My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 62

Another world that Carth had never, ever thought he'd see with his own eyes... Korriban, holy world of the Sith. He strode down the ramp of the shuttle, following the storm front that was Sarah. Revan. No... Augural. He had to keep that name foremost in his mind, to keep her safe. To keep himself safe. Bastila depended on them. The Republic depended on them. He stood silently, burdened by their bags, as she turned slowly, her eyes on the coral and cream colored canyon walls that surrounded her. Even he could feel it, the weight of the air, the weight of the world. He was being watched, measured, judged.

The woman who stood before him was almost unrecognizable, clad in the full regalia that Sarl had crafted on Nar Shaddaa, her hair bound in a nearly outlandishly ornate style, her features sharpened by obvious make up and her overt slide to the dark side. She'd been growing that, feeding that, cultivating that on the journey from Nar Shaddaa, and now it felt like second nature. A part of her. Simply what she was, and Carth mourned his loss. All he could do was remain silent, supportive, and be there to pull her back when this was over. It was an almost foolish idea to think he could, but he did. She'd given him the tools to do it...

She paused, dropping to her knees and digging her fingers into the ruddy sand at the edge of the landing pad, letting it fall through the dry, warm air. He wondered where the truth ended and the act started, but then again, he dismissed that. It wasn't his job. All he was supposed to do was do exactly what she told him to do, when she told him to it, how she told him to accomplish it. And his last task was to carry the bags. So he waited patiently, ignoring the flow of the other passengers around him, ignoring their stares. That last one was nothing new, they'd done nothing but stare at Sarah since she'd gotten on the small passenger liner at Nar Shaddaa. Had she misjudged something vital? She certainly wasn't fitting in, rather just the opposite.

She stood slowly, dusting her hands off and staring in the direction that the other passengers had gone in, towards the spaceport, and nodded briskly. "Let's go." She stated, moving after them, the panels of her skirts snapping in the breeze, announcing her progress.

The spaceport was, well, a spaceport. Carth had a lot of experience with them, except that the majority of people in this one wore one of the gray and black duty uniforms favored by the Sith. This was a ridiculous, ridiculous idea...

Sarah stood eying the press of people, then turned and completely bypassed the queues and inspections, striding towards the exit doors. And now the trouble starts... There were too many to take here, even if so many of them seemed to be teenagers and young adults.

But no, there was no trouble. Nobody even attempted to intercept her, and she breezed through the echoing hall and out the other side, pausing again when she hit the sand, the air. When she stood on Korriban itself and not ferrocrete and tile.

"Milord? Milord!"

Sarah turned slowly, her attention focusing on a breathless, rattled young woman rushing to catch up to her. "Ah, milord!" She managed, sliding to a halt in front of the pair of them. "Welcome to Korriban! Master Uthar has sent me to guide you to the Academy, and to his office." She pulled discretely at the edge of her uniform tunic and tried to maintain a professional expression...she looked just like a new ensign sent to escort an admiral, and Carth felt for her. He'd been there. "I am Tashi, one of the students..."

"Greetings." Sarah's voice was pissy and sharply enunciated, it was her Revan voice, deep with the dark side and an added dash of Imperial precision. "Although I have no need of the Academy's services."

The young woman's face fell, but she put up a valiant fight to keep it even. That was not what she'd wanted to hear, or she was afraid of the fallout it would bring. She was just a kid, Mission's age or just a year or so older... wide blue eyes, pale brown hair. It was an abomination to see this in the uniform of what he considered to be his enemies. But of course the Sith taught their force aware children, just like the Jedi did. Sarah and Bastila had been sent to the Enclave at a much younger age than this one was.

"Yes, milord, but Master Uthar governs Korriban, and you are on Korriban."

Sarah waited just long enough to unnerve the girl before nodding deeply. "So be it. Lead the way."

Somehow, Carth had expected that there would be...more...on Korriban, but it seemed to be a dusty backwater, empty and desolate. If it wasn't for the undercurrent of dark power he sensed, he would wonder just what all of the fuss was about. There wasn't even a proper road leading away from the tiny spaceport, just a lighter hued speeder path imprinted across the dust, but no sign of a speeder. Well, at least Sarah had done him the favor of traveling lightly, he swung the larger bag over his shoulder, tightened his grip on the smaller one, and fell into step behind them.

The young woman remained quiet, her attention locked on Sarah. And Sarah was silent, pensive, apparently more interested in the canyon's geological features, in the fall of dust on her forearm, in the sunbeams falling on her fingers, than she was with the girl. She felt like a tourist. A very intent tourist, but a tourist nonetheless.

There was a bit of a climb, a switch back in the path, and then it all opened up in front of Carth. He stood silently, stunned, trying to drink it all in. It was...incredible. He'd been expecting horrible, he got ancient majesty. A huge stone pyramid rose from the dust in front of him, and beyond that, a razor deep valley guarded by immense stone colossi, humanoid figures with heads bowed low.

"The Valley of the Sleeping Kings." Sarah breathed, and the young woman looked confused, her questioning gaze going to Carth as if he was going to be any help at all. He shrugged slightly in answer, shaking his head.

"The Valley of the Dark Lords, milord." She finally gained the nerve to try to correct Sarah, who merely snorted in answer.

"If that's what you wish to call it." She finally stated and the girl blanched, again looking to Carth for support. And again, he had none to give her. She was the apprentice...trying to deal with the off step Sith Lord. He was just the bag carrier, and he was very happy that was the case. "And the slave has no answers for you, girl."

"Of course not, milord. This way."

She headed for the pyramid, and the groups of gray and black uniformed teenagers in the courtyard before it parted before her, their eyes hungrily on Sarah. Why? What the hell was he missing? What the...

A form in the crowd caught his attention and it was as if the world vanished, pulled away from around him. No. It couldn't be. It was just his eyes playing tricks on him. He'd done this a lot, in the beginning, when he'd see them in every crowd, every group of people, but he'd been doing much better lately.

Sarah had been striding along, he'd been paying half hearted attention to the languid sway of her skirts, and the rest had been on the crowd, watching for a gun, an attack, anything... but her stride took a sudden hitch and she froze in step. He felt her focus on him, felt her rush into his mind in a sudden push to understand what had just stunned him into breathlessness.

Dustil. That is Dustil. My son. He is here. He is alive. He wanted to scream to the skies. To snatch him up and never let him go. He couldn't breathe. It couldn't be. The young man just happened to look like Dustil. That was it. That was all. Sarah was going to see right through it, lead him out of this... right? And she did, indeed, snatching him by his collar and yanking him forward. He staggered, fighting to keep his balance, and when he looked up again, the young man was gone. "My apologies, milord." He forced the syllables out and she took a half step away from him, her head tilted measuringly.

"Indeed." She replied drily, turning her back dismissively on him and staring up at the stone edifice rising above her head. The young woman gave him a look that came perilously close to pity and he fought against the urge to lock his teeth, instead locking his gaze on the edge of Sarah's dusty skirts.

It's all just a game. Just an act. She loves me.

They passed into the pyramid, into a cool, dim, breathlessly muted corridor leading into its heart. It felt...protective. Safe. What in the hell was wrong with him? He was losing it. He couldn't, here was the last place he was allowed to fall apart in. Was that it? Was this temple playing with his mind? Showing him the things guaranteed to reduce him to a sobbing puddle? Was Morgana next? In spite of himself, he glanced around. Again, teenagers, watching...and he couldn't help but look for a bright reddish blonde head amongst them. He'd known Morgana at this age, his mind would be quite able to form an apparition of her...

"No." He'd had Bastila in his head before, but Sarah's voice was stronger, purer, clearer. "You saw what you saw. The young man with the dark hair, he is bound to you by blood. He is your son?"

"Yes. That is Dustil." It was real?

"Hmmmmm. Later, when we can speak openly. There is too much risk with this..."

Dustil was alive. Dustil was here. Dustil was alive. Dustil was here. He couldn't believe it. It was amazing, wonderful. But how? And how had he ended up here? He had to have been picked up by the Sith before Carth's task force had arrived in a hopeless attempt to defend Telos... he certainly hadn't been picked up by them afterward. He'd been with them for four years now, he'd grown from a twelve year old child to a teenager on the edge of manhood. I will not leave him behind.

"Of course not. He leaves with us, even if I have to tear the Academy down to its foundation stones, bathe them with the blood of its defenders, and hogtie him from his chin to his toes for easy handling and we'll carry him out of here."

And there was the Sarah he loved so much.

They were shown to a severely clean office, he stood behind Sarah while she took a regal seat in the only chair on the door side of the empty black desk. His mind was racing, unable to hold a thought beyond the one that just kept spinning, running around in his head. Dustil. Alive. Dustil was alive. He'd found him.

Her touch on the fingers he'd rested on the back of her chair was fleeting, a whisper, but it helped bring him back down to himself. He couldn't lose sight of what they were doing here, he couldn't get sloppy. That did nobody any good. He wished he could speak openly to her, but he couldn't.

The door opened and a man walked in. Carth's first disturbed thought was that it was Malak, that they'd been discovered, but he dismissed it immediately. No, not Malak, just a man who had a lot of visual similarities to the reigning Dark Lord, either by accident, or more likely, by design. He was smaller than Malak, much less imposing, shorter than Carth and about his current build. He was still in possession of all of his face, but he had the same washed pale complexion, the same bald head, but with more tattoos...possibly the only point he could out do Malak on.

"My...lord?" He sounded faintly dubious. "I am Master Uthar, and I run operations here on Korriban."

"Darth Augural." If it was possible, she sounded pissier than he'd ever heard her manage. "You wished to see me." And she made it very obvious that that desire went only one way.

The man stared for a long moment, taking the seat behind the desk. "You're not supposed to be here. But you are here. Without an apprentice?" His gaze did not move towards Carth and Carth did nothing to draw attention to himself.

"My last one suffered an unfortunate incident." Sarah responded blandly. "I am currently without one. As for why I am here, the answer should be obvious. I will see Korriban before I die. I will feel it. Know it. Taste it. And breathe it in." And nobody will stand in my way.

"Ah, I see." And it was obvious that he did not entirely appreciate it. "I hope you were...subtle."

"I was. I am not here to interfere in your operations, Overseer." Well, that had been the plan, but Carth knew things had just changed. Dustil is here. Dustil is alive. That part of him still breathed. That part of Morgana still breathed. He was still a father.

"But you will accept our hospitality, milord. One such as yourself should not be staying at the Dreshdae spaceport squats, when we have fine rooms here at your disposal."

All the better to keep an eye on them. Carth didn't need to be any sort of a force user to figure that one out. Hold your friends close, your enemies closer, and strange Sith Lords the closest. "That would be acceptable." Sarah answered, balancing her foot on her knee.

"Perhaps you'd also like to take a look at our older apprentices in the morning? One might be suitable to replace that one you unfortunately lost..."

Dustil.

"I would take a look at them, yes. In the morning. Now, as to those fine rooms?"

The man smiled, or at least his face contorted, because that was the least welcoming 'smile' that Carth had ever seen in his life. "Of course. Tashi will see you to them, unless you'd prefer one of the male apprentices show you the way?"

It took every ounce of self control to remain expressionless when the meaning in that question filtered through his brain. Surely the man did not mean what it seemed like the man meant?

"No, thank you. I brought my own." She gestured up and over her shoulder with her thumb, unerringly towards Carth. "The girl will do just fine to show me the way."

"As you wish, milord. Tomorrow, early?"

She stood and nodded. "Tomorrow. Early. And I will see your older apprentices. Come." The last was aimed at Carth, who picked up the bags and followed her out. The young woman was waiting for them and she led the way back through the main antechamber, Carth's eyes still locked on the sway of Sarah's stride. All he wanted to do was look. To see Dustil again, but he couldn't. He shouldn't. He knew he was being watched and wondered if any of those eyes on him were his son's. I want out of here. He couldn't hold up much longer.

Up a broad flight of stairs, then another, the corridor shrinking, the tile changing to carpet. He finally dared to raise his eyes, to focus on Sarah's back. There was no one else in this hallway, and he was safe. And he was even safer when the girl opened the final door in the hallway and ushered the pair of them into a room beyond it. "Thank you." Sarah stated, gripping the door handles and closing the door immediately, leaving the girl just on the other side of it. Sarah gave Carth a sudden, intent look, pressing a finger against her lips and he nodded, dropping the bags and settling into the closest chair. Now he could let his expression crack. Now he could shake. Now he could bury his face in his hands and hyperventilate, listening to the pounding of his heart in his chest. He could hear Sarah moving, muttering, rummaging, but it was so far away.

"It's clear." She finally stated, kneeling in front of him. "Carth."

"That was my son." He wasn't going to scream, he wasn't going to cry. All he could do was reach out, holding her shoulders in his hands. "Sarah, that was Dustil. You saw him."

"I didn't. But Carth, I wouldn't recognize him...I've never seen him before. I felt him, though. He is a part of you, in more than one way. And I can tell you, your child is here. If you only have one, then Dustil is here. But I do not know what he looks like."

"I don't have any images with me." No pictures, those were all in his quarters on Brentaal and on the datapad which had gone down over Taris. "He's...well, he looks a lot like me. Only with dark hair." Truthfully, Dustil had always resembled Carth's father, but that information would mean nothing to Sarah. "But you can sense him?"

"Yes. I can sense him. And we'll get him off of Korriban with us, trust me, whether he wants to go or not. And there's a good chance that will be a not, Carth. But if the Overseer offers me up a passel of apprentices, and he is one of them, there you go. And if not, I stamp my foot on the ground and demand him as one anyway." She rested her forehead against his knee. "Carth, this is a good thing."

"Of course it is." And she was right. But he'd be damned if he was going to leave Dustil here, not if he had any choice at all. That would kill him. He couldn't lose a member of his family again...Dustil, Sarah, no. It wasn't going to happen, he'd die first.

"Good. We just have to wait." She stood up, extending her hands to help him up as well. He accepted her aid, wrapping his arms around her when she rested her face against his chest. Everything was going to be fine. She'd told him so, and he believed her.


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