Seeking Sith knowledge - Manuk Gagak

Manuk Gagak

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BOGANO

“This is Bogano. A Jedi I knew discovered it before the Purge. You won’t find it on any maps.”

― Cere Junda


Bogano was a grassy planet which was largely unexplored and couldn’t be found on any conventional maps. Its surface was covered in mesas and wetlands and was (if you knew where to look) famed as home to a great Vault built by the ancient Zeffo civilization.

Yet despite its place of reverence for Jedi, Manuk had found - she hoped - a site you could not believe to be less Jedi-like.

So, she set off for the uninhabited world – which meant of course it was relatively untouched. And once she broke orbit, she descended to a height of no more than twenty metres and set the ship on autopilot. Closing her eyes, she reached into the Force as she passed over flat, grassy plains, massive ravines and sinkholes.

And finally she found it – or rather felt it. In-between two mesas was a small area of barren land and she opened her eyes and set the craft down.
 

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The black obelisk somehow managed to absorb the illumination of Bogano’s twin suns. Even from a short distance away, given its place in the shadows, it was virtually invisible – as if light itself was banished from this place. Or maybe it was unable to escape?

Manuk wore her usual black cloak and took slow, perfectly measured steps toward the massive structure, her heavy boots making no noise as she walked – such was her balance and poise.

She spoke the incantation for the fourth time, precisely seven heartbeats after her third. Her source had warned that the ritual had to be followed with exacting care, for to deviate from even one element of the prescribed procedure could spell doom for the uninitiated. And Manuk was not so foolish as to tempt the dark side by offering it an opening to exploit.

She took two more strides toward the obelisk, daring for a moment to glance at the perfect symmetry of its smooth face and the precise lines that marked its edges.

Such iniquitous beauty - somewhat how she viewed herself.
 

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She chanted for the fifth time – or was it the fourth time? Her heart suddenly pumped, further distracting her. She closed her eyes and calmed herself.

Opening them again, she measured the distance to the obelisk with her eye. About a dozen metres – that had to make this the fifth time.

Having deduced the correct number of recitations, she held still and quiet for a moment, waiting to see if her stumble was enough to bring down the wrath of the dark side.

When nothing happened, she took the last two steps toward the structure and issued the chant one final time. The obelisk continued to remain silent before her, as if ignoring her insignificant presence.
 

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Entering the last section of the rite, she eased herself to her knees and pulled back the hood of her robe, allowing her blonde hair to spill across her shoulders and down her back. She clenched her hands into fists and placed them against her forehead, the base of her palms pressed together.

She remained in that position for what must have been for over an hour when something happened – something she sensed as opposed to saw or heard.

A low rumble issued from deep within the hard ground, growing from a bare whisper to a deafening cacophony over the space of a dozen heartbeats. The land beneath her quivered, and then shook. Though her muscles ached from sitting for so long, she managed to maintain the position even as the ground tried to knock her down.

She glanced toward the obelisk, and though her vision jumped with each tremor, she thought she saw the massive stone moving, sliding upward, its base growing ever wider. The ground groaned and then cracked in a series of sharp fractures. Quakes erupted at the same time, the most powerful tossing her several meters to her right. She crashed on her side, and thought she felt a bone in her shoulder crack, but she ignored the pain and forced her head up so that she could watch the spectacle unfolding before her.
 

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The obelisk itself was now nothing more than a spire atop a monstrous structure of angled walls and pyramidal towers. Manuk recognised it from drawings. A place where those that served the dark-side would come to meditate and to set down the knowledge they had gained from their experiments – not that she anticipated finding any tomes of wisdom today.

A shiver gripped her body for a moment as she realised that she was standing at the foot of such a powerful place, an edifice that had witnessed countless dark-siders seeking understanding over dozens of millennia. How long had it been buried, its corridors lifeless?

The ground quieted, and silence fell upon the land once more. Manuk staggered to her feet, her right arm limp from the shoulder down, and stood before the structure, staring at its beauty and sensing the power that radiated from its every molecule. She suddenly wondered whether she was hallucinating, but she dismissed the stray thought immediately. She could never have imagined what now lay before her. and her mind could therefore not have summoned it from the depths of her consciousness to fool her.

No. the structure was real. She could feel its imposing presence leering at her, taunting her, measuring her. The chill of dark side power caressed her, and she knew that the spirits trapped inside the temple were deciding her worth.
 

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She then realised then that she had to prove herself to them, to demonstrate that she had the right to access whatever was lying in wait.

She stepped forward, and the spirits’ caress broke into a frenzy of energy, as if shocked by the unexpected move. Barely before she had time to notice the sudden change, the energy re-coalesced, wrapping itself about her once more.

She took another step forward and elicited the same response. No more than six metres away stood the massive double-door that formed a tall trapezoid at the structure’s base. Strange markings ran around the door’s perimeter and along the seam in the middle. Though she couldn’t read them, she knew that such engravings both warned intruders of certain death and acted us a receptacle for dark side power.

Those who dared to penetrate the temple would be attacked by that stored energy – and there was very little evidence to suggest that anyone had ever survived such a deluge of dark side power. Manuk hoped that the spirits would judge her worthy and not cast their hatred down upon her.
 

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She dared to move closer. This time the energy swarm erupted and reformed so quickly that Manuk wasn’t sure whether it had actually happened.

She came closer, and as she pierced an invisible barrier of energy radiated by the structure she felt her heart flutter, its rhythm suddenly interrupted by the plane of ionisation. Manuk had read of such defensive shields, but none that allowed an intruder to pass through. It seemed that the spirits had accepted her right to enter...
 

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She heard a faint call, like someone had whispered her name in a rush of cold air.

“Manuk Gagak...”

She tensed, and glanced around to see who had spoken. But there was nobody there. Putting it down to her heightened sense of paranoia, she turned her attention back to the double-door, and was surprised to see, standing there, a translucent, shadowy figure. Its head was adorned by a crown of spikes and its body was enveloped by a robe so black, so absorbent of light, that no detail was visible. She could make out the figure’s features only because they were different shades of black, the eyes and mouth the darkest of all.

She knew showing fear was not an option but she also suspected the figure would be able to read her emotions, regardless of how brave a face she put on.

As if to echo her thoughts, the spirit’s mouth widened into a smile that looked more like a grimace. Finally, it spoke. “Manuk Gagak, you have awakened us from our slumber.” The voice hovered just above the lowest register Manuk believed her senses could perceive. “Do you believe you can truly defeat us?”

Manuk swallowed the saliva that had been collecting in her mouth and throat. “I...I have come for knowledge, not for battle.” Her own voice sounded shrill as it followed in the wake of the spirt’s sonorous timbre.

“You are not yet a Sith,” he stated, as if that simple sentence held meaning that ought to be transparent to her.
 

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Manuk considered. She had to manoeuvre the conversation from where it was going to where she needed it to be if she were to accomplish her goal. “If by that you mean that I am a believer in the Force, and that I have begun to learn to manipulate it at my will, then yes, that is what I am. If you mean I am still learning, again you would be correct. Which is why I have come here.” She straightened up as she spoke, intending to present herself as an immovable and impervious object. “I have come to learn all I can about the history and lessons of the Sith..”

The spirit raised its head slightly as if communicating silently with some invisible source. Manuk’s breathing had begun to speed up, and she did her best to mask her nervousness, for she believed to allow the spirit to see such weakness would be the last mistake she would ever make.

Finally, the spirit returned its gaze to her. “We are...puzzled by your presence. How will history benefit you?”

“It has been the way of the Sith before.”
she said, more confident now that she had somehow entered into a debate with the spirit by her words. And she was careful not to over-elaborate. Perhaps her lack of straightforwardness was to her advantage?

The spirit did not respond, leaving the silence to speak volumes. Manuk began to wonder whether she had simply annoyed him.
 

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The spirit laughed, a thunderous sound like the rumbling of stone grinding against stone, echoing in a large chamber. “Your logic is flawed. Did you think that your weak words would allow you to enter our abode, to steal our secrets? We allowed you to find us. We allowed you to call us from the depths of this world. And it is we who will determine the consequences of your pathetic attempt to enter.”

Manuk could not help shrinking back, feeling for the lightsaber tucked into her robes.

“Do you even know what knowledge we possess? By your actions. I would have to say not.” The spirit seemed to grow in height and density, its shadowy form stealing away more and more of the surrounding emptiness. “Others have come here before you. Do not think you are the first, or will be the last? They sought true knowledge, not a history lesson. Perhaps you would like to see some of those who have failed in their attempt?”

With a wave of its arm, the Sith summoned three additional spirits. These did not appear the same. These were pale, transluscent figures, their faces contorted as if in tremendous pain. But even in their spectral form, Manuk could sense they were Sith Masters. And if the spirit could do that to a Master, what chance did she have?
 

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She jabbed her hand into her robe and yanked out her lightsaber, igniting it before she even had a firm grasp on the hilt. The blade hummed to vibrant red life with a snap-hiss, and she held it in front of her, its tip pointed toward the lower-lying of the suns, which hung in the sky just above the temple’s obelisk-spire.

The spirit focused on her again, and then suddenly swooped forward.

Manuk swung her lightsaber around in a wide arc, slicing the spirit from its left shoulder to its right hip. But the red blade passed through without leaving so much as a mark.

And then the spirit was upon her. It wrapped its shadowy form around her and she felt it enter her entire being and burned her every cell with a cold fire. She screamed and slashed violently with her lightsabre aimlessly. But the spirit’s attack only intensified; until she shut her saber down and gave herself to the spectre. And instead of fighting it, she welcomed the pain as the dark side fire penetrated her corporeal shell. And, as her master had taught her, she drew power from the suffering – the potential for knowledge was worth the searing pain the spirit was inflicting.

In fact, she mused as she stood there, it was a small price to pay.
 

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The end came swiftly and suddenly. The spirit was no more and her eyes snapped open and wondered where she was. But she had not moved and, as far as she could tell she was still alive and corporeal.

As she glanced around, the doors to the obelisk swung noiselessly open.

Manuk inched forward slowly, her senses attuned to any traps that might still be lying in wait. She’d read about ancient tombs of the Sith. Just before she entered, she thrust her hand into a pocket and took out half a dozen glow rods and crammed them into her belt, for quick access, and then entered.

The ceiling inside the structure was low, and Manuk had to duck as she went in. Using a glow rod for illumination, she found herself inside a small antechamber, with passages leading off in three different directions. Choosing the one on the left, she began her explorations. Room by room she searched, finding nothing of value. In fact she found nothing at all. Several of the chambers showed evidence that others had already been there.

As she continued her fruitless explorations, doubt began to creep into her mind. Was it possible that this was nothing but an empty, worthless monument to the Sith?
 

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With mounting frustration, she continued her search, winding her way through the passages until she reached an apparently insignificant chamber, almost buried at the very heart of the building.

The door was only a meter high, and was blocked by a tightly fitted slab of black stone, giving Manuk hope once more. The stone seemed to have been undisturbed by whoever had been here before her. It was entirely possible that no one had ever found this room, hidden at the end of the twisting maze of passages. Or maybe someone had found it but had been unable to move the stone slab? It was even possible that the small entrance had once been hidden by the Force and its effect had gradually faded over the centuries, making it visible only now.

Manuk crouched down to examine the slab. Its surface was smooth, and it extended only a few centimetres out from the passage, making it impossible to get a firm grip. Of course, there was another way to move it.

Summoning her strength, Manuk reached out with the Force and tried to pull the stone toward her. It barely moved. The stone was heavy, but it was clear that it was more than sheer mass that held it in place. There was something fighting her power, resisting her. Manuk took a deep breath and channelled all of her frustration as she gathered herself for another attempt.

This time she went deep, plunging into the well of power that dwelled within her core. She added to the frustration by reaching back into the past, dredging up memories and experiences buried deep in her subconscious: memories of being abandoned, of being expelled and left to fend for herself. As she did so, she felt her power building.
 

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It started, as it always did, with a single spark of heat. The spark quickly became a flame, and the flame an inferno. Manuk’s body trembled with the strain as she fought to contain the power, letting the dark side energy build to a critical mass – without allowing it to control her. She forced herself to endure the unbearable heat as she had before, for as long as she needed, and then she thrust her hand forward, channelling everything inside her toward the stone blocking her from what she desired – whatever that may be.

The stone vibrated at first, as if resisting, and then, like an elastic band that could only stretch so far, its defiance snapped. The heavy slab flew across the room and struck the far wall with a heavy thud. A long vertical crack appeared in the wall it hit, though the dark stone block itself was undamaged.
 

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Manuk dropped to her knees, panting from the exertion. Finally, she drew her remaining strength and crawled to the now-open doorway and peered in.

The room beyond was dark, so Manuk pulled one of the glow rods from her belt and tossed it through the opening. It landed on the floor, illuminating the room. From what she could see, it was a circular, high-ceilinged chamber about five metres in diameter.

And it was empty!
 

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Manuk flopped to the ground. Surely this could not all have been in vain? Why have a secure doorway that protected nothing?

She closed her eyes and thought – but no pearls of wisdom sprung to her mind. Opening her eyes, she noticed something on the ceiling, almost invisible. In fact, without the light from the glowstick and this unique vantage point, they would have been.

For the surface of the ceiling was etched with a number of arcane symbols. They meant nothing to her, and given she could not read them, they might as well have not been there. And she might have dismissed them at this point. Except that one of them was glowing.

She hadn’t noticed it initially. It was subtle – a faint scarlet hue tracing the edges of one of the unusual shapes.

As she stared at it, the glow grew stronger. She reached out with her hand, with the Force. The light winked out and then flared to life.

Struggling to contain her eagerness, she again extended her hand and reached out with the Force. There was the sound of turning gears, and the grinding of stone on stone. Then, the walls moved and where there was once plain stone, there were suddenly rows and rows of shelves.

The empty halls reverberated with the sound of Manuk’s triumphant laughter.
 

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Standing, Manuk now saw that all around the room were shelves. And each shelf was full of books. Old-fashioned books with paper and leather binding.

The ancient Masters of the dark side had used Holocrons to store all their wisdom, knowledge, and secrets. The information they contained was so valuable that for many centuries Holocrons had been the single most valuable tool in passing on the legacy of the great Sith Lords to future generations.

Clearly, the information here not was only less portable but in many cases it may have pre-dated Holocrons.
 

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When she wasn’t learning from her master, Manuk studied anything and everything she could find. And, like this room, a lot of what she could access were scrolls, tomes, and manuals.

In the very distant past, Manuk had learned that the Jedi had waged a tireless war to eradicate the teaching tools of the dark side. Sith Holocrons were destroyed.

And because the collection the Sith held was so disorganised, searching for anything specific was often an exercise in futility or frustration, and most of the students felt their time was better spent trying to learn from or impress their masters. Manuk was a fervent believer in the former and had no time for the latter.

So Manuk saw no disadvantage in spending several hours each day studying whatever she could lay her hands on. She found them fascinating. Many of the scrolls were historical records recounting ancient battles or glorifying the deeds of ancient Sith Lords. By itself the information had little practical use, but she could see each individual work for what it actually represented: a tiny piece of a much larger puzzle, a clue to a much greater understanding.

The archives supplemented what she learned from her master. It gave context to abstract lessons. Manuk felt that, in time, the ancient knowledge would be the key to unlocking her full potential. And so her understanding of the Force slowly took shape.

Yet now, staring at all of the documents stored here, she understood that her level of knowledge was only at the beginning. She was starting to grasp a great truth on a deep, fundamental level: that the strength to survive must come from within. Others will always fail you. Friends, family, fellow Sith even. In the end, each Sith must stand alone. When in need, look to the self.
 

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To Manuk it seemed the teachings contained within the records here surpassed those of the Sith’s entire archives.

She spent weeks there, learning more and more about the true nature of the dark side. She learned of how Sith Masters typically succumbed to the physical corruption that affected those who delved too deeply into the power of the dark side. Skin would become pallid, the flesh withered and sunken, and eyes would be no more than glowing yellow orbs devoid of iris or pupil.

Some of the information was written in languages she did not understand, so she carefully copied the text onto flimsies for future research.

And finally she emerged from the structure, back into the sun and as she walked to her ship, she felt the obelisk sink back into the sand, silently. She’d left the information behind. Knowledge was power, but she was not going to deny another the chance to learn. If they were worthy, they would succeed as she had done. It was, she had begun to learn, the way of the Sith.
 

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A REMOTE PLANET IN WILD SPACE

“I will continue to study at your feet, Master. I will learn from your wisdom. I will discover your secrets, unlocking them one by one until everything you know-all your knowledge and all your power-is mine. And once you are no longer of use to me, I will destroy you.”
– Darth Zannah


The journey was long, but necessary: the abandoned temple sat atop a mountain at the northern tip of a long peninsula running parallel to the mainland.

If there was one benefit of the Sith’s centuries of secrecy, it was that there was always the potential to learn from forgotten manuscripts or derelict libraries. They were often hidden – and could only be accessed by someone with knowledge of the Dark side. And other times – like now – they were simply so well hidden that you had to know a precise location to find them.

Manuk was a painstaking researcher. She knew she would never simply find a reference in a datacron, follow coordinates and find some lost treasure. Rather, she found a clue that led to another clue that pointed to a reference. And it was by adding these together that she’d pieced together a map that brought her to this system. To this planet.

And to this spot.
 
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