“You’ll want to strap in, m’Lord. Things get choppy over Ilum. It’s gon’ get a might bumpy back there.” Came the Captain’s voice overhead. Despite her insistence she was no Lord, the man refused to call her anything else.
The shuttle dipped to the left and Decimâ staggered across the deck on her way back to her seat. She dropped onto the dry leather of the lounge and scrambled to get her harness fastened. “Kriffing hell!” she cursed, as she fumbled getting the last lock secured. “It just had to be both hands, didn’t it you fool?! Couldn’t just be the one you use the least.” Decimâ leaned back with a sigh, rolling her shoulders as she made herself as comfortable as she could given the situation.
Decimâ glanced down at her gloved hands. Despite being encased in biomesh and durafiber, she swore she could still smell them. During the trial of sacrifice Lord N’kre had called on her to choose her sacrifice to the flame. She had offered her slave’s hands to the fire, holding them in the flames until her calloused, scarred hands were a blackened ruin. The medical droids did what they could with the short amount of time in which she’d allowed them to work. They sprayed her hands with numbing agent and she watched them at work, carefully cutting away the blackened tissue. She vowed to remember the experience, to let it feed her, sustain her, when she needed focus. Reflexively she moved her fingers, verifying she still had sensation and the hand was functional. It was, barely.
Decimâ reached down to the holster she had fashioned to hold her datapad and cradled it in her gloved hands. She thought about the Lord who had given it to her so long ago; and the curious questions she had asked of Decimâ during her instruction.
“What would you do if you had the chance to visit another planet where you were your own person?” Lord Ardrestia asked.
Decimâ replied softly, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted”
“What would you do to attain that freedom?”
“Anything.” Decimâ had said with conviction.
She hadn’t seen Lord Ardrestia since meeting her in the archive her first week at the Academy. The datapad was the first thing she ever felt was truly hers, it had proved invaluable as the studies at the Academy were rigorous and unlike some of her fellow acolytes she had little formal schooling.
Decimâ checked the datapad for the fifth time. Trying to memorize the map of Ilum and the areas where others had marked possible cave locations. The ship gave another lurch as they entered the planet’s atmosphere and Decimâ clutched the datapad tightly, wincing at the jolt of pain it brought.
The ship bounced non-stop on it’s descent to the ground, Decimâ closed her eyes, focusing on sensing the force within her. Using the constant pain in her hands as a focus as she ignored the waves of nausea swirling in the pit of her stomach. The Captain joined her in the travel compartment after landing, as the ship started it’s decompression sequence on the landing pad at the Imperial Outpost.
As Decimâ struggled to get her gloves through the sleeves of the thick overcoat the Captain called out to her “My Lord, don’t forget your pack.”
“I’m not a Lord,” she said with a sigh, “and that’s not my pack.”
“It is.” He said with a brief smile and a nod of his head as he hefted it up and handed it to her by the shoulder strap. “You’ll be needing this.”
Decimâ nodded, the corner of her mouth turned upward. “Thanks.” She slung the pack onto her back with a grunt, her hand protesting the use, and continued down the ramp into the bitter cold. She tugged her covering over her face and pulled her goggles down from the hood and trudged across the frozen ground of Ilum toward the Outpost’s entrance.
It didn’t take long to find the Imperial Officer in charge and she arranged for a tauntaun. She had insisted the Imperial provide her with complete maps of the planet including any caves or unstable ice shelves that had collapsed onto cave chambers. After securing the pack to the tauntaun she grasped the reins, planted her foot and hopped up into the saddle. Her hand throbbing with the exertion.
Surprisingly, Decimâ didn’t mind the cold as much as she thought she would. The thick, heavy clothes and fur insulating most of her from the worst of the bitter cold. It eventually settled into a kind of dull ache that made her bones sore and sluggish. The chill offered some relief from the pain in her hands. She idly wondered if that was a good thing or not. Every few minutes she flexed her hands, stretching them to verify they could still move.
The closest area to the base had caves but when Decimâ went inside she could sense nothing. No crystal, no energy, no song, only ice. She made a notation on her datapad and moved on to the next area. She continued like this for many hours, her skin was starting to feel tight, and hot, but was undeterred. Decimâ recalled her final words to Lord N’kre as she received her task. “I will not fail.”
It was impossible to tell on Ilum if it was day or night, it always looked the same. Just enough light to travel, not enough to offer any good visibility. Decimâ reached the first in a series of notations on her map indicating cave collapses and unstable ice shelves and as she approached she could feel it. The hum of energy coming from the area. She had found the caves.
Decimâ tethered the tauntaun to an ice screw she’d twisted into place along the stable portion of the ice wall. She removed her pack and removed the supplies she’d requested of the Imperial Supply Officer on Ilum base. Crampons for her boots, ice picks, more ice screws and anchors and meters upon meters of plastifiber rope. Hyperspace travel gave her plenty of time to study ice climbing and cave exploration along with allowing her a short nap. She set aside the gear and retrieved a canteen and some nutrition bars. She greedily devoured several bars, not realizing how hungry she was until she started to eat and started to plan her next move.
Decimâ attached her crampons and walked the perimeter of the crevasse gently testing it’s stability with the segmented pole she had assembled. The longer she stayed, the stronger the call of the crystal became. She understood now why Lord N’kre called it a song.
It took Decimâ hours to find the best spot to make her descent. She secured anchors and screws in the pouches on her belt and clipped her ice picks there as well before beginning her slow drop into the darkness below. Her excitement overrode her fear, as she lowered herself a few meters at a time, securing her line and herself with ice anchors. The journey down was slow but safe. She wasn’t meant to die here, she felt that strongly. She was Sith and she would not fail.
She reached the bottom of the crevasse, twisting a homing beacon into the cave wall and double checking the monitor on her wrist that it was in sync. She withdrew a lamp, strapping it to her head as she moved through one of the smaller cave openings. The song grew stronger the further in she went, and when she reached a large chamber she could see the small outcropping of crystals and spotted the one that had been calling to her.
Decimâ found retrieving the crystal to be remarkably simple. She dug at it only briefly before it fell into her glove. She enfolded it into her hand and listened to it’s hum. She slipped it into her pouch, nestled against the blade emitter she recovered from the tomb on Korriban and cautiously made her way out of the cave. When on Korriban, she had taken the ancient tomes but thought the remaining items were a broken artifact and only took the one piece as a momento. Later, as she worked at the Praetorian forge with the Forgemaster, she came to realize that the ancient relics she left were pieces of an ancient lightsaber. Vowing to return for the rest of the saber, Decimâ kept the blade emitter with her at all times, as a reminder of the unfinished part of her journey.
At the mouth of the cave Decimâ knelt, pulling the crystal from her pouch and holding it in her cupped hands. She closed her eyes and opened herself to the Force around her and the connection vibrating within the crystal. She focused on its essence, demanding it submit to her, but she made no progress. For an hour she tried, and the crystal refused her onslaught of power. In her rage she thought of using a jolt of lightning and with a shudder of fear Decimâ wondered if she could still use force shock with her damaged, covered hands. Before thinking through the consequences, Decimâ unlatched the sealed gloves, they hissed as the rush of cold air stung her fingers. She fell back against the icy wall of the cave as the gloves and crystal clattered to the slick floor. Decimâ hissed through her teeth as she felt the pain explode from her hands, she dropped to the ground with a thump. Decimâ retrieved the fallen crystal from the ground and pressed it between the palms of her hands. The thin layer of protective skin regrowing on her hands cracked and blood began to seep from the open tears.
Decimâ clasped her hands around the crystal, tying it’s fate to hers. Imbuing it with her power and blood and bleeding it to her will. She held it there for some time, even after she felt it draw in her energy and become an extension of her will. She held it and thought of her future now as a Sith Apprentice. Slowly she pulled her hands apart, the crystal a gleaming red in the palm of her hand. She stroked it softly with her thumb giving it a final drop of her blood before slipping it into the belt pouch. Decimâ reasoned the gloves may not have their original seal but they were better than nothing and worked them painfully over her bleeding fingers before sealing them up again. She stood and made her way out of the crevasse and returned to the Imperial outpost with her tauntaun.
She slept most of the shuttle ride back to Yavin IV and arrived back at the Academy weak and feverish. Decimâ shuffled slowly down the shuttle’s ramp and was surprised to see Lord N’kre waiting on the landing pad. She dropped to one knee before him extending her gloved hand with the bright red crystal and announced. “It is done, my Lord.”