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Hand of the Sith (SW + SI + JK)


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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Hand Of The Sith







"Master! Come here! We've found something!"


Luke Skywalker was pulled from the report he was reading by the joyous shout of young Padawan Shaunti and looked out of the tent where he sat towards the ruins they were exploring. It was a report of the previous days supply expenditures and dry reading so that the aged Jedi Master welcomed the interruption. He stood, slowly from old knees protesting, and collected his cane before carefully making his way down the ramp. Tython was in late spring and he was glad of the warmth of the air despite his robes.


The older he grew, the more the cold weighed down on him and Luke Skywalker was a very old Jedi indeed. The leadership of his new Order passed on to younger, abler Jedi and Luke was content to spend the remainder of his time left teaching and passing on what he had learned. He was on Tython as a 'field trip' with his current class of Initiates awaiting selection as Padawans and Shaunti whose Master had been killed in an accident. She wasn't ready for the Trials yet, but had too much promise to be lost to the order so Luke had taken what he was sure would be his last apprentice.


Shaunti looked up as her Master arrived at his own pace, her ruddy face split wide with a grin. She was a Togruta, her lekku and montrals were still quite small for her age, but she'd grown from a precocious slip of a girl to a young woman, nearly ready to take her place in the Order. Luke returned her smile as he arrived, more laboriously than he really needed to as their marked age difference was something they played for humor between them. "Alright, alright, I'm here," he told her, raising a hand to stroke the gray beard that he'd decided to experiment with that was growing in on his chin. "What is this magnificent discovery you've made?"


Tython had been the birthplace of the Jedi Order, thousands of generations before and the world was dotted with the ruins of Jedi Temples, academies and places of learning. They were in the highlands over looking a wide, long valley below where their ship was parked at a site that Luke had thought was merely a residence, but upon excavating had proven far more complex that the simple rooms that had drawn them here. They were down off what had been an open space they'd called the Courtyard, on the hill side of the ruin. A small construction of stone was against the hillside they'd called The Shed, thinking it had held gardening equipment once upon a time.


The stone door of The Shed was open and Luke was peering into an impossibly black opening that seemed to swallow the warm Tython sunlight. "Look," Shaunti enthused. "It does go into the hill side! There's a larger chamber beyond!"


Luke leaned heavily on his cane as he peered into the void. There was something very strong in the Force inside, something that both pulled and repelled him. The air that rolled out of the opening was stale from being still for so long, but not foul and oddly warm enough that the aged Jedi Master removed his outer cloak and carefully laid it over a handy block of stone. He sighed and turned to the two initiates that had been working with Shaunti. "Dug, Runnol, I want you to go to the ship and tell Threepio and Artoo to come here at once, alright?"


"Yes, master!" the two echoed and scampered off.


"And you two stay at the ship until I come get you!" he shouted after them. Some of the exuberance left Shaunti's face.


"You're worried," she observed. "What is it?"


"You don't feel it?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.


She looked into the opening and then back at her Master. "I feel something strong in the Force is in there. But, I don't sense danger."


"Look again," he instructed her. "But not with your eyes. Stretch out with your feelings." The Padawan closed her eyes and centered herself. Her head cocked to one side as she concentrated. "What do you feel?"


"I feel...excitement...my heart is racing and...like I'm in a fight. But...there is fear...and joy and sadness; and anger..." Her eyes opened, made to seem wider by the white marks that encircled them. "So many emotions, Master, and so strong...!"


"There's only one thing that feels like that, Shaunti," he said as he switched his cane to his left hand and took his light saber from its place on his belt. "I've only felt it a few times myself, but it's unique in the Galaxy. Remember it, for it's a warning of a very dangerous foe."


"What is it, Master? Who?"


"A Sith Lord," he said as he ignited his light saber and held it into the opening. Now, in the green glow he could see smooth, even ramp moving dropping slowly down into the mountain. "Be on your guard."


The smile returned, bright as a summer sun. "You're not sending me away?"


"I'm getting too old for this," he told her with a ghost of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "And how will you learn if I send you away?"


"Right behind you, Master!"


The hallway led down, ramrod straight for twenty meters then broadened in a perfectly circular room double that in circumference. The walls were lined with the still faintly glowing blue crystals of a holographic archiving database. A shaft of light shown down from the ceiling over a star burst shaped dais a meter tall. On that was a rack or altar of some kind. "This isn't from the era of the Je'daii Order, it's much newer," Shaunti observed. "That means our dating of the ruins is wrong..."


"One doesn't follow the other," Luke told her, never taking his eyes off the dais.


"If these databanks still work, Master, this may be one of the most important finds so far!"


"It already is," Skywalker whispered as he slowly assented the steps of the dais. At its center a platform was raised up out of the ruddy stone the star burst was made of, cut in the same shape to make a flat surface. On this was a matched pair of the oldest light sabers he'd ever seen and an intricately inlaid dodecahedron sitting in a crystal stand.


"What is it?" breathed Shaunti.


"A holocron," Luke told her. The sides of it seemed to made of triangular panes of blue glass set in a filigreed metal frame of gold with a flora etched inlay in the glass. It vibrated with the Force and gave off a slight tinkle as if crystal wind chimes caught in a soft, but unending breeze.


"Holocrons are square," she protested. "We used one at the Academy."


"Jedi holocrons are generally square," he corrected with a smile to soften it. "And every Sith holocrons I've ever encountered was shaped like a pyramid. This...is unique." He thought for a long moment then extinguished his saber and returned it to his belt.




Luke silenced his Padawan with a gentle gesture, then reached out and just touched the multi-sided sphere with his fingertips. "Sometimes..." he started to say, but was cut off by a flash of light that washed the room out of his vision and blinded him for a moment. Blinking back stars, Luke found himself staring into the bright yellow eyes of an olive complected woman.


She was somewhere between thirty and fifty, trim, fit and exceptionally tall, taller than he had been in his prime, and taller than he was now in his old age. She wore a full black dress that complimented her ebony hair and was defined at her waist by a broad black leather belt. The sleeves of the dress were cut so that they fell away from her arms to be gathered again at her wrists and cuffed snug there. The V neckline was quite daring and her generous decolletage set off by a intricately made necklace with a comet and star-burst motif. There was a defiant glint to her eyes and manner and, now that his eyes were adjusting once more, Luke could see that she was actually transparent. "Though victory, my chains are broken, the Force shall free me." she declared, soft accent to her voice that Luke knew well.


"Who are you?" he asked, looking to see that Shaunti was alright. His Padawan stood, slack jawed agape.


"I am knowledge. I am experience, all that was by, but still less than she who was Syluri Ogden, Lord of the Sith," the woman replied, her chin rising. "What is your name, Master Jedi?"


"I am Luke Skywalker, and this is my Padawan learner Shaunti Tano." The transparent woman bowed ever so slightly, regally from the neck. "How did your holocron come to be on Tython, Gatekeeper?" The apparition walked slowly around the dais, arms spread wide to take in the chamber.


"You stand in the library of Jedi Master Santier The Younger, sage, scholar and historian. In these databanks reside the collected knowledge of the Jedi and the Sith, as he knew them and their assorted histories. This, Master Jedi, is where you come from."


"How old are you?" breathed Shaunti.


"What year is it?" the transparent woman replied. "Unless I am active, I have no sense of passing time. Judging by the dust on everything, that's likely a good thing."


"Well, it's one hundred thirty years after the Battle of Yavin..." Shaunti started, but the Gatekeeper shook her head.


"I know where Yavin is, but not of any battle there, so that is meaningless." She put her hand to her chin and seemed to think for a moment, doubtlessly mimicking a habit of the Sith Lord she was programmed to resemble. Finally, she seemed to make a decision. "If it will help, my author was born in the 1,356th year of the reign of Darth Vitiate, Emperor of the Sith." She looked in both faces and saw the declaration was meaningless.


"We are here, Master Luke!" called Threepio over the whine of his servo motors as he followed his counterpart into the room. The droid caught sight of the Gatekeeper and gave one of his stiff backed bows. "Hello! I am C-3P0, human-cyborg relations! And this is my counterpart, R2-D2."


To both Jedi's amazement, the Gatekeeper keeper seemed amused by the 'droid's antics and had to suppress a smile. "I'm deeply honored, C-3P0. Tell me do your memory banks contain much history?"


"I am a Protocol 'droid, your Grace! Protocol and culture are both dependent on history."


Shaunti's eyebrows ascended her forehead. "How did you know she, or I guess the person she was based on was a Duchess, Threepio?"


The lights on the photocell cameras that the droid used for eyes turned off and on, which Luke had long ago realized was his way of blinking in surprise. "The Duchess is wearing the crest of the House of Ogden, the ruling family of the Tenara System for many thousands of years."


That seemed to please the Gatekeeper. "All is well with my author's house, droid?"


"Oh, indeed, Your Grace! Tenara is the prominent system of the Gordian Reach, the current Duke is Jaxcyn Ogden, and the Senator for..."


"Thank you, Threepio," interrupted Luke smoothly. "Can you tell us when the 1,356th year of the reign of Darth Vitiate, Emperor of the Sith was?"


The droid blinked again. "Of course I can sir! That translates to the year 3643, BBY, during the Great Galactic War with the Sith Empire. This war ended with the Treaty of Coruscant in..." Luke smiled and patted the droid on the shoulder.


"Thanks Threepio. So, Gatekeeper, your author was born three thousand, seven hundred and seventy three years ago." The bright amber eyes looked down and a hand went to her fore head. Had she been a living woman, Luke would have been afraid she would stagger and fall.


She turned and looked at the alter where the holocron and the light sabers rested. She reached out to touch them, but stopped before her transparent hand could pass through them. "All that I knew, is gone," she whispered, her voice heavy with regret and sadness.


"Will you tell us about it?" asked Luke softly.


"What would you know that you cannot find in a history text?" she demanded.


Luke caught himself reaching to place a hand in condolence on her shoulder. Not for the first time, he realized this was the most unique Gatekeeper of any holocron he'd ever experienced. He could feel the transparent woman's presence in the Force. "The Galaxy has gone through a great deal of turmoil and strife since your time. Much that which was known was lost. I think, you predate Darth Bane's Rule of Two, don't you?"


"I have never heard of a Darth Bane," the hologram replied. "What is this Rule of Two you speak of?"


"When you lived, there were many Sith Lords, weren't there? An entire Empire struggling against the Republic. Darth Bane changed that. He decreed there would from his time forward only ever be two Sith, a Master, and an Apprentice." The horrified look on her face told Luke he had guessed correctly.


"Our Empire," she whispered. "Our people reduced to two? A pair of wandering vagabonds, commiserating the past glory of a dead civilization?" She sagged in and shook her head. "And now there is only me, sad remnant of a bygone era. A historical curiosity, fit only for museums."


"We would like to learn," Shaunti assured her. "Tell us about Syluri. Who was she? What was she like?"


The transparent hands played over the light sabers as if remembering how they felt in her hand and reliving the memory. "Very well," she said after a heavy sigh. "What harm can it do?"


Luke caught Artoo in the eye and saw the little droid's holocamera activate so whatever she was about to teach them would not be lost. "My author felt her life truly began when she bested the Sith Trials and became a Lord of the Sith. As luck would have it, this occurred on Korriban, our ancient home..."


* * *

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Episode I

Hand Of The Sith



It is a period of Uneasy Peace and Cold War. The SITH EMPIRE surprised the GALACTIC REPUBLIC and returned to reclaim their ancient empire and dominate the galaxy. After twenty eight years of war, the SITH delivered a crushing defeat and imposed the TREATY OF CORUSCANT on the Republic, making the Sith Empire the legitimate rulers of nearly half the galaxy.


While the Republic licks its wounds the Sith Empire consolidates its grip on their holdings, and plots new conflict, both within and without. As individual Sith Lords vie for position, their maneuvering destabilizes the peace and both sides run the risk of open war.


In the midst of this society of betrayal and treachery a young Sith Apprentice, daughter of a noble house, SYLURI OGDEN is summoned to the Sith Academy on KORRIBAN, ancient home planet of the Sith to face the dreaded Trials to become a Lord of the Sith...




In her quarters on the Harrower-class dreadnought Indomitable, Syluri Ogden awoke to somewhat persistent requests of her father's valet 'Droid J33-V35. A smile pulled across her face for a number of reasons; memories of the actives of the night previously and anticipation of the day that was coming. She stretched pleasantly sore muscles to find her bed companion gone, doubtlessly to his duty station.


He had been hesitant at first, both in believing that Syluri had been interested in him and in fear of the repercussions that might await for him either taking or refusing such interest. Eventually he'd quieted down once it was clear to him Syluri would not take 'no' for an answer and proven himself a more than capable lover. Still, it was just as well that he was already at duty; Syluri didn't care for awkward good byes.


She stood from the bunk, her bare feet protected by the unforgiving deck of the ship by a small meditation rug her Spartan quarters could just accommodate and stretched again, finally getting a satisfying pop from the small of her back. Ogden was a tall young woman, nearly two meters bare foot with olive complected skin and the bright yellow eyes of a Sith that she had inherited from her mother, a Nightsister Force Witch of Dathomir. Her long ebony hair and the firm, regular features of her face that gave her a stern, regal beauty had been her father's gift to her genetics.


Syluri silenced the 'Droid with a gesture as, nude, she settled her trim, athletic body into a comfortable kneel and opened herself to the Force. Yes, she thought to herself as she felt her body come in tune with the energy. It had been her last night on board and her companion had known it. He had been vigorous in his love making and the remaining passion surged through her. Her thoughts turned to the Jedi who denied themselves the joys she had sampled in the night previous and shook her head in pity. Fools, she thought, hidebound fools.


Ogden barely noticed the 'Droid plaiting her hair in a way to frame her long oval face to both flatter her appearance and in utilitarian wisdom that it be kept out of her way. "Jay Thirty-Three," she asked, luxuriating in the machine's firm, dexterous fingers. "What do you know of this Lord who has summoned me to face the Trials? My mother is a Lord of the Sith; I am her accepted apprentice. How can this man over ride her?"


"Lord Baras is overseer of the Sith Academy, Miss," the machine replied in its cultured, exact diction. "As all training and apprentices are within his purview, short of the Dark Council or the Emperor himself, it is within his rights to judge the training you have received from your noble mother."


Finished, the robot stood and returned to laying out the garments it had selected for its mistress. Syluri stood and rotated the far corner of her cabin to reveal the sanitizer and stepped into it. Water was far too precious a commodity for bathing on board ship and with the press of a button an electromagnetic charge passed through her, removing dead cells, foreign contaminates and other detritus that accumulates on the body from her skin and hair. It wasn't as refreshing as a shower would have been, but it accomplished the task much faster.


Syluri dressed quickly, the tunic and trousers were both charcoal gray, cut to resemble an Imperial Naval uniform, but not step over into impersonation, she had been careful to make sure her apprentice emblems and patches were obvious. Satisfied with her appearance, a gesture brought her light sabers to her, one for each hip which she hung off her belt and felt herself straighten into her official personae. "Where is my father?" she asked of the 'Droid.


J33's face plate was never what you would call expressive. It merely paused for a moment while it communicated silently with the master computer of the Indomitable. "The Admiral is taking his breakfast at the Captain's Table."


Syluri nodded. "Pack my things, please, Jay Thirty-Three. We arrive today."


The robot bowed formally. "Very good, Miss." The door opened with a hiss of equalizing pressure and Syluri strolled out into the corridor. She nodded to the officers and men alike that she knew and returned the ones that she didn't but knew to nod to her. Morale, her father had said many times, was the life blood of a ship in space. It was far too complicated a machine to be manned by anything but a team, united in purpose and teams were forged through respect and admiration, not fear.


The Captain's Table was the private mess room of the Captain and his senior staff. As the Indomitable was the Admiral's flag ship, he also dinned there with his aides. However, Admiral Ogden made a point to defer to Captain Heerik as his host and that the Indomitable was his to command. Admiral Ogden commanded the Battle Group of forty odd ships that went wherever Indomitable went. He could, he'd often said, afford to be gracious.


As she approached the doors into the room, the Troopers that framed them came to attention then opened them for her. Inside, instead of the somewhat lively discussion of several dozen officers at the various tabled centered on the main long Captain's Table, she found only her father eating with one of the stewards attending him at his place. There could be some argument about what was the head or foot of the table, but the surrounding tables had their own hierarchy Syluri hadn't been able to work out on her own. She stopped inside the doors and allowed them to close behind her. "Permission to enter?" she asked softly.


"Thank you, Kindic," the Admiral instructed the Steward. "That will be all."


Kendic bowed and withdrew as the Admiral stood and turned to face his daughter. "Come in Syluri," he invited, gesturing to the empty place at the table at his right hand. It was the only other place set. "No need to be formal, not on our last meal together for some time."


"As you like, Father," she replied, walking at first to the butler's table from which Kendic had been serving her father, but with a casual gesture he directed her to the seat and he himself went to the buffet to make her plate.


Tagge Ogden was fifty eight, still a young and vigorous man for his age. He kept his body in shape by training with his Troopers three days a week, his mind by keeping informed and reading voraciously. He wore his midnight black hair close to his head and brushed back from a high aristocratic forehead that was going salty at his temples. He possessed a lean, sharp face that could equally be kindly or authoritative depending on his mood. He had been in service his entire life and demanded iron discipline in himself and his subordinates. His uniforms fit him as though they hung on a tailors form. He returned from the buffet with a plate of her favorite breakfast and set it down. "Jay Thirty Three is yours now, my gift to you on this new and final phase of your training."


This was unexpected and surprised her. "Thank you, father," she managed, more than a little stunned at the gift.


"Nervous?" he asked jovially.


The Force her mother had cultivated in her so carefully made her aware that her father was in fact far more emotional than his friendly facade let on. "I look forward to serving the Empire," she replied carefully.


"As you should be," he conceded, taking up his knife and fork to cut a bite of sausage which he chewed thoughtfully. Syluri contented herself to eating and taking in the swirling energy of hyperspace out the massive windows that was the far wall of the Captain's Table. After a moment, his voice interrupted her contemplation. "You know, Syluri, not all of the Empire are held to the standards to which you have been raised. It is unfortunate, but there is corruption among certain, weaker, men in the service of our Emperor." She turned back to face him as he took a sip from his goblet and returned the glass to the table, "Some, even within the ranks of the Sith Lords."


"Is there some specific person you're trying to warn me of, father?" she asked, drawing a smile from him. He reached forward and patted her hand in affection.


"You have your mother's way of penetrating my genteel, circuitous manners." He took the hand in his own and squeezed it to let her know how serious he was being. "Know, my daughter, that there are Sith Lords who do not understand the values we place on duty, or honor, or placing the Empire ahead of our own goals."


Something hard was in his hand that he pressed into her palm. Without thinking, Syluri used the Force to move it up the sleeve of her tunic and hold it there. As she did so, her mind was opened to the worries of her father, images of her being used against her parents, subverting her father's fleet from it's rightful duties, or merely her own killing to wound a political rival. He smiled; the same smile he might use to bolster the courage of a young lieutenant who'd just reported the fleet faced almost certain destruction against a numerically superior force. "A father likes to think he can always come to his daughter's aid, should she call."


In his mind, she saw a crack team of his best Troopers, standing by, waiting for the call of the device he had given her, who would come at a moment's notice and kill anyone who stood in their way. They were Jedi Killers, trained specially by her mother to defeat Force Users.


And the Sith, it suddenly occurred to her, were Force Users.


She saw the worry behind her father's eyes he tried to hide, the fear for her safety and the love of his daughter and his willingness to do anything to protect her. She placed her other hand over his and drank in the passion that connected her stronger to the Force. Yes, she realized, seeing at last the vague statements in what her mother had been trying to teach her. There were passions stronger than rage and hate, passions many Sith were blind to. "I will be cautious, Father, never fear." She returned his smile with a stronger version of her own. "And knowing my Father will always be here for me will give my feet wings through these trials. I shall return soon."


"May the Force make it so," he agreed.


Behind them, out the windows, infinity retreated and the planet Korriban leapt with impossible speed to fill the window with its ruddy face. He straightened no longer simply a loving father, but once more The Admiral of the Fleet. "We've arrived," he declared, standing and bending only slightly to kiss his daughter's fore head. "Make us proud, my dear."


"I shall, father."



* * *




The shuttle ride to the Academy's landing platform was a time of silent contemplation for Syluri as she turned the small device her father had given her over in her hands. It was a simple friend or foe transponder, used by the Troopers in close quarter battles to keep track of squad mates and check their fire so as to not shoot their own. On it was a single button, usually used to summon a recall transport when the squad had accomplished its mission. It was an innocuous device, one that would raise no eyebrows for it being on her person. She sighed and carefully stowed in a pouch designed for it she'd added to her belt.


Syluri was twenty, raised predominately by her mother on the Planet of Tenara; a world well within the boarders of the Sith Empire. The Ogden family had ruled Tenara for generations and her mother's marriage had granted her not only that duty, but by appointment of the Emperor Moff of the Tenara Sector. The Empire with its order, its traditions and its stability were all she had ever known. Until then, the enemies of the Empire were external threats, cold, emotionless Jedi exterminating people for the high crime of embracing their feelings in the service of a Republic so rife with corruption and greed that its attempts at legitimate governance were matters of high comedy.


The Empire would liberate the people held under the boot of this corruption. They would bring civilization to the heathens in the wilderness and they would learn to not eat their own children by kowtowing to the rule of the Jedi and offering them up as sacrifices. They would learn to submit to the Rule of Law and behave like proper people.


Never in her wildest dreams did she consider that there may be corruption within the Empire. That anyone would put their own petty desires for power ahead of the people and the Emperor they served. In a real sense, it was the ending of Syluri's childhood. However, she resolved to herself, it would never lessen the luster of the cause she served. To Serve Empire was a noble thing, bringing the light of freedom into the darkness and she would dedicate herself to that goal and rooting out the corruption of those that sought to dishonor that Empire.


Her decision made some part of her that she had from her father steeled her resolve and quieted her fears. If this Lord Baras was corrupt, he would die, for the Betterment of the Empire. And with her decision came the weight, the burden of those who served noble goals to find the right thing, the right course of action and she understood the times her mother and father had seemed weary. Still, her back straightened in the unconscious erect posture she had been taught that radiated command, authority and confidence. She stood as the shuttle settled onto its landing gear and faced the ramp. The crew opened it for her and stepped aside in deference; Syluri Ogden was every inch her father's daughter and was In Command.


The heat washed up the ramp, mixed with the dry air of Korriban and the red dust of the Sith Home World. Below, on the platform a trio of acolytes awaited, all wearing the red and charcoal robes of those being trained as Inquisitors. All were Human interestingly enough, two were female, one white blonde hair worn close to her head, and the other had her head shaved for some reason. Both wore the thin gold chains of former slaves, newly liberated and on probation for their freedom, they sank to one knee in proper respect. The male behind them bowed, he wore the shaved head and ritual Fu Manchu mustache of the Brotherhood of Ziost, a severe monastic order, even for Sith. "Welcome to Korriban, my lord," he greeted as Syluri went down the ramp and returned his bow with a nod of received respect.


"And what brings a monk of Ziost to train as an Inquisitor?" Syluri asked, genuinely curious.


"The answer of all questions is The Force," the Monk replied. "Though, when we have time, it will be my honor to enlighten you in greater detail. I am Kunga Jigme, your humble servant."


"I look forward to your tale. I am Syluri Ogden, apprentice of Moff Myan Ogden, Governess of the Tenara Sector, Lord of the Sith. Your service honors me. For now, I shall be satisfied to know if the Academy is admitting slaves to be trained as Sith?" Syluri kept her eyes on the two women, noting their reactions while they kept their faces downcast. The blonde looked away, while the other clenched her fist in rage and just as quickly relaxed it to keep from being caught.


The monk permitted himself a smile. "My lord is keen eyed to see through to the heart of many matters. My charges have a tale nearly as interesting as my own! Like me, they are also yours to command." He reached forward and pulled the hood down from the bald girl who had clinched her fist. "This former slave is Panithea, a thief who was caught and sentenced to the spice mines of Kessel."


Syluri gestured and the monk urged the girl to her feet. Exposed she could see there had been numerous cybernetic implants placed in her, doubtlessly to keep her alive and working in the harsh spice mines. Over her eyes was a pair of lenses that folded out of the way when not needed, but had been permanently attached to her face. Even through their ruby lenses, Ogden could feel the hatred radiate from her. "What did you steal, thief, for which you were cast down into the oubliette of Kessel?" she demanded.


"Food!" the girl snarled. The anger was quick to come to her and through the Force Syluri could see it give her quick, if temporary power. "On Bestari the rich like you gorge themselves to the bloated size of Hutts while the rest of us stave on scrapes and what we can steal!"


"Steal from me and you sign your own death warrant," Ogden ordered her, grabbing her chin with a firm grasp and letting the acolyte sense that her mastery of the Force was much stronger. She stared into the red lenses, cowing the animal with in before her grip softened to a near caress. "Serve me faithfully, with loyalty and honor and that chain will depart your neck and you will never go hungry again. I demand your obedience, it is my right and due, and for it, you shall find me a generous mistress. Do I have it?"


"Do you think my loyalty so cheap it can be bought by the promise of a meal?" the girl demanded. "Or that I am incapable of providing for myself?"


Ogden's intense yellow eyes narrowed. "Loyalty, like trust, are not bought and paid for, but earned. I did not enslave you, you did that to yourself. It is not in my nature to abuse those placed under me, but I will not tolerate disobedience. Obey, serve loyally and you will be rewarded, disobey, or betray me and I promise you will not regret it long." Panithea stared into Syluri's face, seeking the tell tale of a rich liar, only to find her gaze coolly returned with unblinking honesty of both her threats and her promises. In this, she was like no Sith Lord Panithea had ever encountered and was intrigued. Staying locked with the beautiful woman's fierce yellow eyes, she sank to her knee once more. "I will obey, my lord."


The regal face arched an eyebrow in sardonic amusement. "Then we have an agreement," she replied with a slight smile. "And I always honor my agreements," she said as she turned to the other girl. "And you, girl, what is your story?"


"I am a murderer, my lord," the girl whispered, looking away.


"Whom did you kill?"


Anger and shame flared up within the Acolyte as she snatched down the hood she wore and for the first time she looked up into Syluri's face, her features twisted in rage. "The animals that raped me and did this!" she snarled, defiant. Her face was crisscrossed with hideous scars, down the right side with one and across the bridge of her nose under her eyes with the other. Syluri nodded.


"And are they all dead?"


She rose up a clinched fist. "They awoke The Force within me and roasted to death on my anger and the lightening The Force gave me! I killed them all and I'm not sorry!"


Syluri placed her hands on her hips. "Nor should you be," she agreed. "However, you are in my service now, and you will obey my orders. Your name?"


"Arktica, my...my lord," the girl stammered, as taken aback by Syluri's demeanor as Panithea had been. The Sith Warrior turned to the Monk.


"Why were these scars not healed properly? Why was she denied medical treatment?" The monk nodded, pleased with the questions.


"The men Arktica killed were well born; she was condemned as a slave and sold. By the time Lord Zash discovered her, they had set. They are no longer life threatening, but cosmetic and the academy medical droids are not programmed in such procedures."


Ogden scratched her chin in thought. "They are competing to be the apprentice of Lord Zash?"


"We were, my lord," Panithea supplied. "But we were taken from her service at the order of Lord Baras over her loud complaints. And from him, assigned to you, but we do not know why. You are only an apprentice."


"Rise, both of you," Syluri commanded. She reached out and took the scared girl's chin and gently forced their eyes to meet. "Serve me faithfully and I will see to it this is corrected. You will have your beauty again and neither of you will want in my service."


"I am beautiful...!" she started, her will flaring to not be defeated by the injury, then the anger drained from her pale skin and for a moment, desperate hope flashed behind her cold icy gray eyes. "I will serve you, my lord, so long as your word holds true." Ogden smiled and took a shoulder of each in encouragement.


"Then you will serve me for the rest of your lives. Lies are the tools of cowards and the weak, you will find me neither. And you, Brother Kunga, you are also given to me? For what end?" The Monk shook his head.


"I know not, my lord. Only that we are to meet you, pledge our service and escort you to the presence of my Lord Baras." Syluri considered this for a long moment, and then turned to the 'droid valet that stood behind her with her luggage, patiently awaiting her pleasure.


"Jay Thirty-Three, have I been assigned lodgings in the Academy?" She waited out the pause as the robot established a link with the Academy's computer network.


Finally it bowed. "Yes, Miss, there are rooms assigned to you and your new servants in the temporary dormitory for transient Sith. I note that all of your new acolytes were previously assigned permanent student housing in that dormitory."


Once more she rubbed her chin in thought. "Then we are likely to stay for short time and then depart. Jay Thirty-Three, take my things to our rooms and unpack only an essential list of necessities for a short stay. When you have finished that, go to the dormitory to pack and move the belongings of my charges to the transient facility. Keep things light, we may need to depart quickly."


"Certainly Miss," the droid acquiesced and promptly moved off to accomplish its mission.


That taken care of, she turned to the acolytes and took in the electro-bladed training weapons they were all armed with. "None of you have light sabers?" she asked to their shaking heads. "Then conduct me to Lord Baras. When that is finished, we will see about getting you all proper weapons." The monk bowed again.


"This way, my lord."



* * *




The Sith Academy was an old building, as old as the tombs of the ancient Sith Lords the Empire's archeologists were painstakingly uncovering and slowly entering for secrets. It had been modernized with lights, power and cool control of the interior climate, but it rambled the way old buildings tended to, made worse as new additions were made to answer needs with modern materials. The offices of Lord Baras were on the second floor of the building, a new, modern section that rested over the top of the ancient structure and looked out over the Valley of the Dark Lords. From here, the Commandant of the Academy could keep tabs on the massive archeological works below as tomb after tomb was found, opened and carefully robbed of its secrets.


Baras himself was a large, corpulent man, his features hidden behind an intricately etched and engraved silver mask and helmet. He'd had a set of Sith Armor custom made to in case his considerable girth as though he fancied himself a warrior. The juxtaposition this created was repulsive however Syluri was well schooled to keep her expression neutral. She bowed to the Commandant as was his due which he declined to acknowledge and awaited his pleasure. Finally the mask looked up and in a voice thick with saccharin insouciance and a nasal, effeminate tone for a man so large effused, "Ah, the Golden Child, come in little acolytes and let us all bask in the light of the perfect Sith!"


"We are honored to be in your presence, my lord," Ogden returned carefully, the weight of the IFF transponder heavy on her belt.


"Beautiful, powerful and modest," Baras purred, standing from his desk and circling it. The light saber that hung from his belt reminding all that despite the image, this was in fact a dangerous man. "But is she knowledgeable to match the preferential treatment she has received? She wears the garments of an apprentice, but I did not promote her so, and I have power over such promotions!"


"My apprenticeship to Moff Ogden was not challenged when it took place, my lord," Syluri reminded him in her most respectful tones. He strode forward, robes and fabrics rustling to menace over her. Darth Baras was well over two meters and it took much strength of will not to step back.


"Such insolence," Baras purred. "The student corrects the teacher! Recite, Golden Child and let us see if you are worthy of my inspection! Recite the Code of the Sith!"


"Would my lord care to have me recite in the tongue of the ancient Sith, or in Basic?"


His hand flew up as his temper bested him, but Syluri did not flinch and kept her eyes locked on the dark slits in the mask. The hand came down slowly to caress her cheek in a gesture that was meant to stir revulsion in her, but Ogden held her head high. "Both," purred Baras, "line for line, so we can see if the Golden Child is boastful as well as insufferably prideful."


"Nwûl tash." Growled Syluri at the silver mask as the Dark Lord began to circle her. "Dzwol shâsotkun Peace is a lie, there is only Passion."


"And what does the Golden Child think that means?" Baras demanded from behind her.


"If my lord is asking for my personal opinion, and not the ruminations of one of the Great Masters of the Dark Side of the Force, I would answer that the only peace one is capable of in this Galaxy is the peace of the grave, the peace that cannot be enjoyed. Life requires, demands struggle, constant struggle, for food, shelter, mates, that is the way of life, the Way of the Force."


"Your mother the Witch has taught you well," Darth Baras commented. "But you are not a Sith yet. Continue." It occurred to Syluri suddenly that the Sith Lord was practicing Dun Möch against her, attempting to dominate her spirit through her own doubts and fears. Discretely, she allowed one of her hands at her side to take hold of one of the light sabers that hung off her belt. Knowing you are in a trap is halfway to escaping it her mother's voice whispered in her memory.


"Shâsotjontû châtsatul nu tyûk," she told his chair behind his desk where she fixed her gaze, using the Force to keep track of her corpulent adversary. "Through passion, I gain strength."


"Do you think yourself strong compared to me?" he whispered in her ear.


"I am at my lord's pleasure to prove my strength upon him, or an opponent of his choosing if he thinks me more than his match," she told him with a sneer. His arm was halfway through his killing stroke before his light saber activated with a hiss, but Ogden had been ready for him and her own golden yellow blade intercepted his strike and stopped it millimeters from her throat. Through the Force she felt the two young women, girls her own age really, stir from where they stood, but a hand from the Monk Kunga kept either from engaging, though on who's side was unclear.


"Have I offended, my lord?" she asked, her eyes focused on the dark slits in the mask. Her ears told her the pitch of his saber was far too high for it to be a training blade that would leave a nasty burn but not kill. Had she not blocked the blow, she would be dead.


The blade snapped up, over his head as he sought to use his height and weight to his advantage. The over hand strike was blocked in the cross of Syluri's paired blades, trapped between them as she braced herself against his strength. "Recite!" Baras grunted as he attempted to overcome her block.


"Tyûkjontû châtsatul nu midwan," Syluri managed between clenched teeth, Baras was far stronger than his corpulent form belied and it was taking everything she had to keep the deadly blade from descending on her skull. "Through strength, I gain power!"


Suddenly the blade withdrew and Syluri was staggered by a flat palmed strike of his gloved hand directly onto her face. Before she could recover, the Force flowed through him and launched her across the room. She landed on her feet parallel to the floor on a wall and launched herself off it, just in time to avoid a heavy looking crate of stones that shattered where she had been moments before.


Belatedly, she realized his office had dozens of these boxes, the perfect projectiles to hurl with the Force, which he did. Dodging, she reached out herself and collected a dozen stones she hurled back towards his mask. These he hurled to the side with a violent gesture while blocking the few that escaped that with his blade. It however allowed her to close to saber distance again and they traded a furious collection of blows, attack and counter, block and dodge which proved the Sith Lord remarkably light on his feet. "Why do you with hold your anger?" the purring voice from the silver mask demanded. "Only your rage, your hatred can destroy me!"


"What would my lord wish me to be angry about?" she demanded as she whipped one of her blades behind her back to protect her spine from his blow then rotated around his strike in an attempt to bury her other blade in the helmet. "I am grateful for his personal tutelage!"


He ducked the blow, freed his blade and once more locked it with hers, rooting her to the spot in a new test of strength. "I see a student in need of instruction if she cannot harness the Power of the Dark Side, recite!"


"Midwanjontû châtsatul nu asha," she replied as she folded her legs and tumbled backwards, away from him and onto her feet once more, unable to capitalize on his momentary loss of balance her sudden retreat had cost him. She slashed at his feet and alternated her attacks, trying to rain a monsoon of strikes he would not be able to block. "Through power, I gain victory!"


His saber flashed a red river of light, seemingly everywhere, blocking every blow, but in so doing he was forced to retreat against her furious attack. "Ashajontû kotswinot itsu nuyak. Wonoksh Qyâsik nun!" she shouted as she forced him against his desk. He faltered and she used the momentary loss of concentration to dip one of her blades and slice through the emitter of his light saber. His blade snapped out of existence as the weapon was destroyed and she leveled one of her blades just above where his neck met his chest.


"Through victory, my chains are broken," she panted, tired but exalted from the effort. "The Force shall free me."


The mask chuckled a sinister laugh. "Good, good!" he enthused, "but you should realize, Golden Child..." Even though he made no motion or gesture, suddenly the Force struck her in the abdomen and the breath was knocked from her body even as she was hurled across the room. "A Dark Lord of the Sith is not so easily defeated!"


It was only an act of supreme self control that Syluri kept both of her light sabers in her hands. Gasping for breath, she struggled to her feet, trying to brace for the follow up attack from Darth Baras. Again without apparent gesture on his part, invisible blows landed on her wrists that opened her hands. The sabers were snatched away, deactivating as they went and an invisible hand grasped her by the throat and lifted her from her feet. Meanwhile, the Commandant merely threw his destroyed weapon into a waste receptacle and dusted off his armor before he plucked her sabers from the air. "Now, that the insolence has been beaten out of you," he purred, the invisible hand threatening to crush her throat. "And you understand who is Master here and who is Student, perhaps there is something that can be done with you." He strode forward a few paces with her weapons, the gloat of his victory rolling off him in waves while her vision began to tunnel and narrow. A final invisible blow fell and Syluri lost consciousness to fall in a heap at the Commandant's feet. "Slaves," Baras ordered, "take your mistress to her quarters and tend her. There await my further pleasure."


"As my lord commands," Kunga replied, letting Arktica and Panithea pick up Syluri while he collected the weapons the Dark Lord held out. He bowed, and led the women from the office.



* * *



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A horrific stench snatched Syluri back to consciousness and had her staring up into the lens covered eyes of Panithea. She wore a self satisfied smirk, but for that helped Ogden up into a sitting position. "Thanks," Panithea told her as the smirk widened into a grin. "You just fulfilled the fantasy of every student here, thumbing your nose at old bucket head and I was there to see it. Dumb, and I'm honestly surprised you're still alive, but great to watch."


Syluri leaned forward and held her throbbing head in her hands. "I wish I could say things like it having been a calculated risk and everything proceeding as I've foreseen, but to be honest I was dealt a particularly bad hand of Sabacc and had to wing it."


From the food processor, Kunga came over with a glass of water and a pain block pill which he gave her. Ogden quickly took the medicine and washed it down greedily. "You are fortunate not to have been winged," he told her with a slight smile. "The Commandant is a proud man, among his many sins. I have heard ugly rumors of the 'special lessons' he gives students as attractive as you."


"My linage may keep me out of his bed, but he had to establish a dominance to show he had power beyond what my parents could make him answer for. I was expecting something like this, but I didn't expect him to try it with a light saber set to full power. How many acolytes has he killed this way?"


Arktica hugged herself before she stood and wondered to the window to look out. "Some things you know better than to keep track of." The apartment was outfitted with a large central room they were all in, this served as lounge and had a long table with chairs for eating or other work. A food processor took up most of the wall next to the table. Three doors led off each of the far ends of the room, left and right, that likely led to sleeping rooms and refreshers with the entire wall Arktica stood at being a panoramic vista of the Valley of the Dark Lords through massive transparisteel windows.


The Valley was decorated with massive statues carved from the red rock of Korriban. Who the men and women were the statutes represented, whether they had been real people, or gods or other mythic figures had been lost to time. The colossal statues stood between durasteel scaffolds and platforms while men and droids scurried around them. Then deeper down into the valley were the black open maws of the tombs that had been discovered already, most with Imperial Troopers stationed by the entrance, though whether to keep the unwary out, or the occupant in wasn't clear. Fortunately the painkiller worked quickly and the headache was already starting to fade as Syluri joined Arktica by the window. "After I blacked out, did Baras say anything more? Do we have any idea either why you were assigned to me, or even what his plans are?"


Panithea snorted in contempt. "Baras would charge a fee to give something away."


"Interesting that you are as ignorant of this as we," Kunga mused. "What were you told when you were summoned here, my lord, if I may ask?"


"That I would face Trials to affirm my status as a Sith Lord," she replied. "And please, all of you, I learned from my father long ago that guarded thoughts do not solve problems. Ask of me anything, as you may see some clue I do not that may be the key to all our survival."


Jay Thirty-Three made a growling wheeze that Ogden knew was his equivalent of 'clearing his throat'. It was the noise he used when he wished to say something. "You have something to add, Jay Thirty-Three?" she asked.


"While I cannot shed additional light on this particular conundrum, Miss, having over heard your comment on the landing platform about 'proper weapons' I took the liberty of visiting the central supply warehouse." The robot opened one of the cupboards that had been built into the wall next to it and removed a large plastic box. "I thought that these might be useful." It set the box down on the low table the circular couch surrounded and opened it to reveal it was full of components, wires, crystals, electronics and chromed metallic hilts. A gasp went up from the assembled acolytes, drawing a smile from Syluri when she recalled how she felt when her mother had trained her how to make a light saber. So she settled down and walked her charges through the ins and outs of making the ancient weapon of those who used the Force.


Arktica constructed a dual headed saber staff that had a length regulator built into one end to allow it to serve as a two handed Great Saber. Kunga also built a saber staff, though he restricted one end to only emit at training blade power, thus rendering it non-lethal. When asked why he settled through a kata that centered him to the Force and struck that end on the floor. Because it was only at training power, the blade was stopped by the durrasteel with a hiss of the over worked electromagnetic field that held the plasma. Then he astonished them all by going through a practice routine where he used the staff to balance on, increase the length of a jump and ending with him stepping up on the hilt and balancing on the point of the staff for longer than seemed possible, then jumping off with a twirl to deactivate the weapon and end with a bow.


Panithea asked to practice with Syluri's sabers as she had always been fascinated with the two saber style, though she found Syluri's preference to both sabers being the same length cumbersome and difficult to wield. Syluri walked her through making a traditional length saber and a second, fixed short bladed variant referred to as a Shoto. As they worked, Syluri reminded Kunga he owed her the tale of how he had come to leave his order and attempt to become a full Sith.


The monk smiled a small smile at a private remembrance and nodded. He settled into an uncomfortable looking seated position with his feet pressing flat together that evidently didn't bother him and began to speak as he made minor adjustments to his weapon. "Know then, my lord, that I have been a Brother of Ziost since I was very small. Indeed, I have no memory of a time before I studied at the monastery. Through their teachings, I became open to the Force and it grew strong within me. Through discipline my body became strong, through teaching my hands agile and through mediation my mind sharp. Though I came to find favor in the eyes of my masters, the longer I ruminated on the nature of the Force and the Code of the Ancient Sith, the more convinced I became that some deep Truth was missing from our perspective of the Living Force. Some veil I could not part or perceive beyond. But the Force whispered to me that the answers I sought I would find here on Korriban. I thought perhaps some mystery would be revealed in one of the ancient tombs so I presented myself for instruction and was accepted."


He paused for a long moment, then looked up into Syluri's bright yellow eyes. "But now I am not so sure that my answers are here, only, perhaps the road will begin here. And you, my lord, I am certain are the guide on that road. Where you go, I will follow, until the Force leads me elsewhere, or I am at last to find the Truth I seek."


"We are all fortunate to have your wisdom to guide us, Brother Kunga," Ogden told him.


"I am wise, only in that I know that I do not know," Kunga replied. "But I have thought much on the answer you gave to Darth Baras, that the only peace in life, being the peace of the grave. How did you come by this opinion?" Jigme realized instantly that Syluri was reluctant to answer by the expression that briefly flashed across her face. He was not to call her on it as the Force at that moment chose the holocom to begin to tone, making all aware there was an incoming transmission.


She stood quickly and led the way over to the table that it sat in the middle of and activated it. Instantly Darth Baras appeared in ghostly miniature on the table. "What is your bidding, my lord?" she greeted, giving a shallow bow.


"While I remain unconvinced of both your worthiness for this trial and your ability to complete it matters have conspired to override my opinion. Therefore listen well as this is the task I set before you, Syluri Ogden who would be a Sith Lord and these who I have placed under you to see if you possess the ability to lead others into battle. At the far end of the Valley of the Dark Lords lies the empty tomb of Darth Naga Sadow."


"What use is an empty tomb?" asked Panithea.


"It is empty because the Dark Lord's body was never laid to rest in it as he died somewhere in deep space," Baras replied, causing the group to glance at each other. That he had answered helpfully and over looked the upstart nature of the question boded ill omens they were sure. "However, it was built to his exact specifications and the Imperial Archeological Service has so far been completely stymied in trying to access the tomb. For some reason, the tomb was sealed, even though all we know of Darth Sadow says he was never laid to rest there."


Arktica rubbed her chin in thought. "There must be a reason it was sealed, to protect something?"


Again, Baras only nodded. "It is hoped there may be a holocron within that will have useful information, however none of the IAS agents have been able to penetrate the tomb's defenses."


"And we are to succeed where they have failed?" asked Syluri.


"You are expendable," Baras replied, "and so useful to follow a dangerous lead that will likely result in your deaths, but is too tempting not to follow through on. In the detention center is a Twi'lek that was captured in the tomb this morning. She is a grave robber and a thief and would have been executed on the spot save she claimed she had penetrated the tomb to its final chamber and in exchange for her miserable life would show others how to do so. You will go to the detention center, take charge of this prisoner and force her to show you to the inner chamber. If there is anything of value, you will return with it. If it is as empty as the rest of Naga Sadow's tomb leave her body there and return. If you live, we will speak again." The hologram winked out, leaving Syluri scratching her chin.


"How odd," she thought out loud. "Alright, I will go and collect our guide, if you will accompany me, Brother Kunga?" The Monk bowed. "Panithea, would you and Arktica see about some kind of transportation out to the site please?"


"Yes, my lord," the two replied in chorus.


"We'll meet again out in front of the building then," she said and led the way out of the quarters.



* * *




In short order, Arktica and Panithea were walking alone, having broken off from the Monk and their odd new keeper. They walked; their heads a bit higher as the other acolytes stared enviously at the light sabers that hung off their belts, and Arktica considered the odd young woman whom she had been competing with for the past few weeks. The cybernetically enhanced girl had been flip about everything, cool and aloof with a smart mouth and no fear of showing it off. Lord Zash had found her 'spirited' and was amused, but Darth Baras had not hesitated to correct her, physically, when she had been a bit too saucy with the Commandant for his liking.


Panithea had spent a day in a Kolto tank from the blow.


Where as Panithea seemed to take nothing seriously, Arktica found that her desire to better herself, to be accepted as Lord Zash's apprentice and find station and a place set her constantly on edge. Everything seemed to conspire to make her angry and Arktica was becoming afraid of her temper. She knew that rage fueled the Dark Side and she had been prepared to dig deeply to win the coveted place, just how deeply had shocked her, badly. The night before Ogden's arrival Lord Zash had made her spar with another acolyte, a boy more senior than her. Arktica had been terrified of the consequences and so launched herself into the fray with everything she had.


The boy was in the tank now in the medical center. And while he would likely live, he would do so without his right arm the droids had said.


Arktica wasn't sure what had horrified her more, what she'd done, how exhilarating she'd felt as the rage fueled by her fear coursed through her or the lilting, almost musical laughter that Lord Zash had indulged herself with after the match was over. She hadn't cared in the slightest that Arktica had nearly beaten a boy to death; hadn't cared for either of them truth be told.


She licked her lips and stole a glance at the girl walking beside her. "So, Panithea, are we going to be friends now?" she asked lightly. "I mean, it's not like we're still competing to Lord Zash's apprentice, right?"


The other girl turned her head, the red lenses that covered her eyes giving her a very sinister look. "You think not?" she drawled.


"Well, I mean, look how loud Lord Zash complained when Darth Baras took us from her," Arktica replied. "Normally nothing gets under her skin..."


"You're a fool," Panithea told her with one of her sarcastic smiles. "And my position becomes even more assured. Wonderful." Rage flared white hot at the insult through Arktica and the weight of her light staff seemed to triple on her belt. Some part of her suddenly understood why acolytes were only given the training weapons, but that was a casual observation that was more than drowned out over her desire to make the other girl pay for her slight.


"Oh, did I hurt your feelings?" Panithea asked, pursing her lips in mock sympathy even as she felt the rage flare in Arktica. "If you don't realize everything here is a test you are a fool," she snapped, pausing to spear a finger into Arktica's chest to drive her point home. "Despite all the posters and drivel on whatever planet gave birth to you about the Empire caring about you, or the Empire is going to make everything better, or the Empire even knows you're alive, the truth here is you have what you have through strength. You own what you can take, or defend, it's that simple!"


"So you're just going to stomp through life committing whatever evil pops into your mind?" Arktica demanded. She couldn't see through the red lenses, but by the way Panithea held her head, Arktica got the distinct impression she'd rolled her eyes.


"Evil?" she laughed. "Good? No such thing. There's power and I intend to have it and then there's powerlessness and I won't ever be that way again! And I don't give a damn what the powerless mutter behind my back! This apprentice we got assigned to? They're setting her up to be chewed and spat out! While it suits me, I'll play her game, but when she gets pushed over the edge I intend to watch her fall from the cliff. There's no percentage in dying for anything!"


"You...you...!" sputtered Arktica until the grin got wider across her face and she crossed her arms to gloat.


"Had you going, didn't I?" she laughed. "You want to be friends? Sure. Let's go get the 'Golden Child' her speeder and we'll see what else I can teach you about coping with Sith." She spun on her heel and continued on to Arktica's unbelieving gaze. If there was one thing she was sure, it was that nobody would ever predict Panithea.



* * *




The Detention Center of the Sith Academy of Korriban was not a particularly large place. The students lived at the whims of the instructors and discipline was harsh. Still, every so often the support staff needed to correct and punish minor derelictions of duty; tardiness, back talking an officer, fighting and the like. Anything more dire than the purview of a barracks lawyer had harsher penalties, usually administered on the spot.


The 'Center' was a single room, lined with meter square cages of metal bars. There was neither furniture nor the ability to lie completely prone if the prisoner was anything close to standard height. A bucket was the only accommodation to all things natural, but the cages had not a lick of privacy. In the center of the room was the desk of the jailer and his bailiff, who stood as Syluri and Kunga entered the room. "Darth Baras told us you were coming, my lord," the Jailer greeted with a shallow bow. He picked up a hand control unit and led the way to the only occupied cage.


In it was a very attractive Twi'lek female who would have been stunning if she wasn't wearing a fight crew's utility jumper that both it and she were covered in the red dust of Korriban. It was open to her navel, revealing the red bra she wore under it and her cobalt blue skin. Her skin was mottled with wine colored patterns or markings, but it was impossible to determine if they were natural to her or some kind of tattoo. She stood, intense green eyes staring as the Sith approached. "You're my lawyer, right?" she asked with a smirk. "Finally get to make baaaaiiiillll!" her jest turned into a shriek of pain as the Jailer pointed the device and pressed a button.


Syluri could now see the Twi'lek had been fitted with a shock collar that the Jailer had activated. The young Sith reached out with the Force and snatched the device from his hand. "Thank you, Jailer," she told him. "Let her out and then you may go."


"But..." Ogden turned and stared at him, her yellow eyes narrowed slightly. "Ye...yes my lord," he stammered, quickly removing a ring of keys and opening the door before making himself scarce. For her part, the Twi'lek sagged against the side of the cage.


"Thanks, I..." she started before the electric hum of Syluri's light saber blocking the exit of the cage interrupted her.


"Let's not get off on a bad start," Ogden told her. "I can hear the thoughts in your mind long before you give them wind so let's establish a few rules. I will not be, what was the phrase you were thinking? 'Baffled with Bantha poodoo' until you can edge your way through the cage and make a run for it.' I am a Sith and you cannot out run me, nor is there any where on this world you could run to."


The Twi'lek edged further back into the cage, away from the glowing blade of death. "Well, you can't blame a girl for trying, right?"


"You'll find that trying my patience has a very low survivability quotient," Syluri told her as she deactivated her saber and returned it to her belt. "Now, let's have your name, tomb robber, and tell me if you understand exactly how much trouble you are in?"


"I should be grateful I'm still drawing breath, huh?" she asked, rubbing at the collar around her neck. "Right, well, I knew pay outs this big had bigger risk to go with them. The name's Vette, amateur archeologist, but you knew that."


"Vette, a pleasure. I am Syluri Ogden and my companion is Brother Kunga Jigme. Do you know why you're still alive, Vette?"


"Because I know the way past the Hall of Mirrors and your archeologists don't?"


Syluri smiled. "Clever girl. Now, you seem the type to be open to business dealings, so you show myself and my companions the way, and you get to keep living. How does that sound?" Vette leaned against the bars of the cage and crossed her arms over her breasts.


"What happens if I want to keep living after I show you the way?" she asked with a smile. "I may not look like it, but where my one and only life is concerned I can be quite far sighted in my thinking."


The Sith rubbed her chin in thought. "You know, Vette, sneaking onto the Sith Home world with the intent to steal historical artifacts isn't exactly a life prolonging line of work." The Twi'lek opened her mouth to protest, but was silenced by a soft gesture from Ogden. "Still, there's no telling what else we'll be handed once this is over, and someone resourceful enough to do what you've done could be useful. You're obviously brave, Vette, can you be loyal?"


"I stay bought," she replied quickly.


"You'd best," Syluri shot back, "you're paying with your life. However, I can be generous to my subordinates. Consider this an employment interview. Impress me, and I will keep you alive." Vette nodded her agreement guardedly.


"Best I can hope for I suppose," she said with a shake of fear. She gave the Monk a long, measuring gaze as she stepped out of the cage. "Just the two of you then?"


"There are two others, procuring transportation," Kunga told her. "Do you have any other effects?" Vette blinked in astonishment.


"Well, the Jailer took my belt and blasters, they're in that cabinet." The monk exchanged a glance with Syluri and at her slight nod, made a gesture. The locker flew open and a gun belt with a pair of blaster pistols hanging off it came to his hand which he then presented to her. To her credit, she didn't immediately reach for them, but looked for permission as he had. Again the Sith Witch nodded her permission and Vette pulled her belt back around her waist and made it fast.


"The Valley of the Sith Lords is full of dangerous beasts," Kunga told her. "Keep your own skin whole."


The Twi'lek girl nodded, her twin head tails dangling behind her. "I didn't think Sith trusted," she said with a smile.


Syluri cocked her head to one side. "Where did you get the notion I trust you? You may eventually earn my trust in the which case you will find me a generous mistress, but do not make the mistake of thinking I trust you now. I am merely supremely confident in my ability to kill you before you can cause harm." She paused a beat then added, "Or get away."


Vette blinked in astonishment. "Well...yeah...a small, but important difference there. Does this naked, unvarnished honesty routine work for you?"


The yellow eyes narrowed as a self satisfied smirk hung on Ogden's face. "You're doing my bidding, aren't you?"


"Point taken," Vette admitted.



* * *




The Valley of the Dark Lords had been created, untold millennia ago, carved from a mesa that jutted up over a vast flood plain below. This of course had been before some unknown cataclysm that had resulted in most of the water being lost from the planet. Indeed all of the water the Academy used was brought on world from captured comets, melted, filtered and stored in a massive tank facility behind the academy.


The speeder buzzed along an access 'road' that was really more a cleared track up the mesa, passing side paths every so often that ventured down into the Valley. Signs floated in holographic splendor announcing which tombs could be accessed from which of these paths, but always ahead was the first tomb in the Valley, the highest, and it could be argued the most important. The Empty Tomb of Naga Sadow. It was an imposing edifice, trapezoidal arches formed the opening of the tomb itself in native stone, hand carved with glifs in Ancient Sith of the Code and other appeals to virtue and honor. Channels had been carved to move the river that had cut the valley into a pair of waterfalls on either side of a colossal, now fallen, statue of Naga Sadow, to collect in a reflection pool at the Statue's feet before being permitted its journey down the valley.


Though the channel was dry, now and had been for a thousand years.


The speeder was cleared through the security checkpoints by Troopers that were paying strict adherence to regulation in the wake of Vette's intrusion. Indeed, it was obvious none of them were happy to see the Twi'lek coming back to the scene of her crime, but everyone stayed professional. The massive doors of the tomb stood open, a gaggle of Imperial Archeologists standing about in the harsh sunlight, glaring at the Sith and their Republic charge. Syluri ignored them as she led the way up the stairs, through the doors into a huge, arched and circular space. The walls and floor were painted with frescoes of scenes describing the Sith Lord's life. They were lit by carefully diffused work lamps so that the paint would not fade before being recorded.


Syluri came to a stop in the center of the room. From it four smaller doors led out at modifications of the cardinal points and, opposite the main door a massive statue of the Sith Lord, seated, glaring down on the living Sith who had entered his domain. "Alright," Syluri announced to the slight echo of the chamber. "Each of these four doors enters the Hall of Mirrors, which is the one that gets us through?"


"None," Vette smiled as she led the way over to the glowering statue on its throne. "How's your ancient Sith?" she asked, pointing to the inscription that had been carved into the stone at the base.


"Before me the galaxy I will conquer in time," read Kunga aloud with a gesture back to the mosaic that decorated the floor. "Around me befuddlement of vision and mind. Vexed and defeated robbers seek my treasures and where can they be/ For the collection of all knowledge is under me."


"Verse," muttered Panithea, "why is it always in verse? And bad rhyme no less?"


"It does loose quite a bit in translation," Kunga admitted.


"So, the rest of this level of the tomb is the Hall of Mirrors," Vette replied, "a maze of floor to ceiling something that is a perfect mirror, but seems to be unbreakable. If you're lucky, you'll find a path that comes back to one of these four doors. If not, you starve to death."


"We know that!" snapped Arktica. "We've all read the brochure! How did you defeat the maze?"


Vette rolled her eyes. "The maze is a trap. It gets you thinking you can defeat it. You can't! It doesn't go anywhere but back here. Besides, the treasure isn't on this level, and king funny hat's ego tells us that it's below us. Under me." She reached over and grasped the period at the end of Under me. Unlike the other letters, carved directly into the stone, it was embossed, carved out around it to create a knob. She turned it and with a click a door perfectly hidden in the carving of the statue and his throne swung in, revealing a staircase, leading down.


Syluri caught Vette's eye and nodded, "I'm impressed." The girl straightened as though some weight lifted and she returned the nod. "Lead on," Ogden ordered. A gaggle of floating light droids were collected from the rack by the main entrance the group descended the stairs.



* * *




Darth Baras was hard at work in his office. Despite the impressions of students to the contrary, being the commandant involved quite a bit of work, scheduling and any expenditure of the school's budget required his personal attention. It was neither glamorous nor simple and so the commandant did not welcome any interruption. So when the door tone sounded of someone wishing entrance he hurled profanity at the screen of his work station under his breath before he bellowed, "What?" at the top of his lungs.


The door slid aside and six senior students were shoved inside, their arms bound, save one whose right arm ended just below the elbow at a charred sleeve. The group stumbled over each other and fell in a heap on the floor before his desk. Following hard on their heels was Kunga, who had evidently done the shoving, an inscrutable smile at the corner of his mouth as he came in and crossed his arms over his chest to cow the other students into submission. He was quickly followed by Syluri and Vette who was carrying a small chest with Arktica and Panithea bringing up the rear.


Syluri marched up to the commandant's desk and gave a broad gesture to the students behind her. "Do these belong to you?"


The silver mask carefully tracked to the students, the Sith Witch, the Twi'lek and her chest and back to the golden yellow eyes of Syluri. "Why do you ask?" he drawled.


"They were waiting for us when we emerged from the tomb, which is a secure area. As they all had passes which requires your signature, we assumed that you'd sent them. They're a bit worse for wear, but we thought we'd return them anyway."


"Most kind," the Commandant purred before he looked over her shoulder at the seniors. "Out! I'll deal with you lot for your failure another time."


"My hand...!" whined the most injured one, holding up his stump.


"Out!" thundered Darth Baras in a rage. "You're fortunate not to be paying for this with your head!" The seniors scrambled to their feet and scurried out. Once the door slid shut the Commandant's good humor apparently had returned and he chuckled as he cleared a spot on his desk and gestured to the Twi'lek to place her burden there. He noted her sideways glance to Ogden and the others nod of permission before she did so. "I see you've bent the Twi'lek to your will," he complimented. "Out of professional curiosity, what method did you use?"


"I've learned that rewarding loyalty is a more effective means of leadership than rule by fear," she replied. Baras rubbed the mask's chin as if it were his own.


"Yes, I read Admiral Ogden's work on the theories of leadership." He made a dismissive gesture. "Keep her then, it's of no consequence to me. You showed the head of the IAS team how to replicate your success?" Syluri nodded. "Excellent. Your resourcefulness has honestly surprised me. I see now why there are those on the Dark Council who are afraid of the Witches of Dathomir. Your mother has taught you well. I shall be following your career with great interest. Kneel."


Syluri placed her left hand on the saber on her left hip and sank to one knee. Her heart was pounding in her chest as this would be an extremely awkward position to defend herself from if Baras attempted something and knowing that led to a rush of adrenalin into her system. Some part of the Commandant obviously knew this and so he deliberately drug things out before he finally stepped forward and placed a hand on her head. "From the Ancient Code of the Sith, we know that Strength brings Victory and Victory brings Freedom. Syluri Ogden, you have completed the Trial I placed before you and thus you have defeated me, your Master. The Code of the Sith is satisfied and so I bestow upon you the title Lord of the Sith, with all the rights and privileges of that rank. Go forth to the Emperor's bidding and show no mercy."


"To hear the voice of the Emperor is to obey," she affirmed.


"Lord Ogden, I place these three Acolytes in your care to assist you with the task I will send you forth on at the order of the Emperor. One you may elevate to your apprentice if you so choose. Do you wish to make a choice now?"


Baras stepped back and Syluri stood and bowed shallowly. "My lord, I submit to you that Kunga Jigme, Brother of the Order of Ziost has studied sufficiently, and through the completion of this trial with me that he should be raised to the rank of Sith Lord. Then we shall each take an Apprentice."


The Dark Lord found that funny and chuckled. "Fear indeed!" he managed through his mirth. "Obviously the Council has not enough fear of the Witches of Dathomir! What do you say to that, Acolyte Kunga, that you should skip your Apprenticeship and go directly from Acolyte to Sith Lord?"


Jigme bowed low. "It is not for this humble student to hold opinion, my lord. I am here to serve."


"Serve me by answering my question," Baras returned. "What is your opinion and how long did you study with the Brotherhood?"


Kunga bowed again, lower this time. "I was raised by the Brotherhood, my lord, having been abandoned there as an infant. As to my opinion, my lord, titles are not of the Force, but of men. Call me an Acolyte, and I will serve, call me an Apprentice and I will learn, call me a Sith Lord and I will teach, though call me a slave and I can still do all these things. The title is mere words, decorative stitching on the garment of life, and as unimportant. Command me and I obey."


Baras turned back to his work station. "Show me the scholastic transcript of Acolyte Kunga Jigme," he ordered it. "Interesting, high praise indeed, recommendations of raising the student to instructor in nearly every phase of your training. I must see about acquiring some brothers from the Order as teachers. Very well, Lord Ogden I grant your request and since words and ceremony mean so little to you, Acolyte Kunga, I will only sign your Patence, call you a Lord of the Sith and command you to go forth to the Emperor's bidding and show no mercy."


The monk bowed low. "To hear the voice of the Emperor is to obey." He rose and walked over behind the girl who started in surprise at his choice as he placed both hands on her shoulders. "Hear all and respect that I take Arktica Osiri to be my apprentice."


"It is so noted," Darth Baras intoned. "Lord Ogden, Lord Jigme, on behalf of the Emperor, through his Dark Council, I charge you to take your apprentices to the Dantooine system on our boarder. The Republic Senate has reached out to the Council and requested a team be created, made of up Imperials and Republicans to investigate border skirmishes and issues and prove to each side they are isolated incidents, not preludes to new war. I find you uniquely qualified for this task. I have procured for you a transport that awaits you on the landing platform. Carry out the orders of your Emperor!"


Though she was seething inside, Syluri kept her face neutral and bowed, not wanting to give the bloated Commandant the satisfaction before she lead them out. Her stride was quick as she took out her anger on the pavement and stalked back to transient housing. Bravely, Kunga started to ask a question, but her answering snarl advised that silence was golden just then. She stomped back into their dorm and all but shouted, "Jay Thirty-Three, pack! We're leaving!"


"I have been monitoring the Academy network, Miss and short of the various toiletries, all bags are packed and ready," the robot replied smoothly. "I considered you would likely wish to refresh yourselves after the morning's activities."


Syluri looked down at her clothing, covered in red dust, several blood stains, none of them hers and a singe from a light saber near miss, took in a deep, soothing breath and mastered her temper. "Thank you, Jay Thirty-Three, that was excellent foresight on your part." The 'Droid bowed, though his face plate was blank, there was a certain jauntiness to his motion that put one in mind of someone being pleased with themselves.


Her eyes fell on Vette and a bit of her irritation returned. "I suppose you'll beg political asylum from the Jedi the moment we set foot on Dantooine?"


The intense green eyes blinked. "Are you kidding? Why do you think I came to the Empire? I'm wanted on twelve systems, two with the Death Penalty, I want nothing to do with the Republic. Did I pass the interview and get the job? Because being stranded here would really, really suck."


Ogden allowed herself to be pleasantly surprised. "You have indeed. You have skills of use on a star ship?"


"Got my start as a pilot and a 2nd engineer on a pirate ship. How'd you think I racked up all those warrants?"


"You started on a pirate ship?" demanded Panithea. Vette shook her head which set her head tails to dancing.


"Nope, started a slave, piracy was a step up."


Arktica shook her head, chuckling to herself. "It's a good change."


"I'm going to get cleaned up," announced Syluri with a roll of her eyes. "I want to be calm when I see what flying death trap Darth Blob has requisitioned for us." Jay Thirty-Three looked up from his toting bags to a staging point in the front foyer.


"No need to worry, Miss, that's been taken care of."


Ogden frowned. "What do you mean, 'taken care of', Jay Thirty-Three?" Having set down the bag, the robot strolled over to conversational distance.


"As I had advised earlier, Miss, I have been monitoring the Academy network. I noted when the orders from the Dark Council arrived and archived a copy, knowing you would want to review the commission later. There upon I noted a routing error from the Commandants' office. It seems, there were two star ships requisitioned at the same time. One was a derelict that was to be towed to the Academy, the other was a new, Sith Fury-Class Interceptor; the discrepancy was that both were billed against the commission from the Dark Council. Knowing the Council would want to project an image of power on a mission as important as this, I soon realized that the derelict must have been a restoration project, either for the Academy or perhaps as a hobby of Darth Baras and it had been placed on the commission in error. I corrected that."


"You...corrected?" sputtered Syluri.


"Wait! Wait!" shouted Panithea. "Old bucket head scored himself a private yacht upgrade on our dime and your valet pulled a computer switcheroo on him?"




"Swiped the Commandants new toy right out from under him!" howled Arktica through her laughter.


"You...you..." finally Syluri gave up trying to verbalize, grabbed the robot's head with both hands and passionately kissed the vocoder grille that served him for a mouth. "You brilliant machine, you!" she enthused. While the faceplate remained emotionless, the Droid's tone positively dripped embarrassment.


"Please, Miss, modesty forbids..."


"Grab your kits and haul!" Syluri ordered. "We'll clean up on the way! Don't want to give Baras a chance to fix the fix!"


"Won't he come after us for stealing his ship?" asked Kunga quietly as the girls quickly piled their gear on the float plate Jay Thirty-Three was using.


"And admit he bought himself something on our commission? He might as well announce he's a corrupt government official and demand an audit of the Academy back to it's inception! Let's go!"



* * *




The Fury-Class Interceptor, like most Sith devices was aggressively styled. The craft was quite large at one hundred meters long, but still for that was very nimble and fast. Of course being a Sith design it was also extremely well armed for its size. A squat, roughly rectangle shaped body was the back of the craft that contained its single deck and accommodations. From these gigantic isosceles triangle shaped wings swept forward, framing the round cockpit and gave the craft a distinctly avian appearance of a raptor swooping down on its prey. The black and gray paint of the craft did nothing to diminish that effect.


As the group swept up the ramp at the rear of the craft, Syluri paused to look at the other landing pad at the 'derelict' as Jay Thirty-Three had put it. She was honestly surprised the craft had made the journey and smiled a private smile before she joined her fellow Sith inside and secured the ramp. Inside the others were looking around, admiring the accommodations and savoring the 'new star ship' smell. The main room ran nearly the full width of the ship, dominated by a massive holographic communication system that was state of the art, though there was also a holo-game table and a circular couch to relax on. "Fire up the engines," Syluri ordered over her shoulder as she continued on forward off the main room to the cockpit.


"On it!" Vette replied as she turned right and trotted to the engine room in the starboard wing.


The cockpit was dominated by the transparisteel view port and the two acceleration couches that were nestled in the massive banks of controls to operate the craft. Between them, well back but able to oversee things was a third chair for the commander of the vessel. As she entered, Syluri worked the master controls that lined the back wall, bringing systems up from stand by mode before she pulled out the left hand acceleration couch and slid into it in a single smooth graceful motion. Arktica had followed, taking the right hand place and settling easily into a pre-flight routine that made it clear she had some experience. She noted Ogden's questioning glance and shrugged from her working of the navi-computer that was on her side of the controls. "Was in my sophomore year at the Academy when..." she trailed off, not willing to give the incident voice again.


"Let me know when you're ready and I'll arrange for the proper surgeons," Syluri told her. She nodded and went back to programming the navi-computer.


Kunga wandered into the cockpit and sat down in the commander's chair as the decks began to vibrate with the growl of the engines as they came to life. "Are we in such a hurry?" he asked conversationally.


"You know Darth Baras better than I," Ogden replied from her work. "Should we be in a hurry stealing his stolen space ship?" Jigme rubbed the soul patch that covered the bottom on his chin.


"We probably want to go faster," he admitted. "Anything I can do to help?"


"You're already sitting down," Syluri said as she worked the controls. The Fury rose up off her landing pads and and banked hard to orient herself down the Valley of the Dark Lords and freedom. "Now just shut up and hold on!" The main drive kicked in and the ship roared down the Valley, going up on her edge to skate between a pair of statues because she wasn't sufficiently high enough. Out over the flood plain she leveled back and began a steep climb up out of Korriban's gravity well.



* * *




On the bridge of the Indomitable Admiral Tagge Ogden's thoughts were a jumbled mess, dominated like the red world of Korriban dominated the triangular windows he was looking out, by worry for his daughter. Hands clinched behind his back he tried and tried to turn his mind to his duty, to concentrate on what Captain Heerik was saying but his only focus was on his daughter. Would the men obey if he committed treason to save her if she called? If they did obey how could he justify their lives to his conscience? What would he tell his wife if he failed to act? What would he tell her if he did act?


Out of the edge of his hearing, over his shoulder, he heard one of the controllers below becoming more and more strident trying to warn an approaching craft off its vector. He turned back to the windows just in time to see a Fury-Class transport rocket across the top of his flag ship, far enough from it that it was safe, close enough to be in the interdiction zone and well with in the arena of showing off by the pilot. As he tracked it, some indescribable feeling swept over him, of peace, safety and just a bit of excitement, in a manner he was used to from having his wife touch him through the Force. Without voice, he heard, Father, I love you, and knew everything was alright as the interceptor leapt into hyperspace.


Sighing, Admiral Ogden turned to his Captain, and laid a hand on his shoulder, "I'm sorry, Frent, my mind was wandering, what did you say?"


"No problem, sir," the Captain replied with a smile. "I was just saying we finished the diagnostic you ordered and everything checks out. I was wondering when you would want to get underway sir?"


"It is time we got to the exercises, isn't it?" Ogden agreed. "Signal the fleet full ahead, and let's be on our way!"


"With pleasure, Admiral!"



* * *



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Star Wars The Old Republic



"That's it?" demanded Shaunti in disbelief. The Gatekeeper blinked in surprise, thrown off her narrative as she turned to face the young Padawan.


"If you refer to my story, no, there is much more," she replied evenly. "Or are you commenting on something else?"


The Togruta girl shook her head, her lekku dangling as she did so. "No, I mean, he just sent you on a fetch and carry errand and just like that you're a Sith?"


"He placed a task and I defeated it, the Code of the Sith was satisfied," the Gatekeeper said, placing her hands on her hips in mild annoyance. "What did you expect?"


"I thought for Sith to advance the apprentice had to kill his or her master!"


Luke chuckled at his Padawan's confusion. "You're thinking of the laws laid down by Darth Bane, Shaunti," he told her with a smile. "The Rule of Two."


The Gatekeeper cupped her chin with her hand. "The more I learn of this Darth Bane the less I like him," she declared, shaking her head in disgust. "What kind of moron was he? The apprentice must kill their master? Well, that must be incentive to teach poorly if at all! No wonder the Sith are no more!"


Skywalker shifted his weight on his cane, old knees protesting standing for so long. "Bane felt that the Dark Side of the Force was spread too thin across too many Sith Lords," he said reasonably. "He felt that by concentrating it into only two Sith, their power would increase thousands fold." The bright yellow eyes narrowed.


"Obviously, he was wrong," she observed curtly. "But then in many ways more than one. Not in the least of which is that there is no Dark Side of the Force!" The Gatekeeper watched the look of shock and denial play across both the faces of the Master and his apprentice. She smiled a coy smile, obviously pleased with herself. "But, Master Skywalker grows fatigued at standing so long. I presume you have some more pleasant quarters nearby? If not in the House of Santier The Younger, then where ever you based yourselves for these excavations, yes?"


"Santier's house is a ruin," Shaunti told her quietly. "It's what drew us here." The Gatekeeper paused, pain flashing across her features in belated mourning of the previous owner of her holocron. "I'm sorry," she added. The Gatekeeper forced a smile and waved off the concern.


"Of course he would be, dead and dust after three thousand years," she replied. "It was a foolish slip, nothing more. Have you somewhere near that you may be comfortable Master Skywalker?"


"I have a tent set up in the court yard."


The Gatekeeper nodded. "Padawan Tano, would you be so good as to fetch along my holocron? I cannot be more than a few meters from it." She paused and rubbed transparent fingers over the light sabers without touching them. "And, if you would indulge me, my...my author's light sabers. Silly, I realize, but they comfort me."


Shaunti reverently picked up the sabers and carefully placed them in pockets on her jumper before she carefully picked up the holocron and its stand and followed her master and the ghost of an ancient Sith Lord up the ramp and back into the sunshine. "You must have been quite fond of Santier," Luke observed as he walked beside the Gatekeeper. She smiled a soft, private smile.


"He had his moments," she admitted softly. "He could be quite jealous you know. I haven't seen the sky for many, many years." She sighed. "The last time I saw him we were discussing the differences between how our respective Orders approached training and how in many ways they were similar. He was called away, something about the High Council of the Jedi needing to speak with him."


She gestured a figure in white and tan robes, appeared. In his youth he'd been a powerful man, and his eyes were still bright and his form slipped from burly to corpulence. He was bald and wore a goatee that was as white as his starched robes. "I'll be right back, Syluri," the recording said, as he turned and walked up the ramp. She sighed.


"Evidently that was three thousand years ago."


"He referred to you by the name of your author?" asked Luke.


The Gatekeeper smiled again. "He was fond of me." They emerged into the sunshine and the ghostly Sith's tread slowed, taken in the ravaging time had played out on the dwelling. Her face fell as the disparity of her memory and the reality of the ruin warred. She gestured and the holocron flared and the tiles they trod on shimmered and repaired themselves, vibrant color flowed up from dulled tiles bleached from the sun. Long dead plants sprang back to life as the walls shed their sandy shade for an alabaster, above fallen arches restored to transparent splendor and a magnificent house, only hinted at by its ruin stood once more over the river plain below. "Behold, the house of Santier The Younger," she declared, eyes watery with remembrance.


For a brief moment, the two Jedi were transported in time and marveled before the dream faded away and reality reasserted itself. "I don't understand," Shaunti said as she carefully set the holocron down and made sure her master was comfortable in his chair. "You say there is no Dark Side of the Force, but your eyes are yellow, that's Dark Side taint!"


She smiled as she 'sat' on the other chair at the desk and fussed over her dress until it hung the way she wanted it to. "I was asked that question once before," she told the Padawan. "On the way to Dantooine, thirty seven hundred years ago..."


* * *







Star Wars: The Old Republic

Episode II

Knight Of The Sith


Newly raised to the rank of LORD of the SITH, SYLURI OGDEN embarks on her first mission in service to her emperor. On board her ship, the BLACK EAGLE, she sets her course to Dantooine to take part in a diplomatic outreach to the GLACTIC REPUBLIC to maintain the fragile peace with the SITH EMPIRE.


Little does Syluri know that she is but a pawn in a dangerous game being played for ultimate power by the very men her father warned her of. The Evil Lord DARTH BARAS seeks to use her young zeal to undo and old and bitter rival even if that will throw the galaxy into war.


Far away on Syluri's home world, her mother, MOFF MYAN OGDEN feels the disturbance in the FORCE caused by the machinations of Darth Baras, and the as yet vague and undefined threat to her family, her planet, and the entire galaxy...



Syluri stood within a marvel. In the master's quarters, that her charges all agreed was hers by acclaim, the refresher was not one of the electromagnetic models as she'd expected. It was an actual water shower unit, with it's own tank and a built in filtration system that recycled the same water over and over. While Jay Thirty-Three had told her it would take about twelve hours for the purification system to clean the water and restore it back to the holding tank, the reservoir was a generous size to begin with. Syluri stood and let the deliciously hot water beat on her, feeling the muscles at last unclench. She hadn't realized how worried she was about the Trial she'd faced, but the tension she hadn't been aware she was suffering from was now gloriously off as, she reached for her cleansers and set about ridding herself of the residue of Korriban.


As she cleaned herself, her thoughts drifted back to the young lieutenant who'd made the trip out to Korriban less stressful than it could have been and shook her head ruefully. The chance of such pleasurable company didn't look to be in the offering for some time. While Kunga was a handsome enough man, the Monks of Ziost did include celibacy as one of their vows. She wouldn't want to come between a man and his beliefs. The problem being that on the other side of the credit, all the others on the Black Eagle were her subordinates.


It was always a dicey thing to mix chains of authority and physical relationships. Navy personnel understood the transient nature of relationships on board and when intimacy began and ended and why. She sighed and steeled her resolve. It wouldn't kill her to sleep alone for a while.


Syluri wasn't exactly sure she'd begun thinking of the agile little interceptor as the Black Eagle, there was an avian, raptor quality to the ship, that was certain, but also a majestic, regal something about it. She understood the symbol of the Empire, from the glyph for the Ancient Sith word Chwayat for rule or law. Although the glyph was a stylized deception of a wall built around chaos, the word could most appropriately be translated as Order. Still, it might be nice to have less abstract heraldry.


Finally clean, she shut off the shower and dried her self before stepping out onto the meditation rug Jay Thirty-Three had already laid out before the bed. It was one of the few things she had from Dathomir, not so much treasured, but a sentimental keepsake. She'd stopped her mother from throwing it out and had meticulously repaired and cleaned it. While her mother had delved deeply into the society and culture of her adopted home of Tenara, Syluri was deeply curious about the world her mother had come from.


Moff Myan had rolled her eyes when her daughter had asked her about the Night Sisters and the Force Witches of Dathomir. Told her to concentrate on the modern world and not go chasing half naked savages with painted faces. "The Empire is better," she said firmly, many times. "Better food, better medicine, better culture, better everything! There is nothing noble in ignorance!"


Syluri had decided she would visit the world on her own when she'd had a break from her studies, but that break had never seemed to come and now Dathomir was in a contested zone of space the Empire and the Republic were fighting over. Trade from the sector was extraordinarily difficult and travel by any means short of custom chartered craft nonexistent. And while Syluri was very well off, that kind of expense over idle curiosity was something even she balked at.


Still, this border incursion inspection team she'd been assigned to might end up there. Dathomir was on the border and disputed.


The thought of the team made her frown again. Reading over the commission Jay Thirty-Three had copied for her she could see that the team was a co-operative between Darth Ravage's Imperial Diplomatic Service and the Jedi Master Yintar. There was not much known of Yintar and that bothered both Syluri and the author of her commission. It was likely the Jedi was involved in some manner with Republic Intelligence, but nothing solid could be proven. More to the point, both sides obviously wanted to use the team as a way of striking against the other, making the actual members of the team both expendable and a perfect collection of Judas Goats.


While things were generally nicer for the Judas Goat than their followers, that wasn't always the case.


Syluri sank naked onto the meditation run and made herself comfortable before she opened herself to the Force. She'd never been on a ship as new as the Black Eagle and the lack of 'echoes' for lack of a better word on the ship was a little disturbing. Usually there were strong emotional ties on a vessel that left 'echoes' in the Force, but all she felt where the strong beacons of her comrades, each actively awake in the Force.


Kunga had taken up residence in the bunk room of the Black Eagle. Of its three 'staterooms' the bunk bay was the largest, there for the enlisted 'crew' that would normally operate the vessel. He and Jay Thirty-Three had strung a line and some sheets across the single bunk in the corner for the senior NCO that the group would replace with real walls when they had the time. That corner was the calm center of a tropical storm as the monk meditated in the swirling maelstrom of hyperspace.


Panithea and Arktica were sharing the double stateroom where the junior officers were berthed. It was across the common room from Syluri's own Captain's Cabin and in contrast was a swirl of emotions of the two girls; Arktica's seething anger and Panithea's aloof, lack of concern. Vette had said she'd string a hammock in the engine room. Before she could adjust her presence there, a knock at the door brought her mediation to an end.


Ogden sighed and stood; collecting her robe off the foot of the bed Jay Thirty-Three had lain out and pulled it on. The door opened to reveal the Twi'lek girl who started at how she was dressed. "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to pull you out of the shower..."


"You didn't," Syluri replied. "I was just meditating. Is something wrong?"


"No, no, everything's humming along," Vette told her. The Twi'lek's eyes were everywhere but on her and her thoughts were a jumbled mess. "I'll come back later..." She turned to leave, but Syluri caught her arm and focused the Force through the link.


"Calm," she ordered, watching the girl nearly go slack as the maelstrom in her mind was quieted and she sagged with relief. "Come in," she added, not intending it to be a command, the connection was still very strong and Vette obeyed without conscious thought. Syluri sat her down on the bed and continued behind her to her clothes locker. Here there was a privacy screen built into the wall that she extended and stripped out of the robe. "What is on your mind, Vette?"


"Oh, I just have some questions," she answered in a sing song voice, still gently held in the calm of the Force Syluri has placed her in. "They can wait if you're busy."


"I'm not busy," Ogden told her as she took out a simple scalloped back dress that fell to her mid thigh and pulled it on before she returned to her guest once more. "What can I do for you?"


It was obvious Vette's head was beginning to clear, still, she was taken aback by the somewhat dramatic change of look of the Sith Lord and an unguarded, "You're really very pretty," escaped her lips. Her blue skin flushed darker with embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that!"


Syluri fought a chuckle for a moment, and then decided it would break the tension and so let it out. "Did you think I would fly into a rage because you complimented me?" She shook her head, her lekku snaking sinuously behind her as she did so.


"I'm sorry, what ever you did to me, it really fogged my head," she rubbed her temple in a subconscious desire to clear her thoughts. As she did, the collar of her flight suit caught a protrusion on the shock collar and shifted it. The collar took this as an attempt by her to remove it and so shocked her. She jerked, frustration flaring bright red within her. "What do I have to do to get this damned collar off?" she demanded. "I meant what I said about staying bought and, I'll be honest, my lord, you're probably the best thing that's walked into my life! I know a good thing when I see it and you're going places! I want to come along for the ride!"


Ogden reached out with the Force and pulled the internal pins of the lock of the collar, causing it to fall open and slide down her shirt into Vette's amazed hands. "Request granted," Syluri told her with a smile. "You've been loyal and kept our bargain well. I told you I reward loyalty and this is but the first sample. Continue as you have been and you can look forward to great things from me, and from the Empire."


Vette turned the device over in her hands, the hatred of the device rolling of her in waves. "You don't know what this means," she whispered.


"Let me see if I can guess," Syluri replied as she tucked her feet into a pair of ship slippers. "Bring it and follow me." She led the way across the ship to tight little air lock, nestled between the ship's main engine ports. Curious, Vette followed slower and hanging back slightly when she realized where Syluri was going. Ogden palmed the release and the inner door snapped open, revealing the ship's ramp that also served as the outer door. "Throw it in there," she ordered the Twi'lek.


Vette looked back and forth between the Sith Witch, the collar in her hands and the air lock as comprehension dawned letting her pour all of her rage into flinging the hated device into the lock. It bounced off two walls before it came to rest on the floor of the ramp. Ogden palmed the control again and the inner door snapped shut. "As you have earned some of my trust with your loyalty, let me earn some of yours," the Witch told her. "I don't use pain or fear with those under me. I don't need to. I am only interested in those that serve willingly, because they accomplish great things. Now, jettison that garbage and welcome to my service, Vette."


The Twi'lek's fist descended on the button with far more force than was needed, causing the airlock to cycle and the collar fell into the hyperspace void, reduced to atoms as it left the protective shield that surrounded the ship. Syluri smiled and nodded before she padded out of the airlock in her slippers, headed towards the **** pit. Vette stared after her for a long moment, trying to reconcile all that she had heard about the evils of Sith Lords and the depraved depths to which they could sink and the facts of her own personal experiences so far.


Darth Baras had certainly lived up to the stereotype, but her new Mistress was her own kind of strange. She remembered the corpulent head master of the academy talking about how the Jedi and Sith alike were afraid of the Witches of Dathomir and Vette vowed to hit the hypernet and find out everything she could about her mistress, the world she hailed from, and the home of her ancestors.


Her very life, she decided, may depend on it.


* * *


The cockpit of the Black Eagle was, like most cockpits, a cramped affair. The back wall was lined with auxiliary and tertiary controls, while the front of the room was dominated by the primary controls with the pilot and co-pilot seats nestled into them before the massive transparisteel view port. The cockpit did have aspirations of being a bridge as there was a captain's chair at the back of the primary controls where the Captain could over watch his pilots, but thus far those aspirations remained unfulfilled.


Syluri slid easily into the left hand seat and checked over the instruments. The Eagle was new and everything shiny and freshly calibrated, but a wise pilot always kept a weather eye on things. She looked over at the vacant co-pilots chair and imagined another flight, long ago with her father sitting in that craft's seat smiling at her and walking her through learning to fly.


"Am I disturbing you?"


"Not at all, Brother," she replied to the Monk, inviting him to come deeper into the cockpit and gestured him to one of the open seats. "I thought you were meditating."


"I was," He said as he settled into the Captain's chair. "I heard the airlock cycle and I went to investigate if we were suddenly short a crew member." Kunga saw her raised eyebrow at his choice of seat and smiled. "There is nothing important here I can press by accident."


"I'm sorry that disturbed you," she said with a smile and went back to her checks of the controls. "Just disposing of some unneeded equipment."


"So I heard," he said with a chuckle. "If you're not busy, I would like to have a conversation with you."


"I thought we were having a conversation," she replied while making a minute adjustment to the navi-computer's flight track.


"Well, this would be a conversation neither of our apprentices should over hear," was his rejoinder. "Do not be alarmed, but I have closed and secured the do...hatch I think is the correct word, the hatch into this cockpit. We will not be disturbed."


She stopped and turned the acceleration couch to face him slowly. Her eyes noted that he did not have his light staff with him, but then, she had neither of her sabers. "Your actions in proceeding to this conversation are disturbing in and of themselves brother," she warned him. "What are your intentions?"


"You need have no fear of me or any designs on my part against you, my lord," he affirmed earnestly. "I hold true to my vow of celibacy and service and so consider me humble before you. But I am plagued by your answer to Darth Baras. You spoke of The Way Of the Force, not I note, the Way of the Dark Side. And while you did not quote Kel'eth The Heretic, you certainly paraphrase him."


Ogden's eyes narrowed. "I am a Lord of the Sith," she affirmed in a quiet, dangerous voice. "A loyal subject of my Emperor, proud citizen of the Empire and I will know exactly what you are driving at, Brother Kunga."


The monk smiled and pulled at his soul patch. "The lady protests too much," he observed, leaning back in the seat. "I have no doubts of your loyalty, my lord. In that you are as plain as the bite of a Torse Fly on a Nerf Grazer. But how you see the nature of our power, that is far from orthodox, isn't it? You understand the nature of the Force, even as I do."


A weight lifted from Syluri's shoulders and she made a dismissive gesture as she turned back tot he panel before her. "If you wish an esoteric debate on the Nature of the Force, brother, I am the last person you should come to. I am no philosopher, but a soldier, direct and honest. The Force gives strength to my passion and lets me fight for my Empire."


"To lie by omission is still to lie," Jigme shot back. "You do not fight with your anger; even Darth Baras noticed it. Come, my lord, talk with me and let us learn together. Surely your honored mother shared some of the knowledge of the Witches of Dathomir. I am eager to learn how others see and use the Force." He paused and when she continued to look at the instruments, asked, "Must I offer a Sith Oath of silence my lord? I have no ambitions beyond learning."


Syluri sighed and turned to face him. "I affirm the Sith Code, the righteousness of the rule of the Empire and pledge my life to it's service!" she told him forcefully, then pressed a button and made sure a light was then sighed again. "And now that the flight recorder is off for the cockpit, that is the only proof of how this conversation ended, Brother Kunga, so be warned."


"The Brotherhood of Ziost has many esoteric writings on the nature of the Force, my lord," he replied. From Jedi Holocrons to carefully conserved papyrus scrolls to clay tablets nearly as old as Ziost itself. Much of it would be considered unorthodox at best and blasphemy against the Sith Code at worst, but Truth is not found by those who do not search. If you feel the need, turn back on the recorder and I will confess myself the most vile of traitors if having such a golden token of blackmail will make you comfortable enough to discuss the topic."


Ogden sighed again and shook her head. "The Witches of Dathomir teach of the Living Force, Brother. That it is created by all living things." Kunga nodded slowly.


"I have heard of this view, primarily through the knowledge we have on the Jedi themselves, yet you have the bright yellow eyes of someone who is well schooled in the power of the Dark Side."


Syluri shook her head. "Light and dark are arbitrary labels, in truth, there is only that which is natural and that which is not. I do in fact use Passion to channel the Force, but there are other passions besides hate and rage. In the natural order of life, these emotions have a place, the rage of a mother, defending her offspring, having that rage give her strength to do so. The lust of a male to win a mate and perpetuate his offspring upon her, the drive of life itself to let him beat out his rivals to conquer his mate. The love of family to sacrifice for each other to protect and nurture. I am full of these passions, Brother and they make me strong and my eyes gold."


"Interesting," he considered, stroking his soul patch. "Not the Heresies of Kel'eth Ur at all, or the Jedi refutation of emotion, but a completely new third path."


"The Jedi are as unnatural as the Sith who declare that only hate and rage are the proper paths of the Force," she snorted in contempt. "The Jedi fall to what they call the Dark Side because they force themselves to live in a manner contrary to the Life that gives the Living Force itself! What they call dark is only their own frustration and rage at denial of what is natural that further perverts them and so if they will not be servants of Life they become servants of Death."


Kunga smiled as he smoothed his mustache. "And as you use Passion, you find no lie in calling yourself Sith. The Jedi are all potential lords of death to you and so must be opposed."


The young woman smiled at him. "Oh I have hopes they can be shown the light, to employ a Jedi pun."


"Will you teach me this new path?"


"Brother, for you to embrace the path of life would necessitate the breaking of the vows you have taken to your order. I am not now in a place where I would be comfortable asking that of you."


"You must do what you feel is right, of course," he said, his expression not changing.

* * *


The endless tunnel of hyperspace opened and the stars drew back to their places as the Black Eagle slowed from light speed. Dantooine rushed up, impossibly fast, but appeared to stop as quickly as it had appeared. Syluri and Arktica shared a glance of pilots pleased with themselves, the Eagle was well back of the normal hyperspace departure point. Dantooine was a border world, there were several Republic Valor-Class Heavy Cruisers in system and while there was a sizable Imperial presence on the world, it could easily have been a trap.


The sub-light engines quickly pushed the agile little transport into the traffic pattern as Syluri brought up the com to frequency stored in the main frame. "Dantooine approach, this the the Imperial Transport Black Eagle on pre-filed flight plan requesting clearance to land."


"Black Eagle, you are cleared through to Khoonda Space Port, Pad 50."


"Pad five zero for Black Eagle, confirmed. Thank you."


The voice on the speaker was heavy with sarcasm. "Welcome to Dantooine."


"We're thrilled to be here," Syluri shot back with the same amount as she cut the channel to concentrate on her flying. Khoonda Space Port certainly sounded grand, but compared to a planet it was a tiny, tiny speck. Still, the Black Eagle managed to find her mark and shortly was settling onto her landing pads. The others were waiting in the main lounge of the ship as Syluri and Arktica emerged from the cockpit. "Everyone dressed for success?" she asked, even though her tone was light and facetious Syluri had traded her mock uniform for a flowing, practically diaphanous jumpsuit of charcoal black and accented with gold ribbon and thread. The sleeves were slit so that her arms were sometimes bare, sometimes covered and there was sufficient material to create a cape-like effect. A high throat collar with a key hole bodice complimented her athletic figure while both communicating her status as did the light sabers that hung from her wide leather belt.


It also would not hamper her in the slightest should she have to fight.


Kunga wore a wrap around tunic and Tattsuke pants both in saffron yellow and a pair of sturdy looking toe sandals that wrapped up the legs of his pants, holding them close below the knee. Over this he added a Vermilion roll of cloth he'd draped over his left shoulder, this both concealed his light saber and gave the garment something of the look of a monk's toga. Likewise, minus the cloth, he could fight unimpeded.


The best clothing Arktica or Panithea had were their dress acolyte uniforms from the Academy, with the insignia replaced courtesy of Jay Thirty-Three with those of an Apprentice rather than an acolyte. Poor Vette admitted that the flight suit she was wearing was the only clothing she owned. "Obviously, a shopping trip is in order," Syluri thought out loud. "Business before pleasure, however. Smiles everyone, let's go meet the Jedi Master."


She triggered the ramp to lower and the inner door snapped open. The northern continent of planet was in late spring so the air was warmer than the ship's air had been, but was still pleasant. The dock crew was gathered over to one side, cringing back, as obviously the rumor of ship full of Sith Lords arriving had preceded them. "Vette, would you be so kind as to go convince our service crew that the Sith Lords have all eaten and so will not bite, so long as their work stays to par?"


The Twi'lek smirked and nodded. "Sure thing, my lord."


She took off at a trot, causing Syluri to call after her, "Keep your comlink open! I don't want to come all the way back here to link up with you for the goods we need!" Vette waved that she'd heard, allowing Syluri to give her full attention to the Jedi waiting a respectful distance from the ramp. The most diminutive of the group was slightly ahead of the others, obviously in charge. He was barely a meter tall, with a rugged, green complexion and large pointed ears. A Shoto hung by his side and he held his knurled hands together in front of him.


A pair of humans flanked him, the female was nearly as tall as Syluri, with bright red hair and green eyes, she was dressed primarily in greens, leather for the most part, and not much of it as she left great amounts of skin on display. Ogden's first reaction was to mentally label her a very expensive piece of arm candy, but the light sabers she wore quickly had the Sith Witch upgrade her opinion and look for the cues of a dangerous fighter, which she found on reexamination. These she added to as the red head understood misdirection and that made her more dangerous.


The male was exactly how Syluri liked her men, tall, lean with an air of contained danger. His form was athletic in the mold of a dancer rather than a weight lifter, the lean body given a bit of bulk by the traditional brown Jedi robes he wore, though he did forgo the outer cloak and hood which lent a bit of 'man-of-action' about him. He was very handsome in a young, rugged kind of way with mysterious dark eyes and hair as black as her own.


With an effort, Syluri turned her thoughts back to the matter at hand and swept up to the trio of Jedi to end with a shallow bow from the neck. "Master Yintar, I presume?" The little green alien nodded, his huge amber eyes guarded. "Charmed, Master, I am Syluri Ogden, Lord of the Sith. My fellow Lord Kunga Jigme and our apprentices, Arktica and Panithea."


"With pleasure, do we greet you, Lady Ogden," Yintar replied. "Jedi Knight Crystalya Walksfar this is," he introduced, indicating the red head. Syluri felt herself be appraised and the Jedi shifted her weight ever so slightly into a more combat ready stance. Ogden smiled and nodded.


It was certain Yintar had noted the exchange, but he chose not to comment on it. "Jedi Knight Jacyn Jax, this is." Syluri decided to try a gambit and extended her hand, palm down. When it dawned on the Jedi what she expected he was obviously flustered and a blush came to him as he worked himself around the diminutive Jedi Master to take her hand and kiss the back of it.


"Delighted to make your acquaintance, Master Jax," Ogden purred.


"The honor is mine, Lady Ogden," the young man replied with a clear sonorous voice somewhere between baritone and tenor. "Perhaps, this heralds a more peaceful time of co-existence between us where cordial conversation can replace blasters and light sabers."


"An idealist and a heroic man-of-action," Syluri returned with a smile. She flicked her eyes down to his waist, despite the fact that his robes were quite modest and held the gaze to be sure he noticed before returning her eyes to his. "I'm sure you must be a man of many talents."


"Your entire retinue, this is, Lady?" Yintar asked and instantly the connection between her and Jax closed as the ranks of the Jedi did. Syluri chose not to comment, but made a lazy gesture to where Vette was dealing with the techs over by one of the Black Eagle's landing skids.


"My engineer, Vette, and I have a valet droid still on board, Master Yintar," she replied, looking down on the little alien. "Unless of course there were stowaways I've missed. Would you care to search my ship?" Yintar did not rise to the bait.


"Sufficient, your word is, Lady Ogden. Odd that a Darth the Dark Council did not send."


The golden eyes narrowed. "Do you find me insufficiently dangerous, Master Yintar?"


Yintar cocked his head to odd angle. "Unintended was the offense you took, Lady Ogden. If chooses the Dark Council does not to assign a Master, then recuse myself I must. Avoided, signs of favoritism must be, for this to succeed." He sighed and shook his head before turning back to the two Jedi. "To the Academy you both must go and each take a Padawan. In balance this team must be."


Syluri caught Kunga's eye before she asked, "Would it be too much trouble to ask if we could join you, Master Yintar? Lord Jigme is a considerable scholar and I believe we would both be fascinated by a visit to a Jedi Academy."


"An opportunity for all to learn, this is," the Master replied faster than Ogden expected him to and he made a gesture to be followed.


Syluri turned back to Panithea and from a cleverly concealed space in her sleeve produced a small bag that jingled. "Go to the Imperial Exchange and convert these into Republic Credits. See that you, Arktica and Vette get a suitable wardrobe for this."


"Yes, Master," she replied. "Are you expecting change?"


"No," Syluri told her with a smile. "I have my own accounts in the Republic. Make sure each of you has a respectable wardrobe." She turned to Arktica. "Feel free to inquire if there is a...suitable facility here, Arktica. We will wait if needed."


"Yes, my lord. And thank you."


Syluri turned and subtly, but not in a way he could feign to not notice held out her hand to Jacyn Jax. The Jedi blushed again, but offered his elbow as she'd intended and then fell in step with them out of the space port. Enjoying herself immensely, she whispered in his ear, "You are blushing, Master Jedi. Am I making you uncomfortable?"


Despite the crimson flush to his skin, his smile was ready, confident and easy. "Uncomfortable, my lady? Not at all, though perhaps I'm over dwelling on the jealousy some of the other Knights in the temple will have that I have so lovely a woman on my arm."


Ogden smirked and noticed that the response was not as much bravado as another man might have come up with. Her approach had caught him flat footed, but he was proving remarkably quick on the uptake. She narrowed her eyes and tried a different approach. "And what will they be jealous of, as the Jedi foreswear all relationships, or so I've heard?"


"We may be masters of our emotions, my lady, but we are still men."


"Some of us," tossed the red head over her shoulder. "And you, Lord Jigme, are you as shameless a flirt as your fellow Sith?" Kunga clasped his hands behind his back as he strolled next to the Jedi.


"I am a Monk of the Brotherhood of Ziost, Master Walksfar, so I am sworn to celibacy, among other vows."


"A Sith Lord who takes monastic vows?" Crystalya asked, an eyebrow arched in disbelief. "Who could have imagined such a contradiction of terms!"


"Tell me Master Yintar, do Jedi insult all their guests, or just those who defeat them in open war?" Syluri asked, not taking her eyes from the red head. She saw her spine stiffen and a fist clinch, but they were quickly mastered and the smile never left her face.


"Unusual, our guests are," the diminutive master admitted. "In many ways guilty are we, of a monochromatic wall we see. Variations of color, there are, an entire spectrum we do not consider." A smile spread across his squat, pinched face and his ears perked up in amusement. "A learning experience for all this is." They emerged from the space port proper into the bright sunlight of the city itself and Yintar led them to a speeder that was parked in a restricted space near by. Once inside, he sat at the controls that had been built to take his stature into account and they sped off.


* * *


In his offices on Korriban a tone alerted Darth Baras an communication was arriving for his attention. For a long moment, he considered not answering it, but those kinds of obstructions were for the petty and the powerless. He was neither. Clearing his desk, he pressed a button and on the floor before the desk the washed out visage of Darth Ravage took shape. Behind the silver mask, Baras smiled. "Darth Ravage," he greeted, pointedly remaining seated. "What an unexpected pleasure. What can I, humble school master that I am, do for the head of our hard working diplomatic corps?"


"You could answer charges of treason if I had my way, Baras," the Dark Councilman snapped. "For starters, I'll settle for why you disobeyed my explicit orders concerning the Apprentice of Moff Ogden? Where is she? Why hasn't she arrived or I been given a missive of her failure?"


Baras steepled his fingers before him. "There must be some mistake, Darth Ravage! I followed your instructions to the letter, despite my personal feelings that a newly raised Sith Lord had no business leading such a major diplomatic effort, let alone with a collection of Acolytes as her only assistance."


"What are you babbling about?" Ravage demanded. "I ordered you to conduct the apprentice through the Trials and, if she passed, to send her to me on Dromund Kaas! And while I intended her to be the junior Lord of the team I would send, how by the Force did you learn about it?"


"Oh dear," Baras purred, grateful the mask hid his face and so he did not have to work at hiding the smile at the other Sith Lord's discomfort. "That is not the message I received from your office! I have it right here, shall I send it back to you?" He pressed a button and drummed his fingertips together as the ghost in his office looked away at a screen he could not see.


"Test the Trials, yes," he murmured, then his normally florid face went pale. "Assign as leader, of... Provide acolytes and a ship...! Report directly to Dantooine! This isn't the message I dictated for you!"


"But it is the message I received," Baras told him with an unseen smirk. "The transmission logs and time stamps all validate it. Perhaps your secretary has some secret grudge and has chosen this awkward moment to have his revenge...?"


The ghost turned to an invisible desk and pressed an unseen button. "Where is Chandcy? Get him in here!" He turned, reacting to a voice that wasn't transmitted. "You're not Chandcy! Where is my Secretary?! What do you mean, retired?" The ghost turned back to Baras and locked eyes with the school master. "You! You did this!"


"If you're going to level accusations of that level, my 'lord' you had best be able to back them up before the council. My transmitter and logs are without suspicion. I have the logs and I followed your order to the letter. By now, our new Sith Lord Syluri Ogden should be on Dantooine so I would suggest you give her whatever support you can, because to recall her will make us look weak in the eyes of the Republic and if she fails... Well, that would be...unfortunate, wouldn't it?" Ravage inhaled to have the air to thoroughly curse Baras, but the school master took great pleasure in pressing the button that terminated the call. "What a lovely day this is," he chuckled to himself and returned to his work.


* * *

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"Well, we do seem to be the center of attention, don't we?" chuckled Syluri as no matter where they had walked in the Academy, training came to a stop as knights, masters and students alike stared with open fascination at the Sith Lords amongst them. Kunga was in a lively discussion with four masters that was deep into the esoteric views of the Theory of the Force. She had stopped being able to follow it within moments of the conversation's beginning. This did not surprise her as her mother had always been more heavily biased to the practical side of the Force rather than its theory.


"Well, it isn't every day we have a Sith Lady come calling," Jax replied matching her humor, then stopped and tilted his head in curious way. "Come to that, I note that you and your entourage always use the male pronoun."


"The correct title is Sith Lord," she told him. "And it is gender neutral. We in the empire do not quantify a title someone has earned by their genitalia, though some do prefer the old, specific titles. If it makes you more comfortable to use 'my lady' I have no objection."


"I certainly could not think of anyone as lovely as you in any way other than lady," Jacyn told her.


"You've a flatterer's tongue, you rogue," Syluri shot back. "There must be a trail of broken hearts from here to Coursant, all crying your name!"


He smiled a small, private smile. "Well, I am not nearly as worldly as my lady believes, but, as I mentioned before, we are, some of us, men; things do happen."


Syluri's eyes narrowed as her smile became devious. "Ah, so now I have something to hold over your head! You shall do whatever I say or I shall tell on you to Master Yintar!"


"I'm sure Master Yintar is already aware of all my faults," Jax retorted with a chuckle. "Which are so many some of them he knows about before I do!" They shared a small laugh before Ogden shook her head.


"I suppose I shall have to say something or who knows what will happen," she observed, peeking over his shoulder at the trail of Jedi that were following them at what they likely thought a very discreet distance. "Or does my hero have plans for a daring escape?"


He shrugged expressively, causing her fascination with the strength and the feeling of controlled power in his muscles to increase. "I don't know if I can manage daring but we could make a break for it through the gardens." He altered their course and ducked through a small door that opened onto a perfectly manicured formal garden. The flowers were organized into rows and everything was pruned exactly so with tasteful and tastefully rare items of topiary statues carved from the bushes every so often. The path was paved with ruddy stones that were randomly cut to make the lines of the path a dizzying collection of lines and curves. The entire garden sang with life under the Order imposed on it, reminding Syluri strongly of the meditation garden her mother kept on Tenara at the Palace.


She left his arm and stepped out into the garden, throwing her arms wide to drink in the warmth of the sun shine, as well as the living Force that was radiating through out the space. She caught him watching and smirked, laying a hand on her shapely hip. "Are you sufficiently amused, Master Jedi?"


"I am pleased my lady is so obviously pleased." He stepped out into the sun shine away from the building proper. "I think it's wonderful that you're enjoying the setting, it's one of my favorite places to meditate, so please feel free to use it while you're here."


"I shall, it reminds me of my mother's garden at home. Though hers is not quite so organized, I think." Ogden gauged the look on his face as she found a spot in the garden that was particularly vibrant with the Force and sank carefully into the thick, carpet of grass so as not to soil her clothing. "You're surprised? That I could enjoy the garden or that I have one like it?"


"Intrigued," he corrected as he walked over and joined her in the dappled shade. Sinking beside her in the grass Jax scratched the side of his jaw in minor embarrassment. "I was discovered by the Republic's mandatory Force testing when I was three. I don't really remember my parents. I was the only member of my Youngling Clan to be selected as a Padawan, so I'm all alone in the Galaxy." He shook his head, amazed at the turn his thoughts had taken. "I guess I never really thought about where Sith come from, to us, they...let me be honest, my lady, until today you were a monolithic block my mind labeled 'Sith'. A block of killing machines, always to be on my guard against. But you speak of your mother in such loving tones, I suppose it made me nostalgic of what might have been."


She looked at him askance, both in disdain for his thinking, and appreciation for his honesty. "The Empire is just as diverse, in many ways, as the Republic," she told him sidelong. "There are many Sith Lords who are exactly as you describe because anger is a quick and easy path to power. But the Sith Code does not mention Anger, it says there is only Passion. And there are many passions, Master Jedi. Would it surprise you to hear that I deeply love both of my parents?"


With sadness in his eyes, Jax turned away and finally nodded his agreement that he would. "It seems the most natural thing in the world for a daughter to love her mother and father. I've never experienced love, myself. I am fond of a number of friends, colleagues and such, but love is an emotion denied to the Jedi, it leads to the Dark side."


"Love leads to the Dark side?" she demanded, clicking her tongue against her teeth. "Rubbish! First and foremost, there is no light or dark side, there is the natural, Living Force and there is the unnatural abuse of it."


"Are you telling me that you, with your golden yellow eyes, purport that there is no Dark Side?"


"On the contrary, I purport that the Bogeyman you call the Dark side has nothing to do with the Force and everything to do with your own psyche. The Force doesn't take sides, it simply is, the passively created after effect of life itself. It has no conscience, no will, no thought. How you use it makes it light or dark in your terms or Natural or Unnatural in mine."


His eyes narrowed slightly and he demanded, "If our sides are reversed, how do you justify the theft, murder, and evil of the Empire?"


"In the same manner you justify the corruption, slavery and genocide of the Republic," she shot back. He reared back at the emotionally charged word as if she'd struck him physically. Throwing up his hands, to either ward off her accusations or in defense of blows that were not in offer wasn't clear.


"Genocide? Wait just a minute, that's..."


"A serious charge?" she demanded, eyes narrow. "Do they not teach history in the Republic? Or did the victor just re-write it to gloss over the deeds of Pultimo The Butcher?"


Neither was exactly sure when it happened, but suddenly she was standing, looming over him, hands clinched in fists. "Your Supreme Chancellor launched a war of aggression with the sole purpose of exterminating the Sith! My people! Every planet, every strong hold, every man, woman and child all to be put to the sword! For what? Heresy? Violation of Religious Dogma? Or perhaps just the audacity to think something different than you?"


"You! The Sith! They invaded us!" he stammered.


"If my choice is to conquer or be exterminated, I choose to conquer!"


The hiss of a light saber being activated behind her silenced both of the arguers. "Let's keep this debate friendly, shall we?" Syluri straightened and squared her back, which put her hands on the same level as her own sabers, hanging from her belt. The blade hummed through the air and was close enough to the back of her neck the hairs stood up in response to the magnetic field that was containing the plasma. "Don't," the voice cautioned. "I sure things were just getting a little heated, but I won't let you harm Master Jax."


"Are you going to stab me in the back, boy?" she asked in a quiet voice. "That would be fitting considering the conversation we were having."


"Raise your hands and step away from him," the voice commanded.


"Gavin," started Jax and Syluri felt the boy's attention shift. As it did, she acted, snapping her hands up she twirled and flat palmed the blade of the youngling's saber with her bare hand, knocking it from his grip. Following through the spin, she hooked a foot behind his knee and pulled it out from under him. Gavin toppled backward as she finished the spin, drawing her left hand saber and igniting it so that the blade stopped just before his startled nose.


It was pug nose, that had been broken more than once in the past she noted and was attached to a square faced young lad that was obviously a scrapper that unflinching met her gaze with crystal blue eyes under a shock of dirty brown hair. "If you're going to threaten a Sith Lord, Gavin," she told him softly. "Do it with more than a training saber."




"The pitch of your sword's magnetic field hum was too low to be anything else." She gestured and his saber hilt flew to her hand. She deactivated her own saber and returned it to her belt while presenting the boy with his weapon. "Though I give you full marks for bravery. Foolish, but brave."


His demeanor fell to a sullen one, but he took his saber without snatching it and even accepted the hand she offered to his feet. Jacyn stood and crossed his arms to scowl down on the lad. "Gavin, what have we all told you about looking before you leap! Lady Ogden would have been in her rights to have killed you in self defense!"


"But I thought I was defending you...!"


"You think I need a youngling to protect me, a full fledged Jedi Knight?" he thundered.


Syluri smirked and observed, "I did have the advantage on you..."


"Not helping!" he shot back with a grin. "And I would have thought of something!"


"I'm sorry, Master, Lady." The boy mastered his crushed spirit and even managed to bow. "It won't happen again."


"It certainly won't!" snapped Jax. "You will go directly to the Academy armory and turn in your training sword." The boy's face paled and tears welled up in his eyes that he very stoically blinked back.


"Am...am I dismissed, Master?"


"No!" The Jedi continued, clearly enjoying himself. "From there, you'll go to your dorm and pack your things, your time at this Academy is over, young man!" A devastated look fell on the boys continence and he looked on the verge of breaking down. "Because you will be joining me as my Padawan learner, so go and draw a real light saber and get ready."


The pugnacious face exploded into a supernova of joy as he babbled out his thanks and oaths not to disappoint and fled with a speed that was probably assisted by the Force. "He'll be a handful," Ogden noted.


"Rough around the edges, maybe, but you're right. What he did took guts. I can work with that." He squared his shoulders and turned to look at her directly. "I had no part in the Great Hyperspace War, so I won't apologize for something I didn't do. It's not for me to say if the Empire has legitimate grievance or not, but I am sworn to protect the Republic and I will do so. That you and your team are joining with us I hope proves that we can put our differences aside and live in peace."


"Peace is a lie, Master Jedi," she replied with a smile. "But we can be, if not allies, at least good neighbors. That is my offer, will you accept it?" She extended her hand, meaning for it to be shook, but he took it, turned it palm down and bent to kiss it once more.


"It is a start, my lady." He stood and scratched his jaw again. "I notice your saber, the blade, it's gold."


"It is," she agreed, dusting herself off and turning towards the Central Dining hall of the Academy. "And if I ever forgive you for this morning, you may even find out why some day."


* * *


Alone in his office, Jedi Master Yintar poured over the reports and information he had on the Empire and known Sith Lords. According to the best information the republic had was that Syluri Ogden was the Sith Apprentice of the Governess of the Tenara System, Moff Myan Ogden. He called up a Sith news site he was a member of through a series of blinds and fronts throughout the Holonet and got into the archives. There, a holographic still from a festival of Tenara three standard months ago of the Moff, her apprentice and her husband proved without doubt who Syluri was. As the article didn't mention any promotion, that usually meant that at best the leader of the representing the Sith had been a Lord less than three months.


He took the mouthpiece of the hooka he kept in his office and drew on it, rubbing his chin in thought as he savored the smoke. Changing tactics, he ran a quick search on the other Sith Lord, the scholar and found nothing. Either he was so obscure in academia as to be an unknown or he too was new to his rank. It didn't make sense, unless...


Yintar turned to look at the map that hung on the wall behind him. It helped him to look at things in a two dimensional representation at times to grasp certain, strategic concepts. This map was of the boarder between the New Sith Empire and the Republic. It was pinned to mark out worlds with on going issues and to notate all the boarder incursions between the two powers.


Dathomir was hotly contested by both sides, but seemingly without reason. There was no real technology to speak of, nothing of strategic interest other than location. Yintar frowned as he turned back to the holonet archive and dug a bit deeper. Finally he found a biographical piece on Moff Ogden. A story book war time romance between her and then Captain Ogden, left her native home. Yintar drew on the hooka and kept sifting through the archive. There it was, Moff Ogden was a Force Witch from Dathomir.


And so was her daughter then, as the Witches were matrilineal.


The Jedi Master's amber eyes stared at the map as he exhaled the fragrant smoke and let his mind free associate. Dathomir was in a cluster of systems on the far side of which was Ord Mandel which wasn't being argued about but actively fought over. While there were no Imperial Troopers on the planet, their weapons and supplies were certainly getting to insurrectionists that were fighting Republic rule there. And if Dathomir the Empire controlled, the Jedi thought to himself, more easily could they arrive.


It was now obvious what the plan was; a collection of dominoes with Dathomir being the first and Ord Mandel the last and the Empire would gobble up five systems over hundreds of parsecs of space.


Yintar flipped through what he could find out about the younger Lord Ogden. Born highly to a ruling family, well educated, a full Sith Lord in her own right, there was nothing on the face of things that would allow him to protest her assignment to Darth Ravage. And without a Darth on their side, he couldn't tag along without seeming to attempt to overwhelm the team. Well played, he thought to himself as he drew on the hooka. Indeed, well played.


* * *


Parsecs away on the Imperial world of Tenara, the gloaming was settling on the capital city of Surtis. In the gardens of the Governor's Residence, Moff Myan Ogden sat cross legged in her favorite spot, feeling the earth and grass beneath her, pulling the cares of the day from her. These were the most trying of days of late. Her children were away, at school, in service or just at life. Her one Force sensitive child, her eldest daughter was now a Sith Lord in her own right, off to pursue her own career and her husband was on maneuvers with this fleet and would be gone the better part of a quarter year.


Such was the life of a Navy Wife.


She knew there would be stretches like this, it was why she had pursued her own career in politics and risen to the rank of Moff to have things to occupy her time. At that, it was well that she had been blessed with so many children as being governor of the planet was like being it's mother. But, no matter how much she tried to fill the hours, some part of her would always be empty with her family scattered through out the stars.


As she meditated, her eyes closed and finally relaxed, she heard the treads and electric whine of T-94, her astromech droid rolling up the path. As it was coming, that meant someone on her very short list of approved callers she was to be interrupted for. "Hello, Tee Nine," she greeted with her eyes closed, taking every moment of meditation she could. "You have a call for me?"


The little droid chirped a series of beeps happily as it rolled to a stop. Myan opened her eyes right as the droids projector came to life and her eldest daughter's form took shape before her. "My former apprentice," she greeted with a smile, her voice still rolling her 'r's slightly from the Dathomir accent that still colored her voice after all these years.


Syluri bowed shallowly, a tired smile on her face. "Greetings from the heart of enemy territory, Mother. I don't have much time, but I wanted to send you a message to know all was well with me, and why I haven't returned home. I was tasked by the Emperor to come to Dantooine. I've been assigned to lead a bi-national investigation team, paired with some Jedi to look into boarder skirmishes so each can assure the other side it's an isolated incident. The comm system is very spotty and I was unable to get a reliable two way transmission. I hope that improves. We will be on Dantooine for a few days while the Jedi which are our opposite numbers in the team prepare. I am assured they will forward any reply you send to us. I hope to be home soon." She bowed again and faded into the growing darkness.


Myan frowned and looked up into the single eye camera of her droid which whistled softly in concern. "Tee Nine, up link with the house communications array," she drawled her accent becoming more pronounced as it usually did when she was emotional or worried. Now she was both. "I wish to speak with my husband."


The droid chirped and a directional antenna popped out of its head. After several seconds of chirping, the projector turned itself on once more, this time showing a image of the Admiral in his bed, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "Hello, beloved," he greeted, reaching for some control that brought a bit more light onto his image.


"Admiral," she replied. It was a little code they had worked out amongst themselves. They could know instantly if communiques were of a personal or official nature by whether they used names or titles. At once, Tagge left his bed and fell to a knee in front of it, looking a bit amusing as he was only in his night shorts and under shirt.


"Moff Ogden, how may I serve you?" he replied, using her title.


"I haf received a communication from my apprentice," the Moff replied, wincing at how strongly her accent was coloring her voice. She paused and made an effort to master herself.


"All is well with her, I trust, my lord?"


"She tells me she has been assigned to some formal diplomatic mission with the Republic," the Moff replied, pleased her voice was less strongly colored. "That she is on Dantooine and has been partnered with Jedi. Can you confirm this?"


"Not at this time, my lord," the Admiral replied. "She touched me through the Force as she left her Trials on Korriban. She had possession of a new Fury-Class transport and the feeling I received through the Force was that she was unconcerned. I can make inquiries..."


"No," the Moff told him. "Admiral, we must be very discrete now. How soon can you complete the maneuvers you are committed to and return to Tenara Sector? With your fleet, not merely yourself, Admiral."


"We are a reserve force for the training exercise, my lord," he said after a moment of thought. "The Grand Admiral and I were at the Academy together. If my Moff requires me, that is sufficient for the fleet to withdraw and return home."


"And if you left this instant?"


"A week through hyperspace, my lord," he said. "We are on the other side of the Empire."


"I smell treachery, Admiral. I want our sector fleet on its normal patrol station with as much speed as you can muster."


"I will have our noses pointed home within the hour, my lord."


He was so far away she would not have been able to do what she did next if she could not see him, have that visual link the reaffirm their bonds. But she reached through the Force and was able to touch his mind, to communicate with out words her fears, her concerns and how much she loved him. Tagge, be careful my husband.


He looked up at the camera and into her eyes. You will be in my arms as fast as I can return home, beloved.


"Time is of the essence, Admiral."


"At once, my lord." He bowed deeper and the transmission faded into the Tenara night.

* * *


Syluri woke to the alarm mildly disoriented from a particularly vivid dream. She was more than a little put out it had only been a dream and she was alone in her cabin on the Black Eagle. Regretfully she climbed out of the bed and drew water into the sink of her refresher unit. The cold water splashed onto her face, bringing alertness and clearing the remaining cobwebs of the dream from her mind. She looked herself in the mirror and mentally commanded, Get a hold of yourself, girl, he's just a man.


Her reflection smiled the feral smile of a cat that's gotten at the cream. Yes, but if he's half as good as he lets on...


"Stop it," she ordered, unconsciously staring herself down through the mirror. "You have a job to do, focus." Reasonably clean, she removed a set of durable Naval Fatigues, consisting of a long sleeved shirt and pants, both in Imperial Gray, both covered in pockets and pulled them on. The clothing was rugged, meant for field use and as she planned to be out of doors for the day that was a good thing. The pants she tucked into a rugged pair of boots both with excellent tread and strong ankle support, then added her utility belt containing her light sabers, a comlink, holonet hand viewer and a collection of odds and ends that you never knew when you might need.


Satisfied, she opened the door to her cabin and stepped out into the remnants of a shopping orgy. Bags, boxes and containers were scattered all around the salon along with various pieces of clothing, shoes and accessories. "Jay Thirty-Three!" she commanded, stunned at the debris left over from the fashion tornado. "What is the meaning of this? What happened here?"


The droid looked up from where it had been trying to organize the mess and its tone of voice managed to be mournful. "The morning after the celebration of the spoils of a fashion war I'm afraid, Miss. Your apprentice, Miss Arktica and Miss Vette returned after you had retired for the evening, flush from their excursion and evidently looking to relive the experience."


"This is quite a mess," observed the voice of Kunga from behind Syluri. She turned to find the Monk in his Tattsuke pants and toe sandals and was naked from the waist up. Ogden couldn't keep in a slight nod of appreciation at his sculpted physique. In such appreciation, she noticed a bottle on the floor and bent down to pick it up.


"Wine? They were drinking, too?"


"Several beverages of an adult nature were consumed, miss," the 'droid replied diplomatically.


Ogden closed her eyes and counted to ten silently. "Jay Thirty-Three, you are not clean this, you didn't make this mess."


"But, miss, my function..."


"Your function is to be my assistant, not the slave of my subordinates!" Syluri shot back. "I'm going out and when I get back, this salon had better have been returned to Bristol fashion! And you, my fine mechanical friend are not to lift a finger to help them, am I understood?"


The 'droid bowed. "Yes Miss."


She picked her way through the disaster area the main room of her ship had become, followed by Kunga as she turned the corner and went through the short hallway to the air lock. "Where are you off to?" he asked as he worked the control and lowered the ramp for her.


Syluri went over to the far wall of the airlock that covered in bins and lockers. She opened the largest at the bottom and pulled out a speeder bike that folded up to stow away easier. "Exploring," she replied as she folded out the bike from its 'storage' mode to a 'ride' configuration. "This planet is strong with the Force, I may find something the Jedi have over looked and I've been cooped up too long. I need to be out doors for a while."


She locked the backrest for the seat into place and looked up at the Monks amused expression. "Think you can keep a handle on those two?"


"I'm not sure what I can do, now that they've fallen to the Mercantile side of the Force, but I'll try," he replied deadpan.


"My hero," snickered Ogden as she walked the floating bike down the ramp. "I meant what I said about Jay Thirty-Three," she called after him. "Their mess, they clean it up."


"Yes, my lord."


She threw her leg over the saddle and got comfortable as she gave her fellow Sith Lord a measuring look. The bike started on the first try and the power cell read full. Finally she nodded and kicked the bike into gear and sped off, the hydraulic whine of the ramp being raised lost to the growl of the speeder.


Khoonda quickly fell away behind Syluri, which was not unusual for colonies of this era. A central hub of a city, surrounding farmland, then wilderness with a speed that some likely found disconcerting. Dantooine was a young planet, primarily open grasslands which allowed the speeder to quickly be pushed up to its top speed of two hundred kilometers per hour in relative safety as there was nothing to hit. The speed was exhilarating as it whipped past her, pulling her hair from its braid to trail behind her in the wind and the howl of the suspensor field.


She let the Force guide her, pulling slightly to a rocky escarpment on the edge of a savanna. Here, snow melt from a mild mountain range flowed down creating a fairly swift moving stream that the rock had widened into a deep, wide pool. The sun, Dina, was well up and the day was getting warm already. Were it further along in the day, she would be sorely tempted to take a swim. As it was, she put the speeder in idle and swung off, looking around.


It was a very picturesque location. The pool was fed by a small waterfall from the mountains further up, but the pool itself, perhaps a radius of twenty meters, was quite calm. The stream left the pool and continued back towards Khoonda at a leisurely pace. The ground was covered in a thick carpet of grass and moss and a number of shrub bushes took advantage of the water source while giving some shade and privacy.


Out on the savanna, a small herd of lumbering Nerf cattle that had been released into the wild bleated from their grazing at the Sith Lord that had entered their domain, but the challenges were merely from young bucks looking to impress the young cows at the center of the herd. The alpha bull only turned an uninterested eye on the woman and her speeder then went back to grazing. From the saddle bags of the speeder she produced an emergency blanket she spread out on the grass and a ration kit and sat down. Chewing absently on a meal bar, she looked about, trying to figure out why the Force had guided her here.


It was a lovely spot for a picnic, but beyond that there didn't seem to be anything special about the place. She filled the canteen with water and set it aside to let the filter in it do its job. As she munched on the bland, fibrous bar she stretched out with her senses. Yes, the Force was quite strong here, but muted, diffuse some how. "Curious," she told herself as she looked about, but nothing leapt out to her gaze, nothing seemed out of place or wanted to draw attention. It was a place to simply be.


As she tried to sort out what had drawn her here, the com link hanging off her belt beeped for her attention. The canteen light turned green so she took a sip of the remarkably cold water to clear her mouth and activated the link. "Yes?"


"Am I disturbing you?" Jacyn Jax's voice asked from the grille of the device. Her senses broadened and she turned back in the direction of Khoonda. There, she could see another speeder bike, perhaps a kilometer away with a form in tan and brown on it.


"So I see whatever spies you have watching our ship are earning their pay," she remarked with a dangerously blase tone of voice. "Or do you intend to spin some complicated and implausible lie about 'just being out here' and noticing me?"


The speeder started moving again and over the wind his voice chuckled. "You wound me, my lady! I was going to regale you with tales of sleepless nights, rest deprived from pining to your beauty and being spurred to reckless action of stalking you from love sickness." His speeder slid to a stop next to the blanket and she basked in the radiant smile he offered. "I just couldn't stay away."


"Bantha poodoo," she shot back with a smirk. "But it's very, very good Bantha poodoo."


He reached into the saddle bag of his speeder and produced a collection of bottles on a common plastic keeper. "I have beer!" he offered, the other hand pulling out a small knapsack. "And real Groat cheese and a loaf of bread not two hours from the oven."


"You're forgiven," she purred, patting the blanket next to her. "Put the rest of the bottles in the pool to keep them cold."


"As my lady commands," Jax said with a grin as he scrambled to obey. "Beautiful spot." He made a makeshift tie with a stake to ease the recovery of the bottles then returned to sink down onto the blanket. "I am disturbing you, aren't I?"


She shrugged as she fished the multi-tool from her belt and used it's opener on both of their bottles. "I had come out here to be alone for a bit," she admitted and paused to sample the beer. It was a local bottling to judge from the lack of holographic enhancements to the bottle and something about the flavor of the beer put her in mind of the scent of the grasslands around them. There was nothing sophisticated about it to her very sophisticated palette, just good, honest beer.


She loved it immediately.


"It's good," she admitted from her first sip. He returned her smile from his cutting of the cheese and handed her a slice on a crust of bread. The Groat cheese was young and sharp, pungent with some local herbs that had been mixed into the curd while it set, softening its pungent, bitter flavor.


"I'm sorry I only have simple fare," he said from his cutting, then paused, removed a sizable Muja Fruit from the sack and began to peel it. "I'm certain you as a Sith Lord, daughter of a Moff and a planetary governor are used to much better."


"If you would like to know about my family, I'll be happy to save your spies their labor and answer," she shot back. "Of course, you won't be able to appear like such a creepy stalker trying to impress me with your knowledge of my past that way."


He worked free a section of the fruit and offered it. "Anything to impress my lady," he replied with a wink and a roguish grin. He scarfed a section for himself and chewed thoughtfully before shrugging and setting the sectioned fruit where they could both reach it on the blanket. "Actually, I'm trying to be honest with you. You know we'll be making inquiries about you, as I'm sure you are of us. I'm just acknowledging it in the hopes of some diplomatic movement. War doesn't help either of our governments."


"What an odd notion!" she opined as she took another sip of the beer. "If winning a war isn't helping your government, I submit to you Master Jedi, your government didn't actually win. No one goes to war just to go to war."


"You consider war a viable means of solving differences?"


She looked at him sidelong through lidded eyes. "Have you ever actually used that light saber on your belt?"


"Unfortunately," he admitted. "I'd rather disputes be settled peaceably."


"I'd rather we were all rich and no one wanted for anything, but that isn't the Universe we live in, is it?" He frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. She sighed and tried another tactic. "You admit there is a time and a place for violence?"


"Only in self defense!" he protested.


"I presume by that you mean only when someone is offering you violence directly, yes?" Seeing his nod she took another drink of the beer. "So, consider. Four men approach you and box you in on all sides. The make no aggressive actions, but the refuse to let you leave. They seem content to hold you until you starve to death. You try to reason with them and settle your 'difference' peaceably, but they are interested only in your death, but, being devout pacifists, they won't strike you to kill you, but see no hypocrisy in starving you by restricting your movement. Are you defending yourself if you initiate force against them?"


"Of course!" he snapped.


"Then your argument is undone, Master Jedi because if a private citizen has such a right, then governments, which are merely collections of private citizens do as well." His frown deepened and it was obvious he was becoming cross, even she felt warm and comfortable from the beer and the sunshine.


"You're twisting my words with overly simple hypothetical arguments!"


She took another drink and licked her lips sensuously. She'd never experienced something as simple as beer to be so flavorful and satisfying as this was. Everything was sharp and in focus, from the brilliant greens of the grass to the warm heat of his annoyance at their discussion. "No, I'm not twisting your words," she told him with a smile. "I'm just showing you where your logic leads. Besides, I'm hoping soon you'll be as bored with talking about politics as I am and kiss me!"


Syluri blinked, startled with what she'd said, but his hot annoyance ignited into a fiery passion that burned through him as his most deeply held sacred truths were threatened. "Now you're trying to seduce me to the Dark Side!" he shouted, leaning forward to plant a finger on her breast.


"There is no Dark Side!" she shouted back, laying the bottle aside and collecting a handful of his thick black hair. "I'm just trying to seduce you!" She didn't know if he kissed her, or she kissed him, or if in their heat they seized each other at the same moment, not that it mattered when their lips met and the conflagration of passion consumed them both.


* * *

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Jacyn came awake a little slowly, but for some reason his mind had none of the fog it normally would have for being so deeply asleep. Knowing himself, it was likely the deepest sleep he'd had since he'd been a Padawan himself. It was just that the blanket on the grass he laid on was just surprisingly comfortable. A slight tickle on his nose caused him to open his eyes to find her staring down him, one of her fingertips tracing the outlines of his face that had been the sensation that had roused him. He was struck by the bright gold of her eyes once more as images of her in passion with him flashed through his mind.


He started to rise, but she placed her hand on his chest to stop him and smiled an odd smile. "Wait a moment," she told him.


She was still nude and unconcerned about it, obviously at home in her soft, olive skin. Skin that was not the flawless glow of a pampered princess but here and there was a small scar of some childhood mishap or some day that had gone badly to show that she knew the value of work. The muscles under that skin were not the kind one got by lifting weights and that appealed to him immensely. "Are you alright?" he asked with some concern. "I didn't...I hope I wasn't too rough..."


Again she smiled the odd smile; she was propped up by her right hand and her ebony hair fell in a cascade down on him. "I was intending to work out how to bed you, Master Jedi, so I'm not as upset as I might otherwise be." She paused as she looked away for a moment, sighed, and looked back down on him again. Those bright yellow eyes, so full of warmth just a moment ago were hard and merciless now, the eyes of a predator, or a killer. They were the kind of eyes Jacyn had fought in his time as a Jedi against desperate criminals who would not be taken alive. "My light saber is by your ear," she told him in a voice completely without emotion. "My thumb is on the activation stud. If you move, I will run my blade through your brain. If you lie to me, you will be dead before you hear the blade coming. Do you understand?"


Jacyn licked dry lips with a desert of a tongue. "How do I offend, my lady?"


He wouldn't have thought her eyes could get any more distant and cold, but they did, and it was cemented into his consciousness that this was not a contrary minded Jedi, but a Lord of the Sith. He found he had never truly mentally cataloged her so because she had been so charming and delightful. Briefly he wondered if the mistake would cost him his life. "Did you drug me?" she whispered.


"What?" he demanded, stunned. He couldn't help it, it was not the last thing he'd expected her to ask, but not even something he would consider she would ask.


"Did...you...drug...me?" she hissed, carefully enunciating each syllable. "Not that I care, but I'll be the first to admit I am more than a little loose by societies' standards, I've even been called a tramp, and I'll claim it for my own. That said, I am not a whore. I've turned my nose up to better men than you, Jacyn Jax so if you put something in that food that turned me into that panting ***** in heat..."


"No!" he protested adamantly. "I would never...! I am not a ******!"


She blinked and as quickly as they'd gone hard, her eyes were warm and caring again. She sat up and tossed the light saber to its mate by her pants a short distance away. "I'm glad you see it would have been rape. I apologize for threatening you. I had to know."


He sat up and rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. Thinking back over their activities of the early afternoon he could certainly understand her worry. There had been an urgency to their lovemaking that was more primal than anything he'd ever experienced before. On the other hand, his mind was not only perfectly clear, but he could remember everything in a clarity and detail that was unusual. Panting was a polite description, he thought to himself as he notice himself begin to respond to the memory and forcefully stopped thinking about it. "At the time I thought it was just excitement," he admitted softly. "Looking back..." he trailed off, not entirely sure how to put the feeling into words.


She chuckled a strange little laugh. "I'll try not to compare your next performance to this one," she told him with a wink.


"Next?" he asked, confused, but then suddenly hopeful as he realized all the ramifications of the statement. She shrugged and it did interesting things to her bosom. It was a very nice bosom, full and firm and ample for her size, and she was remarkably tall. Neither would fit in one of Jacyn's hands, and he had large hands; no child of hers would ever starve seemed certain.


"I did admit I was already looking to make your...ahem...intimate acquaintance," she said as she stretched out across his lap. "We should find out what happened here, but I believe you when you say you are innocent of it. Why should I hold that against you?" She paused, her confidence obviously shaken by a stray thought. "Unless you had no such intention with me..."


"I had hopes," he admitted with his roguish grin once more in place on his face. "Not that I expected your tastes to be so appallingly low to dabble with a nobody like me..."


"You'll find my taste in men remarkably blue collar," she retorted with a playful smile. "I've wasted enough of my life with pampered little princes to ever take one to bed." She sighed and looked over at the knapsack the food was in on the edge of the blanket. "I ran my food tester over what we ate and it pronounced it safe, no toxins, no poisons, nothing that shouldn't be there. Same with the beer," she said looking back up into his eyes. "Any ideas?"


"None," he admitted. "Though I wish there were not the case. If we find it, we should both leave our prospective orders and sell it as the ultimate marital aid."


"Riches beyond the dreams of avarice," she agreed as she rolled over a bit and plucked one of the bottles from the water. "Whatever it was seems to have worn off. So, I'm going to replicate what I consumed and see if perhaps the combination causes it." Her eyes darted down and back up. "I hope you're up for it if I'm right...?"


He leaned over and separated out a second portion of the item's she'd gathered. "Just in case," he told her with a wink. She drank and ate, with the hesitancy of someone expecting to find something distasteful, but time wore on without so much as a darkening flush to her olive skin. He opened his own bottle and took a long pull while she sat, her attention focused within. "Maybe the bad conversation?" he asked as she closed her eyes to fully concentrate. She made a face and shook her head.


"If I ever become sexually aroused by conversations about politics, I'll kill myself."


He shrugged and took another sip. "I never thought about it before, but there are fates worse than falling to the Dark Side." She made an obscene gesture, but remained silent, her concentration inward. Not wishing to further distract her, he remained silent and gazed at her appreciatively.


Jax found himself in something of a crisis of convictions as he watched her meditate. He had always thought of beautiful women as small, delicate creatures, soft as a flower petal. To him, beauty had been synonymous with perfect for quite some time. Perfect skin, perfectly symmetrical features, perfect proportions of body, and yes, he had to admit to himself, perfectly demure and accommodating of her man.


Syluri was none of these things.


She was tall, not quite as tall as he was at two meters, but she was close enough that the heels of her boots put her on eye level with him without being outrageously tall. Jacyn had never had the occasion to converse with a woman he could look in the eye without looking down at her, it was a strange feeling, a feeling he decided he liked. And then there were her eyes. They were already remarkably large for her face, and their color only made them stand out more. Between her gold eyes and the easy, flowing grace she moved with she was like some female panther, catlike and sensuous merely by being at home in her own skin. She was strong and fit, not lithe or winnowy like the models on the holos, earthy and frank while they were aloof and detached.


The Force was strong with her, but not in the way he had felt in other Sith.


She wasn't enraged. She was just...dangerous. What's more she was opinionated and could articulate her opinions, defend her positions all while challenging his own assumptions. She could be polite and refined then headstrong and fierce at the urging of some inner whim. She did not defer, she challenged, ready to fight for what she wanted and make him defend what he'd always just assumed was the way of the galaxy. And while she was none of the things he had always thought of as beautiful, she was beautiful in a way he really couldn't describe.


"Nothing," she said with a sigh as she reached over and lifted the canteen and drank from it. "I'm at a loss to explain it."


He cupped his chin in thought for a moment before he accepted the canteen he offered and drank deeply. "Why did you come here?" he asked finally, handing it back to her. "If you don't mind my asking?"


"I just wanted to be out of doors so I let the Force pick my direction," she replied, stretching languorously until her spine popped. "I stopped here because there was a particularly strong vibe with the Force, but it's remarkably diffuse. Do you feel it?" He closed his eyes and immediately became aware of the intense, but low level 'hum' for lack of a better word around the pool. A splash caught him unawares and he jerked up, seeing her broaching the surface with a squeal as she flipped her hair to her back, making a rainbow over her head. "It's cold!" she shouted with a laugh, then floated up on her back and began the leisurely swim in no apparent direction.


She was still nude.


He stood and wondered over to the edge of the pond, dipping a toe in the water and finding it as icy as the drink had promised. "What are you waiting for?" she demanded with a smile. "Sometimes you just have to take the plunge!"


Jax sat down on the rock which had been warmed comfortably by the sun and dipped his feet and calves in the water. It was cold enough to be a shock, but then seemed to almost instantly mellow into a very comfortable, soothing cool. He couldn't help smiling as he watched her cavort in the pool which was deep enough the sunlight didn't penetrate to the bottom. Tenara, he knew from the reports he'd read was a fairly wet planet and it was obvious she was an accomplished swimmer. He took another pull of the beer and all the cares and worries seemed to fall away as he watched her.


He found himself doubting if he wanted to be a Jedi anymore if it was to deny himself such wonderful pleasures as this simple outing. A picnic lunch, making love to a beautiful girl who intrigued him in the way no woman before had. It was obvious she lived her life grabbing it with both hands, to get everything she could from it. She challenged him and he liked being challenged.


There was also the fact that despite the unknown reason their relationships had jumped forward so prematurely, he had to admit that the afternoon had cemented its place in his memory as the most incredible experience of his life so far. It was a revelation that lovemaking could be something you did with a girl rather than just to her.


And she had been quite enthusiastic in her participation.

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge, he thought to himself. He looked at her and he imagined, whole lives played out in his mind. It was from a remarkably pleasant fantasy that he was shocked back to Dantooine by her sliding up against him. The water on her skin was cold, but the skin beneath was warm and the water slick between them. Once more he was entranced by her eyes, mere centimeters from his.


"Where were you?" she asked with a smile.


"Dreaming," he replied. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against his in a searing kiss. He wrapped his arms around her muscled back and held her tightly enough that one of her vertebra popped. She pulled back from the kiss and ran a hand through his hair.


"Wake up," she whispered. "Life is better than a dream."


"It's happening again," he told her, some part of him trying desperately to resist the desires that threatened to over whelm him.


"I know," was her reply as she rubbed her nose against his. "I don't care."


He closed his eyes and fought with his hind brain, which was made much more difficult with her skin pressed against his, with his manhood trapped between them. He was extremely aware of her firm belly pressing against him. "Close your eyes," he whispered hoarsely. "Concentrate, my lady! What..."


She leaned forward and kissed his chin as she laughed. "I'm not interested in being very lady like just now," she said with a giggle. Her tongue joined her lips tracing the line of his jaw to the hollow of his neck.


"Please," he panted, grabbing a hold of her arms, but whether to hold her at bay and or pull her closer his arms were fighting over. "Syluri, you're stronger in the Force than I am!"


Her tongue drew a line from his Adam's Apple to his chin. "The water," she whispered. "I can feel something in the water reacting with the beer in my stomach." She kissed him again, forcing her tongue into his mouth to battle his. She pulled back and their eyes locked as she ground her hips against him. "Now give me something new to feel!" she commanded.


Jacyn's willpower folded and he pulled her close, intent to carry out her commands.


* * *


It was night when Syluri awoke. There was a fire burning near by and she was covered by his Jedi cloak, but the air was quite cool. Most of her muscles were stiff and unresponsive, she was cotton mouthed and had a mild headache which was likely the reason she had woken. Groaning softly, she sat up and had to pause for a moment as the world spun.


Jacyn was sitting nearby, dressed in his robes and his face lit by a small hand computer. He noticed her movement and put the unit down to hand her a bottle beer and a pair of pills. "Normally I don't recommend 'hair of the dog' but this is the only untainted drink we have. The pills will get rid of the headache." She took them and swallowed eagerly before making a face at the taste of beer while cotton mouthed. "What do you remember?" he asked.


She reached for her bra and pulled it on. "Everything," she managed after a stretch to force her muscles to work. She paused and favored him with a knowing smile. "Even though I feel hung over, I remember it all, Master Jedi. Not that you have anything to be embarrassed over."


"You're a bit of alright yourself," he shot back and for once, he didn't blush. "You remember what you said about you sensed something in your stomach...?"


She nodded as she pulled on her socks and started rooting for her pants. "Yes, I'm pretty sure it's the reason for the back ground hum in the force here. Have you found something?"


He handed her the computer and she looked at the read out while he forced himself not to chuckle at the strange image of her in field pants and just a bra. "Looks like a microbe the filter in my canteen missed. The alcohol in the beer kills it though," she mused.


"And that's where it gets strange," he replied, trading her her shirt for the computer. "When these things die, they release a chemical, a type of amino acid actually that reacts strongly on our brains. Specifically on the judgment and behavior centers."


"So it suppresses our inhibitions like being drunk?"


He shrugged. "Essentially, though I'm not a healer so I'm out of my depth for the whys and hows. The scanner confirms there's no trace of the...what do we call them? Microbes? Love bugs?" She chuckled from buttoning her shirt, but offered no suggestion. "Anyway, once they die, they pass out of the body through urine and their amino acid washes out as well. Seems perfectly harmless."


She wagged her finger at him. "Famous last words, Master Jedi."


"Jacyn," he corrected. "I'd say we were at least on a first name basis now, wouldn't you, my lady?"


Once more she smiled her crooked smile and nodded. She sat down next to him to pull on her boots. "So, it's not really the galaxy's greatest aphrodisiac, but we just happened to have the hots for each other?"


He made an adjustment and a data card popped out of the hand computer. "I don't know," he replied. "It could be that, or something else that I don't have the knowledge or the resources here to find." Jax handed her the card. "I made a copy of all my findings here. You can give this to your people in the Empire."


"Thank you," she replied, stuffing the card into a pocket. She sighed and looked back at him. "I suppose now you want to have a deep, meaningful conversation about our relationship and where it will go and all that?"


He blinked, more than a little stunned at her directness, though he was coming to grips with how swiftly and capriciously her mind could move. "How...?"


"You talk in your sleep," she said, finishing tying off her boot lace and standing. "Never mind the tremendous difficulties and political complications of something even semi permanent between us, I was really only looking for something enjoyable for both of us without any kind of commitments."


"I see," he said, softly.


She sighed again and reached over to raise his chin. "I'm not adverse to the idea, Jacyn, I just wasn't looking for a husband. Isn't that what your Jedi Code says you should do in any event? No commitments? No formal relationships?"


"You make me re-think a great deal," he told her, more than a bit sullenly.


"Oh, domestic troubles?" asked a voice from the darkness. "Let me help." Both scrambled for their light sabers, but neither got further than igniting the blade before a hail of stun bolts from multiple sources flooded the clearing and the two crumpled, unconscious, in a heap.


* * *

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Star Wars The Old Republic



"I never understood the prohibition against marriage and family," Luke admitted softly. "It was directly responsible for the Jedi purge." The Gatekeeper arched an eyebrow in question from the chair she was sitting in across the table. Luke chuckled to himself. "Darth Sidious, arguably one of the greatest Sith Lords ever, used my father's secret marriage to my mother to turn him to the Dark Side. Together they very nearly destroyed the Jedi."


"Your father, Master Jedi?"


Luke nodded thoughtfully. "He went by the moniker Darth Vader. And but for a handful of us, they nearly succeeded in wiping out the Jedi. It's one of the reasons when I reformed the New Jedi Order that prohibition was lifted."


That seemed to please the Gatekeeper. "You are married, Master Skywalker?"


The Jedi turned away, his eyes distant and sad. "Widowed," he whispered. He sighed again and forced a smile. "I like to think that by including family our order has been strengthened. I must say, Lady...Gatekeeper, I agree with a great deal of your author's view of the Force. I hadn't thought of the Dark Side as something internal to a Jedi and not of the Force itself, but, perhaps, that is something that should be more deeply studied."


The holocron rolled its yellow eyes. "Won't that be something to look forward to," she replied drolly.


Shaunti frowned. "Don't you want to teach? To pass on your knowledge? Why else did Syluri make you?" The ghostly Sith made an expansive gesture.


"I could only speculate on my authors motives. I can say with all honesty, that we Sith have something of an obsession with immortality. None, more so that the Emperor my author served. Perhaps I was her bid at it. Searching through our memories, I find only abhorrence at the thought of using unnatural methods to cheat death. She fully felt there was a time and a place for life to end. To die, to decay and so renew the soil and complete the circle of life. But, does anyone truly want to die?"


"Want?" the Master asked whimsically. "I don't know about want but I agree there is a time to become one with the Force again. I certainly wouldn't mind never having to deal with knee pain again!" He took a drink of the beverage Threepio had brought to clear his throat. "But, we're interrupting you again, Gatekeeper, my apologies. Please continue."


"Let me see," she replied, cupping her chin once more. "Ah yes, falling in a hail of stun bolts. It was not a pleasant experience at all, certainly not for the people looking for us..."




* * *


Star Wars: The Old Republic

Episode III

Prisoner Of The Hutts


Captured! Jedi Knight Jacyn Jax and Syluri Ogden, Lord of the Sith have been taken prisoner by a gang of criminal slavers taking advantage of the Republic Judaical System and even now are being taken to be sold into the hands of the vicious Hutt Cartels of Nar Shadda.


Jedi Master Yintar is now in a desperate race against time to save both his knight and the Sith Guest that was taken on his hospitality. A deadly insult that may shatter the fragile peace between the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire.


While Moff Ogden fears for her daughters safety and has recalled her fleet, on the sinister world of Dromund Kaas, Capital of the Sith Empire, Darth Ravage plots how he can escape the trap laid for him by his rival Darth Baras and turn the tables on the wily Master of the Sith Academy without setting the galaxy on fire with open war...


"They were here," Kunga declared with certainty after a moment of communion with the Force. "This blanket and the meal bar are out of an Imperial survival kit that was in the saddle bag of the speeder she took."


"And this is Master Jax's cloak," added Gavin.


"I suppose they could have left in a hurry...?" started Crystalya, but Panithea shook her head.


"Syluri is a military brat," she opined, still put out from the panicked cleaning of the ship they'd done for nothing. "Her bunk on the ship has hospital corners on the sheets. She doesn't know how to leave a mess."


"They were taken," Kunga said with finality. "Do you feel it, Master Yintar?"


"Indeed," the diminutive little Jedi agreed. "Others were here, and by surprise they were taken. Where, the question now is."


Gavin's face paled. "I'll call the space port, have traffic stopped...!"


"No longer on Dantooine are they," Yintar replied. The Jedi Master reached out and took the boy's arm in reassurance. "To the space port go you. Records of all jumps to hyperspace will you gather. Find them that way, we will." The boy nodded and rushed over to his speeder bike and it's comlink. Yintar walked laboriously over to Kunga and looked up into the Monk's face. "Contact with you Darth Ravage I will. Assure him of our full cooperation, I must."


Kunga stroked his soul patch. "Come with me to the Black Eagle then," he said finally. "We'll contact him there."


* * *


It was pain that brought Syluri awake, a deep, unrelenting ache in her shoulders that brought her consciousness. With a moan, she opened her eyes to find herself in a dark room room, hanging by her wrists in a police field. One that evidently had not been well looked after as it retarded, but did not completely restrict her movements, it didn't support her and thus the agony of her shoulders as they threatened to dislocate.




Jacyn's voice drew her attention which caused her to lazily turn in that direction to find him hanging as she was in a matching police field. They were in a small featureless room with only the two police field cages they floated in inside it. "Oh, my arms," she hissed. "What's happened? Where are we?"


"I know as much as you do I'm afraid," he said over his shoulder as he slowly rotated away from her. "Are you hurt?"


"This field is malfunctioning," she complained. "I'm hanging by my wrists."


"Whoever has us must have captured Jedi before," Jax opined to the wall as she was behind him now. "I can't see any controls or I'd have freed us with the Force."


"They've never captured a Sith before..." she growled through clenched teeth as she slowly forced her head to look upwards. Finally, she could see the emitter of the field and with her hand open, channeled her rage through her fist. Electric blue lightning arced from her fingertips with a squeal of ionized electrons and bathed over the emitter which sparked and shorted out, dropping the Sith unceremoniously in a heap on the floor.


"Syluri, are you alright?" he shouted, unable to see what she'd done. She got to her feet and rubbed some feeling back into her shoulders. Then a gesture and a thought crushed the emitter on his cage and while he tumbled, he managed to turn it into a tuck and roll and regain his feet. "How...?


She arched an eyebrow. "A woman never reveals her secrets, Jacyn," she chided. "Now, think you can get us some weapons?"


"I think there's some gentlemen on their way here now to bring us some..." he said as he beckoned her over to the wall with the door on it. The door snapped open to reveal a pair of leathery skinned humanoid with bony protrusions lining their jaws. Jax stiff armed high while Ogden lashed out low with a series of vicious kicks. With little more than exclamations of pain and moans, the two were unconscious at the feet of the Jedi and his Sith Lady in seconds. "Weequay pirates," he cursed.


"Not pirates, thank you very much!" corrected a voice from outside with much aggrievement. "Honest, licensed slavers! Isn't that right boys?" A chorus of wicked sounding laughter sounded at the voice's prompt causing Jacyn and Syluri to exchange a glance. They looked down, but neither of their unconscious friends had so much as a club on them. "Who, I might add, have dealt with Jedi before, so why don't you come out nice and slow and let's all be friends, eh?"


"Or else what?" demanded Syluri.


"Or else I'll flood the compartment with coma gas and wait, Miss High And Mighty Jedi! You can't hold your breath forever! Now, are you going to come out or do I press the button? I don't know, I like pressing buttons! It's a weakness, now you choose!" Syluri shared a glance with Jacyn who shrugged, then led the way out into the hallway.


There the pair found both directions of the hall blocked by a twenty or so more Weequay males, dressed in a wild mishmash of styles, armor pieces and bits of technology, obviously all scavenged from previous owners. Down the hall to the left one stood apart from the others, decked out in what was doubtlessly the best that had been taken from their previous prisoners. He wore a silk shirt in bight scarlet over a pair of mustard yellow breeches and boots with a purple sash cushioning a gun belt. The wild, garish colors made him look something like a circus performer, but he was also wearing a Republic Commando's great cloak that was bedecked in rank insignia and patches and Syluri doubted he was the type to frequent military surplus stores.


One of her light sabers hung from his belt that caused her to shoulder past Jacyn and demand, "What is your name, dead man?"


"Name?" laughed the garishly dressed killer. "Names are for humans! I'm Weequay and just because you don't have a civilized pheromone language is not my problem!" He paused and rubbed his ***** chin. "Still, that has kind of a nice ring to it, doesn't? Captain Deadman! Scourge of the space lanes! I like it!" He basked in the enthusiasm of his followers for a moment then turned back. "You are in the hands of the Dread Pirate...well, not a pirate, I have a license! The Dread Licensed Slaver Captain Deadman! Un-killable Scourge of the space lanes!"


Syluri blinked. "You're insane!"


"Of course I'm insane!" Deadman agreed. "What kind of a sane man would make a living kidnapping Jedi, eh?"


"You're going to loose your license and be sold off yourself!" declared Jax. "Only convicted criminals can be sold into slavery."


"And you were convicted!" the Captain said with a laugh. He pressed a button on his gauntlet which brought up a hologram of official looking documents, arrest records, trail dispositions and declarations of indenture. "See? What terrible people you two have been! Or, perhaps it's just good to have friends on the Republic Bureau of Records! Either way there are those who pay very, very handsomely for Jedi, and I, Captain Deadman, intend to collect!"


Syluri raised a hand that she had clenched into a knurled fist. In response, the Captain began to rise off the floor, hands at his throat trying to clear the invisible grip that was choking the life from him. "I am not a Jedi!" shouted Syluri. The clicks of a dozen safeties on blasters being clicked off was quite loud in the confined space. Jacyn laid a cautioning hand on her shoulder.


"The odds are a little against us right now, Syluri." She gave wordless snarl of rage and the Captain fell to the deck, gasping.


"Impressive!" he managed as he got standing again. "Can't say I've had one of you do that before. But, it doesn't matter. You two have a date with Zondah the Hutt. He wants a pair of Jedi body guards and Captain Deadman always delivers!" He rubbed his throat and made a gesture. "Take them to surgery and see they're fitted with their leashes."


"Leash?" demanded Jacyn.


"Shock collar, probably," muttered Ogden, but this elicited a chuckle from the Captain.


"No, no, no, no," he laughed. "That's not going to keep Jedi in check. But, a remotely detonated cranial bomb? That keeps everyone in line." Jax felt the disruption in the Force, a small ripple as they go when Syluri snapped. He'd already noted where the other two light sabers were among the crew and reached out for his and her spare.


They flew to his hand even as she launched herself like a coiled spring that had just given way. Mid-way through her leap her saber flew off Deadman's belt to her hand. The blade ignited at the top of her arc and as she landed, a pair of guards made the mistake of trying to stop her and stepped into her way.


The light saber flashed and a pair of headless bodies fell while she grabbed the slaver and held her saber to his throat. "Now," she growled and no one needed to use the Force to see how angry she was. "Here's the new deal. We're going to go and get some craft or boat or whatever you have in this run down piece of poodoo and we're going to leave. And if your men try to stop us, they may or may not succeed, but here's one thing you can take to the bank, Captain. I will kill you. No matter what else happens no matter who else is captured or maimed or killed, your fault, my fault, nobody's fault, I will cut your head off."


"I believe you!" Deadman affirmed.


"No, I don't think you do," she snarled. "Because you keep calling me Jedi. I'm not a Jedi, I am a Lord of the Sith and I won't bat an eye at killing you and every mother's son on this flying death trap." The front of his pants darkened which caused Syluri to smile. "Now I believe you believe me," she purred rubbing the pad of her thumb over the activation stud of her saber. "Does this flying garbage scow of yours have any other ships?"


The Captain nodded frantically, making a directional jerk with his head to indicate a direction.


"Have your men lower their weapons," Jax commanded.


"Do what they say, for goodness sake!" shouted Deadman. "My handsome figure will be ruined with no head on it!"


Jax put his back to Syluri's and activated both sabers. "Lead on, 'captain'"


* * *


Kunga led the way up the Black Eagle's ramp and through the short passage of the airlock into the main compartment. He had a brief bit of nationalistic worry that by bringing two Jedi on board he might inadvertently betray some military secret, but they were given the ship with the understanding Jedi would be on board. He shrugged, assuming whatever damage he might do on accident had already been accounted for. He led the way to the center of the room which held a state of the art holographic communicator, indeed, the device dominated the room, but as this class of ship was frequently used as scouts, command vessels and fast couriers, excellent communications equipment was a must.


He began to bring the unit up when a notation that a call was incoming light up. Surprised, he opened the channel. Immediately the well was illuminated with a remarkably tall woman, pale skin made more so by the washed out white of the hologram, dressed in regal robes and a dour expression on her long, thin face. "My lord," Kunga greeted, sinking to one knee.


"Moff Ogden," Master Yintar named as he walked up to the well.


The Moff coolly regarded the Jedi Master for a moment, then in a lightly accented voice declared, "I do not know you, sir, and you have the advantage of me."


The Master bowed stiffly. "Yintar, my name is, on behalf of the Jedi Council, greet you, do I."


The regal woman bowed from the neck. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Yintar. However, my time is short and I have none for pleasantries." She turned to Kunga. "Lord Jigme, I presume?"


"How may I serve you, my lord?" the Monk replied.


"I would speak with my daughter, if you please." The Monk bowed lower.


"My lord, I am afraid I must be the bearer of bad news..."


"No," interrupted Master Yintar. "Mine, that duty is. Sad am I to inform you, Moff Ogden. Kidnapped, your daughter has been. With her was taken one of my Jedi Knights."


"Taken?" the Moff demanded, her eyes cold and aloof. "By whom? And what does the Republic intend to do about this insult?"


"Being done, all is, for their safe return," the Master assured her. "Personally, will I over see matters."


"Master Jedi, I will not be placated by vague assurances and promises of action," the Moff informed him coldly. "So, you may be sure of this. In four standard days, the Imperial fleet for my sector will return from the readiness maneuvers they were on. And if, by that time, my daughter has not contacted me, alive, well, and free, or that I have communication from you informing me that the people responsible for her murder are being brought to me to do with as I please, I will bring my fleet to Dantooine..."


"Violence, nothing will solve..." the Jedi tried to reason, but the Mother would not be assured and over spoke him.


"...I will bring my fleet to Dantooine and I will order them to open fire on your planet, Master Jedi. And they will not stop shooting until not a single grain of dust of the former Dantooine is detectable on the finest scanners available. Do I make myself clear?"


The Jedi's eyes narrowed. "Perfectly."


"Excellent." The Moff's image faded away as a decided chill settled over the room.


"Wow," breathed Arktica. "My mom never threatened to blow up a planet for me!"


"A matter for levity, this is not," the Jedi Master snapped, more than a little annoyed. He turned to continue, but at that moment, young Gavin came thundering up the ramp, shouting the Jedi's name. The little green alien shook his head at the boy's enthusiasm and asked, "Padawan Gavin, something to say have you?"


The boy had the grace to blush and gathered his thoughts before he continued in a much more subdued voice, "Master, the Port Master informs me that last night a ship registered to a group of Weequay slavers changed their departure time and left in a great hurry. They filed a jump flight plan to Nal Hutta!"


"That's them," declared Kunga with certainty as he turned to Arktica. "Can you get us there, Arktica?"


"I...I've never flown solo..." the girl replied, causing the diminutive Jedi Master to frown.


"No pilot have you?"


"Syluri was our pilot," growled Panithea.


Yintar shook his head. "To the cockpit, take me. On our way, we will be!"


* * *


The ship the slavers were using had a sleek little cutter that took up most of the cargo bay they'd converted into a hanger. It wasn't a ship you'd want to take a long voyage in, but it seemed more than enough to out run these pirates and get them safely away. The cockpit was quite cramped, especially with their unwilling passenger that Jacyn strapped into his seat so he couldn't move. "You're not going to let me go?" he demanded in a hurt tone.


"And be a sitting duck for whatever weapons you've improvised onto this tub?" demanded Syluri from her preflight of the ship. "Not likely."


"We'll turn you loose when we get where we're going," Jacyn told him as he worked his way into the co-pilot's chair in front of the Captain.


"Oh, what will become of my reputation?" lamented the Captain. "The other slavers will laugh at me in the slaver bars! 'There goes Captain prisoner!' they'll say. How will I ever live down the shame?"


"Can't you shut him up?" growled Syluri, with obvious frustration in her voice.


"What's wrong?" Jacyn asked.


"I can't get the primary motivator for the engines to come on line," she snapped.


"But wait!" The Captain exclaimed. "I know what I'll tell them!"


"What?" Jacyn and Syluri demanded in exasperation, turning back to face him. The jovial captain's eyes narrowed and his grin was far from pleasant.


"That I've dealt with Jedi before," he declared in a smug tone. His finger pressed a button concealed in the armrest of the chair he was tied to and suddenly tens of thousands of volts arched through the Sith Lord and the Jedi. They writhed in pain for what seemed like a small eternity, then when he let off the button, the slumped into unconsciousness. Captain Deadman smiled. "Gets them every time."

* * *


When Syluri awoke again it was once more due to pain. This time, the ache was in the back of her neck, just where it met her skull. She reached up to find her hair had been let down from it's normal bun at the nape of her neck and now hung down her back in addition to the tell tale gritty texture of a Nuskin patch just short of her hairline and below it a soft spot on her skull that spoke of a bone repair. "This is getting old," she snarled as she sat up. She had been lying on surgical chair in what was obviously a medical theater.


A cold realization ran down her spine as she touched her neck again. Closing her eyes, she turned the Force inward and instantly became aware there was something new in her skull. A murderous rage flashed through the Sith Lord and for a moment she desperately wished for someone, anyone she could attack but, quickly her mother's teaching whispered away the anger which would do her no good now. Later, when the tables were turned, that would be the time to take revenge.


Another shiver ran down her spine and she rubbed her arms to warm them and found them bare. Looking down, she realized she was no longer in her field clothes, which would be why the room felt so cool. She'd been clothed in a dress to use the term loosely that had less material than most of the swimming suits she'd worn. It was made of a green silk and most of the garment were fine jewels on gold and platinum wires, rather than cloth. It consisted of a bikini top that came up to a high collar of gold wire and a platinum mesh that nearly completely in cased her neck and a breech cloth that fell to her knees, both held up by the jeweled wires. A pair of leather boots that came up to her thighs that had been dyed to match the silk replaced her hiking boots. What was worse, they weren't even spacer's boots with a flat heel but platinum spikes of at least ten centimeters. The outfit was completed by silk gloves that ended just at her elbows and a pair of platinum slave cuffs at her wrists.


Incongruously, her utility belt had been buckled over the whorish finery and a quick check of it showed everything to be present.


Stepping down on to the boots she looked about, both pleased and uneasy that this was by far the cleanest room she'd been in since this misadventure began. The walls and floor were smooth, neither durasteel or plasti-crete, she was no longer on a ship and there was no vibration in her feet. She cast her eyes around the theater, hoping for a vibro-knife or a laser scalpel to press into service as a weapon, when, wonder of wonders she found both of her light sabers on a tray by the bed. She picked up the weapons quickly sensed them to see if they'd been tampered with, but found nothing wrong with either. Hesitantly she ignited each and satisfied they were operational, dropped them onto the keeper for them on her belt.


As she did so, she turned to the sound of the door opening to be confronted with the smallest Hutt she'd ever seen. "Oh, you're awake, good," the Hutt said as it slithered into the room. It was actually head and shoulders shorter than Syluri and only about two meters long. It wore a vest that was covered in pockets and hung down its front like a bib. "Now, Captain Natka wasn't really clear, are you the Jedi, or the Sith?"


Syluri actually saw red and realized she'd drawn and ignited her light saber without conscious thought of it. The Hutt threw up its arms and slithered backwards. "Right, right, the Sith! Put that away, killing me won't do you any good and Zondah will punish you for it!"


"I'm getting out of here, and I'll leave a trail of bodies starting with yours if you don't show me the way!" she growled, her tone dripping with menace.


"The first body will be your own if you try," the Hutt replied with a whimper. "Zondah isn't the only one with the code to that cranial bomb in your head and at the first sign of something like that you can bet someone will set it off!"


She reached out and grabbed the vest and forced the slug like alien to look her in the eye. "Who else has the code?"


"Don't you understand? It doesn't matter!" the Hutt fearfully told her. "Please, Zondah isn't a bad master and you and your mate will be pampered favorites! Zondah has wanted Jedi body guards for more than two hundred years! You'll be the only slaves allowed weapons in his presence!"


"I am a Lord of the Sith and my only master is my Emperor!" she snarled.


"Please, I can't help you escape!" the Hutt sobbed. "Don't kill me, I'm doing everything I can for you!"


The fear radiating off the creature was bitter and rank in the Force. Finally, Syluri mastered her anger and the blade of her saber disappeared with a hiss. "I won't hurt you," she told him. "So long as everything you tell me is the Truth."


She put the saber back on her belt to his immense relief. He produced a handkerchief from one of the vest's pockets and mopped his bulbous head. "I should have listened to my mother," the Hutt panted. "She told me studying technology would only get me in trouble! I should have been an accountant! A nice, safe, boring accountant!"


"Cease your prattling!" the Sith commanded. "What is your name?"


"Anach," he replied. "I'm Zondah's Senior Personnel Officer. It's my job to brief New Hires and New Acquisitions on how things are done here."


"You speak Basic?"


The Hutt snorted. "All Hutts learn Basic, but important Hutts generally choose to only speak Huttese to show their status. Status is important to Hutts, as you'll find out. Like I said, you and your mate are important to Zondah, so you'll get a lot more leeway than most of his retainers, but you'd better show respect because don't think for a second he won't set off that bomb if you push him enough."


Syluri clinched and unclenched her fists, but was able to keep her temper in check. She concentrated on the bit of Jacyn's essence that was still tied to her from their lovemaking and used it to commune with the Force. The Force obliged her, replacing the white hot anger with a cold, calm calculation, the patience of a mother parted from her offspring and slowly calculating exactly how she would dismember those responsible. With a sigh, she fixed her most intimidating gaze on the Hutt and asked, "Where am I? What planet is this?"


Anach blanched slightly and withdrew a bit, promise of no harm or not. "You...you're in the Lady of Great Fortune Casino Hotel on Nar Shadda, the largest moon of Nal Hutta. This is our Master's principal holding and base of operations."


"Why am I dressed like a Twi'lek whore?"


The Hutt became distressed. "You don't like it? That dress cost nearly seventy thousand Republic credits!"


"You were robbed, now answer the question!"


"The gold and platinum alone..." Syluri whirled on the hapless administrator, her fists clinched and her skin flushed with renewed anger. Again, uncharacteristically, the Hutt shrank back. "I'm sorry! Our Master is a great devotee of art and beauty! He has the largest collection of art in twelve systems! He...he wanted your beauty on display and couldn't imagine why you hid it!" Syluri closed the gap between them, backing the creature into a corner until she stood over him, looking down into his huge reptilian eyes. Eyes that where wide with fear.


"Like it?" she demanded. "My genitals are covered by a flap of cloth such that I might as well be naked! The thought of fighting in these ridiculous boots without breaking an ankle is laughable. And I am not a living statue to add to your master's collection. Where...are...my...clothes?"


The Hutt gave a little squeal and tried to turn away from the Sith's intense gaze. Thankful she was wearing gloves, she grabbed the dividing divot of flesh between his nostrils and forced him to meet her gaze once more. This caused the Hutt even more distress. "They were destroyed!" he wailed. "We had to cut them off you when you were dressed...!"


"You put your filthy hands on me?!" she shouted.


"No! NO!" he wailed. "Droids! It was done by 'droids! I swear!" She released him and wiped her glove's fingertips clean on his vest.


She sighed again and stepped away from him, deliberately giving him a way out of the corner which he hesitantly took. Laying an hand on her stomach, remembering the source of the essence that was keeping her from murdering everyone in front of her, she turned and placed a consolatory hand on the Hutt's shoulder. He flinched but didn't turn away. "I promised you I would not harm you and I meant it. My situation has...understandably upset me. My apologies, I know you had nothing personally to do with it. I will endeavor to remember that as we continue."


Anach sighed, a great weight seeming to come off him. He nodded his acceptance of her apology. "I do my best to make this as easy as I can. I wasn't lying when I said Zondah isn't a bad master! He can be quite charming in his own way..."


"As you have obviously been a servant or a slave your entire life, I can understand why you cannot grasp my refusal to except this fate as meekly as you." The Hutt sulked a bit, obviously offended, but he held his tongue. Syluri looked around the operating theater and turned back to him. "Where is Jacyn?" she asked, feeling a bit guilty about not asking after her companion until now.


"Who? Oh, your mate," Anach replied. "He's next door. I was going to collect both of you and take you to your rooms. Once you've settled, Zondah wants to see you both, but only after you're ready."


"Rooms?" she demanded. "And he's not my mate...!"


The Hutt tapped his chin, confused. "He's not? I don't understand, his scent is all over you! Especially..." Her eyes flashed and Anach wisely changed the subject. "You have a suite in the hotel. Zondah wants you well cared for. You're to be his body guards."


Syluri snorted. "He is a fool to think I'd lift a finger to save him from someone bent on his death."


Anach made an odd, burp like sound that was likely the Hutt equivalent of tisking his teeth in disdain. As the Hutt had no teeth, it was an odd sound to be sure. "You'll rethink that position quickly if you want to keep living." Syluri looked at him crossly, the question plain on her face. "Zondah has a heart monitor implant. It's tied to a transmitter that's also implanted. He dies, and it transmits the code for both your cranial bomb, and your mates. If you want to keep living, you had better keep him alive."


For the first time, a chuckle escaped Syluri's lips in frank admiration of the crime lord's deviousness. "Perhaps I've under estimated your master!"


"Most who do don't get a second chance," Anach admitted. He lead the way to the door and opened it. "I'm curious, forgive me for being ignorant, but I've always been fascinated by humanoid mating rituals. I thought the Jedi and the Sith were at war, how...?"


She followed him into the corridor, shaking her head at the Hutt's seemingly endless supply of self destructive faux pas. "It's none of your business," she told the Hutt in as friendly a manner as she could. "And if you want to keep living yourself, you might want to become fascinated with humanoid concepts of tact and politeness."


"Are my words impolite?" he asked, startled.


"The subject matter is," the Sith told him. "Were I not bound by my word and in a desperate situation, had you asked me a question like that on the street I would likely have killed you."


The Hutt shook his head in amazement while he palmed the door control to open it. "Humans are so touchy about the strangest things," he said to himself. The door opened to reveal Jacyn standing next to it with his light saber drawn and ignited. "Not again!" Anach shouted, dodging to one side as quickly as his bulk would allow him.


Jacyn's eyes were wide as he drank in the vision of the Sith Lord before him, his light saber deactivated with a snap. "Syluri...you...you look amazing...!"


"I look like a Twi'lek street walker," she snarled, whirling angrily on the hapless personnel clerk. "He gets to keep his robes and you dress me up like this?!" she shouted.


"It's not my doing!" Anach protested. "All the Jedi dress like that!" Jax looked down at his robes, a puzzled expression on his face. "What good is a status symbol if nobody knows you have it? Without the robes he's just a guy with a light saber and if you have enough credits you can get light sabers on the Invisible Market. If you'd been dressed like a Sith, Zondah probably would have..."


"I was wearing an Imperial Uniform!" the Sith bellowed.


"But it was ugly..."


With a wordless howl of rage, Ogden snatched her saber from her belt and hurled it. It activated as it left her hand and sailed around the room, destroying everything in its path, inflicting hundreds of thousands of credits of damage in wrecked medical equipment before it returned to her hand. Jacyn crossed his arms across his chest. "Feel better?"


"No!" she snapped, returning the weapon to its place on her belt. "But it will do for now."


Anach was not amused. "That's coming out of your personal allowance, I hope you realize!" Syluri stared at the Hutt, hands on her hips...next to her sabers... The Hutt swallowed. "Uh, well, I guess we can call that a business expense and asset deprecation, but that's your last freebie!" He slithered down the hall towards a lift station. "Well, come on, I'll show you to your suite."


"We get a suite?" asked Jax, his roguish sense of humor restored.


"Don't start," Ogden replied indignantly.


* * *


Zondah the Hutt was huge, even for a Hutt. He 'stood' if that was the right word two meters tall and was twice that long. He was a deep, emerald green on his dorsal side with a deep blue diamond tattoo pattern that started at his shoulders and ran to the tip of his tail, on his ventral side he was a light yellow sand. His face was remarkably symmetrical and lacked most of the 'half melted' look that made most species look on the Hutts as repulsive. While his eyes were large and vertically slit, the iris were a deep, sky blue.


But for being unusual, they were they were still the eyes of a gangster and a killer.


He was wearing a red vest for lack of a better word over a matching shirt that gave bulk to his stubby arms. A heavy gold chain hung around his neck that matched the much finer one that trailed from one vest pocket to the other. Neither the Jedi nor the Sith missed the concealed blaster under the vest. He sat on a cushioned dais behind an equally massive carved wood, wood, desk of unimaginable expense, smoking from a hookah and watching the smaller clerk lead in his new guards. He grunted something in Huttese that the protocol droid behind him translated as, "Leave us, everyone."


His office, true to the Hutt need to broadcast status was well suited to the task, from the rich, thick carpets on the floor to the gilded details on the walls. Art was every where, paintings, sculpture, holographic, all professionally installed, tastefully lit and perfectly suited to its niche in the room. In between them, were other desks with workers and administrators who were rising and filing out. It was apparent Zondah was a Hutt who kept a close eye on his holdings.


Within moments the room emptied until only the two Hutts and two humans remained. Anach bowed low and spoke quickly in their native tongue, gesturing at the two Jedi. Zondah returned the hookah's hose to its stand and gestured for everyone to come closer. "Welcome," rumbled up out of the depths of his massive body.


Anach gasped while Jacyn turned to Syluri and caught her eye. Follow my lead, he thought at her through the Force. Jax turned back to Zondah and bowed, which to his immense relief, Ogden copied. "Greetings, Mighty Zondah," the Jedi told him. "We are deeply honored in our troubles that you address us in Basic."


The basso voice again rumbled from the reclined crime lord. "It is my pleasure! That which I have desired at long last is accomplished. I understand you may be concerned about your treatment after your convictions, and I can only imagine what lies you have been told about Hutts such as myself. You need not worry. You and your mate shall enjoy pride of place among my retainers and, no matter your past offenses, you can make a new start with us here on Nar Shaddaa."


Jax and Ogden shared a glance. Both had certainly imagined how this meeting would go and its reality was very far removed from its fantasy. The Jedi licked his lips and carefully continued. "We are both deeply honored by your courtesy and generosity. It is with a heavy heart I must inform you, Great Zondah, that you have been deceived and robbed. My companion and I were not legally condemned as slaves, but were kidnapped by evil men with the intent to defraud you."


"What?" he started, and Jacyn had to give the crafty old gangster credit, no body played the innocent better than a dyed in the wool criminal. "Anach, is this true?"


"I have the documents from Captain Natka, Mighty One," the clerk informed his employer. "Everything seemed to be in order!"


"This is very upsetting!" Zondah rumbled. "On the one hand, Master Jedi, I have documents that my trusted, expert employee accepted as genuine, but on the other hand I wouldn't think of calling a brave Jedi of the Republic a liar, if my employee has been deceived! Documents can be forged. Most distressing! I promise you a full investigation will be launched. If these are forgeries, you will of course be free to go, and with my most sincere apologies and compensation for your time in the meanwhile."


"I'm certain with your wisdom the truth will come out," Jacyn replied with another bow.

* * *


After a day in hyperspace and another spent dealing with the seemingly endless array of officials, bureaucrats and thugs with badges, all claiming to be authoritative, all demanding bribes disguised as 'fees', 'fines,' and 'permits', Master Yintar was beginning to lose hope.


Nal Hutta was a densely populated world with five moons that were in varying degrees of dense population. Finding their lost friends was starting to look hopeless. At that moment, Vette stepped forward to repay the compassion Syluri had shown her. She cut through the small fry to the real powers in the system. Her old comrades from her smuggling and piracy days fed them a stream of information and rumors that narrowed the search to Nar Shaddaa.


After two days of struggling with this codified corruption the trail for the ship that had taken Syluri and Jacyn from Dantooine went cold quickly. Like most of his trade, the slaver proved elusive, never staying long in one place. He was long gone from Nar Shaddaa by the time the group of Sith and Jedi knew to look there. But a trail of what he had done and who he had talked to had been left behind. Finally they had a meeting with a man who promised them the name of whomever had bought their friends.


Nar Shaddaa had many names through out the galaxy. The freighter pilots called it The Smuggler's Moon do to the amount of goods, illicit and otherwise coming and going from it. It was said that if you couldn't get a cargo run from Nar Shaddaa you weren't cut out to work the space lanes. It's other name was Little Coruscant as, like the capital planet of the Galactic Republic, the moon was entirely urbanized into one tremendous city. Like Coruscant, the moon glowed with the brightly colored lights of signs advertizing everything from beer, to weapons to sex and everything in between. So the Black Eagle set down in the space port closest to the meeting place, which was a massive building with a central core for access to the individual landing bays that were honeycombed on the various floors.


Vette and Crystalya had been designated to be going to the contact.


The place the contact had chosen was a seedy kind of bar in a seedy kind of area of the city. It wasn't as hardcore as it looked, while there were lots of blasters in evidence, especially the two on Vette's hips, the Twi'lek knew that no one had been killed in this bar in a long time. It was the kind of place 'want to be' types rubbed elbows with the Made guys. There was probably some light recruitment going on, but generally the real types were here to relax.


As they entered, Vette felt a buzz go through the room. Everyone had noticed the Jedi with her and everyone knew if not who at least what she was. Everyone who mattered, in any event. The hush passed, the jukebox started up a new tune and a great show was made of people returning to their drinks. "Are you always this popular?" whispered Vette to Crystalya as they stepped down into the bar proper and found an open spot wide enough for both of them.


"Goes with the light saber," the Jedi replied with a shake of her head. "How about you? How did you fall in with a group of Sith?"


Vette smiled a private smile and shrugged. "Going somewhere I shouldn't have, doing things I shouldn't have, the usual." A small, furry alien bumped into her on his way to the door. She grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, where upon he returned the comlink he'd taken off her belt. Vette returned its place while the pickpocket scurried away to soothe his bruised ego. "And since you're probably going to ask, I'm helping spring Lord Syluri because she's always played straight with me. She got me out of the bad place, and I stay bought."


Crystalya nodded thoughtfully as she punched in her drink choice on the screen built into the bar top and took a sip as it arrived. "Seems like good reasons to me." She scanned the bar then turned back to the Twi'lek. "She a pretty good boss then?"


Vette kept in a chuckle as she sipped her own drink. "Jealous she's making time with Jacyn?"


The Jedi had the good grace not to deny the accusation. "That obvious, huh?"


"Only to anyone looking," she replied. "I don't think Master Yintar has noticed, but I get the feeling he hasn't been worried about impressing the opposite sex in like five hundred years."


Walksfar took another sip of her drink and groused, "I thought things were going pretty well. I was letting him know I was interested, without being over the top about it, and then she just waltzes in and pounces!"


"That's Syluri," Vette agreed. "She's...direct. On the plus side, I don't think shes a bad person."


The Jedi rolled her eyes. "She's a Sith! That makes her a bad person by default!"


A noticeable coolness settled between the two women as Vette reared back, unexpectedly offended by the statement. "That's your opinion," she stated sharply. She finished her drink and picked up the data card that had appeared as if by magic by it. "We got what we came for, let's go."


"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend...!"


"Forget it," the Twi'lek replied. "You've got your reality and we've got ours. Though, I have to say if you feel that way, why are you a part of this team thing anyway? Isn't the point of it for there to be less animosity, not more?"


Crystalya said nothing as she followed the other woman out of the bar, upset and confused and unsure exactly why.


As it was, despite all the spy holo cloak and dagger, the goal had been accomplished. A quick read of the card on the speeder ride back to the Black Eagle was very informative. Now they had a name, Zondah the Hutt and a place, the Lady of Great Fortune Casino Hotel.

* * *

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The Lady of Great Fortune Casino was a floating palace of opulence forty stories tall and 'parked' for lack of a better word just out side the sprawling Marmac Industrial Space port, a housing sector controlled by the Hutt Cartel and a two groups of warehouses and low rent brothels or spice dens and slave pits controlled by rival criminal syndicates The Exchange and Blacksun respectively. Zondah made it known though the masterful assassinations of key members of each of the rival factions that the Lady of Great Fortune would be neutral grounds to everyone. Thus, he made a financial killing in proving meetings for the syndicates, vacation places for their soldiers and 'made' men where they didn't need to constantly have their guard up in addition to smugglers and spacers from the port who were looking for a more upmarket venue indulge in their vice of choice.


The floating island served as the Hutt's primary residence, his base of operations and housing for most of his own cartel employees, plus the employees of the Casino itself. Despite this, the hotel still managed accommodations for several thousand guests, a dozen restaurants and the casino itself that took up four floors alone. Syluri stood on the balcony of the cluster of rooms she shared with Jacyn, looking out at the space port. She hadn't decided if it was cruel or not that the staff dwellings were on this side of the island because the view of the port was not considered 'scenic,' but she did have to admit that Anach had not been lying about the accommodations. The rooms would have been thousands of credits a night to a paying guest, containing a spacious living area with a holographic projector and full holo-net access, a small room off to the side that had been furnished as a meditation chamber right out of the Jedi Temple. Despite having full access to any of the hotel's restaurants and room service there was still a small kitchen and a food processor. The bath even had a water lover like Syluri forgetting she was a captive as she soaked in the hot tub large enough for both of them and then some.


The bedroom had been worthy of its setting and its namesake piece of furniture was actually quite comfortable.


It even came with the balcony that Syluri was currently enjoying, savoring the warm, humid atmosphere of Nar Shaddaa. Despite his own discomfort, Zondah kept the hotel at human comfort levels, which meant that as all of the clothing he had provided for her were variations on the original theme, most of the time Syluri was unpleasantly cool. As it was, she was grateful Zondah was such a 'people person.'


Zondah liked to float around his casino on a repulsor lift throne, for lack of a better word, glad handing his guests, pressing flesh with the high rollers and basically being the big shot in his own personal fiefdom. That entailed a fair bit of walking as he did so and that had kept the Sith Lord warm. And as she stayed warm, she spent time observing her captor and thinking. Anach had been right, Zondah, for a Hutt, was downright charismatic. He listened to his underlings, gave them the authority to act on their own initiative, rewarded their successes and forgave honest failures. As such he was likely doing far better than even the layered luxury of his hotel let on.


Of course he hadn't batted an eye when twice so far his new guards had done violence on his behalf. One was dead and Syluri doubted very much that body had gone to a morgue or that there would be any kind of investigation. If you crossed him, Zondah had a vicious streak a kilometer wide and twice that long. A streak that started with leg breakers and knee capers and went rapidly worse from there. That was not what surprised Syluri.


What surprised her was she saw something of herself in the Hutt, how he rewarded and used loyalty for his own enrichment, but didn't shy away from unblinking violence when that was called for. It made for a certain sense of irony to her situation.


Speaking of investigation, Syluri didn't think for a moment the Hutt had done any investigating about their situation and likely knew for a fact the documents condemning them were forgeries, but she was impressed he'd gone through the motions of being polite. It was unusual for a Hutt, but was rapidly becoming what she expected of Zondah. On hearing his footsteps behind her, she turned and took the cup of coffee Jacyn was bringing her and favored the Jedi with a smile of thanks before wrapping her hands around the cup for warmth and taking a sip.


"Not exactly durance vile, is it?" he observed.


"Don't," she warned. "That's slave mentality. A kindly master makes the chains light, and similar lines of thought. You're not a menial." She sighed, took another drink of the warm liquid and finally turned to face him. "You were right. I can already tell they're becoming more lax with us since they think we 'believe' Zondah is looking into our capture."


He took a sip of his own coffee and joined her looking out at the space port. "It's kind of you to say so," he told her. "Zondah has wanted us for a long time. He's a collector, and he wants desperately for this to work out for him. I expect we'll be showered with whatever he thinks we want."


"Except real clothing," she groused.


"I don't know," he remarked cautiously. "I think you're quite fetching wearing a king's ransom in jewels."


"And not much else!" she shot back.


"If you'd rather do the job naked, I certainly wouldn't mind," he said with a wink.


"I'm sure," she said around her sip. "Is the dog and pony show over yet?"


He pulled out a hand computer and consulted it. Since they'd had their conversation with Zondah the crime lord had his calendar full with meetings on flimsy excuses for him to brag to various other crime lords, capos, syndicate executives and assorted other low lifes that a Jedi and a Sith were guarding him. So far, two had taken shots at the crime lord, not believing his protectors were who they said they were. One lost his blaster, from the elbow down, after Jacyn had deflected the bolt meant for his would be owner. The other had lost his head as Syluri produced an 'opening' as it were in his particular organization's chart.


Being criminals of the most vile sort, neither the Jedi, nor the Sith Lord felt any particular guilt over their fates. "Nothing scheduled for today," he told her. "How is your project coming?"


"You can speak freely," she told him. "Surprisingly enough there are no bugs or hidden cameras in here I can detect."


He frowned, looking back into the apartment and the back to her face. "I don't know if I'm pleased or worried about that."


"I'm certain I'm worried about it," she replied, looking back into the apartment. Across the room, a small crystal dish opened itself and a pair of sweet cubes rose from their fellows to float across to her cup where they fell in.


"You shouldn't do that," he admonished her.


"What?" Syluri demanded, absently stirring the beverage and taking a hesitant sip. "Drink coffee? You brought it..."


He shook his head. "Use the Force so casually, for mundane things."


Her eyes rolled in disbelief. "And you wonder why Sith are stronger in the Force," she exclaimed. "If you wanted to be stronger, you would lift weights repeatedly, wouldn't you? Or if you wanted to learn a musical instrument, you'd practice, correct? How do you expect to master something like the Force without practice?"


He frowned, obviously cross with her, and shook his head. "Of course you have to practice, but that...it just seems like a cheat. It's so mundane..."


"Life, that which makes the Force, is mundane, Jacyn," she rebuked him softly. "I have better control because I do use the Force for small things, constantly." She sighed and looked back out at the city scape. Finally she pointed out a massive tower, hanging with antenna and repeaters along the edge of the space port. "You find amazement in pulling down large things, like that tower. Could you pull it down?"


He rubbed his chin in thought. "I think so, if I were properly motivated, probably."


"Very impressive," she granted, smiling her cagy smile again. "Now, what's the smallest thing you can pick up? A screw or a bolt? How about a nail? A grain of rice?"


His eyebrows ascended his face. "Rice? No, I couldn't do that. Probably not a nail either. You can?" She looked down at the planter that lined the outer edge of the balcony. It held a leafy fern of some kind that Jacyn didn't know on sight, planted in Neutra-Sand and probably fed water through a central line. As he watched, a small clump of the Neutra-Sand rose from the planter and shook its self. In amazement he saw a single granule, half the size of a grain of rice rise up to his eye.


"Practice, Master Jax," she purred. "Makes perfect."


Before he could answer the floor shook ever so slightly under them and the lights flickered for a moment. It likely wasn't something that most would have noticed, repulsor-lift systems had been in use throughout the galaxy for thousands of years. They had redundant power supplies and fail safes; most species didn't even notice when they had a tremor or rolled over to an emergency state. A panic was the last thing those trying to repair the problem needed.


But then, most people weren't Force sensitive either.


Syluri and Jacyn shared a glance before they set down their cups and took off running. There were a number of things that happened when a repulsor-lift system went into emergency, not the least of which was it over rode various security systems. After all, people may need to evacuate and locked doors in that situation created panic. This all assumed that people would want to get out, not that someone would use the fail safe to get in.


The two arrived at Zondah's office in moments, but they were moments too late. The once lavish office was a ruin, broken statues, blaster marks in the walls and more than a few bodies. Mostly they were administrators and the various clerks and accountants Zondah had working in here with him. But there were a couple of bodies of thugs.


Zondah was nowhere in evidence. Neither was his repulsor-lift throne.


"Well," Jacyn drawled softly. "We're alive, so Zondah is."


She kicked the body over, revealing the larger blaster burn in its chest and the gang's logo. "Blacksun," she spat, snatching her comlink from her belt and keying it on. " Anach?"


"Yes, Syluri?" the Hutt's voice drifted up from the little grill.


"Zondah has been taken by Blacksun. Jacyn and I are going after him. We'll need a speeder..."


"I'll meet you in the garage."

* * *

Darth Baras walked through the halls of the Academy using his normal, unhurried tread. He was a ponderous man, given to corpulence, and the steady, even step he preferred likened him to a juggernaut, an irresistible force as powerful as the tide and just as implacable, or so he supposed. As he walked, he gave instructions to Overseer Rannit who would run the Academy in his absence, noting as he did so how quickly students and teachers moved out of his way as well as who was suitably courteous in offering their respects and who was not.


"For the most part, you will conduct the business of the school as normal," he finished, stepping out of the shelter of the Academy building onto the windswept cat walks of the small collection of star ship landing pads. "However, under no circumstances is anyone to enter room 34R, you understand that, Rannit?"


The Overseer bowed low. "Yes my lord. Shall I post a guard?"


"No, the presence of a guard would draw attention to the significance of the room."


He bowed again. "Certainly, my lord." The silver mask turned to take in the pads, noting the hulk of the transport sitting on one as if only by force of habit.


"Two ships were delivered several days ago, Rannit, what became of the other?"


The Overseer took an involuntary step back. He had found the tinkering that some one had sliced into the system and assigned the new ship to the young Sith warrior and her party. What he hadn't had was time to work up the courage to inform Darth Baras of that change. "Er, I believe it was issued, my Lord. Was that not your intention?"


His tone didn't change. It might have been better if he'd betrayed some emotion, so way the terrified bureaucrat could discover if what he said was meeting with approval or not. "Assigned to whom?" the Headmaster drawled. Rannit knew instantly that Darth Baras knew who had the shiny new Fury-Class Interceptor. Still, he withdrew a data pad a made a point of scanning it. For whatever reason, Baras allowed him the fiction without comment.


"Uh, the requisition was to a Lord Syluri Ogden, my lord. Shall I contact the Navy and have her recalled? Is there some error?"


The moment drew out like a blade, long and sharp to give Rannit plenty of time to anticipate the feeling of invisible fingers grasping his throat. Finally, the silver mask said, "No, leave them to me. I will deal with them myself."


Rannit bowed low and briefly considered taking up boot licking in the practical as well as figurative sense. "As you wish, my lord."


Baras watched his Overseer flee before he turned and walked towards the waiting vessel. Rannit was a weasel of the first rank, but his skills as an administrator were useful. Once he was properly motivated. Baras had no doubt that the conversation they'd just had would keep the man in line for months while he worried which moment would be his last. He strode up the ramp of what appeared to be a derelict hulk and secured it behind him. Inside the ship was older and well used, but also well maintained.


And while the exterior of the vessel looked as though she would fall apart at the drop of a hat, she was in fact well maintained, fast and more maneuverable then a good number of fighters in her weight class. "Young fools," he chuckled to himself as he made his way to the cockpit. "So...predictable..."


* * *


The Black Eagle settled onto her landing skids on the edge of the Marmac Industrial Space Port a bit over a kilometer from the three ring circus that was playing out around the Lady of Great Fortune Casino. Four massive repulsor cranes had latched on to the floating building as an emergency procedure while her primary repulsor motor was worked on. Her back up and emergency lifters were still working, but safety procedures of this magnitude had been worked out centuries ago.


Taxis and hover buses were busy evacuating guests and crews alike while the entire scene was awash in flashing strobe lights of emergency vehicles. Master Yintar took in the scene from the pilot's chair of the sprightly Sith courier that he had to admit was a joy to fly. The Force told him that the familiar presence of Jacyn Jax and the less familiar, but far more potent feeling of Syluri Ogden were near by, but the air was so charged with fear and concern it made any kind of precise feeling impossible.


Over his shoulder, the Twi'lek, their engineer humphed to herself and asked of no one in particular, "Syluri's work?"


"Only a fool attacks their own repulsor lift," Kunga replied stoically. "Does anyone else find this timing...convenient?"


"Lessened, our options are now," the Jedi Master observed. "But exhausted, they are not."


"I'll make some calls," Vette announced on her way to the holo-terminal in the ship's main room. Yintar and Crystalya shared a glance and the Jedi followed her out.


* * *


When you have a bomb implanted in your skull, subtly is one of the first casualties. Any thoughts of Jacyn's to disguise themselves, spy from afar or ply the truth from lowlifes with drink or the Force had been rejected out of hand by Syluri. Instead, she'd driven the speeder straight into the heart of Blacksun territory and accosted the first thug wearing their colors she'd seen. Truth be told, she hadn't even gotten out of the speeder, merely reached out with the Force and pulled the hapless criminal to her with the Force.


"I will ask this once," she'd growled as the young man clawed at the invisible fingers around his throat. "Where has your gang taken Zondah The Hutt?"


The gangster's face was turning blue and his eyes bulged, but with a supreme effort of will he forced one of the hands away from clawing at his throat and pointed off to his left. Then, as instantly as they'd appeared, they were gone and he fell to his knees, gasping for breath. "Where, exactly?" the monster woman in the speeder demanded.


"Warehouse," gasped the thug. He looked behind him to see if anyone saw him break, but the companions he'd been standing with had long since fled. "NatTek Industries, two levels down number twenty, you can't miss it!"


"If you're lying..." the voice growled.


"Please! I swear! That's all I know!" The speeder roared off as the Sith's victim watched it go for a long moment. He shook his head and started looking to hail a taxi. He was on his way back to the other side of Nar Shadda. His uncle had offered him a place on his ship maintenance crew and it was likely the position was still open. Having brushed with a real shark, he knew himself for the minnow he was and fled.


"Do we have a plan?" asked Jacyn from his death grip on the hand holds of the speeder. Basic had no words for how reckless her driving was. "Beyond kicking in the door and killing everyone?"


"What's wrong with that?" she demanded as she cut off a sky bus that had to swerve away at odd angles and nearly lost control as it's driver laid on the vehicles horn. "It always works for me!"


"It would be terribly unfortunate to come all this way just to have them finish both of us by killing Zondah!" She shot him an angry glance, but laid back on the throttle, and banked the speeder at a far more sedate pace to the roof of a tenement building that over looked the warehouse their contact had indicated.


Climbing out, she demanded, "What would the Great Jedi Knight Jacyn Jax do?"


He looked at her sidelong, then finally touched a finger to the corner of his mouth. "You've got a bit of sarcasm right there..." She wiped at her mouth with a single finger, but her scowl did lighten some. "Now, since you asked, gracious Lady, as I'm fond of instructing my Padawan, one should always look before they leap. So..." he turned and took in the view of the warehouse and its environs below. "We've got a beater spaceship parked out back, doubtlessly a smuggler and probably some kind of hot rod that only looks like it's falling apart..."


She arched an eyebrow. "That piece of poodoo? So certain are you?"


"You'd be amazed," he shot back. "Two guys at the front door desperately trying to look like they're not guarding it. Sensor suite on the roof, probably a commo splice into what passes for law enforcement on this little hive of scum and villainy. And a pair of war droids trying to pass themselves off as heavy lifter droids. Inside..." he reached out with the Force, but the playful manner dropped out of his tone at once. "Wow, that's a real heavy hitter. Do the Sith have some kind of thing going with Black Sun?"


"Oh, we're evil so automatically we're in league with the gang wannabes?" she demanded. He turned to face her more directly.


"You don't feel that?"


She frowned and sensed the building, the playful banter dying on her lips. There was a powerful, malevolent presence in the warehouse below, one that was not the causal alpha thuggery of Zondah The Hutt. One that was much, much worse. "Who?" she asked, frowning, staring down at the building and trying to get a feel for who it was below that she sensed.


* * *


If Zondah the Hutt was perturbed about being kidnapped, he didn't show it.


Indeed, he made a great show of straightening his shirt and vest while ignoring the thugs with blasters all around him. "This was foolish," he rumbled in Huttese, not that it mattered, everyone in the room spoke the language. He speared his intense gaze on the largest of them, a large, somewhat dark complected weight lifter whose hair was cut in short, odd patterns. "Foolish and lethal, Crinen. Do I need to remind you how you got to be top wolf in this pack?"


The gang leader was visibly cowed, and steeped back a bit, deferring to the heavyset man in black armor. "Brave words for a captive whose life depends on the generosity of his keepers."


The big Hutt laughed one of his deep belly laughs. "Your Sith mind games won't work on me. And ordering these boys to harm me is the last thing you want to do. Unless you want to watch yourself plotting on every holonet channel in the galaxy."


"You think I'll let you live long enough to..."


The Hutt only chuckled again and shook his head. "That's problem with you mystics, you don't understand technology. Everything we've ever discussed I recorded through my cranial implants. Even this little Tet-a-tet. And if I don't send a cancel code the recordings get dumped to every news source in the Galaxy, Republic, Empire, everyone. I don't imagine Darth Vengean will be pleased to find out you've been undermining him for decades. Or the rest of the Dark Council about how your little schemes for take over. You can't touch me. And we both know it. So if I were you, 'my lord'" and he sneered turning the honorific into an insult. "I'd make a discrete exit before my body guards track me here and serve you up on a plate."


In an eerie silence the armored Sith threw lightening into the hapless gangster Crinen. The man screamed in agony until nothing of him was left but a smoldering corpse. "You haven't escaped my wrath, Hutt," he threatened calmly.


Zondah only coolly returned the gaze over the tips of his fingers he was inspecting in indifference to the murder the Sith just committed. Before he could respond, a small explosion rocked the building from the direction of the front doors. "I expect that's them now," he said with a smile.


The Sith said nothing as he strode out, cape billowing dramatically behind him. Once he was gone, Zondah turned his attention on the gang that had gathered in a clump between him and the sounds of carnage coming from the direction of the front door. The separating wall exploded in by a body that spinelessly hit a crate to sink into something like puddle beside it. Whoever it had been, it was dead now.


Syluri appeared in the hole, resplendent in her green silk and amber light sabers glowing in her hands. She prowled forward, the platinum studs of her stiletto boots clicking on the duracrete of the warehouse floor. Jacyn was with her, not that she needed him to look menacing, the effect wasn't lost on the Black Sun Gangsters. "Who's in charge here?" she demanded.


As one, the thugs pointed to the smoldering corpse of Crinen on the floor. She took in the sight, upper lip curling ever so slightly in distaste, before she looked up and swept the room with her eyes again. "Who's in charge here, now?" A brief murmur swept the room as no one wanted to claim leadership for obvious reasons.


Syluri rolled her eyes and shook her head in disgust. "It doesn't matter. Here is your choice: flee while I collect up my Hutt and leave, or try and stop me and I'll kill every one of you."


"Now, just a minute..." started Jacyn, but before he could continue, she made a dismissive gesture and the Jedi Knight was hurled across the room where he hit a wall and slid down it.


Zondah cried out in outrage, but before he could complete his disapproval, Ogden snarled, "If I can deal with a Jedi so easily, what chance do you mongrels think you have?"


The Black Sun thugs looked at one another for the briefest of moments before they stampeded for the exits as fast as their legs could carry them. Syluri returned her light sabers to her belt while Jacyn walked up, rubbing his head. "Did ya have to throw me so hard?" he asked chagrined.


"Oh, sorry," she replied gently rubbing the back of his head. "They fled, didn't they? I'll make it up to you later."


The Hutt looked at his two captives in amazement, then roared with laughter. "You bluffed them?" he laughed.


"Yes," replied Jacyn.


"No," replied Syluri.


The Hutt only laughed as he followed them out of the warehouse, noting as he went that the killed gangster that had been thrown into the room to start things was itself an illusion and had faded away.


* * *


Zondah was still chuckling as they arrived back at the Lady Of Great Fortune, pleased to see that island's repulsor lifts had been repaired and everything seemed to be humming along nicely, despite his absence. The loss of Denit and Me'lke from accounting would sting for a bit, but they could be replaced. He was far more outraged at the destruction to the art in his office and filed a mental note to have the security camera footage reviewed so he could put bounties on everyone who had taken part in his kidnapping.


The people he would hire to torture them to death could also be considered artists after a fashion.


He was still lost in thought when his hover chair's built in safety stopped it from running over a small, green skinned alien that was standing directly in front of him. "Eh?" rumbled the Hutt, "Can I help you?"


The little alien bowed, his brown robe opening to reveal a light saber hanging from his belt. "Greetings, Mighty Zondah. Help me you can, by release of my Jedi and his...companion."


Zondah frowned and looked down on him. "Who are you and how is it your business?"


"Yintar, my name is, Master of the Jedi I am, and Jacyn Jax and Syluri Ogden assigned to me are. Appreciated, your cooperation will be, so that uninterrupted, your hotel may continue."


"Your Jedi tricks won't work on me, now..."


"True," Yintar agreed. "Renowned is the resistance of the Hutts to the Force. However, no such resistance does your casino have. Awkward would it be if everyone began to win..."


"You can't..."


Yintar didn't move, nor even close his eyes, but a Twi'lek matron near by began to squeal with glee as her slot machine began to announce her jackpot and began to spit out credit chips. Then the Shi'ido male next to her won a jackpot as well. Then the Muun next to him had his fortunes reversed. As impossible as it seems, Zondah went pale. "You wouldn't...!"


Yintar's immense yellow eyes narrowed. "Try me."


For a long moment, it was obvious that Zondah was desperately trying to find some leverage he could pull, some angle that would allow him to keep his most prized of possessions. Finally he sighed and sagged a bit, defeated. Turning to the Jedi and the Sith he rumbled, "You don't have to go. You will want for nothing here, I swear it!"


"We would want for our freedom, Zondah," Jacyn told the Hutt softly.


"I would remove the implants!" the Hutt returned. "I am rich, far beyond what you see here, surely with the right compensation and vacation allowances..."


"We're in high stress jobs," Syluri conceded, unnerved a bit by the Hutt's desperation. "And we're needed for them. But, perhaps we could work out some kind of part time, or time share...? This is a lovely spot to vacation and we could trade some body guard services for that?"


Zondah shrugged, defeated. "It's better than nothing," he admitted finally. "The offer will stand, just contact Anach when you want to come by or if you change your minds. He'll see to removing the implants." The Hutt floated away on his throne, crushed.


"Wow, you must have really made an impression," Vette remarked as she watched him go. "Nice dress."


"Don't even start," Syluri growled. She nodded her thanks to Master Yintar and turned to the smaller Hutt who was standing by, stunned. "Where do we get these things out of our heads?"


"This way."


* * *


Darth Ravage stormed into office, snarling at the underlings who made the mistake of bringing his attention on them, but fortunately for them no one paid with their lives. Despite his rage, Ravage knew he'd put together a good team and killing them needlessly would only hamper him in the long run. As it was he'd spent the past several days trying desperately to figure a way out of the trap Baras had expertly sprung on him. Supplanting his personal secretary must have taken years and you had to admire that level of dedication.


Still, admiration did not get him out of a terrible fix with dire consequences. He sat down at his desk and stewed, there had to be some way to replace Syluri and her clutch of acolytes without appearing weak to the Republic, or giving the impression of some kind of mistake. His eyes fell on the data pad on his desk, with its message waiting light blinking at him. The subject line told him everything he needed, yet another whining request from the Lieutenant on Balmorra for more; more troops, more credits, more material. Honestly, the man...


Ravage paused as a moment of clarity settled over him.


Balmorra was contested, a quagmire of legal tangles, it was independent, but a Republic ally, but had been seeded to the Empire by the Treaty. The Empire had spent years trying to pacify it, reducing its once glorious munitions and battle droid factories to burned out shadows of their former selves. It would be decades before they'd be producing at any kind of level again. This was it. It was perfect. Send Syluri and the Jedi to Balmorra to sort out the claims. She'll never be able to manage it on her own and the failure would be grounds for being recalled. A small loss of prestige, perhaps, but Balmorra would break any diplomats career. Loosing Balmorra would mean nothing thanks to the decades of devastation and on the outside chance she succeeded, she could still be replaced by being promoted.


In the second time in as many minutes, a moment of perfect vision settled on the Sith Master and he caught himself for reacting in ways Baras had been goading him into. Recall her? If Syluri could succeed in placing the Empire firmly in control of Balmorra to the point that the Republic withdrew all of their claim, then obviously the girl would be a gifted diplomat in the raw. Far from being recalled, he'd see to it she was promoted and with the right teacher and the right training, this joker Baras had slipped into his deck could become the Ace that led to the arrogant school master's undoing! How sweet would that be?


I'll see you in chains yet, Baras, Ravage thought to himself. Yes, now all he had to do was send the lieutenant a message that help was on the way. What was his name? Oh yes, Quinn. Malavai Quinn.

* * *

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