Strange Angels: The Secret History of the Sith: I guess this is the cross-roads between single-author and round robin. I've been working over on the "Sith Uprising" threads ( Planning thread, Dark Uprising -- the first story -- and Aspects of the Force -- the second story), and we've been having quite a bit of fun writing about the first steps of the Sith order. But there are a thousand years between the Sith uprising and Darth Sidious, and even if you figure the slow pace of say, three Masters per century, that still leaves the stories of thirty Sith to tell before TPM. So, my thought is, anyone who wants to make up one of these Sith Masters and tell a story about him or her, do so. Don't worry if it's in order; just say when in the timeline it is.
I'm starting with a short tale about my Sith order character, Zemai Laryhi, who is the first apprentice after the Sith/Jedi war. If anyone wants to use her descendants, who live on the world of La'azum and keep the ancient records, feel free, though she is the last of that name to actually be a Sith.
PS -- before I start, the Laryhi family remains essentially on the good side of the Force; they're just... how to put it... a bit aloof. They also appear in The Penitent, which takes place after Return of the Jedi.
Carrier of the Dead:
Time: About forty years after the first Sith uprising (thirty years after "Aspects of the Force"); approximately 1000 years before The Phantom Menace.
Sequence: Zemai Laryhi -- Darth Olashya M'Traet -- is the first apprentice after the uprising, the first to fall under the "Rule of Two." Her Master was Darth Bane, the only Sith to survive the war with the Jedi.
Mother, Karik Laryhi thought, the familiar tangle of emotions braiding itself around his heart when he saw her there, a small, dark silouhette against the window.
The love was untangled enough, he supposed. Though she had never been easy for other people to love, Karik himself couldn't remember a time when she hadn't lived at the center of his soul. But the rest? The anger, the bewilderment, the
uneasiness about what she might do when she slipped out from under her name and walked the night in her black cloaks?
Those were not quite as easy to bear. He wondered sometimes, when she came to him in the dark clothes, if she was even Zemai Laryhi inside them. Was he dealing with the Mayor of Coruscant? Or was he dealing with Olashya M'Traet, the Carrier of the Dead, the whispered shadow who enforced the order of the galaxy with a heavy, unforgiving hand? It didn't matter, he supposed. They were both his mother, and, for good or ill, she was devoted to him, and he to her.
She turned. Her face was as beautiful as ever, and as distant, haunted hazel eyes casting deep yellow shadows under the hood of her cloak. Her hair had only begun to go gray, and the thatch of sand-colored bangs that covered her forehead was unchanged. Karik thought it strange; he thought she ought to look used up from the deadly dance she'd been doing all these years. The Dark Side was stronger than she was. But she had held her own.
"I didn't come to cause you pain, Karik."
"I know that, Mother."
"I have missed you on Coruscant. There's been a great deal of activity -- "
"Yes, I heard about the riots."
A flash of her eyes -- perhaps they were growing slightly more yellow -- and a sharp exhalation. "The riots were insignificant, and have been stopped. Permanently."
Karik did not ask how she had accomplished this. It was not a question he wanted an answer for.
She moved away from the window. "I was talking about the new library. It's finally finished. It houses literatures in all the known languages of the Republic, and archives the classics of all the peoples."
"All except one."
Karik had not been brought up in the ways of the Jedi -- or in his Mother's ways -- but he was not completely numb to the Force, and it sent a chill skittering up his arms. "Mother... "
She shook her head, and pushed the hood of the cloak down. The sun caught in the waves of her loose hair, surrounding her head with a golden halo. Karik didn't bother to reflect on the irony. When she spoke, her voice was soft and calm. "I need to ask something of you."
"You said that you'd promised my father... " It was a desperate attempt to delay whatever she planned to say; Karik had no idea who his father was, and had made little effort to find out, but Mother took her promises to him seriously.
"I will not break that promise," she said. "I will not ask you to become as I am. I don't even wish it. I wish for you to stay here. You've made a good life here among the Ka'alyan. A whole new position of authority." The proud smile on her face might have led some to mistake her for any other mother taking pleasure in the achievements of her adult child, but to Karik, it only caused a flood of relief. He'd hoped she would take well to his newly created position as Astaya -- Seer -- for the Ka'alyan religious sect. He'd hoped it, because he'd feared she would ask him to leave and follow her. She took his hand. "Karik, I would rather that I never needed to ask anything of you. But that cannot be. I've committed myself to a course of action, which I believe to be the only one, but it is a dangerous one, and I need your help to... to help alleviate the danger."
He dropped her hand in frustration. "Mother, I have never understood this 'course of action' of yours! Why would you join them? All it would have taken to stop the Sith forever would be you refusing them!"
There it was. The word was out in the open. Sith. Karik had not said it before, at least not in regards to his mother.
Mother did not react to it. "Do you think I'm so important, Karik?" she mused. "How very kind of you. But had I not become an apprentice, another would have been found. And, I must admit, I would not have been able to tame Coruscant after the war with the patience and and passivity of the Jedi. Somewhat more active intervention was called for." She sat down on a crate. "Nor is that the point. If your enemy was bleeding to death in the street, would you leave him to die?"
"No, but -- "
"Nor would I. Nor did I. The Sith cannot be destroyed by disinterest, because there will always be people who are not at all disinterested in power. They cannot be destroyed by anger, because it only feeds them. They cannot be destroyed by military campaigns, because someone will always survive a military campaign. I have seen the destruction of the Sith, Karik. The Sith will, at long last, be destroyed by love. And that is the only way to close this circle."
"Is this that nonsense you wrote in your letter, about a dead man rising from his pyre..."
"Hardly nonsense, Karik. How are you functioning as a Seer if you will not seek out the meaning of dreams?"
Karik sighed. "I do seek, Mother. But your dream... it's a very long time to wait."
She laughed, a carefree, almost girlish sound. "Darling, it is perhaps inappropriate for Master Olashya to counsel against impatience and in favor of passivity, but sometimes, we simply must wait and watch." She patted the space beside her on the crate. "Come, sit with me, my precious one."
Karik pulled himself up onto the crate -- he was almost twice her size, but he always felt like a small child when she called him pet names, though not in a negative way. One did not lightly earn the affection of either Mayor Laryhi or Darth Olashya, and Karik was pleased to be in the small circle she called her own. He wondered if the other two -- both Jedi; Master Coris Hakim and the wandering knight Jastiss Otonna, after whose father Karik had been named -- were close enough to know Mother's secrets. "What is the favor you're asking, Mother?"
She nodded, her eyes growing sober again. "It has two parts," she said. "The first is simple enough. In this crate are the archives of the Sith, once kept on the world of Emraan. My journal is also inside. All are singular copies, written on parchment -- you are to make no copies, electronic or otherwise. The last thing we need is a Republic full of alienated adolescents deciding it would be fun to play at being Sith. The records must be kept -- I will not destroy any knowledge, or have you or your descendents destroy it -- but take care with access. Some secrets must be kept, and it is not for the safety of the Sith that I am worried."
Karik looked down at the crate. It wasn't all that big. He could attach a room to the Hall of Seeing -- a large, cavernous warehouse that he'd been living in when the Ka'alyan had discovered his occasional ability to see the future, and pressed him into duty as Seer -- and create a space in it for the records. "And?"
"They will come to you, and your children, and their children," Mother said quietly. "Apprentice after apprentice. They will believe the secret is kept for their sake. And they will study. You will allow it."
"Mother, I -- "
"Karik, I need this promise of you. There is a reason."
"Yes, I know. Lose no knowledge, don't let your enemy bleed to death in the street, and wait and watch for a dead man rising."
"I'm afraid I was thinking more pragmatically, love. I want you to know who they are, at all times. We cannot stop them; their destiny is ordained. But the second half of the favor I must ask is that you try to contain them."
"Contain them? Mother, how...?"
"They are skittish. Let them know you are watching. There will never be more than two Sith again -- threats of exposure should be sufficient, unless they also wield the secular power. Do not allow them to enter politics. That is very important. Find a way to destroy the political career of any Master or Apprentice you see trying to gain power over the courts or the legislature. Without that control, they will run wild. Do you understand me?"
"I hate to remind you, Mother, but you are a politician."
"And it becomes harder day by day to police myself!" She slipped off the crate and began to pace, pulling at her long hair. "Karik, when the Dark Side has hold, everything moves too fast. There's no footing, no landmarks to guide you. Things happen, and it's only later, when it's too late, that you understand that you've really done them. I have been as restrained as I can. But power is a heady drink. Things will end. Soon."
A serpent coiled around Karik's heart. "Mother -- "
"I have taken an apprentice.
"I had to. It was a promise I made. I found the boy wandering the streets of Coruscant. He has learned rather too well, and has picked up lessons I hadn't chosen to teach. He will kill me. It is time."
"No! Mother, stay here, I'll -- "
"Destroy the line? Or be killed trying to do so?" She shook her head. "No, Karik. If my apprentice is destroyed, it will only serve to shift the focus. The Uprising has not been forgotten. Someone new will come along. With the line intact, any pretenders will be... dealt with... and the numbers of true Sith will be kept very low. I will not turn him in to the Jedi. Nor will you. But you must watch him. You must see who he takes as an apprentice, and who that apprentice takes. Let each come here to study. And take care to contain them. It will be uncomfortable. But you were prophesied to be a thorn in their side -- "
Her eyes narrowed. "Yes. The descendents of your grandfather are to be a thorn in the side of the Sith. And, should you choose to read the papers in that crate, that is enough to answer the question you have never chosen to ask me."
"Your father." She walked back to the window. "Remember that a thorn in the side is not a knife in the back. I am responsible for them, and I ask your help in looking after them. Conscience is trained out of the Sith; you must replace it. They understand fear. Use it if you need to."
Karik almost laughed at the idea of trying to intimidate a Sith lord, but he stopped himself. He understood what Mother meant about being skittish. He'd seen her nervousness when she'd almost been found out. "Yes, Mother," he said at last. He did not care for her prophesies and the notion of ordained fate disturbed him... but he had seen it, felt it, and when she said it, he understood what his own path was. She was Carrier of the Dead. He was Carrier of the Future.
She came to him and kissed his forehead. "How I wish a different life were given to you! But I am proud of you. Seer of the Ka'alyan, and Carrier of the Future. It is a long, dark road ahead, love, but you carry a light in your heart. And someday, it will come to an end, and we will all be free."
She helped him carry the crate to the Hall of Seeing, then joined him for the communal dinner of the Ka'alyan. Theirs was a young religion, nebulous in theology, but rich in hope. Karik loved being a part of it, and they accepted his strange, dark-clad mother with no questions. They sang after eating, and danced, and Mother Zemai even learned the steps, though Karik could see that it was beginning to wear thin with her by the end. The sun was setting when he drove her out to the landing platform out on the plains outside the city of Valshir, where her shuttle waited to take her back to the orbiting ship that would return her to her post on Coruscant.
To her apprentice. Who would kill her.
She wrapped her arms around him, and kissed his cheek. "Goodbye, Karik," she said. "I will try to return, but it is unlikely."
"Mother, please stay..."
"We will meet again someday. Somehow. But now I must return to my own destiny."
She disappered into the shuttle, and the door closed behind her. The last he saw of her was the soft glow of her resigned eyes. She followed her path into the darkness.
For an hour after the shuttle faded into the stars, Karik Laryhi stood alone on the plains of La'azum, and watched the night fall.
* * *
Jastiss Otonna jumped through the air gracefully, and landed softly in the dry sand of Tattooine. He had been practising martial arts since sunsup, and the suns were setting now.
The two suns slowly melted into the flat horizon, leaving a pinkish red sky in their wake.
He missed it, he really did.
Jastiss had not been back on his home planet for over thirty years; he was fourty eight now, and the silver hairs were starting to show through his dirty blonde hair.
Jastiss sat down, and let his feet hang over the edge of the clif that he was atop of, and soaked in the last rays of the day. He remembered the last time he watched that sunset, before leaving for the Jedi Academy to train as a Jedi Knight. He watched the suns set with her....
Stop reminiscing, you old fool, Jastiss reprimanded himself sharply, It's been thirty years. You're over her.
The Jedi Master chuckled to himself softly. before climbing to his feet and turning away from the cliff edge.
He wondered what Jai'ana Din Ronin, his old master, would say if she had been there at that moment.
'A Jedi does not live in the past. He only learns from it.'
Yeah, that sounded about right.
Jastiss grabbed his cloak and wrapped it around his shoulders before climbing back into his speeder. He watched as the last slivers of light disappeared behind the horizon, leaving the desert to the mercy of the darkness.
* * *
Zemai had never sought death, but it had always clung to her like wet wool, a rotting, uncomfortable thing that fitted itself to every imperfection in her skin.
Ironic then, that now, when she did seek it, it eluded her. Even through the pain of many lacerations and broken bones, she was alive. She could see her own shuttlecraft lying only five meters away.
She could still see her apprentice -- she'd given him the name Borliash, the old Coruscantian word for Terror (she would have preferred another name, but this one had come to her in a dream, and she had dutifully obeyed) -- standing on the landing platform four storeys above her. The wind blew at his cloak, and carried his derisive laugh down to her. He believed her to be dead.
That was well.
The duel could not continue much longer without drawing notice, and even Borliash was not foolish enough to do that. He had confronted her almost as soon as she had returned, accusing her of plotting the demise of the Sith. She'd considered simply letting him cut her down, but in the end, it wasn't in her nature. She knew that the blood on his hands would make the blood on her own look tepid and insignificant before he was done, but she would not allow him to add the cold-blooded murder of his Master to his list of crimes.
Somehow, she had convinced him, sold him on the idea that he would be able to trust Karik, on La'azum, and his line. Maker help her -- and them -- if the Sith ever learned the truth about the Laryhis of La'azum. The children of the prophecy, meant not as the quiet and helpful librarians she'd sold him on, but as the eternal headache of the Sith, at least until the coming of the Risen Dead. Zemai smiled through her pain. It would end there, at last.
But that was long ahead and far away, and right now, it was only beginning. She needed to slip away -- she could not have Mayor Laryhi found, in the cloaks of the Sith, bleeding to death after a lightsaber duel. She wasn't even supposed to carry the damnable thing, after being forced from the Jedi Temple. If she was found like this, the secrets would come out, the prophecy would unravel, and the end would not come at all.
She called out to the dead, to the nameless Sith whose memory she had kept her promise to preserve, to those who had died in the Uprising, to those who had died since. It was time to fill another prophecy.
She reached to the sky, weakly, and whispered, "Akira..."
At first, nothing happened, and she wondered if they would now abandon her. But they did not.
A cold finger of energy wound its way around her arm. The pain intensified, but strength returned. She reached out her other arm. "Jalex..."
One by one, they came to her, weaving themselves into her broken body, holding it together and giving her one last hold on life.
She used it. The agony of each step drove her nearly mad, but she made her way, slowly to the shuttlecraft. The Dead held her, and she carried them, as she had once dreamed. It was unpleasant, and their voices were full of strident demands, but she was still in control. And she knew where she wanted to be.
The shuttle was not made for long-range trips, but it could handle them in emergencies. Zemai thought this qualified. She reached out one cold, trembling hand, and set course for Tatooine.
They would not stay with her for much longer.
But she didn't want to die alone.
* * *
"Something's troubling you, my son," Jastiss sat at the edge of his old, dusty bed and stared at the blue apparition that was in the form of his father.
"I felt something, Karik. I'm not sure, but I think..."
Karik Otonna stared back into Jastiss' eyes. "After all these years of being a Jedi, you still are not sure of what you feel? That is not the Jastiss Otonna I know."
Jastiss' eyes narrowed at his late father. "With all due respect, the last time we ever met physically was when I was eight. The Jastiss you knew was excited whenever his mother-" Jastiss' voice caught in his throat as he thought of his mother.
It seemed to strike a chord with his father, too. "I really loved her, Jastiss. You have to believe that."
Jastiss squeezed his eyes shut. "Please, Karik, can we change the subject?"
Karik's form strode across the room and sat in a chair. "If you wish. Tell me about what you felt."
"I think I felt..." her name meant as much to him as his mother's, but struck a slightly different note within. "...Zemai."
Karik raised an eyebrow. "I see. I remember her. The last time I had ever spoken to her was when she was eight. You two had something in common."
Jastiss smirked. "No offence, father, but you must be the most cinical dead Jedi I have ever met."
"No offence, Jastiss, but you must be the most unprofessional live Jedi I have ever known," Karik countered, with a wry smile on his face. His face then sobered, getting back to the task at hand. "As for Zemai, yes, she is in pain. Immence pain. She is seeking out someone."
"Seeking someone? Who?"
Karik crossed his arms and began to fade away. "Wait here long enough and she'll tell you..."
* * *
The weaker ones were losing hold, and the tattered muscles of her body wouldn't hold her long without them. Time was short.
But she had made it this far. She could make it just a little bit further.
She guided the shuttle down into the atmosphere, on the day side of the planet. She was operating entirely on instinct, following the urgings of a long-abandoned bond. It was foolishness, she knew, to go to Jastiss now. Another day, and there would be no more obvious paths between them, other than a long-distance friendship over the years (it would have looked more suspicious, they had agreed, had she suddenly frozen him out). The rumors about Karik's parentage had never centered on Jastiss (had they, she would never have risked the name); only Coris had suspected -- known -- and he, in an act of greater generosity than Zemai had recognized at the time, had kept the secret for her. She supposed it was possible that Jai'ana Din Ronin knew as well, but she didn't know for sure.
If she went back to Coruscant, or simply dove the shuttle into one of the suns, no one would ever suspect that there had been more to it. After all, the last time she had even seen Jastiss face to face was when Karik was six; that was when she'd promised never to allow their son to become Sith. It had been... a difficult meeting. But to reveal Karik was to condemn him to death, and they both knew it.
So why risk it now? Why tell Karik the truth, or enough of it for him to guess the rest? And why, after all these years, return here?
Oh, but that was easy. Her heart had never been complete in and of itself, and she had spent her childhood trying to fill it with soothing fantasies. It had been enough for so very long, but then, for that one brief moment in her life, it had been completed, and no fantasy would suffice afterward. She wanted it to be whole, once more, before she died. The Sith could hold most of her together. But the other half of her heart was here, buried in the desert sand.
She turned the autopilot off, and let the Force -- the Light or the Dark, she no longer knew the difference -- guide her hands on the controls. The sky around her shifted from the black of space to the bright, rich blue of the desert sky, the single thin cloud over the mountains catching the gold of early sunset. The Dead wrenched at her soul and sent a wave of pain through her body; they had little tolerance for beauty. She lowered the landing gear, and couldn't stop a small scream at the jar of the impact on her broken bones. In her mind, the Dead laughed.
She hit the button that opened the hatch, leaving a smear of blood on the white metal, and dragged herself into the night air. The Dead were breaking free quickly now, even some of the stronger ones. The shattered bones in her right ankle suddenly came apart, and she went sprawling, with a scream, into the sand.
But she never hit the ground, for as the Dead left, the living found her, and held her heart together one last time...
* * *
Jastiss looked down at Zemai, who had streaks of blood coming from some unkown wound in her head, along with many other lacerations and bruises all over her body.
Jastiss clenched his teeth, and hugged Zemai gently. Why...
Zemai looked up at him weakly. She smiled, and ran a finger through Jastiss' long hair. Jastiss could feel her voice inside his head. It was time, Jastiss. You know that.
Jastiss shook his head. "No, I don't. If I had been there-"
But you weren't. You didn't know.
Jastiss' throat tightened as a small tear escaped the corner of his eye. "Please, Zemai...."
Zemai smiled weakly and put a finger to Jastiss' lips to silence him. You're sad, I understand that, Zemai looked away from Jastiss, with a look of anguish coming over her face. This is not easy for me, either. But, it was the only way.
"The only way for what?" Jastiss sighed. "Zemai, talk to me."
There is nothing more to say. Please Jastiss... just hold me. I want to know that you're really here.
Jastiss smiled, and moved some strands of hair out of Zemai's eyes. It has been a long time, hasn't it?
The suns were getting lower in the sky now, and darkness started to take over the desert.
"It's just like when we met," Jastiss said, nodding to the two suns lowering farther into the horizon.
It is beautiful.
The two sat, for what seemed like an eternity, on the desert sand, watching the suns lower past the horizon.
Soon, the entire desert was bathed in a beautiful red from the light of the suns. He wondered how his son, Karik, was doing. He would have asked, but didn't dare break the silence that he and Zemai shared.
He is a good man, Zemai's voice said in his mind, answering his unasked question, Like his father.
"Why does it have to be like this? Why did we have to meet under these circumstances? Why does it all have to end now?"
Too many questions, so little answers. It is believed there is an answer to every question in the universe, if you look hard enough.
Jastiss hugged her again. I don't want to search. I want to stay here. With you.
* * *
Peace. At last.
Zemai moved her hand -- she could see, in the fading light, that two of the fingers were broken and misshapen, but she couldn't feel them anymore -- and brushed it across Jastiss' cheek. She was grateful to be able to speak to his mind; she barely had the breat to remain alive as it was. But suddenly, she didn't want to die.
I want to stay, she whispered to his mind. He'd always had a way of making her admit the truth. I am frightened of... of whatever lies ahead for me. I have reason to be.
A rush of comfort, wordless... but she knew that he understood what she was saying.
Perhaps... perhaps you can see Karik now. They've always known us to be friends. A... sympathy call of sorts. And then you could stay... know him... A well of regrets opened at the center of her soul, and she felt the tears begin, running with the blood on her cheeks. I stole him, I kept him, you should have...
Hold me closer. I'm so frightened.
I don't want to hurt you...
You have never hurt me, and you never will.
His arms tightened around her. She knew that her broken bones were moving, but the comfort of being here again was to large to be overcome. Behind Jastiss' head, she saw the last rays of the two suns, striking the sheer, reflective sides of the mesa, one seeming to float on either side of his head, catching his blonde hair and setting it into a halo of fire --
Son of the suns! Her heart soared suddenly.
"What? I don't understand..."
But Zemai couldn't explain. She could see only the light, glowing in the sky, the dream of the dusty plain, and the sad-eyed woman with her own smile, far off near the horizon. "Beauty," she whispered. "Glory. Son of the suns... "
It's getting dark, Jastiss. It will get darker. I won't see the suns rise. But just when the dark is deepest... Son of the... The thought trailed off, and she looked at the suns again, framing his face. We'll be free then, she thought absently. It was a distant thought, disconnected and without context. She didn't know what "free" might mean, really.
A wrenching pain pulled her back into her body, and she cried out from it. Jastiss kissed her forehead and rocked her in the cooling night. You're safe, Zemai.
"I believe you," she whispered, and slipped away, into whatever darkness waited for her.
FernWithy, Andrew Carlson