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Breaking The News

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Korin couldn’t remember the last time he’d flown like the wind itself with the fear of hell behind him. He’d planned on rendezvousing with his sister and Darth Marr out on the edge of Wild Space, but only got to the meeting point in time to see the seemingly-endless fleet of strange ships pulverising Marr’s flagship to dust. His heart had leapt into his throat when he saw the Serenity still attached to the side of the larger ship via umbilical. The ship’s engines seemed to be revving, but the little Jedi vessel couldn’t seem to detach… and there were enemy pods inbound for their location.

He’d kept his ship close to his sister’s, swooping around and blowing enemy pods out of the sky until the Serenity suddenly freed itself and shied away from the Imperial flagship. Korin had stayed on their tail to guard them as they dove out of the way of more enemy fire, seemingly trying to make a break for it. Even Xaja Taerich knew when to flee from a fight, it seemed.

The last thing Korin had seen before jumping back to hyperspace in a desperate escape to the Republic was Darth Marr’s flagship disintegrating under fire.

But now, a day later, he could finally drop out of hyperspace and follow the Serenity down to Coruscant’s main spaceport. “We gotta warn folks,” he said, unusually sombre and grim. “I don’t got any idea what those ships were, but they’re bad news.”

“No kidding, Cap’n. Marr’s ship was supposed to be the toughest in the Imperial Fleet.” Corso looked over at Risha, where she was trying to hail the Serenity. “They’re still not pickin’ up?”

“No. We’ll have to catch them on the surface.” Risha shook her head in frustration and started transmitting clearance codes to Coruscant’s traffic control. “You piss off your sister again, Cap’n?”

“Not recently.” Korin frowned as he flew low into the spaceport, settling down in a hangar. “Maybe her comms systems got damaged in the fight?”

“It’s possible,” Risha allowed as she stepped away from the comms. “We’d better go catch up to them. They might know what that was that attacked Marr like that.”

“And the powers that be will listen to a Jedi Master over a privateer,” Korin added in a mutter as he hurried out of theDancer, his crew filing out after him. He knew Xaja had her own designated hangar in the spaceport, one set aside for high-profile Jedi, and picked up his pace. Some instinct told him he needed to hurry; dread built within his heart. He tried to chalk it up to the lingering fear of whatever that fleet had been. Better hope they’re not coming for Coruscant.

He rounded the corner to the Serenity’s docking bay, to be greeted with the numbly walking members of Xaja’s crew. “Kriffing hells,” he spoke up as he made his way over to them, seemingly shocking Doc out of a daze. “What the hells was… that?”

“We don’t know,” Scourge answered. He appeared to be the least-stunned-looking out of the group, but something about how he spoke – his inflection, his tone, the sharpness of his words – hinted he was upset. “I have little doubt that it is connected to Vitiate.”

“Then Marr was right.” Dead right, Korin thought, but this wasn’t the time to crack jokes like that. He frowned as he looked over the group, noting only four people and a droid… “Where’s Xaja?”

His heart dropped into his stomach when nobody answered him. Now that he was looking… Kira’s eyes were rimmed red. Rusk’s shoulders slumped, something Korin had never seen before. Doc looked exhausted and clearly hadn’t bothered to shave, which wasn’t normal behaviour. Scourge looked… well, angrier than usual. And even Tee-Seven seemed sad, his whistles depressed and quiet. They wouldn’t all be like this, unless… no….

“No…” Korin didn’t feel himself fall to his knees as he shook his head in desperate denial of the facts. Pain lanced through his heart, physically aching in his chest. He hadn’t felt this level of grief since his mother’s death. “No…”

“She told us to run,” Kira brokenly whispered. Jedi or not, she sounded like she had spent most of the desperate escape back to Coruscant weeping. “She… we tried, but she couldn’t…” Her voice broke as her hand flew up to her mouth, as though trying to hold back more tears for her master and friend. Almost a second later, Bowdarr hurried around Korin to tightly hug the Jedi; she buried her face in the Wookiee’s fur, uncomfortable as it had to be, and said nothing else as her shoulders shook.

Korin couldn’t get up, couldn’t make himself move. She can’t be,he inwardly pleaded with the Force. She’s my sister. She can’t be… Xaja can’t be… she has to be hiding on the ship, right? It’s some sort of prank. But he could feel the grief and hurt in the Force around Xaja’s crew, and couldn’t convince himself they were just good actors. And no matter how far he tried to reach out with his barely-trained Force abilities to find his sister’s presence, all he felt was an empty void. No… no, no… not this, not like this…

“…? Captain!” Korin came to as Akaavi shook his shoulders, open worry in the Mandalorian’s eyes – something Korin had almost never seen before. “Breathe! She wouldn’t want you to…” She hesitated over her words, as though struggling herself to accept the Jedi’s death. “Nu kyr'adyc, shi taab'echaaj'la,” she soothingly murmured as she squeezed Korin’s shoulders. He knew that phrase in Mando’a – not gone, merely marching far away. But that wasn’t true… his sister, the one he hadn’t known about for most of his life, the one he’d only met a couple of years ago and become close friends with, the only one of the three siblings to continue their mother’s legacy with the Jedi, was gone, gone and not coming back. And he couldn’t go after her nameless, faceless murderers.

“She told us to report to the Republic.” Rusk’s jaw clenched for a moment before he continued. “The Senate and the Order need to know what’s coming. We could use your backup.”

Right. Xaja would have sent her crew back to get help, prepare for a war. And she would have been dragging him along herself if she hadn’t… if she… Korin took a shaky breath, nodded, and got back to his feet, using Akaavi for support. He was shaking like he’d had too much caf, and felt like he was going to throw up. But he felt obligated to go with the Serenity’s crew and help them follow through on Xaja’s last order. He couldn’t let her death be in vain. He had to at least try to keep someone else from meeting the same terrible fate that she had.

Korin’s grief had turned into fury by the time the entire pack was kicked out of the Senate Tower. “Traitors to the Republic?!” He glared up at the tower, in the vague direction of where he thought Chancellor Saresh’s office was, ignoring Corso keeping a hand on his shoulder to keep him from going back inside and giving the Twi’lek a piece of his mind. “She fucking called my sister a what?!”

“Down, Cap’n.” Corso tightened his grip on Korin’s jacket as the spacer tried to step back toward the tower. “Stranglin’ the Chancellor with her own lekku ain’t gonna accomplish anythin’.”

“It’ll make me feel better,” Korin snarled. “An’ it’s what Xaja would’ve wanted.”

“That’s not…” Corso frowned. “… Okay, yeah, she would’ve wanted that, but that ain’t the point!”

“Point is that schutta’s not listening,” Doc muttered, interrupting the argument. “We gotta find someone else who’ll listen… and not call us or Xaja traitors for working with someone who did listen.”

“It’s not our fault Darth kriffing Marr was the only one who agreed with her,” Rusk nodded in numb agreement.

“Traitors to the Republic, my ass. I didn’t swear no oaths to the bloody Senate.” Korin raised a single finger at the tower in defiance, then turned away. “What about Master Shan? Would she listen?”

“Probably,” Kira quietly said with a shrug. “She… she’ll have to know anyway. Xaja was one of her favourites.” Her face suddenly paled. “Shit… there’s so many people who need to know. Your dad, your brother… Theron…”

Korin felt the blood drain from his face at the reminder that his brother and father were still blissfully ignorant of Xaja’s fate. “I’ve gotta call my dad,” he mumbled, raking his hand over his face. “He’s… he’s gotta know.” He didn’t have a way to reach Sorand, but his dad could pass the news on. “I… kriffing hells. Got a contact for that other Jedi friend of hers?”

“Master Forseti? He disappeared months ago. Xaja thought he was dead.” Kira wrapped her arms around herself as Doc squeezed her shoulder, half to support himself. “And… she and Theron were a full-on thing, you know. He’s gotta know she’s…”

Korin nodded and swallowed hard to keep from being sick. His eyes were burning with unshed tears for his sister. “I’ll tell him. After I call my dad.” He hadn’t known that his sister was still involved with Theron, but it didn’t surprise him, after the looks they’d exchanged all through the Revanite crisis. That conversation was going to hurt.

“I’ll come with you. He… he should hear it from both of us.” Kira raked her sleeve across her eyes and took a shaky breath. “I’ll call Master Satele, you call your dad, and meet up here?”

“Okay.” Korin nodded and stepped away from his sister’s crew, walking back to his own ship with his crew. He needed to be in the safety of the Dancer when he gave the worst possible news to his father. He barely registered walking back through the spaceport, up the Dancer’s ramp, or through the corridors to his own personal quarters, even with Guss and Risha walking on either side of him to keep him upright.

He locked the door behind him, and took a shaky breath before forcing himself to dial in his father’s frequency. “Dad?” he shakily asked once the call was picked up.

“Korin?” Reanden could already hear a note of something wrong in Korin’s voice. “What’s up, kiddo?”

Korin didn’t say anything for a moment as he slid down to the floor, his back against his door. The words choked up in his throat, not wanting to be spoken. Saying them made them real. He couldn’t…

“Talk to me, son.” Reanden sounded worried. “What’s wrong?”

“Dad…” Korin forced himself to inhale before whispering out the words, finally feeling the tears streaming down his face. “… Xaja’s dead.”

The holocom fell with a clatter from numb, senseless fingers. Reanden didn’t hear it, couldn’t hear it over the sound of his heart shattering. He could feel the pressure in his chest of an unvoiced scream, an echo of the cry he’d made when he’d found his wife’s body years ago. But this hurt worse – he wasn’t supposed to outlive his children.

He wanted this to just be a cruel prank. But Korin had sounded devastated, a far cry from his normal carefree self. He had heard the tears in his son’s voice, and knew it was true. Not her… not my baby girl… please, not my daughter…

He barely felt himself fall to his knees, unable to stay upright as the grief coursed through his veins. He could hear his crew shouting, but couldn’t make out the words. The words didn’t matter. His daughter was gone, and his one son was alone and he couldn’t get to Korin’s side, and oh blast it, he had to tell Sorand that his sister was… was gone.

Reanden barely recognized Vector kneeling in front of him, black eyes wide with alarm. The Joiner was speaking, but Reanden couldn’t recognize the words, or register his shoulders being shaken. His daughter was dead, and the galaxy was in danger from her murderers… all he wanted to do was to find and hold his sons and never let them go. Not my kids… not my daughter… please…

Satele Shan fell back into her seat as the call with Knight Carsen disconnected, resting her face in her hands. “No…” she whispered, not wanting to recognize that the brightest star in the Jedi Order had been snuffed out so quickly. The thought that the feisty little redhaired girl Satele had watched grow from a scared ten-year-old to a tough, confident Jedi Master was gone… it hurt, more than she wanted to admit.

And oh, stars, this was going to hurt Theron. Her son hadn’t been nearly as discrete with Xaja as they’d thought, although Satele had never had the heart to discourage their relationship (not that she could have without being rightfully called a hypocrite). She didn’t want to think about what her son was going through with this loss… she didn’t want to think about Xaja’s relatives’ pain… she didn’t want to acknowledge that one of her favourite students was gone.

She took a breath and blinked away the moisture in her eyes, pulling up the report she’d been sent about the attackers who had destroyed Darth Marr’s ship. She needed to contact Jace Malcom, coordinate the Republic’s defenses against the unknown enemies. She needed to make sure Xaja Taerich’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

But first… She sighed and picked up her datapad, sending a message on an encrypted channel. Xaja’s best friend, Jakar Forseti, needed to know what had happened to the Jedi he’d almost taken as a Padawan himself (before Orgus Din claimed dibs… primarily to keep a prank war from breaking out in the Temple, but that was another story).

Ten minutes after she sent the message, the Barsen’thor called from his undercover position in the Outer Rim, sounding shaken. “Tell me it’s not true, Master Satele. Xaja’s not…” He slumped at Satele’s nod before looking back up, a dangerous glint visible in his eyes, even over the holo. Jedi Shadows were the best for targeted retribution when the Order called for it, and Jakar was exemplary at that.

Darth Imperius stared numbly at the report in his hand, desperately wanting it to be untrue. Darth Marr dead… the Imperial survivors of his forces staggering back to Dromund Kaas talking about a monstrous fleet of unstoppable warships… and there were Republic personnel among the survivors, talking about the Jedi who had given them the warning to flee.

Marr’s death hurt, and the knowledge of the fleet that had killed him was worrying. But knowing that Xaja Taerich had been on board that ship…

Sorand Taerich took his mask off and ran his hand down his face. Maybe his sister had escaped the destruction. Maybe she was one of the scattered survivors who’d made it back. The Serenity had been seen fleeing the attack, along with the Dancer, so that was a good sign…

The door to his chambers opened, and Reanden staggered in, his face drawn and haggard. And with only one look at his father’s devastated eyes, Sorand knew. “Xaja?” he asked as he stood up, feeling the hope fail in his chest.

Reanden slowly shook his head. “Korin’s okay,” he finally whispered. “Your sister, she… she’s with your mum…” His voice broke, and a second later Sorand had his arms wrapped tightly around his father, their grief mingling in the Force. The Sith could smell whiskey on his father, but couldn’t find it within him to care. He buried his face in his dad’s shoulder, feeling the old spy’s back shaking, feeling his heart twist and shatter. Not my sister… please…. I’ve already lost my mother, please not my sister too…

Lana ran into the chamber only minutes later, her words dying on her lips as she registered the scene in front of her. “You’ve heard the news about your sister,” she numbly said; grief and dismay flickered through her Force-signature. “I… I’m so sorry…”

Theron might have been on a forced leave, but that didn’t mean he was on vacation. He’d been slicing remotely into SIS files to stay caught up on the current happenings of the galaxy, and to keep himself from going mad with boredom. Today, there was a sense of dread as he read through the files. He couldn’t pinpoint it, but something was drastically wrong.

There was a knock at his apartment door. Frowning, Theron set down his tumbler of whiskey and made his way over, opening it. Xaja wasn’t due to return to Coruscant for another couple of days, best case scenario…

His mind short-circuited when he registered Korin Taerich and Kira Carsen standing in front of him, both looking pale and drained. Kira’s eyes were rimmed with red, her cheeks still stained with tears, while Korin seemed to have his hands shoved in his pockets to hide the trembling Theron could still see. His mind raced to figure out why the smuggler and the Jedi would have come together to see him, and not for a social visit… and only one terrible answer presented itself.

“No…” he whispered as his heart ceased to beat. That couldn’t be… she couldn’t be… “Xaja… she can’t be…” He desperately shook his head in denial as he staggered backward, agony ripping through his chest. “She can’t…”

Korin opened his mouth, tried to speak, then gave up and slumped, despair all but radiating from him. It was out of character enough for the spacer that Theron knew he wasn’t lying. Beside him, Kira took a shaky breath. “She was buying us time,” she whispered as she tightly hugged herself. “She told us to run while she…” Her voice trailed off as she tried and failed to regain the famous Jedi composure.

“She didn’t want to go,” Korin finally said, his voice quiet enough that Theron almost couldn’t hear him through the pounding in his ears. “Xaja tried to get out, but she…” If the spacer said anything else, Theron couldn’t hear or understand it. All he could think of was Xaja… the way she’d curled up against him during her last morning on Coruscant… the light in her green eyes… her laughter, turned to screams of pain and fear… the terror she must have faced at dying alone on a Sith Lord’s flagship in the cold void of space…

You said you were going to come back, Theron silently cried out as he stumbled another step away from his front door. You promised! Why couldn’t you have stayed here with me? He felt like he couldn’t breathe as he found his kitchen counter, grabbed it with both hands and tried to keep himself upright. Xaja… why you? It wasn’t ever supposed to be you…

He wasn’t aware he’d moved until he heard the sound of glass shattering like his heart and heard Kira yelp. He blinked as he realized he’d violently thrown his whiskey tumbler across the room. Broken glass and spilled liquor made a mess on the far side of the apartment, but Theron couldn’t bring himself to care as he fell to his knees, his fingers gripping his hair like he could keep himself together this way. “No… No!” He desperately tried to reach out despite his lack of connection to the Force, because even the Force-blind could feel the warm light that was Xaja when she walked past them, and felt absolutely nothing. It didn’t stop him from looking up at Korin desperately, knowing the smuggler was Force-sensitive. “You can’t…”

Korin shook his head, grief ravaging his face. “There’s nothing there,” he whispered. “It’s… it’s empty, where she was.” And that final confirmation that Xaja Taerich, the one woman Theron felt like he could love, was gone was a death knell to Theron’s spirit.

He crumpled in on himself, feeling as cold and empty as Korin’s bond with his sister, as cold as the space where Xaja had died alone. He wanted to scream, or cry, or throw up, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. Nothing mattered now. It hurt, it hurt so badly to lose her, and he couldn’t function through the pain. No Jedi or SIS training could have prepared him for this. “Xaja…” he brokenly whispered as a tear fell down his cheek – kriff, when was the last time he had shed a tear? He couldn’t remember. But this… oh, it hurt

He didn’t know how long he remained there, motionless and grief-stricken, until he felt a slender pair of arms wrap around his shoulders and draw him close. “Breathe, Theron,” whispered Satele’s voice over his head as she ran her hand over his back. “She… She’s not in pain. She’s one with the Force and at peace. She’s not suffering…”

But I am. Dammit, Xaja, I need you! Theron buried his face in his mother’s shoulder for the first time in his life and let himself grieve for the woman he loved as Satele held him tightly. To hell with his dignity and pride now. Nothing else mattered but getting through the pain long enough to avenge Xaja.

“Where are you going now?” Kira numbly whispered as she and Korin walked away from Theron’s apartment complex, satisfied the spy wouldn’t be alone with the Grand Master there.

“Hutt Space,” Korin quietly answered, his voice dull and lifeless. “I need to meet up with my father on Nar Shaddaa, figure out some sorta plan.” He hesitated, looking over at his sister’s Padawan. “… You could come with me, if you want.”

Kira hesitated before she slowly shook her head. “I can’t. My place is with the Jedi. With Master Xaja… with her gone, I need to help the Order in her place.”

“I get that.” Korin nodded, looking back at the street in front of him. They walked on in silence for another few minutes until he came to a halt beside a quiet market stall. It seemed insulting that life should continue on as normal for most of Coruscant’s population – didn’t they know that the most legendary Jedi Knight of their time had just been murdered? How could they continue on their normal lives when Xaja Taerich’s death had just ripped apart those of the people who had loved her? “When do you leave for Tython?”

Kira shrugged. “Soon. Once everyone’s back at the Serenity, I guess. When are you heading out?”

“Soon. Probably in the next hour.” Korin hesitated for a long minute, studying Kira’s face intently, as though trying to make a decision. She had perhaps a second of warning when he grabbed her shoulders before he was fiercely kissing her, as though trying to burn up the grief coursing through his veins. If nothing else, it did serve as a good distraction from the pain for a moment as Kira tangled her fingers in his hair, pulling him down closer to her as she kissed him back. For a second, she could almost forget about her grief… until she wondered what Xaja was going to think about her Padawan kissing her brother, and oh, that just brought it all back again.

She finally had to pull back for air, keeping her hands around Korin’s neck to press her forehead against his own. “You’re Force-sensitive,” she murmured as she tried to regain her breath after that kiss. “You could come back to Tython with me…”

Korin was already shaking his head. “The Jedi don’t have a place for someone like me,” he quietly answered. “And my dad and brother… they need me.” Kira could hear the silent And I need them that went unspoken. The spacer swallowed hard and ran his thumb over Kira’s cheekbone, with a surprisingly gentle touch that she would never have guessed him to be capable of. “… Stay safe, Kira. She wouldn’t want you to… to follow her.”

“You be careful too.” Kira pulled him back down to kiss him again before she finally stepped back, letting go of him. “… May the Force be with you.”

“Yeah… you too.” Korin tried to flash Kira a smile, managed a strained tightening of his mouth in a vaguely upward direction, and turned to walk away. She remained still, watching until his blond head had vanished in the crowd of Coruscant’s sentient beings before she finally started moving. Xaja wouldn’t have wanted the lives of those she loved to shut down without her there… and she certainly wouldn’t have wanted the Republic to be defenseless. The Order needed to be prepared.

Thousands of parsecs away in Wild Space, Xaja screamed as she was dragged into the carbonite chamber by two Knights of Zakuul, unable to get free of her captors. She could just hear Prince Arcann making a speech about how she had assassinated Valkorion– Vitiate– whatever his name was, and felt more terror course through her veins at the thought of the Republic paying for her actions.

One of the Knights struck her hard enough to stun her, making it easier for him and his cohort to throw their Jedi captive into the chamber. Xaja still tried to squirm free despite the stars across her vision – she had the Republic to warn, the galaxy to defend, the ones she loved to protect. Images of the people she cared about the most flashed through her mind as the smell of carbonite started to permeate everything around her. Her family… her crew… the friends she’d made within the Jedi Order… Lana… Theron…

She tried to scream as the carbonite consumed her, darkness overtaking her vision as her body went into frozen stasis. The last thought she had before passing into unconsciousness was of the man she loved. Theron…