Because I truly had nothing better to do.
Imperius had not spent the entire night idle. He may have told Kirche that he needed to rest, and that had been partially true, but for him, resting for eight to ten hours at a time was just unnecessary. The Force can accelerate the resting process, or supplant it entirely through meditation, but it was the first method that Imperious had chosen. After all, there is nothing like a good night's sleep. Four hours later, he was awake and sitting at the student desk that was included in his room.
Lying upon the desk was all the equipment that he had brought with him to this world. A few medpacks, some resolve stims, some synthweaving materials, his flare gun, his datapad, a pair of Macro-binoculars and the holo-shrub. The holo-shrub had been a joke gift from Ashara, his former apprentice, but it had actually seen field action on Makeb when he needed to sneak onboard the gravity hook. Apparently it was not in fact standard operating procedure to take note of which plants had always been there and which had appeared in place since the last patrol. In addition to the items he kept in his pack, he also had his armor, his mask, and his lightsaber. While his body repacked his bag for maximum efficiency, his mind turned towards she who called herself his master.
Louise of the house Valliere. Imperious had a feeling she would be one of his greatest challenges. The Force swirled around her, and it was clear she held some kind of destiny, but what it could possibly be was beyond him. The Force around her was turbulent, but didn't seem to touch with her own innate power. The power he sensed within her was the same he sensed from the Korriban portal. Mages seemed to draw on a different source of power than the Jedi and Sith, but what that source could possibly be would likely always be beyond him without a mage's senses. Until he knew what that meant there was nothing he could do about it.
Shelving those thoughts for later, Imperious turned to the immediate day ahead of him. It had been impressed upon him that he would spend the day getting to know his summoner. Apparently there would be no classes today to allow "familiar bonding." He understood what that meant under normal conditions seeing as familiars were usually essentially pets, but had no idea what that meant for him. His past had not exactly prepared him for… casual social situations. He shivered. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
Imperious began to don the armor and equipment he had removed in order to rest. With his armor, mask, and other equipment all in their places, he set forth to face the day.
Imperious did not meet Louise in the hall; in fact he avoided her intentionally. Until he had a handle on exactly what their relationship would be, he was going to put off the inevitable confrontation. From what little he knew of her she would likely insist on being the dominant member of the partnership, the Master in more than merely name. That was, of course, completely unacceptable. Not just because he was a Force-forsaken Dark(ish) Lord of the Sith, but because he would never get anyone to take him seriously if the almighty and terrifying demon acted like a servant to a tiny pink haired girl who didn't even come up to his chest.
And while his stomach insisted he get something to eat, he shoved the feeling of hunger down so he could do something productive. He'd gone longer without food before, it was not an uncommon punishment for slaves after all. He could go several weeks if need be and remain functional; longer if he employed meditation and minimal activity.
Instead, he headed directly for the archive, a place that was likely to be completely deserted at this hour. What sane student would be reading books when there was food to be had?
I really should look into some clothing that is less attention grabbing, Imperious thought as he walked the halls. Every time he passed anyone in the hallway, they would stop to stare. His armor gleamed in even the dimmest of lights, and the silvery threading of his white robes was eye catching to say the least. The entire getup was designed to make him stand out among his equally gaudily dressed piers on the council, and helped solidify his position as a powerful sorcerer. Anyone who intentionally draws attention to himself among the Sith either has a death wish or enough power to swat all potential usurpers like insects. The fact that he was a member of the Dark Council heavily hinted at the latter, most people didn't look further than that. The fact that alone, he was vulnerable was often overlooked. Mastering the healing arts instead of say, channeling lightning, did leave one with a combat disadvantage. Killing things was what he kept Khem around for.
Perhaps something in black. He'd avoided black in the past because it made one virtually invisible among the throngs of Sith. When he had been fighting for his life during his trials he'd taken every advantage he could, and that included dressing differently from the other potentials, nearly all of whom had dressed in black or red. Imperious himself had picked up a purple tunic somewhere (after all this time he couldn't even remember) and wore it to clash with the others. It had the unintended side effect of calling down attention from Overseer Harkin (who seemed to absolutely loathe him for some impenetrable reason), but also the attention of the other Overseers as well. Their little side missions had allowed him to grow in strength enough to keep ahead of his rivals.
The servant quarters likely have spare fabrics. I'll stop by once I've finished in the archive. Pulling out his datapad, he added a note to pick up some synthweaving materials for a new set of subtle robes. It wasn't too high of a priority, but he liked to keep a log of the things he needed doing. While he had it out, he also moved all of the other entries to the "inactive" folder. The goings on of Section X or the Black Hole weren't his problem anymore.
Putting the datapad away, he finally arrived at the archive. As expected, it was nearly devoid of any living thing, save for one or two stragglers. His first stop was the archive index. While most Sith archives were stored digitally, written flimsi texts and stone tablets were not uncommon. In those cases, indexes stored on datapads were the best way to locate said texts. In a society that had not advanced to the digital age, such indexes had to be written somewhere, usually at a central location within the archive.
The index was not difficult to find, and thanks to the linguistic knowledge pulled from Colbert's mind, he could read it without difficulty. His first order of business was to learn as much about the runes on his hand as possible. The things were clearly imparting knowledge under certain conditions, and if they'd been seen before he might be able to get a better handle on the power they provided. Not understanding your own power was a recipe for absolute disaster after all. It would not do to be half way through a pitched battle only to find out the blasted things had a time limit or something.
While gathering as many relevant books as possible and stacking them onto a table for later reading, he noticed something interesting. Many of the books he was after were missing copies. In many cases, there was only one copy of the book on file, and so that particular avenue of investigation was closed. Imperious made a specific note of the missing books, as it seemed that someone else might just be researching the same thing he was, and if Colbert's reaction to his runes yesterday were any indication, he was the most likely culprit. It was somewhat reassuring that he wasn't the only person in the school who wanted answers.
He took the books that he was able to find and set them on a table to the right of the seat he had taken. Over the course of the next several hours, the books would migrate from the pile on the right over to the newly forming pile on the left. Nearly six hours had passed since he sat down, and was just placing the last book in the "finished" pile when the near silence of the archive was shattered by the entrance of a certain pink haired magi.
He quickly made a shushing sound, and waived his right hand in a circle to emphasize where they were. She immediately got the message, but still managed to somehow convey a sense of yelling while whispering. It was an interesting technique that deserved study.
"Familiar. Where have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you."
"I was here. I'm doing research on my runes. I need to know more about the familiar contract, and today seemed like a good time to handle it." Imperious was most certainly not avoiding socializing or "familiar bonding." Nope. Not at all. This was all necessary and important research.
Louise was… seething. That was the best way to describe it. "You. You thought that you would do research!?"
"Well it seemed the logical thing to do. If we're to be partners, I need to know what is expected of me."
"You left me alone out there!" Imperious failed to really see the issue. He gave her a facial expression that would have encouraged her to continue, had his mask not been in the way. Realizing this, he made a gesture with his hand meant to convey the same message.
"Everyone kept accusing me of having a runaway familiar. Do you have any idea the trouble you've caused today? The only one who didn't think you'd run away was the Zerbst. The Zerbst! Founder knows why, but having her of all people defending me is just intolerable. And the way she said it with that stupid look on her face…"
Imperious' face would have conveyed something akin to shock if it could be seen. Clearly "The Zerbst" had gotten a better bead on him than he'd thought if his absence hadn't concerned her in the least. He was also fervently thanking the Force for his mask at the moment, as his expression could easily be misinterpreted. He didn't want any misunderstandings with Louise. She was difficult enough as it was, and he wasn't stupid enough to intentionally make it worse. He was supposed to be building a friendship that could be turned into an apprenticeship if need be, and having Louise believe he had romantically pursued Kirche (her apparent rival) was just the kind of relationship killer he wanted to avoid. In fact, better to speak honestly on the subject now. He knew that this kind of thing came to light sooner or later, and if she heard Kirche's side of the story first, well…
"Honestly, I'm surprised Kirche was able to get that good of a reading on me after last night."
Louise's diatribe died in her mouth, and Imperious could practically hear her train of thought grinding to a screeching halt, and Imperious realized exactly how bad his own choice of words were.
"LAST. NIGHT. YOU. ZERBST." Oh, that is a lot of rage, he though, that is channel lightning storms levels of rage.
"Yes," he quickly interrupted, "I was stargazing last night, and we talked about my homeland. Then we parted ways while I meditated."
"I'm going to ki… what?"
"She was quite nice if a bit… flirtatious. I'm not really interested in a romantic relationship, and I told her so. She really is far too young for me. Also, different species. Though I suppose that last one matters less in the long term, our respective races are capable of interbreeding after all."
"Stop. Stop talking. I've heard more than I never wanted to hear."
"My mother was human you know."
"I swear by the Founder and all his Saints if you don't stop talking this minute…"
Imperious was quite pleased with his masterful steering of the conversation, even if he had nearly bungled it at the start. After a moment had passed and Louise had a chance to cool down, he restarted the conversation.
"So what do we do now? I've finished my research, and you need to show the school I haven't run away to recoup some respect. What would be the best way to do that?" The best way was obvious of course; it was to appear in front of the other students at her side. Where to start was perhaps a better question, and giving her the initiative would both grant her some of the power she craved in the relationship and redirect her anger away from him.
"It's two hours past lunch time, so most of the students are likely in the courtyard, still bonding with their familiars. The best place would be there."
"Excellent. I don't suppose you have any idea how we're supposed to… bond…"
"You already told the Zerbst about your home. I don't suppose it ever crossed your mind that I might need to know that?"
"You never asked."
"How am I supposed to command you if I know nothing about you?"
"I want you to think very carefully about what you just said, and rephrase it" A bit of ice creeping into Imperious' voice.
Louise stopped for a moment, and then looked at him, sighing "How are we supposed to work together if we don't know anything about each other?" She seemed a little less abrasive about the tacit admission that she was not the master in this relationship but an equal partner than Imperious expected. She even seemed almost regretful after realizing what she'd said. "I… I know you're not a servant like a normal familiar, I just haven't gotten used to the idea yet." Imperious knew there was more happening than she let on, but let the matter drop. She'd tell him when she was ready.
"Alright then. We should head to the courtyard. It will be nice to get some fresh air."
"Actually, I just remembered, we need to stop by my room first. I think I have a way for you to walk around without your mask on. It unnerves everyone."
"No. No way in any of Correllia's Nine Hells am I doing that. You can't make me. The Dark Council couldn't make me. The Emperor and his Wrath could not make me, so you can just forget it."
She did it. Imperious didn't know how, but she'd somehow done it. And so it was that he found himself sitting in the courtyard, mask off, and not causing a panic, the makeup Louise had applied to his head rendering it a pinkish whitish red favored by some humans. There had been no way to hide the nose ridges, but they were practically invisible at any significant range. He mentally cursed at not having more Sith blood. You would be hard pressed to hide pointed ears and facial tentacles, both of which he lacked.
Imperious sat in the courtyard, and had he not been the master of his own emotions, he likely would have been fuming at the indignity of it all. Luckily, he was not so encumbered. He was perfectly serene. Being perfectly serene was after all, the best state in which one should contemplate their vengeance, which would be ten fold. He did not know how, and he did not know when, but it would be glorious.
Louise of course, completely misinterpreted his beatific smile for satisfaction at the current situation, instead of the expression he traditionally wore while scheming. She would likely learn the difference soon enough.
"See. I told you this was a brilliant idea. I amaze even myself sometimes."
Imperious merely grumbled, choosing instead to turn his attention to the students around him. Most of them were ignoring him, but he occasionally caught the students who were present at his summoning sneaking looks at him and his "human" appearance. According the surface thoughts they were broadcasting, many of them were trying to convince themselves that Louise had simply summoned a costumed street performer, or perhaps he was just an overly sunburned Germanian, and the light had only made him look red yesterday. One or two were convinced he was a shapeshifting demon, but their peers (who either weren't present at the summoning or had convinced themselves of some other explanation) laughed off their "crazy theories." The teacher, Colbert, wasn't too likely to delude himself like the children were, but he apparently hadn't gone running to the Church of Brimir yet, so no problems there for now.
All in all, this was both good and… well… not. As a demon, he was feared, and fear was something he was used to manipulating. He didn't like using fear, but he was good at it. Truthfully, the lack of fear from the vast majority of the students was refreshing. Having a fresh start to train minds without preconceptions was nice, but it also meant he'd have to build a reputation from nothing. Then again, he could choose which direction he wanted to go, and of course, rubbing off the make-up was also a perfectly valid strategy. His reappearance in a public venue had shifted the rumors from costumed performer to foreign mage-priest, his garb and presence apparently suppressing the less flattering rumors all on their own. With his tacit elevation in status, Louise had apparently indirectly gained some respect as well, as she had apparently done something to "get her familiar under control."
"So," Louise said, interrupting his thoughts, "you talked about your past and homeland to the Zerbst, and I'm probably going to need to hear it too…"
"Of course… the reason we're here after all. I suppose I should start with my history…"
And so, Imperious relegated his tale. Not all of it, not even most of it. He told of how he ascended to the Dark Council by defeating Thanaton in a trial by combat, but not why, or even how. In truth, he told her the bare minimum she would need to cover his position and how he got there. She seemed to already know something about his past, but she hadn't given him any clue as to how she knew, and he wasn't going to push the issue unless he needed to. So he kept the information limited. The story skipped over his adventure on Makeb entirely, since she lacked the context to understand what that meant, and ended with the tomb on Korriban.
"So this tomb was how old?"
"As best as I can tell around 300 years. Not too old by Sith standards, but what is odd is that it was there at all."
"What do you mean?"
"The Sith were driven out of our homeland thousands of years ago. Three hundred years ago it was still under the control of the Republic. We only reclaimed it in the last decade. There was a war around that time, and we were able to take it back from the Republic for a very short period, but I wouldn't have thought a tomb could have been built in that time before we were repelled again."
"Wait, the demons have been trying to reclaim…" her voice lowered to a whisper "Their version of the Holy Land? Do demons have holy lands?"
"Considering the word means set apart I don't see why we couldn't, so I guess you could say that, why?"
"Because we've been trying to do the same thing with the Elves for 6000 years! They've always pushed back our crusades. How did your people manage it? Does this 'Republic' have better mages like the Elves do?"
"According to them they do, but of course they'd say that. Your average Jedi is about equal to your average Sith. The Jedi, well, you would describe them as mages who have mastered the same arts as the Sith have, but focusing on peace and serenity rather than emotions. They just have a lot more territory than us. What's so scary about these Elves?"
"They're pretty much immortal, they use nature magic so they can cast without wands, and one Elf is a match for a hundred human mages. Commoners don't even rate. An elf could take out an army of them."
"Hmm. No, the Republic doesn't have anything like that. We took Korriban by sending half our fleet to secure a beachhead, and used it as a staging ground to reclaim the rest of our lost territory. They still control most of the ga… land, but their fleets and armies are stretched too thin. The Republic has too much land to protect and not nearly enough army or navy to protect it all."
At that moment they were interrupted by a small brown haired girl that Imperious noted to be a first year student based on her cloak color, politely asking if he had seen a student by the name of Guiche. Imperious of course, wasn't in the habit of poking into other people's personal lives, and unfortunately didn't even know who Guiche was. Imperious apologized, answered in the negative, and sent the girl on her way. Out of the corner of his eye, Imperious idly noticed a foppish young man in a state of minor panic dragging a girl away from the brown haired girl to make a quick escape before he was noticed. Well, that explained that then. Imperious considered tripping up Guiche with the Force just to see what would happen, but decided against it. It really was none of his business, and the Force had a way of exposing that kind of behavior on its own anyway. The fop would likely learn quickly that juggling the affections of multiple women was a road that ended only in pain. For him.
Smiling to himself, Imperious returned to his conversation with Louise, which turned to the similarities and differences in their government systems, and the eerily similarly themed history the Sith and the Halkegenians seemed to share.
The familiar bonding day ended, and Imperious escorted Louise to her room as night fell. When they arrived at her room, Louise looked up at Darth Imperious, and asked him a question that he didn't expect.
"Imperious… How did you first find out you were a noble?"
Imperious didn't exactly know how to answer that. There were several events that applied. Becoming Darth Zash's apprentice counted, but so did his admittance to the Sith Academy. He suspected however, that this was not what she meant. He suspected she wanted to know when he discovered his "magic," since in Tristain magic meant nobility.
"A tukata broke into the slave pens I was…" he stopped short for a moment. That particular memory was painful. It was also very personal. He hadn't told her he was a former slave, although she seemed to have some kind of knowledge of him. Now that he thought of it, it seemed her question was about getting confirmation about something she thought she knew. If her "magical specialty" was as some kind of seer, she likely knew far more than he could ever reveal through words alone. They were already partners, and if his suspicions panned out she already knew anyway. The fact that she even asked implied she knew he hadn't been born into his position. He'd have to teach her to be more subtle in the future.
"…Living in" he continued. "I was once a slave you see, before I discovered my power in the Force. The tukata killed everyone inside, save for a small boy. I saved him by calling forth lightning and killing the beast. A few weeks later my master received a missive from the Dark Council demanding I be sent to the Sith Academy. All Force sensitives must be registered you see, and the Dark Council had just passed a referendum calling for expanded recruitment. The latest amendment included freeing slaves to put them through the trials. That beast gave me my freedom, at the cost of all my friends, and the closest thing I had to a family."
Louise seemed less shocked by this than she should be, and nodded as if she had received the confirmation she was looking for.
"What happened to the boy?"
Imperious liked thinking about that even less, but the fact that she was asking did mean that she actually didn't know, and the implied her knowledge of him was likely vague or just extremely limited.
"He was the last slave after I left, and too young to be of use. He was sold, I never found out who to. Searching for him would have made it obvious I had an interest in his well-being, he would have instantly become the target of my rivals."
"So you don't know?"
"And I likely never will."
They arrived at her room, and Louise entered, Imperious standing outside. "Good night Imperious."
Taking a page from Khem, he decided it was high time he passed on the nickname. The one his own "familiar" had given him. If she truly was a seer, she'd get the reference in due time, if not well, it would provide amusement.
"Good night, little mage."
The sputtering from behind the closed door was all the confirmation of future amusement he needed.
She saw him again in her dreams. Idly, she wondered if this would be a repeating occurrence. Yes, it was a quick and easy way to learn of her familiar, and it provided a unique look into demon culture, but the last dream had been violent and disturbing. Demon Nobles, it seemed, did not lead anything resembling a safe life.
This time, she saw her familiar walking through a great temple of stone and metal, making his way through a twisting labyrinth of hallways, finally arriving at what appeared to be a simple office. The office was not empty. Sitting behind a metal desk was a man dressed in red, silver pauldrons adorning his shoulders. An orange tattoo, the same color as his hair and beard, marked the shape of an arrow on his forehead, which branched off and underlined his right eye. His cold blue eyes seemed to stare right into one's soul, and find it wanting.
"Well, well, well" he grumbles "I had been looking forward to cutting another one of you down, but it looks like I've been spared the trouble. Unsurprisingly, Nilok has gone missing." As the acolytes present look around to confirm that this Nilok was well and truly gone, the angry man continues "Also unsurprisingly, Fon has completed his first trial. It's only a matter of time before he tramples you all underfoot."
"I'll tear you apart where you stand slave!" The hooded demon, apparently Fon, in black hooded robes exclaimed. She noticed that besides Fon and Imperious himself, everyone else in the room is human. Apparently, the demons don't have a caste system based on species, and her familiar seems to currently exist on the bottom rung of whatever system is in place.
"Patience Fon," the tattooed man admonished "an accident in the tombs is much more convincing."
Did he… He did! He just told Fon that an "accident" would be an acceptable course of action for eliminating his rival! What kind of Founder-damned society were these people running! She was lucky her familiar was as sane as he was! If she'd gone through the same thing she'd have either exploded everything between herself and victory, or just died in some "accident." These people were all crazy.
He continued speaking; not even acknowledging the fact that he'd openly threatened one of his own students, and Imperious not even reacting himself. "Now the rest of you know your tasks. Go. I need to speak to Fon and our late-comer alone."
Were they ever going to call him by his name? She already had something to call him, but at this point she really was terribly curious about what he used to call himself. And even she knew just calling him "slave" was simply unacceptable, regardless of his origins.
"Now slave, Zin says you handled yourself expertly, much as I find this difficult to believe, Lord Zash is satisfied with his evaluation. Undoubtedly Zin helped you in some way," dream Louise snorted; her familiar was much cleverer than anyone here seemed to give him credit for. Whatever Zin's task had been, she was sure Imperious had passed on his own merits. He was her familiar after all. "But you will not have his help on the next trial. Both you and Fon will have trials of intellect; trials that will test your ability to apply your understanding of the Force to solve problems."
"You don't expect a slave to be a match for me in intellect?" Fon asked incredulously "I've been trained under the greatest teachers…" Fon spread his arms in exasperation.
"Calm down Fon, I most certainly don't expect this slave to be a match for you. That is why you will have separate trials."
"Truly," Imperious speaks for the first time in this meeting "your generosity astounds." Well then, at least she knew he was impertinent with everyone, not just her, and the fact that he was this flippant with someone who was willing to kill him told her that she'd likely never get him to not be flippant with her. Didn't mean she wouldn't try though, she'd just have to get creative.
"You're only digging your own grave. Fon, you will go to the library on the second floor of the academy and translate the following texts for Lord Zash." That was it? She supposed even demons had to have safe trials. It was a trial of intellect after all.
"Yes, Overseer." Hmm, at least she had something to call the tattooed man besides… angry man.
"Slave," the Overseer continued "deep in the ancient, monster infested tomb of Marka Ragnos there is a holocron filled with dark secrets and encased in a great stone monument." What!? What kind of test of intellect was that? "No one has figured out how to release the holocron from its stone prison in over a thousand years. You will bring this holocron to me, or you will die." She was really starting to hate the Overseer. Her familiar had a completely different reaction, and one she was really beginning to just accept as a matter of course from him.
"Well it beats going to the library I suppose…"
"Spoken like the idiot you are. You will bring back the holocron, or hope that the spirit of Marka Ragnos himself returns to end your miserable existence. Now go."
Monster infested. Monster infested!? They were sending him into a tomb infested with monsters! Obviously he succeeded, since he eventually became a noble, but she was beginning to understand why he didn't seem too terribly concerned with getting home. She'd have left at first opportunity and never looked back.