Words and Violence In every society, there is a class of beings who consider themselves above the affairs of the rest, beyond politics and aloof from the fickle concerns of the present moment. In their view, wars are like the winds or tides: something to be accounted for and made use of where possible, but not worthy of partisanship or any kind of improper excitement. They pride themselves on their calm, their long view and their friendships across the shifting lines of politics, blithely ignoring the fact that they can only hold these lofty views thanks to their extreme riches and influence. But there were moments, Ambassador Sa-Di thought as he surveyed his guests, when even those people got nervous. The eight beings gathered around the dinner table in his skyhook commanded a good part of the Galaxy’s resources - and yet, in a way, they were all refugees, expats, homeless and uncertain about the future. He let the moment linger, basking in the power he held over them. On the far side of the table, Lady Ucce was fingering her headdress as she told the man next to her about the revolt the Rebels had incited on her homeworld of Herdessa. “It is a minor thing,” she assured him, “as thankfully my business has been interplanetary for decades, and the men they executed on Herdessa were mere figureheads, designed to draw attention. But even so, one’s home is still one’s home, would you not say?” Gerald Weizel, her neighbor at the table, inclined his head in sympathy. He too had recently been ousted from his post when the Rebels had taken over Chandrila; now he called himself a governor-in-exile, though in reality he had nothing to do. Across from him, Lady Aryn Dro Thul of Alderaan looked a little sour at the remark, but she said nothing. The Baroness Marchia of Virgillia 7 was too busy dissecting the fish on her plate to comment, while Moff Jamson Caglio merely smiled as serenely as he always did. It fell to little Ederlathh Pallopides, the nine-year-old ward of Dame Vita Veruna, to voice what they were all thinking. “I don’t want to leave,” she said. “Oh poor darling,” Lady Ucce reassured her across the table, “but it is only for a short while, until things stabilize.” Her tone was sweet and sympathetic; on Herdessa, she had been called “Lady Bountiful” by the populace, for the gifts she bestowed on the families whose children she sold into slavery. Dame Veruna shot her a glance. “What did we talk about, Edi?” she said. “There is no use complaining over happenstance. We move through the world…” “...with dignity,” the girl finished her sentence, pouting. “Will you be going back to Naboo?” Aryn Dro Thul inquired. “One of its moons, in fact,” Vita Veruna said. “For the time being.” “But Narmle is boring!” Ederlathh complained. “Edi, you haven’t been there since you were four.” Moff Caglio leaned across the table and touched Dame Veruna’s arm. “My offer stands,” he said conspiratorially. “Should the need arise.” Days ago, when the Supreme Prophet’s declaration of war had shaken the Coruscant elites out of their placidity, Caglio had formally offered to shelter any of the nobles and exiles in Sa-Di’s circle on nearby Corulag, which was still firmly in the hands of the Empire. Gerald Weizel and the Baroness Marchia had already accepted, and the others were expected to make a decision in the course of this event. Smiling, Ambassador Sa-Di raised his glass. Through the transparent roof, Coruscant looked like an immense glittering bauble, veined with lights and studded with skyscrapers piercing down from the cityscape towards them. He had set the gravity on his skyhook such that the planet seemed to hang above their heads, while they themselves would appear to be dining with their feet towards the sky to an observer on the surface. It made for a much more inspiring view, Sa-Di thought, than merely sitting on top of the city and staring out into the emptiness of space. “As it happens,” he said, instantly drawing the attention of everyone around the table, “there will be no need for any of us to leave this lovely planet - not anytime soon, in any case.” Surprised murmurs sprung up around the table, with Aryn Dro Thul being the notable exception. “I was wondering when you were going to get around to that,” she said. “What do you mean, no need?” Weizel asked. “Did Admiral Kermen finally come through with that relief force Isard begged him for?” Sa-Di shook his head. “How did you know, Lady Dro?” he asked instead of an answer. “Oh, one hears things.” Aryn Dro Thul shrugged. “Fleet movements along the Rimma, but towards the Outer Rim rather than Corewards now. Interdictors at Bortras." "So it seems Delvardus came to his senses," Moff Caglio said, leaning back in his chair. "Interesting." "But what about Prentioch? Drommel? Zsinj?" Apparently Gerald Weizel had been listening to the military rumor mill more than was healthy. Caglio tsk-tsked at his loss of composure. "Zsinj would not," he said. "Nor will anyone else attack Coruscant," Sa-Di truncated the debate, "because the instigator of this insanity is dead." A moment of stunned silence ensued, once again broken by young Ederlathh. "Who?" "Kadann," Sa-Di said, "who called himself the Supreme Prophet of the Dark Side." "No one of any consequence, dear," Vita Veruna assured her ward. "A madman." "How do you know?" Aryn Dro Thul asked. She was frowning, and her gaze flicked to the hooded man who stood off to the side of the room. Sa-Di noticed and graced her with a smile. Good guess, but no. "In a few hours everyone will know," he said. "I thought you might appreciate being among the first." "Does that mean we can stay?" Ederlathh Pallopides asked excitedly. "We can still live in the Palace?" "I will make inquiries, dear. But if this is true…" “If it is,” Caglio cautioned. “We have thought him dead before.” “Oh, I assure you it is.” Sa-Di winked at Aryn Dro Thul, well aware that he had not answered her question. “It appears we will not have to impose on your hospitality after all.” “Good,” the Baroness Marchia said, wiping her mouth. “No offense, Moff, but Corulag is too close to Chandrila for my tastes anyway. No offense either, Governor-in-exile.” “Can you make your inquiries now?” the girl asked, pulling at her guardian’s sleeve. “Please. I want to know!” Dame Vita Veruna sighed and excused herself. Sa-Di looked on as the excitement and speculation among his guests ran its course, adding no further information. It was such a small secret, he thought, and yet it set them all abuzz. More amusingly still, the deeper secrets -- such as the fact there had been two Kadanns, one of them fake, or the death of Lord Shadowspawn at Mindor -- would have meant nothing to them even if he had spilled them, as none of them were prone to the dark machinations going on behind the scenes. Before long, as was customary in these circles, the talk turned away from politics and towards matters of culture and business. Lady Ucce made Aryn Dro Thul admit that her shipping company, Bornaryn Trading, had profited from the liquidation of Xizor Transport Systems and its subsidiaries; Caglio obliquely referred to criminal elements blossoming in the wake of related events, goading Weizel into launching a diatribe against the crime lord Tyber Zann -- specifically, against his affectation of a cultured air when he was no more than a thug. At that, Sa-Di’s gaze strayed to the hooded man waiting in the corner again. The usual anger emanated from him, mingled with growing impatience; but he kept every emotion off his scarred face and kept his posture with military discipline. Ederlathh Pallopides, meanwhile, had climbed off her seat and was strolling around the room, waiting for her guardian to return. Sa-Di raised an eyebrow when she walked up to the hooded man, completely unafraid even though he towered over her by at least twice her size. “You don’t look happy,” she said. Baddon Fass gave her a look that would have sent hardened criminals scurrying away; but the girl only stepped closer and rose on her toes as if to inspect his face. “In fact, you look like you would rather kill someone.” “Edi!” Vita Veruna called, hurrying back in from the corridor. “What did I tell you about harassing the help!” *** Baddon Fass was boiling inwardly. By the time all the guests had finally left, his intestines felt like an overcooked chunk of meat and his teeth were hurting from clenching them too hard. “Accarrgm?” his host asked when he returned from seeing Dame Veruna and the brat to their rooms. He held out a bottle that shone with a soft blue light. “From Kashyyyk. Burns like lava.” Baddon Fass forced his lips open. “I was promised carnage,” he growled. “And instruction.” “This was not instructive?” Sa-Di asked, indicating the table that was being cleared by floating service droids. Shadows moved over the Darksider’s lightning-scarred face as he ruminated on how to express his disgust. In the end he simply said, “Words.” “Just so.” Sa-Di looked up at the planet hanging above their heads. “And you would rather kill someone?” Again Baddon Fass hesitated. He was eager, but not stupid. “I am here because Coruscant was going to be attacked. I came to stand upon a battlefield.” “And now you wonder what you are still doing here.” Baddon Fass nodded grimly. His master, the Emperor, had sent him out from Byss to seek out death, and to study under his trusted friend Sa-Di. But so far Fass had learned nothing that seemed in any way relevant to his service, and the only deaths nearby had been from a speeder crash that he had engineered while experimenting with the powers Palpatine had bestowed on him. “Learning,” Sa-Di said. “And killing, I suppose. Shall we go?” Baddon Fass perked up. “Where?” Baring his teeth in a smile, Sa-Di raised his hand. “Down,” he said. *** They took an open-topped airspeeder from the skyhook's garage; Sa-Di insisted Baddon Fass take the controls. "Weapons?" Fass asked before they departed. "Do you need weapons to kill?" Baddon Fass bared his teeth. "No." The garage, at least, was the right way up. Outside the air was thin and cool, and the faint shimmer of the orbital shields appeared closer than the planet below. Weather control was keeping the night free of clouds or storms, so their descent was gentle and undisturbed. They passed transportation skylanes packed with drone ships that served the logistical needs of the city. Fass considered sending some of them crashing into the cityscape below. He had been a demolition expert before the Emperor had made him what he was now, so he could estimate the ballistic force with which the trucks would shear through multiple densely inhabited levels; but next to him, the Ambassador shook his head. "Down," he said gently. Baddon Fass took the hovercar down. The tallest skyscraper in their vicinity was topped by transparisteel domes filled to the bursting with greenery; it vibrated with lifeforms of all sizes, a verdant island in a sea of durasteel. "The Skydome Botanical Gardens," the Ambassador explained. "Mostly nonsentients; the guests have been cleared out for a reception later tonight. Not worth the effort." Fass had been pondering what it would take to bring the place down, but he conceded the point. "Down?" "Down." An almost flat expanse of rooftops stretched underneath them, a result of municipal tax regulations that made building above a certain height significantly more expensive. At Sa-Di's prompting, Fass steered the hovercar into a gap between two blocks. What had looked like a single line of light from up above turned out to be a chasm more than twenty meters wide, with traffic lines patrolled by floating signal droids. The building faces were a jumble of windows, balconies, walkways, open-air restaurants, shop windows and advertisement screens; and people were milling around everywhere, sentients of more different species than Fass had seen in all his years of military service. It would be the easiest thing to steer the vehicle into one of the most crowded establishments here, bail out before it hit and revel in the shock of sudden death. But this time Fass did not even have to look at his host to know he was supposed to go on. Sa-Di had something specific in mind, and it would take them into the depths of the ecumenopolis. They joined the downwards line, trudging between a delivery truck and a floating platform carrying a group of gaudily dressed aliens. "What are those?" Fass asked the Ambassador. "Those hammerheads? They're everywhere." "Ithorians," Sa-Di explained. "Their planet's ruling class is fanatically ecopreservational - that is, on Ithor they can't do anything that might endanger another lifeform, insects and plants included. So the more reasonable of them emigrate to other planets - preferably to those that are the antithesis of their oppressively bucolic home." Baddon Fass understood maybe half of what Sa-Di was saying, but he did not complain. Instead he watched the levels go by, getting progressively darker and more forbidding on the outside - but, absurdly, packed with even more people. "Living topside is expensive," Sa-Di said. "The cheaper the lodgings, the more people will cram into it. And the poorer they are, the more they breed. Entire clans - entire races - live and die in the shadows here, stacked on top of each other, without ever seeing the sun." "No one will care if they are killed," Fass surmised. "No. - Further down." The chasm narrowed as they descended; the robots and traffic signs disappeared after a few dozen levels, as did the holo posters and lighted storefronts. There were much fewer flying vehicles around them as well; instead the walkways multiplied, some of them crossing from one building face to the other at seemingly random angles, some so wide they blocked most of the airspace, with bustling street markets or tiny shantytowns on them. Once they passed a huge transparisteel pane that covered one side of the chasm for about fifty levels; behind it, an assortment of strange creatures swam in softly illuminated water. "The Calocour Ocean," Sa-Di said. "Less charmingly called the Dishwater Aquarium by some. Home to uncountable aquatic and amphibian species, including a few ambassadorial colleagues of mine. As the old propaganda posters said, there is a place on Coruscant for everyone." Baddon Fass carefully navigated the airspeeder past an increasing number of obstacles, including construction scaffolding, a ferocious brawl between members of a winged species battling it out in midair, and at one point a wall that had partly collapsed and was leaning against the other side. Hawk-bats were hanging from it, waking when they passed and screeching after them until Sa-Di silenced their cries with a subtle motion of his hand. Finally they could go no farther. Fass set the speeder down on the most horizontal surface he could find, a piece of roof where something big seemed to have been dragged away recently, and they debarked. Fass expected the Ambassador to secure the vehicle in some way, perhaps with a stunner net to repel thieves, but Sa-Di waved it off. "Leave it. We will not be returning this way." They followed a narrow track that creatures of undetermined species had trampled into the debris on the roof. As soon as they entered the superstructure, they were accosted by a gang of diminutive beings who were busy walling off a section of this floor with panes of scrap metal. One of them jabbed a long green finger into Fass's abdomen, but Sa-Di signaled him to keep his peace. "They're saying this is spider territory," he translated the aliens' gibberish. "Literal spiders, apparently, taking over this level." He held out a hand and the aliens fell silent, slightly swaying back and forth with a confused look on their faces. "Down here," he said then, pointing to a hatch in the floor. They climbed down a ladder that passed through a dozen gloomy levels, most of them occupied by members of the same small species engaged in cooking, sleeping, tinkering, debating or trading. In between, there were infrastructure levels whose nonfunctional ducts were populated by rodents. When the ladder ended, Sa-Di put one hand on the grimy wall and then found them a gap they could squeeze through into a cavernous chamber that reminded Baddon Fass of the Emperor's Citadel at Byss, except for the rubble and bones on the floor. A horde of pale, eyeless humanoids with flabby skin made to attack them, but Sa-Di made them freeze with a gesture, then step aside so they could follow their path to its origin. It was a hollowed-out industrial facility where their maggot-like children grew and played in massive duraplast molds, occasionally slinging projectiles at the swarms of moths that occupied the higher reaches of the structure. Multiple corridors led away from that nest; the on Sa-Di chose brought them to a ledge overlooking what had once been a wide plaza, before the city had grown over it and turned it into a cave. "Look," Sa-Di said, indicating the mess of girders and scaffolds overhead. "There was sky once. Then they built a highway over it, which collapsed, was propped up, and then served as the foundation for a new building. That one is rubble now as well, built over a hundred times. Do you think anyone up there knows that this cave, this empty space exists down here?" "No," Baddon Fass growled. More words. When were they going to get to the killing? There was plenty of life down here too, he saw: reptiloid creatures gathered around cooking fires at the bottom of the plaza, bugs scurrying around the walkways sniffing at the smoke, luminous molds growing from every fissure. But how, he wondered, was any of this more worthy of murder than the crowds in the bars up top? "And yet," the Ambassador continued, "all of their homes, their skyscrapers and esplanades rest on this place, and others like it. Even the tallest, most audacious towers up there have no real foundation, no feet planted into the rock of the planet. They rest on chaos; they rely on the fact that if one wall crumbles under their added weight, there will be hundreds more nearby that will hold. None of the architects or builders know exactly where the pressure goes; they simply assume as a general rule that it will spread out over enough different pillars, walls, arches and heaps of rubble to support their construction." Reluctantly, Baddon Fass looked at the girders above the plaza with a new appreciation. How many megatons of brick, steel, glass, plastics and living beings rested on any one of them? "Yes," Sa-Di said and ran his fingertips along a pillar beside him. "Place your hand here and feel the lines of force. Pure, base physical force; coarse matter that tends inexorably toward the core of the planet. Come, try." Baddon Fass obeyed, understanding dawning inside him. The pillar was one of many supporting this side of the building; but as soon as he touched it, Fass knew that there was a lot more resting on it than just the next few floors and the roof. It was an H-shaped metal beam, and though it looked perfectly straight where they could see it, Fass noticed that it was bent ever so slightly along its entire length, almost but not quite to the breaking point. "If I pull here," Fass said, "will it all come crashing down on us?" "Try," the Ambassador said with a smile. "But won't we die?" Looking up, Fass tried to estimate how many levels were above them. Eight hundred? A thousand? More? "Not according to my calculations," Sa-Di said, and seeing Fass's incredulous glare, he added: "The chaos is my domain, you see." Baddon Fass hesitated. Emperor Palpatine had made him powerful beyond his wildest dreams; he had sent him to seek out death, and told him to learn from this ambassador. Sa-Di still seemed like a windbag, but Fass saw no reason why he should want to kill him - or himself, for that matter. And despite his new powers, he was still a soldier at heart; the chain of command was in his bones. So he pulled. Nothing happened. The pillar did not move; it was held in place by incredible forces between the city above and the rocks below. "Use your anger," Sa-Di said. "I'm not angry." "This thing just defeated you. A dumb piece of ore, holding its own against the mighty Baddon Fass." Fass creased his scarred forehead. He hooked both hands into the beam and let the power grow inside him. If he had one personal strength, it was grim persistence, an unwillingness to give up or back down. That's what had gotten him through the grueling tryouts for the Imperial Army, and it was what had let him overcome the agony of the Emperor's Force lightning which had killed his comrades. There was no way he would let a pillar get the better of him now. With all his body, all his mind, all his defiance, he pulled again. *** A sharp crack sounded through the plaza, louder than a projectile discharge, in fact louder than anything Sneech had ever heard. His packmates all jumped up from their places around the fire, grabbing clubs, bricks or burning roots to defend themselves. At the next fire over, one of the Softclaws was screaming. Armored rats scurried for cover underfoot, some getting crushed when the Blackscales stampeded toward their motte. In all the chaos, Sneech was the only one who looked up rather than around for the origin of the sound. A cloud of panicked hawk-bats blocked his sight for a moment; then they dispersed, and he could see the roof. Sneech knew the roof. Many times, while his packmates played their status games, he had lain back and stared at it, imagining what must lie behind this jungle of girders and fissured duraplast plates. Something was different about it. There was a little more room between these two girders; and that plate seemed to be creeping sideways, bending as it moved… "Look out!" he yelled at his packmates, but it was too late. The last thing he noticed was two bipedal figures standing on one of the top galleries, in Cthon territory, before half of a city block crashed through the roof and squashed him flat. *** "I win!" Thth squealed. The bone splinter she had lobbed up towards the roof of the Cthon nursery using her skin sling had gone lower than she wanted, but the effect was incredible. All the moths were in an uproar, swarming away from the ceiling and down the walls, looking for exits. Thth could not see them, of course, but the air currents brushing the sensitive folds of her skin told the story of her triumph. The next sound made no sense, however. It seemed to come from everywhere at once and was too strong, too condensed for her to tell her anything about what was happening. That the entire building was coming apart in the middle, cut in two by unprecedented shearing forces, was so far beyond her experience of the world that she still thought she had won the slinging game when she was bisected by the roof. *** Yedde wedged the plate into the final gap. "This should hold," he said. "The spiders are tough but not that strong." "You wish," Yalma said. His left ear had fallen off thanks to a spider bite a week ago. Yanoddle gave the wall a kick. "Looks good to me." The floor bucked, and the wall collapsed. "Yanoddle!" Yedde groaned, drawing his net gun to fend off the nearest spiders. "Now you ruined it!" Suddenly, for some reason, he was sliding forward, straight into spider territory, accompanied by pieces of their wall. The whole level had tipped, he realized, and was still tipping further. Yalma was falling along with him, screeching; where Yanoddle had gone, he had no clue. Not that it mattered, Yedde figured with the sort of calm normally expected only from the revered elders of his species. In a very short while he would be dead - either from spider bites or from being crushed between the falling debris and whatever first got in their way. Neither of that happened, however. Instead, in a final surprise, he drowned. *** The Calocour Ocean contained over a trillion cubic meters of water, with regions of different salinity separated by filter membranes or plasteel barrages. It housed just over eighty billion registered sentients and perhaps twice that number of unregistered ones, plus several complete marine ecosystems, from krill to kraken, to support them. A container of such size will always have some leakage. Engineers both within and without constantly fixed small cracks and replenished the water volume; in some places, the inhabitants and wildlife of the levels below the Ocean actually depended on the moisture seeping out of microscopic ruptures. But on the whole, the saltwater sector of Coruscant had persisted with remarkable stability for hundreds of years. Until now. The westernmost part of the Ocean rested on the ruins of a district that had been razed almost a millennium ago. The tremors of the collapsing structures further below caused the compressed rubble to settle just a little more - barely a few meters at the outermost end. But with thousands of tons of water pressing down, that small difference increased the tension on the weakest part of the wall plates so much that a previously irrelevant crack widened enough for water to shoot out. The pressure of that jet, in turn, was such that it cut through every bit of stone in its way within seconds, further weakening every bit of substrate which it touched. What folllowed was not so much a chain reaction as a simultaneous failure of a thousand seams at once. Nearly all of the Calocour Ocean's contents drained into the underlevels in the space of less than an hour, washing away entire city blocks, jumpstarting avalanches of brick, junk and bodies, and drowning millions of beings while leaving its aquatic former residents to die gasping in the empty shell of their refuge. *** Tycho Celchu sat on the terrace of the Yellow Lamp, the premier tourist café this side of the government district. With his hair dyed a dirty brown and a cup of cheap Elba beer in front of him, he looked so aggressively mediocre that no less than three scam artists had already tried to make a move on him this evening. Next mission, he thought, I'm going with something more threatening. A Yinchorri bodysuit, maybe. He looked over the railing into the canyon the terrace overlooked. Everything seemed as busy as usual; if the continued fragmentation of the Empire had any repercussions here in its heart, the city itself showed no sign of it. Every place he had been to since stashing his stolen TIE Fighter in a black-market mechanic's hangar half a week ago exuded the same mixture of ambition, self-assuredness and corruption Tycho remembered from Palpatine's time. To the Coruscanti, it seemed, the Empire's reign felt eternal and unquestionably secure. As if on cue, the cup of Elba in front of him rattled as a tremor ran through the building. A few of the beings around him stopped their conversations to look around, but then resumed them when nothing more happened. Interesting, Tycho thought. Maybe there is more going on down there than it seems? On his next mission, he resolved as the first sirens sounded from the depths, he would have to go deeper. *** "With the dissension these self-proclaimed Prophets spread a thing of the past," Grand Admiral Makati told the holocams as well as the dignitaries Isard had brought together in the Skydome Botanical Gardens to celebrate his return, "I am honored to play my part in ushering in a new age of stability and unity of our glorious Empire!" Oh you will play your part just fine, Ysanne Isard thought, watching him from offstage. That of the designated target, that is. Despite her best efforts, the Prophets - both fake and real - still had quite a few friends in the Empire; this show, with Makati taking credit for killing them, was designed to direct their attentions towards him and, more importantly, away from Isard. She cast a sideways glance at Mahd Windcaller, media mogul and onetime initiate of the Prophets' own Church of the Dark Side. There were murderous plans brewing behind that weathered face, Isard was sure of it. That's another Grand Admiral Grand Admiral as good as gone. The way Palpatine's twelve Grand Admirals cut through the Navy's regular command structure had long been an obstacle to her control. With them gone, she could finally set the next stage of her plans in motion… The thought sent a shudder through her - or was it the thought? For a moment it almost seemed as if the tower she was standing on had vibrated - but of course that was nonsense. This was Imperial City; every skyscraper here was outfitted with repulsor compensators and inertial buffers. They were as safe as they could ever be. Or she was, in any case, Ysanne Isard thought, grinning up at the Grand Admiral's resplendent uniform. Those who stood in her path, not so much. *** In the guest wing of Sa-Di's skyhook, Ederlathh Pallopides was fast asleep. Like most nights, she dreamed of the Palace: of running through secret passages behind the walls, sometimes alone, sometimes with Irek; of discovering hidden places, spying on clandestine and confusing meetings, hiding from the guards, slipping from Quest's large brutal hands at the last moment before he could crush her. As in most of her dreams, she came up in the Throne Room after a long and desperate crawl through a dark tunnel; but this time, when she stuck her head up through the floor grille in front of the throne, there was someone in her way. He had his back to her, with his hood raised; for a moment she thought it might be the servant she had annoyed that evening, the one with the scarred and angry face, come to kill her. But when he turned around, her mind reeled between recognition and confusion. It was Him. The Emperor. He was alive - but he was younger, stronger, taller, with a spotted face almost like a teenager. There was no trace of the tremors downside to be felt in the skyhook, but Ederlathh's bed trembled all the same. *** "Great," Baddon Fass said. First he had almost choked on dust. Then a steel pane had narrowly missed him, shaving off the front edge of the balcony he and Sa-Di were standing on. Then the water had washed the dust away, only to fill the plaza and rise through the cavern until it sloshed around their ankles. Bodies and dirt drifted on the surface, forming an almost solid layer. "So how do we get out of here again?" Ambassador Sa-Di stood ensconced in a Force bubble, his clothes immaculate from head to toe. "That depends," he said. "Do you feel strong?" Baddon Fass paused to consider that. He had been so focused on the cataclysmic events around him that he barely noticed how he felt. But there it was, just as his master had promised: a richness in the Dark Side, a layer of screaming energy so close to the surface of the world he had only to reach out with his mind to touch it. "Yes," he said. Sa-Di waved incongruously, and a swarm of hawk-bats appeared from a gap in the warped building face across the plaza. As if following an invisible command, they shook the water from their leathery wings and launched themselves towards them. Up above, Fass noticed as he followed them with his eyes, a wide rift had opened, with transient waterfalls streaming down its sides. It was almost beautiful, he thought, in a genocidal way. Then the hawk-bats were on them, clawing for his shoulders and arms. Sa-Di had raised his, and the beasts were already pulling him upward towards the rift. "Come then, strong man!" he called. "Come fly!"