As the haggling between Darth Embrus and Zaek was winding down toward a conclusion quite favorable to the Mandalorian, Embrus lifted one hand and cut the other man off. “I have company on the way, and it seems he’ll be here shortly.”
“Anyone I know?” Zaek was leaned back comfortably in the single chair on the other side of the imposing desk that dominated one side of the room. “Haven’t seen that kid with all the stupid tattoos on his face in a while.”
Embrus chuckled and shook his head, remembering the sizzling of a lightsaber blade piercing flesh and the thud of a body hitting the floor. “Unfortunately, he turned out to be too weak to live. He was killed by— ah, she’s on her way as well. This will be interesting.”
The Mandalorian pushed himself up straight. Though his helmet covered his expression, there was no masking the wariness in his voice. “You predicting ‘interesting’ isn’t exactly the most comforting thing. Should I leave?”
“No, stay. We haven’t quite concluded our business, and I’ve a job for you. Perhaps you’ll leave here with a companion or two, if you’re particularly unlucky.”
“Great.” Zaek slumped back in his chair, making it quite clear through silence and body language that he was glaring at the man behind the desk.
Darth Embrus did not mind in the least, of course. He knew the Mandalorian was not very fond of working with others, but this time there was good cause for it beyond his own amusement. Silence filled the room as he waited for Kutar and Tishombra, sensing their approach through the tenuous bond shared between master and apprentice. His connection with Kutar was far stronger, as it should be after so many years of close association, but that history would only serve to make their coming meeting all the more painful for the Apprentice. Tishombra’s presence would doubtlessly cause problems, but what fun was there to be had in a life without complications?
After an extended wait, there was a heavy knock at the door. Darth Embrus waited quietly, allowing seconds to drag on in what must be excruciating fashion for Kutar, and Zaek for that matter, but he was far from concerned with their comfort. After about half a minute there was another knock, a lighter sound clearly caused by a hand that wasn’t quite so suited for crushing skulls. The Mandalorian made to rise and free up the sole chair in the room not occupied by Embrus himself, but he shook his head sharply and Zaek settled back down with an irritated sigh. With the stage properly set for an interesting little confrontation, Embrus gestured to the door and pulled it open with a simple use of telekinesis as he spoke a single word to the pair waiting outside.
Tishombra looked up at Kutar. He made her look positively petite, and that was hard to do since she was just shy of two meters tall. She arched an eyebrow at him as if asking the question ‘You first or me?’. Either was fine with her. Him first so she could see where to put the knife later, possibly. Or her first to see if he resided in that antiquated tradition of ‘Ladies first.’ and if so… well she’d just have to make sure it wasn’t just for show. Never let a good advantage go.
After all he wouldn’t be the only one that behaved differently in front of the Master. She however was ever one to not get caught up in acting differently toward the Master, especially in his presence. Not that he wasn’t different from her last Master, but this one, he seemed more likely to appreciate an Apprentice that was themselves around him. Albeit without glaringly apparent flaws. She endeavored to squash hers as much as possible. No one was perfect, but she was working on being close to it.
Tishombra glanced into the room and saw someone else within the study as well as her Master. Though she could only see from the waist down, due to the bulk of Kutar and not wanting to lean over and oggle. Judging from the juxtaposition of the legs she guessed the guest was male. She took in his well worn armor and the lack of really anything that screamed uniform. The color was over all similar and that stood out. Something vaguely familiar about the way certain pieces fit but without seeing the full effect Tishombra was loath to assume one faction of mercenaries or another.
Tishombra flicked eyes over to Embrus with her raised brow then back to his guest. Well it isn’t an Inquisitor, nor a Military Commander. Judging by the quality, or lack thereof, in this case; ‘he’ is a mercenary. He’s not Force Sensitive either, I’d have felt that. Well I wonder how much he’s tried to talk Embrus out of? Or maybe they haven’t settled on a number and a distraction is just what the doctor ordered? That will be more fun than flustering the one armed man. Or maybe a two for one? Challenge accepted.
Tishombra looked back up at Kutar and smiled sinfully.
His own lips did not reciprocate her impious grin. The recondite scene that Kutar found himself confronted by did little to ease his overall concerns, and his face was set in an expression of grim callousness. He’d never shared his master’s charismatic jovilty for casual banter, meeting every situation with a level of seriousness upon which playfulness and jokes were lost. This, he thought, was no time for foolish smirking, and while Tishobra’s presence might very well have been chance his own was in regards to an important summons. The searing glare Tishombra received in response to her smile left little doubt that Kutar wanted her gone, to return another time. Yet he made no effort to insinuate this desire through words, he would not speak for Embrus. Should his master have desired for her to leave he would have said as much, rather than commanding them both to enter. Suppressing an exasberated sigh Kutar ducked through the doorway taking two full steps within before sinking down on one knee, bowing his ebony head.
“Master, it has been far too long. I have returned as you wished.” Raising his head Kutar met his master’s gaze, all but ignoring the seated mercenary. He’d already gotten a good account of the manolorian, and where his senses had failed him the warrior apprentice was quick to recognize the infamous Zaek Saxon by sight alone, even behind his blue and silver armor. He had been employed enough times by Embrus to warrant Kutar’s on sight recognition, even though the two had never worked together directly. Saxon however, was the least of Kutar’s concerns at the moment, and the apprentice remained acutely focused on his master alone.
Though Embrus couldn’t clearly see any exchange between his Apprentices, he knew them both well enough to know Tishombra’s very presence was irksome at best to Kutar. As the large man entered and knelt to deliver his subservient greeting, Embrus looked on impassively and remained silent for an extended handful of seconds, both to allow Tishombra to enter if she pleased and to allow the tension to build. Kutar had never struck him as the sort to be intimidated by mere silence, but the flat stare that held not a speck of fondness or approval was another matter. After he tired of the quiet, Embrus got straight to the point.
“You’ve become a disappointment, Kutar.” He leaned forward in his chair, planting one fist into the table with a heavy thud for emphasis. Before him the apprentice flinched, as if struck a heavy blow, reacting more to the venomous words than any proper strike would have elicited. As Embrus continued, his voice held simmering heat that hinted at untold depths of fury being restrained. “I had high hopes for you, but after so many years among my favored pupils you’ve lost your way as a Sith. I would rather have seen you become a traitor, because then at least you would be worthy of death by my hand. As you are now, for all your vaunted skills as a warrior, you’re barely even worthy of pity. I’ve considered ridding you from my service entirely, especially after viewing the recording of your chat with Savvory.”
Darth Embrus sat back casually, letting the anger in his voice fade to mere annoyance. “But I am loath to cast away those with potential for greatness. The only question that remains is whether or not you have it in you to cast off the chains you’ve so lovingly embraced.” This manner of oblique castigation rather than outright stating why exactly he was displeased with a subordinate was one of Embrus’s favored methods of drawing things out to an agonizing degree, but in this one case he felt it might be worth the effort it would take to offer some hints rather than expecting Kutar to figure out his failures on his own. He hadn’t yet gotten there on his own, so there was no reason to expect he’d manage it now.
“Tishombra, you’ve interacted with Kutar and have certainly heard much about him from your peers. Perhaps you can help him identify how he fails to live up to what is expected of a true Sith.” Embrus knew he was playing with fire by getting the new rising star of his favored group involved in this conversation about the failings of the old favorite. Some uncomfortable shifting from the sitting Mandalorian made it clear that Zaek knew it was a potentially dangerous scenario as well. That was all part of the fun though, and Embrus had a twisted little smile on his face as he waited to see how it would play out.
Tishombra moved gracefully into the room and went to one knee with a flourish resting her right hand over her heart. She did this because she knew it would piss off Kutar, as well as call attention to her scar. She stayed silent as Kutar stated the obvious. She raised an eyebrow at Kutar’s bent head. If what the other gossip-mongering children have said about him is half true then he should be debasing himself more. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. I’ve never held to that saying though. I have yet to beg. Then again I have yet to rise.
Darth Embrus was clearly disappointed with Kutar. From the vague whispers that Tishombra had heard it was from his lack of ambition. Kutar was worse than Shiygo. Shiygo at least got underlings to do things for him. Kutar had no passion, no drive to make more of himself as so clearly the Master saw.
Tishombra smirked for a moment and made eye contact with the guest in the room. Or what would have been eye contact if Zaek wasn’t wearing his helmet. She recognized him now that Kutar wasn’t in the way.
Watching her Master tie Kutar up for dissection so neatly made her glad that she hadn’t made the same mistake. As her Master asked her to point out Kutar’s shame she rose soundlessly. She looked over at Kutar and made it look as if leaned back against the desk. Her bare arms propped lightly behind her. Her face devoid of all emotions she looked down at Kutar.“He has become enamored with a lie. Peacefully lost in his complacency. Stagnant.”
She tilted her head and smiled like a cat that ate the canary. Her gold eyes twinkled with mischief as she went on.[color=orangered] “Kutar is passionless and weak. He can be forgiven for losing an asset to you Master but he lacked the power that could have kept Kyla Vondin in his grasp. Power he could have had, if he had but taken the time to cultivate it; upon the numerous times that a favored of my
Masters has had the opportunity. Victory could have been his had he utilized his influence. The weight of his chains must tire him.”
Tishombra dropped all pretense of being remotely anything but disgusted. “Nwûl tash. Dzwol shâsotkun. Shâsotjontû châtsatul nu tyûk. Tyûkjontû châtsatul nu midwan. Midwanjontû châtsatul nu asha. Ashajontû kotswinot itsu nuyak. Wonoksh Qyâsik nun.”
Her tone remained utterly passionate and devoted as she spoke. Looking down at Kutar she sneered. “Let me translate for you so you get the point. Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall set me free.”
Tishombra’s anger at the misuse of resources that could have been put to better use in other’s hands bled through her tone as she chastised Kutar. She managed to leash her anger, but it is there for all to see. Her eyes blazed as if lit from behind with fire as she grasped the edge of the desk so that she wouldn’t go for one of the two sabers that she had on her. She might be angry at Kutar but unless the Master wished it otherwise he would live.
Darth Embrus chuckled quietly to himself as Tishombra wrapped up her explanation. “That was more elaborate than expected, but that works. Now, I—” He fell suddenly silent as the fourth person in the room let out a heavy sigh.
“Seriously?” Zaek looked over to the still kneeling Kutar, then back to Embrus. “All this song and dance because you’re upset with his complacency? If you weren’t paying me so well, I’d have been done with your dramatic bullshit years ago.”
“Succinctly put, I suppose.” Rather than displaying anger, the smile on Embrus’s face only grew wider. “Complacency, yes. That is indeed the problem at hand.” He turned his amused gaze on Kutar, but it quickly curdled into another hard stare. “I trust you need no further elaboration on your failures.”
“No.” Rage burned bright in Kutar’s tone, a terrible fire fighting against the bars to be unleashed, but he controlled his lesser instincts, keeping his knee bent and his face set in objective resignation. Even still his cybernetic hand betrayed his feelings, clenching into a fist so firm it near dented the metallic fingers. “You have trained her well, and everything has been laid bare to be witnessed and corrected. She recognized in a moment, that which I wished to ignore, and spoke the truth I needed to hear. I came before you fearing retribution for a string of defeats I thought unacceptable, though now it is evident you see them only as a symptom, not the disease I stand accused of. Being without passion, mired in complacency.”
There was truth in those words Kutar knew, yet they tasted sour on his tongue. He longed to defend himself, and insist his months in isolation were in preparation for the challenges of the future, but he was fully aware Darth Emburs would see straight through any such tactless deflection. Besides, he could not deny the comfort he felt in service, the rugged simplicity of fighting and following orders. There was always complexity to every command, but it was based on consistency. The chains Tishombra spoke of did not feel heavy to Kutar, they felt familiar, like an old and trusted suit of armor worn into every battle. Recognition did not come easy to Kutar, but he drank the bitter draft all the same.
“Master, you demand more from me. More that I fear I am unworthy to provide, yet, I shall make it my highest aspiration to serve you in this way.” A lie? Kutar did not know for certain himself, not when another blurred his vision, consuming his waking thoughts as much as his resting dreams. He felt unbalanced in Embrus’ presence to a degree he had not felt in many years. Mercilessly torn asunder between two unyielding desires. “I swore to never fail you again, and I did not make that promise lightly. I shall do my utmost to cultivate this power you demand, to shed my chains, and when I come before you again, be proven worthy of your approval. Whatever it takes.”
“That was the correct response. We shall see if you have it in you to see it through.” Darth Embrus’s hard stare had faded into a more neutral expression as Kutar accepted the explanation of his weakness, and his voice slipped back into a smoother tone along with it. “Until you do, you have no place here among my favored subordinates. You’re free to do as you please to pursue the growth you’ve been lacking. You won’t find me in such a lenient mood if you continue to fail me, Kutar.” Threat though it was, there was no heat to it. Rather it was stated as a simple fact, and Embrus knew his Apprentice had seen him fulfill plenty enough threats of that variety to take it seriously.
“Now, on to more interesting matters. Zaek, you’ll have your requested raise in pay, starting with your next job.” The Mandalorian let out a satisfied chuckle and waved a hand for Embrus to continue. “The Emperor himself has taken an interest in someone that the Jedi have acquired. You are going to join the group being assembled to intercept and retrieve them. You’ll receive the details shortly.”
“Got it. I’ll—” Zaek made to stand and presumably leave, but he was halted by a raised hand from Darth Embrus.
“Tishombra, you’ll accompany him. Neither of you is leading this mission, to be clear. I expect both of you to follow any orders given by the Captain who will be placed in charge and ensure the success of the mission above all other concerns.” Embrus glanced briefly to Kutar, then back to Tishombra and Zaek without addressing him directly. “That will be all, unless any of you have other matters to discuss.” Zaek pushed up out of his chair immediately and headed for the door, moving with surprising speed for a man in full armor and leaving both Apprentices behind without bothering to say a word to either of them.
Tishombra composed herself as she listened to Kutar address Embrus. Well at least he somewhat knows how to grovel. Maybe he can rise above this. That is far too promising. Kutar has been with the Master for much longer than I have. This bears careful watching.
She noted that the speech was like a lump caught in Kutar’s throat. She tilted her head and studied Kutar closer.
The blow of not being in Embrus’ presence did not shock Tishombra nor the heatless threat from Embrus. She was not unaware that even without heat the threat was a real one. She’d seen people killed for less.
As Embrus moved on to Zaek. Narrowing in on the Mandalorian Tishombra raised an eyebrow at the satisfied chuckle that came from him. Tishombra’s attention was immediately drawn back to Embrus as he mentioned the Emperor. Now that is just the political move we need. Acquisition of this person would give us leverage even if we have to turn them over to someone else.
Tishombra kept her focus on Embrus as Zaek moved to stand and he was cut off. She inclined her head in acknowledgement then bowed it as Embrus stated that neither of them would be in charge. Tishombra shook her head at the question that Embrus posed. She bowed to Embrus as Zaek made a hasty exit. “By your leave Master.”
Tishombra looked up eyes shining brightly like twin stars. Excitement pouring off her as she mentally ran over what she was taking and what her plans were. I will be there when they are captured. Getting to know the Captain and crew couldn’t hurt either. Zaek could be of assistance as well. Research. A girl’s work is never done.
Standing to his full, towering height Kutar waited until the others were well and truly gone before breaching the topic on his mind. His master was not the only one who could draw out the silence, commanding the ebb and flow of conversation. Still Darth Embrus seemed content to wait, and Kutar saw no reason to delay any longer. The orders he’d given to Tishombra and Zaek, they were a hint, a ploy Kutar was sure of it. Embrus was wont to be subtle, an aspect of his personality that normally flew clear over even Kutar’s lofty head. This time, he’d caught it.
“You must be very pleased by Tishombra’s advancing skills master. An order from the Emperor himself? This mysterious personage must be of great importance to the Empire, and will not be easy to apprehend. To give one of your newer apprentices such a momentous task, her prowess... One can only imagine the implications.” Kutar’s own attempts at subtly were near laughable, but he maintained his presence of mere casual interest nevertheless. Whether Embrus saw through the ploy or not did not matter, all Kutar needed was a simple answer of approval to intervene himself. He stepped cautiously forward, resting his hands on the impousing desk and leaning down, the hardwood creaking under his enormous weight. “The one who captures this, individual, they would become known before the Emperor and the Dark Council would they not?”
“An order?” Darth Embrus shook his head with an almost wistful sigh. “If only it were so easy. This information was acquired through more discreet means. As for Tishombra, yes, she’s progressing quite nicely. The others often complain about her, much the same as they once complained about you. Envy is such an interesting emotion.” There was an unmistakable hint of mockery to the words, but Embrus let it fall from his tone as he continued. “As for the potential rewards for participating in this endeavor, who can say? The Council and the Emperor can be fickle with their favor, and pleasing any one of them might anger two others. This time, however, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Everything I’ve read about Captain Corvinian has been positive enough to make me confident in his abilities, so I expect the mission to go smoothly.”
Dropping the name of the man tapped to lead the retrieval mission was about as subtle as throwing a rock at Kutar’s head, but given his dreadful attempt at indirectly approaching the matter Embrus felt it was the only reasonable course of action to get him on the right path short of handing over the holopad with the information on it. He flicked a hand toward the door as if shooing an insect. “Now go, you have your orders.”
Taking a single step back Kutar knelt once more in solemn reverence before his master. The apprentice’s knee bent in willing submission, and his head dipped without concealed malice or false humility. Although stinging in his rebuke, his master had given him the opportunity for redemption, and there could be no mistaking the unspoken command past the uttered word. Despite his best efforts he could not keep the shadow of a smile from appearing, if only for it to vanish in a heartbeat behind his cool facade. Assuming Embrus required no further verbal oaths and gratitude he made to depart, knowing the Darth’s patience though shockingly vast could be stretched to a breaking point. One Kutar did not hope to rediscover for the second time that day. He would not be so foolish as to sour his chances before the mission had even begun. Standing the warrior place his fist over his heart in a final salute before turning on his heel and marching from the study, his swirling black cloak following behind.