By Elina Trevisan
Notes: This was written for the Bioware Bang challenge on livejournal. It takes place during the latter part of the Mandalorian Wars, and features what I consider to be the "main four" characters of that period. It also introduces my idea of the true Sith, which was developed long before TOR was announced. After a great deal of deliberation, I chose to continue to ignore TOR canon and go with what I had. It does match with the KOTOR comics, however. While there are occasional references to the events and characters from the comics, you don't need to have read them to understand this.
As far as warnings are concerned, this contains some violence in a later chapter, but nothing graphic.
As always, I do not own Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or its characters. I also do not own "Savior", the song by 30 Seconds to Mars, which was used as the title of this fanfic.
Chapter 1: The Archive Unit
"How many Mandalorians are in here?" Mala asked, looking around at the entrance to the cave-like structure. From the outside, she had assumed it to be a natural construction; caves were common in this area. As soon as she entered, however, all of those assumptions were dashed. Though there were obviously thousands of years of wear, the entrance hall still looked like a hall. It puzzled her somewhat, as there were no indications that this planet had ever supported any form of sapient life.
"We can't be sure," the young Jedi that was currently serving as her aide said. What was his name? Rath?
"Can we get an estimate, Commander Rath?"
"Somewhere between ten and twenty. Wouldn't it be better to simply seal off these caves, rather than chasing them down?"
"We have no way of knowing how many exits there might be. One of Cassus Fett's top lieutenants is in here, and I don't want him escaping. Also, I'd rather not turn this whole zone into a radioactive crater. That feels a bit excessive, even to me." She smirked at him, though she knew he couldn't see the gesture beneath her mask. The vocal modulator in her mask conveyed her tone, however, even as it changed it to a masculine tenor.
One of the techs approached them, and she turned her attention to him. "It's no good, general. Whatever these walls are lined with is blocking our signals."
"Well, at least that probably means that the Mandalorians can't call for reinforcements." The thought of stumbling in there blind was not appealing to her. "Rath, gather all of the Jedi to me. If the techs can't get us a layout, it's up to us."
The young Knight bowed. "Yes, master."
Within minutes, all of the Jedi had were kneeling in a circle and were attempting to use the Force to discern the maze of passages. The rock that blocked off the tech's signals apparently had the same effect on their senses, and Mala wondered if she could take a sample to study. Something like this could prove very useful.
Despite the interference of the stone, they soon had a basic layout of the ruined structure, as well as the location that the Mandalorians had retreated to. As Mala stood, one of the Jedi spoke up.
"Master," he said, "I don't like this place."
Another Jedi nodded. "I agree, master. There's a strong Dark Side presence here."
"I noticed," Revan agreed. "But we have all felt the presence of the Dark Side before, and none of us have succumbed. We'll be fine. No matter what the Jedi council may think of us." A few of the Jedi smiled at this. "Now, shall we take care of a few Mandalorians?"
As they progressed through the caves, they found that the map they had constructed from their Force excursion was incomplete. Numerous passages that branched off of their route were unmapped, and Mala resisted the urge to go down and explore them. She'd never seen ruins like these, with their high, curved arches and snaking carvings. She would have to send an excavation team through them after they had cleared the Mandalorians.
All of the Jedi froze as they approached one of these unmapped corridors. Mala turned and stared at it. She could almost see the dark energy pouring out of it.
One of the squad commanders turned to her. "Is something wrong, sir?"
"Master," Rath muttered.
"I sense it." She glanced around at the Jedi with her. She suddenly wished that one of her regular circle of advisors could be with her. Her old master, in particular, would be very comforting. Unfortunately, Dira had been requested aboard the Ordinance. Mala's childhood friend, Halae, was commanding her for now. Alek (or Malak, as he called himself ever since getting those ridiculous head tattoos) had returned to Coruscant to testify in the trial of the Mandalorian scientist, Demagol. Any of those three would know what to say.
She was about to tell everyone to move on, when she felt a sudden prompting to go down the corridor. Dira had taught her to always follow the will of the Force, no matter where it led.
"Rath," she said. "With me. Everyone else, continue on."
"Master?" Rath asked.
"Follow your orders. There's something down here, and I'd rather not have it behind us."
Mala nodded to the squad leaders, and the rest of the group continued on. As they progressed down the corridor, the Dark Side presence grew stronger. She had, in her time in the archives on Dantooine and in various ancient ruins and battlefields, sensed the presence of the Dark Side a number of times. This was nothing like that. The dark energy plucked at her mind, bringing images of death and destruction to her recollection. There was something down that corridor, something dangerous.
Rath suddenly doubled over, leaning against a wall, and began to retch. Mala waited until his spasms subsided, then stepped up beside him. "Are you going to be able to continue?"
He hesitated for a moment before answering, which provided all of the answer that she needed. "I shall be fine in a moment, master."
She shook her head. "If you can't focus, you're no good to me. Go back and rendezvous with the rest of the group. If you receive no word from me in a half hour, attempt to raise me on the comm, but don't follow." She hesitated. This place was probably the first known ruins of a previously unknown civilization. To damage them would be a terrible crime to her archivist's soul. "If you can't raise me, finish the mission and get out of here. Then seal off the caves and bomb it from orbit."
"Are you sure?"
"Do you want whatever is in here to get out?"
"Good. Then do as you're told. I'll deal with this, and then I'll see if I can rejoin you."
"Yes, master. Just... promise that you won't take any unnecessary risks."
She smiled. "Of course."
He nodded and turned around, leaning on the wall for support as he walked. Mala continued on. The corridor branched in several places, but it was always easy to know which way to go. The Dark Side led her on.
She finally entered a large room. The ceilings of this room were far taller than the halls had been, and it bore claw-like spires along the side walls. The far wall had two sets of shelves on either side of a large console with a red crystal. Light fixtures on the ceiling were directed at the crystal.
She stepped up to the shelves and looked at the tomes that were lined there. They were books of metal plates, bound together by rings. The years had degraded the metal somewhat, but not much. She picked one up and looked inside, studying the curling script written within. She had never seen it before, and decided to send Dira some scans when she got back to the Swiftsure. She placed as many of the volumes as she could into her bag, then moved to study the console.
The crystal seemed to be the main control mechanism, though she had no idea how it could work. It also felt like the center of the Dark Side energy in this place. Should she destroy it? That might put an end to the threat. Then again, it might be containing something that would then be released. She wished she had more time to study the console.
She stepped in front of the crystal. "Well," she muttered. "Vrook always said I was impetuous." She placed her hands on the crystal.
The lights shot on, and Mala could feel the Dark Side energy contract around her. She was unable to breathe for a moment, as the energy squeezed her lungs. The feeling dissipated as the lights brightened to blinding levels. She shut her eyes, but the light burned at her through her lids. This only lasted for a second, however, as the lights dimmed again. There was a semi-transparent figure now standing above the console. Its skin was red-tanned, its figure thin, its hair fair and flaxen. It stared down at her with dark eyes.
It opened its mouth and a soft, hissing language began to pour out. Mala was used to relying on the Force to understand languages that she had never faced before, though it never before had worked on computers. Now, however, she could feel the intent of the words as if it was a real person. That explained why the computer still worked after thousands of years: it was a Force projection, much like a holocron.
"This archive unit has not been activated for 2,393 solar revolution cycles," it said. "And you are not Sithras. Your life-form is similar to the Zhell of Notron, but there are genetic differences. State your query."
She recognized Zhell and Notron as referring to the early humans on Coruscant, but she had never heard of the Sithras before.
Mala stepped back from the console to better view the figure. If it was Force-based, would it understand her? There was only one way to find out. "I am General Revan, commander of the Jedi Expeditionary Task Force. What is the purpose of this unit?"
The figure spoke. "This unit is unable to process your speech. Technological interference is detected. This problem will be corrected."
Mala jerked back as a hot pain seared her throat, and she heard an electric spark from within her mask. She pulled it off and saw that the voice modulator had been scorched into a twisted lump of metal. She raised one hand to the burn that it had left and healed it as best she could. The Dark Side presence made it difficult, but she was able to ease the pain, and she doubted it would scar. She stared at the figure. What kind of computer used Force projections and had the ability to do something like that? She swallowed deeply and repeated her introduction, now in her natural voice.
"Greetings, Revan. This is an archive unit, left behind by the Order of Darth to aid any remaining Sithras that did not receive retreat coordinates. This unit also serves to aid any lesser life-forms in improvement, allowing them to gain knowledge of Sithras culture and history and learn from it. If you wish to learn of this culture, you may make inquiries."
Mala's childhood, spent for so long in the archives of the Jedi enclave on Dantooine, had taught her nothing of these Sithras, whoever they were. She would love nothing more than to spend hours learning from this computer, but she knew that she didn't have the time. Rath had most likely reached the rest of their group by now, and her clock was ticking.
"I'm afraid I don't have the time to learn as much as I would like. You said that this unit was left by the Sithras. Who are they?"
"The Sithras, as a discrete group, first emerged after the war of-"
"Could you be more brief? I don't have time for a full history lesson."
"The Sithras are a sub-race of the larger Sith population." Mala's blood ran cold. "They are characterized by their browner skin, fair hair, dark eyes, and height. They were created through centuries of crossbreeding with a very specific group of Zhell, as well as various slave races."
"Did you say Sith?"
"Yes. Is your hearing damaged in some form?"
"No," she said faintly. Her mind was racing. She knew that the Sith had once been a race, of course. She also knew that they had bred with humans, but she had never heard of these Sithras. "You said that the Sith were retreating. Retreating from what?
She waited a moment, hoping that the unit would elaborate, but it did not. "I'm afraid that you'll need to be more specific."
"The Sithras are a proud race which held to the old ideals of power and change. The Sithras way of life was under threat from a growing movement of new ideology which discouraged the challenging of power, instead encouraging individuals to remain withing their caste and accept their position. Rather than face this movement in a frontal attack, the Sithras chose to retreat to the ends of the known galaxy to gain strength until they could attack more securely."
"Explain more of this Sithras ideology."
"The Sithras believe in power through change. While stability has its advantages, it also leads to stagnation. Without allowing the strong to rise up and challenge the current authority, there is no way to ensure that the strong rule. If challengers are allowed to rise and attempt to take power, then a society is strengthened. The weak are killed and eliminated from the gene pool, and the strong are able to lead."
"That sounds like anarchy."
"It is the duty of those in power to control those under their reign. Leaders are interchangeable, and one is capable of taking over directly from another. Thus, order is retained."
"I suppose it's a good thing the Sith were wiped out," Mala muttered to herself.
"You are incorrect."
Mala's brow furrowed. "What?"
"The Sithras remain."
"No. No, that's not possible. The last of the Sith were wiped out in a war."
"This unit received communications from the Order of Darth only fifteen planetary revolutions ago. The probability of the entire Sithras population, a group of approximately three billion, being killed in a war in that period of time is incredibly small."
"Surely there's a delay between a message being sent and received."
"You are assuming that Sithras communications are signal-based, which would take time to travel the light years in distance. Sithras communications are Force-based, allowing a message to be sent and received at the same moment. There is no time delay."
All of Mala's ill feelings began to make sense to her now. "Are you saying that there are a group of ancient Sith sitting somewhere in the Unknown Regions, capable of instant communication with our part of the galaxy?"
"If you choose to identify the Sithras people under the general term of 'Sith', then yes."
This was a disaster. She had to warn the senate, the Jedi, everyone. But she had to know more. "What... what are you? How was this terminal created? How is it still functioning, after all these years? How do you understand my language?"
"This unit is a Force-based intelligence simulation and knowledge repository. Reliance on mechanical or electrical parts which are subject to degradation were kept to a minimum to ensure a long life. This unit also bears the physical appearance and abilities of Hasheth Sithrun Ashtaltha Pisrath, an enemy of the Darth Trishlasa. He was sentenced to computer integration after capture."
"What does that mean, 'computer integration'?"
"His Force essence was harnessed and placed within the control crystal of this unit."
"So he was killed?"
"No. In death, one's Force essence is freed. While Hasheth Sithrun Ashtaltha Pisrath's body was destroyed, his essence is still bound within this computer."
Mala swallowed deeply. She'd read theoretical discussions that mentioned the trapping of a being's life energy within a computer, and she had long suspected that it was possible. It was an entirely different matter to be faced with the enslaved soul of a dead man. "What did this man do to deserve this punishment?"
"He angered the Darth Trishlasa, as this unit has already stated. Is there a problem with your short-term memory?"
"I was wondering what he did to anger this Trishlasa person."
"This unit does not know. Do you have further inquiries?"
"Yes, of course." She took a moment to order her thoughts, only to be interrupted by the buzzing of her comm.
"General Revan," the orange squad leader's voice issued from the device.
"What?" she snapped. She took a deep breath and spoke again, more calmly. "I mean, Revan here. What is it?"
"Is that you, General?" Her brows furrowed. The signal was degraded by the stone's unique properties, but her voice must surely have still been recognizable.
"Yes, of course it is."
"It's just... you sound like a woman. Sir."
Mala looked at the mask in her hand. She'd forgotten about that. "Ah. My mask's voice projector is malfunctioning. It's altering my voice. Is this the half-hour check-in?"
"Y-yes, sir. This is very disconcerting, sir."
Mala rolled her eyes. "Focus, Commander."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. We're close to the Mandalorians, but they retreated farther into the caves. Do you want us to continue to pursue?"
Mala glanced at the Force projection, which stood serenely above the console, awaiting her instructions. "No. I want you to withdraw."
"You heard me. Withdraw from the caves and bring in a demolition team. One hour from your exit, I want you to seal this place off, whether I'm out or not. If I'm not out, I then want you to withdraw from the planet and turn this zone to glass."
Her words were greeted with silence.
"Do you copy, commander?"
"Yes, sir," he said. "But... do you require assistance in there? I could send one of the other Jedi-"
"No!" The last thing she wanted was to show this to Rath or one of the other Jedi in their group. "Just listen to your damn orders! Revan out!"
She cut the comm channel and returned her attention to the projection. She had a definite time limit now. "Alright, we need to be quick. What was this recent communication from your Order of Darth about? Why do they need to be contacting you?"
"That question involves current Sithras military activities, and security clearance must first be obtained. Do you wish to apply for clearance?"
"No. You said that the Sithras retreated into the Unknown Regions. What are their exact coordinates?"
"That question involves current Sithras military activities, and security clearance must first be obtained. Do you wish to apply for clearance?"
"No, damn it!" She slammed her fist into the console. She took another deep breath, keeping her gaze focused downwards. The Dark Side energy in this place was getting to her. She had to remain calm. "Alright. How does one obtain security clearance?"
"A mental probe is performed on the applicant. If their mental defenses are of sufficient strength to defend against an interrogation and they are found to have a psyche in line with Sithras doctrine, then security clearance is granted. The process takes an average of thirty seconds, and is nearly painless unless the check is failed."
She glanced back up. "And what happens then?"
"In most cases, death. If the subject is sufficiently skilled in defensive Force abilities, it is only painful and temporarily debilitating."
Mala weighed the risks in her mind. She had no idea what these Sith would consider to be debilitating, but she doubted she would like it. Also, the phrase "nearly painless" gave her pause. Would her mind be strong enough? She was fairly good at throwing up a mental shield, but was it enough? And if she didn't do this, what would happen?
"Alright. Do it."
"Stand still while the check is made."
There wasn't even the slightest pause before the attack began on her mind. She was already slightly weakened by the Dark Side presence in the room, but she managed to stand strong against the initial assault. She doubted that she would be found to be in line with Sithras doctrine, so she couldn't let her shield fail.
She was so focused on defending against the brute force attack on her psyche that she almost didn't notice a softer, gentler infiltration behind it. She hurriedly tried to block it off, but it was too late. Her whole body erupted in pain, and she doubled over.
"You have failed the security check. Your mind is both weak and in direct opposition to the ideals of the Sithras people. You are to be punished. If you are strong enough, you shall not die. This unit encourages you to do so, however, as it would free resources for-"
She heard no more as everything went dark.
When she awoke, she had no idea how much time had passed. She stood slowly, her knees shaking. Whatever the archive unit had done to her, it left her completely drained. She raised her arm to check her chrono. Her eyes widened, and she swept up her mask. Mala began to run, her legs slipping from beneath her at first before she finally regained complete control.
She attempted to raise her troops on the comm, but found that it was fried. Her men had probably been trying to raise her for the past ten minutes, at least.
She felt the first explosion as she turned into the final corridor. It seemed that the demolition team had decided to bring down rocks from higher up on the cliff face to seal the entrance. She felt deep within her, hoping desperately to find some reserves of power that could allow her to rush out before the boulders.
She was in the entrance hall now, and she could see the first rocks beginning to fall. The rumbling ground and the sound of the explosives brought her thoughts back to the Mandalorians and the slaughter at Cathar. If she died in here, she wouldn't be able to fight them anymore. The thought filled her with rage, and a new wellspring of strength flowed into her. She channeled her power into her legs and forced herself to run faster than any normal human could. She leapt onto the rocks at the entrance of the cave, propelling herself off of them and clearing the area. A few stray boulders threatened to crush her as she flew through the air, but she batted them away with the Force. She hit the ground running.
As soon as she was out of danger, she allowed herself to slow, then collapsed. The rage left her, only to be replaced with horror. Had that been the Dark Side? Her strength certainly hadn't come from serenity. She felt dirty.
She heard approaching footsteps and put her mask back on. She could show neither her face nor her emotions to these people.
She looked up and saw Rath running towards her. She didn't know how, but she managed to stand as he approached. He reached out an arm to help her, and she considered pushing it away. Then her knees buckled, and she grudgingly accepted his assistance.
"We did as you ordered, Master. The cave is sealed. What are your orders?"
She attempted to speak, but her mouth was dry and clogged with dust from the falling rocks. She cleared her throat. "Remove all of our troops from the planet. I don't want a single soul left here. Then slag it."
"Are you certain, Master Revan? These plains could serve as a great staging area for-."
"Don't question orders!" she snapped. She immediately felt the disturbing power begin to rise within her again, and she pushed away her irritation. "There is something here which must never be seen again. I don't know how large those ruins are, so take out the entire zone. Also, I want a message sent to the Ordinance requesting that Master Dira be sent to me at once. I need her expertise."
"At once, master. Is there anything else you wish?"
"I want orders to be sent out amongst everyone here that this place and the events that have transpired here are classified. No one is to discuss even the existence of those caves. Understood?"
"Yes, Master. I'll take care of it. Are you alright? Do you want to see a medic?"
She took a moment to inventory her body. As far as she knew, there was no physical damage done besides the small burn on her throat. "No. I simply need to rest."