Vibrant yellow eyes snapped open, and the face of a young male pureblood flowed upwards until his lips parted the lake's surface. The Dark Lord remained immobile, his infernal gaze fixed on the apparition of the cousin he had last seen during his final acolyte trial, more than twenty years prior.
“Who?” Sounded an uncertain voice that echoed across the ethereal landscape. Iradox remained still for a bit longer, gradually recovering from the initial shock. He had encountered dead people before, even walked beside the spirit of an ancient Sith monarch now. But this was different and it triggered a mixture of wonder and suspicion: Was Atrum trying to trick him; to distract him while gradually claiming hold of his mortal vessel?
Beneath the clear surface of the lake, the eyes of the apparition widened in surprise and recognition: “Thulan,” it muttered. In that instant, the Dark Lord felt his powers return and a familiar presence washed over him; this was indeed Marqun Nyâsh, there could be no doubt. The realization struck him dumbfounded, sweeping aside all immediate traces of suspicion.
He squatted down beside the face, his black robes spreading out into the lake. “Iradox,” he corrected. This sparked an arced brow from his cousin.
“You took my intended name for your own?”
“I became what you had intended to be, restoring our lineage and securing the survival of our legacy.”
The apparition's next words echoed with urgency: “House Nyâsh?”
The Dark Lord felt a mixture of pride and pain swell up within him: More than two decades prior, deep within the halls of a forgotten tomb, he had promised his dying cousin that he would see their ruined house restored. The price of achieving this had been steep and agonizing, yet he now stood before the apparition of Marqun, about to let him know that the deed was done.
“Restored and thriving.”
Relief coded the features of the apparition, only to be replaced by sudden apprehension.
“Why are you here? Are you dead?“
“No.” Iradox glanced over his shoulders at the Sith monarch, who waited but a few paces away. “At least, I do not think so.”
"You need to go," Marqun voice rang with urgency. "Remain for too long and you will be unable to leave."
The Dark Lord stood and gazed down at the face he had once found so fierce. His cousin had been a lord among acolytes, feared and admired in equal measure. Now he appeared to Iradox like just another ambitious young Sith, of which the Dark Lord had encountered countless. They always radiated such certainty, as if they thought themselves predestined to greatness. In truth few ever survived that long. Marqun had not.
For a moment, the dimly glowing eyes of the deceased acolyte pierced into the infernal depth of the Dark Lord's gaze. Then his face sunk back beneath the water and his eyes shut.
Iradox spun and made his way back towards Atrum. "Are all dead gathered here?" he demanded. The Sith Monarch gave a slow shake of his head. "Only those strong in the Force." This caused the Dark Lord to lower his head in contemplation.
"Are you ready to depart?"
Iradox diverted his gaze back to his ancestor. "You are prepared to let me leave?"
"The question is whether you are prepared to, now that you know the power of this place?"
A brief silence followed as the Dark Lord considered his options: On one hand, there were deceased people he wished to converse with, and if he left now, he might not be able to find his way back to the lake without a guide. On the other hand, the Sith Monarch might be counting on him being caught up in this opportunity, and thus remain for too long - perhaps he had already remained for too long?
After an imperceptible amount of time had past, he arrived at a decision: Locking gazes with his ancestor, the Dark Lord spoke: "I need to see someone before we go."