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A Price Worth Paying

Syart's Avatar


Syart
11.13.2012 , 03:11 PM | #1
Yes, it's another post-Quinn débâcle making up, sorry. I think it has a slightly different twist to most that I've read, though
Warning no. 1: Major warrior story spoilers, as usual. Warning no. 2: very long

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It was a week since Baras had been vanquished, finally and completely, and dragged away to prison, still screaming revenge in his pain and rage. It had been their goal for so long, and now no-one seemed quite sure what to do, or what would happen next. The ship had just arrived in orbit around Alderaan, where Darth Drumelzier had ordered them after returning Vowrawn to Corellia.

Quinn was still on the bridge, pointlessly going through the post-flight check-lists for the fourth time. He had no idea where the others were, or what they were doing. He could have checked easily enough through the sensors, but he’d rather not know. What he did know was that they still all avoided him like the plague. Yesterday, he’d been passing by the med bay and heard Jaesa and Vette giggling, followed by Vette: “Pierce is ok when you get to know him a bit, not all sniper and snark. Seriously though, the Captain and Lord Zier, do you think he... they .. ever, y’know?”

Jaesa’s response had burned in his ears. “Honestly Vette, I don’t know. She’s ... well, there was that thing with Pierce ...” He’d passed on quickly, missing whatever came next. It was true that eavesdroppers never heard good of themselves, he thought bitterly.

Thing with Pierce ... thing with Pierce ... thing with Pierce ... round and round in his head. So he tried to blot it out by doing things like the check-lists, again and again, trying to take refuge in work, the military protocol and formality that had been his shield and support for so long, until Zier had broken through it.

“Captain!”

Quinn whirled round and sprang automatically to attention, then spoiled it by tugging at his uniform collar which seemed unaccountably tight.

“It’s all right Captain, I’m not choking you, and I’m not going to choke you”, said Zier acerbically. “You can stop pulling at your collar like that.”

“No my Lord ... I mean, yes my Lord.” His voice came out several tones higher than normal, and his pulse beat frantically. He swallowed nervously in a dry mouth and tried to wipe his suddenly sweaty palms on his tunic surreptitiously. “I wasn't expecting you … I mean, you surprised me.”

He looked past her, expecting to see the giant Pierce looming as usual (thing with Pierce), but to his surprise she was on her own. This was the first time they’d been alone together since ... his brain shied away from it.

Zier sighed. “Quinn, stop looking at me like a scared nerfling. I’m not choking you, I’m not going to use my lightsaber, I’m not even going to spit fire at you.”

“Spit fire, my Lord? I didn’t know ...” His voice trailed off in embarrassment, mixed with confusion. There was a strained smile on her face, an awkward hint of the old familiar grin which said: “I’m teasing you, you idiot.”

A sudden wild hope sprang in his heart, crushed immediately by the overwhelming sick shame which was his constant companion. He looked down at the metal floor plates, automatically observing a small rust stain on one of the rivets. I must report that to 2V, he thought, clutching desperately at anything which would distract him.

“Get your gear Quinn, we’re going planet side” Without waiting for an answer, Zier strode out and went into her quarters. Her quarters, which he hadn’t been in since they'd come back from the transponder station, but which he had to pass every time he came to the bridge, with the door tightly shut and Pierce standing outside on guard whenever she was in there ... thing with Pierce ... insidiously it wormed through his mind, shaming him, mocking him, serving him right.

As he swiftly checked and locked down the command console, he noted a small shuttle approaching from the surface. The codes were correct, from Rhu Caenus, by order of Darth Drumelzier, and he let it dock unopposed. A few minutes later, having picked up his medkit, and checked his vibroknife and the charge in his blaster pistol, he joined her at the airlock. The ship was oddly quiet, with no-one else in sight.

Apparently reading his mind, Zier said, “They’re keeping out of our way.” He nodded, all business.

The shuttle ride was uneventful, and the checks at the space port a mere formality. The last time they’d had to wait several hours for clearance even to land, and then supply a couple of dozen complicated forms to various officials before being allowed out of the port, but this time they walked almost straight through.

“There are quite a few perks associated with being a Darth”, mused Zier in an apparent effort at conversation as they walked down the steps and over to the taxi pad. “People practically fall over themselves to help, and all sorts of barriers just tumble down.”

“Y-yes my Lord”, Quinn stuttered. I can’t even carry on a normal conversation easily, he thought gloomily. He cleared his throat. “That was certainly a lot more straightforward than before. I spent 14.7 hours completing the paperwork in preparation for our arrival.”

“Very precise, that 14.7 hours”, Zier said, with the awkward but definite teasing note in her voice again.

“I try to be exact, my Lord.” He shifted nervously as she instructed the taxi droid to get them to Outpost Ghrent. Is this teasing real and friendly again? he wondered. Or is she playing with me? She’s certainly capable of true Sith cruelty, for all she’s merciful at times.

They flew in silence to the outpost. When they got to Ghrent, she led him out of the outpost along the road back towards the Elysium foundations, but just before they reached the beginning of the ruins she turned off the road and down through a gap in the rocks to a secluded cove by the side of the river.

What does she want? Why are we here? Is this finally the end? It's not a bad place for a grave, I suppose. I'd rather die fighting, but if I have to rest forever somewhere, this would do.

As if she heard his thoughts, she turned to look at him. “I'm glad you agreed to come down with me, Quinn. I know this is hard for you, but … I needed to get you completely on your own, so I could talk to you properly. No-one will find us here.”

“M-my Lord, I … “, he started, but she cut him off with an abrupt gesture. “I owe you an apology, Malavai.”

He looked at her blankly, the world tilting crazily around him. Finally he found his voice. “You owe me an apology?” His confusion and disbelief were palpable.

She gave him a twisted grin, but it fell away quickly. “I thought that would confuse you, but it's true. I've been as cruel to you as the worst kind of Sith. I used you .. us … I wanted the pain of separation, the anger, the hatred against Baras for what he did to us. Not just my own pain, I fed off yours too. I deliberately prolonged your pain. I thought it would give me the extra strength to go against him and win. I was going to fight someone nearly three times my age, he was canny, immensely powerful, and he could do things with the Force that I couldn't even think of and had no chance of matching. I had three years as his apprentice, it wasn't near enough to learn a tenth of what he knew. I thought I needed to channel every bit of pain and rage and hatred, put myself on fire with it, to gain enough power to have any hope of beating him.”

She turned her face away, looking down at the ground, not at him. Her voice shook. “I'm sorry, Mal. It wasn't fair, or kind, but I couldn't explain, or that would have taken away the pain .. and my own cruelty added to my pain and anger too. It worked, but I'm bitterly ashamed of what I did. I'm not sure I want to live with myself any more, and I doubt you want to live with me. If you want it, there's a vacancy for a Moff in the Dantooine sector. I've arranged that it's being held open for you.”

“Are you … are you asking me to leave?” He was terrified that she would say yes, but what else could he do.

“No! I don't want … I'm asking if you want to go, after what I've put you through, what all of us did, because I let the crew have their vicious way too.”

His voice was hoarse with emotion. “My Lord, after what I did, you had every right to punish me as you saw fit. I serve the Sith, that is the way of things. I deserved far worse. Darth Baras would have killed me without a second thought. I … I wished you had.”

“I didn't have the right! No-one should have that right, no-one, ever! Do you know what I'm here on Alderaan to try and do? I need to move fast, I'll never again have the power I have right now. The Council haven't figured me out, they can't start working against me yet. If I can just start moving things, maybe there'll be enough momentum to keep them going.”

He stared at her, not understanding.

“I'm waiting for Jedi Master Timmns to meet me on Alderaan. Jaesa has already sent the messages for me, he'll be here in a few days. I'm intending to start trying to change the Empire, build a bridge between Sith and Jedi, to make the galaxy a better, stronger, peaceful place, somewhere that pain and death isn't the answer to someone just screwing up, to give everyone a second chance. I'm representing myself to the Jedi as someone great, a way to bring the dark side towards the light, to lead people towards a way to start changing everything.” She paused and wiped at her eyes. “But it's all a lie, I'm no better than any other Sith really. I'm just pretending to be honourable, and just, and decent, and good. I can't change what I did, but at least I can try and make up for it.” A few more tears rolled down her face.

Quinn found his voice again, words almost tumbling over each other as he replied purely out of instinct, no weighing his thoughts before speaking. “Zier … you're not like any other Sith in the galaxy, you're unique. You are better then others or you wouldn't be talking like this. Baras would have loved causing pain, can you imagine him ever regretting it and crying and apologising? You are honourable and good, you're proving it right now. I know it, and Jedi Master Timmns knows it, and Yonlach on Tatooine, and Overseer Tremel, and Jaesa's parents, and … and too many others to count. And I love you”, he ended in desperation, willing her to be convinced, not knowing what more he could add.

Unable to speak, she brushed the back of her hand across her eyes and sniffed, endearingly childlike. She was such a powerful Sith that it was hard to remember that she was barely 20 years old. Automatically he put his hand in his pocket and offered her his handkerchief. She took it and wiped her eyes and nose. “Clean, of course. How come you're always right and always prepared for everything?” She attempted a smile, rather shakily.

“Military protocol, of course, my Lord.” He returned the smile, equally shakily. “I suggest we go and sit down.” He gestured at a convenient flat rock a little way off.

They sat quietly for a while, shoulders touching, feeling the warmth of the sun and each other. There was no sound except the wind and the constant rushing water, and occasionally the lonely call of a thranta echoing off the walls of the gorge upstream.

Eventually Quinn broke the silence. “My Lord, if I may ask, why did you not kill Darth Baras, once you had beaten him?”

Zier looked at him in surprise. “Of all the things you might've asked, that wasn't one I was expecting.” She looked down, scuffing at a bit of grass with the toe of her boot. “I did intend to, but then I left him alive out of revenge. Killing was too quick, too easy. Now he has to live with his failure for the rest of his life, knowing I was the cause of it.”

Quinn nodded slowly. “In some ways, then, I hope his life is a long one”, he said rather bitterly. “But, it concerns me, that he still lives.” After a long pause he went on, “I never told you exactly why I … what Baras did. Or was going to do.”

She shook her head. “I never gave you the chance. But I know what Baras is like, it wasn't hard to guess at a mixture of threats and guile, and I forgave you readily. And I meant that, by the way, even if I treated you so badly afterwards.” She dabbed away a fresh tear with his handkerchief and swallowed hard. “Please Mal, tell me you forgive me?” she pleaded. “I hate myself for what I did, and I've missed you so much. Tell me we can start again?”

He gently touched his hand to her cheek. “My Lord, there is nothing to forgive, but if you need to hear it, then yes, I forgive you. And we will start again, I want that more than anything else in the Empire. I love you, I never stopped loving you.” He bent his head and touched his lips to hers, briefly and very softly.

“Thank you”, she whispered, leaning into his embrace, wanting more.

But he pulled back and took a deep breath. “I want to explain everything, but if I tell you, you may wish that I had not.” He looked uncertain and a little nervous. “With all due respect, my Lord, you did not really know much about Baras at all.”

“That sounds a bit ominous.” She looked at him worriedly. “I probably need to know. But only if you're willing to tell me. It's your decision, Malavai, I'll leave it to you.”

The trust in Zier's eyes as she looked up at him was almost too much to bear with all the emotional turmoil of their renewed love and ending of their months of separation. He nodded, and waited a moment to get his voice under control. He deliberately pushed himself into his military mindset, to make as unemotional and objective a report as possible.

Not looking at her, he began. “As you know, my Lord, I worked for Lord Baras for quite a number of years. He rarely told me the purpose behind any of his actions, nor did those I assisted at his command, but, as I came to know him, and observed his orders, I was able to extrapolate from what I knew and could find out, and make a reasonably accurate assessment of a lot of what he was intending, and why.”

He considered briefly, then continued, “Baras comes from a long heritage of strong Force-sensitives. However, he and his sister Ekkage were the only powerful Sith in their generation. Baras was convinced that this was because the family had been diluted over the years by weak or even non-Force users. So he set out to … ah... improve the stock, as it were. He had initially instituted an incestuous relationship with Ekkage ...”

Zier's face twisted in utter disgust. “How could they … ugh!”

Quinn retained his objectivity with an effort and continued, “An incestuous relationship to breed in the strongest Force-sensitive traits. However, they only had one child before Ekkage was betrayed to the Republic and imprisoned on Belsavis.” He hesitated. “I do not have absolute proof, my Lord, but I am as certain as I can be that Lord Draahg was the child in question.”

“That would explain a few things”, Zier muttered.

Quinn nodded. “In any case, having lost Darth Ekkage, Baras then had to pursue another track. He had already been looking into cloning, and he renewed his efforts in that direction. Not long after I was assigned to Balmorra I discovered that he had been doing business with an offshoot of the Imperial Science Bureau, an organisation called Project Protean - that was their area of specialisation. His intention, so I believe, was to produce a large number of strongly Force-sensitive children and grandchildren, a family that he could dominate and use to gain and then keep the power he craved. But the Protean development work was slow and complex, so whilst they continued, he was also searching for other … err … breeding stock, for himself and later for Draahg. There were a number that I am aware of, but none entirely suitable. Until he found you, my Lord.” He looked at her anxiously, seeing the dawning of understanding.

“He was going to … eww! No way!” It was hard for her deep red skin to go visibly pale, but she was clearly revolted at the thought.

“If it is any consolation, my Lord, I believe it … ah … the conceptions would have been done by artificial insemination, using Protean's alien gene splicing knowledge and techniques to ensure the best possible hybrid, predominantly human but with the required Zabrak traits from you.”

She grimaced. “Not really a consolation … the idea of carrying Baras's child …” She shuddered. “Go on.”

Quinn nodded. “I should admit, my Lord, that I was aware of these plans, and …” he gave a small rueful smile, “knowing that Baras had you marked for his attentions, I could not possibly respond to your advances. I was attracted to you almost as soon as we met, but Baras ordered that I … ah ... kept an eye on you but hands off you. As it were.” He coughed embarrassedly.

“I knew it! We'll discuss that later.” She smiled at him, the first real smile she'd managed. “Sorry, I'm distracting you, go on.”

“I did not have a great deal of information about Project Protean. I know that they had set up a special unit on Baras's orders, autonomous and, naturally, under conditions of extreme secrecy. This has been in existence at least for several decades, so I have very limited information regarding its foundation. I also do not know the extent of their success, or otherwise.

“Baras changed his plans for you after your encounter with Nomen Karr and the way you bound Jaesa to you. I believe he had also considered Jaesa as a possible breeding partner, incidentally. In any case, he later informed me that he had been unsettled, as he described it, by the independent way in which you had handled things. He realised firstly, that he was unlikely to be able to persuade you to … umm ... cooperate willingly with his dynastic plans, and secondly, that, whilst useful and loyal at the moment, you might very well become strong enough to be able to challenge him. So he used your strength to implement Plan Zero and get rid of Darth Vengean, then struck while he thought you were still weak enough to be overcome.

“When he discovered that Draahg had failed, he tracked us down again, and contacted me. He said that he was the Voice of the Emperor with powers you could not comprehend. That you did not have any possibility to beat him. That there was no question but that he would win, and that meant pain, terror and death for all of us. Over and over again, countless holomessages. I could save everyone else if I served him one last time, he said, otherwise I and all my family, and everyone who served you and their families, would be enslaved or tortured to death, as slowly and painfully as possible.”

He stopped and swallowed. “Baras wanted you defeated utterly. But it is worse than that. I was not supposed to kill you, only to render you completely helpless and deliver you to him. He told me … told me that the rest of us would then be free to do whatever we liked, but that he would torture you into a mindless husk, then use you for himself and Draahg to … to … breed from. But I couldn't …” He broke off, his voice cracking, unable to suppress the emotion any longer.

She put her arm round him, pulling him close. “It's all right, Mal”, she murmured.

He took several deep breaths, calming himself by sheer force of will. “I must tell you the rest and then I hope you will understand why I did what I did.” He pushed her away very gently and stood up, walking away a little to stand and stare out across the river.

“I laid my plans with very great care. I had to deceive everyone, including Baras himself. I could not go against him, but I refused absolutely to do what he wanted. I knew he was lying when he said you could not defeat him. He thought you could. That was why he wanted you stopped - and why I had to make sure you weren't stopped. But I still needed to protect everyone else. The only possible way out that I could see was for me to fail and die. Baras would not waste time on pointless revenge, he would just start making new plans. And he would no longer have anyone close to you to serve him in that respect. You would be protected.”

She desperately wanted to go and hold him, but she had to let him finish. Oh Mal, why didn't you tell me? She sat still on the sun-warmed rock and kept silent, trying to send him support through the Force.

“The one thing that made my plan possible turned out to be surprisingly simple. Baras thought he knew your strength and skill from what you achieved in his service. But he had never fought you himself and I knew how rarely you ever needed to unleash your true power. You may remember, on Balmorra, that I had to make several recalculations to take account of just how powerful you were.”

I remember, she thought at him. It was the first time I ever teased you. When I first knew I wanted you for a friend.

“So I designed the plan for the attack, and sent the details to Baras including the specifications to have the droids manufactured. But I deliberately had them made powerful enough that Baras would be convinced, and yet sufficiently weak in certain ways that I knew you would be able to defeat them. Then, when we met on the station and I sprang the trap, I did everything I could to anger you … “ he stopped and swallowed, fighting to retain control.

After a moment he continued. “I knew your anger would give you more strength. And I tried to make you hate me too, as well as hating Baras. So that you would kill me swiftly after you destroyed the droids, and not regret it. And then I would be free of Baras and you would be free to go on and defeat him.” He stopped again, unable to say any more.

Zier's guts twisted with renewed despair and self-loathing, and she hunched forward, wrapping her arms around herself, as though trying to hold herself together. “You made all that sacrifice for me, but then I never let you explain and kept you alive with all the pain and fear, just for my own selfish purpose … oh Mal … how could you forgive me for that?” She wept helplessly again and rocked backwards and forwards like a small child, unable to contain her anguish.

Quinn walked back and knelt down in front of her, wrapping his arms around her, stilling her rocking. “My Lord … Zier, I love you. It helped you defeat Baras. And now we both understand. It was a price worth paying.”
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.

JaggerSwagger's Avatar


JaggerSwagger
11.13.2012 , 07:39 PM | #2
Very nice! I eagerly await more!
It's good to have luck. It's better to have skill. It's best to have both.

Syart's Avatar


Syart
11.16.2012 , 12:47 PM | #3
Quote: Originally Posted by JaggerSwagger View Post
Very nice! I eagerly await more!
Glad you liked it It's continued in Aftermath - forgot to add the link before
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.

kalistea's Avatar


kalistea
11.16.2012 , 01:59 PM | #4
Quote: Originally Posted by Syart View Post
Yes, it's another post-Quinn débâcle making up, sorry. I think it has a slightly different twist to most that I've read, though
Warning no. 1: Major warrior story spoilers, as usual. Warning no. 2: very long
Don't apologize, there can't possibly be too many stories about the sith warrior and her companion... and they can never be too long!

Thanks a lot for writing this, I really liked it, and definitely will be reading your other story, looks promising! (damn I knew I should have killed Baras at the end... )

Lunafox's Avatar


Lunafox
11.26.2012 , 03:06 AM | #5
I really enjoyed this! Can't ever have too much Malavai, or for that matter, reasons for the Quinncident lol. I look forward to more from you. I start to read many fics, yet I finish few. Yours kept me going right til the end.
No Individual class/companion story extensions, make it technically challenging to pay a sub!
~Take care everyone! May the Force be with you, always!~