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Trouble, Destiny and Other Complications


frauzet

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It started with the question which of my SWTOR characters would be able to work together as a team in order to save the galaxy. I could see them do it, but I had no idea how they would get there without killing each other in the process. So about one and a half years ago I started to take notes on the adventures of my various characters.

 

I don't consider myself a writer and English isn't my first language. Nonetheless I gathered up all my courage and started to write in "The Short Fic Weekly Challenge Thread!".

By now I have written quite a number of stories there, so maybe it is time to start my own thread instead of spamming the SFWC with stories that seldom fit the current prompt.

 

To get started I'll copy some of the stories from the SFWC in chronological order to this thread, some with (minor) editing and combining.

Spoilers will be noted in the respective posts.

Feedback is welcome.

 

But first of all I'd like to introduce you to the cast:

 

http://abload.de/img/galerie20140419beschrcozl9.jpg

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, no spoilers

 

Coruscant, during the Sacking

 

 

Ru ran.

His unruly dark red hair was slick with sweat. Every ragged breath hurt. He needed a rest, but he didn’t dare to stop. He could feel his pursuer drawing closer.

“Run!” Master Siela had yelled, and that was what he had done. He didn’t know for how long. He had lost track of time somewhere after the first days. He didn’’t know where he was either, somewhere deep in the lower levels of Coruscant.

Despair threatened to overwhelm him time and time again. It was the foe he could shake off even less than the Sith following him.

He stumbled on through back alleys cluttered with debris. He wondered briefly what made people live in such a dilapidated environment. He hadn’t known there were such places in Coruscant, all glittering and shiny on the outside, at least before the Empire’s attack.

He rounded a corner and skidded to a halt as he became aware of two human boys sitting on a pile of debris in front of him.

 

They had been sitting here for some time now, throwing stones. They had one stone that was the target and both of them tried to throw their own stones as near to the target as possible. It wasn’t as boring as doing nothing. There wasn’t much for them to do down here. They were too old to play hide and seek and other children’s games. They could not afford an access to the holonet and their mother had forbidden them to associate with the older boys.

Their mother had forbidden them to leave the house too, but Nat had convinced Nik that it was safe and that they would be back before their mother was back home. She was only concerned because of the rumors drifting through the neighborhood. Nat had overheard the older boys talking. There was no fighting down here, only on the upper levels.

Nat raised his next stone, took aim and threw it at one of his brother’s stones. He hit and his brother’s stone bounced a stretch away from the target, only to land at the feet of a stranger standing at the corner, watching them.

 

The stone landed at Ru’s feet. All was silent once its bouncing had ended. The boys watched him warily, slowly rising to their feet. One of them had a slingshot. Otherwise they seemed to be unarmed. Only ordinary boys, except they looked alike as two peas in a pot, with red hair and blue eyes.

He raised his hands palms up, to show them he meant no harm. “You better go home, there is a Sith following me!”

A mixture of fear and excitement washed over the young faces. He hoped they would heed his warning. The sooner he was gone, the better for them, so he started to walk onward.

 

They watched the stranger walk by.

“Ok, time to get home, now. Mom will kill us if we get into trouble with a Sith.” Nik said.

Nat pondered his options for a moment. At long last something exciting happened and he was supposed to go home. He would spend weeks regretting that. And the Jedi, if it was a Jedi — nobody wore such robes except Jedi — clearly didn’t know where he was headed. He would need help!

“You’re probably right, Nik. You go home and wait for mom. If I am not back by the time she returns, tell her, that I am running an errand for Mrs. Nabar.” He had done that this morning. If his mother bothered to check, the chances were good, that any time discrepancies would go unnoticed.

“I won’t be lying for you, again!”

“Oh, come on. Don’t be a pain in the a**. Look at the guy, he is utterly lost. Even mom wouldn’t want a Sith to catch him in the neighborhood, don’t you think?”

Nik rolled his eyes. “I never saw you, after you left Mrs. Nabar on your errand.”

Nat grinned, mouthed a thanks and hurried after the stranger.

 

Ru hadn’t gotten far when he heard steps pursuing him. He drew his training blade and turned in one fluid motion, raising the blade in a defensive position.

His follower was one of the boys, the one with the slingshot. The boy was wide eyed and stopped dead in his track.

“I told you to go home.” He lowered his blade.

“That’s no lightsaber!” the boy observed superfluously. “Thought you might be a Jedi.”

“Go home!” he turned and started to run again.

“Don’t know where you’re headed, but you won’t get far in that direction!” the boy shouted.

He stopped and turned to look questioningly at the boy.

“This is a dead end. I suppose you want to go either up or down.”

He nodded.

“I will take you to the next transition!” the boy stated, turned and started to jog in the direction they had come from.

Not wanting to waste any more time, he jogged after the boy. He caught up with him quickly and fell in step with him.

 

As they jogged side by side Nat eyed the stranger out of the corner of his eye. The stranger’s skin had a peculiar color, somehow coppery with a slightly greenish tinge. His hair was red but darker than his own and his eyes were orange. In his face he had some tattoos in dark ink, a geometric pattern. The supposed Jedi was nearly a head taller than he was, but not as old as he had thought at first. He probably wasn’t as bulky underneath as his robes made him appear at first glance. Robes that had definitely seen better days all tattered, worn and dirty. The Jedi in the tales sounded somehow more heroic.

This one sounded hungry, Nat thought after he heard a grumbling sound from the Jedi’s belly.

“I am Nat.” he told the Jedi.

The Jedi gave him a quick glance. “Runis Roal. Call me Ru.”

“This Sith that is following you, how big is he?” Nat asked.

“You want to know how big he is?” Ru chuckled and shook his head.

“I’ve seen you turn around quite a lot in the last few minutes. And it seems we both won’t be able to keep this pace up for very long. Looks like we won’t outpace him.”

“You are right. But he is following only me. So it’s really time for you to go home now.” Ru stopped.

“You think I asked, because I am afraid. But I am not afraid!” Nat stated indignantly.

Ru gave him a severe look. “You should be afraid! I certainly am!”

“Yeah, but I don’t plan on meeting this guy. Look, if he is a tad larger than you, we might be able to give him the slip down in the sewers. I know a shortcut down there where you should just about fit through. Although the stench will ruin my excuse for being home late.” Nat grinned.

 

Nat’s plan had worked. They had been able to increase their lead. But Ru could tell that the Sith was not going to quit his hunt. It would be only a matter of time for him to find his trail again. He probably was able to feel him through the Force even at this distance. Being strong in the Force had its drawbacks, especially if you were not yet able to hide it properly.

His master had contacted him through their bond. He knew she was still held hostage in the ruins of the Jedi Temple. She would not be able to help him. He had meditated for half an hour to restore a little of his strength, while Nat stood watch. He was troubled over putting the boy in danger, but without his help he would probably not have made it so far. Nat seemed to have a lot of fun as he was not really aware of the danger. For him this was a great adventure.

Ru had no illusion of escaping the Sith in the end, but now he would be able to choose the place to make his stand. He also had no illusion of the outcome of that.

“It’s time to say goodbye, Nat. Thank you. I’ll never forget what you did for me today.” No need to burden the boy with his worries.

“Hey, don’t mention it. This was much better than another boring afternoon. I wish you good luck.”

Ru started his descent to the next level. He stopped and turned once to wave goodbye. “May the Force be with you.”

 

Ru knew it was the right place as soon as he reached it. The small deserted plaza provided enough room to fight. Ru went to the middle of it and cleared it with a push of the Force of dust and small rubble and sat down. He crossed his legs and put his training weapon on the ground in front of him. Sitting erect he placed his hands on his knees.

 

He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes.

He exhaled and sent a goodbye through their bond to his master.

He inhaled as he received her farewell in return.

He exhaled and dimmed the bond. This was his destiny, he would face it alone.

He inhaled and gathered his emotions into a big lump inside his lungs. He didn’t want to die, he feared the Sith, but these emotions would not help him.

He exhaled and with his breath his emotions left his body. He was at peace.

 

Inhaling Emotion,

exhaling yet peace.

 

Inhaling Ignorance,

exhaling, yet knowledge.

 

Inhaling Passion,

exhaling, yet serenity.

 

Inhaling Chaos,

exhaling, yet harmony.

 

Inhaling Death,

exhaling, yet the Force.

 

A golden glow started to emanate from his body as he repeated the old mantra.

About half an hour later the Sith clad in robes of black, red and purple entered the plaza. Ru opened his eyes. This was no apprentice, this was a fully trained Sith as he had feared. The Sith ignited his lightsaber and a vicious smile appeared on his human face, illuminated by the red glow of his weapon.

“I am glad you see the futility of running away from me at last.” The Sith said in a somber voice. “Our little chase had me miss a lot of fun in the Temple, you know.”

Ru rose slowly with his training blade in hand, fully aware that he didn’t have the slightest chance.

With a regretful shake of the head the Sith continued “But I’ll tell you something.” His grin was showing his teeth now. “You’re going to make up for it!” With that he rushed forward to attack.

 

Ru was fast, he managed to block the first strikes of his opponent, but the Sith was faster, keeping him on the defensive, driving him back, inflicting minor wounds, toying with him.

A few minutes of fighting stretched into an eternity.

Ru could feel his last strength dwindling. In a last effort he attempted to project some of the surrounding rubble at his enemy. But his attack was blocked effortlessly.

He stumbled backwards as the Sith disarmed him with his next strike. The blow was followed by a surge of Force lightning that drove him to his knees.

The Sith stepped forward so that Ru cowered right in front of him. Ru could hear the humming of the lightsaber next to his ear.

“There is no death, there is only the Force!” he whispered.

“Bad news!” the Sith sneered as he grabbed a handful of Ru’s hair and jerked his head upward. “My master wants you alive. So I will teach you a new mantra, slave. There is no death, there is only pain!”

 

***

 

Ru was dropped unceremoniously to the floor in front of a Sith Lord.

Had the fight seemed like an eternity, it was nothing compared to the trip back up to the surface of Coruscant. The Sith who had captured him had been true to his word. There had been only pain. Whenever he had been close to death he had been healed and even that had been painful. Everything else was lost in a blur.

Only the bond to his master offered solace, even when he became aware of her growing desperation. She gave him the feeling that he was not alone and for that he was thankful. It was something he could focus on in all his misery.

 

After reaching the surface the Sith had called a shuttle. Instead of bringing them back to the Temple where his flight had begun, the shuttle had taken them into orbit to a waiting ship. He had been dimly aware of being dragged through the ship’s interior by two guards. He was too busy trying to breath shallowly and to ignore the pain from some newly broken ribs to notice much of his surroundings. But on entering the chamber the nauseating wave of corruption emanating from the waiting Sith had penetrated his daze.

 

“Ah, Eliel, at last. Wonderful.” The Sith Lord exclaimed. “The new specimen.”

 

Ru stared at the luxurious adornment at the hem of the dark robe in front of him. His captor, apparently Eliel, who hadn’t bothered to introduce himself earlier, stood beside him.

 

“As you commanded, my lord.” Eliel said with a deep bow.

 

“I am not a…” Ru started to protest, but a kick from Eliel to his broken ribs cut him short and he ended with a shriek.

 

“Silence, slave!” Eliel hissed. “In the presence of Lord Morgon you will speak only when called upon!”

 

I am not a slave. I am not a specimen. I am Runis Roal, Padawan of the Jedi Order. Ru thought as he curled up in pain.

The surge of lightning that suddenly ran through his body made him arch his back to near breaking point. All his nerves were on fire.

As abruptly as the lightning had begun it ended. His screams stopped, leaving him lying panting on his back.

 

“You will also think no improper thoughts, slave!” Morgon stated matter-of-factly. “Heal his ribs!” he ordered Eliel. “I don’t want him to be permanently damaged before I even started my experiments!”

 

When Eliel started to reduce the fractures with the Force Ru passed out.

 

“Young, healthy and strong in the Force! Formidable!” Morgon was almost joyful.“We know so little about Mirialans. I am going to change that, Eliel!” Morgon lived for his research projects. “Wake him up! But drug him first. And keep him drugged at all times. He must not have access to the Force.”

Eliel did as ordered. He gave Ru a drug that would make using the Force impossible. Afterwards he injected a stimulant to wake him.

After a few minutes Ru opened his eyes. Morgon watched him intently as he came to. He smiled when he saw the panic-stricken look on Ru’s face.

“I know what it does.” He explained to Ru. “Maybe you won’t believe me, but I tried it myself. Try as hard as you will, you will not be able to grasp the Force. The drug does no permanent damage. Of course that will be irrelevant for you, because you will be drugged permanently from now on.”

 

For the first time Ru raised his eyes to look at the Sith lord. He was human like his follower. His hair and beard were dark but graying and his features even. In other robes he would not have stood out in the Jedi Temple except for his dark air.

Morgon looked down at him with an almost fond smile, a man who was proud to have acquired a rare new pet. “Do as you are told, and I will not have to punish you.”

 

Ru hardly registered Morgon’s words. He frantically tried to get hold of the Force. It was still there but it evaded him. He could feel it, even try to grasp it and then it would slip away. He didn’t feel like there was anything blocking him, no wall or any similar illusion, more like trying to catch a small object under water. You could see it and reach out for it, and when you thought you had it it was pushed away by your own motions.

 

“Stop it!” Morgon said, which Ru failed to hear in his growing horror. The shock that the Sith sent through Ru jolted him into paying attention though.

 

Ru remembered his training and tried to calm his breathing. Freaking out wasn’t going to help him. An encouraging feeling spread through him, his master was there.

 

“How old are you, slave?” Morgon wanted to know.

 

“I am a pada—aagh” He had expected the lightning, it hurt nonetheless.

 

“How old are you, slave?” Morgon repeated calmly.

 

“I am Runis—aargh—Rual—aarrghh.”

 

“How old are you, slave?”

 

Ru wouldn’t give in. The question was repeated time and time again. Sweat soaked Ru’s clothes. He was in constant pain. He concentrated on his name, tried not to think about anything else. He would not acknowledge that he was a slave! If he answered the first question there would be more. In his mind he repeated his name like a mantra.

Runis Roal—Runis Roal—Runis Roal

The shocks came in perfect synchronization with his rhythm. He felt the ripples in the Force as Morgon wove strands of Force energy into a complex pattern. Ru’s words and screams mixed and became unintelligible.

Runis Roal—Runis Roal— “Ru—fu—Ro—ooh!” he howled as a powerful surge caught him out of sync and unexpected. His heart stopped its beat for several seconds. Time slowed and stopped. Ru saw his body, he was dead, he would rejoin the Force. He was relieved, he had come through this ordeal. Another burst of energy struck Ru as Morgon ended his ritual. His heart resumed its beat. The bond between Ru and his master had been severed. The thoughts of his name shattered into thousand shards.

 

Morgon chuckled. “Was that the beginning of an oath? Rufuro? Yes, I think I like the sound of that. Now that we have settled the question of your name, tell me how old you are, Rufuro!”

 

“F-f-f-fourteen.” He whispered between sobs.

 

 

Edited by frauzet
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Aaaahhh yeessss

 

*hem*

 

*sits attentively, hands folded* Do continue. (Wow, you have a lot of characters now that you line all them up. I feel like I know them.)

Thank you very much for this wonderful compliment. And yes that's quite a lot of characters. I can't hide the fact I am suffering from altitis. One of the reasons I haven't got farther than Dromund Kaas in my writing.

Something I realized just now is the spot Io is located in on the cast picture, which is a bit older by now. What is she doing there, how did she get me to put her there?

 

Mmm, interesting beginning! I can't wait to see more. I also liked the idea of seeing all of your characters. Nice looking bunch. :)

Thank you very much.

And I am guilty. I couldn't bring myself to create an ugly char. :)

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, no spoilers

 

Note: The style is not consistent throughout my stories. I made some experiments.

 

 

Coruscant, 1 ATC

 

 

She coughed and prayed it wasn’t the start of the next fit. It was getting worse and she couldn’t afford another visit to the doctor, but he hadn’t been able to help her the first time, so it probably would have been a waste of money anyway.

Money; the last of it was dwindling inexorably since she had fallen ill. They had been living on too little for far too many days now. She only needed to look at her boys to know this wasn’t healthy. Neither was the bad air nor the lack of artificial sunlight. Nothing in this block was working as it should be.

Things hadn’t been good when they arrived on Coruscant all those years ago. Not enough work for far too many refugees, help from the senate never reaching the lower levels, at least not reaching the people who needed help. Somehow they had managed.

There had even been happy times, the twins had been born, they were a family.

Then came the Sacking. She didn’t really know what had happened on the upper levels, but it must have been bad. The impact the war had on the lower levels was devastating, although the actual fighting never reached them. There were rumors of occasional sightings of Sith hunting down fleeing Jedi, nothing affecting the lives of ordinary people.

What had an effect was the absence of police patrols. The neighborhood hadn’t been really peaceful to begin with. Circumstances deteriorated rapidly when the gangs grew bolder day to day. Fighting for territories they started a war of their own. As always it was the poor that suffered most. One night her husband simply had not returned from work. Somehow she had managed.

 

But now she knew she wouldn’t make it. She had taught the boys to read, and to write, and everything else she had been able to teach them. It had to be enough.

“If I had enough money, I would buy a speeder.” she heard Nik say.

“I’d buy a blaster, a big one. I would be able to protect us.” Nat exclaimed.

She frowned sorrowfully. Nat, he looked just like his brother, with flaming red hair, and eyes as blue as a summer sky. But they were so very different. Nikeo was good at mathematics, Nateo was good at finding trouble, as she used to tease them. She loved them both. She had tried very hard to shield them from the influence of any gangs. She feared it wasn’t enough.

“What would you buy, mom?” Nik inquired.

“Hmmm, let me think about this for a moment.” She held out her arms and they came to her and let her embrace them.

“Do you remember the pictures I showed you? The ones of the sky, and the sun, and the stars?”

They both nodded.

“If I were rich, I’d buy a house on a planet with a beautiful blue sky and stars that shine at night.”

“Would we be allowed to stay up late to watch the stars?”

She ruffled Nat’s hair. “Of course! We would watch the stars every night.”

“Would the stars shine bright enough to ride my speeder at night?”

“Maybe, but you could buy a speeder with headlights, Nik. So that wouldn’t be a problem. “

She coughed again.

“Must be nice to see the stars for real.” Nat mused.

She had to let go of them as the next fit set in.

Everybody needed a dream. She hoped it would be enough.

 

 

 

Coruscant, 2 ATC

 

 

Nat didn’t want to believe his eyes. It had been there yesterday! Now it was gone, the spot where it used to lie now occupied by a locket. He pressed his nose to the glass of the shop window. The reflections from the lights of the shop fronts behind him obstructed his view, so he placed his hands at the sides of his head to block them out. His gaze wandered over the mixed assortment of objects displayed in the pawn shop’s window. Chronos, jewelry, knifes, other weapons, strange coins from strange worlds, parts of other people’s lives. The ring he was looking for wasn’t there. By the dust that covered the display he could tell that the window hadn’t been redecorated. He could even see the outline of the ring in the dust where it wasn’t hidden by the locket. It was gone, his mother’s wedding band was gone.

He had wanted to buy it back one day. He had even started to save the money. But saving money was so hard. They seldom had enough to eat without putting single credits aside. Nik had argued, that mom had sold it so they didn’t have to starve and that she wouldn’t have wanted them to starve now. He was right, of course. And they wouldn’t need the ring anyway. Girls were gross. Why one would want to marry one was beyond his imagination. But his mother had stopped in front of the window every time she went down this street. He had seen her eyes fill with tears. He would have loved to see her smile when he brought the ring back home. But it was gone now, gone like her.

He nearly failed to hear the ringing of the door bell as the shopkeeper stepped out of his shop to chase him away. He took to his heels, running until he had rounded a few corners. He finally slowed down. It wouldn’t do to draw any more attention. He would have to do worse than smudging windows today, to get enough to eat. Sometimes he wished mom wasn’t watching too closely.

 

 

 

Coruscant, 4 ATC

 

 

“You promised you’d stay out of trouble!“

He jerked upright.

“You promised!” He could still hear his mother’s voice in his head.

He had promised. But he had crossed his fingers behind his back. It didn’t count when you crossed your fingers, did it?

He wiped the sweat from his brow and his pate, wincing when he touched the tattoo. The last thorns were still itching and stinging. You had to atone for your sins, he surmised.

His mother had known. He had seen it in her eyes. She would have forgiven him.

He could hear Nik’s soft snoring. Aside from that the room was silent. Iz wasn’t there. It was bothering him, and it was bothering him that it was bothering him.

She liked him, she had slept with him, she probably would do so again, but she wasn’t his girl and probably never would be.

With Iz it was take it or leave it. He grinned. He knew what his choice would be next time.

He looked over at Nik, who was still fast asleep.

An idea began to form in his head and suddenly he was wide awake.

Silently he put on his shirt and his trousers. He grabbed the knife from under his blanket and sheathed it. Without bothering to search for his shoes he climbed onto the windowsill, and with a last glance at his brother, he started to climb to the roof.

One of the watchmen on the neighboring roof saw him and nodded in his direction. He acknowledged the greeting with a nod of his own.

As most inhabitants of their block were asleep at this time, he made his further way to his destination without being seen.

 

The second story window was open. Those who had bought protection seldom bothered with closing them. The air inside was bad enough as it was.

Making next to no noise he climbed into the bedroom, sat down in a chair beside the bed, and waited.

Before long the street below started to awaken, and the noise drifting in through the window increased.

The man in the bed stirred and opened his eyes with a yawn. He sat up and swung his feet to the ground.

Then he became aware of his guest.

His eyes widened in fear, and he frantically looked around, searching for any other intruders.

“Ah, Little Nat. You’re alone? Where is your friend?” he asked nervously.

 

Nat and Iz seldom worked alone. Nat remained silent, sitting in the chair and watching the man intently.

 

“Did the Boss send you?”

 

“You think he has a reason to send me, Doc?”

 

“No, no, of course not!”

 

“So, no need to be nervous.” Nat grinned. “If I were here to kill you, you wouldn’t have any more need to be nervous, because you already would be dead.”

 

A relieved sigh escaped Doc. “If you are not here to kill me, what are you here for?”

 

“You and I, we both will make a deal, Doc!”

 

“A deal?” Doc asked incredulously.

 

“A deal!”

 

“And what kind of deal might that be?”

 

“A healthy and profitable one!”

 

“Healthy?”

 

“And profitable! For both of us!” Nat reassured.

 

“What do you have in mind?”

 

“I know you need … uhm, things, for your work, parts. And as I work with lots of clients who don’t need theirs anymore……”

 

“Oh, that‘s really a quite interesting proposal. What do you want in return?” Doc seemed quite intrigued.

 

“You will take my brother as an apprentice. You will teach him about medicine, and me too, when I got the time to attend to your lessons.”

 

“You want to learn about medicine?” asked Doc surprised.

 

“Can’t hurt to know if the heart of a chagrian is at the same place as that of a human.”

 

The doctor chuckled “Can’t hurt you anyway.” Doc considered the offer. “And I really might be in need of an apprentice. There is enough work to do, and I won’t be getting any younger. So you think your brother is bright enough?”

 

“As he has managed to stay out of trouble yet, I think he is cleverer than me.” Nat grinned.

 

“Okay, tell you what. As it seems we both have nothing to lose with this deal of yours, we will give it a try.”

 

“Okay.”

 

They shook hands.

 

Maybe at least I’ll be able to help Nik to keep his promise, Nat thought.

 

 

 

Coruscant, 5 ATC

 

 

“Shoot her!” the Boss had said after he had handed him the blaster.

The woman knelt before him, blue eyes streaming with tears, muffled sobs through a gag.

He didn’t know her, but he knew she was dead.

She just didn’t know it yet, her eyes still pleading.

If he didn’t shoot her, he was dead too. There was no other reason to kill her.

He pulled the trigger, his hands shaking.

The sobs stopped.

“Seems like you’ve just earned another thorn.”

“Keep your thorn.” Nat spat. “You can have it tattooed to your a** as far as I’m concerned. I’ll keep the blaster.” He turned and left.

He knew those eyes were going to haunt him, a high price for a blaster.

 

 

Edited by frauzet
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Material has been posted on the SFWC, minor spoilers JC Tython

 

Mirial, 10 ATC

 

Siela awoke from her trance with tears in her eyes. She had lost one padawan. She didn’t want to lose another. It was times like these she wished she wasn’t Force sensitive. Damned visions.

She prayed for forgiveness right after this blasphemous thought.

She was a Jedi. A Jedi should not be attached to her padawan like this. She closed her eyes and she could hear the others lecturing her. Those that were left of the Council after the Sacking had forbidden her to go searching for her padawan. She had known he was still alive, he had still been in the city somewhere, she had still been able to feel him through their bond. And they had forced her to stay, even threatened to restrain her. She probably never would be able to forgive them or herself.

Even so it had been destiny. It definitely had been the cause for her to retreat to Mirial. She hadn’t planned on ever taking on another padawan, and yet she had done so. And what a promising young man he was. He would have been the first one to be a Jedi and an Elder in a very long time. Mirial needed him as a link between Mirialans and Jedi. A few more years of training. But they would not have a few more years. He would leave Mirial to finish his training and his trials on Tython. She had seen it, and things she saw always came true.

 

***

 

Arkeo awoke from his trance feeling very excited. He didn’t fully understand what he had seen, but he knew it had been a Force vision, his first.

He had been standing at the top of a stair raising a lightsaber. The light had been all wrong and he had felt the warmth of the sun through his thin clothing. The planet in his vision had not been Mirial. Life on Mirial was as harsh as its climate. Yet he had never dreamed about leaving. He loved the planet and its people, his people. He had been raised believing that it was his destiny to serve his people here on Mirial.

There had been days he had wished to not be Force sensitive, days he didn’t want all the responsibilities his Force sensitivity entailed. It had been a childish wish. It would be equally childish to ask why the Force now had chosen for him to go away. If he was lucky he would get glimpses of an answer along his way to fulfill his destiny. But his destiny lay elsewhere. He would be leaving Mirial. He had seen it in a vision, and visions this clear were said to come true.

 

He sensed that his Master was still awake. Between calming down and talking to her, he decided to visit her. She probably had sensed his excitement anyway.

He searched for his shoes and his jacket. He found them beneath the fur that had slid from his bed mat. There weren’t many spots to lose something in his room. It was a square hardly wider than he was tall and he wouldn’t be able to stand upright. Apart from his bed there were a few pegs on the wall which kept his bow and quiver and a few spare clothes. His training sword leaned in a corner. There was a passage to the entrance room and a passage to his Master’s room. An oil lamp burned in one corner, providing meager light and — more important — warmth. The luxury of owning one’s own room was questionable, because the lack of warmth from other bodies led to an uncomfortable temperature in the room despite the constantly burning lamp. It was part of his training to use the Force to keep his body from freezing.

He put on his shoes and his jacket and leaned over to scratch at the fur that served as a door flap between his and his Masters room.

 

“Come in.” Master Siela called.

 

He crawled through the passage into her room that looked more or less like his. She sat cross-legged atop her bed fur and stared absentmindedly into the flame of her lamp. Her hands had taken on a light shade of blue.

He scrambled over to her and took her ice-cold hands in his. “Master? What are you doing? You are freezing.”

 

She looked up and smiled at him, gently pulling her hands away. “I think I am too old to have my feet warmed at night.”

 

He blushed. “I am sorry Master. I didn’t mean to…”

 

“Apology accepted.” she interrupted him. “I know you’re only worried over an old woman.”

 

“Your aura is still brighter than Siel, you are not old!”

 

“It’s seldom nowadays that I am compared to the sun, even though I may have left a few broken hearts behind when I left Mirial in my youth, as will you.”

 

So she knew. “Master, I had a vision.”

 

“The Force is taking no chances as it seems. I had one, too. You will be going to Tython.”

 

“Tython? But…”

 

She raised a hand. “We both know the Force won’t accept any ‘buts’. I will talk to Elder Haran in the morning and afterwards I will contact the Jedi Council. Try to get some sleep. The next days will be strenuous.”

 

He returned to his own room. It took some time before he drifted back to a dreamless sleep.

 

 

 

Mirial, the next day

 

Breakfast at the refectory of the youth academy had been quick and quiet like every day. Arkeo had supervised the youngest Force-sensitives today. He was good with kids. He would have been a wonderful teacher. Siela saw how he tried to catch Neela’s attention, but Neela was busy keeping the older girls in line. Siela sighed. Pain was a part of life.

She decided to confront Elder Haran immediately before he was immersed in his chores for today.

“Elder Haran, I need to talk to you.”

 

“Master Siela, take a seat.” He motioned to the bench beside him.

 

Siela sat down and they waited until the last student had left the refectory.

 

“How can I help you?”

 

“Arkeo will go to Tython.”

 

Elder Haran who had been totally composed a moment ago jumped up. “No Siela! And this isn’t for you to decide!” He stood in front of her with all the authority his position and his age provided.

 

“I know, please forgive me my careless choice of words. I had a vision last night and so had Arkeo. I dare say neither one of us likes this but it seems the decision has already been made.”

 

Haran sat down again, trying to keep his countenance. “But…” He didn’t finish the sentence. “All these years of training.” He shook his head.

 

“They won’t be wasted. Nothing happens without cause!”

 

“We are too old Siela. Who will follow in our footsteps? Too many of our young ones abdicate our traditions and leave Mirial.”

 

“Not all of those who leave don’t follow our traditions, Haran. Many of them try to do what they think is best for our people.”

 

“I hope their faith is strong enough to survive without proper guidance.” He furrowed his brow. “This brings me back to the problem at hand. Who will be his Master on Tython? I gather you will stay here?”

 

“With your permission I will talk to the Council and to Master Yuon Par. There are no Mirialan Masters available to take a new padawan. Yuon is an old friend of mine. She is known for her tolerance regarding religion and traditions of others. I don’t know if she is willing to take a new padawan, but I would trust her with Arkeo. And Arkeo is not a child. His faith is strong.”

 

“Talk to her, I trust your judgement. And then we should get you ready to travel to the spaceport. A ship heading to the core worlds is due in two weeks.”

 

 

 

Mirial, the same day

 

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, bathing everything in blue light. There was no wind and the temperature was actually a bit above freezing. They’d make some repairs to the buildings today. Normally Arkeo would have joined the hunting party, that was about to leave, but they’d be gone a few days, so that was out of the question. They shot him a few quizzical glances as he crossed the yard, wondering why he wasn’t getting ready to join them. Telling them before he had a chance to talk to Neela was impossible.

Somehow she had evaded him all morning. Not on purpose, but he hadn’t been able to talk to her alone. At first he had been glad, because he hadn’t known what to say to her, and he had appreciated the time to come up with something appropriate. Now his belongings were already packed and time was running out and he still hadn’t the slightest idea how to break the news to her. He couldn’t remember a single trial that had him being so nervous. Maybe his first tattoo, but that had been painful only to him.

At last he found her crouching at the edge of the lake, tending to the hole in the ice. She had her hood thrown back and her hair was open, cascading down to her waist in glossy black waves. She looked up when she felt his presence in the Force.

 

“Hey, do you want to say goodbye?” she smiled at him, her teeth flashing blue in the sunlight.

 

“Yes.” He swallowed. Had the Elder already told her? He felt a small stitch because it didn’t seem to matter much to her.

 

“Where will you be hunting and when will you be back? I haven’t had the chance to talk to anyone today. There is so much to do after all the bad weather we had lately.”

 

He was a fool. Of course she was talking about the hunting party. “I won’t be joining in the hunt.”

 

She sensed his anxiety then. “If you’re not leaving with the hunting party, where are you going to? What’s wrong?”

She was beautiful even with her brow furrowed. Her hands reached out for him.

 

He took a step forward, took her hands, and squeezed them gently. “Master Siela and I both had a vision. I will finish my trials on Tython. I will be leaving tomorrow morning.” He halted. “I don't know if I'll be coming back. I am sorry, Neela.”

He saw the pain in her eyes and it multiplied his own. He could feel tears flowing down his cheeks and he didn’t care. He tried to pull her close but she withdrew her hands.

 

She took a step backwards. Her emotions cried out to him through the Force.

 

“Neela, please.” He didn’t know what he was pleading for, didn’t know what he expected her to say or do.

 

“No. I can’t breathe, I can’t think. I…” She turned and ran back to the buildings, leaving him standing alone at the shore of the frozen lake.

 

He had known it would hurt, but he hadn’t known how much.

 

 

 

Mirial, the following night

 

Arkeo lay awake beneath his fur covers. He couldn’t sleep. He had tried to meditate but couldn’t find the inner peace required to do so. Instead he just lay there with his eyes closed and opened himself up to the Force. It wasn’t to meditate or to do anything with the Force. It was to sense everything around him for one last time.

Mirialans in general possessed a strong connection to the Force. Not all were Force-sensitive and of those that were, not all were able to manipulate the Force. Here in the Youth Academy where he had grown up, there were quite a number of Force-sensitives. When not tuned out he could feel a constant buzz in the Force from those around him. If he really opened himself up he could feel the presence of every living being in the vicinity. Every being had its unique reflection in the Force. Together they amounted to the picture that was home to him, ever changing and yet familiar.

Dimming the connection little by little he said farewell.

 

Afterwards he felt better. Life on Mirial would go on without him and yet his connection would not be lost. Through the Force his actions would influence his people and equally their deeds would influence him. Once you internalized this simple fact you could never be truly lonesome.

 

Having reached a point of relative inner peace he suddenly became aware of a presence in front of his entry flap. Probing with the Force he recognized Neela. He opened his eyes to see her entering his room. He was surprised both by the fact that she hadn’t bothered to announce her entry and that she was here at all. He hadn’t seen her for the remainder of the day, as she had skipped dinner.

 

“I have come to say goodbye to you.” she said, as she shrugged her fur coat off, a shy smile playing on her lips.

 

“What are you doing?” His voice caught as he realized, she was wearing only a shift underneath.

 

She took off her shoes. “My feet are cold!” she stated, coyly avoiding his eye.

 

This was the customary fashion for a woman to tell a man, that she wanted to share his bed. The man would then offer her his warmth. This was typically reserved for hunting expeditions, where survival could depend on sharing body warmth. It didn’t necessarily include love-making. Mirialans were not prone to promiscuous behavior. But to share more than warmth in such a situation was generally not disapproved of.

 

“Neela, I don’t know if this is a good idea.” He suddenly seemed unable to think straight. Where was the inner peace he had felt just a few heartbeats ago? He didn’t know how often he had dreamed about making love to her. He was a man after all, even if he was going to be a Jedi. To deny her would be one of the hardest things he had ever done. “I will be leaving tomorrow and…”

 

“... and the rest of the night lies ahead of us.” she interrupted him. “So are you going to offer me your warmth, or will you watch me freezing?”” She was already shivering badly.

 

Or he would add it to the list of things he had not been able to accomplish. He lifted the furs a bit for her to slip under. She snuggled up against him. Her feet were indeed ice-cold. He suppressed a yelp. “And here I thought this cold-feet-business wasn’t meant quite so literally.””

 

She laughed softly. “I could have used the Force to keep me warm, but then I wouldn’t really be in need of your warmth. And as we are not exactly on any expedition I didn’t want to overdo the lax interpretation of traditions. ”

 

“How very prudent of you.” he acknowledged with a smile.

 

They cuddled up closer and he wrapped his arms around her. Her shivering ceased after a few minutes, which they lay in silence, listening to each other’s heartbeat.

She started to trace his lips with her fingertips. His body’s reaction to hers next to him was undeniable. He caught her fingers and kissed them.

“I thought we had agreed to wait until we are married?” he inquired, giving his cause a last chance before declaring it lost.

 

“We both know that won’t happen.” She looked him straight in the eye. “If your destiny lay here on Mirial there would be no need for you to go to Tython. No, you won’t return after your trials, at least not to stay.”

 

“The vision didn’t say so.” He tried to avoid eye contact.

 

She raised herself up on one elbow, her other hand tenderly grasping hold of the hair at the nape of his neck, preventing him from turning his head. “And yet you felt it. I can see it in your eyes.”

 

“You are right.” he admitted, gently pulling her hand out of his hair, to place a kiss on her wrist. Inhaling her scent he closed his eyes. He could feel her pulse beneath his lips. His heartbeat quickened.

 

“I want this Arkeo.” she whispered. “If this is all I am allowed to have, I will take this one night.” She bent over him, trading her wrist for her mouth.

 

As her kiss intensified, his last resistance faltered, drowned in her scent, her breath, and the waves of her black hair.

 

 

 

Note:

Since there is very little background to be found on Mirialan culture I am making up my own version.

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, no spoilers

 

Dromund Kaas, 10 ATC

 

“You summoned me, my lord?” Ciner greeted his father with a bow of his head. He tugged an errant skein of his hair, grey like his formfitting clothes, back behind his ear, leaving his eyes unobstructed to watch his father expectantly. Lord Ardens Ignis scrutinized him, letting him wait at the threshold to his chambers. At last he motioned him to enter. Seemingly he hadn’t found a flaw he deemed worth criticizing today. Ciner crossed the room to stand beside his father, who had turned towards the large window providing a view over the lush landscape outside.

 

“Your teachers tell me, you are making great progress.” His father’s grey eyes met his green ones, green like those of his mother had been, as his father liked to tell him.

 

“You didn’t hire the best teachers to expect — or to accept — anything less, I am sure.” Ciner remarked confidently.

 

“Of them or of you?” His father asked with a slight smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

 

“Forgive me, my lord, but I have no intention whatsoever to find out.” He retorted.

 

Lord Ardens nodded thoughtfully. “Soon you will have the opportunity to find out if it has been enough.”

 

“My lord?” He eyed his father questioningly.

 

His father pointed to a datapad lying on his desk. Ciner went to pick it up and started reading. Halfway through the message he started to wonder who of their enemies had enough influence to go through with this elaborate plan to get him killed. This came to early, regardless of the progress he had made. He put the datapad down after reading the rest of the message. He wrapped his conflicting emotions into a ball of steely determination. He was the heir to house Ignis, his bloodline was older than that of most members of the Dark Council. He would show them that he wasn’t inclined to die yet. When he looked at his father his eyes were emanating a soft red glow.

 

His father nodded his approval. “Congratulations on your calling to the Sith Academy, my son!”

 

 

 

Coruscant, 10 ATC

 

Nikeo awoke in a tangle of limbs. What a party, at least the part he had any recollection of. His brain refused to share details on the rest of the previous night, but he had the feeling that moving would be a very bad idea. He cautiously opened his left eye, to see whose head was resting on his chest. Blond hair, crew cut — Mariella? He carefully skimmed the soft skin of her neck, to assert that he wasn’t dreaming. She purred and snuggled closer up to him. From the other side a hand crept in to feel for his face. He opened his other eye too and turned his head. Kara just raised her head and opened her eyes, to see whose face she was touching. She smiled as she recognized him and shifted into a more comfortable position. She rested her head on his right shoulder, breathed a kiss on his neck and closed her eyes again. Maybe he was dreaming after all. On second thought if this was a dream, they probably wouldn’t all still be dressed, more or less at least. Kark! He sighed. Still not a bad way to wake up, provided you were able to ignore your headache.

From somewhere in the apartment — Mariella’s? — he heard a noise. A short while later the smell of caf wafted through the apartment. He disentangled himself from the girls and searched for the refresher. After his visit there he followed the smell of caf to the kitchen. Leaning against the door frame in his T-shirt and shorts he surveyed the battlefield. Among a mixed assortment of empty bottles — mystery of headache and partial amnesia solved — sat Ragan drinking caf and quietly talking to Lish.

 

The Twi’lek male looked up and greeted him with a grin. “Hey, you look worse than I am feeling!”

 

“Mornin’, Nik.” Lish said. The Zabrak got up, to fetch him a cup of coffee. Standing she easily dominated the small kitchen, being half a foot taller than he was.

 

“Mornin’.” He greeted them. “What happened to the rest of the boys?”

 

“Don’t know.” Ragan replied with a broad grin. “At some point of the party, we decided to sneak away with the girls. So they’ll probably be pissed.”

 

“You sure I was in the state of mind to make any decisions?”

 

Lish laughed. “You certainly were not. Blame everything on me. I kidnapped both of you. You are no match for me when your are sober!”

She handed him a cup of caf with a wink.

 

“And she had backing!” Mariella wriggled under his arm and purloined his cup of caf.

 

“It might have been a bit unfair how Nik piled on the agony.” Ragan stated. “But hey, it worked on you and Kara.”

 

Nikeo had no clue what Ragan was talking about.

 

Mariella smiled up at him. “Don’t listen to him. And I like the tattoo, absolutely worth to endure the pain!”

 

“Tattoo?” Bits of memory surfaced. He hurried to the refresher. Part of the face that greeted him in the mirror was coated with dried flakes of kolto. He scrubbed them off and there it was. A tattoo. Big. Blue. Unmissable. Encircling his right eye and the scar that remained from an accident with Ragan.

 

“Next time somebody aims for your eye, they will have a much better mark.” The Twi’lek shouted from the kitchen and laughed.

 

Nikeo decided he would never ever again drink alcohol.

 

 

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Oh, look, this is all new and shiny. No spoilers.

 

Corellia, Czerka HQ, 10 ATC

 

Smilo tapped the code on the buttons of his chrono again. He watched the rapid blinking of the digits. This had to be wrong. But he had been sure he hadn’t made a mistake in deciphering the message the first time. ‘Will you be home for dinner on Sunday? Love Mom.’

 

Kark! They were aborting his mission. He would have met his contact the next day. With an effort he resisted the urge to hit the wall. Another four months wasted. Why had he let himself be talked into this bullsh*t? Of course he had felt flattered when he had been told he had been handpicked. A vital operation, only the best. He had been without any experience and way too young to make such a decision. He wondered what would have happened if he had declined the offer. Instead of wasting time he could have been of actual use to the Empire. However the much more logical outcome would have been him being silenced, as he was certain now. Back then he still believed in his ideals. Anyway tomorrow would have been the first real progress he had made. What had happened?

 

He tapped the buttons. ‘There at 8. Bringing Abrax for Dad. What’s for dinner?’ Waiting for the answer he checked the actual time. He was gone from his desk for two minutes. Even with the abort he didn’t want to raise suspicion. He doubted anyone would be able to find let alone trace the transmission, and even if somebody did, it would look harmless even at second glance. But Czerka was nothing if not paranoid.

 

‘Your favorite. I acquired fresh ingredients.’

 

He used the sonic cleaning function, got up, pulled up his pants, and operated the toilet flushing. After he stepped out of the cabin, he cleaned his hands at the sink, and checked the parting of his dark hair in the mirror. The neon light did nothing to make his pale skin look any healthier. With a tug at the seam he made sure his jacket sat perfect, the company emblem showing off on the left side of his chest. He left the rest room and returned to his desk. He wasn’t surprised by the message ordering him to his superior’s office immediately. He didn’t deny the aspersions leading to his instant dismissal.

 

He left the jacket with the janitor. Imperial Intelligence was reassigning him.

 

 

 

The next part has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for BH and IA Hutta.

 

Hutta, 3 weeks later

 

Thorns was on his way back from Nem’ro’s throne room. The hutt was unavailable at the moment and judging from the shouting and yelling in a bad mood. He’d have to wait before he could talk to him about the completion of his task. He had delivered the head to Yalt’s wife as Nem’ro had requested. Thorns hadn’t liked the part about delivering the head when Nem’ro had given him the job to kill his former accountant. But the hutt was right, if Thorns wanted to participate in the Great Hunt, he had to be willing to do anything. If only half of Mako’s stories were true he’d probably need every last scrap of ruthlessness he could muster. And he’d learned not to be squeamish about a little blood years ago.

A little bit more of doing what others told him to do. Win the Great Hunt and finally be free to choose. No more begging for jobs. Instead the contractors would beg him to accept their offers. But first he had to win the hutt’s sponsorship, convince Nem’ro that he was able to win the Great Hunt. Braden had laid the groundwork and Mako had done some more advertising, but the rest of the marketing was his job. He wondered how many more sampling demonstrations of his abilities it would take. He would have liked to take a shower to wash away the blood, and a drink to wash away the foul taste the last job had left behind, but that would have to wait until after his meeting with Nem’ro. The hutt was sly. He’d have to have his wits about him to deal with the slug.

 

“Here is the fraud. Useless weakling Mako pretends is bounty hunter.” A female rodian stepped out of the shadows.

 

Thorns turned slightly to face her, hand hovering near his blaster. “That gives you three seconds to get out of my way.” The rodian was only a little twerp, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t fast. Another thing that Thorns had learned early. Never underestimate your opponent.

 

At least she wasn’t easily intimidated. “Think you scare me?” she asked with arms akimbo. “You are nothing! Tarro Blood doesn’t want you in the Great Hunt. Smart person would take the hint. You’re not smart.”

 

Thorns’ Rodese wasn’t perfect, but he got her meaning. And he got the name Tarro Blood. The mandalorian was apparently trying to ensure that he stayed at the top of Thorns’ to-kill list. He started counting “one…”

 

She told him how Blood had promised her a spot in the Great Hunt if she took him out. Of course she would let Blood win.

 

“Two…”

 

She added a taunt for good measure.

 

“Three!”

 

He was faster. She was dead before she was done boasting that the hutt’s sponsorship would be hers. Thorns shook his head. She might have had a chance, had she opted for shooting from the shadows instead of making her little speech. His armor left a lot of room for improvement. A smart bounty hunter would have taken a shot at one of the weak spots. There were no dumb bounty hunters. At least no old ones.

 

He was searching her pockets and wondering what to do with the dead rodian when he became aware of somebody talking in the next room. His encounter with the bounty hunter had prevented him from noticing the voices of the two people earlier. A man and a woman.

 

“… or a slave collar around your neck before I’ve seen everything you can do. That’s all I wanted to say. You can go now.” The woman sent the man away.

 

“You think you can make a threat like that and then just dismiss me?” the man asked.

 

“I just did, didn’t I?” The door opened. “And what have we here?” the woman’s voice inquired. She stood in the doorway, looking at Thorns. “More trouble?”

 

Thorns recognized her. Kaliyo Djannis, Nem’ro’s security chief. If this was trouble it was big one, despite her not being taller than the rodian. The small-boned ratataki eyed him warily, waiting for an answer.

 

“I already took care of it,” he said with a nonchalant nod at the dead rodian as he holstered his blaster.

 

A moment later a male human left the room behind her with only an angry glance at Thorns before he walked away. Sun-bleached blond, nearly white hair, suntanned, medium build, walking with the grace of a fighter. Thorns remembered the man, he had been on the same shuttle when he reached Hutta. Curious, very curious, Thorns thought as he watched him leaving. He would have sworn the guy had been speaking with an Imperial accent when he boarded the shuttle, nothing like the accent Thorns had heard now.

 

“I am sure you can handle the rest,” he added with a shrug in Kaliyo’s direction.

 

Her glance of appraisal was quite thorough. “Hmmm,” she purred. “Handling the rest should be interesting.”

Her tongue seemed to be testing the edge of her teeth. She looked like a cat trying to decide whether to kill the mouse immediately or to play with it first. She walked closer.

 

This definitely wasn’t going in the intended direction. It wasn’t that she wasn’t attractive, she was, despite her baldness, very, even if she was several years older than he was. ‘She’ll also be several years more experienced than you are,’ some part of him, that was hard to ignore, added. Kark, he had a job to do. Letting himself be distracted wasn’t part of it. He wanted this spot in the Great Hunt. ‘There, she’s part of Nem’ro’s inner circle. Getting her support would be wiser than pissing her off.’

 

Judging by Kaliyo’s widening grin she seemed to know exactly what he was thinking. She took a look at the dead rodian. “Neat shot. What did she want?”

 

“She was hired by a mandalorian to kill me. Contrary to Nem’ro, this wimp is already convinced that I’ll be a serious adversary in the Great Hunt.”

 

“She should have taken a closer look, before trying something so obviously stupid.” Kaliyo stepped even closer, invading his personal space. Her hand took hold of his chin. “Little Mako told us so much about your abilities. Bet there are some she hasn’t put to the test.”

 

He playfully slapped her hand away. “Hands off the merchandise!” She was so close he was able to smell her. She wore no perfume. Beneath the smell of her leather coat, the smoke and other odors of Nem’ro’s palace, that was all her. ‘Smells good, doesn’t she?’ When had been the last time that he had slept with a woman?

 

“Merchandise, eh?” she chuckled, but her hand retreated. “So how much do you charge?”

 

No, not the intended direction at all. ‘Come on, this will be fun. Just give her what she wants.’ He was under the impression that he wasn’t going to escape. But this mouse also had no intention to be eaten alive. He raised an eyebrow.

“Depends on whom you want me to kill,” he breathed into her ear.

 

“How about my boredom?” Kaliyo purred.

 

“Want me to start a riot in Nem’ro’s throne room?” he asked grinning.

 

She laughed a rich, throaty laugh. “Riot sounds promising, but I hadn’t Nem’ro’s throne room in mind.” She took a step backwards, took his hand and pulled him with her. “Follow me. I’m not fussy, but we should get rid of the blood and stench.”

 

****

 

After his second shower within a few hours Thorns felt a little better. The fight in the beast pens had taken a toll on him. Kriffin’ hutts and their idea of amusement. He wasn’t even sure whom he owed the bruises on his left side, one of the beasts or the beast master. Only after the fight had he realized that he’d been hit. Didn’t matter, none of them had survived Nem’ro’s set up. He winced when he put on a fresh shirt. He’d have to find the money for better armor if he wanted to survive the Great Hunt. He’d have to find Nem’ro’s champion first though. But first of all he needed some kolto and maybe a med scanner.

He entered their mission room and started rummaging through the supplies. He had just found the scanner, when Mako entered.

 

“Hey where have you been, big guy? I’ve been looking for you.”

 

“Sorry, there were some unexpected delays. And I had to muck out Nem’ro’s beast pens afterwards. The beasts weren’t overly friendly though.” Thorns winced again when he sat down to take the scan. “If I didn’t need his sponsorship, I’d have been tempted to shoot the hutt.”

 

Mako hurried to his side. “Let me help you. How bad is it?”

 

“Feels like it’s just some bruises. Think I’ll survive. Just wanted a scan to be on the safe side.” He handed her the scanner.

 

Mako started scanning. “You know that Nem’ro scammed us? He has already sponsored someone for the Great Hunt!”

 

“Yeah, he told me. We need to find this bounty hunter and get Nem’ro’s token back. He won’t have a choice then but to sponsor me.”

 

The scanner beeped. “There we go. Some bruises and scratches, nothing serious. I’ll apply some kolto. Take off your shirt!”

 

Carefully he did as she asked.

 

She treated the bruises at his side. With a soft touch she applied the kolto patches. “Let me have a look at those scratches.”

 

“That won’t be necessary.” Thorns tried to get up, but she already was behind him, her hand pushing him back to his seat.

 

“Oh, these look like…—sorry, that’s none of my business.”

 

Thorns tried to get up again.

 

“Keep still. I better treat them anyway.” She applied some kolto. “Unexpected delays…” she muttered under her breath.

 

“That’s not…—I had to wait for Nem’ro. He was busy. And…”

 

“Hey, it’s okay. That’s really none of my business. You don’t need to justify yourself,” Mako interrupted him.

 

Yes, it wasn’t. And he didn’t. They were working together. Nothing more. But he didn’t want her to think that he screwed anything with a heartbeat. He needed her, and she needed him. He didn’t want to scare her off.

“Blood hired a rodian to kill me. He offered her my place in the Great Hunt.”

 

“Blood!” she spat. Then suddenly she stepped in front of him, a look of bewilderment on her face. “And you…—…with the rodian who was hired to kill you?”

 

“Kark, no! I shot her,” Thorns exclaimed.

 

Mako sighed relieved, which irritated Thorns a bit. Why was it better to shoot a woman, than to have se* with her? Unless maybe she thought, that he’d…—she didn’t really think that he was one of those sick b*st*rds? He tried to keep calm. They hardly knew each other. She was under extreme emotional stress right now. And he had to admit that he didn’t look like the trustworthiest of men. With his mohawk and facial tattoos he surely needn’t apply for a job as a bank accountant.

 

“You know,” Mako confessed, “Juda actually told me that she’s got a crush on you.”

 

“Juda?” he questioned. He and Juda had bantered a bit, that was all, at least he had thought so. He bit his lip when he saw Mako’s eyebrows furrowing.

 

“I thought when you waited for Nem’ro, maybe…” She blushed. “None of your business, Mako!” she muttered to herself.

 

An incoming message on Mako’s holo saved them from the awkward situation. She skimmed the content.

“It’s contains a holo recording. Say’s ‘Your hunter earned a hint.’ It’s from Kaliyo Djannis.” Mako looked at him. Her expression was unreadable. So much for being saved.

 

“What’s in the recording?” Thorns asked slightly alarmed. “Let me have a look.” He tried to take the holo from Mako, but Mako took a step backwards.

 

“Hands off!” Mako’s scolded with a calculating look. “No! No,no,no—don’t tell me you and Kaliyo. Kark.” She shook her head, clearly disapproving. Was that a hint of disgust? For him or Kaliyo? Both? “Sh*t, Thorns! Of all the women in the palace you had to choose her? She has ‘TROUBLE’ spelled in big letters on her forehead. What were you thinking?—No, forget I asked. You clearly weren’t thinking. At least not with your brain. You’re probably lucky you’re still alive.”

 

How was this all his fault? “Kark!” he yelled. “I was too busy shooting that kriffin’ rodian to stay out of her way. She’s Nem’ro’s damned security chief. She’s supposed to take notice of such incidents.”

 

Mako looked at him with big, shocked eyes.

 

Thorns took a deep breath and kneaded the bridge of his nose between his fingertips. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I didn’t tell Kaliyo to f*ck off, but I didn’t seek her out either. And the rest is between her and me.” He waited until she nodded still a little insecure. “So, can we take a look at the recording now—please?” he asked her.

 

“Yes, of course. It’s only a few seconds.” She played the recording. It showed Nem’ro handing his token of support to a trandoshan.

 

“Think you can find out who he is?” Thorns eyed her expectantly.

 

“Think you know how to handle a blaster?” Mako grinned at him with sparkling eyes.

 

He grinned back. “Ok, I’ll try to collect some minor bounties, while you do your magic. Call me when you got something.” He got up and walked to the door. He heard her searching for something. When he reached the door Mako called “wait!”

 

He turned and she tossed an injector in his direction. He caught it. “What’s this?”

 

“I call it ‘Anti-the-Worst-You-Do-not-Want-to-Catch’. Might be better if you took it, Casanova.” She raised an eyebrow before she turned smirking to her datapad.

 

Thorns tossed the injector in the air and caught it again. He grinned when he left the room. Seemed like they had weathered the first storm.

 

****

 

Smilo sat in his room, reflecting on the previous events. Keeper had praised him for the way he had handled Kaliyo. The agent wasn’t so sure of himself. Maybe he would have been able to do better, if the conversation had not been cut short. He wasn’t sure if Nem’ro’s security chief would have dismissed him in such an abrupt manner, if not for the commotion of the shoot out in front of the door. He recalled the face of the bounty hunter in the passage. He had recognized him as one of the passengers of the shuttle he had used to reach Hutta. And he had seen the flicker of recognition in the other man’s eyes. Smilo hadn’t yet taken on the identity of the Red Blade back on the shuttle. Even the real Red Blade would probably have preferred to travel incognito. But a curious bounty hunter could mean trouble. The agent had already enough people to keep an eye on…

 

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoiler for Korriban SI, SW and H2 'The Hate Machine'

 

Korriban, Sith Academy, about the same time Thorns meets Kaliyo on Hutta

 

He was so sick of this sh*t. ‘Do not come back here until you’ve gotten the text from Tulak Hord’s tomb.’ Blah blah blah. With all the acolytes that had been trained in this hellhole you’d think there should be no more artifacts left to be recovered. All these oh-so-superior Sith that had been trained here. But no, there were some left especially for him. Some challenge to get the slave killed. Slave. One of these days he would shove the word back down Harkun’s throat.

If the text was so important, why was it still inside the tomb? Would this trial end like the last one? If he succeeded he would be blamed for cheating? Only because he had accomplished what countless Sith before him were unable to do? If they didn’t want him to succeed why give him trials at all? Why not simply kill him? Although Harkun would have to be a little more inventive than to let Ffon off the leash. He’d eat Ffon for breakfast given the opportunity. Pureblood. Hmph. One of these days he’d meet him alone in an empty tomb. That would be the day the little sh*t had called him slave for the last time. Without Harkun for backup he was nothing. He’d swat him like the insect that he was.

Lightning crackled between Rufuro’s fingertips at the thought. Patience. He had learned to be patient and he had unlearned to be patient, both at the same time. Impatience could get you killed. Too much patience could also. Or it left you alive with nothing left worth living for. He vaporized a fist-sized stone that lay on the path in front of him with a surge of white lightning. It didn’t do much to get rid of the energy he’d unwittingly gathered. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, letting the energy drain away into his surroundings with the breath that left his body. It wouldn’t do to wreak havoc on the ancient remains about him.

 

He’d have to remain inconspicuous to survive Korriban. Well, at least as inconspicuous as a former slave aspiring to become Sith could be. Appear too weak and you’re dead, but appear too strong and you’re dead even faster, Lord Morgon had advised. Everyone of sufficient strength in the Force was called to Korriban nowadays. But that didn’t mean that those not of Sith heritage were welcome. They faced staunch opposition, even or especially from the overseers, as Rufuro had discovered not long after his arrival.

At first there had been no need for him to feign weakness. But meanwhile most of the aftereffects of years of being drugged had worn off. Morgon had been wise to keep him thus under control, or he would have been as dead as his apprentice Eliel. Eliel, the thought brought the lightning back to Rufuro’s fingertips. The next stone ceased to exist. Rufuro still regretted that day. Not because he had killed Eliel, but because Eliel’s death had been too fast. It had happened on impulse. Rufuro hadn’t been aware of his own strength, and Eliel hadn’t been either. But a swift death was not what Morgon’s right hand had deserved for years of accumulating Rufuro’s hatred. Another stone was destroyed.

Breathe, dammit! To think that he had been good at meditating once. He would have been a Jedi Master by now. He winced only slightly at the thought. It didn’t cause real physical pain anymore, and he had learned to prevent much of the imagined pain such thoughts caused. But Morgon had been quite thorough in his conditioning.

 

Looking up Rufuro realized that he had already reached the entrance to Tulak Hord’s tomb. It was still early, Horuset, Korriban’s sun, still low above the horizon. The rise in temperature as he entered the passage wasn’t as great as it would have been, had the doors to the ancient complex not been missing. Nothing was left to keep Korriban’s chill winds outside the tomb. The cold was the only thing good about Korriban, as it reminded him of Mirial, his childhood home. The lighting conditions were considerably poorer inside the tomb. Rufuro stopped to give his eyes time to adjust to the gloom.

 

The man, who had been working close to the entrance, seemed to take this as an invitation to approach him. “Come closer, acolyte! The wind outside has torn my ears to tatters, and my eyes grow strained and bloody in the dark. I’ve studied this tomb for years—slept on its stones and dreamed of its depths. Now, I need assistance to solve its final mystery.”

 

Rufuro took a step closer to the human. The aged man was obviously no Force-user, but he was no slave either. He must be one of the researchers that combed the safer parts of the tombs. Rufuro wondered if he could somehow exploit the researcher’s knowledge to his advantage. Maybe the man had some useful information that would help him in his current trial.

“If you have secrets to share, I would…”

 

“If you have secrets to share, you’d be a fool to share them with a slave, Zell!” a mocking voice from the shadows farther inside the passage interrupted him.

 

Rufuro spun to face the speaker, drawing his training blade in a fluid motion and bringing it up while dropping into a guard stance. Slightly squinting his eyes he saw a man casually leaning against the wall a short distance away from him. He was able to feel his presence through the Force now, a Force-user, maybe a bit stronger than the average acolyte he’d met on Korriban until now. There wasn’t enough light to see much else though. He guessed this wasn’t the time to appear weak.

“Whom are you calling a slave?” Who was he? Rufuro would have recognized any of Ffon’s cronies. He made out the contours of a training blade visible above the other’s shoulder. An acolyte.

 

“Since Zell here isn’t one, your question is superfluous.” The tone was dripping with disdain.

 

Rufuro strained to not let himself be taunted into attacking the snob. Zell would be a witness to a forbidden fight between acolytes. No way he’d be able to dispose of two bodies before somebody took notice. “The only thing superfluous here is your interference.”

 

The other acolyte pushed himself away from the wall and took a few steps in his direction.

“I haven’t even started to interfere. And if I chose to do so, I doubt you’d be able to stop me — slave.”

 

Rufuro could see him more clearly now. He was about the same size as he was. Rufuro guessed that he had a few pounds on the other acolyte. Not much of an advantage or disadvantage for either one. As he stepped out of the shadows, Rufuro could see his grey hair and the metallic glint of an implant on his forehead. He had seen him in the refectory. He always sat alone on the opposite side of the room. The pampered son of a Sith noble house, he had overheard the other acolytes say, too superior to mingle with lesser beings. Favored by the overseer of his class because of his bloodline. The same as Ffon was by Harkun.

 

Lightning began to crackle between the fingertips of his free hand again as he opened himself up to the Force. His opponent hadn’t even drawn his weapon yet. Pretentious, overbearing stuffed-shirt.

“So, who sent you? Ffon? Or was it Harkun himself? You may think I’m a pushover, but in contrast to you, I had to fight to get here. I had to fight to survive my trials. I don’t get everything handed on a silver platter by the overseers.” He directed a charge of lightning in the direction of his adversary.

 

The other acolyte jumped sideways, and when Rufuro’s streak of lightning changed direction to follow him, he did a Force-powered back-flip over it to avoid being hit. When he landed he drew his weapon. The next burst of electricity from Rufuro was redirected and sizzled harmlessly through the passage as the following one was blocked by the blade. Rufuro realized that he wouldn’t beat his opponent this way.

 

A smirk appeared on the other ones face. “Already realizing your mistake?” He asked tauntingly. “So you thought this was going to be child’s play?”

 

He feigned an attack and Rufuro was barely able to block the actual strike that followed. The acolyte was fast.

 

“Acolytes! Stop this! You are not supposed to…” the researcher tried weakly to intervene.

 

“Shut up, Zell!” Rufuro’s opponent snapped. “Pretend you didn’t see or hear anything, and you might survive today—to NEVER tell anybody about this.”

 

Zell crept behind his mine car and kept quiet.

 

They exchanged a bout of harmless strikes, their dance around one another confined to the narrow space the passage provided. It didn’t take Rufuro long to perceive that his opponent was toying with him. His feints were too obvious, his attacks too slow, but sufficient to keep him on the defensive. During the initial attack Rufuro had caught a glimpse of his adversary’s true strength. The scumbag had been cloaking his strength in the Force all along, something nobody had bothered to teach to Rufuro.

 

His foe must have seen something on his face, for his grin grew wider as he moved up a gear.

“You think your lot is worse than mine? Maybe Overseer Harkun doesn’t support you, but what about Lord Zash?” He asked while pressing an attack that had Rufuro stumbling. But his opponent drew back immediately afterwards. He took another step back, and another one. “Me on the other hand, I undoubtedly have the support of Overseer Tremel.” He retreated another step. “But have you ever thought about what it is like, to antagonize a Darth? It seems like I’ll have to make you think again!”

With his last word he took another step away from Rufuro, only to leap at him with a Force-charged jump that made him clash with Rufuro’s hastily erected shield an instant later. The shield shattered under the momentum of the attack.

 

Rufuro wasn’t sure if he hit his opponent with his next Force-attack afterwards, but if he did, it left no lasting effect. They both landed several minor hits in the following exchange of blows, but overall Rufuro was hard pressed to defend himself. In fact he had to concentrate on his defensive forms so much that his attempted Force-attacks were clumsy at best. His opponent seldom even bothered to use a Force-attack, as he could rely on his superior swordplay. His breath became ragged. His opponent also showed first signs of weariness, but was still in a much better shape. After another feint he suddenly felt the other acolyte’s blade connect with his ribs, the strike driving the breath out of his lungs and himself to his knees. With a lightning-fast spin, twist and kick to his chest he was sent sprawling on his back. His blade flew down the passage and deactivated when it hit the ground.

He felt like something inside him, too, had been deactivated. He wasn’t able to breathe, much less to continue the fight. He wouldn’t have been able to yield even if he had wanted to. He heard the humming of his adversary’s weapon next to his ear as he waited for the death blow. He remembered an other fight. ‘There is no death, there is only the Force!’ He had said back then. But all his believes had been shattered, there was nothing left of the boy he had been. He no longer cared what came next. It couldn’t be worse than what he already had endured.

 

The humming stopped. The tip of a boot nudged his ribs. “Are you planning to take a nap, or do you think you’d be able to help me with Zell’s machine?”

 

Rufuro blinked. His opponent was standing beside him, weapon sheathed, looking down at him curiously. “What?” he wheezed.

 

The other acolyte grinned as he held out his hand towards him. “Seems I overdid the kick a little bit.”

 

Rufuro took the offered hand and got up with the additional help. He coughed.

 

“I am Ciner. And for the record: Ffon is an idiot, and you’ll rip him apart with ease.” Ciner let go of Rufuro’s hand.

 

Rufuro eyed Ciner mistrustfully. “Rufuro.” He offered at last. “What was that about? Guess that isn’t your common run to introduce yourself. Calling people names, and nearly killing them afterwards.” There was no point in trying to fight him again, so he might as well listen to what he had to say.

 

“You got me interested when you retrieved the holocron the other day. Everybody was tattling about it. The slave doing the impossible. And when I saw you talking to Zell, I decided to take the opportunity to get acquainted. I admit it was a bit out-of-the-way.” He grinned and indicated a small distance between his thumb and index finger. “I’ve been here before you, and he told me about Tulak Hord’s machine, the one he was going to tell you about when I interrupted you rather rudely. I took a look at the thing and decided I’d need backup. The chamber is crawling with all kinds of unpleasant inhabitants. When I got back here, I recognized you. I am not very good at these evaluations but I can tell that we, you and me, are easily the strongest acolytes in the Force they are currently trying to kill here.”

 

“So you thought, you’d lend a hand and kill the competition yourself?” Rufuro asked.

 

“You’re still alive, aren’t you? But I wanted to see how much of a competition you are.” Ciner explained.

 

“And you let me live, because the slave is no real threat?” Rufuro balled his hands into fists.

 

“I honestly don’t care what you were before you came here. If you don’t let yourself be killed, you’ll leave the planet as a Sith. You will still be an alien, but there will be very few people left, who will dare to insult you then. Zash is ambitious, she’ll rise, and she’ll take you with her. You won’t have many friends, but don’t think that’d be different if you were a Sith with an impressive bloodline. The longer the history of your house the longer the list of your enemies. Calling you a slave only was a sure bet to get you fighting.”

 

“You don’t know me.” Rufuro went to pick up his weapon.

 

“Believe me, I know enough slaves.”

 

His hand was shaking slightly as he sheathed the blade he had just picked up. “If you are still trying to provoke me, you’re making a good job of it.”

 

“Zell’s machine is fueled by hatred, save some till we’re there.” Ciner said as he walked past him farther into the tomb.

 

“Why would I want to help you?” Rufuro called after him.

 

“You’ll come up with something, you seem to be rather clever. I doubt you’d have survived this long otherwise.”

 

***

 

Ciner watched intently as Rufuro traced the symbols on the tablet, that they had retrieved, with his fingertips. The Mirialan was utterly fascinated by the artifact.

 

“Keep it!” he encouraged him.

 

Rufuro looked up, clearly astonished about the proposal. “What would I do with it?”

 

Ciner shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. Decipher it I guess. You’ll come up with something.”

 

A smile spread across Rufuro’s face. “I remember, I seem to be rather clever.”

 

“We tell Zell that his machine doesn’t work. It hasn’t for the last centuries, and it won’t for the coming centuries. Only you and me know about the one time in between that it did.”

 

“Only you and me.” Rufuro repeated. He looked like he was savoring the taste of the strange words in his mouth.

 

 

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One good thing about this nasty cold/flu that my husband brought to our house, I've finally been able to catch up on reading while resting on the couch. Sorry it took so long to comment, but today's the first day I've felt decent enough to sit at the computer for an extended period of time! I'm so very glad you started your own thread and congrats!! Its been nice refreshing myself on your character's origins and I loved the new one for Smilo! Definitely eager for more!!
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I knew Ciner's reversal was coming and I still had my heart in my throat the whole first half. :eek:

One good thing about this nasty cold/flu that my husband brought to our house, I've finally been able to catch up on reading while resting on the couch. Sorry it took so long to comment, but today's the first day I've felt decent enough to sit at the computer for an extended period of time! I'm so very glad you started your own thread and congrats!! Its been nice refreshing myself on your character's origins and I loved the new one for Smilo! Definitely eager for more!!

Love the exchanges between Ru and Ciner. I look forward to see what becomes of these two! Can't wait to see more. Nice action too. Keep it coming! :D

 

Thank you all for your comments. You have been a great help with my decision on how to proceed. There seem to be new readers as well as ones who are already familiar with my stories from the SFWC. And it seems the latter aren't overly bored by the stories copied from the SFWC. Some of these are a bit older by now (the stories, not the readers) and, as alaurin has kindly pointed out, refreshing memories might not be a bad thing.

I have to admit I also like the idea of having all my stories reasonably sorted into one thread.

 

So I decided to continue to copy my old stories to this thread, and while doing so, fill in some of the holes that are still left with new stories. This will take some posts until we get to Dromund Kaas. I have some plans that have very little to do with the class stories, and there will be some more interaction across the Faction boundary.

 

I also decided to keep from making things more complicated than I have to. So I will use the Jedi timeline from the game instead of the one I started on the SFWC. Two or three stories will be slightly altered as an effect. I hope this will make following the events easier for my readers.

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New material; spoilers for JC and JK Tython

 

Tython, The Gnarls

 

Tython’s beauty had been lost on Phorik when he had stepped from the landing pad. He had blinked back the tears blurring his sight. His master would have loved to come back home to Tython. Him the planet didn’t welcome, Phorik was a stranger here. He was merely passing through. Wasn’t that what Master Irian had been quoting? He tried to remembered what it was the philosopher Ni’lander had said about Tython.

 

‘Tython is beautiful and powerful, enigmatic and dangerous, filled with mysteries and open to those comfortable with the Force. It was here long, long before us, and these mysteries persisted with no eyes to see them, no minds to contemplate them. And that is why I fear Tython. It means everything to us, and yet we are nothing to it. We are merely passing through.’ [wookieepedia]

 

Useless knowledge. He sighed. He had tried not to think about what Master Irian would have done. How he would have stepped up to the railing, taken a look around, inhaled the fresh air, opened himself up to the Force to not only see but to feel his home. Phorik hadn’t wanted to start his visit to Tython with receiving another lecture about attachments. He had focused on Knight Weller who had been waiting for him. Phorik was eager to start his trials, and he had been disappointed to hear the Council hadn’t decided on his new Master yet. He feared this meant more counseling before his actual trials. Of course he had tried not to let his discontent show. He wasn’t sure how successful he would have been had the welcome not been cut short by an incoming call.

 

The Padawan training grounds were under attack by Flesh Raiders. Master Irian had told him about the hostile native species, and obviously Master Irian’s fellow Masters had told those on Tython about Phorik’s skills at swordplay. Knight Weller hadn’t hesitated to sent Phorik to help defend the training grounds. Phorik was good, actually he was better than any available Master on Corellia had been, one of the reasons he had been sent to Tython for his trials. He might have been able to defend his Master, if only his Master hadn’t decided to leave Phorik behind.

 

By now he had already encountered a number of the attacking Flesh Raiders. Although the rumors were true, and the violent creatures actually used advanced weapons, their blasters didn’t help them against a nearly fully trained Jedi. Aside from a few scratches and some holes in his robes Phorik remained unscathed. Through the trees he saw a movement on one of the bridges. Another Flesh Raider? He decided to investigate.

 

When he came closer he saw it wasn’t a Flesh Raider at all. A fellow Jedi was standing at the breastwork of the bridge, the palms of his hands pressed together in front of his chest, eyes closed. He seemed to be meditating. The training blade strapped to his back identified him as another Padawan. The guy had to be crazy to not realize the danger he was in. The training grounds were crawling with attackers, how could he have missed the din of the fighting? Phorik hadn’t been able to meditate properly since his Master’s death, and this fellow did it in the middle of a battlefield. Well, if he were better at meditating, he wouldn’t have had to take additional training hours. He wouldn’t have had to stay behind to participate in the focusing ritual. He would have been accompanying his Master. Phorik shook his head. He didn’t want to follow this line of thought again. It led nowhere.

 

Instead he stepped onto the bridge. The other Padawan was standing at the other side of what looked to be some kind of ancient holo projection device in an protrusion in the middle of the bridge. He had seen some of these devices during his travels with Master Irian. As he approached the middle of the bridge the other Padawan looked up. So he wasn’t completely oblivious to his surroundings.

 

“This place is under attack, friend. You should head back to the outpost. It is dangerous here. If you stay to the southern path and hurry you should be able to get back without running into any Flesh Raiders.”

 

The other Jedi cast his amber colored eyes upon him. Black geometrical tattoos on his bronze skin made it hard to judge his age — a Mirialan. He emanated an air of calmness that would have done many a Master proud. “Thank you for your warning. But it is because of this danger my Master sent me to retrieve this holo projector and its counterparts. The Flesh Raiders cannot be allowed to destroy their ancient knowledge.”

 

Probably more ancient philosophers, not worth losing your life over. But he didn’t want to argue with a stranger. “Nonetheless you should hurry and not be standing around, meditating, and providing an easy target.”

 

“Since you were unlikely to attack me, and there are no Flesh Raiders left in the immediate vicinity after I took out these two,” he pointed to something on the floor behind him, “and the five you handled around the bend, I took the time to send these properly back to the Force whence they came from, and thought about the problem at hand.”

 

Closing the gap between them Phorik saw two dead Flesh Raiders lying on the ground. Their bodies had been straightened and their hands folded atop their chests. “You… sent them back to the Force? They are monsters!” These Flesh Raiders might as well have killed some of their fellow students today. How could this guy even think about…

 

“You are upset.” It wasn’t a question, no accusation, only a simple statement. The Mirialan looked at him.

 

Of course he was upset. He had been upset for two months now. Phorik took a deep breath, but before he could come up with an answer his holo com beeped. When he accepted the call, the blue holo projection of a Jedi Master became visible.

 

“This is Master Relnex. Knight Weller told me where he sent you, Padawan Phorik. And I see you met Padawan Arkeo. Good! Listen! There’s a group of students in the hills near your location we lost track of. They’re not combat trained. I want you to find them and call for a shuttle to evacuate them.”

 

“I will find them,” Phorik said.

 

“We will bring them back,” the Mirialan stated.

 

While Phorik checked the coordinates of the Padawans’ last known whereabouts Master Relnex had sent and deactivated his holo com, the other Padawan bent down to examine the device on the bridge. “We need to go!” Phorik urged.

 

“I need to take the projector with me.”

 

Phorik watched the Mirialan — Arkeo Master Relnex had called him — fumble with the controls. With a sigh, he bent down and activated the projector. It was ancient but still similar enough to modern technology for the controls to be intuitive — or so he had thought until now.

 

While the device initiated its activation sequence Arkeo gave him a relieved glance. “Thank you. What do I do now?”

 

“You tell it to shutdown so it can be safely retrieved. I’ll show you.” They waited for the projection of the ancient Master to appear, explained the situation, and told the device to shut down. Afterwards Phorik demonstrated how to remove the projector and handed it to Arkeo. “What would you have done if I had not come across you?”

 

“I would have continued to meditate.” Arkeo put the projector in one of his pockets.

 

“You had no idea how this worked, but thought meditating would help?”

 

“Obviously meditating did help, you are here after all.”

 

“You are kidding, right?”

 

“The Force wanted me to retrieve the projector, so it sent help my way. But you are right. We need to hurry to save the lost Padawans.” Arkeo inclined his head. “I’d be happy to discuss any philosophical questions after we found them.”

 

Phorik turned and headed towards the hills. He didn’t particularly care if the Mirialan followed him or not. He probably wasn’t of use anyway. Meditating, tsk! Even Master Irian would have thought him crazy. A few moments later Arkeo appeared beside him. Phorik hadn’t heard him coming, the guy was soft-footed, he had to give him that. He started to jog and the other Padawan fell in step beside him.

 

They had not gone far, when Arkeo stopped. Just as Phorik wanted to ask him what was the matter, he, too, felt it. A subtle quiver in the Force. Somebody was in front of them. They sneaked closer and peeked through the bushes. There were five Flesh Raiders guarding a crude cage. Arkeo motioned for him to retreat a short distance. They agreed that Arkeo would sneak around the group and try to divert them while Phorik would then start an attack from this side. Their plan worked. Phorik had no idea how Arkeo had gotten behind the Flesh Raiders as fast as he did without being noticed, but the Mirialan created an diversion in the bushes on the other side of the group. All Flesh Raiders looked in his direction and two set out to investigate. Phorik leapt from his hiding place at the remaining Flesh Raiders. He had felled two of them before the rest of them noticed they were being attacked. Between him and Arkeo the three left didn’t pose much of a problem. The other Padawan knew how to handle his weapon, even if he would be no match for Phorik. Maybe it wasn’t so bad he had met him.

 

When the last Flesh Raider fell the Mirialan paused and Phorik thought for a moment he’d start to meditate again. Instead Arkeo walked over to the cage and opened it. Inside sat another Padawan. Pranuli, a Cathar, had been wounded when she had been captured. She was in bad shape. There wasn’t much to argue about. She wouldn’t be able to defend herself on her way back to the outpost, so they decided to take her along.

 

It took them some time to find the missing Padawans’ trail. Phorik had spent most of his last years in cities. Arkeo was the one to actually find the trail and took lead to follow it. At first he seemed hesitant, but after a while he started to smile and picked up pace. And again Arkeo was the one to first feel the changes in the Force when they finally found their marks.

 

The three missing Padawans were alive, but one of them had been badly injured. Nonetheless they were actually arguing about whether to pursue the Flesh Raiders to take revenge. They quickly disabused them of that notion, although their reasoning couldn’t have been more different. While Phorik pointed out that the Padawans were in no condition to fight, Arkeo argued, that it wasn’t the Jedi way to seek revenge. Phorik wasn’t sure how much of the little speech was meant for him. They signaled the outpost and waited for the shuttle to pick the four Padawans up. They both stayed behind.

 

They looked at each other and before the silence had a chance to become awkward Arkeo intervened. “I’d be glad to have your help with retrieving the other projectors.”

 

“Well, their locations are as good as any others to fight Flesh Raiders, I guess.”

 

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for SI Korriban

 

Korriban, Sith Academy, a few days later

 

Since they had retrieved the tablet from the Red Machine Ciner had met with Rufuro secretly every evening after regular training hours. They had found an unused hall on one of the Academy’s lower levels. It was accessible through a hallway that connected to a maze of passages. The many different routes to the hall allowed for sneaking down here without being detected. Ciner had been waiting for fifteen minutes now. Something was wrong. He hadn’t seen Rufuro in the refectory. He had assumed that the Mirialan had already left, for Ciner had been late himself. Now he doubted that he had been there at all.

 

As usual the Academy was buzzing with the Force. One of the advantages of their meeting place. Two more Force users didn’t attract attention. As long as they didn’t attempt any larger Force ritual it was very unlikely somebody became aware of them. The fact proved to be obstructive now. Try as he might, Ciner was unable to tell if Rufuro was anywhere near. If the acolyte was hiding his presence in the Force, he wouldn’t be able to detect him in this commotion even if he knew where he was. Shrouding his abilities had been one of the things their training contained. Rufuro was a fast learner.

 

Ciner decided to investigate.

 

At last he found Rufuro in one of the upper training halls. Those were usually off limits to acolytes, only Dark Lords and their apprentices were granted access. Ciner smelled the blood and burned flesh as soon as he entered. After a moment’s probing with all his senses he sheathed the weapon he had drawn instinctively. The sole sign of life in the hall came from the picture of misery that was curled up in the far corner of the room. The waves of despair the Mirialan emanated were what an inquisitor was expected to arouse in others, not what he was supposed to emit himself. Ciner’s initial reaction was one of disgust at the display of weakness. This was no future Sith. If Ffon found him like this, Rufuro would be one more forgotten dead alien slave. And Ciner wouldn’t even blame the pureblood for killing him.

But the scene at hand suggested that two acolytes had already tried to kill Rufuro afore. And obviously they had not survived their endeavor. Two big brutes, two dead big brutes. What had happened here? He doubted that Rufuro had sought this fight. He walked over to the former slave. There was something amiss.

 

“Get up! Now!” He received no reaction. With a gripping gesture he balled his right hand into a fist and raised it to eye level. Simultaneously Rufuro was gripped by the front of his robes and lifted off the ground, to a standing position.

 

Rufuro struggled feebly, more by instinct than conscious intent. His gaze was unfocused.

 

Ciner shook him. “Stop it!” he bellowed. The struggling ceased. He tried to stand Rufuro up on his feet, but as soon as he loosened his Force grip the former slave slumped down.

“Look at me!” He shook him again. “Look—at—me!”

 

Rufuro’s gaze focused slowly. Some light returned to his eyes when he recognized Ciner. “Save me. I don’t want to go back. Kill me now. Please!”

 

Ciner was sorely tempted to accommodate the request. However, he had invested considerable time in this wretched failure of an inquisitor. He had taught him lessons he’d need to survive as a Sith. He didn’t like to waste his time. And he didn’t want to search for another sparring partner. He had picked the strongest one available and he would be damned if he gave him up this easily.

He concentrated on his anger to fuel his connection to the Force, added a bit of Rufuro’s despair, and lifted him off the floor with ease. With a push through the Force he let go of him, shoving him hard into the closest wall. Rufuro began slowly to slide down the wall making no move to defend himself. Then Ciner realized what had been bothering him all along.

 

***

 

The combat training with Ciner had payed off. Two dead acolytes bore witness.

 

Rufuro had been expecting a trap. Anything else would have surprised him. He had expected the instructors to punish him for his impertinence to set foot in the training hall that was for lords and apprentices only. But obviously Harkun hadn’t been sure of what the instructors would do. So he had sent Wydr and Balek, fellow acolytes, instead. One, two or all three of Harkun’s problems solved. The twins had been as dumb as they had been big. They really thought Harkun would let them leave Korriban once they had killed Rufuro. They had neither realized that Harkun would dispose of them, too, nor that they wouldn’t be able to kill Rufuro.

 

Two dead acolytes. He had not wanted to kill them. They had left him without a choice. But that wasn’t true. There was always a choice. He had chosen his life over theirs. One for two. And it wouldn’t stop there. He would become Sith. He would be the enemy. He had been foolish. He had thought that he’d be free once he survived Korriban. It had been an illusion.

How many deaths had been necessary for him to realize his mistake? How far had he strayed from the light?

 

He couldn’t remember when he had stopped to hope that somebody would come to save him. The first days in captivity had been a daze of pain and panic. Days had turned into weeks, into months, into something meaningless.

At first he had hoped every day anew that he’d survive to see the next. Then came the time he had prayed for the mercy of death. The Force knew he had tried more than once to kill himself. Morgon had prevented it — Morgon and his rituals. The rest had been mostly silent suffering. Until he had killed Eliel. That had raised questions. The answer had been to send him to Korriban.

 

Korriban — not delightful but no drugs. Somewhere above was a circle ritual in progress. Some more fluctuation in the Force — who would notice? This was the way out. There was only one death necessary to change destiny.

 

Rufuro drew on the Force. He felt the nauseating corrupting pull of the dark side. He gathered as much energy as he could. Then he opened his mind even further and drew some more. He felt the Force pulsing with his heartbeat, trying to take control of his mind, threatening to overwhelm him. He brought his hands together above his heart — and his head exploded.

 

When he woke up he didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. He lay near the back wall, obviously still alive. His head hurt like hell. Timid probing revealed no apparent outer damage. He tried to get up, but his knees buckled beneath his weight. His weapon still lay in the middle of the room. He raised his hand to summon it with the Force. Nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. No, this was impossible. This was worse than being drugged. Somehow he had blocked his access to the Force.

 

Without being able to use the Force Rufuro wouldn’t be a threat to anybody. Harkun knew where he came from, probably had talked to Morgon. With sudden certainty Rufuro knew that Harkun would send him back to Morgon. Not even a Force vision could be clearer. But he could not go back. He could not! Not now, not after having dreamed of being free. He’d rather die than go back. He cackled a mirthless laughter at the thought. The wish to die was what had brought him into this miserable situation. He had thought he had found a way to kill himself. He laughed some more, even if the joke was a bad one and at his expense. His body shook with laughter and continued shaking after the laughter turned into sobs. He had lost. He had but one thing left and though he would give it away freely nobody would be willing to take it. He knew he’d go back. Ten years — ten endless years since the Sacking of Coruscant. Morgon had always taken care to restore his health. Forty years, fifty? How many more years would he survive?

 

He curled up into a ball and cried. He had tried to change destiny and maybe he had. But destiny was a cruel master, and destiny had outsmarted him.

 

***

 

“Please! Without the Force I am useless. They will send me back where I came from. I just can’t…”

 

Rufuro’s golden eyes stared pleadingly at Ciner. Eyes that had been red the last time Ciner had seen them. This was really weird. Loosing the ability to use the Force was a good reason to freak out. Ciner and Rufuro had spent a considerable amount of time together, but they didn’t know much about each other apart from their fighting techniques and Force abilities. Ciner had seen a fighter and a fighter was what he had wanted. He had not asked any questions and the former slave had not volunteered any answers. Whatever had happened to him before he came to Korriban, it was obvious that Rufuro feared going back so much he would rather die. And he didn’t think the Mirialan was a coward.

 

Ciner crouched down beside Rufuro. “Hey, calm down.” Which had predictably not much effect.

Ciner cursed inwardly. He didn’t know how much time they had before anyone showed up. He didn’t want to be here when the two dead acolytes were detected. Even if it would be difficult to blame him for an unauthorized murder, there would be doubt as to how Rufuro had been able to kill them on his own. And they certainly would not be able to hide the Mirialan’s current state. Better to be gone ere then.

 

He considered to leave Rufuro behind, but that would be a waste. The Mirialan had had the strongest Force connection of any of the other acolytes that were trained in Korriban at the moment. Most certainly he hadn’t received anywhere near the training Ciner had had. So once he caught up, he might be as strong as he was, even stronger. For most Sith this threat would be reason enough to kill a potential rival. But Ciner was aware of the situation the Empire was in. The next war was drawing inexorably nearer. They needed to bolster the ranks of the Sith, raging from arch-traditionalists notwithstanding. As far as he knew Darth Baras and Lord Zash were neither on friendly terms, nor were they enemies. If he helped Rufuro now, he might have an ally later, during and after their apprenticeship. Darth Baras was known for his cabal and intrigues. Ciner was sure he’d need allies ere the end of his apprenticeship. That he had started to like the former slave over the course of their secret training sessions was quite immaterial.

 

Influencing others by using the Force wasn’t Ciner’s strong suit, but he tried anyway — without success. The other acolyte’s mind was much too agitated to be receptive to an outward influence. He carefully placed a hand on Rufuro’s shoulder. “Look at me, Ru!”

 

The Mirialan raised his eyes.

 

“I’ll help you!” Ciner saw the flicker of hope in Rufuro’s eyes. “I won’t kill you. There has to be an other way. But first we have to get you out of here.” He got up, giving the inquisitor’s arm a tug to get him to rise, too.

 

When Rufuro moved he gasped. “Think I broke a rib when I hit the wall.”

 

“I wanted to get you to my medic anyway.”

 

Rufuro shrank back, eyes suddenly wide. “No way.”

 

This had to be some kind of trial for his patience. Ciner took a deep breath. Dragging the Mirialan out of the Academy undetected wouldn’t be possible. “Ru. If you want me to help you, you have to trust me. I’ll bring you out of the Academy. No Sith.”

 

Rufuro nodded tentatively.

 

He followed Ciner through small passages and down old stairways, through unused halls and forgotten corridors. The Academy was much larger than the part that was used nowadays.

 

“You said, we’d leave the Academy.” Rufuro seemed still suspicious.

 

“Yes. I have not been talking about the main entrance though. I don’t know all the guards on duty tonight, and there are always Sith there. Don’t want to explain to them why we are leaving at this hour.”

 

“You don’t know all the guards on duty?”

 

“What have you been doing during your trials in all these tombs? I for one killed a lot of various creatures that were bothering the soldiers. I may be a spoiled brat, but I do know how to establish relations.”

 

“Guess there were not much people to practice on where I come from.”

 

Rufuro didn’t really sound like he wanted to talk about his former life, so Ciner didn’t inquire.

They walked on in silence until they reached a small door guarded by a single trooper. The guard looked up when he heard them, relaxed when he recognized Ciner, and looked astonished when he saw Rufuro.

 

“Not alone tonight?” the guard asked.

 

“I have quite the ability to share, but that doesn’t go for the details.” Ciner winked.

 

“I’m sure I can do without.” The guard grinned and opened the door for them.

 

They were standing outside the Academy. Rufuro followed Ciner along a dark path. “What was that about?”

 

Ciner turned to look at Rufuro, but it was to dark to see his face. “He thinks we’re on our way to a date. That’s where I am usually going after dark. Better he thinks, you’re coming along than explaining the truth. Loyalty has it’s boundaries.” From what he felt through the Force Rufuro was more than slightly embarrassed at the thought. Ciner got the impression that the Mirialan had missed a lot in his former life.

 

***

 

“How is he?”

 

Marun looked up from her datapad as Ciner entered the room. The medic’s gaze flickered over to the motionless Mirialan lying on the couch.

“Still unconscious, my Lord.”

 

“Acolyte,” he corrected her.

 

She only smiled at him. She didn’t take orders from him, only from his father. It still was a mystery to Ciner how his Lord father had managed to get her to Korriban, into one of the units guarding the Academy no less.

“Seems like you sedated him quite thoroughly.”

 

“Not like I had much time to think about the correct dosage. The way he struggled you would have broken his neck with your Force grip.”

 

Ciner shrugged. “His panic attack upon seeing you took me a bit by surprise. I mean, I know you are an old dragon, but I had not noticed before it is quite so obvious to others.”

 

“Being immune to your advances doesn’t make me old, my Lord, only a bit wiser than the rest.” Her grin was mocking him.

 

She had to be somewhere about twice his age. “You’re missing out.”

 

“Undoubtedly, my Lord.”

 

If she was sleeping with his father they were very discreet about it. He couldn’t be sure. He was sure he had not the slightest chance though. Teasing was still fun. But that was not why he was here now.

“Have you found something?”

 

“Not about his Force-block. But this is interesting.” She shoved her datapad at him. “I guess his panic wasn’t so much caused by me than by the syringe I was holding.”

 

He skimmed the content and looked at her questioningly afterward.

 

She got up and stepped close to him. Indicating the relevant data with a finger she explained her test results.

“See these here. These are markers for antibodies.”

 

“What is so special about them?”

 

Marun pressed a button to scroll down the page. “What’s so special about them,” she was still scrolling, “is their number. Your ‘friend’,” she raised an eyebrow not sure about the connection between the two of them, “has antibodies for most of the diseases you can think of, my Lord, and some you probably can’t.”

 

“So he’s had some diseases.”

 

“No, my Lord, not some, nearly all that we are able to cultivate. You brought me a laboratory rat.”

 

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for SW Korriban

 

Korriban, Sith Academy, Guard barracks

 

Darkness.

Comforting darkness.

He curled up, drew his knees further towards his body, made himself as small as possible.

The darkness would hide him.

The only sounds to be heard were his breathing and the beating of his heart.

When he concentrated he could feel the throb of his blood in his ears.

When he concentrated he became aware of another throb.

He ignored it. It was not there.

The darkness would hide it.

He would simply stay here, stay here for an eternity, or two.

But the throbbing intensified.

It glowed.

A swirl of black, and red, and white, throbbing, pulsing with his heartbeat.

He willed it to stop, but it did not, no more than his heartbeat.

It was part of him.

It filled his heart.

It filled his body.

It filled his mind.

It filled him.

It filled the darkness.

He was part of it.

It could not be contained.

He opened his eyes to a surreal painting in blood.

He knew he could not escape his destiny.

Rufuro opened his eyes.

 

He was lying on his back, his wrists and ankles were strapped to the couch he was lying on. He didn’t even try to fight his bonds as his Force block was still in place. He would not be able to break free. The soft creak of an office chair told him he was not alone.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a woman sitting at a desk, immersed in a datapad. He turned his head slowly, carefully to get a better look at her. Short brown hair was all he could see. A presumably human female in the attire of the local guards when not actually armored. He was sure it was the medic Ciner had brought him to. Ciner was not present. Traitorous son of a—a hint of panic fluttered through his body. No, not now. He had had a vision. He’d survive. Whatever the traitor had planned for him, he knew he would survive. Still this left ample room for a lot of unpleasant experiences. Experiences he was sure he could do without. With all the things Morgon had done to him he trusted there were Sith that were even more inventive.

 

“Kark! Who does something like this?” the woman mumbled.

 

It was a rhetoric question of course and he could not be sure of the subject of her perusal, but he answered anyway.

“A Sith!”

 

She barely managed to catch the chair before it crashed to the floor, but she didn’t squeal. She steadied the chair and turned to him, regarding him with big brown eyes.

 

“You’re finally awake. Good!” She stepped closer and took hold of his wrist with her fingers. “How are you feeling, Ru? May I call you Ru?”

 

Her voice was warm and sympathetic, her touch was cool but gentle. He could not escape her touch. He tried to stay calm. No use to panic, panic would not help. He saw her lips move slightly, counting as she checked his pulse. With an effort he kept his head in place when she checked his forehead with her palm.

 

“Shshsh. It’s ok. I won’t hurt you.”

 

Yeah, right. And he would not be fooled.

 

“No fever, and your circulation seems to be stable.” She smiled at him. She had a dimple in her right cheek. The smile emphasized her laughter lines, made her eyes shine. She was a good actor.

“My name is Marun,” she continued. “I apologize for the miscalculation of the sedative’s dosage. You have been unconscious through the night.”

 

The whole night? Why did she tell him? Was it the truth? Why would she lie? Why not? Where was Ciner? What did he want with him? What about Harkun? Did he believe him dead? He had told him not to come back without the approval of the instructors. That should give him some time. Several hours already lost.

 

“I’ll release you now. I applied kolto to your rib and bandaged it. But you should move carefully nonetheless.”

 

Rufuro nodded. He had problems to process what was going on. She was really releasing him. But he wasn’t taking any chances. As soon as his last limb was freed he lunged at her.

 

What would have been no problem had he had access to the Force proved to be an impossible task though without. Before Rufuro knew what was happening she had pinned him to the nearest wall, with his arm twisted behind his back.

 

“Kark! I am on your side, boy!” she hissed.

 

He grunted, he wasn’t able to break free. His rib protested vehemently.

 

“Stop struggling, you idiot! I’d hate to break your arm or some more of your ribs.”

 

A chuckle could be heard coming from the doorway. “I’d do as she says if I were you. She’s capable of backing up her threats.”

 

Ciner was leaning nonchalantly in the door frame. “I think I got this under control, Marun. Release him before he embarrasses himself some more.”

 

Marun let go of his arm and stepped away from him, still wary.

 

Rufuro glowered at Ciner.

 

“Ah, all those emotions. Too bad you are in no condition to fight. You might have provided a real challenge for once.”

 

“You…”

 

“…arrogant a**hole?” Marun suggested.

 

“Ouch, that hurt!” Ciner grinned. “I am only jealous,” he explained in Rufuro’s direction. “She never engages in close combat with me.”

 

“Yeah. Because your lord father would have my head after I broke your neck ‘accidentally’. You’re not worth the trouble, my Lord. Honestly, Ru, I don’t know how you are able to put up with him by choice.”

 

Rufuro looked from Ciner to Marun and back, unable to say anything. This was all some bad joke.

Marun retreated to her desk. Ciner still blocked the doorway.

 

“Oh, come on, Ru. Don’t look at me like this. If I wanted to kill you or something, I would have done so by now. Why would I play games with you?”

 

Ru raised an eyebrow, Marun coughed.

 

“Okay, you got me there. I’d very likely find a reason. But only yesterday you begged me to kill you. On the other hand, that was the perfect reason not to, wasn’t it?” Ciner stepped into the room, closed the door, and raised the bag he was carrying. “Maybe we sort this out over something to eat?”

 

Rufuro’s belly grumbled. Another traitor. Somehow he got the impression that he was not in immediate danger.

 

“Sounds like that’s settled,” Ciner observed and placed the contents of the bag on the desk.

 

“Chocolate croissants!” Marun squealed delightedly. “I love you, my Lord.” She snatched one, blew Ciner a kiss, and headed for the door. “I’ll see if I can find us a pot of caf. Don’t kill each other while I’m gone, boys!”

 

Rufuro stared after the leaving woman, unsure of how to proceed. When he looked at Ciner he saw that he, too, was staring after her.

“Who is she?” he asked.

 

“We should not be here. I hate to expose her like this.” Ciner stated.

 

“It’s not like I had much say in the matter.”

 

“If you tell anybody that she is more than a casual acquaintance, I will kill you. That’s a promise!”

 

Rufuro nodded. To him she was no more than that. Ciner knew her much better. That much was obvious even if he had evaded Rufuro’s question.

 

“You seem to be determined to live on for a while longer. What happened?” Ciner inquired.

 

“I had a vision.”

 

“What did you see?”

 

“Blood. A lot of it. And none of it was mine.”

 

“So, you’re planning to create a bloodbath to get rid of your Force block?”

 

“You sound like you’d like the idea.”

 

“Only if I am allowed to participate, and not as a donor.” Ciner grinned.

 

“You Sith are sick. All of you.”

 

“All of us,” Ciner corrected him, “provided you are able to get rid of the block.”

 

“I know I will, but I have no idea how. My vision was more of a symbol for my future path.”

 

“So how do we get you started on your path? I have to admit I have only the vaguest notion of Force rituals.”

 

Of course. A Force ritual. Rufuro swallowed hard.

 

“What?”

 

Rufuro closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again and answered Ciner’s question his voice shook only slightly. “We need a holo terminal. I know someone who has more than a vague notion.”

 

The scent of fresh caf drifted through the room. Marun was back. She set a pot and three empty mugs on the desk.

 

“Fine. Looks like everybody is still alive.”

 

“Rufuro was just telling me about a plan to solve his problem.”

 

Rufuro’s discomfiture was almost palpable. “I have to talk to Lord Morgon. He was my…”

 

“Morgon?” Marun exclaimed.

 

“You belonged to Morgon?” Upon seeing the look on Rufuro’s face, Ciner scolded himself for not choosing his words more carefully. Reminding Rufuro even more of his former status right now was not a particular good idea. Rufuro was not dumb. He could not be absolutely sure of Ciner’s support. He would be aware of the fact that talking about this would alter the way they saw him. The more everyone looking at him saw a slave the harder it would be to be acknowledged as a Sith. On the other hand if he was to become Sith he had to deal with his past. Morgon. Morgon meant trouble.

 

Rufuro struggled for words.

 

Marun glared at Ciner before she looked at Rufuro. “You don’t need to talk about him. We know him better than we prefer.”

 

“You know him?” Rufuro asked.

 

“Our family had dealings with him,” Ciner answered carefully.

 

“You two are family?” Rufuro looked scrutinizingly from Ciner to Marun. There was no semblance between them.

 

“Yes.” Ciner said.

 

“No!” said Marun.

 

They looked at each other.

 

“It’s more like I am part of the inventory.” Marun stated with an apologetic smile.

 

“Obstreperous piece of furniture…” Ciner murmured. “Now, Lord Morgon. We are not exactly on friendly terms with him.”

 

Marun shook her head. “I don’t know, Ru. As a Force blind I can’t begin to imagine what this must be like, your Force block. But I took some scans while you were unconscious. I know some of the things he did to you. Do you really think he will help you?”

 

“You took scans? What for?” The alarm in Rufuro’s voice was unmistakable.

 

“You were wounded, Ru. I am a medic. That’s what we do. We take scans to be able to treat the wounded properly.”

 

“I have seen Ciner consult the same healers as the rest of the acolytes. So what is your real purpose here? You are no ordinary medic!” No, Rufuro was not dumb.

 

Ciner shook his head almost unnoticeably. Marun noticed. Of course she did. And of course she understood. He only trusted Rufuro thus far.

 

“I am here for the unlikely case of an emergency,” Marun said. “I am loyal to the heir of the house, and Lord Ignis is a careful man. But I’ll be only useful in an emergency if I am still undercover.”

 

Ciner could only admire Marun’s skill. All she said was true. Even without his Force block Rufuro would have been hard pressed to detect a lie. Force, even Ciner wasn’t able to detect the deception and he knew it was there.

 

“So you did nothing else?”

 

“I injected you with a sedative. And I treated your rib and your bruises afterward. That’s all I did.”

 

“What about your cover?”

 

“Don’t worry too much about that. I have already been asked why I am putting up with you boys when I can have real men instead.” She made a face at Ciner. “Don’t you get any fancy ideas, my Lord. The reputation you build will suffice.”

 

He had not been that bad, had he? Anyway they had other matters to discuss. “If Ru wants to contact Morgon we need a holo terminal.”

 

Marun filled the mugs with coffee. Distributing the mugs she said “You can’t use ours. The room is always under guard.”

 

Thinking they sipped their coffee.

 

“We use Tremel’s.” Ciner declared finally.

 

“We sneak about for all this time, so Tremel doesn’t learn of us working together, because he would not approve, and now you want to use his terminal? Aside from Harkun Tremel is the last one who is going to help me. Those two will never forget I was a slave.”

 

“Tremel won’t be a problem. Baras ordered me to bring him Tremel’s hand yesterday.”

 

Marun choked on her coffee. “You killed Tremel? You can’t be serious.”

 

“Baras got his hand, and it looks like I survived.” The rumors would do the rest. Nobody would bother to go searching for the rest of Tremel.

 

“It looks like you survived? What do you karking think I am here for? What if you hadn’t survived? You didn’t even bother to inform me that Baras sent you on a suicide mission. Because that is what he did.”

 

“Watch your tone!” There was a deliberate change in Ciner’s tone that did not fail its effect. Despite all their teasing he was still his father’s son. Now of all times was not the right time for her to forget this. He would decide if he needed her help in anything more than her actual task. He would not have her jeopardize his trials.

 

Marun bowed her head. “My Lord.”

 

“I know what Baras did, I am no fool.”

 

“Of course, my Lord.”

 

“Now back to the problem at hand. We use Tremel’s terminal. His death will be widely known by now. But his chambers won’t have a new occupant yet. We stroll in like it’s what we are supposed to do, and I doubt very much that anybody will bother to ask our business. We talk to Morgon and leave the way we came. When I project some dark side energy nobody who is not paying special attention will notice Ru’s block. You will stay here, Marun.”

 

She looked like she was going to protest but thought better of it.

 

“We will come back tonight. If Ru’s block has not been broken he will stay here with you. I have the day at my disposal to train as I see fit, but I will have to meet Baras tomorrow.”

 

“Harkun will be wondering by now what happened to me.” Rufuro intervened. “I need to break the block today. And I need the approval of an instructor. I can claim, that I didn’t find one yesterday, because it is the truth. I will have to wait for the official training of masters and apprentices to finish anyway. So we have till after dinner. That’s it. If I don’t make it, you’ll kill me.”

 

“No…” Ciner started.

 

“Yes! You will, or I’ll make you.” Rufuro’s gaze drifted to Marun and back.

 

Ciner nodded. “Okay.” He had told Rufuro he’d kill him if he endangered Marun. They would not let it come to that. “But what about your vision?”

 

“If I interpreted it right, then there is nothing to worry about. If not…”

 

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for SW Korriban

 

Korriban, Sith Academy, Overseer Tremel's chambers, a short while later

 

“What a pleasant surprise. Young Ignis. To what do I owe the honor of your call, acolyte?”

 

“Lord Morgon. The pleasure is mine.” Ciner bowed his head to the exact degree befitting both their stations. He could feel Morgon trying to pry into his mind. Myriads of tiny tentacles slithering over his defenses, seeking a weakness, seeking entry. He would not be able to resist for long. But he did not need to, as Morgon was distracted by Rufuro stepping into the visible field of the holo transmitter.

 

“I see. Once again meddling in my affairs.”

 

“He is an acolyte of the Sith Academy and thus no longer your affair.”

 

Morgon chuckled. “You will easily discern your mistake. An acolyte has to be able to use the Force. And as the slave…”

 

“I am not a slave.” Rufuro, hands balled into fists, interrupted him.

 

They had agreed on Ciner to do the talking. Ciner tried to hold Rufuro back with a raised hand, but the damage was done.

 

“It seems like the slave will have to relearn some of his lessons.” Morgon’s holo projection stared at Rufuro who in return started to tremble. With a flick of his wrist Morgon brought Rufuro to his knees.

“Tell me your name, slave!”

 

Ciner tried to stay calm and keep his defenses up, as he watched drops of sweat appear on Rufuro’s forehead. Of course Morgon would know Rufuro’s mind better than the layout of his estate. Even with the aid of the Force it would have been nearly impossible for Rufuro to withstand Morgon. There was nothing Ciner could do for him. Morgon was a master in controlling other’s minds.

 

“My name is…” Rufuro clenched his teeth.

 

“Tell me your name, slave! Your real name!” Morgon’s command rang through Tremel’s chamber.

 

“Rufuro.”

 

“Yes! Rufuro. That is your name. The one I gave you. You have no other. I made you, and you belong to me.”

 

Rufuro growled in frustration and anger. Good. He had not yet given up.

 

“He does not bear your mark.” Ciner stated in a matter-of-fact way. He and Marun had checked. Not one single slave tattoo or branding.

 

“Again you are mistaken. You see, I rather liked his primitive tribal tattoos and did not want to disfigure them. He did not really need any outward signs of my ownership, as he never would have left my estate. On the other hand he is a unique specimen in my collection and of inestimable value to my research. Of course I had to make my claim ironclad. You will find the marks along with his name etched into his bones. If you’ll adjust a scanner accordingly you’ll be able to verify the legitimacy of my claim.”

 

Kark! This kept getting better and better. What had he gotten them into? Morgon obviously enjoyed the call. Sick b*st*rd.

From what Ciner’s senses told him Rufuro was still persevering. He did not dare to look at him directly, but the fear that had filled the Mirialan earlier had made room for seething fury now.

 

“But I am actually worried about you, acolyte. I am wondering who authorized your call. I’d be surprised if overseer Tremel gave his consent to such a request.” Morgon managed to turn this polite inquiry into a threat without changing his tone. This was a subtle hint that he could get Ciner into real trouble if he chose to do so.

“I will expect you inform an overseer of the slave’s status. They will see to it that he is returned to me immediately.”

 

Something Morgon had said had gotten Ciner’s attention. He knew the call had been from Tremel’s terminal. He had answered the call instantly, neither his secretary, nor an apprentice, nor anyone else. He had answered himself because he had expected the call.

“You knew this would happen, didn’t you?” It wasn’t really a question.

 

“Of course I knew this would happen. I told you that he is my creation. I didn’t leave much to chance. I admit I expected the call sooner.”

 

“Somehow the block is your doing.”

 

“You do not really think I was not aware of his potential, do you? A neat little ritual made sure he would not become to strong to handle.”

 

“I want you to undo it!”

 

Morgon laughed out loud. “Now I am curious. Why would I do that?”

 

Yes. Why would he do that? Why did he want Rufuro back? Ciner could only guess.

“He may have been valuable for your research, but that was without his block. You wanted a Force sensitive or you would not have chosen him.”

 

Morgon clapped his hands mockingly. “Well done! Yes, I will remove the block once I have my property back. There are other ways to control him.”

 

So Morgon had made sure he would get Rufuro back. His skill had to be admired. And the block could indeed be removed. That was the most valuable information they had received so far.

 

“He will have failed his trials. No one will bother about what happens to him afterward,” Morgon continued.

 

“I will bother!” Ciner stated and braced himself for the attack he knew would come. Morgon’s renewed attempt to intrude his mind was no surprise. Ciner contemplated to let him succeed. If Morgon found out, why he was so intent on saving Rufuro, he maybe could be persuaded to tell Ciner. His intuition told him not to abandon Rufuro, and he had learned to trust his intuition. He would have liked to know what had prompted his intuition though.

“I will bother!” he repeated.

 

“Why? Have you discovered some new appetites? Last time I met you, it had to be a Cathar girl.”

 

Of course Morgon had not forgotten. He had been furious when he had discovered that the slave girl had been sold by mistake. When Ciner had declined every offer to sell her to Morgon, the Sith Lord had been far from pleased.

“I will trade the girl for the Mirialan.”

 

The wave of Rufuro’s rage at the humiliation swept across Ciner. Once more he regretted they did not have the opportunity to fight.

 

“Do you take me for a fool?” Morgon dismissed his proposition. “She will be worthless now that you had her. She will not take a mate.”

 

“What if I told you I own a couple?”

 

That caught Morgon’s interest. He smiled. “I might be willing to trade after all.”

 

Ciner could tell Rufuro’s feelings were caught between hope and horror. The Mirialan knew what Morgon would do to his new specimens. Ciner only hoped Rufuro was really worth it. Apart from them being worth a small fortune, he rather liked his Cathar fighter. That had been the reason to buy his mate in the first place. Now he condemned them to the same fate he was trying to safe Rufuro from. He did not like the idea. The actual formalities took only a few minutes.

 

“Congratulations, acolyte. You are the owner of a Mirialan slave. It was a pleasure doing business with you. Now if you’ll excuse me. I have other urgent matters to attend to.”

 

“What about the Force block, my Lord?” Ciner asked before Morgon could end the call.

 

Morgon shrugged. “Your slave, your problem, I guess.”

 

Damned. Morgon had tricked him. How could he have been so stupid?

 

Rufuro got slowly back up. The murderous look on his face could not be missed. Ciner was not sure who was the actual target of his rage.

 

“Have fun with your new toy!” Morgon turned to cut the connection.

 

“Wait!” Ciner called. “What will it cost me if you remove the block?” He had no intention to give up now.

 

An amused glint appeared in Morgon’s eyes. “Actually, more than you might be willing to pay, despite all your father’s wealth.”

 

Obviously he would have to swallow some more insults. But he already knew what Morgon thought of him.

 

“What will it cost?”

 

“This will be interesting. Let me see. You will have to do the ritual yourself. I think you will find the necessary ingredients in Tremel’s office. I will guide you through the steps. The rest is up to you. You will most certainly fail. And if you fail you will pay with your life.”

 

“I will do it!” Ciner reminded himself to trust his intuition. Rufuro had had a vision. He would succeed. Failure simply was not an option.

 

The terminal confirmed incoming data.

“The list of things you’ll need. You should take some time to meditate and prepare yourself. I will be back in an hour.”

 

“What if I succeed?”

 

“If you succeed, you will provide me with a new Mirialan. A Force sensitive child will do.” Morgon closed the connection.

 

Ciner became aware of Rufuro’s stare.

“What?”

 

“You just traded the lives of several sentient beings. You condemned them to something worse than death. Doesn’t it even slightly bother you?”

 

“We need to find the ingredients for the ritual.”

 

“You are no better than the rest.”

 

“Congratulations on discovering my darkest secret. Nobody would have guessed I am a Sith.”

 

“I won’t participate.”

 

“Care to repeat that?”

 

“I—will—not—participate!”

 

Ciner grabbed the front of Rufuro’s robe and pulled him close. The Mirialan wasn’t weak but Ciner was stronger and had the Force to support him.

“Listen closely, for I will tell you only once. I just did some things I am not particularly proud of, and I did them to safe your sorry a**. If you make me regret them, I will be very angry. You don’t want to see me angry while you are not able to wield the Force. You—will—participate!”

 

“You don’t understand. I can’t trade my life for that of another Mirialan. We share the same destiny in the Force. Our lives are connected. It would doom not only me but all of us.”

 

“If that is so, why are you here? YOU don’t understand. You belong to us now. Did you think you’d simply go back to Mirial or wherever you came from after your trials? Did you think they’d take you back? You will be Sith!”

 

“I would have been a Jedi—once…”

 

“The first Jedi you meet will probably try to kill you. They obviously did not want you back in the first place, or they would have rescued you. Whatever connection there may have been once, it has been severed long since.” That had hit home, Ciner could tell.

From the data Marun had gathered they had guessed that Rufuro must have been in Morgon’s possession for several years. If he had been a padawan that probably meant he had been captured during the war. Ten years or more were enough time to lose faith in any existing bonds.

“I made the deal. We will conduct this ritual. We will succeed. We will deal with the rest afterward. But don’t forget it was your bloody vision that brought us here.”

 

***

 

Ciner was sweating profusely. In part because performing the Force ritual was at least as exhausting as a day of physical training pressed into half an hour. Shaping the strong, unruly dark side energies exactly into the form they needed to be was extremely hard work. That was not all of it though. He felt uneasy. He was not able to perform the ritual and keep his defenses up at the same time. The intricate manipulations of the Force Morgon guided him through required all of his concentration. If Morgon decided to strike he would not be able to defend himself. He had not put enough thought into this before making his deal with the Sith Lord. He had not had enough time. And yet now was no time for second thoughts. Morgon gave him his next instructions. The detour of speaking them out loud had been dismissed early. Morgon was conveying his orders directly to Ciner’s mind now. The circumstance of the ritual taking place on the other side of a holo connection did not seem to be a hindrance for Morgon.

Part of Ciner was surprised Morgon had not even tried to attack him yet. But it made a certain sense. Morgon had been astonishingly eager to actually go through with the ritual. Of course the danger for him was neglectable, given Ciner’s father honored the deal his son had made and would not resort to violent measures should his fool of a son lose his life. And Lord Ignis was widely known for being an honorable man. Ciner assumed Morgon had not performed a ritual this way before. Even if he did not like him and his methods he had to acknowledge that Morgon was a whole blood researcher and scientist. Morgon wanted the ritual to succeed. He wanted to proof that it could be done.

 

Rufuro sat opposite of Ciner in his designated spot in the ritual circle. It had taken them nearly an hour to draw the circle correctly. Morgon had explained every detail. Ciner had stored bits and pieces in his implants’ memory cores. From the way Rufuro had followed the description with rapt attention, Ciner surmised the inquisitor would later be able to recite anything he himself had missed. Ciner had not been able to make sense of half of the explanations. How some drawings on the floor would do anything to protect the ritual’s participants was beyond him. As far as he was concerned a lightsaber was supposed to be the best protection you could get. Reality of course was much more complex.

 

Without really understanding what he was doing Ciner followed Morgon’s instructions. He had woven a complex net around Rufuro. Now he created a net around himself. Next would come a connection between the two. He would have to channel the Force through this connection to break the block. Morgon showed him an image of how it had to look in the end. Upon completing the weave Morgon cautioned him to maximum accuracy. This was the critical phase of the ritual. If anything went wrong the outcome was not predictable but would most likely be fatal to both Ciner and Rufuro. Once he started to channel the Force he was not to stop under any circumstances.

 

Ciner looked to Rufuro who in return gave a curt nod. He began to channel the Force. The weaves started to glow. Ciner could feel his whole body tingling. A moment later he saw Rufuro’s body tremble. The inquisitor closed his eyes. Ciner tried to keep the channeled stream of Force energy as steady as possible. He felt the energy being sucked into Rufuro’s part of the weave. A reservoir of energy had to be built and released at the exact moment. The pull of the Force grew stronger. The strain to keep the stream steady was growing exponentially.

 

“What is going on here?” an outraged female voice called.

 

The question was echoing through Tremel’s chamber. Ciner tried frantically to keep the Force in control as he looked up to see who had entered.

 

<Concentrate on the ritual, you fool!> Morgon’s holo projection drew itself up to its full height.

“State your name and business, acolyte!”

 

“I am Eskella. Overseer Tremel was my father. My business is none of yours. But you will tell me who you are and what you are doing here with my father’s murderer.”

 

Ciner cringed. Why had she to arrive now? He would have told her that her father was still alive could he have afforded to. Alas as the distraction had distorted the Force stream slightly Ciner had to clench his teeth to keep his control from slipping altogether.

 

“I, acolyte, am a Lord of the Sith. And you are interfering with my affair.”

 

“My father was a staunch traditionalist and he was especially hard on me. But he’s my blood. You don’t think I’d let this sc*mb*g kill him and get away with it?”

 

From what Ciner heard, Eskella was not overly impressed with Morgon.

 

“Who told you he killed your father?” Morgon inquired.

 

“Everybody says so. The whole place knows he killed him. And now he has to die.”

 

“Well, I suppose the whole place can’t be wrong.”

 

“He will rue the day he took my father’s life.” Eskella promised. “Attack!”

 

Out of the corner of his eye Ciner saw three people step closer and draw their blades. Rufuro had opened his eyes and jumped up.

 

“Fools! Don’t interrupt the ritual!” Morgon shouted.

 

Ciner was fully taken up by adjusting the pattern to Rufuro’s movement. He no longer was able to control the amount of Force energy that surged through the connection. He saw Eskella’s strike towards his head coming. Reacting however was not an option. Rufuro lunged for Eskella’s arm. Instead of decapitating Ciner she only nicked his cheek. The amount of Force he was channeling now made him feel dizzy. His vision blurred. His mind was being ripped apart. People were stumbling over each other in the circle. Instinct made him raise his arms. Something connected with his right ulna. With a sickening crunch the bone broke. With his scream he released a wave of Force energy that disrupted the weave. As the flow of energy through his body stopped so did time. For a split second the world was at peace. The dissolving threads of the weave glittered in all colors of the rainbow. It was a beautiful sight. Beautiful and deadly as one of the acolytes with Eskella discovered as the threads lashed out.

A spray of miniscule droplets of blood bathed the scene in a red fog. ‘Blood. A lot of it. And none of it was mine.’ Rufuro had said. Was this what he had seen? Visions were rare and hard to interpret. If Rufuro had made a mistake then they might as well be doomed. The inquisitor stood in the middle of the unraveling web of Force strands obviously oblivious to the impending danger. His Force block was still in place. He was not able to see the swirling energies.

 

“Shatter it now!” Morgon yelled.

 

Ciner dodged Eskella’s next blow. He was unarmed, his right arm useless. Eskella had to take a few steps back to avoid another lashing thread. Ciner ignored everything around him except the weave. He let the dark side energies of the Force fill him. He knew it was too much too fast. But if he did not do it they would die anyway. With another scream he projected the energy towards Rufuro just like Morgon had shown him.

The last strands of the weave collapsed. The following explosion of Force energy ripped at everybody's essence. No vibration could be felt nor any noise heard. Everyone in the chamber was shaken to their bones nonetheless. The holo connection was cut. Ciner dropped to his knees. A drop of blood hit the floor in front of him, disrupting the red spray pattern. His nose was bleeding. He knew what would happen next. He watched the next drop fall before he lost consciousness.

 

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for SW Korriban

 

Korriban, Sith Academy, Overseer Tremel's chambers

 

 

The pressure inside his mind became unbearable. Rufuro screamed. The scream did nothing to ease the pain. He saw Ciner drop to his knees. Eskella was stumbling further back. She tried to get out of the circle. Her remaining companion dropped his weapon.

Rufuro screamed again. His spine arched backwards. He was lifted off the floor. There was no point in fighting so he spread his arms wide to embrace the pain. His mind was ripped to white shreds and torn from his body. The shreds intertwined with tendrils of black fog that had materialized miraculously. They swirled faster and faster raising up the spray of blood that covered the ritual circle. A hypnotizing spectacle of black and white and red. The roundelay picked up speed. As the dance closed in on him tendrils wrapped around his limbs. They dragged him along. The fog now pulsed with the rhythm of his heartbeat. Rufuro was not sure what he was more afraid of, that it would dance on forever or that it would stop. Fear quickened his heartbeat. His heartbeat hastened the dance. The cycle was broken when his heart skipped a beat. The fog imploded.

 

Rufuro was dropped. He fell to his knees. Something took his innards apart and put them back together again. He bit his lip to stifle another scream. The Force block dissolved like a bursting dam. The Force flooded him. He drowned in its energies. Never in his life had anything felt so good. He got back to his feet. Lightning arched between his fingertips.

Eskella stared at him. When she lunged, her weapon drawn, he released a bolt of lightning that hit her square in the chest. He felt her pain, and it felt good. He’d make her suffer for the pain she had caused him. She had dared to interrupt the ritual. The inquisitor raised his arms and more lightning rained down on Eskella and her companion. Never in his life had he felt so alive as in the moment the two acolytes died. He hungered for more.

With a deep breath he willed the lightning to stop. When the Force ceased to flood his mind he realized he was exhausted. He became aware of Ciner who lay face-down on the floor. He shuffled over to him dragging his feet slightly as he crossed the remains of the ritual circle. Next to the warrior he fell to his knees once more. Rufuro took hold of Ciner’s shoulder and rolled him onto his back. There were some limbs in the way to resist his effort but he succeeded at last.

Ciner’s face was covered in blood but he was still breathing.

 

Rufuro patted Ciner’s cheek. “Hey, wake up!”

 

Ciner’s eyelids fluttered. The warrior groaned.

 

“You okay?”

 

Ciner rolled onto his side, eyes still closed, and vomited. When Rufuro touched his shoulder to help him to a sitting position Ciner flinched. Rufuro sensed the fear although Ciner suppressed it quickly. Fear was a feeling Rufuro knew all too well. He didn’t understand why Ciner was afraid though. The danger had passed. They had survived the ritual and Eskella was dead.

 

Ciner opened his eyes and looked at him, a smile spread on his face, and his green eyes sparkled.

“So it worked. Congratulations!”

 

Rufuro pointed to where the bodies lay. “Eskella and her cronies are dead.”

 

Ciner’s smile vanished. “Okay, this is bad!”

 

“She should not have interfered,” Rufuro exclaimed. He wanted to add, “I had no choice but to kill her,” but he realized the words were a lie. He had killed her because he had wanted to kill her. He had killed her because it had felt good. He had killed her and he did not regret it. “She should not have interfered,” he repeated.

 

Ciner only looked at him. Why didn’t he say something?

 

“She was your enemy, wasn’t she?”

 

Ciner sighed. “Listen Ru! I need your help!”

 

“What’s wrong?” Of course Rufuro would help Ciner. The warrior had risked his life for him. He was the only friend he had. Friend? That was a strange thought. But no matter the motives Ciner had had in helping him, Rufuro would never forget.

 

“Please just listen to me. I can sense when you talk, but I can’t understand you. I overcharged the circuits of my implants during the ritual. At the moment there is not much left beside my Force sense. I can see your aura, so I know the ritual worked. You have to bring me to Marun. She’ll know what to do.”

 

Rufuro put his hand back on Ciner’s shoulder and squeezed slightly. He would bring him to Marun. He found some hooded cloaks in a cabinet. He retrieved two to cover their somewhat tattered, and blood-smeared clothes. After wiping most of the blood off of Ciner’s face they set out to get to Marun. They simply walked through the main entrance, and hoped that nobody would bother to intercept two acolytes on their way to another trial. Ciner did surprisingly well, and they reached Marun’s office with him only stumbling a few times.

 

 

***

 

Marun was doing some paperwork when the door to her office opened without a knock. When she looked up to see who was disturbing her now she saw Rufuro enter. Ciner followed him. Her charge not taking the lead told her something was wrong. She got up when she saw Ciner’s expression. He looked in her direction. Someone else might have been fooled but not Marun. She recognized immediately that his gaze was slightly out of focus. So it had happened again.

 

“Hearing and sight,” he said a bit too loud.

 

She approached him, took his hands into hers and squeezed them gently. She would fix this. After all that was what she was here for. He nodded. Marun led him to a chair. She turned to Rufuro. “Did the ritual work?”

 

“Yes, the block was broken.” He raised his left hand and let lightning play between the tips of his fingers to prove his words.

 

“Good! I want you to guard the door. Let nobody enter!”

 

Marun retrieved a set of tools from a locker, and placed it on the desk beside Ciner. From the desk’s drawer she took a bottle of disinfectant solution. She soaked a pad and cleaned the area around the outer plate of Ciner’s implant on his forehead. There also was a slash on his cheek she wanted to clean with a fresh pad. When she pressed the pad on the wound she heard an intake of breath from behind her. When she turned around Rufuro was looking at her wide-eyed.

 

“Ouch!” he said. He touched the slash on his own cheek that was similar to that on Ciner’s.

 

“You—you can feel his pain?”

 

“I—I don’t know. It’s a—a strange feeling?” He seemed to listen to something. “When I concentrate I am aware of him. That must have happened during the ritual.” He sounded slightly alarmed. “We were disturbed. There was blood. I guess some of it must have been Ciner’s. I have no idea how that affected the outcome of the ritual.” He paused and seemed to be harking again. “I am tired. I did not really pay attention to it on our way here. I was worried about the guards. But now that I am aware of it it’s hard to ignore. It has to be some kind of bond.”

 

“A bond?”

 

“Yes. It has been a long time, but I had one to my master.”

 

“Your master?”

 

His expression was hard to read. “I was the padawan of a Jedi. She abandoned me — I don’t want to talk about it!”

 

“I am sorry.”

 

Rufuro nodded curtly and turned to the door.

 

Marun was careful to guard her emotions. Most Sith were good at picking up on other’s emotions; pity was something they were not especially eager to encounter. Better to concentrate on things she’d be able to fix. When she turned back Ciner was eying her quizzically, as far as the term could be applied with him having lost his sight. He knew her too well. She finished to clean the wound on his cheek. Then she pushed his head gently back against the headrest of the chair.

 

“I guess that’s my prompt to keep still.” Ciner sank against the backrest and relaxed.

 

Marun exhaled deeply. She carefully removed the cover of the implant. She attached her special scanner and started the diagnostic program.

 

“Why is he amused?” Rufuro asked.

 

“Is he? Well, that should be a good sign. He has always claimed that this procedure tickles. Guess this indicates that the connections to his brain are still working.”

 

“You were not surprised. This has happened before.”

 

There was no point in denying it. Marun wondered how much she could tell him. “Yes.”

 

“It was the ritual. Did he know this would happen?”

 

“He was aware of the possibility, I guess. The ritual must have charged him beyond his former limits. His abilities improve by leaps from time to time. That’s why I am here in the first place. The circuits of his cybernetic implants need to be adjusted if that happens.”

 

“You can’t just make them strong enough to take a high increase?”

 

“Unfortunately that doesn’t work. The human brain is a complex construct without adding Force abilities. For the brain to adapt properly to the cybernetics the circuits have to be manufactured to dimensions. With a Force sensitive you have at least one dimension more you have to adjust to. You can’t adjust regularly because the adaption to each adjustment takes time. And there is always the risk of making mistakes and frying the brain.”

 

“So he is putting his life into your hands?”

 

Marun could have done without the reminder. “Are you worried for him?”

 

“He doesn’t seem to be. I had forgotten this amount of trust existed.”

 

“I love him like a little brother. Don’t let our squabbling fool you.”

 

The scanner beeped. Marun worked in silence. Rufuro did not disturb her. She had had the necessary parts already prepared. She replaced the used ones carefully. Afterward she ran the diagnostics again. She booted the cybernetics and replaced the cover.

 

Ciner tilted his head. He opened his eyes and closed them again. “Your circuits are doing somersaults inside my brain.”

 

“Can you hear me?” Marun asked.

 

“Loud. Whoa. This will take some getting used to. The controls are more sensitive than before.”

 

“What about your sight?”

 

“Give me a minute here. Trying to get the noise under control.”

 

“Let me do another check. Maybe I made a—”

 

“No, I don’t think you made a mistake. It’s already down to a low buzzing.” He opened his eyes carefully. “A little blurry. Not worse than last time.” He looked at her. “Still can’t see your horns and fangs.”

 

Marun opened a drawer and took out a small flask. She unstopped it and held it out to Ciner who took it and sniffed at it.

“Sandalwood, vanilla, musk, cedar. You should wear it more often.”

 

“Yes. It goes perfectly with the disinfectant solution. Seems like the olfactory sensors are okay. Ready to get up?”

 

Ciner didn’t bother with an answer and got out of the chair; he staggered and would have fallen if Marun had not caught and steadied him. “Ouch,” he exclaimed.

 

“Force! You know you got to be careful. Have you forgotten what happened last time?”

 

He inhaled through clenched teeth with a hissing sound. “No, but I forgot I already broke my arm this time.”

 

Marun sighed. “Anything else I should know? Sit down! I’ll get the scanner.”

 

“You enjoy this because you get to boss me around.”

 

She ignored him and went to fetch the scanner. Sometimes she regretted he was too old for a proper scolding. Even if she didn’t admit it she was always worried for him when she had to readjust his cybernetics. She was only human after all. Not even slightly Force-sensitive. She wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

 

“Sorry,” he said when she returned. He probably meant it; but he’d have forgotten until next time. He was still young, still invincible, still immortal. He was no fool, but it took time to truly comprehend one’s own mortality. He never truly understood why she was worried.

 

She scanned his arm. It was a clean fracture. “I could treat your arm. But I think it’s better if you consulted the healers. Their methods work faster. Then you’ll be ready for whatever Darth Baras has planned for you tomorrow.”

 

“Your over-confidence is unbelievable,” Rufuro addressed Ciner.

 

“What?” Ciner asked. Of course he had not been able to hear their earlier conversation.

 

“Oh Ru, I don’t think he’ll like this.”

 

“I won’t like what?”

 

“Well, I guess he shouldn’t have bled into the ritual circle then.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“The ritual created a bond between us. Can’t you feel it?”

 

“There’s a buzzing in my ears, I feel giddy, my sight is still a bit blurry, and in an hour I’ll have an incredible headache even if I resist the urge to strangle you with the Force right now. I think that covers about all of my feelings at the moment.”

 

“There is this dull throbbing in your arm.”

 

Ciner stared at Rufuro.

 

“No. I don’t think you went through all this trouble to kill me now.”

 

“Stop poking around in my head.”

 

“Maybe you should start to guard your thoughts and emotions better. They are hard to ignore.”

 

Ciner got up. He grabbed the armrest for support with his good arm.

 

“My lord, please stay calm. And remember you must not use the Force.” Marun advised.

 

“To be completely honest, I think you’d draw the short straw this time.” Rufuro let lightning arch between his hands to illuminate his grin.

 

For a heartbeat or two there was a red glint in Ciner’s eyes, but he listened to reason. The implications of using the Force now, with his brain still adapting to the new circuits, were unpredictable. Nor was he in any condition to fight otherwise.

“How do we fix this without killing each other?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know if we can.” Rufuro shrugged. He walked over to stand in front of Ciner. “I’ll have to go and see an instructor now. If Harkun doesn’t kill me afterward I’ll do some research. I don’t want to contact Morgon again.”

 

“You better find something.”

 

“I don’t really think I will.”

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

“I believe in destiny. Nothing happens without reason. I think destiny has its own plans for us.”

 

“Maybe I’ll kill you after all.”

 

“You can try. Here, take my arm. I’ll help you to get to a healer first. I don’t suppose you’d like to crawl there.”

 

Ciner actually smiled when he took the offered arm. “I think there’d be too many onlookers whom I’d begrudge the fun.”

 

Together they walked to the door. “Goodbye, Marun,” they called in unison as they left.

 

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for BH Hutta

 

Meanwhile on Hutta

 

Thorns cringed as he lit his lighter and touched the flame to the trail of combustive agent. Job was job, and this was Hutta. The air couldn’t get any worse. Starting a fire like this back on Coruscant would have been considered an abomination. Not that anybody would have cared about the burning corpses. But in the days after the Sacking, when nothing had been working properly on the lower levels, fire had been one of the worst enemies. A functioning sprinkler system had been something a friend of someone whom somebody’s neighbor knew had heard of long ago. A fire could easily consume a whole block. If the air conditioning wasn’t working smoke poisoning would add perkily to the body count. If the air conditioning was working—fire needed oxygen, the vents served as chimneys—it was easy to get the picture. The blocks were not that far apart, unimpaired bulkheads an alien concept down there, and the innumerable huts and hovels of numberless refugees burned like tinder.

 

The flames rose higher and Thorns retreated to the spot on the next hill he had prepared earlier. Between the bushes he was hard to discover whereas he had an excellent view of the hut’s surroundings. Although he doubted that anyone on his list would be foolish enough to show up. His employer wanted him to wait, so he waited.

His thoughts drifted back to Coruscant. He had not heard from Doc in a while now. The old territory belonged to Black Sun since a few years, Doc was still part of the inventory. Nik was doing well at the military academy last time Thorns had heard about him. He had not talked to him in—what—four years? He could still remember the look of guilt in Nik’s eyes, but the urge to hit him had long passed. He wondered if Iz was still alive, and what she was doing if she was. Probably ruining the life of another poor guy. Despite himself Thorns grinned at the thought. They had had a lot of fun back then. Blaming Iz for the outcome would be like blaming water for getting wet. You wanted to stay dry you stayed away from it.

 

One of the roof beams of the hut toppling down in a gust of sparks brought Thorns back to the here and now. Thinking of Iz didn’t particularly help with staying focused. The vicinity of the hut was still quiet. Apart from the flames nothing moved. Over the crackling of the fire Thorns nearly missed the rustling behind him. He threw himself to the side, rolled over, drew his weapon and fired in the general direction the assumed attacker would be approaching from. His motion had brought him up on one knee. He stayed in this crouching stance to shoot at his ambusher again, but there was nobody there. Everything quiet; Thorns lowered his weapon.

 

There it was again, the rustling sound. It came from his backpack. Thorns crept carefully closer. Some animal’s body was stuck in a small opening where the flap had been pushed aside, only its feet and the tip of its naked tail dangling out. As Thorns watched, the tail started to wobble, the feet pedaled, and the body tried to wriggle backward out of the backpack. The sharp talons at the ends of the toes dug into the fabric to support the rest of the body’s escape. Spindly legs and naked, scaled hindquarters emerged. After some more wriggling the motion stopped; then a sudden tug, followed by another one. The rest of the body seemed to be stuck. Thorns watched in growing amusement as the body moved back and forth without making much progress. More rustling and rumbling about inside his backpack. With a lurch the culprit drew its body out of the opening, the talons on its hands dug purposefully into Thorns’ packed lunch. Beak closed over a corner of the package the would-be thief tried to worry its plunder through the all to small hole in the backpack.

 

Thorns tried to contain his giggle—to no avail. The manikin shaking the package again sent Thorns into a fit of laughter. Startled but unwilling to abandon its prize the little guy dove back into the backpack. If anybody had snug up on Thorns now he would have had an easy job of overwhelming him. He had laughed himself to tears. When his laughter had abated to a chuckle, the head of the animal appeared warily inside the opening. It emerged slowly out of the backpack until the thick ruffle of soft ruddy hair around its neck showed. It tilted its head and scrutinized Thorns for a moment before it broke out in a maniacal laughter. Thorns snorted with laughter once again.

 

When Thorns reached out he was greeted by the snap of a beak despite the continued cackling. So laughing wasn’t necessarily a friendly sign. “Where did YOU come from?”

 

The little head tilted to the other side. “Omfom?”

 

Thorns chuckled. “I guess you’re hungry.”

 

“Ungry.”

 

When Thorns reached out for the fastening of his backpack, the head disappeared inside and the laughter started again. He opened the flap and tried carefully to pull the animal out of his backpack. As soon as his hand touched the little guy the beak snapped shut around his fingers. Thorns pulled his hand back, glad he was wearing gloves. The strange animal was dangling from his fingers, beak biting relentlessly. Curiously Thorns turned his hand to and fro to inspect what had caught him. It was maybe 25 centimeters tall; if appearances were not deceiving it was a ‘he’. With his left Thorns grabbed the thick ruffle and shook gingerly, looking his ferocious adversary in the eye.

 

“When I thought about feeding you, I hadn’t my fingers in mind.”

 

Two wild yellow eyes stared back at him.

 

“Let go of my fingers and I’ll give you one of the sandwiches.”

 

More staring.

 

“You are hungry?”

 

The beak opened slowly. “Ungry.”

 

Thorns set the little guy down. As soon as he let go of him he scampered off on all fours to seek shelter underneath the closest bush, where he started laughing once again.

 

Thorns couldn’t help joining in the laughter. He got his packed lunch out of his backpack and unwrapped it. He took one of the sandwiches, cut a slice off, and held it out towards the bush.

“Come on,” he cooed, “we already agreed that you’re hungry.”

 

“Ungry,” answered a voice from beneath the bush.

 

After the conversation went on for a while in this manner, the little guy had gathered enough courage to come out and snatch his piece of the sandwich. He came back for the next piece a lot faster. By the end of the sandwich he didn’t even bother to back off between the pieces.

 

Thorns unwrapped the next sandwich and took a bite.

 

“Ungry!” came an indignant objection from beside him.

 

Thorns held out the sandwich and Ungry took a bite. By the end of the second sandwich Ungry perched on Thorns’ shoulder, both of them taking bites in turn. They shared some gulps of water from Thorns’ canteen. Finally Ungry climbed down onto Thorns’ lap where he curled up and fell asleep after a satisfied burp, his belly distinctively rounder than before.

 

“Well then?” Thorns sighed. He didn’t know what kind of creature he had picked up here, but he was pretty sure Ungry was still quite young. He didn’t have the heart to leave him behind. So when he concluded his watch he opened his jacket and put the little guy carefully inside before he closed it again. It wouldn’t do if Ungry took a chill on the ride back to town.

 

***

 

“Hey, Mako!”

 

“Hey, hunter!”

 

Odd, Mako looked up only briefly without really looking Thorns in the eyes, then fidgeted nervously with her datapad. Something was wrong. Was this still about Kaliyo? No, he didn’t think so. He had not been here to make any other mistakes, his job had gone well, he had already collected the bounty.

 

“Anything wrong?”

 

“No, nothing.” She still didn’t look at him.

 

He retrieved his canteen, put his backpack down in a corner of the room, and took a seat in the chair next to her.

“Have you found out who’s got Nemro’s sponsorship token?”

 

“Yes.” She took a deep breath, turned and finally looked at him. “I’ll tell you everything, but I’ve got a price.”

 

Now, that took him by surprise. “What?” Dumbfounded he leaned forward, forgetting about the passenger he was still carrying in his jacket. “Suddenly you expect me to pay for your info?”

 

Mako had taken a step backward. Kark! He hadn’t meant to scare her.

 

From inside his jacket came a faint indignant squeal. “Ouch!” Thorns hissed. Ungry was trying to climb to the neckline, finding spots where his sharp talons cut through the fabric of the shirt into Thorns’ skin on his way.

 

“Is there something moving inside your jacket?” Mako asked warily.

 

Thorns sat back and opened his jacket. “Could we please stick to our original subject! So I got to pay for your information now? You know I can’t afford much.” That was an understatement. Braden had been the one financing the project. Thorns had scraped the last of his credits together to get to Hutta. The bounties so far had been hardly sufficient to cover his expenses here. He realized he could not take her help for granted. If she wanted payment he’d probably have to find another job. Ungry had found a comfortable position and had settled down again. Thorns hand sneaked into his jacket to stroke his ruffle. “How much do you want?”

 

Mako’s gaze followed his hand. “Not like you think. Braden taught me how to fight, and you know I’m great with information. Take me with you—on this hunt and whatever comes after.”

 

“I thought that was the plan all along!”

 

She still was distracted by the mystery inside his jacket. “I’m good with a blaster, and Braden was like a father to me. It’s not fair that—wait, did you just say yes?” She stared at him.

 

Thorns nodded. “We’re a small team, but we are a team. We did a good job so far, if you ask me.”

 

“Thank you, Braden was sweet, but he always treated me like a child. I’m not a child.”

 

He had noticed. Although she looked really young right now; and cute. Her face beamed, she could not keep her hands still, and she was literally bopping up and down.

 

“So thank you,” she continued, “I want to be there when we find Braden’s killer. I want that more than anything.”

 

Thorns got up and took her hands. “We’ll get him, promised!”

 

“Omised!” the little head sticking out of his jacket confirmed.

 

Mako recoiled. “Force! What’s that?”

 

“Odsdad?”

 

“Mako, this is Ungry. Ungry, this is Mako.”

 

“Ako.” Ungry tilted his little head.

 

“That’s a Kowakian Monkey Lizard. Where did you find him?”

 

“The little guy found me, or rather my lunch. Seemed to be half starved.”

 

“This is wonderful! If we sell him to the hutt, we won’t have any more financial problems for a while.”

 

“Sell him? To the hutt? You’re joking.” Thorns looked down at the little guy sticking out of his jacket. He could feel the tips of Ungry’s talons where he clung to his shirt.

 

“Shokin.”

 

“I won’t sell him and much less to the hutt!”

 

“At least think about it. He is cute, no doubt. But he is a Monkey Lizard. You can’t keep him.”

 

“What do you mean, I can’t keep him?”

 

“Eeepim?”

 

“You don’t know anything about Monkey Lizards, am I right? You didn’t even know he is one before I told you.”

 

“What’s there to know? He needs somebody to look after him, and that somebody isn’t going to be Nem’ro if I can help it.” Thorns realized he sounded like an obstinate child. “You see, I had to kill most of Nem’ro’s pets just a few hours ago. He won’t get Ungry! Look at the little guy. He looks at me like he were sentient.” As a boy he would have given an arm for a pet like this.

 

“Semi-sentient. And that’s a problem. It would be cruelty to keep him in a cage and you can’t take him with you all the time. They are said to be not trainable. How do you think this is going to work?”

 

“Urgh?”

 

“See, even Ungry sees the problem,” Mako laughed.

 

When Ungry joined her laughter the tension was broken.

 

“You’re probably right. My mother used to say I was good at finding trouble.” Thorns sighed. He took Ungry from his jacket, and the little guy immediately climbed to his shoulder.

 

“Seems he really likes you.” Mako reached out and stroked Ungry’s belly carefully. Ungry eyed her warily but didn’t object. Mako tapped her cybernetic implant. “I’ve been doing a bit of cursory research on the holonet. Keeping him in a cage while we’re out hunting Nem’ro’s hunter probably would get us expelled from the cantina. He’d be able to make enough noise to arouse half of Jiguuna. Maybe we could find a babysitter for him? I’ll talk to Juda. She’ll know some kids who are reliable. On my way I’ll buy a collar and a leash on the market. Oh, don’t look at me that way. I know you don’t like the idea and neither will Ungry, but he’ll have to get used to it if he wants to travel the galaxy with us. Guess we’ll need some kind of cage or transport box, too. And something to eat that’s more suitable than sandwiches. And…”

 

“Mako?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“You’re the best!”

 

She smiled at him. “While I’m underway you can check the data on the computer over there. I collected what information I could on Fa’athra’s palace. It would probably be a good idea if you knew the floor plans by heart. We have to go in there. Be sure to bring enough power packs, you’re trigger finger will get some exercise.”

 

Mako told him about Nem’ro’s hunter, an evil-minded Trandoshan named Rarsk. Rarsk was collecting on a bounty Fa’arthra was holding for him on a Republic scientist. The plan was to find the scientist and set a trap for Rarsk. As a bonus they’d collect a few bounties for some of the more interesting people on Fa’athra’s payroll. And then there was the mysterious bone-faced guy who had been following Mako earlier. Mako had intercepted a transmission between him and Rarsk. If those two were working together they were obviously already paying attention to him and Mako. He’d better check for anything useful among Jory’s and Braden’s equipment. He knew he was good, but he doubted this was going to be a cakewalk.

 

 

Edited by frauzet
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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for a sidequest Korriban

 

Korriban, Sith Academy

 

“Force! What has he done now?”

 

From the start Rufuro had blocked his end of the bond with Ciner by instinct. Trying to guard his thoughts against Lord Morgon for ten years had been good for something after all. Ciner was hardly able to feel their bond if Rufuro did not want him to.

The warrior was able to conceal his Force connection and abilities. He had always seemed so calm, now Rufuro realized that there were much more emotions beneath Ciner’s serene mask. Ciner was only good at hiding his mind from somebody prying from the outside. Up to now he had never been forced to guard his thoughts and emotions against anybody on the inside.

Rufuro had been surprised both by the turmoil inside the warriors head and Ciner’s inability to dim his side of the bond. The process of the ritual they had performed itself provided a possibility other than Ciner’s ineptitude of course. Rufuro had absorbed some of Ciner’s blood. Maybe this was what had caused the bond in the first place, maybe this was the reason Rufuro was so much more aware of Ciner than the other way around. So far he had not been able to gain further insight. It didn’t matter what caused the current situation, the onslaught of sensations attacking Rufuro all day had been hard to ignore and had irritated him ineffably. Studying next to the food distribution at mealtime would be easier. The sudden silence startled him so much the more.

 

He concentrated on the speck of awareness he had pushed to the back of his mind. The bond was still there, yet it felt different. He tried to remember the bond he had had to his former Jedi master. Yes, he had experienced something like this in the past. Rufuro prodded their connection some more. It felt similar to the one time his master had been called to attend a last minute council meeting, the apparent conclusion being that Ciner was far away, very far away, like half a galaxy, a greater distance than could be attained by boarding a shuttle to the orbital station. All Rufuro was able to tell in addition was that Ciner was excited and cautious, both signs for potential trouble. The potential trouble didn’t bother Rufuro much. Ciner would be able to handle it on his own. But where in the name of the Force was he? He had been in the Academy all morning. Rufuro searched his memory for the last impressions coming through their bond he had not totally ignored. The cantina. Rufuro was sure Ciner had been in the cantina prior to his disappearance. Curiosity might be considered a flaw in most people, it ran strong in a true inquisitor’s blood however. Whatever strange portal Ciner had discovered Rufuro was determined to follow him through. The holocron on ancient Sith torture techniques would still be there on his return.

 

Rufuro left the library, and went downstairs to start his investigation in the cantina, where he learned that Ciner had indeed been there. Nobody had seen where he went afterward, at least nobody with the inclination to share his knowledge with Rufuro. For lack of a better plan he followed the aisle, paying scrupulous attention to minute changes in the bond. Ciner was fighting now, still cautious but confident, not even bothering to draw on the dark side of the Force. There was no way to tell if Rufuro was drawing closer to him or not.

 

The call of a woman yanked him out of his immersion. “There you are, acolyte! Come here. You are late. I have been wondering where you might have gotten to.” An elderly woman, one of the overseers, motioned with a smile for him to get closer.

 

“I am sorry, my lord. I wasn’t aware we had an appointment. I must have missed the update to my schedule. Please forgive me.” Rufuro bowed his head. He didn’t know her. A bit of politeness might not hurt as long as she showed no signs of hostility and she seemed friendly enough, a feature an alien and former slave did not encountered often in Academy personnel.

 

“Don’t worry child. This event you will not find in your schedule. Fate is taking care of my appointments.” She chuckled, and a chill ran down Rufuro’s spine. “I am Overseer Ragate, a keeper of the old ways. I sense your potential. You have power and strength in the Force. I have a trial for you. I administer the rite of blood and bone — a ritual performed beyond this doorway.” She pointed at the doorway behind her. It was obscured by swirling mists and it had not been open when Rufuro had come along this aisle the last time. He knew where Ciner had gone to. Ragate continued, “it is a rite acolytes have participated in for ten thousand years.”

 

The thought that Ragate might actually be this old herself briefly crossed Rufuro’s mind. The hair at the nape of his neck stood on end. Ten thousand years? This promised to be far more interesting than torture techniques. “Blood and bone, huh? Sounds right up my alley.”

 

Ragate’s dark red eyes shone brighter with an inner luminance. “It pleases you? Than I, too, am pleased.” Again she pointed at the doorway. “You must reach the mountain of skulls guarded by my children, and you must claim one for yourself. Soak the skull in the blood pool in the antechamber and return to me. Once bone has turned red, I will look and see your nature written in crimson stains. And possibly a glimpse of your future.”

 

“I am intrigued. What is the nature of this ritual?”

 

“To complete the rite is to accept one’s death — to steal one’s own mortality and drown it in the fluid of life. That is the symbolic purpose. But it is also a trial of power, as are all Sith trials — a trial to test strength and to grant it.”

 

Accept one’s death? He was in practice. Steal one’s own mortality? He was still alive despite his best efforts, but maybe she was really thousands of years old. A pool of blood. A sign. This was no trial of power. She had been expecting him. She had already sensed his potential. This was a trial administered by fate, a test if he was willing to accept his destiny.

 

“I will await you here. If you die, I will forget you.”

 

Rufuro stepped toward the doorway. Tendrils of mist reached out for him. Three steps further and he was engulfed by the fog. He realized that the connection with Ciner became weaker with every step he took. How was this possible? He had been sure Ciner had passed through the same doorway. So sure he had been he had not even bothered to ask the overseer. It wasn’t curiosity that would kill him, it was overconfidence, must be Ciner’s bad influence. ‘If you die, I will forget you.’ Ragate’s words echoed in his mind. Kark! There was more to this ritual than collecting a stupid skull — and Ciner had found it. Rufuro concentrated on the weaker growing link. He hoped it was not too late to safe him. He took another two steps before he realized that he walked into the wrong direction. The bond told him that Ciner was to his right. He stopped and looked over his shoulder, nothing but impenetrable fog. He stretched out his arms and took a few steps back into the direction he had come from, there was nothing where there should have been the doorway. What kind of sorcery was this? He followed the direction the bond tugged him in and felt it grow stronger again. After a few more steps he walked through a doorway into a chamber. A stairway led down to a pool filled with a blood red liquid — Ragate’s blood pool — the antechamber.

 

The pool lay perfectly still, no whiff ruffled its surface. To the left and right of it lay the remains of shyracks, killed only recently. Beyond the pool more steps led to another doorway to the next chamber. Ciner was there. Rufuro heard the scream of another dying shyrack. He hurried through the door. A vast chamber that would not fit into the part of the Academy where it was supposed to be. More dead shyracks littered the way to a grand staircase. At the top of the staircase Ciner stood in front of some sort of altar which was overladen with a mountain of skulls. Weapon in hand Ciner watched as the corpse of a shyrack toppled down the steps before he became aware of Rufuro.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“Surely you didn’t think I’d leave all of the fun to you?”

 

Ciner shrugged apologetically. “Looks like you’re too late. I already cleared the path to the skulls. But I think it will be acceptable if you, too, pick one.”

 

While Rufuro climbed the staircase Ciner stepped to the pile of skulls and took the one on top down. Turning it in his hands he examined it. “Looks humanoid. What do you think?”

 

Rufuro stood in front of the skulls. They all looked very much alike. Ciner was right, they were most certainly humanoid — and very old. Ten thousand years. He felt a chill running down his spine again. He stretched out a hand to take one of the skulls, however something led him to hesitate. He closed his eyes and concentrated.

 

“You got to take a skull to participate in the rite,” Ciner advised.

 

“Give me a moment.” Rufuro opened his eyes and stretched out his arm. He let his hand hover above the skulls.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Shush!” He channeled a tiny amount of the Force through his fingertips without giving it a precise form. As he watched he saw the Force gathering around one of the skulls. “That’s the one! That’s mine!”

 

Ciner raised an eyebrow. “You are not serious, are you?” He looked at the skull he had picked from the top of the pile. “Mine from the top looks the same as yours at the bottom.”

 

“Maybe, but it is not the same!” Rufuro started to rearrange the skulls to be able to pick his one up.

 

“Here, let me lend you a hand.” Ciner stepped in, grabbed hold of the skull and pulled it from the pile. The result was an avalanche of skulls coming down the altar with a deafening clatter.

 

Cursing Rufuro jumped back to avoid the majority of tumbling bones.

 

With a Force-empowered leap Ciner landed at the foot of the staircase. He was obviously enjoying himself. “Catch!” He threw the salvaged skull to Rufuro and headed for the doorway. “Time for a little bloodbath.”

 

Rufuro shook his head. “You could at least try to show a little respect for the rite. I mean, you are the one descended from a long line of Sith. It could be the bones of your forebears you are desecrating.”

 

“If they were not able to beat some shyracks they were no forebears of mine.”

 

“You really think this is all this trial entails? Fighting some shyracks and dipping a skull in blood? I had harder trials in my first days here. Somehow I have my doubts.”

 

“Stop worrying and dip your skull into the pool. I have an appointment with Darth Baras, and it is highly unwise to keep him waiting.”

 

“And you never do anything unwise.”

 

When Rufuro reached him Ciner was already on his knees, and leaned forward to soak his skull in blood. After nearly being buried in skulls that was all the invitation Rufuro needed. “Here let me lend you a hand.” A little shove and with a huge splash Ciner landed headfirst in the pool.

 

Snorting he got back to his feet. The blood reached up to his knees. “Why don’t you come in? The blood is still warm.” Ciner shoved a wave of blood with his foot in Rufuro’s direction.

 

A hastily erected Force shield detained the splatters. Too late Rufuro realized that it had been a diversion. Circumventing the shield Ciner grabbed his ankle with the Force and dragged him into the pool.

 

He resurfaced spitting blood. “You are right, the temperature is agreeable.”

 

The bottom of the pool started to tremble. They looked at each other.

 

“I presume that was enough soaking for the skulls.” Ciner grinned and jumped out of the pool, nearly slipping in the blood they had splashed around the pool. “Seems like you were right and there is more fun waiting for us.”

 

Rufuro managed to get to his feet before a wave of blood washed him out of the pool as a huge creature emerged from depths that had not been there mere moments ago, it’s massive form towering above them.

 

For a moment the three of them exchanged glances. As the pool settled down all that could be heard was the dripping of blood off of three wet bodies.

 

“Are k’lor’slugs supposed to get this big?” Ciner asked as he activated his weapon setting his skull down and shoving it out of the way with a careful nudge of his foot.

 

“Not sure. I suggest we kill it first before we ask it.” Rufuro got up and fumbled his skull into one of the many pockets of his robe.

 

The creature cocked its head, opened a vast mouth adorned with huge teeth, and howled a heart-piercing cry.

 

Ciner charged. The creature simply brushed him aside with his many legs and howled a second time. Rufuro felt its rage and Ciner’s pain. The warrior laughed. “I had already feared this would end as boringly as it started.”

 

“Retreat to the other chamber!” Rufuro yelled activating his own blade. There they’d have more room to fight and less blood to slip in.

He shot a bolt of lightning at the beast’s face to get its attention. Drawing on the Force was easy with Ciner’s emotions backing his own. Shocking the beast with another burst of lightning he carefully walked backward until he reached the steps.

 

Now it was the creature’s turn to charge. Rufuro turned around and fled up the steps and through the doorway to the bigger chamber. The Force lend him extra speed, but he could not keep it up for long. When he reached the middle of the room he threw himself aside to get out of the beast’s attack-path. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ciner enter behind their opponent.

The beast stopped dead in its track and swiveled around to Rufuro with an amazing speed that belied its size. Rufuro could not help but admire its creators; this was Sith alchemy at its finest. He blocked a thrust from one of the claws with his blade. The tip of the claw clattered to the floor. The creature screamed. Rufuro had no time to celebrate. He dodged and weaved between the attacks of the other arms of the giant k’lor’slug all the time trying to stay out of the way of its thrashing tail. His skill and luck lasted not for very long before one of the claws hit his shoulder piercing robe and flesh and getting caught in bone. Rufuro let his weapon drop, his arm too numb to hold it. When the creature retracted its claw from his shoulder he nearly lost his footing. Retreating he wove a Force shield with his other hand to ward off the flailing limbs of their opponent. The pain in his shoulder and arm was immense but he had suffered and survived worse. The pain would add to his strength. He felt his blood sing in his ears — or was it Ciner’s?

 

The warrior launched his next attack on the monster from behind thrusting his blade deep inside the beast’s body beneath its lower arm where the scales did not overlap. The creature howled and lashed out with its tail. Ciner did a somersault over its back and repeated his maneuver. The giant k’lor’slug realized that Rufuro wasn’t the source for his agony and focused on Ciner. With two of his limbs now useless it still had enough left to get the warrior in difficulties.

Rufuro stepped forward and dropped his shield. Drawing on both of their emotions and pain he gathered as much Force energy as he was able to contain. He watched as the beast swept Ciner from his feet and pinned him down. Luckily for the warrior it realized too late that it was using the limb with the cropped claw. Pulling its arm back in pain it reared up for a crushing blow with its whole body.

“Get away from it!” Rufuro commanded as he prepared to release his own attack.

Ciner reacted immediately and rolled and scrabbled away from the monster.

As the creatures body crashed back down to follow Ciner Rufuro released a powerful attack of Force lightning at the beast. The blood still covering its scales sizzled and the smell of burnt flesh made itself at home.

When Rufuro’s attack subsided, Ciner leapt in again and buried his blade amidst the smoke in the beast’s howling jaw. When he pulled it back a shudder ran through the massive body. Soundlessly the creature slumped down and dropped to the floor. Its tail twitched a last time before it surrendered its last whiff of life.

 

“Remind me to not attend to any rituals with you ever again.”

 

“But then you’d miss the fun.” Ciner grinned and returned to the antechamber to pick up his skull.

 

After a last look at the dead k’lor’slug Rufuro retrieved his weapon and followed him. “You got a wry notion of fun.”

 

“Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy it! I was right beside you. I could feel it. This, my friend, this was an initiation. Whatever you were born as, now you are Sith!”

 

“Harkun will rejoice,” Rufuro muttered. But he knew that Ciner was right, no matter what Harkun thought, Korriban had changed him. “Let’s get back to Ragate.”

 

“And a healer afterward!”

 

Together they passed through the doorway back into the Academy. Ragate was waiting for them as promised a small smile playing over her wrinkled features. “I heard the screams of the shyracks and the rippling of the blood pool. I heard the sounds of deaths. I know you brought the red-stained skulls — and I must say, I am pleased.”

 

“We completed the rite, then?” Ciner asked.

 

“As so many Dark Lords have before you. The skulls you carry — your rage, your actions drowned them with the dark side. They are part of you. I can read them. I can offer a small gift — but more than that I can offer a glimpse of your destiny. There’s much I can read in the bones.”

 

Anew a chill ran down Rufuro’s spine as Ciner handed his skull over to Ragate.

 

“Who am I to turn down free advice,” Ciner said but the bond was telling Rufuro something else. The warrior was contriving something. Rufuro opened his mouth but Ciner motioned for him to keep quiet.

 

It was too late anyway. Ragate had taken the skull and begun studying its crimson markings. “Listen carefully,” she muttered. “When your final trial comes, beware of the shadow-killer. It can be bound but never controlled.”

 

“What’s a ‘shadow-killer’?” Ciner asked. “Is that all you can tell me about my destiny?”

 

Her eyes flared a brighter red. “Your destiny? Foolish child! Do you think fate is something to be trifled with?” She looked at Rufuro and held the skull out for him to take. “This is your destiny. Don’t forget. Beware of the shadow-killer. Prize what you have accomplished here. You are part of a tradition almost as old as Korriban itself… and you have done well. And now hand me this joker’s skull.” She pointed disparagingly at Ciner.

 

Confused Rufuro took the skull she offered him in exchange for the one he had brought with him. Again Ragate concentrated on the markings. When she was done she looked at Ciner chidingly for a long moment before she spoke. “The key to your succeed is a small and sorry creature — but you can shape it in your image, if you so desire.” She gave Ciner the skull. “Be careful whom you play games with, Ciner Ignis. Your house can’t afford to lose you.” With those words she turned and vanished through the doorway.

 

Ciner stared after her.

 

“What was that about?” But Rufuro understood before Ciner had the chance to say anything. “You interchanged the skulls! You never gave me mine, that was yours you threw to me. Why in the name of the Force did you do that?”

 

Ciner tore his gaze away from the doorway. “They were the same. I picked mine randomly, you did some… — never mind. It should have been immaterial who picked which skull.”

 

“But it wasn’t!”

 

“It wasn’t! Looks like fate passed its test, too.”

 

 

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Material has been posted on the SFWC, spoilers for BH + IA Hutta, SW Korriban

 

Hutta, Nem'ro's palace

 

“You have my token and recognition as the most fearsome hunter on Hutta.” Nem’ro declared.

 

Well, Thorns had retrieved the token from the Trandoshan Nem’ro had given it to. There wasn’t much else Nem’ro could have said now, if he didn’t want to lose his face in front of Grataa. The Kaleesh who had unintentionally scared Mako earlier represented the Great Hunt. He was here to give instructions to Nem’ro’s champion. He gave them to Thorns now. Thorns was to travel to Dromund Kaas — the Imperial capital. Therefor they received two shuttle passes from the warrior. They were told to seek out the Hunt Master in the Mandalorian Enclave after their arrival in Dromund Kaas. With the promise to meet again Grataa bid Thorns good hunting.

 

“Yes, go to the Great Hunt and spread the glory of Nem’ro the Hutt!” his sponsor proclaimed.

 

Thorns glowered at Nem’ro. “You and I aren’t finished, Hutt. I’ll be back.”

 

Nem’ro waved his hand dismissively. Thorns turned to walk away but halted. “Oh, if I were you, I’d put up a job advertisement.”

 

“Don’t worry about the beast master!”

 

“Make it two then. You’ll need a new security chief, too.”

 

“What about Kaliyo?”

 

“When last I saw her she wanted to leave Hutta with the Red Blade.”

 

“So she ran off with the Blade? Who does she think she is, she can’t simply quit.” Nem’ro’s voice had risen in volume.

 

“I guess you were aware that there was a bounty on the Blade’s head…”

 

The Hutt’s eyes narrowed. “Was?”

 

Thorns smiled. “I’ll give your share to Juda on my way out.”

 

The Hutt burst into a laugh. “The most fearsome hunter on Hutta — indeed. I wish you good hunting.”

 

 

 

Korriban, Sith Academy

 

His final trial; retrieving a lightsaber from the Forbidden Chamber in the tomb of Naga Sadow, afterwards he would be Baras’ apprentice. ‘Apprentice Ciner’, it sounded strange. He assumed it would take some time to swap it for ‘Lord Ciner Ignis’. But he should not get too far ahead of himself. His father was still young and healthy. If nothing untoward happened there was no need to worry about replacing him yet. He’d have enough time to acquire an appropriate rank. ‘Your house can’t afford to lose you!’ What was it that Ragate had seen?

Passing through Baras’ antechamber, he did not fail to notice, that Vemrin, his sole remaining rival, was not waiting as their master had instructed. It did not require genius to conclude where Vemrin would be headed. He would be waiting for him inside Naga Sadow’s tomb. As far as Ciner was concerned he could wait. Vemrin was not going to get anywhere without the slave.

The slave; he had a dim recollection of her. A blue Twi’lek; she had been present when he had interrogated the prisoners on one of his earlier trials. Good, she, too, would remember. Pondering his options on how to best compel her to cooperate, he made his way down the stairs.

 

As he entered the jail he found Knash the jailer and the slave engrossed in the game they seemingly had been playing since his last visit to the premises. She riled him and he obliged her by extensive use of the remote to her shock collar.

Female Twi’lek in general were said to make excellent slaves. Apparently this one had not been informed of the fact. The welts and bruises that had covered her blue skin the first time he had seen her, had faded to mere shadows. Her neck on the other hand showed that the stupid little thing had been provoking the jailer more than was healthy for her. Despite the pain she must be experiencing she held her head high, and he could sense the contempt she was feeling for her tormentor. She had not broken yet. Impressive.

But that was as far as impressive went. She was small and petite, lacking any noteworthy curves. Her lekku weren’t exceptionally long and the color of her skin was nearing a shade of unhealthy gray. Her scent would do a bantha proud. He adjusted the settings of the olfactory receptors of his implants.

‘The key to your succeed is a small and sorry creature.’ Yes, Ciner had to admit that Ragate’s soothsaying was quite accurate. So the girl was the key to the tomb. If she was able to open it, the mechanism operated without Force for she was definitely Force-blind. Given how many scientists and scholars had examined the tomb in the last years without being able to open the Forbidden Chamber, Ciner knew with all certainty he wouldn’t open it on his own.

Watching Knash and the Twi’lek from the door he decided it was not his best option to torture her further. He didn’t doubt he could break her. But it would take time. Vemrin would wait, but Baras would not be overly patient with his apprentice to be. Ciner could not afford to incapacitate her. She had to be able to operate the locking mechanism after all. And the tomb would be dangerous enough without having to drag a disabled slave along.

What was it Ragate had said furthermore? ‘A small and sorry creature—but you can shape it in your image.’ If she were not a slave what would get her to cooperate?

As he stepped into the room jailer and slave deigned to notice him at last. After a short exchange with an undue amicable Knash, the jailer handed over the Twi’lek along with the remote control to her shock collar. Through the Force Ciner had felt the tremors of well hidden fear when she had recognized him. She had recalled his first visit to the jail as surely as he had. Back then he had sent one prisoner to Imperial Intelligence, killed one, and had sentenced the last one to further torture. Knash had spoiled the suspense when he had told the Twi’lek that Ciner needed her in the tomb. The jailer remedied his faux pas by setting the shock collar to a higher level.

All the way out of the Academy building she walked a few steps behind him to his right. Neither of them spoke. He made a show of caressing the button on the remote with his thumb. He was sure her eyes never left the remote for long. When they were outside of the building he turned slightly towards her and beckoned her forward without slowing his stride. “What is your name?”

 

“Vette.”

 

“You see Vette, I know what this higher setting of the shock collar does. Do you?”

 

She shook her head, eyes wide, lekku twitching. “No, but if you already know what it does, I could be convinced to pass on a demonstration.”

 

“Now, that’s very altruistic of you.”

 

“That’s just who I am.”

 

“You know what, Vette? In case you regret your sacrifice later, I’ll give the remote to you.” He held it out to her. “Go on, take it!”

 

She took the device carefully.

 

“In case you get curious, just press the button.”

 

“Press the button. Easy. Got it!”

 

“There is one other thing you should know lest you should consider to do something stupid. I won’t need the shock collar to punish you, and if you make me punish you, you’ll wish I’d used the collar instead. So do us both a favor and press the button yourself should you feel in need of a reminder.”

 

“I am sure your presence will be reminder enough.”

 

“We’ll get along just fine then.”

 

They walked on in silence. Vette struggled to keep up with him, puffing slightly. Weeks in a holding cell had a habit of taking a toll on a prisoner’s physical condition.

“This isn’t the way to the tomb,” Vette noted after a while. Her sense of direction was good.

 

“Are you in a hurry?” Ciner grinned. “Maybe you don’t want to keep Knash waiting too long.”

 

Vette rolled her eyes. “Yes, I am sure he misses me already. We were inseparable before you ripped us apart.”

 

“Guess I will have to bring you back then after you opened the tomb.”

 

“Wow, that’s more than any girl could hope for!”

 

“I’ll add a bonus to doing my best to bring you back alive.”

 

“What could be even better than returning to my cell and a more than caring Knash?”

 

“Well, I thought I would be able to spare some time to let you examine the chamber, but if you are not interested…” Ciner shrugged.

 

“Wait! You’ll really let me take a look around? Seriously?”

 

“Seriously! No souvenirs, though!”

 

“The showcases in my cell are overstuffed anyway.” There was a spring in her step that had not been there earlier.

“How much time do I get?”

 

“Get us in and I will be generous!”

 

The quartermaster was dubious about handing two blasters to a slave. Ciner had decided to follow his instincts once more. Vette might be a stupid little thing but she wasn’t that stupid. Her being armed would raise both their chances to survive. Killing Ciner would do nothing to help her. And she was eager to investigate the Forbidden Chamber. At least until then they’d be working together.

 

 

 

The following may NOT be PG-13.

 

A shuttle on a standard flight from Hutta to Vaiken Spacedock

 

Thorns wriggled to find a more comfortable posture without waking the sleeping beauty still resting on his chest, her sweat intermingling with his. Nobody would have called him spoiled but the bed in his cabin was too small. Although calling this closet a cabin was an euphemism, too. Complaining was pointless. There had been only this one ship heading for Vaiken Spacedock from Hutta’s space, and on the ship this cabin or none. On the bright side it was better than Hutta — Tattooine had been better than Hutta when he thought about it. Hutta’s stench was worse than Coruscant’s lower levels after several days without ventilation.

Well, Kaliyo had not complained about the bed. She had not had any objections to piling and he had not objected to her being on top. There had been no problem with her taking charge. After a drink at the bar she had told him with a grin and a wink he had earned a bonus for a job well done. Her companion had left and Mako had retreated to her cabin early taking the already sleeping Ungry with her. No reason to decline Kaliyo’s invitation. He had called his first encounter with her to mind — no, no reason at all. She had steered him to his own cabin and he had assumed she didn’t intend to stay for the whole night. Yet her she was.

She stirred and he caressed the nape of her neck. Still half asleep she pressed her body closer to his. So far the bed being too small was the only reason to complain.

He had no idea what she was up to. It would take a brighter guy than him to figure Kaliyo’s plans out. Like her new partner, the man posing as the Red Blade on Hutta, a dangerous man if Thorns ever had seen one. He still was not sure it had been the right decision not to shoot him and Kaliyo, too, when they met on their way into Fa’athra’s compound. He had assessed the option as risky and next to impossible without alerting Fa’athra’s men though. They had been in a quandary, neither daring to move on with the other in his back, neither wanting to cause a hubbub. After watching each other for some moments it had been Kaliyo who came up with a solution when she urged her companion to hire Thorns to help them get into Fa’athra’s palace.

His honor as a bounty hunter bound Thorns not to kill his employer once he had accepted his offer. However he hadn’t been sure about the other man’s intentions. He doubted that Kaliyo would have second thoughts about stabbing him in the back if it suited her. He had been wary at first, but they did not come far before it became clear that Thorns and Mako’s service was much-needed. Working together was for the best of all.

Thorns’ fingertips wandered down Kaliyo’s back now. Apart from some scars her skin was soft and smooth. Underneath it he could feel her muscles which provided an astonishing amount of power to her small body. It had been fun to watch her fight beside him. She’d be able to teach him some tricks in this field, too. They complemented each other well.

Thorns felt a push of her pelvis when his hand reached her bottom. Her eyes were still closed while her left hand started to travel a slightly tickling path down the side of his body.

Thorns had had suspicions about the Red Blade not being whom he pretended to be. Upon their return to Jiguuna the real Red Blade confirmed them when he showed up to confront the impostor. The criminal did not live up to his reputation. Thorns had not lied when he had told the Hutt he had collected the bounty for the Red Blade. Of course the bounty had been paid for the original. Thorns smiled. He was not responsible for two persons going by the same name. Nobody would be able to hold Thorns accountable for the Hutt’s wrong conclusions. Someday Nem’ro would find out but for now he was not looking for either Kaliyo or her new partner who now went by the name Smilo and was talking with an accent that sounded Imperial again. Thorns was curious what made her leave Hutta with the guy. He had hoped Kaliyo would share some information about Smilo; as it seemed Thorns wasn’t that good.

Kaliyo’s hand had made its way down the outside of his leg and had shifted to the inside of his thigh for the way up. Thorns decided to agree with her; he had earned the bonus — all of it. He grabbed her backside and pulled her into a more convenient position.

 

Edited by frauzet
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I have to tell you I really loved the dialogue between Ciner and Vette. You write her personality very well, I couldn't help but giggle about her 'altruism.' Also loved the bit about her and Jailer Knash being close. Good stuff there. :D

 

Thorns is an interesting fellow too. I like how he questions if he'd done right by not shooting Kaliyo. I do that all the time, cause I probably would have shot her lol. The bit with them in the bed was nice. Alluring and sensual.

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