The moons rose over the sea on Dantooine, and beyond them in the cloudless sky was the spiraling flow of the galactic arm; both were reflected in the dark sea, so that it seemed one could almost walk into the sky. Eiven Task lay on his back, staring out at sea and sky, his ragged breathing drowning out the slow beat of the waves. Long, dark brown fingers with bulbous, glowing tips crawled over his form, great brown eyes scanned his form, humming tunelessly as he worked. Task's body was a map of reddened and blackened skin; dark scabs with rough, dry edges already going yellow; and deep blue-grey bruises. A skilled duelist would be appalled at the history written in those recent wounds, the blackened blisters on the right hand that still gripped the Rakatan forcesaber in a deathgrip, the bits of other creature's bone in his right heel where he had broken through skulls, the strange-colored bloodstains that could not be his...and beneath those fresh injuries, the scars and memories of a dozen conflicts, many never properly seen to by doctor or medical droid, a legacy of desperate, life-or-death conflicts...
The squat brown shape of the Green Sith moved over this broken form, and as his glowing fingers hovered the charred flesh flaked off to reveal new pink flesh beneath, bruised flesh swelled and faded, cuts knit together, and deeper injuries that Eiven was only barely aware of slowly healed. Task could feel every moment, spared not a single iota of pain as small bones were telekinetically pulled back into alignment. The little alien seemed to draw on his pain, the glow brightening as each whispered scream forced itself from the human's throat.
He almost told the darksider not to bother. As painful and myriad as his biological injuries were, Eiven knew they weren't what was killing him. An ancient pink scar ran down the length of the human's torso, from the base of his neck in a straight line down to his hip. To the right of that line he was still a man, a pale near-human with the lean, muscled build of a marathoner; to the left he was machine - metal and plastic implants, prosthetic organs to replace those damaged or lost when he had been dissected. His left arm was not even a stump, only a broken socket installed in the shoulder-joint. Now, the cybernetic organs were failing - already the left side of his chest failed to rise, the plastic lung still and silent; his heart beat was erratic and arrhythmic.
Task closed his eyes, as his friend fed off his pain to try and save him, waiting to die. Fever came, as the night came on to dawn, though honest sleep eluded him. Fire burned under his skin, behind his eyes, pounded through his temples, all except for his prosthetics which were cold and lifeless. The Green Sith no longer hovered over his patient, but Eiven was aware of him, the short-legged, barrel-chested alien waddling back and forth, piling things up nearby. In his more lucid moments, the human saw they were pieces of technology - the Jedi had forbidden most tech on the island, but Task saw a small pile of devices small enough to hide within a body...power cells, memchips, small holo projectors...along with ancient antennas and wires probably looted from the buildings that served as dormitories for the prison. Then the heat would come again, and strange dreams; his arms and legs kicked out in his sleep, refighting old duels...Sith and Jedi, Mandalorian bounty hunters and Imperial Knights, punk kids in alleys playing with ancient, honored weapons...and again and again he came back to the bloody prison massacre.
Two dozen Force users had screamed as he had ignited the forcesaber, and then he had silenced those voices, one by one...the first dozen or so had been an orgy of slaughter, his rage and pain driving him through...but after that, he had hunted them down, in ones and twos, not stopping until he couldn't fight any more.
He woke to find the Green Sith forcing water into his mouth. The pile of junk...still looked like a pile of junk, but now it was more organized, somehow. Wires connected pieces of it together, lights glowed, and something in its guts hummed.
"Don't worry," the brown alien said, mopping Task's brow with a wet rag. "Reaper calling home."
Consciousness came back to Eiven Task by degrees. Force senses awoke before he opened his eyes, two presences in the room with him - one, the Green Sith, his power greater than his short frame would suggest, like a seed waiting for the right soil; the other, one Eiven did not know, not particularly powerful but driven. The smell of bacta wafted into his nostrils, and he breathed easily and without pain; his right hand still grasped the forcesaber, but his skin touched cloth...sheets...and he lay on something soft and flat. The pain of his injuries had faded into a dull memory-ache, except for the uncomfortable weight of a catheter. Finally, Eiven registered sounds.
"...I think he's awake." A human voice said. Female, but unfamiliar. Task opened his eyes, blinked.
A medical bay. The Green Sith sat on a too-big chair, next to a human female with dark brown skin and kinky black hair cropped close to her skull, but her eyes were droid-eyes, glass-and-metal lenses that followed his moves. She was dressed in a grey-and-white technician's jumper, but at her hip was a curve-hilted grey-metal lightsaber, with a curious cord that stretched from the base of the hilt to a black box clipped to her belt. He felt a flicker of her presence in his mind.
"You feel better." She said. Task nodded. He brushed the sheet aside, and wasn't terribly surprised to see he was nude underneath. He still looked better than he had in months. His recent injuries had been reduced into barely visible scars, and even his old scars seemed to have faded. The line of red-black Sith runes tattooed into flesh along the line of his bifurcation were intact, and the prosthetics themselves were new and unfamiliar, like blue sacs held within a ceramic mesh. The shoulder-socket was still empty, however. Forcing himself to drop the forcesaber, Task clenched and unclenched his stiff right hand.
"Thanks to you. So what do I owe you?" Task asked. The woman came forward and not ungently disconnected the catheter.
"Nothing you don't want to give, Eiven Task. The Reaper called in a favor." she said. Her mechanical eyes met his own, and he made the mistake of staring for too long before he realized she probably didn't blink. "The only question now is what do I do with you. Two notorious Sith just broken out of a secret Jedi prison...won't be many places in the galaxy they won't be looking for you."
"I'm not a Sith," Eiven said, "and we need to go to the Graveyard."
She cocked her head to the side. "What for?"
"Because that's where I left my ship."
She called herself Droideyes. The ship was an unarmed and refitted Bothan frigate left over from the Rebellion; the name was in Droid, but she said a near-translation was No Tears for Meat. Droideyes was captain, six droids were the crew complement. While the Green Sith never wore clothes, at least as far as Task could tell, Droideyes had scavenged up a pair of pants for her fellow human, and the three biologicals settled into a regular pattern as the ship hurtled toward the Alderaan system, a regimen of exercise, meditation, and conversation.
"Injuries of body, healed. Again!" The Green Sith said, sitting on Eiven's back as the human did his one-handed push-ups. "Injuries of spirit, not so much."
"So when do I get to lightsaber practice?" Task asked, sweat dripping onto the floor.
"Never," Droideyes said, her hand resting on the hilt of her own blade. "Reaper told me about what happened on Dantooine. You lost control. That thing," she pointed a toe to the weapon hanging off his new belt. "Tipped you over the edge, almost burned you out."
"I don't care what Greenie said. It's just a tool," Task said, going down and coming back up in another rep.
"Not just tool," the little brown alien said "for others, perhaps. Not Force-users. Understanding of the Force, requires focus, experience. You see this, with lightsabers. So hard for non-adepts to use. The blade has no weight, so little mass, so deadly. To wield properly, a Jedi, a Sith must be aware of where the blade is at all times; to see where it is and where it is going to be. This awareness is only the beginning. Beyond this is affinity, to understand a weapon, to bond with it, to begin to understand how Force flows through that which does not live. It is the crux of what makes Jedi a Jedi, Sith a Sith."
Eiven felt a weight off his back, and saw the small brown alien levitating, legs tucked up underneath him, the big eyes closed, chin resting against his chest, which glowed from within, highlighting the dark grey shapes of the Sith tattoos. Task paused and stared up at him.
"In ancient days, before lightsabers, was the Jedi katanas. Metal blades, imbued with the Force, some using crystals in the hilt as focus, forged by a Jedi's power and understanding of the Force; tools, yes, but extensions of the Jedi, expression of their connection to the Force. Their power poured in the metal, to shape it, both the seen and unseen. Then came the forcesabers; older than the Jedi, feeding off anger, pain, and fear...many Jedi were unprepared, unable to control such feelings. Many fell to the Dark Side. This was the beginning of the Sith. They took the teachings of the Jedi and expanded on them, the Jedi Forge became the heart of Sith Alchemy, the ancient technique of forging Jedi katanas became the basis for Sith swords..."
"The Jedi weren't prepared because they didn't understand what they were dealing with," Droideyes broke in. With a deft maneuver she ignited her own lightsaber, brought it up in a Makashi salute. "Like you, when you picked up the forcesaber. They weren't prepared for it, because they hadn't developed the technology, didn't understand it. They recognized the potential of lightsabers, but knew they couldn't handle the forcesaber's power. So they made their own." She moved through a Makashi kata, beginning and ending in an opening stance. "Primitive fireswords and the like were not unknown before, but now the Jedi were trying to emulate something specific, and their technology wasn't quite up to the task. Their first efforts were protosabers - handheld energy swords, but with heavy power requirements that required an attached belt-mounted power supply."
"Like yours?" Task asked. She nodded.
"Mine is a retrosaber. Same principles as the protosaber, but with modern technology and materials. What the ancient Jedi did by necessity, I do by choice - but I do it better. The lightsaber as we know it was actually refined from Sith lightsabers, because the Sith experimented and perfected the superconducting loop that made the external power supply unnecessary. My retrosaber is as hardy and powerful as any modern design, but the power pack gives it a stronger, more lasting blade; while it lacks a bit of reach for some styles of fighting, the curved hilt is an old dueling design allows greater flexibility with the range it does have."
She demonstrated with a speedy, precise display, leaving blinding afterglow of Basic letters in Eiven's vision.
"Style too, important." Greenie continued. "Early protosabers, use sword-style. As understanding of lightsabers increased, so did combat become more...refined."
"The seven forms," Task said.
"That, and more than that," the Green Sith said. "There are powers to the stances, techniques, forms of meditation. The lightsaber becomes a part of the understanding of the Force, a means to use it; the power of the Force becomes one with the style of combat. Faster. Stronger. Surer. You know this. The forms move beyond the mere martial arts, they incorporate use and understanding of the Force into themselves - acrobatic flips, telekinetic throws, reading an opponent's thoughts...and sometimes more. You know Juyo."
"Yes," Task said.
"The seventh form, long incomplete. Once, Juyo was forbidden to the Jedi. Too aggressive, it led them to skirt the Dark Side. Then came Vaapad. The perfected seventh form, which channeled the Dark Side without being consumed by it...and even then, too dangerous."
"Mace Windu's form," Task said. "I know the stories. It's been lost since he died."
Droideyes ended another kata, this time with the point of her blade hovering only centimeters from Eiven's nose. Eiven's hand twitched, but he carefully kept his palm on the floor, far away from the forcesaber.
"You listen, but you do not understand. I know of you, Eiven Task. Holovids of underground tournaments, bounties levied, dead bodies found burned and dismembered. You walk a fine line between Light and Dark, calling neither Jedi nor Sith master. I respect that." She brought up the blade and clicked it off, hooking it back into her belt in one smooth, well-practiced motion. "But this forcesaber is powerful. More than anything you've dealt with before. It will make you dangerous in the eyes of those you run from. It may even destroy you. More than one Jedi, thinking they could master a forcesaber, slew everyone around them - and finding none left to hate, turned the burning blade on themselves."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Throw away. Destroy it." the brown alien whispered, "That would be best. Yet Reaper could not do it. Kept it with him, long time. Now, yours, and I doubt you throw it away either. No, Eiven Task, Darth Bitch of Dantooine Prison...you must find a way to control it, or come to peace with it. To find the balance you have lost. We will help you, until you get to your ship. Then, you are on your own. Now," the alien said, levitating back onto Task's back.
"Break is over. Again!"
Once, there was a planet called Alderaan. Now there was only the Graveyard, a debris field where a world once was. Perhaps one day, gravity would bring the fragments of the planet together again; but that would take place on a cosmic time scale. For now, Task knew, it stood as a memorial of a dead world, the psychic screams of the victims still echoing through the Force in the space around it. The three adepts were mostly silent as the No Tears for Meat slipped towards one of the larger fragments, keeping clear of the patrol by the Guardians - descendants of Alderaan that had been off-world when the planet died, now guarding the lost treasures and memorials erected from the depredations of scavengers and pirates. With Droideyes in the pilot's seat, Eiven acted as navigator, helping her avoid the Guardian's remote sensors, showing her where to land...a smuggler's bay, built into the chunk of a dead planet, long forgotten. Inside his ship, The Memory of Alderaan.
They said their goodbyes as the air filters hissed into life in his ship. Task watched the frigate leave through the front view-ports of the cramped pilot module. He waited until they were out of sight, and then until their Force presence faded into the background of the universe. When he was sure they were gone, he headed back into the living chambers and pressed a hidden stud. A portion of the wall moved aside with a hiss and a puff of dust. Others might have seen part of the old Imperial armory - blaster pistols, web gear, and bits of armor familiar to any Stormtrooper - but among the pieces was a workbench stocked with fragments from a dozen lightsabers, some of them ancient antiques dug up from barren battlefields; the decapitated head of the Sith architect droid A1S1; a row of seven holocrons won from the tournament on Tatooine. Front and center, on the narrow workbench where he had left it, was Eiven's prosthetic left arm.
Task set the forcesaber down next to it, and issued a command in Basic to A1S1. The droid responded with a long string of beeps and clicks in Droidspeak. Eiven nodded and began taking out the tools he would need. Whatever other lessons Droideyes and the Green Sith had hammered home in the slow weeks it took to travel from Dantooine on the Outer Rim to the Graveyard of Alderaan among the core worlds, Task had learned quite a bit about retrosabers.
Removing the casing from the prosthetic arm, Eiven revealed the lightsaber embedded in the limb, and set about removing it. The work was slow, because the human only had one hand to work with, and he and A1S1 chirped and chittered back and forth to each other. Disassembling the lightsaber, he held once more the crimson krayt dragon pearl he had taken from the tomb of a Prophet of the Dark Side - just holding it, the voices of the Alderaan dead grew more clear, his senses expanding and sharpening. Task set the gem down and began on opening the casing to the forcesaber.
The work was tricky, slow, and careful - because neither Eiven nor A1S1 had any experience with Rakatan technology. Yet even though ten thousand years might separate them from the artisan who made this weapon, a power cell was a power cell. The krayt dragon pearl was incorporated into a new focusing assembly attached to the beam emitter, the internal power cell attached by wires to an external power supply which Task installed in the upper arm.
The final adjustments to get the blade length and focus correction would require the blade to be activated, of course.
Eiven meditated to steel himself for the task, clearing his mind, letting the cold, dead emptiness of space ground him. He laid his right hand on the switch. Power surged through the melding of new and old circuits, and the forcesaber blade ignited. Instantly, rage and despair welled up within him, more intense than last time - the effect amplified by the Prophet's artifact. Now however there were no targets for his wrath, and Eiven felt almost overwhelmed by self-loathing. Rage at his impotence, his failures, all the abuse he had endured...yet as he hung on A1S1 chirped and burbled, the thin trailing wires from the Sith droid's head attached to the focus assembly, calibrating the blade length and shape. In less than a minute, the crimson blade was the length of a shoto, thirty-five centimeters long, thin and intense. Then the droid head cut the power.
Task crumpled onto the desk, his head in his hand. Less than a minute, and his new weapon had almost destroyed him. With a bit of a struggle, Eiven replaced the outer casing on the prosthetic arm, the emitter hole on the back of the wrist an the back of the hand plated with lightsaber-resistant phrik alloy. By the time it came to attach the arm into his shoulder socket, Task's hand had stopped shaking. When finished, he stood and stretched his left arm, getting used to the weight of it on that side of his body again, and allowed himself a small smile. It felt good to be whole again.
Then he frowned. For as powerful a weapon as the forcesaber was - more powerful, perhaps, now that it was married to the other artifact - it was still beyond his control. That would not do.
In the darkness, Task sat on his haunches before the seven holocrons, and bowed low as they flickered into life, the shadowy images of ancient Jedi and Sith staring at him.
"Masters," he said. "tell me what you know of Vaapad."