Cain was happy.
This was not unheard of.
It would be more accurate to say that Cain was quite content, but happy sufficed, and thus, Cain was happy.
Cain was happy for a reason: he had received a note, a very, very impersonal note, informing him that he, amongst many others, now had permission to visit Erzabet. This, in essence, was both the cause of the aforementioned happiness, but also a great deal of anxiety.
Cain had, in her absence, placed this woman on a pedestal so high that he could barely see the person beyond the reverence he gave her. To actually see her in person seemed almost...wrong, as if it would defile this empress he had constructed in his own mind. Cain spent roughly six seconds debating it, and then took off in the direction of the holding cells. Cain was not a philosopher by nature.
As he walked down the corridor that lead to Erzabet's cell, he passed Ythros. Cain had never really grasped the concept of Ythros, never really understood the being that was an embodiment of all things pain. Therefore he tried not to think about the man made of scar tissue as he passed him and entered the cell, and sat, cross legged, on front of the force-field, face locked onto the floor.
Erzabet, who sat on the far side of the bed, considered Cain for a moment, tipping her head to the side with the same slight, amused smile as when they met.
He shifted awkwardly on the hard stone, and muttered a reply, "I'm allowed to come in here, now."
She raised an eyebrow ever so slightly, still amused. "Ah, well, I suppose that explains your presence, then. The scarred man, do you know him?"
Cain raised his head, still without eye contact, "Yes, I know of him. I don't know what is beneath the scars, but I know of Ythros. He is confusing."
"Yes he is. He stared at me for hours and said nothing."
"I do not think he is used to...words. It is not hard to see he deals in blood, not emotion. He enjoys warfare - that much I know, and I respect that."
"Do you? And do you also deal in blood rather than emotion?"
Cain frowned, and considered this. He could not tell if she was mocking him or not, and chose to be honest. "During the Mandalorian Wars, I tried to bring both warfare and emotion to the front lines, although I seem to have lost them both now. When I was at war, I was happy, but that was too long ago now."
"Happy in the war? That is not what I understand of the Jedi. Why did you leave?"
"There was...a conflict, of opinions. These halls are empty compared to what they were. We did not leave the war, it, and Revan, left us."
A look of contempt crossed Cain's face as he continued. "It is now fought in secrecy, all data and and subterfuge. The war is internal now, and that is why none have returned. Even if the Jedi were still what they were, they would not be accepted. The Revanchists have been replaced with politicians. There is no one to fight now that the Mandalorians are all but gone, so I deal in nothing."
"No one to fight? What of the Sith? Surely their warfare is more than data?"
Cain laughed at this. "What Sith? Even they seem content to fight each other more than us. You are the first 'Sith' I have seen since Malachor, so if there are Sith to fight, they have not presented themselves to me. There are those fortunate enough to be combating that threat. But I am not one of them...I should be, but I am not."
Erzabet rose a moment, and moved closer to the force-field before sitting again; "Why not?"
Cain clenched his fists; "Because the Jedi Council has ordained that I have clearly had too much of war and would be better suited working a desk. It is amazing that they even let me keep my lightsaber, and my armour has not been worn in far too long. It is shameful, to both me and them, that I am left here to file reports and document meaningless events, in a job that does not even have a title. I should be cutting swaths through the front lines of any enemy that threatens us, not stuck in a lobby."
"You should be careful, Jedi. You talk like a Sith. Believe me, I know."
This was offensive to Cain, but he tried not to show this. How successful he was, he could not say, but he kept his reply calm and considerate.
"Not at all. The purpose of a Jedi is to preserve justice. That is the fundamental basis of civilization. It cannot stand without justice and order, and to preserve that we need peace. We cannot have peace with enemies hounding us. I am no philosopher, however - I just point my weapon where I am told."
Cain no longer felt this was true. In her presence he felt as if his opinion did matter. She listened to him and no one had listened to Cain's opinion in a long time.
Whether Erzabet saw this or not, she certainly seemed pleased with his words. She smiled and she seemed almost teasing in her reply. "You speak of peace but long for war--are you sure you are a Jedi?" Cain tried to consider this, but was interrupted.
"Peace through Strength," she said, "Strength through Conflict?"
And, again, before he could reply,
"Is Peace a lie, Jedi?"
And Cain did not know, at least, not at first. It took several moments under her gaze before he could even think straight, let alone formulate a reply, and when he did, it was far less reserved and calm than he had wished.
"No, no, it is not - it is just...far off. Waiting, for...unification? I am a Jedi - it is them, the pretenders, those that would rather wield a pen than a lightsaber, those that took me, and saw me for what I was - a guardian, a warrior - and caged me in that lobby. Not because of any battle, or war, or skirmish - they envied me, because whilst I was helping to destroy the Mandalorian threat, protecting the innocent, they were fretting behind their desks, still deciding whether or not to let the entire galaxy fall under tyranny. They saw that I, and the entire Revanchist Movement, were living lives that they were afraid to consider, and so they swept me under the carpet, too terrible a sight to behold for the bureaucrats."
He paused. He would have spat if he had not been in her presence, and his fists were still clenched tight. Taking a deep breath, he relaxed his body and tried to center himself as he continued.
"I am a Jedi. But I am also a realist. Strength is required to maintain order and preserve unity, yes, and conflict is the easiest, simplest way of doing so. It is not the only way, but as much as the Council would deny, conflict is, and has always been, our way - righteous, justified conflict. This order is descended from what became strong peacekeepers and guardians, and I adhere to that tradition. We inspire those that cannot fight, we fill them with awe, and we have a responsibility to protect these people. Conflict against the Mandalorians was past necessary, it was demanded, utterly required by the loss of life. I am a Jedi, I have strength, and I will use that to strive for the peace that is still so very far off, whether these pathetic bureaucrats agree with me or not."
Erzabet had stayed utterly calm, still and collected despite Cain's admittedly spiteful outburst. "Then why do you still serve them? I understand many have left the order. Why do you stay?"
Cain's eyes fell to the floor again. "Because...because for all my strength, I am still weak. There is nothing for me out there, and I still hold hope that there is a chance, a small chance, but a chance nonetheless that the Council will stop this gradual decline. I am too lost for the Jedi, but I will never fall into the utter darkness they fear. I will get my hands dirty, but I will never become the evil they warn against, and therefore I cannot join the Sith. I am in between both, and there is no organization of exiles, no order of fallen Jedi, and I am far from a leader...I have no where else to go."
When she replied, Erzabet's tone was sympathetic, so much so that Cain felt compelled to turn his head high, to make eye contact.
"I understand. Truly."
Cain looked at the force-field and chuckled slightly. "Yes, I guess you do...why are you here? Really?"
A sad smile turned across Erzabet's mouth. "Because I am weak, because there is nothing for me among the Sith, I have gotten my hands dirty, but I can never surrender to the destruction they worship, and therefore cannot remain among the Sith. I am in between both, and there is no organization of exiles, no order of repentant Sith...I have nowhere else to go."
Maintaining eye contact for the first time since entering, Cain pondered this, and surprised himself with his own reply, "There could be. You could make one. There are certainly enough fallen Jedi out there. It is...conceivable."
She nodded. "Perhaps. I tried to create a different path among the Sith, a path of unity rather than conflict. I did not fail - rather, I was too successful, and drew the attention of other Sith Lords. I became a danger to my people, so I had to leave them. You are not the only one in between the two orders. There are many such among the Sith. I simply welcomed them. I gave them a place and, I hope, a purpose. To find strength in unity rather than conflict. Instead of a mass of individuals, we acted as one. I thought the Jedi would perhaps be sympathetic, but I think they only seek to satisfy themselves as to the threat I pose to them, not to understand."
"Then why do you stay? If they are not what you thought, why remain?"
She laughed, and gestured towards the force-field, "I have been persuaded to accept their hospitality for a while longer..." Her face turned far more serious before she added, "And no one leaves the Sith and lives. My life is forfeit if I leave this place."
Cain rose, and, as he turned, muttered back to Erzabet, "Not if you leave with the right people."
Corev opened his eyes to stare at the wall across from him. It was dark in the room which meant he had been meditating for a few hours at least. He rose to his feet and groaned at the pain in his legs - not as young as he used to be. Using the Force to flick on the light switch he walked over to the closet and put on his uniform, then as he left the room, he used to to turn off the light and shut the door. Some would consider such things to be a frivolous use of his ability, but it was a simple way to keep in practice and he had to admit, he took a child-like pleasure in even such a simple trick.
He made his way down the illuminated hallway to the turbo lift and pushed the button for the floor where the Jedi kept their 'special' prisoners. The lift descended and after a couple of seconds it beeped indicating that he had reached the requested floor. It was late and few people roamed the halls of the Jedi temple. The few that did would not be on this level however. This level was reserved for the Sith prisoners of the Jedi. It had been empty for a long time, right up until the strange Sith woman gave herself up to the Jedi. Now the level contained her and the few guards that were assigned to her. Corev walked down the stone hallway, his footsteps breaking the usual silence. He arrived at the desk where a bored Jedi stood guard. "Hello Master Jedi. I would like to see the prisoner."
"Could I see your credentials?"
"Certainly." He handed them across the counter
The Jedi looked them over before nodding, "Corev Saal. Republic Officer. Your name is here. Please follow me."
The guard pressed a button on the door. It hissed open and the Jedi signaled for Corev to go in. "I'll be out here if you need me."
He walked over to her cell and looked past the glowing barrier in between them. She was awake and turned to look at him as he approached.
"Hello. I came down to see if you were comfortable."
She smiled slightly, seeming surprised that he would show concern for her. "Yes, very. Thank you." She paused before continuing, "You must have been very concerned about my comfort, if it cost you your night's sleep."
"Oh it is not the only thing that was keeping me awake."
"Really?" She cocked her head slightly. "Do you have a great many worries?"
He sighed, "Of late, yes I do. What about you? Shouldn't you be asleep?"
"I do not sleep." Her face remained neutral as she said it. She was merely stating a fact.
He was surprised and showed it. "You do not sleep? How do you function?"
"I meditate instead."
He himself meditated a lot and knew it was no substitute for sleep. "Meditation can't possibly give you what sleep would."
"No it does not. It gives me no dreams."
He raised an eyebrow. "No dreams? You do not want dreams?"
"No. No dreams. No nightmares."
There is a slight pause before he replied, "You have a lot of nightmares?"
"Only when I sleep."
There was something final in her tone and he decided to change the subject. "Earlier you said the Sith showed you the only kindness you ever knew. What did you mean by that?"
"I was a slave. They freed me and showed me I need never be a slave again."
"Why would the Sith free you?" He has never heard of the Sith showing compassion to slaves.
"Because I demonstrated my strength in the Force. And because I used it to defeat my master."
"That would certainly draw the Sith. But I overheard some Jedi mention you were not strong in the Force. Why would the Sith be interested?" It was just like the Sith to only do it for the reward but how much of a reward was she, what made her so special?
"The Sith know that strong emotion increases one's power in the Force.
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.
And it did. In that moment, my emotions were very, very strong and in that moment, the Force, and the Sith, freed me."
"I see. How did you rise so high then? Your emotions could not always be as strong as they were at that moment." She was a most curious person.
"No, that is true, but I was taught subtlety as well as strength. Appetite for power, strength through pain, victory by cunning - these are things the Sith teach all their students."
Her answer isn't really the answer he wanted. There was more to it then she is telling him. "You must be very cunning indeed to gain the loyal support of so many."
"Cunning to conceal the weakness, perhaps. I merely saw a lack in the Sith, in their philosophy, and filled it."
"And these Sith following you were willing to follow you just because of this?" That couldn't be all of it, it couldn't be that simple.
"They too saw the lack, and the opportunity it created. And the protection offered by the solution to this failure of the Sith teachings."
"You say the Sith teachings were lacking. How so?"
Her voice dropped with disapproval as she explained, "The Sith compete endlessly. Every Sith seeks to kill the one above them, to take their place. This constant strife, this constant turmoil, weakens them. You see it even now. When they could be taking the Galaxy by storm, instead they waste their strength fighting among themselves. Even if they were direct their bloodlust at the Republic rather than each other, even then, they would fail. To rule is to control. Control requires order. Conflict creates disorder. The Sith may conquer the Galaxy, but they will never rule it. The Jedi know better. As diminished as you are, you understand that you must maintain order. You must cooperate or fail. Revan understood that. He unified the Sith. But he is gone and they have fallen into chaos as the Republic slowly rebuilds its strength."
He considered this "I am no Jedi. However you do remind me of a Jedi in some ways. I expected a Sith to be so full of--" he pauses trying to think of what to say, "--well, emotions."
"And I have no passion? Perhaps this is the source of my weakness. But then, I am no longer a Sith. So passion is no longer my ally, if it ever truly was."
"You play your words like a Jedi, or maybe a very cunning Sith.."
"They are not so different," she says, "the Jedi and the Sith. Dark, Light, Sith, Jedi--two sides of the same coin."
He looks at her questioningly, "Are they the same?"
"The Force is the same. Every planet is lit upon one side and dark on the other. When the sun sets, are you on a different planet?"
"No but the conditions are certainly changed."
"They change and change back. Some planets, some moons, do not turn--one side is always light, one always dark. These worlds have no life. The Jedi try to stop their planet from turning and fail. This is their strength. The Sith try to stop their planet turning and succeed. This is their weakness."
Odd, very odd. He took a deep breath and stretched. "You have some interesting views, but unlike you I need to get some sleep. Perhaps we can continue our conversation later?" He needed some time to think over what she had said.
"I would enjoy that very much. Sleep well." She paused, seeming to weigh her next words "Sweet dreams," and then turned away from him.
He lingered for a moment before saying, "Goodbye," and walking away from her, back towards his room
The Escapist QoH Crew:
mshcherbatskaya (Erzabet and Nahila) – story creator and executive director in charge of making people re-write their stuff because she's the boss and she can
Tsurugi (Corev) – assistant director in charge of making us realize that this thing is getting really long and also kind of awesome
Qayin (Cain) – assistant director in charge of Emo