RP - Star Wars: Queen of Hearts

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Nahila stood before the bacta tank looking at Ythros who hung there in a deep, drugged sleep. The medical staff pumped him full of anesthetics and narcotics the minute he woke up, not to control his pain but to control him. It would not do to have him tearing at himself in order to attack his caretakers and Nahila had sent orders that under no circumstances was he to be released from the tank until she was there to deal with him. His chart indicated that, even though his wounds were healing, he was badly malnourished and dehydrated, so they didn't really need the excuse to keep him there, but it was best to be overcautious where Ythros was concerned.

"Great Force, boy," she sighed, "what have you done?"

The irony was that she'd been away when everything happened because of him. The Jedi Council and several senators were concerned with Nahila's penchant for harboring servants of the Dark Side. Ythros had appeared, half-dead and half-mad, at her doorstep and she had taken him in. She'd fought for him, arguing for her hope that he might be healed and finally winning with their fear at the thought of him let loose in the Republic or a weapon of the Sith. She'd fought again for Cain, again making the same argument and winning with the same tactic. Cain was immature, uncontrolled, and a dangerously powerful telekinetic. The last thing she wanted to hear was that he had rejoined the war on the opposing side. In both cases, she'd been forced into the concession that neither one should be allowed the full liberties of a Jedi. And now she had taken in this Erzabet, Darth Erzabet. Who would she take next? Revan? Darth Malak? She'd nearly snapped back yes, yes she would if they wanted to return to the Light.

Did Erzabet truly wish to return? Ketan was still in no shape to think clearly and Cain would certainly defend the woman with his last breath, which he had very nearly done. She needed to talk to Corev, but she needed to talk to someone else first.

She needed to talk to Erzabet.

Corev let her in when she knocked. Erzabet was again sitting at the edge of her bed, immobilized by some internal mechanism that only released her with the clock.

"Thank you, Corev. If you don't mind, I'd like to speak with Erzabet alone."

Corev looked doubtfully from the rigid Erzabet to Nahila, but bowed and left the room."

She took a seat on a stool opposite the other woman. "You will note," she said with a slight edge of irritation to her voice, "that I said speak with, not talk at. I think you can hear me, in fact, I have no doubt of it. Please show me the respect of not ignoring me." Erzabet did not move. Nahila sighed and looked at the clock. Forty-five minutes until it rang the next hour. She had no intention of waiting for this woman's next scheduled round of consciousness.

She focused her will on her, speaking into her mind and well as her ears.

"Wake! UP!"

Nahila wasn't known to be a very powerful Jedi, but she had her strengths, and making herself heard through any number of barriers, physical or otherwise, was one of them. But this was...very strange. She had expected a barrier of some kind, but Erzabet resisted not at all and Nahila fell her words ring and echo in the other woman's mind. Nevertheless, Erzabet blinked once and focused. She looked at Nahila and said nothing.

No resistance. She does exactly what she must and nothing else. "Thank you. Now, please tell me what happened between you and Ythros."

"He went mad and attacked Ketan, I stopped him."

"So I've heard," Nahila answered drily. "But that is not what I asked, is it. Please tell me," her voice grew steely, "what happened between you and Ythros."

Erzabet appeared to consider this. "I have the ability to...calm the mind. My own. The minds of others."

Interesting. "So you calmed him. And healed him too, it would appear."

This was not phrased in the form of a question, so Erzabet said nothing. Nahila asked again.

"You healed Ythros' wounds--why didn't you tell us you had such an ability?"

"You did not ask."

Oh, well of course. Silly question.

"Well, then, I will ask now: what are your Force abilities?"

Erzabet hesitated slightly in her reply. "I can Heal. I can calm others."

She wasn't about to be satisfied with answers she already knew. She pushed with her will against the other woman's mind and again felt no resistance, felt nothing at all. "Yes, I'm aware of that. What other Force abilitied do you have?"

Erzabet's gaze flickered slightly. "I can make others agree with me--"

"Force Persuasion? Hm. Go on--what else?"

"I can draw strength in the Force from others, and as I can calm their minds, I can also...disturb them."

"Is that what you did to Ythros?"

"No. I did not attack him or seek to bend him to my will in any way."

Nahila sat regarding Erzabet's blank face for a moment. Force Healing and Drain Force--those rarely appeared together. Indeed, they were widely regarded to be psychologically and spiritually incompatible. Interesting. The inflicting of mental distress was a very common Sith attack, so that was not particularly remarkable. This calming ability was unusual--a variant of the Beast Trick, perhaps, that worked on sentient minds. She wasn't sure she liked the sound of that, but it also did not seem to be a particularly dangerous ability. She would need to consult the archives and see if there was mention of something similar.

She stood to leave and Erzabet asked, "And what are your Force abilities, Jedi?"

Raising one eyebrow slightly, Nahila answered, "As you know, I have some skill in telepathy, and I can Heal a little. Beyond that, my abilities are fairly conventional, I can move objects, shield myself from attacks mental and physical. I suppose my only notable skill is one called Shatterpoint."

Erzabet seemed slightly surprised at this, but said nothing.

"Don't be too impressed. I can't determine the single point of weakness in an enemy's line of battle, or determine whose actions will change the course of history. You have heard the phrase, "Don't sweat the little stuff?" Well, it helps me distinguish the big stuff from the little stuff. You," she said over her shoulder as she turned to leave, "are not little stuff."

There was a light.

It was moving. Back and forth, as if attached to a rubber string... or a twitching tendon. No wait... he was moving not the light.... Bob, bob, bob along goes the scarecrow in his water-egg. Like a little ship of worries in a sea of ignorance...

He knew.

He knew and nobody else did.

Not that this merry sailor could whistle it, no... They would not hear his tune of warning, he was a lighthouse to bright to be seen. They had built a shoal and now this floating klaxon was unable to warn them of being dashed upon it. They were too close to it now, too close to what even he had only just managed to see before he was broken upon it.

There was a Siren in their midst and the man overboard was the only one who saw the song... even as it gripped him...

The man overboard breathed deep and relaxed as he drowned... the sedatives were an odd mix, designed to dampen impulse and control. They were designed to stop a force user hurting himself as he hung there... hahahaha... oh the irony... You'd laugh if you could move your mouth.

They came, on occasion, those who sought to find out why he had fallen overboard, but he didn't need to talk to them, they were all deeper in their private seas than he was inside the Bacta! Ketan wanted to calm an already still pool, Erzabet to stare at a curiosity, Cain to unravel this new threat and Corev with Erzabet... there was a man he didn't understand, and what he wanted was a mystery. That was when he was dragged from sedation and into the pain of memory.

Cain, Cain Ythros liked. The boy knew a threat when he saw it and took the appropriate action, he was hard outside and hardening on the inside with every passing day... Yes, Ythros liked Cain as much as Misery loves company. Would he be able to save himself before he was like the scarecrow? If not, Ythros almost pitied the fact that he would have no scars to hide behind and curse at come his fall.

And then there was Nahila... he hadn't spoken to her yet, and he would avoid it if he could. He cared for her opinions and her scorn would be unbearable if she chose to give it... her pity a thousand times worse. She had been here, Ythros could feel her presence in the temple by those that walked by, they were hurried and purposeful... they had direction only the walking lecture could instill.

Walking lecture, he needed to remember that one for later... If he could.

Another dose of sedative arrived and all he had just thought was forgotten... only to be thought again a few minutes later...

There was a light. It was moving.

The Battle of Malachor V changed them all.

Cain, thank the Force, had been lucky enough to be far back on the General's flagship, amongst the others loyal to Revan. But even that far back, he felt it.

Ships crushed, wrecked, burned - Jedi and Mandalorians alike snuffed out in an instant. Such was the Mass Shadow Generator, an atrocity that tore through Malachor V in to its very core. So much loss of life, in such a short span, was a 'disturbance' that shook the mind of every force-sensitive there. Many went mad, and Cain did not blame them for this. To peer into death itself, to witness an abomination as horrific as that weapon...when reality is horrific to behold, the only appropriate response to it is to become insane.

Cain, however, did not. He got close to it, as the flagship passed what was now a massive graveyard, and it left him weak, crippled inside his mind. Malachor V had changed them all.

Cain considered himself a master of Force Telekinesis, he could take his body, less physically conditioned than many Jedi, and turn it into a living weapon. He had torn through solid metal, swept aside the enemy several soldiers at a time, and moved so fast that even the incoming horizon became a complete blur.

That was before Malachor V.

Cain was usually too arrogant to train, too self-confident to believe he had anything less than complete control over his abilities, but that insane freak had certainly taken his toll on Cain before Erzabet resolved the situation. Therefore, shaken and feeling more than vulnerable, Cain had spent the day meditating, and now that night had come, he thrust away any need for sleep, and trained.

Training was the wrong word, however - what Cain did was more akin to showing off. A form of self-affirmation, Cain Erelen, self proclaimed master of telekinesis, stood in the center of the training room as a combat droid fired frequent, methodical, live rounds from its blaster.

Every round fired was deflected before it hit the young Jedi, a mix of Force Speed and Repulse, easily intercepted and thrust aside by a small, powerful wave of energy.

Combat, even combat as slow and repetitive as this, gave Cain a clarity of mind meditation could not, and thus, with this clarity of mind, he came to a simple conclusion;

Ythros was filled with hate.

Ythros had turned this hate on Ketan.

Ythros had attacked Ketan.

Ythros' hate for Erzabet was clear, even as he hung suspended in that tank.

Ythros would attack Erzabet.

Cain would see Ythros dead.

Cain focused on the droid, and smiled to himself as its head collapsed into itself, crushed beneath his will.

The droid was thrust back, denting the wall of the training room as it buckled against the first barrier it found.

Malachor V had changed them all.

Cain had no complaints.

When Cain approached Ythros' bacta tank, it was clear murder was on his mind. He drew no weapons, but it was evident from his walk, in his eyes, through his cold focus on Ythros that he planned nothing short of ending his life.

Corev drew his blaster, and, had Erzabet not stopped this, he might have put a bolt through Cain then and there. However, all it took was a singular syllable; a defiant "No!" was enough to make Corev hesitate, for the soldier to momentarily lower his weapon, and for Cain to lose his focus, to turn to that one syllable, and make one, fleeting gesture.

Catapulted through two tables and into the far wall behind him, Corev was subsequently buried under medical equipment, unconscious after his head collided with the wall.

This was Cain in his fury - unrestrained by the weak, haunting emotions that plagued his mind. This was the warrior that had matured on the battlefield, focused and adamant in his belief that any foe he met would be struck down. Forceful strides, a terrible presence and a mind bent on murder replaced that of a shattered, broken and vulnerable boy, as Cain visibly prepared another blast, approaching the Bacta Tank.

A warrior approached the tank, but the fear of the boy began to seep in as Erzabet intercepted him, stood between him and the tank, and gave him a look Cain would reminisce on many times in the future.

It was nothing like a scowl, her face remained expressionless, as it often did, but whereas normally she gave the impression of being immovably serene, to Cain she seemed simply...empty, incapable of compassion or sympathy, no purpose or emotion in those eyes, just a cold abyss. The difference, although subtle, terrified Cain and he found that as he built that telekinetic wave, the fear grew.

The more aggressive he became, the more the child in Cain crept into his head; made him anxious, whittled away his focus, and filled him with a horrible dread - everything he could not allow whilst trying to build up a huge wave of living energy. The energy dissipated as his aggression wasted itself on that cold abyss, thrusting itself outwards as he lost control.

He was able to send it out to the sides, avoiding the woman he almost worshipped, but throwing any object in its path across the room.
Cain shuddered, a mixture of rage and effort as the last of the wave fell from his control, but Erzabet remained empty, remained calm and collected. The Force rippling and pulsing around her, the woman somehow remained completely still, as if Cain was not even there.

She spoke in the same fashion, not to him but rather through him.

"Do not kill him. Death would be a mercy and he does not wish for mercy from anyone"

It seemed as if Cain was ready to begin again, to bring back the part of him that could very easily kill, but rather than this, he sighed, his admiration of her overcoming his blood-lust. He was far from calm, however, and when he spoke, his tone was uneven, strained, with barely concealed anger.

"If he lives, one of us dies. How long before this rabid dog turns on you, or comes back for Ketan?"

Assured that she had Cain under control, she regained her usual serenity, "Dog? You underestimate him, I think. And me. But this dog, as you call him, has been leashed, and will stay so."

Cain tentatively began to adopt a tone of concern, rather than anger,
"You are too trusting, one such as him is too psychotic to be 'leashed' - he can barely control himself, how can you be at all sure you can do any better? If I put him down now, he will never get the chance to hurt anyone again. He will never get the chance to hurt you."

"I do not trust the man, I trust the psychosis. It seeks to consume him. He will not fight the leash, he will cling to it because it keeps the madness at bay."

His concern grew at this, he felt this was a dangerous game for her to play.

"What if you are wrong? What comprehension can you possibly claim of such a degraded, self-destructive mind? The man ate himself, what possible understanding could anyone have of that, let alone the ability to control such a mind?"

"I comprehend him very well. He is not an animal, he is a man badly broken and badly reassembled. You cannot understand what that means, but I can. I do. I control my mind and he knows that. He wants to be controlled but he cannot control himself, and so he allows me to do it. I am necessary to him. He will not harm me."

Cain was not assured, and he was growing impatient - he did not know whether Ythros was conscious or not in that tank, and could hear this, but the fact that he still breathed was a mockery, a sign that Cain was too weak to do what had to be done.

"Why? What assurance do you have?"

"That which assures you that I am in danger assures me that I am not."

Inside, Cain raged at this, the flippant way in which Erzabet discarded his concern, but he was not so broken that he could not keep control of his anger towards her.

"Mind games and doublespeak will not make me leave this room, I need to know why you are safe with him. Why he will not cut your throat the first chance he gets."

Erzabet turned to the tank, considering the patchwork man within. When she spoke, it was to Ythros, in an intimate manner, and this managed to add to Cain's inner rage;

"I know who did this. I have seen him. He was as a god to you, was he not? And now you think you have become an apostate, but every wound you inflict, on yourself, on others, is an offering to him."

"I am getting impatient, Erzabet - I just want to keep you safe, how can I even have a chance of that if I don't understand what is going on?"

She still refused to face him, and kept her eyes on Ythros.

"Could you explain it to them, what happened? Can you explain it to yourself? You can only show them, again and again you show them, but they do not understand how it was, how it is. Do you sleep? I think you do, but only in blood. You must satisfy him before he lets you rest. He follows you in your waking hours. Mine follow me in my sleep. We resist, but in the end, they exact their tribute, do they not?"

By this time, Cain had calmed, the blood-lust gone, and when he spoke it was with the same mix of concern and intrigue that he often addressed her with.

"What do you see in your sleep, Erzabet?"

"Water. Fire. Scalpels and clamps. The box. The tank. The records of those who came before me. The electrodes. Myself before the mirror, not only subject but audience to him as he went about his work."

"Wh-Who is he? And why? Why is this being done to you?"

Still she spoke to Ythros, and still she did not seem to want to acknowledge Cain.

"You were a plaything, were you not? I think you were. Did you try to amuse him? Bore him? Did you cease to try? Did you seek the exit, however it might be found? I was the subject of an experiment, the last of many. My purpose was not to amuse him but to satisfy his terrible curiosity. He was very pleased with me, you know, but it only made him more curious, more inventive in his experiments. I did not seek an exit but I found it nevertheless. It is still there, that door. You escaped. You are still escaping, I think. You never found the exit though, I think. You still search for it, but your are looking in the wrong place."

Cain felt sickened, and this time his anger was not focused at anyone he could name, it was at this unknown assailant, this torturer and experimenter.

"What experiment? And what exit? You escaped?"

At this, she lost focus on even the tank in front of her;

"An inquiry into the limits of endurance. I did not escape. I merely left. Through the door, this door."

She sat, with no sigh of awareness, completely unresponsive. Cain had seen this before, and it meant nothing more was to be said on the matter.

Cain looked at the Bacta Tank before him, looked into Ythros' eyes. He hoped those eyes were looking back, would remember that Cain could have struck, could have taken his life whilst he lay drugged in the tank.

Turning on his heel, Cain left the cluttered mess of a room.

Corev sat on the couch he slept on in Erzabet's room. He was fatigued but for some reason he couldn't sleep, it had been happening a lot lately it seemed, but tonight was different, as if something was wrong, but he couldn't place why. He just had a feeling.

He occasionally glanced over in Erzabet's direction, where she sat in her meditative subsitute for sleep. She had been that way for awhile now, ever since they had returned from her lesson with Ketan. His head fell back to rest on the arm of the couch as he stared at the ceiling trying to calm himself enough to get at least a little sleep, but his thoughts slipped to Ythros. Corev had not seen him recently. He had stopped seeing him around every corner or down the hallway, or in the next room, which he supposed was a good thing, but maybe it wasn't.

A noise jerked him from his thoughts and he looked towards where Erzabet sat to see her eyes shoot open. She jumped to her feet, and rushed out of the room without saying a word. Corev was quick to follow. As he made it out of the door he saw her rushing down the hall and ran to catch up with her. She was moving fast enough that it took him a while to catch up and he found himself a little winded as they rounded a corner into a shocking scene.

Ketan crawled across the ground, blood dripping from his wounds as Erzabet walked past him towards a figure in the middle. Corev tore his eyes from the bloody Ketan and focused on the one Erzabet was moving towards. He realized that the figure was Ythros, dripping blood from many wounds. and there appeared to be bite marks all over his arms. Many of the wounds on Ythros were in the same place as those on Ketan, so Corev could only assume that Ythros was the source of all of this.

Before he could do anything, Erzabet reached Ythros and extended her hand. He did not know what she did next, no matter how hard he thought back on it later. All he knew was that somehow she had placed her hand on Ythros' chest and brought the madman to a standstill.

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Corev stood beside Erzabet in the med bay, facing away from Ythros' cell. His mind was deeply troubled as he thought over what had happened the other night. He had seen Ythros become a beast and Erzabet calmed him with simply a touch. Corev had wanted to step in but he had not had time.

He saw a shadow move around the entrance to the med-bay and stiffened as Cain walked in, his face burning with rage. The young Jedi seemed to be on a mission of revenge and Corev assumed it was because of what happened between him and Ythros. No matter how Ythros had acted or what he had done, he was still considered a Jedi for the time being and Corev could not let him come to any harm.

He stepped into Cain's path and drew the blaster pistol from his side, not entirely sure he would have to fire. He didn't want to but he couldn't let Cain kill Ythros. Before he could do anything to stop him, he heard Erzabet firmly say, "No." He hesitated and looked towards Erzabet and that was all Cain needed to take him by surprise. Before he could react he was flung through the air and his last conscious thoughts before he collided with the wall were muddled by surprise.

The drip of bacta on the floor was the only sound in the silence, the towel rubbed across the scarred skin and made a chord of pain with ever cut it hit, the ragged wounds from his... meals... hurt the most. That said, this particular bather was no more affected than a tree was by the rain. He looked up as Nahila entered the room, a look of concern plastered on his features.

ha, the walking lecture, he had remembered... although it was far from as funny without suppressants in his blood.

"You healed up well... Unusually well, it appears." He hand brushed his 'scar' of perfect skin. She focused on him and her tone became rock solid, all the more terrible for its calm. "Do you have any idea of the rain of shit you've just brought down on your head? I don't have an umbrella big enough for either of us now."

Ythros chuckled and smiled before replying "Thats a clever one, ill write it down somewhere for later when we're buried in the deluge. We'll look back and laugh and it will still be your fault!" He said, shifting from cheer to rage in an instant" "don't you dare blame me for this!"

Nahila ignored his outburst at first, uneager to indulge Ythros' anger and let it fester over between his sentences. "Yes, in Jedi circles I am reknowned for my wit. And would you care to enumerate the ways in which this is all my fault? I'd like to compare it against my own, get your perspective on the situation. Mine starts with taking you in in the first place, how about yours?

Ythros almost hissed at her bluntness, there would be no games today, she would drag the answer out of him... but the did not need to make it easy...

"You know why this happened" He growled "You brought a viper into the nest and expected everyone to give it space... better not to have the viper at all i would have thought..."

Nahila simply stared levelly, daring him to spot the hypocrisy. When he did not, she said it for him. "So I assume we aren't talking about you here? Are you sure you don't have Force abilities? Because that's exactly what the Council said about you. They wanted to know what I planned to do with you. Or more precisely, "how I planned to resolve the Ythros issue." You've got to love the way they turn a phrase."

Ythros grinned as he spoke "The council will always seek resolution, its the flaw that will gut them in the end... some things cannot find resolution, the universe is not so romantic as to have a happy ending for every wretch, some things can be broken beyond repair." He got up and moved close to her, he had long ago learned she was immune to his attempts to repulse her, but there was always another chance.

With his eyes a bare inches from hers he continued. "Look at this Viper here before you... They were right about it as it turns out, are you still so sure the second will not end the same?"

"Well, you might be convinced that they are right, but lucky for you, the Council still has doubts, doubts which I feed at every given opportunity." She replied, moving away calmly.

She seemed occupied, as though toying with the next revelation... Ythros wondered what she would hesistate to tell him, there was little ceremony between them, half because she did not enforce ad and half because he would not tolerate it.

"They want to cut off your connection to the Force." She said.

Ythros eyes became slits as she spoke and his mouth drew back into a scowl, canines gleaming.

"They even told me not to let you out of the tank, to keep you drugged and helpless while they make their decision. Lucky for us, and given the lightning speed with which they came to a decision on the Mandalorian Wars, we'll probably both be dead of natural--or unnatural--causes by then. My official story to them is that the medical staff released you before I could give them the order to keep you bottled up, and now that you are out, I felt it wiser not to force the issue."

Ythros shook off this news with a forced lightness, he would be damned before they took away what little bond he had with the force... the concept shocked him. "Hahaha! you think so? and what else did they say, tell me what they said of the other mistake you refuse to confess. What did they think of the Sith?"

Nahila's voice had only a hint of sarcasm as she spoke. "Her? Oh, they like her. She brought your batshit assault on Ketan to a stand-still, and when I tell them that she stopped my other problem child from killing another member of the temple, even if that temple member was you, they'll praise me for taking her in. Congratulations, Ythros, you've done what I could not--you've made the Council agree with my decision to take her in."

Ythros raged "Then more fool them! Let them give their sanction to what is already unfolding beyond their control!"

"That is their general procedure, yes." She replied, considering him with something beyond curiosity, Ythros suspected her damned force precognition might be ticking over, or whatever she called it. " Hmm. Right. Well, then. I'm off." She finished, pacing.

She spoke over her shoulder as she went "I'm glad to see you so well recovered, Ythros. You worried me there. Don't worry me again, or I'll have to start being nice to you and the Force knows we don't want that!"

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Ythros grinned like a cat in the darkness behind her.

I wonder if you see it, oh mistress of the Jedi, i wonder if you spot the cancer in your precious temple?

Not that he would warn the Jedi of what he saw unfolding, he considered whatever Erzabet would unleash upon them a fitting revenge on his part, but he would feel remorse when Nahila fell... But not much, he told himself. He continued to dress and prepare himself for entry back into the life of the temple, and all the renewed suspicion it would bring. He prepared himself to watch it fall.

He had served and honored the temple because in his eyes it was loyal and just, a place he could respect for accepting him.

But now, in his eyes, the temple had betrayed him. Allowing the Sith to take command of his soul under their gaze and despite his warnings...

...And it could not burn fast enough.

In all the words that could be used to describe Ythros, the ones people didn't use were the most telling.

Nobody ever said he was nice.

Corev enters Nahila's office through the bronze doors just like he did on the night of Erzabet's arrival. The only problem is that it is not the same.

Nahila stands behind her desk and as Corev approaches she motions for him to sit before she does. "Well, I see things went along as usual in my absence."

He settles into a seat in front of her desk before responding, irritation in his voice, "If by that you mean everything went to hell, then yes."

"Yes, Corev, that is exactly what I mean. By the Force, this is just what the Council was hounding me over! I hardly dare go in my office for fear of the messages left for me. Do Cain and Ythros have any idea of the rain of shit they have brought down upon us all?"

He lets out a sigh, "I don't think they care. At least not anymore...."

Nahila puts her head into her hands, "Ohhhh...damn them both. I've been such a fool to leave them as they were, not to be more...forceful in bringing them under control." She lets her hands fall as anger enters her voice, "Though I'd like to see any of those high-and-mighty bureaucrats on the Council do better."

"In this kind of situation I would like to see anyone take control of them. You turn your back for one moment and they are off trying to kill each other, and anyone who stands in their way."

"Maybe the council is right, maybe they are too consumed with the Dark Side," she says, half to herself.

A bit of puzzlement enters Corev's voice, "Cain was an outcast before and I am sure he had some anger in him but why would he choose to let it consume him now? Ythros may have had some faults but I heard he was trying to redeem himself. Those two seemed well on their way to redemption, until now."

"Yes, until now." She pauses for a few moments before continuing, "Until that woman showed up. What is she? I get no sense of the Dark Side from her. In fact, at times, I get nothing from her at all!"

"Yes she is very much like that. She shows nothing and you can get little out of her without asking direct questions. I have stayed up nights talking to her and I still cannot figure out what she is about." He thinks for a moment before continuing, "The women puzzles me. Especially the way she seems to effect the people around her. I would say to put her into confinement until we can find out what she is doing and how she is doing it, but that would only spark a riot."

A note of concern enters Nahila's voice, "The very fact that it would spark a riot just goes to show what a bind we are in now."

"I wonder how far this will go? They have already stooped to trying to kill each other over her. What next, are they going to raise the entire temple? Was that her plan all along?"

"You tell me!" she snaps. "You've been watching her all this time--you are supposed to be finding out what she is and how she works." She looks at him closely from the other side of the desk, suspicion entering her eyes, "Why haven't you figured it out yet? Does it have anything to do with these late-night chats?"

It was Corev's turn to be angry, "What do my talks with her have to do with me not figuring anything out!? You threw me into this and I tried to make the best of it. I have tried to get information out of her on many occasions, especially during our late night talks!"

"What do your late-night talks--what? Are you even listening to yourself? You say you try to get information in your little chats in the same sentence that you say your late night talks have nothing to do with anything! Well, if they have nothing to do with anything, they better have something to do with something damn quick or you are wasting your time and mine."

How dare she! "I am not wasting time! I am trying to get information out of a woman who is unwilling to share while nearly being killed by the Jedi you are supposed to be keeping under control!"

"Keep him under control? And how am I supposed to do that? I'm the head of the damn temple, not his master! Who by the way has a lot to answer for in the brat he trained."

Corev's anger takes control and he loses his discretion, hurt at being accused. How could Nahila know what it was like in his situation? "Is it not the head of the temple's job to make sure that the Jedi don't run around trying to stick Lightsabers in each other? You cannot lay all of the blame on his master's head."

Nahila's anger is full blown now as she bites down on her words, "My job is to make sure the temple runs smoothly. your job, on the other hand, as her bodyguard, was to make sure this sort of thing didn't happen. Great Force, what if he had been intent on killing her? A lot of good you would have done, laying in the corner like a rag-doll. I picked you because you know how to handle yourself in a fight! I know it takes Cain a moment or two to work up one of those Force blasts of his. Why didn't you take him down when you had the chance?"

Corev's face flushes with anger as he glares back at Nahila, "I hesitated to fire upon a Jedi, which I paid dearly for! Did you want me to fire as soon as I saw him?"

"You mean you couldn't sense his killing intent through the Force? I know you conceal yourself in the Force, is the Force concealing itself from you now?"

"I could sense a build up in the Force and I knew from the look on his face that he meant trouble so I did step in his way but as I said I hesitated to kill a Jedi!"

Nahila's voice drops to nearly a whisper, "Are you sure that's the reason?"

Corev quickly stands up almost knocking over his chair, "I did not come here to be accused by you! You asked me to do something for you and I accepted. If you don't like the way I do it then get somebody else!"

Her voice remains at the same almost whisper level, "I saw the security recordings of the attack. You didn't hesitate because Cain was a Jedi, you hesitated because she told you not to fire. Are you taking orders from her now?"

"I don't see how hesitation is seen as an order."

"She told you to stop and you did. You could have shot Cain without killing him. He wasn't moving fast and you had plenty of warning. You were reacting like you should have, like a trained soldier, until she told you to stop."

"It momentarily distracted me and that is all Cain needed to take advantage--"

"Exactly my point."

His face goes a different shade of red as he starts to feel embarrassed. His voice loses most of its anger and he says quietly, "I don't know why I hesitated, there was something in her voice that was so commanding..."

"Commanding, huh?" She pauses and seems to be coming to a decision, about what Corev is sure he is about to find out. "Well, in that case, I am relieving her of her 'command'. She's going back to the cell block. You can stand guard over her or not, as you choose. I think we've seen she's more than capable of taking care of herself in the face of a threat."

"Are you sure that is such a wise choice? Cain will not be happy."

She waves her hand dismissively, "Cain was never happy before, I don't see what difference it will make now. His cheery disposition was like winter sunshine--I enjoyed it at first but now it's starting to grate on my nerves. Don't worry about him. I'll take care of Cain." She pauses and her stress and fatigue shows momentarily on her face, "Now if you don't mind, I'm exhausted." She peers across the desk at Corev, "and you look sorely in need of sleep yourself. Don't let these late night chats get too late, all right?"

"Of course..." He makes his way to the door and puts his hand on the handle. Pausing he turns back to Nahila, "I'm...sorry Nahila." and then walks out the door.

Ketan hefted his meal, the sparse fruit and assorted greenery of his usual meal piled especially high today... he had no slept well and there was no sin a little food for comfort. He had decided to eat out of the cafeteria, his still-healing cuts drawing a million critical glances.

He knew how Ythros felt... minus the insanity part.

He munched absent mindedly on a chunk of some great mushroom as he walked, today was one for reflection, and possibly he would look for Erzabet to get back into a routine. Her heroism had caused quite a stir but only through an established cycle could teachings flourish and wisdom find a crack of willingness to grow in.

He was passing a service droid, and decided to have it inform her; "Please instruct Erzabet in the third dormitory corridor that she is required by her Master in his quarters by noon for a lesson"

"It wont work" Rhapsed the droid "Nahlia got wind of the web and thinks she can cut it by caging the spider"

Ketan's eyes bulged and he nearly choked on a leaf he was ingesting, when Ythros dropped from the ceiling and smacked him heavily on the back, spraying the droid with vegetation and causing it to skitter off.

Ketan regained his composure. "Ythros, i thought *cough* you were the droid for a second... what were you doing on the roof?"

Ythros grinned widely and half-circled around Ketan "Hiding" he said jovially "Cain walked past a few minutes ago, i thought it best we didn't meet eh? There's a boy who doesn't know what he wants... Dont you Jedi have a saying on where fear and anger lead? Something about hate... and then..."

"Not to stoke and old flame, Ythros, but your hardly in a position to question someone else's allegiance" Ketan said, only a touch reproachfully. "Your no angel yourself when it comes to flirting with the darker path"

Ythros still bobbed from foot to foot, a maniac smile on his face and an oddly open stance on his feet, beyond his normal cautious foot-planting, he opened his arms wide and spoke in toying response "Flirt? Ketan my dear old friend if i still had the equipment i would bend the old girl over an-"

"Enough Ythros, thank you, i'm in no mood for a game of 'Awkward'" Ketan responded, distaste dripping from his words. But he wasn't sure if Ythros referred to his lack of genitalia or lack of a connection to the force...

"I know where i stand, Ketan, in the black but batting for the light" He said, jerking his head to where he had seen Cain last "It's the ones you don't know about that you have to keep an eye on... They're the ones that might snap". Ythros leaned close, eyes permanently reddened from cuts on the surface only an inch from Ketan's own. They studied him in depth, and it was clear the gears in Ythros' head were ticking over a mile a minute to evaluate what he saw.

Ythros moved excruciatingly slowly to move his lips next to Ketan's ear "Its odd, you, she has you by the thing you thought would keep you safe... The thing you even now hold up as the prevention to a disease that already has you by the short shaft"

"What are you talking about? Is this something to do with Erzabet?" Ketan demanded, he was sick of riddles and veiled insults.

"Nahila locked up your precious witch, even now Corev readies to shoot anyone who comes within eyeshot of here pretty little head" Ythros said, moving back and still grinning widely.

Ketan didn't even respond, he put down the tray on a nearby ledge and ran, hesitating when he had to choose between the halls towards Nahila's office or the Cell block, wracked by a choice that would have been simple a month ago.

Ythros chuckled as he watched Ketan freeze from indecision, he mimed puppet strings over Ketan and then jerked him left towards the Cell block. Sure enough Ketan turned and ran towards where Erzabet was being held captive. Ythros was still smiling at his little joke when he left, bouncing off down halls frightening Padawans he encountered by making loud noises.

Ketan did not think much as he ran, but he did reflect that it was not necessarily a good thing that something had made Ythros happier than Ketan had ever seen him before.

He should have thought further, but was consumed by his own problems. Just because Ythros was grinning and toying did not mean he was happy.

Tigers grin. And Rancors toy.

Ythros' bright laughter echoed down the halls as he went... following Cain as he made his way across the temple...

Erzabet sat in the temple meditation garden, not empty now, not Still, but floating loose and easy in the Force. When she allowed herself to sink below the surface, there was no more need of a savior. She was sustained by life-lines, by the lines of three lives.

It was terrible to sit as she did at first, frozen and alone in the rigor of a corpse. She knew above all things the absolute necessity of connection between one sentient and another. To give up the connection with her people was nearly unbearable, as though the skin was being flayed off her one centimeter at a time, until she was bare and twitching and desperate for the comfort of touch, even if was only the touch of a gloved hand on exposed nerves. When she entered the temple, she nearly screamed at the agony of its embrace.

So she did as she had done, she gave up her sentience and became a thing. A Doll. But in that emptiness was the clarity of desperation, like a little girl in a black box who has learned to trace the sound of footsteps in a room. In that clarity, she could see it in the Force, like floating strands of spider's silk winding out from the bodies of the people around her, that undeniable necessity.

In Cain, the strands whipped and fluttered in the whirlwind of his emotions. She needed nothing more than eye contact to pluck one of them out of the air, and as she sat at his side she could feel them them catch and cling on her presence. Eventually they twisted into a cord fine enough and strong enough that she could fly him, if she chose to do so, like a kite on the updrafts of his anger and elation. But she did not choose to do so. Yet.

For Ketan, they hung limp, weighed down by doubt, dragging behind him, trailing in the dust of his regrets. But as she knew they would, they curled toward her like a creeper-vine on the forest floor seeking the support of a tree. In her it found the silvered trunk of a snag long dead, but it was enough, and as it climbed upward toward the promise of light, the green of his leaves clothed her in the illusion of life.

And there was Ythros, for whom the need was not a floating strand but a lit fuse, constantly burning down to the inevitable explosion of fury, an high-voltage cable lashing and sparking from its severed end. Such a connection she could never have made on her own, but somehow he knew. He felt the promise in her of what had been denied him, and hated her for the hope he knew to be false. He sat before her for hours, daring her to try and seize him, to burn herself, electrocute herself on his hateful need. In the end, it was he who tried to seize her. He lashed out with pain like a wire and tried to garrote her with it. But she was too fast, and the cord he intended to wrap around her throat, she wrapped around her hand. The cord was made of his very life. He could not sever it and she would not release it.

Tonight she returned to the cell which made no difference any more. For now, she savored the return to the human. For now she savored the grass beneath her, the breeze in her hair, the sun on her face, even the ache in her muscles from nights spent rigid and empty. Dolls did not tire, but she was not a doll, not tonight. Tonight, the fatigue would take her. Tonight, she would sleep.

'It took me days to get myself an appointment the first time. I throw just one, singular war veteran across the room, and I'm called in. I wish I'd started breaking things sooner.'

Cain entered Nahila's office in a good mood - he felt fairly proud of himself, if he was honest with himself, he had gotten a lot off his chest with that violent outburst. It had been a long time since he'd had the chance to use telekinesis like that, and it always gave him a little thrill. Telekinetic abuse was incredibly therapeutic, it seemed, as Cain was considering calling himself genuinely happy.

Nahila did not seem to share his cheery disposition.

She studied him for a moment, not without slight irritation, as he flopped into a chair.

"I don't know what you are so pleased about."

'Well, there's the fact that, from the looks of it, I've majorly pissed you off. That always helps, he thought to himself.'

"Things are going well. For once."

He had to restrain a grin - Cain knew it was utterly childish, but to see a Master even slightly ticked was a guilty, but great pleasure. Nahila glared at him, giving Cain a small feeling of triumph - he could be quite the brat, it seemed, as he had managed to unsettle a woman he considered to be far too uptight.

"You call trashing the medical center and nearly throwing Corev through the wall going well?! I'd hate to see what it looks like when your life goes to hell."

'Shadow Mass Generators...and desks, that pretty much constitutes my version of hell. Destruction that upsets the Masters? Nahila, surely you know me well enough to be aware that I consider that going fantastically well?' Cain was not sure he meant it, however - he told himself that he got a kick out of causing the Masters grief, but Nahila seemed...well, beyond stressed. Downright exasperated. Cain considered himself... 'mischievous', but he was not a malicious man.

'What the hell, I'm only human, a few more can't hurt'.

"Oh, Corev's fine - he's tougher than that...oh, he was also going to shoot me, I do recall."

"Which he should have done! I -" She spluttered, had to make a physical effort to collect herself.

'I am not a complete bastard, let's just get this over with, poor woman's clearly got a lot to deal with right now.'

"You behaved like an absolute child and a fool with that attack. And if you think that somehow this is just going to slide past, you are deeply mistaken."

'Child?! No, no, don't be baited, for once in your life.'

"No one was grievously harmed - why am I in here, when another went insane, started to eat himself and almost killed Ketan and I?"

"At least he had the excuse of being insane. Idiocy, on the other hand, excuses nothing. Your behavior as a Jedi was beyond shameful! Hell, your behavior as an adult was beyond shameful."

'What is she, my mother? And why does she have to keep, on, calling me and idiot?', the smirk on Cain's face was starting to fall. Nahila was right, of course, but she did have to put things so very bluntly.

"I have not been a Jedi for a long time now, 'master' - you and those like you saw to that. If my talent was put to good use, maybe this would not have happened."

Cain paused for a moment, considering Nahila. This woman, to him, dealt in boundaries, safe limits and the Code. Despite her opinion, Cain was not an idiot, although his pride did indeed interfere with his judgement. No, Cain was not an idiot, and he was not above using that intelligence.

"Of course, if I had been elsewhere, Ketan would be dead - I trust you do recall me fighting for my life to protect that man? Erzabet stopped him, yes, but I was the one bleeding for Ketan."

'That should do it - self sacrifice and good deeds will always logically outweigh one discrepancy.'

"I think I can be forgiven one rash action." Cain smiled ever so slightly, an expression of triumph, if anything.

"Well I'm afraid you are alone in thinking that."

'The council never were a fan of logical thinking, of course.'

"You say you haven't been a Jedi for a long time? Well the council would like to formalize that."

Cain's triumphant smile fell, as did any hopes of being forgiven, of being finally respected. Most importantly, Cain saw his future, one that would never involve acceptance amongst the order he held a deep love for. The voice inside his head was not as eloquent when it came to expressing this.

'Shit.'

Cain shuffled in his seat, unsure of what to say. Nahila showed no sign of such, but he was sure she was enjoying watching him squirm. He would not admit it, but he was shocked - he had expected a slap on the wrists, perhaps removal of a fair few privileges, but this conversation was going in the very rash direction of exile.

"Uh...wh-what?"

"Your actions were rash, your temper is ridiculously uncontrolled. You act without thinking and without remorse when you are wrong--and you were wrong. You are not the sort of person who should be handed a weapon as powerful as a lightsaber."

'I would love to see you try and take it back from me, bitch.' Cain was not particularly angry, not angry enough to mean that, but he was deeply afraid, although he would never admit it. As always, Nahila was, despite her exaggeration, more or less...utterly correct. Cain knew he wasn't perfect, was arrogant, and on occasion selfish, but this woman made him sound like a spoilt brat.

"That is what the Council says. I, on the other hand, am contrary enough to argue with them."

'I think this is what going mad feels like.'

"I fought them to give you a place among the Jedi. You have no idea what that took. And I'm as stubborn as you are rash, so perhaps that makes us equally unsuited. So, they are going to give me a chance to give you a chance."

Cain wore a frown that appeared to indicate he was sulking. It was more accurate to say he was hurt - he had been deliberated on like an unpleasant object, rather than a person, without him even being present. He knew he could not fight this, knew he would have to go with whatever was decided for him, but Cain was full of pride, and so, whilst resigned to his fate, he still tried to fight her every step of the way.

"I'll not jump through their hoops to be sent back to a desk. I may seem like an idiot to you, but I am not without some self respect...and I do not like where this conversation is going all too much. "

"Oh, no, you aren't going back to that desk. Under no circumstances are you going back to that desk. You see, I argued that you were inadequately trained as a Jedi - you should have seen Zez's face when I said that, that stuck up prat - and that with further training, you would be a very valuable member of the Order."

No...this must be what going mad feels like.

Cain was stung by her words, and this time they were unfair - Zez was a coward like the rest of them, but his old Master was a great man when Cain knew him, and he was taught - no, he was raised brilliantly by that man.

"Which, you may be surpirsed to know, I actually believe. You have the makings of a good Jedi - a great Jedi! But you have failed to become what you could be because you are a self-indulgent brat. I told them as much. So, you have one chance - we have one chance."

No...no, oh she is joking?

"From now on, you are my padawan."

For a moment, Cain sat perfectly still.

He then burst out laughing. Trying to restrain himself, Cain spoke through giggles.

"I-I'm sorry - really, if you did this for me, then I truly am grateful, but inadequately trained?! Did you see Corev cannoned across the room? Zez and I are no longer on any form of speaking-terms, but that man practically raised me, and I assure you he did so very well. And as for your padawan - what could you teach me? My abilities could easily equal that of a Master, what could I possibly gain from this?"

Cain had control of himself again, by now, and took a deep breath before continuing.

"And why are you doing this? I find it very unlikely that you speak the truth, here - I have nothing to offer you in return, there is no mutual gain, why would you even bother?"

"That fact that you think being able to fling someone across a room in a temper tantrum actually constitutes being a Jedi is evidence enought that you have no real understanding of what being a Jedi means. And you may chose not to believe me but I am completely serious about your potential. But your focus is crap, your skills are limited, to put it kindly, and your ability to actually 'wield' that lightsaber you carry doesn't even bear mentioning. As for why I am doing this - I like you, you little shit! And I want to you be a great Jedi. I hate to see you wasting yourself in sulks and tantrums, wallowing in misery that is self-inflicted"

'Oh shit. This is really, actually happening. Maybe Corev will shoot me, or Ythros will slit my throat in my sleep...there's still hope of that, I suppose.'

"Like me? You have a very, very funny way of showing it, and as for temper tantrum - that was this 'focus' I apparently lack. I may not be a great Jedi, but I am great, and my skills, whilst limited, are many in their uses. If I were what you described me as, I would be long dead. One does not survive the front-lines of war like that."

"I'm not promising you a damn thing aside from saying that while you are my padawan, you get to keep that lightsaber you prize so much. In part because you are going to train in combat with me. You've never seen me in action, so you may not know what I can teach you, but promise you, you will learn. And you will learn to think before you act and you will learn to keep. Your. Temper."

Cain was still, stewing for but a few moments, but in that time his mind raced.

There was no way out of this, that was sure - he could try and negotiate a little...perhaps, but there was no chance of him getting out of this with just a slap on the wrist, it seemed.

'I just want a purpose.'

And that was true - Erzabet seemed like she may have been able to give him that, but the poor thing seemed utterly traumatized.

'This might not be so bad.'

True again - Nahila was stubborn, and could be a bitch, but in comparison to many other Masters she was a nice person. Cain was not too convinced she could handle herself in a fight, but he felt she could be a good teacher.

'I could do with teaching.'

Cain had pride in what he had, but what he had was fancy telekinesis - not a great deal of knowledge, and Cain had always loved to learn.

'This is a good thing.'

Could be true, but what about the Masters? Would they just send him back to the desk once he was trained? Build him up just to leave him without a goal once again?

'It doesn't matter, this is a great thing.

But it did matter.

"Will they...accept me?"

"Yes, they will. When I'm done with you, they'll have no choice."

Cain breathed a sigh of relief, but was still hesitant, "They wont send me back?"

"Send you back where?"

"I...the desk? Anywhere like it? Anywhere that is without purpose? I...I just want something to live for, to aspire to."

For a moment, Nahila adopted a tone of sensitivity that took Cain by surprise, "Aspire to true greatness. Right now you aren't a Jedi, you are a thug with a lightsaber. You will learn better."

It did not last long, however - she took a deep breath, and was back to the stubborn, business-like tone.

"Now, first of all, you are going to go apologize to Corev. Second - you leave Ythros to me. He's been excused for the very last time. If he loses control again, the council will cut his connection to the Force. Which will probably kill him, if they don't have to kill him to do it in the first place. Third - " She hesitated at this,

"Erzabet will continue as Ketan's padawan, and you will assist in her combat training. If I'm going to train one person, I might as well
train two, and you'll serve as an excellent example of what not to do."

"She will return to the detention block when not receiving lessons, however. For her own safety. She's been at the center of two extremely dangerous incidents, and luckily escaped unharmed. She'll be with Ketan, or you and myself, or in the safety of the cell at all times."

Despite what Cain imagine would become Nahila's ever-present scolding, Cain was smiling once again.

"...do I have to apologise to Corev?"

"Yes."

"...how about a memo? Do I have to be there at the time he recieves the apology? What if I get him something nice?"

"You will go to his quarters, you will apologize, and you will look him in the eye when you do it. It's your first test of real courage. Pass it and you will be one step closer to being a real Jedi."

"Fine. I couldn't afford a present, anyway. As for Erzabet, I understand. In fact, it might be best, it'll stop anyone getting in, as well as her getting out."

Cain's voice took on a tone of concern. "What she spoke about in the medical centre...she needs help."

"Help?"

The concern in his voice grew, "She isn't right - she is...brilliant, in an unexplainable way, but she's had...it sounds like she's been tortured, horrifically, for a long time. She's not right at all, I mean she needs help with her mind."

Nahila was visibly troubled, and Cain was a little surprised she had not clued in on this - Erzabet was practically hollow, how could it not be noticed?

"Another Ythros, perhaps? Quieter, of course, but still..."

Cain was hesitant, finding it difficult to explain. "Yes, and no. They were both tortured, but are nothing alike - Erzabet seems...empty, at times. Ythros is brimming with anger...and psychosis."

She considered for a moment - "You noticed that too?" - then took on a sympathetic tone again.

"Well, at any rate, help her move her things - in fact, here's an exercise in controlling your gift - carry them back to the cell without using your hands. It's surprisingly difficult, not nearly as easily as throwing things."

Cain grinned and held up his fairly thin arms.

"Do these look like they do much heavy work? I think I'll be okay with some metaphysical labour..."

He paused for a moment, unsure of himself.

"...and...thank you. For everything. Even the damn desk job."

She sighed, clearly exhausted. "You're welcome. Now get the hell out of my office and lock the door behind you. If I have to deal with one more thing today, I will be the one blasting furniture into the walls."

Cain was a pool of thought, his predicament consuming his mind as he walked. He was in conflict - he recognised that this tuition would only benefit him, but he had still been demoted, still been humiliated, once again by the deliberation of the Council. His footfalls were heavy as if he wished to impart a measure of his frustration onto the ground beneath him.

"It stings, does it not little hound?" Came the voice, insidious as a vapor and just as distasteful. Its owner appeared just as as noxiously, Ythros slid along a pillar to stand before Cain, a smile toying at his lips and a the flesh where an eyebrow should be arched upwards in mocking.

"Ythros" Cain observed, fixing the walking wreck with a cold, weary stare. "You had best leave now". He was in no mood for a lecture, especially from something that should be dead by rights.

"Now now Cain my boy, unless you watch your tongue I'll have to report your mischief to your new master!" Ythros chuckled. He danced a little closer, face positively alight with childish mischief.

"How do you know that already? I just had this meeting!" Cain responded angrily. This was too far, to be stripped of rank and then insulted by someone who shouldn't even be walking free. Surely if word had reched Ythros than improbably the entire temple must know... had Nahila spread the word to force humility on his shoulders?

"Well, for one, you just admitted it..." Said the Scarecrow, his voice was low and smooth, teasing and insulting. "Tell me, do you think that she might let you stay up late? You can watch a scary Holo with Uncle Ythros and me and the villain can have a contest over who can get you to widdle your pants more"

Ythros focused as Cain stiffened, he tilted his head to one side and thought for a while before coming to a descision "She didn't even need to try with you, you were searching so hard you thought that what you found was salvation"

Cain tried to restrain himself. It was not the words used that were insulting, it was the fact that Ythros thought him so childish as to be harmed by such barbs and riddles. How dare this... this... Abomination. The only thing keeping the bastard from being a Sith himself was that not even the darkness would have him.

It drove him to a rage, that he thought such an attempt could reach him.

"Crawl back into your hole, Freak, before I put you there" Cain hissed, moving closer, pulling himself up and over the thin frame of Ythros.

But Ythros changed, from his open stance and mocking jibes he became a thing of hard surfaces with a face that was a portrait of fury, eyes locked into hate filled, twisted pits and his scars pulling into harsh junctions that spoke of war.

He moved like a snake and his tattered face was suddenly pressed to Cain's own clean features. With a primal baring of teeth on his lips and his hands holding Cain's head still he rasped directly into his face. "Petty little hound, there is no strength in your words. I have gutted kinetics that would toss you like a doll and who a thousand times your discipline!"

Cain held still, he would not back down from this display, and his power would not be belittled. He readied a blast to send Ythros reeling down the hall, fatally if lucky. Ythros had gone too far this time. He doubted his power? Cain would smash Ythros into an oblivion so fast even the walking Arbra board wouldn't have time to use his curse.

"Is that a threat? Don't tempt me Ythros" Said Cain, spreading his feet for a fight. Daring Ythros to go for his knives.

But Ythros had stepped back, his grin returned and a gleam in his eye. "Fear leads to anger" He intoned, meeting Cain's gaze, never blinking. He spread his hands in a gesture of mock-submission.

Cain raged at the audacity "You think you scare me? You skulking bag of shit?"

Ythros stood in the same position "Anger leads to hate" He said, jovially.

"Stay away from me Ythros, or I swear I will gut you like the beast you are and do the world a service" Cain said, backing away to leave.

"Hate leads to suffering" Finished Ythros.

"Yes? You pathetic excuse for a Force user? Pretty words, but where do you think all of your anger and rage will lead?! Where do you think you are headed?

"I did my suffering, Cain, Decades of it" Ythros said as he walked away. But he stopped and spoke before he turned out of sight, and his voice was devoid of all teasing and light, it dripped with steely conviction and burning malice; "Now i'm just settling the score..."

Cain breathed in and vowed to bring justice down upon the wretch when he had the chance. He continued along, but where he had previously had nothing but inward reflections, his hate was turned outward now at all around him. He cursed all the faults around him and the lashings of humility he had begun to foster burned in the rage Ythros had planted there.

Ythros made his own way down the halls. He had one more visit to make... one last hope for a puppet of his own amid Erzabets ever tightening strings.

Unless he could find a crack before the web closed... He would be lost, without even the retreat of madness to comfort him in that damnation of servitude... and all the more in agony for his ability to see it happening to himself...

And here he thought he had suffered every kind of torture...

That night in the dining hall, she keeps nodding off through dinner, like a sleepy child. Ketan gently pats her shoulder to rouse her, almost apologetic in his kindness. At a nearby table, Cain and Nahila watch her, Nahila with her steady evaluating gaze and Cain with a line of worry between his eyebrows, knowing that she will be attacked by an enemy from which he can not protect her.

By the time Ketan walks her back to her cell, she feels as though the ground is shifting under her, as though she is riding a lift, up and down, up and down. Her back nearly creaks when she lowers herself into the bed, her spine settling into unfamiliar curves, the disks expanding as the weight comes off. She lays her head on one pillow and curls herself around the other. The pillow fills her arms, but the presence of the others within her is what she clutches for comfort as she lets herself slide into the darkness...

of the box the lid so so close her breath curls back in her face hands flutter at her side feet held aside a coffin a coffin from which she emerges into death emerges in to fire into water into acid lightning needles blood the tank the table the chair from which she watches the other experiments [the other girls] the other experiments writhe weep succeed gasp plead fail repeat the test repeat the test repeat the test.

the box the box is so dark she can't move she can't breathe, sores cover her back. she pleases him, if she pleases him he will take her out, he will take her out and hold her. he hasn't forgotten her, he hasn't left, his feet come and go on the floor, the door opens and closes--

[the other door, the door before, opened, closed, opened, closed, for the men and men and men and she pleases them if she is pretty if she is quiet enough, if she cries enough, if he likes her, maybe one of them will take her and she will not have only the bed and the door, the door that opens and closes. one is pleased, one is pleased, he will take her, oh he will, he will take her from men and the bed and]

--the table the table the lights are so bright she thrashes she pants, wounds cover her belly her face, if she pleases him he will put her back, he will put her back and let her go. he will forget her, he will leave, his feet go and come back, the door closes and opens--

--her door, her door opens, into Stillness. her door, he cannot open it. she closes the door and goes Still.

"Ah my dear you have been a lovely subject, truly a delight, and your regenerative rates in particular are fascinating. But I'm afraid you have become an anomaly and I can't have you spoiling my data sets and skewing my results. There is one last test, however, that I rarely have the opportunity to try. I'm afraid most of my test subjects have not been...durable enough to get any meanful data from disassembly testing. I tried it once before, but as you can see in the holo there, the subject failed the test fairly early in the process...Oh, and please, do not be so stubbornly silent. Analysis of the subject's vocalizations is an important part of my research.

the holo of the subject [the girl] the subject, the paralysing agent, she cannot look away...

he is
taking
her
apart.

...vocalizations

he takes her roughly by the shoulder and shakes her and she Screams and Screams and Screams.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Nahila stood in the med center, watching Corev float in the bacta tank and reading the medical report. Collapsed lung, subdural hematoma, detached retina, burst eardrums, bruised internal organs...

Cain stood white-faced at her side. "I didn't know she could do that," he whispered.

"I don't think she can, not voluntarily." Nahila focused on the reports in front of her, trying to shut out the images that had poured out of Erzabet's nightmare into their own dreams. "Did you ever encounter a Force Scream when you were in the war?"

"No."

"Be glad of that then. The bodies of the soldiers, when we took their armor off, their skins were intact but nothing else was."

He looked at her, surprised. "You went to war?"

"Mmhmm. Exar Kun. Ugly, ugly business that." Nahila looked back at him, grimly amused. "I'm a lot older than I look."

She turned back to the datapad. The damage report from the cell block was...impressive. Everything that could had shattered, everything that couldn't shatter was cracked, everything that couldn't crack was warped and bent. Corev, who maintained his duty as her guardian, had been keeping vigil outside her cell and was the first one to feel the feel the horror that flooded the minds of every sleeping Force-sensitive in the temple. He'd had also been the one unlucky enough to try and wake her. He was still alive because he had been at her side, kneeling by her shoulders, trying to shake her awake. The blast caught him at an angle. If he'd been in front of her, he'd be in the morgue rather than the tank.

Erzabet sat on a bed in the other room, knees curled up under her chin, still pale and shaking with shock. The reverb from the Scream had blacked both her eyes, and blood tricked from her nose unheeded. She stared vacantly at the end of the bed, but it wasn't the inhuman absence of before. Nahila had seen it on the faces of the battle-stricken, the light-year stare.

When Nahila approached her, she shivered and blinked, and looked up at Nahila. She couldn't return Cain's worried, fearful gaze.

"When you feel able," Nahila said to her gently, "we need to talk."

Erzabet nodded and returned to her numb stare.

Ketan had awoken with the scream to sweat drenched sheets and a mind burning with images that he had never experienced. His body ached with phantom agony and his flesh twitched and jerked in memories he had never had before.

She had been tortured, brutally and mercilessly... it all made sense now...

He had not been able to sleep, the images burnt into his mind were a cacophony of pity and revulsion

-----

The next morning he went to see Corev in the tank, anything to distract his mind from the nightmares shared with him in his sleep. How did she endure? He looked fine, but he had heard that the How did she stay sane injuries were mostly internal.

The scream... She seemed more entrenched in So much pain, what would drive someone to inflict such suffering the dark side than he thought, but she could not be blamed for her actions, she was compelled by the images The box to unleash what she was trying to escape The rope and could not be held accountable The face.

He needed to speak to her, she had been avoiding him it seemed, pursuing her own agenda. But in retrospect she could be forgiven, there had been much on her mind.

And there she was. Striding around the corner she made her way to him and went to speak, but he interrupted her.

"Im sorry I pushed you, I know now you were occupied with your own thoughts" He said apologetically.

She was her usual sea of calm, but now renewed through sleep to a more radiant demeanor, fixing his gaze and responding with a gentle look. "Please, do not trouble yourself. I know such...images are shocking to you, but I have become quite accustomed to them, I assure you." She said, voice level and at once open and an enigma.

"Even so" He countered "Your state was cause for thought and if I had known I may not have been as rushed to try and push so much of my teachings onto you."

She continued her stare "Why were you running to the Cell Block before?" She said, the innocence of the questions delivery at odds with its sudden shift in conversation.

He paused for a moment "Nothing, Ythros thought it funny to tell me you had been re-incarcerated". His voice was heavy with addmitance and slightly repentant.

"Ah," she intoned thoughtfully, "the attachments he cannot feel himself he toys with in others."

Ketan began again, eager to regain a modicum of control in the conversation "Listen, when you're ready we can begin regular lessons again, starting with basic exercises, I wont push you to anything strenuous for a while"

"Thank you. Your consideration is very kind," she said, head glancing at something over Ketan's shoulder, "but I believe there are others who would claim my attention, and I do not think I will be able to avoid them."

Ketan laughed a little "I Suppose not, I thi-"

Ythros loomed in his peripheral vision and then all was black.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ythros withdrew his hand, the stunning strike leaving Ketan a slumbering heap at his feet.

"Sleep well?" He asked.

"Better than some, worse than others," she said calmly, "but you know this. At last, you are not alone in your horrors, not any more."

"Drop the act, you already have my pride, honor and soul... leave me my mind and spare me your patronization". He was almost pleading in his tone, the pain of his predicament etched on his face amid daggers of hate aimed at Erzabet.

"Does that offer you no comfort?" she continued, ignoring his statement. "To have another who knows--"

"No" He said, hard as a mountain and just as certain. "You would use what made you to garner sympathy but I am immune to that trick." He stepped closer. "If it had broken you, it would have consumed you. But you are like me, it made you and you must surely find sympathy an insult! As much as it hurts, you and I both know wishing it were different leads nowhere!"

He fixed her gaze and drew back his lips "We would not be what we are without it... and given that you are what you are... I don't think you regret it, not really."

She never backed down, seemingly oblivious to his movement; "No" she said, her voice still calm but just as certain. "My experience did not make me, it unmade me." She leaned even closer. "I am not what I was, nor do I wish to be, nor do I mourn the loss. But you do. In you, the loss is a wound that will not heal, because you cut it open anew every day. But what does the blood prove? We should have died, Ythros, both of us. The difference between us is, I did."

"You think you and i are two in some club? I faced horrors that would make your pathetic excuse for pain scream in terror" He said, his eyes unfocused as he relived his memories as he did every second of every day. "...You know nothing of true pain..." he said, returning to this reality with a venomous scowl.

"I Know" She said, simply, as if her words were anything but sledgehammers on his world.

He stepped back.

She looked him in the eye and spoke with a darker tone beyond her normal range of calm, whisper-soft and hollow as a ruin. "I know. I met him, the one who made you. I knew him."

Ythros was lost amid his own sea of memories. Her words could only mean one person, and the presence of someone who had known him as something other than a god was too much for the mental damn that for years had struggled to hold back the tide.

Red eyes, wide grin and a flame of a mind that burned constantly and sought always to consume others. An obsession with pain and the ability and resources to indulge every new height of agony... The Force was a tool of pain in his hands and he knew better than any the secrets of how to break a man and leave him begging for release through a throat full of blood and tears and bile.

To watch your own organs be spooled out, still beating and fully intact, to stare in horror at your living flesh laid out on a table in front of you. To live like that for days at a time, knowing through the display that you were nothing more than a machine to be manipulated, and then to be roughly tied up and put back together like the curio you were.

Athrix knew that there was no point in pain, fear scarred far deeper and hurt far more.

He had broken Ythros' bond with the Force with fear, making him terrified of it for what it could do to him.

She began to leave, Ythros' instant of recollection lasting years as all the memories he had pushed aside flooded back to overwhelm the ones that he had endured to keep them at bay.

Erzabet left silently.

She didn't need patronization to own his mind as well.

----

When Ketan awoke an hour later he put his fall down to the lack of sleep Erzabet's nightmares had forced upon him.

He made his way back to his room, not noticing the huddled ball of scars in the corner, clutching its knees and eyes staring straight ahead as it quivered in the shadows.

The hardest thing about fighting Cain was picking which hole in his defense to hit through. And it would be a hit. Nahila hadn't been kidding when she said Cain's lightsaber skills didn't bear speaking of. He was terrible. His attacks were rudimentary and his defense non-existent. The only thing he had going for him at all was his skill at boosting his speed and strength with the Force, and even then, his attack patterns were so predictable, dodging and deflecting him quickly became routine.

Nahila supposed she shouldn't fault him too much for relying on his Force abilities. She couldn't imagine navigating through her day without using her Shatterpoint. It showed her where to apply her limited strength, where to spend her limited time, and on whom to bestow her very limited patience. Here in battle, it might as well have given her a little flashing sign-"Hit here! Strike now!"

Backing around to the side, she got the sun in his eyes and attacked, swinging her saber in a wide, sweeping arc. He raised his blade and threw his Strength forward into the block, but at the last moment, Nahila flicked off her lightsaber. Cain swung wide at a non-existent blade, leaving his body open. She slammed into his unguarded chest with her shoulder and nearly knocked him over backwards.

He had been reluctant to use his offensive Force abilities against her, but his pride was stung and she could feel him readying a blast.

"Duck! , she shouted into his mind, and he flinched. The building blast wave dispersed with with the distraction, making him angrier, and he readied another, even more powerful. Interesting-his concentration improved when he was angry. Interesting and alarming. It meant he became more vulnerable to the Dark Side, both from within and without.

Nahila stepped out of the ring and Cain nearly hit her with the second blast, even though she had disengaged from the fight. Not only did he have difficulty readying his attack, he had difficulty stopping once he started.

"Do you realize how close you came to hitting me?" she asked him.

"It's not my fault you quit without warning," he replied hotly, "It's not as though an enemy is going to just step out of the ring!"

"No, but it is possible that one of your own people could unexpectedly step into your area of effect. How successful is a leader who kills his own troops?"

"People should know to stay out of my way in a fight!" was his unhesitating retort.

Which pissed Nahila off no end. "Say that again" she snapped, "and listen to what the hell you are saying this time! How do you expect to lead people with an attitude like that? As a Jedi, the welfare of others comes first always."

She turned to Erzabet, who sat off to the side. "Did you feel his anger building in that attack?"

"Yes." Erzabet's voice was perfectly neutral, as always, and for once Nahila felt glad of it. It would be harder to teach Cain if he got his back up.

"And did you feel him become more powerful in the Force as his anger rose?"

"Yes."

"And what is your impression of the nature of his use of the Force at the time?"

Erzabet turned her expressionless face to Cain and gave him an evaluating look. "If he were a student of the Sith, he would be praised for drawing strength from his anger. It is the most elementary of Sith teachings."

Nahila nodded. Cain wouldn't hear her if she warned him about the Darkness of his use of the Force, but he would listen to Erzabet. He always listened to Erzabet.

"All right. That's enough for today," Nahila said, clipping her lightsaber to her belt. Exhaustion washed through her body and suddenly every joint and muscle ached. "Cain, please see Erzabet back to her cell and notify Ketan that our lesson is concluded for the day. I'm going to go take a nap. Come get me in two hours. I have a lot of correspondence to get through and you are going to help me get through it."

She trudged back to her quarter and instructed Helim that she was not to be woken for anyone or anything short of Revan launching an orbital bombardment of the temple. She had started napping in the afternoons when she started losing sleep at night. Like all the other Jedi in the temple, Erzabet's dream had resurrected bad memories she thought buried in the past.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Master Nahila!" The squad captain's voice on the come link shook in a way she'd never heard. An experienced soldier and seasoned warrior, she'd never heard fear in her voice before. "Master Nahila, we need you here! We found a squad a-and-" the captain choked off. Nahila could here her deep breaths as she tried to collect herself.

"What happened? Are they all right?"

"They're all dead, e-*choke*-except for one and h-h-he's...please, just come! We need you!"

She took off running with Force-assisted speed. She could Heal, not much, but enough. Between her training as a medic and the Shatterpoint which showed her which wound to heal to keep a person living long enough for evac, she'd become very valuable to those under her care. As she rounded the corner, she saw soldiers doubled over, vomiting against the corridor wall. The captain stood in the doorway to a room, the floor of which she could see even from this distance, was one enormous pool of blood.

White-faced and shaking, the captain could barely speak. "Someone...they...I-I-I couldn't think of, I cou-I couldn't think of anything to d-do f-for him, I..." Nahila pushed passed her and entered a room that was beyond hell. There were perhaps twelve dead soldiers, though it was hard to be sure. Several of them were little more than mounds of pulp, some appeared to have been wrung out like rags. And affixed to the back wall...

Great Force...

A Jedi, screwed to the wall with scraps of twisted metal, his chest and belly torn open and his organs festooned over his splayed limbs like some gruesome garland.

And he was alive.

The captain's anguished voice seemed to echo in the room. "Can you do anything? Can you help him?"

"Yes, I can help him." She ignited her lightsaber and cut loose the man's dangling heart.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

It wasn't until much later, after the end of the war, that she heard the name Athrix. He hadn't fought in the war so much as he had romped in it like a mad, vicious child amusing himself by tearing to pieces his living toys.

Then, many, many years later, another mad, vicious child, for he was little more than a child then, showed up on her doorstep, desperate to escape his madness and vicious torments. Ythros, the only surviving plaything of Darth Athrix. Nahila took him in without hesitation or reservation and she tolerated his rages and hateful eccentricities. She knew she could not even being to imagine what he had endured, and as far as she was concerned, he had earned the right to them until the Jedi could offer him something better.

And now another twisted creature sought sanctuary in her temple walls, like Ythros and yet so unlike him. Nahila opened the drawer in which she had locked Erzabet's Sith mask and lightsaber. Taking the mask out, she turned it over several times in her hands. Aside from its slight stylization, it was an exact likeness of Erzabet's actual face. She sat regarding it for several minutes. The mask was the face was the mask. She wasn't sure what to make of it, but it made her uneasy.

That bitch.

In Cain's eyes, it had not been a lesson in the slightest - he had not been taught anything, had had no clear knowledge or advice imparted to him.

In fact, Cain was fairly sure the entire purpose of this was to simply humiliate him.

That malicious bitch.

Bringing Erzabet along, that trick with the lightsaber, even stepping out of the ring - all designed to make him feel worthless. And she was suprised when he said something completely illogical - Cain would not mind seeing what her oh-so-mighty self said after an hour of utter humiliation.

And then, after that, she had had the nerve to suggest he was susceptable to the Dark Side - she was the one who had just spent an extended period of time humiliating him, for no apparent reason other than to then suggest he was too quick to anger!

And why bring Erzabet along? She'd had more than enough experience of the Dark Side, why use her to tell Cain?

Because she knew the words would sting more.

She really didn't understand him, if that was the case - he was not a fool, and he was not so full of pride that he was without self-awareness. It would take a true idiot to not be aware of one's own anger, and if Nahila felt that being angry after that much humiliation was indicative of giving in to the Dark Side, then she should have told him herself, not used someone he cared for to do it for her.

Did Cain still care for Erzabet, however? He purposely 'led' her back to her cell from the side, at a slight distance, out of wary fear after that incident with Corev. He had not been as shocked as some by the images thrust into his head with that scream - he was already aware that Erzabet had suffered, but whilst he still felt the need to protect her, he was partially afraid of her.

The former Sith did not speak on her way back to the cell, and Cain was not even sure that she even blinked - she had been comparitively responsive during his 'training', more than happy to evaluate him as if he were not in the room. Cain would have thought Erzabet could understand such a situation.

Maybe I'm in the wrong.

It was a possibility - it was often the truth, it seemed, but Cain was not about to assume so. He would like to find any other Jedi who, after being humiliated and stung so, would not feel anger.

And when it came to the fight, Cain had held back. He had feared that if he went too fast, or struck too hard, that he would risk losing control, be unable to resist a more fatal blow, should the opportunity arise. Such was Cain's battle-high - if he started, it was difficult for him to stop.

No, Cain had his faults, and they had been evident in the training, but Nahila was in the wrong - whether she was taking out her aggression on him, or doing so out of malice, or misguided intentions, she had done nothing but humiliate him. What was there to learn from that? Cain already knew his skills were lacking, why rub it in his face?

Erzabet returned to her cell by herself, and, as always, made no attempt at resistance to being confined behind that forcefield.

Cain was losing a lot of confidence in both of these women - neither seemed to be the people he had imagined them to be.

"If you'll excuse me, I have menial, unimportant tasks to perform." He told Erzabet, leaving the room in search of Ketan.

He stood on the deck of a Republic ship staring down at the destruction of a planet. Malachor V. The name appeared in his fogged mind and he looked on in horror and grief as the ships around the planet were crushed. He felt once again the pain and heard the screams of the countless people dying. Turning away from the gruesome scene he finds himself face to face with Erzabet and when he gazes into her eyes he sees a world collapsing and hears the screams of the dying....

His body floated in the bacta tank, suspended in the cloudy water. People walked by constantly, some even stood and stared for awhile. His eyes opened to slits and his whole body burned with pain. All he could see was light and the shadows moving before the bacta tank before he slipped back into unconsciousness.

Faces loomed before him. Masked faces. Some were blue, some were red and some were a golden colour. He had seen them all before somewhere...war...the masks reminded him of what he wanted to forget. Images of blood, gore, violence, explosions and more faces flashed before his eyes and he was filled with fear at the memories....

His eyes opened again but everything was murky and nauseating. More shadows moved before the tank and he saw one standing still facing him. What was he doing here? He couldn't remember through all the pain. His eyes closed, his pain lessened and the memories returned.

The barren stretch went on as far as his eyes could see. All around him men and women fought. Death surrounded him, men in armour charged at him. He reached for his weapon at his side but there was nothing there, he checked for his Lightsaber but it wasn't there. His last resort was the Force but when he reached for it, there was nothing there.....

His eyes opened with a jolt and pain shot through his entire body. The bacta made it hard to see out and sounds came in muffled. Focusing through the needles in his mind he forced himself to remember how he got here. He remembered standing outside of Erzabet's cell, he remembered the terrible things that filled his mind. The last thing he remembered was shaking Erzabet awake and then screaming...why was the screaming so important?

He saw a box he never remembered seeing before. Images flooded his mind that he had never seen before. These were not his memories, not the dreams he lived through. These were somebody else's. The images flashed by quickly until finally settling on one of a man. He spoke, he showed her past test subjects and with this Corev realized that this nightmare, was Erzabet's...

His vision was blurry but soon adjusted. There was no blue this time, though the pain was still there. His hearing was still muffled, he assumed it was not from the tank but from some internal damage. It was better then before and he could catch pieces of conversation from close by.

"He heals surprisingly quickly."

"Yes, almost like a Jedi."

"We can't take chances however. He suffered too many injuries and he will have to stay in med bay for awhile."

Corev glanced over to see two of the Temple's doctors talking, the second doctor nodded to the first. It seemed he was still going to be here for awhile. He would have argued but could not find the energy in himself, not yet. He just wondered what would happen while he was stuck in here. He felt exhausted but fought sleep. He did not want to relive those old memories anymore, his old fears, or at least he had thought they were old. Erzabet's nightmares also plagued his mind, those were even worse then his own. His body seemed to have a mind of its own however, and he slowly fell into sleep.

Ythros waited until the accursed apothecaries had gone... he would need to exact some vengeance where they were concerned, it had taken him days to recover from the drugs they had pumped him with.

This one, this one had no drugs but still he slept. Dreams no doubt racing through his mind... but of what? There would be images from the Witch. There would be memories of his past troubles. There would be images of good times perhaps? Possibly he slumbered dreamlessly. But not likely. Ythros did not dream, but he did know of nightmares.

The figure in the tank was an enigma...

"What are you, creature?" A trooper entrusted with a spider that surely would break him if she needed... Or was he there to lure the spider? Nahila would not toss aside life so easily as to use him as bait. He must have some way to defend himself. Was he perhaps a great warrior? A bounty hunter of great speed and skill? They, certainly, could kill Jedi.

Or was he fitted with some technology that made him able to fight beyond what he appeared? He might be both, Ythros conceded, he had once cut open a fellow Sith Hunter in competition over who would strike at the Dark Scion beneath them. On the roof they had dueled over the oblivious Sith until Ythros had slit his own throat to down the monstrosity of spinning blades and blasting guns.

Inside he was a thing of pistons and hydraulics. All green fluids and sparking wires. Was the thing before him another abomination? Scarred like him just with a different blade?

Ythros pricked his finger on the end of his knife. In front of him a twin wound appeared on the finger of Corev... red blood bloomed out for a second before the Bacta sealed the wound so that it was invisible. There was blood in the man, and Ythros was left to seeth in his ignorance.

"I will know you yet" He hissed before leaving. Shooting Ketan a glare as he passed him... He needed to see Erzabet... He could feel the Madness rising without her presence for so long.

He passed a few of the Temples Jedi, and they shot him equal numbers of Suspicion and outright Condemnation. The Temple was in sore spirits and Ythros could not summon sympathy or joy at the fact. He was never a Jedi and would never be a Sith... but he knew which one had his allegiance. The one with his soul in their hands.

Down the lift, round the corner, into the cells.

To sit again across from an impassive face that owned him and reflect.

As it had since his mention, his mind found it's way to his old master, his old Lord. Darth Athrix. The man had been so cold ice formed on his soul, only flashing to incandescent malice when he had a knife or... tool... in his hand. He had understood torture and pain, and where Ythros knew how to deal with his own Athrix had been a master of others. Ythros was his greatest creation and worst mistake. And Ythros had locked away memories for so many years it had been with the force of a revelation that they had returned.

Another wall torn down by the Siren. Another refuge lost in her web.

Schaden was bored.
Such a high and mighty empire, so very rich and powerful, and they couldn't afford a ship with a better hyperdrive?
Kriffing cheapskates...
He idly chewed on a wad of leaves, his hands weaving random patterns through the air. He could never keep still; he had to be doing something at all times. Unfortunately for the co-pilot of the small craft, that "something" was often detrimental to the well-being of those around him.
And the cockpit had been such a lovely color...ah, well. No use crying over spilled blood...

He went over the mission in his mind for what seemed like the hundredth time. One of their own had defected to the Jedi, threat to the empire, must take her out for the good of the yadda yadda yadda. Schaden was not one to worry over such minute details. All he needed to know for his mission was who needed to die, how they needed to die, and where they would die. They had shown him a holo that gave a profile of the target; apparently, they didn't even know what her abilities were. That had brought a smile to the assassin's face; that added air of mystery made his job that much more enjoyable.

He almost regretted that he had to kill her; she was quite the lovely one. He laughed; how would those Jedi vows to never love stand up against something like that? Schaden would be doing the lot a favor, reminding them what happens when they think with their pants. Such a pretty wench...ah! That was it; he would keep her head. Yes, yes, it would look marvelous on his mantelpiece...

He occupied his mind with these morbid fantasies as the two-man shuttle cruised at lightspeed, several hours away from Coruscant.

Somewhere in uncharted regions of space, an exasperated being palmed his forehead. Just dealing with that man gave him an ulcer. The Sith viewed cruelty as strength, but this was patently ridiculous.

"My Lord, why do you deal with this...this beast? The man is mad!"

He turned to look at his aid.

"Mad? No, not at all. The man has a cruel streak a parsec wide, certainly, but he knows exactly what he's doing."

And that's what is so frightening about him.

"Wouldn't it make more sense to send someone a bit less wild? Someone more loyal, more dedicated?"

"If we had a follower who fit those criteria and had Schaden's skills, then certainly, but he is quite good at his job."

"Are you afraid of this dog of yours biting the hand that feeds him?"

"Should he strain against his leash, I will not hesitate to put him down."

Let us hope that is never necessary.

Erzabet sits in her cell and meditates, not Still, but now, truly meditating, feeling the Force flowing down the ley lines between her and the others. Cain's connection thinned, split, he has returned to his discontent. He wants a leader, but does not want to follow. She did not think Nahila such a rival but sees her mistake now. She did not see Nahila pulled to and fro on the strings of her connections, but now she understands. Nahila stands, not entangled in a web, but at the center of a wheel. Her connections to all around her radiate like spokes and she stands in the middle, in the hub, watching the world and its people spinning on the axis.

A formidable opponent, but one with a weakness.

Ythros. Her attachment to the tortured one is older, reaches deeper. She thinks she knows what he is. She does know, not all, but she more than any other still living knows what Ythros is. More than any other except Erzabet, that is.

And now Erzabet is here, another Ythros, or so she thinks. She is right. She is wrong. Her mistaken understanding, her understandable mistake, will blind her. Pity binds her suspicions now and her compassion for the one monster extends, unknowingly, to the other.

Erzabet steps forward and takes her place on Nahila's wheel.

The shuttle passed unnoticed into Coruscant's atmosphere, heading in the direction of the Temple. Schaden lightly guided the craft towards a slum not far from his destination; wouldn't do to have them search the thing.

He landed in the center of a large group of abandoned buildings. He exited the shuttle and began walking towards the Temple, making sure that his presence in the Force would go unnoticed.

As he walked towards the large structure, he tried to blend in with the crowds. His robes earned him the occasional stare, but the commoners assumed he was a Jedi. He paused to admire the wonderful architecture of the planet-city and to break the wrist of a rather unlucky pickpocket. He continued to walk until he could make out the entrance to the Temple.

Schaden moved behind a building and peeked around a corner. There were no guards in front, only citizens meandering about. Though it was not his forte, Schaden managed to use the Force to get a general idea of where the occupants of the building were. According to blueprints his master had provided, there was a direct path to the cell containing that woman.

The assassin walked briskly towards the entrance, teeth gritted as he strained to keep his Force signature hidden and keep his Camouflage up.

He strode through the halls of the Temple at a fast pace, repeatedly reminding himself that none of the Jedi or civilians could see or sense him. His fingers twitched, desperate to begin a killing spree. He silenced those urges, sweating as he maintained his cover.

Schaden observed the people he passed; many ordinary Jedi, including a few masters he knew by reputation. There was that Nahila woman he had heard about, and even that large, mobile mass of pissed-off scar tissue, Ythros.

He passed them all, none of them even glancing in his direction. After descending a lift (a nail-biting situation, as there had also been a Padawan in it), he passed through several doorways, rounded a corner, and found himself quite near the cell. There was only a single guard between him and his resting quarry.

Schaden looked around to make sure that no beings were around, then deactivated his camouflage (though he kept his signature hidden). The guard's eyes widened, and he raised his weapon.

Schaden thrust his arms forward, an innumerable amount of thin wires erupting forth from his sleeves like a great mass of wriggling serpents as the assassin guided their movements with the Force. The guard was enveloped head to toe in the deadly mesh, unable to move a muscle. Schaden's left and right ring fingers twitched, tightening the wires around the man's arms. The thin cords sliced through their victim's shoulder muscles and bones as if they were butter, the two limbs separating from their sockets, suspended in midair by the fatal web.

Schaden giggled like a schoolgirl as he strode towards the guard, noting the spreading stain on the man's pants with glee. The assassin grabbed the guard's head and slowly began to twist it to one side.
79 degrees...80 degrees...82 deg-

Snap

The victim's body went limp, Schaden frowning as the man fell dead; they didn't make necks like they used to. He glanced up and found his quarry staring at him impassively.

"Well, hello, love."

Schaden deactivated the forcefield, his wires lashing the air as if they had minds of their own. He expertly wound them about Erzabet's neck; all he had to do was move one finger and she would die.

His eyes widened.

What the hell?

He could feel his wires coiled around his own neck. What had that kriffing whore done to him? Was it just a trick? Would he risk decapitating himself just to kill his target?

It was a choice he would never make, for the room disappeared around him, replaced with what appeared to be a bloodstained torture chamber. He tried to move, but he was bound to a metal table. He glanced downwards; it was not his body. He was a ten-year old girl, stripped naked, body torn and flayed.

A masked face entered his vision, and his world became pain.

After what seemed like an eternity, the scene evaporated, replaced by something far more terrifying to the assassin.

Screaming. Just like every night, but louder this time. Dull thuds resonated throughout the small house.

I'll shut your kriffing mouth for good, whore!

Something shattered. The young boy heard footsteps, saw the door burst open, saw his mother running away, only to be caught and slammed into a wall by that old man.

Drunk again. Always drunk. Every night since he came back from the war.

He was pounding on her face, bones shattering under the force of his rage-fueled assault. She broke free once more, but not quickly enough. He snatched up the old gaffi stick he kept by the door and brought it down upon her head. She fell. Her chest ceased to move. The old man laughed.

What do you think of me now, whore? Still think I'm some sort of monster? WELL?! If you think so, speak up!

His booming laughter filled the young boy's ears from his vantage point inside a closet. The boy clenched his fists. No more. No more cowardice, no more hiding. No. More. Him.

The man's laughter was cut short as small hands clutched his throat. He thrashed, unable to breathe, some unknown force granting the boy inhuman strength. His windpipe was crushed. The old man fell to the ground, twitching. A final squeeze broke his neck.

The boy stared at the corpse of his father and felt...nothing. No remorse, no shame. He had deserved to die. He glanced at his fallen mother, expecting to feel sadness. Instead, he felt hatred. She couldn't protect her only son, couldn't even protect herself. Pitiful. Weak. Worthless.

Without a word, the boy walked into his parents' room and emerged with his father's old vibrosword. He wouldn't be weak, would never be beaten into submission. He needed to stay true to his purpose, needed something to remind him of what he needed to be.

He strode towards the pulverized corpse of the woman who had brought him into that unforgiving world and removed her head.

To an onlooker, it would have been quite the bizarre sight: a woman staring impassively at a man curled on the floor in the fetal position and sobbing like a babe.

The man fancies himself such an animal, such a terror.

Such a child.

The mother's head is a false memory, a myth the man that is tells of the boy that was, a myth told until it becomes history, his story of what he has become. He is a killer. And a liar. She pours the truth into him, her truth, his own, until he starts to drown in it.

The faceless mother becomes a girl whose face has been peeled away like a mask; the girl in the box becomes the boy in the closet; the boy in the closet hears the monster coming for him, the monster...

Athrix. He fancies himself an Athrix, makes a legend of himself. He lies.

-----------------------------------------------

"Hoho, pretty face, what are you looking at?"

Athrix came to Trayus, she did not know why. This was before the war, before The Battle, before answers to questions they had not asked came whispered to them from the Outer Darkness. On Trayus, Athrix found fear, but not respect. He knew the suffering of others, Sion said, but lacked the will to find the strength in his own pain. Nihilus even then felt no fear, only hunger, and from Athrix he could not feed. And Traya, least and most powerful of them all, could, she said, destroy him with a single word. The apprentices, on the other hand, could be entertaining.

He was bored. He caught her glance. He caught her throat.

Her master, Gelda, did not intervene to save the weakest of her apprentices. Athrix was bored.

Erzabet passed into Stillness. He cut an idle pattern into her face and rested the point of one sharpened claw upon the center of her open eye. She did not blink.

"Do you really think," he hissed, slowly pushing the claw into the flared, fixed pupil of her blank Doll's eye, "that Abyss would protect you if I chose to pursue you into it?"

"Athrix." Traya's voice. "One word," she said, "need I say it?"

Athrix hissed again, a beast on a leash, denied a kill.

"No point in killing a corpse!" and he threw Erzabet unresisting against the wall, hard enough to shatter bones. She lay there motionless, thought to be dead until Traya returned hours later.

"You fool the others but you do not fool me. Come speak to me when you are healed enough to walk."

Such power. One word.

--------------------------------------------

One word.

Mother.

She sends a message on the console, to Ythros.

Come to me. Now.

When Ythros arrives, the writhing hatred on he face is cut with confusion. The weeping man lies with his head in her lap and she strokes his hair.

"You failed," she says to him, her voice tender, soothing. "You failed again, because you are weak." Incoherent apologies lost in obscene sobs. "You are weak because you run from pain and you are afraid of fear. You can only be strong if you overcome these things. This man can help you. He will show you pain and fear. Will you go with him? Do you wish to learn what he can teach you?" Hiccuping assent.

She bends and kisses him softly on his smeared cheek. "I am very proud of you. You are a very brave boy."

Ythros' face is unreadable when she looks up at him. She does not need to read it. She knows. He sees.

Do you think this Abyss would reject you if I chose to drag you into it?

"Take him," she says. "Amuse yourself."

Dragging.

Dragging across cold floors with nothing but a thought, muscles on automatic Ythros dragged the Assassin.

He didn't even know his name, but he could find out easily enough. He could listen to the mans babble, he was a shattered mind he spewed great ropes of dialogue from a broken memories into broken reality. Or he could make him tell it to him.

He would be broken yet, he had no concept of fracture yet.

Come to me. Now.

Not a request, but a punctuated order. She had beckoned him like a subject... because he was. And now she had given him an order that was at once cryptic and shockingly clear.

Amuse yourself.

She knew what would Amuse the Ythros she had made. And this would forge him. She knew. He knew. They knew what this would do to him. But she intended it and he saw no reason or possibility to fight it.

-----

Ythros was now gone, the temple devoid of him. It was necessary, for him and the broken minded one to slip away unnoticed, necessary for him to be out of the eyes of those who already baselessly condemned him... because he was about to give them a base... a reason.

Water ran around them, this private world in the sewers of the city. A ledge above a sluice gate, outside the patrols of the droids that monitored the robotic system that kept the sewer running smoothly. A grime-smeared island in the oppressive darkness that was the place below even the under-city streets.

A simple chain was around the foot of the Assassin as he quivered in his mental hell, not for restraint so much as protection, if he fell over the edge he would not be lost.

And Ythros.

Eyes that were burning slits in the darkness, whites reflecting dim light where his broken skin would not. He was naked from the waist up, a lower robe around his legs... but a full half of his ruin was exposed to the intended victim. Teeth were seen, a mirthless grin on his face at odds with his wrathful eyes.

Moving with agonizing slowness he circled the Sith. His prey.

The high pitched whine of a tool starting up was all that could be heard apart from the rushing of water, and the ever present hum of the city.

-----

The man cursed Ythros, screamed and cursed. He only exited his stupor of memory when he felt pain and then gibbered when he felt the madness approaching. Ythros had not said a single word, he was sizing up his subject.

And now he was ready. The man had fallen asleep, into his horrific dreams.

He would wake up.

-----

The Assassin gasped as he awoke, blood running in rivulets down his face as he stared at the wire. It snaked out of his eye and off into the darkness. The scarred hands fed more into his skull, it breached his nasal passage and he choked a curse through the blood as it made its way into his sinuses. It wormed though the plumbing of his skull until it speared out of his cheek brutally and the hands fed more into him, until the viscous loop that wrapped through his face had enough protruding that the hands could pull it roughly through him. leaving two strands, one slick with blood, dangling from his features.

It hurt. Alot. But soon the pain would fade and he would fall into his nightmares again. But for a few hours at least this agony would sustain him.

The Scarred man returned, and this time he spoke, a scarred voice for a scarred face.

"Do you know what torture is, Sith?" Said the voice, almost seductively, as the shape circled out of sight. The Assassin strained at his bonds, he was on a slab from a scraper droid, rough cables held him down, and propped up on the ruin of the droid he hung, staring at the filth-stained ceiling before him.

"Do you?" The architect of this pain asked again.

"Torture is pain" Said Schaden.

"Wrong" Said the voice. "You have learnt to deal with pain, you are a Sith Assassin... But you are not ready for torture" It said.

Schaden spat blood and tried to laugh mockingly, the act making the coils of wire inside his face come alive with new pain and gouts of blood and mucus. "There is no pain i cannot endure!" He challenged.

The figure chuckled "Torture is not Pain"

The voice went away, leaving Schaden to try and master the agony of his new piercing. He tried to speak to the voice, but it was gone or would not respond. He tried to struggle but he was bound tightly and it caused his wound to flare in agony.

And hour later, Schaden had had enough, this was not torture! this was just infuriatingly, agonizingly uneventful "You think this scares me!?" He challenged "Go on then you filthy Jedi! Show me Torture!"

"Oh i will" Said the Voice. "But I am no Jedi"

The Voice electrified the wire. And Schaden knew pain.

-----

When he was not in pain, he was in nightmares.

When he was not in nightmares, he was in pain.

The dual Hell flickered back and forth, at uneven intervals and without a rhythm he could adapt to, and Schaden writhed and begged for a release that never came.

-----

Ythros smiled.

Torture was 3 lessons. He had just taught the first.

'You are at the mercy of the merciless, and there will be no relent'

Cain leant against the wall of the corridor that lead to Erzabet's cell. Inside that room, Ketan and Nahila were caught between sympathy and urgency, as they half-comforted, half-interrogated her. At least, it seemed so to Cain, the two Masters seemed unable to decide what was worse - that Erzabet had been hurt under their protection, or that the assassin was still out there somewhere.

Erzabet, despite the nasty-looking wounds around her neck, spoke to them with the same old clear, calm voice. If she was in pain, she had not shown it, and thankfully her voice was unaffected by the damage the wire had done. She had told them that a Sith Assassin had come for her, and that, upon discovery by Ythros, had fled before he could kill her, the scarecrow pursuing the assailant. Presumably Ythros was still doing so, providing he had not lost the assassin, but Ythros had not made contact with the Temple - it was possible he had been killed in Erzabet's place.

Cain was outside the room not because he lacked sympathy for Erzabet, but rather because he could not bear to see her wounded. He had promised himself that no one would hurt her whilst she sought sanctuary, but it seemed that was a promise he could not keep.

Cain had come to the conclusion that he simply was not strong enough - something that Nahila certainly agreed with, as she continued to train him with what appeared to be urgency. She had told him that whilst she was very pleased with his progress, she was still dissatisfied with his attitude.

He knew this himself, he just couldn't break the habits of a lifetime - he was used to things coming easily to him, for him to get the hang of most tasks and to ignore what he couldn't. To be forced to engage in something he was poor at was frustrating for him, and no matter how many times he reminded himself how necessary it was, he still resented Nahila a little.

So, somewhere out there, Ythros was in hot pursuit of this intruder, and may even need help. Cain had thought Ythros more likely to attack Erzabet himself, but he had obviously been wrong about this - instead of encouraging, perhaps even applauding the assassin, he had stopped him, and chased him. Perhaps it was not all that surprising, Ythros had a clear obsession with Erzabet, perhaps Cain had just misunderstood his intent towards that obsession.

Frankly, Cain cared little for either of them - Erzabet was still alive, and the assassin was no longer here. If Ythros killed the assassin, brilliant, but if the assassin killed Ythros, he would not be tearful about it. For Cain himself, everything was looking up; he was getting better with his lightsaber each passing day, and he was finding a great many things to respect in Nahila. Beneath the businesswoman's exterior there was a strong, noble leader - certainly a warrior, and an experienced one at that.

Cain was finding himself tempted to return to Erzabet's cell when Nahila joined him in the corridor.

"We're getting involved. Split up and search, but do not engage Ythros."

Cain nodded his head, and followed her down the corridor. He smiled as he recalled what he might have done - before his training, he would have most likely told her where she could deposit her orders, but after training with her, he'd come to trust her, and her instincts. That Shatterpoint of hers was a valuable talent - one he would not have minded being gifted with himself - and it gave her a great deal of credibility in Cain's eyes, and not just because she could use it to kick his ass.

He rested the palm of his hand on the hilt of his weapon, and kept that smile on his face as he left the Temple, in search of Ythros.

Lesson 2 seems the most harmless of the three.

Nothing could be more wrong.

Schaden gasped as the bone was removed, eyes wide as he watched him rib crack and bend before snapping right out of his chest with a sickening sucking sound and pain unlike anything before.

But he did not scream.

This was just one side of the coin, without pain he would slip into memory, an already open wound that somehow hurt more. But here the pain was worse and the reality sharp and harsh, he begged for change he instantly regretted. He had no cycle, no schedule, no way of adapting. However he was soon to be given a choice.

The voice left him bleeding while he did something in the distance, attempts to speak to the voice resulted in the wire jumping to electric life and pure agony, attempts to look around moved his eye, and made the wire forced down next to it flare to red hot pain. He ignored it as he watched, slack jawed, as the voice opened him up and took him apart.

The voice came back, a tool whined up and a savage pin was driven into his broken rib, and a hole drilled into that part still attached to him, before he felt his now 'whole' rib forced back into his body and his wound expertly sealed. He felt something on the rib, an alteration to his form that pushed against his organs.

"It is an overcharged ignition plug" The Voice said. "My previous method of keeping you lucid is also distracting you from the nuances of my art, this should stimulate you without causing an extreme pain"

The wire was disconnected, pulled out of its home with a squirt of gore and saliva, and Schaden breathed deep. "Thank you..." He said. And the voice paused.

"Do not think this is a reprieve, this will allow ever more exquisite methods of madness to breach you" It hissed, close to his ear "We have only just begun"

"It is preferable" Said Schaden "A burning release from nightmares"

"Really?..." Asked the Voice. "...Then you can consider this a favor"

With rattlesnake speed the hands arced overhead and stabbed metal spikes into his gut, clamps found soft flesh wherever it could be found and needles invaded places that needed no brute force to sing red, apocalyptic suffering. And after he was a thing of metal-in-flesh... it flashed red hot, heated with a murdered droid's pipe-scourer even as it was buried in his form

Schaden squealed, a primal expression of the wish to die rather than endure. He took it back, the love of the pain, the nightmares were better than this, this was more than even the wire had reached. All the worse for the smell of cooking flesh and the knowledge that he was being irreparably broken. This was torture. Beyond pain and suffering, the knowledge was more painful than any inflicted hurt... but only just.

It ceased, and Schaden moaned. smoke rose from cooling flesh.

He breathed deep in the wake of the most excruciating 30 seconds of his life.

A switch was pressed into his hands.

"This turns it on for a 5 minute burst" Said the Voice.

The constant sting in his chest ceased as the ignition plug stopped its sanity-giving curse. The pain from his wounds was still hot, but it would fade over the hours, and then he would fade into the hell of recollection. But he had the means to stop it. In his hand he could burn himself alive, subject himself to the pain and escape the dreams...

His mind was turmoil, painful indecision gripped his brain as a blood-slicked hand gripped the switch. Which was worse? Which should he escape? This gift was no gift, it was another torture, one of mental choice that had no acceptable option. For hours he panicked and despaired, fingers ever closer to agonizing salvation and instant, overwhelming regret he knew he would endure. But he would also regret not pressing it... instantly.

He spat snot and blood, blinked away red tears that wounds had granted him, and fell into the pit of torturous paradox. There was no escape and no reprieve, no way to fade out of a pain that he inflicted himself... except for the pain that he inflicted himself... or the pain he could inflict by inaction.

He felt it now, the rising madness of what his Target had done to him, the mental scar she had broken him with.

He had only a minute, he turned his head to stare at the switch. For hours now after the burning, he had endured the torture within, and now he could submit to the torture without.

15 seconds in. Then 25...

He closed his eyes, and pushed the switch.

Nothing happened.

Nothing but the click of the switch and the silence of the pain he never had to endure but he had inflicted on himself anyway. Hours of reprieve he had been forced to waste on a non-existent choice.

Schaden sobbed and cried, as he fell into his madness.

As he learned the second lesson torture teaches.

'You own nothing. Not your body, not your life, not even your mind.'

------

Ythros returned to the hidden chamber after his brief reconicance to find the man had found this lesson a hard one to endure.

Lesson 3 needed to be taught quickly, the Jedi were looking for him.

Cain's search was fruitless - he had found plenty of people with rumours suggesting a man made of scar-tissue had chased a fleeing assassin, but had found neither of them. It had been a long while since he'd actually stepped outside the Temple - he had been surprised as to how fresh outside air was.

It was time to visit Erzabet, he felt. Cain had not spoken to her in what seemed like too long a time, and he was concerned about her health, both physical and mental. For someone who had survived an assassination attempt, she had taken the whole business a little too calmly for Cain's liking.

The young Jedi had troubles with this, however, as Erzabet was not in her cell. Nor was she training with Nahila, nor was she...anywhere she should be - unless the Council had changed their policy on Sith Lords in the process of redemption, Erzabet had gone walking when she ought to be sitting, in her cell, not killing anyone with a wayward Scream.

He did, after a while, indirectly find her by checking up on Corev - at least, that was his intention, but when he found Erzabet concentrating greatly with her hands on the wounded soldier, his attention was stolen.

He stopped at a distance, unsure of what the woman was doing, and scolded himself for being so; she was Erzabet, not a rampaging fiend.

Still, he was at least concerned.

"Erzabet?...What are you doing? You should be in your cell."

She took her hands from Corev, and turned to Cain.

"I am responsible for this man's injuries, for these injuries and now for the dead cell guard as well. I can do nothing for the guard. Maybe it was fortunate, though. If Corev had been outside my cell, perhaps the assassin would have killed him. Regardless, I am the root cause of all of this."

Cain frowned, and worried - perhaps she had not taken the past few events so well, after all. It occurred to him that Erzabet had, in fact, been healing Corev, not attempting to finish the job, and he once again scolded himself. He hated thinking such thoughts, but he felt it was beyond his control - she had nearly torn Corev apart with a Force Scream, it was natural for Cain to be very wary around her...except that this was not a battlefield, and he was supposed to be helping Erzabet, not condemning her as the Council would.

He attempted to reassure her, although he was fairly sure it would do no good.

"The guard's death was at the hands of another, the assassin acted under his own wishes, it was his choice to kill. You cannot be held accountable for that. However, you should not be here without an...escort. You know someone is to 'accompany' you at all times"

He just could not help it - couldn't say the words without making them sound like an accusation.

Erzabet did not seem to notice any such tone, however.

"The assassin was not here sightseeing, Cain. He was here because I was here. He killed the guard because the man was guarding me. If I had never come here, the man would still be alive."

"If you had never come here, that assassin would have most likely killed you as well. He made the choice to come here in search of you - you are really not to blame." He glanced at her neck, "How are you?"

She tentatively touched the wounded area, "I am alive. The pain, such as it is, I barely notice."

Cain showed visible relief at this, "That's good to hear, at least something in this Temple is going right."

There was a pause, perhaps even a doubtful one, from Erzabet, before replying.

"Well, that is good to hear."

Another pause, a particularly awkward one for Cain.

Erzabet seemed to regain focus, and spoke again, "Ythros and the assassin - you did not find them." It was a statement - however she had learnt so, she was already aware that Cain's search had been uneventful.

"No, we found neither - we found plenty of people claiming to have seen a 'mutant' chasing a robed figure down this alleyway or that, but frankly, I believe only half of these claims were true, if that. Ythros has made no contact, either - I have my concerns about him."

What Cain really meant was that he was concerned Ythros had either screwed up or gone insane...again.

He glanced at her neck again, longer this time, and readdressed her wound.

"Are you sure you are fine? That looks fairly...grisly - wait, were you not just healing Corev? Why not...do so for yourself?"

Erzabet sighed as she appeared to be searching for the right answer, "My strength was better used elsewhere, and to be honest, I am treated with less suspicion now that the Sith have tried to take my life. As a visible victim, I gain at least sympathy, if not respect."

Cain was a little surprised at her answer, but mostly worried - and frustrated, as he so usually became these days with Erzabet.

"You're...using the wound as a...form of persuasion?" He tried to refrain from continuing, but relectunatly did so, "I did not think you were one for pity, Erzabet, nor for playing the martyr."

He paused, and corrected himself, "What I mean to say is, that I am fully behind you being accepted, but this is not the right way to do it."

Once again, Cain found himself surprised at her reply - this time in her tone. It was not exactly...mocking, but seemed bitter to him.

"Then perhaps you could tell me right way - how did you find acceptance in this place?"

'You asked for that', he told himself as a look of weary guilt fell across his features. He looked over to Corev, and gestured towards him.

"I threw that man across this room. I am not claiming the high ground here - and I am not accepted, yet. If I can prove to them I can better myself - and I do need to better myself - then Nahila assures me I will be more than welcome." Cain meant every word, but it sounded hollow, and he would not have been surprised if Erzabet mocked him openly for sounding so...easily manipulated - as if Nahila had just waved a treat and he had padded along at her heel.

In truth, Cain was enjoying his training - his form in combat had improved greatly. The gaps in his defense were becoming non-existent at times, but he still struggled finding holes in his foe's defense. His concentration was improving, as well - Nahila seemed to enjoy yelling inside his mind, as she did so often in training, and Cain was learning to...simply ignore it.

His telekinesis was taking leaps and bounds - something his pride would have told him was impossible. He found he could fire short, rapid, but less powerful bursts of energy, which would be perfect for groups of less powerful enemies, or perhaps harrassing stronger foes, without losing concentration on a duel.

Erzabet cut off his path of thought with her reply.

"Ah, well, then I will strive to prove to them that I can better myself, however such a thing may be proven"

He could detect no sarcasm, or bitterness in that comment, but he was not sure it was perfectly honest - Cain himself still harboured resentment regarding the Council, so he could sympathize with the feeling of being slowly, ponderously judged.

"I cannot speak for the Council, but if I were them, I would want commitment to redemption - it seems as if complying with them is not enough...how did you know we had not found Ythros or the assassin?"

A slight smile appeared on her face for a moment, "I know you well enough to know you would have announced your success the minute you saw me, if you had." and then the smile went. "But I do not know the council well enough to show them any more than I already have, my commitment to redemption...Ythros has struggled to show them, you cannot imagine how he has struggled, but they will never believe him. There is only one who believes, and without her protection, the council would surely destroy him."

Cain was honest enough with himself now to know that he was ultimately jealous - he was tired of Ythros and Erzabet; their shared obsession with each other. The concept that the two had such a strong bond merely due to common ground annoyed and frustrated him, made only worse by the fact that Ythros was a deranged, depraved madman, something that Erzabet seemed, to Cain, to be naively unaware of.

"Ythros has done nothing but kill, or try to kill - I really saw the struggle for redemption in him as he tried to separate Ketan's head from his body. Nahila may wish to protect Ythros, but I do not agree with her - and I do not agree that you will share his fate. I realize that may sound hypocritical - but whilst I am another under Nahila's protection, I refuse to become like Ythros, bound by his own madness, depravity and self-loathing...You should too."

"You saw a creature drowning in madness not of his own making, and if you had any idea how Ythros became what he is, you would know that refusal was impossible. Ythros and I are more alike than you imagine. I know how he struggles, I know what he suffers. He would change if he could, and even though he cannot change, still he tries."

Cain was, for lack of a better word, pissed - more than anything else, he was tired of this idea, that because he was not mad, that he had never been tortured, that because he was mostly stable, he had not been broken.

"If I believed people could not change, then I myself would have never agreed to Nahila's training. I truly believe that even the darkest of us can change - I believe that Ythros could change, but I still see him hurting himself, still desperate for a kill; why else has he pursued the assassin so far? Why else has he not contacted us? The difference between you and Ythros, in my eyes, is that you are really trying - making necessary sacrifices to be accepted. He refuses to compromise, refuses to sacrifice his depraved ways - and that, in my opinion, is why he has not truly changed - he is trying to change because he wants to be accepted, not because it is the right thing to do."

She stood and turned away from him, "I should return to my cell. I endanger Corev with my presence."

"I wouldn't say that...but, you are right, you should return to your cell." Cain was not done, however, and once they were in the corridor, outside the Medical Center, he continued, with growing frustration as he noticed her fairly cold manner towards him.

"...Look, it isn't as if I think he's beyond change. I just don't think he's trying for the right reasons. In fact, I would say that a part of him enjoys being the outcast, being free to do as he pleases, without fear of judgment."

If Cain saw the irony in his statement, he did not show it, but Erzabet clearly did as shot him a quick, sidelong glance that may have been one of bitter amusement.

"I don't doubt he does. And I don't doubt that others enjoy having an outcast to measure their own worthiness against. He cannot be a Jedi and he refuses to be a Sith. He thinks he is the only one to suffer in that way, but he is not."

'Oh, he's ever the misunderstood soul, with his tendancy to cut on himself and others, and that one time he lost control, ate himself, and tried to gut a Master, but he's not to blame for that.' Exerting a self-control he had gained from Nahila, Cain seemed only frustrated when he replied to Erzabet, rather than on the precipice of rage.

"But he can be a Jedi - with training, with a hell of a lot of help, and a way to stop him cutting on himself. Nahila would be more than willing to give him that help, but he's just too warped, too 'proud' of what he does have to ask for it." Cain, once again oblivious to the irony of his statement on pride, was angered further when, instead of replying, Erzabet closed her eyes, quickened her pace and tried to leave him behind.

A moment later, he was at her side again, matching her pace.

"What, you don't think he can change? If you can, Erzabet, then he can too - if you redeem yourself, then I imagine he would, in turn. What am I not understanding here, Erzabet? Madmen have been relieved of their insanity, and followers of the Dark Side have been redeemed - what reason is there to suggest Ythros can never be a Jedi?"

"Those in the light can never understand how deep into darkness some can fall, or how many perish never having seen a single ray of light. You and Ythros do not live in the same universe. I..." She paused, "...I was selfish to have even come here."

There is only so much frustration Cain can take at once from Erzabet, and he was at breaking point. When he spoke, it was with genuine anger.

"Selfish? Do you realize how many you have helped, regardless of that one freak occurrence when you slept? And, to be frank, Erzabet, I tire of you speaking as if you know everything about me - there are things I do not even contemplate and discuss with myself, let alone another I value so highly."

Cain felt more and more foolish as he spoke, but that in turn just strengthened his frustration as he found he was compelled to continue.

"I have known darkness - no, not even darkness, an absence of anything, an abyss, where not even darkness exists. You were not here when I returned to the Temple - I was beyond vulnerable, barely capable of forming full sentences, lucky to have what was left of my sanity. I do not appreciate being excluded as if there is a social club for the tortured and violated. I do not claim to understand Ythros, nor his pain, but I know what it is like to feel broken, to feel complete, total lack of hope. The difference is, I chose to return to the Light, he
chose to give in to that which broke him - the difference, is our choices."

She seemed unaffected by his anger, just complacent of him - his words being processed, but not understood it seemed, as she just kept on, regardless of what he said.

"If you were given the 'choice' he was given, the 'choice' I was given, you would not say that. I should go back to my people." It seemed as if it was her turn to not understand him - under Revan, it was necessary to experience torture, - a lot of it - to be resistant to it, should their enemy seek to use it. Cain knew that there was very little choice when you were bound and they held the searing hot instrument, but that was not what he was speaking of.

"I am not speaking of the torture itself, I am speaking of the choice after it - the choice to rebuild and struggle on, or to just give in and lose yourself. There is no choice during the act, but afterwards there is only you. And what 'people'? You mean the people who sent an assassin for you?"

Once again, Cain was not even sure if she had heard him, as her reply was only loosely based on what he himself had said. Erzabet had frustrated him before, but this was getting ludicrous, almost as if she were doing it deliberately.

"Understand Cain, that torture is not pain. Torture is not simply inflicting suffering upon a victim. Torture is not even inflicting madness upon a victim. Torture is the act of removing all ability to choose. You suffered, you despaired, you may have even gone mad for a little while. But you were never tortured. You retained your ability to chose. You were lucky, but there are many, you cannot imagine how many, who were not. My people, not the Sith." a tone of disdain entering her voice as she merely said the word. "My people who I left unguided while I pursued my own 'redemption' are the luckiest of the unlucky, the tortured who, because of some connection to the Force, survived that which killed every other before them."

As Cain spoke, a cynical tone that he himself did not like crept into his voice.

"If your people were not Sith, then what were they? Just unfortunates you happened to charitably take under your wing? And if they were not Sith, what does that make you as their leader? When you entered this temple, you did so under the name Darth Erzabet - why do so if you are not a Sith"

"Understand this - until I came here, the Sith were the ones who showed me the only kindness I had ever known. I was a Sith because I knew nothing else but the brothel and the box, and compared to that, my training among them was a joy. I was a slave and worse than a slave, and they showed me I need never be a slave again."

She paused, but before Cain could reply, she began again.

"The Jedi took no such interest in me. If I had not come here as Darth Erzabet, how long would I have sat at that desk waiting for my redemption? I might have been there still. The Sith trawl the depths where the Jedi do not go, and those they pull into their nets are lucky to be caught, but they have no choice - they will be Sith or they will be dead. They did not chose to be Sith any more than they chose to be slaves and playthings, any more than I chose to be Sith. They found me dying, strapped to a table, in a wrecked room. They heard my screams from orbit, Cain, and came for me. The Sith were my rescuers. That is why I am now considered a Sith."

Cain was unconvinced - he could sympathize with her plight, but he could not justify her actions here, away from the Sith.

"It certainly seems like you were - no, still are a Sith; leaving the wound, using the guise of a Sith Lord...you had a lightsaber and a mask, surely those were credentials enough? How many times have you manipulated us - manipulated me? You cannot speed up your redepemption like this - with sympathy and lies. Do you even want redemption? Why return to these 'people' of yours unless you have grown weary of even trying? And - again - what are these 'People' of yours if they are not Sith?"

She pondered, pressing her lips together before speaking. "I was...candid with you, in explaining why I chose to treat Corev's wounds rather than my own. The Sith would consider such a disclosure to be foolish, so I am a foolish Sith, or I am trying to be something other than Sith. Or perhaps I am merely being a fool." She turned away, before going on. "Can you not conceive of the possibility that within the Sith are many who never chose their fate, who were passed from the hands of the slaver to the hands of the Sith, never knowing any other possibility existed? Can you not conceive of the possibility that one among them might, at long last, understand that such a fate might be changed, that one among them might begin to gather them, to prepare to lead them out of the darkness? I came to be redeemed and then return to them, my redemption in hand. Or that is what I told myself. But I think you are right--I have only been a foolish Sith. I abandoned them to pursue my own selfish redemption have accomplished nothing but the destruction of others and the imprisonment of myself."

Cain's anger receded, as his concern and sympathy for her grew.

"I know from experience that under a Lord there is only the choice of keeping up without question, or being left behind - or worse. I can easily conceive of those that chose other possibilities - I knew a few myself, and if Revan did not cut them down, we had to...I do not blame you for whatever you did amongst the Sith, it is their way to force others to their will. It is not right for you to do...this! This double-speak, riddles, suggestions, half-truths and sudden change of direction - how can I know if you are even speaking honestly now?" He sighed, "Regardless, no matter what you did, you were not selfish to wish to better yourself...surely some of your followers could have chosen redemption?"

A tone of sadness entered her voice. "Some of them, many of them, are so utterly broken they will never be whole, and as such, can never be redeemed, not fully. They are like Ythros, nothing but scars inside and out, and no matter how they struggle, they will never be free of the darkness. Nahila's kindness, to him, to myself, made me think that perhaps I could bring them here, but I know better now. Better to keep them among others who understand them than expose them to the scorn and distrust of those who do not. The frustration of seeing others taking for granted the things they can never have would only break them further and drive them deeper into darkness."

Cain once again let out a sigh, more weary than frustrated, as they entered her cell. He led her in, and leant against the wall as she sat.

"No one is past redemption, not in my eyes - not you, not even Ythros, are so far gone that they are beyond what makes them human. Why can you not just...give the Jedi a chance? Think of what you could do if you returned to your people with a way to redeem them - a way to lead them to better lives."

"I think of nothing else, but now the Sith know that I am here, know that I am isolated from them and they from me. I am without their protection and they are without my leadership, but I have the protection of the Jedi and they have no other leader. The Sith have attacked them and tried to assassinate me. They are in terrible danger."

"Why? If you are no longer with them, how are they even a threat?"

"They are a threat because they are loyal to me regardless. The Sith are in chaos now, without Revan, and this alone has kept my people safe - the Sith were too busy fending off one another, but now it seems they have taken notice of us. Weakness was our protection for some time, they did not waste effort on someone who was not a threat. But now some of them are looking around, hungry for targets and resources, and there my people sit, leaderless, while I pursue my own glorification here."

Cain's voice took an unusual tone - perhaps he was conflicted between concern and apprehension - between comforting her and warning her, but his voice sounded rather disconnected, as if he might be reciting something, rather than speaking his own words.

"Have faith - the Force moves through all things, and I am sure it will guide your people, if that is its will."

He stepped out of the cell, and activated the force field.

"Right now, you need to worry about your own salvation."

"I do not worry for myself--the Force guides us all, and my worst has already happened."

Cain left the room, feeling exhausted - a 'conversation' with Erzabet tired him more than hours of searching, and he felt it was time to retire to his own room.

Hope has been stripped, choice has been stripped... all the trivialities of a persons life have been broken down and cast aside. Now it was time to build again.

But first, one last thing needs to be swept aside.

-----

Bones ground against the file, veins popped before the vice, juices squirted and screams burst forth.

It was all preparation, the heating of the metal before the moulding. Before the forging. There was no skill here. Even Schaden knew it, hurt as it did, the dread that a new and horrific revelation was coming filled him with dread. He was already beyond despair and hope, but there was always further to fall.

The voice circles him now, a hand grips his arm. it speaks. "Do you know i studied under Athrix? I hear you hold him in some regard"

Schaden was coherent enough to plumb his memory. "H-he had no s-students"

"Wrong" Said the voice. The table was moved up against the wall, Schaden was vertical against the harsh, filthy surface. a bright light lit the space before him, where a simple surface was laid out. He was to see something, something he was sure he would not enjoy.

"This is what could be considered his gift to the craft" said the Voice.

____________________________________________________________________________

Lesson 3 began.

Corev stared at the wall across from his bed. He had began to stay conscious for longer periods of time. It was better then having to live through those dreams again but he was growing bored of staring at the same thing, the same people day after day. He needed to be up doing something.

The door slid open and he glanced over to see Nahila walking into the room, worry on her face. "So I see you are well enough to be moved to a bed? I always hated being in the tank--claustrophobic." She gave a slight shiver as she sat down on the side of his bed.

A small smile appeared on Corev's face and he answered, "I wasn't awake for most of it. Does feel good to be out of there though." There was a slight pause as the smile faded from his face, "Feels good to be awake and away from those dreadful dreams...."

"Mmm, yes. They are finally starting to fade for me. Bad memories from the war. And the other...memories. Erzabet's memories."

"I have lived through the others before and I don't have trouble forgetting those ones, but Erzabet's--I can't get those out of my head." It was his turn to shiver before continuing, "I have a feeling this visit wasn't just to check up on me."

She reached over and gave his hand a light pat. "Don't undervalue yourself, friend. But you are right. We've had more trouble. Serious trouble. With Erzabet. An assassin tried to kill her. We assume he was a Sith, but we haven't found him so we don't know. He used a wire garrotte, not a Lightsaber, so we can't be sure. According to Erzabet, Ythros interrupted the attack and ran after the assassin. We haven't found Ythros or the assassin and we've been searching for several days. So when I say, get well soon, it's not just out of politeness."

Corev, in his surprise, forgot about his pain and tried to sit up quickly. The pain along his back and in his head caused him to grunt, "Why does everything seem to happen while I am gone? Is she OK? what are we going to do about this?"

"She's fine, but one of the guards died, and she apparently blames himself for his death. And your injuries. She seems worried about Ythros as well, as am I. The security holos have all been erased, so I wasn't able to get anything out of that, nothing about the attack itself, and no idea which direction they went."

He lets out a small sigh of relief over Erzabet's safety. "Ythros' disappearance is indeed troubling, especially with the way he has been acting lately. Somebody needs to find him soon. I need to get out of this bed."

"He's actually calmed down quite a bit recently. I'm surprised, I thought he'd try to kill Erzabet because she was a Sith, but he hasn't. He calls her a viper and a spider and all sorts of things, or he did anyway, but since she's been here, and especially since the dream...well, I wouldn't call them friends, but they seems to have found some relief in one another's company. I think it's good for Ythros to finally have someone who understands what he went through."

Corev had grown more suspicious over the days of observing before his incident. He had noticed the changes in the attitude of all Erzabet's common visitors, "That is only good up to a certain point. Erzabet is different, she effects people in ways I have never seen. Ythros should not like her yet he does. Cain should not feel the way he does for her, but he does."

Nahila frowned at him, showing a little surprise, "Why shouldn't he? I've been teaching them together--oh Force! there's another thing I need to tell you. Cain's my padawan now." She waved a hand at his surprised look and continued before he can speak, "I'll explain later. Anyway, I've been training them both, and she's a model student, and her presence seems to be calming to him as well. He's actually started listening to what I have to say, which is practically a miracle."

Corev was not satisfied. Nahila was acting different. She had not been this accepting of Erzabet before. "And how do you know she isn't affecting you in the same way? You always wanted to give her a chance but you are letting her get away with too much."

Anger entered Nahila's words and it showed on her face, "Affecting me? Affecting me how? And exactly what is she 'getting away with?' Aside from having horrible dreams--she's gone back to staying awake, by the way--and nearly getting killed, what is she getting away with?"

"Is she not supposed to be in a cell, under guard? She was here earlier, unescorted if I remember correctly."

"How hard did you hit your head? I let her out before the whole dream incident because she's never done anything wrong. The only reason I put her back in the cell was for her own protection, which did squat to actually protect her. I should probably move her back into her old quarters where at least she'd have you and Ketan to look after her." She paused, realizing what he had just said, "Wait, she was here?"

"Yes she was here. I don't remember it all but I think she was trying to heal me."

"Yes, she can do that." Nahila nodded in recollection. "On more than one level, it seems. Ythros hasn't had any more "episodes." He's even nice to Ketan and he's eating his meals in the dining hall, if you know what I mean. In fact, he's been cheerful, which is just weird to see. It's actually making people rather jumpy, to be honest. I think she might actually be good for him. She's helping him come together all in one piece somehow, so he isn't constantly at war with himself anymore."

"It sounds nice but with all that has happened lately you would think you would not be so accepting of this. Remember when I hesitated with shooting Cain, remember how you got angry because I listened to Erzabet? Why all of a sudden are you so much less suspicious of her?"

Nahila raised her hands up in front of her in mock alarm, she was mocking him! "Oh no! Someone is becoming good! Something is going well! That can't be right!" The mocking tone left her voice, "Maybe I had just gotten too jaded, to suspicious, and couldn't accept something good when it finally happened. I mean, it is a good thing you didn't shoot Cain."

He didn't like how she was mocking him, she had never done it before, "At the time I couldn't have done anything worse. I don't like how you have changed. You have never snapped at me this much, not even when we were Padawans together. To be honest it makes me suspicious of Erzabet, and everyone that is around her. Including myself."

"Yourself? Why? What have you done?"

His face grew serious as he admitted to her what he had been hiding for awhile. "I find myself thinking things that I shouldn't. Letting my guard down when I shouldn't. Allowing her to distract me away from watching everybody and for almost losing sight of what I was here for."

Nahila gave him a sidelong glance, "She is very pretty you know, and you're not a Jedi any more."

"I do not think that is what it is. I separated myself from the Jedi long ago but I kept some of their ways. I separated myself from people for awhile as well and I suppose I could be getting a little lonely but that is not how I see Erzabet. The reason I hesitated was different, it was not because a pretty girl said stop, it was because I felt compelled to obey her. I respected her in a sort of way."

"Respected her?"

It was all coming out now. It was a relief to share his thoughts with someone else, "I see in her a sort of me. She rejected what the Sith taught and came up with her own way, not to different from the Jedi's. I left the Jedi and found myself accepting some of the Sith's view on things. We both stay in the middle doing things our way with a bit from both sides."

"And why is that a problem?"

He had not noticed before that what he felt was different then it should have been. He realized that he had gained respect for her but not enough to make him think of her as his superior. "It should make me respect her but not to the point where I would take orders from her. Whatever she is doing seems to be playing on those feelings in my mind. My subconscious thoughts connecting me to her." He only remembered a bit of her visit as at that time he was still falling in and out of consciousness. He remembered opening his eyes to find her standing over his bed looking down at him with her hands extended out. He remembered the feeling as she searched his body with the Force so she could heal him. At that time he had noticed something weird about the Force in her. It seemed to be coming to her from somewhere else, like it was a connection to some outside source of power.

The teasing was clear in her voice but some scepticism also crept in, "You sure it isn't just that she's pretty? Hell, I'm a Jedi and I don't lean that way, but even I noticed. She definitely catches the eye."

Corev lets out a sigh, "I am old. An old half Jedi. I don't think I look at anybody that way anymore, I have been alone for far too long."

"Yes you are old. Old and beat up and you should probably get some rest."

Corev was not done yet, he still needed more answers. "Whatever you may think does not change what is happening. You have always been good at finding things that aren't supposed to be there. What does your Shatterpoint tell you?"

She lets out a sigh of her own, "Oh yes, the Shatterpoint. It points in every direction, it points at everyone these days, especially Erzabet, it points at every possible outcome, and all it tells me is something big is happening. Well, pardon my language but, no shit, sunshine. Other than that, I don't know, so I just have to make my decisions like everyone else in the Galaxy, on the evidence. And I have no evidence to show there's anything wrong with her and several things for which I have to thank her. Including saving Cain's life."

"Then it is my job to find that evidence and when I do I can't guarantee it won't be too late."

"Well, in order to find evidence, you need to get out of bed, so get better soon and do what you need to, all right."

He gave up on arguing his point with her. She would not heed his warnings. He needed time to think this out and with his mind still a bit fuzzy he needed some sleep as well. He nodded his head and then rolled over, facing away from her, closing his eyes.

He heard her footsteps as she got up and walked out of the med bay. Wondering whether she had took anything he had said to heart or just ignored it as paranoia, he drifted off to sleep.

Erzabet sits in her room, eyes closed, not meditating but thinking. The wrong one--if she had only known, if she had only known, if she had only thought to look! Ketan is a Jedi and a Master of the Force, but he is weak, seeking guidance from anyone, even his prisoner, his supposed apprentice. Give me something to work with here! Those had been his words to her in their first conversation. And she did. She gave him a great deal to work with and now he works with it obsessively. Except when his duties call him elsewhere, he is always with her. He thinks he is teaching her, but every statement is a request for acceptance. He never knows if he is right or wrong and he wants so desperately to be in the right.

If she had more time, she could shape him, but Vect cannot rule without her for much longer. The desire of her people to protect him is almost as strong as their desire to serve her, but in her absence, his mind starts to wander and the voices return. He needs her to anchor him.

So unlike Corev. If only she had realized! The moment she started to heal him, she felt it, a deep reserve of strength in the Force. Somehow he had concealed it from her, but he was certainly a Jedi Master, or had been. If only she could bind him to her. But his concealment and her focus elsewhere had delayed her, and then his injuries had put him beyond her reach. And Cain, he too had been so nearly hers, but Nahila supplants her in his loyalty. In order to have the apprentice, she must take the master, and that will take time she does not have.

But she reminds herself, she is not gathering Jedi just yet. There will be time, and after she has overthrown the Sith, she will return to the Jedi to complete her redemption and her acquisition of followers. Then she will make Corev her own, and Cain, and Nahila, but for now she must satisfy herself with Ketan.

And Ythros. How extraordinary you are! She knows the broken find in their desperation a powerful link to the Force. She learned from her years as a thing passed from hand to hand, that the need to know and be known by another sentient is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and she knows from her time on the table and in the box that there is nothing more powerful than a child's will to live. This is why she seeks the broken. The Force flows through them unobstructed. Dark, Light, it does not matter. It pours through the gaps and cracks in the crumbled structure of their former selves and those gaps and cracks shape their connection to the Force until it suffers a deep change into something rich and strange. This is why she takes the young and the unbroken and breaks them. She breaks them open to the Force as they never would have known it otherwise. Like Ythros. He amazes her with the vitality of his madness. He is a masterpiece, a pure expression of the artist, Athrix, and an artist in his own right. She can feel him in the Force through the conduit that runs between them. It is more than a simple bond in the Force, he has been opened to her power. Even now, she can feel him practicing his art, and through him, the agony of the man who has become his canvas.

She needs to retrieve him now and return. If she waits any longer, Vect and the others will unravel. This has been reconnaissance not recruitment. The time for the Jedi will come.

One Jedi comes, Ketan, for another lesson in the virtues of the Light Side. She has listened to him, gathered his words, and leashed him with them. He seeks to teach her the Light, but she knows there is no Light and no Dark, only the need to connect and the will to survive. When he lets her out of her cell, she does not wait for him to greet her or speak.

"We are going to find Ythros," she tells him. "We are going to look for him now."

Ketan walked slowly beside Erzabet, they did not speak. Their search for Ythros had been a strange one. They had not been stopped from leaving the temple, but odd glances followed them out the door.

From there it had been fruitless as usual, Erzabet almost inactive save to follow him as a second pair of eyes to fix a potential lead. She never offered advice or counsel... was this punishment for something? Or a test? He asked vendors and transport operators, plenty of talk of scarred men, but one man with a cut does a scarred man make. They weaved and twisted among the people and places, Ketan searching without for Ythros, within for why Erzabet acted as she did.

Who never looks when searching? Who never bothers to indulge a lead when seeking someone they have an interest in?

He turned "You know, you know where he is" he said. Why would she hold back then? Why not end this before he had to deal with simpletons and people who kept trying to swipe his lightsaber?

She fixed his accusing glare and spoke with her sometimes infuriating level tone "Yes, he is not far from here". She knew his concerns and addressed them immediately "What would you have done if i had told you, Ketan, you would have been more concerned with why than where". It was a statement. "Ythros is somewhere below us, in the sewer system, i cannot find his exact location"

Ketan watched in amazement as she led him to a drainage port and opened it with a deft flick of the droid access panel. She dropped lightly into the depths and he swiftly followed, she had somehow landed on the access rails, where he was up to his knees in the waste of a city. He should inform the temple before proceeding, but that would mean leaving Erzabet here with Ythros. Or something that had managed to kill Ythros. He thought for a moment, and added; or a pair of corpses.

Erzabet motioned that he should search in the opposite direction, and as his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could only imagine what he might find.

-----

The Voice.

It Sings.

It Was Time Again To Learn.

Slippery coils of life unspool and delicate movements make the abomination unto his life dance and quiver. Disconnected, redirected, twisted, gifted, unrepentant. So much to see you always thought you never would... never could. An impossible glimpse at what was powering your ability to glimpse the impossible. Sliding... so, so much of it. The sounds are unhappily wet, unnaturally silken as sliding things.

Your jaw would scream words, but it lays somewhere to your right. Your throat would scream sounds, but Its not far from your jaw. You would struggle, but that simply causes the flesh at your feet to dance and twitch, bone and tendon dance and glisten.

The third and final lesson takes away the one thing the hopeless and the defeated posses. All is laid before you and you see what you really are, a mass and machine. As functions disappear with organs, you start to think that perhaps with enough you would cease to think or feel. Like the clockwork mannequin you are, stripped of will and hope by lessons past, you fall into the realization of the broken mind;

You have not the right to die. You have not the right to live. You are a thing.

-----

Ythros looked away from the spectacle, another 10 minutes and he would put him back together, another thousand years of swiveling eyes. The man was broken now. His hope, will and... it... stripped. Cured beyond the need for a disease, he twitched no more. The nightmares that haunted his sleep had been made to fade away in the face of this new visage.

Scarred hands cradled a scarred head. This was his graduation of sorts, his final act of disconnection from the Jedi that had betrayed him and bondage to the Sith that had enslaved him. He could not dwell in the sterile halls again, nor could he make war on the dark ones of his cell-keeper. Nahila would not be able to defend this, he did not think she would want too. Men like Cain and Corev would kill him out of service and none would scorn the act.

He was Alone.

And then Ketan walked in.

-----

Ketan took in the scene, the swiveling eyes atop what was once a man. Things... draped across exposed ribs and bare bone, and the pool beneath him, still moving in a slow rhythm.

He ignited his lightsaber. Meters away he saw Ythros, wide eyes staring back in shock. There could be no excuse for this abomination, not his time.

"Ythros... by the force... what, what... why?"

-----

He found his feet with a roll and a jump, he found his knives with a flick and a grab.

"He was a Sith, Ketan, he has been cured of that affliction" He said, motioning towards the living corpse.

Ketan almost gagged "I dont care what he was, nothing on earth deserves that" he spat. He brought his blade up in a guard. Death would be a mercy for both men in this chamber. He intended to grant it.

Ythros raged and in his eyes he spoke murder "He was a Sith, they do this daily to your men..." Down onto all fours, a shuffling crawl loaded to strike. His voice grew softer before he spoke again. "without the same ability, i might add... and you would spare him? You are all idiots." He circled and flourished his blades, weaving patterns to disorient a foe.

Ketan ignored them, he moved only in paced steps, eyes level. "You can't even see what's wrong about this, can you?" He moved closer.

Ythros paused... and fixed Ketan with a look of extreme sadness. "Yes... i can"

Ythros pounced, a wild leap seemingly made of flailing limbs and laughing mouth. Ketan knew better than to rise to the bait, Ythros fought off balance on purpose, so he could slide a knife somewhere painful right as you were sure you had him down. A martial art based on deception and timing.

Sure enough, Ythros landed on two feet as if he had taken a simple standing hop, and spun like a drunken man on bent knees, seeming almost to fall over. Another deception. He glared at Ketan, he knew his style.

-----

Ketan moved with measured steps, strong and firm. People like Cain and Ythros fought to accentuate strengths or master heights of skill. Ketan fought like a master, by killing you dead when he could, and staying alive when he couldn't.

He never struck, Ythros had made a career of sorts out of hunting prey with a lightsaber, and there was no point trying to pierce a guard that might toss a blade into your eyesocket because you had lowered your own. An exhibitionist and a patient, steady master. Ythros rushed him or leapt occasionally, as if to keep the pace of the battle going. But almost a minute had passed before anything of note occurred;

Ketan bumped into Schaden, almost putting his foot down onto his lungs.

Ythros moved in, no wild deception or half-moves in this advance. Shifting styles like gears he moved into a constant attack of strike and retract and spin. Swipe to gut, stab to impale. Shift to disarm.

With a scissoring of his blades and a stab of his own thumbs he caused Ketan's grip to slacken and then with the transfer of the cuts, his fingers to spasm. the saber went clattering away into the darkness. Ythros put one blade to Ketans throat and another to his own.

"Ketan, old hound, i will regret this" Ythros said.

"Put it down, Ythros" Came Erzabet's voice as she arrived on the outcrop. "That's enough"

Ketan moved with lightning speed, pushing Ythros knife into his own throat and grabbing the other. Ythros' scarred flesh prevented the edge from cutting, but Ketan rammed the other into his calf muscle before rolling away.

Ythros groaned, Erzabet stepped quickly back. The scarecrow howled in rage and Ketan stood ready.

And then... the Old Hound faltered. His leg opening up from a knife that was not there. He gasped as he cursed himself for forgetting what should never be forgotten. And fell backwards.

Fell over the edge.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Ythros knelt at the edge, looking over at the crushing maelstrom of waters below. His own wound had stopped bleeding but his eyes had not blinked. He trembled as he stared at Ketan's grave, quivering as his mind raced with the enormity of the act.

Behind him, Erzabet was putting Schaden back together, moving with speed and precision, she had calculated for a second when Ketan fell before moving to save the broken man, who's eyes stared gratefully as she put the skin back around them. Ythros continued to rock on the precipice.

All that was running through his head was the fact that, before Erzabet had arrived, he was going to let Ketan go anyway.

Grizzly sounds came from behind him, but all he heard was the calm voice and laughter of the man he had sent to his death. The man who had never turned away from his face, and possibly the only Jedi other than Nahila that had hoped for his redemption.

Ythros stared until his eyes hurt, and he writhed in the fourth lesson of torture.

There is always hope. There is always choice. You are more than flesh and blood.

And you must live with that, forever.

Its not - It's just - it's not - IT"S NOT RIGHT!!! I can't, I don't know if it's possible, NO!

"But Vect," She says from across the room. Her hair is liquid gold and her eyes are green diamonds searching for the charred remains of my soul. She always - she couldn't help it - she just, always does that. No she doesn't! She always use to! I want her to stop!

"Why not? Why can't we run away?"

Because we had this conversation eight years ago! Eight years, four months and ... I can't - I don't know anymore. What day is it Jhes?

"It's the third, boy." The voice rings in my ears. It's not a real voice. I can tell now. Real people always seem sad around me. Their voices drip with pity and they ask what they can do and where they should stand and how to breathe - NO! No, the third one isn't right. The real people know how to breathe. The fake people have to ask.

"What's left for us here Vect? Why stay?"

Because Erzabet will be back soon and she'll make the voices stop. I don't want to talk to people who don't breathe and she - Erzabet - she helps. She - Erzabet - she's my master.

"I don't breathe anymore Vect. What about me?"

I want you to stop Jhes! I want it all to stop! Let me breathe. Please I don't - I can't speak with you anymore. LEAVE ME ALONE!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

And the doors open behind me and the breathing people rush into my bedroom and hold me down, but Jhes is crying, and her eyes are red, and then she was dead again. She was dead before but - it happened again.

My ears ring and my face stings. A burly man stands over me looking worried. Jhes is gone. I'm back.

"Sir? Forgive me sir, you were fading again. I had to slap you to get you back."

Thank you Greker. I needed to come back.

"Is there anything we can do for you sir?" he says gesturing to his companion, a tall bald man.

My lungs burned and I felt out of breath. Greker, please get me some water. I need some water. And Yunel, please stand over there.

"As you request." Yunel says. He has a funny way of putting things. He doesn't even ask why he's supposed to stand on the other side of the room. He doesn't care to know that I want him to stand where Jhes stood. If Yunel is there, Jhes isn't.

I lift myself up in bed and place my hands on my knees. I could still feel them sometimes; my hands. They were my past though, like Jhes. Gone.

So why could I still feel their weight against my knees?

"Sir, here's your water." Greker says, knocking me back to my senses. He hesitates for a moment while I look at the glass. "Here" he finally says walking closer and leaning down "You must be weak sir, let me help." There's pity in his voice. Too much pity.

He's raising the glass now to my mouth and I'm reaching out. I can feel the glass with the force and it's relatively light.

In a second the water is out of his hands and floating in front of me. Greker is stepping back and bowing, gravely tones forming the words "I'm so sorry sir. I shouldn't have presumed."

It's alright Greker.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Call the compound to order. I'm going to speak to them.

"Yes sir. If there's anything else I can do for you, just call sir."

The waves of the force ripple slightly around the room. My glass inclines and lets me drink some of that cool, crisp water. I notice that my brow is wet and hot so I pour a little of the water on my face. It feels ... good. So the rest goes too.

Yunel, you can go now.

"As you request."
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Jhes stands at the back of the courtyard. The entire compound has assembled to listen to Vect. Poor Vect. He needs what little joys he could get.

Everyone stands at attention as Vect walks out onto the pulpit. His matted blonde hair is still wet from the dousing and his light gray eyes speak of his exhaustion. But he strides to the center of the stage like a man possessed. He notices Jhes in the distance. She waves and smiles. He looks away.

His injuries are seen quite clearly under his robe. His right arm is gone from the wrist down. His left arm is gone from the elbow down. It really is a tragedy.

"Hello." Vect says quite calmly. Jhes cheers in the back. He waits uncomfortably for her to stop.

"Hello. I want you all to know, the absence of our Lady Erzabet has struck me to the core. I know that all of you are on edge. I know that all of you feel ... like a piece of your heart is gone. But know, everything you feel, I feel. I am a husk of a man - a shell. I am broken, beaten and hollowed, but I keep hope. Erzabet will return, and she will reward us for our loyalty. It will not be long. Erzabet will return!

I invite you to wait with me. Please. Don't leave me."

Vect walks off the stage only to bounce off of Jhes. For a moment he thinks it won't look proper for him to start walking and then jump back to avoid empty space. On second thought, he decides it will only help.

"That was a mean trick, Vect. You know they won't leave if you need help. They'll feel guilty."

"They always feel guilty Jhes. Everyone does. It all that they do. Leave me alone."

She watches as he marches back toward his chambers. He must be feeling better. He could choose to ignore her, to stop talking. That only happens when he is feeling strong, or when Erzabet is near. Vect must be feeling strong.

And Jhes was feeling happy.

Corev rolled over in the bed again, his eyes wide open. He felt restless, something was wrong. There was this weird feeling that something was happening with Erzabet, something bad. He rolled over again to face the door and set his feet on the floor. After a moment's hesitation, he walked over to his uniform and quickly put it on. He had to get out of the med bay and go find Erzabet. He didn't know if his feeling was right but it could never hurt to check. Of course, the doctors were not ready to let him go and they would have protested if he had not pushed past them. They would probably send someone after him but he didn't care, he needed to find out. There was one stop he had to make first however, there was something that needed to be done.

Taking a right down a hallway, he proceeded toward the room he had shared with Erzabet and Ketan. Opening the door he found the room to be dark and empty. Erzabet was somewhere else in the temple of course, either in her cell or studying with Ketan, but that was not the only reason he had come here first. He walked over to the closet where he kept his things and searched until he found what he was looking for. A silver hilted Lightsaber sat under a clean uniform and he picked it up, igniting it. The blue-green blade extended out of the hilt with a satisfying sound and he admired it for a moment before letting the blade slide back in. Clipping it onto his belt he left the room heading in the direction of Erzabet's cell. His hand absentmindedly brushed over the hilt of his Lightsaber and a bright smile lit up his face.

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