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Beyond - Legends The Lands of the Dead (Monster Challenge - AU, OCs, Sith, Jacen, angst, psychological horror)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by ViariSkywalker, Oct 27, 2020.

  1. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Title: The Lands of the Dead
    Author: ViariSkywalker
    Timeframe: 43-49 ABY
    Characters: OCs (Sith & otherwise), Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus, Ben Skywalker cameo, Darth Krayt cameo
    Genre: AU, angst, psychological horror, short story/novelette

    Summary:
    When two brothers are kidnapped by the Sith, they fight to survive and eventually come to a grim realization: their old lives are gone, the bright fields of day forever past. There are no Jedi here.

    Notes:
    This is my response to the Monster Challenge. My prompt was Toxic, and here’s the part I found particularly relevant:

    …But some of the most toxic monsters are less clear-cut, needing as little as a breath or a glance to poison the unwary. These beings are often at least physically similar to nature’s own venomous and poisonous creatures, but with their own horrifying twists and turns.

    Not gonna lie, this challenge kind of consumed my soul. I did not intend for it to be so long, but now that it is, I can’t imagine it any other way. Be warned, it’s pretty grim, even for me. (I may have been rereading Matthew Stover's Traitor recently, hence the title and some other bits scattered throughout.)

    This is a prequel-of-sorts to Enter the Foreign. Reading that story is not necessary to understand this one, although context never hurts! [face_batting] The Sith are the stars here, guys, and it isn’t a happy fic.

    Disclaimer:
    I don’t own Star Wars, and no profit is being made!

    A huge thank you and *hugs* to @Gabri_Jade for betaing this and assuring me that I didn’t go over the line at any point. Also, wow, this is the first brand-new Star Wars fic I’ve posted in 10 years! :eek:

    ~~

    The Lands of the Dead


    They say once the Sith doctor has you in his clutches, you’re as good as dead.

    That’s the rumor, anyway, whispered by the adults, then picked up and repeated by the children until it grows and spreads like wildfire through their collective imagination. The stories are so fantastic, they can’t possibly be real. He’s two hundred years old and looks like a living skeleton. He has long, razor-sharp fangs that drip with venom. He worships at the altars of Yun-Yammka and Yun-Harla and drinks the blood of the children he sacrifices in their names. He’s a monster, they say. A monster in the truest sense of the word.

    Hush, the adults say. Don’t spread such rumors, you’ll frighten the little ones. There’s no such thing as monsters; you’re safe here. Outside these walls, the Jedi may be killed daily, but here in the enclave, they are safe. The stories calm down a little. After all, Darth Caedus is dead, so that means the Sith will be defeated soon, right? No need to fear a creature of nightmares who they’ve mostly imagined anyway.


    ~~


    The Starskip boys know that monsters are real. Like most children in the Jedi enclave, they have never really had the luxury of believing otherwise; but today they finally have proof.

    When their ship comes to an abrupt stop and Master Bash tells them to hide, the children scatter. They conceal themselves under bunks and inside maintenance closets, trying not to move or breathe or make a sound.

    Dorian and Veeran Starskip find a storage compartment just big enough to fit them both. They huddle inside, pressed close to each other in a tangle of limbs that feels vaguely familiar. Echoes of a time when they were babies sharing the same womb and then the same crib. They are ten years old, with dark hair and light skin and big blue eyes. Not identical, but close.

    Veeran can’t stop shaking, knowing what is coming for them.

    Dorian holds his brother by the back of his neck and pulls him closer, until their foreheads touch. “We’re not going to die,” he whispers. “You hear me?” He makes a fist with his other hand and presses it against Veeran’s chest. “We’re going to survive, no matter what, got it?”

    Veeran closes his eyes and nods. Outside the cramped compartment, they hear the crashing of lightsabers and terrified screams and Master Bash’s muffled voice speaking in a desperate rush. Then they feel his light go out forever as someone else laughs hysterically.

    The Starskip boys know that monsters are real, and when the door to the storage compartment opens and they are dragged out into the light, they come face to face with one for the first time.


    ~~


    Even bound and gagged and blindfolded, Dorian and Veeran manage to stay together. The room they are tossed into feels like stone; it’s cold and slightly damp, and there’s an old, ugly, misshapen blight over it in the Force. They can tell by the air they breathe that they are on a planet now.

    “What do we have here?” The voice is a new one, quieter than the others who captured them. Male and slightly higher-pitched.

    “Twins, Doctor. Just arrived.”

    Dorian and Veeran go even more still at those words. Doctor. An image flashes through both of their minds: a grotesque skeleton of a man with dripping fangs and bloodstained lips.

    “Indeed,” the doctor says. “Remove their blindfolds, please.”

    Light and color return in a flood. Too much, too bright. Someone leans over them, a pale, gaunt human with wispy gray hair, dark eyes, and prominent cheekbones. He wears a long gray lab coat over black tunic and black pants, and his hands are shoved deep into its pockets.

    “Where did you find them?” the man in the lab coat asks.

    “They were on the Jedi ship,” their captor says. He’s the same crimson-skinned Devaronian Sith who yanked them out of their hiding place.

    “Really?” The thin man – the doctor – removes one hand from his pocket and strokes his chin with long, pale fingers. “How marvelous.”

    This is the Sith doctor from the stories? Dorian and Veeran exchange a confused glance. He’s creepy, sure, but he’s hardly the nightmarish specter they were promised. The delight stretching across his face seems almost genuine, and it doesn’t have the murderous edge to it that seems standard for the Sith Lords they’ve met so far. He waves his hand, and the other Sith Lord bends down to remove the cloth from their mouths.

    “I have questions,” the doctor says, looking at them expectantly. They stare back, silent, and he laughs a little under his breath. “Tell me about your bond,” he continues. “Can you read each other’s thoughts?”

    The twins exchange an uneasy look.

    “Kind of,” Veeran mutters, avoiding eye contact with the man.

    “Would you elaborate, please?” His tone is almost impatient, but there’s a jittery, excited undercurrent to it.

    Dorian clears his throat. “It’s pictures and feelings, mostly,” he says.

    “What about pain? Injuries? Do you share those experiences?”

    A chill races up Dorian’s spine. “You mean if one of us gets hurt, do we both get hurt?”

    “Precisely.”

    He knows he shouldn’t say. Every part of him is screaming at him not to. Just keep his mouth shut. But as he stares at the doctor, he feels strangely compelled to give in.

    “We don’t actually get hurt, but it feels like it.”

    “An echo, then?”

    Dorian shrugs noncommittally, even though that’s exactly how he’s always thought of it. An echo of pain. Like when Veeran broke his arm and Dorian ached for days afterward.

    “Have either of you ever manifested a physical injury that originated with the other?”

    They both shake their heads quickly. Neither one is quite sure they understand the question, but it scares them anyway.

    The doctor crosses his arms and holds a hand up to his face, fingers tapping against his lips. He smiles. “Well, we’ll have to see about that, won’t we?”


    ~~


    They are thrown into a larger cell with a handful of other prisoners, all strangers, and all at least a few years older than them. Dorian wonders what happened to the other kids from the enclave, and if he’ll ever see them again.

    The two closest prisoners – a human girl and a Rodian boy – shrink back against the wall as the brothers are dropped roughly on the floor right in front of them.

    Once the Sith leave and the door closes, the human girl turns on them with sharp, dark eyes. “You guys twins?”

    Dorian looks at Veeran, then back at the girl. He nods.

    She inhales deep and shares a significant glance with the Rodian boy. Dorian feels a small pit begin to open in his stomach.

    “What does he want with us?” he asks.

    The girl shakes her head. “I don’t know. No one does.” She stops and glances at the door before continuing. “He’s been looking for a new set of twins, ever since he broke the last pair.”

    “Broke?”

    “His words,” the girl says, tucking her knees up to her chest. “Sounds better than saying he killed one on the operating table and drove the other one crazy. Whatever he wants from you, it’s probably worse than you can imagine.”

    Dorian tries to ignore the girl’s dour words, but he remembers how the doctor watched them, how he watched Veeran in particular.

    “He’ll probably only take one of you. Whoever’s strongest. That’s just how he does things.” The girl sighs and offers them a bitter smile.

    “Welcome to Yalena.”


    ~~


    They aren’t sure how much time passes. Half a day, maybe more. They are so close to falling asleep when they hear a muffled exchange of voices right outside the cell door. One of those voices is the doctor.

    Veeran sits bolt upright, mouth hanging open a little as his blue eyes go wide. He grabs the sides of his head and rocks forward on his knees. “He’s going to take me.”

    “He won’t,” Dorian says, heart thumping so hard he can feel it all the way in his throat.

    “Yes, he will!” Veeran insists in a loud whisper. “You heard her!”

    Dorian grabs his brother by the shoulders and shakes him hard. “He won’t, because he’s going to take me.

    Veeran stares back at him, understanding slowly creeping into his eyes. Before he can say anything, the cell door opens, and the doctor enters alongside the Devaronian Sith Lord.

    “That one,” he says, pointing at Veeran.

    The brothers are frozen on the floor, clinging to each other. Then Dorian shoves Veeran behind him and puffs his chest out as much as a ten-year-old boy can manage.

    “Don’t touch him!”

    The Sith Lord laughs and reaches out to thrust Dorian out of the way, but the doctor raises a hand to halt him. A small smile lurks around the corners of his mouth.

    “Wait,” he says, stepping further into the cell. He stops in front of Dorian and leans down, examining him. Whatever he sees, it seems to please him. “Yes, I think you’ll do.” Another quick motion with his hand, and the Devaronian is hauling Dorian to his feet and dragging him out of the cell.

    “Don’t worry, little boy,” the tall Sith calls back to Veeran, leering wickedly. “I’ll be back for you soon.”

    Dorian twists around to look at his twin one last time, but the door slams shut behind him. The Sith Lord drags him down a long hallway and into a turbolift, which ascends quickly to a much brighter, cleaner level of the fortress. The doors open on a well-lit laboratory, and the Sith shoves him inside.

    “Have fun, Jedi.”

    The Devaronian gets back on the turbolift, leaving him alone with the doctor. Dorian eyes the shelves along one wall, noticing row after row of vials and boxes and strange-looking organisms. Opposite them is a circle of carts and monitors surrounding a pristine, white operating table. The doctor gestures toward the table.

    “I assume since you practically volunteered that I won’t have to force you?”

    Is that what he’s done? Volunteered? He supposes so, although the word doesn’t quite seem to describe what it is he’s doing here.

    He nods in response, moving slowly toward the table. His heart hammers in his chest, his mouth goes dry. What does the doctor want from them? He can’t want to kill them, can he? The girl’s warning thunders in his ears:

    Whatever he wants from you, it’s probably worse than you can imagine.

    He climbs onto the table, and then he pictures a wall around his mind, a wall that will keep his pain from spilling over into Veeran. He can’t feel his twin now, but that’s okay. It means it’s working.

    He takes a deep breath and lies back.


    ~~


    Everything burns.

    That’s the only way he can think to describe it, when he can even think at all. Burning and more burning, his skin, his eyes, his blood.

    Baseline testing, the doctor says. Have to see how you stack up.

    He screams and screams and screams, and his throat burns and his tongue burns. Tears carve little acid trails down the side of his face, dripping into his ears, drip drip. If he could remember his mother, he might have cried out for her. But she’s dead, just like Master Tionne and Master Bash are dead, everyone who cares about him and who he cares for is dead, except Veeran, Veeran is alive, but he can’t handle the pain, the burning.

    He focuses everything he has left on the wall – that high, strong wall he has to hold up for his brother’s sake. Veeran can’t handle the pain. Have to keep the wall high.

    Have to survive this.

    The doctor stares down at him, interested. Something picks at his brain, a presence trying to carve away layers to see what’s underneath.

    Trying to keep me out, little Jedi boy? The voice echoes inside his scorched-out skull.

    The screams eventually stop even if the tears don’t. He’s too tired from burning up, too tired from holding onto the mental wall he’s erected. The doctor smiles and fills another syringe.

    How long? How long until it ends?

    Too long, he learns.


    ~~


    For a long time, it goes like this:

    The doctor comes for him, puts him on the table, tests him and prods him and talks to him, trying to break through the wall. He wants to see the effects of the twin bond, yes, but if that was all, he’d only have to switch them out, throw Veeran on the table and see what happens. But it’s become a game, a scientific and physical and spiritual challenge, seeing if he can overcome Dorian’s mind.

    Veeran trains with the other potential apprentices. He is beaten bloody nearly every day. At first, he cries and huddles in the corner, scared because he’s no longer the biggest or the strongest of the group like he was in the enclave. But then he starts to fight back. He still gets knocked down, but every time he gets back up, and he keeps getting stronger. Dorian feeds on that strength, and he holds the wall up higher than ever. He can’t afford to be weak. He can’t let Veeran crumble.


    ~~


    Burning is an everyday occurrence, and eventually Dorian gets used to it. Learns to accept it, even. After a few weeks, he hardly notices the pinch of needles sinking into his skin or the fire racing along his nerves. He discovers he can disconnect from the pain when it gets too bad. Focus on the wall.

    The doctor is a patient man. He waits months before making any drastic changes to his routine. Then he adds something new, something worse than the toxins he’s been so fond of until now.

    Dorian lies on the table, quiet as always, watching out of the corner of his eye as the doctor raises something in the air. Not a syringe, but a tool. A scalpel.

    “Now, my boy. Let’s see what you’re really made of.”


    ~~


    Is it still vivisection if he puts me back together?

    He wonders where he learned the word ‘vivisection’.

    His thoughts begin to shatter like glass, so he retreats into the one place he has left. In his mind, he imagines himself standing in front of the wall, holding a lightsaber out in front of him, just like the legend of Ganner Rhysode at the Well of the World Brain. Facing impossible odds with a roguish smile on his face.

    Maybe that’s where he needs to start. Plaster on a smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt. Play the part. He isn’t sure what the part is, but he can figure that out later.

    They say Ganner Rhysode guards the gate to the underworld. He killed a thousand Yuuzhan Vong warriors and made a mountain of the dead.

    Dorian Starskip doesn’t have a mountain of the dead. It’s just him.

    No one enters here. Do your worst, old man.


    ~~


    The Starskip twins go weeks, sometimes months at a time without seeing each other. Veeran is kept busy with his training – they’re grooming him for Sithdom, apparently, while waiting for Dorian to crack – and he doesn’t sleep in the cell anymore. He’s got a bunk with the other trainees and everything. He’s doing well. Dorian sees it during quiet moments, when he hurts less and can let the wall down. His brother is resentful for the disconnect; he doesn’t understand, and Dorian has never explained why he does it. It’s just easier that way. Besides, it seems to be making Veeran stronger. Already he is beating the tar out of kids nearly twice his size. Anger is a path to the dark side and all that, but it’s also a path to having a decent bed and not dying.

    At some point, they turn eleven years old without realizing it. Veeran says something about it a week after the fact, when they see each other for the first time in ages.

    “You’re huge,” Dorian tells him, marveling at how much his twin has grown. They are no longer as close to identical as they once were.

    Veeran has trouble hiding the worry in his eyes and even more trouble hiding it in the Force. “You’re skinny.”

    Dorian shrugs and looks away. “Better than getting too fat.”

    “I’m not fat!”

    “I didn’t say you were.”

    “You implied it.”

    Dorian leans back on his elbows and tilts his head to one side to observe his brother, trying not to wince at the way the stitches pull on his skin. “I’ve missed our talks.”

    Veeran rolls his eyes and grins just a little. “Weirdo.”

    They try to pretend things haven’t changed between them.


    ~~


    Eight months after being captured, he finds himself mesmerized by the sight of his own blood.

    The session starts off like most, with the doctor speaking to him like he’s a favorite nephew rather than a prisoner or a test subject. He asks how Dorian is feeling, whether he’s experiencing any side effects from the drugs. He doesn’t mention the Yuuzhan Vong today, which is becoming increasingly rare. Maybe those rumors about him worshiping their gods aren’t too far off the mark.

    No, today is actually pretty mundane in the grand scheme of things. But for some reason, Dorian decides today is the day he will feign interest in the doctor’s work. Maybe if he comes across as a willing accomplice, he’ll be set free and allowed to train with the other apprentices. It’s not like he really wants that, but anything is preferable to being constantly sliced open. He’s learned to deal with it in his own way, but more and more he feels his thoughts growing brittle, ready to snap at the slightest pressure.

    —keep the wall up, don’t be weak, don’t be weak—

    He doesn’t normally watch while the doctor cuts into him. He can’t. Today, though – today, he holds one arm up, and he asks if he can see.

    The doctor stares down at him unblinking for a moment with those dark, bottomless eyes. Something moves behind them, too slippery to catch hold of. A slow smile spreads across his thin lips.

    “Of course, my boy,” he says, adjusting his grip so that Dorian has an unobstructed view of the scalpel pressed to the inside of his wrist. With one smooth, precise motion, he cuts, leaving behind a long, shallow incision. “Now, how was that?”

    Dorian stares at the blood oozing from the wound, watches it collect around the opening before running in a single stream down his arm. “Barely felt it,” he whispers, unable to look away. Play the part. Plaster on a smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt.

    But it doesn’t hurt. Not really. Not like it did before.

    He forces himself to stop looking, and the doctor resumes the normal torture, humming a little tune as he works.

    Later, when Dorian is alone in his cell, sitting on his cot, he pulls up his shirt to examine the day’s wounds. As he stares down at the bandages crisscrossing his abdomen, something bubbles up in him, something so painful he can feel himself nearly ripped apart again.

    Laughter.

    He doubles over, wheezing from the unrelenting tide of laughter that surges through him. He can see it all now, stretched out before him in unending waves – the table and the knives and the bandages and syringes and poisons and the blood, oh the blood – and he realizes he chose this. He chooses it every day. All he has to do is let the wall down, let Veeran feel everything he feels, let him be torn apart by it and driven crazy, and then the doctor will have his answers, his victory. What else can he want from them? What is even the point? Is there one?

    He laughs harder, because he knows he’ll never give in. He’ll keep the wall up forever, even if it kills him. He’s doing it for Veeran, yes, but a part of him – a very small, secret, scary part of him – thinks maybe he just wants to win the game. Fat, warm tears roll down his cheeks, and he laughs through them. He can end it all, but he won’t.

    No one enters here.


    ~~


    He wonders if anyone mourns for them. If anyone misses them. Misses him. Why would they, though, it’s not like he had many friends. Or any friends. Veeran had a bunch of them. He was popular, even if he was mean about it. Dorian liked the kids in the enclave, he just didn’t like to be with them all that much.

    Do they remember his name?

    Do they remember he exists at all?


    ~~


    There’s an influx of test subjects over the next few months, and Dorian finds himself on the table a little less.

    —better them than you, keep the wall up, don’t be weak—

    He retrieves things for the doctor, and he recites data off the charts, and he watches them get carted away, thrown out like garbage. And he wonders why he’s the one who keeps surviving. It’s not like he was ever special.

    He’s pretty sure he’s going at least a little crazy.


    ~~


    One year and two months into their captivity, the Jedi finally come to rescue them.

    The first alarms sound right as the doctor is preparing to open. The little boy on the table is nearly gone, his body unable to handle the concoction that has been pumped into it. Dorian isn’t sure, but he thinks there might have been some Yuuzhan Vong spores in the mix. Bile rises up in his throat as he watches the doctor work, oblivious to the suffering of the child on his table.

    don’t think about the trickle of blood or how each person’s reactions are so unique, what kind of monster are you—

    “Honestly, that racket,” the doctor mutters. “As if we didn’t already know they were coming.” He slices into the child, who whimpers deliriously under the knife.

    The inside of Dorian’s skull goes hot, and he has trouble seeing clearly. He’s been forced to watch several of these sick experiments over the last few months, but none of the victims have ever been younger than him. It’s one thing to lie there day after day, going crazy, taking the pain for himself so someone he loves doesn’t have to. It’s another thing entirely to watch a little kid go through it and not be able to do anything.

    Wait a minute. Who is coming?

    The door to the lab slides open, and the Devaronian Darth Malleus barrels inside. “We’ve gotta get out of here!”

    The doctor looks over his shoulder, glaring at the interruption. “I’m in the middle of an operation!”

    Darth Malleus lifts a hand, and a tray flies through the air, scattering medical instruments across the lab. “They brought charges! They’re going to level the place, you old fool!” He ignites his lightsaber and makes one giant slash across the closest computer terminal. The doctor stares at him, dissecting this new information.

    “Where are the others?” he says coolly.

    “Dealing with Skywalker, where do you think?” Malleus waves his saber in the air. “Didn’t you hear me? Her brat’s been planting detonators all over the place. There’s no time!”

    Skywalker? As in Jedi Master Mara Jade Skywalker? For the first time in over a year, Dorian feels a swell of real, actual, genuine, beautiful hope. He almost can’t hide the smile tugging at his lips. Her brat, too, huh? He vaguely remembers Ben Skywalker from the few times they crossed paths in the enclave. If the two of them are here together, these bastards don’t stand a chance.

    Dorian notices that one of the instruments from the upended tray has landed near his feet. He looks down and sees a scalpel lying there, shining under the harsh overhead lights. Before he can stop himself and while the Sith Lords are occupied, he picks it up and slips it under the bandages on his left arm.

    The doctor mutters something under his breath before turning back to the operating table. “What a waste,” he says. Then he slides his knife into the child’s neck and turns away as the boy bleeds out. “Well?” he says. “Let’s go.”

    Dorian stares at the little boy. They said he was a Jedi child, the son of one of the Knights. He wonders if he was scared. Maybe he was too drugged to know what was happening. That’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Or is it?

    The doctor is staring at him expectantly from the doorway to the lab. The alarms are shrill and relentless. “Come, my boy. This way.”

    He follows obediently, as he has been doing since he got here. Darth Malleus runs off to Force knows where, leaving them alone again. They make it halfway across the complex when Dorian is struck dead center by someone’s intense fear.

    Veeran.

    He feels his brother’s panic. He can’t pinpoint his location, but he’s close. He stops in the middle of the corridor, his eyes drawn to the fading sunlight filtering through a nearby window.

    The doctor stops, too, and turns to face him. “You aren’t thinking of leaving me, are you?”

    Dorian shakes his head and backs up a step. He reaches for the scalpel hidden in his bandages. “Stay away,” he says, his voice hoarse. “I’m not going.”

    That cold smile, so insufferably patient. “Come now, child. You didn’t really come all this way just to be blown up now?”

    His hand starts to shake. “My brother,” he says, and that’s all he can get out. The emotion he’s been holding back for months and months has chosen this moment to break free, and he’s choking on it.

    “Of course, of course. The wonders of the twin bond.” The doctor starts to turn away. “I would have liked to explore it more. Alas.”

    Dorian stares in disbelief as the doctor leaves him alone in the corridor, free to go wherever he pleases for the first time in over a year. Free to die in a fiery explosion if he takes too long getting out. He starts to run back along the corridor, glancing out the windows at the courtyard below.

    That’s when he sees him, fierce in the fire-orange glow of the setting sun: Ben Skywalker, son of heroes.

    The young Jedi Knight is running across the far end of the courtyard, carrying two – no, three – children. He runs toward the open ramp of a ship that has landed just beyond the fortress.

    “Wait!” Dorian calls out, hands and face pressed to the window. “Come back! We’re still here!” He runs further down the corridor, pausing for a moment at each window to make sure the ship hasn’t taken off. Ben Skywalker disappears up the ramp, but the ship is still on the ground.

    We’re still here! He’s not sure he’s ever used the Force to communicate with anyone other than Veeran, but he has to try. Don’t leave!

    Seconds later, Ben Skywalker sprints down the ramp, only to come to a dead stop as his feet hit the ground. He looks toward the fortress for a long, terrible moment, then staggers back onto the ship, closing the ramp behind him.

    Dorian slams his fists against the transparisteel. “No, no!” he screams. The ship bucks off the ground, wobbling a little before straightening out and shooting up into the sky. He watches helplessly as it ascends, leaving him stranded in his nightmare, never to escape.

    Then the building explodes beneath him.


    ~~


    When he wakes, Dorian realizes he’s being carried. He cracks one eye open, ignoring the pain that accompanies that one small movement. The doctor glances down at him and smiles, an action completely devoid of warmth or happiness.

    “Ah, finally awake, are we?” He says it as though the whole world hasn’t just come crashing down around them.

    Dorian can’t even lift his head to see where they are or where they’re going. Ash chokes him as he coughs and attempts to speak. “Veeran?”

    The doctor quirks one eyebrow and studies him for a moment. “Your brother is already on the ship. He survived as well, but I would have expected you to know that, with your twin bond.”

    A small sigh of relief. How can he explain it to him? Feeling and knowing aren’t always the same thing. He needed to hear it out loud.

    “I made a promise,” he whispers.


    ~~


    —don’t be weak, have to survive, keep the wall up, higher, higher—

    —no one is coming to save you now—


    ~~


    Korriban is exactly the kind of nightmare world he’s always imagined the Sith stronghold to be. Dirt the color of crusted blood, a sun that shines too intense, wind that blows hot and dry across the arid landscape, across the dark valleys and jagged mountains.

    A hell, basically. He’s in a hell.

    And Dorian realizes he doesn’t really care.

    Life is pretty much the same here as it was on Yalena, only now the doctor has to rebuild nearly all of his research. He complains about it every day, muttering to himself as he carves out a space for himself in a high tower of the ancient Sith fortress.

    There are many other Sith here, but hardly any of them visit the new laboratory. Dorian has become adept at understanding the doctor’s fast-paced mumbling, and he knows that the Sith Lords who supported these experiments were all killed on Yalena. Still, the One Sith are at war, and there is no shortage of prisoners. Despite the setbacks, and despite the fact that even the other Sith Lords are leery of the doctor, test subjects continue to arrive in a steady stream.

    Dorian doesn’t hear much about the Jedi, only enough to gather that they’ve gone even more underground than they were before. He does hear something kind of weird one day – that there’s a disgraced Sith Lord here on Korriban, one who tends to wander in the wilderness for weeks on end before returning to the fortress. The doctor seems to hold this mysterious Sith in high regard, despite his reduced station.

    He doesn’t think on it for too long. He doesn’t think on much of anything for too long. Strapped once more to the table, he watches the doctor go to work, and he settles in to defend the wall around himself.

    Life is pretty much the same here.


    ~~


    He does have a mountain of the dead, he realizes one day.

    It is made up of the doctor’s victims, bodies he has climbed over without knowing it. He got there by being stronger-willed, more interesting, stranger, even, than the rest of them. He thinks the revelation should make him sick to his stomach or wrack him with guilt or maybe even make him weirdly proud, but it doesn’t. There’s a hollow, carved-out feeling in the center of his chest that he doesn’t quite understand, but that’s been there for a while now.

    —what kind of monster are you—

    Sometimes the hollow spot makes it hard to focus, or to feel, or to breathe. He wonders if anything will ever fill that void.

    He wonders if anything can.


    ~~


    Dorian hates the vise.

    The doctor only uses it when he has incredibly delicate work to perform, work that absolutely cannot be disturbed by your thrashing and moaning.

    Dorian resents that a little. Sure, he still moans and sobs sometimes and, okay, yes, thrashes; but he’s a hell of a lot tamer than some of the other people he’s seen on this table.

    It takes a few seconds before he realizes how horrifying that thought is.

    “I see you’ve been busy.”

    A new presence enters the lab, and he tries to turn toward the sound of the unfamiliar voice. It is deeper than the doctor’s and softer. Not gentle, exactly. Not warm. But it lacks the sterility Dorian is used to. The vise prevents him from moving his head.

    “Ah, Lord Caedus, welcome. I wouldn’t have expected to see you up here.”

    Darth Caedus? So, the stories are true?

    “It’s not Lord Caedus anymore, Doctor. You know I was stripped of that title the moment I arrived on Korriban.”

    “You’ll reclaim it, I’m sure. Yun-Yammka willing.”

    A brief pause. “Right,” Caedus says with something close to resignation. “And who is this here?”

    The Sith doctor and the former ruler of the galaxy step close enough to the table for Dorian to make out their faces. Caedus is at least a head taller than the doctor, with brown eyes and dark brown hair cropped close to his skull. He isn’t as old as Dorian thought he’d be – maybe just old enough to be his father.

    That’s a weird thing to think, he tells himself.

    “My most promising test subject,” the doctor says a little excitedly. “We’ve had a lot of research to rebuild.”

    Caedus stares down at him, and Dorian finds himself staring back. “What’s your name?” the disgraced Sith asks.

    “Dorian Starskip.”

    “Starskip,” Caedus repeats. “Then the angry boy I trained with earlier must be your brother. You look like him. Veeran?”

    Dorian starts to nod before remembering he can’t move his head. He grits his teeth for a second before answering. “Yes, sir. We’re twins.”

    Something in Caedus’s expression changes for a moment. “Twins. Well, that explains a few things.” His eyes dart over to the doctor, then snap back just as quickly. “Do you know who I am? Who I was?”

    “Yes, sir,” he says quietly. No one here ever talks about who they were before. It’s understood that they will all shed their old skins and embrace new names and new lives. But he supposes it’s hard to ignore who Caedus once was.

    The great Jedi Knight and hero, Jacen Solo. Brought low by his own sister and forced to crawl back to the One Sith. A failure in their eyes. A failure in all eyes, really.

    Caedus considers him for a few seconds. “Did you know I had a twin sister once?”

    He hadn’t known that. Jaina Solo was his twin?

    His surprise must be obvious on his face, because Caedus lowers his gaze and flashes a sad smile.

    “But you killed her,” Dorian says, barely above a whisper.

    “Once upon a time,” the doctor interjects enthusiastically, “there were countless Yuuzhan Vong who would have given their lives for a chance to witness that very event.”

    Why?

    Caedus’s expression grows suddenly dark, and it’s in that moment Dorian realizes he can’t actually sense the man in the Force.

    That’s a neat trick, he thinks a little absently, not sure if he should be impressed or worried.

    The doctor is seemingly oblivious to whatever storm is brewing inside Caedus. He picks up a syringe from a nearby tray and frowns at it. “Excuse me for a moment. I need to mix more of this compound.”

    The doctor retreats to the other side of the lab, leaving Dorian alone with the former Jedi.

    “Your brother and his squad are heading to the Inner Rim soon for special training. You won’t have to keep your walls up so high.”

    Dorian blinks twice and finds himself momentarily at a loss for words. How did he—?

    Caedus gives him a knowing smirk. Of course, he would know. He’s one of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy, the son and grandson of legends. He can probably read Dorian’s mind if he wants to. Maybe he already is.

    “The twin bond is strong, but pain is sometimes felt less intensely at greater distances. Not always, but sometimes.”

    He is about to respond when Caedus bends down, so close Dorian can see the faint wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. And even though Dorian can’t sense him at all, he can tell something is different.

    “You came from one of the Jedi enclaves?” he whispers.

    Dorian’s eyes go wide. “Yes.”

    “Do you know my daughter?”

    He searches his memory – reluctantly, and with a swirl of the smoldering anger that’s been gnawing at him ever since Yalena – trying to remember who Caedus is talking about. No, not Caedus. Jacen Solo. Jacen Solo’s daughter. It’s been so long now, sometimes that life seems like a dream.

    Wait. “The princess?”

    For the first time, he sees warmth in those brown eyes. “Allana.”

    Right. He remembers her. Pretty, sad little girl, always playing by herself. He’s not sure that’s what Caedus wants to hear. “I knew her. A little.”

    “Where is she now?”

    How the hell should I know?

    The thought slips out before he can stop it, and even with his walls up, he knows Caedus caught at least a hint of it. The warmth evaporates from the man’s eyes as they narrow a fraction. “You want to try that again?” he says in a low voice, deceptively soft.

    Dorian swallows hard. “I don’t know where she is. It’s been a long time, and they moved us around a lot.”

    Caedus nods and straightens up, looking much older than he did a moment ago. “Of course.” His eyes are still locked on him, and Dorian finally feels a flash of something from him, a profound, aching loneliness echoing inside a hollowed-out husk of animal rage. It collapses in on itself in an instant, a dying star gone suddenly cold, and the Sith outcast is a blank in the Force once again.

    Caedus glances over his shoulder at the doctor, who is mumbling to himself as he swirls ingredients in a series of vials. He turns back and fixes Dorian with a hard, woeful stare.

    “There’s something you should know, Dorian Starskip,” he says quietly. “All that you might have been is lost to you. There is no changing that. All that remains is what you are, and what you might yet become.”


    ~~


    But what is he?

    Who
    is he?

    I’m Dorian, he thinks, but it doesn’t feel exactly true, not anymore. Dorian liked to read, and Dorian liked to watch people and imagine what their lives were like, and he thought the Force was amazing and mysterious, and he liked the idea of being a Jedi because Jedi got to learn all about the Force and help people at the same time.

    Everything that made him who he was, everything that made him Dorian, is gone.

    Now, he reads medical logs and compiles research data, and he watches people but only ever notices things the doctor would find interesting. And he doesn’t really think about the Force all that much, except when it comes to the wall he holds around himself. He doesn’t think about the Jedi either, at least not often. When he does, he thinks he kind of hates them.

    Between all of that, he lies on the table and watches himself open up, unfolding like damp, crimson flower petals awakening toward the sun.

    He is so separate from the boy in the enclave, he wonders if he can really even be that person.

    But if I’m not me, what am I?

    He turns it over in his brain, over and over and over, until the words stop making sense and he feels himself slipping down, down, down, spiraling into a black abyss of not knowing and not caring and not feeling.

    Dead, he thinks as the abyss takes him. What I am is dead.


    ~~


    He doesn’t see Caedus again for a long time.

    He gives up trying to keep track of the months that pass. After returning from assignment in the Inner Rim, Veeran is allowed to visit him more frequently, although it still isn’t much. Even so, Dorian is suspicious; he doesn’t trust that this isn’t some ploy by the doctor meant to exploit one or both of them. Just in case, he keeps the wall high.

    Veeran doesn’t like that at all.

    “You missed our birthday,” he says, frowning at Dorian from across the cell.

    Dorian sits on his cot, head tilted back against the wall. He looks at his brother through half-closed eyelids. “Must have slipped my mind. How old are we again?”

    In the Force, Veeran grows stormy, but he keeps it reined in. “That isn’t funny, Dorian.”

    Dorian shrugs, smirking. “It’s a little funny.”

    “Yeah, well, you’re the only one laughing, idiot.”

    “Ouch.” He presses both hands to his heart and mimes being stabbed. “Thirteen isn’t that big of a deal, Veeran.”

    “It’s not about that!” His twin takes a step toward him, fists clenched at his sides. Dorian wonders if he would really try to hit him. “You never reach out anymore! I don’t see you for months and months, and when I do, you’re like this.”

    Dorian thinks about shooting off another smart remark, but he holds back. Veeran scowls at him and waves a hand toward the cell door.

    “I’m not stupid, Dorian, no matter what you think. I know what goes on up in that lab.”

    He really doesn’t. Dorian has seen into Veeran’s thoughts, and his dear brother suspects, but he has no real idea. But that just means he’s accomplishing what he set out to do, right?

    “Don’t you want to get out of here?”

    Dorian’s eyes snap wide open at that. “What?”

    Veeran glares at him. “You heard me. Don’t you want to escape?”

    “Escape?” The word is so alien on his tongue, it barely has any meaning. “What are you talking about?”

    “I’m talking about getting the hell out of here! I’m talking about going home.”

    All that you might have been is lost to you. There is no changing that.

    The feeling he’s been carrying in his chest for a while – that hollowness he can never quite ignore – intensifies and expands, making it hard to breathe. He fights back against the immense heaviness of the air as he stares up at his twin.

    “You think we can escape this? Look at me, Veeran. Look at yourself.”

    “I am looking. I’m getting stronger every day, and they won’t be able to keep me here forever.”

    “They’re taking over the whole galaxy; haven’t you been paying attention? Where would we even go?”

    “We’d figure it out.”

    “Yeah, right before they execute us.”

    Veeran roars and punches his fist into the wall over Dorian’s head. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you want to stay here forever?”

    Dorian can sense him reaching out through their bond, but he refuses to let him in. Veeran draws back, and his eyes darken. “Is that it? You like following the doctor around all the time, letting him cut on you and stitch you back up? What happened to surviving, huh?”

    Dorian reaches out without thinking, grabbing a fistful of Veeran’s shirt as he rises off the cot. “This is survival,” he growls, shoving his face close to his twin’s. “This is survival at any cost. Maybe if you’d paid the price I have, you’d understand that.”

    Veeran wrenches himself out of Dorian’s grasp and staggers back a step. “You think I haven’t paid a price? Do you know how many times I’ve been beaten almost to death in the last three years?”

    Dorian crosses his arms in front of him and raises one eyebrow. “Five?”

    “Shut up! You know it’s been way more than that! You think I haven’t had my share of pain? Is that why you’re always blocking me out? You blame me for this?”

    “Well, you were the reason we were even on that stupid ship in the first place.”

    Veeran’s face goes all twisted and splotchy. “Screw you, Dorian!”

    A violent pounding on the door interrupts their fight, and the twins separate like a tree split by lightning. “Time!” the voice on the other side calls out.

    The door slides open, and Veeran doesn’t even bother to look behind him as he exits the cell.


    ~~


    “I see you’ve decided to move forward with the experiment.”

    Caedus bends his head low over the table, examining Dorian with a carefully neutral expression that doesn’t quite match the tone of his voice. He is visiting the lab again after returning from one of his extended treks through the Korriban wilderness. And Dorian’s head is in the vise. Again.

    The doctor’s footsteps echo closer, and he appears next to Caedus, pulling on a pair of protective gloves with a snap that rings out loud in the eerie quiet of the lab. “Indeed, I have,” he says, excitement shining in his dark eyes. “Almost two years spent rebuilding all that I lost on Yalena, but the Glorious Day is nearly upon us.”

    There’s a very long pause before Caedus responds. “A moment, Doctor?”

    “Yes, of course.” They step away from the table, moving beyond Dorian’s field of vision, although he manages to hear most of their hushed conversation.

    “No one has ever survived this procedure,” Caedus says.

    “I have great hopes that he will.” There is an extra measure of eagerness in the doctor’s voice.

    “You know how tricky Yuuzhan Vong biotech can be. The spores are unpredictable in humans, and implants will inevitably consume the host.”

    “Believe me, Lord Caedus, I have gone through many test subjects looking for the answer. Right now, there is simply no one else. I require an indomitable spirit, and he has it. Surely, you of all people must understand.”

    “And surely you’ve considered his potential beyond this lab? Beyond your experiments?”

    There is silence for a moment. The doctor seems to consider whatever it is Caedus is arguing. “You want to take him from me?”

    “You just said he was indomitable. Do you know of a better quality in a potential Sith Lord? In any warrior? Would you deprive our master of such a servant?”

    “You know,” the doctor says, sounding almost impressed, “sometimes I forget what a compelling orator you once were, Lord Caedus. So like your mother.”

    Silence settles over them again. Then, a quiet intake of breath as Caedus finally responds.

    “I can’t force you to give him up. The choice is yours, Doctor. But I hope you’ll consider it. I can tell you from experience that the Force bond between siblings is a source of nearly unparalleled strength and coordination. Wouldn’t it be illuminating to see that bond in action for yourself?”

    “His brother has had intense combat training for the last three years. You think he can catch up enough to make it worth my while?”

    “If he’s as strong-willed as you say, I can’t imagine it will be a problem. I daresay you might even enjoy monitoring his progress, even if it does land slightly outside your preferred field of study.”

    He can hear the doctor pacing, moving closer to the operating table before suddenly turning back to Caedus. “I won’t let him go that easily. He’ll have to earn it.”

    “I would expect nothing less, Doctor.”


    ~~


    This,
    he thinks a little distantly, is not how I pictured earning it.

    The circle of initiates cheers wildly as Dorian takes a punch directly to the jaw. He staggers backward from the force of the blow, surprised at how different this pain is from everything that has come before. His opponent is a tall, muscular boy with an intense presence in the Force. He has to be at least fifteen, and he’s clearly a favorite among the other would-be apprentices. Every time Dorian tries to strike the boy, he is swatted aside easily, and the jeering crowd grows louder.

    Dorian hasn’t used the Force much in the last three years, and when he has, it’s been mostly small, instinctual things. His only real, deliberate use of the Force has been creating and reenforcing the mental wall around himself. And even though the wall has stayed strong all this time, his other skills have atrophied. If the Force is like a muscle, then he’s only been using it in one very specific way, and it shows.

    The larger boy sinks his fist into Dorian’s stomach, sending him hard to the ground. The stones scrape against his skin, ripping out some of the stitches from yesterday’s procedure. The other initiates laugh, and his opponent grins back at them and thumps his chest.

    Dorian rolls onto his stomach and plants his hands on the stones to steady himself. He notices rivulets of blood trailing down his arms from reopened wounds, and in the hollowed-out center of his chest, he suddenly feels an intense pressure, the collision of particles that shapes a newborn star.

    “Hold,” Darth Dominius says, raising one long-fingered hand. Dorian looks up at him, the pressure still building in his chest, begging for release. His opponent lets out an audible moan of disappointment.

    The Falleen Sith smiles. “You will each choose a weapon.” He extends his arms to opposite sides of the circle, indicating that they should go there to retrieve their weapons.

    While he picks himself off the floor, Dorian sees the older boy turn and grab a heavy, wooden club from one of the Lessers. He hefts it in his hands, passing it back and forth before settling into a two-handed grip.

    Dorian pulls himself to his feet and turns to his side of the circle, looking for the Lesser who will supply his weapon. Instead, he sees the doctor standing there, a cold smile perched on his lips. Dorian staggers over to him, wary.

    “You aren’t doing so well, my boy.” The doctor eyes him clinically.

    Dorian sucks in a ragged breath. “I’m supposed to choose a weapon.”

    The smile stretches thin across the doctor’s face. “I have chosen for you.” He reaches into the pocket of his lab coat and produces a slender instrument.

    Dorian stares down at the scalpel in the doctor’s hand, then back up into his dark eyes. Particles swirl and collide, growing hot as the pressure builds. He takes the scalpel without a word and turns back into the ring.

    Darth Dominius nods his head to acknowledge each boy, then says simply, “Begin.”

    The larger boy hurtles forward, swinging the club overhead. Dorian tries to dodge, but the club catches him in the shoulders, knocking him sideways across the circle. He stumbles and spins around, but his opponent is already there, slamming the club into his back. Dorian collapses to the ground, his enemy standing over him in triumph.

    “Finish him!” one of the other initiates yells. The rest of them are shouting similar encouragements. The pressure is about to crack him in two.

    The older boy grins down at him and holds the club over Dorian’s head, preparing to swing—


    ~~


    He’s accepted for a long time that he’s already dead, but the actual dying part – well, he’s never really liked that idea. He’s had plenty of chances to let go, to surrender himself to the black. Is it fear that has always held him back? Probably. He still has plenty of fears.

    The Jedi like to pretend that their fears don’t exist, that they can let go of them, and they’ll just scatter like ashes on the wind.

    There are no Jedi here.

    He doesn’t have to stop being afraid. He just has to move forward.

    Besides, he tells himself. You can’t kill someone who’s already dead.


    ~~


    He slashes out with the scalpel, reaching around behind the boy’s ankles. With two targeted strikes, he slices deep across both of his enemy’s calcaneal tendons, and the boy screams as he crumples to the ground. Dorian rolls out of the way, then crawls onto the boy’s back, grabbing him by the hair and wrenching his head back. Before his opponent can react, Dorian plunges the scalpel into his neck and drags it along his carotid artery. When he finally pulls away and stands over the body of his victim, the entire room is silent, save for the drip drip of blood as it rolls off the blade and splashes to the stones.

    Dorian looks over his shoulder, eyes rising to meet the doctor’s.

    The pale old man holds his chin in one hand, eyes glittering dark as he flashes a surprised, perhaps even approving, smile.

    “How marvelous.”


    ~~


    His brother comes to him after.

    “I didn’t know you could do that,” Veeran says quietly.

    Dorian stares down at his hands, at the hand that held the scalpel. At the blood crusted around his fingernails.

    “I’m never going back,” he says, and it’s like his voice is coming from somewhere else, somewhere far away. “I can’t. Not after… I didn’t… I can’t…”

    Veeran takes a step toward him. Not close enough to touch, but almost. “Then I won’t go back either.”


    ~~


    They move him to the barracks, and for the first time in three years, he gets to share a room with his brother. Of course, he’s also sharing the room with a dozen other teenage boys who all want to murder him first chance they get. That’s not why he can’t sleep, though. It’s the noise.

    He’s gotten so used to the quiet sounds of his little cell at night, the unrelenting solitude of it. With so many bodies in here, all the noises and the smells and the heat that comes with them, he can hardly breathe.

    Veeran is already fast asleep in the bunk above him, snoring like a congested Hutt. Funny, how those snores don’t bother him nearly as much as the others do. As he lies wide awake in the dark, staring up at the top bunk, Dorian has the childish urge to crawl into it and curl up next to his twin. Maybe then he’ll be able to sleep. Maybe then he can forget the vacant stare of the boy he killed and how good it felt to rip into him.

    It still doesn’t seem real, the fact that his time with the doctor is over. He wonders what fate the old man had planned for him. What was the point of all those experiments, all that pain and cutting open and peeling back the layers? What was the doctor hoping to accomplish?

    Why does he care?

    He thinks of what Caedus said, about Yuuzhan Vong implants consuming their host. That would have happened to him.

    Was he trying to turn me into a monster?

    Without meaning to, he finds himself running his fingers over the fine, smooth scars that crisscross his abdomen. So precise and clean; even though he can’t see them in the dark, he has memorized everything about their weblike appearance. It’s the same on his arms and up his chest and along his ribs and down his legs. Thin, shiny, gossamer strands.

    He thinks of the boy again, of his lifeless eyes and his blood spilling across the stones.

    He thinks of the hollowed-out place in his chest where he felt such intense, consuming pressure, and where he now feels only an aching nothing.

    What would he do to fill that space again? To rid himself of the emptiness?

    Anything, he thinks.

    I would do anything.


    ~~


    Sith training is a lot different than Sith torture. It’s angry and messy and unforgiving. It’s broken bones and shock-lashing and lightsaber burns. It’s knuckles slamming into jaws and chaotic smears of blood – and Dorian kind of loves it.

    He learns a lot about himself as he works to catch up with his brother and the others. After everything he’s endured already, he didn’t think there was anything new he could learn, and that in itself is a little exciting.

    He’s not a saber prodigy like Lord Satrus, and he’s not a powerhouse like Lady Misra or Veeran. He doesn’t have the endurance or the combat experience that the other initiates have built up over years. He’s still skinny and lacks a finer control over the Force. But he’s quick, and he’s adaptable, and he can take a beating.

    His instructors are merciless, and that’s fine with him. They tell him pain will be his greatest teacher, and he believes them. He already knows it to be true.

    The doctor comes down to watch sometimes. Whenever he’s there, Dorian always finds himself working just a little bit harder, as if he has something to prove.

    —or someone to impress—

    He tries not to think of the thrill that races through him when he drags his opponents to the ground, only to catch a furtive smile on the doctor’s face. He still keeps the wall up whenever the old man is around – after all, they never really finished their little game, did they?

    But the biggest revelation during these long months of training is Veeran.

    The reforging of their bond is slow and tentative at first. Dorian lets the wall down more and more frequently, and he remembers what it was like to be connected before. It will never be the same, he realizes. But different isn’t necessarily worse.

    The revelation is this: when Dorian lowers his wall and reaches out for his twin brother, he finds a strong arm waiting to grab hold of him and carry him to new heights.

    It’s the closest he ever comes to feeling like his old self, but it also feels like the beginning of something new. Something better. Because as much as he’s always loved his brother, they were never actually the greatest of friends. Now, though – now they are operating on the same wavelength. It’s a fierce, violent, destructive wavelength, and they ride it well, excelling in ways their fellow trainees can scarcely dream of.

    It doesn’t get rid of the hollowness inside him, but he’s pretty sure nothing can do that, so he keeps moving forward.


    ~~


    One night there is a commotion in the barracks. Dorian is shaken roughly awake, and he looks up into his brother’s pale blue eyes.

    “The hell—?”

    “Lord Caedus tried to kill the Master,” Veeran says quickly, quietly, as though afraid someone will hear, even though most of the other initiates are similarly huddled, whispering excitedly to one other.

    Dorian rubs sleep from his eyes and yawns. “What are you blabbering about?”

    “Caedus is dead.”

    Dorian goes very still. He’s not sure why; it’s not as if he knows Darth Caedus – Jacen Solo – all that well. He did prevent the doctor from turning him into some kind of Vong freak, though, so maybe Dorian owes him something for that. “You’re sure?” he asks, breathing steady.

    Veeran nods. “Positive. They’re saying Lord Krayt awoke from stasis when Caedus killed Lord Wyyrlok. But Caedus was no match for the Master.”

    “Huh.” What else is there to say? Caedus has been dead before, hasn’t he? Now it’s just a little more permanent.

    “What do you think will happen to his kid?”

    Dorian looks up at Veeran and frowns. “Allana?” He’s surprised at how quickly the name pops into his head. Maybe all those memories of the enclave aren’t as distant as he’d like to believe. He brushes it off, irritated. “Who cares?”

    Veeran scratches the side of his face. “Right, I forgot, you weren’t really around for it. He had a kid with one of the Lessers a couple years ago. A little boy.”

    “Weird.”

    Veeran shrugs, an almost wistful smile tugging at his lips. “You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen her—”

    “Ugh. I’m going back to sleep.”

    His twin’s expression grows serious as he sits down next to him on the bunk. “You know what else this means?”

    Dorian rolls his eyes and lies back with a sigh. “What?”

    There’s an undercurrent of excitement in Veeran’s voice when he answers. “It means the Master is awake.”


    ~~


    A few weeks later, Dorian finally sees Darth Krayt in the flesh.

    Well, maybe flesh isn’t quite the word for it.

    The Master of the Sith stands upon the dais, looking out over the assembled initiates. He is tall – not incredibly so, but enough to stand above most – and his entire body is covered in craggy, shell-like armor. His mask conceals all but his eyes and jaw, and even from across the room, Dorian can see how those eyes glow yellow.

    Lord Krayt has been calling the initiates forward one by one, sometimes asking questions, sometimes studying them only to dismiss them without a word. They’re not sure why exactly he seems to be vetting them. It’s not like any of them will be participating in Krayt’s new initiative to hunt down the remaining Jedi. Dorian glances over at his brother, and as he watches Veeran breathe in and out, he sees that their breathing has synchronized.

    Twin quirk?
    he wonders absently. The doctor would want to study that.

    Lord Krayt looks up, and Dorian realizes he is next. He nudges Veeran gently in the ribs with his elbow before leaving his place in line to meet the Master.

    As he approaches the dais, the air around him changes. He senses pure power, a frigid tidal wave of it looming over them all, ready to crash down and obliterate everything and everyone in its path. There is something else there, too, something that almost – for one fraction of a second – feels familiar. An echo of old pain that strikes a chord deep in Dorian’s center, vibrating through him like a tune half-remembered. He has to force himself not to shiver at the feeling.

    What is he?

    Darth Krayt takes a step toward him, bringing all of that terrible, incredible power with him. “I am the Master,” he says in a deep voice, an odd smile quirking his lips. “What are you?”

    Dorian blinks up at him. I’m crazy, apparently, haven’t you heard?

    That odd smile spreads slightly wider. “You think so? Would you know if you were?”

    He’s not sure why it surprises him that Krayt can read his thoughts so clearly. He stares up at the strange-looking Sith Lord, studying him in silence for a moment. “I might.”

    The Master tilts his head almost imperceptibly to one side. “Do you find me strange?”

    He decides it’s no use trying to hide his thoughts, even behind the wall. “Yes,” he answers simply. Behind him, he feels his brother’s shock, then a sharp prodding in the Force to shut the hell up.

    Lord Krayt glances down at his armor, then back up at Dorian. “It’s made from vonduun crab, a favorite of the Yuuzhan Vong. I was their prisoner once, long ago.”

    Ah. The doctor’s borderline fanatical admiration of the Yuuzhan Vong suddenly makes a lot more sense, if this is the Master he’s so devoted to.

    Dorian still isn’t sure what these questions are going to help Krayt learn. Unless he’s planning to kill Dorian for calling him strange?

    But he is strange, and not just because of the armor…

    Lord Krayt comes very close to him, then, quicker than he would have expected, and lowers his head to put his eyes level with Dorian’s. They stare at each other for several long seconds, Dorian forcing himself not to lean away from the Sith Master.

    “Did you know,” Krayt says, “that I once hung endlessly in the Embrace of Pain?”

    He resists the urge to swallow. He has heard of the Embrace. He’s lost count of the number of times the doctor has muttered excitedly about it, about how much he wishes he could have access to one for his research. He has talked almost dreamily about the Yuuzhan Vong predilection for pain and how the Embrace was bred specifically to inflict pain in honor of the gods. And even though Dorian is pretty sure he’s been tortured close to the limits of human endurance, he’s not sure he could handle something meant for the Yuuzhan Vong. As far as he knows, only a few humans have.

    “No, my lord,” he says, his throat suddenly dry. “I didn’t know that.”

    Lord Krayt straightens up, and for a moment his lips press in a tight, thin line. “I am told you have a twin brother here.”

    Dorian is silent, eyes cast down to the floor. He nods.

    “The Yuuzhan Vong hold a special reverence for twins. Doctor Mezzon is similarly fascinated by them, especially Force-sensitive twins.”

    He worships at the altars of Yun-Yammka and Yun-Harla and drinks the blood of the children he sacrifices in their names.

    Beneath the line of his mask, Lord Krayt’s mouth twists once more into a smile, or rather, a lopsided half-smile. “The Twin Gods, yes. The Slayer and the Trickster. Complementary opposites. Which are you, I wonder?”

    Dorian lifts his eyes to meet the Master’s. “Neither,” he says quietly. “Both, maybe.”

    “Indeed. An interesting answer.” Lord Krayt considers him for another moment before turning back toward the dais. Through the Force, Dorian catches the briefest hint of something, a fleeting sense of satisfaction or relief or… well, he doesn’t really know. It’s gone now, submerged beneath the icy, rolling tide of Krayt’s power.

    When he returns to his place in line, Veeran jabs him hard in the ribs.

    The hell was that? the thought stabs at him across their bond.

    Dorian shakes his head. He really doesn’t know.


    ~~


    He stands outside the door to the lab, hands balled into tight, sweating fists. What does he want? What is so important that he would interrupt a training session, that he would ask specifically for Dorian? He can’t want to—

    No. He pushes the thought firmly from his mind. He’s a Sith initiate now. He has been for over a year. He takes a long, steadying breath, then presses his fingers to the keypad.

    The door slides open on a lab that is unchanged from his time there. The doctor stands next to the operating table, and he turns to look over his shoulder.

    “Ah, there you are, my boy.” That mirthless smile spreads across his lips, just as it does in Dorian’s nightmares. “I thought you might like to watch.”

    He is taken aback for a moment. Then, “Watch?”

    The doctor nods, and that’s when Dorian notices the man strapped to the table. He’s older than many of the doctor’s test subjects, though not too old. Maybe late twenties. There’s a gag in his mouth, and as he stares across the room, Dorian can see the whites of his eyes.

    The man struggles against the bindings, eyes going even wider as the doctor turns toward him with syringe in hand. His desperate shouts are muffled by the gag, but he fights so hard his back rises off the table, despite the straps.

    The doctor frowns and raises his other hand toward the table. The man’s body goes rigid before settling back down. The doctor continues to hold his hand out over the man as he turns toward Dorian. “Some assistance, my boy? I prefer not to split my concentration.”

    Dorian moves forward wordlessly, without thinking, like he’s a droid or some mindless beast.

    —what kind of monster are you—

    He stands at the doctor’s side and holds the man down, not with the Force, but with his own two hands. And he stares into the man’s eyes as the needle pierces his skin and his blood begins to boil. He doesn’t look away, even when the man starts to scream and sob and convulse. And he’s still hollow, still nothing, but—

    He doesn’t hate watching it.

    And he thinks: better him than me.

    And he feels a rush of laughter bubbling up in him, so strong he nearly chokes from the effort of keeping it down. He wonders how he ever thought he could leave this behind, like it’s some separate part of him he can package away, hide it under his bunk and pretend it isn’t always there, scraping at the back of his mind – a gaping, festering wound.

    Beneath his hands, the man goes still. Dorian pulls back, staring down at the corpse that lies where a living man once breathed.

    “Honestly,” the doctor huffs under his breath. “I don’t know why I bother if they’re just going to give up on me.” He begins to clean up his equipment, muttering incoherently as he shuffles about.

    Dorian finds himself speaking: “Can I go?”

    “What? Oh yes, run along, my boy. Perhaps I’ll send for you again sometime.”

    He is almost to the door when he stops and turns back. “Did you know this would happen? Did you plan this?”

    The doctor continues to tidy up. “I didn’t expect he would expire so quickly, no.”

    The pressure again, building in his chest, distant particles coalescing and growing hotter, hotter

    He crosses the lab in three quick strides, hands reaching for the lab coat, twisting it in his grip as he raises his arms in the air—

    “You know that’s not what I meant,” he growls, realizing as he lifts the doctor off the ground that he’s grown slightly taller than the old man. Maybe stronger, too. “I’m talking about me. What you turned me into.”

    There is no fear or anger in the doctor’s dark eyes. “My dear, dear boy,” he says softly, “whatever else you do, don’t lie to yourself.”

    Particles swirl and collide, hotter, denser… he can hardly breathe—

    “I didn’t turn you into anything,” the doctor continues. “I only did what I have always done: pursued the knowledge of the universe, endeavored to crack open the vastness of the Force and explore its secrets.”

    Stars burst at the edge of his vision, white-hot, threatening to blind him. He lowers the doctor to the floor but doesn’t let go. “You made me into a monster.”

    “Look over there.” The doctor nods toward the table where the dead man still lies. “You saw how I operated on him, the same way you saw me operate on countless others over the years. The same way I operated on you.”

    Dorian’s fingers strain against the cloth of the lab coat, and he imagines those fingers closing around the doctor’s throat. “Of course, I saw. I never stopped seeing—”

    “And how many monsters?”

    He blinks to clear the stars, then shakes his head. “What?”

    “In all your years with me, how many monsters have I produced in this lab?”

    How many—? “I don’t—”

    “You already know the answer. None. I have conducted every experiment in the same manner, for years and years, without producing any results like yours. You are the variable, dear boy. You. Whatever you are, you chose to be.”

    In the hollow center of his chest, everything goes suddenly cold. His voice, whispering from somewhere far away, lost and gasping in the black of space: “This is a trick.”

    The doctor slips from Dorian’s grasp like water through a sieve. “Tricks, lies, treachery, manipulation… these are the lifeblood of the Sith, yes. We thrive on deception. And yet, as our Master once told me: everything you tell yourself should be the truth.

    “I have known the truth of myself for quite some time. I am not ashamed of it, nor do I deny it or try to hide from it. I accept what I am. I embrace it.” And then the doctor places his hands upon Dorian’s shoulders, tenderly, as if he really is a kindly uncle passing on sage advice to his favorite nephew. “Don’t lie to yourself, my boy. Don’t try to hide from what you are, what you were always destined to be.”

    All that remains is what you are, and what you might yet become.

    Inside, all is silent and cold and empty. He can’t even bring himself to pull away from the doctor’s touch; he realizes somewhat distantly that no one has touched him like this in years.

    How screwed up is that? he thinks.

    The doctor continues. “I did want to turn you into something, that is true. A bridge between the Force and the Yuuzhan Vong, a bridge to greater knowledge. But that is not what happened. My work continues, and you—” He lowers his arms and clasps his hands in front of him. “—have become something else. Not what I intended, but quite wonderful all the same.”

    “I—” He sucks in a breath between clenched teeth, and the world seems to expand around him, leaving him small and pathetic. “What am I?”

    That cold, knowing smile, stretched too far across thin lips. “The only one who can answer that question is you.”


    ~~


    What is he?

    Who is he?

    I’m Dorian Starskip, he whispers into the void, into the hollow place inside him, desperate for it to be true.

    —no, you’re not, don’t lie to yourself, you know the answer, you know the truth—

    He does know the answer. He knows the truth.

    The truth is, he’s still afraid.

    The truth is, he still thinks he’s at least a little bit crazy.

    The truth is, he enjoys hurting people. He enjoys crushing his enemies to the ground, enjoys their fear as they wonder what he’ll do to them next. It’s the only thing that ever fills the void.

    The truth is, he’s gotten really good at disconnecting from pain, but he would still rather watch someone else hurt – anyone else hurt – than have to climb back on that table ever again.

    The truth is, if the doctor ordered him to, he’d do it in a heartbeat.

    The truth is, he’s never really belonged anywhere, not in his whole life – not with the Jedi, not with the Sith, not even with his own twin. And that’s what he really wants, isn’t it? For someone to want him just as he is, without needing him to be anything else.

    —even if what you are is horrifying—

    —even if what you are is a monster—

    The truth is, he doesn’t want to be dead anymore, but he doesn’t know how not to be. He can’t get rid of the emptiness, no matter how hard he tries to fill it.

    So he abandons his birth name. He doesn’t let anyone call him by that name, not even his own brother. Gets angry with him for even thinking it.

    He knows he’s a hypocrite, because he still thinks of his twin as Veeran. But maybe that’s because Veeran hasn’t changed much, not really. Still can’t handle his emotions well, still takes it out on others, still angry and scared and violent when pushed. Stronger now than he was, and more confident, certainly – but still recognizable.

    What am I supposed to call you? Veeran snaps back at him one day.

    He answers with a shrug. It doesn’t matter, does it? The dead aren’t people, they’re things, and things may have names, but they don’t have souls, and if he’s been dead all this time, he can’t really have a soul or a name, can he?

    And he thinks maybe that’s what the hollow, carved-out feeling in his chest is, what it’s always been, ever since Yalena. It’s all the pieces of his soul that have been stripped away, little by little – or rather, it’s the place where those pieces used to be.

    It’s proof of what he’s been pretending to tell himself for years now, that he died on that table a long time ago, that he’s a shade from the underworld, one who slipped past the guardian at the gate and dwells among the living. One who still hides sometimes behind a high, blank wall.

    That hollow center is the sum total of him, of everything he is now. Maybe of everything he ever was, too. And the sum total is zero. Nothing. The complete absence of life. The complete absence of purpose.

    The truth is, without purpose, he’s just an instrument, no more alive than the doctor’s scalpel. An instrument of rage and violence and deceit that will serve the Order of the Sith forever.


    ~~


    He is sixteen years old when he and Veeran are summoned before Lord Krayt. There are no other Sith Lords present when they enter the chamber, not even Darth Dominius, Krayt’s foremost apprentice. The brothers exchange a brief look of surprise as they approach the dais.

    He still throws the wall up sometimes out of instinct, or when he feels like giving his twin a reprieve from all of his twisted thoughts and memories; but it’s been a long time since he’s been forced to ruthlessly defend it the way he once did. Not that Krayt couldn’t just tear right through that wall. In his very limited interactions with the Sith Master, he has never once been able to hide anything from him. Even so, his mind is on alert, ready to defend itself.

    Lord Krayt is seated upon a rough-hewn throne of dark rock that looks as though it was carved right off the top of Korriban’s craggy mountains. The light from the setting sun spills through open windows, casting long shadows across the rust-colored stones. The twins kneel in unison before the Master. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, fingers interlaced beneath his chin.

    “It is the way of the Sith,” he says softly, “to shed the skins of our old lives and offer them up to the fires of our passion, that they might be consumed, and so free us. Our predecessors marked this sacrifice with the taking of new names, signifying their devotion to the dark side of the Force, and bonding them forever to it. The time has come for both of you to continue this tradition, if your hearts and wills are strong enough.”

    Though he doesn’t look over at Veeran, he can feel his twin’s excitement, the rush of blood through his veins as his heart quickens. He can’t say he feels the same way, exactly, but there is an odd sort of tightness in his throat, like he’s been running too hard or holding back tears.

    Lord Krayt stands from the throne and walks to the edge of the dais. He turns toward Veeran first, who promptly bows his head as low as he possibly can.

    “Veeran Starskip,” Krayt says. “Though you didn’t know it at the time, you were given a gift when you first came to us. Others might have squandered that gift, but not you. You grabbed hold of every opportunity to prove yourself, and you have grown strong and capable. A force to be reckoned with. Now, I offer you a second gift: a chance to devote yourself fully to the One Sith, to become my student. Will you accept this gift?”

    Veeran’s heart is still racing as he dips his head lower still. “I accept it, my master. I will serve the One Sith and bring glory to the Empire, and I will become even stronger.”

    “Then rise, Darth Ferrus.”

    His brother stands, radiating in the Force like the flame of a welding torch, sharp and brilliant and searing. Darth Ferrus. It suits him.

    The Master turns eyes on him now, and instead of bowing his head like a good little initiate, he finds himself unable to look away from that penetrating stare.

    “And you, child,” Lord Krayt says, the soft rumble of his voice forming a cocoon around him. In his mind’s eye, he sees the image of an insect, distorted, as though viewed through too many filters. A variety of moth violently beating its wings to free itself from its own cocoon before soaring off into the night. He wonders what caused the strange vision and why the moth’s victory feels just a little sad.

    “You have dwelled for many years in the lands of the dead,” Lord Krayt continues. “I am familiar with that place; I have descended to the gates of death more than once. But now your sojourn is over. I offer you new life, new purpose. Will you take it?”

    That tightness in his throat again, burning a little now. He remembers the wall and how hard he fought to defend it, how close he always was to breaking. He remembers how he sometimes used to imagine himself as that legendary Knight, the one who guards the underworld, who slew a thousand warriors and piled bodies around him, laughing joyously as he did so.

    —drip drip, blood and tears, the only monster you need fear is the one that lives inside you—

    —the dead aren’t people, so they can’t have names, but if you’re not dead, then what are you—

    As he looks deep into the Master’s fire-rimmed eyes, he sees him smile. “Will you take it?” Lord Krayt asks again, barely a whisper.

    —play the part, plaster on a smile, I have crawled over a mountain of the dead to get here—

    The hollowed-out center of his chest doesn’t feel so hollow anymore.

    A rush of power washes over him, enveloping him, drawing him nearer to the Master of the Sith. His Master. He closes his eyes to revel in it, as tears spill down his face. “Yes, my master,” he whispers. “I will take it.” He sinks back on his heels, arms hanging loose at his sides. “I pledge myself to you, and to your teachings. I am your servant.”

    Lord Krayt spreads his arms wide, palms lifted toward the sky. “Then I will show you the true, unrestrained power of the Force, a power you have only sampled until now.”

    He feels it around him, magnificent and furious and alive; cold, swirling gases struck by supernova bursts, tumbling toward each other in an endless series of collisions, growing denser and hotter as they form a budding star. And just beyond it all lies darkness, deep and still and waiting for him to reach in. He opens his eyes and gazes up at the Master.

    “Rise, Darth Festus.”

    And he does.


    ~~


    They say once the Sith doctor has you in his clutches, you’re as good as dead.

    They’re right, of course.

    Dorian Starskip is dead, and Darth Festus lives.


    Fin
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2020
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  2. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    You, my darling, get my first JC post in nigh on a decade. Assuming, of course, that I can still navigate these boards well enough to post a reply :p

    This is genuinely some of the most polished writing I've ever seen, and probably the easiest beta job I've ever had. Utterly horrifying in all the right ways, excellent and believable character development, and sublime use of language in describing subjects that have no business at all being poetic. It is a gorgeous, awful masterpiece, and I am very glad you wrote it. But I'm still going to need some happy!fic once you finish all the traumatic plot bunnies :p
     
  3. Seldes_Katne

    Seldes_Katne Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2002
    A powerful look at what people will do to survive a horrific situation, and much more frightening than any graphic violence. Well-written. Readers will remember this fic long after they've finished it.
     
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  4. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    @Gabri_Jade
    [face_dancing] I'm still kind of amazed I got you back on here, tbh, but I am of course honored and thrilled that your first post in so long would be on my first completely new SW story in as many years! :p

    [face_blush][face_love] I couldn't ask for higher praise, and I'm so glad you liked it, even if the subject matter was horrifying. Still can't fully believe my brain came up with this stuff, but I definitely enjoyed the challenge of bridging the gap between young Dorian and the Darth Festus we know from EtF, (and to a lesser extent, Veeran and Darth Ferrus.) I also couldn't pass up a chance to sprinkle in other little connections to EtF, which is probably part of the reason this spun out of control and became a short story rather than the intended one-shot.

    Anything for you, my dear! [:D] (Although as an unrepentant angst-monger, and considering the slow speed at which I operate, it may take a while...[face_whistling])


    @Seldes_Katne
    Thank you so much for reading, and for your kind words! That was one of the challenges writing this, to portray the horror of the situation without getting very graphic, partially because it's a family-friendly forum, but mainly because graphic violence just isn't how I generally roll. I'm glad my approach worked out! :)

    I don't think I could ask for a better response than this! [face_blush] (Though I hope anyone who remembers it is remembering it in a good way and not in a "can't stop having nightmares about it" way :p)

    Speaking of stories that stick with you, I reread Traitor recently, (first time in probably 15 years,) and I was honestly shook for a couple days afterward. That book is on another level of horrifyingly well done that I wouldn't dream of trying to attain. I tried to capture a similar feel while writing this story, but I also wanted to it to be unique and connect to my existing AU world in a believable way. If I managed to make it memorable, I'm satisfied! ;)
     
  5. Oddly_Salacious

    Oddly_Salacious Jedi Master star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 5, 2005
    What more could I say that wouldn't wash pale; echoes of @Gabri_Jade and @Seldes_Katne.
    I read this nonstop from start to end, distracted by nothing else.
    It is deep. It moves deep. It is deep crimson carpet with fading scroll-work patterns of gold.
    I leave your theater quietly now—to think.
    Gothic.
     
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  6. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    @Oddly_Salacious
    [face_blush] Isn't this the exact reaction every writer dreams of? I love reading stories that just sit with you after, unwilling to let you go. If this fic elicits even a fraction of that feeling, then I've done my job. (And considering how long this ended up being, the fact that you read nonstop is saying something!) I'm so glad you liked it. Thank you for your lovely review!
     
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  7. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Wow . . . just wow. :eek:

    So, I have to admit that it took me a couple tries to read this. But, once I finally sunk into the meat of it my eyes were glued to the screen and I couldn't look away until I finished every last word. Dark!fic and horror aren't my usual cups of tea - I remember trying to read Traitor and just feeling queasy; I skimmed large parts of that book and was glad to put it down. But this was . . . oh how do I even put it into words? It's not explicitly gory, but it's definitely gruesome. It's the mental torture and overwhelming dysphoria that was really so masterfully woven into every word that packed such an unbelievable punch, however. This was . . . raw and visceral and gutting. Traitor honestly relied a lot on shock value and talked itself in circles - if I'm going on a memory that's well over a decade old, now; that impression could be completely wrong :p - but this was a work of art. Savage, ugly, fetid art.

    Just . . .

    And that's exactly what they do, don't they? No matter what, it's their bond as twins that keeps them alive, and even sane, in their own way. Even if the boys they started out as won't be able to recognize themselves in the end, they survive. Together.

    These two lines were more vividly grotesque than any explicitly detailed description of the doctor's work could have been. What a masterful use of the 'mad scientist' trope with the doctor, that said. Combining the cold, clinical curiosity of a scientist with the Yuuzhan Vong's views on life and death and pain, along with a reverence for the Dark Side and the One Sith in particular is just a recipe for a toxically miasmic character if ever there was one, and you wrote one here in spades. The push-pull of the relationship between Dorian and the doctor was just masterfully woven throughout the story.

    That really does sum it up, doesn't it? It's horrifying, imagining what any one of us could be pushed to do in order to survive.

    The hope in this section was so heartbreakingly raw, especially as it was torn away. But I loved this description of Ben. I could see the light haloing around him, even as that metaphorical setting sun was the last chance of breaking free from the Dark for Dorian. =((

    So many questions here. (And I started reading Enter the Foreign to answer them! I'm catching up, slowly but surely. :D [face_dancing])

    Oh, gut punch. =((

    I LOVE the way you wrote Krayt. He's a terrifying force to be reckoned with, in a way that a lot of Sith fail to reach for them being just so . . . well, over the top villains created for the hero to defeat in a battle of Good vs. Evil. He had a presence and an aura that really reached out, even through the screen. You can see how he inspires almost mad devotion in his followers. And I loved this bit of dialogue, in particular. =D=

    And, with that, Dorian's vow at the beginning comes full circle. What a tragedy. He is a product of his circumstances, a creature born by pain and and that animal desire to survive, but then there's the doctor's words about choice lingering in there too. This was as barbarous and savage an origin story as they come, and now I'm interested to see how the story ends for Festus and Ferrus - and those few lights in the galaxy who are left standing up to this darkness! (And those were perfect Sith names, BTW, especially with where they have come from and how they've been forced to grow and adapt!)


    You certainly took your prompt from the Monster Challenge and ran with it. This is a story that's going to stay with me for some time, I have to echo @Oddly_Salacious's gorgeously succinct review whole heartedly.

    Welcome back to the boards, that said! It's fantastic to see such a talent returned. =D=
     
  8. SiouxFan

    SiouxFan Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Mar 6, 2012
    Like Mira, I needed to three tries to finish this...not because I didn't like it, but because it is a lengthy story and I didn't feel I had the time to truly immerse myself into your story on the first two attempts. This is truly an amazing work that it is both horrifying and not horrifying at all.

    I feel that you've captured the tone of Traitor quite well, and I thank you for writing.
     
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  9. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    @Mira_Jade
    This seriously delights me to no end! I’m so glad you came back and gave this another chance. :D

    Horror is definitely not my cup of tea, generally speaking, and if I’m going to spend any large amount of time in a dark universe, I need a heavy helping of hope and levity… so this story was quite a challenge for me, emotionally. I knew I was never going to write anything graphic, (I did want it to be board-friendly, after all!) but I wanted to see if I could convey these horrific things without actually describing them in detail, and it seems to have worked out the way I hoped.

    I had a hard time with Traitor when I read it back in, oh, it must have been 2004 or 2005? I was a senior in high school, I remember that. I took a reading/writing seminar class where all I had to do was read whatever books I wanted to and occasionally journal about them. So I took that opportunity to read the entire NJO series straight through. And yeah, Traitor was hard for me. The descriptions were so visceral and disturbing, and everyone’s pain was so raw I could barely stand it. And I wasn’t exactly receptive to Vergere’s “there is no dark side” thing because I took it as some kind of refutation of the Force as presented in the movies. (I have since come around to this view in part, because I do believe choice is the driving factor in any fall to the dark side, not some external force that possesses you and makes you turn, which is all I think the book was trying to say.) But I recently revisited Traitor because I wanted to do some research into Jacen’s character. I also wanted to give it another chance because I LOVE Stover’s RotS novelization. And as I started rereading Traitor, my response was a lot more favorable. Now, I mostly skipped over the Nom Anor stuff and a few other things. But I read a lot of it, and it was still hard, and I was shook for a couple days after and couldn’t even write because I thought, “well damn, now that's all I can think about, and how can I compare to that?” But I ultimately got a lot out of it, and TLotD definitely took inspiration from it.

    I guess this is my long winded way of saying I totally understand not being a fan of Traitor because I’ve been there, but I do think Stover’s work in that book is impressive, and I got a lot out of it the second time around! And honestly, to hear that you prefer what I wrote is such a huge, huge compliment, so I’ll take it! [face_blush]

    I have so many feelings about these two. They’ve gone through quite a bit of development since I first introduced them in Enter the Foreign over a decade ago, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. But they are kind of terrifying, not gonna lie. [face_worried]

    As horrifying as the subject matter is, I was very proud of those two lines. I had to think for a little bit about the best way to transition from "threat of vivisection" to actual vivisection itself, and I decided to just skip right to the aftermath. One of those instances where less really was more. I knew going into this that I wanted to focus more on the psychological transformation that Dorian went through to become Darth Festus, and while I wanted it to be quite clear what happened to him, I didn’t want it to be gratuitous. And omg the doctor – possibly the most frightening character I’ve ever written, in his own way, for exactly the reasons that you stated. He’s more of a tertiary character in EtF, if I’m honest; but as I developed the twins’ backgrounds further behind the scenes, I began to get a much clearer picture of who this Sith doctor was. When I saw the monster challenge, I signed up for it knowing that I could probably wrangle some kind of story about the twins out of it. When I got “toxic” as my prompt, I realized it was absolutely perfect for the story that had been brewing in my mind for the last several months – which is probably why I was able to crank out a 13,000+ word story in ten days. :p

    I guess it’s a good thing we have art to help us explore these darker aspects of the human experience from a safe distance. It is pretty terrifying to think of for real.

    Ugh. This whole scene wrecked me a little as I was writing it. And it was hard, too, because Ben is one of the heroes of EtF, and Dorian thinks he’s going to save them… :_| I will say, there was a little more going on here than Dorian was aware of, which ultimately makes this whole thing even more tragic. Also, I’ve noticed lately that I tend to focus in on light, particularly sunrises and sunsets, when I write an emotional scene. [face_thinking]

    [face_dancing] Can’t wait to see what you think of the time travel AU that ate my soul! My only other comment is this: once you’ve caught up on EtF, it may be worthwhile to come back and read this story again. [face_thinking] [face_whistling][face_mischief]

    The doctor really knows how to get you right where it hurts. And I will take any opportunity I can get to reference the Sky/Solo family connections, even when they aren’t the main characters. :p

    :D I am very pleased that you like Krayt’s portrayal! I had a very specific reason for writing him the way I did. [face_mischief] This whole exchange between Dorian and Krayt was something of a balancing act for me, but I am ultimately very happy with how it turned out.

    I’m so glad you zeroed in on all these elements, especially choice. There’s an argument to be made that Dorian never had a choice - but moving forward, if he thinks he made these terrible choices because of who he is and not because of what was done to him, does it matter whether he actually had a choice or not? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. And maybe he did have a choice. (Am I talking in circles yet? :oops:) But that had to mess him up even more, hearing that from the doctor. And when he was younger, he had that realization that he did choose to undergo the torture, that he could have ended it at any time just by giving in, so he might already be primed to believe that he chose all of this, that he was always going to end up this way. There are no easy answers, and it only gets worse once he’s reborn as Darth Festus. It might be worth noting that Dorian’s final scene with the doctor was inspired by a scene between Jacen and Vergere in Traitor, but as I was writing it, I started feeling more of an Anakin and Palpatine in RotS vibe. Make of that what you will!

    I'm also glad you like the Sith names! It can be hard coming up with Sith names that don't sound silly, and I'm often insecure about these ones because I came up with them so long ago. It's always good to hear when someone gets what I'm laying down. ;)

    That's really the best reaction I could ask for, knowing that something I wrote will stick with someone after they've finished reading. [face_blush] Thank you for the warm welcome back and the lovely review! [face_love]


    @SiouxFan
    Haha, I probably should have added a word count or suggested read time at the beginning. It is quite long, even for a short story. But I’m glad you ultimately made it all the way through! Thank you for your comments! :)[face_blush] I’m glad you found it horrifying without being too horrifying. It was one of my greatest writing challenges, especially since horror is not really my thing. So I’m glad it turned out the way it did!
     
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