Backlash - The Road to Wisdom
- Memories -
Fighting against the sedatives Roj Kell was barely able to keep his eyes open. But Master Yoda was studying him intently, perched on the edge of the single bed that seemed stranded in a sea of silence. An entire section of the Imperial Palace's medical facilities had been cleared to accomodate just one injured prisoner. In a way it was quite a waste. Meeting the Jedi Master's intense moss-green eyes defiantly the ancient Sith focused his anger on the tiny alien.
"You could at least allow me to enter a healing trance," he said, but his weakness dampened the accusation to no more than a hoarse whisper.
"Do that I will not. Know you do why."
"Frankly, no. The bond works both ways and you also have to fight my fatigue, apart from keeping the bond alive. It would be far easier for you to just let me heal and regain my strength."
Yoda did not seem inclined to follow his logic though. "A lesson for you this is, to remember what you are."
"In what way?"
"Regain your balance you must first. Teach me that yourself you did on Korriban."
"Yes," Kell breathed, exhausted.
It was true. He had forbidden Yoda to heal him completely, since the bond they had formed back then had required some sort of balance too, meaning that Yoda was not allowed to interfere further after that massive intrusion into Kell's mind that had come with the bond. That the Jedi was turning his own teachings on him now though was humiliating. Not that the absence of the Force was less disturbing than the bond with Yoda. He could not feel the warmth of the light although he was aware of it. That distance created a longing in his soul that was frightening. Very much so.
"Tell, me, Lord Kell, what accomplish you did, what wisdom gained you have." Moving into a more comfortable position Yoda leaned toward the Sith gently, curiosity plain in his eyes.
"What I learned?" Kell frowned at the other, then thought about the question for a while. In the end he pursed his lips in quiet musing and smiled. "I suppose it was more a matter of remembering than learning something new."
"What is it that remember you do?
"You claim that my master taught me distrust and deception. In turn I tried to give Lord Vader just that back."
"Then trust you have regained?"
"No." He paused. "Not yet."
Looking into the Jedi Master's wrinkled face Roj Kell could identify the same hunger he had felt when he had first met Exar Kun. Somehow the knowledge one did not possess oneself was incredibly fascinating. But gaining knowledge brought changes. Was Yoda prepared for that? He himself had changed fundamentally over the past. There was no innocence anymore, no fire, no passion, nothing that could have driven him onward. Even his inborn sense for survival had been taken from him. Yoda was indeed sly, using compassion and understanding as defense against the Sith Lord's cold logic. He did not offer any weakness that Kell could attack without breaking his own rules again. But then, there was no need to fight any longer.
"A long time ago," he continued, "when I was a young man, and did not know about what you perceive as the Dark Side, I made it a point to live in harmony with everything around me. I did not shy away from firestorms or wild currents, instead I embraced the danger, not for the thrill of it, but because it was a concession to life itself."
"I was grateful for being alive, very grateful, and by putting myself in danger I admitted to my trust in life, in balance."
"A foolish desire." Yoda stirred, apparently uncomfortable with something Kell had said.
"Is it? Better than to hide behind thick walls and civilisation, in my mind."
"Afraid you were not. Astounding."
"You cannot imagine how life felt for me. When I lost that..." He closed his eyes, trying to recapture the feeling of intense, almost painful emotion, of being part of the chaos of life, with no shields and no defense whatsoever against the thundering storm of the Force. But it had been so long...
Looking at the Sith pensively and sharing his memories Yoda began to understand why Roj Kell had always been an enigma to him. He had believed that the ancient one had set himself apart from life deliberately, had viewed this galaxy from a vantage point that had given him a vast perpective, but no understanding of life's proceedings at all. Apparently he had been mistaken. The reason why Roj Kell had never become part of a community, had never fit anywhere, had been his total commitment to life itself. No wonder he could not grasp the Jedi's lessons. Kell would not see his actions as crimes, even though he was aware of the fact that others would condemn them as such. To him everything was an opportunity to learn, every moment of existence a lesson. What he knew about the concepts of good and evil remained pure theory. Not because he did not understand, but because he did not care. And yet he would not justify his deeds with his apparent ignorance. In that he was very honest with himself and others.
"Lose you did part of yourself, but a chance to learn you were given too."
"I guess so. I learned a lot, that is true." Sudden pain flashed across Kell's pale eyes. "A question for you. Had it not been Exar Kun who found me, but the Jedi, what would have become of me?"
Shuddering at the very thought Yoda felt pity overcome him. It was highly possible that the Jedi would have been just as cruel as the Dark Lord had been. They too would have had to break the young Sith first to rebuild him again into an image of what they embodied. There was no way they would have let him go again, fearing his innocent approach to the Force far more than conceding to such cruel methods in making him one of them. If they had let him live at all. Yoda could well imagine that the Jedi of that time might have overreacted and killed Roj Kell before hearing him out. He smiled wrily to himself. Fact was, the moment he opened his mouth he would have been dead. Yoda was still surprised by the fact that Kell spoke the language of the ancient Sith fluently, and even more astounded at the fact that the language itself had once been part of the Sith's power. The Jedi Master had experienced that power first-hand on Korriban. Although he had been fairly immune against Roj Kell's voice, the combination with the Sith dialect had been inescapable. Realizing that he had not answered the question yet he started, then looked at Kell again.
"Maybe for the best it was that find you they did not."
The triumphant smirk that appeared on the ancient Sith's features was infuriating. "I thought so. The Jedi never struck me as particularly curious or understanding of anything they did not know. They were quick to dismiss it as manifestation of the Dark Side too."
"Untrue that is," Yoda replied a bit heatedly. "Maybe when the Sith were still strong, maybe then we were cautious, but not since then."
"Perhaps you became too trusting," Kell offered thoughtfully, obviously referring to the rise of the Emperor.
"Recognize always you did any danger in your life?"
"From a certain point on, yes. There is only so much one can learn about particular things. But as I said, in the beginning danger was part of survival. It was just a feeling."
"Then defend yourself you would not against that?"
"If it threatened my life directly I would."
"What about others? To protect your own you did not seek?"
Kell stared at him. "Why do you ask?"
"Learn you must have part of living in a community," Yoda suggested, patiently waiting for the other to answer. It took him some time.
"I was taught to respect life. That respect included to not assume that life cannot protect itself. If not, it will perish."
"Yet protect you did the Sith all your life."
"That was different. My very existence depended on that. Had that picture not prevailed in the hearts of the majority I would have died."
Yoda's ears perked up in disbelief. "Be that cannot!" he exclaimed. "Told you did Anakin that imbalanced the Force can never be! Your own darkness it was, that made you vulnerable."
For a heart-beat time seemed to freeze around them and a distinct chill settled over the two people. Yoda winced at the shockwave he could feel claim the ancient Sith as revelation hit him. The storm of confusion and helplessness seemed to last for an eternity, until finally it turned into a vast sea of humiliation. It took a long time before Kell had found his voice again.
"What are you saying?" he whispered.
Gently leaning forward Yoda hesitated. Although the Sith Lord's anguish was very plain for him to see and feel the Jedi Master suspected that Kell would react hostile toward any attempt at consoling him.
"Believe you did that justified your darkness was, because inevitable the taint had become in your eyes." Again he paused, feeling slightly guilty over having to hurt the other further. But it was the truth and it was past time that Kell accepted it. When he continued Yoda spoke quietly, soothingly, in an effort to cushion the blow: "Study you did the belief of the Sith, which different was from your own. Know you did all the time that balance the essence is of the Force. For ever. Destroyed your bond could not have been through Exar Kun. Face your own darkness you did then and decide to learn more about it. Gave yourself up to learn about power you did. In time forgotten was the original intent of the bond." His voice dropped further, although he knew very well that there was no way to make this any less painful. "Deceive yourself you did."
Roj Kell stared up at the room's ceiling, not really seeing it at all. His mind felt completely blank, as if all of his knowledge, all of his experiences had suddenly been wiped away by the Jedi Master's gentle but oh so cruel words. Only gradually did he manage to free himself of that suffocating state of non-being. But it was indeed true. And he had never seen it at all. Guilt washed over him in hot waves as he realized how much he had betrayed himself, had lied to himself unconsciously, constantly looking down on others who seemed so ignorant in comparison to himself, while at the same time it had been him, who was the fool. For nearly all of his life he had yearned for freedom from darkness, had craved nothing more than to recover that easy life he had led previous to meeting his master. He had resented his bonds to the Sith so much. But it had been his choice to break them. A choice he never made.
"Why?" he asked at last, too confused to find the answer himself.
Yoda shook his head slowly and the look in his eyes was excrutiating. His anger aroused Roj Kell growled softly, daring the other to take this punishment further.
"The same mistakes you made as Anakin. To change the world you desired, never trusting others to help, to show you your errors. But retain you did your own point of view."
"Survival. No evidence find I did in the records of your seeking power, ever. Greed it was not that onward drove you."
"I always despised the Sith for their selfishness. And yet you just told me that I myself was incredibly selfish. In fact, someone once told me that I was selfishness incarnate." He almost smiled at the memory of Tarla's dark face, the fire in her eyes.
"Young she was. A narrow view she took," the Jedi Master explained quietly, making Kell start in surprise. He had completely forgotten that the other could read him very easily now. Chastised he looked toward the alien.
"Maybe you are right."
Edging closer Yoda bent over him, and his presence became overwhelming. "Greed, selfishness, anger, hatred, fear. The essence of the Dark Side they are." He snorted softly. "Pride too, Lord Kell, and indifference." The Jedi Master heaved a sigh. "Old I am and teach I must someone far older than me. Ridiculous."
Roj Kell smiled faintly at the other's faked indignation. "Do you expect thanks for that lesson then?"
Yoda gave him a tired look. "No. For you to understand, reward enough it will be."
They remained silent for a very long time. When the lights came on suddenly the brightness startled the ancient Sith. He had not even noticed that evening had fallen outside and driven the shadows indoors. The Jedi Master turned his head toward the door slightly and nodded.
"Expect you I did," he said softly.
The visitor was outside the field of his vision and so Kell tried to prop himself up, failing miserable due to lack of cooperation on his muscles' part. If Yoda did not give him back control over his own mind soon he might well go insane!
The Dark Lord's quiet voice made the old Sith's body stiffen in sudden dread. Now, if Vader wanted to lecture him too...
"Yes. Progress we did," Yoda answered and gave Kell a long look. "Rest we should now."
"All right," Vader conceded, sounding just a bit disappointed. "Did you think about his punishment?"
"Not yet. Time I need more."
Not only had they dismissed him completely, now they also threatened to trample on the broken shards they had left of him! This was more than humiliating, it was simply dreadful. Fighting down hot tears of impotent fury Roj Kell gritted his teeth. When the Jedi Master hopped off the edge of the bed he did not look at him, nor did he try to meet the Dark Lord's eyes. Not now. They did not need more evidence of his defeat that they already could sense. That was not something he would grant them. The lights went out again, leaving the room dark. From the window the lights of the city sparkled unwaveringly, bringing some comfort. Outside the room Kell could hear the soft click of boots as the guards resumed their positions.
Loneliness hit him like the icy gales of Hoth. He did not want to be alone now. He had been alone for almost all of his life. Almost. When he thought of Belana Jen he was crying for real, unable to hold back his grief any longer. It had hurt him to leave her behind, and now he regretted her death even more. Would things have been different if he had trusted her judgement? Despite having served as his apprentice for six years the former Jedi Master had retained some of her own light, accepting part of his teachings, but seeing through them too. That had been two thousand years ago and his memories of her were stlll sharp and painful. Kell did not doubt that Belana had been just as wise as Yoda, that she had seen the badly mismatched arguments that made up his philosophy. She had understood. And when he had surrendered to her, her reaction had frightened him. She had simply accepted that gift, acknowledging it with the love she had felt for him all the time. How could he ever have dismissed such wisdom? How could he have killed her at all? It seemed unbelievable that he had thrown away her gift for nothing. It was her death that he regretted most and if he were to die it would be for that alone that he had deserved that sentence. But regret would not bring her back. Ever.
The next morning saw a very pale Roj Kell glaring accusingly at the Jedi Master when Yoda stepped into the room. Raising his eyebrows questioningly the old Jedi slowly walked closer to the ancient one's bed. Apparently Kell resented a renewed discussion on his past, which meant that he had given it some thought at least. Good.
"Sleep well you did?" he asked.
"I do not appreciate your sort of humor," Kell snapped and Yoda scolded himself for having given that opportunity for a rebuke himself.
"Apologize I will not for your bad temper," he announced calmly and took his place at the edge of the bed again. Kell stared at him unmoved, his lips pressed tightly together. But it was true, if Kell wanted to interpret everything as hostility it was his own fault. Yoda studied the Sith for some time, ignoring the looks he gave him.
"What do you want now?" Kell sighed finally. "More lessons?"
"Feel that learned you have not enough?"
Averting his eyes quickly the ancient one tried to hide his embarrassement. "I am not certain."
"Not my goal it is to hurt you," the Jedi Master told him quietly. "Regain you must trust again to live in peace."
"I will not trust you or anyone again. What is the point?" That came out a bit too defensively. Undoubtedly thinking about the past had ripped open old wounds that were tormenting him now. But that was the desired effect Yoda had hoped to achieve.
"Lessen your pain will if come to terms you can with your self."
"All right." Roj Kell heaved a deep breath. "I made mistakes. I ignored the rules or broke them. For a reason," he added as an after-thought.
"They did never work the way they were supposed to work. If they had the Jedi would not have been what they were."
"Instead of guardians, what have been they should?"
"That is not what I mean. Millennia ago the Jedi did not make any fuss about defying evil. They did not apologize for killing those they judged, they were not afraid to brush up with their own darkness. They were balanced. But that was a long time ago. Instead of serving the Force you built a temple to your own vanity. You set yourself apart from those you pretended to serve and you became afraid to use your power."
"You think the reason this was for the Emperor's rise?"
"Partly. And that brings us back to the rules. Everyone was looking to the Jedi and the Galactic Senate for leadership that they could not provide."
"Tell you did Anakin that rule the Jedi should."
"Still believe so you do?"
"Why should I not?" Roj Kell blinked heavy eyelids at him.
"Palpatine's motives, similar they seem to that."
Laughing out loud the ancient Sith shook his head. "Are you serious? Sidious only craved power. Nothing else. He might have promoted order and stability to get what he wanted, but that was never meant for real."
"Suspect that I did." Yoda nodded pensively. "A solution you see?"
"Mon Mothma asked you for advice, didn't she? But you are the wrong one to ask. You were just as bad as Sidious. You knew about the prophecy. You knew Anakin would bring change and you wanted to control him. Fear dictated your actions." Kell's pale eyes were flashing dangerously. "In that you doomed yourself and were no different from Sidious."
"No different from you."
"Yes. That is true."
"In the end though decide you did to accept that change. Courage you prove back then."
"There was no other way left. If I could not get the Sith to survive the old way I had to bow to fate." He looked Yoda straight in the eye. "You were right. I had deluded myself. It is hard to accept one's mistakes, I know that." He smiled. "A fitting punishment for me, I guess."
"Not enough though."
"Then you have decided?"
He gave the Jedi Master a quizzical glance. It was not that he was afraid to die, not at all, but somehow he felt that he deserved something much more unpleasant than that. Spending the rest of his life as Yoda's prisoner? He shuddered at the very thought. Give up the Force? Growling softly she shook off his anticipation. "What is it then?" Yoda's eyes turned dark and unfathomable. The somber mood that enveloped the room gradually made the ancient Sith shiver.
"Feel I do that live I will not much longer."
That was indeed a surprise. Kell's eyes widened in disbelief. For a second he tried to confirm that, but the Force was still out of reach. "So?" he asked at last.
"Protect you I will not be able to then."
"I do not need your protection," Kell snorted. "Why would you even care about what happened to me?"
Shaking his head sadly the Jedi Master closed his eyes. "Unfortunate it is that understand you do not. Care I do for everyone."
"Really. Did you also care about Sidious?"
"Yes." Looking straight at him Yoda caught his attention easily. Only then did Kell realize that this was the essence of the lesson. In caring for friends and enemies alike one could achieve true objectivity, something he had thought he had already gained. But his focus had been flawed.
"I see," he said slowly, uncertain of what to think of all this. "Then your concern is indeed justified. But I am prepared for the future."
"Prepared you are? See about that we will."
When Yoda suddenly relinquished control of Kell's mind the ancient Sith Lord gasped in shock. "I-!" he mangaged and fell silent again, mouth agape, eyes wide. He was only dimly aware of the Jedi Master's calm, impassive gaze, but the pain was foremost on his mind. He had forgotten how much damage his body had received in the fight on Korriban and before that. Half-closing his eyes he tried to breathe evenly, to regain some of his composure. Only then, calm once more, but still trembling with the effort of staying conscious, did he reach out to the Force tentatively, almost reverentially. He exhaled slowly and smiled at the feel of it, the light and warmth. It would be some time until he had enough strength to embrace it fully, but now he would be able to enter a healing trance, if -. He looked up at Yoda sharply. So. That was his punishment. Very well. Then, taking a deep breath, he met the other's gaze and said:
"I trust you. But I will not ask for your assistance."
Nodding gravely the Jedi Master left his place and hopped onto the floor. "Order I will the doctors to speed up your healing. Agree with me Mon Mothma will."
Roj Kell smiled at the Jedi. "Thank you." He lay back against the bedrest again and watched Yoda walk away slowly. Refraining from using the Force he closed his eyes slowly, remembering bonding with Exar Kun.
Very gently he sought the other's presence and was at first dumb-struck at the awe-inspiring power he could feel there. This was incredible. And yet, he had seen the effects for himself back on Yavin 4. There was no true control here, just raw potential that accidentially had made its power known. And so strong too. Roj Kell knew that his own power was fairly limited in comparison to this, which made his desire to learn only stronger. But anger and hatred were still present in Exar Kun, making the magician feel slightly uncomfortable. He was not used to this imbalanced state of existence anymore. Ever since his first bonding he had felt nothing but peace and pure being, a sentient submitted to only the rules of survival, completely in tune with Life itself, but guided by logic nevertheless.
Exar Kun's presence was distracting the flow immensely. And yet it was intriguing enough for Kell to take a risk like this. Deep down he knew that it was no more than his natural curiosity winning out over reason, and at that moment the choice was not his any longer. Speaking the words of the rite softly he saw them etch themselves into his own heart as they sank into the other's soul, sealing their bond. Almost immediately he knew that he might have made a grave mistake. The Force, usually no more than a white background noise echoing through his mind, jerked as if struck and balked around the darker stream that had joined the flow. For a second Roj Kell was close to panicking. He could not feel anything! Severing the connection to Kun he found himself back in the here and now, leaning against the ship's hull heavily while trying to catch his breath. He sank to the deck, exhausted, and closed his eyes. What had happened?
Now he knew what had been wrong. He had crossed the border between balance and dominance back then. Usually bonding with something required great respect and mutual consent. That time though he had not thought about that at all. He had not even bothered translating the request he had made to Exar Kun back on Yavin 4. And the reason for that lack of respect had been envy. Simple. Yoda was right. He had craved the Dark Jedi's power, refusing to accept anyone else with a deeper understanding of the Force than he had. It had been his very first encounter with the Jedi, Dark or Light, and it had admittedly confused him how little he knew at that time. Well. He had learned over the past and he certainly had surpassed Exar Kun. Was that so much of an accomplishment? The answer had to be no. With all he knew now Roj Kell had moved beyond his youthful ambitions. Yoda had accused him of being proud and indifferent, but that was not true. All of his life he had felt a deep passion for making others understand the complexity of life. How the Jedi's false pretense had enraged him! In that the Sith had been much more honest. Mislead, but honest. And now this. He had deluded himself into being something he was not. He was no teacher. That was why he had failed all the time. He was indeed selfish, accepting only his own point of view. Sighing deeply he felt his shoulders slump with fatigue and resignation.
"Have you ever seen a star collapse? Somehow I imagine that to look like you do now."
Kell's eyes snapped open suddenly. Turning his head toward the door he gave the Dark Lord a long look. "Not as spectacular as the birth of a galaxy," he replied calmly. "That is were we stand now."
"I see what you mean." Stepping closer Anakin Skywalker smiled down at him.
"You seem restless. Don't they let you play?"
"Unfortunately no. I have to admit that it is quite boring."
"I suspect that your wife would disagree."
Having the satisfaction of having caught the other man off guard Roj Kell watched him blush in embarrassment. "Yes," the Dark Lord conceded at last. But then he turned serious again. "Mon Mothma has proposed a strategy to regain the trust of the people."
"Does it include you?"
"Yes. Mon Mothma will become Chief of State, temporarily, until the elections."
"And she wants you to support her?"
"Of course. She says all I have to do is be visible."
"And nod and smile. Nice." Grinning broadly the ancient Sith felt some of his dark mood go away. "Maybe I should consider myself lucky that I simply am a prisoner."
Anakin Skywalker raised his eyebrows meaningfully. "Lucky? I thought you weren't lucky?"
"Yes. That is true." His eyes focused into the distance pensively. "Why did you come up here?"
"To check on you. I know how persistent Master Yoda can be."
"He is a true master."
"Yes. I hear you have met him before?"
"A long time ago."
"Why didn't he kill you back then?"
"For the same reason he did not kill me on Korriban. For the same reason that you did not kill me either."
"I see. If you understand that much, Lord Kell, maybe Yoda has truly achieved something."
"What if? That lesson comes far too late. I cannot change now. I am too old and I remember too much. You of all people should know about the power of memories."
"But you could try."
"And become vulnerable? That is easy for you to say. You have a family, people you can trust. I have noone" Saying it so clearly was less painful than he had anticipated. But sobering in a way too.
"You were alone before. You can manage."
"Who says I want to?"
Taken aback at his sharp tone Skywalker's eyes hardened visibly. "Well," the Dark Lord said coldly, "have it your way."
What had he expected? That the mistakes they shared made them brothers in arms? No way. Anakin Skywalker had always been a warrior and that he was not. For a heart-beat a huge hole seemed to open up underneath him, plunging his mind into uncertainty. But he knew what he was, didn't he?
"I so appreciate having your permission to continue my life as I see fit," Kell replied, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. But when Skywalker raised his eyebrows ever so slightly, a hint of cruel intent lingering on his scarred features, a sense of foreboding rose like a black wall to engulf them both. For a heart-beat the ancient Sith felt uncertain.
"Good," the Dark Lord purred. "Master Yoda asked me to conduct the next lesson."
"So, that is the true reason why you came. You should have said so."
"Why? So you could have employed more of your charming wit?"
Shaking his head Skywalker took a seat and proceeded to look at the prisoner for a long time, his blue gaze unwavering. In the end it was Kell himself who lost his patience.
"Well?" he growled, annoyed.
The Dark Lord propped his elbows on his thighs in a casual posture and let his eyes wander over toward the window. "I was wondering... Back on Nar Shadaa you told me that I blamed my wife for my own failure. While that was true, to a certain extent, I never went so far as to hate her for that. On the contrary: the further we were driven apart the more I longed for her." Looking straight at him Skywalker smiled slowly. "Tell me, Lord Kell, when you think of Belana Jen, what do you feel?"
The question did not come as a total surprise, but he still felt uncomfortable now that he had to answer it. Hesitating a bit he frowned. "Regret," he said at last.
"Love, maybe. It has been a long time."
"What do you regret then?"
"Is that all?"
"You are very persistent, do you know that?"
Shifting his position slightly Kell frowned even deeper. "What are you getting at?"
"Just answer the question. Was it more than regret for killing her?"
Roj Kell hated feeling cornered like that. His mouth turned into a grim line, testimony to his unwillingness to continue this interrogation. But if he did not give a reply Vader might never go away. But what to say? "I do not know," he answered at last, quietly scolding himself for his cowardice.
"Let me help you then. When you think of, say, the Sith who died on Ruusan, what do you feel?"
"They were foolish not to heed my warning. And Bane only survived because there was no one else left."
"No one left to succeed you?"
"Yes," Kell said, a bit too wistfully maybe.
"So you do not regret their deaths?"
"It was a waste, but regret... No. They got what they deserved for their stupidity."
"Not for what they had done?"
"Ah. Now I see what you are trying to do." Smiling smugly the ancient Sith crossed his arms across his midriff in an almost demure gesture. "You want to make me feel guilty."
"No. You already do feel guilty, even if you do not realize that. When we talked about trust and forgiveness a few minutes back you said that the only reason why you would not back down from your stance is because you have no one to trust. I suspect that you trusted Belana Jen. You regret her death and you still love her. That, Lord Kell, is what we call remorse."
"Another word for guilt?"
"In a sense. It is Master Yoda's goal, and mine too, to make you see what you have blinded yourself to over the past millennia. You are not so different from those you despise so much. But if you were you would not be human anymore," the Dark Lord added lightly.
"I don't think you understand."
"No, but you do. That is the only thing that matters now."
Leaving the prisoner Anakin Skywalker made his way back into the section of the Imperial Palace that housed the living quarters for the administrative staff. If one could call it such yet. They had made good progress and most loose ends had been tied up, but the task ahead was even more monumental than ending the war. Just as Roj Kell had said, they had been given a chance to start anew.
He was walking slowly, lost in thought, and pondering his own fate. Mon Mothma had indeed decided that his presence at her side would convey that she had him under control, at least for as long as he contributed to that image himself. It was a political move whose purpose had certainly not escaped his notice, but Anakin had to admit that for now it was a more than welcome prospect to not be the one to make the decisions for once, and instead be able to lean back and relax a bit, make up lost time with his family. He needed that badly. And in the deepest depth of his heart he wished that Kell had something like this to look to.
It was strange to be here now, unharmed and free to chose the bonds that would hold him again. The Dark Lord had long given up the delusion that one could be completely free of any sort of bond and limit, a lesson Master Yoda was trying to teach the ancient Sith right now. What had become routine for Anakin, making compromises between logic and emotions, was dire punishment for Kell. The old man was not used to being chained down like this, held by his own feelings. Not used to, or else he had forgotten about it. Still, Anakin also realized that Yoda was taking his former opponent inside out quite mercilessly. Not that Kell had not deserved it. And sometimes mercy was the wrong way to show compassion. If they wanted to change the man's views they would have to show him where he had gone wrong first. The worst thing about this though was that in essence a lot of Kell's points made great sense. The worst, because even if they did, they were inhuman. In the previous conversation with the ancient Sith Lord Anakin had learned more about what Master Yoda thought of as Kell's innocence. In some ways the prisoner was indeed ignorant of reality, an idealist even.
Without his mental shields to protect him he was an open book to any Force-sensitive, and Anakin had felt his anguish very clearly. However fiercely he might deny it, Kell had loved his Jedi Master more than his life, more than any dream. It had frightened him. Anakin shook his head. He had often thought that the Sith's sneaky methods marked him a coward, but this now was clear evidence that he did not have the courage to face his own feelings, to face himself, at all. If Anakin understood correctly from what Yoda had revealed about Roj Kell, it seemed clear that Belana Jen had taught her lover the first lessons on humanity. Was that the reason why he regretted her death? Because now he understood her good intentions? Or was it something else? Shaking his head ruefully the Dark Lord mused that he had not been much different. Padmé had told him that being cold was not him, and he knew that to be true. Yet it was so difficult to open his heart again, even though he very much wanted to. He had managed to reestablish the bond with his beloved again, there were no secrets kept between them any longer, but it was harder with his children, as much as he regretted that. It would take time. A lot of it.
Again he thought back on the Sith Lord, who was probably lost in his own musings a few levels up. When he had come up to conduct that lesson Anakin had meant what he had said about a star collapsing. If he were to describe Kell's presence in the Force he would paint the image of a white star with an aura so black that it hurt the eyes. There had been grief and regret aplenty. Too much to bear. They would have to be careful now, if they did not want Kell to retreat again. If he did, Anakin was certain that they would not be able to hold on to him anymore, under no circumstances. He would have to talk to Master Yoda.
It was two days later that Yoda came back to visit the prisoner. During that time the Jedi Master had meditated long and hard on what they had accomplished and what was still to be achieved. But the most recent discussion with Anakin Skywalker had confirmed the progress they were making. Although Kell was getting increasingly confused he also tried to understand what they were telling him. That was a very good sign, but no surprise. Roj Kell never let an opportunity to learn pass, especially if he could learn more about himself. He might not like what he saw there, but he would analyse it just as rationally as he analysed everything else. In the end he would accept it. Walking along the sterile-looking hallway cautiously Yoda was heavily dependent on the support of his walking stick. It felt strange to lose his strength so suddenly, but it was as if now, that he had fulfilled his destiny, the Force had no uses for him anymore. Well. He had served the Light for nine hundred years already. Perhaps it really was time to rest. The guards snapped to attention when they became aware of him and he smiled at them faintly. One of them respectfully opened the door for him.
Entering the room beyond Yoda was surprised to see Kell stand at the window. He wore a simple shirt and pants, and apparently the medical personnel had decided that his hair needed trimming. It was quite shocking to see him without that trademark long mane, and instead his white hair short, but what was more astounding was that he had allowed anyone to cut it off at all. Somehow Yoda suspected that this time Kell's aquiescance had not merely been a political move. Nodding to himself in satisfaction the Jedi Master walked closer to the ancient Sith. Turning his head to look over his shoulder Kell stared at him blankly, but when Yoda was only a few paces away from where he stood he moved to the side and turned to face him fully.
"Improved your health it is?" Yoda asked quietly, as if the Sith were a shy beast that might bolt at any loud noise. Kell did not answer. Taking another step toward him the Jedi Master frowned when the other took a step back, obviously trying to keep him at a distance. "Answer me you will not?" Yoda pursed his lips thoughtfully. If that was supposed to be another show of defiance he would not allow it.
"Lord Kell, ridiculous your behaviour is. If hurt you we did apologize I do, but necessary it was still."
"Apologize?" The ancient Sith's magical voice sounded like the distant roar of a wild-fire. He shook his head slowly. "No. It is not you who has to apologize. I realize that you had my best interests in mind." There was not a single hint of sarcasm in his tone, but the faint gleam in his pale eyes was frightening. Had they pushed him over the edge?
Yoda remained where he was, pondering the situation. He touched the other's mind ever so gently and almost flinched at the sight of black chaos that prevailed there. If anything had changed he could not see it. The feelings he could pick up were mostly confusion and regret, but there was something else. "Afraid you are of the future," he stated calmly and sensed the Sith's despair leap even higher.
"There is no future for me. Or you." Alarmed, the Jedi Master sought Kell's gaze. There was a slight edge to his beautiful voice now, and a mad light was dancing in his eyes. As the ancient Sith continued softly Yoda felt his skin crawl in dread anticipation. "You should be proud of your little lessons, Master Yoda. No wonder the Jedi grew into cowards and squabbling fools during your life-time. You taught them weakness, not strength." A mirthless smile appeared on his lips. "Are you happy now that you have broken me?" Shaking his head he gave Yoda a cold glance. "There is no future, Jedi. And this galaxy should rejoice when you die, and your foolish views with you."
"Born out of hurt your words are."
Roj Kell interrupted him immediately: "Is there no truth in pain? Has the war not taught you that?" He snorted softly. "No, you do not learn anymore, do you, master." The last word was no more than a hiss.
"Save you your bitterness will not."
"I never was bitter, Yoda," Kell bit out, each word harsh and cold. "You taught me bitterness. I never was afraid. You taught me to fear. I harnessed my anger to remain calm. You took my shields away from me and now I find that I cannot stop the rage if I do not focus on my hatred for this life. Was it this you wanted to accomplish?"
Shaking his head helplessly the Jedi Master felt himself shiver with the Sith's accusations. He could sense that every word Kell had said was truly what he felt, truly how he had experienced the past days. If Yoda had indeed managed to break him he had just now returned the favor. Inclining his head gently the Jedi Master felt himself weighted down with guilt and shame, and a film of moisture slipped over his eyes in a gesture of deepest grief. He did not look up when he heard a rustle of cloth, but then he could not ignore the man kneeling before him any longer.
"You have taken everything from me and now there is nothing left for me to live for," Kell said gently, his voice making the air around them tremble with a faint, sad melody. "The only thing you could give me now is death, and I would gladly accept it."
"No." Shaking his head softly the ancient Sith closed his eyes. It was a most serene picture, the Sith Lord kneeling in front of the tiny Jedi Master, both frozen in time, waiting. Finally Roj Kell broke the silence once more, his whispered words stabbing into the Jedi's heart with deadly force. "Whatever you did, master, whatever you do, I know you meant well." His voice dropped even more. "But maybe there is no truth, as there is no light and dark."
"Worry I do, very much so," Yoda replied weakly.
"There is no need for that. Fear is my ally, Yoda, but I will take it from you, if I can."
"My people did not know a word for forgiveness. All I can offer you is respect." The Jedi Master gave the Sith a sharp look, but Roj Kell's warm smile seemed sincere. "I trust you to do what you perceive as the right thing, but not further. I want you to understand that what I propose is a truce. Is that acceptable?"
"Good!" Rising from his kneeling position the Sith Lord sighed in relief. "Then you and I are agreed. There will be no more lessons."
"Learned we both have."
"Yes." Roj Kell hesitated. "But always consider this - some things might be understood, still they are best left unsaid."
"Understand I do." Smiling up at the tall human the Jedi Master raised his brows meaningfully. "Another word for trust maybe this is. Understanding."
- Preparing the Future -
He gazed calmly at the man who sat on the floor of his barren cell in a meditative posture, apparently deep in thought. Walking closer he regarded the warrior dispassionately, a tool for his uses, and yet so much more. Suddenly the other's eyes snapped open, brilliant blue staring at him in utter surprise. Jumping up from his seat Sedriss shook his head in amazement.
"Lord Kell! I did not expect you to-" Stopping himself he frowned. "Why did you come?"
"Not for what you might fear," the ancient Sith replied smoothly. He knew what Sedriss had been fearing. That he would kill him for his failure. But things had changed.
"I will not ask how you managed to get past the guards. They told me you had been taken prisoner." It was meant as a question, but Sedriss was proud enough to make it sound like a demand. Roj Kell smiled.
"We do not have much time, that is true. I have a request."
"What request is that?"
"I said we must hurry, did I not? So you will listen and keep quiet." Nodding slowly Sedriss took a seat on the single metal bunk in one corner, gesturing for the older man to join him. Kell declined his offer with a shake of his head. "I have told you a long time ago that changes are needed. When I killed Nefta and Sa-Di back on Korriban you and Vill Goir swore to follow me without question. You have served faithfully so far and I suppose you take your promise seriously. I will not talk of failure now. We all failed, in some way or other. But I am told that this is only natural." He chuckled softly to himself. "I chose the two of you for one single reason: you are warriors, no more and no less. Your focus is true and it will stay that way to the very end. Is that not so?" Again Sedriss answered with a nod. The smile vanished from the ancient Sith Lord's lips. "I too will stay true to my word. I have promised you a new beginning and we stand at the very verge of it." He heaved a wistful sigh. "And yet we are in danger of failing again. A sacrifice is needed." Looking Sedriss straight in the eye he held the other's gaze steadily. "I ask your life, Sedriss, your future. Everything."
The younger man hesitated. Undoubtedly he had had something else in mind. Two heart-beats long neither of them stirred. Then Sedriss rose from his seat and bowed deeply toward Roj Kell.
"I made a promise and I will keep it. I trust your judgement as I have trusted you with my life."
"That is more than I deserve," the old man whispered softly. "I ask you to take up the burden I can carry no longer."
Sedriss' head came up and he studied him intently. When his eyes widened in surprise once more Kell knew that the warrior had finally realized that his master was defeated, heart and soul, and that this was the reason why he had to be the one to carry the flame further. Roj Kell did not care for pride then. Sedriss' seeing him like this would only make the man's decision easier. And he himself would not stay idie either. He would do everything he could, using any of the means still available to him, even if they were few.
"Lord Kell," he asked quietly at last. "Do you know what lies ahead?" They both knew that he wasn't talking about the fate of the galaxy.
"Will you tell me?"
When he took a step toward the warrior on impulse Roj Kell surprised himself. Laying a hand on Sedriss' right shoulder he smiled. "You know that I do not believe in facing destiny unprepared. But what is will be, Sedriss." He squeezed the other gently for reassurance and his smile deepened. "The Sith will live on, my friend, even if we do not."
"But you are still alive, you could-" Again Sedriss cut himself off, closing his eyes in sudden despair.
"I am sorry. I was speaking out of place."
"There are many things I could do, but any one of them would be wrong. That is the sacrifice I am making."
"Defend where no defense is expected," Sedriss said with a tiny smile. "You are right. We can still win."
"Victory is ours already, Sedriss. But hasty actions and foolish desires can ruin our triumph all too easily. We must not let anyone know what was gained and what lost."
"Lord Vader knows, I believe."
"Yes." Roj Kell nodded gravely. "For what he is and will be he does. A wise man." He let go of the warrior and stood back again. "I must leave you now." Pressing the palms of his hands together and holding them against his chest, he bowed toward the warrior and waited until Sedriss followed his lead. "Te han cughera en cor'dan, Sedriss. Lanjena se tage pas. May the Heart of Darkness take you in its eternal embrace and give you peace forever."
"What the hell is going on?"
Luke nearly jumped out of his skin at the roar that ripped through the silence permating the medical ward so suddenly. Turning his head he gave his father a weak smile. But the Dark Lord did not take any notice of him. Instead he strode toward the single bed now surrounded by guards and medics. The young Jedi grimaced in disdain. It was a measure of Father's nervousness that he was falling back on his old habits. And he need not worry himself.
"The patient seems to have slipped into a coma," one of the doctors explained patiently.
"How is that possible?" Anakin grated. "He was doing very well only yesterday."
"We are not sure." The man shook his head. "It is as if he is willing himself to die. There is nothing we can do safe-"
"Where is Master Yoda?"
"Resting," Luke told the bristling Dark Lord and rose from his seat. "He should be here any minute though. I have sent for him."
"What is he up to now?"
Luke suspected that his father had not meant anyone to hear that whispered question, but he did anyway. His gaze was drawn back to the man lying seemingly asleep in the bed, his aged features most serene. Luke had never faced Roj Kell in combat and neither had he had to best him at one of his infamous games. The first time he had ever laid eyes on the ancient Sith had been when the unconscious prisoner had been transferred from the Wilde Karrde to the ward. He had heard all the stories, of course, and he did not doubt that the man was dangerous, but right now he seemed peaceful enough.
"Don't trust your senses." Looking up at his father Luke noticed the worry in his icy blue eyes.
"If he wants to die, do you think we have the right to interfere?" the Jedi Knight challenged him just as quietly.
"He can certainly do whatever he likes once we are finished with him."
"Mon Mothma thinks he might be useful, although personally I doubt it very much. What are you doing!" he shouted at the medics, when he saw them rig up a life-support system.
"We can bring him out of that coma," the same medic as before announced. Father looked surprised.
"Good. Then do it. No need in wasting time."
Hovering at his father's shoulder Luke tried not to let the guards' anticipation get to him. Yet he was watching Roj Kell just as closely as anyone else, while the medics adjusted the flow of stimulants to wake him again. When his eyes snapped open suddenly he did not seem surprised in the least. In fact, a tiny smile curled around the corners of his mouth. Luke frowned.
"Welcome back," Father said drily.
"Is it 'welcome'? Really? I thought you'd be glad to be rid of me."
"My opinion does not count here, Lord Kell."
"Ah." Those pale green eyes shifted to come to rest on Luke. Holding his own the young man straightened unconsciously. "And another visitor." The Sith Lord frowned ever so slightly. "What choices have you made, young Skywalker?"
"The right ones. I hope," Luke added and cursed himself when Roj Kell laughed softly at his flushed face. He thought he had never heard a voice this beautiful, this compelling.
"Hold on to that, boy. If they were wrong, be sure not to tell anyone." Again a laugh.
"Why did you try to kill yourself?" the Jedi asked, curious, and a bit uncomfortable since he would have expected his father to ask just that. But Anakin kept strangely quiet, watching the old man cautiously. It was eerie how fast the mood changed then, as if the shadows that had assembled in the corners of the room thickened and swirled, closing in on them like hungry predators. The look Father gave him at that question would have nailed him to the wall, had he not been so intent on Kell. Luke noticed his father's disapproval, but dismissed it when he sensed an even greater fury from the ancient Sith.
"A strange question to ask," the man grated hoarsely and his eyes were blazing with a cold fire. "But maybe not so strange from one so young."
"What do you mean?" Luke had the sudden feeling that he and the old Sith were on their own then. He shifted his shoulders in some discomfort.
"What I mean is that you do not know much of life yet, little one." The words were laced thickly with contempt. "Or of the Force, for that matter. Which would be the same. You must be blind and deaf, if you cannot gather what is going on."
The gentle voice stopped them short and brought Luke back into the here and now. Turning around slightly he saw Master Yoda stand in the doorway. The old Jedi was holding everyone's attention easily, despite his small height.
"Enough indeed," Father agreed vehemently and uttered something that might have been a disgusted grunt. Luke could only stare. He felt as if he had just walked right up to a cliff, the sheer drop up front and an icy wind pushing from behind, before Yoda had called him back. If that was the power Roj Kell commanded he was very dangerous indeed. Luke shivered inwardly. Palpatine had been much easier to see through.
"Wait will have to your lessons for this one," Yoda told the ancient Sith calmly. "Ready he is not."
"But he will be," Anakin injected with equal calm. Luke could only shake his head in disbelief and confusion. And Roj Kell's silent laughter did not make it any better.
He entered the room slowly, walking as if in a trance, his predatory grace even more evident as he seemed to glide across the floor like a ghost.
"Please, take a seat," the Chief of State said softly.
Leia, seated by her side, could not but admire the cool tone in Mon Mothma's voice as the tall man came closer and sat down on the single chair that had been placed three meters in front of the two women. His pale eyes held a blank look, testimony to the sedatives and stimulants that officially had been administered to ease what Father referred to as a 'fundamental depression'. Biting her lower lip unconsciously the Princess eyed the prisoner warily. She did not believe that he was broken, although Master Yoda had confirmed her father's findings that seemed to point strongly that way. There were even rumors that Kell was going insane, but Leia could not see that happening at all. Still, she could also sense his profound despair, a vast sea of agony and confusion. Despite the turmoil that raged in his soul he kept a cool composure. His self-control was simply astounding.
"Lord Kell, we have a request."
His soft laugh rang through the air like bird's song. "A request?" he asked, his magical voice weaving an intricate web of strange echoes and a faint melody that touched Leia's heart easily.
She could see the slight hint of disapproval on Mon Mothma's face, as if the older woman was loath to give in to that enchanting voice.
"What is that?"
He spoke slowly, and the Princess thought she could detect a slur in his words. An after-effect of the drugs? Suddenly she was uncomfortably aware of the fact that they were alone with the ancient Sith, with neither Master Yoda nor Father present. Shifting in her seat Leia smiled weakly, when he gave her a sharp glance.
"Information. As Palpatine's teacher you must have been able to acquire some intimate knowledge on the Empire's -"
"Are you serious?" he interrupted her harshly. "I spent the past thirty years on Korriban, with an exception of about two months, perhaps. Sidious did not tell me anything vital. He would have been a fool to do so too."
"And a fool he was not," Mothma mused aloud and shook her head with a sigh.
No, Leia agreed quietly, that was only all too true. And neither was Roj Kell. She was still watching him, observing him through the Force carefully. The Sith Lord was pacing the invisible bars of his prison like a caged animal, she could see it all too clearly in his blank eyes. He was only waiting for a chance to break free. She shivered inwardly. That was what he valued most, his freedom. And his knowledge. Losing both was tearing him apart. Master Yoda had uttered grave concerns that he might try to take his own life, something Leia thought unbelievable. Roj Kell was a survivor, wasn't he? Again their eyes met and this time the Princess studied him more closely. He had regained most of his strength, but still the palor of his skin was alarming. It was strange how she could not stop thinking of him as a threat, even though she had never been threatened by him directly. But from what Mother had told her, and Father, Mara, Jix, and Nuron, Chi'in, Master Yoda.... She closed her eyes quickly and opened them again. He was smiling at her, a thin smile, befitting of a predator who thought his game secure. Was she prey then? What game was he playing now?
"You need not be afraid."
The whispered words brought her out of her musings with a start. "I-"
"I can feel your fear," he continued softly, his voice caressing her very soul like a sweet sigh of
"What is the meaning of this?" Mon Mothma said suddenly, frowning. When one of the guards stepped toward them though she waved him back with an impatient gesture. "This will not be necessary. Leia?"
"It is nothing," the Princess returned as calmly as she could, but kept her gaze on the man opposing
her. He had his head lowered slightly, so that his pale green eyes looked up at her from underneath white brows. Then he turned away again and his smile deepened.
"So you cannot tell us anything?" Mon Mothma asked a bit tersely.
"Not what you seek to know."
"Then of what use are you to us, Lord Kell?"
He did not answer, merely shook his head with a small, knowing smile on his lips. Leia sighed.
He hated waking up like this. It was as if part of his memory had been stolen, wrought from his control somehow, unthinkably. But unfortunately that sort of thing seemed to happen to him quite often of late. Too often for his taste. The nightmarish face meeting his tired gaze though was unexpected. His throat hurt when he said, incredibly weak:
The Noghri moved closer, hovering over him like a shadow. Roj Kell had not forgotten the Sith's offer to the Dark Lord to end his life back on Korriban. Yet he was too tired and too beaten to think of revenge. Although Master Yoda had indeed ceased trying to teach him the ancient Jedi was still relentlessly drawing him into discussions that always seemed to center around one subject: the basic rules of civilization. An intriguing subject, and yet so infuriatingly annoying. He was sick of it.
"The medics say that you are becoming unstable."
"Unstable," he echoed slowly, not quite certain what Chi'in meant.
"Yes." A rustle of clothes told him that the Noghri had moved further down the side of the bed. But he was too exhausted to follow him with his eyes. "Personally I believe that the drugs are playing havoc with your system."
"Why did you come?"
Roj Kell groaned aloud. "Why can't you all just leave me alone?"
"Did you know that Sedriss has been tried?"
"He will be executed tomorrow."
"One for the lives of five. A fair deal. He is a courageous man."
"You do not seem concerned."
"Should I mourn him?"
"Lord Vader does."
"He is making sacrifices. We all have to do that from time to time, no matter how hard it may be."
"What sacrifices did you make, Lord Kell?"
For a very long time they kept silent and Roj Kell refused to even think about the Noghri's question. No way. Not again. Suddenly he heard a faint sigh and Chi'n moved once more.
"Do you remember the thrill of the hunt?"
"When your mind is focused solely on the chase, on the prey, and nothing else matters. That is what I mean."
"Can you feel it now?"
"No," he answered wistfully, "not anymore."
"Is that a sacrifice then?" Chi'in's dark eyes turned on him again. "Lord Kell?"
"You think I am a hunter?"
"Everyone seems to believe so. They are afraid."
"If you are no hunter, what are you then? Hunted?"
"More he is than that," a new voice told him softly.
"Master Yoda." Turning around Chi'in bowed respectfully.
"Heard I have that feel well you do not."
"You should know," Kell replied weakly.
He could not see the Jedi Master, but he could sense him well enough. Gritting his teeth he closed his eyes again. It would seem that his torment had not ended yet. He wondered briefly if it ever would.
"I do not like the way you think about life, Lord Kell," Chi'in announced suddenly. "Life is not all about sacrifices. It is about something else entirely."
"I know what life is about," the ancient Sith replied harshly. "But your so-called 'civilization' does not allow anyone to live that way."
"What do you mean?"
"You claim that your friends think me a predator, but that is only their own perception. Is it my fault
when they count themselves as prey and are too afraid to move?"
"Admit you must that some truth there is to that belief."
"No. I am no soul-hunter. You know what I believe in."
"And whoever does not believe that way gets pushed aside?" Chi'in asked calmly.
"If the balance is not threatened then there is no problem."
"Innocent you are still. Lord Kell, and an idealist." The Jedi Master heaved a tiny sigh. "But alone you
are with your view."
"Leave me alone then too," Kell snapped, annoyed. He felt dizzy and cold sweat covered his entire body. He remembered Chi'in's diagnosis and cursed quietly. When Yoda had said he would ask the medics to heal him faster he had not included this sort of healing in his calculations. But he was still unable to embrace the Force fully without assistance, another fact that made the reaction of the Princess and the Chief of State all the more ridiculous. What were they afraid of? He hated feeling this helpless and at the same time so misunderstood. And he had to admit that the Jedi Master could not have found a harsher punishment for him. "You keep on telling me who I am and what I want. I wonder why?"
"Because you do not know yourself," the Noghri explained coldly, his voice harsh. "If you did, we would have no need for interpretations. You are not an easy man to read or grasp."
"Moved you have beyond need," Yoda commented, cutting Chi'in short. "Fight Lord Kell does still for his dreams."
"In what way?"
"I have told Master Yoda that there is no future for either of us. You know that, Chi'in, and Lord Vader does too." Heaving a deep breath the ancient Sith smiled a bit. "Yet there is a chance for something to live on, a remnant of what was. I remember being a hunter, a guardian, a guide and a teacher. But I have always lived on the edge and I cannot go beyond that. Master Yoda went the other way."
"Affect you can change only from within," the Jedi Master continued softly. "But balance has to exist for you to succeed first."
"Balance, yes," Kell mused. "But if everyone struggles to survive, with nothing to believe in or hold on to your voice will remain unheard, your actions unnoticed. If chaos prevails you must act to guide, you must see the patterns to react. You cannot hide."
"But inner balance will protect you against the chaos itself," the Noghri injected suddenly.
"I never said you should not be balanced. I merely stated that if your surroundings are not, then you cannot act passively, or else everyone will roll over you."
"If you are strong enough they will stumble."
"Too much effort, Chi'in, and very risky. There might be times when such action is necessary, but you must weight the sacrifice against the outcome. That is why lessons on survival have to come first. Learn to survive and you will gain confidence, and therefore balance."
"What if your surroundings have achieved balance?"
"Then they will be ready to see and hear."
"Astounding." The Jedi Master's voice had taken on an incredulous tone. He had completely forgotten that Yoda was still listening. Closing his eyes to rest Roj Kell let the silence pass. Being an idealist did not mean being blind to reality. It just meant hanging on to one's believes despite the odds and despite circumstances. "Then want you do what?" Yoda asked softly.
"Fear is my ally, and your enemy. Accept the truth and you will find the courage to face life."
"Very cryptic, Lord Kell," Chi'in almost sneered. "And you have proven once more that you are far from realistic. Let's face it. Without fear, there would be no rules. People ar not that smart or that selfless. Or do you claim that this is why understanding balance is necessary?"
"Not necessary. Vital."
"Too much to ask," Yoda sighed. "Far too much."
Fore a very long time the three of them were very still, each pondering what had been said, spinning the thread further. Maybe he was stubborn, and maybe he was not realistic. But this was what he believed, what he wanted and what he had been fighting for all his life. Maybe they understood. But they did not believe.
"Master Yoda," Chi'in said suddenly. "I have talked to the Dark Lord at length. He agrees to my plans."
"Then leave you will?"
"Yes. As fast as possible. Sedriss' death symbolizes the death of the Sith. People will forget about us, and we will be able to move more freely then, without the past at our backs."
"Always with you will be the past, Chi'in. Know that you must."
"You would not believe how short a memory people have," the Noghri replied drily. "I agree though. Should things not turn out the way Lord Vader plans we might be in trouble."
"Do not make the mistake the Jedi made," Kell injected suddenly, feeling sick of his own sullen silence. He was being childish. "Honor the customs of the people and keep yourselves invisible."
"Survive the guardians will not, if enlist you do not recruits," Yoda noted coolly, and the Sith could sense his disapproval.
"No way. If you make the Jedi a symbol for peace again people will lose their independence. The government should rule, not the Jedi. You told me that yourself," Kell added with a smile
"But he is right too," Chi'n mused aloud. "How are we supposed to increase our numbers?"
"Not by announcing your presence to those who cannot hear anyway. You will find a way, Chi'in. I am
fully confident in your abilities."
"Thank you, Lord Kell," the short alien said just a bit mockingly.
"A new beginning," Yoda sighed. "Loath I am to give up responsibility, but agree I do. Manage you will, Chi'in."
"I am honored, Master Yoda. I will not disappoint you. The Jedi will live on, as will the Sith. The true Jedi, the true Sith, will be one."
"Nate Jedi gha Sit. There is no difference," Roj Kell told the Noghri calmly. "Not anymore. My people are dead. The Jedi are all that is left."
"You are right. But still, it will be difficult to start anew. Yet I have learned a lot. And I would value your input, from both of you."
"Ask you must Anakin," Yoda explained. "The future he is. The past we are. Learn you can nothing new here. Know you do already what we do."
Kell smiled. It was true. While Chi'in would be the teacher for the next generation, no, the new order of guardians, the Dark Lord would guide him, as he had over the past decades. In that the ancient Sith could be confident that a true guardian would be protecting a true leader. Both Vader and Chi'in were masters of the Force, both were balanced and perceptive. They were a good team and they would manage. Definitely.
Yoda gave the Noghri a pensive look. When he had first met Chi'n, introduced to him through Wrenga Jixton here on Coruscant, he had already felt that the warrior was not what the Jedi commonly saw as a Sith. There had been no darkness in his presence, no anger, only calmness and peace. That was what made Chi'n so unpredictable and dangerous. No, not dangerous. There was no threat here, never had been. It was unbelievable that Anakin had managed to raise such a competent apprentice in such a dark time. Unconsciously his eyes sought the old man who lay shivering underneath white covers on an infirmary bed. Roj Kell was gradually returning to his old self, and his recovery posed a far greater danger than the new beginning Yoda feared so much.
"Nuron will stay here," Chi'n said and nodded to himself.
"Another game," Roj Kell chuckled softly.
"What do you mean?"
"Politics, Chi'in. The fact that Lord Vader and his children will stay here will put the government at ease. And Lord Vader will be able to keep an eye on what Mon Mothma is doing. Clever. He so hates losing control. It is almost endearing."
The Jedi Master smiled at the banter between Kell and the Noghri. Chi'in hated deception, while to the ancient Sith it was just normal. Still, this discussion was not really serious. While he might resent it Chi'in accepted this skill in other people, especially in Anakin. And Kell remembered all too well the times when deception and manipulation had been totally unknown to him. That Yoda had meant with his innocence and idealism. It was that he had tried to uncover, yet he was well aware of the fact that sometimes the heart of darkness was not the light, no matter how deep you buried into that darkness. He shook his head slowly. All this depended on one's point of view. He might think that way, but Roj Kell would only laugh at him for it. Although he understood the Jedi Master's reasoning his own logic would supply another explanation, a much harsher one.
As he had told Chi'n, if something threatened the balance it needed to be destroyed. Like Sedriss. The Sith warrior had accepted his fate, and Chi'in and Anakin, as well as the others who knew him, would mourn him properly. Not so Roj Kell. To him everyone was part of the Force, nothing special, as he himself did not view himself as special. That was what made him so dangerous and his behaviour so enraging. Unfortunately this was exactly what Yoda had found buried underneath three thousand years of darkness. Not a very encouraging discovery. If this was the essence of the Force... No, ideals had to remain.
He looked up to meet the Noghri's black eyes. "Yes."
"I bid you farewell. May the Force be with you." Chi'in bowed sharply and raised his head to glance at
Roj Kell. "Lord Kell?"
There was no answer. Some might call this eccentric behaviour, but to Yoda it was plain impolite. Still, he could hardly force the ancient Sith to be courteous. Seemingly taking no affront at all Chi'in left silently and closed the door behind him. Yoda frowned. Well. It was a long way ahead of them.
- The Road to Take -
Ten months later
The rooms were only sparsely decorated, with very little furniture and in turn filled with that much more light and even more silence. When Anakin Skywalker stepped onto the cool stone tiles that made up the floor in the hallway he perceived that silence to be less vibrant than usual. It was astounding how much tension Yoda and Kell could build up just by being in the same room. But today that tension was almost non-existent. The Dark Lord had thought it a stupid idea to have the two of them share an apartment, but Yoda had insisted. He had claimed that Kell was still unstable and needed to be supervised. Not that Anakin disagreed. Yet he would have preferred something else, having the old man exiled or something. Although that probably would have been a useless effort anyway.
Anakin walked into the common room that seperated the Jedi Master's quarters from that of his Sith counterpart quietly, unsure of what to make of the silence. The rays of the setting sun that fell through the windows were painting the high-ceilinged chamber's bare white walls in a deep red and orange, but that beautiful picture was completely lost on Anakin as he took in the tableau spread out before him. On a simple grass mattress Yoda was seated in the middle of the barren room, his chin lowered to his chest, his ears drooping and his eyes closed. Somehow the frailty of his aged body had never before been that visible. A few paces to his right Roj Kell was kneeling on the floor, his hands placed lightly on his thighs, pale green eyes watching the Jedi Master intensely.
"What is going on?" the Dark Lord asked softly, feeling his heart ache with sudden fear.
"He is dying."
Anakin would have expected a triumphant edge to the ancient Sith Lord's words, but instead there was only weariness in Roj Kell's magical voice. Rising from his place the old man turned away and stepped to the windows, where he stopped tiredly and looked out to watch the sun set over the Menarai mountains. Before he joined him Anakin threw a doubtful glance at Yoda, who had not stirred at all.
"He is old, very old. What did you expect? That he would live forever?"
"Well, I thought that the bond would work both ways. Will you die with him?"
Roj Kell looked at him with an amused smile on his lips. "Would you like me to?" Then he shrugged easily. "I have no idea. Only time will tell, I assume."
The voice was very soft and almost too low to hear. To Anakin's surprise Kell was by Yoda's side in the matter of a heart-beat and dropped down next to the tiny alien wordlessly.
"Anakin, you too, come to me."
Taking a place next to Kell Anakin watched Yoda with some concern. He had opened his eyes and it was shocking to see that they had lost their gleam and instead were dull and tired.
"Anakin, a new order you have founded," the Jedi Master sighed. "Time it is for a new beginning. Time for me it is to leave."
Anakin bit his lower lip hard. "I guess that time comes for all of us, but still, I would rather have you stay."
At his side Roj Kell was rolling his eyes in exasperation. "You make it sound like a sacrifice. This is ridiculous."
"And is it not a sacrifice? Understand you should of all people, Lord Kell," Yoda countered calmly.
"You are pathetic," the ancient Sith snapped, his eyes narrowed into mere slits, before he rose and turned to leave and vanish into his own quarters. Anakin watched him go, his mouth hanging open.
"What is it with him?"
"Unused he is to being exposed like this," the Jedi Master replied quietly and shook his head.
Then Anakin got it: "He can feel you dying..."
Shuddering inwardly the Dark Lord turned back to face the small alien. "What will happen to him once you are gone?"
"Let him go you must, Anakin. Decide he will for himself."
"I am not sure if I can handle him though."
"Unnecessary that will be. Trust me you must in this. Now to leave I ask you."
"No! I won't leave you alone!"
"Alone I have been for a long time, Anakin. Your concern, welcome it is, but unnecessary."
"I -," the Dark Lord hesitated. Yoda had always been more of a curse than a blessing to him, but still... "I will miss you. May the Force be with you, Master Yoda."
"And with you," the tiny alien replied and smiled.
Leaning in the doorway Roj Kell watched the Jedi Master impassively. It was unsettling to sense him deteriorate at such a fast rate, to feel his mind slip away and his body grow into the cold embrace of death. Never before had he been faced with this concept of mortality and the subsequent fear of ceasing to be. He had never been afraid to die, had not even considered the possible end of his own existence, which had not distinguished between life and death anway. To him his mind had always been the most precious thing he possessed. Now though Kell felt strangely vulnerable and afraid. Cursing the Jedi Master's weakness quietly he stepped into the room again, but kept a distance. Vader had left a few minutes before, and theoretically they were all alone now again. Except for the shadows. Except for the dead. Raising his head Roj Kell watched them edge closer and smiled in remembrance.
"I have always thought that the past is a most treacherous companion," he said.
Yoda looked up at him, his dark eyes calm. "The reason it is, why most individuals suppress they do the bad memories and hold close the good ones." His voice was weak and yet behind that weakness his wisdom formed a shield of unfaltering strength. Impressive.
Kell took a step toward him, curious. "Yet that is just another shield to protect themselves from reality. Don't you think?"
"Yes. But one's personal reality, not the same it is as everyone else's."
"You realize that this is complete nonsense, don't you?"
The Jedi Master shrugged. "Pretend to have your perspective I do not, but most people not live they do that long, Lord Kell. Why make life harder for themselves?"
"Those words out of your mouth.... Astounding."
"If responsibility it is you mean, agree I do. But that too is a choice to make everyone to decide has for themselves. Measure you cannot everyone against yourself."
"I see. So just because I am something of an exception I cannot understand real life, as you call it?"
"Know your heart I do," Yoda answered with a wry smile. "Understand you do not."
"Ah, the old question about survival and the subsequent need for rules."
Silence fell again and Yoda could sense the ancient Sith tense gradually. Sweat began pouring down his forehead with the effort of fighting the inevitable. For a moment the Jedi Master found himself pitying the old man. To be exposed to someone else's mind like that, with no privacy at all, had to be excrutiating, and especially for Roj Kell. The Sith had always kept a jealous watch over his mind and emotions, knowing full well that if he remained unattached he would gain the perspective that would allow him to survive absolutely anything. Now those shields had been taken from him, by his formerly greatest enemy, of all people. The past months had been hard on both of them, but the Jedi Master was confident that he had managed to make Kell see some of the truths he had ignored so far.
Breathing evenly Yoda shook off those thoughts to seek his own solitude. He had his eyes closed and turned his mind inward, leaving everything behind. Beyond what the eye could see lay a completely different world that encompassed everything, all of one's senses and more. It was dizzying and confusing. But the Jedi Master resolved to stay calm. In the back of his awareness he could sense another presence, much darker than what surrounded them both. The presence hesitated to come closer. Instead it kept its distance, but Yoda could feel the agitation that seemed to fill it to bursting. He was not certain what would become of the ancient Sith, yet he knew that he must let go. Suddenly something brushed past his mind gently. He was a bit surprised when he realized that it was Roj Kell, who was bolstering his grip on the Force.
Ghena luz ghi motha junatha. The sound of that voice inside his own mind was overwhelming. It flowed like a great river, clearing the way for him, easing away all uncertainty. Trust the Force, the ancient Sith whispered. Yoda felt himself smile. Always, he answered and let go.
Jerking upright Luke Skywalker gasped loudly. The disturbance he had felt had seemed so familiar... He flailed around, disorientated, until he hit something warm and soft. Nuron's golden eyes snapped open and narrowed suspiciously. She raised her head slowly to look at him.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Didn't you feel that?" Luke looked down at her, his eyes wide with disbelieving shock. It could not be, could it?
"On Korriban we had that about every second day. What was it?"
At first he found himself gaping at her, but then he remembered that Korriban had been like a training camp, and such immense outbursts of Force use probably seen as completely normal occurence. But this had felt so... final.
"I don't know, but it was very powerful." He shivered slightly. "I feel strange, as if something had left..."
Nuron sat up. "You mean someone died?"
"I am not sure."
"Why don't you find out then?"
"You are right, of course." Concentrating deeply the Jedi Knight was searching the Force for the familiar presences of his father, whom he found pretty soon, and as disturbed as he felt, his sister, who seemed to be just waking up, and no one else. Since Chi'in had left Coruscant with his remaining students months ago that should leave Master Yoda and Roj Kell unaccounted for. Apparently Nuron had come to the same conclusion. Growling softly she rose and went to dress.
"What are we going to do?" she asked calmly, and pulled a shirt over her head.
"Find out what has happened."
Twenty minutes later the pair had entered the hallway that would lead them to the Jedi Master's quarters, but halfway there they were intercepted by Mon Mothma and Anakin Skywalker. The former Alliance leader and present Chief of State wore a solemn expression on her face, while the Dark Lord only seemed resigned. Luke gave the two of them a questioning glance.
"What is it?"
"Master Yoda has died," Mon Mothma told them with a sigh.
"He is dead?" the young Jedi exclaimed. "Dead? Master Yoda?"
At his side Nuron clasped a hand around her lightsaber handle grimly. "Where is Lord Kell?"
"He has got nothing to do with this," Anakin explained.
"Are you certain? And where is he now?"
"I have no idea,"
The day had passed like a great river, running from dawn to dusk in one flow, unwavering, ever-present, just as the Force itself. Peaceful, serene, infinite. Still, the Jedi Master's death had left a great void that Roj Kell had never realized was there in the first place. Ever since they had bonded on Korriban, the day when Kell had surrendered at last to the Jedi and given up a great part of his own desires, Yoda had tried to teach him about the rules that defined a community. What made them necessary, how they affected a guardian. Bit by bit he had made the ancient Sith realize that he had indeed wasted his life. Three thousand years of failure. It was depressing. With his will to survive broken already it had become almost too much to handle. And yet Yoda had given him some hope, showing him that he could still learn. But what then? If he drew the line from the very beginning to the point he stood now he had just one choice. To return to where he had come from.
Raising his head against the blinding glare of the setting sun Roj Kell wiped a hand over his forehead to get rid of the moisture that had accumulated there. The icy air that filled his lungs stung with frosty blades as he took a deep breath. He turned to look over his shoulder, down into the valley he had left behind hours ago. Already mist was rising from the forests, reaching skyward to become one with the clouds overhead. But yet a blanket of glorious daylight prevented that dark union. Not for much longer though. The Menarai Mountains were just as beautiful as he had always imagined them to be and today he had finally managed to go and see them up close, not from a distance, as he used to. Not only the sight took his breath away though. He could feel his age more clearly now than just ten years ago. Translated into a normal human age-span he was well into his eighties and he knew that the Force would not support him forever. It was strange, but Yoda's departure had been more frightening than any danger he had ever faced. Shaking his head, his long, white hair already stiff with the cold, he took another, deep breath. Up ahead the pathway led onto the high mesa, its fresh green fighting a losing battle against the advancing snow that traveled down from the mountain tops to claim the land that lay helplessly at the foot of the great slopes. Something caught his eye in the distance.
Walking onward Roj Kell took his time. Undoubtedly quite a lot of people would be looking for him now and it was possible that they might even find him. But he did not care. All he wanted was some solitude. A harsh wind blew over the great plateau, trying to bring him down, pulling at him brutally. He paused, regaining some strength, and cursed his aching muscles. But he was almost there. Slowly he walked closer to the great slab of stone that had been worn down by being exposed to the elements. It must have been gigantic once and then Kell realized that it had become victim to a landslide only recently. His eyes traveled up the side of the mountain, trying to find its original perch. But time had left no traces. Picking his way carefully he stepped closer. There were depressions set into the smooth stone, undoubtedly scripture of some kind, but what had been written was not readable any more. He reached out to touch the cold surface carefully, his hands slipping into the cuts, that had been hacked into the stone, in an effort to uncover the meaning of the words. Walking the length of the slab Kell began to smile. In the end he looked up and shook his head. Whoever had erected that monument had done so out of powerful emotions. So powerful, that some of them lingered on. It tasted of a deep devotion and unfaltering love, a strong belief in the light and something more. The memorial's message was just as simple and beautiful, a gigantic tombstone for a hero long forgotten, and of a ballad unsung.
Very suddenly tears were flowing down Kell's cheeks like tiny drops of liquid fire in the orange light of the sunset, and his pale eyes were white-hot embers in the glowing ashes that seemed to cover his face as the shadows of the night advanced gradually. His gaze was fixed straight ahead, but what he saw could not be found on any map of this galaxy. In front of his inner eye he could make out a tall woman facing him proudly, her dark brown eyes shining with an inner light, so full of deepest understanding and fierce determination. Belana, he called softly, wishing that she could hear him somehow.
In his darkest hour she had been there for him, giving him the strength to go on. He needed her now, desperately so, his loneliness becoming too much to bear, dragging him down mercilessly. Dropping to his knees he barked a mirthless laugh, recalling all the times he had wished his bondage to the Force to end, to be truly free again, to resume his endless wanderings without obligations or worries. Back then acquiring knowledge had been his sole purpose of existence. Now not even that was left for him. For a long time he remained unmoving, letting the icy cold seep into his unresisting body to drive the painful memories away. In the end he rose on slightly numb legs, with the night already falling over the mountains to invade the valleys below. Maybe his coming here was a sign of some sort. That it was indeed time to let go of the past. Yoda had told the Dark Lord that a new beginning was needed and he had probably been right. But Roj Kell was the past, always had been, in a way. He smiled to himself. To the future all things lay in the past, but then, the future itself was nothing but an extension of the past, when all was said and done.
Time to move on.
Raising his head he started at the sight of the shimmering figure that had appeared just a few paces away, its bluish glow seeming almost fragile against the harsh black of the night. At first he could not believe his eyes, but Belana's smile was all the confirmation he needed that she was really there. Her dark eyes were sparkling with a merry light and what he could sense from her was a feeling of profound happiness. Watching her approach he kept very still, overwhelmed by her presence and her emotions, that were enveloping him in a wild storm of light and fire. When at last she was standing so close that he could almost sense her body again, smell the scent of her dark hair and her soft skin, he closed his eyes in denial. This could not be true.
"But it is true," she told him softly. "All you have to do is follow your heart for once."
Drawing the palm of her right hand over the side of his face she fell silent again. He was trembling under her touch, recapturing their last night together, her death, everything. Belana wiped his tears away gently, and he could sense her compassion like a warm caress that melted his heart completely, to set him free at last. Wrapping her luminous arms around his neck she drew him into a tender embrace, a gesture of forgiveness and deepest affection that he had missed for so long.
"Balance is not only between darkness and light and strength and weakness," she explained, "but also between the heart and the soul, mind and body." Belana paused to look up into his eyes, then shook her head with a smile. "That is what you could never grasp."
"I have come full circle, haven't I?"
"Yes. But now you have found your way, and you must walk it to the end. With me." Her nose dubbed his earlobe playfully and he could feel her smile widen. Clearing his throat he gave a disbelieving laugh. But then he sombered again.
"Well, since you put it like that..."
When her lips closed over his mouth he felt her fire melt away the cold of the night. He was only dimly aware of the mountains and forests falling away in the distance, all he could see was her light. This was what he had missed, and what he had longed for. To be complete again, one with the Force, and with her.