Welcome to the third of 12 articles revealing — for the first time ever — material cut from The Essential Guide to Warfare before its April 2012 publication. Each section will be preceded by brief comments discussing why the material wound up on the cutting-room floor.
XIM THE DESPOT
Jason Fry: I’ve been a huge fan of Xim the Despot ever since reading about this ancient galactic ruler in the pages of Brian Daley’s Han Solo and the Lost Legacy back in 1980. I’ve never missed a chance to fill in Xim’s backstory, starting with a write-up of the planet Desevro in Wizards of the Coast’s Geonosis and the Outer Rim Worlds and continuing in The Essential Atlas. The Atlas had barely reached bookstores before I started working up an online supplement about the Tion Hegemony, Xim’s old stomping grounds.
I continued this merry obsession in Warfare — among other things, that book features the first-ever look at Xim’s warships. But looking over the Warfare manuscript, I knew I’d gone way overboard –– this wasn’t The Essential Guide to Xim the Despot. I like this goofball mashup of Hamlet, “Ozymandias,” and snobby English 19th century travel narratives. But as was often true with Warfare’s “in-universe” essays, it was less important than the more straightforward writing about Xim we already had quite a lot of.
Excerpt from Travels Amid Strange Stars, by Bleys Harand:
In Eternal Homage to Xim, Whose Fist Shall Enclose the Stars and Whose Name Shall Outlive Time.
Those words are inscribed on the pitted façade at the entrance to Xim’s complex of treasure vaults on Dellalt — vaults built in expectation that they would soon hold the plunder of a hundred Hutt worlds. To note that they stand empty is to miss the more melancholy point that they were never filled in the first place.
I came to Dellalt in search of information about the Despot, the latest in a line of tourists, academics, treasure hunters and curiosity seekers dating back eons. But my goals were modest. I neither quested for the Queen of Ranroon nor sought to test my theory about the coordinates of lost Astigone. I was after something much less consequential, and yet more surprising in its absence.
I wished to look upon the face of the Despot.
Xim’s fist did indeed enclose stars, or near enough at least. And any name that has endured for twenty-five millennia has an excellent head start on outliving time. But there is no portrait, sculpture or representation of Xim that does not reflect the artist at the expense of the subject. Artists who follow the popular accounts of Peshosloc portray the Despot with his face charred and his ruined eye sockets sprouting war-robots’ optics – a romantic vision, to be sure, but one first imagined thousands of years after the actual Xim’s demise. In paintings and sensoriums and holo-thrillers we see him bald, long-haired or bearded, his eyes hard or kind, his limbs clad in kingly raiment or warrior’s armor. He is everything and everybody, and thus nothing and nobody.
I had come to the Tion seeking a contemporary portrait – one executed by a hand that had obeyed an eye that had gazed upon the actual Xim, the pirate prince turned Daritha of the young galaxy. It mattered not to me that likeness was grand or modest, well-executed or awkward. Authenticity was what I sought — a link to the living.
Above Barancar still drift coils of steel that once formed the Despot’s shipyards, now darkened by radiation and pitted by an eternity of micrometeorites. But no image of Xim remains there. On Soruus the Despot towers over the arena where many a gladiator has bled out his dreams. He holds a heatbeam in one great fist, but the statue is polysteel, assembled by a factory on Centares during the chancellorship of Kirbat the Unready. So I am told with sour reluctance by a tour guide who wishes to quiet me, not knowing he has succeeded all too well by revealing that my quest is not over.
On Dravione I learn that aeries once frequented by Xim and his court still await atop the jagged peaks, preserved in the dry chill. But even the most promising one is empty – empty save for a courtyard where stands a pedestal and feet, ankles and calves of stone. Where is the rest of the statue? The guide shrugs, not even bothering with so meager a reply when asked if the statue is Xim. I do not blame him for this truculence: One may as well ask where his grandfather’s grandfather misplaced a favored multi-tool.
On Duinarbulon the Parade Grounds are obvious fakes, never trod by one of Xim’s mighty Lancers; on Kismaano “merchant” and “swindler” are synonyms, and the quest is not even worth attempting. On Nuswatta Cronese urchins drive our party away from the weedy lumps of the Forbidden Gardens with hurled stones, and the guide says there is nothing to see anymore anyway. On Desevro, beneath the dim light of the dying sun, ships set down at the Jigani Port, built atop ancient pillars repaired with millennia of stone scraps. Here are hieroglyphs and cemented bas-reliefs and endless ancient bric-a-brac, but the runes cannot be read and the names cannot be recalled. Does this cartouche enclose the name of Xim? Is this face the visage of the Despot? No one can say.
Finally, on Argai, I walk in the evening chill amid the rounded stones of Xer’s first palace, listening to birdsong and insect buzz. The evening is raw and cold; after the light has surrendered the Indrexu Nebula pulses faintly in infinity above. Xim once stood on this spot and stared at those same colors, and I think that perhaps this is as close as we two, scholar and Despot, are fated to be.
But there is another way of bridging time. Despite being the birthplace of a Daritha, Argai has had no golden age. It is largely unchanged from Xer’s days, a hard and cold place inhabited by a hard and cold people. Walking the streets of Sah Gosta, I think that here, perhaps, is Xim. He stands there, stooped and sallow, with lank black hair and a permanent frown. Or there, gesticulating, with spittle at the corner of his mouth. The Argaians are a squat and unlovely people, but they have the wiry strength of those born not to thrive but to endure. It is not hard to imagine them as pirates in cracked boots and work shirts, twin pulse cannons holstered below the X of bandoliers, boarding copper-hulled pinnaces powered by fuel slugs. They looked then as they look now. Why should Xim have looked different than these sons of Argai?
That night I sleep satisfied with the answer. But leaving Sah Gosta, the whimpering groundcar I have hired at mildly larcenous rates expires in a hiss of fluidics, to be autopsied indifferently by its driver. Waiting for something to happen, I find myself leaning against an ancient stone wall – a cemetery. On the other side a gravedigger has cut a new mouth into the stubborn red clay; on a bier waits a cheap coffin with a hinged port, waiting to discharge its renter.
Peering over the wall, I see the perimeter of the graveyard is scattered with bones, adorned here and there by scraps of rough rotted cloth. The skulls of the disinterred stare back at me – everywhere a death’s head, the Despot’s immortal sigil. And there I see him at last. This is not Xim, of course – and yet it is. For when life has departed and flesh has been stripped, will we all not have the same blank eyes, the same cheeks of bleached bone, the same empty grin? Here is Xim, and here am I, and here are you, and we are all alike: Despot and slave, victor and vanquished, indistinguishable and eternal.
A SOLDIER’S STORY: “THE GLEAM OF KIIRIUM” (FROM THE DESPOTICA)
Jason Fry: In late 2009, StarWars.com brought the world “Xim Week,” featuring my exploration of the Tion Hegemony. But that was just the warmup for The Despotica, Michael Kogge’s gonzo kaleidoscope of poetry, Greek tragedy and tale-telling. For Warfare, I asked Michael to pen a new poem from The Despotica, which he very kindly did, only to have me tell him we needed to cut it for the same reasons that felled the Bleys Harand piece. It makes me really happy to finally get to unveil it.
If you like this piece, there’s plenty more Kogge greatness to explore. He writes terrific stuff for the Star Wars Insider, his Roman sword-and-sandal epic Empire of the Wolf is coming from Alterna Comics this month, and you can check out his personal site here.
Cached datagrab of former University of Ruuria network site, attributed to Professor S.V. Skynx, emeritus chair of the Department of History (network address invalid as of 11 ABY):
-593 to -244 BBY
Note: The publishers of The Despotica Reader refused to print this entry for fear of endorsing an artist universally regarded as too despicable to be seriously read. I have posted the monologue here on my network site not to praise the work of Asenec, but to allow the reader to be the ultimate judge of its merit, truth, and beauty.
Surveys of interspecies prejudices taken since the Original Light consistently reiterate one fascinating statistic: A majority of the galactic population seems to possess an innate disgust for all things gastropodic. Such bigotry infects even that bellwether of liberal thought, literary criticism. Seven hundred years after the death of the lauded Hutt dramatist Direus’pei, many reviewers still snub any work of merit produced by a “slug.” The Croke poet Asenec—a member of an exceedingly rare but purportedly diminutive (and slimier) analogue species to the Hutts—receives even harsher treatment. No writer in the civilized galaxy is banned more widely (and vehemently) than Asenec of Crakull.
Discrimination alone does not deserve the full blame for this broad censorship; Asenec appears to have written his poems primarily to sicken, repel, and offend. His verses celebrate the satisfaction of revenge, revel in the squeezing of ooze, commemorate the outrages of tyrants, and depict irradiated wastelands as milieus of breathtaking beauty. Exceeding the galactic canon of authors in misanthropy and spite, Asenec is our great poet of the darkness, whose volumes are rumored to have enjoyed a place on the shelves of Emperor Palpatine himself.
Given his poetic fondness for villainy, Asenec seems a match made in the Stalbringion hells to take on the diabolical legend of Xim the Despot as a subject for a poem. Yet “The Gleam of Kiirium,” the poet’s sole contribution to the compendium of Xim miscellanea known as The Despotica, is unlike anything in his œuvre. Alleged to have been composed during the Croke’s protracted death wriggles, the dramatic monologue of a Duinarbulon Star Lancer bears Asenec’s signature salute to tyranny, yet is also imbued with a doomed—and daresay romantic—sense of sadness. The nameless soldier of the poem, relishing the chance to fight for her “beloved” Xim in the Second Battle of Vontor, makes a soul-wrenching discovery when Xim and his forces blast off, having used the Star Lancers as a distraction to cover his mining and plunder of Vontor’s kiriium lodes. The somber conclusion the soldier comes to at the end reads as heresy to the unremitting animosity of Asenec’s other poems. Some critics even charge that “The Gleam of Kiirium” is not Asenec’s work at all, but a clever devotee’s attempt to make their favorite poet more palatable to a larger audience. Recent speculation pegs the monologue’s origin to an ancient authorless tome excavated in the Great Duinarbulon Mausoleum, though the archeologist in charge, Henrietya Antilles, rebuffs such claims. A more-comforting interpretation is that this vicious Croke, near the end of his hate-filled life, experienced a dim epiphany of light.
The Gleam of Kiirium
by Asenec of Crakull
(trans. from Tundan by Kiekal Zzoh)
Xim—of the ravenous blue eyes, the thewy fist, the tremulous, tiny T’iin-T’iin,
these emblems of my lord, my beloved,
embroidered in the kiirium coat of my ionic mail
a vision enough to send enemy legions fleeing
their own lasers
and to warm me on bitter nights
when the stars are silent.
Xim—never have I seen your flesh, though your every wish is mine,
for you understand the ambitious, the unslaked,
you understand the small,
you understand we must rob so as to rise
because what is theirs was but another’s
a universe under your venal gaze,
Cron corrupted to your command, Barseg but a bug,
and now onto Vontor,
the glowpearl in the rough, a playpen for Hutts,
to be yours, and mine,
Xim—I am wedded to you by the lance,
forged by the craftiest of all Duin smiths,
its handle twined in Raxan seaweed,
its vamplate a kiirium mirror like my mail,
its shaft a stake for slugs and all their slime,
its barb sprinkled with malkite,
a deathknell to all who would
Vontor—at last! A world of cinder and ash
and veins of kiirium gold
gleaming from the stars
though dull on the surface
is this what cost us the first battle?
A palmful of pebbles blown away by breath,
but that which the ‘bots dig we of the lance pledge to defend,
dust with our blood.
Duin—of the Arbulon suns, why suddenly I dream of you?
Restless under the Vontorian moons,
lines drawn, war waiting for its bell,
and I in the grip of my other love, my first,
they never last
a world unknown to dust, its jewels green fields and flowers,
trumpets heralding grand tournaments, where names are won
flags rippling in the breeze, crowds on their feet,
Galdrian mustang barely broken to my heels,
pounding toward the elder knight, interloper of our age,
his armor, the gift of a Duke of Desevro, an insult,
his charger, a colt of Cron, a crime,
his sneer, hateful of youth, ambition,
of you, Xim,
he speaks so many traitorous things,
claims he’s only fighting for the money,
says you are nothing more than a rich Hutt,
it feeds my anger and my love,
then the joust comes to destiny,
his lance the longer, mine the smaller,
for size, what is size in war but weight,
clang, slide, break,
the barb pierces, injects,
my first victim, my first victory!
The elder’s sneer bends in the mirror of my lance,
held aloft between our suns,
blue orbs that remind me of you.
my stomach turned at dawn
that ugly sight
how can it be, that a Hutt has blue eyes,
that his is the flesh I behold!
Yet there he is, in all his girth, to rally and lick his toads,
before the dust dries out their slime,
bang! The drums beat, a bell tolls,
the armies march to line,
I leap upon my Galdrian and join the gallop
to cry your name my love,
and wave that worm on my lance.
Xim—did you not hear my cry? Do you not see my blood?
Brutes they were, the vermin, horde after endless horde,
Jilurian dervishers on Cyborrean battlemounts,
Weequays without braids,
a thousand or more vanquished on my lance alone
broken now, but a stick
seaweed untwined, vamplate cracked,
malkite drenched in antidote
while your stardrives boomed, blinding us with storms,
how could you leave your legions, your lancers,
for but a lode of dust
how could you?
Xim—whom have I loved? What have I dreamed?
Precious life, flesh, nibbled away by scavenging neks,
I want it back
mail ripped and tossed, ions no defense against teeth,
like a shroud my coat of kiirium falls
and in the mirror’s gleam
I see what the elder saw.
and never blue.
Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare is the definitive guide to the ultimate intergalactic battlefield. Packed with original full-color artwork, it includes facts, figures, and fascinating backstories of major clashes and combatants in the vast Star Wars universe.