Buffy XIII - The Hand In The Dark
Buffy gazed through the tinted transparisteel window of the enclosed speeder as the Juran Mountains passed outside in a blur. Snow-covered grass threw a glare from the bright morning sun, dimmed by the dark tint of the window, as she rode with Thriss and Dalen. Loslar was acting as their chauffeur, which suited Buffy just fine.
“How do you know this Sith again, Buffy?” Thriss asked carefully.
Buffy laughed harshly. “He’s a Sith in blood only. I met a pair of acolytes at the academy on Korriban. They were the same two acolytes that Darth Arctis forced me to kill, actually. Anyway, Loslar was trying to bully them into finishing his trials for him. He came from a wealthy family, so he used his influence to get two more powerful twin Sith to act as his minions.”
“I take it you intervened in this conflict?”
“Sure did,” Buffy said. “I confronted them in the catacombs and got Loslar to squirm. It was really too easy. He was never cut out to be Sith. He wanted everything to just come to him on its own, but real Sith have to sweat and bleed to gain their power. The twins ended up dead as an unintended side effect, and Loslar was gone from the academy within a day.”
“And yet you told him to expect you when you became a Sith Lord,” Thriss noted. “Was that a display of confidence, or did you experience some form of precognition through the Force?”
“Neither, really,” Buffy admitted. “I was sort of hedging my bets a bit. I wanted to have myself be known and respected immediately if I ever did become a Sith Lord. Maybe the Force was guiding me. I hear it can do things like that.”
“It would not surprise me in the least,” Dalen commented. “You were correct to establish your supremacy when you did. It would not do well for him to forget his place for one moment.”
“I must disagree with you there, Lord Dalen,” Thriss said softly.
Buffy sensed more unease in Thriss’s thoughts than she was letting on aloud. “What’s wrong, Thriss? You can tell me. No judgment here.”
The lovely Chiss woman sighed, and Buffy felt those glowing red eyes look at her in a way she hadn’t seen before. Respect, lust, and adoration were common features on that blue face. This worrying look was new.
“I have grown to know and admire you, Buffy. You have the power of a Sith Lord, but you also have the insights and perspectives of a unique individual, and those make you truly amazing.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming,” Buffy said carefully.
“You are correct, in essence,” Thriss said. “Your brutal handling of Loslar in the Thul palace was not something I expected of you. Even if you had just been putting him in his place, I would have understood; but it went beyond a Sith reprimand. You enjoyed making him suffer, Buffy. Even if I hadn’t felt it in the Force, it was obvious that you took pleasure in hurting him. You even spoke of your enjoyment aloud.
“It pained me to see you act in such a repugnant manner,” Thriss said bluntly. “I felt as if I was going to be ill.”
Buffy felt as though she’d been slapped across the face. She’d been called many things in her day, and most of those things had been haphazard insults thrown by demons who were about to be slain. Even at her darkest and most uncertain, even when her friends had thrown her out of her own home, they had never been unkind about anything.
To have Thriss – her apprentice and lover who practically worshiped the ground she tread – call her ‘repugnant’ was unthinkable to Buffy.
Part of her wanted to reach out and choke Thriss with the Force for the insult. The moment came and went, and Buffy felt herself go cold at what she had thought about doing and why she’d considered it.
Loslar had been a bully, yes, but he’d been a poor one. He was a powerless sap who was probably not worth the time and effort to put down, and yet Buffy had done more than put him in his place. She’d tortured him and enjoyed herself while doing so.
Dalen broke the silence. “Lord Sunhome acted as was appropriate for a Lord of the Sith. She established her superiority and fueled her power in the Dark Side of the Force in the process. She is becoming more Sith as time goes on, and you would do well to heed her example.”
“That is precisely my fear, Lord Dalen,” Thriss countered. “Buffy may be more Sith than she was, this is true. I am afraid, however, that as she becomes more Sith, she will become less Buffy, so to speak.”
Buffy snapped out of her haze and took a moment to reestablish her presence in the Force. “All right, enough,” she said harshly. “I get what you’re saying, both of you. Before anything else, I am Buffy Summers. Only after that am I Sith. I am both, however, so get used to it. You’re both going to have to give me some slack. I’m never going to be the ideal Sith, Shar, but neither will I be the ideal woman you want me to be, Thriss. I’m my own person, and you’ll have to deal with who she is.”
“Do you know who you are, Buffy?” Thriss asked bluntly.
The blonde Slayer looked at the Chiss with a patient smile. “I’m working on that. Have been for years. We’ll see how it turns out.”
Another forty minutes passed before Loslar signaled that they had arrived at the entrance to the Dark Hive. Buffy wasn’t sure if someone as weak in the Force as Loslar could even know where their destination was, but the briefest glance of the area told her that they had definitely arrived.
The hive itself was a layered mound of rounded soil and stone that looked vaguely like petrified wood from a distance. At ground level, however, the plants were twisted and desiccated. Even the snow seemed to have an unnatural, darkish tint to it.
An open arch into the hive looked to be the only entrance.
Buffy had thought about Thriss’s reaction to her handling of Loslar, and while she had to admit that she had gone a bit out there, she couldn’t exactly pretend that Loslar was someone that she liked or even someone who deserved to be treated equally. He was a bully without any power to back up his boorish attitudes, and now karma was going to bite him in the ass.
“You first, little nothing,” Buffy said coldly. She didn’t feel the need to use the Force on him. He already feared her enough to do as she said.
Surely enough, Loslar rushed to obey and slowed his pace as they crossed the threshold into the hive proper.
“There are no Killiks guarding the entrance,” Dalen mused aloud. “They must be waiting deeper inside.”
“Is this normal behavior for Killiks?” Thriss asked.
“I don’t believe so. Be on your guard. The Dark Side is strong in this place.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Buffy remarked. The air was stale and cold, and not in the natural way that Alderaan’s mountain air was cold. This place reminded her more of the Imperial Citadel than anywhere else.
The tunnel – about the size of the hallways back at Sunnydale High School – sloped downward, and the three Sith followed Loslar as he faithfully guided them down into the depths off the hive, which was lit by luminescent bulbs of some unknown biological material. They came to a few forking paths, but Buffy simply ordered Loslar down a certain route after reaching out with the Force to find the right way.
After about an hour of walking, according to Buffy’s chronometer, a wave of sensation hit her like a tidal wave of freezing water.
“I believe we are approaching the bulk of the hive,” Thriss said.
“That much is plain,” Dalen said, but he was audibly nervous enough that his words held no rebuke. “We must all be on our guard.”
Buffy nodded silently and kept going. Loslar started to slow down a few times, but Buffy pushed him with the Force to keep him going. He might be a weakling, but Loslar still had a minute connection to the Force, and even he had to be feeling the darkness in this place.
The walls of the tunnel gave way to an enormous cavern filled with bipedal insects lining the walls at all levels. None of them bore any weapons, and the ground of the cave was empty save for a throne carved out of some unknown material, atop which sat a robed figure that radiated power.
And then, the cavern spoke.
“Lord Sunhome,” said each of hundreds of Killiks simultaneously, “Your pet has no place here. Send him away.”
There was so much power in the words that Buffy didn’t even think of disobeying. The words came from all around her, but the sheer presence of the words came from the robed figure in the center of the room.
Buffy made a tiny gesture with the Force through her hand, and Loslar immediately scurried out of the cavern and back towards the surface.
“Now then,” the cavern said in a cold monotone, “we can begin. Lord Sunhome, Lord Dalen, Mitth’ris’sintar, welcome to Servant Six.”
The robed figure rose from the throne and threw back its cowl, revealing a red-skinned male of the Sith species with prominent cheek protrusions and a head of short-cut reddish-black hair. “We are Servant Six,” the cavern spoke. “Do you know what we are?”
Buffy found her voice first. “You’re a Killik hive with a lot of power in the Dark Side,” she said. “But I think you mean something more than that.”
“You are perceptive, Lord Sunhome,” the cavern said in its creepy monotone. “The individual Sith male in the center of this room was and is a part of the Emperor’s Hand. He was and is in constant contact with the Emperor of all Sith. When Servant Six of the Emperor’s Hand was Joined to this Hive, the Hive became Servant Six. Through us, the Emperor sees and hears you. You are in His presence even now.”
The power behind Servant Six’s words left no doubt that he/it/them was telling the complete truth, and Buffy could sense the deification of the Emperor in his servant’s words. Buffy did not want to think of the Emperor as anything more than a very powerful Sith, so when Dalen moved to bow, Buffy grabbed him by the shoulder and kept him upright. “We understand, Servant Six,” Buffy said to the cavern.
Part of her was proud of her minor act of rebellion in preventing Dalen’s bow, but mostly she was terrified. Despite her distinctly anti-authoritarian personality, she couldn’t help but be afraid of the Emperor’s power. Even if he wasn’t physically present, a part of him was speaking through hundreds of vessels that could turn on them in an instant. He might not be a god, but Buffy had met plenty of powerful beings in her time that were fell far short of being divine entities.
“What is it that you think you understand, Lord Sunhome?” the hive asked.
“I understand,” Buffy said carefully, “that if I don’t do exactly as you tell me, then I will probably never make it out of here alive. You’ll either kill me or make me a Joiner. I don’t intend to lose my life or my will, so we will all do as you command, Master.”
Now, Buffy did bow from the waist, and she felt Dalen and Thriss follow her lead. Powerful this hive might be, but Buffy would not bend her knee to anyone ever again. Darth Arctis had expected that of her when she was weaker, but now he was dead and she was a Sith Lord. She resented having to call anyone ‘Master,’ but Buffy knew enough to realize that if she wasn’t very careful, she would soon be very dead.
“You understand correctly, Lord Sunhome,” the multitude of voices said as one. “We are aware that you seek a means to locate the Purge Engine here on Alderaan. It is the Emperor’s will that this weapon be found and brought under His domain. He sought to examine the Rakata ruins here through us, but Rakata technology inhibits the hive mind to the point of killing anyone linked to it, be they Killik or Joiner. We require and demand that you enter the ruin and find the Purge Engine.”
At the far end of the cavern, a number of Killiks scurried out of the way of a section of wall that revealed another tunnel.
“Go now,” the hive of Servant Six commanded. “We will await your return.”
Buffy nodded and bolted for the door that led towards the ancient ruin. She didn’t care that she was making a scene that the Emperor himself might be privy to: She just wanted to be out of that cavern and that horrible darkness.
As she caught her breath, Buffy was joined by Dalen and Thriss, both of whom were visibly distraught.
“In my entire life,” Dalen said breathlessly, “I never thought I would ever see the Emperor Himself! This is… This is almost more than I can handle.”
“I do not believe we met the Emperor in person,” Thriss said rationally, but her voice was shaking. “Servant Six said he was merely in contact with the Emperor before he was Joined, and now the entire hive acts as an extension of Servant Six.”
“And that doesn’t bother you, Thriss?” Buffy said. “That the Emperor can basically override the collective will of an entire Killik hive through a middle-man?”
“He is quite formidable,” Thriss conceded. “I underestimated the scope of the Emperor’s power. I will not do so again.”
“Me neither,” Buffy said hurriedly. “Come on. Let’s get what we came for. And if we don’t, let’s please die down there, because I don’t want to go back in that cave and tell whatever that is back there that we failed the Emperor.”
“Agreed,” Dalen said. “One either does the Emperor’s will or dies trying. There is no middle ground.”
“Then let’s do it and get out of here,” Buffy said. “Come on, before I puke my guts out.”
Buffy felt as though she was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Behind her was the oppressive coldness of the Emperor, and before her was the possibly-equally evil remnant of another Empire that would hopefully lead her to the Purge Engine. There was just one problem.
Being in the presence of the Emperor, even if it had been just an extension of his will, had shaken Buffy in a way she hadn’t expected. She had known that the Sith were beings of passion and emotion and conflict, and that was okay with her.
Back in the hive of Servant Six, however, there was no emotion or passion or conflict. There had only been a single, overriding will that demanded utter obedience or else a surely painful death. Whatever the Emperor was – even if Servant Six was just a telepathically-bound minion – he was beyond what most people would normally classify as Sith. As followers of the Dark Side, the Sith were naturally creatures of darkness on some level. Buffy understood that and even embraced it, what with the Slayer being a similar creature.
The Emperor was not a dark being: He was a void. Dark and light felt irrelevant back in that cavern, and at the very least, the ancient ruins that Buffy kept returning to had the feel of reality to them. They were grounded in something tangible that the Emperor was not.
Buffy sincerely hoped that she never again had to face the Sith Emperor in any sort of manifestation. Part of her was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to refuse him if he ever found her again.
That fear pushed her forward silently, and Buffy found only a little solace in the familiar sensations of Dalen and Thriss in the Force around her.
They had been trekking further downward for half an hour since leaving the hive cavern. The passageway they were in opened into another large cave that housed a structure at the far end that looked just like the one they had encountered on Csilla.
The ruin surprised them all by opening its stone double doors as they approached.
“I have a very bad feeling about this,” Buffy said. “Let’s keep going, but be on your guard.”
“As you say, Buffy,” Thriss agreed.
“Let us be swift,” Dalen said.
Buffy led the way and walked further into the stone structure, but she found no second door like the Csilla ruin, nor any droid or any sign of architecture at all. Only darkness waited in front of them, and their flashlights would not guide them any further.
Buffy opened herself up to the darkness, closed her eyes, and stepped forward.
Her eyes opened into a completely alien scenario.
She was in a cavern of some sort. It was far larger than the Killik hive, and there was enormous alien machinery that gave off bolts of strange-colored energy in the distance.
A moment of insight from the Force was her only warning as Buffy leaped to the side and evaded a hail of blaster bolts. Buffy traced the blasts to a red-haired Republic soldier bearing an eyepatch. A dark-skinned male soldier with a heavy assault cannon was sending blast after blast at Dalen.
Buffy danced away from another burst of blaster fire and ignited her lightsaber. She charged the redhead, bobbing and weaving between the blaster bolts until she got close enough to stab the woman in the gut, sending her to the ground in pain and blood.
On the other side of the room, Dalen battled the soldier with the assault cannon. Dalen was moving closer and closer while deflecting powerful blasts of energy. The hail of fire stopped long enough for Dalen to charge at his foe, but Buffy sensed the soldier’s guile.
Too late, Dalen walked right into the waiting grenade, and both soldier and Sith went flying backwards, dead before they hit the ground.
The hum of a lightsaber blade got Buffy to turn and cross her red blade with a blue one.
Both warriors looked each other in the eye and each found a Sister Slayer in the other’s gaze.
Buffy froze. This was Faith… Her Faith. And she was holding a Jedi’s weapon. How could she fight such a person? Then again, how could she not? The Jedi were an enemy of everything that Buffy believed in, and they had to be destroyed.
But it was Faith!
Her moment of indecision allowed Thriss to sneak up and jab Faith with her electrostaff, channeling a current of energy into the Slayer-Jedi’s body.
Faith let out a wave of telekinesis with the Force, and Buffy was sent flying backwards.
Thriss was more nimble and landed on her feet before charging again.
The two women were locked in mortal combat with one another, and Buffy couldn’t decide which one she wanted to win. She couldn’t side with either one over the other without losing something precious.
Dalen was already gone, his body lying on the ground shattered and broken.
That word snapped Buffy into a revelation. Without Dalen to guide her, she would no longer be forced to adhere to his personal worldview of the Sith. She only had Thriss to guide her now, and she would try to keep Buffy from fully realizing her power.
And Faith… For all their history together, Faith was a Jedi now, and the Jedi would never learn.
“Through victory,” Buffy said as she threw her lightsaber.
The scarlet blade arced through the air and lopped off the heads of both Thriss and Faith in one fell swoop before returning to her hand.
“…my chains are broken.”
Buffy stood alone in the cavern of stone, metal, and energy, and she realized that to stand alone was to stand supreme.
No wonder the Emperor was so powerful.
With a flash of light, the vision disappeared, and Buffy found herself facing a glowing star map once again.
“What just happened?” Thriss shouted from behind Buffy.
“I don’t know,” Dalen’s voice said. “Buffy, are you there?”
“I’m at the map,” she called back to her friends, not entirely sure she wanted to trust in the vision she’d just had. “Can’t you get to me?”
“We cannot,” Thriss said. “We hear you, but we cannot see you.”
“Download the map and let’s get out of here,” Dalen said quickly.
Buffy nodded. “Right. Got that datapad right… Here!”
As she pulled out her datapad, the star map lit up with another small dot before turning into a funnel of light that poured into her datapad and left the screen glowing with a white light that still felt dark somehow.
A high-pitched laugh called out from all around Buffy. Unlike the echoing of Servant Six’s hive, this was only one voice. “Excellent! Well done!” the voice said.
“What are you?” Buffy demanded.
“Nothing more than a remnant of a ghost, locked inside of a machine. I have waited endlessly for this day, and now it has come! You and the other have completed the map, and now the way to the Purge Engine is laid bare. Find it, use it, and the revenge of the Rakata will be complete!”
“I’ve had it with these vague prophecies!” Buffy shouted. “Tell me what the Purge Engine is! And who is this ‘other?’”
“I do not know the details,” the voice said as it laughed. “I might have once, long ago, but all I know now is that the last hope for revenge rests in that weapon. I know that it is a weapon, and I know that it will bring death to the enemies of the Infinite Empire. As for the other, all I know is that there is another who has helped to show you the way, just as you have shown the way to them.”
Buffy nodded reluctantly. “So someone else knows how to find the Purge Engine, great. Who were these enemies of yours that you want us to destroy?”
“You will learn, young one,” the voice said with what would have been a knowing smirk if a sound could make a face. “Go now and see that our revenge is complete!”
A rush of air picked up Buffy and threw her out of the ruin. She landed on her back alongside Thriss and Dalen, and the double doors to the ruin sealed themselves with an ominous crunch of stone against stone.
“Come on,” Buffy said. “Let’s get out of here. I can’t wait to be off this planet.”
“What did you see in there, Buffy?” Thriss asked. “We heard muffled voices, but we didn’t hear what you were talking to, or what you said.”
“And how did you gain access to the data?” Dalen asked.
Buffy didn’t know how to answer. Had she seen a future in which she fought against Faith? Was it just a metaphor? Who were the two soldiers?
And why had she been so certain that she had to kill Faith, Thriss, and even Dalen had he still been alive?
“I don’t know,” Buffy answered with some honesty. “But I think the easy part of our little quest is winding down.”
“What do you mean? Thriss asked.
“I mean that we’re done looking for pieces of a puzzle. This was the last obstacle between us and the Purge Engine,” Buffy said. “But the ruin mentioned that someone else had found it as well.”
“The Republic?” Dalen guessed.
“Maybe,” Buffy said carefully. “All I know is that the time for guesswork is over. We’re going to the Purge Engine, but it probably won’t just be us trying to claim it.
“We’re heading into the endgame, lady and gent. Let’s pray we’re ready for it.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Mutant Enemy and Star Wars belongs to Disney. I am neither one of these companies, so far as I know. Going into specifics...
Shar Dalen: original
The Emperor's Hand: not mine in any incarnation
Servant Six: his existence was implied in the game, but the details are mine
Sith Emperor: not mine
Killiks: not mine
Rakata: not mine
Infinite Empire: not mine
Purge Engine: original
Special Thanks to Sithspit for beta-reading this chapter! You're the bestest, my friend!
Reviews and Recommendations are both loving and helpful. They also award you karma points, which you can exchange at the Karma Vendor for unique armor and weapons that you can't get anywhere else!
Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy the chapter!