Lodestone: A Wynston/Ruth Alternate Universe
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01.06.2013 , 07:23 AM |
L + 15 years 36 days, part 1: Mission Not Accomplished II
Guard duty. This was a populated planet almost within the Core Worlds; it still had its secrets.
Guard duty, nothing more; no battle she could throw, no easily excused sabotage. Imperial Guard swarmed around her at the spaceport. She sorted them into order and led them to the compound where the ritual was to take place.
She wondered whether it would kill her, and Quinn, and all their allies there, when it succeeded.
Under Quinn's direction the guard spread out around the complex, protecting the great hall into which hooded Sith were filing. She made a round of the place herself, noting its defenses, inspecting the troops.
After that she waited. She strained her Force senses, wondering what was going on.
When she felt the ritual begin it was a sudden hole in the world. She had guard duty, nothing more; no battle she could throw, no easily excused sabotage. But something was happening in there and if there was no room for subtlety, it might be that the time for subtlety was over.
She turned toward the great door. Quinn, at her shoulder, made a small movement. "My lord?"
"I have to check something. Stay here."
He eyed her warily. "Don't go in there."
"I sense a disruption, Quinn. Stay behind, it won't be safe for you."
The suspicion in his expression didn't lessen. "Am I to lose you like this, then?"
"Malavai, for once in your life trust me. I will come back to you." But would he do something behind her back? "Furthermore I'm ordering you to stay here until I do return. There are consequences for defying me as well, dearest, and I am not as soft as I was the last time you did so."
Suspicion had given way to something like horror, if only in his eyes; he otherwise seemed impassive. "As you command, my lord," he said sharply. "I will stand guard here."
"And I'll take care of us. I promise."
The entry hall was empty. She stepped into a dimly lit corridor and the Dark Side energy hit her like a rocket train. She reached within herself to set up her shield. A light in the darkness, a warmth in the cold.
There were many doors along that corridor, but the darkness she sensed guided her even as it pushed against her. It was thick, choking. Subtly moving. Something at the center of it was growing.
A shield against shadows, a fire in the night. She had to draw on something to maintain her focus against this. She thought of Quinn. Mixed, and yet she loved him. She needed something clearer, deeper: she thought of Colrand, of the necessity of seeing him again, seeing him safe. She thought of her son.
And, suddenly, spontaneously, of Wynston.
Her feelings leaped up to her defenses before she could put any kind of intelligent control on them. With him beside her she would scarcely even notice the creeping dark. Even if she had lost him, if he couldn't forgive her for leaving, he made the galaxy better by existing. He made her life better. And he believed in her.
She reached a staircase and felt a rising fear striking at her shield. It was so very cold here, and she was being watched now. Better to turn back.
No, she reminded herself. Destruction waited and she had to stop it before it consumed her son, her son and so many more. The need to defend Colrand strengthened her further.
But as she reached the lower level something in her started ordering her to give up. She would die here, or die when her betrayal was discovered; in the end she had no choice. Turn back. Give up.
In the end she…that reminded her of something. Something Wynston always said in that voice she loved with the idealism she loved. There was always a choice. Alone she had forgotten, or tried to because it was easier. But it wasn't about commands and the hopeless sense that trust was the first luxury to go. It wasn't about that at all. She was here to fight, and she was fighting for more than just what was permitted.
Colrand. Wynston. Quinn. And much more than that. Her people, her loved ones, the Empire she had always fought for. The galaxy she had always fought for. Against that, what was a little darkness?
Her saber flared crimson in the gathering dark when she reached the ritual chamber. There was no visible disturbance where she felt that aching gap in the Force; there didn't have to be. She knew it was there and she would deal with it once the ritualists were stopped.
Ruth preferred negotiation. She preferred reason, preservation, diplomacy. When she had to fight, though, she was still the best out there. The circle of Sith adepts shivered and broke to attack her, but the raw Force attacks they threw at her glanced off the passions she had bound about herself while her sabers screamed defiance against the dark.
The disturbance at the center was shrinking. Without malice to feed it it was already fading. When the last of the ritualists fell Ruth made a round of the room smashing the Sith artifacts that seemed to be sustaining the rift. And, finally, it closed. Her senses cleared.
The Wrath's mission was a failure, and it was good.
A kind of euphoria buoyed her up as she left the building again and strode out to face Quinn. The relief on his face at seeing her safe assured her that there was hope even for him. She would have kissed him if they weren't so busy being dignified. Instead she signaled for him to round up the troops. "The job here is done," she announced. "Let's go."
L + 15 years 36 days, part 2: Tenacity Slips
An officer was waiting to greet them on the
. "My lord Wrath. Moff. Your presence is requested on the bridge immediately."
Ruth and Quinn exchanged looks. She led the way. The bridge was newly crowded, studded with red-uniformed Imperial Guard. In the center or the room stood Colrand, and, facing him, a hulking Sith Lord Ruth didn't recognize.
He turned when he heard Ruth and Quinn enter. "Ah, Wrath. I must say you maintain excellent order on the ship. Everything seems to be operating very well, except for the part about
"Step away from my son, Sith."
"I don't think I will. Now, I was told to expect a very specific result from the day's proceedings, and that result somehow didn't happen. Honestly it was going to be spectacular, I'm disappointed."
"Who are you?"
"Next in line for Wrath, my lord. Our master recognizes your power, oh yes. You've done very well for yourself; I very much admire your career. So we're willing to go to some lengths to ensure that you can do your job." He was looking at Colrand. The teenager stared at Ruth and Quinn with a downright heroic effort at composure. The stranger went on. "If you were any less valuable I would already have beheaded you. As it is, incentives first."
"Step away from my son. You won't get another chance."
"Come now, we can't have the best of the Wrath succession all dying at once. And you won't survive striking me down."
"I'll take my chances."
It took only a thought. It was a very strong thought, backed by all the emotion she had built up on the planet and a fresh shot of protective fury, but in the end, it was only a thought that smashed through that Sith's considerable defenses and closed his throat for good.
She drew her sabers and went for the nearest red-clad guardsman. Quinn had his blaster out and was barking orders to the bridge crew. Colrand was…he was fighting, and the need to get him out of combat drove her into the frenzy that cleared the rest of the assailants.
At the end of it he was unharmed. That's what mattered.
"Gentlemen," she announced to the crew, "that action was mine and I will make every effort to shield you from the consequences of it. Clean this up. Do not report it until I say the word."
Beside her, Quinn nodded at the waiting officers. She knew that all of them were waiting on that, not her.
She waved Quinn off and beckoned Cole to her. "Cole, pack your things. Meet me in the Fury's hangar in an hour. Stay calm."
He nodded, gave Quinn a wide-eyed look, and headed out.
Ruth stalked back to her quarters and Quinn, her inescapable shadow, followed behind. The moment the door shut behind them he said "Ruth–"
"I can't do this anymore," she said. "They can do whatever they want to me, or try, but they will not have him."
The intensity of his gaze was a humming threat. "What are you going to do?" he said.
"I'm leaving." She set a hand on her lightsaber. "You're not going to stop me. This has to end."
"I agree. Let me come with you."
Ruth had no idea what to think of that. "Quinn. I'm going to kill the Emperor. You're not invited."
"I don't have the means to protect Colrand here without you. That means he can't stay. And that means I should not. You're going to end the threat to our son? I am with you."
"Really. You mean that. Treason and lack of evidence and all?"
"They threatened Colrand."
His conviction was complete. She believed him. He would do it, just like that, to protect their son. And her immediate, selfish reaction was bitter rage. "Why him and not me?"
Quinn dropped his gaze. "Ruth, he is young. Too young to face this alone. Furthermore he is blameless in this matter."
"And I wasn't?"
It took him a long moment to speak. "You and I must live and die by the same duty. It is far too late for us to change the nature and the requirements of our service. But it can go differently with him. It must go differently."
"Yes," she said, forcing her command tone so her voice wouldn't break. "It must." Suddenly she didn't want to pack, didn't want to set things in order here, just wanted to be away. "I am glad to learn that something can reach you. But I'm taking Cole and I'm leaving. You don't get to come with me. Do your job here if it makes you happy, do anything, I don't care. When Cole is safe we'll talk again. For his sake, not for yours." She backed into the doorway. "You know I love you. Still. Probably always." It was taking all the willpower she had not to cry. "I only wish that counted for something."
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