Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

Chapter 9

Peace is a lie. There is only passion.

Through passion, I gain strength.

Through strength, I gain power.

Through power, I gain victory.

Through victory my chains are broken.

Kopecz was gone, rejoining Kaan's army and the war being waged against the Jedi and the Republic. Bane had remained behind at the Sith Academy on Korriban to learn the ways of the Sith. His first lesson began the next morning, at the feet of Lord Qordis himself.

"The tenets of the Sith are more than just words to be memorized," the Master of the Academy explained to his newest apprentice. "Learn them, understand them. They will lead you to the true power of the Force: the power of the dark side."

Qordis was taller than Kopecz. Taller even than Bane. He was very thin and clad in a black, loose-fitting robe, with the hood drawn back to fall across his shoulders. He might have been human, but something about his appearance seemed off. His skin was an unnatural, chalky hue, made even more obvious by the glittering gems encrusting the many rings on his long fingers. His eyes were dark and sunken. His teeth were sharp and pointed, and his fingernails were curved and wicked talons.

Bane knelt before him, similarly clad in a dark robe with the hood drawn back. Earlier this morning he had heard the Code of the Sith for the first time, and the words were still fresh and mysterious. They swirled through the undercurrents of his mind, occasionally bubbling up into his conscious thoughts as he tried to absorb the deeper meaning behind them. Peace is a lie. There is only passion. He knew the first tenet to be true, at least. His entire life was proof of that.

"Kopecz tells me you come to us as a raw apprentice," Qordis noted. "He says you have never been trained in the ways of the Force."

"I'm a quick learner," Bane assured him.

"Yes . . . and strong in the power of the dark side. But the same can be said of all who come here."

Not sure how to respond, Bane decided the wisest course of action was to stay silent.

"What do you know of this Academy?" Qordis finally asked.

"The students here are taught to use the Force. They are taught the secrets of the dark side by you and the other Sith Lords." After a brief hesitation he added, "And I know there are many other academies like this one."

"No," Qordis corrected. "Not like this one. It is true we have other training facilities spread across our ever-growing empire, places where individuals with promise are taught to control and use their power. But each facility is unique, and where individual students are sent depends on how much potential we see in them.

"Those with a noticeable but limited ability are sent to Honoghr, Gentes, or Gamorr to become Sith Warriors or Marauders. There they are taught to channel their emotions into mindless rage and battle fury. The power of the dark side transforms them into ravaging beasts of death and destruction to be unleashed against our enemies."

Through passion I gain strength, Bane thought. But when he spoke he said, "Brute strength alone is not enough to bring down the Republic."

"True," Qordis agreed. From the tone of his voice Bane knew he had said what his Master wanted to hear.

"Those with greater ability are sent to worlds that have allied with our cause to destroy the Republic: Ryloth, Umbara, Nar Shadaa. These students become creatures of shadow, learning to use the dark side for secrecy, deception, and manipulation. Those who survive the training became unstoppable assassins, capable of drawing on the dark side to kill their targets without ever moving a muscle."

"Yet even they are no match for the Jedi," Bane added, thinking he understood the direction the lesson was taking.

"Precisely," his Master agreed. "The academies on Dathomir and Iridonia are most similar to the one here. There apprentices study under Sith Masters. Those who succeed in their training become the adepts and acolytes who swell the ranks of our armies. They are the counterparts to the Jedi Knights who stand in the way of our ultimate conquest.

"But even as the Jedi Knights must answer to the Jedi Masters, so must the adepts and acolytes answer to the Sith Lords. And those with the potential to become Sith Lords-and only those with such potential-are trained here on Korriban."

Bane felt a shiver of excitement. Through strength I gain power.

"Korriban was the ancestral home of the Sith," Qordis explained. "This planet is a place of great power; the dark side lives and breathes in the very core of this world."

He paused and slowly extended his skeletal hand, palm upward. It almost seemed as if he was cradling something unseen-something precious and invaluable-in his claw-like fingers.

"This temple we stand in was built many thousands of years ago to collect and focus that power. Here you can feel the dark side at its strongest?' He closed his fist so tightly that his long fingernails cut into his palm, drawing blood. "You have been chosen because you have great potential," he whispered. "Great things are expected of the apprentices here on Korriban. The training is difficult, but the rewards are great for those who succeed."

Through power I gain victory.

Qordis reached out and placed his wounded palm on the crown of Bane's bare scalp, anointing him with the blood of a Sith Lord. Bane had seen plenty of blood as a soldier, yet for some reason this ceremonial act of self-mutilation revolted him more than any battlefield gore. It was all he could do not to pull away.

"You have the potential to become one of us-one of the Brotherhood of Darkness. Together we can cast off the shackles of the Republic."

Through victory my chains are broken.

"But even those with potential can fail," Qordis finished. "I trust you will not disappoint us."

Bane had no intention of doing that.

The next few weeks passed quickly as Bane threw himself into his studies. To his surprise, he discovered that his inexperience with the Force was the exception rather than the rule. Many of the students had trained for months or years before they had been accepted at the Academy on Korriban.

At first Bane found this troubling. He had just started his training and he was already behind. In such a competitive, ruthless environment he would be an easy target for every other student. But as he mulled it over, he began to realize he might not be as vulnerable as he'd thought.

He alone, of all the apprentices at the Academy, had been able to manifest the power of the dark side without any training at all. He'd used it so often he'd come to take it for granted. It had given him advantages over his opponents in cards and brawling. In war it had warned him of danger and brought him victory in otherwise impossible circumstances.

And he'd done it all on instinct, with no training, without even any conscious idea of what he was doing. Now, for the first time, he was being taught to truly use his abilities. He didn't have to worry about any of the other students ... if anything, they should be worrying about him. When he completed his training, none of the others would be his equal.

Most of his learning came at the feet of Qordis and the other Masters: Kas'im, Orilltha, Shenayag, Hezzoran, and Borthis. There were group training sessions at the Academy, but they were few and far between. The weak and the slow could not be allowed to hold back the strong and ambitious. Students learned at their own pace, driven by their desire and hunger for power. There were, however, nearly six students for every Master, and the apprentices had to prove their worth before one of the instructors would spend valuable time teaching them the secrets of the Sith.

Though he was a neophyte, Bane found it easy to garner the attention of the Sith Lords, particularly Qordis. He knew the extra attention would inevitably breed animosity in the other students, but he forced himself not to think about that. In time the additional instruction he got from the Masters would allow him to catch up to and pass the other apprentices, and once he did he wouldn't need to worry about their petty jealousies. Until then he was careful to stay out of the way and not draw attention to himself.

When he wasn't learning from the Masters, he was in the library studying the ancient records. As the Jedi kept their archives at their Temple on Coruscant, so the Sith had begun to collect and store information in the archives of Korriban's temple. However, unlike the Jedi library-where most of the data was stored in electronic, hologrammic, and Holocron formats-the Sith collection was limited to scrolls, tomes, and manuals. In the three thousand standard years since Darth Revan had nearly destroyed the Republic, the Jedi had waged a tireless war to eradicate the teaching tools of the dark side. All known Sith Holocrons had been either destroyed or spirited away to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant for safekeeping. There were many rumors of undiscovered Sith Holocrons-either hidden away on remote worlds, or covetously hoarded by one of the dark Masters eager to keep its secret knowledge for himself. But all efforts by the Brotherhood to find these lost treasures had proved futile, forcing them to rely on the primitive technologies of parchment and flimsiplast.

And because the collection was constantly being added to, the indexes and references were hopelessly out of date. Searching the archives was often an exercise in futility or frustration, and most of the students felt their time was better spent trying to learn from or impress the Masters.

Perhaps it was because he was older than most of the others, or maybe because his years of mining had taught him patience-whatever the explanation, Bane spent several hours each day studying the ancient records. He found them fascinating. Many of the scrolls were historical records recounting ancient battles or glorifying the deeds of ancient Sith Lords. By itself the information had little practical use, but he could see each individual work for what it actually represented: a tiny piece of a much larger puzzle, a clue to a much greater understanding.

The archives supplemented what he learned from the Masters. It gave context to abstract lessons. Bane felt that, in time, the ancient knowledge would be the key to unlocking his full potential. And so his understanding of the Force slowly took shape.

Mystical and unexplainable, the Force was also natural and essential: a fundamental energy binding the universe and connecting all living things within it. This energy, this power, could be harnessed. It could be manipulated and controlled. And through the teachings of the dark side, Bane was learning to seize hold of it. He practiced his meditations and exercises daily, often under the watchful eye of Qordis. After only a few weeks he learned to move small objects simply by thinking about it-something he would have thought impossible only a short time before.

Yet now he understood that this was only the beginning. He was starting to grasp a great truth on a deep, fundamental level: that the strength to survive must come from within. Others will always fail you. Friends, family, fellow soldiers ... in the end, each person must stand alone. When in need, look to the self.

The dark side nurtured the power of the individual. The teachings of the Sith Masters would make him strong. In pleasing them, he could unlock his full potential and one day sit among them.

When the first wave of the attack came, the Republic fleet orbiting the skies of Ruusan was caught completely unprepared. A small and politically insignificant planet, the heavily forested world had been used as a base to stage devastating hit-and-run attacks against the Sith forces stationed in the nearby Kashyyyk system. Now the enemy had turned that same strategy against them.

The Sith struck without warning, materializing en masse from hyperspace: an almost suicidal maneuver for such a massive fleet. Before an alarm could even be sounded, the Republic ships found themselves being bombarded by three Dreadnaught cruisers, two corsair battleships, dozens of interceptors, and a score of Buzzard fighters. And at the head of the attack was the flagship of the Brotherhood of Darkness, the Sith Destroyer Nightfall.

In his meditation sphere aboard Nightfall, Lord Kaan was directing the assault. From inside the chamber he could communicate with any of the other ships, issuing his orders with the knowledge they would be instantly and completely obeyed. The chamber was alive with light and sound: glowing monitors and flashing screens beeped incessantly to alert him to the constantly changing updates on the status of the battle.

The Dark Lord, however, never even glanced at the screens. His perception extended far beyond the meditation sphere, far beyond the data spit out by the electronic readouts. He knew the location of each vessel engaged in the conflict: his own and those of the enemy. He could sense every volley fired, every evasive turn and roll, every move and countermove made by every ship. Often he could sense them even before they happened.

His brow was knotted in intense concentration; his breath came in long, ragged gasps. Beads of perspiration rolled down his trembling body. The strain was enormous, yet with the aid of the meditation sphere he maintained his mental focus, drawing on the dark side of the Force to influence the outcome of the conflict despite his physical exhaustion.

The art of battle meditation-a weapon passed down from the ancient Sith sorcerers-threw the enemy ranks into chaos, feeding their fear and hopelessness, crushing their hearts and spirits with bleak despair. Every false move by the opponent was magnified, every hesitation was transformed into a cascade of errors and mistakes that overwhelmed even the most disciplined troops. The battle had only just begun, and it was already all but over.

The Republic fleet was in complete disarray. Two of its four Hammerhead-class capital ships had lost primary shields in the first strafing run of the Buzzards. Now the Sith Dreadnaughts were moving in, targeting the suddenly vulnerable Hammerheads with their devastating forward-mounted laser cannons. On the verge of being crippled and left utterly helpless, they were just now managing to scramble their own fighters to ward off the rapidly closing enemy cruisers.

The other two capital ships were being ravaged by Rage and Fury, the Sith battleships. The ponderous Republic Hammerheads relied on support ships to establish a defensive line to hold off enemy attackers while they positioned themselves to bring their heavy guns to bear. Without these defensive lines they were all but helpless against the much quicker and more nimble corsairs. Rage and Fury cut in along a vector that minimized the number of cannons the Hammerheads could target them with, then swept across their bows, firing all guns. When the Hammerheads tried to change direction to bring more guns to bear, the corsairs would pivot and double back for another pass along a different vector, inflicting even more damage. The savage maneuver was known as slashing the deck, and without the support of fighters or battleships of their own, the capital ships couldn't withstand it for long.

Aid from the Republic battleships, however, was not likely to come. The one on point patrol was already a charred and lifeless hull, obliterated in the first seconds of the attack by a direct hit from Nightfall's guns before it could raise its shields. The other two were being swarmed by interceptors and pounded by Nightfall's broadside laser artillery, and didn't figure to last much longer than the first.

Kaan could feel it: panic had set in among the Republic troops and commanders. His attack was pure offense; his strategy maximized damage but left his own ships exposed and vulnerable to a well-organized counterattack. But no such response was forthcoming. The Republic captains were unable to coordinate their efforts, unable to establish their lines of defense. They couldn't even organize a proper retreat . . . escape was impossible. Victory was his!

And then suddenly Fury was gone, snuffed out by an explosion that ripped the corsair apart. It had happened so quickly that Kaan-even with the precognitive awareness of his battle meditation-hadn't sensed it coming. The two Hammerheads had turned at tangential angles, both somehow locking in on Fury's path simultaneously. One had opened up with its forward cannons to take down Fury's shields, while the other had unleashed a barrage of laserfire at the exact same spot, causing a massive detonation that destroyed the battleship in the blink of an eye. It was a brilliant maneuver: two different ships perfectly coordinating their efforts while under relentless assault to wipe out a common foe. It was also impossible.

Kaan ordered Rage into evasive action; the corsair peeled off its attack run just as the Hammerheads opened fire, narrowly avoiding the fate of its sister ship. The Dreadnaughts closing in on the crippled Hammerheads were also forced to break off their attack run as four full squads of Republic fighters burst forth from the cargo bays of their supposedly defenseless prey. Even under ideal conditions it would have been hard to scramble the fighters so quickly; in this situation it was unthinkable. Yet Kaan could feel them: nearly fifty Aurek fighters flying in tight formation, pressing the attack on the Dreadnaughts while all four Hammerheads pulled back. They were establishing a defensive line!

Drawing on the power of the dark side, Lord Kaan pushed out with his will to touch the minds of the enemy. They were grim, but not desperate. Some were afraid, but none panicked. All he felt was discipline, purpose, and resolve. And then he felt something else. Another presence in the battle.

It was subtle, but he was certain it hadn't been there at all in the first few minutes of the attack. Someone was using the Force to bolster the morale of the Republic troops. Someone was using the light side to counter the effects of Kaan's battle meditation and turn the tide. Only a Jedi Master would have the strength to oppose the will of a Sith Lord.

Kopecz felt it, too. Strapped into the seat of his interceptor, he was spinning and swerving through the Hammerhead's barrage of antifighter turret blasts when the presence of the Jedi Master crashed over him like a wave. It caught him off guard, causing him to lose his focus for a split second. For any other pilot, that would have been enough to end his life, but Kopecz was no ordinary pilot.

Reacting with a quickness born of instinct, honed by training, and bolstered by the power of the dark side, he slammed the throttle back and pushed hard on the stick. The interceptor lurched down and forward into a sharp dive, narrowly ducking beneath three successive blasts of the Hammerhead's ion cannons. Pulling out of the dive, he banked into a wide roll and circled back toward the largest of the four Republic cruisers. The Jedi was there. He could sense him: the Force was emanating from the ship like a beacon. Now Kopecz was going to kill him.

Back on Nightfall, Kaan was also locked in mortal combat with the Jedi Master, though theirs was a battle waged through the ships and pilots of their respective fleets. The Republic had more ships with greater firepower; Kaan had been relying on the element of surprise, and his battle meditation to give the Sith the advantage. Now, however, both of those advantages had been nullified. Despite his strength, the Dark Lord was no expert in the rare art of battle meditation. It was one of many talents, and he had worked to develop them all equally. The opposing Jedi, however, had likely been trained from birth for just such a confrontation. The tide of the battle was slowly turning, and the Dark Lord was becoming desperate.

He gathered his will and lashed out with a sudden surge of dark side power, a desperate gambit to swing the engagement back under his control. Spurred on by adrenaline, bloodlust, and the irresistible compulsion of their leader, a pair of buzzard pilots tried to ram their ships into the nearest Aurek squadron, determined to break their formation with a suicide attack. But the Republic pilots didn't panic or break ranks trying to avoid his reckless charge. Instead they met the assault head-on, firing their weapons and vaporizing the enemy before any harm could be done.

On the other side of the battle, Kopecz's interceptor knifed through the defensive perimeter established around the capital ship and its precious Jedi cargo, too quick and nimble for either the Aurek fighters or the turrets to get a lock. Penetrating the Republic lines, Kopecz flew his ship into the heart of the main hangar; the blast doors closed a fraction of a second too late. He opened fire as his ship spun and skidded across the docking bay's floor, wiping out most of the soldiers unfortunate enough to be caught inside.

As the ship slowed to a halt, he popped open the hatch and flipped out of his seat. Nimbly landing on his feet, he drew and ignited his lightsaber in one smooth motion. The first sweeping arc of the crimson blade caught the blasterfire of the two troopers who had survived the initial assault, deflecting it harmlessly away. Another flip closed the six-meter distance between the Twi'lek and his attackers; another arc of the blade ended their lives.

Kopecz paused to assess the situation. Mangled bodies and shattered machinery were all that remained of the crew and equipment that maintained the Republic fighters. Smiling, he crossed over to the hatch leading into the interior of the capital ship.

He strode quickly and confidently through the halls, guided by the power emanating from the Jedi Master like a tuk'ata drawn by the scent of a squellbug. A security team intercepted him in one of the hallways. The red badges on their sleeves marked them as an elite squad of specially trained soldiers: the best bodyguards the Republic military had to offer. Kopecz knew they must have been good . . . one actually managed to fire her weapon twice before the entire unit fell to his lightsaber.

He entered a large chamber with a single door at the back. His prey was beyond that door, but in the center of the room a pair of Selkath -- amphibious beings from the world of Manaan-barred his way with lightsabers drawn. These were mere Padawans, however, servants of the Jedi Master. Kopecz didn't even bother engaging them in lightsaber combat: it would have been beneath him. Instead he thrust a meaty fist forward and used the Force to hurl them across the room. The first Padawan was stunned by the impact. By the time he struggled uncertainly to his feet, his companion was already dead, the life choked out of her by the power of the dark side.

The surviving Padawan retreated as Kopecz slowly advanced; the Sith Lord crossed the room with measured strides as he gathered his power. He unleashed it in a storm of electricity, bolts of blue-violet lightning ripping through the flesh of his unfortunate victim. The Selkath's body danced in convulsions of agony until his smoking corpse finally collapsed to the floor.

Reaching the door at the rear of the room, Kopecz opened it and stepped into the small meditation chamber beyond. An elderly Cerean female, clad in the simple brown robes of a Jedi Master, was seated cross-legged on the floor. Her creased and wrinkled face was bathed in sweat from the strain of using her battle meditation against Kaan and the Sith.

Exhausted, drained, she was no match for the Sith Lord who loomed above her. Yet she made no move to flee or even defend herself. With certain death only seconds away, she kept her mind and power focused entirely on the fleet battle.

Kopecz couldn't help but admire her courage even as he methodically cut her down. Her calm acceptance robbed his victory of any joy. "Peace is a lie he muttered to himself as he stalked back through the halls toward the docking bay and his waiting ship, anxious to leave before Nightfall or one of the other ships blew the Hammerhead to bits.

The death of the Jedi Master turned the tide once more. Resistance crumbled; the battle became a Sith rout, and then a slaughter. No longer protected by the power of the light side of the Force, the Republic soldiers were completely demoralized by the terror and despair Kaan spawned in their minds. Those who were strong-willed gave up all hope save that of escaping the battle alive. The weak-willed were left so despondent, they could only hope for a quick and merciful death. The former didn't get what they wanted, but the latter did.

Strapped into the hatch of his interceptor, Lord Kopecz launched his craft from the hangar mere seconds before the capital ship was destroyed in a glorious and cataclysmic explosion.

The Sith losses that day were heavier than expected, but their victory was absolute. Not a single Republic ship, pilot, or soldier escaped the First Battle of Ruusan alive.