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Defying Destiny

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:: 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.

“Scourge…”

 

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!”

“You must.”

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.”

“Oh?”

“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.”

“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.

Chapter Text

After sharing what little news he had, Lord Cytharat, with Eliza’s help, took up residence in one of the guestrooms of their luxurious Rishi hideout—a former Medcenter they’d fixed up and remodeled over the years. Big enough to offer a total of ten bedrooms, six bathrooms, a grand kitchen, and a smaller kitchen, a dining hall, the parlor downstairs, and a lavishly decorated living area. Most bedrooms had their own little balcony overlooking the island upon which the compound sat, far removed from Raider’s Cove and only accessible by water or via a small shuttle.

“If you don’t mind my asking, how is it you all came to be here and why this planet?”

Eliza glanced up while making the bed with a fresh set of linens. “It’s remote. Far from the Eternal Empire and our Empire’s purview—you won’t find Skytroopers or Star Fortresses in this sector of space.

“Plus, you know, I’d been here before and still had some old contacts. One of the locals who helped us back then knew of this abandoned complex so he lead us here after we arrived.”

“You’ve been here all this time? Minister Beniko has always remained very tight-lipped about you and everyone else.” Lord Cytharat wiped a few shelves clean and began unpacking his personal belongings. “All I knew was you were all in hiding and working with us.”

“We’ve been here for little over three years now. Shortly after my daughter was born we packed up and left Dromund Kaas.”

“May I ask why? I heard rumors you challenged Acina for the title of Empress but lost the duel.”

Eliza laughed. “Had the duel ever taken place, I wouldn’t have lost, trust me. But a dear friend dissuaded me, convinced me I’d be better off fighting the Eternal Empire far removed from the limelight. I also had my daughter to think about—I couldn’t risk her growing up without either of her parents as I did.”

“Understandable.”

“You uh…” She eyed the heavy clothing and armor he unpacked. “Might want to shop for something with lighter materials. The temperatures here run quite high.”

Lord Cytharat nodded and sat on the edge of the bed she’d just made. “I packed what I owned fast as I could without knowing where I’d end up.”

“I’ll show you around town and the shops later on if you like…” Eliza paused and sat down as well, observing the Sith once more.

“You know, I don’t actually know a thing about you. Except for your name. Did you leave any family behind on Dromund Kaas, is there anyone who might be joining you here? How did you come to work with Lana?”

“Right. I suppose it’s my turn to answer some questions.”

“Seems only fair, you’ve been asking me plenty.”

Though he tended to keep everything about himself and his life close to his chest, she had a point. He’d been asking her plenty and new questions continued to burn on his tongue so it was only right he answered hers in return.

“My parents and sister left for Athiss mere days before the Eternal Fleet lay siege to Kaas City—they’re safe. My partner fled as well, left me behind with nothing but a simple note to comfort me. Upon hearing of Darth Marr’s death… well, I suppose self-preservation outweighed the love I believed us to share.”

“I’m sorry to hear it.” Eliza gave a sympathetic smile. “Were you together long?”

“A few months. We met shortly after he ascended to the Dark Council.” Lord Cytharat kept his eyes on Eliza—there were still those who frowned upon same-gender relationships and to his disappointment, her brows furrowed too. It wasn’t until she spoke up that he realized she did so for an entirely different reason.

“Hrm, joined the Dark Council a few months prior to Darth Marr’s passing… so that means you were seeing Darth Dionys?” she’d gone over the math in her head.

Lord Cytharat nodded, a part of him still weary for any signs of judgment but Eliza reached over and placed her hand over his. “I’m sorry he wasn’t the man you no doubt hoped he’d be. I’m also relieved to hear your family is safe but, please know, if Athiss is ever in any danger, they’re more than welcome here.”

“Thank you, my L—Eliza.”

“Of course. Now, may I ask how you came to work with Darth Marr?”

“Oh, that is a long—”

Hurried footsteps both great and small came stampeding up the stairs causing Lord Cytharat to fall quiet. Several doors outside in the hallway were opened and shut again before the one leading into his guestroom flew open and two overly excited toddlers came rushing in.

“Mommy it’s trueee!” Selene called out when she spotted Lord Cytharat, “He’s in here with aunty Liza!”

Cyara ran over to her mother, jumping onto the bed creating a brand new mess with the sand she’d carried in under her shoes. She found the safety of her mother’s arms and lap quickly and yet, inched forward as well to inspect the strange man.

“You looks like mes, are you in my family too? Dids you know my daddy?”

Lord Cytharat opened his mouth to answer but Me’ghan poked her head into the room next. “Oh wow, it really is you. I haven’t seen you since Makeb!” she beamed, picking Selene up in her arms.

“Makeb?” Eliza frowned. “You two know each other?”

“We do, as I was about to tell you.” Lord Cytharat got up and bowed to Me’ghan. “My Lord.”

“We’re way past that, call me Meg. It’s wonderful to see you again and by the looks of it, you really did make a full recovery yes?”

“Full recovery?” Another frown wrinkled Eliza’s face.

Cyara looked back and forth between the adults, mimicking her mother’s frown and then folded her arms in a huff. “Hellooos I asked the questions firsts okay?”

Eliza hugged her daughter close and kissed her forehead. “You did sweetheart and I promise we will answer all of your questions soon.”

“But why not nows?”

“Because right now you and Selene should go and wash your hands so you can help Lilah in the kitchen. Didn’t she promise to bake cookies with you both?” Me’ghan reminded Cyara and put Selene down.

“Oh yeaah! Les go Shelene, last one theres is a slimy Hutts!”

Lord Cytharat bit back a smile when the two little girls hurried out of the room so fast it would appear they’d already forgotten all about him. “Motherhood suits you,” he told Me’ghan.

“Thank you.” She nodded. “You know, I received a copy of your initial medical report from Katha Niar way back when but that was the last I ever heard of you. Where have you been?”

“As I told Eliza, it’s a long story but one I’m more than happy to share.”

“I’d like to hear about Makeb first,” Eliza cut in, “I had no idea you were there as well.”

“No, but I knew you were. I saw you and your team there. You were engaged in a fight with Darth Nox. I was too far away to interfere and busy running surveillance.”

He sat down once more and began telling Eliza about the work he’d done under Darth Malgus. How the latter’s betrayal had impacted his career and threatened his life until Darth Marr stepped up and offered him a chance to redeem himself. To make amends for his former Master’s crimes and prove his loyalty to the Empire and Dark Council. Along with Me’ghan, Lord Cytharat also explained what his role on Makeb had been. How he’d gotten injured and that, if it hadn’t been for Malavai Quinn’s medical skills and quick thinking, he’d have died there.

“I spent a few weeks recovering from my injuries before I returned to Makeb to oversee extraction of the Isotope-5. After, I began traveling the galaxy on orders of Darth Marr. We’d hoped to find a way of synthesizing the isotope’s properties to begin mass production of our own but the substance proved too unstable.”

Lord Cytharat poured out a glass of water from the carafe on his bedside table and sipped. “I returned to Dromund Kaas to inform Darth Marr of my findings but as it turned out, we’d missed each other by just a few hours. He’d taken his fleet to venture out into Wild Space.

“I felt his passing a week later, as most Sith did. I rushed to find Tarek… Darth Dionys, eager to offer my services in helping avenge Darth Marr’s death but all I found was a note.”

He sighed gently and shook his head as he began to quote, “Had to leave, they’ll be coming for us next. We’re all on our own now. Sorry. Be well, love you.”

Eliza and Me’ghan exchanged a glance and Me’ghan rolled her eyes. “Coward.”

“Why didn’t you come to us back then?” Eliza wondered.

“I tried. Lana informed me you were unwilling to receive any visitors or even speak to anyone so instead, I confided in her. She promised to contact me once you had a plan of action, which she did.”

“Oh… yes, sorry I…”

“It’s understandable. Losing one’s Master can be difficult.”

“Darth Marr wasn’t just my Master. He—” Eliza had wanted to explain but she was rudely interrupted.

“Darth Seraphine?” Darth Ravage appeared in the doorway and cleared his throat, “Do you have a moment?”

She silenced the small groan inside of her and nodded. “Sure. Uh Meg, why don’t you fill Lord Cytharat in on everything and then show him the command center downstairs?”

“Of course.”

Eliza practically marched Darth Ravage out of the room and headed straight for his office. “Right, what is it?” she demanded once they were alone.

“Lord Cytharat. I ran a background check on him and—”

Of course you did.”

“Eliza, he has known associations with the traitor Darth Malgus.” Ravage showed her the records he’d retrieved from Intelligence’s database. “Look!”

Instead of paying any attention to the documents, Eliza just glared, clearly unimpressed with Ravage’s discovery. “I know. He told me. Anything else?”

“He nearly botched our operations on Makeb!”

“No, he nearly died for the cause.”

“He was having secret dealings with Darth Dionys!” Ravage pulled up a holograph of the two Sith caught in very close quarters.

“No, those two were in a relationship.”

That seemed to halt Ravage’s rant for a split second while he stared at her in disbelief. Still, the snippet of news did little to discourage his true concerns about their new guest and he stubbornly carried on.

“He could be working for Acina! It wouldn’t be the first time he’s aligned himself with a false leader!”

“Oh give it up, Ravage!” Eliza cried out as he continued to try and discredit Lord Cytharat at each turn, “I know what you’re doing and you’re wasting your time. Lord Cytharat is one of us now and he is here to stay, end of discussion!”

Ravage scowled and seized her arm when she turned to walk away. “I am trying to protect you! Protect Cyara, all of us and this entire operation!” His eyes burned into Eliza’s. “You’re still too quick to trust, too callous!”

“No! I am trusting my instincts and my former Master! Darth Marr saw something in him and gave him a second chance which I will honor in his stead!”

“And where did Marr’s infinite wisdom get him huh?” Ravage snarled and he was punished for it not a second later when Eliza’s flat hand struck him swiftly across the face.

“How dare you!” she spat furiously, “I know what this is! You and your stupid jealousy but get this, Ravage—Lord Cytharat poses no threat because there is nothing to threaten! Especially not after this!”

Eliza tore her arm free of his grasp and shoved him for good measure before storming out of his office, all the while cursing herself. For years she’d kept him at a distance, spurned his advances. How could she have been so foolish as to finally let him in, get close, knowing the kind of man he is?

‘No more!’ she vowed to herself.

For the next few hours, as a way of escaping her own mind, Eliza busied herself clearing out the patio at last. Several weeks back a tropical storm had wrought havoc on the place scattering leaves, sand, dirt, twigs and the likes everywhere. Now the mess provided her ample distraction and once finished, Eliza decided the beauty of the day and ocean view were inviting enough to enjoy lunch outside.

“Yous never answerded my questions. Are you my family, did you knows my daddy? Are you a Prudeblood too Mr. Cyfarat?”

Cyara still felt immensely intrigued by their new visitor and had taken up a seat next to him, spending time carefully inspecting every inch of Lord Cytharat’s face while completely neglecting her sandwich and applesauce.

Eliza smiled. “Pureblood sweetheart and, please, eat your lunch first before you start interrogating him?”

“Sorry, mom.” Cyara gave a sheepish grin and picked up her spoon as if she were about to start eating at last. She also continued to stare at the man next to her and couldn’t help herself. “But are you Mr?”

“I’m afraid I never got to meet your father in person and we are not related. I am a Pureblood, however, much like yourself.” He nodded when it became evident the toddler wasn’t going to stop asking despite her mother’s stern looks.

“And what’s that mean? Why are we’s called Purebloods?”

“Because your kinds thinks they better than humans, purer, but you’re not reallies you know?” Selene butt into the conversation as she spooned around her yogurt, “You kinds is actually worser, Uncle Ravage saids so!”

Both Eliza and Me’ghan shot Ravage a glare while Malavai groaned internally. Cyara’s spoon clattered against her plate when she dropped it before pouting at her mother. “That’s not trues is it mom?”

“No, of course it isn’t.” Eliza gave her daughter a reassuring smile though her eyes shot daggers at Ravage. “No one is better or worse than the other. We’re all the same and don’t forget, you are part human yourself Cyara, you’ve got the best of both species and of both your father and me.”

The little girl nodded, easily accepting the words of her mother and turned back to Lord Cytharat. “Mommy saids you’ll be staying heres with us.”

“For as long as she will allow me to, yes.”

“Forevers!” Cyara decided, “But there are rules Mr. Cyfarat. Always brush your teeths before bed!”

“Ands you must clean up after yourself, don’ts leave no toys lying around! Specially not in the hallways because then my daddy could steps on it and it hurts his foot!” Selene added unwilling to let Cyara steal all of Lord Cytharat’s attention.

“Also bedtime stories! Shelene and I’s take turns picking the story we wants to hear and the grow ups rotate who reads them to us.” Cyara tugged on his sleeve. “I decides tonight is your turn Mr. Cyfarat but Shelene will picks the story, okay?”

Selene wrapped her little arms around Lord Cytharat’s lower arm and narrowed her eyes at Cyara. “Yes, tonights is my turn. Will you reads to us Lord Cyfarat?” she emphasized, showing off her knowledge of the proper use of titles and Me’ghan chuckled quietly.

Stubborn as she was, Cyara carried on and ignored Selene entirely, “And if you ever has nightmares and they makes you scared you can go and sleeps in my mommy’s bed. I do that lots and so does uncle Markus. She’s really nice and—”

Eliza began coughing furiously, half choking on the piece of toast she’d been biting into and she reached for a glass of water. She guzzled it down as if her life depended on it and kept her eyes averted from everyone else at the table. Me’ghan stared at her in stunned surprise while Malavai now focused quite intensely on his empty plate. Ravage smirked watching the fluster rise on Eliza’s cheeks.

Startled and unsure of what to say next, Lord Cytharat looked around the table before finally turning back to the two innocent toddlers eager for his attention. He tried to think of something, anything, to say to divert from the unfortunate revelation but something else suddenly caught everyone’s attention.

A loud explosion rang through the air from miles away and soon, everyone looked up at the sky. A severely damaged shuttle descending far too quickly came down, skidding across the water until it came to a crashing halt against a rock outcrop in the ocean. Plumes of smoke rose up from the vessel as the water surrounding it bubbled and churned.

“Malavai prepare the medbay!” Eliza called out having jumped up from her seat already and she now stood upon the railings of their patio.

Wasting no time at all, she stripped down her outer robes and took a swan dive into the ocean. As fast as she could she swam toward the crashed shuttle while carefully dodging the debris floating all around the vessel. A fire erupted from the rooftop and next she heard a woman scream for help. Eliza swam faster until she noticed the brunette waving her arms around and calling for assistance.

“Help! Please!!” the woman cried out, gripping Eliza’s arm when she got close enough and she coughed up some water. Her voice was filled with panic, “My husband! He’s trapped, I can’t get him out! Please!”

“Where?”

“The pilot’s seat, he’s stuck and drowning!”

The woman’s head kept bobbing under water and after taking a closer look, Eliza noticed the injuries on her arms and legs—she could barely keep herself afloat. “What’s your name?”

“Nyssa! Now please, help him!”

“I will, I promise, but you…” She looked around for anything Nyssa could hold onto. To Eliza’s relief, Lord Cytharat had dived in right after her and now caught up to the two.

“Get her back to the compound and have Malavai check her over, and tell him to prepare for a second victim!” Eliza told him and guided Nyssa to his arms before addressing the panicked woman, “This is Lord Cytharat, he will help you, go with him and I will go help your husband. I promise you, trust us, please.”

Nyssa nodded, still sputtering and coughing profusely. Together, she and Lord Cytharat began swimming for the docks flanking the compound while Eliza took a deep breath and dove under.

The shuttle had broken off into several pieces and it took Eliza a few seconds to locate the front of the vessel. She took great caution to avoid the electric sparks emitted by torn wirings as she swam toward the pilot’s seat where the husband Nyssa had spoken of sat slumped forward. The pilot’s chair had broken free of its bolts and wedged underneath the navigation console, trapping the man who appeared unconscious.

‘Please hold on, I will get you out of here, don’t die on me please,’ Eliza chanted to herself with vain hope her words would somehow reach the man and she began to focus her Force powers on the chair.

It took her a great deal of effort but at last, the chair inched backward before it dislodged entirely. The man’s body began to drift upwards, freed from the trap and his head lolled sideways. Something small and glistening along his temple caught Eliza’s eyes as she swam to pull him into her arms and then she caught a clear look at his face.

Less than a split second passed but to Eliza, it felt like her entire world had suddenly come to a halt. Snippets of moments from times long ago flashed before her eyes—their first meeting on Tython, their time here on Rishi, Yavin. Their reunion on Ziost. Salty ocean water filled her mouth briefly as she gasped but all Eliza could taste now was the bittersweet memory of his lips upon her own.

‘Theron…’

Chapter Text

Malavai Quinn and Darth Ravage already awaited at the docks when Eliza swam up, holding an unconscious Theron in her arms. They helped his lifeless body up first and as soon as Eliza herself made it out of the water, she crouched down at Theron’s side. While Malavai used his handheld to scan Theron’s body for further injuries, Eliza gently tipped his chin up and began chest compressions before giving him mouth to mouth.

“Come on Theron… please…” she whispered, out of breath and working hard to suppress her own growing panic.

Everything else faded into the background, it had to. She tried not to think about who he was, about how much he meant to her. She tried not to feel all the emotions that now tightened around her heart or the heavy fatigue of her own body. For a split second something inside of her pointed out he could die right here and now in her arms but she forced that thought from her mind as well. Suddenly it hadn’t been almost four years since she last saw him but mere hours and all she’d felt for him then raged just as fiercely now.

Her lips, salted either by the ocean or her tears, perhaps even both, pressed onto Theron’s once more in an effort to resuscitate him. The minutes she spent trying to revive him felt like hours. Long, dragging and painful hours but at last, he gasped. His eyelids fluttered and he began coughing furiously, causing Eliza to sigh with relief.

Theron blinked a few times. His vision was blurry and the little he could see had him believing he was staring into a roaring fire. The fierce sun behind Eliza made her ruby red hair appear to be ablaze and for a moment Theron panicked until her clear blue eyes came into focus. Until he recognized the one face he could never forget.

“Eliza…” he murmured faintly and a part of him wondered if he was perhaps still out of it. If she was no more than a dream, a hallucination, a figment of his imagination right before death would take him.

“I’m here, hi…”

It was truly her he realized and Theron reached out with his fingers to touch her smile, to wipe the tears from her face but he struggled. He rolled half onto his side instead, turning away from her and coughed furiously once more while Malavai crouched down next to him.

“Easy Agent Shan, you’ve sustained severe injuries.”

“Will he make it?” Eliza asked quietly, her eyes still on Theron. She caressed a hand along the side of his face and feeling the warmth of her touch, Theron placed his hand over hers.

His pain dissipated in the presence of her smile. The cold that crept through his body and clung to his bones, he could not feel while staring up into her eyes. So often over the course of the past four years he’d tried to imagine what it would be like to see her again. What he’d say and what he’d do. Theron tried to open his mouth again, to push out those words lingering in his throat but he couldn’t and no sooner than he’d tried, his eyes rolled in the back of his head and his body convulsed. His eyelashes fluttered and he passed out, succumbing to his injuries.

“Only if we get him to the medbay right now! Time is of the essence! My Lord?” Malavai spoke hurriedly and glanced at the man behind him who didn’t need further instruction.

Together, Malavai and Ravage lifted Theron onto the hover-stretcher and brought him inside. Eliza followed not letting go of Theron for even a second, not until she was forced to. They reached the medbay and Malavai turned to her.

“Take the fastest shuttle to Raider’s Cove and get Dr. Keans. He needs surgery, I can’t do that alone.”

“S-surgery?” For the first time she tore her eyes away from Theron and looked up at her uncle. “How bad is it?”

“Rib fractures, a pneumothorax, a fractured kneecap in his right leg and that’s only what my initial scans showed. Please, hurry.”

By the time he’d spoken those last few words, Eliza was already on her way to the hangar next to their home. She made the trip to Raider’s Cove in record time and returned with Dr. Keans 45 minutes later. Malavai had prepped Theron for surgery already in the meantime and both professionals immediately got to work.

“Is he…” a timid voice whispered as Nyssa, supported by Me’ghan, joined Eliza on the observation deck overlooking the surgical room.

Tears lingered in the woman’s eyes and her swollen bottom lip quivered. She placed a bandaged hand up against the glass and stared down at her husband on the operating table. Eliza frowned, a moment of confusion setting in but then she remembered. In all her worry over Theron, her shock at seeing him again and the circumstances surrounding the situation she’d completely forgotten about Nyssa—about the woman who’d begged her to save her husband.

‘His wife…’ Eliza realized and her eyes caught the plain wedding band on the woman’s other hand. ‘Theron’s wife…’

“They’re doing what they can. I promise you he is in the best of hands,” Me’ghan reassured the shaken brunette and sat her down next to Eliza before excusing herself.

“Thank you…” Nyssa nodded and then turned to Eliza. “And you. You saved him from the wreckage, saved his life, thank you. I don’t know what would have happened if…”

Nyssa let out a deep sob and leaned into Eliza who without thought wrapped an arm around her. “You can’t think about that now. He’s alive and receiving the best medical care he could possibly get.”

The words that left her lips were genuine and true but her voice was void of any emotion. Inside she’d gone numb, blocked out her feelings as everything of the day now became too much to bear. She sat in silence comforting Nyssa, functioning on instinct and automatic responses rather emotion.

Hours passed as Malavai and Dr. Keans operated on Theron. The two women up in the gallery sat barely exchanging a word and yet holding onto one another for support while Me’ghan and Lord Cytharat occupied the two little girls keeping them distracted with books, toys, and games. Neither of the toddlers understood what was going on but they sensed the somber mood hanging in the air. Ravage paced his office and cast the occasional glance at the security monitors which had the operating room on display.

“This is not what I had in mind when I suggested to Beniko she send you here, Agent Shan, but perhaps…” he mused to himself and narrowed his eyes on the monitor. “Perhaps not all is lost though you had better pull through and survive.”

 

 

By the time evening fell and the sun set over Rishi, Malavai and Dr. Keans finally emerged from the operating room. Theron’s many injuries had been dressed and he now hovered lifelessly within a kolto tank. Eliza supported Nyssa under her arm while the two made it down the stairs to meet with the surgeon.

“He is stable for now,” Dr. Keans assured after he shared Theron’s medical chart with both women and went over the procedures, “I will remain here throughout the night in case of emergency but he is out of any immediate danger. He does have a long road to recovery ahead of him.”

“Meaning?” Eliza flipped through the chart and then looked over her shoulder at the kolto tank.

“I’m keeping him in the tank for the next three days at least. Afterward, he will likely need to spend a couple of hours each day submerged in kolto for a period of a week. Then we will begin rehabilitation.”

“Can I…” Nyssa let out a deep sigh, playing with the wedding ring on her finger. “Stay, with him?”

“Of course. I’ll have a bed made up for you in his room so you can remain at his side,” Malavai promised and understood Nyssa’s needs all too well. Were it Me’ghan in Theron’s situation, he’d want the same.

Eliza gave a weak smile and rubbed Nyssa’s back. “Why don’t you go inside and we will get you settled in shortly?”

“Thank you, all of you.”

Dr. Keans excused himself as well—he needed further supplies from the Medcenter back in Raider’s Cove but promised to return swiftly. Malavai gently closed the door to Theron’s room and then drew his niece into his arms. She rested somewhat stiffly in his embrace and his soothing caress down her arms did little to relax her.

“Eliza are you—”

“I’m fine.”

He sighed, “No, you’re not.”

Eliza shrugged and grimaced. She withdrew from his arms. “Thank you for saving his life. I need to get some fresh air.”

Though every part of him had wanted to stop her, Malavai knew better than that by now. She needed time to herself, the privacy to break down and give way to all those things she kept bottled up inside so he let her go and Eliza rushed outside into the warm evening air.

A single tear rolled down her cheek and she stood watching the now mostly sunken shuttle from a distance—a section of one of the wings still floated a mere few meters from the wreckage. Seconds later she dropped the bathrobe she’d worn and jumped the railings, diving back into the ocean. It was too soon to let her walls down and instead, Eliza decided to scavenge the wreckage and see if she could retrieve any personal luggage Theron and Nyssa had brought.

It would be of little comfort to the couple, she imagined, but it was the least she could do as a supportive friend. If Theron was still a friend. Eliza frowned to herself at that thought.

‘He got married and never even said…’

In truth, they’d barely spoken over the past four years. Eliza had briefed him when Arcann and Thexan first assaulted Korriban and once again when she and Lord Scourge left to meet with Darth Marr in Wild Space. After her return to Dromund Kaas, she’d been in no state of mind to speak with anyone, though Theron had left her a voice recording expressing his care and sympathies—Eliza hadn’t been able to listen to it then or respond.

Over time they’d simply drifted apart. Not for a lack of caring but the war with the Eternal Empire and their ever-changing personal lives came to drown out their friendship. Weekly calls became the occasional voicemail and unanswered emails began piling up. Eliza would read his messages but before she could reply, Cyara would need her for something or Lana would chime in with a mission report and she’d wind up forgetting. Eventually forgetting lead to complete radio silence save for Lana’s small mentions of him during briefings.

Yet none of it meant her feelings for him had ever changed. She still loved him, still carried his name carved upon her heart. No, all time and distance had done was make it easier to pretend, to push him to the back of her mind and convince herself of the one thing they’d agreed on so long ago—just friends.

Immense melancholy fell over Eliza and at last her emotions welled up again. She retrieved the watertight locker she’d found in the sunken hull of the shuttle and used the Force to push it up and forward while she swam back to the surface. The locker levitated onto the docks and Eliza pushed herself up out of the water to sit down on the very edge of the worn wooden structure.

Heavy and hot tears finally began pouring down her cheeks and she buried her face in her hands. She wasn’t even entirely sure what brought them on but they were here now and suddenly she couldn’t stop. The last memory she had of her own husband surfaced and blended with the sight of Theron, unconscious and drowning in the pilot’s seat. Her heart ached fiercely and the memory haunted her until it changed again. Theron’s face transformed into Lord Scourge’s and now it was him who sat broken and lifeless buried beneath the ocean’s waves, trapped within the shuttle that would become his tomb.

Her choked up sobs drowned out the sound of footsteps approaching and then an arm wrapped around her shoulder, pulling her in. She let herself sink into the embrace and felt warm lips press against her forehead.

“You saved him, Eliza. He’ll be back on his feet in no time.”

She peered up into Ravage’s eyes, uncertainty and fear written all over her face. “How can you be so sure?”

Ravage gave her a wry smile and his best attempt at providing comfort and reassurance, “He’s SIS, isn’t he? Those bastards tend to survive everything you throw at them and Shan is no exception. He faced off against two Dark Council members, the Emperor, Revan and lived to tell. A simple shuttle crash won’t be the thing that does him in.”

They were odd words to console her and yet they proved effective. A small chuckle escaped Eliza and she nodded. “True… he’s been through worse.”

“Have faith and not just in him but in Major Quinn and Dr. Keans as well.” Ravage pulled her closer and ran a hand through her wet locks. “Now, why don’t you go have a shower and a warm meal? You’ll need your strength if you’re going to help him through this.”

For a second she smiled but then her frown returned again too and Eliza sighed. “No… he doesn’t need my help now. He has his… wife, to look after him.” A hint of bitterness lingered in her voice and the second she became aware of her own sudden jealousy, she hung her head down in shame.

“Then do it for yourself.” Ravage pretended he’d not heard the tone in her voice and got back to his feet, pulling Eliza up with him at the same time. “Let me draw you a bath and I’ll have Lilah cook your favorite.”

“I…” She’d allowed herself to remain within his embrace and the offer was tempting. Comfort, care, the possibility of some affection was exactly what she craved right now but something within begged her to recall the fight she’d had with Ravage earlier that day.

“No that’s alright. I’ll have a quick shower but then I should probably check in on Cyara, and Theron and Nyssa… I can’t stomach the idea of food right now.”

She glanced over her shoulder at the locker she’d retrieved. “Can you get this inside for me?”

“Yeah, of course…” He watched her turn away from his presence and drag her feet back inside.

Eliza never saw but despite her rejection of his offer, Ravage smiled. He’d noticed the jealousy in her voice and her crestfallen demeanor. He’d picked up on her urge to throw herself back into his arms and it provided him hope. An unexpected confrontation with the only other man she’d ever loved, and his wife, served as a powerful reminder of how alone she truly was—how empty and unfilling her love life was now and Ravage knew. The day would come where her resolve would break and regardless of the vow he’d made earlier that day, he would be waiting.

 


 

“You’re Eliza, right?”

Eliza was occupied taking readings of the machines that kept Theron comatose and on life support when Nyssa walked in. By the looks of it, she too had enjoyed a brief shower and the brunette sat down on the cot set out for her within Theron’s room.

“Yeah… I suppose we never got around to proper introductions earlier. Nyssa, was it? The nurse he met years ago at Coruscant Medical?”

“Not a nurse anymore. I’m more like fugitive these days but yes, I was then when we first met…” Nyssa dotingly glanced at her husband within the kolto tank. “Feels like a lifetime ago.”

Gentle steady beeps denoting Theron’s heartbeat came from the monitors and Eliza took a step back in favor of Nyssa. “Fugitive?”

“For the past three years I’ve used my position at the medical center to aid the less fortunate and the rebels. Medicine and supplies would mysteriously disappear and end up in the hands of those brave enough to fight the Eternal Empire…” Nyssa half smiled and a devious glint lingered in her eyes. “Until I got caught.

“They fired me, attempted to arrest me and branded me a criminal and traitor to the Republic. Lana’s call was fortunate timing.”

“She encouraged you to join us here?” Eliza leaned back against the wall, her eyes still on Theron.

“She did and we needed little encouragement. Theron’s been aching to get his hands dirty, to serve the cause and to leave the Republic behind. My job was the only thing that kept us on Coruscant.”

“How long have you been married?” She had to know even if a part of her didn’t want to.

“Almost a year…” Nyssa finally tore her focus away from her husband and shifted her attention to Eliza. “He wanted to tell you, you know?”

“Oh yeah?”

“Mmm. Many times I caught him sat in his office, staring off into the distance while playing with his comm-device. Flipping it open, shutting it off again. Or he’d be typing away on his datapad before deleting it all.”

“Could have just been SIS business occupying his mind.” Eliza shrugged.

“Funny. That’s the exact same excuse he’d give me but I knew better.” Nyssa sighed. “You never truly left him.”

A sense of unease settled within Eliza at the peculiar conversation. She didn’t understand why Nyssa was telling her these things or where she was going with it and it made her feel awkward.

“I’m sorry, I’m making you uncomfortable,” thankfully Nyssa noticed and a kind smile brightened her face. “All I mean to say is… he never forgot about you. I know over the past few years you’ve barely spoken but you must know he hasn’t stopped caring. You’re still his dearest friend, next to Jonas.”

“Thank you… I did wonder but then again, I’ve not been too great at keeping in touch either…” Eliza relaxed some and Nyssa patted the spot next to her on the cot.

She pulled Theron’s datapad from the luggage Eliza had retrieved. “Here, look.” Nyssa activated the device. “He still has the holograph you sent of you and your daughter after she was born.”

“I should get him a new one.” Eliza took the datapad and her heart warmed when she noticed the image was actually part of his screensaver, along with a holograph of Jonas and Charlie and one of Nyssa. “She’s grown much since then.”

“He said she’s the spitting image of her father, save for the twinkle in her eyes and her smile. That’s all you.”

Eliza chuckled through the sorrow that gripped her heart upon mention of Lord Scourge. “True. Scourge wasn’t much of a smiler.”

“We heard what happened.” Nyssa placed a hand upon Eliza’s shoulder, a well-intended gesture of comfort. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I haven’t lost…” Eliza began but stopped herself. The hope she perhaps naively clung to wasn’t something she was willing to share with Nyssa—she didn’t know her well enough, not yet.

“Thank you,” she offered up instead.

Nyssa nodded sympathetically. “Theron wanted to go and see you immediately, we were already on our way to the spaceport but Saresh put the planet on lockdown when the Senate received word of the events in Wild Space. No one in or out.”

“It was much the same for us. I’d wanted to return with reinforcements but Acina grounded all remaining fleets and forces.” Eliza handed the datapad back to Nyssa and turned her gaze back to Theron. “It’s good you’re both here now.”

“I’m glad we came as well, just wish our arrival had run a little smoother…”

“What happened out there anyway? Theron’s not a bad pilot. Was it a malfunction or—”

“Pirates,” Nyssa began to explain, “As we came down over the planet we were hailed by… The Black… something or other. Demanded we dock with their vessel and hand over our cargo. Naturally Theron refused, blocked their frequency and flew on. They started firing on us.”

“The Black Hoods.” Eliza gritted her teeth and balled a fist. “I should have known…”

“He outmaneuvered them for a while and we almost reached the island when a second vessel appeared out of nowhere and shot us down. Theron attempted a water landing, thought we could make it but…”

Eliza placed a hand on Nyssa’s. “Don’t worry, they’ll pay for this.”

 

Chapter Text

‘Such beauty…’ Ravage thought to himself as he admired the scene.

The warehouse serving as a base of operations for the Black Hoods was absolute chaos. Broken bottles littered the floor, tables had been smashed in half, chairs scattered everywhere and the overhead light swung around lazily. Beaten and bloodied corpses lay all around but Ravage marveled most at the woman who’d so brutally punished the pirate crew.

In the center of the room, Eliza stood bathing in hatred, seething with rage. Her eyes shining a deep red, her clothes covered in blood spatter and her face bore the most menacing grin. It had taken them four days but they’d successfully tracked down the men who shot Theron’s shuttle from the sky and Eliza had demanded retribution by slaughtering almost everyone.

“P-please… don’t, don’t k-kill me…” a lowly member of the crew, the last one to still draw breath, begged as he scurried away into a corner.

“Oh, I’m not going to kill you,” Eliza pointed out with a sudden eerie calm and clipped her lightsabers back onto her belt. “You get to live and serve as a warning.”

“W-warning?”

“Mhm.” She approached. “To others. Let them know if any crew ever fires at another shuttle again, or if anyone continues to hassle the locals and tourists then this…” Eliza indicated all around the room. “Will look like child’s play compared to what I’ll do to them.”

The pirate, who appeared to be in his early twenties, nodded nervously and swallowed hard.

“Is that understood or do I need to write it down for you?”

“N-no, it’s understood, ma’am.”

“Good.” Eliza crouched down before him and pulled a handkerchief from the vest-pocket of a nearby corpse. She gently wiped the blood from the pirate’s face as he trembled before her. “As of now, you work for me. No matter what I ask, what I need, you will do it.

“If I call on you, you’ll respond with ‘Yes my Lord, I will see it done my Lord, as you command my Lord’. Okay?”

“Y-yes my Lord,” he stammered.

“Mm, you learn quick, there may be hope for you yet.” Eliza patted his cheek and got back up. “Now the first order of business—gather all stolen supplies and credits and distribute them among the locals. Go.”

The pirate climbed to his feet, his knees quaking with fear still but he took a sprint and quickly made himself scarce.

“Delightful.” Ravage snuck up behind Eliza and snaked his arms around her middle. His lips found the nape of her neck and he pressed into her. “That got me so hard…”

She rolled her eyes and freed herself from his hold. Without dignifying his comment with a response, she strode past him and marched back towards the shuttle to return home.

“Would you do the same if any harm ever came to me?” Ravage eagerly followed and strapped in next to her, deep down hoping she might just cave to his advances during the ride back. “If anyone attempted to kill me?”

“Oh I would probably…” Eliza reached over and smirked his way, leaning in close enough that he felt her breath on his face while she let a hand run up between his thighs. “Give those complicit a huge stack of credits and a night with one of Vowrawn’s most expensive whores as a just reward.”

And just like that Ravage’s infamous scowl returned and he slapped her hand away. “Bitch.”

“What? Suddenly not so delighted with my dark side?” Eliza laughed and set course for their private island.

Not surprisingly, the rest of their journey was spent in complete silence. Ravage’s mood was once again as dour as it often was while the darkness which had served Eliza well fighting the pirates now ebbed away slowly. By the time they landed, she was a few shades more of her old self, save for the blood that still specked her clothing.

“Would you mind going inside first and distracting Cyara so she doesn’t have to see me like this?”

“Oh, so now you want favors?” Ravage scoffed.

“You’d rather traumatize my three-year-old daughter just because you’re annoyed with me?”

He stopped in his tracks and spun around. “Why can’t you just admit there’s something between us? There always has been.”

“Uh, how do you figure?” Eliza raised a single brow at his curious remark.

“You want me as much as I want you. Our fights? They’re just foreplay building to an explosive finale and we’ve been dancing this dance since we met. You anger me, I get you worked up. We’ll have a moment of reprieve, some kindness towards each other and then start all over again. Recently with the added bonus of undeniable passions mixed in.”

“Oh, wow…” She chuckled and shook her head. “You think that means something? Anything other than mutual loathing save for those rare moments where one of us makes an effort to be nice and we regrettably end up in bed together?”

“Regrettably? Mutual loathing? No, I’ve always cared about you.”

“You wanted me dead from the moment we met!”

Ravage shook his head, growing tired of her dismissal, and tried to recall one of their earliest moments. “We’ve had good times! Remember that night we danced, after you’d defeated Aruk?”

“When you put your hands on my ass? Yeah, you also pointed out that party should have served as my funeral.”

“I was the one who pulled you out of your catatonic state after the fall of Ziost, I held you!”

“You attacked me with Force lightning, you were cruel!”

“But effective and you thanked me, kissed my cheek!”

“Whatever! I…” Eliza sighed and groaned. “You remember that thing I said about Cyara being a nice person even towards assholes? She gets it from her mother.”

“I gave you a pass when you freed that Cipher and helped her escape to the Republic, and kept your rendezvous with Agent Shan a secret!”

“What?! No!” She shoved him but he didn’t budge. “You stormed into my chambers and threatened me! Cornered me and grabbed my throat!”

Ravage smirked and drew nearer, so close he wound up backing her into the side of the shuttle. “And don’t tell me you didn’t feel it then, the sexual tension between us both.”

He ran a hand up along the side of her waist and higher, drawing invisible lines right underneath her breast. He whispered, his voice thick with budding arousal, “The way I get under your skin so deep it ignites the fire within you. To that point where you find yourself torn between the urge to kill me…” Ravage trailed his lips along her jaw. “And the desire to surrender yourself to me completely…”

Eliza closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Already her body began to respond to his words, his touch, and he was right. Far too easily he brought her to the brink, to that point where part of her wished to slap him and fight him off while the other yearned to give into the hunger he’d stirred.

“Ravage…”

“Give in,” he encouraged and his other hand slipped down the front underneath the waistband of her leatheris pants. “I know you’re still high on adrenaline from your victory over the pirates, what better way to work it out of your system?”

“Ravage…” she breathed out again, now in half a moan and she came that much closer to losing the battle within herself until an unlikely savior came to her aid.

“Ah Darth Ravage, Eliza, you’re back.” Lord Cytharat walked up to the couple and feigned oblivion to the situation he found them in. “I did think I heard a shuttle approach. How did you fare?”

If looks could kill, Lord Cytharat would have died a thousand deaths on the spot with the way Ravage glowered at him.

“Victoriously.” Eliza’s smile held more gratitude than words could express and she quickly stepped away from Ravage. “Only one survivor and he will serve us from now on.”

With a thundering expression written all over his face, Ravage stormed off inside.

“That’s good news...” Lord Cytharat watched Ravage leave and clasped his hands behind his back. “Was my timing truly that unfortunate?” He looked to Eliza.

“No. Quite perfect actually, thank you.”

“Naturally.” He inclined his head and extended his arm to her which she gratefully took. “We should head inside and get you a change of clothing. There’s someone who’s eager to see you.”

“Oh?” They turned towards the side entrance. “Who?”

“Theron. He’s awake and your name was the first thing to escape his lips.”

 


 

Over the past days she’d barely paid him a visit. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, if anything she cared too much and found it too difficult to just watch him linger in that kolto tank. Then there was Nyssa—as much as the two women had slowly begun to bond, Eliza struggled with her presence. She’d decided it’d be wiser if she just kept her distance and instead focused on finding those who’d caused the shuttle crash.

Much to Eliza’s surprise, she found Theron sat up in bed already, eyeing stronger and healthier than Dr. Keans had predicted.

“There you are!” Nyssa beckoned her over with a smile.

“I’ll give you both some privacy.” She got up from her seat and kissed Theron’s forehead. “Be back in a little while with your tea.”

Once at the door, Nyssa clasped Eliza’s hand for a moment and leaned in. “Keep an eye on him, please? He’s already been asking me for his datapad and updated mission reports…”

“I’ll tie him down if I have to,” Eliza reassured with a wink, trying to sound aloof but deep down her heart was racing.

In a way she didn’t want to be alone with him, she had no idea of what to say after all this time. Their eyes met across the ugly grey linen that served as his bedding and a tired smile crept up the corners of Theron’s mouth.

“Hey…”

Eliza mimicked his expression and dragged her feet over to the empty chair at his bedside. “Hi.”

“I had a vision of you.” He took her hand the second she was close enough to touch. “You swam to the bottom of the ocean to save me, brought me back to life.”

“That wasn’t a vision.”

“I know. Thank you…”

“Oh, it was nothing.” Eliza waved him off and wrapped herself in a shroud of nonchalantism if only to keep the tears welling in her eyes at bay. “Just, you know, don’t do that again or if you do at least bring appropriate diving gear.”

Theron felt tempted to laugh and he almost did but a sharp pain pulled through his ribcage and he winced instead.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t be trying to make jokes…”

“No it’s alright.” He squeezed her hand and laced his fingers. “I’ve missed you, Eliza.”

“I’ve missed you too.”

The tip of his index finger idly caressed along her knuckles, his eyes never leaving hers and he swallowed hard. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you when you needed me most. I wanted to be. So many times I…”

“It’s okay, Theron. They were… are troubling times for everyone.”

Eliza looked down, captivated by his touch. The tender strokes along the back of her hand reminded her of curious waves teasing up the sand along the shoreline. It had a soothing effect as though with each caress he lowered her walls a little further, kindly tearing down the mask she wore to protect herself.

“I don’t believe he’s dead,” she admitted, at last, touching on something she rarely discussed though those closest to her knew she held on to hope.

With some difficulty, Theron moved over and patted the empty spot next to him. “Tell me what happened.”

“I didn’t feel it, his passing. I felt Marr’s but not his…”

She took his offer and climbed into bed, nestling herself up against his side and quickly, Theron’s fingers stroked her hair. With just a simple gesture it was as though no time had passed between them at all and no distance or circumstance had tainted the affection they held for each other. A weightless sense of calm and peace unlike any she’d felt in the past years washed over her instantly and Eliza began detailing how she’d escaped the tragedy—how Lord Scourge had forced her to return to Dromund Kaas and leave him behind.

“I had only just regained my senses when the Vanora touched down at the spaceport. I tried to retrieve the coordinates for Marr’s ship, to return immediately but Scourge must have erased them from the system. He knew me too well…

“I headed for the Citadel next, to inform the Dark Council and gather reinforcements, but just as I was telling others what had happened, I felt it. They all did. Darth Marr was gone and with him, so were my chances of returning to Wild Space.”

A single bitter tear rolled down her cheek and Theron caught it with his thumb. He held her closer, his free hand soothingly massaging her back. “Dromund Kaas was put on lockdown, just as Coruscant was?”

“Yes. While other members of the Council scattered to look after their own interests, Acina stepped up to protect the city and grounded all remaining forces. We nearly came to blows. I was so angry, so upset and so very desperate to find Scourge but then my body betrayed me.

“The stress took its toll and I almost miscarried. My blood pressure was off the scales, my pregnancy became ‘high risk’ and I spent the next few months on bedrest. Powerless, depressed and with no indication of where my husband was or if he’d survived.”

Theron closed his eyes and sighed. Up until now, he’d never known just how bad things had been for her, how much she’d struggled and he more than ever regretted not being there for her. Eliza didn’t seem to notice, her face was buried in his shoulder as she continued.

“After giving birth to Cyara, my first instinct was to finally escape Dromund Kaas and set course for Wild Space but by then, Acina had declared herself Empress. She forbade it. She was in the middle of discussing terms for the treaty and didn’t want me to jeopardize negotiations by traveling to Zakuul with armed forces.”

“Typical,” Theron scoffed quietly.

“Yeah… anyway, I decided to challenge her to the throne. If I became Empress then all Imperial forces would be mine to command and I could finally search for my husband. But…” Eliza blew out a deep breath.

Despite the safety and comfort of their situation now, the mostly peaceful childhood her daughter got to enjoy, a part of her sometimes still wondered if she made the right call.

“Vowrawn persuaded me not to. He convinced me to play the long game, remain in the shadows. Bide my time and build up our own power base. According to him, I would only be putting myself at risk as Empress. One mistake, one failure to deliver on agreed terms or even just catching Arcann in a foul mood and I might just find my head on the chopping block.”

“Sounds wise…”

“It probably was, so we came here. Vowrawn remained behind to ‘serve’ Acina and keep an ear to the ground while Lana ventured out to find anyone willing to join our cause. The rest of us settled down on this island doing what we can while raising our little girls.”

Theron pressed his lips against the top of Eliza’s head and held them there. “And Scourge?”

“Like I said, I never felt his passing and although we cured his immortality… I mean, his high regenerative properties remained… so there’s a chance. Perhaps he survived and was captured. I can no longer sense him in the Force but that doesn’t have to mean he’s dead. He could be in a special cell designed for Force users or be wearing a dampener of sorts. Something that cuts him off from the Force.”

Just by her tone of voice, Theron could tell she really needed to believe this, for herself more than anything. Her words weren’t just filled with hope but desperation too, and insistence as though by sheer will and belief she could actually make them true.

“You really think he survived…?”

“I have to, and wouldn’t you if you were in my shoes?”

“Eliza, if anything like that ever happened to you I’d turn every planet in the galaxy inside out to find you. I would not give up until I held you in my arms once more.”

She smiled and looked up at him, though somewhat uneasily. “I meant if Nyssa…”

“Oh... Yes, well, of course, I mean…” Theron fumbled with his words. For a moment he’d all but forgotten about the woman he’d spent the past four years of his life with, “That goes without saying right?”

“Right.

“In any case…” Eliza quickly carried on, “He may be listed as deceased and there’s an empty grave for him on Dromund Kaas. Officially, I may be a widow but one day… we’ll find him. We have to. I’m not giving up until I have definitive proof either way.”

He nodded. “Then you have my support. If he’s out there, we’ll find him.” Theron echoed her words and promised.

Despite his own history with Lord Scourge and all the feelings he so clearly still had for Eliza himself, he knew she needed this and it was the only thing he could actually do for her now. To be supportive, to be her friend as they’d vowed to be. To return her husband to her and bring home her daughter’s father.

Outside the room, Ravage’s brows furrowed. He’d been eavesdropping from the moment Nyssa left and occasionally peered inside through the narrowed opening of the door. What he’d heard and seen unsettled him and quietly, careful not to give himself away, he retreated to his office to mull over his thoughts and figure out what his next move would be.

 

Chapter Text

“Status report?” Eliza circled the holo-communicator while taking notes on her datapad.

It had been a week since she’d taken out the Black Hoods and Theron had awoken. Now all of them, including Theron, Nyssa, and Lord Cytharat, had gathered at command center which was really just a bunker underneath the mansion.

“Lord Darius and Jedi Master Timmns have found several runaway Padawan eager to join the cause. They’ve relocated to Voss for the time being but cannot remain there indefinitely while the Star Fortress looms overhead. Sooner or later, Arcann will take note of so many Force users gathered in one place,” Lana informed them all from a distant and unknown location.

“Agreed, we need to get them away from any Eternal Empire patrols as soon as possible.”

“If I may,” Lord Cytharat cut in, “these days Makeb is once more stable and largely abandoned.”

Lana thought for a moment and nodded. “I will have Agent Balkar and his team scout the planet.”

“Who is he working with now?” Theron wondered out loud.

“His wife Charlie and Havoc Squad—he appears to know their Commander quite well. Stumbled upon them after Lieutenant Jorgan traded their Thunderclap for one of our own Phantom models and the Squad wound up chased by Acina’s men.”

His natural complexion concealed it well but Lord Cytharat flustered when he heard and recalled the Cathar he’d traded ships with on Nar Shaddaa. Luckily for him, no one else was any the wiser, save for Eliza who briefly glanced his way and smirked.

“What of Vette, Risha, and Jenna?” Me’ghan asked next.

Though she’d released Vette from her service years ago and granted the Twi’lek her own ship, they remained close friends. When the war came to their doorstep, Vette ventured out by herself to meet up with her old friend Risha and a Republic Smuggler.

“Forever staying just a few parsecs ahead of any law enforcement chasing them. Recently made a drop on Ord Mantell but we’re running low on medical supplies now Nyssa’s been caught.”

“Sorry…” Nyssa looked around the room and a blush crept onto her cheeks but Eliza waved her apology off.

“You did what you could for as long as you could at great personal risk. No need for apologies here.”

“She’s right,” Lana concurred, “And Darth Vowrawn’s already reached out to some of his old contacts in hopes of finding ourselves a new supplier. Now there’s one more thing and this is for you specifically Eliza.”

“Go on?”

“A potential ally reached out and requested a meeting with you. He would not say anything else, just that his loyalty lies only with you now but he will not join our cause until he has met with you in person. I’d venture to guess he’s looking for guarantees.”

“That stinks of a trap,” Ravage scoffed and he shook his head, “Obviously she won’t be going.”

“Did he leave a name?” Eliza ignored Ravage.

“No. Only what I assume is a call sign of sorts, ‘Shock Drum’.”

The second Lana read those words out loud, a smile formed on Eliza’s face and she nodded. “Set the meeting.”

“You can’t be serious!” Within seconds Ravage towered over her. “Did I not just say this is clearly a trap?”

“Does ‘Shock Drum’ mean anything to you, Eliza?” Me’ghan frowned her way.

“It does so I will be going and…” She began looking around the room and considered her options but Theron already volunteered.

“Then I’m going with you.”

“No,” Eliza turned him down quite adamantly, “You’re still recovering, you’re not going anywhere except to your rehabilitation sessions.”

“I would accompany you,” Malavai, who’d mostly observed the meeting in silence, spoke up at last but Eliza turned him down too.

“I’d prefer you and Meg look after Cyara while I’m gone.” She smiled and held her hand up to Ravage before he could speak next. “And you, ironically enough, lack the diplomacy for this little meet.”

A small growl escaped him as his jaw tightened while Me’ghan bit down on her bottom lip and tried not to laugh.

“Lord Cytharat, would you join me?” asked Eliza.

“Of course.”

“Good, then that’s settled. Now Lana, do you have any news about your own progress?”

“Nothing substantial. There’s a Knight who once served in Valkorion’s personal guard and who’s spent quite some time chasing Koth, the deserter I met recently. Word is she’s struck out on her own, left Zakuul behind. Might be a worthy ally if I can convince her to join our cause.”

“A Knight of Zakuul…” Eliza paced the holo-communicator once more. Someone like that, she figured, may know more of what transpired after the attack on Darth Marr’s ship. “Good, yes. Keep me posted?”

“Always and I will be in touch once I’ve arranged your meeting with this other person. Any preference for a location, do you want him flying out to Rishi?”

“Whichever is most convenient for him. If he’s using code names he may be in trouble and hiding.”

“Understood. Beniko out.” Lana’s holo-image disappeared.

“Who is this person?” Immediately Ravage turned his attention back to Eliza.

“If I’m right, an old friend. The first Sith I ever befriended, actually.”

It was the only thing she was willing to share for now. Given the secrecy her old friend appeared to insist on, Eliza decided not to tell others of his identity and first see where her meeting would lead.

 


 

Tython, her former home. The place where she’d grown up among those who’d deceived her throughout her entire childhood. Eliza had not set foot here since she’d left for Manaan with Lord Scourge so many years ago—since she’d first met her true family. And it had changed so much.

An eerie cold and grey haze loomed over the planet as if all life had been sucked from its core. The Jedi Temple sat in ruins once more, abandoned. No one had bothered to rebuild it this time, not after Arcann and Thexan had carried out the attack that started this new war.

“This is not what I had expected…” Lord Cytharat spoke silently as though he feared raising his voice by a single octave would disturb the fallen Jedi whose bones decorated the courtyard.

“No…”

Eliza held her step and looked all around her. The green fields in which she’d once ran, played, lay basking in the sun had fogged up and only scarcely hid the corpses of those who’d lost their lives in the battle. The training droids she’d practiced on so often were no more than a rusty heap of scrap. For a moment, an old memory surfaced and she could hear Theron’s voice on the first night they’d met.

‘And what exactly have those droids ever done to you?’

A single tear rolled down her cheek. Once upon a time, she’d harbored much hatred for the Jedi, for those who’d deceived her for so long but she’d always kept Tython in her heart. Even through the lies, the planet still represented home in a way and she ached seeing it so destroyed.

“Are you sure this is where your friend wanted to meet?”

“I am. Strange as it may seem… this is one of the safest places now. Ever since the Jedi left it behind... well, Tython’s no more than a graveyard. One doesn’t seek out the living in a graveyard… Come.”

Despite her words, Eliza kept her hands readily resting on the hilts of her lightsabers and they tread carefully towards the Temple ruins. Lord Cytharat levitated some of the rubble aside to clear a path and Eliza lead him up the treacherous and crumbled stairs towards the old Jedi Council chambers.

The majestic golden and white doors had remained intact and she came to a halt once more. “I used to be so nervous standing here waiting to be called inside…”

“And now?”

A wry smile was all he got and Eliza placed her hand against the door. Before entering, she let her senses reach out through the Force to see if it was truly her friend awaiting them or if they’d been misled as Ravage predicted.

“He’s in there…” she breathed out with relief.

No sooner than she’d said those words, both doors flew open and together with Lord Cytharat, she stepped inside. Much like the rest of the Temple, the Council chambers were scarcely lit and Eliza could only vaguely make out the hooded figure stood by the shattered roundtable.

“Praven?” it had to be him, she could feel his essence reach out to her and yet, at the same time, something felt not quite right.

It caused the hair on her arms to rise and a shiver coursed through her. The hooded figure turned, slowly, his red-orange eyes meeting her blues and relief washed over Eliza upon recognizing her old friend. She dashed forward eager to meet his embrace but upon closer inspection, she stopped.

A thick metal collar sat around his neck and identical cuffs bound his wrists together. His eyes expressed a deep sense of regret and suddenly, the Jedi Council chambers lit up. Each light activating simultaneously. Soldiers in uniforms she did not recognize rushed out of hiding to surround Eliza and Lord Cytharat and shrewd laughter rang in their ears.

“Well well, if it isn’t the Traitor of Tython.”

Eliza balled her fists, she’d recognize that grating voice anywhere. “Saresh…” she hissed angrily.

The former Chancellor emerged and fell in at Praven’s side while waving around a small device she held in her hand. Behind Eliza, Lord Cytharat had already ignited his blades and faced several soldiers, eager to strike them down.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Saresh gloated, “unless you want your friend here to lose his head. This slave collar one of my Agents stole from the Empire is the latest technology. Rather than shock its wearer, it sets off a small explosion leading to instant decapitation.”

“You foul secretion!” Eliza spat, “What have you done, what is this?!”

“Did your level of intelligence abandon you when you joined the Sith?” the Twi’lek sneered, “All of this is a trap, obviously, carefully laid out just for you.

“You see, when this…” Saresh gestured at Praven with a disgusted look in her eyes. “Brainbolted mongrel took it upon himself to free some of the Republic’s prisoners and got himself caught, well he provided me with the perfect opportunity of luring you here. I knew you’d come—after all, he’s still listed as a known associate of yours.”

“Your Republic is now a slave to the Eternal Empire and you’re wasting time on what appears to be a personal vendetta?” Lord Cytharat confronted and clipped his lightsaber back in place.

“Don’t waste your breath.” Eliza followed his example. “Saresh has never cared for the Republic, she only serves her own interests.”

“Eliza I’m sorry I never—” Praven began, his eyes pleading with her, trying to tell her the betrayal wasn’t his.

“Silence you!” Saresh barked and upon her words, one of the soldiers jammed the butt of his rifle into Praven’s ribcage.

“He is right, though,” she continued. “In fact, his refusal to cooperate almost cost him his life until we realized we didn’t really need him to reach out to you—you just needed to think it was him.”

“Then why is he here?” Eliza carried on, deliberately keeping Saresh talking while her mind exhausted every possible way of gaining the upper hand.

“To keep you in your place, stop you from killing us all on sight.”

An effective strategy because Eliza realized there was no way for her to win in this situation. One move and Praven would lose his life long before Eliza could even take one soldier out, let alone all twelve of them. It was a risk she’d never consider taking.

“What do you want, Saresh?” she asked though she was fairly certain she already knew the answer.

“You,” Saresh confirmed and held up a second collar. “Lay down your weapons, surrender yourself and wear this and I will let your Filthblood friend go.”

“And where’s my guarantee you won’t just kill us both the minute I put that collar on?”

“There is none.” A wide grin spread across Saresh’s face.

‘I could burn them, all of them right where they stand…’ Eliza considered, ‘but what if I pass out before I’ve gotten everyone…’

“Tick tock,” Saresh taunted and her finger hovered dangerously close over the button on the detonator.

Coming to terms with the futility of her situation, Eliza glanced over her shoulder at Lord Cytharat who vehemently shook his head but she had no other choice. She wouldn’t let anyone die for her.

“Fine,” she sighed and threw her lightsaber hilts down at Saresh’s feet. “You win.”

“Eliza don’t!” Praven argued and was instantly punished, taking another punch to his gut but he wouldn’t let that deter him now. “I’m not worth it, just get out of here!”

“Who were the prisoners he intended to free?” Eliza asked curiously while she stepped closer to Saresh and Praven.

“Fallen Jedi who’ve betrayed the Order over the past years. Rogue Agents and soldiers who rebelled against the treaty.” Saresh activated the collar she held. “A few Smugglers with stolen medical supplies.”

“I see…” Eliza smiled at Praven and immediately understood he’d attempted to assist her, bring further aid to her cause. He must have and it only more so convinced her he was worth saving. “Well then…” She reached to take the collar from Saresh.

Just then, the Council chamber doors flew open once more and Ravage stormed inside, snapping the necks of two soldiers while he made his entry.

“You filthy, disgusting, worthless Twi’lek cunt!” he bellowed in all his fury.

His sudden appearance made for such a startling surprise that for a split second, Saresh became distracted. Eliza noticed and through the Force, floated the detonator out of Saresh’s hand swiftly and into her own, taking control of the situation.

“What the… men, fire!” Saresh called out and tried to make a grab for Eliza.

Unfortunately for her, the tables had turned. Without breaking a sweat Ravage marched on using his sheer hatred and the Force to snap the neck of every other soldier in the room—they never even got a chance to take aim. He fell in next to Eliza and she smirked before taking Saresh in a Force-choke hold while Lord Cytharat rushed to Praven.

“Game over, bitch,” it was now Eliza’s turn to gloat and her grip tightened. “Any last words?”

Saresh spat down at her feet. “Just get it over with you filthy Sith harlot!”

“As you wish.” Her grandfather’s lightsaber roared to life and Eliza prepared to swing when Lord Cytharat stopped her.

“Wait! I can’t get his collar removed.” He pointed at Praven’s neck.

“Well of course not,” Saresh cackled, shaking her head at the four of them. “You need to enter the five-digit deactivation code before it comes off.”

“Then give us the code.” Ravage had little patience and pressed the tip of his blade against Saresh’s throat but all she did was smirk. “Now!”

“I think not. Whether I give you the code or not, you’re going to kill me either way and I’d rather go out having had the last laugh.”

“There could be a world of pain between now and the moment where you actually die!”

The Twi’lek’s smirk remained, she wasn’t about to give in and faced Ravage’s blade with more bravery than they’d expected. Eliza thought for a second and placed her hand over Ravage’s. She directed his blade towards Saresh’s lekku, leaving a scorch mark on her pale green skin. “Try there.”

Immediately Saresh screamed out. Her lekku were hypersensitive and quickly took the pain she experienced from none to unbearable, much to Ravage’s delight.

“That’s more like it.” He hooked one of Saresh’s lekku and let it curl along the length of his blade. “I could do this all day.”

A charcoal like smell of burned skin reached everyone’s nostrils while Saresh continued to cry out in agony. She tried to slither out of Ravage’s reach but Eliza was quick to assist him and took the Twi’lek in a Force hold, once again restricting the movement of her body. For just a moment, Eliza met Ravage’s eyes and the two grinned at each other, delighting in the torment they were inflicting.

“F-five, nnnine…” Saresh finally spat out, blood dripping down her mouth from gritting her teeth and biting her tongue, “z-z-ero… t-two… ssssev-en.”

“Now was that so hard?” Ravage withdrew his blade so roughly he sliced off the tip of her lekku. It twitched on the ground while Saresh fell to her knees, horrified.

Lord Cytharat rushed to enter the digits into the display on Praven’s collar and with a simple click, both the collar and the cuffs around his wrists came off.

“M-monsters… all of you… I was r-right all along… we, w-we should have eradicated all S-Sith, all Imp-p-perials…” Saresh whimpered and she picked up the bleeding tip of her lekku, staring at it with widened eyes.

“Which makes you as bad as the Sith Emperor. How you ever became the Supreme Chancellor is beyond me though, I imagine you spent a lot of time down on your knees quite as you are now…” Eliza casually circled the broken woman and sighed. “Still. Your reign of terror ends today, Saresh, along with your life.”

With one fluid swing, she separated Saresh’s head from her body.

“Thank you…” Praven breathed out and oddly stared at the severed head as though he expected it to continue twitching much like the lekku-tip had.

“Are you okay?” Eliza hopped over Saresh’s body and finally embraced him.

“Nothing some kolto, a shower and a decent meal can’t fix. I’m glad you came even though the entire time I found myself wishing you hadn’t.”

“Yeah well, this could have turned out a lot worse if…” Eliza frowned and glanced over her shoulder “Ravage, how did you get here?”

“I followed you.”

“Even though I specifically told you not to?” She demonstratively placed her hands on her hips and quirked a single brow, now ignoring the fact he’d just saved them all.

Lord Cytharat cleared his throat slightly, drawing their attention before they could launch into a brand new argument. “Uh, what are we doing with her…” He indicated at Saresh’s corpse.

“Leave the body and bag the head—a nice present for the Senate,” Eliza decided.

A duffle bag belonging to one of the dead soldiers was emptied out in favor Saresh’s decapitated head and together with Praven, Lord Cytharat left the Council chambers. “Trust me, you don’t want to be around for a bickering match between those two…” he whispered.

Eliza turned back to Ravage and tapped her foot. “Well?”

“I chose to ignore your orders. I warned you this was a trap and I was right!” he argued back and shook his head at her, “Get angry with me all you like but at the end of the day, I’ll be the one keeping you alive! Always!”

She looked away and muttered a quiet ‘thank you’ but Ravage didn’t want to hear it. “What were you thinking, giving yourself over to that cunt in favor of Lord whoever he is?!”

“Praven and she was going to kill him!”

“Ah, so what? Just another casualty of war but you, you—”

“My life is not worth more than his!”

Angered, Ravage gripped her wrist and hissed through his teeth, “Yes it is! You have a daughter at home waiting for you! A family counting on you! People who love and need you! Don’t you ever dare just give your life for someone, anyone else’s because I will be there every single time to stop you!”

Eliza blinked a few times, taken aback by his words. “I’m… sorry…”

A low growl escaped him but rather than push the matter further, he released her. “Let’s go home, I hate this place.”

 

Chapter Text

“There’s room for you aboard the ship.” Eliza looked to Ravage. “I can have Ceenine follow us in your shuttle, set it to autopilot.”

“Fine.” His mood was clearly still rather dour and for good measure, he kicked the duffle bag containing Saresh’s head when he trudged up the ramp.

‘It’s gonna be a cold few days in space…’ Eliza followed him with her eyes until he vanished from sight and provided her droid, Ceenine, with clear instructions.

After ensuring the flight plan for the shuttle, she boarded the Vanora and instructed Lord Cytharat to plot a course for Tatooine at Praven’s request.

“I’d love to meet your family, Eliza, but I have contacts waiting to hear from me and a few Jedi counting on supplies.”

She smiled. “It’s not a problem. We’ll drop you off and arrange something for our special delivery to the Senate while we’re there. Best not to have it traced back to any of us. Now, if you’re up for decent company there’s a spare bed in Lord Cytharat’s quarters or otherwise, you can take mine and I’ll crash wherever.”

“I’m good for a roommate,” Praven assured her while she gave him a quick tour of her ship. “I’d like to know him better if he does not object to the company. It’s been too long since I last found myself in the presence of one of my own.”

“You’d be most welcome.” Lord Cytharat glanced their way briefly, having overheard the conversation as they passed the helm. “I don’t imagine there are many Pureblood Jedi?”

“None.” Praven took up the co-pilot’s seat. “Of course there was…” he paused with an eye on Eliza, “well, Lord Scourge, but he never embraced the teachings of the Light side.”

“Didn’t stop them from trying though.” She chuckled, recalling the debates between Lord Scourge and Satele most of all.

“You know Eliza has Pureblood genes?” Lord Cytharat pointed out, “In fact,” he locked in the ship’s controls and spun the pilot’s seat around her way, “we’re related.”

“We are?” She looked at him in surprise.

Lord Cytharat nodded and excused himself, leaving curiosity to hang in the air until he returned a few minutes later with an aged, leather-bound book which he handed over to her.

“My family dates back as far as your grandfather’s, the Ignis line, does. For generations, Cytharat would wed an Ignis, all to maintain purity and status. I never knew either until I spoke with my mother last week, informing her of my safe stay with you, and she gushed about our family ties. Encouraged me to dig out the family ancestry,” he explained and indicated at the book, “which I’ve had in my possession for years but never really studied.”

“Wouldn’t that eventually lead to some uh… rather incestuous relationships?” Eliza quirked a brow and with Praven began flipping through the pages.

“That matters not in the name of purity,” Praven stated. “Arranged marriages between powerful families have always been our way. Only in the most recent of years has the practice begun to fade into obscurity along with other ancient traditions.”

“Weird… so, how are we related then?”

Lord Cytharat sat back down and folded out the intricate family tree attached to the back cover of the book. “We are second cousins, see here? My grandmother was Ilyana Ignis, your grandfather’s sister. She married Kato Cytharat and gave birth to my father, Lord Silas Cytharat.”

“Oh wow…” Eliza followed along with him and a soft smile fell over her upon seeing her grandparent’s names.

“It gets better, or worse…” he smirked and revealed a letter which sat tucked away between the pages, “read this.”

Tamas,
Blessed is the news that your human son and his human wife are expecting their first child and we pray the Force will return its gift to your family by means of this unborn child. As you know, our son Silas and his wife Gianna gave birth to a child of their own this past year—a son named Tallis Cytharat. Should your grandchild be born a Pureblood female gifted with the Force then it is our hope you will consider joining our two houses once more, as is the tradition. I assure you, my grandson would make for a highly suitable match. Please respond promptly.
— Kato Cytharat

Praven watched in amusement as he witnessed the multitude of, and highly animated, expressions play on Eliza’s face when she read the letter several times over.

“Human son and his human wife? And only if I’d been born a Pureblood? Pff. Your grandfather was rather speciesist, wasn’t he?” she uttered out eventually.

Lord Cytharat laughed. “That is the part you take issue with?”

“Well, I mean, aside from the obvious gross factor,” Eliza snorted, “They did realize we would be cousins, right?”

“As Praven pointed out, that mattered none.”

“Did my grandfather ever respond?”

“No. He passed the day this letter was composed so they never sent it.”

Eliza quirked a brow, her head tilted as she observed him closely. “Suppose that’s a blessing in disguise… You know, Cyara’s going to love this—she’s been so eager to find more family, especially anyone who’s Pureblood as she is.

“It is funny though—my grandfather never mentioned any of this when we spoke.”

Now both Lord Cytharat and Praven frowned and the former voiced his confusion, “And when exactly did you speak with him? Didn’t he pass away before you were even born?”

“Well, yes, he did, but…” Eliza bound the book back together and leaned against the navigation console while she began to explain about her unique ability and the Force-realm in which she’d met with her grandfather in the past.

“So the rumors were true,” Lord Cytharat concluded, “Have you ever spoken with him again in the recent years?”

“No. I considered it, especially after Cyara was born. There’s a lot I don’t know yet about our gift, how it’s passed on. Whether the gift can exist within two Ignis at the same time or if she’ll only inherit it if I die. If she’ll inherit it at all.”

“But it’s too great a risk to seek his advice?” Praven asked.

She nodded. “It is, which is why I haven’t again.

“Anyway.” She pushed herself off the console and smiled. “I’m going to make a call home to check in on my baby girl and brief the others on our situation. You two play nice and uh… glad to have you as my family, Lord Cytharat.” Eliza winked and retreated to her private quarters.

“It’s curious to find us on opposite sides,” Praven lamented after she’d left, “many years ago she brought me into the Jedi Order and now she is Sith herself—a former member of the Dark Council no less.”

He found himself marveling at the way their lives had changed and shared the story of how he’d come to meet Eliza in the first place.

“Mm yes, the Force works in mysterious ways…” Lord Cytharat turned his attention to the other Pureblood. “Please share, what was it like to join their ranks?”

“Challenging but I grew accustomed to the curious and distrusting looks. I spent much time in the library studying, entering deep meditation. Eventually, Master Kiwiiks, another Jedi I’d encountered on Tatooine, took me under her wing—she saw something in me and decided it was the best way for us both to heal from the events on Tatooine.”

“Interesting…” Lord Cytharat kept his eyes on Praven. “How have you balanced yourself between the Light and Dark?”

“It wasn’t quite as difficult as I’d imagined. Even as Sith I practiced much self-control, disciplined my emotions and maintained my calm. Serving the Light came rather natural, to my own surprise.

“Now, I would like to hear more about you, Lord Cytharat. I have a feeling we have much in common,” he said at last.

“Tallis,” the other Pureblood offered, “My full name is Tallis Cytharat.”

“Hrm… meaning ‘wise’—it suits you.” Praven nodded. “How did you end up as Malgus’ apprentice?”

“He saw something in me. At the Academy I was mostly invisible, always had my nose buried in my books studying history, strategy. My mind proved sharper than my blade which made me an easy target for other acolytes,” It was now Lord Cytharat’s turn to share some of his past with his new acquaintance.

“One day I used my wits to avoid an assassination attempt at the Academy and somehow, the story reached Darth Malgus. He had me summoned to Dromund Kaas and took me under his tutelage. Told me my intelligence was a gift—any Sith could swing a lightsaber and fight but few possessed a mind as brilliant as my own, and that it made me unique. For the first time, I really felt I belonged.”

“Many do not bother with their studies, forever chasing their bloodlust instead,” Praven made a fair assessment and recalled his own days at the Sith Academy, “It’s a shame what’s become of our kind. So much potential and yet many resort to the same savagery as our Massassi ancestors.”

“But not all.” A twinkle played in Lord Cytharat’s eyes. “You’re different. Wish that our paths had crossed sooner.”

Praven favored him with a smile. “Agreed, but we’re here now.”

“We are… So, what took you from Jedi Knight to breaking out prisoners on Coruscant?”

“Duty, loyalty. After the Senate signed the treaty with Arcann, Grand Master Shan send all Jedi out into the galaxy. She believed the Republic as we knew it would cease to exist and the Senate may turn on the Order seeking to hold us down, or even turn us over to Arcann should he ever demand it,” Praven explained where the Jedi Order had disappeared to.

“She encouraged us to seek out those in need, to help and protect them, and so we all scattered into the far reaches of the galaxy. I spent a few years traveling between the Core Worlds and Outer Rim until an old friend informed me of Eliza’s endeavors. I recalled what I knew of the prisoners on Coruscant, Jedi and Republic men and women who do not deserve imprisonment, and well, the rest is history as they say.”

Lord Cytharat nodded. “We should see if a plan can be devised to free those prisoners... What happened to the Grand Master? I know Eliza’s been searching for her but so far it would seem she’s just vanished into thin air.”

“Not quite. She’s out there but that’s all I know. Last we spoke she said she had a mission of her own—an old acquaintance who’d reached out seeking help.”

“And this ‘old friend’ who told you of our alliance?” asked Lord Cytharat in a most casual way.

“Another Jedi, Master Timmns. I’ll be making my way to Voss soon to join him and Lord… Darius is it?”

“Correct. Darth Vowrawn’s nephew. Keep an eye on him, he has a penchant for trouble.”

“Must run in the family, though Darth Vowrawn’s often far more subtle.” Praven smirked.

Their light conversation and gentle laughter brought a smile to Eliza’s face when she passed the helm on her way to Ravage’s quarters, having finished her private call.

‘At least those two are getting along…’ she thought to herself and knocked.

“Ravage?” She inched the door open and peered inside to find him sat behind his desk with his back turned to her. “Is this a bad time?”

“What do you need?”

“Uhm, I actually just… I wanted to say thanks, and apologize for ignoring your council. I should have been more cautious…”

He turned, pushing his chair back. “Go on.”

For a second she just stared at him, confused until it clicked and she groaned. “Thank you and I am sorry—you were right.”

“Accepted.” Ravage spun back around to continue working on his datapad. “Please inform me when dinner’s been prepared,” he dismissed her rather bluntly.

A deep sigh escaped Eliza and his behavior reminded her of that of a sulking child. “I’ve said I’m sorry, what more do you want?”

“We never finished our conversation the other day.”

“What conversation?”

“About us.” Once more he turned and this time he got up to face her fully, his arms folded before him. “About there being anything good between us.”

Eliza gently closed the door and sat herself down on the foot end of his bed. “If I recall, your advances pushed that conversation in a whole different direction.”

“And?”

“And… fine, yes,” she began reluctantly, “there’s been some good. Actually, there’s…”

Whether it was due to his heroic efforts or if she simply lacked the bite to argue with him today, Eliza wasn’t sure but she began sharing a story which had him at the center stage. A moment from years back he didn’t know she’d witnessed but it had been the first time she’d seen something other than a monster in him.

“Do you remember the first few weeks after Cyara was born?”

 

For weeks now, Eliza hadn’t found a single moment of peace and everything hurt—she was a mere shadow of the woman she used to be. A pale and underweight shadow, her body broken and her soul shattered. Each day she cried and whenever she did, so did her daughter. At night in the moments where sleep should take her, she lay awake, tossing and turning, unable to silence the pain in her heart which was another thing her daughter sought to answer with further crying and screaming.

To her own painful horror, she’d begun to resent her child. Blaming baby Cyara for stalling her search for her husband and yet, at the same time, her demons told her Cyara was punishing her with this behavior. Because she failed the girl’s father, Lord Scourge, and left him behind to die.

Everything had begun to break her down and Eliza wanted to flee. To get away from her child, her overly concerned family and the eyes that always looked at her so expectantly hoping that today would be the day where she’d finally feel better. She never did. In her mind, there wasn’t a getting better of anything until one night everything changed.

Eliza was curled up in bed soaking her pillow with the tears she cried so often. She tried to hold them in and waited for the moment where her daughter would inevitably start crying too but this night, Cyara didn’t. The quiet almost brought Eliza to a point of finally finding sleep but something held her back—worry and concern for the child, even through her pain. It was unusual for the baby to be this silent and calm and Eliza dressed in her night robe before climbing from her bed.

Cyara’s room, next to her own and separated only by a set of sliding doors, was dark save for a small reading light lit up near her crib. It took a few seconds for Eliza’s eyes to adjust to the scene before her and then her jaw dropped at the mere sight.

Sat within the large wingback near her daughter’s crib was Ravage, holding Cyara in his arms. The infant cooed quietly and sucked on his pinkie finger while he balanced a storybook in his other hand and read it to her.

“... and then Lord Adam, at last, revealed his surprise to Lady Bella. Gilded double doors flew open at his command and granted access to the largest library she’d ever seen.”

Cyara’s eyes twinkled and for the first time since she’d been born, she smiled. Gentle chortles escaped the infant and she gripped Ravage’s pinkie tighter while he chuckled.

“I know, I know,” he whispered and rocked her gently. “One day you’ll have your own library too and it’ll be even bigger than Lady Bella’s, huh?”

As though she’d heard and understood him, Cyara giggled with delight and Eliza couldn’t believe what she witnessed. She kept herself hidden behind the doors, peering through the narrowest opening.

Ravage set the book aside and teased a tiny, raven black curly lock from Cyara’s forehead. “And like Lord Adam, I will always protect you and your mother from the bad people. From those losers calling themselves the Eternal Empire. I promise.” He smiled down into her sparkling amber eyes.

Cyara took his thumb in her tiny fist while still holding onto his pinkie too and began blowing raspberries against his palm.

“I had a daughter once too, you know? A beautiful baby girl named Callista…” He began sharing one of his biggest secrets with Cyara, “Her hair auburn like mine, her eyes sapphire blue like her mother’s and a smile that you’d give your life for if only you could see it one more time.

“She was just a few weeks old, as you are now, when we lost her. The sickness that would take her mother in the years to come ran through Callista’s blood as well. She was too small and too fragile to fight it.”

In the other room, Eliza gasped and clasped her hand over her mouth. She knew Ravage had lost his wife to a rare bone disease years ago but no one had ever made mention of a daughter.

“But you,” Ravage braved his emotions and leaned forward pressing his lips to Cyara’s tiny fist, “you’re going to live a long and good life little one, and grow up to become such a strong and powerful woman. Just like your mother.

“You may not believe it now, and I know you feel her pain, her grief and it upsets you. It hurts but, she’s tough you know? She’ll survive this too.”

His words revealed something to Eliza that she hadn’t thought of before. Cyara wasn’t trying to punish her by screaming and crying through day and night—she was sharing in her mother’s pain, reacting to it. She and her daughter were connected by more than just their blood and suddenly Eliza realized that the calm Cyara seemed to experience right now was within her too. For the first time in weeks, she felt like she could breathe again, relax and rest.

It was the catalyst moment that broke Eliza out of her growing depression and at last brought both mother and daughter the peace they needed, brought them closer once more.

 

Ravage stared at her wide-eyed once Eliza finished sharing the memory with him.

“The thing that made it so special is… you had no idea I was there. You didn’t do it to impress me, it was genuine and real and without knowing it, you helped me so much that night.”

“You weren’t meant to…” he sighed and felt completely disarmed—this wasn’t what he’d expected to discuss.

“I know. That moment was for you and her which is why I never told you I overheard all of it.”

“But you did and still you think there’s nothing good?”

“Not nothing…” she admitted and smiled his way. “There’s some good. I also recall the many times you helped bathe her, put her to sleep, read her stories. Defied the trade blockade and had Starflowers flown in from Alderaan just to brighten my room. Massaged my feet when I became too fat to even see them.

“I’m grateful for those things,” she told him truthfully.

“Then why do you continue to reject my advances?”

“Because some good isn’t enough and it doesn’t change the man you are at every other moment. You’re rude, arrogant, manipulative, and almost always have a foul temper. You are self-serving in the worst of ways never caring who you hurt as long as you get what you—”

“Self-serving?!” Ravage snapped suddenly, incensed by having the worst of his own qualities thrown in his face. “That’s rich coming from you! Coming from the woman who’s made it her life’s purpose to spurn my advances at every turn, reject me repeatedly until you have an itch to scratch and I suddenly find you between my sheets!”

“Excuse me?! I’m pretty sure that’s a two-way street!” Eliza bit back, “You never seemed to have a problem with it, knowing fine well what it was and still taking what you could get rather than having nothing at all!”

She got up and shook her head. “Hell, Ravage, you spent years trying to lure me to your bed in the first place, you’re no victim.”

“No, I’m not, but if you want to talk about being self-serving you’re hardly innocent yourself!”

“Don’t you think I know that?! Trust me I’m fully aware of…” She let out an exasperated groan and strode for the door. “Forget it!”

“Fully aware of what?!” he demanded and blocked her exit.

“The fact I don’t love you! I never will and that’s why we can’t do this anymore! I’ve been using you and I hate myself for it! ”

“You… hate yourself?” Ravage’s voice dropped and he stared at her in such a way he appeared genuinely hurt and surprised.

For a moment silence filled the small distance between them but then he quickly regained his composure. He yanked the door open and stepped aside. “Fine. Then go.”

“Ravage…”

“Get. Out. Now!”

Without saying another word, Eliza rushed off with her heart racing in her chest. Guilt threatened to wash over her—she did care about him and he mattered to her. In a way, she even felt a semblance of affection toward him but it just wasn’t love. It never had been or ever would be and she’d always been convinced he knew this. Now, though, she suddenly wasn’t as sure and felt forced to ask herself if she’d blindly and selfishly led him on.

Behind her, the door slammed and Ravage let out a growl of pure frustration. He smashed the mirror with his fist and blood seeped down his balled fist. He looked at the holograph on his nightstand where Eliza and Cyara smiled back at him until he shattered the frame and turned away.

None of this was working out as he’d hoped. He’d always imagined given time she would come to see there was more to him but maybe he was wrong. Perhaps he’d been delusional about the man he thought to be and she was right.

He’d never been able to control his darker impulses, his self-serving behavior, and his temper. Every good intention was forever overshadowed, drowned out by the worst parts of himself. He was the sole maker of his own misery but perhaps that could still change and Ravage flipped over to his inbox to check his latest correspondence.

For the next few days, the two ignored each other’s existence for as much as they could, getting on with daily business while Lord Cytharat and Praven grew much closer. They arrived on Tatooine and while Ravage remained behind in his quarters, too preoccupied with his own dilemmas, the other three ran a few errands and at last said their goodbyes.

“Are you sure I can’t convince you to come home with us?” Eliza hugged Praven tight.

For a second, from the corner of his eye he glanced Lord Cytharat’s way and appeared to doubt but he shook his head and smiled. “I’m sure but, trust me… I will visit, soon.”

“You’d better.” She lingered in his embrace a second longer but then stepped aside in favor of Lord Cytharat.

“You have my frequency?” Lord Cytharat wanted to be certain.

Praven nodded. “And you have mine. I’ll be in touch.”

“We had scouts looking for a safer location but the planet I had in mind is once more unstable.” Lord Cytharat dug his hands into his pockets, unsure and a little shy about saying goodbye without really knowing what else to say. “But Beniko believes she’s found an alternative location and one closer to Zakuul. We should know more soon.”

“Mm good, yes. I don’t believe we should linger on Voss for too long.”

The two men stood awkwardly and Eliza rolled her eyes, chuckling to herself while she pretended not to notice them and browsed one of the market stalls just outside the spaceport.

After a few more seconds, which seemed to last a lifetime, Praven was the one to make a move and he drew Lord Cytharat closer, taking both his hands. “I will call you the minute I leave this planet behind and I am so pleased to have met you, Tallis.”

“The feeling is mutual, Sevas.” Lord Cytharat gently traced the back of Praven’s hand with his index finger.

Neither men were big on public displays but just the simple touch of their hands was enough to tell each other those things they could not yet say or show otherwise. They said goodbye at last and while Praven disappeared to secure himself transport, Eliza fell in at Lord Cytharat’s side and linked arms with him.

“You’ll see him again.” She winked and together they turned back towards the spaceport.

 

Chapter Text

Warm rays of sunlight teased Eliza’s skin, tanning every inch of her body not covered by the pearl-white bikini she wore. A tender breeze greeted her in passing as it made its way along the shore providing just the perfect amount of cooling every few minutes. Blissfully she sighed and further down the beachside, Cyara and Selene chattered with joy as they build their sandcastles and dug out a moat.

“Mommy,” Selene called out to Me’ghan over on the other lounger, “doesn’t this looks just like the Sithadel?”

“Citadel,” a correction came from Cyara.

Me’ghan lowered her shades and smiled. “It looks beautiful sweetheart, nice work on the towers.” But Selene had already become distracted.

“Wells they should calls it a Sithadel if it’s only for Sithy peoples anyways,” she argued to Cyara.

A fervent discussion erupted between the toddlers and Eliza chuckled. She sat up on her lounger and reached for the bottle of water next to her when she spotted Theron walking up to them. Her lips ran dry and for a second she froze, her eyes catching the extremely well-fitted swim shorts he wore. She’d never seen him quite like that—he usually wore jeans, a shirt, and his trademark leather jacket—and she more than appreciated the sight.

“Hey.” His shadow fell over her and he smiled.

Eliza quickly readjusted her sunglasses and forced herself to look up into his eyes instead. “Hi, what brings you out here? I thought you had your final rehabilitation session today?”

“I do. Nyssa decided water exercises would be more fun than the treadmill and just as effective.”

“Mmm, I agree. Are you still in much pain?”

“Some discomfort and the occasional stiffness but nothing I can’t handle.”

“Right.” Eliza fought hard to banish the instant dirty thoughts that popped up from her mind and looked away. “Well, she’s picked a beautiful day for it.”

“She has.” Theron awkwardly put his hands on his hips, missing the pockets his jeans normally provided, and let his eyes wander where he knew they shouldn’t.

Flashbacks of their first visit to Rishi teased him and he thought of the night when they’d drank and danced. How his hand had accidentally grazed the swell of her breast, how he’d felt her body heat so close to his own and how she’d been pressed up against him. He allowed himself to remember how she’d tasted the first time they kissed and an inevitable reaction began to stir, much to his own horror.

Within his own mind, he began playing a game he’d played each day so far, ever since arriving on Rishi. He would force himself to think about something horrible and unattractive in an effort to distract himself from Eliza, which led to an extremely random comment on his part.

“So, you cut off Saresh’s head huh?”

The comment was so unexpected Eliza splurted out the water she’d just sipped and stared up at him before she burst out laughing. “Yes, I did. Do you think the Senate will appreciate it?”

“Actually, yes, I think many will. She was a plague on the Republic for far too long and I’m sure Chancellor Madon is happy enough finally released from the puppet master.”

“True, but what if the puppet turns out to be worse than the master?”

“If that proves to be the case I’m sure you have another empty crate ready and waiting somewhere,” Nyssa appeared behind them and chuckled.

Eliza laughed again. “Oh I do, plenty of them!”

Nyssa threw her a wink and wrapped her arms around Theron, nuzzling his cheek. “Hey babe, I just got a call from one of my friends back on Coruscant who’s in complete tears because she caught her boyfriend cheating…”

“Let me guess—it’s Caroline and you have to call her back which means I came out here looking like this for nothing?” He pretended to be upset but grinned through his words.

“Eliza can help you instead,” Nyssa suggested, “right? Would you mind?” She looked to Eliza next who shifted somewhat uneasily in her lounger.

“Uhh, yeah, sure.”

“See, problem solved!” Nyssa quickly pecked Theron’s lips and rushed off yelling, “Make sure you give him a proper workout!”

‘Really?’ Eliza groaned internally at the innocently meant, though suggestive, comment but kept a smile on her face and got up.

A few loungers over, Malavai and Me’ghan leaned into each other, exchanging whispers while they watched Theron and Eliza head into the water.

“I can’t figure out if Nyssa’s just extremely confident and trusting, or if she’s testing them somehow,” Me’ghan noted.

“Perhaps she’s just oblivious to the chemistry between them both, or Theron hasn’t shared the truth about their past,” Malavai pointed out.

“That’s possible… You know, I hate to say it because I know this is hard for her but, I’m glad Theron’s here. It seems his presence has distracted her from Ravage and for that I’m grateful.”

“You and me both.” He leaned in and kissed his wife affectionately.

The ocean was colder than Theron expected and he shrieked when Eliza rushed past him and dove straight in, splashing him along the way, “Hey now!”

“What? It’s just a bit of water.” She splashed him again and smirked. “Just dive under, the quickest way to get used to the temperature.”

“Easy for you to say! Are you sure you’re part Pureblood and not part Mon Calamari?”

“Do I look like I’ve got webbed hands and flippers?”

“You may as well have,” Theron laughed and swam forward with her until their toes almost left the ocean floor.

Once deep enough, Eliza turned to face him and took both his hands to support him while he began exercising his legs and more importantly, his knee in rhythmic motions under water.

“This isn’t too bad actually,” Theron admitted after a few minutes of paddling.

“No, it’s not. Nyssa had the right idea.”

He just smiled and gave her a nod. He felt odd discussing Nyssa with her or even bringing her up—it always came with a twinge of guilt for him though he wasn’t sure why.

“You know, I never thanked you for dealing with those pirates. I saw the security footage you brought back from the warehouse…”

“You don’t have to thank me, Theron, and isn’t that what we do? You get yourself in trouble with some pirates and I kick their asses?”

The gentle waves of the ocean nudged them closer together and their fingers laced while Theron continued to paddle. “I suppose it’s become a bit of a habit… you coming to my aid and rescue.”

Eliza twinkled into his eyes, momentarily losing herself. “I guess some things just never change…”

“But you have. I saw the destruction you rained down on those Black Hoods and it didn’t look like you lost control. You worked your way through them systematically and once it came time to stop, you stopped.”

“Yeah. My emotions still drive me but I’m in control of them now. They’re a motivator, a powerful one but they no longer decide my actions for me. I do that.”

She hesitated and recalled one of their conversations years back when he’d found out what she’d done to Sergeant Rusk—when they’d decided to be just friends. “Does it… bother you? What I did to those pirates?”

With ease, he pulled her closer and tipped her chin up when she tried to look away. “No, Eliza. I know what you’re thinking but this wasn’t the same. These men were criminals and no different from the Nova Blades we once fought. Besides, I’m… proud of you, at the level of control you have now. I know you used to struggle.”

Theron ran his fingers through her hair and rested his palm against her cheek while he stared deep into her eyes and suddenly it was there—the moment he’d tried so hard to avoid. The moment where every ounce of him begged him to kiss her, to taste her lips again at long last and he felt himself waver.

Eliza noticed it too and felt her heartbeat racing within her chest, heard it pound in her ears as his lips inched closer to her own. Right now she wanted nothing else but to give in and complications be damned, but one of those complications happened to be his wife and as soon as that thought reached the front of her mind, Eliza pulled away.

“I’d say that’s enough exercising for now. Let’s get back to shore before you start growing gills,” she tried for levity and let him go.

‘What the hell am I doing?’ the thought crossed both their minds though neither said anything and quickly made their way back to the loungers.

“Here, have a seat and I’ll just run inside to get you a towel and see if Nyssa’s done yet with her call so she can check your knee over one last time,” Eliza spoke hurriedly and disappeared almost quicker than the words left her mouth.

To her great relief, she just caught the end of Nyssa’s conversation and Eliza informed her Theron was waiting outside, then rushed upstairs herself. Without knocking she barged into Ravage’s office, a fluster still lingering on her cheeks.

“Theron seems to have recovered fully and he’s ready to get back out there. We should find a suitable job for him and Nyssa, perhaps a supply run of sorts,” Eliza announced.

“We should?” Ravage quirked a brow and looked her over carefully.

Her entire body language was tense, she appeared to be pacing in one place and nervously pulled on her fingertips. The behavior was telling enough and Ravage casually leaned back in his seat.

“Have they expressed a desire to leave here?”

“No, but isn’t that what they should do, what everyone does? I mean, Nyssa spent years sneaking medical supplies so I’m sure she’d love to continue contributing in some way and Theron just gets restless if he sits still for too long.”

“Not everyone. Lord Cytharat is still here,” Ravage corrected.

“Manaan! Theron’s been there before and they have a massive research facility,” Eliza carried on, “They used to harvest kolto there, did you know that? In any case, the Selkath may have something that could help us with… whatever. It would be good if we can get their support somehow… Oh! Or—”

“Eliza!” he interrupted her ramblings, “What’s going on?”

She gave him a blank stare while she came to grips with her sudden panic and then straightened her back. “Nothing. Sorry. Forget I said anything.”

Before he could question her curious behavior any further, Eliza was gone again and Ravage was left staring at the wet spot on the floor and the sand she’d dragged in and left behind. He smiled. Not because his original plan was working but because he’d resisted his own urge to take advantage of her. It would have been so easy too—she’d appeared wound up enough that she’d need little persuading, craving something no other man but him could give her now and yet he hadn’t. He felt proud of himself but his battle wasn’t over yet.

Down the hallway, he could hear the sound of running water and easily surmised Eliza had dipped into the shower. It took all his willpower not to follow her, and to maintain clarity of mind—he could only imagine what she was doing in there and the thoughts tormented him. The only thing that aided his resolve and brought him back to reality was the realization it wasn’t himself she’d be thinking about.

By dinner, Eliza had pushed most of the near-kiss incident aside and by nightfall, it had been forced to the furthest reaches of her mind completely. She’d settled herself in on the sofa with her feet in Lord Cytharat’s lap as he read one of his books and she flipped through the holovision channels.

“…came out for the funeral today. Supreme Chancellor Madon delivered an eloquent speech emphasizing the Republic’s values and highlighting the many positive changes Leontyne Saresh—”

“Pah, many positive changes,” Eliza scoffed and turned the sound off. “Have you heard from Praven?”

“This morning, he’s on Voss now with the others,” Lord Cytharat told her.

“Mm good. You miss him?”

“More than I should.”

“How do you mean?”

He put his book down and poured the both of them a brandy. “I told myself after Tarek, I would not be so quick to give my heart to another again but here I am falling hard for a man I’ve only spent a mere few days with.

“And now he’s gone, he’s out there on Voss and I don’t know when we’ll see each other again. With the state of the galaxy as it is now… Well, let’s be realistic—he could be dead tomorrow.”

Eliza sipped her drink and frowned, somberly. “We could all be dead tomorrow.”

Lord Cytharat nodded. “I guess I’m just afraid of getting my heart broken once more.”

He glanced her way and gave a wry smile, changing the subject and remembering he wasn’t the only one struggling with matters of the heart, “Now speaking of broken hearts… how are you coping with Theron’s presence here?”

She eyed him over the rim of her glass. “You know?”

“I tend to notice things and Me’ghan filled me in on the rest. You seemed so out of sorts after the shuttle crash, I worried. Is it something you want to talk about?”

“There isn’t much to say,” she said and let out a sigh. “Yet, at the same time, there is so much, you know?

“I’m constantly going back and forth between ‘I still love him so much’, to reminding myself that he’s married and if that’s not enough, there’s also the fact I’m… whatever it is I am. Stuck between married with my husband presumed dead and I don’t know when he’ll ever come home, when we’ll see him again and to the world, I am a widow.

“But… truthfully, I’m not even in a place where I want a new relationship—I want my husband to come home—so it shouldn’t matter that Theron’s here now, that he’s married and yet it hurts. It’s difficult, painful and… stars, so confusing.” Eliza emptied her glass and refilled it quickly.

“So even if he wasn’t married, you still wouldn’t pursue him now?”

“No. I… it would be cheating, right? Which I’ve already done to some extent with…”

“Ravage,” Lord Cytharat concluded and reached for her hand in a comforting gesture.

She nodded with a fluster of shame on her cheeks. “The first time it just happened. I’d been drinking, feeling lonely. I hadn’t known a man’s touch or comfort in over three years and he was right there. Afterward I justified it by telling myself it was just a physical thing, I wasn’t actually betraying Scourge’s love on an emotional level and yet I feel guilty about it.”

“Eliza.” Lord Cytharat took the glass from her and sat it down before taking both her hands in his own. “If I may, and I did not know the man personally but, I don’t think Lord Scourge would expect you to live out your days alone. To deny yourself while waiting for him, with no indication of if or when you’ll see him again.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” she admitted and recalled a past conversation she’d had with Lord Scourge, “he said as much once. He made me promise if anything ever happened to him, I’d not give up on life or love and I agreed but we were speaking in terms of death. He’s not dead. He’s just, missing.”

“But if he were? If you, and I pray you don’t, but if you were to find out he is truly gone, then what?”

“Then… Theron would still be married and I would never get in the way of that. In fact, from now on I think it would be best if I kept some distance between us. He’s married, I’m married and years ago I broke his heart, encouraged him to find love elsewhere. Now he has and the last thing either of us needs is for me to complicate things all over again.”

“And Ravage?”

“One hell of a lay but not worth the baggage and trouble.” She snorted, bitterly and through her own misery before apologizing, “Stars, sorry, that sounded so crude. I just…”

She blew out a deep breath and her words died out. In her eyes, Ravage was a whole other sort of mess in her life, one she just couldn’t cope with or think about now.

“Hey, I get it,” Lord Cytharat reassured her and smiled. “For what it’s worth, cousin dearest, I’m here for you if you ever need to vent or talk.”

“Thank you, that means a lot.”

 


 

The following morning while Theron slept, Nyssa busied herself preparing breakfast for the entire household. Scrambled eggs, fried eggs, hard and soft boiled eggs while croissants sat in the oven and a large pot of caf brewed, its aroma quickly spreading. Once finished, she turned everything down low and headed back upstairs for her shower.

“Morning handsome.” Nyssa smiled and kissed Theron’s lips when she returned to their bedroom twenty minutes later. “Did you manage to get any sleep at all?”

All night he’d been tossing and turning, waking her every so often with quiet and incoherent mutterings.

“Hrm,” he murmured and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He sat upright and gratefully took the caf his wife offered. “Thanks and no, not much. Did I keep you up?”

“Just a little but it’s alright. What troubled you?”

“I…” Every memory he had of Eliza had torn through his dreams that night and culminated with Arcann ending her life. “I’m not sure, I don’t remember,” Theron lied.

Nyssa nodded and began picking out her clothes for the day when her eyes fell on the ‘get well soon’ card Cyara and Selene had drawn for Theron after he’d been injured.

“Babe… have you ever…” she paused and sighed, unsure of how to broach the subject, “you know, thought about kids?”

“Uh, kids?” He looked somewhat startled and confused.

“Having them, becoming a father?”

“Oh… in this lifetime?” the poor answer escaped him far too quickly but Nyssa smiled—she’d expected a mild panic from him.

“Preferably.” She sat down next to him and took his hand. “Though not necessarily right now or even this year. Just, at some point, you know?”

“Right. Right, I suppose that’s the next logical step after marriage.”

A step he wasn’t quite ready to take. Only once before had Theron considered the idea of children and that had been years ago when Eliza had shown him holo images of a pregnant Me’ghan. As they lay snuggled up on the sofa then, he’d wondered what it would be like if Eliza were pregnant with his child and whose eyes their son or daughter would have.

“Well it doesn’t have to be, there’s always a choice. Just think about it?” Nyssa kissed his cheek and got dressed. “There’s a breakfast spread downstairs if you’re interested.”

“You cooked for everyone?”

“We’re guests here and I’d like to contribute. Everyone’s been so wonderful helping you, supporting me, welcoming us both which is a little unexpected?” She made her side of the bed and sat down at the vanity table to do her hair.

“Uh, why unexpected?”

“They’re all either Sith or Imperial. As pleasant as Lana’s been in communications, I was a bit nervous coming here not knowing what to expect and yet, they’re all friendlier than most people I know back on Coruscant.”

Nyssa applied a small touch of mascara. “Save for that Ravage guy, he gives me the creeps and is it just me or is something going on between him and Eliza?”

He nearly let the mug slip from his hands and stared at her, wide-eyed. “What?”

“You haven’t noticed? Last week I walked in on them in the kitchen, his hands all over her and I think they were about to kiss until they saw me. And their arguing?” Nyssa carried on, oblivious to the growing look of anguish and disgust on her husband’s face.

“It’s almost like in one of those romantic comedies, you know? They spend half the film making each other miserable, get drunk and wind up in bed followed by a morning of regret and ‘what have I done’. Then they go back to arguing but slowly, they realize they’re in love with each other and they kiss and marry while the end credits start to roll.”

Theron gave her a perplexed stare and Nyssa laughed. “Sorry, I’ve had way too much free time since I lost my job and I’ve been binge-watching everything on the rom-com channel.

“I have to say though, Eliza’s far too good for a guy like Ravage, don’t you think?”

“I… yeah I guess so…” he stammered, most of his thoughts still with the mental images of Ravage putting his hands on Eliza and he balled a fist under the sheets.

Nyssa mistook his dulled responses for tiredness and smiled. “I’m going downstairs and for a run, take your time waking up babe.”

Once she was gone, Theron slid from their bed and dragged himself into the shower. A part of him had begun to wonder if coming to Rishi was a mistake. He’d been so certain his feelings for Eliza had greatly diminished and he’d be fine, especially with his wife by his side but he struggled far more than he’d anticipated. In fact, he struggled so much that in ways he resented Nyssa and her presence which in turn came with a serving of self-loathing.

‘She’s a good person, get your shit together Shan,’ he scolded himself and turned to face the shower head, letting the water wash down his face.

He loved Nyssa, genuinely, but it had taken him three years of doubt before finally accepting her marriage proposal. Her proposal, not his, and there were still moments now where he asked himself if he’d done the right thing.

She made him laugh, she supported him through everything, showed understanding and she’d made him feel loved. Her heart was pure, she fought tirelessly for the less fortunate and always had a kind word and a smile for anyone they met. He’d convinced himself those things, and the love he honestly felt for her, were enough reasons to enter into marriage.

Doubt snuck up on him again now and he felt forced to admit, privately and only to himself, he’d perhaps settled for what he could have in the one situation where you should never settle.

 

Chapter Text

“Praven get down!” Timmns shouted over their comms when bright colored plasma bolts fired from all directions after destroying their sanctuary next to the Shrine of Healing.

Further down the golden-grass fields, Praven tucked into a roll and in the nick of time found cover behind a large pile of rocks. “Get Darius and take the padawans to safety inside the shrine!”

“We can’t! There are three Eternal Walkers headed our way!”

“And we’ve got Knights approaching on our left!” Darius added while he batted one shot after the other away. “How did they even find us?!”

“Imbalance in the Force!” Praven yelled and ran from cover, drawing his weapons on a two-some of Knights, “With this many Jedi, Sith, and the Voss it was only a matter of time.”

Darius gritted his teeth and lunged forward over a set of barricades, attacking one of the Zakuul Knights headed his way. “Why do they care?!”

“A sudden rise of three different schools of Force users all gathered in the same location? Use your head, Darius! Arcann is probably anticipating a rebellion!”

“Well, he’s got that right!” His red and roaring blade slid through the Knight’s armor like butter and with a single spin and swing, he beheaded another. Blood seeped down his sleeve and he took a mere second to observe the cut across his upper-arm before he attacked the third man coming his way.

“Seven Sith hells!” he cursed when even more Knights appeared on the scene, “Does Arcann breed these bastards in one of his precious factories?! If it wasn’t for their Force powers and the delightful way in which they bleed, you’d think they’re non-sentient!

“They all move the same, fight the same! Hell, look the same!”

“Cut the chatter, Darius, and go help Timmns!” Praven barked and came to his aid, “I’ve got this.”

The young Pureblood growled, his thirst for blood begging him to stay and he struck down one more Knight before he ran off. Master Timmns’ group sat sheltered behind a barricade comprised of various pieces of rubble but they wouldn’t hold out much longer. Eternal Walkers closed in on them from both sides and Timmns strained himself levitating another piece of debris over to bolster their blockade.

“We have to take those Walkers out, somehow,” he panted when Darius rejoined them.

“Master, you’re hurt,” said one of the padawans and it was only then that Timmns noticed the blood coloring his creme-white robes red—the result of a blaster shot to his shoulder.

“I’ll live, we all will,” he assured the young girl but when he looked to Darius, the concern in his eyes betrayed him. “I tried to get a call out to Voss-Ka but there was no response.”

“I can handle one of them and draw the attention of the second one long enough for you to get them out of here.” Darius had already risen back to his feet but Timmns pulled him down.

“You’ll die!”

“Yeah, well, what is it you Jedi types preach? There’s no death, only the Force?” Darius smirked with arrogance, callous about the very real danger he’d be putting himself in.

“Save the sermons boys, ain’t nobody dyin’ today,” A husky female voice joined their comm-frequency. “At least not on my watch.”

“Captain Haloson, is that you?” Timmns adjusted his earpiece and looked around for the source.

“The one and only but I told you, call me Jenna.” They could almost hear her smile. “Did ya miss me, handsome?”

“I know I did,” Darius grinned.

Timmns elbowed him in the ribs. “It’s good to hear you, Captain, any chance for some cover fire?”

“Oh, I’m going to do ya one better.” Jenna brought her shuttle down lower and they could hear her relay orders to her crew, “Prime the cannons Vette.

“Timms, about thirty meters behind you there’s some trees and a clearing—get your people and go! Praven, find cover,” she instructed and waited for everyone to get out of her intended line of fire, “I’m gonna give ya a fly-by and take out those walking pieces of scrap metal.”

The engines sputtered some protest at the sharp turn but Jenna kept the shuttle steady and brought it in lowest she could take it. She signaled Vette and seconds later, heavy fire lay waste to the Eternal Walkers marching for Timmns and the shrine. She circled around and made another pass, taking out any remaining Zakuul Knights, then prepped for landing right by the clearing she’d mentioned.

“Risha, get the medkit and join me,” Jenna shouted and rushed down the boarding ramp, “Vette, get in touch with Lana and find out where she wants us to go, we can’t stay here now.”

“We owe you, Captain.” Timmns feigned a smile and kept his act of bravery up for the padawan’s sake.

“You can buy me a drink once we get clear of this place.” Jenna winked and sat him down in the field.

With Risha’s help, they took care of his shoulder injury and the cut across Darius’ arm. Fortunately, save for some scrapes and bruises, no one else had gotten hurt in the sudden attack though their sanctuary was in ruins.

“At least it wasn’t the shrine, that’d be a damned pity.” Risha took in the majestic sight of the Voss’ healing sanctum.

“We thank you for your assistance,” one of the Voss who’d been posted outside the shrine, and who’d hidden during the attack, said.

“Yeah, and we thank you for your lack of assistance. Typical,” Darius scoffed at the man.

“Darius.” Praven gave him a stern look.

Darius threw his hands up in defense and waved the oncoming lecture off before it even began. He roundup a group of padawans and began escorting them to the shuttles while Jenna helped Timmns back onto his feet. Supplies and personal belongings that had survived the attack were scavenged from the ruins and loaded onto the shuttles as well. An hour later, everyone was packed at the orbital station above Voss and ready to leave the planet behind.

“So, where’s home?” Timmns asked when he boarded Jenna’s freighter.

“Odessen.”

 


 

“Don’t worry,” Lana added quickly when she briefed those on Rishi about the situation, “everyone got out alive. Master Timmns suffered a blaster shot to the shoulder and that’s really the worst of it. All in all, they got lucky.

“Jenna’s crew had just touched down on Voss-Ka when the attack began and they were able to assist the others. They’re on their way to Odessen now.”

“Thank the stars,” Lord Cytharat sighed and he still felt his heartbeat racing in his chest—he couldn’t bear it if something had happened to Praven.

“That’s fortunate,” Eliza agreed, “Now, Odessen?”

“Yes—it’s a planet about five thousand parsecs out from Zakuul in Wild Space. It feels as though the Force wanted me to find this place. It has a unique balance making it well suited for Jedi and Sith alike, without the risk of disturbances in the Force.

“The planet itself is covered in lush green forests. There are waterfalls, several fresh-water streams running through the landscape, some, wildlife and a gentle climate. At its center, there’s a wide open space I intend to use for our base. It’s rather impressive I must say.”

“Sounds almost too good to be true,” Ravage said sardonically, his skin crawling at the idyllic description.

“Yeah, I’m normally not one to agree with him but, are you certain the planet is safe? What are Zakuul patrols in the area like?” Theron raised his own concerns.

“We’ve been scouting the planet for weeks now and there’s been no sign of Arcann’s forces. They’re either not aware of its existence or they simply feel the planet’s not worth their time. Most likely the latter given its uninhabited state,” Lana assured them both.

Eliza sipped her caf while considering a potential move to Odessen. If the planet was indeed everything Lana claimed it to be, it would be an ideal location from which to further their fight against the Eternal Empire but she had other factors to consider. For one, it would be no place to bring children.

“Theron, Nyssa, and Lord Cytharat, would you three fly out there to assist Lana in establishing a base and inform us of your own findings?” She asked, taking advantage of the opportunity to create some distance between herself and Theron while allowing Lord Cytharat to reunite with Praven sooner than expected.

“I’m okay with that.” Nyssa smiled.

“What will you be doing?” Theron hid the disappointment in his voice best he could.

“Finish up here and,” Eliza said and looked to Malavai and Me’ghan, “we need to figure out what to do with our little girls. If any of us will be staying here and with them or if we’re taking them elsewhere.”

Me’ghan nodded. “Malavai’s parents have offered to take them in… but, oh, I don’t know if I’m ready to leave my baby girl behind.”

“No,” Eliza sighed, “neither am I but it is something we need to discuss between the three of us.”

“So I can expect Theron, Nyssa and Lord Cytharat to join us here soon?” Lana asked.

“Yes,” Lord Cytharat confirmed and he mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to Eliza.

“Good, good…” Lana appeared to make some notes on her datapad. “Now, there is one other thing I need to share with all of you—something I would have mentioned sooner if it weren’t for the attack on Voss.”

A solemn expression fell over Lana’s face and her voice took on a far more serious tone. Despite the blue translucent appearance of her holo-image, she suddenly eyed paler than she normally did, and troubled. She barely made eye contact with Eliza now and mostly averted her gaze to a neutral point.

“What is it?” Me’ghan frowned.

“A couple of days ago I was approached by a woman, Regina Feldran, who once served as a Knight of Zakuul.”

“The Knight you’ve been trying to establish contact with?” Theron recalled from a previous meeting but Lana shook her head.

“No, a different one, someone who’s been among the refugees we took in.”

“Okay, did she tell you anything useful?”

“She did.” Lana glanced Eliza’s way but just barely. “Regina was present when Darth Marr and Lord Scourge were brought before Valkorion.”

Immediately Eliza spun around and leaned forward with both her hands on the holo-terminal. “What?! And you’re only mentioning this now?! Does she know what happened?”

“Yes, she does.”

“Well then spit it out!” she demanded.

Me’ghan looked uneasy and grabbed Malavai’s hand while Nyssa hugged into Theron’s side and now everyone fell quiet—they’d never before received a first witness account of the events in Wild Space, and feared what Lana had to share.

“Regina told me they were both captured by Arcann after they rammed Darth Marr’s flagship into the fleet—it was their last stand, I suppose, but they survived.”

Lana clasped her nervous hands behind her back. “Upon confrontation with Valkorion, he confirmed to be the Sith Emperor and demanded they both kneel to him. He released them from their restraints. Darth Marr refused, choosing death over kneeling and he attacked. Lord Scourge came to his aid but…”

“Eliza, I am terribly sorry but, neither of them survived. Lord Scourge met his death at the exact moment Darth Marr did.”

All eyes turned to Eliza and Me’ghan’s breath wavered, she fought off a sob and Malavai pulled her closer. Lord Cytharat slid in next to Eliza, ready to comfort and support her but she ignored them all.

“No,” she stated firmly and with an eerie calm, dismissing all Lana told her, “I don’t buy it. That Regina woman is lying, making it up in hopes of breaking our spirit. I suggest you end her life and move on from this.”

“It’s the truth…” came a timid voice and Regina, who’d been waiting out of sight, now stepped forward to join Lana. “I saw everything and I was tasked with the disposal of their bodies afterward."

Eliza balled a fist and slammed it down against the terminal. “Prove it. Give me details!”

“Details?”

“Describe him, my husband! What did he look like, how are you certain it was him, what was said?!”

Theron cast a hopeful glance at the two women on the holo praying Regina had identified the wrong Sith, the wrong Pureblood, somehow. In an instant, he forgot all about his personal dilemma and his only concern now lay with not seeing all of Eliza’s hopes shattered—with not having to watch this break her.

“He was about 6ft2, large and a muscled built. Red skin, bald, fierce red eyes and he had several tendrils running down his jaw and chin. On both sides, on the largest of tendrils, he wore long, silver tubes and one of his brows was pierced.”

The face she still saw so often whether awake or asleep appeared again in her mind, Lord Scourge, and her balled fist now trembled but Eliza refused to give in. “And?”

“Valkorion made a comment of his former Wrath who’d betrayed him now finally getting his due. He appeared gleeful to have the man captured and mocked he should not have accepted the cure,” Regina continued, “I never quite understood what they spoke of.”

Eliza’s arm trembled too and the shaking began to pull through her entire body though she fought it still. “Lies, nothing but lies built on clever research. You’re a monster!”

Behind her, the first tears began to run down Me’ghan’s face and she silenced them against Malavai’s shoulder. Nyssa gripped Theron tighter and could feel her heart breaking for their friend though he held her only lightly and his focus was still on Eliza. A somber expression fell over Ravage and he took to staring down at the ground while Lord Cytharat prepared to catch Eliza should reality sink in.

“There was a ring on his finger…” Regina stepped out of view for a second and then returned holding up a small piece of jewelry. “I removed it before we… It’s two silver and black interwoven bands with a ruby sat on top of it…”

Eliza’s eyes glossed over as she stared at the ring and her voice broke. “What does it say, the engraving inside?”

“It reads... ‘nuyak nulis Eliza’.”

“Nooooo!!” a piercing, agonizing scream came from Eliza as though she’d just experienced a thousand deaths and her knees broke under the devastating news. She collapsed to the ground, a fist pounding against the floor and burning, heavy tears streamed down her face.

His ring was the one piece of evidence, of definitive proof she could not ignore or wave off as a fabrication. An item so personal and only she and Lord Scourge knew of the engraving—they’d had it done just hours before leaving for Wild Space.

Heartbreak filled the room and no one knew what to say, their silence only interrupted by the continuous, choked up sobs of Eliza. Lord Cytharat kneeled down next to her and without having the strength to support herself, she fell into his arms.

“I’m… I’m so very sorry…” Regina spoke, almost in a whisper and sorrow and regret lingered in her eyes but Eliza wouldn’t have it.

As if triggered, she suddenly rose up again while the room filled with dark energy. Anger, hatred and seething rage surged through her. Several cabinets and archives shook and her irises turned a deep shade of red. Eliza extended her arm forward, her eyes narrowed upon Regina and she reached out through the distance between them by using her powers to grip the woman’s throat.

“Sorry? You! Are sorry?!” Her fingers curled up tighter and she hissed through gritted teeth, “You stood and watched as two innocent men were killed and you helped dispose of their bodies… and now you’re sorry?!”

With each word she spoke, furnishings and objects within the room shook once more. The ground trembled and dust came trickling down from the ceiling.

“Eliza stop!” Ravage rushed forward but with a simple wave of her free hand she threw him back and he collided with one of the support beams.

“I want her dead!” Eliza screamed out and began choking Regina. “I want her to know what it feels like to be dying, to feel your life force slip away while those around you just stand by and watch as she did!”

“Eliza please, stop this!” Lana begged in panic but there was nothing she could do.

“Eliza!” Lord Cytharat grabbed her arm but she took no notice of his presence.

The dark energy surrounding them caused everyone else in the room to struggle but Theron broke through it all. Doing the only thing he could think to do, he pushed his feet toward the holo-terminal and reached for the control panel. He shut it off, severing their connection with Lana and Regina and as soon as they were gone, Eliza’s powers let up and the darkness pulled away.

“NO!” Eliza yelled and turned on him with fury in her eyes. “No, bring them back! Bring them back Theron now!”

“It won’t change anything.” He stood his ground and even took a step closer to her. “Killing her will not bring him back.”

“Shut up! I want her dead!”

“No, you don’t,” Theron insisted and put his hands on her shoulders.

Furiously she shoved him once and then a second time but he kept coming back. When she tried once more he wrapped his arms around her instead and Eliza began pounding her fists against his chest.

“No! No, no no! No! No… please, please no… no,” she begged and her tears returned. She broke down again and while holding her still, they sank to the floor where Eliza curled up in Theron’s lap and continued to cry, showing no sign of stopping this time.

 

Chapter Text

“Scourge!” Eliza giggled and squealed when he picked her up in his arms and carried her to their quarters aboard the Vanora, making quite a show of it and nipping at her lips. “What’s gotten into you?”

They’d only just left the medical center on Dromund Kaas to fly out into Wild Space, heeding Darth Marr’s call for assistance. Both sensed the urgency and potential danger that lay in their future but right now they chose to ignore it. They’d have about a week before even reaching the Achlys and tonight, their happy news required celebrating.

“Fatherhood.” He kissed her again and sat her down on their bed. “Because my beautiful wife is pregnant with our first child.”

“First huh? Does that mean you’re hoping for more?”

“If the Force favors us.” Lord Scourge removed his boots and armor and crawled into bed next to her. “Eliza, I was immortal for over three hundred years—I’d never imagined the day would come where I would marry, let alone father any children.”

Pure adoration shone through his eyes in a rare moment where he appeared truly happy, his guard down and his joy evident. His fingers ran through her hair and while Eliza unbuttoned her shirt, his hungry lips came crashing onto hers. Before long all their clothes lay discarded on the floor and arms and legs entangled in a lustful exchange of their love.

The whole galaxy fell away and nothing else mattered now. His kiss, his touch, the deep affection which resonated in his voice, the gentle panting and sighs that escaped his lips, they were all Eliza needed.

“I love you,” Lord Scourge sighed out and he brought her hand up to plant tender kisses against each of her fingertips.

“I love you too… always.”

The passion between them crescendoed, reaching for new heights as the Vanora drifted through hyperspace. Their lips met again, hungrier now. Wanting and Lord Scourge bit down gently, soothing the nip over with his tongue as he buried himself deep and reached his climax, quickly followed by Eliza who cried out in pure bliss.

“It’s a girl, I’m sure of it.” Lord Scourge smiled once they came back down from their high. They lay together, Eliza’s arm draped across his chest and her leg entwined between his.

“You believe so?”

“I can sense her through you, and she is much like you.”

Eliza chuckled. “How could you possibly sense that already? I’m only about two months into my pregnancy.”

“Trust me, nuyak nulis, I can. We should consider a name for her.”

“I… I’d actually considered if we ever had children…” she hesitated, unsure as to how he’d take her suggestion, “if we had a daughter we could… name her after your mother?”

“My mother?” Lord Scourge was surprised, but pleasantly so. “Why?”

“To honor your family. You’ve spoken of her with such admiration and affection and the name Cyara… I think it’s beautiful.”

He sought out her lips, pouring his approval and gratitude into the kiss. “How about Cyara Savannah, in honor of both our mothers?”

“I’d love that.”

Lord Scourge held her close, his fingers idly playing through her hair and down her spine as both fantasized about the future—about the family they were now building together. As the thoughts played through his mind, however, Lord Scourge’s expression grew somber and Eliza frowned.

“What is it, love?”

“This new enemy, and the Emperor… whatever it is we’re about to find once we reach Marr’s flagship, you understand there is a possibility—”

“No. Don’t go there. We’ll face it together, we’ll win and return home, together.”

Her insistence brought a smile to his face but Lord Scourge knew they had to be realistic. He could feel the threat through the Force and down to his bones—what awaited them now was unlike anything he’d sensed before, unlike anything they’d ever faced. Ominous and life-changing.

“Eliza if something were to happen to me, either now or in ten years from today—”

She kissed his lips and held him tighter, attempting to silence him and avoid this conversation but he wasn’t so easily swayed to drop it.

“I need you to promise me you’ll go on without me. Raise and love our daughter, and make a life for yourself. Don’t linger in my death, don’t destroy yourself seeking revenge, don’t close off your heart.”

“Scourge… without you I, just thinking about it hurts in unimaginable ways and I cannot bear it.”

“I know but this is important, Eliza. Neither of us knows what will happen next and you… you’ve come so far. There was a time where I believed you’d never love, you’d never reach out and grab life to explore all its wonders, forever tied to the Jedi’s dogma but now look at you. I just couldn’t bear it if my death robbed you of all those experiences once more.”

He cupped her chin in his hand. “So promise me. Promise you won’t stop living, promise you won’t stop loving. Promise you won’t be consumed by vengeance. For me.”

Eventually, she nodded, seeing the earnest in his eyes and knowing he’d not drop the matter until she agreed, “I promise.”

 

 

The memory played on a constant loop while Eliza wept broken and bitter tears, her heart shattering further each time it beat. A void was born within her, brought into existence by the hope that had abandoned her now, the hope she’d lived on for the past years. The void demanded tribute, feeding, and Eliza gave it those things she had left to give—her anger, her hatred, and her pain.

At last, she let go of Theron and rose to her feet. “Transfer the coordinates for Odessen to my ship.”

He exchanged a concerned glance with Lord Cytharat and frowned. “Eliza, I don’t think that’s wise.”

“I wasn’t asking for your opinion, was I?” she snarled, “They die, all of them! Regina, Arcann, Vaylin, and every damn Knight and Skytrooper involved in the attack. Anyone who stood by and watched, and I will raze Zakuul to the ground if I have to!

“And if there’s even a hint of the Emperor left, the tiniest essence in the galaxy, I will find that too and destroy it!”

“Eliza…” Me’ghan slipped from Malavai’s arms and tried to take her hands. “I know you’re hurting but this isn’t the way to deal with that.”

Eliza flinched away, arguing, “No? What would you do if it were Malavai?! Tell me you wouldn’t want to watch those responsible burn, to hurt and destroy them as they have you!”

“I would want to, of course, but where would it end? What will you do when you’ve killed them all? Your pain will still be there, none of it will bring him back to you so then what?”

Her eyes flashed again, threatening to unleash the darkness hissing eagerly inside of her. “Acina, she’d be next!

“I’ll hunt down every vile piece of garbage to ever stand in my way, anyone who ever supported Vitiate, his precious guard! They’ll all burn and I—”

“Stop!” Ravage bellowed and grabbed her arm, gripping her tight. “As much as I’d love to see you rain destruction, you can’t do this! It would destroy who you are and you’d become just like him Eliza, you’d become the tyrant Vitiate was! Is that what you want?!”

His free hand closed around her jaw when she tried to look away and he forced her to face him. “Is it?! And what about your daughter, what happens to her while you’re off becoming the very monster you’ve been trying to protect her from huh?”

Eliza moved to strike him in anger but he caught her wrist and smirked. “Oh no, none of that, not down here. If you want to fight, we’ll take it outside but first, you’re going to listen.”

“Hey! Ease up,” Theron tried and came between them, not liking what he was seeing.

“Back off boy scout!” Ravage growled in a warning, “I know what I’m doing!”

“Enough, both of you!” Malavai snapped and stood up to Ravage, “Let her go, now!”

He turned to Eliza and took a clean handkerchief from his pocket, tipping her chin up to dab away her tears. “We all understand your pain and if I were in your shoes, I’d want the same—revenge. To inflict the pain I’m feeling on those who caused it.

“I love you, Eliza, and I will follow you blindly if this is the course of action you wish to take but please, stop and think first.”

“They have to pay…” Her anger subsided slowly while she looked up at her uncle, reading the genuine concern in his eyes and her bottom lip quivered. “For all they’ve done to him, to us, all of us.”

“And they will,” Lord Cytharat promised her, “when the time is right, they will. We all have your back but the others are right—if you do this now, fueled by pain and pure hatred, there’ll be no coming back from it.”

Lord Cytharat wrapped an arm around her and Eliza leaned into his shoulder. Malavai held her hand, and with the other he took Me’ghan’s hand, pulling her in. They heard the front door slam shut and excited little footsteps running around above them before those same footsteps came dashing down the stairs.

“Mommy, mommy!” Cyara ran to her mother, ignoring everything else, and beamed up at her with chocolate covered lips. “Lilah took us for icey creams! Guess what flavor I hads!”

Eliza stood startled, like a deer caught in the headlights. She hadn’t expected her daughter home yet nor did she know what to tell the little girl who’d no doubt notice something was amiss.

It was a difficult situation because Cyara was raised with the knowledge her father was dead. As much as Eliza herself had clung to hope, she couldn’t bear to force that same hope upon her daughter and allow her child to long for him each day. A wise decision, everyone had agreed, but it complicated matters now.

“Mommy?” The toddler looked up when her mother didn’t respond and the scarcely defined ridges of her brows furrowed. “Why sads? Was there another bad lady who trieds to hurts you?”

Selene frowned as well, sucking her index finger and she peered at all the adults gathered. Her little feet carried her over to Malavai who picked her up in his arms. She too could sense something was wrong.

It took Eliza a few seconds to find her voice while she knelt down to her daughter’s level. “No sweetheart it’s… it’s your daddy.”

“You misses him?”

“Yeah…” Eliza tried to find a way of explaining her upset without sharing the whole story and causing her daughter unnecessary pain, “You uh… you know how sometimes you will ask me when daddy’s coming home, even though deep down you know he won’t?”

“Uh huhs.” The toddler nodded and sucked her thumb. “Because I misses him and wants to meet hims but I knows he is in the Force nows with uncie Marr and other Siths.”

“Mmm, he is, yes. The thing is though, there are times where I really miss him too and I will imagine him coming home, I’ll imagine what it would be like to see him again if he came back to us but…” Eliza bent the truth a little, “then I’m reminded that he won’t be coming home, ever, and it makes me very sad.”

She took a tissue and wiped the chocolate from Cyara’s face and hands while the latter considered her mother’s words, letting out a gentle sigh before nodding, “It hurts.”

A single tear rolled down Eliza’s cheek which Cyara caught with her thumb. She stood up on her tippy toes and cupped her mother’s face between her hands before planting a butterfly kiss on her lips.

“It’s okays to be sad mommy, I’s here.” The toddler wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck.

Selene held on to Malavai even tighter and kissed his cheek. She was too young to fully understand what was going on and she hadn’t known loss but something urged her to show her own father just how much she loved him, and Malavai kissed her forehead in return. He wrapped his free arm around Me’ghan who hugged them both, and he counted his blessings.

Nyssa winked one of her own tears away and looked on, wishing there was something she could do. Wishing she knew Eliza well enough to help and, to combat her own sense of uselessness, she wandered over to Ravage instead. He’d hit his head pretty hard when Eliza had thrown him earlier and he had a small cut on the back of his skull, a thing Nyssa tended to now with some kolto.

“Do you thinks he watches over us?” Cyara asked her mother, “Uncie Cyfarat says the Force is all arounds us, does that means daddy is with us toos?”

“I…” It was a thing Eliza hadn’t really considered. She hadn’t thought of the Force in that way, not since her last encounter with Orgus Din’s Force ghost. “Yeah… yeah, I think he is, and he’s definitely watching over you.”

“That makes me feels a bits better.” Cyara simply smiled. “Mommy… you’ll always be withs me too right? I won’ts lose you like we lost daddy?”

A lump formed in Eliza’s throat and the question had a sobering effect. They’d all been right, as much as she hated it—she couldn’t just go off and wreak havoc, give in to her darkest impulses no matter how much she wanted to.

‘Raise and love our daughter… don’t destroy yourself seeking revenge,’ Lord Scourge’s words ran through her mind once again and she sighed, heavily.

“You won’t lose me, I promise…” Eliza picked her up and nuzzled her affectionately. “You and I will always have each other.”

“And auntie Megs and uncie Malafly and Shelene. Hrm… uncie Markus and uncie Cyfarat and…” Cyara counted on her fingers and pondered, “is Mistur Therons and Miss Nyssha our families too now?”

“You’ll have to ask them, sweetheart.” Eliza glanced at Theron. “See if they mind you calling them uncle and aunt too.”

Cyara reached over her mother’s embrace, her short arms stretching out to Theron, beckoning him over and demanding to be held. “Wells are you Mistur?”

He lifted her from Eliza’s arms and smiled. The tip of his index finger playfully tapped the button of Cyara’s nose, causing her to giggle, and he kissed her cheek. “Of course I am, and we’re all here for you and your mother.”

Nyssa wiped her hands clean and though she still felt a little insecure, unsure of how to be helpful and whether the fresh widow would even want her support, she walked over to Eliza and hugged her. “How about Theron and I take her upstairs so you can… you know, catch your breath?”

“Yeah… that’s a good idea.” Eliza smiled and held her, appreciating the offer. “Thank you.”

“I like your thingies,” Cyara chatted away to Theron, touching and inspecting his cranial implants while he carried her off, “uncie Markus has thems toos but hims looks different. What do theys do?”

Me’ghan took Selene from Malavai’s arms and kissed him dotingly before she followed after them.

Once they’d left, Eliza blew out a deep breath and buried her face in her hands, shaking her head. She felt hopeless and torn, a part of her still thirsting for blood while the other reminded her of the promise. Furthermore, heartbroken as she was, a part of her was angry with Lord Scourge as well. How could he ever ask her to move on, to not turn the entire galaxy inside out seeking vengeance?

“I still don’t understand,” she admitted at last to those still with her, sifting through the vast ocean of thoughts tormenting her mind, “I didn’t feel his death, how could that be? How could he be gone without me ever sensing it?”

“Based on what Lana told us, it is possible the magnitude of Marr’s passing overshadowed Scourge’s,” Lord Cytharat offered, having wondered the same.

“Maybe.” Eliza frowned.

“I want that ring,” she said next, looking up at him. “We’ll go ahead as planned. Tomorrow, you, Theron, and Nyssa will leave for Odessen. You’ll get the ring back for me and lock Regina in holding. Theron might protest, I don’t care. I want to question her in person once I get there myself.”

Lord Cytharat nodded. “I’ll take care of it, I promise you.”

 

 

Night fell over Rishi hours later and while most of the household had gone to bed, Eliza wandered out onto the patio, wrapping her fine-knitted cardigan firmly around herself. She blew out a deep breath and closed her eyes, her thoughts returning to her husband.

She leaned forward against the railing, her arms folded underneath her chest. “I miss you… I miss you so much it’s suffocating me and I wish you were here to tell me what to do next. How to do any of this.”

The stars above her twinkled in such a way you’d think they swayed to the sweetest of melodies. “You made me promise but you never told me how, Scourge. How to quench my thirst for revenge, how moving on works and I don’t think I can ever love again. I’m not sure I want to and you were a fool to suggest it.

“Maybe it’ll just be Cyara and I from now on because, Scourge, I’m not sure I could ever love another quite as I…” her voice trailed off and unwittingly her mind flitted to Theron, which she bitterly swallowed back with a pang of guilt. “... love you.”

She looked up at the sky above her as though she’d hoped an answer, a response of any kind would be written in the stars but all they did was carry on their gentle waltz. “I wish you’d known your daughter. She needs you… she feels your missing so much she’s adopting everyone we know as family. It’s cute, I admit, but it’s telling… she’s trying to fill the void you left behind.”

A small hissing sound of the sliding doors behind her disturbed her thoughts and footsteps drew nearer across the wooden planking until they stopped right beside her. She turned her head and met a pair of dark blue eyes.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Ravage asked.

“I don’t want to yet.”

He nodded. “I know it’s a foolish question but, is there anything I can do?”

She leaned into his side. “You’ve already done it by keeping Cyara distracted this evening and tucking her into bed. It helped, I don’t want her to see me cry all the time, so thank you.”

“She worries about you. She may not grasp everything that’s going on but she knows enough and all she wants is to make you smile.”

“When she’s older I will explain it all in full, tell her the real truth. I just see no point in admitting to her now that I…” Her voice trailed off and doubt mixed with sorrow furrowed her brows. “Do you think I was foolish to cling to hope as I did?”

“No. You kept faith in him and the love you shared, even against all odds. I do not believe that to be a foolish thing.”

Eliza turned herself towards him, her elbow resting on the banister. “Do you really think so?”

“I know so.”

Ravage backed away and sat himself down on one of the deck loungers, his legs on either side and he patted the empty spot between them, calling her over.

“I know what it’s like to hold out hope, to be so convinced you can beat the odds,” he began sharing with her, opening up about his own experience, “To desperately want for your hope to become truth and cling on with all you’ve got. Believing so strongly that the love you share can overcome anything.”

“Your wife…” Eliza spoke softly and sat down with him, her back leaning into his chest and he wrapped his arms around hers.

“Yes, my beautiful Alura. I never gave up hope no matter how sick and frail she became. Even in the end after she’d drawn her last breath, I sat by her side expecting her to wake up again.”

His voice was layered with sadness and regret and Eliza felt a shiver coursing through her, feeling the pain which echoed through his words. Believing her to be cold, Ravage gently rubbed his hands over her arms as he continued.

“After all, I was Darth Ravage, member of the Dark Council and she was the love of my life. Nothing and no one in the galaxy would dare take her from me, would dare to tear us apart. We’d been in love since we were teenagers and our love would defy even death.

“Or so I believed. The Force had already claimed our daughter and I was convinced it would not, could not, take my Alura as well.”

“You’ve never spoken of her before,” Eliza said carefully, treading with caution because the last thing she wanted now was to awaken one of his foul moods.

“I saw no need to. People tend to respond with pity, with mournful looks but their pity won’t bring her back to me. It’s a pointless sentiment.” He sounded brusque though quickly, his tone softened again too. “But you need to know you are not alone in this. You’re understood. I know your pain.”

“Does it ever go away?”

“No. It will always be there but with time, it will become more bearable. The good memories will soothe the pain, give you strength and a reason to smile and you will make your peace treasuring what you had.”

“Right now I’m just plagued by ‘what ifs’ and an inability to understand how this could be,” she admitted and turned further into his embrace, nestling her head down against his chest.

“Do you want to tell me about those thoughts?”

“What if I’d caught on to what he was trying to do and stopped him? What if I’d been at his side to face Vitiate? I was prophesized to defeat him, to put an end to the Sith Emperor’s reign.

“My grandfather said he saw Scourge and I together in ‘years from now’, and that was just a few months before Scourge died. It doesn’t make any sense. Could Scourge’s decision have twisted our fates that much? Undone what my grandfather saw, what the prophecies said?”

Ravage rest his chin on her head and he considered her question. “I’m unsure. Fate is a fickle thing, as is the Force. In my belief, nothing is ever certain, not even visions or prophecies.”

“Do you think I could have done it? Defeated Vitiate, saved Scourge?”

“Mmm, Eliza… you,” he smiled to himself, remembering, “you were a thorn in my sight long before I met you, you know? This perky little Jedi Knight always disrupting Imperial affairs, always getting in our way and always standing victorious defeating some of our most powerful Sith. Even back then I admired your skill and strength, as much as I hated it too.

“And then I met you and actually felt what you were capable of. The sheer power, the darkness running through your veins when you defeated Aruk… yes, I believe you could and would have done it. Beyond a doubt.

“But,” he added quickly before she’d have a chance to dwell on things that could not be changed now, “Lord Scourge made a choice for both of you. He chose for you and Cyara to survive, and live, placing his love for the two of you above any prophecy, above fate which for the man he was, is quite unique. It’s painful but it was his last gift to you and all you can do now is cherish it.”

“Thank you.” Eliza nodded, taking in his every word and accepting their truth while a single tear trickled down her cheek.

Talking like this brought her the first sense of comfort she’d felt all day and she realized he knew her pain like no other. He’d been widowed for years, as she was now. “Will you tell me about her, your wife?”

“Alura? Oh, she was… breathtaking. Deep, blood-red hair and eyes like sapphires. Powerful in her younger years.

“The first time I laid eyes on her, a group of acolytes at the Sith Academy were harassing her. They mocked her upbringing, called her lowborn and a slave, threatened her and pushed her around. I was about to intervene but…” Ravage closed his eyes and for a second just quietly relished in his own memories.

“She didn’t need my help. Her training blades came out and in the blink of an eye, she’d cut the leader of their clique down, sending the others running. She had a satisfied and somewhat smug grin on her face and when she sheathed her blades, our eyes met.

“Hers twinkled and she gave me a playful smile, asking if I would tell on her to the Overseer—I never did. She had me right then and there with that smile of hers, that coy pout.”

“She sounds like your type, and lovely,” Eliza murmured, sleepily but grateful to hear him open up.

“She was. The love of my life and from that day forward, we were always together. We even finished our trials out together and married shortly after we were assigned to Dromund Kaas. I began working for Darth Surak in Diplomacy and she became a member of the Sphere of Ancient Knowledge until Thanaton forced her out.

“He’d tried to lure her to his bed but she rejected him, bruising his ego. I could have killed him and would have, but Alura convinced me not to. I was about to join the Dark Council myself and she didn’t want me to jeopardize that. She also did not mind having lost her position—she was pregnant and looking forward to raising our own family.”

“You must have delighted in his death…” Eliza stifled a yawn and curled up against him.

“Mm yes, one of the few good things Nox ever did.”

Ravage glanced down at Eliza and noticed her eyelids had shut. He’d expected further questions but silence filled the next few minutes until a gentle snore came from her end. Rather than risk waking her by moving her and carrying her inside, he wrapped her up tight in his arms and then closed his own eyes, giving into the sleep that beckoned.

 

Chapter Text

Her body, her soul, her heart, they still ached but Eliza had made a decision for herself when she woke up that following morning—she would live the life Lord Scourge wanted her to have. Revenge lay in her future, of that she was certain but for the moment the thing she really needed to do was put one foot before the other. Get through the day, keep breathing, try to smile and just live. Live until her moment would come and she’d snuff out every man and woman responsible for her pain and loss.

Right now, Theron and Lord Cytharat were in Raider’s Cove picking up supplies while Me’ghan and Eliza helped Nyssa pack for the journey to Odessen.

“You know,” Nyssa said while folding her clothes, “when I was little I wanted to become a Jedi so badly. I was positively crushed when my parents explained about the Force and that I didn’t have it in me. Then a few weeks later my little sister became ill and all I wanted then was to cure her. It’s why I became a nurse.”

“What was wrong with her?” Me’ghan asked.

“Common flu, nothing horrible but you know as a kid even the little stuff seems life-changing.”

“Tell me about it. Selene had a papercut a while back, screamed as though half her finger had been amputated.”

Eliza nodded. “I remember that. Cyara spent all day fussing over her. One of the few times they’ve not argued over one thing or another.”

“They were truly sweet with Theron after the shuttle crash. One morning I was getting him ready for his physical therapy and they decided to help. Brought him mismatched socks which they proceeded to slide onto his feet, backward and inside out.” Nyssa recalled with a smile.

“Cyara she uh, she called me ‘aunty Nyssha’ this morning… are you sure that’s alright with you?” She looked to Eliza.

“Yeah, it’s fine. Everyone is family to her and I think it helps her you know?”

“Right, yes because… yeah.” Nyssa understood. “I think it’s sweet in any case.”

“Hey, in your time as a nurse, have you ever come across any patients with a disease known as hypophosphatasia?” Eliza quickly changed the subject, deciding to sate her curiosity rather than land herself in a conversation about Lord Scourge.

“Hmm, I have once… terrible disease, especially in infants. Why do you ask?”

“Is that what…?” Me’ghan gave Eliza a knowing look and the latter nodded.

“Ravage’s wife had it… and so did his daughter.”

“His daughter?!” Me’ghan shrieked, a little too loud and Eliza gestured for her to lower her voice. “I didn’t know he had one.”

“And don’t ever let him find out that you do know now but, yes. She passed away when she was only a few months old, died of the same disease that took her mother.”

Nyssa frowned and let out a small sigh. “The baby boy we had at the med center… oh, it was heartbreaking.

“Just a few weeks old and we could barely change his diaper or wash him without risk of shattering his bones. The smallest movement, even his own, risked death and before long he passed away due to respiratory failure. His parents only got to hold him once…”

“Stars…” Me’ghan breathed out quietly.

Eliza chewed on the inside of her lip, wondering, “And in adults…?”

“The deterioration progresses much slower. It starts with a softening of the bones, recurrent fractures which lead to chronic pain, a lot of joint pain and there's risk of spine fractures. Walking will no longer be an option, you need around the clock care with bathing, bathroom habits. Need to be fed things such as soups as the jaw begins to deteriorate as well. It’s an agonizing process I imagine and in adults, it also leads to death due to respiratory problems.”

“I never knew…” Eliza sighed and she imagined the struggles Ravage must have faced with his wife and daughter.

After he’d opened up to her the previous night, she’d become curious but couldn’t bring herself to ask the more confrontational questions, unwilling to hurt him. Still, she wanted to at least have some understanding of what he’d gone through.

“I’m not a fan of his, sorry to say, but that’s a terrible thing for any person to go through. And you say it happened to his wife and his daughter?” Nyssa asked.

Eliza nodded. “Yeah…”

“Are you and Ravage…” Nyssa began carefully, “I apologize if it’s not any of my business and I don’t mean to sound insensitive given… you know, but, you and him, are you…?”

“No. We had a… kind of a needs-based thing? But nothing serious.”

“Isn’t he a bit old though?”

Me’ghan snorted, unintentionally, and answered for Eliza without thought, “That’s never stopped her before. Scourge was technically over three hundred years old and Vowrawn’s well in his seventies. Though age does affect us Force users, and Purebloods especially, differently.”

“Wait, as in Darth Vowrawn? Cyara’s hold-father? When was this?” Nyssa frowned curiously.

“While she and Scourge were broken up for a while.”

“Broken up?”

Eliza shot Me’ghan a glare and tried to stop her, unsure of how much Theron had told Nyssa, but the brunette had already spilled the beans, “Yeah they hit a rough spot after the whole Theron business.”

“Ahh, after the Yavin incident?”

“You know about that?” Now it was Eliza’s turn to be surprised, and curious.

“Theron told me everything—he had to when he introduced me to Jonas who kept referring to you as ‘the one who got away’.”

“Oh… sorry…” she said a little uncomfortably and her eyes shot daggers at Me’ghan for raising the subject in the first place.

“Don’t be. It wasn’t easy at first but we all have a past right? Including a romantic one. Heck, one of Theron’s former SIS colleagues is my ex-boyfriend. Besides, it was years ago and since then you’ve both married different people, you even had a daughter.” Nyssa smiled reassuringly.

“Your friendship is important to him and he has so few people in his life who actually care about him and love him. I’m glad he has you.”

“Thank you… his friendship, and now yours is important to me too.” Eliza managed to inch up the corners of her mouth a little but a true smile stayed out.

“So did you ever have the displeasure of meeting your hellish mother in law?” Me’ghan quickly segued to the matter of Satele while throwing Eliza an apologetic look.

With all she’d been through in the past twenty-four hours, Me’ghan had become set on providing Eliza with a sense of normalcy, to help her get through the day but now she scolded herself for the callous comment. Worrying she’d been too insensitive but Eliza slid closer, hugging her and then took the suitcase they’d just finished packing.

Nyssa grimaced. “Once, right before she vanished into thin air. Most awkward lunch I’ve ever had. It was tormenting trying to break through the wall of silence between her and Theron.”

Me’ghan and Nyssa began an exchange of gossip and stories but Eliza drowned them both out, distracted by her own mind.

‘The one who got away,’ the words repeated and she found herself wondering if that still held true though right now, each thought of Theron came paired with visions of Lord Scourge.

‘We could have been married for longer if I hadn’t…’ Another notion teased though she tried to shrug it off. There was no point in any ‘ifs’ now and yet for a moment, she could not help but feel she’d wasted precious time in her emotional tug of war between both men.

“I’m uh,” Eliza started and let out a half-hearted chuckle, “Cytharat gave me a whole list of things to pack for him so…” she sought to excuse herself—there was only so much ‘keeping strong’ she could handle in one sitting.

“Go ahead, we’ve got this.” Me’ghan smiled.

‘Keep brave, hold your head high, just from one minute to the next. Tears won’t bring him back, breaking won’t return him to your arms, just keep moving and breathe,’  the mantra recited in Eliza’s head while she rolled a cargo crate into Lord Cytharat’s room.

 


 

“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer if we stayed, just for a few days more?” Nyssa asked when the time came to say goodbye.

“I’m sure.” Eliza hugged her and managed a smile. “I’ve got my uncle, Meg, and Ravage. I’ll be okay and we will join you all soon.”

“Hm, it’s the Ravage part that worries me,” Lord Cytharat whispered to her when he heard and he was the next to embrace her.

“He… I can handle him and he’s, he has his good moments.”

She watched as they disappeared up the boarding ramp, then stepped away to say farewell to Theron who tarried loading the last of their cargo.

“I hate leaving you like this. I wasn’t there for you the first time and now…” He sighed, visibly struggling.

“You are here for me Theron, and you will be even when you leave. Getting everything in order on Odessen, assisting Lana, it helps. One less thing for me to worry about and really… what else could you do? What else can I do now?”

He looked into her eyes, still puffy and red from the constant emotional war she waged. An amber-golden aura outlined her blue irises now as a permanent reminder of the darkness she’d almost given into the day before. It worried him, beyond words, and yet they looked even more beautiful this way.

“Promise you’ll call if there is anything…” Theron leaned in, folding his arms around her. “Anything at all, and I’ll come running.”

Her head nestled against his chest, under his chin. “I promise.”

“I uh, I—”

“Be safe, Theron,” Eliza said quickly because she couldn’t bear to hear what he might say next.

“Of course.” He swallowed his words quickly, taking her cue and while it was an acceptable sentiment among friends, for him it would always mean more and would feel like another betrayal to his wife.

Instead, he held her just for a moment longer with his lips pressed to her forehead and then he finally broke away. He boarded the ship, joining Nyssa and Lord Cytharat and minutes later, they took to the atmosphere.

“I’ve just spoken with Richard and Kirin,” Malavai announced when Eliza came back inside the house, “they’ll be here in a few days.”

“For the kids? Have you decided then?”

“For you,” he corrected, “though should we decide to go to Odessen without Selene and Cyara, I’m sure they’ll extend their stay.”

Me’ghan poured them all some tea and sat down. “What do you want to do, Eliza?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I’m conflicted. I mean, on the one hand, I’m thinking Cyara will be the safest right by my side, yes?

“At the same time though, being by my side might be the very thing to put her at risk. Nowhere in the galaxy is truly safe but, Rishi is safer than Odessen.”

“That has been our dilemma as well,” Malavai admitted and took Me’ghan’s hand, “we were up most of the night discussing it.”

“And? What was your conclusion?”

“I think we need to minimize the risks they’d be exposed to. As much as we want them by our side, I’m inclined to believe they’ll be safer here with their grandparents.” Me’ghan sighed.

She hated the idea of leaving her daughter behind, leaving her at all for the first time since she’d been born and Malavai shared those sentiments.

“We always knew this time would come,” he said solemnly as a man now torn between duty and honor and his responsibilities as a father, “to resume our duties and fight in the war.”

Eliza swallowed hard and she struggled just as bad, if not more so. After all, she’d promised Lord Scourge to raise their daughter and now she’d be leaving Cyara behind instead while going off to fight a war. To fight those who murdered Cyara’s father and that was the justification she would hold on to, the thing she’d remind herself of if doubt struck.

“I think you’re both right, they’ll be better off staying here.”

As if on cue, the two girls came rushing into the living room both carrying a piece of paper and followed by Ravage who leaned against the doorway.

“Mommy, daddy, this is mes when I grow bigs like you and becomes a Sithy!” Selene handed over the drawing she’d been working on all morning.

The image showed her all grown up, dressed in Malavai’s Imperial uniform while wielding a double set of lightsabers and Me’ghan chuckled. “That’s wonderful baby.”

“I tolds her Sithys don’t wear Imperials clothes but she won’ts listen!” Cyara pointed out.

“Well I wants to be like my mommy and my daddy, okays? So hims uniform and Sithy whoosh whooshings!” Selene tried to imitate the sound of a lightsaber, making wild gestures.

Eliza snorted and smiled down at her own daughter. “And what did you make?”

“Us!” she beamed proudly, showing off a surprisingly detailed depiction of herself, Eliza and Lord Scourge all stood together hand in hand, like a family. “Uncie Markus helped me lots drawing daddy! He dids all the lines but I did the colorings!”

“Oh, sweetheart, that’s…” The image caught her off guard and Eliza’s hand trembled as she stared at the drawing. “It’s absolutely beautiful.” She knelt down and hugged Cyara close.

It took all her strength not to fall apart once more but she was helped by an odd sense of comfort washing over her when Ravage put his hand on her shoulder. She rose back up and he whispered to her.

“I hope you do not mind. She wanted to make it for you because there are no family holographs of the three of you…”

Eliza met his eyes and nodded. “Thank you, it was sweet of you to help her,” she assured him and then looked at the drawing once more. She put on a brave smile and picked Cyara up. “Do you want to hang this somewhere?”

“Yes! In a pretty frame above the fireyplace where uncie Marr is toos. Theres!” She pointed over her mother’s shoulder.

“Alright.” Eliza kissed the top of Cyara’s head. “Let’s go see if we have a frame somewhere in storage.”

“That was a kind thing you did, my Lord,” Malavai felt compelled to admit to Ravage after Eliza left.

He just shrugged, took an empty glass and his bottle of cognac from the drinking cart and vanished.

“Hey daddy,” Selene said, climbing onto the sofa and she sat herself down between her parents, “mommy, what is Obessens and whys the others leave?”

 

Chapter Text

“Oww, fuck!” Eliza cried out and gritted her teeth, “Oh damn!”

Ravage panted, taking a moment to catch his breath, “Did I hurt you?”

“No. Well…” She looked at her arm, showing the searing red mark he’d left there and groaned, “It’s, yeah a little but, it’s soothing over already.”

He sheathed his blade and retrieved a tube of kolto-cream. “Here, this should help. I told you we should have used training swords instead.”

“I know, I know. As always, you were right,” she sassed.

It had been four weeks since the news of Lord Scourge’s death broke and now they were en route to Odessen, at last. They stood in the hull of the Vanora, a section Eliza had transformed into a training area and with Ravage’s help, she’d spent each day practicing. Honing her skills and preparing for the battles ahead.

“I usually am, yes.” He smirked and handed her a bottle of water. “That was good work but you still favor your left side too often, it makes you predictable.”

“Says the man wasting all his efforts just attacking and leaving himself completely vulnerable to counter-strikes,” Eliza teased.

She took a small bandage and covered up the burn on her arm, then picked up her blades. “Again.”

“Are you sure?” He stepped closer, twirling a lock of hair that lay over her shoulder around his finger and it quickly became clear he had something else entirely in mind. “There are other things we could do if you find yourself with an excess of energy…”

“Is that so?”

“Mm.” His hand traveled further down, skimming the side of her breast.

Eliza stared up into his eyes, her lips parted and he waited eagerly to hear that sigh of delight of hers that he enjoyed so much. He leaned in, expecting her mouth to be seeking his but instead she suddenly grabbed his wrist. She turned her body into his and in one fluid motion flipped him over her shoulder, throwing him down to the floor.

“And what might that be?” She grinned at the startled look on his face when she joined him on the floor and straddled him, prepared to give him exactly what he’d hoped for but just not how he’d imagined it to happen, though he offered no protest.

She tore the upper part of his robes open and let her nails drag across his chest, feeling the small hairs tickle against her fingers. “I mean, you know the rules… right?”

They’d rekindled their affair several days ago but with the understanding it wasn’t a relationship. She didn’t want one and she wasn’t in love with him—she wasn’t ready to truly love anyone right now and Ravage had come to accept it, promising not to push for more than she could give.

What she needed from him these days was good old satisfaction for her hunger. Sweet relief for those cravings that didn’t abide by the laws of her heart and emotions. An outlet for her pain and for the constant tension within her body that she couldn’t shake any other way.

He leered up at her, watching her in awe while she unbuttoned her top. “I do, and nothing’s changed for me.”

The short-sleeved corset she’d worn fell away, exposing her bare chest and Eliza leaned down, playfully nipping at his bottom lip. “Mm good…” She sighed out, rolling her hips down over his pelvis, working him up further.

He found her ankles on either side of his body and let his hands slip under the hem of her long skirt. Caressing and kneading her legs, reaching higher until he dipped between her thighs. His fingers teased, searching for the lining of her underwear and he quirked a brow in amusement when he found none.

“Someone came prepared… I’m starting to think training wasn’t the only thing on your mind when you got dressed this morning.”

She smiled in innocence against his lips, biting and deepening the kiss while her hands reached between their bodies, desperate to get his robes out of the way so she could feel him. “Like you haven’t been thinking the same from the second you got up.”

“I…” he tried to say but his next words were drowned out by the deep groan rumbling up his throat, encouraged by feeling her sink down over his hard-on and she welcomed him with a pleasant moan. “Fuck…”

His utterings caused her to grin and Eliza delighted being the one in control, having him at her mercy. She took one of his hands and guided it between her thighs, to the one spot aching for his touch and he obeyed immediately, eager to bring her to the same heights he already experienced now.

Ravage used his other hand to take a firm hold of her hips, his fingers digging in so strongly they were sure to leave some bruises later on but she didn’t care. All he did was encourage her as she rode him, driving him to his climax, working her body to find her own release.

“Ravage…” Her hunger peaked and sensing what she needed, he sat up, snaking his arm around her lower back and he held her close.

Eliza rest her forehead to his, her arms embracing him and soft panting escaped her lips. The pleasure she experienced rose fast. She closed her eyes, giving herself over to every sensation and grinding in demand on top of him until he gave her what she craved so desperately. His release came in a series of growls, pushing her over the edge not long after and she sunk her teeth into his shoulder to silence her own cries of satisfaction.

“Mmm…” she muttered when she found her voice again, when she could see straight again and her lips soothed over the bite mark she’d left on him.

Ravage just stared at her, a lazy grin on his face and completely spent. He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear and brought her lips in closer to kiss. He knew any minute now, she’d get up and carry on with her day as though none of it happened so while she still sat in his lap, he’d treasure each passing second.

This time though, it wasn’t Eliza who cut their after play short.

“Approaching Odessen in approximately thirty minutes, my Lords,” Malavai’s voice called out over the ship’s intercom.

 


 

The vast green forests and the impressive cliffsides on Odessen spread out before the Vanora as it made its descent from orbit and Eliza let out a low whistle—Lana had not exaggerated about the planet’s beauty. Down below at the heart of the planet, a large structure had been erected to serve as their base of operations and more workers than she’d expected to see busied themselves to finish construction.

“Impressive,” Eliza complimented when they met with their welcoming party and she hugged Lana. “It’s good to see you again in person.

“Now, where’s my prisoner?” she asked next, referring to Regina.

Theron and Lord Cytharat gave each other a nervous look and the former spoke up, “She uhm, escaped, and died.”

“What?!”

Lana sighed and apologized, “I’m sorry, Eliza. This morning when Vette delivered breakfast to her cell, she was unresponsive and we worried something had happened. I had her transferred to the medbay. Nyssa only turned her back on Regina for one second but…”

“Regina somehow got her hands on a sedative and injected Nyssa, then bolted,” Theron continued to explain, “She was gone by the time we raised the alarm.

“Since no ships went missing, we sent people out to scout the forest down below and just an hour ago, she was found. Dead, at the bottom of a ravine.”

“Fuck!” Eliza ran a hand through her hair and paced in frustration. “Why did she run?”

“We told her you’d be arriving today, my guess is she got scared,” Lord Cytharat said.

“Did any of you question her further while she was in lockup?”

“No, we were waiting for you.”

Malavai observed the conversation and frowned. He couldn’t decide for himself if Regina had been fearful of the interrogation and possible torment, or if the woman had fled because she had something to hide.

It took Eliza some effort not to lose her cool and she blew out a deep, staggered exhale. “Okay… alright, so she’s dead. Is there anything she left behind, perhaps a journal or datapad that would provide insight into her story and background?”

Lana shook her head. “There’s nothing. She came to me with only the clothes on her back.”

“Great. Got any more bad news for me?” Eliza snipped unintentionally and then looked at Theron, her expression softening. “Is Nyssa alright?”

“Yeah. Feeling guilty and still a little drowsy from the sedative but otherwise, she’s okay.”

“Good, I’m glad.”

“We’re just,” Malavai started and put a hand on her shoulder, indicating at their cargo, “going to unload everything and bring it inside.” He smiled and walked off with Me’ghan. Ravage, who’d kept his distance, not quite keen on a big reunion, followed.

“Eliza? There’s someone I’d like you to meet,” Lana began and beckoned a human male with cocoa-brown dreadlocked hair, hazel eyes, and dark skin, over, “This is Koth—Koth, meet Eliza, the woman who inspired all of this.”

Koth’s hand slid into Lana’s when he joined them. “A pleasure to meet you at last Commander, Lana’s told me much about you.”

“Koth, the deserter, right?”

“Yes Commander, Koth Vortena. I used to serve as an officer in Zakuul’s military forces.”

“Until?”

“Until we received orders I could not, with a clear conscience, carry out so me and my crew walked away.”

“Hrm.” Eliza considered his explanation and put on a smile. “Well, since you’ve earned Lana’s trust, which is no easy feat, I’d say welcome to the team though please, stop calling me Commander. I’m really not.”

“Oh, but you are,” Lana corrected with half a mischievous look in her eyes, “At least, that’s what I’ve told everyone here.”

“Then you can un-tell them.” Eliza frowned. “I don’t want to be Commander, you be the Commander.”

“Stars no. I’d rather just do my job quietly but you’re an inspiring force, and now the face of our operations.”

“I’m just one of many people in all this Lana.”

“But you were the first one to stand up against the Eternal Empire. You returned to Dromund Kaas to gather forces and beat them back and though things turned out different, took a lot more time than you’d hoped, you’re still at the heart of this. You’re special Eliza, you always have been and many of us know it.”

Eliza chewed on the inside of her lip—she sure as hell didn’t feel special. In her eyes, all the things she’d ever done amounted to one big list of failures and losses. Still, she knew there was little point trying to argue any of it and she lacked the energy to do so.

“Pah, fine.”

“Come.” Lana, with Koth at her side, began leading Eliza towards the entrance of their massive base. “Let me show you around.

“We’re not finished yet, as you can see, but we’ve accomplished much so far. The cantina, kitchens and dining hall completed yesterday and we currently have enough rooms to house about fifty people.”

“Fifty?!” Eliza gasped. “You think we’ll ever need to house fifty?”

“No, I expect we’ll be housing more than fifty which is why the living quarters are still under construction.” Lana indicated at a section still missing its walls.

More than fifty? Why? Who?”

“We’ve already got over thirty people here Eliza. All of us, Timmns, Darius, Praven and a whole group of Jedi padawan and Sith acolytes. There are Jenna and her crew, a Voss mystic who joined us, several refugees we’ve taken in. Everyone working to build this up from the ground and they all need a place to stay.”

Eliza sighed out with admiration. “Stars…”

She’d never considered the magnitude of their operations. While still on Rishi, despite frequent briefings, their group had felt so small and at times she’d wondered if they’d ever make an impact at all. Now though, standing within the Odessen base and considering their actual numbers, Eliza realized the true scale of support behind her and that the real work was only just beginning.

Once the tour concluded, Eliza found her way to Nyssa and Theron’s room next to her own and snuck inside. Nyssa sat up in bed, a book in hand and she smiled seeing her friend.

“Hey you.”

“Hi,” Eliza said and pulled up a chair at her bedside, “how are you feeling?”

“A bit woozy. I’m so sorry, really.”

“Shh, no, it’s alright.” She pushed her upset over the incident down in favor of Nyssa. “She outsmarted everyone, and I guess fled fearing I would torture the hell out of her. Can’t exactly blame her after the holo incident.

“Anyways, how have things been around here?”

“Pretty good, I’ve been busy setting up the medbay and getting everything in order to resume my role as a nurse…” Nyssa started but a frown came over her, “Theron however… I’m not sure what’s going on with him these days. He seems distant and distracted…”

“Did something happen?”

“No. Well, a couple of weeks ago I foolishly asked him whether he wanted to have kids and I… I’d expected a bit of panic from him, you know? But perhaps it was too soon to ask or it’s something he doesn’t want and he doesn’t know how to tell me.” Nyssa looked down and sighed.

“I don’t know what to do. I’m worried if I bring it up again, even if only to figure out what’s bothering him, it’ll seem pushy and that’s the last thing I’d want.

“What do you think?”

“I…” Eliza blew out a deep breath, unsure of what to think and something about the subject bothered her. “I think Theron is a complicated guy who sometimes still struggles to open up. Maybe he’s just trying to figure what he wants for himself first?”

“Could be yeah… I just wish he’d talk to me, let me answer any concerns he may have about it.”

Eliza nodded. “Give him some time, I’m sure he’ll open up once he’s ready to.”

“Well, I was actually wondering if…” Nyssa took her hand and gave her a hopeful look. “You might talk to him? You’re his best friend and you’re a parent yourself. You’d actually know what you’re talking about and maybe he’ll feel more comfortable discussing it with you first?”

‘Crap.’ The last thing she needed now was to involve herself in their relationship. She’d been grateful for the distance between them the past weeks even if she’d also missed Theron, and Nyssa, terribly. On the other hand, though, she’d come to really care about Nyssa who’d been very loving and supportive of her ever since they met.

“Sure, yeah, I’ll try to casually bring it up… tell him about something Cyara related and see where he’s at.” She smiled.

“Thank you. Now, please help me pick out an outfit for this cantina party, I’m sick of being in bed.”

“Cantina party?”

“Yes, to celebrate your arrival.”

“Oh, I don’t—”

“No,” Nyssa warned and she laughed, “no work excuses or telling me there are more important things to be done. Theron does enough of that. Tomorrow we’ll get to business but tonight, just unwind. Besides, we have a surprise for you.” She twinkled.

Making nice all night long, or pretending to feel festive, was about the last thing on Eliza’s mind but that changed quickly an hour later when her surprise was revealed.

“Ahh, there’s our beauty, still as ravishing as I remember.”

“Vowrawn!” Eliza exclaimed and rushed into his arms, “what are you doing here?!”

He pecked her lips lightly and bared his teeth in a grin. “I’ve just returned from Zakuul, awful place, I can still hear that dreadful sister of Arcann screeching in my poor ears.

“Anyway, I abandoned my escort back to Dromund Kaas and decided to stop by here,” he explained and took her to dance, “to check up on the most stunning woman this galaxy’s ever seen, to see Darius and to ask for a favor.”

“A favor, from me?”

“Do you remember the promise you once made Darius?”

“To take him on as my apprentice? I do.”

“I need you to keep that promise, now that you’re both here on Odessen. He needs someone to teach and guide him and I’m afraid he is far too stubborn to accept the teachings others have tried to impart to him.”

“Mmm yes, Praven did say he’s been more than a handful.” Eliza chuckled. “I’ll happily take him under my wing.”

“I’m entrusting him to your care,” Vowrawn said, more seriously now, “I’m sure you know he never got to finish his studies at the Academy and I’ve not been able to prepare him for, well, this. War. He’s too impulsive, too passionate and emotional. He doesn’t think, he just acts and it’s going to get him killed. Especially out here.”

“Sounds like someone else we know.” She cast a glance at Ravage who sat in a far away corner by himself. “Don’t worry. I’ll look after him and keep him safe.”

“I knew I could count on you.” He kissed the back of her hand and spun her around, swaying to the music. They danced for two more songs before Eliza excused herself and left to get a drink at the bar.

“Hey boss lady.” A short and fuller figured brunette with purple streaks in her hair, hopped onto the barstool next to her. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced yet. I’m Jenna.”

“The smuggler who saved our guys on Voss, nice job. I’m Eliza, never boss lady, please.”

“Fair enough, Eliza. You up for some shots and a game of sabacc?” Jenna thumbed at the table behind them where Risha, Vette, and Me’ghan already sat dealing cards.

“Actually… yeah, why not?” Eliza took two bottles from behind the bar while Jenna carried a tray of shot glasses.

As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun and before long it was the middle of the night and most people had cleared out of the cantina, save for the group still giggling and drinking. They’d given up on playing sabacc after Vette decided to throw out the rules of the game and instead only collect those cards she deemed ‘cutest’.

Malavai had stopped at their table halfway through to gather a drunken Me’ghan in his arms and Risha bowed out when she could no longer see straight. By now, Vette lay slouched across the table while Eliza and Jenna found themselves drinking still and exchanging war stories.

“So there I am in nothing but a thong and this guy’s shirt, running barefoot through the streets of Coruscant chasing this asshole who, hell. Probably thought I’d have no stamina left and he could jack my shit, take off with my ship while I slept? He wasn’t all that impressive really, our fight at the spaceport once I caught up with him was more satisfying than the fuck, you know?” Jenna elaborated quite vividly with a smirk on her face.

Eliza snorted and quickly downed the last of her drink. “Oh, I can’t believe that really happened.”

“It’s true,” Nyssa said when she and Theron sat down, “I was the nurse who got to treat the poor guy. Now did I understand right that you went on a second date with him afterward?”

“Only to slice his datapad and steal all of his contacts for myself. Men are idiots anyway, show ‘em a hint of cleavage and they become oblivious to anything else.”

“Wait, you two know each other?” Eliza asked.

“Yeah, we lived next door as kids. Went to school together and while Nyssa went on to become a responsible adult, I took off with a handsome smuggler when I was seventeen,” Jenna explained and poured out a new round for everyone.

“Of course, it didn’t work out, the guy was a complete douche and set a precedent for every bastard I dated after him but yanno, I did dig the life so I got my own ship and off I went.”

“Are you seeing anyone now?” Nyssa dug for some gossip and nestled herself into Theron’s arms.

“Nah. That one Sith kid, Darius, keeps hitting on me but I don’t dip in the cradle. That one over there though…” Jenna pointed towards Ravage with half a grin. “He seems about right for a good night of trouble. Is he single?”

“Pretty sure Eliza’s dating him, right? Or did you switch back to Vowrawn? You both looked pretty intimate earlier,” Theron confronted with a surprising amount of bitterness and took another swig of his beer.

Deep down he knew he had no right to it but the alcohol he’d consumed fueled his jealousy, so much it overshadowed his better judgment. Ravage was enough of a thorn in his sight already, he hadn’t wanted to see her with Vowrawn as well. Especially not now he knew of her past affair with him—the one she’d engaged in while she’d been single, while he himself had sat pining over her on Coruscant all those years ago.

“Theron!” Nyssa gasped, “I’m pretty sure that’s none of our business!”

“What is it with you and Sith anyways huh,” he carried on, ignoring his wife, “I mean, Vowrawn, Ravage… any other Dark Council members we should know about? What about Cytharat, you’ve been pretty close to him lately and let’s not forget Sc—”

Eliza lunged over the table and smacked him across the face. “Don’t you dare utter his name right now!” she spat furiously.

Everyone suddenly looked their way and Eliza felt the heat rise to her cheeks. Anger and shame broiled inside of her but they were nothing compared to the pain that stung in her heart now. To the hurt caused by the one man she couldn’t stop loving no matter how hard she tried, no matter how much she wished to shun herself from loving anyone at all.

She wanted nothing more than to scream her confessions in his face but given their company, she knew she couldn’t. Instead, she finished off her drink and slammed the glass down on the table before walking out.

Uncomfortable silence surrounded those left behind in the cantina and Nyssa stared at her husband, shocked. For the first time she considered his detached behavior of late had little to do with her or her wish for children, and everything with the woman who’d just stormed off.

“That was cruel dude…” Jenna said at last, “bringing up her late husband like that?” She shook her head and got up, wishing Nyssa a good night and then she left.

“Theron…” Nyssa started, wanting to know what was really going on with him but before she could say anything else, he too had gotten up and walked out of the cantina.

 

Chapter Text

“I’ve just received some intel on this Outlander persona that I’m sure will interest you,” Lana began when she had everyone gathered in the war room beneath the base, “I spoke with a survivor of the crash, someone who was aboard Darth Marr’s ship at the time.”

“I didn’t know there were survivors.” Eliza frowned and sipped her caf.

“Only a handful managed to get into an escape pod before the ship went down but they never made it back home—they’re on Asylum, a shadowport here in Wild Space,” Lana explained. “The man I spoke to, Ralo, used to serve in the Republic Army and was part of Satele’s envoy joining Darth Marr’s expedition.

“He told me of a Jedi who boarded Marr’s flagship just as the assault began—Kira Carsen—which would explain why we’ve not been able to locate her in the past few years.”

Eliza’s eyes widened in surprise and she near spat her caf out. “Kira?! Are you sure?”

“That’s your former padawan, right?” Me’ghan asked her and she nodded.

Lana circled the holo-terminal and pulled up what little information she had on Kira. “I am not one hundred percent sure no, but it would make sense. Someone worth the Emperor’s attention must have been there as well the day Darth Marr and Lord Scourge were captured and killed. Someone capable of ending Valkorion’s life and worth keeping imprisoned.

“We know Kira was a former Child of the Emperor and though many troops were lost that day, she is the only Jedi who went missing, of whom we still don’t know what happened. I have tried to access the Republic’s database to scan for any reports but came up empty.”

Theron, who’d quietly listened but kept himself in the background, turned to his data-console and got to work.

“Would Regina not have spotted her there?” Lord Cytharat asked next.

“Not necessarily. From what she told me, after Valkorion struck Darth Marr and Lord Scourge down, Vaylin barged into the throne room and dismissed everyone. Save for Arcann and this Outlander, nobody knows the details of what transpired afterward or even how exactly Valkorion met his end.”

“Perhaps he died trying to save your friends from Arc—” Koth began but he shut up the second he noticed the fierce scowl on Lana’s face.

It was too late, though, and Eliza turned on him with an incredulous look. “Excuse me? Save my friends? He killed my husband and he killed my great uncle! The only one Vitiate, Valkorion, would ever save is himself! What’s wrong with you?!”

“I’m sorry,” Koth sighed but then he carried on, “Look I know all of you believe Emperor Valkorion to be this monstrous Vitiate you always speak of but he was a benevolent and good ruler. Under his leadership, Zakuul really prospered and we lived good, peaceful lives.”

Me’ghan and Eliza exchanged a look of utter confusion, glanced Lana’s way and then back to Koth. Aside from Lana, no one in the room had quite realized just how devoted Koth felt towards Valkorion, and that his experience growing up on Zakuul gave him a wholly different opinion of the former Sith Emperor.

“Mr. Vortena, respectfully, either keep your opinions on Valkorion to yourself from now on or leave this meeting immediately,” Malavai said politely as he could manage before either his wife or Eliza could blow up on Koth.

“Sorry…” Koth mumbled once again.

“Here,” Theron called out having found a report in the SIS database, “Kira Carsen was reported missing by Dr. Archiban Kimble following the Eternal Fleet’s assault on Darth Marr’s flagship. Like Eliza, Kira received and answered Darth Marr’s call for assistance after he claimed to have located the Sith Emperor.

“Upon arrival in Wild Space, Darth Marr’s flagship was already under attack and Kira boarded the vessel while sending Doc to return to Coruscant and gather reinforcements. It was the last time anyone’s seen her or heard from her.”

Eliza joined Theron, paying him no mind beyond professional courtesy, while she read the information for herself. “And Doc? Has there been any word on him since then?”

“A couple of arrests—one for threatening Saresh, one for attempting to steal a starship and one for disorderly conduct. An anonymous source bailed him out and he hasn’t been heard from since,” Theron read out loud.

“He was likely fighting tooth and nail trying to get back to Wild Space, to his wife. I know I would have,” Malavai deduced and looked Me’ghan’s way, grateful for the fact he never had to.

“Poor guy…” Nyssa lamented.

Eliza wrapped her arms around herself and paced, trying to piece everything together. “Okay so, what you say makes sense but for all we know, this Outlander could be one of the dozens of soldiers who were aboard that flagship instead. Whoever killed Valkorion could have simply shot him, they aren’t necessarily a Force user.”

“True,” Lana admitted, “but I don’t think Valkorion would have bothered to save and capture your average soldier—he wouldn’t have cared.”

“She has a point,” Praven agreed, “as his former Child, Kira would have held as much value to Valkorion as Lord Scourge did.”

“That’s fair. Well, say this Outlander is Kira, where is she now? Imprisoned you said?” Eliza turned back to Lana.

“We suspect so. Rumors are Arcann did not execute his father’s assassin.”

“I know my way around the Spire, I could get you in,” Koth raised his voice rather timidly and did not dare look at anyone other than Lana.

“If all this is true,” Vowrawn spoke up at last, “you won’t find her in an ordinary cell. Arcann enjoys his trophies, submits any prisoner of importance to carbonite freezing and keeps them in his vault. He gave me a tour once, no doubt to show me where I’d end up if I ever incurred his wrath.

“It’s original, I’ll give him that,” he added with a hint of admiration, only for enjoying the thought of putting his own foes on display in such a fashion.

“Only a fool would leave a threat to his power, alive,” Ravage scoffed.

“Oh come now, Ravage, I’ve known you to keep a toy or two for your own amusement.” Vowrawn grinned with a twinkle in his eyes. “It’s the one thing I actually appreciate about you.”

“Never for long and only those so weakened they no longer pose a threat.”

Theron scoffed, “Of course.”

Ravage raised a brow. “Of course what, Agent Shan?”

“I’m just not surprised you lack the guts and guile to face someone who’s—”

“Okayyy…” Me’ghan cut in, “let’s cool it with the testosterone flying around here and focus on what actually matters.”

“Right. Kira. So, will we be paying a visit to the Spire?” Eliza pulled up a holo-projection of the Spire in Zakuul and observed it closely. “Can we get in there?”

“Getting in won’t be too difficult—locating the vault and escaping with Kira, or whoever this Outlander turns out to be, that’s the hard part.” Lana joined her at the terminal.

“Do we have a layout, schematics?”

“No, but I can acquire those once we’re on Zakuul,” Theron said, “I can’t slice their systems from this location. At least not yet.”

“Pity. I guess those shiny little implants of yours or your so-called skills are no match for Zakuul’s technology huh?” Ravage sneered and Eliza threw him a stern glare.

“Button it unless you have something useful to add!”

“I can get you there. There’s a blind spot in the Spire that Zakuul patrols tend to overlook, it has a terminal you can slice into and it’ll help us sneak in undetected,” Koth offered once more.

“Good, thank you.” Eliza faked a smile. She still didn’t appreciate his pro-Valkorion stance but she’d take his knowledge and assistance where Zakuul was concerned.

“I should come with you,” Nyssa spoke up, “there’s no telling the injuries Kira may have sustained all those years ago or what the carbonite process has done to her physically.”

“We both should,” Malavai pointed out, “not just for Kira but in case the operation doesn’t go quite according to plan. Once you break her out, no doubt the alarms will draw all troops and every Knight in the Spire to your location.”

“We’ll go with two teams of four,” Eliza started forming a plan, “Koth, you’ll pilot. Theron, Nyssa, and Meg, you’ll stay with Koth. Malavai, Ravage, and Lana will head into the Spire with me. Praven and Cytharat, you have the base here, keep an eye on things.”

“And what will I do?” Vowrawn gave a playful pout though truthfully, he would rather not be in the thick of it. “Just stand here looking glorious and inspiring, encouraging the hard labors of others? I am quite skilled at such things.”

“Go home,” Ravage suggested though his intonation made it sound like an order.

“He’s right.” Eliza gave a gentle smile. “You should return to Dromund Kaas before Acina notices you missing and you risk your position.”

They spent the next hour planning everything into careful detail, pouring over their options and trying to account for any mishaps. Nyssa and Malavai debated the physical state Kira might be in and compiled a list of medical supplies they’d need to bring. When all was said and done, Eliza excused herself and returned to the base upstairs to see Vowrawn off on his trip back to Dromund Kaas.

“Remember your promise to me,” Vowrawn told her and held her close. He tipped her chin up and kissed her lips in a friendly gesture turned habit and then took Darius aside.

“And you, you listen to her, you hear me?” he began a lecture and Eliza suppressed a gentle chuckle when she overheard him cover everything from fighting to girls.

Once finished, Darius marched back inside seemingly annoyed with his uncle’s preaching. Eliza and Vowrawn said goodbye one last time and she watched as his ship take off into the atmosphere before it vanished from sight.

“Is there a reason you put me with Theron’s group instead of with Malavai?” Me’ghan caught up with her and asked.

“I need you to keep Koth, Theron, and Nyssa safe in case they’re spotted and it didn’t seem like a good idea to pair them up with Ravage.”

“Fair point.”

“Malavai has more combat experience than Nyssa does so he’s the logical choice inside the Spire and next to Koth, Lana knows Zakuul better than the rest of us, I need her with me,” Eliza explained further while she and Me’ghan walked toward Koth’s ship.

“Hey I don’t mind, I was just curious.” Me’ghan smiled. “Did uh, something happen? Things seemed tense earlier.”

“Hrm, kind of,” Eliza gave a brief recap of what happened in the cantina the previous night.

“Wow, I can’t believe he said that.”

Eliza rolled her shoulders in a shrug, masking the pain in her heart. “Yeah, well, it’s… his problem. We have bigger things to be concerned about right now.”

They reached Koth’s ship and boarded, strapping in next to everyone else who already awaited them and took off for Zakuul. In order to combat the tense silence during the flight, Eliza went over their plan several more times suggesting various things that could go wrong and build contingency plans around potential issues.

By the time they landed, all knew their role and what to watch out for. Eliza and her group entered the Spire while Theron began slicing into the systems, copying every schematic he found and guiding them through the endless maze.

“Hold. There’s a patrol headed your way from the left side.”

“Then they die.” Ravage gritted his teeth but Eliza held him back.

“Don’t. You’ll only alert them to our presence that much sooner.” She dragged him away and out of sight, holding her breath until the patrol passed them.

“You’re clear. Take a left and follow it all the way down until you spot the utility panel, then turn right.”

Cautiously, and far too slowly to Ravage’s liking, they proceeded down the corridors and took the elevator up to the next floor where Arcann’s vault was located. They quickly discovered there was a ten-minute interval between each patrol and Lana relayed anything deemed significant to Theron and the others in case they’d ever have a reason to return here.

“We should just kill them all now, save ourselves the trouble later on,” Ravage muttered, aching for a decent fight.

“Oh you’re impossible.” Eliza glanced over her shoulder and shook her head at him.

It was only a minor distraction but enough for her to blindly turn the corner and come face to face with two Knights of Zakuul.

“Intruders!” one of them yelled out instantly and reached for his comms.

Malavai tucked into a roll and dove aside to avoid hitting Eliza, then fired. His shots hit the Knight’s gauntlet, causing no injury but damaging his communications device instead and Ravage jumped forward with his lightsaber active. In one fluid swing, he slid the blade between the Knight’s helmet and chest armor while Eliza leaped for the second Knight.

“What’s going on?” Theron asked, hearing the turmoil through his earpiece.

“Just a bit of fun, Agent Shan,” Ravage said in a smirk, feeling far more in his element now.

“Theron,” Eliza panted while trading blows with the other Knight, “is there a way for you to see what frequency these guys use for their communications and disrupt the signal?”

“No, not through this panel.”

“Another disappointment.” Ravage couldn’t help himself but Theron wisely chose to ignore him.

While Eliza had the Knight distracted, Lana came up from behind and seized the opportunity to end him by cutting straight through his armor and piercing his heart. Eliza gave her a smile.

“Are you okay?” Malavai checked on her, surprised she’d taken so long to kill the Knight and worried she was somehow injured.

“Yeah, fine, I was just taking my time observing their fighting techniques—it’s pretty basic, almost disappointing.”

“I’m sure Arcann would love to hear that,” Lana noted.

Eliza grinned and sheathed her blades. “Do you think I should send him an evaluation report once we’re finished here?”

“The dead bodies will speak for themselves.”

“Bodies we should hide to avoid making our presence known.” Malavai clipped his blaster back onto his belt and took one of the Knight’s by the ankles. “Behind that door over there.” He indicated toward what appeared to be a storage room.

“Theron, is it clear?” Eliza checked.

“Yeah, room’s empty but you need to hurry before the next patrol arrives.”

Together, the four of them dragged the bodies inside the storage area and Eliza quickly confiscated the one communicator that hadn’t been destroyed, as well as the lightsaber pike one of the Knights had wielded.

“For Kira, doubt they locked her in with her weapons,” she answered the questioning look Ravage gave her, “and now we can eavesdrop on their frequency.”

“Hm always thinking on your feet, just one of the many things I love about you,” he flirted, quite deliberately but Eliza paid him no mind.

They turned back towards the corridor and hurried on to the next section. A large pair of double doors sat between them and the vault and Theron got to work overriding the security access. The doors hissed open and the four of them looked on in awe when they saw the vast collection of people frozen in carbonite.

“Okay… not what I’d expected,” Eliza said in surprise, “just how many impressive enemies does this guy have?”

“How do we know which one contains your old padawan?” Ravage inspected the nearest panel he could find to see if any of them were marked. “I’m not seeing a plaque that screams ‘Outlander’.”

“Is there any further information in the database, Theron?” Lana asked.

“None, sorry.”

“Can you try and sense her, Eliza?” Malavai offered up a suggestion.

“Perhaps…” Eliza closed her eyes and focused.

She cleared her mind best as she could and reached out through the Force, recalling Kira, trying to sense her essence. There was nothing but a void and Eliza began walking around, slowly and letting her hand slide across every single carbonite panel that hung on the wall.

Minutes passed and Malavai took it upon himself to guard the entrance with Ravage while Lana followed Eliza, taking her free hand and lending her support to strengthen Eliza’s connection to the Force.

Something faint and distant called out to Eliza. It was much like Kira’s essence but had a sense of foreboding about it as though something tried to chase her away instead—as though Kira wasn’t alone. She stopped by the panel where the feeling was strongest and without touching it she knew.

“It’s her, this one.”

Ravage turned back into the room. “Are you sure?”

“I am. I can feel her calling me.” Eliza inspected the security display attached to the panel. “How do we get it open?”

“Like this.” Ravage drove his lightsaber into the display without thought, causing Eliza to fret and panic as she shoved him aside.

“Ravage what the—” she started to yell at him when she heard a faint hissing.

Before her, the panel activated and began its defrosting process, slowly revealing the woman locked inside. A short lock of bright, ginger hair fell over the woman’s face and Eliza sighed with relief, recognizing her former padawan instantly.

“Oh, Kira…”

Kira appeared unconscious as the process continued and once done, she slumped forward, nearly falling but Eliza caught her in time. She knelt down, holding Kira on her lap and in her arms.

“Malavai she’s, so cold. Did you bring any heating pads?”

“No, there were none at the base,” he admitted.

“It’s okay, it’s alright…” Eliza said in gentle tones, “I’ve got this.”

In a rare opportunity to do good with it, Eliza focused inward and called upon the gift her family possessed. She held Kira close, cautiously radiating warmth into her friend’s body. Rather than harness hatred as she would normally, she turned her heart and thoughts to the love she held for Kira, all the memories they shared and slowly, color returned to Kira’s face. Her eyes fluttered open and her hand reached up to touch Eliza’s cheek.

Then, unexpectedly, a massive purple blast erupted from Kira’s body and forced the two friends apart. Kira was thrown back toward the carbonite holding she’d just been freed from, colliding with the panel and slipping back into oblivion while Eliza was thrown all the way to the entrance. The sickening sound of bones breaking rang through the vault when her body slammed into the side of the door and she fell to the raster floor with a loud thud.

“No…” she croaked out, her eyes wide with panic and then she lost consciousness, involuntarily surrendering to an endless darkness.

 

Chapter Text

Delicate blades of grass tickled the palm of her hand and in the distance, she heard laughter. Childlike and pure, from a memory, while the sweetest of voices called out to her and a shadow created by the figure sat between her and the tender sun, fell over her face.

“Eliiizaaa… come on now, haven’t I waited long enough for you already?”

It rang familiar but she couldn’t quite place it and in the absence of sight, her eyes still straining to adjust to her surroundings, she had little to go on.

“Alright, sure, I’ll just sit here while you waste time on a beauty sleep,” the voice teased, light-heartedly and now Eliza recognized it at last.

“Kira?” Her eyelids fluttered and she looked up.

“Finally.” Kira’s eyes shone brightly and her smile was unwavering. “I wasn’t sure if you’d ever hear me call out to you.”

They fell into each other’s embrace and Eliza sighed out, “Oh I’ve missed you, I thought I’d lost you.”

“I’ve missed you, Eliza…” Kira beamed and a small chuckle escaped her. “Or Arielle—it’s still so odd and foreign using your true name.”

Eliza chuckled too and nodded, tender fingers stroking her friend’s hair. “You’ve let it grow out, it suits you,” she commented, “What uh, where are we…”

“Home, of course, where it all began, on Tython.”

“Tython… how?”

Slowly, and while taking in her environment, Eliza rose up with Kira’s help. The childlike laughter she’d heard came from a group of padawans out in the courtyard training with Master Kiwiiks—same as they had the day Kira became Eliza’s padawan. The Jedi Temple as she knew it stood proud and strong, untouched, unbroken and like a guardian watching over all.

It warmed Eliza’s heart and a single tear ran down the corner of her eye. “Kira… how, why are we here?” she asked, realizing they stood in a memory rather than anywhere near Zakuul.

Was this death and the afterlife, had they both become one with the Force?

“This is my sanctuary, I’ve been here for the past four years—it’s the only place where he can’t touch me.”

“He?”

“The Sith Emperor.”

The two friends linked arms and walked, their bare feet stepping across the meadow and the grass tickling their toes.

“He survived, somehow,” a somber tone rang heavy in Kira’s voice, “I wasn’t strong enough.”

“Is he still out there? Where do I find him?”

“No, he is in here, or… was, until you came along.” Kira tapped the tip of her index finger to the side of her head and smiled, more wryly this time. “He knew you’d come, we both did I suppose…”

“What is this? I don’t understand.”

“We don’t have much time but you’ll learn soon, I just had to see you one last time and warn you.”

A path of sand, dirt, and gravel led them down to the creek, Eliza’s favorite spot, and for one peaceful second both women breathed in the beauty, listening to the babbling water gushing along the stony path.

“One last time…?” None of it made sense to Eliza and worriedly, she clasped both Kira’s hands in her own. “What’s going on, warn me about what?”

“You can’t trust him. No matter what he says or what he promises, you cannot trust him, Eliza, not ever and under no circumstances.”

“You mean the Emperor?”

Kira nodded and cast a wistful glance behind her friend, watching darkened clouds draw near. Watching the golden light of the sun over the mountains dim and the color of their world fade. She embraced her former Master, closer than she ever had in life and whispered.

“I’m so sorry, I thought we’d have more time but my energy is waning, I can’t hold on.”

“Kira?” Panic now resonated in her voice. “What’s happening, where are you going?”

“This is the end of the road for me but remember, I love you, so much, and I thank you for all you’ve taught me, for being a part of my life. We’ll see each other again, one day.”

Slowly, just as the water had ebbed down the creek, so evaporated the beauty and luster of their surroundings making way for a grim and cold design. It disquieted Eliza even further, especially once her former padawan’s touch left her and her image disappeared into the oncoming darkness.

“Kira!”

“Always remember and before I go, you must know, Lord Scourge, he…”

Deafening silence stole away her words and the last thing Eliza saw was a pair of blue eyes swallowed whole as Kira vanished completely, leaving her to stand alone on a now ashen wasteland.

“Kira!” she called out a second time but only heard her own voice echo back.

“Please, come back, I don’t understand and I need you! I have so many questions and I love you too,” she confessed to the void that fenced her in now, shouting in desperation.

Everywhere she looked was an endless darkness, a barren land shrouded in a haze of death and decay. The air cold, dry, sharp in her throat when she inhaled and suffocating. Eliza felt her heart heavy in her chest, her body aching from invisible wounds and she dizzied, her mind fogging up. Her knees buckled, begging her to let go until she collapsed and submitted to the will of a force beyond her comprehension.

 


 

“Eliza!” Malavai rushed over and knelt at her side.

A sliver of blood dripped down the corner of her mouth and her body lay at an unusual angle. She was unresponsive and Malavai brought out his hand-held medical scanner to get a reading on her injuries.

“What the hell was that!” Ravage bristled, anger and confusion clouding his concern. “Is this what happens when she uses her family’s gift?!”

“No, it’s not,” said Malavai who’d witnessed those particular consequences before, “this is something else entirely.

“She’s fractured her spine and dislocated her shoulder. She’s bleeding internally and one of her pupils is dilated. We need a medevac.”

“I don’t think Arcann will feel inclined to—”

“Major Quinn!” Lana called out and interrupted Ravage. She sat at Kira’s side and checked her vitals, holding the frail ginger in her lap. “I’m losing her! She’s barely breathing and her heart rate is dropping fast!”

“Meg and I are on our way!” Nyssa announced through their communicators, “Koth, see if you can bring the ship up closer to the vault!”

“On it!”

Malavai pulled a stim from his medkit along with an injection to combat hibernation sickness and he ran over to Lana. “Try this,” he told her while he ran the scanner down Kira’s body.

“Forget about her!” Ravage shouted, “Eliza needs you here!”

“Eliza would never forgive us if we let Kira die!” Lana yelled back at him.

“And if Eliza dies I will kill that little ginger bitch myself! This is her fault!” he bellowed with more fury than he’d shown in a long time.

Fast paced footsteps clanked against the slatted floor and drew near while the alarm suddenly began to wail. Skytroopers poured into the corridor, lead by two Knights who charged Ravage immediately—they’d been discovered and Ravage jumped to defend himself and Eliza.

“The Outlander belongs to Emperor Arcann!” the Knight declared, his staff drawn and he went for the attack.

Red and yellow sparks spat out when their blades clashed and Ravage kept the Knight’s weapon hooked while his free hand reached out, snapping the neck of one of the Skytroopers. Plasma bolts, fired by Malavai, raced past his body and took another two-some of Skytroopers out while Lana did what she could to guard Eliza and Kira.

“You might want to hurry,” she told Me’ghan and Nyssa.

“Almost there!” Me’ghan panted, out of breath.

A roar filled with pure rage escaped Ravage and using nothing but his raw power, he knocked all his assailants to the far back of the corridor. “I have waited years to get my hands on you Eternal fucks, bring it!” he sneered furiously.

“Requesting immediate assistance in sector 5, the vault!” one of the Skytroopers was heard calling out but in the next second, she collapsed, falling to one of Malavai’s shots.

Ravage somersaulted over the pile of Skytroopers and took the Knight in a Force-hold, slamming him up against the ceiling and into both sides of the corridor before letting him drop to the floor. He dashed forward to drive his blade into the Knight and end him but Me’ghan came running around the corner and beat him to it.

The second Knight gave chase, his sights set on Me’ghan but in a surprising twist, Nyssa knocked him out using the hover-stretcher she’d brought. She stood proudly, just for a second and watched Ravage bury his lightsaber into the Knight’s chest.

“Nice timing, let’s go!” Ravage urged Nyssa and Me’ghan towards the vault.

“Shan,” he barked into his earpiece, “get those doors closed, now!”

“Trying…” There was a hint of panic in Theron’s voice while he worked the terminal. “Got it!”

Ravage, as the last one left in the corridor managed to dive inside just as the doors hissed shut behind him.

“She’s not looking too good.” Nyssa activated the hover-stretcher and brought it down next to Eliza. “Koth where are you?”

“Right outside but this is going to take some serious firepower, get to the far right of the room.”

Gingerly, Nyssa and Malavai lift Eliza onto the stretcher while Ravage, despite the fact he blamed her for all of this, took Kira in his arms and everyone moved away. Several explosions echoed through the vault and the back wall came crumbling down, revealing Koth’s ship. He brought the vessel closer and lowered the boarding ramp over the rubble.

“We need to hurry,” he informed them, “my scanners are picking up various fighters headed our way.”

While Malavai, with Me’ghan’s help, did what he could to stabilize Eliza and lift her into the portable kolto tank aboard the ship, Nyssa tended to Kira with increasing concern—her vitals were near undetectable by now and her odds looked grim. Koth dipped down to pick Theron up a few levels below and hauled as.s to get them all out of there.

“Eliza! Is she—” Theron began the second he boarded and Malavai shook his head.

“No, she’s alive for now though my scans are showing the most unusual brain activity. Everything seems to be concentrated in one specific area of her mind, almost as if she’s trapped in there and it’s preventing her from regaining consciousness.”

Lana assisted Nyssa as the latter tried all she could to save Kira’s life. “Will she make it?”

 


 

Hours passed, or perhaps weeks, months even—Eliza wasn’t sure as time didn’t seem to exist where she was now. She finally came to and spat out the gravel she tasted on her lips. Her body still ached but not quite as bad as before and she managed to push herself up.

“Kira?” she asked once more in vain and sighed at the silence that followed, “where am I?”

“She’s gone beyond our reach now.” A voice came at last and an elderly man in regal robes appeared next to her. Eliza had never seen him before but his presence was unmistakable.

“Vitiate…”

“Valkorion,” he corrected, “but yes.”

He circled her, prowling like a jungle cat intimidating its prey. “I’m surprised it took you this long to come, to find her.”

Eliza shook her head and took her lightsabers in hand, hissing with anger. “What did you do to her?!”

“A part of me never left her, you know?” He glanced down at her blades and smiled. “Sure, she believed she’d severed our link, defeated me but like you, she would never truly be free of me.

“A small opening, the tiniest remnant of myself left inside her mind was all I needed to save myself when she struck me down—my Child would become my next vessel instead.”

“Vessel? Is she…”

Valkorion let his fingers play over the edge of her blade, taunting that she could not harm him that way. “Dead? Yes.”

“Monster!” Eliza spat out and drove her lightsaber straight through him but all he did was laugh. Maniacally and delighting in her anger.

“Your former padawan died years ago—her mind was no match for my own. I pushed her out and since then I’ve done all I could to preserve her body, waiting for a rescue. Waiting, for you.”

“But I just—”

“Saw her? Yes. A fragment, an echo of her essence lying in wait, desperate to warn and protect you one last time.

“You were meant to walk into my throne room and kneel before me, you know? Not her. Our final confrontation, at last, as prophesied but by some curiosity, I was faced with your padawan instead. I did as I had to, to ensure our paths would cross once more.”

Tears sprung to Eliza’s eyes while she was teased by an inescapable sense of guilt, the weight of Kira’s fate heavy on her heart. She lunged at him again, ignoring her own pain but with small, elegant waves of his hand he kept her at bay and smiled.

“Nathema! Ziost!” she yelled in furious accusation, looking to trade further blows, “You killed my husband and Darth Marr, who was a better leader than you ever were! You killed Kira!”

A fierce scream left her throat and in vain, she lashed out at him again, “You had my grandfather killed, my father! You took away everything that ever mattered to me—fight me, coward!”

They danced around each other until Valkorion grew bored and threw her back with a powerful blast. Her head lulled forward when she collided with a boulder embedded into the landscape and it took her a few seconds to regain her senses.

“Are you quite finished?” he drawled.

“Where are we?” Eliza demanded when she rose back up, trying to understand how he could hurt her while she could barely touch him.

“Inside your mind,” Valkorion began to explain, “When you used your gift trying to warm her body, you exposed yourself to me and allowed me to transfer my essence into your subconsciousness.”

He smirked. “Did Tamas never warn you about using your gift against me?”

“He…” Her voice trailed off when she recalled her grandfather’s words, ‘The Emperor will try and trick you into using the gift against him as well but you mustn't, ever.’

“You tricked me!” Eliza snapped though her voice softened, washed out by the shame she felt now. How foolish she’d been.

“Mm yes. When I sensed your presence within the vault, I knew the time had come. I did what I could to keep the body’s temperature low, only hoping you’d be desperate enough to use the gift to save your friend.

“Curious, isn’t it?” he taunted and carried on, “Because of that gift, you are destined to bring about my undoing and yet, it is that same gift which has put us in this position now.”

Eliza pursed her lips and turned away, casting her gaze out over the crumbled landscape that stretched for miles, further than the eye could see.

“Ah. You no longer believe in your destiny,” Valkorion observed after a moment of silence.

She shrugged and wrapped her arms firmly around herself. “What’s the point? I was destined to kill you but I failed, three times over. Scourge and I were meant to be together for years to come but he’s dead because you killed him and now I’m… what? Stuck in my own mind, with you? Am I dead?”

Eliza turned back around when another thought struck her. “Have you taken over my body? Am I your new Voice?”

“Not quite. Your mind is too powerful for me to possess, I cannot act without your permission.” He stood next to her and gestured his hand before them both, drawing up a frozen image in the distance, one of her friends and family—the people who’d accompanied her to Zakuul.

“Right now, the lesser beings you surround yourself with are working hard to save your life and soon, we must wake and return to them.”

“We?”

Valkorion nodded. “You and I must work together now to stop my children.”

“Your children? Arcann and Vaylin?”

The landscape before them made way for a new setting, leaving Eliza dizzy as the gravel beneath her feet transformed into a smooth, shiny marble floor and the walls of Zakuul’s throne room erected all around them. Up on the throne sat Arcann, sulking and drumming his fingers idly on his armrest while Vaylin paced in front of the steps leading up to his seat of power.

“They abuse their power.” Valkorion indicated at the two and Eliza picked up on a faint hint of bitterness in his voice. “We must deal with my errant son and daughter before they ruin everything.”

Eliza scoffed, “I’m not their mother—do they even have one, or are these two the result of one of your many alchemical experiments?”

Valkorion lowered his eyes. He turned away and one would almost think sorrow lingered in his voice. “I made a mistake, I let her go.”

“Lucky her.”

When he said nothing further, ignoring her snide remark, Eliza continued, “Why should I help you, after all you have done? This is all your fault and Kira warned me—”

“My children are dangerous and they lack discipline! They’ve already conquered and enslaved most of the galaxy, as you know, and it will take both of us to stop them. Do not underestimate their power or the further damage they can inflict.”

“Since when do you care about the galaxy?” Eliza folded her arms and quirked a brow. “There was a time where you sought to annihilate every planet in existence.”

Once more, he declined to answer her question, changing the subject to further his own agenda. “You are the only one ever to match my power, to match my will to survive. We must stand together now to unseat my children and then, you must take the throne for yourself.”

Eliza gave him an incredulous look and began laughing, miserably and paradoxical to every other emotion she experienced, through the sheer ridiculousness of her situation.

“Okay, now I’m convinced. I mean, I thought I was losing my mind here but now I know—it’s you and your madness, and I’m trapped inside of it, along for a ride on the crazy train.”

Valkorion stared at her, unimpressed, and waited for her chuckles to subside.

“Oh, you’re serious?” she brought out when she saw the look on his face, “I’m not going to help you do anything. I will take Arcann down, and Vaylin, get justice for my husband, Kira, and Darth Marr but that’s it. I won’t sit on any throne and I will definitely not work with you to achieve any of it.

“You can just let me wake up now and be on your way, Vitiate,” she venomously spat his name out.

He said nothing at first but stood before her within seconds. His hand closed around her throat, choking her slowly as he lifted her up and Eliza sputtered.

“You’ll change your mind before all this is over,” he threatened.

Eliza grunted, her hands clawing at his trying to pry his fingers away. “Never! So just get it over with and kill me now!”

“Foolish child! I’m not killing you,” Valkorion hissed, “we’re being reborn.”

 


 

The monitoring equipment hooked up to Eliza’s kolto tank began beeping erratically, causing Malavai to rush over and take a reading of her vitals.

“What’s going on?!” Me’ghan worried, looking over his shoulder.

“I don’t—”

Eliza’s flat hand slapped against the glass once and balled into a fist and her eyes sprung open, displaying pure shock.

“She’s waking up!” Malavai panicked in surprise, “How is she waking up?! And her injuries, they’re, healed?!”

Nyssa came running, hearing the commotion and catching his last comment, she turned to the panel on the side of the kolto tank immediately. She began the draining sequence while Me’ghan gestured for Eliza to remain calm. Once the kolto solution left the tank, Nyssa activated the harness holding Eliza and pulled her up slowly.

“Move!” Ravage barked and once lifted from the tank, he cradled Eliza in his arms like a child while removing the harness. He carried her over to the makeshift bed they’d prepared and sat her down.

“Vitiate… Kira…” Her voice rasped while Ravage wrapped her up in a warm, fuzzy towel. “Valkorion…”

“Shh, easy now.” He dried her off and helped her into a bathrobe next. “Calm down, take a deep breath.”

Eliza’s bottom lip trembled and she found solace in his embrace, shivering though she was no longer cold. Her breathing evened out and now that she was once more in the presence of her friends and loved ones, she wondered if she’d simply imagined everything.

Her hope, however, was quickly shattered when the voice she loathed more than anything, spoke within her mind, ‘I suggest you keep this between us. They would not understand and you would lose their trust.’

Nyssa handed her a glass of water and sat down, using her hand-held medical scanner to take another reading and once she finished, she frowned at Malavai.

“She’s completely healed,” she whispered, showing him the readout, “how is that possible? The fracture in her spine, her concussion, the internal bleeding, it’s like they were never there.”

‘A gift, to you.’ Valkorion smiled before Eliza’s eyes, for only her to see and retreated to the far reaches of her mind where she could scarcely sense his presence.

“Valkorion,” Eliza answered Nyssa’s confusion and ignored the advice he’d given her, “He’s in my head, and he must have used his power to heal me. He wants us to work together.”

By now, Koth, Theron, and Lana had entered the medbay as well and exchanged curious, worried looks upon her confession.

“You mean Vitiate?” Lana asked.

Eliza nodded, sipped her water and began sharing everything she’d experienced while she was unconscious, from the moment she’d used her gift on Kira.

“So, he’s taken possession of you, as he did years ago?” Ravage tried to understand.

“We could shock you like we did for those on Ziost, that seemed to work, temporarily,” Theron offered but Eliza shook her head.

“No, it’s not like that. It’s… he said he needs my permission to act, wants us to work together. Wants me to cooperate with him, to let him help me claim the Eternal throne.”

Koth was the only one to smile upon hearing her story and clapped his hands together. “Well, that’s wonderful news! The Commander and Emperor Valkorion teaming up to save the galaxy, hah!”

Malavai said nothing to his ignorant comment but smacked him over the head instead.

“There is nothing wonderful about this Koth,” Lana said with deep concern, “nothing at all.”

Eliza looked at Ravage and though she could see in his eyes that he felt disturbed by everything she’d told them, he smiled too and only pulled her closer. “We’ll figure this out, I promise.”

“Kira…” Eliza swallowed hard and chewed on her bottom lip. “He spoke the truth, didn’t he? She’s gone…”

Nyssa’s brows furrowed in sadness. “She is. We tried all we could but we couldn’t save her. It was almost as if she’d died already, long before she was freed.”

“Vitiate said she’s been dead for years… We’ll give her a proper burial on Odessen,” Eliza decided, ignoring the aching in her heart. “And then I’m taking the fight to Arcann—it’s time to reunite him with his father.”

 

Chapter Text

A soft, blue light lit up the side of his face not covered in scars, or concealed by a mask, as the boy Prince turned Emperor only paid half a mind to the man addressing him via holo. His good eye narrowed on the Anomid scientist but his thoughts took him elsewhere.

Someone, soon to be dead, had dared break into his vault to free and take the Outlander, his most prized possession. The only one to know what had transpired between him and his father and Arcann could not be certain of the confessions made by the Outlander to her rescuers. Who knew what now, and who might be plotting against him?

Arcann decided to interrupt the endless droning of the scientist, “And how fares father’s little pet project?”

“Oh, well, we’re making decent progress though, fine tuning the correct dosage free of side effects is still a challenge—judging by the screams, it often comes paired with much pain and torment still.

“Fortunately, the test subject your father sent has proven quite resilient. The heart stopped only once and last week’s third degree burns have already healed. A remarkable specimen I must say, so robust, rare, unique among his kind.”

“Hmph, very well. Get on with it,” Arcann snarled.

“Yes, of course, Emperor Arcann.” The scientist’s holo-image bowed its head and disappeared.

A low, mechanical sounding sigh escaped Arcann and once again his thoughts took him to the Outlander, or rather, her rescuers and he began replaying the surveillance footage for the hundredth time. He paused it, as he always did, on the moment where the red-haired woman in black had taken the younger ginger in her arms and a flash of purple energy had exploded between the two.

“Who are you, what did you do?” he muttered to himself.

“Staring at pictures of your girlfriend again?” Vaylin teased when she marched into the throne room, “do you miss her that much, dear brother?”

He switched the footage off. “The Outlander knew our secret, Vaylin.”

“Yes, yes, I know and now there’s a chance all of Zakuul will find out what you did. Oh the shame!” she made a dramatic exclaim and cackled.

“Do you bring any news?”

“Hmm no. The Knights lost their trail shortly after leaving Zakuul but don’t worry, I personally saw to their punishment.”

Vaylin floated the recording device into her hand and toyed with it, turning it back on. “What do you suppose that big flash of light was?”

“I’m not sure…” Arcann mused, “but, I sensed father’s essence in the vault afterward.”

“Father? Well, he did always love his tricks. Do you suppose he’s survived somehow?”

“Perhaps…”

“And do we know yet who this mystery woman of yours is?”

“No, but I have ordered both the Republic and the Empire to run her image through their database and report back. We’ll know, soon, and then the hunt begins.”

 


 

“That was a beautiful service, I didn’t realize Jedi upheld their own funeral traditions.” Nyssa lamented when she and Theron returned to their room.

“They do.” His thoughts took him back to the day they’d buried Master Zho. “It’s rare they allow a Force-blind, or anyone not Jedi, to observe the ceremony but I would say this was a unique situation, in Kira’s honor.”

“Eliza’s kept rather brave in all this…”

“Mm.”

Nyssa blew out a silent sigh and watched him while he sat down behind his desk and plugged his datapad into the console to run his daily scan of Republic records for anything noteworthy.

“Theron… can we talk, please?” she asked, at last, gathering what little courage she had to address those things that had been bothering her.

The more she’d thought about it over the past days, the more she’d begun to question their marriage. Or rather, her husband’s commitment to their marriage. He hadn’t been himself and though she hadn’t wanted to see it at first, blaming the accident instead, in truth he hadn’t been himself since the day they’d arrived on Rishi.

She recalled the moment he’d woken up and asked for Eliza. Nyssa had told herself it was merely because Eliza had saved him, Eliza’s face had been the last he’d seen but now she doubted, strongly. She became more convinced something else was at play and reminded herself of the many occasions where she’d caught him staring at Eliza, smiling for Eliza while ignoring her and a part of her felt foolish for ever having thought he was merely happy to have his friend back.

‘The one who got away,’ Jonas’ words had begun plaguing her once again and she saw the truth of it now, each time Eliza and Theron were in the same room.

“Yeah, sure,” he mumbled, his eyes glued to the screen in front of him.

“Are you still in love with Eliza?” Nyssa took the direct approach, seeing no point in beating around the bush.

Theron froze. His jaw stiffened and he swallowed hard, feeling the heat rise to his cheeks and suddenly looking like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Instinct urged him to say no, to deny the mere possibility while telling himself he was sparing her feelings but he knew Nyssa deserved better than that. He knew she was no fool and the fact she asked him this now, meant she already knew the answer.

“Yes,” he admitted though he did not turn to look at her.

Nyssa closed her eyes, her arms wrapping around herself and she clutched her elbows, nodding. “Will you ever get over her?”

“I thought I was…” It sounded like a lame excuse but for him, it was the truth.

“Until you saw her again,” Nyssa finished the sentence for him. “What about me, do you love me?”

Now he finally spun around and looked at her, a hint of surprise in his eyes. “I do, of course I do.”

“But it’s not enough?”

“It’s… again, I thought it was. I married you because I do love you, I have loved you all this time.”

A wry chuckle escaped Nyssa and she sat down on her side of their bed. “I had to ask you, Theron. Not once, not twice, but three times over did I propose before you finally said yes. That alone should have clued me in.

“I fooled myself into thinking you were just one of those loner guys terrified of commitment or making it official. That you had cold feet throughout our entire relationship and just needed a little push but now I know—you never got over her.”

She sunk her face into the palms of her hands and fought hard to keep her tears and anger at bay.

“I never wanted this to happen, Nyssa. When you and I met I honestly fell for you. Perhaps not right away but over time, with each date, each moment spent together, my feelings for you became more intense,” he tried to explain. “And Eliza…

“I thought I’d gotten over her. As time went by, I thought of her less and less and I was happy with our relationship, with what you and I had built.”

“You’re not anymore though, are you?” Nyssa asked, “The past weeks you’ve been distant, cold. Absent minded. Half the time you don’t even seem to notice me and these fits of jealousy… I’ve never seen you like that before.”

“I’m sorry.” Theron walked over and went to sit down beside her.

Nyssa, however, jumped away fast as if the bed itself had caught fire and she needed to save herself. Protect herself, now, from him and his touch, from the look in his eyes.

He sighed. “I’ve been agonizing over this for weeks trying to figure out what I feel, how I feel. Trying to figure out what to say and do. I don’t want to hurt you, ever.”

“You already have.”

“I know, and I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” Nyssa said and waved him off, “don’t apologize to me now Theron. Just tell me one thing, I have to know—has anything happened between you two, since seeing her again on Rishi?”

“No. We haven’t, no. The only thing… I almost kissed her a few weeks ago but she pulled away and left, and that’s it. I haven’t cheated on you.”

“Oh, but you have.” Misery and sorrow now rang clear in Nyssa’s voice. “Emotionally, and in your heart, you have.

“You know, I almost would have preferred it if you’d just slept with her without actually harboring any feelings for her? Almost.”

Nyssa paced in a circle, rolling her shoulders every so often and blowing out deep breaths while Theron sat in silence. He wanted to apologize but she’d told him not to. He wanted to explain but every word sounded like a pathetic excuse in his own mind, a way of shirking the responsibility for his own part in all this.

“My sister just moved to Corellia,” Nyssa said at last, “their Medical Center is in dire need of nurses. They’re even offering advancement courses for free, on top of a regular pay.”

“That sounds worthwhile.” Theron already sensed where she was going with this and she confirmed it seconds later.

“I think I’m going to go stay with her for a while.” She turned around and looked at him. “There’s no hope for us, is there? You’ll always love her more, no matter what we do?”

He closed his eyes and nodded. “I will, and you deserve better.”

“Does she know?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“And if she doesn’t feel the same way?”

“I don’t know if she does, or doesn’t, but it doesn’t matter Nyssa, not where you and I are concerned.”

“No,” Nyssa confirmed, her heart heavy, “No, it doesn’t. You’re right, I do deserve better than this, than to be stuck in a marriage, alone. I’ll file for a divorce when I get to Corellia.”

‘Stuck in a marriage alone,’ the comment stung Theron but he knew it was deserved. “I will slice into your records and alter your status so you’re no longer listed as a traitor. Get you a clean slate.”

“Stars…” Nyssa had forgotten all about the reason they’d fled Coruscant in the first place. “Yes, that’d be helpful.

“I uh,” she said next and pulled a bag out from under the bed to start packing, “I’ll see if I can bunk with Jenna for the next few nights until I leave.”

“Right, of course. Or I can leave if you’d prefer.” He stood uncomfortably, unsure of what to do next.

A part of him wanted to hold her and comfort her while another part of him still ached to apologize further. He didn’t know whether to stay or go and in case of the latter, he had no idea how to say goodbye.

Nyssa packed at record speed, though, and by the time Theron had wrestled through the duality of his thoughts, she already stood at the door.

“Stay, you’ve got your workstation here and… I’d rather be with a friend right now.” She gave him a melancholic smile and disappeared.

She clutched her bag as though her life depended on it and hurried along the corridors, resenting the fact the majority of living quarters were built at the other end of the complex. Nyssa fought to keep a brave face and stormed through the cantina, desperate to reach Jenna’s room.

 


 

“Alright, Koth, what is it?” Eliza had granted his request for an audience in the war room and only hoped he’d not again start singing Valkorion’s praises.

“During our escape from Zakuul, my scanners picked up on something and since then, I’ve done a little diggin’,” he started explaining and pulled up a projection model of a massive looking starship, “this, is the Gravestone!”

“It’s ugly.”

Lana smiled. “Let him finish.”

“Sorry. Okay, the Gravestone, and?” Eliza forced herself to show interest.

“The Gravestone is a massive, and ancient, warship. The only ship to ever go up against the Eternal Fleet and win,” Koth said excitedly, “I mean, people have been searching for this thing for years and most believed it to be a myth! But there she is, sitting idle in the Endless Swamp!”

“The only ship to ever win? You’ve got my attention, what do you want to do?”

“I want to head out to the Endless Swamp and see this baby with my own eyes, check on her condition, see if she can be fixed. The Gravestone would be a huge asset to the Alliance, I’m sure of it.”

Eliza grinned at Lana and teased, “Looks like your boyfriend found himself a mistress.”

“Can you be serious?” Lana didn’t appear all that amused.

“Sorry, again,” she apologized, “Have your pick of a team, Koth. At the very least we should find out if this ship still has any use, I suppose.”

“I don’t need a team, Commander, just your permission. Havoc Squad is still out in the Swamps dealing with refugees, I’d ask their assistance.”

“That works. You have my approval but keep in touch and let me know the state of this Gravestone.” Eliza nodded. “Are you going with him, Lana?”

“Yes, I will be, if you can spare me for a few days?”

“Yeah, sure. We should be fine here unless Valkorion manages to take over my physical being after all and decides to use my powers to burn the whole base down,” she deadpanned and once more met Lana’s scowl.

“Okay, fine, not funny, I know.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t leave…” Lana began but Eliza waved her off.

“No, go, we’ll be fine honestly.”

In truth, she’d prefer having fewer people around right now, fewer people fussing over her. Between the unwelcome guest in her mind, Kira’s death and all her personal struggles, she felt suffocated. The only thing their constant concern did was make it harder on her to stay brave, laugh, joke and wear a smile for armor.

Eliza made a few notes on her datapad before turning to the elevator and heading back upstairs. She stopped by the cantina and picked up a tray for dinner but Ravage snuck up behind her and snatched it away.

“Hey!”

“Not tonight, I’ve got something far better for you.”

She quirked a brow in amusement, letting her eyes travel down his body and he smirked when he noticed. “No, not that. Come.”

“Pity,” Eliza teased and followed him to her room and out onto the balcony, finding the last thing she’d ever expected.

Before her stood a small, circular dining table and two chairs, both done up with fancy cloth and drapery. A vase with a single malreaux rose sat in the center of the table and small string lights ran along the balcony railings. To the side was a dining cart, keeping their meal warm and while the sight awoke some flutters in her heart, she frowned too.

“You… did all this, for me?”

“No, I thought the Sleens down below might appreciate a three-course dinner.” He rolled his eyes and pulled out a chair for her. “Yes, for you.”

“Ravage… I thought we’d agreed, no romance.”

“Will you shut up and just let me spoil you? Sit.”

Her lips pursed and she clearly hesitated.

“Please.”

Eliza swallowed a sigh and grimaced, pushing her doubt aside to accept his offer while Ravage poured out two glasses of wine and sat down opposite Eliza. She observed him, curiously, taking the smallest of sips of her wine while letting her mind wander.

“So, did you cook for me as well?”

“Mm no, but I oversaw every detail as the cook prepared your favorite, does that count?”

She chuckled. “Yeah, it counts.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Just a bit.”

Ravage got back up and brought the dining cart closer, serving up dinner. “What did Vortena want?”

“Oh, his scanners picked up on some old warship said to have been the only ship to ever win against the Eternal Fleet. He wants to go check it out so I’m letting him.”

“That easy huh?”

“Well, it gets him out of our hair for a few days and that alone makes it worthwhile.” Eliza grinned and looked down at her plate. “This is, amazing, thank you.”

“Try it,” he encouraged, “I still need to let the cook know whether he gets to keep his head or not.”

“You’d kill a man simply because he overcooked my steak?” She cut into the meat and sampled it. “It’s good, very good,” she added and took another sip of her wine.

Ravage sat back, paying little mind to his dinner and focusing more on her enjoyment. A tiny droplet of Alderaanian red lingered on her bottom lip and it took all his restraint not to lean over the table and kiss it away. He longed for her, felt it ache in every fiber of his being.

“You’re staring,” Eliza pointed out when she caught him.

“Can you blame me?”

The question hung between them but she didn’t answer. Instead, she dabbed her mouth with her napkin and got up, her fingers gliding over the balcony railings as she took to admiring the view.

Far in the distance, she could see one of Odessen’s waterfalls sparkle as it reflected the moon’s light. A gentle breeze carried the faintest sounds of rushing water and nightlife creatures all the way to where she stood and Ravage’s arms wrapped around her middle when he came up behind her.

“You’re making this very hard on me,” she confessed, resting her head back on his shoulder.

A devious smirk curled his lips and he pressed into her, making her aware of the arousal she’d stirred. “Likewise.”

“Wining and dining me, taking care of me and my daughter,” she carried on, trying to ignore what she felt both from him and within herself.

His lips found the nape of her neck and his hand traveled down her stomach, dipping down the front of her leatheris pants until he found her sweet spot.

“... Saving my, mmm… life…” She gasped and closed her eyes, quickly growing wanting under his touch.

It wasn’t just his touch though that got her weak in the knees right now—it was everything. She felt he’d changed, ever since their argument after leaving Tython. He’d grown kinder, to her, and more supportive than he’d ever been. He’d opened up in a way she would never have expected and while none of it was enough to steal her heart, her affections towards him had grown.

“Making you scream,” he countered in a whisper, his teeth nipping at her earlobe while he ran his other hand up inside her shirt to cup one of her breasts.

“T-take… me… inside…” A moan escaped her lips and she struggled to utter anything coherent now.

Ravage spun her around and while they exchanged feverish kisses, he began urging her toward the bed leaving a trail of clothing articles in their wake. Desperate sighs and cries of pleasure escaped into the quiet night, and silken sheets crinkled underneath their lustful exchange. Her fingernails clawed at his back while he devoured her lips and dominated her desires, laying claim to every inch of her body until they were both sated and spent.

Following the standard she’d set, Ravage withdrew after several minutes of lingering in her embrace, recovering his strength. To his surprise, however, Eliza took his hand before he got up and smiled, a fluster of delight still warm on her cheeks.

“Markus…” she spoke his true name for the first time in all the years they’d known each other, “stay.”

 

Chapter Text

If there was ever a time Theron might consider there was wisdom in the Jedi Order dogma, their rule against attachments, it was now as he found himself in a hell of his own making. Guilt ripped at his soul and stung in his heart—guilt towards the woman he’d made his vows of marriage to and guilt towards the best friend he could never stop loving, who he’d hurt with remarks he still hadn’t apologized for.

His state of mind, weary and dispirited, showed on his otherwise handsome features. Dark circles lined his creased and baggy eyes and the hand he rubbed down his jaw was pricked by a light stubble. His hair, usually modeled in a modest mohawk, now spiked in all directions, messy and unruly and he eyed a few shades paler—it was clear he had barely slept a wink that night.

In a split second of temptation, he’d almost rushed to the room next to his, to Eliza, to tell her everything until he remembered the look of devastation in her eyes the night he’d snapped. At the time he’d been too drunk to fully realize the implications he’d made but once sober, the image haunted him. Her eyes, furious yet filled with pain and through them he’d seen her heart break at the expense of his poor words.

Without knowing what to say, how to make things right with his best friend or tell her everything he’d kept in his heart, he’d stayed hidden in his room instead, letting his mind drift to his soon to be ex-wife.

His stomach churned, he hated what he’d done to her. Each time she’d proposed to him he’d doubted, his mind turning to Eliza, reviving foolish hopes he’d clung to despite knowing better—that alone should have been a clear enough sign for him not to go through with it and yet he’d said yes, at last. Convincing himself he just needed to decide to move on, that taking that final step would be the change he needed to move forward.

Of course, his mother’s discouragement hadn’t helped. In fact, it had done the opposite and Theron now scolded himself wondering if his own need to defy her at every turn had influenced his poor decision.

‘She’s a lovely girl, Theron, truly, but I don’t see a future for the two of you—you’ll be miserable and come to regret this,’ Satele had voiced her opinion in private following the lunch Theron and Nyssa had with her.

Now, as a new day broke and he lay in bed still rummaging through his own thoughts, he loathed realizing just how right she’d been. An agitated groan escaped him and he flung his legs out of bed, forcing himself up to shower and dress. Whether he liked it or not, there was currently no end to the work lined up for everyone on Odessen but in a way, he felt grateful too—it would keep him plenty busy and if lucky, away from both women he didn’t dare face.

For the next two hours, he sat pouring over the somewhat sloppy and incomplete profiles Lana had compiled of every person currently part of their alliance. He corrected what he could and checked Republic records next to read up on the prisoners Praven had intended to free weeks ago. Once he finished compiling a folder with their information for Eliza, he sliced into Nyssa’s Republic records to give her the clean slate he’d promised her, it was the least he could do for her now.

‘Nyssa Kenzik-Shan, status, married,’ the records read and Theron let out a sigh, glancing at the wedding band he still wore, “I really am sorry Nyssa…”

With a heavy heart, he removed the ring and tucked it into one of the drawers under his desk, then wrapped up adjusting Nyssa’s paperwork, deleting every trace of her actions aiding the alliance. When he was done, and after hearing his stomach growl, he finally got up and escaped the quiet privacy of his room to venture out to the cantina for an early lunch.

He turned his nose up at the supply of energy puddings and ration bars offered and made a mental note those should be kept as reserves in case of emergency, then settled for a bowl of mixed fruits and some toast. He poured himself a large caf and disappeared into the far corner, to a table obscured by the jukebox and out of sight from most of the cantina’s visitors.

“Yes, it is a perfect replica, every detail quite as the original, can’t tell the difference.”

Theron quirked a brow, overhearing and recognizing Ravage’s voice. He couldn’t see the man anywhere though and instead leaned into the direction from whence his words came, somewhere behind him and around the corner.

“The agreed amount has been deposited into your account and remember, do not breathe a word of this to anyone if you value your life and that of your family.”

“Of course, Darth Ravage,” a voice crackled over what Theron presumed to be a holo-call, “I would take this to my grave, my Lord.”

He heard Ravage growl, dangerously so, “Do not contact me again,” and then there was silence.

Realizing the call had ended, Theron quickly slipped back into a far less conspicuous position, just in time as Ravage turned the corner and entered the cantina via the side entrance. The two caught each other’s eye, briefly, and Ravage gave a snarl before he marched off.

‘Scheming bastard, what have you been up to now?’ Theron wondered and he considered the ways in which he might be able to trace the call the Sith had just made.

He didn’t get too far into his plans. With an eye still on Ravage, he caught Eliza entering the cantina next and his heart nearly dropped when the Sith moved in to kiss her. To his surprise, however, she turned away, rejecting the rather public gesture of affection. Theron observed them exchanging a few quick words, Ravage’s scowl increasing and then the man walked off while Eliza secured herself a lunch tray.

She turned inside, greeting several other people with a smile until she spotted Theron and froze in her tracks. Her smile disappeared, her eyes looked down and she seemed to contemplate leaving. It stung him, more than he could say but it also made him realize he desperately needed to apologize and work things out with her.

Decidedly, he took his tray and got up to approach her. “Do you think we can talk, please, privately?”

“I uh…” her voice wavered and he watched as she chewed on the inside of her lip, considering his request, “Yeah, I suppose, over there should be private enough.” She indicated to the back room and he followed.

Eliza closed the privacy doors and sat down in the semi-circle booth, her eyes trained on the plate of food before her and it reminded Theron of one of their earliest interactions on Tython. Back then she hadn’t cared much for him either, wrapped up in the dissent with her crew, her arguments with Satele and her concerns for Lord Scourge after their return from Makeb—it felt like a lifetime ago now.

“What is it, Theron?”

“I’m sorry, so very sorry for the things I said the other night, I shouldn’t have. Your love life it’s… not really any of my business.”

“You’re right, it’s not,” her response was curt.

“No… so, anyways, I’m sorry.”

“Okay then.”

But it wasn’t okay, at all, and her body language made it quite clear. She looked tense, her cup of caf clutched between her hands so firmly she was close to crushing it. Her jaw clenched and she stared dead ahead, into nothing while small, staggered exhales escaped her pursed lips.

“It’s not though, is it?” he asked to confirm and scooted closer.

“No, it’s not,” she admitted in deep thought, “nothing is okay…” Her voice rang heavy with all the things she didn’t and couldn’t say.

His words still stung and the implications he’d made, that she’d perceived, left her to feel she was dirty and immoral in his eyes. She felt judged, harshly, and it didn’t sit well with her.

“Talk to me?”

“Hrm…” She sipped her caf and a miserable smile curled her lips.

“You know, Vowrawn he uh… yeah, we indulged in some passionate exchanges years ago. I was single at the time, I don’t think that’s so wrong but it ended and since then he’s just been a close friend, a reliable one, almost like family but nothing more.

“And Cytharat? He’s my cousin. Second cousin if you’d like to get technical so there’s that and I’m not sure just how depraved you think I am but no, never.”

He stared at her, his mouth agape and he felt completely flummoxed, not to mention stupid. “I don’t think you’re depraved at all and I’m… sorry, I had no idea…”

“No, you didn’t but that’s not even the worst part.” She sat back, leaving her lunch untouched and putting her caf down.

“You made me feel guilty, vile for trying to move on with my life. For trying to have something in my life, even if it isn’t love, just to feel alive for a fleeting moment. Trying to fill just the tiniest fraction of the void my dead husband left behind. How dare you?

“You, of all people and…” she paused, swallowing hard and a single tear rolled down her cheek when she looked at him, when she felt her heart ache, “the sad thing is, Theron, despite what you may think, what you’ve implied, you’re the only person I… who I…”

The words caught in her throat held there by fear of admitting to the depth of her feelings for him. Held by the aching and exasperation she felt and the frustrating knowledge her words wouldn’t make a difference now nor did she have the right to express them after all this time—not while he had moved on and was happily married.

“The only person you, what?” he tried gently and met her eyes.

‘The only man I love just as much as I love Scourge,’ the painful truth screamed in her head but she couldn’t tell him. “Nothing, forget it, I have to go.”

Eliza got up and tried to push her feelings down as deep as they would go. “I should check if Lana and Koth made it to the Swamp okay and I need to do research, figure out how to get this asshole out of my head.”

“Please don’t leave like this,” he pleaded, getting up as well in an attempt to stop her, “I know you’re holding something back, what is it?”

“Theron I can’t,” she sighed out, her hand on the door handle but he spun her around and trapped her between himself and the exit, “just let me be.”

“There isn’t anything in this galaxy that you cannot tell me.”

She shook her head and gently pushed him away, now quickly opening the door to escape his presence.

“You’re wrong— there are too many things I cannot tell you.” Eliza gave him a contrite smile while another tear left her cheek. “I forgive you, we’re okay but now I have to go.”

“Eliza!” he called out but too late and she’d already rushed from his side, disappeared into the cantina’s crowd before she vanished completely.

Theron stood perplexed, at a loss for words or understanding. His thoughts raced while his feet carried him back to the privacy of his own room where he slumped down behind his workstation.

Why would she ever think she couldn’t tell him the things weighing on her mind? Had they grown that estranged, had he just hurt her so deeply that she no longer trusted him?

‘Or perhaps I just no longer matter to her. After all, she walked away when I tried to kiss her, cut me off when I tried telling her that I love her and sent me away to Odessen ahead of herself… looking to be rid of me…’

The thoughts tormented him and it felt like an invisible claw gripped his heart, squeezing hard, setting off an aching that sickened his stomach.

‘In fact, lately she seems to be avoiding me at every turn and she always walks away… she did years ago after telling me she didn’t love me enough to stay… I’m such a fool.’

 


 

“Enjoyed your private lunch with Agent Pretty Boy?” Ravage drawled when Eliza returned to her own room where he lay back in bed reading a book.

“Oh do shut up,” she snipped, still brushing her tears away.

He peered over the edge of his book, noting the distress in her voice and frowned. “What happened?”

“Don’t ask and can you please like, go to your own room? I want to be alone.”

“I’m not letting you send me away just because you’re mad at that Republic piece of shit.” He closed the book and put it aside. “What did he do this time?”

“Nothing. He apologized for the other night and then, nothing, it doesn’t matter.”

Frustrated and on edge still, she pushed the balcony doors open and sat on a single chair outside with her datapad. There was no way Ravage was leaving and she knew it but she’d be damned if she was going to entertain his questions on this matter—this was her struggle and hers alone.

Ever since Theron had appeared back in her life, and by his sheer presence alone reminded her of how much she loved him, she’d been wracked by guilt and misery. Longing for him while she knew it was pointless, pining over him and feeling guilty about it toward Lord Scourge—the husband she had still hoped to reunite with and was now forced to mourn.

Each day she spent in a tug of war between her grief over Lord Scourge and her continued, still blossoming love for Theron. It was maddening and only the tip of the iceberg in contrast to everything else she had to deal with.

“You need to get over him.” Ravage stood behind her and made it clear he knew exactly what plagued her.

She muttered, “Trying to.”

“He’s married, Eliza, it’s never going to happen.”

“I know and I said I’m trying!”

Ravage took the empty seat next to her, sitting sideways and he leaned in. “Have you considered sending him and Nyssa elsewhere? Perhaps to team up with that other SIS prick, Balkar?”

“Out of sight, out of mind? Tried that, it didn’t last.”

“You seemed happier, less burdened until we arrived here.”

A sigh escaped her lips as she finally caught on to his true concerns and she put her datapad down.

“Markus, we’re not a couple and you won’t lose me to him because you don’t have me. Besides, he’s married, as you pointed out.”

“Yes, I know, we’re not a couple,” he growled quietly and echoed her statement while he turned back in his seat.

His knuckles cracked when he strained and flexed his hand a few times, casting his scowl over the landscape ahead of them, trying to hold the resentment he felt back.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all, you and I,” she said.

Ravage’s balled fist slammed down on the armrest of his chair and his anger rose to the surface. “Damn you!

“When will you open your eyes and see what you and I could have together?! You’ve been happier again in the past weeks, we have been happier, isn’t that enough, isn’t that what you want and need?”

“Of course it is but things aren’t that black and white!” she yelled in return and got up, “I’m not in love with you!”

“No, you’re in love with that asshole who’s done nothing but upset and hurt you ever since he came back into your life!”

‘I never should have suggested Beniko send him to Rishi,’ Ravage scolded himself and his displeasure grew.

“Do you think I want to feel this way?! I can’t stop! I spend every single day in hell! In love with him while I know damn well he’s married! Seeing this fucking ring on my finger,” Eliza shouted and held her hand up, showing off her wedding band, “and feeling my heart break!”

Tears sprung into her eyes all over again while she carried on, “Feeling I’m betraying Scourge by still loving the same man I loved years ago which led to our break up back then, to me hurting him! And now he’s dead and I’m splitting the time I should spend mourning him, in favor of my never-ending love for Theron! I hate it!”

Ravage let out a deep groan and shook his head. “Then send him away, for your own good because this is destroying you!”

“It won’t change anything between you and me,” she argued sullenly and dealt another blow to the hopes he cherished.

The chair he’d sat in tumbled back when he got up abruptly and snatched her arm, snarling in an almost threatening way, “Send him away, Eliza, for your own sake and for his because if I catch you shedding so much as one more tear for that bastard, I’ll end him!”

She was quick but he was faster and caught her wrist before she could slap him. “And threats like that are exactly why I could never truly love you! What the hell is wrong with you, where do you come off even saying such things?!” she accused.

“Because I love you and I am sick to death of watching you wallow in misery because of Theron fucking Shan!

“Because I think deep down you love me too and we were doing good without him! I saw it in your eyes last night when we made love, it was different from all previous times!”

“You’re wrong!”

“Am I?” He pulled her flush against himself and kissed her hard, wasting no time to slip his tongue into her mouth while ignoring her protests.

The temper he’d tamed for so long in favor of winning her affections, unleashed and consumed him. Without another thought or care for anything but his own desires, he dragged her inside where he wiped the desk clean of all its clutter and turned her around, facing her away. He ripped the front of her shirt open, his hands eagerly kneading her breasts and then he forced her to bend over, down against the flat surface of the desk.

“Let me remind you, prove it to you, make you feel it,” he growled and twisted one arm behind her back.

His sudden aggression startled Eliza, paralyzing her until reality kicked in and she screamed, “Ravage stop! Don’t!”

This wasn’t like any other time where they’d fought and settled their arguments in lust driven ways and every part of her protested fiercely, struggling against his weight and strength to get away. “Get off, please, not like this!”

He ignored her every word, keeping her pinned while his free hand hiked up her skirt and tore her underwear down in one fluid motion. “You’ll see I’m right, that you belong with me, that you need me!”

His lips and teeth grazed her shoulder, up to her neck while he leaned over her and she heard the rustling of his robes, his belt coming off and dread set in. She fought to free her arm, to push his body off but his hold was far stronger and Eliza balled her fists.

Despair and panic welled up inside of her while she felt his hand wedge between her thighs, prying them apart and she realized she had only seconds left before it would be too late. Raw fury, awoken by the horror of her situation, took her in its grasp and surged through her veins. Her dark gift clawing at her skin and building up until she released a ferocious scream.

“ENOUGH!”

The darkness she’d learned to command did her bidding and formed a protective shell around her before it erupted into flames, knocking Ravage back with the force of her rage. He was thrown, far, to the opposite end of her room where he slammed into the wall and sunk down. One side of his face burned, agonizingly, touched by her fire and the scent of scorched flesh hit his nostrils.

The sudden turn of events quickly snapped him back to his senses, to the reality of what he’d done and he rose up. He touched his cheek which seared still and his eyes widened with shock, with onsetting fear when Eliza approached, cloaked in a tenebrous veil.

“Eliza no! I’m so—”

“Save it!” she hissed, closing the distance between them while she took him in a Force-grasp and pinned him up against the wall, an invisible claw closing around his throat, “Don’t you ever, ever, look at me or touch me again!”

Tears covered her cheeks but her hatred was relentless and she refused to break, seething with rage. She felt her skin hot, her essence thirst for blood while the power coursing through her chanted ‘kill, kill’ with each crackling in her fingertips. All she wanted now was to make him pay, to punish him for laying a hand on her, sickened by what he’d tried to do while she’d finally grown to trust him and came to care about him.

Their fight and her screams had drawn the attention of those nearby, especially in the next room over and Theron came bursting through the door believing her to be in trouble.

“Eliza are you—” he called out, worriedly but stopped in his tracks when he saw her.

She stood shaken and disheveled, her top torn apart and the back of her skirt still half bunched up in an odd fashion. Behind her, he spotted the mess on the floor and the toppled chair laying by her desk and Theron immediately understood the gravity of the situation.

Ravage squirmed and pleaded while his vision grew dark, blurry, and he felt the suffocation set in, “Please!”

“Shut up!” she spat out though her arm grew heavy and she wavered, slowly crumbling under the weight of her upset and the toll her use of power took on her physique.

She couldn’t last much longer, not like this and Theron realized quickly what it might do to her if she pushed herself too far. He knew the stories of her family, the risk if she carried on but what scared him more was Valkorion inside her mind, the fear he’d abuse her weakened state if she were to fall.

Without wasting another second, he put himself between the two of them and faced Ravage. He balled a fist and swung it hard into Ravage’s burned jaw before he fired off a small dart from his wrist cuff and watched the Sith lose consciousness, just as Eliza’s hold on him weakened and Ravage sank back to the floor where he passed out.

 

Chapter Text

Everything around Eliza drowned out while she stood as a numb and dazed witness. Within seconds of Ravage’s collapse, Theron had retrieved a vest from her wardrobe and wrapped it around her to help her cover up while he gingerly adjusted her skirt and she’d let him, barely moving an inch.

The commotion coming from her room had drawn the attention of others in the left wing of the complex and Lord Cytharat, with Praven’s help, cuffed an unconscious Ravage before they carried him off to lockup at Theron’s instructions. Curious eyes, from several nameless faces gathered outside the room, peered inside but Theron quickly shut the door after scolding them, telling them to get on with their work.

He turned back to Eliza and slowly, afraid of startling her or causing her further distress, sat her down in bed before getting her a glass of water. She still said nothing, devastated and in shock but with a trembling hand she accepted the glass and sipped.

Nearly an hour of silence went by while Theron sat in a separate chair at her bedside. Deep down he wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms, let her know she was okay now and safe but he feared causing her panic by invading her personal space.

“It’s my own fault you know,” she said at long last and put the now empty glass down, “I let him get close, too close and I knew better, I knew he had a dark side, a temper.”

Theron looked at her with sorrow in his eyes and he shook his head. “No. This wasn’t your fault, this is all on him.”

“I was warned, wasn’t I?” Eliza slipped from bed and dug through her wardrobe for a pair of pajama bottoms and a t-shirt.

“Meg warned me long before I even met him. Cytharat told me oftentimes to be careful but I thought I knew better. That I knew a side of him they didn’t and thought I could handle him.”

She disappeared into the refresher to get changed. A few bruises shaped like finger and thumbprints sat on one of her wrists and she let out a deep sigh—it was as though she could still feel his grip, an echo of his touch everywhere. She removed the torn shirt and trashed it instantly, not wanting to see it ever again and she did the same with everything else she’d worn save for the vest Theron had fetched for her.

When she returned, Theron was no longer in his seat and for a second her heart sank until she spotted him stood by the desk where he was preoccupied putting everything back into place. He glanced over his shoulder and met her meager smile.

“Thank you…” she said.

He nodded and pushed the toppled chair back under her desk. “Is there anything I can do or get for you? Do you need Quinn for uh… were you injured or anything?”

Fatigued, she climbed back into bed and wrapped the satin sheets around herself like a cocoon. “No. Just some bruising but he didn’t… he, I stopped him before… you know,” she answered the one thing he didn’t know how to ask.

“Good…” He let out a small sigh and fiddled with his implants.

“Listen, this really isn’t your fault. You tried to see the better man in him, gave him a chance and he failed you. That’s on him, please don’t blame yourself.”

“He was getting to me,” her confession came in a whisper heavy with shame, “getting to my heart. I wasn’t in love with him but… I’m so stupid.”

Theron sat back down by her side and took her hand. “What happened, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“We argued, sort of… There was something we didn’t quite agree on and it led me to tell him he and I will never be a couple, that I just don’t love him and, I mean he knew all those things but it took a bad turn this time.”

A frown came over her while she tried to recall everything. Some moments were so perfectly clear and she worried she’d never be able to banish the memories while others were muddled, leaving her uncertain about what actually happened.

“Did I kill him?”

“No. I used one of my tranq-darts on him and he’s sleeping it off in lockup,” Theron reminded her, “do you want to?”

“Kill him? Yes. No… maybe, I don’t, I can’t decide that right now.”

In a way, it all felt so unreal to her like a bad dream holding her at its climax and she didn’t fully exist in either world. She was exhausted, mentally and physically and surprised her abuse of power, of her family’s gift, hadn’t taken a greater toll.

“Theron? Will you sit here and stay while I…” she started but then sighed and shook her head, “no, sorry. I’m sure Nyssa’s wondering where you are.”

“I can stay, for as long as you need me to,” he assured her though he decided against telling her why—this wasn’t the time to discuss his own problems, “She won’t mind, trust me.”

She accepted his words easily, too tired to raise any questions. “Thank you… I think I’d like to take a nap but…”

There was clear hesitation, something she wanted but didn’t know how to ask for while she looked around somewhat lost and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.

He smiled tenderly and squeezed her hand. “I’ll be here, I promise you. Do you want me to…” he indicated at the spot next to her and Eliza nodded, relieved.

“Please.”

Theron kicked his shoes off and climbed into bed on the other side, settling in next to her but on top of the covers and he pulled her into his arms.

“Just close your eyes and sleep, I’ve got you, you’re safe,” he whispered to her while he rocked her, his hand massaging her back.

It took some time but eventually, she drifted off, finding shelter in his embrace and peace in his presence. He looked at her, sound asleep while she occasionally muttered something incoherent and he felt his heart melt—he could easily spend the rest of his life like this, holding her, watching her sleep and being at her side though without the events that lead to this moment.

‘I love you,’ he confessed, only within the sanctuary of his own mind. It was too soon and he couldn’t tell her yet, not while she dealt with this and not before telling her about his upcoming divorce. He also doubted, a part of him believing it would be insensitive and disrespectful to Nyssa to move on while they were still legally married and that was assuming Eliza even held any interest in him.

‘A relationship is probably the last thing on her mind right now…’ he considered, just as he felt her arms snake around him more firmly, her head nuzzled into his chest and further murmurs escaped her.

“I love you too,” were the words she uttered out while still completely dazed and lost to the world.

His brows knitted together and he inspected her face, whispering quietly, “Eliza?” but no further response came.

Had she meant it and answered his thoughts? Or perhaps she was simply dreaming, that was the more likely case and of someone else, not him. It left him confused, however, and he cursed the hope blossoming in his heart.

‘I’ll ask her, another time…’

Theron closed his eyes, fighting off the perturbation her words had awoken within and while he focused on her gentle breathing, the calm beating of her heart, he sank into a world of dreams himself.

 


 

“I’ll kill him,” was Malavai’s first reaction when he heard what had happened. One hand balled into a fist, whitening his knuckles and in an uncharacteristic display of anger, he punched the holo-terminal they stood around.

Everyone within their inner circle had gathered the next morning while Eliza, and mostly Theron, explained what had happened and why Ravage was now in lockup. It had been difficult for her to talk about, the words often getting caught in her throat and she hugged her uncle who held her and kissed the top of her head.

“I was aching to, trust me,” Lord Cytharat related and felt Praven’s comforting arm slip around his shoulder.

Eliza gave a wry smile. “And I almost did but for now, I don’t want anyone going near him. Give him his rations, the bare minimum we can spare but otherwise leave him be until I’m ready to talk to him myself.”

“Are you going to keep him here?” asked Me’ghan.

“I think that’s best. I’d considered having Vowrawn pick him up next time he visits these parts, and have him deliver Ravage to Acina but… he knows too much and he has a vengeful spirit—we can’t risk it.”

“Can we at least castrate him or cut off both hands?” Nyssa suggested, though in a sympathizing manner and half a smirk curled Eliza’s lips.

“Maybe.” She slipped from Malavai’s embrace and changed the subject, unwilling to dwell on the previous night for another second.

“Now, I received a transmission from Lana this morning, that former Knight she’s been trying to get in touch with finally got back to her and is currently on Asylum hoping for a meeting.

“Lana herself is caught up in the Swamps, apparently the Gravestone needs a lot of repairs and she’s asked me to go meet this…” Eliza paused and checked her notes, “Senya in person. I need volunteers to accompany me.”

“I’ll come,” Praven said and raised his hand, almost at the same time Lord Cytharat did and the two smiled at one another.

“I will too,” Nyssa added, deciding she’d like to aid the team one last time before she’d announce her departure.

Eliza put their names down and then looked at her uncle. “Will you and Meg stay here to keep an eye on the trash?”

Malavai nodded.

“Good. Let’s try to be ready in two standard hours and Nyssa, bring what medical supplies we can spare for the refugees. Might as well check up on them while we’re there.”

She dismissed everyone, save for Nyssa who she stopped at the elevators.

“I just wanted to thank you for being so understanding and allowing Theron to keep me company last night. It wasn’t my intention to monopolize his time so much,” Eliza expressed her gratitude, hugging a confused Nyssa who in turn glanced over Eliza’s shoulder at Theron.

The regretful and pained look on his face said enough and she quickly surmised he hadn’t told the truth yet—a thing she understood given the circumstances and though it hurt her, she played along for now.

“Of course, you shouldn’t have to deal with this alone,” she said bravely, “will you be okay, do you need anything?”

“Maybe a pill that stops me from making foolish decisions?”

Nyssa chuckled and they stepped into the elevator, a very quiet Theron following behind. “If I ever find one, you’ll be the first to know.”

Their company was only somewhat awkward and Theron’s gaze bounced rapidly between the two women, feeling a certain unease that didn’t seem to affect either of them. He’d worried what Nyssa might say to Eliza, expecting some anger but the truth was, Nyssa didn’t blame her. She felt the sting of jealousy, a level of resentment but she knew sensibly that her failed marriage wasn’t Eliza’s fault and couldn’t bring herself to lash out the way others in her shoes might.

“I’m sorry about that,” Theron told Nyssa once Eliza excused herself, “I’m not really sure when or how to… I mean, do you even want anyone to know or…? Well, I guess sooner or later…” he uttered clumsily without really knowing how to handle the situation.

Nyssa shrugged, leaning away from him and already preparing to walk off. “It’s alright. I had actually thought you’d run to tell her but… well let’s just get this Asylum stuff over with first and once I’ve made all the arrangements to leave we’ll tell people I guess?

“Is that okay with you? I don’t really want to make a big deal of things but I suppose once I leave they’ll want to know why.”

“Yeah, no, that’s, I’m okay with that.”

She nodded and drifted towards the direction of Jenna’s room. “Cool, okay, well I’ll see you later then.”

“Right, yes, I’ll…” he started but she’d already left leaving him to scratch the back of his head and sigh out—he’d rarely felt this out of his depth in knowing what to say and do.

They all regrouped two hours later and Eliza had brought an unexpected guest—Darius.

“It sounds dull, Eliza,” he muttered and shuffle-stomped his feet up the boarding ramp, “refugees and some stupid Knight? Why do we even care about her?”

A chuckle escaped Praven when he overheard and the grin he gave Eliza spoke volumes—he’d more than had his share of Darius’ protests and recalcitrant attitude.

“Well, first of all,” she began to explain while climbing into the pilot’s seat aboard the Vanora, “some of those refugees are surviving members of our Empire and they might know things we do not. The same goes for Senya, she may have intel we can use.

“Second,” she added and got to the more difficult part of trying to exert her authority over him though she loathed it, “it’s ‘my Lord’, or ‘Master’, or ‘Darth Seraphine’. You’re my apprentice now and you’d do well to remember your place.”

“Yeah but… you’re also like, my aunt, you dated my uncle,” Darius carried on, trying and testing her.

An inaudible groan escaped her and she tried not to smile. “I don’t care, the same rules apply. Darth Marr was my great uncle and I never called him by his first name.”

“Pah. Fine, my Lord,” Darius folded his arms and disappeared to the common area, bumping into Lord Cytharat along the way who sat down in the co-pilot’s seat and smirked.

“Not bad, I heard he’s a handful.”

“Yeah, I believe it.”

“I’m glad you’re keeping with Sith traditions even though we’re far away from the Empire we once knew.”

“It matters to me still and one day we’ll go back, when all this is over. He needs to be ready and I made Vowrawn a promise, he’d expect no less of me.

“Acting like the tough Master though and laying ground rules… pff. Kira never gave me much trouble but then again, I suppose the Jedi ways were different.” She entered the coordinates for Asylum and they took off.

“Oh you can do it and Darius is quite fond of you, protective even. Caught him lingering near Ravage’s cell earlier, in a span of ten minutes he’d threatened to kill him at least six times.”

“I know, Vette told me, why do you think I decided to bring him with us? The last thing we need now is Darius losing his temper, trying something stupid and in the process accidentally letting Ravage escape, or he’ll get himself killed.”

A rush of tranquility settled over her troubled heart and mind when vast space stretched out before them, bringing a smile to her face and Eliza switched to autopilot while she sat back in her seat and put her feet up. Lord Cytharat observed her closely and though he didn’t wish to bring up any further unpleasant topics, he had his own worries that needed appeasement.

“Theron, he uh, he said you were exhausted yesterday following the incident, slept for over twelve hours? I also noticed the heavy burns on Ravage’s face and his hands… you used the gift but it didn’t, you never lost consciousness?”

“No, I didn’t. Came close to it and honestly, it should have taken more out of me, it usually does when I use it against living beings to that extent…”

He frowned. “Could Valkorion have anything to do with that? Have you heard from him?”

“Not since we got back from Zakuul and, I don’t know if he could have but it is a reason for concern. It helped but, even his good intentions are dangerous, you know?”

“But why would he suppress the usual consequences of your gift?”

A shrug rolled along her shoulders and she blew out a sigh. “Who knows? Losing me to some weird Force realm inside my mind probably doesn’t suit his agenda.”

“Hrm.” Lord Cytharat ran a hand along his jaw, stroking one of his tendrils while he lost himself in deep thought.

Rarely was anything done without good reason, even less so where it concerned the former Sith Emperor and it left him uneasy. “Has your research yielded an answer yet, on how to banish him from your mind?”

“No. I went over every single thing Scourge ever told me about him, every word we wrote down and every text we’ve ever uncovered but there’s nothing so far.”

He reached over and took her hand. “We’ll find a way to rid you of his presence. Can he hear us right now?”

“I’m really not sure. I don’t sense his presence but that doesn’t mean he isn’t lurking. I’m just trying not to think about it too much or be overly aware, I’d go mad.

“How are you and Praven doing?” she brought up next having caught their minor affectionate touches and smiles.

A toothy grin, bright enough to light up the room crossed his face. “Very well. We’re not really making a spectacle of it or advertising our relationship openly, just quietly enjoying each other.

“He’s… the most wonderful man. Intelligent, witty, calm, serious but with a good sense of humor at the appropriate moments, and often so unexpected it makes me love him even more.”

She chuckled feeling the love and joy emanate from her cousin. “I’m so happy for you, both of you even. You deserve this so much.”

“I probably shouldn’t ask about your love life?”

Eliza shrugged again. “There’s nothing to say, really. The only man who’s shown me any interest in recent years… well, that didn’t turn out so great and the one I love… stars, just falling asleep in his arms last night…” her voice drifted off as she remembered how wondrous it had felt.

“But, he’s married. I keep telling myself that and I need to… just let it go, you know? Focus all my energy on defeating Arcann and the Eternal Fleet so we can go home and reclaim the Empire. So I can be with my daughter again.”

Idly and soon lost in her own thoughts she twirled Lord Scourge’s wedding band, the one they’d retrieved from Regina and that these days hung down her cleavage on a necklace, between her fingers. “She’s the love of my life now…”

 

Chapter Text

“Love?” Me’ghan nestled herself into Malavai’s arms and let out a small sigh.

They sat together, snuggled up on the sofa in their own room on Odessen having just gotten off the holo with Malavai’s mother and Selena.

His fingers gently brushed through her hair as he held her. “Hmm?”

“Can I share something crazy with you?”

“Always, my darling.”

“I’m… stars, I can’t believe I’m about to say this but, I’m not convinced Scourge is really dead.”

Malavai closed his eyes and a breath of relief escaped him. “No, neither am I,” he admitted.

“You’re not? So I’m not the only one?”

“No. I’ve had my suspicions ever since Regina’s convenient death and it made me think.”

Me’ghan looked at him, her index finger tracing the subtle lines on his forehead. “Think what, my love?”

“The only thing her story confirmed is Lord Scourge’s presence in that throne room. The ring serves as proof he was there but there is no tangible evidence of his death—only Regina’s word.”

“Mm, that’s what I’ve considered too and, the Sith Emperor, I do not believe he would be satisfied granting Scourge a quick death. He’d want him to suffer, punish him for his betrayal. Death would have been too kind.”

She reeled at the mere thought, knowing she too had betrayed the man. Used him and the position he’d offered her to escape death and defeat Baras. At times she still wondered if there would ever be a reckoning, knowing now that the Sith Emperor lived on in Eliza.

“I believe you’re right,” Malavai agreed, “and I have my suspicions Regina escaped, and possibly ended her own life, not out of fear of Eliza but to take the truth to her grave.”

“But who would have sent her out into the galaxy with that story in the first place and how did she get his wedding band?”

“Items confiscated from prisoners, getting the ring would have been easy. As for who, the Sith Emperor, perhaps, before his death? He’d want Eliza to suffer as well, she’s been his greatest adversary in the past decade.”

“True… leaving her to think her husband is dead,” Me’ghan considered and held onto him tighter, “well, no amount of torture could ever weigh up to that level of pain.

“What do we do? We can’t tell Eliza…”

“No, we can’t. She’s suffered enough through all this, we can’t throw her life upside down once more based on conjecture—if we’re wrong we’d break her heart all over again.”

Malavai sat upright and retrieved his datapad from the side table. “We need to find out what we can about this Regina, see if there is anything Beniko missed.”

“Is there anyone we can trust with this, you think?”

“I’m not sure.”

Me’ghan rubbed her temples and considered everyone in their circle with the means and willingness to help.

“What about Vowrawn? You know he has a soft spot for her and he’s spent years spying on the Emperor while trying to learn all he could about Scourge. He might have an idea or theory of his own.”

Malavai smiled and leaned in to kiss his wife. “Good thinking—call him.”

 


 

“So, Senya Tirall? What do we know about her, if anything?” asked Eliza when they docked on Asylum hours later.

“Not much, unfortunately. According to Koth, she’s a former Knight of Zakuul, quite loyal, used to hunt him and his men down after they deserted. Something drastic must have taken place for her to walk away and turn her back on Arcann.” Theron checked his datapad for the coordinates.

Nyssa eyed the group and clutched her supply bag to her chest looking for an excuse to go her own way. “If you’ll point me to the refugees I’ll go see if any of them are in need of medical aid.”

Eliza nodded. “That’s good thinking but take someone with you, I don’t want any of us wandering this place alone.”

“Yeah, sure, uh…” she paused.

‘Not Theron, please, not Theron,’ her mind pleaded and to make sure she’d avoid an uncomfortable pairing, she quickly chose, “Lord Cytharat, Praven, would you?”

They each linked an arm with Nyssa.

“Of course, my lady,” Lord Cytharat said playfully, “it would be our honor.”

His joyousness brought her a welcome smile. She’d kept her chin up in the past two days and refused to give in to bitter sentiments, for her own sanity, but that didn’t mean she didn’t struggle. That seeing Theron, hearing his voice and being in his presence didn’t sting and she embraced the idea of distracting herself by helping others.

“Charlie?!” Nyssa exclaimed when she saw an all too familiar face sit with a group of refugees at the medical post, “What are you doing here? Where’s Jonas?”

“Hey girl!” Charlie flung her arms around Nyssa. “He’s off trying to get his hands on a new shield generator for my baby, ours went bust.”

“But I thought you were both in the Swamp with Havoc Squad?”

“Were, yeah, but we ran into a group of people who needed immediate medical attention so Jonas and I volunteered,” Charlie explained while she observed the two Purebloods with some apprehension, “Are they with you?”

“Ah, yes. Praven and Lord Cytharat, Lana briefed you about them right?”

“She did, sorry fellas—I’m not a fan of Sith, usually.”

Lord Cytharat nodded and he quickly realized who she was—he’d read her files often enough.

“Charliandra Kothe-Balkar, formerly Charliandra Naimera. Also known as Cipher Nine, at least until your arrest and from there things get vague.”

“Charliandra Naimera?” Nyssa frowned.

“Pretentious, I know. My adoptive parents figured having a fancy name would magically move us up the social ladder—it didn’t.” Charlie rolled her eyes.

“I’ve always wondered what happened to you, whether you defected,” Lord Cytharat said warmly with a smile, “but I think I understand now, given your name.”

“Well, after Intelligence messed with my head by order of the Dark Council, I was sent on an undercover mission to spy on a man who turned out to be my biological father—I still haven’t decided if I owe Intelligence a thank you card or a good beating.”

“I heard rumor, to your conditioning at least.”

Charlie shrugged. “It’s in the past I suppose, nothing to do with you.”

“Agreed.”

“So these patients,” Nyssa started and looked around, taking notes on her datapad, “do you have a priority list?”

“Was working on one. The medic who usually works this post seems to have gone missing though,” Charlie said, “so it’s been slow going.”

“Missing?” Praven frowned and he offered one of the injured men his water thermos, “how long ago?”

“Dunno, I never met the guy myself.”

“That was Dr. Kimble ma’am, he gone and disappeared didn’t he? Said he got important intel and wouldn’t be gone long but that was ‘bout three months ago,” one of the refugees informed them, “we just been making do with the supplies he left behind but when we ran out, me and my wife returned to Zakuul to get more. Tis how we ended up in the Swamps, had to run from them Skytroopers.”

“Kimble?” Lord Cytharat repeated and frowned in thought, “Where have I heard that name before?”

“It rings a bell for me too but I can’t place it, maybe Beniko mentioned him to us during one of her briefings?” Praven suggested and the name rattled in his brain, it just wasn’t clicking.

“Could be.”

“Alright, well…” Nyssa pondered the situation and started to unpack everything she’d brought.

“Praven would you go get the extra supplies from the ship? Charlie, you take inventory of anything left in this post and Cytharat, help me sort through all these patients, names and injuries, so we can get started.”

‘I did ask for a distraction,’ she thought to herself and sighed while she got to work. Most injuries were minor—blisters and foot sores, a few scrapes, a man who’d suffered a burn from a blaster shot, another with a dislocated shoulder and all of them were underfed and dehydrated.

 


 

Their meeting might have been agreed upon by both parties but that didn’t mean Eliza was going to go in without a healthy dose of suspicion and vigilance. Her eyes scanned the area more than they looked at the woman awaiting them, at least until she got close enough and noticed the heavy armor Senya wore, the same model Knights of Zakuul wore to this day.

“Thought you were a former Knight,” Eliza noted.

A half smile appeared on Senya’s face. “I still have to protect myself.”

“Hm, a fair point,” she conceded, “thank you for meeting with us, I hope you weren’t waiting too long?”

“No, I only just arrived myself,” Senya assured her.

Eliza looked around a second time. “By yourself? Because if not, just call your people now and have them show themselves, save me the chit-chat and get straight to trading blows.”

A twinkle lit up Senya’s eyes and she laughed. “A healthy dose of skepticism, I don’t blame you Commander but I assure you I came and am alone.”

“So you won’t mind if I make a quick perimeter check?” Theron maintained the same level of suspicion and excused himself to scout the area with his blaster drawn.

“Feel free Mr…?”

“Agent Shan,” Eliza began introductions, “and this is my apprentice Darius.”

“Senya Tirall, but you knew that already. Shall we take a seat?” Senya indicated at the small table and chairs nearby. “I’m sure you have questions.”

Eliza hung her cloak over the back of her chair and took a seat. Once again she observed Senya, more attentively this time and she estimated the woman to be a couple of years her senior at least, likely old enough to be her mother.

Neat, nearly black hair was bound together in a tight bun and her blue eyes held the pain of her past. Unusual jewelry decorated her forehead, implants presumably although Eliza had never seen them in such an elegant design before. Senya looked fierce but if you paid close enough attention, there was a certain tenderness hidden beneath her harsh exterior.

“I do, starting with why you turned on Arcann,” Eliza said at last.

The older woman blew out a gentle exhale and nodded. “Straight to the serious matters I see.”

“Well, we could discuss the weather first but I doubt that holds any relevance as to why we’re here and who you are.”

“True. Very well.” Senya placed her lightsaber pike on the table before them as a sign of good faith, a gesture Eliza mirrored, and began to share.

“Arcann has become a disgrace to the Empire of Zakuul, a tyrant bringing war to our once peaceful planet and turning our own against each other.

“A small history lesson for you Commander. Before Arcann’s betrayal, Zakuul was protected by two orders—the Knights, and Scions who see visions of the past and the future. Together, they made a formidable team but Arcann has always hated the Scions. He believes himself above destiny.”

“Visions? Reliable ones?” Darius found his interests mildly piqued.

“The visions themselves, yes, I believe so but finding the correct interpretation is often more challenging. The Scions mastered this art, they’re rarely wrong even when it may take decades for a vision to play out.”

“Try centuries,” Eliza muttered, a bitter hint in her voice, “so, what happened? I’ve never heard of Scions before.”

“The moment Arcann took the throne, he ordered the Knights to kill their Scion brethren. Only a handful survived and fled—it was the last straw for me.”

Senya’s brows knitted and she looked down, almost shamefully. “When I joined, the Knights they were a shield protecting our home world. Now, they are weapons wielded by an insane child. They’ve lost their honor.”

A realization struck Eliza who’d so far only measured Arcann’s threat by Imperial and Republic losses. “It would seem we have not been the only ones to suffer at Arcann’s hand.”

“No. Your worlds may hold his focus but many people of Zakuul have become a victim of this conflict all the same—people he was sworn to protect. He may claim this is for their benefit, to defend them but it’s a false justification for his ruthless war.”

“You see now, why we must work together and end my son’s reign?” the voice Eliza could have easily done without, spoke to her.

Time froze up all around her and color drained from the world while Valkorion’s phantom form appeared. His apparition circled the table they sat around and paused by Senya, drinking her presence in. A rueful expression dwelled in his eyes, only for a second and Eliza tried to recall the last time she caught him looking that way but it didn’t click.

She sank back in her seat, displaying clear disinterest in his babbling while she picked at her nails. “I see why Arcann needs to die, that much I’ve always known but I don’t quite understand why I need you.”

“Your defiance will be your undoing. You’re not strong enough to face him alone.”

“Then I will work harder, train more until I can do this without you. We’ll never be a team, Vitiate.”

“Still you cling to the man I once was but I have evolved in my time on Zakuul.”

“Hmph. How did you manage to do both anyway? Be this Valkorion persona and the Sith Emperor?”

“That truth will reveal itself in due time,” he promised and his eye fell on Senya once more, “you’ll see.”

Just as quick as he’d appeared, he was gone again now and the world around Eliza carried on as though someone had hit the resume button on a recording. A recording she hadn’t quite caught up to yet and she sat dazed for a noticeable second.

“My Lord? Are you alright?” Darius sat forward and inspected the vacant expression in her eyes. “Was it…?”

Eliza merely nodded, not wishing to divulge her secret in front of Senya just yet.

Senya, though she’d noticed too, said nothing of it for the time being. “Arcann and the Knights of Zakuul must answer for their crimes, we must remove him from the throne.”

“Agreed.” Eliza got up just as Theron returned. “So, can we count on your support, even if it involves a direct assault on the Emperor you once served?”

A second of hesitation held Senya but she brushed it off swiftly—certain things were yet to be discussed she knew but now was not the time. “Yes, I stand behind you, Commander.”

“Thank you. Theron, arrange level one clearance for Senya,” Eliza said having decided to show faith in the former Knight, “it seems we’ll have another guest sitting at our table tonight.

“That is,” she added and turned to Senya, “assuming you’ll be coming with us?”

“Yes, I’d be honored, thank you.”

Eliza picked Senya’s pike up and handed it to her with a smile. “Welcome to the team, Senya.”

It was the strangest thing but after they’d said goodbye to Senya and walked back, Theron had taken her hand and held it, awakening a wave of confusion and longing in Eliza. She tried not to dwell on it much, banishing the hope his simple gesture brought and reminding herself of reality, but she did feel he’d been acting unusual ever since the previous night.

‘He’s probably just worried about you and trying to be comforting,’ she rationalized and let go of him once they reached the elevators.

Theron stared down at his hand, feeling the phantom remnant of her touch and he frowned.

“She seemed alright,” Darius noted while the three of them stepped inside, “but those Knights of Zakuul, they’re a whole different body of Force users, aren’t they?”

Eliza nodded while she kept her eyes on the display showing each level they passed. “I believe so, judging by their style and approach. Perhaps Senya might be willing to teach us their ways, if only to have an advantage.”

Their descent was slow, or perhaps it only felt that way to her and while he stood at least two steps behind her, it was as if Eliza could feel Theron breathing down her neck. She was suddenly so very aware of his presence she could practically hear his heart beating and it left her ill at ease.

“Darius,” Theron put himself in the door opening once they reached the main level, “why don’t you go on ahead to meet up with the others?”

He’d noticed it too, the uncomfortable and tension-filled atmosphere between him and Eliza and felt they were due another private conversation to address those unspoken things hanging in the air.

Darius quirked a ridged brow and glanced at Eliza.

“Go on,” she told him with a smile, “we won’t be far behind.”

He appeared reluctant still, narrowing his eyes on Theron before he stalked off and cast the occasional look over his shoulder until he fully vanished from sight.

“He’s protective.”

“Hmm, and to think he once threatened to kill me.” A memory of the first time she’d met the kid sprang to her mind. “What is it, Theron?”

‘Oh, crap, now I have to figure out how to approach this…’ he racked his brain instantly while running a hand through his hair, eyeing just as uncomfortable as Eliza felt.

“Are you sure we’re okay? I mean, I know last night but… you seem different now, you let go of my hand, I don’t know, I…” He fumbled with his words more than he would have liked to.

“We’re good,” she assured him and stepped out of the elevator, leaning against the outer wall, “I just thought it might look weird, or… wrong, somehow, us walking and holding hands? Is that a friend thing? It’s strange, right?”

“Oh…” The small realization hit him that she was just trying to be respectful.

“I mean, Nyssa’s been great but—”

“Right, yeah, that makes sense.” He nodded and dug his hands into his pocket. “So we’re okay, good? You are? I remember you said there are things you can’t tell me… is that it?”

“No, I… those things are, they’re me-things, I’ll work it out you know?” She gave a shrug and turned into the corridors with Theron following in her shadow.

“I could help, maybe two minds can work it out better than one?”

“Hm, do you know how to stop loving someone?” she blurted and instantly scolded herself, cringing.

‘Stop loving…? Oh…’ His heart sank and he sighed heavily with the wrong conclusion. “Ravage.”

Eliza immediately stopped in her tracks and spun around. “What?! No, never, not at all.”

“Sorry, he was the first… I’m sorry that was dumb, I take it you mean Scourge? It must still hurt that he’s gone.”

“No. Well, yes, it does still hurt…” she admitted and held herself. ‘But I meant you.’

An awkward silence fell and Eliza stepped back, dragging her feet towards the medical center in the far distance.

“You know, I’m not sure I ever said it last night but, thank you for staying with me.”

Theron gave a half smile while his mind considered who it might be she no longer wished to love. “You’re welcome. Did you know you talk in your sleep?”

‘That was probably meant for this mystery man too,’ a thought taunted him.

“I do? What did I say?”

“You just, out of nowhere said ‘I love you too’, then slept on as if nothing had happened,” he said in the most casual way he could manage, adding a half-hearted chuckle.

“Oh.” She faked a chuckle too and hung her head down, letting her red locks fall over her face and praying they’d cover up the blush she felt warm on her cheeks.

“Were you dreaming about anything good, or anyone?”

“I guess.”

He groaned internally feeling he had to drag the answers he needed out of her. “What was it about?”

“Just…” the lie started and she shrugged, pretending like she couldn’t quite remember, “I don’t know, it’s all a blur by now, I don’t recall.”

In truth, she’d dreamed about him. She’d stood on a pearl-white shore listening to the waves crawl up on the sand, watching the water reflect the stars in the night sky like raw diamonds on a black velvet blanket and out of nowhere, he’d appeared. She’d heard him whisper to her professing his love and in return she’d told him that she loved him too—always had and would.

All things she couldn’t say now, or ever. ‘I’d be rejected, or confuse him as he did me all those years ago bringing him doubt about his relationship… I can’t be a homewrecker. Just, shut up and keep walking.’

“Ah, yeah that happens I guess…” Theron mumbled.

Eliza hurried her pace and was grateful when they finally set foot in the medical post, effectively forcing Theron to drop the subject in the presence of their peers.

It was a rather unique assembly of people—soldiers of Imperial and Republic backgrounds alike now sat as brothers, family, having supported one another through the past years of survival. Taking care of Zakuulan citizens who’d been chased from their homes for questioning Arcann’s reign and protesting the war.

“Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again,” said an older and rather large built man, a laurel of silver-brownish hair crowning his otherwise bald head, “what’s it been, almost five years?”

A hint of familiarity struck Eliza though she couldn’t quite place it, not until she retraced her steps all the way to Yavin and recalled the Republic man who’d spat at her feet, admonishing her for turning Sith. “Sergeant Kearns?”

“The one and only.”

She smiled and took his hand, greeting him with kindness despite their past. “It’s good to see you again Sergeant, I had no idea you were aboard Marr’s fleet.”

“I was in charge of the envoy the Grand Master sent with Darth Marr on his excursion to find the Sith Emperor. Volunteered for it even, guess your speech on Yavin and a successful joint effort with the Imps left an impression on me back then.”

He sat down with her and beckoned another woman over. “Meet my wife, Captain Fora.”

“Lilith! You survived!” Eliza exclaimed in surprise, instantly recognizing the Imperial woman who’d overseen the forces aboard Marr’s flagship. “And married a Republic Sergeant?”

“Yes, my Lord, he swept me off my feet. First to save my life and he continued to do so while we built a new future for ourselves out here.”

“Unbelievable. Congratulations you both, truly.”

“Master Jedi, uh, Darth, Lord…” another soldier approached and shuffled his feet.

“Eliza’s just fine, hi, please, take a seat.”

“Hey, I’m Ralo.”

“Ah, you’re the one who told Lana about Kira Carsen, right?”

Ralo nodded and lowered his eyes in defeat. “I heard you found her but she didn’t make it, I’m very sorry. You have to know she saved my life, put me in her escape pod.”

“That sounds like Kira.” Eliza placed her hand over Ralo’s and saw the regret on his face, the responsibility he felt over Kira’s fate. “She would have been relieved to know you survived, and proud.”

“Thank you. I told her husband too, he was here not long ago but left to go find her—I guess he didn’t.”

“Wait, what?”

“Oh of course!” Praven proclaimed when he heard, having stood not too far from them, “That’s why the name Dr. Kimble was familiar!”

“Huh… Doc, he’s here?” Eliza didn’t quite understand.

“Was,” Lord Cytharat corrected now that he caught on as well, “up until about three months ago he worked the medical outpost here. Left after receiving important intel which I assume was the news on Kira.”

“So where is he now?”

"Somewhere on Zakuul I would assume unless he got stranded elsewhere along the way,” Ralo suggested and once more apologized in feeling responsible for this too, “I’m sorry, perhaps I shouldn’t have told him, I had no idea who he was at first.”

“That’s, no, not your fault,” Eliza assured him and looked around hoping to spot Theron but when she didn’t, she turned to Lord Cytharat instead.

“Get the basic information from Doc’s profile along with a holograph then mail it to anyone associated with our alliance, have them keep an eye out. Knowing he’s here in Wild Space, well, it’s a start, we might be able to track him down.”

“On it.”

“Uh, Eliza?” Sergeant Kearns sat forward and lowered his voice an octave or two. “We heard rumor you’ve got a base in this sector of space? Any chance we might join you?”

“Absolutely. What’s kept all of you here for this long anyway? Why not try to return home?”

“Things back home ain’t much better, are they? Both Republic and the Empire bent the knee to Arcann, to the man who killed our comrades, nearly cost us our lives. Nah, we decided to stick together out here and do the best we can.

“Besides, once I’d taken a deep look into these brown eyes,” Kearns added and smirked at Fora, “well I wasn’t gonna let her go now was I? Coulda defected I suppose but we figured staying here would be easier and preferable.”

“Right you are.” Eliza smiled and got up. She made a wide arc with her arms in a welcoming gesture while addressing everyone who’d gathered, “You’re all invited to come with us, should you wish. Just let me…

“Ah, Theron, there you are,” she said when she spotted him and instantly felt her heart flutter anew, “let’s get a list of everyone we have here, who’ll be joining us at the base so we know who’s who and we can get going.”

Theron nodded and got his datapad out. “Guess Lana was right about us needing way more than fifty beds.”

Arrangements were made swiftly and while they’d arrived on Asylum with only six people, they would return to Odessen with twentyone—their original group, Senya, Charlie and Jonas, and twelve refugees wishing to aid the Alliance including Ralo, Sergeant Kearns and Captain Fora.

 

Chapter Text

“They were what?!” a bristling Arcann rose from his throne and stared the Zakuulan Knight down.

The Knight took a noticeable step back and glanced at his partner for help. “Spotted on the shadowport Asylum along with—”

“Our dear mother,” Vaylin finished for him and in the blink of an eye, she snapped both the Knight’s necks, “Oh isn’t this precious?”

“She betrays us…”

“Now now, you know mother’s never cared about us.”

Vaylin circled her brother in a prowl. “Do we know yet who this red haired woman is?”

“Yes.” Arcann pulled an identity report up via the throne controls and enlarged it. “Those Republic fools were eager enough to tell me everything they know.”

Eliza’s holo-image sprung to life accompanied by a completed profile spanning the majority of her life, courtesy of Supreme Commander Jace Malcom.

“Eliza Aurora Ignis-Tynan,” Vaylin read out loud and snorted, “how pretentious, I’ll bet she’s a Lady too.”

“She is, the last heir to House Ignis long presumed to have fallen until Eliza returned to the Empire. She was raised in the Republic as Jedi but defected when she discovered her true heritage and took on the name and title Darth Seraphine.”

“Pff, Darths, Lords, Ladies, Sith and Jedi, all these filthy species… what ever did father see in the Empire and Republic?”

Arcann ignored her comments and read on, “Her Master was Darth Marr, the man father killed and look who she married.”

He drew Lord Scourge’s profile up next to Eliza’s and Vaylin began to laugh, rather obnoxiously.

“Well now I see why she came here. Did father ever tell you what he did with him?”

Arcann remained silent—there were few things he didn’t wish to share with his sister and this was one of them.

“Spoil sport,” she sulked.

“It would appear Eliza also has personal history with our father. She faced off against him on numerous occasions, in his time as Sith Emperor.”

The profiles vanished while Arcann sat back on his throne and mentally cursed his father for bringing his old enemies to their doorstep.

“According to Jace Malcom, she’s dangerous and a serious threat. He recommends we take her out at the earliest opportunity. I should have him killed for that piece of unsolicited advice but at least he delivered, unlike those in the Empire.”

His sister shrugged. “You’ll take it out on Acina’s lackey next time he visits.”

“Mm yes… but not before he tells us what he knows about Eliza. This is personal for her and that sets her apart from others who’ve tried to make a stand against us in recent years…”

“Oh brother dearest,” Vaylin drawled and she feigned a sympathetic, yet menacing, smile, “she’ll be no match for you and your superior skills. You’ll strike her down where she stands and we’ll mount her head on the wall, a nice trophy.”

“She’s aided by our mother now, Vaylin, and we still don’t know what she did with the Outlander. If she’s amassing forces—”

“Then you’ll make them pay. You have me, the Fleet, our Knights. Her little group of rebels won’t stand a chance.”

Arcann nodded though with far less conviction than his sister.

It wasn’t just Eliza or the people supporting her that caused him reason for concern—his father was still out there in some form or another, he was certain of it and he dreaded to think the reckoning he’d face should his father return to Zakuul.

“Dispatch six Knights and two dozen Skytroopers to Asylum and have them interrogate everyone until we find out where their base is. Kill anyone who refuses to cooperate and remind them who’s in charge.”

A wide grin spread over Vaylin’s face and she clapped her hands together in glee. “Oh I do hope they don’t give in too easily, I enjoy a good massacre.”

 


 

“Do you have any idea what this is about?” Me’ghan asked Eliza and Malavai as they took the elevator down to the war room.

The three of them along with Lord Cytharat, Praven, Jonas, Charlie and Jenna had received a summons to meet, at Nyssa and Theron’s request but no one seemed to know why. It unnerved Eliza, however, especially since Jenna kept giving her the cold shoulder and looks of disdain.

‘But you haven’t said or done anything… just relax, it’s probably nothing,’ she told herself and sighed silently, ‘Or maybe they’re having a baby… ugh. No, if that’s the case, be supportive, be nice.’

She was a criminal, only in her own mind and only for loving a man she couldn’t be with and it was making her paranoid. Lord Cytharat easily picked up on her distress and pulled her to him, his other arm lingering over Praven’s shoulder.

“Chin up,” he whispered to her.

A vague smile crossed her face briefly and she scolded herself for being ridiculous.

Down in the war room Nyssa paced along the holo-terminal while Theron stood off to the side, his expression vacant and his eyes mostly averted, the both of them giving off an air of unease.

“I’m sure you’re all wondering why we called you here,” Nyssa began when Charlie and Jonas were the last ones to arrive.

Jonas opened his mouth to crack a joke, he’d been teasing everyone about a surprise party in his honor, but seeing the downcast look on his best friend’s face he swallowed his comments and stood mute.

“We are,” Me’ghan admitted, “is everything okay?”

Nyssa glanced at Theron, hoping he might join her which he did when he caught her eyes. He fell in at her side, in support of the announcement she’d prepared though he still said nothing, allowing Nyssa to present the news on her own terms.

“Theron and I have split up and we’re getting a divorce. I’ll be leaving Odessen in the morning.” She dropped the bombshell.

Charlie shrieked out, staring at her friends in shock, “What, why?!”

“This is certainly unexpected.” Malavai frowned.

“I’m sorry, I’m confused,” Praven spoke up, “and I don’t mean to pry into personal matters but, what happened? Is it something we, as friends, can help you both with?”

“No, it’s not. Theron and I…” Nyssa paused and looked at her soon to be ex-husband, considering her words carefully to spare him any embarrassment, “we realized we do not want the same things in life, for our future. We just no longer work as a couple.”

Behind her, Jenna quietly scoffed and rolled her eyes. As Nyssa’s oldest friend and the person who’d taken her in, she knew exactly what was going on and while Nyssa had insisted on handling the matter with dignity, she felt ready to punch the man who’d hurt her, as well as Eliza but for her friend’s sake she kept silent.

Eliza kept silent too but for entirely different reasons—she was freaking out deep down wondering if she caused this somehow, worrying this was related to Theron staying with her through the night or perhaps they’d already split up by that point but then why hadn’t he told her?

“You guys… I’m so sorry to hear it.” Me’ghan slipped from Malavai’s side and hugged Nyssa to her. “We’ll miss you. Is there anything we can do for you?”

“No. I’m mostly packed already and I’ve made all the arrangements.”

Jonas leaned into Theron and lowered his voice to a whisper, “Are you okay?”

He simply nodded and kept his eyes averted—Nyssa was being more gracious than he felt he deserved and it didn’t sit right with him, yet he felt ill at ease to argue anything she’d said.

“You know you don’t have to leave, right?” Eliza finally found her voice and brushed off her selfish concerns.

“None of us would ask you to and if you wish to stay, you’re more than welcome to. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, both of you.”

Nyssa feigned half a smile. “I know but this is my choice. While it’s best for us to split up, it does hurt and I would rather be away from everything for a while.”

“Where will you go, Lady Nyssa?” asked Lord Cytharat.

“Corellia, I’m going to stay with my sister for a while.”

Nyssa elaborated further on her plans for the future, something she felt more eager to discuss than the past but Eliza’s gaze drifted to Theron. He was quiet, unusually so and it disturbed her.

‘Don’t want the same things in life…’ she repeated Nyssa’s words in her mind and considered them, ‘maybe it’s the kids thing, perhaps Theron doesn’t want any, that would be hard to overcome…’

Well that means you’re screwed too even if he is single now. You’ve got a kid, he’d hate it,’ the next thought jabbed at her and she sighed. ‘Stop being such a selfish twit, your friends are hurting.’

She observed the scene and felt torn between who to support—worried Nyssa may not want her good intentions and if she showed Theron any, it might give her own feelings away somehow. To her rescue was Jonas who took his best friend by the arm, leaving Eliza to slip in next to Me’ghan and Nyssa instead.

“We need to talk, now,” Jonas told Theron and gave him no chance to protest, pushing him in the direction of the Force enclave underneath the base.

Eliza followed the two of them with her eyes while her hand rubbed Nyssa’s back. “Are you sure there’s nothing to be done about this? Perhaps you both just need some time apart and then try again?”

“No. Some things just cannot be solved or fixed.”

Rolling her eyes, Jenna came to her friend’s aid and joined the group, mildly shoving Eliza who continued being the recipient of her foul glares. “We should finish getting you packed and ready, Nys.”

“You’re really leaving?” Charlie’s brows furrowed with sadness.

Nyssa turned around and hugged her, working hard to present everyone with some form of a smile. “I am, I want to.”

“How long has this been going on?” Me’ghan wondered out loud trying to recall if she’d noticed any dissent between the couple.

“A while now but it came to a head three days ago. We just kept it quiet until I was ready to actually say goodbye and leave here.”

‘Three days ago? But that was before he stayed with me through the night… so it’s not me, or is it? Why does Jenna keep acting so strange?’ Eliza couldn’t help but continuously get distracted by her thoughts.

“Is it because of the uh, kids thing? I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance yet to bring it up with him…” she ended up asking.

A gentle sigh left Nyssa and she shook her head. “No, that isn’t it.”

It was becoming more difficult for her to keep a straight face, to not share the full reason for her divorce especially while talking to Eliza and she took Jenna’s hand looking for an escape.

“Jen’s right though, I still have some packing to do so if you guys don’t mind…”

“Poor thing…” Charlie lamented after Jenna and Nyssa left and Eliza gave her a vague nod while her mind drifted back to Theron.

Her gaze returned to the direction Jonas and Theron had vanished to and she eagerly wished she knew what they were talking about.   

 


 

“I take it Eliza is this future you and Nyssa don’t see eye to eye on?” Jonas asked Theron once they were alone.

“Yeah, nothing gets by you huh?” A sigh escaped Theron.

“Start talking.”

“There’s not much to say. We got to Rishi after escaping Coruscant… I saw her again and suddenly it was like no time had passed. All I wanted was to hold her, kiss her, love her and I started to come apart. Became jealous over little things and Nyssa caught on so… now we’re getting a divorce.”

“You complete idiot. Didn’t I tell you not to go through with the wedding at least a dozen times?”

“I’m aware but what was I supposed to do? I do love Nyssa, I thought we could make it work and Eliza made it clear she just didn’t love me enough or hell, I wasn’t enough.”

Jonas groaned out and shook his head. “She lied. Do you ever listen to me at all?”

“You don’t know that she did.”

“I do, it was obvious but you believed her so easily. Now I can understand why, with your history—never had a relationship before, dumped by your mother and getting kicked from the Order, a lifetime of rejections, that’ll mess with your head.”

“Yeah, thanks, I needed that reminder,” Theron muttered sullenly.

Jonas grinned. “Sorry, I’m just saying.

“So what happens now, you gonna make another declaration of love?”

He scratched the back of his head and shrugged somewhat. “I don’t know, I want to but… I don’t want to get burned again and with everything Eliza’s been through…”

“Everything she’s been through?”

“She hooked up with Ravage and—”

Jonas screwed his nose up. “Gross, has she gone blind and deaf?”

A small chuckle escaped Theron. “No. It wasn’t really a romantic thing according to her and they got into an argument, he assaulted her and, well he’s imprisoned now.”

“Hell…”

“Yeah… so, I doubt she’s in a place for wanting a relationship and even if she was I… oh, she drives me crazy.”

“Tell her. The moment Nyssa leaves you go find her and tell her. You don’t have to get involved right away but at least let her know how you feel.”

“And if she turns me down again?”

“She won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Please, I’m an expert when it comes to women.”

Theron laughed and clapped Jonas on the shoulder. “You’re an expert at breaking hearts and pissing women off, but thanks. How are things with you and Charlie?”

“Every day is an adventure, especially in these parts. We’re never bored, constantly staring down danger and we couldn’t be happier about it. Things got a little awkward when we met up with Havoc Squad, their Commander is…”

“One of your many exes?”

Jonas smirked and wriggled his brows. “But she and Charlie found common ground in mocking my bad habits so everything worked out.”

His best friend snorted while the two turned back for the base upstairs. “I’m glad you’re here.”

 

 


 

By morning, the group met back up near the hangar bays to say goodbye to Nyssa who now stood fully packed and ready to begin a new life on her own.

“I got you some supplies for the journey and extra credits in case of emergencies…” Eliza handed Nyssa a small pack and tried to smile. “Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything, okay?”

Behind her, Jenna scoffed quietly at the awkward farewell but Nyssa ignored it and nodded gratefully.

“Thanks… and thank you for taking me into your home and welcoming me the way you did when we first met. Give Cyara my love.”

“I will, be safe please.”

“You too and once it’s time, should you need or want my help, I’d return to stand at your side against Arcann.”

The two embraced in friendship. “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”

Eliza took a step back and nudged Theron, a silent encouragement for him to say goodbye no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

“Let’s give them some privacy,” she suggested and linked arms with Praven and Lord Cytharat, turning back to the base with Charlie, Jonas and Jenna following behind.

A few tension filled seconds passed while the estranged couple stood on the landing pad by one of the shuttles, and Theron dug his hands into his pockets feeling lost for words.

“Nyssa I’m… I know you don’t want to hear it but I am genuinely sorry for the way things worked out, or I guess the way they didn’t…”

“I know you are, thank you. I don’t hate you Theron I just… you should have told me, so much sooner.”

“I never meant to cause you any pain with it. I tried, I really thought…”

Nyssa nodded and stuffed the pack Eliza had given her into her rucksack. “Yeah… well, we did have some good times, didn’t we?”

“We did, definitely,” he admitted with half a smile, “game nights with Charlie and Jonas… watching your friend Caroline devour a record breaking four tubs of icecream after yet another round of boyfriend drama…”

“That time Jonas accidentally shot you with one of his darts and you started hallucinating, prowling around the apartment like you were on a top secret mission while stripping down your clothes, telling us all to shh and not wake the wookiee,” she recalled and chuckled.

Theron laughed but it subsided again quickly and he looked at her. “Can I… uh, do we hug or do you want to just…”

“We can hug.” Nyssa wrapped her arms around him and sighed out. “I don’t want to leave things in a bad way, and I do still care about you.”

“I care about you too. I really hope you find all those things I couldn’t give you, you’re beautiful, inside and out and you deserve it.”

“Thanks… You know it hurts but, for what it’s worth, I hope things will finally work out for you too. She’d be a fool to turn you away.”

They embraced still and held each other and Theron kissed the top of her head before letting her go at last. He helped her into the shuttle, said one last goodbye and took a few steps back to wave her off as Nyssa took to the skies embracing a new future.

 

Chapter Text

Armed with a thermos full of caf, her datapad and a stack of files Eliza snuck out the back entrance of the base into the lush landscape that covered the planet. A gentle breeze welcomed her, whipping through her hair while she sauntered down the mossy path along the river to find a clearing.

A slanted, granite rock wedged into the dirt between grass and pebbles made do as a bench and she removed her boots to dip her toes in the cooling stream. A wandering Sleen canted its head at her presence and let a curious croak rumble up its lizard-like throat before it slithered back into seclusion. Eliza smiled and opened up the files Theron had compiled for her concerning the prisoners on Coruscant.

‘Zenith, a former resistance fighter on Balmorra… Corso Riggs, a mercenary born on Ord Mantell, Andronikos Revel… huh, used to work with Nox, go figure… pirate… what brought all of you together?’

She frowned to herself going through the various profiles. ‘Ashara Zavros… oh, the Jedi who returned to the Order after Nox died. I remember Markus—Ravage, mention…’

Her shoulders dropped and she closed her eyes, a loaded sigh passing her lips. Without realizing she rolled her sleeve up to her elbow and stared down at her wrist—the bruises were gone by now, three days later and yet she still felt them.

So much had happened in such little time and in quiet moments like these, she wondered how life ever got to be so crazy. In a span of just four days, everything had changed.

Ravage had assaulted her and shattered every ounce of affection and warmth she’d begun to cherish for him, throwing their trust out of the window and unveiling the truth of his nature at last. Each day since then he’d called her name, demanded she’d come see him and each day thus far she’d refused.

Asylum had opened her eyes to the full extent of Arcann’s tyranny and left her to question how any ruler could subject his own people to such suffering. Questions that inevitably lead her to think about his father, the Sith Emperor, the former Emperor of Zakuul and the man wearing more than just one face. Of course there was Senya too, such a peculiar presence and Eliza still worked to try and figure her out.

Theron and Nyssa had broken up—that event puzzled her more than any other—and Nyssa had left the alliance to fly to Corellia just a mere few hours ago. It seemed so unreal, they’d appeared so happy each time Eliza had seen them together and she couldn’t fathom what had happened, why they’d ended so abruptly.

She felt guilty about it which only confused her further knowing she hadn’t done anything wrong she was aware of and while her feelings for Theron grew, she’d made damn sure to keep her secret.

‘Cytharat wouldn’t have told anyone…’  She shook her head and closed the files. ‘But Ravage would have… no, they broke up before he…’

Numerous thoughts quickly drowned out her surroundings and the only sound she heard was the buzzing in her own mind. So lost in her own world she hardly noticed the shadow fall over her like a shroud while footsteps crunched down the path.

“So this is where you’re hiding,” Theron said quietly and tried not to startle her.

He picked her boots up and set them off to the side before he sat himself down beside her.

“Hey.” She smiled his way. “How are you feeling?”

“Strange, it’s odd she’s gone now but it’s a relief too.”

“Yeah?”

“There was no sense in holding on, this is better for both of us.”

Small lines creased over the bridge of Eliza’s nose when she frowned. “Can I ask what really happened? Her explanation sounded… vague.”

Her hand covered his, resting in his lap and easily their fingers laced together as if that was the way they were meant to be—always connected and interwoven.

“It’s…” He swallowed hard and met her eyes, clear blue and begging him for answers he didn’t know how to give—not without putting his aching heart on the line.

“Eliza…”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t pry.”

“No, it isn’t that. I just, I’m more concerned about you. With everything that’s been going on and this stuff you keep claiming you can’t tell me about. You have so much on your plate, you shouldn’t be alone.”

It was a caring and genuine statement, and a convenient deflection away from what he felt too afraid to admit.

‘You can tell him now, his marriage is over. What’s the worst that can happen? Even if he turns you down, at least you’ll know…’

She said nothing, however, and instead sank into his embrace. His arm snaked down around her middle, her head resting just below his chin while she held his hand still and caressed her thumb over his knuckles—their body language far ahead of the confessions they hadn’t made yet.

Why was it so hard to get the words across her lips? They were both single now, any obstacle had evaporated with Nyssa’s departure and it was time to be honest. Then again, perhaps it was too soon.

‘He’s not even divorced yet…’ She realized and closed her eyes. ‘Sure, but in a few weeks from now? How many more excuses will you torture yourself with before finally saying those simple words?’

“Please, talk to me,” she heard him whisper and plead.

Theron buried his face against the top of her head and nuzzled her hair, inhaling her scent and he held her that much closer.

“I’m still in love with you.”

Her voice barely broke the silence, timid and vulnerable while the gentle breeze carried her words off but at last, she’d said it, the one thing she’d been so scared to admit.

“You…” He wasn’t certain he’d heard right and tipped her chin up to meet her eyes.

A tear sparkled in the corner of her eye before it trickled down her cheek and he caught it, quite incapable of wrapping his mind around her revelation.

“You’re in love with me?” he asked and just prayed he hadn’t misunderstood, “how do you mean still?”

She bit down on her bottom lip and fought not to look away, her emotions rising so high suddenly they engaged her instincts to flee. “I never stopped loving you, Theron.”

His heart threatened to explode with revived hope and joy but he needed to understand first—the truth was so vastly different from anything he thought he knew.

“How is that possible? You said, years ago on Nar Shaddaa—”

“I lied to you,” she admitted in shame and confirmed what Jonas had been saying all along, “It was enough, more than enough but I saw the look in your eyes when you heard what I’d done, when you realized how I’d changed.”

Needing to feel closer to him, especially if this would be the last time she’d ever sit with him like this, her arms wrapped around his waist firmly while her tears darkened his shirt.

“I believed we wouldn’t have worked and there was Scourge, who I loved as much as I loved you—that’s what I couldn’t tell you a couple of days ago in the cantina.

“But the truth is… I am still so unequivocally in love you. I don’t know how to stop, I have never known. You could take out your blaster and shoot me, betray me, do your absolute worst and with my last dying breath I’d still—”

His lips, tender and inviting, brushed down over hers and stole away the last few words of her confession. He’d heard all he needed to realize how wrong he’d been, how he’d misread every signal and now it was up to him to calm the panic he’d begun hearing in her voice.

In a single fluid gesture he cradled her in his lap and while one hand soothed down the small of her back, the other cupped her cheek and he deepened the kiss. There weren’t any words he could offer her now, his mind a tempest where syllables and sentences refused to string together into a coherent admission of his own.

‘She does love me,’ was the only thought that rang clear as day and caused his heart to swell. He gingerly teased her bottom lip and let his tongue caress along the small curve, hoping to invite her but Eliza gasped for air and tore herself from his hungering mouth.

“Theron…” With widened eyes she stared at him, confused, flustered and desperate for answers—anxious to know what his kiss meant and the thoughts he held in his mind.

“I never stopped either.” He found his voice at last and let his hand stroke her hair.

“You didn’t…?”

“No. That’s the true reason Nyssa and I agreed to a divorce. Because I am still so completely in love with you even she noticed and knew—no one else would ever come close to how I feel about you. It had to end.”

It took a moment for his words to register in her mind. For so long she’d dreamed of hearing them that it now felt so unreal like she was stuck in her own imagination hearing what she wanted rather than the truth but then she caught the look in his eyes—there was nothing but sincerity and promise.

“You never told me…”

“You never told me either,” he reminded her with a tender and warm smile.

“I couldn’t. That day we almost kissed… you were married, I had to walk away. I sent you to Odessen because it was so hard being near you without being with you. I… I kept it all inside and tried to distance myself because…”

Everything finally dawned on him, the quite logical reason she’d turned away from him so often, dismissed him and kept her secrets. The respect she’d tried to show his marriage. “I know, I understand now.”

Eliza laced her fingers with his other hand once more and brought it up, planting a tender kiss against his knuckles and then looked at the band around his ring finger, a shade lighter than the rest of his skin, where his wedding ring used to sit.

“Are you sure? About… I mean, does this mean you want to be with me?” she asked.

“I do and I am sure, I have been from the second I fell for you,” he promised, “you’ve always been the only one even when I tried all I could to move on and forget.”

“I have a daughter now.”

“I know, and she’s every bit as wonderful as her mother.”

“You don’t mind?”

“No, not for a second.”

Finally, the corners of her mouth curled up into a smile. “What do we do now?”

“Hm, are you ready for this, a relationship? Do you want to take it easy or… I don’t know, try to date in between this whole endeavor to bring the Eternal Empire down?”

She debated, her arms wrapped around him while she breathed him in and for the first time in forever there was a clear absence of guilt about enjoying his presence and touch in this way.

“It doesn’t really matter to me, as long as we’re in it together… I don’t want to lose you ever again.”

He drowned in her eyes as the weight of the world finally left his shoulders. “I’m not letting you go this time, Eliza, no matter what you say and do.”

“Theron?”

“Yes?”

“I love you,” she felt such deep relief in finally saying it out loud, again, but this time without any sense of dread, guilt or worry.

“I love you too.”

“Say it again.”

He laughed and obliged, gladly, feeling much freer now that he could openly tell her. “I love you too, you beautiful and complicated woman.”

“You’re one to talk,” she teased in return and then yelped out, chuckling when he swept her up in his arms completely and carried her across the field behind them, “Theron!”

“I’m going to make a suggestion that might sound shocking but…”

He stopped by the base of a large, overshadowing pine tree and sunk down, sitting her between his legs and folding her back into his arms. “Let’s forget about work for the rest of the day and stay here, just you and me.”

“Mm, Theron Shan saying no to work, that is shocking but I like it.”

She tilted her head and found his lips again, fervently and soon lost in a dream that had now become reality at last. Right now the world was their oyster and free of distractions, interruptions and the daily humdrum at their alliance base.

“You know my dream you asked about?” she said after a while when she caught her breath, “It was about you. I was standing somewhere, alone and staring out across the ocean when out of nowhere I heard you say you love me.”

“So you do remember?”

She smiled softly.

“Curious thing is,” he began to elaborate on the strange coincidence, “I didn’t say it but I was thinking it while I held you, as you slept and when you said ‘I love you too’ it was almost as if you were answering me.”

“Maybe I was, subconsciously.”

Her eyes closed while she lingered in his embrace and let her mind wander. “Jenna’s been acting kinda odd towards me, do you think she knows?”

“Possibly. I assume Nyssa told her my part in all this, not sure why she’d take it out on you.”

“Hrm. Loyalty to her friend I guess. You know people are gonna start talking if they see us together?”

“Do you want to keep this quiet for now?” He rested his cheek down against hers and nuzzled her affectionately.

“No… it doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t affect our work and responsibilities here… and as long as we have each other, I can handle it.”

“Am I really the only other man you’ve ever…?”

“You are, and it’s been such a struggle to realize that especially while mourning him. I’ve felt so guilt-ridden.”

Theron glanced down at the ring that hung from her necklace. “You know, I would never try and replace him, not for you and not for Cyara… I understand he’ll always be a part of you both.”

She half turned in his embrace and looked up at him, her lips seeking his. “Thank you… that means more than I can say.”

He smiled, his fingers reaching for the ring and he inspected it up close, feeling the piece of jewelry draw his attention for reasons he didn’t understand.

“It’s beautiful, right?” Eliza mused, “One of a kind although I’ve considered having a replica made, for Cyara.”

‘A replica…’ her words sparked something in Theron’s mind but he struggled to grasp the full picture.

“What do you think?”

He nodded, shaking himself from his thoughts and let go of the ring to caress her cheek with the back of his fingers. “I think that’s a lovely idea.”

“Theron?”

“Mm?”

“When did it start? Your feelings for me, originally.”

“The first night I saw you on Tython. This stunning young woman, shining under the moonlight, fierce and passionate and—”

Eliza recalled what she’d been doing that night and snorted. “A little crazy?”

“Well, that too,” he teased with a wicked grin, “but you caught my attention. I liked the fact that for once, someone didn’t immediately fawn over me, not even upon learning my name. You remained quite stubborn and unimpressed—it was refreshing and then you finally smiled at me and my whole world changed.”

“Really? That early on?”

“Mm, yes, and leaving you behind time after time… Dromund Kaas, after the defense of Tython, at the Fleet, Rakata Prime, Manaan, it became so difficult and that’s when I fully realized just how deep in my heart you were.”

He teased her neck with affectionate and light kisses, just right behind her ear. “What about you? Was it Yavin?”

“No… strangely enough, it was before Yavin. I just don’t think I fully realized then or perhaps I wasn’t willing to face it. Love, relationships, everything was so new and in a way, I was convinced if you loved one person then there’d be no way you could ever love another, not in that way.”

“I can understand that I think… so when was it?”

“On Rishi after you’d been kidnapped. Or at least, it feels like that was the moment something changed, even if I didn’t know it then.

“I lost it completely and nearly killed Lana. Tore through the Revanite camp in blind fury… Looking back on it now, I recall Scourge felt suspicious of my reaction, perhaps he had a reason to be and the relief I felt when you came rushing through the doors, to see you alive…”

The memories were so vivid for them both, a journey back in time and Theron confessed, “I wanted to kiss you right then and there.”

“We’ve lost each other so many times, said goodbye so often… had so much standing in the way…” she reflected, “Could now really be our time to make it?”

“It can and it will be, I promise.”

Their lips melted together while twilight drew a tangerine veil over the planet and they remained entangled in each other’s embrace until the skies filled with stars and the night air grew cold. The base was quiet making it easy for the both of them to sneak back in undetected and after getting a brief bite to eat from the cantina, they turned to bed where they spent hours more retracing every single moment they’d ever shared together, delighting in each other’s affectionate touches until sleep took them.

 

Chapter Text

“Well then, that didn’t take long,” a snippy comment came from Jenna when Eliza and Theron walked into the war room the next morning holding hands.

They stopped at the bottom of the elevator and exchanged some longing looks, playful kisses, and several whispers before joining those who’d called them over in the first place.

“Really?” Lord Cytharat challenged with a smirk and he winked at his cousin, “I’d say it’s taken them quite long enough.”

A gentle chuckle and grateful smile came from Eliza and she circled the holo-terminal. “What’s up guys?”

“Two things—first, I sent out Doc’s information like you asked and we found someone who’s seen him,” Lord Cytharat began explaining.

“Havoc Squad’s Commander, Kendra, circulated his holograph among the refugees holed up in the Swamp and one of the younger teens said she saw him on Zakuul in the company of someone named Firebrand.”

Theron frowned. “Firebrand?”

“An alias of sorts I’m sure.” A holo-drawing of a Rattataki woman appeared above the terminal. “The refugee made this sketch.”

Charlie instantly shot forward and narrowed her eyes at the composite picture.

“Oh hell, not her,” she groaned out and shook her head, “fucking Kaliyo Djannis.”

“You know her?” Jonas asked.

“Yeah, she worked with me for a while back when I first started out but she tried to pull a fast one on me and we parted ways…”

“Amicably?”

“Pff, no. Our relation is such we’d make Hoth feel like a tropical paradise.”

Eliza laughed and inspected the image up close. “I know her too… We hung out once while Doc was off curing some Hutt. She and Doc have history, makes sense he’d be laying low with an old pal.”

“I’m not so sure about laying low,” Lord Cytharat disagreed and pulled up what little information he’d found on Firebrand, “She’s somewhat of a celebrity among the locals on Zakuul. An anarchist with a reasonable following.”

“Lovely,” Charlie muttered.

“So they’re making waves…” Eliza pondered the situation, “Well, I guess we should pay them a visit, bring Doc home and—”

“Put a blaster hole in Kaliyo? Count me in.”

Jonas quirked a brow at his wife and grinned, he’d rarely seen her react this hostile towards anyone. “Wow, you really don’t like her.”

Charlie shrugged, half wishing if she’d punch the holo-drawing her former partner in crime would feel it. “Nope.”

“We could use you though, you do know her best,” Theron pointed out.

“I’ll come, just don’t ask me to play nice.”

“Hold off on making plans for just one second.” Lord Cytharat made a calming gesture with his hands. “There’s another, more serious, issue that requires our attention.”

The information on Kaliyo disappeared and he pulled up live footage they’d received.

“A few hours after we’d left, Asylum came under attack. Lead by Vaylin, the majority of those who’d remained behind on the shadowport were put under arrest and interrogated.

“I’m not sure what they were looking for but I’d assume the obvious—us, or rather our location.”

A recording played showing half the shadowport covered in smoke while lines of refugees were brought before Vaylin and her escort of Knights. The deranged blonde stood cackling at her victims, pouring volleys of her power into their nervous system to force a satisfying answer from their tongues but she received none and sent a randomly picked man hurtling from the platform to this death.

Eliza’s eyes widened and she slammed her fist down on the terminal. “Damn! Is this still going on?”

“No. Vaylin left with her Knights but at least two dozen Skytroopers remained behind, effectively taking control of Asylum.”

Sickened by what they witnessed, Theron turned the recording off and sighed in frustration. “How did they even know we were there? Are we sure they were looking for us?”

“This is my fault…” Senya’s voice came unexpectedly and her aging lines crinkled into a frown.

She approached and the very second she did, Eliza felt a chill run down her spine, a sense of being watched and while she observed Senya she was hit with a notion of familiarity—she’d seen that rueful expression before in someone else.

All eyes turned to her and Jenna confronted with an air of hostility, “You sold us out?!”

The older woman looked down, her shoulders slumped in defeat. “No, but they might have been looking for me.”

“Why? I mean no offense lady but they have thousands just like you, why would they care?”

Senya swallowed hard and knew she had to come clean—if she was the target then everyone in the alliance could be in danger and they deserved to know why.

“Commander,” Senya turned to Eliza and prepared her confession, “there’s something you need to know. Valkorion was my husband and Arcann and Vaylin, they’re my children.”

Exuberant, deep laughter echoed through Eliza’s mind suddenly making it clear why she’d felt watched, where the familiarity came from.

“Hah, she told you… how delightful…” Valkorion appeared, only briefly before he was gone again.

They all stood baffled by the most unexpected piece of information they’d gotten out of Senya yet and as the true implications dawned, Eliza couldn’t help but snort and giggle earning herself various frowns.

“Oh I’m sorry, I know this shouldn’t be a laughing matter but… wow, of all things. I guess that explains why he appeared so focused on you when we met.”

“He…?” Senya didn’t quite follow.

“Heh, my turn to confess I suppose…” She chuckled. “Your husband, he kind of lives on inside my head.”

Senya’s eyes widened. “Valkorion lives on…?”

“If you can call it living.”

“Wait, hang on,” Jonas came between and tried hard to wrap his head around Senya’s admission while the mental images left him disturbed, “you had actual children with the Sith Emperor? A big, old, creepy and immortal guy who enjoys sucking the life out of living things…?”

“He was never this Sith Emperor you speak of with me.” Senya smiled in a wistful manner. “He was Valkorion and such a—”

“Yeah, I’m not ready to hear the details.” Theron threw his hands up to ward off any further unwanted explanations.

“Let’s take a few steps back and focus on what happened on Asylum,” he suggested instead.

“Yes, please,” Lord Cytharat agreed.

Jenna nodded. “Well, can we be certain they were there for us, or her?” she indicated at Senya, “What if it’s just a coincidence?”

“It doesn’t matter, they need our help. Those people fled Zakuul to get away from Arcann’s tyranny and now they’re subject to it all over again… Doc will have to wait,” Eliza made the decision.

She paced the area before the holo-terminal and mentally went over anyone who might be available to assist.

“Inform Praven, Darius, my uncle and Meg of the situation and have them prepare. Senya, will you join us? We could use the help.”

“Absolutely, I have to make this right.”

“Okay, then let’s get moving and meet up in the transport bay in an hour.”

Eliza rushed off with Theron following behind and once they got to her room, he roped her in and wrapped his arms around her to steal a split second of affection.

“Never a dull day,” he tried lightheartedly and nipped at her lips.

“Mm, you’ve got that right. I guess Arcann’s figured out we’re—”

The sudden chiming of her comm-device interrupted them both and Eliza groaned while she answered, “What is it?”

“Now now, is that any way of speaking to me, beautiful?” Vowrawn chided playfully at her annoyance.

“Oh, hi.” Her tone changed quickly and she smiled. “To what do I owe this honor?”

“Nothing good I’m afraid.” His jubilant demeanor took a turn.

“I received unsettling news—word came from Arcann, he’s seeking to identify a particular red-haired woman caught breaking into the Spire. It’s accompanied by a still of you.”

Theron and Eliza exchanged a quick glance and the latter sighed. “That was to be expected…”

“Yes, now, I was the one they contacted and naturally I’ve withheld all information. However, we discovered through Intelligence that the Republic received the same request and it turns out the Supreme Commander did hand over a full and detailed report on everything they know about you.”

Theron’s eyes widened. “What? The Supreme Commander, are you sure?”

“Positive. We’ve been monitoring their communications for some time now.”

“Damn!” he cursed, unable to believe his father would sell her out and he frowned, “I’m sorry Eliza.”

“Don’t be, it’s okay,” she reassured him, “I’m an enemy of the Republic, of course they’d share everything especially if it’ll gain them Arcann’s favor. In his shoes, I might have done the same.” She kissed him softly.

It did put them in a precarious situation however and Eliza turned her attention back to Vowrawn.

“You can’t go back to Zakuul. We have to assume Arcann knows everything including my association with you and the Empire. The fact you’ve failed to provide him with intel, he won’t be pleased and neither will Acina.”

“No, they won’t, but don’t you worry about me beautiful, I’ve outrun and survived worse but you, you need to watch yourself now there’s a target on your back.”

“We knew the risk when we went to free Kira, though this might explain why Vaylin attacked Asylum, if they’ve got eyes on us…”

She gave a pained grimace. “Do you have a copy of the exact information transmitted?”

“Sending it your way now.”

“Thank you, for everything, as always.”

“It’s my absolute pleasure, be well m’dear.”

Eliza ended the call and let out another exasperated sigh. “Stars, is it always going to be like this? The second one thing goes right, everything else turns into shit?”

“That does seem to be the way,” Theron sympathized while he retrieved her rucksack, “Vowrawn is right though, you need to watch your step now.”

He opened up the drawer of her nightstand to get her datapad when his eye caught the comm device he’d confiscated from Ravage following his arrest.

“Yeah… I suppose a confrontation lies in the near future,” Eliza muttered and disappeared behind the dressing screen in her room to change into something better suited for battle.

While she was distracted, Theron took the comm device and slipped it into the pocket of his jeans. He hadn’t forgotten what he’d overheard Ravage say in the cantina days ago nor had he been able to silence the nagging of his instincts when Eliza had mentioned creating a replica of Lord Scourge’s wedding band.

‘I should see if I can get a transmission log from this thing…’ he mused and quickly excused himself to Eliza, “I’m just going to grab a few things from my room.”

Right now he wouldn’t have enough time to fully investigate but at the very least he could get his decryption programs running and hope for a result by the time they’d return from Asylum.

He also felt he couldn’t tell Eliza, at least not before verifying his own suspicious, unwilling to cause her potentially unnecessary upset though he loathed keeping anything from her. The only comfort he found was in knowing that for now, Ravage was safely locked away and whatever the man had been up to, he’d have no way of furthering his schemes at this point.

“Do we have a plan?” Praven asked once everyone met back up.

“Clear Asylum of any remaining Skytroopers and try to convince everyone to come back with us,” Eliza offered, “We can’t protect that place or spare the manpower to keep guard.”

“Is it wise to bring them here though? The fact they’ve fled Zakuul doesn’t automatically put them on our side.”

She shrugged. “We’ll take it on a case-by-case basis, anyone who wishes to remain behind is free to but we won’t be coming to their rescue every single time, we can’t afford to.”

Senya tapped her on the shoulder and frowned, having followed the conversation. “Does uh, Valkorion have any suggestions? These are his people too.”

Her question caused Eliza to snort and shake her head. “It doesn’t quite work that way. He comes and goes as he pleases and has this annoying habit of failing to answer or even acknowledge any of my questions unless it serves his own agenda.”

‘Though I could use a little chat with you Vitiate…’ she dared to think and waited but the man who’d been gloating earlier remained silent, ‘Figures…’

As much as she hated his presence within her mind, at times she wished she could simply reach out to him and force him to satisfy her endless curiosities—she still hadn’t figured out how he’d ever managed to live a double life, how it was she’d defeated him at the Dark Temple on Dromund Kaas while he’d clearly lived on as Emperor of Zakuul.

There was also the fact that his presence had somehow prevented her from entering the Force-realm she’d visited in the past, to speak with her grandfather and she desperately wanted to know just how much of her current life, her thoughts, Vitiate had access to.

It was moments like these where she desperately wished for Lord Scourge’s council, his vast knowledge of the Emperor and she turned to Lord Cytharat while they boarded her ship.

“Hey… I know it’s probably a stupid question but, do you know of any methods to uhm…” she paused and imagined herself to sound so ridiculous right now but she had to ask, “contact those who’ve passed on to the Force Astrum?”

He gave her an inquisitive look and accompanied her to the galley of the ship for privacy. “Uhm… I don’t, I’m not sure, why? Is this because of Theron? Do you want to contact Scourge?”

“No, well yes, I want to contact him, but no, not because of Theron. It’s… look, Scourge knows the Emperor better than anyone and I need answers. He might be the only one who could give them to me.”

“I don’t really know of anyone who’s ever…” Lord Cytharat twisted one of his tendril rings while he sunk into deep thought.

“Although,” he mused minutes later while the Vanora took off, “there is one thing, an ancient Pureblood tradition, but no one’s performed it in decades…”

“The Rite of Eroaga,” Praven said, having quietly followed them, “or in basic, The Rite of Unity, performed in the old days as part of matrimonial ceremonies.”

Lord Cytharat nodded. “A young couple would enter the ritual to seek the wisdom of their ancestors and their spirit Elders would either reject or sanction the union between the two bloodlines.

“But as I said, it hasn’t been performed in decades—I wouldn’t know how to.”

Eliza bit her lip and frowned. “I’m probably not Pureblood enough anyway, nor am I marrying one.”

Praven and Lord Cytharat exchanged a quick but meaningful glance, debating the matter with each other through a simple look into each other's eyes and Praven put a hand on Eliza’s shoulder.

“I can consult my books when we return,” he offered kindly, “but you must bear in mind the odds of success are minimal. There is no evidence the ritual has ever worked, only stories of legend.”

“And it would be complicated,” Lord Cytharat pointed out, “to establish a connection to the Force Astrum at all, let alone find one specific soul and that is assuming Scourge passed through the veil.”

“Why wouldn’t he have?” She frowned.

“Not all do. Some linger in Ora, the realm between our world and Astrum, for years either because of unresolved problems or to watch over and guide their loved ones.”

“Oh…”

“If he’s there, he cannot be reached.”

“But we can try, right?” She held a pleading look in her eyes. “I mean, he might be the only one with the answers we need.”

Half reluctant but knowing there’d be no dissuading her now, Lord Cytharat nodded and hugged her to him. “We can try, yes.”

 

Chapter Text

“It is imperative he does not perish,” Arcann barked at the scientist, “Continue your studies to find the correct formula but keep the man alive at all cost.”

“Yes, of course, Emperor Arcann.” Jarak cowered before the enlarged holo-projection within his laboratory.

He circled around the large, metallic, medical table turned upright where his subject sat strapped in and angled it toward Arcann’s view.

“As you can see, he is in fine condition currently.”

“Hrm.” Arcann’s one good eye narrowed and he leaned forward to observe the Pureblood closely.

Thickly defined scars covered Lord Scourge’s torso from his navel up to his collarbones and down along both arms. Twin injection needles were embedded into his biceps on either side pumping vibrant green and blue liquids into his body and tinting his veins. His eyelashes fluttered feebly, indicating bare consciousness and as a result of previous experiments, the tip ends of his tendrils had turned black.

Contrary to what they were lead to believe though, he was in fact wide awake, as he was most of the time, and quietly listening in on the inane conversation between the scientist and his sorry excuse for an Emperor.

“Very well,” Arcann approved after minutes of studying his appearance, “and your progress?”

“Minimal, I’m afraid,” Jarak admitted timidly and glossed at his personal notes, “his physiology did not contain enough traces of the original process, as you know, and your father’s books have told us nothing. The cure he’s taken appears to be of mythical origin rather than scientific.

“We’ve managed to replicate his accelerated healing properties through a bone marrow extraction and synthesized a way of permanently increasing his strength. We’ve found a method of reversing his regenerative properties to a point of near death but we cannot seem to achieve true immortality.”

Jarak hardly dared look at the holo-projection while he relayed his findings and he swallowed hard, his voice sinking to a near whisper, “We have to consider it may not be possible to repeat what your father did to this man, at least not through scientific means.”

“You will make it possible!” Arcann bellowed and rose from his throne, causing Jarak to quake with fear, “Or I will come down there myself to test every failing formula on you!”

Through a squinted left eye, Lord Scourge watched the inferior Emperor prowl in a circle, taunting the scientist.

‘Mindless fools,’ he quietly mocked them both.

“You will find a way, Jarak, and I will become stronger than I have ever been, stronger than my father was and an immortal! This galaxy will be mine to rule for all eternity and I will do everything he could not! Have everything he never wanted me to have!”

“Yes, my Lord, as you wish, although…” the scientist hesitated and cringed preemptively, “your insistence on his survival will limit my options going forward. May I ask why he must live?”

Arcann waved his hand in a careless manner and made the one announcement Lord Scourge had dreaded for years, “His wife recently turned up in this sector of space and I may need him should she become a problem.”

Lord Scourge’s mind cried out and unintentionally, he rattled his restraints. ‘No! Wish that my thoughts would reach you now, Sith. Turn back, go home.’

“It would appear he’s waking up,” Arcann pointed out, “Get to work and do not fail me!”

The last words were spat out venomously before the connection died, leaving Jarak to stand trembling still at the now lifeless holo-communicator on his desk.

He slipped on a pair of thick gloves and poured over his notes once more before he turned to adjust the temperatures of the liquids he had boiling in his laboratory. He retrieved a small red vial containing Lord Scourge’s blood from one of his cooling units and returned to his microscope.

“So, your wife has arrived in Wild Space,” Jarak muttered and he knew fully well Lord Scourge was wide awake, “that must bring you joy, no?”

‘Joy?’ He felt nothing but pain these days, as he did once upon a time before he’d taken the cure.

Four years of daily experiments, of being drained of his blood and pumped full of one concoction after another had left his senses and nervous system damaged worse than ever. He was in a constant state of agony and while in the earlier years thoughts of Eliza and their child had carried him through the horrific experiences, by now they’d become drowned out, chased away by constant torment.

All he had left were his thoughts and memories—a recollection of what her lips once tasted like, of how it felt to be loved by her but the joy and warmth he knew had to accompany those memories was nowhere to be found these days. He longed for death, a permanent end to his suffering and the anguish that had colored most of his far too long life.

“She is undoubtedly searching for you, isn’t she? Is she a former immortal such as yourself?” Jarak carried on but he was ignored.

‘She can’t come here, she can’t go to Zakuul… I’m useless to her now, to the child.’

His thoughts became all-consuming until Jarak drew near and injected his veins with a brand new mixture he’d just cooked up. Lord Scourge gritted his teeth and howled in terror. Beyond his control, his body began to spasm and convulse violently against the slab he was strapped to and he felt his skin burn, dry cracks bursting down his legs and across his back while his vision blurred.

A murderous roar erupted from his throat and while Jarak observed, feeling rather pleased with his reaction, Lord Scourge passed out, his last thoughts lingering with the wife and daughter he prayed would never find him or the broken husk he’d become.

 


 

Their flight to the shadowport Asylum provided ample time for Eliza and Senya to enjoy good conversation and both women shared the full extent of their truth. Knowing now that Senya was the mother of two of her greatest adversaries, Eliza had worried the woman might waver or withdraw her support if it ever came to choosing between the alliance and her children but Senya assured that no matter what, her children needed removing from power.

It had been a fine enough answer for the time being though Eliza informed Theron to keep a close watch—as a mother herself, she understood only too well the fact Senya might side with her children in the future, even when she had no intention to do so now.

Asylum itself had been in a dire state when they arrived and bodies littered the docking platform as their welcome committee. They picked up various distress calls from multiple locations and decided to split up into three groups—each group taking a different level—while Theron remained behind aboard the Vanora to manage communications and scan for nearby vessels.

“I thought you said there were only two dozen of them!” Eliza bit out and tucked into a roll, finding cover behind a stacked set of cargo crates, “This feels like a lot more!”

“They are with more, I’m sorry,” Lord Cytharat called over their earpieces.

“I’ve got you!” Jenna rushed to Eliza’s side and used her shoulder for support while she returned fire at the Skytroopers approaching. “Hell, it’s like they’re multiplying on the spot.”

“You’re telling me. Thanks.”

The two women helped each other up and rushed down the corridor toward the Free Zone where they reunited with Darius, Malavai, and Me’ghan.

“This is starting to feel like a trap,” Darius pointed out and spied four more Skytroopers coming their way.

“I would agree,” Malavai said.

Darius and Me’ghan both shot forward, batting the oncoming plasma bolts out of the way until they came close enough to cut the Skytroopers down while Jenna and Eliza had their backs, making sure they weren’t followed.

“How are things looking in your section, Charlie?” Eliza asked.

“Good for now, we’ve cleared the area and started escorting survivors to the landing pad.”

“Alright, keep at it, we have one more sector to check here and then we’ll join you.”

Me’ghan ran her lightsaber through one of the Troopers and glanced over her shoulder at Eliza. “Hey so, have you told Ravage yet, about you and Theron?”

“Nah.”

“Can I be there when you do, so I can watch his head explode?”

Eliza chuckled and turned the corner. “Looks like we’ve got just the atrium left. I’ll go check it out with Darius, you guys start turning back and help evacuate everyone.”

Malavai frowned and felt uneasy leaving her behind. “Are you sure?”

“Positive, we’ll catch up in a few minutes.”

With some reluctance, they split off and while Me’ghan, Malavai, and Jenna rushed back the way they’d come, the other pair hastened their step to the large twin doors ahead.

The atrium at the center of the top floor of Asylum was barely lit, only through the skylight above came small, illuminating rays. Nothing out of the ordinary could be seen and while Eliza was certain she’d sensed something or someone, she saw no indication of another presence within the room.

“A dead end,” Darius suggested, though he readily kept his lightsaber hilt in hand while he scoured the area.

“So it would seem…”

The Force signature she’d picked up on, however, grew stronger the further she stepped into the atrium and Theron’s voice crackled over their comms in warning.

“Eliza be careful! Half the Eternal Fleet just appeared surrounding Asylum and they’re accompanied by—”

He was cut off by a spike of interference and Eliza tapped her earbud a few times. “Theron?”

Darius spun around and rushed for the entrance. “We should go back, our two Interceptors cannot take on half the Fleet.”

“Yeah, let’s—”

The air around them grew thick and cold, exuding the sort of darkness Eliza had only ever felt in the presence of one other person—the Sith Emperor—and within seconds she found herself face to face with his deranged daughter.

“Not so fast,” Vaylin taunted when she leaped down the rafters above and took center stage, raising her blade at Darius and Eliza, “you are the guest of honor, after all, you can’t leave now.”

Twirling her weapon in hand like a baton, Vaylin drew close until her amber glowing eyes pierced Eliza’s. Curiosity tickled and the blonde inspected her foe, circling her like a Manka cat and quickly her gleeful demeanor shifted to one of outrage instead.

“I can sense him in you, my father! Where is he?!” Vaylin scanned the area, screwing her nose up at Darius. “And where’s mother?!”

“She’s at the docking bay, about to be blown to smithereens by your Fleet,” Eliza managed casually as she could, “if you hurry, you might catch her?”

The blonde cackled, her lips curling into a sycophantic smirk. “And miss out on my chance to fight you? Oh, if only my dear brother could see us here now. You know, he’s become rather obsessed with you?”

“Hm obsession—not an uncommon trait among psychopaths, I’m hardly surprised.”

Eliza held Vaylin’s attention, mirroring her prowls while she tried to maneuver the blonde into facing away from the entrance, all the while keeping half an eye on Darius hoping he’d catch on to the opportunity she was creating.

He noticed but rather than escape to get help, or get himself to safety, he seized the moment to attack Vaylin from behind. With his lightsaber roaring and ready, he lunged for the blonde, driving his blade forward but before he could land his blow, Vaylin had turned around.

It took her little effort to throw him to the far side of the room, completely opposite to the entrance, where he slammed into a monitoring station and collapsed.

“That was cute,” Vaylin chuckled and shifted her attention back to Eliza, “now let’s see you fly.”

“Bring it on.”

Instantly, the two women took to exchanging blows with Vaylin’s maniacal cackles drowning out the humming of their blades. There was no poetry in their fight, no well-oiled choreography but a simple hacking away from Vaylin’s end while Eliza met each swing in defense.

From a distance, Darius observed his Master while he strained to get back on his feet, desperate to assist her but no sooner than he stood up, two Knights, who’d evidently accompanied Vaylin, came out of nowhere and charged his way.

Light and quick on his feet, he made a backward somersault bringing himself and the Knights closer to the center but it seemed Vaylin did not want him crowding her own spectacle or stealing the show.

“Back off, insect,” she snarled and swatted the air before her, once again sending him tumbling across the room and beyond her reach.

“Doesn’t that get annoying, having such an infant tailing you all the time?” she asked Eliza and drove her blade forward, missing her opponent’s ribcage by a hair.

“I don’t know, but I’ll be sure to ask your brother next time I see him,” Eliza retorted with a grin and tucked into a roll until she found her footing behind Vaylin.

A screeching wail burst from Vaylin’s throat in response and she spun around fast, taking another swing at her adversary but Eliza deflected each assault and once again both women battled for dominion over one another.

 


 

“I need to get to the atrium,” Senya spoke in panic while everyone stood watching the Eternal Fleet through the viewport of their vessels, “if Vaylin’s there—”

“Eliza and Darius will be in trouble,” Praven finished for her and agreed, “I’ll come with you, the rest of you figure out a way to cloak or shield us from any incoming—”

He barely got to the end of his sentence when a large monster of a warship suddenly appeared between them and the Eternal Fleet and Koth’s all too pleased voice rang out over their private frequency.

“Did ya’ll miss me? Looks like we’re just in time, Lana.”

“Koth?!” Theron exclaimed and his eyes widened, “what the hell is that?!”

“This is the Gravestone, told you this baby would come in handy.”

“Can you fend off the Fleet and buy us time?” Lord Cytharat called out, “Eliza and Darius are still on Asylum.”

“Sure thing. Lana, get to the Omni cannon and we’ll see what this beauty is really made of.”

“Let’s go,” Praven told Senya and the two rushed back down the boarding ramp while Koth turned the Gravestone to face the Eternal Fleet.

 

 


 

“Oww fucking hell!” Darius howled when he felt a lightsaber’s burning tip slash across his face in a way that was sure to leave a scar.

He ducked, just in time, and above him, one of the Knights wound up striking his own partner down. Darius smirked at the small opportunity he’d created for himself and rolled forward between the Knight’s legs, popping up behind him and before the Knight realized what had happened, Darius drove his blade straight through the man’s back.

“Morons.” He spat a sliver of blood at the two corpses on the floor, then leaped the railings to rejoin Eliza in her battle.

Despite being almost equal in power, Eliza was starting to lose ground in favor of Vaylin and she’d taken several blows to her body. Blood dripped down the sleeve of her shirt, a scorch mark had burned away most of the fabric covering her left shoulder and to her greatest misery, Valkorion had begun to interfere.

‘You cannot defeat her alone,’ he taunted within Eliza’s mind, ‘let me lend you my power.’

“How about you stop blocking my gift?! Why can’t I access my own powers?!” She gasped for air, finding a moment of reprieve in the frozen time around her.

‘Your gift is useless against my children, they share my blood.’

“Well how damn convenient for you!”

‘Accept my aid or perish at my daughter’s hand.’

“Never!” Eliza spat out and the room spun back into action—she only barely managed to dive away in time from another one of Vaylin’s attacks.

“What was that?!” Vaylin demanded, having felt her father’s presence, “Is he here? He’s a part of you, isn’t he? He’s chosen you over us! I always knew father didn’t really love us!”

“Hey you’re welcome to him, please, I could do without his insanity,” Eliza muttered while Darius joined at her side.

Vaylin tilted her head, making it appear she was actually taking a moment to consider the situation but then she cackled again and shrugged. “Nah, I’ll just kill you both!”

She took several strides forward and gripped Darius by the throat before she flung him into a nearby support beam. “And I told you to back off!”

“Darius!” Eliza called out after she’d heard the faint cracking of bones and watched her young apprentice sink to the ground.

“You’ll pay for—” she hissed, turning back to Vaylin only too late.

Before she ever got the last word out, a searing pain suddenly shot through her abdomen and the rest of her body. The stench of her own burned flesh reached her nostrils and when she looked down, Eliza saw Vaylin’s purple blade pierce her stomach through and through.

She sank to her knees, dropping her weapons and clutching her stomach. Mortified and in agony, she gasped and Vaylin pulled her in, her eyes shining with joy while she retracted the blade with a menacing grin.

“Now,” the blonde began weighing her options in amusement and gripped Eliza by the collar of her shirt, placing the hilt of her lightsaber to Eliza’s heart, “do I kill you myself, or deliver you as a gift to my dear brother?”

“W-why give him… the honor… at all,” Eliza wheezed and challenged her would-be executioner with great difficulty, “w-why… do the bidding of a man who… killed your brother and wants father dead…”

Biding time and disturbing Vaylin’s thoughts was the only hope she had left now of getting away with her life and from the corner of her eye, she glanced Darius’ way. She saw the young man’s hand clench and flex while he struggled to regain his senses.

“H-how long… before he takes you out too? Why… why do him any,” she paused and coughed violently, stretching her hand at her side in an attempt to call her lightsabers back to her, “favors?”

Her insides burned, a throbbing and sharp stinging pain radiated through her body and sickened her. She could feel her limbs weaken, her strength drain while her vision grew blurry.

“Hm, well,” Vaylin stopped to consider her words and frowned but she didn’t get far.

An explosion outside shook the building to its very core and above them, the skylight shattered. Thousands of shards of glass came raining down followed by heavy chunks of debris. The largest block of the duracrete ceiling was on a straight collision course with both women and Darius scrambled to his feet, desperate to save Eliza from getting crushed underneath.

With what strength he had left physically and in the Force, he ran over and at the last second separated the two women. He angled the ceiling fragment and aimed it for Vaylin as it came crashing down. Frantic and startled, the sadistic blonde jumped out of the way just in time and she stood unbalanced by the now blown-wide-open wall and cracked floor.

“You idi—” she started to scream but Darius had taken advantage of the distraction.

While Vaylin had jumped away, he’d leaped in behind her and grabbed her by the hood she wore, yanking her head back. He took his lightsaber and set it to the side of her neck before he activated the blade, killing and decapitating her instantly and he stood holding her head still while her now severed body tumbled through the floor’s crack and plummeted to the endless depths beneath the shadowport.

“Eliza!” He wasted not another second and rushed to his Master’s side, crouching by her and checking her pulse.

“Y-you did it…” she uttered weakly with a half smile.

She tried to get up but couldn’t manage and Darius lifted her into his arms instead, ignoring his own pain and injuries.

“Eliza is injured, prepare the medbay, we’re on our way,” he rambled quickly into his earpiece while he began carrying her away.

“Praven and Senya are coming for you, how bad is it?” a fretting Theron asked while before his very eyes, the Gravestone fired back on the Eternal Fleet and set off a chain reaction of annihilation.

“I…” Darius looked at Eliza while he hurried his step.

Her head lay lolled back on his shoulder and she grew heavy in his arms, sinking in and out of consciousness.

“Bad, very bad,” he announced.

Eliza stared at him and gave a lazy grin, growing delirious from the pain. “You’re… not a little boy anymore… you’re a man now… when did that happ… your Vowrawn will be so… uncle…” She drifted out again leaving Darius to frown.

“We’re almost there, I see them,” Praven, who’d overheard the exchange, called out while he and Senya ran toward Darius.

“Where’s Vaylin?” asked Senya while Praven took Eliza from Darius’ arms.

She hooked an arm around the young Pureblood to support him and Darius eyed her wearily, trying to swallow back his inclination to gloat.

“Dead.”

 

Chapter Text

“Hey man, how is she doing?” asked Jonas when he joined Theron in the infirmary and handed his best friend a cup of caf.

Small and steady beeps denoted Eliza’s heartbeat while the young woman bobbed unconsciously within a kolto tank. The machine hooked up to the tank rattled off another sheet listing her vitals while Theron sat in a chair by her side, his eyes red and puffy from the few tears he’d allowed himself to shed.

After escaping Asylum, Malavai, with Me’ghan’s assistance, had done all he could to preserve her life, grateful she had survived at all when by his estimates, she should have succumbed to her injuries. The deep laceration down the length of her right upper arm was easily healed, as was the wound to her left shoulder but the damage done to her stomach and kidney was far more severe.

Malavai had done all he could, pushing his own medical skills beyond any procedure he’d performed in the past, and now it was up to the healing properties of the kolto solution and Eliza herself to make a full recovery.

“Any improvement?”

“None,” Theron said and gratefully accepted the warm brew.

He was exhausted. They’d arrived back on Odessen that morning and he hadn’t left her side since, spending the past seven hours sat by the tank while his mind played the entire event on a constant loop, plaguing him with thoughts of what he could have done differently to prevent any of this happening.

“She’s tough, she’s survived worse,” Jonas offered some well intended, and clumsy, encouragement, “Like that time when you shot her.”

Theron arched a brow and peered up at him. “Yeah… thanks.”

“I grabbed those readouts you asked for, mind telling me what that’s about?”

He handed over a datapad listing decrypted data and Ravage’s holo-communicator and Theron immediately sat up to pore over the results. He scanned the list, tracing his index finger down the date and time stamps until he found the entry he’d been looking for and scoffed, reading aloud.

“Elias’ Imperial Finery.”

“A jeweler?” Jonas frowned and pulled up a chair for himself.

“I suspect so,” Theron muttered and entered a search on his datapad.

“Planning a proposal already?”

“No, it’s something else, look,” he said and showed Jonas the information he’d found on Elias’ Imperial Finery.

“The finest, handcrafted and custom designed jewelry in the Empire—the Elias family has served the Empire for generations and proudly enjoys an exclusive contract as the sole supplier of finery for esteemed members of the Dark Council,” Jonas recited the HoloNet entry and furrowed his brows further.

“Alright, but I’m still not seeing why this is of any interest to you.”

“Last week I overheard Ravage making a call, this call,” Theron said indicating at the readout, “to Elias’ Imperial Finery. He spoke of a replica he had made of something and threatened the man and his family if word ever got out.”

“Okay, you think Ravage had a piece of jewelry replicated? So what if he did?”

Theron let out an exasperated sigh and retrieved Eliza’s necklace from his pocket. “Not just any piece—Scourge’s wedding band.”

While Jonas inspected the ring up close, Theron began to explain further.

“Overhearing the call left me with the strangest feeling, you know? Instinct, perhaps. Then a couple of days later, Eliza showed me the wedding band and mentioned having a replica made for Cyara and I just… I can’t explain how but I just know that ring, it isn’t Scourge’s.”

“But didn’t she get this from whatsherface, that woman who was there when Scourge was executed?”

“Regina, yes, who conveniently escaped and died before we could question her further. I haven’t figured out the connection there but—”

“I might be able to help with that,” said Me’ghan when she appeared in the doorway with a troubled look on her face.

Quickly, she closed the door and sat down on the armrest of Theron’s chair before showing him her datapad.

“Malavai and I have had our suspicions about Regina for a while now and asked Vowrawn to investigate—he just got back to us and this is what he found.”

Side by side on the screen sat two profiles—one for a Regina Feldran and another for a Thyra Beldiss—accompanied by a holograph of Thyra which perfectly matched a screenshot from the recorded holo-call with Regina from months ago.

“They’re the same woman?” Theron frowned curiously.

“They are. Regina’s real name is Thyra Beldiss, daughter of Lord Beldiss who worked for Ravage in the Sphere of Expansion and Diplomacy. Lord Beldiss died several years ago, and take a look at who killed him.” Me’ghan swiped left to a third profile she’d prepared.

Jonas, with his curiosity tickled, got up and circled the two, leaning over Theron’s shoulder to read along.

“Lord Beldiss died on Voss after a confrontation with a Jedi known as The Hero of Tython,” he mumbled, “So Regina—Thyra, had a personal stake in this? Or do you suppose this is all part of a revenge scheme from Ravage’s side?”

Me’ghan shook her head. “No. I mean, Ravage is a vengeful and petty bastard but he would not spend five years planning this just to seek retribution for one of his lackeys—the man likely meant nothing to him.”

“Right, but the promise of revenge would be enough incentive for Thyra to go along with his scheme, yes?” Theron deduced and looked to Me’ghan for confirmation.

“Likely. I just can’t figure out why she killed herself if that were the case unless something spooked her or it was, in fact, an accident.”

“Guess that’s one thing we’ll never know…”

Jonas let out a deep sigh and sat back down. “But how would Ravage or this Thyra have known Marr and Scourge were brought before the Emperor on Zakuul?”

“They wouldn’t have—they only knew there was no proof to claim otherwise either and the only person who might have known anything is gone now.” Theron’s thought landed on Kira and he sank his head into his hands.

It was all getting to be too much for him—this news on top of the day they’d had and he cast a glance at the woman he loved so deeply still fighting for her life inside the kolto tank.

“What do we do with this?”

Me’ghan gently squeezed his shoulder and gave a sympathetic smile. “For now, nothing.

“It’s quite clear Ravage is behind all this but all we’ve got is circumstantial evidence to his scheme—none of it proves Scourge is still alive, which he might not be. We’re basically back to square one of not knowing either way.”

“No,” Theron argued, “I can’t keep this from her, she deserves to know.”

A pained grimace appeared on Jonas’ face and he leaned forward. “She does but Meg’s right. Do you really want to throw Eliza back into a state of uncertainty? Revive her hope now that she’s moved on?”

“No, but—”

“We don’t know where he is or if he’s still alive and it could be months or years before we find out.”

“No, we need to find out sooner than that.”

“Agreed,” Me’ghan conceded, “but how? Where do we start looking for a man who we’re not sure is even alive?”

“She mentioned a ritual, right before we landed on Asylum,” Theron recalled and briefly explained what Eliza intended to do.

“It could work, but we should keep this between ourselves until after the ritual. For all we know we’re wrong, unlikely as it seems, and she does manage to contact his Force spirit.”

“And if she doesn’t find him in this spirit realm?”

Me’ghan pursed her lips and sighed. “Then she’ll want to know why, and we’ll be one step closer to being right. We can tell her then, if you are certain.”

“Hey uh, not to be a downer but,” Jonas hesitated and eyed his best friend wearily, “what if it turns out he is alive? You realize you’d risk losing her again?”

Theron closed his eyes and nodded—the thought had crossed his mind before while trying to untangle Ravage’s schemes.

“I’m aware but… I can’t do what Ravage did, selfishly deceive her and this is not about just me and her. There’s a little girl, their daughter, who deserves to meet and know her father if he’s alive.”

He got up and leaned forward against the kolto tank, resting his forehead on the transparisteel and his heart ached in the worst of ways. “I can’t be selfish about this…”

“No… of course you can’t.” Me’ghan understood and even admired his magnanimous attitude.

She got up and winked Jonas over and together, they took one of the empty beds and pushed it up right next to the kolto tank, figuring Theron would want to stay the night and seeing the fatigue written all over him.

“Thanks.” He gave a faint smile when he noticed.

“Get some rest for now and just call us if you need anything, alright?” Jonas said.

All they got was a tired nod while Theron sunk himself onto the bed by Eliza’s side, never taking his eyes off her while his friends left. Once again his mind tormented him—he should have gone with her and they should have been better prepared for a trap. Still, exhausted as he was, he drifted off moments later and sank into a troubled sleep.

When he woke up the very next morning, he was surprised to catch Senya standing by Eliza’s kolto tank. Her head was bowed, her eyes closed, her brows furrowed in sorrow and her hands folded together on her stomach while she appeared to be in some kind of trance.

“Uhm, morning…” he said quietly and slowly, she turned her head.

“Good morning, Agent Shan. Apologies if my presence woke you.”

“No, it’s alright, you didn’t.”

A faint smile crept up but never quite reached her dulled and sad eyes.

“I uh, I’m sorry about your loss,” Theron offered and swung his legs over the side of the bed while he sat up.

“Thank you.”

“How are you coping?”

“I’ve spent all yesterday down in the Force enclave meditating with Sana-Rae. She believes my daughter is at peace now and free from the pain and chaos in her psyche. It’s a small comfort and I am very sorry for all the suffering she’s inflicted.”

Senya inched closer to the kolto tank and touched her hand to the transparisteel.

“I failed her, my daughter. I’ve failed all my children, and perhaps I shouldn’t have left them,” she admitted quietly and gazed up at Eliza, “but maybe it is not too late. I won’t fail your Commander.”

“And Arcann?”

“He must be stopped, through any means necessary, I know this. Perhaps I can still make him see reason, save him before he becomes truly lost but if not…”

“Eliza would understand if this is too difficult for you, we all would.”

“He’s my responsibility. I have abandoned him once before, left all three of my children with their cold-hearted and hard-handed father and now look—Arcann killed his own brother and Vaylin…” Her voice trailed off.

“If he can be saved, I will do all I can but I am aware he may already be beyond redemption.”

Theron nodded solemnly, quite unsure of what to say in this situation and instead he took one of the readouts from the monitor hooked up to Eliza’s tank.

“She’s improving,” said Senya, observing him and she indicated at the young woman’s face, “Color has returned to her cheeks and the laceration on her stomach is starting to mend.”

He slipped from bed and joined Senya, a tender smile forming on his face when he saw. “Oh thank the stars.”

The door behind them creaked open and Malavai walked in carrying a breakfast tray in one hand and a chart and his datapad in the other.

“Good morning.” He handed Theron the tray. “You should eat something, one patient is all I can handle right now, we don’t need you laid up from dehydration and starvation.”

“Thanks. How’s Darius? I haven’t seen him here.”

“His injuries were superficial, though he’ll be sporting a big scar for the rest of his life, which he appears rather proud of.”

Senya glanced at the two men and turned away, excusing herself, “I will leave you to it.”

“What did she want?” asked Malavai after she’d left.

“She came to check in on Eliza.”

“Hm. Eat your breakfast,” he ordered, “I’m going to make a few scans to see how Eliza is recovering and then we need to go down to the war room—Lana has some matters to discuss.”

Reluctantly, not caring much about anything other than Eliza right now, Theron bit into a piece of toast while Malavai got to work and an hour later, the two men made their way downstairs.

“We’ve got more mouths than we can feed at this point, someone has to go on a supply run,” Lana began rattling off a list of rising issues, “either that or we need to find an alternative settlement to house all these refugees from Zakuul.”

“We can’t just turn them away, Lana,” Koth argued and he naturally sympathized with his own people, “not after all they’ve been through.”

“I’m not saying we should but we’re running low on resources and this was never meant to be a rescue operation for every citizen of Zakuul. We’re here to put a stop to Arcann’s tyranny.”

“But they are helping and you need every able-bodied person you can get!”

Lana snapped, “And just how able-bodied will anyone be if there’s no place to sleep, when there’s nothing to eat?!”

Jonas and Charlie exchanged a curious look and the former leaned into his wife, whispering, “I guess the honeymoon weeks between those two are over.”

“I’ll take Vette and Risha and head to Alderaan,” Jenna offered to stave off any further dissent, “got some people there who owe me and no doubt they’ve got plenty food reserves stashed away under their gilded homes.”

Theron flashed her a grateful smile. “Thank you.”

“Do you need backup?” asked Kendra, Havoc Squad’s Commander who’d returned with Lana and Koth aboard the Gravestone.

“Nah, too many of us would raise suspicions, we’ll be fine.”

“There’s also the matter of Ravage—I’m not sure what he has done to deserve incarceration but his current conditions are undignified and appalling,” Lana touched on the next item on her list and received various agitated glares until Praven explained what had happened.

“Oh, I see.” She frowned. “We’ll just leave him where he is in that case.”

“What about Arcann?” Me’ghan asked next, “Any chance he’s so busy mourning he’s declared a ceasefire of sorts?”

“Nah, he’s making a spectacle of his loss,” scoffed Jonas while he loaded up the holo-video Arcann had been broadcasting across the galaxy.

‘Citizens of Zakuul! A few days ago the criminal known as The Outlander, the same woman who murdered our beloved Emperor, my father Valkorion, years ago, escaped our custody and viciously assaulted the sanctuary known as Asylum. There, hundreds of our own innocent citizens were savagely murdered by this terrorist and her band of rebels.

‘My dear sister Vaylin, our High Justice, left on a rescue mission to aid and defend everyone on Asylum but it is with great regret and pain in my heart that I must inform you all of her passing—the Outlander murdered her and the valiant Knights who fought at my sister’s side.

‘The Outlander is a criminal, a tyrant and a murderer seeking to destroy our beautiful Empire. For the safety of every citizen of Zakuul, I will be imposing a new curfew and send more troops to patrol the streets day and night. I feel it is my sacred duty as your Emperor to ensure this Outlander is caught swiftly and brought to justice and your cooperation is appreciated. Anyone caught giving aid to this Outlander and her rebels will share in their fate.

‘A vigil to honor my beloved sister will be announced at a later time.’

A holograph of Eliza accompanied the broadcast and Jenna made a few gagging noises once the recording finished.

“What a load of crap.”

Charlie scoffed all the same and shook her head. “What heart? He hasn’t got one.”

“So, Eliza is the Outlander now?” Praven frowned.

“It’s a clever subterfuge on his part,” Theron analyzed on the spot.

“This way he gets to bury everything concerning Kira, conceal the truth and pin all the responsibility for Valkorion’s death and this war on Eliza while effectively turning Zakuul against us—no one’s ever seen the Outlander before until now so it’s perfect for him.”

Jonas nodded and folded his arms across his chest. “And to make matters worse, the Republic has just released a statement they’re siding with Arcann and will make any effort to assist in the Outlander’s capture.”

“Curious…” Malavai pondered the announcement, “They are now openly standing with Arcann? They are aware the Outlander is Eliza and we have some of their own people working with us here, right?”

“Madon doesn’t care and the Senate believes we’re no more than a small group of degenerates who stand no chance so they’re throwing their weight behind Arcann in the hope it’ll pay off once all this comes to an end.”

“Can’t wait to see that blow up in their faces,” Kendra muttered.

“Which it will, sooner or later.” Jenna gave a shrug and hopped down from the desk she’d sat on to excuse herself, “I’m gonna start refueling The Deviant and tell Vette and Risha to pack.”

“Be safe out there,” Me’ghan called after her and picked up her own datapad and communicator, “I need to make a few calls myself, are we good here?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Theron gave an absent smile.

“How is Eliza?” Lord Cytharat looked to Malavai.

“She’s recovering quite well. A few more hours in the tank and then we should be able to move her to a bed and start waking her up.”

 

Chapter Text

Entry 1296 of volume four.

I have not written in a long time but I have nowhere else to take these thoughts. It is the year 3641 now, I’m in my 335th year of life and I have finally found her—Arielle—the Jedi woman from my vision. The woman whose eyes I have dreamed of for over three hundred years.

She is much younger than I had imagined, only twenty years old and far more devoted to the Jedi way than I would have expected from one with such darkness inside of her. It appears she is not even aware of her own ties to the Dark Side and whenever I raise the subject, she simply laughs at me and tells me ‘You wish’. She’s extremely stubborn, always asking for my advice before doing the exact opposite of what I say but we do get along and I find I am not at all bothered by her presence.

Her crew, however, is an entirely different matter.

The doctor she travels with, ‘Doc’, perfectly exemplifies the importance of birth control and I feel quite tempted to reprogram or disassemble her obnoxious service droid. Her astromech, Teeseven, isn’t as bad but I miss having a decent HK-unit around. The Chagrian rarely speaks which I can appreciate and then there is her Padawan, Kira, a former Child of the Emperor. Imperial born and not nearly as devoted to the Jedi Code as Arielle. I do find it curious the Emperor never sent me to retrieve or execute her since she is a former Child but perhaps he imagined he still had a use for her. I should keep an eye out regardless.

The Sith Emperor himself has been defeated though I remain wary. There are days I still feel him torment my mind and I am plagued by nightmares, finding myself once more subject to the agony of his immortality ritual. It is on those nights I awake to the sound of my own screams and find her, Arielle, sat by my side with concern in her eyes. I know she has nightmares of her own and we are forever bound by the mark Vitiate has left upon us both.

There is another matter too, however, one that leaves me rather confused. Lately, I find that in her presence, the pain I carry with me abates and the sound of her laughter scarcely makes me aware of the beating of my heart—an experience I am no longer accustomed to. I know I can never be cured and it is impossible I experience anything other than my own agony and yet, when she is near, something within me changes.

We enjoy many conversations late at night and she has begun making a habit of staying up, knowing I will visit. When she sleeps by my side, there are no nightmares and I do look forward to those moments. I have seen in her eyes that she does too. I would venture to guess under any other circumstances, one might suggest certain affections play a part in the bond we have together but I am simply not capable of such sentiments.

I had never expected to remain at her side following the Emperor’s fall but when the Jedi Order and Senate sought to dismiss me, Arielle fought for me. It was a rare occasion that I have ever seen her with such fury and passion. I now even dare say should the Order force a choice between them and myself, they would lose, and a part of me would delight to see them try. The Grand Master knows it too, I believe and has wisely not pushed the matter further.

I still languish in my torment and with my original purpose fulfilled, I don’t know what my life will be going forward. I have pledged myself to Arielle and I will renew my vow should she bear any children. I imagine that is my future, for however long this immortal life keeps me tethered to this world—a stalwart guardian and a tutor to her offspring.

Though, if that is to happen I should first coax her into a position where she will embrace the pleasures of life. Love, passion, those attachments her asinine Order warns against. Right now she is convinced she has no need for such things and is happy with the way things are but she can be so naive, so innocent bordering on ignorant. Perhaps that could serve as my purpose for now, awakening the woman within the girl.

Alas, I must leave this entry as is for now—we’re about to land on Ilum and my Jedi needs me.

— Lord Scourge

 

A gentle smile lingered on Eliza’s face as she finished reading and held the page close to her chest. They were days from so long ago but she remembered every moment and treasured the words he’d written down.

‘Thank you, Scourge, for chronicling your life…’ she considered wistfully.

At least twenty some odd leatherbound journals lay scattered across the bed while she sat up in the middle of the pile and she’d busily been taking notes on her datapad of anything she deemed helpful. She let a deep sigh escape her lips, took her stylus pen between her teeth and bound her hair up in a loose bun.

It had been almost a week since the events on Asylum and she was recovering nicely. She used her time in bed to dig through the journals left to her by her grandfather, by Lord Scourge, and a few, mostly battle-related, diaries written by Darth Marr’s hand in vain hope at least one of them might tell her something new, especially concerning the Sith Emperor.

“Hey, are you…” Theron returned to the room, carrying everything he’d brought to Odessen with him but he stopped in the doorway and frowned.

“Did I miss study hour?”

She chuckled. “No, just… looking for something. What were you going to ask?”

“Oh. If you’re sure you want me moving into your room?”

“Absolutely. You’re always here anyway, I want you by my side at all times and we could use the space it’ll free up in your room.”

“Okay. I promise I’m no slob.”

“Yeah, right.” Eliza laughed and put her datapad down to help him roll a cargo crate into her room. “I remember your Nar Shaddaa apartment.”

He flashed her a grin in response but then quickly ushered her out of the way. “Here, let me, I can do it by myself and I don’t want you straining too much.”

“Pff, please, I’m pretty much fully healed by now.” She lifted her shirt up some and ran a hand over her stomach.

“See?”

“Uhh… yeah…” he stammered.

His eyes lingered and for a second, uncomfortable silence threatened to fall. In all their time together, both in the past and in the present, they’d yet to be intimate with each other and though Theron was respectful of her much needed recovery period and the upsets she’d gone through, it was becoming increasingly harder to quell his own desires.

“Still, I’ve got this and you seem busy.” He rolled the crate past her and indicated at the pile of books. “What were you looking for?”

“Same as always—answers. Vitiate said something during my fight with Vaylin and, I can’t seem to put it from my mind.”

“Oh?”

“He pointed out that my gift would not work against her, nor Arcann, as they share his blood and it got me wondering—why is it my gift won’t work on him, or anyone in his bloodline? And how can they be part of his bloodline if he occupied a host-body?”

She climbed back into bed and folded her legs into a lotus sit. “Why did my grandfather warn me of using the gift against Vitiate and how exactly did it allow him to enter my being?”

Theron frowned, dragging the last duffel bag inside. “You think there’s something tying you both together?”

“Possibly. Both our family lines go back so far into history… from Scourge’s notes, I’ve learned the Emperor was once a Pureblood by the name of Tenebrae, born on Medriaas which he later renamed Nathema after he conquered the planet.”

“Did you guys ever rediscover Nathema?”

“No. Scourge returned from his exploration mission early when Ziost came under attack.”

“Have you asked Senya?”

“I did but she knows nothing of his life as Vitiate—she didn’t even know about the Sith Empire or his double life until we came knocking.”

“Hrm. Well, perhaps that ritual will provide some answers, yeah?”

“I hope so.” She nodded.

“I just wish I could speak with my grandfather too. I still have that Holocron belonging to my family and, I need to know more like with Cyara for instance—does she possess the gift too, is it selective or won’t it manifest until I’m no longer around?”

“You should schedule the ritual as soon as possible if you feel well enough,” he suggested, trying not to sound too eager about it but he had curiosities of his own and secrets weighing on his heart.

“Already working on it, Praven’s just waiting to hear back from an old friend of his. The ritual is in ancient Sith and he wants to make sure he has the correct translation so nothing goes wrong.”

“Now… you don’t actually have to marry either of them, right?”

Eliza arched a brow and flashed him an amused smile. “No. Turns out that while the ritual was mostly performed as part of matrimonial services, marriage is not an actual requirement.”

“Lucky that.”

He started unpacking a few essentials while Eliza stacked the books and pushed them into a chest under her bed before sprawling out, laying on her side with her head resting in her palm and she watched him.

“You can do that stuff later,” she said after a while, a coy pout lingering on her lips while she held out an inviting hand, “Come and join me?”

“Mm, are you alright?” He worried she suddenly may not be feeling well or be bothered by her injuries still.

“I feel wonderful but, it’s my last day of bedrest and I’d like to spend it with your arms around me.”

A soft grin came over him when she beckoned him a second time and he got up, kicking his shoes off while he sauntered over to the bed they now shared.

With great ease, he scooped her into his arms where he kissed her fervently, capturing her lips with his own before they both sank back down against the silken sheets. He held her to him, treasured, and teased a lock of hair from her forehead.

“Some days I still cannot believe my luck of finally having you by my side,” he spoke softly, whispering in her ear.

The tender touch of his lips trailed down her neck, nipping playfully while he inhaled the scent of her hair and delighted in the warmth of her skin.

“Neither can I,” Eliza sighed with bliss and she could feel her adoration for him transcend.

His reaction earlier when she’d lifted her shirt hadn’t escaped her notice and while they hadn’t discussed intimacy at all, Eliza felt it too. The urge to be with him, to take that next step in their relationship even if it made her feel nervous and shy at the same time—her longing for him was just too great.

While holding his gaze and drowning herself in the vast depths of his golden-brown eyes, she took his hand and brought it up to her mouth. Puckering her lips to trail lithe kisses from his wrist up to the palm of his hand, over to his pinky, adoring each fingertip until she found the soft pad of his thumb which she sucked playfully.

A shiver coursed down Theron’s spine and he felt an all too familiar twitch in his jeans, his arousal stirred anew, and he held his breath watching her every move. To his surprise, she brought his hand back down and guided it underneath her oversized t-shirt while giving him an encouraging smile.

In the past, he’d never gone beyond caressing the small of her back or running a hand over her stomach but now, his fingers teased higher over her skin to the lining of her bra and still, their eyes remained locked. He heard her gasp and felt one of her nipples harden when he cupped her breast and massaged his thumb over the fabric of her undergarment.

“Mmm…,” he uttered while he felt his desire rise past the point of return, having spent so long wanting her in every imaginable way, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

A coquettish smile curled her lips and she sat up in bed, nodding. With ease she discarded her t-shirt, showing off the silvery-blue and partially lace bra she wore, the mounds of her breasts threatening to spill over their constrictions while her nipples protruded through the satin fabric.

“More than ready,” she assured him and held her breath for a moment, abating the tinge of nervousness she felt.

Encouraged, and more confident in knowing she was now ready to take the next step, Theron leaned in and brushed her lips with his own again while his index finger hooked under one of the shoulder straps of her bra and slid the elastic band down her arm.

He did the same thing for the other strap and while his fingers worked the clasp on her back, his mouth traveled down her cleavage to welcome every newly discovered part of her. His lips capturing one of the nipples he’d exposed when he removed her bra completely, teasing, drawing circles with his tongue and he held her close to him.

“You’re so beautiful.”

His words sounded like music to her ears and yet, unwittingly, Eliza glanced down to count every scar on her body. Became aware of every little, in her eyes, imperfection—the marks giving birth had left her with, the fact her tummy wasn’t quite as flat and firm as it once was.

Those things never bothered her before, they’d never made her feel self-conscious but with him, she was vulnerable now, so vastly different from her encounters with Ravage.

To his credit, though, he noticed her sudden insecurity and tipped her chin up. “You are.”

When she still said nothing, only flashing him a smile and responding with a subtle blush, he kissed her again, passionately to substantiate his words and he urged her back down against the sheets.

“I’m not perfect, my body isn’t…” she breathed at last and struggled to look him in the eye, her fluster deepening by the second.

“Eliza, I don’t want perfect,” he said.

Just beneath the swell of her left breast, he found one of the scars she’d glanced at and he kissed her there too, along its full length and adoringly as if the scar was as precious to him as she was herself.

“I want you, exactly as you are. With each scar, every dip and every curve, every beautiful blemish on your body because I love you, all of you.”

He promised her and with each promise, he touched his lips to another one of her imperfections until he’d cherished them all. Once more he turned his attention to her supple mounds and he allowed himself to delight in how shapely they felt in his hands, how soft they were under his lips and he breathed in her natural scent when he found her neck again.

“I—I love you, too…” Her breath caught in her throat and she closed her eyes, fighting off the well of emotions rising within her, mixing with her growing lust.

In the past, and again in recent months, she’d often imagined what the first time, or any time, with him would be like. She’d enjoyed vivid and passionate fantasies where they’d torn each other’s clothes off and made love as if the galaxy was about to be annihilated and in other moments, their lovemaking had been tender and slow to savor each passing second but none of her fantasies compared to what she felt now—reality already proved to be far superior.

She gasped when his hand caressed down her stomach, his fingers playing over her bikini line causing her body to writhe against him. “Theron…”

“Mm?” He gazed up at her and she noticed the crimson on his cheeks now, his eyes darkened from his own budding desires.

“I need you,” she pleaded and her voice broke with heavy sentiment and yearning.

The strings of her pajama bottoms untangled and Theron eased the soft fabric down her thighs and legs, followed by her panties before he made his way back up to her lips. He kissed her feverishly and gazed into her sparkling blues.

“Are you alright?” He saw the light glistening of her eyes and he’d heard the emotion resonate in her words.

“I am… it’s just… it’s you and me, and us, at last…”

“I know, I feel it too.”

“I never thought we’d get here but… we are and I’m, oh I love you so much,” she sighed out and kissed him hard, almost devouring his lips with her own.

Her arms folded around his shoulders and she urged him onto his back, rolling the both of them over and now it was her turn to explore his body. The body she’d admired before from a distance, that had made her blush each time she’d fantasized about him and that was now all hers to delight in.

She was quick to unbutton his shirt and Theron lifted his hips when she unfastened the closing of his jeans, wrestling the not-so supple fabric down his legs. The hardening bulge inside his boxers begged to be freed and sprung up gratefully when she obliged.

A part of her felt desperate to explore him, to run her tongue along his thighs and take him in her mouth but her own arousal was already too vast to hold out much longer and by the looks of it, Theron wouldn’t be able to last either so instead she moved to straddle his lap.

Instantly he sat up and wrapped her in his arms while her legs curled around his waist. He sought her lips out again, hungrily and aching for her now and he ran a hand down between their bodies to tease her slick and moistened folds, swallowing the moan she poured into his mouth.

Theron positioned himself at her opening, catching her gaze once more and he held it while she sank herself down to welcome him finally. Slow and deliberate, savoring every second, every inch and a silent gasp escaped her when he fully buried himself inside of her.

She held still, snaking one arm around his lower back and the other embraced his shoulder, her hand at the back of his head weaving her fingers into his thick and luscious hair. She relished in the way she could feel him pulsing within her center, quietly begging her for more, sending a fierce shudder coursing through her body and Eliza began rolling her hips slow and steadily atop his lap.

Words stayed out and only the occasional grunt and moan accompanied the rhythm of their bodies entwined, the passion soaring between them. Melting together in a tight embrace to at last conquer the next step in their relationship. The ecstasy dominating their bodies crescendoed higher, riding the waves of their lust and undying devotion to each other, taking them to the brink and beyond until both were sated and spent.

 

Chapter Text

Hidden beneath the base, beyond the war room, was the cell-block built into the darkest section of the mountain used to hold the massive structure on Odessen. They’d never imagined actually needing it but with Regina, and now with Ravage, Eliza was grateful for the two cramped four-by-four meters duracrete cubes wedged together in an alcove.

Both cells were nothing but bare walls with only one mirrored window obscuring view into the security hub that separated the two rooms. Each had their own toilet within the cell, lacking severely in privacy, as well as a single cot with a flimsy mattress and cheap sheets. A tiny table and chair stood in each left corner and a simple light bulb hung down the ceilings.

Eliza leaned forward against the mirrored glass, resting her head on her arm and she observed the man laying back on the cot in his cell—he looked terrible.

The left side of his face was blistered and scarred heavily, left untreated after she’d burned him and he appeared paler and skinnier than usual. Dark rings of fatigue circled his eyes, he was starting to grow a rather unkempt beard and the unlinked, bracer-like cuffs around both his wrists had left their mark on his skin.

By appearance, he was a mere shadow of the tenacious Darth he once was but she knew better than to underestimate his spiteful spirit simmering and waiting to be unleashed.

“Sir.” Aric Jorgan politely inclined his head when he returned to the hub following his lunch break.

With Jenna’s crew gone, he’d taken over duties keeping guard at Ravage’s cell and monitoring the security footage in lieu of having anything of greater import to do.

“Captain.” Eliza turned and shook his gloved claw. “Thank you for keeping an eye, is there anything to report?”

“A few temper tantrums over the past week. The prisoner saw fit to try and use his cot in hopes of breaking the glass after his request to speak with you was denied. We shot him with a sedative.”

“Figures. Has he eaten his rations at all?”

“Most days he does, other times it’ll still be there in the morning. He’s made complaints regarding his privacy and hygiene. Perhaps…”

She quirked a brow. “Yes?”

“Sir, it is none of my business but perhaps you might consider installing a privacy screen in his cell? If not for his benefit then at the very least for those of us standing guard.”

“Jorgan, at ease. We’re not in the Republic, I am not your C.O… well, okay, I kind of am but, we have a bit of history, right?”

“Yes, Sir—an extremely successful operation on Ilum, I remember.”

“Eliza.”

“Sir.”

A chuckle escaped her—she’d forgotten just how stringent he could be.

“How about I make you a deal? You start calling me Eliza, and I will have a privacy screen put up in the cell?”

His green eyes narrowed inquisitively until he flashed his canine teeth in half a grin. “Accepted, Eliza.”

“Good. Now, his Force powers, have you witnessed him trying to use them? Do the dampener bracers work?”

“They appear fully functional. He was caught ranting, and I quote, ‘I will kill that motherfucking SIS piece of shit’. If that is any indication,” Aric related impassively and caused Eliza to snort.

“Ahh, charming as ever,” commented Theron when he overheard and joined at Eliza’s side, his arm sliding around her middle.

“Mm, he’ll be so thrilled to see me…” She cast another glance at the cell.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Theron asked, “You don’t have to do this, you owe him nothing.”

Behind them, Lord Cytharat appeared as well and carried several tranquilizer darts with him. “He’s right, you could just let him rot.”

“Thanks guys but this isn’t for him, it’s for me. I need to put what happened behind me.” Eliza gave a halted smile.

Concern creased a few lines on Theron’s forehead but he didn’t argue, instead offering his support, “Do you want me to go in there with you?”

“I’ll be alright, just keep an eye on things?”

“Of course.”

She softly kissed his lips and held him close. “Please don’t lose faith in me if you see me using my powers against—”

“No, no,” he assured her and promised, “You do what you need to, I wouldn’t judge even if you burned him to a pile of ashes. From now on, I have your back in everything you do, always.”

“Thank you, love.”

“We’ll be right here if you need us, Sir, Eliza,” Aric was quick to correct himself.

She faintly nodded and turned on her heel to enter the access code for Ravage’s cell.

The door clicked open and while taking a deep breath, she headed inside. She had no idea of what she would say, of how to react, torn between her urge to hurt and destroy him while another part of her simply felt sad—disappointed and wounded by what he’d done.

“Finally!” he barked and instantly jumped from his cot, taking few brisk strides to close the distance between them.

“Where the hell have you been?!”

“Busy.”

“Busy?! I’ve been locked in here for—”

He took in the sight of her, giving her a scrutinizing stare. “Something happened, you got injured.”

It was unclear how he knew and Eliza stood stunned, at a momentary loss for words until she followed his gaze to her own shoulder—to the still fresh scar exposed by her asymmetric top.

“Yeah, got into it with Vaylin.”

“You sought her out, without me?!”

“Actually, she found me and why the hell would I bring you?! So you two could double-team me? Have her knock me out so you can—”

Ravage’s eyes sprung wide in shock at the implication she was about to make. “I would never hurt you!”

“Oh really?” she mocked and slowly paced the narrow space of his cell, indicating all around her, “So then, why are you in here, exactly?”

His brows furrowed and he turned away to glance in the mirror on his side of the window, inspecting the scar on his face while his temper surged. There was an aching to lash out at her and blame her for his own actions, his pride and vanity railing against his conscience urging him to apologize.

“Because I made a mistake,” he admitted and while his arrogance revolted inside, he managed to express some words of regret, “I went too far and, I’m sorry.”

A near inaudible scoffing puffed past her lips and she leaned back against the cold wall, her arms folded before her and her eyes firmly fixed on the floor beneath her feet.

“Eliza, you have every right to be mad at me but—”

“Wow, I do? Gee, thanks, how very generous of you!”

“Can you pl—”

“No! You see, I’m not actually mad at you. I mean, yeah, sure, I am but mostly, I’m mad at myself for growing so blind to the man you really are!”

He opened his mouth, ready to defend himself but Eliza waved it off. “Don’t. Whatever excuse you have, whatever gloating you wish to do, don’t because I will literally burn your vocal chords out.

“I thought you’d, well, not changed but that I was seeing a side of you very few people knew. The man underneath all this anger and arrogance, the self-serving attitude, and volatile temper. Someone worth caring about, you know?”

A hopeless shrug rolled along her shoulders and she shook her head. “But you’re not worth it, not a single ounce of it.”

Her words wounded his ego and he balled a fist at his side, working hard to keep his temper in check.

“I love you,” he said, calm as he could manage.

“No, you don’t! What you did to me is the furthest thing from love!”

“I never meant to lose control the way I did!”

“Perhaps not but you did and that’s the truth of you, Ravage. In the end, you’ll always do what serves you best with a complete disregard for anything and anyone else, even those you claim to love.”

“That’s not true!” he truly argued now and turned her way, towering over her within seconds.

“I have pushed my selfish needs, my desires for you away for so long constantly trying to give you time, give you space, to just be there for you and let you come to me!

“But you,” he continued, jabbing a pointed index finger in her direction, “you never noticed! Too damn wrapped up in Scourge this and Theron that! Bah, I regret ever bringing him to Rishi!”

The confession he’d never wanted to make, spurred on by his resentment, echoed through his cell and beyond.

Within the security hub, Theron gasped and Lord Cytharat had to stop him from rushing inside to lay a beating on the Sith while Ravage’s unexpected admission hit home with all of them. Eliza could hear it ring in her ears still and stared at him in disbelief.

“Fuck!” he cursed and scolded himself before he pounded a fist against the wall behind her.

“You… what? You brought him to Rishi? Them? Theron and Nyssa? How, why?”

A bitter chuckle escaped him and he threw his hands up in defeat, knowing there’d be no talking his way out of this one and instead, he decided he might as well come clean.

“Well, I wasn’t getting anywhere with you, was I? We were sleeping together but you wouldn’t commit so I figured if I could make you see just how alone you were, that I was your only shot at happiness, you’d finally give me a chance.”

He took a few steps back, slow and deliberate while his arrogance rose to the surface, creating a smug grin on his face.

“I knew Shan had gotten married, I remembered what he used to mean to you so I thought forcing a confrontation between you, him, and his wife would send you running back into my arms.” Ravage sat back down on his cot in the most casual way.

“It almost worked.”

“I can’t believe this…” Eliza looked abashed, her body language trying to fend his words off while she shook her head. “How did you even know they needed a place to… oh…”

It dawned on her that Nyssa getting caught and fired was no accident. “You sold her out. You knew she was smuggling supplies for our guys and you sold her out…”

“I did. I sent an anonymous and encrypted message to Coruscant Medical alerting them to her secret dealings and when Beniko informed me Nyssa had been fired, that they were on the run, well, I suggested she sent them to Rishi.”

Within seconds Eliza stood before him and smacked him across the scarred side of his face. “You sick bastard! They could have ended up in jail, or worse! And what about the shuttle crash, was that your doing too?!”

His cheek and jaw stung but he refused to acknowledge it, secretly delighting in her anger he’d stirred.

“No, that was a genuine accident although, in retrospect, I might have had more success if he’d simply died. Your mourning over Scou—”

Once more she struck him, this time swinging a balled fist square into his other jaw before she lifted him off the cot and flung him into the nearest wall, using her rising hatred to fuel her strength.

“Don’t you dare! What the hell is wrong with you?! Who the hell are you?!”

Despite all he had just said, and what he’d done to her, a part of her simply couldn’t mesh the man who’d taken such care of her, had been so loving to her as well as her child, with the one sitting before her now having assaulted her and confessing to his nefarious schemes. Dumbfounded by the two conflicting personalities.

“I am who I’ve always been, Eliza.” He remained calm under the circumstances, even daring to let his lips curl up into a smile.

“I am the bastard you love to hate and I’m the man who will stop at nothing to be with you, who loves you no matter how much you rail against it. I am every horrible thing you’ve ever considered me to be and all the good things you never thought me capable of. I’m both.”

Taking advantage of the fact his words had momentarily disarmed her through pure shock, Ravage rushed to his feet, straightened out his robes and ushered her into his arms. He trapped her against him and tilted her chin up to look her in the eyes.

“I love you. I have been falling for you since that night at The Black Rose, after you’d defeated Aruk and we danced.”

“No!” Eliza literally spat in his face and shoved him back, revolted by all he’d just told her. “You don’t! You don’t even know what love is!”

“Deny it all you want but it’s the truth and I think, deep down, you do love me as well.”

With his sleeve, he wiped the spittle and smirked. “You’ll never admit it but a part of you longs for me. You like the way in which you never know what to expect from me and you get off on the danger of me, of never knowing which version of me you’ll meet between the sheets and all of them make your toes curl.

“There’s a part of you that yearns to be enslaved to me, to be at my mercy and desires and I’ve tasted it,” he taunted further.

“Your dark side, I know how it hungers. You’ll never find that with anyone else and that pathetic, goodie-two-shoes spy boy of yours, who you think you love? He’ll never compare to what you and I had and could have again. You need me, I’m the only one who can give you the best of both worlds, my duality matching your own perfectly.”

His words left her reeling and Eliza felt them as dirty on her skin as his hands had been that one fateful afternoon, sickening her. An unpleasant chill coursed down her spine and she shuddered in disgust.

“No, no!” she rebuffed everything and vehemently shook her head.

“No, you couldn’t be more wrong. See I… yes, I was starting to feel some affection towards you, genuinely believing in this nicer side of you but… no, not once have I loved you and just the thought of you touching me ever again…”

She began backing away, turning for the door. “I’d rather die. I feel sick remembering every moment I ever shared with you. You’re the worst mistake I’ve ever made.”

The vainglorious feeling he’d experienced just moments ago dissipated quick, rejection shattering his heart but he would not surrender, now torn between making her suffer in the worst of ways and yet still loving her as he had for so long.

His internal war was quickly settled and he gave her another smirk, knowing he had at least one card left to play. One he’d savor for the right moment and only when he was certain to be out of chances which, he didn’t feel he was quite yet.

“You’ll be with me again before all this is over.”

Eliza rolled her eyes. “Keep telling yourself that.”

“What will you do with me now? Keep me here? Visit me to come and play?”

“You’re disgusting.”

“Sticks and stones, my love,” he teased and delighted, trying to regain the upper hand in their back and forth.

Tired of his games and unwilling to indulge him for another second, she shifted gears, answering his original question rather than taking the bait.

“We’ve decided to keep you locked up in here. You know too much, I can’t risk letting you leave and you’re not worth killing, yet, but perhaps you’ll make a decent target for Darius to practice his interrogation skills on.”

“I look forward to it.” He winked and let himself drop back on the cot, getting more than comfortable when he sprawled out. “Maybe you’ll join him?”

She ignored him. “Someone will stop by in the morning to set up a privacy screen so you can do your, business, in private.”

“How about a shower, or perhaps you’d like to give me a bath yourself?”

Eliza gritted her teeth, her nerves tensing at all the buttons he pushed. “How about I take you outside and shove you down the waterfall instead?

“I’m not sure if this is all just a game to you but, you and me, we’re never going to happen and you know, I should kill you for what you did to Theron and Nyssa, for what you did to me!”

He merely shrugged and swatted her words away.

“But like I said, you’re just not worth it,” she bit out and knocked on the door three times to let the others know she was ready to come out but Ravage wasn’t quite finished yet.

“Kiss me? One last time before you go?”

“Mmm, no…” She glanced over her shoulder and smiled his way. A thought nagged at the back of her mind and Eliza decided to take her power back.

“Not even if you were the last man in this galaxy and… well, my boyfriend wouldn’t like it.”

“Your boyfriend…?”

“Oh, you haven’t heard? Theron and Nyssa have seperated because he uhm, well…” She paused to enjoy the horror that came over him slowly.

“As it turns out, he’s still in love with me so they’re getting a divorce and Theron and I? We’re together, at last, quite happily so and I guess I do owe you a debt of gratitude—if you hadn’t brought them to Rishi, none of this would have happened. Go figure, right?”

Eliza delivered the gut-punching blow and walked out, leaving an infuriated Ravage to agonize over the news in solitude.

Outside, Theron caught her in his arms and swallowed his own anger in favor of comforting her but to his surprise, Eliza smiled. She even began giggling when the tension at last left her body and she felt revived. If ever in the past she’d wondered whether her feelings for Ravage went deeper than she’d been able to see, she now knew for certain they didn’t, not one bit, and she was free.

Aric and Lord Cytharat exchanged a confounded look and the former cleared his throat. “You realize he is going to be screaming for hours?”

“Mmm, yes…” Eliza said when her chuckles subsided and she reached for one of the ampoules on his desk, “that’s what these are for.

“I’ll call the maintenance guys to stop by in the morning for that screen and I’ll have them install a small sonic basin too—it’s starting to smell kinda ripe in there.”

She turned to Theron and rubbed his arms in a comforting way. “Are you okay babe? I can’t believe he’s the one responsible for Nyssa getting fired and causing you both to have to flee.”

“I can.” A deep sigh left his lips and he forced a smile to hide the thoughts running through his mind now.

‘And it’s nothing compared to what he’s possibly done to you…’

To his relief though, he wouldn’t have to hide his suspicions for much longer and he took Eliza by the hand. “Come, let’s have a bite to eat and calm your mind before the ritual in a few hours.”

 

Chapter Text

Ancient tradition demanded the ritual take place at eventide when, according to the Sith Kissai, the veil between the world of the living and the Force Astrum would be at its lowest and so, after an early dinner, Eliza had retreated to her room to prepare.

She’d showered and dressed in ceremonial garb—a black, full length, Cyrene silken wrap-dress clinging eagerly to her body. Its v-shaped neckline plunged all the way down to her navel while ornate, golden chains adorned her waist and sat on her shoulders to fasten the cloak billowing behind her. Her ruby red locks braided together into a bun atop of her head and a spiral, golden choker with an onyx gem coiled around her neck.

“Wow,” said Theron when she approached the Force enclave, “you look… wow…”

“I know, Pureblood women of centuries past were sluts,” Eliza quipped and she laughed to hide how uncomfortable she actually felt, clinching the fabric of her dress together over her chest.

“Not quite what I was going to say.”

He drew her into his arms and let his hands skim the sides of her body. Kissing her, gentle and soft before whispering something in her ear that caused her to blush and stare at him wide-eyed.

“That’s the dirtiest thing to ever come out of your mouth, Shan. I like it.”

Grinning playfully, he kissed her once more before the two linked arms and headed toward the meditation sanctum.

“Hey, did you call Nyssa?” Eliza asked, touching on the aftermath of her visit with Ravage.

“Yeah. She’s doing well, settled into her sister’s apartment and starting her new job soon.”

“That’s good. And you told her about Ravage?”

“I did. She wasn’t too surprised but did ask next time you decide to punch him, you add an extra one on her behalf in a place that, well, has me cringing just thinking about it.”

She chuckled. “I can do that. And you? Do you still want to strangle him?”

‘For more reasons than just this,’ Theron considered quietly but forced a smile.

“I do but, there is some poetic justice in his self-serving scheme actually being the thing that brought us together.”

“Mm yes, that does put a smile on my face.”

Inside the sanctum, Praven and Lord Cytharat already awaited with Darius who’d joined out of curiosity. Lord Cytharat wore garb similar to Eliza’s but his was a robe and the golden, ornate chains were heavily decorated with blood diamonds.

“Oh good, I see you’ve been forced to wear an ‘open for business’ outfit too,” Eliza commented dryly when she saw.

Lord Cytharat glanced her way and laughed. “It’s not that bad.”

“I agree, he looks ravishing,” Praven said with a wink while he busied himself setting up candles in a circle.

A snort came from Darius and he shook his head, indicating a pointed finger at Eliza. “It looks better on her.”

“You shush,” she told him in a lighthearted fashion and with one hand cupped his chin to inspect his face, “Does that scar still hurt?”

“Nah. I’m actually thinking of adding a piercing to really show it off.”

“I heard, which is why I got you this.”

She handed him a small, wooden box with a crisp, blue velvet lining. “As a thank you for, well, basically saving my life, Lord Darius.”

Eager and surprised, the young man popped the box open fast to retrieve the golden eyebrow piercing—near identical to the one his uncle Vowrawn wore except this one was engraved with his name written in ancient Sith.

“Oh sweet, thanks! And I’m officially a Lord now?” He beamed rather proudly.

“You are. At least, as official as we can make it out here.”

Eliza smiled at his enthusiasm and gave him a swift hug before she joined Praven at the altar they’d prepared. With a pestle, he stood grinding up some unknown substance and she leaned in to catch a whiff of its scent before jumping back fast.

“Oof that stuff stinks! What the hell is it?”

“Soil, from both your birth planets and purified water.”

“So, mud? Greaaat! I’ve always wanted to smear mud all over my body.”

Behind her, Theron laughed gently while he observed all the preparations, trying to ignore how nervous he felt.

“Not your whole body,” Praven corrected with a chuckle, “just your t-zone, chin, the back of your hands and a line along your clavicle. Hence the design of the robes.”

“Ahh, well that’s much better then,” she exclaimed with heavy sarcasm and amusement.

“Did you practice the incantation?”

“I have been, yes.”

“And I’m not allowed to stay present, am I?” asked Theron.

“You may witness from outside the circle, same as Darius, but you have to remain absolutely silent. Once we get started there can be no interruptions,” Lord Cytharat told him.

“We’re ready,” Praven announced.

Theron took a step back and quickly clasped Eliza’s hand. “Good luck, I really hope you’ll find the answers you need.”

“Thank you, babe, I love you so much and I really appreciate how supportive you’ve been.” She held him close and left a lingering kiss on his lips.

“I love you.”

Together with Darius, he retreated to the back of the sanctum and turned his communication devices off while the other three entered the circle.

“Scared?” asked Lord Cytharat while he scooped a dollop of the soil compound onto his finger and applied it to Eliza’s forehead—an action she mirrored while they anointed each other.

“Nervous more like? Thinking, what if he’s not there and if he is, does he know everything that’s been going on? Is he going to be upset I’ve moved on? What does he think of our daughter and does he suffer up there?”

Praven, who would function as the master of ceremony and their anchor to the living, tried to reassure her, “You can’t think like that, just focus on him and calm your mind. Did you bring the personal items?”

“Well, I have his ring but just to make sure I brought the first journal he ever wrote as well. I figured that’s been in his personal possession the longest. Do you think that’s enough?”

“Plenty. Now, lie back, both of you.”

As instructed and rehearsed, they both sank down and lay on their backs on the velour floor cushions, their bodies perfectly aligned while Praven knelt by their heads. With his palms, he covered their closed eyes and the two linked hands, entwining their fingers.

Eliza held Lord Scourge’s journal close to her heart with her free hand, his wedding band sitting around her thumb while she spoke the words leading them into the ritual, “Motina iv azinimas, jaarvek iv tyûk, vires iv tave kraujas, girdeti mus dabar.”

“Mes iezkon tu’iea coa ir mari nuo sis eroaga,” Lord Cytharat recited to ask for their elders’ judgment and blessing.

“Nuo tave Trovas iv Ignis.”

“Nuo tave Trovas iv Cytharat.”

An eerie silence fell and everyone held their breath hoping for a sign their words had been heard. Anticipation built and once more, Eliza chanted the words begging the mother of wisdom, the father of strength and the elders of the blood to hear her plea and now, the candles surrounding them flickered until their flames rose higher.

Lord Cytharat and Eliza both felt a sudden rush course through their body, heard each other’s pulse echo loudly in their minds and in unison began reciting the original Sith code in their ancient tongue.

“Nwûl tash. Dzwol shâsotkun. Shâsotjontû châtsatul nu tyûk. Tyûkjontû châtsatul nu midwan. Midwanjontû châtsatul nu asha. Ashajontû kotswinot itsu nuyak. Wonoksh Qyâsik nun.”

From every corner of the sanctum, a hissing voice rang, slithering across the stone cold floor and drawing near to form a gloomy ring around them that extinguished all candles at once. The shadowy mist thickened to forge a shroud that would cover both their bodies until they were fully obscured from view and a macabre lullaby sang, bringing them to a state of unconsciousness.

 

Their destination was nothing like the dry desert or the crumbling, and colorless, wasteland Eliza had grown accustomed to on previous journeys to an alternate plane of existence. There were no endless, grassy fields or vast shores like she’d imagined and instead they found themselves on a planet all too familiar to them both—Korriban, in its original condition as it had been almost four thousand years ago when the first Dark Jedi arrived to enslave their species.

In place of the Sith Academy stood a colossal temple, wide open and shaped like an octagon with at each point a large obelisk. Detailed carvings marked each pillar and atop of the stonework steps leading to the temple stood a grand altar surrounded by skulls and bones, blood dripping down its sides though there was no source for the sanguine fluids.

The Astrum wasn’t a glorious haven where fallen Sith were heralded as heroes—they merely existed in another prison beyond life, bound by eternity. Eliza had expected the realm to be filled with peace but instead sensed much in the way of longing and regret, unexplained anger and an envy that while she would return to life upon completion of her quest, those spirits surrounding her never could.

Eliza gripped Lord Cytharat’s hand tighter and clutched her dress with the other, a shiver running down her spine even while there appeared to be no climate. All around them were the spirits of those long gone but still hungering for life, feeding on their presence and the song of the dead carried over the terracotta colored expanse.

“This doesn’t feel inviting,” she whispered to Lord Cytharat.

“Don’t cover yourself up,” he quietly hissed to her ear and slapped the hand concealing her chest away, “you’re in Sith territory. They’ll think you’re timid and therefore weak.”

“I’d noticed, the Sith territory part. Does that mean Jedi in the Astrum are separate from the Sith?”

“Looks that way,” Lord Cytharat mused and they ascended the steps approaching the altar. “Can you sense Scourge?”

“No. There’s familiarity all around me, a feeling of recognition but it isn’t him.”

They circled the altar and as they passed, two tall and black unlit candles sprung to life with deep crimson flames, adding to Eliza’s perturbation but Lord Cytharat took in each detail with a keen interest. He dragged her inside the temple and rushed for the nearest pillar to study its carvings up close.

“Do you realize how unique an opportunity this is? Getting to see all of this before our time?”

“It’s…” Something else nearer the temple’s center distracted her as two shimmering, and luminous, anomalies descended and slowly transformed.

“We’ve got company,” she breathed out and pointed.

The two figures took shape with every step as they walked to approach, growing into the bodies that had served them in life and once they came to a halt, Eliza and Lord Cytharat found themselves staring up at two Pureblood men. One of them resembling closer to their Massassi Warrior ancestors while the other looked quite similar to Lord Cytharat, with the exception he had a taller and more muscled built.

“Welcome children,” said one of the men in a deep, baritone voice while he addressed Lord Cytharat, “The son of my sons.”

“The daughter prophesied millennia ago,” spoke the other with his eye on Eliza, “I am Lord Markos Ignis, son of Lord Tyvon Ignis the First.”

Hearing the name triggered a memory of her grandfather and her eyes widened in awe and recognition. “You’re the son of the original Ignis, the Sith who enslaved fire.”

“I am.”

“My Lord.” She made a reverent bow and Lord Cytharat mirrored her actions while he voiced his own curiosity.

“And you, my Lord?” he asked the other man.

“Lord Basir Cytharat. Your grandfather, Kato, was my grandson.”

“It is an honor.” Lord Cytharat made a second bow and though Eliza curtsied, Basir sized her up with a critical eye.

The reason for their visit was no mystery for the two elderly spirits and Markos, exuding an air of calm quite different to Basir, led the younger pair back toward the altar they’d passed upon entering the temple.

“You have come here, not to seek our blessing but to gain knowledge, have you not?” Markos inquired to confirm.

Eliza nodded. “We have, my Lord. We came here hoping to find a man known as Lord Scourge.”

Next to Markos, Basir snarled instantly upon hearing the name. “That villainous snake!”

“You’ve heard of him?” asked Lord Cytharat with deeply furrowed brows.

“Of course I have! That foul zudikas is the reason I am here!” Basir barked and spat his words at their feet. “The Emperor’s Wrath, a killer of his own kind!”

Taken aback, Eliza looked startled and gripped Lord Cytharat’s hand tighter as the atmosphere between his ancestor and herself took a quick turn.

“He is responsible for many of us here!” Basir carried on, building into a small tirade, “And they all know who you are, little girl—the traitor’s sosera!”

“I was his wife!” she spat and his insult of calling her a whore kindled her own ferocity, quickly pushing her beyond the unease she’d felt earlier.

Markos bore witness with a stern look but did not interfere on her behalf, eager to assess her mettle.

“I am terribly sorry you were one of many to fall at his hand but his actions were no betrayal! He served a greater purpose—the preservation of our galaxy where your descendants still live on today, where they carry on your name!” Eliza argued and indicated to Lord Cytharat by her side.

“Or would you rather we’d all perished to feed the Emperor’s immortality? Including your children and those who came after?”

Basir growled and berated her even further, “Don’t preach to me the feats you performed as Jedi! Your story is well known here and you are lucky to have the blood of the greats course through your veins or you would not even be welcomed here!”

Casually, she rested a hip against the altar while her arms folded before her, her defiance rising and prompting Lord Cytharat to intervene before things would escalate further.

“Perhaps we should table this discussion and instead entertain the matter at hand, my Lords?” he tried, careful not to antagonize his ancestor any more, “Could you point us to Lord Scourge, is he here?”

“No,” Markos, at last, spoke again, “He never even passed through the Ostium, the gateway between your world and the Ora.”

Perplexed, fully well understanding what it meant if Lord Scourge hadn’t even reached the Ora, Eliza immediately spun around. “Wait, what?”

“Are you certain?” Lord Cytharat frowned at the startling news.

Markos nodded and his eyes closed while he held out an upturned palm. He concentrated deeply and a tall, black and engraved candle appeared in his hand. “See, his flame still burns.”

Eliza inspected the candle up close, recognizing it to be identical to the two burning on the altar and she read the inscription, “Deimos Tynan… this represents his life?”

“It does, same as these other two represent your life and Tallis’,” Basir grumped and explained to the young twosome, “They burn in this realm for every soul of our kind still alive.”

“Unbelievable…” The truth sank in slowly with Eliza and she gasped, a somewhat trembling hand running through her hair. “He’s not dead… but then where, what, oh stars…”

“Which means we won’t find the answers you’re looking for here…” Lord Cytharat concluded and drew her into his arms, unsure of what else to say while expressing regret at the news seemed so inappropriate.

His great ancestor and Markos exchanged a meaningful glance and though the former held a clear grudge, they both realized the gravity of Eliza’s situation. As they’d stood closer to her, they’d sensed the presence clinging to her like a last breath and came to understand why the younger pair had sought out Lord Scourge’s spirit.

“He may not be here,” Markos began, “but perhaps your visit could still bear fruits.”

“My Lord, I mean no offense but I’m not sure this is something you could help with.” Eliza gave a polite smile, her temper subdued now.

“I can, and I will. There are a great many things about our family that you don’t know, that many never knew, including your grandfather but I believe the time has come to reveal the truth—to expose the ties between our family and the man you know as Vitiate.”

The riddles he spoke in troubled Eliza. She’d been prepared to tell Lord Scourge about her current predicament but felt apprehensive sharing it with her ancestors, worried about their reaction. Concerned they might worship the Sith Emperor even in the afterlife and would refuse to aid her or worse, force her to remain within their realm as a means of keeping Vitiate trapped too.

“You know…?” she spoke softly.

Basir scoffed, “That the Sith Emperor resides within you? Yes, your own essence sits tainted by his.”

“Walk with me, child.” Markos held out an inviting hand and after receiving an encouraging nod from Lord Cytharat, Eliza accepted his invitation.

Together they turned from the altar and walked toward the most central point of the temple where Markos made a small gesture with his free hand and revealed spiral steps that lead down to an underground chamber. Torches sprung to life while they descended and Markos began his story.

“Eliza, do you know what a Kissai is?”

“Not quite… an elder, leader?”

“No, the Kissai were priests. Spiritual leaders highly skilled in ancient Sith magic and alchemy. I was a Kissai, as was my father before me which is how he bound the gift of fire to our lineage.”

“I did always wonder,” she admitted with intrigue while they stepped inside a ceremonial chamber.

Tall and gilded candelabras stood on either side of a magnificent looking, and sizable, bone ivory bowl filled with blood and Eliza felt another shiver travel down her spine. Contrary to the whispers and song she’d heard up on the surface, nothing could be heard within the chamber and Markos took up position by another altar mirroring the one at the temple’s entrance.

“What uh…” Eliza slightly turned her nose up and indicated at the bowl. “What’s the blood for?”

“It’s a porthole to witness events of the past so I can tell, and show you, the truth.”

“How?”

“The essence of Vitiate is within you. Touch your index finger to the surface, connect with the blood and we shall see.”

Reluctantly, after observing the bowl with suspicion, she followed his instruction and dipped a finger in. The smooth, sanguine surface rippled, graciously at first until Markos spoke the words to summon the memoirs of Vitiate.

“S’dies, Tenebrae.”

Violently the ripples grew, simmering and churning to a boil and a silver cloud of steam spat up when the blood rose. It painted an image of a young, deeply crimson Pureblood man gazing into the amber eyes of a Pureblood woman he held to him like a treasure.

“Before we start you must know, in those days it was common for a male Sith to have at least one lover in addition to his wife—a mistress,” Markos began sharing a piece of history with her, “Marriage was never more than a business arrangement between powerful families and once a wife had given birth to a rightful heir who could carry on the name, the wealth, and power, the man would be free to accept a mistress.”

“That’s archaic,” Eliza mumbled.

“Perhaps, to your generation,” he conceded and indicated at the image hovering between them, “But it wasn’t to them—Lord Andros Ignis and his mistress Neviah. After Lord Andros conceived a male heir with his wife, he pursued his childhood sweetheart Neviah who’d been deemed unsuitable as a candidate for marriage and won her heart. Engaging in a relationship built on love, passion, absolute devotion and together, they too had a child.”

“Tenebrae?”

“Close, but not quite. They named their son Dramath, after Neviah’s father, and Andros loved his child dearly, far more than his rightful heir. Doting on the boy and though he could not give the child his name, he did provide for his education and raised his standing to Lord. Providing riches and prestige.”

The memory they witnessed changed scenes and a now much older Andros was shown fighting alongside a young man with yellow eyes, a light crimson skin and sleek, black, combed back hair.

“Now, in our family, the gift passes on only to the eldest child in each new generation which meant that Dramath’s older half-brother inherited the blessing of fire while Dramath was left envious. To make up for that fact, Andros helped Dramath conquer a neighboring planet to rule—Medriaas.”

Eliza drew in a sharp breath and gasped, “Nathema?!”

“Precisely,” said Markos and once more the vision changed, now showing Dramath as Lord and ruler of Medriaas in the prime of his life.

Markos carried on while Eliza felt herself thirsting for the climax of his story, the one piece of information to complete the puzzle—her mind a maze of information difficult to digest.

“Much like his father, Dramath took a wife and after the birth of his first son, went in search of a mistress of his own, hoping to find a woman as formidable as his own mother had been. For a time, he engaged in an affair with a lowly farm woman he’d met, one who’d aided his recovery after a battle and while he never found love with her, they did have a child together—Tenebrae.”

Sheer bewilderment widened Eliza’s eyes and her mind buzzed loudly when all at once, everything fell into place. “We share the same blood…”

“Yes. While Tenebrae is not part of our family, and merely the bastard child of a bastard, he was born from the same blood as you were and it is therefore that you cannot use your gift against him or his children. Why he cannot possess you without your compliance.”

The steam puffing above the bowl erupted into a mushroom cloud and evaporated while the blood stilled to a smooth substance, the visage of Vitiate in his original Pureblood form, as Tenebrae, reflecting in the surface and smirking up at Eliza.

A heavy gasp blew past her lips and she leaned forward, gripping the bowl between her fingers to steady herself. “But, the prophecy foretold a child born from the ancient flames would be his undoing… how, oh…”

A gentle smile graced Markos’ otherwise stern features while he joined at her side. “Born from the flames, yes, but not by use of the gift.”

“Then, how? I have failed at every attempt and now he is a part of me. I don’t know how to expel or defeat him.”

“You’ll need the help of something, someone, already in your possession.”

“Huh?”

“After Tenebrae terrorized his village and went on a murderous journey, Dramath tracked him down and confronted the bastard son he never knew. They battled and Tenebrae stripped him of his power before killing him and trapping his spirit as punishment.

“Lord Dramath the Second, Tenebrae’s elder half-brother, stole the prison Tenebrae had fashioned around their father’s spirit and fled the planet to return to his grandfather, Lord Andros, to whom he entrusted the object for safekeeping. A holocron I believe you have inherited from Tamas.”

“The holocron?!” she shrieked and still found herself falling from one confounding revelation into the next, “But I was told it holds the spirit of—”

“My father, Lord Tyvon, and by releasing him you could be freed from our family’s gift?”

“Yes.”

Markos nodded and linked an arm with her, walking to lead her back toward the surface. “A fable spun by Lord Andros. While Tenebrae rose to power and received the title of Lord Vitiate, Andros was shown in a dream that one day, the daughter of the flame would bring about the end of Vitiate’s reign and life.

“Andros decided then that the holocron should never be opened until that daughter—you—was born. He fashioned a story that would discourage generations to come from ever accessing the holocron. After all, no Sith would ever risk losing such a unique power, even at its cost.”

“Clever… Does Vitiate know any of this?”

“Today, he knows some of the story. He wasn’t raised by Dramath and killed him so swiftly he never got to hear about his grandfather or our family, not until a vision set him on your grandfather’s path years ago and the truth of the holocron has been our best-kept secret until now.”

They stepped back outside where Horuset, Korriban’s sun, greeted them eagerly and Eliza blinked her eyes a few times.

“How do I use it?”

“That is something I do not know, only Dramath himself can aid you there. The holocron is sealed with a spell, you’ll find it written on two halves of a scroll hidden in the pummels of your lightsabers.”

“Incredible…” she breathed in a heavy whisper.

They reunited with Basir and Lord Cytharat and Eliza immediately sunk herself into her cousin’s embrace, overwhelmed by the discord in her own mind.

He tenderly inspected her face and held her. “Did you find what we need?”

“Oh, more than. So much…”

“You should both return now,” Basir pointed out and he cast his gaze to the setting sun behind them, “once darkness falls, you’ll be trapped here and your physical bodies will die.”

“Thank you… both of you,” said Eliza and though they’d had a bitter start, she gave Basir a courteous nod before turning her focus to Markos one last time.

“One final question… well, two—is there a way to free myself of the gift and, when will my daughter inherit it?”

“No, you cannot be relieved of the gift and it manifests only in one living Ignis at a time. Your daughter will not receive the blessing of the fire until you’re no longer alive.”

While Eliza still found herself in a state of befuddlement, the time came to say their goodbyes and all four linked hands as Basir and Markos spoke the incantation to return Eliza and Lord Cytharat to the world of the living, armed with far more information than she’d ever bargained for.

 

Chapter Text

It was one of those moments where you find yourself scarcely aware of your surroundings or even your own physical existence. Where the only sound is the rushing of blood in your ears while your eyes stare into the distant nothing until they dry and start to burn and once you come to, you realize the person you were talking with is waiting for a reaction and minutes have passed.

It was what Theron experienced when Eliza sat him down the next morning to share what she’d learned from her ancestor and when she announced Lord Scourge was, in fact, still alive.

‘We were right…’ It dawned on him and he finally met her eyes again. “Are you okay?”

“No. I’m, something but okay doesn’t even come close. I don’t understand, not for a second,” she admitted while confusion ruled her mind.

She got up from the black, suede sofa in their room and pushed open the balcony doors in desperate need of fresh air, breathing it in as though she’d been suffocating for hours.

“I mean, how is this possible? I have his ring. Regina disposed of his body herself and watched him die. I don’t get it and if he’s not dead then where the hell is he? Where has he been all this time?”

Feeling Theron’s arms wrap around her from behind, she leaned into his chest and sighed while he struggled with the little options he had, mostly torn between telling her what he knew right now or waiting for Me’ghan so they could tell her together.

‘No. You have to now, you can’t let her agonize over this for a minute more.’

“Come sit down with me please,” he asked quietly and lead her by the hand to one of the loungers.

Eliza frowned and echoed his earlier words while she curled up sideways on his lap, “Are you okay?”

“Not quite—there’s something I have to tell you and I’m worried about your reaction, worried you’ll feel hurt and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

“O-kay… that’s, an unnerving build up, what is it?”

“For the past week and a half, I’ve had my own reasons to believe Scourge might still be alive.”

“How?”

“There was a call I overheard Ravage make to what turns out to be a jeweler in Kaas City—Vowrawn is looking into the specifics and—”

“Wait. Ravage, Vowrawn? What jeweler?”

A deep sigh escaped his lips and he scolded himself for just how bad he was at delivering this sort of news. His hand tenderly rubbed down her back while he pinched the bridge of his nose, knitting his brows and then began telling her everything from the very beginning—from the afternoon in the cantina to all Me’ghan had uncovered with Vowrawn’s assistance.

“For now, Vowrawn is looking to see what else he can uncover, Thyra’s records are rather incomplete and he’s waiting to hear back from this Elias guy,” he closed out at last and swallowed hard, “I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything before.”

Minutes went by and Eliza sat speechless, her face a masquerade of every emotion that rose quickly before another came to conquer it. Confusion carving a path for sorrow soon overcome by shock, changing to the feeling she was about to throw up and eventually leaving her with just anger—burning and aching in her body and she flew up from his lap.

“I’m going to kill him,” she bit out, her jaw clenched and her fists so tight the bones of her knuckles could have pierced her skin.

“I am going to kill him so slowly, so excruciatingly he’ll beg me to finish the job quickly and I’ll grant his wish then figure out a way to revive him so I can do it all over again!”

With her fury waging war already, rapidly building to its ultimate climax, she stormed from the room faster than Theron could respond or leave his seat and he was left having to chase her down the base.

“Eliza wait!” he called out after her, running through the cantina and the consternation drew the attention of others leading Me’ghan, Malavai, and Darius to follow suit.

Eliza wasn’t waiting though and startled Aric Jorgan when she blew into the security hub. He had no idea of what was going on and watched, half anxiously at the sheer anger possessing her, while she repeatedly entered the access code for Ravage’s cell, her hands and fingers shaking too much to hit the correct combination.

“Open it, now!” she barked her orders and came close to yanking the Cathar out of his chair but Theron stopped her, catching up and dragging her back outside.

“Eliza please, look at me,” he cupped her face in his hands even while she tried to resist and spoke soothingly, “not like this, not right now. Whatever fate you’ve got planned for him, it can—”

“No! He dies, today!”

“If he’s to die, it can wait, please. I know you’re infuriated and he has it coming, all of it and more but I’m begging you—wait.”

She bristled, fighting off his comforting intentions with her anger railing, “Why?!”

The small crowd gathered, and now including Aric, stood silently witnessing while Theron did all he could to calm her, pulling her to him, stroking her back, her hair, speaking in gentle and hushed tones.

“Because we don’t know everything yet and I know you. At some point, you will have questions even if you think you already know the answers now. You’re going to want to hear all of it, from him so please for your own sake, calm down first.”

Even Ravage himself stood glued to the door, having overheard the turmoil outside but to his disappointment, his cell was too well isolated for him to catch anything more than mere mumbles, distorted words, and voices.

Her volatile temper mixed with the melancholy resurfacing inside of her, weakening her resolve and with every mollifying caress of Theron’s, her rage was further subdued making way for the first tears springing to her eyes.

His touch, the love in his eyes and words had such a pacifying effect and she soon realized he was right—no matter the fabrications Ravage might spin when asked, she’d want an explanation from him and dead men don’t do a lot of talking.

“He lied…” She made a long face and her bottom lip quivered.

“He did, and once you’ve calmed, you’ll make him pay and I’ll be right there with you.”

Malavai, despite not fully knowing what had happened or what she’d uncovered in the Astrum, put his hand on her shoulder. “We all will.”

Eliza gave a dazed nod and left a quick, salted kiss on Theron’s lips. “I’m going for a walk, I need to clear my head.”

Every nerve in her body begged her to escape the situation, the weight of revelations of the past twenty-four hours suffocating her slowly and she tired of her constant state of confusion and chaos.

“Of course,” Theron began but watched sullenly as she pushed the back door wide open and walked off before he’d even finished, “I love you…”

“I take it you told her?” asked Me’ghan.

“I had to. Her ancestor confirmed to her Scourge is alive. I just… I guess I didn’t foresee her getting this angry. I feel so stupid.”

“When word came of Scourge’s death, Ravage was a genuine beacon of support and she forged a bond with him believing them both to be widowers,” Me’ghan remembered vividly as even she had been in awe of Ravage’s caring support.

“It was one of the few things he’s ever done that truly touched her and now she’s found out he orchestrated all of it—her pain and sorrow for his own benefit. Spinning a lie about her husband’s death… it’s a most painful of betrayals.”

 


 

A crisp, morning breeze was her welcome when she stepped outside the base, threading a path through a section of wilderness on Odessen she’d never explored before. While previous walks had brought her down a creek to a clearing and close by the waterfalls, this one took her to a canyon carved out between two cliff sides and eventually, to vast rapids surging down a river which stretched on for miles.

The critters scurrying away underneath overgrown ferns and the tears trickling down her cheek were all she had for company and far too easily, Eliza got caught up in the treacherous maze that was her mind. It took her back months to the day she’d been told of Lord Scourge’s passing, to the night where Ravage had comforted her so adequately.

His words of comfort, his understanding through having suffered the same had meant everything to her in the weeks following but now they made her feel ill. They salted her tears and brought her to her knees at the riverbank.

“People will forever seek to betray you—accept that and move on, harden yourself and pursue your true destiny,” a voice spoke and Valkorion appeared, much to Eliza’s chagrin and she glowered at him.

“Go away.”

His phantom form paced and ignored her words. “My daughter was eliminated from the playing field and now, we must deal with my son as well.”

“I said go away!”

Her nails dug into the dirt until her hands formed a fist. “I don’t need advice from Tenebrae, the bastard of Medriaas.”

“Ah, you know the truth at last.”

She snipped, “I do but forgive me if I have no interest in a family reunion.”

Eliza got up and wiped the dirt from her hands, her tears now crusting on her cheek. “So what was it that turned you into a homicidal psychopath? Daddy issues? Those sure seem to run in your side of the family.”

“Your gift was fire, mine was death,” he declared plainly as if those simple words explained the centuries of terror he’d inflicted upon the galaxy.

“Death?” she scoffed and wandered off with slow and aimless steps, “If only yours came as easy as everyone else’s. Where is he?”

“Who?”

“Scourge! What did you do to him?”

“I had plans for my treacherous Wrath but alas, your padawan’s actions foiled those plans.”

“Good, so where is he?”

“I don’t know where he is now.”

“Then you’re useless to me—leave.”

Her hand cut through the air but Valkorion wasn’t so easily dismissed and tracked her footfalls down the cobbled riverbank.

“It is time you evolved, Seraphine,” he called her by her title, the one name she held that he deemed befitting.

“Beyond those you call family, beyond the teachings of the Jedi and Sith. We were both forged from the same blood, we are superior to every other being in this galaxy and you were born to rule them all as I once was.”

“I was born to get rid of you, and one day I will!”

The chuckle that escaped Valkorion rang hollow. “Yes, I used to fear that prophecy until I came to understand—my reign will end but only to make way for yours and through you, all I know, everything I have built will live on. You will wear my crown.”

Upon his last word, Eliza came to an abrupt halt and heard it echo in her mind. Ringing clear until it found its association buried deep within her subconscious and coaxed it to the surface.

‘Crown… crown… In the vision, I bowed to you and took a crown from the Emperor’s head. It ended when you held his power in your hands.’

Again Valkorion laughed as though he’d followed the trajectory of her thoughts, leading him to the words Lord Scourge had spoken to her long ago. “Even my Wrath knew.”

“No. I’m nothing like you and I never will be! I don’t want your crown or your power!”

“Because you still cling to these mortal desires—love, family, happiness, a good life—but you could have so much more and the darkness within you hungers and grows. You’ve felt it, even today, less than an hour ago. I did too.”

They reached a clearing at the end of the path where the two cliffsides merged to close off the canyon and Eliza shook her head. “You’re wrong.”

“Am I?”

An amused smile curled his lips and the look he gave her was that of a master challenging his pupil, already knowing he’d be victorious. His eyes bore into her soul, searching and reaching.

“You never felt it when the seed of darkness began to bloom, rising within you? Its tentacles tainting every nerve, every vein black as it hissed a call for destruction?” Valkorion taunted and circled her once more.

Every syllable he spoke stirred something in the pit of her stomach, an awakening of the one thing she always fought so hard to control as though her darkness heeded his call above her own. It rose, precisely as he described and she felt an all too familiar crackling in her fingertips.

“The way it turns your blood cold and your eyes to hellfire.”

“Stop…” a plea fell from her lips, one aimed at the horror that sought to dominate her now but Valkorion delighted.

“Think of all those who have lied to you, deceived you, betrayed you and kept their secrets from you. All those who’ve wronged you.

“The Jedi and their grandmaster, the Republic who tried to use and exploit you. That simpering fool whose unwanted affections and lies have kept you from searching for your husband, lead you to deceive him. The mother who abandoned you because she feared what you are, who you could be.”

Each word resounded in her mind, teasing and stroking the dark force taking her in its thrall. A crimson aura set in her irises, blending with the golden rings left there after a previous bout with her hatred and anger.

“Those you call your friends and family harboring secrets because they think you’re too weak for the truth! Even your old Master, the one you looked to as a father, abandoned you and lied!”

“No… he didn’t…”

It became increasingly harder for Eliza to fend off his words and the assault they made on her being, the rise they gave to her dark side breaking the chains she’d crafted to keep it subjugated.

“Feel all of it, everything you’ve held back and remember the lessons I once gave you aboard my fortress, embrace it, let your hatred reign!”

In a violent scream, her darkness reached a pinnacle, a violet vortex holding her in its grasp and Valkorion smirked when he felt his plan successful.

It was true he could not command her but in his recent absence, he’d been searching for a loophole and realized the corrupt force inside of her was key—if he could enrage that and make it listen, it would overtake Eliza and then he’d have the dominion over her he so desperately sought.

Anguished tears sprung from her now ruby eyes, her body shaking with the force that overwhelmed her as she tried to fight a lost battle. She knew better, she knew his words were the poison of a man anxious to have her compliance but she couldn’t escape the trappings of her true nature, not alone but luckily, she didn’t have to.

At first, she thought he was just a vision, a fabrication stolen from her heart and given shape by her mind as the tall figure appeared in his specter form. His hood drawn up, sharp spikes adorning his shoulders and forever wearing his signature mask, his frame so unmistakable even Valkorion took a step back.

“Marr…” whispered Valkorion with a modicum of awe.

The ethereal Sith ignored him and turned to Eliza, placing a hand on her shoulder and while physically she felt none of it, his essence radiated through her body instantly.

“He is right—you are more than this,” spoke Marr with his sole attention on his grandniece and former acolyte, “but more isn’t necessarily worse or evil. The power you hold was born from darkness but what you do with it has always been your choice, and it still is.”

“I… I…” she tried but the power coursing through her not only paralyzed her body but silenced her words too.

Marr nodded and understood. “I should have spent more time teaching you to maintain balance—to not just control and enslave your power but work with it, and harmonize.”

“We both should have,” spoke another voice, soft and female and a third presence arrived but this one as alive as Eliza was herself, “I was foolish to believe ignoring the darkness would render it nonexistent within you.”

Eliza stared in absolute shock while Satele Shan took her hand and together with Marr, she focused her energy to banish Valkorion’s spirit from their presence. Assaulting him with their combined power and with every blow he took, Eliza felt her darkness abate.

“You will not have her, Valkorion,” Marr argued and he took a protective stance between Eliza and the now startled Emperor.

Valkorion stood angered but in his incorporeal form, weak against the two guardians at Eliza’s side. Their attacks slashing away at his ghostly form and his power, the strength he needed to maintain his own manifestation, drained.

“We shall see—neither of you can protect her forever and I am part of her now! This isn’t over and one day soon, when she’s ready, she’ll come to me!”

He spoke his promise and vanished in an anticlimactic fashion, without a show of power or a semblance of retaliation and Eliza was left standing with two former mentors she’d never expected to see again. Shaken by all she’d witnessed, by her own rise of power until the dark force inside of her waned fully and she fell into an unconscious state.

 

Chapter Text

A roaring fire gave ambiance to the veiled and secluded section of wilderness on Odessen where they’d made camp. It sputtered and snapped when the Jedi Grandmaster provoked its flames by nudging a few of the logs and she retrieved the kettle suspended above the pit.

“Here, try some soup,” Satele offered a simple bowl of broth.

Eliza observed her companions warily and rubbed the fatigue from her eyes, though she accepted the offer. “How long was I out for?”

“Little over an hour,” Marr told her.

“I see…”

She cast her gaze around the camp, observing a single tent, a few stacked cargo crates and, eventually, Satele’s private vessel. “When did you arrive here?”

“Several weeks ago after Beniko first discovered this planet.”

“I see…” she said a second time and sighed.

She put the bowl of soup down and gently massaged her temples with her index fingers, half wondering if any of this was real. Considering that perhaps she’d lost consciousness long before either of them arrived to banish Valkorion, and all of this was just a dream scenario to protect her from the truth—that the Emperor had conquered her mind and body at last.

Satele smiled with tenderness and sat down beside her.

“We are real, Eliza,” she promised, the sincerity clear in her eyes, “and we’ve been keeping an eye on you for some time now, hoping you’d sense our presence and find us here to meet.”

“Because simply walking up to our base was, what? Too difficult? Do you know Theron’s there?”

“I do, but I am a complication he doesn’t need in his life right now.”

Eliza let out a sigh and muttered, “You would say that…”

While reaching for her soup again and sipping slowly, she looked Marr’s way from underneath her lashes, over the rim of her bowl and studied him.

There’d been a time where she would have paid almost any price to see him again but he felt different now. Something about him had changed, she could sense it, and much about the situation was so incomprehensible she didn’t know what to think or say.

Making matters worse was the fact Eliza felt she needed to guard her emotions. She didn’t want him to see her as weak by shedding tears for their reunion and there was no telling how long he’d stay. For all she knew, this was it and before long she’d have to say goodbye again—a thing she wouldn’t be able to do if she let her heart rule her sensibilities and so she asked the one question everyone had speculated over for years.

“What happened during the battle, after Scourge forced me to return home?”

“We were no match for their forces,” began Marr and he paced along the glowing fire, teasing the flames higher with a simple wave of his hand.

“Your old padawan, Kira, joined the fight not long after your departure and together with Scourge, they cleared out the majority of boarders but the damage had been done. We converged in the engine room with a choice to make—use the last of our power to get everyone to the escape pods or charge, full speed ahead and ram our ship into the fleet. Scourge chose the latter while Kira ran to save anyone she could before impact.”

A pause fell and Marr relived every moment, remembering each sound, every scream and the fumes of the explosions as though it had happened only yesterday.

“Somehow, we survived. I awoke in a cell and together with Kira, was escorted to meet this immortal Emperor of Zakuul,” he continued.

“We both knew instantly when we came into his presence—Valkorion was Vitiate. He offered us a place at his side if we’d kneel but I could not. To do so would have been a betrayal not only to our Empire but to the man I have always been, and all I have fought for.”

Eliza had listened intently, his words shaping the images in her mind that allowed her to witness each event and she nodded. “I understand, I couldn’t have either.”

“You would have been proud of your former padawan—she stood fierce and unafraid, and she had my back.”

“She didn’t make it,” Eliza announced but quickly saw, by the gentle nods she received, this wasn’t news to either of her companions.

“What of Scourge? Was he not there when you were brought before Vitiate?”

“No. I don’t know what became of him after we rammed their fleet and even now, his fate remains concealed.”

“You can’t see him either?”

“He is shrouded in secrecy—there is a barrier, somehow, that not even I can pierce.”

A quiet sigh passed her lips. “Oh…”

Finally, he stopped pacing and sat himself down beside her while Satele occupied herself with menial tasks, stepping away to give the both of them some much needed privacy. Marr placed his hand over Eliza’s, letting it hover and while physical touch was impossible, she found comfort in the gesture alone.

“Did you suffer?” she asked.

“It was over quick and I hope you can forgive my choice—I have wondered in the years past while watching the war unfold, if perhaps I should have swallowed my pride to stand by your side.”

“There is nothing to forgive. I… have missed you, needed you but I respect the choice you made and I would have done no different. You seem… changed, though, somehow.”

“Death opened my eyes to new and profound wisdom I shunned in life. It offered a grander perspective of the Force and I realized just how limited our own views are,” Marr lamented.

“That’s… an unusual notion coming from you.”

“Being in the Ora, it changes the way you see everything,” he began sharing the enlightenment he’d experienced.

“It shows us the galaxy as a whole—past, present, future—the touch of the Force woven like a fine thread through every living organism. Every single person with a dozen different decisions to make and each choice creating an alternative future outcome with the Force at the heart of all of it.”

Eliza looked at him and a soft smile lit up her eyes. “Sounds… beautiful, I guess. So you are in the Ora, you never moved on?”

“I couldn’t. After death, I was shown my own life, from birth to death, and one of many futures awaiting the family I left behind—you. I was shown what transpired here today, Valkorion wielding your darkness and eventually transforming you into his vessel, finally obtaining your family’s gift.

“It was only one of many potential outcomes but I knew I had to prevent it. I witnessed each moment of your life, the pain you suffered in the past years and I feared the worst possible future would become reality as your depression grew but I was powerless to stop it—I didn’t know how to manifest myself among the living and that was when she found me.”

“She?” Eliza frowned and glanced over her shoulder to see Satele standing behind her. “You brought him here?”

“I did,” Satele rejoined them by the fire and began to explain.

“When I felt his passing and the loss of Kira, I feared the worst when it came to the future of our galaxy. I meditated in search of answers and the Force reached out, instructing me to find Marr and share the knowledge of spirit manifestation.”

“So that’s how you ended up together?”

Marr nodded. “It took years to master the art, and requires much energy and focus.”

“Which is why we should get to the true lesson before time runs out,” Satele pointed out.

“True lesson?” Eliza’s frown flitted back and forth between them both.

“Your dark side—it used to control you and then you learned how to control it, enslaved it and I believed that to be the answer for you,” Marr told her, “but I was wrong.”

“Just as I was wrong to believe if it could be suppressed and ignored then it would never touch you,” added Satele.

Marr rolled his hand to shape the flames of their campfire into two separate figures—a wild animal and a woman—and continued.

“You’ve been treating your dark side as a savage beast to be shackled and bound, caged and only released when you demand it.”

Again his hand made a gentle wave and now the wild animal transformed into a mirror copy of the woman built of flames.

“But it is not a savage beast—it is you. A part of you, an extension of yourself that you need to embrace. Set it free, learn to work with it in a symbiotic relationship.”

“It heeded Valkorion’s call because it sensed his acceptance while deep down, you still reject and fear it,” Satele made another point.

“I’m scared I’ll lose myself…” admitted Eliza while she stared, captivated, at the two blazing figures harmonizing within the fire.

“That’s all the more reason to face and welcome it and, remember, that darkness, it is as much a part of you as anything else. it is you.”

Doubtful and currently lacking faith in herself, Eliza looked at Marr. “Do you think I can do it?”

“I believe you were born to,” he promised and rose up.

With a simple gesture, he doused the flames and gazed up at the sky. “It is getting late. You should return to your people and I must go.”

“You really can’t stay?” Her brows furrowed in sadness.

“No—I have done my part so it is time I moved on.”

“I won’t see you again?”

“You won’t.”

She swallowed hard to fight off a familiar stinging in her eyes, her tears pressing just beneath the surface. Despite her efforts to keep her emotions at bay throughout their reunion, they made their presence known now in the face of losing him a second time.

“We never got enough time together, not even a year and there is so much I still want to share with you.” Her voice wavered and she bit her bottom lip.

She admitted, feeling her heart aching, “I love you and I have missed you. I’m not ready to say goodbye.”

“I know,” said Marr and he embraced her, his physical touch nonexistent but his essence wrapped around her like a blanket of comfort and warmth, “and I will always be with you.”

The moment, tender and fragile, lasted not nearly long enough and when Eliza opened her eyes again, he was gone. She turned to Satele, a single tear trickling down her cheek.

“Will he be at peace now?”

“One may hope.”

“And you? Will you return to the base with me and say hello to your son?”

“No. As I said earlier, I am a complication he doesn’t need in his life right now and he doesn’t need me.”

Eliza screwed her nose up. “You realize you’re doing that thing again where you try to decide what’s best for someone else? Can’t you let him make that choice?”

Ruefully, Satele tried a smile while she began walking Eliza in the direction of Odessen’s base. “Theron and I will never have that good or close of a relationship, it’s not for us. I’ve caused him pain he cannot forgive.”

“But that can change. You could at least try.”

“Perhaps, one day when all this is over but for now, we both have our own role to play in this war and it is not one we can perform together.”

“What do I tell him when he asks where I’ve been?”

They reached the beginning of the path out of seclusion and Satele came to a halt. “The truth. I know of your relationship and I won’t ask you to lie on my behalf.”

Eliza frowned. “And you’re not going to scold me for being with him?”

“No. I no longer have that right and perhaps I never did.”

“Okay, whatever spices you and Marr have been enjoying out here or in the Ora, I want some. You’re both so tranquil and different.”

For a split second, Satele pursed her lips at the comment but then smiled once more. “Find your balance and embrace both halves of yourself, it will be key to winning this war.”

“Where will you go?”

“Wherever I’m needed next. May the Force be with you, Eliza,” Satele said her goodbye and while she walked away to pack up, Eliza returned to the base.

 


 

His voice thundered with fury, so loud it echoed through the throne room repeatedly and took minutes to die out while Arcann paced in rapid succession by his seat of power, berating the Sith Empress.

“Your man failed to attend our meeting! He failed to deliver the information I requested and he has been spying on us for years! He works with my greatest enemy!” he accused and threw a small monitoring device at her feet.

“Emperor Arcann, my deepest apologies, I had no idea Minister Vowrawn would abuse his position as our ambassador and betray us both,” Acina spoke cautiously.

To her greatest regret, she’d been summoned to Zakuul after Vowrawn, aware that his connections to Eliza were now exposed, had refused another diplomatic journey and fled the Empire to avoid capture. It had become clear to all he’d deliberately withheld information and not long after, one of Zakuul’s own Knight’s had discovered scanning and monitoring devices throughout several sections of the Spire and throne room.

“I assure you, he worked alone and I have my people searching for him as we speak. He will be brought to justice.”

Arcann puffed and bellowed, “Your apologies are worthless! This woman sat on the Council with you and you will tell me everything you know!”

“I know no more than you have in your files, we were never close.”

“More lies!” Infuriated, Arcann brought up a galaxy map and began browsing the different sectors of space with great urgency.

Please allow me to correct this mistake,” Acina offered and realized the precarious situation she found herself in.

Internally, she cursed Vowrawn for his actions and scolded herself for ever trusting him in a position of power to begin with, his reputation well known even to her. Still, she’d deal with that later, after attempting to smooth out the relationship between the Empire and Zakuul.

She cleared her throat and tried in earnest, “Eliza was born in the Empire and there must be people who knew her family. My Intelligence team—”

“Your Intelligence team is useless! Three of your Ministers have vanished now and none of them have ever honored our treaty! In fact, I am starting to believe you have all purposely worked against me from the start but no more!”

He circled the map and zoomed in on the Esstran sector, a section of space holding mostly Imperial planets, and Acina sucked in a sharp breath. She dreaded to think what he might be looking for or had in mind and her stomach churned with a sudden unease.

“Tell me how I can make this right.”

“You?” Arcann scoffed, “Your work here is done but you may bear witness as I remind your people of the importance of loyalty!”

The throne, his seat of power and his connection to the Eternal Fleet, lit up when he sat down and Arcann entered five different sets of coordinates into the communication system before he spoke his orders—a full scale assault on five, randomly selected, Imperial planets and Acina felt her heart sink while her panic rose.

“Please! This isn’t necessary! I will pull every resource I have to find her and deliver her to you myself! If she is working with the others—”

“Oh, I am sure she is but while you all sat around plotting to deceive me, she murdered my sister! A favor, granted, but none of this will go unpunished!”

The Fleet, which had been in formation right outside the throne room, vanished, leaving white and blue streaks in its wake while Acina stood powerless to change Arcann’s mind.

“Now, as for you…” he began, his tone threatening and he closed an invisible fist around her throat.

 

Chapter Text

For the sake of privacy, everyone within their innermost circle had agreed to a late dinner buffet in the cantina, at Eliza’s request, so she could inform one and all of everything that had transpired. The reactions were mixed while she delivered one piece of news after the other in a brief recap first and then elaborated on each story, starting with her connection to Valkorion.

“So, the Sith Emperor is your family?” Me’ghan repeated, awestruck and reeling at the mere thought.

“In a way, though, there are countless generations between us and even his father was a bastard child. But we are bound by blood.”

Praven, highly intrigued and excited by her story as if he’d just discovered a long-missing chapter of history, let his jaw drop before he grinned. “And you never knew?”

Eliza shook her head. “No, only a few did and this Lord Andros basically took the secret to his grave.”

“Can you eat planets too and become immortal?” frowned Darius, dead serious though his question elicited several chuckles.

“Eh, no. I mean, I guess I could learn, any Force user could, technically, and it’s not a special gift only Vitiate possesses but no.” She took a sip of her fizzy drink and moved on to the subject of Lord Scourge.

“Now, based on what Markos had to say, what Theron and Me’ghan discovered, and what I’ve learned from Marr, it’s obvious he survived but that’s all I know too, the where remains a mystery.”

Over to her left, a fluster colored Lana’s cheeks and she stared down at her plate, hit by shame.

“I’m sorry, Eliza… I should have ran a more thorough background check on Regina and known better than to trust Ravage with the details of Nyssa and Theron’s involvement in our alliance…”

“Don’t be, you’re hardly the only one who fell for his act or who blindly bought into Regina’s story—I did too.”

“I must say, I am a little surprised he would go that far,” Lord Cytharat interjected, “that he would subject not only you, but Cyara as well, to that cruel of a lie. I’ve seen him with her, he adores her almost as if she were his own.”

“Which could also serve as further motivation to do what he did,” Charlie pointed out, “Didn’t you say he lost his wife and daughter? Perhaps in his twisted mind, you could have filled each other’s void.”

“It’s possible.” Eliza frowned. “Though not at all comforting and a bit creepy.”

“Is there any proof the duplicate item he ordered from Elias’ finery is in fact Scourge’s wedding band? Do we know anything more about Thyra, other than her father worked for Ravage and was killed by Eliza?” asked Lord Cytharat.

Jonas glared his way, one eye narrowed. “Don’t tell me you’re looking to defend or absolve him of this.”

“No, of course not,” said Lord Cytharat and added, “But all we have is extremely circumstantial evidence and suspicion toward a man very few of us ever even liked.”

Malavai put his tea down and frowned in thought. “I don’t think anyone here would be quick to defend Ravage—we all know the man he is—but Lord Cytharat does raise good questions, ones we should try and find answers to first.”

“I agree,” Eliza said, much to everyone’s surprise, “Let cooler heads prevail. He is in lockup, he won’t be going anywhere and while personally, I’d love nothing more than to rip his heart from his chest, it can wait.

“I will, however, pay him another visit tomorrow to find out what else he knows, see if he’ll confess.”

“And what about Scourge?” asked Praven.

“We’re back to square one. Theron’s offered to compile a report with all we know thus far and circulate it among our contacts in other regions, perhaps we’ll find a lead.”

Next to her, Theron gave a faint smile and took her hand in his own.

They had yet to discuss the what-ifs should Lord Scourge be found and he did worry that once again he’d lose her but he’d also made himself a promise—he’d stand with her and support her, wherever it may lead them.

Eliza next touched on the events in the woods—Valkorion’s words and the reunion she’d had with Marr and Satele.

“That is, curious…” Praven mused and pensively stroked one of his tendrils, “the Sith Emperor would truly see his own fall as a means to make room for a successor, and accept it?”

“So he claimed but that is not the Vitiate we know and I don’t believe any of it. He needs me for something, that much is clear, but to what end? Marr saw a possible future where I’d become Vitiate’s vessel, I can’t let that happen.”

“But if he foresaw it—” Lana began to argue by Eliza waved her off.

“I don’t care. It was a possible future and it can be stopped. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Darius sat forward. “But was it a vision, or a prophecy? Aren’t those guaranteed to play out?”

“I no longer believe in destiny, visions, prophecies or anything of the sort,” Eliza admitted with a shrug.

“All they do is provide false hope, a false sense of security or instill fear for something that may never come to pass. Marr told me he saw a dozen different futures based on every single decision a person makes, that leaves me to believe that in the end, we create our own fate."

She continued, “And visions? I rather suspect those are the result of whichever future appears most likely based on various factors—personality, someone’s history, past choices they’ve made, their circumstances—but none of it definitive.”

“Huh.” Praven looked at her with further intrigue. “That’s a debate I’d like to expand upon, another time.”

“Satele did not wish to join us?” asked Lord Cytharat and several people around the room snorted all at once.

“Clearly, you’ve never met the Jedi Grandmaster, nulis.” Praven smiled and then glanced Theron’s way. “Apologies.”

He merely shrugged. “It’s fine. Eliza already informed me earlier and I’m not even surprised. At least now I know she’s still alive.”

“So,” Charlie spoke up, “What’s the plan? We have several issues to deal with. The Emperor, Arcann, finding Scourge and then there’s that asshole in lockup.”

“Arcann takes priority,” Eliza decided.

“He is everyone’s problem and once we’ve dealt with him, I’ll deal with Vitiate. Scourge… as much as it pains me, I can’t go on a wild chase right now, not with everything else going on and Ravage, I’ll figure that out tomorrow after I’ve spoken with him.”

“Do you think it’s wise to keep Vitiate around until then? Didn’t your great ancestor offer a way to rid you of him?” Me’ghan voiced some concern.

“He did but Vitiate is my key to survival right now. He needs me, my body, he won’t let me die while facing Arcann and I know it’s a risk but it’s one I’m willing to take.”

 


 

Later that night, while preparing for bed, Eliza turned to Theron with a curious look in her eyes. “You’ve been quiet, what’s on your mind?”

Despite his loving support and the way he’d stood by her, she’d noticed his absent-minded stares into the far distance and how he’d offered little to no words at all during the meeting.

He glanced up with a perfect, and practiced, fake smile. “Nothing worth worrying about right now.”

“You’re not fooling me, babe, I know you better than that and I can see the SIS written all over that smile, it doesn’t work on me.”

Eliza stripped down to her boyshorts and tank top, tossing her bra onto the nearest chair and climbed into bed where she patted the smoothed out sheets. “Join me and talk to me?”

“How could I say no?” He smiled a genuine smile this time and undressed until only his boxers were left.

He climbed into bed, finding her arms and he sighed his confession, “It’s uhm, it’s Scourge. I can’t stop thinking about what might happen to us, you and me, once we find him.”

“Yes, I thought that might be it,” said Eliza while she cozied up to him, “Look it’s, complicated and there is so much uncertainty right now.

“Will we find him at all and if so, when? A month from now? Ten years from now? Will he survive until we do find him and what condition is he in? Hanging by a thread? Is he locked up somewhere or lost on a forsaken planet scrambling to survive? Likely scenario is Arcann has him imprisoned, wherever, but there are so many questions.”

Theron nodded and planted a tender kiss to the side of her head. “I know, and I feel terrible for my selfish concerns while you’re dealing with this but—”

“No, don’t feel bad. You have every right to ask and this is our life now, together, and all of this involves and affects you too.”

While the pads of her fingertips caressed his cheek to adore the man who was now her universe, she sunk her lips down over his and kissed him ardently.

“But,” she continued when their lips parted, “while there is much uncertainty, there is one thing I do know beyond a doubt—I am not leaving you again, even if we do find him.”

He looked startled, in a complete surprise of not just her words but the determination in which she spoke them. “What? Are you sure?”

“I am. This has been on my mind as much as it’s been on yours, ever since we found out and the truth is… Yes, I still love him and I always will and yes, I’ve spent years holding on to hope but while doing so, I also had to adjust to life without him.

“Subconsciously, I think I started moving on already even before Ravage’s subterfuge pushed me over the threshold, by pure necessity, you know? To make it through.” She furrowed her brows and sighed, in part hating her own admission.

“It sounds cold, and I feel guilty about it but that’s where I’m at now…”

Theron took her hand and held her tighter. “No, I think it’s understandable. Despite love and hope, you were facing a future without him and in ways, had to move on just to function?”

“Yeah… so you don’t think I’m horrible for saying this?”

“No, but, where does that leave us? You feel moved on from him now, I guess you’ve created an emotional detachment but what when you see him again?”

“I don’t know, honestly, there’s just too much at play to have a sense of how I would handle that but what I do know is, I want Cyara to have her father in her life and… Theron…” She looked at him with misty eyes. “I can’t lose you again.

“Not counting all the other insanity going on, and focusing on just you and me, I finally feel right, complete. I can’t stomach the mere idea of leaving you or losing you in any fashion,” her voice broke with light panic as she spoke.

“Then you won’t. Whatever lies ahead, we’ll face it together and when we find him, we’ll make things work, somehow.”

He sunk further down the bed to lay back and urged her to do the same, holding her to him while her face nuzzled his neck and his chin rested on top of her head.

“And you’d still want to be with me, even through all this? The drama, the craziness, all the Vitiate stuff, that mental patient in his cell downstairs, and my dark side?”

“Yes, all of this and anything else that comes along. You’re never getting rid of me, not even if…” he paused at another thought he’d been toying with and now felt ready to decide on.

“If…?”

“If you wish to return to the Empire when all this is over.”

Now it was Eliza’s turn to give him a look of utter surprise. “Seriously? I had hoped to go home, yes, but… that was before we got together and since then I’ve just tried to put it from my mind because I don’t feel right asking you to defect.”

Theron nodded and planted a butterfly kiss on the tip of her nose. “And I love you for that but, what’s there to defect from?

“They’ve kicked me out numerous times, branded me a traitor on more than one occasion. The SIS has fired and rehired me more times than I care to count and my mother who is, or was, here on Odessen, didn’t even care to come see me. The only home I have is by your side, wherever that takes us.”

“What of Jonas and Charlie, and your father?”

“Jonas and Charlie are both spies, we’ll figure out a way to handle this and my father… He turned his back on me when he betrayed you and sided with Arcann, even against his own son. He knows I’m here and a part of the alliance.”

“He does?”

“He personally added my name to a whole list of so-called Republic traitors associated with the alliance, I sliced their files the other day looking for recruits and saw.”

“Oh love, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Our relationship has always been awkward and estranged and he has so many scars from previous wars, so much hatred… even if you and I settled down on Coruscant, it wouldn’t change my relationship with him.”

She gently traced his chin and bottom lip with her index finger while her brows remained furrowed. “I had no idea… I feel like lately, everything’s been about me and you’ve been so strong and supportive while clearly, you’ve had your own struggles too and I’ve hardly been supportive in return.”

“Malcom and Satele aren’t a struggle—I’ve made my peace with that situation years ago. They didn’t even attend the wedding which was a ten-minute walk away from their offices in the Senate Tower.”

With great affection, he lightly kissed the padding of her index finger and smiled. “Having you with me, laying here like this, together, at the end of a crazy day, it’s all the support I need.”

Eliza chuckled and felt relieved, commenting with a playful demeanor, “Careful now, you’re dipping into corny town.”

“Am I?”

His left brow quirked and he held a mischievous look in his eyes and suddenly, she became aware of his hand sliding down her stomach and inside her boyshorts. “Should I dip into something else instead?”

Instant arousal mixed with the amusement she got from his words, a girlish giggle escaping her lips. “Mmm, we need to work on your dirty-talking skills.”

“Nah, words were never my forte, I don’t need them.” He grinned and found her sweet spot, teasing the swelling while eliciting a pleasurable gasp from Eliza. “And my actions speak for themselves.”

She would have giggled a second time if it weren’t for the moan that came from the back of her throat and before long, they left all troubles behind in favor of passionate endeavors that carried them deep into the night.

 


 

Morning, however, announced itself abruptly when the emergency alert on both their datapads and holo communicators began to chime loudly, rousing them from a deep sleep and within five minutes, the groggy couple rushed inside the war room still wearing their pajamas.

“Ugh, what is it?” muttered Eliza, still fastening her bathrobe and combing her fingers through her tousled hair.

“It’s Arcann, he just sent his fleet to attack five different planets in the Esstran sector,” Lana called out and activated the HoloNet News broadcast, “Billions are dead and the death toll is still rising.”

“The Esstran sector?!” Lord Cytharat overheard when he joined them and he shot forward in sudden panic. “Which planets?”

“Korriz, Melldia, Kursid, Drezzi, and… Athiss.”

“No…”

The devastating news knocked the air from his lungs and Praven caught him in an embrace. Eliza clapped a hand over her mouth and silenced a gasp of her own.

“There’s more,” said Lana with a grave expression on her face, “The Empire is struggling to send search and rescue teams to the planets, or any form of aid, as it appears Empress Acina has gone missing.”

“Fuck Acina,” Eliza bit out, only caring for one thing right now, “Do we know if anyone on those planets has survived?”

“Some might have. The fleet attacked all major cities but they didn’t destroy the planets in question. Those on the outskirts or in nearby villages could have survived.”

“Then there’s hope,” she suggested while she stood by the two Purebloods and soothingly rubbed Lord Cytharat’s back, “Your parents and sister, didn’t you say they were staying at a farm far removed from the city?”

He only gave a faint nod and retrieved his holo-communicator, desperate to call his family but Lana quickly pointed out, “All communications are down.”

“Eliza…” Praven gave her a look that spoke volumes while he held his love.

“I know. Pack your things, anything you need and whatever medical, food, and water supplies we can spare,” she decided on the spot, “be ready to leave for Athiss in one hour.”

“But you’re needed here,” argued Lana, “and we are low on resources as—”

“Lana! Thank you but I don’t care. We’ll make do, somehow, start dipping into our rations,” Eliza barked and turned to Lord Cytharat, cupping his face between her hands while she added, far more gently, “She is right though, I can’t leave, especially not if Arcann is moving this war into high gear.”

“I know.” He nodded a second time while he struggled to form any words at all. “But I have to…”

“You do, and you will.”

Just then, Me’ghan and Malavai joined and Eliza quickly told them what had happened while asking them to join the other two on a rescue mission to Athiss.

“Of course, I’ll prepare my ship immediately,” Me’ghan agreed.

“Good, thank you, and when you find them, just in case communications are still down, you can either bring them here or offer to fly them to Rishi, and visit the girls while you’re at it.”

Wishes of good luck and heartfelt sentiments were expressed and Eliza kissed Lord Cytharat’s cheek. She held him to her, once more apologizing for the fact she couldn’t accompany him and then he, Praven, Me’ghan, and Malavai left to make preparations.

“Is there anything we can do from here?” asked Theron after they’d gone.

“Yes, let’s start working on a plan to bring Arcann down,” said Eliza.

Lana gently cleared her throat. “There is still the matter of Acina.”

“No, that’s just good riddance but the Empire does need a leader—this is the worst time for them to become vulnerable. I’m going to get some caf and see if I can reach Vowrawn… it might just be time he emerged from the shadows.”

 

Chapter Text

Nathema—Entry #89

It is the year 3632 and I am on Nathema still. My life is empty now and I have nothing but numbers to mark all that I have lost.

Three hundred and forty-four, my age and life extended by a curse—my mortality lost.
Twenty-nine, that is how old Eliza will be now—I have missed her past four birthdays.
Ten years, that’s how long ago I first met her—when hope walked into my life.
Five, the number of years we’ve been married—an anniversary we will never get to celebrate.
Four, the number of years since I last saw her—when hope abandoned me.
Three, my daughter’s age—I will never know her.
Sixteen hundred and forty-nine, the number of days I have been here—I started carving on a new section of wall.
Forty-seven, the number of scars on my body today—I feel none of them.
Twenty, the number of tests I was subjected to today—my deception still holds.
Three, the number of senses I have left—at least I am no longer tormented by Jarak’s natural odor or the vile taste of this gruel they feed me.
One, the number of senses which have become altered—my sight remains but I no longer detect color.
Zero, the number of emotions I experience—even love has faded now.

Well, perhaps one of two emotions remain. Writing this down now, I feel angered and a sorrow toward the rotten fruits of fate. I think of every moment I have missed—the birth of my child, endless days and nights with my wife, my daughter’s first words, first steps. I think of her first birthday, try to imagine the glorious sound of her first giggle, and I experience melancholy.

Love, however, has abandoned me once more. I think of my wife and while I realize her fate is important to me, that her life matters, I no longer experience that glowing warmth that made my heart soar, the rapid beating of my heart just hearing her name or seeing her smile. I remember what we once shared and while sensibly I know those memories should help me feel our love, I just cannot.

This is all I have now, all I can do to chronicle my life and remain sane. Keeping notes on everything I have lost, a number for each occasion. Writing out each uneventful day knowing nothing will change. Knowing the Force saw fit to grant me a unique gift—the return of my senses and emotions—only to rob me of those same things again now.

I cannot do anything here. I’m still in the same cell I was, a small duracrete block. No windows, no bars, no mirrors and the door indestructible. I cannot use my powers for an escape—the void that surrounds Nathema hungers, its heart draining the Force from every gifted being on the planet’s surface in a bid to keep its last spark alive.

My only solace these days is the deception I have created. I feign agony each time they probe me with their needles or cut into my flesh. I stage a play of selling my pain, of suffering and at night I pretend to sleep. I will complain of fatigue and weakness and through breathing exercise have mastered the art of slowing my heart rate down so one would think I was on the brink of death.

It is a dangerous game and Jarak grows restless, his man-child Emperor even more so but it is my way to ensure they never discover how close they really are to creating immortality in a bottle. I no longer have a role to play in the fate of the galaxy, nor in Eliza’s destiny but this is one thing I can still do—prevent Arcann’s bid for immortality so he may die at her hands once they meet.

 

Lord Scourge finished his writing and closed the diary—one of the few items Jarak would allow him to possess—before he tucked it away under his worn-down mattress. A deep sigh escaped his lips when he crawled onto the stained sheets and let his mind wander.

During these quiet moments, he would entertain himself by reciting stories he had once imagined telling his daughter. He stared up at the ceiling, envisioning the paint blemishes as figures in the tale he told but suddenly sprang up again at an odd, squishy sound and unusual feeling in his mouth. He spat into the upturned palm of his hand and frowned at the two teeth that had fallen out, root and all. His mouth bled, mixing with saliva and he spat a second time, spewing out a third tooth.

“That can’t be good…”

 


 

At least he looked better now and he no longer smelled like a pile of Bantha excretions, or at least, what Eliza imagined that to smell like as she sat across from him at the tiny, rectangular table in his cell.

“I knew you’d miss me,” said Ravage, “you just couldn’t stay away, could you?”

A smile, angelic and with the illusion he was her most favorite person, crossed her face. She felt pure disdain for him now, a deep rooted hatred but she wouldn’t let it show.

“You wish, but I do have surprising news to share that I thought might interest you—we have found Regina,” she laid the groundwork for the lie and studied his face carefully.

“It turns out she feigned her own death, took a drug that puts you in a death-like sleep for several hours? Long enough to mislead us, anyway.”

He didn’t even flinch. “Good. I imagine you made her suffer?”

“Quite. It took some effort to make her talk but eventually, she did. She answered each question and then some and, get this, she told me Scourge is still alive. The ring I was sent is a forgery.”

Now his eyes sprung wide open and his jaw fell agape. “He is?! Did she lie about all of it? Who would do that?!”

“You would!”

“What?!”

“Ever heard the name Beldiss?” she carried on and refused to buy into the shocked reaction he gave.

“Bel-who?”

“Beldiss, Lord Beldiss. You dispatched him to Voss years ago on a diplomatic mission, to create an alliance with the Voss Mystics.”

“Oh, him? Yes, he worked for me right up to his disappearance.”

“He didn’t disappear, I killed him.”

Ravage began to laugh, appearing surprised but not displeased by the news. “Of course you did. Even then you were a pain in my ass but look at us now. Friends, lovers…”

His response left her baffled and brought her off balance, even while she remained stoic in her demeanor. She’d anticipated most any reaction—anger as she came nearer the truth, arrogant rebuttal, gloating even but she hadn’t expected this. He sounded sincere and genuinely unaware.

“Regina was his daughter,” Eliza relayed to test him further. “Her real name was Thyra Beldiss.”

“I never even knew he had a family. Is that why she fabricated the lie about Scourge, to avenge her father and get to you, hurt you? Pathetic.”

Doubt began to fill Eliza and she was at a loss for words. She had been so certain he was guilty, never for a second even considering the fact that the two pieces of information they had—his holocall and the connection to the Beldisses—might be an unfortunate coincidence. Or perhaps that’s just what he wanted her to believe and if so, he played it well.

The door to Ravage’s cell opened up and Theron, who’d been observing the conversation, poked his head inside to bail her out.

“Eliza, you have an urgent call.” He gave her a meaningful look.

“Thank you.” She smiled and glanced at Ravage. “We’re not done yet.”

“I’ll be waiting,” he piped up with a hint of amusement.

The couple stepped outside, into the security hub and Eliza leaned back against the door the second it closed.

“What do you think?” she asked.

Theron, as well as Aric and Darius, looked her way and the former blew out a deep sigh. “I don’t know. He appeared genuinely startled when you told him Scourge was alive and confused upon hearing about Lord Beldiss and Thyra.”

“I know. I can’t figure out if it is an act though. Do you suppose he could have anticipated we’d uncover all of this?”

“If he heard all the ruckus down here yesterday morning then he may have suspected.”

“Have you tried contacting this jeweler yourself? You are a customer of his, right?” suggested Darius.

“I am and I’ve thought about it but Ravage gave the man a gag order that I don’t think he’d dare defy. Not with his family threatened.”

Aric quietly mulled over the situation. He didn’t know each detail but enough to realize something big was at play and he offered his thoughts, “Sir, you have Ravage in lockup. Perhaps that knowledge, or even visual proof, would sway this man to share the truth?”

“That’s… it could work.”

Theron nodded. “Call him, right now while I set up a video link.”

“Alright.”

Eliza sat herself down behind the desk and keyed in her passcode to establish a secure connection before she made the call.

“Elias’ Finery, your number one supplier for handcrafted and unique jewelry, how may I help?” An older man appeared above her communicator.

“Mr. Elias, Gregory?” she asked to confirm.

“Darth Seraphine! My Lord! Thank the Force, I thought you had perished, I had not seen you since the funeral!”

“Yes, and thank you again for attending, that was considerate of you.”

“You and your husband were one of the nicest customers I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving. Please, tell me, what can I do for you, my Lord?”

“It is a delicate situation, are you alone?”

“I am, yes.”

Eliza glanced up at Theron who gave her the thumbs up, letting her know video was available should she need it.

“Gregory, I am aware Darth Ravage has been in contact with you recently. I know he placed an order, for a duplicate of sorts, and threatened you and your family should you ever speak of it. Correct?”

The man stared at her image, stammering and growing visibly uncomfortable, “My Lord, I uh… I never share the details of my business with other clients. I respect everyone’s privacy.”

“You are not in any trouble, nor are you in any danger. I have Darth Ravage here, locked up at a secret location and he won’t hear about this.”

“Please, I really cannot discuss this with you.”

“Gregory, you have nothing to fear, I promise. Look,” said Eliza and she activated the live video feed showing Ravage in his cell, “See? You and your family are safe now.”

Upon witnessing Ravage dawdle around his small confinements, Gregory appeared to doubt and stroked his neatly kept beard, contemplating his options but then shook his head. “I truly can’t, apologies.”

A deep sigh escaped Eliza. She didn’t wish to resort to threats of her own, that had never been her way but she needed something to make him talk.

“Perhaps there is something I can do for you in return? Do you need credits, a way out of the city? I don’t imagine business is doing well these days,” she tried instead.

Again Gregory considered his options and now leaned in, closer to the screen of his datapad. “Could you get me and my family away from Dromund Kaas?”

“I can, yes, and anywhere you wish to go.”

“I have a cousin on Alderaan, a servant working for House Thul. She tells me ever since the war, the nobles have only started spending more. Living it up just in case they don’t make it through.”

“That would be good business for you. I can get you and your family to Alderaan if you wish.”

Finally, the man relented and admitted in a whisper, “I trust you, Darth Seraphine, you are one of the good ones. Darth Ravage had me create a ring—an exact replica of the ring I once made and engraved for your husband.

“I felt uneasy about it at first, I didn’t understand the purpose of his request but he claimed it would be a gift for your daughter, so she would have something to remember her father by. I sympathized and accepted the order.”

Eliza balled a fist underneath the desk, digging her nails in so hard she could make her palm bleed but toward Gregory, she kept a smile on her face. “Thank you, Gregory. Do you have a copy of the transaction?”

“I do but, apologies, I would rather hold on to that piece of evidence until my family and I have left Dromund Kaas. I hope you understand.”

“Of course.” She nodded.

He’d already told her what she needed to know, enough for her to face Ravage with certainty about his crime, and after a few more minutes of polite conversation, with the promise she’d contact him soon to make arrangements, Eliza ended the call.

“I need a moment,” she sighed out and buried her face in her hands.

Gregory Elias had told her precisely what she’d expected to hear and yet it was a bitter pill to swallow. Her anger and emotional turmoil rising and she needed to calm herself before facing Ravage again.

“Babe, look.” Theron placed a hand on her shoulder and gave her his datapad.

The screen displayed a full copy of the transaction between Gregory and Ravage, as well as a detailed description and image of the item that was ordered. It also included a date and a name for the person who’d be picking the order up in person—Thyra Beldiss.

“What… how?” She gaped at him.

“I may have used the video link to slice his datapad while the two of you were—”

Eliza flung her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. “You’re amazing!”

“It pays to date a spy.” He smirked.

“Stars, look at the date,” she pointed out and Darius leaned in over her other shoulder to read along.

“That’s quite a while ago,” he observed.

Theron frowned. “That was just days after Nyssa and I had the shuttle crash.”

“Mmhm. I guess he decided your presence alone wouldn’t be enough to win me to his side…” Eliza shook her head. “Filthy bastard. Do you have the records of his holo-call to Gregory on here as well?”

“I do. Take it inside if you need to.”

“Thank you.” She turned to Aric and commended him, “And you, for the suggestion.”

Armed with Theron’s datapad and her best version of a phony smile, she once more traded the preferred presence of her love for a one on one with the man she’d grown to loathe and despise more than she’d ever imagined possible. She cut straight to business.

“About two weeks ago, on the day you assaulted me, actually, you made a call to Elias’ Finery on Dromund Kaas to discuss an order you’d placed. A replica of sorts.”

She didn’t sit back down but put the datapad in front of Ravage, a manicured nail tapping the screen to indicate at the call-log.

“I did. So what?” He barely glanced at the display.

“What did you order?”

“A cock ring. I heard they really spice things up in the bedroom.”

His sarcastic response cost him dearly and in the next second, he growled in anger and pain. Eliza had circled behind him and, dissatisfied with his answer, grabbed a handful of his auburn hair to slam his face forward into the desk. She remained perfectly calm, however.

“Try again, and this time without the lies.” She leaned forward and pulled up the transaction copy.

Blood dripped from his nose and the impact had forced one of his teeth into his bottom lip which swelled up immediately. He took a second look at the information before him, at the truth he would now be a fool to deny, and smiled. He blew out a deep exhale, admitting defeat first to himself and then to her.

“Fine, there it is then. You’ve figured it out.”

“Not good enough. I want to hear you say it, admit it.”

Ravage sat back, tilting his chair some while he put his feet up on the desk and wiped his nose with the sleeve of his robes. His options were limited—admit the whole truth in an unusual round of honesty or antagonize her further with a callous attitude. He chose the option with the highest survival rate—the truth.

“I ordered a duplicate of Scourge’s wedding band, fabricated the story and used the knowledge I had of her father’s death to persuade Thyra into selling you a lie.”

Her knuckles bruised his cheekbone when she swung her fist with full force into his face, punching so hard he was knocked from his seat which clattered onto the floor right next to where he now sat on hands and feet.

“How did you convince her? Why would she escape and end up dead? There is no way that causing me grief would have been enough revenge for her.”

“I let her believe she’d have a shot at killing you once we met in person,” he grumbled and stood back up. “Obviously, I wouldn’t have let her and her imprisonment was an unexpected twist. I don’t know why she escaped or how she ended up dead, nor do I care. She was just a pawn.”

He reached for the datapad and once more inspected the documents. “Did your new boyfriend uncover these?”

“He overheard part of the call you made, didn’t like it so when your comms were confiscated, he did some digging. Traced it to Gregory Elias and sliced his business records to obtain a copy of the transaction between you both.”

“And Thyra? This whole story of how she survived and spilled the beans?”

“My way of testing you,” she said and hung back against the corner of the table, “to gauge your reaction and see if you’d confess.”

“I see. Not a bad attempt.”

“Neither was yours,” they exchanged awkward compliments, “I almost bought into the act of innocence.”

“I was never going to show my playing hand that easily.”

Eliza’s brows knitted together and her demeanor shifted, growing more serious. “Why did you do it? Fabricate the story?”

“Does it matter and would you even believe me now? I assume this revelation has sealed my fate.”

“Try.”

Another sigh fell from his cracked and swollen lips and he stood close to her, hooking an index finger through the ring she still wore around her neck.

“I was unequivocally convinced of his death—I saw no other reason for the fact none of us could sense or find him, that no one had seen or heard from him for years. If that were me, leaving you and a daughter behind, I would fight my way out of any grave, any prison and overcome every obstacle to make my way back to you. He had to be dead.”

He gazed into her eyes and smiled when she quickly averted hers. When her hand slapped his away.

“Do you remember that day before Cytharat arrived?” he continued.

“Vaguely. Didn’t your uncle visit while I’d left for Raider’s Cove to restock on supplies?”

“My great uncle, actually, and one of the last Seers in this galaxy. His gift is rather unique. He can touch an object belonging to a person and use it to track them down. Blood works as well, better even. It isn’t exact, it wouldn’t provide coordinates but it shows a person’s surroundings and the trail that lead them there.”

Eliza frowned. “You were searching for Scourge?”

“I was.”

A wandering hand skimmed down her shoulder and arm and he paused, taking her in, possibly for the last time he ever could.

“I introduced my great uncle to Cyara,” Ravage explained further. “Told her he could see the future which entertained her enough to participate.”

“You used my daughter?!”

“No harm came to her, he only held her hand. She is Scourge’s flesh and blood, the strongest connection possible and a product of your love.”

“You should have asked my permission,” she spat and shrugged his hand off. “What did he see?”

“Death. He found the trace of Scourge’s Force signature through Cyara and followed it, only to be met with a hungering and violent essence of death where the trail ran cold, beyond the reaches of the Force.

“That could only ever happen if the person you seek is in fact dead. So I was convinced, as he was, that Scourge had not survived the encounter.”

She sensed no deception from him this time. Whereas earlier she’d struggled to separate his truth from the lies, she saw clearly now. “But you never told me.”

“The days following were hectic. Cytharat’s arrival, the shuttle crash. You were consumed with concern for Shan and finding those pirates… there never was a right time to tell you and then I overheard you talking to him after he woke up.

“You were so steadfast in your hope and belief that Scourge was still alive. So determined to hold on to that hope that I realized my words, or the words of a Seer, would not be believed and you would only get angry with me for making a claim you didn’t want to hear.”

Again he moved to take her hand but Eliza pulled away, jumping off the table to distance herself from him while she admonished, “So you decided to create a lie that would force me to accept this discovery and belief of yours? What about that night when we sat outside and you told me you knew what it was like to hope?”

“I meant every word. I did and do understand but I was convinced at this point you were just tormenting yourself. He would never return but you would wait forever and I couldn’t let you.”

“And?” She quirked a brow, knowing there was one piece of admission still missing.

“And, yes, I wanted you to myself and this hope of yours stood in the way,” he confessed in truth that his actions had held selfish motivations as well.

Ravage grabbed the toppled chair and pushed it back into place before he sat down. “You know, I tried to abort the plan.”

“Hm?”

“After we’d argued on our journey back from Tython. You called me self-serving, manipulative, that I didn’t care about the pain I inflicted and that you hated yourself for the moments we’d spent together.”

“I wasn’t wrong about any of that.”

“No, you weren’t and I resented just how right you were. You stormed out of my quarters and I contacted Thyra, told her there’d been a change of plans but by then she’d already found Lana and sold her the story I had fabricated.”

“Why didn’t you just confess at that point?”

“Because despite my regret over the scheme I’d set in motion, I was still convinced that he was dead and it hardly mattered how you’d find out, as long as you knew so you could move on.”

She sunk back against the wall, a shiver crawling down her spine when the cold duracrete connected with her skin. Her hands clutched her elbows and she stared at him, letting all he’d told her sink in until his confession drew a single tear from her eyes. One she would ignore as she attempted to hold herself together.

“You know… you broke my heart. Which, I mean, you never even had my heart and yet you managed to break it. Shatter it, completely, with the worst lie you could have ever told.”

“He is dead, Eliza. You had to move on.” Ravage got back up and tried to approach her with caution. “Now I am sorry for my methods but I don’t regret forcing you to accept—”

Frustrated, she shot forward and waved his words off. “But he isn’t dead! You were wrong, your great uncle was wrong!”

“... What?”

“That part was true when I fibbed about Thyra. Scourge isn’t dead!”

He stared at her, completely flummoxed but then shook his head in denial. “Just because I fabricated—”

“No, this isn’t because of that! I spoke with my ancestor, I spoke with Marr, they both confirmed Scourge is still alive.”

“Marr? Your ancestor?” Now he really felt she was close to losing her mind. “What are you talking about, where is he then?”

“We don’t know,” she admitted, “they can’t sense or see him in the Force.”

“Then isn’t that further proof?! Why else would no one be able to find his signature in the Force? Why else can’t we find or see him no matter what gifts and tricks we use? Why else can’t you feel him?

“Of course, it could be he’s in cuffs as I am,” he considered out loud though unconvinced, “or perhaps a whole prison, heck, a planet made out of some Force dampening technology but that wouldn’t explain the violent death my great uncle found!”

Ravage gripped both her shoulders and his eyes pleaded.

“Don’t do this to yourself, not…” he began but the sudden wide-eyed stare she gave him, her mouth falling agape before twisting into a smile, halted his words. “What?”

Her whole face lit up, practically beaming as the obvious answer unexpectedly presented itself, triggered by his rant and Eliza laughed.

“Oh of course! I am so stupid! It’s been right in front of me all this time in many conversations and through the journals I’ve read, even within the Astrum!”

“The Astrum… what?” Ravage had never felt more confused than he did now, unable to follow her train of thought.

His bewilderment reached even further heights when he felt her hand on his scarred cheek, tender with her caress, running up to entwine her fingers in his hair and her eyes twinkled at him when she pressed her body flush against his.

“Oh, Markus… look at you, you beautiful, glorious bastard. Scheming to bring Theron in, to win me over but you wound up losing me to him…” she mused and inched closer, her lips drifting towards his while she carried on.

“Scheming to convince me of my husband’s death, successfully I might add, but here you are now giving me the answer to the one question that’s haunted me for years…”

Her other hand caressed his arm, gingerly stroking with her fingertips and he stood speechless. Her honeyed tone inviting but her words laced with a double meaning that could either spell forgiveness or death, and he couldn’t discern which.

He didn’t have long to think about it, either. All at once, her lips were upon his, soft and light, sweet as he’d longed for and he moved to take her into an embrace, so enamored he never saw it coming.

An object pressed to his chest, its cold metal radiating through the fabric of his robes to touch his heart and within a split second, Eliza ignited her lightsaber. Their eyes met, his laden with sudden horror, and between them they shared a fraction of a moment to relive their entire tumultuous history. She held him but withdrew from the kiss and flashed a calm smile.

“Thank you,” she whispered to him.

With a simple elegance, she deactivated her blade and let go. His blood seeped down the fabric of her shirt while he sunk to the ground and collapsed. Heaving a last breath, gurgling in an attempt to speak a final word before his body stilled entirely, his eyes forever widened in shock.

Frozen in time, Eliza stood observing the dead man at her feet. Even before entering his cell, she’d decided on a quick death. Deemed him unworthy of further effort and she had imagined that showing her anger, punishing him for hours would only add to his delight in a sick and twisted way. She didn’t regret it.

The door flew open and Theron rushed inside, startled by her actions but he wouldn’t question it, neither the kiss nor the kill. It was the closure she’d needed and while he wasn’t entirely pleased, he would try to understand. His arm slid along her shoulder and he escorted her from the scene, leaving Darius and Aric behind in stunned silence.

“Babe, what is the answer?” he asked.

“The one place where all it all began—Nathema.”

 

Chapter Text

“Shouldn’t Eliza be here for this?” asked Jonas while he and Theron loaded the coffin aboard Kendra’s vessel.

Together, Kendra and Aric would fly the coffin to the nearest drop off point and from there, send it to the Empire before making a small supply run to restock the base on Odessen.

“Nah, she wants nothing more to do with this,” Theron said.

“So why not burn him or dump him out back? It’s not like the bastard deserves a funeral.”

“It’s not for him,” he began to explain.

“Cyara adored her ‘uncle Markus’ and for her sake, Eliza wove the story that he was killed in action, here, fighting Arcann’s Knights. Can’t really tell a three-year-old the truth, yanno? Besides, this way it avoids a potential fall out with that great uncle of his or anyone else still loyal to him.”

“Makes sense. How is she? Relieved?”

A single shrug rolled along Theron’s shoulders. “I think so. She’s been a little quiet since yesterday but I think she’s just processing.”

They fastened a cargo net around the coffin and sauntered back down the ramp to prepare Charlie’s modified Phantom next—Eliza had finally made plans to visit Zakuul and find Doc.

“And the kiss, have you asked her about it yet?”

“No, and I’m not going to. It wasn’t anything romantic, just something she needed to do her way.”

Jonas eyed him curiously, having heard the slight wavering of his voice. “But?”

“Something Ravage said during their previous confrontation… about knowing how her dark side hungers, understanding it, which is something I don’t,” Theron admitted with a pained look in his eyes.

“She has to find a way to harmonize with her darkness now and I don’t know how to help or support her in that. And what if that dark side is what drew her to a man like Ravage, or Vowrawn, or perhaps even Scourge, even while she was still Jedi?”

It was clear that despite his support and understanding, there were a few things he did feel troubled over. Mostly in the sense he’d begun to wonder whether he’d be enough in what she needed from a partner. Someone to understand both the dark and light within her and as much as he did embrace both aspects of who she was, he didn’t fully comprehend what she experienced.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit. Do you remember her rage the other day and how you were the one to calm her down, bring her back from her desire to kill?” Jonas reminded him and rationalized.

“Now perhaps you don’t understand the full scope of things, maybe guys like you and I never will but you were there for her when she needed you most.”

The ramp to board the Eonar lowered and the two of them began a round of inspections before getting Charlie’s vessel ready.

“Yeah,” sighed Theron and he hung back against the armrest of the co-pilot’s seat, “but what if next time, I can’t be? Whatever happened in the woods, Marr and Satele were able to bring her back but what could I do in a situation like that?”

“Talk to her. Ask. Whichever she can explain, I’m sure she would. Or speak with Cytharat or Praven when they return.”

“That easy huh?” Theron gave half a smile.

A big grin was all he got in return while Jonas was forced to keep mute otherwise, hearing a set of footsteps approaching fast followed by the light chatter of Eliza and Charlie.

“Are we ready to pay a visit to Zakuul?” Eliza threw a duffel bag down and snuck her arms around Theron’s waist. “Hi.”

“Hey.” He welcomed her lips. “All good to go here. I’ve already entered the coordinates into the system.”

“And the plan?” asked Charlie while she smirked and playfully chased Jonas out of her pilot’s seat.

“Chatter among her fan club, which we’ve been monitoring, says Firebrand has something big planned. I don’t know the details but according to the teens keeping tabs on her, she’s in Undercity right now so that’s where we’ll start and hopefully pick up a trail,” explained Theron.

“Teens?”

“Bored kids who look up to her and enjoy her antics,” Jonas said. “Apparently your old partner is quite popular on Zakuul.”

Charlie rolled her eyes and groaned while engaging the Eonar for take off, “Of course she is.”

 

 

It wasn’t too difficult making it past patrols to land Charlie’s ship near the heart of Zakuul, not at this time of day when the streets were buzzing with activity. Shoppers flying in and out in their private vessels, overpriced merchants and hungry buyers littering the city while day-drinkers made their way from one bar to the other before the enforced curfew would send them home.

“So, Nathema huh?” asked Charlie while she brought the Eonar in for a landing. “Isn’t that planet lost?”

“It still exists, just not on any of our maps,” Eliza explained and huffed slightly trying to wrestle herself into her disguise.

Jonas glanced up at the both of them and frowned. “Then how does that help?”

“Because at least now, we can focus all our attention on one thing—finding Nathema. We do that, we find Scourge.”

“Right, and how will you find a planet that isn’t on any map?”

“I’ve pulled Lana off recruitment and reassigned her to locate Nathema. We have some old charts, pieces of physical galaxy maps from millennia past, I’m having her compare those to our current maps.”

Eliza strapped a pair of clunky boots around her calves. “Should be a simple ‘find the missing piece’, perhaps that is something she can do right.”

Charlie snorted. “You went too easy on her. If I’d fucked up like that while working for Intelligence, I’d have been demoted to the cleaning crew and that’s a best-case scenario. Luckily, I’m not that stupid.”

“The SIS would have put her on desk duty for a couple of weeks or worse,” said Jonas and he smirked at Theron who groaned in response.

“Analytics.” He shook his head.

“Well, this isn’t the SIS or Intelligence and while she’s entirely unfit for Intelligence work, she does have decent organizational skills. She got the entire base up and running, we just need to keep her away from recruitment,” Eliza reasoned before she slipped her helmet on.

“How do I look?”

All three of them took to stare at the Zakuulan Knight before them, the helmet half crooked on her head for being too big and Jonas commented with blunt honesty.

“Absolutely ridiculous.” He smirked.

Eliza pouted inside her disguise. “Do I really have to wear this?”

“Yes babe, you do,” said Theron with a sympathetic smile, “As much as I love your fiery locks, you kinda stick out like a sore thumb and we have to assume most people know your face by now.”

“Bah.”

The foursome deplaned and soon found themselves turning the corridors to navigate the maze of Zakuul’s Undercity. Things weren’t quite as high society down here as they were a few levels up the Spire. Graffitied walls, flickering lights, the odd clique of street hustlers who quickly blended into the shadows the second they laid eyes on Eliza in her Knight’s armor.

“I know this is meant to help me look less conspicuous but we’re just chasing everyone off now,” she muttered.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Theron while he checked his datapad, “another message came through—Firebrand was just spotted near Power Junction 754, which is right around the corner. We’re close.”

A barely audible groan escaped Charlie as they turned into the next alley and came face to face with the woman they were hunting. “Too close…”

The short, and somewhat scrawny, Rattataki woman took only a second to size up the group before immediately drawing her blaster and both Jonas and Charlie were quick to follow.

“Whoa, easy!” Eliza called out and jumped in between, “There’s no need, yet.”

Her actions caused Firebrand, Kaliyo, to screw her face up in surprise.

“You’re no Knight,” she observed and then glanced at Charlie, “Long time no see.”

“Not nearly long enough… How’ve you been, Kaliyo?”

“Getting by.” Kaliyo indicated at both Theron and Jonas. “What’s with the false Knight and those two?”

“We’ve got some business to discuss with you, privately,” said Charlie.

“Can’t. Still have a couple more explosives to plant so, toodles.”

After quickly scouring the area to make sure no one was keeping an eye, Eliza removed her helmet and held her hand up. “Wait, please!

“We didn’t come here to start anything. I’m looking for an old friend of mine.”

The petite Rattataki took a step closer, inspecting her curiously and then laughed. “You’re the Outlander!”

“Yeah, I kind of am,” Eliza confirmed, embracing the moniker Arcann had given her.

“Guess you’re looking for Doc, huh? He hasn’t shut up about you ever since the broadcasts but you know, you’re a tricky mark to pin down so it’s not like we could go out and find you.”

“We are. Is he here, did he come with you?”

“Nah. He’s either stinking up my apartment or in a bar enjoying a few drinks too many.”

Kaliyo sucked her teeth and considered quietly, keeping a narrowed eye on Charlie. “Tell you what—you three wait here and keep watch while the Outlander helps me plant these last two bombs. Then after, I’ll take ya’ll to my place.

“It’s nearing curfew, even if he’s out he won’t be gone for much longer. Sound fair?”

Theron and Eliza exchanged a quick glance, the latter shrugging her shoulders. What could possibly go wrong?

“Fine, and maybe along the way you can tell me more about what Doc’s been up to,” she decided.

“That’s easy—drinking and scheming to free his wife from Arcann’s little prison or wherever he’s keeping her,” Kaliyo started and the two went on their way to the next power junction.

Altogether, it took them almost two hours to finish setting up Kaliyo’s explosives. Skytroopers, either patrolling or having caught word of Kaliyo’s plans, seemed to pour in from every corner and alley no matter which route they took and Eliza had racked up quite the body count by the time they finally made it to the Rattataki’s apartment.

“Doc! Visitors!” Kaliyo called out the second they stepped inside, “Your old Jedi pal and some other guys!”

No response came and Kaliyo indicated at one of the bedrooms. “Try in there,” she told Eliza.

The room itself was dark with the curtains drawn and the lights smashed. Empty bottles of beer rolled across the floor when Eliza accidentally kicked one out of the way and a big pile of sheets, covering a sleeping man, lay in a heap next to the bed.

She crouched down to his level and inched the bundled bed covers aside to expose his face. “Doc?”

“Hmph.” His hand slapped hers away.

“Doc!”

He mumbled and groaned, not even making an effort to open his eyes, “Piss off, you’ll get your rent tomorrow.”

Unimpressed, Eliza yanked all the bed covers away in one fell swoop. “Archiban Frodrick Kimble!”

His eyes sprung wide open at the use of his full name and now he recognized the voice. “Karkin’ hell Arielle…”

He rose up immediately, too fast and was forced to sit back down on the edge of his bed when he dizzied. He stared in pure shock, rubbing his eyes to make sure they weren’t deceiving him and for a second questioning just how much he’d drank before passing out but when Eliza sat down by him and took his hand, he understood she was real.

“How… when… what… Hell.”

She chuckled and wrapped her arms around his fragile state. “I’ve missed you, Doc.”

“You’re actually here, I don’t believe it… How’d you find me?”

“One of the survivors you helped on Asylum tipped me off so we had people look for you. A refugee recognized you from seeing you around these parts with Kaliyo so, here I am.”

The scruff of his growing beard pricked her palms when she cupped his face and teased some sweaty locks from his forehead, fighting off the overwhelming alcohol scent hitting her nostrils when he sighed.

“He has her, Kira, in his stupid vault,” Doc muttered with a rueful look in his eyes, “I never shoulda listened to her and left, now that bastard has my wife.”

His words of regret instantly reminded Eliza of why she’d come to find him, the biggest reason and while flashing him a solemn smile, she considered how she could possibly begin telling him the news that would utterly crush his heart.

“Doc…” she began and clutched his hand a second time, tighter, “I found her, about a month ago. We—”

“You did?!” Hope sprang to his darkened and tired eyes. “Is she with you? Where?”

“She’s… no, babe, she didn’t make it.”

There was little point dragging it out, making him suffer while trying to find the right words so Eliza, as she held him, told of the intended rescue mission to free Kira. Of how they’d found her frozen in carbonite, what Vitiate had done and how Kira had technically passed away many years ago already following her confrontation with the Sith Emperor and his son.

Painful minutes crawled by as she shared one heart-shattering detail after another, reducing the otherwise high spirited and playful man to tears. Allowing for silence to fill the space in between his sobs and all she could do was hold him, try and soothe him, sympathize with the loss he suffered until at last, he could breathe again.

“She saved a lot of lives that day,” said Eliza while rubbing his back.

“That won’t bring her back.”

“No, but they honor who she was. Selfless, strong, compassionate. Always fighting for those who needed her help, for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.”

He nodded solemnly, torn between anger, despair, and honoring his wife. Trying to fend off his urge to cause such a scene it would bring Arcann himself down to the lower parts of Zakuul so he could confront him.

“Where is she now?” he asked.

“We brought her back to our base and gave her a Jedi funeral. I’d like to take you there.”

“To visit her… grave?”

Eliza swallowed hard. “Yeah… Doc, I am so sorry. I wanted you to be there, we just had no clue then of how and where to find you.”

Another tear trickled down his cheek. “We were trying to have kids, you know? But, built up scar tissue from injuries she suffered as a kid made it hard.

“Just before we reached Marr’s flagship, we’d agreed to look into adoption instead once we got back to Coruscant. She loved the idea of giving an orphaned child the love and care she missed out on growing up…”

A deep sigh escaped the broken man and he reached into the drawer of his nightstand to retrieve his datapad, to show her holo-images of his and Kira’s wedding. “I’m glad you were with her in the end… we never stopped missing you, Eliza.”

“Mm. I got the message you both recorded for me on my wedding day… I’m so sorry I didn’t do a better job of staying in touch. Will you come back with me?”

“Yeah. I have no reason to stay here now. Kaliyo and I don't get along too well but, it was a place to crash at. Now I just want to be where my wife is, tell her all those things I still need to say.”

He pulled away and stood up, rubbing the sleep and stinging tears from his eyes. “Just let me freshen up and grab a few things.”

“Sure. I’ll be right outside waiting.”

Miserably, Eliza hugged herself into Theron’s arms the second she made it back to the living and kitchen area and she blew out a heavy exhale while next to her, Kaliyo and Charlie engaged in a fierce argument.

“Have you completely lost your mind?!” Charlie spat, “You can’t just blow up half of Zakuul because you’ve decided the people here live too much of a cushy life!”

“Sure I can, the bombs are already in place. She helped.” Kaliyo pointed a finger at Eliza and flashed a smug grin.

Eliza frowned. “You said it would only disrupt their systems for a few hours, disable the droids and security. You never said anything about hurting anyone.”

“Uhh, why do you think I need the droids and security disabled?”

“We’re not letting you do this,” Jonas cut in, “those people have done you no wrong.”

“Are you kidding me? All of Zakuul has done us wrong for years ever since this stupid war began! Let them suffer as we have!” Kaliyo spat.

Theron shook his head. “They’re not responsible for this.”

“No, they’re not,” Charlie concurred and she scoffed, “but Kaliyo doesn’t care about any of that. She just likes to delight in the chaos and misery of others so she can feel better about her own pathetic existence!

“Isn’t that so?” She snatched the remote detonator from Kaliyo’s hands and crushed it under her boot. “But not today!”

“Well I’ll be damned, look who finally grew a pair,” Kaliyo sneered with a smirk. “Fine, whatever, I’ve got plenty more tricks up my sleeve. Unless you plan on staying here to keep an eye on me?”

Charlie cast a quick glance at Eliza, receiving a smile for her response and then, without further warning, fired a tranquilizer dart straight into the Rattataki’s neck.

“Nope,” she shrugged while Kaliyo sank to her knees and passed out, “we’ll just bring you with us and lock you away.”

 

Chapter Text

The moment they approached Athiss it became clear only a superiorly skilled pilot would be able to reach the planet’s surface. Chunks of debris, from vessels that had attempted to protect Athiss against the Eternal Fleet’s assault, floated aimlessly through orbit around the planet. Tempted by gravity yet remaining perpetually frozen in space.

A vast shroud of smoke, toxic fumes, and microscopic particles blanketed the atmosphere making visual navigation nigh impossible as even a week later, the Fleet’s destruction marked Athiss’ current, macabre state. Malavai Quinn was forced to rely on his instrumentation.

“It’s worse than I’d thought,” sighed Lord Cytharat in a whisper, his stomach knotting with dread.

“Don’t lose faith, my Lord,” Malavai uttered and unintentionally fell into professional habit while most of his concentration went to guiding them through safely.

A lost engine and a tied, netted, stack of cargo crates drifted straight in their direction and Malavai veered to the side just in time to avoid collision. He slowed the engines down significantly, drifting through the minefield of rubble and wreckage to penetrate the near black veil covering Athiss.

The nose of their ship pierced the murky shroud and the planet came into a hazy view. Burning in a sunset-orange, not just due to the natural color of the surface but through the fires that still razed. Trapping all life in a never-ending sundown, exotically beautiful and yet deadly if things stayed this way for much longer.

“Best bring our respirator masks once we deplane, and spare oxygen supplies to be safe,” Me’ghan remarked and excused herself to pack all the necessary equipment.

Down below, just beyond a still-smoldering crater, Malavai found a vast and clear area to land the Fury closest to the coordinates that Lord Cytharat had provided.

The Pureblood, desperate for his family and stuck to the viewport like a fly caught on a windshield, spoke with a modicum of hope, “Their farm still stands.”

In the far distance, the silhouette of high, terracotta tinted walls formed a fortification around the property belonging to the Cytharats with tall Ash trees rising even further above. From their position, it appeared entirely undamaged though not far beyond the property, a blazing fire drew closer.

“We should hurry,” Praven said and handed both Malavai and Lord Cytharat a rucksack with their gear.

Armed with anything they might need—water flasks, ration bars, medical supplies, glow rods and more—they disembarked and set foot on the dry desert sands of Athiss. A dust devil whirled over the surface and Me’ghan lowered her shades to align with her respirator mask.

Despite being able to spot the farm in the distance, it was still quite a hike until they finally reached the front gates and Lord Cytharat strained to push the durasteel port open, feeling something on the other side resist. Pots and pans clattered across the pathway while solid, wooden table feet etched four lines in the sand when the gateway finally opened.

“They must have barricaded fearing Skytroopers and Knights would follow the assault,” Malavai reasoned while they followed Lord Cytharat onto the square courtyard.

Me’ghan swallowed the gasp that threatened to escape her upon seeing the residence itself. While the walls guarding the property had remained perfectly intact, the not-so-humble homestead had crumbled to its bare foundations.

The largest part of the dome rooftop had broken down, crashed into the various rooms beneath and blown several sections of wall wide open. Sand, grit, and dust coated every piece of furniture, darkened the broken windows and left an ominous fog to linger in each section of the home.

“It’s… destroyed…” Lord Cytharat gasped out and ran to the nearest room, the family’s study overlooking the courtyard.

He leaped the crumbled wall, nearly tearing his jacket open on a piece of broken wood from the window frame, and began a frantic search for life. The others followed, running in after him and splitting up to cover as many rooms as possible, as quickly as they could.

Life was nowhere to be found. A toppled cooking pan on the kitchen floor and the previously edible substance that had leaked out indicated just how abruptly the Eternal Fleet’s attack had begun and how little time the family must have had to find shelter.

“They’re not here,” Praven concluded when everyone reunited.

“No, they’re not, but I haven’t found any bodies or traces of blood either. That’s good news, right?” said Lord Cytharat though a mild panic rang clear in his voice.

Malavai knelt down, his index finger tracing the outlines of a footstep imprinted in dust but by now, too many had accumulated, including their own, to properly track where the owners of the house could have gone.

“Is there anywhere they might have found shelter? A refugee center, any neighbors?” asked Me’ghan.

“Not that I…” Lord Cytharat stopped, sliding his shades up and removing his glove to rub a burning sensation from his eyes while he considered each and every possibility. “The cellar!”

He ran from their presence a second time and disappeared into the supply room adjacent to the kitchen.

The hatch he was looking for was blocked by several wine cabinets and a toppled shelf. Broken bottles and glass littered the floor and with Praven’s help, he began to clear the way until the hatch door revealed itself. They had it opened in no time and Me’ghan, Malavai, and Praven followed Lord Cytharat’s descend down a single, and steep, wooden ladder.

The lights down in the cellar refused to illuminate the pitch dark area and both Malavai and Praven activated their glow rods, shining one in each direction.

“Mother? Father? Liyana?” Lord Cytharat called out, following the light of Praven’s glow rod.

A distressed cough echoed from the far back of the cellar and he rushed over. “Liyana?!”

“T-Tally… is that you?” A young girl, nearly ten years his junior, blinked her eyes against the sudden bright light, fending it off with her hand while she tried to see.

She rose up, with difficulty, her knees quaking and Lord Cytharat caught her in his arms. “Thank the Force… Liyana, I thought I’d lost you. Where are mother and father?”

“R-right here.” She sniffled and coughed a second time.

Together, they crouched back down and now he saw both his parents in a near comatose state. Huddled up under a blanket and lost to the world. Their lips cracked and dry, their bodies decrepit and their pulse severely weakened.

Malavai sunk down to the floor and immediately began unpacking the supplies they’d brought. He handed a ration bar and a water thermos to Lord Cytharat’s sister then tended to both their parents.

“Small sips my Lord,” he warned Liyana and searched the mother’s arm for a vein.

“Liyana, what happened, why are you still down here?” asked Lord Cytharat while he cradled her in his lap.

“They attacked, that fleet, out of nowhere… we barricaded the front gate and came down here for shelter but the assault shook the planet to its core and everything came crashing down,” she explained while taking tiny sips of her water.

“When hours later we wanted to see if it was safe again, father couldn’t get the hatch to open. We’ve been stuck all week.”

Concerned, Me’ghan knelt down as well and took Liyana’s wrist to check her pulse, then ran a scanner down the frail girl’s body.

“How did you survive?” she asked, her tone sweet and gentle as though she was speaking to her own daughter, even while Liyana appeared in her late teens.

“We keep spare rations down here. Not much, mother and father gave me the last of it yesterday…” Liyana cast a fearful look at her parents and Malavai.

“Will they be okay?”

“Yes, I believe so but for their sake, we should return to the ship,” he kept his voice steady but gave Lord Cytharat a look of urgency.

“Then let’s get out of here.” Lord Cytharat lifted his sister in his arms to carry her away.

“Tally?” she mewled and rested her head on his shoulder, “are these the friends you always write about?”

“They are and when we get back to the ship, I’ll introduce you properly.”

Liyana lowered her voice to a whisper and despite her troubled state, she cracked a tiny smile, “And the one carrying father, is that him?”

Lord Cytharat glanced back over his shoulder, sighing with relief seeing Praven right behind him with his father. “Yes, that’s my nulis.”

“He’s handsome.” She kissed her brother’s cheek and approved.

Less than an hour later, they were back aboard the Fury and on their way to the Zorfe Trete hyperlane. Malavai, with Me’ghan’s aid, tended to Lord Cytharat’s parents while the latter sat with his sister in the common area, seeing to it that she ate and replenished on her fluids.

“Everything happened so fast. We’d just finished breakfast and father was about to visit Lord Mandor’s estate—he tutors their little boy—when the Eternal Fleet appeared out of nowhere, filling the sky like diamonds at first but then they came closer and launched their assault,” she explained in between small nibbles.

“The sirens wailed but were shot down in seconds, even before the emergency protocol broadcast started. Father ushered us to the cellars then went back up to barricade the front gate. He’d just gotten back to us when we heard a massive explosion, like an eruption and we felt the ground shake.”

Liyana huddled up against her brother, hugging his arm. “It was terrifying Tally, I’d never seen father so frightened before, you know? We didn’t think anyone would find us or that we’d ever see you again.”

“I’m here now, yunoks sessuo, and we’ll bring you somewhere safe,” Lord Cytharat’s fingers gingerly brushed her hair while he made his promise.

“No! You can’t leave us again, I want to come with you and your friends. I could help, I’ve gotten really good at psychometry and illusions.”

“I don’t want to leave you either but the most important thing now is your safety, which I can’t guarantee at the base.”

“But I want to meet Eliza and everyone else and I want to fight the Eternal Empire!”

“Akir, it’s not safe. Now, finish your meal, please?”

His teenage sister pouted, though she relented for the time being and continued eating quietly, each bite reminding her of just how hungry she was. By the time she’d finished, Malavai re-appeared and informed them both of very welcome and positive news.

“Both your parents are expected to make a full recovery. They’re resting, I have them on artificial hydration and nutrition but you can go and see them if you’d like to—they’re awake.”

“Thank you, Malavai,” said Lord Cytharat as he rose from the half circular booth.

“Yes, thank you, uhm…” Liyana eyed the decorations on his uniform and inclined her head. “Major Quinn.”

He favored her with a bow, unwilling to take liberties with a Sith he barely knew, even if he was a friend of her brother’s. “My Lord.”

“Always the professional,” teased Me’ghan after stepping aside to let Lord Cytharat and Liyana into the medbay and giving them privacy.

“Yes. I believe you once called it one of my more, adorable, qualities?” Malavai smiled her way.

“Mmhm. At least, it became adorable when I finally found myself in your arms but before then?” She grinned and exhaled an exaggerated sigh. “Frustrating trying to pierce that shell of yours, Major.”

“And yet, worth it?” His arms lured her in close.

Me’ghan rose to the tips of her toes and welcomed his kiss. “Oh, every single microscopic second.”

 

Whereas some Sith families could be cold by nature, the Cytharats were the vast opposite and both parents embraced their children with a surplus of warmth and affection when they reunited in the medbay.

“It is such a relief to see you both,” Lilija thanked the Force and kissed her son and daughter on the forehead.

Valdis, their father, nodded and beckoned his son over. “Your Commander, she could spare you?” he asked, relieved and yet concerned Lord Cytharat had lost his place in the Alliance.

“She insisted,” he promised and took his father’s hand.

“You don’t have to worry, jaarvek. She’s also offered the choice of bringing all three of you with us to the base or for us to take you to her safehouse on Rishi. Major Quinn’s parents and the two children are there as well.”

“A tough decision,” mused Lilija, “is anywhere in the galaxy safe at this point?”

Liyana climbed onto the medical bed and curled up at her mother’s side. “No, motina, but at least at their base we’d be surrounded by people who can fight back, we wouldn’t be helpless, right, Tally?”

“True but the Commander has a target on her back, especially now. Our base may soon be the least safest place in the galaxy.”

“It would give me a chance to join your fight,” argued Liyana, stubbornly clinging to her desire to join her brother on Odessen. “I felt so useless on Athiss…”

Both parents exchanged a brief glance and Valdis smiled at his daughter. “It is clear what your wishes are, akir.”

“Perhaps we can compromise?” suggested Lilija with an eye on her husband. “We’ll first return with Tallis to his base, and meet the Commander—she is family after all—then, without overstaying our welcome, we travel to Rishi ourselves?”

“Yes!” Liyana cheered, “Oh please, vicha, can we?”

“Tallis?” Valdis turned to his son before promising his daughter anything. “Could that be arranged?”

Lord Cytharat stroked his chin and thought. “I think it could be. I will contact the Commander and see.”

“Good.” His mother reached out her hand and beckoned him over. “Now, where is this handsome man of yours? Your father and I have been curious to meet him at last.”

 

Chapter Text

“Foolish, absolutely foolish,” Jarak muttered his repetitive disapproval while he rotated several slides under his microscope to study Lord Scourge’s blood cells and skin tissue.

“I’ve sent a vial of our most successful concoction to the Emperor! What if that particular formula is the one causing your body to degenerate now, huh? I’ll have killed him!”

The mere thought caused Lord Scourge to smirk as he lay strapped to the examination table. “Pity.”

“Pity?! He’ll have my head!”

The Anomid scientist was in clear distress, panicked after he’d uncovered Lord Scourge’s missing teeth and became aware of the Sith’s deceptive plan.

“Naturally. He’ll rise from the grave just to exact his vengeance upon you.” Heavy sarcasm dripped from Lord Scourge’s voice.

Amusement these days was a rare occurrence and while the humor of the situation failed to tickle him in all the right places, he appreciated it nonetheless.

“Silence!” barked Jarak.

For good measure, he activated the Sith’s shock collar for five straight seconds and eagerly awaited for the writhing he expected to follow but Lord Scourge’s pain receptors barely took notice of the shocks at all. A thing, Lord Scourge realized, could become quite dangerous—his bones could break, his body could deteriorate completely and he wouldn’t even feel it or become aware unless he saw or experienced the change.

“You shouldn’t have deceived us! Your body is in a terrible state while I am meant to keep you alive and it’ll take me days to figure out which mixture caused this change!”

‘I do hope you’ve poisoned your precious Emperor,’ thought Lord Scourge and his smirk remained while otherwise, he kept mute.

Jarak, frustrated and at his wits end racing to discern which of his formulas put the Sith’s body in a deteriorating state, accidentally knocked over a few of his vials and swore in his native tongue. He released a droplet of a maroon substance onto the skin tissue he’d been examining and watched it decay under the lens of his microscope.

“Curious…” he mused, mostly to himself and he checked his records to verify the contents of his mixture.

“The Xesh-0178 compound I extracted from your white blood cells years ago appears to have mutated and is now attacking your system. It must have had an adverse reaction to… ah, yes, I see…”

Jarak sighed his relief, “Fortunately, this is not the mixture I presented to our Emperor.”

Your Emperor,” snarled Lord Scourge. “Pity.”

“It is strange, however,” the scientist carried on, ignorant to his remark, “it appears to have taken years slowly turning your immune system hostile. So gradual my tests never detected the changes.”

‘Or perhaps you’re not as skilled as you’d have people believe. Even that moron Doc could have done better than this,’ the comment sat on the tip of Lord Scourge’s tongue but he swallowed it.

“Now, if I can uncover what caused the mutation, I may be able to reverse the effects and perhaps even boost… mmm, yes…”

Jarak busied himself with his monologue and recorded every word spoken. As if saving his discoveries for prosperity and a published article even while this type of knowledge would never reach the common world, nor should it.

While he muttered and mused, Lord Scourge let his mind drift to better days—the very first days he had ever spent with Eliza and the crew after escaping Vitiate’s fortress.

 

 

“Arielle,” he heard the little ginger whisper, “are you sure about this? It’s several days to Tython, what if he decides to murder us in our sleep?”

Lord Scourge smirked a sardonic grin. “If I were going to murder you, I’d want you to be awake for it so I could delight in the terror I’d see in your eyes.”

The Jedi graced him with a smile and turned to her padawan. “I believe him, Kira. Not a single word from his lips has been a lie, I felt no deception.”

“Perhaps our guest should remain confined to his quarters for the duration of the trip,” suggested Sergeant Rusk with a wary eye on the Sith.

“No,” said Arielle, “he’s our guest and he’ll be treated as such until the Council has passed their judgment.”

Her decision was final, that much everyone understood and yet, her crew didn’t silence their protest or concerns regarding his presence aboard the Defender.

With his bags in hand, Lord Scourge sauntered toward the quarters he’d been assigned and made a sharp turn at the door. “Leave it, Jedi, I’m hardly keen for the company. Inform me when we’ve arrived.”

He shut the door before the woman in charge of the crew could argue but he couldn’t hide from the fierce sentiments he picked up on through the Force.

A strange jealousy and resentment, combined with fear, permeated even through the closed door and reeked of the man others had called ‘Doc’. The padawan exuded an air of worry and distrust while torn between her own inclination to want the Sith gone while at the same time, desiring to show faith in her Master’s instinct. He also sensed the presence of darkness within the padawan which tickled his curiosity.

The Sergeant appeared mostly blank in both thought and sentiment yet Lord Scourge could tell he was closest to him in proximity than any other and he suspected the Chagrian had taken to guard his quarters.

It was the Jedi, however, who demanded most of his attention. Both a mystery and an open book as he sensed her every emotion, near heard the call of her thoughts and yet he couldn’t discern which emotion went paired with what thought. As if she teased him through the Force, drawing him in with the smallest glimpse and yet keeping him at bay by guarding the full extent of her silent musings.

Two days he spent alone in his quarters, only every so often visited by Ceetwo who’d offer him a tray of beverages and food which Lord Scourge left untouched each time. On the third day, an already too familiar stench reached him through the Force and he loathed to allow Doc into his quarters.

“Arielle’s asked me to draw up your medical chart, just in case, I guess…” the, in his eyes, unimpressive man muttered.

“There’s no need.”

“She insists.”

“As do I. Out.” Lord Scourge held the door open still and glowered at Doc.

Doc glanced into the hallway, swallowed hard, averted his eyes to the datapad he held and let out a deep sigh while trying to gather his courage.

“We’ve noticed you haven’t touched your dinner… which is fine yanno, more for me, heh. But, Arielle’s concerned and insists you’re a guest. If you’re unwell—”

“I’m in perfect shape,” growled Lord Scourge in a threatening tone, “would you like me to demonstrate?”

“That won’t be necessary.” Arielle appeared and inclined her head at Doc, silently suggesting he give her and the Sith some privacy.

“It’s not the greatest quality, I know, dinner in space never is but…” she began while allowing herself into his quarters and shutting the door. “It’s all we’ve got really.”

Lord Scourge looked on as she pulled up the chair sitting by his desk and made herself comfortable. “I don’t need anything. Please, leave, doesn’t anyone respect privacy aboard this vessel?”

“You had two days of privacy. Besides, while these are your quarters, they’re aboard my ship so, I win.”

She appraised him with kind eyes and a tender smile. “Why won’t you eat?”

“I rarely need to and I don’t want to. When will we arrive on Tython?”

“In a few days. Why don’t you need to?”

“That’s my business, why do you care?”

“You have important information to share and you are, for now, an ally and my responsibility.”

Lord Scourge raised one of his deeply defined ridges brows—he knew there was more to it, he could almost see the inquisitiveness and fascination she held for him cloaked around her. “And?”

“And? Why don’t you need to eat?”

She was headstrong, just as he was and he soon realized that if he remained unwilling to lower his walls and guard, she never would either.

“I was born in the year 3976,” he admitted, his arms crossed over his chest as he stood before her and smirked at the curious shock on her face. As if she was doing the math on the spot and slowly, her jaw dropped.

“That… no, you can’t be. That would make you, 334 years old?”

He nodded and as a teacher educating his pupil, began sharing the story of his immortality—everything from his service to Darth Nyriss to his betrayal of Revan and how he came to be the ghostly assassin people now knew as the Wrath.

By the end of his story, Arielle sat awestruck gaping at him. Unable to fathom all he’d done and the lengths the Emperor would go to, the atrocities the ruler of the Sith had already committed by sacrificing his own people.

“Now do you see why I, and we, must make every sacrifice, pay any price to ensure this galaxy’s survival, to end his reign?”

Arielle smiled solemnly and rose up from her seat. She reached out and caressed a hand down his arm before taking his hand, completely unexpected in a gesture of well-intended comfort and kindness he’d not experienced in centuries.

“Then I’m with you until the bitter end. We won’t rest until the Emperor’s been defeated and I will make sure the Council sees reason.”

The sensation of her touch was odd and he resented it. He could see her hand in his and yet failed to feel it, not even the gentlest tickle. He withdrew and took a step back.

“And if they do not?”

“Well…” She made no further effort to approach him again and instead circled his quarters, her eyes exploring the various book titles he’d placed on a shelf. “We’ll just have to do it without their permission then, won’t we?”

“You would defy your Masters for this cause?” He frowned.

“If I had to, yes. This concerns us all, it’s bigger than the warring between our two sides.”

It was the kind of support he hadn’t expected. Centuries he’d spent wondering when the Jedi from his vision would come along, how she’d react and whether she’d be willing to hear him out at all, much less cooperate with him.

Perhaps it was her overt light teachings that shaped dedication to the cause even above loyalty to her Jedi Council or maybe it was that delectable flavor of the dark side he’d sensed buried deep within her when their eyes first met on Quesh. In any case, her promise to go above and beyond in order to deal with the Sith Emperor marked the change in their relationship from that day forward.

Arielle would visit his quarters often in the following days. Entertaining conversation and debate while sharing dinner in privacy rather than with the rest of the crew. She even had Doc show her how to write up a medical chart and created one for Lord Scourge as she was the only whose touch he’d allow.

Every so often, in the midst of a discussion, silence would fall when their eyes met and in those quiet seconds resided an unspoken truth neither of them would become aware of until years later—the love and unique bond between them that promised to change both their futures in unimaginable ways.

 

 


 

Eliza closed her eyes and exhaled a deep sigh of joyful reminiscence. Doc’s presence on Odessen had brought back many distant memories of days that now seemed to be of another lifetime and experienced by another person, someone so vastly different to who she was today.

“Credit for your thoughts?” Doc fell in at her side to gaze out over the Odessen Wilds, watching Sana Rae and Senya work with the Sith and Jedi who’d joined their alliance.

“You, actually, and Kira… Scourge. His first day aboard our ship. Do you remember?”

“Mm, all too well. Kira and I often wondered if those days marked the beginning of the end… no offense.” He gave her the faintest of smiles.

“No, I understand. His presence changed everything for all of us,” Eliza agreed, unaffected by the confession she understood only too well. “I know it was hard on you both.”

“It was, yes and I never really took a liking to the guy but, I’m sorry he was taken from you.”

“Thank you. We’ll find him, one of these days.”

Doc put an arm around her shoulder, an attempt at comfort for both their sakes, his heart still heavy with his own loss. “Is there any news?”

“No, but after some consideration, I’ve ordered Lana to narrow her search to the Outer Rim territories first, near the Esstran and Corva sectors.”

“Why?”

“Well, I think we can count all of Wild Space out—if Nathema was anywhere in these regions then Vitiate would have formed this Eternal Empire far sooner,” Eliza reasoned.

“Hutt space or the Core Worlds? It just strikes me as unlikely and consider all that we know. The Seat of the Empire is part of the Outer Rim territories. Oricon, Yavin, Ziost… Nathema has to be near somewhere near those sectors.”

“Sounds possible…” Doc considered. “I don’t suppose the uninvited guest in your head is in any way willing to cough up the coordinates, huh?”

“Would I be standing here if he was?”

“No, I guess not.” He grinned sheepishly. “And Theron, how does he feel about all of this?”

“It’s not easy for him, I know, and he’s being so supportive but I do worry at times… you know, he’s made mention of defecting…”

“Really? I thought the Republic was in his blood.”

“So did I and, I mean, I get it in a way, he has justified reasons…”

“But?”

Eliza gave a gentle shrug. “He said his home is with me but, would he still defect if it weren’t for me? What if he one day regrets it and it comes to stand between us? What would his life in the Empire be?”

“Well, he could run Intelligence or something, right?”

“Stars no.” She laughed at the mere idea. “He’s brilliant at what he does but he would hate being in charge of anyone other than himself and he’d want to do the work, not have someone else do it for him. Theron needs to move freely, have his own space to do what he does best. No leadership above him and no leading.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“I don’t know… I want to be with him, and I intend to be but I want to make sure he is happy as well. Not just with me but with his life there, if that makes—”

“Commander,” Koth interrupted and came running, “Jenna and her crew have returned and they’ve brought guests.”

“Guests? Who?” asked Eliza.

“I don’t know, two guys. Bit scruffy looking and skinny, didn’t get their names.”

“She really should have checked in before bringing just anyone along…” she sighed and shook her head. “Get Theron and have him meet me at the landing bay, thanks, Koth.”

 

Chapter Text

‘Mm, Corso Riggs and Andronikos Revel…’ Eliza recognized the two strangers immediately when she took to gazing out the viewport overlooking the hangar bay.

The area below crowded with those helping unload Jenna’s vessel from the supplies she’d managed to secure. Whatever contact she had in Alderaan must have owed her big because, at a first glance, the large volume of cargo appeared to be enough to feed everyone on the base for the next month, with decent meals, and Eliza even spotted several crates with wine and medical supplies.

“It’s not a bad haul,” commented Theron.

“No, it’s not but I wonder how she got those two out… Weren’t they locked away on Coruscant? I remember the files you gave me.”

Both men looked only half a shade of the men she’d seen on the holographs. Worn down, fatigued, clearly having lost quite a few pounds. The shorter of the two, Corso, limped down the boarding ramp but the discomfort of the pain Eliza imagined he must be in did nothing to wipe the pure joyful smile off his face. Vastly different from Andronikos who stood to the side, his eyes scanning the crowd taking inventory of the sort of people who surrounded him now.

“Hrm.” Theron’s brows furrowed and his arms snuck around her middle. “I’m sure Jenna can explain.”

Eliza sunk her head back against his shoulder, half nuzzling his neck while a deep sigh left her. Suddenly the presence of so many people felt suffocating and while she didn’t know how to explain it or where it came from, a morosity had begun to well up inside of her.

“Can you deal with this for now? Have them checked out in medical, write up their files, get them clearance and a bunk?”

“Of course.” Theron lightly planted a kiss against her temple. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah… No, actually,” she corrected quickly, unwilling to lie to him even if she had no explanation, “but I’m not sure what’s wrong either. I’m just going to my room, find some peace and quiet, figure it out, maybe meditate.”

Gently, he spun her around and tipped her chin up, worried. “Are you sure?”

“Mm. Just… handle them for me and once everything is unloaded, have Jenna report to my chambers.”

He let her go, reluctantly, and watched while her feet dragged her away. “Alright…”

It wasn’t long until she passed out, almost the second she made it to her room and into bed. Something had wiped her out and she quickly fell into a restless, haunting sleep that brought to light anxieties she’d been unaware of in her waking hours while a single tear trickled down her cheek.

 

A hungering void twisted its tentacles and coiled in delight while it drained the life from every living being on the planet. Operating from the depths of the planet’s core it gave a marvelous display of its superiority, its reign of death and decay.

Dark clouds loomed above the eroded surface and shrouded the crumbled Temple. The grounds a cemetery littered with the bones of those sacrificed to serve one man’s thirst for power but amidst the unburied dead, one life remained. A Sith who’d withstood the tests of time, survived the horrors of the man he’d once served and whose life force had been extended by the fallen who lay at his feet as he stood chained and bound to the one pillar left standing.

“Scourge…” A gasp left Eliza’s lips, her voice barely even a whisper.

The shackled Pureblood raised his head, slow and strenuously until his now whitened and dim eyes met hers. His dry lips curled, barely, and cracked as they widened into a grin. Blood should have sprung from the clefts marking his mouth now but instead, they merely uncovered greyed, near dead skin underneath.

“Jedi,” he croaked with great difficulty and Eliza felt her heart ache. “Have you come for one last lullaby?”

“I’m here to save you, I found you at last.”

She ran toward him, tiptoeing carefully between the skeletons until she was able to touch him at last. Her hand upon his cold and rough skin, touching his cheek that felt like parchment under her fingertips.

“You’re too late, nulis.”

“No. No, I’m not. I’m here now and once I get you out of these chains we can return to my ship.”

“I’m already dead.”

With all her might, Eliza pulled on the rusted chains to yank them from their hinges, all the while vehemently shaking her head.

“You’re not. I’ll take you to the medical bay aboard the Vanora and we’ll dunk you in kolto for the duration of the flight home if we must. You’ll be right as rain again, my love.”

Misery and sorrow dwelled in his eyes and her words of hope and faith were like a knife to his heart, the heart that barely beated any longer.

“Kolto won’t fix this, nothing can. It’s too late for me.”

“Then fight! I’m sorry it took me so long to find you, to come get you. Scourge, we have a daughter, she needs you. I need you.”

Both chains snapped and his cadaverous body slumped forward into her arms. So much lighter than she remembered, so chilled to the core and devoid of complexion. Brittle and frail and when he attempted to hold her, she heard the splintering of bones.

Eliza sunk to the ground, cradling him to her and leaned in to touch his lips with her own. Tender and light, afraid of his fragility now yet yearning to taste him once again but it was like kissing sand. Dry, cold, tasteless and gritty and a nauseating odor escaped from the back of his throat when he drew another breath.

“What did you name her?”

“Cyara, just as we’d agreed and she is… stars, amazing. You’d be so proud.”

“I already am because she is ours. The best of me, the best of us both, one of the few things I did right in my life.”

“Just wait until you meet her.” Eliza’s hope stubbornly persisted even while his voice began to fade.

His eyes drift shut repeatedly, then sprung open again and he made another attempt to smile but the muscles in his face would no longer allow it. Color began to drain from his skin turning a soft salmon first and then sickly grey while the density thinned.

“Come on, Scourge. You have to hold on, please, I’ve finally found you, I’m here,” she tried again but as she took his hand, it dissolved.

Silver sand ran through her fingers and panic took over. Her heart raced while she fought to hold on to him, hold him to her, begging and offering anything in return for his life but while one single tear left his eyes, his entire body disintegrated until nothing but a pile of ivory dust covered her lap.

“I love you…” the wind whispered to her and a draft pulled over the surface, ripping her love from her arms one last time.

 

“Scourge… Scourge, no, no!” Eliza writhed in bed and screamed until the shrill echoes of her own voice woke her back up.

She sat up with a jolt and became aware of the two hands clasping her shoulders. Found herself staring into a troubled pair of peridot green eyes.

“Eliza? What happened?” asked Jenna while she sat at her bedside. “Theron told me to meet you here but when I got to the door, I heard violent screams.”

“He’s gone, I’ve lost him again. I was too late!”

“Lost who? Scourge?”

Eliza nodded and brushed the tears from her face with the palm of her hand. Roughly and loathing them while her panic remained.

“It’s too late, we’ll be too late. I… he was there, chained up and I freed him but I was too late, he died in my arms. He’ll die in my arms!”

“Oh, hun…” Jenna let out a deep sigh and circumstance encouraged her arms around Eliza to soothe her. “It was only a nightmare. You’re worried and scared but we’ll find him, soon.”

“Soon won’t be soon enough… I felt it, he’s in a dire state.”

As much as she appreciated Jenna’s sudden kindness, she rushed from bed with her hand covering her mouth and quickly disappeared into the refresher. Minutes went by while she allowed herself to get sick, chuck it out of her system and let her tears run until she was ready to wash them away and return to her room.

It also allowed Jenna a chance to consider the other woman’s position. To realize the extent of everything she had to deal with and swallow back the resentment she’d held for Eliza’s part in Theron and Nyssa’s break up.

“I’m sorry about that…” said Eliza when she sat back down.

“No, I get it. You must be worried and you have a lot going on. Do you really believe you’ll be too late?”

“I don’t know… I’m scared,” Eliza admitted now she finally understood the origin of her dejected state.

“From what I’ve read and heard about Nathema, it’s not a good place. Hell comes close I’d say. I have to find him, I have to get him out of there. Just as I should have made more urgent effort to free those guys you brought back but…”

“You can’t do everything all at once,” Jenna reasoned.

“No, I can’t. There’s so much to deal with, you know? Valkorion, Arcann, finding Scourge, this war, keeping the base up and running, keeping everyone safe.”

“Is that why you called me in here? Because I rescued them and brought them here without checking or getting clearance?”

“Yeah…” Eliza gave half a smile. “I’m glad you got them out but I do wish you’d have checked in first.”

“I know I should have, I’m sorry I didn’t but it all happened so fast. An opportunity presented itself and I, I took it.”

“How did you manage it, anyway?”

“The Teraans, my old acquaintances on Alderaan, found themselves a new patron to help reestablish their House. A Senator from Coruscant and I so happened to be his type. I won’t repulse you with the details but, well, we worked out a deal and I got our guys back.”

Eliza felt a second wave of nausea rise up her throat but said nothing further about it, she wasn’t going to judge. “So where are the other two? There were four, right?”

“They left for Balmorra. Zenith, the Twi’lek guy, claimed he had a hidden stash of artillery and other military gear hidden away, stuff we could use, and the Jedi Sithy chick, whatever she is now, went with him.”

“They’ll be in touch?”

“Yeah, gave them my details.”

“And the pirate… did he have anything to say about coming out here or, me?”

Jenna rolled her shoulders in a shrug. “Not that I recall, should he have?”

“I was somewhat involved in Nox’s demise… not sure how much he knows but he used to work for her.”

“Doubt it’s gonna be a problem, he seemed pretty relaxed and has been aiding our cause since this war started.”

“Good… good. Well, I should probably have a chat with him regardless. Now, the other one, Corso? He was on your crew once, right?”

“When I first started out.”

Eliza nodded and chewed on the bottom of her lip, considering. “Is there anything to be mindful of? A specific reason why he left your crew or why you parted ways? Should we be keeping an eye on him?”

“Corso? Oh hell no.” Jenna chuckled. “No, he’s a darling, absolutely wonderful but… not my type, you see? Which I told him early on but it always felt like he clung to the hope I’d change my mind so…”

“Ah, I get it.”

“Felt best to let him go so he could pursue his own dreams, a woman who deserves him. Being around me he’d never see the potential of anyone far better suited, you know?”

“Makes sense.”

“After the whole Voidwolf business I set him up with his own ship and he ran legit with a Republic contract for a while, met Zenith along the way but then the war broke out and they started smuggling goods to planets under Arcann’s thumb, ones abandoned by the Republic. No surprise there.”

“Were they treated poorly on Coruscant? They looked skinny, pale, worn down.” Eliza worried a little—her opinion of the Republic was already at a new low but she’d still expected prisoners to be treated well, to look better than the two men had.

“Worse than most but the Republic knew of their association with me and you. Interrogated them almost daily, tried to bribe them for information on you and this alliance especially once Arcann set his sights on you.”

“Disgusting. Good thing you got them out when you did.”

Jenna nodded. “It would appear Madon is carrying on Saresh’s ways, even now she’s out of the picture. I’d say I’m disappointed but I’ve never held the Senate or Chancellors in high esteem.”

She reached over and poured a glass of water from the carafe before handing it to Eliza. “So, am I in trouble?”

“Nah. Just, next time…”

“I know, reach out first before jumping into bed with a fifty-five-year-old, chubby and bald Senator with an ear fetish which—”

“Woa, no, too much information!” Eliza quickly stopped her and smiled. “But thank you, I really am relieved you brought them here.”

She got up a second time and found her boots by her nightstand. “I guess I should go and welcome them, have a little chat and check in on Lana’s progress.”

“Yeah, good idea…” Jenna prepared to take off as well but stopped before she reached the door.

“Hey, Eliza?”

“Mm?”

“I’m… a little sorry I was a bitch because, well, you know. Anyway. If you need a friend or whatever, I know Meg’s not around right now but… I do okay with listening, especially if you bring a bottle of wine.”

“Right… no, I get it, you were protective of your friend. I’ll know where to find you if I need anything, thanks.”

With a grin and a playful wink, Jenna said goodbye and hurried off while Eliza left for the medical bay. Before she got there, however, her comms chimed and Lana’s voice rang in her ears.

“Eliza? I think I’ve found Nathema.”

 

Chapter Text

Their voices and words were no more than a minor buzzing in the background and barely enough to pull Eliza from the thoughts swimming through her mind. From reliving her nightmare on a never-ending loop while she recited to herself the stories Lord Scourge had told her of Nathema.

Everyone standing by her in the war room took on a ghostly form and froze in time, blending with their surroundings while an ashen landscape spread out before her very eyes. Cracked bones and ivory skulls as she’d seen them a thousand times before in her dreams, in her fears come to life, littered the cold and dry surface and she could almost taste the rot in her mouth. The taste of death and soon, if her nightmarish visions were any indication, the lost planet would claim another life. A life she would not be able to bear losing.

Her face turned white and another wave of nausea rose in her stomach—she hadn’t stopped feeling sick since she’d awoken that afternoon. Her body crumbling to the weight upon her heart and soul, poisoned by her own fears.

“I’m going,” she interrupted the debate that had escaped her notice.

In truth, while she knew it was selfish, she didn’t care whether the timing for a rescue operation was inconvenient. Whether her absence would leave the base on Odessen vulnerable and whether anyone approved of the journey. As Commander, she was expected to make the correct judgment calls that benefitted one and all but in this situation, nothing else mattered to her and she did have more reason beyond just personal ones.

“Regardless of my obvious motivations, Scourge would make for a valuable asset to this team. While in captivity, he may have become privy to information we can use and, depending on the treatment he’s received on Nathema, he is one of the strongest fighters I have ever known.”

A small sigh escaped Lana but she couldn’t bring herself to argue—she knew it would be an exercise in futility.

“We’re nowhere close to having the Gravestone fully upgraded nor do we have a solid plan for an assault on the Spire. I suppose there would be no point in you idly sitting here and waiting.”

“Right. Speaking of which,” Eliza took a sharp turn to face the blonde and everyone else, “don’t breathe a word of these plans to Senya. This is strictly need-to-know and she doesn’t. In fact, don’t even tell her there are plans in the making, period.”

“You don’t trust her?” asked Charlie.

“I do. I trust her love for her children. She still mourns Vaylin and speaking as a mother myself, there is nothing Cyara could ever do that would make me love her less—I’d always fight for her no matter what.

“Senya is no different. While she may disapprove of Arcann’s actions, in the deepest of her heart he’s still her child, the little boy she gave birth to and loves. It’s best she doesn’t know what we have in mind for him and that she not be tempted to reach out and give him a heads up on any oncoming assaults in an attempt to save him.”

“That’s a fair point,” Jonas agreed and cast a sideways glance at his best friend while he inquired, “Is anyone coming with you, Eliza?”

“I won’t ask you guys to risk your lives on this rescue op but I welcome volunteers.”

“I’m joining you.” Theron took her hand and squeezed it gently. “You’re not doing this alone.”

Gratefully she leaned against him, her arms hugging around his middle while her head sank onto his shoulder. “Thank you.”

“Count me in as well and if I may suggest? Bring Andronikos along,” Jenna offered.

Eliza exchanged a curious look with Theron, failing to see the point. “The pirate? Why? He just got here.”

“He’s an extremely skilled pilot and a man who needs to be out there, be a part of the action and feel the heat. Besides, it may be a good opportunity for you both to have a chat and for you to judge his merit?”

“If he passed his medical, I guess.”

“He did,” Doc informed her and added a smile, “And I will join you as well.”

“Really?”

“I’ve no love for the man but yanno, he’s been a prisoner there for years, he may require medical attention or any of ya in case there’s trouble, so.”

Eliza nodded and swallowed hard, loathing the reminder Lord Scourge may be in a dire state yet thankful for the unexpected offer. “I appreciate it, Doc, truly.”

“We’ll keep an eye on things here,” said Jonas while he slipped an arm over Charlie’s shoulder. “You don’t have to worry.”

“You’re up to date on all contingency plans?” checked Eliza.

If anything were to go awry in her absence she’d never forgive herself but she had to go. Each argument she’d made with herself about responsibility, about leadership, deceiving in the freedom it posed yet forever expecting her to serve everyone’s best interest, had been overthrown by instinct and passion.

“I am. We’ve got this, promise,” Jonas assured her.

“I’ll have your ship made ready,” Lana offered, eager to have some form of responsibility now her task of locating Nathema had been completed.

Eliza flashed her a brief smile. “Good. Alright, guess I’m going to go recruit me a pirate and meet you all in the hangar bay in say, an hour.”

 


 

The galley on the Vanora was near dark and empty and it would be at this time of day, or rather, night, the middle of it and Eliza sleepily drifted inside. She’d been a recluse since their journey had begun three days ago. Exhausted and sick almost every day, all day, to the point she’d remained in bed hoping to conquer whichever cold plagued her.

Her appetite, however, hadn’t abandoned her in between bouts of nausea and she dug through the conservator finding some leftover flat cakes and a frosty treat bar.

“Gonna share?” A deep and unexpected voice startled her and she flipped on the dim overhead light.

“I don’t know, I’m very particular about sharing my frosty treats and it’s the last one.”

Andronikos grinned over the rim of his bottle of rum, keeping his one good eye on her. “Alright, I know better than to try and separate a woman from her sweets. Drink?”

She screwed her nose up at the bottle he held out and sat down. “Best not but thanks.”

“Are ya really sick? Or just not up for the company?”

“I’m sitting here now, aren’t I?” Eliza split the frosty treat bar in half and handed him a piece anyway.

“Aye.”

“So, Nox. I know you worked with her.”

Half a shrug rolled along his shoulders and he took a swig of his rum. “Yeah. We ain’t gonna be having problems but I’d like to hear what happened.”

His question awoke memories that took her back years and left her to wonder. Perhaps she shouldn’t have cured Lord Scourge of his immortality. If she hadn’t, he wouldn’t have to suffer now, he wouldn’t feel pain or perhaps he would not even be in captivity at all. Without his ability to love her, he could have left her crew long before the Eternal Fleet’s invasion and he’d be safe now.

‘I’ve weakened him and put him in harm's way by curing him…’ Eliza thought and the judgment she held toward her selfish actions left a bitter taste in her mouth but she swallowed it back and explained to Andronikos.

“We both chased the same mystical relic on Makeb. A gem holding the life force of some princess. I needed it to cure Scourge’s immortality, she wanted it for… well, who knows? She got there before I did and the sorceress's spirit that still lingered possessed or killed her. I thought I was fighting Nox but, I think she was already gone by then.”

“Then Revan killed whatever was left of her? I heard rumor but I ain’t Sith enough to be told anything official by you lot.”

Eliza nodded. “I wasn’t there for it, Meg and my uncle were.”

Andronikos finished the last drop of liquid and stretched back in his seat, reaching for a second bottle behind him. “Crazy Sith.

“I warned her this endless pursuit of power and eternal youth would be the death of her but she became obsessed. Wanted to outshine her old Master, the Council. Didn’t help that guy she was seeing kept calling her a slave. Lust and loathing, a bad combination if you ask me.”

“Ravage…”

“Yeah, him. Always reminded her she came from nothin’ and was nothin’, you know? Tried proving him wrong but it cost her I guess.”

A chill traveled down Eliza’s spine—that could have been her—and she recoiled at the memories that surfaced. How easily she’d given in to her darker impulses with Ravage by her side, how at times she’d loathed him and yet had craved their lustful exchanges.

“Were you close?” she asked.

“For a time but then she joined the Dark Council and, a former slave girl dating a nobody pirate like myself? She ended it but we stayed friends until she ditched the entire crew, said she’d outgrown us, then robbed her own department.”

“That wasn’t Nox anymore by then, it was Caerna.”

He shrugged again, swirling the bottle by its neck before taking another swig. “Woulda liked for things to end on a different note but she was trouble from the start. Part of her charm, y’know?”

“What did you do after?”

“Went my own way for a while until this war started. Got a strange call saying to meet on Nar Shaddaa, turns out it was Ashara putting together a group of misfits to fight back. Seemed like a good fight to me.”

His one good eye narrowed on her. “Now, your turn to share, perhaps over a game of pazaak?”

“Sure. What do you want to know?”

“Well, from what I gathered we’re on our way to some dead hole in the galaxy to save your husband… but, you’re also dating that SIS guy. Sounds like there’s quite a story to tell there, what will you do when you get your Sith back?”

A deep sigh escaped Eliza’s lips—it was the dreaded question she’d avoided asking herself in the past few days—and she shook her head with a sardonic response, “Go to hell, probably.”

And right about now that bottle of rum actually looked inviting.

While Andronikos shook and dealt the cards, Eliza delved into the pieces of her own past, at least those she felt willing to share, but she never got far. Barely managing to finish one game, with half a flat cake left untouched, drowsiness took a hold of her once again and the pirate watched her fade before his very eyes.

“Hey, you do have a medic aboard, why don’t ya have him check you out huh?”

A logical suggestion and she’d already considered doing so but decided against it, with good reason in her opinion.

“It’s probably a combination of a lack of sleep and too much stress… no biggie. But, in case it is anything more or worse than that, I just don’t want to know for now. I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.”

For a moment it looked as if Andronikos prepared to scold her for her stubbornness but a split second later his expression turned to one of understanding. In her shoes, he may just have run to a quiet nebula at the other end of the galaxy by now. War was one thing but personal drama and hardships? He shuddered to himself.

Days blended into nights and Eliza showed no sign of improvement while their journey progressed. It troubled Theron and against her wishes, while she slept, he’d called Doc into their quarters for a basic and brief examination. The expert merely shook his head when he finished and they stepped outside, lowering their voices to a whisper.

“It’s not a cold or virus,” said Doc. “But without a blood sample, I can’t determine the origin either. May have to assume it really is stress or perhaps the origin is of a different nature entirely.”

“What? Like a Force related…” Theron frowned to himself. “Something?”

“It’s possible.”

“Could the Emperor be doing this to her? I’ll bet he’d have ample reason to keep her away from Nathema… illness could have made her unfit to travel.”

Doc nodded. “I wouldn’t put it past the old bastard. Still, if it is him or Force related then her state should improve once we reach Nathema.”

“What if it’s Scourge?” asked Jenna and she elaborated seeing their confused stares.

“They’ve always shared a bond, right? His visions and all that other Force whatever stuff. What if he’s suffering and somehow, it is now affecting her like… calling out to her?”

The mere thought twisted Theron’s expression into one of resentment. “I don’t think he would do that. He… loves her.”

‘And so do I. Damn this mess,’ his mind added but he quickly shut those tormenting realizations down.

“It may not be deliberate,” Doc pointed out before he excused himself to update Eliza’s chart.

“How are you holding up?” Jenna glanced Theron’s way.

An indolent shrug rolled along his shoulders. “I… have no idea.”

“Talk to me?”

“I’m…”

Expressing his feelings had always been difficult—he wasn’t the kind of person to share. Self-taught to keep it all inside and figure out a way of battling whichever demons gnawed at his consciousness. Perhaps a thing he’d picked up from Master Zho and the Jedi or simply a result of his past—he’d grown so accustomed to having to fight his own battles it was hard to let anyone in, save for Eliza and Jonas.

“Anxious, I guess? Worried about how we’ll find him and troubled by either outcome. If he’s alive then what happens next between her, him and myself? And if he’s beyond saving… I’m scared she won’t be able to handle that either,” Theron began.

“In the past years, she’s gone through missing him, holding on, hoping, giving up, mourning him based on a lie and having her hope revived to this state of… whatever this is she’s going through right now.”

“A lack of sleep and stressful situations can fell even the strongest person,” Jenna pointed out. “And that could very well be all this is.”

“I know, I just worry and…”

He chewed down on his bottom lip and lowered his voice to a whisper, ashamed of his own admission, “There are days where I wish he was… that we’d never found out…”

The mere thought and words ignited feelings of guilt and he rose up from his seat abruptly while shaking his head. “I know that sounds horrible but—”

“It’s understandable,” sympathized Jenna.

“Maybe but I don’t feel right about it and… It’s not even just for myself. It’s her and everything this has been doing to her which is frustrating because there is nothing I can do to help, nothing I can do about any of this except ride it out and hope for the best.”

Theron cast a glance at the door leading to his quarters and sighed. “I can’t lose her again.”

“Then don’t. Fight. For her, for the both of you. You know I’m rooting for you.”

“If he’s alive and well… you know he tried to kill me once?” A miserable chuckle escaped him. “He won’t be pleased to see me there.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a rescue op for his benefit, he can deal with unwelcome faces,” said Doc as he overheard the last of their exchange. “Tis not like he’ll be thrilled to see me either.”

 


 

Eliza held her breath when they approached Nathema’s surface and mentally prepared for the effects the absence of the Force might have on her. She’d never experienced such a thing but heard the stories of Ziost’s aftermath and easily recalled Lord Scourge telling her how it left him sick to visit Nathema.

As if she didn’t feel nauseous enough already but to her surprise, she noticed little difference while they touched down.

‘A gift… use it well,’ the voice of Valkorion whispered to her but he didn’t stick around for a reaction and gleeful laughter echoed his departure.

“Looks like the Imperial Guard never got word of their Emperor’s demise,” commented Theron when he spotted the welcome committee posted outside the only structure left standing in its glory.

A structure dissimilar to every other ruin on the ashen surface and bearing the architectural signature of the Spire on Zakuul. Modern, shining, proud and Eliza felt it a monstrosity and insult to the souls who’d died in the Ritual of Nathema millennia ago.

“Either that or they serve Arcann now,” said Doc.

“For the time being…” Eliza mused and thought of the unwelcome companion inside her mind.

“No doubt they hold out hope for Vitiate’s return—their loyalty has always only been to him. Arcann would be no more than a placeholder to them, one they’ll indulge until such a time their true Master returns.”

Jenna gave a shudder. “This world is unnatural. Let’s kill those guards, grab Scourge and bounce.”

“A sound idea.”

Dispatching of the guards was quick and easy work. While Andronikos and Theron lay cover fire, Eliza let her blades roar and she danced between the red-clad pairings headed her way to cut them down one by one. Jenna had her back using nothing but her vibroknife, eager fists and an attitude to help eliminate the protective forces while Doc remained safely behind the pirate and the spy. Out of harm's way and working Theron’s tech to scan the building for signs of life but something interfered with his signal.

“I can’t pinpoint an exact location,” he said when they regrouped.

“Then we’ll do it the old fashioned way—go in blind and see where it leads.” Eliza shrugged and slowly, confidence took root where her fears had dwelled.

 

Chapter Text

An elevator took them below the planet’s surface where dimly lit tunnels formed a time-consuming maze. Each turn led to another intersection of hallways, all twisting in various directions and without guidance, one could easily get lost for days but the deceiving labyrinth wouldn’t deter Eliza—not now that she’d come this far.

While the Force was said to be mostly absent on Nathema, Eliza felt her instincts heightened though she couldn’t discern whether that was in reaction to the adrenaline now rushing through her body or if more was at play. She recalled Vitiate’s words and her brows crinkled—was he providing a connection for her to tap into?

It didn’t matter, not at this moment and she devoted her trust and faith to her instincts, blindly following their lead. Her heart beating steady and silent to let inner peace prevail over her passions, to not be lead astray by emotion or the panic she’d held in the days past. To banish the illness she’d experienced though she barely felt it now.

A whiff of sulfur reached her nostrils when they passed a blackened out chamber and the acrid odors coming from inside left everyone reeling. One glance inside room showed a pair of furnaces and none of them needed a guess at the chamber’s purpose. They quickly moved on.

“A labyrinth of death,” Andronikos mused quietly as they delved deeper into the structure.

“Why is it you Sith are so invested in this stuff? Ghosts, mysticism, eternal life, spells, magical trinkets and what have you.”

Eliza glanced over her shoulder. “A chance to live forever at the ultimate height of your continued, ever-growing, power?”

“Would you?”

“No. To live forever feels more finite and suffocating than a simple death.”

Another corner turned brought them closer to the inner sanctum and Theron was the first to pick up on faint mutterings, a voice, and he gestured for silence. The hallway widened into a ring on the upper level that overlooked the auditorium-esque area below and Eliza’s fingers curled around the solid, metal banister while she observed.

A body, desiccating at an alarming rate, hung strapped to a tilted slab and two large stasis tubes flanked either side. A little further along the back wall stood a single kolto tank, moss creeping up the inside while the metal encasing was tinted by a coat of dirty orange rust. Clearly, hygiene and health were a last priority within the laboratory.

She caught several critters skitter across the floor where dark stains, of either lost blood or dropped vials with questionable substances, discolored the duracrete tiles. A leak in one of the pipes above dripped tiny beads of water into a puddle right by her feet with a repetitive, plopping sound which, while irritating, wasn’t enough to distract her from what she witnessed next.

Down below at the very center of the laboratory stood a man, Anomid by the looks of it and a scientist, haunched over the unmistakable form of Lord Scourge strapped to the examination table. Broken, beaten, scarred—not too far off from the horrors she’d imagined—but alive, at least for now and an inaudible sigh of relief escaped her lips.

“Mm, yes, perhaps… this one might do,” mumbled Jarak while preparing another injection. Blind and deaf to the visitors stepping a silent foot into his laboratory.

“Stop!” Eliza barked and she leaped the banister, landing on her feet at ground level.

Entirely out of habit she made a quick wave with her hand to rip the needle and ampule from the Anomid and to her surprise, it worked. Her powers, which ought to be muted on this planet, functioned as they should but at a taxing cost. It drained and Eliza felt an aching within but ignored it and silenced her own questions on the matter.

“Wh—how… Intruders!” screamed Jarak and reached to sound the alarm but within a split second, Eliza had him thrown back and lifted in the air. His legs kicking beneath him to settle on a surface that wasn’t there.

“Don’t! Even! Think about it! You…”

What she wouldn’t give to kill the scientist right there. Strangle him, choke the life from his miserable body and watch him writhe and squirm as death took hold—simply snapping his neck wouldn’t be satisfactory enough—but she held back realizing he may yet serve a purpose.

“Get Scourge,” she bit at those behind her while forced to keep her focus on the Anomid’s constrictions.

It took every effort, every modicum of her strength to keep the man within her grasp and she hissed furiously, “What have you done to him?!”

“I… but, my Lord Emperor, he, oh no, no please, have mercy,” Jarak stammered in a pathetic plea, “I am but a humble servant. Emperor Arcann, he would—”

“I do not care what he would! Tell me everything!”

“I can’t! He would… oh stars, no, he would kill me!”

“And what do you think I’ll do to you, huh?”

With nimble and swift fingers, Theron and Doc worked to release Lord Scourge from the bindings that kept him restrained and the sudden movement jerked the Sith from the shelter of memories he’d built within his mind. Staring up at the spy he faintly recognized before his head lolled sideways and he caught a glimpse of Eliza.

‘No… it can’t be.’ His eyes widened and he gripped Theron’s wrist in anger.

“You let her come here?!” he snarled and spat.

Snatching his wrist free to unlock the metal neck brace next, Theron gave the Sith a pointed look. “You and I both know there is no ‘letting her’ do anything. There’s either going with her or sitting back while she goes off alone.”

“Get her the hell out of here! This place isn’t safe, she shouldn’t have come!”

“Quiet!” Eliza snapped when she overheard, far harsher than she’d intended to but anger and passion fueled her now and she had no interest in his protest or bickering.

It was a safeguard as well. The second she’d spotted his subdued physique strapped to the examination table, clearly damaged yet breathing and alive, she’d faced two choices. Crumble to pieces and weep over his broken body or hold herself together and don a mask that would allow her to successfully carry out her mission—his rescue—and the latter would serve her a great deal more.

Looking over her shoulder for just a moment, their eyes met. Her heart fluttered and her breath caught. Her brows knitted together, considering her tone had been too harsh but no, that wasn’t anything to dwell on right now—she would apologize once they got off Nathema and he would understand.

“Doc?” she continued and banished any sentiment from her eyes and mind, “Have you ever studied the biology of an Anomid? Do you know where their most vital and sensitive areas are?”

His mouth fell agape and he looked at Theron, unsure of how to answer. “Uh…”

“Never mind. I’ll have more fun discovering for myself. Unless, of course…” Her attention turned back on Jarak.

“This… thing decides to spoil my pleasure by actually telling me what he’s been doing to Scourge. Hmm?”

“Mistress, please!” Jarak uttered again and held his hands up as though to ward her off.

“Mistress?!”

“My Lord! Lady!”

The bones in his left ankle shattered when Eliza deliberately dropped him though she didn’t release him from her grasp entirely.

“Theron, slice his consoles and download anything you can find. Doc, have a look to see if you can understand and decipher his research. Jenna, Andronikos, get some empty cargo crates so we can load up these vials and samples,” she spoke her orders calmly.

While unsure of the suffering Lord Scourge had experienced, it didn’t take a genius to figure out he’d been subjected to various scientific trials. The scars covering his body and his change in appearance hadn’t gone unnoticed to her, even in a brief glance. Paler eyes, blackened tendrils, and he’d clearly lost much weight. Every inch of him marked by the torment he’d endured for years.

“My Lord, please,” Jarak pleaded once more when Eliza physically grabbed him by the arm next and dragged him toward the examination table.

“Take me with you when you leave and I promise, I will do everything I can to cure your husband! I’ve already been—”

“Cure him?!” She narrowed her gaze at him and snapped, “Of what? What is it you’ve done to him?”

“Just kill the wretch,” Lord Scourge growled next to her and pushed himself to sit up straight.

For a second time their eyes met but now Eliza cringed inside. She saw no reflection of the love they once shared, not an ounce of sentiment or emotion and his stare was much like the one he’d held when they first met. An empty vessel looking back at her and when she put her hand against his cheek she was reminded of her nightmare—his skin like parchment underneath her fingertips.

She knew exactly what it meant, but not how, and turned her fury back on Jarak. “What the hell have you done?!”

“The Emperor, Arcann! He had a curiosity about immortality and he had me research! It, I, something went wrong and, please! If you spare me, bring me with you, I will tell you everything and I will find a way to stop his body from deteriorating! I was already trying to, check my notes!” the Anomid burst into a ramble of pleas and explanations.

“And you think you’d be any safer with us? After what you’ve done?!”

There was not enough time to be shocked, this being the last thing she’d expected. Torment sure, questioning, and perhaps even punishment but she never thought anyone would use her husband as a lab rat. That anyone would ever manage to reverse the effects of the cure, to once more subject him to the nightmare he’d lived for centuries.

“Wouldn’t it be worth it, to see him healed again?”

A tempting offer but before Eliza stood even a chance of considering her options, another had decided for her.

In the blink of an eye, Lord Scourge had used up what strength he could muster, what little his muscles and bones would allow him and extended an arm to close a fist around Jarak’s throat. Not wasting any time by merely squeezing and with an abrupt snapping of his neck, the Anomid dropped dead to the ground.

“Have you lost your mind?!” Eliza cried out and chided. “He was your only chance!”

“There are no more chances for me,” he responded in calm. “I’ve lived a life far too long already and this body will not hold.”

“Like hell it will!”

Though he quietly worked to slice Jarak’s consoles, Theron kept an ear out for the couple and released a deep sigh when he heard the pain and anger in Eliza’s voice. When he too noticed the absence of emotion in Lord Scourge’s entire demeanor and he exchanged a look of concern with Doc who pored over the medical records and diaries Jarak had written.

“Scourge!” Eliza clasped his face between both hands, urgent but gentle. “Whatever he’s done to you, we’ll find a way to reverse it, we’ll find a way to help cure you!”

“Leave me! I’m already dead, Sith.”

“Sith?!”

Aching palms begged her to smack him, despising the sudden cold with which he spoke. Wishing to slap both sense and emotion back into the man she loved and demand he use her name but she pushed all of it down. It was a battle she’d face and fight later and at least he was alive, for now.

“You’re coming home with us whether you like it or not,” she told him quite firmly just as Andronikos and Jenna rolled several crates inside.

“Found these, we good to load up and high tail outta here?” asked Andronikos.

“Don’t bother.” Lord Scourge’s tone remained indifferent.

He grabbed both of Eliza’s hands and forced them away from his face, rejecting her touch. He couldn’t feel it anyway, even if a part of him desperately wanted to and he loathed the lack of sensation. He recognized the anguish in her eyes but he felt none of it himself—he even failed to feel any remorse over his dismissive actions.

“I’m as good as dead, let me go. Get out of here, get your people to safety and make sure not another soul ever sets foot on this planet again.”

“No!” Eliza rejected his every word. “You’re coming with us, willingly or otherwise and Doc will find a way to… cure, undo, whatever it is that quack did to you!”

“He can’t and what do you expect of me? To live my life like this?! A second time?!”

“We’ve cured you before, we’ll do it again.”

“You’re delusional, Sith. It was always meant to end this way, I wasn’t supposed to live this long or have the life we once both dreamed of and cherished.”

Eliza’s eyes burned fiercely with the tears she refused to spill. Of all the things she had imagined—the sheer horror, the fear of death invading her every thought—this was one outcome she couldn’t have predicted. This wasn’t the reunion she’d hoped for nor the one she’d dreaded and at this moment, she wasn’t sure which version hurt worse—reality or those things she’d been so afraid of.

“And I don’t give a fuck what you think or want right now,” she hissed through gritted teeth.

Behind Lord Scourge stood Doc, ready to intervene and Eliza gave him a subtle nod. He took the injection needle he’d prepared while they’d been arguing, knowing what he may have to do, and sedated the Sith to silence his protests. To force his cooperation and Lord Scourge rolled his eyes once before he slumped forward into Eliza’s arms.

“Grab anything you can and let’s go. Theron, do you have the data downloaded?”

“Almost…” he murmured in deep focus until the screen before him blinked a confirmation and he retrieved the data spike. “Got it!”

“Found a direct passage to the elevators, down that tunnel,” Andronikos said and thumbed over his shoulder. “Secret door, can’t be seen from the other side.”

“Good.” Eliza nodded and took a second to consider her options. “Theron head back to the ship and prepare for our departure. Doc, Andronikos, get Scourge and take him to the medbay, keep him sedated.”

She dug through her backpack and beckoned Jenna over. “We’ll set up a few charges down here and toward the elevator, blow this place apart. Whatever might be left here is not worth saving or preserving…”

“On it.” Jenna took the charges but also quickly laid a hand on Eliza’s. “Are you okay?”

Ruby locks danced around her face with a grace that didn’t suit the situation while Eliza shook her head gently. “I can’t afford to be anything but okay right now.”

“What’s uh… wrong, with him?”

“Everything.”

Andronikos and Doc took Lord Scourge between the two of them, the tall Sith towering over both their heads and heavy in his subdued state while they carried him toward the exit.

“Not what she’d expected, huh?” muttered Andronikos out of Eliza’s earshot.

“Don’t think any of us coulda expected this… it’s, cruel.” Doc’s brows furrowed.

“What’s the deal, why doesn’t he wanna be saved?”

“Scourge was an immortal for over three-hundred years, present from the Sith Emperor. Incapable of feeling anything other than pain and anger, unable to love. He’d lost most of his senses until Eliza cured him years ago.”

Doc cast a sideways glance at the Pureblood he carried and sighed. “Whatever they’ve done to him here, he’s… I don’t know, it seems worse than before and his body is…”

“Dying.”

“Right. Guess he figures his time’s up now and he’s not worth the trouble.”

They caught up to Theron still stood waiting by the elevator but he barely took notice of their presence. Lost in his own thoughts and scolding the wishes he’d made—cursing the insecurities and fears he’d held over finding Lord Scourge and losing Eliza as if those were to blame for the state they’d found the Sith in. As if the universe had granted his wish of keeping the woman he loved to himself but in the most sadistic way possible—by tormenting and punishing another.

“Is it stuck?” asked Doc.

“Dunno.” Theron gave a shrug.

Squeaking, rusted wheels rolled in behind them as Eliza and Jenna approached with the two sturdy cargo crates and both women frowned.

“Why are all of you still down here?” asked Eliza.

“Waiting on—” Andronikos began just as the elevator doors hissed open.

With his head bowed and lost in deep thought, Theron was the first to take a step forward. Careless about his surroundings and distracted until a sharp, searing pain suddenly shot through his chest. The smell of burned flesh rose up to his nostrils and a slobber of blood dripped down his chin onto the blade of a roaring, yellow-golden lightsaber.

His eyes sprung wide and his body surrendered to the force of the blow, succumbing to his injuries almost immediately. The blade impaling him was withdrawn and his knees collapsed. His assailant was revealed—a single, amber eye glinting with delight and menacing smirk half concealed by a dark mask—while Theron unceremoniously fell to the ground. His skull smacked onto the cold, hard duracrete while his sight blurred and the last he heard before darkness swallowed him whole were the shrill, harrowing screams of the woman he loved.

 

Chapter Text

This wasn’t happening, it couldn’t be. Theron’s life had not been in danger, he wasn’t the one who’d frequented her gruesome and deadly nightmares so why was he on the floor now in a puddle of his own blood?

‘The price… this is the price, what I’ve done by coming here… No!’ The thought taunted Eliza and ignited.

Raw fury burst from every bone and nerve in her body and before anyone realized what had just happened, Arcann’s body was flung across the hallway. His eyes widened in sudden shock—the Sith had her powers while he was without—and he threw his arms up just in time to protect his face and mask from a full-on collision with one of the structural beams supporting the underground tunnels.

‘Thump… thump…’ A waning signal probed Eliza’s mind, weak but calling out and she spun on her heel to look at Theron.

Completely motionless, there wasn’t even the slightest rise and fall of his back to indicate he was breathing still but she heard the call of his heart. Beating, fighting, wanting to shout about his survival but losing its strength as scarlet fluids seeped from his body.

It wasn’t quite the sound of impending victory but enough to bring her hope and embolden the decisions she’d have to make now while there was no time to waste.

Eliza held Arcann trapped and stoically relayed her orders, “He’s alive but barely. Get him back into the ship, do what you can, now.”

“Not without—” Doc offered up protest but found himself denied instantaneously.

“Go! Take him, take them both and get to the ship. Save them, fly home, I’ll find my own way. I’m sure this prick didn’t walk his way here.”

A lightsaber whirled her way and Eliza only barely managed to deflect it in time, growling in anger as the steel handle found its way back to Arcann’s hand.

“Now!” she urged a second time but didn’t wait for her friends to listen.

Using the unexpected strength she possessed, she gathered the Force within her and extended an arm in their direction. Forcing all of them—even the cargo crates—into the elevator with a single, powerful push before shutting the doors and sending them up to the surface.

“How noble of you,” spat Arcann when he was released. “But, alone at last with nowhere to hide.”

“As if I’d need to,” Eliza threatened in retaliation and played her upper hand, once more slamming him into one of the support beams.

“How did you know we were here?” she demanded.

She’d stopped believing in coincidences long ago and even if the guards had somehow managed to warn him, there’d be no way for him to arrive on Nathema this fast.

“Instinct.”

Tendrils of the Force closed around his thick neck and Eliza squeezed. “Try again.”

“How do you have your connection with the Force?” he countered instead with a hint of curiosity more so than fear or concern.

A low growl rumbled up her throat. “Fine, don’t answer, we’ll just get straight to the part where I kill you.”

“I didn’t come here to kill you. I came to bring you to Zakuul.”

For a second time, she released her hold on him and Arcann landed on both feet while Eliza scoffed. “Why? To turn me into a poisonous popsicle like you did with Kira? Until I die?”

“That wasn’t—”

“You killed her! You kept my husband locked up in here for years! Had him tortured, nearly killed him and he still might! You just tried to kill my partner and he still might! Bombed high populated planets for what?! The Empire, Republic? No, you’re not taking me anywhere!”

Like hungering predators her blades sprung to life, ready to claim their prey. “Defend yourself or don’t, makes no difference to me but only one of us is leaving this planet alive and it won’t be you!”

Tightly screwed in bolts holding the support beams together sprung from their sockets and whizzed through the air, raining down on Arcann like bullets and pounding his body before they dropped lifelessly at his feet. The structural beams fell apart, one by one clattering to the ground with a deafening noise and lacking foundation now, the tunnel they stood in collapsed, cutting off their access to the elevators and their only way out.

Arcann coughed furiously at the dust up and blinked a few times. “You’re insane!” he spat.

“No, that crown still sits on your sister’s corpse.”

“What have you done?!” He ignored her scathing remark. “Now we’re both stuck in here!”

“Yeah, I guess we are,” Eliza responded in calm and feigned a shrug. “Works for me, though.

“If by some miracle you manage to kill me, you’ll still be stuck down here and sooner or later you’d die from starvation or a lack of oxygen. Without the Force, you’re not strong enough to clear the debris. I, however, am so once I kill you, I can clear the way for myself and get the hell out of this place.”

“And if we both run out of air long before the fight ends? You’ll die too!”

“Yeah, suppose I would but if that means I’ve taken you down with me, so be it.”

“You’d sacrifice yourself, just to kill me?! To save them?” Arcann gave her an incredulous look while he wiped the dirt from his face and pulled one of the bolts wedged into his chest armor out.

This should have been a quick and easy game for him. Surprise the Outlander, get rid of her crew and make a grab for the woman to bring her to Zakuul. He’d been preparing those simple plans from the moment his dreams warned him about Eliza’s journey to Nathema but the visions had left one vital detail out—her powers. Not to mention he’d underestimated how far she’d go to protect those she loved. Such sacrifices were a foreign concept to him.

“I would. Now, let’s begin, shall we?”

It was a polite invitation but her intentions were deadly and Eliza wasted not another second to launch herself at the tyrant she so deeply loathed. Forcing Arcann to defend himself, feebly while he remained stunned by her actions and their blades clashed, spitting crimson and golden sparks.

“Good. This is your moment,” the voice of Vitiate spoke and he appeared, only to Eliza.

Circling the dueling pair like a coach praising his favorite student. Time, however, didn’t pause for his deific presence and beyond the curve of Arcann’s right ear, Eliza caught the smirk resting on Vitiate’s spectral features.

She ducked to avoid a blow to her shoulder and retorted within her mind, “Get out! This is between me and the piece of shit you’ve failed to raise properly!”

“Temper. I’m only here to encourage your victory and ensure you don’t do anything foolish.”

“Like what? Use my powers against him? Yeah, I got the memo, I didn’t forget but you never told me—how is it possible he shares your blood?”

“A ritual of Sith alchemy performed on the night of his conception to ensure my bloodline, not Valkorion’s, would transfer to my heirs. Back when I believed they would be worthy.”

Briefly, Eliza quirked a brow. “Did Senya know?”

“No.”

“You’re disgusting. So that’s how you share the bond with your children, how they are yours. All three of them?”

“Of course. But, even with my blood coursing through their veins they failed my expectations and the destiny I had planned for each of them.”

“So now I get to clean up your mess?”

“Only you can and this is the perfect opportunity.” His ghostly form gestured at their surroundings with a satisfied grin.

“No distractions, no interference. No casualties to concern yourself with—it’s only you and him and the gift of the Force surging within you, aiding only you. Strike him down so you may claim the throne.”

Raw blisters formed in the palm of her hand when Eliza unintentionally grabbed the searing end of Arcann’s blade and brought their battle to an abrupt halt. A realization hit her, triggered by Vitiate’s words and it left her startled until rage kicked in.

“This was your doing… Somehow, through your bond, you lured him here, knowing my plans…”

She threw Arcann back, slamming him into the wall and turned her growing fury on the specter all too gleeful about his actions.

“Theron could be dying and all for what?! So you could force a confrontation between me and your despicable son?!”

By now she was no longer using her inner voice, instead screaming her accusations into thin air. Gesturing furiously at the figure only she could see and it was enough to not only raise, but confirm, the suspicions Arcann held—his father was there and he was part of the Sith woman now.

“You were wasting time and focused on frivolous matters. I couldn’t make you listen so I found another way,” Vitiate shared in calm.

“My nightmares, was that your doing as well?!”

“So many fears and anxieties to choose from, it was easy stirring them to invade your subconscious.”

A red-hot orb, blazing and far more than a single flame, manifested by her fury, appeared in Eliza’s hand and she hurled it in Vitiate’s direction but all it did was combust into a charcoal ring on the stone wall. She hurled a second and a third while Vitiate snuck behind his son. Not for cover—she couldn’t touch him—but to redirect her assault toward the errand child he wished to disown with a violent death.

The Emperor of Zakuul, who’d been so confident about his plan when he’d set foot on the planet earlier, was now no more than a bewildered spectator to a one-sided battle. A minor obstacle hardly worthy of notice while all of Eliza’s ire honed in on Vitiate and yet it was the hem of Arcann’s chest armor that caught fire.

“Enough!” Arcann bellowed but it was no use, she didn’t see him now.

Bitterly he laughed—once more he’d been reduced to nothing—a sideshow in his own grand scheme. Unworthy of being regarded, of being heard, even by his enemy. With all he’d done to leave his mark upon the galaxy, upon the woman before him, he still walked in the shadows of a man who’d rejected and refused him throughout his entire childhood and young adult life. It ached inside of him and kindled his deep-rooted hatred.

Eliza sneered at Vitiate’s form taunting her, “I cannot wait to rid myself of you, Vitiate, and this time I will make sure you won’t find shelter in the body of another!”

Once more Arcann frowned, for as much as his disfigured face could, and he batted his blade to deflect another of her fireballs.

‘I was right, about everything,’ came his realization but he had little time to dwell on the accuracy of all his suspicions.

Whether she chose to or had merely gone too far beyond herself, the full potential of Eliza’s gift combusted. A glorious fire razing the tunnels and feeding on all remaining oxygen. Scorching everything in sight to engulf the underground structure in a sea of flames. Triggering the explosive charges she and Jenna had set earlier to bring the entire building to its knees until nothing but a deadly silence remained.

 


 

“What do you need?!” fretted Jenna while she dug through the cabinets and grasped at any form of medical supplies she could find.

She spun back around to Doc with shaking hands and froze when she caught the trail of blood that ran out of the medbay all the way to the boarding ramp of the Vanora.

In all her adventures she’d never quite seen anything this bad and while it was tempting to surrender to her panic, she bit it back to focus on the matter at hand—Theron’s body deadly pale and convulsing on top of the examination table.

“Activate the surgical droid and prepare the kolto tank. What’s your blood type?”

“Osk plus.”

“Good. He’ll need a transfusion once we’ve stopped the bleeding,” said Doc while he busied himself cutting through Theron’s leatheris jacket and the shirt he’d worn underneath.

“What about him?” asked Andronikos with a nod at the Sith he supported under his arm and over his shoulder.

“Regular treatment or kolto won’t do—his injuries are more complicated but less urgent right this second. Put him in Eliza’s quarters for now then get us in the air.”

“We’re not really leaving her behind, are we?” Jenna’s eyes darted between the two men.

Doc growled underneath his breath and frowned. “We have no choice.

“If we let either of them die because we went back for her, we might as well start digging our own graves right alongside of ‘em. She’d never forgive us and Theron needs immediate treatment, we need to get to Odessen and fast. It’s her or them.”

“But—”

“The droid, Jenna,” Doc cut her off, “now!”

Theron’s body jerked a second time and the monitoring equipment Doc had hooked up sounded the high pitched beep of a flatline. They were losing him, fast and Doc ran a scan over Theron’s chest to locate the source of the bleeding while Andronikos rushed to get the Vanora off the ground.

The engines roared and they lifted to the skies. Jenna listened to various mumblings uttered by Doc—major pulmonary artery, circulation, too much blood loss—and many medical terms she failed to understand while she prepared the kolto tank as instructed.

‘Come on Theron, fight…’ her mind begged and while she’d always regarded the Force as supernatural hogwash, she now prayed it would hear her pleas.

Her eyes fell on the closed door leading to Eliza’s quarters and she scoffed, unintentionally blaming Lord Scourge for their current predicaments. A thought which then prompted a wry smile when she realized how quickly things changed—weeks ago she’d loathed the thought of Eliza with Theron, in defense of her oldest friend but now she found herself rooting for the couple while resenting the Sith whose survival threatened to tear them apart, if death wouldn’t beat him to it first.

A far away explosion, large enough to ripple across the distance and temporarily disable the ship’s instruments, pulled her from her thoughts and Jenna rushed for the side-viewport. Just in time to witness the architectural masterpiece reduce to nothing but a cloud of smoke and ashes while the planet’s surface swallowed it whole.

Her eyes widened and her heart stilled. “Eliza…”

“Do we turn back?!” Andronikos yelled over his shoulder while he fought to maintain control of the ship.

“No! We have our orders, she made her choice.” Anger thickened Doc’s voice and he fought to keep his emotions at bay. “There’s nothing we can do now but hope.”

‘And she’s a survivor, she will be fine, she will, she has to and once she returns home…’ he tried convincing himself and breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing Theron’s heartbeat once more, ‘she’ll need you so fight, Shan, fight!’

Hours he spent with careful precision attempting to repair the ruptured artery near Theron’s heart while the Vanora rushed through hyperspace leaving the Nathema system and Chorlian sector behind.

A somber atmosphere trapping everyone aboard the ship in a silence that would define their journey home in the days to come. Only ever interrupted by the monotonous beeps sounding from the monitoring equipment hooked up to Theron’s kolto tank and the occasional nightmarish screams coming from Lord Scourge who remained in a deep slumber.

 

Chapter Text

“My Lord Emperor,” a medical officer addressed Arcann upon approach and clasped both hands behind his back, his head bowing in deference. “I ran the initial biometric scans to prepare for the carbon freezing process.”

“And?”

“There is… a complication—she’s with child.”

A fist balled at Arcann’s side and he cast a scathing look at the unconscious woman he’d brought back from Nathema. Of course there’d be another complication, a dilemma to challenge the path he walked, pitting instinct against the small voice that had nagged his conscience lately. Why was nothing ever easy where this stranger was concerned?

“If we proceed,” the officer continued, “the child will not survive.”

“I am aware,” hissed Arcann.

Could he do it?

His options weighed heavy and he reminded himself that an unborn child wasn’t the only identity residing within the woman’s body—his father did too, the man he’d sworn to stop at any cost.

The man he couldn’t allow freedom or life ever again and he’d vowed any price, every line crossed would be worth it in the end. Just to ensure Valkorion would, at last, know a true death, undeniable defeat, and yet something inside Arcann urged him there were other ways. He sighed wearily with the burden on his shoulders.

“Place her in a cell and alert me when she awakens.”

With frustration dictating the pace of his stride, Arcann returned to his private chambers down the hallway from the Throne room and retrieved his datapad from one of the drawers in his desk. Eliza’s profile sprung to life, the blue hues of the screen illuminating his face and he read all there was to know about her for the hundredth time.

“What is it about your kind that makes you so selfless? Why would you give your life for another?”

He couldn’t understand. In all his life, everyone he knew had always chosen themselves or each other—never him.

Vaylin, though her brothers had come to her aid in the past, had never cared much, period, and in the eyes of his father he’d been no more than a failure unfit to one day ascend to the throne. His mother, on the other hand, had abandoned them all entirely and sided with his enemies and Thexan?

Remembering the death of his beloved twin-brother brought out a well of mixed emotions he could scarcely face.

His brother had always been the only one he could turn to, who at least tried but when he’d needed him most, Thexan had chosen their father. Defended their father and turned his blade on Arcann. It stung him to this day and yet, guilt tore at what little humanity he still possessed—he’d killed Thexan. A single moment of blind fury was all it had taken to banish his brother from this world.

Is that what the Sith woman had done too? Chosen those she loved over even her own life, just as Thexan had risked his life by choosing their father? Why? Did she know she was pregnant, was she willing to risk her child as well?

‘And why did I save her…’ he asked himself and sunk back into his onyx bed covers.

It would have been so much easier to leave her there. Let her die and trap his father’s spirit in the body of a dead woman buried beneath the ruins on Nathema. Solving all of his problems with a simple, careless gesture. By simply walking away.

His eyes drift shut and he recalled the explosion, the heat of the fire threatening to melt his skin.

 

Just as the flames came close enough to engulf him, he found shelter inside the security hub next to the elevators where he hid under a desk to ride out the destruction of the entire underground system and the building above. Cursing the foolish woman who, without thought or care, had unleashed the full extent of whichever abominable power she possessed.

At least she’d be gone now and his father with her, Arcann imagined but once he deemed the coast clear and he emerged from the hub, one of the few rooms left standing, he was shocked to find her alive.

Stood amidst the rubble, safely and not a speck of dust or dirt on her. Untouched by the fire and debris and Arcann caught her grinning his way before her eyes rolled back and her lashes fluttered and she collapsed. As though whichever strength had protected her was now depleted and life had fled her body.

Assuming she was dead, he lingered and waited for his father to appear. To possess his son as he had the Sith woman in a bid for survival but Valkorion’s presence stayed out.

“Of course. You’d rather die a true death than share your power with me,” he growled in anger but then knelt down by Eliza.

He brushed the cascading scarlet locks from her face and touched two fingertips to the side of her neck to check for a pulse.

“Alive…” he observed and scoffed, “That explains it.”

His hand slid up her throat, grasping it gently but then moved up further to cover her mouth fully with his palm while he pinched her nose to cut off her airways. A minute at most, that’s all it would take to end her here and now but what if his father would appear? Did he truly wish to spend the rest of his life sharing one body with the man he despised more than any other soul, living or otherwise?

If that was even the way any of this worked and he still wasn’t certain of the fineprint that came with his father’s possession.

“Damn you,” Arcann cursed out and he pulled away. “It doesn’t matter anyway. We’re all stuck—”

A tiny ray of sunlight warmed the back of his neck and he swiveled on his heel. The barricade Eliza had created earlier to trap them both had collapsed along with every other piece of the building. Opening a way to the surface although he would have to climb various rocks and chunks of debris.

His one good eye twinkled and he smirked. “Well well, looks like I’ll be the one walking out of here alive, Outlander. So much for your plan.”

Not wasting another second he rushed forward and jumped onto one of the lower chunks of duracrete rubble. He reached out and grabbed a support beam wedged between the crumbled blocks to test its sturdiness. It held and Arcann hoisted himself up but when he got to the second ledge, he hesitated and glanced back over his shoulder.

Unwelcome doubt struck when he looked down at Eliza’s unconscious body. A nagging deep within that begged him to turn back and he balled a fist trying to shrug the feeling off. She would die here and his father with her and all his problems would be solved. Hell, she brought this whole collapse upon herself, it was her fault.

The feeling that gripped him now, however, wouldn’t let up and he resentfully decided that leaving her behind would be irresponsible. If she somehow survived after all, he’d never know. Yes, that was right, best to bring her back to Zakuul where he could keep an eye on her. Lock her away in carbonite until he’d figure out what to do about his father’s spirit.

A growl of frustration rumbled up his throat but Arcann leaped back down after he decided and lifted Eliza’s body over his shoulder.

“Don’t make me regret this, Outlander.”

 


 

Malavai Quinn was not a violent man and he rarely lashed out but now it took both Me’ghan and Praven to hold him back while he shouted in undeniable anger, “You left her behind?!”

The seven of them—Lord Cytharat, Praven, Malavai, Me’ghan, and Lord Cytharat’s family—had returned to Odessen just two days after the other group had embarked on their journey to Nathema and he’d been sick with worry ever since. As if his gut knew.

“Didn’t have much of a choice, did we? She forced us out,” said Andronikos and he explained what Eliza had done, how she’d insisted they leave.

“There was no arguin’ with that one and we thought she’d fight her way out herself. At least until…”

“Until what?!” spat Malavai and he still felt an aching urge to pummel the pirate to the ground.

“Well… as we took off the uh, entire building exploded and collapsed…”

“What?!” Me’ghan shrieked and lost her hold on Malavai.

He slipped through her fingers and lunged forward, a fierce right hook connecting with Andronikos’ jaw. He quickly followed it up with another and within the blink of an eye, he’d wrestled Andronikos against the floor and sat atop his chest pounding away.

“Quinn stop!” Jenna shouted and tried pulling him back. Praven came to her aid.

“None of us wanted to leave her behind but we had no choice! This was her decision, what she wanted!” she defended though no matter how often she’d spoken those words over the course of their journey home, they did nothing to assuage the guilt she felt.

“Has she been in touch since…?” tried Lord Cytharat. “Her comms, do they…”

Jenna shook her head and caused him to sigh in defeat.

“She could have survived. Vitiate could have protected her, just as she claimed he would,” Praven offered.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Malavai observed the bruises forming on his knuckles and clenched his jaw, fighting off his upset.

“I’m going to Nathema.”

“No, don’t,” Me’ghan started and clasped his shoulders. “For all we know, she made it out as planned and is on her way here now in Arcann’s ship.”

“And if she’s not? Do you suggest we just sit around and wait to see?!”

She furrowed her brows in sadness and looked down. “No…”

“I… may have an idea,” Lord Cytharat uttered when he snapped himself from deep thought. “Wait here.”

He excused himself and ran back inside the base while Praven turned towards Jenna. “What about Agent Shan and Lord Scourge?”

“Theron is alive, for now, but he has a long fight ahead of him. Doc’s been keeping him heavily sedated and locked inside a kolto tank. We lost him twice during the flight home…”

“And Scourge?” Me’ghan wanted to know too. “I didn’t see him when you guys landed.”

“Also alive, but… it’s complicated,” Jenna elaborated on Lord Scourge’s physical and mental state best as she could, best as she understood it herself.

“So, we’re looking at reasonable odds we might just lose all three of them?” Praven concluded when she finished and Malavai stepped aside, not wanting to hear any more.

“It’s… possible but, they’re fighters, all three of them. I’m trying to hold on to that.”

Liyana, Lord Cytharat’s sister, ran alongside him when he returned and offered a sparkle of hope to the group.

“I might be able to help find out where she is or whether she survived,” she said. “All I’d need is a personal item belonging only to her, something that holds meaning, that she would have bonded with.”

“What? How?” frowned Jenna.

“Psychometry. It’s a Force gift, difficult to explain,” Lord Cytharat replied. “Liyana’s spent years advancing her gift, ever since she was a small child. It could work.”

“Worth a shot.” Andronikos dusted off his jacket and wiped the blood from his swollen lip with his sleeve.

“I think she had every personal item she owns on her.” Jenna tried to think of something. “Her lightsabers, the necklace, her wedding rings…”

An idea tickled Me’ghan and she suggested, “What about the locket Marr gave her years ago?”

“Locket?” asked Praven.

“A family heirloom. It used to belong to Eliza’s grandmother and has a holograph inside it, one of her grandmother and Marr as children. She’s never let me see it out of respect for Marr but I know she has it.”

“That might do it.” Liyana smiled and she clasped her brother’s arm. “Will you let me try, please?”

“Of course. Guess you get to help us out after all.”

“It’s probably somewhere in her room,” Praven considered and frowned. “Are we really going to dig through her personal belongings?”

“Yes, we are,” Malavai declared and he stalked off, needing something to focus on now. Anything to do to keep himself standing and occupied.

Me’ghan swallowed hard and closed her eyes. “Cyara’s been asking for her mother every day, each time we call to check in on Selene… What are we—”

“Don’t tell her anything yet. In fact, we should keep this between just the few of us. If word gets out that Eliza’s missing or possibly dead…” Praven began.

“People might lose faith in the Alliance or make a grab for power,” Lord Cytharat nodded and agreed.

“I will brief Lana on the situation,” Jenna offered, “and we’ll work out an excuse for Eliza’s absence.”

“Make sure she monitors all forms of communication and news outlets for any information on Arcann as well. If Liyana cannot track Eliza then he’s our next biggest lead.”

“Hopefully she buried the bastard,” grumbled Andronikos before he too stalked off to take care of the fresh bruises on his face.

Bruises he tolerated only because he understood the Imperial’s anger. Bruises that would heal while the loss of family would forever leave a scar and it wasn’t as though he’d had an easy time leaving the Commander, Eliza, behind. One of the sh.ittier elements of the job and Sith always appeared to have a special knack for finding trouble.

An hour later, Lana’s voice echoed through the comms and across the datapads of all those stationed on Odessen, announcing the Commander’s temporary absence in favor of an undercover mission to secure new resources and weaponry. Lord Scourge scoffed at the lie.

He’d only just regained consciousness when the broadcast hit the base and angrily ripped the IV needle from his hand. He removed the oxygen mask from his face and tore the wired patches from his chest before he sat up straight and flung his legs over the side of the bed he’d laid in.

All he wanted was to stand and walk, find out just where the hell he was and what had happened on Nathema but his body refused. Before his toes ever touched the ground, he collapsed and fell from the bed, failing to even ball a fist in anger. Unable to find his voice so he could shout and it was only by the grace of high pitched alarm bells, ones he’d set off by unhooking the monitoring equipment, that Doc came running.

“Idiot,” Doc scolded him while he helped the Sith climb back into bed.

Lord Scourge grabbed him by the collar, gesturing best he could to demand answers.

“You’re on Odessen, a secret base we’ve been operating out of for months.”

The palm of Lord Scourge’s hand smacked against the back of Doc’s head and he groaned. He tore himself from the Sith’s grasp, something he wouldn’t have been able to do in the past and an act that further proved how weakened Lord Scourge actually was.

The Sith scanned the room and indicated at Theron’s kolto tank stood at the opposite end.

“Ah, yes. That’s… look, you’re not going to like this,” mumbled Doc.

In the split second of distraction, while Lord Scourge’s eyes were still on the kolto tank, Doc injected him with a mild sedative to keep him calm. He picked up his chart and checked his vitals while he explained the tragedies that had taken place on Nathema.

Howling anger echoed through the base of Odessen once he finished.

 


 

Long before her body ever woke, heavy tears readily flowed down Eliza’s cheeks. The peace of her deep slumber allowing for her emotions to release at last, no longer suppressed by her insistent denial, and she curled into a fetal position atop the bed she lay in. Her knees drawn up while she sobbed into her pillow and mourned, not knowing who or what she’d lost. Not knowing where she was or for how long she’d been gone from the world. Not knowing anything now.

Hidden in the shadows beyond her cell, Arcann observed Eliza and at the sound of her gentle weeping, he retreated. Questioning her could wait, at least for today.

 

Chapter Text

A faint rustling of the wind blowing through the leaves on the trees introduced a vision of the past. Slowly unwinding a vortex of fragmented scenes to form a single point of focus. A green meadow stretching on for miles until it clashed with the stone-wall border of a luxurious estate propped up high in the mountains.

“I see…” Liyana mused while she rode the waves of her vision.

“Two children laughing and play. The girl in a white cotton dress and she’s climbing a tree. She wants to go higher to overlook the city in the distance but the boy warns her it’s dangerous…

“A branch beneath her foot snaps and she falls but the boy… young and small but he knows the Force. He leaps up and catches her in time, then whisks her to the top of the tree and they sit together, the girl chattering with joy and him… Raegnar, her hero.”

A deep exhale escaped Liyana and the scene faded from her mind, returning her to the present.

“That sounds like Marr and Aurora… not Eliza,” sighed Me’ghan.

“I’m sorry. Perhaps this locket holds too many memories, had too many owners. I can’t pinpoint Eliza’s essence,” said Liyana while her thumb stroked the brass design.

“It’s alright, at least you tried,” Lord Cytharat tried to assure her and took the necklace, tucking it back into Eliza’s jewelry box.

“Maybe there’s something else in here…”

“My Lord, your gift,” Malavai turned to Liyana, “does it only work through objects?”

“Unfortunately. Finding a connection through blood relatives and living beings is too advanced for me.”

Malavai nodded and sunk back into his seat.

“What about this?” Me’ghan held up a blue kyber crystal. “It’s from her old lightsabers, the ones she wielded as a Jedi.”

“She hasn’t used those in years,” mumbled Malavai.

“No, but that’s perfect!” Liyana exclaimed. “Every Force user develops a personal bond with the weapon they forge and wield, her essence would be all over this!”

With the crystal in hand, she put some distance between herself and the group, to exclude their presence and focus solely on Eliza. She’d never met the woman but even just holding the piece of kyber, she felt Eliza’s life essence burning brightly. Tickling her senses and slowly overwhelming her mind.

A room came into view—a couple of square meters—nothing too fancy. Big enough to at least fit a single bed, a side table, and two comfortable chairs. A cabinet for personal belongings and at the back of the room was a second door but Liyana couldn’t see where that one led.

“She’s alive,” Liyana mused, loud enough for those sat away from her to hear.

“There are two men in white overcoats, doctors perhaps, escorting her into a room. Crisp white paint on the walls with sea-green borders. The room is sealed off by glass panels and a door that can only be unlocked from the outside via thumbprint.

“They’re placing her on a bed, she’s unconscious. One of them is fastening something hard and cold… mmm… a single cuff, around her ankle and…”

The journey ended abruptly and Liyana heaved, as though the air had just been knocked clean out of her.

“And?” urged Malavai.

“That’s it, I lost the connection. Something cut me off.”

“But she’s alive? You’re sure about that?” Me’ghan felt the birth of hope inside of her.

“Positive.”

Lord Cytharat’s cautious smile grew into a full grin. “Where do we find her?”

“I don’t know. The room it… I suspect it’s a prison cell, just not as dank as the ones you have here,” said Liyana. “No offense.”

“Well, if she was captured then it’s likely Arcann who has her locked up somewhere, right?”

“Has to be but where? Did he escape Nathema or was there more to that complex than they discovered?” asked Malavai and he got up rapidly.

“I’m going to find Andronikos or Jenna, perhaps they can shed more light on this.”

“Wait! If it was Nathema then, I wouldn’t be able to reach her, right? Given the planet’s state?” Liyana considered.

“Perhaps not but they did say Eliza had her powers there, the rules might not apply to her,” her brother corrected.

“What about Senya? She’d know whether they have those type of prison cells in the Spire, right?” suggested Me’ghan.

“She would but, let’s check with the others first. We can’t ask Senya without explaining to her what happened on Nathema and telling her…” Lord Cytharat shook his head.

“That her son might be dead. Right. Okay, Jenna and Andronikos first, and perhaps Scourge once he’s… I don’t know, better, in a way,” she agreed.

 


 

“And how is my favorite patient feeling today?” Doc tried in a sing-songy tone when he approached Lord Scourge’s bedside.

“Same as yesterday, same as tomorrow—not.”

Doc’s face dropped.

Three days had passed since Lord Scourge had awoken on Odessen and in that time, the Sith had grown only further devoid of emotion and sentiment. The initial rage he’d shown toward the incidents on Nathema had faded fast, replaced by emptiness instead.

“Have you tried your breakfast yet?”

Lord Scourge gave him a pointed look and slowly lifted the stainless steel dome off his serving tray, presenting the meal he’d left untouched.

“Ah, I see. Why not?” asked Doc.

“You’re a terrible physician if you even need to ask.”

“You still believe you’re dying so, what’s the point of eating anything?”

“Correct.”

“Jarak kept many records of his studies and trials. Recorded voice logs, written journals, countless dossiers and all in the universal language of science.”

“And?”

“I just mean… ach, nevermind.”

What Doc wouldn’t give for just one snarl, one venomous barb or the threat of the Sith’s fist. He sighed and hung his head down, picking up Lord Scourge’s chart to note down his current condition—unchanged.

“Is there any news on your Commander?” Lord Scourge asked, his tone flat.

“Damnit!” Doc slammed the chart down. “Her name is Eliza. Your wife, Eliza!”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“No, there is no news. We know she is alive but not where…” He paused and considered.

“Unless you know of any holding cells in that building on Nathema? Other areas? Fancy, modern, white and sea-green paint on the walls? Glass panels and doors?”

“No. The cells on Nathema were small, dark, and the walls covered in blood spatter and piss stains.”

Doc’s nose crinkled. “Sounds unpleasant.”

“You have no other leads?”

“None. Zakuul would be the next most logical place. The others are discussing their options to mount a rescue but without knowing for sure…”

Lord Scourge nodded and indicated at the kolto tank stood on the far side of the medical bay. “And him?”

“He’s… fighting and has a long road ahead of him. Stable but it’s still very touch and go.” Doc glanced at an unconscious Theron suspended in kolto.

“Did she do as I told her to?”

The repeated change of subject left Doc partially confused. As though Lord Scourge was crossing off topics on his list during a business meeting without a single care for detail and further elaboration.

“Huh?”

“Did she move on?”

“Oh, uhm…”

“With him?” Lord Scourge once more pointed in Theron’s direction.

“You know, it’s not really my place to—”

“That means yes. Good.”

Good?!”

Who was this stranger sitting before him?

Even as he witnessed it, he found it unfathomable just how much Lord Scourge had changed. How far removed he was from the man he used to be, to the point where he barely even resembled the Sith he’d met on Quesh. A Sith who, even through his suffering, had always been fiercely passionate and protective where Eliza was concerned, long before he gained the ability to love her.

Lord Scourge said nothing further, merely rolling onto his side in a dismissive gesture and frustrated, Doc stalked off. He had work to do, a lot of it and preferably fast if he was going to restore the Sith to his former glory.

 


 

A deep well of molten gold, shining bright yet tainted by the crimson veins crackling through its center and surrounding the outer ring of his iris—of the one good eye he had left. A composition not too uncommon for those who’d trespassed on the Dark side and were marked by its corruption.

On the other side of his face, a cybernetic mask lined with a leatheris material, hiding his disfigurement. Covering up the mouthpiece that gave his voice the mechanical twang she’d come to loathe so strongly.

Eliza didn’t need to look at him to know the face of the man who’d come to observe her for the umpteenth time that week. His image was seared into her mind and never failed to amplify her hatred of him.

“Every night you appear looking for answers, and every night you’re met with my silence. What makes you think that’ll ever change?” she said on the fifth day when he came to see her again.

“You’re speaking now,” retorted Arcann. The door to her cell slid open with a hiss and he allowed himself entry.

“That was all you’re going to get, too. You should have saved yourself the trouble and stuck me in carbonite.”

“I couldn’t, you’re pregnant.”

Eliza finally glanced his way while she propped herself up on her elbows against the mattress. “Bullshit.”

“So, you didn’t know,” he deduced.

While her cell was roomier than the kind she’d kept her own prisoners in on Odessen, and offered two comfortable chairs, Arcann made no effort to sit. Instead circling the center of her cell with his hands clasped behind his back.

“I’m not pregnant and even if I were, do you expect me to believe you’d give a damn about me or my unborn child? How many expectant mothers were killed when you assaulted those five planets, huh? Care to wager a guess?”

His feet froze mid-step and he looked away. His jaw clenched. “They were traitors to Zakuul.”

“They were innocent people—my people!”

“Your Empress failed to live up to our agreement and spied on my dealings in the Spire. An example had to be made.”

“Acina was not my Empress and she had no idea about the spy equipment planted there! I gave those orders, few people knew!”

Arcann spun on his heel and growled his accusation, “Then those untold deaths are on you!”

Without wasting another word he strode off, escaping her cell before she could retaliate. Before she could see the tinge of remorse in his eye.

“Bastard!” Eliza hissed long after he’d gone and sunk back into the bedding. “Pregnant. As if I wouldn’t have—”

Flashbacks to the recent weeks suddenly invaded her mind and she jolted up straight in bed, palming her forehead.

Her nausea and constant fatigue, the way she’d picked up on, and often got sick over, any scent that reached her nostrils and then there’d been the tenderness of her breasts and occasional mood swings. All classic signs she’d dismissed entirely because her first pregnancy had come so easy and free of the more common symptoms. Because she’d been so wrapped up in her concerns toward everything else and had refused pay even an ounce of attention to herself.

She rushed for the glass panel that sealed off her cell and pounded a fist against the material. “How far along am I?!”

No reply came and the unwelcome face who’d delivered the news was long gone.

‘It has to be less than seven weeks, it has to. Please.’

The image of Theron she held in her mind, that she’d prayed to each night hoping for his survival, slowly deformed until she found herself staring into Ravage’s eyes instead. His lips curled into a devious smile as though he’d won after all and she immediately felt sick to her stomach.

“I’ll rip it out myself if it’s yours,” she spat at the figment of her own imagination.

‘But it could be Theron’s…’

She slid down to the floor, hunched by the glass panel with her knees drawn up high and she sighed.

‘You have to survive, please, Theron, I wish you were here. I need you, I love you so much and if this is true… I can’t raise another child without its father.’

The thoughts were accompanied by a painful reminder of Lord Scourge and the suffering he endured. That he may still endure now if he’d even survived the trip and Eliza closed her eyes while her tears flowed anew. Her mind conjuring up fresh demons.

Horrifying visions invaded her with ease. They found her standing by two graves, holding a toddler by the hand and a baby on her arm as the children’s respective fathers lay buried in their coffins. Raising another child alone. Watching her unborn child grow up to be the spitting image of Ravage—it was all too much.

She needed answers and an escape and once more her fist pounded the glass, screaming, “Arcann!”

For hours on end, she called his name, yelling, shouting until eventually, exhaustion swept her away and she slept on the floor of her cell.

Arcann never visited her again the next day or the one following and despite her situation, she welcomed the reprieve. Slowly coming to accept her pregnancy even while the ‘whose is it’ of it all continued to plague not only her waking moments but her dreams. Resting in bed and spending her time trying to come up with ways of returning home while occasionally fleeing to the refresher adjacent to her cell as her nausea continued.

The cuff around her ankle had grown heavier too, or perhaps it merely seemed that way because she resented the device so much. It left her cut off from the Force, just the same as Ravage had been when she’d had him in lockup and she grimaced bitterly at the irony.

How he would have delighted to see her like this now.

 

Chapter Text

“I’ve had her here for over a week but still I don’t have my answers,” grumbled Arcann while he paced the steps leading up to his throne.

The two Knights who guarded the sanctum turned their helmets toward each other, confused and wondering whether he expected them to respond.

“Why does she have to be so stubborn and difficult? Why is she so…”

“Perhaps torture would speed up the process?” offered one of the Knights.

“No! Maybe. I don’t know,” Arcann snapped.

‘Or I could choke my father out of her, force him to answer me,’ he entertained the thought briefly and spun around to his guards.

“And I wasn’t asking either of you! Dismissed!”

The last thing he needed now was for his Knights to witness him waver. To hear the doubt in his voice and watch his indecisiveness. If word got out then his Empire would crumble and he would lose the respect of those who served him. Some already doubted him, he knew.

People had turned against him when he’d ordered the Scions killed and several Knights had refused the orders then fled. Others now questioned, in their own minds and never to his face, why he held the Outlander prisoner rather than execute her for his sister’s murder.

‘We would have fared better under Thexan’s rule,’ were words he’d heard once or twice as well. A reporter had even had the nerve to pose it as a suggestion to the people of Zakuul during a live broadcast. Arcann had her killed for it the second she went off the air.

“But Thexan would have known what to do with this,” he muttered to himself and took a sharp turn.

His quick stride led him away from the throne and to the elevators where he made his descent to the new prison cells he’d had his workers build recently, directly underneath the Spire. He turned the hallways and dismissed everyone from their post—he needed no witnesses nor did he need protection.

“Up!” His knuckles rapped against the glass of Eliza’s cell but she made no effort to move from the comfort of her bed, not even when he stepped inside.

She sucked her teeth and without bothering to look, keeping a steely gaze on the ceiling instead, she drawled, “Well well, looks who’s back for round two. Can’t say I’ve missed you.”

“I saw the security footage, I know you were calling for me after I left the other night. Shouting my name, asking how far along you were, were you not?”

“So what?”

“I thought I might offer you a deal.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I will have my private physician examine you, answer any questions you have about your condition.”

Eliza rolled onto her side and propped her chin up on the back of her hand. “And in exchange?”

“You answer my questions about my father and your bond with him.”

Arcann’s hands clasped behind his back and he waited. This is what Thexan would do, he figured. A show of kindness to compel cooperation from the enemy and perhaps this way, he’d achieve more than he would by using brute force though he remained prepared to resort to the latter—even as he realized she would sooner die than break to a show of violence.

“Alright, fine,” she decided after a hot minute of considering her options.

Unwilling to show him just how desperate she was for answers of her own—he’d only take advantage of it quite as he was now and she had no interest in him driving the bargaining price up higher.

A curt nod followed and Arcann disappeared for no more than five minutes before he returned with a physician in tow. An older man, bowing an awful lot in the presence of his Emperor. Streaks of silver locks woven through his dark brown hair and he had a mustache that half reminded Eliza of Doc.

“Well, let’s see then Miss,” he tried with kind eyes and pulled up a chair at her bedside. “Please, lie back and relax.”

Eliza did as instructed and straightened out in bed. Chewing on the inside of her bottom lip while she went to lift her shirt up, fully expecting a sonogram of sorts and prompting Arcann to turn away immediately, averting his eyes.

“Oh no, Miss, that’s not necessary. We have the latest technology here, our mediscans pick up on everything through any material with just a few clicks. A real time saver in case of combat injuries. Now, let’s see…”

Her fingers nervously drummed against the mattress while she recited a desperate prayer to herself, ‘Please no more than six, seven weeks.’

Silence thickened the air in her cell and minutes passed by like hours until the physician finally spoke again.

“Healthy as can be, though, I’d like to prescribe you some vitamins if you would like?”

She glanced past his shoulder at Arcann but he had his back turned still and Eliza nodded. “How far along am I, please?”

“Four weeks and five days exactly.”

“Oh thank the stars!” she sighed out with great relief. ‘Fuck you, Ravage, enjoy your losing streak.’

A small chuckle escaped the physician when he noticed her sudden joy and he patted her knee.

“It’s too early to tell the gender but, with my Lord Emperor’s permission, I will return in a few weeks to check on you,” he said but then considered, “Should you still be here then…”

“That’s fine,” said Arcann and he finally turned back around. “Are you finished?”

“Yes, Emperor Arcann. Except…” the physician hesitated and bowed his head once more.

“Well?”

“The cuff around her ankle is on too tight, it’s interfering with her circulation.”

“I will fix it. Dismissed.”

“Of course, my Lord.” The older man made a hasty exit, only barely catching the word of gratitude Eliza shouted after him while she sat back up.

“Alright, your turn,” she told Arcann, remembering their deal.

He took the chair the physician sat in earlier and reached down, taking her calf in his good hand to lift her foot onto his lap. With a few simple clicks of the controller he carried on him, he extended the width of the cuff around her ankle so it sat loosely, yet not wide enough to slip off over her heel and foot.

“Thanks…” Eliza frowned.

“My father, start talking. I want to know all of it, anything you know,” he demanded and put her foot back down.

“All of it, huh?” She hung back and curled her legs up underneath herself. “Alright.

“Millennia ago, on a planet far, far away and now known as Nathema, a very cruel little boy was—”

Arcann held his hand up to stop her. “Not that. Not right now. Your bond with him, why he chose you, how it works.”

“Our bond? Pff… fate, destiny, and a very complicated bloodline. A gift from the Force,” she began telling.

Careful not to give away too much, only those parts needing to be shared in order for her story to make sense but she kept quiet about the things he could use against her. Mainly the price of using her gift and its ineffectiveness against him. She also chose to withhold what she’d learned about the holocron and her only way of ridding herself of Vitiate—that wasn’t any of his business.

“... he used his manipulation of the Force to withdraw into Kira’s body after she killed him. When I freed her from the carbonite and we connected, your father used that connection to transfer his essence into me. He spent years keeping her alive just long enough for me to find her.”

A low rumble came from behind Arcann’s mask and he frowned in thought. “How does he do it?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Can he hear you now? Can he hear us discussing this? Is he present?”

“No,” Eliza shook her head and tapped against her ankle cuff. “I suspect this thing is keeping him at bay.”

“But what about Nathema? I know he was there.”

“He was, I don’t understand how. I believe the planet doesn’t affect him the way it does others due to his bond with that place but I can’t say for sure.”

“And he protected you? That’s why you were unharmed after the explosion?”

“I think so, yes, unless I’ve grown impervious not only to fire but to collapsing buildings, which I doubt.”

The answers gave Arcann much food for thought and he fell silent while Eliza laid back down, an idle hand caressing her tummy and for just a moment, she smiled.

‘A straight shooter through and through, Shan,’ she thought to herself but then frowned as well. Remembering what had happened to the man she loved, whose child she now carried and she glanced at her jailer sat in silence.

“Why did you try to kill him?”

“Who?”

“Theron.”

Arcann gave her a blank stare and followed it through with a shrug. “I wanted to get to you, he was in my way.”

“Is violence your answer to everything?”

“Isn’t it yours?”

Eliza pursed her lips and turned to gaze back up at the ceiling.

“We were tricked, you know,” she said after minutes passed where both were lost in deep thought.

“Hm?”

“Your father. He used the bond he has with you to lure you to Nathema, knowing I was headed there. I don’t know specifically how—”

“I received a warning in a dream, recurrent, that you were traveling there to find your partner. It felt so vivid and real my gut told me it was true and encouraged me to find you,” Arcann provided a piece to the puzzle.

“That explains it. He used my fears to propel me into action, knowing I was more concerned about Scourge than I was focused on confronting you.”

“He’s after me, then, just as I suspected. Just as you are,” he deduced and slunk back in his seat, a deep sigh reverberating inside his mask.

“Can you blame me? You and your brother attacked Korriban, you started this war. Your father killed my mentor, my great uncle. Imprisoned my husband who you then kept around as your own little scientific research project while you laid siege to both the Empire, the Republic and terrorized your own people.”

“Do not speak of my brother!” Arcann shot up and held a pointed finger to her face—clearly, she’d touched a nerve. “Do you think I asked for any of this?”

Eliza barely even flinched at his sudden outburst and rolled her head to the side, refusing to look at him.

“All I ever wanted was to make my father proud! To achieve everything he wanted me to achieve but it was never good enough! I wasn’t worthy of his attention, of a single word of praise or even being acknowledged!” he spat while he carried on.

“I faced his challenges and went out on the battlefield! Returning from your worlds, from Korriban, bringing him trophies and proof of our victory and did he care? No! He wouldn’t even look at me while I sat there, the burns on my body still fresh. After losing an arm for his conquest!”

“So fucking what?!” Eliza sneered and now jumped up to face him. “You had a shoddy childhood and a crappy father, and?!

“My father was killed before I was ever born. My mother kidnapped me when I was three years old, tore our family apart and fled the Empire to dump me with the Jedi after which she returned to our old home, got herself arrested and hung herself! I never even had parents but do you see me stomping around punishing the entire galaxy for my shitty upbringing?!”

She ached with the rising urge to punch him. “But no, let’s all give a big boo-hoo for the poor Emperor of Zak—”

Arcann wasn’t half as self contained and struck her across the face with his cybergenetic hand, drawing blood from her lip.

“If you never had parents then you don’t know what it’s like to face their constant rejection!” he barked in anger and though his hand rose to strike her a second time, it wavered in the air instead before he lowered his arm back down.

The pain brought tears to her eyes but she bit them back and argued, “And if you think I don’t understand constant rejection, not being good enough, being denied the love and warmth, the pride of a parent then you’ve not done your research on the Jedi!”

Quiet hatred filled up the space between the two adversaries. Both stood challenging each other only through body language while time ticked the minutes away. Eliza’s palms twitching and desperate for her confiscated weapons while Arcann fought nature and instinct to stop himself making any rash decisions. They’d gotten him nowhere so far, only into greater turmoil, and he’d slowly come to realize the woman before him required a different approach.

Finally, he stepped back and retrieved an unused napkin from her nightstand. He offered it to her but Eliza just slapped his hand aside.

“You’ll never be good enough for him, quit trying, you no longer need his approval anyway. This is your Empire now, your rule, not his. You don’t have to—” she started quietly but soon found herself interrupted.

“But I do. I do have to carry out what he set in motion. My brother and I started this war at his command, years ago and when I seized the throne, I couldn’t just walk away from that. Your Empire and Republic would have retaliated, you already did by invading Wild Space to find us. I had to make a stand.”

“You could have placed the blame on your dead father and sent a peace offering, aid to make up for the assaults. There’s always another way.”

‘There is always another way…’ The words echoed in his ears but it wasn’t her voice he heard.

The phrase rippled through him bringing a peculiar, calming effect and Arcann slowly sunk back down into his seat. Before he could even decide whether he wanted to share anything further or not, his mouth had begun to spill already.

“My brother used to say the exact same thing whenever I’d react impulsively,” he admitted in truth.

In fact, it had been those words running through his mind a week earlier that had compelled him to spare Eliza and her unborn child from a carbonite prison.

“He sounds like a wise man.”

“He was and I loved him. I looked up to him even after he betrayed me.”

“What happened?” asked Eliza while she picked the napkin up and finally used it to dab at her bloody lip.

“After we returned from our victory on the battlefield and my father still failed to do as much as acknowledge my presence I… I became so furious, unlike I’d ever been. I wanted to kill him, felt my blood boil and moved in to strike but Thexan stopped me.

“He came between us to protect our father, to fight me and…”

It was too difficult to finish that sentence and the words hung in the back of his throat like a knife. A hint of pain reflected in his eye and Eliza decided not to ask.

“We used to be so close. He always had my back and he always built me up. If I struggled with training, Thexan would wake me at night and we’d practice in secret out in the gardens. He’d speak to father not of his own accomplishments but mine, insisting I was every bit his equal even when I wasn’t. He was my brother and my best friend.”

Emotion dominated his voice but Arcann caught himself before he could give in to any further sentiment. He rose up from his seat and strode toward the door of her cell, ready to leave and questioning why he would even tell her any of this in the first place.

“We’ll talk more tomorrow,” he informed her with a sudden brusqueness.

“Arcann…” Eliza almost grabbed his arm to stop him but then took a step back and let her hand fall to her side.

‘Don’t forget who he is and what he’s done. His personal tragedies do not excuse his crimes,’ she reminded herself and swallowed back the words of comfort she’d intended to express.

“Yes, tomorrow,” she said coolly.

His exit was swift and once he had left, Eliza scolded her own bleeding heart. It always tempted her to care more than she should, to help even those who didn’t deserve it and it had almost led her to show kindness to a man wholly unworthy of it.

She slunk into the bathroom adjacent to her cell and treated her swollen lip with ice cold water while her mind worked to digest every second of her interactions with Arcann.

Why care about her unborn child? Why provide pregnancy vitamins and loosen the cuff around her ankle, and then slap her moments later? Why rage and yell at her one minute, then share something so personal and painful, only to shut down again and walk away?

“Boy’s got issues, that’s for damn sure,” she muttered to herself.

‘But I could use this…’ she realized and washed her hands while contemplating any and all means to extract herself from her situation and return home to those she loved.

 

Chapter Text

Countless journals, high piles of private notes, research papers, and printed scans cluttered Doc’s desk and blocked him from casting even the smallest glance at the man assisting him with his work. The strange Imperial he’d heard plenty about but never met until a week ago and the only man on Odessen even half qualified enough to understand the research that sat before them.

“This is highly advanced,” mumbled Malavai and he flipped yet another page relaying Jarak’s private thoughts.

“And you’re certain none of this involved Sith alchemy?”

Doc nodded. “Fortunately because that’s one area of expertise I never mastered.”

He got up to grab himself another caf and refill the kettle for Malavai’s tea. “I have some ideas but it’ll take work and time, not to mention cooperation which he is less inclined to give.”

Through the window separating Doc’s office from the medical wing, they could see Lord Scourge sat up in bed. Staring off into the distance with a vacant expression, not a hint of life to be read in his body language and yet they knew it was there.

“I assume you’ve had no luck changing his mind?” Malavai idly dunked a bag of Alderaanian Nectar tea in his cup of hot water. Putting his research aside in favor of delighting in the aromas that reached his nostrils.

“None at all. I convinced him to at least stay here on Odessen until Eliza’s return which is the only reason he hasn’t bolted from his bed yet.”

“And you think it is safe to keep him and Agent Shan in the same room?”

“Were the situation different, no, but he doesn’t seem to care now. In fact, he figured out quickly that Eliza and Theron are an item and said it was good. Like he was pleased, for as much as someone in his condition can be pleased.”

That snippet of information caused Malavai to frown. “Truly?”

“Yep. He even referred to her as Commander rather than use her name. At first, I thought perhaps it was self-preservation, distancing himself from her just in case but… his tone lacked even the smallest hint of affection.”

With his caf clasped firmly between his hands, Doc approached the window and observed the Sith. “I knew him back when he was immortal but it was never like this then.”

“But he’s not immortal now, is he? He’s dying?”

“Yes. Between everything the Sith Emperor put him through originally and all the varying mixtures and formulas Jarak injected into his body over the years, his cell structure has begun to break down rapidly.”

“Mm.” Malavai sipped his tea and considered, “Perhaps an odd question but, could anything the Emperor did to him originally have affected his DNA in such a way he’d pass those changes on to his children?”

“Cyara…” Doc’s brows furrowed. “I’m unsure. We ran a multitude of tests after he’d been cured and found no remaining traces, at least not physical ones, save for his accelerated healing properties. She could have inherited those.”

“Something to make note of for Eliza.”

“Has there been any news?” Doc asked while he knew better.

“No. No one has heard a word about Arcann and while we decided to consult Senya, she claims no such prison cells exist in the Spire. Theirs are fully sealed off with dark grey and red color schemes, just a few levels above the sewers.”

“How did she react when you told her?”

“Calmer than we’d expected. Calmer than I did though she did express concern for the both of them. Arcann and Eliza. I don’t think she’s quite certain who she’s rooting for most.”

Malavai put his tea down and reached for Doc’s own notes. “What are your plans for treatment?”

“There are a number of options,” said Doc.

“Jarak was so obsessed with his formulas, science and creating the impossible that he never considered alternative, and more regular, means.”

“Such as?”

“Cellular reconstruction, DNA repair, blood fractionation. A combination of all the above, for starters.”

“Those could work?”

“In theory. Whether it’ll help him remains to be seen and while this could repair his body, the mind is a whole other matter. I can’t guarantee any of this would restore his emotional levels. The mind, body, and our emotions share a complicated relationship.”

“We should try regardless. Saving his life takes priority.”

“It’s going to be hard work, long nights, a lot of trial and error. You sure you’re up for this?”

Malavai quirked a brow and the corner of his mouth inched up, just a little, into a smirk. “You don’t know me well so I’ll forgive you for even asking.”

Truth was, aside from being more than capable, he welcomed the task at hand. He couldn’t handle further hours speculating where Eliza might be and whether she would find her own way home somehow. If she’d been captured by Arcann or if another had somehow found her. His heart couldn’t take it so he set his sights elsewhere.

Whilst they got to work, Lord Scourge quietly snuck from bed. Weak on his feet and struggling to keep himself standing but he refused to make use of the wheelchair parked by his bedside. He’d sooner kick the darned thing over.

Stumbling without falling, he made his way over to Theron’s kolto tank and rested his forehead against the glass, releasing a deep sigh.

“There was a time where my palms ached at the thought or mention of you, Spy boy, and I would have delighted to snap your neck myself,” he spoke with a low grumble.

“When Marr sent me to locate Nathema all those years ago, I considered finding you first. Ending you. She’d mourn but she’d move on, I decided, and perhaps she would have but that is no way to keep someone’s heart.”

The long nail of his index finger scratched across the glass with a nauseating sound while Lord Scourge strained to keep himself standing.

“But you hold her heart now and so you must fight. Like I did. Even when my love for her became nothing more than a distant memory, long after I lost the ability to feel it warm in my chest, I kept fighting and now it is your turn.”

His body simply weighed too heavily and Lord Scourge was forced to sit down in the empty seat next to the kolto tank.

“When I am assured she has reached her destiny, that she has destroyed Arcann and his father, it’ll be my curtain fall. I’ve lived a life too long or perhaps too many lives at once…” he contemplated in a rather one-sided dialogue.

“It’ll be up to you, then. To keep her safe, to care for her. To love her like only… only you and I ever have. You would die for her, I saw it on Yavin and I know it now. Don’t ever fail her as I have, Spy Boy.”

He couldn’t see it, his head turned away to cast his gaze at the soft yellow floor beneath his feet but for a split second, Theron’s pinky finger twitched.

“And my daughter...

“I know I would love her if I were still capable of such a thing but I can’t feel it now. I can’t even feel my heart break at the absence of my ability to love her but you could. If you ever felt the care to grant me one favor, a way to make right the trouble you’ve caused us in the past then it is this—love my daughter as you would your own and raise her right.”

His eyes drift shut and his head lolled to the side, resting against the encasing of Theron’s kolto tank while he nodded off, mumbling, “Wake up, Spy Boy…”

 

 

“Are you kiddin’ me?!” barked Jonas in a whisper when he stormed into Doc’s office hours later after observing the medical bay.

“Huh?” mumbled Doc while he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“That!” Jonas pointed at Lord Scourge sat by Theron’s tank. “You do remember last they were in the same room together they tried to kill each other, right?!”

Malavai glanced up from his work and looked over his shoulder. “Doesn’t look like anything’s going on.”

“Help me move him!” hissed Jonas.

With some difficulty, he and Malavai hoisted Lord Scourge from the chair he’d fallen asleep in and carried him back to bed but Jonas didn’t stick around to get the Sith settled in properly. He rushed to his best friend’s side and snatched the medical readout from Doc’s hand.

“Did he do anything to him, has anything changed?!”

“Dunno.” Doc folded his arms and gave the man a pointed look. “Someone just ripped the latest statistics from my hands.”

A heavy sigh escaped Jonas.

It wasn’t all that long ago his best friend had been in a similar situation—on the cusp of death following the shuttle crash on Rishi and he hadn’t known about it then. He hadn’t been there for him but now he could be and while everyone was convinced that Lord Scourge posed no threat, Jonas felt uneasy. Everything made him uneasy—there had just been too much to deal with in such a short amount of time.

He handed the printed sheet back over and muttered, “Sorry.”

“Hey, I get it, he’s the only family you’ve got huh?”

“Aside from my wife, yeah. Couldn’t have asked for a better brother and sure as hell didn’t deserve one but, yeah.”

Doc clapped his shoulder and gave a slight smile. “He’s alright, nothing’s…”

“What?”

“Sorry, it’s not anything to be concerned about, in fact, it’s good. I’m getting an increase in brain activity and his vitals have improved for the first time in days.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that if he keeps this up we’ll be able to move him to a bed soon and start waking him up.”

“Fuck’s sake,” Jonas hung his head down but it was an expression of relief, the first good news he’d gotten since the group’s return from Nathema.

“Gotta stop scaring me like this buddy,” he turned toward his best friend and he’d hug the kolto tank if his arms were big enough. “I know you like your occasional adrenaline rush but the whole almost dying sh.it is getting old.”

Doc grinned. “I think it’s safe to say he’s out of immediate danger now.”

“Good.”

“I heard Lana went looking for his mother, said she’d been on Odessen recently?”

“She did but the bitch is long gone now which is just typical,” grumbled Jonas. “You know, you’d be tempted to think he could use her help and support right about now but honestly? He’s probably better off with her somewhere far away.”

 


 

Voluptuous hips swayed as though she walked to the beat of a piece of music only she could hear while she entered his private chambers. Long, auburn brown locks danced around her face and peridot green eyes twinkled with delight. Arcann met her smile and then her lips, brushing the good side of his neck. His fingers wove into her hair while she wasted no time to reach down and run a hand over his groin, eager to stir his arousal.

She was always eager and who wouldn’t be? Plenty of women on Zakuul, most of them socialites like Sandrine in his arms right now, had no problem overlooking any deformities in order to be at the Emperor’s side or rather, in his bed with the hope one day they’d wear the title of consort. Royalty did have its perks.

“I’m glad you called,” she purred and nibbled his earlobe. “It’s been too long and I started to worry.”

Sandrine urged him toward the bed, deep blue satin sheets already awaiting the pair and she began tugging on his multi-layered robes, desperate to bare the small parts of his chest he’d allow her to touch and see.

She knew exactly what he wanted—a simple blowjob and a quick fuck, maybe two, no questions asked and no idle conversation—and she was more than happy to provide it. Had been ever since she’d first met him years ago at a memorial to commemorate the death of their Immortal Emperor.

‘Worry?’ Arcann thought to himself and frowned at how strange that word sounded.

He knew why she was there and why she came running each time he called and worry wasn’t part of the equation. He didn’t require her to show concern, that wasn’t what these arrangements were about and he preferred it that way though now, the word gave him pause.

“You were, worried? About me?”

“Why of course, my sweet, sweet Emperor,” Sandrine sighed out against his neck, her lips caressing his skin while she straddled him.

A hint of a smile formed on his face, a rare occurrence. People never worried about him and while it remained an odd sensation to him, there was something pleasant about it as well.

“Arcann. Use my name.”

“Mmm, my sweet Arcann.”

“I’ve been busy,” he told her to his own surprise. “Dealing with threats against our Empire, protecting—”

“Shh, it’s okay baby, we don’t have to discuss these things hmm?” She silenced him with a kiss right on the edge of his mask. “Just let me take care of you now.”

‘Oh… of course…’

Why did it even bother him that she didn’t want to hear about his life? He’d set those ground rules himself and he’d never been interested in just a conversation but now it suddenly mattered to him? Why was there this new weight on his heart urging him to forge a connection and share everything that troubled him?

The glittering halter top she’d worn fell away when Sandrine undid the strings tied on her back and exposed her breasts. Two supple mounds, larger than one would expect of a woman with her petite frame, and she took Arcann’s hands to guide his touch.

“Why were you worried?” he asked even while his thumbs rubbed over her perky, dark nipples.

“I heard a rumor you’d hooked up with that blonde at the Afterlight club, Vareesha? It would just about break my heart losing you to that tramp,” Sandrine said with a pout while gyrating her hips across his groin to coax his arousal further.

‘Idiot!’ Arcann scolded himself. Of course that was where her concerns would lie, with her own future at his side and the risk of being replaced but she had not an ounce of care for the man himself.

In the blink of an eye, he grabbed her by the hips and flipped her over, tossing her aside while he rose from the bed and turned away. “Get out!”

“What…? Arcann, did I—”

“I said get out! NOW!” He bellowed a second time and threw the top she’d worn in her face. “Now or I will have my guards escort you to the lower levels of our prison instead!”

Bewildered and quite frankly, terrified now, Sandrine gathered up her clothes and fled his chambers, her cheeks burning with shame. A glass, thrown by Arcann, shattered against the door just as it slammed shut and the socialite made a vow to never return.

“Stupid bitch,” he hissed in anger while he readjusted his robes and belt.

‘No, I’m the stupid one for thinking anyone would care. Why the hell does that even matter now?’

His father never had and his mother? Not since he’d fallen, busted his lip and scraped his knee as a child. Since he’d sat on her lap crying endless and dramatic tears, showing weakness, a thing his father had punished him for later that same day.

‘Thexan used to care…’

His brother had been the last person in his life to ever listen and let him air all those things weighing on his heart and mind. Always prepared to offer his advice and support and he missed that now. Everyone was either dead or they’d abandoned him and Arcann couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually enjoyed a decent conversation. Except…

‘The Outlander.’

She’d listened to him today even if she was argumentative, confrontational and stubborn—she’d listened. In fact, he’d been certain there’d been more she had wanted to say as he left but something held her back. Arcann scoffed and turned on the security monitors to watch Eliza asleep in her cell. His own enemy, the woman who’d be his undoing if she had half a chance, had paid more attention to him today than anyone else had in years.

He spent an hour or more observing as she tossed and turned and he recalled their conversation. Replaying what he’d shared with her about his brother and his family thus far and it as he did so, it suddenly struck him like lightning. The very reason for his inner turmoil, his little doubts and the change in his own behavior.

Thexan—the missing part of him. His twin brother and the core of balance who’d always kept them both grounded. Their twin bond torn apart leaving Arcann incomplete, in a permanent state of anger with emotions he didn’t know how to handle and he hadn’t been the same since that day. The weight of his loss amplified after the fall of Vaylin, his last remaining connection to his family, making him aware of the emptiness in his life and the solitude that surrounded him. The pain that haunted him still.

 

Chapter Text

“Yesterday as I left, you were about to say something, weren’t you?” The words escaped Arcann before he’d even fully well entered her cell.

“Why, hello to you too, Emperor Charming.” Eliza’s voice dripped heavy with sarcasm. “Oh yes, I’m great in my own little deluxe suite here, thank you ever so much for asking.”

Arcann gritted his teeth and groaned internally—why was it so hard for her to just do what he wanted and answer his questions?

“Weren’t you?” he asked a second time and sat down across from her at the small table.

“Yes, I was, what of it?”

“I’d like to know what you were going to say.”

‘That you’re a jackass and I’d love to sever your head from your body,’ Eliza considered but that wasn’t quite the truth.

She remembered her thoughts and words well, what she had purposely neglected to say but she was also reminded of her considerations afterwards. That her bleeding heart, her ability to show care, kindness and compassion might just be her ticket out of this hell hole.

“You may not like it. Are you gonna hit me again if that’s the case?”

“No.” His voice lowered an octave or two, almost with shame and he looked away. “I’m, sorry, about that.”

“Hrm.” Eliza raised a brow and sat back in her seat, breathing out a deep exhale.

“Your brother, Thexan.”

Arcann glanced back up to meet her eyes. “Yes?”

“With everything you told me about your bond, about growing up together, how much you meant to him, how good he was to you… I, can’t help but feel like perhaps you were wrong, about him.”

“Wrong? No! Thexan was the better one out of us both!”

“No, not that part, that I believe. It’s the part about him protecting your father that I’m not too convinced on.”

“How do you mean? That’s exactly what happened, or are you calling me a liar?!” His temper was on the rise and Eliza rolled her eyes.

“No, I’m not, but I do think you got the wrong impression out of your brother’s actions. He wasn’t protecting your father, he was protecting you.”

“Me?” Arcann gave her an incredulous look. “By standing against me?”

“First, the obvious—your father's powers are unparalleled, he would have killed you. And, second, by preventing you from doing something that would haunt you for the rest of your life,” Eliza corrected and she got up.

“It wouldn’t have—”

She spun back around and confronted, “Do you think it’s easy to kill?”

Scoffing, he turned his gaze to the blank wall. “You’ve accused me of mass murder before, what do you think?”

“No. Nameless faces on strange planets, an errand Knight or even my partner, it’s not the same. I’m talking about killing someone you know. Someone who’s been such a massive part of your life, someone you love even if it comes with equal measures of hatred.”

A shiver rolled along Arcann’s spine and he closed his eyes. He knew exactly what it was like to kill a loved one, but Eliza carried on.

“It leaves a mark on you, one you’ll never be able to shake. Even if killing them was the right thing to do, like with your father, it changes nothing. Your hatred, your pain, all the memories, they’ll all still be there except now…”

A heavy sigh escaped her lips and she hugged her arms around herself, clutching her elbows. “Now you have the added memory of watching life fade from their eyes, feeling their heartbeat ebb away until nothing’s left except their blood on your hands and… it changes nothing. It only adds to your scars.”

Eliza brushed aside the single tear that trickled down her own cheek, brought on by her own memories, and she took a deep breath before turning back around. Sitting back in her seat and, to her own surprise, taking Arcann’s hand.

“That’s what he tried to protect you from. Out of love and concern for you, not your father.”

“Then I failed him…” Arcann’s voice was timid. “Because I did kill, and someone far more valuable to me than my father…”

“I know,” said Eliza. She’d already puzzled out the truth omitted in everything he hadn’t told her the previous day and realized the rumors concerning Thexan’s death were true.

“It was me who killed him,” he confessed regardless, “my own brother.”

“Yeah…”

They sat in silence and Eliza wasn’t sure whether he’d release his emotions any further. They were buried deep, she could see that much by the paleness of his face and the glossed over look in his eye but nothing came, not even while her index finger stroked the back of his hand.

“You’ve never really talked about this, have you?” she said after a while.

“No. My mother was already gone by then and my father… There was Vaylin but all she ever did was bring it up as a tease, a painful reminder. Something to mock and hurt me with.”

Arcann took a deep inhale and straightened out his shoulders. Pushing down any further sentiment because he wasn’t prepared to show her, his enemy, more than he already had. And yet she’d listened, exactly as he’d thought, or maybe even hoped she might.

“Do you really believe he did it for me?”

“I honestly do.”

Arcann nodded. “The things you just said, about killing… it sounded like you’ve been through your fair share.”

“Oh I’ve killed, plenty. As Jedi I always tried to avoid it, a last resort kinda thing but once I changed and my dark side rose to the surface… Mostly nameless faces, others more familiar. Closer…”

“Such as?”

There was no denying that what she’d shared had been quite personal as well, that she’d spoken of recent experiences—he’d heard the slight tremor in her voice.

“Someone, not long ago. He uhm, we had something going on even while I knew he was… well, not exactly the nicest person. But then I found out he deceived me, intentionally hurt the people I love, put them in danger, betrayed me with the most unforgivable lie and I just…”

“You killed him.”

“Yeah. I mean he had it coming and I do think everyone’s better off without him around but, nothing changed, not for me. It still hurts. I still feel this blinding hatred when I think of him and washing his blood off my hands didn’t erase a single moment of our history together.”

A glimmer of scarlet flashed through her eyes and Arcann saw them glisten, same as his own only moments ago.

It brought him to realize that, even through their vast differences, in some ways, he and the stranger before him shared a few things in common as well. She was simply more experienced and she’d received, he assumed, more guidance in how to handle everything in life. How to balance her impulses against her actions.

“There was a chance he was the father, wasn’t there? That’s why you were so anxious to know how far along you were?”

Eliza let out a wry chuckle. “Yes but, thankfully, he’s not. It’s Theron’s so there’s a relief.”

“Theron? The man I attacked?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah…”

Another awkward silence began constructing an invisible wall between the two adversaries. Both sat back and quickly lost in their own train of thought.

There was no way for Eliza to know how either Theron or Lord Scourge were doing and with the oceans of time on her hands stuck in a cell, she’d ran through at least a hundred different scenarios. Some more terrifying than others but in none had she dared to hope for their survival. They were thoughts she couldn’t escape, even while she tried to, wishing to limit her stress and panic not only for her own sake but for the child she carried.

Arcann, on the other hand, relived his past. Wondering whether the Outlander was right or if she was merely trying to add to his pain and guilt by implying Thexan had died for him and not their father.

Witnessing again how he and Thexan knelt before their father and revealed the trophies they’d brought back from battle. The torn banners of the Republic and the Empire but his father had turned away without as much as a single word or nod of approval. How his own anger had reached a pinnacle and he’d leaped the distance to strike at his father. In blinding hatred quite as Eliza had described.

A force had halted his attack mid-jump, in part knocking the air from his lungs as he was pulled back to face his own brother instead and he’d lashed out on instinct. Too driven by his anguish, his resentment and a temper he no longer controlled. All he’d wanted was to defend himself, to reject his brother’s interference but it was in that split second that for once, his own prowess outshone Thexan’s.

He recalled how their eyes met and now, for the first time, recognized the confusion and horror reflected in his brother’s clear blues. The sorrow as Thexan realized his fate and the regret as life fled his body. How he had held on to Arcann right up until his moment of death and finally, Arcann understood—the Outlander was right.

“My father noticed me then,” Arcann broke his silence.

“As I sat holding my brother’s dead body in my lap. He reached out and called me son. I wonder whether his lessons about fighting alone, standing alone in the darkness were always meant to prepare us for that moment. Whether he always knew what one of us would do.”

“Perhaps he did. Your father is a master of manipulation and little happens without him behind it as a silent instigator.”

“Who would I be if I hadn’t been born into his bloodline? If he hadn’t…”

Eliza shrugged. “I’ve asked myself that question so many times. I was born with a purpose, a destiny to end his reign and it seems no matter what I do, no matter the choices I make, everything keeps driving me toward that goal whether I like it or not.”

“With what you told me yesterday, does this mean we’re family?”

She grimaced. “In a very distant, roundabout, amplified by Sith magic sort of way, yes. But don’t expect a Life Day card any time soon.”

“Life Day?”

“Yeah. It’s a uh… holiday of sorts, guess you don’t celebrate it here.”

“No. You would have killed me or buried me alive on Nathema, even while you knew we’re—”

“Extremely distant family? Yes, I would have and don’t even try acting as though you wouldn’t have done the very same thing if it weren’t for you seeking answers about your father.”

“No, I would have,” Arcann admitted, “Tried suffocating you once you passed out but changed my mind.”

“Perhaps you should have gone through with it,” the miserable thought poured out with ease.

His brow furrowed and he looked somewhat taken aback. “Why?”

“Because I can’t seem to escape this life. This… destiny stuff and it tends to get those around me killed. My parents, both of my Masters, Kira, perhaps Scourge and Theron and that’s not counting all the suffering everyone else has endured as I walk this path forced upon me.”

Frustration rose and her heart weighed heavy, and Eliza got up to pace the confinements of her cell.

“Maybe it’s a good thing you’ve got me locked up in here and far away from everyone who matters. It’ll keep them safe.”

Now there was a notion that truly left him stunned and Arcann struggled to form a response but he didn’t have long to weigh his words either. Voices coming up the hallway and drawing near caught his attention, and Eliza’s, and he swiftly bolted from her cell to find the source.

“... and down here we have our brand new, state of the art holding cells. Far less obscured than the old ones, as you can see by the glass panels, and with the latest technology in security systems,” a voice told.

“Impressive,” another commented and Eliza picked up on a distinct Republic accent.

“What’s the meaning of this?!” barked Arcann while he approached the men—two Knights, their Captain and a mystery guest cloaked by the shadow that fell over his face.

“My Lord Emperor.” The Captain bowed. “Your orders were to provide our esteemed guest with a tour of the Spire.”

“This is a restricted area, off limits to guests and most of your guard! Or do you want word getting out that we have captured the Outlander?”

“Apologies, Emperor Arcann, I didn’t—”

“The Outlander? Really?” said the mystery man and he drifted closer to Eliza’s cell.

The overhead lights illuminated his face—aging and marred by the scars of battle—as he approached and his honey brown eyes held a hint of familiarity that instantly gnawed at Eliza but she struggled to identify the man.

“Well I’ll be, it’s really you.” He smirked at her.

“We can trust the Supreme Commander. He has been a loyal ally,” suggested the Knight Captain but Arcann had already ignited his blade.

“That is not your call to make,” he hissed and prepared to strike, deciding he couldn’t have word get out and trusting no one.

Eliza’s eyes widened in shock, recognizing now who stood before her and at the very last second, she called out in a plea, “Arcann no! Don’t! Please, don’t!”

Arcann paused and grabbed the man by the back of his neck, forcing him up against the glass. His gaze narrowed on Eliza and he growled, “You know him?”

“I do. That’s Theron’s father!”

“Theron’s fa…”

‘Damn it!’ he cursed to himself. Every irritated nerve in his body compelled him to strike and be done with the situation but he was overwhelmed by hesitation. His conscience gnawing at him and questioning whether he could kill the father while already being responsible for the possible death of his son, especially with Eliza’s revelation fresh on his mind.

“Fine! Have it your way!” he hissed when he decided and dragged Jace away, tossing him into the empty cell next to Eliza’s before he turned on his own men.

Swift and fluidly, he struck all three of his Knights down and cast an angered glare in Eliza’s direction. “This is on you!” he told her while indicating at the bodies by his feet.

Resenting the doubt she’d brought him with her plea, the decision she’d influenced, making him look weak and he strode off without another word. Leaving Eliza stood in horror, half hypnotized by the beheaded corpses just outside her cell.

“What was that about, Sith? Don’t appreciate the kill unless it’s by your own hand?” Jace called out to her.

She closed her eyes and let out a deep sigh. Retreating to the corner of her cell where the bolts at the side of the wall, those holding the glass panels in place, provided a narrow slit through which she could peer into the cell next to her own.

“You’re welcome,” Eliza muttered.

A heavy scoffing, followed up by a rough coughing fit, sounded from Jace’s end and she met his honey brown eyes through the gap. Similar to Theron’s but cold and distant.

“You expect gratitude? I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for you!”

“Oh, right. Because I’m the one who convinced you to side with Arcann? To visit Zakuul for a grand tour of the Spire? Give me a break.”

“I came to Zakuul to lend my aid in your capture and that of your little group of rejects!”

“Knowing fully well that group of rejects includes your own son?”

“I would have made a deal for Theron, I’d never let any harm come to him no matter how foolish he behaves!”

“How very fatherly of you but you might just be a little too late with that,” Eliza sneered.

“How do you mean?”

“Your precious ally, Arcann, struck Theron down before I was captured and I have no idea whether he survived.”

 

Chapter Text

“So, my son might be dead because he was foolish enough to throw in with the likes of you? Got any more good news for me?”

“Naturally that is what concerns you, how it is my fault. You and Satele make quite the pair.” Eliza rolled her eyes.

His attitude toward her had quickly vanquished any notion she might have had about Jace being a decent man. A decent father, despite what she already knew of him and while she loved Theron with all her heart, she struggled to feel an ounce of sympathy for his father this very second.

“Do you have anything useful on you?” she asked.

“What?”

“Comms, your datapad? A weapon? You came here as a guest and I didn’t see Arcann pat you down before he tossed you in here.”

“They confiscated everything upon my arrival. Something about spies and a new policy.”

“Of course.” She chuckled, remembering Vowrawn’s past mission, and rolled onto her side.

If there was more he’d wanted to say, she didn’t care to hear it and she didn’t require the Force to find sanctuary within her own mind. To shut him out and instead contemplate her conversations with Arcann earlier, dissecting every miniscule second.

While she still hated him for all he’d done, she couldn’t help feel he hadn’t been born this way but rather, it was circumstance that had created the monster. In ways he struck her as a young Sith apprentice torn from his much needed training far too soon, carrying with him a lifetime of baggage, and being planted on a throne he was ill prepared for. Ruling with the only thing he knows—anger and violence.

She also figured that not long ago, he wouldn’t have hesitated to kill Jace. He wouldn’t have cared for her plea and if anything, he would have seen it as further motivation but today, he’d spared the man. He’d resisted his temper and shown mercy, and she needed to decide what that meant.

‘He did kill his guards straight after…’ Eliza toyed with her thoughts.

‘And blamed me. But… they bore witness to his mercy, at the Outlander’s request. The accusations of weakness would have echoed his father’s words and pushed him further down the path of no return.’

“Hey, Sith, are you asleep?” Jace’s voice pierced her thoughts.

“Yes,” she murmured with a hint of annoyance.

“What happened to my son?”

Eliza groaned and turned back around to face him through the narrow opening by the wall. Still not too keen for conversation but at least he’d finally asked the right question and one she felt willing to answer.

“We went on a rescue mission and were ambushed by Arcann. Theron was at the head of our group, we never saw him coming, and Arcann ran him through with his blade.”

“Was he alive last you saw him?”

“Yes, but barely. I sent the rest of our team to return to the ship and do all they could to save his life while I stayed behind. That’s all I know, I’ve been locked up in here ever since.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Little over a week, and before that I spent about a week unconscious while Arcann brought me here.”

“And you can’t just, Force-something your way out?”

“Nope. Got a little present in the form of a Force dampener locked around my ankle.”

“There’s no way to slide it off? What if you broke your ankle and foot?” Jace’s suggestion was preposterous
and yet, his voice sounded quite serious.

“Are you kidding me?”

“So you have no powers and no plan?”

‘Oh I have a plan, just not one I’d ever share with you.’ Half a smirk crept up her face. “Nope.”

She stifled a yawn and curled up, turning away for the last time. “Get some sleep, Supreme Commander, we’re going to be here for a while.”

 


 

Arcann returned to his chambers and slammed the door with more force than necessary, causing a holograph frame stood on the console table by the wall to topple over and fall to the ground.

“Damn her!” he cursed in fury and picked up a bottle of wine only to throw it across the room.

How was it so easy for her to change his mind? What had happened that he’d gone from attempting to suffocate her two weeks ago, to surrendering to her pleas now and seeking her out for some of the most personal conversations he’d had in years?

Is this how she would conquer him and claim his throne? By making him weak? Although, imprisoning the Supreme Commander was a better option than killing the man—he was on the brink of losing the Sith Empire despite the treaty and the last thing he needed was to alienate the Republic as well.

From the corner of his eye he caught a faint shimmer beckoning him and Arcann turned around to pick the fallen holograph frame back up. Staring into the eyes of his brother and his younger self, together, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders and sporting the biggest smiles. Helping him understand that, no, it wasn’t the Outlander who was doing this to him.

Memories of Thexan had begun to chase him long before he’d ever met the Outlander and he’d drowned them out with violence. Through sweet escapes between the sheets with women of his choosing. With his acts of war and cruelty and through it all, he had managed to defile those memories. So consumed with living up to the expectations set by his father, surpassing his father’s ambitions, that he’d failed to see another way—the opportunity to honor his brother.

Thexan would have made for an admirable ruler. Likeable, loved even. He would have pursued a true peace with the Empire and the Republic and made amends for the chaos they’d caused. He would have worked hard to keep Vaylin in line and he would have never ordered the death of the Scions. He wouldn’t have alienated his own people and he would have never attacked five planets for the sake of making a point.

‘The Outlander… she wouldn’t have come to kill Thexan, father would not have set her on a path to dethrone his favorite son,’ Arcann realized. Why did he envy that?

With ginger care, he placed the frame back upon the shelf and though he tended to avoid it most of the time, he glanced into the mirror that hung upon his wall. Closing his eyes to remove his mask and it took several minutes before he dared open them again.

‘The face of a monster and the acts of a monster…’ Pain gripped him when he met his reflection. ‘How could I ever hope to be anything else?’

Twisting and distorting, his reflection started to smirk. Mocking him with laughter while Valkorion appeared behind the man in the mirror. Shrouding his reflection in shadows until only the fire in his eyes remained.

“Pitiful creature. You aren’t worthy of the throne and you will never wear my crown. You weren’t worthy of being born, of my blood coursing through your veins and I should have ended your life before you ever drew your first breath.”

His father’s voice echoed words he’d spoken in the past, every syllable cutting into Arcann like a knife. Forcing him to relive the horrors of his youth while he faced the man that haunted him still. Humiliation, suffering, guilt and shame tearing at his soul while the years of his life spun on a cruel replay in his mind and Arcann came apart at last.

Surrendering to tears he’d long kept at bay because Princes and Emperors did not cry. Giving in to the anguish and sorrow he’d fought, remembering Thexan and even his mother, and he sank to his knees in despair.

‘There has to be a better way…’

 


 

Long needles draining his blood, once more subjected to endless testing and inane questions—Lord Scourge’s situation hadn’t changed all that much ever since he’d been rescued. At least now, though, the hell he lived wasn’t designed to encourage his suffering but rather, to cure him as Doc worked night and day for a solution.

“I finally met your daughter this morning,” Doc informed him in the most casual manner, “via the holo at least. She’s quite the charming young lady.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Lord Scourge mumbled.

“Physically she’s all you, down to the shape of her nose but she has Eliza’s eyes. A rare combination for one of your kind. Well, and the hair, you never had much of that, did you?”

“Is there a point to all this?”

“Just making conversation. She has a wonderful sense of humor as well, unlike you.”

Lord Scourge gave him a blank stare. “Do you think that just because you’ve been playing nurse Sunshine and Rainbows for the past week, sitting at my bedside and tending to my needs, that I’ve magically regained my ability to care?”

“Heh.” Doc chuckled to himself. “Well, perhaps she did inherit some of your humor after all.”

“You’re impossible.”

“Oh I know, and a pain in your ass. An imbecile, moron, you’d just love to snap my neck but you know what, Lord All Bark And No Bite? I’m the guy who’s gonna fix you right up, you’ll see.”

“Like you’ve done for him?” Lord Scourge nudged his head toward Theron’s kolto tank.

“I’ve done all I can for now. If his stats are still stable this afternoon, we’ll move him to a bed. Why were you at his side anyway?”

“Had to have a talk that didn’t require his commentary.”

“Ahh, I get it. Told him what a jerk he is for stealing your woman huh?”

“I already told you that I don’t care about that. I literally do not and cannot care.”

It was a simple truth but it weighed heavy on Doc. He was trying so hard to keep his spirits up, to ignore any doom and gloom scenarios. Making any attempt to coax some emotion out of the Sith but nothing he said or did had even the slightest impact.

“Right, okay then. Well…” He packed up his kit of samples. “I’m just going to take these into my office for some testing, I’ll be back.”

“I can hardly wait.”

The notion of defeat clung to his bones and Doc quickly sat the samples on his desk before escaping outside. Desperate for a touch of fresh air and clarity of mind. Even for someone who was far from Lord Scourge’s biggest fan, this was a tough situation to deal with and he needed a break.

“Any luck?” asked Andronikos and he approached with a bottle of rum, shoving it into Doc’s hand.

“Not one bit and, man, I hate it. If I ever thought he was intolerable in the past… well, he’s sure proving me wrong now.”

Doc put the bottle to his lips and drank until the burn chased away the chaos in his mind, drawing in a sharp breath. “Eliza’s gonna face a tough blow when she gets back unless I manage to pull a miracle outta my ass.”

“Nothing a simple pirate can help you with, huh?”

“Nah.”

Andronikos nodded and took the bottle back, finishing off whatever remained while he glanced toward the hangar bay and the many vessels sat idle, a hint of longing in his eyes.

 


 

“I’ve got a couple of updates,” said Lana while she rounded the holo console at the center of the War Room.

“Any word on Arcann?” Me’ghan asked even while she knew Lana would have opened with that if she’d heard anything of note.

“None. The Fleet still patrols their usual sectors and there have been no broadcasts coming from the Spire so if he’s there, he’s laying low. There was one curious item, however,” Lana relayed and pulled up a decrypted message which she put on display for all to see.

 

- - - Priority Message for Supreme Chancellor Madon - - - ID: #309648, Code Name: ‘Juggernaut’ failed check in upon arrival at Spire - - - Has been radio silent for 12+ hours - - - Please advice - - -

 

“Who is Juggernaut?” asked Malavai.

“Jace Malcom. From what I can gather, he was scheduled to meet with Arcann but he hasn’t been heard from since his team’s arrival on Zakuul.”

“That could mean any number of things including a simple malfunctioning of their comms,” Lord Cytharat considered. “Do we know why he was meeting with Arcann?”

“No.”

Jonas grabbed himself a chair and spun it around before he sat down, hugging his arms around the back of his seat. “You never know with Malcom, he’s been known to go MIA before. Usually turns up a few days later with a hellish hangover and some sorry excuse. Man’s had a drinking problem since the wars.”

“Still,” Malavai said and he took the liberty of copying the message to his own datapad, “it’s something to keep in mind.”

“What about the other updates you claimed to have?” Charlie turned to Lana.

“Kendra and Jorgan are on their way back here. Vowrawn checked in to inform us he’s in the midst of cleaning up Acina’s mess—there’s still no word on her whereabouts but he said it is safe to assume she’s dead.”

“And again I say, good riddance,” Jonas announced with a grin.

“Mm.” Lana managed a meek smile. “He also said she had been working on a mystery project but he was reluctant to say any more than that for now.”

“I received a transmission from Zenith,” Jenna finally spoke up—still feeling rather like an outsider in the chain of Command and guilt had tempered her usual outgoing nature.

“There’s a shipment of weaponry and ship upgrades headed our way though he and Ashara have elected to stay behind on Balmorra.”

A gentle scoff puffed past Malavai’s lips and Me’ghan looked his way with a smirk. “Rather them than you, huh love?”

He grinned in response.

“I had an idea I wanted to run by all of you,” Lord Cytharat moved to stand by Lana so he could address the whole group.

“I know we have failed to learn more about Eliza’s situation but, what if we could get our eyes on Arcann’s state of mind or surroundings instead? Assuming he is alive.”

“Uh, how?” Charlie gave him a frown and sat down behind Jonas, her arms snaking around his middle.

“Through my sister. Through the same method she used to try and track down Eliza. But… it would involve Senya’s cooperation and inclusion. I know we’ve brought her up to date but still, I want your opinions and approval first.”

“I’m sure she’d be more than willing to do it, if she has anything of Arcann’s among her possessions. I mean, what’s the worst that would happen? Liyana discovers he’s dead, we’ll celebrate and Senya will spend another few weeks mourning, meditating and skulking around the base.”

“Hey now,” Praven half admonished Jenna’s callous comment and shook his head. “Senya has been a reliable ally to us so far, even if she is a risk and we shouldn’t make light of her losses no matter how much we despise her children.”

“Yeah, sorry,” muttered Jenna and she turned away. “You guys let me know what you decide, I’m gonna go check on the others.”

“What’s her problem?” asked Me’ghan after she’d left.

“I think she’s just restless and frustrated, I’ll go check on her and hey, you’ve got my vote,” said Charlie and she kissed Jonas’ cheek before she ran off.

“I say we let Liyana try, with Senya’s support,” Lana voiced her approval.

Malavai nodded. “At this point, I’d try just about anything.”

“Alright, I’ll go find Liyana.” Lord Cytharat made ready to leave.

“Think she’s outside in the Wilds with Darius, something about practice,” Praven pointed out.

“Again?”

His partner gave him a telling smirk to which Lord Cytharat rolled his eyes, and he left to find his sister.

 


 

Senya placed a small wooden chest on the linens of her bed and thoughtfully dug through its contents. Reliving memories until she retrieved something blue, soft, a blanket with initials woven into the fabric.

“This was his when he was a baby.” She hugged the blanket between her hands and inhaled its scent. “I brought it with me when I left. Will it do?”

“It should, yes,” said Liyana when she took the blanket from her. “Thank you. Do you wish to stay?”

“Please. If there is any news you can provide—any at all—then I wish to hear it.”

“Of course.”

“Join us.” Me’ghan offered up a seat by herself and Malavai, the three of them sharing in concern for their loved ones.

“I pray for her the same as I do for him, I promise,” said Senya and Malavai gave her a courteous nod and smile.

It was an odd situation and had been since news broke. Senya stood at their side but they all understood the love she held for her son as well, and she knew that they knew it. A shift in either fates was bound to raise tension on the base.

Liyana knelt down a few steps removed from the three and carefully draped the blanket across her lap. Placing her hands upon the initials to establish a bond with the man who’d once been swaddled inside the cosy fabric. It immediately brought her to an endless dark void and for a moment, she believed to witness death for the first time in her life but then she saw him.

“He lives but he is not well,” she spoke, almost in a whisper while a sudden cold clung to her skin.

“He is not injured but… his heart, there is so much pain and sorrow. In complete solitude, he walks alone. Doubt and confusion tear at his soul, so many emotions at war. He is cloaked in darkness. There are two shining lights, warm, inviting but just beyond his reach, he cannot touch them…

“He wants to embrace his anger, the only confidence he has ever known, the only way he knows how to be strong but, it’s slipping through his hands.”

All she received was his torment. The state of his mind and heart but not a glimpse of his true surroundings.

“I do not see Eliza. I cannot see where he is and I don’t hear her in his thoughts… I’m sorry.” A gentle tear ran down Liyana’s face, captivated by the emotion she sensed.

The mother aching for her son knelt down by Liyana, embracing her as if doing so would comfort the child she’d abandoned but the connection was gone. Shut down because whatever state of mind Arcann found himself in proved to be too overwhelming for Liyana’s young mind.

“I’m so sorry, to all of you,” she lamented with a sense of guilt toward the other three. “Again I’ve failed to give you any true answers.”

“We now know he’s alive, that’s a start,” said Me’ghan.

“They both are, somehow, yet this brings forth new questions as well,” Malavai considered and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“If Arcann had her captured, shouldn’t he be feeling victorious? Relieved? Would she not be on his mind? He’s gone through great lengths trying to get his hands on her, there’d have to be something in his thoughts, yes?”

“One would think.” Me’ghan nodded. “But what Liyana felt did not sound like a happy or victorious man at all.”

“No… my son is falling apart and he’s all alone…” Senya bowed her head while she fought her tears. “I shouldn’t have left him.”

 

Chapter Text

‘Don’t let father get under your skin, brother. You and I will always have each other, I won’t let you fall.’

Words spoken by Thexan during their journey to Korriban echoed in Arcann’s mind while he stood in the center of a room he hadn’t set foot in for nearly five years. Thick layers of dust covering every piece of furniture in a silvery shroud to claim Thexan’s belongings for itself and carry them into the forgotten realm.

For too long had Arcann felt ashamed to visit here, to allow himself to remember and honor his brother but now he prayed he was ready to take a step forward onto new territory. Confronting the past, his own feelings and all that came with it.

He drew the curtains aside to welcome a few rays of sunlight into the room and pushed open the balcony doors. Breathing in the fresh air before he began his work of restoring the room to its former glory with the hope his humble labor would help him reconcile with the past.

Pausing at every memory he uncovered and held in his hands, allowing emotion to wash over him while contemplating the ways in which he could move forward. Working so diligently that a single day easily blended into the next and by the time he’d finished, three days and two nights had passed while his prisoner grew restless in her cell. His sudden absence leaving Eliza more troubled than she cared to be.

In part, she ached with concern for a man who far from deserved it, and missed his presence as a welcome reprieve to the monotony of her days in lockup. Yet, the other part hoped he had dropped dead somewhere in the Spire so Zakuul’s rule would be overturned and she might find a different means of securing her own release.

‘Perhaps I went too far, I shouldn’t have asked him to show mercy,’ she pondered quietly in her cell while the man at the other side of the wall slept. Snoring like a wild animal for hours on end and slowly driving her mad.

‘Not even worth it,’ another thought teased with resentment.

There was no connection with Jace Malcom. He despised who she was without caring to know her and she had quickly realized the sham of a father he was—Theron deserved better. Still, that was a thing for Theron to decide should he ever get the chance and it had been for his benefit that she’d pleaded for the Supreme Commander’s life in the first place.

‘And now I’m paying the price for it… Where are you, Arcann?’

It was ridiculous just how much his absence bothered her and ignited a war between her common senses and this nagging feeling that had crept into her heart. Growing familiar with one of her greatest enemies came with unexpected consequences, Eliza realized, showing him as a man and human being now that she’d stood so close to his point of view.

‘Maybe this was a fool’s errand from the very start…’

A consideration that further solidified in her mind once Arcann did show up and caused her a mild case of panic.

“Where are we going? Where are you taking me?” asked Eliza when he cuffed her wrists together before her and led her away from the prison block.

Even Jace’s eyes followed the pair with curiosity but Arcann refused to answer. He kept mute while he escorted her to the elevators, during the minutes it took them to reach the high rise of the Spire and while wandering the many hallways. All the way to a set of double doors where he finally paused.

“I prefer privacy,” he spoke a simple answer that didn’t quite ease her mind.

The door swung open and with a hand at the small of her back, Arcann ushered her inside. Welcoming her to the Throne room on Zakuul—the one she vividly remembered from her vision when Vitiate first transferred his essence into her body.

“Privacy for what exactly?”

“Our conversations. They aren’t for the Supreme Commander to know.”

“Oh.” A small sense of relief came over Eliza. “No, I would agree.”

Bright blue hues lit up as Arcann activated one of the many features of his throne to display a holo-map of the galaxy, showing all sectors currently patrolled by his Eternal Fleet. Deep red dots littering Imperial Space and the Core Worlds.

“You once confronted me about the fact I’d carried on my father’s war, and said there is always another way—what would you have done in my position?”

“I already told you—you could have attempted peace negotiations, provided aid and resources to make amends.”

“No, your Empire would have retaliated. You weren’t afraid to chase us all the way to Wild Space despite our display of strength when we assaulted Korriban. Am I wrong?”

“No, but—”

“So what choice did I have? After my father killed one of your leaders and took others captive? Which course of action would have prevented a new war at that point?”

“I…” Words failed her and Eliza rolled her shoulders in a shrug. “Perhaps war was inevitable but… what about all the other things you’ve done?”

“Such as?”

“The Scions, for starters. Your mother told me about them.”

“Zealots elevated to a position of power by my father. I believe no cult, no fanatic, should ever have that much sway and power over a ruling body, to be revered. It’s a dangerous thing and I did not care for their whispers of prophecy.”

“But to kill them?”

“They would have been living martyrs had I captured them instead. People would still be on the streets today calling for their release, creating chaos and protest all over Zakuul. At least with their death, their martyrdom ended quickly and everyone moved on.”

Eliza could feel the warmth of his breath on her neck when he came to stand behind her and one hand clasped her shoulder. “They were no one to you, why do you care so much?” he asked in return, his tone softened.

“People’s lives aren’t yours or mine to play with.” She spun around to face him. “I’m just trying to understand why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. Why this treaty with the Empire and the Republic? You don’t need their resources, I’ve seen Zakuul’s wealth.”

“No, I don’t, but without their resources, they can’t rebuild their forces to mount an attack. Simple strategy.”

“Strategy? Great. So, why ask me all these questions if you’ve already got the answers?”

“I was trained in the arts of war. Mastered every tactic to subjugate entire worlds, and nothing else.”

“Meaning?”

His answer clung to the back of his throat, held there by uncertainty while Arcann led her away from the throne room, back out into the hallways. Walking in silence and Eliza kept a close eye on him. Not out of distrust or fear but she desperately wished to dissect the workings of his mind. The multiple layers that made him the man who’d ruthlessly pursued her but who’d neglected to actually kill her, thus far, choosing her for his company instead.

“Where were you, the past three days?” she asked.

“I had much to consider, alone, and work that required my attention.”

‘Work?’ Eliza dreaded to think who’d fallen this time, or which planet he’d attacked.

“I’ll show you,” he offered and a set of gilded double-doors opened up before them, leading into Thexan’s room.

A room easily six times the size of her own cell, inviting in its creme-white, muted-golden, and ebony color scheme and she looked on in awe. Directly to her left stood a wooden console table with carvings illustrating an expensive design. A large mirror hung above the console and further into the room, against the far left wall was a fireplace, a small side table, two wingback chairs and beyond the fireplace another door.

On the opposite side, to her right, a dresser and a large wooden desk made to match the ebony console table. Stood at the far back was a massive, four-poster bed in front of a set of wide open, unobscured windows offering a majestic view to the balcony that lay beyond the room and the city of Zakuul in the distance.

“You… built a bedroom?”

The innocent frown she wore caused Arcann to smile behind his mask and he removed her handcuffs, feeling she posed no threat to him here. “No. This was my brother’s room, I hadn’t visited here in years. It required a lot of maintenance to restore and I spent the past days finally facing…”

“Oh.” Pleasant surprise twinkled in her eyes. “Our talk, it helped?”

“Yes. I—yes, it did.”

‘Say thank you,’ he was reminded of his manners but struggled to push the words past his lips.

Instead he watched with intrigue while Eliza explored the room. Her feet carrying her forward, slowly and with grace and while she inspected every detail with her eyes, she never laid a hand on any of Thexan’s belongings on display. Arcann appreciated that.

“It looks… wonderful. I’m glad this helped you.”

“So did you.” It was as close as he could get himself to expressing gratitude.

A gentle smile accepted his thanks until her eyes caught a glimpse of a leatherbound journal resting on top of one of the nightstands, reminding her instantly of Lord Scourge. Leading her to touch back on their earlier conversation, her drive to uncover his motives.

“Why did you keep my husband imprisoned for so many years, and subject him to those horrors?”

For a second he felt caught off guard but he answered, “His immortality.”

An explanation no different from the one Jarak had given. “You have no idea what you were bargaining for, the consequences.”

“I am aware,” he corrected. “Jarak’s research and experiments aimed to find a formula that would grant immortality without those consequences you speak of.”

“Mm, I see. All the benefits without ever paying the price but why would you want to be immortal?”

Arcann closed his eyes—his reason being a particularly sensitive one—while Eliza pushed further.

“You would be bound to this galaxy forever. Alone, empty and should you ever tire of your existence, there’d be no escape. You would never be able to reunite with your brother in the next life. Stuck in a prison for which there is no key.”

His voice softened to a whisper, “You don’t understand.”

“Then explain it to me, please?”

It wasn’t the thought of him reaching immortality that concerned her, there were ways around that. Option one being carbonite and the second a Sarlacc pit. Heck, the third a combination of the first two just to be certain, if it ever came to that, but she wanted to know why. Why this was so important to him that he’d torment Lord Scourge and give up the freedom of living.

‘It’s none of your damned business,’ was his instinctive thought but he swallowed hard to curb his temper.

The absence of any response from him hung thick in the air while Arcann stood suspended in hesitation. Half an eye on the mirror and his own reflection, the mask and armor that covered him.

“Please?” Eliza asked a second time and approached him with a cautious step.

Still he said nothing but now his hands reached down to unbuckle the belt around his waist, allowing the layers of his tunic to fall away slowly and reveal his chest. An act that would have caused Eliza to frown or feel alarmed if it weren’t for her growing curiosity and captivation while the tunic slid down his arms and dropped to the floor.

Arcann didn’t dare look at her now, afraid of her reaction. Keeping his eyes on a single focus point right by his feet while he moved to unclip his mask and show his true face at last. The one that haunted his nightmares and had him convinced he was rotten—not only on the outside but within.

“This is why…” a crack of emotion and fragility rang in his voice when he spoke.

His complexion had turned a few shades paler than it normally was and the one good hand holding his mask trembled, just a touch but enough to indicate how uncomfortable and nervous he felt.

“It hurts,” Eliza made the observation and drew nearer.

His cybernetic arm, while made of superior technology, sat awkwardly compared to the rest of his body. A thing that went unnoticed while in dress but now, with his torso bare, it was clear to see. Fully encased in a black, lightweight metal that covered the wirings, energy cells and artificial neurons that helped his arm function. Connected to the remaining stump of his own shoulder with several bolts piercing flesh and bone—the source of his pain.

It pinched his tender skin, leaving it reddened in some places while other areas had whitened out from being pulled too tight. Raw and rutted, and just above the cybernetic arm sat another scar but this one a full ring tracing his shoulder. The result of a previous prosthetic, one of a lesser quality, affixed to his body on the battlefield immediately after amputation.

“Every second of every day,” he lamented and it was only now that she noticed the warmth and depth of his voice.

Freed of the mask and purer than it had ever sounded before, almost inviting, and Eliza looked up to meet his eyes. To see the scars on his face.

A craggy landscape that mapped the suffering he’d endured. Starting at the base of his neck and branching up to his chin, passing the corner of his mouth to leave its mark just above his upper lip. Divaricating higher to cover his jaw and cheek, teasing across his nose and further up corrupt his eyelids. Extending to his left ear and the side of his skull until it reached his scalp and faded.

Arcann caught her looking and felt the heat of her breath on his face. Too close for comfort and he put one foot behind him, resting his weight on the heel when he felt his instinct to flee kick in. He held himself and waited for the inevitable—a hint of disgust on her face, a downward arching of her lips in displeasure. Expecting her eyes to no longer watch him but instead gaze at a focal point beyond him so she’d no longer have to witness his repellant disfigurement.

But Eliza was unpredictable, and he should have remembered so. Quite gently she reached out, the padding of her index finger hovering just a hair away from his cheek and he met her eyes again while she tried to gauge his reaction. Finding nothing but acceptance and compassion in her gold-tainted blues compelling him to stand still while she brushed her fingertip down the side of his face. Taking in every bump and indent before she cupped his cheek in her palm and smiled.

A warming gesture, one that almost pierced his heart until he suddenly snatched her wrist. “What are you playing at, Outlander?” he snarled, suspecting a ploy.

There was no way any person would ever be that tender and caring to him. To touch him without repulsion. It had to be a trick but Eliza kept calm even while her hand experienced a slight loss of sensation due to his strong grip.

“You look better without the mask, why do you hide?”

Her words sounded incredulous and yet, he detected nothing but honesty. How was that possible? She hadn’t even flinched, or broken character, but reluctantly he let go.

“It’s hideous and proof of my weakness, my failure in battle.”

“No. It proves that you’re a survivor. That you fought a difficult battle, faced agonizing injury but lived. It’s a testament to your raw strength and should be worn with pride for all to know and see.”

Arcann stepped back, not out of discomfort but in astonishment, and furrowed his brows. Could she be that skilled of a liar? He couldn’t help but question and yet, no matter how he tried, he found not a hint of deception in her words or actions.

“I have scars of my own. Not quite like yours but I treasure each of them as a reminder of the fact that, while my enemies cut me, I stood victoriously and survived,” she told him when she noticed his surprise. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Perhaps not for you,” he said sullenly.

“Hrm. Anyway,” Eliza continued, “is this your reason for chasing immortality? What did you hope it would do for you?”

“I’d hoped it might…” His voice trailed off and he felt foolish for his own, likely naive, motivations. “Restore my appearance, take the pain away. We have surgical droids who can achieve much but the severity of my scars is something not even they can fix.”

“Is there no pain medication?”

“Those dull my mind and senses, lull me into false relaxation. I refuse.”

“Arcann…”

A gentle sigh puffed past her lips. Gone was her scheme to earn his trust and manipulate it for her own benefit—she genuinely cared for the man standing there with his literal scars laid bare—his unexpected and very private revelation beating her walls down in rapid succession. Now understanding his pain and the desperate notion immortality could somehow mend his deformity.

It didn’t excuse what he’d done, nothing ever would and she knew that but at least now, she understood. He wasn’t the psychopathic monster his sister had been and he hadn’t waged a callous war. Most of his moves had been carefully planned and were not solely driven by a need for destruction and terror.

“Immortality will not heal your wounds, it will not fade your scars,” she told him to her own regret, knowing better.

“Your husband?”

Eliza nodded. She’d caught more than one glimpse of Lord Scourge’s old battle scars back when he’d still been immortal. “It’ll only prevent new injuries but what’s already there stays with you.”

Arcann bent down to retrieve his tunic, his hand shaking and he struggled to slip it back on. His body silently raging in disappointment now that his last sliver of hope had been crushed and Eliza stepped in to help him. Easing his cybernetic arm into the sleeve and gingerly sliding the fabric over his aching shoulder.

“Can I see?” he asked when she finished, needing to know she hadn’t lied. “Your scars.”

“Yeah…” She bunched her shirt up to just past her midriff, right below the base of her breasts to expose the several stab and blaster-shot wounds that had left their mark on her body.

Taking a closer look, Arcann sunk down to one knee and let his gaze trace her skin, followed by his fingertips when he examined the freshest scar.

“My sister?”

“Hmm, yes. She got me good…”

“You almost died that day.”

“I’ve almost died quite a few times,” a soft chuckle escaped her lips.

Almost as if in a trance, Arcann nodded. Only vaguely while his index finger slid toward one of her older scars, studying it with intrigue and when his breath caressed her skin, he noticed the small flutter of her stomach.

“And this one?”

“Oh, that’s where Theron shot me.”

His head jerked up so abruptly in surprise that he almost lost his balance. “What?”

Again she chuckled, a twinkle in her eyes and she casually shrugged.

“Theron? The one you’re… whose child you’re…”

The confusion on his face was quite entertaining to her and Eliza lowered her shirt. “Yes, that Theron. It’s a bit of a story.”

“I believe you have a great many of stories,” Arcann considered.

In all their time thus far, they had mostly spoken of his past and traumas and while she had shared the occasional snippet about her life, he understood little of it. Curiously enough since it had been his goal to know and understand her when he’d first brought her in, after grilling her about his father.

He rose to his feet and strode past her to open up the balcony doors, inviting her to step outside, “Join me and tell me more?”

“No tit for tat this time? How about a decent meal?” Eliza tried to push her luck, even while she was grateful to spend more time with him and away from her cell.

A smile teased on Arcann’s face and for the first time, she could actually see it. “Fine, but no dessert.”

 

Chapter Text

The world around Theron ground to a halt and the voices that spoke distorted, turning to deep and faded echoes until they left his awareness completely. Telling him of events and possible scenarios he couldn’t stand to face.

‘They left her…?’ He couldn’t fathom why anyone would but slowly, a recollection of events resurfaced in his mind reminding him of what had happened.

Fierce and hateful eyes staring into his own while the scent of burned flesh reached his nostrils. His own panic and the overwhelming pain that left him too crippled to fight back or protect those who’d been with him. Unable to defend the one woman he’d vowed to never lose again.

‘Arcann… he has her?’

Theron tugged on his oxygen mask, desperate to remove it. Regardless of the device’s purpose, he felt like he was suffocating and he needed everything away from his body. The needles, the wired patches, the mask over his face, all of it like a trap to him now, amplifying his onsetting distress.

“Calm down, easy now,” Doc tried while he helped remove the oxygen mask. “Deep breaths, slowly.”

“H-have to… go… get, get… her,” Theron managed even while his throat felt raw and his voice was a mere whisper.

Jonas clasped his hand tight, relieved to finally see his best friend awake. “We will, as soon as we know where she is.”

“N-no, now, gotta go…”

“Soon. You need to rest. She made her decision to buy us time and give you a fighting chance so you’re staying right here until you’re recovered,” Doc told him and added a mild sedative to the IV line.

‘I can’t lose her again, not again, what the hell is wrong with you all?’ Theron’s mind raged in desperation but his body lacked the strength to fight.

“We know she is alive and based on what Liyana witnessed when she searched for Arcann, it doesn’t seem likely that he has her captured,” Jonas elaborated further and he pulled up a chair.

“He survived as well, somehow, but he seems to be in some sort of distress or hell of his own. Not quite a victorious man and, if he did have her, he would have bragged about it already via a galaxy-wide broadcast.”

Theron’s brows furrowed and he clutched Jonas’ hand tighter. “Then… where?”

“Honestly? The possibilities are endless,” he sighed.

“Could be a third party found them both, other lab workers they didn’t know were there, who took them both prisoner. Eliza definitely appears to be imprisoned somewhere, not the Spire but perhaps at a medical facility given what Liyana witnessed.”

“Did you… start, a search?”

“We have our most trusted people looking for clues but we haven’t announced the official reason for her absence yet and we can’t have word getting out. There’d be chaos and our enemies would assume we’re weakened.

“For now, Me’ghan has temporarily taken on the role of Commander. We’ve also sent word to Vowrawn, apparently that weasel has a spy network of his own so who knows what’ll turn up.”

Theron closed his eyes, wishing all of this was just another nightmare. “The others?”

“Jenna and the pirate are fine, bit shaken up, desperate to get out there and find her, do something useful,” Doc told him while offering just the smallest sip of water.

“And Scourge?”

“Uh,” Jonas pointed to Theron’s left where Lord Scourge rested on a bed of his own. “Alive, mostly.”

“Mission… report, where’s my…”

A half smile crept up Doc’s face, relieved to see he wasn’t the only one dealing with a difficult patient and Jonas groaned.

“I will get you your datapad on the promise you stay right here and heed Doc’s orders.”

No more than a faint nod was the only assurance he received.

“I’ll be back shortly,” said Jonas and Doc followed him out.

‘Fuck!’ the expletive spat freely in Theron’s mind and repeated often. The news he’d received taunting him while he pushed himself up for another sip of water.

Months ago he’d been plagued by a nightmare that saw Eliza ripped from his arms. Repeatedly taken by Arcann, her freedom first and then her life and now, that nightmare came too close to reality.

“She will come home,” said Lord Scourge while he sat up, having been awake and aware this entire time. “You know she will.”

“Do I? All I have are years of her falling beyond my reach, time and time again.”

“And with that you have years of her returning to your side, one way or another.” The Sith’s eyes bore into his soul and left Theron to shudder.

“What do you think happened?”

“The others here, they are fools. I believe she is with Arcann, wherever they may be, and she will find her way back.”

“That easy huh?”

“Easy, perhaps not, but she will do it. I haven’t known her in the past four years but I do know her. Have faith, Agent Shan.”

The kind and curiously calm words left Theron unnerved in ways he didn’t quite understand yet—his mind in chaos and his body weak—but he nodded regardless. “Thank you. And when she returns…?”

“We will talk more, soon, but rest first. You’ll need it.”

 


 

A few rays of sunlight tickled Eliza’s face, warming her cheek and slowly stirring her awake. A quiet grumble fell from her lips and she rolled onto her back in an attempt to stretch out but frowned when she heard a metal clink. Furrowing her brows further when she realized something kept her bound to the bed and she peered through droopy eyelids to find the set of stun cuffs fixed around her right wrist, restraining her to the bedpost.

It took her a second to get her bearings but then she chuckled in silence. Granted, last time she’d found herself cuffed to a bed it had been for far more exciting reasons, but this wasn’t too horrible and she had enjoyed a good sleep at least. Best as she could, she tried sitting up and it was only then she noticed the man asleep in the wingback chair near the foot end of the bed.

She glanced at her stun cuffs again, and once more back in Arcann’s direction. Calculating how close she could get to him, realizing she’d fall just short and then she understood the reason he’d elected to restrain her a second time.

‘But why didn’t he just take me back to my cell? Why did he stay in this room?’ The previous night resurfaced in her mind.

A dinner with meats, vegetables, and fruits so fresh unlike she’d ever tasted them. Endless conversation while she’d shared with him anything she deemed safe, which included most of her personal life.

By nightfall, the barriers between them had dropped so significantly she’d opened up about her own struggles with the dark side. The path she’d walked as a Jedi and how unbalanced she’d become after Makeb. Torturing and killing without remorse while at the best of times, her emotions had wrought havoc on her mental state and actions.

Sadly, last she recalled was telling him about her wedding to Lord Scourge and after that, everything became fuzzy. Eliza had no idea how she ended up in bed and suddenly lifted the covers to check her clothing, relieved to find herself still dressed in the simple garb she’d been given on her first day in lockup, and with only her slippers removed.

‘... the hell?’ she wondered while her eyes scanned the room.

This one identical to Thexan’s in its layout but the color scheme was a lot darker. The same ebony but now mixed with a deep navy blue and silver accents.

‘Must be Arcann’s own room… why?’

The mirror in this room was smashed and she spotted a shard of glass laying on the floor. Just as she’d noticed the screwdriver on Thexan’s desk the day before and the knife by her dinner plate, and her hands had been free then. She’d briefly entertained the notion of taking her captor on but without her powers, without knowing where exactly in the Spire she was or even having her weapons it had seemed foolish to attempt an escape this way and there'd be no chance of bringing Jace with her.

There was something else she’d noticed too, as they’d sat outside on the balcony enjoying dinner. She’d hoped to take advantage of it, and tried, but only time would tell if her efforts had been successful and whether they would reach her intended audience. If what she’d seen was even what she’d thought it to be. At least it never appeared as though Arcann caught on to her actions and she’d lucked out, for now.

Eliza quietly observed Arcann. Asleep in his chair he looked almost sweet, docile, and he still wasn’t wearing his mask. Again her inquisitive eyes traced the thick scar tissue webbed down the left side of his face. She remembered how those scars had felt under her fingertips and how she’d touched him without planning to. Her caress and words in that moment entirely genuinely, treading outside the confines of her scheme.

‘Keep your mind clear and your heart cold,’ she reminded herself but in a way, it was already too late for such advice.

“You’re awake,” Arcann’s obvious observation startled her from her thoughts.

“Just about,” she murmured and pulled on her cuffs. “What uh…”

“You fell asleep as I was telling you about Zakuul’s wedding traditions. I had no desire to wake you or carry you back to your cell—you appeared to be in need of a good rest. This seemed like the logical solution as I still had work to do and wished to keep an eye on you.”

“I’ve had a rough few nights,” said Eliza by means of explaining. “The Supreme Commander is… loud in his snoring and not the most pleasant company.”

“I could find you better accommodations.”

“Oh no, don’t worry about—” she paused mid-sentence and laughed softly.

How odd that she was about to tell him she didn’t wish to be a burden, forgetting that she was his prisoner, and Arcann appeared to catch on to the same train of thought. He smiled at her.

“I could have him muzzled, or simply end his life. That’s bound to stop his snoring, yes?”

It took Eliza a second to discern whether he was kidding or not but a dark twinkle in his eyes gave him away. ‘Great, he’s developed a sense of humor, when did that happen?’

“I’ll pass, on the killing at least but let’s leave the option for a muzzle on the table for now.”

“What would you do if he were not Theron’s father?” asked Arcann and he lazily rose from his seat. Retrieving the controller from his tunic-pocket to remove her stun cuffs.

“You are aware it was him who provided me with so much intel on you, yes?” The mattress sunk under the weight of him when he sat down on the edge of his own bed.

“I am aware and I’d probably… rough him up a little and imprison him. Kill him if he posed too big of a threat to others but still as a last resort.”

Impassioned eyes bore into her own while she let her arm drop and rolled her hand a few times to shake the stiffness from her wrist.

“And now for your true answer,” Arcann dared her, his stare intensified. “What would your nature compel you to do?”

Without meaning to, a sly grin crept up the corners of her mouth. “Make him bleed until he begs me to end his suffering.”

Satisfied with his suspicions confirmed, Arcann nodded and got up.

“The refresher is through here.” He indicated to his left. “We have much to discuss but I’m sure you’d like to freshen up first?”

“Yes, actually.”

“I will lock the door behind you. I’ve got a few matters to attend to myself but I’ll make sure to be back in time to let you out.”

Before Eliza stepped into the refresher she turned around and clasped Arcann’s hand when he went to lock her in. “You’re not going to harm him, are you?”

“The Supreme Commander? No, but should I ever have a need to, I might just let you have a go first.”

Again that dark twinkle glinted in his eyes just before he shut the door and she heard the lock click. Leaning herself back against the white wooden panel and she blew out a deep sigh.

Something had definitely changed. As much as she was getting under his skin, into his head and even his heart—he had shown her a lot more consideration and care recently—he was getting to hers as well and that was never part of the plan. She needed to keep a level head. Treat him as human without actually seeing him as human but the lines had begun to blur.

While activating the sonic and stepping under the scalding stream, Eliza recited in her mind the many crimes he’d committed. Contemplated the many ways in which she could kill him and reminded herself of why she should. A new mantra to see her through and steel her heart.

Arcann, on the other hand, found himself wandering into his sister’s room. In search for a clean change of clothing for Eliza but he perused Vaylin’s wardrobe with a scowl. Everything was black and he had no idea what would fit or even suit his prisoner but he could hardly go out and buy her anything or ask his Knights to.

‘Just keep her in rags, something simple. She’s your captive, not a… friend? No. Something blue would bring out the color of her—no, what?’

A deep groan rumbled up his throat and he closed his eyes. Recalling the previous day and how she’d treated him like a human being, a man who mattered and had worth. Unafraid to touch him and regarding his scars as a sign of strength rather than weakness. Sharing the blemishes on her own skin and presenting each of them with an exciting tale.

‘Her skin… Would she taste as sweet as her words had sounded?’ That thought startled him more than any other and he shook it from his mind in horror. Blindly grasping arms full of varying clothing articles before marching back to his own chambers where he would pretend a mere stranger stood in his shower now.

‘Don’t forget who she is and why your paths crossed in the first place. What you may have to do if she tries anything.’

He looked at the pile of clothing he’d brought but just as he considered how folly it was to bring her anything decent, and what she might think, three knocks sounded.

“Arcann? Are you back?”

With a steady hand he unlocked the door and turned away immediately. “You can change into that,” he clipped as if he were relaying orders rather than offering.

Eliza’s eyes fell on the big pile and she furrowed her brows. Almost drowning in the far too large bathrobe that kept her warm. “Vaylin’s?”

“Yes.”

“Did you have all of it sanitized?” the comment left her far too easily.

‘Damn you.’  Laughter nearly escaped him but he swallowed it in time and straightened out his back. “Dress, we have much to discuss and I do have other matters to take care of today.”

“Alright, no peeking,” said Eliza and she grabbed a few things she imagined would fit her before disappearing back into the refresher for privacy.

“Hey uhm, for what it’s worth,” she called out with a grunt while wrestling into a pair of shimmering leatheris pants, “I am sorry about your sister.”

“Right, yes, thank you.”

“And I suppose I owe you thanks for getting rid of Acina.”

“My pleasure. Who’s in charge of the Empire now?”

“No idea,” Eliza lied easily and checked her reflection. Grateful Vaylin’s taste wasn’t too whorish and she did dig the blacks.

When she stepped back out, Arcann was sat behind his desk already. He looked like he meant business, even if she hadn’t the slightest idea what sort of business.

“Do you remember our conversation yesterday?” he asked without looking up.

“Which of the many?”

“When we discussed strategy and the arts of war.”

“Yes, I asked what you meant by the ‘nothing else’ comment and you never said.”

“Think, Outlander.”

“That all you know is how to wage war? Oh…” it dawned on her as she said it. ‘But not how to create peace.’

“Exactly.”

“Well…” Eliza considered her words carefully, “What else would you like there to be? What is your end goal with this war? A supreme rule over the entire galaxy for however long you may live?”

“The war is a simple continuation of my father’s actions and a means to an end. To keep your forces away from Zakuul and protect my people.”

“But your people are suffering. They’ve fled their homes and you imposed a restrictive curfew.”

“I know.” His shoulders dropped and the hand that had been typing away on his console stilled. “I became obsessive in my hunt for you.”

“I’m here now, you’ve got me.”

For a second he glanced her way but whichever notion entered his mind was just as soon banished in favor of more sensible words. “I cannot announce your capture, not while I’m undecided about your fate, so how would I explain lifting the curfew?”

“You’re the Emperor, you don’t have to explain anything. Perks of the job.”

Arcann merely grimaced. ‘Her fate…’

He lingered on the thought becoming further aware that his desire to end her life had abandoned him completely. Seeing the woman before him, powerful in her own right but an entirely different creature to his father. Two opposite entities who needed separation so both Arcann himself, and Eliza, would, at last, be freed from Valkorion’s existence.

“I want…” Further words escaped him to fight off the last remnant of his pride and mistrust but then he sighed. Rising from his seat to face and approach her.

“I would welcome your counsel, Outlander. This isn’t a war I wish to fight for the rest of my life, it needs to change. I need change but first, we need to deal with my father.”

“Please use my name. I’m not a title or a symbol, I’m a person.”

“Eliza—I’m not a fool. I heard your pauses when we first discussed your bond with my father, I know there is more to the situation. I also understand you would not trust me then but perhaps now you will share what you didn’t before—is there a way to get rid of him for good?”

“There… yes, there is.”

“Tell me.”

“The exact details still elude me but…”

Deciding to trust his intentions and realizing that, even with the truth, there wasn’t anything he could actually do or use against her, Eliza took to telling him what she’d learned during her visit to the Force Astrum. Telling him of his grandfather, Lord Dramath, and the holocron she kept, leaving only few secrets between them now.

 

Chapter Text

Guzzling down food still proved rather tricky. Theron needed to take slow and deliberate bites, or rather, spoon fulls of his soup but he was making progress. Between the kolto treatments and his own implants dulling his pain and aiding his recovery, he’d begun feeling quite a bit better and sat up in bed going over the three mission reports. One written by Jenna, a rather brief recap provided by Andronikos and an overly detailed report, including medical records, by Doc.

“There is no report on your experience there,” he said and turned to his neighbor in the next bed over.

Lord Scourge merely shrugged, giving his own dinner a scrutinizing glare while it dripped from his spoon back into the bowl. “I rarely write any but ask what you need to know.”

“Were there any other patients there? Doctors, scientists, guards? Anyone who could have interfered with their battle or rescued them from the rubble?”

“No. I was the last one left, along with Jarak and the guards you disposed of.”

“Then they must have rescued each other or more likely, Arcann survived and brought Eliza with him, based on whats-her-name’s vision.”

“So it would seem.”

“And Senya was questioned about the layout of the Spire, their containment blocks?”

“Evidently but remind me, how long has it been since she last visited the Spire herself?”

“A couple of years…” Theron considered and understood his point. “Arcann could have made changes in that time and he would return to a place where he feels safest.”

“Exactly.”

“Did you share these observations with the others?”

“They never asked,” muttered Lord Scourge and he pushed his tray aside. “I’m being poked and prodded daily, told that I will be cured one way or another but no one has engaged in a sensible conversation with me or included me in the search for Eliza.”

“They’re likely just giving you peace and letting you rest to recover.”

“Wasted efforts,” Lord Scourge pointed out, dismissive as ever, though the thought of his impending end did resurface the monologue he’d delivered to an unconscious Theron.

“What can you tell me about my daughter?” he asked, seeking to test Theron’s feelings toward his child.

“She uhm, hang on, I’ve got…” Theron began and browsed his datapad until he found a holograph of Cyara.

“That’s the most recent holograph Eliza has, taken right before she came here to Odessen.”

“She does look like me.”

For a second Lord Scourge closed his eyes and concentrated. Considering that if he centered himself enough, he would feel what any loving father ought to but only the void greeted him. “What is she like?”

“She’s… very easy going and accepting toward anyone she meets. Full of love and care, always wanting to help. Headstrong and inquisitive, there are never enough answers to give her. Eliza says she can throw quite the temper tantrum as well but I’ve never witnessed it for myself.”

“She sounds like her mother.”

“And her father. You really don’t feel anything?”

“No. I’m aware that I should. I realize I should feel guilty at the fact I cannot love her or even be proud of my daughter but there is nothing.”

Theron received his datapad thrust back into his hand. “So, where does that leave things for you?”

“Nowhere. I’m a hollow shell now, Shan, and even if my body were restored, I cannot remain a part of their lives. I saw the anguish in Eliza’s eyes on Nathema and she would always suffer in my presence. My daughter would hope for more than I can give and I would be forced to disappoint her for a lifetime.”

Lord Scourge stretched out and heard the small crack of a bone adding weight to his words. “It is best Cyara continues to believe I’m dead.”

“You know Eliza will never accept that.”

“No, I don’t imagine she will.”

A dour cloud hung around the Sith Lord, noticeable to everyone but him, while he sunk back into his bedding. “Do you love her?”

“Eliza?”

“My daughter.”

“Ah.” A frown crossed Theron’s face—how was he supposed to answer that? “I care a great deal about her safety and well being, of course, but—”

“Would you take care of her as you would your own? Have you, in all the time you’ve been with Eliza?”

“You’re her father and I’m not convinced I’ll ever make for a suitable parent. Besides, Eliza and I weren’t together when I met Cyara, I was still with my wife. Ex wife.”

“Curious. I somehow believed you’d been together for the past years… Who then, has been at her side?”

“That’s a discussion you need to have with Eliza when—”

Theron’s words got cut short by Lord Cytharat and Malavai storming into the medbay.

“We know where she is!” Lord Cytharat announced and while he hooked his datapad up to the large holovision suspended between the two medical beds, Malavai elaborated.

“She’s on Zakuul with Arcann. Vowrawn managed to get eyes on them by reaching out to one of his contacts who sent a spy droid, a small sphere, to explore the Spire from outside.”

The holovision activated and Jonas joined the group while Lord Cytharat informed them, “This footage was recorded yesterday, we just received it.”

From quite a great distance, the Spire came into view and the camera honed in on the uppermost level. A massive transparisteel dome—the throne room of Zakuul—reaching high into the atmosphere. Near floating among the stars in the sky but the droid’s field of perception ignored their beauty and zoomed in close enough to become an invisible witness stood by the other two figures within the dome.

‘She really is with Arcann,’ Theron saw to his own surprise and he damned the lack of audio.

Eliza stood in plain sweats and a t-shirt, stun cuffs clearly visible on her wrists, watching a holomap projected before the throne. Engaged in busy discussion with Arcann who at one point put his hand on her shoulder in a gesture that appeared far more amicable than Theron would have expected.

“That was strange, right?” Jonas was the first to speak up when the two disappeared from sight and the spy droid lost track of them.

Malavai shook his head, having reviewed the footage already. “Strange is yet to come—here.”

The footage skipped ahead and this time, Eliza’s stun cuffs were removed while she and Arcann stood in a bedroom. Still entertaining whichever discussion there was to be had and Jonas’ jaw dropped when he watched Arcann remove his belt and tunic.

“Uh, please tell me they’re not about to—”

“No, nothing of the sort,” said Lord Cytharat. “Judging by their interactions, I suspect he is telling her about his injuries, just keep watching.”

Their comments fell on deaf ears with Theron who’s sole focus was on the screen. Trying hard to read their lips in order to understand what Arcann and Eliza might be discussing now but her back was turned most of the time and the Emperor of Zakuul had grown rather speechless.

“Gross,” Jonas commented a second time when Eliza cupped Arcann’s cheek.

“Shut it,” Lord Scourge, equally intrigued by the footage, chided.

By the time Eliza lifted her shirt to bare her own scars, and appeared to giggle at something that was said, Theron’s reluctant smile had grown into a full grin. He had his own suspicions about what she was doing, what they were witnessing and it offered the first true sign of hope he’d felt since waking up.

The twosome on the holovision turned outside onto the balcony where dinner was served moments later but the real surprise was what followed. For a split second, Eliza’s eyes caught the droid and she stared directly into the camera before subtly nudging her head to the side. Masking her gesture by running a simple hand through her hair to keep Arcann oblivious.

The droid’s camera followed her movement and Lord Cytharat, knowing what was coming, slowed to footage down to a half its speed. He zoomed in on Eliza’s left hand now placed in her lap underneath the dinner table.

“Watch,” he encouraged.

The hand idly resting in her lap sunk down to her side and Eliza curled and splayed her fingers, signaling different numbers at four-second intervals. Tapping in quick succession for anything beyond the number five, all the while keeping her smile and attention trained on Arcann.

Once she finished relaying her message and took a glass of water in her hand, Lord Cytharat paused the footage and turned to the others.

“It’s some sort of code, no doubt, but I don’t recognize it. I can’t associate it with any patterns or alphabet, neither in basic nor in Sith,” he admitted to his own regret.

“That’s because they don’t represent letters,” Theron realized and cast a glance at his best friend, his smile widening by the second.

“Sneaky, clever girl… did you teach her that?” asked Jonas, mirroring Theron’s grin.

“No but she’s worked with the Republic military before and they use the same brevity codes as we do in the field.”

Malavai raised a brow. “Would either of you care to enlighten us?”

“Play it again so we can write everything down and go over it step by step,” Theron suggested.

“Okay, that right there,” he began and paused the recording, “is a two-seven followed by a three-six and a one-four. Two-seven is code for a hostile target, the three-six indicates the target was apprehended and one-four is the unique identifier for the rank of Supreme Commander.”

“Which tells us Jace Malcom is at the Spire and was imprisoned by Arcann,” said Jonas.

“Right.” Malavai tried to follow along and made notes of his own.

“Next up.” Theron played the next segment before pausing once more. “She shows us a two-five—a friendly target. The three-three after signals that the target is secured and safe.”

“And that would be her way of letting us know that she’s alright?” asked Lord Cytharat.

“Sure looks that way.” Jonas confirmed and went over the set of signals that followed, musing while he wrote them down, “A four-two… enemy engaged, and a nine-one… That’s mission in progress.”

“That much is obvious,” Lord Scourge commented.

“Yes but the last part is important. She also signals a five-nine, often used during covert operations when we can’t risk backup blowing our cover. It literally means withhold support,” Theron elaborated further, “and that last code, the seven-three means the situation is under control.”

“Okay, let me get this straight,” began Malavai and he reviewed, “The Supreme Commander has been imprisoned by Arcann. Eliza is safe and well, as we can see, and she has the situation under control. She has a plan of her own to deal with Arcann and doesn’t want us coming to her aid?”

“Exactly.” Jonas grinned. “I have to admit, it’s clever.”

Lord Cytharat sat forward, a hand idly stroking his chin. “But what is her plan?”

“Isn’t that obvious? She’s got Arcann eating out of her hand. I mean come on, has anyone ever seen that creep without his mask? And who the hell treats their prisoner to dinner?”

“I can see that much but it doesn’t explain my sister’s vision, the state of despair she saw him in.”

“It could be Eliza’s been working on this for a while and got under his skin about something very personal,” Theron offered and he glanced back up at the screen. “Is there more?”

“Yes,” Malavai told him and took the datapad to transfer the entire recording over to Theron’s, “but it is only further conversation until she falls asleep on him and Arcann brings her back inside, closing the curtains.”

“I would still like to see for myself, thank you.”

“Vowrawn also provided us with the exact frequency for the spy droid’s feed which will go live each time it detects Arcann or Eliza, or both of them,” Lord Cytharat informed them all. “I will pass you those details as well.”

Lord Scourge quietly caressed one of his tendrils while he contemplated the situation. “What do you suppose she intends on doing? Is she merely looking for an opening to free herself or is she attempting to turn him to our side?”

“Who knows,” said Jonas, “but at least we’ve got eyes on them now.”

“Yes, this helps. I suggest we inform the interim Commander and Lana about this situation as well as the other three who were on Nathema. Offer them some peace of mind.” Malavai finished transferring all information to Theron’s datapad and got up.

“And we should consider sending a small, covert team to Zakuul. Not to interfere but to standby in case whatever she is up to takes a bad turn.”

“Please do,” said Theron.

While he had complete faith in Eliza’s abilities and felt reassured having seen her now, he didn’t dare trust the man she was with. A volatile and aggressive war criminal who could turn on her for the tiniest misstep or the smallest perceived slight.

“Always playing with fire, isn’t she?” Lord Scourge commented as though he’d read Theron’s thoughts.

He nodded. “And she hasn’t gotten burned yet but how long before that luck runs out?”

 


 

“Commander,” both Jenna and Andronikos began the second they finished watching the recording.

They paused and turned to each other, grinning and both entertaining the same thought.

“Permission to lead a team to Zakuul?” asked Jenna.

Me’ghan rose from her seat and paused the video. “Granted. Andronikos?”

“I’m with her.” He thumbed back at Jenna.

“Good. Bring Kendra and Jorgan with you for additional firepower should you need it,” Me’ghan instructed.

The Dare, my ship, has been outfitted with cloaking technology we got from the Balmorra haul. Fly her to Zakuul but be mindful to avoid patrols and find somewhere to lay low. No one is to make a move unless we say so.”

“Understood,” Jenna said and together with Andronikos, she left to prepare her team.

Lana blew out a small sigh and furrowed her brows in deep thought. “We’ll have a riot on our hands at this very base if she lets him go or brings him around to our side.”

“Eliza is not that stupid,” offered Charlie while she reviewed the footage a second time. “She’ll strike him down if an opportunity presents itself.”

“How can you be sure? They’re clearly bonding and getting personal.”

“So? She’d begun to love Ravage, in a sense, but that didn’t stop her from killing him despite their history.”

“I don’t know, I’m uneasy about this,” muttered Lana.

“Trust her. What she’s doing now is no different from what I would do in my Cipher days, what many spies are trained to do. Working with the tools you’ve got.”

Charlie cast half a glance in the blonde’s direction. “You should understand her tactic better than anyone, as the former head of Intelligence.”

Lana pursed her lips and grew somewhat rigid in her seat. “I am well aware but Eliza wasn’t trained as a spy or agent.”

“She was inventive enough to fool you when she freed me years ago.”

“I knew what she was up to! She only got away with it because I trusted her.”

“Then trust her now!”

“I’m with Charlie,” Me’ghan added, “I have faith Eliza will make the right call if an opportunity presents itself. Let’s not forget the grief Arcann—”

“Is that my son?” Senya walked into the war room and her eyes immediately caught the video playing. “They’re both on Zakuul?”

Without waiting for a response, and oblivious to the concerned glances exchanged between the other three, she drew nearer the holoterminal. Tears welled up in her eyes when she witnessed the moment where her son unmasked his face—she’d never known the full extent of his injuries.

“He must be in so much pain…” she gasped.

“Can you identify where they are?” Me’ghan drew up at her side while Charlie quietly took notes.

“That’s Thexan’s room.”

“Thexan? Your other son?”

“Yes… His death must have been so difficult on Arcann. I think I understand now what Liyana felt… his sorrow, if he’s been revisiting the past.”

Senya zoomed in on the footage and near touched a finger to her son’s face on display. “Oh but this is good, right? They seem friendly. She’s… kind to him.”

“It appears so…” Me’ghan tried to hide her doubts.

“Maybe there’s still a chance after all, for him to become a better man.” Hope renewed sparked within the concerned mother and she blew out a sigh of relief. “Maybe this is what will save him and end the war…”

Behind her, Charlie furrowed her brows, convinced of quite the opposite while Lana merely shook her head and walked away.

 

Chapter Text

Every step they took spurned the conversation further while Arcann led Eliza from his chambers back to the throne room. She shared all there was to know while observing the curious absence of personal guard in this section but, of course, with her constant presence, Arcann would prefer privacy to keep tongues from wagging.

“So, there you have it. All the details I left out about our family and entwined fates, the tools I need to dispose of your father,” Eliza finished and watched him seated on his throne.

“And that holocron you mentioned, with Dramath’s spirit, you’re keeping it on…?”

All she did was flash him a knowing smirk with one brow quirked—there were some limits to what she was willing to tell him.

“I suppose our trust doesn’t quite extend that far yet,” noted Arcann with a smile of his own.

“No, but it was a valiant effort on your part, very smooth.” She circled the throne and let her feet carry her to the window, gazing up at the stars above.

“You know… speaking of family…”

Arcann followed her movement, sliding in at her side. “Hm?”

“Why do you keep saying that your mother abandoned you?”

“Because she did.”

“I’ve spoken with her. She told me she asked all three of you to come with her—you all refused and chose your father.”

“I couldn’t leave,” he lamented and a hint of sorrow rang true in his voice.

“I’d endured a lifetime of abuse fighting to become the man my father wanted me to be. Leaving would have proved him right about my weakness and cowardice, I couldn’t do it. Vaylin never wanted to and Thexan… I think he stayed because we did.”

“So then, she didn’t abandon you?”

“She asked three children to choose between their parents and when we wouldn’t leave, she walked out alone. She could have stayed, not for him but for us, but my mother chose herself. What would you call that?”

“Hrm. I hadn’t really looked at it that way,” Eliza admitted.

“You like her,” Arcann realized catching her somber expression through the window reflection.

“We don’t know each other that well but, yes, she seems nice and talking with her I could tell how hard it has been on her to leave the three of you. I think to this day she wonders whether she did the right thing.”

“There have been times where I wish she hadn’t left.”

“She misses you, you know? Despite everything that has happened, she still loves you and holds out hope.”

“That hardly seems possible after all I have done.”

Eliza closed her eyes in thought. “A mother’s love is… different from any other. Even your very worst cannot sever that connection.”

For a split second, Arcann felt tempted to reach out, his hand already drifting to her belly but he held himself and frowned. “You can feel that already, even though yours hasn’t been born yet?”

“This is not my first. I have a daughter out there waiting for me to come home.”

“Oh.”

Another secret revealed, why hadn’t she told him this sooner? Was she that afraid he would deliberately try and hurt her family, her child? Arcann glowered at the mere thought and yet he knew that, no less than a month ago, he would have considered her child collateral damage in his pursuit of the Outlander.

How many other children had become collateral damage in his war? Innocent faces basking in the delight of their childhood as he and his siblings had once done. He dreaded to think now of the many lives he’d snuffed out and once more felt reminded of the fact he was a monster until a warm hand cupped his cheek.

“Arcann,” said Eliza as though she’d followed his thoughts clearly, “you can’t dwell on things that have already happened. Focus on the future instead.”

“No, but I have to face and remember everything I have done. Every second of terror as motivation to change and do better.”

He leaned into her touch and mirrored the gesture by running his own fingers through her hair. Teasing soft silken locks away from her face until he gently placed his hand on the back of her head and urged her closer. Wrapping her in an embrace but his cybernetic arm hovered awkwardly at his side and Eliza reached out. Guiding that arm around her middle as well before she nuzzled against his chest, careful to avoid the shoulder she knew still hurt him.

A tranquil moment for the comfort they were both in dire need of. Minds wandering to losses, regrets, a longing to go home and Arcann felt the weight of his crimes. The pain he’d inflicted and the memory of his mother and brother, wishing they were by his side now.

“You miss her,” with a whisper he touched back on the mention of her daughter.

“Don’t you?”

The question gave him but a moment of pause until he realized she meant his mother. “I do.”

Still, there was little point to dwell on that now. His to-do list already appeared insurmountable and, while they’d talked plenty in the past days, there were no plans to speak of.

“In any case, I take this to mean we cannot solve the issue of my father right now?” Arcann relinquished the embrace and sat back on his throne.

“Correct, unless you’d care to let me go so I can get the objects we need.”

“You’d never come back, or if you did it would be with an army no doubt.”

“I’d say we’ve grown beyond that unless you still intend to execute me?”

“No.”

Eliza’s left brow sprung up in surprise. “No?”

“Are you still in pursuit of my crown, my throne, my life?”

“I never wanted any of those things. I wouldn’t have even considered taking your life if it weren’t for this war and all that you’ve done.”

Arcann was slow with his nod while he mulled over his thoughts. “Is it too late?”

“For what?”

“To change. Not just the manner in which I rule my Empire but, everything. The tide of war.”

“Would you?”

His brows knitted together and he closed his eyes. Seeing the crossroads part before him—one path to change and the other to destroy the last of what remained. Of him, of his life and all he held dear.

“I do not wish to surrender my rule or give up my Empire. This is my home and these are my people but I do want to make things right. I need to, as I’ve said.”

Eliza drifted closer, eyeing the monstrosity he sat upon and let her index finger caress along the back of his throne. Feeling a chill rush down her spine that left her to shudder—there was power to the seat, ominous and cold, but she shook it from her mind, at least for the time being.

“May I ask why? The change, why and why now?”

“I do not like the man I’ve become and my brother would not like me today either—I’ve strayed so far from who we always said we’d be. Transforming into a man as cruel as my father, perhaps crueler because while he showed me no love, he took care of our people at least, our Empire.”

Arcann caught her hand when she passed the other side of his throne. “Perhaps the only true way to outshine him is to be a better man than he was, not one who is worse.”

“I think you can be,” Eliza smiled, relieved to hear him come to these conclusions on his own and use his brother as a motivator.

“The Republic, if I approached them for negotiations, what would they do?”

“You've already got them licking your boots. Perhaps they'll start thanking you for the honor as well?”

He smirked. “True, but I’ve received dissatisfied communications regarding… who is he to you anyway? A father in law?”

“Theron and I aren’t married, and Jace would have to become a decent father first before anything else.”

“Another one ill-suited for parenthood? Remind me again why I’m letting this man live?”

“Hmmm, because I asked?” She perched herself on the armrest of his throne, ignoring the chilling allure that teased her nerves upon touching the thing.

“Because if we ever do enter negotiations, and assuming he survived your assault, then you may want to release the Supreme Commander into Theron’s custody as a peace offering of sorts?”

Not entirely aware of his own actions, his fingertips found and caressed the small of her back while he lingered in deep thought. Her suggestion sounded casual enough but Arcann gave it genuine consideration.

“I suppose a release of prisoners would make for a step in the right direction, with all parties involved, no?”

“That’s usually a part of establishing peace, yes.”

“What else?”

“Recalling your fleet, dismantling the star fortresses. Relinquishing the planets you’re holding hostage now.”

“And the Empire, how would they react?”

His hand traveled further up her back, underneath her shirt and his fingers curled. Kneading over her spine with his knuckles in such a fashion his touch finally reached her awareness and a gentle sigh left her lips—it felt good.

“Not quite as forgiving or trusting I’m afraid,” she murmured.

“But if you were to speak on their behalf, given how they have no current leader?”

‘No cur…? Oh, right, he doesn’t know about Vowrawn. Keep your lies straight,’ Eliza reprimanded herself.

“I could, I was part of the Dark Council after all.”

“And you would be more amenable to my offer, correct?”

His fingers reached higher, stroking up her back and tracing the curves of her shoulder blades. Bringing her shivers and leading her to feel far better than she appreciated. She rose up quickly to step just beyond of his touch.

“Yes, I would be, and I could handle negotiations for both the Empire and my own people,” she told him quite firmly and prayed the warmth in her cheeks wasn’t actually showing.

“Mm, good.” For a second he glanced at his hand and frowned.

‘What was that just now?’ Arcann wondered but he cast the thought aside and continued, “Because I think I understand now where to begin.”

“You do?”

“Yes,” he spoke softly and stepped down from his throne. “With you.”

“Me?”

“Mm, and I know what to do with you now.”

“Which is… what?” She observed him somewhat nervously. ‘Have I gone too far, made it sound too good to be true?’

Arcann, however, didn’t utter another word—too busy recalling the time they’d spent together lately.

So many subtle touches causing his skin to tingle and ache upon remembering—her hand taking his when he'd opened up about Thexan and that same hand again later on, so unafraid to touch his body, his scars. Feeling the heat when his mind's eye once more showed him the flutter of her stomach and he relived their embrace from earlier. The pleasing sensation of her skin under his fingertips when he caressed her back, so drawn to touch her and seek a connection though he didn't understand why.

His continued silence disturbed Eliza only further while he looked at her in such a peculiar way, and came so close, it set off the alarm bells in her head.

‘Please don’t try this, don’t make a move, don’t force me to reject you and shatter my entire plan…’ she worried the nearer his lips drew to her own, once he stood so close his body heat warmed her.

Shutting her eyes and taking in a deep breath, she prepared to turn away and with that, possibly crush all she’d worked for—rejection would more than damage his ego—but to her relief, she suddenly felt his lips on her forehead instead. His fingers combing through her hair and then he merely held her, again.

Seeing her close her eyes had been enough of a hint to him. A reminder that she was beyond his reach in that way—married, and pregnant with her boyfriend’s child—and Arcann wasn’t entirely sure why he felt drawn to her in the first place. Perhaps it was merely the way she’d treated him, with more consideration and care than others had in years. It would be so easy to mistake that for something more.

But there was more, from his perspective. He couldn’t discern what it was or how he’d come to be in that place but everything about her mattered to him now. Finding himself smiling at the sound of her laughter and warm when her eyes twinkled. The constant urge to tell her things he’d never told another soul, and he’d done much of that already, but he couldn’t keep her forever.

Furthermore, he feared she could become the one person who would truly make him weak. So weak that his Empire and his own ambitions would come second to her always, and that he might revert to his old ways in the name of, what?

‘Love? Desire? No, fondness, perhaps,’ he considered. Wanting to protect her and going to any length. It would be too much for him and a risk he couldn’t take.

“If I let you go…” he started, tipping her chin up to meet her frown, “would you come back? For negotiations, to let me assist in the banishment of my father? Would I be safe?”

“Let me…”

It was precisely what she’d hoped for, and had been working toward, so then why did it leave her so uneasy suddenly? Why was there something to the offer that nagged at her and sent her brain into overdrive, pushing her heart to pump that much faster?

“Why don't you come with me instead?” she countered.

“With you? To...”

“My base, my Alliance. I have everything I need there to banish your father and, well, your mother would be there. Don't you wish to see her again?”

“I do, but—“

“It could be ground zero for peace negotiations. You and your mother to represent Zakuul, myself and one of my advisors for the Alliance and the Empire, and the Supreme Commander along with a guest we'll invite to speak on the Republic's behalf.”

“Eliza...” There was a sudden enthusiasm and fire to her that he found more than endearing but he wouldn't let it bewitch him. “Could you guarantee my safety?”

'Decide, now, and be certain,' she urged herself and nodded. “You would be my guest and under my protection, as I have been here.”

Arcann paused. Staring down into her eyes to find her soul and the truth behind her words. He'd be under guard no doubt, for his own protection and for the safety of her people. Not that he could blame her.

“Many will not be happy to see me,” he considered openly.

“They won't, but you've got me and you'll have your mother. My people will not make a move without my say so.”

“Your base would make for a more neutral location and we already have hands on the Supreme Commander—another Republic representative would be more inclined to meet him there than to set foot again on Zakuul.”

Once again he weighed his options. His visit to the Alliance would be a confrontational one—no doubt most people there would ask for his demise—but it also felt the more logical solution and, struggling as he might be, a part of him longed to reconcile with his mother now that he'd begun making amends with his past.

“We'll need to make arrangements,” Arcann said. “Retrieve the Supreme Commander and lock him in the hull of my ship. You will have to trust me with the coordinates once we leave Zakuul and I would choose to withhold your weapons and communication devices until we've arrived.”

“And leave the dampener around my ankle?”

“Yes. I am sorry for that but—“

“You're taking a risk, I understand and it's alright. Besides, I've been enjoying the peace and quiet away from your father's incessant preaching.”

Once more her eyes twinkled and he couldn't help but delight. Nervous about what the future might hold and yet finding security in her smile. Finding the courage to face whatever this visit may have in store for him.

“Then let us be on our way.”

 

Chapter Text

The initial testing—filtering, separating, and the repairing of Lord Scourge's blood cells—had proven successful with the tissue samples Doc had taken. The corrupt cells that rotted his tissue and attacked his nervous system had been removed and the process sparked new hope in the medical prodigy. With the testing out of the way, the real work could begin.

He glanced over his shoulder at the heavily sedated Pureblood on his operating table, relieved he wouldn’t need to deal with his patient’s constant protests. While the procedure wasn't exactly new—he'd attended a lecture on Coruscant years ago—it wasn't one Doc had ever performed. He would need to stay sharp and focused to work the new equipment he’d just procured.

Malavai entered the surgical room. “What can I do?” he asked.

“Keep an eye on his stats and let me know if anything changes.”

“Very well. How does this process work?”

“The blue dye I’ve injected will trace and mark all corrupt cells. The lasers will separate those from the healthy tissue and kill them. That's stage one.”

“What about stage two?”

“For stage two I will inject him with a unique compound of pure kolto and his own healthy, untarnished DNA. Then we wrap him in thermal blankets to encourage the healing process and keep him under for the next twelve hours.”

“And that will encourage his body to heal all previously affected areas and regenerate the tissue?”

“Precisely.”

Three rapid beeps denoted that the tracer dye injection had completed and Doc swerved the overhead laser projector down to Lord Scourge's feet to begin the process.

“Depending on his progress, if any, this procedure will need to be repeated weekly over the next six weeks, by my own estimation,” he explained.

“How soon will you be able to tell whether it had any effect on him?” Malavai pulled up a stool and seated himself by the monitoring equipment.

“Tomorrow, when he comes to, I will run another series of exams to test his neurons and reaction to varying temperatures.”

“You sound confident this will work.”

Doc glanced at his partner. “Because it has to.

He adjusted several parameters on the projector display to account for Lord Scourge's height and body mass, and tossed Malavai a pair of goggles.

“Wear those to protect your eyes.”

“How long will this take?”

“About three hours.”

“So we'll be here for a while.” Malavai fixed his goggles over his eyes while Doc initiated the procedure. “Did you catch the live feed earlier?”

“I did. For the life of me I can't understand what she's up to or why she's spending time with that tyrant at all. Did she forget what he did to Kira and so many others?”

“I doubt she has. For whichever reason, he appears keen on her company and she has taken advantage of that fact.”

“Maybe. I just don't understand why he didn't immediately lock her in carbonite, or execute her. I'm grateful mind you, but it makes little sense.”

“Perhaps there were complications.”

“It's possible...” Doc kept a keen eye on the laser threading Lord Scourge's skin to begin repairs. “Kira's process was imperfect, but I doubt he would care.”

“True. It is curious he showed her any mercy at all.”

“Exactly. What if he is merely using her, the way she’s trying to use him, to gain access to our base?”

“Me’ghan has considered the same and taken precautions. The Gravestone is fully prepared to defend Odessen should we face an aerial assault.”

“That’s one comfort at least.”

He turned his attention back to Lord Scourge, a part of him desperate to take a tissue sample of freshly treated skin but he resisted.

‘Please let this work…’

 


 

“Praven.” Lilija Cytharat walked with the younger Pureblood, their arms linked, while they strolled the Alliance base. “I feel blessed my Tallis has met such a wonderful man as yourself.”

“I feel further blessed he answered my love for him, my Lord.”

“Tell me about your family, please? I'm afraid the name Praven is rather unfamiliar to myself and my husband.”

“It is not my family name but a homage to my mother and my grandmother—Pragya and Rayven—who both raised me after my father, Lord Aldon, fell during the Great Galactic War in the earlier years.

“I was only a small child then.”

“Mm, the Aldon family who migrated to Ziost but originated on Dromund Fels. A proud family that values the purity of our bloodlines. Lord Kryat Aldon once claimed to be a descendant of Marka Ragnos himself but no such thing was ever proven.”

“You know your history well my Lord,” beamed Praven and he felt impressed.

“How could I not? I was an archivist on Dromund Kaas for many years, preserving all genealogical records for our species.”

“Strange our paths didn’t cross sooner—as an acolyte, Darth Angral had me spending many hours at the archives to find him anything he could hold over his fellow Dark Councillors.”

“Likely after my time. I had to abandon my work when Liyana fell ill with Idolian fever.”

“That normally only affects humans, does it not?”

“It does, which made her case extremely rare and dangerous but she got through it, as you can see.”

They turned outside toward the Odessen Wilds where Lord Cytharat assisted Master Timmns in training Darius, Liyana, and various other young padawans and acolytes. Praven inclined his head to Lord Cytharat and received a wink in return, prompting Lilija to smile.

“You bring him much joy, I have rarely seen my son this joyful and free to be his own person,” she told Praven.

“The feeling is mutual, I assure you. While I have always served the Force with pride and honor, dedicated myself to the Sith first and later the Order, I never quite felt complete. Sensing a greater purpose alluded me still until I met Tallis.”

“May I ask, and forgive me if this is too personal, but with your family's dedication to maintaining purity among our species, was it difficult for you to follow your heart's desire? Are they aware?”

“Both my mother and my grandmother know of my orientation, yes. I was afraid when I was younger until my grandmother sat me down one evening and shared a poem. It told of two souls uniting to become the very embodiment of love—souls, not limited to species or gender,” Praven recalled with a distant stare.

“She never discussed the matter with me directly but I understood her intention behind sharing the poem. The message she gave me.”

Lilija sat down by his side and clasped his hand. “She sounds like a wise woman. I had a similar conversation once with my son after his father brought home a candidate for marriage.”

A small chuckle escaped the woman when she remembered. “Oh, my dear Tallis was so uncomfortable. Such a polite gentleman but mortified by the prospect of marrying this young lady, and not because she was a stranger.

“It was clear to me then and after I spoke with Valdis to voice my suspicions, I sat Tallis down to explain the very thing your grandmother told you, and that there is no right or wrong. There is just love.”

Praven found himself deeply touched by her words. “I am relieved to know he had so much support growing up, thank you for sharing this with me.”

“We are very fond of you, Praven, both Valdis and I, and it brings us peace to know Tallis will be loved and protected after we journey on to Rishi.”

“He will be, I promise you. For the rest of our lives if he will let me,” he mused with a look of longing.

By tonight he hoped to know for certain what the future had in store for him and the man he loved, and Lilija, knowing of his plans, offered her reassurance by squeezing his hand.

 


 

Jenna groaned quietly and shoved the far too heavy leg off her thigh. Her head was throbbing and all she could remember was the treasure trove of alcohol found stashed away in the conservator aboard Me'ghan's ship. Unexpected of the Sith but she and Andronikos had found a good use for the sealed bottles.

'Andronikos, shit,' Jenna cursed to herself and cast a glance over her shoulder to find him asleep.

Of course, it had been his leg holding her down and his snoring that had stirred her from her own dreams to begin with. She let out a sigh, took the end of one of the sheets to wrap around herself and tip-toed away from her personal conquest—or had she been his?

“Well now, mornin' Captain,” Kendra's voice greeting her was far too loud and Jenna wasn't sure any amount of caf would help her survive.

“Yeah, hey.”

“I hope you had a decent sleep,” Aric remarked.

“Ugh.” Jenna plopped herself down at the kitchen counter and groaned. “You both heard, didn't you?”

“This ship does have very thin walls,” Kendra pointed out with a smile.

She rounded the counter and offered Jenna a bowl of porridge. “There was a lot of agreeing and encouragement if I recall.”

“And many compliments,” Aric reminded her in a rather casual way and he elicited another horrified groan from Jenna.

“That's just... great, thanks,” she huffed.

“No, I think it was more like, 'Oh yes, yes, that's great, yes',” Kendra mimicked in a tease and by now struggled to stop herself chuckling.

Jenna merely shook her head and nudged her breakfast to the side, opting for her caf instead.

“I get it, you're both absolutely hilarious,” she scowled but she couldn't hide her smile. “So, has there been any news from the base?”

“No. Same orders as yesterday—stay invisible, stay alert.” Kendra wiped down the countertop and cleaned up around the small galley.

Aric excused himself and Kendra continued, “I did receive word Doc's begun his treatment of that Sith, Lord... uh...”

“Scourge,” Jenna finished for her. “Good, hopefully that'll pop him back to being his old self. Whoever his old self was.”

“You never knew him either huh?”

“Nah, kept my nose out of Republic and Jedi business alike.”

“Sounds wise,” Kendra mused recalling her own constant quarrels with General Garza, her former superior.

“Do you know yet where you'll go if this war ever ends?”

“Honestly? No idea. The biggest benefit to this mess has been the fact I no longer have to deal with restrictions and the bureaucracy behind them.” Kendra poured out a second caf for herself and Jenna and sat down.

“What about you? Off to new horizons with the pirate? Is it love?”

“Love? A couple of good orgasms don't equate love. I dunno what I'll do... head back out on my own I suppose.”

“Maybe I'll tag along if you've got room. Would uh, Corso be joining you again?”

“Heh, you interested? Thought you and...” Jenna lowered her voice to a whisper, “Aric were an item.”

“We tried for a short while but we're better as friends—he can't quite give me what I hope to have one day.”

“Gotcha. Well, if this war ever ends, you're always welcome. The more the merrier, right? Just keep in mind every damn ship has thin walls and I enjoy life too much to care.” Jenna winked and finished her caf before she left to rouse Andronikos from his slumber.

 


 

“He's coming to,” Malavai announced and he shook Doc’s shoulder.

For several hours he'd sat at Lord Scourge's bedside while Doc took a brief nap during the recovery period. The procedure itself had gone by free of complications but there was no telling whether it had done anything to improve Lord Scourge's physical condition.

“Hrm…” Doc grumbled and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Nearly knocking over a cold cup of caf.

A crust of dried up saliva cracked at the corner of his mouth and he rushed in half a daze to splash some water in his face and wash his hands. With a stack of paper towels, he dried off and smacked his own cheek a few times to regain his full senses before he returned to face his patient.

“Ahh, if it isn’t my favorite grump returning to the land of the living,” Doc chirped while he pulled up a stool.

Lord Scourge said nothing. Merely rolling his eyes before closing them again.

“How are you feeling?”

“Give him a moment,” said Malavai and he poured Lord Scourge a cup of water.

“Yeah alright, I’m just…” Doc scrubbed a hand through his hair.

“Eager for results. Yes, I share in your interest but let’s allow him a few minutes to adjust.”

Doc nodded, flashing Malavai an apologetic smile and he went over Lord Scourge’s chart instead.

On paper, the Sith was a picture of perfect health and upon closer inspection, using his medical scanner, Doc noticed several old bruises had healed over. Just like the minor bone fracture in his wrist but Doc also knew this might mean little. The pure kolto would have regenerated recent injuries but that was no guarantee for an actual cure to fight the decay.

“I’m going to just…” Doc mumbled and ran the soft end of his stylus pen down Lord Scourge’s arm.

“Just, what?” groaned Lord Scourge.

Doc frowned and exchanged the stylus for a regular sized needle, once more tracing it carefully down the Sith Lord’s skin but any sign of a response stayed out.

“Just what?!” Lord Scourge asked again and he now opened his eyes.

“You didn’t feel that?” Malavai worried.

“No.”

Lord Scourge looked from Malavai over to Doc and then down at his hand where the needle tip gently scratched his skin. Enough to draw a hint of blood but not even close to eliciting a reaction otherwise.

“Nothing. Guess you’re no medical marvel after all.”

 

Chapter Text

Late at night, when fewest eyes watched them, was the moment Arcann had chosen to transport both his prisoners—Eliza and Jace Malcom—to his personal vessel atop the Spire. He'd left word with his guard Captain only, but refused to explain his absence. No one would understand and his mission was too volatile to be called into question.

“Nice ship,” Eliza remarked when she boarded.

“Just wait until you see the amenities and upgrades I had installed. All by my own design,” Arcann told her.

Their exchange left a cuffed, and gagged, Jace Malcom abhorred. He'd been certain that Eliza—the Outlander, a Sith, and his enemy—had been executed mere hours after Arcann had come to collect her from the cell block. Now the opposite appeared true and he glared at the pair with outright suspicion.

He shuffled his feet sluggishly while Arcann led him beyond the galley, his private quarters, and the refresher to the back of the ship where he was stashed away in a simple cage. Arcann removed his gag and Eliza leaned in the doorway, her arms folded before her.

“Are you sure that's wise?” She quirked a brow.

“Perhaps not but we'll be a few hours at least, possibly days. Let the man drink and eat if he desires.”

Jace grumbled, not the least bit pleased, “What are you both up to?”

“I'm going home, Commander,” Eliza told him and she shrugged at Arcann's questioning look. “He may as well know, we'll need his cooperation soon enough.”

“Fair.” He nodded.

“Home where?” Jace asked, gripping the bars of his cell to see them both. “The Empire?”

“Home elsewhere. If you're lucky, if he survived, you might even see your son again. Wouldn't that be nice?” Eliza flashed him a contemptuous smile and turned away.

Arcann followed behind and stopped her in the hallway. “You can use my quarters if you want privacy or rest. I'll be on the bridge until we're clear of Zakuul.”

“Thank you, I would actually like to lie down for a while. It's been a long day and this little one is draining me.” She caressed her belly.

The door unlocked after Arcann entered his personal access code and he showed her inside. “Will you need anything?”

“No, just wake me when you need the coordinates for my base.”

“Alright. And if you wake up before then, or need anything at all, use the comm system by my bedside.”

“Thanks.”

Eliza dropped herself on the mattress before he'd even left the room and blew out a deep sigh when the door locked. How the hell was she going to get through the next few hours?

She rolled onto her side and hung half over the bed, her curiosity getting the better of her when she spotted the drawers of his nightstand. She curled two fingers around the edge of the bottom drawer and with slow deliberation checked to see if it would open. Which it did, to her relief, and without sounding any alarms.

“Mm, let's see what type of personal stuff you keep aboard this ship...”

For a second she paused, considering she shouldn't be snooping through his things but she was halfway into committing the crime already, no point stopping now. She dug through two stacks of clothing articles—pajamas by the looks of it—and found a hardcover album at the very bottom.

The ship took off from the landing pad, startling Eliza when she felt the vibration of the engines, but then she relaxed and retrieved the album to flip through its contents.

“What...” she mumbled to herself when she found hand-drawn sketches rather than developed holographs like she'd expected.

The very first sketch was an all too familiar figure—Thexan—so identical to his brother though somewhat slimmer, especially around the face. Arcann had drawn him several times over, filling the first couple of pages until Eliza found a likeness of Senya instead. A younger Senya with her hair down—the mother Arcann remembered best.

“This isn't half bad...”

She flipped further, finding various depictions—Knights, a detailed sketch of Arcann's own ship, the Spire, an unfinished portrayal of Vaylin—but the very last drawing was what stunned her most of all.

It illustrated a young woman sleeping peacefully. Long, wavy locks fanned out over the pillow beneath her head while one hand clenched the sheets and the other rested by her face. Her lips slightly parted, showing half a pout, and long lashes rested on her cheeks. A scene feeling all too familiar to Eliza and the only missing detail was her one arm cuffed to the bedpost.

She froze. “That's me...”

Horrified, she closed the sketchbook and tucked it back inside the drawer which she shut just as quick. For just a moment, she'd actually felt warmed by the drawing, by the realization he'd depicted her with such attentive detail but that feeling didn't last and made way for something else instead—guilt.

“Oh, what are you doing to me...”

All too easily her mind brought her back to the first day she'd had an actual conversation with him. She barely remembered now how he'd slapped her, and only his kindness and vulnerability were burned in her memory.

The way he'd quite gallantly taken her ankle in his hand and on his lap to adjust the dampener. The slight blush she'd spotted on his cheeks when she'd unnecessarily bared her stomach for the physician's medical scan. The tears he'd forced himself to keep inside when he spoke of his brother.

So many moments that had left their mark on her while she and Arcann had grown that much closer. Sharing secrets and confessions of her own which she, in her wildest dreams, couldn't have ever imagined telling him about. Hell, he was the only one she'd dared tell how much it had actually grieved her to end Ravage's life, no matter the deserving circumstance.

Before she knew it, a single tear trickled down her cheek and she gripped the sheets firmly to pool her strength and banish the emotion from her body. Now was not the time to be weak or to break—the future was at stake and hung entirely on her actions.

“Hold it together, you're almost home. You'll see Theron again—you know how good Doc is, surely he saved him and Scourge. You'll have your family again soon, just hold on.”

The words were barely even a whisper but they were all she had right now. Words, promises made to herself, hope—even if vain—to hold on to and see her through the last leg of her unexpected adventure.

At last, sleep carried her to restless dreams where her darkest thoughts met her biggest fears. Leaving her to toss and turn, get entangled between the slate blue sheets, until a gentle hand rescued her from a whirlpool of nightmares hours later.

“Are you alright?” asked Arcann, the concern clear in his eyes. “I called your name several times over.”

“I... sorry, bad dreams,” Eliza mumbled.

She forced herself to sit up, feeling the drops of sweat on her forehead, and combed her fingers through her hair to straighten it out.

“I did something stupid,” she confessed, entirely beyond her own control, when he sat down by her side.

“Oh? What is it?”

“I was looking for... an extra blanket,” she reached for whichever excuse sprang to mind, “and found your sketchbook.”

“Ah. You mean you found the drawing I made of you?” Arcann didn't appear bothered by her admission.

“I did, yes.”

“And now you're freaked out, is that what your bad dream was about?”

“No, not at all, no. It's very good, you're talented, but I just don't understand why you drew it at all. Or why you didn't show me the next morning.”

He nodded and his hand found hers, their fingers entwining naturally. “That day meant a lot to me and as something to remember it by, to remember you by, I drew that sketch.”

“That... makes sense, and it's quite lovely.”

“Yes, but there is more—you've started to matter to me, Eliza. You've made a real, and positive, difference in my life, just short of throwing it upside down completely.”

She chuckled and felt the weight of her nightmare ebb away, making room for calm. “You're welcome?”

“Mm. I'd even go as far as to admit that, had our lives been any different, if circumstances weren't what they are, I could picture myself with someone like you.”

“Arcann...”

“Don't. I'm not in that place and you'll never be, and I can live with that. I'm actually more-so looking forward to the friendship we might one day develop.”

A heavy lump formed in her throat and before she knew it, she'd leaned in and brushed her lips against his cheek. Not for a second taking notice of the scars on his face, or the way he held her in return, but just letting instinct drive her and sheltering herself in the moment.

Oh, she would go to hell before the day was over.

“What was that for?” he asked when she finally let go.

“I... just, because I think we're—yeah, friends.”

Arcann smiled, but gradually tore himself from her side and got up before he'd do something he might regret forever—like giving in to desires that would serve him no good.

“We just passed the Endless Swamp and have entered Wild Space. Would you care to enter the coordinates to your base into the system?”

“Yeah, sure. Has the Supreme Douchebag given you any trouble?”

“No, he's been quiet as a mouse, save for the occasional heavy sigh and grunt. I dread to discover his snoring is as bad as you've claimed,” Arcann told her with a grin.

“Pff, I'm just grateful that particular trait does not run in the family.”

“Lucky you.”

They found their way to the bridge where Eliza took up the co-pilot's seat and with a few quick taps on the navigational system, Arcann's ship, which she now saw named The Edrys, set course for Odessen.

“I've never heard of that planet before,” said Arcann when he checked the map.

“Neither had I—a friend of mine discovered it a while back.”

“Less than five thousand parsecs from Zakuul... to think you were right under my nose all this time.”

The only thing Eliza managed was a timid smile. Her far too many thoughts eating away at her awareness and she sunk in her seat, wishing she could have just a few drops of liquid courage to see her through the next hours.

“You never told me what happened with Kira,” she broke the silence minutes later and swiveled her chair around to face him.

“How did she manage to strike at your father, what exactly happened to her after and why did you lock her in carbonite?”

Arcann lowered his eyes—he still carried around guilt for the way he'd used Kira. “I... freed her. I still wanted my father dead and thought together, she and I could take him.

“He'd ordered me to strike her down but instead, I removed her stun cuffs and turned on my father. While he was distracted by my attack, Kira struck him from behind and ended his life. I'm not entirely sure what happened next—he'd dealt me a blow and I was rather out of it—but when I came to, my father was dead and she was unconscious on the floor.”

“So, she helped you?”

“She did,” he admitted in shame and the crimson rose in his cheeks. “But someone had to be held responsible for the Immortal Emperor's demise and it couldn't be me. She was the only other choice—and did strike the killing blow—though I couldn't bring myself to kill her, not after she'd aided me. That's why I locked her away instead, unaware the carbonite process was flawed.”

Seeking to apologize, or perhaps to connect and ease his conscience, Arcann leaned forward and put a hand on Eliza's knee. “I'm sorry for what happened to her.”

“You should know, her husband is with us on Odessen. We buried her there.”

“Yes, I'd thought I might run into such confrontation on your base. I'm willing to face it.”

Again she merely smiled, silent in a way he felt was quite unlike her. “Talk to me Eliza, what's going on? Are you having second thoughts about what we're doing?”

“No, it isn't that,” she was quick to dismiss his worry and her own hesitation.

“But for the past weeks, I've ignored wondering what's been happening in my absence. Whether Scourge and Theron survived, if my crew even made it back to Odessen at all and now that we're so close to getting there, I think those concerns are catching up to me.”

“That I can understand,” Arcann said and he suppressed his own flash of a selfish thought—thinking just for a second that if neither men had survived, he might just stand a chance.

“I have some herbal tea in the galley, why don't you make some for us both while I increase the engine drive to get us to Odessen faster?” he made an offer Eliza eagerly accepted.

“Sounds like a plan, thanks.”

She left her seat and turned from the bridge but just as she did, Arcann reeled her back in and within seconds his lips found hers. Trapping her body in his arms in the most tender fashion and she let him—accepting the punishment for her crimes. Welcoming his tongue slipping into her mouth to carve out a scar that would taint her life and follow her to the depths of hell. His hands roaming her sides, down her back and caressing underneath her shirt to craft a cage around her regrets until he let her go.

“I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me,” he stammered with embarrassment when he realized what he'd done.

“It's... don't worry, I get it. Let's just forget it happened,” Eliza managed with more conviction than she felt in her body. “Tea, yes?”

“Please...”

The moment was best left ignored to avoid a conversation neither of them could handle. Knowing she would reject him was enough, he didn't need to hear her say so and Eliza couldn't even form the words to express everything she felt. Wrapping herself in a shroud of stoicism while her feet carried her to the galley.

'Herbal tea... herbal tea... where do you keep it?'

In the cabinets, she found a set of mugs and she had no trouble finding, and filling, the kettle but the little baggies eluded her. Rummaging through the drawers yielded her no results either but then her eye fell on something else entirely—not quite what she'd been searching for but exactly what she needed to get her through this journey.

After casting a quick glance at the door, Eliza stashed the object away on her back, tucked under the waistband of her pants. She scoured the other areas of the galley, at last finding the tea bags in a holder on the dining table, and she prepared a warm brew for herself and Arcann.

“I wasn't sure if you take sweets or milk,” she said and handed him one of the mugs when she returned.

“Neither, thank you.”

“Sure.”

Her feet padded the soft carpet while she paced, drumming her fingernails against the rim of her mug and wishing time would go by faster. The tea did nothing to relax her and Arcann glanced her way, frowning at her tense body language.

“I apologize for the kiss, I was out of line,” he took a wild stab at trying to guess what bothered her.

“Oh... no, really, I meant it when I said not to worry about it.”

“Then what's...” the question died on his lips when he saw her eyes widen.

Following her gaze, Arcann glanced out the viewport at the planet that appeared before them. Very few clouds clung to the atmosphere, leaving a clear view of the orb painted mostly in vibrant green and blues—quite unlike Zakuul.

“Is that...”

“Odessen? Yes,” Eliza confirmed.

She circled back around and came to stand still behind his seat, leaning forward to place a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “That’s home.”

“It's quite a sight. Is it as beautiful down on the surface as well?”

“Oh, even better. Vast green forests, mountains and cliff sides. Wildlife, waterfalls, little creeks.”

“Sounds idyllic.” He stared ahead, mesmerized by the planet expanding before them.

Everything was falling into place for him now and finally, his life was on the right track. A childlike joy bubbling in his heart when he realized it wouldn't be long until he'd reunite with his mother and could tell her all the things he hadn't been able to since the day she'd left.

His hand slid over Eliza's on his shoulder and he laced his fingers, bringing her soft digits toward his lips. He trailed lithe kisses down each of her knuckles, humming with a quiet gratitude that caused her to quiver.

“Thank you,” he expressed with a sigh. “For having faith in me, for giving me a chance and—”

The last of his sentence drowned out against her palm and, entirely unexpected, everything changed. In a split second, Eliza had dug her fingers in to grip his jaw and she'd jerked him back in the pilot's seat. Her forceful claw tipping his chin up, leaving Arcann startled while he snatched her wrist to free himself and turned a blind eye to her other hand coming up on his left side.

An unpleasant squish, the sound of a blade slicing into flesh, reached his ears and scarlet fluids sprayed the control panel before him and down his chest—she’d cut him. Tearing his throat open from below his right ear down to the left side of his neck where the knife halted stubbornly against thick scar tissue.

Arcann thrashed and struggled in his seat, fighting his own debilitating disbelief at her actions but it wasn't until he heard her mournful whisper that his rage drowned out every other form of upset.

“I'm sorry...”

He bled profusely, and even with his strength and power, he had only minutes to spare before he would succumb to his injury but that didn't stop him lunging from his seat to fight back. Waving his arm in a furious arch to throw Eliza back and she hurtled from the bridge out into the hallway where she collided with the wall.

“WHY?!” he bellowed in sheer anger and stalked after her.

The knife—the one she'd taken from the galley—clattered at her side and she rushed to pick it back up. He was in pursuit of her, clutching his throat to stem the bleeding, and Eliza first crawled, then got to her feet and ran beyond his reach.

“Why?!” he demanded again but this time, the crack of heartache in his voice overshadowed his anger.

How could it be she’d done this to him? Why now, and for what reason, when they’d formed such a treasured relationship over the past days. Even more so in the recent hours.

“I had to! The things you've done cannot be forgiven!” Eliza cried out.

“Kira's death, Scourge's years of torment, Theron?! Korriz, Melldia, Kursid, Drezzi, and Athiss! The pain you've caused Cytharat and his family, my family! Billions who've died by your hand!”

She scampered further away, never taking her eyes off him and never letting him get close though he hadn't yet reached for his lightsaber on his hip—a fact which only barely registered while she continued her accusations.

“Years of war, your own people who've suffered! The Republic and the Empire slaves to your ambition, subjugated! There is only one form of redemption, one justice for all that you've done!”

“I was going to atone and make things right!” He still followed her even while his legs buckled and his body shook.

“You can’t! No amount of good deeds will ever undo the atrocities you’ve committed. You can’t bring back the dead and true peace is impossible while you live!”

By now they'd reached the back of the ship and Arcann crumbled to his knees. Broken, and not just through his injury but because of her—the woman he'd grown to care for and admired, who'd brought him hope and now shattered it with her betrayal.

Were she anyone else, he wouldn’t hesitate to spend the last seconds of his life making her pay. To end her before he’d draw his own last breath but he couldn’t do it. Feeling his heart break when he caught the anguish written all over her face.

He unclipped his lightsaber from his belt but rather than ignite it, he threw it at her feet. Resigning himself to his fate and lacking the desire to fight her. Monsters had to be put down—they didn't deserve forgiveness or a happy ending—and he’d been a right fool to ever believe otherwise. She was just doing her duty by eliminating the villain from her, and everyone else's, story.

“Was it all a lie?” he croaked and finally allowed himself the tears he'd been holding back for so long.

Scarlet regret dripped down the corners of his mouth, coating his chin when he heaved a staggering breath and Eliza crouched down to his level. Warm tears trickled down her cheek and she swallowed hard.

“No, most of it was true,” she swore in absolute honesty.

His head lolled forward in a faint nod and he gripped her trembling hand, guiding the knife she held to his heart.

“Then finish it and carry me with you for the rest of your life.”

With the last of her strength, Eliza drove the blade forward to rob him of his last breath. Piercing the heart that had come to love her in its own way and she let out another sob.

“Stars I'm sorry, I'm so sorry... I couldn't let you, I couldn't risk it... all those people, all you've done... I couldn't,” she choked out when he slumped against her and she felt life leave his body.

 

Chapter Text

Minutes went by while Eliza sat holding his dead body in her arms, bitter tears raining down her cheeks. Her hands and clothes painted by his blood and still she whispered silently.

“I’m sorry…”

With salted and wet lips, she planted a kiss to his forehead and two of her fingers lowered his eyelids—she couldn't stand the sight of him looking at her any longer. The judgment and eternal condemnation, woven between crimson and golden flecks in his irises, because she'd created and nurtured trust only to betray him in the end.

She'd given him the illusion of a second chance and brought him hope. For redemption, for love, and the hope to become a better man but then she'd torn those very things from his body and caught them on the tip of her blade.

It had always been her plan not only to escape but to put an end to him—end the man and it would end the war—but it hurt a great deal more than she'd anticipated and left her to wish she could have finished the job sooner. Before caring about him, before he’d started to matter to her but despite the freedom he'd offered her in recent days, there hadn't been a decent opportunity until now.

“I really did care about you,” her voice broke, “and if it was just me, if I had been your only victim, we could have worked this out. I saw the man you were changing into, I did, but he came too late.”

This was the one thing she would never be able to forgive herself for and she wasn't quite certain anyone else would but no one else had known. No one else had seen the potential of him develop in the past weeks—the thawing of his cold heart to blossom with a change for good.

“How utterly pathetic,” someone nearby spat and it was only then that Eliza remembered Jace Malcom in his cell.

The very cell she sat in front of now—that's how far Arcann had chased her through the ship—and Jace had seen it all.

“Never took you for the weak kind, Sith,” Jace mocked her further.

Eliza clenched her jaw and hissed, “Shut your mouth or you'll be next.”

“Hah, right. You’re sat weeping over your biggest enemy but expect me to believe you’d have the balls to raise a hand against me?”

“He was a better man than you are.”

Jace scoffed and watched while she eased Arcann's body from her lap. She turned on her heel to face him.

“He was. Sith magic tainted him from the moment he was conceived and he went through hell growing up—he never stood much of a chance. Sure, he wasn't perfect and he could have handled his traumas differently but he was changing for the better. Saw his mistakes and made moves to make things right.”

“Until you—“

Her arm shot between the bars of his cell and she gripped him by his collar. “What's your excuse, huh?

“You had a lifetime of opportunities and chances. Hell, you were once such an admirable man even the Grandmaster fell for you but what did you do? Threw it all away to succumb to your own hatred and bitterness! Arcann never knew anything else—you did, and you wrecked it all!”

An exasperated sigh left her lips and she released her hold. “You know, Theron is… one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met and anyone would be so lucky to know him. To stand by his side but you, you were ready to sell him out! Your own son!”

“No! I would have made a deal for his life!”

“Really? With the very man Arcann was a few weeks ago? You can't be that stupid, surely you knew damn well Theron would have become collateral damage regardless of any deal!”

The Supreme Commander narrowed his eyes at her and changed gears. “Why do you care so much about what happens to my son?”

“Better question is, why don’t you? He’s your son and you’re an idiot for not making more of an effort with him.”

She said nothing further, still keeping their relationship and her pregnancy a secret. Instead, she glanced down at Arcann's body and considered her next move but a call for communication coming from the bridge distracted her thoughts.

“Hailing unknown vessel—please identify and state your business,” Lana's voice rang clear when Eliza reached the bridge and she'd never been happier to hear the blonde.

“Lana it's me,” she took the comms and sighed a breath of relief. “Is anyone there with you?”

“Eliza! No, it's just myself at the command center right now but—“

“Good. Listen, I'm on Arcann's ship—he's dead—and I've got the Supreme Commander here with me. I need you to meet me at the landing pad with a team of guards to take Jace into custody.

“I also need you to keep Senya away, occupy her elsewhere, and don't tell her of my arrival. I'll be bringing his body with me and she... she shouldn't see him like this, not until I've had a chance to talk to her myself.”

“You... what?” Lana spent a few good seconds rather baffled but quickly composed herself. “I'll take care of it. Sending you clearance to land.”

“Thank you.” Eliza hesitated for a moment, wanting to ask about Theron and Scourge, but she withheld the questions for now.

Other, more pressing concerns were on her mind and after speaking with Lana, she wandered toward the medical bay where she retrieved a body bag and a hover-stretcher. She knelt down by Arcann's body and strained to lift him onto the carrier.

'Senya can't see him like this...' she repeated to herself seeing his white armor drenched and discolored.

A change of clothing, that's what he needed and after zipping the body bag up, she ran off again to his private quarters. Grateful he'd left them open after her nap but when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror by his dresser, she froze.

Half her face was covered in scarlet smears after she'd wiped her tears away with bloody hands. Vaylin's black clothing she wore was further darkened by the sanguine fluids and even parts of her cleavage were tainted red. She looked like she'd just walked away from a slaughter.

Eliza hastily grabbed a set of towels and disappeared into the refresher next door. There was no time to shower or have a change of clothing herself but at the very least she could wash the blood from her hands and face. It would have to do.

Once back in his sleeping quarters, she gathered what she could find in terms of clothing and personal belongings of his. She pulled the sketchbook from the bottom drawers and sighed, thinking Senya should have it but then she remembered the drawing he'd made of her.

She flipped to the last page and new tears pooled in her eyes—she should burn it. Destroy any shred of evidence there was to the bond they'd shared but after tearing the page out, she realized she couldn't do it. Nothing would ever wipe any of this from her mind and the drawing was proof of his good side so she neatly folded it and tucked it into her own bag.

“What will you do with me?” asked Jace when she returned.

“Take you into custody and if he survived, Theron can decide what happens to you next.”

“And what if he didn't?”

“Would it make a difference to you?”

“Damn you Sith! We may not have the best relationship but I do care about my son!”

“You've got a funny way of showing it,” muttered Eliza while she unzipped the body bag.

Loathing to look at Arcann's corpse again but she'd suddenly remembered he kept the controller for her ankle cuff in his pocket. Odd that she'd almost gotten used to wearing the thing, even if it did raise a void inside of her that couldn't be filled, but now she’d finally get to take it off and immediately welcomed the Force surge all around and through her.

“Who are you to judge? You don't know me, you don't know our situation,” Jace sneered.

“I know more than you think and, the thing is, you have no idea how lucky you are. To be alive and actually have a chance with him,” she fired back. “Ungrateful bastard.”

Again she left his company but not for long, this time returning with a set of stun cuffs. “Are you gonna make this hard on me or will you turn around so I can restrain you?”

“You never answered my question—what'll happen to me if Theron didn't survive?”

Jace resented his entire situation but rather than kick up a fuss, and understanding the futility, he turned around in his cell. His hands clasped behind his back and he moved up against the bars so Eliza could slap the cuffs around his wrists.

“I dunno. Depending on how much trouble you cause me, I'll probably keep you as a bargaining chip to bend the Republic to my will.”

Odessen was drawing nearer and Eliza returned to the bridge to initiate landing procedures, touching down on platform 7-Besh. She rushed through the ship to gather her own bag and Arcann's before activating the hover-stretcher.

There was almost too much to take care of by herself but somehow she managed to make it to the boarding ramp with her prisoner pulling up the front. The stretcher carrying Arcann's body floated behind Jace, drawing curious looks from the soldiers and Lana who awaited them on the landing pad.

“Toss him in the cell next to Kaliyo's and keep his presence quiet,” Eliza ordered when Jace was taken into custody.

Lana hurried to her side, still perplexed, and furrowed her brows at the body bag. “Eliza, what—“

“Not now. Get his body down to the medical bay—I want him cleaned up and redressed before I inform Senya. Have the others meet me in the war room in one standard hour so I can update everyone at once.”

“Yes, of course, but—“

“Theron and Scourge, how are they?” Eliza wasn't in the mood to answer questions just yet and pushed her own agenda.

“Both alive. Theron spent quite some time in kolto but he's awake now and improving much. Lord Scourge has started to receive treatment for his—“

“Good. I take it they're both in the medical bay as well?”

There was something terribly off about her behavior, Lana could sense it and hated the constant interruption but she swallowed her pride and nodded. “Yes, Commander.”

“Very well. Inform them of my return and let them know I'll be by after the meeting,” Eliza relayed the last of her orders and strode off, taking a side entrance into the base.

What she needed right now was her own room. A shower, privacy, and a moment to herself so she could break down and rebuild in order to face the next coming hours.

It wasn't long before heavy tears billowed down her cheeks and she crumpled up in the corner of the shower cabin. Drawing her knees up and stifling her sobs by biting into her own arm, even while the downpour of hot water drowned every other noise out. She hated herself for what she'd done and every nerve in her body ached for a different outcome—that she could turn back time and find another solution but there wasn't one. In all her weeks of planning her escape, she'd seen no other option but to take him out.

For far too long she sat on the wet tiles, shivering even as the entire refresher steamed up, and fighting for herself. There was no turning back, only the way forward, and she would have to get on with her head held high to stand by her choices and deliver official word to the rest of the galaxy. After facing Arcann's mother.

A little more than just an hour had gone by when Eliza appeared in the war room and immediately, the embraces of her friends and family wrapped around her. Rejoicing in her return, inspecting her closely to be assured she wasn't injured, and Darius made a little quip about disappearing acts and changing Masters to hide how worried he'd been.

“I know you're all looking for answers so here they are,” Eliza began now that she'd steeled her emotions.

“Arcann is dead, I killed him. After he saved and captured me on Nathema, and brought me to the Spire, I spent weeks earning his trust and working toward the idea of peace negotiations. He'd become amenable to the idea of using Odessen as neutral grounds for said peace negotiations so last night, after talking things over, we boarded his ship to come here.”

Keep it brief and free of too many personal details, that's the instruction she'd given herself. The less anyone knew about how deeply involved she'd gotten, the better, because then no one could think less of her for the despicable betrayal of trust or the way she'd played Arcann.

“I convinced Arcann to bring the Supreme Commander along, as a gesture of goodwill toward the Republic, and he is our captive now.

“Once aboard the ship, I waited for the perfect opportunity to strike, given the dampener around my ankle and a lack of weapons at my disposal. When I found an opening, I took it. It's over now and we need to discuss ways of moving forward as this leaves Zakuul without a ruler and the Eternal Fleet without command.”

Baffled as they all were, Lord Cytharat was the first to speak. Not for a second did he buy into her stoic relay of information—he knew her better than that and he'd seen the live footage—but he would leave it for now and touched on the business part of her report.

“Have you learned how he controls the Fleet?”

“He never said but through observation, I've discovered the key—his throne. A piece of incredible technology that monitors and controls everything relating to the Fleet.”

Me'ghan nodded and glanced at the galaxy map that showed which sectors were under the Eternal Fleet's control. “Then we need a way back into Zakuul to get to that throne.”

“Agreed,” said Praven, “but how?”

“After I've spoken with Senya, I will make an address to the entire galaxy and lay claim to Zakuul, at least temporarily. We're still at war and as the person who defeated Arcann, it's within my right to take his seat. Correct?” Eliza looked at the others.

“People would expect it, yes, but the Republic won't take this well,” Lana pointed out. “Senya may not either.”

“No, I don't suspect she will. Ideally, I'd surrender the throne to her after disabling the Fleet but there are risks, ones we will discuss at a later time.”

“And until then?” Jonas asked.

Though her feet were already halfway to the elevator, Eliza paused to voice her instructions, “Monitor communications, keep an eye on Zakuul. Arcann informed his guards he'd be away, that buys us a bit of time.”

She wanted to get out of there, sooner rather than later. There was little chance anyone in that room had bought her detached calm and she didn't want to wait around for anyone to ask the hard questions.

“I'm going up to the medical bay and I'll speak to Senya after. I suggest we reconvene in the morning.”

Eliza swiveled on her heel and vanished upstairs, taking quick strides through the base until she reached the medical bay. Once at the swinging doors, she halted and took in a deep breath. Watching through the small, round window in the doors to see Theron sat up in bed and waiting for her while Lord Scourge appeared fast asleep.

“Welcome back,” Doc said in hushed tones when he caught her standing there.

“Thanks, and thank you for looking after them...”

“Just doing my job. Suppose I oughta thank you for ending that bastard.”

The mere idea of accepting gratitude for what she'd done left her reviled and Eliza lowered her eyes, only acknowledging his words with a faint nod.

“Sorry for asking you to handle clean up, given what he's taken from you... I just want him presentable for his mother's sake.”

“Yeah, not my favorite thing to do but I get it.”

Doc eyed her curiously, or at least those parts of her he could see—she had her back turned, still keeping an eye on the medbay. “Are you going in?”

“I am, unless you need something?”

“Nah. Just gonna pour me some rum to celebrate and then get to work. I'm glad you're back and when you're done with everything else, stop by so I can give you a full rundown of Scourge's treatment if you'd like.”

“Will do.”

Her feet kept her nailed to the ground a few seconds more, her hand hovering to push the door but then she made her way inside with a practiced smile on her face. Deep down she was beyond ecstatic to see Theron alive and well, to reunite with him, but the weight on her heart kept much of it under lock and key.

Without either of them saying a word, or needing them, she climbed into Theron's bed and curled up on his good side where his arm hooked around her instantly to hold her close. His mouth found its way to her forehead and the button of her nose until he met her lips and Eliza fought back her tears. His gentle and loving touch as mollifying as ever but she couldn't let up or relax, a thing Theron all too easily noticed.

“You did what you had to do,” he whispered into her hair and he understood her struggle.

Regardless of justifiable reasons, he always carried a hint of guilt and regret toward the many people he'd used. Those he'd played and deceived for intel, for a lead, to further whatever mission he'd been assigned to and like no other did he understand Eliza's position now and the way she felt—there was always a price.

Too often he had felt his soul tainted by his actions, the betrayals he'd committed for the so-called greater good. It rarely mattered whether the person in question deserved to be lied to and mislead, it left a mark on him regardless and it was why he'd been forced to set certain boundaries for himself. To avoid getting too close, which was something he feared Eliza had failed to do.

“There couldn't be any other outcome,” Theron continued, his soothing fingers stroking her hair.

“He trusted me...”

Close as they were, he could barely hear her when she sighed against his shoulder, “He trusted me and I used it against him. He... cared about me and I took advantage. I used the pain and trauma of his past to find a way in, so I could betray him.”

Her tears returned—there was little use trying to hide them from Theron—and he held her even tighter than he already had been.

“You cared about him,” Theron deduced.

“I do... did... and I think, no, I know that he had feelings for me…”

Without ever raising her voice above a whisper, and while biting back the occasional sob, she made the short trip down memory lane telling Theron every single detail since Nathema. Filling in the blanks and answering questions he'd been left with since viewing the live footage, and leaving out only one significant part of the story but that wasn't news she wished to share as part of this particular conversation.

Her dread and guilt tripled when Theron remained silent in the wake of her confessions but then she felt his lips again. On her cheek, kissing away the tears while he tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and once again found her mouth.

“Thank you, for convincing him to spare my father, and I stand by what I said. You did what you had to do, there was no other option.”

“He's an asshole and he hates me.”

“My father?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“He just about hates everything and everyone nowadays. I’ll talk to him when I’m ready.”

Eliza gave a sullen nod. “Do you think we could have had peace if I'd given Arcann a true chance?”

“No, and you know that as well, that's why you did what you did.”

“Are you upset with me?”

“I'm worried you'll punish yourself for this, and I wish you'd told me sooner how much it had hurt when you killed Ravage—you shouldn't hide your pain from me, I would never judge you.”

“I was angry with myself. For trusting him, for caring. For having affectionate feelings for him and I hated my own weakness in hurting over his death. Feeling embarrassed and it wasn’t as though he deserved my aching over him,” she admitted timidly.

“You have a heart and people matter to you, even when they’re unworthy of your consideration. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Theron assured her—it was one of those things he loved about her.

“And the kiss with Arcann?”

“Eh... not my favorite part of the story but…”

A quip about the fact he couldn’t quite kill the bastard for it now that he was already dead sat on his tongue but given Eliza’s upset and guilt, he held back.

“I can hardly blame him. I remember a couple of years ago saying goodbye to you and stealing an inappropriate kiss thinking it would be my one and only chance.”

Something twinkled in his eyes when he looked at her and for the first time, a small semblance of a smile played on her face.

“I remember too...” She lifted her head by just a fraction and glanced past Theron at the bed next to his where Lord Scourge still slept. “Has he been difficult?”

“No, oddly kind and supportive but... he's an entirely different man, you need to prepare for that.”

“I'll try, but for now I just want to lie here with you while I figure out how to break this news to Senya...”

Theron's brows furrowed in concern. “What will you tell her?”

“The truth. I can't lie—she deserves to know her son wasn't a complete monster, that he changed in the end. I owe that to them both.”

“That will make it harder for her to accept that you killed him regardless.”

“I know, and I'll deal with that, face the consequences. Besides, if she saw the footage as you have then there's no denying this anyway.”

For as much as he understood her need to be honest about this, it troubled him a great deal as well and a part of him wished he could talk her out of it. No good could come from telling Senya everything she'd told him but he also knew there would be no changing her mind on this matter so he simply held her and once more brushed her lips, grateful to have her back and in his arms.

 

Chapter Text

How does one tell a mother that her child is gone? The only child she had left, and who she didn't get to reconcile with before he was torn from this world. Eliza let out a sigh while she made her way to the Force enclave and rehearsed several ways of breaking the news but nothing sounded right. It couldn't—there just wasn't a right way to deliver these words.

At least the enclave had been cleared out of its usual students hanging around, Sana-Rae had seen to that and it left Senya sitting by herself in deep meditation. Dressed in her usual armor, a remnant of her home, and with her head bowed while she communicated with an unseen entity—Scyva, the goddess of sorrow and a mother herself—praying for the safe return of her child.

Upon hearing her pleas, Eliza held her step and swallowed the lump in her throat. Her heart ached knowing the devastation she was about to bring the woman and it left her thoughts to linger on Cyara, her own child. If anyone ever took her daughter from her, there would be nowhere in the galaxy for that person to hide and she wouldn't rest until they'd been punished. Senya could very well want the same.

“Senya?” Eliza asked gently and knelt down beside her.

Blue eyes, darkened by her troubles, looked her way and Senya breathed out a sigh of relief. “Oh, Commander, thank the Gods you've returned.”

Hope caught her heart in an instant and she clasped Eliza's hand. “Please say, did my son come with you?”

“I—he...”

'Damnit,’ Eliza cursed. She'd wanted to get straight to the point, even if it was blunt, to avoid leaving Senya to agonize through a slow delivery of the news but she could barely get the words across her lips.

“I'm sorry, Senya, he... Arcann is gone.”

“Gone?” Senya repeated, not quite understanding. “Did he leave? He let you go, right?”

“No. Gone as in, he's dead.”

The hand that had been holding hers pulled away and Senya flinched. “What? No, that can't be. I saw him, with you, he was... what happened? What did he do?”

“Too many things that cannot be undone. I couldn't let him live.”

“I saw the footage, the two of you together. He seemed so different, changed, and he... you killed him?”

“I did.”

Senya rose to her feet and took a step back, steadying herself against the wall behind her. “Why? What happened between you both?”

Eliza dreaded this moment more than any other but she braved her fear and her own pain, relaying to Senya everything that had happened since Arcann's arrival on Nathema. Explaining to her what it was that everyone had witnessed via the spy droid and telling her about the trip from Zakuul to Odessen.

Tears burned in Senya's eyes and she gasped for air. Her heart tightened in her chest and she couldn't help but shake her head in disbelief.

“I don't understand. If he was changing, if he wanted peace, why did you kill him?”

“Because there would never be a true peace while he lived,” Eliza shared the realizations she'd come to over the past weeks.

“His victims would never be able to forgive or accept him. The Empire and the Republic might have cooperated but in secret, they would have waited for an opportunity to make him pay for his crimes. He wanted to keep his throne and fleet meaning he'd remain a threat and, sooner or later, another war would have broken out in his name and this galaxy would once more suffer.

“Ending his life was the only way to avoid further bloodshed.”

Her bottom lip quivered and Senya swallowed her varying reactions. Torn between her own understanding and knowledge that Arcann had already gone too far long before Eliza got to him, and her heart aching for the way he was robbed of his chance at redemption. The loss of her own chance at reuniting with her child, and feeling her love for him burn in her chest.

“Why did you bring him hope? Why did you let him get so close to coming here and play this charade to lead him on? How could you be so cruel?”

“That wasn't deliberate. I wanted my freedom but my odds of escaping the Spire by myself, without my weapons or use of the Force, were nil and I wished to free the Supreme Commander as well. I had to find another way and wait.”

Senya's hand struck her within seconds, leaving a red mark on her cheek. “Don't try and excuse what you did! You're a coward, Commander, treacherous and without honor!

“You preyed on his pain, his insecurities and the feelings he had for you! Wrapped him around your finger and when his hope reached its pinnacle, you robbed him of everything!”

“I did,” Eliza couldn't help but agree—she hardly felt honorable or heroic over her actions.

“I've always known there was a chance he might not survive this, that his crimes were too severe but he was my son and the way you handled this!”

Senya hit her a second time and Eliza let it happen, not moving an inch. Fighting only to suppress her tears and regret while the Knight gripped both her shoulders and the eyes of a grieving, angered mother stared into her own filled with guilt.

“I... I cannot look at you right now or be here,” Senya said with great difficulty, after debating her reactions, and she let go.

Tu