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Korriban

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The war machines of the Sith Armada found themselves retrofitted exhaustively after their expensive visit to Kuat, replenished as much as possible on the dreary count of the sand world Korriban. Not much was to be expected here, save for the disburdening of a great many slaves to crop up experimentation and labor on this world. For a time, the crews of the enormous gathering traded in story and drink, and the spoils of their wars before it was time to bid the stopover adieu. The posture of the Black Sun vessels would remain to secure passage for their Prince, but the remaining Sith Armada would return home to settle themselves on their homeworld of Ondeorn.

 

 

 

  • All remaining Sith vessels leave for Onderon

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Ailbasí felt his mind slipping into the past, fettered by ghosts that wanted to strand him there forever. A robed specter, slight of form with grim demeanor and jealous eyes hovered behind him, clutching at him from decades passed.

 

“Hey,” Ailbasí said softly, “Come back to me.”

 

Gracefully coming to her feet, she crossed the distance and gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead, the way a mother might discreetly check a sick child’s temperature. Curling up next to him and virtually coiling around his arm, she looked like the antithesis of his rigid military posture.

 

“I would have gone with a nice steak dinner or flavored frozen custard for my first choice, but blood vengeance is cool too. I may actually have lived the same place as you when I was very young, I remember a floating city with white walls, and my nannies during that time were identical triplets. Daddy worked Imperial R&D, so it’s very likely that I was there during Project Genesis, the big imperial push for mass producing civilian clones. I had a super bad nightmare though when I was little about drowning, I still actually have a phobia about oceans, and my parents decided to move me to Cathar. It was away from oceans and the war, so everyone was happy.

 

Family… I get the impression that everyone has a different family experience, but mine was one of the better ones. Daddy worked a lot, but he always made sure to make time for both of us, even when mom got sick and was on bedrest. There was an intensity to him that whenever he was looking at you, you felt like you were the only thing in the galaxy that mattered. Before mom got sick she was super mom, maker of jerky and slayer of monsters under the bed. There was a fearlessness to her that I always admired, and it stayed with her even after the illness set in. Even when she had to stop going out and doing, she seemed to have a limitless number of stories for any situation. Daddy was incredibly intelligent, but mom was his match in wisdom and sass.

 

Mom worked on the Kuat Drive Yards spacedocks before she married daddy, and while eventually she got more into the personnel end of things, she had enough exposure to unshielded parts that she developed severe rad cancer. Bacta can’t treat cancer, in fact it accelerates it, so the best we could do was make her as comfortable as possible and control the symptoms. She has already fought it off way longer than the doctors expected, that’s part of why I’m terrified to look at my messages from home, it’s like as long as I don’t look, she’s still around, she’s still fighting.”

 

It was Ailbasí’s turn to be distant for a moment. It had been a long time since she had felt that she could be vulnerable around someone, and that had robbed her of a great deal of catharsis. Even so, she needed to keep pressing forward, so she did.

 

“Uni is… it’s like getting pulled in opposite directions between people asking you to be the most responsible that you’ve ever been, and having the freedom to be the most irresponsible that you could ever be. I had an apartment with three of my friends who were willing to look past my species. Growing up xeno in the imperial school system has always been harrowing, but I loved learning enough to shoulder through any pushback. And even when the administration wouldn’t deal with bullies, bad things had a tendency to happen to people that crossed a line with harassing me. Being older and wiser, I think I have a better understanding of the truth behind that.

 

The actual education part was fantastic, libraries with shelves that outreach the limits of sight in their length, access to experts in every academic field, and the majority of the people wanted to be there. Some of the profs were still racist jerks, but not nearly as many as in the earlier schools. There was apparently a big party scene on campus, but I didn’t really get involved in it. I was more the geeky hologamer when I wasn’t studying.”

 

Ailbasí pondered if she had missed anything before realizing that she had never answered his first question.

 

“Oh, my name is Ailbasí, but my friends call me Bashi or Ash for short.”

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What would I have been if I had grown up like her? If I had not been trained to kill and obey with every fibre of my being from the time I could talk? It was a pointless exercise of course, to think of what he would have done in uni, or how he would have reacted to a mother. Oh but if he could have a mother. He would kill for that loving embrace. But his mother was the blue tinted walls of a transparisteel cloning pod. There was no warmth there. No intuition to teach, no values to pass down. It was strange to him to be so very and acutely jealous of this young Cathar and of every experience she had. But her kiss had been loving enough, an the warmth of her body against his, her small hands caressing the muscles of his arm and he knew jealousy could wait, especially if she was with him. For what had it been that Kailen had said back on Christophsis, while she had sat beside him, her blue robe and his red kama blood soaked and spattered with clinging mud.

 

“Jealousy leads to a dark heart Ca’Aran. That’s what I said.”

 

And ghosts had the tendency to prey on every bit of him when anything turned or the good in his life. Ghosts that called him back. The desired his presence where he belonged. Ninety years before, where the victims of the first war for the galaxy belonged. But this Cathar was different, and the past could wait. If he was damned to join them, then they could wait another few hours, or few years. Before the melancholy of the lone survivor finally claimed him to it eternal bed. He looked into her crimson eyes and smiled warmly, if slightly stiffly. For now was not the time to turn to the past, but look and develop to the future.

 

“Ailbasí. That is a pretty name, what does it mean?”

 

Such a pretty name, for such a pretty girl.

 

“If you like learning and reading, there are many collections of historical novels and books that we have captured over the centuries. If ever you should desire them, you are welcome to them.”

There he was throwing gifts out like candy, when he really should be asking a more serious question.

 

“What do you want Ash?” It was not a light question, and not one asked in demanding. But an invitation for her to talk about what she wanted from the night, or any other thing that she could think of. He wasn’t good at flirting, but he pressed his forehead against hers. A keldabe kiss in the culture of his people as pale blue stared into crimson red.

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“My name, it’s a bit of a mythology reference regarding benevolent otherworldly beings of magic and mischief, or translated super literally it means pure being of chaos. I prefer the White Fairy approach though. Did you know that there’s a theory that a lot of early cultural beliefs tied to mischievous and helpful spirits alike are born from untrained Force user phenomena? So many of our stories hint at greater truths that we just didn’t have the insight to understand at the time.”

 

The offer of books was a very thoughtful and sweet one, but it was also one that in her current state she couldn’t act upon. But if Ca’Aran was offering books maybe there was another avenue that could be taken of equal value.

 

“My eyes right now, I don’t see the way that I used to. But if the rumors of Black Sun being involved in black market antiquities is true, I could use my sight to verify the claims of your providers while looking at all of the pretty pretties. I think there is a way that I could see through someone else’s eyes, but I don’t know the consequences of it enough to want to risk trying it with you yet. I know that I can connect to people on some kind of spiritual level through the Force, but I don’t know the full extent of the connection or what it does to the people that I connect to. So maybe down the road we can read together sometime, but I think I like the idea of having you be the one thing that’s just mine, and not mine and the Darkness’s.”

 

Ca’Aran’s last question was another simple question with a complicated answer.

 

“I want to find a way to move forward on my terms, to understand the Darkness enough to not be a slave to its hold on my life. Earlier in the night I saw you as a pretty distraction to have fun with and then move on, but after talking with you, I feel like there’s so much more to you than just a one night stand. I know that giving a pfask about people as a Sith is supposed to be a weakness and therefore a no no, but I think that the way that you are willing to challenge my expectations and speak fearlessly is worth a little weakness for the sake of growing. I guess what I’m trying to say is, no matter what happens tonight, I want a second date.

 

Taking advantage of their closeness, Ailbasí playfully licked Ca’Aran’s face and with a mischievous smile spoke again.

 

“Besides, I’ve licked you so you are mine now, that’s how the rules work and the ghosts will just have to deal with it.

 

I don’t know what wanting a long term thing means in regards to tonight. I’ve always been the charge ahead sort of person for anything that I’m passionate about, but I don’t exactly have the best track record of long term relationships. If you hadn’t already turned down my initial proposition, I would be worried that you yourself just wanted a one night stand, and didn’t care about me. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think that deep down underneath all of that regret and despair over outliving your war is someone willing to strive for new meaning in life. I’m not suggesting that I am your key to salvation, anyone that pins all of their hopes on one person is going to get pfasked one way or another, but I bet it has been a long time since you did something that would make the ghosts that haunt you jealous. So stay, and be happy, whether that means just being close, or a marathon event that deprives both of us of the ability to walk the next day. Just be here, instead of in the past, and comm me after. That’s what I want. Although if we do just cuddle, I’m not liable for any less than chaste groping that may occur. Also, you’re history, I love learning about history, in depth, and have poor impulse control. THE ABS MADE ME DO IT, I’M JUST A SWEET DEFENSELESS VICTIM OF YOUR DEVIOUSLY SEDUCTIVE MUSCULATURE!”

 

Emboldened by her own silliness, and on a giggling high from being herself again, she leaned in for a long kiss, hoping that it would convince Ca’Aran to take her back to her room.

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The lick was ticklish and it traced the line of an old scar up to right below his eye. The gesture brought a smile to his face and he laughed heartily as she laid claim. His smile stayed as he picked the lithe girl up and carried her to the room only a few meters away still locked into that passionate kiss. When he broke for air he smiled with a grin,

“You might love history, but have you ever had anything mass produced?”

 

_________________

 

Three hours later

 

_________________

 

Ca’Aran sat beside her, tangled in the mess of her sheets and staring up to the ceiling where some band that he did not know’s holoposter slowly rotated overhead. He felt strangely clearheaded, as if the last few hours hadn’t been exhausting but incredibly restful, though he wished he could have a breath of those flimsplast tobacs they used to hand out during the war to the troops. But alas he was plum out, so he simply lay where he was and thought about all she had said. Darkness, Salvation, Grace, Weakness. His heart in turmoil as it began to reflect on his past in black sun. Turning over to throw an arm over her he spoke softly in case she was asleep.

 

“Ash, do you think someone who has done great evil can ever been redeemed?”

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“Redemption is for people who are looking for the permission of others to move on from their past actions. Be a good man, or not, because the truth is that is the simple choice that needs to be made. Being a good man isn’t about what you did, it’s about how you plan to conduct yourself in the choices to come. So leave the moral arithmetics to the hardcore philosophers and just be. Hells, you don’t even need to be a good man, you could just be a decent one.”

 

Ailbasí gently wrapped her fingers around Ca’Aran’s forearm, enjoying being held and the feeling that someone thought she was worth holding onto. She couldn’t sleep before because she was afraid that she would wake up alone, but that simple gesture dispelled the fear like an evil curse being broken.

 

“Or are you asking for redemption for that last line you used, because that was pretty terrible. I almost called the whole thing off right there. I’m glad I didn’t though. Tell you what, get some sleep and if it’s still on your mind we can talk about it tomorrow while I train. I’ll be working on recovery training, so I’ll look like a complete spaz, but it’s actually super useful for real combat.”

 

One last kiss and then she drifted off into a deep sleep that was so blissful that she would stab anyone that interrupted it.

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It took a very long time to fall asleep, even with the comforting warmth of a woman beside him or the soft sounds of her footsteps while she trained. He stared up at the ceiling as he felt her soft breathing. Every inhale and exhale he could feel the soft fur bristle against his arm as he held her very close. When he finally drifted off it was to feelings of love and mild depression. For no matter how much he had worked and slaved for the Black Sun, they had never brought him this kind of feeling.

 

Was this love?

 

He couldn’t answer that. And though he hadn’t been in love since the clone wars, he knew it was far too early to pursue such a thing.

 

When he awoke some half a dozen hours later, it was from a dreamless sleep. A restful sleep. He lightly kissed the back of her neck and untangled himself to begin his own training regimine.

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Ca’aran had managed to sleep through Ailbasí’s alarm soundly, so rather than force the issue, she let him get some much needed rest. While the other times had been under different circumstances, she had plenty of experience in slipping away the morning after. She departed her ship armed and armored for training, and made her way to one of the sparring fields. After a certain point in Sith training, apprentices had to spar against training droids rather than each other to keep the med bays and morgues from overflowing. Of course when living opponents were required slaves could be provided, but recovery training was less about the opponent and more about adapting to unavoidable setbacks.

 

Ailbasí donned the recovery training overlay, a tangle of wires, connectors, and power sources that would randomly cause numbness, muscle twitches, and muscle failure throughout the fight. Most warriors on both sides only trained in unhindered sparring, but often what decided a duel was whether or not a combatant could recover from being put off balance or forced into poor footing. This was a particularly painful regimen that could easily lead to sprained or twisted joints, but she felt it was necessary. It also played into an element of combat that Ailbasí was increasingly becoming more and more dominant in, ground fighting and grappling. Gwn Marwolaeth came readily to her hand as the match began, and a brutal training session began.

 

By the time that she had completed her routine, her body felt like one giant bruise. Ailbasí was no stranger to pain, but she also made sure that she didn’t do anything that would stall recovery, moving gingerly to the nearby locker room. After hitting the showers she changed into a more forgiving outfit of Sith robes and carefully stowed her armor in a duffel. Gwn Marwolaeth rested in her back sheath, ever ready for a time of need.

 

As she drug herself out of the locker room to return to her ship, she found herself facing a small formation of soldiers at parade rest. While there were minor variations, the armor and insignias of the troops identified them as Darkwatch, a private security firm that her father had founded. For half a second she thought that they might be here to escort her home… but one of the minor variations that she noted was that they bore the heraldic devices of the Dark Lord, sporting arachnid insignias and spiderweb motifs. They were definitely waiting for her, but their stances were not exactly combat ready, and even elite troops of this caliber were not arrogant enough to engage a practitioner of the Dark Arts so casually. None of them spoke, but one approached her with a datapad with the expectation that she read whatever was on it. Just by the make of it she could tell that it was a securadisplay, a datapad design that could only be read from an appropriate angle and distance.

 

“With all due respect, I can’t read that with my eyes in their current state.”

 

Her father had used Darkwatch to protect what he cared about most, which meant that Ailbasí had been around them more than a few times, and from a young age had been taught to address them respectfully until it overcame even her propensity for sarcasm.

 

Stowing the securadisplay, the soldier tapped some buttons on a wrist pad and in seconds the area was covered in a sound baffling dome. Any conversation held here would be private. The focus on secrecy was new to her, but this was the first time she had interacted with Darkwatch in the employ of the Dark Lord, who was said to be a master assassin.

 

“The Dark Lord has sent us to collect you for an audience with him, we are to conduct you to him immediately.”

 

If Ailbasí still had a normal heart it would have probably nearly imploded at this point. An audience with the Dark Lord? The fear within her supercharged the pearl in her chest and sent her adrenaline skyrocketing, but even if she felt like she could bench a starfighter it didn’t take the edge off of the razor sharp terror plunging into her. Even for someone on team Sith, the Dark Lord was more grim bloody fable than living, breathing person. To be the Dark Lord was to be the most cunning and lethal killer in a society of demigod assassins, warriors, and sorcerers.

 

“I… I’ll have a servant conduct my bag back to my ship and accompany you immediately. I have a guest aboard my ship, may I let him know that I’ve been called off world without providing details?”

 

The soldier nodded and collapsed the security field. Ailbasí summoned a servant, gave her the bag and the message, and went with the soldiers to face destiny on Onderon.

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Aboard the Best Behavior, a spectral figure manifested in molten orange light. While the Jedi were more than happy to sacrifice eternity to be finger puppets for the Force, a properly trained Sith could persist through defying the natural cycle and anchoring himself to the mortal plane through people, places, and objects of import. With Ailbasí away from the ship, Dagon’s ability to affect the world around him was limited, but he had enough power to accomplish his objective here. He observed the sleeping figure neutrally for a time before flicking a trio of ghostly bullets at him. Despite the orange light they would feel like ice and despair to the living, and the man bolted upright in the bed.

 

“I’m going to ask you questions, and if I don’t like the answers, these are going to start coming at you a lot faster. Now what are your intentions with my daughter?”

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The sleep was restful till its bitter end. Where nameless and shapeless darkness turned to vivid nightmares. Nightmares were a constant for Ca’Aran the Recon Commando from batch seventy three. They had started more than a hundred years prior before the great sleep of carbonite and ashen shadows. Dred Priest, had haunted him both day and night as A2532 was formed from the scared tubeborn child into a deadly warrior. A trainer from the mandalorians, Priest had been the most brutal of the dozen men and women selected by Jango Fett to train the clone commandos. And his training had proven effective if not terrorizing for those involved. It was at a very young age that A2532 had scored his first kill in a circle of burning torches in the bottom hanger of Kamino 743. THat kill had been an honourable young fellow clone, and the feeling of his life leaving him as A2532 buried his vibrodagger up into his chest had frightened the young clone. But that action had carried him to the frontlines of the RC programme, and upon graduation Geonosis had come.

 

Geonosis

 

That pyrrhic victory for the republic that had wasted the lives of tens of thousands of young clones, and some seventy jedi knights. A wasteful start to a long war. Delta had been the only survivor of his cadre, and had been attached to a regular platoon upon the dissolution of his unit to assist as a guide and a scout for whatever the Republic put in charge of that unit. Some young jedi who was not qualified in the least to lead warriors. But when his hard eyes met her iceblue ones, his heart had never been the same. It was those eyes that woke him, or at least he believed they were as the Sith magics filled him with dread.

 

He sat bolt upright with a cry and shivered for a second as he looked around the room that looked like a young girls dormitory in the first years getting out of her parent’s house. His fierce blue eyes found the Sithari spirit and he drew back in fright but quickly squared himself for whatever would come.

 

“...Kailen?”

 

But the booming voice marked it as not her, but instead the guardian of the woman he had just slept with instead. An equally frightening event, but he met the gaze with stern recognition and nodded. Implying that he should ask away.

 

“...My intentions are not known even to me, for though I may intend something, the lady may desire the opposite. If you ask that I should intent to court her or something...perhaps? I do not yet know her. And I have every intent to get to know her. I did not know she was decended from ghosts." He pressed for his own question. Guessing at the source of this apparition. "Are you some Cathar warlord that I have not heard of? Or are you from the generation of Sith like Ar-Pharazon who sired the one I call my own daughter?”

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“Cathar warlords lack the means to pass through the veil of death and threaten their daughter’s romantic interests. You would know me as Dagon, Allfather of the Krath sorcerers and once a Dark Lord of the Sith. I guess you could say I retired champion. And I was quite alive when I sired Ailbasí, although the pairing did require Sith alchemy, human and cathar couplings don’t provide the most stable hybrids without help. And blood sacrifice. Totally worth it though, she’s brought so much joy to her mother and I.”

 

Dagon regarded the man enigmatically before speaking again.

 

“A response of ignorance is an honest response. And I know my daughter well enough to know that if she was done with you she would have already kicked you off her ship. Just understand if you pursue this path, I will expect you to stay the course regardless of any harrowing tribulation. Sith are often easy to desire and hard to love, and you will need to be ready for the hard times. The dark hours of the soul, watching her come home covered in blood but refusing to offer an explanation, times she oversteps in trying to fix things with the Force. All of this and more is ahead of you, and you need to decide if you are willing to face it.”

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Delta’s survival instinct kept him from saying something like, ‘she has given me a lot of comfort as well’ or something equally snarky that would end with him killed by some weird sith magiks. It was also interesting to him that Sithari like Dagon actually loved their offspring. Ar-Pharazon had all but ignored Telperien which is why she had fallen into his own care. The revelation grew his respect for the long dead Sith that he did not expect. There was some kernel of good in the sith, and in that moment of realization Delta made his decision.

 

He would for his part, be the counter weight to the gnawing evil that would affect the daughter of Dagon in the Sith Empire. He would stick to the long road, and if not stop evil, become its rival. All while serving the Sith as a General at arms. It would be a redemption of sorts, and one long in the making.

 

“I will stay by her as long as she will have me, come what may. You have my promise.”

 

He extended a hand to the Sith spirit. As a sign of respect, even though he doubted the other man could shake it.

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Mordecai gazed at the training course. The turrets were intimidating, but would only matter if he failed. He prepared to run the course, taking in each ramp and ledge, every jump, his imperial training taking over. He stopped himself- Imperials thought such a way because they didn't have the force. Mordecai did. He stood straight, took a step forward. and reached out with his newfound abilities. Immediately, he could feel it. The crystal pulses, hummed with energy invisible to the unworthy and the uninitiated alike. He grasped at it, like a child grasping for a toy, for a new experience, and pulled.

The crystal responded, and the energy reacted to his own, the force obeying, whether by choice or by his own force of will, he couldn't tell. He opened his eyes, and gazed at the crystal as it flew closer. he was acutely aware that he likely only had a few seconds left, and gave a hardy tug. The crystal flew into his open hand, and he closed it into a fist, turning to his mentor.

"That was easy. What now?" he asked.

He could feel it. With every moment that he used the force, his connection to it grew stronger. Not by much, he wouldn't be breaking any records, but it was there. Over time, he would get better at using this new tool, until eventually, he theorized, it would become like an extra limb- an extension of his will.

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Dagon couldn’t return the gesture, so instead he signed out “Good hunting” in the Darkwatch hand cant. Satisfied, he returned to the ether.

****************

An encrypted voice message arrived some days later for Ca’airan

+++ So, things went well on my… ummm… business trip, and I have my first assignment slash job slash quest thingy, and I was wondering if you wanted to come with me. A couple on a romantic getaway is going to draw less attention than a lone person with potential Sith ties. Not to mention the romantic getaway part. Maybe you could use your connections to crime us some fake IDs? If I’m overstepping boundaries, I’m sorry, I just really felt a connection and I want to see where that goes. If you’re game, give the attached coordinates and authorization code to my ship’s pilot. Our boss doesn’t want to us to use aggressive negotiations to seal this deal, at least not at this point.

Also, don’t take this the wrong way, but don’t wear anything too “Mando-y”, you’ll understand when you see the coordinates. Kisses!+++

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Valinor, the admiral and commander of the Felix Legions let his silence hang over the room like a black acrid cloud. There was no disappointment in the silence, just calm judgement, studying the young man in silence as he gripped his crystal like a trophy won at an awards gala. His voice finally echoed in the silence, breaking it like a fragile plate.

“It was indeed easy. Now replace the crystal in your lightsabre with the one you hold, let it bind to the darkness in your spirit. Meditate on it. And when you are done…”

The Turrets that had before been part of the challenge loomed overhead. But where the crystal had been, now lay tied up the thrall that he had spared from death. Her pain and fear radiating in the force like a storm. Her voice muffled in its tears as she strained against her bonds and tried to spit the gag out. 

“Rescue her. But for now feed upon her despair while you meditate.”  

((Meditate, then try to actually physically get up there while under fire. You thrall wont die. Fail as well, so that your character can learn from that))

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Delta straightened his back and pulled his handshake into a salute as he watched the Sith spirit depart. Then, he turned, walked out of the Cathar’s quarters, locked the door, and made his way to the Marie. That blessed ship that had carried him for over a decade. He smiled as the crew welcomed him aboard and after consulting with the officers he went to his quarters as the ship was prepped for hyperspace.

 

It was when he had sat down on his grav couch, his pile of armour sitting beside him that his comm chirped from the Cathar girl with the Sith father. He smiled. What a lovely idea to go gallivanting to her species homeworld. He had never likened much to furries until he had met Ailbasí so he had written her species down as furry-lite. At least acceptable to let live. They weren’t Bothans afterall. So he made his decision, and walked back to the girl’s ship, dressed completely differently than anything Mando like. He passed the coordinates to the captain, and watched the Marie take off into the upper atmosphere before he walked back to the girls quarters and slept until they arrived. The Marie would follow should they need her.

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The fire raged on. Not having much to do, Zutia sat with her arms curled around her legs and quietly analyzed her situation. It was better than pondering whether the wind would turn her direction and she would die to smoke inhalation. It was surely going to be nightfall soon. The smoke from the fire was going to play havoc with her navigation, but the running lights of the occasional freight traffic of Dromund Kaas would at least give her a general direction to walk towards. The carcasses of the two tuk’atas  had ceased their reflexive twitching and had gone still, their limbs stiffening as rigor mortis set in. Even the blood had ceased pooling around her feet--more likely due to coagulation than to exsanguination, Lavell told herself. Even if her blade had pierced the heart, an adolescent tuk’ata had enough blood volume that exsanguination was unlikely.

How long could she last without water? There was no potable water between here and the Sith academy, and even the few standing ponds were heavily contaminated with toxic minerals. The blaze would have sucked every droplet of moisture out of the air. two days, perhaps more if she traveled only at night, but dehydration would cripple her ability to think clearly within a day.

She glanced at the stagnant pool of blood at her feet. No, she reminded herself, the blood of a tuk’ata was far too ferric to suffice as a source of water, and it had clotted by this point.

It was soon quiet again. Wisps of smoke no longer drifted into the cavern, and the dull roar of the brushfire had finally faded. Zutia stepped clear of the grotto and into the scorched wilderness of Korriban’s plains. She glanced upwards; night had fallen, but the brushfire had generated so much smoke that the night sky was blotted out. It would be navigation by compass and hope.

The hunter took a moment to cast down her pack, the canvas splashing ash around its impact. She rummaged through her gear and discarded anything that she would need for immediate survival, anything that would away her down: extra changes of clothes, her collapsed shelter, most of her ammunition, and any extra rations that would endure beyond three days. Nodding with satisfaction at the small pile of discarded equipment, Zutia turned towards the wind and began to walk.

She proceeded at a steady, deliberate pace, her feet instinctively responding to every unseen rise and fall in the ashen plains. The smoke refused to clear the first night and the entirety of the next day. It wasn’t until the second night, when a fortuitous rain shower cast a few blessed droplets of water on her forehead, that the smog finally began to fade and she caught a glimpse of stars. Drinking from the scarce few raindrops she could gather in her hat, Zutia caught a glimpse of intense blue-white light streaking across the smoke-veiled sky.

Sublight engines. A glance at her compass confirmed that the craft was landing at Dreshdae.

She walked for two more days.

On the night of the third day, a dehydrated, delirious Zutia Lavell staggered into a cantina on the outskirts of the Dreshdae starport, a fine cloud of ash trailing behind her passage. Bumping repeatedly into tables, she managed to will her body to the bar and leaned heavily upon it. Her mouth worked a few times, but a mixture of dust, ash, and dehydration seemed to have formed a seal of concrete in her mouth and throat. A nearby Devaronian decided that wherever he could be, it would be better than anywhere within a city block of this wild woman who smelled of smoke and whose trousers and boots were covered with dried blood. Zutia took no notice, her eyes instead boring into the back of the bartender who was making a determined effort of looking anywhere but in her direction.

Her voice came out as an strangled croak.

“may i have a glass of water, please”

She wasn’t heard by the bartender, who had decided that he would much rather not deal with this problem. Zutia decided that she needed to make herself unignorable in this cynical city dominated by the Sith Order.  The weapon seeming agonizingly heavy in her arms, Zutia managed to lug her rifle up to her shoulders and slammed it onto the bar, the plastoid reverberating deafeningly through the cantina. She leaned heavily on the weapon. This time, she shouted.

“May I have a glass of water, please!”
 

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