Happy Christmas all!
I hope everyone’s having a good time over the holiday and have enjoyed Rogue One (and if you haven’t seen it yet, why not?! :D).
Although real life’s forced me into permanent retirement-- heck, I bit the bullet and finally bought a PS4 during Black Friday last month, but I’ve still not even had time to unbox it!-- but for the last 18 or so months, I’ve been wanting to write a final sendoff for the character I had roleplayed for the last 17 years when I first joined the EH in 1999, it’s just taken time to finish things off.
I’m a bit rusty, but I had some spare time this week, so finally polished off the fossil that’s been collecting dust in my Google Drive documents for the last year.
And yes, I’ve become Trev, as you’ll have to work out the final riddles by yourselves
Anyways, once again, happy Christmas all, and I hope you all have a Happy New Year wherever your lives may take you all in the future.
All the best,
PS: And sorry it’s had to be on three posts, but the message board informed me that “Body is limited to 32000 characters; you entered 58810” so you have been warned: it’s long lol
A FAREWELL STORY
And after the Darkness has consumed all, it will consume itself til nothing remains.
– from a translation by Master T’talkai, Grand Prophet to the Krath Order
A long alabaster leg straddled a fallen pawn that lay on its back beneath her.
Keeping her movements slow, the matriarch claimed her victory, crouching, while still being careful that her actions would not alert the knights that had passed through earlier. Not far away, the two knights still stood watch, attentive, but distant enough that their presence would not deter the mother from bringing a second leg astride the pawn she had conquered, and the silent, willowy queen continued her trespass, spreading her long, porcelain legs wide-- all eight of them-- as she cast her web across the chess piece.
Despite her cautious movement, the spider had claimed the chessboard as her territory many years prior. Today, only silence filled the empty halls of Kalekka, once the seat of the Oracle, the eyes and ears of eternity. For years, Kalekka’s kings had fought, first as rivals, later allies, yet still the long game they started all those decades earlier had not reached its climax, the pieces still waiting for their next move.
However, their game was nearing its culmination, there remained few moves left to make.
Ruins of Comyn Tower
Thendara, Cottman IV
Blink your eyes just once and see everything in ruins.
The Force may have left him, but her words still echoed in the back of his mind sometimes.
The wanderer opened his eyes to the wreckage of yet another world that had been betrayed. The North Star shined in the heavens, casting a tranquil twilight across the ruins of what had been grand, ornate towers, the heart of a people, but which today lay on their sides, broken in half, having become no more than symbols of a culture that had been lost forever. Not even rotting carrion survived anymore, only dry, forgotten bones, stripped of the beauty that had been the people of Cottman IV,g the people of Darkover.
Xanos had seen this too many times.
From the ruins of Jedha, to the graveyards of Kapsina, or the wastelands of Antei herself, it was no wonder the Force had turned its back on the galaxy. They did not deserve its help; he did not deserve its help. He had stood on the edges of oblivion, gazed into its very darkest depths. Looking at sights like Cottman IV, it was little surprise why the Knights of Ren or the First Order had never cared about groups like the Dark Brotherhood or the One Sith. Indeed, even before its destruction, there had been no need to turn Starkiller Base’s sights on Antei, when the Dark Brotherhood had been doing a perfectly good enough job taking of itself. Like Trevarus had once written, the dark side always consumed itself.
Kneeling, the Falleen pushed back the heavy iron shackles that still hung from his wrists and cupped his clawed hands together on the floor to gather a handful of the ashen remains of a dead race.
Did we get this far just to feel your hate?
Standing, he opened his hands again and the ashes of the past blew away in Darkover’s cold, icy breeze.
He felt nothing, however.
The Force had abandoned him as thoroughly as it had abandoned Darkover. Like his, their lives had not been without mistakes; they too had fallen victim to the barbarism, the brutality, the lies of the blind disciples of a failed empire. Had he paid more attention back then, perhaps he would have taken a stand sooner, perhaps he would have stopped the pages of history being torn from the tapestry of creation, but back then he had not seen, back then he had been as much a pawn in their game as they themselves had now become a pawn in others’. It was a cycle without out, the neverending war of sword and shield.
In the lone starlight, a small blue object glinted on the ground in front of him. He went over to pick it up.
It was nothing special, a worn trinket, nothing more, but something had drawn him to it. He pulled up part of his cloak and rubbed the small, palm sized decoration, probably a broach. Despite the years it had lain there, he could still make out a fir tree; it had probably been silver, though the metal had tarnished.
He’d seen the crest before. The coat of arms of the Hastur Domain.
A word was etched onto the broach, albeit he had no idea what it meant:
Looking around the ruins, at the faded straps of leather that still clung to the dry skeletons, which still huddled together, their terror forever frozen in place in a monument to the sins of the past, he could no longer ignore the truth, no longer hear only the lies. He looked down at the crest of House Hastur again and tossed it back on the ground. He was free of the dragons that had once whispered their untruths in the back of his mind. He was free to make his own choices and accept the answers he had long avoided.
He’d felt the same way when his wanderings had led him to the debris of Hosnian Prime earlier that year. There was nothing of the New Republic’s capital left anymore, only stardust. For so many years, he’d warned the Yuuzhan Vong would be the end of the Republic, but those dreams had turned out to be more lies, more stories whispered by the blind, unseen dragons to confuddle his mind.
In the end, just like with Antei, it had taken no gods or demons to bring down the Republic, and the real truth of their unmaking had been themselves.
Man had given birth to his own destroyer.
Making his way farther into the market square, he took in the sights with new eyes, unencumbered. A child’s scribbles on a wall, such a simple thing, something to which he may have previously turned a blind eye, only for his Master to stop and leave him confused. However, now he understood, now he saw the truth: he had been blind, trapped in a cloud of lies, of dreams, of worlds within worlds. He had been the dreamer, living in the shadow of an existence that was not real, blind to the reality in front of him.
He knelt down again, this time in front of the scratches, and traced a hooked finger over them.
Like the broach, it was again written in a tongue he was unfamiliar with, but he did not need to know the words to understand their desperation. The message had been scratched into the wall with a fingernail, dry blood still clung in the marks. It had been a plea. Begging some unseen deity for salvation.
But that child’s salvation had never come. There were no gods.
Xanos did not need the Force to hear the last, desperate cries as the elfish innocent screamed when they were confronted for the first time by the metal forks that had filled their sky, the hate-filled daggers, as their home had been eclipsed by a flock of warships that had come to purge the world with emerald fire.
The Empire had never been merciful.
When the Falleen stood up, he found he was no longer alone.
She had come again.
His Master had called her Morrigan, but like the three Morrigna of legend, Xanos was sure that was but one of many names. Behind him, the phantom queen stood as she always stood, her feet hovering but a moment over the ground. On the ashes of a dead world, the dark-haired, skeletally pale maiden fit well, but then, in a dying galaxy, where history itself was unravelling, where world after world turned to dust, more and more Xanos found that there was scarcely a place in existence in which Morrigan didn’t fit.
This was, very much, her galaxy.
Indeed, as if by providence, on one of the ruined walls a sketch had been left of a woman that bore a passing resemblance to the tranquil woman, alongside which had been scratched the name: Avarra.
Morrigan’s eyes followed his own and the corner of her lip curved into a narrow smile.
“Back again, Xanos?”
He did not answer. Free of the Force’s whispers, while he may have reconnected with the real world, that was all the more reason to ignore a messenger who remained anchored in his past. If Morrigan wished to deal, she would deal on his terms, and answer the same question he always had:
Why was she there?
Why would the past not leave him alone?
Why did it deny him the space to move on and forget?
“You are hardly in a position to bargain,” Morrigan said. Her eyes drifted to the shackles at his wrists. “I see only a gambler who played his hand too high and lost all the things he never had to begin with.”
What the woman said was not untrue.
He had run from Jedi hunters since their very inception, being one of the first to be marked undesirable. Empire, then Hammer, now Brotherhood, the name may have changed, but he had forever stayed the outsider. It was a funny twist of fate, perhaps, that the Force’s abandonment of him had been the very reason he had kept hidden from those seeking the heart of a star when all that had remained of his power was a dying ember. But even he could only run so far, and eventually they had caught up with him…
“You chose the long road,” Morrigan replied as he carried on walking, “but we’ll be waiting.”
He would not be played back into their games, he had fought off hunters, jailors and inquisitors more than once and would a hundred times over. He had learned more in the years he had spent wandering than he had ever gathered from the books that remained in the libraries of Antei, Loki or Eos, all of which had now joined the great library worlds of the past like Ossus, Xer and Silversisi, which too had been lain to ruin by history’s harbingers, who just like the serpents today, lived in denial of the truth.
He was not the one who refused to heed the past.
Like the crypts of Moraband or the swamps of Dathomir, the abandoned towers of Darkover spoke more to him than the Force and its blind agents ever had. In front of the tower alongside the town square stood the remains of what could best be described as a gallows, its last incumbent still shackled where she had been standing when the destroyers had filled the stars above. To any outsider, a quick glance would have shown the woman for what she was: a servant, a slave who had given her body to others, offered freely, but without freedom, to be used in public for their own needs, to sate their own desires, to save a very society that believed its salvation could only be secured through its exploitation of others, a conviction unto which the people of Darkover had clung even as the harbingers of their ends had filled the skies.
What stood out, however, was not the torn and faded garments, but a sparkling tiara that still sat perched on the victim’s dirtied skull. Xanos lifted it off her head and brushed aside the ash that had surely once been the the very woman to whom the crown had been gifted. In the tiara’s crest, a small, blue crystal had been set, and still glinted, even in Darkover’s fading twilight. He recognised what the Darkovans would have called a matrix, a crystal attuned to the Force and keyed to a particular individual.
He let out a small sigh.
This was what he had fought against. The naive misunderstanding with which people filled their empty lives, telling themselves their choices had meaning, had purpose, when in the end, all their lives ended up amounting to was stardust. He pinched the tiara between thumb and forefinger and shook off the last of the doomed woman’s remains. The girl had surely convinced herself, and been convinced, adorned in deep red fabrics that still showed through her ashes, that her life had been worthy, that her choices had meant something, that she had meant something, that her life had purpose when she had given it away.
“I wanted us to heal the scars,” Xanos said to himself, as he put the crown back on the skull.
Together, they could have turned loose the heavens and changed the stars, but that was not to be…
Albeit he was not as knowledgeable in the subject as his master or the last of his apprentices, Xanos knew enough of Darkover’s rituals to recognise a channeling circle when he encountered one. Their study had been a passion of his Master’s, who had taken a special interest in the methods by which the Darkovans’ keepers could amplify the combined powers of their circle. Like the witches of Dathomir, it had all been a deeply ritualistic path to communing with the Force, but was that anymore primitive than the spells and rituals taught by the Sith or any of their order’s offshoots?
In the end, they were all the same, all it took was to see the mistakes of others to recognise one’s own. He had always promised to bring his last apprentice back here one day, back where she had been born, to show her how little piecing her memories back together mattered, after she realised the lies her people had wrapped themselves in did nothing more than confirm that nothing ever changed, wherever you came from, lives were thrown away, sacrificed for beliefs that in the end amounted to nothing.
People always told themselves their sacrifices meant something- when none had, none ever would.
She would had seen her mind was never fractured-- she had just been repeating the same mistakes.
“It’s not the tree that forsakes the flower,” said Morrigan, “but the flower that forsakes the tree.” The Falleen ignored the phantom queen’s endless commentary. “You can walk the ends of a dying earth,” she continued, “but you have seen the corpses in the tower of Moranill, you know how doomed that path.”
He did not need to be told this, having made the exact same mistakes himself all those years ago.
He was tired. This questioning had gone in circles for months. He had wandered the corners of the galaxy, stood in the footsteps of lords and mountains, artists and farmers, kings and peasants, seeing the same corruption and exploitation of man, woman and child in a thousand different lives, always ending the same way. It needed to end, and he would end it.
The journey, his wanderings, had reached their conclusion.
“If you are so wise,” Xanos began, “I have one question: who are you?”
That brought a change in thee air and the winds stopped blowing.
Not why, but who?
The three Morrigna. The three wise ones. The three faces that had haunted him these many years. For all the names and faces Morrigan may have gone by, he had never asked who she was. The phantom’s eyes lowered from the star shining brightest in the night sky to study Xanos just as intently as he did her.
“A question begets a question,” Morrigan finally answered, echoing words Trevarus had often quoted.
“Who are you, Xanos Zorrixor?”
Zorrixor. He had not gone by that name for years. He had surrendered all rights to it after the deaths of all those whom he had once considered family, the last of which being the younger sister whose life he himself had taken, his birth sister, not the elven-eared Darkovan who had tried to stand in her shadow.
“You play a dangerous game, banshee queen,” Xanos replied slowly, avoiding the question.
When he turned to face her, the woman had covered her face, hiding it behind a black and white mask. Like a skull, the mask stared back at him, unblinking, unspeaking, as if dead. There was something at the same time simultaneously haunting and comforting about it, serene yet fierce, joyful yet sad.
He had seen that mask once before.
Even in his endless dreams and visions, there had only been one place in all the galaxy that bore that resemblance. It was not possible. The phantom wore the mask of Joy, Anger, Serenity, Confusion and Sadness, the priestesses of Runculo, five of the Seven Enigmas whom his Master had spent his entire adult life in search of, never finding the last two, who had always remained just out of grasp, hidden.
But here she was.
The answer to their question had been there all along.
“You know the answer,” the immortal replied.
Lady Death. It was the name Trevarus had always given to Morrigan, but Xanos had never understood its true meaning until that moment. But it all made sense; it finally made sense. The sixth priestess, her place having never been alongside her sisters on the world where all life began, but amongst the lights her sisters sent out into the universe, spending her own time with those sent on their way to die.
A shadow fell across the square and a familiar drone echoed through the ruined streets as the wind returned and clouds darkened the night sky again, leaving only the northern star shining through.
The drone became a screech as it grew louder. An ion engine.
They had found him again.
His hand began to reach for the ebon staff strapped across his back, but the priestess raised a hand to signal him to pause. “If you are ready, you know where you must go,” Death said.
Xanos’s eyes glanced to the heavens and watched the gunships passing over the towers of Thendara city.
Trevarus’s words echoed in the back of his mind once more. We shall not cease from wandering, and the end of all our wandering will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
“I can hold them, but only for a time,” Death answered and the clouds overhead darkened into a storm. A flash of light illuminated the sky, a fork reigning onto one of the ruined towers with a thunderous clap.
The Falleen bowed his head solemnly.
“Runculo,” he said.
Lady Death bowed her own head in acknowledgement.