:: Prologue ::
They’d fled. One by one most of those once leading the Dark Council had gathered what they could and left for private holdings far removed from Kaas City and Imperial space. Darth Marr, the strongest of them, had fallen and with him had the heart and courage of the Empire. Like a grieving widow who could no longer stand on her own feet in the face of her losses, Kaas City had crumbled and fallen further with each passing day. Plumes of smoke still drew dark shrouds over the capital and explosive fires persisted throughout the endless rain that fell.
It had been near six months since the Eternal Fleet invaded to lay siege and still, with each day, the city grew more sepulchral. Captivated by death and by destruction. Only a handful of those who’d remained in power continued their valiant efforts throughout this new war but not today.
Just beyond the reaches of Kaas City, most had gathered at the Ignis estate, one of the few remaining structures which had thus far escaped demolition. Anxious footsteps paced the hallways as piercing and heart wrenching screams resounded through the mansion.
“Come on Eliza, push!” demanded Me’ghan as she sat behind the young woman in labor. Her arms reached over Eliza’s and she held her hands trying all she could to provide support and strength.
It wasn’t much use. Endless tears streamed down Eliza’s face and she’d begun to hyperventilate—panicked she’d gone into labor sooner than expected and heartbroken at not having her husband by her side.
“I need him, I need Scourge… I have to, I need him, I need him now Meg I do, I can’t…” she cried out in between very shallow and uneven breaths. “She’s early Meg, I’m not… I can’t, not… not ready.”
Another scream tore through the bedroom while Me’ghan and Eliza’s physician, Dr. Ana Lumish, exchanged concerned glances. If Eliza remained this way they’d have to switch to an alternative birthing plan—the woman wasn’t making a single effort to push and it appeared she just wasn’t strong enough.
Lights flickered and furnishings shook with each distressed sob that escaped Eliza’s lips. Every scream sending chills through marrow and bone of those residing in the mansion and anxiously waiting. Out in the hallway, Malavai Quinn paced nervously while Lana, Ravage, and Vowrawn exchanged looks of increasing worry.
“Enough of this!”
The endless cries of his niece became too much to bear and before he could be stopped, Malavai had his hand on the doorknob and stormed inside. Eliza lay obscured but he wouldn’t have noticed regardless. All he saw was the fear in her eyes, the panic written all over her pale and sweaty face and for a moment he saw his sister once more. Never before had Eliza looked more like her mother than she did now and never before had Malavai been more afraid for her than he was now.
‘I can’t do it Malavai! She’s early, I’m not ready, I need James, please Malavai…’ the echoed cries of long ago ripped through his mind as time froze.
How could life be so cruel? How could history be repeating itself? To him, it felt like only yesterday he sat in a room quite like this one as his beloved sister went into early labor. Alone, without her love, her husband by her side and needing him more than ever. And now the same fate had befallen Eliza.
Malavai shook the thoughts and memories from his mind and as if by instinct, quickly found himself taking Me’ghan’s place behind Eliza. He embraced her, his calm hands taking her trembling ones and he softly began singing to her a tune from the past. A soothing melody from her childhood, reliving brighter days and to his relief, Eliza’s ragged breaths settled steadily.
“Shh shh there, that’s a good girl Eliza…” he sighed, whispering to her ear as Dr. Lumish gave him an encouraging nod. “Now, push.”
:: Chapter One ::
“Mommy mommy mommyyyy!!” the three-year-old toddler bounced up and down atop her mother’s bed, pulling back the covers and prodding the sleeping woman repeatedly. “Wakes up!”
A small groan escaped Eliza and she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She sat up, pulling the sheets high to her chest and then took her bounding daughter in her arms and sat her on her lap. The little girl brushed her mother’s hair aside and kissed her cheek before flinging her arms around her neck.
“Mm morning sweetheart.” Eliza breathed in her daughter’s scent and smiled gently. “I thought uncle Malavai and aunty Meg were taking you and Selene to breakfast today?”
“Shelene was mean!” the girl cried out, “First she tooks my doll and then! Thens she’s say uncle Vowawn is my real daddy because I looks like him!” an overly dramatic exclaim came next.
Eliza let out a sigh and prepared to ease her daughter’s concerns. Before she could though, the little girl released her and her ridged brows furrowed. Something else, or rather someone else, had caught her attention and she eyed the man snoring and asleep next to her mother.
“Mommy? Dids uncle Markus have bad dreams like I do sometimes?” she frowned in innocence. “Is that why he sleeps in your bed?”
Cyara reached over, climbing across the bed to the other side where she faced up close to her ‘uncle Markus’ and inspected his expression. “He not look, happy mommy,” she whispered to her mother.
“Does he ever?” Eliza shook her head and beckoned her daughter over while she got out of bed and drew a black shimmering robe around herself. “Come on, let him sleep…”
Underneath her calm exterior, she was mortified. She had insisted last night that he had to go back to his own room, protect their secret and yet somehow they’d both fallen asleep—sated and exhausted. She could only pray her daughter wouldn’t bring it up again, least of all in the presence of others, and she took the little girl by the hand before sneaking out of her bedroom.
“Of course you ran to get your mommy!” huffed Selena, demonstratively placing her hands on her hips and yet half hiding behind Malavai Quinn too.
Malavai and Eliza gave each other a tired smile. Ever since Cyara and Selena had learned to walk and talk they’d been in each other’s hair on a daily basis, often more than once per day. Both girls demanded to be the constant center of attention, not just with their own parents but the entire household.
“I’m sorry,” Malavai apologized, “she overheard Meg and I discuss how nice it is that Cyara has Darth Vowrawn as her hold-father and, she ran with it.” He let out a deep sigh and reprimanded his daughter next.
“It’s fine, really.” Eliza looked at Selena and beckoned her over too while she knelt down by the two toddlers.
“Now listen, both of you. Darth Vowrawn is Cyara’s hold-father, kind of like an uncle. However, this man…” she explained and took a holograph of Lord Scourge from the side table. “This man, Lord Scourge, is Cyara’s father. I know he and Vowrawn look alike because they’re both Purebloods, but he’s her daddy.”
“But he’s never here!” Selene protested stubbornly and pulled a face at Lord Scourge’s picture.
An unwelcome lump formed in Eliza’s throat and a sadness fell over her, something that didn’t go unnoticed to Malavai. He approached and took both children by the hand.
“I will handle this,” he promised his niece knowing fully well how much she still struggled with this subject. “Why don’t you head back upstairs while Meg and I take the girls out as planned?”
She nodded gratefully. “Thank you.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek before hugging her daughter and running back upstairs.
Before entering her bedroom, she took a deep breath and tried to shake the sudden sorrow from her bones and nerves. The amount of time that had passed since she last saw Lord Scourge, near four years ago, did nothing to ease her heartache and he was still embedded in her heart and soul. Eliza let out another deep sigh and straightened out her robe and hair before re-entering her bedchambers.
“Ravage wake up!” she hissed and yanked the sheets back, annoyed to find he was still sleeping and had been oblivious to her daughter’s interruption, “Seriously!”
A few quiet grumbles escaped him and blindly his hand searched for the bedcovers to pull them back up but Eliza wouldn’t allow it. She pulled them down all the way to the foot end and gave him a fierce glare. “Get up!”
“Shh come back to bed…” he groaned grabbing her arm when she tried shoving him and for a man still half asleep, he was surprisingly strong. With little effort, he pulled her down and not a second later his lips found hers.
“Damnit… Ravage…” Eliza protested, slapping his hands away and muttering to his lips.
“I told you to call me Markus.”
“I’d really rather not. It’s bad enough you’ve got Cyara saying it.”
His attempts to wrap her in his arms failed when Eliza freed herself from his hold and got back up. “Didn’t I tell you not to fall asleep here? She saw you, just as I feared she might.”
“Oh come on, she adores me.”
“She’s polite and a sweet kid, even towards assholes.”
That last remark stung Ravage more deeply than he’d allow himself to admit in that moment but he got the hint and at last crawled out of bed. “I see. Well then, I won’t keep you, Darth Seraphine.”
The gentle scoff escaping Eliza didn’t fall on deaf ears but Ravage straightened his shoulders and averted his eyes as he sat up and began gathering yesterday’s clothing off the floor.
It was all part of a curious routine they’d fallen into over the past few months. They’d bicker and argue only to end the night in a lust filled exchange but come morning, she’d reject him all over again and send him from her room and presence, vowing it would not happen again. At least, not until the next time.
Before he reached the door, Ravage spun around for one more glance at the woman who’d become so adept at stomping on his heart. “One day Seraphine… one day you’ll want more, need more than this…” he gestured her way and to himself, “thing we have but I won’t wait forever.”
“Good, please don’t,” she snipped not making any effort to look his way and barely raising her voice to an audible level.
A few seconds later the door slammed announcing his departure and Eliza let out a deep sigh. The silken robes slid down her shoulders as she made way to the bathroom, for her morning shower to wash the shame away. Ravage wasn’t entirely wrong—she did want and need more than what they had, just not with him. Never with him.
Surely as the water trickled down her body, so did the tears down her cheeks. It didn’t matter how much time had passed, how many years had followed since she last looked into his eyes or felt his lips upon her own. Her pain remained as fierce, her love as strong and her aching missing of him just as unbearable.
Heavy alarms howled through the hallways of the Achlys and Darth Marr’s voice was but a distorted echo in her ears. Eliza held Lord Scourge’s hand clutched in her own as both fought off the invaders, the Skytroopers boarding the vessel.
“Meet… engine room…”
The pair gave each other a look as the orders were spoken and Eliza used Scourge’s body to push herself off and lunge towards a new wave of troopers. Side by side, back to back and hand in hand they battled their way towards the elevators.
“They just keep coming!” panted Eliza as her lightsaber cut another enemy down. “Who are these guys?”
“His new army, they must be,” Lord Scourge observed.
“But how? Ziost wasn’t all that long ago, how did he…”
“Vitiate always had plans in motion, and plans within plans. For all we know he’s been amassing these forces for decades.”
“We need to get a warning out. The Dark Council, the Republic, they need to be put on high alert immediately and we need reinforcements.”
Several more troopers fell to the ground as the couple stood in a brief moment of victory and Lord Scourge ushered his wife into the nearby medbay. “We do. You need to get back and warn them, now.”
“What?” The first glimmer of panic flashed in her eyes. “No, not without you!”
His hand fell down to caress over her belly, to adore the fragile new life growing within her. “One of us has to make it out of here, Eliza, and it must be you. You can’t be here if this is where everything comes to a head.”
“No! This is exactly where I must be. Don’t you remember Revan’s words, my destiny? If this is the end, if this is what all our trials have led to, I have to be here and I will not leave your side, ever!”
Lord Scourge drew her into his arms and quickly found her lips. He had never been more determined than he was in this moment and though he had spent his life following a vision, trusting in fate, he would now gladly defy destiny to assure the safety of his wife and unborn child. He’d pay any price.
“Scourge… I can’t, not without you and Marr, please…”
Eliza had been so caught up in the rueful look within Lord Scourge’s eyes, the taste of his lips, his love that she never saw the syringe in his hand. She didn’t notice the injection until it was too late and her surroundings began to blur. Until the love of her life became shrouded in darkness and he vanished from sight as her eyes shut.
Her eyes burned from the constant stream of tears. Not a day went by where she didn’t re-play each second of her last moment with him, always and forever wishing she could go back and change the outcome.
Eliza finished her shower and dressed for the day, ready to carry on the pretense she was fine and well—it was about all she could do these days and for her daughter’s sake, she’d have to at least appear strong. She applied a small touch of makeup to mask her puffed eyes and stained cheeks. With a simple wave of her hand, the balcony doors flew open and a cool morning breeze carried in the smell of the ocean that surrounded the compound.
“My Lord?” There was a gentle knock followed by a creaking as the door fell open and a demure brunette appeared. “You have a visitor.”
“Lilah, how many more times must I ask you to call me Eliza?”
“It’s improper, my Lord, I am but a humble servant,” the girl argued, her head bowed and her eyes glued to the floor.
Silently, and only to herself, Eliza scoffed and cursed Ravage for bringing his personal slave to their hideout. “Very well. Who is it?”
“He would not say, my Lord, only that he is an associate of Miss Beniko.”
“Hrm. Show him to the parlor, I will be down in just a moment.”
“Yes my Lord.” Lilah bowed her head once more and backed out of the room.
Ten minutes later Eliza found herself quietly observing the tall and slender Pureblood who seemed wholly preoccupied studying the contents of her bookshelf. His nimble fingers traced the backs of each volume, followed by the occasional approving nod. His sleek black hair was combed back. Golden jewelry decorated his ears and nose and his posture was that of one born into a noble family.
“See anything you like?”
Glowing yellowish eyes looked her way and the Sith honored her presence with a courteous bow. “Darth Seraphine. It is an honor to meet you at last.”
“I might be inclined to share those same sentiments if I had the slightest clue as to who you are.”
A smile curled his lips. “Of course, apologies. I am Lord Cytharat.”
“Ah, the Minister of Intelligence.”
Lord Cytharat paused for a second as he considered his current predicament but decided that would be something to discuss at a later time, “Only while Minister Beniko remains absent in favor of other endeavors.”
“Right. And what brings you to Rishi, my Lord?”
“News about the Eternal Empire and a status update from Minister Beniko.”
Eliza nodded and motioned for him to take a seat while she called upon Lilah to bring in refreshments. “You’re one of… us?”
“I am,” Lord Cytharat confirmed, helping himself to an iced tea and bite-sized sandwich. “I have been from the start.”
“It was Darth Marr who gave me my second chance after my former Master, Darth Malgus, betrayed the Empire. If not for him I wouldn’t be alive today. I owe Darth Marr everything and I will go to any length to see his death avenged.”
She clacked her tongue and eyed him curiously. “I do hope you’re not equally passionate about bringing Malgus’ killer to justice…”
Another smile graced his otherwise stoic face. “I know it was you and you did the Empire a great service, even as Jedi. I have no qualms with you Darth Seraphine.”
“Good. Now tell me, what news do you bring?”
“Minister Beniko has successfully embedded herself within a group of Zakuulan rebels and made contact with potential allies. She’s investigating rumors about a certain Outlander.”
“Someone said not to be from Zakuul but rather one of our own. The details vary and some believe this Outlander is nothing but a ghost, a scare tactic made up by Arcann to keep the people of Zakuul on his side.”
A spark of hope settled within her heart and for a second, Eliza’s eyes lit up. “What else do you know of this Outlander?”
“Only that he or she is responsible for Valkor—Vitiate’s death, or so Arcann claims. Minister Beniko has not been able to verify any of the rumors and over the years the stories about this Outlander have taken on proportions of a myth…” Lord Cytharat looked her way and had no trouble discerning where her mind was at. “My Lord…”
“Oh, I know.” Eliza nodded. “It’s highly unlikely and for all we know, this Outlander is indeed a myth but…”
“You cannot help but hope?”
The somber smile on her face answered that question for him but it also told him not to push further—this wasn’t a subject she wished to touch on any more than they already had and Eliza quickly moved the conversation along.
“So, these potential allies Lana’s found, what do you know of them?”
“One of them is a pilot, a deserter from the Eternal Empire’s military. Minister Beniko believes he’d make for a valuable asset given his contacts and knowledge of Zakuul.”
“A deserter huh? Could be useful. Anyone else?”
“A former knight of Zakuul though she’s yet to establish contact.”
Eliza nodded. “And what of Vowrawn, has he learned anything new since his last visit to Zakuul?”
“I’m afraid not, my Lord, they keep him under close guard at all times.”
“It’s as if they know him,” Ravage remarked when he sauntered into the parlor and sat himself down next to Eliza. He attempted to drape an arm around her shoulder while throwing a meaningful look in Lord Cytharat’s direction but Eliza was quick to slip from his reach.
“Yes, well, though that’s usually wise where Vowrawn’s concerned, it’s not really doing us any favors in this case.”
A low growl formed in Ravage’s throat, irked by Eliza’s blatant rejection but he would not let it get to him. Instead, he turned his attention fully to their guest, the unwanted man sat in their parlor. “Now tell us, Lord Cytharat, why did you really come all the way out here? And don’t say it’s to bring us new information—a simple holo-call would have sufficed.”
To his surprise, Lord Cytharat nodded. “You’re right my Lord, there is an ulterior motive behind my visit.”
Eliza, who’d just about opened her mouth to reprimand Ravage for his rude question, now turned to Lord Cytharat instead and furrowed her brows. “Which is what?”
“A few weeks ago I sent a reconnaissance team to check out the Star Fortress on Alderaan. Things did not go as planned and my team was captured and killed. Arcann claimed their actions to be an act of war, in violation of the treaty and demanded my head. My past as a known associate of the traitor Malgus was brought up as well and Empress Acina called for my arrest—I had no choice but to flee Dromund Kaas.”
“So you came here?”
“Not at first. I commandeered an X-70B Phantom and set course for Nar Shaddaa where I contacted Minister Beniko. She recommended I join you here, to continue aiding our cause from the shadows. Naturally, I had to ditch the Phantom in case of trackers as I’m sure the Empire would be looking for me but luckily I ran into a Cathar who was more than eager to get his hands on an Imperial vessel. I traded the Phantom for his BT-7 Thunderclap and made my way here after loading up on supplies.”
Ravage scoffed, “Then you’re not actually still the Minister of Intelligence. What of Beniko, has she received any backlash for your foolish errors?”
“No. She managed to convince Empress Acina I was acting alone and she was just as shocked and disappointed with my actions, with my jeopardizing the treaty. She made apologies for her ‘error in judgment’ though of course now Intelligence has been placed under new leadership altogether.”
“Damnit.” Eliza sighed and shook her head. “Having an inside man in Intelligence has been beneficial over the past few years.”
“Oh, you still have that inside man.” Lord Cytharat grinned knowingly. “Darth Vowrawn is now in charge.”
A chuckle of relief escaped Eliza. “Of course he is. Well, that’s fortunate.”
“Indeed.” Ravage felt less than impressed with these developments. “I assume you intend to stay on Rishi? We have some contacts in Raider’s Cove, I’m certain we can find you suitable accommodations there.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous Ravage.” Eliza rolled her eyes at him and then smiled at Lord Cytharat. “You’re more than welcome here at the compound. We’ve got plenty of room and it’s important we all stick together.”
“I would appreciate it, my Lord, if—”
“Eliza. Call me Eliza, please.”
“Eliza, thank you. If your other… housemates approve?” Lord Cytharat glanced at Ravage whose scowl just intensified at the mere idea of the Pureblood sticking around.
“I have no doubt they will. Come, I will show you to the guestrooms.”
Together, Lord Cytharat and Eliza headed upstairs bringing his luggage along with them while Ravage quickly disappeared into his office. He didn’t trust their new guest for even a second and established an encrypted connection into the Empire’s database—if there was something shady to be found in the man’s records, he’d have his hands on it before the day was over.