The Ashes of Katarr
Lord of Pain
My feet walk the ashes of Katarr and for the first time I can remember, I do not hunger. It is, I think, a momentary release. Thoughts slide like unfamiliar lovers beneath the membranous confusion of my perceptions. Blind, I have forgotten the harsh kiss of the sun. Deaf, I have forgotten the thunder of the wind. I move through fields of smoldering grain, carving a swath of dust through the death I have wrought here where the Jedi congregated one last time. I see their desiccated bodies lying here and there, and I feel the stirrings of the hunger within me. If I can truly feel at all.
There are buildings in the distance, crumbling and ruined. I halt, cloak whispering in the ashes, and look at the broken skyline. I have thrown my cloak across this world, drowned it with my mere presence. Nothing now lives to draw breath, and the air is scorched and hot. It is fortunate that I no longer breathe.
It is the merest whisper of sound, a plea barely heard and scarcely understood. I turn, thoughts sinking into a mire of furious, endless need. There is life. I feel it, a faint murmur as of beating hearts. The pulse of the Force, the lifeblood of the Galaxy. She is lying in the dust, naked and alone. I kneel beside her and put a hand to the side of her neck. She stares up at me with empty sockets, burned and ruined. Miraluka, but broken. I have done this, but I feel no guilt. I am not like the other Sith, the lesser creatures who crawl and scream and rut in pools of fetid emotion. I am clean in a way no Jedi can ever be, stripped of all sensation and attachment. All save the hunger.
"Please," she whimpers. Her injuries are grave. I can smell the Force leaking from her, can see it ebbing around her battered body. I long to seize it, to jerk it from her body and take it into myself as I first did in the shadow of dead Malachor.
But I do not.
I take the half-dead girl to my waiting shuttle. I board the ship, looking back from the ramp at the planet I have destroyed. Soon enough the hunger will return, but now I am lucid and the girl in my arms is already warming to my presence in the Force. Perhaps a link will help me leave her alive. The shuttle rises from the dead surface of Katarr and up, up through the atmosphere and into space. Space, where the Ravager and her terrified crewawait my return.
I have never cared for the philosophy of the Sith. Treachery weakens from within and hatred is too personal, too raw. I dislike things I cannot control.
I fear, as I step down from the shuttle with the Miraluka dying in my arms, as I step down in a flurry of black robes and look through the holes in my mask at the legions of kneeling soldiers who call me "Master," that I am losing my mind.
Have I yet gone to the academy at Malachor? Do Traya's whispers still crawl within my skull, or have I not yet set foot in that dark and blasted place? Am I still a man?
But no, there is another voice and that voice speaks only truth. It is the voice of Hunger, harsh and grating, and it says that time is nothing, that Traya is nothing. Sion. Revan. Malak. Meaningless.
Only the Hunger has meaning.
I am Nihilus, Dark Lord of the Sith.
I am Hunger.
My ruined voice croaks out from me as I near a man who has been the captain of the Ravager, whose name I do not know and never will. He pales as my meaning rapes its way past his ears and into his heart, into his soul. "Thy will be done, My Lord," he husks, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Two of my men step forward and take the Miraluka from my arms. I watch them bear her away, perhaps to the sickbay. I can feel the flicker of her life, the tenuous candle flame of her.
And then there is only the hunger, endless and roaring and worse than ever. I scream and my men scatter, fleeing toward a dozen exits. They know the first attack is always the worst, when the pangs return. I catch one of them in the Force and raise him high, my mind dissolving into ravenous compulsion. I rip him from himself in a blast of orange light. The husk collapses, and I drink the true self. I raise the memory of my face to the ceiling of the hangar bay, ignoring the shouts of my fleeing men and the pounding of their boots on the deck.
Only one thing is real now, and it is-
There is pain. I am pain. My bones are crushed, my body shattered. I cough blood and roll onto my back, fragments of bone shifting under my cracked and perforated skin. The sky above is red and orange, burned by turbolaser fire into something out of a nightmare. I sit up, skull groaning, and stare with my remaining eye at the wreckage of the Sith Academy. Its roof is half-collapsed, its walls scored by laser fire. It has been dying since Wynn fell, anyway.
I snarl and stand, embracing the agony that courses through me, the agony that defines my every breath and movement. What is another measure of pain, another dose of anguish? My bones have all been broken for eternity. My organs are pierced and dying. My skin rots. I breathe pain, holding fast to the cancerous teat of the Dark Side of the Force. It is all that keeps my shattered self alive, if I can really be called alive any longer.
I spit blood and teeth as my bleary consciousness centers itself and organizes my bones in some semblance of proper order. I learned the right connections decades ago, when I still kept track of my injuries and my age. I flex my knotted, twisted fingers. Who am I?
There are others amidst the smoke and dust. People from the spaceport city and survivors from the Academy, all screaming and milling as they struggle past one another in seething crowds and shout for their loved ones. One man sees me and recoils, face paling. I draw my lightsaber and run him through, the hum and crackle of blade and burning flesh lost in the tumult. It is a needless slaughter, something she would abhor. But I do not listen to her anymore.
I jerk my burning red blade from the corpse I have created. It slumps to the hard-packed sand of the avenue connecting town to academy, a bare mile from the raw scream in the Force that is the Valley of the Dark Lords. There are other faces staring at me now, other sinks of fear that pulse and shudder at my hideous, horrible face. "NO!" I howl at them, and only now do I realize that I am consumed with rage and grief. The ships in space above Korriban are Republic vessels. The dream of the Sith, of Revan and Malak's Sith, is over. I lash out with the Force and with my weapon, slashing through the terrified survivors like the sacks of meat they are. One by one they die beneath my blade, too weak to cling to life as I have done. I hack and hammer and murder, roaring hatred to the sky where the unfeeling Force stares down at me.
At me alone.
I stagger to a halt at the cracked and imploded gates of the Academy. My hands, my ruined hands, are red with blood. A trail of corpses marks my passage from the spaceport town. Men. Women. Children. I look back at them, panting in exhaustion. "Filth," I grate. "Useless worms."
It is myself I berate. I have failed Revan. She has failed me, and in doing so has brought her voice back to its place behind my eyes. Traya. Master. Betrayer. Victim.
I laugh, long and loud and raw, and slash lines in the sand with my lightsaber. "You think this means you've won," I roar to the burning, sulfurous air, to the corpses that lie around my feet. The last of them died pressed up against the academy door, a Bothan of perhaps twelve standard years. I seize the body in the Force and fling it away, watch it bounce down the Academy's entrance ramp. "IT MEANS NOTHING," I thunder. My chest heaves, old scars opening and closing like the gills of some dead and twitching fish. I deactivate my lightsaber. The blade vanishes.
"It means nothing," I snarl, the words snapping like strings of snot in my throat.
I hear her laughter. It is cruel and biting, the laugh of the all-knowing monster she is. Sweet, stupid Sion, she mocks. You have learned nothing. That, as always, is your failing. You wallow in the teachings of the weakest of the Sith, more akin to Malak than to your precious Revan.
In time, Sion, you will remember your true allegiance.
"No," I snarl, gripping my skull in both fractured hands. "No. I will never return to you."
You will, Sion.
"Never," I gasp. I am on my knees, rocking back and forth. My teeth are bared, scraping one set against the other. "Never.
Laughter. It is everywhere, ringing in the air. High and wild and endlessly, perfectly certain.
I must find a ship to Malachor.
Malachor dies. The Mass Shadow Generator has been triggered, brainchild of the Zabrak engineer Bao Dur. A young woman, a Jedi, gave the order. She will be stripped of her lightsaber and flung away by the sad and self-righteous remnants of her Council, chaff given to the wind. Revan watched it happen from the bridge of her flagship, faithful Malak at her side. She is not yet Darth Revan, Dark Lady of the Sith. He is not yet Darth Malak, her future murderer and final victim. They are still Jedi in name. At heart, they are very nearly Sith already.
Malachor dies. Its moon implodes, dragged down into its atmosphere by the gravitic tides. Rubble slams into its surface. Ships are sucked down and into the planet's gravity well like toys, some devoured by hungry Malachor, others trapped in orbit and crushed or broken. It is the death knell to the Mandalorian crusade, Revan's masterstroke. It is the end of the Republic, stealing cat-footed into the minds of Revan and her followers from its dark resting place on Malachor V.
A man named Saul Karath watches from the bridge of the cruiser Leviathan as his long war comes to an end. Tears course down his gaunt, unshaven cheeks. His war is only just beginning. Soon he will burn a world at the whim of a desperate and second-rate madman.
Malachor dies. Its continental plates buckle and twist, mountain ranges rising up and collapsing in mere heartbeats. Its oceans boil. Its core is crushed.
Atton Rand leaves a man, a Jedi, half-dead on the deck of the Relentless and moves to a viewport to watch the Galaxy end. The Jedi stirs and Atton shoots him. There is no malice in the action. Atton does very little out of malice.
And alone on the surface of the planet, a man drops his burning scarlet lightsaber and screams as all the pain and horror of a dying world rams itself down his throat and into his soul. His opponent lunges, flying over the shaking earth to stab the man through the throat. But there is nothing to stab, only a deep well of hunger and implacable purpose. And the Jedi is eaten, his body drained in a blast of light and sound. The man, his consciousness forever altered, stares at his hands and feels the rise of a terrible hunger in him. The universe unfolds itself around him, an endless expanse of life moving inevitably, inexorably toward the stark reality of death.
It is all there is.
Carth Onasi, standing beside Admiral Karath, breaks inside and will never be the same. He is a patriot and a soldier, not the cold-hearted architect of this genocide. He watches the flagship of the Mandalorian armada dip toward Malachor, watches it fall to pieces in the atmosphere. He knows that Mandalore the Ultimate is aboard, and that the war is ending as that great man burns.
Canderous Ordo beats his fists against the gunnery panel of his basilisk war droid. His fleet, his dream, is dying around him. The Mandalore is dead. His father is slaughtered, his brothers taken by the planet's embrace. He alone survives to turn tail and flee, a violent and embittered man. His ship is hit near the edge of the system and barely escapes, carrying its crippled pilot far away, to Dxun.
An old woman watches from the shadows, her perceptions stretching out like the limbs of some great spider. Cold thoughts run through her mind. She sees potential here, at the end of a world.
This is the birth of a new Galaxy.
This is the death of Malachor.