My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 65

Korriban's single sun, Horuset, had begun its slide downwards when Sarah stood again on the ruddy dust of the Valley, the rock walls sheltering this holy ground. Tulak Hord. Adjunta Pall. Marka Ragnos. Naga Sadow. All great Dark Lords of the Sith, all interred in the Valley's red dirt. Once, she was going to have been one of those Dark Lords mouldering in this consecrated rock...but that was gone now. Taken away, or given up freely? She wasn't certain. Both? Neither? It was like an anchor point had been taken away from her...something she'd taken for granted was no more.

You will rest beside your family, those who love you for you. Wherever that happens to end up being.

"Milord? Would you like me to guide you?" Dustil had been cautiously silent since she'd promised him a nice stay in a torture cage if he went after his father, something which had not exactly been a truly empty threat. "Since this is your first visit to Korriban." He ended slowly.

"Of course." What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him. And it wasn't like she exactly remembered the times she'd been on Korriban before. Everything that she did recall was distant, removed...like she'd read it or seen a vid of it. She knew which tomb she wanted, both as a recollection, and as an undeniable pull. Naga Sadow's tomb.

He nodded, leading the way, his father bringing up the rear. It was an oddly comforting feeling, standing between the two of them. A matched set. The very idea made her chuckle under her breath. She collected Onasi males like others collected rare pieces of art. But maybe, Onasi males were a rare art form...

They descended onto the shadowed floor, Dustil choosing to stay to the right even when Sarah's gut told her left was the way to go. But she had an end goal, one she had not shared with Dustil. And since they were here, why not see it all? Carth was awed, intrigued, and his fascination was contagious. This was, after all, a place he should have never seen in his life, and it was where he'd found his child again. It was a place she'd probably, hopefully, never see again in her life again.

"Master?" Dustil's voice was hesitant, and she raised her eyes to the back of his head. "A question?"

"Yes?" It was good that he wasn't too cowed to start asking. She wanted him respectful but willing to learn. If he was truly to be hers, he needed to be an asset, and to be that, he couldn't be stagnant and terrified.

"Your lightsaber. I've never seen its like...the cadre haven't either. It has drawn a lot of attention." A subtle warning, she appreciated it, but part of the trick here was to be openly flamboyant and secure in her ability to handle whatever might come from that attention seeking behavior. He'd learned a lot here, but still lacked so much. He needed a master. "Is it natural?"

"It is." And it was hers, until this was all said and done. Not a trophy. And if it was to be a trophy, there was only person she knew who even came close to being worthy of prying it from her dead fingers...Malak. Not middle management, but the Dark Lord himself. "And Uthar covets it."

"He does."

"He's welcome to try. He will fail, but I won't deprive him of the opportunity." She could feel Carth's full attention now that Dustil had spoken. He wanted to hear his son's voice, and so much more, but he remained stoically silent. "You." She handed Carth her datapad, deliberately avoiding looking into his face. It was difficult enough feeling him fight to maintain his composure, to keep the charade up, without seeing it in his eyes. "Take images." Of your son.

"Yes, milord."

"The Tomb of Ajunta Pall." Well, it was more of a mausoleum, since Pall had not chosen to be interred within the skin of Korriban itself, but Sarah studied it with a true pilgrim's intensity. "There are shyrack within its walls... but I am certain you are more than their equal, milord." Dustil stated calmly, waiting expectantly, but she brushed the question away. There was playing at being a tourist, and then there was tomb diving. If she delved into every tomb in the Valley, they'd be here for months. And Bastila couldn't wait for months.

The next was one she barely remembered, still under construction, and she bridled at the scene. It should be...abandoned. It was not. This is mine. Why...

"Darth Malak's tomb."

Never. I will tear the Star Forge down around his head, and there won't be any part of him large enough to bring back here. Just like he meant to do to me. Just like he thought he'd done to me.

"How utterly fascinating." She kept it as deliberately neutral as she could, and Dustil merely shrugged in answer. "It was meant to be Darth Revan's, but there was nothing left of her to bring here even if Malak had permitted it." He stated, staring at the crew working the site. "We're not allowed there, and I doubt if you're much interested in it anyway. Nothing to do, nothing to see, nothing to gain."

Nothing to gain but yet another reason to kick some ass. Last time I only hacked half of your face off... Her mistake. She should have just killed him then, but she'd been soft. She'd let her feelings blind her, make her weak. She'd been a fool. But not this time. This time ended it, one way or the other. Neither one of them would fail or pull any punches, too much had happened between them now. What had once been there, love, respect, joy, devotion, was destroyed...irretrievable. Now that she had that part of herself back, she mourned the loss of Alek, but that didn't blur her determination to end Malak, once and for all.

"Tulak Hord." Now, this one had always been an interesting one, it called, it beckoned, and if Sarah had the liberty to answer...she would. But she did not. So much to know, to learn, to discover...

Bastila.

Indeed. Bastila was holding on, trusting, waiting. Sarah needed to be the master that Bastila should have had all of these years. She shook her head, turning away from the temptation and stared across the Valley. There. It was hidden in the shadows, but it sent a double siren's call. The tomb. The fragment. There.

"Naga Sadow." She breathed, and Dustil froze in his tracks, his head tilted slightly towards her.

"Is a dangerous place, milord. A student's final test here at the Academy..." But there was not a single note of warning in his words.

"Fitting, then...because you are not staying here at the Academy. Carth, we're going in."

"As you will, milord." He answered blandly, stowing the datapad safely away in one of his jacket's large pockets, and pulling his blasters. "Ladies first."

He's armed. He's been armed the whole time. What am I missing? I don't understand. He's been tortured, I see the marks. Recently, very recently, very badly. Has she broken him so much that she arms him after doing that to him without worry? How long has he been like this?

Dustil's thoughts, opened to her gaze. He wasn't as angry at his father as he liked to put on. He was bitter and hurt but there was still concern there, good. Good. This was still salvageable. But it was time to delve into the Academy's playland... Naga Sadow had never been interred here. There was no true ancient Sith spirits clinging to this place. It was simply a testing ground now. Once, it must have been yet another Builders facility, like all of the other map fragment sites had been, but that had been subverted millenia ago, when Naga Sadow had chosen it for his tomb. And then, when that had not happened, it had become a convenient place to cull apprentices in, relics returned to their usual positions for the next hopeful, intimidating animals imported in and kept fed just enough to lie in wait for that next apprentice.

Naga Sadow had been quite proud of his own visage, it was carved thirty meters high around the entrance to the tomb and Sarah stared up at it, given a grand view of his chin. Somehow, there was something there. Something she couldn't quite put her finger on, just right...

Carth cleared his throat loudly, and she was yanked back to reality. Dustil flinched, his glare focused on his father's face. Anger? Outrage? No. She tasted his response, that was fear. He was afraid she was going to strike out at Carth. Hurt him. Well, it might just be time to feed those questions in his mind a little more.

"Thank you." She stated, reaching out to touch the door. It opened, and a flow of cool, damp air cascaded around her, lifting the panels of her skirts in a sudden rattle. Her steps echoed on the stone floors as she stepped in, listening intently. Whispery noises came from the shadows, shyrack and something larger, freezing at the sound of the door. The shyrack were probably natural, they had a knack for getting in places just like this one. The larger beasts were not, and Sarah ran down the list of what they could be in her head. Well, she'd obviously survived this before, so it couldn't be too bad...

You remembered yourself then. You had Malak at your back. Two trained, experienced Jedi Knights, fresh off of the War.

She pushed that thought away, it certainly didn't help even if it was true. She didn't remember, she didn't have Malak... she had Carth and she had Dustil. And she would just have to make do with what she had, the same as always.

"I sense...shyrack, wraid and..." And it was the and... that bothered her deeply. She knew this creature, she'd run into them before, and the idea of bringing Dustil here suddenly became a deeper concern. Carth was only faintly force aware, it was spitting and sporadic in him, and usually only displayed itself when he flew. Right now it was slumbering. He would be no more attractive to a tarentatek than any other eighty five kilo hunk of moving fresh meat. But she and Dustil would be irresistible. "Tarentatek."

Dustil palmed the lightsaber she'd given him, a line forming between his thick brows, doubt rising in his soul. He couldn't leave...even if she let him go, the Academy would cull him for desertion. But it would be most likely that a Sith Lord would just use her very new apprentice as bait in this circumstance.

"I think it's time you and I...and your father...had a talk, Dustil." It was earlier than she'd been expecting, but she needed him on board fully for this. There was too much of a chance for him to decide to use her as bait first... and then claim the prize of her death...her lightsaber...afterward.

"Yes, master." He sighed, but sat when she waved for him to sit on a block of stone. She sat as well, and after a slightly awkward moment, Carth sat on the same one that she had, serving as both a back support and eyes in the back of her head.

"I am not the one who hurt your father. That was another Sith...trying to harm me through him." And that was exactly how much he needed to know...and no more. "I have never failed to treat him with respect. And I will never fail to treat you with respect." He gazed back at her dubiously, uncertain.

"Dad?" He finally asked, and used the word that Sarah knew Carth had been dying to hear.

"She's telling the truth, Dustil. Whatever she needs from you...you need to give it to her. For all of our sakes." Well, that was one way to make it sound very, very dire, hardly what she was aiming for. "She did not hurt me."

"Okay." Dustil sounded much younger, more uncertain, and Carth pulled his support out from behind her and stood slowly, moving towards Dustil as he would an injured or wild animal. Every step was filled with caution, care. "I just want out of here." Dustil whispered, before Carth embraced him. "I just want out of here, Dad. The dreams told me you'd come for me. That she would come for me. I just had to hold on long enough for you both to get here. To be just good enough to live, but not good enough to get too much attention. I don't want to do it anymore, I've watched too many friends die here. I'm next. I just know it."

"Hey." Carth pulled him close, wrapping his arms tighter around him. "We're getting you out of here. I swear, Dustil. I will not leave you here. We won't."

"You are my apprentice. That is a task I take seriously."

But not seriously enough to have not gotten your last one killed... He all but spoke it aloud and she sighed, standing to move closer to the pair of them. "I have not gotten my last one killed. She's still alive." Yes, she was the presence in Sarah's mind...held close, held dear. "And part of why I'm here is to get her back. Free."

"You have another? But..." She cut off Dustil's sudden protest with a sharp motion of her hand.

"She is to the point where, when I free her...she will be mine no longer. She has proven her worthiness to stand alone. And I will see it done. But what I need from you is for you to stand with us. Me and your father. We need you."

"But."

"But nothing. Whatever issues you have with your father will have to wait. They mean nothing right now. What I need to know is are you going to stand behind me when we hit those tarentatek? If not...I need you to leave. Return to the Academy, my rooms and stay silent."

"I...stand with you, master. Of course I do. Do not send me back to the Academy. But now I don't understand why you're here. At this tomb. Surely you know that there's nothing here. Just the items students are sent in for to complete their trials. That and the map."

Of course the map had not remained hidden if they were running students through here. Hopefully it was still intact, hopefully no stupid student had tried to dismantle it as a prize to prove their worth. What would they do if it wasn't readable? Run? Take Carth back to Coruscant and the Admiralty there? He'd just die against Malak's fleet, on another bridge just like the Endar Spire's. Try to seek refuge with the Mandalorians? How long would they last? She, herself, had played a part in crippling them at Malachor. They weren't ready to take on Malak, if they even wanted to. No, they still needed to try to get this done.

"And the map." She repeated calmly, watching the play of expressions visible across the face of her new apprentice. Or was he a padawan? Did it matter? He was Carth's son...which made him hers. It was worth it to see that look on Carth's face, to know she'd helped give him something back, some sort of repayment for what he'd been through. Dustil would figure out that they were here for the map soon enough. "I need the map."

"As you will, milord." She couldn't tell if his echo of his father's earlier words was purposeful or not, but she felt no disrespect in it and let it go. They needed to move before Uthar had realized they'd cornered themselves and came to take advantage of that. He lit the lightsaber she'd given him, bathing the room in a sullen, crimson glow. She followed a moment later with her own, lightening the glow somewhat, before moving into the tomb. She could hear the whispering call of the animals living within it, eeriely amplified through the tomb. Wraid...definitely, snorting under the heckling call of the shyrack. Nothing Carth couldn't handle himself, much less Dustil. In fact... she waved Dustil up to stand side by side with her. He could use the experience, as much as he could get before they carried on to the Star Forge. He needed the measure of his new weapon. He needed to learn to fight beside her. He needed to finally grow into his gifts, instead of warily hiding them.

"Shyrack." Dustil breathed and she nodded. She'd caught the fluttering motion a moment earlier, but he'd been fast enough. He was good. She could feel it. He just needed a little help, a little focused attention, to get him on the right track.

"Let's go get them." Even though she said that, she hung back when he moved into contact, watching him as he went. She had precious little time to find out what she needed to know. She'd had years with Bastila, and possibly only weeks with him.

Thankfully, he really was as adept as she'd sensed, taller with a longer reach, he discovered and covered her lacks quickly...she was accustomed to fighting with Bastila, in that one's huge combat apron, accustomed to holding herself small, tight and powerfully fast. She needed to learn a new apprentice's style as much as he needed to learn hers. He was as tall than his father, still growing, a little slower on his feet than she was used to, but when he hit, he hit decisively and strongly. She could certainly work with this.

And he was definitely trying to work with her, cutting his way through the four shyrack fluttering in the antechamber, and returning to a cautious guard stance, his attention focused deeper into the tomb. "Wraid. Three of them. Nothing else."

She waved him forward. Again, wraid were not a real threat. These would probably be feisty wraid, it was cool in the tomb and unless they'd managed to pull down a shyrack or an apprentice recently, they'd probably been kept hungry. But even hungry and chilly wraid were simply large lizards, no match for a four year student of the Sith Academy armed with a decent lightsaber. If he couldn't handle these, there was no way he was up to the tasks ahead of them...and they simply needed to leave him somewhere safe. In here, only the tarentatek were a threat. Only they would bring her to the forefront of the fight.

Dustil nodded, moving into the next room. Although he had a Sith Lord, his new master, breathing down the back of his neck, he hadn't let that make him foolish. She glanced behind her, at Carth, weighing his expression, his feelings. He was so damned proud. So damned happy. She could just wrap herself up in it, but she didn't have the time to do so. But his wonder and joy was a buffer against the insidious dark side energy that the very stones breathed out around her. He was too focused on the gift in front of him, the breathless relief of finding his son again, to let the rage and shadows get into his soul. And that meant she could use him as a bulwark against the those shadows rising in her own soul, turn to the light he embraced.

You have been given the tools to do what needs to be done.


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