A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .
When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice, Darth Vader, find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.
“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”
Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters—and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.
On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources—by political power or firepower—and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.
For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.
Praise for Lords of the Sith
“A compelling tale [that] gives us new insight into the relationship between Darth Vader and his master, Emperor Palpatine.”—New York Daily News
“Endlessly fascinating . . . a tale [that is] not just compelling but completely thrilling.”—Big Shiny Robot
“The best novel so far in this new era of official canon Star Wars stories.”—IGN
“Packed with action . . . hard to put down.”—Seattle Geekly
About the Author
Paul S. Kemp is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Star Wars: Crosscurrent, Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived, and Star Wars: Riptide, as well as numerous short stories and fantasy novels, including The Hammer and the Blade and A Discourse in Steel. Paul S. Kemp lives and works in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with his wife, children, and a couple of cats.
Read an Excerpt
Vader stood behind his Master’s throne in the dimly lit receiving room on Coruscant. The steady rhythm of the respirator marked the passage of the minutes. Two members of the Royal Guard, covered head-to-toe in the blood-red armor indicative of their order, flanked the door. Each held a stun pole at station. Vader knew that each of their crimson capes hid a heavy blaster pistol, a vibroblade, and various other weaponry. Huge windows opened out onto the Coruscant skyline, countless ships buzzing past the glass, metal, and concrete spires of the megacity. The sun threw its last light over the horizon, washing the terrain in orange and red.
The Emperor sat on the throne in silence, seemingly lost in thought.
But Vader, standing behind the throne, knew better. His Master was never lost in thought. The Emperor’s thinking ranged over time and distance in a way not even Vader fully understood, allowing him to anticipate and plan for contingencies that others did not recognize. Vader hoped to learn the technique one day, provided he didn’t kill his Master first.
Soon after destroying the Jedi, the Emperor had told Vader that he would one day be tempted to kill him. He’d said that the relationship between Sith apprentice and Master was symbiotic but in a delicate balance. An apprentice owed his Master loyalty. A Master owed his apprentice knowledge and must show only strength. But the obligations were reciprocal and contingent. Should either fail in his obligation, it was the duty of the other to destroy him. The Force required it.
Since before the Clone Wars, Vader’s Master had never shown anything but strength, and so Vader intended to show nothing but loyalty. In that way, their mutual rule was secure.
Perhaps Vader would attempt to kill his Master one day. Sith apprentices ordinarily did. They must, if they were trained well. An apprentice was unquestioningly loyal until the moment he wasn’t. Both Master and apprentice knew this.
“But our relationship is different, Master,” Vader had said then. “Perhaps,” his Master had said. “Perhaps.” Or maybe self-delusion was part of the training a Master instilled in an apprentice. “Your thoughts are troubled, my friend,” the Emperor said, his voice loud in the quiet. The Emperor often referred to him as a friend, and perhaps they were friends, in some sense, though Vader saw purpose in the use of the term. He thought his Master used a term he might use with a peer to emphasize that Master and apprentice were not, in fact, peers.
“No, my Master. Not troubled.”
The Emperor chuckled, the sound coming out a cackle. “ ‘Troubled’ perhaps misstates the matter. Your thoughts are on violence.”
He turned in his throne to glance back at Vader, and his eyes burned out of the shadowed recesses of his hood.
“You ponder the nature of strength, do you not?”
Vader never lied to his Master. And he understood that his Master asked questions only with great forethought, so that the answer revealed more than the words. “I do.”
The Emperor turned away, showing his back to Vader, itself a calculated gesture. “Share your thoughts, my apprentice.”
Vader did not hesitate. “I was thinking of the lessons you once taught me about the relationship of a Sith Master to his apprentice.”
“And?” his Master asked.
Vader dropped to a knee and bowed his head. “And I perceive strength all around me, my Master.”
“Good,” the Emperor said. “Very good.”
The moment having passed, Vader rose and stood station behind his Master.
Together they waited for the arrival of Orn Free Taa, the puppet delegate from Ryloth. Vader did not know the purpose of the audience. His Master told him only what he needed to know.
Before long the two members of the Royal Guard, no doubt alerted to the senator’s imminent arrival via their helmet comlinks, moved to open the double doors. But before they could, the Emperor gestured with his finger and pulled the doors open with the Force. The light from the chamber beyond backlit the wide silhouette of the corpulent Twi’lek senator. His stood there a moment as if pinioned by the Emperor’s eyes, or perhaps he merely needed to work up the nerve to enter.
“Come in, Senator,” the Emperor said, in the voice he used when attempting to disarm something small and weak and easily frightened.
“Of course, of course,” Taa said, waddling into the room. He eyed the guards sidelong as he passed and slowed for a moment when the doors audibly closed behind him.
When he stood before the throne in his embroidered robes, he gave as much of a bow as his girth allowed.
“Emperor Palpatine,” he said. Sweat glistened on his wrinkled blue skin, and his gaze danced nervously between Vader and the Emperor.
His wheezes were so loud, they nearly matched the sounds of Vader’s respirator.
“How do you fare, my friend?” the Emperor asked.
“Very well,” Taa said between breaths, then quickly added, “Very well. But not so well, my Emperor. Because I know the spice production on Ryloth has slowed considerably due to . . . some unfortunate events, but—”
“By ‘unfortunate events,’” the Emperor said, leaning forward in his throne, “do you mean the terrorist attacks of the Free Ryloth movement?” Taa sniffed and licked his sharpened teeth, a nervous habit. His lekku squirmed.
“Yes, my Emperor. They are misled zealots and put all of my people at risk with their recklessness. But—” He paused to catch his breath before continuing. “—between the Twi’lek security forces and the Imperial troops answering to Moff Mors, I believe matters are well in hand and that production will soon be back to full capacity.” “Alas,” said the Emperor, “I do not share your optimism, Senator.
Nor your high opinion of Moff Mors.” Taa looked like he had been punched. His skin darkened. He blinked,
gulped, took a half step back. “But surely—” “Because I do not think matters are ‘well in hand,’ I have made a decision.” Taa’s eyes birthed fear, went to Vader, back to the Emperor. “My lord . . .” “And it is this: Lord Vader and I will accompany you on an official visit to Ryloth. There we’ll investigate matters for ourselves. I will notify Moff Mors that we are coming.”
Taa sagged with relief. “I . . . don’t know what to say.”
“You need say nothing,” the Emperor said. “The decision is made. The planning for the journey is already ‘well in hand.’ ”
“Of course.” Taa looked down as he adjusted the folds of his robes around his belly. “But me return to Ryloth? Perhaps I can be of more service to you here, my Emperor?”
“I think not,” said the Emperor. “Your presence there will be invaluable. I believe it’s time the people of Ryloth were made to feel, truly feel, a part of the Empire. Do you not agree?”
“Oh, of course, of course,” Taa said, his chins bouncing. “You still look unconvinced, my old friend.” Taa shook his head so hard his fleshy ear flaps spread like wings. “No, no. It’s just . . .” His voice fell to a murmur. “It’s just that it’s . . . rather unpleasant there.”
“I’m sure you’ll manage, Senator,” the Emperor said, his voice carrying the full weight of his contempt. “We’ll all make the journey together, aboard the Perilous.”
Taa looked up, his wide face crinkled with concerns and excuses, but he seemed to think better of voicing them.
“You are dismissed, Senator,” the Emperor said. “My Emperor,” Taa said with a bow. “Lord Vader.” Once the doors were closed behind him, the Emperor said to Vader,
“Give me your impressions of the senator, my friend.” “He is fearful of you, as he should be, but he is not as timid as he seems. He will do as he’s asked in order to preserve what power and privileges he still retains, but he will do no more than what he’s asked. And he will do it all with an eye first to his own interests, then to his people, and then to the Empire.”
“Hmm. Would you say then that he is . . . loyal?” “Viewed through those constraints, yes, I’d consider him loyal.”
“Viewed through those constraints, yes. I concur with your assessment. And so I conclude that Orn Free Taa is no traitor to the Empire.” “You suspected him of treachery?” “Either him or a member of his staff. He seemed an unlikely candidate, but one never knows. Someone is providing the terrorists of the so-called Free Ryloth movement with knowledge of what transpires here. The hijacking you thwarted was indicative of that. The treason must originate in Taa’s staff.”
Vader should have seen the Emperor’s purpose. As usual, the Emperor’s thinking was one step ahead of his.
“And that’s why we’ll travel to Ryloth?” Vader asked. “To act as bait?
Why take that risk, when I could simply kill Taa and his entire staff? That would eliminate the traitor.”
The Emperor shook his head and stood. The moment he rose, the Royal Guardsmen hurried from their station at the door to flank him. Vader fell in with them as they started walking toward the chamber doors. The sun cast its final rays over the Corsuscant skyline, throwing the room into deeper darkness.
“But that would not eliminate the roots of the treachery,” his Master said. “Nor would it reveal the scope of the treason, which I suspect reaches well beyond the senator’s staff.”
“I see,” Vader said. “Then I should go alone. There’s no reason to put you at risk.”
“But there is,” said the Emperor. “We must tear disloyalty out by the roots, expose it, and there let it wither and die where all can see.”
“An example to make the point.” “Yes. An example for the rest of the Empire.” “A needful one,” Vader said. Since the consolidation of the Republic into the new Galactic Empire, pockets of chaos had appeared here and there. Most of the former Republic accepted the Empire without complaint, but there were many bands of resistance fighters and Separatist remnants lurking around the galaxy. The Free Ryloth movement was one of the more capable and notorious.
“Indeed,” said the Emperor. “And that lesson is one that I must administer. Besides, old friend, it has been too long since we’ve traveled together. Inform Moff Mors that Orn Free Taa is returning to Ryloth for a state visit and that he will be traveling aboard the Perilous. She should not be informed, at least not yet, that we will be accompanying the senator.”
“Yes, my Master.” “You have been to Ryloth before, have you not, Lord Vader?” The question dredged memories of war from the depths of Vader’s mind. “Long ago, Master. Before I learned wisdom.” “Of course.”