The Emperor's Wrath is dead.
Vette had to admit to herself she'd longed to hear those words, for as long as she'd known Brynaerith - truly known her, seen the depths that the Sith not only plumbed but bathed in. It was a desire she'd buried deep - and ever deeper, when Brynaerith had not only failed to kill the padawan her own Master loathed so, but broken the other woman - turning her to her cause, systematically ruining the bright-eyed Jedi that Vette had hoped, in her own way, might save the one or both of them.
(She glanced at the empty spot where Quinn would have been - that Bryn had left unfilled, as much a message to those left behind as his torture had been. Vette had not mourned Quinn; he'd been as cruel as Brynaerith, in his own ways, affording Vette barely more respect than the droid. He had, though, earned a grudging, hateful respect - the only one of them with the courage to deny her, to betray her, even if his failure had doomed the rest of them all the more)
As Bryn's apprentice, Jaesa stood the most to gain - Bryn had no family, her parents having been turned over to the Inquisition by Brynaerith herself, and her sibling, from what little Vette had gathered, having perished on Korriban. Bryn had left no will, apparently thinking herself immortal, and there was nobody to contest the normal laws of intestacy. The ship and its attendant fittings, her Kaas city apartment, her not inconsiderable wealth - her Vette - these were all now the property of Jaesa Willsaam, who in turn was now no longer any Sith's apprentice.
Sith, Vette had long ago realised, were not worth the risk of crossing - not for any amount of credits.
Jaesa Willsaam was many things, though, but Sith was not one of them.
She'd imitated Brynaerith's cruelty, yes; had acted out in the same abhorrent ways Vette had seen so many young would-be Sith act out, indulging in every excess she could get her hands on, but it was an act. An attempt to be something she was not, and never would be, because for all that she indulged her sadistic whimsy it never brought her any sort of lasting power - just an empty dissatisfaction. Vette had long ago learned to avoid Jaesa the most in those moments, as they were when she was the cruelest - when she was the most frustrated, and most likely to lash out at anyone in range, as though doing so might do something to soothe the gouges Brynaerith had left behind in her soul.
Broonmark had taken one look at the new would-be clan leader and snorted, hooting a series of dry insults in his native tongue that Jaesa tried to fume at him for - that she tried to strike at him for, until the Taalz struck back, leaving her a crumpled heap after a single blow.
'<The Sith-clan-leader falls to a greater foe, and leaves no worthy heir. We take our leave.>'
That was the last Vette saw of him, and while she couldn't help but draw some pleasure from his dismissal of Jaesa's authority, she also wasn't sad to see him go.
Pierce had taken a long, hard look at Jaesa, weighing up his options, and applied for reassignment elsewhere - plying Jaesa with spice and stims to get her signature on his papers, and never looking back. Vette did miss him; he'd never been a friend, exactly, but he'd never been cruel, either - not in the way that Bryn had, not in the way that Jaesa clumsily attempted to be.
That just left them alone - Vette and Jaesa, the latter denied even the slightest of recourse when Pierce, far more intelligent that Jaesa (or, for that matter, Quinn) had ever given him credit for, had himself reassigned to the service of a Moff far more influential and endlessly less unstable than the dead Wrath's bratling apprentice.
I know where you sleep, Vette had once threatened Bryn - years before, when the collar was a novelty and when Brynaerith's cruelty had yet to truly sink in. Bryn, though, was Sith - was paranoid and careful enough to never leave herself open to nocturnal retaliation.
Jaesa, by contrast, was not. She was rash, impulsive, sloppy; left herself wide open, and for a little while Vette was too afraid to strike herself, wondering if it was some trick and, one late night, followed an impulse of her own that she regretted right until the moment that she was certain her task could not be undone; when Jaesa Willsaam breathed her last, her head separated from her body and her ship, at that, set to pilot itself into a star. Jaesa Willsaam had no grave, and no mourners; Vette watched from a distance, and wondered if she should be smiling.
Zakuul was just another Empire, in truth, and Vette didn't really care about the new war that gripped the galaxy. One oppressor was much like another; besides which, it was Zakuul who had executed Bryn. It was hard to hate them, if only for that. It was harder still to hate an enemy who humiliated the Sith; who kept no slaves and who demanded many things in tribute, but never the lives of sentient beings.
Vette did what she did best; survive. She found her sister, eventually - a reunion years too late, but better then than not at all. She found her friends - her gang, her family.
She found her life, and, excepting perhaps those moments (far too frequent) when the scars the collar left intruded on her daily life, she was even almost happy.
Names aren't important, kid. A Twi'lek called Vette should know that more than anyone.
Don't give me that poodoo.
Fine, fine. Call me Rennow. It beats those stupid codenames, anyway.
She didn't trust him, but that was okay. He was reassuringly untrustworthy; refreshingly direct in his inconsequential dishonesty. He could be trusted where it mattered, that scarred, unbroken Devaronian, and where it did not matter, she did not need to trust.
And then, without a moment's warning, it all fell apart.
So, Blue. Hylo's got this job-
Brynaerith Illte. The Emperor's Wrath. A dead woman. A corpse. A ghost. A demon, returned from the depths of hell. A monster, who smiled and sang and bared her neck only for long enough that you didn't notice she'd bared her teeth, as well.
(Maybe she's changed, a voice whispered. Maybe she's different. Maybe you're wrong.)
Hey, blue. You okay?
You sure about that?
She had not changed, not in the slightest amount, and Vette was not certain why she had ever expected anything else. Brynaerith was every inch as cruel as she ever had been - the frigid air and furtive glances between her new crew were proof enough of that. The look she gave Vette - free, and breathing - could have melted durasteel; Vette, despite the terror that curled around her stomach - that snaked up around her throat, threatening to strangle her - met that cruel and angry gaze.
I know it's going to be hard, having to hear an opinion or acknowledge that I have feelings, but I'm not yours, anymore. There's no collar, and no us. Just the job. Don't make it weird.
Brynaerith seethed; Vette was certain that the Sith expected her to tremble, and found that somehow, she still managed to stand tall.
'I never needed the collar to control you, Vette,' Brynaerith spat, darkly - leaving the threat unspoken. It was true - almost true; Bryn could choke her and throw her without lifting a single muscle; toy with her mind and break her body, the way she'd tortured and tormented Quinn in his final days. It was a lesson that had been learned well - and that had taken on new meanings, in the time since.
That, though, had been years before, and while Bryn was every inch as cruel as she ever had been, she was also some inches shorter, in the flesh, than she was in Vette's memories and nightmares. A monster made real, but one that had been brought low - that had lost her wealth and influence, and lashed out at all around her in her coddled pain.
'Yeah, yea,' Vette responded, lapsing into glib dismissiveness - as much a mask as her true feelings. 'You're the big bad Sith. But you trying to waltz back into my life doesn't change anything. You want something from me, you're going to have to ask. Nicely.'
Now, how about we get on with my favourite part, and divvy up the loot?
'My share's going to buying back artifacts stolen from my people. Freeing slaves. Giving Twi'leks a better place in the galaxy.'
Vette's statement was pointed, as was the look she shot Brynaerith - who just stood there, arms defiantly crossed, seething at the girl who just kept on defying her. Bryn might have been something important to the Alliance (of all of Zakuul's prisoners, Vette had trouble understanding why Beniko had freed her), but this Alliance was barely anything.
'It appears,' Brynaerith muttered, barely getting the words out between her gritted teeth, 'That our business is concluded.'
Rennow opened his mouth to say something, but Vette got there first.
'Got that right, Brynnie. It's been a pleasure, really.'
(One of the attendant Alliance troopers smirked; the smirk vanished the moment Bryn spotted it, and Vette just shot them a sly and knowing grin)
'You sure you don't want in on this, Blue? Can't say I'm fond of the boss, but Hylo's got a pretty sweet gig. And the martinis are to die for.'
Vette grimaced. She'd done her time in hell; the devil might not have been as ferocious as she remembered, but that didn't mean she wanted to do this dance again.
'I'm sure. Watch your back, Red. And everything else, actually. She's... the Sithiest kind of Sith, yanno?'
Rennow just laughed. 'Blue, if I had a stack of credits for every Sith I'd helped kill, I could retire in luxury.'
Vette gave him a mock stern look. 'You did have a stack of credits for every Sith,' she replied, 'And you spent most of it trying to make even more.'
Rennow made a show of sighing dramatically. 'Blue, you're almost as bad as Hylo.' A pause, and then: 'Look after yourself, kid.'
'You too, old man.'
Brynaerith Illte yet lived, a fact Vette was not happy about, even as she found herself hoping that Arcann could do a better job of executing her next time. But the Emperor's Wrath was dead, if not greatly diminished. And that, for now, was good enough.