The Valley of the Dark Lords
A cold wind blew through the forgotten valley. Weeks had passed since the last treasure hunters had abandoned the planet Korriban and once more left the dead to rest in peace. Atop the ruined steps of the tomb of the last lord of the Golden Age of the Sith, the Dark Prophet stood alone, his long greying braid fluttered behind him as his apprentice’s own scarlet locks swept side to side in the alternating gusts of wind as she made her way to the summit of the colossal staircase.
Sildrin had come to try and reason with him, like she did each day, hoping that her Master could be made to understand why she had done what she had in the final days of Muz’s madness, but Xanos was not looking at her, his eyes fixed on the night sky above them. Master and apprentice had scarcely spoken since the end of the Great Jedi War. Her… betrayal, for lack of a better term, had stung her Master and wounded him deeper than anything before. The wound may not have been physical- though she had dealt him those too, and he remained weakened- but not being a physical injury had only made it worse: Sildrin had broken Xanos’s trust, and after all he had done for her, all the sacrifices he had endured, there could be no crime that left a deeper scar.
For to Xanos, trust was paramount. Maybe that made him a hypocrite… but he had learned these exact same lessons for himself all those years earlier back on Lehon. He knew first hand what it meant to betray another, and he felt it lucky either of them had come out alive.
Because who knows what would have happened had Sildrin fallen…
“Master,” greeted Sildrin, although she knew full well that he had already sensed her approach.
For the first time in a very long time, the Falleen lowered his head and turned to see her.
“You know what you did,” Xanos said disappointedly. Even though the pair were not speaking, his silent facade had come to an end with the end of the war. With Muz’s defeat, the shadow that had been cast over the Force had been lifted, and for the first time in many years, the Prophet had finally been able to cast his eyes upon the writhing sea of possible futures… not that they brought him any comfort, for what he could now see had only brought with it new doubts.
“Only what I had to,” answered Sildrin plainly. There was no regret or apology in her voice, but why should there be? The sorceress held firm to her belief that what she had done had been right.
Xanos’s face looked different to her. Gone now was the finely crafted veneer of youth that he had worn since his return on Runculo… that, it seemed, had forever been nothing but an illusion, conjured by the Falleen’s own self-denial of the injuries he had suffered at the hands of his own Master. In the veneer’s place, she now looked upon a tired, weary figure, not as youthful as he had been before, although still by human standards Xanos remained young- Falleen, after all, were born blessed with a far greater lifespan than humans, though Xanos was perhaps proof that such a gift was not as desirable as humanity might believe it.
Still, Sildrin’s eyes traced the lines and cuts that her Master had endured in his long life, not that in years he was any older than her- they had been born in the same year in fact- but where her body had been made young again ten years earlier when she had been cloned, Xanos’s had died and come back… but still he wore the same broken shell, still he carried with him a lifetime of suffering, still he held onto the same tortured memories and broken dreams…
Her Master was looking just as intently back at her, although whether or not he was reflecting on the same things was impossible to tell- knowing him, his mind was likely adrift elsewhere and probably staring right through her, as though she were no more significant than an ant, standing beneath him at the base of the mountain atop which he perched and stared out into the cosmos…
“You think yourself irrelevant,” Xanos said, reading her thoughts- how she hated that, and had long despised no longer feeling like she had anywhere to herself- “but you are wrong, Sildrin.”
Hearing Xanos speak her name sounded… strange. He never used her name. She was always just the apprentice, nothing more… her individuality had been robbed from her. So why had he-
Xanos continued, cutting her thoughts short.
“You do not realise your importance.”
There was a flash of golden light in the Falleen’s eyes and Sildrin suddenly found herself being forced back down the steps of the tomb until she was backed up against a lingering leg of one of the broken statues which had been brought down during the fighting- maybe even by one of the two of them, although the final battle had been so chaotic it was impossible to remember clearly.
Sildrin knew better than to try to fight back- even in his weakened state, she knew her own powers in the Force were but a glimmer next to the brilliance of a man who could himself had risen to Grand Mastery had he chosen to walk a different path.
Xanos stepped toward her and laid a hand on her shoulder.
“You were my rock,” said the Falleen as his hand squeezed, “the anchor to which I could find my way back to whenever I became lost…” His voice trailed off a little, but his eyes remained locked on hers, studying her own face as intently as she was right then studying his.
Sildrin remained quiet for the moment. It was rare for her Master to talk, and even rarer still for him to explain something in words she could understand, rather than buried in cryptic riddles.
“I see the truth now,” continued Xanos, his expression so much softer than normal, as if he had been freed from some heavy burden. And, indeed, freed from a burden was exactly what had happened, as he went on to explain: “My sight is no longer hindered… I finally see beyond the cloak of shadows and lies that has forever wrapped itself around us all.”
Sildrin had heard words like this before from Trevarus, but that had been so long ago, and the Oracle had never gone on to grant her any explanation of what he had meant. The woman looked back into her present Master’s golden eyes and simply said: “Go on. I want to know.”
Xanos did not speak and simply placed his other arm on her other shoulder. The tribal tattoo of a third eye that had been scratched into the skin on his forehead glowed slightly, and the sorceress felt the tug of the Force on her. A second later, she felt as though she were lifting off the broken steps of the tomb and being carried off… but in fact, Xanos had simply taken his arms off her and stepped away. The Falleen then gestured down the steps of the tomb- and finally she saw them:
Dark shapes, shadows, filled the valley. Everywhere Sildrin turned, she saw figures, some humanoid, others less, many were distinctly human or maybe the ancient Sith species that had once called Korriban home, but regardless of their appearance or their origin, what stuck out was the sheer volume of them. Millions of figures of a thousand shapes, everywhere.
In the back of her mind, she could could hear Xanos’s voice.
“I have lived with this for so many years…” the Falleen’s voice whispered, as the black, faceless wraiths swept through the lifeless sands, like an army of unseen ghosts. “You look upon all the different paths that history could have taken… as well as the futures that have yet to be walked…”
The sorceress tried to pick out just one figure at the foot of the staircase, but as it turned to head back down into the valley, the figure split in two, the two mirror images heading off in opposite directions, before splitting again… and again… for a brief moment, she thought she caught the shimmer of her own brilliant red hair… but there were so many of them… so many shapes…
Sildrin’s mind reeled at the images and she turned away to look up at the night sky… at least the stars could be relied on to provide her some comfort. But even that hope proved to be false. Instead of the quiet quilt of stars and constellations that she had come to expect her whole life, she stood and watched as the stars that she had always been able to trust to be where they should be now blinked out one-by-one, vanishing in distant flashes of light. Even if she could not see it with her naked eyes, waves of radiation swept across the sky, as the heavens exploded in a sea of supernovas, like a nuclear war that had broken out between the gods in the heavens above…
She had to shut her eyes. She could barely breathe. It was all too much.
“Now you see the truth,” her Master’s voice echoed again.
When Sildrin opened her eyes, she was back where she had been standing before, Xanos’s hands still resting on her shoulders. Her face was covered in sweat. It had only been a few moments, but it had felt like she had just lived through an eternity in the space of a few seconds…
Sildrin was still trying to catch her breath and get her breathing back under control when her Master continued his explanation. “The Force is awakening…” Xanos began, but this time, even he sounded cautious, “and this dream is coming to an end.”
The woman frowned a little. She had recovered enough to speak a little now. “Dream?”
Xanos took his hands off her- for real this time- and looked down, breaking their eye contact for a moment. “Life, my apprentice. Life. We are the dream… and the Force the dreamer.” He looked back up at her again. “Now you understand what Muz wanted to run away from. The Force is the enemy, and I intend to outlive it.”
“Master…” She was unsure what more to say.
For all these years, Xanos’s purpose had been clear: to outlast the end of everything. His goal had never been one of conquest, but of survival. Deep down, he was… afraid. He feared the end. He feared his life holding no higher meaning than just another of the infinite number of shadows that filled the Force. But for some reason, he and Sildrin found themselves there, at that moment, together. For so long, their lives had been intertwined, their souls entangled. Back when Trevarus had drawn Xanos back from the realm of shadows after the Falleen himself had become lost in the void through the folly he had wrought in his own naivety all those years ago, it had been Sildrin’s blood that Trevarus had used to anchor his apprentice back to the realm of the living…
And now Xanos himself finally understood. He had beheld the same horror which Trevarus had been witness. But then, history always had a way of catching up with you…