The Good Sith Triumphant


A Tale of the Star Wars
The Good Sith Triumphant
by
E. E. Nalley

3642 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin)
Balmorra The Colonies Area of the Galaxy

As retreats go, ours was in very good order.

The Cold War, and the uneasy truce, that both the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic had been suffering through, glaring at each other while sharpening knives, had ended on Balmorra. It was an industrial world, predominantly covered in battle droid factories and munitions plants, ceded to us in the Treaty of Coruscant, though never truly won by force of arms. Rebellion seemed to be the main pastime of the citizens of Balmorra, and though we always suspected the Republic was secretly supplying the populace with arms and other aid, we could never prove it.

Until today.

My Mistress and I had come to the suburban world on the orders of Darth Marr, head of the Circle of Defense of the Empire, to investigate, for the who knew which time ,why the production quota had not been met again. My Mistress, the inestimable Darth Vannacen, had been attempting to be the velvet glove over the iron fist. She went from factory to warehouse, as regal as a queen and as beautiful as a goddess, listening to the workers complaints, touring plants for poor working conditions first hand. She was as welcoming and as warm as Darth Vader was menacing and terrifying.

There were days I envied her ability to walk into a room of strangers and instantly own it. She could do more with a low cut silk gown and a toothy smile than most people could with a suitcase full of cash. Meanwhile I had been her eyes, basically poking my nose where it wasn't wanted, seeing things that weren't meant to be seen.

Unfortunately I had 'seen' a complete Republic Legion in the process of unloading their armor division from a disguised freighter and had managed to transmit that visual back to my Imperial betters. This caused the Republic commander to come to the decision that upping his time table was better than allowing things to devolve into debate about our formal complaint in the Galactic Senate. So, with that piece of fine Republican logic he launched the New Sith War single-handedly.

His attack suffered for being so far ahead of schedule which allowed our retreat, turning a massacre into one of those quietly desperate actions which future historians look back on to describe as 'their finest hour'. We were having to sacrifice a lot of equipment to make room for the men as the circle around Sobrik Space Port got smaller and smaller. Still, discipline was good and the men were glad to have myself and my Mistress with them, covering the retreat.

They say a Sith Warrior is a division unto him or herself, and Darth Vannacen and I were doing all we could to live up to such a heady description. On the end of the runway of the field, desperately pushing back to give the troopers time to board the last few transports we could scavenge. It was our most desperate hour, so of course, that was when the Jedi would show up.

It is eerie fighting a Jedi.

While their Padawans' faces still betrayed their fear and excitement of the battle, the masters were another matter; their faces were blank. They came at us with no expression of anything on their faces, as flat and emotionless as a battle droid. It was as though they were under the effect of some narcotic, immune to fear and heedless of danger. Even when cut down their eyes were just as empty dead as they were alive.

Unfortunately I was still terribly new at this, despite Darth Vannacen's best efforts to make me realize that battle was something serious, with dangerous, permanent consequences. I had only been her apprentice for a couple of years and as she was wont to constantly remind me, my habit of showing off my abilities with the more acrobatic forms of Ataru were extremely counter productive. “A light saber battle isn't a game, young one!” she would scold me. “You don't get points for style!”

I was fighting a pair of Jedi, a bearded master with coal black hair and two little lines of gray at the corner of his mouth and his Padawan, a green eyed blonde with beauty even those ridiculous robes the Jedi wore couldn't hide. A few dozen meters away Darth Vannacen was battling a pair of masters and making them both look like fools while we protected the last squads that were giving us cover with a thick blanket of blaster fire the Republic troops were eagerly returning. “This is our world!” I shouted at the blank face of the Jedi. “You are violating the treaty! You are attacking us!”

“Your evil ends today, Sith,” the Master told me mechanically as though an automaton.

His feint forced me left, towards his Padawan and my giving nature got the best of me. As I landed from my leap, the girl thought to attack me from behind, but I lashed out with my foot and planted it firmly in her gut, bending her over and expelling her air forcefully. She staggered and half fell backwards, but the master was much faster than I expected. Suddenly he loomed in front of me and his blade filled my vision such that I could feel the heat of his blade, millimeters from my neck, when a bright scarlet blade flashed across my line of sight, flying through the air. It was my mistress's saber that blocked his killing stroke, knocking his blade so hard both he and his blade were spun away from me. It had saved my life.

Time seemed to stop as I looked over my shoulder and realized what she had done, throwing her blade, leaving herself defenseless. I raised my own blade to throw it, to buy her time to call her sword back to her, but before I could do anything I saw the eerie blue white glow of a saber grow out of her stomach as the master she had been fighting took advantage of her selflessness and literally stabbed her in the back. As if from light years away I heard my voice scream, “NO, Mistress!”

A green blade rose in my vision as I rushed towards her, but I was done being charitable as my left blade snapped up to block the Padawan, then with my other I struck, taking her arm off below her elbow. Her scream rung in my ears, but I didn't care as I finished my hop over her falling arm and saber to snap a kick to her jaw, knocking her sprawling. I came around just in time to see her Master had recovered.

For a split second rage flashed across the Master's face as he realized I had maimed his Padawan and was trying to bring his blade back in line, but I ducked under his sword and spun, bifurcating him from left hip to right shoulder. In the distance I heard a scream, a wordless female howl of rage from where the Padawan lay, I heard the frantic cries of the troopers urging me on board as I leaped and dove over blaster bolts thick enough to run on as I tried to get to and save the woman who had saved me.

Our eyes met, her on her knees, gasping as her murderer pulled his blade from her and for the last time I felt her through the Force, felt her reach out with her last strength as she fell forward, dodging his decapitation stroke, commanding the Force to pick me up and fling me into the transport. I rolled to my feet and tried to leap back out to her aid, but six men frantically rose up to stop me. They shouted there was nothing I could do. That I had to let her go. I struggled and cursed them as they held me and the ramp was raised, the ship was rising, and I saw a smile on my Mistress's face as she died and I felt her become one with the Force.

***

3638 BBY (The Present)
Yavin IV, The Gordian Reach, Outer Rim Territories

“Mistress!” The voice pierced the aching sense of loss at the death of my mentor and was followed hard and quick by the mother of all hangovers. “Mistress, wake up! Wake up!”

I fought hard to overcome the pain I awoke in, moaning as I brought my hand up to my forehead and found it wet. My eyes opened and with great effort focused on the feline muzzle of my apprentice, my daughter from another mother. She was afraid, and only just noticing my wound which caused her more worry. I got the damned headset off my head and immediately the pain went down from unbearable to merely agonizing.

I realized my hand was wet because it was covered in my blood.

Never again will I fly without my helmet, I swore to myself. The fighter had burrowed hard into the jungle and come to rest in pieces against a truly massive tree covered in vines and upset wild life. I was hanging by my straps to my right as the wreck was canted to one side and the canopy had been cut away by her light saber. Then I realized I had made my first real impact on this world, this galaxy, this universe because a Sith Apprentice had found her mistress helpless and had not struck her down.

Her voice betrayed her fear as she batted my bloody hand away from the harness release and worked it herself. “We have to hurry, Mistress, they're coming. Can you walk?”

Slowly and cautiously I stood in the ruined cockpit and with her aid managed to get to stable ground. “X4,” I muttered, still trying to shake off the rattling my brain had undergone. I probably had a concussion.

She snatched my helmet from the peg and hung it on her suit next to her own and checked that my light sabers were still attached to my belt. “I haven't forgotten,” she assured me and with her free hand pointed. The rescue lever turned itself and with a muffled explosion the little astromech was launched from the ruined fighter to land more or less upright a few meters away.

“That was interesting!” the little droid exclaimed in Michael Caine's voice. “Let's not ever do that again!”

“The shuttle crash site,” Tari hissed at it as she helped me over. “Which way?”

The top of the droids head opened and a little radar antenna came out and began to spin. “North east.” As we began to struggle through the jungle I got the little first aid kit from its pouch on my belt and opened up a gauze pad to hold against the sharpest point of pain; my left temple.

Slowly recovering my wits, I asked her, “Are you injured, Tari?”

“No, Mistress,” she replied quickly, stepping over a vine the thickness of a log and pausing to help me over it. “I ejected when I saw you crash and realized I had no place to land.”

For a moment I became cross. “You abandoned an operational fighter?” I scolded her, but she shook her head, ducking under a leaf the size of her body.

“No, Mistress, my fighter was damaged and there were three fighters on me. I just picked being next to you instead of riding the wreck down.” I squeezed her shoulder to show her I wasn't angry and shakily pulled away to follow the droid on my own for a bit as the haze was clearing. “I did get to scan the Inescapable Fortress, Mistress and it looked like two full legions have landed, with half of one coming into the jungle to search for us. They were two kilometers away when I ejected.”

“On foot or with speeders?”

“Foot,” she replied quickly. “They were still unloading their vehicles. I think we got here a little sooner than the Will was expecting us.”

“Thank God for small mercies,” I muttered, painfully aware all of the death above and below was my fault. The memory of past deaths on a world I had never been on called out to me across the years.

Suddenly we emerged from the jungle into sunlight, standing in the trench the shuttle had carved as it crashed. Beyond, perhaps six kilometers away I could see a pillar of ugly black smoke from where the other shuttle had augured in and crashed nose first. There would be no survivors from it.

But a debris trail was hopeful and we turned to see the main body of the shuttle was mostly intact and had done its job to protect the troops it was carrying. Tari and I hurried over, even though the wreck would never fly again, this swatch of cleared jungle was big enough for other craft to land in. The rear compartment was open and the men were extracting themselves, salvaging what they could in a hurried, but calm manner.

There are not words for the euphoric relief I felt to see Torm directing the men.

I had noticed he was wearing a lieutenants marks when I had seen him, Silas and Darius waiting to board the shuttle on Barkhesh, so I knew that he had transferred his commission from the Ord Mantell militia to Barkhesh, but at that moment I didn't care about decorum or chains of command. I was so relieved he was alive and unhurt I wrapped myself around him and kissed him with the passion only Sith can truly experience.

Oh we received our share of cat calls from the men, but they didn't stop what they were doing to do so. Coming up for air I hugged him with all my might and into his chest I said, “I'm so glad you're alive!”

“Medic!” He shouted past me, then eased me down to a seated position. “I told you I'd never leave,” he scolded me with good humor as the droid peeled the blood soaked bandage from my temple and began to treat me. I felt even better to be joined with a grinning Silas and Darius.

“Nice landing,” Silas taunted me and I just rolled my eyes.

“I walked away from it,” I shot back. “With Tari's help...”

“You'll be fine, my lady,” the droid assured me as I felt the cold, numbing sensation of kolto gel against my skin.

“Tari saw half a legion of men coming into the jungle after us from the Inescapable Fortress,” I told him while staying as still as I could for the droid. “Tari, what direction and how far?”

The brave little Cathar pointed to the south. “Two kilometers, twenty minutes ago.”

“Karabast,” Torm swore. To his men, he shouted, “Step it up, boys, company is coming!”

“I saw a small cave opening in the mountain,” Tari continued, with a nod to the rocky range looming to the east. “We can regroup there.”

“Let's go!” Darius cried, moving among the men to motivate them. “We're moving out!”

With much less fuss than you might expect, the soldiers made last minute grabs of useful things and began to melt into the jungle like ghosts. Torm fell in beside me as I got steadier on my feet with each step, the droid had done its job well. I filled him in on how disastrous the offensive had gone the news of which he absorbed with a set expression on his face. I tried to take responsibility for the debacle our brief offensive had been, but he would have none of it and dismissed my guilty feelings as the fortunes of war.

We agreed that our priority now was finding some way to successfully infiltrate the Fortress and escape with a craft large enough to hold all of us. No small task considering we were about a hundred and against us two full legions had resupplied the Fortress.

We arrived at Tari's cave in about an hour, it was at the back of a small box canyon that I probably would have missed had I flown over it. It made for an excellent murder box, but also an excellent death trap against an enemy with control of the skies. Torm set up a defensive perimeter around the canyon opening and sent in a scouting party to check the cave. Risking a bit of altitude, watchers reported plenty of speeder activity around the crash site.

It would seem the Legions had their vehicles unpacked.

The scouts soon returned with a favorable report; the cave was actually some kind of ruinous structures which likely led through the range to the other side. Thankful for the refuge we quickly made our way through the ruins and into the cave beyond. And as we trotted through the ruins, in the growing dusk, I felt sure I should recognize this place but I was too rattled by the crash to remember.

Once we were safely underground, the men began to organize themselves and take stock of what they had salvaged. The medical droid had tried to get me to rest, and when I had refused, it tattled on me to Torm, the one being it sensed could give me an order I would obey. I was told to sit and rest in no uncertain terms and when I tried to counter, in hushed tones he told me how badly I was needed, by the men, for their morale. Tari and I were all that was left of the Force users of the expedition and the men's collective courage was hanging by a thread.

Damn him for using my morals against me.

I sat and sulked while the medical droid fussed over me. It must have slipped me something as soon my eyes grew heavy and I was fast asleep.

***

My dreams were a cacophony of images, some too fast to follow and others too chaotic to make out. I saw passion in all its forms, from lovemaking to making model ships, carpentry to scholarly pursuits and most seemed to be the red skinned humanoids of the Sith race. They lived and loved, then fought and died as war became their chief pastime and hatred their chief passion. I witnessed butchery and barbarism on a scale to sicken the mind and deafen the ears as the voices of a billion mothers keened for their dead husbands and sons in a single, all encompassing wail of grief.

I started and once more I was in the cave, on a make shift bed of empty supply crates and someone's cloak over my armored space suit. It was dark, though I could see and in the larger chamber beyond I saw my love and his men, frozen in time and place and I realized I was still dreaming. That was when he appeared before me, not the regal red king of the Temple of the Force, Tulak Hord, first of our Sith Lords, but a majestic Sith King just the same.

The most dread of our kings, and perhaps the most powerful. His crown covered his head and framed his red skin and fiery eyes as he stood over me, robes and armor glittering with the ransoms of entire worlds; the man who was nearly the conqueror of the galaxy. The fearsome villain of the Great Hyperspace War, first and bloodiest of the Star Wars, Naga Sadow himself.

“The Force is with you, Nyeomi Fens,” he intoned in a voice that could shake the mountain down around us. “But it will never set you free.”

Slowly I removed the cloak and rose to face the apparition. “My lord is ill informed,” I countered. “The Force has already freed me.”

The grin on his face sent chills down my spine. Naga Sadow the Emperor had only one love greater than power, the power he felt was only his right and due as he wallowed in narcissism, and that was his love of Sith Alchemy. He played with Life even as he played with death in the Great Hyperspace War, bending the Force to his will and creating hideous monsters and abominable, misshapen horrors merely to see if he could. He was practically hubris personified and his amusement was cause for great concern in me. “You think this is freedom, do you?” he chuckled as he stepped forward, crowding me against the wall even if he was ethereal and without substance. “You think the return of your misspent youth and being handed beauty and titles well compensates for being the slave of the Force? Are you so good a little soldier, Nyeomi Fens? Going where you're told, doing what the Force would have you do? You think you walk this world of your own volition, slave?”

“I think I do not have to justify myself to the ghost of a butcher and warlord, no matter his pedigree!” I told him defiantly, raising my chin proudly to show I would not be cowed. “Your lust for power spurred Supreme Chancellor Pultimo to order the Republic Navy to exterminate us! It was you who put the Crown of the Sith Empire on the head of Darth Vitiate the Mad!”

He laughed at my defiance as though I was but a petulant child stomping my foot at being denied a sweet and with a gesture blew out the side of the mountain. For a moment I thought he meant to bury us alive as the ground itself shook with his casual display of power, but he had much grander schemes than simple violence. “It is only just that Pultimo should cower and lash out in fear! I made the Galaxy tremble! But you are only a puppet of The Force, an ignorant slave who thinks herself above her betters! Behold the work of your Master, slave!” he commanded, gesturing out to the vista.

The side of the mountain away from the Inescapable Fortress had been laid bare and through the great scar in the rock, an awe inspiring vista was displayed. In the valley below, hovering over the ground, were a pair of star ships, a massive Harrower-class dreadnought wearing the colors of the New Revanite Empire and next to her was a republican Hammerhead-class cruiser both protected by an angry swarm of fighters that patrolled to and fro. Even from this distance I could see the encampment of a pair of armies. I could see the war that was coming to Yavin IV.

“There, do you see, Slave? See what has come about and you are but a disposable cog! A laughable little no one in the great schemes of Empire!”

“Perhaps,” I admitted as I processed this vision and what it might mean. “But I am still young, and strong and alive.” I turned to him with a smirk to finish my taunt. “And you are the shade of a dead man judged by history for the inhuman monster you were! And even the Sith revile you, Naga Sadow the butcher!”

His face contorted into a rage and he bellowed out in anger that resonated with the mountain down to its roots. The room shook and rocks fell from the ceiling, while I grasped my temples, trying to free my mind from his grip. I knew I was asleep and I closed my eyes and tried to close my ears to his bellow of impotent rage, willing myself to wake up. Then a sudden silence fell and I opened the eyes of my dream body to be face to face with my Mistress once more.

She was dressed in the Rodian flame silk gown I had seen her last in, the gown that so perfectly highlighted her light chocolate complexion and clung to every curve of her enviable figure. I couldn't stop myself from embracing her, and found her warm and solid, the antithesis of a ghost even though a corona of energy encircled her outline and she was ever so slightly transparent. “Oh, mistress!” I cried into her bosom, overcome once more of the memory of how she had died and how I had been responsible for it. “I am so sorry!”

I felt her kiss the top of my head and gently withdraw from my embrace. “Hush, Nyeomi, learn from the past, but don't live in it.”

Trying desperately to master myself, I took a deep breath and looked about. The wall of the cave was still gone and I could still see the strange shared encampment, but Naga Sadow was nowhere to be seen. “Did you chase him off, mistress?”

Vannacen shook her head, brown hair in ringlets down to her shoulders gently moving from side to side as she did so. “No, my loving apprentice, you did that. But like a bad penny, he will turn up again.”

“Mistress, you said I was where the Force needed me to be; and Naga Sadow calls me a slave of the Force. Is that right? Is that what I am?” She took me by the shoulders and looked right into my eyes, her own as gold as mine from being so imbued with the Bogan.

“We are all the Force, my apprentice. Life creates it, makes it grow and we are alive and so we are the Force.” She smiled a sad smile and put her hand against my cheek. “In all honesty, Nyeomi, I do not know why or how the Force brought you about, part of you here and my apprentice, part of you Edward from Earth. I know that now, together, you are where you should be, and you are doing what the Force, desperately trying to heal itself, needs you to do. But it has always been your choice.”

“Perhaps,” I admitted, pulling away from her and looking out at the two warships. “But it is not an informed choice.”

She joined me by the hole in the mountain and crossed her arms over her bosom. “If someone had told Edward what would happen if he went to Complete Simulations, would he have believed them? And even if you did believe him, would you have changed your mind?”

I looked down at the trim, strong body I wore, the body of a vibrantly alive woman in the full flower of her youth and realized she was right. I remembered the aches and pains of middle age that had become an almost constant companion. How getting up was becoming a chore, not something I did without thought. Not to mention the obesity that was making me both a stranger and prisoner in my own body. To trade being a man and all of that to be young and strong again? I would have traded my manhood for this, and that made me shudder and question so many other little conceits I held about this adventure I found myself in. Some part of me still held on that I was making 'the best' of an unbelievable situation, an optimist, looking at a glass half full. Now I was forced to see the glass as exactly what I would have ordered, to own this and all the other choices I had made not as reaction to some other, unseen, player manipulating me, but all my own. From remaining a Sith Lord, fighting to have my own view of the Force be the dominate view, to being Torm Belos' wife and the mother of his children.

I did that; all of it.

Looking back up at her, I asked, “Is this all for nothing?” She looked at me askance, possibly unsure of what I meant and so I continued. “I spark the Sith Civil War, we annihilate each other until Darth Bane decrees only two Sith and Luke Skywalker redeems Darth Vader and the Sith are broken and no more? Am I just a slave to fate and destiny?”

She sighed and draped a hand over my shoulders. “That is one possibility,” she admitted. “Out of uncounted billions and trillions. Already you know this history is different from what you thought you knew. Who can say with any certainty what will happen three thousand years from now?”

With a girlish smile she reached up and touched the tip of my nose with her index finger. “You worry about you. History will sort itself out. I warned you this would be a hard road. Now, wake up.”

***

My eyes snapped open to the shouts and screams of men.

I found myself, oddly, just as I had been in my dream, laid out on a make shift bed of supply crates, and someones cloak draped over me like a blanket. I rose and followed the sound of the shouting, light sabers in hand, to the mouth of the cave, where I found I needn't have worried. The shouts and cries I had taken for alarm were actually cries of adulation and joy. Arriving at the mouth of the cave, or as I now realized, tomb of Naga Sadow, I found them clustered in the ruins, whooping furiously as they raised fists to the skies.

Several kilometers away I saw the spires of the Massassi temple known as the Inescapable Fortress. It was under a blaster assault so withering that the deflector shield, normally invisible at this distance was clearly outlined by the defeated blaster bolts. In the distance, a flaming wreck was falling from space, the remains, I presumed, of one of the Harrower-class dreadnoughts that had so recently handed us defeat. However impressive that was, it was nothing to the awe inspiring sight of the Courageous, Darth Marr's personal Harrower-class dreadnought passing overhead, almost lazily bombarding the temple, and in tight formation next to it was the Hammerhead-class cruiser Virtue. The Allied forces of the New Revanite Empire and the Galactic Republic had arrived.

Why, was, at this point, nearly anyone's guess.

***

A squawk on the radio brought help by way of a series of air speeders which picked us up and took us back over the ridge to the camp I had foreseen in my dream. It was both heartening and a little eerie to see Imperial Troopers and Republican soldiers working together. A staging area had been hastily set up as a command center to which myself, Torm, and Darius (the legendary Lion of Alderaan) were whisked to and I realized instantly I was operating well above my pay grade.

My father was one of several generals, Imperial and Republic, conversing over a holo-table off to the side. That by itself would have been a bit humbling, but we were led past them to a different conference table where I knew I wasn't comfortable. My former commanding officer, Darth Marr was present in his red and gray armor, his masked face as unreadable as ever, but next to him, massive arms crossed over a barrel chest, was the Revanite Emperor himself, Darth Malgus.

Veradun Malgus, Revanite Emperor of the Sith was a hulking figure of a man, over two meters tall, bald and scarred from his life of war, he was encased in Sith battle armor that both protected him and kept him alive, powering the respirator he was forced to wear that covered the bottom of his scarred face from his nose down. Next to him, as always, was the Twi'lek Eleena Daru, his wife, our Empress who had first told him of Revan and the theory of merit. She was getting on in years, well north of forty and probably closer to fifty, but she was still a beautiful woman who kept herself fit and trim, the velvet glove over the iron fist of Emperor Malgus.

As if that was not sufficient lofty company to cower us, beside Empress Daru, just looking up from the table as we arrived was Jedi Grand Master Satele Shan. The leader of the Jedi was a trim human woman, her dark hair was going gray and her blue eyes had lines around them, but her body was still the hard body of a Jedi Master. She spurned the traditional robes for an armored, sleeveless tunic that protected her shoulders and neck and armored pants as well, a double-bladed light staff at her waist, ready at a moments notice. Her glance was hard and appraising of me, and to be honest a bit insulting for some reason as she turned to Marr and demanded, “This is the warrior you spoke of?”

“This is the operative,” Marr corrected her smugly, “That found out and spoiled your illegal invasion of Balmorra. Who found out your master Marek Targon was a traitor and who bested him single handedly and who lured the Hand of the Sith into a trap and with her apprentice, killed him.” I bowed to Darth Marr and sank to one knee before Malgus.

“It is an honor to be of service,” I declared. To my surprise and delight, Torm sank down next to me. “I await the commands of my Emperor.”

Emperor Malgus chuckled and made a casual gesture. “If you are concerned, Satele, test her yourself.”

“This mission will be the ultimate test,” Shan answered him. “And if she fails it, we all fall.”

That only further amused Malgus who turned to Darth Marr and commanded, “Bring them up to speed.” Marr nodded, then came around the table to us, bidding Torm and I to rise as he led us and Darius off a little ways for a more private talk.

“My lord?” I asked as we gathered around.

Marr's masked face bore down on me. “Your foresight proved correct, Lord Fens, even if your timetable was a bit off.”

“Excuse me?” demanded Darius. “Did I miss something?”

“Colonel Persia,” Marr greeted, extending a gauntlet clad hand to be shook. “It is my honor to meet the man who out maneuvered me.”

Darius shook the hand he was offered. “The fortunes of war smiled on us, Darth Marr, nothing more.”

“You are too humble, sir, but we have no time for old war stories,” Marr declared before turning to Torm to include him and Darius he continued. “Some weeks ago, Darth Fens came to me with a report, both detailing her treatise on the Bogan, and a vision she had seen of Vitiate being in a state somewhere between life and death which explained why he had not been seen for years. With the Hand and Will of the Sith taking such an interest in her, she foresaw that the Will was preparing to conduct a ritual to revitalize Vitiate, and make him capable of conducting his ultimate ritual.”

“Ultimate ritual for what?” Torm asked, looking at me.

“The sacrifice of all life in the galaxy so he could achieve immortality,” I replied quietly.

“I could not bring her suspicions to Emperor Malgus, or risk it being known that such a ritual even existed, unless we had solid proof,” Marr finished. “When the Hand was sent to silence Darth Fens, even though she had been 'cast out' of the Revanite Sith and was no longer any real threat to the Sith Orthodoxy, I had enough to convince the Emperor and he was able to convince the Republic of the danger and so a joint operation was formed, to stop the Will and slay Vitiate forever.”

Torm's face became cloudy. “So our attack was just a diversion? Those men died so you...”

“Those men died so we could assemble in secret, hidden by the arrogance of the Will in thinking he had the perfect trap for Lord Fens. So now we are here in sufficient strength to save the Galaxy,” Marr interrupted. “Do you have an issue with the decision, Lieutenant Belos?”

“Perhaps not with you,” he said after a long pause, before he turned to me, his face flush with suppressed anger. “But I expected better from you.”

A wave of emotions washed through me, shame, guilt, remorse all marched across my face, but before I could open my mouth in defense, Darth Marr did so for me. “Then your expectations are out of place if you expect a soldier to break an oath of secrecy for your ego to be salved.” Marr reached out and put a heavy hand on Torm's shoulder. “Instead of anger, think rather if your intended will so well keep her oaths to me and her Empire, you need have no worries of how her marital oaths to you will be kept!”

It was clear Torm had not thought of it quite like that and the flush drained from his face as he did so. Finally he nodded to Lord Marr and to me simply said, “We will talk about this later.”

“What is this about a mission?” Darius interrupted pointedly.

“Missions,” Marr corrected. “As we are working with the Jedi, all Force users are assembling teams to try and infiltrate the temple complex to find and kill the Will of the Sith and Vitiate himself. We don't especially care who kills them first, but you have infiltrated the Inescapable Fortress before,” he said, and was that a note of pride in his voice? “You do have an advantage. We need you and your group to use your secret way in, disrupt their counter attack if you can, but kill the Will of the Sith at all costs.”

I felt my stomach fall out of my body through my feet. “My lord, there is no secret entrance!” I hissed. I felt his rage flow up over him and before he asked, I continued, “When I came last I had the services of an expert computer slicer. Between my use of the Force to befuddle minds and the Slicer dealing with their alarms, that is how we entered! Through the main gate!”

Credit where it is due, Darth Marr controlled his rage with a speed and strength of will that was surprising. “Where is this Slicer?” he demanded. “I'll send a ship...”

“Barkhesh, my lord.” I was crushed, spiritually. As incredibly fast as traveling across the Galaxy in a week had been just a day or so before it now seemed an eternity with men in the field, prepared to die to stop the end of all life as we knew it.

“Darth Fens,” Marr spoke quietly and deliberately. “I do not need to remind you of the seriousness of this situation.”

I rubbed my chin in thought as something began to gnaw at me from what Darth Mar had said. Turning, I called out, “X4, come here.”

“Coming, Mistress,” the little droid replied as he extended his third wheel and trundled over.

“Show me a topographical map of this region,” I ordered and dutifully the droids holo projector lit up, showing a pair of river valleys with a mountain ridge running between them. “We are here,” I pointed at the ruins around the camp with the ghostly ships hanging over it. “Now, the Inescapable Fortress is here, on the other side of the ridge, with Naga Sadow's tomb between them.”

“You found the resting place of Naga Sadow?” Marr demanded, incredulous.

“I'm not an archeologist, master,” I replied, “but I had a vision of the Butcher in these caves where we took shelter. These two temple complexes form a triangle with the cave, and it looks like...” I trailed off and turned to the droid. “X4, draw a line between the center of the two temple complexes and the cave. Is that an equilateral triangle?”

“Yes, mistress,” the machine replied after dutifully drawing a connecting red line on the hologram. “It is also equiangular.”

I beamed at Darth Marr. “That can't be a coincidence. What bothers me is that between the ridge and the jungle, there is no interlinking road. Even if the jungle reclaimed it we would see the remnants.”

“I don't see anything,” Torm admitted, drawing in a bit to stare at the map.

“There must be some kind of road,” Marr added, staring intently at the hologram. “The Butcher's sarcophagus would weigh up to twenty tons. And it would need to be brought to both funerary temples for Sith death rituals.”

“It's underground.”

Marr turned to find Silas standing a respectful distance away, a handful of rocks he was shaking in his hand. “Excuse me?” the Sith Lord demanded, commanding the gambler to come over with a gesture. Silas joined the clutch and showed his handful of rocks.

“These rocks are granite,” Silas declared and made a gesture at the ridge line and the ruins around us. “All of this is, that ridge line, the blocks in these walls, we're likely standing on a massive granite upwelling. Granite is hard, which makes it suitable as a construction material,” he said, patting the ruined wall we were standing next to. “Because it is so hard and strong that would mean tunnels through it don't need to be shored up as much. Tough work, under poor conditions, but hey, this Naga guy didn't get where he got sweating about the working conditions for his slaves, am I right? Your road is probably underground where it can be level and direct.” Seeing the stares of the group at him, he shrugged and admitted, “I dated a geology major in college for a while. I made the mistake of asking her about her counter tops once.”

Darth Marr actually chuckled, a some what disturbing sound to be honest, and said, “Through passion I gain strength.” Turning back to me, he ordered, “If this road exists, find it. Otherwise, be ready to assault with the rest of the troops and breach the fortress. We attack at dawn.”

***

Now, you would think after having been giving such Important Tasks (capitals intended) by Important Persons (also intended) that the boys and I got busy finding an underground road. Yeah, you've never been in a relationship, have you? Silas and Darius went looking, and X4 popped out some kind of antenna and it started spinning, but before I could pick a likely direction to search for secret doors, Torm had my elbow and was leading me purposefully to a corner of the ruin picked for its strategic unimportance and lack of squatters.

Later was evidently now.

“Are there any other surprises you're waiting to spring on me?” he demanded, an odd expression on his face.

I'm pregnant, jumped to my lips far too quickly for my liking and even the thought of it was not something that was suited to macabre humor. Licking my lips I decided to try the reasonable approach. “I can see you're upset, and for what it's worth I wanted to tell you, I wanted you to not be here, because I was terrified this might be a suicide mission, but...”

“Listen to yourself!” he hissed, his face flush with suppressed anger. “You were ready to happily leave me, fly off to die and not say a word? What were you thinking? What could you possibly say that would mitigate...”

“I was doing my duty!” I told him forcefully, wishing I didn't have to look up into his face. “I was fulfilling the oath I swore to my nation, and if that meant giving up my life I was and am prepared to do so! I am a soldier, Torm! You knew that when you first tried to pick me up at Bibo's Tavern on Tatooine!” He clenched and unclenched his fists as he mastered his passions and kept control of himself.

“You aren't a conquest anymore!” he snarled, wanting to shout, but keeping his voice low. “Hell, you probably never were! You're not a bedpost notch, you're going to be my wife and the mother of my children and...!”

“And to protect my husband, and my children, and the men who volunteered to come on what I desperately hoped would be the strike I laid out, I led that mission! That I would catch the son of a bitch with his pants down! That's why I came! To do everything I could to keep it from being a suicide mission!” I reached up and grabbed his face between my hands. “Because I can't lose you, Torm! I just can't!”

His arms wrapped around me and pulled me against him. My head was in the hollow of his neck and shoulder and he was so vivid in the Force as his aura embraced me and I desperately wished we were alone and I could show him what he meant to me. Through my fantasies, his voice whispered, “Do you think I can lose you?”

“No.”

His lips pressed against my forehead. “Do you have any idea how special you are? How many women who were just conquests that couldn't hold a candle to you! You are the diamond in the rough I've spent years looking for, do you think I'm going to let you get away?”

I had never felt passion like what was washing through the both of us and that presence in the back of my mind fed on it, sucking it in and rolling it back and forth between us like nothing I had ever felt in my life. I was panting and giddy with the feeling of it, the warmth of him, the desire to possess and own him and in turn be owned by him; I didn't have words or a name for this incredible feeling of power. I was like an overcharged battery, full to bursting and still being charged.

It was like I had not been alive until that moment and suddenly I was, vibrating with the Force.

I looked up and grabbed his head and kissed him and I did not care who could see or say anything. The passion swept through us as our tongues danced and then suddenly, with a dull groan, the floor off to the side of us dropped down a foot, then rolled under the rest of the floor revealing a massive, three meter square hole with a ramp descending down into darkness.

Peace is a Lie, There is only Passion.

We had argued our way into finding the secret road, eat your heart out, Indiana Jones!

***

X4's sensors showed the passage led straight at the Inescapable Fortress to the end of his range. Torm quickly gathered his team, minus Darius unfortunately as the Generals had decided they couldn't do without The Lion of Alderaan. It was clear that Darius wanted to join us, to prove, perhaps at least to himself, that he wasn't just an arm chair general, a wannabe Napoleon pushing toy soldiers around a board, but having played against Darius in everything from Chess to Go, I knew his ability to think strategically would do everyone the most good at that holotable.

This gave me time to get my space suit off and trade it for my normal white and gray leathers with their plasteel plates for protection. I know what you're thinking, that a mottled green and brown uniform similar to what the other troopers were wearing, adding my utility belt and arm bracers along with a decent pair of jungle boots would have been more tactical. You are, in fact, correct, it would have been. But Sith, and to a lesser extent, Jedi, lead from the front. Part of our duty is to rally and inspire the men who follow us, and you can neither rally, nor inspire if you cannot be seen.

Tactical or not, it was comforting to be in the attire that so defined me to myself.

So, as quick as we could we got reassembled at the opening where I got my latest really ugly surprise of this war. Standing before the opening was a Jedi, with the hood of the cloak they all wore pulled over their head. “Under the auspices and traditions of the Sith, I challenge Darth Nyeomi Fens to single combat,” a female voice declared.

“We have no time for private disputes,” Darth Marr announced before I could say anything.

“Idina, what is the meaning of this?” demanded Grand Master Shan who had been drawn to the commotion as well.

The sleeve came up, revealing a mechanical robotic hand that flung back the hood to reveal a once beautiful face ruined by years of hatred. It was the green eyed blonde from Balmorra, or rather, her eyes had been green. Now they were a sulfurous yellow and the Bogan coiled and wrapped around her, feeding on her hatred of me. I should comment here, that this aspect of the Bogan was what terrified the Jedi. If you came to it with hate, it amplified that hate and used it as a conduit through you. This was why so many Sith Lords preached hate as the entry to the Bogan because it was easy to stoke and quickly increased their power.

But if you understood this about emotions and how the Bogan interacted with them, you learned to control what you felt, and what way the Bogan would come through you. If you came to the Bogan with love, it amplified the love. To the Jedi, however, the risk was too great, and so they shunned all emotion. By so unnaturally becoming emotionless, they struggled to reach the Ashla a struggle that would last their entire lives; trying to reach the Force by the hardest road possible. It was the root of the ancient grudge between the Jedi and the Sith.

And if I live through this, that really ought to be the subject of my next holo-lesson.

“Meaning, Grand Master?” she snarled, never taking her eyes off me. “I mean to avenge myself on the whore who did this to me!” Her shout echoed off the granite walls as she brandished the robotic arm and the painful looking stump it had been grafted onto.

“Vengeance is not the Jedi Way,” Satele scolded her, but Idina merely pulled off the cloak and flung it away.

“Then I renounce my membership of the Jedi Order!” Idina shouted. She thrust her good hand at me, pointing. “You are challenged, Sith! Answer or forfeit your place and standing!”

“I won't allow...” started Satele, who began to move between the combatants, but was stopped by the heavy gauntlet clad hand of Emperor Malgus on her shoulder.

“Darth Fens has been honorably challenged in an open statement of Vendetta,” Malgus's deep, raspy voice told the Jedi. “By our laws and traditions, she must answer.”

I reached up and squeezed my lovers hand before I gently pushed it off my shoulder so I could walk a bit out to stare into her face. “While the invasion was unlawful, your wounds were delivered in open combat, face to face. A battle that was the direct result of you taking part in your government's act of war against mine, with neither defiance nor declaration of war sent. You were not attacked from stealth, we were; and when we fought we both had weapons in hand. You deserved worse than what you got, but yet you live. If your life is worth so little to you, don't involve the rest of us in your suicide, because if you continue with this course I will kill you.”

She took her light saber off her belt and activated it. It's bright scarlet color surprised me until I could get a better look at the hilt and realized this was not her saber, but the weapon of my master, Darth Vannacen. “I will strike you down with the very weapon that saved you!” she shouted, needlessly confirming what I already had deduced.

“That does not belong to you,” I declared, doing my best to keep my anger that she would dare defile my mistress's weapon in check. “Surrender it and get out of my way!”

“Come and take it!” she snarled and settled into the ready attack stance of Form VII, Juyo.

My temper squirmed out of its leash and I was flooded with the Bogan. Almost of its own volition my hand rose and cupped as though I was wrapping my fingers around her throat. My Will crashed through her defenses which showed exactly how much of a novice in using the Bogan she was. Her face filled with terror as her free hand went to her throat and she began to choke. My hand continued to rise and she was lifted off the ground, gasping for air. She dropped my Mistress's saber to claw at her throat, but it flew to my off hand, snapping off as it did so, before it could strike the ground.

“You ignorant child!” I snarled at her. “You were no match for me when I was an apprentice and you have the unmitigated gall to challenge me now?! I am a Darth, a fully recognized Lord of the Sith! Look upon your death and despair!”

Her face went pale as the lack of oxygen took its toll. Off to my right, despite the warning hand, Grand Master Shan shouted, “Stop it, Darth Fens! You've proved your point!”

The anger flowed through me as if a thunderous flood. At last I could avenge the great lady who I had lost, much to the ache in my soul. Who had shown me so much, and who had opened my eyes to this power. It would be so easy to snap her neck, to avenge Darth Vannacen and make up for my failure. Mine. My showboating that had put her life in danger, my inability to realize what a threat the master I was fighting was. I should have died. The mistake was mine, the cause of her sacrifice was mine. I was the cause of her death. I could finally avenge her covering my mistake, saving my life at the cost of hers.

But it won't bring her back to life.

It was the simple, humble thought of an earthling that cooled my murderous rage and let me finally master the terrible power of the Bogan coursing through me. The veil of my anger pierced, my love of my mistress helped me control myself and I felt a great upwelling of pity and shame. With a contemptuous gesture I flung the girl to the feet of Grand Master Shan and took a deep, cleansing breath. “Get this girl some help,” I told her.

“I hate you!” the Padawan screamed at me, choking and sputtering from the release of my hold on her through the Force. She struggled to rise, but a pair of Jedi had taken control of her and were putting her hands in binders.

The Grand Master of the Jedi stepped around the fallen Padawan to take me by my shoulders. She was a tall woman, perhaps even a bit taller than myself and I was one hundred eighty centimeters. Her dark hair was more salt than pepper, and there were lines on her strong, high cheek boned face, but her sky blue eyes were clear and sharp. “Thank you, for your mercy, Darth Fens,” Shan told me.

“If she comes at me again, I won't be so merciful.”

“You are an interesting contradiction, Nyeomi Fens,” she said, squeezing my shoulders and stepping a pace back to take a measuring glance at me. “You are both atypical of your order and yet the most perfect Sith I have ever encountered. As though the same being could be capable of such magnificent dreams and such monstrous nightmares. I wonder, truly, if you will ever find the peace you seek.”

“Peace, madam Grand Master,” I told her dryly, “is a lie. There is only passion.”

She smiled a sad smile. “I wish we had found you. The strength of your conviction would have made you a great Jedi. I wish you well on your mission. May the Force be with you.”

“May the Force be with us all, Grand Master,” I agreed, silently adding, We'll need it, to myself. Then with a nod to Darth Marr and a bow to Emperor Malgus, I put my Mistress's light saber in the catch all pouch on my belt and led my team down the ramp and onto the dark funeral road.

***

And so, we walked.

The Funeral Road ran straight and level and although we were wary of traps, dead falls, or other clever devices you might expect in such a place, the practicality of the roads design and purpose evidently precluded such interesting little diversions. I imagine pushing a twenty ton stone sarcophagus would tend to take the amusement out of such things. Were this a film there would be eerie music playing, perhaps a monstrous pipe organ and a low chorus of bass and baritones chanting a single low note, just the sort of thing to bring people to the edge of their seats. Or maybe it would rather be done with a series of wipes and dissolves, jump cutting the five or six kilometers between the two temple complexes.

For us, it was just a trudging, tense march full of dusty, stale air and the faint, fetid smell of death from rodents who had found their way in, but never out. He never was more than a few centimeters from my elbow, but through the Force I could feel the conflict in Torm's mind over what he had seen me become when my anger brought the full power of the Bogan through me. Saw everything that the Republic fear mongers that a Sith Lord is, wanton, vindictive, vengeful and cruel.

He was next to me, but I had never felt further from him.

And if my lover was distant, the back of my neck itched from the intensity of my brother's gaze, and the heavy weight in his mind of his promise to 'put me down like a rabid dog' if I became the Sith Lord he worried I could become. The Sith Lord that Lanaka was taunting. The Sith Lord he had just seen torture Padawan Idina.

I could feel the palm of his hand itch for his blaster and the focused point of his gaze where the bolt would have to land on my neck.

My feet rose and fell in a slow, ponderous gait as they struggled to pull my heart, heavy with sorrow and regret, down the Funeral Road. I had never wanted to cry so desperately in my life.

***

Finally the hallway opened into a wide, round room, above which was a domed arch supported by a colonnade around the interior radius of the dome. At the center, below a shaft of light that was sunlight probably from a vent that went all the way to the top of the temple was an altar, the red silk covering was disturbed. There was a silver knife on the floor beside it, its blade covered in blood and clustered around the dais were dozens of desiccated bodies in the robes of Sith Inquisitors.

They had been kneeling, all facing the dais and arranged like a sunburst out from it. The mummified remains were held in position because their leathery skin and muscles were shrunk tight across the skeletons like a ghastly shrink wrap. As though they had been freeze dried in an instant, but the horrors did not stop there.

On the far side of the altar we discovered two additional bodies, hidden by it. An old man, withered with age and spotted skin, toothless mouth open in a final grimace of pain and a new born, still covered in the now dried slime of his placenta from birth.

Both of their throats had been cut from ear to ear and drained of blood.

Several of the troopers muttered oaths and one wretched as his stomach betrayed him. We carefully moved through them, but every corpse was the same, desiccated skin pulled taunt over a skeleton with sightless eyes and tongueless mouths gaping. “Tell me this doesn't mean what I think it does,” Torm whispered as our eyes met.

I took the comlink from my belt and stood under the shaft of light in hopes the signal would get through. “Darth Marr, this is Darth Fens, we're too late. Vitiate has completed his ritual.”

Darth Marr's deep voice was distorted by the tiny speaker and some kind of static. “Impossible, I felt nothing in the Force.”

Come to think of it, I was closer and I definitely should have felt this much life be taken and perverted. I couldn't bring myself to touch the infant, so instead I reached out and touched the old man. “Darth Marr, this body is cold and stiff, it must have died some time ago. We have arrived too late.”

“Launch your attack, salvage any intelligence you can on where the Emperor or the Will may have gone!”

I put the comlink back on my belt and drew my light sabers. “You heard him, men! Attack! Attack as your lives depend on it!”

***

As you might imagine, we attacked.

There is some argument by the scholarly bent as what to call this particular little skirmish. As you might think, the leading contender was The Battle of Yavin, as we were on Yavin IV and we had a battle, that made a kind of sense. However, to my mind that would be confusing as The Battle of Yavin to me meant the desperate attack of the Alliance to Restore the Republic against the first Death Star. And in a universe that had as much filling out as Star Wars did, that seminal moment was actually used as a delineating event, as important to Star Wars as the birth of Christ was to ours, and used the same way.

Events that happened before it were marked Before the Battle of Yavin or BBY, in the same way B.C. Or B.C.E. was to Earth. As far as I knew the current year was 3638 B.B.Y. Although it was also known as the fifteenth year after the Treaty of Coruscant, as well as the year 1362 of the Reign of Darth Vitiate, Sith Emperor or the Third Year of the Reign of Malgus I, Revanite Sith Emperor. Fun, right? The other major name was The Battle of the Inescapable Fortress, which is how I shall refer to it here after.

Our part in The Battle of the Inescapable Fortress led us up from the depths of the ritual chamber and out in the rear of the main building of the Temple complex, a massive, barrel shaped Ziggurat like structure, well to the rear of the current fighting. Out the opening before us we could see a battle line at the edge of the force field fence across the open ground between it and the tree line. A massive energy shield was making our air supremacy useless against the ground targets, though the dreadnought that the Courageous had traded shots with yesterday had crashed into a tremendous burning wreck beyond the force field.

While the sky had been swept clear of enemy fighters, it was also clear of friendly ones due to the shield and the numerous AA heavy blaster cannons in turrets behind that shield. Guns that having chased off our fighters were being put to murderous use against our troops in the tree line. I turned to Torm and Silas as we crouched in our position, getting ready to attack. “Lieutenant, take your men and silence those guns. My apprentice and I will locate and destroy the shield generator and rendezvous with you there,” I told him, pointing at a bunker with a pile of crates before it that looked like a defensible position.

“No, Nyeomi, that's...” Silas interrupted, drawing my gaze.

“Excuse me?” I demanded, but my brother shook his head.

“That's the wrong move!” he hissed urgently, trying to keep his voice down. “I will go with you, have Tari stay with them. If there are Sith about they'll need her!” He was right, of course, but I still hesitated. Some part of me was thinking this was his way of getting alone with me, where he could carry out his threat and blame it on the battle.

I hated thinking thoughts like that about my own brother, but I couldn't help them. Nor could I escape his logic. Turning to my apprentice, I ordered her, “Stay with the Lieutenant. I will return soon.”

An entire gamut of emotions marched across her face, but all she said was, “Yes, Mistress.”

To Torm, who's face was unreadable I asked, “Give me ten minutes, then make them bleed.” I hadn't intended to sound so detached by calling him by his rank. I was trying to be supportive of his being in charge of the men, by reinforcing the chain of command. I wasn't angry with him, though I was worried about so many things we had not had the time or the privacy to discuss. What he had seen me do, how and why he had seen me do it and..

And he reached up, grabbed my halter top, between the armor plates, and my breasts as luck would have it, pulled me forward, off balance, and into the most searing kiss he had given me in a while. He just did, taking me as if he owned me and had the right to and oh dear God how I wished we were alone! He held me by my shirt, keeping my balance for me and just kissed me, and kissed me and kissed me; his tongue in my mouth and his very presence wrapping around me forcing all of my attention and thought to him.

Then the kiss was over and he gently pushed me back on my own balance and commanded, “See that you are there, Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith! I have no intentions of losing you!”

Oh I just melted!

Panting slightly, I met his gaze and told him, “I am going to court the shit out of you, marry the fuck out of you and raise the hell out of your children!” A low chuckle rippled through the men and I knew Torm would be getting quite a ribbing from them later on, and I can say with some authority neither of us cared.

“Damn right!”

Silas and I got up and, in a doubled over crouch, ran to the other wall where we creeped up it to the mouth of the hanger. Outside was a really good recreation of the Battle of Geonosis, with an entire rainbow of blaster bolts flying hither and yon without care of what they would hit. I have to admit I paused for a moment, remembering the desert of a planet in another galaxy and the war I had fought on it once upon a time. I was brought out of my reverie by the touch of his hand on my arm. I turned to face him and decided to be blunt. “Are you getting me alone to carry out your threat?”

He blinked in confusion. “No, I was pointing out the generator,” he said, pointing over my shoulder at the collection of four half circles about twenty yards away. “What threat? What are you on about?”

“The threat of you promising to kill me if I turned into a Sith Lord,” I told him evenly, and for some reason my light saber hilts in my hands felt very heavy.

“What?” he demanded. Then continued before I could respond. “No! I just said that so you and Laura would quit having cat fights! Jesus, Ed...Nyeomi, you are my sister! You are family!”

I didn't care that we were in the middle of a fire fight, I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him in relief and guilt for having thought ill of him. As well some part of me was relieved knowing that I could never have fought against my own brother. I came really close to bursting into tears as I hugged him and after a moment, he did, reluctantly, return the hug. In a very sheepish voice, he said, “Hey, uh, it's ok, I'm sorry. And, Sis, this is getting really awkward...”

I snorted a laugh as my emotions were all over the map and I let him go. “Now isn't the time,” I told him as I fought against my tears of relief. “But when we're done with this, I want to have a long talk with you.”

He smiled his crooked smile and nodded. “Sure, sis. Now, how do we take out that generator? It's not like you can just stick one of your light sabers in it...”

I put my hand on one of the crates we were using for cover to adjust the way I was crouched to be a bit more comfortable and something about the label caught my eye. I moved my hand and read the Aurebesh twice to be sure I read it right. In English it said:

Caution:

Explosive Danger!

Thermal Detonators (Quantity 30)

Not believing what I was reading I opened the crate and found, exactly as advertised, thirty thermal detonators nestled in foam. Turning back to Silas, I grinned and asked, “Did someone order an earth shattering kaboom?”

“Isn't that delightful?” asked Silas with a positively evil grin and in a fair approximation of a certain Martian's voice. We slapped the cover back on our crate and with a quick set of hand signals, a couple of Torms' men came to collect crates of their own. As they prepared to silence the anti-aircraft guns in a very permanent fashion, Silas and I quickly made our way to the generator and began to plant the detonators.

And before you ask, no, neither of us were demolitions experts, but there was a block of instructions on the lid of the crate, complete with pictures. Hey, even the US Claymore mine has 'Front Towards Enemy' stamped into the plastic. Who knew?

As it happened, the generator was kind of half way between the 'front' of the Ziggurat where the fighting was, and the 'back' of it where the landing field was. There were several ships there, as I had mentioned previously, the nicest of which caught my eye as a number of people were getting into it. Now, I couldn't make out who at this distance, but I can tell the difference between VIPs in robes and grunts in armor. It would appear the higher ups were making good their escape. Turning to Silas I asked, “They're getting away, do you have this?”

“Go,” he assured me. “Do your Sith thing, Sis.”

I took off running, but the ship was better than three hundred meters away. Some of the troopers saw me coming and started shooting at me, but dodging or reflecting their shots was almost comically easy. The last of the VIPs disappeared up the ramp while I was still over two hundred meters away and I began to panic that I wasn't going to make it. I gathered myself for the greatest Force Leap of my life, when I felt the Force warn me and dodged frantically to my right. A light saber blade swiped through where I had just been and would have cut me in half had I continued.

I had been running directly at the ship, which took me by all kinds of things that could be used as an ambush point or cover; it was an air field after all. There were stacks of containers of every shape and size, spacecraft ground tugs to move the parked ships, trucks, speeders, and no, I hadn't been particularly careful. This blade was attached to light saber held by an attacker hiding behind a couple of pallets.

To be honest, my landing was not exactly graceful, and it took me a second to collect myself and square off against my ambusher, who seemed in no hurry to press her advantage. I came set and was startled to realize I recognized her. “Idina!” I exclaimed, and then realized I really didn't recognize her. She was holding a light saber with a green blade, but the hilt was unfamiliar. The binders were still around each wrist, but their chain had been severed. More to the point, her features were twisted and ugly and she practically glowed with power. She had given over herself completely to the Bogan, or the Dark Side as the Jedi had taught her to understand it. They had called it the Dark Side and taught her using it was evil.

This was the danger of Jedi teaching because they believed the Dark Side was totally evil, when Idina had given herself completely to it she was herself twisted into a corrupted well of pure evil, magnified by the power she had sought. “They can't stop me!” she hissed at me as she began to prowl forward, blade before her in a high guard. “No one can stop me from killing you!”

“This is your last chance to go on living,” I warned her as I edged away from the little cluster of pallets and other cargo to an open space to have more room to maneuver. “If you come at me again, I will kill you,” I declared, slowly twirling my sabers in my hands. I put out my left hand and raised two fingers, but she was so saturated with the Bogan it would never let me get away with that trick twice. However she did sense my attempt, which further enraged her and she lunged at me, sweeping the blade up in a high attack at my left shoulder.

I parried, but she was much faster now, bouncing the blade off mine to twirl behind her head and swoop down for an upper cut at my right knee. I swept my right hand saber before me and blocked her, spinning into her guard as I did so and threw my entire body weight into a kick. I was aiming for her throat, but I was a bit low and it landed on her chest, above her breasts. Still it knocked her backwards into a tumble with a snarl of pain and rage. “You think you know the Bogan?” I demanded of her with considerable contempt as she scrambled back to her feet. “You think you can control the power you've given yourself to? You think you can best me in a few hours using a power I've spent my entire life mastering?”

With a roar of rage, she charged, blade high over her head like a kendo master but with far less skill she assailed me with a fusillade of blows, each far more powerful than her delicate size would indicate. Not that it did her any good as I blocked them with deliberate, precise movements, easily. My blades flashed through the air, high right, low right, blocking and countering to force her into a pattern that would leave an opening. Once it appeared, I spun through her guard, and crashed the pommel of my left saber into her nose. The cartilage snapped with a sickening wet crunch and she staggered back with her flaying sword hand so out of control she nearly scored herself while her nose was fountaining blood down her front. “You are beaten! It is useless to resist!” I taunted her.

“I hate you!” she screamed and came again with a series of powerful, but sloppy attacks that I blocked. Across the tarmac, I heard the engines of the Sith Interceptor begin to spin up and knew I didn't have much time. I blocked her blade low and with my superior strength forced her guard open.

Leaning into her face I growled, “Don't make me destroy you!” Holding her guard open, I spun, bringing in my elbow as hard as I could into her jaw. I felt her jaw break under the jarring impact, that sent a wave of pain down my arm nearly causing me to drop my other blade.

She screamed in agony, a truly horrific sound around her broken jaw. She began to collapse from the pain, and my follow through forced her to fall on her side. I stepped down on her wrist of the hand that held her saber, pinning it to the ground and I brought my other blade down to her bloody nose that crowned her ruined face. She submitted, but her eyes became harder as my insult to her injuries stoked the fires of her hatred of me.

The Interceptor rose up off her landing jacks and stowed her landing gear. As the repulsor lifts brought her higher, I knew I only had seconds. I threw my left hand saber straight up to free my hand, which by feel found the pouch I wanted and quickly threw the little metal disk I took from that pouch with all the strength the Force would give me. It struck the hull of the star ship and stuck just as the main engines came online and the ship rose up through the force field and was quickly out of sight.

A horrific explosion rocked the complex and, over head, the deflector shield collapsed as the guns fell silent as well. I heard the roar of the charge of The Revanite and Republic Troopers as they surged forward and with surprising swiftness, the sound of blaster fire stopped. We had won the battle, but perhaps lost the war.

My other saber fell back into my hand and I stared at Idina in a cold fury, wanting very, very much to sink my saber through her heart for costing me my chance to stop their escape. I wanted to kill her in the very worst way. Instead I returned the saber hilt to its keeper on my belt and forced her onto her stomach with her hands behind her back. With the still lit saber I touched it to the binders to weld the bracelets back together.

It was a very, very poor substitute to killing her.

***

Maybe I need to seriously rethink my life.

I wasn't in the celebratory mood so when the men had the base secure and were making merry, celebrating their victory, I made myself scarce out on the tarmac and got to thinking. Out among the star ships and fighters, the smell of lubricants and fuel in the air I sat down on a crate of something and got into some serious navel gazing. Honestly, even I couldn't believe my latest outrage. I'm in a fight with a weapon that can be instantly lethal against someone driven mad with hatred of me and consumed with the overarching desire to kill me and I am quoting a fictional Sith Lord while I toy with her.

Yes, I'll admit it. I have my eyes open enough to know that I could have ended that fight with Idina practically before it started. In my minds eye I saw the battle rage a hundred different ways and in all of them, the only reason it took as long as it did was because I was showboating. I was toying with a mentally unhinged woman, a human being in need of help, and I... A shudder ran down my spine. I had been as capricious and needlessly cruel as a cat with a mouse. Idina didn't keep me from stopping the Interceptor. I could have killed her in a split second, hardly slowing down. I could have maimed her more permanently almost as quickly and again I could have stopped their escape.

No, no, no! I shook my head in anger. I was making excuses, trying to rationalize my own cruelty. No,some part of me whispered. Disarming her with out life-threatening injury took time.

“So I make her even more deformed,” I whispered.

“Don't give yourself more guilt than you deserve,” Darth Vannacen said to me as she came into being a little ways off and walked over. “Idina chose to be deformed. The droids could have covered her replacement hand with synthetic skin. She insisted they leave the metal exposed, so it could gnaw at her as a constant reminder. Doubtlessly, she will resist the reconstructive surgeries for her nose and jaw, preferring to make her body as ugly as her soul.”

“And my quoting Darth Vader?” I demanded of my mistress. “Do you have a good reason for me doing that?”

I felt a strange sensation in the Force coming from her as she reached into my mind, took the image of the penultimate Sith Lord and an illusion of him appeared before us both in all his two meter black clad glory. Right down to the SCUBA regulator breathing. Ironically Darth Vannacen was delighted. “Oh, how absolutely perfect!” she remarked with a chuckle. “No wonder your mind went here, even I would be intimidated by this...avatar of Sithhood!” She shook her head and grinned at me. In my mind I felt kind of a highlight reel of Vader's best lines play for her. “And what a lovely macabre sense of humor.”

The illusion faded away and I shook my head. “Mistress, I am worried! I can't seem to stop this...irrational need to show off!”

“My dear apprentice, you are young and reckless, yet,” she told me in condolence. “Of course you need to show off. You do not yet have the respect that comes from age, so you have to counter it with ability.”

“But it got you killed!”

She smiled and raised her hand to cup my cheek. “There are worse things,” she told me earnestly. “I am one with the Force, Nyeomi, and I have no regrets about that.” Her hand came down my neck to my shoulder. “Nyeomi, take comfort in the fact that you are worried, which shows you are not anywhere near as reckless as you think you are. And as you pointed out to your apprentice, by persuading an opponent not to fight, you prove yourself the better, and sometimes that takes a little showing off.”

I tried to argue with her, but she would just give me a silencing look and squeeze my shoulder. So, after what felt like a long moment of silence I asked, “What do I do now, Mistress? Vitiate has gotten away, who knows how successful that monstrous ritual they preformed was. I feel like I have stumbled and I keep falling forward, never catching myself, nor falling down the precipice I stand on the edge of.”

“Is your homing device working?”

“It squawked the vector they jumped to hyperspace on. They're headed for Celanon on the Hydian Way. Probably to try and be lost amongst all the traffic on a major hyperspace lane.” Vannacen's smile was sad.

“That is what they want you to think,” she said softly. “Call up a map.” I dug out my tablet and soon the galaxy was floating holographically over it. “Here is Yavin, and Celanon beyond it. But look what is in the opposite direction.”

An iceberg flowed slowly down my spine. “Korriban.”

“Where else would the Sith Emperor flee except where he felt most safe?”

I stood, one hand putting my tablet away, the other digging into my catch all bag to remove the precious artifact I had recovered. “I was able to get this,” I told her. “Would you like me to take it to your...tomb?”

“I'm not there,” she told me with a smile. “Keep it, so you'll always have a bit of me to remind you.”

“I don't need...” I started, but she was gone again. For a moment I stared into the space she had been in and wondered if she got to choose her comings and goings, or if the Force did, or some other agent we were both unaware of. I sighed, looking at the gleaming dura-steel of her hilt with the beautifully patterned Wroshyr wood inlay she had worked into the handle. I remembered she was going to tell me the story of how she had gotten the iron hard wood from Kashyyyk, but had never gotten the chance.

I sighed and returned the hilt to my bag, promising myself to have a suitable stand build for it. In the mean time, I headed back to the celebration I had to ruin.

***

The first person I met on the way back was isolating himself from the celebration as I was. Darth Marr was leaning against the fender of a military land speeder, casually watching the festivities from the darkness, his expressionless mask as placid as always. “Darth Fens,” he greeted without turning to face me. I bowed, whether he could see it or not, it was the right thing to do.

“My lord Marr. I fear I have bad news...”

He crossed his armored arms over his massive chest and still did not turn to face me. “Of late, Darth Fens, that seems to be all you bring me. What has happened to my fair haired child who I could always depend on to bring me news of success against impossible odds?”

I stopped by his right arm, looking into the fire light. The men had cobbled together a bonfire and the field cooks had set up a buffet complete with beer kegs from who knew where. X4 was playing music from his online storage and putting on a fair light show holographically. No one was wearing helmets and I was surprised to find both Imperial and Republic units had female troopers. A brunette with her long hair in a military bun at the nape of her skull was dancing a nameless, step-less dance with Silas, the light gleaming off her black, Imperial battle armor. They both looked so happy.

“She is still here, my lord, and still endeavoring to bring news of success to her master.”

I looked up in time to see his hood turn and the mask stare at me. “So I see,” he said after a moment. “I was certain I had lost her when she petitioned me to be released from my service to run off and breed with a smooth talking Republican lothario.”

“There is more to my future husband than his skill at seduction, my lord,” I told him softly. Looking up into his mask, I squared my shoulders and summoned up a bit more self confidence. “And his genetics with mine should produce capable, loyal citizens of our Empire.”

A gauntlet covered hand cupped the chin of the mask in thought. “So I have seen. The breech went far easier than expected. While we do not yet have hands on either Vitiate or the Will, the back of the Sith Inquisition has been broken. Whole worlds are surrendering to Emperor Malgus without even having forces of our Empire in system. By the end of the week, there will be only one Sith Empire again, ours. I need my best Sith Lord, Darth Fens, not just the promise of her offspring decades from now.”

“If my lord will give me time to have those offspring, I think he well find he can have his cake, and eat it too.” Once more the faceless mask turned to regard me, unreadable as always, until like a chain clad prisoner being hauled up from the depths of a dungeon, his deep laugh reverberated up from his gut.

“Surely this has to be the most personal request for personal leave I have ever granted!” He stood up from the speeder and squared off to me directly. “What is is your news, Darth Fens?”

“My lord, I believe Vitiate and the Will have fled to Korriban to marshal their forces and give the Emperor time to complete his ritual to kill us all.”

“What proof have you of this, Lord Fens?”

I sighed, but kept my gaze direct into the smoked glass of his visor. “Only my reputation and track record, my Lord.”

For a long moment he stared at me, as if he could will the truth to write itself on my face for him to read, then he nodded. “I have come to find, Lord Fens, that your hunches are more reliable than the facts of others.” He turned on his heel and with a 'follow me' gesture strode towards the merriment. From his table, Emperor Malgus caught sight of me and raised his glass in salute, to which I stopped and bowed, blushing a bit as a somewhat haphazard cheer sounded. Darth Marr, oddly enough, strode up to the brunette who had been dancing with Silas, but was now holding a cup of beer and chatting with him. She quickly put the cup down and came to attention at Marr's approach.

“Lord Marr,” she greeted with a bow.

“Stand at ease, Sergeant Malo,” the head of the Sphere of Defense of the Empire ordered. The sergeant only relaxed slightly. “Forgive my interruption of your celebration. What is the status of Thunder Squad?”

“No apology needed, my lord,” she told him earnestly. Close up I could see she was very pretty, and her hair which I had taken as brunette was actually a red tinted auburn and she had remarkably brilliant blue eyes. “We have taken heavy losses, my lord, but we are still combat effective to about sixty percent. I assumed command when we lost Captain Pillar and Lieutenant Vixlo.”

Marr nodded as if he was already aware of the status and merely confirming previous briefings. “I am promoting you to Lieutenant and placing you in command of Thunder Squad. You are to resupply as much as possible and work with Republic Lieutenant Torm Belos and his forces. Secure transport capable of ferrying all of you and assist Darth Fens on her missions. I am placing Thunder Squad at the discretion of Darth Fens. You answer to her.”

“Yes sir!” she replied, saluting, then turned and bowed. “Reporting for duty, my Lord.”

“Carry out your orders, Lieutenant and report to me when we are ready to depart.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

She started off, but I caught her elbow to add, discretely, “And Lieutenant, as Mr. Bast will be accompanying us, don't let this interrupt too much of your celebration.” Her eyes shot over to Silas and back to me before a broad smile spread across her face.

“Yes, ma'am.” She gathered up her helmet and began to bark orders at her squad.

As I walked by Silas on my way to track down Torm, I whispered, “You're welcome.”

***

It would be kind of trite to say 'the Force led my steps', but, trite or not, that is basically what happened. I'm not sure why I had walked past Silas, intent on being somewhere that seemed important to carry out the orders I had been given. But I did. I walked with that deliberate stride people use when they know exactly where they're going and need to be there quickly. By the time I realized and asked myself what I was doing I had arrived a ways from the party again, though its music and laughter made for a bit of white noise behind me.

He had wanted to be alone as I had, standing out by the now harmless turbo laser turrets and crates of munitions. His hand were clasped behind his broad back and he was staring out into the jungle beyond the fence. I had been pretty quiet in my approach, but he still cocked his head slightly backwards, hearing me.

Yavin glowed on the horizon, casting a ruddy light on the jungle and putting everything into disorienting shadows as the star, Yavin and its moons circled, had set. I walked up to him, pausing a few feet away as he still had not turned. “Am I disturbing you?” I asked softly.

His massive chest expanded as he took in a breath and sighed. “No,” he said at last. “It is probably good that we talk.”

My stomach churned with butterflies. “Are you angry?”

Again there was a long pause before he finally shook his head. “No, anger isn't the right word. Conflicted would probably be a better one. I would like to know where I stand with you.” At long last Torm turned and the odd planet light played across half of his strong features while the rest remained in silhouette. “I think I've made my desires quite plain, and I just want to know where they rate with you.”

I walked a bit closer to crane my neck up at him. “Surely I made my desires known before the battle,” I told him softly. “I thought we had settled things in the hanger...?”

One of his lips turned up at the corner and he closed the distance until I was almost touching him. “You scare me, Nyeomi Fens, and there is not much I admit to being afraid of. You are going to constantly challenge me, I see that now, like a Fathier that just won't be broken.”

“I never hid who and what I was from you,” I told him. “You never seemed like a man who would back down from a challenge. You knew I was dangerous and you liked it.”

His arms came around my shoulders, sliding down to the small of my back to pull me against him. He was hard; hard muscles over hard bone and an iron will. I didn't need him, I was strong myself and I could stand on my own up to anyone who would dare try to dominate me. I didn't need him, but I wanted him. I wanted him because he hadn't been afraid of me and the challenge excited him. “Yes, that is true,” he admitted. “Playing the game with you was like riding lightning. I've never been a jealous man; I've never seen the point to it. There was always someone else, but you can break my heart and that gives me pause.”

“I'm not her,” I said as I laid my head against his chest and listened to his heart beat, remembering the woman I had seen in his mind that had hurt and haunted him.

“But whenever Darth Marr calls, you will answer.”

“I am a soldier,” I reminded him firmly. “Honor Above All. But Darth Marr will never know the depths of my heart, or the delights of my body. Darth Marr will not ever share my bed, but yes, my darling, if he calls, I must answer.”

One of his hands came up my back and cupped the back of my head against his breast. “Wars are ugly when women fight.”

“Wars are just ugly,” I retorted. “No matter who is fighting them.” I sighed and raised my head to find him looking down at me, his face maroon in the ruddy half light. “But some things must be fought for, Torm Belos. Some times you cannot sway an opponent with words. And when their faces twist in fury and they shout, 'Yes, you will,' that is when we curl a fist and shout back, 'No, we won't!'” I stepped back from his embrace and held his gaze by looking him square in the eye. “Will I be a difficult wife? Yes, I will. Because I am the best, I demand the best, for myself and my children! I will roll over and die for no one! Not the Republic, not the Jedi and not you either Torm Belos! If you want me, you will earn me every day of your life! Just like I will earn you! Yes, I will have fits of temper, and bitchy days and I will vex you and if you are not on your toes ahead of me I will chew you up and spit you out!” His face pulled into a frown, but my own inner honesty demanded I give this to him raw and straight up.

“But I am loyal unto death, Torm, so lead, and I will follow! Because I am fierce no one will harm the children you sire on me. Because I am Sith I embrace my passion as no other woman you will ever know. Because I am free, my choice to submit is a treasure beyond price. Because I am bold I caught your eye, and because you are bold you caught mine.” I held out my hand. “And because I am honest to a fault you will only hear the truth, naked and unpolished from my lips just as you do right now. Because now you know there is no other woman in this galaxy who is my equal, and all that is left is do you have the stones to claim me!”

He reached up and took my hand, intertwining his fingers with mine, then he pulled me hard against him, his free hand cupping my buttocks as he hoisted me off my feet. He picked me up, making a seat of his hands and brought me up to eye level with him. I entwined my arms around his neck and leaned my forehead against his, staring into his eyes. “You want to be claimed?” he demanded.

“Yes,” I whispered directly into his eyes.

My weight shifted as he took all of me into one arm and the other came up my back. His massive hand took a hold of the bun of my hair at the nape of my neck and then the back of my head. He pulled my face down slightly and kissed me. Have I mentioned what an incredible kisser Torm Belos is? Yes? Well, it bears repeating. I am a Sith Lord, used to riding the waves of my passions, trained in their mastery, but there are times... Yeah. He pulled back, his eyes sparkling with mischief and I was so turned on I actually panted a bit, staring into his eyes. “Then I claim you!” he told me with all the ownership of a hot iron branding into my ass cheek.

“Yes.”

There ought to be a word for that moment when white hot lust turns into I want to grow old waking up to your face every morning love. There really, really ought to be. That's where I was right then.

Yeah, there ought to be.

***

I found that I had been missed in my absence.

Upon rejoining the party with my intended, I found two groups waiting on me, the newly promoted Lieutenant Malo who was looking rather desperate with a sizable crowd that I took to be Thunder Squad. And if they were only at sixty percent strength, they were more of an under strength battalion than a squad. Between Torm's men and Thunder Squad I had better than five hundred troops at my disposal. Which I would probably need, seeing as next to them was Grand Master Satele Shan and at least a dozen, perhaps more Jedi Knights, most of them grim faced and wearing armored plates over their traditional robes.

“My Lord...”

“Darth Fens...”

The lieutenant and the Grand Master looked at each other as they had spoken at the same time. Satele gave a polite 'you first' gesture and Malo nodded her thanks. “My Lord, there is not a ship of sufficient size to carry all of us, but we would require so many smaller vessels that there are not enough with what we have on hand, and of those, many are still damaged from the battle.”

“I may be able to assist you there, Darth Fens,” the Jedi told me. I held up an index finger to the lieutenant and gave the Grand Master my full attention. “Is it true you intend to assault Korriban itself?”

“I believe Darth Vitiate has fled there, yes,” I replied.

“I have no mandate to assist in the invasion of the Sith Home World,” she said softly, obviously worried. “But surely such an assault would be fool hardy, the defenses...”

“Korriban houses the main Sith Academy, and the Dark Council sometimes meets there for traditional ceremonies, but the primary defense of the academy is it is deep inside the Sith Empire...and of course the acolytes themselves.” The expression on the Grand Master's face became grim.

“Then you will need Force Wielders to fight them,” she said sadly. “More than just you and your apprentice.” She made a gesture to the oldest of the Knights standing beside her, a hard bitten man with rugged, weathered skin and close dirty blonde hair over steely gray eyes. “This is Master Danric Tummins. You will find he is something of fan of your video essays on the holonet. He, and his followers, have decided to disobey my direct orders and assist you in your endeavors.”

I felt my eyebrows ascend my forehead. “I like a good rebel,” I admitted, and to be honest in my situation, I could hardly be one to look gift horses in the mouth. “But I also don't want to be responsible for ruining a man's life work either.”

“I vowed long ago to go where the Force led me,” Tummins declared in a firm, unwavering voice. “It's led me to you, if you'll have me.” I took the hand he offered and shook it.

“Master Tummins, we are grateful for the help.” The Jedi moved into the group of the Lieutenant's troopers, greeting, shaking hands and making friends. Friends that would soon enough become brothers in arms. Turning back to the Grand Master I asked, “Well, not that I am complaining, but as you have added to my transportation problem, you mentioned you could help with it?”

Satele's eyes twinkled with an inner amusement at my wit and a ghost of a smile tugged at her lips. She beckoned me to follow her, which I did, as she led the way back to the flight line. There were number of ships parked there, supply freighters mostly carrying weapons, munitions and food for the troops, but also fighters and other small ships. They were dominated somewhat by an interesting looking ship. At about a hundred and fifty meters, she was the biggest on the flight line, more of a corvette or frigate in that hazy place between escort ship and capitol ship. She was in various shades of white and gray, and obviously the work of the Corellian Engineering Corporation. She was an elongated diamond mostly in shape, with longer 'wings' on her midships that were currently folded against the hull. Out on her nose was the classic, circular cockpit CEC was famous for that was also perched on a certain smuggler's pride and joy. At her rear were a trio of large, circular engines in a triangle formation along with dorsal and ventral antenna and several strategically placed turbo laser turrets.

“This, is the Sleipnir,” Satele said by way of introduction. “She was actually captured as part of a Kessel Spice interdiction The Jedi Order assisted the Magistrate of Umbara with. She was flown by a Jedi prize crew to Umbara, which the government then bestowed on the Jedi Order and I, as Grand Master, am giving to you.”

I bowed, deeply moved by the other woman and the interesting turns her mind could take to stay inside the rules of what she could do, but still twisting them like a pretzel to get what she wanted done. “I'm deeply grateful, Grand Master. Let's hope she's as fast as her namesake.”

“May the Force be with you, Darth Nyeomi Fens.”

I twirled to my the leader of my new troops as well as my best friend. “Colonel, Lieutenant, load your men aboard as quickly as possible. We are leaving.”

“Yes, ma'am!”

With a final bow of respect to the Jedi, I swept up the boarding ramp and made my way forward. The circular corridors with their white, padded zero gee cushions made me feel nostalgic for my youth on another world, far from this one, a feeling that only got stronger as the door to the cockpit slid aside and I stepped onto the flight deck. No, it wasn't the Millennium Falcon, but it was close enough that it brought a smile to my face and a flutter in my chest. I reached over and tripped the master breakers and the boards sprang to life around me. “Can you fly this?” demanded Silas from behind me.

“I can fly anything,” I told him as I continued forward, my hands keying on the navigation computer which was behind the pilots place on my way to that famed seat and slid into it. There was a little step up for the pilot and copilot as they sat on a slightly raised dais which gave a better view out the canopy. I stole a look at Tari who was sliding into the copilot's chair, a bit to the annoyance of Torm. I winked at my lover to encourage him to be indulgent and he sat down in the flight engineers station so as to continue bringing the ship up.

“Main airlock secure,” Torm told me as he brought the sub-light engines on line and continued spinning up the hyperdrive. “All lines clear, ready to raise ship.”

“Pilot's spacecraft,” I commanded as I took hold of the control yoke and strained a bit to see out the canopy windows. “Clear left and front.”

“Clear right and front,” Tari advised me as the Sleipnir rose off her landing skids and began to be clear of the tarmac. Out the canopy I saw Grand Master Shan wave us bon voyage, but I was too busy to return the good will. Nudging the throttle up the ground fell away and in short order the blue skies of Yavin IV gave way to the star studded ink of space.

“I'm getting a transmission from the Dreadnought Courageous,” Silas said from behind me. “Captain Rusan says he's pleased to offer us escort and support at the order of Darth Marr. He wants us to form up aft of his port beam.”

The odds were definitely looking up for us living through this. I sent Captain Rusan my compliments while Tari and I flew into the requested position. The Courageous led the way to Korriban and we jumped to light speed after her.

***

There have been times I have commented on the speed of travel in this galaxy I found myself in. Like Han Solo before me I have been from one side to the other and seen many strange things. Were this a movie, the flight to our destination would have been all but instantaneous. Two ships leaping into hyperspace, then perhaps a shot of the cockpit and the swirling, blue white tunnel of light that was out the window. Maybe even a close up of the determined expression on my face, not that I was even sure it was a determined look; I felt a little sick to be honest. Then the stars pull back and we jump from battle to battle.

Yeah, that would be convenient.

However, in this galaxy, while our target was next door astronomically speaking, it was still a forty five minute trip through hyperspace. And when I made Silas aware of that he excused himself and, I hope, went looking for a certain Lieutenant. I couldn't say as far as Lieutenant Malo went, but Silas Bast needed to get laid desperately. I spent the time meditating and trying to keep myself calm and ready for the coming fight. God alone knew if I had what it took to take down Darth Vitiate the Mad. I wasn't sure I did, and with the Force, belief you can do something is a thing as we learned from Master Yoda. I had to convince myself I did have what it took. Finally the navigation computer beeped and with a glance at my co-pilot, I pushed the hyper drive motivator lever back into it's standby position. The stars rushed away from us and our destination sprinted up to meet us.

Korriban was the red, baleful eye of the Stygian Caldera, a harsh, dry world, red dust slowly eating away at fallen statues. The planet was covered in them, statues, monuments and ruins of the once great Sith Empire. Now it was a dead world, as lonely as the grave of a man with no family to mourn his passing, devoid of water or even soil that could grow anything, scorched and sown with salt from orbit on the genocidal orders of Supreme Chancellor Pultimo. Seven moons circled the home world of the Sith and the destroyed remnants of an eighth moon were slowly coalescing back into a moon from its own ruined debris field that made approach to the planet a night mare.

Fighters began to stream from the Courageous like some kind of massive creature spawning in the inky black sea of space. There seemed to be far more of the fighters than the Courageous would normally carry, but I wasn't going to argue. A mixed bag of fighters rose in answer from the captured Republic space station, but they were very much out numbered and our escort fighters shepherded us past and we began our descent into Korriban's atmosphere. “Final approach!” I shouted over my shoulder. “Get ready!” I heard the warning picked up by the soldiers in the hallway and passed aft by chainlinked shouts. My eyes caught with Tari's as I turned back and they were wide with fear, but her ripples in the Force were calm.

“If I die, I'm going to haunt you!” she teased me and I couldn't help but chuckle.

“There's a line,” I informed her and we pierced the cloud cover to see the vast plain and canyon of the Valley of the Dark Lords and beyond it, the Sith Academy. “Lower gear!” I ordered. “Extend all speed brakes and flaps!”

“Out, down and locked!” Tari assured me.

The shore batteries of the Academy began to fire, but several fighters streaked ahead and strafed them. They fell silent quickly. I made for the landing pad complex at the edge of the Valley of the Dark Lords and the foot hills leading up to the Academy. It would be a hard fight, fought a half-mile over uneven, broken ground.

Sleipnir came down a little hard on her landing skids and the hatch open warning was blaring even before that. I throttled the engines all the way down and jumped up with Tari at my heels, leaving Torm to finish bringing the ship down. We ran through the gang way, just getting to the back of the line of troops as they ran down the ramp. My sabers in my hands, my apprentice and I ran down the ramp and into hell. It was a horrific confusion of dust from our landing, flying blaster bolts and a parade of Jedi colored light sabers leading the charge. I was glad neither Tari nor I would catch friendly fire on that account.

As we ran, I saw that Lieutenant Malo had ordered her troopers to remove their helmets which made for an instant friend or foe determination. Smart subordinates, I very much approve of smart subordinates. To my surprise, when Tari and I had cleared the ramp, the Sleipnir took off again and her batteries began to aide us as a massive gunship.

I do love you, Torm Belos!

With the assistance of the guns of the Sleipnir, the small forces of the space port fell in minutes, most of them breaking and running towards the academy. I looked out across the Valley and saw a stream of acolytes, archaeologists and Reclamation Service Specialists, all headed that way, likely to be pressed into service as troops. The fighters were strafing them, and I honestly felt bad for them, but better they die there than take up arms and make taking the Academy difficult.

Or impossible, I told myself.

I finally caught up with the vanguard and was pleased to see our casualties had been light. Lieutenant Malo was looking in particularly good health and, unless my guess was wildly off the mark, recently acquainted with a certain gambler. “Celebrating early, Lieutenant?” I asked and her cat in the cream grin answered any lingering doubts. Good for you, bro.

“We've taken the spaceport, my lord,” she told me with a salute. “Do we fortify here or...?”

“No,” I interrupted quickly. “Leave a small rear guard and get organized quickly to press forward! We must take the academy!”

“Yes, my lord!” she shouted to be heard, then turned, quickly barking orders and the mass of soldiers, Jedi and a pair of wayward Sith surged forward, down the dusty trail to the Sith Academy. The Academy itself was an octagon shaped building, built of ferrocrete reinforced with durasteel directly on top of the ruins of the funeral temple for the Valley of the Dark Lords. There were windows, but they were shuttered against our assault and the massive stone steps that once lead up to the temple were now crowded with men and women trying to make makeshift barricades.

Silas drew his pistol, steeling himself to the charge, before he turned and shouted at me to be heard, “Once more unto the breech, or close the wall up with our English dead!”

Suddenly, inspiration struck and I yelled, “Droid! Someone bring me a droid! Hold the line here!” I snatched out my comlink and keyed it on. “Torm! Hover over that open ramp below the steps up to the Academy and get ready to rebroadcast this transmission!”

X4 trundled up and I extinguished my sabers. “I'm here, Mistress!”

“Up link with the Sleipnir, and broadcast this message.” I composed myself, and placed my fists against my hips in what I hoped would be an imposing posture. A holo emitter on the bottom of the hull lit up and suddenly the Academy was cowed by a gigantic, twenty meter tall hologram of myself looking down on them. “Acolytes! Citizens of the Sith Empire. Hear me! You have all been betrayed by a mad man who even now cowers behind you in hopes of extending his own wretched existence at the cost of yours. Darth Vitiate the Mad cares nothing for you, or our Empire, only for himself and whatever glories he steals from our courage and stalwart service! Do not sell your lives for a coward and traitor! I am Darth Nyeomi Fens, servant of the true Sith Emperor, Darth Malgus. You have seen his loyalty to our Empire! You have heard of his valor and courage against our foes! Some of you have fought by his side! Lay down your arms, pledge your loyalty and all shall be forgiven of your service, mistakenly given in good faith to a tyrant.

“Join me, join Emperor Malgus and we will rebuild the Sith Empire, and bring peace and order back to the Galaxy!”

A gigantic head appeared, as tall as my holographic body was, projected by the Academy and the old, decrepit face of the Will of the Sith appeared. “Lies!” it shouted, reverberating like thunder down the Valley. “Heresy! Rally, loyal subjects of the Empire! Your Emperor calls you...”

“Will of the Sith,” I heard myself shout. “By the Traditions of the Sith, I challenge you to single combat as Champion of the True Sith Emperor and his forces. Winner to lay claim to Korriban and all those loyal upon it!”

The eyes of the Will went wide as I announced the old challenge of vendetta and even as he opened his mouth to refute my right to claim, his own troops began to chant, “Fight now! Fight now!” Over and over until it echoed down the Valley of the Dark Lords and the Will was caught. He would either face me, or lose his place, and all of his troops.

“Come face me, then!” the Will shouted over the chant to be heard. “Come and face your death!” Cheers from both sides rose up from the troops. The loyalists remained on the top of the stairs, while my own troops formed a half circle at its base. Flanking the stairs on either side were high walls that rose to the level of the top of the stairs and formed the base for a pair of statues of Sith Lords, whose names were lost to history. It created an arena, twenty meters long at a slope of nearly thirty degrees most of which were the wide, shallow steps which would make our footing treacherous.

I was concentrating deeply on my emotions, my sense of duty, my desperate hope that instead of hundreds or thousands being killed, we could restrict things to just the Will and Vitiate himself. As I walked into the arena, I was so tightly wrapped in the Bogan my eyes tingled so, like they were on fire, that they must be glowing. I took the good luck handshake from Silas, and he started so my suspicions about the state of my eyes must be true. I felt the Force flowing through me, like a faithful hound, yearning to slip the leash and hunt on my call.

The circle at the top of the stairs parted and the Will appeared, though for all his confident carriage, I could see the fear was rank on him and the Bogan swirled and coiled about the fear, amplifying it as the terror rose up in him. “This is the only mercy you will receive,” I told him sharply. “Submit, surrender your light saber and you may beg Emperor Malgus for your life. Resist, and you die here and now.”

“Do you think me a fool?” he shouted and threw something at me. I casually raised a hand and caught it with the Force. It was a thermal detonator, wailing up to its discharge. I made a fist and the Force crushed it, flaring with its explosion, then an eerie, silent collapse into nothing. I drew my sabers and ignited them.

“Traitors to the Emperor, die!” I shouted, which caused his hand to jerk up and Force Lightning leapt from his fingers. I began to walk up the steps, my left blade snapped up and the Bogan channeled his Lightning harmlessly into my blade.

“You cannot defeat me!” he shouted, raising both hands and straining with every fiber of his being. I took the energy into me, channeling, redirecting it into strength of my muscles and backflipped ten meters to land perpendicular to the floor on the wall of the statue's base, then pushed off it to fly to the top of the stairs, blades first. He dodged at the last moment as I landed with such force the stone cracked into a small crater, snap drawing his own saber, a staff type and lighted both ends.

The crowd began to shout and cheer on their favorite, loudest in my ears were those loyal to The Will as we were at the top of the stairs, but my cheering section was making themselves known. As I recovered from my landing, The Will attacked my back on the right side, but I twirled my blade over my shoulder to block it. He immediately whirled, attacking low on my left, but I pressed through the opening on his right and whirled to face him. There followed a fusillade of blows and counters, the sabers wailing as they cut through the dusty air at speed and the cheers of the collected men for their respective champion got louder and louder with each exchange.

He swept at my feet but I somersaulted over, I bounced off the wall and sailed over his dodge. The light staff whirled, blurred with blinding speed to be trapped in the V of my sabers. I forced his blade down and spun, lashing out with my foot to kick him solidly in the chest. He tumbled down the stairs, but recovered before my leap down them could finish him. We spun and danced, separating to strike the signature ready poses of our combat forms and locked close, struggling for advantage at bad breath range.

I looked into his eyes just before I bent over backward to dodge his latest attack then turned the bend into a backflip and again kicked him, this time striking the hilt of his staff and driving it into his mouth. He staggered back and fell back to his rear, but in that moment, I saw the future.

I saw the look of agony on his face, surprise and shock and the horrible sensation of white hot plasma being forced into his body, feeling his organs cook while he was still alive. I focused back on the here and now as he had scrambled back to his feet and his staff swept at my back, but my blade was already parallel to my spine, waiting on him to block his attack. I pushed, turning again to face him as my other blade coasted up in slow motion to counter his reflexive high attack at my head. For a split second, both of our blades were locked, high and low, sabers and staff.

“You're afraid!” he taunted me, but I merely smiled at him.

“I'm also better than you!” I shouted back, then I pushed and both of my blades rotated in my hands clockwise and counterclockwise, they sliced through his staff hilt only inches apart and carved it into three pieces, two in his hands, and a third that fell to the ground. His sabers winked out, the weapon destroyed, as I continued the twirl and when they were high again, thrust them both into his chest.

The moment I had foreseen mere moments ago came true.

His agony was painted on his face as I severed his Aortic arch and his right lung at the same time. He felt his heart and lung cook within him, his eyes haunted as he stared into mine. “I am the future,” I told him, then snatched my blades from him. “And you have none!”

His eyes, dead and empty rolled up into his head and he collapsed at my feet.

I stared at his corpse for a moment, savoring the vengeance I had won for my brother, my husband and my friend, then my blades winked off as behind me, I heard Lieutenant Malo shout, “All hail Darth Fens! Lord of the Sith! Conqueress of Korriban! Champion of Emperor Malgus!”

I looked up the stairs at the shocked faces of my enemies as my troops shouted my acclaim. On the second cheer, stunned, they sank to one knee in a broken, hodgepodge wave and on the third they raised their fists and shouted my name, their weapons on the ground before them. I rehung my sabers on my belt as my apprentice bowed to me and gathered up the wrecked light saber of my vanquished foe as a trophy.

I was triumphant.

***

My victory was terribly short lived. Though we searched the Academy from the Headmaster's office to the Dark Council Chambers, from the transmission spire to the catacombs of the ruins of the old temple, Darth Vitiate was nowhere to be found.

The Sith Emperor had escaped once more, if he had ever been here in the first place.

***

The secure communications room in the Sith Academy put me in mind of a similar room aboard the Star Dreadnought Executor; it held a massive holographic terminal with a scanning pad and of course all the latest in anti-espionage gear to keep the conversations discreet. While it had taken me the better part of a day to crush hold out resistance that did not submit to the champions duel, and solidify my control of the planet, most of the Academy, Acolytes and others transferred their allegiance without fuss.

That, of course, was the purpose of the vendetta challenge being so ingrained in Sith culture. It kept Sith Lords from needlessly expending Empire citizens and military assets in what amounted to private feuds for power or advancement. That it was falling by the wayside was yet one more warning flag that the Sith Empire was in trouble and heading for the civil war that would produce Darth Bane and his Rule of Two. Still, with the assistance and reinforcement of Captain Rusan and the troops of the Courageous, Korriban was now firmly in New Revanite hands.

Specifically, my hands, not to put too fine a point on it. It was a burden I meant to divest myself of as quickly as possible. I saw that the communication links had gone through and sank to one knee on the transmission pad. “Speak your commands, my master,” I declared to the huge image of Darth Marr that appeared before me.

As always his masked face was blank, but his voice was quite jovial and he had the air of a man who was exceedingly pleased. “Hail to the conquering hero!” he delighted, both his tone and body language matching the self satisfied air I had noticed earlier. “Once again, my fair-haired child proves herself my best Sith Warrior!”

I smirked a bit and replied, “My lord well knows that I am a brunette, not a blonde.”

He waved off my protest with out a trace of irritation. “Do not cloud my delight with details, Lord Fens! Not only is the Academy and Korriban in our control, but Captain Rusan informs me you did so with almost no combat?”

“After we seized the Academy spaceport and secured it, I broadcast a warning to the remaining troops and personnel, encouraging those I was about to engage to lay down their arms and not sell their lives for Vitiates. The Will of the Sith made the mistake of making a counter broadcast himself, showing he could see and hear me, thus I was able to lay a challenge of Vendetta against him. The gauntlet thrown down in front of his men, he had no choice but to answer and I slew him.”

Uncharacteristically, the normally stoic Darth Marr began to laugh, which grew until his peals of mirth echoed about the chamber. “To lay low the so-called guardian of our most treasured beliefs with the very traditions he was entrusted to maintain and keep pure, oh the irony is magnificent!” He nearly laughed himself hoarse and out of breath and only just maintained his composure. “Never before have I been envious of another man, but Lord Fens, I find myself consumed with jealousy of this man you have chosen to father your children!” His massive gauntlet clad hand pointed a finger at me. “I will grant you leave to satisfy this irrational need to burden yourself with children, Lord Fens, and I will even be generous in leave so you may imprint yourself and your values upon them, but I will never let go of you, Nyeomi Fens, for you have become my right hand. Resign yourself to my service and the riches and glories it will bring you.”

I bowed my head. “That I have served my master and my Empire is all I have ever sought, Lord Marr.”

He made a dismissive gesture. “Enough of your modesty and self effacement, Darth Fens, I know your worth and it will be rewarded. To begin, with the fall of the old Sith Empire, our Revanite Order now stands alone as the empire of the Sith. Emperor Malgus is moving the seat of our government back to its traditional home of Dromund Kaas. He has graciously appointed me Prince of Ruuria and I intend to headquarter the Circle of Defense of the Empire there. Captain Rusan will solidify our hold on Korriban, I am recalling you and your troops to Ruuria to receive the first of the rewards you will receive in my service.”

This was not the outcome I had expected, nor was I entirely sure what he had in mind, or how it would effect my desires for a more sedate kind of life. Though I had a strong feeling 'destroyed' would be the appropriate word. Having nothing else I could do, I screwed my courage to the sticking place to admit my failure. “Master, I have found no trace of Darth Vitiate. If he was here, he has fled to some other hiding place. Surely now is not the time...”

The finger wagged at me again. “Darth Vitiate is a cockroach. Whatever dark crevasse he has scurried to will likely be impossible to find, until he feels bold enough to make himself known again.”

“But, Master, his ritual...”

“Has been dealt a major blow by the death of the Will of the Sith,” Marr declared with considerable certainty. I have experts delving through the tomes and holocrons already recovered from here on Yavin and that you have discovered there. Soon we will know enough to act with certainty, Lord Fens. In the meantime, you are recalled to Ruuria and I expect you to come with all haste.”

There was nothing else I could do, but sigh and bow once more. “I hear and obey, Master.”

***

While Yavin was forty five minutes away, Ruuria was the better part of two days because it took a number of jumps to orient onto the busy hyperspace route Ruuria sat on. During that time Torm and I worked out the finality of how we would plan for our lives with Darth Marr's declaration of being so...possessive of me. I was worried that Torm would be annoyed, or worse by my superior's somewhat off beat sense of humor, but when I told Torm what Darth Marr had said he grinned and was obviously quite pleased with himself.

I remember being male enough to be intimately familiar with how to please him and I believe that we bonded far closer than just a man and a woman, or even two males might have bonded. We were friends, in addition to being lovers and in the future, spouses and we were building a foundation for a marriage that I'm fairly confident in stating the both of us would treasure our entire lives. How different things had turned out in what was to be my second marriage as compared to my disastrous first. I can only guess that hearing that Darth Marr was jealous of him scored some kind of points with Torm.

I know, I know; men.

Speaking of annoying people, I called Lanaka to let her know we would be coming for the Aces and Eights as well as possibly settling accounts there as I had a feeling Darth Marr was going to want Tari and I close. True to form, Lanaka considered it a massive inconvenience for her and she hoped that I realized what a debt I owed her for staying behind safe and sound while I rushed off to be shot at. If I start counting now, maybe I'll reach a number high enough to be calm when I see her next.

Yes, I thought about stranding her there.

I thought about a lot of things I wouldn't do, but it did make me feel better imagining them. I was a bit melancholy about the possibility of leaving Barkhesh, it was beginning to feel like home. Not to mention I was becoming addicted to Master Arridin's tea.

There was also, I reminded myself, the specter of the favor I owed the Void to be paid.

Where was Al Pacino when you needed him?

I noted Lieutenant Malo, whose first name I finally found out was Fable, leaving Silas' cabin one morning on my way to breakfast and we shared the little nod of satisfaction of women who had their men and weren't in competition with each other. Fable and I started becoming rather friendly and it was quite nice having a female friend, which for me was a new experience.

For all my nagging thoughts of loose ends billowing in the wind, I found I could not keep my attention on them as the infectious joy of the troops bubbled up through the ship, despite the close quarters and everyone making do. The troopers were already spending bonuses and imagining medals they hadn't been awarded yet decorating their uniforms, so certain were they that the war was finally over, at least for a little while.

We had conquered the Sith Empire and we were friendly with the Republic.

Still, they didn't call this galaxy Star Peace. For all my enjoyment and good feelings I was having, those loose ends still haunted me. I was becoming as weary of adventure and war as they were, and thoughts of starting a family and just living a bit with this tremendous gift I had been given.

Somehow, I didn't really think that would be in the cards for me.

***

We took a shuttle to get back on Ruuria, leaving the Sleipnir at the naval base in orbit. I was without my dress uniform as it was in my locker back on the Aces and Eights. But X4 gave my white leather and plastiform armor 'working suit' a good cleaning and I judged myself presentable. I was becoming more used to having my midriff exposed, and while I haven't commented on it in some time, being this much in shape was still a thrill, even six months on.

And I was determined to keep it that way where I found time spent in the gym was far more enjoyable this way than the torture of trying to lose the weight had been. As with most things, maintenance is always easier than remodel. The orders I received directed me to a large manor house on an impressive estate, just outside the capital of Banudan, that was being looked after by an interesting collection of gardeners, one or two of which were native Ruurians.

It is a...unique...feeling to see a sentient, slightly over a meter long fourteen limbed caterpillar. What was interesting was that was the larval stage. After metamorphosing into an adult the Ruurians become only just barely sentient and interested only in eating and mating as the otherwise beautiful Chroma-wing Flier. Despite the somewhat horrific looking larval form, the Ruurians are a thoughtful, artistic species and their voices give them an almost reverb like effect when they speak Basic.

To my surprise, Tari's parents were present at the estate and there was a rather emotional reunion with hugs all around. I shook hands with her father and exchanged pleasantries with her mother, bragging on what a great student she was and having a bit of fun embarrassing her.

Her nose blushed!

A protocol droid put an end to our teasing of my apprentice and we were ushered into the Great Hall and immediately I regretted not going and getting the Aces and Eights first. There were many dignitaries gathered here, military officials in dress uniform, and of course, Darth Marr himself. I felt only slightly better that he was in his traditional armored battle suit, though he had removed the spikes to make it slightly less intimidating.

Even my parents were here, just to make me that much more uncomfortable.

I noticed my father had a new, scarlet, sash he was wearing over the right shoulder of his dress uniform to be gathered into a badge of office at his hip that I didn't recognize. Tari's parents were shown to a set of seats up front, but Tari and I were taken directly to the dais where Darth Marr stood. He was surrounded by an entourage of well heeled and better dressed dignitaries and I felt a new wave of being sorely under dressed. “Kneel,” Marr commanded, and I sank to one knee while Tari prostrated herself in a formal kowtow. “It is well, Lord Fens, that you arrive here today dressed as I would find you in the field, carrying out the duties of your Emperor. Let that be a badge of honor to all who witness these proceedings and go forth in this order and cry the motto: Action With Honor!”

A droid followed him as he stepped forward to be within range of us, carrying a cushion with something resting on it I couldn't see. He gently grasped it and lifted it, revealing it to be a heavy gold chain with a sunburst medallion hanging from it. He laid it over my shoulders rather than around my neck and to my surprise it stayed there. Then he gently placed his hand on my forehead and intoned, “By the power given me by his is Imperial Majesty, Malgus, Sith Emperor, I, Darth Marr, Prince of Ruuria, recognize the valor, courage and skill of Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, and anoint you Countess of Banudan, Dame Commander of the Order of Revan”

I was certain the heavy weight I suddenly felt on my shoulders was not entirely due to the gold the collar was made out of. Countess? Dame Commander? What did I know about being royalty? But, I would find out Marr wasn't finished. “Rise to your knees, Tari Mur, as is your rightful place. In recognition of your valor, faithfulness and duty I hereby proclaim you Lord of the Sith Order, Knight of the Order of Revan.” He placed a lighter, less ornate version of the chain I was wearing around her neck, causing her mouth to fall open in surprise. She gaped at me, obviously in shock, so I smiled and winked at her.

We stood and took places he indicated as Darth Marr continued to hand out the rewards. A Captaincy for Fable Malo, to go with her Knighthood into the Order of Revan, all of my troops received the Liberation of Korriban medal, even my 'loaners' from the Barkhesh Defense Force.

Then I was called forward and with my saber, hastily reset to its training mode, Torm, Silas and Darius were Knighted as well. As much as I was proud of my friends, my comrades in arms, I nearly burst into tears when Darth Marr conferred upon my future husband citizenship within the Sith Empire and the title of Baron in his own right. The former Thunder Squad was formally transferred and became the core of the House Fens Ducal Guard.

Following the ceremony we were led to a ball room where a reception was being held. I found out the manor belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Ruuria one Algon and Jadzeea Fens, thus the red sash I had noted earlier. Which would be the House Fens my troops had become the guards of. While my mother and father were in charge of Ruuria the planet, Darth Marr was Prince of Ruuria the solar system.

I took a glass of champagne as Torm led us out onto a magnificent oval balcony that over looked the bay Banudan was on the shores of. The city sprawled up the peninsula with a beautiful suspension bridge linking the far peninsula that protected the bay and allowed the city to encompass the entire bay. As the sun sank into the sea beyond its dying rays glistened off the wings of the Chroma-wing Fliers, gigantic rainbow winged moths, as they cavorted on the rising air currents.

It was the most beautiful sight I think I've ever seen.

I took another sip of the champagne, which I was enjoying to the point I was just a bit tipsy, and leaned into the arm Torm slid around me. “This place is so beautiful,” I whispered, in awe of the colors of the setting sun and the Chroma-wings reflecting them.

“You know,” he remarked as he put his flute down and began to dig into a pocket. “With all these plans and discussions we've been having, we never really made things official.” He pulled away from me and sank to one knee as he did so. By the time my somewhat tipsy brain caught up with what was happening I realized I was looking down on an open little box he was offering me. In it, glistening in the light of the setting sun, was starlight caught in a gemstone and set in the most delicate strains of metal I'd ever seen. Impossibly thin bands of platinum were spun over the stone whose color shifted as the light caught within it like a prism. It wasn't a ring, it was art. “Even though I stand by my claim,” he said with a crooked smile, “I would be honored if you would let me make an honest woman out of you.”

“Through victory my chains are broken,” I whispered, captivated by the ring and all it represented in a way I never had before. I put the flute in my right hand and offered the left. “But I gladly accept this link, Torm Belos, and I will wear it until the day I die.”

He took the ring from its little velvet box and slid it onto my finger.

In that moment, I again saw the future. I saw him smiling at me as he held the son I had given him as I rested from my labor. I realized I had been given the greatest reward I could ask for, a partner who would stand at my side, who I could count on being there for me even as he counted on me to be there for him. It was a treasure beyond price and worth everything I had traded and given up for it.

***

A month later I was again standing on that balcony, but the sun was not yet at its zenith. It was a beautiful spring day on Ruuria, the sky was a perfect azure and the bay was filled with stars, not water as the light danced on the waves. There was a crowd of dignitaries watching, my adoptive, yet biological parents beaming with pride and next to them, the parents of the man who was becoming my husband. There were my dear friends, Silas, who stood beside Torm looking resplendent in his silk tuxedo and beside me stood Fable Malo who had shed her uniform and armor to become a radiant young woman in a magnificent robins egg blue gown that flattered her perfectly.

I was wearing a dress so light it seemed to be made of mist, as perfect and pure a white as the first snowfall of winter. And for all its lightness, it hugged my body, supporting where I needed, flowing where I did not and without being lewd it put my body on display to the envy of any who saw me. I was looking up into Torm's face which beamed with his smile as my left hand held his right and Darius Persia, my best friend the Buddhist Monk, who had traveled as far as I, was wrapping a heavy silk cloth around our arms; white and black, Ashla and Bogan.

I spoke my vows to him, even though he knew I would never leave him, that no matter what, he could count on me. He swore on his life things I knew in my heart that I would never question. That in my soul I would never be alone, because he would be there. The Force wrapped around both of us as he took me into his arms and kissed me and I accepted the new role I would wear for the rest of my life; wife, and God willing, mother. He kissed me down to my soul as the Force bound us together, life creating life and I was whole and new.

And I would never be alone again.

There would be challenges and adventures ahead, there would be danger and uncertainty. But he would be there and we would face them together. As our families and guests applauded I looked into his eyes and thought, I'm ready, now, to face anything with you.

So am I, I heard him reply. So am I.

And lord help us all, Tari caught my bouquet.

* finis *


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