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Star Wars: Jewel of the Empire

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Coruscant glittered in the faint evening glow, its reflective silver skyline painted with the playful gold and lavender hues of the dwindling daylight.  Chancellor Palpatine found himself working diligently in his office as he usually did this time of day, though something or another had brought his attention to that night's performance of Revan and Bastila at the Galaxies opera house.  Usually these things were planned well in advance, and he would be forced to sit through the event with his usual entourage, all of whom seemed to lack appreciation of good theater and were far more interested in having his ear than anything onstage.  He hadn't even been particularly interested in seeing this particular opera, having seen it before, but something was urging him to go on this particular night to this particular show absolutely alone- no press, no slick politicians, not even a security detail.  Ordinary men would consider it a mere moment of spontaneity.  Those powerful in the Force, however, recognized it as the call of destiny.  As Supreme Chancellor and as a top-contributing patron, it would only take a single holocall to ensure that a premium box would be available for him.  His ticket, a simple code sent to his datapad, arrived immediately.  Noting he had little time until night fell and the performance commenced, he quickly collected himself, smoothing back his reddish curls and brushing off the tiniest particles of dust and hair from his black robes before heading out. 

The world retained its artificial glow as the sun sank below the horizon and he made his way down the elevated walkway towards the opera house, the hum of a million passing speeders and chatter in dozens of languages offering a reprieve from the busy workings of his mind.  Tonight was not a night for deep thought, he knew.  The Force would offer what it would, and it was only a matter of sensing it and seizing it, should it prove advantageous.  Unlike the Jedi, the Sith viewed the Force as a weapon to be dominated and manipulated, not a divine entity whose will decided all.  Existing in harmony with it was nothing more than submission, defeat, weakness, things a Sith could never accept, and Palpatine was no exception.  Whatever it was that he sensed he would find at the theater this night, he knew it would play a vital role in his ultimate plan, should he choose to make use of it like a truly great Sith would.

Revan and Bastila was an older operatic work of approximately three hours and of the style Palpatine would typically enjoy, but something about it had always irked him.  It wasn't precisely its historical accuracy (or lack thereof), as the story matter was loosely based off of a legend so old it would seem many of the actual facts had been lost to the ages.  Rather it was the portrayal of Revan as a tragic hero who sacrificed all he loved (including the beautiful Jedi Bastila) to save the Republic from the still-undiscovered Sith Empire.  It had given no attention to his sheer power from being in tune with both the light and dark sides of the Force, nor his brilliance in manipulating a galactic civil war to strengthen his power base, but had instead reduced him to a sickening romantic archetype far from the real Revan that had long intrigued Palpatine.  Still, he comfortably admired the fine artistic qualities of the performance, the entire time remaining as much in tune with its dramatic orchestrations as he was with the Force energy surrounding him.

It was only when the show ended that he finally sensed what could only be described as a peculiarity in the Force near him, surely caused by whatever it was he had been searching for.  After the applause had ended and the curtains had closed for the last time, the Chancellor made his way to the dressing rooms under the guise of congratulating the actors on a particularly fine performance.

Then he saw her- felt her through the Force.  Her every step was filled with grace, and had he not sensed her powerful presence through the Force he would have never noticed she was coming his way, for she was unusually light-footed.  She was a young, quite rather small human woman dressed in the humble garb of a stagehand with long, thick waves of ebony hair, flawless sun-kissed skin, large, almond-shaped black eyes that shone like a night sky filled with stars, and lips like the fullest, brightest spring blossoms.  This stunningly beautiful creature, he realized, was the very anomaly he had felt through the Force, and it was clear that she had no idea of the power that swirled around her.  Their eyes met, and she greeted him with a coy smile.

"Excuse me, young lady, but you wouldn't happen to be the lovely actress that gave that beautiful performance as Bastila just now, would you?" he said, already anticipating her answer.  A flush came to her cheeks, signaling his success.  Strategical flattery had always been one of his strong points, though with her it came to him unsettlingly easily.

"No, I'm afraid not, Chancellor, though I'm surprised you'd think I could possess such talent" she responded, her voice timid yet sweet and melodic.  "She's busy with the rest of the cast, but I'm sure if I told them you were here-"

"No, that's quite alright," he said.  "I'm here unofficially and certainly don't want to draw too much attention by having myself announced.  Even politicians such as myself need some time away from the prying eyes of the public, after all."

"I'm sure," she said softly.  Far from dismissive or insincere, she sounded so genuinely understanding in a way he wasn't accustomed to.  He could sense something all too recognizable stirring within her despite her efforts to snuff it out, something he realized was growing within himself as well: attraction.  Pure, unbridled attraction.  Many had fallen for the facade he wore of the handsome, gentle statesman, and more still were attracted by the power he now wielded, but for once it was mutual.  And because it was mutual, something within him questioned if he might only be imaging that she was so enchanted by him.  "It's brave of you to come to such a public place with no security," she noted.  "Coruscant is dangerous enough for ordinary people at night.  I can't imagine what could happen to someone as important as you."

"Oh, dear girl, I assure you that in spite of my status, I am still at my core an ordinary person who only desires to serve other ordinary people.  I can't consider myself any more important than you or any other citizen of the Republic."

"I beg to differ, sir!  It's you who saved our world," she said, her voice resounding with much more confidence and strength.  "I'm from Naboo like you, Chancellor.  We can never forget what you and Queen Amidala did for all of us to stop the occupation."

"You're from Naboo?" he said, raising an eyebrow.  "What a small Galaxy this is!  But I should have known- only a Naboo woman could be so charming and beautiful!"

"You do flatter me too much," she responded with a laugh.

"Is it really flattery if it's true?"

"Perhaps not."

"Then I'm not flattering you."

"Nor am I, Chancellor."

"What is your name, child?"

"Miriné.  Miriné Katina."

They conversed for quite some time about life, the Galaxy, the arts, and their homeworld, and it became quite obvious that the girl's wit matched (if not exceeded) her beauty.  Her demeanor might have fooled anyone into thinking she was naive and brainless, for she did not openly advertise her intelligence, but she was certainly more than capable of holding a gripping conversation with a man like him.  With every moment more they spent together, the attraction between them grew stronger and stronger, for Palpatine had never been interested in the small-minded, and neither had she.  But soon the night grew old, the theater empty, and he knew it would be foolish to let her go so soon.

“I wonder if you wouldn’t grace me with the pleasure of your company this evening, my lady,” he said once the moment seemed right.  The young girl’s eyes widened, and a flush came to her cheeks.

“Sir, I don’t think it would be appro-“

“My dear girl, I hope the idea doesn't frighten you.  I merely desire good company and conversation at dinner.  In my line of work I rarely can spend time with people who are so pure of heart and genuinely fascinating to talk to.  It becomes… lonely.”  He sensed a certain discomfort in her, a desire to help him colliding with a fear of being mistaken for someone of an entirely different profession.

“But even if you and I know that all you want is a dinner companion, what will everyone else say when they see us together?  I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a scandal.”

“Dear lady, far from causing a scandal, having someone as lovely as you on my arm would be sure to evoke envy from anyone that may see us!  Come now, I know just the place to take you.”

She was ensnared by his charm, and it was obvious by the time they had finished their meal in a private corner of the neighborhood’s most luxurious restaurant.  He was so gentle and kind in a way she hadn’t experienced in years, and despite his age she found him devilishly handsome, from his soft, entrancing blue eyes to his aristocratic nose and chin to his reassuring, paternal smile.  She couldn’t explain it, but there was an energy about him, drawing them closer and closer with each moment they spent together, and it awoke something deep inside her that she had never in her young life felt.  And yet she had clearly been preoccupied with other things- only choosing plates that offered the most food at the lowest price, nervously picking at her meal in fear that she might eat faster or more sloppily than would be considered proper, trying desperately to hide the fact that she didn’t fit in.

”I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to afford this,” she said.  “I think that was more food than I’ve seen all week, and the bill will be far more than I’ll be able to repay in a month.”

”Did you think I brought you here with the intention of making you pay?” he said with a laugh.

”I didn’t think you would.  Not immediately at least.  I’m not entirely comfortable with being indebted to anyone.”

”Then consider this my treat, Lady Katina.  You owe me nothing, and I owe you everything for having given me such a memorable evening.”  The reassurance made her face light up with a smile.

And then he laid his hand gently on top of hers under the table.  She blushed innocently, unsure how she should react but sure that she enjoyed the sensation.  Deep in his eyes she lost herself, absolutely entranced by everything about him.

“Would you… come home with me tonight, dear girl?  I won’t be offended if you refuse,” he said.

“Sir?”

“Oh, perhaps I’m a foolish old man to ask, but…”  His voice trailed off as he waited for her reaction.  He could sense her worry conflicting with her desire to be closer still to him.

“Yes,” she said confidently after a moment of deep thought.  “I would be glad to do so.”

With that, her fate had been sealed.  He led her to a speeder and flew with her into the night towards the tower he called home.  Her eyes glimmered as she looked up at him, and he could sense the energy between them intertwine, becoming so powerful he wondered if it wouldn’t awaken the whole city.

The beauty in his arms eagerly let him lead her to his quarters, where he kissed her for the first time, sending sparks through the Force around them.  He was stunned by how much this innocent, bright-spirited young girl wanted him of all people- an old, worn, politician from her homeworld, beloved and trusted though he may have been by the general public.  He realized he hadn’t even tried to manipulate her into this.  He had told a few little fibs, emphasized the more honorable parts of the role he played as the good Chancellor, but he hadn’t lied, and he certainly hadn’t utilized any tricks of the Force.  She wanted to be here with every fiber of her body.  The way she looked at him might have killed him, for she admired him as though he were the most desirable man in the galaxy.

Her hands, so slender and delicate, seemed to paw hungrily at him, desperate to feel his skin against hers.  But he would not let her have her way so easily.  With kisses and gentle caresses he teased her, tortured her with hints of what he could make her feel and pulling away just before they could get too carried away.  Every action was precisely calculated, every reaction expected, just as in everything else he did.

When her dress slid from her shoulders to the floor, Palpatine stood admiring her in awe.  The humble garment had covered a body that had been ravaged by hunger in recent days yet had remained strong nonetheless.  He could see that in spite of the adversity she had faced, she was well-built.  With proper care, proper training, this body could be an invaluable weapon, he noted.

“Oh my,” he whispered, laying his hands gently on her hips.  “How did I ever manage to ensnare a being as divine as you?”

“I could ask how a humble girl such as myself managed to find herself with the greatest man in the Galaxy, but it would be a fruitless exercise of the mind, wouldn’t it?” she whispered in turn as she wrapped her arms around his neck and drifted closer.  “I’m here now.  Enjoy me, Chancellor."  He pulled her into a deep kiss, eager to do just that.

He loved how she responded so naturally to his touch, seemed to anticipate his needs, gave him more than he could have hoped for in one passionate night.  For a brief moment, he even forgot that she was the disturbance in the Force he had been searching for.  For a brief moment, she was a beautiful woman, and he was a man lucky enough to have her.

Neglecting his body was a part of juggling two lives as he did.  Perhaps he had forgotten how wonderful it could feel to have a woman like her, or perhaps he merely hadn’t experienced anything as powerful as he had with her.  He was pleased when she stayed at his side without his asking and fell soundly asleep curled in his arms, so trusting, so pure.

She awoke in a daze, wide-eyed as if surprised the events of the night before hadn’t been a mere dream.  The morning sun illuminated the opulence of the room she was in, that she soon remembered having entered with the most powerful man in the Galaxy.  Yet she was alone in this luxuriant bed, left with no sign of the man that she had shared it with the night before.

Before she could dwell for too long on the thought, the door whooshed open, revealing the Chancellor, dressed in a fine robe and as cool and collected as he was in the holonet videos.  At the sight of him, she pulled the sheets above her chest out of habit, forcing a small chuckle out of the chancellor.

“Don’t worry, child, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said softly.  “I’ve brought breakfast.”  He motioned behind him to a protocol droid carrying a tray of cold-cut meats, fruit, bread, cheeses, a steaming cup of fragrant herbal tea, and some sort of juice.  All good food that he knew she couldn’t resist.

“Breakfast in bed?  You’re far too kind, Chancellor,” she said meekly.  He drew closer, leaned down, and gently kissed her on the forehead as the droid set down the plate.  She immediately began to quickly devour the food before her, reminding him that her existence was one which did not guarantee her next meal.  She paused, however, when she realized he was merely watching her. “Won’t you join me?”

“Oh, I would, dear lady, but my morning began many hours ago, and I’m afraid I’ve already eaten,” he responded as he sat down on the edge of the bed.  “I’ll gladly keep you company, however.”

“I appreciate that, sir.  I- well, I feel so out of place here,” she confessed between bites of food.  “At least with you here I don’t feel as much like an intruder.”

“Don’t be silly, Lady Katina!  You may still be unpolished, but you are most certainly a fine jewel worthy of only the finest the Galaxy has to offer.”

“I’m flattered you think so,” she said as she picked up the last piece of fruit on her tray.  “Nobody else seems to see me as you do.”

Because no one else understands what you’re capable of like I do, he thought.

“Rarely am I graced with such enjoyable company,” he said as he gazed deeply into her eyes.  “I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made in my career, you know, but sometimes I wonder if I couldn’t have spared just a bit of my time to start a family and have something in my life that wasn’t politics.  Something to save me from this deep, profound loneliness.”  He could feel her begin to hurt on his behalf.  She wanted terribly to relieve him of his suffering in some way, in any way.  So very sympathetic.  Good, he thought to himself.  I can use that.

With her free hand, she reached out and touched his.  Suddenly she saw flashes of moments in time.  A man in a dark hooded cloak, eyes a frightening, gleaming yellow and lightsaber glowing crimson.  The Senate.  Worlds invaded.  Lives destroyed.  Terrifying things she couldn’t understand.  But all of it was somehow connected to him, and she wanted none of it.

The fruit that had been in her hand just a moment ago had fallen and rolled to the edge of the bed.  She didn’t react to it, only staring into the void with her eyes widened in terror as she attempted to comprehend the visions she had just seen.

“Miriné?  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, sir.  I just remembered something rather important,” she said.  If it hadn’t been for his sensitivity to the Force, he might have believed her.  She was a very smooth liar, though not yet good enough to fool him.  Still, he would play along for now.  She quickly finished the rest of her meal (not leaving a single crumb, he realized) and hopped up to dress herself.  “I hate to be rude, but I do have to leave, sir.  I really do appreciate everything you’ve done for me.  Thank you so much.”

“Leaving already?  Have I upset you somehow?” the Chancellor said, raising an eyebrow.

“Of course not, sir,” she said.  This, he could tell, was not a lie.  She took his face in her hands and kissed him quickly, catching him off guard.  “That was the most wonderful night of my life.”

She took off running out the door, onto a turbolift, and down to the plaza.  Not having the funds for a taxi, she quickly hopped onto a tram and escaped to the depths of Coruscant’s dark underbelly to be alone with her mind.

What happened? she thought to herself frantically. What was that?  What did I see?

A vision of things to come, an elder woman’s voice responded.

Chapter Text

Distracted by the swirl of visions and memories and thoughts running through her head, Miriné failed to sense that anything might be off as she headed towards the cramped apartment she called home.  Barely large enough for a small stove, some storage units, a bed, and a small refresher room the size of an average broom closet with bare, windowless walls, it was all she could afford on the meager wages she earned working a number of odd jobs.  Her work at the opera house was in fact only one of many she performed to survive, for there was little pay to be had in adjusting lights and moving holoprojectors, though she was grateful for the opportunity to work in a place where the imagination came to life.  Her other jobs were usually less interesting, and often far less respectable, and what little they paid usually went straight to her landlord, with only a little left over for food.  Unskilled labor was cheap in the underworld of Coruscant, and in spite of her intelligence, her lack of a family made sure she had never been in a position to become skilled.

She decided she would have been better off staying on Naboo.  On Naboo she might have been taken in by someone kind-hearted enough to understand her plight, trained in something useful, and perhaps married to some small-town boy like her who could have made sure they lived out the rest of their lives together comfortably.  But she had wanted something more out of life, and the Trade Federation invasion was more than enough excuse to stow away on a freighter off world and find her way to Coruscant in search of adventure.  But the occupation had ended nearly a year ago, and there was no adventure to be found until now.  Now there was the Chancellor, terrifying visions of the future, and a voice in her head she hadn't heard in ages, and suddenly the ordinary life she had given up on Naboo sounded so much more appealing.  He was a mistake.  Coruscant was a mistake.

At last she arrived to her door, wholeheartedly ready to collapse onto her bed from the gravity of the situation.  But when the door opened, she found herself face to face with a burly Devaronian, a terrifying red-eyed Twi'lek, a Bith armed to the teeth, and a Trandoshan who, judging by the number of prominent scars on his face, had survived a great many fights.  She recognized the Devaronian with the customized DE-10 blaster pistol pointed at her heart as Vreemar Hamisk, a local gangster who served as landlord in this area.  The others- Vipp, J'Sor, and Bressk, respectively- were fellow gangsters that everyone else knew to avoid at all costs.  All of them were far larger and stronger than her, and all of them had a weapon of some kind at the ready.

"Katina," the Devaronian purred in an almost mocking way.  "You had better have all the credits you owe me, little human."

"Vreemar!  I didn't think you and your boys could all fit in this dump at the same time," she replied light-heartedly.  "I told you I was working on it, didn't I?  A girl has to work so very hard to come by the sort of money you're asking for these days, you know?  Besides, I've paid late a few times in the past, but I've never missed a payment, have I?"

"We're growing tired of your excuses, girl!  We're going to start charging interest if you can't pay on time," Vipp said, his lekku twitching.

"And if I can't pay the interest?"

"Hey, Bressk, how much is a pretty little human girl like her gonna fetch if we sell her off to a Hutt somewhere?"

"She is very small and her bones show, but if we fatten her up, she will be a very desirable slave.  It will be far more profitable to sell her than to let her continue as a tennant," the Trandoshan hissed in response

"Come now, gentlemen, I can get you plenty of money without you selling me.  You won't believe it, but I was with a politician all night last night.  Very powerful.  Very wealthy.  You get rid of me, you lose your chances of profiting from what I know!"

"We'll take that chance," Hamisk responded.  "Politicians rarely ask for second dates from underworld girls."  He then turned to the Bith at his side.  "Get some cuffs on her, J'Sor."

"I guess we're done trying to negotiate then," she said.  For the briefest of moments, she looked so compliant and defeated- enough for them to momentarily let their guard down.  With a single kick, she knocked the Devaronian's blaster from his hands, then proceeded to knock him out with an uppercut to the jaw.  Quick on her feet, she quickly disabled the Twi'lek and Bith as well, taking full advantage of how crowded the small room was to bring them down.  But the Trandoshan caught her off-guard with a single blow to the side of her face, and she fell to the ground while Hamisk got back on his feet and grabbed his blaster.  He took his aim, and she braced herself for the impact of an energy bolt.  She could only hope it was set to stun.

And then from the doorway she heard the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber igniting that made everyone stop.  It must have been a Jedi, she thought to herself, but why would a Jedi be down here to save her significant life of all the lives on this world?  Suddenly a whirlwind of black and glowing red tore through the gangsters like paper, and in no more than a few seconds they were on the ground in pieces.  The acrid smell of burnt flesh filled her nostrils and made her stomach turn- it brought back horrible memories of the occupation.  Then there was the sound of the saber deactivating, and she looked up to see a black, hooded figure towering above her, his hand outstretched so that he could help her to her feet.  When she was finally standing she could see just enough of the face beneath the hood to immediately recognize who it was, and her heart stopped.

"Chancellor?  It can't be!" she exclaimed.  "How can you possess such power without anyone else knowing?  You- you're not a Jedi, surely!"

"No, Lady Katina.  I am far more powerful than any Jedi," he replied, his voice deep and resonating in a terrifying way that made him sound like a different person entirely.  "I am Darth Sidious, Dark Lord of the Sith, but the time is not yet right for the Galaxy to know this."

"The Sith are supposed to be evil, but you... you saved me."

"Good and evil are rather subjective terms, Miriné.  The Jedi and the Sith share common roots, but now that the Sith have dwindled so much in number and the Jedi are in control, they fear what is different- they fear what they do not understand, they fear that which could challenge their hold on the Galaxy.  And so the Sith are dismissed as evil. "  He stepped closer to gently stroke her cheek and gazed deeply into her star-filled eyes that stared back at him with a look of perplexion, fear, and admiration combined.  "I could never let anything happen to you.  If using my power to save you makes me evil, then I shun all that is good."

"You killed them all so quickly," she said, momentarily looking back at the dismembered remains of Hamisk and his men and shuddering.  "I've never seen anything like it.  Can this power be learned?  If it can keep me from feeling so helpless again..."

"Only those who are powerful with the Force could ever hope to learn such things."

"Then I can't be taught, can I?  Don't the Jedi take all Force-sensitive children for training?"

"The Jedi are not infallible," he responded.  "When we touched hands this morning, you saw things, didn't you?  Visions of the future."  Her eyes widened, and her mouth fell open.

"How did you-"

"The gift of foresight is not unheard of among those strong in the Force, but extremely rare in those who are untrained.  You possess much more power than you realize, and only I can help you learn to fully use it.  Now gather your things- we must leave before these bodies are discovered."

"But where will I go?  Where will I stay?  The police won't care about a few more murders down here, but Hamisk's gang will.  They're powerful, they'll be able to track me down."

"I have done my research on you, young lady.  As far as the rest of the Galaxy is now concerned, Miriné Katina died during the occupation of Naboo.  You are now a nameless shadow, and you will stay with me if you do not wish to remain trapped here in this terrible place."

"Of course, my lord," she responded as she scurried to gather the few possessions she had.  "But why are you doing this for me?"

"Because I sense that you and I shall go on to accomplish many great things together."

"Surely there's more to it than that," she insisted.

"You have always been frustrated by the inefficiency and corruption in our governing bodies, haven't you?  Yours is a story of constantly slipping through the cracks, watching your world burn while those in power do nothing.  With time you will see that your gifts have the ability to change that, but only so long as you stay by my side.  Together we can bring this Galaxy back to greatness, Miriné.  Do you trust me?"

"I- of course I do, my lord."  With a single bag filled with all of her worldly possessions now slung over her shoulder, she drew closer to him and looked him deep in the eye.  "I owe you my life now.  I am wholly and unequivocally yours."  Balanced on the tips of her toes, she gently pushed back the hood of his cloak and ran the fingers of her free hand through the greying copper curls that topped his head before pressing her lips to his and sealing the pact between them with a deep, passionate kiss.

*****

Darth Sidious wasted no time in training her to become the weapon he had envisioned.  By day, she dedicated herself to studying from materials he left for her- holocrons, data files, and ancient texts concerning politics, history, alien languages, art, military strategy, and, most vitally, theories on the nature of the Force.  By night he returned to instruct her in the art of saber combat and impart unto her the skills of the Sith assassins of old.  It was the closest to formal education she had ever received, save some disappointingly basic, elementary lessons she had been given as a child in one of the horrendously understaffed orphanages on Naboo.  Nevertheless, she never failed to surprise him by just how quickly she learned and how well she could think on her feet.  He hadn't overestimated her intelligence in the least; if anything, he had severely underestimated it.  If she was good with a lightsaber, she was better with two.  If he wanted her to learn two new languages, she'd learn four just because she could.  If he asked her to complete a task in one day, she'd do it in a matter of hours and spend the rest of her time studying something else.  Her persistence, her sharp mind, and her thirst for knowledge reminded him quite a bit of his younger self, though he wasn't certain if this frightened him or caused him to be even more enamored with her.

What was clear, however, was how enamored she was with him.  Every evening when the day was done and he could set aside the toil and trouble that came with the office of the Supreme Chancellor, she was there to greet him with warm, open arms and a barrage of kisses, each one a small reminder of how deeply she loved him.  It was not love, however, that kept him so eager to return to her, he reminded himself- lust, passion, a desire to have such a loyal pawn at his disposal, but never love.  Love was expected in her case, for she was still rather young and naive, and he had become the father she lacked, the teacher she needed, and the lover she dreamed of all at once.  Still, there was something in the way he felt when he looked deep into her eyes or woke up to find her still asleep in his arms, the gentle perfume of her hair, the softness of her flesh, the addictive taste of her lips, and the hypnotic melody of her voice that made him wonder if perhaps that forbidden emotion wasn't beginning to take root in his own heart.

He knew that she would never truly be Sith.  That had been decided without question, though he had never told her.  The traditions of the Sith demanded that there only be two: a master an apprentice.  Eventually the apprentice would attempt to kill his master to prove his worth.  If he failed, then it was the master's duty to end the life of his apprentice and find another.  For a Sith as powerful as Sidious, this meant apprentices came and went at an extraordinary pace.  But Miriné, he knew, was not as disposable as the fearless warriors he had chosen as his apprentices.  He needed her to remain loyal, trusting, and unthreatening, for the gifts she possessed would serve a much more long-term purpose. 

*****

A few weeks passed before Miriné finally felt safe enough to leave the confines of the Chancellor's apartments.  Comfortable as they were, she was eager to leave them for even a few moments and see the few friends she had on this world.  While the Chancellor was distracted by a meeting with members of the Jedi Council, she slipped out and onto a bus headed towards the campus of the University of Coruscant, where she had plans to meet with Marea Daen at Gorg's Diner.

Marea was a young human arts student from Dantooine who frequented the opera house Miriné worked at due to a sizable student discount on season passes.  They met once in the theater’s cafe before a matinee while Miriné was taking a break for a quick meal and Marea was working on a report.  They quickly bonded over their love of theater and the feeling that came with being so far away from home.  She was tall, thin, and rather plain-faced with dark blonde, curly hair and freckles on lightly tanned skin that had grown just a touch paler since she left behind the sunny farmlands she called home.  There was something inherently scholarly about her, which meant she was often mistaken for one of the younger professors while on campus, and it had resulted in her dream of being a great teacher of the dramatic arts by day and a writer by night.

When Miriné arrived at Gorg's, she saw that Marea was seated at a booth across from two other female humans that were clearly fellow students.  She immediately recognized the bright-spirited one with short black hair and strangely-colored large, blue eyes as Arihnda Pryce, and the other- a young, pretty blonde with almond, amber-colored eyes and bronzed skin similar to Miriné's- as Arihnda’s roommate and fellow Lothal native, Maketh Tua.  Both of them had been introduced to Miriné some time before and (along with Marea and a very small handful of others who worked at the opera house and its adjoining cafe) were the only people on Coruscant she considered to be true friends.

"Miriné!  So glad you could make it!" Marea called out from her seat.  "It's been ages since we’ve seen you- Juahir and the manager at Galaxies both said you quit without any word.  What happened?"

"Oh, it's a long story!  But it's rather good, I promise," Miriné responded with a wide smile as she sat down.  There was an energy here in this place filled with bright, hopeful people her own age that she had been severely lacking, and it felt so good to be a part of it.  “I’m glad you two are here too.  It’s definitely a welcomed surprise,” she said as she looked to Arihnda and Maketh.

"Don't leave us in suspense, now- tell us what happened!” Maketh said excitedly.

"Well," Miriné began, becoming slightly flustered as she realized she hadn't quite yet found the best way to explain her new life, "I met someone.  Someone rather... influential.  Older, but charming and handsome and so very brave- when the gang that owned my apartment threatened to sell me to the Hutts because I was late on my payments, he came to my rescue.  I've been staying with him ever since."

"Oh..." Marea said, her expression suddenly turning more serious.  "That just doesn't seem quite your style, Miriné.  I mean, how old is this man?  What does he do?  Is he treating you well?  How much can you trust him?"

"Your life has been so much simpler and easier than mine," Miriné reminded her, her voice filled with just the slightest bit of venom.  "You've never seen the hellholes I've lived in.  Judge me all you like, but this is the safest I've been since the droid army invaded my homeworld.  He saved my life, he's been nothing but good and respectable."

"We're not judging you," Arihnda insisted with genuine concern in her voice, "we just want to make sure nothing happens to you."

"I know, Ari," Miriné replied, her demeanor softening.  "But I promise you I'll be fine.  I always land on my feet."

"Really though, who is he?" Maketh said, an innocent excitement and curiosity in her tone.  "We can't let just anyone have our dear Miriné!"

"Let's just say this man is important enough that I wouldn't want to give away his identity just yet," Miriné responded with a sly smile.  "But if you knew just who he was, you'd know I'm in the absolute best of hands."

Suddenly she was distracted by something- or rather someone- she felt through the Force.  Her attention was drawn to a young Mirialan who had just entered seemed slightly out of place somehow.  She also noticed that she left the sort of impression in the Force that only someone who was sensitive to it could.  Two rather menacing-looking Weequays seated at the counter seemed to be a little too interested in her movements and soon rose from their seats after she passed them.  The Mirialan noticed, and frantically searched for an escape.  Miriné sensed this would not end well if she did not intervene.

”Hey, we’re over here!” she suddenly said, waving frantically at the Mirialan until she made eye contact.  The Mirialan did not hesitate, and hurried to their booth, where she was greeted by an unexpected embrace.  “Play along,” Miriné whispered quickly in her ear before breaking away.  “I haven’t seen you all semester!  Have you been doing alright?”  At the sight of what appeared to be a genuinely tender reunion of close friends, the Weequays simply left the establishment.

”Thanks for that,” the Mirialan said once she was sure they were gone.  “I’m a Jedi padawan.  My master sent me here for my first undercover mission, but I guess I didn’t do a very good job, did I?”

”You weren’t doing badly, but those two seemed like they knew beforehand who they were looking for,” Miriné replied.

”I sensed the same thing.  Say, my master didn’t send you here too to keep an eye on me, did she?”

”I’m afraid that would be impossible, as I don’t know who your master is and have no connection to the Jedi whatsoever.  But the Force works in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?”

”It does indeed.  I’m Maija, by the way.”

”I'm Miriné.  These are my friends Marea, Arihnda, and Maketh.”

”If you start calling me 'Marihnda' to keep the trend of M’s going, I promise I’ll throw a fit,” Arihnda said jokingly, causing the young Jedi to let out a small giggle.

”You always were a misfit,” Maketh said with a laugh.  “Say, why don’t you stay and have some lunch with us, Maija?  I don’t know much about Jedi, but surely no one would object.  Your mission might have been foiled, but a full stomach will make things better.”

”Alright,” Maija said gleefully as she sat down alongside them, “but don’t expect me to show off any Force tricks, got it?”

A hearty meal and entertaining conversation were shared at the booth that day.  After an exchange of contact information, Padawan Maija left earlier than the rest due to her obligations at the Jedi temple, but the remaining four carried on in her absence until suddenly Miriné’s holocom began to go off.  Blast, she thought to herself.  He knows I’m gone.  She took it from her pocket and activated it.  Now in her palm was the unmistakable hooded figure of her new master.

”Miriné, where are you?” he demanded.

”I’m with some friends at the university, my lord.  I thought you had a meeting scheduled with the Pantorans that was supposed to last for a few more hours. 

”That’s precisely why I need you here.  Hurry back,” he said promptly before the transmission cut off.

"Is- was that him?" Maketh said.  "That can't be-"

"The Supreme Chancellor?" Arihnda finished.  "I suppose the nose and chin look similar, but the voice is a little off, and half his face is covered.  He might not even be human.  Surely it's not Chancellor Palpatine, right, Miriné?"

"I'm not telling, Ari!" Miriné said, still grinning as she laid a few credits on the table for her share of the food and got up to leave.  "Let me know when you're planning to meet up again!  And don't worry or gossip too much about me!"  She quickly said her goodbyes to each of her three friends and headed towards the diner's exit.  As she departed she wondered whether or not she would actually be able to return.

As deep as your friendship may be, the Dantooinian will be of little consequence in the future, the elder woman's voice inside her mind said, interrupting her thoughts.  Raspy, oddly maternal, and marked by a thick, formal Core accent, Miriné knew she had heard this voice many times before, though never as clearly as this.  The two Lothalians, however, will prove to be very important in the events to come.  Keep an eye on them, as well as the young Jedi.

Who are you and why are you telling me this?

I have been dead for so many centuries that my name will mean nothing to you, but the Force has decided that after all this time I should once again serve as a guide and a teacher, the woman responded.  I have been bound to you since birth.  Surely you remember hearing my voice comforting you as a child when you were afraid, giving you the courage to forge your own path.

I do remember.  You were the only mother I ever had, but I thought you only existed in my imagination, Miriné thought.  Why are you bonded to me of all people?

The universe is not quite as simple as it seems- it is a delicate tapestry woven by the Force itself that is made of many threads, each running in parallel and branching out to an unfathomable number of possibilities and outcomes.  When someone or something attempts to pull one of those threads and alter the course of history, the Force attempts to correct it.  The man you consider to be your master has somehow become far more powerful than he was meant to.  He has foreseen what could be and will rewrite history to his advantage.  The only thing that stands in his way is you.

Impossible.  Chancellor Palpatine is a good man who is only plotting to do what is necessary to save the Republic, and I- I'm nobody!

You will find with time that he has far more sinister plans, but that you are more than powerful enough to foil them.  The Force brought the two of you together for you to restore balance.

*****

"What were you thinking, Miriné?" Sidious growled furiously as his chair spun around to face his young pupil, who was admittedly caught by surprise by how quickly he had reacted to her entrance.  "Do you realize what could have happened if one of your little friends realized who I was and babbled about it?"

"My lord, I realize it was foolish, but surely you realize how trapped I've felt here!" she protested, her tone impetuous but just deferential enough to prevent his anger from growing.  

"Oh, you unappreciative child!  Do you want to return to your previous life?  Go back to fighting tooth and nail for every miserable credit, struggling to merely exist, likely finding your end at the hands some underworld gang?" he shot back as he rose from his seat and stormed towards her.  "I assure you that if you continue to be so reckless, that is exactly what will happen!"  In spite of his rage, she did not falter as most would have, though to be fair most were too far under his spell to even dare risk angering him in the first place.  There was fear within her, but it did not stop her from looking him directly in the eye, for she was always one to bow slightly as it suited her, but never to back down entirely.  Perhaps it was a challenge.  Perhaps it was simply meant to calm him by reminding him of who she was to him.  He took her hands in his ever so gently, admiring as he always did how small and delicate they looked but how tough they felt from a life of hard labor.  "I can't lose you, Miriné," he said, his voice far softer now.  "I need you.  Surely you can understand that."

"Of course, my lord," she responded.  He drew her in and held her tightly against his chest, allowing the warmth and energy between them to intermingle and the irresistible scent of her hair to engulf him.  "I'm sorry, sir."

"Don't call me that," he said with a slight chuckle.  "You are the only being in this Galaxy that can look up at me without even the slightest bit of fear in your eyes.  If you can't call me by my given name, who can?"

"I thought you hated it," she teased.  "It's hardly a name befitting of such a great man."

"Spoken from your lovely lips, my lady, it becomes far more pleasant."

"If you say so... Sheev."  She stood up on her toes and gave him a small kiss, which he happily took control of and dragged out as long as he could, but she suddenly interrupted it with a chuckle.

"What's so funny, dearest?" he said, raising an eyebrow.

"The Pantorans, Sheev!  Don't tell me they're waiting for you to return to them!  You said they were why you needed me, didn't you?"

"Oh, no!  I managed to finish with them before you arrived, though it was quite an arduous task to get them out of my office so quickly.  It left me quite drained, in fact.  Perhaps you'd be... willing to take my mind off it?" he said with a mischievous grin.

"Oh, you old devil!" she said, her lips too twisted in a grin.  "You know I can't resist you when you say things like that."  She drew closer until they were cheek to cheek and she was just a breath away from his ear.  "I love you," she whispered.

"Good," he whispered in return.  "Passion begets power, my love.  Let it flow through you.  Show me just how powerful you truly are."

To his delight just as much as hers, she did just that.

Chapter Text

Years passed.  The Galaxy had only become more unstable, and Palpatine for his part changed very little, save a few more wrinkles and noticeably more grey hair, but Miriné had only grown more beautiful.  No longer the scrawny, helpless creature who had barely stepped foot into adulthood when the Chancellor rescued her, she was now a powerful woman in her prime.  Fully dedicated to both her studies and her master, she was becoming stronger with every passing day.  It meant rarely seeing her friends, though she still snuck out to visit them somewhat regularly to keep them from worrying.  It meant sleepless nights.  It meant great physical and psychological pain.  But she knew that great things could never be accomplished without great sacrifice, and to restore peace and order to the Galaxy as they had planned would be a great accomplishment indeed.

She hadn't been pleased when she found out about the clone army that was being grown far away on Kamino, but she quickly understood without question the importance of the role it would soon play.  To stop the reign of the Jedi, after all, would be the first step in cleansing the Republic of the complex, ineffective bureaucracy that made life so miserable for so many, but to do that would require an army.  She hadn't particularly approved of the idea of underhandedly supporting the Trade Federation in spearheading such a formidable separatist movement either, but that, as he assured her, was also part of the plan, and that once their usefulness had run out, they would pay dearly for their crimes against Naboo.

Bring forth a war.  Overthrow the Jedi.  End the war, and in doing so prevent all future wars.  Reorganize.  Reign.  Every bit of her heart and soul seemed to exist for the execution of this master plan.  So many years they had plotted and waited.  So many little things, so many little people, all pieces in a great game of dejarik moved to just the right position.

Palpatine usually kept Miriné disguised as an aide to give her reason to be at his side during crucial moments.  She was far more in tune than he was with the intentions and emotions of even the trickiest of politicians and possessed the ability to fill their minds with doubt or images of their worst fears, but more importantly, her ability to see the potential directions a person's life could take with a single, seemingly accidental touch proved invaluable, for even Palpatine's gift of foresight was never so strong nor so detailed.  It was for this reason that she understood, perhaps better than he did, the importance of the Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Dooku of Serenno.

Dooku was easy to turn.  He had always been filled with doubts, and though she never met him, she made sure they were at the forefront of his thoughts, slipping into his mind like a soft but steady whisper until eventually, he found his way to Darth Sidious.  But if it had been easy to turn Dooku, it would turn out to be easier to turn Skywalker in spite of how well he played his role as The Chosen One.  Where it had taken great effort to turn the older, wiser Dooku, turning the brash young padawan would ultimately require time to make up for the many years Dooku had to simmer in his doubts, and yet it would require hardly any effort at all.  The key to Skywalker was Padmé Amidala.

Miriné had always admired the Senator greatly.  She was beautiful, strong, intelligent, brave, a natural leader, everything young Miriné had once looked up to during the dark days of the Occupation.  Even now she was quite fond of her, for the former queen would often visit her longtime friend and mentor and had, as a result, become acquainted with his supposed aide as well.  In fact, one could have almost considered the two women friends, even if Miriné knew deep in her heart that she, too, was a mere dejarik piece.

Skywalker was obsessed with Amidala.  He barely made any effort at all to hide it, and therein lied his greatest weakness.  The only problem was that she cared nothing for him.  To her, he was still a little boy, brash and impulsive, and certainly not the tender, charming, suave type that would catch her interest.  Rather, Miriné would come to find that it was none other than Palpatine that had been her girlhood crush, though she had never confessed it to anyone at all.  This small, seemingly insignificant piece of information would always stay with Miriné as a reminder that she was truly special to have been chosen over a woman like Padmé Amidala, for she knew better than anyone that Sheev Palpatine always got what he wanted in the end.

Amidala had to be coaxed- perhaps forced- into reciprocating Skywalker's feelings for their plans to come to fruition.  Palpatine could pull enough strings as Chancellor to put them in close proximity as often as possible, but Miriné's gift at slipping into the minds of others was invaluable in making this forbidden love blossom.  Amidala was under a spell, but it was certainly not of the Jedi's own doing.  And once that happened, all it took was orchestrating the kidnapping of Skywalker's mother, only draining the last of her life force when he had finally found her to fuel the rage inside of him and start him on the path to the Dark Side.  He would spiral out of control, marrying Amidala in secret, questioning the Order and the Jedi way, and increasingly confiding in Palpatine, the only real father figure he had ever had.

As Skywalker was spiraling steadily towards the way of the Sith, there soon came a day when Dooku was finally beginning to outlive his usefulness.  It had already been enough that he had secretly taken on an apprentice of his own, but with the plan progressing as it was, the war would soon have to end, and with it Dooku's life  On that, there was no question from Miriné, and so Palpatine sent her to his estate on Serenno to eliminate him.

Getting in was easy, for she had become a master of stealth.  She was soon in front of him as he meditated, dressed as much to seduce as to impress.

"My, my!  To what do I owe the pleasure of having such a pretty little thing break into my home?" he said the moment he sensed her presence.  She ignited her lightsaber.  "Ah.  I see."

"My master has sent me.  You're no longer of use to him."

"Your master?  Don't make me laugh, girl!"

"Laugh all you want," she said with a grin.  "It'll be your last chance."

"Don't overestimate yourself, child," he scoffed.  "What did he tell you to convince you that you had any chance of defeating me?  Or did he conveniently forget to mention that I was the greatest duelist the Jedi Order had ever known?"  He gracefully rose to his feet, produced his own lightsaber, and ignited it.

"He didn't have to tell me anything about you," she purred.  "I've been inside that proud head of yours, Dooku.  All those doubts you had that brought you to the Dark Side, to Sidious, that nagging voice that made you question everything you had believed in, don't you remember me at all?  Don't you remember the sound of my voice?"

"A useful trick, I must admit.  It'll make killing you like killing an old friend- but don't worry, I'll still derive much pleasure from it."  She lunged at him, and a well-matched duel ensued.  With a furious flurry of thrusts and parries, she fought him artfully, as a true Sith would.  "Your master has trained you well, but you lack something."

"Oh?" she said as their blades locked.

"Experience," he said, as he suddenly disengaged and used the force of her next attack against her to knock her to the ground.  "I knew you'd try that.  You mimic your master's blade work far too well, just like the child you are."  She attempted to get up again, but with one swift, unanticipated move, Dooku cleaved her saber’s hilt in half and took advantage of her momentary shock to summon the Force and push her back to the ground.  Her eyes were wide in terror.  She was defeated, and now like a trapped animal she was scrambling to find a way out of her predicament.  But before she could, he grabbed her by her thick mane of luscious curls and pulled her up to her knees.  She could feel the searing heat emanating from his blade as he put it so dangerously close to the back of her neck.  “So the great Darth Sidious, unwilling to come and fight me himself, sends his unexperienced weakling of a whore to face me,” his voice boomed.  “Pathetic.”

“I’m more than his whore, Dooku.  Someday I shall rule the Galaxy as his equal, and you will be nothing.”

“How amusing you are for someone so close to death.  I am a Lord of the Sith and your master’s only true apprentice.  You are nothing, and certainly will never be his equal.”

“And you’re going to let me go precisely because you think I’m not worth killing.”

“Observant,” he said.  “But you will not return to your master unscathed.”  He pressed the blade lightly against her skin and dragged it around her neck to form a necklace-like burn.  “There goes your beauty.”  Before she could react, he quickly swung the lightsaber upwards and sheared off much of her prized hair.  “There goes your pride,” he said as he threw the fistful of hair remaining in his hand to the side.  “And now I shall take your dignity as well.”  With his free hand, he tore at her shirt and ripped it to shreds.  She rushed to pull the pieces back to her chest so she could cover herself, forcing a chuckle out of Dooku.  “Run back to Darth Sidious, girl.  Show him how you’ve left me in defeat and humiliation.”

And so she ran, never to face Count Dooku again.

******

"I'm sorry, Master," she said with tears in her eyes.  "I have failed you."

"You've failed no one but yourself," Palpatine said with a sly grin.  "I never expected you to be able to defeat Dooku.  It was a mere test for both of you."

"A test?"

"You have the strangest habit of exceeding my expectations no matter how high I set them.  I wanted to push you to your limits, to show you what weaknesses still lie within you.  And I wanted to see if he would really spare you."

"You would have let me die at his hand?"

"Of course not!  I knew you were in no real danger.  This confirms what I've long feared about Dooku- he's still too soft.  Something within him remains of the Jedi teacher he once was."

"So you have another plan to kill him?"

"Of course I do, my love.  Everything is going exactly as I have foreseen."  He opened his arms, inviting her to him.  "Come now, Miriné.  Let me hold you in my arms, for even such a short time apart was torture for an old man's heart.  Let me wipe away those tears, for they are unbecoming of such a powerful Sith in the making."  She pressed herself against his chest, letting herself melt away in the warmth of his embrace while his comforting scent and the rhythm of his steady breaths hypnotized her.  She had lost this battle, but she had made it home, exactly as she was supposed to have.  She was in his arms again, exactly where she was supposed to be.  The entire Galaxy seemed to be in turmoil, but this, at least, was right.

"I love you," she whispered.

"I... love you," he repeated, suddenly aware that this was the first time he'd said it without reason.  There was no ulterior motive, no manipulation, just the desire to say those words with all the sincerity in his heart.  "I'd watch entire galaxies burn for you."

"I'd conquer them all for you to burn," she said, a small smile gracing her lips.  He kissed her gently, innocently, the way school children or married couples might.

Oh, this girl was far more dangerous than he expected, he thought to himself.  She was making him lose control.  Day by day, year by year, she was making him fall deeper and deeper in love.

Chapter Text

“You… cut your hair.  A lot of it,” Marea commented as Miriné sat down at their usual booth at Gorg's.  The change had been far too obvious not to comment upon.  Once Dooku had sloppily sheared off an entire fistful of it, she had had no choice but to go from her usual elegant Nubian hairstyles to a simple schoolgirl's chin-length bob.

“Does it look that bad?”

“It’s actually very beautiful, just… unexpected,”  she continued.  “You’ve always had such long hair, we never thought you’d cut it all off, especially knowing how uncommon it is on Naboo.”

“I can tell there’s more to this than a change in taste,” Maija said.  “Your hair was not shorn willingly.”  Blast.  Miriné had let her guard down too far.

“Was it the man you’re seeing?” Marea asked.

“No, of course not!” Miriné responded with a chuckle.  “It was stupid, really.  I tried to iron it for a date with him and ended up burning half of it off!”  They all laughed, though Maija seemed a bit more reserved.

“It’ll grow back,” Marea reassured her with a smile.  “Until then, we can all enjoy this new look.”

“I hope it won’t stand out too much on Naboo,” Miriné remarked.  “He’s taking me there.  We're leaving today, actually.”

“That’s so wonderful!” Maija said.  “You haven’t been back since… well, you know.”

“No, I haven’t,” she responded wistfully.  “I wonder how much I’ll still be able to recognize.”

“Have you talked to Maketh or Ahri lately?” Marea said after a moment's silence in an attempt to lighten the conversation.

“No,” Miriné replied.  “I’ve barely heard anything from them since they went back to Lothal.”

“Yeah, me neither.  Seems like everyone is going their separate ways.  Ahrinda’s back to her parents’ mine on Lothal, Maketh’s busy with whatever bureaucratic nonsense she’s picked up, Maija’s been spending so much time off-world fighting this war, and you… well, I don’t know where you’ve been.  But we all miss you.”  Maija nodded gently in agreement.  "We worry about you.  A lot, actually."  The comment might have been genuine, but with the frustration in Marea's voice, it came off as rather condescending to Miriné's ears.

"After all these years you're still not convinced that I know how to take care of myself?  My benefactor is a kind being who would never dream of hurting me.  We're in love.  We plan to accomplish great things together, but great things take great sacrifices."

"Is that what we are?  Something to be sacrificed?  Maija might be used to it, but I remember what it was like before you met this 'benefactor'.  You were a free being.  You and I were inseparable, like sisters, and now I can barely even expect a holocall from you but once in a great while.  What has he done to you?"

"There is a war on, Marea!  Do you expect me to be so concerned with holocalls and brunches when the Galaxy is tearing itself apart like this?"

"Absolutely!  What are we fighting for if not for the ones we care about?  Besides, the war is far from here!"

"I don't expect you to understand."

"You're right.  I don't," Marea said as she got up from her seat.  "You know, I was wrong about you.  You're not my sister.  And I shouldn't worry about you.  You're nothing but a cheap whore for some slimy, old politician and you've let it get to your head like it makes you so much better than the rest of us."  She rose from her seat and stormed out of the diner, not taking even a second to look back.

"Don't you dare say anything that's going to make it worse," Miriné hissed at her Mirialan companion.

"I wasn't planning to," Maija replied meekly.  "You're understandably upset.  Why don't we go for a walk around the campus to try and fix that?"

"I would expect no less of a Jedi to try and calm me," she said with an uneasy chuckle.  "I've lost my appetite anyway.  Let's go."

On a world entirely covered in durasteel and permacrete structures, the campus of the University of Coruscant was a small oasis of greenery and running water, with elegant glass classroom buildings surrounded by artificially made parks and waterways.  There was always plenty of sunlight and fresh air, and the pleasant sounds of babbling streams and friendly chatter were just barely audible beneath the hum of millions of passing speeders.  As the Galaxy's leading university, it was no surprise how well designed this campus was to be a place of learning and deep contemplation.  Maija had always had a deep appreciation for it, as in some ways it reminded her of the serenity of the Jedi temple.  Yet at the very same time, it was more lively, filled with young, hopeful people who didn't have to restrain themselves as she did.

"I understand why you act the way you do," Maija said when they had come to a quiet, tree-filled area to rest in.  "Probably much better than you realize."

"Do you, now?"

"You're Sith.  Your benefactor is the Sith Lord the Jedi are hunting.  He's your master"

"Don't be ridiculous," Miriné scoffed.  "He's just an ordinary politician.  And I'm just me."

"You know it's true.  I know it's true.  I've known for quite some time now.  The way you just sense things.  The flecks of gold that light up in your eyes.  You've been away for training, haven't you?  I know and have always known that you can use the Force, but not the way the Jedi taught us.  You might be good at hiding your presence in the Force, but that doesn't change what I've witnessed with my own eyes."

"Don't they teach you that the Sith are evil?"

"But you aren't.  I know that for a fact.  Which makes me wonder if perhaps..."

"The Jedi are lying to you?"

"Yes.  I want to understand the Force, Miriné.  All of it.  I don't think the Force itself could ever be good or evil, it just is.  It's only a question of how we choose to use it.  If you could use the Dark Side of the Force for good, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would."

"Then I want to learn.  Teach me your ways, and I'll teach you ours," Maija begged. 

"A very tempting offer.  But your masters would never forgive you for learning our ways.  And how do I know you're not just planning to report me to them?  Betrayal is not exclusive to the ways of the Sith."

"You're like my sister.  You know I'd never turn you in."

"Marea was like my sister.  You saw how she walked out on me."

"Only because she doesn't understand.  But I do," Maija reassured her.  "Reach out with the Force.  See if I'm telling the truth."

"I know far too well how easy intentions are to hide," Miriné said.  "But I have other ways.  Give me your hand."

The padawan did as she was told and held out her green-hued hand.  As Miriné took it in her own, her eyes widened as she saw visions of her friend's future.  Training together, yes.  But soon she saw the Jedi temple, plumes of smoke billowing from within it and casting a dreadful shadow over Coruscant.  And within the ruins of the temple was Maija herself.  Cold.  Unfeeling.  Dead.  Miriné forced herself back to reality and did her best to hide the horror she had just witnessed.

"Well, am I telling the truth?"

"Yes," Miriné said with a smile.  "I would be honored to take you on as my student."

******

"You're late, Miriné," the Chancellor simply when Miriné returned to his apartment as the sun was casting a final flame-like glow over the city.

"I'm sorry, Sheev.  I needed fresh air and I lost track of the time."

"It's alright," he replied with a warm smile.  "The droids have already packed your things, and the darkness will make our escape together less noticed."

"Before me stands the most powerful Sith in all of Galactic history, and he wants to run away at night to avoid being seen with the woman he loves like a frightened youth," she teased.  She then wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his chest.  His heartbeat seemed to be in sync with hers, just as it usually was.

"When I am Emperor, you shall always be at my side for everyone to see.  And everyone will envy you, for I am convinced you have no equal in this Galaxy.  Not in beauty, not in strength, not in wit or wisdom."

"If I am without equal it is because you have made me so, Sheev."

"No," he said softly.  "I could never be capable of creating something so beautiful."

"I wonder if you'd still think the same if I bore your children," she responded with a grin.  "They would be powerful.  Like us."

"Of that, I have no doubt."  He wrapped an arm around her waist gingerly and led her outside to the balcony.  She loved leaning on its railing, watching the sun descend below the jagged horizon of the endless city, feeling an incredible inner peace as darkness overtook the sky above.  She loved it even more when he could spare himself the time to share the experience with her.  A gentle kiss on her cheek, a warm embrace that made her feel so secure, the steady motion of his chest against her back as he breathed, she felt complete.  "I feel alive with you at my side, Miriné," he whispered in her ear.  "If only you could see the stars here.  I'd count each and every single one and promise it to you."

"All you'd have to do is ask, and I'd conquer them all for you myself," she said with a salacious grin.  He pulled her closer against his chest and rested his chin on top of her head.  Her grin only grew as his hands began to wander playfully across her belly and her breasts, along her thighs, her delicate neck.  With a few suggestive, rhythmic movements of her hips, she managed to successfully evoke the desired physical reaction from him - the many layers of clothing he wore were hardly enough for him to hide it.  She reached behind and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him more freedom to explore with his hands while she brought him into a heated kiss.  She was his, wholly and unequivocally his, and she loved it.

"I believe our trip to Naboo can stand a minor delay," he finally said when he broke the kiss.  He stepped away and gently took her by the hand.  "Come, now, Miriné.  Let us finish what we started in a more suitable place.  The Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic cannot be caught out in the open in such a. . . compromising position."

Before she knew it, her hands were grasping desperately at his silken, crimson bedsheets as he thrust wildly into her, claiming her in their own sacred ritual that they were always eager to repeat.  The connection they shared through the Force never resulted in anything less than pure, unhinged, immeasurable shared pleasure.  Time seemed to stay still, the Galaxy and all its problems melted away with each one of her cries.  She became oblivious to everything except him and the way he made her feel, closer to a higher state of being, closer to the one she loved most.

Every time it was almost like their sparring practices - no two experiences were ever entirely alike, and they always found ways to surprise each other.  It went without saying that under both circumstances, he always had the upper hand.  She never minded, however.  In the end, as much as she liked to put up a good fight, she loved his dominance over her.

Still, today she felt troubled after they had finished, and he could feel it.

"What's bothering you, my love?" he asked.

"It's nothing," she said.  He didn't need the Force to know that was a lie.  She knew he wasn't buying it.  "I know you don't want me going out and attaching myself to other people so much, but I lost one of my oldest friends today."

"She called you a whore, didn't she?"

"Yes."

"Do you believe her?"

"No," she said.  "But should I?"

"Damn anyone who would look at their future Empress as a mere whore!  She doesn't understand what you truly are, what we truly are.  The fact that she cannot comprehend your greatness will make her dismiss you, but when the time comes, she will know your true nature.  And she will regret it."

"Everything I have, I have because of you.  Does that not make me a whore?"

"Everything you have, you have because you earned it.  It is no small feat to impress me, let alone prove yourself worthy of ruling the Galaxy at my side.  Trust in my judgment, dearest one."

"You know I do."

Chapter Text

Miriné's heart raced as the speeder bike that the Supreme Chancellor was piloting skimmed the tall meadow grasses and wildflowers at speeds that seemed to push the limits of even the most skilled Force-sensitive pilots.  She clung tightly to him, and whenever he turned his head to face her, she could see the most ecstatic grin on his face.  It was one that was more becoming of a youth at a carefree, rebellious age than a man of his maturity, and it pleased her beyond words.  She had seen him happy, excited even, but never like this.

How wonderful it felt for him to relive the excitement of his youth, to have the wind whip through his hair once more while the woman he loved leaned on him with her arms firmly around him.  It was one of the few ordinary activities that still brought him pure joy.  He recalled how his own master had often been downright frightened by his seemingly reckless piloting.  But Sheev Palpatine was not a man who ever lost control, even in moments where it seemed he had.

They had been following a river that fed into one of the most beautiful lakes still left undisturbed by tourists and developers looking to profit from Naboo’s natural beauty.  Racing the river's rolling waters had been enthralling, but just ahead there was a cliff with no bottom in sight, and it seemed the Chancellor had no intention of stopping or changing his course.

"Sheev, what are you doing?" she yelled over the sound of the wind.  He didn't answer, he just sped up and laughed.  "SHEEV!"

The bike flew over the edge, and Miriné closed her eyes as she held even tighter to Palpatine, prepared to use the Force to save their lives if necessary.  But instead of immediately crashing into a rocky surface below, the bike flew slightly upwards into a loop before bouncing relatively smoothly on the surface of a large lake.  The impact had naturally splashed a sizable amount of water onto both of them, but on such a warm, sunny day, it was hardly a bad thing.

He brought them to a grassy shore and stopped right by a small, lone tree that had begun to bear flowers.

"I'm amazed that this very tree is still here after all these years and all that's happened," he said as they dismounted the speeder bike.  They approached the tree, and he laid a hand on its trunk as if it were an old friend.  "My great-grandfather planted it long ago. It seems so beautiful, so delicate, and yet its strength has kept it here and allowed it to thrive where others couldn't.  Now it stands above everything else that grows here.  It reminds me of you."

"It had the care of a Palpatine to help it survive, just as I did," she said before planting a small kiss on his cheek. 

Miriné then returned to the bike and fetched a blanket and some food they had packed for a picnic.  They settled down among the grasses not far from the tree, a picturesque view of the lake and an endless blue sky in front of them as they ate and their clothes dried in the sun.

Here on Naboo everything seemed in a beautiful balance- the softness of the plains and the ridges of the mountains, the calm of the sky and the singing of the creatures on land, the heat of the sun and the cool of the water.  This was home, her home, in a way she had never been able to see it before.  Here, the Force was in harmony.

Palpatine studied his young lover carefully, taking in every detail of her as though he had never really seen her before.  His thoughts briefly went back to the night they met.  It was incredible that so many years had passed and yet he could still feel just as stunned by the sight of her as he had the first time he laid eyes upon her.  He had grown so used to falling asleep in her arms, being greeted by her kisses and embraces after a long day of work, relying upon her in so many more ways than she understood, that he could no longer imagine what his life would be without her.  He had always been alone until her.  He had never intended to love her, and yet he realized that he had from the moment he sensed her presence in the Force.  He hated that he had no control over his own heart when it came to her, but he loved her more than anything else.

Her bronzed skin seem to glow in the sunlight, and her thick curls were just barely tousled by the gentle breeze as if it too were fascinated by her beauty.  She wore the clothing of a peasant- a loose blouse and skirt not unlike those she probably would have been accustomed to in her childhood.  He could have dressed her in the finest of gowns to rival even the most extravagant of the queens of Naboo, but she didn’t need them- her regal character, her presence made them unnecessary.  The poorest of rags could not hide those qualities in her that distinguished her as the future Empress.  For now, he was content to see her form free of the restraints of such formal garments, and the fact that these clothes would be so easy to remove was no coincidence either.

"What are you gawking at, my dear Chancellor Palpatine?" she said teasingly when she noticed him staring so intently at her as he wove a crown of wildflowers for her.

“How can it be that with each passing day your beauty seems to become even more… Oh, what’s the word I’m searching for?”

“The great Sheev Palpatine at a loss for words?  Who could have ever imagined it?”

“It’s something about seeing you like this- far from the distractions of the Galaxy, happier than I’ve ever seen you before.  The Force is flowing around you in perfect harmony- the glow about you is indescribable.”

“It’s because I’m right where I need to be,” she said.  She caressed his face gently with the graceful, delicate tips of her fingers, tenderly tracing the lines of his cheekbone and jaw.   “The man I love more than life itself is laying here beside me, looking at me with such love in his eyes.  All we’ve worked for, all our dreams are soon to become a reality.  And after so many years, I am finally home.  I feel as though the universe were singing around me.”

“Oh, Miriné,” he whispered as he finished the crown.  “I’d do anything to make you feel so happy for the rest of your life.  Sometimes… sometimes a small part of me wants to give up everything for you.  No more playing the two-faced politician, no more politics or war, just us existing together for the rest of our lives.”

“You know I would never ask that of you,” Miriné said.  “I fell in love with a man who had a vision for the Galaxy and wasn’t afraid to make it a reality.  Now we’re so close.  Never lose sight of what we’ve worked so hard for, Sheev.  Promise me that.”

“Wouldn’t you be happier if we left Coruscant behind for good?  Stayed here, told everyone else to bug off?”

“No,” she replied.  “I can’t be happy knowing the rest of the Galaxy is suffering and I could have done something to stop it.  We chose this path, and I’m exactly where I need to be- where we need to be.”

“That’s precisely what I wanted to hear from you, my dearest one.” 

He gingerly placed the finished crown upon her head, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her deeply, feeling he could do no else in that moment.

He could feel her arousal.  Her desperation.  Her desire.  She was ovulating.  The subtle changes in her body that went unnoticed by most other humans were so obvious to him.  It was the perfect opportunity to attempt to produce an heir, he thought to himself.  Here, in this beautiful place, on this world that had born them both, their first child would be conceived.  And she was more than ready.  He knew she was.  It was finally time.

She loved how possessive he was when they made love.  How he always gripped her tightly.  How reminded her that he was his.  How he nibbled at her flesh, always just hard enough to excite her but never so hard it would hurt.  How satisfied he looked with every pleasured moan that escaped her lips.  The fact that she could reduce this man, the Galaxy’s most eloquent, respectable statesman, to a growling, animal-like mess made her feel so powerful.

When they finished, he collapsed by her side and laid his head on her bare chest.  The sun was already beginning to set, its final rays of light painting everything around them in gentle lavenders, pinks, and golds.  She watched the sky contentedly as she stroked his silver hair.  The stars were just starting to become visible above, so beautiful and bright in a way unfamiliar to those who only knew the night skies of Coruscant.  Every single one would soon be theirs, she thought to herself just before falling asleep.

The days passed at a leisurely pace.  The old Palpatine estate seemed so very distant from the problems of the rest of the galaxy, just as it always had- even with the responsibilities of his high office that he brought with him everywhere he went, Palpatine was rarely interrupted by anyone or anything during their stay.  But it could not last, and neither had pretended it would.  Shortly after dinner on their last night together on Naboo, they found themselves on a verdant garden terrace watching how the stars shined above and were distorted by the gentle waves of the expansive lake below.

"It's such a beautiful night, isn't it?" she said softly.

"Not as beautiful as you, my lady" he said with a grin.

"Oh come, now, Chancellor, that's the best you can come up with tonight?" she said teasingly.  He let out a chuckle.

"Were you expecting me to woo you with song and verse as in days gone by?"

"Maybe I was."  He did love a challenge.

"As you wish, fair Lady Katina!"  He cleared his throat.

 

Bewitched was I when first I saw your face,

And your eyes that looked as though from a dream.

Your lips like a delicate wine did seem

And with the sweetest kiss made my heart race.

 

My dearest one, so unworthy am I!

For you alone the Galaxy doth turn

And its infinite glitt’ring stars do burn!

For your love would I a thousand deaths die.

 

More beautiful than the spring on Naboo,

And pure than fresh fallen Alderaan snow,

More mild than the breeze on Manaan blue,

Brighter than the Coruscant ev’ning glow,

And stronger than the Force itself are you-

My goddess whom I shall never let go.

 

She began to laugh as he finished.

"What?  Was it that bad?" he asked, himself laughing now as well.

"No, Sheev, it was positively beautiful!" she said.  "You really did manage to sweep me right off my feet.  Did you come up with that on the spot?"

"Well, my lady, you know full well a good statesman always has the right thing to say for any occasion."

"And you happen to be the best."

He wrapped his arms around her and leaned in for a kiss.  But in spite of the playful romance of the moment, Miriné felt just a hint of something disturbing him.  It likely had something to do with the urgent holocall that had briefly interrupted their dinner not long before, she thought to herself.  She backed away and looked deep into his eyes.  Instantly she understood that this would be their last night in this beautiful place.

"You want to tell me something but you're reluctant to," she said to him.  "What is it?"

"I'm needed off-world, my dearest one.  As much as it pains me, we shall have to part when the morning comes."

"I understand," she replied, though it hurt.  "Go where you're needed, my love.  I'll always be there waiting for you when you get back."  She took his hand and held it tightly, knowing how much it would hurt to let go.

"I want you to go to Moraband while I'm away.  I have foreseen that you shall retrieve an ancient Sith artifact of great power for me."

"Moraband?  Korriban, you mean?  The Sith homeworld?  But I thought its location had been lost to history."

"Not quite.  The true Sith still know how to find it.  I've already programmed a small cruiser with the planet's coordinates for you," he said, putting his free hand on her shoulder reassuringly.   Consider this your final test as my student.  And when you pass, we shall rendezvous on Coruscant."

"But Sheev, what is it that I'm looking for?"

"You'll know when you find it."

*****

Miriné hadn't flown off-world alone since stowing away on the freighter that had brought her to Coruscant thirteen years before.  It frightened her, but she had never let fear stop her from anything before and hadn't even considered letting it stop her now.  The cruiser was one of those Nubian ones she had always admired, small, but elegant, sleek, and fast, with a beautiful reflective exterior and a beautiful yet practical interior.

In all these years, he never told you that he knew of Korriban's location, much less that he had been there himself.  

Ah, yes.  That voice that was all too familiar.  It had only grown stronger over the years, but rather than become a nuisance it had remained an odd sort of comfort.  She was never alone.  She was never without guidance.

It simply never came up.  He doesn't have to tell me everything, you know.

You put far too much trust in him.  But I've told you that for years.  It seems some lessons must be learned through experience rather than instruction.

He is the Sith'ari!  You want me to believe he's a monster because he plays both sides of this war, but it's the same sort of pragmatism you've taught me.  Sometimes a dead forest must burn for life to thrive again.

That the Republic must be torn apart to be rebuilt is true, but I sense his intentions are far more sinister than he's led you to believe.

Why is he sending me to Korriban?

He hopes to test you, just as he said.  Thousands of years ago when the Sith were many, it was once the tradition to claim powerful artifacts from the ancient tombs of fallen Sith lords in order to prove one's worth to their future master.

Perhaps with Dooku's death and Skywalker's fall so near, I will finally earn my place as both his regent and his apprentice.  Perhaps he will rightfully end the rule of two and restore our dominance over the Galaxy.  The age of the Jedi, of their hypocrisy, of their corruption, of their arrogance, is coming to an end, and with it the need to hide ourselves.

You're a fool if you think he's refused to take you as his apprentice merely because you haven't proven yourself.  He knows what you're capable of, and he is afraid of what it might mean if you find that out.

Chapter Text

Korriban was a horridly desolate world, harsh in every sense of the word.  Searing heat from its lone sun baked its surface, and the wind-blown sand turned the air itself into an abrasive force that eroded all it touched.  As Miriné's ship approached for landing, she found her instruments were malfunctioning due to interference from the sandstorm she had flown into.  Only through the Force was she able to land safely.  The ancient Sith, she knew, could have only been born from a world so cruel.

She had arrived with no idea of where to land her ship, much less where to start looking for something to retrieve for Palpatine, but reaching out with the Force she felt drawn to a lone plateau overlooking a valley.

Ah, it has been millennia since I have seen this place. This valley holds the tombs of some of the most powerful Sith lords in history.  Your instincts have served you well.  Tread lightly upon these treacherous sands, for the power that was buried here does not sleep even now.  It will test you.

Clad in robes that might have suited a Jedi were it not for their black color and tight fit, and with a black headscarf protecting her face from the sun and sand, Miriné was but a dark speck among the swirling clouds of red as she expertly scaled the jagged side of the plateau to the valley below.  She could barely see, but with the Force to guide her, she found herself safely on solid ground and headed in the direction of a crevice in the face of another cliff on the other side of the valley.

The wind seemed to carry whispers in the air if one listened closely enough.  Voices of those long gone that spoke in the tongue of the ancients.  Vengeful, hateful voices.  Some were strange, but others seemed frighteningly familiar.  Whether they were echoes in the Force or figments of the imagination were unknown.

The crevice was barely large enough for one person to pass through it.  As she reached the end of it, the entrance to a cave came into view.  It called to her with an inaudible siren's song as though it had been expecting her.  Ignoring her fears, she entered.

As the sound of the wind died down, the whispers grew stronger, though not strong enough to be understood.  She soon found herself in an ancient hallway with intricately carved floors and columns.  Roughly three thousand years old, during the height of the Sith Empire, she estimated from their style.  Something seemed vaguely familiar about it.  Had she seen it in a book?  A dream, perhaps?

She could see at the end of the hallway a larger room that was slightly better lit.  As she came closer, a hooded figure came into view.  Dressed in a long brown robe, the brim of her hood hid her eyes, but the lower part of her pale, wrinkled face and the grey locks of hair bundled in metal bands that framed her face indicated she was quite old.

"Who are you?" Miriné called out, a cool confidence in her voice that masked the nervous pounding of her heart.

"You and I have been acquainted for quite some time," the woman said.  The voice in her head.

"It's you!  But how?"

"The energy in this place has allowed me to take a more physical form rather than remain in the confines of your mind."

"No," Miriné said.  "You said yourself you have been dead for millennia.  You are an illusion."

"You'll find the illusions in this place all too real, Miriné Katina," Kreia said as she reached out her hand.  "Real enough to make sure you will never leave this place alive if you aren't careful enough.  They will try to consume you and make you forget where you are or what you're after."  Her fingertips met Miriné's shoulder.  Solid.  Warm.  What power could have possibly conjured up something so real?

"Who are you, really?  After all these years, I want to know.  In fact, I think I deserve to."

"Who do you really wish to know?  Do you wish to know Kreia, the old, blind sage who taught the great Revan and Meetra Surik?"  Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but the woman suddenly appeared many years younger.  "Arren Kae, the young, naive Jedi historian, perhaps?"  But suddenly the hood upon her head fell back, revealing a paper-white face with pitch-black eyes, a Sith headdress crowning her silver hair.  "Or do you wish to know Darth Traya, the powerful lord of the Sith who taught Nihilus, devourer of worlds?  For I am all of them."

"Kreia.  Kreia is your truest self," Miriné responded, her voice barely trembling as she spoke.  "It is Kreia that speaks to me, has always spoken to me, not one who is limited by the views of Jedi or Sith.  I understand this now."  The old woman shifted back to the form she had taken when Miriné had first entered the room.  Miriné knelt before her in deference.  "The Force is greater than any of us.  It transcends light and dark.  This has always been your teaching."  A small grin came to Kreia's face.

"You were brave to come to this place with no lightsaber.  And with your connection to the Force severed in this place, you will be entirely unarmed.  Tread carefully, Miriné Katina."  The woman disappeared in a strange haze, and suddenly in her place, Miriné found herself face to face with two figures in traditional Naboo clothing, a man and a woman.

"Dearest daughter," the woman said, her voice soft, melodic, and strangely familiar.  "You've grown to be so beautiful."

"Mother?  Father?  It can't be."

"Yes, it can," said the woman.  "We're here, aren't we?"  She reached out her hand for Miriné to take.  It was soft.  Warm.  Human.  The look in the woman's eyes was one of deep love.

"We've missed you," the man said.  "Terribly."

"But you can join us," the woman said.  She pulled Miriné into a warm, motherly embrace, and the man joined in as well.  Miriné had never known the love of her parents, only the pain of their absence.  It was intoxicatingly comforting to be wrapped in their arms.  "We can go home, be a family again.  Wouldn't you love to return to the lake country and live on our family estate with us as you were meant to?"

"Yes," Miriné said as a tear began to roll down her cheek.  "I would.  More than anything.  But you aren't real.  You are dead, and all that happened has happened for a reason.  I am on a path that I must not lose sight of, and for that, I have to leave you in the past where you belong."  Their faces became twisted and ghoulish, and they hissed as Miriné threw them off of her.  They lunged at her at uncanny speeds, but she fought them off, and after a series of well-landed kicks and punches, they simply disappeared into thin air.

She continued down dark passages to a rotunda where she found Marea, Maija, Ahrinda, and Maketh standing in the center of a room, their hands in the air.  Confused, she walked towards them until she suddenly felt a presence behind her.  She looked back.  Vreemar Hamisk with a blaster aimed at her head.

“Hands up, little lady,” he hissed.  His thugs emerged from the shadows, their blasters pointed at her friends.  “You really thought you could pull a fast one on me like that, didn’t you?”

“It was worth a try,” she said.  “You’ve got me, now let my friends go.”

“Uh-uh.  See, they’re part of the negotiating we’re going to be doing here.  You owe me a lot of money, and we can do one of two things.  You can let your friends here come with me.  They’ll all fetch great prices on the market, except maybe the plain-looking one with the black hair.”

“Hey!” Ahrinda interjected.  It earned her a rifle butt impact to the head.

“You let me take your friends, and I promise you will never have to deal with me again.  In fact, you might even get a little share of any money I make above what you owe me if I’m feeling nice.  It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“And my other choice?”

“Your life.”

“You’re a greedy bastard, Vreemar Hamisk.  I can’t believe you’d think one life would be a fair trade for three.”

“Only when you consider how much I want to see a blaster bolt through your head, girl.  But I’m still tempted to make a profit off of you.  You have no idea how much certain clients might pay for disposable entertainment. Single-use slaves, if you will.  They’d pay fortunes to watch a pretty thing like you die very, very slowly.”

“Oh, just get it over with!” Marea grumbled.  “It’s not like we don’t know what your decision is going to be.  I mean, what was it you told us?  ‘Great things require great sacrifices?’  And we know damn well we’re easy for you to sacrifice.”

“No.  That’s not happening.”

“You’re supposed to be Sith,” Maija said.  “The Sith only care about self-preservation.  Everyone knows that.”

“I won’t let you pay my debts,” Miriné said as she raised her hands in surrender.  “Do what you will, Hamisk.”

But Hamisk fell right into her trap.  He came nearer.  At an almost inhuman speed, Miriné grabbed him by the arm and flipped him onto his back, quickly wrestling the gun from his hand and putting a blaster bolt in his head before shooting some of his men and forcing the others to flee.  She ran to her friends and wrapped her arms around them all.

“He was going to kill you,” Maija said.  “Why didn’t you just let him take us?  Wouldn’t that be the Sith way?”

“No,” Miriné said.  “Why should I sacrifice you or myself if it isn’t necessary?  It would be wasteful.  Foolish.  I couldn’t do it, not when I knew there was a chance that I could fight them off.  That is the Sith way."

But they faded from her embrace, as though they had never been there at all.

In the next chamber, she found herself alone with the imposing figure of Count Dooku.  One as tall as he was could intimidate with their stature alone, and one as small as Miriné could only feel intimidated by him.

“You must truly enjoy the taste of defeat to face me again,” he said, his voice a low, powerful rumble that forced a lump into Miriné’s throat and fear into her heart.  She would never forget the humiliation of her defeat at his hands, how the blade of his saber seared her throat, how easily he could have ended her life with one swift stroke.    “Your master sent you to your death.  With no weapon and no real knowledge of what you could face here, he must have known this.”

“When I return to him I shall have your place as his apprentice.  You can’t stop that from happening no matter how you try.”

“Foolish girl!  He would be your master only because you would be his slave.  Look at yourself!  Do you really delude yourself into thinking you would have gotten as far as you have if you hadn’t had such a pretty face?  You’re nothing but a common whore, you serve no purpose to him other than to satisfy his baser, physical needs.  Admit this simple truth and leave this place behind, or I shall do what I should have done the last time we met and end your pathetic life.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Miriné could see a set of ancient Sith armor on display, and just behind it, tucked away from sight, was a pair of vibroblades.

“No.”

“No?  Then so be it,” he growled.  “Prepare to meet your end!”

As he swung at her with his lightsaber, Miriné quickly rolled out of the way and grabbed the vibroblades in time to block his next attack.

The battle was far more difficult than their last, but Miriné had come prepared.  She knew he expected her to once again mimic their master’s style and so played along with it until she could finally catch him off guard.  With a single slash, she cleaved both his hands off.  His lightsaber clattered loudly to the ground, and he sank to his knees.

“No!” he shouted.  “You shall never replace me!”

“I replace no one!” she said.  “I am Miriné Katina.  I fought tooth and nail for my life in the backwaters of Naboo and the underbelly of Coruscant while you were raised comfortably in the grand temples of your Jedi order.  My beauty may have caught my master’s eye, but there is far more that has kept me at his side.  I have earned my place, and I will be a slave to no man!”

With that, she quickly beheaded him, and he disappeared, as did the vibroblades in her hand.

When she reached the final chamber, she saw the familiar figure of the Darth Sidious standing before the worn stone remnants of a Sith throne and a pair of elaborately carved sarcophagi.

“Sheev?  I thought you said we’d meet again on Coruscant.”

“I simply had to see if you would make it this far,” he replied as he opened his arms to her.  She ran to him and threw her arms around his neck, elated beyond words to see her beloved.  But as she began to relax and settle in his arms, he began to chuckle to himself ominously and brought a hand to her cheek.  “Oh, you gullible little thing.”  She took a small step back, but his other hand which had remained on the small of her back keep her from going any further.

“W-what?”

But before she could react, she was stunned by the sudden sound of a lightsaber igniting.  She looked down.  He had hidden it in the sleeve of his robe, he realized.  And it had impaled her.  He deactivated it and stepped away.

“No,” she whispered.  “You would never-“

“Betrayal is the Sith way,” he said as she sank to her knees.  “You’ve always known that.  You should have expected nothing less of me.”

“Sheev, please!” she said as she reached out to him.  But the life was slipping away from her.  She fell to the ground, whimpering in pain.

“Pathetic girl!  You were quite fun to keep as a little pet, but your usefulness is running out.  Soon I shall have Skywalker at my side and the Galaxy at my feet, and you will be dead and long forgotten.”

“Please. . . I love you, Sheev!” she cried out.

“You’re a fool, Miriné.  You should have known this was coming.  But you've allowed your love for me to blind you to the truth.”

“No!  You’re nothing but an illusion!”

“And you think the real me won’t betray you just the same?”

“Maybe you will someday,” she said as she struggled to get back to her feet.  “And maybe you’ll hurt me terribly.  But I won’t let you end me.  You.  Will.  Not.  Break me!”

He raised his hands, and a storm of Force lightning shot from his fingertips at her, but she caught it in her hands.  The harder he tried to break her will and electrocute her, the more energy she had gathered between her finger trips, until finally she hurled it back at him, violently forcing him backwards and back into the oblivion that made him.  Out of breath and still in pain, she stumbled to the sarcophagi at the end of the room and fell unconscious.

****

Miriné awoke to see an elegant, translucent figure before her.  A spirit, surely of whoever had been buried in this tomb. 

Her thoughts quickly shifted to the vision she had just had of Palpatine.  The hole his saber had left in her tunic was still there, but the pain from the wound, though still present, had subsided significantly.  Was this spirit a vision as well?  Had she healed her somehow?

“Who are you?” Miriné said weakly.

“I am Acina,” the spirit replied.  Darth Acina, the great reformer and ruthless warrior, long hailed as the wisest of the Sith, had been a subject of much interest throughout Miriné's studies, as well as everything she had aspired to be.  To see her with her own eyes, even in this ethereal form, was surreal.  “For millennia I have rested peacefully in this tomb.  Who are you that dares to disturb an Empress of the Sith?”

“I am Miriné Katina,” she said as she rose to her knees in deference.  “I am but a meek and humble girl of lowly origins, guided by the Force to this place.”  The spirit seemed puzzled as she studied Miriné closely.  She then closed her eyes and reached out into the Force.

“Rise, Miriné Katina,” she said finally.  “Your face still bears some of my features.  My blood courses still in your veins.  You are the descended from the daughters of my daughters, and one empress has no need to kneel before another.”

“You must be mistaken, my Empress,” Miriné replied as she slowly got back on her feet.  “My family has been on Naboo for all of recorded history.  And Empress Acina never had children, I studied her quite thoroughly.”

“I did my best to hide my daughter.  We were at war with the Republic, and being so soon after the invasion of the Eternal Empire, I could not bear to put her in such danger by keeping her near.”

“But Naboo?  Naboo was isolated for so long.  How did your descendants appear there?”

“It was Naboo’s isolation that made it the perfect place to hide her.  She had a remarkably strong presence in the Force, even as a child.  In any system recognized by the Republic or Empire, she would have been easily detected.  I sent her there, hoping that by the war’s end I would be able to bring her home.”

“But you never did, did you?”

“No.  The war dragged on and on, and we never saw peace.”  She looked wistfully at the smaller, less ornate sarcophagus next to her own and ran her ghostly fingers gently over the lid.  “My poor Imperia.  She died by my side.  Her last moments - and mine - were spent with such regret that we had never brought back our daughter.”

“Why is her spirit not here too?”

“She spent so much time with ghosts in life I must imagine she grew tired of them.  But perhaps… yes, I sense some of her in you too.  We live on through you, flesh of my flesh.  That is why your presence has awakened me.”

“This was all thousands of years ago,” Miriné said.  “I may have your blood, but how much?  I’m still no one.”

“It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you have proven yourself worthy of our legacy.  There have been many others with more of my blood who were far less deserving.  But you are Sith and destined to rule as I did.”

“My master says I will never be Sith, that there are always only two.”

“No heir of mine shall let herself be defined by a man who has yet to recognize the sheer power before him!  Only a true Sith could come to this sacred world and pass its tests- only one who is truly worthy of the throne of the Sith could enter my tomb!  If he does not consider you Sith, he is a fool!”  The tomb seemed to shake as she spoke with such rage.  She pointed authoritatively towards the vessel that housed  “Open my sarcophagus.  Take my crown which is your birthright, let the echoes of my power that remain within it become yours.  Take what remains of my saber so that it may help you craft your own and so that I shall always accompany you in battle.  Leave this place, and know that you shall always take me with you, flesh of my flesh.”

Miriné pushed the great stone lid just enough for Acina’s skeletal visage to become visible.  The crown was still neatly atop her head.  She gently took it and examined it closely before tucking it in her back and doing the same with the ancient dual-bladed lightsaber that laid near Acina's hip.

“I still require something to present to my master," she said.

“And so you do,” Acina said.  With a motion of her hand, a glossy, black, rectangular object no bigger than a pazaak card with odd grooves in its surface rose from the sarcophagus and was gently laid into Miriné's open palm.

"What is it?"

"A piece from the armor of Emperor Vitiate that was forged into a decorative brooch.  Not particularly powerful, but powerful enough to present to your master."

"My master collects ancient Sith artifacts almost as a hobby.  He'll know immediately how powerful it is."

"Believe me, he will be far too excited to have something of Vitiate's.  It is an extremely rare find, and he knows it."

"As you say," Miriné said with a bow.  "Thank you, Acina."

"May the Force serve you well, flesh of my flesh."

Chapter Text

Safely on board the cruiser once more, Miriné took a minute to settle into her seat and ponder the things she had seen within the tomb of Empress Acina. That she had retrieved some of Acina’s belongings was undeniable, but how much had been real, and how much had merely been the dark energy within the tomb simply playing with her mind? She longed to call the Chancellor’s private holo frequency and tell him that she was alive, to question him about the betrayal she had seen but resisted the urge.  And then her mind drifted to the voice in her mind that had accompanied her since childhood.  She closed her eyes and focused on the flow of the Force, dropping into a meditative state to commune more clearly with the being.

Are you really Kreia?  Was it really you that I saw in the tomb?

That place contains a powerful energy most living beings cannot comprehend  It was powerful enough to keep me out but perhaps also powerful enough to create the illusion of my presence.  Yes, I was once known as Kreia.  And Darth Traya.  And Arren Kae.  And, at one point after my death, quite simply "The Entity."

Why me?  After thousands of years, why attach yourself to a little girl from Naboo?

It seems I have always been meant to teach those whose choices shape the fate of the Galaxy.  Meetra Surik.  Revan before her.  Nihilus and Sion.  And now you.  You are an anomaly, Miriné.  It is as if the Force had manifested its will into you in an attempt to correct something.  To restore balance.

But in life, you always believed we should overcome the will of the Force and strive to be independent of it.  It seems so different from the things you've taught me all these years.

I was wrong.  In death, there is a much greater understanding of the Force.  We are not dominated by it, we are a part of it.  There is no Light or Dark, there are only sentients who grasp at superficial interpretations of its true nature.  Everything I've taught you is only just the beginning of what you will one day come to understand when you transcend the reality of the living.

But I am Sith!  I have been trained in their ways, I am to sit on their throne, I share their blood!  How can I accept that there is no Dark Side of the Force when it is supposed to be what fuels me?

You have never relied fully on the Dark Side, nor are you entirely driven by hate and anger.  You think yourself soft because of it, but it gives you strength not to limit yourself.  You have always craved a deeper understanding of the nature of the Force than your master has offered you and you desire the power that comes with it, as a true Sith is meant to.

What does being Sith even mean without the Dark Side?

It means balance.  You have seen how the complacency of the Jedi has led the Republic to rot.  Until the day that neither exists, there must always be Sith to control the Jedi and Jedi to control the Sith.

Miriné’s meditation was interrupted by the sudden chiming of the ship’s comm.  The blue, static-ridden form of the chancellor popped up, wavering horrendously due to the interference of Korriban’s storms and the distance that separated them.

“Miriné, can you hear me?” he said frantically, his voice cutting in and out due to the poor connection.  “Coruscant is under attack!  Do not come back, I repeat- do not come back!”

“Sheev, you’re breaking up horribly!”  She could see him look in horror at something beyond the camera.

“They’re com-“ Silence.  He was gone.

The connection had been severed.  A Separatist invasion really was underway.  Miriné’s heart began to pound within her chest.  What if Dooku and Grievous had turned on him?  With so many eyes on him, he could never defend himself without revealing his true identity.  She risked losing him, and the Sith within her found it unacceptable- his warning to not return to Coruscant be damned!

As quickly as she could, she launched the ship out of Korriban’s atmosphere and punched in the hyperspace coordinates that would lead her back to Coruscant.

As the ship traveled through hyperspace, Miriné focused upon arming herself.  From the remains of Acina’s dual saber and her own saber, she realized she was able to construct two sabers, and thus chose to model them off of the weapons she had seen and used in the traditional sword dances native to her region of Naboo, which had shorter blades and much longer hilts for a level of balance and elegance in battle that suited her size and style.  As far as she knew, neither Jedi nor Sith had done such a thing before.  In making such a choice, she was finally forging her own path, defining her own style of fighting that was entirely distinct from her master’s and mirrored the experiences of her childhood.  As the components slowly floated in the air and came together to form the two sabers, Miriné felt confident that this divergence from convention was simply right.

They were complete.  She summoned them into her hands, and pride overwhelmed her when she ignited the twin violet sabers for the very first time.  Her culture.  Her ancestry.  Her years of training.  Her successes and failures.  They all came together in these two weapons that were uniquely hers.

But she could not enjoy the moment for long.  The ship’s console blared a warning that it would soon be dropping out of hyperspace, and so she quickly hooked the sabers onto her belt and rushed to the pilot’s seat.

She dropped out of hyperspace into the middle of a massive battle over Coruscant.  A sudden bolt of energy jolted the cruiser before she could even assess the situation as if to remind her that the chaos before her was reality.  Quickly she maneuvered her way through the debris and dogfights, narrowly dodging further impacts from the cannons of ships that had assumed she was a part of the battle.  By what might have been a miracle of the Force, she managed to safely enter Coruscant’s atmosphere and arrive at the landing platform at the Senate building that Palpatine had set aside for her.  She quickly changed into an outfit more inconspicuous in the halls of the Senate, her lightsabers tucked under her simple skirt.  She hurried past the building's defences and emergency security check-points to the Chancellor’s office and was surprised to find a squabbling mass of senators, aides, Jedi, Senate guards, and military officers.  The one that stood out the most was Padmé Amidala.

“Padmé!  Where’s the Chancellor?” Miriné said desperately, though she did her best to hide the depth of her anguish.  She could have approached Mas Amedda or another who spent enough time in Palpatine’s office to be familiar with her presence, but as a fellow woman of Naboo and something approaching a friend, Padmé seemed the easiest to speak to in that moment.

“He’s been kidnapped, didn’t you hear?”

“No, I just got back from off-world!”  Padmé briefly looked at her with an expression of deep confusion, silently questioning how an ordinary secretary could have gotten through the blockade, but her mind quickly produced a long list of possible satisfactory explanations, and so the expression of anxiety that had marked her previously returned.  “When did it happen?”

“It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes ago,” Padmé said.  “Master Shaak Ti had been sent to protect him, but they lost contact with her.  They probably have him aboard their ship by now.”

“Who are we sending after him?”

"The Jedi masters are debating what course of action to take."

"This isn't the time!" Miriné nearly shouted, and heads began to turn in her direction as the room began to quiet down.  In the holograms the others were centered around, she recognized two familiar figures.  Something inside her told her that they were meant for this mission.  "Send for Skywalker and Kenobi, they're the best equipped to handle this!  Now!"

"Who let this girl in?" a particularly pretentious senator demanded.  "We need a plan to make sure this operation goes smoothly, and you hardly seem a strategist."

"Call me what you will, Senator, but I am an aide to the Supreme Chancellor, and judging by this bickering I may quite possibly be the only one who realizes the true gravity of the situation!  We are now a single blaster bolt away from being left without a leader in the middle of a civil war, and we need action NOW!"

"Right, she is, in spite of her impetuousness," the wise Master Yoda said, his tone more rushed and anxious than usual.  "While caution we must exercise, afford to wait long we cannot."

"It could be they want to negotiate," Mace Windu said.  "We may have to wait until they make demands before we make any hasty decisions."

"Do we really want to take that chance?" Miriné asked.  The silence hanging over the room was enough of an answer.  "Do we have his location?"

"We're tracking him as best as we can through his comm signal but it's extremely spotty," a naval officer said.  "He seems to be onboard Grievous' flagship now."

"We can launch a small-scale assault if you give the orders to our men already in the air to create a distraction," the holographic figure of Kenobi said.  "Two small Jedi fighters should be able to penetrate the ship's defenses relatively undetected."

"And what do you plan to do once you get aboard?" Windu asked.

"We'll figure it out," Skywalker responded in his usual brash style.  His master seemed less than amused.

"Just 'figuring it out' is going to have to do for the moment!  Bounce that comm signal to those two and get them off the ground NOW!"

It was the first time Miriné had ever done anything beyond the duties of a simple, unobtrusive secretary in Palpatine's office, and yet the action had been massive.  That her presence was powerful enough to bring a room of bickering politicians, military men, and Jedi to action was something she had hardly expected of herself.  But what choice did she have?  She was determined to save the man she loved, no matter the fear she felt or the lack of experience she had in leading rather than following.

The sky was alight with the flames of the battle above, and tensions ran high as every sentient in the room silently awaited news of the mission to save the Chancellor.  Miriné sat with Senator Amidala, their fingers interlaced as every minute passed by feeling more like hours.  She had always enjoyed spending time with her, for beyond their common background and similar age, beyond the deep admiration that Miriné felt for the former queen and savior of their world, Padmé Amidala simply had a distinct energy within her that lit up those around her.  It soothed, yet was strong and unyielding.  It was warm and comforting, yet fierce in its protective nature.  It was a presence that Miriné would recognize before she even entered the building.  The only thing that ever concerned her about Padmé was the fact she could never clearly see her future as she could those of most other sentients she touched.

She hadn't actually seen Padmé in quite some time.  Her visits to the Chancellor's office had become less frequent, and she had avoided coming at all for the past few months.  Now she realized why.  As much as the young senator might have tried to hide it with the thick, loose layers of clothing she had draped herself in, the energy of new life growing within her womb was unmistakable.

Their hearts raced together as they heard the transmissions from Skywalker and Kenobi.  The two Jedi had rescued the Chancellor and captured the ship, but Grievous had escaped, and the ship was going down.  After everything, they could both easily lose the men they loved, and yet neither would be able to mourn them publically.  But neither could afford to think like that, not when they still had a fighting chance for survival.

And then the ship landed, the bridge miraculously intact.  A collective sigh of relief.  Cheers.  The battle was over, and the Chancellor safe.  Everyone in the room began to file out the door to await their leader and the Jedi heroes.

Everyone except Miriné.

"Are you coming?" Padmé asked before leaving with the others.

"Oh no," Miriné said.  "I ought to sort some things out for him here before he returns, and Force knows he will.  Besides, I'm certainly not of enough importance to be there with you and the others.  He won't miss my face in the crowd."

"I suppose he'll appreciate that you took care of things.  And I'm sure he'd be proud of how you stood up for yourself today and forced the mob into action.  That sort of courage is what we need more of in this Galaxy, now more than ever."

"I appreciate it, Senator."

"Take care, Miriné."

"You too, Padmé."

In reality, Miriné had nothing that needed to be done.  She preferred to watch from afar, as was always expected of her.  She stood by the window with the best view of the Chancellor's landing pad, smiling as she saw her beloved return entirely unscathed and in good spirits, curious as to how he'd react if he knew how bold she had been or how much attention she had drawn to herself, eager to discuss what she had found on Korriban.

When the Chancellor and his entourage entered the building, she counted the minutes it would take him to arrive to his office, even at his slowest pace.  But hours passed, and he didn't return.  She retreated to his bedroom- their bedroom, after all these years, and laid herself down on the bed.  He'd have to come home eventually.

In the meantime, she studied the circlet she had retrieved from Acina's tomb.  The design was simple, utilitarian yet regal, and it appeared to have once been capable of projecting a shield, a fact that certainly fit in with all that she had studied of the Sith Empress.  But when she examined the inner side more closely, she noted a series of markings, perhaps a coded variant of the ancient Sith alphabet, and on the back of the small protrusion that was meant to line up with the wearer's nose, there was a worn carving of an abstract image that, upon closer inspection, appeared to depict a star system.  It would take time to decipher, certainly, but Miriné was determined to discover its meaning.

As the sun began to sink below the horizon, she finally felt his presence coming nearer and perked up with excitement.  As quickly as she could, she ran to his office to meet him.

“Sheev!” Miriné cried out as the door opened to reveal the figure of her beloved.  She rushed to him and threw her arms around his neck, greeting him with a deep, passionate kiss.

"You certainly got here faster than I thought you would!" he said with a smile.  "Did you come back in the middle of the battle even though I specifically told you not to?"

“Oh, I couldn't help it!  When I heard that you had been captured I was so frightened something would happen to you!  I had to do something."

"That's the woman I fell in love with!" he said with a laugh.  But he sensed a hint of lingering emotional distress that hadn't gone away with his return.  "What's wrong, dearest one?"

"You took so long coming back.  I haven't seen you in days, and I was so scared I was going to lose you, and-“

“You’re upset because I didn’t come to you first?" he said playfully.  "I have an entourage of overly ambitious politicians to entertain, dearest one.  You know I can’t just drop them without raising suspicion.”

“I know, dearest, but I think I'm growing tired of being your dirty little secret," she said with a gentle smile as she stroked his cheek.  "You love me, don’t you?”

“More than anything, Miriné.  And once our plans come to fruition and I am Emperor, you shall always be by my side.”

“Perhaps I’m just a little jealous.  I saw Skywalker and Amidala stay behind after you left with the others.”

“And?”

“Haven’t you noticed how pregnant she is?  Skywalker is going to be more dedicated than ever to her now that they have children to protect.”

“Children?” he repeated in surprise.

“Twins.  But they don’t know it yet, surprisingly enough.  It would appear she’s too afraid to see a doctor.”

“I would imagine,” he remarked.  “You want a child yourself, don't you, Miriné?”

“More than anything, yes,” she replied.  “I want us to be a family.  And I want you to have an heir.”

“I suppose I’ll have to finally officially ask you to marry me, then,” he said, dropping to one knee.  She looked down at him with the happiest of smiles and a flush in her cheeks, eyes wide with surprise and joy.

“You’re really doing this now?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

“Miriné Katina, will you accept this old man’s proposal?  Will you make me the happiest being to have ever walked this Galaxy and be my wife?”

“You already know my answer perfectly well, Sheev Palpatine,” she replied sweetly.  “I was made to be yours.”  He came back up to his feet and distracted her with a kiss on the forehead as he produced a large velvet box from his robes.

"This is why I took some extra time," he said as he opened the box to reveal a beautiful pendant collier necklace that must have cost the price of a new starship.  It was made from pure aurodium to compliment her skin tone and inlaid with brilliant red, purple, blue, black, and clear gemstones forming large, intricate floral patterns.  In the center of the pendant itself, surrounded by an even larger floral pattern, was a single black, polished stone the size of her eye with a swirl of millions of tiny iridescent white flecks that closely resembled a map of the Galaxy.

"Sheev, is this...?"

"From your homeland, yes.  I didn't really leave Naboo that morning.  I wanted to surprise you, so I had to get you to go off-world while I had this made for you and made a few arrangements for our honeymoon."

"It's beautiful, Sheev. I can't imagine what you must have spent on it."

"No price is too high to pay in order to demonstrate my love for you.  Come now, let me put it on you."  She turned around and allowed him to clasp it around her neck.  How heavy it felt, but how she loved the sensation!  Such jewelry was the mark of a powerful woman in her home region of Naboo, and he knew full well its significance.  He must have put quite a bit of thought into the design, for she noted it perfectly covered the burn scar Count Dooku left her with.  She turned to face him again, and he grinned at seeing how it brought out a certain glow in her face.

"The center stone was specially engineered for you, my love.  You'll always have the Galaxy at your fingertips, as an Empress should."  His hands slid onto her hips and brought her nearer, allowing his arms to wrap themselves fully around her waist.  "I did want to discuss something else with you."

"Oh?"

“Naboo will need a queen loyal to the Empire, Miriné.  I have decided you should be put on the throne as a gesture of good faith to our people when our current queen's term ends.”

“But how will they ever accept me?  I don’t exist on Naboo anymore,” she protested.  “And won’t that mean I’ll have to be far from you?”

“They will accept you because you will bear the name Palpatine.  And fear not our separation, my dearest one- your presence will not always be required on Naboo, and mine will not always be required on Coruscant.”  He stroked her cheek and looked deep into her eyes, so gentle and filled with love and anxiety all at once.

"I'm not sure about this," she said.  "My place has always been at your side.  You're the politician, not me."

"Few who have sat upon that throne were better qualified than you.  If the people of Naboo don't come to love you as I do, no one would be more surprised than I."

"Then I will trust your judgement," she replied.

He ran a thumb over her lips as they gazed into each other's eyes in silence.  They drifted closer, until finally they kissed, sparking an uncontrollable whirlwind of passionate energy around them.  She wanted him.  She needed him.  Desperation grew within her as he ran his hands over her back and hips.  She wanted him to strip her down, grab her, take her mercilessly in every orifice as he had so many times before.  Oh, she had missed him!  Her entire body ached for him, begged him to fill her as only he could.  Until she was satisfied, she could not let him go.

“Make love to me,” she whispered desperately in his ear.  “I’ve been so deprived of your touch.”  He let out a low chuckle in response.

“As you wish, my Queen,” he teased.  He pulled her closer, one hand firmly grasping at her buttocks and the other running through her hair.  He savored the sweet flavor of her lips, hypnotized her with the movements of his tongue, and his hand snaked down to open the collar of her dress and reveal her sumptuous mounds.  She groaned lusciously into his mouth as he grabbed at one and massaged it.  The problems of the Galaxy were slowly melting away as he took her into a whole other plane of existence.

Until the door flew open.  Padmé Amidala looked upon her oldest colleague and mentor and the bare-breasted younger woman in his arms in shock.  Miriné rushed to cover herself and darted into another room, overcome with shame, and yet her master kept calm as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

“Ah, Senator Amidala!  What a surprise to see you!  You’ve met my aide Miss Katina, haven’t you?  Such a shy little thing.”

“Chancellor, I don’t know what you think you’re doing to that girl, but as her employer, it would be a violation of-“

“Senator, please!  I assure you this is hardly a case of workplace abuse.  The young lady is here voluntarily, her employment a front so that I may keep her near me without scandal.  I plan to marry her as soon as my time as chancellor is up and I am in a better position to protect her from the public eye.”

“And when will that be?”

“As soon as the war comes to an end, dear Padmé.  And now that Count Dooku is dead, I feel that moment is closer than ever.  Now, concern yourself not with Miss Katina, Senator.  Love grows even in the most forbidden of circumstances, as I’m sure you’d understand perfectly well,” he said, lowering his eyes to the barely concealed swell of her womb.  “I think it would be wise to take some time off, wouldn’t you?  A few months in the lake country on Naboo, perhaps?”

"Is that a threat?"

"A mere suggestion from an old friend concerned for your health, Padmé," he said.  "Why would I ever want to threaten you?"

"I see," Padmé said.  She produced a small stack of data discs and set them on his desk.  "Bail Organa asked me to bring these to you in preparation for our meeting tomorrow.  I'll see you then."

"Farewell, Senator," the Chancellor said with a warm smile.

"Farewell, your Excellency," she replied curtly.  Almost as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone again.

"You planned all of this, didn't you?" Miriné said softly from the shadows.  "The kidnapping, her walking in on us.  Sometimes I wonder if there's anything that ever happens to you without your planning it."

"Does that bother you?" he responded, the very slightest hint of annoyance in his voice.

"Of course not," she said with a sigh.  "I only wish you entrusted me more with your plans."

"I know it must feel terrible, but I will try to be better about that in the future," he said as he came to her side and wrapped his arms around her again.  "You passed your trials on Korriban, and I now have no reason whatsoever to lack faith in your ability to handle such things.  Things are going to change for the better between us, you'll see."

"I love you, Sheev," she said as she buried her face into the warmth of his chest.

"As do I," he whispered, stroking her hair gently.  "As will I always."

Chapter Text

While the Chancellor had secluded himself in his private office working on Force knows what after dinner, as he often did, Miriné still felt a lingering anxiety from the day's events. Luckily Maija called, perhaps sensing something was off.

"I figured I should check on you since the government district was hit hard and I wasn't sure if you were back yet," the padawan said.

"Yes, I just got back today," Miriné said.  "I'm glad you called.  I could use a friend right now."

"What about your master?"

"He's busy, as I would expect him to be at this time of night," she replied with a sigh.

"Do you want me to come over?"

"Won't they miss you at the temple?"

"No," Maija said, her expression souring a bit.  "Even if they would, I would definitely rather be with you discussing. . . other points of view on what's happening in the Galaxy."

"Then let us meet at the Senate plaza.  We can find someplace to talk from there."

Maija was there within the hour and met Miriné with a long embrace.  They wandered about the plaza and surrounding parks before arriving at one of the more secluded spots that Miriné was familiar with.  Fortunately, the government district was usually practically empty after working hours, and even less had stayed out after the day's battle.  No one would take note of their rendezvous unless they were trying to find the pair, and it was hardly likely that anyone was.

"Did you still want to learn the ways of the Dark Side?" Miriné asked.  "You won't be able to see the Force in the same way as the rest of the Jedi anymore, you know that."

"I figured it wouldn't be the worst idea in the galaxy," Maija responded.  "I used to be so devoted to the Order, you know?  I suppose everyone is that way as a kid.  We were supposed to be the good guys, keepers of the peace, sources of wisdom and voices of reason, protectors of the Republic.  But I hate how quickly we turned into warriors.  All it took was a declaration by the Chancellor, and suddenly we were fighting this war without questioning it.  We're reckless, we probably destroy as many lives as we save, then we turn around and preach about the goodness of the Light Side of the Force.  And then I saw how quickly they threw Ahsoka Tano under the sandcrawler when the temple was bombed, and I knew I couldn't just sit back and continue to blindly accept their teachings anymore."

"Yes, they are rather hypocritical, aren't they?"

"Exactly!  And you know, I never knew a life outside of the Order until I met you- they took me as a baby, raised me without letting me know anything of my family or my homeworld, told me to never be attached to anyone or anything.  How are we supposed to protect the Republic if we know so little about it?  How are we supposed to serve people when we don't understand their needs and desires?  How are we supposed to fight for a Galaxy we have no attachment to?"

"You've found the great paradox of the Jedi Order," Miriné said with a smile as she put a reassuring hand on the Mirialan's shoulder.  "There is far more to the Galaxy than what they want you to see, and I'm beyond proud that you've managed to break through their chains."

"I can't take it anymore," Maija confessed.  "I really can't.  They just want me to be like everyone else, free of emotion, a perfect little killing machine.  I may as well be one of those battle droids when you think about it.  But I'm more than that, aren't I?  I am a sentient being, I'm supposed to feel.  I'm supposed to be.  But for a Jedi, that's wrong."

"I understand," Miriné assured her.  "It's that same frustration that led to the conception of the Sith.  Do you know our code?"

"No, I don't."

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  The Jedi would never last if their pupils realized there was an alternative to their narrow views."  She cleared her throat.  "Peace is a lie, there is only passion.  Through passion, I gain strength.  Through strength, I gain power.  Through power, I gain victory.  Through victory, my chains are broken.  The Force shall free me.  Do you understand its meaning?"

"'Peace is a lie' seems a little cynical at best, plain violent at worst."

"Not really, when you think of it," Miriné explained.  "Even when the Galaxy is free of war, there always remain internal conflicts.  To be Sith is not merely to fight in the literal sense, it is to struggle for freedom from the things that hold us back, to constantly battle for self-improvement.  The Jedi consider themselves enlightened beings, but the Sith recognize their imperfections and strive to be better.  And the only thing powerful enough to fuel oneself in that eternal struggle is passion, without which one could never hope to be more than another member of the Jedi rank and file.  Freedom- true freedom- is only possible when you channel your passions into becoming the best version of yourself, you understand?"

"But what if the best version of yourself is evil?" Maija asked.  Miriné let out a small chuckle.

"You assume that there are very many people in this Galaxy that are truly evil at their core," she replied.  "As terrible as people can be to each other, I find it hard to believe that the majority of them don't have at least some good in their hearts.  Often times, good people with good intentions do bad things as a result of bad circumstances, and it's hardly their fault, is it?  There are thieves who steal because they're hungry.  Youths who join gangs because it's the only way they can survive.  Jedi who kill because they believe they're defending the Republic."

"You're right," Maija said.  "The Jedi deal far too much in absolutes."

"Indeed they do.  While some Sith were quite twisted, perhaps even truly evil, I would argue most of them weren't.  The violence they committed was, for the most part, the result of a brutal culture that has since died off.  Darth Plagueis, for example, was a dedicated scientist who devoted himself to the study of life itself.  He learned to control midichlorians in order to heal and create because that was where his passions lied.  Darth Acina was a great reformer whose reign led to the liberation of slaves and to great strides for the rights of non-human sentients in her empire.  Of the eight sisters who deposed Vaylin the Mad, two were Sith.  Your path as a Sith depends on no one but yourself.  Ask yourself what you want to do, who you want to be, and let your passions guide you there."

Miriné knelt on the ground, and Maija followed suite instinctively. 

"Close your eyes," she instructed.  "Don't try to reach for the Force and its wisdom, don't try to focus on controlling yourself, just open yourself up to it.  Feel it flow through you.  Feel its ebb and flow.  Feel how it intensifies with your emotions, how much power you have over it when you simply let yourself feel.  Let it intertwine with every part of you, the light and the dark."

They meditated together for quite some time.  When they awoke from their trance, Maija was changed.

"Thank you for showing me my real potential," Maija said.  "It feels good to see the Force without the limits of the Jedi.  I feel. . . free."

"We'll meet as often as we can, and I shall teach you more," Miriné said with a smile.  "This is only the beginning of great things."

*****

Miriné returned to the Chancellor's apartment to find him just leaving his office.

"Where were you?" he asked with a hint of a smile on his lips.  "I was worried I'd have to sleep alone again tonight."

"Just taking a walk around the gardens," she said innocently.  "I took some time for meditation too.  In spite of all the wreckage from the battle, it really is a lovely night to be out."

"Now that you've returned, I think it's quite a lovely night to stay in," he said, a glint of mischief in his eye.  "You and I both have had a very long day, and you still seem so tense, dearest one.  Shall we perhaps take a moment for a shower?"

"I probably need it more than you do, considering I came as fast as I could from the heat and dust of Korriban, and you returned from a kidnapping, a botched rescue, and a crash landing without even a single hair out of place," she teased.

"Good," he purred.  "I'm sure I can make it quite a relaxing experience."

The shower of the chancellor's suite was already a wonderful place, but even more so when they were inside of it together.  It was quite opulent, with plenty of space for any number of activities under its gentle, rain-like stream.  The couple had made it a habit to bathe together, reasoning that if they both had to do it and his schedule was already far too busy for her, they may as well have an extra excuse to spend a few more moments with each other every day.  Sometimes it led to love-making.  It always led to stimulating conversation.  Today, she was eager to discuss what she saw in the tomb on Korriban while he tended to her hair. 

The brooch she presented him with was not the most significant archeological find in history, but it was still an excellent find by all counts.  He could still feel a small bit of Vitiate's power emanating from it, and it pleased him.  He was admittedly more impressed by the fact that she had managed to find an unopened tomb as significant as Acina's, but then when wasn't he impressed with her?  

"I came face to face with her spirit," she told him proudly as he massaged her scalp with a divinely luxurious shampoo that smelled of the gentle wildflowers of Naboo.  Even if her curls were far shorter than they once were, they still deserved only the greatest level of love and care.  "She told me I was her heir."

"Did she?  That's strange," he replied.  "Perhaps it was simply another illusion."  He motioned for her to tilt her head back so she could rinse her hair.

"It didn't seem like it.  The other figures appeared so real."

"Yes, but the idea that her heir could be born on a world that has only recently come out of isolation is improbable at best," he said.  "Korriban has its ways of deceiving us."

"What did you see in your trials?" she asked.  "Be honest with me." He hesitated in a way she'd never seen him do before.

"I. . .  I saw my father.  I was a child again, and he had come to beat me just as he always did."  He'd never spoken of it before.  It shocked her to see how broken he seemed by it.  She could feel him trying to mask his pain, and if she hadn't spent so many years by his side, she might have believed the act.  He cleared his throat and recharged his voice with more of his usual confidence.  "I cut him down, as was necessary.  And just like the figures in your visions, he too disappeared."  As though nothing had happened, he began massaging the perfumed hair oils into her ebony locks.  He secretly loved the way her hair smelled after a cleaning and conditioning like this, a sweet combination of her own warm scent and an olfactory symphony of exotic blossoms and fruits.  The scent always seeped into their pillows, and though he would never admit it, whenever she was away he would linger in bed a few minutes longer every morning with his nose buried in the pillow to take it in.  None could ever know of the weakness it brought to him, not even her.

"I still think the fact that the power in her artifacts responds so well to me must mean something," she said as he finished up.  Suddenly her eyes widened as though she had been struck with a great revelation.  "That's it!"

"What?"

"The writing on the inside of the circlet!  I've been thinking of how to decode it all night, and I think I just figured it out!"  She rushed out of the shower and hastily wrapped herself in a towel before grabbing the circlet and running to his office.  He stumbled out of the shower after her and found her furiously entering data into his computer.  After a while, a star map popped up with a small red circle highlighting a small dark area far into the unknown regions.  "I found it!  I found Exegol!"

"Exegol?  The hidden Sith world?"

"Yes!" she cried out excitedly.  "It must be!"

"But Exegol has been lost for years, it's considered nothing more than a myth!"

"It makes sense why now!  Everyone has always assumed it was somewhere beyond Dromund Kaas, over here," she said, motioning to the other side of the map.  "But it's beyond Csilla and the what I'm assuming are the limits of the Chiss Ascendancy.  Right there, where no one would ever think to look.  Thousands of years we've been looking in the wrong place!"

"And you really learned this from the inscription on Acina's circlet?"

"Yes."  She handed him the circlet and allowed him to inspect its faded markings carefully.

"This looks like no writing system I've ever seen before," he said.  "It would have taken me months or years to break this code.  How did you do it?"

"Instinct," she said.  "I can't explain it, it's as if she meant for me simply know.  But once I realized the initial pattern behind it, it was easy for me to determine that the code was based on an Old Kaasian alphabet spelling out Ancient Sith words.  Acina would have understood it perfectly well- she was a scholar herself."

"I'm starting to believe you may, in fact, be Acina's heir," he said as he took a seat and pondered what she had told him.  "When things have settled down a bit, I will send you to this phantom star system to investigate.  If you have truly found the location of such a legendary world, I hope to make use of it."

She was beaming with pride, glowing with the satisfaction of having made such a discovery.  He found it incredibly beautiful.  Even if he had expressed some doubts, something within him told him that she was right and that this was the reason the Force had brought them together.  He was suddenly very aware of how close she was to him, how the little towel she had wrapped herself in barely covered her shapely curves, and if it were to just-

It slipped to the floor, as if on cue.  He rose to pick it up, but she immediately pushed him back down into his chair.  Oh.  It seemed he was not the only one able to conjure convenient "accidents" at will.

"Here?" he said, cocking an eyebrow as he glanced over at the panoramic window.  Even if no one could see in, they could still see out, and it at least felt scandalous.  She set herself down to straddle him, a wicked grin on her soft, full lips.

"You still owe me from earlier," she reminded him.  Her delicate fingers traced his jaw and neck in a manner that always drove him mad.  "Where were we before Senator Amidala's little interruption?"

"I think," he said, his hands drifting to her breasts, "that we were right about here."

*****

Some days later, the pair found themselves watching the sunset from the comfort of their bed.  Grievous had just been defeated, and it seemed appropriate for the Chancellor to take a moment of rest.  As the light faded, Palpatine could see the faint, translucent form of his reflection while Miriné sat behind him massaging his shoulders.

“I sometimes wonder what you must see when you look at me, you know.  When I look at you, I see youth and beauty beyond compare.  When I look in the mirror I see a man well past his prime.  The greying hair and wrinkled face.  The tired eyes.  A body that’s slowly falling apart.  And I wonder how you could still look at me the way that you do, with so much love in your eyes.”

“I see a man who carries the weight of the Galaxy on his shoulders tirelessly,” she responded without hesitation. “A courageous man.  Powerful.  Strong.  I look at you and I know I’m looking into the eyes of a man who loves me as much as I love him.  Far from past your prime, you’re near your crowning moment.  After thirteen years at your side, I can only dream of thirteen hundred more.”  She wrapped her arms around his chest and rested her chin on his shoulder as she leaned gently into his back.  Naturally, she made sure to give him a quick, reassuring kiss on the cheek for good measure.  His hands clasped hers, and he gazed vacantly out the window in silence, in his eyes the look of a man who knew he was going to betray the woman he loved most and almost regretted it.  Almost.

I’m going to hurt her, he thought to himself.   I’m going to hurt her, and she doesn’t even know it.  Am I taking this too far?  I love her.  What am I accomplishing by hurting the only being in this Galaxy that I love?

Something had to be done.  Nothing could stop him from achieving his goals, not even her.

*****
Later that night, when Palpatine went back to work Miriné slipped away to the campus of Coruscant University to meet with Maija.  Like every night in the past few days, they found a secluded spot to discuss philosophy and meditate upon the secrets of the Dark Side.

”What do you feel?” Miriné asked as they were deep in meditation.

”Everything,” Maija said.  “A whole world of life.  Its love.  Its hate.  Its frustration. Its desires.  It’s like a song.  By ignoring the Dark Side, I could never hear its richer tones.  And I feel… new life.  In you.”

”I feel it too,” Miriné said, a bit surprised.  “I can feel it grow cell by cell.  It’s… incredible.  I didn’t even realize…”

Maija broke her trance and rose to her feet.

”You’re pregnant!” she exclaimed excitedly.  “I can’t believe it!”

”Yes…” Miriné said softly.  Her lips formed a small smile.  “We’ll be a proper family.”

”Happiness.  Your happiness. That’s what I feel now,” Maija said.

But suddenly Miriné’s expression changed.  A disturbance in the Force had jolted her from her thoughts.

”Something’s not right,” she said as her eyes opened.  ”My master’s in trouble!  I have to get back to him now!”  She jumped to her feet and began running.

”Call me when it’s safe!” Maija called after her.  Miriné simply turned her head back and flashed a thumbs-up as she ran.

She hailed a speeder bike taxi and told the droid to fly to the Senate building as fast as it possibly could.  After hastily tossing it a large credit chip and frantically telling it to keep the change, she ran as she could, drawing on the Force to achieve speeds unthinkable for most humans, Force-sensitive or not.  Like a ghost, she ascended to the Chancellor’s office without being seen by a single soul.

As she entered, she was instantly frightened by the fact that she could feel him through the Force, but something about his presence was far darker and colder than the man she knew.  It wasn’t right.

She froze in fear when she saw the monstrosity he now was.  His soft, enchanting blue eyes were gone, replaced by frightening reptilian yellow ones.  Gone was the soft, pale face that she felt comforted by and loved to touch, replaced by the grotesque mass of sickeningly grey wrinkles.  His head was covered by a thick, red hood, and the only thing left of the man she thought she knew was the form of his sharp, aristocratic nose.  She had seen this creature in her visions and was now horrified to see it standing right before her, for she had always known that whatever or whoever it was, there was no good within it.  When she looked past him, she saw the shattered window and knew something terrible had occurred.
"What happened?" she said, her voice quivering in horror.

"The Jedi, my dear.  They have done this to me.  But I am still the same man you knew,” he reassured her.  “Their attack has accelerated things.  I’ve issued order 66.”

”What?!?” she cried out in alarm.  “Order 66 was a contingency protocol, it was meant to be a last resort!  You haven’t even given any of them a chance to surrender!”

“Are you questioning me, Miriné Katina?” he growled.  He drew his lightsaber and with a small movement of a finger raised her into the air.  Invisible fingers tightened around her neck.  She knew that this could easily be her end and that it would be unwise to struggle.  “You don’t believe me, do you?  I nearly lost my life at the hands of their council, and you dare to suggest I show them mercy?”

"Sheev, please!" she pleaded as she gasped for air, her hands desperately pawing at her throat.  "Don’t do this to me!”

"I did not train you all this time for you to beg for your life like a terrified nerf calf," he said coldly as he raised his saber to her delicate throat.  He could have crushed it so easily.  Or perhaps he could skewer her here and now while she was still in the air and completely unarmed and unwilling to do him harm.  No, the girl still had use.  He let her drop to the floor.  "You were meant to be the one creature in this Galaxy that never feared me.  You have failed me, Miriné.”

”It’s not your face that terrifies me so,” she said, her voice wavering.  “It is the emptiness I feel in your heart.  The absence of the man I love.  What have you done, Sheev?”

”Only what needed to be done,” he said.  “Skywalker is ours.  He’s leading an assault on the Jedi Temple as we speak.”

Maija.

She said nothing.  Just as quickly as she had arrived, she ran from the Chancellor’s suite and into the Coruscant night.

Chapter Text

By the time Miriné made it to the Jedi temple, most of the damage had already been done.  Carbon scoring from blasters and lightsabers alike dotted and slashed the walls, and the once beautiful polished stone floors were littered with rubble and corpses.  The acrid smell of smoke and burnt organic material hung oppressively in the air, thick enough to make even the strongest of stomachs turn.  But what frightened Miriné most was the silence and the emptiness in the Force.  On a planet as busy as Coruscant, no place should have been as devoid of life as this.

Miriné was no stranger to death.  The smell was familiar- it had offended her nostrils during the invasion of Naboo and had never truly left her.  The sight of the dead did not disturb her either, for she had killed and seen others kill many times before.  What horrified her, however, was the scale of death.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands had been slaughtered, and far too many of them had only been children.  There was no honor in killing younglings, there was no excuse to kill them, they had simply been murdered where they stood, unable to fight back.  It reminded her far too much of what had happened on Naboo when she herself was a child.  And she had let it happen.  This had been his plan all along, and she had been too much of a fool to realize it.

She reached out into the Force and felt the faint presence of her friend and apprentice.  Maija was still alive.  Though she had never stepped foot into the temple, she let her instincts guide her to the upper floors of the dormitories.  The hallways here were narrow and dark, with the dim light of the emergency lights blotted out by the lingering smoke, but she continued on until finally, she arrived at a door.  It was wholly unremarkable, identical to the dozens she had already passed, but she could feel Maija on the other side.  

Miriné drew one of her violet-bladed sabers and sliced through the door's locking mechanism, letting out a sigh of relief as it opened to reveal Maija hiding under a bed with a pair of small human younglings huddled against her.

"Thank the Force you're alive, Maija!" Miriné said in a hushed voice as she dropped to her knees.  She held out her hand, motioning for her to come from her hiding place.  "Come quickly, we have to-"

"We are not going anywhere with you," Maija interrupted sharply.  "You did this."  Miriné's jaw dropped in disbelief at her old friend's words.

"Me?  Maija, I am your friend!"

"The Sith did this!" the Mirialan shot back, her eyes beginning to fill with both rage and tears.  "I was wrong to have ever believed anything good could have come from the Dark Side!  Now leave, you'll draw their attention here!"

"I didn't do this!  It's Skywalker, I swear-"

"You turned him against us!  Every single drop of blood spilled in this temple is on your hands!"

"Maija, don't do this.  I don't want your blood on my hands.  Come with me.  I can save you, I-"

The sound of a lightsaber igniting behind her interrupted her, and the chill in the Force that ran through her body confirmed who it was before she even saw the brilliant blue blade he wielded.

"Vader," she greeted him as she rose to her feet once more.  "Are you done massacring innocents yet?"

"The Jedi are not innocent," the fallen Jedi's voice boomed.  "They must perish.  And if you protect them, you will perish too."  She turned to face him, taking a moment to gaze into his now garishly yellow eyes to see if she could find even a hint of the Anakin Skywalker she once knew.  But he had been consumed by his anger and hate in a way that she never had, in a way that would make him powerful but unpredictable and thus incredibly dangerous.  He had finally become the weapon she and her master had worked so hard to forge, and now it was a threat to her own life.

"We shall see about that," she hissed as her twin blades ignited.  "You have taken enough lives this day.  I will not let you have my apprentice's as well."

"So be it."

Her blades met his in a flurry of sparks and hisses.  Vader, beyond being powerful in the Force, was strong and experienced, and she knew better than to underestimate him, but the power of the Force filled her, stronger than ever as her mind focused on one thing only: protecting Maija and the younglings.  There was unbridled fury in every movement of her blade and every little step.  She could not lose this duel, no matter what it would cost her.

"Run, Maija!" she barked as her blades locked with Vader's.   "I'll hold him off!  Get out of here!"

Maija was no fool.  She darted out from under the bed, swept the smaller youngling into her arms while holding the hand of the other, and bolted out the door, knowing she stood no chance in combat against the man she knew as Anakin Skywalker.

But to Miriné's horror, the corridor outside echoed with the sound of shouting.  Blasterfire filled the air, but just as suddenly as it started, it stopped with the sound of a body thudding to the ground.

"NO!" she cried, feeling her heart drop as she felt Maija's spirit fade away into the Force.

The brief moment of distraction was all that Vader needed to defeat her.  He drove his saber into her chest, leaving her behind as the world faded into black.