Order 09: Freedom Is Never Free.

AN: Okay, guys and gals, last chapter... hope you like. ;)

Apologies: Yes, I know this chapter's coming a little late. Sorry... But, it is quite a bit longer than the last couple, and it just took more time to write and proofread. Also, I'd like to apologize to anyone who's expecting a big, "blockbuster" action scene. I just don't care much for long action scenes in fanfictions- far as I'm concerned that's more something for movies and TV shows, where you can actually SEE the action. I do have some action, but it's mostly just enough to give you an idea of what's happening. Well now, if you're still here, on with the last chapter...

Seras was in one of the training rooms. Bolts of blaster fire flew all around her and from all directions. But she remained calm and concentrated on each one. She spun, her lightsaber reflecting three bolts back at the training droids that had shot them. The blots hit home, and the little red lights in the front of the droids turned green as they dropped to the floor. Seras was already on the other side of the room, running in between streaks of blaster fire and reflecting what she could back at the other training droids. Seven more fell, deactivated, to the floor.

But the others now had her completely encircled. She grinned and leapt thirty feet into the air- flipping herself over the right side of the droid perimeter. And as the Sith apprentice reached the apex of her jump and began to come back down, she- facing towards the circle of droids once more- released a 'storm' of lightning. The droids spasmed and fell. And Seras... Seras felt rather proud of herself. She'd just beat the tenth simulator level. Two more and she'd be up to the one her master used most often.

However, as the apprentice stopped to towel off the beads of sweat that had collected on her brow during the training simulation, she felt a disturbance in the Force. She gasped, and her eyes went wide as she sensed the life energy of the two guards stationed outside the mansion passing from this life into the next. The attack had begun.

Seras ran to Alucard's chamber. "Master!" she exclaimed as she half-knocked/half-beat on the door, her right hand rolled up into a small fist. "Master!"

The door slid open suddenly, causing an unprepared Seras to fall forward, her body colliding with Alucard's. The Sith master smirked down at his apprentice. "Now, what's got you so... eager?" he purred suggestively.

Seras briefly blushed as she noticed how her body was pressing into his... and how his own body seemed to be reacting to the pressure. However, the apprentice quickly shook her head clear of the little thoughts... fantasies that had just started to play through her mind. This was not the time to be indulging in such things.

The apprentice pushed against her master's chest and stood back up. "Master, It's happening-It's happening now!"

Alucard chuckled. "Yes. Yes, I know."

Seras's brow furrowed. "You know that the mansion is under attack?"

"Of course. You did not think that I was unable to sense the passing of the two guards outside, did you?"

"Well, no," Seras replied. Truth be told, she hadn't stopped to think about it one way or the other. And she really didn't care whether he'd sensed it or not. Her mind was too preoccupied with another question. If he already knows the mansion is under attack, why aren't we doing anything about it? Seras thought.

Because the tin cans assaulting the mansion are not our enemies, Jedi Girl. Let the Mandalorians handle them. Our enemies will find their own way to us, Alucard answered, his voice breaking into Seras's mind.

Seras thought that was a strange reply. Surely the enemies of her master's master would be his enemies as well. "But... but what about Sir Integra... and her men?"

"If the Master has need of us, she will call. And then we will answer that call with swift and deadly precision... But, until then, we will play the part of good spiders and wait for the flies to fall into our web."

Seras looked uncertain. She stretched out with her feelings again, and sensed more of Mandalore's men being killed. She couldn't stand it. This was her home now, and those were her compatriots being slaughtered. "Maybe they are not your enemies, Master... But they are mine," the apprentice finally replied. Then she turned and ran towards the staircase that would take her out of the dungeon level.

Alucard just stood at the entrance to his chamber and watched as Seras disappeared up the staircase. Then the Sith master let a proud smile play across his face. "Yes," he said after he was sure that Seras was already out of earshot. "Very good, Jedi Girl." Standing up to him, and running off to do what she wanted regardless of what he said- Alucard thought that his apprentice was coming along nicely. The Sith master moved back inside his chamber, confident that his apprentice would prove more than a match for the weaker of the two attacking Sith brothers. And that was good. Seras would protect their master, and he... he would be allowed to 'play' with the more powerful brother at his leisure.

By the time Seras ascended the staircase and reached the main hallway, the battle was already in full motion. The clanking, metallic enemy line continued to advance, the robotic droids packed together so tightly that they almost looked like a cold, unforgiving metal wall. "Generic battle cry: Die, Meatbags... DIE!" one of the HK units proclaimed with as much simulated passion as his vocabulator would allow.

No reply greeted the unit, for the Mandalorians were far to disciplined to even bother with such frivolity. They were in their element, battling against overwhelmingly superior odds- staring death in the face. Moments like this were what they lived for... and what they each hoped to die for. They all stood their ground- every last one of them. Even as they watched their brothers, their 'Ner Vod', fall and die, not a single one broke ranks.

And Seras felt an overwhelming respect for these, Sir Integra's, soldiers. Jedi would've retreated (maybe not all, but some at least) in the face of such overwhelming odds. And most Sith would've turned tail and run- turning their backs on their brothers in an effort to save their own 'all important' lives. But not a single Mandalorian even did so much as take a step backwards.

Seras flicked her lightsaber on, ran up and leapt over the front (makeshift) barricade. And there she took on the job of guardian angel to the Mandalorian warriors- doing her best to block the droid's bolts and send them flying back into what her master had referred to as "the tin cans".

Alucard sat in his chamber, a glass of wine in his hand. And there he waited for the arrival of his enemy. He did not have to wait long though. Upon entering the mansion, the elder of the two Sith brothers had headed straight for the lower levels.

The white clothed, blond haired Sith made his entrance hidden (or so he thought) behind a Force driven cloak of invisibility. He silently snuck up behind Alucard's seat and then, in a move so quick that anyone who blinked would've missed it entirely, the Sith drew his lightsaber, and ran it through the back of the chair. Thinking his sneak attack had worked, the Sith laughed and came around to look at his opponent's body.

He laughed again. "Oh, the 'great' Alucard defeated by a single strike, who would've thought it? Kind of a pity really. I've been training for this moment since I was first old enough to hold a lightsaber. I was hoping for a bit more of a challenge."

It was then that Alucard's slumped head came up. "You should be careful what you wish for, Pup!" And with that, the 'dead' Sith sprang from his chair and lunged at the young upstart.

The blond was surprised by his opponent's apparent return from the grave, but not so surprised that he was unable to react. The blond jumped back and released bolts of blue lightning from his finger tips.

Alucard's own purple lightning connected with the bolts and for awhile the two Sith remained locked in a battle of wills and Dark Side knowledge.

A couple of floors above, Seras was doing a fantastic job of 'blocking' for her side. Since she'd first joined the fray less than a dozen enemy shots had gotten past her. And the Mandalorians were finally able to hold the vastly superior 'tin cans' at bay. But of course, things could never be easy...

A red flash leapt in front of the HK units, and then it jumped over Seras and the Mandalorian's makeshift barricade. Seras's Jedi reflexes told her what the flash was- a Sith wielding red lightsabers. But before the one time Jedi had a chance to react to the situation and turn towards where her new rival had landed, he'd already sunk his sabers into the Mandalorian's behind the barricade and was just striking out at Seras's pretty, little neck.

She turned just in time to raise her lightsaber and parry the Sith's blow. The one time Jedi assumed a defensive posture and prepared herself for a long duel of death. The Sith charged and the two Force users fought. All the while hails of blaster fire zipped past them from both sides, the HK units firing on the next Mandalorian barricade and the Mandalorians returning the favor.

In the dungeon section, Alucard continued to battle with the elder Sith brother- both of them unleashing flurries of lightsaber strikes intermittently interrupted by Dark Side power attacks. Lightsaber blades struck each other- red energy meeting silver-cyan and causing flashes of intense, white light. Blue and purple lightning arched and collided in an electric dance of raw power and destruction. And heavy objects swirled around both combatants before flying at them with enough force to dismember any normal human.

Alucard was enjoying himself immensely. Not since Dxun had the Sith master had so much fun, playing with his food. But then his blond opponent had to ruin it by boasting, "You can't win. I've been training for this since I was five. I know all your tricks- have all your dark powers... more! You will fall, and for thousands of years everyone will remember this day as the day Luke Valentine slew the mighty Alucard and assumed the mantel of Sith Lord. It shall be recorded in the halls of Sith history, and everyone will know that I was the one who finally killed you!"

Alucard laughed in reply. "You? Kill me? You have no idea what you're dealing with, Pup. You think you can cut me to pieces with your lightsaber? Think you can defeat me with your knowledge of the Force? I'll admit that, for your age, you have an impressive command of Dark Side powers. But you are nothing more than a puppet who thinks he's a real Sith. You are a tool... a fool!"

Luke charged and struck with his lightsaber, but Alucard blocked the blow. And the two found themselves locked in a contest of natural and Force enhanced strength. "And now, now I shall show you the true powers of a Sith Lord. Prepare yourself, Pup."

As Luke struggled with his lightsaber- desperately trying to overpower his opponent and force the luminescent blade into him –the blond Sith noticed streams of strange red mist beginning to rise off of Alucard's skin. The streams moved to Luke- wrapping themselves around him. And suddenly he felt his connection to the Force beginning to wane... No, not 'wane'. It was more like it was being leached away.

The experience was unlike anything Luke had encountered before, and that frightened him. He pulled back on his saber and leapt a few feet away. "What the... What are you?"

Alucard smirked. "I am free," he replied as his body fully transformed into a red mist- that sparked with small streaks of electricity, his clothes and lightsaber falling into a rumpled pile on the stone floor.

A disembodied 'voice' came from out of the mist; it echoed in Luke's head. "And now, Pup, you shall see why I was once known as 'The Lord of Hunger'."

Luke screamed. He shrieked in absolute terror as the red mist rushed towards him.

Seras continued to battle with the heavily pierced Sith. He was fast and had two lightsabers to her one, but she was stronger in the Force and better trained. He lunged; she blocked. He struck again; she parried and countered. And all around the two, the battle continued to rage.

The HK units had made considerable progress. There were only a couple of completely intact barricades left, and most of the Mandalorians- who still lived -were using vibroblades to engage the tin cans in close combat. It gave the Mandalorians a slight edge over the machines- which were incapable of fighting back with melee weapons; but it also intermingled the two groups, creating the chance that some of the Mandalorians who were still firing from behind the barricades might end up accidentally shooting some of their own brothers.

Walter had been pulled back behind the rear barricade. He'd been of great aid to the Mandalorian defenders. The Butler may have been old, but he was a master in the art of Echani unarmed combat... And his specialized "Lightning Gloves" sent powerful pulses of electrical energy out with every connecting, unarmed strike- causing massive damage to the assassin droids. But although Walter was still very spry and fast, he wasn't as young as he'd once been; and eventually he'd been badly wounded in his leg.

Ordo had dashed out of his nearby barricade, slung the wounded butler over his shoulders and managed to get him to the relative safety of the rear barricade- where Mandalore and the best of her soldiers were hunkered down and firing into the advancing HKs. One of the medics had managed to stop the blood loss, and Walter would recover- assuming no tin cans broke through and finished him off. However, he would be out of commission for the rest of the battle.

Seras's duel was starting to take it's toll on both combatants. Seras's stance wasn't quite as straight as it had been, and her strikes were beginning to loose some of their Force enhanced strength. However, things, were worse for the duel wielding Sith. He was starting to slow down, and Seras discovered that he really didn't know very much about lightsaber styles.

Obviously he had concentrated on mastering the art of using the Force to boost his speed and had figured that that, together with his duel wielding skills, would compensate for his lack of true sparring knowledge. And that... That was a mistake. Sure, it worked wonders in the short term; in the beginning, Seras had all she could do to maintain a defensive stance and try to block her opponent's lightning fast strikes.

However, she'd held and as time dragged on, and Seras refused to fall, her enemy became tired. His concentration wavered. His speed decreased, and Seras began to see openings in the 'paper tiger's' fighting, openings that she could exploit.

The one time Jedi switched from a defensive stance into an offensive one. She pressed the Sith, using a flurry of rapid attacks to knock him further off balance. Then she shifted into more strategic strikes, exploiting the weaknesses in his defense, and finally, the duel ended with Seras's blade slicing off the heavily pierced Sith's head.

The Sith apprentice felt a certain feeling of accomplishment, and a subtle pride rose in her as she realized that she'd emerged victorious. However, looking around her, Seras's momentary feeling of joy was eroded by the realization that her allies were not doing as well and that she was now surrounded by the enemy droids- virtually 'in the belly of the beast'.

Having drained Luke until his body was nothing more than an empty, lifeless shell, the red mist floated upward, through the ceiling of the dungeon and out of the floor of the main area. It rose and moved with an conscious, intelligent nature as it shifted to cover the remaining HK units. The glowing lights that served as their 'eyes' grew strangely dark as even the energy of their power cells became nothing more than fodder to feed Alucard's unnatural hunger. With a series of metallic clangs they clattered to the ground, drained and helpless.

The Mandalorian warriors caught by the mist fell too, the meager amount of Force energy that was needed to sustain any form of life being sucked away in a flash. Yes, they fell too. Anything in the path of the mist fell as it progressed onward- from the far end of the corridor towards the remaining barricades. It moved quickly, like the smoke of a raging fire being sucked into a new room of fresh air. And by the time Seras's initial shock could wear off, the mist was already upon her.

Unlike the time she'd come uninvited into Alucard's chamber, this time the strange red mist that- had long since become her master's true form -did not part around her. Instead it wrapped and curled itself until there was not an inch of her body that it was not pressing up against.

And Seras- knowing only that the strange mist seemed to kill instantly and without discrimination -felt an unprecedented fear grip her. This wasn't any normal death. She'd sensed the Mandalorians when they'd 'died'. Their energy had not joined with the force, nor did it roam freely or linger where they passed. It was simply consumed by the mist. And that... that kind of ultimate death and loss of self terrified the once Jedi in a way she'd never before thought was possible.

She gasped as she felt something tugging away at her energy. She was growing weaker; she could feel it. No she wouldn't die... not like this. It couldn't end like this.

No, Jedi Girl, you shall not die... not here... not now. Seras heard her master's voice invade her mind. I'm hungry... so hungry, the voice continued with a guttural growling sound.


But you... you shall live. We are linked, remember? This won't kill you. But somethings cannot be taught... only experienced. And the time has come for you to take your next step, Apprentice.

Seras was still frightened, but she trusted her master enough to lower her guard. It was a foolish move, given that her master was a Sith- a group given to lies, treachery and manipulation. However, this time the Sith master was being truthful. Seras did not die... but she did feel an anguish unlike anything she'd ever experienced before.

The combined roar of billions of tortured voices- all crying out in pain -echoed in the young girl's mind. The voices of my victims, Alucard explained. Such a lovely chorus they sing, isn't it?

Seras didn't find it the least bit 'lovely'. And the fact that her master was sick enough to even say such a thing churned her stomach. She felt sick... She felt helpless... And with billions of voices screaming inside her mind, she felt completely mad. And then... then something changed, and the Sith apprentice felt nothing at all. Her body just collapsed on to the floor, and her breath came in slow, shallow draws.

The mist continued onwards- towards the remaining barricades, consuming everything and everyone in its path. Until, that is, it reached the barricades and its own master stepped out in front of it.

"Get back," the woman growled with authority, and the mist slowed then completely halted its advance. "I said, 'get back'," the woman growled again, fearlessly advancing on the mist that had drained everything else it'd come in contact with, save one, lonely, former Jedi. "You will obey your master! Get back. Return to the dungeon and remain there until summoned."

The mist hovered in place for another second or two, and Integra glared at it, her normally icy blue eyes alight with passion filled, intense, blue flame. Then her servant finally obeyed her and drifted back through the floor.

While the remaining Mandalorians worked to repair the damage done to the mansion, an unconscious Seras was taken to the medical wing. She was quickly scanned upon arrival and then more thoroughly examined once she regained consciousness. Since the doctors found nothing wrong with her- beyond some rather superficial battle wounds -she was released and ordered to go to her chamber and rest for awhile.

Walking down to the dungeon level- where her chamber was, Seras felt strange, detached. All around her were people busily trying to repair the damage done to Integra's mansion; but, although she was close enough that she could've reached out and touched them, they felt worlds away from her. Where there was once the warmth of the Force, connecting her to all those around her, now there was nothing but a just barely perceivable whisper... and a quiet, gnawing sort of hunger that she had never experienced before. And so Seras slowly drifted through winding corridors and down staircases into the darkness of the dungeon level- an absent, sort of dream like look on her face the whole time.

When she finally did reach her chamber, Seras instinctively moved her hand to the side, but the door refused to budge. She tried again, but it did no good. So she keyed in her access code to open the door, stepped into the dark chamber and then, upon seeing her bed, threw herself down on it and began to weep.

Alucard stepped out of the far corner. His steps were soft and unnoticeable when compared to the girl's crying. When he reached the side of her bed, the Sith master slowly extended a hand towards her head, and then he hesitated and pulled it back before making contact.

If Seras had known her master was there and had looked up at him, she would've noticed a foreign looking expression of compassion and something else- slight regret perhaps? -upon the Sith's face. But she didn't look up, and Alucard managed to repress the expression before he spoke, drawing his apprentice's attention to him.

"Do you know what you are?" he asked simply, calmly.

And Seras raised her head to stare at him. Her cheeks were wet with tears and her eyes were puffy from the crying. She sniffled a few more times but, demonstrating an impressive force of will, managed to cease her crying almost instantly. "Dead?" she asked in a neutral tone, sounding almost as if she wouldn't care if she were. "That's what it feels like. I-I can't sense anything," the girl continued, her voice beginning to rise. "Nothing. The Mandalorians, the medics... you- you're all like holograms- ghosts! I... I... I..."

"You are free," Alucard cut in, his tone still completely calm.

"Free?" Seras asked, sounding shocked. "Free from what?"

"From everything," Alucard answered. "From the Force," he continued. "Many Sith live their entire lives and don't even come close to what you have now. You should consider yourself lucky."

"Lucky? Lucky? I've lost everything. In an instant I've been struck deaf, blind and mute to the entire galaxy! Why should I consider myself lucky?" The words came flowing first from disbelief, then to anger and finally ending in bitter spite.

Alucard just stood there for a moment his face continuing to hold an expression so devoid of emotion that Seras could've almost mistaken him for a Jedi elder. "Do you know what the Force does," Alucard asked after another moment passed. But he did not wait for a response- instead continuing, "It manipulates us, controls us. From the moment of our birth... No, even before that... It gets its hooks into us and decides, 'This one will be evil. This one good. And they shall meet here, and this will be the result of that meeting.' Light Side... Dark Side- two halfs of the same. They are both the Force. And it pits us against each other. It manipulates our lives to maintain a sense of balance.

"To be connected to the Force is to never have freedom. It is to always be working for one side or the other... or, in some rare cases, to bounce back and forth between the two. But it is never YOU. It is always the Force!" Alucard's voice was finally rising as the Sith began to speak with greater conviction. "It binds us, and connects us- sure," Alucard very nearly spit the words out in disdain. "Like puppet's strings, it does. And then it pulls those strings to make us dance to its music, to make us act in its play. But no more. Not for you. You are free now. The Force, destiny, 'luck'... None of them have any hold on you any longer. You can make your own way- do what YOU want to do!"

Seras couldn't hold back her tears any longer. She threw herself down again and wept into her pillow. It wasn't that she didn't understand what her master was saying, or even believe him. No, it was simply that it wasn't worth it. If this was what it took to be free, then freedom was a terrible, wretched thing to have.

Alucard reached out his hand again, and this time he didn't pull it back. The Sith master patted his apprentice's head. He knelt down beside her; and, wrapping his arms around her, Alucard (for the first time in hundreds of years) actually found himself trying to comfort someone.

For a few moments they just stayed like that. Then Alucard whispered, "It's alright, you know? To feel this way. You are like a child that has just been born- ripped from the comfort and safety of your mother's womb and thrust into a cold, unforgiving world. And, like a newborn, this crying and this fear of the strange new world you've found yourself in is only natural. But just like nineteen years ago, this will pass. And when it does, I shall begin your new training. The Force has spent nearly two decades manipulating you and bending you to its will. And now, when you are ready, I will teach you how to return the favor. But until then, cry, Seras, go ahead and cry out for what you've lost."

And she did. Seras pulled her face away from the pillow and cried out as loudly as she could, she screeched in anguish and pain until there was no strength left in her. Then she collapsed into a dreamless sleep. And Alucard let her.

He would return later- when she was ready for him. The apprentice had just taken her first, stumbling steps into a much larger world, and her master would be there to help her learn how to walk... to run... to fly.

Well, what did you think? Please review and let me know if you liked it, thanks.

Oh, and if any KOTOR fans happen to be reading this and are planning on playing the new Star Wars: The Old Republic game that's launching in December, if you'd like to be in the same guide with me, I'm a member of "Sith Eaters". You can find a link to the 'guild join' page as well as some basic information on the character I plan on playing on my Fanfictiondotnet Author's page.

Have a good day, and God bless.

Metropolis Kid.

P.S. Oh, and if you've enjoyed this fic, you may be interested in it's sequel: "Knowing Normal's Hard to Fake" which can also be found on my author's page. It's currently on Hiatus - probably until mid December or so - but it's already got more chapters than this fic and is only about a half to two-thirds of the way through.