They came, as they came before the completion of every class. It had been four years, but Master Khev had not forgotten a wrinkle on the Emperor’s face, a crease in Lord Vader’s armor, or a student who had been killed during these demonstrations. At first, he had been shocked – watching the Dark Lord of the Sith execute his best pupil had nearly driven the former monk to speak out – but now, it just caused him a silent sorrow. He knew that the vast majority of his best students were dead at this point: after all, his graduates were required to duel one another to the death. Still, though, he silently hoped that one day, he would train a pupil powerful enough to disarm the Dark Lord.
Master Khev watched the usual procession with somber silence, and proudly offered his best student to the chopping block. The undefeated Mev Kilan – a name appointed to the amnesiatic guard member by Khev himself – was undoubtedly the strongest, fastest, and smartest student he had yet instructed. After watching three such demonstrations, Khev was certain that if Mev Kilan could not defend himself against Darth Vader, there was none in the galaxy who could do so, rumors of the bounty hunter Boba Fett’s prowess notwithstanding.
Mev Kilan came forward, silent as he often was. He was not required to speak by his superiors, so he did not. Instead, he met Vader’s commands to fight him at their full face. He held nothing back, tearing into the Dark Lord at a rate that Khev himself would have been hard pressed to match in his prime. Vader, as expected, defended himself well (if not elegantly). He gave no ground, in fact using his Djem-so defenses to force his opponent back. Mev Kilan found himself without a centimeter of maneuvering space, and Khev silently wondered how his star pupil could be so foolish.
The master of Yinchorr did not wonder for long, however, as Mev Kilan launched into an aerial somersault that seemed designed with a lightsaber in mind: it did not carry the vulnerability of allowing a master swordsman free access to his spine. His spin took him effortlessly a step ahead of every attack that Vader launched at him, so much that it seemed as if the two were partners in a choreographed routine. Mev Kilan landed in an impossible offensive position, both of his blades blocked by Vader’s lightsaber and cut in half as he continued to travel downward. With his stunted vibroswords, he carved two gashes into the shoulder of Vader’s armor – two more hits than any Guardsman, graduate or otherwise, had been able to accomplish.
Unaware that the Emperor was frowning at Vader’s joy from being faced with his most challenging opponent in a decade, Khev continued to watch the duel. It drew on for long minutes, as Vader retained the advantage and Mev Kilan was reduced to a single truncated vibrosword. Fatigue was slow to come at first, and now it seemed that the monstrous Vader knew no such limitation. If anything, the Dark Lord grew stronger and more vicious, forcing Mev Kilan into flips and somersaults that left more and more openings for Vader to interfere. As his top pupil ever spent more and more time on his back, Master Khev began to wonder what sort of beings these Sith really were.
After a particularly devastating fall that landed him on the opposite side of the Squall, Mev Kilan launched himself to his feet. He assumed the most aggressive stance that he knew with a single, short blade – the nonverbal equivalent of a bring it on challenge. He made eye contact with his opponent, and on was suddenly brought.
A chill suddenly passed through the air as Vader’s anger at being challenged was brought into physical form. Hundreds of minute pebbles lifted into the air, buffeting Mev Kilans form until he was knocked off of his feet. He fell into the Squall, catching himself with his free hand, turning away from his hand to face the Dark Lord, and spoke.
“Does this mean I have permission to use the Force, Lord?” A shimmer of animal excitement was released into the air, though few in attendance actually recognized it for what it was. Mev Kilan, a mystery to even his close training partner, had given away more information about himself today than he ever had before. The stoic warrior, whose silence had been attributed by those closest to him to his blazing red eyes and blue skin, had revealed himself as a Force user. Worse yet, for those most jealous of him, he was a Force user who had not needed to use that particular talent to avoid a quick and painless death.
Even Vader was speechless for a moment, carefully calculating his response in the Emperor’s presence. As far as he was concerned, the vast majority of Force users were either destined to die at his hand, or bumbling idiots employed by his master. Khev and others watched with renewed interest a duel that was apparently going to become the most intense public Force duel in centuries.
“I told you to hold nothing back,” Vader responded. He shut his surprise, and his curiosity, from his voice, pouring instead all of his characteristic anger into his words. He then threw his lightsaber through the Force on a trajectory that would shortly cut off Mev Kilan’s fingers.
Instead, the Royal Guard in training used the Force to leap through the air, planting a kick on the Dark Lords chest. Vader fell back no more than a step, but that opened him up to another kick, this time to his mechanical jaw. The former Jedi took the blow unflinchingly, and the two quickly fell into a blur of motion. Mev Kilan’s momentum ebbed and flowed, as any attack caught successfully on Vader’s forearm or wrist was turned back on the trainee. Boulders and shards of vibroblade flew threw the air, and it was impossible to see which of the combatants was hit by any individual impact. After being thrown backward by a particularly powerful block-thrust, Mev Kilan reached out his hand and summoned another trainee’s blade. He turned to Vader with an overhead lunge to finish the duel.
The attack was met by an opposing strike by another blade – Vader had taken the moment to recover his own blade. The more experienced duelist struck directly for Mev Kilan’s upper arm, halfway between his elbow and shoulder. His right arm was severed from that point on, causing him to lose his concentration and control of his weapon and plunge. Before he barreled head-on into Vader’s chest, he was met by a wave of Force power that landed him inches away from the deadly plunge leading below The Squall.
Vader moved quickly to deliver the coup de grace. He knew that a Force user recognized by the Emperor would undermine his authority and become a potential rival; a potential weapon to be used against him. He raised his saber, point downward, in a familiar gesture.
“Stop,” the Emperor’s voice rang out – clear, soft, and commanding. He walked over to the two, and Vader dropped obediently to one knee. Khev walked a few paces behind, uncertain as to what he should do in these circumstances. He had never failed to notice such a talent in his students, and wasn’t sure if he was to be rewarded or punished.
They came to a stop. “Rise,” Palpatine commanded of his fallen follower. Mev Kilan rose to his feet, his helmet burned in half and his lip slightly scarred from the same counterstrike that had cost him his arm. His inhuman features stood out clearly with his scars and his pained – yet determined – face. Khev felt a chill down his spine as his pupil drew on his anger to keep his body from falling into shock, and the Emperor of the Galaxy placed his right hand on Mev Kilan’s left shoulder.
“Your loyalty and determination honors me,” Palpatine said. “An outcast from your civilization, cut off from your last link to your race, you hid your true, indefinable power from hunters far more experienced than yourself. Hiding your true power, you still proved yourself worthy to become among the best of the best.” He paused, allowing his words to sink in to those around him. “You are to be rewarded as my greatest protector. You will be my Hand, entrusted with my survival and the removal of the enemies of the Empire. Your first task: you must kill all witnesses to what transpired this day.”
Khev watched, muted, as Mev Kilan summoned the fallen virbroblade to his remaining hand, and leaped into the air toward his comrades. Khev felt a feeling of absence, a pit in his stomach where, he understood, he should have felt horror. Instead, he felt only inevitability as his pupils were hacked apart by one of their own. As he watched Rugh Polle, Mev Kilan’s chief rival in The Squall, change consistency and color under the force of the Chiss’s lightning, he again felt amazement at the hidden power that had existed under his nose for these last few years. He knelt on one knee and faced the Emperor. “Lord,” he began. “I thank you for your mercy, in sparing my life, so that I may continue to serve you for years to come.”
Emperor Palpatine turned his gaze to the venerable monk who had served him well for decades. His expression was neither one of joy, nor of pity, nor did it contain any emotion recognizable by another humans. Perhaps a Hutt could have deciphered the look on his face, but the Emperor was never known to suffer their presence. As he cast his eyes into his servant’s, Khev understood. Palpatine’s eyes, a cheerful blue as pleasant as the skies over his homeworld of Naboo, had symbolized Khev’s new birth when, as a middle aged man, he was promoted to a Master Instructor of Echani. The same eyes, glittering with something that was neither giddiness nor rage but was akin to both, marked his passage into a second and true adulthood when he presented him with a young, tortured Zabrak and informed the monk that he did not trust machines enough to make a living being into a weapon in his absence. Today, the eyes of the former Senator of Naboo shone a sickly yellow, rimmed with the red of a face that truly revealed the soul of the man behind it.
“It is true that I did not name you in my Hand’s task,” Palpatine replied. “However… what would you have done, given the same order?”
Khev had a moment to fully grasp the truth before the bloody vibroblade, thrown from an angle so as not to dirty the Emperor, buried itself into his face.