Join Date: Nov 2008
THE OLD REPUBLIC: Queen of Hearts - Chapter 7
Nahila looked at the calendar. Almost a month now, and no surprise attacks, sabotage, or assassinations. Perhaps the Sith woman wasn't a threat. Or rather, Nahila reminded herself, perhaps the woman was not a Sith. Erzabet had warmed a little since the collar had come off. She was still unusually quiet and physically self-contained, but the unnatural stillness had melted away somewhat. She no longer spent all her free time staring motionless at the wall.
Ketan was certainly as happy as she'd ever seen him. His pupil was progressing quickly, much stronger in the Force now than when she had arrived. He might be overworking himself, however. He seemed a bit tired and occasionally irritable, especially when he was compelled to attend to duties that did not involve Erzabet. To the best that Ketan was able to manage it, the two were always together, meditating, studying, talking about the history of the Jedi and their philosophy. Or to be more precise, Ketan was doing the talking. He seemed to have given up on asking her questions about herself. Nahila wondered at that, if Ketan had given it up because of his repeated failure to get information out of her, or if he was simply focusing his energy on what seemed to be the most productive course of action. Regardless, Erzabet listened attentively, never taking her eyes off him when he spoke and questioning him (rather than the other way around) about his experiences and beliefs.
Although Ketan contrived to be at her side as much as possible, he did have to leave her occasionally, and though he did not know it, in those times, her Jedi education did not cease, it simply changed hands. Cain had decided to teach Erzabet a few combat skills.
There was a certain irony to that. Cain's lightsaber skills could be charitably described as adequate, but he'd developed a number of tricks of the Force to compensate for his lack of ability. Erzabet's lightsaber skills were worse than his--as she put it, she knew which end of the lightsaber to hold--so he could and did at least help her with the basics, and as her strength in the Force grew, so did her ability to employ Cain's techniques. This was all done on the sly, of course. Cain had offered himself to Ketan as Erzabet's sparing partner in her lightsaber training and been coldly rebuffed. It was much to soon for Ketan's padawan to even begin thinking of combat training. A row had followed, with several un-Jedi-like words exchanged, which Ketan had won by virtue of his official authority over Erzabet's education. Unofficially, her combat training had begun that afternoon the minute Ketan's back was turned. Ketan was so wrapped up in her, he didn't even notice the sneaking around, which seemed a bit odd. When he did find out, no doubt there would be a disturbance in the Force where he and Cain were concerned.
Nahila could have put a stop to it but instead chose not to interfere. If Ketan never asked his padawan questions about herself or her past, Cain never ceased asking. His infatuation was inappropriate in a Jedi, but useful because Erzabet answered him readily, though her answers were cryptic at times. It was an important source of information for Nahila, who continued to keep Erzabet under surveillance. It also kept him happy, which kept him out of the sulks and out of her office.
Over all this, Corev kept careful watch. Erzabet had been moved out of the detention block and into a small suite of rooms usually reserved for temple guests, an unheard of luxury for a padawan, but then a Sith Lord padawan was rather unheard of as well. Ketan had also been moved into an adjoining room in the suite, and Corev, as Erzabet's guardian, slept on the couch in her room. Erzabet spoke to him as well, but not as she did to Cain. Though it was always hard to read her face and manner, she seemed to respect Corev as an equal and sometimes they would pass the night together in conversation when neither of them could sleep.
Thus, with two teachers (one unofficial) and a bodyguard, Erzabet was never left unattended, and so Ythros confined himself to stalking and staring at her from a distance. Nahila had no idea why Ythros was so fascinated with that woman, and she would hazard a bet that Ythros had no more idea than she did. Did he believe she was still a Sith? If so, then why didn't he kill her? And if he did not think she was a Sith, why wasn't he indifferent to her as he was to everyone else?
Ythros was falling.
His room was a testament to his descent from 'grace', smashed furniture, filthy walls and discarded meals. The center was a clear patch of debris and in the center was Ythros.
Before Erzabet had come, he had made plans for redemption. They were so much dust now. He had been working on meeting with others... a goal now impossible. He had been attempting to find a place in the world, a dream now shattered. He had even been trying to foster a connection once again with the Force. That, most of all, burned his mind with its loss, The possibility of reconnecting with the Force.
Now, he was worse than ever, an animal inside his own mind and barely better without. He crept the halls and skittered away from human contact. Except for one. One, he sought merely to... to... GAH! To what!?
He was lost.
In the oppressive blackness and stench of his room, he focused on his indecision, a million voices inside his mind yelled at him, berating him and abusing his sensibilities. He was not mad. These voices were those that any secluded mind endures, but in the twisted synapses of a broken man, a shattered life. They were a cacophony of doubt and self-hate. In the exile alone, he was spiralling downwards.
In his mind he could only focus on one thing.
His knives. How easy it would be to stick them into the bitch. How simple to turn a corner and hurl one of the blades into her face. He had been on the verge of doing it a score of times, fingers dancing along the edge of the knife and opening his fingertips to the air. Obsession was all-consuming and he flailed wildly for any constant other than her presence in the aether of his conscience.
The traitor, the bastard who had thought he cold change a Sith and doomed him by releasing the witch. Confusion, warped by rage and desperation, became hate. All his indecision and lost thoughts channelled through broken logic and twisted connections.
He released her, and she had made him like this, broken him. He needed to put her back, he needed to get rid of this... this... this convolution in his mind!
Absent of actual reason, his mind found a purpose.
Ketan released her, She was destroying him, Ketan must die
Ythros cut his own tongue down the middle, barely stopping short of giving himself a serpent's split, and grinned through the blood that ran freely down his neck and chest.
es... That... W-wou ld make eVErything Better...
She can feel him now, feel him burning, feel him writhe. He is too alive and cannot bear it. He does not know how to be Still. He tries to be human instead and it drives him mad.
How extraordinary you are!
He is so scarred, he is without scars. A scar is a disruption of the unity of the surface, and he is so so cut and crosshatched, the scars themselves are the surface, uninterrupted, a torn harmony that cannot be ruined, only embellished. His mind is a maze, a sandstorm, a nest of snakes. She could never take him for her own, even without the collar she could not, but he had thrown himself at her and so it was done.
They sat, hour after hour, the Faceless Man in front of the Mirror. Sometimes he would speak to her. Sometimes she would answer him. Sometimes he would see the shadow of his own face in the looking glass and flee. He wanted her to shatter, but like him, she could not be shattered any further.
He was alone. He wanted her to suffer, but Dolls feel no pain and no fear. Dolls do not suffer. And so he was alone.
That day he sat before the Mirror, and she knew that though he would not see his face in her, he would see his pain in her if he could. He did not know she was a Doll. He threw himself against the force field, he hands visibly blistering, and she knew.
He was going to give her his wounds.
She stepped forward and, mirroring, put her hands over his. The connection, the terrible intimacy through which he intended to give her pain, reached past the barriers of her collar and his madness. Her hands blistered. She remained Still.
The pain he wished to give her, she took from him. She took it from him, the choice to give pain, the choice to receive it. It was the only thing that was still truly his, other than rage. She took it from him. She kept it. He left, screaming with the rage of having been once again torn in half.
He can feel her now, feel her sink below the surface, feel her float. She is a Doll, she is not alive, she can bear anything. She can be still. She has ceased to be human and it has given her peace.
"I was considering starting out small - light and small, easy to lift, manipulate, twirl around the room. But in the same way lifting pens up and down wouldn't give you biceps, doing so with the Force wouldn't do much to strengthen your connection."
Cain stood in the center of the room he and Erzabet used to train, contemplating the purple glow of his lightsaber as he spoke.
"I love this weapon - not just the sheer power of it, though. As a weapon, it is elegant, forceful, almost beautiful. As a symbol, however, it is without equal. The sight of a lightsaber alone commands respect from your allies, and fear in your foes."
The purple hue retreated into the hilt as he deactivated the saber.
"In comparison to the Force, however, it is useless. It is nothing more than an impressive tool. It even relies on the Force. To wield this weapon without complete awareness of your surroundings is dangerous to both you and those around you."
Cain's eyes were without focus as he lost himself in a memory, smiling to himself. "In the war, I witnessed a Mandalorian get cocky, take out a lightsaber he must have looted off one of our fallen. Wasn't long before he'd lopped his other hand off, misjudged the weight of the thing."
Regaining his composure, he turned to Erzabet, who sat at one edge of the room, seemingly attentive, but silent. It made him rather nervous, to be truthful, as if he was talking to himself and she was casually eavesdropping.
"A Force-user learns to separate themselves from the battle, to view themselves and their surroundings with a cold, disconnected clarity. To do otherwise is to give in to fear, to dread or cowardice. We wave around weapons that could cut clean through us with what appears to be reckless abandon. We perform acrobatic feats and elegant movements that should not be attempted with a normal blade, let alone one comprised of pure energy. What we do with this weapon is not down to physical conditioning and trained reflexes, as those can only do so much."
Cain casually walked to the edge opposite Erzabet, and stopped next to what appeared to be a large cube of crushed metal. "No, what we do, we do with the Force, that ubiquitous energy. We are but human, we cannot rely on our weak, fragile bodies to control such a weapon, to tame such a blade. Where our physical limits end, our metaphysical power begins. Therefore, to learn of our combat, you must first have a deep comprehension of, and connection to, the Force."
He pointed at the cube. "If you were to strengthen your physical muscles, you could lift weights. Therefore to strengthen your metaphysical muscles, I thought you could lift several weights that I compressed into a cube, with the Force. I am not a teacher, nor am I particularly eloquent, and it would be difficult for me to 'instruct' you in the use of the Force, even if I could. Even if I was able to do so, it could not compare to the experience, the triumph of will over matter. All you need to know, is that your arm does not stop at the fingertips. It carries on, unseen to you, and encompasses that cube, just as the air does. That arm knows few physical limits with practice, and whereas you or I could not lift this cube with our physical arms, we may do so with our metaphysical ones."
Cain paced back, to Erzabet's side, and continued, "I do not expect you to be able to lift the cube, not today. But I am hoping that being unable to - failure in itself - will strengthen you."
Despite his outward appearance, Cain was in pain. From his eyes to his toes, he ached, and he felt it might have had something to do with the fact that he had stopped sleeping. He felt tired, so very exhausted, but sleep would not come. Cain had even stopped trying to sleep. It had been many days since he had even gone into his room, all of his time spent 'training' Erzabet the best he could, or stalking Ketan and waiting to train Erzabet. Cain feared that he was breaking down, that he was going mad - but he felt happy, the happiest that he had been in a long time. He knew that he was lacking as a teacher but he had the knowledge, and he could help her find that knowledge for herself. It was a shame that he had to do so behind Ketan's back, as it greatly inconvenienced Cain to have to skulk about, to teach only when there was a gap in the Master's schedule, but he got a simple thrill out of tricking the high-and-mighty Jedi.
If Cain held resentment towards Ketan, then he was not aware of it. He was annoyed that he had been refused formal tuition of Erzabet, but he was not angry at Ketan for refusing so bluntly - it was to be expected, in fact. He was far more worried about the scarred one, Ythros. It was disturbing when he would rage his way around the Temple, but now that he had taken to stalking his way around Erzabet, Cain was becoming concerned that he might be an actual threat, that he might have decided Erzabet was nothing more than a Sith to be butchered.
Instead of continuing with the training, Erzabet considered the Jedi;
"Why do you not sleep?"
Had his eyes been capable of it, they may have shown surprise. However, all that appeared was a confused blink. “To tell the truth, I do not know, I just simply...do not, at least, not anymore. Is it that obvious?"
"I do not know if others see it. I do not know if they look to see. I see. I can Heal, did you know that? Before I knew what the Force was, I Healed. Perhaps that is how I know."
Cain raised an eyebrow. “A healer? Amongst the Sith? I spend most of my time here or near your suites, Erzabet, I am aware that you yourself do not sleep. Why not heal yourself?"
"I do heal myself. I would have died if I did not. I do not sleep by choice. You, however, do not choose this."
"No, I do not. And I do not see why you would, or eve how you do so. There are ways through the Force to shut down the body, to nearly stop bodily functions - a form of stasis through meditation. But...to have complete awareness during such a process? How did you learn such a thing?"
"One learns by necessity. Is that not how you learned to use the Force in battle as you do? But there are times that I must sleep, when I can no longer choose otherwise."
"My understanding of the Force is...difficult to describe, but describable nonetheless. What you do...seems impossible? And surely when you must sleep, it is a blessing, to finally do so after such a long time without it?"
"If it was, I would not chose to forego it."
Cain considered this. He did not want to pry, but there was one thing above battle that he yearned for, and that was understanding - to know the Force, to completely comprehend the connection he had, no matter how limited or strong it became. He pressed on. "I had assumed that sleep was impractical for you, but you make it sound as if it is unpleasant...why? What could be so unpleasant that it becomes necessary to defy biological imperatives?"
"It is unpleasant to dream."
"What dreams could possibly make sleep a terrible thing?"
"Dreams of the necessity to learn to Heal."
"You...you speak of being harmed?"
"No,” she said with gentle emphasis, “I do not speak of it."
She would not go on, refused to discuss it further. Cain was disappointed, and scolded himself for it. He had come close enough to new knowledge that he was willing to put this woman, who he idolized so much, through her troubled past. No answer was worth that, no matter how his curiosity grew, and if it was discussed again, it would be on her grounds, her terms and wishes, not his.
Cain sighed - a healing Sith, a seemingly psychopathic stalker, a Republic Veteran serving as a bodyguard, and Cain caught up in the far too confusing events. At least things were becoming interesting.
Erzabet was not finished, however. Cain's eyes grew weary with that sigh, and whether Erzabet took advantage of this, or whether it was simply a sign that it was the right time was irrelevant. Regardless of her motive, she healed.
She rose, put one hand on his forehead, brushed it down his face to close his eyes, and simply told him to sleep.
It was not as much of a command as it was an authoritative prophecy, as if he would sleep, not due to her wishes, but because she had healed him, and therefore, when night came, he would sleep.
And that night, he slept.
The droid twitched, sparking madly as the knife found its way into its processing core. Arms flailed and tread whirred as it battered its assailant with the service tray welded to its forearms. It was pointless, this predator had mastered pain.
Ythros tore apart the droid and scattered its parts around his room, little more than a nest now. Parts from at least three other droids were strewn about the dank corners and he shuffled them out of the way. He didn't take the droid out of malice, but fear. He was all fear, paranoia had replaced doubt, terror had superseded all notions of caution and he killed anything that approached his room. Anything that might discover his plots to murder the one thing his twisted mind had found proof enough to call the architect of his misery.
He had almost struck a dozen times, skulking in shadows in torn robes, but that sycophant Cain kept him separated from his goals. Tailing the pair the fool always prevented his clean attack.
Cain would be next, he taught the witch how to bite and he conspired with them towards his undoing.
His mind needed no proof at this stage, his obsession had led to anger. anger had led to fear. Fear led to desperation and desperation had degenerated into paranoia and madness. All he saw now were threats, threats to his life and possibility of redemption. Oddly enough, he never turned his ire towards its center, the woman Erzabet... She was merely a constant in his mind, a gaping wound in his perceptions and all around that gash he saw foes and feints.
He was broken upon his fears.
And now they give her a lightsaber. Her! A Sith! When he had been their ally for years! No, not an ally... he saw that now... a pet, a servant and a weapon... A tool to show their young what could go wrong...
In truth, he had no lightsaber because he had not the Force ability to wield it. But his mind in its current state twisted it around his mental infection into another spar of hate. The wound in his consciousness made every chance for reason another place madness could storm his soul.
But worse in his mind, was the sense of being lost. He felt all this hate and rage, all this fear and terror, but had nowhere to direct it. Nowhere his mind could direct it, anyway. And so his mind returned to a ready-made outlet and focused once again into a lance.
Now, it had to be now. He must strike, or surely die.
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
Qayin (Cain) – assistant director in charge of Emo
Ultrajoe (Ythros) – assistant director in charge of Epic