THE BLACK WITCH
I have been studying the holocron given me by the dark Prophet on my trip to Kalakar, and was anxious to put those secret lessons into practice. I hadn’t reported to anyone that I had it. Knowledge was power, and surely my superiors would have seized it for their own use. Perhaps the wisdom was already contained in the Brotherhood archives, but on the off chance there was something new and powerful, I jealously guarded the crystal pyramid for the treasure it might be.
It has been said that the main difference between the Jedi and the Sith was that Jedi gain power through understanding while the Sith gain understanding through power. Whether that was actually true, dark siders like me valued power for its own sake. It’s the only reason I joined the Brotherhood. I have been a loner all my life and I only suffer the duties I must perform for the lessons I learn. A very worthy exchange.
The early lessons from the holocron were historical, detailing the Prophets’ activities through to their use by and falling out with the emperor Palpatine. Most of them were killed, the rest scattered and in hiding. They were, frankly, poor warriors. But their arcane wisdom was in itself valuable, as evidenced by Darth Sidious collaborating with them for so long before their rift. I even went through the Brotherhood archives looking for information about the Prophets. Luke Skywalker knew of them, and convinced the New Republic to banish all information about the Dromund system to keep anyone from utilizing the dark side nexus there.
But thanks to the holocron, I knew where Dromund Kaas was. The Prophet I met on Kalakar, a Mage known as Delfius, was one of the surviving members. The remnant decided on spreading their teachings in ways that would ensure the survival of the Prophets. I couldn’t find them, even if I wanted to. Surely having a live master teach me would give me a faster path to mastery, but the holocron ran a close second. And this way I would gain understanding without pledging myself to another master, so soon after my disappointing experience struggling to become a knight.
So I took off in my Phantom, making several small hyperspace jumps in different directions and utilizing the cloaking mechanism in my stealthy starfighter to insure secrecy before I headed for Dromund Kaas.
The system lay well within the boundaries of the old Sith empire, and according to the information provided by Delfius, was uninhabited. Given my knowledge of the dark side, I fully expected to find all types of exotic creatures corrupted and embolden by the powerful dark side aura of the planet, and more specifically, of the dark side temple that was the headquarters of the Prophets.
I can’t begin to relate the feelings I had when my ship dropped out of hyperspace just outside the gravity well of the planet, third in the system. I’ve felt strong nexuses before, and even grew up on Almania, itself a planet with a long dark history. But the power I felt, well, dwarfed anything I ever felt before. It was a thousand times more powerful than the strongest stim shot I ever had, without the druggy side-effects. I felt like I had to bust out of the cockpit immediately. All my senses were sharpened and sensitized. I felt the Force pull me into a vision, putting the ship on an auto-pilot orbit to keep from crashing just before I lost my sense of reality.
The images were vivid and colorful, intense and mercurial. Beings in action, strife, conflict. A roiling future of danger, adventure and opportunity. I could see relationships as taut strings, stretching and interconnecting. Actions I took, beings I manipulated, had reverberations that spread across connections and through time. I felt like a musician, a master of a million-stringed instrument that played beautiful if violent tones. Commanding tunes. As if one were in a tapcaf, and couldn’t help but sway to the sounds of the band. Total control.
As I awoke from this brief reverie, slumped to the side, held in my seat by the crash webbing, I began to probe the Force for the temple. I knew of some of the work that went on there, alchemical research and development, and sorcery. The power of the entire planet was immense, but I figured that the temple should provide a spike of dark side energy even in the maelstrom only a Force-user could detect, and only a dark Jedi could appreciate. Now I understood more fully Skywalker’s fear of this place.
I set the ship down near the massive onyx monolith, nestled in the swampy world’s embrace. The stark light of day weakly penetrated the jungle canopy that gave the surface its murky, twilight appearance. My attention was drawn to the tallest of the many towers that jabbed skyward, and my heart thumped in my chest as I climbed from the swamp onto the firmer grounds the temple was built on.
I suppose this is the feeling I would have had when first setting foot on Antei, had I been more trained in the Force when I joined. As I entered the broken entry hall I began to appreciate the violence of the final days of the Prophets, which in no way detracted from the dark side beauty of the place. Bodies lay strewn about, rotted and decayed. Strangely, none of the animal life of the swamps made their way up here to gorge themselves on the banquet of death. Doors were shattered, saber strikes scored the stone walls, and the stink of death kept the planet’s life from reclaiming anything within the confines of the temple.
As I wound my way up the staircase of the tower I caressed the black stone walls, feeling the throbbing Force beneath the cold hard granite. The top level, apex of the massive tower thrusting out of the dismal swamp, was laid out as a ring of individual meditation chambers girding a central council chamber. Wrought-iron torch holders surrounded the padded chairs, providing a flickering ghastly illumination to the dim room. I snatched my newly acquired lightsaber from my belt, walking to the center of the circle as I searched the gloom for the being lurking on what I thought was an abandoned planet.
And there she was, eyeing me coldly, hilt of her lightsaber pointing straight at me. She was tall and lithe, every curve of her figure well defined by her skin-tight, black leather combat suit. Her raven hair hung loosely down to her shoulders, contrasted sharply by her pale skin and ice-blue eyes. The expression of hostility on her face couldn’t mask the surprise on finding me there. The background roar of the Force denied both of us the usual warning of impending danger.
She ignited her blood-red blade as she charged. I pushed the activation button of my own saber, the yellow-orange blade powered by the lava crystal I had so recently created. And now would be its baptism of fire.
It was easy to use the Force in this environment, the dark side power of the place fairly pulsing with raw might. I could feel the anger of the temple as well as the cold, sinister cunning. But faced with a young woman, my age or perhaps a bit older, I drew heavily on the rage I sensed around me as well as the anger diffused through my own soul.
Both of us leapt at the same time, our blades crashing together, the hum of the power supplies increasing as each blade sought to out-muscle the other. The momentums we generated spun each of us around as we separated and landed. I quickly turned in time to bat aside a rear thrust from the red spear of light, riposting with a slash that missed the female’s head as she shoulder-rolled forward out of my reach.
Nimble as a manka cat, she sprung to her feet and whipped her blade around in time to intercept my thrust. As I spun around I let fly with a Teras Kasi round-house kick which elicited a grunt of pain. We both charged again, sabers crashing together with little art, both of us exerting our muscles and the power granted to us by the Force to hack each other to pieces. Again and again our swords crossed, blocking and striking, our feet anchored to the floor, our stubbornness and our anger refusing any thought other than that of complete dominance.
She was strong. Super-naturally strong. I had thought that I could easily over-power her. I grew up on an orchard, where daily physical work gave me toned and ample muscle, more than enough, I thought, to prevail here. I reached back into the Force and pushed out with all my might. The black-suited figure flew back into the stone wall with what I hoped was bone-crushing force. But she only winced momentarily in pain.
I was upon her in a second, my blade angling in for the kill, blocked by her synth-crystal saber. Our blades locked, we stood centimeters apart, I looked into her eyes while feeling the warmth from our over-heated bodies as we panted for air.
“This temple is mine! You will not take it from me,” she snarled.
“Brave words for a cheap tap-caf singer.”
Somehow, in all my life, I subconsciously knew what buttons to push on beings. I don’t know why. The Force, perhaps, or a subtle ability to read others. In any event, her eyes went red with rage as she shoved me back with her sword. I was forced to give ground, my efforts to use the Force for raw strength failing to keep up with her ability. My telekinesis enabled me to throw everything I could at her, only to have her dexterously elude them with sensual undulations.
And still she came at me, swinging her sword like she was chopping down trees. I sidestepped and instead of blocking, redirected her saber past me while looking for an opening to riposte while she tired herself out. But this put me off balance. And she showed no signs of tiring.
She had very little training, that much was obvious. Her sword technique was artless and uninspired, but she made up for it with tremendous strength and speed. She also showed little ability to use the Force, that I could spot.
It was at this moment I realized I was going to lose the fight. Despite my training and my dedication, I was going to be bested by this girl with little formal instruction. I was curious to know how she did it, whether it was just a natural strength not normally found in humans, or that she was enhancing her ability with stims or alchemical concoctions. But I was more interested in saving my skin.
After a tremendous overhead smash missed me, I used the Force to pull her past me as I dashed to the staircase. I closed down my saber and put all my effort into speed, hoping that she wouldn’t find it necessary to follow. But as I got to the head of the stairs, a small explosion atomized a greenish liquid into a cloud of spray that engulfed me. I smelled herbs, and had a taste somewhat like sparley root in my mouth. I was taken off guard, and despite my efforts to detox whatever poison I ingested or inhaled, I found myself face down, skidding down the steps, my saber skittering across the stone blocks out of my reach.
All my muscles turned to jelly. I found it an effort to keep my eyes open as I used the Force to stave off unconsciousness. I felt her arms turn me over and her warm hand caressed my cheek as she pointed my face towards hers.
“Relax, lover. I’m not going to kill you,” she said. I could now see the haggard and worn expression on her face. I guess the fight took more out of her than I realized. “How did you know I was a tap-caf singer?”
I really had no intention of engaging in any type of banter with her, but I couldn’t stop myself from answering. “I don’t know. It just came to me.”
She nodded, the weariness evident in her sluggish motions. “We’ll have time to talk later, after I’ve recharged.” She pulled out a hypo and jabbed it into my chest. I could feel the sting of the needle and the numbness that spread throughout my body from the injection point. My eyes finally dropped shut as I rapidly lost the battle to stay awake. “You must be strong. The tranq bomb would have put out a gundark.”
* * * * *
One of the things I learned about life is that when you are regaining consciousness in a hostile environment, you do it without moaning and thrashing around. I could smell the strange odors, hear the bubbling liquids, and feel the stun cuffs on my wrists and ankles and some type of contraption strapped to my head. But somehow she knew I’d awakened.
“You can stop faking now.” I could feel her hand on my bare chest slowly travel up to my chin, where she grabbed a handful of hair and playfully tugged on my beard.
My eyes popped open. She was standing over me, smiling, her refreshed appearance youthful and attractive. She had brought me to some kind of lab. Potions were bubbling over portable burners, and hundreds of bottles of herbs and minerals were lined up on shelves. Burning candles stood all over, and crystals lay scattered about, reflecting and refracting the dim flickering light.
I was still tingling all over and I couldn’t concentrate. My thoughts were fuzzy and primal. The touch of her hand on my naked skin sent a warm desire flowing throughout my body, and I yanked with all my might against the durasteel and force-field rings that bound me to the table I was imprisoned on.
She laughed, an innocent, school-girl laugh. “You men are so easy.” She reached up to the helmet on my head and turned a knob. “There, you might be able to think a bit, now.”
I still felt muzzy, but was able to organize coherent thoughts. “Are we still in the temple?”
She nodded. “I set up a potions lab in the basement. A lot of equipment here was still useable. The beings here were bizarre, but talented.”
“You mean the Prophets.”
She looked at me quizzically. “You know them?”
I nodded. I had no desire to share my information with her, but she must have given me some kind of drug to make me open up. I used the Force to fight its effects, but it was like swimming into a rushing torrent. “I know of them. I came here to find knowledge of their use of the Force.”
“How would you do that without any spells, any botanicals?”
“By the power of our will. What are you, an alchemist?”
She was lost in thought, then shook her head. “Have you heard of the witches of Hekate?”
I shook my head.
“I didn’t think so. We are from the planet Mybon in what you call wild space. I was exiled because I’m a black witch.” She noticed the blank look on my face. “I’m selfish and power-hungry, unlike those saps who preach about living for the common good. So I travel around the galaxy locating and tapping power sources, like this place.” She looked me in the eye. “I am Hesper.”
“Draco.” I wasn’t in control enough to get a read on her with the Force, so I didn’t know how much potential was in her. But even if there was none, her knowledge of witchcraft to enhance her abilities was promising. I could tell she wanted me to teach her what I knew, but the question was whether she would make it an equitable transaction.
She walked over to one of the worktables, the clacking of her heels on the shadowy stone floor sounding somewhat like an over-heated hyperdrive ticking as it cooled down. Then Hesper was back by my side, her face looming over mine. “You will instruct me to use the Force the way you do.”
“Only if you do the same for me. We can be very helpful to each other.”
She chuckled. “You really don’t have a choice.” A pale hand reached up to the side of my head, then my muscles tensed all over my body, my mouth wide open to scream, my frozen larynx unable to produce any sound. Hesper poured in the thick liquid, which tasted like a vegetarian health-food shake.
Then the spasm stopped and I swallowed, quite involuntarily. Quickly I felt like I was floating, my intellect again gone, I became a spirit of simple emotion and primitive urge. She leapt upon my prone form, her legs straddling me, her ruby lips descending to my mouth, and I belonged to her.
* * * * *
The next several weeks passed in a haze. I wasn’t totally in a zombie-state, but thinking critically was nearly impossible. She kept me drugged on her potions and obedient with our passion. Despite the fact that I think I loved her, I knew I had to be free. And to return to the Brotherhood.
I didn’t teach her everything I knew. Apparently she was strong in the Force, but the extent of her teachings was in how to access the power of it through spells and elixirs. She kept herself going for three or four days straight through her use of stims, then was smart enough to crank up my neural inhibitor while she crashed for a solid day. Then the cycle would begin again.
Which gave me the basics for my plan. While she was practicing the lessons I gave her I used the Force to break the connections to the emitters on my neural helmet. It was slow going with my limited freedom of thought, but since I had nothing else to do I was forced to be patient and sure-footedly put my plan into action.
I did feel guilty. Whether or not the emotions were genuine or herbally induced, the feelings I had for her were real. Hesper would have been a real boon to the Brotherhood with her arcane knowledge of nature, but she was a loner like me. And after her treatment at the hands of her coven of witches I knew she would never consent to joining another group. Pity. For despite how I felt, I knew where my true loyalty lie.
And it worked. When she turned up the dials on my helmet, I rolled my eyes back into my head and relaxed. I heard her walk over to the shelf, slurp down some potion to rejuvenate her, and slump down onto her sleep palette. But I was fully conscious.
I spent her sleep time detoxifying myself from her elixirs. She had reduced my dose just enough to allow me to instruct her coherently, which meant once I cleansed my system her new doses would have a slight effect on my will. Then I could fully feel the Force again, and command it as I willed.
The next phase of my plan was more perfidious. Even though I was strong enough to fight, Hesper’s use of enhancements enabled her to best me in our first contest. I watched as she prepared her tonics, using Force-enhanced senses to read the labels of the herbs she used as well as to compare them to others I knew by sight and smell.
One of the plants she used in her rejuvenating potion was chemically very similar to a toxic leaf on Almania, in fact being a famous historical means of assassination called monk’s hood. I had practiced moving molecules around using the Force to create my lightsaber crystal, and now I had a more sinister use for my new-found skill manipulating matter.
It was a tedious effort, changing a molecule at a time, building up a sufficient concentration of poison to enable it to do its work. And after a whole day of toil I needed to wait for three days until she took the potion to give her rest. During the time of training her I played the role of semi-conscious drone well. Hesper was so intent on learning from me that she missed or ignored the signs.
When her fatigue got the better of her, she took her quaff, and thinking I was incapacitated dropped down to her mat as the potion worked its magic. I gave her a few minutes, checking through the Force as her breathing slowed, her heart beat at a slower tempo, and her breathing became labored. I used the Force to pop open the four stun cuffs holding me down, hopped down off the table, and stretched. She left my lightsaber lying on her worktable, and it flew into my hand with the merest thought as I walked over to her slowly dying figure. I stopped next to her, watching her chest rise and fall with the ragged breaths and feeling the turmoil through the Force as she unconsciously realized something was wrong.
I ignited my yellow-orange blade and pointed it straight at her heart. “I really am sorry, but you’re holding me back from my own quest for power.” I speared her through to the floor, watching her body spasm from the death blow and feeling her life force bleed away into nothingness. “I love you, Hesper.”
Then I shut down my blade, clipped the hilt to my belt, and resumed my original mission by searching the temple for any information regarding the practices of the Prophets, in addition to collecting the black witches’ spell book.