Brant’s need for balance had become more urgent.

Though his increased use of the Force had not yet made a mark on his skin, Brant could feel the Dark Side moldering inside him, like a furnace slowly blackening its roof with char and burning through the bottom. He became obsessed with trying everything he could think of to limit the punishing effects the Dark Side had on his body. He even laid aside, for the moment, all concern of heresies, thinking that staying hale and fit for longer was part of power, and gathering of power through any means necessary was sanctioned by the Sith Code.

He first trawled through his knowledge of how the Dark Side worked. Some of the time, Brant treated the Force almost as a living thing: scaring or coercing it to bend to his needs. Other times, he’d allow it into himself, like the pain of a thousand screaming spirits, filling his belly and heart until he felt he would burst. Its pain, and his, would meld into one; the stronger the emotions he brought up, the stronger Force he attracted. He walked the razor edge of remaining just one step ahead: one ounce more of control, one pound more of sheer stubbornness, commanding the Forcce instead of becoming overwhelmed by it. It was this type of channeling he thought did the most damage; though getting drunk on his own emotion was exhilarating, it was also like running a marathon: too many marathons in a row, and his body began to break down.

So he tried focusing more on the former kind. He practiced on Auratera, near the vergence, where the Dark Side was thick and he did not have to harness so much energy to attract it. He experimented with different ways of commanding it: wheedling it, bullying it, coolly ordering it around like he might his apprentice, and even, once, begging it. He pretended himself a Grand Moff rather than an Ensign, speaking to the spirit of the Force like he might a whole unit of soldiers.

Well, either his inspirational skills needed work, or the Force was too wild here: it’d roll him over and spike him with pain and fear like a giant cat’s paw: sometimes he wondered if Hu’izêi was watching at such times.

Once, after a long and particularly harrowing one of these experiences, he screamed with his frustration, and conjured the biggest and longest tree of lightning he had ever managed yet. Yet still it was the old way, the damaging way, and he felt burned inside for a week afterward; eventually he had to come to terms with that he had failed. No matter how much it hurt, touching that inner fire directly was much more effective than mere commanding…

Days passed, missions called. The Empire never slept, and neither, it seemed, did he. Over the weeks, Brant at first attempted sheathing the Force like an Adept of Trakata might her lightsaber, experimenting with using it only stringently.

In the end, he paid for that however, when he caught a beam to the head while escorting a VIP through the Doldur Sector, a hazard he normally should have been able to sense. He could not always leash the dark urge entirely either; it was hardest to hold back as a Shadow, when the rush of dealing death through the dance of his sabers consumed him. He was like an avatar of Dark Side when this happened, riding a wave of savage euphoria. He learned then, most clearly, why Sith relied the most on anger. It was fun, inviting one to partake, rather than warding him away with pain or fear. No, the pain only came after, in exhaustion or in failure.

It was not the only thing he learned that day, however.

He and Havoc had attended a group of Red Legion soldiers investigating a cult deep inside a Korriban tomb. It was towards the end of the hunt, when the cult’s leader rose up before them, that Brant felt it. He had leaped into melee with Havoc at his side, weaving their movements together like they were one warrior, when all of the sudden, there was an eruption of pure Dark Side energy from their prey. Brant was flung back at the feet of another lord, yet the eruption hadn’t hurt him. It seemed the energy was draining away as fast as it was made around the feet of this lord, like Tutaminis, but not. It was only when Brant felt the heavy pull on his own Dark Side energies, even as the lord beside him stood straighter, that he put two and two together.

Utilizing Brant’s energy, the cultist’s, and that of several other Sith around them, this unknown lord crafted a mighty incantation to wink out the cultist pest like pressing his thumb down on a bug. He drew the power from without, not within, subtly redirecting the energy around him like Soresu or Shien — or yes, Tutaminis.

And Brant realized he had his answer.

He secured the full technique’s name and relevant literature from the lord and the Sith Academy. Consume Essence, Lord Wraithan had named it: taking another’s power and using it as one’s own.

Brant first tried it simply walking down the streets of Dromund Kaas, letting the emotions of the commonfolk hit him, trying to convert them into Dark Side energy as he would his own. He could not tell at first if the emotions simply weren’t strong enough or if he was missing a step. It was as if a solid barrier stood between him and them.

With another perusal of the Sith Academy materials, he eventually figured it out. The barrier was the natural envelope of their minds, the same one he would breach when using such techniques as Mind Control. Rather than break the law by piercing into the heads of random citizens though, Brant reluctantly left the puzzle for another time. It was much later, again in his guise of a Shadow, that he had a chance to finally test it out.

He and another Shadow had been tasked with infiltrating the manor of a rather tricky lord who had built a locked bunker inside the manor itself. The only way into it lay through convincing a loyal door guard to give up the passkey — or else blowing up the door with more power than either Shadow possessed.

It was a technique Brant rarely used, but a simple one, taught to Acolytes. He reached out through the Force, shaping his will like a spear and throwing it at the man’s mind. It juddered a bit as it pierced in, like parting a membrane, and Brant plunged in right after it.

He was immediately greeted with the mindscape of the guard, like cold water swirling around him, burbling with thoughts and emotions. He set to work twisting it — tugging here, pushing there — until the guard formed the words Brant desired: the passkey to the bunker. But as Brant went to withdraw from the mind then, he wondered…

His hesitation ran too long… The man’s rage at having his mind violated lashed back at Brant, pummeling his insides just as well as if he had drawn on too much Dark Side energy. He felt the pain vibrating through his body, triggering vomit, and he had the faintest inkling of his Sister Shadow snickering at him, but he didn’t have the space of thought to pay it any mind. He wrestled with the sudden fear his strength would give out under this barrage, his limbs crumbling to dust as his ribs could no longer hold his organs together. Visions of watching himself age in the mirror tormented him, his skin gone pale like the palest of humans and then translucent and ghostly, as his eyes burned brighter and brighter with the hunger of fire, until they consumed him from the inside out.

And through it all, the mind of the guard wallowed, aghast at this shared vision. Luckily for Brant, this snapped him from the nightmare, but unluckily for the guard, it brought him into it.

Brant bent the Force, turning the withering images on the man. The guard’s fear rang out, and Brant enveloped the strong emotion, pulling it back into himself like taking a burning gulp of brandy.

But too close, too close… Unaccustomed to this method of manipulating the Force, the bubble burst inside Brant, showering him with pain and more fearful visions. Growling ferociously now, he rode the wave and dove back in, determined to drain the man of his very lifeforce if that’s what it took!

This time, though, the bubble held, trembling as Brant pulled it out, its containing form hard to perceive — like the rainbow sheen around a soap bubble — despite Brant knowing it was there, having been the one who had commanded the Force to form it. He didn’t draw the power all the way back into himself this time, fearing its potency, but instead cupped it like a ball of lightning in his hand. Lightning would be an appropriate use of the teeming energy, Brant thought, but he had a better idea.

He ran his free hand along the frame of the bunker’s door, until he sensed the location of its locking mechanism. Then he drew back his hand, out then in again, transforming the guard’s emotions and letting it go, all at once, into a projected punch. The locking mechanism flew back, sans a door, and the door itself waved vaguely at the Shadows, sans a lock to hold it shut.

Brant waved his fellow Shadow in before him to finish the job, as he hung back to consider what he had just done. The aftereffects of nausea and fear, like a hangover, still swirled in his body, yes. But when he bent to pick up the crushed locking mechanism, he marveled at the power it had withstood. For the small amount of Force it had taken to subdue the guard and feed on his emotions, Brant’s return on the power had at least doubled. So long as he didn’t pull it too far into himself, or carry it around in his hand like a burning coal for too long, he believed he could draw on as much as he needed without the terrible toll his body normally took from such things.

He looked back then at the guard, twitching feebly, half into catatonia. Well. This was no loss, but he’d have to be careful drawing from allies. On the other hand, if he used it on his enemies, or in a duel with an obnoxious Sith…

When his Sister Shadow returned, she asked why he was suddenly laughing so hard. In return, Brant used her consternation and anger at having to do the final kill alone to blow their way past the remainder of their target’s security. All the while, Brant rode on a wave of glee, untainted from the more intricate manipulations of the Dark Side he’d normally have to perform to achieve similar power. He was one step closer to tasting freedom, not from the tyranny of others, but from the constant worry of preserving his body’s health.

More practice over the coming days solidified the ability. Brant practiced on prisoners, on the Sith he dueled, even once on his apprentice when the Ratakki was struggling his way through a bad dream, unawares. At first the barrages of others’ emotions was like water tapered into a blast through a hose, uncontrollable, and just as likely to wet him over with their fears and doubts as fly in the direction Brant wanted.

Yet as he learned to control the volatile energy, it became a dance. He’d gift it just enough of his own will to guide it, then let it go, tapping it into shape as it fled before him, like an old Blademaster whacking the ankles of his student to better their footwork. Like anger, it was desperately fun to do, but even better, the worst of the pain was held in check outside of him. After all, it wasn’t truly his.

In the meantime, he formed a stronger wall around himself, drawing on his practice as a Shadow concealing his true identity and as an Honor Guard maintaining his patience, not letting the inconveniences of the world around him bother him deep within. It was like the tight white knot at the center of a ball of lightning, its threads scattering about him like tangled yarn or the thrashing fingers of fir trees in the wind. His inner core did not dim or sicken, and he would only slightly lean into the power as he worked, just enough to shape it, letting it pull and push him around, just a little, in the manner of Soresu. He was not a channel, but a nexus, the eye of a storm, and deep inside, he sang with the euphoria of wielding it, unmarred by its potent fury.

Or nearly so, anyway. Yet it would be enough.

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