As the lift ascended higher, Alahn grimaced. He glanced around the rather sizable area, some three meters in length and width, until his attention was drawn by a small fixture on the wall. But this was not what bothered him; he felt the air around him grow steadily colder as the lift rose. Biting his lip, Alahn pulled his dark robes closer over himself and waited.
Finally, the elevator came to a halt. The door slowly opened, followed by a beep to notify its occupant that it was safe to leave. Wasting not another moment, he stepped forward through the open doorway before him, the air still decreasing in temperature to the point of practically freezing. Just as Alahn’s foot touched the ground before him, an icy chill made its way down his spine, stiffening his back and causing bumps to form and hairs to stand on his skin. An all too familiar feeling entered his mind—a feeling that he welcomed with eagerness.
The Sith apprentice pressed onward, taking an immediate right turn once he was all the way through the door. The corridor he now stood in was illumined a dim red shining down from the ceiling onto a scarlet carpet that ran down the hall in either direction. Every few feet, tall pillars lined the walls, creating extra depth and allowing for nooks in which large Imperial banners hung. Alahn passed through a second doorway and was immediately met by a two-way intersection—to the right was a small chamber, and to the left the hallway continued. He paused for a moment, and then opted for the left path. The carpet beneath his feet ended as he approached a T-shaped intersection at the end of the hall.
As he entered the new hallway, Alahn could see that it bore few visible differences from the previous one—it maintained the dim red lighting as the other, as well as the evenly spaced pillars lining the walls. However, it no longer had a long carpet running down the hall, and the nooks between the pillars were empty. Far less red to contrast the bland gray tone. The corridor ahead ended quickly, too, as after about twenty meters it made a sharp right turn.
Alahn’s footsteps were almost muffled by the padding of his boots, each step reverberating with a soft thud as his boot touched the ground. His flowing dark robes made each of his steps graceful, purposeful even. That elegance was broken by the ebon-colored armor he wore beneath his robe, and the utility belt he wore around his waist. A silver-plated lightsaber swung from his belt, in complete synchrony with his own movements.
His skin, meanwhile, was slightly pale: a result of years of training in the dark side of the Force. It starkly contrasted the darkness of his gear. Another result of his affinity to the dark side were his stern eyes; the irises glowed a dim amber color that seemed to naturally blaze with fury. Alahn kept his dark hair short yet somewhat unkempt—he could not have it getting in his way during combat—and he sported a scruffy goatee that was still in the process of growth. His facial features matched his expressions perfectly as he looked ahead with sternness and firm determination and awareness, a natural aspect of his.
Alahn reached the end of the hall and turned right, where he met a final hallway of about the same length as the last. At the far side of this corridor was a closed door, beside it a dimly-glowing control terminal. Alahn made his way down the corridor until he stopped barely a meter before the closed door. He stared straight ahead for several seconds, taking this moment to mentally brace himself for whatever might happen next.
It is the same as always, he told himself. On the other side of this door was the Dark Council chamber, where the Empire’s greatest and strongest Sith Lords gathered to address matters within their own order as well as political crises. This room was the Sith Empire’s seat of power, if not Dromund Kaas. It’s not the first time they have requested your presence.
Without further hesitation, Alahn looked down to the terminal and quickly pressed a few buttons in an almost dexterous manner. A moment later the door slid open and the young apprentice stepped through.
Before Alahn lay a massive chamber, the center of which was bathed in purple light. As he stepped through the doorway, he was immediately flanked by two humongous red banners with the Imperial symbol. A pair of oblique-angled pillars on the far side of the room also sported the emblem, both of which shone in the dim light. The center of the room was surrounded by large throne-like chairs on either side, most of which were currently unoccupied. Red lanterns, hanging from the ceiling, individually lit up each throne. Behind each one, lining the left and right walls, were statues of dark, hooded figures, each one seemingly over ten meters tall. The chamber felt as cold as the frozen wastes of Belsavis. The central area of the room and the purple light that bathed it, gave the whole environment an eerie calmness to it, punctured by great darkness as well.
Alahn wasted no time to find out who was present, and immediately knelt down on one knee, using his fist as support to balance himself. His posture was submissive, his head bowed low in respect. It would be unwise for one to keep the Dark Council waiting—already he felt as if he had taken too much time getting here. Alahn spoke in a deep and dignified voice, “You summoned me, my lords?”
The response did not come immediately. The ensuing silence was quite unnerving, even to someone like Alahn who knew no emotion—he had been raised as such, bred from birth to become a weapon of the Sith. His strong connection to the Force was the whole reason the Dark Council had agreed to train him when his mother presented him to his masters two decades ago. His strength was growing continuously—it was long ago that he had surpassed most of the Sith here on Korriban.
Finally a response came from a muffled but commanding voice, “Rise, Alahn.”
Alahn was quick to react and stood up straight. He held a genuine respect for this man; especially more so than any of the other Council members. Darth Marr was a formidable Sith Lord, and he truly embodied strength and power. These were the most important assets of the Sith.
“As I’m sure you are aware,” said Marr, leaning forward in his throne, “you have been brought here to attend to a matter of great importance.”
“Of course,” Alahn nodded. “What is it you require of me, Lord Marr?”
“I first wish to acknowledge your ever-growing strength,” said Marr. “We have no doubt that you’ve already surpassed a majority of the Sith here on Korriban.”
“I would even argue,” spoke up Darth Ravage, who sat a few chairs down from Marr, “that your strength exceeds most in the entirety of the Empire. Your skills are truly remarkable.”
Alahn placed a hand on his chest to signify his sincerity as he bowed low. “I thank you for your acknowledgement of my…immense power. But it was thanks to your teachings, my lords, that I was able to achieve such strength.”
In that moment he recalled where he came from—or at least what the Dark Council had told him. Alahn was under the impression that the identity of his father was unknown, and that his mother had—to put it bluntly—traded him to the Dark Council when he was only an infant in return for a large sum of credits. It was a trade the Dark Council accepted only because they had sensed his innate strength in the Force. Alahn figured the average man would have been hurt by this kind of revelation, but he was not. He never personally knew his mother, so he saw no reason to care. He in fact felt glad that she made that decision long ago. It had turned him into what he was now: a wielder of power and weapon of destruction.
“I must say, I am flattered,” came a rather charming voice from Alahn’s right. It was Darth Vowrawn, a Pureblood whose sophistication seemingly contradicted the cruelty of the Sith, although that was surely a lie. “But tell me, young Alahn, how much gratitude do you owe to your actual master?”
Alahn knew exactly what Vowrawn meant, but he asked anyway, “Pardon me, Lord Vowrawn, but what do you mean?”
Vowrawn smiled, “Why, I think you know precisely what I mean. You thank us for our teachings, and yet seemingly neglect the lessons of your master, Lord Kariphos.”
Kariphos. About two years ago, Alahn had been assigned to learn under him in order to complete his training. Initially he respected the man, under the belief that he was powerful enough to train someone as strong as him. But it did not take Alahn long to realize the truth about Kariphos—he was weak and unworthy of being called Sith. His teachings were not of any relevance to Alahn, and his personal ideals constantly contradicted the Sith Code. He possessed a compassion that was comparable to that of a Jedi, the sworn enemies of the Sith. It disgusted Alahn.
Alahn had to choose his next words wisely. He had no intent of angering the Dark Council today, especially given where this conversation must have been leading to. They were exalting him for the assets he possessed that made him worthy of being called a Sith Lord. However he also knew that he could not let them bend him to their will—he would always follow the Dark Council’s will, but he refused to be treated as a tool. He had to make his opinion known to the Council, one way or another.
“Lord Kariphos’s lessons are very much appreciated, of course. Although I must admit they are not necessarily…favorable to me.” He was quick to realize that that could have been taken as a complaint about Kariphos. He added quickly, “Ah, with all due respect, my lords, don’t get me wrong. His teachings are simply different from what I have learned in the past. Nonetheless, they do help build character.” Alahn bowed his head again with an almost insincere smile.
“Tell me, young Alahn, do you find better value in speaking words, or in physical strength alone?” asked Vowrawn.
An odd question. It was almost as if Vowrawn had completely ignored his statement about Kariphos. Alahn stood there for a rather long moment, trying to decipher the true meaning behind the question. Then it occurred to him that “words” represented Kariphos and his almost pacifistic ways, and that “strength” represented Alahn and his raw power. Once he realized this, Alahn knew his response immediately—he would never be compared to that man.
“I would rather rely on strength than words. I do believe there is power in words, but when it comes to combat—physical strength. In order to defeat an opponent, I cannot simply ask permission to defeat them; that victory must be earned otherwise.”
“That is not a smart way to confront the galaxy, Alahn,” Vowrawn said, pointing a finger at the young human. “Never rely on brute strength alone to pull you through adversity.”
Alahn spread his legs apart slightly and clasped his hands behind his back. Chin held high, he said to the Pureblood, “With respect, Lord Vowrawn, I wish to test that ‘theory.’” He said that final word almost sarcastically.
Where is this going? Alahn thought to himself. He was genuinely curious now. Whenever the Dark Council had summoned him in the past, it was generally to obtain progress reports or perhaps to teach a lesson waiting to be learned. In Alahn’s perspective too, their close attention to his training was also a sign that the Council viewed him as important to the future of the Empire’s fury. This meeting, however, was different. Alahn figured they intended to promote him in some way, given the praise he was receiving. But he could not rush to conclusions, especially not as a Sith.
“I wish to hear more about Lord Kariphos,” said Darth Mortis. “You seem to hold a deeper opinion of the man than you say.”
“Yes,” Vowrawn added. “And do not be afraid to hold back the full truth from us, no matter how negative it may be. Without all the details, your opinion cannot be fully acknowledged.”
“Of course, my lords,” Alahn bowed his head before continuing. “I believe Lord Kariphos holds ideals…contradictory to the statements of the Sith Code.” That was a big risk for Alahn, but he figured that was just what the Council wanted to hear from him. “The code that he supposedly lives by. He believes in his own personal ideals, rather than the expansion of his power as a Sith. And his attitude is centered upon compassion—a creed comparable to that of a Jedi.” He spat that last word as if it disgusted him.
The assembled Sith Lords remained silent. Alahn was not sure whether it was out of surprise by his words, or perhaps something else….
“Speaking of passion,” said Vowrawn, “those are rather bold words, don’t you think? Do you truly believe all that?”
The Dark Council members exchanged glances with each other. To his relief, Alahn could feel no disquiet in the air surrounding him, which meant he must have chosen the right words, and told them just what they wanted to hear. He was beginning to understand exactly where this conversation was going.
Darth Marr rose. “Lord Kariphos is weak. He is not, and never was, worthy of being called Sith. Unlike you, Alahn, who embodies the meaning of one.” Alahn promptly adjusted his stance and raised his chin higher, signifying his increasing dignity. This was exactly the kind of commendation he was hoping to hear from the Dark Council, which meant he had one final task to complete. “Kariphos must be eliminated. He is a hindrance to all of us, especially you.”
Alahn was filled with ecstasy. His face shone with a sinister glee, and he grinned maliciously from ear to ear. Finally, he thought as he nodded his head to the Sith Lord. “I will take care of Kariphos.”
“Good. I admit, you have been held back from your fullest potential for likely many years now. But it is time for you to take the final steps in your training and become a true Sith.” Marr spoke the last word in such a way that it almost seemed to echo throughout the chamber. It could strike fear into the hearts of their enemies, that word.
“Show no mercy to Kariphos,” Ravage spoke up. “A true Sith should never show weakness; show him the consequence of his.”
“Gladly, Lord Ravage,” Alahn nodded.
“Now go,” Marr said in an almost vicious manner. “Terminate Kariphos, then return to us when the deed is done.”
Alahn bowed low, struggling to contain insane laughter building inside of him. Without another word he turned around and exited the room. He would waste no time, and make his way towards Kariphos’s personal chamber. Finally, he was being given complete permission to slay his joke of a master, and in the process likely put an end to the name Alahn as well.
The room’s silence soothed Kariphos. The man wished there could be more silence like this in the galaxy, but he knew that would be impossible as they sat on the brink of conflict. Nor could it be mirrored in his ever-stirring mind, as he felt the Force around him rippling with extreme turmoil. Constantly it alternated between what felt like calm zephyrs and violent gales.
Peace, he constantly thought to himself. Find peace. It was no easy task for him—he had lost so much, and that lingering pain forever dwelled in him. His turmoil was an everlasting scar that could never be healed, or even faded for that matter. These scars are forever fresh, he thought, recalling his dark past.
Kariphos sat serenely on a velvet rug in the center of the room. He wore a simple, flowing dark robe, and had a graying pointed goatee. Kariphos never saw reason for himself to participate in combat, and as such he wore much more relaxed attire. His skin paled as a result of constant indoor meditation, and his dark hair possessed several prominent streaks of gray; this was less so a result of age, and more so due to constant stress. His eyes, albeit currently closed, were a deep green—a notably different shade from many of the Sith, whose eyes generally turned to a blazing orange or yellow. The most notable feature of his physiognomy were the various scars scattered all across his face. These scars, their origin unknown to most, gave him a grizzled look, hiding the fact that Kariphos possessed a compassionate personality.
His personal chamber was rather bleak—it was obvious that Kariphos did not have much a taste for color. Flanking the currently shut door were two Imperial banners; these were a requirement for all personal chambers to remind the occupant where their loyalties lied. At the base of the far wall was a desk. It was littered with various books, holocrons, and other sources of knowledge at Kariphos’s disposal. Also resting on the desk was Kariphos’s lightsaber, but its appearance suggested that it had not been used in a long time.
Peace…tranquility… Kariphos thought as he felt the air around him grow cold and relentless. The man felt as though he was serene, and yet the Force around him still rippled madly. He opened his eyes and began to shiver as a new feeling overcame him. It felt like hatred incarnate, freezing him to the bone. This is not my doing, he realized as he rose to his feet.
The door behind him slid open, immediately followed by the sound of heavy footsteps. Kariphos could have sworn his robe flowed with the seemingly increasing winds as he turned around to face the visitor. When he laid his eyes on his apprentice, a sudden feeling wrenched at his heart. He realized it was fear once he looked into Alahn’s eyes and saw not only the usual determination, but also hatred and fury. It confirmed his suspicions.
“Good evening, Alahn,” Kariphos greeted his apprentice.
With a sigh, Kariphos asked, “They sent you, didn’t they? The Dark Council? Told you to finally claim your destiny, I’d imagine.”
“They ordered me to execute you, ‘my master,’” Alahn retorted. “Glad they gave the order too, I was getting ready to do it myself. You’re too incompetent to be my teacher, and too weak to be called Sith.”
Kariphos nodded his head slowly, staring straight into Alahn’s amber eyes. They seemed to blaze with fury; Kariphos likely would have felt the heat of the inferno had he not been so cold. With a heavy sigh, he said, “I knew this moment would arrive soon enough. I have been preparing—don’t think I’ll let your victory be an easy one.”
Alahn lifted his chin, realizing that his master was recognizing his strength. Even he knew that he could not defeat his own apprentice.
“I only ask that you permit me to teach one final lesson,” Kariphos said in a calm manner.
Alahn sneered, “There’s nothing you can teach me, old man.” He lifted his hand slightly and called upon the Force, his lightsaber springing from his belt and flying into his outstretched fist. He ignited it, its crimson-colored blade bursting forth with a loud hiss.
But Kariphos ignored him and continued, “I know the truth about your past, Alahn.”
“I don’t care.”
“I know that is not true,” Kariphos quickly responded. “Listen to me, Alahn. The Dark Council is lying to you. They’ve been lying your whole life.”
“I—don’t—care. Now fight me!” Alahn shouted.
“Your mother. She was an apprentice, here on Korriban,” Kariphos continued. “She didn’t turn you over to the Council for money, Alahn. She loved you…” He suddenly stopped, seemingly holding back sorrow. When he spoke the next words, Alahn finally understood his years of inner turmoil and silent meditation. He was trying to forget the past and heal wounds that could never be healed. “We loved you.”
Alahn was taken aback. He relaxed his shoulders as he lowered his guard, holding his lightsaber at waist level without deactivating it. “What?”
“Alahn, you are the product of a forbidden love,” said Kariphos. “We were young adults when we arrived on Korriban to begin our training as Sith. We fell in love and began to meet in secret. It wasn’t long before that secret was discovered by our masters, and they forced us apart. We were told it would hinder our training. But we continued to meet anyway, and after several months…” He trailed off for a moment. “After several months, you were born, Alahn.”
The younger Sith shook his head and muttered, “You’re no good at lying, old man.” This was an impossible revelation—surely none of it was true. Kariphos was only trying to prolong the inevitable, or perhaps break Alahn’s will through a web of lies. He’s not a good liar, Alahn thought.
“The Dark Council found out not long after. They took us to their chamber and…they…they…” Again Kariphos trailed off, this time a tear noticeably rolling down his cheek. He gulped, took a deep, shaky breath, and continued, “They took you from us, and slaughtered your mother before my eyes. They inflicted the wounds I now bare over my face, to forever remind me of my weakness and failure.”
“Impossible,” Alahn muttered grimly. “The only plausible part of that whole story is the origin of those scars.” He held up his lightsaber again and yelped, “Come, old man! Enough stalling! Fight!”
“Why are you in denial?” Kariphos asked him. “Why do you doubt the obvious? Alahn, why do you think the Dark Council assigned you to me? The idea seems absurd to you now, but if you stop to think, you’d realize my purpose was never to teach you.”
“Then you’ve done your job well,” Alahn retorted.
Kariphos ignored him, “My purpose was to strengthen you. By assigning me as your tutor, they are testing your will. Especially now, with this revelation.”
Alahn growled, still in denial. It seemed that Alahn was passing this test so far. “Look at our physical similarities, Alahn. My hair was once as dark as yours, and your eyes were once as green as my own.” Alahn knit his eyebrows—by the time he had come under Kariphos’s tutorship, his eyes had already been affected by the influence of the dark side. “I remember your eyes when you were born, Alahn.”
Alahn was now on the brink of rage and he instinctively tightened the grip on his lightsaber. He breathed heavily. The flames that Kariphos saw in his eyes grew into an inferno that would consume the other man.
“Your mother loved you, Alahn. And so do I,” Kariphos said.
To his surprise, Alahn sensed sincerity in Kariphos’s voice. He could tell that none of it was a lie, but he did not want to admit that.
“None of that matters now! I will not be denied my destiny!” Alahn shouted as he began to crouch down, calling upon the Force in the process.
A moment passed, and then Alahn bounded forward, using the Force to spur him on at a great speed toward his foe. He further imbued it into his first attack, one that he was sure would kill with ease. The old man was defenseless. But in a sudden flash, Alahn was dumbfounded to see a second red blade appear before him. Kariphos had pulled his own lightsaber toward him from the desk in the heat of the moment, and in less than what felt like a millisecond, the two blades collided with a loud hiss.
Alahn blinked. Realizing that his attack still possessed momentum, he forced Kariphos to stagger backwards. The apprentice charged forward, continuing his momentum by swinging at his master’s collar bone. Kariphos predicted the attack and barely had enough time to recover and parry Alahn’s blade.
“Consider the facts, Alahn!” Kariphos pleaded as he desperately blocked another swift strike.
“My path is clear to me,” Alahn responded, swinging yet again. Cursing to himself, Alahn realized that his blows were, while random to himself, predictable to his master. He promptly changed tactics. “No matter what obstacles lie before me, I will become the strongest Sith in the galaxy. I will be worthy in the eyes of the Emperor!”
Alahn stepped backwards, allowing Kariphos a moment to regain his defensive stance and analyze his apprentice. Meanwhile, Alahn did the same, knowing he needed to take advantage of Kariphos’s genuine weakness in lightsaber combat. He’s a librarian, not a warrior, he thought.
Alahn held his lightsaber with one hand and swung upwards, forcing Kariphos to hold his own blade horizontally to block the attack. But the attack had enough power to propel Kariphos backwards. Alahn saw his opportunity. He swung wide, but this time Kariphos blocked the attack again. With a growl of disappointment, Alahn began to swing his lightsaber at a quick pace, a flurry of attacks Kariphos was barely able to block. Alahn knew that if he kept this up, he would wear the old man down and claim an easy victory.
As their fight continued, Alahn began to realize that Kariphos was utilizing basic lightsaber forms to defend himself. He was able to notice a simple form of Shii-Cho as Kariphos, his awareness high, looked ahead of Alahn’s swings, providing enough time to hold his lightsaber in position to block. Whilst the young Sith did notice this, understanding that he could change attacks at any moment, he maintained his form. Alahn had a plan in mind.
Every so often Alahn slowed his attacks, allowing Kariphos to attempt a counterattack. He wanted to lure the old man into taking risks. He expanded his awareness of his surroundings, and tried to throw Kariphos off when he retaliated. In spite of this, the old man seemed indifferent. Kariphos seemed to be taking things slowly, perhaps waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike back.
What Alahn did not take into account was the fact that Kariphos had studied his apprentice for several years now. If his words earlier were true, that he had been preparing for this confrontation, then he undoubtedly knew how Alahn would plan his attacks. Despite his weakness, his intelligence was seemingly unmatched. Furthermore, considering the boy was his own son—or so he claimed—then so too did he understand his personality; while he possessed discipline, his demeanor was aggressive during combat.
Suddenly Kariphos extended his hand and threw Alahn back with the Force. While he could not react in time for the attack, Alahn reacted instinctively while midair. As the ground hurtled toward him, Alahn’s back tingled as he felt the air of the room growing even colder.
Instinctively, Alahn raised his lightsaber in front of himself as he landed. Perhaps a millisecond later, his lightsaber absorbed crackling purple lightning. Although he was not making direct contact with the lightning, Alahn could feel its heat as it threatened to electrocute him.
Kariphos lowered his arms, giving Alahn a moment of respite. “You call me weak, yet you simply underestimate my power. I changed the course of my training long ago to become an inquisitor. I thought it better matched my ideals.”
“Your ideals are the source of your weakness,” Alahn said.
Again Alahn leaped at Kariphos, but the old man lifted both his arms and shot forth another volley of lightning. Alahn was hurled back to the same position he had been in, although he managed to land on his feet. The force of the lightning began pushing him backwards, his feet sliding on the ground as he tried to push against it.
They are testing your will, Alahn thought, remembering Kariphos’s words minutes prior.
He began to feel the pain of the lightning as it flickered around him. He stared into the eyes of the man who called himself his father, and for a moment, he was stunned. The look in Kariphos’s eyes was not anger or focus, but sadness. A deep sorrow. He was pleading with Alahn. Tears welled in his eyes. For a moment, Alahn felt a sense of…what was it? Pity? Empathy? But as soon as it came, it was gone. Alahn stifled it. He hated it, and he hated his former master. He knew what he had to do.
With a grunt, Alahn began to take slow steps forward, using both willpower and the strength of the Force to push against Kariphos’s attack.
At first he failed to move more than a centimeter. Then he stared straight into his foe’s eyes. With a shout of frustration, he tried again, and managed to take a step forward. “Peace is a lie, there is only passion…” Alahn muttered as he pressed onward. “Through passion, I gain strength…” Another step.
Kariphos’s former unfazed expression changed in a fraction of a second. He appeared startled, even afraid.
Alahn smiled as he continued, sidling forward with greater success. “Through strength, I gain power. Through power I gain victory.” That final word echoed in his mind as he desperately attempted to close the gap between him and his master.
“Through victory, my chains are broken…”
Alahn did not want to admit it, but he knew Kariphos’s words were true. The Dark Council had lied to him his whole life. Kariphos was his father and master, whose purpose as a teacher had in fact been fulfilled, as of now. It almost amused Alahn—this truth only motivated him and strengthened his resolve. He hated Kariphos and was embarrassed to be related to such a weakling.
It was time to end this.
“The Force shall free me!”
Alahn arrived within melee range of Kariphos, who continued to strengthen the power of his lightning in a desperate attempt to hold his son back. Knowing he needed to take action now, Alahn called upon the Force to form an almost invisible barrier around himself as he began to pull his lightsaber back. As he held it at his side with both hands, ready to stab at Kariphos, the other man’s lightning struck Alahn, moving him back slightly.
The young apprentice let out a yelp as searing pain coursed through his body. Continuing to call upon the Force to minimize the power of the oncoming attack, Alahn attempted to jab at Kariphos with his lightsaber. But it was to no avail as the lightning seemed to paralyze his entire body. Alahn felt as though his insides were melting; he was quite certain this was like standing in the center of a volcano. The relentless fury of Kariphos’s lightning stopped Alahn in his tracks, and yet the young Sith stood his ground.
In a desperate attempt to finish the fight, he used the Force to transfer every ounce of remaining energy to his seemingly paralyzed arms. The torment increased in strength as Alahn’s vision began to blur and his body grew weaker. My will is unbreakable, he thought. If he missed the attack, he would surely die—and by the hand of his own, weak father. He snarled, and let out a scream of both pain and determination, and lunged forward, thrusting his lightsaber toward Kariphos.
The lightning stopped, or at least Alahn thought it did. Perhaps his attack had failed, and he was still being electrocuted. He could see only darkness at this point, and felt nothing but eternal agony. A moment passed—or perhaps it was a millennium, he was unsure—and he thought he felt himself falling endlessly. Another moment passed before he felt something hit his left shoulder. And then, he was sure it was over. He was dead.
Something tickled his finger as he began to return to consciousness. His vision still hazy, he felt sure he was lying on his left side on a velvet rug. A few feet before him was a seemingly lifeless lump on the ground. No—not lifeless, it was stirring. As Alahn’s vision continued to clarify, he formed a fist with his numb hand, and realized that the ticklish feeling was the rug. He also began to see steam rising from his arm, parts of his robe had burned away.
This is not death… he thought. Where am I?
A jolt of pain shot through Alahn’s body, causing him to curl into a fetal position. He grunted, remembering exactly what had happened. Kariphos…
Alahn placed his hands on the ground and attempted to push himself up. At first he fell over again. The pressure he exerted on his body was unbearable. He waited a moment before trying again, this time taking it slowly. Inch by inch, he raised his legs until he was on all fours. Once he felt sure that he could continue, Alahn began to crawl in the direction of what must have been Kariphos, who seemed to be writhing and hopefully on the verge of death.
As he neared Kariphos, Alahn realized that his ears had been deaf the whole time. He suddenly heard Kariphos frantically gasping for air, a gaping hole through where his heart was. Alahn continued to crawl toward him when his hand fell on a searing metal object. Reactively pulling his hand away and holding it with his other, he realized it was his lightsaber, lying on the ground beside Kariphos’s writhing body.
Dammit, he thought as he wiggled his hand.
Suddenly, Kariphos took Alahn’s arm, his grip tight. “Alahn…”
“It’s over,” Alahn murmured rather calmly, taking his father’s wrist. But when he attempted to pull it from his arm, the grip only tightened. He glanced at it with annoyance before saying, “Let go.”
“Alahn, please…” Kariphos coughed. “Heed…heed my warning. You are a p—a pawn. A pawn in the Council’s game. Watch…watch your back—argh!” Alahn stood by and watched as Kariphos’s back stiffened and his body twisted rather unnaturally, pain shooting through him. He grunted again before collapsing and continuing. “They will use you, Alahn. They will…bend you…”
“I will follow the Dark Council’s will without question,” Alahn stated firmly. “I am a servant—no, a warrior of the Empire.” He would never be a slave; others would serve him and bend to his will.
Kariphos released Alahn’s arm and reached for his son’s face. Barely touching his cheek with the tip of his fingers, he murmured, “Finally…death’s cold embrace…” His breathing became heavy and raspy. “I come now, dear Calina…” His arm slumped and the writhing stopped. His fingers twitched for a moment before going still, never moving again.
Alahn knelt there for a moment, looking down on Kariphos’s corpse. The body of his deceased father. Every scar Kariphos bore, from the wounds covering his face to the gaping hole through his chest, were because of him. Through Alahn’s entire life, he had inflicted so much pain on this man, directly and indirectly. He thought that in this moment he would find great satisfaction. He had triumphed! He had completed his final task, and would surely now rise to the title of Sith Lord. But instead he felt only confusion and uncertainty. What should he make of this revelation? It seemed to him that just as he had inflicted scars on Kariphos, so too had Kariphos scarred him.
No, he thought. I did not give Kariphos these scars. Alahn did. A grim expression on his face, Alahn muttered, “Alahn died with you, Kariphos.”
He stood up and turned his back on the corpse. He took a step forward and bent over to pick up his lightsaber, still rather warm from the lightning, although no longer steaming. As the thought of lightning crossed his mind, so too did Kariphos’s adeptness as an inquisitor. The old man was right—Alahn had underestimated his power. In fact, that power almost killed him. Alahn had to admit, he was weaker than he, and perhaps any of the Dark Council, realized. That will never again happen. I must grow stronger.
Alahn stopped as he drew near the exit. He took one final glance at Kariphos’s body, lying there on the rug. His honor was certainly an admirable trait of his—in fact, it almost reflected Alahn and his own sense of honor. In that moment, as Alahn glared intently into Kariphos’s deep green eyes, he realized that he could see some resemblance between himself and Kariphos.
Immediately he turned away and opened the door. He refused to admit that possibility—there was no way he could have hailed from someone as weak as Kariphos.
That cold feeling Alahn always felt when he entered the Dark Council chamber was nonexistent. He realized that it was meant to inflict fear upon those who entered. But he was no longer a lesser Sith to cower beneath his elders; he was no longer Alahn.
He bowed his head, but did not kneel. Making sure to maintain dignity in his voice, he announced to the Dark Council, “Kariphos is dead.”
“Very good,” Vowrawn said. “I had no doubt that you would return in one piece.”
Hardly, Alahn thought as he acknowledged Vowrawn with a nod.
“You have completed your training to become a Sith Lord,” he continued.
“Indeed,” said Ravage. “These are dark times. You are the kind of Sith the Empire needs as we stand on the precipice of galactic conflict.”
Darth Ravage stood up from his throne. The other three Council members followed suit and began walking towards Alahn.
“Before we continue,” Alahn suddenly started, stopping all four Sith in their tracks. “I wish for something to be addressed.” He looked on at the faces of each Sith Lord. He found annoyance or curiosity in each one—save for Marr, whose mask concealed all expressions. Finally his eyes landed on Vowrawn and he asked, “Is Kariphos truly my father?”
This question did not seem to take them aback. They exchanged glances at each other before Vowrawn stepped in front of Alahn. “Kariphos was the father of an acolyte at our academy. His name was Alahn.” Of course. It was just as Alahn had decided himself—that name was a dead one. “Whatever Kariphos told Alahn about his past is true.” The response surprised Alahn, as he figured they would lie again. But he understood why Vowrawn spoke true—same as with Kariphos, it was all a test.
“And the mother?”
“Calina was as much a failure as Kariphos was,” Vowrawn confirmed. “As you are well aware, there is no weakness in the ranks of the Sith. In spite of this, their weakness brought about one of the strongest Sith the Empire will have ever seen.” He gestured to the young Sith.
Vowrawn was referring to Alahn now, and yet even he admitted that the boy had died with Kariphos. This young Sith possessed another name, one to better reflect himself. He recalled Kariphos’s scars—those that Alahn had caused. And his pierced heart, caused not by Alahn, but by another.
“No…Alahn was weak,” he muttered. “I killed him and Kariphos. And I assure you, Lord Vowrawn, that my motives are fueled by the Empire’s resolve.” He bowed.
The Pureblood smiled, “I am glad to hear that.”
The other three Sith stepped forward. Vowrawn took a step back as Marr now stood in front of the younger man. “Kneel,” he said, not with grim authority, but with a rather calm demeanor.
This was the moment he had been waiting for. Without wasting another moment, he knelt with as much reverence as he could possibly muster.
“I name you a true Sith,” said Darth Marr, charisma in his voice. “You have completed your trials by slaying your master and your past identity. You shall be the ultimate harbinger of our enemies’ destruction. I name you Darth…” he paused, as if thinking. “…Inflictus, herald of chaos.”
Marr took a step back as Darth Inflictus rose. A perfect name for all the pain he brought upon Kariphos. He was proud to bear it.
And yet his mind still lingered on Kariphos. Just as Kariphos had experienced everlasting turmoil, so too was Inflictus now experiencing an inner turmoil that needed to be dismissed as soon as possible.
“I thank you, Lord Marr,” he nodded.
“Go now, Inflictus,” Marr said, this time with authority in his voice. “Carry out the will of the Emperor, for the Sith Empire.”
Darth Inflictus bowed one final time before leaving the chamber. As he walked through the corridors that he had started this journey in, he reflected on what it had taken to get to this point. Two decades of training under the strongest Sith Lords in the galaxy, and likely the most psychological one. He would never be able to erase Kariphos’s scarred visage from his mind. It would forever, in turn, scar him.
That’s not true, he thought to himself. He realized that he had no past—Darth Inflictus had just been born. No, it was Alahn whose past he reflected on. And it was Alahn whom he had slain to climb the final step of the ladder, and reach the pinnacle of his ascent to power.