Interlude 3 - Lessons and Mastery
The previous story is Soul of Fire, Heart of Ice. Author's advice: Read that one first
Korriban, five years later.
Sidious walked down the landing ramp of his shuttle with measured steps, but the hot winds pushed him back with brute force. For a second his blue eyes narrowed and fixed on the tall man standing amidst the storm, as if he might be the source of this hostile welcome. And the small, mocking smile lurking at the corners of his mouth only seemed to confirm his suspicion. Roj Kell looked like a demon of war, his long, black robes billowing in the wind like great wings of doom, and Sidious thought that maybe he had looked that way all those thousands of years ago, at the height of his power. He had bound his long hair back and his pale eyes met that of the younger man calmly. The guards leaving the ship right on Sidious' heels surrounded him quickly, but Kell did not take his gaze off his former student.
"Let me guess: your apprentice is dead."
His usually so beautiful voice was harsh and full of hidden anger and displeasure. Sidious smiled coldly. Maybe his exile was not as becoming to the ancient one as he had anticipated. A pity. But as he stepped closer to his prisoner he could feel something else in the old master. Fear? Impossible. And yet... He had every reason to be afraid. Oh yes.
"Unfortunately, Lord Kell, he did not survive. But he fought well."
"Not well enough, it would seem. Walk with me and tell me what happened."
Joining the taller man's side Sidious was seething inside at his arrogance. "Some good news at last: I have gained the seat of Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. The Jedi serve me now without an inkling of who truly is ruling them."
The sharp intake of breath from Kell was his reward and he relished the feeling of surprise he could sense from the old Sith. It took the man some time to recover. "I am impressed."
"Good. You should be."
They walked in silence once more, the wind subsiding a bit, but instead rain began to fall in fat drops, splashing onto the slick black stone steadily. Kell stopped suddenly and leaned his head back, his eyes closed, with the water streaming down his lined face. Sidious waited patiently for a while.
"There is something else," Roj Kell said suddenly, his green gaze focusing on his captor. "What is it?"
A slow smile spread on Sidious' lips: "I had planned to have you brought to me, but now I find that I did right in coming here instead."
"And why would that be so?"
"You are far too dangerous. There is no telling what you might think up on Coruscant."
Roj Kell barked a sharp laugh: "You still don't trust me, do you?"
"I do not see why I should."
"Indeed. Come on, Lord Sidious. Out with it. What are you planning?"
Turning toward the ancient Sith fully Sidious folded his hands in front of him, putting on a wholly innocent, yet knowing expression that seemed to annoy Kell no end. "There is a new technology that I find very interesting. It is called cloning."
"An opportunity to live forever. I have already started experimenting with it."
Their eyes met, pale green versus brilliant blue, and for a moment time seemed to freeze around them. Both could feel the mood and both knew what it meant. This was the perfect occasion for Sidious to finally get rid of his troublesome teacher and the Sith Lord felt satisfaction spread throughout his entire body at the thought of it. Kell's face darkened considerably, but he held his head proudly, unbending. And Sidious asked himself if he would accept death at his former student's hands willingly or if he would choose to fight him.
"Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide," he whispered. "Enough of your games. I want you to show your master some respect."
"We do not always get what we want," Kell hissed.
"None of that defiance, please."
The old man was struggling visibly with himself before he bowed toward Sidious deeply, grinding his teeth in indignation. Apparently it had been about time, Sidious thought. He should not have postponed this trip for so long. But there had been simply too much to do. His left hand whipped around to lock around Kell's exposed neck and the other man dropped to his knees obediently.
"Lord Kell, I know what you are feeling, believe me. But your anger will not help you. In fact, for your own sake and benefit, I shall rid you of it so you may find peace again. Follow me."
Letting go of Kell, he turned around without a second glance. But he was certain that the old man would not defy him now. He was far too proud for that. They made it past the guards and into the ship in silence, but Sidious could sense the sudden suspicion in his old teacher when they entered the Sith Master's private chambers on board. The room was plunged in nearly total darkness, with only a few scattered glowlights breaking the gloom. They cast eerie shadows over the furniture and the two men standing in the center of the room. Coming here instead of taking Kell to Coruscant had been necessary, even though the Sith Lord regretted that he did not have the same resources on his ship than he would have back on the capital world. Sighing, Sidious selected the tools necessary for the procedure with an expert eye. He turned back slowly to face the taller Sith with a faint smile on his lips:
"Tell me, Lord Kell. How are your shields these days?"
Roj Kell met Sidious' eyes grimly. It was excruciating to see that the younger man took such pride in these rituals, that he clung so desperately to a power that was quaint at the most. Inflicting pain on others, breaking them even, had always appealed to Sidious, but he was so messy about it. To Kell it was that much more rewarding to injure the soul irreparably than to have his victims scream their lungs out in agony. Dominance, he found, should be accepted voluntarily, perhaps with a little convincing. On the other hand, Sidious' games were inventive. And even though Kell had never been subjected to them before, save for that one time on Iridonia, he had enjoyed his student's imaginative approach to these matters. A fact that did not alter his general opinion in the least. He understood very well what pleasure the Sith Master drew from this, but what interested him more were the motives for his actions. In this case it was very obvious. Of course Sidious could simply k! ill him, but there was a slight problem. For as long as he did not have a new apprentice, Kell was his sole insurance for the Sith's survival. And for as long as he was only experimenting with this cloning technique, he would rely on the older Sith's knowledge. Yet.
Whether he could coax that knowledge from his former master today was still to be seen. And perhaps his motives were much different from what Kell could fathom. Maybe all Sidious wanted to do was to exert his dominance and reestablish his victory in a lesson of obedience. Kell had provoked this on purpose, after all. He was thoroughly bored all alone here on Korriban, with nothing to do and nothing to occupy his mind with, and he was growing restless. Sidious must have felt that somehow, else he would not have come here. He should feel honored that the younger man was taking this so personal. He himself would never have cared that much. In Sidious' place he would have simply forgotten about his prisoner, withheld the necessary supplies and let him pine away without any regrets. That was one of the great differences between them: Sidious wanted to see for himself what his games spawned for his victims. Kell just knew. To him the game itself was far more important than the ! consequences.
"On your knees."
Dropping to the floor Kell suppressed a bored sigh. Whatever Sidious could throw at him, he was certain that he had experienced it all before. When cold hands closed around his head he did not move, almost curious as to what the Sith Lord had planned. The searing pain filling his body suddenly though was unexpected. How had he managed to break through his protective shields that fast? The thought was swallowed by agony, yet the pain at his back told him that Sidious had not done anything to him through the Force. But as the revelation dawned on him it was already too late. He had let himself become distracted. A few moments later he was panting loudly, humiliated, and slightly surprised. Letting go of him, Sidious stepped back and bent down so their eyes were level with each other.
"Surprise. You always expect attacks to your mind first. A mistake. I know you can bear quite an amount of pain, but rest assured that I will do my best. A pity that I have to make do with such poor equipment."
The short-bladed knife he held in his right hand spoke for itself though, and quite painfully too, as it bored itself into Kell's chest, stopping just short of reaching anything vital, but causing enough of a discomfort to make his breathing difficult. Sidious twisted the handle around with some satisfaction, and he kept his mind very open to allow his prey to sense his emotions too. Kell grunted, but refused to scream just yet. Instead he let himself fall back into the safe embrace of his mind, shutting out his tactile senses and nerves from his awareness completely. The corners of Sidious' mouth quirked in disapproval as he withdrew the knife again.
"You can torture just one at a time, mind or body," the ancient Sith explained softly.
"So it would seem. Maybe I should try a different approach."
Sidious was stalking around him purposefully and Kell kept his eyes fixed straight ahead, denying the other any signs of nervousness or anxiety on his part.
"I remember you telling me once that the Dark Side would ravage the body and the mind, would try to take control over time. But by transferring the spirit into a new, cloned body, I can evade this unfortunate side effect and still use the Dark Side as I please."
"And make yourself dependent again. On machines, on scientists, on the Dark Side."
"Do I detect a hint of envy there?"
"I doubt it," the ancient Sith snorted. "In the moment of transition you will be powerless."
"But the risk is worth it."
Roj Kell shook his head sadly. His former student did not want to see the truth, did not even consider the consequences. He was blinded by the promise of even more power, but Sidious of all people should know that there were limits to everything mortal. And that he would still be, despite whatever he believed possible. The knife stabbed at him again, but Kell was only dimly aware of it. What was the man hoping to accomplish anyway?
"Sidious," he began mildly. "I thought we wanted to talk about something else than that."
"What was that?" The other's voice was icy cold. "What did you call me?"
"Have you forgotten your name already?" the ancient Sith replied flippantly, refusing Sidious any title on purpose.
A low hiss filled the room and this time Kell did turn his head in some concern. Sidious was holding the knife's handle in a death-grip and his face was a mask of cold rage. Raising his eyebrows coolly the older man gave him a mocking smile, but remained silent. As expected the Sith Master attacked him again, seeking to shred his mental shields apart. But in the end he dropped down on his knees next to his supposed prey, panting with exhaustion.
"Control," Roj Kell whispered, "is the key to dominance, not the other way round."
Icy blue eyes glared at him. Pushing himself up again Sidious took a deep breath and straightened his robes in quiet indignation. He stalked away, keeping his back to the still kneeling Sith and apparently he was at a loss of what to reply. Or else he was busy thinking up a strategy to put his former teacher's lessons to good use.
"I should just kill you," he said at last and Kell shrugged, unnoticed.
"Whatever you desire."
"Then you would not fight me?"
Sidious smiled coldly at the obvious lie, then shook his head in mock compassion: "Lord Kell, you are still lecturing me. But I am tired of your lessons. I thought we were agreed that I am your master, not the opposite. I would ask you to treat me as such. So, once more: would you fight me?"
"Why don't you try it out?"
They shared a mirthless smile. But suddenly Kell toppled over, to his utter surprise, and when he relinquished part of the control over his mind to check on his body's status Sidious struck at him without mercy. He was screaming by the time the younger Sith had joined his side again.
"You have lost a lot of blood. Feeling dizzy already?"
"What do you care?" he wheezed back and gritted his teeth. The knife caressed his throat idly and he froze. Sidious' low chuckle filled his ears and made him feel nauseous.
"Who is in control now?"
Roj Kell did not answer. In fact, he could not have answered even if he had found the strength to make his tongue work. His mind was reeling in a highly annoying fashion. For a second he wondered if Sidious was just going to let him bleed to death. Of course he would.
"So, let us talk about anger, or rather, let me talk and listen." The Sith Master rose and smirked down at him. "My apprentice's death really leaves me at a loss. You were right about that. Fortunately I managed to secure my position in time. Just for your information, there is someone quite promising, and in him I have found a weapon just waiting to be forged. Have you ever heard of the Chosen One?"
"No," he hissed.
Sidious laughed and shook his head slowly. "I should have known. Those things are of no interest to you, am I right?" He sighed. "The details are unimportant, but until he is ready for his training I will still need you." Dropping down on his haunches next to Kell he stroked his face gently. "One to guide, one to lead, and others to follow. You have been a good teacher and I would regret losing your knowledge. And I know that I could not come to understand all of it even if I managed to break you and force you to tell me everything you know. So you see, your anger is wholly unjustified."
Darth Sidious relished the look in those pale green eyes. There was no fear there, oh no. Annoyance, maybe, weariness and a hint of understanding. No anger though. Maybe this little talk had been successful. But then something flashed across those icy eyes that he knew just too well. Kell was contemptuous of his not following through with his threat. Apparently he had truly expected to die. Well, he was surely not sorry for disappointing the old man. Leaving him lying in the middle of the floor Sidious walked over to the door and spoke into the intercom briefly. A few moments later two men had joined him and he turned back toward Roj Kell, who was hardly able to keep himself conscious. His self-control was truly impressive, but the Sith Master suppressed his envy skillfully.
"Lord Kell, I want you to make the acquaintance of Nefta and Sa-Di."
The indicated men stepped forward. Both were garbed in the purple robes of councillors and both had the grace to bow to the ancient one. Another surprise for Kell. Albeit a pleasant one, considering. Undoubtedly it would not take him long to find out that his new charges' Force potential was less than average. They would not be able to support him even if he managed to turn them into his puppets somehow. No, there was no chance for him to get away this time.
And besides, Sidious would not leave them here all on their own. The guards would stay with them too.
"They will keep you company from now on. You may instruct them, as you have instructed me, but beware. They will keep a tight watch over you and will report to me directly. Should I be made aware of any attempt on your part to turn them too far," here he smiled coldly, "you will not be let off so easily." The sudden rage marring Roj Kell's usually so serene features was sweet to behold. But he was too weak to reply and it was not as if he had a choice in the matter anyway. In fact, he should be grateful. He would be safe here on Korriban and additionally his teaching would take his mind off other things. Hopefully. And if not... There were always ways to get rid of him then. Until that moment came, he could take advantage of the old man's vast knowledge and let him play while he was taking care of the big game. Definitely.
But how to control someone who loved to control others as much as Kell did? So far Sidious had been careful not to leave him any chance for escape. Unmanned drone barges had brought supplies to Korriban and luckily the ancient Sith had not much truck with electronics. An additional problem though was knowledge. The information Kell had stored in his memory would make any broker pant with excitement, but this way it was not worth anything. If he could get him to teach again... Especially with two students there was the realistic chance that he would pit them against each other, amusing hismelf with their vain struggles. He would teach them different things to rouse their competitiveness, never realizing that he was feeding that knowledge to someone else entirely. Breaking his quiet reverie the Sith Master smiled down at his captive, who was watching him intenly. Roj Kell's face was almost gray now with blood loss and fatigue, but he did not even seem to notice his own weak! ness. He never did. With that giant scope of knowledge Kell sometimes found it hard to focus on reality. Luckily for Sidious. Such a brilliant mind he had, and yet, there was no ambition here. A shame. Dropping down on his knees in front of the old man he swept a hand over the cold skin of Kell's forehead roughly. For a split-second something flickered across the ancient Sith's eyes and was gone as he lost consciousness.
"Take him to the medical ward."
"My lord," Nefta put in quietly, "you have a very tight schedule."
"And you believe that has slipped my
mind? This will not take long. Now do as I say."
"I have always wondered about prophecies," Sidious was just saying and there was a faint light of curiosity in his blue eyes that made them sparkle like saphires in the gloomy light of the ship's medical ward.
"Yes. You see, what is the difference between a Force-induced vision and a prophecy?"
"I have no idea. But I guess what they have in common is that they can turn both ways."
"But surely a mere vision-"
"I don't have visions," Roj Kell snapped. The Sith Master's endless chatter was getting on his nerves. Which, he was sure, was wholly intentional on Sidious' part. But Kell was injured and he wanted rest. He wanted to sleep and heal. But, looking at the astonished expression on the younger man's face, he guessed that he would not be granted neither in the imminent future.
"You have never had a vision? You?"
"I know what I want and who I am. What use would a vision be to me? They are mere glimpses at a possible future. But the future is yours to shape, not the other way round."
Sidious' eyes narrowed slightly. Leaning over to him he studied Kell's face intently, as if he had noticed something he had not seen there before. "Are you telling me that I am not the master of my fate?"
"What I am telling you," the ancient Sith hissed, "is that you are not the master of your own mind. I have told you so before. That is where true power lies."
The attack, when it came, was a tiny bit reluctant, as if Sidious feared to lose control, and he badly wanted to keep that in Kell's presence. He wanted to appear superior. And yet, the image he tried to convey was not the one that presented itself to his former teacher. For some reason the Sith Master was terribly insecure, always seeking to dominate others and make his presence felt. If his victims did not realize who was responsible for their misery his day would not be complete. Well, Roj Kell knew exactly who was responsible for his pain and he was not inclined to let Sidious hurt him further. Erecting a subtle shield against the forceful onslaught on his mind's defenses he raised his head ever so slowly, facing the other down.
"Enough," he said calmly, his voice laced with a power even Sidious found hard to resist.
It was true. The Sith Master still saw his old teacher in him, still feared him and still hated him for his harsh training. That hatred was proving to be a fatal hindrance for Sidious to reaching his goal. How could Kell take him seriously if he still acted like an apprentice out to impress his master? No, he needed something more to convince him of his mastery. Back on Iridonia Kell had received a stunning blow to his pride, but it had helped him set a few things straight with his own attitude. Rising suddenly Sidious threw him a sullen look and stalked away to study the readouts of whatever machines were monitoring the old man's life-signs.
"You are wrong," he said at last. "I know my mind and what is more, I know yours. You may feel safe behind your wall of ice, but I know that you are still human. So proud and yet so humble. You are a fool, Lord Kell, if you believe you can continue playing your games with me."
"And what could you possibly do to prevent me from doing just that? Kill me? Go ahead. I am not afraid to die."
"Then tell me, what is it you truly fear?" Kell merely smiled and waited for the other to turn around and face him again. "No answer? Then I will tell you. You may not fear death and you may not fear me, but you would do just about anything to keep the Sith from perishing. Am I right?" he nodded to himself. "Of course I am right. History shows it plainly enough. I do not pretend to understand your bonds to the Sith and, to be quite frank, they do not interest me."
"Is there a point you are getting at or should I start cowering right away?"
"Indeed there is a point." Sitting down on the edge of the bed Kell was currently occupying Sidious began to smile again. "This Chosen One. The prophecy says he will bring balance to the Force."
"I knew you would see it that way."
"But I had a vision," teh younger man continued. There was a dramatic pause that filled up with uneasiness and a certain feeling of dread. Kell's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. He had just made a mistake, he knew, but he did not know just which one it had been.
"Tell me about that vision," he asked at last, the yet unspoken answer hanging between them like a double-edged sword. The Sith Master's warm breath caressed his left temple when he leaned very close, much too close for comfort, his presence almost overwhelming, and whispered softly:
"I saw him destroy me and the Sith."
Roj Kell froze. This could not be right. Why would Sidious want to train that boy if he was such a danger? Why hang all his hopes on someone who might spell doom for himself?
"As you said, it is a possibility.
But very real. Backed by a prophecy which, as you also stated, can turn
both ways. An intriguing puzzle." Sitting back once more Sidious smiled
brightly. "I learned this from you, in fact. If you have to have an enemy
best to train him yourself. that way you will know all of his tricks and
his mind and what makes him tick. So you see, there is a chance that I
will succeed, a great chance. But you will have to cooperate with me if
you want your legacy to continue."
Darth Sidious watched Roj Kell's pale eyes widen in surprise. Here was something the ancient one definitely had not expected. Good. Chuckling softly the Sith Master congratulated hismelf on this truly brilliant move. While he did not believe one minute that Kell would cooperate he had still gotten him thinking. And thinking was something the old man did very thoroughly and what took him a lot of time. This was too complex for him to get over with swiftly. So many implications to ponder, so many possibilitis to play out....
"Tell me more about this – boy."
Appearing eager to please Sidious turned his face into an enthusiastic mask. "A slave-boy from Tatooine, by the name of Anakin Skywalker."
"A slave? How fortunate for you."
"Yes, indeed. He is a very innocent and earnest boy, and caring is practically built into his very nature."
"Even better. You will find that those who care most are the easiest to turn."
"Which actually prompts the question how Exar Kun ever managed to turn you," the Sith Master commented sweetly. Roj Kell pressed his lips together tightly, apparently loath to listen to any more references to his own master any more. Interesting. Was there a connection maybe, between his turning and his apparent concern for the Sith's survival? If that were true...
"Who does he care about most?" the ancient Sith Lord interrupted him.
"Endearing. And second?"
"There is ... someone."
"Someone you fear."
He was almost startled at how much Kell could deduce from the inflections in his tone, of the subtle changes in his expression. There was, alas, no such thing as the ultimate pokerface, at least not in a human, and certainly none to fool someone as experienced at reading others as Roj Kell was. A pity. But the trick was to not say the things you did not want him to know, but those that would lead him on a false track. They were silent for a while and Sidious could see that slightly faraway look in Kell's eyes that, combined with his blank expression, could only mean that he was preoccupied with something. Not surprisingly. But then, very slowly, a smile crept on to his lips and Sidious surely knew what that meant: trouble.
"Concerning Nefta and Sa-Di," the old man began softly. "Am I right in assuming that you think I will turn them against each other to keep myself from getting bored to death? And am I also right to assume that you have totally brainwashed them to a point where they became mere extenions of your will?" Nodding dumbly Sidious felt his jaw drop. Roj Kell sighed deeply and closed his eyes. "Ah. How very subtle. Good. I like it."
"What? Now that you know-"
"It is still a good plan. Was, I should say. Impressive."
"Don't mock me this way," Sidious growled.
"Me mock my master? Never," the old man returned acidly. "Besides, that Skywalker boy is so much more intriguing."
Roj Kell smiled at that. Of course he had heard of the prophecy. They were very useful when one wanted to push someone in the right direction. And yet, this particular one had always been of interest to him. If Sidious had truly found the one to bring balance a lot of things were about to change. A lot. More than the Sith Master could possibly know.
"What is your strategy then?" he asked quietly, careful not to let his feelings show.
"To turn him? Quite a few factors."
"But can you control all variables?"
"Ah. A piece of advice there. Do not make the web too tight, else you will get yourself caught too. Where is he now?"
"The Jedi have taken him."
"Don't be so surprised. I could hardly claim him, could I?"
"Beware, my lord, beware indeed. What had Master Yoda to say?"
"Apparently there was a discussion about training him. Most fear the prophecy."
"And perhaps they should. But they allowed it?"
"The last wish of a dying Jedi Master, so I hear."
"Not Yoda, I suspect. Was he killed by your apprentice?"
"As a matter of fact, yes."
"Khameir, Kahameir, such an extraordinary talent wasted."
"What do you mean?"
Kell gave him an innocent look. "Me? Nothing. Except that you did not keep your promise. Did you know that he would die? A 'possible' turn of events, don't you think? You should have protected him better. Or did you discard him as soon as you found out about Skywalker? Yes, you possibly did. And a foolish move it was too."
Sidious' silence was all he needed to hear to have his suspicions confirmed. And yet, the Sith Master had learned that from him, had he not, to take the best opportunity available that would ensure the success of the scheme. Still, in hindsight this meant five years wasted for nothing in return. In fact, it was even worse than that because now the Jedi would be looking for the other Sith.
"I did not know that you cared so much, Lord Kell. Nothing is lost, nothing at all."
"What I care about or not is not the matter here. It is your future we are discussing."
"The Jedi would kill you as soon as they would kill me."
"They haven't so far, and besides, you should worry more about that chosen one than about the Jedi. If he is that dangerous ..."
"Not dangerous. I already have a plan of action, and it will also get rid of the Jedi."
Roj Kell felt his mind freeze, but kept his expression even. "How?"
"Ah-ah, that is not for you to know." Sidious shook a finger at him playfully.
"No?" the ancient Sith breathed. "A shame."
"But it will bring us a lot closer to achieving balance, don't you think?"
"As long as you keep some Jedi alive."
"The light always grows brightest in the dark."
"And the dark stronger in the absence of light. I see. A magnificent conclusion."
"Then you agree?"
"Agree to what? Since you have withheld most of the information I am at a loss of what to believe."
"Is it? Is it really? You have left
me with a lot to think about, which was your intention all along, I believe.
But will that be enough to save you in the end?"
"Save me? From what?"
But there was no answer. The shadows leapt forward so suddenly that Sidious' surprised scream was only halfway out of his throat before they swallowed the ancient Sith, leaving an empty bed. Just at that moment the door opened and Nefta stepped in.
"My lord, we must leave. You are expected on Naboo..." he trailed off when he noticed that his master was all alone in the ward. "My lord?"
"Find him," Sidious hissed. "Search the ship, the catacombs, all of the planet."
"That will take too long..."
"And inform me of your progress. I shall be leaving."
"If we find him-"
"When, not if. When you find him. Find him. Just that."
"Of course, my lord."
"Now get out of my sight."
Once the councillor had left Darth
Sidious remained seated on the edge of the bed for some time, his thoughts
drifting. This could not happen. This was not happening! How could
any one- No, he was not gone. He was playing games again.Raising his head
slowly the Sith Master closed his eyes and concentrated. There was a brief
flash of something, a hint of mocking laughter and the sense of wind rushing
past him. In an instance he had bounded to his feet and was out of the
ward in a flash. Storming down the corridor toward the landing ramp he
snatched up Sa-Di on his way. "Prepare everything for take-off," he growled
and sent the man flying against the bulk-head. The insolence! Sidious shook
his head in annoyance. What sense was there in keeping him alive? He was
only trouble and he would not be tamed. And then the truth hit him. With
a furious scream he launched himself out of the exit hatch and began to
run, his eyes wild, his expression wholly undignified,! a silent, raging
snarl as he made for the far side of the valley.
Roj Kell stood atop what had remained of the once glorious pyramid that had dominated the world of the dead for millenia. There was nothing left but rubble and fragments, but the magic of the place had survived. The wind was tearing at his long hair and his robes and was streaming past his eyes, bringing tears with them. Sidious was a fool. Did he not realize that his insatiable hunger for power was making him weak and vulnerable? Glory was desirable only in warriors, and the Sith Master never had been a true fighter. He had been playing at it, yes, but that did not give him the insight to understand the game fully. The games he played were only valid from one vantage point, that of a politician secure behind a mask of diplomacy. But that was not everything. He would need much more to fully understand the rules. Kell himself had only begun to grasp the full extent of the game when he had started training under Exar Kun. At that time, leading soldiers in battle and tasting! glory for the first time, the Dark Side had spoken to him most clearly. It had clouded his perception. But as he became older his schemes had turned into lessons, or were played for the sake of the game itself. That game had been known throughout the ages as the Art of War, but it took greater skill than that of a warrior or politician to play it right. The sound of someone gasping for breath broke his reverie suddenly. Turning around slightly he regarded Darth Sidious coolly and raised his eyebrows in a silent question.
Sidious forced himself to breathe more eveny: "I know the secret now. You feed on the Dark Side. It is what makes you survive, That was why you tried to blunt Bane's plan, why you tried to bring darkness into the hearts of the Jedi. And yet it requires light to see the dark and vice versa. All that pretty talk about balance ...You are the Heart of Darkness, the stories say. Now I understand what they meant."
"Do you? I doubt it."
"Doubt all you want. I know the truth. You are a ghost, nothing more, but you are vulnerable. Never forget that. Now, answer my question: Save me from what?" the younger man asked once more, still panting with exhaution. He had run all the way, by the look of it. Swaying slightly on still weak legs Roj Kell turned to face him fully. He spread his arms in surrender, signalling that he had no intention to fight. As expected the other's reaction came swiftly. The Dark Side hit him full force and threw him onto the black stones hard. Blinking up at Sidious he remained there, waiting. "Answer!"
"Your fear is disgusting," Roj Kell said calmly, bracing himself against another onslaught. It did not come.
"I can feel it. You are afraid to fail. And you will fail, if you continue to worry about it. You are good, and you can manage, but if you leave me like this you can never feel safe."
"Then I will kill you."
"You will do no such thing."
"And why not?"
"Because you need me. You need me to measure yourself up against and you need me to remind yourself of the price of failure. I know you Sidious. And knowledge is the greatest weapon there can be."
The Sith Master gave him a very nasty smile. "The question, Lord Kell, remains: will it save you?"
"What do you think?"
"I think that for the time being I can put up with you a bit longer. But only on one condition. You will cooperate. Is that clear?"
"Don't forget, I know your little secret now. And if you want to survive you will work with me. I will leave Nefta and Sa-Di with you nevertheless and you will teach them. A time will come where I will need more than just one follower. I want the Sith to rise again in earnest. We will not hide any longer."
"A dangerous gamble."
"Indeed, it is, but you and I will manage, I am sure."
Looking up at the Sith Master Roj Kell was very careful to keep his features in check and his mental shields steady. It was astounding how close Sidious was to the truth, and yet how far. When he had become Cor'dan, the Heart of Darkness, Kell had bonded with the Force, giving his life in return for that gift. It was right, in a way, to call him a ghost, but he was still mortal. But instead of standing balanced in the flow of the Force he was looking out at the darkness, the light at his back. He used the Force to sustain himself, still, the Dark Side dominated the bond and he had long ago found that he could use it only to a certain extend. Employ too much too fast and his existence would end. Which was why he had found his major weapon in his mind and his knowledge. And yet, the Force knew no Dark or Light, that was an invention of sentients to explain rules. There was good and evil and rules that defined both. The same with the Jedi. They could not see the Force the wa! y Roj Kell saw it for the same reason that a man standing at a ship's viewport could not see the entire universe. The Sith were equally blinded. But that difference was what he depended on. Once it was lost ... It was just as well that Sidious had misinterpreted the prophecy. But apparently he was bent on training this young boy despite the danger involved, which was reckless and foolish. Still, prophecies could turn both ways. And Roj Kell would make certain that this one turned the right one.