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Afterimages: Dawn


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Vesaniae
08.26.2015 , 05:22 PM | #21
Eight
Imperial Base, Telos
13 ATC



Moff Drayle had assembled a delegation on the main landing pad to greet the Wrath when she arrived, as was appropriate, but the longer they waited the more Quinn wished he’d had some feasible excuse to opt out of it. Nervous anticipation writhed nauseatingly in his gut, and the more he tried to suppress it, the more it tightened its coils.

He showed none of this outwardly, of course. Every Imperial officer was trained to maintain proper decorum at all times, even—or perhaps, given the military’s relationship with the Sith, especially—when being eaten alive by fear. He was not afraid, not exactly, but he could not deny a degree of uneasiness as he speculated about the Wrath’s motives.

Why would she come to Telos? Merrik could be a smooth talker, but Quinn doubted even she had the rhetorical prowess to convince the Wrath to go to a place where she surely knew he was. She had wanted him gone badly enough to transfer him far away from her, but now here she was, about to willingly put herself in contact with him again. It didn’t make sense.

Perhaps she intended to kill him. It would be the Sith thing to do, and given how he had wronged her, not unreasonable. She had let him live then, but perhaps she had decided that his time had run out.

If that proved to be the case, Quinn would offer no resistance. What would be the point? He only hoped she wouldn’t make a spectacle of it.

His thoughts were interrupted by the thunder of engines as a Fury-class starship broke through the low-hanging clouds and settled on the pad in a near-perfect vertical landing. Though largely indistinguishable from any other ship of its class, the slight wobble the vessel made as it touched down was distinctive, stemming from a minor fault in the port engine’s wiring. The only way to prevent the wobble was to recalibrate the power couplings after every flight, a task to which Quinn had, in better times, devoted many hours.

It was the Alecto, there was no doubt about it. Whoever had landed it had done a very good job, which made him wonder. The Wrath was a gifted Sith, but she was a terrible pilot. Someone else had to be flying the ship. Someone who had replaced him.

A brief pang of regret went through him as he stood at attention. Moff Drayle walked down the short line of people, making sure everyone was in order, before settling himself at the head of the group. Merrik, standing close to the Moff, radiated smugness, and for a moment Quinn disliked her a great deal. But he couldn’t hold her at fault for somehow bringing the Wrath there; she was only following orders.

Just like he had.

The Alecto’s boarding ramp lowered to the floor. Quinn held his breath. A moment later, she came marching out of the ship.

*****

A’tro stalked down the ramp with Janeth and Zariel trailing behind her. Moff Drayle had assembled an entourage to greet her, as was proper. It was a smaller group than she would have expected, given her rank. An indication of personnel stretched thin, perhaps?

She scanned the faces, keeping her own expression grimly blank. Drayle stood in front in a white uniform; she skipped him over after a cursory glance. Merrik was standing not far behind him. She must have gotten a flight back immediately after speaking to A’tro.

And then there was Quinn. A’tro didn’t particularly want to look at him, but she found herself doing it anyway. He looked much the same as he always did: straight-backed and stone-faced, looking like something out of a propaganda poster in his well-fitting black and gray. He was not looking at her.

A’tro reached Drayle, and was forced to pay attention as he launched into a greeting.

“My lord, welcome to Telos. We are humbled by your presence,” Drayle said, bowing deeply. “It would be our utmost honor to fight alongside your illustrious self.”

The constant flattery that came with high rank was starting to make her nauseous. “I look forward to aiding this campaign,” she said. “We will lay waste to the Republic.”

“Yes, my lord.” Drayle gestured to the rest of the welcoming party. “My command staff and myself are at your disposal. Would you care for a tour of the base?”

A’tro suspected that the base was much like any other, but one had to maintain the formalities. “I would indeed.”

“Very good, my lord. My apologies for not being able to escort you personally; I must return to the command center at once.” Drayle turned towards the assembled personnel. “Quinn, show the Wrath our facilities.”

A’tro had never believed in the Sith right to summarily execute anyone on a whim, but she suddenly understand why they might want to.

“Merrik, Lyn,” Drayle continued, “I’ll need you both in the command center. The rest of you, back to your posts.” He turned back towards A’tro, oblivious to how close she was to snapping his neck with a thought. “My lord Wrath, it is an honor to have you. I promise my men and I will not disappoint.” With another short, formal bow, he turned and left the landing platform.

The small group dispersed, leaving A’tro, her two silent guards, and Quinn.

“Captain,” A’tro said, the word rasping through her suddenly dry throat.

“My lord,” Quinn said quietly. He made eye contact for the briefest of instants, then broke it with a bow.

Was he nervous? She hoped he was nervous.

Quinn straightened and took a breath. “My lord, welcome to Telos. If you would follow me, I will bring you up to speed on the nature of our fortifications.”

Now he sounded like himself, all clipped formality. A’tro supposed it would have been too much to expect for him to give any kind of discernible reaction to her arrival. She briefly prodded at his presence in the Force, but found nothing that she could interpret.

“Let’s get on with this, shall we?” she said briskly. Continuing to stand there would accomplish nothing, and she didn’t want Janeth and Zariel to figure out anything close to the truth of the situation. Her history with Quinn was none of their business.

Quinn inclined his head acquiescently and started walking. A’tro followed, feeling unsettled.

The tour proved to be entirely unnecessary, as the base was constructed from prefabricated units arranged in the standard configuration of optimal defensive capabilities calculated by the Ministry of Logistics. It was smaller than A’tro would have expected, given that it was the launching point of an entire planetary invasion. She had a feeling Drayle had fewer resources to work with, and was faring far worse, than either he or Merrik had let on.

She let Quinn talk, giving an occasional affirmative monosyllable as he glibly rattled off the functions of each part of the base. She hoped that Janeth and Zariel were paying attention, because if there was anything important in Quinn’s explanation, she was missing it. She was much too busy trying to act normal to actually focus on his words, instead letting it all fade into a steady background hum that was surprisingly soothing.

I always enjoyed listening to him talk. That was a treacherous line of thought to follow. A’tro forced her attention back to the present as Quinn finally stopped walking outside a door set on a narrow hallway that was out of the way of the main traffic area.

“This is an office space that has been made available to you for whatever business you may wish to conduct, my lord,” Quinn said. He seemed to hesitate for a moment. “If there is nothing else you require of me, I will return to my duties.”

A’tro nodded. “That will be all. Dismissed.”

Quinn bowed and walked away quickly.

A’tro looked to Janeth and Zariel. “Are you capable of performing a security sweep of this room?”

“Certainly, my lord,” Zariel said.

“Good. Do so. I’m going back to the ship.” A’tro turned sharply and walked away in the opposite direction from where Quinn had gone. I need time to think.
There's always lightning.

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bright_ephemera
08.26.2015 , 05:30 PM | #22
Quote: Originally Posted by Vesaniae View Post
Someone else had to be flying the ship. Someone who had replaced him.
Oh, ow. <3
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MilaniGrey
08.26.2015 , 05:35 PM | #23
Mhm. Time to "think."
The Islingr Legacy
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Vesaniae
08.28.2015 , 10:18 AM | #24
Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting. It means a lot to me. The plot is going to take off very soon.

Nine
Imperial Base, Telos
13 ATC



A’tro made her way back towards the landing pad, trying not to walk too quickly lest she betray that she was very much trying to run away. She had miscalculated yet again, deluded herself into thinking that by coming face to face with Quinn once more she could experience some sort of closure.

She was wrong. She had never been more wrong. She had been lying to herself the whole time. She didn’t want closure, didn’t want to remove him from her life. It had been less than two months since she’d sent him away, but it had felt like a lifetime. Seeing him again had sent her every sense into overdrive and lit her nerves with a fire that was slowly searing into her brain an understanding that she was struggling with all her will to deny.

She would have to kill him. That was not the understanding, but it was the only solution. Quinn had to die. All her treacherous feelings would die with him.

It wasn’t unusual. Sith did that sort of thing all the time.

She just wasn’t certain that she had the strength.

She rounded a corner, feeling her own heartbeat pounding in her ears, and nearly collided with a slim woman carrying an armful of datapads. The woman gasped in surprise, dropping a number of the datapads onto the floor.

A’tro ground to a halt as the woman scrambled to scoop the datapads back up into her arms. She was in uniform, but hers was all black instead of gray, and she had no visible insignia.

“I’m so sorry, my lord!” the woman said breathlessly. She tried to salute, appeared to realize that carrying her cargo made that impossible, and bowed instead. “I should have been paying more attention to where I was going. I apologize.”

A’tro looked her over. She was quite thin, thinner than looked healthy for an adult human female, and her fair skin had a pallid quality that suggested she rarely saw sunlight. She had neat, chin-length black hair, and wide eyes that were the same shade of dark blue as the ones belonging to the man from whom A’tro was trying so hard to escape.

“You are forgiven,” A’tro murmured, the words coming out on autopilot.

The woman straightened from her bow into rigid attention. “Watcher Twenty, Imperial Intelli—I mean, Sith Intelligence.”

A’tro raised a brow-ridge, the new information intriguing her enough to push thoughts of Quinn off to the side. “I didn’t realize Intelligence was organized enough to send people to the front lines again. What’s your job here?”

“Tactical assessment and data analysis, my lord,” Watcher Twenty said. She blinked for the first time since the conversation had started. “Sweet stars, you’re the Emperor’s Wrath.”

A’tro started to feel ever so slightly amused. “I am.”

“I once again extend my most heartfelt apologies for getting in your way, my lord,” Watcher Twenty said, black brows knitting together in a nervous frown.

“Relax,” A’tro told her. “You seemed to be in a hurry. Is something going on?”

“I was on my way to deliver a report to Moff Drayle. Reconnaissance has reported in from scouting the Republic’s nearest defensive line and I felt it best to share the relevant information with him immediately.”

“Then you should be on your way.” A’tro thought for a moment. “In fact, I will accompany you. I think I’d like to hear this report myself.”

“Of course. My lord.” Watcher Twenty adjusted her hold on the datapads and started off at a brisk pace.

A’tro fell into step beside her. As much as she wanted to go back to her ship and mull over the Quinn situation, she had a duty to the Imperial war effort. That merited her full attention.

She briefly considering stopping by the office and retrieving Janeth and Zariel, then decided against it. They would probably find her easily enough, and she was tired of being constantly shadowed.

Watcher Twenty kept sneaking quick glances over at A’tro, as if keeping an eye on some sort of poisonous insect lurking just out of swatting range. She did it so often that A’tro half expected her to miss something directly in front of her, trip on it, and drop the datapads all over again. But they made it to the command center without incident. A’tro took a deep breath, steeling herself, for Quinn would surely be there, then slipped through the door after the Watcher.

Indeed, there was Quinn, conferring with Drayle, Merrik, and a woman with cybernetic optics and a colonel’s insignia. Watcher Twenty skittered up to them, while A’tro followed more sedately behind.

“Sir, I have bad news,” Watcher Twenty said without preamble. She deposited her pile of datapads atop the nearest console with a clatter. “The Republic has landed troops from off-planet and they’ve set up a position quite near our forward outpost.”

“They’re bringing in offworld reinforcements already?” Drayle mused. “They must be worried.”

Watcher Twenty picked up one of the datapads and fidgeted with it. “They have two Jedi with them.”

“And we have the Emperor’s Wrath,” Drayle countered. He nodded to A’tro as she approached. “My lord. Glad you could join us.”

Watcher Twenty’s fidgeting increased. “A scout managed to capture an image of one of the Jedi. It’s not the best quality, but I believe that this particular individual is, well…” She lowered her voice. “A defector.”

Merrik and the colonel exchanged glances. Quinn remained impassive.

A’tro moved up to stand at Watcher Twenty’s shoulder, which was level with her eyes. “Are you absolutely certain of this?”

Watcher Twenty looked at the datapad she was holding, put it down, picked up another, and brought up an image on the screen.

A’tro peered at it. It had been taken from quite far away. She could just make out a figure in brown. “Is that the Jedi there?”

Watcher Twenty zoomed in on the figure. The resulting image was blurry, but A’tro was able to discern a rough impression of a face framed by dark hair.

A face with copper skin and golden eyes.

A’tro’s blood ran cold.

“As you can see, the Jedi is almost certainly a Pureblood Sith,” Watcher Twenty whispered. “Which is why I felt this warranted your immediate attention, sir.”

Drayle nodded. “Keep the scout who captured this image out in the field and isolated from the rest of the troops. We don’t want word of this spreading.”

“Morale is bad enough as it is,” Merrik muttered, so quietly that A’tro’s Force-enhanced hearing barely picked it up.

“Already done, sir,” Watcher Twenty said. “This needs to be handled delicately. And quietly.”

“Do you have any idea as to the identity of this Jedi?” Quinn asked, speaking for the first time.

Watcher Twenty shook her head. “I’m working on it, but with the image quality being what it is, cross-referencing with the Intelligence archives is bringing back more matches than I have time to sort through with all my other duties. And the HoloNet connection here is terrible. I’m going to need more time.”

“Prioritize your other duties first, Watcher,” Drayle ordered. “We don’t have time to waste.”

“Respectfully, sir, I have to disagree,” Quinn said. “Knowing the identity of the traitor could prove very valuable when fighting them. They will certainly be familiar with our standard tactics.”

“Your opinion is noted, Captain,” Drayle said. He turned back to Watcher Twenty. “Keep this information under wraps at all costs. You’re dismissed.”

Watcher Twenty saluted smartly, scooped up her datapads, and departed.

Drayle shook his head. “Emperor save me from Intelligence analysts and their eccentricities.”

“She had a point,” A’tro said. “And so does Quinn.” It was the first time she’d said his name in weeks, and she nearly stumbled over it. “This needs to be dealt with.”

“Frankly, my lord, our forces are spread thin,” Drayle said grimly. “Mounting a direct assault on the Republic would require diverting troops from this base or one of our outposts.”

“You don’t need more troops, Moff,” A’tro said, folding her arms across her chest. “You have me.”

“Nevertheless, I do not believe we should rush into this situation unprepared.” Drayle’s tone switched from commanding to cajoling partway through the sentence as he appeared to remember to whom he was speaking. “My lord, I advise waiting for further information from our scouts. We have limited resources, and I do not wish to act in a manner that might waste any of them.”

“I understand,” A’tro said. She unfolded her arms. “It does intrigue me, however, that the situation presented to me on Dromund Kaas of an impending Imperial victory here on Telos appears to have been a falsification.”

Drayle paled slightly. “My lord, I assure you, it was never my intention to mislead you. I don’t know what Major Merrik told you—”

“I conveyed the message you instructed me to convey, sir,” Merrik interjected silkily.

“We are having some difficulty making progress, that is true,” Drayle said stiffly. “But I assure you, with you here, our victory is certain.”

A’tro frowned. “I did not come to this wretched planet to counterbalance your own failings.”

“Of—of course not, my lord,” Drayle stammered. “I, uh—”

“The conquest of Telos will proceed,” A’tro said coolly. “Whether or not you will need to be replaced when it is finished remains to be seen. I suggest you think that over.” She turned and swept out of the room.


*****


Quinn watched the Wrath go, her cape swirling behind her as she walked.

The four officers stood silently for several long moments. Then Drayle muttered something about inspecting the troops and left, somewhat shakily.

“That went well,” Merrik drawled when he was gone.

Colonel Lyn ran a finger over the metal bar embedded along her temple. “Drayle’s not used to dealing with Sith. He needs to get his act together before the rest of us are dragged down with him.”

“She isn’t normally like this,” Quinn found himself saying.

Both women turned to look at him.

“I keep forgetting you used to serve with the Wrath,” Lyn said. “What’s your take on this?”

“She seems…distracted,” Quinn said slowly, already regretting his failure to keep silent. “She’s not one to threaten for no reason. There must be something else on her mind.”

He had a feeling he knew what that something else was, too.

“Probably the whole ‘rogue Sith’ thing,” Merrik said. “I imagine that must be odd to deal with.”

“This could work to our advantage, though,” Lyn said thoughtfully. “The Jedi gives us an excuse. Quinn, if you could talk to the Wrath, get her to convince Drayle to stop stalling and attack, we might accomplish something.”

“I’m not certain I can do that, sir,” Quinn said. The nervous anticipation he had felt earlier returned. “The Wrath may not be entirely open to my advice.”

Merrik snorted. “Let me guess: she doesn’t like you and that’s why she stuck you here.”

“The reason for my reassignment is not your concern, Major,” Quinn said coldly.

Merrik raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I care for your tone, Captain.”

“Enough,” Lyn said firmly. “I won’t have the two best officers in this whole contingent at each other’s throats. Leave your Academy rivalry there in the past, where it belongs.”

“Yes, sir,” Merrik sighed.

“I apologize, sir,” Quinn said.

Lyn shook her head. “We have to make the best of this situation. Quinn, if you can’t talk to the Wrath, then I will.”

“I could do it,” Merrik said eagerly. “I already convinced her to come here, didn’t I?”

“No,” Lyn said flatly. “If you offend her with your unprofessionalism, that’s two bridges burned. I won’t have it.”

Merrik looked slightly crestfallen. “Whatever you say, sir.”

Lyn turned to Quinn. “I want you to go check in with Watcher Twenty and see if she has any other information. Anything at all that might help.”

Quinn stood at attention. “Yes, sir.”

“Merrik, check in with Faraday about the walkers.”

“I’ll get right on it.”

“I’m going to find Drayle and try to advise him about handling Sith. Dismissed, both of you.” Lyn strode off purposefully.

Merrik looked at Quinn. “In all seriousness, though. Is this going to be a problem? As in, will the Wrath not want to work with us because of you?”

“If it were going to be a problem, I doubt she would have agreed to your request,” Quinn said. “As it is, I suspect she is displeased with Drayle’s reluctance to take action.”

“Aren’t we all?” Merrik sighed. “I should be going.” She walked away shaking her head, leaving Quinn standing alone.

He had answered Merrik’s inquiry confidently, but he couldn’t help but be concerned. A’tro was clearly distracted by something. It could be the traitorous Jedi.

It could also be him.

If his presence interfered with her concentration in battle, if she were hurt or killed because of it… No, that was a foolish and paranoid notion. A’tro had never been one to let her emotions interfere with her judgment; he knew that perfectly well. She would do her duty, and he would do his. It was the way it had to be.


*****


A’tro found herself once again walking through the Imperial base deep in thought, but this time, she wasn’t thinking about Quinn. She was thinking about someone else. Someone she hadn’t thought about in a very long time.

The Jedi, who was clearly of Sith blood. The Jedi with copper skin and golden eyes, who even in the blurry image had looked a great deal like her.

This would not do. This was more important than Quinn right now. Before she could even begin to find some sort of resolution to her personal conflict, this Jedi had to be destroyed. She would have to act alone, and she would have to act quickly, before further scouting missions produced clearer images.

It was a problem that she really should have expected to need to deal with sooner rather than later, but she had not expected that K’saria would survive long enough for it to be an issue. A’tro would not underestimate her again. Perhaps the Force had brought her to Telos to resolve more than just her issues with Quinn.

She could feel it in her heart, in her bones: after eight long years, she was finally going to have the chance to kill her sister.
There's always lightning.

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MilaniGrey
08.28.2015 , 11:31 AM | #25
RIP K'saria.
The Islingr Legacy
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"How dreadfully spooky." -- Vesaniae's Darth Nox

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Vesaniae
09.05.2015 , 04:38 PM | #26
Ten
Republic Outpost, Telos
13 ATC



The currents of the Force keened with tension like the air before a thunderstorm. K’saria Dhakar could feel it thrumming all around her where she knelt in meditation in the shadow cast by one massive leg of a Republic walker. The soldiers bustling around her shone in the living Force, their collective energies swirling together to form a window into the secret turnings of the universe.

K’saria looked into that window and saw doom. It bore down from all sides, storms that would eventually come together into a vast tempest of death and destruction. She could see it clearly: the dark side had come to Telos.

The darkness was always present in the Force, for it was as much a part of it as the light, the black silt lying on the bed of a clear, shining river. Now, something or someone had stirred the silt, muddying the light with swirling clouds of shadow.

The question was, what had caused this? The Imperial invasion had brought some darkness with it, but nothing like this. K’saria had been meditating on it ever since the change had occurred, and she could only conclude that the Force was acting in response to the arrival of a powerful Sith Lord.

It had been, she supposed, only a matter of time. The most surprising thing was that the Imperials didn’t seem to have brought any Sith with them in the first place. It had given K’saria hope that they could reach a peaceful solution. She knew firsthand that Imperial commanders were far more reasonable without Sith lurking over their shoulders.

Now, though… The doom she could feel in the Force strongly indicated that peace was no longer an option.

"Master K'saria," said a calm, quiet voice.

She opened her eyes and looked up to see one of her fellow Jedi standing before her. Elaedrin Myn was human, twenty-one years old, and newly elevated to the rank of Knight. She had straight, shoulder-length blonde hair that framed a heart-shaped face with wide, deep-set green eyes, a slightly upturned nose, and a full mouth. That mouth was currently a grim line as she regarded K'saria with her arms folded across her chest.

"Yes, what is it?" K'saria asked.

"Master Setia asked me to tell you that you're needed in the command walker right away," Elaedrin said. Her voice was flat, devoid of all but the faintest hint of emotion. "She said it was very urgent."

K'saria rose to her feet, brushing dirt off her knees, and kept her concern hidden. The war had taken its toll on Elaedrin, moreso than was to be expected. In her opinion, the young woman should have stayed a Padawan for some time yet, but Setia had disagreed.

"I won't keep her waiting, then," K'saria said, and started the short walk over to the walker that was serving as a command center. Elaedrin walked beside her, her arms still crossed.

K'saria looked over at her. "You seem tense," she observed cordially. In truth, she could sense more than tension in Elaedrin. There were shadows within her, shadows that her inner light was not strong enough to burn away.

"I'm fine.”

"It's all right to be nervous. A little fear keeps you grounded in the present, where you should be."

"I'm not nervous. There is no emotion, there is peace."

"Jedi still feel, Elaedrin," K'saria said sharply. "There is a difference between serenity and apathy."

"With all due respect, Knight Dhakar," Elaedrin said, a faint note of resentment coloring her monotone, "I am not a Padawan who requires lecturing."

"I offer friendly advice, from one Jedi to another. That was all."

"Yes, I'm sure that was your intention," Elaedrin muttered.

K'saria would have liked to have said more, but they reached the command walker. She moved up its ramp and into the interior, Elaedrin following a short distance behind.

Inside the walker, Jedi Knight Setia Aru and Republic Commander Zaron Dalvenna stood over a holoprojector showing a topographical map of the area.

“K’saria, there you are,” Setia said. She was human like her former Padawan, dressed in Jedi battle armor that rode easily on her tall, muscular frame. “Recon just reported in. A Sith ship landed at the Imperial encampment this morning. I’m sure you felt their presence too.”

K’saria nodded. “What I have sensed is…disturbing.”

Dalvenna raised an eyebrow. “That’s one way of putting it. We got a few reads on the ship’s drive signature. Intel says it’s almost a perfect match with their record of the ship belonging to a Sith called the Emperor’s Wrath.”

The tangled web of portents hovering in the Force suddenly made a great deal more sense.

“We were hoping you could tell us more,” Setia said.

K’saria pressed her lips together, thinking hard. “The Emperor’s Wrath is a legend among Sith,” she said finally. “Even the Dark Council is said to be wary of him. When the Wrath appears, which is not often, it is generally to carry out a death sentence ordained by the Emperor.”

“This Sith’s arrival is bad news, then,” Setia murmured.

“It gets worse,” Dalvenna said dourly. “The latest SIS reports are sketchy, but rumor has it this Wrath is new, and very active in the field.” He gave K’saria a long, intent look, then removed a data cylinder from a pocket and inserted it into the holoprojector.

The projector flared brightly, replacing the map with a static-laden blue image of a figure wielding two lightsabers, frozen in mid-swing.

“This was taken on Corellia four months ago,” Dalvenna said. He tapped the holoprojector controls, and the hologram expanded, showing a larger image of the figure’s face.

Setia frowned and looked from the image to K’saria and back again. “She looks just like you.”

Elaedrin, who had been hanging back near the walker’s hatch, edged in closer for a better look.

“I believe I understand now,” K’saria said softly.

“Understand what?” Setia asked.

“The Force has been trying to tell me something, I’m certain of it. Ever since this Sith—since the Emperor’s Wrath—arrived, I’ve felt darkness closing in.”

Setia narrowed her eyes. “Didn’t you say once that you had a sister?”

“I do, yes. A twin.” K’saria studied the hologram. It seemed to stare through her, as if she were the transparent one. “I had not thought to ever see her again.”

“Looks like she came to you,” Dalvenna said. He sighed wearily. “I hate to ask this, but we’re going to be fighting this woman. If there’s anything you can tell us about her, anything that might help…”

“I will tell you what I can. I do not know how useful it will be.” K’saria clasped her hands together in front of her. “I hadn’t seen K’hera in some time before I left the Empire. If she is now the Emperor’s Wrath, I suspect she has changed a great deal.”

Dalvenna started to say something, only to be interrupted by a man in Republic armor painted with camouflage patterns barging into the walker.

“This is a private meeting, soldier,” Setia said coolly.

“I’m sorry, sir, Master Jedi,” the soldier panted, “but we’re under attack!”
There's always lightning.

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MilaniGrey
09.06.2015 , 03:10 PM | #27
Cliffhangers!
*braces self for the inevitable*
The Islingr Legacy
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"How dreadfully spooky." -- Vesaniae's Darth Nox

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Vesaniae
09.07.2015 , 08:28 AM | #28
I'm making an effort to update more frequently. Partially because the plot is reaching a point that I'm really excited to work on, partially because I'm trying to become more self-disciplined about writing, and partially because if I only update once a week, I'll be working on this for years. I won't ask anyone to wait that long to find out what happens.

Eleven
Republic Outpost, Telos
13 ATC



A’tro pivoted out of the way of the Republic soldier’s swing, twisting around the angle of his vibrosword to drive her left lightsaber deep into his torso. He should have known better than to engage a Sith blade to blade. As he staggered, she kicked his legs out from under him, letting the momentum of his fall drag her lightsaber and extend the wound from survivable to fatal.

She pushed the body off her blade with a casual blast of the Force, letting it fall with the other two who had first engaged her. There had been one more, but he had fled like a coward when she started cutting down his comrades. She had let him. He was only prolonging the inevitable.

She turned to face her next opponents. There were eight of them, heavily armored commandos by the looks of them, and they raced towards her from over the nearby hill, readying heavy weapons.

Beyond the hill lay the Republic encampment, half a dozen walkers that served as little more than a base for their scouts. The Imperial forces should have eliminated the lot of them a long time ago. When A’tro returned to the base, she would make Moff Drayle answer for his failure to act.

At that moment, however, she had more pressing matters to think about. Eight enemies were a challenge for most Sith to fight alone. For many, it would even be impossible. She knew that she shouldn’t have gone running off on her own, she should have at least taken Janeth and Zariel with her, but she had wanted time to think.

There was nothing quite as relaxing as a fight to the death.

Here, with the dark side smoldering like a furnace deep in her consciousness and more ordinary adrenaline coursing through her veins, she could finally think clearly.

Emperor’s blood, I needed this, she thought as she leaped for the center of the cluster of enemies headed towards her.

She was still in the air when she gave herself over to the Force’s guidance. By the time she hit the ground and started killing, she didn’t have to think about it at all anymore.

Some Sith went berserk in combat, going on mad rampages that they couldn’t even remember when it was over. Darth Evendre had taught A’tro that she had to control the darkness, or it would consume her. Even though her master had turned out to be a traitor, A’tro had continued to follow those teachings. It wasn’t the light side. It was just logical.

It was her control, her will that let her think clearly in the heat of battle, let her allow the Force to guide her actions even while her conscious mind contemplated something else entirely. So while her lightsabers moved in a deadly scarlet whirl, she let her mind’s eye finally bring up the images she had been suppressing with all her might.

Quinn. She was still physically attracted to him, that was for certain. Several memories came to the surface, vividly enough that she faltered for an instant. The solid impact of a blaster bolt against her left shoulder, making a small crater in her armor deep enough to bite into the flesh beneath, shocked her back to full awareness. She quickly counterattacked, driving both lightsabers through the vulnerable faceplate of the soldier who had landed the shot.

And there was the problem. Quinn was a distraction. Every moment she spent in his presence was a moment spent lying to herself, denying that what she really wanted was him. Back on her crew, back in her life, back in her quarters every night to don’t think about that now, you’ll get yourself killed.

He had told her that he loved her, once.

A’tro found herself lowering her sabers into a guard stance. She looked around to see all eight commandos arrayed unmoving on the ground around her. Awareness of the world came rushing back. She breathed in the scent of scorched armor and blood and the raw, lingering fear that was still echoing in the Force. Her wounded shoulder started stinging. She ignored it; that level of pain was barely worth acknowledging.

Keeping her lightsabers at the ready, she stepped over the corpses and crested the hill. There were the Republic walkers, six of them, laid out in a semicircle in a flat-bottomed depression at the center of a loose ring of hills. A considerable number of soldiers were pouring out of them, arranging themselves in defensive formations and setting up heavy weapons and war droids with a degree of speed and efficiency that A’tro had to admit was impressive. As she watched, a number of them fanned out on either side of the encampment, probably intending to flank her and cut off her escape route. She would have to keep an eye on that.

At the head of the defenders stood three Jedi, one more than had been reported. Two were human; A’tro gave them a quick look and immediately dismissed them, focusing her attention on the third.

It was K’saria. She said something to her companions and started walking towards A’tro, alone. Her lightsaber stayed on her belt.

A’tro kept her own lightsabers out and lit, letting K’saria come to her. As the distance closed between them, identical golden eyes met from identical faces. Though they were not completely identical, not anymore—A’tro’s scar, her gift from Evendre, ensured that. And it appeared, much to her amusement, that K’saria was still dyeing her red hair black. She wondered briefly if the Jedi knew, and if it were against their rules.

In a few moments, it wouldn’t matter.

“K’hera,” K’saria said as she drew close enough to be heard without shouting.

A’tro scowled silently and leaped for the kill.

But K’saria was evidently prepared, and moved with Force-enhanced speed so that by the time A’tro had reached her, her lightsabers met a shining blue blade rather than K’saria’s torso. A’tro landed, disengaged, and dropped into a Juyo opening stance. Her eyes were fixed on K’saria, but she kept her other senses and the Force focused on the Republic troops, which were now behind her.

“K’hera, what happened to you?” K’saria asked. She lowered her blade, holding it diagonal to her right side. She still spoke with an Imperial accent. “There’s such darkness within you, now. Such hate. You didn’t used to be like this.”

“You never knew me, K’saria,” A’tro said, her jaw clenching. “And my name is Darth A’tro.”

“They said you were the Emperor’s Wrath. How did this happen?”

“I became powerful,” A’tro said grimly. “More powerful than you could ever hope to become.”

K’saria shook her head. “That’s Sith rhetoric talking. I can’t believe that this is really you.”

“And that’s Jedi naïveté talking,” A’tro countered. “Look deeper, K’saria. Remember your Sith teachings. You know where true strength lies.”

“I do. And it is not with the dark side.”

“Spare me your Jedi sentimentality. I have no interest in debating with you.”

“No,” K’saria murmured, “I suspect you’re only interested in killing me. Isn’t that right?”

“Did the Force tell you that?” A’tro asked dryly. “You always did like to go on about how it spoke to you.”

“I am a Jedi,” K’saria said firmly. “I am one with the Force, and with all life in the universe. Your intentions are clear. I ask only that you consider this, before you attack: do you truly wish to kill me of your own accord, or have you been conditioned by your upbringing?”

“You’re delaying me so your men can surround me. It won’t make a difference.”

“We are sisters, K’hera—A’tro.” K’saria’s mouth twisted at the word. “Twins. We have a special connection, even if we’ve both tried our whole lives to deny it. We shouldn’t be fighting one another.”

“Just because we’re family doesn’t mean I have to like you.” A’tro tightened her grip on her lightsabers.

“Our mother taught you to think that way.”

“Don’t pretend she didn’t teach you, too,” A’tro spat, the perpetual flame of rage within her suddenly burning white hot. “Don’t pretend you’re any better than me! You were her favorite, her precious little Sith princess! And you failed her, you failed our whole family, the whole bloody Sith Order, and now you think that you can stand there and preach to me about right and wrong?”

“I failed no one but myself for not realizing the truth sooner.”

A’tro shook her head and attacked. K’saria sprang into action, deftly parrying every blow.

“You think because the Jedi took you in, that gives your life meaning?” A’tro demanded, pressing the offensive. “You have no meaning. You’re nothing.”

“We don’t have to do this!” K’saria protested, moving backwards as she deflected the rain of attacks. “It doesn’t have to be like this!”

“Did you tell the Jedi that no Sith Master wanted you?” A’tro taunted. “Did you tell them that you left Korriban as a nobody with no master and no future?”

“That was true once,” K’saria said. She turned her defensive maneuvers into a series of quick, neat attacks. “The light gave me a purpose. The Jedi gave me a future. It doesn’t matter what I was before.”

“Nothing about you ever mattered,” A’tro said derisively, twisting away from the attacks and countering. “You’re going to die here on this insignificant speck of a world, and no one will remember you or care. Just like it should be.”

“Even if you defeat me, our forces have you surrounded. You can’t win.”

“If you’re going to ask me to surrender, my answer is no.”

“If you fear the Emperor’s retribution, the Jedi can—”

“Why?” A’tro asked, flurrying attacks against K’saria’s blade, forcing her way to the center of her defenses until her single blue saber was locked against a cross formed by A’tro’s two red blades. “Why do you keep trying? I fight for the future of the Empire, and I would gladly die for that cause.”

Across the deadly bars of red and blue, K’saria’s face showed only calm tinged by sadness, though A’tro could feel her straining against her blades with all her might. “And what is the Empire’s future? A galaxy awash in blood, ruled by fear.”

“The blood of our enemies,” A’tro hissed. She pushed forward, trying to overwhelm K’saria with sheer physical strength. “I’ll pour yours out into the dirt of this place.”

She saw K’saria’s jaw clench, felt her guard start to falter—

A shadow fell over them. The Force whispered danger, and A’tro leaped backwards as something went screaming through the air to hit the ground where she had been standing and explode in a sizeable fireball.

She looked up and saw Imperial landing craft circling like vultures, dropping more bombs and soldiers on the Republic troops. Blasterfire and explosions started to fill the air as fighting began in earnest, turning the scene into chaos.

It seems I was missed, she thought, and looked around for K’saria.

It took a few moments to locate her amidst the mayhem, but A’tro finally spotted her sister’s brown-clad figure on the other side of the encampment, moving back among the walkers in a defensive formation with the other two Jedi.

A’tro almost went after her. Almost.

But there was a wall of battle between them, and she knew that by the time she had fought her way through, K’saria would be gone. Rage surged in her chest, nearly clouding her mind, but she released enough of it in one short, sharp sigh that she could think clearly.

She kept the rest of the anger close, let it fuel her as she raced over to the nearest knot of fighting and began laying waste to the Republic soldiers. Having the opportunity to settle the score with her sister was maddening, but an Imperial victory was more important than her old hatreds.

Besides, she thought sourly, I still don’t know what I’m going to do about Quinn.
There's always lightning.

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bright_ephemera
09.07.2015 , 08:50 AM | #29
Mm, that was a great conversation.
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---(Ceterum autem censeo, Malavai esse delendam.)--- DELETA MALAVAI EST

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Vesaniae
09.12.2015 , 09:20 AM | #30
Twelve
Contested Territory, Telos
13 ATC



As the dropship made its way from the wreckage of the Republic encampment back towards the Imperial base, A’tro did her best not to look at Quinn where he stood on the opposite side of the cramped interior. The business with K’saria had distracted her from the miasma of doubt that he seemed to instill in her psyche every moment she was in his presence.

It hadn’t always been like that. Seeing him had made her happy, once. With nothing to do until they returned to the base, she let herself remember the moment when it had all gone wrong.


*****


Voss-Ka, Voss
12 ATC



Late afternoon was wearing into evening, and the sun’s increasing proximity to the horizon turned the normal red and orange hues of Voss’ sky into an even more vibrant display of color. Ribbons of deep pinks and golds fanned outward in the wake of the gleaming sun, while the somber purple of night eased its way into view at the far corners of the sky.

A’tro was not normally one to admire scenery, but with nothing to do but wait for the shuttle to the orbital station she was content to sit on a bench in the Imperial enclave and watch the celestial spectacle unfold. It was a welcome distraction from her increasingly grim thoughts.

She had stood in the literal Dark Heart of the Nightmare Lands and borne witness to the Voice of the Emperor himself. Even chained, even fading, he had carried such immense and terrible power. Beside that power, what was she?

“My lord,” said Quinn’s voice.

A’tro looked up and there he was, standing close to her bench with his hands behind his back, his posture as straight as the nearby lamp post. She hadn’t taken him with her into the Nightmare Lands. She had gone alone, not trusting anyone else to be strong enough to endure the rigors of that place. It had been…strange.

“What is it, Captain?” she asked quietly. Truth be told, she had feared for his safety if he had accompanied her. Quinn was strong-willed, but…

“I wanted to inform you that the last shuttle of the day leaves in less than an hour,” he said.

She had already known that, and he had surely known that she knew, which meant that he really wanted to talk about something else.

“Sit down, Quinn,” she told him, motioning to the empty spot on the bench beside her.

He hesitated, his demeanor becoming even stiffer. “I’m not certain that would be proper—”

“There’s no one around.”

“If—if that is what you wish, my lord.” He settled himself on the very edge of the bench, radiating discomfort.

A’tro started to worry. If there was one thing Quinn possessed in abundance, it was confidence. To hear him stumble over words was strange. “You seem tense,” she said softly, careful not to let her voice travel too far beyond the bench. “Is something wrong?”

He glowered off into the distance. “Not exactly. There’s just—I find myself in a difficult situation, and I’m uncertain of how to explain the matter.”

“If you need time to think, I can wait.”

“No. No, I don’t think it should wait.” Quinn turned to face her, some indefinable emotion flickering in his eyes. “My lord, I—” He stopped and looked around. “I’m falling in love with you,” he said in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “I’ve tried to keep this development to myself; I don’t want to make any presumptions about the nature of our relationship.” The words seemed to be tumbling out almost too fast for his mouth to keep up. “But things are changing, and I felt I shouldn’t remain silent any longer.”

“You’re right,” A’tro said. Her voice, and everything around her, seemed to be far, far away. “Things are changing.”

Quinn wilted visibly. “I apologize for bringing this up like this, but I felt you should know that I—”

A’tro cut him off. “I’ve been thinking too, Quinn.” She took a deep breath, the darkness that had been lurking at the borders of her thoughts swirling and crashing into the forefront. “Given my new responsibilities, I believe it would be best if we terminate this relationship before it goes too far. I have enjoyed our time together, but I cannot afford to have any weaknesses in this battle against Baras.”

A small spot of color appeared on each of Quinn’s cheeks, looking drastically red against his pale skin. “I see.” He stood up quite abruptly. “If you will excuse me, my lord, I am going to check on the status of the shuttle.”

He walked away before she could say anything. A’tro watched him go, her hands falling to her sides and latching onto the edge of the bench with a viselike grip.

This was the right thing to do, she told herself. It’s for the best. I am the Emperor’s Wrath, now. I can’t afford to be tied down, can’t afford a potential distraction. That’s all this ever was, anyway. A distraction.

She had spoken with the Emperor’s Voice, come face to face with reality. Ending her affair with Quinn was the logical choice to make, for both their sakes. Because when he’d said he loved her, there was a part of her that had very much wanted to answer in kind. That was weakness, and now she’d cut that weakness out. It would hurt for a while, but she would be stronger for it.

That was what she told herself as she made her way to the landing platform. It was what she told herself as she boarded the shuttle, and what she told herself as she waited out the flight in tense silence while Quinn sat as far away from her as he could without seeming rude.

She was still justifying it in the back of her mind when she reported the success of her mission to the Emperor’s Hand. When the conversation was over and the holoimages of Servant One and Servant Two faded away, the sound of Quinn’s voice was as startling as a sudden dousing of icy water.

“My lord, I’m afraid that we cannot go to Corellia at this time…”

As the Alecto sped through hyperspace to their new destination, A’tro tried to recover her resolve, and found it shattered.

I can’t do this, she realized. Force help me, I’m too weak. I can’t do it.

She had to make things right. Quinn was alone on the bridge, but she didn’t want to talk to him while he was piloting. She would bring him with her onto the transponder vessel, get him alone, and do her best to salvage the situation.

I’ll apologize to him, she decided. I wasn’t thinking clearly. If he’s willing to forgive me, we can continue. If not…then I’ll just have to come to terms with my own stupidity.

Her plan seemed to work perfectly. Quinn volunteered, and so she took him with her onto the enemy ship. It wasn’t even suspicious to the others. The Force was with her, stirring nervous anticipation into a hurricane deep in her stomach.

She was so distracted by her emotions that she didn’t even stop to wonder why they hadn’t encountered much resistance. She let Quinn take the lead, since he knew the layout of the ship, and when he came to a halt in the center of a large, empty room, she saw an opportunity to make her case.

But Quinn spoke first. “My lord,” he said coolly. “I regret that our paths must diverge.”

And then A’tro realized that she was far, far too late.


*****


Imperial Base, Telos
13 ATC



She had very much wanted to kill him then, and perhaps she should have, but she couldn’t. Even now, she still didn’t hold Quinn accountable for his actions. It had been Baras’ plan, and she had unwittingly pushed him over the edge into carrying it out.

Logic and all her Sith teachings told her that she should kill him now and eliminate her ceaseless internal debate. But as she stepped down from the shuttle and watched him walk off towards the command center, it occurred to her, quite suddenly, that there was another way.
There's always lightning.