Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

Chapter 20

Bane crawled back into bed after Qordis left. He thought about going to see Githany, but he was still exhausted. Tomorrow, he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

Several hours later he was again disturbed by a knock on his door. This time he felt more refreshed when he woke. He sat up quickly and lit a glow rod, casting the room in soft light. There were no windows in his chamber, but he guessed it must be close to midnight: well past curfew.

He rose to his feet and went to greet his second uninvited visitor. This time he was not disappointed when he opened the door.

"Can I come in?" Githany whispered.

Bane stepped aside, catching the scent of her perfume as she brushed past him. As he silently closed the door behind her, she walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge. She patted the space beside her, and Bane dutifully sat down, turning slightly so he could look her in the eye.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

"Why did you leave?" she responded.

"It's ... it's hard to explain. You were right about what happened with Sirak. I should have finished him, but I didn't. I was foolish and weak. I didn't want to admit that to you."

"You left the Academy so you wouldn't have to face me?" The words sounded compassionate, as if she were seeking to understand him. But Bane could sense the contempt beneath them.

"No," he explained. "I didn't leave because of you. I left because you were the only one who recognized my failing. Everyone else congratulated me for my great victory: Kas'im, Qordis ... everyone. They were blind to the true nature of the dark side. As blind as I had been until you opened my eyes.

"I left because the Academy had nothing more to offer me. I went to the Valley of the Dark Lords hoping to find the answers I couldn't find here."

"And you never thought to come tell me all this?" Her voice had changed; the veil of false compassion was gone. Now she just sounded angry. Angry and hurt. Bane was relieved that she still felt strongly enough about him to reveal some genuine emotion.

"I should have come to you," he admitted. "I acted rashly. I let my anger at Qordis drive me away."

She nodded: passion and reckless actions were something he knew Githany could relate to.

"I've answered your question," he said. "Now you answer mine. Why are you here?"

She hesitated, her teeth biting down softly on her lower lip. Bane recognized the unconscious gesture; it meant she was lost in thought, trying to sort something out.

"Not here," she said at last, rising stiffly from the bed. "I have something to show you. In the archives."

Without looking back to see if he was following, she made her way from his room and into the dim hall beyond, moving quickly. Bane scrambled to his feet and trotted after her, breaking into a jog to keep up.

She stared straight ahead, her boots making crisp snaps as they struck the stone floor with each brisk stride. The sharp sound echoed in the empty halls, but Githany appeared not to care. Bane could tell that something was bothering her, but he had no idea what it could be.

They found the door to the archives open. Githany didn't seem surprised; she passed right through without slowing down. Bane paused for only an instant before following her.

At the far side of the room, beyond the rows of shelves, she stopped and turned to face him. There was an expression he couldn't quite decipher on her haughty but beautiful features.

He crossed to the middle of the room then stopped short when she held up her hand, palm extended. "Githany," he said, perplexed, "what's going-"

His words were cut off by the hollow boom of the archive door slamming shut behind him. He whirled around to see Sirak, flanked by Yevra and Llokay. The Zabrak's pale yellow lips were pulled back in a cruel smile so wide it gave him the appearance of a grinning skull. Bane couldn't help but notice the lightsaber handles dangling from the belts of all three.

When Githany spoke from behind him he had to resist the urge to turn and face her. It wouldn't he wise to expose his back to the Zabrak trio.

"Why did you follow me, Bane?" she asked, her voice a mixture of anger, disgust, and regret. "How could you be so stupid? Didn't you realize you were walking into a trap?"

Githany had betrayed him. The conversation in his room had been a test-one that he'd failed. He knew her well enough to expect something like this. He should have been wary of a trap. Instead he'd been a blind and obedient fool.

He knew he'd brought this on himself. Now he had to discern a way out.

"Is this what you want, Githany?" he asked, trying to stall for time.

"She wants what all Sith want," Sirak answered for her. "Power. Victory. She knows to side with the strong."

"I'm stronger than he is," Bane told Githany. "I proved that in the dueling ring."

"There's more to strength than physical prowess," Sirak replied, igniting his lightsaber. It was the double-bladed variety. Bane's eyes were focused squarely on the bright red blades, but he heard the hiss as the other two Zabrak followed suit. Githany, however, still hadn't fired up her whip.

"Strength means more than just the ability to use the Force," Sirak continued, starting to advance. "It means intelligence. Cunning. Ruthlessness."

"You know how easily I defeated you in the ring," Bane said, finally speaking directly to Sirak, though his words were still meant for Githany. "Are you so certain you can defeat me now?"

"Four against one, Bane. And you left your lightsaber back in your chambers. I like those odds."

Bane laughed and turned his back on Sirak. The Zabrak was close enough to lunge in and kill him with one blow, but Bane was gambling he would hold back, wary of being lured into a trap. It was a dangerous gamble, but he wanted to be looking directly into Githany's eyes when he spoke what might be his last words.

"This fool actually believes you brought me here for his sake," he said to her. Behind him he could sense Sirak's confusion and uncertainty. No attack came yet.

Githany met his stare with a cold, unflinching gaze and didn't answer. But her teeth worried her lower lip.

"We both know why you brought me here, Githany," he said, speaking quickly. Sirak wouldn't wait for long. "You don't want to side with Sirak. You've been plotting ways to get me to kill him ever since you first arrived."

"Enough!" Sirak shouted. Bane threw himself forward, rolling out of the way at the last second as the double-bladed lightsaber sliced a deep furrow into the spot where he had been standing. As he rolled to his feet, he saw Githany move; when she tossed his lightsaber to him, he was already extending his hand and using the Force to guide the hilt into his grasp.

The weapon flared to life and he turned just in time to block Sirak's charge. Yevra and Llokay were a few meters behind, rushing forward to join the fray.

Bane counterattacked, slashing down at Sirak's legs. The Zabrak parried the blow, and their blades collided with a burning hum. On the edge of his awareness Bane heard the sound of Githany's whip igniting.

A quick flurry caused Sirak to retreat. Bane feinted as if he was going to press forward, then took a step back, opening a full meter of space between them. It gave him just enough time to cast out his arm in the direction of the unsuspecting Yevra. Catching her up with the Force, he hurled her against one of the nearby shelves hard enough to splinter the wood.

She crumpled to the floor, dazed. Before she had a chance to rise, Githany lashed out with her whip and ended the Zabrak female's life.

Bane barely had time to register her death before Llokay was on him. The red-skinned Zabrak was overmatched, but his grief and rage empowered him, and he drove his much larger opponent back with a brutal series of desperate slashes and strikes.

Staggering back, Bane was almost too distracted to see Sirak unleashing a bolt of crackling blue lightning at him. At the last second he twisted and caught the potentially lethal blast with the blade of his lightsaber, absorbing its energy. The move had been one of instinct and last resort, and it had left him vulnerable to a single quick thrust from Llokay. But Githany's whip was snapping and cracking at Llokay's eyes and face, and his blade was busy frantically warding off the blows.

Bane turned his attention back to Sirak, who hesitated. At that moment there was a scream from Llokay: he had misjudged the erratic path of Githany's energy whip and lost an eye. A second scream would have followed, but she gashed open his throat, the burning tip of her weapon searing his vocal cords so he died in agonized silence.

Outnumbered, Sirak extinguished his lightsaber, dropped it to the ground, and fell to his knees.

"Please, Bane," he begged, his voice cracking. "I yield. You are a true Sith Lord. I know that now."

Githany whispered, "End it now, Bane."

Bane advanced until he towered over his groveling foe. Suddenly it wasn't just Sirak he saw before him. It was everyone he'd ever struck down. Every life he'd ever taken. Fohargh, the Makurth. The nameless Republic soldier he'd killed on Apatros. His father.

He was responsible for their deaths. Even now, they weighed on him. Guilt over Fohargh's death had left him numb to the dark side for months. It had shackled him like iron. He didn't want to suffer through that again.

"Listen to me," Sirak pleaded. "I'll serve you. I'll do anything you command. You can use me. I can help you. Please, Bane-have mercy!"

Bane steeled himself. "Those who ask for mercy," he answered coldly, "are too weak to deserve it."

His blade decapitated his helpless foe. The torso remained upright for a full second, the charred edges of the cauterized stump where the head had once been attached still smoking. Then it toppled forward.

Staring down at it, Bane felt only one thing: freedom. The guilt, the shame, the weight of responsibility had all vanished in that single, decisive act. He had opened himself to the dark side completely. It surged through him, filling him with confidence and power.

Through power, I gain victory. Through victory my chains are broken. He turned to see Githany smiling, her eyes filled with hunger.

"I of all people should have known better than to underestimate you," she said. "You saw me take your lightsaber! That's why you followed me."

"No," Bane replied, still heady from the rush of killing his enemy. "I didn't see anything. I was just guessing?'

For a brief moment her expression darkened; then she burst out with a laugh. "You never cease to amaze me, Lord Bane."

"Don't call me that," he said.

"Why not?" she asked. "Qordis has given all the students the rank of Dark Lord of the Sith."

Seeing him wince, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, looking up into his face. "Bane," she breathed, "we're going to fight the Jedi! We're going to join Lord Kaan's Brotherhood of Darkness!"

He reached up and grasped her delicate hands in his own massive ones, then gently unwound her arms from around his neck. Puzzled, she offered no resistance as he brought his hands together at his chest, her own clasped between them.

How could he make her understand? He was of the dark side now; Sirak's execution had been the final step. He had crossed the threshold; there was no going back. He would never hesitate again. Never doubt again. The transformation he had begun when he'd first come to the Academy was complete: he was Sith.

Now, more than ever, he understood the failings of the Brotherhood. "Kaan is a fool, Githany," he said, staring intently into her eyes to read her expression.

She recoiled slightly and tried to pull her hands away. He held them tight.

"You've never even met Lord Kaan," she said defensively. "I have. He's a great man, Bane. A man of vision."

"He's blind as an Orkellian cave slug," Bane insisted. "The Brotherhood of Darkness, this Academy, everything the Sith have become is a monument to his ignorance!" He clasped her hands even more tightly. "Come with me. There is nothing left for us on Korriban, and only death on Ruusan. But I know somewhere else we can go. A place where the dark side is still strong."

She squirmed her hands free and pulled away from him. "Lord Kaan has united the Sith in a single glorious cause. We can join them on Ruusan."

"Then go!" Bane spat. "Join the others on Ruusan. Be united with them in their defeat."

He turned and stormed angrily away as she called out "Wait, Bane. Wait!"

If she had made any move to follow him, he might have.

Bane kicked open the door to Qordis's chamber; it slammed against the wall with a crash that reverberated down the hall. The Academy's Master had been awake and already dressed, meditating on the mat in the center of his room. Now he leapt to his feet, anger darkening his face.

"What is the meaning of this?"

"Did you send Sirak to kill me?" Bane blurted out. The time for subtlety was gone.

"What? I ... did something happen to Sirak?"

"I killed him. Yevra and Llokay, too. Their bodies are in the archives."

The shock and horror of his reaction made it clear that Qordis had known nothing about the attack. "You did this on the eve of our departure for Ruusan?" he asked, his voice rising shrilly.

A few of the other Masters had gathered in the corridor outside, drawn by Bane's loud arrival. A handful of the students, as well. Bane didn't care.

"You can go to Ruusan," Bane snapped. "I will have nothing to do with the Brotherhood of Darkness."

"You are a student of this Academy," Qordis reminded him. "You will do as you are told!"

"I am a Dark Lord of the Sith," Bane countered. "I serve no one but myself."

Glancing over Bane's shoulder at the gathering crowd of curious onlookers, Qordis dropped his voice to a threatening whisper. "We leave for Ruusan tomorrow, Lord Bane. You will be coming with us. This is not a matter for discussion."

"I am leaving tonight," Bane replied, lowering his voice to match and mock the tone of Qordis's own. "And none of you here is strong enough to stop me!'

He turned his back on the head of the Academy and walked slowly from the room. For a brief second he felt the spurned Master gathering the Force, and Bane braced himself for a confrontation. But a second later he felt the power fading away.

At the threshold he halted. When he spoke, he was addressing the assembled gawkers as much as Qordis.

"Someone here once told me the Darth title was no longer used because it promoted rivalry among the Sith. It gave the Jedi an easy target. It was easier just to abandon the custom. To have all the Sith Masters use the same title of Dark Lord."

He raised his voice slightly, speaking loud enough for all to hear. "But I know the truth, Qordis. I know why none of you claims that name for yourself. Fear. You're cowards."

He half turned and looked back at Qordis. "None of the Brotherhood is worthy of the Darth title. Least of all you."

There was a gasp from the assemblage. Some of the students stepped back, expecting some type of reaction. Of course there was none.

Shaking his head in disgust, Bane left them there. As he passed the other Masters, Kas'im stepped in front of him, placing a hand on his chest.

"Don't go," the Blademaster said. "Let's talk about this. If you just meet with Kaan you'll understand. That's all I ask, Bane."

"It's Darth Bane," he said, slapping the Twi'lek's hand away and pushing past him.

Nobody else tried to stop him as he made his way through the temple's halls. Nobody tried to follow him or even called out as he mounted the stairs to the small landing pad on the roof.

There was only a single ship at the starport: the Valcyn, a T-class long-range personal cruiser. The blade-shaped vessel was one of the finest in the Sith fleet, equipped with the latest and most advanced technology. It had arrived just the day before: a gift from Kaan to Qordis, in recognition of his work with the apprentices at the Academy.

Bane lowered the access hatch and climbed inside. During his stint in the military he'd been given rudimentary training in the basics of piloting a standard hyperdrive vessel. Fortunately, the Valcyn's controls matched all intergalactic standards of operation and were designed for ease of use. He sat himself down in the pilot's chair and fired up the thrusters, punching in the hyperspace coordinates of his destination even as he began the liftoff sequence. A moment later the Valcyn rose up from the landing pad's surface then shot off into the atmosphere, leaving Korriban and the Academy behind.