From a safe distance, the Iktotchi had watched the two figures from her dreams wage battle. She was an impartial observer, having no preference as to which one would emerge victorious. She only wanted to serve whoever proved the stronger.
The conflict had been brief but intense: she had marveled at the speed of their blades, their movements so fast she could barely follow the action. She had felt the awesome power of the Force unleashed through bursts of lightning and the sinister tendrils that crawled up from the ground. She shivered in anticipation with the knowledge that she, too, could one day learn to wield such power.
She had seen Bane knock the woman to the ground and slap her weapon away, only to have his arm hewn off by the touch of one of the black tentacles. And then there had been a flash so bright she had been forced to close her eyes and look away.
When she looked back Bane was gone, his body reduced to a pile of ash. The blond woman still lay on the ground, dazed but alive. The deadly tendrils were nowhere to be seen.
Cautiously she approached the scene. Bane's severed arm lay on the ground, but the rest of his body had been consumed by the crimson flare. In the instant before she had looked away, however, she had felt something.
Even from a distance, she had sensed an incredible burst of power-the same power she had sensed in Bane himself. She didn't know how it was possible, but it almost seemed as if the Dark Lord's life energy had burst free of his physical form in one glorious instant, releasing itself upon the material world. Then, as suddenly as she had sensed the presence, it was gone, vanishing like an animal gone to ground.
Crazy as it might seem, there was only one place she could imagine it could have gone.
The woman on the ground shifted, her eyes fluttering open as she rose slowly to her feet. She moved awkwardly and couldn't seem to stand up straight, as if she was unfamiliar with how her own limbs and muscles worked:though this could simply have been the result of exhaustion from the battle.
She shook her blond head from side to side, and the motion seemed to restore some sense of her equilibrium. Standing straight and tall, she turned and fixed the Iktotchi with a cold stare.
Knowing how insane her words would sound, Cognus hesitated before asking, "Lord Bane?"
"Bane is gone," the woman replied, her voice confident and strong. "I am Darth Zannah, Dark Lord of the Sith and your new Master."
The Iktotchi dropped to one knee, folding her hands in supplication and bowing her head. "Forgive me, Master."
"What is your name?" Zannah demanded.
"I am:Darth Cognus." She had almost answered the Huntress, but she managed to catch her mistake just in time. "Bane had me take the name to symbolize my new life as a Sith apprentice."
"Then your training has already begun," Zannah replied. "Did he explain the Rule of Two that guides our Order?"
"He started to. But there was no time for any real lessons before you arrived," she admitted.
"I will teach you the Rule of Two and the ways of the Sith," Zannah promised. "In time, I will teach you everything.
"Rise, Cognus," she added, and the Iktotchi did as she was instructed.
Zannah turned away from her and walked over to pick up her lightsaber from where it had fallen to the ground.
"Eventually you will construct your own lightsaber," Zannah said, speaking but not turning to look back at her. "For now, take Darth Bane's."
Cognus scooped the curved hilt of Bane's lightsaber up from the ground, unfazed by the gruesome severed limb resting only a few centimeters away.
"Bane reinvented the Sith," Zannah explained, standing with her back to her new apprentice as she stared out across the vast, empty expanse of the Ambrian desert. "We are his legacy, and though he is gone his legacy will endure."
"Now I am the Master, and you are my chosen successor. One day you will face me just as I faced Bane, and only one of us will survive. "
"This is the way of our Order. An individual may die, but the Sith are eternal."
"Yes, Master," Cognus answered.
She couldn't help but notice that, as she was speaking, Zannah was continually clenching and unclenching the fingers of her left hand.