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Tek'ri Sericc was just doing a job.

It wasn't a nice job - the Rodian didn't like it even one bit. But it brought him credits, and credits bought him time. 

It was supposed to be a one-time job - one to two runs no more. But one turned to seven and ten to twenty. Now, he was considered a permanent part of the crew.

Dealing with slavers was tricky. 

If you were searching for the most heartless and bloodthirsty people in the galaxy, nine out of ten times they would be slavers. 

The buyers knew how to profit from every deal. They knew from what cloth was cut every slave, that passed through their hands, and used that knowledge to their advantage. 

The sellers knew how to show off their products in the best way for them to be bought. They knew how to break the defiant ones and how to keep the broken ones compliant. 

The first time Tek'ri saw it, he was repulsed. But he had desperately needed the credits so he agreed to do the job. 

And he kept doing it. 

Any guilt he might have felt was thrown out of the window when he remembered that it would be him being sold if he doesn't pay his debts. 

Hutts were just like that - unavoidable. They will get you one way or another.

The current run was his twenty-second - they were transporting several Bodach'i, Twi'leks, Wookies and even a few humans. 

They were all confined in the storage of The Spitfire, hidden in the smuggler’s contraptions left by the previous owner of the ship. 

Officially, they were travelling to Toydaria to bring supplies and medicine to the cities.

In reality, they were travelling to Dandoran to sell their goods to the local cartel. 

A standard route, for a crew like them. 

Only this time, everything went to the deepest of the nine Corellian hells.

The Spitfire had just exited hyperspace when the alarms started blaring. 

Red light illuminated the corridors, bathing everything in the color of spilt blood, making the Rodian's run towards the control room harder.

Tek'ri reached the cockpit just in time to hear the end of the transpired conversation. 

"-re trespassing in Imperial space. Prepare to be boarded."

"What?! Since when is Hutt space Imperial property? How was I supposed to know it was - tendays before it wasn't!"

"You are ordered to let the troopers board your vessel. You are trespassing in a zone registered two days ago as forbidden for civilian vessels."

That, they couldn't allow. 

While their actual merchandise was hidden well enough to not be found, the crates they transported were full of valuable and quite illegal parts and substances. 

Stock, which the stuck-up Imperial would see as a reason to take them in custody.

Their luck was truly rotten if the middle of nothingness, where the Spitfire had exited hyperspace, was currently under Imperial control.

The two pilots, Razha and Sijirn, were doing everything in their power to escape the Star Destroyer's tractor beam, but to no avail. 

Tek'ri himself was fumbling with the controls as the rest of the crew were arming up. 

The captain, a Trandoshan standing several inches taller than most species, was a memorable figure. 

His looming presence was amplified by his scarred face and gleaming cruel eyes. Those purple orbs could pierce someone's soul only with a glance. 

His commanding stance instilled equal amounts of fear and respect in his subordinates.

And that was excluding his connections among the Hutt clan. 

No sane person would want to be on his bad side. 

For the time Tek'ri had served under him, he had never seen the Tandorsan even remotely unsettled by anything.

And yet, here they were. 

Something was clearly bothering the normally stoic man. 

"This is not right," the Rodian heard him mutter. "They are not usually this demanding. Most Imperial officers would have turned a blind eye to an operation like this. Something is different. But what?" 

Not that Tek'ri had any answers to his musings.

He was some glorified 'medic' responsible for the collars, inhibitors and transmitters of their products. 

Nothing more. 

The alarms wailed once again, signaling the first breach. 

On the few open comms blaster bolts were heard, along with grunts and shouts of pain from the fallen.

Some people went towards the doors intending to help stop the troops, only to be stopped by the captain's growl.

"Don't help the dead. Go towards the contraptions and stay hidden. If we get caught, you are responsible for the products to reach their destination." 

When met with bewildered silence, the Trandoshan stood to his full height and glared at the stunned crew, "Well, what are you waiting for?! Go!" 

The Captain's right-hand men scrambled down the hallway leading to the storage.

The tense atmosphere, which settled after that, was broken only by the sounds of whirling machinery and the tortured gasping coming from the comms. 

Nobody moved, trying to keep their breathing under control. 

Hoping that the commanding Imperial would let them go if they offered a high enough bribe.

A foreboding silence fell over the cockpit. 

The comms were suspiciously quiet, static filling the void left from the gasps and pleads for help and mercy.

The tense impasse was broken by the telling stomping of the stormtroopers. 

Everyone readied their weapons and aimed at the closed blast door. 

Then the shooting started.

The door shuddered under the outsight put upon it, holding the crew safe for a mere moment. 

For a few seconds, nothing happened. 

Then, it exploded inwards, sending shrapnel flying through the cockpit. 

Bodies went flying through the air, Tek'ri included, and many more were cut or stabbed by the flying pieces of metal.

The initial blast was followed by a volley of blaster bolts, which penetrated several crewmates, including one of the pilots - Sijirn, Tek'ri thought through the haze covering his consciousness. 

A new wave of deadly red plasma ripped him out of that state of mind. 

His thoughts were still sluggish, but the adrenaline pumping through his veins was keeping him awake enough to see the deadly force coming his way. 

The Rodian moved just in time to save his brain from being blasted across the consoles. 

He raised his blaster, turned the safety off and joined his crew's attempts to survive.

Their efforts were fruitless for every stormtrooper they took down, another three appeared.

And those weren't normal troopers - they didn't fall like flies. 

For kriff's sake, one of them took three bolts to the chest before he went down.

Soon every surviving member of their crew was forced on their knees under blaster point.

Most of them were singed by bolts and nursing some bruises from where the troopers had smacked them. 

Razha was one of the severely injured ones - her shaking hands were holding her abdomen together while rivers of blood were seeping through her fingers. 

Tek'ri himself wasn't all that better. 

Somewhere, somehow his head had taken a rather nasty hit and was oozing blood by the bucket. 

One of his ribs might have cracked because every breath was pure agony. 

Even the Captain hadn't gotten out of it unscathed. 

Despite the bruise blooming around his eye, the Trandoshan stood tall and unrelenting under the scrutiny of the armed men.

Finally, for what seemed like an eternity, a pale-looking man in a captain's uniform stood in front of them. 

The disgust on his face was obvious to everyone conscious enough to think, "Who of you is the captain of this ship?"

The lack of answers didn't seem to appease the officer. 

The Imperial stood to his full height, which wasn't all that impressive, a small hazy part of Tek'ri's brain muttered while the other continued observing the situation.

Seconds passed, and yet the officer kept staring at the kneeling crew. 

The silence stretched, flooding the atmosphere with tension and nervous energy. 

When the man finally spoke, Tek'ri had already broken into a cold sweat, "So you won't answer, huh? This will be a lot easier for you if you do." 

He looked around, waiting for a response. 

When he didn't get one, the officer continued, his distaste obvious in his tone, "Troops, shoot the Trandoshan in the leg." 

Immediately after the order was given, a blaster shot was fired straight into the Captain's thigh. 

Gasps and cries of outrage from the crew followed it seconds later. 

The Captain stayed quiet, holding back his pained growl, stubbornly glaring at the Imperial in front of him.  

"Ah, so it is you. Wonderful," the officer coldly grinned. "You and your crew are under arrest for trespassing on Imperial territory. Among other transgressions."

"Which transgression asks for the death of my crew?!" the Trandoshan rasped, voice filled with anger and pain. 

"Your crew, captain, attacked Imperial troops while they were boarding your ship for inspection. That is one of the smallest of offenses." 

"What else should have they done, captain?!" the kneeling captain snarled, blood dripping from his mouth. "Let your troopers slaughter my men while they stay still and wait for their deaths?! And what do you mean by the least?! We haven't done anything wrong!" 

A chill traveled down Tek'ri's back. 

An ice-freezing cold filled the air, absorbing any warmth that may have existed. 

With it came the breathing. 

A horrifying sound echoed through the hallway into the cockpit, making every other sound lose meaning. 

If the Rodian was able to think straight, he may have connected the heavy air, the feeling of failure and despair and the deep rhythmic breathing with the man that walked into the room. 

But he wasn't.

"Does trafficking with sentient beings count as a good deed, Trandoshan? Does your highly illegal cargo count as a breach of the law? Enlightenment me, slaver?" 

"Milord," the officer nodded respectfully. "Those are the men who survived the initial attack. The Trandoshan is the Captain of this vessel."

"Well done. You are dismissed, Captain Needa," Darth Vader rumbled, vocoder hissing. "See to squad Delta. I will take over from here."

"Yes, milord," captain Neida, Needa, Tek'ri couldn't remember, bowed and exited the room.

Tek'ri's head was too filled with cotton to notice the change in the air, but even his half-conscious mind knew they weren't going to make it out alive. 

Razha must have realized it too because she took a run for the door. 

Desperately clawing her way out of the trooper's grip, she dove around the black monolith of a man, only to be frozen in her place several inches from the exit. 

The blood had stopped dripping and was instead floating from her stomach aloft. It spun in the air as if the gravity around the pilot had stopped working. 

The way the drops of blood shined under the artificial lighting was mesmerizing in some sadistic yet beautiful way.

The crew could only stare in horror as Razha's face slowly turned blue, shiny brown eyes going so wide they looked ready to jump out of their sockets. 

Her choked gasps echoed through the cockpit. 

The image of raw agony didn't last. 

A loud crack broke the invisible hold of Razha's body, letting it slump lifeless on the ground. 

The dark figure, whose breathing pounded against Tek'ri's fuzzy head, once again turned to the rest of the crew.

"The next one who tries to run will meet her fate," the black, gleaming demon with red eyes hissed, his voice leaving no place for objection. 

The Rodian could only stare in fright at the figure in front of him. 

It loomed over everyone and everything, its presence felt larger than life. 

The freezing aura around it promised pain and torment; it showed a growing desire to leech the life out of Tek'ri.

A life that the living shadow could control with a move of its fingers.

Tek'ri had heard rumors about Darth Vader, the Emperor's right-hand man. 

None of them did him justice. 

A small part of his mind that wasn't petrified into a stupor or muddled with confusion, had started wishing for a quick death, with intensity prior unknown to the Rodian.

Vader stalked towards the Captain, who stood as tall as ever, unflinching even when facing Death incarnate. 

The Trandoshan's purple eyes stared stubbornly into the empty sockets of the death mask, no sign of emotion betraying his true feelings, "We are not slavers. We were travelling to Toydaria. We have medicine and food in the storage. You are gravely mistaken if you think we-" 

"Silence. I have no desire to hear your lies," the Dark Lord all but snarled. "If you were actually travelling to Toydaria, you wouldn't have exited hyperspace so early. And it needs to be noted that several members of your crew think they were going to Dandoran." 

That statement alone drove another wave of fear in Tek'ri's heart. 

What was more sacred, more untouchable than one's mind? 

It seemed that the demon in front of him didn't follow the same rules, the same guidelines which the rest of the galaxy did. 

"A planet known for its cartels and connections to the Hutts." 

A comm beeped, indicating an incoming call. 

After a moment of nerve-wracking silence, Vader answered it.

"Yes, captain?" 

A slightly more static version of the stuck-up Imp’s voice replied, "Squad Delta finished their rounds. Three men were caught, guarding a hidden contraption in the storage. They were apprehended and dealt with. Your orders, sir?" 

Vader stayed silent, having not looked away from the Captain.

A Captain whose eyes were filled with anger and what looked like fear. 

But that was probably only Tek'ri's imagination, the Trandoshan was unshakable even in the most horrid of situations. 

And the current one surely counted as one of those. 

Tek’ri’s head hurt. 

Maybe, he could close his eyes for a second.

Or two.

A deep baritone ripped Tek'ri away from the lulling darkness that had been clouding the Rodian's mind, his eyes blown wide open and looking around, trying and failing to comprehend what was going on.

"Check the contraptions, Needa. Don't engage before I get there." 

That sounded further away than his vision suggested. 

Actually, every sound seemed thousands of klicks away for the medic. 

The bright light that was assaulting his senses didn't help his disorientation. Tek'ri's head was throbbing painfully, a dull weight that stopped him from thinking clearly. 

The Rodian could barely make out the words that followed Needa's orders, head still reeling.

"Let's see what is the cargo, you so jealously hide, T'doshok." 

A few black spots started dancing across his vision as he felt the adrenaline finally draining from his body, leaving him heavy and in pain. 

The Rodian faintly heard some distant roar and the sound of blasters going off. 

He heard a cold, impassioned voice give some orders. 

The throbbing was back in full force, grinding his thoughts together, making it impossible to comprehend anything around him.

The last thing Tek'ri remembered with mind-boggling clarity was a burning pain in his back. 

A pain, that was tearing him to pieces.

He might have cried out, Tek'ri couldn’t remember. 

Then the pain stopped.

And everything faded to black.

 


 

Enra Votta wasn't always a slave. 

She hadn't had a bomb underneath her skin since the day she was born. 

Kark it, a year ago she had been free

She had been caught, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as every female Twi'lek being held captive, she was sold into slavery. 

Thankfully up until now, she hadn't been forced into sexual labor - she had never been more glad for her huge and bulky figure. 

Sure, she had danced for one or two sleemos here and there, but the Twi'lek had mostly worked as a server or a servant. 

Nothing more. 

There were some close calls, but her body had been left untouched. 

That didn't make it any easier. It still was a horrible year. 

Enra was beaten unconscious more times than she could count, and yet she still tried to hold onto her defiance. 

That was before witnessing what could be done to her. After that, she tried suppressing it.

She became more guarded, quieter whilst still being herself. 

And yet, none of the percussion she took stopped her temper from rearing its treacherous head one more time. 

And apparently, her Master had also grown tired of her, because here she was. 

Once again, cramped into a tiny space along dozens of others, transported to some Force forsaken planet to be sold. 

This time Enra didn't think she could escape the brothels that easily. 

Some of the Twi'leks locked with her hadn't if their clothing and weary gazes had something to say. 

But weariness was commonly seen, among slaves. 

Many had anger deeply ingrained in them, fire burning bright for those who wanted to see it. 

Some, like her, were more obvious with their fury, wearing their true self on their sleeve, floundering it under their Master's noses. 

They were punished severely, but that didn't stop them. 

Others kept the anger close to their heart but away from their minds - keeping their true colors hidden from those who wished them ill.

And there were those whose hollow eyes will follow Enra into her nightmares. 

They held no flame, no hope. 

Their souls had been abused, broken and left to rot until they were exactly, what the slavers wanted them to be - products to be used. 

Having talked with one of the broken ones, Enra had sworn to herself she was never letting her anger go

No matter how hard they try, she was never betraying herself to the suspense of others.

That was a line she was never going to cross. 

She was broken out of her musings by a tremor traveling through the contraption.

Another Twi'lek and some reptilian-looking creature fell, tugging the chains and her and along the way. 

They ended up in a mess of bony limbs and darkness, pawing around trying to find a way to stand up. 

The chains locked around her arms, legs and neck dug into her skin uncomfortably, causing her to let out some colorful epithets towards their captors and fate as a whole. 

Apparently, one of the assholes up there had heard her because a banging sound echoed through the small space, making some of the slaves flinch from the sudden sound. 

"Be quiet, animal. Whoever opened their filthy mouth will soon find himself and everyone chained to him unable to utter another word." 

Another bang echoed, causing another wave of flinches and quiet whimpers to fill the small place.

Enra wasn't impressed. 

She could practically feel the smugness emerging from the slaver rolling around him like waves in a lake.

Still, she wasn't a complete idiot. 

So instead of shouting her reply as loud as she could, the yellow-skinned Twi'lek murmured it loud enough for only herself to hear, "The only animal here is you, laser-brain. Karking sleemo. Poodoo eater and bantha fucker. I hope you choke on your stupidity." 

Or so she thought. 

A warm chuckle startled her, anger momentarily forgotten. 

A human female chained several people away from her laughed, her smile full of teeth and jaded mirth. 

Her dark hair was slipping from her braid as she shook with silent laughter. 

When it finally died down, the human looked at the Twi'lek with sharp eyes that seemed to dance in the darkness. 

"Child." 

Enra tried not to bristle. 

She wasn't that much younger than the woman herself! 

By the look on the human's face, her attempt had been futile. 

"Don't waste your words on depur. He doesn't deserve anything from you." 

Before Enra could ask, who was this Depur, another tremor travelled through the ship this time accompanied by the wailing of an alarm. 

The sound of running was quickly followed by shouts and orders.

After a while, the ruckus died down, reduced to a quiet conversation between several people.

Not that, Enra could make out what they were talking about. 

All she could gather was that the group assigned to guard them was being moved somewhere else. 

What followed were several nerve-racking minutes. 

Or were they hours

Enra couldn’t tell.

Then the fighting started.

Sounds of discharged plasma bolts whizzed through the air, the atmosphere in the cramped space growing tenser when the dins of rushing footsteps, were heard over the durasteel trapdoor. 

Everyone's ears were trained on what was happening above, faces grim and minds racing with possibilities. 

Enra wouldn't allow herself to be hopeful. 

It was probably pirates or even other slavers, evening some score with their current owners. 

A massive explosion was heard, sending several slaves to the ground, leaving them tangled and disoriented.

A heavy silence had fallen over them. 

No sound was coming from the outside. 

Their breathing echoed from the walls, creating the illusion that the tiny space they were locked into was even smaller. 

One of the younger slaves, a pink Twi'lek dressed in a dancer's getup, started crying. 

Her tortured gasps filled the contrapment, bouncing off the walls like music on repeat. 

The woman, who had soundlessly laughed, moved with speed and agility a chained person shouldn't possess and quickly embraced the sobbing girl. 

The woman started soothing the girl, talking about everything and nothing at the same time.

Slowly the little Twi'lek calmed down, holding the woman in a tight embrace. 

Suddenly, the sound of stomping feet returned, and along with it came the unease. 

The little girl, along with several others, looked ready to start sobbing all over again. 

For several seconds nothing happened. 

Then the trap door opened, allowing the artificial light to enter the cramped space.

"We found a full one!" 

That wasn't a slaver. 

When the black spots finally disappeared from her vision, the Twi'lek could only stare. 

There were stormtroopers in front of her. 

There were stormtroopers helping them get out of the contraption. 

Enra was dreaming. 

She had to be dreaming. 

She looked around, trying to comprehend the bizarreness of her dream, only to meet the same bewilderment she felt in her fellow slaves. 

There was a heavy dose of suspicion and unease in every gaze she met. 

Their eyes were shifting from one trooper to another as if they were trying to guess from where the hit would come. 

But they didn't attack. 

They didn't hit them. 

For kriff's sake, they were unchaining them. 

Well, some of them. 

Too many slaves were too cautious or downright afraid to come close enough to the troopers so they can be unchained. 

Enra's own chains had just been unlocked when a frightened cry tore through the air. 

The Twi'lek snapped her head towards the source of the sound only to see the small dancing girl shrieking in the grip of the dark-haired woman. 

The human looked at the trooper standing near them and shook her head in disapproval. 

Any attempt, from the trooper to unlock the chains, was met with the increasing volume of shrieks. 

Enra was making her way towards the couple when the breathing came. 

It was a rhythmic sound, one you don't notice until it's too late. 

The freezing void of space became colder and colder with every passing second. 

Enra was feet away from the chained woman when she noticed both the breathing and the cold. 

A second later, a living shadow entered the storage.

Every trooper stood to attention, backs straight, all turned towards the dark spectre.

"Report," a deep baritone rang through the air, supposedly coming from the vocoder attached to the death mask. 

A stormtrooper stepped forward, "My lord, we were able to extract them from the contraption without a problem. Some slaves won’t let us close enough to unchain them." 

Darth Vader nodded, turning his attention to them, "Dismissed, I will take care of this." 

The stormtroopers saluted as one and stepped away from the petrified slaves. 

Because Darth Vader ordered it. 

Because Darth Vader was here, in front of them. 

When the news of the Emperor's right-hand man emerged, she had thought the man himself was normal as megalomaniacs go. 

But no, he had to be a demon risen from the Nine Corellian hells. 

Because nothing connected to Darth Vader was normal. 

It was rumored that he could kill people without touching them, that he could read minds and that nothing could stop him in battle - not even bombardment from a Star Destroyer. 

And seeing him in person, Enra could understand where the rumors had come from. 

She could also believe that they were true. 

The dark shadow of a man moved towards one of the chained slaves, a reptilian who could only shake in fright when faced with the demon. Flinching when the man raised his hand as if expecting to be hit. 

Instead, his chains fell on the floor with a loud clang. 

Enra didn’t know where to look - the Dark Lord or the chains laying inconspicuous on the floor. 

Another pair of shackles followed the first and, soon, almost everyone was free of their chains. 

Vader strode towards the last of the chained slaves, including the woman and the little Twi’lek, extending his hand forward so he could once again create a miracle. 

The little girl squeaked, terrified, and quickly hid behind the dark-haired woman. 

A hushed silence fell over them. 

The tall as a Wookie man and the sitting on the ground woman locked gazes. 

Suddenly, Darth Vader kneeled in front of the huddled couple. 

"Te nimku masa?" 

Enra could barely hear the hush of his words. 

The Twi'lek couldn't understand him, but if the widening of the woman's eyes and her strangled gasp were anything to go by, she could. 

Her stance relaxed, face going slack with relief. 

"Te masu Amavikkas?" she whispered, words weighted with secrets and feelings buried and left to be forgotten. 

Not waiting for an answer, the woman continued, "Ek masa nu Benu Relkin ku." 

The Dark Lord nodded in reverence, "Ek masa nu Vader ka." 

The woman's serene expression immediately turned sour, "No parent would give such a name to a babe. That name was given to you by depur." 

"That's the name I chose to use," the cyborg interjected, more bothered by the things she said rather than how she said them. And to whom. "My Master gave it to me, but I chose to use it. It's a title, a way to show my accomplishment." 

The woman's face turned from scornful to understanding. 

She didn't say anything, but her eyes were filled with gentle warmth and fierce passion. 

"But ..." the monotone vocoder hitched as if it couldn't interpret what the person behind it was trying to say. 

"But my mother had the name Sky Walker," he said, barely loud enough to hear by Enra, who was only feet away from them. 

The woman gasped delighted, muttering something quietly as if asking a question. 

Others had heard it too, and if their shocked or downright gleeful expressions were saying anything, it was that they understood what was going on. 

Unlike Enra, who could only hope that whatever was happening could help them in the end.

The still kneeling man spoke again, uttering a word the Twi’lek wasn't familiar with, "Kai, Benu." 

The woman's - Benu's?- smile widened, "Tell me, Ekkreth, what are we?" 

The man stood to his feet and answered loud enough so everyone could hear him. 

"You are vikka-terak and you are free. I swear on my blood and the mighty Leia's that you will be freed." 

His words were like a ripple in the water. 

Worn-out faces brightened, and even a few smiles appeared. 

Suddenly, the group wasn't a bunch of broken and hopeless slaves, but a room full of overwhelmed people. 

Many held some suspicion towards the promise, the oath, but even more took Vader's words to heart. 

Enra herself couldn't believe it. 

She had spent only a year as a slave, and yet now, faced with the possibility of being free, she didn't know what to do. 

As if reading her thoughts, Vader spoke, "Under the current circumstances, I can't accompany you myself to a planet of your choosing. I will dispatch some of my loyal troops to escort you to my agents. They will help you to the best of their abilities." 

The cape-wearing man paused for a second, observing their reactions. 

Some had deflated at the news, probably fearing future enslavement. 

Others took the news with a heavy dose of disdain. 

Some weren't affected by them at all. 

Benu was one of them - she rose from the ground, helping the small Twi'lek stand up as well. 

She made her way towards Enra, gleefully smiling at the taller woman, "We will be free." 

The sentence was full of both astonishment and disbelief. 

Enra couldn't agree more, "How are you so sure we will?" 

Benu gave the yellow Twi'lek a secretive smile, "Because Ekkreth always keeps his promises. And besides, what do we have to lose...?" 

"Enra." 

"Enra. Such a beautiful name. I'm Benu, and this little sweetheart is Rin," Benu smiled softly at the girl who was still hiding behind her. 

The pink Twi'lek turned towards them and waved shyly at Enra. 

Benu's smile widened, only to dim when she continued, "Enra, we are already slaves. But if we keep true to ourselves, we will always be free. Look at Ekkreth." 

The woman looked at her, telling her something with eyes far older than she was. 

And Enra did. 

The man was talking with the stormtroopers, looking as sinister as when he entered. 

And yet Enra didn't think he was

"Many had lost hope. And as soon as the hope goes out so do our spirits." 

A movement in front got their attention. 

Darth Vader was standing there, stormtroopers nowhere to be seen, looking at them expectedly. 

Then he turned and started striding towards the storage exit. 

After a second of hesitation, Benu and Rin walked after him, prompting everyone into following. 

As they walked through the hallways, they passed multiple dead bodies lying on the ground surrounded by pools of blood. 

Most of the slavers had died from blaster fire or flying shrapnel. 

Some were clenching their necks as if someone had the time to choke them. 

Others had been cut in half by what looked like a plasma-cutter, impossible as that sounded. 

The longer they walked, the more Enra realised that they never had a choice, to begin with. 

After all, if Vader and his troops could do that to a fully armed crew, what would have happened to some chained and malnourished slaves? What would have happened to them if they hadn't agreed to follow him?

Another thing that caught her eye was that many of the former slaves were looking rather pleased with the carnage. 

Some were downright happy. 

Enra gave Benu a questioning look, begging for answers.

The woman murmured quietly, Aeolian voice scrapping the air, "Those who trade with flesh, pay in flesh. This is the law of the desert." 

Those words sent shivers down Enra's spine. They resonated deep into Enra’s heart, taking roots in the parts of her soul that desired vengeance for everything that happened to her.

"One way to be sure your Master, your depur, won't catch you is when they are dead." 

Next to her, Rin nodded slowly, agreeing with the given wisdom. 

No more words were exchanged because soon afterward, they were ushered out of the ship and into a huge hangar. 

Surprisingly enough, each and every one of them was taken to a medbay where a medic removed their chips and collars. 

Enra could only stare at the little piece of metal in her hand, and for a second time that day, she wondered if it was all a dream. 

It felt like one. 

But even her mind wouldn't be able to think of something like Vader freeing slaves. 

But maybe ... 

The yellow Twi'lek watched as one pink blur ran past her. A weeping Rin was showing Benu her chip, jumping up and down from pure elation. 

Enra hadn’t seen the kid smile so widely. 

She hadn’t seen anyone of the sla-former slaves smile so much.

Rin, along with everyone else, had been given new clothes. They didn't fit and they looked suspiciously similar to a captain’s uniform, but they covered their bodies and kept them warm. 

Cloaks and capes were distributed among the crowd, giving everyone something to keep them warm in the freezing void of space. 

After being warned several times by a really short and really irritated medic not to eat too much or too fast, they were even given food and water.

Swiftly after everyone was accounted for - changed into new clothes and with treated injuries, they were ready to go. They were taken back to the hangar and together, with seven troopers, they boarded a huge black shuttle. 

The ship, which according to the trooper with blue-lined armor belonged to Vader himself, was huge and sparsely decorated. Even when all twenty-one former slaves and seven troopers boarded it there was still enough space so no one could get cramped or claustrophobic.

Sitting next to Benu, who had one arm around a sleeping Rin, Enra fell in thought.

"Benu," the tall Twi'lek started. "How can you be so sure we won't be sold again?" 

The dark-haired woman stayed quiet for a moment, "And why would we be? Why would they spend the time and effort to take out our chips, to take down our collars if they are going to enslave us again?" 

"I heard that some slavers liked psychologically torturing their slaves," Enra murmured. 

"That... happens, but as long as your mind is your own and you remember yourself, you are never truly gone. You are still free in spirit." Benu said. 

The human female fell in thought, humming sadly, "There are slaves we call keekta-du. They forget what they are - that they aren't free. They think what they have is freedom and that their Master is someone to admire." 

"Like Vader," whispered astonished Enra. 

"Yes," Benu nodded solemnly, "like Ekkreth. But unlike keekta-du, he does not blindly follow his depur." 

The woman smiled cheekily, "After all, do you believe that the Emperor of a galaxy advocating slavery would order his Enforcer to free slaves? No, Ekkreth is a child of the desert he follows only himself and the wind."

"Ekkreth? You keep calling him that. Is that his real name? Or..." 

Benu was silent before answering in a voice deepened from the desert wisdom and carried by the sirocco

"Let me tell you a story that one day might save your life..."

Hours later, when the ship had already landed, they were welcomed by Vader's agents - three teenagers with threadbare robes and power wrapped around their shoulders. 

For the first time in a year, Enra felt free.