Her eyes were a pair of deep, dark pools beckoning to him. He could… would drown in them. She was so beautiful that he had nothing with which to compare her to. He just knew that his ribs closed in on his heart whenever he thought of her. His mind left him whenever he gazed at her image.
In less than 48 hours, had been Fett’s last message to him.
If it were possible to wear out a holo, he would have worn out this one. He held her image fragilely in his dark-gloved hands and thought of what it would feel like to hold her… Felt a rush of fear and anticipation at the thought of something so beautiful, so fragile in his unworthy hands. His fists tightened around the holo as his contemplated his wretchedness in comparison to this thing of impossible beauty.
It doesn’t matter.
In his mind, he could hear the Jedi’s laughter.
This unfortunate train of thoughts was interrupted by the soft beeping at the entrance to his private chambers. There was a shuffling noise, followed by the soft murmur of voices as his fastidious protocol droid attended to the visitor.
There was no need for an announcement of the visitor. His nostrils were already flaring when the droid shuffled back to him.
“Master Vader,” C-3PO declared in his characteristic prim manner, “there seems to be a conflict with the scheduler. I have no record of a prior appointment with-”
“Shut up, droid,” Ferus Olin announced and Force-pushed the protocol droid into the wall for emphasis.
Vader let his eyes wander casually to the crumpled heap of droid slowly unfolding itself at the far side of his chambers while his hands casually but discretely hid the holo of Padmé Naberrie into the folds of his robes.
It was fortunate for Ferus that Vader’s hands had been busy when he burst into the Sith’s chambers. Otherwise he might have electrocuted the Hand just to teach him a lesson.
Although C-3PO found a clumsy balance against the wall, his personality was far from rattled. “Your manners remain as appalling as always, Master Ferus. If you were a droid, I would have had you re-programmed.”
Ferus smirked. “Since you are a droid, Threepio, I’ll just have you scraped,” and he raised his hand again.
As well as a droid could flinch, Threepio did. But the blow he expected did not come. Vader took one look at the raised hand and broke its index finger.
Ferus crumpled to his knee in pain.
“Leave us, Threepio,” Vader said quietly, coming to his feet to stand over the adept.
“As you say, sir, of course,” C-3PO said at once and shuffled out of the chamber.
Ferus’ eyes were red with fury as he glared at Vader. His eyes wandered to the droid as it went and became murderous.
“You can’t protect him forever,” he reminded Vader. “One of these days, I’m going to catch that pompous tin can on its own and when I do, the furnace of my chambers will burn a little warmer.”
Vader snapped the middle finger.
Tears sprang into Ferus’ eyes and he was more furious for the tears than he was at the impromptu torture. But he finally understood the point Vader was making and he shut his mouth, getting to his feet with a forced casualness that only emphasized his acute pain.
The darkness in the Sith fed happily on that pain and Vader actually smiled at Ferus.
“You didn’t just burst into my chambers to be tortured, I presume?” he asked pleasantly.
Ferus’ glare would have killed a lesser being. “No,” he snarled. “I assume you summoned me for that pleasure.”
Vader’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t summon you.”
“No, of course not,” Ferus hissed. “I broke into your personal console and sent a summons to myself because I had nothing better to do than have my fingers broken by our Master’s favourite pet.”
Sometimes the idea of torture was more powerful than the torture itself. Vader and Ferus watched the latter’s little finger bend slowly into an impossible angle. Ferus’ face was completely white by now. Fear was like a thousand mad spiders running along the perimeter of his aura.
The Sith’s aura practically gobbled them up. It was only when the other looked at him with mute pleading that the Sith gave the Hand some measure of respite and snapped the finger.
Ferus went down on his knees again, screaming.
“So you got a message from my personal console requesting your presence here.” Vader walked around the crumpled figure of Ferus, thinking aloud. A message that I did not send. Who then sent it? And why?” He threw the question over his shoulder to the adept.
Ferus’ screams had quieted into deep sobs and he did not answer.
Vader shrugged. “Where were you when you got the summons?”
The answer was almost incoherent but Vader had had a lot of practice filtering through garbled moans. “The dungeons…”
Vader turned sharply. If he hadn’t already has cause to wound the adept, that answer would have been more than enough. “You were visiting the Jedi.” It wasn’t a question. His voice was alarmingly quiet as he walked back to Ferus.
“Yes…” The word was a snarl of fear.
“Against my express orders that you never go near him.”
Vader stood before the adept, looking down at the man that was so close to his own age… someone whom by chance or fate, might have been the one standing while he, Vader (only his name won’t have been Vader) knelt sobbing on the floor.
No, that would never have happened. Perhaps indeed, the Sith Lord might have been possessed by a temporary madness and might have picked Ferus to be his apprentice. Perhaps.
But he, Vader, would never cower before the other Darth. Before either of them. He would have become a Sith Lord eventually. Either by Sidious making him one – or by he unmaking Sidious.
“Get. Up.” Vader snapped.
Ferus got to his feet. His face was an angry, splodgy red and Vader looked away in disgust. Of course, no adept would ever be as capable of forbearing pain as a Sith Lord, but Vader suspected that of all the adepts, Ferus’ capacity to withstand torture was the least.
Which was ironic considering how much he enjoyed inflicting it.
Vader slipped his hand into his sleeve and activated the tiny device that would send a Level 1 Security Alarm to all the security units in the Imperial Palace.
Ferus’ eyes widened as the lightning in the chambers changed from their erstwhile white glow to flashing red. His shock changed to another yelp of pain as Vader grabbed hold of his hand (the one with only two unbroken fingers), and started dragging him out of the chambers.
“Whoever made you come here wanted you away from the Jedi,” Vader said, ignoring the other man’s heavy breathing as they stepped out of the chambers. “And I don’t think it was just to spoil your fun.”
Minutes later, the two stood side by side in a security office and watched the feed from one of the security cam positioned at the entrance to the Jedi’s dungeon.
Vader’s face seemed to harden with each second of the playback. Ferus’ eyes nearly danced out of his head.
“I told you so,” he hissed at Vader. “You should have let me kill that Jedi child while we had the chance.”
Vader resisted the urge to strangle Ferus and be done with the fool once and for all. Instead he picked up a COM link.
“Thel-Tanis.” Her voice was crisp.
“The Jedi have escaped. Take a team of five and hunt them down.”
“Yes, my Lord,” she replied without question.
Darra Thel-Tanis would never have become an apprentice but as a loyal Hand, she was invaluable
“Start from…” Vader inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. In the lava plain that was his mind, he saw them like two streams of clear water making an impossible course across the landscape, “…the tunnels to the East. Block all the exits and have the ghouls chase them out.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Burn, maim as need be but bring them both to me alive.”
When she answered, her voice had lost some of its sureness. “Y-yes, my Lord.”
Vader switched off the COM link.
Ferus opened his mouth to speak and the Sith Lord promptly snapped the remaining two fingers.
The spiders almost obliterated the adept’s aura, running frenzily around him as his body lay on the floor, twisted so that his damaged hand was cradled against his chest. The darkness in the Sith fed on the other’s agony, taking satisfaction from a nourishment it could understand.
Underneath his robes, the holo of Padmé Naberrie seemed to burn a tattoo against his chest.
In his mind, the Jedi was laughing.