Corso Riggs took a deep breath as he glanced around at his surroundings. If you had asked him two years ago if he ever thought he would be back on Ord Mantell, the answer would have been an unequivocal "no." His head bowed slightly in thought, he walked through the paved streets of Fort Garnik, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other.
He really wasn't sure why he had come back anyway, other than he was missing Lillian. His decision to return to the place where they had met was made on a whim. She had left him, just taken the Shadow
and gone. She had told him she would be back in a week, but it had been ten days and he hadn't heard from her. He stopped walking and stood still, his head lifting as he reached the hangar bay where Lillian had touched down two years ago, flying through a separatist shooting gallery and straight into his heart.
Reaching out, he pushed the door to the bay open and stepped inside. His brown eyes went wide in shock. There was the Silver Shadow
, resting on its landing gear in the center of the hangar, just as it had been two years ago. He shook his head. Unbelievable.
As he approached the freighter, he noticed the boarding ramp was up. He stepped forward and reached a hand up to punch in his security code on the panel next to the ramp. The panel beeped at him, and the hatch remained closed.
Corso frowned. That meant the Shadow's
automated security had closed the ramp, not Lillian. The Corellian XS freighter was programmed to raise the boarding ramp and lock down the engines if it was open for more than an hour with no organic life forms aboard the ship. Lillian had the system installed shortly after getting the Shadow
back from the thief, Skavak. Only the captain's security code could override the lockdown. He tapped the numbers to enter Lillian's code, his brow creasing in worry. How long had the Shadow
The ramp lowered, and Corso fairly leapt his way up it, rushing through the mostly barren cargo hold to the bridge. The ship was silent, cold, and empty. He lowered himself to the co-pilot's chair, taking a deep breath and letting it out shakily. "Damn it all, Lilly, where are you?"
His gaze was drawn to the console in front of the captain's chair. A hairline crack ran through it - the secret compartment Lillian had built into it was open slightly. He pulled it fully open. As he looked at the contents, he felt his heart skip a beat. There, nestled snugly against the bottom of the compartment, were Lillian's blasters. He knew she never would have left Flashy if she could help it - the Soro-Suub heavy blaster had been her prized possession since he had given it to her. She always did have good taste in weapons.
Suddenly, the sound of footsteps on the boarding ramp came to his ears. He stood swiftly, his hand curling around Flashy's grip and his finger sliding over the trigger. Exiting the bridge, Corso lifted the blaster and aimed it at the top of the boarding ramp. To his surprise, three people came into view as they cleared the hatch. Two women - one human and one Twi'lek - and a dark haired human male. When they noticed Corso standing there with a blaster pointed in their direction, all three stopped walking forward. He noted the lightsaber hilts at the women's hips, but did not lower his weapon. "Who are you and why are you on my wife's ship?"
The Twi'lek held her hands up, palms forward as she spoke. "I am Jedi Master Isad'ia." She gestured to the other two. "This is Kira Carsen, a fellow Jedi, and Doc. We are here investigating the presence of an Imperial agent named Malavai Quinn."
Corso relaxed his arm, lowering Flashy and frowning at the Twi'lek. "I'm Corso Riggs. This is my wife Lillian's ship, the Silver Shadow.
She's gone missing and I'm looking for her. Never heard of this Quinn guy."
Isad'ia nodded her head slightly, then turned to the other Jedi. "Kira, go outside and take a look around, see if you can find anything." The girl turned and stepped down the ramp as Isad'ia's amethyst gaze moved back to Corso. "We were told that a man matching Malavai Quinn's description had been seen entering this hangar bay. He is known to be in service to a Sith lord named Darth Umbral. Can you think of any reason why someone like that would be interested in your wife?"
Sighing, Corso sat down on a fiberplast box full of spare parts for the Shadow's
computer. "We battled our share of Sith lords when we were involved in the war. My wife worked as a privateer for the Republic."
Isad'ia raised a brow at him. "Your wife is Lillian Riggs. Now I remember reading something on the holonet about her taking out the Voidwolf."
Doc whistled softly. "Hey, I remember reading that too. Something about half the galaxy's underworld uniting to fight the Empire. That's pretty impressive. You know, for someone who isn't me." The Jedi jabbed her elbow into Doc's side without blinking an eye. "Ow!" He grinned sheepishly at her.
"If that's all true," Isad'ia began, "then I could see why the Empire would take an interest in your wife. She knows a lot about the workings of the underworld, and she probably has had access to quite a bit of classified information."
"She did here and there. We did a lot of work with Republic SIS and even some Jedi." Corso looked up at the Twi'lek from where he sat. "You think the Empire took Lillian." As Isad'ia nodded, he stood and walked back to the bridge of the ship, gesturing for her to follow.
"Master Isad'ia." Kira's voice came from behind them as they entered the Shadow's
bridge. The young Jedi held two small holdout blasters in her hands. "I found these behind some boxes. The boxes have other blasters and various weapons in them."
Corso closed his eyes and swallowed painfully. "Those are Lillian's. She uses them when being visibly armed isn't the brightest idea." He reached out his hands and Kira deposited the blasters into them. "If you found them on the floor, then she's definitely in trouble." He sat down in the co-pilot's chair again, reaching out to tap a few buttons on the console in front of him. "The Shadow
has holocams installed on the hatch. They turn on when the ramp is lowered, and record everything that happens within their line of sight until it goes back up. Maybe they caught something."
Four pairs of eyes fixed on the image that appeared above the console. Four pairs of eyes watched as Malavai Quinn held Lillian at gunpoint. Corso's hands clenched into tight fists when the hologram showed Quinn injecting some sort of drug into his wife's body. He punched the console as hard as he could, and the hologram flickered, then died. "I'll kill him!"
Isad'ia reached out, placing a hand on Corso's shoulder. "Calm yourself. Your anger will hurt more than help the situation. There is no emotion, there is peace."
"Don't give me that Jedi babble!" He twisted away from the Twi'lek's touch, standing and stalking back to the large holocomm table that took up the area behind the bridge. "I'm calling Cole Cantarus. He's the one who got Lilly into this whole mess!" The others followed, close behind. Before Corso could enter Cole's holofrequency, the table's display lit up and it began to chime softly, indicating an incoming call. He jabbed his finger down on the answer button and snarled, "What?!"
The holocomm displayed an image of a young man with unremarkable features, who would have easily been able to blend in just about anywhere. In fact, the only interesting thing about him was the bulky bandages he had wrapped around his midsection and upper right arm. The image blinked at Corso, and a look of confusion crossed the man's face.
"I'm looking for Captain Lillian Riggs."
"Seems like everyone is," Doc quipped from where he stood behind Isad'ia. "Popular lady."
"She's my wife," Corso frowned. "Who the hell are you?" He pointed a finger at the hologram.
"My name is Orthos. Till Orthos. I'm with SIS - I was asked by Cole Cantarus to meet Captain Riggs here on Ord Mantell." He gestured with his good arm at the bandages he wore. "Instead, I was ambushed and shot by a man with an Imperial accent." Isad'ia and Kira looked at each other and nodded as Orthos continued to speak. "He left me for dead, and I would have been, if I hadn't had a medpac I carry for emergencies. As it was, I passed out from the blood loss. When I came to, someone had dragged me to the medcenter here in Fort Garnik. I was hoping that your wife would still be around to take the shipment I was supposed to give her to Corellia."
Corso shook his fist at the hologram. "She's missing! That same Imperial that shot you drugged her and took her away." The fist became an accusing finger, pointing in Orthos' direction. "It's all your fault, yours and Cantarus'!"
"Corso," Isad'ia interjected, "You're angry. You know that your wife's abduction isn't anyone's fault except for Malavai Quinn and Darth Umbral's."
He sighed and his shoulders slumped in defeat. "You're right. I'm sorry. I'm just - I'm worried. I need to find her."
"Orthos," the Twi'lek Jedi began, "Is it possible for you to locate Darth Umbral? I'm sure SIS has descriptions of her starship on file. It's a sure bet that if we can find the Sith lord, we'll also find Captain Riggs."
Orthos' face turned contemplative. "Let me check." He pulled a datapad out from his belt and began tapping away at it. "Darth Umbral. Here we go." His finger ran down the datapad as if scanning a list. "Flies a Fury-class Interceptor, the Nova Eclipse.
I can put out some feelers, see if I can find out where it was last sighted. It might take a little while though."
Isad'ia nodded. "Do it. We'll be waiting." The image of Orthos disappeared as the transmission was cut.
"I don't like standing around while Lilly is in danger." Corso stalked back toward the bridge. "I'll at least get us into space so we'll be ready to go when Orthos calls."
"Patience," Isad'ia counseled him. "We'll find your wife. When Orthos gets back to us, Kira, Doc, and I will return to our own ship. We can slave it to yours and make the jump to hyperspace together."
"Patience." Corso's voice was bitter. "Easy for you to say. It isn't your wife who's been stolen by the Empire."
"We'll find her. The Twi'lek smiled at him confidently. "The Force is with us."
It had been eleven days now since Malavai Quinn abducted Lillian and brought her to the frozen planet Hoth. He leaned against the side of the icy cavern, watching Darth Umbral as the Sith lord knelt in meditation on the cold floor. The smuggler was slumped in her restraints, unconscious from another dose of the sedative he gave her. Bruises covered her pale face, and he almost felt bad for her, until he remembered that she was responsible for the deaths of many Imperials, both citizens and soldiers. There had been a time in the past where this sort of torture would have been reprehensible to him, but ever since his attempt to kill Umbral in a misguided act of patriotism, he had been determined to never fail her again. If that meant standing by her side while she extracted information from this Republic criminal, then so be it.
Quinn quietly stepped to Umbral's side, reaching out and placing a hand on her shoulder. "My lord," he said softly, "I need to speak with you."
Umbral's sapphire eyes opened and she smiled up at him. "Must you 'my lord' me, Malavai? She's not likely to hear you." Standing, the Sith lord reached out and ran her finger over his cheek, down his jawline. Despite the cold, her touch sent waves of heat through his body.
"Umbral," he tried again, "We need to talk." Taking her hand, he pulled her to the back of the cave, behind a mid-sized boulder that had fallen when Umbral had collapsed the tunnel network two years previously. She raised an eyebrow at him quizzically.
"What's the matter, Malavai?" She crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot.
"What are we doing with the woman?" His hand gestured back toward where Lillian was bound to the chair. "I'm not sure we'll be able to get any more information out of her."
Umbral's brow furrowed and she bit her lower lip gently. "It occurred to me that we might be able to get some detailed information regarding the movements of the underworld from her. She did, after all, turn many of the galaxy's most notorious criminals against the Empire."
He nodded slowly, then frowned. "But she believes we killed her husband. What incentive does she have to tell us anything further?"
"If she values her own skin," Umbral began, reaching out to wrap her arms around Quinn's neck, pulling his body close to hers. She tugged his head down, brushing her lips against his softly as his hands came up to rest on her shoulders. "She will tell us all that we need to know."
Quinn's grip on Umbral's shoulders tightened as he instinctively returned her kiss, then his arms straightened, and he pushed her away gently. "Umbral, now is not the time for this." The Sith lord glared at him for a moment, her deep blue eyes sparking with sudden anger.
"You do infuriate me sometimes, Malavai." She whirled away, her cloak flaring with the movement. He sighed and reached his hand out as if to draw her back, then dropped it to his side.
"Forgive me, my lord." His eyes followed her form as she strode back toward the unconscious smuggler, no doubt to take her frustrations out on the other woman. He sighed. It wasn't easy, loving Umbral. Her tempestuous moods, caring one moment and murderous the next, were going to turn his black hair grey.
Isad'ia sat cross-legged on the floor in the Silver Shadow's
cargo hold, her eyes closed in meditation. Her mind was empty, open and receptive to the Force. Across the room from her, Doc lounged on the overstuffed couch that Lillian had made Corso bolt to the wall. His dark eyes were trained on the Twi'lek, only shifting away when Kira came through the doorway leading to the bridge. She glanced at Isad'ia, then at Doc, and smirked slightly.
"I don't think Corso is going to wait much longer," she said, leaning against the wall. "He's more anxious than a tauntaun on ball bearings."
His face growing serious for a moment, Doc looked up at Kira. "I would be too, if I was in his situation."
"Yeah well," Kira said, waving her hand in Isad'ia's direction. "You don't have much to worry about there, do you? It's kind of hard to abduct Jedi Masters."
"Kira." Isad'ia's eyes snapped open. "Is there news, or did you simply want to antagonize Doc?" In one graceful movement, the Twi'lek stood, pushing her tattooed lekku behind her shoulders.
"I'm sorry, Master." Kira looked down at her feet. "I came to tell you that Corso is putting a call through to the medcenter to try to get ahold of Orthos and see if he's learned anything. It's been over twenty four hours, and he's getting impatient."
Isad'ia nodded, and moved past Kira toward the Shadow's
bridge. Lifting himself from the couch, Doc followed her, with Kira close behind. They found Corso standing in front of the holocomm table, staring up at the image of Till Orthos that had just flickered to life.
"Any news?" Corso's voice was rough, the whites of his eyes tinged with red from a sleepless night. He had absently pulled a few twists of his long knotted hair over his shoulders and was tugging at it nervously.
"Actually, yes. I was about to contact you." Orthos had pulled out his datapad and was glancing over its display. "Darth Umbral's ship, the Nova Eclipse
, was spotted at the Hoth orbital station twelve days ago and is still there. Apparently, the Sith lord shuttled down to the planet and went through Dorn base, but she hasn't been seen since then. If the Eclipse
is docked on the orbital station though, it's safe to assume that Darth Umbral is still on the planet."
"Hoth, huh?" Doc shivered. "I never really wanted to go back to that ball of ice. The last time I was there I got frostbite in some... pretty interesting places." Kira made a face at him, and Doc spread his hands innocently. "What? I mean between my toes!"
Despite herself, Isad'ia chuckled softly. "If her ship is on Hoth, then that is where we need to go. Thank you for your help, Orthos."
"Always glad to be of service, Master Jedi." The image of Orthos turned his gaze to Corso. "I hope you find your wife. She has been an invaluable asset to the Republic."
"Yeah," Corso said, rubbing his hand over his eyes. "Me too. Thanks, Orthos." The transmission ended, and Corso walked to the Shadow's
captain's chair, sitting down and flipping the switches that would bring the freighter's engines to life. His head turned in Isad'ia's direction. "Your ship is docked on the orbital station?"
The Twi'lek nodded. "The Force Warden
has a decent slave-circuit installed. You bring us up to the orbital station and we will slave our ship to yours, then make the jump to hyperspace." Her dark purple eyes narrowed at him in concern. "While we're en route, you might want to think about getting some rest. We're probably in for a fight, and you'll be no good to your wife if fatigue gets the best of you."
"I'll try." Corso reached for the Shadow's
steering yoke, pulling it back and down. The repulsorlift engines kicked on and the freighter lifted off the ground, its landing gear retracting into the ship's belly. With his thumb, he depressed a button and the sublight engines roared to life, the Shadow
leaping toward the sky.
As Ord Mantell fell away beneath them, Corso began to think about the time Lillian had stood next to him and watched his homeworld grow smaller, the grand vista of space opening before them as they had punched through the atmosphere on a shuttle bound for Carrick station, home of the Republic fleet. Then, he had been filled with a sense of adventure and excitement, ready to take on a galaxy full of challenges and defeat them all head on. Now all he felt was worried. Lillian could be hurt, even dead, and the thought of that made him wonder if his heart might shatter into a million pieces.
They reached the orbital station, and Corso skillfully guided the Shadow
to the airlock next to the red and white Corellian Defender-class light corvette Isad'ia identified as the Force Warden
. He walked with his passengers to the hatch, waiting until the lights above it turned green, indicating a good atmospheric seal, then opened the door. The two Jedi stepped out, but Doc lingered a moment, turning toward Corso with sympathy in his dark eyes.
"Hey," he said, "Don't worry. Isad'ia will help you find your Lillian. And if there's a Sith lord to fight, she'll do that too. She's pretty good at that sort of thing. Kind of her specialty, if you know what I mean."
Corso let out a sigh. "I just hope Lilly is alive. I feel like a huge chunk of me was just bitten off by a rabid rancor."
Doc glanced out toward where Isad'ia and Kira had disappeared into the Warden
. "I know what you mean. There was a time when I thought the woman I loved might be gone for good, lost to a deep darkness. But then she came back from it, and I haven't left her side since. We'll find your wife. I'm no Jedi, but I can feel it."
Raising his eyebrow slightly, Corso stared at Doc contemplatively for a moment. "You know," he said, his lip curling in a tiny smile, "You aren't half as shallow as you seem."
"Yeah," Doc chuckled. "Don't tell anyone." He ducked out the door and was gone, following Isad'ia and Kira into the Force Warden's
airlock. Corso pressed the button to seal the door, and headed back to the bridge. Time to head to Hoth.
The energy binders holding Lillian to the cold chair hummed softly as they splashed yellowish-orange light over her skin. She was so tired, despite having slept most of the thirteen days she had been held captive. Whatever sedative she was constantly being drugged with didn't allow her to feel rested - or perhaps that was just the throbbing pain in her face and chest - she wasn't sure. The only thing that she was certain about anymore was that she wished Darth Umbral would just kill her already. The Sith lord had broken Lillian's nose with her lightsaber hilt in a fit of rage when the smuggler had refused to answer her questions, and she was certain that her ribs were at least fractured from a heavy kick delivered by Umbral's durasteel-tipped boots when Lillian had told her to go jump into a sarlaac pit.
Unlike when Umbral had broken her hand, the Dark Lord had not allowed Malavai Quinn to treat Lillian's wounds, reveling in the agony that her victim was feeling. Though her wounds were grave, they were nothing compared to the heartache that threatened to consume Lillian's soul. In her mind's eye, all that she could see was the image of the thermal detonators destroying the life she had built, the life she had so carelessly left behind when Cole Cantarus called. If she could turn back her chrono, she would never have left Corso, she would have stayed - boredom be damned.
Corso is gone, she reminded herself. A bitter laugh threatened to escape her lips as she thought of how silly it was that she had ever been annoyed with him or his need to protect her from anything and everything. Sure, she could take care of herself - present circumstances notwithstanding - but it was nice to have him there backing her up. His presence had made her stronger, his encouragement had led her to help the Republic and make a name for herself that didn't include the words "scum of the galaxy." He had believed in her, even when she didn't believe in herself.
If I get out of this alive, she thought, I'm going back to work for the Republic. It's what Corso would have wanted me to do. It's not as if I have a home to go back to, anyway.
The sound of footsteps approaching from behind startled her out of her contemplative state. Darth Umbral's form came into view as the Sith woman came around and crouched down in front of Lillian's chair so that she could look more directly at the smuggler.
"Captain Riggs." Umbral's voice was soft and gentle, belying the fact that she was the cause of all the pain Lillian was feeling. "Truly, I tire of having to do this to you. If you would only talk to me, then we could work something out. I have been known to be merciful." The Sith lord reached out and placed her gloved hand on Lillian's pale one. If the smuggler could have jerked away, she would have. Umbral's touch made her skin crawl.
"You already showed me your version of mercy when you blew up my house and killed my husband." Lillian's silver eyes slid closed as she sighed. "What else could you possibly do to me? Kill me? End my suffering?"
Umbral smiled slightly. "I could let you go back to your precious Republic. All you have to do is give me the names of the major underworld players and the locations of their bases of operation."
"And then when they find out I've squealed on them, they can save you the trouble of having to kill me by doing it themselves?" Lillian scoffed at the other woman. "Didn't think they made Sith that stupid, but you're a few thrusters short of a hyperdrive if you think I'm going to tell you anything after what you've done."
Standing and brushing snow off of her legs, Umbral stared down at Lillian. "Such a sharp tongue." Her gaze was drawn to the side as Quinn approached, a datapad in his hands. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Captain Quinn. Is something wrong?"
"Communication from Adamas Orbital Station, my lord." He held the datapad out to her. She took it and scanned the display. Her sapphire eyes widened slightly and her head snapped up to stare at Quinn. "Is this accurate? When did it come through?"
"The time stamp shows it to be less than an hour old." He frowned slightly and stood at attention. "Orders?"
Umbral let out a vexed sigh. "Prepare a welcome for our guests." He nodded and stepped away, disappearing into the opening in the ice maze that filled the cavern entrance. The Sith lord looked down at Lillian, then moved to stand behind the smuggler. Gripping the back of the chair, Umbral began to pull it toward the back of the cavern, dragging Lillian over the icy floor.
"Hey!" Lillian's cry mingled with the sound of the chair scr aping across the cold stone. "What's going on? You said guests, are you throwing a party? Going to have all your sithy friends show up and maybe eat some children or something?"
The back of Umbral's hand connected with Lillian's head. "Shut up." From a pouch on her belt she produced a strip of cloth, which she unceremoniously shoved into the smaller woman's mouth, tying it around the back of her head.
"Mmgrrpph!" Lillian tried to spit the gag out unsuccessfully. She glared lasers at Umbral as the Sith lord strode to the center of the cavern and knelt on the floor in meditation, her lightsaber hilt in her lap.
The Silver Shadow
and the Force Warden
came out of hyperspace in the Hoth system just beyond the Republic orbital station. The sound of the alarm warning Corso that they had arrived at their destination woke him from the state of fitful sleep he had been in. Switching to sublight engines, he reached out for the console and released the Warden
from the Shadow's
slave circuitry. Kira's voice came to him over the secure communications channel they had set up.
"Master Isad'ia says to dock at the station and we'll shuttle down to the surface. Neither of our ships is equipped to handle the cold."
He acknowledged the transmission, then guided the Shadow
to the station, nestling the freighter up against an empty airlock. Across from him, he saw the Jedi's ship doing the same. He let Isad'ia do the talking when the station's commander queried their intentions, not trusting himself to talk to anyone with his brain in such turmoil. All he could think about was getting down to the planet and finding Lillian.
He stood up from the pilot's chair, walking back to the captain's quarters he had shared with Lillian when they had been living on the starship. Opening a storage compartment, he reached in and pulled out the armor he had worn while fighting in the war. Made of durasteel and spun cortosis ore, it was enough to turn aside blaster bolts and even glancing blows from lightsabers. He strapped it on, its heavy weight resting comfortably on his shoulders. Once it had been like a second skin, and he smiled grimly as he ran his fingers over the black Republic symbols that graced the white plating. His hands lifted his blaster rifle from the compartment, and he checked it over carefully, making sure the power cell was charged. He slung it across his back, then turned to leave the room. Hesitating in the doorway for a moment, he shook his head, and went back inside.
He grabbed up Flashy and shoved the blaster into his belt, along with Torchy, his personal favorite. As he tucked Torchy away, he smiled slightly, remembering when Lillian had taken it back from Skavak after he stole it. He recalled how she had smiled at him and laughed at the way he had talked to the blaster as if it was alive, and decided to keep that image of her in his head as a reminder of everything he loved about her.
Corso finally exited the room, striding toward the airlock. On the way, he stopped in the cargo hold, prying open a box that had been left in there and adding some concussion grenades to his arsenal. "Can't be too prepared," he muttered to himself. Reaching the airlock, he stepped out of the Shadow
and onto the orbital station. Isad'ia, Kira, and Doc were standing by the entrance to their own starship. The Jedi Master was talking to the others, and neither of them appeared very happy with what she was saying.
"No, I want both of you to stay with the ship." Isad'ia's head turned as she sensed Corso's approach. "Kira, I need you to monitor all transmissions to and from the planet. Doc, I want you to get the medbay ready. Captain Riggs is likely to be injured or at the very least suffering from exposure to the cold, and will need to be treated. Corso..."
"No offense, Master Jedi," he cut her off. "But you're not in charge of me. I'm going with you down to the surface whether you like it or not." Corso's voice was firm, his jaw set with determination. "Lillian is down there and she needs me. Besides, that Sith lord isn't alone, you'll need someone backing you up."
Isad'ia nodded. "I expected nothing less." She looked back at Kira and Doc. The younger Jedi appeared to be ready to argue, but the look in her master's eye changed her mind and she simply shrugged, turning to walk back through the Warden's
"May the Force be with you, Master." Kira stepped onto the ship and disappeared. Doc frowned, running his hand over his mustache and down over the hair on his chin.
"You better come back, gorgeous." His voice shook slightly. "Don't go getting yourself killed." He looked over at Corso. "Don't let her do anything stupid."
Corso chuckled humorlessly. "Do you really think I could stop her?"
"I'm right here, you know." Isad'ia smiled at Doc, then on an impulse stepped forward and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Don't worry. We'll be back before you know it. I promise." She turned and headed for the outbound shuttle that would take them down to the planet's frozen surface. Both men watched her walk away, and Doc reached out and clapped his hand on Corso's armored shoulder in wordless support, then followed Kira into the Warden
Corso hurried toward the shuttle. Isad'ia was waiting for him at the doorway, and they climbed inside, seating themselves on a hard plasteel bench. They were the only passengers traveling to the frozen planet, and the shuttle pilot barely waited until they had strapped themselves in before taking off and heading away from the orbital station, pushing through the atmosphere toward a Republic base. Ice crystals quickly formed on the shuttles viewports, shrouding the view of the planet as they descended.
When they set down, both Isad'ia and Corso leapt to their feet, pushing open the door, exiting the shuttle to stand in the frigid air. Their breath plumed from their lips and nostrils, and Corso grunted softly.
"I hate this place." His boots crunched in the snow as they began to walk forward. They hadn't taken more than a few steps when the soft chiming of Isad'ia's holocommunicator filled the air. She frowned slightly, pulling it from her belt, then turning it on. A miniature of Kira appeared over the holocomm.
"Master, I picked up a transmission from the Imperial orbital station." The hologram flickered and a burst of static nearly cut off Kira's next words as the cold threatened to disable the communication. "They announced the arrival of our ships in the system. Darth Umbral likely knows you are coming."
Isad'ia nodded. "Thank you, Kira. Continue monitoring transmissions." She turned the comm off, and her purple eyes met Corso's brown ones. "We need to find your wife quickly."
"No argument here." Corso's hands clenched into fists. "Any bright ideas?"
The Twi'lek held her hand up to silence him, then closed her eyes. Reaching out with the Force, she spread her awareness out, delving deep within herself to stretch her senses over the planet. Her brow furrowed as she felt a presence, a white-hot spot of fury amidst the peace and serenity she knew in the Force. Her mind brushed up against Darth Umbral's, and she could feel a spark of triumph as the Sith lord noted her probing. Isad'ia shook her head as if to clear it, and opened her eyes.
"This way." She strode forward across the snowy landscape, Corso close behind.
Kneeling on the cold stone floor, Umbral felt the touch of Isad'ia's mind. Her lips curled in a derisive smile. She felt rather than heard Quinn's return, but did not move from her position on the ground. He remained silent, letting Umbral commune with the Force, mentally preparing herself for the battle to come.
In the back of the cavern, Lillian was also watching the Sith lord. Her wrists were raw from struggling against the energy bands binding her, and her mouth was dry, the gag having sucked all the moisture out of it. She wasn't sure what was happening, but she could feel the tension building in the air. Her silver gaze remained intently on Darth Umbral as time passed. Just as she was sure that nothing was going to happen, the sound of an explosion filled the air and the cavern rocked with the concussion force. Shards of ice flew up from the front of the maze-like entrance, spraying every which way. The chair the smuggler was in nearly fell backwards, but she rocked her body forward in order to stay upright.
There was a snap-hiss as Umbral ignited her lightsaber, the red blade shimmering and humming as the Dark Lord of the Sith began to pace, back and forth, left to right, right to left, her eyes trained on the opening in the ice maze.
The sound of blaster fire reached her ears, and she smiled. Someone was blasting their way through the maze rather than attempt to navigate it. Quinn drew his weapon and dropped out of sight behind a rocky outcropping.
A small, dark object came flying out from the maze, landing at Umbral's feet. Almost immediately, she kicked it, sending it back toward the ice wall, where it exploded on impact. The wall disintegrated into powder. As the air cleared and afforded her a view of the intruders, she began to laugh softly, the sound growing louder and louder as they stepped forward.
Lillian's eyes went wide as she saw a blue-skinned Twi'lek Jedi approach, a man close behind her. A very familiar man. Corso was alive! The smuggler began struggling with her bonds with renewed vigor.
"Lillian!" Corso's voice carried clearly to her ears and he started to run forward. Intercepting him, Darth Umbral lifted her hand and pushed outward with the Force, lifting him into the air and sending him flying backward into what was left of the ice maze. He groaned as he hit the ground, shaking his head.
Dismissing him as no longer a threat, Umbral's sapphire gaze fixed on Isad'ia. She lifted her lightsaber, drawing the crimson blade back and angled forward as her right foot shifted behind her left, her free arm extending in front of her body parallel to the ground for balance and in an obvious challenge to the Twi'lek Jedi.
"Come, Jedi." Umbral's voice was full of contempt. "Step forward, and meet your destiny."
Isad'ia's answer was to draw her own lightsabers, thumbing on the brilliant yellow blades. She held them steady, one above the other in front of her body, their glow causing her blue skin to glow green beneath the light. As she took a step forward and to the side, Umbral moved her own body, keeping Isad'ia directly in front of her. All time seemed to stop as the two Force-users circled the cavern, each one waiting for the other to make the first move.
Taking advantage of Umbral's preoccupation, Corso stood and rushed to the back of the cavern. Reaching Lillian's side, he pulled the gag out of her mouth. He noticed the bruising over her face, and the broken nose. She had never looked more beautiful to him. His hand found the control panel on the back of the chair that was powering the energy binders, and he smacked it, shutting it off. Lillian immediately rose to her feet, reaching out and snatching Flashy and Torchy both from his belt, her hands curling around the blasters.
At that moment, Isad'ia made her move. Drawing on the Force, she leaped through the air, twisting her body into a spin, bringing her lightsabers down toward Darth Umbral, who lifted her crimson blade in a swift parry. The blades screeched against each other, crackling in the air.
The Twi'lek whirled away as Umbral struck, bringing her lightsaber around in a vicious blow that whipped the air next to Isad'ia's body. The yellow blades came forward, one high and one low, seeking to push past Umbral's defenses. The Sith lord blocked the high blade, shifting her body back to evade the low.
Umbral growled soft in her throat as Isad'ia's body became a blur, the Jedi Master utilizing the Force to give her a burst of unnatural speed, lifting herself into the air again and turning a somersault as she came down toward the Dark Lord, her blades angled downward, stabbing at the Sith's face. Umbral's free hand drew back as she pushed with the Force again, catching Isad'ia in her fall, slamming the Twi'lek back against the far wall, knocking the wind out of her body. Umbral made a leap of her own, driving her crimson blade toward Isad'ia's face in a vicious stroke.
Gasping for air, Isad'ia brought both her lightsabers in front of her, parrying Umbral's attack. The Sith Lord took full advantage of Isad'ia's defensive position, hammering a series of blows down on her, then jumping backwards as the Twi'lek's foot came forward, connecting with her chest and driving her back.
Isad'ia's yellow sabers lifted and she began to spin, driving the blades around and around, her lekku flying out behind her body as she closed with Umbral, who began to spin her own saber in front of her body to block each blow.
Corso and Lillian stared at the two Force-users, forgetting their surroundings as they watched the deadly duel. Neither of them had seen anything like the two women as the tableau unfolded in front of them, the humming lightsabers clashing over and over again as Isad'ia tried to work her way past Umbral's mastery of the defensive Soresu form. The Twi'lek's acrobatic movements were hampered by the close confines of the cavern, leaving her with few opportunities to take full advantage of her own mastery of the Ataru form of lightsaber combat.
Separating for a moment, Dark Lord of the Sith and Jedi Master began to circle each other once more. Isad'ia flipped her lightsabers hand over hand as she moved, her amethyst eyes never leaving her opponents face.
"Tell me your name, Jedi," Umbral said softly, her voice taking on a sinister edge, "So that I might let your fellows know that it was Darth Umbral who took your life."
"I am Jedi Master Isad'ia." The Twi'lek's voice was strong and clear, her breath coming easier. "And I will not be the one who falls this day." She rushed forward again, twirling her lightsabers around in a series of strikes intended to batter away at Umbral's defenses. The red blade came up again, but too slow to block each blow, only managing to bat aside one saber as the other caressed the armored breastplate she wore, scoring a line through it. Isad'ia smiled grimly at the sight, the smell of melted durasteel wafting through the air.
Taking a deep breath, the Jedi Master filled her senses with the Force, reaching out with it to become aware of Umbral's every movement. The Sith Lord seemed to be moving in slow motion, Isad'ia seeing every action before it happened. As she focused on Umbral, she could hear the Dark Lord's heartbeat fill her ears.
Striking out with her lightsabers, Isad'ia brought them down in a vicious sweeping circle, forcing Umbral to drop to her knees and bring her own blade up to stop the Twi'lek from cutting her in half. The yellow and red lightsabers crackled and hissed as the two Force-users held their positions, each pushing against the other with all of their might.
Suddenly, Isad'ia became aware of another heartbeat, this one more rapid and softer than Umbral's, yet intricately intertwined with the Sith's life force. As she realized what she was hearing, she frowned deeply, but continued to press down with her lightsabers, keeping Umbral pinned to the floor.
"Darth Umbral." Isad'ia's voice shook slightly with the effort she was exuding to keep her blades in contact with the other woman's. "I find myself in a quandary. You are too dangerous to be left alive, yet there is an innocence within you that I cannot destroy."
Umbral began to laugh. "Innocence? You are delusional, Jedi. I have never been an innocent."
Isad'ia shook her head from side to side. "Search your feelings, Sith. The Force will guide you." She closed down her lightsabers, keeping the hilts in her hands.
Intrigued, Umbral closed her eyes, though she kept her own blade at the ready. She allowed the Force to fill her, then her deep blue eyes snapped open in shock.
"No." The whispered denial fell from her lips even as she thumbed off her own lightsaber, the crimson blade disappearing with a hiss.
"Yes." The Jedi Master stood above her, her words soft, almost gentle. "You may not be innocent, but the child you carry is."
There came a soft choking sound from the back of the cavern. Lillian's eyes snapped from the dramatic scene in front of her toward the noise, where she found Malavai Quinn half-hidden behind a boulder, his blaster trained on the Twi'lek Jedi's back. Instinctively, she lifted her own weapon, squeezing the trigger before the man could pull his.
The blue laser burst lanced out, hitting Quinn in his chest just next to his right shoulder, burning it's way through his skin. The smell of burned flesh filled Lillian's nostrils as she watched him drop his blaster, his left hand coming up to cover the hole in his body that was pumping out his life's blood. He staggered slightly and leaned heavily against the stone.
Umbral stared at him, her face twisting in anger. Her gaze shifted toward the woman who had fired the shot. Isad'ia took a step back as an amazing transformation took place. Umbral's pale skin grew even paler. Her sapphire eyes flared with rage, then started to burn with a red light that began to glow brighter and brighter. She took a deep breath, and the Jedi Master, sensing what was coming, clapped her hands over her ears.
The Dark Lord of the Sith screamed. The sound was magnified a hundred fold through the Force, causing both Lillian and Corso to stumble and fall to the floor, their ears ringing from the deafening roar. The cavern began to shake, and icicles started to rain from the ceiling. Corso leapt to his feet, pulling Lillian up with him, yanking the blaster rifle off of his back as he began to run for the cavern entrance. He saw Quinn pick his weapon up off the ground with his good hand, and pushed Lillian behind a half-fallen ice wall in what remained of the maze. The Imperial man shot, chipping holes in the dense ice, and Corso returned fire, his own bolts narrowly missing as Quinn ducked back behind the boulder.
Lillian popped her head up over the wall, her hands full with Flashy and Torchy. She squeezed the triggers, scything fire back and forth through the cavern, hitting the ice that fell from above and sending sharp shards raining down on Umbral, Quinn, and Isad'ia. The Sith screamed again as the ice hit her face, causing a myriad of tiny cuts to open and blood to begin flowing like tears down her pale cheeks. A loud rumbling filled the air as cracks began to open in the ceiling above her.
The Twi'lek Jedi twisted and spun as she raced toward where Corso and Lillian hid behind the wall, just barely avoiding being impaled by a particularly large icicle that fell with a loud thud, shattering on the hard rocky floor.
"We have to get out of here," she shouted above the noise as she reached them. "This whole cave is going to collapse."
Corso nodded and pulled a grenade out from his belt. "Get down!" he yelled as he tossed it toward the remaining ice wall blocking their way out. All three covered their heads with their arms as it exploded, Corso pulling Lillian close to shield her body with his own. The rumbling sound grew louder as the already unstable rock walls absorbed the concussion blast. Lillian scrambled out from beneath Corso, grabbing his hand and running toward the exit.
Umbral launched her body toward Quinn, the blood on her face threatening to blind her as it dripped into her eyes. She grabbed his arm, looking up as a crack widened in the ceiling above her. His breathing was labored and shallow. When he spoke, she almost couldn't hear him for the sound of rocks falling all around them.
"Get... out." He gasped for air. "Just leave me and get out of here." She shook her head. Dark as her soul was, leaving him behind was the one thing Umbral could not do. Without him, she would be left an empty shell, a shade of what she once was. Her passion for him gave her strength and power, filled her with determination. She swiped her hand over her eyes, wiping the blood from her field of vision. She tightened her grip on him as she watched the ceiling part. When it was wide enough, she reached deep within herself and allowed the Force to fill her body. She leapt straight up into the air, pulling him with her, the power of her jump carrying them through the opening. They landed on the slick ice that coated the top of the cave, and went tumbling down the side, their bodies tangled together as they fell. A thick snowdrift broke their fall.
As Umbral and Quinn made their escape, Corso, Lillian, and Isad'ia dashed through the cave exit. They had barely cleared the rocky archway when the whole thing collapsed behind them, sending tremors through the ground that hurled them forward, throwing them through the frigid air like children's toys. A thick cloud of snow and ice flew up in the air behind them. Struggling to stand, Lillian lifted her body off the ground slowly. Every bone ached, even ones she didn't know she had. Despite the pain, a smile broke out across her face. She reached down and hauled Corso to his feet, and he immediately wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug.
Isad'ia stood up and walked over to stand beside them. She coughed softly, loathe to disturb their reunion, but anxious to get back to the orbital station where Doc could tend to their wounds. The couple reluctantly separated, and the three of them began the march back to the Republic base.