Title: Death Eyes Will Not See Author: Mechalich Timeframe: Second Great Galactic War (3642 BBY, SWTOR year 2) Characters: Kae Volend, Darth Gravus Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror? Keywords: Sith, Rakghoul, Alchemy, Sorcery Summary: The Empire returns to Taris and stumbles across unexpected obstacles. Notes: The protagonist of this story, Kae Volend, is not technically an OC. She is the Imperial Taris Bioanalysis Trainer in SWTOR, which gives her a physical character model and a job title, but no other data. This story is somewhat experimental for me, and I'm eager for any comments. Death Eyes Will Not See The shades fascinate me. I have never seen anything even remotely similar, this strange panoply of shifts and overlays contorted around each other, a collage of chaotic overlap and angle. Fragmentary echoes of familiarity flit across my consciousness, bits and pieces calling out the ruins of Korriban or the jungles of Dromund Kaas, but strange and exotic formulations flicker among them, alien and unknown. Height. That must be the cause. It is unnatural, and yet welcoming in some sense. The cool embrace of the dark side, somnambulant and quiescent but deeply rooted, resonates through them as if we are suspended in a wind chime the size of a mountain. One made of bones, of course, the fragmented skeleton of a city, not an animal, forged out of durasteel and ferrocrete. Shattered and pummeled, with all the flesh stripped away, they hang still, defiant in the face of centuries, colonized by greenery, fungi, and stranger blotches, but erect. All of it wondrously weird, a monument to the glories of the Sith on the scale of a world. Not an admirable edifice, no, for this is a hollow legacy to leave behind, and the rising tendrils of nature reveal its pathetic transience, but it is certainly a momentary fascination. Performative destruction upon a canvas of planetary crust and human dominion. So this is Taris. The Empire is here to conduct an equally expansive act of sabotage, to insure ruin remains the appropriate description of this planet and prevent the enemy from constructing a forward outpost poised upon the Hydian at the throat of the home worlds. Some mad optimism upon the part of the Republic saw them set their hands toward the restoration of this world. A laughable prospect, save that by some freakish coincidence they made considerable progress. That frightens me, and I am not alone. Now it falls to us to shatter their works and unwind their efforts. Well, properly it falls to Darth Gravus to do that. Thankfully I do not report to him directly. I have never thought it wise to stand in close proximity to the one who holds your leash. My own mission does not call for any sort of direct violence, it is much simpler. Study the remarkably resilient ecosphere of this world and harvest its riches for the imperial war machine. The usual task, and one reasonable enough. Unfortunately, divided spheres of authority offer no protection when a Darth drafts every available Sith to conduct establishment operations. I have no wish to fight against any Republic soldier dedicated enough to travel to this mausoleum in the shape of a world, but one trades the possibility of violence against the certainty of the same and lives another day. This leaves me stomping through the swamps beyond our central garrison with a troop of soldiers at my back. Gravus wants the perimeter secured, and insists this includes sweeps by Sith. All I know is that this makes for a miserable walk, even on the opposite side of our base from known Republic positions. The soldiers like the swamp less than I, and they find the shifting shadows frightful. They walk with weapons ready, inclined to shoot at anything that moves, dangerous or not. I cannot blame them much, there are certainly many dangerous things here, lairing amid the rubble. Truthfully, this swampland appears curiously imbalanced. No mid-sized creatures at all, aside from a few miserable flying scavengers the food web leaps from tiny surface scramblers to massive megafauna, most of them endearingly aggressive. The air itself positively churns with violent cues, a curious mélange that tingles across the nose and the Force alike. Cool, steady decay envelops all, the power Darth Malak's great ravaging dominant still, but something else resides beneath that, an elder sensation, and somehow one tinged with far greater cruelty. Black-and-red this impression, with streaks of green, jagged and spiked, it comes and goes along the inside edge of the skull at staccato intervals. Stabs of foreign emotion twitching across the edge of awareness, insect hairs upon the skin. I wonder what it signifies. Surely nothing of the Republic or their miserable pawns the Jedi. It lacks their loud flavors, their bold explosions of hostile righteousness. The resonance is different, familiar even, unearthly sensations that trip along the back of the tongue and trigger memories of birthing pools. The spawning grounds of sithspawn and attendant horrors. Curious indeed. The soldiers interrupt my reverie by jamming another of their endless sensor beacons into the thick muck. “Mistress,” the sergeant calls, with acceptable respect at least. “We're getting some odd seismic readings here.” Such a comment is so very typical of military attempts to communicate with Sith. It shelters in jargon and offers possibilities rather than information, as if saying something that says nothing will prevent punishment for saying anything. Frustrating, a biologist requires data, not garbled verbiage. “Plain language sergeant, I assure you wasting my time is the worst offense you could offer.” The threat is crass, but it needs be present. Soldiers cannot be allowed to think themselves equal to Sith. If they come to realize their own importance they inevitably take liberties and become rebellious. It is so tedious and frustrating. It makes the endless attempts to breed the perfect sithspawn seem so reasonable. “Yes mistress,” the soldier managed to bow his head with decent depth by way of apology. “We're detecting a considerable underground tunnel system, and if these reading are accurate and not some kind of calibration error, then, well, there's movement below us.” A spike of fear, raw and bright, flashed off his frame. “A lot of movement.” Many Sith set great stock by moments of revelation, spikes of perfect clarity delivered from immersion in the Force. I do not usually deal in such oracular pronouncements, but with slick muck lapping at my ankles I shudder as the understanding locks in place with crystalline certainty. Perfect understand sweeping out to encompass both this mechanical anomaly and the in-and-out creeping sensation in the Force. All answers condense down to one word. “Rakghouls.” This region is supposed to be clear. We are many kilometers inside a purge zone established to protect the Republic settlers. Creatures do not recolonize with such swiftness, it is unnatural, absurd. But they are sithspawn. I recall this belatedly. Unnatural is the balance of their nature. We were fools to believe the droids' projections, to discount them. “Sergeant, form your men for close support,” the orders fall from my lips unexpectedly, a sudden need to seize the moment, to assert my supremacy, my Sith status. The jerk upright he gave in obedience would have been satisfying if we were not going to run. Instead it is naught but functional. “We are returning to base. Now.” Rare is the soldier who will argue against an order to return to a secure fortress. This one does not hesitate at all. “Form up!” he calls out the commands at a rapid pace. “Escort formation. Return to base, double time.” Two squads wrap around me, sturdy men in red-and-black matching against my own robes. Together we trot as fast as muck and murk will allow, sighted in upon the hulking ziggurat of wreckage Darth Gravus chose as our headquarters. Helmeted heads scan in every direction, seek any possible sign of the unseen creatures beneath our feet. We travel swift, a cascade of sploosh and splash progressing through the gloom. Not fast enough. Loose muck, floating plants, raised root balls, the marsh holds countless means to hide a passage from above to below. Fresh arrivals, the troops do not know the signs, the means to mark them out, nor do I. We simply chart the shortest and fastest route home. Rakghouls know them all. They erupt in unison, a horde vomits forth from the endless shrouds of decay-ravaged substrate, keys in upon naught but slaughter. The first sign is a soldier's scream as needle-sharp teeth tear through his leg plating and extract the calf down to the bone in one bite. Blood fountains and he collapses into the fen. Horrible gurgling warbles resound from twisted throats as the malformed shapes emerge from the earth. Sharp electro-whine rapports answer them as ruby red blaster bolts storm into the air. Armored human forms and gray-green spiked-strangled rakghoul flesh smash together. The battle is joined. With a snap-hiss my lightsaber blossoms, a wound amid the shadows. In my hand and ready without conscious thought, primacy of paranoid practice instilled by ruthless academy overseers. A pale vermilion limb, elongate, terminating in a three-pronged hand with a viciously curled and cutting claw appended to each tip, reaches through the perimeter of men and blasters. One quick flick of the wrist suffices to hack it apart. More incursions follow. I spin and shuffle, track each misshapen mutant through sight and with senses unseen. Lightsaber cleaves through flesh, smooth and easy, almost casual, again and again. Bent and broken bits of life fall to the ground. The air saturates with the twin scents of burnt tissue and shed blood; the nauseating mixture all Sith know well. Amid that violent maelstrom of combat I fall into the riot of emotions; the fear and rage of the soldiers, the desperate terror imparted by the survival instinct. My own indignant aggravation at this monstrous assault beats in time alongside it. Human emotions, known, the signs of battle and struggle all Sith long ferment within and without. An old lover come to visit again, not entirely welcome, but neither entirely regretted. Across the narrow boundary of the kill zone it is different. Rakghouls fight without fear. That much is unsurprising in sithspawn. The absence of anger is. No mere deviation, this is an utterly shock to nearly freeze me in place. Their hideous aggression contains not the slightest twitch of rage or the least measure of hatred. Nothing so complex drives them, nothing so human. They are far too base for that, I discover, to my horror. All they do follows a supremely primal need. Hunger. This, and this alone, empowers a rampage completely without restraint. And what a hunger it is. Not some base gluttony, not a desire to gorge themselves until they burst, no. This hunger drives them not to consume, but to infect, to spread, to convert all other things until they become part of their immensity. A masterpiece, I see this truth in that moment, caught between saber swings, an achievement unequaled. The rakghouls are not the sithspawn, no. These monsters of tooth and claw are merely appendages, projections formed from flesh controlled by a greater entity beneath. It is not the beasts that are the craft, but the plague itself, a mystical strand of such depths I can barely brush the bottom in my basest nightmares. Amazing, astounding, a disease spliced into the flow of the Force itself. Such a pity it is unwilling to serve others. I cleave the skull of a hulking, simian-framed rakghoul nearly two meters in height, and as it falls silence suddenly smothers us. Black-armored troopers, dripping gore and clenching smoking blasters in their hands, form a tight circle about me. Gray, green, and red bodies, blackened by cuts and holes, carpet the ground. The remains of many soldiers, their armor shattered and painted red beneath a coat of blood, lie strewn among the swarm. A quick count suffices to record the loss of nearly half the unit. Most regrettable, soldiers represent valuable assets, and we are here to fight the Republic, not this ancient abomination. “Sergeant, we must keep moving,” the command slips free with unexpected ease. I've no love for soldiering, but the presence of that wretched undercurrent in the Force spurs me to unusual decisiveness. “They are not done. We must return to base now, before they strike again.” The garrison is well fortified, backed by heavy guns. It can withstand any assault from this swarm. “Mistress,” briefly he began to protest. “Many of my men are wounded. We can't proceed at speed. We should find a fortified point and call for extraction.” It is a soldier's answer, and perhaps, at another time, it might even be the right one. As matters stand, I regret even the time it takes to override such pleas. The enemy closes from below with each word. “Sergeant, do you truly think Darth Gravus will spare reinforcements to rescue men wounded in battle with rakghouls?” I do not wait for an answer, his helmet's shift indicates sufficient supplication. “We move double-time. The wounded shall have to scatter and find their own way.” A death sentence that order, but many are surely already lost. Those claws and teeth do worse than rend flesh and break bone. All here know the nature of this plague. Proper treatment, used aggressively, can save one from that fate, but limits remain. The soldiers are not fools, they understand doom. “Form up,” the sergeant calls, voice taught and body ramrod straight. Misery radiates through his battered armor, but the march resumes. All try to keep up at the start, many founder. Within two minutes only six others remain beside me, a pitiable command for any Sith, even one of my modest ranking. Surely not enough to stand against the next attack. Our only hope is to outrun, to smash aside whatever charges in front. As we step across the one kilometer mark to Toxic Lake Garrison, a row of beacons on either side, they pour out of the tunnels once more. “Charge!” the sergeant understands our need. “Push through!” I heed these words. Faster than the others, unburdened by armor and aided by the Force, I rush into the lead. The crimson of my saber sweeps the legs free of two smaller monsters and pierces the chest of a good-sized specimen, opens the briefest of windows. Blaster bolts follow, the air on both sides sizzles and snaps, widening the passage. Four men run through before tearing claws and ravaging teeth subsume the rest beneath their writhing blur. We dash onward, full sprint now, and outpace most of the loping rakghouls. Only one, a huge pinkish-red monstrosity with an over-sized skull and arms thick as pillars, rumbles swiftly enough to block our passage. Soldiers fire desperately, but those hulking limbs rise up and though rigid skin boils and blisters only superficial scoring marks the beast. The rakghoul rears then, and leaps. Its vault is astounding, enough to freeze us in place as we observe the parabolic passage. An unlucky private marks the termination of that arc. Wild shots flare into the air as clawed feet tear the skull out of the head. This massive monster's arms are longer than I am tall, a reach advantage I do not trust my modest duelist skills to overcome, but a lightsaber is not the only weapon of a Sith, nor the greatest. The well of dark power is always there within, cold and still, ready to surge when the demand cries out in the bitter depths. The need to survive, the need to reverse my indignity and hurt this wretched creation draw it forth now. A slight flicker of motion is all it takes to wrap the dark affliction about the beast. Tendrils of unseen entropy conduct the rest. Rip and tear at flesh, sunder and pop tissue, inflicting countless tiny wounds with each heartbeat. Not enough to stop this thing, too powerful a beast, and fortified by the legacy of the Sith Alchemy that spawned its progenitors, but enough to summon weakness, to stiffen with pain. Hesitation sufficient to allow the soldiers a moment to inhale, and to aim. Each man's shots strike true, but the sergeant's three round burst lances across the paired vertical nostril slits in the center of the deformed face. The miserable thing thrashes about for a full breath, but it is dead before it falls. We do not wait to see its spasms cease, nor cheer. We run. Close now, so very close to safety, but one final obstacle imposes itself; a shift in the terrain. Just outside the perimeter of the garrison, beyond the single elevated causeway across the lake, piled rubble reclaimed by the growth of centuries forms a modest ridge. Reach its crest and the gun turrets on the end of the path will cover us. Rakghouls swarm with all the mindlessness of insects fleeing flame, but the thing that guides them possesses a malevolent cunning to match any Sith. A last line of gray-fleshed forms meet us just below the top, at the steepest point on the slope. They jump down from the height, swift-clawed missiles spread-eagled in their lunge. Soldier fire desperately, but I pay them no mind. Coordination is long lost now, all must fight and die alone. Two rakghouls descend upon me, man-sized forms full of wiry sinew and compact muscle. My blade rises to the high guard, the first counter a descending strike run through the grasping claw and past to the cleave the lumpen skull. Half-turning, I pivot on my back foot and reverse the saber into a rising cross-slash to meet the second. A perfectly timed blow, it slices the beast in twain at the hips. A moment of triumph, that severing. A moment endlessly seared into memory. Dead in midair, the rakghoul's hatred reaches beyond evolution, beyond individuality, beyond sense. Antipathy animates the torso even as it flies free. The left arm bends, crosses, and plunges down. My saber, drawn past on the follow-through, cannot halt the blow. Claws pierce into the center of my face. Pain explodes into darkness. Excruciating hideous agony. Bending, tearing, ripping. Something catches, breaks, sweeps away, gone into oblivion. Only the horrid embrace, warm and metallic, of blood remains. Breath vanishes and my body falls, something hits me hard. All feeling goes numb. Thoughts freeze. Naught but blackness remains before me, and the throbbing drum of agony pulses inside. All things incomprehensible. Lost there, in the catches between heartbeats, scrambles past sensation. Only the alien jaggedness of the rakghoul plague remains, last piece of company. A final companion who reaches out in this moment of extremis, the promise behind his eyeless smile portends not death, but a far worse obliteration. There is only passion. My chains are broken. Abbreviated by pain and need, but one can hardly be a Sith without a desire to skip a few steps before the end descends. Passion. So simple. So present. So perfectly ready when you lie face to face in the dark with the monster that ripped out your eyes! Fury awakes, the light-less fires of nameless rage directed at this thing without identity, this faceless chord of alchemy that seeks to encompass you, subsume you, assimilate you. But you are one trained in the mastery of life. You are Sith. You are Kae Volend. And this will not have you. If you wish to embrace me, rakghouls, a smile spills over lips redolent with copper-scented crimson, I shall return the gesture. Clarity forges through the pressure of pain. I know myself then, diamond sure. Sinking into the churned mud of ruined Taris, among dying warriors and feasting monsters, mourning the complete destruction of my eyes, I see every piece of the dark wretchedness of my being. No eyes necessary to see the shades of the Force; absent light the eyeless cannot hide. I see them then, look upon the nature of the power that shapes them, the parasitic presence entwining the captive life force within their ragged frames. I know them in that endless shadow, and I know too mine own damage, the onrush of death as one by one the systems of the body fail and cease. I breathe in, taste the mixture of rakghoul blood and my own across my tongue hot and cold. Doom comes for us all, so I let them share in it. Death pulses down upon them, a field of frigid power rips away from beyond the stars through pure hatred. It infects these disease-bred monstrosities and sunders ruined flesh till black ooze sloughs from their bodies in streams and heaps. They quiver and twitch in the mud. Voiceless cries collapse in ruined throats as I melt them. Others, further away, feel the lash of cell-bursting afflictions and blood-boiling clouds of blighted dark. Powers I have always known, but long lost to dormancy, to hesitation. All unleashed now in the culminating rage of blind knowing. As they writhe and perish I feel little bits, fragments and shards, jar loose and scatter along the path back to rejoin the heart, the Force. With unseen tendrils of power, appendages of sprouting will, I grasp some portion of these and draw them down into myself. And I am restored. Wounds close, blood staunches, and strength enables muscles to clench and bones to move. I rise up again and filth falls free from my flesh even as I send death to every jagged impression about me spotting in the Force. Once more I am whole and can advance. Only the dead escort me now. The remainder of the swarm turns in flight, overcome for the present, though the true presence of the plague retreats but little. On Taris its might stands unchallenged, and is never far. My eyes do not return to me in that rush of stolen life, nor do the claw marks fade. Of course not, that is not the nature of the dark side. I find I do not regret it at all. I do not regret the sergeant's death either, caught in my field of death rather than shattered by rakghoul claws. It was not his fate to survive this day. I walk down to the pickets alone. I need no healer, no kolto, prior to facing Darth Gravus' debriefing. His questions are few, his manner detached. I think he is surprised by me. Good. Uncertainty is my ally against him, and the preservation of my own agenda. Duties to the Empire remain, and I shall fulfill them, but my own research holds a far more pressing pattern now. The cybernetic eyes though, those are welcome. For all its limits, the physical sight yet relays essential data. A most appropriate compromise. Two ways of seeing are surely superior to one. Notes Kae’s lightsaber is noted as red in her character data. Likewise, her armor pieces clearly establish her as an inquisitor type Sith rather than a warrior type. As a trainer character she has no set ability list, but the powers she displays in this story are SWTOR inquisitor powers drawn from the base abilities and the madness tree, specifically Affliction, Creeping Terror, Crushing Darkness, and Death Field, all damage-over-time abilities. Her ability to regain life by using these abilities is a display of the Parasitism passive ability.