It had all started as most things do when Thrawn is involved. A question. Thrawn asked many questions of Eli, asked him to explain why the Empire acted as they did, why Humans did the things they did, asked him to explain his thoughts, and asked him to figure out puzzles. But the first questions Thrawn ever asked of Eli, was asking him to tell stories of Chiss that he heard on his homeworld. It was how their odd friendship had come to be, and it seemed to be a recurring question Thrawn asked whenever the idea fancied him. But Eli had never asked of Thrawn the same question. Until now.
It was a spur of the moment question, right after returning from shore leave, around the end of the harvest season on Lysatra, when superstitions and myths were their most prevalent, and their most morbid. Thoughts of ghosts, monsters, the supernatural were the most common and the revival of the season had Eli’s mind running. Did Chiss have similar thoughts on the changing of seasons, did Thrawn know or believe any Chiss myths of what things lurk in the dark? So he asked, and Thrawn was surprisingly open to answering.
In the past when Eli had asked him about the Chiss, the answers were always vague, or he would instead answer a question with a question, if not avoid answering all together. But it seemed that asking about stories, rather than facts, was vague enough that any secrets he may be hiding of his people couldn’t be found in them.
So they sat together, side by side in Thrawn’s quarters, on a couch he hardly used, with long forgotten drinks on the low table before them. The prospect of stories had Eli forgetting all about the warm buzz he sought through Corellian Whiskey. His boots were off, his uniform jacket hung in Thrawn’s closet so it wouldn’t be wrinkled, just a simple shirt and his uniform pants. Thrawn too had forgone his uniform jacket, lounging in his sleeveless workout shirt he wore under his uniform, but kept his boots on. Always wanting to be prepared to jump into action should he be needed. It had driven Eli crazy to see the Chiss lounging on his bed with his dirty boots still on back at the academy, now he was just used to it.
“Stories of my people in regards to the shift of seasons.” Thrawn repeated, staring at the far wall, that look on his face when he was deep in thought.
“Specifically scary ones.” Eli clarified, giving him a smile. He used to resent the man, slightly, after he up ended his career and subverted all of his plans. But now, he found the Chiss great company, his closest friend, and possibly the best thing that has ever happened to him. So their nights together after shift in Thrawn’s quarters were some of his favorites.
“Please explain, how do you mean by scary?”
“Well, on Lysatra, at the end of the harvest season, the end of autumn just before winter begins, we have stories about monsters and supernatural stuff, death. Lots of people in the early days of Lysatra, before space exploration, they believed that the end of the harvest season was when the barrier between the living world and the dead was the weakest, so ghosts and demons could walk the planet once again.”
“They believed in ghosts and demons?” Thrawn questioned, turning to look at Eli curiously.
“Like I said, long, long time ago, before the first people even thought of going to space. Though lots of people still believe some of that stuff today. I take it the Chiss don’t?”
Thrawn contemplated his words a few moments before answering. “No, we do not. For Chiss, death is final, there is no world our souls go to. It is simply the end of our existence. The most we can do, is make our proper impact on the world in the living so that in death we live on in the minds of other warriors.”
“Yeah, Humans are a bit more scared of death. But we were talking about scary stories!” Eli reminded him.
“Yes, you tell me one first so that I may know what you want in terms of a scary story surrounding the shifting of season.”
“Alright.” Eli nodded, rubbing his hands together as he thought. “Ah okay, here’s one!” He leaned back on the couch, fully facing Thrawn, and begin. “There were whispers among the people that one was never meant to go out at midnight on the night of a new moon during the harvest season. Full moons were the window into the land of the gods, when all things not of this world could cross over, pouring into the land.”
“Lysatran people were polytheistic?” Thrawn interrupted, as Eli figured he would, always asking questions.
“Yeah, the early religions there were based around many gods and many devils, there’s still some people who practice that on world, mostly those with direct ties to the original inhabitants of the planet.”
“Interesting.” When he didn’t say anything else, Eli continued.
“A full moon was the way to the land of the gods, the new moon was the way to the land of devils, and when the veil between worlds was its thinnest, at the tail end of the harvest season, the demons could do the most damage. At the strike of midnight on the evening of a new moon, the devil would send her minions to prey upon the mortals, drag them back or kill them under the pale moonlight.”
“Her?” Thrawn interrupted. “The devil is a woman?”
“Oh yeah, the devil and most of the gods. Lysatra is heavily a matriarchal society, going back to the early religious beliefs. My grandma is head of our family business, passing it down to my mom, and she’ll pass it to one of my female cousins when the time comes.” Thrawn nodded slowly, thinking on his words and filing the information away in his mind.
“This is why you chose the Empire over working for your family?”
“Partly.” He admitted. “I’d never get to run it, which I’m fine with, I don’t think I could handle that stress. But I’m good at what I do and making a good name for Lysatra by doing my best in the Empire was more useful to my family. Though that plan sorta went off the rails.”
“Apologies.” This wasn’t wasn’t apologizing for what he did, no Eli knew the difference. He was apologizing for stepping in the way of his and his family’s intentions, a consultation despite knowing what he did was right, and recently, Eli was starting to see that maybe he was right.
“It’s fine, I’ve gotten over it. I honestly kinda like what we do better, and with that super weapon business and all the Doonium tracking, I still get to use my skills.” He smiled and Thrawn returned it.
“I enjoy what we do as well. Now please, continue.”
“Right. During a new moon, everyone was told to go inside before the sunset, even lingering in the shadows would let the demons catch your scent and follow you home. But some kids didn’t listen, they didn’t like doing as their parents said, and on the night of a new moon, would sneak out of their homes, under the sleeping noses of their parents, and cause mischief.”
“Children defying their parents. That certainly is not a Chiss quality.” Thrawn reflected, leaning his head back, giving Eli a long look at his stretched out, relaxed, neck.
“Yeah, kids our side of the galaxy are brats.” He chuckled only to stop as Thrawn’s eyes fell on him.
“Were you a child who misbehaved?” Feeling his face heat under Thrawn’s gaze, Eli turned his head away, looking off at the wall.
“Um, not really. I had a small phase just before becoming a teenager where I ran away, but it was only for a day before I came back crying and apologizing.” He laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his neck.
“I find it difficult to envision you doing something such as that. Why did you run?” His eyes fell down to his lap, where his hands rubbed against each other anxiously.
“Just silly kid things. I um, wanted to go to a night festival, but my parents forbade me to go because it was a, um, Chiss festival.” He winced chewing on the inside of his cheek.
“Chiss festival?” Thrawn asked, his curiosity clearly piqued.
“A festival that remembers the Chiss of our legends, meant to work as a way to ward them away. Because the stories always spoke so negatively about them, that they were cruel, cunning, and vindictive, so the festival was in hopes of keeping them away.” He didn’t dare look at Thrawn, worried what the Chiss might think of Eli’s people burning incense and celebrating the absence of his kind. Instead of more questions, or even some masked displeasure, he heard Thrawn begin to laugh.
He shot his head over to look at the man, and sure enough, a hand covered his mouth, and his shoulders rose and fell as muffled chuckle slipped past his hand. Thrawn laughed so rarely, even Eli hadn’t seen him do it more than twice now, but here he was, giggling, making him appear so much more youthful, made him seem more lively. And Stars, Eli loved the sound. He’d do anything to hear that every day.
“What’s so funny?” He asked, unable to keep from joining in the laugh.
“The idea of Human’s throwing festivals, as if it would keep Chiss away is ridiculous. If nothing else, had we come across such an event, we would have been more inclined to investigate.” He paused, a few more laughs bubbling up through his chest. “Apologies Eli, I simply find the irony humorous.”
“Hey, no skin off my back. I’m happy it doesn’t offend you.” Thrawn shook his head.
“Not at all, my people are infamous for acts of cunning and, from certain perspectives, vindictiveness.” His laughing died down but his smile remained. “People being wary of such a might is to be expected.”
“I suppose. But yeah, I wanted to go to this Chiss festival, because at the time I thought it was honoring them, not that it was meant to keep them back. I was always interested about Chiss, especially when I was little. So when they refused, I just sorta, got angry, in a way I couldn’t explain. I yelled that I’d just go get abducted by a Chiss and live with them instead. And so, I ran off, went to the festival, slept at my friend’s house, and came home the next morning in tears. Never ran away again.”
“Very interesting, I promise you, no Chiss would have abducted you.” Thrawn assured.
“I don’t know about that, you seemed to abduct me by dragging me after your career.” He lightly pushed at Thrawn’s shoulder, chuckling so he knew it was in good spirits, and the Chiss smiled again.
“Perhaps you were right then.”
“Anyway, we’re off topic, the story.”
“Yes, I will refrain from interrupting.” Eli nodded and started back up.
“These children went out, causing trouble. Breaking fences, trampling croplands, throwing stones through windows, and taking rusty pitchforks to make claw marks in the sides of homes. They thought they could frighten the people into believing the demon story so that every new moon they could go out again and do as they pleased. Unfortunately for them, these whispers and stories, were true. They’d moved to a hilltop, beside a lone tree that overlooked their village, and admired their handy work. Against the clear sky, they looked up to the moon, and denounced the gods and the demons. And the Devil did not take kindly to this one bit.”
“The sky began to darken, the large full moon was cast in shadow, as if being eclipsed. The shadow stretched across the surface until the moon was nothing but a dark void in the sky, and from it, She emerged. Her long clawed fingers punctured the moon, slipping from her world into the mortal one, then dripping from her flesh, black blops plummeted to the ground before the cowering children. The black masses sizzled and boiled as they began to take shape as ink black monsters, teeth larger than the children’s heads, eyes a broiling red, claws sharper than the finest of blades.”
“The devil laughed as the children screamed, her voice echoing across the lands, into every home, into ever ear. ‘Go my spawn, do away with the non-believers. Remind these mortals what it means to fear.’ She said, and her creatures turned on the children, preying upon them without mercy, tearing flesh, ripping clothing, consuming organs until the children’s screams stopped and all that remained was the cold laugh of the Devil. The next morning, the families of the children found their bodies, hung from the tree with their own intestines, and a message left in the grass with the corpses of the Devil’s creatures. ‘Never Forget’. So now, to this day, the people of Lysatra will construct scarecrows and hang them from the trees in their yards hoping to trick demons into thinking they’d already been attacked that night.”
Eli finished, and looked to Thrawn. He didn’t seem affected by the story, which wasn’t surprising. Eli wouldn’t admit that this story had worked to scare him as a young child, he was scared even of normal full moons and always went to bed early those nights, up until his teen years when he grew out of the fear. Thrawn was however, looking down at his datapad.
“Interesting, the death of children used to deter negative behavior and defying ones parents.” Thrawn spoke.
“I mean, yeah that was the point. Most of these stories have some sort of moral more often than not. It’s how you kept kids from being stupid. And hey, what’s with the datapad, you ignoring me?” Thrawn shook his head setting the device to the side.
“No, simply an update from the bridge crew about radars sending back faulty information, it’s nothing, I’ve sent a tech. As for the Chiss, our homeworld is one of ice, and we do not truly have any stories about a shifting season, for the seasons do not shift very drastically. We do however have stories meant to instill fear. However, if a story was considered ‘scary’ it usually meant there was an element of truth to the tale.” Eli’s eyes widened, his interest growing rapidly.
“Oh, please enlighten me. What’s the scariest one you have?” Thrawn turned to him, giving him a small smile, one Eli had noticed in the past usually meant Thrawn was about to drag them both into something bad.
“Very well, I have one.” Eli drew his legs up onto the couch, leaning against its back and giving Thrawn his full attention, this was going to be good.
“There is a creature of unknown origin and genetic makeup out in the Unknown Regions, one the Chiss know far too well. It exists out in the vacuum of space, no defined shape to call its own, and spends its time attacks lone ships. Its power is so immense, that it can take down entire warships without leaving a single survivor. Very few recordings of its attacks have ever been recovered, and of course, no survivors ever to speak the tale.”
Okay, that wasn’t out of the ordinary for a lot of space horror stories, like the ones deep space pilots loved to talk about. It was how most stories began, nothing particularly unique about this one to instill fear in Eli who, for all intensive purposes, was a seasoned veteran at scary story sharing.
“Of what footage we have,” Thrawn continued, “we know of the ways a ship can be utterly obliterated. It begins with the radar, all systems go ary, improper readings, recordings of things that aren’t there, and failing to note things that are. Then shortly after, all power goes dark. The ship bathed in the abyss, the only possible light coming from the points of starlight beyond the viewports. This is when the creature chooses to attack, when its prey are in disarray and blinded. They descend upon the paralyzed ship, like a predator after a paralyzed fish in a vast sea. Of an electric nature, they enter seamlessly, leaving a sparkling trail of destruction behind them.”
Eli shuffled nervously in his spot. After having dealt with dead in space freighters in their line of work before, being able to invision Thrawn’s description was all too easy. Not to mention the uneasy and disorienting feeling that came with them when something started to go wrong. On the Dromedar, Eli could tackle people like Cygni to the ground, the thing Thrawn was describing sounded like it would take other people to the ground. Maybe there was some fearful ability to this story.
“The darkened halls of the dead ship become illuminated with flashes and sparks as the things prowl. Zipping to and fro at the speed of light, chasing down the crew who try to escape its clutches. But they are always too slow, even with the Chiss’ much faster reaction speed and systems in place for evacuation, even they can’t out run its destruction. The electric being pass through a Chiss warrior, their body convulsing and twitching with the surge of energy, their screams, I will never forget the sounds of their horrified screams just before death.”
“W-What? I thought this was just a story.” Eli interrupted, reading far too much truth in Thrawn’s words, truth and personal experience. He rarely gave away his emotions, but what little Eli could pick up on was clear as day on his face. He looked as if he were reliving what he was saying.
“It is, however I did say there was an element of truth to Chiss stories did I not? And is not a retelling of events a story?” He locked gazes with Eli, and he felt a chill run down his spine.
“You did…” He gave a side look to his forgotten glass on the table, grabbing it and taking another sip or two trying to calm his nerves. So Thrawn continued.
“The method of killing, we’ve been able to deduce from the bodies, is to overload the nervous system and stop the heart, prolonging the pain but ensuring a quick death when their electric pulses reach the heart. Strong Chiss warriors, one who have trained in the harshest of environments to withstand the worst of tortures, would cry out in pure agony, begging for mercy before they would fall to the floor, dead before ever hitting the ground. The predators can sweep an entire ship in a matter of minutes, catching every living thing in their electric webs, dropping warriors and children alike without hesitation. We believe them to either be mindless animals searching out prey to feast upon, or an intelligent species that hunt and kill for sport. Either prospect is chilling, considering the amount of Chiss ships we’ve found having suffered the same treatment. In recent years, we’ve seen the pattern of attacks spreading outward. Initially, they had a territory they stuck to, an area we Chiss avoided with great care. However, they’ve expanded, inching farther from their origin, and even closer into the Wild Space of this side of the Galaxy.”
Wild Space? If Thrawn wasn’t joking around trying to scare him, which the Chiss isn’t known to ever do, then it was possible his very family could be in the path way of such a creature. While he had never heard of such a thing happening, that didn’t mean it didn’t and was written off as pirates or some other cause. The devastation could be catastrophic with the amount of space traffic in and around Lysatra, which was right on the cusp of Wild Space and the Unknown Regions.
“Is this that dark threat you said was lurking in the Unknown Regions?” He asked, Thrawn finally turning to meet Eli’s eyes.
“No, however, it is a threat of grave importance should our predictions of its path be confirmed.” He answered and Eli swallowed slowly. That wasn’t the kind silly spooky story that kept you up a little extra at night and you forgot about by morning that Eli had been expecting. And now that he thought about it, he remembered hearing about Iego, the planet of a thousand moons and how it was plagued by something that utterly destroyed any ship that tried to leave the system. They had chalked it up to a ghost, but what if it was one of the creatures Thrawn was talking about.
“You say they’re real? Not just some exaggerated tall tale?” Thrawn looked down at him, his face deadly serious that even without answering had Eli afraid.
“They are real. I have seen their carnage, witnessed the aftermath, viewed the recordings.” Oh stars he sounded serious, and Thrawn has never been one to lie to him before. Leaving out the full truth was one thing, but flat out lying was another, which he’d never see the Chiss do to anyone.
“Thrawn I-” He started, not even positive what he was going to say when the lights all around him suddenly went out. One second, he was staring at Thrawn, and the next the absolute blackness enveloped him. He flinched, barely holding back a shout of surprise and jumped forward. Unintentionally, he leaped across the space on the couch, pressing his side against Thrawn’s and turning to look behind him, as if expecting the walls to become electrified.
His mind was racing, heart hammering in his ribcage. The lights don’t go out on a Star Destroyer, if there’s a power outage, the emergency lights kick on immediately, and this room should already be bathed in pale red emergency lights. But it was only darkness. And as he thought, he recalled Thrawn saying there was a report of faulty readings coming from their radars earlier, just like in his story. No, no that was impossible. How could they come under attack by the precise creature Thrawn only just finished describing. That would be too cruel of a coincidence. But the lights remained dark, and no comms came on to inform them of a disturbance, meaning all systems had to be completely and utterly dead.
A hand grabbed his shoulder, and he flinched before realizing it was just Thrawn. The Chiss leaned down closer to him, his chest curling around Eli’s back as he did so, so much so he could feel the warmth of Thrawn’s bare arm on his own. He moved down until his mouth was right beside Eli’s ear, and his breath tickled his ear.
“Eli.” He whispered, hand tightening on his shoulder.
“T-Thrawn?” He whispered back, clamping down on his lip directly after, hating the tremor in his own voice.
“I’ve won.” He proclaimed and in an instant the lights came back on, as if nothing had happened at all.
“What? Wait, what?!” He looked around, seeing the room exactly as it had been, then turning around to look at Thrawn. The Chiss was smiling at him, a sort of shit eating grin he’d never seen on the man’s face before.
“I’ve won. I successfully scared you.” Eli stared at him, looking over his face dumbly, as his mind slowly cranked putting together the pieces. And when he finally understood, a feeling of intense rage swept over him.
“You nerf herder!” He screamed, giving Thrawn’s arm a light hit, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to show his displeasure. Thrawn laughed, tilting his head back as he did so, and honestly, the sound of Thrawn’s laugh was more than enough to quell most of his rage. Sighing defeated, Eli slumped forward, resting his forehead against Thrawn’s shoulder. “You scared the holy hells outta me Thrawn.”
“Was that not the point of telling stories, to instill fear?”
“Well, yeah, but the story itself was supposed to be the scary part. You weren’t supposed to then, scare me out of my pants when I was already so tightly wound! Not to mention it wasn’t a competition.” Thrawn looked him up and down slowly, still smiling.
“Your pants are still on, however.”
“Ha ha. I know you understand figures of speech, don’t play dumb.” He didn’t move, keeping his head down on Thrawn’s shoulder, hoping to hide his raging blush from Thrawn’s infrared vision. Suddenly, Thrawn shifted beneath him, one arm coming around his back, and moving his chest so Eli’s head fell there instead of his shoulder as the second arm came up, pulling him into an embrace. If his face had been warm before, now his entire body was on fire.
“T-Thrawn, what are you doing?” He asked, tensing in the Chiss’ hold.
“I believe this is a physical apology, Eli.” He answered back.
“Okay, you’ve definitely had too much to drink.” He started to pull away, knowing there was nothing he could do to calm his blush down. “Besides, a hug isn’t gonna cut it.”
“Perhaps this will.” And before Eli could register anything else, he found Thrawn’s lips upon his own, in a light, brushing kiss. And if Eli blushed any harder, he was worried he might actually catch on fire. How dare Thrawn act so cool and collected when Eli was internally combusting. When Thrawn pulled away, he kept his smile on his lips, but looked far more relaxed.
“Am I forgiven?” He tilted his head to the side, much like an animal would, and Eli’s entire heart melted.
“If you kiss me, you can have anything you want.” And he swept down, pulling Thrawn into a much firmer kiss, feeling the press and slide of Thrawn’s lips under his own.
Sure, he almost had a heart attack thinking that they were all going to die from some strange creature from the Unknown Regions, but now he was kissing the Chiss that had been the object of his desires for the past several years, so he’d say that’s a fair trade.