Buffy VI - Csilla
“Wait a sec! The Chiss live underground?”
“Indeed, they do,” Dalen said with a smirk. “And their cities are heated. Are you sure you aren’t a bit overdressed for the environment, Summers?”
Buffy scowled at Dalen from under her heavy vine cat-fur hoodie, under which she wore a full set of insulated, black-dyed gundark-hide clothes with cortosis weaved into them. “You could’ve warned me that we wouldn’t be going out into the cold immediately. Or at all.”
“Oh, we’ll certainly be going out into the cold eventually,” Dalen said. “But to miss the look on your face… That pout you’re wearing is quite cute.”
“Cute?!” Buffy pulled down her hood and looked at her Master strangely. “I didn’t think the Sith did ‘cute.’ What’s up with you?”
Dalen laughed. “Is it so strange that Sith can find things to be aesthetically pleasing?”
“Good-looking,” Dalen clarified.
“So,” Buffy said with a smirk of her own. “You find me good-looking, do you?”
“Don’t embarrass yourself, Summers,” Dalen said wryly. “It’s obvious that you’re a remarkable specimen of female human beauty. It’s something that you can and should use to your advantage as a Sith. Controlling the desires of others is key to manipulating them.”
“Ah, so you’re a charmer, are you?” Buffy asked, still smirking.
“When I want to be, I suppose,” Dalen said with a disarming smile.
Buffy suddenly felt her stomach do a cartwheel inside of her, and she realized that Shar Dalen was definitely a handsome man. He looked kind of exotic with his well-cropped black hair, pale blue eyes and healthy complexion.
“Mind your feelings, Summers,” Dalen reprimanded with a chuckle. “They betray you.”
“Uh, right. Sorry. Minding my feelings now,” Buffy said, quickly looking away from Dalen and instead focusing on the suddenly-interesting architecture of their own private ship, courtesy of Darth Arctis.
It was a Fury-class personal transport, armed and armored well enough for a ship much larger and quite comfortable on the inside. It had also been full of surveillance devices and hidden explosives that would surely be used against them if they decided to betray Darth Arctis. Buffy and Dalen had carefully swept the ship to find every hidden trap that they could before destroying or disarming them.
The droid that had been provided to pilot the ship also had to be reprogrammed to prevent it from reporting back to Darth Arctis. Fortunately for the mechanically-inept Buffy, Dalen had proved a capable enough engineer.
While Buffy kept concentrating on just how well-polished the interior of the ship was, the pilot droid was talking to a Chiss at ground control.
“Imperial transport Bronze
, you are cleared to land at docking bay 57,” a woman said over the intercom.
“This is Imperial Transport Bronze
. We copy. Docking bay 57. Over and out.”
“Where does that name come from?” Dalen asked. “When you asked to name the ship, I saw no reason to object unless it was something inappropriate, but I do confess to a certain amount of curiosity.”
Buffy looked down at the floor of the ship to prevent her memories from overtaking her. Remembering all of the vampires she’d found there, all of the innocent people who’d been killed before she arrived in Sunnydale, Buffy let her anger simmer and used it to suppress her surface feelings.
“The Bronze was a place where my friends and I would hang out when we were younger. It was one of our little havens away from the bad stuff about life in Sunnydale,” Buffy explained.
“So, you want this ship to represent a safe haven for you, then?” Dalen intuited.
“Huh.” Buffy pondered Dalen’s words. “I hadn’t really thought about it quite like that, but I guess you’re right. Moving onto more important stuff: What should I wear? I mean, what’s ‘in’ with Chiss fashion these days?”
“I couldn’t rightly say,” Dalen answered. “But your gundark-hide vestments are appropriate enough for a Sith, and should keep you comfortable. A hooded cloak would not be out of place, either.”
“Fur-lined?” Buffy asked with a touch of hope. She didn’t feel as bad about wearing fur when she’d killed the vine cat herself before it could maul her to death.
“I don’t believe that would be quite as appropriate, but the choice is yours. As are, in all things, the consequences,” Dalen warned.
Buffy felt a chill that she doubted had anything to do with their impending landing on Csilla.
The Chiss capital city of Csaplar was unlike anything Buffy had ever seen before. A massive cavern surrounded by glittering crystals of ice, Csaplar was a treat for the eyes. Tunnels led away from the main cavern in all directions that Dalen said led to different districts of the capital or to other cities entirely. The entire planet was connected by a series of interconnected tunnels.
“Csilla is not a dump truck,” Buffy said, remembering a funny thing a politician had said once back on Earth. “It’s a series of tubes.”
“Indeed,” Dalen said, accepting his apprentice’s oddities as normal background noise by now. “Our arrangements are at the Imperial Embassy, which my map tells me is a few blocks down from here. Follow, Summers.”
“Summers?” Buffy asked. “Not ‘apprentice?’”
“This is not Imperial space,” Dalen said carefully. “The Chiss are a very private, very formal people, but their forms are different from ours. I wish to provide a more unified front when speaking with them. To that end, I would rather have us speak with more familiarity than we would in the Sith Sanctum, for example.”
Buffy sensed there was more to Dalen’s choice than what he had voiced, but she nodded along with him. “I understand, Dalen.”
“Good. It’s just over here, now.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “Kinda hard to miss.”
Most Chiss buildings were made out of a blue-black metal of some sort, and they tended to be painted with colorful and elaborate patterns. The Imperial Embassy was painted all in black and had red banners bearing the Imperial seal streaming from every tiny overhang that could be found in the architecture.
A pair of black-armored Imperial soldiers flanked the door to the Embassy and remained silent and attentive as Dalen and Buffy went inside. Soldiers guarded everything in the Empire, and Buffy was finding it increasingly easy to ignore them, especially since their faces were covered by their helmets.
A human woman in an officer’s uniform approached them. She was short even compared to Buffy. “My Lords, we are honored by your presence. Accommodations have been arranged for you both on the second level. May I show you to them, my Lord?”
“Very well, Lieutenant,” Dalen said, sounding bored. “Proceed.”
“Yes, my Lord.” The short brunette lieutenant bowed to Dalen and led him up a set of stairs. Buffy followed, idly wondering if the pale, sparkling staircase was made of ice or some material that she wasn’t familiar with. Whatever it was, she didn’t feel herself about to slip.
Buffy watched as the lieutenant showed Dalen his room at the end of a hall on the second level, wondering if Csaplar had hot water, or if she’d be forced to bathe in ice water.
“My Lord?” the Lieutenant said.
It took a few moments for Buffy to realize that Dalen and the lieutenant were both looking at her. Why was she being addressed as a lord?
“Yes, Lieutenant?” Buffy managed at last.
“Your room is just over here, my Lord.”
Shooting Dalen a quick look, Buffy saw him nod his approval.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Buffy said, moving in to inspect her room.
A low whistle was Buffy’s opinion of the lavish arrangements laid out for her. A large, soft-looking bed with black sheets sat atop a lush red carpet, and shelves of Sith manuscripts lined the walls.
The bathroom had a very modern, very Imperial-looking set of apparatuses, and a quick inspection of the sink and tub revealed the existence of not only hot water, but of a kind of bubbly soap that Buffy had never seen before, but was certain to try out when she had a spare moment.
“Don’t get too comfortable, Summers,” Dalen called from outside the room.
Buffy scowled and went back to meet Dalen in the hallway. “Why did you let that woman call me ‘lord,’ Dalen?”
“If you must know,” Dalen said frankly, “in the Empire, all Sith, be they Dark Councilors or merely acolytes, are a station above the rest of the citizenry, and ‘my Lord’ is the appropriate form of address for all real Sith. It does not change your actual station, but despite being my apprentice, you are still one of the most powerful beings in the Empire. Just be mindful that there are still many above you, and be sure not to tolerate overly familiar treatment from those beneath you.”
“Beneath me?” Buffy asked incredulously.
“Yes, Summers. Beneath you,” Dalen said with emphasis. “You are Sith. You are an embodiment of strength, power, and victory. If you allow lesser beings to equate themselves with you, then you weaken yourself whether you realize it or not.”
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t buy that.”
“It wasn’t a question or a request,” Dalen said, his voice turning cold. “Mind your place at all times and places, but also be mindful that your place may shift from situation to situation. Your place on Csilla is far different than it was on Korriban or Dromund Kaas, for example. The people in this embassy are beneath us, Summers. The Chiss outside of this building cannot be treated as anything more or less than equals, lest we risk our alliance with them.”
“I got it already!” Buffy said. “Geez, I get it. I’m a Sith. Yay for me.”
“Indeed. This visit was merely to get settled. Our next stop is the office of the archaeological company that excavated the ruin. We’re going to take stock of what is already known. I’d also like to interview the Force-sensitive Chiss and get her take on the situation.”
“Right,” Buffy said. “But we get to come back here to soft sheets and hot water and bubbles later on, right?”
Dalen stared at Buffy silently for a moment before turning and walking back towards the staircase, shaking his head.
Buffy followed, and she could have sworn she heard Dalen cursing the word ‘bubbles’ under his breath.
“Is your translator working, Summers?”
“How should I know?” Buffy said, adjusting the earpiece that she’d been provided by the embassy staff.
“It appears to translate Sy Bisti well enough,” Dalen said.
“Wait. You just spoke to me in a different language?”
“I did,” Dalen confirmed. “Sy Bisti is a language used mostly by traders and smugglers in the closest civilized systems outside the Chiss Ascendancy. Most Chiss will not understand or speak Basic, so we’ll have to hope that these devices translate Cheunh as well as they do Sy Bisti.”
“Right. Understanding each other, good,” Buffy said to herself.
“Here we are,” Dalen said as they came to what might have been an office building back on Earth. It was a rectangular tower made of the same blue-black metal as most other buildings in Csaplar, and it had three columns of symbols painted on the window. The symbols were all either yellow or green, and Buffy only recognized one of them.
“That one,” she said, pointing to a green pentagon split into three segments. “That’s the symbol of the company, right?”
“Good eye, Summers. We do have the right building. Inside.”
Buffy followed Dalen, who was talking to a receptionist about where to find the office of Chief Archaeologist Sinn’apr’olantt. The fact that Buffy could keep up with the elaborate Chiss name, as well as the English-sounding words coming from the receptionist, told her that the translator was doing its job.
“This way, Summers.”
Buffy followed, only to be hit by a delayed realization. “You said ‘good eye’ when I caught the symbol, Dalen.”
“What of it?” he asked as they entered a lift.
“That’s an Earth phrase. That’s something I might’ve said.”
“Very true, Summers,” Dalen said with a wry smile. “Your world, however primitive you make it seem to be, has a fascinating culture to it. I can sense just by the way you speak that you could probably teach us all a great deal.”
“Huh. I don’t think you’d find many Sith who agree with you,” Buffy observed.
“Most Sith are too proud to admit that good ideas can come from non-Sith sources. Ah, here we are.”
The lift deposited the two Sith conveniently in front of a door bearing the same segmented pentagon that Buffy had observed earlier.
Dalen knocked on the door with the back of his hand.
A well-built Chiss male answered the door, and Buffy was struck by how the species looked up close. She’d seen Chiss walking by in the streets earlier, but seeing the blue-skinned Chiss with their glowing red eyes up close was certainly a different experience entirely.
“You must be Lords Dalen and Summers,” the Chiss said bluntly. “Please, enter.”
Buffy wasn’t sure if it was a cultural misunderstanding or an urge to be polite that had her pegged as ‘Lord Summers,’ but she followed Dalen’s lead and uttered a quick ‘thank you’ to the Chiss and stepped into the room.
Buffy had been expecting an office with cubicles and desktop computers and printers whirring in the background. She had not been expecting a hustle and bustle of white-clad Chiss moving bits and pieces of stone and icy crystal to and fro. Pictures of various dig sites adorned the walls, and the displays were divided into neat and distinct areas that Buffy imagined must hold a separate piece of buried history.
“I told you they were at the door already,” a Chiss female said, and Buffy could sense her frustration in the Force. She looked to be about Buffy’s age, and she had her blue-black hair in a ponytail with a few bangs hanging just over her left eye. Buffy thought she looked quite fashionable, save for the bland white uniform.
“And it appears I must learn to trust your judgment more often,” an older Chiss male said. His hair was black with the smallest hints of grey in it, and it was cropped short in a style similar to Dalen’s. Buffy couldn’t help but notice that all of the Chiss in the room looked to be well-built and healthy by human standards.
“I apologize for my colleague’s rudeness,” the older Chiss said. “I am Chief Archaeologist Sinn’apr’olantt. I have noticed, however, that off-worlders often have difficulty with Chiss full names, so if you wish, you may call me by my core name of Naprol.”
“You do us both great honor, Chief Archaeologist Naprol,” Dalen said. “I am Lord Shar Dalen, and this is my apprentice, Buffy Summers.”
“And it is my honor to meet an off-worlder with such respect,” Naprol said kindly. “Do you not have anything to say yourself, Lord Summers?”
Buffy was taken aback for a moment, unused to people in authority talking to her directly unless they were sadistic Dark Councilors who were trying to goad her into reckless action. “I’m sorry, Chief Archaeologist,” Buffy said quickly. “In the Empire, I’m not usually asked for my opinion, since I’m not technically a lord yet. It’s a pleasure to meet you, though, and I hope that we can all get inside this building you found and see what’s inside.”
Naprol inclined his head in what Buffy suspected was a gesture of approval. “It seems that not all Sith have such a high opinion of themselves that they look down upon others. It is a privilege to meet two Sith such as yourselves. As to the reason why you are both here-“
“I can update them on that, Chief Archaeologist,” the same Chiss female said impatiently.
Buffy looked at her more carefully, and she sensed that this was the Chiss who had made the door to the ruin move. She certainly stood out in the Force compared to the other Chiss in the room.
“Again, I must beg forgiveness for my colleague,” Naprol said. “She speaks out of turn.”
“It’s quite all right,” Dalen said. “I do believe that this is the woman who was able to gain a reaction from the ruin. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is,” Naprol said carefully. “When the Sith who tested her first told me about this ‘Force,’ I was skeptical. Having observed the behavior in this room, however, I must revise my earlier preconceptions. Lord Dalen, Miss Summers, this is Excavator Mitth’ris’sintar. I suppose it would be best if she told you about her experience. Shall we move this conversation to my office and sit down?”
“That would be wonderful, Chief Archaeologist,” Dalen said.
Buffy followed Dalen and the two Chiss into a small office adorned with only a simple desk and a shelf full of datapads.
Naprol pushed a button on his desk and the room lit up with green lights in a number of patterns on the walls and ceiling, and benches unfolded from the walls.
Buffy sat next to Dalen on one bench with the female Chiss taking the other and Naprol sitting behind his desk.
“Now then,” Naprol said, “what do you wish to know?”
“First of all,” Dalen said, “I ask your forgiveness, Excavator, but as Chief Archaeologist Naprol pointed out earlier, my apprentice and I are unfamiliar with Chiss full names, and we do not wish to appear foolish or insulting by mispronouncing them. May we have the honor of addressing you by your core name?”
“Gladly,” the Chiss female said with a laugh. “You may call me Thriss, Lords Dalen and Summers. Perhaps it is because of this Force that I am told about, but I have always had difficulty with social conventions. I can sense what people around me are feeling, and observing the social graces always seemed so unnecessary.”
“You sensed us before we walked in the door,” Buffy said. “Is that right?”
“It is,” Thriss said. “You are both so much more powerful than any Chiss I have ever met. You both feel warm in a way that I cannot put into words. Especially you, Lord Summers. You feel hotter and brighter compared to anyone else I have ever met.”
Buffy felt her face flush at the Chiss’s words, and she immediately felt Dalen’s anger begin to build.
Buffy looked at the usually cool and collected Shar Dalen and sensed a growing anger inside of him. Then it hit her: Thriss had pretty much come out and said that Buffy was the more powerful of the two of them!
“I appreciate your directness, Excavator Thriss,” Dalen said crisply, “and I would appreciate it even more if you could apply that directness to what you found at the dig site, please.”
“It would be my pleasure, Lord Dalen,” Thriss said. Despite her words being directed at Dalen, Buffy felt the Chiss’s eyes on her instead. “I believe you have the recordings of the site, Chief Archaeologist.”
“Yes, I do,” Naprol said, fetching a datapad from his shelf and plugging it into a slot in his desk.
The green lights on the far wall disappeared, replaced by a video recording of a ruin in the ice. The footage was distant, and Buffy could make out a building made of some sort of stone, poking through the ice that was being chipped and melted away, but not much else.
“That material that the ruin is constructed from,” Dalen said. “Is that native to Csilla?”
“As best we can determine, it is not,” Naprol said. “With your permission, we would like to compare our notes against materials found on Imperial worlds to determine if there is any correlation to be found.”
“I don’t see why that would be a problem,” Dalen said politely. “I’ll put you in touch with the Imperial Reclamation Service, as they would be the ones to talk to regarding such a matter. Now, before you made your progress, Thriss, what other efforts had been made to open the ruin?”
It was Naprol who spoke next. “We found the apparent opening to the ruin as you see it here” he said, and the video of the dig site from afar was replaced by a still image of a pair of stone doors several meters tall. There was a symbol etched on them that Buffy had never seen before: it vaguely resembled a cross in only the vaguest sense. It was more like a vertically-elongated diamond formed around what looked like an egg.
“The symbol is not in our records,” Naprol went on. “We were hoping it might be something out of Sith history, perhaps from the past before the ice age that hit Csilla almost 1500 years ago.”
That caught Buffy’s attention. If Csilla had only become covered in ice less than two thousand years ago, then the Chiss had built an entire civilization of underground cities that covered the planet in less time since the fall of the Roman Empire.
Buffy mentally told herself to never underestimate the Chiss’s competency.
“Excavator Thriss was part of the team attempting to open the ruin,” Naprol said.
“Thank you, Chief Archaeologist,” Thriss said, and Buffy detected a hint of resentment from Thriss directed at her superior. “The others in my team were so intent on analyzing the properties of the stone and making sure that they wouldn’t damage the ruin that they overlooked the energy it was giving off.”
“We’ve been over this, Excavator,” Naprol said impatiently. “There was no energy being emitted.”
“None that you could detect,” Thriss shot back. “But to a Sith, this could be something very normal. I could feel it, Chief Archaeologist. I reached out to the door, expecting it to open at my mere touch. A foolish notion, I know, but I could not help what I felt.”
“It is understandable for a Force-sensitive individual such as yourself to experience such feelings,” Dalen said.
“What else did you try before it budged?” Buffy put in, not wanting to seem too timid to the Chiss.
“I tried getting into the gap between the two doors with various instruments to pry them open. After that, I tried chipping away at the stone with small tools, but they made no impact at all. I couldn’t even find trace amounts of the tools on the stone after they had definitely made contact.”
Buffy felt a flash of insight in her mind, and she was suddenly seeing the dig site through Thriss’s eyes.
“You got angry,” Buffy said carefully, not fully aware of her own speech. “You got angry because you could feel the key to this ruin that none of your colleagues could. You felt you had a right to get inside, and you fed your anger into the ruin, and that’s when it budged.”
Although the Chiss’s lack of pupils made their facial expressions hard for Buffy to read, she felt the surprise from Naprol and the vindication from Thriss.
“Yes, yes, yes! That’s it exactly! I told you, Chief Archaeologist! I told you all that this was what happened, but you dismissed my theories out of hand!”
“If this is true,” Dalen said, eagerness creeping into his voice, “then this is most likely a relic of the Dark Side of the Force. Whether it is from an older Sith Empire or else another spacefaring civilization, I would like to ask permission, on behalf of the Empire, to accompany you to the dig site when next you head out there. My apprentice would accompany us.”
“This isn’t a governmental affair,” Naprol said fairly, “but as the Chief Archaeologist for this project, I would like to extend my invitation to both of you to examine the site for yourselves. I imagine you’d like for Excavator Thriss to join us as well?”
“I think so,” Buffy said, catching the gaze of the female Chiss. “She has gotten more results than anyone else, right?”
“She has, indeed,” Thriss said with smug satisfaction. “With your permission, Lords Dalen and Summers, I would like to accompany you for a while.”
“Excavator Mitth’ris’sintar!” Naprol reprimanded. “You are not in any position to make demands of our Sith guests.”
“It’s fine,” Buffy said, and she sensed Dalen’s displeasure. “I take it you’re curious about the Force and the Sith?”
“Very much so,” Thriss said eagerly. “It would provide so many answers to questions I’ve had all my life.”
“I bet,” Buffy said with a smile. “It’s Dalen’s call, but I’d be up for having you along for the ride.”
Buffy turned to Dalen, who was doing his best to keep a straight face. She could sense his anger at being upstaged, and Buffy felt a tinge of fear that she might have taken things one step too far this time.
“Later tonight,” Dalen said at last. “Perhaps you can show us around Csaplar, and we can dine together and exchange our histories and cultures with each other.”
“I would be honored, my Lords,” Thriss said, and Buffy could feel her joy.
“Well,” Naprol said. “I’m certainly glad that is settled. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Not for the moment,” Dalen said, rising from his seat. “My apprentice and I have business to attend to back at the embassy. What time would be best to meet for an evening meal, Excavator Thriss?”
“Csilla has a seventeen-hour day by Imperial standards,” Thriss explained. “Perhaps at 1530 outside the embassy?”
“We will see you there. Chief Archaeologist Naprol, Excavator Thriss: It has been a pleasure meeting both of you, and I look forward to future cooperation between our two peoples.”
“As do we,” Naprol said, also standing up. “Travel safely, Lord Dalen and Miss Summers.”
Sensing that this was a proper farewell, Buffy said, “Travel safely, Chief Archaeologist Naprol, Excavator Thriss.”
“Travel safely,” Dalen echoed. “Come, apprentice.”
Not missing Dalen’s use of Buffy’s title instead of her name, she followed and suppressed the lump in her throat.
They got in the lift, and Buffy watched the green pentagon disappear as the doors closed behind them.
“You did well in there, Summers,” Dalen said in a low, cool voice. “I sense you feel emboldened by the Chiss’s perceptions of you. Perhaps you seek to challenge me now?”
Buffy knew that Dalen would know if she lied. “No, Master,” she said, knowing that she’d likely be tortured if she didn’t use his title. “You still have a lot to teach me, and I don’t want to hurt you.”
Dalen looked at Buffy strangely, and she realized that the concept of a Sith apprentice not wanting to challenge her Master was an extreme rarity.
“You are an ever unfolding mystery, Summers,” Dalen said, and Buffy felt his anger begin to ebb away as the lift opened at ground level. “Come! We must prepare for our evening out. I imagine you want to get back to your room with its ‘bubbles’ that you so yearn for.”
Buffy felt Dalen’s amusement and she caught a small smirk on his lips.
“You’re a jerk, you know that?”
“I beg your pardon?” Dalen said coolly.
“Sorry. You’re a jerk, Master.”
“Better, Summers,” Dalen said as the two Sith laughed together in the streets of Csaplar.
NOTE: The first (and so far, only) Interlude a few chapters back has been revised and redone a fair deal as of 10/27/2012. Not enough to change the overall content, but the overall feel of the chapter has been edited to give a more dream-like feel to it, or so I hope. Just letting you all know in case some of you want to go back and re-read that chapter.
I don't own a lot of stuff. Specifically...
Shar Dalen: original
Chiss: not mine
Csilla: not mine
Csaplar: not mine
Embassy Bubble Baths: proudly original
Special Thanks to Sithspit and ShalaDakiri for beta-reading this chapter.
If you have any thoughts on anything, if any part of the chapter caught your fancy or didn't work out for you, please let me know in a review. I want to make this story as fun to read as I possibly can.
Many Thanks to all of you for reading and reviewing. I sincerely hope you enjoy the story!