The stars studding the galaxy lied. Their glow implied a heart filled with fire and brilliance, but they did not sparkle and a star with no sparkle was no star at all. They were pretenders and fakes and they were not alone. Littered among them were fleets of starships eerily suspended in the heat of battle or in the throes of destruction, or in retreat—all of them trapped in a frozen orbit over the rocky purgatory below.
Even the plumes of fire and smoke girding the vessels remained static. Placid and unmoving, fire had turned to ice, its fury pressed into an unwilling surrender.
The sound of rocks being piled on top of more rocks broke the silence with its imperfect rhythm. There was a persistence in the effort, marred only by the falling sift of a rock that lost its place on the stack.
Time had no meaning here, but the scratchy rhythm continued out of spite, forcing time on a plain where it didn’t exist. It was the sound of an uneasy progress, all at once defiant and broken and impudent. The beat was an affront to the unseen entity shadowing both builder and cairn.
The mound grew and when it was complete, the process would being again.
A raspy hiss gathered into a male voice—a hedonistic baritone as decadent as every known indulgence combined.
“Look at me. Do you know why I followed you to this place?”
The song of piling stones grew more assertive as an angry staccato took over the beats.
“Say something,” the voice taunted. “You’re of no use to either of us so long as you insist on piling these wretched stones over a body that isn’t there. You have covered entire continents with these mounds. What will you do when you’ve exhausted every stone and hectare?”
Liatrix stopped building long enough to take in the landscape. Burial cairns touched every horizon—thousands upon thousands of mounds—spanning as far as the eye could see. She said nothing and continued packing the stones with bloodied hands.
“This is the sum of your life as Jedi, as Sith. Was it worth the journey? I think not. All of this,” he said, sweeping his arms in a wide arc, “was quite unnecessary. All I asked was that he kneel—a small price to preserve your way of life.”
The rhythm quickened and the words hung between them.
He turned his back to her. “He was not the father you deserved, but I am. I could teach you more than you can imagine.”
She hurled stone after stone at him, his low cruel laughter rising as each one passed through him without harm.
Liatrix leapt to her feet. “You didn’t deserve his fealty, Valkorion. Or mine. He was a true leader to the Empire. You abandoned your people.”
“But I didn’t abandon you.”
“Guess we can’t have everything.”
“Don’t think that I don’t hear you calling out to him, begging him to answer you. No matter how you beg and plead, he will never reply. Priorities change after death.”
“I need him. He wouldn’t abandon me.”
“He already has.” Valkorian pivoted to face her. “If not for me, you’d be alone.”
“I’d rather that.” Liatrix’s stomach knotted. She couldn’t deny Valkorion had a point. Why wouldn’t he answer?
“As for the Empire and the Republic—both of them were failed experiments, peopled with beings trapped by their dogma and narrow-mindedness, much like your father. He’s not worthy of your grief. Forget him, cut your losses, like I did.
“Never! You murdered him. You took everything and everyone that mattered from me. If there’s a hell, I’m in it.”
“I have no patience for your anger or self-pity. You’ve wallowed in both long enough. The time has come to achieve something of worth.”
“Maybe I should just dash this rock against my head until my brain leaks out. Maybe then you’ll shut up and leave me alone. You’re a disease, Valkorion. I should’ve known you’d pull something like this when I killed you.”
“Do you honestly believe that was the moment I joined you?”
“I don’t have time for your mind games.”
“On the contrary, time is all you have. Use it to evolve.”
“Everyone I love is gone. You should’ve killed me too. I’ll never bow to you. I’ll never be what you want.”
“I need no such obeisance from you. You and you alone have earned my respect.” He gazed up at the unmoving heavens and clasped his hands behind his back. “I have always loved the stars.”
“I sincerely hope you’re not flirting with me.”
“Do not play the fool. We are long past such trivialities. Together, we watched a world die. We reveled in the true meaning of what it means to live. No other can understand its purpose as we do—we share a connection far deeper and more powerful than one forged of something so provincial as blood or lust. Our bond transcends all others. Unlike those who share your blood or those you’ve had intimately, I never left you.”
“Now I know I’m in hell.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you. It’s an unfortunate trait I would see you stamp out.”
“I’ll get right on it,” she snarled. “There are more than a few things I wish I could stamp out. The horrors you inflicted on me—I can’t forget. When I’m alone at night, I can still hear them screaming. I see the look in their eyes—that moment of realization that they’re about to die—that everything is about to die. You violated me. You think forcing me to share a global extinction with you should endear you to me somehow?”
“You learned the value of life that day. In that moment, we achieved something together. We became more than what we were before—we took our first steps to becoming our ultimate selves. I have watched you for a long time. Only you were truly deserving of my favour.”
“I’m sure your children would disagree. No wonder they hate you.”
“They are pale shadows, nothing more. You were the one I wanted to call my own and none of my creations ever came close.”
“You’re not my father. You're nothing. I’ll always be devoted to him and his memory. Never you. You’re a killer.”
Valkorion laughed. “As are you. You were always at your best when you took a life. Each one added to your power. That was my gift to you. You could be so much more and yet you insist on clinging to this absurd loyalty to a man you barely knew.”
“I didn’t know him long, but I knew him long enough. He left an impression.” Liatrix turned her back to him and snatched up another stone.
“Your dedication is admirable, but why settle for building these mounds when you could be building empires? I would share all I have with you.”
“You don’t share. You devour. I’m nothing like you.”
“You are exactly like me. In your heart of hearts, you long for true freedom. You long for the galaxy with all its wonders and delights. You have denied your true nature for too long.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I long for my family. They mattered to me more than any Empire or war. I fought only because it meant a better life for them.”
“Assuming they survived the holocaust my son has unleashed upon the galaxy in my name, you will find they no longer need you. Your core worlds are ash. There is nothing left for you—no Empire, no Republic. Become who you were meant to be.”
“You can’t know that. It’s impossible. You’re as stuck as I am.”
“Am I?” Valkorion’s lip edged up slyly.
“Go bother someone else if you’re not.”
“Denying the truth will not make it any less true.”
“Scourge will come for me.”
“He betrayed me and he will betray you too.”
“I pity your delusions. The time you spent with him was a mere blink compared to the centuries he spent at my side.”
“He never showed you his true face. He lied to you for three hundred years. He resisted everything you are.”
“I know. Make no mistake, I saw through his machinations from the moment he betrayed Revan and the Exile to me. He fooled no one.”
“Then why didn’t you kill him?”
“Because his visions would lead me to you—you were always my goal.”
“You’re lying. You couldn’t have known about me. It doesn’t matter. Someone will come.” Liatrix gasped and doubled over. A searing pain cut a path from her abdomen to her lungs. Bile bubbled up her throat and she vomited. “W-what is this?” She cringed at the rusty sputum at her feet. “What’s happening to me?”
“You’re dying. My children had you frozen in carbonite. Regrettably, the process was less than perfect. Only by my graces do you live.”
“Don’t do me any favours. Dying would be worth it to be rid of you.”
“Not even death will excise my hold on you. You are mine as thoroughly as I am yours.”
“Someone will come. I have friends.”
“You have no friends—only those that would use you. Your companions…do you wish to see them before the end?”
Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth to speak but caught herself.
“I can see that you do. Come,” Valkorion beckoned with an upturned palm.
Liatrix hesitated, her gaze wary. She regretted the moment of unguarded candor he elicited. She followed him up the rocky incline until the burning hull of a wrecked freighter came into view. She’d only seen the Scumrunner once but recognized it immediately.
Thin plumes of static grey smoke curled over the site and she broke into a sprint, leaving Valkorion behind.
She collided with an invisible barrier and frowned. “I need to talk to them—to tell them…”
“Your companions were useful before you understood your potential. But now, you are complete. You have no need for this mechanical servant, or my failed creation—any more than you have a use for this man you once called husband.”
“Calling to them will do no good.”
“Where’s my family—my children? Scourge?”
“I’ve indulged you quite enough. Seeing them would serve no purpose. Every day they drift further away from you and each other while the galaxy spirals into chaos.”
“I won’t fall for your illusions. They’re not really here. They never were. None of this is real.”
“There is greatness in you. I never understood how you could settle for such a mediocre existence.”
“That’s not for you to decide. I was happy.”
“Were you?” Valkorion drawled and circled her like a vulture circles a carcass. “Your silence is telling. Admit it. You outgrew the Republic, long before you murdered their champions.”
With a pass of his hand, Liatrix relived her duel with the Grandmaster on Dromund Fels. Within minutes, Satele stood before her, arms charred and severed at the elbows and her weapon at her feet in pieces. With one deft kick to the chest, she’d sent Satele Shan hurtling off the cliff to her death. Liatrix peered over the edge, watching her enemy connect with the jagged rocks below.
The vision faded and Valkorion stood at her side. “I sense no regret in you.”
“That’s because there isn’t any. She deserved it. She failed the order and her family. My only regret is that Theron suffered—”
“And in time, you would have outgrown the Empire as well. You should be grateful, I saved you the trouble of having to kill your father yourself. He would’ve held you back.”
“My father was everything to me. You’re kidding yourself if you think I’m going to believe your lies, Valkorion.”
“There was a time not so long ago that you would sit by my side, all too willing to hear my wisdom.”
“I’m no longer a mindless puppet. I’m stronger than I used to be.”
“Yes, I can feel it.”
“You choose to harass me, day in day out. Why?”
“Because you are a part of me I wish to keep. I have done all I can for you, but I cannot save you unless you choose to live.”
“Fine. What is it you want from me?”
“Only you have matched my will to survive—we share a common foe—one that will require both of us to defeat.”
((to be continued…))