Buffy II - Social Contracts
Buffy strode into Overseer Dalen’s new study and whistled at the change in scenery from his old haunt. It was a far larger space with a nice, big window overlooking the Valley of the Dark Lords. The desk was unlike anything Buffy had seen before. Yes, it was a desk, but the carvings in it almost looked like runes, only they weren’t in the Aurek-Besh language that she’d come to associate with this universe.
“Ah, come in Acolyte Summers,” Dalen said, clearly in a good mood. “Your little jaunt in the Tomb of Ajunta Pall has reaped many benefits.”
“Which is why you sent me there in the first place,” Buffy realized. “If I died, I was of no use to you, but if I succeeded – which I did with flying colors, thank you very much – then you would get the credit and recognition that we all know you deserve for training me so well.”
“You are starting to think like a Sith,” Dalen said approvingly. “This is very good. Sit down. We have much to discuss.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow, but took the seat across from the Overseer. “You’re being awfully familiar with me, Overseer,” she noted.
“Well, most Sith would simply take the credit they felt they were due and leave it at that, but I owe my higher stature to your success more than anything else. As such, I feel it is necessary to reevaluate our situation.”
“Let me guess,” Buffy said sarcastically, “this is where you hammer home the point that you’re the teacher, I’m the student, and I’m not supposed to get any wild ideas about killing you and taking your place, right?”
“Correct, to a point,” Dalen said. “Since you have already disclosed one purpose of this discussion, I shan’t bore you with needless intimidation. You make a reasonably compliant student, and you are intelligent enough to know that I am still your better in the ways of the Force. No, we must consult on where to go from here. The clearing of the Tomb of Ajunta Pall was a task that was expected to require the sacrifice of many platoons of Imperial soldiers. You’ve spared the Empire a great deal of time and resources, and have reopened to us a great source of ancient knowledge.”
“Uh, you’re welcome?” Buffy said skeptically.
“Quite,” Dalen said drolly. “Whenever another Sith sends their acolytes into that Tomb, they will know that it is only by your power that they are able to do so. We have made a bold move, but that boldness has called out our strength to the entire Academy, and that strength will be seen by many as a challenge.”
“Aren’t students forbidden from killing each other?” Buffy asked. “I mean, it sounds like you’re telling me to watch out, but do I really need to worry about that?”
Dalen snorted. “I thought you were smarter than that, Summers. That rule is the official word, but as Sith, you must learn to read between the lines. You can only be punished if you leave proof to show that you are the guilty party. The true rule is that no acolyte shall kill another and be caught doing so. You will need to be on your guard. Self-defense is permissible.”
Buffy simply nodded to indicate that she understood. There was a silent understanding between the two of them as to when the Overseer wanted a reply and when he didn’t. Buffy had run enough menial errands for higher-ranked Sith Lords to know that Dalen was far smarter than many Sith, and she figured that he was probably working his way to become a full-fledged Lord.
“Your mastery of the war-blade is spectacular, given your limited time with it. It is merely a stepping stone, however, to the true weapon of a Sith: the lightsaber. It is typical for the most promising apprentices to retrieve rare and ancient weapons from the Tombs, or else from rival acolytes. For you, however, I have something else in mind. A Sith’s weapon is not merely a tool. In combat, a lightsaber becomes an extension of the self. You must be as intimately familiar with it as you are with your own body. For that reason, you will construct your own lightsaber, and I will present it to you upon the completion of your trials on Korriban.”
Buffy felt her eyes widen. “You mean your glowy-sword-things? I have no idea how that technology works. Any technology, really. I’d probably blow something up trying.”
Dalen waved away her concerns with a brush of his hand. “The components you are most unfamiliar with will be assembled beforehand. There is some leeway that I will allow you, given your lack of technical expertise and unfamiliarity with our lettering. Which brings me to another topic I want to discuss with you: I want you to teach me your language.”
Buffy couldn’t help but laugh. “You want to learn the alphabet? We do understand each other, don’t we?”
“We do. Your language is close enough to Basic that I can understand you as though you had a Corellian accent. Perhaps it is some subtle working of the Force that we can understand each other. But I want to know your written language. The time may come when we will need to encode our work, and if we can use characters that no others are familiar with, then we will gain an advantage.”
“And while I teach you English,” Buffy said, following her train of thought, “you’ll be teaching me… What is it called? Aurek-Besh?”
“Precisely! Oh, there are so many Sith who must be wondering how a being from a primitive world such as Denova could be so cunning and powerful. You are an anomaly, Summers, though few realize just how much of one. Be cautious with need, bold with opportunity, and you will go very far.”
Buffy didn’t know how far she needed to go, but once she found Faith, then she’d head as far as it took to get back home.
Buffy was looking for a brain.
It was a testament to how crazy her life had been up until now that she did not question the sanity of the Sith Lord who had sent her into the Tomb of Marka Ragnos to retrieve the brain of a beast that he had experimented on. The guy was clearly crazy, but Buffy knew that he had earned his ‘Lord’ title somehow, and she didn’t want to test his patience. So, she found herself battling through a tomb full of tuk’ata – monstrous, dog-like beasts with large horns – to find the one mutated version with a brain she needed to retrieve.
A moment before her Slayer’s hearing picked up on the voices, the Force alerted her to two others ahead of her.
“-insane, I tell you! I thought the k’lor slugs were all gone from the tombs!” a young woman shouted.
“They’re all over Korriban, Malra. Get used to it. And it was only Ajunta Pall’s tomb that got cleared out. Some new blood who doesn’t know her own reach.” This voice belonged to a young man.
“You really think one person could do that, Telran? One acolyte? We barely survived three k’lor slugs. What if there’s more?”
“It doesn’t matter, does it? Either we retrieve that tablet, or Loslar kills us when we come back empty-handed. Let’s just get it over with.”
“Shouldn’t we go to the Overseer? Y’know, tell him that Loslar has us doing his dirty work for him?”
“You know that wouldn’t work, Malra. They’d just say that it was… Oh, no. More slugs!”
Buffy decided that now was as good a time to stop eavesdropping and join the fight. These kids didn’t sound like they were cut out to be Sith, and anyone else at the Academy would have left them to die.
Buffy wasn’t anyone else.
With the Force powering her, she leaped down the stairs into the dark of the tomb and hacked away at the k’lor slugs. There was some illumination from a number of crystal lanterns, but the Force was all the vision that Buffy needed. How she’d ever lived without it, she didn’t know.
After forty seconds, a small brood of k’lor slugs was dead, and Buffy reached a hand to either of the two other acolytes. “You guys all right?”
Malra and Telran both leaped back and drew their own training blades. “Back off!”
Buffy held up her hands. “Whoa, chill out! I just saved your lives, in case you didn’t notice. When did people stop saying ‘thank you’ for stuff like that?”
Telran was a red-skinned pure-blooded Sith, and he stepped in front of Malra, who was a dark-skinned human. “What do you want?”
“Me?” Buffy replied. “I’m looking for a mutant tuk’ata so I can take its brain back to Lord Renning. I’m not here to kill you, or to hurt you, or to maim you, etcetera, etcetera, and so forth.”
Malra gestured wildly at Buffy. “That’s her! She’s the one who cleared out Ajunta Pall’s tomb!”
Telran kept his blade raised, but he held steady. “Is that true?”
“It’s true,” Buffy said. “And if you don’t try to kill me, I won’t try to kill you. And while we’re on the subject of people killing each other, I overheard you talking about some problems with a guy called Loslar.”
Telran spit on the ground. “He comes from a noble family. Can trace his lineage back to the Great Hyperspace War, so he gets preferential treatment. Has a bunch of other acolytes do his dirty work while he takes all the credit. He’s a coward and a disgrace to all Sith!”
“Keep your voice down!” Buffy hissed. “Your shouting earlier was what drew the slugs, so let’s keep it quiet.”
“Right. Sorry. He’s not the most powerful acolyte, but he’s got a few cronies who are hoping to benefit from family connections once he becomes a Lord. Together, they can back up their threats.”
“Huh.” Buffy felt a tug at the back of her mind, and she knew that the mutant tuk’ata was not far away. “I’ll tell you what. You help me with this tuk’ata, and I’ll help you with Loslar.”
“Why are you even offering to help?” Malra asked softly. “You’re powerful, far more than we are. And it’s no good denying it, Telran. What do you gain from helping us?”
“What do I gain from letting you die?” Buffy countered. If these two were going to think like Sith, then Buffy would have to relate to them. “Look, if you’re dead, then you’re of no use to me. Alive, you can be my eyes and ears in places where I can’t go. I can protect you if you work with me. Understand now?”
Before either of the other acolytes could answer, the roar of a tuk’ata sounded from not far away, and Buffy felt it in the Force, but slightly off. This was the mutant she was seeking.
“All right. I’ll draw it’s attention and keep it off of you. While I make it mad, you take off its legs and stab it in the spine if you can, okay?”
Buffy drew her blade and felt the monster rushing closer, smelling fresh meat.
It came soaring through the air, claws extended and mouth wide. Buffy leaped into the air and kicked the beast into the wall, then pulled on it just a bit with the Force.
It roared and came at her, but Buffy stood her ground and bounced away from each deadly claw, swiping at its head to try to wound it through its thick hide.
The tuk’ata began snapping at its rear as the Telran and Malra began hacking at its legs. Buffy punched it in the side of its head to get its attention, and she barely missed getting her arm bitten off.
A moment later, the beast roared in pain as its hind right leg gave out. Seconds later, its hind left leg was cut out from under it. Buffy leaped onto the tuk’ata’s back and drove her war-blade through its spine. It wriggled and writhed for a few seconds before keeling over, dead.
“Whew. You guys okay?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah. We’re fine,” Malra said. “You fought that thing with your fists and feet! How did you do that?”
“She’s more powerful than we realized,” Telran said, and before Buffy could protest, he bent to one knee.
Buffy didn’t want anyone kneeling before her, but Malra was following suit. “What is this?”
“We pledge our lives to you and your glory, my Lord,” Telran said. “We offer ourselves as your apprentices, to be extensions of your will.”
“Whoa, hold on!” Buffy said. “I’m just an acolyte here, myself. A-and I’m not even from around here! The world they found me on, Denova… It was just recently discovered. I’m flying blind once I get out of here.”
“We’ll teach you all that you need to know,” Malra said. “We will introduce you to the Empire, my Lord. Will you introduce us to true power?”
Buffy wanted to protest, but she could do nothing to change their attitudes. Theirs was a culture of dominance and submission, and not the fun kind, either. She could work with them to a degree, but she’d have to be careful.
“All right. I, uh, accept you as my apprentices. First things first, no one outside this room ever knows of this. Understand? You tell nobody, you act as if nothing strange happened here. Got it?”
“Yes, Master,” they said as one.
Buffy recoiled a bit at being addressed in such a way. “Wow. Uh, you may rise?”
The two acolytes rose to their feet. “What would you have us do, Master?” Malra asked.
“Help me cut open this thing’s head. I have a container to store the brain in. After that, we look for your tablet and then work out a way to deal with Loslar. Sound good to you?”
“My Lord,” Telran said, “it would be my genuine pleasure.”
Buffy stood alone in the dark of an underground corridor of the Sith Academy, waiting for Loslar to show. He’d arranged a rendezvous for Telran and Malra to hand over the tablet, which had been found in a chamber not too far from where they’d slain the mutant tuk’ata.
She simultaneously heard and felt footsteps approaching. Two sets of heavy feet, one light. Turning to face them, Buffy found herself looking at a scrawny red-skinned Sith Pureblood with prominent cheek tendrils, flanked by two other pureblooded Sith who were probably twins. Both had very prominent eyebrow ridges that were remarkably similar, and they even dressed alike.
“Who are you?” the scrawny one demanded.
“I am,” the punk said imperiously. “Where are Malra and Telran?”
“Dead,” Buffy said nonchalantly. “They had this really cool-looking tablet-thingy that they told me you wanted so badly that you’d kill for it. I figured that I’d save you the trouble of taking on two guys at once and take the tablet for myself.”
Loslar smirked. “And you wanted to offer it to me in the hopes of gaining an alliance, is that it?”
“Hm, not really,” Buffy said. “Y’know what I think? I think a true Sith would know that through strength, he gains power. I think you’re more along the lines of ‘through weakness, I gain prestige.’”
Loslar’s eyes widened, as though nobody had ever dared spoken to him this way before. Nobody probably ever had. “You think to challenge me, girl?”
“I think that a real Sith would take what he wanted himself instead of sending lackeys to do his bidding. But they’re dead now, and I have the tablet. Tell me: what will your master do to you when you don’t give it to him?”
Loslar bristled at the implication. “Sappa, Laffa, make her talk,” he snarled.
The twin Sith advanced on Buffy, but she jumped over their heads and landed behind Loslar, pulling her war-blade out and holding its serrated edge to Loslar’s throat. “No, I don’t think we’ll be doing that. Will we, Sappa? Laffa?”
“Put down your weapons!” Loslar yelled hysterically. “What do you want?”
“Me?” Buffy asked innocently. “I want to walk out of here alive. And I want you to recognize who your betters are.” Loslar was Sith, and this was how to get to him. “You’re weak, Loslar. You’re too weak to search the tombs yourself, and you’re too weak to intimidate others on your own. You have the twins here, who I’m sure revere you for your family’s money, right? They figure you’ll coast along to Lordship on your name alone, right? Only it doesn’t work that way. Sith aren’t born; they’re made. Forged, even. You are nothing. Do you hear me?”
The twins didn’t advance, but looked on with amused faces. Loslar merely whimpered.
“Tell me what you are, Loslar,” Buffy asked with false sweetness. When he didn’t answer, she pressed her blade a bit further into his neck. “What are you?”
“Nothing!” he cried out. “You’re my better! I swear it! I’ll do whatever you want!”
“All right, then. Here’s what you’re going to do. Nothings aren’t cut out to be Sith. You’re going to contact your noble family and plead with them to let their beloved son come home. His instructors have him doing the most menial of tasks that are beneath a Sith of his stature, and despite all his protests, they won’t challenge him as a Sith should be challenged. You’ll be called home to partake in whatever Sith high society is like, and should you ever be called upon by someone called ‘Sunhome,’ then you will do whatever that person says. Am I understood?”
“Y-yes! Yes, I’ll leave as soon as I can!”
“Good boy. And you two, the twins? How loyal are you to this bozo here?”
“He was a path to power,” one of them said. “Now he is, as you said, nothing.”
“You heard the man,” Buffy said to Loslar. “Get out of here. Go on, skedaddle. Move it!”
Loslar scurried out of the dark corridor as fast as he could.
“You could lead us to more power,” the other twin pondered. Buffy couldn’t keep them separate in her mind, and was now thinking of them as Left Twin and Right Twin.
“But if we kill you now,” Right Twin said, “we remove a powerful rival.”
“And there are no witnesses to implicate either of us.”
“We could kill you now.”
Buffy smirked. “No, you couldn’t. If you could have killed me, you wouldn’t still be talking. I also think you still need that tablet, or else your master won’t be happy one bit. So, you can try to beat me into telling you where it is, or you can kill me and spend a long, long time looking for it.”
The twins seemed to think as one, for which Buffy was grateful. She didn’t want to kill if she could help it. Part of her looked at them as red-skinned demons, but another part saw them as people. Buffy did not want to become a murderer.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Buffy offered. “I hand over the tablet, you let me walk away, and then we can go back to being rivals tomorrow. Right now, you don’t know if you can take me without losing your tablet, and I don’t know if I can take both of you on without dying. Also, you don’t know where the tablet is. I may not have even brought it with me.”
The twins looked at each other, and then they both nodded. “You have a deal,” Left Twin said.
“All righty, then!” Buffy said in a too-chipper voice. “Let’s all walk out of here together, and then I’ll hand it over to you.”
Buffy began walking back up towards the main level of the Academy, and she noticed the twins flanking her. They didn’t want her pulling any mischief.
Once they reached the main level, Buffy led Sappa and Laffa over to a corner where she dislodged a loose stone and removed the tablet from a hidden compartment. It was wrapped in a black cloth to protect it.
Left Twin and Right Twin switched places, and the new Right Twin removed the cloth while Left Twin examined the tablet.
They turned to Buffy, nodded, and headed off.
“You wanted to see me, Overseer Dalen?”
“Yes, Acolyte Summers, I did. You should know that I know you went into the lower levels last night, and I know that a well-connected student named Loslar came out of those passages afraid for his life. He is petitioning to leave the academy.”
Buffy shrugged. “There’s a lot of space down there. Maybe he saw something that scared him.”
“Maybe he did,” Dalen agreed, not questioning Buffy’s statement. “I’ve also heard that two of Loslar’s lackeys, Sappa and Laffa Falos, presented a tablet presumably found in the Tomb of Marka Ragnos to Overseer Sadin, who locked up both twins upon discovering markings on the tablet that show it to be from the Academy’s archives.”
“Huh. So, they stole something from the archives to show off as the real thing, only the Overseer caught on? Sucks to be them.”
“Yes, indeed,” Dalen said, smiling. “I went and examined the tablet upon its return to the archives and checked it out for personal study. I could not help but notice that the markings denoting it as archival were only recently added. Less than a day ago, I would judge. And the writings on the tablet… Well, they are most intriguing.”
Buffy shrugged. “A mystery that will likely remain unsolved for years to come.”
Dalen chuckled and openly smiled. “No one will miss an archived tablet being used for background study. Again, I have you to thank for my sudden good fortune. This knowledge will most certainly be beneficial.”
“As you gain power, then so do I, Overseer.”
“You understand things well, Acolyte. I will call upon you later. Go and spend your allotted time in the archives, and be sure not to remove anything that ought not be removed.
Buffy left Dalen’s study and headed to the archives, a massive room full of shelves of scrolls, tomes, tablets, and holocrons full of ancient knowledge and philosophy.
Pulling out a pad of some sort of paper, Buffy sat down and took a writing stylus from a container in the center of the desk.
Two chairs were pulled out and were promptly sat in. Buffy smiled. “Telran, Malra, so glad you could make it. Now, you have some things to teach me, don’t you?”
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