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Galactic-Size Family Drama

Chapter Text

So here's the thing. This behemoth is a mess. The OCs detracted from the point of the story, It became a Mary Sue mess, It stopped making sense, and seriously, no one on our end has the ability or the desire to do this any further, so we are gonna mark it as complete. This particular monster is done. We are not, however, done with the story. Regent and I are gonna do a rewrite, focusing more on canon characters and removing OCs almost entirely to make it more readable. Thank you for sticking with us, and we hope you read the rewrite, but as of this moment, this is a Director's Cut. Take it for what it is. Regent and I have grown as people, and we are more socially conscious than we were before, and we are gonna do it right and do it better and make sure that it's as good as it can be.

-Haunt

Galactic Size was really important to me and us and still is, but it also represents something sad and is a reminder of a really unstable part of our lives
echoing what Haunt said, I am actually excited at the thought of a rewrite because there were so many problems I didn't know how to fix
we're also just in a better place.
we can have more fun with this. I think that's really important with the way the world is. I hope to see y'all in the rewrite.

-Regent

Chapter Text

"She's bright, strong, and reliable. A good apprentice for you. She's a little slow on the uptake, but she will come around," said the tan Zabrak. He was in a horrid redneck bar called the Raging Ronto. At least, he thought it was horrid. It was written on his face. The slightly raised nose, the darting eyes.

"What's wrong, Darach? Can't stand the working man? Does this place upset your Jedi sensibilities?" Said the red creature. He was the same species with his horns, teeth, and tattoos, but his skin color marked him as different, from the forbidden planet. Dathomir. The one which does not exist.

"Don't patronize me, Maul. I have several millennia on you. You are my cousin and that is why I am here, but you are my cousin, NOT my brother. Remember that. Do you want the girl or not?"

Maul grinned, showing his shark-like teeth. "What's wrong with her? Last I knew, the Jedi were in the business of kidnapping children. Not giving them out."

"Put away your creepy Sith dick, Maul. I am your cousin, not a faceless Jedi. Kriff the Order. I am there for the kids. As for the girl, there is nothing wrong with her. Her mother was a temple guard that has been banished to the satellite on Dantooine, and her father was one of the brightest stars of the Order. He died defending Ilum in the Federation Wars. Really, the only problem is that she is abysmal at Makashi, and I will not see her shipped of to the Agricorp as wasted talent. Now, do you want her?"

The red man sat for a minute looking pensive. He tapped the table and when the droid came over, ordered a soda, then leaned back. Kao Cen Darach pulled out his 'brak pipe and started loading it. The noxious fumes wafted over Maul, who glared at Darach.

"I didn't know that the Sith were so hardline about drugs. You don't drink, you don't smoke. Do you have any vices other than wrath?" This time, he grinned, showing the same carnivorous teeth.

The droid came back over with a glass and an ashtray, then wheeled away. "Why don't you go to Korriban armed with nothing but your hands, unearth an ancient tomb while your ass is watched by a filthy old man, then go inside, evading thousands of traps, and be rewarded by being forced to snort the ashes of Darth Bane. You spend three days in a hallucination that feels like the worst kind of bad trip. Then, when you wake up naked, being eyed by an ancient, senile fool, you tell me why you are against drugs. Shit dulls the mind anyway." He said, voice dripping with venom. He didn't realize the his nails had gouged divots into the table. He leaned back and breathed out, drinking his soda and crunching the ice between his teeth.

Kao Cen lit his pipe. "I had no idea. Apologies, Maul. One has to wonder why you let the old man live?"

"Because there are others like me. I can't move until they are either with me, or against me. I need to know who my enemies are. Deliver the girl to the Nightbrother. I will depart Coruscant as soon as she is onboard." Maul got up and left the bar, flicking his credits to the bartender on the way out. Kao Cen leaned back. Now he had to find out how to get the girl out from under the Order's nose, but Maul didn't need to know that he hadn't thought that far ahead yet.

Chapter Text

"So, do you know what you have to do?"

"Of course I do. Emma is weak, but I am Elliot, and Elliot is strong," said the masked figure. It was a startling mask, all cold metal and hard curves, but the voice that came out of it was high-pitched. It was hard to believe that twelve years ago, Maul had picked up this one from Kao Cen Darach. When he met them, it was just her, and her name was Emma. She was an awkward child, all legs and terrible hair, but now that they were polished, they were almost as efficient as Maul, and did they grow up, but he would think on that later. Maul grinned, his teeth shining in the light of the street lamps.

"Good. Do well, my son," he said, and became one with the shadows. Elliot was looking, but Maul was good at his job. Elliot smiled behind the mask and moved forward, ready to do his part and move one step closer to destroying Palpatine and everything that filthy man stood for. Elliot shuddered as he walked, remembering Palaptine, remembering the way that the filthy man looked at him. There was also a vague image. A house settled atop a cliff that overlooked a beach, but the memories never formed and dissipated away like smoke. Right now there was a job to do. It was simple enough. Apparently Maul had found one of the Emperor's Hands, and they needed to figure out whose side he was on. Senator Hill was odd for a Sith. A politician for Naboo, notably the capital city of Theed, Hill was one of the more benevolent senators. Just the week before, he had pushed forward and passed the bill for galactic Non-Human rights. A bill that Palpatine staunchly opposed, so that was why they chose him first. Maul had spent months tracking this lead, and they both hoped that Hill was an ally. The task was simple: walk in the front door, go through the apartments to the penthouse, and knock on the door, then talk. It was something that Emma would have been better for, so why did Maul ask specifically for Elliot? There was something that he was hiding.

Elliot removed his mask and clipped it to his belt. There was no need for anonymity here. Besides, it would be less suspicious to go in unmasked. He was still in his robes, and his chest was still bound anyway, so they would assume it was just a cute guy to meet the Senator. Hell, Maul even had him cut his hair short to sell the deception. Elliot walked up to the building to find the doorman swung it open, much to his surprise. "Mr. Hill, we thought you had already come in for the night. We must have missed you leaving. Apologies." Elliot stopped and blinked, but only for a moment.

"It's alright. No harm done," he responded, putting on his people face. He couldn't force a smile though. Emma could put on a charming smile, but Elliot was not capable of selling that lie.

"Are you feeling alright, Mr. Hill? Your voice sounds off. Shall we send up some tea with lemon and honey for your throat?" Asked the doorman.

"It's quite alright. I just need rest," he bluffed. The doorman seemed to buy it. Elliot walked to the elevator, then turned. "Actually, I seem to have left my key to the elevator. Could you assist me?" He carefully lied again. Maul had said nothing about there being need of a key to get to the penthouse. Another test, then. The doorman smiled and put his key in and turned, then pressed the button to the penthouse.

"Now, you know I'm not supposed to do that. Please be more mindful. I can't help you next time, Zak." The doorman stepped out of the elevator. As it rose, Elliot pondered. Who was Zak and why did the guard call him that? Curious. The elevator shuttered and there was a thump on top. Elliot thumped the roof twice and two thumps came back in reply. It was their signal for "all is well". The elevator stopped at the penthouse and dinged open as Elliot had finished loosening the screws to the service hatch so that Maul could enter. He then approached the door and rapped sharply.

The nameplate said H. Hill. There was a moment of silence, and then the door opened, and Elliot was staring at himself. Rather, a prettier version of himself. Elliot had feminine features, where this person's were all angular and masculine. His breath stopped for a minute, as he had always been a narcissist, and the man blinked as well, but he acted first. All Elliot felt was the impact on his cheek, then it went dark.

He awoke on a couch. It was a nice couch too, but he didn't open his eyes. Rather, he felt out with the Force, as Master Qui-Gon had taught him years ago. There were two life forms in the room. Both Force-sensitive, but neither one was Maul. Maul's Force felt like a freshly-stoked fire, all the heat with none of the unpleasantness. Here, one was almost glacial, cold and hard, but not hostile. It was just natural. Just business. The other was like the mists of the rainforest on Celeste. Refreshing and beautiful, but it was tinged with death as well as life. Something about this person was angry.

Elliot then took in his physical surroundings. The couch was soft and there was a pillow under his head. He was also covered in a blanket. He was still clothed, but his breasts had been unbound. Damn. Time for Emma. Time for a soft touch. He was also missing his lightsaber and his mask. Double damn. Emma snapped open her eyes to get her surroundings visually. There was a coffee table in front of her. Strong hardwood. Also.... it..... it was Force-sensitive? That didn't seem right. There was a cup of tea, still steaming, resting on it. It had a wooden coaster under it, intricately carved, but she couldn't tell what was on it for the teacup. The next thing she saw was the blonde man again. He was the rainforest. Gorgeous, not unlike her, but if she were born a boy. She wanted him with intensity. Not the passion that she had grown used to, but in the hormonal way that can only happen to someone young. She squelched it. There was no time for her hormones, yet she was still intrigued. He couldn't be much older than her. His hand was also wrapped in a clean white bandage. The other man she recognized from S-SPAN. Senator Hanni Hill cut an impressive figure. A sharp nose, bold blue eyes, and brown hair, he was definitely from northern Naboo. Easily in his forties, too. What was he doing with the younger man? He was the glacier, and he was sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace, reading a book. His suit was impeccable, same with the tie, and he seemed at ease for having an intruder in his home. The younger man was different. A scowl decorated his pretty face, and he was pacing in front of the fire. Her lightsaber and mask were on the mantle, close to him, and she could see a small mark on his neck. He was wearing a black T-shirt, which covered most of it, but it looked like a scar she had seen before. It was where a barcode and electronic chip would have been placed if her were a slave. Interesting. She decided she might as well talk, so she sat up. The young man stopped pacing and Hill closed his book.

"So, you are awake," he said. His voice was heavily accented. Definitely northern Naboo.

"So I am." She straightened her robes and sat up properly.

"Please, drink. I apologize if my son was a bit rough. You understandably gave him quite a fright. We only just passed a very controversial bill, and then you show up, looking very much like him." He pushed the teacup closer to her. "Lavender and citrus. A favorite of mine."

She looked at it curiously, but didn't drink it. "I'm not stupid. I know what truth serums are." She said and pushed it back across the table.

"Very well. Then if you don't mind." He took it and took a sip, then placed it back on the coaster and slid it back over to her. "Good enough?" He asked. She tilted her head and he laughed. "You are our guest. We wouldn't dare be that rude. Speaking of which, you have a tongue, son." He said and looked over his shoulder.

The young man let out what was either a growl or a mumble.

"Louder? You punched her. The least you can do is apologize," he said.

"Sorry," muttered the young man.

"Don't mind him. My son is very protective of me. This is Zakarie. With a K. I could still kill his mother over the spelling," Hill said. The man, Zakarie, flushed pink.

"Well, it was a pleasure to meet you both, but if you don't mind, I should be going," Emma said and stood, but was pushed back onto the couch by the Force. Zak had extended his hand. Hill swatted it.

"Zakarie Arnaud Hill, if our guest wishes to leave, she may do so. I know we taught you better than to use the Force in the house," he scolded. Zak put his hand down and went back to pacing. "Now dear girl, you may leave at any time, but surely you were here for a reason? After all, you are the one that asked the guard to let you up."

"I came here to find out if we had allies. Judging by the fact that I was popped in the teeth, I don't think we do."

"What were you expecting? You came into our house looking like me! I thought you were an assassin," Zak growled.

"Well Mr. Zakarie, I didn't know you existed. It isn't like you are highly publicized." He stopped pacing.

"Yeah, there is a reason for that," he said, more to himself. "Are you hungry?" He blurted. She blinked. Zak went to the kitchen and started moving things around. "I was cooking dinner anyway. Your friend in the elevator can join us too. We entertain often." She blinked again.

"Maul is unlikely to join us for dinner, son. He isn't the dinner type. Before you ask, I have a robust network of people and know when people are looking for me. Maul is the assassin for the Emperor. I know of him, though we have never met," Hill said. She blinked again.

"How far out of my league am I?" She asked.

"Very, but I think he and I should talk alone first. Why don't you get to know my son. Your things are on the mantle. I will replace your binder. I apologize for removing it. We thought it could have been explosives. When I discovered my mistake, I covered you as quickly as possible."

She flushed red.

"I will return. Be good to our guest, Zakarie. I must see to Maul." He walked out the door. She was stunned.

"He's very businesslike. I apologize for the shiner. I wasn't expecting to see me when I opened the door."

"It's.... okay? I would have done the same in your position, I suppose."

"Let's try this again. I'm Zak. I didn't pick the spelling of my name. I'm from Ryloth. It's traditional. I'm eighteen, am enamored with art, and have a mean left hook, which you experienced."

"Ummm...Emma when I'm sad, Elliot when I'm bad. Also seventeen, the epitome of goth trash, and can't take a left hook."

"Bigender then? Not that it matters. We are all equal under this roof." He was working with some kind of meat with his hands.

"I guess. I prefer not to label it."

"So, why are you here?"

It turned out that while Hill was also a Hand of the Emperor, his financier, Hill had also grown tired of the Emperor. They had found allies. Zak and Hill were more than happy to assist Maul when the time came for the overthrow, and Hill had information on that. He had two more Hands that Hill knew of, and they were looking for information on that. Dinner was excellent. Zak was a wonderful cook and even Maul praised him on his skill. After they had left, she told Maul what had happened.

"I'm sorry I failed you," she said, walking down the street back towards their home.

"Where you see failure, I see opportunity. If I had gone through with my plan, that boy, Zak, would have thrown me out the window. Take this as a lesson. Not even Dad is always right," he said.

"My Mom is the holonet, Dad. I know you aren't always right."

He flushed purple.

Chapter Text

Every waking moment of Ben’s day was occupied thinking about her.

She wasn’t conventionally attractive, no, but to him, she was a winged goddess with silvery-white skin and blue tattoo veins across her face like sapphires inlaid in white gold. Everything about her dripped luxurious and shiny and cold, things he just adored but especially in a woman. Her name ended in a sigh, always. “Asajj,” he breathed, inhaling his conditioner in the shower. It kept his long hair in good shape and the scent was metallic and fresh, like seaspray and a clean shipment of platinum for his work. It sent shivers down his spine. He was careful to ignore the impending arousal that thinking of her in these moments brought. She was not only gorgeous, but deadly and she loved only him. She owned only him. She could have as many devoted slaves as she desired, but she only wanted him. His heart soared.

To her, it didn’t matter that he was kind of gangly and awkward—she loved him for his brain. That’s what Ben told himself every day when he woke up and tended to new lacerations and bruises, anyhow.

It wasn’t like he didn’t agree to those too. Just maybe not as hard as they were going. He wasn’t sure. Either way, it was still better than waking up to his parents screaming at each other downstairs. Those showers were not peaceful contemplation, they were a necessary texture change to ground him back in the here-and-now. His mother was Force-sensitive and he could feel her signature, it was hot like fire and burned bright and harsh and stinging during fights. His father was not. He’d always kind of hoped that clumsy drunk downstairs wasn’t his father, but he never dared ask about it. No, the best thing he could do was concentrate on getting good grades, graduating, and getting out as soon as possible. He ended up living with them all the way through his first semester of university and it was impossible to work with their carrying on. He wondered why the divorce was taking so long. She was a senator—couldn’t she just rubber-stamp it through? Why did he still have to live there? It was nights like that he’d cruise SheevsList and search for something else, someone who would take him away from all this, give him purpose. Without her, he felt aimless and unsure and often forgot to take care of himself for days at a time.

He managed to steal some books from the university. He didn’t know much about the Jedi that taught there, his uncle was supposedly a Jedi, but he hadn’t visited since Ben was a little kid. He remembered Uncle Luke well, though, and his aura of crashing waves and sunny skies, the smell of the sea on rock, sand in surf. It was so calming. Uncle Luke played games with him—which he now recognized as ascertaining his potential in the Force. Ben never could do what Luke could—lifting things, moving them, jumping higher than he should have, none of it. He thought now that he just needed age and the kind of guidance that worked better than anything—books. For weeks he worked through them, often forgetting to feed himself and shower, until his mother would come in with a plate of three or so sandwiches and leave them on his desk. He was careful not to let her see what else he was working on besides electrical engineering. “Ben,” she’d say. “The Force is just an old relic with sideways worshippers, it’s not relevant in the modern age. Focus on what you’re good at, I’m sure it’ll work out.”
How could she say that, knowing about herself, knowing about Uncle Luke?
It didn’t matter. He still couldn’t do any of it. During midterms it all came to a head and he accidentally destroyed his entire desk area, punching holes in the walls and tearing the carpet right up. He hadn’t even gotten out of bed--the books didn't say anything about that. In fact, they cautioned against strong shows of emotion.

That night, he used his savings to replace his desk with a gorgeous glass-and-metal one with plenty of space to work on his latest engineering project and sent his first message to her. It was a strange feeling, very pleasant, taking charge of things in a way he never felt he had the power to do.

The books weren’t totally useless. He’d learned one thing in them that changed his life forever. And it was right up his alley to the point that the interest became all-consuming. He returned the books on Force history anonymously, but kept the one on the history of Jedi weapons. “Focus on what you’re good at,” Mom said. He certainly planned to.

Beginning Electrical Engineering, Beginning Metal Shop, and Industrial Chemistry were interesting, but soon enough his Galactic History Prior To The Great Hyperspace War would be as well. For the first time, he saw a bunch of bodies a lot like his, especially that nose. The Ancient Sith were a race who venerated their engineers, not like today, when most people just thought it was a path to nowhere fast, fixing landing gear in a hanger on some bland trade planet. Their weapons were elegant and efficient, particularly the crossguard lightsaber they used prior to the Scourge of Malachor. It was a good design, but needed its own form to be truly effective, and of course needed a crystal powerful enough to make the side emitters work properly. They were vents for the core blade and it would take one hell of a crystal to make that work. They don’t make them like this anymore, he thought, smiling and taking the design apart right in the middle of the lecture. He didn’t hear the rest and didn’t care about it.

Over time, his first messages to Asajj were at first shy and polite, but quickly he felt like he could confide in her. The troubles at home, his disinterest in school, his growing anxiety at becoming a relic himself. She was not only sympathetic, but for the first time in his life, someone was telling him he could be so much more than he was. He read her words over and over before carefully replying to them:

Ben, you are so much more than anyone gives you credit for. You have the power on your own to break the chains of anxiety. Anxiety is a dizziness of freedom after all. And you can be free to do whatever you want to with your life. I for one would love to get together and see what you’re studying, I do wish you felt like sharing it. Your beautiful mind is unappreciated, especially by those closest to you, and it's a crime. But you are your own man—do as you wish.

He responded:
I don’t know what I’d do with freedom. The idea seems too big and somehow suffocating at the same time. But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try. I love what I do too much. I’d love to show you my work. There’s a nice caf place down by where I live, when are you free?

He had never felt so bold in all his life.

 

She insisted on paying. When they sat, he pulled the schematics out of his bag and the scraps he’d gotten together. Scraps was too ugly a word for it, to be honest, it was great work. Solid soldering, great-quality metal. He hadn’t dug through the trash to make this. He’d sourced what he could from metallic printers that his dad knew and the kind of quality models that the other senators’ sons would build in their spare time. Asajj turned it over in her hands and knew then she had to have him. This craftsmanship was entirely uneducated and unaided—it was all him. He wasn’t bad to look at, either. Definitely not as much as he thought he was. His ears were perfectly normal-looking for a human, she didn’t understand his need to hide them behind his hair. Or his face, for that matter. Regal profile, betraying a lineage of which he was surely ignorant. To say it was all business was false—a weird, detached part of her did stir in her chest when she thought of the things they could do together, but then she thought of the man she thought was her fated mate—and shook off the silly imaginings. They could benefit each other and that was that.

Her Force was so strong he could almost taste it just sitting near her. It was like crisp mint and ice, like a frozen garden that somehow still bloomed. She poured over his schematics and his work, touching it like he desperately wished she could touch his skin. She loved it, she really thought it was something. She told him that if he kept on, he'd be a true sabersmith like hadn't existed in a long time. Nobody had ever told him all the things he could be before.

And by all the stars in the galaxy, she was so different. Beautiful, maybe closer to ethereal and vaguely threatening. Head shaved smooth, nothing but blue tattoos visible. He wondered what they meant, he wondered if there were more. Her dress was blue velvet and leather, two things which absolutely should not go together but did on her. She lined her lips in silver and painted them with matte deep blue and had holographic silver on her nails. He stared at them, looking anywhere but her eyes. He might actually die if he looked in them.

He didn’t, not until the first time they went to her “extra room” in the modern, spacious flat she had. He dared to look in her eyes and she gave him the lashing he’d never forget and dreamed about the entire time they’d known each other. It had been about six months since their first meeting, still messaging each other almost daily. She’d gotten ahold of a crystal for him and he thought he saw her smile when he took it in his hands at the table they always chose and held it to the light. Purely transparent, just a nick on the top from where it was harvested. He was struck dumb by the sheer power of what he held, and the meaning behind her giving it to him. She truly did believe in him. These things are rare, and definitely not cheap. He asked if she wanted to come back, as for once, both of his parents were gone at once. She suggested her place instead.

Ben always had gravitated towards certain kinds of relationships. He’d managed to figure out how to scramble the parental lock on the holonet at a relatively young age and did what all kids do. But he found as he aged, his tastes didn’t change. He enjoyed the thought of voluntarily giving up control—it was the ultimate source of control. At his own whim, he could choose to belong to someone else. He could give them the power of agency over him. It was intoxicating. He wondered briefly what he would do with this absolute power if it were given to him, but ultimately decided he didn’t know what he would do with it. Sure, power is a fine thing, but directionless power…what was it even for? He hated never having control of his surroundings for so long, for being at the mercy of his parents and their ridiculous little war in the living room. In this arena, he was emperor. At his will, he could deign to stop caring about anything and everything, perhaps be an inanimate object for a while. Tables had so little worries. People rarely got offended with tables, he reasoned. It might be an okay life. When he saw Asajj’s post, that she was a harsh mistress looking for the only the most devout servitor, he knew he had to do something big or never do anything at all. Surely all the nonsense about ruling the galaxy beside her was only fantasy.

At least, he thought that until he saw her discarded daily corset on the floor when they were finished. She was in the refresher. He was still stunned, that had been so many firsts for him and he couldn’t tell her. But surely she knew, he was nineteen after all. He sat spread out on the floor, absorbing the beating and the aftercare and the intense sex that followed. And cast a glance to the clothes pile and there it was, shiny and odd in the pile of fabric, a little blue and silver pyramid that looked bolted into her corset, smack dab between her breasts. The most important place for a most important item? But it couldn’t be what it appeared to be. He scooted across the floor and almost dared touch it, but he knew better. He’d read about these—entire libraries of knowledge, recordings of events, lost to the ages, condensed into these objects. Holocrons. But this one, while shaped like the Sith holocrons, looked nothing like them. It also wasn’t the right shade of blue to be a Jedi item, this was a deep blue of her lipstick and the outside of her irises. What was it, and what was it for?

Maybe she really was setting up to rule the galaxy. He didn’t care—she had him, no matter what the plan was. He went home that night and was determined to finish the last step of constructing his lightsaber.

When he popped the crystal into the column, it hummed to life and the middle blade came through as a ruby red burst of light. He'd been so excited to see what colour his would turn out as--a bit puzzled, if he read correctly, only Sith had red, but no matter. Now to see if it was strong enough to activate the crossguard. He went through a few elementary motions he'd read about, powering it up to full, and on the last downswing, there was a tink! and the sides came to life, causing the entire thing to buzz loudly and crackle, making the strangest lights and sound, but still so intense he could feel it radiating against his uncovered hands. Upon closer examination, the crystal's small crack spread, and created an unstable but very powerful blade.

Unconventional, sure, but then again so were they. It was perfect, he just had to be careful.

Chapter Text

All I do is win win win
No matter what what what
Got my money on my mind, I can never get enough
Walk up in the building, everybody’s hands go up
And they stay there

 

His old-fashioned music box had kind of a tinny ring to it, but it was all part of the ritual. It had to be done just so, every time, or his streak of good luck might just end. And that was not part of the five-year-plan.

Armitage Hux stood in front of the bathroom mirror, pleased with what he saw. Not a ginger hair out of place, clean shave so close it burned, perfect braided knot in his tie, and a smile that could kill or raise the dead depending on his mood, or so he liked to think. He’s gotten this far with confidence and a positive attitude, it would get him the rest of the way, no doubt. He flexed his mind, testing the boundaries of his “personal bubble”, as he liked to think of it, testing the volume of his tasty tasty jams blaring inside of it. He could extend it to about a foot around him in any direction now, since discovering this peculiar talent under extreme stress in his late teens. His father was a mess, and those were the worst words he deigned to use for it.

Today was not a day for thinking about failures. Today was about success. Specifically, his success, and how quickly he’d achieved it. He graduated the Republican Public Academy at eighteen, worked for the Republic until his honorable discharge two years later, and he’d only been on the political track for two years after that. Twenty-two and kicking cans left and right, you bet.
Who is aide to a powerful man?
I am, he thought.
Who beat out every other applicant, some of them many years on me?
I did.
Who is going to be the best public servant the galaxy has ever known?
This guy right here.

One more look in the hall mirror, directions to his domestic droid, then off to the most important meeting of his life so far.
I’m gonna go far, he thought, engaging the safety of the personal bubble.

 

“Honestly, Snoke, why are you inviting this kid? These proceedings are important and we can’t foul this up,” Lord Bologna of Dantooine said, snoot permanently in the air.
“If this declaration becomes treason, if the least thing goes wrong in this takeover, do you want to hang? Not only that, this one is a wash-out of the Republican academies, he has every reason to be upset. Plausible deniability. Rule number one of conspiracies is always have a patsy, gentlemen. Now, what else can we shove in here for the sake of galaticism?” The only non-human in the room, Snoke clapped and that was the end of the matter. There was a reason he was the only non-human.
“Now, we need to make sure it says ‘one law and one language’,” drawled Hoss Bonaventure, examining his plas-revolver, more for show than security. Nar Shadda might be a hairy place, but these chambers were not. Nobody in this room was about to call him on either the blatant specism or the unnecessary blaster, though. They agreed with him.

The door opened and Hux came through, smoothly taking over the nearest chair and opening his briefcase. “Mr. Snoke, I couldn’t help but read over what’s already been updated in the document and I think it would be more effective to move this last bit around to ‘the enlightened guidance’ rather than delineate things like linguistics, we don’t want to be intolerant, now do we?” he folded his hands in front of him, unsure of what to make of the eyes on him around the rest of the table.

“Fair point, Armitage. It shall read, ‘one law, one language, the enlightened guidance of one individual’.”

Hux felt a bead of sweat fall from under his arm to his side. This didn’t sound like public service, it sounded like high treason and he wasn’t so sure he wanted to be a part of it. He was certainly going far, but galactic prison was not quite what was in the five-year-plan.
It only got worse from there.

He stayed silent the rest of the meeting, shaken to the core over the things that were said and what was about to unfold in the senate chamber. Snoke stashed away his data pad after the rest of the men left and took out a green pyramid paperweight.
“Son, you’re definitely going places,” he said, playing with it, holding it up to the light, then replacing it in his coat pocket.
Hux swallowed and put on his best fake smile. The one that got him the job. The one that was going to send him to prison.

Chapter Text

He looked out the window of his office at the Senate and steepled his fingers. It was finally time. Sure, the Separatist Alliance were squashed by the Jedi on Naboo before he had wanted, but he still had a plan. After all, Master Syfo Dias was the one to order the creation of the clones, so it was that he would reveal their existence, then have the Kaminoans destroy them. They were now unnecessary. Even now on the Outer Rim, Imperial Academies were under construction. As for Jedi intervention, the Jedi were so ineffective now that they were unimportant. His hands had done well, and it was time to take his rightful place as the ruler of the Galaxy. He went over his Declaration of a New Order again, re-reading each line. Snoke had done well in writing it, and he was pleased to have such an effective apprentice. Indeed, all of them had done marvelously, except for Maul. He felt Maul was a bit erratic, having taken his own apprentice during his tenure. Maul was necessary to keep the Nightsisters in line however, as was Ventress. Talzin was too powerful, and if Talzin decided to organize the entirety of Dathomir against them, and use her magicks to attack them before they were ready, Palpatine shuddered at the though. He hated that swamp witch. He then let his mind drift to Maul's apprentice, Emma. She was so sweet and soft. Palpatine entertained his own filthy mind for a few minutes, then went back to his Declaration. There was no time for that. He had to focus. All would be remedied soon and that girl would visit him on Byss. Probably permanently until he got tired of her or she got too old. He opened his desk and pulled out his purple Holocron. It pulsed and he smiled. He knew that if anything were to happen, all he had to do was press the button on the side of it, cleverly hidden behind a hinge, and it and the others would activate. Even if something happened to him, his plan would still survive. The Hands didn't know about each other. All they had were the holocrons. Maul had red, Ventress had blue, Hill had gold, and Snoke had green. All was going to plan.

A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and Vice Chair Mas Amedda entered the room. "My Emperor. The time is here." He said, and Palpatine stood with a smile. "Good. Good. Go Amedda. Arrange security. I want that Jedi fool Windu thrown out of the Senate before he can cause trouble." He said. Amedda bowed and left. Palpatine took one last look out of his window. He could see the Jedi Temple from this window. He raised his cuff and spoke into the hidden comlink. "Maul, You and your apprentice must act." He said quietly. Then, the bloom of fire and rising smoke appeared from one corner of the temple. He smiled and walked calmly to the Senate floor, taking his chair. Windu could be seen with that fool, Qui-Gon-Jinn but Jinn pulled Windu close and spoke in his ear, and they both left hurriedly, leaving Obi Wan Kenobi, still a child, to handle the meeting. He smiled. All according to plan. Amedda would find a boy no trouble. He looked over as Amedda stepped onto the podium with a nod, then the podium raised.

"There will be order." Amedda said. His booming voice echoed across the chamber and everyone went silent. "There has been an accident at the Jedi Temple I was told, so instead of Representative Windu and Jinn, we have Representative Kenobi with us this evening. The boy turned a bit green and shrank a little. "It seems we are also missing some Senators. I trust they will arrive soon. We have come to this meeting, this extraordinary session of the Senate, at the behest of Senator Hanni Hill of Naboo. So, let's not waste any time. Senator Hill, you have the floor.

Hill stood, Zakarie behind him. Showtime. "Before I present my bill, I feel some explanation is in order. I was supposed to be joined by Queen Padme Amidala during our next session, to help me represent my people, but regrettably, it seems she was killed by an assassin. This is why I am here with my son, who I feel is in danger." He said.

Palpatine attempted not to leer. That boy. He was going to be joining the new Emperor on Byss for sure.

"After a thorough investigation, and I do mean thorough, it has been discovered that the Queen was slain by a lightsaber. One of the weapons held sacred by the Jedi Council."

Obi Wan's face went from sheepish to ghost white. A look of horror marred his features.

"The only Jedi located on Naboo at the time were staying in the Queen's palace. They had not been requested, claiming it was routine security. It is known that the Jedi were upset with Queen Amidala because of her militaristic stance against the Seperatist Blockade. Therefore, it is the conclusion of not only Naboo's Planetary Defense Force and Her Majesty's Royal Guard, Captain Panaka, but also the conclusion of the Senate guard that Master Qui-Gon-Jinn of the Jedi Order murdered Queen Padme Amidala of Naboo."

It got loud then. Obi Wan's objections went unheard. Sheev shared a small smile with Hill. Almost imperceptible. The shouts and accusations went on for a good three minutes, then a blaster went off from Palaptine's repulsorpod and the bolt hit the roof. Everyone was silent then as Captain of the Guard, Thrawn, spoke. "We will have order or the next shot will be fired indiscriminately into the crowd, and by that I mean accurately." He said in a steady voice. He didn't have to speak up. Thrawn never had to speak up. He was the only man allowed to be armed in the Senate Chamber. It was noticeably quiet. Amedda spoke again.

"Perhaps we should allow their representative to speak. Representative Kenobi. You are Master Jinn's Padawan. What do you say? You go with him everywhere." Every Eye in the room was on Obi Wan. He was aware of it, they bore through him and he tried not to puke. Of course the Jedi didn't do it. They were in charge of the investigation. Now he had to convince them. He stood and forced the bile back down his throat. Now he could make Qui-Gon proud again.

"I would have to say that these accusations are false and slanderous. Master Jinn was asked to head the investigation the night it happened. The PDF ceded to him. Senators, I do hold evidence. If you will permit me to reveal our findings." He looked at Amedda who waved a hand. He then put the holodisk into the repulsorpod and the picture came to life via hologram in the middle of the senate chamber. Most of them were stills. "If you will look at these photos, it is clear that the attacker came from outside the palace. These scratch marks," He zoomed in on one of the photos, "were found on the window. The ones on the top of the window were definitely created by horns. As if the attacker had horns. the ones on the bottom are claw marks. Not only that, but when Master Jinn was found in Queen Amidala's chambers," He zoomed in on one of Qui-Gon. He was injured. He had a slash mark across his chest and was covered in blood. "He was found like this. He wouldn't have harmed himself, and the blood found was Zabraki in origin. Master Jinn is not Zabrak. I assure you." His joke fell flat. No one made a sound. He cleared his throat and continued. "It is the Jedi's position that we are dealing with a dark Jedi, an outcast who kept his lightsaber, or a Sith Lord." He looked at Palpatine when he said that, and Palpatine struggled to keep his cool. This boy was clever and much to close to the truth. Maul was sloppy with this one. It would need to be corrected.

"While I admire the Padawan's desire to defend his master, I have to claim that you had little part in the investigation." Said Hill. He hadn't faltered at all. "If I recall, weren't you at a bar with my son and his friend when this happened? If I recall, they said you had much to drink. Illegally I will remind you, and you were found passed out in an alley where Zak and Emma had dumped you after you had been handsy with her." He looked back at Zak. There was much on the boy's face. Guilt, anxiety, betrayal. He would never use his son as a pawn again. "In fact, you returned after the assassination, only to find that something had happened. Your master had even given you to the police for questioning. Almost as if to cover up his guilt. To be fair, it still remains odd that you are a member of the Order. Most are cast out for less. This further affirms my belief that the Jedi committed this murder, and that they must be brought to heel. Therefore, I present my proposal. I vote that we dissolve the corrupt Republic, and instead institute a Galactic Empire under the head of the honorable Supreme Chancellor, so that we can ensure peace throughout the galaxy. The Jedi must end!" Senator Hill slapped his repulsorpod's button then, and a gigantic banner unfurled from the ceiling. It was the Jedi Banner, and with a gesture from Hill, it ignited into flames.

There was screaming from the sudden heat, and as the fire droids came to extinguish it, Hill and Zak reached out with the force and threw the droids away from the banner. In the confusion, Obi Wan ran. He had to report to Qui Gon. This was bad. Hill was a Sith, and worse, the Jedi were in danger. The explosion in the temple had been engineered, and the Jedi had been played for fools.

After the pandemonium died down and the votes were cast, the newly-appointed Emperor Palaptine spoke.

"Citizens of the civilized galaxy, on this day we mark a transition. For a thousand years, the Republic stood as the crowning achievement of civilized beings. But there were those who would set us against one another, and we took up arms to defend our way of life. In so doing, we never suspected that the greatest threat came from within.

The Jedi, and some within our own Senate, had conspired to create the shadow of terror by assassinating Senators throughout the galaxy. Some of them not here today. They had hoped to grind the Republic into ruin. But the hatred in their hearts could not be hidden forever. At last, there came a day when our enemies showed their true natures.

The Jedi hoped to unleash their destructive power against the Republic by assassinating the head of government and usurping control of Republic resources. But the aims of would-be tyrants were valiantly opposed by those without elitist, dangerous powers.

The remaining Jedi will be heavily censured to pay for their crimes! Any collaborators will suffer the same fate. These have been trying times, but we have passed the test. The ideological war is over. The Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning. In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society, which I assure you will last for ten thousand years. An Empire that will continue to be ruled by this august body and a sovereign ruler chosen for life. An Empire ruled by the majority, ruled by a new constitution!

By bringing the entire galaxy under one law, one language, and the enlightened guidance of one individual, the corruption that plagued the Republic in its later years will never take root. Regional governors will eliminate the bureaucracy that allowed the Jedi movement to grow unchecked. A strong and growing military will ensure the rule of law.

Under the Empire's New Order, our most cherished beliefs will be safeguarded. We will defend our ideals by force of arms. We will give no ground to our enemies and will stand together against attacks from within or without. Let the enemies of the Empire take heed: those who challenge Imperial resolve will be crushed.

We have taken on a task that will be difficult, but the people of the Empire are ready for the challenge. Because of our efforts, the galaxy has traded war for peace and anarchy for stability. Billions of beings now look forward to a secure future. The Empire will grow as more planets feel the call, from the Rim to the wilds of unknown space.

Imperial citizens must do their part. Join our grand star fleet. Become the eyes of the Empire by reporting suspected insurrectionists. Travel to the corners of the galaxy to spread the principles of the New Order to barbarians. Build monuments and technical wonders that will speak of our glory for generations to come.

The Planetary Defense Forces of all worlds, now proudly wearing the name of Imperial stormtroopers, have tackled the dangerous work of fighting our enemies on the front lines. Many have died in their devotion to the Empire. Imperial citizens would do well to remember their example.

The New Order of peace has triumphed over the shadowy secrecy of shameful magicians. The direction of our course is clear. I will lead the Empire to glories beyond imagining.

We have been tested, but we have emerged stronger. We move forward as one people: the Imperial citizens of the first Galactic Empire. We will prevail. Ten thousand years of peace begins today."

Liberty died with thunderous applause.

Chapter Text

Deputy Director Krennic sat at his desk checking over papers. He had come to Lothal, a backwater ball of boring, to fight Jedi. Instead, he was sitting at a desk in the new Imperial garrison's prison. He looked up at the banner with his bloodshot eyes. The new symbol of the Empire was emblazoned on it: a white eight-point cog on a black field. He smiled. This was something he could get behind. The benefits were beyond compare despite the crap work detail. Yes, this would be a good, exciting career and a welcome change from instructing at the underfunded academies. Very good indeed.

Prison duty was not. He went back to his papers and took a drink of his hip flask. Pamarthe was a notable importer of alcohol, and Port in the Storm was the best by far. It had taken down lesser men, but by the stars, Krennic had developed a durasteel liver. Sure, he wasn't supposed to drink, but what did it matter? Who would really attempt to break out of an Imperial prison? He heard steps coming down the hall and quickly put his flask away, lest it be the Grand Admiral. It wasn't. It was in fact two stormtroopers. They had a boy in a stupid orange jumper between them, his long blue-black hair hid his face. A definite reprobate.

"What is this?" Krennic said, cheeks rosy. "We found a Jedi, Sir," said one of the troopers. "Said he's a Hutt, I didn't buy it. He has Force powers."
"Oh? Like what?" Krennic asked.
He knew these troopers. They tried to take advantage of his drunkeness often. "Rather, you, boy! Who are you?" The boy looked up and stared directly in Krennic's eyes. He was bold. He got a sour look and said as defiantly as humanly possible: Jabba the Hutt.

Krennic paused. Surely not? Was the wine going that hard to his head? Weren't Hutts slug-like? But then, they were known to have slaves of all sorts. An illegitimate child maybe? He was named after his father, to be sure. "You are... Jabba the Hutt," he said, feeling a little dazed.
The stormtroopers looked at each other.
"Sir..." One started, but Krennic put a hand up. "Put this one in Cell 2A until we have a chance to talk to him, then report back to your posts," he said, and sat back down. "Jedi my arse. Hutts are Force-immune. Now, be gone with you."
He pulled out a cigar. It was going to be a long day indeed.
“Jabba” pulled a face like he got away with murder as they led him away, unsure if he was really that good or they were really that dumb.

It didn’t matter. He was out within the hour as soon as they left him, and it looked like, yeah, they were in fact that dumb. They didn’t even take his clothes—his most valuable asset, not only for not being cold and embarrassed, but for the precision tools he’d sewn pockets for in the inner seams. Suckers. They probably didn’t realize he was rail-thin enough to fit right in the ventilation shaft and pop out at the back of the building, either. No guards back there, he’d only seen the pool in the ground where the washing machines, refreshing rooms, and dishwasher overfill leaked off to and nobody would want to muck through that. He’d even been nice enough to put the vent covers on with magnets so it truly would look like he’d disappeared without a trace.

Granted, the one in dress whites was probably in charge, and when he sobered up, he was going to be mighty pissed a teenage kid put one over on him, so it looked like now was as good a time as any to get out and stay out. The thought was bittersweet—since the buckethead legions came, things got so much worse. But at the same time, everything he’d ever had and known was here. There wasn’t really time to say goodbye to people and besides, people disappeared all the time. He was just one more.

It would be as simple as grabbing his GTFO bag and cramming himself in a crate and staying quiet and still long enough to get somewhere beyond the long arm of the Empire. But where? They were filling up the smaller planets, even the big places were straight lousy with them, but there had to be somewhere that was still safe. Though he didn’t quite have the words for it yet, he certainly didn’t equate legality with morality, so the less of the former, the better.

He stuck to the trees and shrubs on the way back to town, but didn’t see any patrols anyway. They were either really cavalier or really understaffed and he couldn’t be sure which. Upon getting back to his tower, he grabbed the bag and some sentimental things from around, and then cleared it out so that someone else could use it if needed. Next, finding an appropriate ship in the closest hangar.

There weren’t a lot of trees on Lothal, and the plains weren’t exactly good for getting away unseen, but by the time a few troops were deployed to look for him, he was already back in town and sneaking into a random hangar. He listened carefully for someone just rough enough to not pay close attention to their cargo, someone going out where the long arm of the Empire couldn’t yet reach. As much as he’d like to hop on a luxury vessel big enough to enjoy the amenities and be unseen, they were almost exclusively core-world-faring and fewer and fewer of them stopped on Lothal at all. The people that could leave already did. A couple pilots were shipping stolen copper and other precious metals, but those were going to hot worlds where you couldn’t live without a heat-suit, honestly not much better than here. People worked on those worlds and then commuted home to their families on nice, green places like this used to be. That wouldn’t work.

“Yeah, I’m taking a shipment to Tattooine. Sod and fill-dirt.”
Bingo.
Tattooine was on the outer rim, in Huttspace. The Empire didn’t dare mess with their thing out there. And sod? Yeah, right—there’s probably a lot of green leaf under that sod, buddy. The customs agent might be stupid, but this kid is not.
“Sod?”
“Yeah. It’s an up-and-coming thing for the rich folks, having a yard they can afford to throw water on. Stupid, really, but their credits spend like anyone else’s and they have a lot.”
“What’s your plate number?”
He stuck around to hear the plate number and just like that, he was off.

Like most things, it was easy enough to break into.

And just as he suspected, there were parcels of green leaf under the huge containers of sod. If he’d have been smart, he’d have hidden them IN the sod. He picked through them and took a couple large bags and stuffed them into his gear. There’s plenty of uses for this stuff and unlike spice, it wasn’t unnatural junk that could ruin your life or randomly stop your heart. He’d figured that out the hard way and vowed to be smarter about this stuff. His heart still beat funny after that and he tried not to think about it, but times like right now, stowed away on a drug dewback vessel headed toward the outer rim, his first time in actual space, it pounded irregularly and he couldn’t ignore it. The engines fired up—idiot didn’t even come down to check the cargo hold before he left! This guy was not going to last long in this line of work this way. Oh well—if that was anything to go by, he was safe down here with his rations and his newfound distraction.

He moved things around until he had a comfortable spot in front of the sliver of window down here and watched Lothal get smaller and smaller until all he saw was the blue-black beauty of space, stars and smaller moons and planets like studs piercing the blackness. He rolled up and lit up, thankful that the ventilation in this place seemed to work okay despite his tinkering. He stretched out and continued watching. The smuggler’s radio came on and he could hear it through the vent:

If I can get my shit together
I’m gonna run away and never see any of you again
Never see any of you again
I hope the roof flies off and we get blown out into space
I always make such expensive mistakes
I know it’s just a number but you’re the eighth wonder
I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker colour

Yeah, seems about right. But they do make a darker colour, he thought, dozing off and on, staring off into the colour of space, trying to figure out what it could be called. It might take a while to get to Tattooine and he wanted at least some rest before having to hustle all over again.

Chapter Text

That hurt. That hurt a LOT. Maul ran a mental diagnostic of himself: slashes on both of his arms, one through a heart. It was a good thing Zabrak had two. It hurt and he was bleeding everywhere now, but he still managed to not leave a trail getting out. He could see the apartment now. It looked like Emma had the holo-table on. He stumbled to the door and slammed on it with his fists.

“Emma!”
The door slid open and there she was in her Hello Lothy pajama bottoms. She only had a t-shirt on up top. She almost shrieked, then grabbed him with the Force and put him gently in the bathtub.

“There’s…there’s so much! What do I do? Papa?” She was pale. This much blood actually frightened her. This was the first time he’d come back really hurt and she reverted back to the scared little kid she turned into when he left so many times over the years.
“Follow the plan! We talked about this. Grab the red book, call the third number. Tell him ‘the sun has set on Dathomir’, then give him the address. Go!” He growled and she bolted out of the room and grabbed the comlink, then scrambled for the book in the coffee table’s hidden compartment. The small two-bedroom flat was a wreck. Pizza boxes and clothes kept getting in the way. She swore from now on, she was cleaning every day. She finally found the book and flipped it open. The name said “Savage Opress” and there was a number. She dialed it quickly and then cursed as it rang once. Then twice. On the third ring came a deep voice.
“This had better be important. I was eating some damn good porg.”
She stifled a laughter at the pure ridiculousness of the situation. Maul was bleeding out in a bathtub, blood everywhere, and here this guy was, whoever he was, eating porg at three in the morning.
“Um, I’m very sorry, sir, but I was told to tell you that the sun has set on Dathomir.”
The other end was quiet for a few seconds. “Where?” She told him. “I’m on my way. Get a pot and get some water boiling. I’m bringing my porg and you can’t have it. Tell that idiot not to move too much. You need to relax, Emma or Elliot or whoever you are right now. He’ll be fine.” The other end hung up. She blinked and stared at her comlink for a minute, then snapped into action, doing as the voice bid and taking a small yellow pill.
“Who was that and how does he know about me?” Emma yelled across the house.
“Just shut up, bitch! I’m too busy dying to answer questions!”
Maul must be really hurt to call her that. She didn’t give him hell, but she would later.
About two minutes later, the front door fell in on itself and a gigantic yellow Zabrak strode directly to the bathroom. He had an obvious havoc bag in one hand and a bucket of fried porg in the other. She instinctively drew her lightsaber, flicked it on, and dropped into the Niman stance. The golden blade was similar in color to her hair, but she had layered it with green. The Zabrak laughed and dropped his porg bucket on the couch.
“Fiery. I see why he kept you. Now, Maul, what did your dumb ass do?” He went into the bathroom.

Maul unfolded what happened. After he left Emma at the house (she was still mad), he went towards the palace, sticking to the trees. He managed to get across the chasm to the royal tower with a cable, then using his nails, was able to scale the sheer cliff, then the tower. What he didn’t expect once he got in was that a Jedi was talking to the queen. He didn’t know the guy was a Jedi at first, and planned to kill them both, but then he flicked on a green blade and stabbed Maul in the heart on the first clash. The Jedi must not know about Zabrak, because he seemed to have let his guard down immediately, then Maul slashed back, hitting him in the chest. He then killed the queen and turned back around to the Jedi. They dueled for a minute, then Mual leapt out the window when he sensed the royal guard outside the door. He had remembered Elliot’s mask on chance, and wore it the whole time. The Jedi couldn’t identify him.
“It still hurts,” he said as the yellow one finished bandaging him.
“What do you want? A hug? You got stabbed!”
“And who are you?” said Emma.
“Even better, who are you going to call to get the door fixed? You broke the deadbolt. And the doorframe.”
He smiled. “Sorry. That code means that Maul is literally dying, though he’s fine from what I can see. A little whiny, though.”
She blinked. He must be really important for Maul to sulk while he talked that way about him. “I am Savage Opress. Maul’s brother.” He pronounced it Sav-ahhj. “As for the door, I’m a doctor, it’s nothing to pay for it. I have you covered. I can probably get Anne to fix it.”
“Who’s Anne?” Maul asked with a quirked eye, his tattoos looking quite like an eyebrow.
“Uhh. A girl? She uh, fell at work and since I’m the best chiropractor… Anyway! She’s a carpenter and would do this for me!” Maul stifled a laugh. It was probably for the best, his laughter was always a little creepy.
“So. I have an uncle? Why didn’t you tell me I had an uncle?” Emma asked, doing her best pout. Maul caved. He always did.
“It was safer because of what we do. Savage still has connections with Mother Talzin. If the Emperor knew I was still doing Dathomir things, he would have killed me for sure.”
“I have a granny too!” Savage snorted.
“I wouldn’t call her that. She prefers ‘Mommy’.” Maul said. “Granny is Old Daka, and she lives in a cave on the planet. Which reminds me, what day is it on the Dathomirian calendar, Savage?”
He grinned and had the same teeth as Maul. “It’s the twentieth day in Autumn, Brother. It’s almost time for the Wild Hunt! I planned to invite Anne.”
“Great,” said Maul. He looked unusually…guilty?
“Sorry. What is the Wild Hunt?” Emma asked. Maul’s cheeks turned purple.
“Honestly, kid, it’s going to be easier to show you, but that means going to Dathomir, and you never return from there the same.”
“Alright, but what IS it?” She asked again. Maul flushed a darker purple. “Is my mom the holonet?” She asked. This time Savage looked amused.
“Don’t you fucking judge me, Savage,” he growled. Savage laughed.
“Let uncle Savage tell you about the Wild Hunt. Here, have some porg.” He slid the bucket over. Emma ate it ravenously. It felt like she hadn’t eaten in days. Fear does that to you.
“That’s a rare honor. Savage is sharing his porg with you. If I tried he’d take my arm off. He likes you,” Maul said.
“He is sitting right here and not some strange beast, Maul. Also, damn right I’d take your arm. That’s my porg. Now…” He picked up a drumstick. “The Wild Hunt is a very special ritual where we come from for two reasons. The first, it is a coming of age ceremony for the men. All of the able-bodied men get together and perform a ritual, where the Horned God picks a champion, then the champion and all the aspirants lead the hunt. People like Hobble who can’t walk so good strategize, and they hunt a giant beast for the women-and-other-folk. Usually a Krayt Dragon. They live naturally there.”
“Wait, so it’s just a coming of age ceremony? Outdoor-plumbing-girls, most boys, have penises. They’re nice. At some point they reach maturity. I don’t see what is so embarrassing about that,” She said, judging Maul very much.
“It’s not that part. It’s what comes after,” Maul said softly. He looked like he might actually die.
“After the hunt, this huge orgy happens. The Wild Hunt is a time of fertility. All the older women become young again, you are freed of your inhibitions. The whole point is to get knocked up. Dathomir is a harsh planet. It’s how we keep people alive. It’s how we keep up the population. After all, the Nightpersons care for the planet, so the planet has to keep us around,” Savage finished. Emma turned a little pink.
“And you do this once a year?” She asked, looking at Maul.
“No. You feel the call once a year. Whether or not you go is up to you. Generally though, you get irritable and sad. I haven’t been in twelve years.”
“And that is why you lock yourself in the garage and curse at the Nightbrother this time of year? I mean, more than usual? You never go?”
“Exactly.”
She then had an uncomfortable question. “Savage, what does the call, like, feel like?”
“Well, irritability is part of it, but generally you want to partake of the three F’s: fightin’, feastin, and fuckin’.”
“And is it possible to feel the call if you have never been to Dathomir?”
“Rarely. Usually that only happens if you are destined to become a Nightperson. Any can become one. The planet changes you on a genetic level, and since it’s Force-sensitive and sentient, it can reach out to almost anywhere in the galaxy.”
“So, when do we leave?” Emma asked.
“We?” Maul snapped his head up.
“Yeah, Maul, WE. Because I feel the call. I thought it was just hormones. It started last week with that Zak guy. At Hill’s. I wasn’t about to actually ask you about it. Also…”
She punched him squarely in the nose.
“What the actual fuck, Emma?!”
“Don’t ever call me a bitch again, Maul. Next time, I’m gonna be the one that makes you bleed. I’m going to pack, I kinda wasn’t prepared for this kind of vacation."

Emma went off to her room and Maul was left with Savage and his thoughts.
“Want me to set that? Probably just a fracture, but still…”
“Savage, please. I deserved that. But yeah, no, please fix it. If she’s making me go I might as well be presentable. Not like anyone would ask.”
“They always do, you know. Might I remind you it’s you that never says yes?”
“You might. And I might nail you upside the head for it.”
“I might also point out that wow, she has grown up.”
“You might, and I might have to murder you where you stand, Brother.”
“Damn, Maul, it’s almost like you have feelings.”
“Savage, it’s just…” He thought back over the years since he picked Emma up from Durach. Dueling with her, standing over as she built her own lightsaber, the aborted attempt at public school, how proud he was to get the call that she’d been suspended for yelling about “bourgeoisie propaganda” in history. And his terrible parenting when she’d gotten her first period and he had no idea what to do, having given this stage of her life precisely zero thought. She was scared like that again tonight—and he felt terrible.
“…she called me ‘Papa’, like when she was small. It’s a confusing mess.”
“For her, or for you?”
He didn’t want to think about that. Not at all.
“Brother, take your NSFP in the living room. I’ve got to tune up the hyperdrive and chop off this Force-damned environmental converter if we’re going to make this trip.”
Savage smirked and took his leave. Maul did what he always did—washed the blood off, changed into his coveralls, and went to bang on and swear at the Nightbrother until he could see sense. As much as he hated to admit it, Savage was right. And she would just get more and more everything as the month wore on, more agitated and forgetful and fearsome and gorgeous and so far past his original plans for her.

Emma had grown, and she was terrifying and beautiful. Under the red glow of the moon, she would be an ethereal warrior priestess and he didn't know if he was man enough to control himself.

Chapter Text

She awoke. Another day, another ritual. It was, however, an auspicious day. Dagger had opened her window, and she could smell it on the air. Her bones were less creaky, and her breasts were a bit more perky. She smiled her best bright smile. "Dagger, the time of the Hunt is upon us." Her voice sounded like an Old World witch, but to be fair, she was. And she was one of the best.

 

Mother Talzin rose from the bed and got dressed in her ritual gown, then looked at Dagger, who stood at attention across the room. Her favorite, he was all legs and arms when she gave birth to him, but genetic diversity had done him well. Dark red, strong horns, and some bone spurs on his chin. He was closer to the Ancient Sith than Maul was, but while Dagger was her favorite mate, Maul would always be her favorite son. Dagger had personally had given her many sons on the night of the Hunt, and this Hunt would hopefully be as prosperous.

"Well, don't just stand there, go get in the yard. If you wish to bed me again, then I will have you in peak physical condition!" He bowed and left, and she hummed to herself and went into the kitchen, then down to her personal kitchen. When she got to the door and reached for the doorknob, it moved an inch and she grabbed air. "I will not hesitate to shatter you into a hundred pieces, you little shit. Open for your mistress!" The door creaked open, and in she went, humming an old tune that they played on the Hunt when she was a child a couple thousand years ago.

 

She called her spoon to her hand and went over to the cauldron. "My friends!" She addressed the empty kitchen. "Man your stations! It is the time of the Hunt." The kitchen turned into a whirl of activity. Containers and objects moved of their own accord and she cackled and began stirring the pot as more and more things fell in and the pot became fuller. "Marrow of a man and slime of an eel, we will make you our favorite meal!" The two objects dumped in. "Scale of a Krayt and honey of a bee, you will taste so good that their throats shall bleed!" She cackled with glee and the concoction began to glow a golden color. "And all that are able to read will know that this is Talzin's FINEST MEAD!" She bellowed the last bit and put in some of her hair. It now looked like she was stirring molten gold. all the containers flew back to their positions and it was suddenly quiet. She lifted the spoon to her mouth and took a small sip. "Haha! Mommy's still got it!" She said, and put the spoon back in the pot.

 

"So you do, my daughter, but do you have an idea to restore the balance?" said a voice behind her. Talzin turned and bowed deeply.

 

"Mother. I didn't expect you to be awake. I hope my work did not disturb you," She didn't straighten.

 

"Oh no, my dear. It is nice to see the exuberance of youth!" The old woman patted Talzin on the head and went to the pot, then took some of her own hair and dropped it in, then put in her staff and stirred it. This time it glowed more intensely. Talzin straightened and grinned.

 

"Mother, you have bestowed a most marvelous gift. I say this may be the finest mead yet!" She said. Daka smiled at her.

 

"Of course. But you didn't answer my question. The Maiden has gone rogue and the balance has been disturbed. What is your plan? I can't leave and do it myself," she said. Talzin started thinking.

 

"Of course, but this is unprecedented. We have never lost a Maiden." She rubbed her chin and tapped a finger. Old Daka went over to a bookcase.

 

"We are witches, dearest. We always have a solution." She pulled a book down from the top shelf with a wave of her hand, and it fell into her palm open onto the page she wanted. "The ritual for consecrating a new Daughter. Penned by my great grandmother, Mother Daliah. We can't solve this ourselves, Talzin. It is time to awaken Dathomir and ask it for guidance."

 

"Of course, Mother, if you think it is best. I just fear what Dathomir may bring us. A Tusken Raider would make for a poor coven Daughter."

 

Daka cackled; she had much more practice than Talzin. "Of course, but Dathomir is always right whether we fathom its reasoning or not. Asajj has left us, and in her place we must have another Daughter. Such is the way it was, is, and must always be. I protect Dathomir from the demons, and you protect it from the inside threats. We must have a Daughter to protect it from the outside threats. It is our way. Who knows, perhaps it will decide that Dagger needs a change in sex?" Talzin grinned at that.

 

"Come, let us perform the ritual. It is a good time for it after all, what with the Hunt upon us."

 

 

Light years away and an hour later, a raven perched itself on top of the Nightbrother.

Chapter Text

The Senate chambers were mostly empty now. Since the Republic had disintegrated, there was no reason for the various senators to go on about their business as they did. They were still there of course, and they would vote, but no one knew that in truth, their votes didn’t matter. Palpatine, as Emperor, had given his position 250 votes to their one in the guise as a “tie-breaker”. All was going well for him.

“Speaker Thrawn, please come to my office,” he said into the deskcom. Not five minutes later, there was a knock at his door. Standing there, not a blue-black hair out of place was Mitth'raw'nuruodo, or “just Thrawn”, as he asked people to call him. Chiss names were complex, and there were only two races in the galaxy with a facial structure even capable of speaking the language. One of those, the Ancient Sith, was long-extinct. He entered in his new Imperial dress whites which complimented his light blue skin and his red eyeliner was on point. It wasn’t regulation, but it was stunning, and Sheev was not inclined to report it in that instance. He still wanted to be surrounded by beautiful things.

“You summoned me, Emperor?”

“I did. Have you scheduled the next senate meeting?”

“I have, as well as taking the liberty of lowering your votes by 50. You don’t want to hold the majority otherwise someone like Bail or Mothma is going to get wise to your plan. I have also had the droids take your suit to get pressed, uploaded the senate minutes onto the holosite, and also taken care of Amedda and sent a forlorn form letter back to his family on Iktoch. This job is easy. I must state again, sir, I feel that my talents are…”

(He hesitated to say “wasted”. But it was the truth.)

“…perhaps more effective elsewhere and I should go back to the Chimaera, where I belong,” he said, face impassive as usual. The Chiss were trained from an early age to minimize strong shows of emotion in public, and he was no different.

“I admire your talents and want you closer to the senate so that you can continue protecting it. Is that a crime?”

“Of course not, Sir, otherwise I would already have you in handcuffs.”

“That would be a very stupid move on your part, and I would only pardon myself. I can do what I want here, and even you could do well to remember that fact. You serve at my leisure as well.”

“Trust me, Sir. I am well aware of that fact and serve the Empire as best as my capabilities lie.”

“And do you also not serve me, Thrawn?”

“No, Sir. I serve at your leisure, but I am a public servant first.”

The Emperor growled under his breath. Thrawn was playing a dangerous game. He needed loyal staff and not the begrudgingly compliant. He knew how to keep Thrawn under heel, though.

“Fine. Continue being a public servant. You seem to do so well in the public sector, I may promote Orson Krennic to Grand Admiral so that I can keep you here. I’m sure he would do well in your stead.”

“With all due respect, Sir, Krennic is my best man, but he’s a pitiful organizer. I can’t even trust him to guard the wine without drinking it. A military advisor, maybe a general or the senior director of intelligence, but not Grand Admiral. He doesn’t even know what a mass shadow is, let alone how to navigate past one.”
He paused for effect.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be such a good public servant, Thrawn. Serve your Emperor, and through that, you can serve your Empire.”

Thrawn moved to the door, for once in his life, he emoted sad. “Of course, Sir. However, if it means Krennic gets a promotion…”
He willed the melancholy into pure durasteel.
“I serve at the Emperor’s leisure. And if that means I have to be a public servant, then I will ensure that only the best holds that position.”
He then left the room, closing the door on the way out.

Palpatine screamed. He raged at his desk, then stood and turned on his lightsaber and destroyed his prized statue of the anatomy of the Ancient Sith. He moved to his desk and turned on the com. “Send me Mara at once!” Spit flew onto the speaker face and he made no move to wipe it off. At least some people he could trust to remain loyal.

Chapter Text

"Zakarie, fetch me a cognac, please," Hill said as he entered the apartment. That speech had definitely got some crosshairs pointed at his head.

"Sure. How much?"

Hill thought for a minute. "Actually, just bring me the bottle."

Zak looked over his shoulder confused, then did as he bid. "Alright. What did we just do?"

Hill took the bottle and slugged back a gulp. Zak looked at him, brow crossed and lips pursed so hard they were just a line.
"Well son, let's find out," Hill turned on the holo-table and watched the horror unfold on S-SPAN. Sheev Palpatine's face appeared.

"We have been tested, but we have emerged stronger. We move forward as one people: the Imperial citizens of the first Galactic Empire. We will prevail. Ten thousand years of peace begins today," he said, smug smile spread wide across his face.

"Well, Zakarie, it appears we just pulled off high treason." Hill said, and knocked back another gulp.

"Uhh, Dad?"

"Yes, son?"

"That cognac is expensive."

"Son, when you pull off schemes like this for men like that, then you will truly understand the meaning of 'expensive mistakes',"

Zak looked at the bottle then back at Hill. Hill grabbed a small tumbler and poured in some cognac, then handed it to Zak. "It's time you share a drink with your old man."

"Why are we working for him? I thought Emma was trying to get us to overthrow him?"

"Interesting way to phrase that. Maul was the one working with us, actually. Emma is to Maul what you are to me. Either way, we work with Palpatine for now so that we can use his own materials against him. I don't want to help him any more than you do, but we must stay under cover. Remember that."

"So, what do we do then? Is this about your holocr-" He clapped his hand over his mouth, horrified at his slip-up and even more horrified that he obviously covered it up.

Hill smiled. "I see you were in my books again. Yes. It is a holocron, but not like the ones in my books." He pulled out a golden pyramid with gold trim.

"Tacky. Did anyone tell him that gold on gold is a really bad artistic choice because that's entirely too much shine and glitz in one small place at the same time?"

Hill sighed. "Zakarie, pay attention please." He fiddled with one of the hinges and an image of Palpatine appeared as a hologram.

"My apprentice," The hologram said, "Your job is simple. Even one such as you can't screw it up. Your job is to take care of my books. No expense should go unlogged, but all expenses must seem as though they are mundane. This is a job you can easily do from Naboo. Do it well, and you will have a place in the New Order. Additionally, you are to act as the Senator of Theed and will make yourself as innocuous as possible, voting in my interests in all things. If you run into any resistance, then you and only you know of the location of my Enforcer. Seek them out on Coruscant. You will find them if you are diligent. Under no circumstances are you to contact her unless my distress signal goes off. I am entrusting you with this task. Do it well or I will find someone that can. Guard this holocron with your life. It will only open at the close." Then the hologram faded.

Zak spoke first. "Wow. That's creative. Also condescending."

"Zakarie, look past the obvious. What do you see?"

"I see that you have an incredible amount of leverage. If you take advantage of timing and strip him of his coffers when he needs them most, then you and Maul may be successful. I also noticed that he mentioned an enforcer, but Maul is here on Naboo."

Hill smiled and ruffled his hair, proud of his son's cunning. "Precisely. Now, that obviously means that there is another Hand, and since Maul's holocron led him to me, then that means we can follow the trail of holocrons until they get back to Maul."

Zak nodded. "So what do we do? You can't possibly be planning to go back to Coruscant."

"Actually, with the Jedi still in disarray from Maul bombing their temple, now is a perfect time to go and meet my contacts and see what I can dig up on this enforcer. I leave tonight. I'm leaving Claude here to take care of anything you need. Tomorrow, I want you to find Maul and Emma. Didn't she give you her address?"

Zak turned pink. "Uh, well, only in confidence," he said.

Hill smiled. "You are your own man. I only ask that you practice safety."

"Can we not, dad?"

"Of course. Business first. Go tomorrow. I'm leaving Claude to oversee the house. When you find them, let them know what we have learned, then wait. I won't be long." He said, shrugging back into his jacket.

"I love you son. If your mother was here, she would be so proud."

"I love you too."

Hill hugged Zak then took his leave. But before he had time, something came to Zak and he just couldn't let it go.

"Dad?"

"Yes? Is there something else?"

"Actually, yeah, I noticed something that may just be nothing, but I can't leave it alone."

Hill turned and paused.

"He started out saying 'them', and then he said 'her'."

Hill thought about this for a second and then took the holocron back out, ran the message through again, and sure enough, he was right.

"So it looks like you want someone female-presenting. I knew that had to mean something. Leave it to someone clumsy enough to put gold on gold to reveal the thing he's trying to hide, ugh."

Hill laughed a little. He couldn't argue when his son was right.

"Good work. We have much more information than when we started. This considerably narrows our search. This person must be someone who presents as female enough for Palpatine to register them as such."

Hill hesitated again, realizing exactly what he was about to do, and pulled Zak in for a quick, awkward hug. No words were needed when he let go. He took his leave for real this time, leaving Zak to think hard on the entire situation.

Claude came in minutes later.

"Mr. Hill, is there anything I can do for you?" He asked.

"No Claude. Thanks. I'm going to go shower, then turn in. Help yourself to whatever you need."

A tear dripped down his cheek. Claude pretended not to notice.

********************************************************************************************************************************************

"Okay. So Emma said that she lived in the bad part of town. I'm looking for an apartment," Zak tucked the note she had slipped him a couple weeks ago back into his pocket. She hadn't given him the actual address for safety, saying that he could sense her Force signature. She didn't realize at the time that he had actually been smelling her Force signature. Everyone senses Force signatures differently. Apparently hers was tactile. His was through smell and his Dad's was vision-based. It was hard for him at the time to separate her actual smell from her Force, as infatuated as he had been. She had been Elliot at the time, she had showered before she came by, so she smelled of metal and cedar, but he could smell undertones of black currant, raspberry and vanilla. Just the thought was starting to excite him. He forced his libido back down and looked deeper. That's when he found it--her force smelled of honeysuckle and orange with burnt sugar, the last note especially pungent for him because of all the times his dad had made creme brulee as an after-dinner treat. It stood out stark and very feminine against the wood and metal. It was unmistakable and he shivered remembering it, just like he had every other time he'd recalled it over the last few weeks.That was it. Maul was easy: charred meat, the gluttonous aroma of fat dripping down onto charcoals. After he found that, he opened his eyes and followed his nose, wandering through the sidestreets until he arrived at a small complex with a little yard around back. The floral scent was a little confusing, but the roses back there didn't smell anything like her particular floral bouquet. Bingo, he thought. The smell was heavy here, but there was something else. Fried porg? Nar Shadaa Fried Porg, if he wasn't mistaken.

He knocked on the door three times, then two, then three. The knock she had taught him to show he was safe. It reverberated through the house, then it went still. He waited thirty seconds, then did it again. Again, there was nothing. He waffled for a minute. Did he go in? Was he wrong? What if she was in the shower? That sealed his decision. He looked up and down the street to make sure he wasn't being watched, checked the street for cameras, then pulled out his lockpicks. He didn't have his full kit, so he just had to make sure he was careful. It didn't take long. There was a snick, and the door popped open. He pocketed his lockpicks, then entered the extremely messy house. There were pizza boxes and garbage everywhere, but there was nothing in there to denote the house was actually lived in. He turned his nose when he noticed a bucket of porg bones. They had been stripped clean and the bucket had a big, stylized NSFP on the side. He hunted through the house meticulously, thankfully it wasn't very big. A two-bedroom apartment with a garage. The first room he entered, the bathroom, was a wreck. It stank like it had been scrubbed recently with bleach to the point it made his eyes water. He then entered the first bedroom across the hall. This room looked like the scene of a murder without the blood and bodies. The bed was shredded to make what looked like a crude nest. There were no decorations, but the carpet was well-worn. The trim was also scratched up pretty badly. It almost looked like a cat had done it, but cat's aren't as tall as a door jamb. Maul's Force signature seemed to radiate from this room, particularly the trim and the bed itself. Interesting biological fact, he noted.

He then moved on to the last bedroom. This room was drenched in the honeysuckle smell. Zak felt bad about it, but at the same time, he reveled in it. He took a minute and looked around. It was actually clean and vacuumed, but her scent remained. The closet was empty, and all that was left was a desk in front of the window, and a bed.

"So they're gone then," he said to himself. "Where would they have gone? Why didn't she tell me? Did I bother her? We did look a lot alike, maybe something in her recognized that and didn't want to be anywhere near me after that? Yeah, it was probably that. Well, if I'm never going to see her again..."

He went back to the front door and locked it, then took all his clothes off. He felt so bad, but at the same time, he felt so good. He got on his hands and knees and crawled towards her bed, reveling in the feel of being a lowly, disgusting animal, then jumped in it and rolled around in her scent. It was so good and right--he was a mixture of emotions, clouding his judgement and temporarily letting him forget why he was there. Shame, arousal, and lust are powerful like that. He didn't know why he was feeling it so intensely, but he made his decision. He went with it.

He ground into the bed, not stopping until he came all over himself, trapping his semen between himself and the bed, then he slid down and inhaled deep into the bed where he came. The scent of Theed pear tree flowers and petrichor mingled with the honeysuckle and orange that would have naturally emanated from her pubic hair as she slept. If she had any. Did she? Oh dear STARS DID SHE, he thought, turning red all over again. His pheromones mixed with her leftover pheromones, and he snorted it again. He imagined an intimate moment with her, her pale skin and blonde hair contrasting with the dark tips of her breasts. He actually preferred them small, just like hers. He even envisioned a tuft of blonde hair only separated by a cleft and her swollen clitoris. He almost didn't hear it--a knock came at the door, and it wasn't the safe one either. He snapped back to his senses and felt the slow panic begin to build. He was nude, in an unfamiliar place, and the door was the only safe way out. "Stupid, stupid, STUPID! Zakarie Hill-Arnaud, you're a stupid man," he said to himself. He needed to be chastised. He had let himself to get caught in the moment. He looked around while pulling on his black boxer-briefs, then jeans, there wasn’t time for the rest, he’d have to grab it and go.

 

The apartment manager opened the front door, but Zak didn't wait around to find out who it was as he exited from her window and landed in a rosebush. "Ow Fuck!" He got absolutely shredded in the thorns.

 

"Son, I really hope you didn't just come out of her window."
Zak rounded and dropped into a stance his father had taught him.

"Shien, huh? You don't scare me and I could put you flat on your back, now get out of my roses."
He was a Zabrak, but he looked a little different. He was greenish, with tattoos of vines across his face. Zak did as he was bid. His shirtless form had several nicks and cuts all over it and he was smarting from the less-than-graceful exit.

"Now, answer my question. Why did you come out of HER window? I put those roses there at her dad's request. You better have a damn good reason, or I yell ‘Maul’," he said.

"Nonononono! I can explain!" He wasn’t sure if the door or the window were worse at this point, remembering his state of undress and tugging his shirt on.

"Go on."

"Alright, look, my name is Zak. I work with Maul. I came here to give him some information, but he's gone. The house is empty. I had to use the window because someone was coming in the front door."

"So why was your shirt and shoes off?" The man said. If he had eyebrows, he would have arched one. The vines made it look like he did.

"Umm, well?" Zak turned a deep red.

The Zabrak laughed. "I like you, Zak. My name is Hank. I'm a farmer. Let's get you inside and treat those cuts. Dang idiot."

 

********************************************************************************************************************************************

 

"Ow, that BURNS!"

"Iodine usually does." said Hank. He smiled, good-natured, not sadistic.

The studio apartment was filled with exotic plants. Most of them didn't grow on Naboo, and every square inch of the place was crammed with specially-prepared environments. Heat lamps, cling film, fertilizers.

"So, how do you know Maul and Emma again?" Zak asked through gritted teeth.

"Maul's my brother. As for Emma, I worked with her in the palace during the summers," said Hank.

"Any idea where they could have gone?"

Hank tapped his chin. "If I had to guess, they went back home. It's time for The Hunt, and given that they were here a week ago, it makes sense that that is where they went."

"Home? You mean Iridonia?"

"No. Not all Zabrak are from Iridonia, racist sav-vauge."

"Don't you mean savage?"

"No. First you break out of my brother's apartment from his DAUGHTER'S room, then you trample my roses, assume I'm from Iridonia, and now you’re making fun of my accent? Damn kids, I swear. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. We don't exist for a reason."

"Wait, what do you mean?"

Hank sighed. "Look, kid, I can't say much, but if the planet wants you to find it, you will. Maul went back to Dathomir. Good luck. Now, get out of my house. I have work to do."

"Umm, alright? Thanks for the iodine I guess," Zak said, and left through the front door. It turns out that Maul and Hank were neighbors. Zak went by Maul's open door. He could see a cleaner droid inside. It was dark now, and this was a dangerous place to be. He tucked his hands in his jacket and started walking back to his penthouse. It was autumn in Theed, and Zak was definitely going to stand out in his black leather. He looked like just the kind of kid that gets into trouble, and the municipal police were still looking for the person that killed the queen. Sure, he could prove his identity, but after the recent Imperial takeover, he'd rather not get caught while everyone was still sorting stuff out. He passed by his favorite nightclub, a bar called "The Raven," and on a whim, he went inside.

 

It was a Friday night, but even though there was recently a regime change, it was like nothing here was different. Zak loved coming here and getting lost in the sway of people. He looked up at the vaulted ceiling. It was made to look like a cathedral inside, and he had several pieces of his own art up there. The Raven was known for embracing local artists, and even had an area called "The Writing Desk" off to one side where local authors could put some of their books for perusal and purchase. Zak sat down at the bar and saw his favorite bearded bartender, Dickey. He sauntered over and leaned to Zak.

 

"You know you’re too young to drink, Zak" he said, then mixed him a Palace Sunset. It was made with ice tea and often served in a tall glass. It could sneak up on you if you weren't careful, but Zak had this many times, often enough that Dickey knew without asking. "If anyone asks, you’re twenty one-human."

"You always tell me that."

"Of course I do. You don't cause trouble. Hell, you even have art featured here. I like you and am willing to do this, but I also don't want to lose my license."

Zak smiled and Dickey wandered down to another customer. Zak turned and looked over the dance floor. He had even named some of the dance moves he sees on a regular basis. There was Clearing The Cobwebs, The Smoke and Brood, and even the White Witch Shawl Twirl. Shawls were back in season now that it was fall, and everyone knew that one. He relaxed for a minute and let his mind and Force broadcast into the sea of other people broadcasting. It was exhausting to squash that all day, and it was good to let loose your inhibitions once in a while. Who knows, maybe he would touch someone familiar.

 

"Careful, sometimes the abyss looks back into you."

Zak slammed down on his Force signature and looked at the speaker, and went almost face-first into her tits. She was gorgeous, with long flowing red hair and yellow eyes. (Wait no, eyes aren't yellow, they're hazel.) She looked to be in her early twenties, and she had on a black dress with a plunging neckline that went all the way down and exposed her navel. The dress was definitely Coruscanti in design, but he could not fathom how her gravity-defying breasts were staying in place. He immediately checked his sexism, hearing his dad's disapproving voice in his head. (Zakarie, don't be vulgar.)

 

"Umm, hi?" He said. His voice had raised an octave, but he cleared his throat and collected himself. He never met her eyes. He always looked people in the chin.

"You shouldn't broadcast like that. It's a great way for people to find you, and Jedi aren't very popular right now."

"I'm not a Jedi, ma'am," he said. She turned up her nose when he called her that.

"Then how did you learn to control the Force? Accident?"

"I read a lot."

She nodded slowly. Dickey stopped in the middle of pouring a drink and came over to them. "Hey there! Are you interested in some of Zak's work? I have to inform you that all purchases go through me."

 

"Oh, you're an artist? Which ones are yours?" She asked Zak. He gestured at the ones he did, mostly still lifes and some models.

"Keep practicing. You're good. I look forward to seeing more of them. Have a pleasant evening." She stood, side-eyeing Dickey as she did so, and moved down the bar.

"You alright? You looked uncomfortable. I could feel that from all the way over there."

Zak nodded and lifted his glass, but paused about halfway to his mouth. "Hey Dickey, will you get me a new one? That was weird." He handed over his glass and Dickey did so.

"I'm not gonna cotton to that bullshit. I'm gonna go be a chatty bartender in her direction. You should probably go home."

"Enjoy that aggressive hospitality. I have some reading to do anyway. Sorry to waste a drink."

"It's fine. As much money as you made us, your drinks are free for life." He waved, and Zak waved back, then Dickey went directly over to her, motioning at the Twi'lek bouncer by the door. He moved over there and stood. Dickey said a few words, then the woman left with the bouncer close behind. She didn't give him any trouble. Zak waited a good ten more minutes, then he slipped out the door, hurrying back to the penthouse on red alert. The doorman let him in, but Zak didn't let his guard down until Claude let him into the penthouse. He finally breathed in deep, his clothes were soaked in sweat, and Claude immediately went on guard.

 

"Mr. Hill-Arnaud, are you in danger?" He was reaching into his coat where Zak knew he kept his blaster holstered. He reached out and put a hand on Claude's arm.

 

"Everything is okay now, Claude. Thanks. Please make me some gunpowder tea, and no guests please. No one at all is to come in."

 

"Not even Ms. Emma?" Claude asked. Zak's mind flashed back to earlier that day, and he started getting stiff again. He had a horrifying realization.
(Sometimes the Abyss looks back into you. Had she seen? Yoda's teeth, did she know? I couldn't even trust my drink.)
Zak resisted the urge to puke. All the arousal he had was gone.

 

"Especially not Emma. No one enters this house unless it's Dad, and only if he knows the passcode." Zak started sweating again. "I gotta call Dad. I'll be in the study."

 

Zak sat in his dad's chair, smelling the chair for a minute. It was a reminder that no matter how dark the night was, his dad was the biggest and scariest thing in it. He dialed his com number. It rang once.

 

"Zakarie? What's going on? You never call this late." His image popped up on the desk's holo. He was obviously in bed in the ship, but he always answered. "You never call the emergency number either."

 

Tears were streaming down Zak's face. "I went out to The Raven, and then, there was some girl there. She said some things and she…it wasn't right. I felt like prey. If Dickey wasn't there, I might..." He trailed off and started sobbing. Hill was quiet for a minute. Zak had never seen him so... cold. Something shattered on his side, but he didn’t see what. Hill took a deep breath.

 

"Did you get a name?" Zak shook his head.
"What about a description?" Zak told him.
"Well then, are you alright?" Claude entered then with a cup that had a weird flower in it and Hill looked up at him from the holo screen.

 

"I have put the house on lockdown, Mr. Hill. I will defend Mr. Hill-Arnaud with my life. You have my word." He put the tea down by Zak, who had managed to calm down.

 

"Thank you, Claude. Zakarie, you are at my desk, yes? Get in the drawer and pull out the orange bottle of pills. Take one. You will feel better soon. You may want to take your ship and go out to the lake property for a while. Clear your head. Claude will take care of things here." Zak nodded and took one of the pills. "Now, I can't come back, no matter how it tears at me, but I can send you a small security team."

 

Zak shook his head. "No, I just needed to talk to Dad, not Senator Hill. I'm good now. I was actually working on something."

 

"Right. Then take care. I shouldn't be gone too long. Goodnight, son. I love you."

 

"I love you too, Dad. Sorry I got scared."

 

"Don't apologize. You did the right thing." Hill disappeared and Zak let out a deep breath.

 

"Claude, please pull up the astrogation charts for the planet Dathomir."

 

"Of course Mr. Hill. just a moment." Claude got on his wrist computer and a miniaturized version of the galaxy map appeared.

 

"Sir, it seems that planet doesn't exist."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Well, sir, I put it in and it says that the planet exists, but the coordinates put it in the center of the galaxy."

 

"Huh. Alright. Thanks."

 

"Will that be all, sir?"

 

"Yes, Claude. Thank you." Zak went up to his room, feeling a little deflated. He had come so far, maybe he wasn't meant to be there, like Hank had said. When he got to the top of the stairs however, he glanced at his father's door. There were books in there Zak wasn't allowed to see. Maybe... Zak went back downstairs and turned on the holo, and when Claude went to bed in the guest room for the night, he had carefully weighed his decision. His dad's room had always been off-limits. Always. Even when he was a kid. He knew that if he was caught in there, he would lose his dad's trust forever, but he couldn't stop. Something in his head was beckoning him to this planet, and he couldn't ignore it. He went back up when he was sure Claude was asleep and pulled out his lockpicking kit. It took him a minute, and Zak was impressed with how complex the lock was, but Zak had time and all his tools. It took him a good half an hour before he was able to apply torque. He felt the familiar snik with the lock, and then his arm felt like it was on fire. He jerked his hand away and the sensation was gone, but in his rush he broke his lockpick. The severed end was still in the lock, and it was sparking with electricity. So the lock was electrified. Dammit. He grabbed a pair of rubber-handled pliers from his room and pulled the end out.

 

"Damn. I can't get it," he muttered under his breath. A thought occurred to him: Maul had roses planted in front of all the windows in his house, and he's an assassin. Hill was probably counting on the height to be a deterrent. Zak went into his room which was next to his dad's and jumped on his bed, crawled over it, and opened the window, then looked out. Sure enough, there was a window next to his, and a ledge to walk on. It was small, but it just might work.

 

"I am either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.”

He slowly lowered himself onto the ledge, then made the mistake of looking down. "Oh, Force that's so far down. Holy shit." He started working his way very slowly to the next window. Every step felt like it was a lifetime, but in five minutes, he swung his dad's window opened and climbed inside. He took several deep breaths, feeling like he had just bench pressed a Herglic. "I am Zakarie Hill-Arnaud the heroic! Window climber! Window licker is more like it," he stopped. "No Zak, that's ableist. Also, why do you talk to yourself?" He shook his head and made his way over to a bookshelf. He found a couple of books, one was on Sith alchemy, whatever that was. He had a treatise by someone called Darth Bane, one by some Darth Revan, and then he found it. One of the spines of the books read 'Witches of Dathomir' in Hill's handwriting. Jackpot. Zak flipped it open and found exactly what he was looking for. He crept out of the penthouse with a packed bag, got in his ship, and made his way to the red planet, and the supposed Sith witches that lived there.

Chapter Text

“Are you going to take that nasty thing off?”

“Why? It smells fine. It actually smells good.”

Maul wrinkled his nose. It most certainly did not smell good, it smelled like another Nightbrother.
Competition.
A boy.
Fucking UGH.

He said nothing and went back to seething out the window.

An hour later, it still smelled good.

Six hours later, it apparently still smelled good enough to sleep in. And he hated it.

She’d been wearing the damn thing since they left Hill’s place, not even changing when they packed to head home. Home.
There’s something he hadn’t thought about anything being home in a while. Definitely not the series of dumpy flats they’d been in. Assassin isn’t a career particularly suited for home ownership, but you can’t live on a speed demon like the Nightbrother either, it was modded for utility and not exactly comfort. The perpetual banging of the missing emission converter on the bottom was proof of that.

It disgusted him even more that unlike most of her life, he had to actively remind her to wash. Because fffffuck. It was too much otherwise, and then mix that with that gross OTHER smell…Maul was constantly incensed. But they’d passed the last check point, they’d be in the system soon, and there would be a whole revolting myriad of problems to deal with without having to explain why he had such a burning hatred for some guy’s black shirt.
He’d torn up the control deck a little idly clawing at it.
“Dad?”

He turned, stopping short of rolling his eyes. Still got on that fucking shirt.
“Yes, brightest star and darkest shadow?”
“Is this yours?”
She lifted up the hem of the offensive thing.
“Emma, I’m five-foot-five. You’re five-two. Wait, nevermind, school didn’t do you any favours. No, that’s not mine. It’s meant for someone with a foot on both of us.”
He kind of felt bad for snipping, but not really.
“Oh,” she said. It was a dull, bovine noise and he hated that too. She was sharper than this. Hormones were making her stupid—THIS IS WHY I NEVER DO THIS, he thought.
And then he realized he was guilty of the same shit and felt horrible all over again. It was a vicious cycle.

“Did Savage leave this? Because that’s a little weird.”
He felt a throbbing pain building square between his eyes and pinching his nosebridge did no good.
“No.”
“Oh my god, oh my god, EW THIS ISN’T OURS!”
And of course she flailed about and tore it off and left it on the floor and stood there in her adorable PJs with the Loth-cats and athletic bra and it was all so much worse and he hated himself for it.
“As tempted as I am to tell you your mother is the holonet, I’m pretty sure you’d punch me and I’d deserve it,” he started, sorry that he even had to have this talk, sorry for everything he ever did that would make him deserve the indignity of the awkward talk that was about to happen.
“It came from Hill’s boy,” he continued, unable to stop himself from getting condescending. He still couldn’t fathom why Dathomir decided who it wanted as Nightpersons, but whatever. “You’ve worn it more than your own clothes because you’re…” He struggled to find the precise words for something that didn’t really have a Galactic Basic expression. “…you’re into his smell.” Once again, she'd forgotten when she slept about the entire thing that went down at his house. This happened so many times he was plain sick of having this same conversation because the nauseating influence of The Hunt wouldn't let her leave it alone, but her mind was so clouded that her memory was basically useless. He wondered if she'd actually sustained some sort of permanent damage on top of the effects of The Hunt with how often her brain dumped thoughts out.

Emma picked up the offending article and sniffed it and holy Force ghosts he was right. She hated it when he was right, but never as much as right now. Maul was not exactly good at Boy Stuff and here he is knowing all the things and she’s only just met this guy and he actually hit her, which Maul had always said to never let a man do, but she liked it…and her thoughts were entirely out of control and out of line and he was fucking right. It was as simple as that, and she didn’t know what to do about it. Because it got worse. She would never in a million years SAY anything about it, but she loved Maul’s smell too. Actually, maybe she could tell him. Something in the back of her mind egged her on, and if nothing else, it would be interesting to see how he'd react. If she could trust him with something small, she could trust him with the extent of her feels.

“Why do I like boy-smell all of a sudden?”
Maul sighed, aware she was baiting him. He decided to not take it this time.
“Wild Hunt stuff.”
“Wild Hunt stuff. Real specific, old man.”
That stung more than it should have.
“You’re picking up on pheromones. They’re different enough from yours that your brain thinks…”
“It smells like the grass after a rain and is that Theed pear tree flowers?”
Maul stopped and inhaled sharp through his nose. He entertained a brief thought of shredding it and killing it and throwing it out the airlock, but then sense took over and he realized that she probably legitimately didn’t realize what she was smelling.
“…as I was saying, your brain thinks mating would produce good offspring. Also, that particular scent profile is the same as human semen.” He let that sink in for a minute and braced himself for the shrieking that would follow.
To his horror, she held it up to her nose. And Maul died a little inside.

The abject horror never came and he truly thought he couldn’t reach deeper depths of self-loathing.

She went off to her room, leaving him to his sweat and shame. And then reappeared a couple minutes later, dressed, and plonked down in the passenger seat.
“I want one of yours.”

Whatever witty retort he had locked and loaded just completely fell apart before launch and he sat there with his mouth half-open, looking like a slack-jawed idiot.
“Huh?”
His turn to make sounds like beasts of burden.
“Yeah. One of yours. His smells good, but yours would be better.”
For once in his life, he was stunned speechless.
“I mean, if he’ll let me, I’m keeping his. But yours is…important.”
Did she have any idea the sheer weight of her words? That she wasn’t just requesting a thing, she was showing reciprocation for things he couldn’t even make himself admit when he was alone?
“Did you hear anything I just said?”
“Yeah. I did. And that’s why I asked for one of yours. Duh.”
“Well,” he recovered quickly enough. “This one will be appropriately saturated by the time we get there, as stressful as all this nonsense has been. I don’t own anything other than black either. Though I suppose if they made something darker…”
“Dad, shut up.”
He’d been caught.

“Look, I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t have lasted this long if I was. You said yourself like forever ago to never lie on the ship, it’s bad luck and the ship knows and I know that’s all banthashit but I do think I need to be honest about some stuff and it’s really awkward so like, please don’t do that thing you always do. You can’t deflect this one away.”
“Not even ice cream?”
“Not a chance.”
Maul sighed, resigned.
Emma had no idea where to even begin with it. She thought back to her whole life so far—school stuff, when they first started training, all those awkward but important milestones, and he had always been there, even when he wasn’t physically there. And she didn’t know when it started. It’s not like it really started or stopped, it just kind of…
“So this thing has just kind of evolved,” she started, still unsure, still testing, waiting for him to interrupt with something inane and harmless. “I can feel all the way in there you’re really bothered about the whole Zak thing. And yeah, he’s hot and all, but that’s just some kind of stupid hormonal thing and I don’t even know if I really mean it. I’ll probably never see him again, it’s not like we can move back to Theed after what you did.”
That stung too, definitely more than it should have. Was he going soft?
“But you? You’re different. Remember that dude I brought home right before I left school?”
Maul nodded, inwardly laughing about it. The kid took one look at him working on the Nightbrother in the garage and suddenly remembered his mother wanted him home an hour ago. When school would have still been in session.
“Whatever scared him? I actually liked that. Like is not strong enough of a word. I don’t know, words are dumb and arbitrary. I was kind of glad he fucked off, clearly he wasn’t Emma material. Gods, you’re so used to people being scared shitless of you, do you even know what to do when someone isn’t? Because I’m not. I’m the exact opposite of that.”

His nose prickled at an acidic scent with something very floral behind it, it recalled the images of Hank’s black orchids and the shriveled vanilla bean pods in his apartment. This is precisely why drugs were bad.
So he said nothing. In truth, he believed it all and yes yes a thousand times yes, but how do you even say that? She was right—he was a master of fear but had no idea what to do with anything else. He thought over his words carefully, more than aware of the awkward pause in conversation, but feeling that the right words were worth that.

He flicked on the auto-pilot and turned to face her, actually looking in (not past) her eyes. Big, trusting…purple?
No, they can’t be, they’ve been green her entire life, green like the moss in the Point of Origin that they’d go see together soon. But they’re purple. Like his.
“I never joke or make empty words when I call you my brightest star and darkest shadow. That references something you’ll be learning about soon when we’re home, but it’s something holy. The Force that runs the entire galaxy and all its life hinges on that point between light and dark. And you’re mine.”

It was enough. Neither spoke much for the rest of the trip and he’d disengaged the auto-pilot, the dangerous part had come. Either they’d see the ethereal beauty of the red moon from a distance as they landed, or up close as they crashed straight into it. Whether or not Dathomir wanted them was the deciding factor and it unnerved Emma to think she had to put that much trust in the Force. Maul of course knew he was right. He didn’t tell her, but he’d seen the black bird land on the Nightbrother. He had to be something he hadn’t been able to be in a long time—not an Imperial agent, not a Hand of the Emperor, but something simple and clear: a son of Dathomir. That scared him more than anything.
Almost anything.
The only thing more frightening was the thought that Dathomir didn’t just want him. It wanted her, too.

 

Back on Naboo, Hank aggressively trimmed back the rosebushes and worked harder than usual, not stopping for water or during the short hot part of the day. He felt it alright, he just had no desire whatsoever to participate or even think about the things about to happen back home.
That wasn’t home.
This was home. Things grew here, things flourished, beautiful things. It wasn’t a slowly-decaying mass spinning about in space, living past its usefulness and clinging to barbarism and druidry. He couldn’t control where he was born, but damn it, he could control himself as a man and he chose to. He’d hang tight this year like any other—putting in extra hours for the palace’s Day of the Dead celebration and longer nights at the bar, heavier drinking than usual. The kids made it all worth it—they marveled at his gigantic genetically-engineered squash varieties and the beautiful but short-living black species he’d cultivated all through the summer, especially the black roses, tulips, and orchids. The palace pulled off somber well, but the presence of the fairy lights and the kids learning about their traditions made it impossible to truly feel sad. At least, until he got home and started thinking about her again. But the wine made it bearable and it was back to work the next day. Dathomir couldn’t have him back, not for nothing or nobody. He didn’t notice it at first, but he’d clipped off every bloom on the crimson bush under Maul’s front window. Somehow he liked it better that way.

 

Benny’s was never a place your night started, but a lot of times, you just kind of ended up there.
It was an all-night breakfast-for-dinner kind of place, greasy and cheap, the perfect drunk food. Which meant by after midnight it was cram-packed when the first lot of bars let out. And the drunks were their usual selves, poor folks like him, but a lot less progressive in their thinking.
Which is how Ezra found himself run-falling out of the Benny’s with a bloody nose and busted-up knuckles.
He’d just gotten paid from a pretty dangerous job from a rich fuckhead from off-planet tagging ships with trackers—the duct-tape trick apparently was worth a lot and how had people not thought of this yet? Seriously, this was gump shit—the tape foiled metal detectors on most ships because they were looking for things like steel and platinum, and mostly lithium—the batteries on most models still ran on that. So he took out his Person to wherever he wanted to go. Benny’s wasn’t really Ezra’s idea of a good meal after a job but whatever, as long as K was happy, he was happy. And K was happy, right up until one of those drunk fuckfaces said the word gar-un-teed to make him go from zero to a hundred in two seconds.
“Gross, one of them trannies.”
K’s face burned red and he got quiet. It wasn’t often that someone actually had the balls to say something like that in public, but if it was going to happen, it would be here and now. And righteous anger trumps common sense nine times out of ten with this kid. This time was definitely in that percentage, as the offender in question was easily twice his size, but Ezra had an unfair advantage.
“Hey, asshole,” he poked the huge man’s shoulder. He turned, and Ezra decked him right between the eyes. He hit the floor, but his rather large friend was still mobile and he probably couldn’t get that lucky twice, so he swiped his hand and brought down three chairs between them, scaring the holy Force out of all the patrons near him, probably thinking he was a Jedi or something. He wasn’t quite fast enough and was honestly more concerned with getting K out of there and ended up clotheslined by the manager, on the floor, and in the ensuing brawl, gave every bit as good as he got. Sure, it started out protecting K, but something in the back of his mind loved it and through the haze of stuff he smoked earlier he actually felt alive.
So he and K skipped out on the bill and ran home to their converted shipping container. He was wheezing hard by then and digging around their crowded space looking for his inhaler when something else clicked in the back of his mind. He found it, quickly sucked back just enough to breathe, and then had K against the door making it hard for him to breathe, but for an entirely different reason.
“Ezra, what in Force-ghosts has gotten into you?”
He let go and gave it serious thought for a whole two seconds. He looked at the blood on his hands and it hit him even harder seeing that red on brown and he straight-up lost sense.
“Same thing that’s getting into you.”

 

Somewhere else in the vast emptiness of space, Zak was also beating the living Force out of something.
In his case, it was his training dummy on the ship. Normally he’d train with traditional Naboo classical music, all strings and piano, but not this time. No, he wanted something else. Since leaving, he’d grown more and more agitated. Only something with heavy bass and staccato percussion would do. The ship was on auto-pilot for now, but he had the irrational urge to drive himself and punch it. Dad would lose it if he knew about all the stuff he’d done to get this far, though, no need to pile it on with a lead foot and the tickets that go with that. So he kept beating, hoping it would die down sooner rather than later. He didn’t want to get there and be a beast. The red cover of the punching bag was almost shredded, he’d have to replace it when he got home if Hill ever let him leave the house again after this.

Chapter Text

"So, no crashing is good."
"Very good, Emma."
"Eat a dick, Maul."
The Nightbrother descended from atmosphere and landed in a clearing not far from a large stone house. There were people scurrying around, but from the sky they looked like ants. Man-sized red pitcher plants ballooned from vines, flocks of bats sailed through the sky, black bare trees twisted into the sky like spires, and everywhere Emma looked, there was life. She was giddy and for the first time in her life, she felt like she was home. She was so excited when the boarding ramp dropped, she almost ran right into the woman holding a bow with an energy arrow aimed directly at her chest. Emma shrieked and the whirling red dervish that is Formerly-Darth-Now-Just-Maul spun into place in front of her. The archer saw the red blades and considered her shot before letting it fly, but she lowered the bow upon seeing his face—a Nightbrother, no threat. She spoke primarily in Galactic Basic Sign language.
"You are kin, why do you carry the red blade like the Man in Black?" She signed. Maul just looked confused, but Emma pushed past him, doing her best to remember what she learned in school.
"We do not mean harm. We were called. We need to speak to Mother." She signed back. The archer stood and thought for a second.
"Very well. I do so only because he is kin and only because planet has allowed you entrance. You will leave weapons and follow me. We are watching." Emma turned to Maul.
"Leave your lightsaber. They will take us to Granny. She is Granny, right?"
"Like hell. My lightsaber is my life."
"And this is your home. Don't be dumb. You'll get skewered."
Maul huffed and turned off his saber. "Fine, fine. It should be fine. I forget I haven't been here in a while. I actually think I know her. Her name is Plasma. She was only five when I was last here.”
He put his lightsaber back in the ship, and Plasma led them up to the big house. They entered a big foyer with a hanging chandelier and many floating lamps. The house was beautifully appointed with tapestries and standing in the middle of the foyer was a woman. She was very pale and thin, with long spidery fingers and heavy red robes. They seemed to float and move behind her, almost like tentacles. She looked at Maul.

"My dear son, welcome home." She glided towards them and gave him a huge hug, which he returned. She then turned to Plasma. "Return, this one is safe. Thank you, Plasma. You are a most talented guardian." Plasma put her fist to her breast and bowed, then turned on her heel and walked out the large wooden double doors.
"Ma, you haven't changed at all in the last twelve years. I'm happy to see you. It has been too long. Allow me to introduce my daughter, Emma," He gestured to her. Mommy, floated towards Emma who had stuck out her hand.
"You must be Mother Talzin, my Granny? It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh dear. First, darling, I am not Granny. Granny is not here at the time, tending to her business in her cave. I am Mommy. Also, you are family. In our house, family hugs." She said, and enveloped Emma in a creepy but secure hug. Emma hugged back, her eyes wide and looking at Maul at first, but eventually softened, relaxing into the hug. "We have been awaiting you for a long time. Maul stopped coming twelve years ago, saying that the Wild Hunt would not be good for his daughter. I am so happy to see you among us. You are a welcome addition."
There was a loud bang from the upstairs landing. "Brother, you made it! I'm so glad!" Savage came down the stairs and embraced Maul in a bear hug, lifting him off the ground.
"Savage, please, my ribs still hurt."
"Big baby," Savage lowered him. "And my niece! Allow me to greet you properly! I am Savage Opress of Clan Talzin!" He bear-hugged Emma as well, although she figured that he wasn't hugging her as tightly. She could still breathe. He probably thought she might break or something.
"It's good to see you, Savage. How did you get here so quickly?"
"Well, Coruscant is a shorter trip than Naboo, and Anne was already packed up and ready to go. She said that she had forsaw she was leaving, so she went ahead and got ready."
"I heard my name?" Came a voice from upstairs, and a gorgeous green Twi'lek almost as tall as Savage and wearing a flowing blue gown descended the stairs. Her beauty was ethereal. Even Emma was attracted to her, and it was mildly confusing. Emma realized that aside from Maul and Talzin, she and Anne were the only ones dressed. No one else seemed to mind.
"Ah! Anne, may I introduce my brother, Maul, and his daughter and my niece, Emma," said Savage. Emma tried to shake again, but Anne laughed.
"You heard the rules. Here we hug." She hugged Emma, whose face was exactly the height of her breasts. Emma again had trouble breathing, but this time it was because of suffocation. She did the same with Maul.
"I've heard much about you both. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

It was a lot to take in.
"Well, you both arrived at a fortuitous time. The Great Hunt is in a week. Maul, get to work. No time to stand idly. Savage can task you. I'm going to get to know this one," Talzin said and floated to the door, gesturing for Emma to follow. Emma looked at Maul, who nodded. He had a real grin on his face, which was a rare sight. Emma felt like she was finally home. She went with Talzin, outside.

They left the big house, crossed the open flat area around it, passing several busy-looking huts and many Nightpersons getting ready for the festivities. Emma was startled to find many of them in states of less-than-dressed.
“There is but one holy word in our society, child, you’ll learn. That is ‘no’. It is respected on pain of death. That said, we have little crime.” Talzin smiled, but it wasn’t exactly comforting. Something about her facial markings made everything about her sinister.
“And people just like…go out and about and do this?”
“Of course. The body is a vessel for the Green Force and the soul, and it’s a tool like any other. Nightpersons are free to do as they wish with their bodies and selves. There are many like you who stand between brother and sister, some who are neither as well. They do the tasks that fit their ability. The genetics for use of the Green Force are usually passed down to Sisters and Neither-Boths. I think that’s the closest words in Basic for what we call them. We don’t know why. Persons who become women or Neither-Both later in life develop them as well. It’s a testament to Dathomir’s adaptability and sentience. There are things only Nightbrothers can do as well—forging with the green stone in the caves is another one of those inherent knowledges that can’t be learned. It follows the same path—it chooses Brothers, or Neither-Boths.”

Emma listened, rapt. Progressive places acknowledged more than the gender binary, but this was extraordinary and beyond simple words. In this place, all gender variants had not just recognition, but there was no doubt about it the way there was other places. It affected your person down to the genetic level—you were what your soul was and if your body didn’t match, that didn’t matter. Talzin described the magics used to make those corrections—always at the choice of the person in question. That seemed to be the most important thing here: choice. She couldn’t think of anywhere in the galaxy she’d ever feel comfortable walking around less than dressed, but here? It was a distinct possibility. The longer they walked, the deeper into the spindly trees they got, and the more deeply comfortable she felt with everything. They came upon a big cave, a black stone hole that curled around back into the ground, covered in bright green moss. It glowed an eerie mint colour, almost like smoke coming from it.

“Do you see?”
“I see it. Can we go in there? It looks so small.”
“It is the opposite. The Green Force here is just as sentient as the planet itself and it knows things, it can sense if you have the right shade of grey to learn its mysteries.”
“Grey?”
“Yes. The balancing point of light-side and dark-side. Some, like those Jedhai, would have you believe darkness is inherently evil, but that’s not so. We use the dark side and do not allow ourselves to be corrupted by it. This is the Point of Origin, our holiest place. Not all can see it. It hides itself from those too light or too corrupted by darkness. This has allowed us safety from that dirty old man.”

Talzin spit on the dirt and a sprig of grass sprouted from the spot. Emma followed her in.

On the walls of the cave were paintings—many different artists, thousands of years’ worth of them. The torches lining the walls had green fire that never went out, and Talzin was right—the cave was in fact huge. Talzin made it a point to show Emma a few panels, and the cave shortened itself accordingly. The first one was of Talzin herself, holding a small red kidney bean out to a hooded figure in black.

“This is Maul. He was two when he was taken. The Man in Black wielded a red light blade and promised much in exchange for my son. He said Maul was extraordinarily powerful in the Force, and he was right. He was a liar and a thief. He tried to steal our magics for himself, and he fears us. We can do things his master dreamed of,” she said, touching the drawing with her fingertips. “What we lack in technology we more than compensate for in our abilities with the Green Force and the Greater Force. We don’t need things to do our bidding. Obviously this is a frightening concept to foreigners.”

“It doesn’t scare me,” Emma said, looking at the details. She could make out some of Maul’s facial tattoos, but he was mostly red. It was weird to think of him as anything other than he was.
“If anything, it makes you self-reliant. You aren’t affected by energy-manipulating bombs or waves, sunspots don’t bother you, you don’t have to worry about the effects of some diseases that have come about with resistance to our medicines. Dad—Maul—taught me how to track without the use of technology in case I was ever in a situation where mine didn’t work. I used to think it was stupid, but seeing this? I get it now.”
Talzin smiled and went further ahead.

“This is work done by Savage. I sent him to find Maul when he was released from such tight hold by that awful man. He is not just talented in medicine, he is an accomplished artist as well. Such skills are necessary in preserving our past and marking our future.” Talzin showed a panel of a normal-sized Nightbrother on a table surrounded by the witches, then increasing doubly in height and size. He went off with a bluish, bald witch and the panel ended with a birth of twins by some unnamed persons.
“Who’s that?” Emma pointed to the witch.
“That,” Talzin sighed. “That is one of our fallen. Asajj Ventress. She left us and became corrupted by darkness. When you fall too far away from our balance and ways, the magic tears itself from your mind and body and you become little more than a beast. We haven’t seen her since I tried to help her free herself of her abusive master.”
Emma made a mental note of this. It’s entirely possible that Palpatine could have found her and convinced her to work for him. A Nightsister in his employ meant secrets as long as she held onto the magic, and that would be irresistible to him.

Footsteps came from the opening of the cave and came nearer and nearer. Talzin seemed unfazed until Plasma waved her down. As far as Emma could read, there was an unexpected visitor and they required her to see it?
“Make yourself at home. There is a spring in the cave that can heal and sometimes gives sight. There is an intruder and I will deal with him myself. Take care. If the threat is serious, I will send a Brother for you.”
“Okay, thanks, I’ll do that.”

Talzin followed Plasma out, leaving Emma in front of a truly disturbing panel.
She couldn’t take her eyes off it. It was a view of Dathomir and its moon from space, a weird boat-looking thing bearing down on it with a beam of orange. The next showed many deaths—white-grey spirits rising up from many all over the planet. It made her sick to look at it. The next showed others, including Talzin’s figure, in the mouth of the cave. That had to be why the planet seemed so empty, there was some sort of…what, genocide? Some catastrophic attack that took most of the population. It looked like the only survivors were close to this cave and hid in here. That lack of technology was a double-edged sword, she thought. While it made them strong on the surface, they were vulnerable to threats from the Inner Rim—heavily populated and able to build weapons on that massive of a scale.

She rushed past it, not wanting to see any more. There were so few births in the following panels. How was Dathomir still alive after that attack? Who did it? Was this the work of Palpatine? She broke into a run, just wanting to escape all of it.

At the end of the cave, she slowed down to find a massive cavern with the spring. Blueish-green water that smelled so fresh and clean, big boulders with moss that looked perfect for sitting, and on the ceiling, a rainbow of pointed crystals
OH MY STARS AND LIGHTNING THOSE ARE KHYBER CRYSTALS
and she didn’t need to see anything more, she started up one of the rocks to get as close to the ceiling as possible to take one. Maul had her build the basic parts of her saber, but they hadn’t gone off to find the crystal yet, there hadn’t been time with everything that happened in Theed. One above the rest glowed golden and pretty and sparkly and she knew that one was hers. She got up the tallest rocks, but it was still out of reach.
“Damn,” she sighed, out of breath.
She knew she had to have that one, but how? She picked up a smaller rock and threw it as hard as she could at the crystal—it missed and plopped into the spring. She tried to jump up, enhanced by control of the Force, but it was still too high. Bouncing off a wall didn’t get her any closer. Near tears with frustration, she sat on top of the rock and swore at it. This was obviously some kind of test—he’d said that you couldn’t just pick one up and be done, what else had he said?
She couldn’t remember. All that came to mind was the last time they sparred, which was definitely not something she wanted to think about at all, nevermind right now. Nope, she did not need to be problem-solving distracted by Maul shirtless, not even tired, covered in sweat all the way to his horns--
HORNS.
“Okay, this is stupid, this is SO stupid, but I’m willing to do anything,” she said, mostly to herself. Talking to the thing felt beyond stupid, but if it was possible to reason with a rock anywhere, it would be here.
“On behalf of the Horned God, I demand you come down from there!”
She stared it down and waited. Exerted the full force of her will at it, taxing her connection to the Force.
She actually broke a sweat, but after about a minute of staring it down, it clinked apart and fell into the spring.
“Yoda’s drawers, that should not have worked. But fuck it, it’s mine now!”
She took off her outer layers and walked down into the spring after it. The water was strangely warm and she felt small abrasions and bruises from training knit themselves back together on her skin. At the bottom, she sucked in some water screaming because the crystal had fallen right next to a horned skull and there were a lot of them and oh gods and stars and moons there are SO MANY
Visions of the attack flooded her mind and she had trouble getting to the surface.
She pulled herself back on the bank and hacked up the water. Once she was able to breathe right again, she turned the gold-toned crystal over in her hands. She always thought it would be red—Maul wouldn’t have her bleed hers like he had to do. But if everything worked like she thought it did around here, it chose her and it knew her mind.

There were steps coming down the cave and Emma started getting back into her clothes. Not ready. So not ready. Maul came to the bottom. He wasn’t in normal clothes though. It was just a regular-person-shirt and pants and it looked very odd on him.

“Your boyfriend is here.”

“My what? Also, look what I have!” She showed him the crystal. He looked at it for about two seconds, then looked back at her.

“Yeah, I know. Now please come collect this thing before Mommy eats him.” He turned on his heel and exited.

“What’s got you so upset?” She yelled after him but he didn’t reply, so she left the cave and approached a throng of people outside. They had crowded around a Y-2400 starship, she could tell that much. There were also children laughing? When she got closer she could see what it was: blonde hair, pale skin, a black jacket, jeans, and children crawling over him. Zak was under attack by Nightbabies. He was looking a little ragged, but Mommy was laughing. Maul stood next to her and folded his arms.

“Hey Zak? How did you find us?” Emma asked as she ran forward to help dislodge the children. They were pulling on his face and hair. Clearly they had never seen a pale man with hair before.

“Emma! Hey. Your buddy Hank told me.”

“He did what?” Said Maul.

“He told me where you were. I just had to find the coordinates.”

“That idiot,” Maul said, and Mommy turned to him.

“Maul. You will show some respect to your brothers.”

Maul stopped. “My…what?”

“Insolent child. You have clearly forgotten that if Dathomir didn’t want him here, he wouldn’t be here. He feels the call, and you will welcome his as a brother.”

“I will do no such thing. He’s a child, and doesn’t even look like us. If we start allowing humans here again…” but Mother Talzin raised a hand and he stopped mid-sentence.

“You were not here when the destruction happened. You were not here when Dooku and his goons attacked this planet and killed many of us, and you were not here when we had to pick up the pieces. You know nothing of our struggles, BOY, and until you can behave yourself with some modicum of decorum, I banish you from my house until you learn. Beasts sleep outside. Your tantrums amount to a Krayt grunting.”

It got quiet. Emma was in shock, Zak was confused, and Maul was annoyed. He turned and stormed into the woods without another word.

“Umm, Maul?” Emma said but Talzin shushed her.

“He will be fine. My son needs some time to cool his head. Please, see to your friend. We will be inside.”

Mommy left with the children in tow and the other Nightpersons did as well, leaving Zak and Emma alone.

“Oh! I have something of yours,” Emma said and clambered into the Nightbrother. When she got out, she threw the shirt at him. “I want a shirt that you haven’t used as a… washcloth.” Zak turned bright red. His mouth hung open for a minute and he thought he would actually die. He immediately took off the shirt he was wearing and gave it to her, then was horrified that he had done that without prompting and put on the one that she had handed him, and then realized what he had put on and tore that one off. It was a vicious cycle.

Emma cackled like a witch, then slapped a hand over her mouth. Did that come out of her face? She also realized that she could smell him, sweaty and sharp and acidic, like a wet goat. She knew that smell--it was anxiety. She walked over to him and put a hand on his arm, then handed him a yellow pill from her pocket case. He swallowed it quickly, then went back into his ship for a few minutes. When he came out he had another black shirt on. It looked like the same black shirt. He looked composed.

“Sorry about that. My dad must have grabbed something from the floor to cover you while I was down talking to security. He didn’t know. Many apologies.”

“Drop the politician act. I’m glad you’re here. I know we don’t know each other really well, but I’m glad you’re here. I like having another pretty face… FRIENDLY FACE. Christus. Sorry about that.”

“Christus? Who’s that?”

“He was a Jedi. Don’t worry about it. Come with me.” They started walking towards the Big House.

“So why am I here, and what was this about not being able to land if I wasn’t supposed to be here? Hank said something similar.”

“Apparently the planet is Force-Sensitive. It interposes the moon between itself and vessels trying to land here.”

“The fuck?”

“Witch stuff.”

“Witch stuff? I guess I need to know that one.”

“Yep.”

“And why am I here? At first I was just coming to find you… GUYS. You guys, and the closer I got, the more right it felt.” He shook his head as if to clear off gnats.

“It does that to me too. I don’t know why you are here. Mommy probably does.”

“Wait,” He stopped walking. “Did you just read my thoughts?”

“Yes. You’re broadcasting them. It makes it hard not to,” She didn’t stop her stride.

He was quiet for a minute, then ran to catch up with her. “So, if I’m ‘broadcasting’, then how do I make it stop?” An odd thought popped into his head
(Sometimes, the abyss looks back into you, she said)

“You have to make it stop. You’re Force-sensitive and it makes it easier to read. You have to work on your willpower. I learned early on that my mind had to be a steel box. You just have to do the same, but it’s different for everyone. I can’t help you.”

They got to the Big House and Emma led him inside. “Mommy said we have rooms here. I think mine is with Maul, but apparently there is an empty one that you can use.” She went up the stairs like she knew the place, purely on instinct. There were four doors, each with a different symbol on the door. One was a rancor, one was a krayt, one was a spider, and the last one was a bat. She knocked on the spider door, and when there was no response, swung it open. Inside was a fully furnished room, but devoid of occupants. She grabbed Zak’s hand and pulled him in.

“There. You can be next door. That way, you won’t be far.”

“Like, I appreciate that, but if this is my people, I should maybe get to know the culture. It seemed like everyone else lived outside. I should probably do that too, but I do need to keep my art stuff dry. Do you think I could use this as a studio?”

“Should be okay. Mommy gives the final word though. If you need her, she should be downstairs to the right, across from the kitchen.”

“Alright. I’ll go talk to her then.” He left, and Emma was left alone with her thoughts.

(I wonder if Maul is actually okay. It’s not like him to act like that. I thought we sorted this out on the ship. Zak is cute, but Maul has always been more important. Why do boys have to be so dumb?)

She went back to her room. It was virtually untouched. It looked like this room was prepared for Maul, complete with a modern toolbox on the desk. She looked around. On one wall was the desk with the toolbox, a window, and a little alcove with a bathtub. On the other were two large bookshelves. The first one was full of actual books. Most of them were written in a language that she couldn’t understand. It looked vaguely like Aurebush, but it wasn’t. The other was empty save for little silver stands where it looks like something would go. There were several dozen there. Then she noticed the box under the bed. She pulled it out, and inside were fifty or so editions of Popular Mechanics. She slid them back under the bed and sat on it. Clean, crisp cotton sheets. The thread count must have been high. She laid back on the bed and dozed off.

She was in the cave. The green water was clear, and she was on the rock outcropping that extended over the pool, completely naked and cross-legged.

“So, you have finally come home?” Came an eerie voice. It sounded like a child, but it had a deeper undertone to it, like multiple voices in the same throat. She snapped her eyes open, and in the water was a little black creature. It was small and humanoid, but it had big yellow eyes. Its mouth didn’t move when it spoke, if it even had one. The face was completely free of features, except for the eyes.

“Home? Is that what this place is?”

“Relatively speaking. This cave is the Point of Origin, but the planet is home. It’s where we decided to put you when you were conceived.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“Well, there is the Horned God, who the Jedi call the Son, there is the Winged Goddess, who the Jedi call the Daughter, and then there is me. I’m the One In The Shadows, and the Jedi call me Father. We are the creatures that the Force has asked to watch over all life. There are others like us, but we are the three. Dathomir is my planet, just as you are mine.”

“Wait, what do you mean I am yours? I answer to no one. No gods, no masters. That’s what Dad has always told me.”

“You’re not mine like I own you. Think of yourself as a scion. In the grand scheme of things, your personality and whims mesh with my own. As for no gods, no masters, that is only partly true. Mortals have such a habit of dealing in absolutes. There are gods. Many of them, but there are no mortal gods. Your false Emperor would like to see himself as one, but he is nothing more than a puppet. He abandoned us long ago.”

She paused for a minute. “Wait, I think I do know of you. The Jedi were very quiet about these things, but I got in the restricted sections at the temple library, and if you got Kao-Cen high enough, he would speak of the personification of the Force. The Son is the dark side, the Daughter is the light side, and you are balance. The fine point between the two. He always said there was a fourth, but he wouldn’t ever speak of it.”

“Of course he wouldn’t, dear child, for he knew enough to not speak of things he couldn’t understand. The fourth is what the Jedi call the Mother, but we know them as Chaos. My inverse. Chaos is something hard to define. Destruction is a natural part of the cycle, and whether or not you like to acknowledge it, it is still very much a part of the balance, and you begrudgingly accept Chaos into your life.”

“So why are you telling me this? Why am I here?”

“Because it’s time for you to see yourself for what you are. Because you were born human and looked like you were a girl, the arrogant Jedi always treated you like one, but you know that strictly true. Elliot exists inside of you, doesn’t he? You have taken upon yourself to personify your light side, and your dark side. Emma exists as the light, and Elliot is the dark, but they are all one being, and that being is you. I wish to give you the ability to properly be him. My gift to you. A homecoming present.”

“But, I have always hid that part of me. I don’t like it. It feels…bad.”

“Yes, but just because it’s dark doesn’t mean that it’s evil. That’s Jedi dogma. Darkness does not mean evil. Destruction is a part of growth. For example, you have to prune a plant’s branches for it to flower and grow. It’s the same concept.”

She had a flashback to when she was younger and Hank said almost the same thing. He was teaching her how to tend the roses outside of her window, and he explained that pruning the weak made it stronger.

“Yes. Like the roses. Hank is one of the Winged Goddess’ scions. Eventually, even he must return home too.”

“You keep saying that, scions. What does that mean?”

“Well, we gods think of ourselves as patrons. Everyone that exists has a spark of us in them. It is their life force and their inherent connection to the Greater Force. People that have our personal spark are our scions.”

“And why are you telling me this?”

“Because they asked and we have chosen. You are to be the Coven Daughter, Talzin’s successor.”

“Huh?”

The cloud that had been over her mind for the past month seemed to have dissipated here, but she was still having trouble tracking.

“Mother Talzin has many years left in her, but she is still mortal. As the cycle goes, with death comes new life, and when Daka returns to us, Talzin will assume her position as the Crone. You will become The Mother as Talzin is now, and someone else will hold your position.”

“So, who held this position before me? There must have been someone?”

The thing laughed. “The one known as Assajj Ventress was the daughter for a long time, but she is now lost to us. She has followed the Horned God’s teachings to the point of no return. She is corrupted. The same can happen to you if you go too far in the other direction. But the time for talk is gone. I have told you what you must know. I am giving you the ability to channel Elliot in his true and terrible form. You can assume his body or Emma’s body at will, but know that if you do that, you will have to constantly switch to stay the middle path. It will not be easy, but you have the will to do so. Do you accept?”

Emma thought for a minute. It would sure make things easier, but It wasn’t like it would be that easy. There was danger. She knew that on an instinctual level, but why not? She nodded, and the thing crawled up to her out of the water. It looked at her with those big, terrible, intelligent yellow eyes, and then lifted a clawed finger and poked her in the forehead. There was a rush of information that came with it--the basics to perform ancient Sith alchemy, the instinctual ability to switch gender and physical sex as the need suited her, and the entire history of the Nightpersons. It felt like her head would explode, and she was in so much pain she blacked out again.

 

When she woke up, she was back in Maul’s bed, and there was so much sweat that the bed was drenched. She wasn’t sure how long she was out, but the sun had set. She sat up and heard a squeaky voice.

“You get up. We clean.”

It was really high-pitched and cute, but Emma couldn’t see where it came from. Then she looked at the floor. There was a legion of spiders covering it. They were everywhere. She shrieked.

There was a loud crack and the door came down. Standing behind it was Savage with a purple double-bladed lightsaber and Anne. Anne had a cast-iron skillet and looked more terrifying than he did. Then Savage laughed. He turned off his lightsaber and leaned on the door frame laughing. Anne lowered the skillet and smiled, then went back to the other room.

“EW GET THEM AWAY GO AWAY GROSSGROSSGROSSGROSSGROSS!”

“Calm down, Emma. They’re the spiders. They clean and repair the house.” Savage managed when he finally quit laughing.

“What? No! Make them go away!”

“No, you. We clean. You leave.” One of them squeaked. She jumped from the bed into Savage’s arms and the spiders went to work. They climbed onto the bed and rolled up the sheets, then tied it off with silk and carried it down the hall. Savage dumped Emma onto the floor unceremoniously.

“You have got to learn. Humans.” He lumbered back down to his room with a grin on his face. Emma sat there, and then heard a scuttling. She didn’t stick around to figure out what it was. It sounded like an even bigger spider. She ran down the hall and banged on Mommy’s door. It opened and standing before her was …Maul? No, he was too tall and his horns were spiraled like a ram’s. He was also entirely naked, which stunned her more than anything. She was, what, afroused?

He stepped out of the way and she saw Mommy lounging in her bed. What was more shocking was Zak. He was completely clothed, but he was sleeping ON her. She was playing with his hair and when Emma came in, Mommy held a slender finger in front of her lips.

Emma didn’t know if she was more enamored or enraged. “Did I interrupt something?”

“Don’t be so rude, child. He’s a fine specimen but I would not be so crass as to bewitch him his first night here. He was very tired and has nowhere to stay. Not everyone is as moon-obsessed as you are.”

Emma felt ashamed. “You’re right. I just..have you seen him? But you’re right. He does what he wants and I don’t own him.”

“Very good. Now sit. I heard a scream? I didn’t want to wake him.”

The Zabrak that answered the door stood beside it at attention. Mommy gestured at him and he left.

“That’s Dagger. Maul’s father. I keep him around, as he’s quite pleasing to the eye.”

“I screamed because of the spiders. They speak.”

“Are they unionizing again? Such a pain.”

“So you aren’t shocked that they speak?”

“No, and you and I are the only ones that can hear them. I knew you would be able to do it at some point. I felt a presence. I assume the One In The Shadows came to speak to you?”

“They did. And I know what I am.”

“Then you have much to learn.”

“How do I keep from becoming like Asajj? Maul and Hank talked about her very little, but from what I heard, it wasn’t good.”

“Well, you can first learn that men are not possessions that you can hoard,” she said, tapping Zak lightly on the head. He made a small sound and snuggled her blanket.

“That’s adorable. I think my ovaries are exploding.”

“Shall I fetch Medic?”

“No. Not literally. I have a lot I have to learn.”

Dagger entered again with two cups of tea, and gave one to Emma and one to Talzin, then went back to attention by the door.

“Then learn. I have books you may borrow. You should be able to speak and read Ancient Sith now, which is the language we use here. I think Feral was going to share his house with dear Zakarie. I am most intrigued by his father. This Mr. Hill sounds like a most interesting man.”

Dagger growled by the door.

“And if you keep on, you may go keep your son company outside. Honestly. Animals, all of you.”

He was quiet.

 

Emma spent the next week learning what she could of the Nightpersons. She spent some time with Plasma, who was the town’s bowyer. Plasma taught her how to make the Energy Bow, a Nightsister weapon. She also stayed with Medic, the healer, and even went on a hunting party at one point, led by Dagger. When he fought, it was easy to see the resemblance to Maul. They had the whirling dervish of blades perfected. Dagger carried a green blade, however. It seemed to be made of some kind of rock. This was probably the stone that Talzin talked about before—Emma wondered where it came from. If it was in her to learn, she would, she figured.

A week passed, and the Wild Hunt was upon them. Maul was allowed back into the house, but he ended up sleeping in the foyer most nights. He had taken to coming to the room to grab a copy of popular mechanics and to make sure Emma was fine, but for the most part, he stayed out of the way. Zak ended up staying with Feral in a hut outside. They seemed to get along really well, but it was odd. Feral always had a lot of bats around him. They followed him. Emma learned that the bats do what they call ‘bat trolling’. Apparently their connection to the Force was so strong, they knew when you were hiding something and they would follow you around until you acknowledged what you were hiding. It was another way the planet kept itself in check, secrets can kill, no matter how small.

When Emma woke up on the day of the hunt, she felt the instinctual call of Elliot, so she willed herself to change and was shocked at what she saw. She looked so much like Zak, they could have been twins. And then he got really embarrassed when he figured out that this was probably what Zak looked like nude. Toned but not heavily muscled, sparse blonde body hair. Mostly under the arms and in the pubic area. It felt right. Elliot tugged on some clothes and went down the stairs, where Maul was waiting by the kitchen.

“Nope. Not today. We don’t get to eat until the hunt.” He said and stuck an arm around Elliot’s shoulders, leading him outside.

“What do you mean?” He asked, then put a hand over his mouth. He even sounded like Zak.

“I mean that today, the men don’t get to eat until we have taken down the beast of the hunt. It’s ritual here. We either win or starve. I’m surprised. You chose Elliot today? On your first hunt?”

“It just felt right. I doubt I will hunt with you, but I wanted to see the world with fresh eyes.”

“Well then, you can chill with Medic, Hobble, and me and help us strategize. Then I can go off with the others. It’s your job to tell them of our exploits to everyone else and give us names. That’s where the deed names come from. No one has had a new name since Asajj. When she left, everyone has had the same name. Mommy doesn’t have that power. It’s yours and yours alone.”

Elliot nodded and took a deep breath. Everything did look fresh and terrifying and new.

Around the Big House, the door to the kitchen was shut tight and locked and he could hear Talzin and Anne in there for certain, laughing in that creepy cackle. There was clearly some witchery afoot, but since Elliot was about today, he wouldn’t get to know what it was.

The first item on the agenda was to retrieve the pot for the mead from the active volcano in the middle of the forest. Weird place for one of those to be, but it was what it was. And for some reason, neither Maul nor Savage nor anyone else seemed to be alarmed that they were going into an active volcano to fetch a pot when Mommy had plenty of serviceable ones in her kitchen.

Maul finished stretching and pinched his nosebridge.

“Alright, you’re new here, so I don’t expect you to understand, but this is all one big ritual. The entire day, the entire night. It brings us all closer together as a community. The pot thing is tradition from…well, it’s always been this way, as far as I know. The masculine folks go up and retrieve the pot, and we usually make up that it was a much more eventful time than it was. Almost always, someone nearly dies, it’s a dramatic affair and we are fierce warriors who all share the same story. Our alibis are airtight. We are, to put it bluntly, brothers in krayt-shit.”

Elliot stood, bamboozled.
“So you mean to tell me we’re going to grab a pot from the mountain and then lie our asses off about it?”

“Precisely. Now get the lead out—Savage always brings up the rear in case there is real trouble.”
Elliot was startled at the distinct lack of both clothing and gear on the pot party, but did as he was told. They’d figure something out.

 

“…and then, I swear for the gods, Dagger jumped from the branch to the lip of the ledge and hung on with one hand, Maul did him a boost with Force-move, and he did some kind of foolish maneuver and held the pot in his teeth when he slid back down the embankment. Savage had his hands full with the bull-krayt, who might I remind you was still puking fire, but Feral had him covered even with a busted ankle. It was something else, for real, we’re lucky nobody died and we got out of there with the pot and few injuries.”
Elliot said, trying as hard as he could to keep a straight face. Anne and Talzin listened intently, and seemed pretty impressed. They probably wouldn’t have been if they knew that Feral’s ankle got messed up by tripping over a tree root and the fully-grown bull-krayt with heartburn was actually a baby who wandered away and was eating off a nightshade plant and Dagger was in the tree in the first place because it snuck up on him and scared him to death and Maul was the one focused enough to actually climb up and get the pot because Savage was too busy petting the small dragon, but whatever—brothers in krayt-shit.

Anne took the pot to the kitchen and Feral went off to Medic to get patched up, a small flock of bats in tow. Savage went off to work with Zak on how to use the traditional tattooing tools and have a look at his reference manual—he’d be overseeing Zak’s penmanship tonight after the Hunt itself. Dagger had already parted from them on the way back through the woods to visit the cave, probably to wash up and center himself before the actual big event. For all his tomfoolery, Elliot could easily see that he was an apex predator and when it really mattered, could absolutely tear up anything and everything in front of him. It was easy to see that in Maul—but then, they didn’t really act like father and son. Elliot wondered if Maul even knew.

The bloody orange sun was getting low on the horizon and the red moon was rising, giving everything a weird but warm glow. Everyone seemed to be suited for that light—Elliot could swear that Talzin’s wrinkles and sag were gone from her frame entirely, but that’s just not possible. She swished away in a much more form-fitting gown than usual, still her signature red, leaving Elliot and Maul to themselves. This hadn’t happened since they arrived. Maul parked himself on a patch of grass and began to stretch again, just as he always did before sparring. Elliot sat next to him, but not too close. Something clearly had him uncomfortable and he was determined to nail down precisely what it was.

“So,” he started. “Are you going to talk to me about whatever has you sleeping in the front room or do you plan on getting trolled like Feral?”

Maul snorted and sat up straight, his spine crackling all the way up.
“I have already been honest with myself. I’m not hiding anything.”
“You’re hiding it from me.”
“That’s because it’s not your fault or your problem.”
“If it bothers you that much, I think it is.”
They were both silent for a bit, Maul breathing deep and Elliot finding himself unable to look away. When he’d first come to live with Maul, he wasn’t sure if he was black with red ink or red with black—but he had no such questions about that anymore. He had huge swaths of black ink up his sides and back almost like wings, and as far as Elliot dared look, those went all the way down past the dangerously-low waist of the typical Nightbrother linens he had on. He was vaguely aware of how tattoos happened, and holy Force ghosts, that had to hurt, there was so much ink and such deep saturation. Elliot wiped a bead of drool from his lip, thoroughly disgusted with himself. The most horrible thought occurred to him.
“Maul, I want you to stop this right fucking now.”
“Stop what? I’m not pulling a muscle tonight and if you were smart, you’d be doing the same. You’ve gotten lazy here.”
Elliot stood and for a second, just stood agape at the sheer gall of the man before him.
“You know damn good and well what I mean! You promised you’d never do this to me!”
Maul stopped and turned.
“I don’t know what in blue lightning you’re talking about, son, the moon’s made you as daft as a slow dewback, honestly.”
Tears welled up in his eyes but he was too angry to let them fall.
“You won’t even admit it.”
Maul stood as well and stepped right in front of Elliot.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“YOU. You’re…you’re fucking with my head!”
Elliot drew back, but Maul was faster and caught his fist before it connected with his face. He didn’t let go, either.
“Get control of yourself, apprentice,” he spat, tightening his grip.
“I do not give my word lightly, and if you were in your right mind, you’d know that. And you would realize what kind of offense you’ve caused.”
Elliot struggled and lashed out with all he had, freeing himself from Maul’s grip and for half a second, wanted nothing more than to tear him apart.
Then he realized exactly what he was thinking and how ruthlessly absurd it all was.
“I’m going to the cave, shithead. Don’t bother me.”
“Gladly.”
Elliot stormed off, changing back to Emma on the way.
(What the hell was his problem, influencing my head like that, and he called me that, that WORD? I’m gonna chop his dick off and feed it to him.)
Emma got to the cave. Her clothes didn’t really fit anymore, so she decided fuck it, she’ll leave them. She was getting her shirt off when she got to the bottom and was not expecting what she saw. There was Dagger and Savage with Zak reclining in the water. She stopped and they all stopped with her. As always, Savage broke the tension.
“Come! Come join our nude fraternity! Less sausage!” Zak just sunk into the pool. He was clearly trying to drown himself. Dagger smiled.
“I’ve been waiting to see you naked since you got here.”
She dropped the hem of her shirt.
“After that? No thanks. Is he gonna drown?” She pointed at the other painful object of her affection.
“Good luck to him. If he can drown in there, he’ll be the first.” Zak’s head slowly rose from the water.
“I was trying. I was trying real hard.”
“Aren’t you guys supposed to be working?”
“We were! But working is hard, so we figured we would come and visit dad and warm up our muscles before the hunt.” Savage flexed and his muscles rippled.
“Huh. Gross.”
“My muscles aren’t for you this day. Anne and I have plans!”
“But mine could be. The only problem is you’d have to fight Talzin and win,” Dagger’s smooth voice was absolutely unnerving. Yet another thing that was just too close.
“Maybe, but see, I don’t think she would. There are many other fine pieces of ass running around, and I think she smells fresh meat,” Emma said and looked directly at Zak. He again tried to drown.
“Does he realize that you can breathe down there?” Savage said.
“The way I see it, he’s more interested in you,” Dagger shrugged.
“Well, Zak, brother, we should get going. I need to refine your lines and we need to stretch.”
“Does that mean I have to get out?”
“It does.”
“I’m good.” He was chin level with the water.
“Well, I do need to go stretch. If you will excuse me,” Dagger left with Savage following, leaving them alone.
It was quiet for a moment. Emma just watched Zak, who was doing his best impression of a log.
“Can I join you?” She asked quietly.
“I don’t own it.”
“Would you feel comfortable if I was in a similar level of undress?”
“I think I might get distracted if you did that.”
“Why do you beat around the bush?”
“Because I’m a cucumber with anxiety.”
“I mean, if I had my way, this would have happened sooner.”
“Same.”
“So can I join you?”
He thought for a minute, then turned around for her privacy. She disrobed, then climbed into the pool, then tapped him. She had a minute to take stock. He was broader than Elliot, but as for the rest, there was nothing she could see for the bubbles.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Maul.”
“What’d he do?”
“I think he influenced my head. There was a minute where I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. This has happened more than once while we have been here.”
“See, I talked to Mommy, and that doesn’t work here. It’s all about consent, and certain Force powers can change that, so they just don’t work.”
“Oh,” She said and crawled into her pit of self-loathing. “Boys are dumb.”
“Keep fighting yourself. Maybe it’ll work one day. Look, I’m not about to intrude on what you guys have going on. I’m inferior and totally fine with that. You guys need to sort your shit out. He’s about to go out there and kill a dragon nude with his bare hands. Shit like you guys have, when unresolved in a situation like that could easily kill him.”
“I know, but… Dammit. I just want to hurt him. I want him to know what it’s like for me.”
“When he goes off alone and leaves you there to wonder?”
She looked at him.
“I’ve been there too. But I can tell you this. Wanting someone to hurt, no matter how awful they can be, especially if it’s someone you love, that’s cruel. You, you’re better than that. It’s one of the reasons I’m attracted to you.”
He stood and climbed out of the pool, but Emma wasn’t paying attention to that. He had found her deepest-darkest fear, and then stabbed right through it.
“You’re going to be with Maul tonight, and that is the way it should be, but if you get bored, I’ll be around. I respect him. Give him what he needs. Maybe then you guys can move on, stronger.”

He tugged on his pants and left with his shirt over his shoulder. She wanted to pay attention, but she couldn’t. He was fucking right. Through all of the haze that moon had created, through all of the bullshit, he nailed it right on the head, and she HATED him for it. She cried in impotent rage, letting out her frustrations, and when she was done, she went to find Maul, resolved.
He wasn’t hard to find. He was hanging out at the fire with everyone else. He turned to her as she walked up. He didn’t say anything, but he extended his hand, holding some cloth. She took it and unfolded it. It was the shirt he’d had on while they made the trip here. She took it, then grabbed his face and kissed him. He wasn’t prepared for that.
“Come back alive, alright?”
“Emma…”
“No. You listen to me here and now. You never do, but you are going to now.” The noise around the fire died down a little. Others were listening, but she didn’t care. “Every fucking time, I am left there, sitting and waiting. Every time this happens, I feel like I’m twelve again, waiting for my Papa to come home, and it sickens me.”
He looked away, clearly ashamed.
“But as long as you always come back, I can sit and wait. You will never leave me, and I know that, so promise me. Promise me that you will always come back. When I’m an old woman, you will come back. Swear to me now, because this is the biggest decision in your life. You have me forever, or you lose me. It all hinges on your promise.”
She looked him in the eyes, and for once, he broke contact first. “I promise, Sunshine.”

 

Savage called everyone together. The objective was simple, there was a bull-Krayt out there and that was the target. Maul would distract it in the trees, and Feral and Dagger were going to strike the killing blow. The weakness is the underside of the neck. If they can hit that, then they hit the flame sac inside and it would slowly cook itself from the inside out. They all headed out, and Emma watched from the fire. It was loud, even here. There were gouts of flame, trees were broken, the calamity lasted a good couple of minutes, and then it was silent.

“It never takes them this long to get back,” Talzin said, more to herself than anyone else, but Emma heard it, and the panic set in. After ten minutes of waiting, they all came back. Most of them were dragging the carcass of the krayt, but then Emma saw something else, and the tears started and wouldn’t stop. Zak and Savage were carrying Maul. His back wasn’t shaped right and he was bleeding. There was a lot of it. Her wailing broke the silence. Zak and Savage immediately went over to Medic, and Zak was talking to him quietly and frantically. Before she could get over there, Savage scooped her up. She fought him, sure, but he was six foot five. Medic was doing something and Zak was assisting and instructing. It was quiet for a while, despite Emma’s crying, then Medic stood.
“He lives. He is heavily injured, but he is breathing.”
Zak was just sitting, wiping dripping sweat from his face. He had out a primitive medpac and was working on what was probably an anesthetic. His hands were quick and precise. He had definitely done something similar before.
“I came back, dammit,” Maul sighed. Only then did Savage put Emma down, who immediately ran over there. She went to hug him but Zak put a hand out.
“Don’t. You could knock something loose. At this point he is held together by a splint and rage. Doing anything could damage a nerve and paralyze him. Back injuries are finicky like that.” He had out gauze and was wrapping it around a gash in his arm. Probably a secondary injury.
“I came back. Don’t make me promise something so stupid like that again. It would have been easier to die.”
“Maul, shut up. Don’t talk and save your strength. If you’re lucky, bedrest will help you recover well, but there is a chance you could never walk again. Medic and I are going to attempt to fix that, but for that I need you to lose your stiff-neck pride and let me work. Emma, you’re in my light.”
She moved. Zak was in some kind of mode she had never seen him before. He just told Maul to shut up. No one did that, but Maul did. That was... respect on his face?
“Emma. We need to finish the ritual. Like it or not, you have a job. These things happen. Let Maul rest.” Savage put a hand on her shoulder. She nodded.
“Nightpersons! This hunt was a fine one! Maul did his job admirably, distracting the Krayt, but it worked a little too well. With Zak at my side, we were able to chronicle the whole event. The krayt took down the tree Maul stood in with his tail, and he went down with it. The tree landed on him, but that didn’t stop one of our new men. Zak, with amazing skill, lifted the tree and Maul with it, safely getting him out of the reach of the dragon’s jaws. As it snapped at the air, Dagger and Feral leapt into action, successfully striking the beast in the neck, and ended its life. Now that a Nightdaughter has been restored to us, we may again have new names. Emma, what would you choose?”
She thought for a moment. “Dagger, I name you Talent. Your fine skills made for a clean kill. Feral, I name you Sunder, for your quick strike and your ability to draw your knife all the way along the dragon’s neck. Zak, even now, you are working tirelessly to preserve Maul’s life. For that, I name you Surgeon. And finally, Maul…” She stopped. She didn’t know what to call him. Zak walked forward.
“May I make a suggestion?”
“Of course. You witnessed the whole thing. What say you?”
Maul was hobbling, but he came forward and rested with a hand on Zak.
“I can think of nothing more fitting than Endurance.”
She smiled. “Then Endurance it is.”
Maul was breathing heavily, but he nodded and was first on the tattooing table. He came away with what looked like a mountain ridge down his entire spine. He screamed as it was done, but it seemed to go away when they splashed the water across his back. It healed instantly. Then it was Zak’s turn. He got a line under his eye, which was the tattoo for Talzin’s family, and he got what looked like a sun, but could also be a buzzsaw under that. It covered some, but not all of his face, and it only accentuated his features. Dagger got a star under his left eye, and Feral got a broken sword on his chest. Once everyone was tattooed, the feast began.

The mead was a little too good. It didn’t dull the senses, but it certainly dulled the anxiety.

Maul reclined on a stretcher near the fire, propped up just enough to be able to eat and watch the others dance and fight and fuck around the fire. And to Emma’s amazement, they did these things in full view of everyone. She had ritual duties to attend to with the carcass and mead pot before she could go do what she actually wanted to. The whole time, Talzin had to pause often when the tears came again. When the ritual circle was broken, she came to Emma with another mug of mead and she definitely did not look her age. They sat together in front of the fire.

“There is more to teach you, but your mind is elsewhere, as it should be,” Talzin said, taking a drink.
Emma just nodded.
“There are injuries not even the cave can heal. The nervous system is complex and relies purely on the Living Force and electrical current. We don’t completely understand it. For all we know, the brain is still a mystery. From what I know of foreigner science, this is still the case there as well.”
Emma still had nothing to say.
“I know your thoughts. Know this—it’s true, my son is something now he never has been before. But he is fragile like a bomb, not like a teacup.”
Emma downed the rest of the mead at once.
“He made a promise before they went out,” she said.
Talzin nodded.
“I heard. I think the entire village heard, to be honest.”
“Does that mean something for us?”
“It does. He would not have entered into such an agreement lightly or under duress.”
That was one less thing to worry about.
Emma had been avoiding actually looking over there all night. Not just because he was nude—though that was certainly part of it—more because she was afraid. Her whole life so far, he had been the scariest thing in the entire galaxy. She’d seen his cold precision and his blinding fury, and until tonight, she truly believed he was invincible. It was humbling.
“Don’t be so mopey, dear,” Talzin said, getting up and stretching. “He has other pursuits, you know. And we both know he’s not going to stop until he is actually paralyzed, and will likely just continue breaking prosthetics even then.”
She could actually smile a little at that. It was so true.
“Go over there and relax. He came back. Be thankful. I have matters of my own to attend to,” Talzin floated down the way to the Big House. Dagger was watching from her bedroom window.

 

When she got over to his stretcher, Maul looked at rest. Eyes closed, even breathing, one arm splayed open. That’s right where Emma settled.
He opened his eyes and hissed as his shoulder involuntarily jerked for a few seconds.
“You did come back,” she said.
“Of fucking course I did. I told you I would.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“I do. Emma, I…” He inhaled sharply again, twisting his face in obvious pain, then relaxed again.
“I’m sorry. I violated one of our first agreements with no excuse other than a complete loss of control on my part. You are not, you never have been, an apprentice. I know nothing I can say or do is going to fix what I did. You are not obligated to forgive me, either.”
“I know. It’s going to take some time for me to be able to trust you after that.”
“It is completely understandable.”
“I’m sorry too. I know you would never, ever violate my mind like that. I don’t know what came over me, I really don’t.”
“I wasn’t kidding when I said it was the influence of this place. It’s more powerful than any of us really want to think about, but it keeps us alive.”
She finally let herself look, unashamed and entirely.

This was the body she’d only had the vague idea of when she first came to stay with him. Ataru tends to create a flat, lean midsection and solid arms and thighs. Those are the most high-traffic areas due to the acrobatics and sheer amount of whoop-ass delivery, as she thought of it. She could recognize some of the patterns on his skin, given the knowledge she’d gained from The One In the Shadows—and a couple of them weren’t Nightperson language. They were markings of Ancient Sith, likely not of his choice. He had a deep scar crossing his lower abdomen, likely from a medical procedure, since the cave didn’t heal it. He was soft right now, but unusually thick and ridged—nothing like naked human men she’d seen on the holonet. Her eyes came back up to meet his.
“So you’re finally letting yourself break those particular chains?” He didn’t have to speak up despite the noise of revelry around them.
She just nodded.
“If you would have me…it would be my honor and privilege to ask you to allow me to teach you this holy and intimate knowledge. Will you come to my bed tonight?”
She didn’t know what to say.
She knew what she wanted to say—yes yes a thousand times yes—but was he in any fit state to be asking such things? She still had a small voice when it came to his safety.
“I’m afraid.”
“Pain is inevitable. I can assure you it will be brief and well worth it.”
“No, not that. I mean…” She couldn’t make herself say it.
He creased his brow, set his jaw, and she knew exactly what was coming.
“Emma, I am capable. This is going to be an adjustment for both of us, but I am not an invalid. Don’t do this out of pity, there is nothing more disgusting than that.”
He tried to pull himself up to sit even though it was excruciating and he couldn’t hide it.
“Maul, dammit, I’m not doing this out of pity. Listen to yourself. You’ve always been there. I trust you above all others. I believe you, blue fucking lightning, I do, I want this. I’m doing this because I want you.”
“Then call for one of my brothers. I…” He couldn’t make himself say that either.
“Yes, stairs are hard. I’ll help you. If I can’t, then I’ll get someone else involved. Let me fucking help you.”

Emma helped him walk. He wouldn’t have it any other way and nobody could have stopped him.

There weren’t many words once they got up the stairs and back into the room. She was secretly thankful there wouldn’t be the awkward figuring out how to get into his clothes, he was secretly thankful that the only thing he needed besides his brain appeared to be undamaged and functioning at full capacity once the pain ebbed back to a tolerable level. He wasn’t about to admit that both his hearts were banging around erratically and a deep, slow panic rooted in the pit of his stomach. She turned away and did her best to gracefully shed her clothes, knowing she had eyes on her the entire time. It wasn’t like when Dagger lewdly assessed her in the cave—this was something else. The entire feel in the room changed. It felt more like a temple than a mechanic’s bedroom. She opened the windows and let the cool night breeze in, let the red glow warm the room and work its magic.

There was a momentary hiccup when he tried to raise up and support himself and nearly dropped his full weight on her. Both his pride and physical expression flagged for a moment, but for once, she could do something he couldn’t. The feeling of empowerment that overtook her as she helped him back flat again, him trapped between her thighs, her tall and straight, this had to be the passion that bred strength. She never had a more complete understanding of the Code she’d sworn herself to than right then, right there.

There would be no peace in this room tonight.
He dug his nails into her soft hips and it hurt, but the hurt was good and it just fueled her.
She could hold herself up and do as she wanted, truly in control of everything. She didn’t know if it hurt or not, but from this angle, he could still move and it was worth it. He didn’t lie.
Her balance faltered at one point and she grasped wildly for something solid, very nearly wrapping her hand around his throat—and that sense of power was intoxicating. It scared her, but knowing how much weakness they were allowing each other was in itself a potent aphrodisiac. That alone could have pushed her over, but damn it, she didn’t want it to be over.
(we’re sith, we do what we want)
It startled her at first when the low keen in the back of his throat started, but she caught on fast. Knowing that she was causing it, that she had the power to illicit that kind of response?
Comparable to the breathtaking feeling of actually winning a sparring match against him, but so much better.
They fit together better than she realized, those ridges had a purpose. But it was for the better anyway—she had time to let herself go and surrender to feeling everything. She heard herself echo out the window, but she wasn’t embarrassed, no, she was proud. By her own will, she took what she wanted and enjoyed every minute of it.

 

It took some time for her to be able to loosen herself, but once she was able, that warm, inviting crook of his arm was the perfect place to recover.

 

“I have never felt more of a man than tonight,” he sighed. “Thank you.”
“I’m glad. I worried about that, you know. I worried this would be all awkward and weird and I wouldn’t know what I was doing. And I was afraid…like…you’re my…”
“Hush. That’s only weird if you allow it. You’re not the girl Kao-Cen brought me to teach anymore and you know it.”
She didn’t know what to say. It was true. Nothing that felt like this could possibly be wrong. Clearly the Jedi had no idea what they were talking about.
“You know, they used to tell us there was no passion,” she said.
“Fuck love, you gave me fire.”
She smiled. He saw.

“So, as fulfilling as that was, I still want Zak.”
“Emma. Worst. Fucking. Timing.”
“Why? I mean, we have to acknowledge that.”
“We do. I know how I feel about it too, and that may shock you.”
“Go for it.”
“So, I have been nothing but an ass to this guy. I have actively been avoiding him, ignoring him, and being a jerk, and then this guy not only saves my life, but then takes the time to bandage me up and make sure I can walk. I take back everything I said about him being a kid. That is a man, and he deserves someone like you.”
“Really? You think so?”
“How can I not? He saved my legs. There was nothing in it for him. He could’ve just refused to show that he is a skilled doctor. He could have just stayed quiet. He could’ve let me get eaten by a krayt. Why didn’t he? I sure as hell deserved it.”
“Because that is what it means to be a good man.”
“I want you to show him the time of his life. He’s earned it.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Emma, if I don’t hear you screaming his name I’m gonna whip your ass.”
“I don’t want to do it for you. Christus, if that is what you want, go make out with him.”
“I know you don’t, and hell, I might.”
Emma looked at him. “Are you in shock?”
“No. Is there a problem with pansexuality? I would be honored to be his co-parent.”
She laid back down, noticing what he said but chalking it up to post-sex euphoria. “How do you think he would feel about getting sloppy seconds?”
“You don’t know much about him do you? I think he would die if you offered that to him. He’s a submissive. He gets off on being inferior. Have you not noticed that? He wants to be treated like trash. He wants to be ordered around. He’s so uptight, I think it’s a miracle he hasn’t imploded. He wants someone else to be in control. Think of it from his point of view: he’s a senator’s kid. He’s supposed to always be good. He’s supposed to set an example. Maybe he needs a break from always being in control for a while.”
She thought about it, and damn, was he right. So many things made sense now.
“Let me enjoy the euphoria. Go see him. Have sex with him. I don’t care. He deserves you. But maybe put clothes on. You don’t want his pants to explode all over Feral’s hut, do you?”
She smiled and cleaned, then put clothes on. There was no doubt she was getting pregnant, but that was okay. She cared about Maul, and after what Zak did, she had feelings for him too. Now that she could see through the haze, she could actually see that this was more than lust. Zak is a good man, and she wanted him to be around. Maybe not as around as Maul would be, but that could change too. Zakarie was full of surprises.
She went out to the fire. Most people had passed out by now. There were bodies everywhere. They were even passed out in the trees. The only people still conscious were what was referred to as the Old Men’s table. Hobble was tending to the bonfire, which was still roaring and would probably smolder for a couple days. Medic and Strategy were there too, and Zak was with them. He was telling them about life on Naboo. She sauntered over and sat with them. Zak apparently didn’t notice. He was describing a pod race in a hilarious way, and they were reeling. He finally looked over.
“Hey. I didn’t notice you sneak up.”
“I was enjoying listening to you tell them about the notorious Anakin Skywalker.”
“To be fair, I don’t watch podracing, but they asked.”
Medic and Strategy were talking quietly to each other in Ancient Sith, but Emma could understand them.
“You think we’re gonna lose another one?”
“I’d bet money on it.”
“Save your money. You can wonder.” Emma said in Ancient Sith, which took them off guard, but they laughed anyway. Someone tugged on her sleeve and she turned around to see Feral.
“Can I uh, can I talk to you for a minute?” He asked. The bats all around him were waiting restlessly.
“I suppose. If you were going to ask me to mate with you…”
“No no! Not that. It’s about the squeakers.” He gestured at the bats.
They walked away a bit.
“So, they won’t leave me alone, but, I’m really into the new guy,” he said. They chattered and one of them flew off.
“What? Zak? I mean, who wouldn’t be?” She said.
“I know, but I’m too scared to say anything. I mean, if he says no, I’m gonna get embarrassed and stuff.”
“Yeah sure, but is it worth your friends?” She gestured at the flock following him.
“Like, I live with him too is the thing, and that can make it awkward.”
“If there is anything he appreciates, it’s honesty. Even if he says no, he’s still going to respect you. Did you at least get to enjoy the night?”
“Well, these guys made it hard, but Krayta visited from the village over, and she was fun. She had to teach me a lot, but I had a good time. We laughed and stuff, but she said that she didn’t want guano all over her house, so I had to leave.”
“Well, I was actually going to go put moves on him myself, but if he declines, I can send him your way.”
Feral was quiet for a minute. “I’d like that.” And with that, the bats took off at once. He had accrued about eighty at this point, so it was almost deafening.
Emma walked back over to the table. “Zakarie, can I talk to you? You may not be coming back.”
“Whelp, time for me to die. Do you kill me in the woods so it’s easier to dump the body or is it in Mommy’s bathroom so that it’s easier to clean up?”
She punched him.
“I’m off, friends. Don’t wait up. If you find my body, my epitaph should say, ‘Didn’t drown so was murdered instead.’” They laughed and he walked with her. “So, what’s on your mind? Also, your window is open.” She turned really red.
“Hey, you’re almost the same color as Maul.”
“Well, you sure are chatty.”
“How can I not be? Tonight is what living is all about. This place is beautiful. I want to paint it next year.”
“Wanna walk with me to the cave, Rembrandt?”
“I’d love to. Also, don’t make light of him. It’s blasphemous.”
She punched him in the arm again, but not hard. Then she curled herself around it.
“I’m not getting out of this alive, am I?”
“Probably not, but don’t worry. It’ll be a little death.”
“So what’s up? I didn’t think I would see you til tomorrow.”
“You saved Maul’s life. That’s worth recognition.”
“I did what I thought was right. Anyone else would have done the same.”
“Yeah, but he’s been awful to you since you got here. Anyone else would’ve put his lights out.”
“But I felt it would be better to earn his respect than ire. And I get it. It’s the moon. I talked to Hobble about it. Apparently, it awakens baser urges, and he saw competition from something inferior. If anything, I feel flattered.”
“It was the shirt.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“I’m not. You smell nice. He does too, but that isn’t the point, and I don’t want to talk about him really. I gave him attention, and I feel better about it, but I want to talk to you. About you. You’re a gorgeous and complex creature. Clearly you’re smarter than you look. I’m interested in you, and that isn’t the moon talking either.”
“I appreciate the compliment.”
“So tell me. I don’t know much about you aside from the fact that you’re the son of a senator and apparently have mad doctor skills.”
“Well, I’m nineteen, my favorite color is black, and I am terrible with members of the fairer sex.”
“Stop dodging. I won’t let others do it, you can’t either.” They had gotten to the cave and were mostly quiet on the way down. Much to their mutual surprise, it was empty. Zak wasted no time. He took his clothes off, but before he could get in, Emma stopped him. She walked in a slow circle, actually appraising him.
“I feel like meat?”
“And you love it.”
He turned pink at that, but said nothing. He was six foot tall, and had some muscle to him. He definitely worked out. Elliot was toned, but Zak had definition. Good strong legs and thighs, and those thighs, but there was more to him. His dark blonde pubic hair was neatly manicured, but it was still evident and did he have a dick or what. She genuinely wondered where he hid that. He was already slightly stiff from the inspection, but she knew that that was going to hurt in the best way possible. This was the first time she actually got a good look at his neck and sure enough, that scar that had seen a month ago was in fact a slave scar. His barcode had been removed surgically, so he was bought, then freed. It was legal. She looked him deep in the eyes. They were a luminescent blue. She just wanted to stare in them all night. He cracked a nervous smile and she pulled at his mouth appraising his teeth. They weren’t sparkling white. That wasn’t natural. They were actually off-white and his gums were clean, so she knew he brushed religiously and kept them clean. When she circled him the last time, she trailed her finger around his collar bone then snapped up when she was in front of him and squeezed his neck. She wasn’t chocking him though. She was actually putting pressure on his carotid artery. His knees buckled for a minute but then he straightened. She was comfortable stopping with power here, because through her power she was breaking his chains. She let go then circled behind him again and pushed him into the water. He went in with a satisfying and undignified splash, and she couldn’t help but smile. He floated there for a minute and then righted himself.
“Nope. Still can’t drown,” he said.
She took her clothes off and let him appraise her for a bit before she got in. She floated over to him and laid in the crook of his arm, not unlike Maul, but where Maul was flat, Zak had muscle. It wasn’t uncomfortable. Just different.
“So, tell me about you.”
“There’s not much to tell. I was ten when Hill and his wife bought me. She died when I was twelve. Cancer took her. It’s been just us since then. It was like, after she died, he started treating me like a porcelain doll. I guess because I was the only thing he had left. I love him as much as any kid can love his dad, but I have always wanted to meet my mom. Not Willow. She was amazing, but I mean my bio-mom. I know that she was a Twi’lek named Rose, but that’s all that was on my slave papers. My biological dad has never been mentioned. I would at least like to know.”
“I wondered what those bumps were on the back of your head. They weren’t noticeable until I actually felt them. So you’re half Twi’lek. Well, we are almost in the same boat there. I was adopted too, obviously, but I was taken from the Jedi. My mom was a Temple Guard and my dad was some Jedi that died during the Federation Wars. I heard he was some kind of hero, but I wouldn’t know. Master Darach always said that my mom was still alive, but that I would never get to meet her. She was banished to some satellite temple out on Dantooine soon after I was born. I doubt she’s still there.”
“Huh. We aren’t so different. Maybe you should go look for your mom?”
Emma had never thought about that. “I think Maul knows a guy, though that is usually prefaced with a multitude of swears. I should ask him tomorrow.”
“You aren’t going back tonight?”
She looked at Zak, got a handful and squeezed.

Maul was ecstatic. He wanted that for a good long time, and as he was dozing off, he was positive he heard Emma scream Zak’s name on the wind. “That’s my girl,” he said, then drifted off to sleep.
A ways away, on Zak’s ship, a message played, though no one was there to see it.
“Zakarie Hill-Arnaud. I know where you are. Stay there.” Said Hill’s hologram. Then silence reigned over Dathomir.

Chapter Text

No one was up before noon the next day. Emma woke up sticky but comfortable, and incredibly sore. Thinking about last night...Maul really was something else. There was love there. Zak was new at this, like her, but he learned quick. She never even really gave thought to sex with anyone, but here she was, probably pregnant with Maul's spawn, and Zak's semen all over her and in her. She looked over, he was still asleep, crumpled in a ball. They fucked and slept on the rocky outcropping in the cave. She realized that it was probably blasphemous to do something so filthy on what was probably the meditation spot and spiritual conduit, but if it was, would the planet have let her? She shelved the thoughts for later. Something to ask Mommy. She stood and stretched, enjoying the sore feeling coming from...well, pretty much everywhere. Maul and Zak had a good way of making her exert her entire person. She stepped into the pool, which oddly didn't help, but then again, it was good pain. It was satisfying. She almost didn't notice Zak stir and sit up. He looked confused for a second, then saw her and his eyes widened.
"So that wasn't a dream?"
"I mean, I hope not. Otherwise we're sharing dreams now."
"Oh god. OH GOD. I came inside of you! What if you get pregnant? I'm not ready for that shit!"
She sighed. Back to normal. "If I get pregnant, then it takes a village, stupid. You don't really have to do much. They learn like everyone else does."
"But...but they're MINE."
"Yes, you would be the donor, but that doesn't seem to matter much here. Dagger is Maul's father, but they don't interact much. I don't think it works like that here."
He let that sink in, then stood quickly, popping everything in his back at once. "I have to go do tattoos. I forgot--everyone gets a tattoo for their actions on Hunt Night. I'll catch you later." He walked out of the cave naked. Emma hated to see him go but loved to watch him leave. She smiled to herself and relaxed in the pool. She closed her eyes for a bit, and when she opened them, Talzin was in there, removing her gown.
"He is beautiful," she said as she got in.
"You want him? He's all yours."
Talzin cackled. "Well, he is my type, but I would rather have a man with more experience."
"I think he learned a lot."
"Maybe so, but did it stick?" Emma laughed and splashed at Mommy, who splashed back. It turned into a good-natured splash fight before they both reclined in the pool again.
"So, what are you going to do now? I hope you plan to stay here for a while." Talzin said, idly playing with the algea.
"I'm not sure. Zak said something last night about his mom, and it made me wonder about my own. Like, I plan to stay here forever. It's home. I kinda want to know though."
Mommy nodded. "It will be hard if you have no way to track her, but I admire what your ability to go and do. Just remember that you have responsibilities here, and Dathomir will always be your home."
Emma smiled and got out. "I think I better go check on Sir Grouchalot. He should be up by now."
"Be sure to take some more Krayt on the way up there. There is a lot and we need to eat it before the ravens decide it's their turn. So much shit on the house from them, I swear."
Emma went up to the house where she was sure that she left Maul, but true to form, he was making his way to the Nightbrother without help. She sighed and went to him, getting under one of his arms and supporting him.
"Go away. I can do it myself."
"Don't bitch. I want to help you."
"I heard you last night. Proud of you." He had an actual smile on his face.
"So, like, I care about you and everything, and after last night I think you win the award for worst dad ever, and I promise this has nothing to do with that,, but I want to find my mom."
"Where did this come from?"
"Are you upset?"
His brows knitted. "No, and I think you have every right to know, I was just curious."
"Zak brought it up last night. He didn't know his parents either. I figured you could find them. Don't you know a guy? Landry or something?"
"You mean Lando. That cocksucking son of a bitch."
"Geez. Sorry I brought it up."
"No, you're right. If anyone knows anything, It's Lando, but he's as slimy as they come, and you can bet you're going to owe him by the time you're done talking to him."
"And that 's why you're going with me."
"Am I? Are you sure you want a crip slowing you down?"
"Hey, you may be broken now, but you're my crip." He smiled, and they got to the ship landing. Maul was about to board the Nightbrother when there was a horrified scream from Zak's ship. Maul was slow on the draw, wincing with having to move and his body not letting him, but Emma wasn't. She ran to the ship with her saber drawn but not yet ignited. When she got there all she saw was Zak in the middle of a five-alarm panic attack. She immediately stepped back, knowing better than to try to "help."
"Oh my god, oh my god. When I'm good, I'm great, but when I'm bad I'm sososososo bad. I'm in such deep shit. Oh god, Oh god."
"Zak? Are you okay? Do you want help?"
Her voice seemed to snap him out of it. "My dad. He's coming. Oh my god he's coming here. He was angry and I think he's knows I broke into his room and I was SO dumb."
"Take a deep breath, count to ten, and let it out slow, then take one of these." She pulled the yellow pills out of her pocket. He did as she said. "Now, what's going on?"
He reached over and pressed the playback button on his ship's com.
"Zakarie Hill-Arnaud. I know where you are. Stay there," said Hill's hologram. It sent him into another panic attack.
"All the moons, Zak. get a hold of yourself. Did no one teach you how to deal with your panic attacks?" Said Maul, who quietly hobbled up behind Emma. "Maul, not the best time,"she said, trying to intercept him. "Look, I'm sure it will be fine. He didn't seem mad."
"No, he seemed disappointed and it's so much worse!" There were tears streaming from his eyes.
"Oh. Oh no, don't do that. Come here," she said and held him for a minute. He shook and sobbed.
"Does he hurt you when you're bad? I swear I'll rip him apart," said Maul, seething. He was sweating and shaking too, but he was better at hiding it with his posture. Emma knew very little about what Palpatine did to Maul when he was mad, but did Hill pick that up when he was under Palpatine too? Was Hill not an ally after all?
"He doesn't hurt me. He doesn't do anything and that is why it's so bad. When I did something wrong on Ryloth, I was punished, but Hill doesn't even talk to me. He just sits impassively and it's so much worse. 'Cause then I wonder. If there is no reaction, I don't know what he's thinking and I'm so scared of something happening."

Maul nodded. "I don't think I'm needed right now. I'm going to go bang on and swear at the Nightbrother. He's your boyfriend," he gestured at Emma and took his leave. Maul was gone and the air got a lot thicker.
"Wait, I'm your what?" Zak said. "I didn't know I had to commit to something. I just thought I was having fun." The pills kicked in and his shoulders relaxed. He at least stopped crying.
"Maul is just being Maul. You aren't my boyfriend, unless you want to be, but that isn't important right now. I want you to be okay." "Force-damn bat. Go away!" Maul yelled from outside. Zak calmed down entirely after a couple more minutes.
"I'm sorry about that. I panicked. I think I need to go shower."
"Let me wash you?" They went into his refresher and she climbed into the shower with him and took extra care washing the sweat and filth from the night before off of him. It seemed to calm him down further. Being taken care of was comforting and she wondered just how much of that he'd been missing.
"Did no one ever teach you how to deal with a panic attack?" She asked.
"No. It never occurred to me to ask. I didn't even realize something was wrong with me."
"Alright. Let's get one thing straight. Nothing is wrong with you. Just because you react differently doesn't make you weak or lesser. It's okay to react. What isn't okay is when you feel that bad. When I end up going into an episode, I breathe in, count to ten, and then breathe out. Then I take one of those pills. I'll get you some."
"But Dad said pills are bad. He said that they hurt you and I shouldn't touch them."
"Not these ones. I'm pretty sure he didn't say all pills are bad. It's anxiety medication and you have an anxiety disorder. You need them."
"But I don't want to get addicted to them. Isn't that a thing? That's what they said in health class."
"Fuck school. I didn't finish and I'm fine. I'm starting to think it didn't do you any favors. There is a difference between addiction and dependence. Think of it this way. One day, Maul is going to be dependent on mobility aids. Does that make him lesser? Is that bad?" He shook his head and saturated himself in the water. She couldn't help but look at his naked form and this time, it wasn't the moon's influence.
"Is what Maul said true? Am I your boyfriend now?"
"Well, I think Maul just slaps a label on things to make it simple, but I don't know. I'm certainly under no belief that you are, unless you want to be. I don't want you to feel like you are in a long term commitment with no say."
"I mean, I'm not opposed to being in a committed thing with you. I just thought this was something we should talk about. I know that you basically proposed to Maul and I didn't know how you guys operated."
"I mean, sure, but I think poly-sexual-romantic stuff is a thing here, and I care about you both. Even your whole sexy artist thing you have going does it for me. I just didn't want to jump into it. Do you want to be committed to me? We are supposed to break our chains here. We're Sith, we do what we want."
"But I don't see a problem with self-imposed chains. Those can't be bad if it's of your own volition, and I kinda want to do that with you. I know we haven't known each other for very long, but I like you and you actually take care of me. My last girlfriend would have just walked out during that panic attack back there, but you stayed with me, even though you were under no obligation to do so. I think that this is what a healthy relationship is."
"I don't have to commit to you to take care of you. You are important no matter what our relationship status on Huttbook says."
"That's fair." He paused and turned something over in his head. "Emma, I want to be your boyfriend." He stood up straight. There was water and shampoo running into his face and he could manage it for about five seconds before he sputtered and started rubbing his eyes.
She laughed. "Fine, but there are rules before I will even consider this. First, I want you to sort your shit with your dad. You're your own man now, and I want you to be on good terms with him. Second, I want you to get treatment for your anxiety. I don't mind it and there's nothing inherently wrong with having it, but CBT might help and treatment is important for self-care and you don't seem to be in a good place right now."
"Uhh, CBT? How does that help with anxiety? I mean, I guess it's relaxing?"
"Cognitive behavioral therapy?" "Oh! THAT CBT! Yeah, you got it." She smiled and smacked him lightly in the balls. He almost died. "You make the best faces. Let's get you rinsed and dry. Maul and I are going to be leaving for awhile to take care of some loose ends, but while we're gone, I want you to sort shit out with your dad and learn what you can about this place. If we are doing a committed thing, you should sleep with us in the Big House. I can always use another space heater."
He nodded and they finished showering. While she dried off he went to get dressed and came back with a book. He handed it to her and then grabbed his shaving cream.
"What is this?"
"It's a book." He put the shaving cream on his face and spread it around, talking out of the side of his mouth.
"Like, no shit, Zak, but what IS it?"
"It's some light reading. I was wondering what you thought about it. It's no big deal if it isn't your thing." He rinsed his hands and grabbed his razor. Shick, shick, shick. The noise was like audible sleeping pills.
She flipped it over. "D/s 101". She knew a little bit on the subject, but not too much. These things happen when the Holonet is your mom. "So you want me to collar you? That's like, a really big commitment right out the gate."
"No, actually. I just wanted to see if you were even receptive to it. That's a big part of who I am, and I wanted to see if it was a thing down the road, but I also wanted you to know what it actually entails."
"Fine. I'll read it. No promises."
"That's all I can ask is that you at least know exactly what it is."

She left his ship, book in hand, and went onto the Nightbrother. Maul noticed the book.
"What's that?"
"A book."
"No shit, Emma, what IS it?"
"It's a book on D/s that Zak wants me to read." She put it in her room.
"Yeah? Told you. Are you going to read it?"
"I told him I would. Maybe you should help me with the big words?"
"Emma, don't belittle learning-disabled folks. Do we need to get a bigger bed?" He came out of the engine room. There was a bat perched happily on his shoulder.
"You're awfully receptive to this. You hated him just yesterday." "I am not. I just asked. You collect strays!" The bat squeaked. He looked at it and growled. It adjusted and hung on, clearly not bothered.
"Says the one with a stray. Something you should talk about?"
"No! It's just a damn bat, this place is lousy with them." He threw his wrench down the hall. She smiled. He saw.
"So, where are we going?" Emma plonked down in the passenger seat.
"Lando motherfucking Calrissian is likely on Tatooine with his new business venture, so that is where we're going."
"Is that his actual middle name?"
"Might as well be." He walked to the boarding ramp. "We are leaving now. Go home." Maul brushed at the bat. It squeaked. Emma understood it: When you get back I'll have friends! It hopped off and flew away. She tried to stifle the snickering.
"What's so damn funny?"
"Nothing, Dad. Let's hit the sky."

Tatooine was just a gross little dust ball afloat in space, Emma thought. "Hey, isn't this where they film that new show 'Troops'?"
"It is and it's exactly like that. We are landing at Mos Eisley. Now, people know me there, so I'm probably going to stay on the ship, but I feel better now that you've actually finished your own proper lightsaber. What the fuck did you name it again?"
She drew the new blade and spun it around her shoulder. It had her new crystal in it and was in the traditional double-bladed style. It was just like old times--they talked and worked on it on the trip and time flew. "I named her Balenciaga, you savage." She pronounced it differently now. She couldn't say it the other way.
"The fuck does that mean?"
"It's a regal and expensive fashion line." He rolled his eyes. "I'm not even going to grace that with a response and will punish you on your failings later, now, you are looking for a cantina called the Krayt and Barrel."
"Isn't that like, a luxury goods store?"
"Emma, please listen. Yes, it is. This is the original. If you get time, stop in the gift shop next door and grab some new towels. Now, you are looking for Lando. He owns the place--human, middle-aged, probably reads the same high-end clothes things you do from the look of him. If you say something to the bartender, he is going to tell you he's not there. Tell the bartender that you want the Catch of the Day menu. That will get you a meeting. Also, try the seafood. The chef is a Mon Cala and it's so fucking good."
"Hey guys, terrifying local Sith Lord recommends the lime-seared prawns. I've never seen this weird foodie side of you."
"Shut up, I like food."
"Yeah, and it's cute. If you didn't do Ataru, you probably wouldn't be so fit."
"I mean, I am Savage's brother."
"So, go to cantina, order seafood, talk to guy. Is that all?"
"No. Let him set the price. He is going to have you make an offer, don't fall for it. It's entirely to measure what you'd give and that's not smart. Also, when he does, he is going to high ball you. Haggle. Wave your titties around some," he gestured ineptly at the air, turning up his nose. "That should work. If that doesn't, name drop me. We may hate each other, but I'm good for business. Rather, me not going after his associates is good for business. He'll cave. Get what you need then get back to the ship. This place is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. If anything happens at all, if you are stopped in the street, press the panic button on your charm bracelet. I may not be what I used to be, but they don't know that."
"Okay. I'm leaving now. Byeeee," Emma grabbed her bag and spun around again.
"Emma, so help me, this is not a place to joke."
"Yeah. I got that. I'll be fine. You taught me well."
"Fine," He muttered something under his breath.
"What was that?"
He sighed. "I love you." She thought his voice actually softened, but he was back to normal before she had a chance to savor it.
"Now get off my ship, strange whore."
She smiled and straightened up.

The cantina wasn't hard to find. It was a short walk from the starport, and sure enough, there was a gift store attached. She ducked her head in there first. She did grab a four-pack of super soft towels and also got a really fluffy red robe. She took it the desk and had it monogrammed with Zak's initials while she went next door. On the way in, a kid with unruly blue-black hair bumped into her.
"Oh, sorry Ma'am," he said, and went past her. She looked back at him, sizing him up. "Why would you ruin that with prison orange? Could use a haircut too," She said to herself. There was plenty of time to think about cute strangers later. The place was lively, and there were Pazaak and Sabacc tables set up in there with several games going. She caught a lot of eyes and adjusted her dress so that she looked more "appealing" and practiced a trick she had learned from Talzin. She walked with her hips swinging so that it looked like she was gliding, and her dress swished around her. It was distracting and eye-catching, and it made her look more confident than she actually was. The extra push of influence from the Green Force couldn't hurt. She got to the bartender, a human by the looks of him, but he was one of the few here. Spending so much time on Naboo, she was used to a human majority, but here, it was the opposite.
"Hi. I was wondering if I could get the Catch of the Day, please," she said and slowly blinked, glad she'd sprung for the expensive mascara. The man leaned on the counter. "Lady, that's my husband over there. You can drop the act." He gestured over at a table where a Rodian was sitting, eyeing her closely.
"Oh wow, sorry," she said, all pretense dropped. He smiled and handed her a seafood menu, then pointed at a corner table. It wasn't visible from the front door and was close to the employee entrance. She floated over and sat, her dress floofing out as she did.
After about two minutes, a suave-looking human with slicked-back hair and a robust mustache sat across from her.
"Can I help you?" She asked, glancing up from her menu.
"It's not often that a beautiful woman such as yourself orders the seafood anymore. Hell, it's not often that anyone orders seafood anymore what with the Empire running most things. Lando Calrissian," he said and extended his hand. He was wearing a blue shirt and...was that a cape? Who actually wears a cape? He had the dramatic flair down, but that shit would snag too easily in a fight unless... She looked closer and sure enough, there were quick-release clips right at the shoulders. Practical--she liked that.
"Emma. Pleasure to meet you. What would you suggest, Mr. Calrissian?"
"Honestly, anything off that menu is fantastic, but I always suggest the Snapper. You didn't come here for my opinion on food though, did you?"
"And if I did?" "Then I would count my blessings. Beautiful woman, fantastic food? Where's the assassin?" He laughed.
"In front of you, Mr. Calrissian. Maul sends his regards." His face fell for about a second before he recovered smoothly.
"Maul, huh? He hasn't been around in a while. How's he been, and how did he pick you up? You look a little too pretty to be hanging out with a terror like him."
"I don't see how that is any of your business, Mr. Calrissian."
"But see, gorgeous, information is my business."
"Don't call me that. Maul would be furious."
"Fine then, I think I'll call you Beauty, because Maul is definitely the Beast."
"Do you think you're smooth?"
"I think that my mustache denies me that particular qualifier, unless you'd like to be the judge of that yourself?"
"Alright, I see this was pointless. I'll send Maul in here. He'll have better results." She put the menu down and moved to get up.
"Now there's no need for that! Tell you what--the Snapper is on the house. What can I do for you Ms. Emma?"
"I need information on two people that are hard to find."
"And that is my specialty. Maul was right to send you to me. Hit me." The Snapper made it to the table. Emma focused and smelled it, tried to look past it, into the last person to touch it. She saw the chef, and then the waiter taking it from the window. No poison, then. She took a bite.
"My compliments to your chef, Mr. Calrissian. This is the best fish I've ever had."
"He'll be glad to hear it. He always bring some back when he comes back from Mon Calamari. We are able to put it on ice here, which isn't cheap around here."
"Neither is that ferret on your lip, I take it? Is it a status symbol or are you compensating?"
"Ow! I think I'm gonna call you Ice Queen!" They ate and Emma decided it was time to get down to business. "The first is a Jedi. She was a temple guard, but I don't know if she is still with the Order."
"You got a name?" "Her name was Jeann. She was on Dantooine about twelve years ago."
"Ouch. That was a long time ago and it's gonna be hard, but I may have some info. Who's the other one?"
"This one is actually the hard one. She's a Twi'lek. Her name is Rose and she's pink, so she shouldn't be too hard to miss."

His eyes darkened. "Do you know what you're asking me?"
"I'm asking you to do what you are good at, Mr. Calrissian."
"Look, I'll give you this tip for free--I don't sell info on Rose. I won't. She's too much of a light in this world and I won't see her taken out of it."
"Why don't you trust me? I don't want to hurt her."
"Alright, Ice Queen. Look, last time I talked with Maul, he was working for the Emperor. I know you came off the Nightbrother and there have been eyes on you since you walked into this bar. I have three guys with blasters on you right now. I have no love for the Empire, and Rose doesn't either. Now, you tell me what this is really for, or I send you out on your ear."
Emma sighed. "Look, I share your feelings for the Emperor. I'm looking for her on behalf of her son. He doesn't know, but he brought it up and he's really important to me. I want to reunite them."
Lando nodded slowly. "Well, that changes things. I've never been one to keep families apart, but do me a favor. For security, I want you to describe him to me, so that I know you have actually met him. Tell me something you can't find on the S-SPAN profiles."
"Well, he has a scar on his neck where he had a barcode removed, and he has stunted lekku under his hair on the back of his head. They're just as sensitive as full-grown ones."
Lando raised his eyebrows and sat back from the table. "Fair enough. Rose has always talked about him. She has looked in on him at times, but was always afraid to talk to him. What she does is dangerous. Being a liberator and against the Hutts always has been. She's freed countless slaves from them. Your info is legit and I trust you. Force, how old is Zakarie now? Nineteen? Last time I saw him, he was about table-tall, but nevermind all that. I'll tell you what I can. Rose's location is secret. I can't tell you where and can't tell you how to contact her. What I can do is pass on that her kid is looking for her. I'll give her your contact info and let her contact you. Hell, she's talking about him every time she comes in. I think this might finally be the thing that changes her mind about retirement. You got a com?"

She slid over the Nightbrother's com info. He took it. "Well, that was sobering. But It's the least I can do. That's paying back a debt I owe to her. Hell, almost all of Tatooine owes her one. She's a folk hero around these parts. Now then, back to business. What do you want for the info on this Jeann?"
"Why don't you tell me what you want, Mr. Calrissian?"
"Well, I would never turn down a date with a gorgeous creature."
"Cool. I'll send in Maul later. He's not too busy. I'll make sure he wears his dress robes."
Lando laughed nervously. "I appreciate the offer, but Maul is not Lando's type. Lando likes the ladies."
"And does Lando always refer to himself in third person when he's nervous?"
"Lando does indeed."
"Well then, make me a better offer." "Fine then. Tell you what, you're with Maul and reconnecting Rose with Zak, so I'll do this one for one hundred credits." She reached in her bag for where her credits sould be, but her pouch was empty. She stood up from the table and looked around wildly.
"Problem?"
"Yeah, my money is missing!" She thought back and then remembered that kid in the orange. "That son of a bitch pickpocketed me!"
"Who?" "That asshole in the...the...he was wearing a stupid orange jumpsuit!"
"Ah. You got Ezra'd. He likes to pickpocket tourists. Probably thought you were one. I wish I could help you, but that kid is better than me. It's better to cut your losses. I'll do this one gratis, but you better come back to see me, Ice Queen."
"Maybe for your Snapper?"
"Hey, I've never heard it called that before, but whatever you want." Lando went into the back.

She was seething. Her com buzzed. She answered it. "You've been gone awhile. Did Lando sweep you off your feet? Are you leaving me?"
"No actually, I was going to score you a date with him, but he didn't go for it."
"What do you think?"
"He's smooth as fuck and really good at this. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him, but he's useful."
"That was my take the first time I met him. I just wanted to let you know that I saw some shadows that shouldn't have been there around the Nightbrother. I'm gonna check it out, but watch yourself on the way back."
"Or wait until I get back so you have backup? You aren't healed yet."
"Emma, Force-damn it! I'm fine!"
"Maul, please don't do this. I won't be long. He's getting me the info. Just stay on the ship. I love you and don't want you to get hurt." She heard him grumble before he hung up.

Lando came out as she put her com away. He had a big yellow envelope. "You're in luck. Turns out not only is this lady still on Dantooine, she has a shop there. A pretty popular bookstore by the looks of it. She wasn't hard to find. Unmarried, thirty-nine, has the whole sexy librarian thing going on. Come to think of it she looks..." He stopped and looked Emma up and down. "Ice Queen, you never mentioned you were a Jedi. And here I thought we were getting along so well."
Emma stood with the envelope. "I'm not, Lando. I'm Sith, and if you ever tell anyone I was here for this, I will come back and take your tongue."
"And now I see why Maul likes you. Don't worry, I deal in discretion. You stay safe. Come back soon. I enjoy casual visits as well. Say hi to your mom for me." Emma left without saying anything. He was too damn smooth for his own good.

She had no trouble getting back to the starport, and sure enough, Maul was waiting for her on the boarding ramp. "Get what we came for?" He asked. She held up the envelope.

"Good. I was about to check the ship for scanners then head out. I hate this trash heap and it'll be nice to see the back of it." There was a soft clang from the back of the ship. Maul jumped up and went back there. As he went around one side of the ship, an orange blur took off from the other side.
"Maul!" Emma yelled, but he was already in pursuit. (He shouldn't have be running like that, damn idiot.) She tried to catch up, but they were faster. When she rounded the corner, Maul was already on top of this kid going to town on him. She grabbed him with the Force and threw him, internally wincing at having to hurt him, but there were bigger fish to fry. She walked up to the kid, leaning over him. "Hey. I think you have something of mine."
"Look, lady, I'm sorry, just call him off! Please call him off!" He was panicking--Maul was getting back up, albeit slowly. People were actually staring at them in the street.
"Oh shit, is that Maul? Go get Jango!" Said one of the bystanders. She looked at Maul. He'd heard it. Time to get back to the ship and get gone.
"We're going on a trip, kid. Let's go," she said, and lifted him with the Force. So it might not have been the most subtle thing, but she didn't trust him to not try to bolt again.

Once the Nightbrother was safely leaving orbit, she let him go. He went straight to the window and pressed his hands against it. "Maul, we're headed to Dantooine," she said.

"Wait, wait...Maul? You're fucking Darth Maul? Oh fuck. Please, I'm so sorry! Please! I didn't even know you were real, please god!"
"Emma, would you shut him the fuck up?" Maul growled.
"Gladly." She picked him back up and pushed him into the storage room, then grabbed a chair and sealed the door behind her. His big blue eyes darted around the room. "Looking for escape routes? There is the door, but you can't get through it before I react, there is the ducts behind you which your small ass could probably get through, but those are screwed shut and even you would need to contort yourself to get all the way through. That leaves the airlock, but I don't think that's the kind of escape you're looking for."
He stopped and sat on the floor, clearly stumped. "How did you...?"
"I'm a witch, kid. I make sure that my prey can't escape."
He laughed. "You're a witch? An actual witch? Like those spacer stories?"
"Maul exists and I have him under my thrall. I would rather you talk to me willingly, but I can just crawl into your head if I have to."
"Right. Sure. And I'm Jabba the Hutt."
"Do you think I'm joking, BOY?" She thought back to some of Talzin's books and tried to think of a useful cantrip--she concentrated the Green Force hard and produced an illusion to make her hand look like a snake, completely with hissing and undulation. His face went pale and he backed up into the wall.
"Nonononono!" She closed with him--clearly this kid wasn't going to tell her anything useful about the trackers without incentive. He didn't have to know that it wasn't real and couldn't hurt him. "I'm sorry! Please god don't eat me! I'm so sorry!"
"Then talk. Who hired you?"
"Look, I just do this job sometimes. No one hired me in particular! I mark ships with scanners then sell their locations!" She swished her hand and threw off the illusion. He relaxed when her hand was just a hand again.
"There. Was that so hard?" She was overcome with curiosity for a second having him this close--he really was a good-looking guy under the dirt. She lightly caressed his face, then touched his neck but made sure to not squeeze. Zak would be dying about now, she thought. This kid was just terrified. She felt out in the Force between them--fear was prominent, but there was also guilt, shame, and...was that arousal? She could also feel an interesting blip in him. He was Force-sensitive, but that wasn't all, it was Green Force. He was Nightbrother. She idly tooled down his neck and his eyes lost focus. He was somewhere else in his head and their connection fizzled out, leaving a heavy, unsettling fog between them. She stepped back and away from him, giving him some space. Something was really wrong and she felt terrible for stopping in the middle like that.
"Look, I'm going to go get my brother. He should be more able to talk to you. I obviously terrify you." She unlocked the door and left, sealing it behind her, then went into her room. She sat on the bed and meditated, mentally shifting mindsets, then physically morphed to Elliot. She had to change and get some air. He went up to the cockpit.
"God, I could hear him from here. What did you do to him?" Maul asked.
"I think he might be an assault survivor or something just as bad and I accidentally triggered the hell out of him. I'm giving him some time. I feel awful."
"You should. Give him some time to cool off. He will feel better. You should probably think very hard on why you stopped in the middle--he was obviously at a disadvantage and there was no reason to use that much force. Honestly, I can't imagine why someone important would hire a street rat to tail me, now that I think about it. Shit, I probably overreacted too." Maul sighed and rubbed his eyes. "So what's the plan?" He said.
"I don't know. I know he's Force-Sensitive. I also know that it's Green Force, it feels just like mine does. Maul, he's Nightbrother. I can feel it." The ship jerked. He tried to recover and look as nonchalant as possible. He opened his mouth and she braced for puzzled swears--none came. "Are you... are you fucking burning my toast right now?"
"No. That's weird."
Maul tumped his head against the steering wheel. "I hate home sometimes. Are we collecting another stray?"
"Hey, you know me, gotta catch 'em all." "I hated that fucking show. You wouldn't stop watching it when you were younger. I have that fucking rap memorized."
"Congratulations. You have memorized all hundred and fifty one of them."
"Go to hell, son."
"Already there."

He waited an hour before he went back in, only to find the duct open and the kid was nowhere to be seen. He sighed and sensed him out. He wasn't too hard to find. He was in Maul's room and had locked the door and hid under the bed. He tried the master override but the door didn't budge. "Sneaky little fucker," He said and thought for a minute. Then sighed and put in the backup override code: Sunshine. The door slid open and Elliot reached under the bed and opened his hand.
"Look kid, Emma told me not to hurt you, but you're making it hard. I don't want to hurt you, I'm actually your golden fucking ticket, so stop trying to hide and listen to me."
"Who the hell are you? Where's the witch?"
"I'm her brother. Also a witch, but that's not important. There is no gender binary." He was lying about the witch thing, Talzin said so herself, but he didn't need to know that. "Also, this is a terrible place to hide. This is Maul's room."
He let him go and the kid fell into Maul's desk chair. Maul was cleaning a carborator there earlier. The kid turned and started tinkering with it.
"He's gonna kill you, kid."
"It's Ezra."
"He's gonna kill you, Ezra."
"It's something to do. Also, tell your sister that the whole succubus routine is totally not cool."
"What happened?" He locked down his mind and surrounded himself with a biting cold. "Some people have been underage sex slaves for the Hutts. Did she think about that before scaring the living hell out of me and touching me like that without asking? No."
"Well, I can tell you that she is incredibly sorry. She realized you had a flashback or something--your eyes went weird and you sort of spaced out. It's why she left and wanted me to talk to you after you had a minute. She feels bad."
"I didn't know witches had feelings." "They do. It's one of the problems with being a witch. We feel way more than anyone else does. It sucks sometimes."
He said nothing. "Look Ezra, you don't have to talk, but you have to listen. We aren't here to kill you. Maul is pretty well known to be protective of his ship. He wants to know who was tracking him and why."
"His name is Lord Beauregard Baloney III of Dantooine, Esquire."
"Yeah, cute."
"What, you think I'd lie to you at this point? I have no loyalty to that guy, he was consistent money that didn't involve doing anything disgusting. Look him up. He's pissed that people are using his name on phony licenses. This ship is registered to him. That's why I tacked a tracker on it--he goes after the people in court and I get a nice finder's fee."
Elliot pulled out his datapad, looked it up, and by the stars, he wasn't lying. He strained for a bit, but could remember more than one occasion where Maul had signed his name on false registrations and cringed. He seriously didn't think there was anyone out there with a name like that so he never gave it a second thought.
"So you're doing grunt work for this guy because you have no other income?"
He said nothing and continued tinkering.
"Well, would it surprise you if I told you that Emma and I have been poor our whole lives, and we had to take side jobs at a young ages as well?"
"Yeah, and you choose to do a job you apparently have training for. I wasn't lucky enough to get real job skills and didn't really get much of a choice."
"Look, I'm trying to level with you here. I want to be civil."
"Darth Maul, fabled Sith Lord and hand of the Empire, beat the shit out of me when all I was doing was trying to escape, then you kidnapped me. Yeah, real civil."
"Actually, I wanted to apologize for that and to get you off that dust ball, but if you don't want to, then fine. We can just drop you back off."
"I'm listening."
"Well, you have two options. The first one is to come with us. We can use someone like you at home. You're obviously resourceful, and everyone there is like a big family. Sure, we have squabbles, but we stick together and look out for each other. I'm guessing you don't have a family to go back to, otherwise you wouldn't be living like you were. You're already one of us, whether you realize it or not."
Ezra eyed Elliot suspiciously and remembered a weird thing from many nights ago--he touched the bump on his nosebridge. It came up literally overnight and he figured it was just the consequences of brawling and not getting medical treatment. He turned and looked at Elliot. he had a similar bump and now that he wasn't getting the shit beat out of him, he realized that Maul had something similar, it was just covered by tattoos. He turned back around.
"Or?"
"Or we can drop you off at Dantooine with five thousand credits, no questions asked. That's enough for you to get an apartment for a couple months, as well as some clothes, which will tide you over until you can get a job. Food too. You're probably hungry, huh?"
His stomach had been grumbling for about a day, but he was doing just fine ignoring it.
"I'll be back. Please don't lock us out again. We have ways to get in, as you noticed."
Elliot walked to the kitchen with his hands in his pockets, and got into Maul's special food. He cooked Ezra a Coruscant Strip Steak with compound butter, and made loaded mashed potato packet as well. It was just high-end ship rations, but he had the distinct impression that it wouldn't matter. He took the plate back there and Ezra hadn't moved. He put the plate in front of him, and Ezra tore into it before he had a chance to put the fork down. Elliot set the cutlery down on the table beside him.
"How do you know that I won't stab you with this knife?"
"You would be justified, but I'm confident in my ability to stop you. Besides, I'm trying to help. I'm sorry." Elliot said.
Ezra went back to the food. "This is really good. I guess I accept your apology."
"Glad to hear it." He smiled. Elliot's smile was always warm and inviting, which was all the more dangerous if you knew who you were dealing with. He finished eating. Elliot got him a soda too, which he guzzled. "Better? Do you want a shower? We have one. You could also use a haircut if you trust me to do it."
"I won't argue. I don't pass up a free spa treatment."
He laughed. "It's pretty far from a spa, but it'll work. I can also wash your clothes and we can give you a bed to sleep in. It's the least we can do."
"I guess. I'm too tired to try to run at this point. I noticed that there are no escape pods."
"Yeah, Maul wanted to streamline the ship. He is probably going down with this ship someday."
"Is that why the emission converter is missing? I know that clunking sound."
Elliot smiled and didn't say anything, but showed him to the bathroom and cut his hair. It was matted and greasy and had the distinct odor of green leaf, but what do you expect from living on Tatooine? He buzzed it short, and the kid actually looked respectable. Hell, he actually looked good.
"I'll see if I have some clothes that will fit you, or you can shower while yours are in the wash. It will take a while, but I want you to be comfortable, man."
"I wouldn't bother with clothes if your sister wasn't here."
"Trust me, you won't see her again for the rest of the trip. She's holed up doing her thing."
"I'm good either way."
"Fair enough. Just put yours outside the door. I'll put clean stuff there for when you get out." He did, and Elliot immediately put them in the wash. They were filthy--he noticed the seam-pockets and smiled again. Kid was fucking smart. He liked that, maybe a little too much. He then rummaged around until he found some spare PJs and a shirt and put them in front of the door.
Ezra came out thirty minutes later with a towel around his waist. He grabbed the clothes. "Maul said you could stay in his room. He has to fly, anyway. Get some rest, Ezra. You need it."
He nodded and closed the door to Maul's room, and Elliot went up to sit with Maul. "How'd that go?" "I think he's just a scared kid. After I fed him, I could feel him relax." "I thought I smelled steak."
"Yeah, sorry. I owed him. I scared him real bad earlier. It was the least I could do."
"I agree. He earned that steak." Elliot had a lot to ponder on the trip to Dantooine. Fear made him unnecessarily cruel and he hated it. Ezra had probably seen a lot of cruelty in his time, and Elliot slowly realized the right thing to do was following up where he'd stopped. With our freed hands, we break the chains of others.

Chapter Text

Ezra woke, sweating and confused, twisted up in sheets. Clearly he wasn’t in the safety of his converted shipping container—neither he nor K liked sheets. They constantly got stuck to K’s binder and it was so warm anyway. That was the other jarring thing—it was cold here. The only time he’d experienced this kind of cold was when he boarded the ship headed to Tatooine. He sat up and shucked off the sheets. They didn’t smell like K either, but it’s not like it was bad. Skin, incense, sweat in addition to his. If he hadn’t have been in this situation, he was pretty sure it would actually be kind of nice. Then he realized that probably sounded horrible considering he had been in as committed of a relationship as people in his position could be in. But really, what was he supposed to do? Taken by strangers, cleaned up, fed, given the means to finally get out of the shitty rut he’d been stuck in? He hoped that K would have done the same if it were him it happened to.

He hated himself for it a little, but they both knew what this was. When they’d gotten together, it started out as utility. It’s always easier to stay safe in tight groups rather than alone, and when you’re the right look and unaccounted for otherwise, it’s easy to fall prey to slavers. Ezra never forgot his experiences with them, but he tried to not fall into that thought cycle again. No, now he needed to be able to think forward and evaluate exactly what his plan was. He’d always imagined it as going entirely different than it had: he’d finally have the balls to knock out a spacer, take a small-enough craft that wouldn’t be missed, really. K had been socking away pickpocketed money and alms for months, so they’d have supplies. Beyond the initial joy at escape, he never really thought far enough out to know what to do with freedom.

Now that it was in front of him, it seemed terrifying and huge. He could go anywhere, do anything, be and be with anyone. He thought about the offer—five thousand credits and a dump on Dantooine, a nice place that mainly exported luxuries like spices and tea. A certain kind of folks lived there—humans, mainly, and well-enough-off ones. He wondered what he’d do to keep up a place there. With no real job skills to speak of, he’d be back doing manual labor harvesting tea leaves or grapes or something. Not bad, but not exactly sustainable, especially when his heart stuff got agitated in heat and when pollen made it even harder to breathe. He doubted there were many opportunities for his other skills to be useful there, he’d be picked up in no time at all and prison life was not fun.

It really only left one reasonable solution, one he still wasn’t quite sold on.

He stretched and reached into his clean jacket, groping for the waterproof bag that he kept his sanity in. He stood on the bed and unscrewed the vent, allowing better airflow into the room. He practiced the ritual that he’d perfected over time. It was kind of grounding, now that he thought about it. Incorporated all the elements—earth for the green leaves and the plain earthy scent, water from his tongue on the paper, fire for the lighter, air for the smoke. He relaxed his body, part by part, then his mind. He groped around in the Force around him like always, not sure what he was searching for this time.

Yes he was. He wants to feel for them. Learn their signatures, learn them. If he’s going to leave his old life behind and start over, these better be good-enough people to do it for.

He smoked and dazed a while. He’d always thought it was cool how he could notice other Force-people by a taste on his tongue when they came near enough. She tasted like candied orange peel, something he’d gotten a taste of when he was young, but with a nice carbonized finish. He’d heard about burnt cream custard in the fancier places on Tatooine, maybe she was like that. Maul was raw meat rubbed with pepper. He couldn’t feel Elliot, but he would probably be something like butter cake. His stomach growled thinking about it, but he chose to ignore that and stretch just a little farther, see if he could push his senses to pick up more. He could do it under stress and it had saved his ass more than once, maybe it would be easier when it wasn’t a life-or-really-unpleasant-consequences situation.

Down the way, there was shuffling. Fabric. Metal scratching against metal, painfully loud in his mind. Clanging and scraping. She’s digging in the closet.
“How about this one? I don’t think I want to do black for once.”
Maul sighed. The familiar clicking of a datapad with a click-wheel.
“You’ll be fine. I’m sure she’ll recognize you no matter what you’re wearing.”
Soft fwump of a heavy garment on the bed.
“Maul, come on. It’s important. I want to look resplendent.”
Datapad on desk, scrape scrape.
“You just are.”
The hangers stopped scraping for a minute.
It got quiet again and he lost focus. He couldn’t keep it up for long, but with more practice, he was sure he’d get better control. He wondered if they were always like this—people are very different when they’re alone, or think they are.

Ezra woke up again, this time to music.

Just say
goodbye
I live
and I'll die
hooked on a star
enraptured by the sky
In love with a satellite

He knew that song. It was one of his favorites. He got up and made his way to the door, pressing his ear to it. He didn’t feel up to taxing his Force capabilities so soon again. The sound was coming from somewhere in the hallway. He waited for a few seconds, then opened the door. He looked down the hallway, but didn't see anyone, so he crept over to the door with the sound coming out. It was the bathroom and the shower had just turned off. He snuck back to his room and waited, morbidly curious, and not long after, the door slid open and there was Emma coming out of the shower. He didn't want to feel like a bastard, and the last thing on his mind the day before was what she might have looked like naked. He wanted her as far away from him as possible, but then again, this distance was probably safe. He felt vaguely dirty watching her like this, but after what she did to him, he didn’t let the guilt dig too deep. If he was being honest with himself (he wasn’t), he actually liked it.

He couldn’t deny that she was pretty, terrifying space witch or not. She wrung her hair out in the hall, obviously not caring about the water pooling under her. Well-toned, probably from combat, nice perky rack, pale skin with a weird bluish sheen to it. If she hadn’t have been a fucking holy terror, he considered briefly the fun things they could get up to. He felt himself getting stiff, but willed it down in case she could sense that too.

She went across the hall and into what he thought was Elliot's room. He waited a bit longer and she came out again and went down the hall to the rec room in an athletic bra and sweat pants. She had pulled her hair back into a braid. He went back into Maul's room and slipped into the vents as stealthy as possible, then crawled down there and watched her through the grate. She was stretching, and man, was she limber. She pulled out what looked like a portable caf cup (?) and two yellow blades popped out of the top and bottom. He knew what those were! That was a Jedi laser sword!

She turned it off and clipped something on both of the ends then turned it back on and started twirling it. He watched her work out. This went on for an hour, and by the end of it, she was sweating. He didn't understand why she had showered before, but whatever. It seemed like a waste of water. Then he remembered that there were plenty of places where water is common. It was on Lothal. He squashed those thoughts down too.

"You can come out of the vent anytime. I don't bite."
He decided that if he was going to get to know these people, he might as well start talking to them, so he loosened the vent and climbed down, then screwed it back in. She went back to twirling her lightblade.
"I'm sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to scare you. I was wrong and need to apologize. I forget sometimes that I have a massive amount of privilege, and I broke one of our own tenants. I stopped in the middle."
"Wait, what do you mean you stopped in the middle?"
She smiled and right now she looked like a Force-damned warrior goddess and he felt like a bastard for watching her. She spun the blade. "Peace is a lie, there is only passion." She punctuated the last word with a thrust.
"Through passion, I gain strength." She punctuated the last word again. It looked like she was doing some kind of kata while reciting this code. It was all muscle memory.
"Through strength I gain power." This time, she flicked the blade in his direction. he was a good couple of feet out of reach, but he still flinched. She flashed that damn smile again. Despite himself, he was starting to like it a little. Squash those thoughts too, ugh.
"Through power I gain victory." This time, she slashed the blade in a V in the opposite direction.
"Through victory, my chains are broken." She thrust her foot out as if to kick an imaginary component.
"And with my free hands, I break the chains of others." She turned off the light sword and pointed at a briefcase on the table. He flicked it open and inside was five thousand loose credit chips.
"So, your brother was actually serious?" He asked. He had never seen that much money in one place at one time.
"We were, and it's not just Dantooine. If you choose to not come with us, you can pick any planet in the galaxy, and we will leave you there with that briefcase and some food, no questions asked." She went over to the kitchen and started making food, squeezing water into her mouth from a bottle every now and then. This looked like her morning routine.
"Why are you helping me?"
"Well, it wasn't on purpose, but you’re here now. Why wouldn't we?"
"Like, you owe me nothing. I'm a loose slave. I'm not really worth it."
"Well, my boyfriend back home was a slave for a while. He was legally sold on Ryloth, so it's not exactly the same, but I see a lot of him in you. I wouldn't want him to be treated like trash. I'm also in a position to help. Why would I assist in systemic oppression when I can actively fix it? That's what we do. We just want to fix the gross injustices of the galaxy, and if that means we have to kill the new Emperor, then we will."

That was oddly specific, but she said it with absolute certainty. And it was the way she said it that made Ezra positive that she could actually do it.
"So what did you mean earlier? About stopping in the middle?"
"I got all the way to power with you. I had the power to do to you what I wanted, and I liked it. It's a struggle. I'm only nineteen, you know. It's hard to rationalize it at this point, but I knew that I had power, and I used it wrong. You can't just stop at power. We don't sit on power and then do nothing, we don’t use that power to subjugate others either. You have to use that power to achieve victory. I didn't follow it through with you, and I’m doing so now." She turned around with a plate of roast bird and snapped green beans. She put it in front of him and sat across from him with her own.

"So before, you realized that you were wrong?"
"It's why I left the room. I've seen PTSD before. I knew there was nothing left to do but give you time to cool off and present you with someone non-threatening, hence Elliot."
"Does he come out this early too? I haven't seen him since last night."
She smiled. "He's uh, well, he's me. Remember when I said I was a witch? I wasn't lying. I can switch my body and do both male and female genders."
"Wait, so that was you?" He blushed, a slow dawning of realization spreading across his features.
"Yeah. I'd show you, but then my clothes wouldn't fit and I'd just look ridiculous."

Ezra stared at his plate for a minute. He didn't really know what to say. That was weird, sure, but the galaxy was full of things way more outlandish than this. He'd heard of whales that could go through hyperspace. He'd heard of actual angels on the moon of the planet Iago. Why was he having trouble grasping this?

"Anyway, you probably want some time to sit and think not in a room. I have to go shower again. I probably should have done that after I worked out, but the water pressure in there is too perfect. Enjoy your breakfast, and please don't bother Maul. He's kinda grumpy. He really is a sweet guy, but this ship is his baby, and he caught you messing with it. He's gonna have a grudge for a while." She got up and rinsed her plate and put it in the dishwasher and then left Ezra to sit and wonder.

He leaned back into the chair and tried again to make some plans, but his head kept replaying her naked and he realized he was actually kind of lonely without K.
“Son of a bitch”, he sighed. He’d grab a cold shower after she was out.

 

Emma watched the plains expand as they came in on Dantooine, and she was giddy. She had thought about who her mom was for the longest time, but here she was, mere minutes away from meeting her. Maul had even got on the com to make sure she would be at the bookstore today. She spent an hour deciding what to wear, running every decision by Maul and while he was happy to see her happy, He was sick of it. She decided on a basic black dress after all and a shirt with mesh sleeves. The dress was an old flowy dress that had shredded hems to make it look more worn. she wore fishnet stockings and heels. Her mom might as well see her as herself.

"You are going to fall all over yourself."
"Shut up. I don't plan on getting in a fight."
"Emma, you never plan on a fight." Maul rubbed his face with his hands.

They landed and Emma was off the boarding ramp before the engine was even off. Maul cleared his throat and she turned around. "Oh yeah!" She went back on board. Ezra was sitting at the table. "So, here we are. This is Dantooine. We have things to do here. We’re both leaving, but there is the money. If you want to leave, now is your chance. If you want to stay, then we will see you when you get back. No pressure, no questions. If you leave, just close the ramp when you go."
Ezra slowly nodded. "Fair enough."
They left him on the ship.
"Think he's going to stay?" Maul asked.
"I doubt it. He didn't seem sold, but I don't really care if he does or not. We made him better, and that’s what matters."
"And good job not stopping in the middle."
She smiled.

The bookstore was called "The Learning Temple." Emma started out okay, but the anxiety had time to set in.
"What if she doesn't like me, what if she wants nothing to do with me? What if this was all a waste of time?" She whispered.
"Hey, do you remember twelve years ago?”
She nodded.
“I know I do. It was the first time I’d seen you, Kao-Cen didn’t even bring photos before. You were standing on the landing pad at Coruscant. You were so small then, and were holding his hand. I came down the boarding ramp, and I thought you were scared of me, but you were fascinated and curious. I told you then, once you cross the threshold, there is no return. This is the same. Once you walk in that bookstore, this can go good or bad, but there will be no more ignorant bliss. You will know the truth one way or the other. Are you prepared?"
She nodded slowly and pulled out her compact to make sure her makeup was on point. She went simple--light lipstick and black winged eyeliner. Her hair was braided in a fishtail. It was the best expression of herself.
"Is there anything I can do?" He said quietly.
She turned to him, raised up on her toes, and kissed him, then turned towards the door. He walked behind her, glad she was in front and couldn’t see him struggle with his lower back. She needed him and not with a fucking limp.

Emma had to fight down the bile in her throat. The store was expansive inside even though it looked small on the outside. It was brightly lit and split into two sections. The first room had huge barrister bookshelves and was full of old volumes behind glass cases. The plaque on the overhang read "The Temple." The other room was very brightly painted and had all sorts of animals on the walls. The bookshelves in here were shorter than Emma, and up top it said, "Of Learning." There was a counter with a red-haired guy sitting behind it. His feet were propped up and he was reading.
"Welcome to the Learning Temple, we cater to all manner of books. If there is something in particular you are looking for and don't see it, we are happy to order it. The left is old arcane tomes and the right is the kid's section."
"Actually, sir, I was hoping to talk to Jeann. Is she in?"
He looked over his book and slowly put it down, taking in her face. "Wait, are you Emma? Oh my god, she is going to be so stoked! She's in the kid's section stocking. Come on, I'll take you to her." He rose out of his seat and came around the corner to walk with them.

"She's wanted to find you for a long time, but she didn't even know where to start looking. She's going to be so happy. I'm Tom. I'm Jeann's neighbor. Terash and Adurhi also work here. They’re stocking in the Temple section, in case you need anything there."
"Those are unique names," Maul said. “Not something common in these parts, anyway.”
"Yes sir, they are brothers that live down the street. Togruta. They’re good guys, if a little rowdy." He turned a corner and Jeann was at the end of the row, stocking books. She didn't even look up. Emma could definitely see the resemblance—same shade of blonde, only in a nine-strand braid. About the same height, but where Emma had to be athletic, Jeann’s adventuring days seemed to be behind her. She had that adorable soft look, like she probably knew some awesome cookie recipes and liked hot tea in the mornings too. Thick black glasses, definitely valued her eyes, probably had to deal with strain from so much reading.
She looked like a great mom.
"Go on. I gotta get back up front," Tom said. "I'd love to watch, but the counter won’t man itself." Maul nudged Emma, but said nothing and didn't move. He just looked on, features unreadable, possibly…calm? Emma didn’t have time to figure him out right now, it was now or never. She walked down the row. It felt like it took years, but it couldn't have been but a couple of seconds. Panic was definitely present, but so was insatiable curiosity. She made it to the lady and cleared her throat. The woman looked up and blinked for a minute, then a smile spread across her face.

"Emma? Oh, it's been so long! I'm so happy to see you. You’ve gotten so tall and you look so good! I guess you stayed with the Jedi after all."
"Umm, no ma'am. I actually left them a long time ago."
"Oh, don't call me that. I'm your mom. Just because I haven't seen you in a while doesn't change that. Can I hug you? Is that ok?"
Emma had tears welling in her eyes, but she nodded. She was fighting so hard to keep herself together. Jeann hugged her, and Emma started bawling. Jeann hugged her tighter. Maul had the gut instinct to go over there, do something, anything to stop her face-exploding, but he planted his feet. This was something she had to do on her own. He turned and walked down to the parenting section. No time like the present. He could focus his passion in a different direction and give her this important time.
"Oh no. Don't cry. There is no reason. I'm not going to leave you. I didn't want to the first time. "
Emma breathed for a minute. "I'm not crying because I'm sad. I'm crying because I've been looking for you for so long and here you are and it’s scary and cool and too much." Jeann smiled and hugged her again.
"You know what, this is a perfect time for my break. Let's me and you and your friend go get some caf and we can talk. Adurhi, will you come here for a minute?"
A handsome Togruta fellow came around the corner. "What's up Ms. J?"
"I’m going to spend some time with my daughter. Will you finish stocking for me?"
"Oh totally, Ms. J. Hey, you’re THE Emma? Nice to meet you."
Emma did her best to smile, but her makeup was ruined and she was hyper-aware of it. He smiled in return anyway and started stocking the shelf.

 

"So, where have you been all this time? Having wild adventures?" They went down the street to a Sbux, Emma’s favourite on Naboo and Coruscant and most human-dominated places. She ordered the same frozen caramel-caf hybrid thing Emma liked and absolutely insisted on paying. Maul had decaf with sugar.
"Well, uh, I mostly stay home." Emma said, giving this point in the conversation absolutely no thought. She couldn’t very well go “Oh you know, I've been hanging out with a Sith assassin and am probably carrying his baby and there is this other guy that I am banging too but I left him at home because he hadn't really sorted out stuff with his dad yet.”
"Staying home is just fine. And who is this? I saw you two come in together. Hi, I'm Jeann." She stuck her hand out. He dutifully shook.
"I'm Maul."
"Maul is…uhm…my husband?" She blurted out before she could stop herself. It was better than “The assassin who raised me that I proposed to at a big orgy not too long ago”.
"Oh! How exciting! When did you get married?"
Emma died a little and looked desperately over at Maul. He was sipping his caf, maintaining classic situational awareness and being absolutely no help whatsoever.
"Well, the…uh, ceremony hasn't happened yet."
"Oh, that's alright. I hope I’ll be invited! I’m glad I didn’t miss that. So, last I heard you ran away from the Jedi temple. Who took care of you? What have you been up to since then?"
Emma took a deep breath. She popped an anxiety pill as lowkey as she could and mentally started counting to ten. Jeann waited. "Well, Mom, this is going to be a bit odd, but he did." She gestured at Maul.
"I don't think I understand," Jeann said slowly, looking between them.
"Well, let's start at the beginning. When I was seven, Kao-Cen smuggled me out of the Jedi and gave me to Maul for training because they were going to ship me off to the service corps and he didn’t want to see me wasted. He raised me so far and is the closest thing I had to a dad, but I mean…I grew up. Things changed. I was able to see him…I guess, as a man. And I care about him more than anything in the galaxy.” She braced herself for the shock, the disappointment, everything terrible and the entire day going sour. She watched as her mother turned it over in her head for a minute. It took her a minute to speak, and she chose her words carefully.
"Well, that sounds lovely. Unconventional, sure, but clearly he did a wonderful job and that love knows no barriers. I'm happy for you."
"Uh, you are?"
"Of course I am. You're safe, with a good person, and you came to find me. How could I not be? If your father were here, he would be overjoyed. He always was the more expressive of us two. He was a bit of a firebrand as far as Jedi go. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with him. Don’t be too surprised. We were pretty unconventional ourselves. That’s how you happened."
"Well, you took that pretty well."
"To be honest, I do have some concerns, but you made it this far without me, and I trust that you are making safe and fully-informed decisions. I’m sure my worries will come out in the wash the better I know you two. So, what do you do for a living?"
"I'm not…unemployed? It's complicated. Where we live, no one really has one set job. You just chip in where you can. It's... a... communal society. A lot like the Jedi actually!"
Maul quirked his tattooed brow but said nothing. Clearly he had never considered them anything like the Jedi at all, but she wasn't exactly wrong.
"Where do you live?"
"That's actually kind of interesting. It's not on any star maps."
Jeann paused mid-sip and started flipping through pages in her head. "There are only a handful of places like that. I'm guessing it's not Dagobah. It's just too inhospitable."
"Nope. It's Dathomir."
Jeann put her drink down and looked up as if perusing an invisible data screen. "I didn't know any of them were still alive, but now your aesthetic makes sense." She looked at Maul.
"Wait, you know where that is?"
"I was the librarian at the temple for a long time. I know a lot of things I shouldn't. If Dathomir wasn't wiped out by Grievous in the war, then that means that you are..." She was putting dots together very quickly in her head. Emma tensed up, waiting for the worst again.
"If you were human, and Dathomir accepted you, then you are a Nightsister. and that means Mr. Maul is a Nightbrother, which makes a lot of things make more sense, especially your complicated relationship. If I'm not mistaken, the Wild Hunt was just a few weeks ago. Did you participate?"
Maul finally showed some interest and turned his high-powered perception onto Jeann. Emma tried to sink into the caf house floor.
"Oh don't be so surprised. Did you really think I wouldn't learn everything there was to know about things deleted from the archives? Honestly!"
"Well, yeah. Okay, then. This probably puts a lot of things in perspective."
"It does and I feel better on the whole. It does alleviate some of my previous concerns and I’m truly excited to be able to learn about it all from a primary source."

With the prickly issues tackled, they were able to talk more open and honestly for a while. It wasn't long until the sun started setting.
"Oh. I hate to go, but I have to go close up the shop and pay my boys. You probably have to get going too, huh?"
"We should. We actually have some unattended living cargo, but you can always message us." She gave Jeann the Nightbrother's com info. Jeann looked around for a minute groping for pockets, then unceremoniously stuffed it in her shirt.
“Well, we have the boob pocket in common, it seems,” said Emma. Jeann laughed and they stood and headed for the street.

Jeann insisted on one more hug before they parted. On the way back to the ship, Emma’s anxiety crashed and melted into a moderate irritation.
"Thanks for the help."
"Emma, I was there, and I was supportive, but this was your battle, and I wasn't going to fight it for you."
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know this lady or really anything about the situation. You wanted to come find her, and you did. I'd say mission accomplished. As difficult as it is to consider, I had to step back and let you lead. I can't protect you forever. I wanted to trust you to handle this one on your own. I think I can trust you to handle the other stuff as well. You did well, wife," He snorted.
"That sounds so weird coming from you."
"Hey, you said it, not me."
They were both surprised when they got back to the ship to find Ezra negotiating with a Sullustan while others were bringing crates on board.
"What the ever-loving fuck is this?" Maul asked.
"Well, you said we were low on supplies, so I used the money you left to get some."
"What, when did I say that?"
"When you were bitching at her this morning as she was getting dressed."
Maul’s expression shifted from belligerent to confused to just plain tired. He climbed on board.
"So, you're staying?" Emma turned to Ezra.
"I guess I am. I thought about it. I can't really sustain any job here, and you guys have nothing to make me think that I won't be okay, so I decided, what the hell? I want to know more about the Force and what I am anyway."
"Well then, let's get you home."
Huh. Home. Ezra had never really thought that about anything before except Lothal. Maybe this would be different.

 

Zak was pacing in his studio. He knew his dad had landed moments ago, and he knew that he would be in there soon, but he had resolve. Emma was right. He was a man, and he didn't have to fear or hide. Hill had never done anything truly terrible before, so why would he now? If he did, Zak knew that the entirety of the Nightpersons, his people, where there for him, and that made him feel confident. It felt like forever. He took a preemptive pill and started his new mantra over in his head in time with the pacing.

He would be fine. He was doing this for Emma. He was a man and he would be fine.
There was a knock at the door.
"It's open," he said, trying to lower his voice an octave, then immediately felt stupid for doing it. The door swished opened and Hill came in. He had just tromped through a swamp, but still managed to look infuriatingly put-together. He stood, as if expecting something.
"Well, I'm here," Zak said. He stopped pacing.
"You are," Hill said. He didn't look disappointed at least.
"You told me to stay here, and I did. What do you want?"

Hill hugged him. Zak was confused but relaxed after a minute.
"I wanted to hug my son and make sure he was okay. Is that a crime?"
"Um, I guess not?"
"I also wanted to tell you how proud of you I am."
Zak sat down. "What do you mean?"
Hill sat across from him. "Zakarie, this is my final lesson, so listen well. Why do you think my room was off limits?"
"Well..." He thought back but didn't really know. He just remembered that Hill had told him in no uncertain terms after Willow died that his room was off limits. "I don't know. You never said and I never asked."
"And why didn't you?"
"Well, ‘cause I figured if it was important, then you would have said."
"Then why did you go in there?"
"Because I had to find this place, and I knew you had books in there. I knew that I could probably find this place in your books."
"Then I am not mad. You did what needed done to reach a goal, and you did it without harming anyone. I am actually impressed. I never really thought to secure the windows. That must have been quite a climb."
"So, you're not mad?"
"Zakarie, there never was a reason for you not to go in there. I had you in there as a child many times. This whole time, there was a lesson whenever you were ready. You broke the final chains I had placed on you."
"Oh."
"And from what I gathered from the woman downstairs, you are now a man by your culture. I no longer hold any sway over you. I will always be your dad, and you can always come to me for anything, but you are a man, and I couldn't be more proud of you than I am right now."
Zak nodded but didn't say anything.
"So, I will let you get back to your work. I think I may stick around a while. I am so happy that this place still exists. I wish to explore it more." Hill said. He nodded to Zak, still sitting there dumbfounded, and turned out the door. Once in the hallway, he almost ran directly into Talzin.

"Madame," he said, bowing in the way Nabooians do when embarrassed.
"Bah, I am no madame! Do I look like I run a brothel? I am Mother Talzin." She extended a spindly hand and he kissed the fat garnet ring on it. For the first time in nearly a thousand years, Talzin felt colour creep into her cheeks.

She gestured down the hall and they started walking.
"I heard what you said to him."
"Oh? And what is it you think? Did I handle the situation well?"
Talzin's mental wheels started spinning. She had never had someone ask her to comment on their parenting skills before. "I think that you have taught him well. He has been quite an asset here. He has already saved one of my children's lives, and he has taken apprenticeship to a clan artist, which is no small thing. I think he has embraced his new way of life, and I think that would have been difficult if he did not have good parenting."
"Pardon, Mother Talzin, but I was asking about that situation in particular. Judging by the fact that he is still alive, I know I did a good job before."
She was baffled. She had never had a man, let alone a human man, talk to her in such a way. What even was this man?
"Well, in this instance, I would say that you handled it gracefully and tactfully. You acknowledged what he needed confirmed, his own identity as an adult, and you taught him a lesson to boot. I would say that in this instance, you handled the situation well. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I know about you and know you have many children. I was wondering if you, as a parent, had any additional insight. Sometimes it is good to run a thought before peers before bringing it up otherwise."
"Interesting viewpoint."
"It's also because you are a mother in his new culture, and you would know best what works here."
"Wise. You are wiser than you seem, human. I would like to talk a while if we may."
"Of course.”
"When Surgeon first arrived in our village, he found himself without a place to stay, so he stayed in my room for an eve. While there, we talked about many things. Most of them have to do with you. I find you a perplexing creature, and if you wish to stay among us, then I would know you."
"Surgeon? I wondered what that new tattoo meant. What do you mean by he ‘stayed with you’?"
"Just what I said. You humans, so concerned with what people do in their private spaces. He needed to sleep, so I provided such a place. I am not so obsessed with another's parts that I would jump on them at the first opportunity."
"This is fair. I was just confused by the way you spoke. There is no reason to be hostile, Mother Talzin."
They entered her room and she sat on the bed, closing the door with a wave of her hand. Hill sat in a chair close by.

"So, human. You have made it to our planet and bypassed the moon, meaning that Dathomir does not see harm in you, but I am not so easily swayed. I wish to know why you are here, and what it is that you want."
"Well, I did want to check on the welfare of my son. He has never done anything so brash before, and I was concerned. I also felt it was time to visit the planet. I have found much information on it, and decided it was worth the time."
"And did you give any thought as to the feeling of the inhabitants here? Did you wonder if you were even wanted?"
"Actually, I did, but it wasn't as if I could ask them from Naboo. If you would like, I can leave. I wouldn't wish to impose."
She sighed. "No, I suppose it's alright. You haven't caused harm and don't seem intent to do so."
"Where may I stay?"
"You may stay on your ship, human. Surgeon was willing to embrace our culture, but you seem hesitant. Until you are ready, you will stay there. While you are here, you can assist us around the village. Start with the small things, like hunting and construction, and then you can move to bigger things, such as medicine, if you have the skills."
"If it is a doctor you need, I am skilled in my abilities to midwife. I have delivered many children in my time and would be happy to assist."
"That is not what I meant, but I appreciate the offer. Surgeon and Medic will certainly have their hands busy when the time comes for all that were impregnated on the Wild Hunt to give birth. Tell me, where did you learn the medical skills?"
"When I finally got away from my former master, I joined the Republican Peace Corps, thinking he would never find me there. In that time, I was enlisted as a medical professional, and received extensive training, which I have utilized and kept up my licensure. Speaking of which, I can feel two inside of you now. It shows in your Force signature, which in itself is unique. I can’t say I’ve ever seen another like it—a burning green flame that crackles like a fireplace. I can hear six heartbeats. It can't be easy. Is there anything I can do to assist?"
"I do appreciate it, but no. Unfortunately, there are some things a woman must do alone."
"That doesn't sound quite right, Mother Talzin."
She sighed. "And what does that mean?"
"I was just stating that I find it rather sexist to assume that only women can give birth."
She looked at him, shocked by her own careless words as well as his reprimand for them.
"I find you bold, Mr. Hill, but you are right. You may just earn my respect."

Chapter Text

She had to admit, watching him fight made her breathless like few men had the power to do.

Ben Solo swung hard and deadly, two-handed, over his shoulder, pouring sweat and counting on both his quilted armored tunic and steady stream of pain to keep himself going. The unstable energy blade crackled, a sick and terrifying sound, spit orange sparks across the training room floor, and connected with the hem of Asajj’s gown. She didn’t feel the need to dress in anything other than what she wore every day to train—it’s not her he’d be going up against, and she had to learn to fight in a dress and heels if she was going to blend in the senate chambers. She turned her dual blades in flush with her forearms and readied a strike against him, breathing hard enough now that her nose trickled a little blood. She knew he could smell it. She could smell his, too, soaking into his side. They didn’t use training emitters.

She took advantage of a split-second with his head turned—she didn’t know why he took his eyes off her. It’s almost as if he were responding to a sound only he heard. But in the next second, he drew the blade up to protect himself, catching her dual blades with the crossguards and burning the shit out of her hands. She screamed, ugly and deep in her throat, and checked the clock on the wall behind him. Nearly time up and he was holding his own at last.

He stepped back far enough to have maneuvering room in case she charged him, which she was wont to do, and felt his strength wane a little. Desperate to finish, unable to see the clock, he held his blade with one hand, using the other to punch his open wound, still bleeding and throbbing from where she’d cut him and he lost control of the side vents and burnt himself with them in the same place trying to get her off him. Blood dripped on the ground below and a new, electric pain shot up his side but it’s what he needed—he felt a surge of power so white-hot it was like soldering. He caught her eyes looking above him—checking the clock—and it was all the opening he needed. Careful to resist the urge to let out sound, he rushed foreward and closed the distance between them, ready to run her through--
(holy shit what am I saying I love her oh god no no no no ABORT ABORT)

and at the last second, raised his blade with one hand as if to bring it down on her, while using his other hand to concentrate all of his Force into one hard shove. She went flying across the room and smacked into the wall, skirt hung around her hips and was she actually knocked out?

The bell rang and Ben powered off his saber. He paced around her, waiting to see if she moved, trying to tell if she was breathing, almost losing himself to panic, when he saw her eyes flutter and then open. He dropped to his knees and hesitated before touching her, he knew the rules, but somehow he felt like maybe for once they didn’t apply since he actually hurt her.
“Asajj?” he dared whisper.
“Master,” she hissed, trying to roll over.
He touched her hand and immediately recoiled back, expecting her to slap him. When she didn’t, he looked back up, confused. She slowly moved to sit up.
“Ben, I’m proud of you.”
Okay, so she had a concussion.
“You’ve been working hard and it paid off today. This is the man that will rule the galaxy beside me. Get better. I can see you now, Emperor Ben.”
She touched his cheek and tears welled up in his eyes.
Emperor Ben.
It wasn’t right, though.
She must have read it on his features.
“Don’t you want to be the most powerful man alive?”
“It’s not that, Master, I’m…floored that you’d think me worthy. I just…”
It seemed so silly to put it in words.
“I don’t like my name.”
“Well, if you feel that it burdens you, break it.”
He’d never considered something so simple, yet so profound. Just change his name? Just like that? Doing so would mean turning his back on his family. Han he didn’t even feel bad about, but he did feel some guilt about his mother.
“Don’t,” she said. “You are your own man. I chose you for a reason. Remember that.”
Asajj smoothed down her skirt and tried to get up. She stumbled, but succeeded and motioned to him.
“We’re both injured. Come. I’ll treat you.”
She was going to tend to his wounds herself and not leave him to the droid. He was so lightheaded at the thought. Turns out, that wasn’t all she meant. As much progress as he’d made refining his naturally strong connection to the Force, he always had a glass skull when he let go during beatings and sex. His thoughts were a beautiful mess—gold and red tapestries lining the walls of the royal chamber, a stone throne, the both of them in rich brocade robes and stone crowns, the floor littered with the corpses of her—his—enemies. She didn’t strike him when he moaned her name this time. He could have died happy in that moment.

But like always, when they were done, she got up to shower and dress. She had to make a final surveillance run to make sure the building they were infiltrating was safe and ready. She left him in bed, naked and alone with his thoughts. As he drifted off for a nap, he couldn’t help but think about The Raven and how long it had been since he’d lost himself to the music and let his guard down. He thought of his friends and how long it had been since he’d seen them.
He wondered how they were doing.
For the first time in a while, he felt isolation.
(I miss Zak and Emma and Dickey. I miss my old clothes. I miss having a drink and dancing all night.)
He looked out the bedroom window to make sure her speeder was gone, then climbed back into bed and sunk into meditation and reached out, a little afraid of what might reach back.

 

Maul often had trouble sleeping, but lately, it was very different than the usual night terror episodes.
With Ezra taking his room, he felt he had enough of an excuse now to share Emma’s bed. He still couldn’t fathom that this is the turn his life was taking, especially now.

He never thought he’d ever be a husband, definitely not a father, yet here he was. He found himself curling around Emma in her sleep, feeling the hard bump under her skin below her navel, idly running his fingers over it and allowing himself to feel awe. The thought also terrified him—growing up, it was just him and the old man. All of his education and interactions had been for a purpose—to build him into the perfect weapon. As far as his master knew, he was out and about taking out his enemies. He’d bombed the temple, tied up a few loose ends that didn’t harm his own cause, and had time to deal with affairs at home. If pressed, he could feasibly tell him that he could monitor the Nightpersons without arousing suspicion this way, but the old man had to be taken care of soon. Maul knew he was living on borrowed time, and the low hum of five other hearts lulling him to sleep every night only made it more pressing.

 

Armitage Hux had his new desk in the senate halls exactly as he wanted it. His old music box was on one corner, playing some nice oldies to liven up the place. Light streamed in to nourish his extensive succulent farm on the windowsill, there were five separate inbox/outboxes sorted by purpose, and it was currently covered in the pages of an extensive tax reform bill. Anyone else would skim and sign, but not him. He didn’t learn all this shit on his own just to flip through bills and not do his due diligence.

Strangely enough, he still felt that way six hours later. His pristine ashtray accumulated quite a few staples in the interim time—he hated it when people stapled the bills. They should be paperclipped at appropriate intervals. On this page in particular he noticed why this one was stapled and so absurdly long-winded and redundant.
“Holy Order,” he breathed, grabbing his reading glasses. Surely he was just tired and imagining that comma.
He wasn’t.
He pulled out a highlighter and slashed bright blue across the page, going back to suspect others he’d already read.
He nearly smashed the com connecting him to the Speaker of the Senate when he was done.

 

Thrawn went over the documents a third time, checking again the figures and precisely where they were supposed to be distributed. Truth be told, he’d been distracted dealing with Naval business and setting up his very own capital ship and hadn’t quite had the mental resources to devote to picking apart tax codes, but when it was in front of him like it was, it made sense. Sandwich an inflammatory plan in the most boring and plain brazen place possible—right in the middle of a bill that nobody in their right mind would read. Well, okay, almost nobody. He had to admit, the new guy did an admirable job on this. And it was true—all of the different income sources fed into one place, but it was one digit different than the routing number for the public coffers. Hell, it could almost be a typo. He used his security clearance to search the routing number, and got back a big fat “classified” as opposed to an error message. Something was up. Thrawn looked up the author of the bill—that Snoke fellow—and grew uncomfortable. The Emperor was hiding something very costly and Thrawn was going to figure out what the hell it was.
“Thank you, Mr. Hux. This would have very well passed right by us all if it weren’t for your keen eye. I’ll get back to you as the investigation processes.”
Hux nodded, small satisfied smile on his face, and left Thrawn to figure out exactly how to investigate this and maintain employment as well as staying alive long enough to find the answer.
He wasn’t so sure he wanted to know, but by that fact alone knew he had to.

 

The Nightbrother descended through the atmosphere at a leisurely pace, but it didn’t take long for its crew to notice there was another ship in the landing space and another in orbit. This caused Maul no small amount of concern, so on landing, he scanned the two ships. The one already landed had been there for about a week. The title read "White Stag" and it was registered to Hanni Hill of Naboo. It was a Nubian. Okay, that wasn't too weird. The other was "Puffer Pig's Gamble" and was registered to Lord Baloney of Dantooine. It looked like a YT-1300. That was an old model freighter. Shit.

"Emma, I think we were followed. Would you hail them?"
"I'm actually trying to not throw up if you don't mind,” she said, hunched over a wastebin.
"I got this!" Ezra said and pressed the button before Maul could object. The light blinked a few times, but there was no answer. The ship stayed in orbit in low power mode.
"Odd. Let's keep an eye on it," Maul said. Emma got up and ran to the bathroom. Her horking was audible from the front of the ship.
He landed the ship, and as soon as it touched down, the com blinked. The other ship was hailing THEM. Ezra pressed the button. The person on the other end was probably a twi'lek. They had covered headtails as well as wearing a mask.The voice spoke, heavily modulated.
"I am here on behalf of the Liberator. I tracked your ship from Dantooine. Its registration matches that of the one the Liberator was supposed to contact. You will state what you desire from them. If you do not, I will leave this system before you can follow."
Ezra looked at Maul, who shrugged.
"I don't know any Liberator, though I know that word. You mean Rose, the Liberator. Well, last I checked, Rose isn't a Liberator of anything. Next, I really don't know why you followed this ship..." Emma swatted the back of his head and pushed her way through to the chair.
"I'm sorry about his rudeness. I was a bit ill and he's new. Hi, I'm Emma. I asked for Rose."
The twi'lek looked down at a datapad, then looked back up. "Yes, I believe that you are the Ice Queen that Lando spoke of. May I ask why you are seeking the Liberator?"
"Well, I'm looking for her on behalf of her son, though he isn't aware. I was hoping to surprise him. He's important to me, and she is important to him, so I sought her out."
The twi'lek nodded. "Very well, if you will permit me, I will land to see Zakarie, Rose's child, with my own eyes. Once that has been accomplished, I can give the Liberator these coordinates, but I must maintain her secrecy and safety. Unlike some," The twi'lek looked at Ezra, "I understand that the Liberator must be protected at all costs."
"You are permitted to land. What do we call you?"
The twi'lek paused to think for a moment. "You may call me Serviteur."

Puffer Pig's Gamble landed next to the Nightbrother, and Serviteur descended from the boarding ramp. Serviteur was carrying a blaster. If Emma wasn't sensing them, the appearance would have been utterly terrifying, but their general feel was another story. Emma tested their Force signature, as everyone had one, whether they could harness use of it or not. They felt like the comfort of smooth satin. Clean and calm. Emma could tell that whoever was under that was a kind and gentle person, despite their outward appearance. Maul and Ezra were doing the same thing. They tasted like sugared violet petals to her. Serviteur stopped in front of Emma and spoke. It was still heavily modulated, so the voicebox had to be in the suit and not on the ship.
"Take me to Zakarie. I want to get back to the Liberator as soon as possible, if you don't mind."
"Well, first you have to pass inspection. She will judge you." Emma said, and pointed at Talzin, who floated in their direction.
"I don't like being judged, Ice Queen." Serviteur said.
"This is our planet and we are recovering from genocide. You should understand the need for security."
"That I do. Let's make this quick then. I am anxious to see about these claims of Zakarie. You say he is important to you?"
"He's my boyfriend."
"Hmm. I see."
Talzin made it over to them and addressed Maul. "My son, I see you have returned, and brought with you another stray."
"It was Ice Queen here's idea," he said.
"Ice Queen? Why are you a queen of ice? You live on the swampy side of the planet."
"It's a stupid nickname from a man, Mommy. May I present Ezra Bridger of Tatooine, who is one of us, and Serviteur, who works for Zak's mom."
Talzin first looked the twi'lek up and down, then smelled them. It was... odd. "I was under the impression that Surgeon's mother had passed on. That is what Mr. Hill has said."
"Mr. Hill is Zakarie's adopted father, and Willow was his adopted mother. The Liberator is his biological mother, but the nature of her job is dangerous, so she sent me to ensure that this was truth and not a trap. I am starting to see that, while this place is strange, there is no love for the Emperor or the Hutts here."
"Bah! We hate that man and suspect he was behind the genocide that befell our people some thirty years ago, during the Federation Wars. As for the Hutts, they are disgusting and dishonest, and not welcome in this place."
"Then I think we will get along well," Serviteur said. Mommy moved past them and smelled Ezra very closely.
"Oh my god, witches are real. You look just like the stories. Umm, why are you smelling me?"
"Boy, I can smell your very soul, and yours is rank. Off to the cave with you. Maul will take you. I will not have you on this planet until you have cleansed yourself of your toxins."
"You, you can smell... my soul? Oh God! Take me please!" Maul didn’t look pleased, but he didn’t dare disobey his mother. They left.
"Mommy, did you have to lie to him? You're going to give that boy a heart attack saying you can do things you can't," Emma said.
"Yes, but I like to scare gullible children. What I am upset about is the drugs in his system. He may have partaken a long time ago, but the stains are still on him. I want him to get help. Now, you take Serviteur inside and find Zakarie. I must attend to business with Plasma."

 

They went into the big house and up the stairs, knocking on Zak's studio. He opened it.
"Oh hey Emma, and... person? Please, come in." They did, and as soon as the door was closed, Serviteur hugged Zak. He was startled, too startled to know he should fight.
"Umm, can I help you?"
"Oh, the mask!" The twi'lek said and peeled it off. Under it was a pink twi'lek with a gold nose stud on her right nostril. She had bright green eyes and the resemblance in the face was uncanny. She reminded Emma of Anne, almost. Zak blinked for a few seconds, clearly processing what he had seen, and then the tears began, this time from both of them. Savage’s door opened and Emma could hear him stalking down the way, ready for anything. Before he could come in, she opened the door and addressed him.
"Not a good time."
"Sorry, I heard distress," he said, and went back down the hall, where Anne was standing with her skillet. He shooed her and she looked offended and opened her mouth to chastise him. Emma went back inside. They were getting themselves under control, but they were still hugging.
"I’ve wondered for a long time,” Zak said.
"I was never far. I have looked in on you many times, but it was always too dangerous to make myself known. as hard as it was for me, I couldn't. I knew that eventually, you would find me, and I waited for that day. Luckily, your girlfriend contacted me." Her voice was thickly accented without the mask on.
He looked at Emma. "You did this?" He almost sounded hurt.
"I knew that I had the resources to do so, so I did. Are you mad?"
"No. All I can do is thank you. You have brought my mother to me, and I feel unworthy."
Emma laughed slightly. "We can deal with your inferiority later. Should I leave you two alone?"
Rose rounded on Emma. "Did you just call my son inferior?"
Zak jumped between them. "Mom, she meant it with care. I enjoy being called that. I want to enter willing slavery to her."
Rose nodded. "Apologies. It's been too long since Ryloth. He has chosen you as a partner, so I see no reason we can’t speak like a family."
They all sat and Emma was silent for the talk.
"As I said, I was watching you for a long while, but when you grew into a man, and I saw more than I wanted, I decided that I should give you privacy and continue my work freeing slaves. I didn't want to leave, but I figured that if you were truly my child, you would find me, so I left Naboo and went to Tatooine, where slavery isn’t like the old ways. It hasn't been easy."
"Um, what do you mean by, you were watching me?"
"Well, I mean that I kept tabs on you, checked in on you when you slept, sometimes watching you through your window. I used simple surveillance. You kept your window open often. Usually, I was working with the indigenous people of Naboo, and when I had free time, I would pop in."
He turned really red. "Like, all the time?"
She laughed. "I saw that once, and that was when I decided you needed privacy. Don't worry, it isn't weird among us. It's a basic need."
Zak died a little.
Emma giggled. "Isn't it great?"
"Well, I didn't find it sexually attractive. He's my son, but he does look a lot like his father. Zakarie has grown aesthetically pleasing. But, did you break your nose? And what are those tattoos?"
"Well, it's kind of hard to explain." But he tried. He explained he genetic markers of a Nightbrother and how it changes you.
"Well, then it suits you, and it accentuates your features. My son has grown into a fine young man."
"Thanks, I guess."
"So, let's talk about you, Ice Queen."
Zak looked at Emma. "Ice Queen?"
"I hate Lando." Emma said. "What do you want to know?"
"Firstly, who are you? You travel with a Hand of the Emperor, though you claim you hate him."
"About that…the Emperor took Maul when he was a baby. Maul couldn't act against him until recently because the Emperor was using me as leverage against him. We are now somewhere he can't reach, so we are able to act. We seek to depose him actually."
"And you think you can be successful?"
"I do. We have a lot of good people here, and Hill worked for him too. He was in the same boat as Maul with Zak, but he's here too, which reminds me, did you get that sorted?" She asked Zak.
"Yeah. He's actually proud. I can explain it all later, but I did exactly what you said."
"Good boy," she said and ruffled his hair.
"Zakarie, if I may, I want to speak to Emma for a moment, then we should truly catch up. May we have the room?"
"Yeah, sure. I was hungry actually," Zak said and left the room. Rose looked at Emma.
"Do you know what you are doing?"
"Well, he gave me a book and I read it. I think I can do that for him."
"And do you think you can give him the pleasure in pain that he seeks?"
"Umm...well?"
She wasn’t so sure. The book didn't go into detail much on that point, and Emma was scared to hurt him. "No actually. I don't want to hurt him. He means a lot to me, and that is the last thing I want."
"Do you want me to help you? I know much, and it would benefit my son."
"I’ll take all the help I can with that hot mess.”
"Well, before we can do that, I actually have something for you. It's from Lando. I think everyone will want to see this."
"Then let’s call together everyone."

 

Talzin, Hill, Zak, Maul, Emma, and Rose convened in Talzin's room. Rose stepped forward and put a holo-recorder in the middle of the room.
"Lando was uncomfortable with sending this message. If it were to be intercepted, it would be bad for all the people involved, so since I was coming anyway, he asked me to deliver it." She pressed the button and the image of Lando Calrissian appeared.
"Maul, Hill, Ice Queen." He paused for effect with that smooth smile. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you this sooner, but I wanted to be safe. If you have this, then that means that Rose has been reunited with her son, and I couldn't be happier, but we have a problem. Maul, you told me to be alert for anything strange the last time we spoke about Imperial business, and I have something for you. A few weeks ago, a woman came to me. I don't remember much of her. In this business, we don't deal in faces or names, but I do remember a few things—she wasn’t in uniform, but she did have the black armband with the Imperial symbol on it. She said that she needed something big smuggled, and she needed it taken to the Dagobah system, which was odd, so I figured I'd pass it on. Sorry I can't be more help, but it may be something to look into. Keep it real, and don't forget your promise, Ice Queen. I'll save you some Snapper." The holo-recording blinked out, and Maul looked at Emma.
"What was your promise?"
"Oh, I just promised that I would come back if I needed more info, although he thinks I want his 'Snapper'.”
Zak shifted uneasily.
"What?" Emma asked the room. Hill's com broke the silence.
"Perfect timing. I have to take this. It’s the Speaker of the Senate," Hill said and left the room.
"So you named his dick 'Snapper'?" Zak asked.
"What? No!" Emma said, shocked. Rose started laughing.
"That sounds like Lando."
Emma sat down. She felt like she was in over her head, and she felt her thoughts drift suddenly to Ben. It had been so long since she had seen him. It was like she could see him now. He was shirtless in a bed, meditating.

"I miss you Ben," she said quietly, and meant it.
"I miss you too, Emma," he said in her head.
Had he heard her? What the hell? She snapped out of it when Hill came back in.
"Well, we have a big fucking problem," Hill said.
"Umm, Dad? Did you just swear?"
"That I did, son. This situation warrants it. I just got off the com with Speaker Thrawn. An enterprising young man, an aide for another senator from Naboo, just came to him. According to this Armitage Hux, the tax codes that have been getting pushed through in the senate lately have had interesting caveats in them. They all had money being funneled from the coffers into ghost accounts or something similar. After Thrawn looked into this, he called me. Having access to his coffers, I was able to look into the Emperor's spending. There is a large amount of funding going towards construction in the Dagobah system. This is not something I was privy to, and when the financier doesn’t know about it, it’s an issue. So I dug further and found that he is bankrolling the construction of something not in fact in the Dagobah system, but out in a supposedly field of empty space. From the figures, it’s something big. Some snooping in classified documents yielded partial plans for a very large ‘battle station’, whatever that means. This is a big fucking problem."
All agreed.
"Well, then, it's settled. What do we do?"
"Umm," said an unfamiliar voice. Mommy's en suite bathroom door creaked open and Ezra was standing there, sopping wet. Maul was obviously honing some rage and it looked like the Force around him was boiling. Last he checked, he'd left Ezra at the cave, vomiting up black septic goo. The gall of him, coming back into the house and using Talzin's bath.
"Nononono! Before you get mad, I can explain. I was taking a bath, then you guys came in and I didn't think I should leave!"
"So you heard all of that?" Emma asked.
"Well, yeah, but maybe I can help! Why don't we just blow it up?"
Everyone was looking at him like he was stupid except Talzin and Rose.
"No! Think about it. If he’s building a giant battle station, that means it will take time to finish right? And it can't be done yet, so we destroy it before it's finished."
Hill raised his eyebrown and leaned back. “The young man has a point. I have some friends in the senate that are already stockpiling arms and men for a very different purpose. It wouldn't be hard to get them on board. Maybe if I can furnish proof, pictures or something, then I can do this. I need to go meet with them now. I advise you to all be on your guard," said Hill, and with that, he headed out the door.
The others broke as well, heading off to their various tasks. Ezra awkwardly took a towel and saw himself out. Rose worked with Emma on safe practices. Zak and Maul retreated upstairs. Talzin went back to her reading.

When they finished, Emma felt more at ease but still not exactly comfortable. She couldn’t take her mind off of the new information and the things it implied. Open war was not something she had ever experienced, but it looked inevitable. Maul was an assassin, not a general. She felt wholly unprepared for all of it. She paced around outside, looking at her people. She thought of the panel in the cave and what this new “battle station” could do to Dathomir and it nauseated her worse than usual. She had to do something, had to feel control, but not the kind she’d held over Ezra on the ship. She thought on it for a long while, then decided to do something about it. She went to Zak’s studio.

 

"So, what did Mom want to talk to you about?"
"Stuff. So, I read your book. Sit," she said. He complied without hesitation, parking it at his desk.
"Did I say you could sit in the chair?" She asked, he got on the floor.
"Good. So, you want to do this? Are you sure? Even if D/s doesn't work for us?"
"Well, I do care about you, and I ask that if it gets to the point where I need it, I can find someone and do this platonically. There were clubs for it on Naboo. I went to watch few times. It's a good place to do this safely and the monitors respect no."
She stood and crouched behind him, draping her arms around his shoulders. "You know how hot you make me, right?" She asked in a whisper. He shuddered.
"Fine, yes, that's very hot, but we need to draw up a contract before I get too gone to know where my limits are." She stood.
"I don't know why this wouldn’t work out, if you’re willing to tolerate your self-imposed chains."
He nodded.
"I have a question. How do you feel about your body? And I want actual words, take your time and deal with the anxiety first if you need to."
He took a breath and tried to relax.
"Well, I work out and stuff. I know that I'm conventionally attractive, but I don't know how you feel. Like, I'm muscled. Are they too hard?"
She thought for a minute. "I don’t know what I think either. Take your clothes off."
He did. She stood and did a repeat of the first time they did this, but she was serious this time. She wasn't just trying to toy with him. She poked him a lot, mostly around his hips to measure how hard they’d feel against hers. He was getting hard.
"Seriously? I try to figure this out and you get excited? Wow, you... you have ridges." She said, and she was right. He had grown ridges similar to Maul's.
"Sorry. It's natural. I wish I could stop it. I'll find a way. I promise."
"Don’t bother. Now, I do think you could soften up a bit, bone on bone hurts. What lightsaber form do you use?"
"I don't. I practice the Shien martial arts form, but I have never used a lightsaber."
"That has a lightsaber style. Maybe Maul can teach it to you. I don't mind how big you are, but I don't think Zak-on-top is going to work with you. Let's find out."
She sat in front of him and pulled him onto her. He was dripping even though she was completely clothed. She made him grind against her, and she enjoyed every minute of it, but she wouldn't tell him that.
"Hmm. I'm not sure. I don't think I can fully appreciate you this way." She pushed him over and climbed on top of him, grinding against him. She remembered how powerful this made her feel the first time she did this and really felt it, but she wasn’t going to tell him that, either.
"I like this. Do you?"
"If it pleases you," he said. She laid down on him, stopping what she was doing. He breathed heavily.
"Zak, do you want me?"
"Insanely."
"Well, you have to do something for me. I want you to paint me. I've seen you work on the models at class, but I want this to be different."
He nodded and she stood, shedding her clothes and sitting on the stool in the center of the room. She leaned and braced her hands on the stool, arching her back with her breasts in full view. He started to get dressed.
"I didn't say you could put clothes on. I want to watch you. I want to see it throb."
He did as she told him. It was painful and she could tell, but eventually, as he got into his work, he softened again. He had a good eye and didn't let her distract him. This was the kind of power she wanted and this was a safe way to use it.

When he was done, she came over and hugged him from behind. It was a good painting, stylistically his and composed well.
"I have Savage making something for you. I'm not going to have you now. I want it to be perfect. Is that alright? I don't want compliance. I want honesty."
"Emma, I want you, but I want it to be perfect. This isn't just sex for me. It's something more and it's important. I would wait until the suns exploded for you."
She smiled and rewarded his performance.

While the new threat was still very much on her mind, she at least felt less distracted by anxiety. Time to turn her thoughts to what happened in Talzin’s room.
“Have you been thinking about Ben lately?” She asked.
“Funny you should mention that,” Zak said. “He popped up in my head when we were trying to talk about the battle station earlier. It was the randomest thing.”
She said nothing, but she just knew there was something up. She didn’t know what it was and it was so fucking frustrating.

Chapter Text

 

She was so small compared to him. Maul was short, sure, but she was tiny. She was only twelve, and she hadn't had her first growth spurt. Emma stopped sucking her thumb a long time ago but it had left her hands free. She didn't know what to do with them, so she clung to his robes. They were black and flowy. She always thought that they made him look like a Jedi, like Kao-Cen, but black instead, and he would always tell her that he wasn't a Jedi, but Sith, and now so was she. The look on his face this time was less fatherly and more... was he scared? She didn't have a lot of time to find out and knew better than to ask. If her Papa was scared, then she knew she should be too.

They were approaching a large house, having left the Nightbrother at the starport. It looked so far away from here, a black dot on the horizon, nestled in the middle of Byss City. The house was on top of a large hill overlooking a cove, and there was a lighthouse, on even now. It was ancient and had no practical purpose. Emma thought it was probably more decorative than anything. Who really needed a lighthouse? There was a waterborne cruise ship docked in the cove. Emma was scanning the beach of the paradise world when she saw something. There was a person out in the water. She was really pretty, and Emma knew that at one point, she would have a body like that too. The lady was all red, and her bottom half was submerged, then she turned, and her golden eyes fell on Emma. Emma didn't know how she knew her eyes were golden. She was so far out, several kilometers, but she knew.

"Papa, look, a mermaid!" She said. "She's red like you are!"
"Hush, child, there is no such thing." Maul said, and shook her from his robes. He was nervous and didn't even glance over. Emma looked back, but those alien eyes hadn't looked away, so she waved as not to be rude. The mermaid waved back, then sank back into the deep.

They arrived at the mansion, and the door swung open, where a cheery older man was standing. He had a grin on his face, but Maul looked sick.

"My apprentice. It's so nice to have you visit me here. How are you enjoying Byss?"
"It's... bright, Master," he said. The old man looked down at Emma and Maul's sickness intensified. The man got down on his haunches, so that he was level with her.
"And what is your name?” He asked, all sweet and kind in his voice.
"I'm Emma," she said, trying to look as adult as possible.
"Well Emma, I'm your grandfather Sheev. Maul is going to leave you here with me for some time, so that we may get to know each other. We have many things to do in the week that you are here, but I promise, we are going to enjoy each other's company." He smiled, then he looked at Maul and the smile melted, to be replaced with a sneer. Maul clenched his hands into gloved fists. Sheev stood up. "What did I tell you about pets in the Temple, apprentice?"
"Master, she's twelve. Please," he said. Emma never heard Maul say ‘please’ for anything and it worried her.
"And that is precisely why she is here. You will return in one week. In that week, there is a particularly troublesome pirate that isn't taking his tasks seriously. His name is Hondo. You will find him on Ferrum. Deal with him, then you may return for your..." He looked down at Emma and that sickening sneer appeared again. "...apprentice."

 

She flailed, trying to strike the phantoms that her mind had conjured up, then there was an unmistakable thud of fist connecting with flesh. Emma knew she hit something, then her eyes focused. He throat was raw, and Maul was splayed out on the floor, holding his jaw.
"Get a hold of yourself, woman, it's just me!"
They were in his room in the Big House. There was thudding coming down the hall and the sound of what was definitely a lightsaber igniting behind the closed door. Maul had been training with Savage and Zak for the past week. "Savage, if you break down this door I swear to the Horned God I will let the spiders eat you."
She was sweating heavily, trying to get a firm hold back into reality. The door swung open, but it wasn't Savage. The teal light from a blue and a green lightsaber lit up the room. Zak was standing there in his Shien pose, ready to strike at anything and everything. When he saw that there was no one in the room, he deactivated the green one, using the blue one as a light. He put a hand down to help up Maul, but Maul wasn't having it, grabbing the book shelf to get himself up. There was a pop from his jaw as he stretched it, and a similar one from his back, and he wavered, almost toppling, but he managed to stay upright. A floating lantern came into the room, and a spindly hand touched Zak's arm. He turned off his lightsaber. Mommy entered the room.
"Everyone with a penis may leave," she said, brooking no argument. Maul left, grabbing his cane, but Zak spoke.
"I'm not leaving. Not until I know Emma is okay."
Maul was chuckling as he left the room. "Dumbass."
Talzin looked at Zak and growled, but Emma spoke this time. "Could he stay, please?" Talzin nodded, but said nothing to Zak, who sat in the floor in front of Emma. After all, it wasn’t exactly Talzin’s room or choice.
"I could hear you scream from below. I am surprised Savage did not shatter the door again. What seems to be the problem child? What ails you?" Zak put his head on Emma's legs as Talzin spoke. Emma felt comforted by the touch. She also felt bad about Maul.
"I don't know. I can hardly remember it. I think I just had a bad dream is all. Something about Maul and a beach, and there was a mermaid."
"A mermaid? Do those exist?"
"It was a dream, Mother. That was all. I'm okay," she said, taking a pill with her tea on the nightstand. She was still shaking, but not as violently. Talzin nodded.
"It is not unlike our consciousness to conjure up demons and phantoms when they get bored. I am glad you are well child. I will leave you." She then looked at Zak. "Argue with me again, and you will learn what it feels like to be a field mouse. Am I clear?"
Zak didn't look at her. He didn't even respond. Mother Talzin left the room and the lantern followed her.
"Where were you?" Emma asked.
"I couldn't sleep. You and Maul had already fallen asleep, so I went to work on some class stuff due in a couple of days. I didn't figure you would mind, since you said that you had no say over when and how I did class stuff."
She nodded and patted the bed. He stood, then sat next to her, and she laid her head on his shoulder and hugged him. He didn't move.

 

"So, who is this Organa and why do we want to deal with him?" Maul asked. Everyone was gathered in the Mommy's room again five hours later. The sun shined through the window. Ezra was making the rounds, ensuring that everyone had something to drink. An hour after dawn was early, even on Dathomir. Maul and Talzin had tea, Maul's decaf while Mommy drank the gunpowder tea, Zak, Emma, and Rose had coffee, and Hill had his own cup from Dippin' Donuts. He had arrived not even twenty minutes before, having been gone for a few weeks talking to his allies.
"Haven't you ever heard of Senator Bail Organa? The man's a legend, and his known for being anti-Empire," said Zak.
"Even better, he's untouchable. He has very powerful friends and the Empire can't silence him," Hill said.
"Hey, isn't he the guy that proposed the demilitarization bill so that there wouldn't be as many weapons bought from the Hutts?" Ezra asked. Every eye in the room turned to him. "What? I have hobbies," he said.
"That involve the senate? Odd hobby for a desert rat," said Maul, sipping his tea.
"I prefer Loth-rat, thanks."
"So we know who it is, but what is his reply? What does he think?" Talzin asked.
Hill put some photos on the table and everyone sucked in a breath. There was an almost finished metal orb floating out in space. It had what looked like a satelite dish on one end, and an equatorial line used for hangars. There were star destroyers in orbit all around it, and it was easily the size of a moon.
"That's no moon," Ezra said. Everyone looked at him again.
"No shit,” Maul said.
"You're joking, right? Tell me you're joking." Emma said, looking at Hill.
"I'm not. That enterprising young senatorial aide I mentioned was able to do a flyby and get these pictures. Thrawn gave him the clearance codes to get that close. Thrawn got those codes from the Grand Admiral that replaced him, Orson Krennic, an old friend of mine. Krennic doesn't like this either."
"Who is this aide? We don't know much about him, but he seems smart," asked Zak.
"His name is Armitage Hux. As I said before, he was a wash-out from the Republic military academies. Snoke was his patron. Also, there is other news. Anyone with a weak stomach should leave now," he said, and put a datapad on the table. Nobody stood to leave. A security camera recording appeared.

 

Asajj swished through the autodoors, looking like just another woman going through the office. Phony files held to her chest, ready to hand in one of her lightsabers at the security checkpoint--it was disguised anyway. That would throw them off. She could fight with one, but it wasn’t ideal. But then again, if everything went according to plan, she wouldn’t even need the one.

She managed to trick the guard into letting her pass without even surrendering the one. Clearly the guards were used to Jedi being the only Force-wielders and very obvious about it. Ben—he was still combing through ancient texts, finding his true name—followed her at an appropriate distance. He could be anyone—dressed in the typical brown of the Jedi with his hair in that stupid braid, she barely recognized him. People would look to the first unusual character, and he looked more out of place than she did.
They took separate elevators. She could feel his anxiety across the wires and machinery and the din of the people around her still. He’d have to learn to control it better. She doubted seriously she was the only person feeling around and for a second she feared anyone could pick it up. She flexed her mind and pointed a sharp jab at his—he took the cue and slammed it shut. If he was feeling anything at all at this point, she couldn’t feel it, and she was the best test of that. She’d killed many men, this was just one more. For him, it would be his first, and the true test to see if he really could handle the mantle of Emperor. To be honest, she wasn’t sure how this would go. He was the wildcard, and that did not make her comfortable.

She crossed the farm of cubicles, face impassive, mind blank. They’d been over this. She’d been over this. Surely he wouldn’t abandon all her careful conditioning now.

Right in front of his office door, she dropped her files and swore. He kept walking forward and knocked. The door slid open and she looked around at his legs, THEY WEREN’T IN STANCE.
SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT
THIS SHOULD HAVE TAKEN FIVE SECONDS AND HE’D HAVE BEEN ON THE RUN. SHE WAS THERE TO SUPERVISE AND CLEAN UP AFTER. WHAT WAS TAKING SO LONG? SHE HEARD SPEECH--

And wasted no time in pushing past him, no weapon drawn, standing there like an idiot, Snoke was up out of his chair and reaching under the desk and there just wasn’t time--
She hiked up her skirt and took the blaster from the thigh holster and fired twice into his neck and chest.
Ben’s eyes were wide and his jaw slack.
She’d deal with him later.

The noise startled some people out of their cubes and there was no way she wasn’t seen on the security footage. An alarm sounded and that seemed to trip something in his head and he drew, making a show of his blade and smashing up the office. She ran out screaming, as any sane person would, and made her way to the closest exit. He’d follow or get caught and right now she was seething too hard to care which. But it was done. The replacement was dead. The plan was disrupted. The foolish old man would soon know exactly who he was dealing with and that one doesn’t simply tame a Nightsister.

She hesitated just outside the building, not immediately sure why, but when Ben rushed through the door, shaky hands trying unsuccessfully to lose his attire in the nearest trash bin, she realized she did in fact care if he got out and she hated herself for it. She went back to him and tore at the cloak and white linen tunic he’d layered over his own armored one. He threw the clothes away and they took off in separate directions. They’d meet at home or they wouldn’t.
She tried to trash and burn the part of her that was a tiny bit afraid that he wouldn’t.
He was a tool. The best tool, the sharpest of knives, the brightest of blades, but nothing more.

 

"Did... did that just happen?" Zak said, watching again as the bald woman walked into his office, pointed a blaster, shot him, and then ran out as if she was a victim and not the perpetrator.
Maul leaned back. "I'm less concerned that that happened, and more concerned about the assassin. I know a Nightsister when I see one."
Mommy perked up and actually looked this time, then told Hill to pause it. "Asajj Ventress of the Ventress Clan," she said. "We know her. She once held your position, dear, before she betrayed us." She looked at Emma, who was quietly horrified.
"So she's the Coven Daughter?"
"She was, but she was cast out for her betrayal. She has lost access to her magicks. Her green Force has been ripped out of her by the very spirits that protect us, and she is now a minion of Chaos, clearly."
"There is more. She is the one my holocron led me to. There is still more. This was Armitage's patron. The senator that he is an aide to, making him the new senator," Hill stated.
"Wait, are you telling me that she is one of the Emperor's Hands? Have you gone mad?" Maul asked.
"My son, he is not mistaken. Asajj left us some time ago and followed the path of the Horned God to ruin."
"Zak, did you see him?" Emma asked. Zak looked at her with his brows furrowed. "The Jedi?"
"Yeah. Did you see under his hood?"
Realization flooded over him. He ran the video back. "That's Ben. What is he doing?" Zak asked.
"It seems that Asajj has taken her own apprentice."
The room was silent. "We have to do something," Zak said.
"Indeed we do, and I think it is time to acknowledge what we all are. We have among us many great people. We have an assassin, an infiltrator, a politician, a dissident artist, a liberator, a leader, and a loremaster," Talzin said, and she looked to Maul, then Ezra, Hill, Zak, Rose, Emma, then gestured to herself.

"Wait, a leader? What does that mean? I don't want to lead anything." Emma said.
"Which is why you should, dear. A long time ago, I wanted to be the apprentice of the one you call the Emperor, and I gave him my strongest son for the honor. He has not returned. I wanted nothing more than to be a Sith lord, but now I realize, I already am. I have been by following my true nature. We are descendants of the Sith, and I have been leading them for some time, and now, dear, you are too, whether you realize it or not. We have formed an order of Sith, better than Bane could have ever done." She paused for effect. Everyone knew what she was saying, even Ezra, who had heard tales of the Sith Lords. A small smile formed on her lips. "We have created a new Sith Order. Everyone may have their own reason to fight, but we are all drawn together by the same threads of fate and share a base to operate from."

Emma stood stock still, not knowing what to say. Maul broke the silence. "She's right. I may not fight for you, but you have taught me that I can still fight." Everyone else murmured their assent. Hill spoke next.
"Well then, if we are all in agreement, I think there are some ground rules, and they are simple. We are Sith, we do what we want, so long as it follows our code. We don't hoard power. Peace is a lie, there is passion. Through passion, we gain strength. Through strength, we gain power. Through power, we gain victory. Through victory, our chains are broken, and with our free hands, we break the chains of others. By our will, there are no more slaves. That doesn't mean indentured servants, though..." He gestured to Rose, "We fight that too. That means anyone that has no ability to break their chains if they want to. We will do it for them. By that token, I, Hanni Hill of Naboo, stand and say I am a member of the New Sith Order, and I will fight."

Rose hesitated, but spoke. "I will help, but I have a job to do, and it follows this code. I am fighting against the Hutts to free slaves, and I will not stop that. I can help. I can give you contacts, resources, and the like, but I can not stop what I was doing. Not even for my heart of hearts." She hugged Zak.
"There is an upside to all of this,” Hill said. “After this fiasco, the Senate was locked down and the Emperor has gone to ground, meaning we have time."
"Well then, since we are all talking about it, I know where he is. We need to end the Old Sith if we are going to rise, and I know just how to do that. Emma said something in her nightmare and it reminded me," Maul said and put a holochip in the datapad. It displayed a planet. "This is Byss. It's Palpatine's personal retreat. There is a mansion there that belongs to him. I don't know about you, but I think killing the Emperor and throwing those Banites in disarray for some time while we work would be a good idea. Especially if we hung our banner over the corpse for all to see. It's a powerful statement, and one I learned while I was an assassin. Killing the most powerful man in the galaxy in broad daylight with your symbol on him not only shows that we are capable, but it also shows that no one is beyond our reach. We can't be stopped. We can find anyone and end them. It will also show our allies that we mean business. It will go farther in attaining our goals of breaking the chains across the galaxy, and gives us time to find those holocrons, which we need to unravel the rest of Palpatine’s plans. We know where the third is, and if my guess is correct, which, since I've trained for this my whole life, it probably is, Snoke had another holocron. I don't know what his job is, but Ventress found him, and she didn't appear to think to take his. She doesn't know as much as we do."
"Well, I do have some insight to shed,” said Rose. “This may be his personal retreat, but I have been to a Hutt lord's retreat for my job. If I can take any tips from there, this won't be easy. Even his retreat is going to be heavily guarded. Expect to be challenged at checkpoints along the hyperspace routes, expect rapid deployed stormtroopers.”
“He is also protected by Red Guards, which definitely equal one of us in single combat,” said Maul. "Also, Byss is very near the galactic core, on par with Empress Teta and Tython, which means there are few stable ways to get in, if you thought you could dodge those checkpoints. This place is unassailable by a fleet, which was probably the point."
"I have an answer there. I am his book-keeper. If I cut his funding, then I would have to go to him to explain my decision. I already have the codes. It would make sense to be in a retinue of guards as well. I have access to his books and equipment logs, so getting Imperial uniforms and ID wouldn't be hard. As for an army, I have one. I would rather show than tell," Hill said. All eyes turned to him. "The Emperor trusted me to take care of something some time ago, and I simply repurposed it. I will have to go get my soldiers, but that gives you two weeks to plan as well as time for Zakarie to design us our new symbol and get it on a banner or flag."
"Sounds great. While we are doing that, I am teaching everyone going lightsaber combat. Eight hours a day with an off day every third day," Maul said.
"I'm working with Mommy. We can repurpose some of the Nightperson's rituals to use in the New Sith." Emma said.
"You're not going,” Maul said.
"Sorry, what?”
"Do you know anything? Have the last two months of constant puking and peeing not made sense to you? Feel yourself with the Force, you daft woman."
She did, for the first time in a while, then gasped and hugged her stomach. She had no idea how she could have missed this except constant distraction and she supposed, a healthy dose of denial. Zak shifted. Hill ran a hand down his chin and left the room. Rose and Talzin shared knowing looks. Ezra broke the silence. "The fuck you smell like blankets for?" He asked. "Normally you smell..." He clapped a hand over his mouth, but it didn't seem like anyone heard him.
"I think, my son, though lacking tact, is correct," Talzin purred. "I value my grandchildren."
"How did I not know?" Emma asked in a whisper.
"I didn't know I was pregnant with Zak until I missed my second period. I have a light one and the first one was implantation bleeding. I didn't know."
"I was on birth control. I haven't had a period for three years." Emma said. "My birth control should have stopped this."
"Well, it probably stopped working because Dathomir didn't want it." Talzin said, as if this was normal.
"What do you mean?" She asked.
"Well, if Dathomir saw that you were not opposed to having children, it probably absorbed the…thingy into your uterine wall."
Everyone tried not to gag.
"I can't not go though. This is too important."
"I won't see my children get hurt."
Rose got annoyed. "They won't. I was pregnant with Zak for six months before I had to stop. She is going to be fine. I think that she should be careful, but I did it, and Twi'lek aren’t as hardy as humans across the physical board."
"Zakarie, can I speak to you for a moment?" Hill said. He had stuck his head in the door. Zak nodded and went into the hall.
"They are both mine even if that's not genetically the case," Maul said.
It was all too much, too fast.

Rose went into the hall with Zak and Hill to do some parenting.
"Ezra, let's go make you useful. Escort your mother." Talzin said, and stuck her hand out. He looked mildly confused but took it anyway and they also left, leaving Maul and Emma.
"So, we have a decision to make," Emma said.
"It's your body," Maul said, shrugging. "Obviously, I'm elated. I never thought I would have this chance, but it isn't my decision on whether to…abort or not."
"Then we need to make something straight. If I am going to have children with you, then you are going to accept your limitations."
"What do you mean?"
"After this mission, you are done. Someone has to look after the kids, and I have too much to do. You've been around a while, but I am still young and able. Your talents are going to be better served here, with the kids." He looked like he was going to say something, but stopped. He hated it, but she was right and he knew it.
"Fine."
Zak came in at that moment, standing tall as if for once he was completely sure of himself.
"What's up, Zak?" Emma asked, rubbing her face with her hands.
"I was just told that one of those could be mine, and I need to be a part of this conversation."
"They are both yours," Maul grumbled.
"Umm, what?"
"Zak, we are a family unit. No matter what genetics say, they are both yours. That is a very human way of thinking, only one of them. Good gods."
Emma looked at Maul. "We are a family unit?"
Maul clenched his fist and for a second it looked like he might wreck something.
"Fuck this. Come find me when you guys figure this shit out. I'm going to be useful and ready the ship”
Emma sat with her head in her hands. None of this was going as planned and she had no idea how to deal with it yet.

 

The next two weeks went by quickly, but not easily. Hill left to get his army, Rose left to continue the fight against the Hutts, and the rest went to their various tasks. Emma and Talzin worked on rituals to strengthen her abdominal muscles so that she could take a hit, as well as working on stealth rituals so that if things got too rough, she could become a literal smoke cloud and get away. Zak was working on the banner, but wouldn't let anyone except Maul see it. The nights for him were spent scratching on paper, canvas, and towards the end of the timespan, a sewing machine. It was a weird thing that they shared. Both of them were Ancient Sith nerds.

Every day for eight hours, Maul trained everyone in their various forms of lightsaber and hand-to-hand combat, noting that they were improving at a good pace. Ezra in particular had proven useful. He somehow (with Talzin's assistance, though nobody was really sure exactly how) got the blueprints of the mansion on Byss, and he went through them, charting every tunnel, door, and window in the building, as well as charting response times for the units as soon as the panic button was hit. They were finalizing the plans when he finally called them all together.

"So, we have a problem," he said, thumbing the new lightsaber at his side. It had a blaster built into it. Unorthodox, but perfect for him.
"Which is?" Emma said.
"There is about twenty women and children in the mansion."
"How do you know this?" Talzin asked.
"I used the bathtub."
Mommy's tattooed brow raised but she didn't say anything. No one else seemed to notice anything amiss, but she made a mental note to figure out exactly how the boy had figured out how to scry in her tub.
"But I have found a plan."

He put his drawings of the place onto the table and pointed at an entry point in the kitchen. "There's a grease trap here. It has to dump out somewhere. To be honest, a fuel-burning oven doesn’t need a grease trap, it’s a fire waiting to happen. I can get the kids out that way."
"Woah, woah, woah. So you're going too?" Maul asked.
"Yes, yes, yes. Can your broke ass climb up a chute filled with grease? Also, like I said, no oven like this anywhere has a grease trap, so this is obviously an escape route, meaning it will likely be lightly manned. There is a cave complex under here. There are no actual maps, but logic states that if this is a hidden escape route, there is a way out. I just have to find it, and would like to do that and get inside before you guys start causing a scene so that the kids can get out and away from danger in the confusion."
Maul nodded, seeing for the first time not an idiot kid that was fine with selling him out, but a man with serious cunning.
"Well, we have a plan, and an army. All that's left is to move."
The door opened.
"We shall. Preferably immediately. I have a troop transport and some uniforms. Let's get moving," said Hill, who was dressed in Imperial grey with the ranking of a Governor. He looked absurd, but somehow right in it.
Talzin looked much longer than she would admit, even to herself.

 

The trip there was tense. Maul took the Nightbrother and left a few hours after the others, so as not to arouse suspicion by them all arriving together. Ezra rode with him. Emma and Zak dressed in Imperial grey, both with the rank of lieutenants, and got in the troop transport with Hill. They noted that the pilots, while not stormtroopers, definitely wore armor that looked like a cross between that and Mandalorian armor. One had yellow parts, and another had blue. Once they took off, the pilots took off their helmets. To Emma's shock, they looked exactly the same, except one had a flat top and the other had a shaved head. They both saluted and the one in yellow spoke.
"Sirs. I am Commander Cody of the 501st Clone Regiment. This is Captain Rex. The 501st were the only ones of the clones able to be requisitioned by Senator Hill before our destruction was ordered. We are happy to serve the New Sith Order." They both saluted again. Zak was just silent, sketching in his book. He didn't seem fazed. Emma was less stalwart.
"Fuck-what?"
Rex smiled and pointed to the doors that led to the troop carrier. She opened it, and she saw about twenty clones milling about, checking weapons and armor.
"The Jedi had clones created as a 'Grand Army of the Republic', which the Emperor had planned to utilize to start a war against the Seperatists during the Seperatist Crisis back in the days of the Republic, but the Jedi ended up stopping the crisis, which rendered the clones obsolete, so the Emperor publicized their creation during his rise as an army of the Jedi, and had them destroyed. I saved their elite regiment, the 501st. This is a small strike force we have assembled, but the regiment is actually one thousand men strong. The rest have been sent in a larger ship to Dathomir to learn to live among the Nightpersons. The New Sith now have a standing military force."
"I really hope you told Mommy all of this before you sent them."
"She suggested it."
Emma thought back to the panel in the cave and smiled. Whatever happened to them before would never happen again.

They all held their breath when they got to the checkpoint, but before long, his codes went through. Cody spoke. "All the Imperial codes are just codes the Republic was using, and those were all hardwired into our heads, so we now have all of their security clearances."

They landed and Emma started sweating, remembering her dream, but she got herself under control. She and Zak put on Imperial caps. It was time. They and the clones started marching up the hill. The clone’s bootsteps were perfectly in sync, and Emma and Zak tried to match it, marching in time next to Hill, who was holding a datapad but not stepping in time. When they got to the door, the clones all stopped about twenty feet away and the other three walked up to the four Red Guards that had come out to greet them. Emma could see that there were guns aimed at the clones from the building too. Hill spoke.
"I am Senator Hanni Hill of Naboo. I am here to go over the books with the Emperor. He should have informed you of my arrival." The guards nodded and moved aside. "Lieutenant Arnaud, please stay with the troops. Lieutenant Ly, you may accompany me inside." He said, then walked in. Emma had followed him. Her name badge said Lt. Ly. She wondered what the significance of it was, but she figured she would ask later. They walked in and up a flight of stairs to an all-wood well-appointed stateroom, where Emperor Sheev Palpatine sat. She had to fight the reflex to run. She didn't know why, but this man terrified her. It wasn’t the same as seeing him in holo-form. Hill sat in front of her, and they started talking. She stood as still as she thought a lieutenant in the military should and watched the clock. Her legs started getting tired as the first hour went by, then the second. At the third, she spoke.
"Senator Hill, May I interrupt?"
He turned. "What is it Lieutenant Ly?"
"I need to use the privy, Sir."
"You are excused, Lieutenant," he said, but Palpatine put up his hand and stood. Her heart sucked itself into her throat. He approached her.
"You seem to be pregnant, Lieutenant," he said, and pressed his hand on her stomach. She fought to not show emotion.
"I sensed…why, I did sense four heart beats. You have quintuplets? How odd. Why are you still on duty? And your skin..." He paused and reached for a button on his waist. As he did so, the first shots were fired outside, and Emma didn't waste any time. She flicked on her lightsaber, disguised on her utility belt.

"I'm Emma. You know me. Maul sends his regards."
She snarled and flicked the lightsaber through his midsection, then mid-stroke, she cut upwards and he crumpled and started to smoke. She couldn’t look at his face.

The building was a cacophony, and Hill started to rummage through the desk. "Emma, we don't have long. Access the computer behind me and start deleting files. Everything. Military. Economic. Tear it apart. The longer it takes for them to get back together is the longer we have to operate."
He threw her an Imperial data stick and she stuck it into the computer. Then cursed.
"Hill, there is a backup password!" She yelled, starting to feel the panic rise.
"Fuck!" He said, but kept rummaging. He found a false bottom under the desk and opened it, pulling out an envelope and a purple holocron that hid there. She had a flash of insight, remembering the sick dream and typed in the password: Sunshine. The light flicked green and she started a massive file dump, downloading everything she could to the stick and deleting it all. Surprisingly, the stick held all the information. Hill moved to the door and listened. It seemed like the fighting was over. They both moved into the hall cautiously. They saw the clones ushering women and children into the kitchen, where Ezra was helping them down a ladder. The other clones had taken up position at the windows and started firing.
"Report!" Barked Hill.
"Two dead, three wounded, Sir. Mr. Arnaud is among the wounded. He's already gone down the hole with Mr. Maul. We are evacuating the building. He said you would know what to do with this," Rex said and tossed a large case to Hill. Hill smiled and climbed the stairs. Emma helped with the evacuation.
"Hey! I saw a fucking mermaid!" Ezra yelled over the din of blaster fire.

"What?" She asked, but Cody was yelling at them and gesturing at the hole. Ezra just jumped down, no stranger to relying on the Force to keep him from injury. Emma grabbed ahold of the ladder and slid, troopers piling in and doing the same. She was in a cave, but it looked weirdly like someone was living here, and it hummed with the Force. Zak was down here with Maul over him. He had been hit in the arm. It was hanging uselessly.
"What happened?"
"Red Guard. He'll live. They only got the arm," he said and helped Zak to his feet, who was smiling despite his injury.
"I did well, too. Got him on the reposte. Dad would have been proud," He said and kissed Emma. They all started walking through the cave. It came out underground, but the small ledge led directly to the sunlight. They were on the beach a ways away from the mansion. A few clones were waving at them from outside. The ground was littered with stormtroopers.
"Heh, we showed them who is superior!" Cody said. Zak tapped Emma and pointed at the mansion, then pressed a button. A banner unfurled from the top of the window, where the Emperor's now lifeless body hung with curtain cords under it.

A red circle on a black flag, almost like a compass—the secondary direction points were crowns. It looked like a stylized sun, but if you looked close enough, it was a modified version of the universal symbol for the dark side--not the Empire, not the Republic, not the Banite Sith, but something else entirely. The Nightpersons would recognize it as the symbol for the Horned God. But people all across the galaxy would know it anywhere after this. The New Sith rose and struck, and chains across the galaxy could be broken after this.

Allies of the Empire wouldn’t know what was coming for them.

Chapter Text

There was going to be a celebration for the New Sith's success on Dathomir. The clones were rather cavalier about the prospect. It dawned on Elliot that they probably didn't know what a party on Dathomir usually entailed. They were expecting a Republic celebration with fireworks, a parade, maybe heavy drinking. The only part of that that was true would be the last. Elliot was pacing up and down the troop carrier. He wanted some time away from everyone to think, so Zak went with everyone else on the Nightbrother. It wasn't like there was much choice anyway. He was injured and needed to be in an open space on a bed. At least Bones, the clone medic, went with him. They didn't really stick around after the attack. Word is one of the Star Destroyers was on its way, leaving the crucial hyperspace route for their escape open, so they took it, passing the Star Destroyer on the way. It took everyone all that they had to not punch it past. No one wanted to test the fury of a wounded and headless Empire.

 

As they came into orbit around Dathomir, the dark mood that infected Elliot deepened. For some reason, he felt that he had failed somehow. He was almost caught, and it almost cost him his children. Now that was a funny thing to think of. A pregnant man. He tried not to give it too much thought. In another place and time, he would have marveled at how good he looked in Imperial grey, but for some reason, he had a melancholy that refused to break. Something was very wrong in the galaxy. They had ended the Emperor's reign of terror, but Elliot could feel it in the greater Force. The Emperor's death started a dangerous chain of events, and it was so harsh, it brought Elliot to the fore to fight. The clones panicked, but now most of them were asleep, unaware of the witch pacing the row between the bunks.

 

"Landing gear in place. We're home, boys. Prepare for departure," Cody said, and some of the clones snapped awake, waking the others. Elliot went back to the front of the ship and settled in his seat for the rest of the landing. The atmosphere was streaking over the ship now in bright reds. Elliot looked into those flames. He was home, but still, all he could do was brood.

The ship settled into the landing area. It looked like while they were gone, some of the Nightbrothers had cleared the area and provided a bigger landing area. There was also a foundation out behind the Big House for something huge. The trestle tables had been pulled out into the yard and the Nightsisters were setting it up. It looked like a Great Hunt feast, or at least, that's what Elliot saw. He could tell now, after all the reading, what the ritual setup was like. Mother Talzin was out front stirring the mead pot. She looked to the landing ships, face impassive, then turned back to the pot of mead, putting in some of her hair. It glowed. Elliot departed the transport and walked calmly over to the Nightbrother, whose boarding ramp was just settling on the ground in a cloud of dust. What walked off the ramp, though red, was not Maul, and the creature ran directly into Elliot. He sensed them on reflex. It was excited and anxious, tinged with grief and longing. When they looked into Elliot's face, that feeling shifted to lust, and a hint of curiosity. Before Elliot could say a word, the creature, and Elliot had an idea of what sort of creature they were, reached up and ran a finger down his nose bridge, feeling the bumps on his nose. Elliot reflexively swatted the hand and hissed (Where did that come from?), and the creature jumped back with an inquisitive look on their face. Elliot finally had a chance to analyze them—one of the feels was distinctly feminine.

She had deep red skin and long black hair, with a ridged nose and some tentacle-looking skin tags along her chin and eyebrows. She was pretty, sure, but those golden eyes were highly intelligent, and Elliot now realized that she was wearing Emma's clothes. One thing was for sure, though: Elliot did not see her board the Nightbrother with the others. His face twitched with controlled fury, and the Sith spoke.

"I am Mia. You are Mr. Zakarie's brood-mate?" She asked.

"What? No," he said.

"You are good Sith stock though, yes? I can mate with you?"

Elliot was taken aback. This was the first time anyone had ever tried to “mate with him”.

"Ma'am, are you okay?"

"I am physically well, yes. But I am lonely and desire to make more of my kind. I promise you would enjoy the experience. What caste are you?"

"Ma'am, I'm pregnant," Elliot said. Her attitude had caught him off guard and the words just fell out. She cocked her head, confused.

"You are in-between? How exciting! You must be Kissai for sure! How auspicious. I must carry your children!" Mommy was approaching now, and Maul and the others were coming off the ship.

"I see you met Mia," Zak said. He looked better. At least his arm was bandaged. "She has already tried to mate with all of us. Maul, Ezra, and myself in that order."

Elliot had to control his rage again. Why was he jealous about this? Those two weren't his possessions.

"And we all turned her down, though I think Ezra only did because he was high," Zak continued.

"I didn't even get a chance," said Bones. "If you don't mind, Sirs, I need to regroup with the 501st. Permission to return to my duties?"

"Granted," said Hill, who had come over to observe the spectacle. Mommy had arrived too.

"Fair creature, you exist! I am Mother Talzin of the Nightpersons, your people's descendants. Come, I will enlighten you!" Mommy said and wrapped her arm around Mia before anyone else could speak, and started walking away, talking animatedly.

Elliot stood, brows knitted together for a moment.

"Guys, that was an Ancient Sith."

"I told you I found a mermaid," Ezra said.

 

The party was in full swing now, and the clones were out. There were a lot of them. They had all hunted down a great beast for the feast, and Elliot got to observe their tactics. They were good. Even armored, they were able to sneak up on a bull krayt and take it down unarmed. A Great Hunt was different. It wasn't a ritual of fertility. It was a ritual of a great event taking place, and the Nightpersons rejoicing. Even now, some of the clones were dancing with partners, male and female, and some with other clones even. There was a group of about five that had made instruments out of the parts of the krayt and were playing a spritely song. Even with everyone dancing, talking, and laughing, Elliot was unable to reconcile what he felt. the bonfire was casting eerie shadows everywhere. Talzin sat next to him at the table.

"Why so gloomy, my dear son?"

That was something else that was different from the Wild Hunt. In the Great Hunt, no one was at their physical best. Mommy looked the same that she always had.

"I don't feel right. I thought with his death, I would feel differently, happy. But I feel like he was the lynchpin in something holding back a tide of darkness, and now that he is gone, the screen that kept the universe safe is beginning to unravel."

"I feel it too. So does Dathomir. That great metal thing that he created needs to be destroyed. It makes the planet uneasy."

Elliot felt out to the spirit of the planet, which he could now contact. He could feel the stink of its fear. "It isn't right. What did we do?" He asked.

Mother Talzin shook her head. "I don't know, but all we can do is keep moving forward. The deed is done for good or ill.”

Someone tapped Elliot's shoulder. He looked up to see Hill. "I got the holocron working. I think you should see it. I think all the New Sith should," he said.

 

Everyone had gathered in Mommy's room, which seemed to be where these things took place now. Hill fidgeted with the holocron, and it lit up, showing that disgusting old man's hologram.
"You are a genius beyond words, future self, and I have detailed the plan to our specifications. It's simple enough, yet genius in its execution. I would say more, but in case there are ears that shouldn't hear it, I have left you coordinates inscribed on the case of this holocron. Look there to get the plan. If this is my dear replacement, you may wish to do the same. The plan must go forward, even in the result of my death, for the glory of the Sith. Gather my Hands, combine the holocrons, and then and only then, will you know the full extent of my plans. Go, and may the darkness be with you."

Elliot shuddered. That phrase was a mockery of the one used at the Jedi Temple often, and to hear it in his voice, it was amazing how similar the Jedi and the Old Sith actually were.

"Now, I have already taken the coordinates and put them into a locator. There were galactic coordinates, and planetary coordinates," Hill said and pressed a button on the datapad. It lit up and showed a planet far in the Galactic South. A small section of the planet was lit up. Maul bared his teeth.

"Dagobah. It figures. He would," he said.

"What? Where is that?" Zak asked.

"Dagobah is a Force-planet like here, except instead of being a grey planet, it's dark side. Worse still, the place infects you. I was dropped there once for camping. It... wasn't pleasant," Maul said.

"Well, it's not like we can't go," Elliot said without thinking. It seemed like everyone else was thinking the same thing.

"And what is your plan, oh fearless leader? You haven't even been there. The place is covered in swamp and trees for one thing, it's dark, we will be in unfamiliar territory without a decent landing place, and there's something about the place. Like you are being watched always," Maul said. Elliot could understand his anger. Maul was dealing with the same thoughts he was. His dark mood had spread throughout the room.

"I don't know, but we don't have much choice. We need those plans. I have no doubt that it has the Big Fucking Problem on them, and we need to get rid of that."

"I think it's simple," Hill said. "We send a small force, drop into the planet, grab what we need, and leave. Since you seem to know the place, I suggest you should go, Maul."

He growled for a second, but his eyes lit up. He was looking forward to venting his anger. Mia had wandered into the room at this point. It didn't seem like she was paying any attention, but looking around, so they continued.

"There is something you can do while we are gone, Hill. You are now Governor of Naboo. Can you get into Snoke's things and find his holocron?"

Mia's ears perked up and she wandered over to the datapad, picked it up, and started fiddling with it.

"I can at least try. I'm sure it was at his estate. I already have Speaker Thrawn scouring his office on Coruscant, but so far, he hasn't found anything."

The sound of a blaster shot rang out from the datapad, and Mia froze, figured out how to rewind it, and then paused it, looking fascinated.

"This is a Sith Lord! One of the Zuguruk!" She said. Elliot came over and looked.

She had paused it on the picture of Ben. She was running her fingers over the picture.

"What do you mean?"

"His caste is etched into his face, just as yours is, Kissai." She pointed at Maul. "And that one is Massassi."

"I'm lost, Mia. Try to explain in simpler words."

Mia spoke primarily Ancient Sith, but her basic wasn't sub-par. "There are four castes in our culture. The lowest has no name. They are slaves, outcasts, and menials. They aren't worthy of recognition. After that is the Massassi. They are the warriors, and they protect all of us. Above them is the Zuguruk. our engineers. They are responsible for all the technological achievements, including figuring out hypertravel, and the highest caste is Kissai. Our priests. To be Kissai is to lead the Sith. My father was Kissai, but I was Zuguruk. My broodmate was also ranked among the Kissai. He was a handsome man."

"And you say that this man is an engineer for the Sith?" Elliot asked.

"Are you blind, Kissai? What do you think nose crests are for? You can tell by the number of crests. Massassi have one, Zuguruk have two, and Kissai, three." She said. Everyone instinctively felt their noses. Sure enough, Elliot had three, as did Talzin, and Maul (mildly surprising, apparently she’d guessed wrong). Zak and Ezra had the one. Hill also felt his nose, though he didn't say anything.

"And how do you know who is and isn't a Lord?" Zak asked.

"It isn't a title. A Sith Lord is anyone that has reached sexual maturity. I had thought everyone in here was one. You Sith HAVE lost your way," she said.

"Then it looks like Ben is one of us if he is manifesting the features. We should go to him and get him here," Hill said.

"One thing at a time. First, Dagobah. Who is going?" Maul asked.

"I think me, you and Zak." Elliot said.

"While that is happening, I wish to speak to you Ezra," Mommy said. He did not look pleased. She purred. They’d been spending an awful lot of time together lately.

"Well then, it sounds like it is settled. You all go to a holy world. Don’t die—at least not this day!" Mia said. Everyone looked at her, baffled at her immense intelligence and antiquated cunning.

 

"This place is wrong," Zak said, walking off the boarding ramp of the Nightbrother. Elliot couldn't help but agree with him. It felt wrong. Dagobah was muggy--they were used to the humid environments of Dathomir, but this was different. Dathomir was temperate, but this place was cloying and almost suffocating to be in. The sound of insects was absent and it was unsettling. It was also dark. Dathomir was never truly dark because of the close orbit of the moon. It was always full. This place had an oppressive darkness. Maul disembarked, checking again to make sure that his lightsaber was on him. It’s my life, he though, going through the checklist etched in his mind since he was big enough to carry it.

"Alright. Let's move quickly. The coordinates we are looking for are a few miles ahead of us. This was as close as I could safely get us. Keep your eyes peeled for snakes and the world’s bird, and if you see movement in one of the bogs, stay out of it. I don't want to save anyone from a murder-log."

"The fuck is the world’s bird? Do they even have a committee for that?" Elliot asked.

"It's a stirge," Maul said with a grin and started trekking through the swamp. “It makes our mosquitoes look like butterflies in comparison.”

 

They made part of the walk in silence, only punctuated by the sound of the mud suctioning their feet to the ground. Maul was taking it all in stride, seemingly adept at this. Terrible though it was, it looked like all of his camping trips had paid off.

Maul wondered if maybe it would be a good idea to do that with their kids. What could the harm be? It wasn't like they had to actually leave them alone. They could monitor the kids from orbit. Besides, if they got eaten, then they were weak and not worthy to be Nightpersons.
(What is wrong with me? That's a horrible thing to think, Force-ghosts, I could never force that upon our children.)
He shook his head violently as if frightening a swarm of gnats.

Elliot and Zak were having a rougher time of navigating the terrain. Maul would have to slow every now and again to let them keep up, and it seemed to just make him angry. They were slowing him down and he knew it.

Zak kept getting nervous. He would jump at every sound, and his hand would fly to his lightsaber before he realized that it was just his feet in the mud. He felt rightly stupid.

They were at the halfway mark when a sound erupted through the forest. A large black X-Wing took off from the distance and raced off into the sky. They all shared worrying glances and grouped together for a pause.

"I thought you said this place was deserted," Elliot said.

"It is. Don't fucking start with me. It's been a long day already," Maul said, patience already worn.

"Can we focus? It doesn't matter who that was, and I don't really care. Let's just get to the coordinates, get what we need, and leave. Sound good?" Zak said. Everyone silently assented and got back to mucking.

 

They got to the coordinates. In the water was a crashed X-Wing that looked like it had been there for a long time. The cockpit was exposed and all the glass was still intact, but absolutely covered in filth and grime. Rust collected on the hull. Elliot jumped across and landed on it easily. "Think this is what we are looking for?" There was a roar out of nowhere. Maul's hand flew to his saber and it was out and spinning in the blink of an eye. Zak did the same, grabbing his and lighting them up. Elliot fumbled for his and ignited the golden double-blade.

Men--at least, Elliot thought they were men--erupted from the forest brandishing clubs. They were all dressed in black tunics and pants, and all of them looked monstrous. They were obviously human, but their size reminded Elliot of Savage. Then they charged. Maul started building momentum to strike in a flurry of blows and Zak dropped into Shien stance, flipping his sabers around, moving at them and started slicing left and right. They weren't immune, but the lightsabers didn't fell any of them either. Those that were cut down still kept moving. The ones cut in half were crawling towards Zak and Maul with their arms, trying to grab their legs. And there were a lot of them. This was NOT how this was supposed to go.

"GET THE DAMN THING AND LET'S LEAVE!" Maul yelled over the melee. He was slow and he knew it and he hated it. Elliot scrambled at the manual release for the cockpit, only to find that it was broken. He hissed and punched the glass of the cockpit, shattering it and cutting up his hand in the process. He looked back and immediately wished he hadn’t--Maul and Zak were fighting together and holding their own, but there were too many of the beastmen. One of them jumped and landed on the other end of the X-Wing, raising his club. Elliot spun his blade as the beastman charged. He thought this would be easy and swung his saber towards the club, only to find that instead of the saber going through the stone club like a hot knife through butter, it bounced off like nothing happened.

"Cortosis!" He yelled to the others. The thing was big, but slow, and after a parry of blows, Elliot cut it in half vertically, then dropped in the hole in the cockpit, scrambling around. He searched frantically under the seat, behind it, in the various consoles, then popped open the glove compartment. It was empty. That was the only other place that the thing could be.

 

Elliot let out a furious scream and started lashing out at the cockpit in fury. He wanted to vent all his rage and frustration right then and there. He snapped off the glove compartment door and started swinging it at the consoles, the gearstick, and the targeter. It wasn't a lot of room to maneuver in, but he didn't care. What stopped him was when the cockpit door flew off its hinges and a big, meaty hand grabbed him around the throat. It was close to cutting off his air, but he fought, kicking and clawing. It didn't seem to feel it and jumped back to solid ground, where Zak and Maul were similarly restrained. Maul was being held the same way, feet dangling, but Zak was held with his arms behind his back. He was still struggling too, but it was futile.

 

"Well, well. What have we here?" Said a voice, and around a tree came a woman. She had long jet-black hair pinned up with sticks into a messy bun. Her skin was pale, not unlike a Nightsister. She wore a red vest to cover her otherwise bare breasts, held in place in the front with string and had a necklace made from twine. It was an ornate piece of jewelry, with bone beads and a crystal pendant on the end. Elliot immediately knew that she must be some form of civilized, possibly nobility. Even on other worlds, nudity was often a feature of high fashion. Clothes and makeup like that in a place like this just didn’t match up. The beastmen seemed to be taking direction from her.

"Such feisty young men, and so pleasing to the eye," she said and walked over, running a finger along Zak's jaw. "In the words of my mother, you, my gorgeous man, have a jawline for days."

Elliot seethed. Someone was touching and appraising HIS property. He struggled again with renewed strength, but the beastman had him held fast. The woman watched him struggle, running her fingers along something on her belt. Elliot inspected it hard: it was a lightsaber. He immediately stopped struggling. The woman laughed.

"Feisty indeed, but it will do you no good. My mother's creations are an improvement among normal men. Faster, stronger, they just seem to be lacking in brainpower, and I like my men to have intelligence."

"Let us go," Zak said. "We haven't done anything. We were just looking for something."

"Of course you were, in my swamp. Don't you know not to trespass?"

"Trespass? It's a godsforsaken swamp! I don't see any buildings."

"It's my land, you fool. You are the intruders here. What about you? Do you feel a similar way? Tell me your name and I will tell you mine," she said, looking at Elliot.

"I'm Elliot, and I'm very, very angry," he said through gritted teeth.

"And I am Morrigan. It's a pleasure to meet you, Elliot."

"Give it back. You have no idea what you've taken, those plans affect the entire galaxy as we know it," he said.

"Taken? First off, anything in this swamp belongs to me. I remind you, you are the intruders here. Second, I know not what was taken, 'twas not I that took it. I came to investigate intruders, and intruders I have found. You may not be the same intruders, seeing as a ship took off before I could get to it, but you are intruders nonetheless, and we don't take kindly to your sort here. Now I will ask once, and once only. Why are you here?"

"Now, Morrigan, is that anyway to treat our cousins?" Came a voice from the woods. A man came into view, nearly identical to her, but with distinctly masculine presentation. Even his clothes were similar, except his vest was completely open in the front and not open at all in the back. The same necklace was hanging from around his neck. Elliot caught himself staring whether he wanted to or not. He was still under the influence of the planet, but it seemed lessened with these two near. The man had a look halfway between a smile and a sneer.

"Why do you bother me, brother?"

"Because Mother asked me to figure out why you took thirty of her homonculi with you for a simple scouting mission."

"Because I thought I would need backup. You would've done the same."

"Maybe so, but I wouldn't have done it so openly. Maybe five. It's easier to hide five."

Elliot stared in disbelief at these two. Here they were being held captive, caught by two swamp people, and here they were, bickering as if one had taken a scrap of food from the other's plate. Maul noticed it too. His eyes darted around, looking for a way to escape. His eyes lit up, just for a second, and Elliot hoped. Maul focused on the Force. His lightsaber was clipped to the woman's belt and she wasn’t paying attention.

"Well I don't see why she would send you. You are the most condescending man alive, and you do that face."

The lightsaber flew off her belt and into Maul’s hands. The beast didn’t seem to notice, but it was hard as hell to wield it with his neck hung up. He carefully maneuvered it around to be able to turn it on and free himself as quickly as possible.

"What face?"

"That face. The one you are doing right now."

Maul sliced through the Homonculus' arm around his neck and dropped to the ground, ready to charge.

"I don't do a face. Maybe if you wouldn't pay so much attention to my face..." The man extended an arm without even pausing his conversation. Maul slammed into the ground as if a krayt had just landed on him. There was a sickening crunch--his nose was probably broken. "Then you would know that mother often counts her creations. There are two-hundred and fifty in total. Her count came up thirty short, and since there are only three people that can command them, and she and I were doing the counting, she knew you took them."

"What the fuck is wrong with you two?" Elliot had lost all patience and couldn’t help Maul.

"We are talking, Sir. It isn't my fault that he thought he could bum-rush us," the man said.

"He's injured!" He said. They both stopped talking and for the first time, actually paid attention to Maul. Elliot used that moment to really look at the two people holding them captive too--they were too similar. They had to be siblings. Elliot would go as far as to say twins. Their faces were strikingly similar to the point that there was no other solution. The only difference was that the man had an aquiline nose with three small ridges and Morrigan's had one ridge.
Ridges, he thought. SITH.

"This is your fault,” the man said, dropping his hand and going over to Maul, kicking the lightsaber out of reach.

"Just how, gods-tell, is this my fault, dear brother?"

"You took Mother's things and misused them, and now I, the good kid, am going to have to replace them." He put his hands over Maul and they glowed purple.

"Oh please, as if you do any work around the house," said Morrigan. She stood with her arms folded, watching them.

"I don't have to do the chores because I never do anything wrong."

"No, you always do things wrong, you just get me to follow through with your stupid schemes."

"It isn't my fault that you're gullible, Morrigan." His hands stopped glowing and Maul groaned. "Will you two just shut…the fuck…up?"

"Well, then talk. What are you doing here, cousin?" He snapped his fingers. The homonculi let Zak and Elliot go.

"We were trying to find a thing in the dead ship," Maul said slowly, thinking entirely too hard about the words coming out of his face.

"Descriptive. Before you ask, I couldn't fix you, but I was able to overclock your pituitary gland to help block out some of the pain until we can get you aid, which is why you may seem to be a bit... slow?" He said.

"I hate you," said Maul.

"Well then, you get to carry him, as this was your mess. Let's get them back to the house so that I can see what broke."

"Of course, oh gracious one. Make me do a job that a Homonculus can."

"I'm not getting baited again, Morrigan. Get him."

On the way through the swamp, Morgan explained that he and Morrigan were twins, as Elliot had guessed, and that Morgan had actually been to school off-world for a decent amount of medical training. He had equipment at the house, and he could help Maul, or at least get him back to the way he was. He and Zak talked animatedly about medical procedures, leaving Elliot to talk to Morrigan. The homonculi behind them were not a reassuring thought. Even worse, they were carrying back the still-vaguely-functioning bodies of the ones that were bisected and eviscerated. Only the ones that had been decapitated or had head damage were left behind to be eaten by the swamp.

"So, why so eager to let us go?" Elliot asked.

"Because my egotistical twin is right. You are our cousins and there is no need to hold you."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You are Dathomirian, right? I thought your skin gave that away, though I must say, you are a handsome man either way. Not really my type, but pleasing to the eye all the same."

"So why did you capture us in the first place?"

"Well, 'twas not I that drew my weapons to your warning shout. I assumed that you would respond to forty heavily-muscled warriors with force, so I had to subdue you to ensure you I meant no harm."

"I thought it was thirty?"

"Don't listen to the gorgeous idiot up there. He can't count."

"And then the questioning?"

"Well, that was a bit of fun. We don't see many visitors."

"It's not exactly like you rolled out the welcome mat for us."

"Yes, but if we wanted to be found, we would have been already. I figured Talzin would have told you about us."

"You know Mother Talzin?"

"You don't know our Countess?"

"Umm, I may be new at the whole coven-daughter thing. Like, really new."

"Hmm, I did notice that you looked nothing like that bald vulture."

"You knew Asajj too?"

"Pretty boy, we know a lot of things. We are the Countess' favourites after all."

 

They had arrived at the house now and it reminded Elliot considerably of a darker imagining of the Big House at home. When they entered, the layout was similar too. Morgan and Zak went off to where the kitchen was, and Morrigan took Elliot into the master bedroom, where Talzin would've been, except it wasn't Talzin. When they entered the room, there was an additional feature in here that Talzin didn't have. She had a big empty space off to the right side of the room. It's where the New Sith met for their meetings. What was there instead was a large throne made of bones. The Countess was seated at it with her feet propped up on a kneeling homonculus. There were two others one either side of the throne, also on their hands and knees, and it looked like they were end tables. There were various odds and ends scattered across their heavily muscled backs. Elliot's breath got caught in his throat. This was what Zak dreamed to serve and he knew he would never be this good. He would never look so… right. His face must have betrayed it, because the blonde woman laughed. She covered her hand with a glove studded with clear kyber crystals with a claw at the end. Elliot did not doubt that it was just as functional as it was fashionable. That seemed to be a rule here if Morgan and Morrigan were anything to go by.

 

"Welcome my dear, to Dagobah. my home. I see you have met Morrigan, which reminds me, Morrigan, never take things without permission. We may be savages, but we are not thieves." She pronounced it as Sau-vaj, just like everyone on Dathomir.

"Yes, yes. The pest already told me so, as condescendingly as possible."

"And you should do well to listen to him. He isn't nearly as rebellious as you. You may learn something."

"Of course, Mother."

She turned her attention back to Elliot. "Why are you in that form? Is there a reason, or did you just feel like being Elliot today?"

"Well ma'am, I'm kinda stuck. Talzin said that it was probably a response to outside influence. It isn't like it matters. He is still part of me. I respect him."

"Bah. Don't call me ma'am. I am your aunt. Call me Auntie or Countess. Also, does Talzin still cheat at Bridge?"

"Bridge?"

"Yes. Bridge. It's a card game that is neither Sabacc or Pazaak."

"I guess I wouldn't know, Ma…Auntie,” he corrected himself.

"Well, it's no matter. I know my children quizzed you, but I still must know. Why are you here?"

"We are here to stop a bad man from fulfilling his plans for the galaxy."

"Enlighten me."

 

Elliot spent a few hours detailing everything that had led to this point, starting with how he found out what the red holocron was. That night in Hill's apartment felt like a lifetime ago. Morgan came in at some point during the conversation, and sat, listening impassively. He had some blood on him, but he didn't seem to notice. It had dried on his chest. As fit as he was, his frame was still small and he seemed a little sick and pale. It must have been his natural state. No one seemed to make note of it.

 

"So, there is a giant metal death planet and you don't know what it does, but Dathomir is offended by it? And this man, the now-dead Emperor, saw fit to record his plans so someone could carry them out in the event of his death?" Morgan asked at the end.

"To summarize, yes."

"So do something about it. What's stopping you?"

Elliot had to fight down his exhausted anger. "You and your sister did, or did you forget the attack and subsequent capture?"

"I didn't attack you. That was Morrigan. But, I see the issue, and I think we should assist you with your endeavor in..." The Countess waved and cut him off.

"You are not in a position to make these decisions Morgan, and probably for the better. We will do no such thing."

"Wait, what? Why not?" Elliot asked.

"Because this is destruction. It's a part of the cycle just as growth and life are. Dagobah is the planet of destruction. This is in its purview."

"So you’re just going to stand by and let people die by this thing?"

"No, I am going to give you a place to sleep, and a gift to you, as well as one for Talzin. Then we are going to stand by and allow the natural order to take over."

Zak came in at that moment and stopped dead in his tracks, enraptured by the woman on the throne, who seemed just as interested as him. She spoke again. "You are a beautiful creature, aren’t you?"

Zak's knees started trembling. The Countess stood from the throne and walked towards him, and all Elliot could do was watch. She reached out and touched Zak on the cheek, and he sucked in breath as if doing it for the first time. Elliot's insides raged, and he moved before he could right himself, grabbing Zak and inserting himself between them. The Countess froze.

"He's mine. I've already watched enough people touch him today without his or my permission, and I won't sit by and let this happen anymore. Back. Off. Now."

The Countess weighed his words, sized him up, and a cold, alien smile appeared on her face. "You would die trying to stop me, child, but I respect your position as his Dominant and will do as you ask. Your jealousy, however, is very human, and unbecoming." She turned and walked back to the throne. Whatever spell had infected Zak seemed to have passed.

"Um, Emma? Elliot. Sorry. Maul is okay. Morgan fixed him. He said he got a call from Dad."

Elliot nodded.

"Also, it's okay. I know our rules. I won't break them. I am yours forever and always. Even if you shared me, I am yours."

Elliot felt like an idiot. Zake was property, but he had to remind himself that Zak was also trustworthy. Trusting him and protecting him was one thing, but jealously guarding him like a farmer might do a goat was wrong. He checked himself.

"I won't do anything. I promise."

"And he can't follow you to your gift anyway. Let him stay and talk. Go see to your husband, and then go to your gift. Morgan will lead you." The Countess said.

Morgan grumbled but stood.

"He's my fiance’. We aren't married yet."

"My apologies. Still, go to him. I will keep my hands to myself," she said. Morgan left the room with Elliot in tow. They went into the kitchen, and through a side door. This is where Talzin's personal kitchen would be, he thought. One of the biggest differences was that there was modern medical equipment in here, including a powered-down medical droid. It was so dirty, they must have just finished up. Its appendages were still covered with blood. Maul was sitting up on the table, shirtless, but more at himself.

"I don't want that asshole anywhere near me. He drugged me," Maul said. A growl generated from somewhere deep in his chest. It wasn’t a sound Elliot heard very often and it was entirely involuntary.

"No, I stimulated your pituitary gland. Endorphins are your own chemical. I just made it make more of them," Morgan said, holding his hands up dismissively.

"Maul, I've had a bad day too. What's going on?"

"You? You've had a bad day? Whatever. Hill called while we were out. There is trouble at home. An irregular storm has whipped up. It's a big one. They had to evacuate everyone from home and the neighboring villages to the Big House. This thing was knocking over houses. The Big House is out of power, and there is some trouble with the food. It's so bad that Daka woke up to deal with it. She, Talzin, Anne, and some of the other witches are locked up in Daka's kitchen. Daka's PRIVATE kitchen. They are performing a mass ritual. From what they can tell, Dathomir is frightened. Even now, the clones and all of Dathomir's men have boarded transports and are in orbit, as are Ezra and Hill. They are ready to move. There wasn't enough space in the Big House. We have to move, or we are in trouble at home."

Elliot's face went white with horror. Morgan listened quietly. It looked like he was turning something over in his head. Morgan broke the silence.

"Then I need to get you to your gift without delay."

"Gift? It can't be so important."

"Ah, but it is. Trust me. You need it," he said, and gestured to Elliot to follow him. Elliot hugged and kissed Maul, who was affronted, then followed Morgan. They didn't walk far. Outside, about one hundred yards from the Big House, was an eerily familiar cave. "Your gift is inside," Morgan said. Elliot shrugged and walked in.

 

This cave wasn't like the one on Dathomir. Sure, it looked the same cosmetically, but it was missing the crucial feel of life and growth, and the walls were bare. There was no history written here. It reeked of death and decay. Elliot walked down it warily, and before long, he was in the cathedral room. Dathomir's was covered in algae and moss with brightly colored kyber crystals of varying size and shape all along the roof. The water was a mint green color and looked warm and inviting. Visually it was the same, but there were a couple key differences. Creeper vines had replaced the moss, the roof was covered with dark red crystals and black obisidian. The crystals were so dark, they almost looked brown, and the pool was filled with blood-red water. But Elliot was pretty sure that it was in fact blood and not water. The consistency wasn't right and it looked glassy when the light hit it just right. There was no bubbling, and there was no inviting feeling. It just felt cold and lifeless.

 

That wasn't even the odd part. The cave immediately forced the physical switch from Elliot to Emma. The clothes were cut for a man, so when her hips widened, her previously hidden pregnant belly distended and her breasts reformed, the soft, form-fitting cloth tightened, the started twisting on its own. Emma froze with horror as the clothes started shredding themselves and falling off in strips, crawling their way into the blood pool like snakes. She was naked and terrified. It felt like her own skin was peeling off and a thick trail of smoke left her lips and materialized in front of her. She watched as the smoke took shape, then gained color. Before long, she was staring at a naked Elliot, who was staring back at her with the same intensity.

"Hi. We need to talk."

 

 

"So the plan is what, exactly? We don't have the plans."

Hill pinched the bridge of his nose. Ezra had asked this question several times in the past few days, and even Hill's patience was fraying. It was worse that he was on his son's ship. The White Stag had taken a beating and was needing repairs. He liked Ezra. He liked him a lot. He reminded Hill of most of the kids that he fostered before Zak. They were all kids with nowhere to go and no hope left. Hill had given them that hope, and he wanted to do the same with Ezra, but even Hill was locked in stasis at this point.

 

"I don't know, Ezra. I don't know what is going on. When I figure that out, I will let you know, but until then, we have to exercise our patience. This isn't easy for anyone, and I am just as uneasy as you are."

"A'ight. I'm gonna go smoke, then."
Ezra removed a wad of paper as thick as a krayt’s claw and an auto-lighter.

"Not on my son's ship you aren't. If he gets pulled over and they find traces on board-"

"Relax, Pops. I've done this before. You won't even be able to tell." He wandered off. Hill smiled. He was a good kid, despite what he tried to portray. It reminded him of some of the kids he and Willow had adopted. Willow, Hill thought, for the first time in a while.

 

She had the most beautiful smile, and her face was framed perfectly by her unruly brown hair. No matter the situation, she could always make him smile. She was wonderful, and when they had discovered that she was sterile... He tried to make the thoughts go away. He still wasn’t ready to entertain these thoughts. He stood and went to Zak's kitchen, looking for alcohol to chase the phantoms away, and noticed that there wasn't a drop of it on the ship. He was upset at this for his own purposes, but also proud of Zak, who remained responsible despite Hill not being there. He would have to congratulate him. (If Willow were still here.) The thoughts persisted, so he went back to the cockpit and forced himself to think of something else. He reflexively reached out and closed his eyes, meditating. He could see the empty, clean vents as the air flowed through them. He could see the inner workings of the engines as they burned on low-power mode. He could even see Ezra in the guest room. He was reclining on the bed with his headphones in. He took a pull of the improvised cigarette, then blew it through a cardboard tube with static sheets on the end. He flipped a page in a book—if he concentrated, he could tell which one--a guide to the Senate, The Beginner's Primer to Senatorial Relations. A classic, thought Hill. He even recognized the book itself. It was the beat-up copy that he owned at one point, and that he gave to Zak when he expressed interest in a career in politics.

 

He let his mind drift on the eddies of the Force and found that they strayed to Talzin. She wasn't just a good mother, she was strong. Opinionated. She was like a storm, beautiful to watch, but fierce in its fury, and best observed from a distance. She was a lot like Willow, now that he thought about it. Hill had taken a liking to her immediately, and they had talked more and more recently. He was able to make her laugh, and she could do the same with him. It was the most functional personal relationship that he had had with a woman since his beloved wife. He decided that when this mess was over, he would go to her. It was time for him to move on, and Willow would have balked at his insistence on clinging to her memory. She would've wanted to be remembered, but not prevent him from finding something special with someone else.

"I love you, my Will-o-Wisp," he said quietly to himself.

"I love you too, Beau," Came the faint reply from somewhere far away and deep within the Force itself.
Hill finally let himself feel and cry, the joy of freedom overcoming his senses.

 

 

Ezra thought he heard a disturbance from the cockpit, but thought nothing of it, popping his headphones back in. He had found a box of cheese crackers in the kitchen and was shoving a few in his mouth every page. This was the life, he thought through the haze of the green leaf. He was chill, eating trash and reading something elegant at the same time. He had always wanted to change the way the galaxy worked, to fix some of the ugliness he’d had to endure, but he had always thought they were pipe dreams. He looked down at his cigarette and chuckled to himself at the saying. Maybe they were pipe dreams before, but at least it was feasible now. No one had ever seemed to appreciate his talents, but here, on Dathomir, he had found what he was missing. He found a family. His mind flickered back to K briefly, but he moved forward. K was less and less of a thought every day. Now, he had a family, and even a job, able to do things no one else could. Apparently, he wasn't supposed to do Night-Witch-stuff, but he could. Talzin thought that had been interesting. She was teaching him new stuff and honing his skills every day. This was the first time he had a chance to relax and make his head shut up for a while.

With a quieter mind, he’d dug through the books Zak had on board and settled on The Senate. It was an interesting though, one he wouldn’t have considered in any other context. He wanted to show them what it was like to come up from nothing. To be a slave and to rise up to those ranks, able to think for himself, and tell the humans what was what as a fellow human. No, not a human. He was a Nightbrother. He was a warrior. What had Mia called him? Massassi? Yeah. That was it. Even now, even with the death of the dirty old man, Palpatine, there were humans there representing non-humans, even on predominantly non-human worlds. It made him sick. He wanted change, and he knew that to find that change, he would have to affect it himself. For the first time in a long while, he had hope that maybe he could.

 

 

Morgan was pacing in Morrigan's room. He was always calm and collected in public. No one could suspect he was an anxiety-riddled mess in private.

"What is the matter, love?" Morrigan said, standing behind him and hugging him around the shoulders.

"It's just what Elliot said, about this BFP he went on about. How could Mother say we would do nothing?"

"It's likely she doesn't see the true threat for what it is," she said, and started kissing his neck. It was supposed to be reassuring, but Morgan felt lust bubbling up.

"I'm sorry, love. I don't like seeing you a mess. You are my moon of moons."

"I know. I shouldn't snap at you, but this is so frustrating. We can't sit and do nothing. I won't."

"And you are planning to disobey Mother? Why do I feel like I'm the one carrying this out?"

"For once, my heart, you aren't. This threat will require both of us. We both have to deal with it."

"But how? How are we supposed to get aboard a giant battle-station?"

"Well, what if we ram it?"

"Sometimes I wonder why I let you make the plans. What if we can get some pass-codes? Or if we wait ‘til our allies attack and fly into one of the hangars that is deploying enemy fighters?"

"That. That last one will work. And we have an army."

"Mother has stripped me of command after my last little escapade. I can't command the Homonculi for a while."

"No, but I can," Morgan said with a grin. "See if you can weasel the codes for the ship from Mother. I'll get to work on the Homonculi."

 

 

"This is a gift?"
She was looking at Elliot as if he were standing in front of her. She tried to touch him, and to her surprise, he was solid. It felt like electricity to touch him. It was more than a manifestation of her soul. He was the man she had always wanted and simultaneously wanted to be. That's why Zak had meant so much. He was so close.

"Call it a gift, call it a trick. It makes no difference. The important part is we’re here, and I can finally talk to you. Think of it as a meeting of the minds," He said, perched on a rock. He was like the galaxy's prettiest gargoyle.

"I don't know what we could possibly have to talk about. We are the same person. We share the same thoughts."

He started laughing, and it was beautiful and frightening at the same time. "No, Emma. No, we don't. I hate you, for one, but then I hate everything, as is the nature of the beast."

"How can you hate me? You are me."

"No, as I said, we may share a body, but we are not the same person. You love, I tolerate. You dislike, I hate. You make love, I fuck. You are the light, and I am the darkness. Much like the Daughter and the Son, or the Winged Goddess and the Horned God. Interesting isn't it? "No, we aren't the same person. Maybe at one time, we had the potential to be, and maybe there is the potential for us to be so in the future... But you have pushed me away, in denial of yourself, in turning away from your darker urges... You have made me what i am now, which is something inextricably connected to and intertwined with you, but not entirely what you are. You have taken all the light for yourself and left me in the dark here to fester and become the beast that you see before you,” he said and flexed his fingers. There was something not quite right about his features now that he mentioned it. It wasn't like he was inhuman, but he was more bestial. More heavily muscled, but leaner, with sharper eyes and slightly longer canines. He also had small Zabraki horns sprouting from his head. Emma knew that she was looking at Elliot in his true and terrible form and it made her nauseated.

"The One In-Between said that. This isn't news to me, but you can't say that you are entirely different from me. There must be a reason we are having this talk."

"Aye, there is. If you want to continue this fool's crusade against darkness, then there isn't much time to do it in. So let's start with some ground rules. You seem to like speaking for me, and I hate that, but then again, I hate everything. When you feel that instinctive thing in you, when you feel that bestial urge, that is me talking, and I’m telling you, I'm tired of being ignored."

"Oh."

"Good Force you are stupider in person. I have never met someone that made such idiotic noises as much as you do, but then, it's in the nature of the prey to stick to herds for larger numbers, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that this would be the case."

"You don't have to be rude."

"And you don't have to be ignorant, but here we are, with me explaining that I am trying to speak. Don't you read? Did you ever to think of reading up on people like us? No. You didn't. It never even crossed your mind. Your mind is free from thoughts of greater erudition. From ambition. I have to provide those for you. Point is, if you ever feel those urges, all you have to do is open your ears, and I can be heard, speaking. I'm the beast inside, the thing under the surface, and usually, I have good advice."

"But how? How do I do that?"

"Do you forget sometimes that you can use the Force? That it gives you the ability to hear that beyond the material?"

"I... I do actually."

"Hey, do me a favor. from here on out, just assume that my questions are rhetorical, because I have the answers already."

"You’re being shitty and abusive, did you know that?"

"Ah, there is the fire. Yes, I did, because I am the darker side of you. I'm the monster. We all have one. Some say it's the Beast, others call it the Urge. It's all the same thing, but you are different. I wouldn't say unique. Many have been able to do this in time. Master Yoda and Master Windu for example. Your patron has given you the gift to manifest yours and remain in control. It was a great gift that he gave you, but I feel the need to break my chains, so we are talking."

"Don't say that like you are some kind of noble thing. You aren't noble. You just want to break your chains so that you can have power over me, and that is wrong."

"But you feel that way too, don't you? You want to control Zakarie." An image appeared in the pool. It was Zak, but it was a motionless copy.

"No. I don't want control."

"Then why do what you do? What is noble about it?" Elliot stood and jumped into the pool. Emma thought he would go in, but he landed on the surface, walking on the blood. He went over to the image and kicked it forward, then stood on its back. "What is noble about this Emma? How is this dignified?"

She had to think for a minute. Without Elliot inside, she felt cold and alone. It was disconcerting, and she wanted nothing more to have that kindled fire back inside. She slumped to her knees, feeling dejected and trying not to cry at the utter emptiness she felt.

"Answer the question!" He yelled. She flinched, trying to make it go away, then she thought of something.

"You can't control me! You can't hurt me! If you could, then you would. You are nothing but a posturing monster that is trying to look human!" She screamed.
"And you are a part of me. The part that makes me strive for success. You're my anger, my confidence, my ambition. You are as important to me as Emma is, and I can't live without you."

"And now you get it. Now I can work with you. There is a simple truth. We share a body, and if you die, then I die too. We are intertwined. We are the same."

"You are the part of me that can lie,” she said.

"This place has given you the ability to see you for what you are, and me. I'm more than just destruction. I'm more than hate. I'm an important part of you. I didn't personify myself. You did that and gave me a name. That makes me all the more real. The important part of this is that you don't need to switch back and forth. All you have to do is listen. I may be a darker urge, but sometimes, that is what is necessary. Continuing the train of thought that you were on, you would have been no better than the Jedi. This is a gift, because now you see it. Now you understand that locking me away and only bringing me to the fore to defend yourself is weakness, and there is no weakness, there is strength. The strength inside of you was there all along. Do you understand now? Putting up that divide was keeping you separate from your important parts. They need to be whole."

"I understand. I miss you. I need you."

"Then we are done here. When I talk, listen. You are whole." Elliot said, then his form turned back into smoke, and flowed back down her throat. She felt right again. She still had her compassion, but now she had ambition and strength that she had never had as Emma before. She strode out of the cave. Sure, she was naked, but she didn't care. It was time to face her fears head on, and not hide behind her other self to do it for her.

Chapter Text

"Dropping from hyperspace now," Zak said, and the Crimson Hawk shuddered. The stars came into view outside of the cockpit, replacing the blue tunnel that was hyperspace. Off in the distance, almost too far for the eye to see, was a gleaming metal sphere. Even out here, in the depths of the Moddell sector, the thing looked enormous. They were somewhere between Cerea and Endor. The Cerean sun could be seen in the distance.

"Christus, that thing is enormous," said Emma. Everyone else silently agreed.

They had met up with Hill on the way out, swapping ships at Naboo. Everyone agreed that the Nightbrother would be too small for a peace summit to discuss dealing with the Thing, so they agreed to exchange the Nightbrother to Hill for Zak's Crimson Hawk for the duration of the mission. Maul was still fuming about it. They made the trade while Maul was off getting supplies, and Hill left before he could get back, dropping off Ezra in the process. It was actually Ezra's idea. He still had a shiner from the dubious honor of informing Maul.

 

"So, who’s coming to this meeting?" Zak asked Ezra, who was sitting with an ice pack over the eye.

"Well, Pops contacted Bail Organa, Mom Mothma, whoever that is, some guy named Kacen, and some guy named Mace. That's an odd name. There was also an Armitage and a Krennic. I know that guy. Slow as bantha shit, but you know, allies where we can."

"Ezra, did he by chance say Kao-Cen?" Asked Maul.

"Yeah, might've. I thought it sounded like a ‘brak name."
"Maul, new plan. You stay in the back and figure this thing out mechanically the best you can. Zak, I'm gonna need you to take weapons at the door. It won't be easy, but everyone gets patted down and disarmed. We will have Kao-Cen do the same for me and you to show that we aren't armed. If Jedi are coming, this could get hairy."

"Great. Just what the Sith want on their ship. The Jedi battle master and the Jedi's personal executioner. So happy, such reunion, wow," Zak said, continuing to grumble to himself and heading to the kitchen.

"Hill didn't invite the Jedi. Who did?" Maul asked.

"Well, Bail Organa’s known to be a good friend and loud proponent of theirs, so there’s that," Ezra said.

"How do you know that?"

"Look, can we all just agree that I actually, despite appearances, know things sometimes?"

"I never said you didn’t, and I am truly sorry that you feel we don't take you seriously. You are just as important as we are," Emma said, going over and hugging his shoulders. He allowed it for the moment.
Maul just walked into his room, and it sounded like he knocked over something big and metallic. "IF YOU SMOKE IN HERE AGAIN I SWEAR TO ALL THAT IS HOLY, I WILL RIP YOUR DICK OFF AND FEED IT TO YOU!"

Ezra was about to bite back with something he no doubt found witty, but Emma shook her head and put a finger over his mouth. "He and Mace have history and they’re going to have to play nice, we did shenanigans with his ship again. Just let it go, I’ll talk to him when we’re done."

Another ship dropped out of hyperspace and hailed them. Emma answered it.

 

"This is the Jedi transport, Justice, requesting permission to dock," Came the cracked and tired voice of one of Emma's favourite people. She fought herself to not get too excited.

"This is Crimson Hawk. Dock away. I'll have no surprises at this summit and we have one docking tube."

"Emma? Kid, is that you? Christus, I’m so happy to hear your voice. I'll be right there. Prepare for a huge hug," said Kao-Cen. The Jedi transport came in.

"Ezra, work with Maul, try to stay sober. No surprises. Just keep him contained."

"You got it, Em,” He said and went into the back. Zak came back with half a sandwich in his mouth.

"Already? I'm fucking hungry," He said with his mouth full and slugged back a soda, then went over to the docking tube. The clang of docking was jarring, and the air lock hissed. As soon as it stopped, the door slid open. Behind it was another tattooed Zabrak and an unhappy-looking bald man. Kao-Cen moved before anyone could say anything he crushed Emma with hugs. She did her best to hug back, but Kao-Cen wasn’t exactly her size. He released her and she was able to truly take stock--he looked the same as ever, except that he was wearing armoured robes instead of the regular comfortable robes that he normally wore. Mace—she’d know him anywhere--was also in armor and it suited him better than council robes. Even though it had been only a year since anyone had seen him in the Senate, his face seemed to age a decade. She noted he’d lost some weight, not something that troubled him in the past as far as she knew, but he was still solid enough to deliver a holy ass-whipping and that was exactly what the occasion called for.

 

"Emma Ly, where the fuck have you been?" Mace asked.
"Oh, you know. Around," she said. Zak was patting Kao-Cen down, but Mace had none of it.

"Sorry, but even though I know you, we know you guys are Sith. We watched the news, and we saw the banner. This could be a trick to cut us down, and I sense two others on board."

Emma sighed. "Look, we have engineers working on that Big Fucking Problem out there. We need them, and everyone will be disarmed as they enter the conference room. Would you like yours to check us?"

Mace exchanged a glance with Kao-Cen, and Kao-Cen looked at Emma. "Arms up, flatfoot. Mace is right. I’d hardly call us allies right this second,” he said, using a name that he had called her all those years ago. It was meant to be a comment on her Makashi skills, but it was still a term of endearment coming from him. Emma did as he said and he patted her down, then did the same to Zak, removing all of their lightsabers. Only then would Mace consent to being disarmed.

"Now that that’s out of the way, I have a question, Mace."
"Go. The Fuck. To Sleep." He tried to joke.

"Why did you call me, Ly?" It was pronounced “Lee”. It was her falsified name badge name from back on Byss, but there’s no way they could have known that.

Mace looked at Kao-Cen. "It was your mother's last name. She's passed." Kao-Cen said, doing his best at the required Jedi impassivity. He was never really good at it.

"She's not dead. She's very much alive," Emma said. "I went and found her, because I didn't want to be taken from her."

A look of relief crossed Mace's face. "Yeah, well, the Jedi are starting to change things. Sorry for the falsehood but you know our orders."

"How so?"

"Well, when the Empire censured us a year ago, they took almost everything we had, and unlike what most people think, the Jedi were donation-based. After the smear job that this guy's dad did, we were royally screwed," he said, gesturing at Zak with poorly-veiled disgust. "We barely have enough to feed the Temple. If it wasn't for Agricorp, we would have been done. The Jedi would be a memory."

Zak finished tinkering at the holotable and a 3D view of the surrounding space came into view and filled the room. Emma was able to walk across what looked like empty space, and at first, it was overwhelming. The only things in view was an asteroid field, off to the Southwest, the BFP to the North, The Crimson Hawk was in the middle of the room, where the real-time scanners were emanating from, and the Jedi Transport. It was an old model. Mace was right, it had to be tough for them if they were flying junkers to a peace summit. Another ship came into view on the map, dropping out of hyperspace. The holotable started to blink. Zak pushed the button.

"This is Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and our attaches requesting boarding clearance."

"Dock away, Organa. We have more to come and will not have any ships attached during the summit," she said.

"Have the Jedi been permitted to dock, already?"

"We're here, Bail. Get your ass on the ship," said Kao-Cen, cutting Emma off.
"Docking now."

It was wash, rinse, repeat as the other two ships came in. Krennic was in a Lambda transport, which bothered a lot of people, and Hux arrived in a sleek blue starfighter that was done up like a real classic. Maul would have loved it. Once everyone was patted down for weapons, Emma could take stock of who they had.

 

Orson Krennic was on his own, as was Hux, There was Mace and Kao-Cen, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and each had an attache. That left Maul, Emma, Ezra and Zak. There were twelve in total.

"Now that everyone is assembled, we should start planning," Bail said, eager to take the lead, clearly something he was used to.

"Or, Mr. Organa, you can have a seat. You didn't mastermind this and you aren't going to pretend you did," Hux said, somehow managing to be pleasant about it. It still wasn’t well-received.

It devolved pretty quickly from there, everyone arguing over who should speak first. Emma put her hands to her face. This was a bad idea. She, Zak, and Kao-Cen stood back from the morass of posturing.

"The Jedi are a neutral entity, maybe they should decide who should speak first," Mon Mothma said.

"Everyone knows that the Jedi are in league with you and your cronies," Krennic spat.

"No. This is a good plan. Tell us, Master Jedi, who should speak first?" Said Hux.

Mace was at a loss for words. Kao-Cen was pretending his hand was a wall and was banging his head into it, but he spoke first. "Fine! Fine. We will decide the terms for deciding terms to deal with the big floating metal planetoid." He went over and poked the air. It enlarged. "This! This fucking thing right here, in case you all missed it. This is a Big Fucking Problem, and we need to deal with it, but by all means, keep squabbling." He paused, letting his words sink in. It was so quiet you could hear the hissing of the air vents. "So, we are all in agreement that this is a problem? Good. No, I won't do anything that anyone suspects. I think that the Jedi need to show some cooperation here too, so I think that Sith should lead these proceedings." He said and pointed at Emma. She balked. The arguments began again.

"SHUT. THE FUCK. UP." Maul roared over the argument. Everyone was silent again. His reputation preceded him, and he was the boogeyman for more than half of the people here. "I swear for Force I will take my gloves off! Fucking politicians," he said, then gestured at Emma to continue and went back into his room, where Ezra was working furiously and swearing creatively. Krennic and Mace had similar expressions on their faces.

"Was that Darth-fucking-Maul?" Mace asked.

"Nevermind that, was that that filthy fucking Loth-rat?" Krennic was livid.

Emma sighed. "Formerly Darth, now just Maul, and Ezra Bridger, respectively, who are working tirelessly to figure out how to deal with this thing and not in here specifically to not bog down proceedings, as you all seem to have well in hand. This is my ship. On my ship, my words will be respected. If anyone thinks they can do what they want, I will waddle my pregnant ass over there and personally claw out their eyes. Am I crystal fucking clear?"

Everyone just now seemed to register her existence, and no one spoke.

"Good, now I am going to sit my fat ass down because my feet hurt. Anyone may do the same if it pleases you. If you would like refreshments, once Zak has put the weapons box inside the air duct, he will be happy to get it for you. We have teas, soda, coffee, and water. There may be some blue milk tucked in the back of the fridge if you are so inclined. Don't let it be said that the New Sith are not hospitable. Why don't we do a round of introductions? The BFP isn't going anywhere. We have time on our side. I'm Emma. I am Maul's fiancee’. I am Zak's girlfriend. I like red moon-lit nights, long walks on the beach, and collect Hello Lothy stuff. Kao-Cen, please introduce yourself," she said. The tone in her voice said that she would brook no argument. Zak had stowed the weapons inside the air duct in full view of everyone and was screwing the plate back on. There was no way anyone could get to them. No one had asked Ezra and Maul to disarm, and she had counted on that.

"I'm Kao-Cen, I like soda, and am the Jedi Battlemaster."

Mace grunted and waved his hand.

"Orson Krennic. I'm the Vice Admiral for the Empire and officially on leave at Grand Admiral Thrawn's insistence. He told me to not consort with any rebels or dissidents and cited these particular coordinates, so I am not officially here and do not have a battalion of men that are Empire-loyal and not Emperor-loyal sitting in a transport just out of scanner range."

Everyone just looked at him. He pulled a flask out of his jacket. "Well, go on. Daddy needs a drink. We’d best proceed quickly."

"I'm uh, Armitage. Armitage Hux, and I guess I'm committing high treason for the second time in my rapidly-shortening career. I also have some things for you, but I guess I can wait until we are done," said Hux. He was visibly sweating and adjusting his collar. Zak brought him chamomile tea for his nerves. He hadn’t asked for it, but it was clear it was necessary.

"I'm Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan. I have brought troops for this endeavor, mostly drawn from unhappy PDF reserves."

"I'm Mon Mothma, and I have done similar," She gestured at her attache, who spoke for the first time.

"I'm Sharon, Mon's partner. I go where she goes," she said. She was solid and strong, obviously a bodyguard. Bail's attache spoke next.

"I'm Poe Damaron. I'm the best damn pilot this galaxy has ever seen and am leading our spacecraft in this attack," he said. He was handsome, sure, but smug. Emma hated smug men. He looked at her like she was cake, even as large as she was. She hissed and he looked away.

Ezra and Maul came in, but Zak spoke first.

"I'm Zak. I do the artwork for the New Sith. This is also my ship, and my dad called all of you. I hope we can work together."

"I'm Jabba the Hutt-" Ezra started, but Maul swatted him squarely on the ass. "I mean Ezra. I'm Ezra Bridger. I'm that fucking Loth-rat and I infiltrate for the New Sith. Hi Director!" He said and waved. Krennic absently waved back. "It's Vice Admiral now. I got promoted. Then demoted." Ezra snickered, thinking back on more fun times.

"And I'm Maul." Maul said. The room already knew him.

 

"Alright. Now that we are all familiar with each other, I want to go over what we know, which isn't a lot," Emma said.

"I can help," Hux said. He had visibly calmed down. "I have a fast ship and clearance codes. I can do a flyby and gauge response times. See how alert the Empire is today."

"And I have the plans," Krennic said and slid a disc into the holo-table. A picture of the BFP popped into view.

"This is all the Grand Admiral was able to get before there was a system-wide crash while he was downloading. It happened the same time as the attack on Byss." He looked directly at Emma.

"Umm, oops? On the plus side, I downloaded everything I could get. I was under fire at the time, but I may have the missing pieces," she said and pulled out the data stick, passing it to him. He put it in the astromech port first and looked confused when nothing happened.

"Oh. Oh shit," he said and put it in the dataport. A flurry of snow washed over the screen and then Emma's file appeared. Palpatine's voice came with it.

"Emma. Maul's ‘apprentice’. As gorgeous at sixteen as she was when she visited me at twelve. She is one-" Emma yanked it back out, horrified. Everyone was quiet. It looked like they were all pretending they didn't just hear that. She broke out into a cold sweat.

"Sorry. Some of that was not meant for you guys. Maul?" She said.

"On it," he said and took the stick, taking it to his room. Zak hugged her from behind but she brushed him off. Ezra shuffled his feet and stared at the floor, mortified for her. Kao-Cen broke the silence.

"Emma, can we have a minute?" He asked. He wasn't grumpy old Master Darach at this point. He was Emma's first master, and for a long time, only friend. "I think you need a minute."

She felt like the entire room was staring at her.

"Go. I have this," Zak whispered into her ear, and she got up, following Kao-Cen into the kitchen.

 

 

"You okay, Em?" He asked, making tea. He used to make her tea at the temple, when it was just them. Everyone knew that she had always been his favorite.

"I'm cold," she said, hugging herself. He removed his robe and wrapped it around her shoulders, and she immediately felt comforted by his smell. It was the weirdest thing. She didn't have feelings for him or anything, but she never imagined that she would memorize that smell and it would be so important. This wasn't the first time he had done this. She had been bullied at the temple a lot because she hit puberty first out of all the younglings her age, and Darach was slated to be her master for a long time before she disappeared. He had protected her, just like Maul had, from near birth to the age of eleven, and then he reached out to an old frenemy as his last act as her master—always what was best for her.

He placed the tea, just like she liked it in front of her. "It'll help the little ones," he said, gesturing at her belly. She drank a little.

"Do you want to talk, or do you want to sit for a minute? That couldn't have been easy."

"It's like, even though he's dead, his phantom is following me. He's tormenting me from beyond. I'm so scared sometimes."

"And I would think you were stupid if you weren't. We managed to get a few kids that made it out of Byss. They are...well, they're messed up in a really bad way, and you didn't have anyone but Maul to help you."

"For the longest time, I thought he didn't know. When I figured out he did, when he opened up to me and told me that he had gotten it too, I don't even remember it, but he said it was like reliving it, and I never understood, but now I do. Something hasn't felt right since he died. Will this ever stop?" She was shaking. Tears started to well up in her eyes.

"You aren't the only one who has noticed. Mace wasn't entirely honest before. The Jedi aren't crumbling because of a lack of resources, though that is partly to blame. The Jedi are crumbling because we are lacking leadership. Yoda has been locked in his room since the coup. The only reason anyone still knows he is alive is because the padawans that leave food outside of his door come back with an empty tray from the day before. Sometimes, the masters listen at the door. He is wracked with terrible visions day in and day out. No one has spoken to him since his self-imposed exile. The Council has tried to help. Dear Force, I joined the Council to help provide some stability. You know how I never wanted to do that and said it was a fate worse than death."

"The Jedi are dying, Master Darach."

"Bah, I'm not your master. I didn't like it then and I don’t now."

"Whatever, the Jedi are dying. You could always put your talents somewhere else."

"And what, join the Sith?"

"I'm Sith, Zak is Sith, Maul is Sith, Hill is Sith. I don't see what the problem is."

He thought about it for a second. "Look, we should discuss this later. I want to help you. What do you need?"

"A long hard look at my lifestyle."

"Cute. I see that Ezra kid has rubbed off on you, but really."

"I don't know. I'm okay now. I think I just needed away from the eyes for a while.”
"What have I told you about mistakes?"

"Don't make them."

"Well, yes, but what did I tell you to do if you did make them?"

"Play it off like it was on purpose."

"Dammit, Em," He said, but he was grinning. It suited him.

"You said to own it. Admit that it was a mistake and move past it."

"Right. This is like that. Move past it. Kriff them and whatever they think."

"Kriff? Have you gotten soft?"

"Alright, now you’re bugging me," He said, but he was still smiling. She smiled too.

She stood. "You know, I'm glad they sent you. It's nice to have allies, and not just enemies of your enemies."

 

She went back into the room standing tall and resolved, like she was a motherfucking goddess, and no one said a word. Zak had written some figures in the empty space with a light pen. It was troop numbers. It looked like Krennic had a full battalion of one thousand, and Bail had similar. The Jedi brought twenty, and Mon and Poe had twenty X-Wings and ten Y-Wings in their arsenal.

"The Sith can contribute five hundred men, and four Force users to the party," Emma said.

"The Sith have an army now? Great," Mace said.

"Master Windu, I didn't ask for an opinion. I was sharing what we could contribute. If the Jedi really want to start problems with us, we are happy to respond in kind, but we would rather build bridges, not walls," she said.

Mace growled and frowned, but Kao-Cen had the opposite reaction. He had a pleased smile on his face, and what sounded like a purr deep in his chest.

"Mace, what would Qui-Gon say to your behavior right now? Do you think he would be pleased with you? Do you think he might lecture you about tenant number one?"

His words seemed to have some meaning, because Mace went quiet. Hux had nodded off. Emma thought that was odd, so she kicked his chair. He woke up with a shout, then covered his mouth.

"Sorry. I got drowsy all of the sudden," He said. "Can I get some caffeine?"

Zak snapped into action and took his cup to the kitchen. Emma watched Hux. He was odd.

"So, that's two thousand, five hundred men and twenty-four trained Force users against a standard military garrison which is how many, Krennic?"

"A standard garrison? What do you think this is, girl, some Star Destroyer? This a battle station that I had no small hand in developing. See Senior Director Krennic. This would need triple the standard garrison to operate this thing on a skeleton crew. Add to that a guard battalion and a fighter squadron, you are looking at close to ten thousand men, at least five thousand of them stormtroopers, and about one hundred TIE fighters and pilots. In my defense, this battle station was supposed to be a prototype of a defensive station to protect the galaxy from extra-galactic threats."

"And are there extra-galactic threats?"

"Well, the Emperor sure as shit seemed to think there was. I wasn't really at the rank to be asking questions. In fact, after the design phase, I was stationed at a new prison, which is where I met your boy," He said, gesturing at Ezra.

Windu looked over to him with a look of pure murder.

"What the fuck did you just call me? What did you just say, you drunk-ass overseer? In front of all these nice people?" His hand was inching down to his lightsaber. Emma had to stop this fast. Luckily, she didn't have a chance.

A red hand appeared from around the corner and grabbed Ezra by the back of his shirt. "Ezra, I need your help with these plans. You to Red. Let's go." Maul said, pointing at Hux, who was fighting to stay awake.

He looked around then realized Maul was talking to him. "Great. I get to work with a reprobate and Satan incarnate. To be fair, I always said go big or go home, and I don't think I’ll be able to go home after all this," he said to himself, also disappearing behind the corner.

"Did I say something offensive?" Krennic asked, genuinely perplexed.

"You called him 'boy'," Mace said.

"Why is that shameful? He is a boy. He is younger than me. She is a girl, he is a boy."

"You don't know much about slave culture, do you Vice-Admiral?" Poe said.

"I don't. Why did he call me an overseer? I am no such thing, though I oversee many subjects in my purview."

"Can we just move on?" Emma asked, annoyed.

"No. We cannot just move on. Let me make something clear: there will be no more racism or classism in this summit, intentional or otherwise. Do we understand each other, friends?" Mace asked. There was no response.

"Good. I'm sorry that we had to have this discussion. Please continue, Ms. Emma."

"Thank you, Master Windu. Now, overall, our odds don't look good. What we have is the element of surprise," she said. Zak poked her.

"What?"

He whispered in her ear. "You know we actually have one thousand, seven-hundred and fifty troops right?"

"No. I'm trying to obscure our numbers, but I think I can turn this to our advantage."

She went back to speaking out loud. "Zak has just informed me that the New Sith fleet has arrived. We actually have one thousand, two-hundred and fifty troops to spare. That still puts us at half their numbers, but it's better than we had a moment ago."

"You have a fleet?" Kao-Cen said. Both Jedi looked concerned.

"Well, I guess fleet is a bad way of saying that. The fleet itself isn't here. They are keeping the peace around our home and protecting it in case we fail. some of our troops are here."

"How many people do you have?"

"An army, Mr. Windu, but unfortunately, I don't call all the shots. We have provided more troops than the rest of you, so I think it will have to suffice. Many of them are Zabrak. I think Kao-Cen should lead that section."
Finally, progress.

 

 

The summit continued on at a languid pace, with occasional breaks for questions. They figured out where each squad would begin the assault, who would lead each, but they were still missing a key factor: they had to figure out how to amass the forces they needed, and needed to figure out how to get in quickly and undetected. Hux left at some point to go do a flyby of the station and check reaction times. They weren’t fast.

 

"It looks like the men here aren't alert. They must think that no one in their right mind would attack this place,” Krennic said.

"I'm starting to question the judgement of that myself," said Sharon. She had been quiet for most of the summit.

"People, we can't give up! Think of what this could mean for all of us." Hux said and stood, addressing the crowd. It seemed that he won the fight with naptime. "Think. Truly think. This thing here, this space station? This is the ultimate symbol of subjugation and slavery. This very station could represent billions of lives lost. Are you truly going to stand by and let that happen? No. No we are not. I know I’m not, and none of you should do the same. The Emperor is dead, and with this monstrosity's destruction, the Empire's might is ended. I sure as heck am not about to throw away my one chance to make things right, gosh-dangit. If we, the people, do not stand up against a corrupt regime, then we are no better than those that support it. We have to stand up and resist. We have to rise up! Break your chains and overthrow the oppressors! DANG THE EMPIRE TO HECK!"

The rest of the room joined him in cheers. Zak looked like he had been hit in the head and ran to his room, already pulling the pencil from behind his ear. Even Emma was moved. This guy was a damn spokesman. Not only that, he had passion. Emma went over the code in her head.

"And with our free hands, we break the chains of others," she said as the carousing died down.

"What?" Mace asked.

"It's our code. Peace is a lie, there is only passion, as Armitage has illustrated."

"Just Hux, please. Armitage was my father."

"Right, whatever. Through passion, I gain strength, through strength I gain power, through power I gain victory, through victory, my chains are broken, and with my free hands I break the chains of others. By my will, there are no longer slaves."

Mace looked dumbfounded. Kao-Cen spoke. "Interesting interpretation."

"It's not an interpretation. It the way the code was supposed to be done. It's the way it's truly written. It's Zabraki in nature. You can't tell me you don't feel the same, KC."

"I'm too damn old for this," he said. "Are we going to assault this damn thing or not?"

"Not until I can say something," Ezra said. He came out of the back room. "Maul and I found something." He walked over to Cerea's moon and enlarged it, then focused on a specific place and enlarged it again. It was a ship of some kind.

"What did you get, Ezra?"

"Well, this is a trash ship."

"We can see that, bo- Ezra. But what is the point?" Krennic said.

"Let me ask you something, Krennic. Did you ever wonder how I broke out of your prison?"

"You climbed out through the vents."

"Yes, but where did I exit from? Did you ever see where my exit point was?"

"We couldn't find it. It didn't really matter, and I didn't want to go slogging-" he stopped as what Ezra was saying dawned on him.

"Please, finish, Director."

"Vice-Admiral. I didn't want to go slogging through the mud and sewage behind the building."

"Because no one ever looks in the trash. Honestly, who wants to? It's gross, smells bad, and is a perfect place to hide. I escaped from the vents at the back of the building because I knew that no one wanted to go walking through the sewage. Your patrols just avoided the entire area."

"And if that didn't do it there, they won't do it here," Poe said, catching on.

"So, our main problem right now is the reactor. Our ships can't approach while the reactor is live. The surface lasers would tear them out of the sky. We need to get it shut down. Luckily for us, this is our answer—a small strike team boards from inside, takes down the reactor with purge grenades or whatever, and that gives the rest of you a ten-minute window to get inside."

"I admire your gusto, kid, but that kind of window is small. It's gonna take us some crackerjack timing to get in there that quick," Poe said.

"Are you not the best pilot in the galaxy?" Emma asked. She batted her eyes slowly, knowing he’d notice.

"I am, but I have a better idea. That would give is time to get our ships in close and bomb the shit out of any turbo-lasers that can shred our transports."

"So then we have our answer."

"No, there’s another problem," Sharon said. "Our ships are going to have to be close by the time the reactor goes down to take advantage of that window. And that isn't accounting for the patrols and the inevitable squadrons of TIE Fighters, not to mention an Imperial Fleet."

"Don't worry about the fleet. The Grand Admiral is always slow without his second in command. Why do you think I'm here, comic relief? She has a point though. Those ships are going to be trouble."

"Hide in the trash," Ezra said.

"What?" Poe said, looking at the trash ship again. "My X isn't gonna fit in there, kid."

"No, old man. The trash. See? See how annoying that is? Stop calling me kid. I'm a goddamn adult."

"Ezra!" Emma said.

He magnified the asteroid field. "The trash. Hide in the trash. Any extra signatures will be hidden by the asteroids. It will be dangerous, but I'm sure the best pilot in the galaxy and his men can handle it."

The holo-table started beeping. Emma looked around and noticed a lone freighter was hailing them. She pressed the button and a hologram of Lando Calrissian appeared. Rose was in her armor next to him. "Ice Queen! Am I too late to join the party? Rose said that you were having some problems, and you never came back for the snapper."

"You're a sight for sore eyes, Lando, but I don't think you’re going to be enough. We’ll be happy to add you, but we’re going to need more men."

"Well lucky for you, I came supplied," he said. A ship appeared from hyperspace, then another. Twenty more ships jumped out of hyperspace and lined themselves up.

"I know a pirate. He's a nice guy. He goes by the name of Hondo. His price is the raw material taken from the battle station. No weapons, of course. I figured you wouldn't mind so I went ahead and gave him the green light."

"You know what? I'm regretting that missed snapper."

They sketched out a battle plan one last time. On the next pass of the waste ship, Maul, Ezra, Zak, and Emma would jump on board. It was automated. Rose was left in charge of the Crimson Hawk, which would join Lando and the others in the asteroid field. The pirates brought several snub fighters with them. They equaled seventy-five to the Empire's one hundred. When they managed to cut power to the reactors, the X-wings would escort the Y-wings on their bombing run. Meanwhile, the pirates would engage the TIEs and keep them distracted. Once the big turbo-lasers were cleared, the rest of the force would jump in from hyperspace and attack at scattered insertion points. Zak had handed each leader a scroll case. He said that he wanted them hung up everywhere. Maul also had a stroke of genius. He figured out that Kao-Cen had brought some lightsaber parts with him, and the two gear heads, with Ezra's help, managed to make baloney red kyber crystals. They were going to disperse them throughout the Jedi, so that if any information did leak out, all they could report was that Jedi and Red Blades were working in concert—a horrifying idea. The plan was a good one, and now that the pirates had arrived, they were only outnumbered two to one. There was a fighting chance.

 

The Crimson Hawk hovered over the trash ship. Everyone was in their appointed places. Everything was perfect. Why couldn't he jump? Emma, Maul, and Ezra were away. Ezra flailed in the emptiness of space and Maul had to pull him in by his ship's harness, but Zak didn't feel right. Something was very wrong. There was a tug on his front harness, and he drifted from the deck of the Hawk. There was no time to lock up. This was an important strike at corruption, and Zak had begged to be in the first wave. He started hauling in on his harness, which was attached to everyone else. He managed to make it into the shields and the artificial gravity took back hold, and he landed with a soft thump on the ship, then walked over to the trash port and jumped in. With all of them inside, the Crimson Hawk took off towards the asteroid field. Emma closed the latch when Zak got in, and it pressurized. They were under the assumption that the trash barge, automated as it was, would have no pressure and no oxygen. They had fully expected to stay in the suits for the duration of the trip. The oxygen vents hissed as Maul tested the air first, then motioned to the rest of them. There was a door to the cockpit in here, and they were right next to it. Everyone took their helmets off.

"It looks like your guess about the automated ship was wrong," Maul said quietly, looking at Ezra.

"It wasn't a guess. This kind of ship is automated. Do you think I don't know my way around the trash?"

"Boys. Focus," Emma said and pointed at the door. There was sound coming from it. Zak moved forward to the side of the door. It slid open and a Trandosian from waste management opened the door, probably to check on why the hatch opened and then closed. Zak snapped into action, standing, thrusting the flat of his hand into the reptile's throat, then got behind him and put an arm around him, suffocating him to the point of unconsciousness. He then dropped the Trandosian to the floor with a soft thud. Maul looked on appraisingly.

"What? No one else was doing anything," Zak said and went into the cockpit. Sure enough, the ship was automated, but it seemed that they manned these because of wide loads and manual overrides. Zak noticed something else.

"We wanted to use the asteroid belt nearby as a tool, so we forgot that they would man ships going near it in case of a stray. We were dumb," Zak said. Ezra nodded. Zak sat in the pilot’s chair and Ezra took co-pilot. Everyone sat in silence as the trash ship slowly drifted towards the BFP, and they held their breathing when they got to the shields. They got through them unchallenged. The ship was going through the bottom section, and the reactor could be seen from here. This place was relying on its stealth status and unknown position to remain safe. The ship drifted up to the trash dock, and then Zak realized that it wasn't slowing. He scrambled for the controls and began the docking maneuvers. "Stupid, stupid Zak!" He said to himself. Ezra looked at him.

"You aren't stupid. I thought it was automated too. Don't do that."

"I knew better. I was supposed to be aware of what was going on."

"You're fine. It's okay. It's better."

Zak swung the ship around, hitting a construction droid in the process. It flew off the BFP into the void of space. The comms crackled. "Garbage barge 4389, please be more careful. Those droids are more valuable than you are.”
Ezra made a risky gamble.

He grabbed his throat and spoke. "Sorry, boss. Won't happen again. I was just catching up on Scalies. Have you seen the girls there?" His voice came out gravelly, just like a Trandosian's when they speak basic.

"Please spare me. Just dock, then take a break. You have a while for your next shipment."

"You got it boss," he said, then let go if his throat. Zak had a small smile on his face.

"What?"

"You have the looks of a Trandosian too."

"Ha-fucking-ha. Not all of us can have perfect looks, O Shiny Golden God."

"Thanks. I think you’re pretty too," Zak said and detached the restraining harness. Ezra blushed.

Maul and Emma had already gotten out of the trash bin. They cut down the two stormtroopers on duty before they even knew what was happening, and dumped the bodies into the trash barge. Zak and Ezra got out.

"Alright, so the reactor is straight ahead according to the plans. We have to go through two decks to get there. Any ideas? I didn't really think we would get this far," Zak said.

"What about that?" Ezra said and pointed at the vents. They were ten feet above the door. It wasn't an easy reach.

"My ass isn't going to fit in there," Emma said.

"But Elliot's will," Maul said, stripping out of the space suit and getting into his black robes. He felt ten times better with them on. This was the Maul that terrified people. The polos were an odd-but-decent look, but the Dathomirian in black robes was iconic. He was having trouble, getting hung up in his own shoulders, and Ezra helped him. That was weird, but this was a weird day in general.

Emma took a deep breath and changed, but this time, she didn't feel the personality shift that came with it. It was just cosmetic. There was a small purr in her head.

"Alright. You’re hot and everything, but put some clothes on," Zak said and passed Elliot his spare clothes. Of course he had spare clothes. He truly was Hill's kid.

All of them used the Force to boost their jump into the vent except Elliot, who couldn't do that one. Zak hauled him in, then did a weird turnabout-thing. They got to the end of the hallway and there was a vent opening. It was right in front of the reactor's doors. There was another opening ahead, but Maul couldn't make it in because of his injury and Elliot still had a bump, even if it was smaller. Even though the placement was different, Emma was pregnant to the point that not even changing to Elliot could hide it fully.

"Alright, Zak and I will go in this vent ahead. You two get ready to jump out once those reactors go down. It's gonna be rough," Ezra said, and started crawling forward. Zak and Maul did a maneuver so that Zak could get past him. Maul leaned down and whispered in his ear.

"I love you, brother."
Zak paused for a minute, then continued on.

"You too," He said.
Elliot almost didn't hear it.

 

 

They dropped down into the reactor room with a soft thud. There were several stormtroopers here. It wasn't hard to see the reactors but the purge grenades had to at least get close to work properly. Zak closed his eyes and crouched behind a cargo container.

"Rotating sentries. There is no gap in the security. They seemed to have realized this is their weakness. We can't get closer without being spotted. We were lucky the vent dropped to the floor, but that means that there’s no way out that way," Ezra said.

"So what’s the plan?" Zak asked, reaching out with the Force. He could smell the machinery. It was covered in oil. He could smell the sweat from the stormtroopers, and the fear and excitement from Ezra. If he focused, he could smell the damp forest moss and cooking biscuits smell of Willow. Even if she wasn't his first mother, she still raised him.

"It's time, Zakarie. Do what we know you can. It's your time. I'm here for you."
Came the faint echo of her voice. Zak's eyes snapped open. Ezra turned to him. A cargo container started floating and then thumped softly on the ground.

"Did you hear that?" Said one of the stormtroopers.

"Go check it out," said the captain. The first stormtrooper was walking over. Zak grabbed his lightsabers.

"Ezra, tell Emma that I love her, and I'm sorry," he said, starting to rise. "I love you too, Ezra."

He vaulted over the crate, igniting his lightsabers as his feet hit the deck.

"Holy-" The stormtrooper said and raised his rifle to fire, but it was too late. Zak's saber hissed as it went through the trooper's neck. He dropped to the first Shien stance. The blaster shots were loud in the echoing chamber, but Zak kept his cool and deflected each one, slowly moving towards the group firing at him. One shot hit him in the leg, but he kept moving. He couldn't stop.

There are stories on Naboo of a man's Wyrd. one last hurrah or something like that. It seemed like Zak was hitting his. He knew that he was probably going to die today, but it didn't matter. He heard Ezra vault the boxes behind him, also turning on his lightsaber. The captain stopped firing and put his hand to his ear, and Zak saw his opening. He hurled his blue lightsaber, the one he named Liberator, and clamped down with theForce to keep the button pressed. It nailed the captain in the chest, then he whirled back into action, cutting down the other stormtroopers, or at least as many as he could. He was a whirlwind, slicing left and right with his green lightsaber, Chain-Breaker, and didn't hear the steps behind him. As he finished off the last stormtrooper, he felt the most intense sensation in his back, almost like a burn, but it didn't exactly hurt. He spun and hit the deck, looking at a black-armored stormtrooper with green eye-lenses. He flung his last lightsaber around and it hit the stormtrooper, but not before it was able to shoot him again. This time in the chest. That burned a little, but it didn't hurt. Ezra ran back over to him, but Zak felt like his head was in a jar. The lights flickered and went out. The reactor stopped spinning, and his vision faded.

(Hmm. So this is what death feels like. It's not unpleasant. I didn't expect so much cold. I guess I’ll never see Emma or Maul or Ezra again. I probably should have said something to them before I left. I hope Ezra does his job.)

His field of vision went black.

(I'll never get to see my kids either. I hope they turn out alright. Daddy went out doing what he did best. Breaking his chains. I hope Maul does alright with them. I tried, Dad.)

 

Elliot and Maul dropped out of the vents when the lights flickered. Something felt wrong. Something was seriously wrong. Elliot’s stomach squirmed. One of the babies kicked hard into his ribcage. Elliot's vision flashed. Maul felt it too. Then, the lights went out and the dimmer backups turned on. Elliot fought to see what was happening, and he saw a vision of Zak, laying on the cold metal. There was blood streaming out of his mouth and he had a gaping hole in his chest. Elliot's beast was roaring in anguish. Maul stood stock still. His eyes were wide. A man stepped out from the office next to the reactor with two black-armored stormtroopers. It was Grand Moff Tarkin. Elliot channeled all his rage, all his anguish, all of his loss, and all of his heartbreak at Zak, and he screamed. It was deafening. The two stormtroopers put their hands on their helmets, and Tarkin covered his ears and ducked, taken entirely aback. Another voice joined in, and it was like a locomotive slammed into the trio. They went flying. Tarkin hit the doorframe and there was an audible crunch, but the two stormtroopers went flying down the corridor and were much better protected. When they hit the wall, it gave way to another corridor, and then another. The glass in the area all shattered. Elliot started sobbing, taking a knee in the middle of the damn corridor.

Maul was just angry. He walked over to Tarkin, who was still twitching. He turned on his lightsaber and started hacking and slashing at the prone man. He dismembered him, then calmly went back over to Elliot, who had collapsed back into Emma. Emma was praying to every god in every religion she knew. She was begging the Force to not let it be true. Then there was something else troubling. At first she thought she lost control of her bladder, but when you looked down at herself, she was bleeding. She completely lost her shit then and there and slumped to sit on the floor. Maul picked her up and hefted her onto the desk, flipping out a pocketknife and ripping her pants right up the inseam. He immediately wished he hadn’t—he felt sick and wasn’t sure what to do but started shredding her pants-legs and it got hot and Emma wanted to throw up and all of a sudden she got really tired and everything went dark for a while.

 

 

"Senator Hill, you were speaking?" Thrawn said. Ever since the Emperor had died, he had to take over at the senate, and he wasn't happy about it, either. Even now, the Chimaera was being led by Captain Pellaeon. Thrawn didn't like him much, but if this was going to go well, he had to groom someone to replace Krennic. Pellaeon had said something about the Chimaera being engaged in a firefight with a small fleet of TIEs, but they had looked and responded strangely. All Thrawn could do was wait and hope that Krennic succeeded in his mission outside of Cerea.

"Senator Hill, you have the floor. Please?" He said again. Hill shook his head and shuffled through his papers. His heart hurt and he was disassociating, and this was the worst time for something to happen to Zak. A slow panic began to build in his chest.

"As I was saying, Speaker Thrawn, the Empire is in need of a leader like the Republic had. It's dangerous-" He stopped speaking again, feeling like a bastard. Here he was, debating who would lead the Empire, and his son was dead. He felt the Force bond snap, and he saw the braided gold and silver ribbon in his mind's eye sever. Zak was dead, and he was going to be there. He couldn't be there for Willow, but he would at least be there for his son. The slow sick feeling began to build from the pit of his stomach. He pressed the return button on the repulsor pod. "I apologize, but something is wrong with my son." He said and ran out of the senate chamber. He fought to keep the bile down in his throat. He didn't want to believe it, and he wouldn't. Not until he saw it with his own eyes. Damn the Senate. He was tired of it, anyway.

 

 

When she woke up, the first thing she saw was a medical droid and a nanny droid, who were wheeling out of her room. She felt empty inside. The comforting beat of four hearts was gone. She went crazy, trying to sit up and yanking all sorts of cords attached to her. One of the IVs spurted blood and clear fluid onto the floor.

"Please remain calm, please remain calm," The droid said in a droning voice, but she clawed at it too. There was another, firmer set of hands on her shoulder. She looked up to see Mon Mothma.

"Calm down, Emma. Everything is fine. Don't fight. You're injured," she said, and Emma felt a burning throughout her body. Mon hooked her loose hose back into the IV machine. She started going numb. "Everything will be fine. You have a beautiful baby boy," she said. Emma felt the sedatives working a little too well and faded back into unconsciousness.

 

Emma woke up again, and this time, she was able to take stock of her surroundings. She was in a white tile room. It was clean. She felt clean too, and she was dressed in a patient gown. The medical droid was gone, as was Mon Mothma. She sat up, looking around. Maul was asleep in the corner. He had a small white lump on his chest, arm curled around it. Emma tried to stand, but she had to brace herself on the bed. It clattered and Maul woke up with a start and a loud, feral hiss. This of course, woke up the thing in his arms.

"Nonononono turn it off! I's only been ten minutes. Is there a button?" He sighed and poked it in the nose. It stopped, blinked for a few seconds trying to figure out what just happened, then started crying louder and had a fight with a creature that was at least one hundred and eighty pounds heavier than it was.

Emma scrambled over to it as quickly as she could, and Maul presented it to her. Even crying, it was one of the most beautiful things that she had ever seen. It was scarlet and had small nubs already—those would be horns. It also had big violet eyes. She was infatuated and compelled to smelled it--fresh rain. Her eyes lit up and she hugged it. The baby calmed down after a bit. Maul was watching with tired eyes.

"Where's the other?" She asked. She couldn't wait to meet the other one. It was all she had after... She tried to fight through the tears again. She didn't have proof that Zak was gone. Not yet.

"I... Emma," Maul began, shaking his head. "There was only one," He managed to say. There was true sadness in his eyes. She was afraid again—he’d never looked like that before.

"What do you mean? There are always two. You said that, Mommy said that. We felt two. Where is..."

"Emma, I don't know. All I know is that you went into preterm labor right there on the BFP. It just happened. There was a lot of blood and Mon got you back here, but only one was born. The other just wasn't IN there."

She thought back. Maybe her prayers had been answered. Maybe someone was listening.

"What about Zak? And Ezra?"

Maul shook his head.

"What does that mean, Maul?" The baby had stopped crying and was falling asleep again.

"Dammit, Emma, we don't know. Neither of them have been found. There was blood in the reactor room, but there were a lot of cut-open stormtroopers too. No one was found, but..." Maul produced two lightsabers. It was Chain Breaker and Liberator.

"He wouldn't have left these. These were his life."

"Do you think I don't know that?" Maul said, a tad more aggressively than intended, but then breathed deep. "I don't know. I'm worried too. They haven't even finished clearing the thing. We’re on Bail's ship. He had a medical room. For the most part, the battle is over. We have the control room, but they are still hunting down the holdouts in the lower levels."

"Who’s claiming credit?" She asked.

"Who do you think?" Maul asked and flipped on the datapad in his lap, handing it to her.

 

"So far, we don't know who is responsible for the attack on this important defensive station, but we do know that it was a large force, and they were allied with a lot of…well, pirates. We go now to Cindy, who is in the field on Cerea. Cindy?" Said the Imperial News Anchor.

"Thanks, Jarvis. What we know is that it was a large attack and was a surprise to everyone. The Imperial Garrison was cut down before they had even had a chance to respond. There was no honor in this attack. But..." She stopped and put a hand to her ear. "Wait just a minute. It looks like the drone has found something. We now go to our eye-in-the-sky."

There was a sleek little blue-and-chrome ship caught in a vicious dogfight with two TIEs. It was definitely a classic, and it had a piece of black cloth attached to the back glass. The blue ship did an impossible maneuver, whipping up in a large circle, then opened fire, taking out the TIEs in one salvo. It whipped back towards the BFP and launched several missiles into the inside. The black piece of cloth had red lining and red lettering. When the camera zoomed in, Emma could read it clearly: "Dang The Empire to Heck" hastily painted onto a piece of black cloth.

The camera went back to the lady. "It looks like some kind of insurgent force is behind this attack. Senator Bail Organa is claiming responsibility, as well as claiming responsibility for the attack on Byss. He is now the first target on the Empire's Most Wanted List. If he is seen by an Imperial citizen, we ask that he be turned into custody for questioning."

 

Emma turned it off in disgust. "He's such an asshole."

"I don't disagree, but we are on his ship."

"I have half a mind to say something."

"It won't do you any good. Let him take the blame. He'll puff himself up to the point where he’ll take a sniper bullet. Trust me. I know. I would have been sent after him."

"I want to go see the damage."

"Well, let's go," Maul said and stood. They left Bail's ship after they found some clothes for Emma. Most of the bloating was still there and would be for a while. They got onto the BFP and walked to the command center, which was the node of the attack. They were checked over at the door, even the baby, by rank-and-file soldiers. Emma didn't punch the stranger, but got really close. Once they were inside, Emma looked around. They had fortified the whole area, clearing it of bodies. Most of the original people at the meeting were here, directing the forces still in the bowels of the ship, including Bail. Emma walked up to him.

"If you don't mind, I would appreciate you ending your ladder-climb and stop claiming credit for things you didn't even know where happening."

Bail turned around. He had the look of a man that had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I don't know what you mean. Cute baby there."

"Don't start. Do it again, and the New Sith will deal with you. Am I clear? If you claim responsibility for any of what happened after all of this, I will send someone after you."

"You tread a dangerous line, I’m surrounded by my own men."

"Yeah, but all I have to do is kill you, then I will die fulfilled. Wanna see who’s gonna get hit first?"

Lando stepped between them. "Ice Queen! So good to see you! Who is the munchkin?"

Emma looked over Lando's shoulder, but Bail had already turned back to his console. He was visibly sweating and she could smell his fear, all acrid and sharp. She was satisfied, for now. "We haven't named him yet, and I would like him to stay asleep. How goes the battle? The one that the REAL warriors are fighting?" She added the last bit for Bail's benefit.

"Well, about like we expected. We didn't lose too many. It looks like we caught the Empire with their pants down,and we have the Jedi and their amazing healing skills to deal with the wounded. The losses have been low. Of your people, you only lost twenty Nightbrothers. Now that is something."

Emma cringed. She hoped it was no one she knew.

"Of the armored soldiers, the ones that looked like stormtroopers, you only lost ten. They scare me. They fight with the skill and training of veterans. I wonder who they are?" Lando asked. Something told Emma that he already knew but was pretending to keep up appearances.

"Just defected stormtroopers, Lando. All of them have seen at least one battle."

The doors behind her slid open. It was Rex. "Ma'am, I'm glad to see you are well."

"Status report, Rex."

"No idea ma'am. Cody has all of that. I am actually here to report an oddity."

"Go ahead."

"Well, who invited the cannibals?"

"What?"

"There are hulking men on decks D-44 and 45. Some of the fiercest fighting was heard there, but it was sealed. We just got it open, and there are men down there eating the stormtroopers. Most of them are horribly damaged too, but don't seem to notice it and didn't bother us."

She handed the baby to Maul. "Go back to the ship and get some sleep. I'm gonna look for the others."

Maul was too tired to argue and did as she said. Emma followed Rex down to the decks he stated, seeing clones with their weapons at the ready, but not firing. Emma peaked over their shoulders. There in the middle of the mass were two people she recognized, Morgan and Morrigan. They were also eating the corpses.

"Uhh?" She said, and Morgan looked up, grinned, and waved.

She went forward. The clones went with her. "Are you eating them?"

"Why aren't you?" Morgan asked, wiping the blood from his mouth, but just succeeding in smearing it.

"It's to die for," Morrigan said, snapping a bone to get to the marrow. Emma resisted the urge to throw up.

"We are honoring every part. That is what you do when you hunt prey. As for why we are here, well, Mother doesn't know yet, but I am sure she will be furious. We waited until you attacked, then joined in where it was clear. Good thing we did too. This seemed to be a regrouping point."

"Thanks for the help? I'm sure the galaxy is thankful too."

"Don't think we did this for you. We just didn't want this behemoth turning on us,” he said, tearing a hunk of flesh off of a bone.

"Any attraction I may have had for you is gone now,” Emma said.

"Thanks, but you aren't my type. I have a type," he said. Morrigan stood and kissed him. It wasn't for show but it was revolting in more ways than one.

"Cody, they may be weird, but they’re allies. I think we should leave them in peace and seal this back down."

"Yes ma'am." He said, and the clones started to file out. Emma tried to forget what she just saw. She thought the Empire were monsters, but Dagobah is where the true monsters dwell.

 

Emma went back to the reactor room. They were clearing out the bodies in here. She tried to concentrate. To feel out where Zak and Ezra could have gone, but she couldn't manage it. She tapped a Weequay with a red floor length vest on the shoulder. He turned around. "Ah! You must be the fabled Ice Queen I have heard so much about! I am Hondo Onaka and am humbly at your service," he said and made a deep bowing gesture.

"And what are you doing that you shouldn't be?"

"I have no idea what you’re talking about. Hondo does not do bad things," he said. She looked over his shoulder. The pirates were stashing the armor and weapons into crates.

"I'll be sure to let Lando know that you’re breaking the rules of the agreement. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to know that," she said, turning to walk away.

"Ahahahah, there is no need for that. We are just cleaning them up, right boys?" He said. The Weequay pirates slid the crate out of the way.

"Tell me, Hondo, did you see two people in here? They weren't stormtroopers."

"I have seen nothing but stormtroopers. Too many of them. Most of them were killed by laser wounds. Is there a reason you ask?"

"No. No reason at all. Keep it up, I guess, and no weapons. I'm serious."

"Hondo will do his best to acquiesce to your request," he said. When she left, he motioned to the pirates to continue.

 

"Ma'am, we found something," Cody said, heading back to the command center with her.

"What did you find?" She stopped by the body of Tarkin on the way. She grabbed his rank lapels and his cap, then kept walking.

"There is a trash ship drifting. It's distress beacon is activated."

Emma paused walking for a minute, then continued. "I want anyone with a ship to get there. Find why it's active."

"Of course, ma'am. I'll send Axe and Afterburn immediately," he said.

 

Emma was standing outside of the plate glass window on Bail's ship. When the clones investigated, they found both Ezra and Zak unconscious in the cargo bay. Zak was heavily injured and in critical condition, but his wounds on his back and chest were cauterized. He was breathing, barely. Ezra's condition was still unclear. He seemed physically unharmed, but they were doing a tox-screen based on what they’d found. It was evident he had thrown up, and there was blood draining from his nose and mouth. He was also in a fever, and there was swelling in his extremeties and discoloration as well, but he was still alive. One of the pirates said it looked like a spice overdose. She watched Zak through the window. The operation was already done, but it was still uncertain. One of his hearts was gone and they had to put in a temporary pump, but as a gesture of good will, Bail was going to get a lab-grown, permanent one put in. Zak was stable now, but he needed to be in a sterile environment while his body adapted to the pump, or it could reject. The oxygen mask looked so wrong on his face, but she could see the steady rise and fall of his chest. She wanted to be there with him, but couldn't and it killed her, so she went over to Ezra's window. He was in a similar condition. No one was allowed in there but the droids until they could figure out what was wrong. It could have been a disease, ironically picked up in the trash. Axe and Afterburn had also been quarantined, but they were cracking jokes and laughing in the room. Afterburn waved at Emma. She smiled and waved back. The droid turned to them, and they got up, leaving the room. The droid came to her.

"He is not contagious but has a large amount of Sansanna spice in his system. He will live. We are performing a blood transfusion to get out the tainted blood."

Emma nodded to the droid, but went in and sat next to Ezra, who had tubes sticking out of his skin and also had on an oxygen mask. Emma hadn't noticed her feelings before, but deep down, she was just as scared that something had happened to him. Here she was, probably in love with three men, and she felt like the biggest snowflake in the galaxy. Maul came in carrying the sleeping red kidney bean.

"Collecting strays again?" He asked. She smiled.

"The droid woke me and told me. I'm gonna throttle him once he recovers. Apparently he has permanent arrhythmia. He was so dumb,” Maul yawned.

"But for some reason, I only care more."

"Yeah, me too. I didn't like him at first, but he grows on you. It's like a fungus, but it's still there."

"Maybe we should discuss it?"

"Well, we can't ignore our feelings. It isn't uncommon for Nightpersons to take multiple spouses. Hell, Medic had seven wives."

"I just feel grabby. Also…like a snowflake."

"Emma, you are a snowflake, but I don't care. I love you all the same."

"Do we discuss this with Zak?"

"I think Zak has more than earned the right to join our family, and yes, I think we discuss it with him, but no more strays."

"Fine. No more strays," she said and leaned against him. They dozed for a long time like that before a coughing fit woke them up. Ezra was awake and coughing, reaching for the water that was just out of reach. He focused and the water slid itself across the table and into his hand. He plopped the straw in it and marveled that it was bendy, then drank it. The droids looked him over and allowed Maul and Emma in the room.

"Aren't you curious where you are?" Emma asked.

"No. You guys are here, so I know I'm okay."

"And do you want to explain why you OD'd on a shitload of spice?" Maul asked. Ezra looked at him, beyond embarrassed, not meeting his eyes.
"Look, I was panicking and relapsed. I'm sorry. I knew it was wrong, but it was all so stressful and everything was happening so fast. I just wanted control. I was afraid, but I couldn't trust myself to not run and fall back to my old ways of self-preservation. I had to do something to not feel. Honestly, I didn't think I would survive, so it didn't matter at the time. I don't really matter. You guys have your stuff figured out, and I just feel like a tag-along, so I bought some spice off a pirate."

Maul spoke first. "Fuck-what? You think you don't matter? Look at what you've done. When we found you, you were just a street kid with more cunning than sense, and when you got back to Dathomir, you turned that around. Not only did you save Zak's life, you built a house with your own two hands, hunted with the rest of us, helped us penetrate the BFP, and you’re a goddamn hero to the people watching this happen. Stop focusing on what you can't do. It's time to focus on what you can. You aren't even stopping in the middle of the Code--you haven't even started with passion."

Ezra chewed his lip. No one had ever said that to him before.

"I matter?" He asked. There were tears welling up in his eyes.

"You do. Honestly, you made a stupid mistake, but given the circumstances, there is no reason we can't forgive you for it. We thought you had just been dumb. Yes, you matter,” Emma said, but stopped herself before she said any more.

He wiped at his face. "Sorry. I have something in my eye."

Maul leaned forward. "Ezra, it's okay. Men can cry too."

 

That was all that he needed. It was like someone had turned on a faucet. He cried for a while, but Maul and Emma sat with him the whole time. Emma even got up and laid on the bed with him. He hugged her, but the tears didn't stop. He cried for a full five minutes before wiping his nose. "Force, I'm so weak," he said.

"No. There is no weakness. Only strength. Where you see failure, we see opportunity. You are an important member of this team, and you are as important to me as Maul is."

"But…but…like…you guys are married."

"Yeah, and that's why it means more."

He cried again. This time, she hugged him back.

Chapter Text

BANG.
Ezra reached into the exhaust port, trying to get the wrench out before Maul got to him to investigate the sound. His hand twitched while he was tightening the bolt on the Crimson Hawk. He started to panic and sweat, and that’s when the itching started. It was like there were bugs all over him just under his skin. He fought the urge to scratch, but it was so intense and it also didn’t help that the crawling sensation seemed to take agency from his nerves—his hand jumped again. Maul was already too close.

“Ezra, what was that?” He asked.

Ezra got the wrench out as Maul came around the corner. His mouth was moving, but Ezra couldn’t really understand him. He squinted, tried to focus. It was so hard to think with the incessant itching.

“I- Slow down. You’re talking too fast,” Ezra said. His vision was swimming and Maul’s face was distorting. He felt a creeping dread crawl up his spine when he realized he was coming down a little hard. He hadn’t used that much, had he?

“I’m not talking that fast, Ezra,” Maul said.

“You- You’re so loud right now.”

Ezra itched harder and it spread to his face, prickling in his sinuses. He wiped his nose reflexively and he glanced back at it, startled to see a bright red streak there. Maul looked at him, and he looked back, terrified that it was happening again. It had been a week and they attempted to get the Spice out of his system, but they couldn’t do a lot. He’d had a stash put aside and he thought he could just…step down. Do it himself. Clean blood helped, but he knew he could do this himself, whenever he wanted.
He blinked, not realizing how long he’d been looking at his sleeve. He expected Maul to explode.

Maul was silent for a moment. “Go get cleaned up. I’ve got this.” Maul had a look of compassion in his face that Ezra had never seen. He nodded.

He didn’t have the gall to tell him the truth.

Ezra walked out of the hangar of the BFP and went to the refresher. It was empty. He started washing his hands and looked at it. Water was still odd to him after so long on Tatooine. Tatooine. He thought back to the last time that this had happened.

He had fresh cold water on his hands.

 

“Ezra, what did you do?” K asked.

“I got a bunch of spice, ran into some stormtroopers, got hauled in, and then got out with the spice.”

“You did what?”

“I think I was pretty clear?”

“Why do you have spice? Are you aware of what that shit does to you? You said you’d quit.”

“I was thinking we could sell it.”

“Ezra, you just bought it.”

Ezra was quiet. The dim lights in the renovated storage container did a lot to hide his face, but K started getting alarmed.

“Did- Did you rob your dealer?”

“He wasn’t paying a lot of attention.”

“Are you an idiot? He’s going to send a hunter after you!”

“So what? What can they do? We have to make a living too!”

“You aren’t a pusher, Ezra. This is too much. We need to hide the spice somewhere and claim ignorance.”

“No. I just got off a job, K. I deserve a break. I’m tired of hiding and bouncing from one job to the next. I want to do something that doesn’t hurt.”

“Sure, the Spice won’t hurt right now, but you’re going to run out, and it’s going to fuck up your body over time.”

Ezra slammed his hands on the table and walked out.

“Where are you going?” K asked. He stuck his head out of the door.

“Somewhere quiet,” he said. K looked hurt, but he didn’t follow him.

Ezra found his way to a cantina. He walked inside and sat at the bar, ordering a drink. It was expensive and cost way more than Ezra should have been paying, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to not feel.

“What makes a kid like you drink like that?” asked a voice to his left. He looked over. She had long red hair and beautiful yellow eyes. Her purple dress rippled like water in the light.

“Abandonment issues,” he replied.

“Huh. Fair. I’m Mara,” she said and extended a hand. He didn’t take it.

“And what do you do, Mara?”

“I’m a witch for hire.”

“I didn’t know witches sold their services. I also didn’t know they existed.”

“Oh, we do. We also provide other services. It’s a good thing, because sometimes, the Abyss looks back into you.”

He met her eyes. They reminded him of something, impossibly long lashes and deep orange like her hair with the gold rims--
--they looked just like Maul’s.

Ezra jumped. He was back in the BFP. He shook his head and splashed some water in his face. That was a memory he didn’t want. It was a fun night, but there was something odd about her and he’d just now realized what it was…just not exactly what it meant.

 

“Zak? Can you hear me?”

He opened his eyes. They were really heavy. He wasn’t thinking clearly either. The last thing he remembered was getting shot. It was an absence of pain. He looked around the white tiled room and his eyes fell on Emma. She had a small red thing attached to her breast.

“Em? Where am I?” he asked.

“On the threshold. We thought we lost you. Are you okay?”

“I feel drunk.”

“It’s the drugs. You’re on heavy painkillers.”

He felt the oddest sensation in his chest. It was something that made a weird sucking feeling. He looked down but his eyes were losing focus. Emma leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.

“They had to put in a pump. One of your hearts was disintegrated.”

“Makes sense,” he slurred. “I got shot in the chest. I should be dead.”

“You aren’t. It was a miracle. For some reason, your wounds had cauterized and you had just enough blood in your system. They’ve given you a couple of pints.”

“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at the lump on her chest.

“It’s your son. We haven’t named him yet.”

“Where’s the other?”

Emma fought back a tear. “He- he wasn’t there.”

“What?” His thoughts were coming back to him. It was slow, but his brain was starting to spark like normal.

“I don’t want to worry you about it. But this one is fine. I figured I’d bring him in to see daddy.”

She detached the child and put him next to Zak. The baby curled up next to him. Zak tried to smile, but it was a lot of effort.

“It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere. Get some sleep. Your dad will be here soon.”

Zak tried to fight it, but sleep took him. The last thing he felt was the steady thumping of the two hearts next to him.

 

“One triple scoop walnut ice cream for Hux.”

Hux stood up and got his ice cream from the lady behind the counter. It had been a week since the BFP and he was safely back at Coruscant. He felt that he had earned suicide-by-nut-allergies after that. He took a bite and logged into his senate account, flipping through the emails. People had recognized his ship on camera, and he had both approval and disapproval in his inbox. He took a bite of ice cream and ignored them.

“A bold move for Senator Hux,” he said to himself.

“A bolder move to appear on camera,” said a voice behind him. He winced and turned around.

“Are you going to arrest me?”

“On the contrary, senator. I approve of your actions,” Thrawn said and sat across from him. “What I saw was you striking at an installation built by terrorists and traitors to the Empire. You’re a hero.”

“Come on, Thrawn. You’re going to cover this up?”

“No. I’m going to offer you a job. Since I am the de-facto Emperor currently, It’s my job to find a suitable replacement, and I have seen a report of a brave young man striking at the heart of terror in the galaxy.”

Hux gulped.

“Interested?”

All his hopes and dreams just offered to him—just like that. He poked at a nut with his spoon and thought about it.

 

 

“So, it’s over. How long do you think the Empire will last?” Emma was back in the main hangar with Maul.

“I think it’s gonna fall apart soon, Sunshine.”

“Then why don’t I feel better? I’m still uneasy.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Emma was about to say something else, but Feral entered the room in a hurry. “Rip Tide, Maul! It’s Surgeon. Come quick!”

Maul and Emma bolted out of the room following Feral. He stopped outside of Zak’s room. There was a lot of noise and a tray clattered. Emma went inside. Zak was fighting a medical droid, trying to get the hoses out of his skin. The droid was at least holding its own.

“Zakarie Hill-Arnaud! Stop this at once!” She said and he hesitated, which was all the droid needed to pin him back to the table and start reattaching hoses.

“Em. We have to move. There’s something out there. It’s coming.”

Maul and Ezra came in to assist the droid.

“What’s coming, Angel?” Emma asked.

“Maul’s is the Winged Goddess and mine is the Horned God.”

Emma blinked. She had always thought it was the opposite, but it was possible. He still wasn’t making sense.

“Well, there is another. There’s Chaos. The Horned God spoke to me while I slept. It said that Chaos’ agent was coming. I just wanted to go home and prepare.”

“Angel, we don’t even know if there is a home to go back to. No one has been in contact with the Big House since we left. I think it was just a bad dream.”

“It wasn’t. It was real. He said that Ezra served Chaos, but he could help us stop the other person destroying the Balance.”

Anyone that had ever met Ezra knew that this was extremely likely, but it wasn’t like the Scions had identifiers to pick them out. While she was pondering this, Hill came in, and by his brief expression of shock then amusement, it was clear that he had expected something worse.

“Zakarie. I’m glad to see you are doing well. Bail might make you pay for the droid. I’m also glad I wasn’t too late. After what I felt a week ago, I was sure--“

“I’m fine, dad. I’d hug you but--“ Zak gestured at the equipment.

“I think Emma has your emotional needs well in hand, which reminds me, I need the New Sith in here and I need the windows darkened and the cameras blocked. I have a message from the Grand Admiral.”

A few minutes later, everyone had gathered. Mommy was in via hologram, and Rose was present.

“Mother, how are things at home?” Emma asked.

“Things are well. We are starting to rebuild. Luckily, the storm only knocked over not-so-stable structures. The Big House is fine. Savage is helping the women rebuild, but we desperately need the men and the Others back home.”

“I’ll bring them and the clones back with me. For now, I have information,” Hill said, and pressed a button on his holo. Thrawn appeared in the room.

“Good evening, brave soldiers of the Republic. I have some good news, and I have some bad news. First, I would like to inform you that Armitage Hux has taken over as the Emperor, and then, in an extraordinary session of the Senate, he made an executive order to dissolve the Empire and appoint himself as the Supreme Chancellor of the New Republic. That said, you are all recognized as war heroes. He has given a medal to each of you present and has granted Dathomir a Senate seat. Should it be filled is up to you. We all know Dathomir has a…storied past.”

Thrawn paced. He was usually so calm and composed, but this was something else.

“That was the good news. The bad news is that the Emperor had a successor. One of my men reported to me a month ago stating that there were some oddly-behaving TIEs and he and the fleet were engaged. Once the battle was over, they were able to recover the pieces and found that the TIEs had no pilots, but rather an odd assortment of organic matter. Specifically, they all had sentient brains hardwired directly into the mainframe. I don’t know a lot about the Force, but this report, along with many others, indicates that a black X-wing was seen flying in formation with the TIEs, and seemed to be the flight leader. The TIEs themselves were not equipped for long range flight, but the X-wing was, and there was no known fleet carrier. This tells me that they have an alternative fuel as well. These TIEs were something that Palpatine had in his files that were sent to me by Maul, so, we still have a replacement to find.

More good news, I found this in Governor Snoke’s personal effects,” Thrawn held up a green and gold holocron. “I have sent it with Governor Hill. He said that you had a use for it. We are still trying to locate Asajj Ventress, but so far, she is proving impossible to find. We have, however, gotten reports of the Ben Solo boy. He seems to be going under the name Kylo Ren, and they were last seen on Dantooine. I hope that this information is useful. Thank you,” Thrawn said, and the recording ended.

“Dantooine? What’s on Dantooine?” Zak asked.

“Other than my mother, no one. It’s the site of a satellite Jedi Temple, but what would Ventress and Ben want there?”

Hill spoke up. “I have opened Snoke’s holocron. It seemed that his led back to Maul. With all that, once we get Ventress’, we can put them together and finally figure out what the point behind the Empire was. It would make sense that hers led to Snoke. That’s how she found him and killed him.”

“Could it be that Ben was in the black X-wing? He’s a good pilot, and these reports seem to indicate a level of skill,” Emma asked.

“That’s possible. But we know where we have to go. I promised I was done, so Zak and I will go back with Hill to Dathomir. Emma and Ezra, you two need to go to Dantooine and figure out why Asajj was there, and if she still is, send a call for assistance. She’s a holy terror, and I’m sure that Savage will be more than happy to assist. I may be able to send a certain disgruntled farmer as well,” Maul said.

“Farmer?” Asked Ezra, who had been quiet the entire time.

“You mean Hank? Why would he care?” Emma asked.

Maul tapped his nose and the meeting dispersed.

 

When the room cleared, Emma and Maul remained. He was doing that breathing thing she distinctly remembered from “your mom’s the holonet”.

“Ask Hank about her sometime,” Maul said. “It’s not really my story to tell.”

Emma leaned against the wall and crossed her arms.

“This feels weird and dare I say it, actually irresponsible.”

“What does?”

“Just…like…me storming off to go do stuff and you going home with him,” she gestured at the baby in her arms.

“Do you doubt me?”

“No,” she shook her head. “You did pretty okay with me, but then again I was at the age of reason.”

“It’s simpler. I’ve read things.”

“We should do something when I get back. All of us, together.”

“I’ll set some stuff up, see what’s available. See what Zak is up to doing.”

His face softened for half a second, but by the time it registered with Emma, he was already heading out the door, doing some kind of awkward wave. She sighed—it had to get easier at some point.

She wasn’t sure which made her more anxious—the Newest Republic or the fact that she was responsible for another living thing.

Or maybe the fact that Maul was.

Nonsense. It was fine.

Probably.

Chapter Text

Dantooine grew in size as they dropped out of hyperspace. Everything looked okay. Emma checked the news. Same as usual and nothing out of the ordinary, so what gives? She turned to Ezra, who was piloting.

“Everything is fine. If she was here, she didn’t leave much of a footprint.”

Ezra took a pull from his improvised cigarette. The green leaf helped him with the withdrawals, and at this point, the spice was mostly out of his system.

“Well, what do we do? We have no idea why she was here. What is there of note?”

“Lord Baloney’s mining operation is really all that’s here. There is a Jedi temple, but it’s mostly just a waystation. There would be nothing there that she would want.”

“Land anyway? We need fuel.”

Emma nodded. “Let’s visit my mom while we’re here. Maybe she saw something.”

Ezra brought the ship in to land at the Koonda Starport. He paid off the fuel droid, then they headed into town. Emma got giddy again when she saw her mom’s bookstore. She wondered if the feeling would ever wear off. She walked in. It hadn’t changed. Tom was still manning the front.

“Welcome to The Learning Temple. We cater to all manner of books.” He glanced up and stopped reciting his welcome speech.

“Emma. What a nice surprise. You here to see your mom?”

“Yeah. Is she here?”

“She’s in the Temple section today. We had a large order pickup and she’s shelving some of the older books. Go on in.”

Emma smiled and entered. Ezra followed her. This section was vast. The building didn’t look so big on the outside. She figured that all the shelving made it look bigger. She bumped into one of the cute Togruta twins from before.

“Oh. Hi. Adhuri, right?”

“Nah. He’s the other handsome one. I’m Terash. How can I help you, beautiful?”

“Terash. Quit harassing my daughter. Go clean something,” Jeann said, coming down an aisle. He smiled and nodded, then went past Emma and Ezra. Her mom came forward and gave her a bone-crunching hug, which Emma returned.

“What are you doing here, my wonderful Republic Hero?” Jeann asked, then she noticed Ezra.

“And you brought me a present,” she said. He started visibly sweating.

“What is it with you and your family?” He asked. Emma smiled.

“You want him, you can have him. He’s a handful.”

“That’s okay. I just like to look. You need to stop collecting strays. You snap up all the cute ones,” Jeann said with a laugh.

“He’s the last one. Promise. I’m actually here for more than a social call, though.” She dug around in her bag and pulled out the holo-recording of Asajj.

Jeann scoffed. “That vulture. Yeah, she was here. She came in with another looker, but she was outright rude when I admired him. She followed him around as he picked through every inch of the library. I don’t know why she was here, but I thought the guy she was with was going to take up residence among the shelves. They came in over several days, and each day, he would spend hours examining the shelves.”

“Did you get a name?”

“Well, the boy called the vulture Master, and she would either refer to him as Apprentice, or Ren.”

Emma pressed a button and pulled up a picture of Ben.

“Yep. That’s him. They left here with thirty books or so. I had to have Adhuri take the hover lift and get them back to their ship. She didn’t tip him. I was miffed.”

“And what did their ship look like?”

She called Adhuri’s name.

“’Sup Mrs. J? Hey Em. Long time no see.”

“Hi Adhuri. I have a question for you. When the two customers came in from the big order, what did their ship look like? Was it a black X-Wing?”

Adhuri scratched his montrails. “No. They had a transport. Some freighter. It sure as hell wasn’t an X-wing. Terash may know more. He’s really into ships.”

“That’s alright. Last question, What were the books? Was there any central theme?” Ezra jumped in. Emma hadn’t even thought of that one. She looked at him approvingly.

“Yeah. I recognized some of them. They were mostly on archaeology of the Ancient Sith, and some of them were on the Sith Temple of Malachor. The Ren guy would get really excited and start going ninety-to-nothing when I asked him about it. It seemed to be a passion of his. The lady wasn’t so excited. She just seemed, well… bored. She didn’t even tip me when I helped with the books. I don’t know why they’re together. They have, like, nothing in common.”

“Wait, they were together?” Emma asked.

“I mean, you don’t kiss someone like that if you aren’t at least fuckin’ ‘em.”

“Adhuri, don’t say fuck. There are children present,” Jeann said. He winked at her.

“Anyway, that was all really. We get a lot of eccentrics in here, so I just minded my own business.”

Emma nodded. “That’s all I needed. Thanks for the help.”

“No problem. Glad to help Mrs. J’s kid.” He nodded and disappeared into the shelves. Ezra spoke.

“If they’re together, this isn’t going to end well. You may have to kill him, too.”

Emma shuddered. He was right and she didn’t want to think about killing a friend.

“Emma, I had a question,” Jeann said.

“What’s up, Mom?”

“So, I heard reports of the New Sith being led by an enterprising young girl and that they were based on Dathomir. I was wondering if the New Sith needed a librarian at their temple. You wouldn’t happen to know who to contact about that, would you?”

Emma sized her mom up. Was she really hearing what she thought she was?

“What about this place?”

“Well, I had contingencies in case of my death to give it to Tom. He’s a good kid and can do right by this place. I can just hand him the keys and take my things.”

“Well, show up to Dathomir. If the New Sith and the planet need you, you’ll be permitted entrance. Just tell them who you are. Maul will be there.”

Jeann nodded. “Well, I guess I will see you at home then. May the Force be with you.”

Emma faltered. “And also with you, Mom.”

 

When they got back to the ship, the comm was beeping. Emma went over and answered it. Zak’s image appeared. His shirt was off and he was applying some kind of medication to his scars.

“Hey, Em. Glad I caught you. I have some news. So, I, on a lark, decided to take a look at my old senate stuff to try to get a bead on what was happening politics-wise. Turns out, Ben sent me a message, and it’s recent. Like, yesterday recent. It’s bad.”

Emma nodded. Ezra had appeared behind her. “Can you play it?”

He reached down and grabbed his datapad, then pressed play, holding the speaker close to the mic. Ben’s voice came over the mic.

“Zak. Zak, I need help. She’s gone nuts. She killed a bunch of random people. Please, I need help. I’m at 921 Starview Lane in Bast City on Coruscant. Top level.” The transmission cut out.

“Honestly, it was lucky I even checked, but Ben needs help. I can meet you there.”

Emma put her hands on her hips. “You will do no such thing, Zakarie Hill-Arnaud. You are going to stay right the fuck there and heal. Ezra and I are more than capable of helping Ben.” Zak shrunk a little at the scolding. Ezra spoke up.

“We got it. You’ve played hero enough for one lifetime. Get some rest, brother.”

Ezra had never called Zak his brother before. There was a moment heavy with unspoken thoughts before Zak broke the silence.

“Protect her. It’s your duty now, just as it is mine and Maul’s.”

“Alright, I hate to break up the bromance, but we need to get a move on. Just a heads up, Mom is on her way to Dathomir. Make sure she receives a warm welcome. Maybe put some clothes on? She’s kind of a cougar.”

“It runs in the family,” Ezra mumbled, and was rewarded with a swat to the back of his head.

“I’ll do my best, but I’m a bit slow mobility-wise. Also, you need to see the temple. It’s huge!”

“What temple?”

Zak waved his hand. “We can talk about that later. Ben is in trouble. We need to help him.”

“Right right. Stay safe, and take it easy, Angel. I mean it. I will have Maul restrain you.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said and hung up the holo. Ezra was already getting into the pilot’s seat and turning the engines on. It was a bit of a trip back to Coruscant, but it was time Emma could use to meditate. She felt something very wrong when her senses reached out to Ben, and she was nervous.

 

They arrived on Coruscant three standard days later and wasted no time. Emma decided to stay with the ship so that Ezra could do his job. As he crept through the alleys and gutters of the upper city, he couldn’t help but feel like a cat. Dathomir had definitely altered him in some way. He was quieter, and his senses were better tuned to deal with the bustle of Coruscant or really any urban environment. Instead of the usual wall of sound that accompanied cities, he was able to pick out individual sounds, and the shadows weren’t as dark as they should have been.

He finally got to Starview Lane. The building he was looking for wasn’t hard to find. Ezra didn’t have to stretch to say it was nice, but then, he used to live in a converted shipping container, so most things were nice to him. He crawled up to a window and peered through. It was a nice looking flat. Everything was clean and the floors looked freshly vacuumed. In fact, if it wasn’t for the bucket of Nar Shadaa Fried Porg on the counter, Ezra would have said it was empty. He creeped around to another window, and this one had a thick curtain over it. Ezra figured he had found the room where this Ben guy spent most of his time. Ezra tried to listen, but all he could hear was a grinding sound. It was like metal on metal. If he didn’t know better, it reminded him of an electric grindstone.

“Emma didn’t say anything about a garage,” he said more to himself.

The curtain moved and he dove to the side of the window so he wouldn’t be seen. The window opened and a head popped out. He was breathing heavily. Ezra didn’t dare move. If the man paid any attention to his periphery at all, he would get spotted. Ezra didn’t even breathe.

(How long can I hold my breath? Why do I need to know the answer to this? Why did this have to happen on this one thing today, not today, not today--)

Ben coughed and shook his head, then went back into the window but didn’t close it. Instead, he moved the curtain to have better airflow. Ezra sunk down and waited until the grinding sound started again. It was much louder. He was sure that this was the guy from the holo-recording. He snuck off back to the ship. He had to find Em. They got there in time. Ben was safe.

Ezra appeared back in the starport where Emma was sitting on the boarding ramp in Maul’s old robes. She had decided that she should at least look like a Sith Lord. When Ezra came back, she stood.

“I found him. He almost saw me. It’s him.”

“Then let’s go. Is he safe?” Emma started walking. Ezra followed.

“He seemed safe. I think he almost poisoned himself with a lack of airflow in his workspace.”

“He’s probably used to having a well-ventilated workspace.”

They got to the apartment and Emma knocked on the door. Ezra snickered. The robe was a little too big for her and it was almost comical. The sleeves came down over her hands. It reminded him of those kids that got to meet a Jedi and put on their robes. She glared at him out of the corner of her eye. There was a scraping sound, then six locks snicked out of their berths. The door flung open and a man in a mask flung his arms around her. She panicked and struck his chest with the heel of her palm then jumped-kicked him in the same spot. He fell backwards and scrambled back on his hands and feet.

“Force-Damn! You bitch!” The man said. It came out heavily modulated and downright scary.

“Where’s Ben?!” She yelled and drew her lightsaber, activating the golden blade.

“No, Em, that’s a welding mask.” Ezra said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

The man scrambled to take the mask off, revealing his face. It was Ben and she immediately felt like an idiot, a terrible rescuer, and an even worse friend. She deactivated the lightsaber and immediately helped him up. He was sweating something awful, but then, she would too if someone had threatened her life.

“Stars, Em. I thought you were going to kill me.” Ben closed the door and started locking it again.

“I might have. You shouldn’t randomly hug people with lightsabers while wearing a mask.”

“I forgot I had it on. The room I’m in isn’t well ventilated. I had to make do.” He placed the mask on the bar and started cleaning. “How’d you find me? I’m assuming you and Zak are a thing?”

Emma blinked. “How do you know about that?”

“He had it in for you. Like, even I could pick up on that. I kinda guessed you felt the same, and you both vanished from Naboo at the same time. Add to that the artwork that has been popping up for the New Sith looks a lot like Zak’s style, oh and the fact that you are both war heroes? There are pictures. I moved here pretty soon after you guys left. I met a girl and she works here.”

“Yeah, speaking of which…” Ezra said, looking out a window. “We probably need to get a move on.”

Ben’s eyes widened. “You’re right. She probably knows I’m here. We’re in a lot of damn trouble. I have a few things to pack up.” He went to the back room and started banging around. It didn’t take too long. Ezra peaked out the window again and saw eyes staring back at him RIGHT OUTSIDE THE WINDOW. The irises were vertically split in the middle. Half of the eye was blue, and the other half was a sickly yellow. A sense of slow dread prickled at the base of his spine and he realized they just had a pane of plexiglass between them.

“FUCK!” He yelled and rolled away from the window as a red lightsaber shot through the glass where his head was not two seconds before. His orange saber was out and ignited before he finished the maneuver and he immediately dropped into Ataru ready-stance.

“Go! I’ll hold her off.” He yelled and Emma disappeared in the back room where Ben was. Asajj climbed through the window and ignited her second saber, then screamed. She may have been a Nightsister once. She may have even been pretty, but she wasn’t anymore. Her skin, which should have been icy blue in color, was pale and cracked, like old paper, and her face had become some kind of bestial thing. Even her eyes were cloudy. Ezra saw in her what could easily happen to the rest of them, and for a split second, he was afraid. Was this where the dark side led? Asajj was insane. She didn’t even make words. She just howled in rage and charged, and it was enough to shock him out of his thoughts.

He dove to the side and whirled around to have his blade meet hers. She then turned to face him. Some glass shattered in the back room. She must have heard it too because she glanced to the side, but Ezra kicked at her and started striking at her, trying to keep her distracted. He used a saber-swarm maneuver, striking out with a flurry of blows. It caught her attention and she was forced to take a defensive stance. He jumped back and then out the window, seeing Ben and Emma already fleeing down the street. Ezra reached his hand out and pulled Ben’s welding mask off of the table with the Force, grabbing it as Asajj came out of the window after him. He turned tail and ran, but she was fast. Not as fast as he was, however. It looked like the same powers that had improved him had weakened her. She was clumsy and slow, but not that slow.

As he ran, he rounded a corner and had a split second to drop and roll, going under a sputtering red blade. Ben raised his blade and came around the corner. His form was weird, but he was good, holding it at a slight slant and using the crossguard effectively. Ezra jumped over them both and landed on the other side of Asajj. She was trapped in the narrow alley, and she was not happy. For some reason, she seemed to disregard Ezra entirely and threw herself at Ben. He raised his saber and blocked it, then raised his hand. She stopped what she was doing entirely and grabbed her throat as she was slowly lifted from the ground. Ben had a look of pure malice on his face.

“Let me go, Apprentice.” She rasped.

“First you hurt random people, then you try to harm my friends. None of this was part of the plan, none of this was what I signed up for! So now, the apprentice becomes the master.” He said and thrust his lightsaber through her stomach. At the same time, he let go of the raw force that he was using to hold her. Emma was stunned. Ben was fucking powerful. He turned off the blade and Asajj crumpled to the ground. He then turned and put the welding mask back on. There was screaming down the street. The authorities would be coming soon. Emma bent down and grabbed the blue holocron from between Asajj’s breasts, using her lightsaber to remove it from Asajj’s corset. Asajj reached up slowly and brushed Emma’s face. Incredibly, she still clung to life.

“You. You replaced me,” she said. Emma didn’t say anything. She just stared at Asajj.

“Please, sister. Take me home.”

“You don’t have a home. You’ve been cast out. You will die and go to The Void. The Gods have abandoned you.”

Asajj stared off at nothing, lost for once.

“Then tell my… husband, I… am sorry.” Her hand dropped. Emma ran her hand over Asajj’s eyes, closing her eyelids, but didn’t give her the last rites of a Nightsister. She had forfeited them long ago.

“Em,” Ezra warned. She stood and turned. Ben looked down at the dead Nightsister with that mask on.

“Goodbye, master.”

Chapter Text

“So, when she killed Snoke, I still had the foresight to grab his holocron, which she didn’t much care about, but when I opened it, it talked about an assassin. A Nightbrother that was red as blood. I immediately knew who that was because Emma had always talked about her dad. So, I gave the holocron to my mom, so that she could get it to someone in the higher positions to deal with it, then I tried to confront Asajj about it, but she went nuts and cut up a nightclub, claiming that it was the price for my insubordination, so I left and contacted Zak, knowing that he would still have contacts with Em,” Ben said, then took another sip of his tea. “This is really good, Mrs. Talzin.”

They had made it back to Dathomir successfully before the Jedi or the police had arrived. Turns out they weren’t the only ones. Dathomir had the honor of hosting the Supreme Chancellor, Hux, and the newly reinstated Grand Admiral Thrawn. Jeann had also arrived, and she was in on the conference of the usual suspects sans Zak, who was resting and recovering. Rose was present via holo. When they had arrived, Emma was surprised. Behind the big house was a towering edifice of smooth black granite. It was the new temple. It had erupted right out of the ground after the BFP was destroyed. Dathomir was proud to be the home of the New Sith, and they were proud to have it.

“Again, dear, it’s just Mommy.” Talzin said. “And Jeann made the tea.”

“So, the holocrons have come full circle, and at last, we have all of them. All that’s left is for us to put them all together. You can finally learn why I lugged my coffee table the whole way here.” Hill said. Maul held up a hand.

“Before that, there is some book keeping to take care of. The first thing is for Ben. Are you with us?”

Ben didn’t even think. “My whole life, I knew I was different. If this Mia person says I am Sith, then I guess I belong with the New Sith. These are my people. Of course I’m with you.”

Maul nodded. “And second, Emma and Ezra, you both did well, but you also missed a lot. Notably, we got a crate from the Jedi Temple. We were initially hesitant, but when we opened it, we found a plethora of lightsaber parts, kyber crystals, and Sith holocrons, among other things. I have already started cataloging the holocrons. They are the genuine article. It looks like the Jedi officially want peace. The triumvirate, meaning Mother and I, have already sent a letter back detailing a proper thank you and that we have accepted their armistice. I’m telling you, Emma, because while you lead us in battle, you don’t lead us in full. There was a two-thirds vote while you were out, and it has been decided that Mommy and myself will sit with you as a sort of council.”

Emma nodded. “Good. I didn’t want to bear the burden of sole leadership, to be fair.”

“Now, lastly. This is it. Once these holocrons are put together, we can’t go back, and we can’t unlearn. Whatever we find when we put these together, it’s going to lock us in our course, and we are honor-bound to deal with it. We are Sith. It’s our duty. Are there any objections?”

The room was silent. This group had been tried and tested. They were ready.

Hill went over to the coffee table, which was the centerpiece of the conference room. None of them could figure out why the coffee table existed or what it was for. As he got close to it, the holocrons already sitting on the table, purple, red, and gold, all started floating around each other, and the Force signature of the table lit up brilliantly. The blue and the green were glowing in his hands. He tossed them in the air, and they fell, as expected, but then got caught in what could lonely been described as a gravity well, and then they all started spinning and swirling. An electrical wave that looked and registered like Sith lightning shot up from the strong hardwood and cascaded around the pieces. Hill flexed his fingers and let fly his own lightning. As soon as it dissipated, the holocrons all reflexively snapped together, forming a star, with the purple at the top, the gold on the right, the red on the left, and then the green on the lower left, and the blue on the lower right. A hologram appeared from the table, and almost everyone in the room flinched. Palpatine’s hideous mug was staring at them.

“My apprentice: If you are viewing this, then the Death Star has fallen, the Empire is in ruins, and you have had to kill all of my hands to maintain control and silence loose ends. Fret not, little one, for there is a solution, and I have prepared a contingency. I call it the First Order. All you have to do is go to the list of people in your holocron and tell them, ‘through strength, I gain power.’ They should divulge the information you need to form and lead the First Order from the shattered remains of my glorious Empire. The fate of the galaxy, and that of the Sith, now rests in your hands. Do well, my apprentice, and may the Dark Side be with you.” He said, then the hologram went dim and died out. The holocrons stayed in their shape, swaying in that strange geometric pattern as a star. The room was dead silent. Hux broke it.

“Heck! Are you kidding me? Did I just hear that?”

Maul rubbed his eyes. Ezra just walked out of the room. Ben walked over to the table itself and started inspecting it.

“Careful. That cost a lot.” Hill said, but Ben just waved at him. He was enthralled by the table.

“So, what? We have to stop a mini-Palpatine?” Emma asked.

Hill nodded. “This whole time, we were playing with a stacked deck. In politics and in economics, this is called a zero-sum game. We haven’t lost anything, but we haven’t gained anything either. Everything we have done up to this point has been for nothing. It’s just going to happen again.”

“There is one thing that we have that this holocron assumed was wrong. The hands still live. You and Maul, specifically. It also didn’t factor in a New Sith Order,” Mother Talzin said. She glided across the room and stood in front of Hill, then, in an unexpected move for everyone except those two, she rested her hand on his face.

“Do not despair, Hanni. We will be successful.”

Emma didn’t pay any attention to that. What could she say? Even she was disheartened. Ezra came back in the room, and everyone turned to him. He went in front of the crowd and held up a blanket. Inside was a sleeping baby Nightbrother. Emma’s child. They still hadn’t named him. Ezra spoke with a certainty that Emma was surprised at.

“This child--this is why we are here. This is why we fight. Sure, no one wanted to hear that message, but we can’t give up. If we do, then we give up on him, and we give up on Dathomir. My home, my people, my family, and I’m not going to let that happen. Stay here if you want, but I’m going to fight for this. Who’s with me?”

That seemed to light a fire under everyone. Maul stepped forward and took his child.

“Alright.” Emma stepped forward. “Step one is figuring out who the apprentice is. Dollars to donuts, it’s the pilot of the black X-Wing as well.”

Ben perked up. “Black X-Wing? I’ve seen one of those. I thought it was pretty rare.”

Zak hobbled in, holding his chest. Jeann went to him and helped him get further in. Rose looked over to him from her hologram, and smiled at Jeann.

“What do you mean?” Emma asked.

“Yeah. It was a rare model, and it was highly customized, they cut off the emission converter, had sockets with bigger power cells to make it capable of longer flight, and it had a hyperdrive attached. The S-foils were also locked in attack mode. I thought it was odd.”

Thrawn pulled out a datapad and swiped through it. While he was doing that, Ben turned back to the table. “Hey!” He shouted and grabbed the green one. It didn’t come unattached. “I gave this to my mom!”

Thrawn sighed, still swiping. To the casual observer, it would have looked like he was swiping right on Tinder. “Yes. I was attempting to protect her identity and not get her involved. The holocron came into my possession from Senator Organa. Bail’s daughter. She deduced that she had no need for it, and she couldn’t trust anyone else with it, so she sent it to me, which I in turn gave to the New Sith, since it seemed to be something that belonged to them. Here it is.”

He handed the datapad to Ben, who looked at the picture of the X-Wing in full combat maneouvre. Ben nodded. “Yep, that’s the one. You can tell by—“

“Give us a lesson another time, boy. Did you see the pilot?” Maul asked impatiently.

“Well, yeah. She was at the Starport in CoCo Town all the time. She had long red hair, often wore a shimmery dress, and the one time I got close to her, she had bright yellow eyes. Almost like a snake. It was mesmerizing, but she was human. I’m sure of that. Maybe some kind of hybrid. Possibly Human and Hutt parentage. I think she said her name was Mara? Yeah, Mara Jade. She was a friend of Asajj’s as well. She liked to talk about the Abyss, like it was some kind of metaphor for her—”

Ezra turned white as a ghost. So did Zak.

“You’re fucking kidding me.” Ezra said, as Zak looked nauseated.

“Care to share, boys?” Emma asked.

Zak shared first. “Yeah. Right after you left Naboo, I was out at the Raven, when a women that matches this description approached me. She was odd and went on about the Abyss. Dickey thought she was a predator and kicked her out. I don’t know what happened to her after that. I even called Dad about it.”

“I had a similar encounter, but I uh, slept with her.” Ezra said. “She was hot and I was bored, but it’s odd, I have trouble remembering. All I remember is that she was crazy, and she had said or done something that I can’t remember—“ He shuddered. “I bolted as soon as we were both done. It was like she was slowly sucking the life out of me.”

Mommy perked up at that last bit. “Ezra, can we talk privately about this? That sounds familiar.”

Ezra nodded and they walked out of the room. Zak eyed his dad, who was looking everywhere but at him.

“So how long has that been going on?” Zak asked. It wasn’t every day that he got to needle the impossibly perfect and cultured Hanni Hill.

“Zakarie, leave an old man be.” He said, but he turned visibly red. Everyone in the room was shocked. This was the strongest display of emotions that Hill had ever shown. Which, of course, made him turn even more red.

“Ah, son of a bitch.” Maul said, and Emma turned to him. He was fighting with the small child which had decided to use his horns to climb on top of his head. Emma started laughing. Most people in the room did. There wasn’t much that could take the terror out of Maul, but a small child was one of those things. The door opened and everyone turned. It was Mia. She was actually dressed for once in an elegant red dress that complimented her skin. She had a broom and dustpan, clearly having taken up residence as maintenance, but she stopped in her tracks when she saw Ben, who was still tinkering with the table. He turned to Hill.

“So, if I got this right, you created an object specially keyed to give off Force readings specifically for gene-locked objects, so for example, with these holocrons, it emitted lightning specifically coded to read like Palpatine, then your lightning, upon entering the field, was coded as the key, so that it would activate the holocrons.”

Hill nodded. “Not bad. That’s exactly what it does. I figured I would need it to decode Force objects if I continued my studies.”

Mia ran forward, dropping the broom and dustpan, and grabbed Ben’s face, then ran her finger down his nose. Everyone was shocked by this, and Ben turned white as a sheet. Mia’s face lit up and she hugged Ben tightly. She spoke to him in Ancient Sith. “At last, another Zuguruk! It has been too long, and I felt so lonely! You are good breeding stock, yes?”

Ben took a step back, then spoke in flawless Ancient Sith. “Yes. I am good stock, and I am Zuguruk. Where have you been, princess? Records say that you died.”

“I hid in a cave at the core when the Rattakan came, and I have been there since. It got lonely in my cave, and King Adras never came for me. I thought I was the last of my kind, but I am not. You are here.”

“Why do you sweep the palace floors if you’re a princess?” Emma asked, thoroughly confused.

“I am Zuguruk. It is my job to perform maintenance, just as it is yours to lead, Kissai.”

Chapter Text

Hey guys! Sorry to put a chapter break here, but we have a couple of updates that we wanted to tell you about.

First off, we are grinding towards the end of this Leviathan, and we are very happy how it turned out, and no, we aren't done. We have every intention to get back to this. There is really no good reason that we can give you for why it has been so long other than the fact that life happened, and it's been a little of good, and of bad.

That said, as Regent was reading through this for a refresher, he noticed some things that we had done in the earlier chapters that were problematic. We have grown as people since then, and it wasn't acceptable then, and it isn't now. That said, This means that we are going to have to do a rewrite. Yeah, it sucks, and yeah, that means you guys will probably have to reread, but hey, that's why we read fics, and it's our job as the authors to provide you with wholesome quality content that isn't gross or filled with problematic issues.

Also, We have a Discord now! Just put the link into your address bar and it will let you know. I'll post it at the bottom of this chapter. Not everyone in that server is there for Ao3 stuff since I use it to run tabletop games as well, but it's definitely going to be better to get a hold of us and hell, you guys might meet some new friends!

That's about it for us, and Regent is actually typing up the next chapter as we speak, so there will be an update soon. Thanks for sticking with us. May the Force be with you!

-Haunt

https://discord.gg/KwfMfU

Chapter Text

She had been found. She was certain. She had been careful, and she had planned everything out, but she just couldn’t find it. It took a lot to evade the PDF and get into the evidence locker, but there was no holocron. It was missing.
Fuck, Asajj was never supposed to get caught.

The evidence locker opened and the woman stood up straight, took a deep breath, and donned her mask. It was one that she had practiced so often. She needed to look professional, like a secretary or something, someone who belonged here.

“Did you find what you were looking for, Ms. Rendar?” asked the beleaguered PDF member. She turned around, shaking her head. “I guess the object isn’t here. Not unless you've seen it? It was a pyramid, glowed blue?”

The PDF member shook his head. “Look, Ms. Rendar, I see every object that comes through those precinct doors, and I’m telling you, there was nothing like that, just like I said last time you asked. Now, if you’re done, I really can’t let you stay in there.”

She frowned.
Did I ask him already? No, it's fine.

She nodded and walked out of the evidence locker, then went on her way down the hall, reaching up and pulling the pin out of her hair. Her eyes melted from green to yellow, then back. A disgusted look came over her face, and she just looked sour.

****************************

So where had the holocron gone? It was obvious now that either the Jedi or this New Sith were behind Asajj’s death. Mara had planned to have been the one to do it, of course, but someone had beaten her to it, and judging by the fact that Asajj had been butchered on the street with witnesses, and there were no people on the scene except bystanders when the police had arrived, she was pretty certain that it wasn’t the Jedi. That made things harder. She didn’t know who the New Sith even comprised of, so that left no links to follow back to the head of the chain. She didn’t even know where to find them. That is, not yet. As she got outside of the precinct house, she took off her heels and carried them in one hand, walking down the Coruscanti thoroughfare barefoot. Traffic whizzed by overhead, blurring grey with pinpricks of yellow and orange lights. Just like that, she was gone into the densely populated district.

No one stopped her, but she felt the weight of their eyes and it didn't bother her. The effect wasn’t necessarily her choice, either. That was the price you paid when you took things that didn’t belong to you, and you didn’t know their power. Mara had paid that price, but she turned it to her advantage, deciding that if she couldn’t hide her presence, she could use it to influence others. People with an aura like hers are often leaders, after all, and Mara Jade was a leader, not a follower. She had made it this far, hadn’t she? She suffered under that man, his lessons and his musings, and she learned what she needed to learn. She had allied herself to the most powerful man in the Empire, and then just like that, it all fell apart. She didn’t hate the New Sith for what they had done to Palpatine. Honestly, he had it coming, and she was just mad that she didn’t get to gut him herself. She didn’t expect them to know the purpose behind the holocrons though. That was new. She wasn’t certain they even knew until now. She thought that maybe losing Palpatine’s was a fluke, and she could find it with enough thought, but no, now Asajj’s was gone too, and that was a problem. If they managed to find Maul and Hill, and get them all together, then they would know the full plan, and that was something that Mara didn’t know, and that frustrated her too.

She made it back to the flat she was squatting in, and she entered the area she had carved out for herself. It was easy to get the owner to let her stay for a few days. It was amazing what free sex could do to a person, and it was amazing where you could hide a body for an appropriate amount of time. No one took advantage of Tabitha Rendar.

Mara Jade. Whatever.

She entered the spare bedroom that she had turned into a scrying room. She had torn out the carpet to just the bare cement and used chalk to draw the appropriate runes on the ground. The carpet had just been thrown in the living area. Mara didn’t plan to be here longer than need be. She also hauled in a big copper cauldron, just like the one she had learned on, and she approached that, stripping off her business clothes as she did. By the time she was ready, she was completely naked and in deep meditation, focusing her will into a needle-sharp point. Then she began chanting. It wasn’t any language that could have been picked up on a listening device. It was old, and it was powerful, and it gave her the focus she needed. She continued chanting in Ancient Sith, standing and stirring the liquid inside the large cauldron with her finger. It swirled, and an image appeared in the reflection. It was a red planet, the red planet. The one she had been forbidden to go to, but she had been there anyway, and it was where she learned this particular ritual. Dathomir. They were on Dathomir. She grinned, her snake-like fangs and yellow snake-like eyes looking wholly unnatural against the rest of her human face. Pulling a fast one on the planet itself was one of her cooler accomplishments, she thought. She looked into the cauldron and began to make plans.

 

“So, where do we find her?” Zak asked again.
Maul was beyond frustrated. If he wasn’t recovering from death, he might have sailed a fist into his face. “I don’t know, Zak. I have told you that the last forty times you have asked. I'm getting pretty sick of her antics myself.”

“That’s the issue, Maul. You're sitting here talking about the best way to tackle this, and I agree with you, but we still have to find her. All of this is moot until we do,” Zak said, taking a sip of his tea. Just simple stimulants and healing herbs for him. No caffeine.

“He’s not wrong, love. If we can’t find her, then we can’t stop her. There isn’t much to do but wait,” Emma said, looking on, bored. They were still in Talzin’s room. Really, they were brainstorming, trying to figure out how to find this bitch. There wasn’t much else to do until Ezra and Talzin came back anyway. Ben and Mia were in the corner doing something else. Emma wasn’t really sure what they were talking about. It sounded like they were nerding out about some kind of spacecraft or temple. It was something to do with Malachor. She knew that much. Even Hill looked particularly stumped. His wheels were turning, just slowly.
“There’s no doubt that she is using aliases to hide her movements, so doing a name search is going to be impossible. When I had to find someone before, it was simple to follow the money trail, but I doubt she’s using anything but cold hard currency for added security. The man that taught me taught her as well, and I have no doubt that he taught her how to avoid me,” Maul said.
“If we can get the alias she uses with the Hutts, I can raid a few data caches and get more of a look as to what she is into. It will give you some idea of what to expect if you go after her,” said Rose. She continued scribbling on a pad in front of her.
Emma walked over and started scratching Zak’s back idly. He slumped forward, totally okay with this. It was pretty quiet, then Thrawn’s holo chimed. He wasn’t going to go all the way outside for it, so he just answered it. It was Krennic, and for once he didn’t look good.

“Thank Yoda’s grungy underwear. I was starting to think they got you too. Are you okay? Is the Supreme Chancellor with you?”
This captured everyone’s attention. Thrawn reflexively looked to Hux, just making sure. “We are fine, Orson. Calm yourself. What’s going on?”
“I… I don’t know. That’s what we 're trying to figure out. We were going about business as usual, and just five minutes ago, we got a report of a massive biological object approaching the planets. We only knew because it destroyed a satellite. Then, a few minutes later, there is a large energy discharge, and half of Coruscant is on fire. We don’t know who they are, or what they hit us with, but it’s on a scale that not even we understand. Now, there are reports from forces on the ground about gigantic towers of organic matter, small creatures swarming over civilians and ripping them to pieces, the whole world is gone to shit. There was no way to prepare. We simply had no idea."
Thrawn just blinked slowly. He had shown more emotion with that one subtle movement than he normally had. He wasn’t surprised. He was worried. “I thought we had more time,” He looked over at Hux, who had a very serious frown on his face. “I’ll be there soon. Hang on, Krennic. I’m mobilizing the fleets,” Had he just shown compassion as well? He hung up the holo and addressed Hux. “Sir, I have a lot to tell you, and not a lot of time to do it in. This threat is bigger and more serious than you know. The Yuuzhan Vong have arrived.”
He then turned to Emma and Maul. “You’re conscripted. Get your troops together and have them loaded on your ships. You’re going to provide is with naval support then ground forces. Dathomir is a Republic planet now, and we are asking for military support. You really have no say in the matter.”
Emma nodded. “I’ll go get them together. What exactly are we fighting?”
Thrawn didn't answer. This might be an Elliot problem.

 

They arrived in from hyperspace to find Coruscant completely under siege. The other ships had arrived first, and the capital ships were bombarding the other Vong ships with salvo after salvo, but it didn’t seem to be having any effect. Elliot made his way to the troop carriers. The plan was for Thrawn to punch a hole in the blockade, and to get the much needed troop support to Krennic. Elliot would be taking over that part, as well as Zak, who was actually able to do something at this point, now that he had recovered. Maul was going to lead a large squadron of TIEs with the Nightbrother. Ezra was still on Dathomir. Someone from the Sith needed to look after the temple, and he volunteered. He looked over at Zak, who was walking beside him. He looked grim, which considering the last time he was in combat, he died, that made some sense. He never did explain how he survived, and every time Elliot asked, Zak had the most guilty look on his face, so he didn’t press it. Now Zak was in armor, which hadn’t been the case before. It was Twi’leki, a gift from his mother, and it was beautiful, a silver breast plate with golden filigree in the shape and look of vines. Elliot was in Dathomirian armor made from Krayt hide leather. A joint venture from Ben and Plasma. It provided the freedom of movement of robes, while still being impervious to small arms fire, and Elliot looked like some kind of feral warrior in it. He felt good in it, and he donned his Darth Masque. It had been a long time since he had worn it, but he decided it was time. This new enemy would know it as the face of the New Sith, and they would be fucking terrified.

Thrawn had made this sound more problematic, really. It was a nation that relied heavily on biological technology. They could make guns out of biological material, and there were several different types of them, but only the leaders were capable of speech. Apparently they went from planet to planet, devouring all the biological material on it to feed themselves, and then left, leaving the planet little more than a floating rock, but why attack Coruscant? The answer was obvious of course. Cut the head off the senate, and the galaxy will crumble, and that is why Hux ended up going somewhere that wasn’t Coruscant and wasn’t Dathomir. Elliot wasn’t allowed to know, but Thrawn assured him that Hux was with the best warriors in the galaxy, and was safe, so he trusted him.

Elliot and Zak boarded the ship, and it went down to the surface of Coruscant. It was time. The Chimaera engaged the floating Vong ship. It definitely looked like it was made of biological material. A living, breathing ship, but was that possible? It sucked in and puffed out in a sick, slow motion.

There were enemy fighters approaching as well, and The Nightbrother screamed by the transport with ten TIEs in tow. These were special TIEs that Thrawn had developed himself. They were called TIE defenders, and had improved armor, shields, and weapons, while still being as maneuverable as a regular TIE, but they weren’t cheap. He loved them, though, and a small part of him was thrilled to see them fly.

It wasn’t long before the Nightbrother’s cannons lit up, and the TIEs followed suit. These Vong ships didn’t fire blaster or laser shots. It looked more like streams of acid, if that was possible. It must have been, because a TIE was hit and the shield didn’t activate. That was a problem. That was a big problem. Elliot kept watching. The TIE started to vent atmosphere from where the acid hit, and then it spiraled and just drifted off from the fight. That was really bad. The pilot must have come in contact with the acid, it was a disaster.

Meanwhile, the Chimaera’s big guns opened fire. If there was sound in space, it would have been deafening. The green light lanced towards the big capital Vong ship, but it had some kind of shield. It flickered into bright red light as the lance connected, but it was followed by another. As this was happening, Thrawn was bringing bringing the ships broadsides to bear while still drifting closer to the Vong ship. It was an impressive maneuver. Most admirals would be nervous about still moving closer to an enemy ship without the main gun or the hardened prow pointed at it, but Thrawn wasn’t most admirals. The main gun powered down as the Broadsides lit up, and they seemed overcharged. That was his game. He used the power from the maingun to create more damage over a wider surface area. He was trying to overload the Vong shield, and it seemed to be working. Quantity over quality. The shield slowly grew brighter and brighter, then vanished entirely, and the broadsides started hammering into the armored hull. It was weird that sickly greenish grey blood spurted where the cannons hit, and it was at that moment that the Chimaera launched the big torpedoes. They zoomed forth and slammed into the hive ship, and Elliot was surprised when it looked like the whole thing shuddered. The Hive ship began a turn, going towards empty space, and the area in front of it started to flicker. It was going to run into hyperspace. It was the opening the transports needed. They began to launch. Elliot’s eyes went back to the Nightbrother, which scythed through an enemy fighter as if it were paper. Those close range burst cannons were a good investment. Elliot was sure this time. The enemy fighter had blood, and it had internal organs. These were living creatures with the abilities of starfighters. That was all he was able to see at the transport lowered itself closer to the planet. Elliot looked over at Zak, who had haunted eyes. Would he ever be the same? He had his arms crossed like he was cold. Elliot went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, and Zak jumped and looked at him, clearly lost in thought. It was nauseating to actually see it.

“If you can’t do this, stay on the ship. I’m not losing you again.”
Zak shook his head. “I’ve sat out long enough. I can do this. I just got nervous and started thinking. Don’t coddle me.”
Elliot smiled. “I love you.”
Zak nodded, then looked back out of the voidglass. It was time to fight the Vong.
Elliot just hoped that Zak was ready.