Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 23- Walking a Fine Line

Carth found his new role in following warily two steps behind Ev everywhere she went, and not saying a word. They hardly had time to give heads-up to the rest of the crew before Yuthura Ban led them out of the colony and into the open air of Korriban.

The planet was just as barren as it had looked from the air, covered in jagged, although not particularly tall, red stone peaks. The air was dry with a slight uninviting chill.

The durasteel structure of Dreshdae perched on one of those ridge lines only a few hundred meters from the academy itself. At first, Carth thought the Sith Master was leading them directly to the ruins. A large, worn stone door was set into the mountain side in front of them, flanked by several towering stone statues. Although the four statues were crumbling, all bore the figure of men bowing respectfully to some long-dead Sith master. When two silver armored guards pulled the great stone doors open and ushered them inside, Carth realized that the Sith had built their academy right in the ruins themselves.

It seemed that the inside of the academy was part ancient and part rebuilt. Here and there, the stone didn't match and was cut with more utilitarian purposes in mind than artistic. In other places, monstrous bowing statues loomed overhead in the hallway, and the walls bore chipped-away carvings or flaking murals. All this just in one corridor.

Like a spoke on a wheel, the long hallway led to a large, mostly round, central chamber. This one seemed almost entirely in-tact from its original makers. The grand vaulted ceiling was supported by more statues, and all of the pillars around the edge bore detailed carvings. Yuthura led them straight towards a group of Sith who were already assembled in the center of the room; three young humans in gray uniforms, and a tall, burly Sith master in black. Ev and Yuthura were expected.

“Greetings Ren Va,” the burly Sith master began silkily. His bald head was covered in geometric patterns of small violet tattoos, making him look somewhat alien. “I hear you are to be a late addition to our class.”

Ev merely bowed in response.

“I am Uthar Wynn, master of this academy,” he introduced himself, “Although my apprentice, Master Yuthura, will be overseeing your training, I reserve the final say in whether you are admitted as a full apprentice or not. Now tell me, what lies have the Jedi polluted your mind with. What do you know of the Sith?”

At the mention of Jedi, the other three trainees stirred uncomfortably.

“The Jedi say that the Sith are evil, surrendering to the quicker and easier path,” Ev started slowly, “But it seems to be that the Sith are simply taking another angle at it, not tying themselves down with all of those ridiculous stoicisms that really just hold them back. The Sith are powerful; a force to be reckoned with.”

“A diplomatic answer, but perhaps the core of the matter,” Uthar nodded, satisfied, “The Jedi would have us see the Force as a burden, but we know it as a gift. Through the Dark Side of the Force, we can become what we were truly meant to be. Leave behind what the Jedi have taught you. Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me.”

Ev nodded thoughtfully.

“This was meant to be a class of six, but it seems that you have relieved us of Feris, Unglo, and Alieilis,” Uthar seemed slightly amused. The three other trainees shifted uncomfortably again. “No matter, as only one of you will be permitted to become a full student in this academy, through a competition of who can gain the most prestige. The losers will either be sent home, or will be dead. Ren, the others already have a head start on you, but if you are as enterprising as Yuthura says, you should have no trouble in catching up while you are training.”

“Yes, master,” Ev bowed slightly again.

Master Uthar smiled slightly. “Well, shall we officially begin our class?” he proposed, turning to the other students, “Are you ready to delve into the dark secrets of the Force, Lashowe?”

A muscular looking girl with short cropped blond hair clenched her fists excitedly. “I am ready, Master Uthar,” she replied with a smile.

“And you, Shaardan? Are you ready?” Uthar asked.

“As ever, master,” Shaardan replied cockily. The look on his face made Carth want to punch him right then and there.

“Mekel, are you ready?” Uthar asked the third trainee.

“Yes, Master Uthar, I am ready,” he replied with a low bow. Taller and thinner than Shaardan, he also bore a thick head of dark hair.

“And our newest companion, are you ready, Ren?” Uthar finally addressed Ev. As he looked Ev over, his eyes fell disapprovingly on Carth, but he made no comment.

Ev made a slight bow of her head. “I'm ready to learn whatever you have to teach me,” she replied respectfully.

“Good,” Uthar said with a smile. Making a broad gesture with both arms, he continued, “Welcome to the Dark Side, my children. Your one chance at true greatness beings here.

Ev hardly showed her relief when she sat down on the edge of her bed, but Carth knew her well enough to see it in her eyes. When Uthar released them, Yuthura showed Ev to her room. They were lucky enough to get a small corner room, but, even still, it had no door like the rest of the dormitory. It had only the most basic furnishings: a narrow bed, a footlocker, a distinctly modern computer consul, and a strangely twisted metal light fixture drilled into the wall above the bed.

Standing with his arms crossed and back towards the open doorway, Carth prompted quietly, “Care to let me in on what you're thinking? Why did you bring me along in the first place?”

“It's like I said to Master Yuthura, I'd be crazy not to have someone watching my back in here,” Ev replied, then gestured with a tilt of her head for him to come closer. Carth obliged. Lowering her voice, she continued, “Without Juhani here, I knew I needed someone else to. Someone to keep an eye on me. You know just what a fine line I'm walking here. Maybe you don't trust me, but I trust you, Carth. You've got some of the sharpest judgment in the crew, and you're pretty objective, for the most part. I know you'll be honest with me if you see me slipping. I don't even have to ask. If you don't like something, I know you'll tell me.”

Carth was shocked. Even after the way I've treated her, she still puts this much on me? “Ev, I—” he started.

Ev put up a warning hand, “Here, it's Ren.” After a pause, she added, “And plus, I'm going to need your help tracking down your son.”

Carth was at a loss for words. “And you're the woman who just dismembered three Sith students to get into this academy?” Carth croaked.

“A woman does what she has to do,” Ev replied. There was a shadow of a smile on her face.

Carth was about to say something more, but his thought escaped him as he heard footsteps approaching Ev's room. Ready to draw his blasters, Carth turned around just in time for Yuthura Ban to brush by him.

“Master Yuthura,” Ev said respectfully and hurriedly rose from where she had been sitting on the bed.

“How is my favorite prospect for the season doing?” Yuthura asked with a toothy smile.

“Favorite?” Ev asked, surprised, “Well, I'm just getting oriented.”

“Of this crew, you really have what it takes to rise above the rest, I think,” Yuthura praised, “After seeing what you could do at the cantina, I have cleared you out of the rudimentary saber and Force classes. You will proceed directly into more advanced dueling and the more powerful of the dark arts.”

“Thanks,” Ev chuckled, “I was just thinking how bored I would be having to learn Makashi and Soresu all over again.”

“Correct me if I am mistaken,” Yuthura said with eyes narrowed, “But wasn't that a bit of Juyo you were using this morning?”

Ev shrugged, “Probably. It's become one of my favorite forms lately.”

All this was lost on Carth, but he could gather that whatever lightsaber style Ev had used in the cantina was a very advanced one. Revan had been renowned for her dueling skills...

“In any case, although you have impressed me, you will still have to impress Master Uthar by collecting prestige,” Yuthura continued with a wave of her hand.

“And how would I do that?” Ev asked, taking a few casual steps closer to the Sith master. “You've come here to tell me?”

Yuthura chuckled. “Mostly, Uthar likes to see powerful artifacts or other archaeological findings from the tombs in the valley,” Yuthura explained, “There is also a rogue trio of students who disobeyed Uthar's orders and fled the academy. Finding them and bringing them to justice would earn you prestige with Uthar. Aside from that, there is Uthar's old master, Jorak Un. After Uthar usurped him and took over the academy he went a little insane. Lately, he's been lurking in the tomb of Tulak Horde like some crazy hermit and picking off lost students. Uthar would be happy to be rid of him for good.”

Ev nodded pensively, “Thanks for the tips. I'll get to work on that right away. I've got some catching up to do if I want to get ahead of the others.”

“That you do,” Yuthura replied with a smile, “But I am confident that you will outshine them all in due time.”

“Is there a library somewhere in this academy?” Ev asked, “I'd like to read up a bit on the ruins before I walk into whatever traps they have set up in them.”

“A wise, but perhaps slower route,” Yuthura replied thoughtfully, “Yes, we do have a library. I would have your body guard do the reading for you while you're training.”

“Good thinking,” Ev nodded at Carth, “Thanks again.”

“Ah, there is one more thing,” Yuthura said quietly, “I have an offer for you, since I am so confident you will win this little contest of Uthar's.”

“I'm listening,” Ev replied.

“Uthar has decided already that the final test for the selected candidate will be in the tomb of Naga Sadow. During that test it will be just you, me, and Master Uthar,” Yuthura explained, “Let's just say, I think it's time for a change in leadership for this academy. While I can't be sure I could overpower Uthar on my own, with you fighting with me, I know it can be done. What do you say?”

“I see how this benefits you. What do I get out of this?” Ev asked.

“I help to make sure you are the one Uthar chooses for that final test,” Yuthura answered, “And then afterward, you will have the favor of the new head of the academy.”

Ev considered silently for a few moments. “I think it's worth it,” she said. “I'll play your game.”

“Good,” Yuthura replied, satisfied, “Now, I expect to be seeing results soon.”

“Yes, Master Yuthura,” Ev bowed slightly as the Twi'lek turned on her heals and strode out of the room.

Ev rumbled a dry chuckle. Turning to Carth, she said, “Well, you heard the woman. Let's get to work.”

Ev found the library, another spoke off of the central hall of the academy, with little trouble. It was not nearly as large as either of them had been hoping, but there still were numerous rows of shelves stacked high with diskettes, datapads, and even some bound paper volumes. After a quick conversation with the archivist present, Ev rushed for the section of resources on the Valley of the Dark Lords.

Muttering only to herself as she read over titles and summaries, Ev passed off whatever she thought would be useful to Carth. Soon, Carth had his hands full with five datapads and three diskettes, all pertaining to the tombs.

“Well, that should do it,” Ev said proudly, stepping back from the shelves.

“You're going to read all of these?” Carth asked incredulously, as one of the diskettes in threatened to slip out from the middle of his precarious pile.

With a half smile, she answered, “Only some of them. You'll read the rest.”

“Ah. I see,” Carth replied.

“My body guard can't follow me everywhere,” Ev explained lightly, “Sith teachers might object to your presence. And I know you'll be unhappy if you've got nothing to do. I'm doing you a favor, Carth.”

“Sure,” Carth said grudgingly. And she's right again. Blast that woman! She still can see right through me. If I didn't know better, I'd say she was reading my mind sometimes.

“Come on,” Ev urged, “Let's get these checked out. I've got research to do.”

As they came around the back of the shelves to a small alcove outfitted with a table and three chairs, Carth stopped dead in his tracks. It couldn't be...

“Carth, what is it?” Ev hissed into his ear as he stared at the pair of young Sith who were just rising from the table.

“Well, I'll see you later Dustil,” a pretty, petite girl said softly, drawing her hand slowly out of his.

“Yeah, see you after your trip into the valley, Selene,” the strong-jawed broad-shouldered boy replied just as gently. He was completely oblivious of Ev and Carth as he watched the girl disappear between the shelves, a warm smile on his face. After she had gone, he finally came to himself and noticed his on-lookers. “Are you lost or something?” he asked impatiently.

“No, we're just—” Ev started, gesturing towards the front of the library.

“Dustil, is that really you?” Carth asked quietly.

“Who—father? Oh Force! Father? Here? You can't be serious!” Dustil fumed with a sarcastic roll of his eyes. “Why do you have to be here?”

“Dustil, I've looked all over for you,” Carth couldn't keep the words from tumbling out, “I thought you were dead.”

“It's too bad you didn't still think so,” Dustil replied in a bitter whisper.

“Dustil, what are you—?” Cart started in disbelief.

“Or did you actually think I would be happy to see you again?” Dustil asked mockingly, “Oh look! Father has come to save me at last, after leaving mother and I to die on Telos, but who cares about the past?”

“I didn't abandon you,” Carth whispered urgently. He hardly noticed it when Ev took the pile of datapads and diskettes from his grasp. “I went to war to fight for your freedom. I was fighting for you, Dustil. My fleet was just too late when... I held your mother in my arms while she lay dying.”

“Oh, stuff it!” Dustil hissed, “You abandoned us long before the bombs started flying.”

“I was needed in the war,” Carth replied defensively.

“You were needed at home!” Dustil practically spat, still managing to keep his voice quiet enough not to be noticed in the library. “You were needed when the Sith came and captured me. I wish someone had shot down your ship so I'd be spare this reunion.”

“Who are you? You're not the son I knew,” Carth could hardly bear it any longer.

“You know what? You never knew me! You were never there for me,” Dustil raged, “It was always you and your love affair with the Republic. You didn't have room for me in your life.”

Carth was speechless.

“But now I have a new family,” Dustil said both with pride and anger, “I have loving friends here that will always take care of me and watch out for me. More than you ever gave me.”

“You can't be serious,” Carth stammered, stepping closer to Dustil.

“Touch me and you die, old man,” Dustil hissed.

Carth felt a lump growing in his throat. How can this be my son? “Dustil, the Sith are evil. Pure evil,” he insisted, near tears, “How can you talk about love in a place like this?”

“How would you know?” Dustil demanded, “The Sith give me more respect than anyone back on Telos ever did. I have a place here.”

“The Sith killed your mother, Dustil,” Carth pointed out desperately.

“You're the soldier, Father. How many mothers have you killed?” Dustil retorted.

“I—” he stammered, “Dustil, this path will only lead to death. I can promise you that.”

“Because you think that you and your precious Republic are actually going to win this war and kill us all?” Dustil asked sarcastically.

“More like you'll all kill each other,” Ev put in darkly. Carth had forgotten she was there at all.

Dustil turned his attention to Ev. “You're that last-minute prospective that everyone is making such a big deal of, aren't you?” he accused, eyes narrowed.

“That's me,” Ev replied neutrally.

“Look, I don't know what you and my father are doing here,” he started, “And I don't even know how you got in in the first place, but how about this? You say the Sith are so evil? Then prove it. Give me some kind of proof and then maybe we'll talk.”

“How are we supposed to—?” Cart started.

“Hey, if you want to convince me so badly, you figure it out,” Dustil snapped and started to walk away. Pausing, he added over his shoulder, “But if I catch you asking around about me or doing anything to disturb my place here, I'll go straight to Master Uthar and tell him who you are. Got it?”

Carth nodded wordlessly and watched him go, wanting to stop him.

“Are you okay?” Ev whispered into his ear.

“Ev, we have to—” he started.

“Ren,” she reminded him.

“Ren, we have to find something to convince him,” Carth sighed, “Somehow, we have to.”

“I know,” backing off, she nodded, “I'll keep my ears open.” Shoving the pile back at him, she said, “Let's get these checked out and get out of here.”

They made their way up to the front of the library again and checked out all eight items. Still toting them, Carth followed after Ev back into the central hall of the academy, where they were almost immediately stopped by another young man in a gray apprentice's uniform.

“Hi there,” he said brightly, walking up to Ev, “You're that new trainee that just arrived today, aren't you?”

“Word gets around fast, doesn't it?” Ev observed. “Yes, I'm Ren Va.”

“Nice to meet you Ren,” the young man replied, “My name is Kel Algwinn. I heard you were great with Juyo.”

“Word does get around,” she reiterated, then qualified, “I wouldn't say great, but it's what I've been working on lately.”

“Great,” Kel replied, “Well, my master says that I should challenge you to a duel.”

“Learning Juyo yourself?” Ev asked.

“No, but I'm learning to fight against it,” he replied, “If you have time...”

“Sure,” Ev shrugged, “I've got nothing immediately on my plate right now. Yuthura excused me from the rudimentary classes.”

“Thanks for agreeing,” Kel said with a smile, “I appreciate it. My master has been less than pleased with me lately.”

“No problem. I could use a work-out anyway,” she replied. Turning to Carth she ordered, “Head back to the room and start working on those. Look for anything interesting that might help me.”

“Of course,” Carth nodded. And let you duel with some strange Sith kid? He didn't have much of a choice, in any case.

As Ev walked off with Kel, Carth heard the boy ask, “So, who's he?”

“Bodyguard, manservant,” Ev replied.

Carth's return to Ev's room was a tense one. He felt so out of place, so vulnerable. If someone didn't like Ev, and she had surely gained enemies already, the easiest way to get at her would be to take out her Force-deaf body guard. Rounding every corner cautiously, checking over his shoulder at nearly every other step, Carth finally made it back to Ev's door-less room.

He needed a distraction, desperately. After three long years of thinking his only son was dead, Carth finally saw him again. And yet, he hardly recognized Dustil. Those three years had changed him more than he had thought possible.

On top of that, he was now living on a Sith planet for as long as it would take Ev to find the final Star Map. He was surrounded by Dark Jedi every moment of the day, pretending to hate the Republic.

And then there was Ev—Revan: the ex-Dark Lord. There were moments when she seemed to actually be enjoying masquerading as a Sith. Perhaps she wasn't even pretending. Maybe this is what she wanted to be all along. Looking at her, he saw Revan now. There was no way he could see in her what he had before. And yet, she still trusted him. She still wanted him with her on this crazy mission. And maybe, she still even loved him. It was almost worse than the agony of her ignoring him on Manaan; knowing that the first woman he had allowed himself to love since the death of his wife may as well have been the one to kill her.

Fortunately, Ev had given him a pile of distractions. Sitting down on the bed with one of the datapads in hand, Carth began to read. A few hours later, he had skimmed through nearly everything Ev had pulled from the library. As he really began to grow bored of reading about Sith archeology, he heard familiar voices in the hall.

“Don't think that and impressive display of Juyo with him is enough to win the prestige contest,” a young woman snapped, “Uthar may have liked it, but dancing around with a lightsaber is hardly the only thing we do around here.”

“I think you misunderstand my intentions,” Ev replied evenly, “I was just getting a good workout.”

“Hmph!” the girl uttered.

Carth sauntered over into the doorway, datapad still in hand. Ev and Kel stood together in the corridor, confronted by Lashowe, the other woman from Ev's group of prospectives.

“But, you know, I'm going to win this little contest,” Lashowe said proudly, “I've discovered an artifact that would earn me all the prestige I need.”

“Did you?” Ev asked, “You wanted to gloat about it to me before you present it to Master Uthar.”

“I don't have it yet,” Lashowe snapped.

“It's guarded, isn't it?” Kel observed, “Like all the other good finds out there.”

Lashowe grew red. “Well, I was just in the library trying to research the traps and stuff in the tomb, but that section of the library was completely picked over,” Lashowe complained.

Ev made a small gesture in Carth's direction. The datapad he had been holding onto slipped out of his grasp and floated down the hall towards the three students. It hovered between Ev and Lashowe. “You wanted something like this?” Ev asked.

Lashowe hesitantly plucked it out of the air. “Excavations of the South East tomb, suspected to be the tomb of Ajunta Pall,” she read off the title then measured Ev with a suspicious gaze.

“You can have it,” Ev said with a shrug, “I've already gleaned what I can from it. Whoever outsmarts the tomb first, gets the prize.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Lashowe replied, slipping the datapad into her satchel.

“You know, I still don't understand why they have us competing like this,” Ev observed, “You'd think they'd want as many new recruits as they can get.”

“To foster the kind of spirit they want to see in a Dark Jedi,” Lashowe replied automatically.

“It wasn't this way when I joined,” Kel admitted, “There were six people in my class, and all but two of them are still here.”

“Well, we're winning the war now,” Lashowe scoffed, “They don't need so many of us any more. Now they want to train only the best.”

“So, say the Republic falls apart and the Sith win,” Ev postulated, “You'll still have hundreds of Republic-sympathetic systems that will need subduing. That includes places like Teta, Coruscant, and Corellia. That isn't a job for just a handful of the most spiteful, ambitious Dark Jedi. Even after the war is over, we're still going to need a huge force to maintain order.”

“Huh, I never thought of it that way,” Lashowe replied.

“Well, you read up,” Ev said, “And we'll see who gets to Ajunta Pall first.”

“You're different,” Lashowe observed slowly before turning and walking away.

“Are you really that confident that you'll win that you would give away information?” Kel asked after she had gone.

“It can't hurt too badly,” Ev shrugged, “But you could call it my way of discouraging my classmates from killing me in my sleep.”

“Fair enough,” Kel laughed, “They seem like a pretty intense lot. And now that your saber skills are known, I doubt any of them will want to face you head-on.” He paused, “Say, would you have some time for sparring again tomorrow?”

“We'll see what the masters have planned for me,” Ev replied, “But if there's time, I'd be up for it.”

“Great,” Kel replied, “Well, I'll see you tomorrow.” With that, he too disappeared down the hallway.

Ev, in turn, sauntered towards Carth and her room. As she entered, she tossed Carth something from one of her hip pouches. “I picked you up some dinner,” she said.

It was a large pastry filled with meat, vegetables, and some kind of gravy. Carth gobbled it down, not having realized just how hungry he really was. When he finished, Ev asked, “Any luck with your readings.”

“Most of it was speculated history of the old Sith Lords,” Carth replied, “It seems like excavations haven't really gotten very far into any of the tombs, thanks to traps, and collapsed passage ways. Most of what these accounts are going on is what they find on the outside surface of the tombs.”

“There was nothing on Revan and Malak or the star map?” Ev asked.

Carth shook his head, “Nothing I could find.”

“Well, I guess we'll have to take another angle at it,” Ev admitted, “Though I don't think we have the time to check every single tomb ourselves. There has to be someone here that knows of the star map.” A moment later, she added, “And I have a suspicion of who.”

Ev didn't have to go very far in search of Yuthura Ban. As it turned out, Yuthura's room was right next to Ev's.

“I hear you impressed Master Uthar with your lightsaber skills today,” Yuthura praised, “Well done.”

Carth slipped back around the wall into Ev's room then settled in to listen.

“I was just having a workout with that Kel Algwinn kid when Master Uthar happened to walk through the dueling room,” Ev explained neutrally, “But he seemed pleased, anyway.”

“A fortunate meeting for you,” Yuthura replied, “But of course, it's not enough to put you far ahead of the others. Shaardan, for example, has already mastered Force lightning.”

“I had my man do some reading on the ruins,” Ev replied, “And now I have a pretty good idea what I'm up against. I plan to head out into the valley as soon as I can.” Of course she didn't, but Carth knew about the tombs well enough.

“Good,” Yuthura said.

“Say, I've been wondering, where did you come from, Master Yuthura?” Ev asked casually.

“Why would you want to know something like that?” the Sith master asked defensively.

“With all the other trainees being so much younger than me, I was hoping we could be friends,” Ev continued, then added slyly, “Or something more.”

Yuthura chuckled. “Alright, I'll play your game, Ren Va,” she replied, “I was born into slavery on Sleheyron, and grew up as a pretty little play thing for Omeesha the Hutt.”

“That's awful,” Ev sounded horrified.

“You don't know the half of it,” Yuthura said darkly, “When I was old enough and strong enough, I killed my slimy master and fled, stowing away on a cargo freighter. When the crew found me, they marooned me on some outer rim colony, but it wasn't long until the Jedi found me and rescued me.”

“The Jedi?” Ev echoed.

Yuthura chuckled, “Much like you, I was a Jedi Padawan before coming to the Sith. The Jedi who found me immediately recognized that I was strong with the Force and insisted on training me.”

“That does sound a lot like me,” Ev replied, “I was working as a shuttle pilot on Coruscant, doing race circuits with a swoop gang on the side, when I got hired to take a couple of under-cover Jedi into the lower part of the city. After they finished their job, they insisted on taking me back to the Jedi Temple with them, and then I got shipped off to Dantooine for training from there.”

“The Jedi do like to pluck up whatever Force-sensitive kid they can find and turn them into a Padawan, regardless of personality and background,” Yuthura said, “We Sith are a little more discerning.”

“I've noticed,” Ev chuckled.

“You said you had done some research on the Valley of the Dark Lords,” Yuthura changed the subject, “Have you ventured out there yet?”

“No, not yet,” Ev replied.

“Well, if you go now, you will have just enough daylight left to orient yourself for future endeavors,” Yuthura suggested.

“Thank you for the suggestion,” Ev replied, then stepped around the corner into her own room, “Come on Carth, we're going for a walk.”

Carth, who had been listening all along, hurried out after her.

“I'm counting on you, Ren,” Yuthura said in parting.

With the setting sun painting the red stone even redder, the Valley of the Dark Lords was an awesome sight to behold. Like mountains built by the hands of sentients, the tombs rose up on either side of a narrow plain. Though much of them was warn away by years of wind and weather, there was still obvious evidence of decorative carvings. Besides that, colossal versions of the bowing statues lined either side of the valley. In the center were numerous pillars of dark stone, so hard that the carvings still remained after all this time. The opposite end of the valley dropped off in a dramatic cliff down onto the lower plains of Korriban.

Only a few other Sith still moved about the valley. Most appeared to be wrapping up and turning in for the night. Carth and Ev passed several who were on their way back to the academy.

“Impressive,” Ev said with a satisfied nod as they stood out in the middle of the valley.

“That's what I'd say,” Carth agreed quietly.

“So, tell me what you know,” Ev requested.

Carth sifted through his thoughts to make some sense of what he had read for Ev. “The Sith were an ancient and powerful race,” he began, “It seems that this might not have been their only planet. Anyway, this valley has tombs of some of their most important leaders. At least, that's what the findings have suggested. What they're calling the Great Schism, when the first Jedi turned on their masters and fled, is when Force users as we know them met with the Sith. That first tomb here to the right, they think, is Ajunta Pall's, the leader of those fallen Jedi who proclaimed himself Lord of the Sith.”

Ev only nodded, listening carefully.

“This first one to the left belongs to Marka Ragnos. They think he was the Dark Lord right before the Great Hyperspace War. The one behind it belongs to Naga Sadow. That much they're sure of,” Carth explained, pointing.

“And he was the Dark Lord during the Great Hyperspace War,” Ev nodded, “I already know that name.”

“Who doesn't?” Carth shrugged, “Anyway, the far one on the right, they think, belongs to Tulak Hord. They haven't done much research on that one yet.”

“Probably because of the crazy hermit living there,” Ev concluded.

“Right, probably,” Carth nodded. “They think there are more tombs in this area, and perhaps ruins all over the planet, but these are the most conspicuous from the air. It's not been so long since Revan and Malak must have established this as an academy.”

At the mention of her old name, Ev pursed her lips thoughtfully. “There wasn't any mention of Revan and Malak's first visit here, was there?” Ev asked.

Carth shook his head, “None in anything I read.”

Gazing out over the valley, she said softly, “There are some times I wish I had more memories to help us out in this. But most of the time, I'm glad I can't remember committing all those atrocities. I'm sure there are more than even made it onto the records. And I must have even thought it was the right thing to do.”

In all the stress of entering the academy, Carth had almost forgotten that Ev really was Revan. He shivered. Those same hands were responsible for the deaths of billions.

Breathing in deeply, Ev finally continued, “Anyway, we do have a bit of daylight left. Let's go for a stroll and see if I can recognize that particular flavor of Dark Side that the star maps emit.”

One by one, they hiked up to each of the tombs and Ev placed her hands against the massive stone doors. Closing her eyes meditatively, she stayed that way for a long while. Meanwhile, Carth warily stood watch. By the time they had looped back around to Ajunta Pall's tomb, dusk had slipped into honest darkness. Ev finally drew back from the door and sighed.

“Well?” Carth asked.

“There's a lot of interesting Dark Side energy flowing around this valley, particularly in the tombs,” Ev replied, “The trouble is that there's so much of it. I can hardly sort out one source from another. It could easily be in any of these tombs, or someplace else completely.”

“I thought you would ask Yuthura about it tonight,” Carth observed.

“That woman is sharp. She wouldn't be in the position she is if she weren't,” Ev replied, “If I came right out and asked about the star map or Revan and Malak straight away on my first night here, she would be suspicious. I'm going to try to work it out of her casually if I can. She sent us off before I got that far tonight. I'm certain she knows.”

Carth took a deep breath and sighed, “We've only been here for one day so far, and I'm already worn out.”

“Of course you're tense,” Ev nodded. “It's taking all I've got to hide my connection to the Light Side and make a controlled slip towards the Dark. Hell, knowing that this academy wouldn't be here if not for me is stressing me out too. And, what if someone here actually knew Revan before she—I took to wearing the mask all the time?”

“I'd say it's unlikely,” Carth tried to reassure her, but the thought had crossed his mind too, “Everyone around the academy is pretty young. The only one I'd worry about is Uthar, but he didn't seem to recognize you at all.”

“Or if Malak pays a visit,” Ev said darkly, “I doubt he'd even have to see me. He'd know me by my presence in the Force.”

“Well, all the more reason to get this over-with as soon as we can,” Carth replied.

Ev sighed again. She craned her neck and gazed at the steep side of the tomb that loomed high above them. “I wonder,” she mused, “Were the ancient Sith the Builders? No—all the portraits I've seen don't match up with those statues we've seen. But then, where the Sith and the Builders enemies or allies? What would a star map built by an alien race be doing in the tomb of one of their respected leaders?”

Just then, movement in the center of the valley caught Carth's attention.

Ev saw it too. “There's still people out here?” she whispered. Gesturing towards them, she urged, “Let's casually head back and see if we can overhear them.”

Carth nodded and they strode back towards the academy as quickly as they could while still looking casual. Soon they got within range to better see the group. Two armed Sith Soldiers in gray uniforms flanked two more Dark Jedi. They were speaking in low voices and chuckling.

Carth and Ev drew even closer as the left the valley and wound down the rocky canyon that connected the valley to the academy.

“...takes care of it,” one of the guards muttered.

“Don't you speak a word of this to anyone but Uthar himself,” one of the Dark Jedi said sharply, “Or you won't live to see another day, understand?”

“Of course,” the guard replied evenly, “This isn't an unusual procedure, you know.”

“I don't want to know,” the other Dark Jedi said.

“That girl though, what a sucker,” the first Dark Jedi laughed, “She actually thought we had picked her out for a special excursion, despite her being the bottom of her class and a total weakling.”

The other laughed in agreement, “I don't even know why they admitted her in the first place.”

“Well, there's no need to worry about that anymore,” the first Dark Jedi said smugly, “No one will ever find the body. It will be as if she never entered this place.”

Carth held back a gasp. They went out and killed a student just because she was falling behind?

The quartet of Sith rounded the last bend before the back entrance to the academy. Putting a finger to her lips, Ev grasped Carth's arm and stopped. They waited silently until they were sure that the Sith they had been following were inside. Meanwhile, a chilly wind whipped up dust devils in the path ahead of them.

“Although they must not have been very in tune with the Force themselves not to notice us,” Ev observed in a scoffing whisper. “Let's go.”

They entered the academy and were greeted suspiciously by the guards who still stood at attention, though sleepily, on either side of the door. “What were you doing out so late?” one demanded.

“Finishing some research on the tombs,” Ev answered truthfully, “Time got away from me.”

“Hm,” the guard muttered and let them pass.

There was still a fair bit of activity inside the academy walls. Students studied, practiced, chatted with friends, or went about other more private pursuits. Ev led Carth straight back to her room, past Yuthura's empty chamber. She immediately slumped down onto the bed and massaged her temples.

“Oh, Force, what a long day?” she muttered.

Standing over her, Carth finally found the courage to ask the question that had been itching at him all day, “How's Bastila.”

“Oh,” Ev released a long sigh then dropped into a meditative posture, “Angry, doubting, in pain—lots of pain. I've been trying to block it out.”

“Sorry,” Carth apologized.

“Don't be,” Ev shook her head, “I should be paying closer attention to her. She's stubborn and loves the Jedi, but Malak needs her too badly. I don't know what he'd resort to. I don't know what he's capable of.”

Hesitantly, Carth sat down on the bed next to her. Ev didn't stop him. He put a hand on her shoulder, and tried to come up with something encouraging to say. “We've gotten this far without her beside us. I'm sure we'll be able to find the last map that will lead us to the Star Forge.”

“It's not her not being by our side that I'm worried about,” Ev said quietly, “It's her not being on our side any more. You heard what Jolee said. I'm sure he's right.”

Then a terrible possibility hit him. “What if Malak uses her connection to you to find us and mount an ambush?” Carth blurted.

“I doubt he'll have to,” Ev sighed, “If she goes over to his side, he just needs to ask her where we planned to go next and what we planned to do to stop him. He'll know exactly how to stop us.”

“Then we'll have to be unpredictable,” Carth offered.

“What, by not going to the Star Forge after all?” Ev asked wearily, “Carth, we don't have a choice in that.”

“Why don't you try to get some sleep?” Carth suggested, standing up. “I'll stand watch for a little while longer.”

“Carth, you don't have to,” Ev protested mildly.

“I'd be a terrible bodyguard if I didn't,” Carth replied with a half smile and paced towards the entrance to her room.

“Thanks,” she said, “Well, when you do get tired, crash wherever you want to: the floor, the bed, wherever makes you happiest.”

“Fine,” Carth nodded. Sorry, Ev, but I'm not biting on that bait. I'm not sharing your bed.

Ev stripped down to only her under tunic and leggings before slipping into bed and turning out the light with a Force flick of her hand. Even still, light poured in from the hallway.

Carth stood alone in the dimness, wondering just how he had gotten himself to this point in the first place. If Admiral Dodonna hadn't assigned him to Bastila and the Endar Spire, he would never have been here. He couldn't decide if it was a lot of bad luck or good that had led him to pilot the Ebon Hawk and to walk by Ev's side in all this. A Jedi would say it was the will of the Force. And maybe they were right.


On the way back from breakfast in the morning, where Carth had been grudgingly accepted and fed, Ev chatted lightly with Kel and Lashowe.

“So I hear they're putting you straight into my lightsaber class,” Kel said eagerly.

“Yuthura hasn't said anything yet,” Ev replied, “When is it?”

“Right away this morning,” Kel answered.

“You'd better be careful Kel, she could take your head off in sparring practice if you're not careful,” Lashowe teased wickedly, “Personally, I'm surprised they held you back so far. Though, you don't know anything about Force techniques using the Dark Side.”

“Hardly anything,” Ev replied honestly.

“Well, you'll have some catching up to do if you're really serious about getting this spot in the academy,” Lashowe reminded her.

“And you better step up the pace on your saber skills,” Ev retorted. “How is the Ajunta Pall investigation going?”

“If I have time, I want to start today,” Lashowe replied. She seemed distinctly uncomfortable saying even that much. Somehow, Ev's own openness had caused the girl to let her guard down, if only a little.

Carth didn't see Dustil coming until he shoved through their group. “Get out of my way!” he snapped and continued in the direction of the dining hall.

“What's up with him?” Ev asked.

“I hear that his girlfriend disappeared yesterday, or something,” Kel replied in a low voice, “And that Master Uthar refuses to send out a search for her.”

“His girlfriend?” Carth murmured. Ev and her two Sith friends ignored him. He already has a girlfriend? I've never even met her. Could that have been his girlfriend with him in the library? Dustil, I've missed out on so much. Maybe you're right. Maybe all that time, I didn't really know you...

“Well, we don't want to keep master Kreppin waiting,” Kel urged, “He likes discipline.”

“Right,” Ev nodded.

“Well, I'll see you later in class,” Lashowe said with a wave, and went her own way.

Ev and Kel started walking for the lightsaber practice area, Carth at their heels.

“Does he have to go everywhere you do?” Kel complained, gesturing over his shoulder.

Ev stopped and looked thoughtfully back at Carth. “You know, he doesn't,” Ev replied, “I don't need a body guard around here the way I did in my travels. At least when I'm awake with a lightsaber on my belt. Carth, go back to my room and wait there. I will come find you if I want your services.”

Carth hesitated, but took a deep breath and nodded, “Fair enough.”

Before he turned to go, Kel reassured him, “Don't worry. I'll watch her back in the arena.”

Carth chuckled, “Thanks.”

As he turned and walked again towards the dormitory portion of the academy, he heard Kel say, “The masters wouldn't like talking about our arts here in front of someone who isn't an official student of the academy. Who knows who someone like him would spill to, once you decide to let him go.”

“They'd probably make me kill him first,” Ev replied darkly. “Looks like he's staying with me long-term, then,” she added with a chuckle, “He's too good to throw away like that.”

And so began another long day with little to do and plenty to be anxious about. Carth went through the information about the Valley of the Dark Lords one more time, searching for anything that he might have forgotten.

When Ev returned that night, Yuthura Ban was already in her room. “How are you Master Yuthura?” she asked, passing through.

Carth rose and stepped towards the doorway at the sound of her voice.

“Fine,” Yuthura replied, “And yourself?”

“Still in one piece,” Ev said with a smile, “Though, exhausted, to be honest.” She stepped into her room and tossed something to Carth, then moved back into Yuthura's room.

Carth looked down at what was in his hands. Wrapped in a gray paper napkin, was some sort of sandwich that Ev seemed to have whipped up out of left-overs from dinner. She had sliced a large dinner roll in half, slathered it with some kind of cheese spread, then stacked with with sliced vegetables and a few chunks of meat. Carth sat back down on the bed to eat it, waiting for her to finish with Yuthura.

“I'm surprised,” Yuthura replied, “You don't seem like the sort to tire easily.”

Ev laughed lightly. “It's more like, I've learned more things in one day that challenge the way of thinking that the Jedi tried to drill into me, than I have in all the months since I left them,” Ev explained.

“Ah, it is often more difficult to work with students that the Jedi have already spoiled, than the anxious clean slates of fresh trainees,” Yuthura replied.

“At least with that kind of thing,” Ev agreed, “I left the Jedi because I had too many questions that they couldn't—or wouldn't answer. I didn't like the restrictions of their lifestyle. I can already see that the freedom through the Force that the Sith preach might lead more to my satisfaction.”

“The Foce shall free us,” Yuthura quoted fondly.

“Why did you leave the Jedi?” Ev inquired, “If it's alright to ask.”

“I suppose you can ask,” Yuthura replied slowly, “It's not too different from your story. Even when I was with the Jedi, I couldn't let go of my hate for the Hutts and their slavers. I vowed to myself that once I had power and the freedom to use it, I would destroy their slaving rings and take back the life they took from me as a child. You can imagine how the Jedi felt about that.”

“They never were ones for revenge,” Ev admitted.

“I could not find the peace within me that they promised through their teachings,” Yuthura continued, “When Revan and Malak returned as Sith Lords, looking to recruit to their cause, I saw my chance and freedom, and so I left the Jedi Order, along with so many others.”

“Have you gotten back at those slavers yet? Now that you have the power?” Ev asked.

“No, not yet,” Yuthura admitted, “This academy keeps me busy. But, perhaps the deeper truth is that my compassion still gets in the way. Were I only to be free of that, I could take my revenge and free the other slaves who still suffer under them.”

“But in losing your compassion, would you still care about all the slaves you were trying to free?” Ev pointed out.

“Well, of course,” Yuthura replied uncomfortably, “They have suffered as I have.”

The pair fell silent for a while.

“Speaking of Revan and Malak,” Ev started again, “Did you ever meet Revan face-to-face?”

Yuthura laughed, “Why this sudden interest in a long-dead Sith Lord?”

“We're studying even longer-dead Sith Lords here in the ruins, aren't we?” Ev pointed out.

“True,” Yuthura responded, “The truth is, although I saw Darth Revan, I, like most all others, never saw her face.”

“So you wouldn't recognize her without the mask, if she were to walk through this academy?” Ev persisted.

“I wouldn't be able to,” Yuthura admitted, “Only those who knew her well, before she dawned her mask as the Revanchist, would have any chance of recognizing here, and she has aged many years since then. Even Uthar, who went with her fleet after the war, had never seen her face. Except Lord Malak, all those that have are probably long dead.”

“You talk like you think she might still be out there somewhere,” Ev observed.

“It's possible. Anything is possible in the Force,” Yuthura replied noncommitally, “But it is highly unlikely. No matter, it was time for Darth Malak to rise as Dark Lord of the Sith. Revan may have been a brilliant leader, but she lacked the proper force towards the Republic. Lord Malak has seen to it that we are both respected and feared.”

“That he has,” Ev agreed. “Did Revan and Malak visit her often when this place was being founded?”

“Not often,” Yuthura replied, “I know they came here once or twice before the founding, and perhaps once or twice afterward to recruit for special missions, but we saw very little of them.” After a pause, she added in warning, “Though, if I were you, I would keep your interests in Sith Lords to those long dead or those currently ruling.”

“Point taken,” Ev replied seriously. After a loud yawn, she said, “Well, I should do a bit of meditation on what I've learned today and get some sleep.”

“That you should,” Yuthura agreed.

Finally, Ev sauntered into her own room and slumped down onto the bed next to where Carth sat. She really did look tired.

“How are you doing?” Carth asked quietly.

“Tired,” she replied, “Really tired. This Sith training is really taking it out of me. You'd think, by this age, I'd be done training in crazy new things instead of piling them on.”

Carth chuckled.

“How was your dinner?” Ev asked, “Sorry it wasn't much. I had meant to bring you lunch too, but they kept me too busy.”

“It was fine, don't worry about it,” Carth waved her off. “I read over those datapads again,” he offered.

“Anything new?” she asked.

“Not really,” he shook his head, “But when we go into one of those tombs, I'll actually be able to help you out.”

“Now that's a good man servant,” Ev said with a laugh. Then her expression darkened, “I heard that that Dustil kid has disappeared too. Kell said he didn't come to any of his classes this afternoon and wasn't in his room.”

“If he lost his girlfriend, he's probably out brooding somewhere,” Carth tried not to feel worried, but anxiousness already gripped his chest.

“Or he went out to try to find her,” Ev suggested, “Sith are people of action, not of waiting and mourning.”

“You think he's still out there looking, or he fell into some kind of trap?” Carth asked.

“Knowing this valley, I suspect a trap,” Ev replied, “And there have been more student disappearances lately than just Dustil and Selene. Master Yuthura mentioned a crazy old hermit—Uthar's old master, that has been snatching lost kids.”

“If that's it,” Carth said, “Then it makes sense why he wouldn't send searchers after them.”

Ev nodded.

“We have to go after him,” Carth pleaded quietly.

“I have still have prestige to earn,” Ev replied evenly, “And so I thought we would start tomorrow with the tomb of Tulak Hord.”


Ev made good on her promise and roused Carth at the crack of dawn the next morning. She already had two fist-fulls of toast ready for breakfast for both of them.

“Don't you need sleep?” Carth asked blearily, munching on the toast.

“Needing it and actually doing it are two separate matters,” Ev responded, “We have more important things to think about than beauty rest.”

Carth wanted to protest, but Ev was already on her feet again. She wrapped the spiraling black robe over her under shirt and fastened her belt over it. Unlike most of the other students, Ev insisted on wearing a Jedi style tunic, rather than a more militaristic uniform. Although, she had switched from brown to black upon entering the academy.

Fumbling with his clothes, boots, and gear, Carth got himself ready as quickly as he could.

The walked through the academy, saying nothing. Very few Sith were about at this early hour. Mainly, they only encountered soldier guards. Once outside, the oppressive silence was broken by the cries of birds and other less pleasant sounding creatures.

The chilly morning air that slapped Carth in the face took the place of his daily cup of caff. After warily winding down the narrow canyon to the valley, Carth was almost certain that they were alone out there.

“Which one did you say was Tulak Hord's?” Ev asked, surveying the valley. The stone looked pinker than before and cast long shadows across the ground.

“The back right one,” Carth pointed.

Ev started walking immediately, kicking up a fine dust as she walked. “Anything I should know about this tomb before heading inside?” she asked.

“Well, like I said, not much excavation has been done on it,” Carth replied slowly, “But they have said that it is is falling apart in some places inside. There was also mention of wildlife caving up in there.”

“Wildlife?” Ev echoed, “Lovely.”

“I think it was this previous master that did most of the research on it that's on record,” Carth added, “Before he was kicked out and took to hiding out in there.”

“That would explain the last of resources on it,” Ev commented.

They both fell silent.

In order to act like a proper Sith wannabe, Ev had to play the competition game with her three fellow students. She didn't have to win, she just had to participate.

And do so in a way that wouldn't actually turn her into a real Sith. That was Carth's job to monitor, in any case.

Soon enough, they reached the set-in entrance to the tomb of Tulak Hord. The huge stone door was already open. A sloping corridor let up into the dusty dimness.

“How's that for you?” Ev asked, taking it in.

“What?” Carth asked.

“Someone has been in here recently,” Ev pointed out, “And they left the door open.”

“Dustil,” Carth concluded.

Ev nodded, “That's what I'm thinking. He probably came to the same conclusion we did, thinking that his girlfriend was taken by this old hermit, and decided to go after.”

“That's my boy,” it slipped out of Carth's mouth. He wasn't sure whether to feel proud or not.

Ev gave him a slight smile. “Well, shall we?” she asked, gesturing into the tomb.

“After you,” he replied.

The tomb was indeed falling apart. Pieces of carved stone lay haphazardly in their path. On several occasions, they had to climb over them to continue along. The farther up they went, the darker it became. Soon, even with the gentle violet light of Ev's lightsaber and the small flashlight Carth had along was hardly enough to give them clear visibility.

Occasionally, they would come to a junction in the hallways, but the decision was usually made easily for them. Rarely was more than one path passable, between collapsed ceilings or other impassible looking piles of rubble.

One wrong turn did take them into a nest of angry shyracks. With pale leathery wings beating down on them in mobs, Carth and Ev somehow managed to extract themselves without injury.

As Ev smoothed out her hair with her free hand, she looked over the pile of corpses they left behind. “Local wildlife, huh?” she murmured.

Back-tracking a little ways, they were soon back on the right path. That, however, soon led them to a dead end. A large stone door blocked their way. Ev stopped several meters from the door, silently motioning for Carth to stop as well. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “Beyond that door seems to be the Dark Side nexus of this tomb,” Ev reported softly, eyes still closed, “There are at least two or three living presences in there. It's hard to tell. There's so much Dark Side energy flowing around, it's tough to keep a focus on just one Sith.”

“And Dustil?” Carth whispered.

“It's hard to say,” she replied, her brow furrowing. Shaking her head, she relaxed and opened her eyes. “If he's anywhere in this tomb, he'd be behind that door.”

“Well, let's go,” Carth urged.

“As long as you're ready,” Ev replied, “There could be all kinds of traps behind that door for us. We'll need to be cautious and watch our step once we get it open. Be ready for anything.”

“Sure, I'm ready,” Carth replied, with a flashlight in one hand and a blaster ready in the other.

Ev took two steps forward, stumbled, and came up cursing under her breath, “Oh Force!”

“What?” Carth asked. Already a greenish colored gas was seeping up through the floor.

“Trip wire,” Ev wheezed. She fell to her knees, coughing.

“Ev! Are you alr—woh...” Carth started but suddenly felt dizzy. It was all he could do to catch himself in a slow, controlled fall.

As his consciousness began to slip away, Carth was dimly aware of the sound of stone grating against stone as the door slid open. He heard a nasally voice laugh, “What have we here? More students eager for my teachings. My, my, they certainly do come on droves these days.” He laughed again. “That contact neuro-toxin should knock you out for a while...”

When Carth came two, Ev was already arguing with someone.

“...don't think that is the best way to earn loyal apprentices,” she seemed angry.

Carth tried to orient himself. He was crumpled uncomfortably on the cold, stone ground, totally unable to move or speak. It was a feeling he was all too used to by now, but he still despised it. They were in a well-lit circular chamber, still inside the tomb. And, fortunately, Carth was in a position to be able to see the three other people in the room. Ev stood in front of a black clad old man. She too seemed to be awkwardly frozen in place, though she still had free movement of her head. Next to her stood a battered Dustil. He seemed barely able to stand, like a marionette hanging limply from a string.

“My old apprentice Uthar has already poisoned your minds towards me,” the old man snapped. It couldn't have been any other than Jorak Un. “As if any of you students would willingly seek my council! I have had to resort to a poison of my own.”

“Hey, I was just here looking for some kind of ancient star map,” Ev said defensively.

“Oh, that's not in this tomb,” Jorak snickered. “It looks like your misinformation has turned into my lucky day.”

“Where is it then?” Ev demanded.

“Ah-ah-ah,” the old man scolded, “That is no way to speak to your teacher. I ask the questions, and you answer them, student.”

“And what do you do here anyway?” Ev demanded with a sidelong glance at Dustil, “Abuse your students?”

“I test them,” Jorak replied eagerly, “To see if they are worthy. Don't I, Dustil?”

Dustil only moaned.

“Worthy of what?” Ev asked suspiciously.

“Of becoming a Sith,” the old master replied, “Uthar really has been doing a terrible job of keeping up the academy. The caliber of students really has been going down hill. Few have what it takes to be an old fashioned Sith. Dustil here has the drive and the cunning of a Sith, but lacks true malice.”

“What are you going to do with him now?” Ev asked.

“Oh, that's the delightful bit,” the old man giggled shrilly, “He is going to help me out in your test. Now, what did you say your name was again?”

“Ren Va,” Ev replied.

“Ah, shall we begin?” Jorak asked eagerly.

“What is this test?” Ev asked quickly, “What if I fail?”

“Then you will be dead,” Jorak responded just as eagerly, “Somehow Dustil survived, but I doubt he will again this time.”

“And what if I pass?” Ev asked shrewdly.

“Oh, that's very unlikely,” the old man replied, “But if you do, I'll give you my thesis. I have been studying the philosophies of the ancient Sith, which are scribed all over this tomb. With that, you could become the greatest student in the academy. But, like I said, it's unlikely.”

“Alright,” Ev said, “Do your worst.”

“That's no way to face an examination,” Jorak scolded, “I will pose you with a moral question and you will answer to the best of your abilities.”

“Oh, this again,” Ev groaned.

“If you get it wrong, I will torture you. If you get it right, I torture Dustil,” he continued, “Got it?”

“Clearly you enjoy torture,” Ev muttered through gritted teeth.

He ignored her, “Question one: you have a respected leader. He is competent, skilled, and you like him. An opportunity comes when his back is turned. Do you kill him?”

“Why would I kill him if I like him? Ev shot back mockingly.

“Idiot! What kind of students is Uthar admitting these days?” Jorak ranted, “No, no! This is your chance to usurp his power and take his position. Of course you take it, you fool! Here's your punishment.” A burst of Force lightning laced out from his fingers towards Ev.

Although she was unable to move the rest of her body, Ev threw back her head and screamed.

“Next question:” Jorak continued, even as she moaned, “You have an underling who makes a big mistake that makes you look bad. He has done very well in the past and has always been loyal to you. What do you do?”

“Give him a pay cut,” Ev replied shortly.

“What are you, some kind of business woman?” Jorak demanded, “You kill him! If you don't then someone else might kill you.” Again, he shot lightning at Ev, only this time more forcefully.

Ev's head lolled around on her neck. She was beginning to look almost as much like a dangling puppet as Dustil. “Oh I get it,” she said hoarsely, “The answer to all of the questions 'kill him'.”

“I haven't asked you yet,” Jorak snapped, “Fine then. Since you are so eager to proceed, here is your third question. You discover an aspect of the Force that makes you very powerful. Do you share it?”

“Oh yes,” Ev replied, forcibly straightening up to meet Jorak's gaze, “I publish it widely. Sharing is caring.”

“Very funny,” Jorak said sarcastically.

She's either got a death wish... or she's trying to save Dustil.

“You earned this,” he added dryly. Tendrils of lightning shot out of his fingers. Ev writhed against her Force bonds and screamed. When he finally released her from the torture, Carth was afraid that she had blacked out.

Panting hard and sweating, she laboriously looked up. Carth's heart leaped in relief. Despite her pallid complexion, there was that familiar fire in her eyes.

“This will be your last question,” Jorak announced, “I don't think you'll last if you get it wrong again. If you finally get one right, well, I don't think Dustil will last either. In fact, since you seem to be particularly stupid, I'll give you an easy one. You come upon a small group of sentients cornered by a pack of wild animals. They plead for help and offer a large reward. What do you do?”

“I sweep in like a knight in shining armor to save them and accept no reward. I give them each a hug to ease their trauma and, for good measure, a bunny,” Ev wheezed all in one long breath. There was a weak smile playing at the corner of her lips.

Jorak Un was disgusted. “I think you wanted this,” he spat and sent lightning at her one last time, longer and more harshly than before.

Carth almost stopped breathing as he watched her scream. He really is going to kill her for all that! And there was nothing that he could do.

When he had finished with her, the old Sith threw back his head and cackled. Ev's chin rested limply against her sternum and her eyes were gently closed. Jorak paced away. “What a waste,” he complained, “Yet another failure.”

“Is that all you've got?” Ev demanded in a hoarse moan.

“Oh my,” Jorak uttered in surprise and turned back to her, “You survived all that? The test is over and both you and Dustil are still alive. How did that happen? What to do, what to do?” Gazing over both his captives, he came to a decision, “I will just have to let you go back to the academy in shame, Dustil, and Ren here will have to wait around until the next fool of a students stumbles into my abode.” With a flick of his hand, Dustil was released. He stumbled backwards, gaining his balance. Carth was surprised that he had the strength to stand.

“Or I could use the Force to free her,” Dustil murmured threateningly, “And we'll both kill you.”

“And why would you—” Jorak began mockingly.

Dustil flicked both of his hands outwards, towards Ev and Carth. The Force bonds that had been holding Carth down disappeared. An instant later, Dustil drew his lightsaber. Ev wasn't far behind.

Carth scrambled to his feet and searched for his weapons. His left blaster was still in its holster at his side. This will have to do for now.

Ev and Dustil, though weak, whirled at Jorak Un. It took the old man a moment to get his own weapon out, but before he could get it ignited, Ev sliced off his hand at the wrist. Hand and hilt fell harmlessly to the floor.

Jorak howled in pain.

Dustil didn't waste any more time. He stabbed quickly and the old Sith's chest and skewered him effectively through the heart.

“Detention, all of you,” he coughed as he collapsed to the floor.

For good measure, Carth shot him a few times.

Threat gone, Dustil extinguished his weapon and staggered back against the wall.

Without being asked, Ev walked unsteadily over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. Carth immediately recognized her healing posture.

“You didn't have to do that, you know,” Dustil said, “Taking all the hits for me.”

“Yes I did. Your father would never forgive me if I hadn't,” Ev replied, then added darkly, “He's got plenty to forgive already.”

“And now I see why he hangs around with you,” Dustil coughed, shifting uncomfortably under the pressure of Ev's hand. “What are you doing?”

“Healing you,” Ev replied shortly, distracted.

“No, stop,” Dustil protested, “You've already done enough.” He tried to brush her hand away, but she wouldn't budge.

“You'd rather stumble back into the academy where someone would spot you, call you a weakling, and probably kill you anyway?” Ev asked.

Dustil didn't reply, but he didn't struggle any more.

“Did you find her?” Ev asked when she had finished.

“No,” he replied mournfully then straightened up and accused sharply, “I thought I told you not to ask around about me!”

“I didn't,” Ev replied defensively, “Kel Algwinn just likes to gossip a lot.”

“I don't even know why they keep that kid around,” Dustil sighed, “He'll make a terrible Sith, even if he does have one of the strongest connections to the Force of any of us.”

Dustil glanced over at Carth then back at Ev again. “I hope you two didn't just do this to rescue me,” he said.

“Hey, I'm just trying to collect prestige,” Ev lied with a shrug, “This encounter was just a happy accident.”

“Well, you'd better take the crazy old hermit's writings back to Master Uthar then,” Dustil suggested, pointing towards a dilapidated wicker crate next to what appeared to be an ancient sarcophagus in the center of the chamber.

Ev nodded, “Will do.”

Dustil turned towards the open doorway. With a grimace, he said, “Thanks.”

As Carth watched him go, wanting to say something but having nothing to say, Ev walked over to the wicker crate and experimentally hefted it up. She dropped it with a thud.

“Hey Carth,” she called to him, panting a little, “I've had a rough morning. Will you be a good manservant and carry these back to the academy for me.”

“You know I will,” he replied.

- Next Part -


Star Wars is (c) Lucasfilm Ltd. All original characters, stories, and art belong to SoA and may not be re-posted without permission.