a guardian for too long, a tiny voice said softly in the back of his mind, you have been allowed to evolve. Have you never wondered why? Yes. Why? That was a very good question. After all, Hagen Dycos could have taken over, the Jedi Master was what Kell should have been and would have been, had Exar Kun not taught him about the selfishness and pride of people and how to use it for one's own ends. Then why had he refused to name Hagen his successor? Part of it had been his own choice. He had not wanted Hagen's gentle soul to embrace the cold rationale that had long ago swallowed his own. He had wanted him to remain free of the heavy chains of purpose. The other part of that decision then had not been his choice. Not a thought to light his current mood, not at all.

The crevice was right ahead now and he could see that it was really a gorge, a long, large crack in the brown plains, a sanctuary. Walking further, he saw the lush forests and meadows that covered the bottom of the secluded valley and he could hear the roaring of a waterfall in the distance. Peace flooded his mind then, a sense of home-coming that was overpowering. And then he noticed the labyrinth. Like an open wound it sat there in the middle of the gorge. Kell stared at it for a long time and his gaze turned very thoughtful. Then, not really thinking abouut it, he started along a neat little pathway down the gorge, his eyes fixed solely on the abomination that sat there like a leer on the perfect face of tranquility. Once he had reached the valley floor he felt himself relax in the cool of the forest's shadows, but that lasted only for a moment. There was a noise to his right and the next moment a huge beast walked out of undergrowth, its striped fur camouflaging its giant form in the bewildering network of light and shadow that lay over the trees and forest ground. Roj Kell stared at it for a moment, then his gaze was diverted to the humanoid being that had appeared alongside it. The creature's body was clad in ridiculously bright clothes that would make it stand out even in a busy market place. Its skin, what was visible of it, was a shining bronze and black eyes regarded him calmly out of a flat-nosed, broad face. A rustle from behind told the Sith Lord that others were joining them now. But there was nothing he could sense, apart from the great beast right in front of him. He felt suddenly very exposed. "Who are you?" he demanded, wondering if they spoke Basic out here at all. Apparently they did not, for the humanoid thing facing him uttered an interrogative that sounded like no language he knew. And he knew quite a few. Unthinking, he let his mind stab into the creature's subconsciousness and drew the knowledge of that language out in a heart-beat. His counterpart flinched back, eyes widening, and opened its mouth so say something. Curious, Kell leaned toward it, and was therefore very much surpised when somehing hard and extremely heavy hit the back of his head the next instant. Then surprised was swallowed by pain and lost in darkness at last.

TBC