Please upgrade your browser for the best possible experience.

Chrome Firefox Internet Explorer
×

Afterimages: Dawn


Vesaniae's Avatar


Vesaniae
11.21.2017 , 04:37 PM | #161
Quote: Originally Posted by Eiter View Post
Just wanted to chime in with how much I enjoy this story, and how happy I am that it continues.
I'm not much of a commenter, but as an example: The fact that you devote an entire chapter, and an early one at that, to just two people standing in a hallway talking, and still make it a good read... That's a mark of good writing skills, right there.
Thank you so much! Glad you're enjoying the story.

And now, we resume...


Fifty-Six
The Citadel, Dromund Kaas
35 ATC



“I’m still not convinced this is a good idea,” Kory said.

Saryn, walking just ahead of him through one of the Citadel’s main corridors, did not turn around as she responded. “I told you, there’s nothing to worry about. This is just a social call.”

“With Darth Pherebus?”

“It’s not nearly as outlandish a concept as you make it out to be. Pherebus and I have a common understanding born of mutual academic interests. This is not the first time I’ve paid her a visit.”

“Common understanding doesn’t mean she can be trusted.”

“Of course she can’t be trusted. She’s a member of the Dark Council, after all.” The glossy black braid hanging halfway down Saryn’s back swung as she shook her head. “But she’s largely apolitical—which, I believe, is why Nox suggested her appointment to the Council in the first place—and she’s notoriously cautious. She’d never risk making an enemy of my mother by causing me harm.”

“All right, all right,” Kory said resignedly. “I’ve made my objections clear. Obviously I can’t talk you out of this.”

“Correct,” Saryn said in clipped tones, walking slightly faster.

Kory had a feeling that saying anything more would only take the conversation in circles, so he remained silent, watching Saryn move purposefully down the corridor. Like Darth Nox, she did not seem to care for Sith robes. Instead, she wore a dark red blouse with a high collar and long sleeves, plain black pants and knee-high boots with thick heels that gave her an extra two inches of height. A lightsaber hung on her left hip from a thin sleen-leather belt, probably more for symbolic purposes than defense; he had never seen her practice.

While he had his misgivings about her meeting with Pherebus, he had to admit that part of him was glad for the break in routine. Since being assigned to Saryn’s protection, his days had consisted of sitting around watching her read, and despite his best efforts he had begun to become extremely bored. A visit with a member of the Dark Council was bound to be interesting.

“So,” Kory said as he followed Saryn into a turbolift. “Dare I ask why you’re paying a visit to one of the Council’s most notoriously reclusive and erratic members?”

“Why does any Sith ever visit another?” Saryn asked dryly. “She has something I want.”

Kory mulled that over as the turbolift plunged towards one of the Citadel’s lowest sublevels. “You’re going to ask her about Oricon,” he said finally.

“Mmm,” Saryn said.

“Is that ‘mmm’ yes or ‘mmm’ no?”

“Mmmaybe.” Saryn gave a small, mischievous smile.

Kory shook his head. “You enjoy being cryptic, don’t you?”

“As Nox’s apprentice, I should think you of all people would understand such things.”

“Maybe so, but…” Kory frowned at her. “Is that what you’ve been researching all this time? The Dread Masters?”

“Among other things.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but is that wise? Their powers were not exactly known for being user friendly.”

“You mistake my intentions. I have no desire to utilize their methods. I am, however, very interested in comparing said methods to other Sith sorcery techniques.”

“And what do you hope to gain from that?”

“A greater understanding of the Force and its potential.” Saryn clasped her hands primly in front of her. “You’d find the details boring, I suspect.”

She’s hiding something, Kory thought. But what? And why?

It wasn’t necessarily suspicious; Sith academics were notoriously protective of their research, and Saryn had no reason to trust him. His instincts, however, told him that there was more to the situation than met the eye. Nothing involving the Dread Masters could possibly be benign, no matter how much she insisted it was all theoretical.

The turbolift stopped. Kory resumed his position a few steps behind Saryn as they proceeded onward.

“Is it just me,” he said conversationally, “or does the Force feel different down here?”

“The dark side is more palpable in the sublevels, yes. I suspect it’s due to the high concentration of Sith artifacts being stored down here.”

“You know, the more I think about it, the more it seems that keeping large numbers of volatile and dangerous items together in one place is just not a good idea,” Kory mused.

Saryn shrugged one shoulder. “We’ve largely perfected containment technology by now. Besides, when they’re all in one place, it’s easier to keep track of them.” She stopped in front of a door that looked no different from all the other doors in the hallway. “Here we are.” She tapped the security panel.

A few moments passed, then the door opened. Saryn strolled inside nonchalantly. Kory followed at a more cautious pace, making no attempt to hide his wariness.

Pherebus’ antechamber was a hexagonal room about five meters in diameter. Two walls held closed doors that presumably led to other parts of the apartment, while the others were covered with tapestries depicting stylized scenes from Sith history. Holocrons hovered in suspension fields above display stands in the corners. Glancing over his shoulder, Kory found himself looking into the empty eye sockets of a tuk’ata skull decorated with gold and jewels mounted over the door through which they had entered.

Charming, he thought, returning his attention to the rest of the room as one of the doors opposite the entrance opened.

A Sith male stepped into the antechamber, his slight frame draped in heavy black robes. His bald head had been branded with a series of arcane symbols, half of which were obscured by thick scarring that appeared to be from chemical burns. Kory recognized him at once: Lord Kalith, Darth Pherebus’ apprentice.

“Welcome,” Kalith said in a soft, reedy voice. “You are expected.” He motioned to the door behind him. “My master will see you now. You may proceed within.”

“Splendid.” Saryn brushed past him and through the door.

Kory tried to follow, but Kalith stepped in front of him as the door closed behind Saryn.

“My master agreed to meet with Saryn Zaraine alone,” he said gravely. “You are not invited.”

“All right, then,” Kory muttered. He took a subtle step away from Kalith; the man smelled strongly of formaldehyde.

She’ll be fine, Kory told himself as irrational worry gripped him. She can take care of herself, she doesn’t need me. Besides, what could I do against Pherebus? I’m good, but not “go toe to toe with a Dark Council member” good. Not yet.

That excuse won’t save me from what her mother will do to me if she gets hurt on my watch, though.


Imagining worst case scenarios would get him nowhere. He looked at Kalith, who was regarding him with an air of open speculation.

“So,” Kory said. “Pherebus’ apprentice.”

“So,” Kalith echoed. “Nox’s apprentice.”

This, Kory thought, is going to be a long morning.


*****


Pherebus’ sitting room was small and cozy, the harsh angles of the walls softened by heavy black drapes. A thick carpet covered the floor, and a low table with cushions around it was the sole piece of furniture. Saryn had settled herself on a cushion across from Pherebus and pretended to drink the tea set out on the table. Off to one side, a small holoprojector displayed the image of a planet that Saryn recognized as Iridonia. It was the sole item she had seen in the apartment that acknowledged Pherebus’ Zabrak heritage; the rest was all Sith.

“I think we both know this isn’t just a friendly visit,” Pherebus said gravely.

Finally, Saryn thought. “My lord is correct,” she said. “Truth be told, I came seeking knowledge.”

“I suspected as much.” Pherebus smiled. “You remind me of myself at your age. So bright and inquisitive. I read the paper you published last year. Very interesting.”

“You’re too kind, my lord.”

“Kind? That is not an adjective I often hear in reference to myself.” Pherebus chuckled. “In any case, I believe you are worthy of my insights—should I choose to share them. Tell me, what knowledge do you seek?”

Saryn leaned forward and opened her eyes wide in an attempt to look as innocent as possible. “Well…I’ve heard many stories over the years of how you defeated the Dread Masters.”

“Oricon,” Pherebus whispered. Her smile faded. “Ten years ago. Strange to think it’s been that long.”

“I was only a child at the time,” Saryn said. “I remember hearing about it, though.”

It had been the first time she’d seen her mother genuinely worried. Saryn’s power of foresight, fully manifested even at ten years of age, had tormented her with countless visions of Dromund Kaas burning at the Dread Masters’ feet. None of those visions had come to pass, however, thanks to the woman sitting in front of her.

And Darth Xyre, of course, but Saryn knew better than to mention her in Pherebus’ presence. The relationship between the two Dark Council members was openly chilly. Xyre had nearly died stopping the Dread Masters, whereas Pherebus had escaped unscathed.

Or so she seems, Saryn reflected, watching Pherebus’ face as she stared off into the distance. It’s the invisible scars that run deepest.

“I heard about how you were able to shield the Empire’s troops from the Dread Masters’ influence,” Saryn said. “I can scarcely contemplate such a feat.”

“It wasn’t easy.” Pherebus continued to look towards the far wall. Saryn suspected she was seeing not the drapes, but the desolate surface of a moon ten years dead. “It felt like trying to hold back a raging river with a thin piece of glass. Every day, it cracked a little more.”

“You did it, though.”

“Barely.” Pherebus closed her eyes. “I had to burn it all to make the whispers stop. Sometimes I think I still—” Her eyes snapped open, yellow irises fixing on Saryn. “I had to burn Oricon. I had no choice. It was the only way. But what they did, the way they held sway over the minds of thousands…it was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“It’s almost unfortunate that all trace of them had to be destroyed.”

“Almost,” Pherebus breathed. “But…not quite. I preserved—not them, but the legacy of them. Their footprints in the sand.” She pushed the tea tray to one side, revealing a holoprojector embedded in the middle of the table. “I have data, you see. Facts and figures, solid and real. That’s what you came for, isn’t it? That’s why you’re here. You want to see the data.”

Saryn’s heart began to pound. “I would like that very much, yes.”

“Ambitious,” Pherebus mused. “That will get you far, if it doesn’t get you killed.” She gave Saryn an appraising look. “With all things there comes a price, however.”

Saryn squared her shoulders. “I’m willing to negotiate terms, but not until I know whether this data of yours is actually useful to me.”

Pherebus laughed softly. “Bold, as well as ambitious. You take after your mother.”

“I get that a lot,” Saryn muttered.

“So you wish a taste of secrets before you purchase the full draught. A reasonable enough request, I suppose.” Pherebus waved a hand over the holoprojector. “Take a look.”

Saryn recognized the image that appeared as an electromagnetic scan of a human brain. She was sufficiently well-versed in biology to recognize that the brain had characteristics well outside normal parameters.

“This is a brain scan of a Dread Guard,” Pherebus stated. “Fully under the Dread Masters’ influence. You can see the cybernetics here and here.” She motioned at the hologram. “As we discovered, however, the implants only expedite the conditioning process.” She waved a hand and a new scan appeared beside the first. “One of our soldiers. I executed him personally when he turned on his comrades. Note the similar patterns of deterioration.”

Saryn drank in the holograms, trying to memorize every detail. “Fascinating.”

Pherebus smiled like a proud parent. “I have more such data. I’m willing to share some of it if you give me something in return.”

Saryn tried and failed to tear her eyes away from the holograms. “Name your price.”

“I have tried for years without success to obtain a copy of the research notes compiled by the Mandalorian scientist Demagol during their war with the Republic three centuries ago. I’ve heard you have such a copy in your possession.”

“I do, yes.” The notes had been a gift from Darth Nox for Saryn’s sixteenth birthday. She had a feeling they had not been easy to obtain.

“Those notes aren’t worth my full data—that, I will not part with no matter what you offer—but I am willing to give you a copy of some of what I recorded on Oricon.”

Saryn pretended to take a moment to think it over, then said, “I agree to your terms.”

“Good, good.” Pherebus smiled. “I would not make this bargain with just anyone. I trust, however, that you will properly appreciate my data.”

“I have no doubt that I will.”

“If you extrapolate any rituals that level half the Citadel, do wait until I’m off-world to conduct them,” Pherebus said dryly.

“I’ll do my best.”

“Good girl. You’ll have those notes for me soon, I trust?”

“I’ll send the files as soon as I return to my chambers.”

“Lovely. I can’t wait to see what insights Demagol carved out of his Jedi test subjects. Which reminds me…” Pherebus gestured at the holoterminal again. The two holograms vanished and were replaced by a new image. “A special treat, since you didn’t quibble over the price.”

The new image was also a brain scan, similar in some ways to the first two while very different in others. The scan showed cybernetics that were completely different from those of the Dread Guard, and the areas of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functioning were even more massively degraded.

Saryn peered at it. “What’s this?”

“You don’t want to know what I went through to get this,” Pherebus said softly. “This is the brain of a cyborg in the service of Darth Jadus.”

Saryn inhaled sharply. “How—”

“As I said, you don’t want to know.”

“No, I suppose I don’t.” Saryn stared at the hologram. Force domination manifests as physical damage to the brain… It’s unlikely those people could ever have recovered.

Is this what the Emperor has done to my mother?
An icy chill ran down her spine and settled in her gut. I have to find a way to stop it. I can’t let this happen to her. I won’t let this happen to her.

The sound of Pherebus’ voice brought her back to the moment.

“…able to shield most of the soldiers, but many of the Sith refused,” Pherebus was saying. “They didn’t trust me. And they died, one by one. Except for Xyre.” Her lip curled. “I suspect a scan of her brain might not be different from these…but the Dark Council does not see things as I do.”

Saryn frowned. “The Dark Council deemed Xyre fit to continue holding her sphere of influence.”

“They weren’t there. They didn’t see what I…but it doesn’t matter.” Pherebus waved a hand dismissively. “Xyre is what she is, which is to say not worth my time or yours.”

Saryn knew evasiveness when she saw it. “Never mind Xyre, then. What do you think of this business with Darth Angral? I understand you were present when he last stood before the Council.”

“Angral is a dead man,” Pherebus said coolly. “He simply has not yet realized it.” She picked up her teacup and rotated it. “Truth be told, I pay little attention to matters of soldiers and starships, but even I know that the Republic has had ample time to recover its strength these past years. The Jedi have trained a new generation of Knights. Their lightsabers are ready to be quenched in Sith blood. Angral will be the first, but not the last.”

“Do you think there will be war?”

“Of course there will be war. There must always be war. It is our nature.”

“Whose nature?”

“Sentient life.” Pherebus peered into her teacup as if it held some insight. “You’re the seer. How do you think this will end?”

“The future is always changing. Either we win, or the Republic wins. There isn’t much of a middle ground.” Or, Saryn didn’t say, the Emperor wins, and we all die.

Pherebus nodded, then changed the subject to a discussion of Force arcana. Saryn itched to run back to her apartment and make the exchange of data so she could pore over Pherebus’ findings, but she knew that to depart too suddenly would cause suspicion. She had to maintain the illusion that it was all purely academic, a passing fancy, not something that she viewed as a matter of life and death. So she kept up her end of the conversation, trying her best not to fidget impatiently, until finally Pherebus seemed to lose interest and bid her farewell.

“I hope your conversation was less awkward than mine,” Xalkory said when they were back out in the corridor.

“It was fine. Pherebus likes me. Although, all things considered, I’m not quite certain whether that’s good or bad…”

“Did you get what you came for, at least?”

“I did. Even better, I believe I know what my next step should be.”

“How wonderful,” Xalkory said blithely. “Is there any chance you’ll ever tell me what this is all about?”

“Perhaps.”

“I’ll live in hope, then.”

“Don’t hope too hard. You may find yourself disappointed.” Saryn picked up her pace. “Come along. I need to get back to my apartment.” That data will be mine soon. “After that, I need to arrange a meeting with Darth Xyre.”

“Xyre,” Xalkory repeated. “As in former assassin, possibly unstable, member of the Dark Council? That Darth Xyre?”

“Correct.”

“As far as I’m aware, Xyre isn’t generally inclined to see anyone outside of her own inner circle. She hardly ever even attends Council meetings.”

“I know it’s a long shot. I intend to try anyway.”

“Might I assume that this has something to do with the fact that Xyre was also involved in the Oricon campaign?”

“Yes. I think Xyre knows something that Pherebus doesn’t want me to know.”

“Secrets within secrets,” Xalkory muttered. “Secrets involving the Dread Masters, no less. Here I’ve been thinking you were in the most danger from Angral, but now I’m not so sure.”

Saryn glanced over her shoulder at him and smiled. “At least it won’t be boring.”

He shook his head and smiled back. “Thank the Force for small favors.”
There's always lightning.

Vesaniae's Avatar


Vesaniae
06.21.2018 , 01:33 PM | #162
I am back! Since it's been some time since the last update, here's a quick recap of what's going on in Afterimages' current plot:
  • The amnesiac but undeniably gifted young Jedi Knight Rhysven D’Anshir has found himself opposing Darth Angral’s attempt to bring destruction to the Republic. He doesn’t have much confidence in himself, but he’ll try his best.
  • While Rhys was able to rescue Kira from Angral’s minions on Ord Mantell, he blames himself for her having been captured and tortured. Even as he heads for Taris, the experience begins to haunt him.
  • Meanwhile in the Empire, Saryn Zaraine is looking for a way to free her mother, Darth A’tro, from the Sith Emperor’s mental domination.
  • Saryn has obtained data from Darth Pherebus about the brainwashed minions of the Dread Masters. She now seeks to obtain an audience with the reclusive Sith Lord Darth Xyre in order to get more information about the Oricon campaign. She hopes that by studying the Dread Masters, she can extrapolate how the Emperor’s power works and how to counter it.

And now, a chapter.


Fifty-Seven
Hidden Bunker, Taris
35 ATC



At first, Rhys had been excited to go to Taris.

The planet was an important piece of history. It was impossible to have a proper in-depth discussion of the Jedi Civil War without at least mentioning Darth Malak’s bombardment. More recently, the Republic had made an effort at resettlement, only to have their efforts countered by an Imperial offensive. While the Empire had eventually withdrawn, the Republic had decided against further attempts at rehabilitating the wasteland, and Taris had been left to decay.

There had been enough left of the old Republic spaceport for Rhys to land his ship in, but even with T7 staying behind to keep a photoreceptor on it he couldn’t help but worry that it would be gone when he returned. The ground, being an accumulation of wreckage, dirt and biohazardous muck, did not seem particularly stable.

He had done his best to give Taris the benefit of the doubt, to treat it with his usual air of scholarly curiosity. In the end, however, his optimism had not been enough to withstand the swathes of toxic sludge and rakghouls coming up behind him at all times, and he was forced to agree with Kira’s muttered assessment of “this place is a hellhole.” It seemed that some places simply had no redeeming qualities.

Still, Taris’ dilapidated surface made a good hideout for a hermit. Without Var Suthra’s information, they would never have found Doctor Godera’s hidden bunker. On the other hand, it was clearly not as well hidden as it could have been, as the place was overrun with Imperial troops who proved to not be open to surrendering.

“Well, this is just great,” Kira sighed as the last Imperial fell to their lightsabers. “What do we do now?”

Rhys looked around. “Since Godera obviously isn’t here, I think this means we go back to the drawing board. It seems a safe bet that the Imperials were here for the same reason we are. Let’s check the bodies. Maybe one will have orders recorded on a comlink or something.”

“Rifling through dead bodies on an even deader planet,” Kira sighed. “Exactly how I wanted to spend my day.”

Before Rhys could respond, a nearby holoterminal flickered to life, projecting the image of a human male. He was a window display of a man, a façade of an Imperial officer painted over the surface of something more sinister. His too-neat uniform had no rank insignia. Even as a hologram, something about him made Rhys instinctively wary.

“That’s enough bloodshed,” the Imperial said pleasantly. “Let’s be professional about this.”

“And you are?” Rhys inquired. He reached out with the Force, trying to sense the presence of would-be ambushers. In his peripheral vision, he spotted Kira moving to a position where she could keep an eye on the exit.

“I’m Watcher One with Sith Intelligence,” the Imperial stated. “Those men you fought served me. You see, we’ve known about Doctor Godera’s presence here for some time—and now that you’re here, I’m afraid I can’t let you have him.”

“If you knew Doctor Godera was here, why didn’t you do anything about it before now?” Rhys asked suspiciously.

“The doctor was thoroughly entrenched, and extricating him would have proven costly in time and resources. As long as he remained estranged from the Republic, he posed a minimal threat to the Empire’s security.” Watcher One smiled thinly. “Obviously, the situation has changed.”

“What have you done with him?” Rhys demanded.

“Nothing, yet. But he’ll be in my custody shortly. You’re too late.”

“You’re bluffing,” Rhys said. “Trying to get me to give up and leave. Well, that’s not going to happen.”

“Believe what you will,” Watcher One said coolly. “It would certainly be conducive to your health if you departed Taris now, but if you refuse to negotiate this matter in a civilized fashion I will be forced to resort to extreme measures.”

“I don’t take kindly to threats,” Rhys said, deliberately mimicking Watcher One’s too-cordial tone. “And I’m not leaving this planet without Doctor Godera.”

Watcher One shrugged. “So be it, then. Know that Sith Intelligence prides itself on accurate threat assessment. I’ve analyzed your strengths and weaknesses in preparation.” He raised an eyebrow. “You executed Bengel Morr on Tython when he was defenseless. You consider yourself above the law.”

“You what?” Kira interjected.

“No!” Rhys protested. “It wasn’t like that! I tried to reason with him and he refused to surrender. I tried, it—it wasn’t my fault—”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, I suppose,” Watcher One murmured. “Such are the lies we tell ourselves. But I see my reinforcements are finally in position.”

Rhys sensed the lifeforms an instant before the Imperial troopers deactivated stealth generators, revealing themselves in a ring around him and Kira. They’d been played.

“Terminate them,” Watcher One ordered. His hologram vanished.

Rhys drew his lightsabers and moved to stand back to back with Kira. The ring of Imperials began to tighten.

The holoterminal reactivated. A new figure appeared, an alien woman in the same uniform as Watcher One. Rhys could tell that her skin would be blue even without the hologram’s tinting, and her eyes were twin splashes of inscrutable scarlet against a coldly beautiful face. He managed to dredge the name of her species from the depths of his brain: Chiss. One of the Sith Empire’s few legitimate allies—though how much choice they’d had in that alliance was debatable.

“Hold,” the Chiss ordered. The single word was enough to convey the impression of a being who was accustomed to being obeyed. “Stand down. Return to base and await further instructions. Confirmation codes have been transmitted to your personal frequencies.”

A few of the Imperials exchanged glances with one another. Then one by one, they reactivated their stealth generators and disappeared.

The Chiss turned her attention to Rhys, or at least he thought she did; her eyes lacked irises or pupils, making it impossible to tell where she was looking.

“I apologize for this unfortunate incident,” she said. “I would like to resolve the situation without further loss of life.”

“Watcher One said much the same thing.” Rhys raised an eyebrow. “Then his men attacked us.”

“Watcher One is in a difficult position.” The Chiss frowned. “I am Seeker, head of Sith Intelligence.”

“Oh, great,” Kira muttered. “First an Imperial spymaster, now his boss?

“I don’t often communicate with members of the Republic. Except during interrogations, of course.” Seeker smiled briefly. “But I know who you are, Jedi, and I know your mission. Given the extenuating circumstances created by your arrival here, I believe a degree of cooperation between us is required.”

Rhys tried to think quickly. The entire situation was extraordinarily suspicious. Of course, Seeker surely knew that. If she were trying to deceive them, wouldn’t she try something more subtle? Could it be that, as the saying went, reality was stranger than fiction?

“I’ll hear you out,” he said. “But I’m not going to just blindly trust you.”

“Then you’re smarter than most of your kind. Perhaps you may even survive this.” Seeker clasped her hands together in front of her. “I will be transparent. Watcher One’s operation on Taris had nothing to do with Doctor Godera. However, he and his forces have been commandeered by Darth Angral and put to the task of retrieving Godera for the purpose of furthering Angral’s interests.”

Rhys sucked in a breath. “Watcher One didn’t mention he was working for Angral.”

“As I said, he had no choice in the matter. One does not refuse an order from a Sith Lord, even one who has been declared a traitor.” Seeker’s voice turned bitter. “Frankly, I am tempted to let Angral have Godera. The doctor’s work has caused me a great deal of…discomfort.” She took a deep breath. “We all have our orders, however, and mine are to stymy Angral at any cost. In the interests of achieving this aim and preventing the deaths of more Intelligence personnel, I will give you Watcher One’s location. He should have retrieved Godera by now.”

“You’re going to just tell us where he is,” Kira said flatly. “Just like that. No tricks, no fine print. You expect us to believe that?”

“All I ask in return,” Seeker murmured, “is that you refrain from killing anyone else.”

“Watcher One has already tried to kill us once,” Rhys pointed out. “Do you expect us to not defend ourselves if he tries again?”

“I expect you to exercise some of that famous Jedi mercy,” Seeker said with a trace of mockery. “Transmitting coordinates now. I hope you live long enough to give Angral his due.”

She ended the transmission. Rhys and Kira looked at each other.

“That was weird and she was creepy,” Kira said flatly. “Anyone who gets to that high a rank in the Empire is just…off. I blame the Sith.” She shook her head. “So what do we do now?”

Rhys took a long, slow breath, trying not to think about what he might be inhaling from Taris’ atmosphere, then nodded at the holoterminal. “I think we have our next destination.”

“You actually want to go to those coordinates?” Kira asked skeptically. “That ‘enemy of my enemy’ talk was all very well and good, but the word of an Imperial spy doesn’t hold a whole lot of weight in my book. This feels like a trap.”

“I’m inclined to agree, but this is the only lead we have.”

Kira sighed heavily. “Why does it always seem to work out like that?”

“As far as I see it, there are two possible outcomes.” Rhys held up one finger. “Outcome one: it’s not a trap, we find Doctor Godera, we rescue him and get off this planet and everything turns out fine.”

Kira opened her mouth. Rhys held up a second finger.

“Option two,” he said. “It is a trap. In which case, we fight our way through it and rescue Doctor Godera anyway.”

“That is dizzyingly optimistic.”

Rhys felt a blush begin to creep up into his cheeks. “Did you have a better idea?”

“Well…no. Not really.” Kira shrugged. “Maybe we’ll get lucky. Lead on, fearless leader.”
There's always lightning.

Kitar's Avatar


Kitar
06.22.2018 , 09:05 AM | #163
I was really happy to see you updated the story yesterday
Spoiler

Vesaniae's Avatar


Vesaniae
06.23.2018 , 05:27 PM | #164
Quote: Originally Posted by Kitar View Post
I was really happy to see you updated the story yesterday
Spoiler
Thank you, Kitar!

Fifty-Eight
Sith Intelligence Outpost, Taris
35 ATC



The coordinates Seeker had provided proved to be relatively close to Godera’s bunker. Rhys was glad for the short trip, as a long journey might have sapped his and Kira’s energy for whatever might await them. He also suspected that despite her insistence to the contrary, Kira was not yet fully recovered from the injuries she had sustained on Ord Mantell.

Rhys forced back the guilt that rose in him at the thought. There is no emotion, he reminded himself. Peace. There was nothing you could have done. Should have done, maybe, but—

The swampy ground squished under his boots. He stumbled on a hard object buried just beneath the surface of the muck, and took several flailing steps before finally steadying himself.

Kira regarded him with mild concern. “You okay there?”

“Never better,” Rhys mumbled, unable to meet her eyes. He brushed invisible dust off the front of his robe. “Come on.”

He hurriedly moved to walk far enough ahead that he couldn’t see Kira’s expression. So much for being mindful. He couldn’t risk letting on that he was concerned about her health; he had a feeling it would just make her annoyed, and he didn’t want her opinion of him to drop any lower than it probably already was. Force knew he had not done much to give the impression of someone who knew what he was doing.

The sight of Taris’ meager sunlight glinting off metal distracted him from his gloomy thoughts. Rhys slowed his pace and laid a hand on his lightsaber as he approached the glinting object.

“Looks like a wrecked speeder,” he said.

Kira came up beside him. “Too shiny for an antique, and I’m pretty sure that’s an Imperial model. I think we’re on the right track.”

Rhys took a deep breath and let his eyes fall half-closed, reaching out with the Force. He immediately sensed life. Given all Taris had endured, the planet was home to a surprising volume of living organisms, gleaming in his mind’s eye like a field of stars. Beneath those lights, at the edge of his awareness, Taris’ old wounds lingered. Three hundred years had softened a billion dying screams into a billion whispers, just loud enough for him to hear if he listened hard enough.

Focus, Rhys told himself. He let the presences of Taris’ flora and fauna and the echoes of its destruction fade into the background. Brighter lights immediately caught his attention. These were the presences of sentient beings, their minds cold and disciplined. Blind to the Force, but still dangerous. They were clustered in an area not far ahead.

Rhys opened his eyes. “They’re here.” He set off in the direction of the presences.

Kira kept pace beside him. “That was fast.”

“What do you mean?”

“You pinpointed the Imperials’ location in less than a minute using only the Force in the middle of all this…this.” Kira waved a hand around.

She had a way of making him feel self-conscious about the damnedest things. “Is—is that really that impressive? They’re not that far away. Any Jedi could have done it.”

“Maybe.” Kira shrugged one shoulder. “I know I can’t feel them. Maybe it’s just me. I’m not exactly a prodigy.”

But I am, apparently. “I mean, it wasn’t easy,” Rhys said awkwardly. “Every time I try to reach out, I can feel the echo of Malak’s bombardment. It’s kind of distracting.”

“More like unsettling.” Kira frowned. “I can feel it too, if I concentrate. So much death and destruction…” She shook her head. “And if Angral gets his way, there’ll be a lot more Tarises in the Republic’s future.”

“We won’t let that happen.” Rhys tried to sound more confident than he felt. “Look, just ahead.”

A great mound rose up out of the swampy terrain a short distance in front of them. Composed of a combination of dirt and the permacrete detritus of a fallen skyscraper, it was half-covered in plant life. As he drew closer, Rhys could see an opening in the front of the mound, shored up by metal beams that looked far newer—and sturdier—than the rest of the wreckage.

Rhys double-checked the coordinates. “I guess this is it.”

“Imperial central.” Kira removed her lightsaber from her belt. “I can sense them, now. Feels like a whole bunch.”

“A ‘bunch,’ hm,” Rhys murmured lightly. “Is that your professional opinion, Padawan?”

Kira waved her lightsaber hilt at him with a grin. “Don’t you start.”

“Sorry.” A smile crept onto Rhys’ face despite his uncertainty over what they were about to walk into. “I mean, really, it doesn’t matter how many there are. We’re going in regardless.”

The entrance to the Imperial facility loomed before them.

“Showtime,” Kira remarked.

Rhys nodded once before drawing his lightsabers and heading inside.

A short trip down a deserted hallway later, and they emerged into a large, open room that looked to have once been part of a Tarisian skyscraper’s sublevel. The ceiling was shored up with metal beams, and the weathered permacrete walls were lined with computer consoles and other equipment. It all appeared to have been there for some time. This was not a new operation.

Probably set up during the Imperial invasion twenty years ago, Rhys thought.

There were two dozen or so Imperials scattered throughout the room. Half of them wore technician’s uniforms and were busily manning the consoles. The rest were armored troopers. He had to give them credit for being alert; they had their blasters trained on him the moment he walked in the door.

They didn’t start shooting. That was a good sign. Probably.

Rhys had a feeling that the situation was about to deteriorate, however. At the far end of the room was a holoterminal projecting an image of Darth Angral. The man standing at attention in front of it had his back to Rhys, but there was no mistaking that black uniform. Watcher One.

Angral was speaking. “Your cooperativeness in this matter will be noted, Watcher, as will your efficiency in procuring the doctor.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Watcher One said tersely.

“Hold Godera at your location for the time being. I will send someone to retrieve him shortly.”

“Sir,” one of the soldiers pointing a blaster at Rhys cut in. “Company, sir.”

Watcher One turned around. His expression did not change, but Rhys could feel a ripple of surprise in the Force.

“What’s happening?” Angral demanded. “Who is—” His sudden intake of breath was audible even over the holo. “You.”

“I don’t understand,” Watcher One said. For the first time, his voice held emotion: unease. “How could you possibly have located this base?”

Angral’s hologram wavered, then split. The second image resolved itself into a form that Rhys recognized as the Chiss spymaster, Seeker.

“The Jedi found the base because I told him where it was,” Seeker said without preamble. “This operation is finished, Watcher One. I want everyone off Taris within six hours.”

Watcher One hesitated. “My orders…”

“Still come from me, unless you’ve truly thrown your lot in with this traitor.” Seeker’s lip curled as she looked in Angral’s direction.

“Darth Nox’s pet alien,” Angral sneered. “Somehow, I’m not surprised you lack the vision to see the righteousness of my cause.”

“Uh, excuse me,” Rhys interjected.

The two holograms, along with everyone in the room, turned to look at him.

“I don’t mean to get in the middle of your Imperial infighting or anything,” Rhys said politely, “but it sounds like you all have a lot to talk about, so if you don’t mind, I think I’d like to take Doctor Godera and leave you to it. Where is he?”

“You’re not taking Godera anywhere,” Angral seethed. “Watcher One, you will bring me the doctor and this Jedi. I’ll deal with them both personally.”

“Anyone who attempts to harm this Jedi will be considered an associate of the traitor Angral and treated as such,” Seeker declared.

The Imperials exchanged openly nervous glances.

“Well, this is awkward,” Kira muttered.

“Quite,” Rhys said.

“Watcher One, sir,” one of the soldiers said. “What—what do we do?”

Watcher One glanced behind him at the two holograms. Then he looked at Rhys.

“Please,” Rhys said. “Listen to your boss. This doesn’t have to end in bloodshed. Just give me Godera and we can all walk away.”

“Don’t you dare cooperate with my son’s murderer,” Angral hissed.

“Ignore him,” Seeker snapped. “He is a traitor to the Empire. He has no authority here. Do as the Jedi says.”

Watcher One bowed his head. “You will find Doctor Godera in the other room, Jedi. He is restrained, but uninjured.” He pointed towards a door on the wall to Rhys’ left. “Do with him as you will.”

“Thank you,” Rhys said. “I’m glad we could—”

No!” Angral’s hologram stretched out a hand. The Force bent into dark shapes and wrapped around Watcher One’s throat.

Rhys started forward, drawing on the Force in an attempt to break Angral’s hold, but he was too late. An involuntary shudder ran through him as he heard Watcher One’s neck snap. The Watcher’s light in the Force faded like a sigh and his body fell to the ground in a crumple of black.

“You will regret that,” Seeker said softly into the ensuing silence.

“I very much doubt it.” Angral surveyed the room. “Anyone else who aids this Jedi will meet the same fate. Do I make myself clear?”

“Enough!” Rhys said loudly. “No more deaths! This is between you and me, Angral.” He took a deep breath, gathering the Force. “I won’t let you hurt anyone else.”

In his mind’s eye, the holoterminal’s circuitry was laid bare to him. He seized it with an invisible hand and squeezed. A moment later, the two holograms vanished as the device imploded, sparks flying. He tried not to think about how similar the action was to what Angral had just done to Watcher One.

The Imperials watched him silently.

“You’re all free to go,” Rhys told them. “There’s no need for further violence.”

A few hesitated, but in the end, they all filed out of the base.

“That went better than I expected,” Kira remarked. She glanced over at Watcher One’s body. “And it also kind of went worse. I hate it when Sith do that.”

“If Angral can kill someone from halfway across the galaxy…” Rhys bit back the urge to say how am I supposed to stop him?

I’ll find a way. I’ll find the strength. I have to.


“I wouldn’t say halfway. Taris is sort of in Imperial space, depending on whose star charts you look at. And if Angral was coming here to get Godera, his ship probably isn’t that far.” Kira raised an eyebrow. “On that note, let’s go get Godera and get out of here before Angral shows up.”

“Agreed,” Rhys said, and set off towards the room Watcher One had indicated. “I want to get off this planet.”


*****


The Citadel, Dromund Kaas


Darth Nox did not appear to be surprised when Thaera barged into her audience chamber without an appointment. Then again, nothing ever seemed to surprise her. Knowing this only made Thaera’s mood worsen.

“Seeker,” Nox said cordially. “How unexpected. To what do I owe the occasion? Do you have something to report on the Angral situation?”

“You could say that,” Thaera muttered around a clenched jaw.

Nox, who had been alternating her attention between Thaera and the view out of the chamber’s picture window, turned to face her head-on. Her dress was the same color as the gathering thunderheads outside, its heavy fabric swaying as she moved. “You seem unusually…animated. Is something wrong?”

Light glinted off silver embroidery on Nox’s skirt, making Thaera think of lightning. Lightning that the Sith Lord would doubtless not hesitate to use against her if she failed to tread carefully.

Control yourself, she thought. Nox has been volatile of late. Exercise restraint.

Thaera stood at attention and clasped her hands behind her back. “Forgive my terseness, my lord,” she said, trying to maintain her usual bland tone.

Despite her best efforts, anger continued to simmer under the surface. She could only hope that Nox would not notice.

“There has indeed been a development,” Thaera continued. “Angral commandeered an Intelligence operation on Taris with the intent of abducting the Republic scientist Nasan Godera. Our profile on Godera indicates that his hatred of the Empire is equaled only by his propensity for inventing superweapons.”

Weapons like the Shadow Arsenal. Her thoughts wavered towards danger, but like a pilot making a quick course correction, her mind snapped back into place before she could remember too much. Time could not heal the scars, but at least it had proven an effective anesthetic.

Nox was speaking. “I’m familiar with Godera. What is the current situation on Taris?”

“Resolved, my lord. The Jedi Knight Rhysven D’Anshir arrived on the planet and has returned Godera to Republic custody.”

“He handled matters that quickly? Impressive.”

“I assisted him in locating the doctor in the interest of stopping Angral.” Thaera’s hands tightened together behind her back. “Neither I nor the Jedi were able to prevent Angral from executing one of my best operatives, however.”

“Ah.” Nox gave a knowing nod. “My condolences. Do send me this operative’s file. I’ll see to it that they’re properly honored for their service to the Empire.”

“That’s very gracious of you, my lord.”

“Intelligence agents do work of immeasurable value. I will not let their sacrifices go unrecognized.” Nox sighed softly and returned her attention to the window. “Thank you for apprising me of this, Seeker. You may go now.”

Thaera started to turn away, then stopped. Resentment rose within her in a smoldering tide, its heat driving back the mist of fear inside her head.

“My lord,” she said.

Nox glanced at her. “Was there something else?”

“I…may I speak freely, my lord?”

“Curious.” Nox’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “In all the years you’ve served me, I don’t believe you’ve ever asked that before.”

Maybe it’s taken me this long to figure out how. “I simply wonder why you’ve allowed the situation with Angral to go on as it has.”

“‘Allowed?’ What an interesting choice of words.” A hint of danger drifted into Nox’s tone. “The man is acting in open rebellion. It was inevitable. What exactly are you trying to say about it?”

“You could have cut this insurrection off at the knees,” Thaera said flatly. “Yet he and his followers walk free of repercussions for their treasonous acts.”

“They will be punished eventually.” Nox’s voice went soft. “But Angral’s sights are fixed firmly on the Republic. I see no reason not to let him do some damage.”

“And what about the damage he might to do us?” Thaera demanded.

“What happened to your people on Taris was unfortunate.” Nox frowned. “Although now that I think about it, I have no recollection of that operation. What was its purpose?”

“Weapons testing in conjunction with the Science Bureau. Never mind that, though.” Thaera’s hands, still behind her back, were clenched together so tightly that her fingers were starting to go numb. “Angral is out of control. He needs to be stopped.”

“The Jedi will stop him.”

“The young Knight? That’s unlikely.”

Nox shrugged one shoulder. “If not him, then another Jedi. There are so very many of them these days.”

“And if they all fail, and Angral turns his attention back to us?”

Nox put her hands on her hips. “At first, I was pleased to see you showing some measure of a spine, but I find the novelty is quickly wearing thin. What do you want from me, Seeker?”

“Eliminate Angral. Without him, the rebellion crumbles.”

“You mean have him assassinated, I assume. To use your words—that’s unlikely.”

Thaera squared her shoulders. “I could do it.”

“You?” Nox said incredulously. “When was the last time you were in the field?”

“I haven’t lost my skills, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“Angral is a Sith Lord—”

“I’ve killed Sith before.”

The words hung heavy in the air for several moments. A tension settled over Nox the likes of which Thaera had never seen before.

“So you have,” Nox murmured. “To think, I had nearly forgotten. Darth Zhorrid.” She shook her head. “A lunatic, by all accounts, but still a Sith. And you slew her—on Darth Jadus’ orders. If I were you, I would not have reminded me of that fact.”

“Jadus is long gone. My allegiance is to you.”

“That does not erase the acts you committed in his service.” Nox’s eyes narrowed. “Perhaps I should be watching you more closely, Seeker. You claim to want Angral dead, but for all I know, you could be in league with him. You’ve certainly proven amenable to the sorts of acts of mass destruction he seems to favor.”

A chill ran down the back of Thaera’s neck. “My lord, forgive me, but what is the purpose of revisiting those events again?”

“Technically speaking, you were the one to bring it up. I’m merely speculating.” Nox clicked her tongue thoughtfully. “It’s true that you have served me well these past two decades…and yet still I wonder about you sometimes. Who you really are under the uniform and the codename. What you really want.”

“What I want,” Thaera said, choosing her words carefully, “is to secure a stable and prosperous future for the Empire. I believe the best path to that future lies with you. If I thought otherwise, I would not be here.”

“Then why do you persist in questioning my judgment on the Angral situation, hm? If you truly believe that I’m the future of the Empire—which I am, make no mistake—then perhaps you ought to demonstrate a little more trust.”

“I apologize if I gave the impression that I—”

“Yes, yes, you were merely expressing an opinion, not openly dissenting. I know how that line goes.”

Thaera hesitated, unsure of how to respond.

“Said opinion,” Nox continued, “has been noted. However, my orders stand. The Empire will not lift a hand against Angral unless it proves absolutely necessary. Do I make myself clear?”

Thaera knew a losing battle when she saw it. “Yes, my lord.”

Nox flapped a hand at her. “I grow weary of this pointless discussion. You had best be getting back to work. I expect regular reports on both Angral and his Jedi rival.”

“Yes, my lord.” Thaera bowed politely and began walking away.

“And Seeker?” Nox called from behind her.

Thaera paused. “Yes?”

“I do believe I almost saw the real you for a moment. Next time, don’t back down so easily.”

“I—I won’t, my lord,” Thaera faltered, and hastened out of the room before Nox could say anything further.

Out in the hallway, she had to pause and catch her breath. Being in Nox’s presence was not nearly as oppressive an experience as being in Jadus’ had been, but Thaera still felt as if a weight were lifted from her shoulders the moment she left Nox’s view.

Well, she thought, I tried. I suppose that was all I could do.

Was Nox truly pleased that she had questioned her? Or was she hiding anger beneath her omnipresent veneer of charm? Thaera couldn’t tell. She only knew that no matter what Nox might have said, she could not let her self-control slip like that again. No more glimpses of the “real” Thaera.

While it was true that she believed Nox’s leadership was the best option for the Empire’s future, the woman was still a Sith. For all her talk of honoring Intelligence agents’ sacrifices, there was no doubt in Thaera’s mind that Nox would never make such sacrifices herself. Hers was an inherently selfish order, and their philosophy of ambition was what bred the division that threatened to destroy the Empire at every turn.

And if Nox remained unwilling to do anything to combat that division, then Thaera would take matters into her own hands.
There's always lightning.

Vesaniae's Avatar


Vesaniae
07.03.2018 , 10:55 AM | #165
Fifty-Nine
Kaas City, Dromund Kaas
35 ATC



The thunderheads rapidly encroaching upon Kaas City’s skyline mirrored Saryn’s growing sense of apprehension as she regarded the house before her. Located in one of the oldest parts of the city, it was in a state of disrepair. Vines engulfed most of the front wall, and the few windows visible behind the thick greenery had been boarded up. In the Force, the space carried a sense of hush, as if the building itself were holding a finger to its lips.

In the distance, an arc of lightning leaped between clouds. Saryn contemplated the space where it had been for a moment, then took a deep breath and focused her full attention on the house. She could feel living beings inside, but she could not discern their numbers, nor whether any were Force-sensitive. Someone or something within was actively interfering with her perceptions.

Standing beside her, Xalkory looked at the house and shook his head. “In my capacity as Nox’s apprentice, I’ve had to go into an awful lot of haunted places.”

“You think this is one such place?”

“It has the look.”

“It’s in need of a bit of work, sure, but spirits? I doubt it.”

“You sound very confident of that.”

“And you sound nervous,” Saryn teased. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“I am not nervous,” Xalkory said defensively. “I just have a healthy respect for Force ghosts. I’ve seen what they can do to people.”

Saryn sighed wistfully. “What I’d give to see such a thing. Force phantasmagoria are so fascinating.”

Xalkory regarded her with a curious expression. “You…actually want to interact with a Sith spirit?”

“Certainly! There’s so much they can tell us. I think it’s extremely interesting.” Saryn pursed her lips. “But let me guess. You think I’m being reckless and foolish and I’m going to get myself killed one day by pursuing forbidden knowledge with no regard for the dangers.”

“I’ll admit, the thought crossed my mind.” Xalkory shrugged one shoulder. “I also think your dedication to constantly learning and bettering yourself is both admirable and impressive. Not many Sith would go to such lengths.”

Her rising sense of indignation drained away in a rush. “Well. Thank you. I was raised to always find a way to challenge myself.”

He inclined his head. “Shall we proceed into this possibly haunted domicile? Darth Xyre is expecting you. Also, I think we’re about to get rained on.”

Saryn looked up at the clouds. His assessment seemed accurate. “Very well. Let’s go.”

She started towards the house. Xalkory kept pace beside her.

“You know,” he said, “with all these Dark Council visits you’ve been having, I’m starting to think you may have missed your calling as some sort of diplomat.”

Saryn gave him an incredulous look. “Really?”

“Really. I mean, the fact that you’ve managed to convince Darth Xyre, the Council’s most notoriously reclusive member, to actually meet with you in person…”

“You give me entirely too much credit.” Saryn gingerly made her way up the front steps, which were being slowly strangled by the roots of the vines covering the house. “I am a young Sith with no master and no title. Pherebus and Xyre would not have even deigned to respond to my messages were I not the daughter of the Emperor’s Wrath.”

“And you’re smart enough to use that to your advantage. I think that counts for something.”

“Perhaps. I try not to take my position for granted.” Saryn stopped at the front door. There was no sign of a security panel with which to signal the occupants of her arrival.

The old-fashioned way, then, she thought, and lifted a hand to knock.

Xalkory caught her by the wrist. “Wait. Let me. It could be booby-trapped.”

“First the bit about ghosts, now this. Did someone spike your caf with paranoia juice?”

He smirked down at her. “Just doing my bodyguard-ly duty.”

Saryn raised a brow-ridge in response. “Do get on with it, then. We don’t want to be late.”

Xalkory gave a courtly bow, then rapped sharply on the door. It slid open almost immediately, revealing a vast, empty chamber.

Saryn stepped over the threshold and into the house. Xalkory followed close enough that she could feel his warmth against her back.

“Well,” he murmured, just loud enough for her to hear, “if this is a trap, at least we’ll have room to maneuver.”

They were in a room that looked large enough to hold an entire company of soldiers standing in formation. An ornate chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. Neither it nor any other lights were on, however, leaving the room shrouded in darkness. The space seemed intended for use as some sort of ballroom. Darth Xyre, however, was not known as a host of social functions.

“There are bodies under the floorboards in here,” Xalkory breathed. “I’d bet on it.”

“The floor is stone,” Saryn pointed out. “No boards.”

“Attic, then.”

“Xyre is an assassin, not a serial killer. I doubt she brought her targets home before eliminating them.”

“Welcome.” A hooded figure coalesced out of the shadows. “You are expected. Follow me.”

Saryn and Xalkory exchanged a glance, then followed the figure out of the ballroom and down a winding corridor. There, the hooded Sith opened an old-fashioned wooden door and ushered them into a room before vanishing as abruptly as they had appeared.

In sharp contrast to the shadowy ballroom, this room was small and well-lit. The walls were lined with shelves holding neatly arranged rows of tools and mechanical parts, only a few of which Saryn could identify. Seated at a table in the center of the room was a slight figure in a hooded robe. Physically, this Sith was indistinguishable from the one who had escorted them in, but Saryn could feel their strength in the Force. There was no doubt in her mind that this was Darth Xyre.

Xyre did not look up at her visitors. Her head remained bent over the worktable, hood completely obscuring her face. The sleeves of her robe were rolled up halfway to the elbow to reveal a pair of cybernetic hands, their dark metal components glinting under the room’s bright light. Fingers as spindly as a skeleton’s held a tiny precision tool with which she was deftly manipulating the inner workings of a small device.

Saryn waited for several long moments to be acknowledged, then finally cleared her throat and spoke. “Darth Xyre? I’m Saryn Zaraine. You asked me to meet with you.”

“Technically speaking,” Xyre said without looking up, “you asked to meet with me. I just agreed to it.” Her voice held a noticeable mechanical rasp.

“That is true, my lord.” Saryn hesitated. “Forgive me, I seem to be intruding.”

Xyre picked up the device she was working on with a small pair of pliers and held it out. “You’re not. I’m always working. Always something to be improved.”

She slowly moved the device back and forth, pointing first at Saryn, then at Xalkory, then back to Saryn. The device was small, black, and circular, with a pinpoint of red light at the center.

A cybernetic eye, Saryn realized. Crafted in a traditional Sith style, designed to intimidate rather than imitate life. So she is looking at us.

“I’ve been watching you, Saryn Zaraine.” Xyre made a small gesture with the eye. “I think I know what you’re after. I don’t think you’ll get it, though. Not from me.”

Saryn tensed. “Could you…elaborate, my lord?”

“Drop the title. Save yourself some breath.” Xyre laid the eye back down on the table and resumed tinkering with it. “I don’t get many visitors anymore. Not since I retired from the assassin’s trade and took up politics. I know why you’re here. But I want to hear it from you before I tell you anything. So talk.”

For a woman Pherebus implied was half-mad, she seems remarkably coherent, if eccentric, Saryn noted. All the more reason for me to pursue the answers I came here for. She stood up straighter and clasped her hands behind her back.

“Darth Pherebus told me about the events of the Oricon campaign,” she said briskly. “But I want to hear your version. How did you defeat the Dread Masters?”

“Lightsaber trauma to the vital organs.”

“That’s not quite what I meant.”

“I know.” Xyre gestured to one side, and a small box came floating down from a shelf over to her table. She began rummaging inside. “Some people think the Dread Masters were immortal. I like to remind them that they weren’t. Only the Emperor’s got that kind of power.”

That’s not all they have in common, Saryn thought.

“Now,” Xyre continued, “I know you met with Pherebus. I know she gave you some of her precious data that she collected during the campaign.”

“How—” Saryn started.

“Like I said, I’ve been watching you.” Xyre extracted a miniscule metallic part from the box and inserted it into the cybernetic eye. “Don’t take it personally. I watch everyone. Especially Pherebus. I will say, if you’re trying to replicate the Dread Masters’ methods, you’re going about it the wrong way. That data won’t help you.”

“I don’t want to use their power,” Saryn said quickly as Xalkory gave her a look. “Just to understand it.”

“That’s what Pherebus said, and look what happened to her.”

Saryn frowned. “‘Happened to her?’ I thought Pherebus survived Oricon unscathed.”

“That’s what she wants you to think. Just like she wants you to think that I am barely saner than the Dread Guard. But she’s lying. She always lies. Even to herself.”

“Then tell me the truth,” Saryn urged. “Please. You can trust me.”

Xyre let out a low, metallic laugh. “Trust you? The daughter of the one Sith in the Empire with the authority to kill absolutely anyone she likes? I’ve always wondered if that position’s hereditary.”

Saryn gave an involuntary shudder and hoped desperately that neither Xyre nor Xalkory noticed.

“Still,” Xyre said, “I don’t want to get on Darth A’tro’s bad side. Nor, I think, do I want to be on yours—strong as you are, I’m sure you’ll be on the Council someday. I’d best start getting in good with you now. So here’s the story: the moment we set foot on Oricon, Pherebus started losing her mind. Not entirely her fault; she shielded our soldiers from the Dread Masters’ corruption, so they targeted her.”

“She implied as much when I spoke with her.”

“Mhm. And I’m sure she didn’t tell you that in the end…they got to her.”

“Well, that sounds very, very not good,” Xalkory muttered.

“When we confronted the Dread Masters in their fortress, they asked Pherebus to join them,” Xyre said flatly. “And she accepted. She turned on our strike team and attacked us. I was the only survivor.”

“What?” Xalkory exclaimed. “I’ve never heard that—you didn’t tell the Dark Council, did you? Why would you omit such a thing from your report? If Pherebus is a Dread Master—”

Xyre cut him off. “Pherebus is not a Dread Master. When the last of that lot died, their hold on Oricon wavered. Pherebus returned to her senses, dragged me out of the fortress and back to the fleet, and gave the order for orbital bombardment.”

“To keep the Masters’ power from ever being used to wreak havoc again,” Saryn murmured, “or to cover up what she’d done?”

“Exactly.” Xyre laid down her tools and held up the eye to look at Saryn. “The mind is a curious thing. Pherebus might be fine. Or one day, she might not be. There’s no way to know. So I watch her.”

“That’s a considerable gamble to take with the Empire’s safety,” Xalkory snapped. “Why not just eliminate her and be done with it? If even some of what they say about your skills as an assassin are true, it should be easy.”

Xyre swiveled the eye towards him. “Don’t get uppity with me, boy. I may not require you to grovel at my feet, but I’m still a member of the Dark Council and you will address me with respect.”

Xalkory bowed deeply. “I apologize, my lord. I overstepped.” His tone was cool, but Saryn could see clenched muscles interlaid between the ridges on the side of his face.

“You’re underestimating Pherebus, you know.” Xyre turned away from them, lifting the cybernetic eye up under her hood. “She withstood the Dread Masters for a long time. She’s extremely powerful. Could I kill her? Maybe. But it’s a big maybe. Besides, contrary to the precedent set by your master, Dark Council members aren’t supposed to just up and murder each other.”

“What about the Emperor’s Wrath?” Xalkory asked with a significant look at Saryn.

There was a muffled click. Xyre turned back towards them, raising her head just enough for Saryn to see two points of red light casting a faint glow against metal in the shadow of her hood. “Pherebus is no threat to the Emperor. Not worth his notice.”

“Lord Xyre,” Saryn said, trying to steer the conversation back towards its intended purpose, “you told me earlier that I would not get what I was looking for from you. I was wondering if you could explain that?”

Xyre folded her metal hands together on the table in front of her. “Pherebus’ data is only a piece of the puzzle. The influence the Dread Masters exerted over their followers was only a fraction of the threat they posed. The true danger came from artifacts called the Seeds of Rage, which they used to sow corruption across a dozen planets.”

“I’ve never heard of any such artifacts, nor their usage by the Dread Masters,” Saryn said suspiciously.

“The Masters’ servants stole them from a vault entrusted to the Sphere of Technology by the Emperor himself. My predecessor on the Council, Darth Acina, dispatched me to recover the Seeds before they could do any real damage. I was successful, but Darth Nox still killed Acina for letting the Dread Masters get their hands on them in the first place.” Xyre shook her head. “A waste. Not that I’m not grateful for the promotion.”

Saryn’s eyes narrowed. “So you’re saying that the Dread Masters themselves weren’t the real threat?”

“Precisely. The Seeds of Rage would have devastated the galaxy even if the Masters themselves had died halfway through the process. I’d tell you to go study them instead of Pherebus’ data, but they’d probably drive you mad. And then your mother would kill me.”

“I see.” A frown settled on Saryn’s brow as her brain took off in a frenzy of calculations and reconsiderations. “I was unaware of this information. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

Xyre leaned back in her chair. “You still haven’t told me why you’re so interested in the Dread Masters. Why not let the ghosts of Oricon lie? Surely there are less volatile powers a young Sith like yourself could take an interest in.”

“The Dread Masters were unique,” Saryn said. “I find that intriguing.”

“Curiosity killed the vine cat.”

“How fortunate that I am not a vine cat, then.”

Xalkory gave a quiet cough that might have been covering a snicker.

“Indeed.” Xyre lifted a hand, and the parts and tools scattered across her worktable began arranging themselves into orderly rows. “I have seen a shadow fall over the Emperor’s Wrath, a shadow that only grows longer with time. I know better than to look for what casts it.”

“I think that is for the best,” Saryn said softly.

“Perhaps you should follow your own advice, then.”

Saryn stiffened. “I can’t do that.”

“Then your fate rests in your own hands. I wish you luck.” Xyre pointed to the door. “You may go.”

“What of the price for this meeting?” Saryn asked. “There must be something you want from me in return.”

Xyre shook her head. “I meditated for a long time before agreeing to see you. I believe it is the will of the Force that I share this information. I’m sure in the long run it’ll come back to benefit me somehow.”

“I’m very grateful,” Saryn said.

“I’m sure you are.” Xyre flexed her clawlike fingers in a wave. “When the time comes to choose sides, I'll be on the winning one. I hope you are, too. Good day.”

Saryn bowed and left, Xalkory following close behind.

They exited the house to find it was raining hard. Saryn squared her shoulders and struck out resolutely through the downpour, ignoring the thick droplets that quickly plastered her hair to her scalp and turned her braid into a waterlogged lump.

“That was…interesting,” Xalkory commented.

“That it was,” Saryn said grimly.

“Do you believe what she said about Darth Pherebus?”

“Do you?”

“Maybe. I’ll have to inform Nox of the potential threat.”

“I’m not certain that’s a good idea. We have no evidence save Xyre’s word that Pherebus could become dangerous.”

“All Sith Lords are dangerous,” Xalkory pointed out. “Even if it turns out that Xyre was lying, it can’t hurt to have Intelligence keep a closer eye on Pherebus. Just in case.”

“I suppose there’s no harm in that.”

A thunderclap drowned out Xalkory’s next words. Saryn peered over at him through the rain. “Pardon?”

“I said, what was that about a shadow being cast over your mother?”

“Oh. That.” Xyre knows about the Emperor’s hold on Mother. She must be able to feel it somehow—her cybernetics, perhaps? “I’m not sure what she meant by it.”

“Saryn, I’m getting the sense that you’re not being entirely honest with me.”

“Of course I’m not being honest with you.” Saryn gritted her teeth and blinked rain out of her eyes. “There are…forces at work that you don’t know about. But it’s my affair and I will handle it myself.”

“I don’t doubt your capabilities. I only wish to offer my help, if you’ll have it.”

Saryn gave him a sidelong glance. “That’s going a bit beyond the scope of what Nox assigned you to do for me, isn’t it?”

“Nox doesn’t own me,” Xalkory said tartly. “I can do what I wish. And I get the sense that helping you with these ‘forces at work’ might be extremely important.”

“I will consider your offer. That’s all I can say right now.” Saryn thought for a moment. “If you truly wish to be helpful, you can start by securing transportation to Vaiken Spacedock. For both of us, since I assume you’ll want to continue guarding me from Angral’s nonexistent assassins.”

“You assume correctly. I’ll arrange it.” He arched a brow at her, ignoring the rain dripping off his facial ridges. “Dare I ask why?”

“Xyre’s information has given me much to think about. I need time to process and distance myself from my research until I’ve figured a few things out.”

“You could do that here.”

“I could.” Saryn smiled. “But I haven’t seen my father in months, and I think it’s time I changed that. So arrange that transport. We’re going to visit Grand Moff Quinn.”
There's always lightning.

bright_ephemera's Avatar


bright_ephemera
07.03.2018 , 04:08 PM | #166
Lookit me, getting to communicate on the official forums!

That assassin vs. serial killer thing was a wonderful moment.

Xyre is just the right level of "wait, how much does she know?" I certainly didn't expect her rendition of Oricon.

I feel bad for Xalkory trying to maintain something of a grip on much of anything. Some major currents going on here.

Delighted by the update
the Short Fic Weekly Challenge - 100+ authors to date. 2600+ stories. New prompts weekly!
Bright's Fanfic Threads
---(Ceterum autem censeo, Malavai esse delendam.)--- DELETA MALAVAI EST

Vesaniae's Avatar


Vesaniae
12.14.2018 , 03:23 PM | #167
five months entirely too late Thank you, Bright, for your comment

And now we continue!


Sixty
Aboard Imperial warship Vindication, Vaiken Spacedock
35 ATC




Saryn twisted the end of her braid between her fingers until the silky black hair was wound into a single tight strand, then let it go and repeated the process. The level indicator above the turbolift doors rose one number at a time. It seemed terribly slow. Maybe it was malfunctioning. She wondered if she should call maintenance, have them run some diagnostics.

Xalkory, standing beside her, gave her a curious look. “Are you nervous?”

“What? No.”

“Are you sure? You seem unusually on edge.”

“I’m not nervous.” Saryn started winding up the end of her braid again, then realized what she was doing and dropped it. “Why would I be nervous?”

“Far be it from me to make that kind of presumption.”

“I’m not nervous about seeing my father,” Saryn said defensively. She looked away from Xalkory back to the turbolift level readout. “Just…a little tense, I suppose. For other reasons.”

The turbolift doors opened. Saryn stepped out into the corridor, Xalkory following in his usual position just behind her.

“This place seems unusually busy,” he observed. “The whole fleet does. Because of Angral, I expect.”

“Yes. Father likes to be prepared for any eventuality.”

“Something the two of you have in common.”

“I take pride in being like him.” Saryn stopped in front of the door to her father’s office and fixed Xalkory with her most determined expression. “Now. I am going in, and you will wait outside.”

He inclined his head. “Very well.”

“You’re not going to argue? Tell me that you have to be within two meters at all times for my own protection?”

“I doubt you’re in any danger from your own father. I certainly won’t deny you a private conversation.” Xalkory smiled. “And if an assassin happens to appear in the corridor, then I’ll stop them right here.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” Xalkory leaned with too-deliberate casualness against the nearest wall. “I’ll let you get to it.”

Saryn gave him a nod, then headed inside.

Malavai Quinn’s office was unusually small given his rank. Saryn knew he felt a grandiose audience chamber was a waste of space, especially on a starship, and had selected a cabin accordingly. Two Imperial banners on the far wall were the only decoration, and a desk and chair were the only furniture. The desk held a few datapads, stacked with meticulous precision, and a small, framed holoportrait facing away from the door that Saryn knew to be a picture of her mother.

The man himself looked up as Saryn entered. To her, he was the model upon which all Imperial commanders should be based: as regal as any Sith in his Grand Moff’s uniform, as dignified as a monument in his demeanor. Age had etched grim lines onto his face and sent a steady march of gray through his hair from the temples on up. Saryn remembered A’tro gently teasing him about it at the last event they’d attended together as a family, using that soft and playful tone of voice she reserved just for him.

At the time, Saryn had made a loud joke about flirting in front of their daughter and made a show of embarrassment. Now, she wished she’d let them have their moment.

“Hello, Father,” Saryn said.

Quinn’s eyes, the same blue as her own, widened in surprise. “Saryn? This is unexpected.”

“It was something of a spontaneous decision. I wanted to surprise you.” She paused and bit her lip. “If you’re busy, I can come back.”

“No, no, it’s quite all right. I’m happy to see you.” Quinn set down the datapad he’d been holding. “I was just reviewing a report from the Second Fleet. It can wait.”

Saryn walked over to his desk and perched herself on the edge. “How are you?”

“I’ve been preoccupied with ensuring that our forces are prepared to move against Darth Angral should the Dark Council deem it necessary.”

It wasn’t an answer to her question, but she hadn’t really expected one. “And how are those preparations coming, if I may ask?”

“Well enough. I’ve identified a few weak points in our operational methods that need to be corrected, but overall I am reasonably satisfied with the state of things.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“And you, my dear?” The lines on Quinn’s face seemed unaccustomed to smiling. “How are you faring?”

Saryn shrugged one shoulder. “Darth Nox is convinced that I’m a potential target for Angral’s wrath, so she’s assigned her apprentice to me as a bodyguard until he’s been dealt with.”

“Her apprentice?” Quinn raised an eyebrow. “The Kaleesh?”

“No, the Pureblood. Xalkory Arenthe.” Saryn gestured towards the door. “I made him wait outside.”

“I see.” Quinn’s eyebrow remained raised. “How courteous of Nox to go to such lengths to ensure your safety.”

“You sound skeptical.”

Quinn frowned. “It’s not my place to speculate on a Dark Council member’s motives.”

“No, it’s not your place to talk about it. But you are speculating. Everyone does.” Saryn leaned towards him. “I know you don’t trust Nox. You never have. Which is wise, I think, but I also think that her intentions are ultimately in line with the Empire’s best interests.”

“Convenient, then, that what is best for the Empire and what is best for Nox are often one and the same.”

“Are you suggesting that someday those goals might differ?”

“I don’t know. I prefer not to hypothesize without sufficient data.” Quinn shook his head. “But never mind that. I know I don’t have to tell you to be careful with Nox’s apprentice.”

“He’s been fairly helpful, actually,” Saryn admitted. “But I know better than to trust him with too much information.”

“Of course.”

Silence fell. Saryn resisted the urge to kick her dangling legs. She knew that asking the question she wanted to ask would likely be a mistake, but…

“Have you heard from Mother?” she asked.

Quinn’s expression did not change. “No.”

“Have you tried to contact her yourself?”

“No.”

“Don’t you miss her?”

“Of course I do,” Quinn said softly. “But the last thing I want is to make this more difficult for her.”

“She cast you aside after more than twenty years together and you’re concerned about her feelings?”

“Yes.” Quinn frowned. “And I wish that you would do the same.”

“Me? What do you mean?”

“Saryn, you have done nothing but fight against this since it occurred.”

“Of course I’m fighting against it!” Saryn snapped. “Mother is making a mistake! She needs you. You need her. You’re stronger together. But apparently, I’m the only one who is capable of seeing that!”

Quinn sighed. “Your mother has made a great personal sacrifice. There is no doubt in my mind that it pained her to make that choice, and it doubtless pains her now. But she did what she believed to be right, and we owe it to her to respect that decision.”

“Even when she’s wrong?”

“I don’t believe she is.”

“You think she should be trying to bear all of this alone?”

“Do not mistake my meaning. I would give anything to be at her side right now. But…” Quinn bowed his head. “I still remember when she returned from her first meeting with—with her master. When she told me what he’d done to her, what he could still do… I had never seen her like that before. Shaken. Ashamed. And afraid—not for herself, but for those she cared for. I knew in that moment that it was only a matter of time before she would have to walk away for our protection.”

“And you just accepted that?”

“I have no other choice.”

There was pain in his voice, a sense of defeat that Saryn had never witnessed from him. It chilled her. “I don’t think I could live like that.”

“You are Sith, my dear. You don’t have to.”

“I know. I’ve been trying to find a way to fix this.”

“Fix it? How?”

“Well, it seems to me that the most immediate threat here is the, ah, the influence that Mother is presently under. I’ve been conducting extensive research to better understand the nature of that influence with the ultimate objective of finding a way to block or reverse it.” She swallowed hard. “I thought I was close to a breakthrough, but it seems that I—I was wrong.”

It hurt to say the words, to admit defeat. To be wrong… She was Saryn Zaraine: seer, sorceress, prodigy. She was supposed to brilliant. She wasn’t supposed to ever be wrong. She had a legacy to live up to. Being wrong wasn’t a part of that.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“All that effort, wasted. I was so certain.” She hung her head. “Now I suppose I have to find another way. If there is another way short of eliminating the problem at its source, which may not even be possible.”

“Be careful what you say,” Quinn said sharply. “And be extremely careful with this research. If anyone were to learn what you intend… I can’t lose both of you.”

Pain welled up in Saryn’s chest, constricting her lungs and throat. “Don’t talk about Mother like she’s already gone.”

“I admire your resolve, but—”

“But what?” Saryn slid off the desk to stand on the floor. Her self-control burned away in a white-hot flash of defiance and she slammed her hands down on the edge of the desk. “I’m not going to just give up and let that monster take my mother away from me! I’ll fight him myself if that’s what it takes!”

One of the light strips on the wall behind Quinn shattered. Saryn clutched at the edge of the desk, gasping for breath. Her eyes burned; she blinked, and two droplets of liquid splashed on the desk’s polished surface.

In her blurred peripheral vision, she saw her father leave his chair and move around to stand beside her and put a hand on her trembling shoulders.

“It was not my intention to upset you,” he said quietly.

Her lower lip quivered. “I’m sorry about the light.”

“It’s replaceable. You, however…”

Saryn turned towards him and flung her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. He held her tightly as she made a final, valiant effort to keep her emotions in line, then surrendered to their irrevocable pull and began crying softly.

“I didn’t meant to get so angry,” she choked. “I’m just so afraid Mother’s going to die.”

“I know,” Quinn murmured. “So am I.”

“I’ve wasted so much time. I should have known—I’m such a fool.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself. I can think of no one else who would even attempt such a thing.”

“Maybe it can’t be done.”

“Maybe it can’t. But I know you, and I know you will fight until the very end.” Quinn’s voice grew quieter. “It is a quality that you and A’tro share.”

Saryn only whimpered in response and let herself continue clinging to him as if she were still the little girl who would awaken in the night from dreams of blood and death and go running into her parents’ room for comfort. She was not that girl anymore; the nightmares of familiar corpses could not be dispelled by the knowledge that they had not come to pass at that particular moment. Each vision only added to the odds stacked against her family, a tremulous tower of evaded fate that had to someday come crashing down.

She hid in her father’s embrace, his cord of rank digging uncomfortably into her cheek, and let herself cry a while longer for the mother she felt she had already lost. Then she drew in a deep breath, mustered her formidable will, and imposed calm upon her racing mind, because no matter how hopeless it seemed, the fact remained that A’tro was not lost yet.

The future was a fractal of every being’s choices.

A million in one chance was still a chance.

She slowly raised her head. Her voice emerged scratchily, but steady. “I have to start again from the beginning, I suppose. Reassess my approach to the problem.”

“That’s my singularly brilliant daughter.” Quinn squeezed her tightly, then let go and stepped back.

Saryn smiled weakly and dried her eyes. “I don’t think I’ve done anything to warrant that kind of compliment.”

“I thought I told you not to be so hard on yourself.”

“I can always do better. You taught me that.”

“That is true,” Quinn acknowledged, “but take care not to push yourself past your limits. Your family and your Empire need you now more than ever.”

“I fear I’ve neglected the latter in favor of the former.”

“I believe the two are more intertwined than you think. Still, since you’ve mentioned it, I may have an opportunity for you. Perhaps a diversion from your research would help you reexamine the problem.”

Saryn hesitated. “I don’t know if—well—actually, yes. Yes, I think something to take my mind off this would be a good idea. Just for a little while, to refresh.”

“Then I can offer you something else to occupy your thoughts.” Quinn’s tone lost its gentleness and became businesslike. “A warship patrolling near the Unknown Regions dropped out of contact. I need someone to locate that ship and discover what’s happened.”

Saryn latched onto the new puzzle. “Could Angral’s forces have destroyed it?”

“Theoretically possible, but unlikely. The latest intel shows Angral almost halfway across the galaxy from the ship’s last known location.”

“Hmm. And you want me to investigate this?”

“Correct. I’d like to handle this with some discretion.”

Saryn raised a brow-ridge. “You’d send me off into a situation with this many unknown variables? Potentially risk my life?”

“I know what you’re capable of. Holding you back to assuage my own anxieties would do you no favors. Besides,” Quinn added, nodding towards the door, “I assume your ‘bodyguard’ will be accompanying you if you choose to go.”

“No doubt he will, yes. He seems to be taking this assignment very seriously.”

“As he should.”

“You’re not going to get all protective, are you?” Saryn asked dubiously. “Tell Xalkory his intentions had better be honorable, threaten him, that sort of thing?”

Quinn raised an eyebrow. “Have I ever done that?”

“Well, no. But Mother’s not here to do it, so I thought you might feel the need to take matters into your own hands.”

“Far be it from me to do her job for her. You seem to have a positive opinion of Xalkory, however, so that is good enough for me.”

Saryn smiled. “I appreciate your faith in me.”

“If you weren’t Sith, I might feel differently,” Quinn admitted. “But I’ve seen firsthand how capable you are of assessing a threat—and dealing with it.”

“It’s settled, then,” Saryn said briskly. “If you would be so kind as to lend me a vessel of some sort, I’ll go investigate this missing ship.”

“I’ll send the full briefing to your personal datapad and notify the hangar to have a shuttle ready for you.”

“I won’t waste any more time, then. I’ve probably already kept you from your duties for too long.”

“Getting to see you is well worth the temporary loss in productivity.” Quinn returned to his chair. “Take care, my dear. Contact me as soon as you’ve learned anything.”

“Yes, Father. Take care of yourself as well.” She turned and started towards the door.

“Saryn?”

She turned back. “Something else?”

“If…” Quinn hesitated for a long moment, looking at the framed picture on his desk. “If you should happen to see your mother, tell her…” He stopped short, then sighed. “Never mind. Best not to add to her worries.”

“If I see her,” Saryn said quietly, “I will tell her that we both love her and we stand ready if she needs us.”

Quinn nodded and busied himself with his computer. Saryn smiled fondly at him even though he wasn’t looking and exited the room.

Outside in the corridor, she found Xalkory still leaning against the wall looking the image of nonchalance. He straightened up when he saw her, brushing invisible dust off one shoulder of his armor.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Saryn frowned. “Yes, I’m fine. Why do you ask?” Inwardly, she scolded herself for not checking in a reflective surface to make sure there were no visible signs of her little breakdown. She braced herself for him to bring it up.

“No reason,” Xalkory said smoothly. “So. What now?”

“Father asked me to investigate a missing Imperial warship near the Unknown Regions. I plan to leave immediately. I assume you’ll be tagging along?”

“You assume correctly.” One corner of his mouth curved upwards. “Think we’ll see any action?”

“I have no idea. I wouldn’t mind if we did, though.”

“And I wouldn’t mind seeing how you fight.” His smirk widened. “Since you refuse to spar with me.”

Saryn twirled the end of her braid around one finger. “I fight with dark powers beyond your comprehension,” she said loftily. “If we sparred, I’d likely kill you.”

“You think I can’t hold my own against Sith sorcery?” Xalkory chuckled. “I might surprise you.”

“I’m a seer. Nothing surprises me.”

“Oh? Have your visions shown you the outcome of a sparring match between us, then?”

“That would be telling,” she said in her most mysterious voice.

“Oh, come on, that’s beyond transparent. You don’t actually know, do you?”

Saryn grinned at him. “Come on. We have a shuttle to catch.” She started to walk past him, reaching out to pat him on the arm as she went.

The contact sent a shock up her arm and into her head. Twin fusion reactions of pain spiked into her eyes. For a second that lasted eternity, she drew in a breath, trying to push back against the molten power welling up through her brain.

Her emotions were still raw, however, and her self-control was too tenuous. Her vision blurred—Xalkory standing beside her became Xalkory lying at her feet, white armor charred black, violet sparks dancing briefly over him before flickering out. She could smell ozone and blood. She could hear him breathing, hoarse and defiant.

He lifted his head and met her eyes. “Saryn…”

She returned to reality with a jolt that resonated through her head and down her spine. The power ebbed, dragging at her like a receding tide. She stumbled in mid-step, but quickly caught herself.

“Saryn?” Xalkory asked—the real Xalkory, the here and now Xalkory, with armor still intact.

She grimaced, half from the lingering pain, half from embarrassment. “Sorry. I’m all right.”

“Your eyes started glowing red.” He sounded genuinely concerned.

“Physical contact sometimes triggers my power if I’m not careful. It’s my own fault.”

Xalkory frowned. “That was a vision, then?”

She nodded. “Just a brief flash. Usually I see a few different things; this was just one scene.”

“Dare I ask what it was?”

“Nothing galaxy-shattering. Just you, actually. Dying, I think.”

Xalkory’s eyes widened. “Forgive me if I find that prospect rather galaxy-shattering after all.”

“I really wouldn’t worry. Over the years, I have seen many people die in many different ways, and only a handful have ever actually come to pass.”

“Right,” Xalkory said dubiously. “I—I’ll just try not to think about it, then.”

“That’s probably a good idea. And try to stay clear of Force lightning, I suppose.”

“Stay clear of—you do realize who I work for, right?”

Saryn shrugged apologetically. “I’m just the messenger.”

“Of course,” Xalkory sighed. “Let’s go get that shuttle.”

Saryn nodded in agreement and led the way down the corridor, trying to ignore the sense of unease whispering in the corners of her mind. She replayed the vision in her memory: Xalkory, gravely wounded, most likely from battle with another Sith.

And he’d said her name. That part unnerved her the most. She had never been directly addressed in a vision before. Logically, she knew he hadn’t been speaking to her—not present her, anyway—but the implications remained disturbing. For all her talk of visions rarely coming to pass, it still meant that there was a chance that she would be present at his death. It could be soon.

It could even be that she would be the one to kill him.

She shivered in spite of herself and walked faster. There were too many unknowns. She had to focus on the present. Her father had given her a mission, and she would carry it out to the best of her ability. That, for the time being, was all that mattered.

And she would continue to refrain from sparring with Xalkory. Best for him not to know the full extent of her capabilities.

Just in case.
There's always lightning.

Kitar's Avatar


Kitar
12.16.2018 , 08:05 AM | #168
Oh good! A new chapter. I was quite happy to see it. I look forward to another one and just in case it takes awhile. *pulls up a comphy chair*
Spoiler

bright_ephemera's Avatar


bright_ephemera
12.21.2018 , 07:51 PM | #169
Aw, Dad!Quinn. Unflinchingly pragmatic, but also kind when he wants to be.
the Short Fic Weekly Challenge - 100+ authors to date. 2600+ stories. New prompts weekly!
Bright's Fanfic Threads
---(Ceterum autem censeo, Malavai esse delendam.)--- DELETA MALAVAI EST

Vesaniae's Avatar


Vesaniae
01.11.2019 , 06:54 PM | #170
Quote: Originally Posted by Kitar View Post
Oh good! A new chapter. I was quite happy to see it. I look forward to another one and just in case it takes awhile. *pulls up a comphy chair*
Spoiler
Less of a wait than usual! Yay!
Quote: Originally Posted by bright_ephemera View Post
Aw, Dad!Quinn. Unflinchingly pragmatic, but also kind when he wants to be.
Dad!Quinn was certainly an interesting concept to try to wrap my head around. Writing him was pretty fun, as it turned out.

Sixty-One
Abandoned Mining Facility
35 ATC



Despite his best efforts, Rhys found himself glancing nervously at Kira at regular intervals as they left the ship and made their way down a dimly lit corridor. She had barely said a word to him since Nar Shaddaa.

It pained him. They had been doing so well together, maybe even starting to become friends. And then, in a matter of moments, it had all gone wrong.

She’d made her disapproval clear. But what other choice had he had? The memory of taking Galen’s life pained him, but it was what the man had wanted, and now he was at peace.

It wasn’t murder, Rhys told himself stubbornly. It was an act of mercy. It was what he wanted.

Kira didn’t see it that way, though.

Enough, he resolved. I won’t go over it anymore. It’s already done. Besides, who knows what kind of situation we’re about to walk into? I can’t let myself be distracted.

He needed to make amends. Somehow. If it wasn’t already too late.

Rhys was still deliberating over how best to initiate a safe, casual conversation when Kira broke the silence.

“Sense anything?” she asked.

Rhys slowed his pace and let his eyes fall half-closed, questing outward with the Force. A moment later, he returned to the present with a frown. “I’m not sure. There might be something up ahead, but I can’t quite make out what it is, or who, or how many.”

“That’s not like you,” Kira noted. “Back on Taris you pinpointed that Imperial base from—I don’t even know how far away.”

“Something’s different here. There’s something…foggy about this place.” Rhys looked around and shivered. “I wonder why it was abandoned?”

“I’m sure they just depleted the mine and packed up and left and everything was fine,” Kira said unconvincingly.

A sense of foreboding began to press on Rhys. “I hope the facility hasn’t become too run-down since it was last manned. Equipment failure in a mining station like this tends to be—well, let’s just say it’s not good.”

“That’s right, you grew up on one of these.” The look of sympathy Kira gave him was the warmest she’d been towards him in some time. “If this is bringing back any memories, I hope they’re not unpleasant.”

Rhys shook his head. “Nothing. Just as well.”

“Probably,” Kira murmured, then lapsed into an uneasy silence.

They reached the end of the corridor to find the doorway leading into the next room closed and locked. Rhys tried the controls, found them nonfunctional, and resorted to ripping the entire door out of its frame with a burst of telekinesis—a more extreme approach than necessary, but the effort relieved some of his tension. He half-expected Kira to make some jab at him for showing off, but she stayed quiet.

She did have the good graces to look impressed, however, which made his day inexplicably brighter.

That sense of warmth quickly faded as they passed through the doorway into a hangar. The exterior doors were open, a shimmering forcefield keeping the vacuum of space at bay. Hoses and fuel canisters were lined up neatly beside each landing zone demarcated on the floor. A handful of hauler droids, deactivated and limned with rust, waited by a freight turbolift for a cargo that would never arrive.

In the center of the hangar, an Imperial shuttle crouched sleek and shining amidst the decaying equipment. A blond human man dressed in elegant civilian clothes stood a short distance in front of it, hands clasped together in front of him. Rhys might have taken him for a noble or a diplomat were it not for the Force that he could sense within him.

This was definitely not Admiral Hacklin.

“Greetings,” the man called out in a smooth, Imperial-accented voice as they approached. “Your quick response is appreciated.” He gave a polite bow. “I am Valis. Please forgive the deception; Admiral Hacklin remains Darth Angral’s faithful servant. His name merely served to expedite this meeting.”

“Hello, Valis,” Rhys said. He kept his hands close to his lightsabers, but did not draw them. “As ruses go, this is respectably elaborate. Might I assume that you’re here to collect my head for Angral?”

“A reasonable assumption to make.” Valis smiled pleasantly. “And an incorrect one, I’m afraid.”

“Rhysven,” Kira said tightly from beside him, “I know you like to talk philosophy with the Imperials, but could we maybe skip that step, just this once? I have a really bad feeling about this guy.”

Rhys looked over and found her staring at Valis with eyes like a sky before a storm. The hilt of her lightsaber quivered in her hand as she held it in a grip that was probably white-knuckled under her glove. He had never seen her like this, so devoid of her usual humor. It was like looking at a stranger.

Unbidden, his mind returned to Nar Shaddaa. I thought I knew you, she’d said quietly as Galen’s body fell to the floor. Maybe I was wrong.

Was this how she’d felt, seeing him in that moment?

“Kira,” he said. He tried to sound calm, patient, wise, as a Knight speaking to a Padawan should. “Let’s not do anything rash.”

“He’s a Sith,” Kira snapped. “We have to kill him before he kills us.”

“Now, now, Kira,” Valis said, shaking his head. He spread his hands entreatingly. “Is that any way to talk about your family?”

Kira’s lightsaber blazed to life. “Don’t. You. Dare.”

“What?” Rhys looked from Kira to Valis and back, trying to see a resemblance, and found none. “Family? Kira, do you know this man?”

“He’s trying to confuse you,” Kira said quickly—too quickly. “Typical Sith tactics—I told you I had a bad feeling—”

“I am not the one trying to deceive you, Jedi,” Valis broke in. “In fact, I orchestrated your arrival for the purpose of revealing information. You see, your Padawan isn’t who you think she is—and she is certainly not a Jedi.”

“Shut up!” Kira shouted. She leaped for Valis, lightsaber flashing.

He dodged at the last moment, stepping out of the way with unnatural speed, and drew a lightsaber of his own. “Such aggression. Such anger...and, dare I say, hatred?”

Kira cried out wordlessly and slashed at him. Valis parried one-handed, his smile never wavering.

“Kira,” he said, looking at Rhys, “is like me: a Child of the Emperor. Chosen at birth to serve his glory, infused with his own great power.”

Rhys’ breath caught in his throat. Kira, a Sith? Clever, witty Kira, who had a quip for every situation, who always tried to do the right thing? And no ordinary Sith, but one who’d been chosen by the Emperor himself? The two concepts were antithetical. It couldn’t be.

He said the only thing he could. “Kira, is this true?”

He waited for her to deny it, to smile her wry smile and say something to put his mind at ease. But instead she bowed her head, lowered her lightsaber, and whispered, “Yes.”

Valis settled himself into the opening stance of the Makashi lightsaber form. “You see, she confirms it. You need not linger here, Jedi; I have no quarrel with you. You may return to your ship and be about your business. I’m sure you’re on quite a tight schedule.”

Rhys frowned. “What are you planning to do with Kira?”

“Why, bring her home to our father, of course. He’s seen her now, thanks to your little brush with Darth Angral, and he wants her back.”

“Rhysven, please,” Kira said. “I hid this from you, it’s true, but I swear, my loyalty is to the Jedi and the Republic. I’m not a Sith and I’m sure as hell not going anywhere with this creep!” She looked at Rhys. “You know me. You can trust me. Don’t let him turn you against me.”

“Every minute you waste standing here is a minute given to Darth Angral to move against the Republic unhindered,” Valis said coolly. “This is a family matter. Leave us to settle it.”

“Kira…” Rhys started. Whatever words he meant to come next got lost between his brain and his mouth. It was all happening too fast for him to process—if he could only stop time and [i]think[i] about it for a while—

Kira gave him one last look, then shook her head and returned her full attention to Valis. “I’m not going with you,” she said calmly. “I’d rather die.”

Valis shrugged one shoulder. “So be it…sister.”

He attacked. Kira parried. Sparks flew as their blades clashed together, then Valis disengaged, directing a lightning-fast jab towards Kira’s left shoulder. His saber stopped halfway to its mark as Rhys leaped across the space between them and intercepted the strike with his own green and gold weapons.

“You know,” Kira murmured, “I could have blocked that.”

“You should have left when you had the chance!” Valis snarled. Force lightning crackled in his off hand.

“We can talk about this later,” Rhys said firmly, and moved to attack.

Thinking and processing could wait. For the moment, a friend was in trouble, and that was all that mattered.

Some time later, Valis’ body hit the floor and did not move again. Kira deactivated her lightsaber and exhaled heavily, her entire body sagging with the motion.

“I thought,” she said hoarsely, then cleared her throat and tried again. “I was starting to think you were going to walk away. Nice to be wrong.”

“You obviously didn’t want to go with him. I couldn’t just stand by.”

“Well...thank you.” Kira looked down at Valis’ still form and shuddered. “I, uh, I think I owe you an explanation, but can it wait until we get back to the ship? I’m feeling a strong need to be away from this place.”

“Agreed,” Rhys said tersely, and set off back out of the hangar.

The sound of his ship’s hatch sealing behind him filled Rhys with an inexplicable sense of relief. He’d dubbed the vessel Mistchaser, after the feeling that they were constantly pursuing an uncatchable enemy had started to get to him one day. It was starting to feel like a sanctuary of sorts, a place where even that intangible foe couldn’t get him. Maybe that was what home was, more or less.

But now there was a shadow in the heart of that sanctuary.

“So,” Kira said. “Should we...go sit down? I don’t know how long it’ll take to explain—you probably have a lot of questions.”

Rhys found the wall immediately behind her to be quite interesting. “We shouldn’t just sit here. I need to check in with Var Suthra, decide our next move.”

“Ah. Yeah.” Kira made to tuck a lock of hair behind one ear only to find that it was already there. “Would it be too much for ask for us to go to Tython? I think the Jedi Council needs to know about this.”

“You’ve been keeping this a secret from them for years. Are you sure you’re ready to tell them now?”

“I’m tired of secrets,” Kira said fiercely. The fire drained out of her as rapidly as it had appeared. “I’d just… I hoped I’d have more time to prove myself as a Jedi first.”

Rhys, not knowing what to say, settled for a nod that he hoped came across as understanding and fled to the holoterminal to call Var Suthra.

He made his excuses to the general, then set the Mistchaser on a course for Tython. As stars blurred into hyperspace’s whirl, he lingered on the bridge, staring out the viewport.

You’re stalling, his mind whispered.

He reached out with the Force. Kira’s presence was as bright as always on the lower deck. He knew he should go talk to her. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe her story or her loyalties. He’d been working with her long enough to have seen for himself how dedicated she was to the light and the Jedi.

But what do I say to her?

Anything,
he told himself, and left the bridge.

As his senses had indicated, Kira was meditating in the cargo hold. She looked up as he approached, lifting a hand in a small, lackluster wave. “Hey.”

Rhys seated himself on the floor in front of her. “How are you doing?”

“Could be better.” She shrugged. “Could be worse, too. Thanks again for having my back.”

“I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I wasn’t going to help.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kira said firmly. “Now, I, uh…you probably have questions.”

Rhys hesitated, then dove in. “Is the Emperor really…?”

“My father? No, thank the stars.” Kira shuddered. “The title ‘Child of the Emperor’ isn’t literal. I was taken from my real parents when I was a baby. Raised in the Sith Academy with others like Valis.”

“For what purpose?”

“We were trained to kill Jedi, other—stuff. You can imagine.” Kira looked off into the distance. “I’ve heard people talk about how the Empire is so different now. The Dark Council has made so many reforms; Sith can’t do awful things without consequences anymore! It’s so great!” The scar on her face twisted with her expression. “Clearly, the Emperor missed that memo.”

“I’m sorry,” Rhys said, not knowing what else to say. “I can’t imagine what that must have been like.”

“Oh, it gets worse.” Kira smiled mirthlessly. “Children would periodically get taken to see our ‘father.’ They’d come back different. Nobody ever remembered meeting him. And then one day, I realized I couldn’t remember anything from the past week.”

“They’d taken you as well?”

Kira nodded. “Once I realized what was happening, I knew I had to escape. So I stowed away on a supply shuttle. I was still a kid, not hard to hide. Lived in lots of nasty places until I met Master Kiwiiks.” Her voice softened. “She brought me to the Jedi. Changed my life.”

“That’s… Kira, I…” Rhys floundered. “I’m amazed that you managed to escape.”

“I got lucky. The other Children—the older Children—they were different. As if every time they were exposed to the Emperor, who they were got eroded away more and more until nothing was left but him.” Kira’s voice dropped to just above a whisper. “I had to get out before that happened to me.”

“You said Master Kiwiiks found you. Does she know about your past?”

Kira shook her head. “How would I even bring it up? ‘By the way, I was born a Sith.’”

“Sith have become Jedi before,” Rhys pointed out.

“Sure, but this is different. I—I don’t—” Kira looked down at the floor. “I think I left before the process of becoming a full Child of the Emperor was complete, or I wouldn’t have been able to think for myself enough to go, but I don’t know how far it got. I don’t really know what I’m capable of.”

“You’re capable of free will. I think that’s important.”

Kira fidgeted with the edge of her robe. “Well, I guess if I were a ticking time bomb, I’d have gone off by now.”

“That’s…certainly one way of looking at it.”

“I’m an optimist,” Kira said dourly.

“Didn’t you once tell me that you like to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised?”

“Sometimes I have to make exceptions.” Kira raised her head and looked Rhys in the eye. “So. Now you know. Thoughts? Feelings? More questions? Hate me, never want to trust me again, et cetera?”

“I don’t hate you,” Rhys said, trying to put as much sincerity into his voice as he could.

“Oh. Well. That’s nice. Of course, hate’s against the Jedi Code anyway. I was just testing you.” Kira gave a nervous laugh.

“As for trusting you, I think if you were loyal to the Empire, you’ve had many opportunities to betray me long before this.”

“Very logical.”

“I do think that telling the Jedi Council about this is a good idea.”

“Probably.” Kira twisted her hands together. “Killing Valis…didn’t matter, in the end. The Emperor knows where I am, now. He’ll never stop hunting me.” She smiled wryly. “Makes Darth Angral not seem so bad, doesn’t it?”

“Angral is the more immediate threat.”

“That reminds me—how did your chat with Var Suthra go?”

“It could have gone better,” Rhys admitted. “He had some bad news.”

Kira frowned. “What now?”

“Master Orgus and Master Kiwiiks have both dropped out of contact. The general wants us to investigate after we’re finished on Tython.”

“What?” Kira’s eyes widened. “The masters are—you should have told me!” She scrambled to her feet. “We have to go after them.”

“We’re already en route to Tython—”

“Doesn’t matter. This is more important.” She walked out of the cargo bay.

Rhys jumped up and followed her. “I thought you wanted to come clean to the Council.”

“If anything happens to Master Kiwiiks because we took too long, I’ll never forgive myself. This is more important than my guilty conscience.” Kira marched up the stairs to the main level. “T7 can pull the ship out of hyperspace early. It’ll rattle us a bit, but…” She paused at the top of the stairs, turning around to look at Rhys. “Uh, it’s your call. Master.”

“Don’t call me—” Rhys shook his head. “If you’re absolutely sure you want to put this off.”

“I’m sure. There’s too much at stake. Revelations can wait.”

“All right,” Rhys said. “We’ll head for Tatooine first, see what’s happened to Master Kiwiiks.”

Kira’s hand tightened on the railing. “I just hope we’re not too late.”
There's always lightning.