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Lines Clean Up: Mirium Sketch

A cut of cleaning up the lines of the Mirium Sketch (title to be determined). I am still testing out this feature, but I will be looking into including full-length streams through the paid option here on Locals.

Since I started this Mirium Sketch before I came across streaming software that would suit my needs, the only full-length streams I have of this image will be the coloring and finishing phases.

00:20:50
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Axes and Lightning: FULL

A full text transcript can be found on the FoxFireFiction blog (on accounts it won't fit into a Locals.com post), here: https://www.foxfirefiction.com/2022/02/13/axes-and-lightning/

00:33:36
Playing With Architecture

Art stream time! In this one I played with a new way of doing architecture and its shading, stumbling my way through new tools as I did so. This would probably work better in a vector program where I can make the shapes perfectly clean. Not an art I'll keep, but a learning experience.

00:24:02
Concept Sketching: Three Comics

I'm having a very productive week!

Here's the sketching phase, perhaps the most fun of the art phases aside from coloring in plate armor. Since each of these weas only about 5 minutes long, I combined them into one video.

Three World of Warcraft comics! Titles will probably be, oh, I dunno...Exception!, Siqsa's Eulogy, and Three Cloth Boots (Socks).

If you're interested in seeing the completed comics, as well as an explanation for how I got started on these, check out my blog!
https://www.foxfirefiction.com/series/comic-resurgence/
https://www.foxfirefiction.com/series/comic-gentlemen-assassins/

00:18:02
The Nameless Accounts: The Prison Camps (16)

The akor’mar occupation of Sun-On-The-Lake was not a certain thing by any means. On the outside, it appeared as if Sun-On-The-Lake had always been an akor’mar city, for all the wuyon’mari you saw out in the open. The akor’mari sung and celebrated and began to build up rudimentary dwellings for themselves -- and for their prisoners – as if it was nothing more exciting than carving out a new market cavern back in Vuzsdin.

Yet in the alleyways and abandoned corners of the city, there was still danger. We may have occupied the main roads and the Palace, but the rest was free-for-all. At night we were safe enough; we could see in the dark better than the wuyon’mari, and they knew it. During the day, though, where the sun stung our eyes, they came out to harass us. There were ambushes and raids and assassinations. Daily we were warned by our officers about places still held by the wuyon’mari, where they had taken pains to dig out the cobblestones and plant pitfalls or other kinds of traps. The ...

The Nameless Accounts: The Prison Camps (16)
The Nameless Accounts: The Love of an Akor'mar (15)

The next few weeks — or was it months? — after the fall of Sun-On-The-Lake was a blur to me. The akor’mari set up shop within the city itself, repairing some of the buildings and walls, making them battle-ready. I don't know if they planned on living in the city once it was cleaned out, or if it was simply to be a temporary headquarters for the rest of our operations in Nah’Ke’tzin. They acted as if they expected retaliation.

The rest of the army was housed in tents, set up wherever there was space for them. I slept in Sus'syri’s tent during the days, half because that's how cramped the available lodging was, and half because... I felt different somehow. And somehow, she could understand.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the sort to be in the middle of attention. I talked lots, laughed lots, told stories. I had many friends -- or at least people I would speak with regularly; I know the word does not mean the same thing in your language. Still, I enjoyed their presence and would...

The Nameless Accounts: The Love of an Akor'mar (15)
The Nameless Accounts: The Fall of Sun-On-The-Lake (14)

Some of the army's excitement waned as we stumbled our way through the twisting forest paths of Lesser Nah’Ke’tzin: now tame Surfacer forests of beech and oak. Scouts like myself had chosen a path that took us in a circuitous route around Rising Heath, and we could let our guard down for the first time since we had come in from the ships. We marched in single file along deer trails, stepping in each others’ footsteps, moving only like the akor’mari can with complete silence, as if we were all playing Stalk-the-Nekru in the close tunnels of our homeland. I wondered then if we had only been taught those games to prepare us for something like this, not just our own childish amusement.

Our nerves and the excitement came back all at once when we finally found ourselves up on the gray cliffs overlooking Sun-On-The-Lake. It was just past dawn, and we could see the waters of the city’s namesake, Lake Ta’hiki, through the mist.

I have been to that city in the years since the war, and it is now not ...

The Nameless Accounts: The Fall of Sun-On-The-Lake (14)
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Crosswinds: Gryphon Down

Gryphon down! Gryphon down! The story of one gryphon rider's journey to recover her faithful steed from the Krygons has now been posted up at FoxFireFiction!
https://www.foxfirefiction.com/2022/11/09/crosswinds-gryphon-down/

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Battle Over Odessen
A Star Wars Fan Fiction

This one I didn't give a whole lot of thought to before finalizing as a post (I'm not sure what set Brant off in the beginning, for instance), and after a few days, I realized I wrote myself into a corner. Brant still has more to explore with his family relationships before his big reveal with the Emperor, and the betrayal he pulls here puts him too far down the path of no return than I wanted. I'll still post this story up though, as I do like the timing and the interplay of the different scenes and moods. I can probably adapt a lot of it after spending more time with Brant's homecoming in other shorts. We'll see.

 

SPOILER information: this part of the story revolves around a pivotal moment in the Chapters plot of SWTOR, however, I gave it my own twist and very little is like how it is in the original.

 

-Author's Note

 

The flash of the lightsaber came too quickly for Keel’ath to react. It sliced out at him, sliced through him, and he felt oddly lighter as something thudded to the ground.

He looked down and saw his severed arm at his feet. It spat sparks instead of blood, and the fingers were twitching slightly as the electrical equipment went haywire from too much energy coursing along its circuits. His stump wasn’t hurting at least, Keel’ath thought with odd detachment. He supposed the wires had been cut so swiftly they hadn’t been able to send any pain signals to his core.

He then looked up at Brant. Where the man's face had first been purple with rage, now it was near white, pale under his natural melanin. The lightsaber retracted with a zip, and then the Sith was fleeing, using a burst of Force speed to get around the angry generals clustering in his path, knocking one small woman to the floor.

Keel’ath said nothing as the Alliance compound alerted to the attack. He said nothing to the officers turning his way, asking if he was okay; he even ignored one leaning to get a better speculative eye on his mechanical arm. Somebody quickly got up on the screen a map of the compound, with a little lighted blip tracking Brant’s progress as he fled. Keel’ath noted he seemed to be avoiding any more fights, and only then did he break his silence and stillness to press the intercom button.

“Hostile Sith making his way through Wing A, towards Entrance 101-K. Do not engage. Repeat, do not engage under any circumstances. This is your Commander speaking. Out.”

There was a flurry of questions next to him, some enraged at the seeming mercy. Keel’ath just sought for Mako’s eyes in the crowd, found them looking back at him, wide and shining with anxious tears. He gave her a slight nod, his brow easing unconsciously in empathy, then he scooped up the arm and moved out of the conference room without answering any questions. Mako swiftly ducked around the excited bodies and was at his side, hand tight on his good shoulder, just like old times when they were pursuing a bounty through busy city streets. Together, they made their way for the hangar instead of the medical bay.


The first thing Brant noticed as he slowly came back to his physical senses was the rain. It had soaked through even the dense needles of the pine he sat in, right through his robe, and his body was trembling from both its cold and the exhaustion setting in as his adrenalin drained away.

His robe was open at the collar, letting more of the ice-cold water trickle down his chest, mingling with his scared, hot sweat, but he barely noticed. He numbly looked at the lightsaber still clutched in his hand. One side of the double-blade was still on, though he couldn’t remember if it had been that way since the attack, or if he had only ignited it to warn the guards near the compound door to let him through. His mind was shoving hard at the memories, desperately trying to push them from his thoughts, and just as viciously, Brant abruptly threw the lightsaber away.

It disappeared among the trees, flashing briefly like a bolt of lightning, and there was the faint sound of a few severed branches crashing to the ground a few seconds later.

The soft whooshing of rain and wind filled his ears after that. He listened carefully, breath caught in his throat, but he heard nothing but the natural noises of the forest. The Alliance had not sent any hunters after him. Or not yet.

He hung on to his high branch, his knuckles going cold as the blood left them and the rain continued to fall. He shivered, eyes lidding as he thought he might want to sleep, but the fear kept him painfully awake.

Very slowly did it trickle in, like the rainwater at his collar, and he couldn’t tell if the wetness on his face was more rain or produced from his own eyes.

He had sealed his fate. His family would disown him after this. And he would be truly alone.

 


 

“It’s not too bad,” Mako was saying, examining his shoulder as their Mantis ship flew low over the forest, headlamps trained on the trees and the ground between them. “This wire will have to go,” she said, poking at one blackened curl, “but the others should solder back in just fine. On the bright side, it’ll give you a chance to do that reflexes upgrade you always wanted, right?”

Keel’ath grunted. Mako had known him for far too long to take his lack of enthusiasm as an insult, and she leaned against him, tucking her head against his as he steered the ship around a few tall redwoods. Her nervous fingers touched his brow and then neck, stroking him more for her sake than his, he knew.

“I’m afraid I’m useless in a forest,” said Mako. “There’s no signals I can intercept at all.”

“And he didn’t take any comms equipment with him,” said Keel’ath.

“Not that I can sense, no...”

Keel’ath took one hand off the controls to squeeze hers, briefly, then took the ship lower to coast down into a valley.

“What are you thinking?” She had never been as good at guessing his emotions as Mirium had been. Or maybe he was just better at hiding them now.

“Not much of anything, if I’m honest. We have to find him first, and that’ll take enough doing.”

“But what are you going to do when you do find him?” She was clearly nervous, but whether for him or for Brant, he couldn’t tell.

“I won’t kill him,” Keel’ath told her. “That wouldn’t solve anything. It would have been far easier in the compound, besides.”

“I’m not sure if you’re trying to reassure me,” said Mako. “You’ve always been pretty bad at it.”

“Honestly, I’m trying to reassure me,” Keel’ath answered. He pulled the ship up and carefully circled a grove of birch trees, then leveled out when the lamps revealed nothing but wet leaves. “We can’t know what the boy was thinking, Mako. He went too far, and he knows it. Whether his hatred goes all the way down, I don’t know.”

“I guess we’ll find out,” Mako said dully.

“I’m just glad Kellaro isn’t here.”

“Why’s that?”

“The last thing we need is those two young bucks going at each other over this. Someone would get hurt.”

They both lapsed into silence, as the darkness grew thicker, and the rain began to resemble long chains of light as it continued to pour from the black sky, sheeting over the glass of the cockpit. Mako clenched Keel’ath’s good shoulder tight as shadows of trees came up suddenly in the gloom, and once or twice, scraped screechingly off the bottom of the ship.

"It’s no good,”said Keel’ath finally. “I can’t see a thing, and the sensors can’t pierce this headwind. We’ll have to wait until morning.”

Mako made a noise, but she didn’t disagree.

The ship’s engines whined as the Mantis gained altitude. Both hunters were plunged into darkness as Keel’ath shut off the headlamps, and a few seconds later, the auto-pilot display lit up his face in blue. Keel’ath then turned to her, taking one hand in his when he normally would have taken both. The auto-pilot beeped serenely in the background, tracking their progress back to base. Keel’ath looked up at her, his expression apologetic.

Mako rubbed the skin just under each of her eyes, then put her arms around him. “Not your fault,” she told him.

“That we can’t find him, or that he ran off to begin with?”

Mako had to think about it, but not for long. “Both. I know you love him, Keel. You couldn’t help your absence.”

“But maybe I could have made up for it better. I could have talked to him more, delegated more of the war effort…”

“And then we’d probably all be dead by now, without your expertise. We’d definitely still be living on the streets of Tatooine...” Mako sniffed up a suddenly stuffy nose, rubbed at her eyes again. “He’ll be okay,” she said quietly, as her hand found him again in the dark. “He’s tough, like you.”

“If only that were the only way he were like me,” said Keel’ath darkly, glancing out the cockpit -- not that there was anything out there to see. Mako clung to him, and he clung to her, and neither spoke again until they were hailed by the landing officer on duty.

 


 

Dawn walked across the outside of his eyelids. He was so tired, so sore -- stiff as if he’d run several miles the day before. When he moved it hurt, his tendons remembering only reluctantly that they could still flex, his knees, back and elbows remembering grudgingly they could still straighten.

The forest dripped wetly around him. The rain had ended sometime during the night, but the temperature of the air hadn’t picked up to match. Brant had to clear his throat a few times until he could believe the damp in his throat was from just the fog, not from a catching cold. He wiped his nose, blinked water trickling from his hair out of his eyes, and looked around.

Still in the tree. Still alone.

Slowly, he edged his way to the trunk and began to shimmy down. He didn’t know how he had managed to get up here to begin with; all the memories were as fuzzy as a spice-dream. He saw burn marks and sliced-off twigs here and there, courtesy of his lightsaber. When he reached the ground, he held out a hand and tried to call it back to him. It didn’t come.

He started shivering again as he stood, silent and still, in the silent and still forest. Here and there, a needle fell, with little damp clicking sounds as they met the ground. Wind sighed high in the branches above and somewhere to his right; he sensed the edge of a cliff not too far in that direction. A cliffside meant a break in the trees, and he could maybe get his bearings there. He had been running flat out when he had left the Alliance compound, not caring what direction he went so long as it was away. He had been a little too successful at that, it turned out.

His blood began to circulate more readily as he walked, but he was still deathly cold and shivering. After a moment’s thought, he shrugged out of his robe and left it lying there on the ground, the cold wind drying his bare shoulders and chest more quickly than it could have if he had kept the damp robe on. It could do little for his legs, but he increased his pace to a brisk trot, and that helped a little.

He reached the cliff face and peered out. It was granite, variegated grays, greens, and pinks, almost invisible in the grays, greens, and blacks of the pine forest. A few of the trees around him seemed to glow, their red and black bark saturated with the rain. It was like each tree was trying to pump its sap like his blood, warming their twig-tips like he tried to warm his fingertips. He blew on one hand and then placed it on the tree next to him. It was quiet, like a heavy sleeper, but the Force was thrumming away deep inside it. Brant leaned on it. At least he was not totally alone.

As if brought into reality by that thought, a branch snapped nearby and Brant swung around. He called again for his lightsaber, but even if it was inclined to come this time, it was much too far away: he’d left it far behind. He peered through the tree trunks, each standing straight like solemn sentinels. Most of them were too narrow to hide a person or beast behind them, but still he saw nothing there.

“Hello?” he called, and his voice sounded weak and afraid. He swallowed hard and tried again, more harshly, “Show yourself!”

Nothing.

He turned around to see if he had an easy escape route down the cliff, and then he froze. The air was twisting and bending slightly a few feet out, hovering over the cliff. It hinted at shapes like a Jedi’s robe or a lightsaber or a face, but it never settled into anything he could pick out for certain.

Brant took a step backward, but his foot slipped on the rotten rock, and he was sliding down the cliff in a cascade of gravel and broken sticks. It was only the height of two banthas, but when he came to a stop, two thirds of the way down, his knees and palms were burning from the scrapes. He stayed very still as his momentum eased off, but there was no sound or movement again.

On the exposed cliffside, the wind bit harder at his face, and he squinted and looked up into it. There, again, he saw the strange shapes, but as they hadn’t attacked him yet, he grew braver. He got to his feet, balancing with one hand against the cliff, and called out to them again.

“Who are you? Or what?”

He felt the answer more as a voice booming deep inside his head, and he put his hands to his temples, trying to keep it from vibrating right off his neck.

“Who are you? Stop that!”

You should recognize me.”

The Presence.

The air twisted, almost like a snake or long-bodied dragon, and he saw in his mind’s eyes a very familiar face: that of his Emperor. Brant quailed and would have thrown himself down if there was anything to throw himself down on but an empty cliff face. As if sensing this, the Emperor laughed, and the rattling in Brant's head began to hurt.

“I am sorry,” the Emperor said, after a sufficient amount of time spent torturing him, or so Brant believed, “but I meant to speak with you, not hurt your head. It was only this way that I could get your attention.”

Brant kept his eyes down and averted in respect from the twisting wind, even as his thoughts raced. He remembered back to the cantina on the Dauntless -- it seemed so long ago now -- and Vette and the others telling him the Emperor was not defeated, but still abroad. Like a ghost, he had been drifting bodiless… and now he had found him.

“That is correct, though only partially,” said the Emperor. “I have been searching for a vessel for some time. Your father would have suited well, but he rejected my offers of power, and now I have come to you.”

“He kicked you out, you mean,” said Brant rebelliously. “We both did. That day on the ice-world, when he was in the carbonite.”

“Oh, hardly. Do not think to aggrandize yourself or your willpower, little Sith. I only chose a different vessel, one easier to hide inside, for so he hides so much from himself...”

“Get out!” Brant cried, slashing at the air with his fingers like he might slash at an enemy with lightning, but there was nothing to direct it at in the empty air. Worse, he felt the Emperor take firmer hold of him, sliding fingers like claws into the reserves of his lightning and pin himself there, rooted in Brant's fear.

“Calm yourself, my Sith. You have been offered a great gift: a power beyond anyone’s imagination. With my help, you will conquer this world and every other. You will sit on a throne and all will bow to your whims, never once thinking of being disloyal to you… for that is your ultimate fear, is it not?”

“You know it,” whispered Brant. The Emperor was inside him, thinking what he thought; he could hide nothing.

“That is correct,” said the Emperor. “You can hide nothing, so you can plot nothing, nothing beyond my ken. Think on this well before you cross me.”

Brant did. He thought about it, and he started shivering again in such a way that had nothing to do with wet skin. “What do you want of me?” he finally asked weakly.

“First, there are my old servants to punish, and I will need your help in doing it. See there, that hill? There is a brightness upon it, if you turn your head just so. It is a beacon, deactivated, left here from many long centuries ago… I knew this would happen, you see. Knew that your Alliance would come here to hide, and so they will meet their end… I only need you to light that beacon, little Sith, and my Eternal Fleet will descend and wreak my vengeance upon the Alliance. In so doing, you will be my Wrath.”

“Upon my family…”

“Oh, yes... The very ones who disowned you? Promised to kill you…”

Brant had not heard them say that, but now he did recall seeing it, in Kellaro’s eyes. That murderous black look whenever he got too close to Vette…

“If it is not you who will obey my commands, then another,” the Emperor continued coldly. “To that other will go all the rewards, and to you, only death and suffering. You cannot escape me. I have foreseen it...”

The Emperor was right, Brant saw. If he didn’t do as the Emperor asked, then the Emperor would find another Sith in the Alliance compound, possess him or her, and trot them out to this beacon instead. Odessen would be bombed, one way or the other.

But perhaps, if he were the one to do it, he could do it in such a way it would harm the least amount of people. When the power was in his hands, he got to choose how to wield it, after all.

“Exactly,” said the Emperor approvingly, and Brant wondered just how many of those thoughts had truly been his own. He saw no other choice for himself however, and carefully, fearfully, he began picking his way down the cliff, and onwards to the beacon. Along the way, he kept his thoughts as still as the forest. The Emperor was listening, and he didn't much want to think about what he was about to do.

He climbed up onto the tiny mesa with its beacon pointing a silver finger at the sky, just where the Emperor had said it would be. As he came closer, the indicator lights lit up, bright red like little conniving eyes. Brant quailed back, but the Emperor only laughed and pressed him on.

 


 

Keel’ath was going over mission reports when the red alert siren began to wail. He stared at it, not comprehending, until Theron dashed inside the office and slapped his hands on the desk.

“Oh,” he gasped, looking at the alert light flashing. “Oh. You knew.” He leaned back, hands on his knees, waving vaguely at Keel’ath as he tried to catch his breath. “What... we do?”

For once, Keel’ath didn’t know. Why would the alarm be going off? It wasn’t possible the Eternal Fleet had found them here…

Then the entire office rocked as a blast went off, and several more alarms joined the voice of the red alert. It was impossible, but it was real.

Theron scrambled out of the way as Keel’ath vaulted over the desk, grabbing his blaster rifle from its place at the door and a handheld holo from the dash. His new arm still tingled as he moved it, but he barely paid attention as he keyed up each of his officers. Bey’wan, Lana, Koth -- Theron was behind him so he needn’t call him up -- Kellaro, Torian, and finally, Senya.

“Still no sign of him, Commander,” Lana was saying. “We’re getting some odd interference off of the mountain, though. I was about to send a squad to check it out--”

“Belay that,” Keel’ath snapped. “I need all hands back at base. Man your ships and--”

Another blast. This one threw Keel’ath hard into the wall, and he needed Theron’s help to get to his feet.

“Commander?”

Keel’ath shook his head to clear it. “Start the evacuation,” he said. His heart was slowly sinking. The only defenses Odessen really had was how difficult the planet was to find. If the Eternal Empire were already here, then all they could do was flee.

“No can do,” Koth said boldly. “I just got the Gravestone all shined up and ready for action. We’ll meet them head on!”

“Fine,” replied Keel’ath. “But only until the main transports are away. We can’t lose the Gravestone and Odessen both. Torian, prepare your Mandalorians for a ground defense. Bey’wan, get the starfighters in the air. Draw the fire of their ships, but don’t pull any heroics. Your blasters won’t be able to pierce that armor.”

“On it, Commander.”

“Lana…”

Even through the flickering holo, their thoughts were clear to each other. “...call off the search for Darth Merce. Put the Jedi to making sure the base is clear of civvies before we shut it down. Aim the Sith wherever you think they’ll do the most damage.”

“Is Brant missing?” Kellaro summoned up the courage to ask.

“Never mind that right now. Major, you’re the farthest from base. I want you to scout ahead and get some of the safe houses ready to receive our people. Most of the troops will have to live aboard the transports for a few weeks until we can sort it. The sooner you do that, the better morale will be.”

Kellaro didn’t immediately respond, and Keel’ath cursed softly. This was not the time for dealing with rebellious sons.

“I’m counting on you,” he added snappishly.

“Yes, sir,” Kellaro finally answered heavily. “I’ll see it done.”

“Theron, Senya, with me,” Keel’ath said. “Time to do the dirty with these Eternals.”

“Just don’t overdo it, old man,” said Theron, but Senya nodded in determination. Keel’ath wished he shared her sentiments.

 


 

The Eternal Fleet were falling out of hyperspace in the skies above Odessen, thousands of little streaks like a meteor shower that just went on and on… and on. Brant stood nervously near the beacon, watching. The Emperor had long since gone quiet in his head, though Brant wasn’t stupid enough to think he was entirely gone.

The streaks turned to dots as the ships slowed to normal speeds, then grew larger and larger, forming cross shapes like archaic vibroblade hilts that took up the sky. They flew right over Brant, lights on their masts winking as if in communication with the beacon, then they kept going. The first one was almost invisible in the fog again when blazes of fire started cutting through the clouds, and he heard distant blasts go off like popguns.

Brant lost feeling in his legs and sat down hard. His head was pounding. He almost dared the Emperor to start laughing again in that moment, because he vowed he would rip him apart, but perhaps wisely, the Emperor didn’t. The ships passed on overheard, and Brant was alone with his anger and fear.

Alone… “How is this ruling anybody?” he asked into the gloom.

The Emperor didn’t answer, but Brant could sense him there, grudgingly listening. So he had his limitations, Brant thought. It was true he needed a vessel and was powerless without one. That meant he was dependent on the vessel -- on him.

The Emperor grudgingly acknowledged that, as well. Brant stood up.

“You said I would conquer this world. I do not want to rule over a burnt out husk of a planet. Stop the bombardment.”

“The bombardment is needed to bring down their shields,” said the Emperor.

“No, you don’t need that.” He felt the Emperor grow excited as Brant put together his next thought. “All you need is one person on the inside to flip the off-switch.”

“They believe you a traitor. You would never get in.”

“Dad would believe anything if I told him.” Brant started walking. It was partly sheer defiance, but he was also testing the Emperor, seeing how far his control truly extended. “The place will be in chaos, anyway. No one will notice me slip into the control room. I excel at using the Force for stealth. You know this.”

Apparently the Emperor’s control did not extend very far after all, as Brant’s steps came as easily to him as ever, and he was just climbing down the mesa when the Emperor spoke. “I will stop the bombardment. You will go down to the base, but it is not the Commander you must speak to. Avoid him and all other Sith.”

“Why?” Brant challenged him.

“Because they will sense me, for you have not yet learned to cloak my presence. If they sense me inside of you, they will destroy you. Count on it.”

Brant thought of Lana, and the Emperor leaned on the thought.

“She is Sith. She would not hesitate to betray you, and you know it is I who she hates most of all.”

You don’t understand. It was Lana’s voice, out of a memory. An entire planet. Every living thing. Entire cities, forests, even the oceans... I am as loyal to the Empire as the next Sith, Brant, but even I cannot condone such destruction.

Yes, the Emperor was right.

“Not a word,” agreed Brant. “Not a sight or sound or hair.”

“Then you have your orders, my Sith. See them done, or else you will suffer…”

 


 

Vette screwed up her face, gamely trying to ignore the fountain of sparks next to her head. Her goggles protected her eyes and her gloves protected her fingers, but her headdress barely covered her head-tails, and it was truly starting to sting.

“Come on, come on!” snapped Koth from somewhere above her. “Can’t you get this thing moving any faster?”

“I’m sorry, buddy, but the locks are all stuck fast for some reason.”

“Oh, man… I can’t go blasting Eternal ships while stuck in a dock!”

“Just hold onto your hat, already!” snapped Vette. “I nearly got it.” Something snapped off in her hand. “...I think.”

Koth peered at her anxiously, and a Jawa in a little red hood and robe climbed up to her, gesturing and jabbering madly at her in his own language. Vette couldn’t make heads or tails of what he was saying, and she ended up just giving him the tools and moving over. This seemed to be just what the Jawa wanted, however; he gave a few twists and a whack with the wrench she had been holding, then the fountain of sparks stopped and the entire Gravestone gave a jolt like a kaadu tugging at its reins.

Koth gave a great whoop from somewhere above and the ship began rising steadily. “Let me get off of it first!” Vette shouted in alarm.

They were still only a few feet in the air, so tucking the Jawa under one arm, she jumped for it. The Jawa wriggled and squirmed until she let him go, then he was running off, robed arms flailing. Vette had a sudden image of Darth Merce facing down a rancor in similarly swirling robes, though he was of course much taller, when suddenly the Gravestone gave one last burst of engine before it flew off, and Vette had other problems to worry about.

Coughing and waving her hands to clear her nostrils of the engine stench, she ran off the landing pad and out onto the scaffolding. From here she could see the ground assault had begun in earnest. For some reason that no one understood, the Eternal Fleet had only bombarded the area for a few minutes, not even long enough to take their shields down. Most of the transports had departed in the confusion, but a few still lingered, waiting for the slow-loading infirmaries to empty their patients and equipment into their holds. The Commander had ordered a defense battalion to set up around them, and now droids and unmanned walkers were swarming the defensive lines. Torian’s Mandalorians almost seemed to be having fun, but there were so many droids, and only a few of the Mando warriors clad in their beskar armor…

At their fore was one warrior in a particularly battered suit of armor, alternatively firing his blaster rifle into the crowd, swinging it at a too-close droid as if the weapon was really a vibroblade, then calling something in over his helmet’s commlink, and the Mandalorians would break and reform ranks around him like a well-oiled machine. Vette spotted the dark head of Mako as she popped up nearby the Commander, fired a few shots into droids he didn’t see, then ducked down again to find another sniping position.

“Yeah, you get ‘em, girl!” said Vette.

She almost didn’t hear someone dropping down behind her, and she swung around with her blaster pistol out in a panic. Darth Merce was at the other end of it. He just raised an eyebrow at her pistol and pushed its muzzle aside; shamefacedly, Vette put it away.

“Shouldn’t you be down there?” she dared to ask him. “And where’s your clothes?”

He just looked at her, and her skin crawled. She was used to Merce glaring at her, even threatening her with a swift cuff or shock, but this was something different. Rather than filling the metaphorical room with his presence, the Sith seemed distracted and not-all-there.

“Brant?”

“Where are the soldiers congregating?” he asked.

Vette gestured wordlessly at the Mandalorians below.

“And my father?”

“Down there with them.”

“Good.” And he was off running, but not in the direction of the ramps leading down to ground level.

“Wait!” she cried, dashing after him. He slowed, this time giving her one of his familiar glares. “Wait. Shouldn’t you be helping them?”

Merce blinked and shook his head, and he began looking all around, counting the doors as they went past. He paused at one junction, growled, and leaped down the other passageway. He then stopped short at the next, hesitating.

“Brant, please just tell me what is going on!” Vette panted as she caught up.

“Why should you care?” he snapped back, and that sounded much more like him. Vette relaxed, putting her hands on her hips and inching out up front of him while he continued to hesitate.

“Why shouldn’t I? We’re friends, aren’t we? Look, if you’ve got a special task from the Commander, I can help you do it twice as fast.”

That made him hesitate. “Are we friends?”

Vette gave him her best “duh” look. He seemed surprised, but Vette wasn’t able to elaborate, as the floor shook from another blast.

“Oooof. I think they’re starting the bombardment again,” Vette said as she picked herself back up off the floor. Merce was, of course, already on his feet, but he had gone very pale.

“No time,” he spit out, and off he went again.

Vette caught him again in the control room, fiddling with the levers on the panel that controlled the base’s shields. “I don’t--” Another blast stole her next words. She caught herself on the wall and finished, “I don’t think that’s the right lever, Brant!”

Darth Merce pulled it anyway.

Vette clung to the wall as they began shaking uncontrollably. “Tha-tha-a-a-at’s th-the o-one that sh-sh-shuts it d-do-own, m-my lord!”

Darth Merce turned to her, blue eyes gleaming oddly. “I know.”

Vette just stared at him.

She heard a faint whistling before it hit. Something exploded, perhaps the control panel, perhaps the door, or maybes something that had detonated just outside the door. She was aware of pain in her wrists as she was thrown violently to the ground, then something man-shaped was falling on top of her, pressing her head into the ground under his protective cover. “Oh, great,” she muttered. “Just how I always wanted to go--”

Then she heard another whistling, and her senses were overtaken by the blinding pain of burning all over her body. Over the agony, she faintly heard Brant screaming, but it seemed to be in anger, not in pain.

 


 

“The shields just went down, sir!”

Keel’ath almost didn’t hear it. One of the droid’s blaster rounds pinged off the side of his helmet, briefly clouding the comlink with static. He gave it a good rap with one hand, in the same motion pulling back on his rifle’s trigger and putting another droid down.

“What was that?”

“The shields! Over the base. They just went down.”

“That’s not possible…” Keel’ath flung his head skyward, and in a day full of impossibilities, he saw another had come to pass. The blue glaze-like bubble over HQ was gone, and to make things worse, the sharp tip of a Eternal ship’s lower mast was dragging its way through the clouds. Keel’ath knew another bombardment couldn’t be far behind, and they were all sitting mynox.

“Retreat!” he bellowed, and keyed in the same command to his helmet, where it would flash to every other Mandalorian in the unit. “Get on a transport! I don’t care which one. Go!” He fired off a round at the nearest droid and stooped to grab Mako by the arm.

"But Brant--" she said.

Keel'ath shook his head fiercely and hauled her up. "He's not here. There's nothing we can do for him right now."

"But--"

"MOVE!" He didn't like yelling at his wife, but they couldn't wait, or they would die. Keel'ath continued to urge her towards one of the transports, hoping he wouldn't have to pick her up bodily in the end, but after one good look at the battlefield from the top of the gangplank, Mako seemed to concede the point and dashed up into the ship. Keel'ath followed after her.

The captain’s expression was agonized as they both tumbled into the bridge. “I’m giving the medical crew as much time as I can to get on board,” he said through clenched teeth.

“How many?” said Keel’ath.

“Th-that was the last one assigned to us, sir.”

“ 'Assigned'?”

“Yes…” He didn’t add the honorific in his horror, pointing out of the windshield. Keel’ath could see lines of floating gurneys and crouching medics still sprawled across the landing pad, smoking holes where some of their assigned transports once stood.

He cursed under his breath. “Bring the ship around, low, and drive it in that direction. Don’t bring the gangplanks up until we’re past the clouds. We’ll just have to hope a few can cling on as we pass....”

“Sir.” Lana was inexplicably at his shoulder. Damned Sith, always popping out of nowhere… “Captain Sunwalker is with me. We’ll try to lift what we can of the gurneys aboard.”

“Hop to it, Lana.”

The Sith saluted, and grabbing the arm of the one-eyed Jedi next to her, they clattered down into the hold. Keel’ath watched as the captain followed his orders, carefully maneuvering the transport down among the lines of refugees. Then they were steadily rising up into the clouds, their wispy tips shredding themselves on the nose of the ship.

The captain contacted the lower decks. “Is everyone in?”

“As in as they possibly can be,” Sunwalker replied over the comms.

The captain gave the command to close the hatches. He waited for the sound of the mechanical lifts to die down, then gave the ship a burst of speed. At least the fog would cover them until they were well out of the sector, and then they could leave the atmosphere and jump into hyperspace.

Keel’ath crossed over to Mako, who was licking at a split lip and gazing out the windshield, hands propped on the dash. She arched her neck when he came closer, looking at him from out of the corner of her eye.

"I'm okay," she said. "I'm not injured."

"You're angry with me."

"No." She didn't look at him. "I'm just... worried... for him." She squeezed the edge of the dash. When he didn't move, she gave him a light shove. "Go look after the others, Commander. I know we had to leave him. I'll be alright. Just go."

"We'll come back for him, Mako."

That got him a little smile, but then she was back to looking out the windshield, as if her eyes could pierce through the fog. Keel'ath thought that was probably as good as he was going to get, and he passed her by, going down into the hold.

What greeted him was chaos, but it was chaos beyond his understanding, for he was a killer, not a healer. He stood back and let the medical officers take charge. Even Lathril Sunwalker was down there among the wounded, holding a gaping hole in one man’s chest closed with his hands while bullying another next to him to bear through the pain and stay awake. Keel’ath nodded to himself. The boy was growing in confidence, at least.

He just wished that was true for all of his kin.

Lana did what she could for the injured next to her, passed on a few orders to an aide, then spotted him and came to his side. “This was all very unexpected,” she said.

Keel’ath sighed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Commander. I wouldn’t normally make such a suggestion, but I do believe this was more than just some sudden malfunction of the shield generators.”

Keel’ath eyed her. “You expect treachery?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Got any leads?”

She ducked her head slightly, but her yellow eyes didn’t leave his. “The only one who was unaccounted for before the attack was your son.”

Keel’ath closed his eyes and turned his head away. He didn’t want to believe it, but after the confrontation in the conference room, what else was there to believe? “How long do you think he’s been working for the other side?” he asked reluctantly.

“Hard to say, sir. He couldn’t have known anything before coming out of the carbonite. So at some point between then and now…” Lana shrugged helplessly.

Keel’ath shook his head. “He was aboard the Dauntless all that time, and here on Odessen for the rest of it. There must have been another, at the very least someone to connect him to a spy network…”

“I’ll do a thorough search through the records, sir, but I’m afraid of what we’ll find.”

Keel’ath nodded; there was nothing else to say.

“Sir…” She hesitated. “If… I do manage to find him. Do I have orders to kill?”

Keel’ath listened to the dull throbbing of the pacemaker in his chest. He had not had a heart for a very long time, and the mechanical whirring replaced the sound of a heartbeat. It was still running at double-speed after the exertion of the battle.

“I can make it painless,” Lana added.

“You must do as you see right,” said Keel’ath. “I don’t have the heart to make that order.”

Lana nodded, bowing her head; she understood. Keel’ath said nothing as he turned and went back up to the bridge. He would say nothing at all about the exchange to Mako, instead just coming to stand beside her and looping his good arm around her shoulders.

“Kellaro’s ready with the first safe house,” said Mako. “Shall we meet him there?”

“Might as well,” said Keel’ath.

Mako put one hand on the faceplate of his helm, leaning his head against hers. They watched silently as the stars lengthened outside the cockpit, and the ship leaped into hyperspace.

 

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The Prisoner
A Star Wars Fan Fiction

Turns out waking a Sith from carbon-freezing can be hazardous to one's health...

 

Vette is based on the character of the same name from Star Wars: the Old Republic. In my headcanon, it was Keel'ath who went on to become the Outlander and then Commander of the Eternal Alliance, with Kellaro and Darth Merce/Brant serving under him. So though I kept some details from the SWTOR storylines like the carbonite freezing and Vette's presence, don't confuse this with how Chapters played out in-game. (No spoilers made or intended.)

Author's Note

 

He felt tingling on the tips of his fingers first. Then all of him was tingling, then hurting, as every nerve stabbed at him as if they had gone a long time without blood. He croaked a scream, trying to move his numb and swollen legs. Something shifted around his feet and his stomach flipped, and then he was falling.

He hit the floor a few seconds later, hard, though he only felt it as a distant impact, separated from his sense of self. Instantly his Force senses snapped out, even as his body remained dull and sluggish. Fragmented memories chased themselves in his mind, speaking of ambushes and a losing battle on his starship. His emotions sang out with a fury through the clouded dark.

I will not submit!

His Force sense seized upon a lifeform at his side, and he instantly moved to attack it. So his arms wouldn't respond but to stab at him -- no matter! He reached out with the Force instead, catching the creature's throat and throttling it, gleeful as his attacker’s life drained away.

That was for humiliating me.

He was about to reach for another, when the stun bolt from a blaster hit him, rippling across his limbs oddly, as he still couldn't clearly register any sensation but nerve-pain. He instead felt his movements deaden more, and his mind with them, and for the longest time he could only seethe in impotent hatred.

I will not submit!


“I have a surprise for you, Vette.”

“Oh? Go on.” She looked up at the twin with easy humor. Kellaro didn't have the same sharp edge to him that Darth Merce had had, but the way his blue eyes glowed, as if he wasn't sure whether to string her along with bad humor or to satisfy his own impatience, was the same, as well as the seamless way he fell into pace beside her, his long strides quiet but powerful. He had certainly inherited their father’s frame, not that of the little Mako.

Kellaro didn't answer her but to steer her towards his ship, still unloading its contents deeper into the Republic frigate it was docked inside. They paused to allow a long line of floating carbonite coffins to pass by.

“Most of them didn't survive the freezing process,” said Kellaro in a grunt. “Some of them did though, and I think Dad will like who we managed to recruit. They were almost all Jedi or Sith. I guess the Emperor wanted to make a collection out of them.”

“Is one of them the surprise?” asked Vette.

“Well, sort of.”

The line ended, and they went up into the starfighter, turning towards its medical bay. Vette was surprised to see a trooper standing on guard there, blaster rifle in hand, and the orange glow coming from the vents in its muzzle told her it was charged and ready.

“Is that really necessary?” she asked, but Kellaro was busy with the guard.

“The tranquilizer hasn't worn off as far as we can tell, sir,” the guard was reporting, “but he keeps growling and snarling like he's awake.”

“No more use of the Force?”

“No, sir. At least he’s too fuzzy-headed for that.”

Now Kellaro turned to Vette, but he looked embarrassed now. “It's him, Vette. Darth Merce. It's really him, but he doesn't recognize, well, anyone. I was hoping maybe he'd calm down if he sensed you were nearby. The transport’s logs indicated they froze him fresh out of a battle.”

“The ambush over Ilum,” Vette murmured.

Kellaro nodded. He keyed into the door a command to open a little window so they could see into the medical bay. The lights were turned to a calming dim grayish light, and she could just make out the silhouette of someone lying on the examination table. The man was on his side, twisted weirdly in the restraints. His teeth were fixed in a snarl, but his eyes were near closed. When she shifted closer to get a better look, the eyelids flickered, but Darth Merce didn't lift his head.

She stood back and looked at Kellaro, reading the same mixed feelings there that she had: excitement, dismay, the pang of old fears and loss.

“Is he safe to talk to?” she asked.

Kellaro shook his head. “I don't know. The only Sith who've attacked me I've always been free to shoot. I don't know how to deal with a, er, live one. I don't think he recognizes me at all.”

“He will,” said Vette, taking his hand. “I recognized you after all, the moment I met you, and he has the Force to back him up. We just have to get him calmed down enough to, er, use it properly.”

“Use it to sense me, not try and kill me,” Kellaro agreed dryly. He looked back at the window. “I'll let you in to try, if you want. Just you; he gets worse with a lot of people around."

“Okay,” Vette murmured, swallowing hard. Kellaro nodded to the door guard, who keyed in the override, and the bay door wooshed open.

Scents of medicine and cleaning chemicals struck Vette’s nostrils, including the burnt-iron smell of carbonite and the tangy sweat of a sick man. She walked in a broad circle -- or as broad a circle as the compact medical bay would allow -- letting the half-conscious Sith get a look at her, if only he opened his eyes.

He didn't, but the eyelids flickered again when she came between him and the brighter light emanating from the hall. Just as the door guard reported, Brant began to growl continuously.

“Hey, big guy,” said Vette lightly, but she couldn't quite keep the fear from her voice. Darth Merce had warmed to her considerably since their first disastrous meeting on Korriban, but he was still a Sith and highly unpredictable.

The growling abruptly ceased, and his eyelids moved as if he were having an intense dream. Something seemed to brush her, touching her shoulder and giving her neck a squeeze as if it would like to choke her out. Vette stiffened, but the squeeze came from the back, not the front, over the old scars of her shock collar.

Vette slapped at the Force-grip and and scowled at Merce. He was smiling, but in a faint, sleepwalker way. “Yes, you know exactly who I am; now stop it!” she told him.

The Force-grip didn't return. She came around to the Darth's head and stroked his thick, black hair. He began twitching all over, like he was trying to sit up but couldn't. His head lolled into her hand and his sightless gaze sought the ceiling. His eyes rolled up, closed, then he went still.

“You're drugged,” Vette told him, “because you've been a very naughty boy, but you're among friends. I promise.”

Darth Merce growled.

“I'd tell you something only I would know to prove it, but I'm not sure you're awake enough to understand,” she said, giving the head another pat. She looked up to Kellaro and beckoned him in.

“That was certainly less explosive than usual,” he quipped.

Merce began to growl again, and Vette was impressed how threatening he could make it sound despite only being half-awake. Some things came naturally to Sith, she supposed.

Kellaro’s hand immediately went to the blaster on his hip, but then he looked guilty and put it away. “Do you think we should wake him up?” he asked.

“I don't know,” said Vette. “He'll always be dangerous. How quickly can you put him out again?”

“With the intravenous, pretty quickly,” said Kellaro, gesturing to Merce’s wrist.

Vette looked. “So just don't let him jerk it out. That should be easy,” she said sardonically.

“Failing that, a stun round,” said Kellaro, gesturing to the door guard.

“Fair enough.”

They looked at each other, sharing trepidation but also a growing hope. Darth Merce still growled between them.

“Pipe down,” Vette told him, and thankfully, he stopped. That was good. He might not be so keen to fly into a murderous rage if only--

She shook the thought away. “Ready when you are,” she told Kellaro.

Kellaro nodded, crossing over to the life support machine and changing the dials on the intravenous. The drip slowed, stopped, then provided the counter-drug. Darth Merce, perhaps in unconscious anticipation, began twitching all over again. Then he lurched onto his other side with a half-roar.

Kellaro was at the restraint controls in an instant, face drawn but determined. Vette struggled not to laugh at him -- she'd have to tell him later he looked like he was facing down a rancor, not his own twin brother.

Yet Merce didn't move again, except to blink awake, grimacing. He squinted and cast around with his eyes, yet despite the medical bay lights having come on in full, his gaze didn't stop on anything.

He began to growl again, but it was mostly to himself, a half-whine of pain and fear and a rallying of impotent fury. He tried to turn over again, but stopped as he met the restraints. He tested them, but his thoughts were clearly elsewhere as it was only half-hearted.

“Loosen those,” Vette told Kellaro.

“Are you sure?”

“Vette?” Merce asked at the same time. His head turned her way, but his eyes never landed on her, despite passing her right by several times. He had been rendered blind by the carbon-freezing, Vette realized with a chill.

“I'm sure,” she told Kellaro, then to Darth Merce, she said, “I'm here. And we’re with friends. It's okay, you wouldn't remember, and frankly it's all a bit complicated politically right now.”

The restraints hissed back into their holders, but Darth Merce didnt move, his limbs slack now they had nothing to fight against. It was then she realized just how truly spent he must have been -- in true Sith fashion, not showing his pain until it was severe.

“Give him some kolto, and a stim,” she told Kellaro. He obeyed.

“This will sting,” he advised soothingly, as he stabbed the injections into Merce's shoulder.

Merce turned his way with a snarl. “Who are you?”

Kellaro paused, not seeming to know what to say.

“Your brother,” Vette said for him. “We found your brother, my lord. You never told me he was your twin.”


Brant slowly lay back as the injection sting was overtaken by a rising sense of energy and wellness. His breath came more easily, and his blood was moving properly again, down into his toes and fingers, washing away any lingering sense of numbness. Yet he still couldn't see, even though Vette had assured him the lights were bright.

“What do you mean? Turn the lights on!”

“They are on, my lord.”

“Then turn them up!”

“They are up…”

He could sense her presence, barely, along with that of another's at his side: another very familiar presence, so much so he was afraid of examining it more closely. It was too good to be true, and he'd had such rewards dangled and then snatched from him before by the Masters. Vette still hadn't told him where they were, so he was disinclined to trust it was anywhere friendly, no matter what she said.

Yet how could his enemies fake a presence so familiar? He almost didn't want to ask.

And the presence -- his brother -- almost didn't seem to want to break the spell either by speaking.

Even Vette remarked on it. “Well, I expected a more exciting reunion than that!”

Brant looked towards Kellaro, even though he still couldn't see him. He heard the man take in an sigh, then he was patting Brant awkwardly on the knee. Brant didn't move -- he couldn't return the pats even if he wanted to while blind -- and soon they stopped.

“Well, at least there's no more need for the tranq,” said Kellaro, and Brant almost thought the voice was his own. It wasn't quite as hoarse, not as weighed with the constant Darkside anger, not as sarcastic, but if he had any more doubts, they fled. It was really, impossibly, him. His brother.

“Where are we?” Brant demanded.

“Among friends--”

“Hush!” Brant snapped at Vette, turning a severe gaze in the direction he was pretty sure he had heard Kellaro from last.

Yet, Kellaro’s voice then came from his other side, as well as a few beeps of buttons and the click of some rotary or lever. An instrument panel? “You are among friends. Yes, even if you did strangle Private Coren. You're not in Imperial space though, and I guess we couldn't technically be called Republic space either, considering… well...”

“Considering what?” Brant growled.

It was a very poignant pause.

“A lot has happened in fifteen years. I became a starship trooper of the Galactic Republic,” Kellaro finally said solemnly.

Whap. Brant slapped himself back on the examination table. Fear was turning into rage, and yet... he couldn't unleash this one. He wanted to. Kellaro deserved it, surely, yet... glimmers of a long distant past, of a brotherhood, restrained him more effectively than the leather that had just been around his wrists and ankles. So instead, he quietly seethed.

“It hardly matters now,” said Kellaro with a note of bitterness.

“You said fifteen years,” said Brant suddenly. “We parted when we were seven. It should be more like thirteen years…”

“You've been under for two or three years, my lord,” said Vette. She had wisely moved out from between him and Kellaro.

“And in that time, the Eternal Empire has made up all the ground they lost when Fa--when the Alliance overthrew the Emperor. That's who I report to now, by the way... It's probably the only thing that saved your skin from us Pubs.”

Brant snarled, but he said nothing, still trying to put the pieces together in his head.

“Inspection muster in ten minutes, sir,” called the door guard. “They just called me over the holo.”

“Get him on his feet. You, er, will have to steer him,” said Kellaro to Vette.

“So you take his orders now?” Brant snapped. That really bothered him for some reason.

“You're blind,” Kellaro said flatly. “It should clear up, but until then, you're more vulnerable than a baby. Let Vette help.”

“I'll try to make it discrete, my lord,” said Vette near his ear.

“I seem to have no choice,” growled Brant.

“You're right. You don't.” Kellaro’s voice sounded hollow, depressed. “Ten minutes, Vette. I need to see to the men.”

“Alright,” said Vette, and Brant sensed her looking at him.

He gave her general direction a sneer, and he sat up. He could feel the floor tile grain through his shoes, and it was true: it was a standard Republic pattern, not an Imperial one. He clenched his fists but said nothing, docilely accepting Vette’s help to stand.

Whatever the others said about friendship, he would act as if he were in enemy territory. He couldn't trust a Republic trooper, especially not when it had turned out to be his brother...

 

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Coming By It Honestly
A Star Wars Fan Fiction

Some other bits and pieces from Lathril's adventures in SW:TOR. Kira is based on an NPC of the same name from the Jedi Knight class story. The way Lathril meets her, and her personality, is a little different from how it is in the game.

Author's Note

“That is reckless," Lathril said sternly. He said it quietly, for the Imperials were patrolling just outside the blast door. The two Jedi were crouched in a Balmora bunker, their breathing loud in their ears, the green of the indicator lights above the door bathing their faces in a pallid hue. Still, he could make out Kira's scowl.

"It's not a sound idea, Padawan," he continued. "The Jedi code teaches us to --”

“Hang the Jedi code!" Kira hissed. "If we did this your way, we won't make it to the engine room in time. Isn't it important the SIS get that tech ASAP?”

The pair glared at each other.

“As I am the higher rank, I'm making the decision,” said Lathril finally.

Kira scoffed. “Oh, rank…”

“Your own master gave me leadership. Do you not trust her judgement?”

Kira backed down. “Fine. We’ll do this your way: the slow, coward’s way.”

“At least a coward can become brave another day,” Lathril returned. “A reckless hero is simply dead.”

“My master said you were in charge, not that you could give me lectures. So where to now, O Knight?”

“...this way, as I said.”


There was only one way through.

As soon as they had passed into the hallway, they were seen. The Imperials reacted quickly, lining up behind a row of barricades that popped themselves from the floor. Lathril hesitated, then grimaced, then charged the gunners, moving his lightsaber in a blur like a bo staff, hoping that would catch the majority of the blasts. He heard Kira call out from behind him, but he could spare no thoughts for her. He had to hope she'd either take cover... or similarly strike fast and hard.

He reached the first gunner and, adding an extra burst of Force, swung the saber through him without breaking his deflection pattern. He then ducked the other way, catching the second gunner in the same pattern. Shots whizzed past his exposed back, and Lathril dropped tino a roll, switching off the lightsaber just long enough to catch himself on his palms and push off into a somersault. His momentum slapped his feet on the ground milliseconds later, and he sprung high in the air, igniting the lightsaber again and bringing it down on the third and fourth gunners in one big sweep.

Then he had to drop as another squadron sprinted around the corner, letting out a volley of blaster fire to lead the way. He heard the lasers ping-ponging over his head as Kira reflected them back with her own lightsaber. He waited for the screams and the clatter of a blaster hitting the floor, then up he swung again, pushing deeper into the compound with the same curtain of lightsaber light around him.

He wondered if his charge might become too predictable, allowing the Imperials an easy counter, but it only took one more push through a barricaded corridor before they were into the engine room. The scientists and slicers sprung back against the walls or desperately tried to fit themselves between computers without pressing buttons, terrified. Lathril cleared the space around him with another arc, but when no more blaster fire came, he paused to get his bearings.

“I didn't think you had it in you!” said Kira, coming up beside him, panting with exertion and excitement. Her eyes shone. “Nice flying, ‘Walker!”

“Focus,” said Lathril. “The tech we need is in here somewhere.”

Kira scowled. “Yeah, fine, back to work. Maybe one of these people know something...”

“They're Imperials. I doubt they will help us.”

“Huh. Got something against Imperials, I guess!” said Kira, and swung over to one of the slicers trying to hide behind a glassless display that had just shut itself off.

Lathril decided not to state the obvious about “having something against Imperials”.

“If you tell us where the tech is, we'll let you go safe," Kira wheedled, but the slicer hedged and shifted and looked anything but helpful.

“We don't have time for this!” Lathril admonished, and he began wading through the bushels of wires in the back of the room, looking for anywhere a small gadget might be hidden.

“Oh, don't listen to him. He just gets grumpy when he's been shot at.”

“I'm not being grumpy, I'm being practical!”

“So am I!" Kira returned. "Trust me, this always works.”

“It works to articulate your plans up front of the enemy?” Lathril shot back, gesturing at the incredulous gazes of the Imperials.

“They are not the enemy! Or rather, they don't have to be.” She turned to the slicer again, who flinched back against the wall. “So, what do you say?”

“Nevermind, I think I found it,” Lathril grumbled. A likely looking hunk of metal sat behind a clear glass drawer. Lathril ignited his lightsaber; there was no time to find the drawer's passkey.

“Wait--” said Kira.

Weewoo! said a sudden alarm, just as Lathril plunged the lightsaber through the glass. He winced, thinking he should have expected the case to be trapped, but as he turned around, he caught sight of a white-haired scientist taking his hand off an alarm button, glaring at them.

“You won't be stealing anything today,” he said in a quavering voice

“You were supposed to be watching!” Lathril rounded on Kira. “Now what do you think of Imperials?”

“I don't have six dozen eyes!” Kira retorted.

Weewoo! blared the alarm.

Self destruction in five minutes, said a voice over the intercom. Half the slicers screamed, and even the scientist who had pressed the button turned a little pale.

“Who would've predicted that?” said Kira.

“Someone who isn't trying to make friends of mass murderers,” growled Lathril. “Come on!”

The Imperials fled around them, not without some bumps and jostles, but when Lathril pulled his lightsaber free of the drawer and swept it around, no one dared approach him. He steeled himself and punched through the last of the glass, cutting his knuckles. The white-haired scientist glared at him, but as the intercom continued to count down, he fled with the rest.

Lathril picked up their prize and looked at Kira. “Time to go.”

“I'm with you on this one,” said Kira.

They fled back the way they had come, but Kira’s master hadn't returned from her detour. Kira hesitated at the junction, but Lathril plowed into her back with his shoulder, as his hands were full with lightsaber and the tech. “No time!”

“But—”

Lathril began shoving her with the one shoulder. Was the intercom getting louder, or was it merely his Force sense, focusing his thoughts on the danger?

Or is it fear…

“No time!” Lathril repeated. “Look, the whole point of the raid was to get this tech. If we don't get out of here, the entire mission will have been in vain!”

Kira pinned her mouth shut, eyes glistening, and accepted his shove. She ran ahead of him, igniting her lightsaber to clear the way of foes. Though a couple of droids gave them trouble, everyone else was trying to leave the compound as fast as they were.

They reached the bunker door. “Master only has a few seconds,” Kira said, abruptly stopping.

Lathril plowed into her. “GO, Kira!”

She went.

Their feet had just passed the threshold when the base went. It must've been a detonation deep in the compound: Lathril heard it before he felt or saw it: a thundering roar, before a wall of fire advanced around the corner and made for them. Kira was running flat out now, and so was he. He yelled in anticipation as the flames reached him, and he tucked the tech under one arm in a dire attempt to protect it.

Light and heat and pain closed over him.

They came through the fire together. Kira was staggering and screaming, and he wasn't much better. He grabbed her about the shoulders and hauled her bodily away when she fell.

Kira pushed him off as they got far enough away that he could feel something other than heat, and she began tottering back the other way. Lathril dropped the tech -- it was either hardy enough to take it or was already ruined by the fire -- and grabbed her about the waist.

“Let go! My Master is in there!”

“Padawan, stop!”

“My Master!”

“She's dead! And you will be dead, if you go back in there!”

There was another explosion, probably a computer’s power supply going up, and Lathril closed his good eye against it. Even so his eyelid blazed red and yellow, and when he opened his eye, for a split second he feared he was blind. Sparks stung his already too-hot face, awakening memories of the speeder crash... A bit of flaming debris alighted near them like a bird clothed in orange feathers. Kira abruptly stopped struggling.

“Come on!” Lathril pulled her away.


When they reported to the Council, their faces were grim, even as Lathril recounted their ultimate success with the mission. They said little, however, other than to make Kira his apprentice. To her credit and grace, she said nothing until they were leaving the Council Hall.

“My Master’s death is still your fault,” she told him.

Lathril stopped short. It was true; he couldn't refute that.

Kira didn't look at him, just kept walking.

“Padawan,” Lathril said, and Kira had just enough training to pause. “Don't hate me. That won't help anybody.”

“Of course you'd say that...remove the blame from yourself, why don't you?”

“I'm not removing the blame, only... hatred leads to the Dark Side.”

“I know more about the Dark Side then you'll ever understand,” she snapped back. “If only because you're half-blind!”

And she left. Lathril passed a hand subconsciously over the metal plate covering his right eye socket. He felt terrible: for him, for her, for the likely future. As her master now, he was responsible for seeing her safely through her training. Was he capable?

She was so rebellious. Lathril bowed his head. He couldn't let himself get drawn in to her emotions, for that would cloud his judgement. He'd need to be tough on her.

He just hoped it wouldn't secure her hatred for him before she could understand his actions.


“So what did give you the scar? A starfighter crash? A battle with a Sith?”

“Oh, nothing so exciting.”

“Tell me!”

Lathril grimaced. “I fell off my speeder when I was a kid.”

Kira gawped for a minute. “Really? That's it?”

“ ‘Fraid so.”

“Just how fast were you going?”

Lathril shrugged. “A hundred kilos.”

“A hundred??” Her disappointment turned to awe again.

“I liked going fast.”

“I'll say,” said Kira. She looked away. “I guess that makes sense.”

“What does?”

“Why you're so careful now.”

“Well, it's true I'd rather hang onto my last eye.”

Kira coughed awkwardly, then she pointed at the eye patch. “Can you see at all out of that?”

“Not exactly. The, uh, eye is gone, but they wired the plate back into my head. I can't see, but I can sense, um, heat signatures and things.”

“Sounds disorienting.”

“It was, yes, but you get used to it.”

Kira looked at him inquisitively. “So no one can sneak up on you from that side.”

“No one with a heat signature,” Lathril confirmed.

“So maybe a Trandoshan.”

Lathril shrugged. “Never fought one.”

“Hope you never do,” Kira advised. She looked away again. “They're slavers, or at least where I come from. Hateful things.”

“Where you come from -- where is that?”

Kira looked down. “It's a long story. I apologize, after you explained your eye and all, but I'd rather not talk about it now.”

“Very well," said Lathril evenly.

Kira kept flickering her eyes to him though, both directly and out of the corner of her eye. Lathril was about to ask her what was the matter, but she beat him to it: “So when did it happen?”

“This? I told you, when I was a kid. I must've been eleven or twelve.”

“This was when you were with the Jedi?”

“No, before.”

“You must've been old for a recruit," said Kira.

“I was, but it wasn't entirely unexpected when they came to recruit me. The Force runs in my family.”

Kira shifted, looking at her hands. "So you know your family…”

“Yes. I was an old recruit. My parents were Jedi themselves... They left the order when they realized they, well, wanted to have me.”

Kira snorted. “And before that? You said it runs in your family. So are all of your ancestors defected Jedi?”

“Not all,” Lathril said awkwardly. “It skipped my grandparents, as far as I know, and go back too far and they weren't calling them Jedi, or not on my homeworld. The planet's had a tradition of Force-users going back for millennia…”

Kira seemed taken aback. “Force-users who are not Jedi or Sith…”

“Yes," said Lathril impatiently. "They exist. Just usually not in the core worlds, because of the jurisdictions involved.”

Kira was thoughtful. “One day, I'd love to meet one.”

“It's rare," Lathril warned. "Balance is hard to keep outside of an established order, and the Sith don't want any order beyond their own to flourish. There are many ways to the Dark Side, Padawan.”

“The same could be said of the Jedi," Kira retorted.

Lathril grimaced. Thinking he had better steer the conversation back to safer territory, he said, “With great power comes great responsibility. It's better someone is setting standards, and that that someone is the Jedi.”

Kira sighed at him. “And to think you sounded so human for a minute.”

“Undisciplined, you mean," muttered Lathril.

“Well... yes. It was nice.” She poked her tongue at him.

Lathril shook his head. This wasn't at all going how he wanted. “The Force is greater than all of us, Padawan. To use it is a gift, one we cannot take lightly. And speaking of, you should return to your meditation.”

Kira groaned. “Yes, that's more the Master Sunwalker I know.” Shaking her head, she got up to leave, leaving Lathril feeling vaguely perturbed.

She had seemed so close to understanding it, only to revert back to advocating for irresponsibility and rash actions again. Lathril watched her as she settled to the work he had given her. There was still so much work to do.

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