“Combat the Throne directly?” Timeros’ cool voice, as flat and uninflected as ever, somehow scathed. “Such an attempt now would be foolish. The fact that a vengeance-mad child entertained all-out warfare against a superior force does not mean it is a tactic we should execute.”
“What other alternatives do we have, with the Grand Master’s forces hovering, the Inquisitors a step ahead, and runaway Jedi,” the word was sick as it fell from Rayze’s hot-blooded lips, “as our closest allies? These attacks from Teroch and Lorden have been too much a strain on top of it all.”
Kordath interjected, “How’s abouts we, ya know, dinnae go wavin’ our arms about at tha crazy darkity dark type who be glassin’ planets and killin’ folks, eh? Stay away from tha black robed goons o’ his and the whole bleedin’ thing.”
“Bloody smart is what it is, do like tha Jedi did and just karkin’ take off. Why are we gettin’ involved, sendin’ supplies we may have a need for and info that pretty obviously came from us, eh? Why we sendin’ our own folks ta live on tha run? Bugger 'em all, keep our heads down and live.”
"The First Clan does not surrender—”
“How much more must we lose?” It was Sashar that interrupted, quiet, grave. His haggard face was set around eyes aged a hundred years.
“Look, bub, we’re all just so sorry for your losses, really, but our concern is the ones still alive to give a damn,” snapped Terran, taking his boots off the table as he sat up. “And I, for one, plan to stay that way.”
“How about ya just shut the kark up instead?” K’tana hissed in irritation as the Twi’lek bounced her forehead off the table top, wrapping her arms around her head and lekku.
“Gentlemen, lovelies," interrupted Atyiru as she drew herself up, her calm, solemn tone cutting through the clamor of those gathered. For the second time in so many weeks, the Shadow Lady wore mournful black. But her presence was strong. "A break is in order. I believe if we continue to shout at one another much longer, we all may end up deaf, and I, for one, rather need my ears.”
Many of the summiteers around the table growled or murmured their agreement and reached for drinks, tabaac or another particular vice, drawing into small circles to discuss amongst each other. Many familiar faces were also present by holo, former members of the Summit — many of the Arconae and Elders who had departed for other roles or whatever facsimile of retirement the Brotherhood offered had been called back amongst the chaos, entrapped either by loyalties or by the Consul’s will.
“Lady Consul,” a flat, steady voice said to her right. She turned to her Proconsul.
"Yes, Lord Scion?" she stressed, imitating his tone.
“A word?” He nodded aside, and the Miraluka gave a faint smile, tipping her head in acceptance. The pair strode over to the chamber’s sole viewport, its shades open to allow in light, an often annoying addition to some.
“Now, my dear,” Atyiru murmured as they drew out of even enhanced hearing distance. “If I let you talk, are you going to abscond again before I’ve even had the chance to check on your wellbeing?”
“You and I both know it is better for us to be apart, to split our enemies’ focus that much more.” His eyes flickered around, lingering on clusters of people bunching in groups — Arconae with Arconae, Braecen, Tamashi, and Larrik, Zujenia with K’tana and Marick, Ruvak and Kharoc, even Zakath waiting for him to the side and the few bodies that made no move to cluster at all, like Kordath and Terran. “All of them.”
“Careful, my friend. Your mistrust is showing.”
“As it should.”
“And why is that?”
“You know exactly why. If any of the traitors among us don’t put a dagger in you first, then Pravus will, and you refuse to do anything substantial about it.”
“I made you my right hand,” the Miraluka challenged. “Just as I’ve entrusted the rest of this Clan where they need be.”
“They need to be culled.”
“Must you be so callous?”
“When you must be so careless.”
“I must be the opposite. Someone has to care, to care about all people, even the unlovable. Someone has to be sad that they are gone, and glad that they did live. Someone has to wish them mercy when no one else will. Every single soul in this universe…each deserves that.”
“No, not every one. Some men and women simply need to die, Atyiru.”
“You do so foolishly.”
“I do so faithfully. Whether or not you regard those as one in the same is at your discretion.”
“I will kill Pravus, given the chance.”
The Miraluka turned to him, expression sorrowful. “And I will stop you.”
Uji scoffed and turned away, hand spasming on the hilt of his gruesome saber in frustration. “He needs to be stopped.”
“But he doesn’t need to die.”
“It is foolishness if you think one could be done without the other. He’s a Grand Master, Atyiru. He might be insane, or worse, not. What would we do with him? Attempt to contain him, only for complete disaster later? No. We end this, the only way all men can end.”
“Buried and forgotten.”
A heartbeat stretched between them, the Scion’s eyes hard and cold as a dead star’s core. Atyiru pursed her lips, lowering her voice. “Uji, I’m worried about you.”
“You should be concerned, and not about me.” The Miraluka’s expression morphed into one of genuine worry, almost pitying him. "Stop it. Show that face to the Summit and the Inquisitorius and the Iron Legion agents as you will, but for once listen to me. What would you do, Atyiru," Uji hissed, “if Pravus came here, today, and slaughtered everyone in front of you? If he destroyed Selen? Not even for our collaborations, but as an example. Nothing more than a massacre.”
“You sound like Turel,” she sighed in response, before threads of steel came into her voice, into her posture as she straightened. “He asked me once, when we rendezvoused, after New Tython, what I would have done if it had been Marick, or you, or Timeros, if it had been my people, my planet. If it would be so easy for me to be merciful if it was my home that burned. Do you know what I told him?”
Her Proconsul was silent at the rhetoric, and she went on, “I said 'Mercy? Turel, mercy is never easy. Revenge is easy, violence is easy, action and inaction are easy. It’s easy to do nothing. It is hard to forgive.” Her voice lashed, sad but hard and sharp. “If Arcona hurt, if Selen died, as MILLIONS have already been dashed from this world forever…it would be even harder. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.’”
“You always seem to forget that pacifism is a luxury and will have profoundly dangerous consequences we cannot afford.”
“I don’t forget it for a second,” snapped the Miraluka. “What would I do if Pravus came here today? If he tried to hurt you? Our people? I would fight to my last karking breath. If he walked into my throne room today, I would stand up and fight. But I would not kill him. I will not. I will not continue this damnable cycle of regret and guilt on top of mountains of anger and loss. I won’t. Yes, it could kill us. It could. But to do anything else would be the death of something more.”
“Most people value their lives considerably more than their souls. And the ones who don’t, should.” His eyes narrowed at her again. “You know I support you, Atyiru. You know I’ll follow you — in everything except you getting yourself killed.”
“Then follow me that long. That’s all I ask. Now,” her tone shifted, indicating the end of that particular topic. “Was there something else?”
Uji merely shook his head. “You’ll have a report of my further investigations upon my departure.”
“Then back to the madness!” Spinning and clapping her hands, the woman raised her voice, “Alright, everyone, come now. We need to get these contingencies plotted before we can even scratch at the repair budgets for Ol’Val and Estle, and there’s six more items on the docket between that and lunch.”
“Timeros has proposed a redistribution of DIA personnel resources, and then there’s the Autumn Haunts Extravaganza…”
“Motion to table that one until next meeting?” called Strategos, lazily drumming fingers on the table. A dozen hands shot up in near-unison. “Wonderful! Motion carried.”
“Overruled,” sniffed Atyiru. “Now, on the matter of the Phantom Complex’s security—”
They were interrupted as the chamber doors burst open and a uniformed man stumbled in from a dead sprint. The guards outside the doors had turned towards him with half-raised weapons, and Guard Captain Bly emerged from the shadows near the meeting table to intercept his subordinate.
“Calm down, soldier,” the Captain commanded firmly, backing the man away from the gathering. “Report, outside, now. Then we see if it’s worth the Summit’s time—”
“My Lady!” cried the Officer, chest heaving from lack of breath. He shrugged off Bly’s hand and blurted, “There’s been a murder! Lord Wuntila has killed Lady Telona of Tarentum!”
“What?” Atyiru gasped, while mutters and cries rose around the table at the accusation. The Shadow Lady lifted a swift hand, cutting at the air to forestall them. “According to whom? Where did we get such information?”
“My Lady,” puffed the man, wide eyes wheeling fearfully between her, his commander, and the other Dark Jedi, “Lord Wuntila confessed it himself.”
The heavy throne room doors boomed closed, and like night turning crimson gold to gray, color and sound seemed to vanish. The white flames roaring behind the Serpentine Throne provided the only illumination, throwing a ghastly pale over the faces of the two men standing before its gaze. One of them, tall, built like the dragon whose namesake he carried, stood calm and certain, bowing before he straightened to a soldier’s rest. The other, slighter but no less imposing in his blood-hued armor, wore a vicious, self-satisfied smirk, looking for all the world like he lounged in a cantina, completely careless.
Around them, the shadows breathed.
Seated rigidly upon the throne, the Consul raised her hand, and the shivering, writhing shades stilled, settling into terse silence. Into the empty space, she commanded, “Explain yourselves.”
A beat, and then, “As I have said, Atyiru,” Wuntila Arconae spoke, unapologetic and unafraid, “Cole and I infiltrated and dispatched of a Resistance cell and their leader, Telona Murrage, as fit the Grand Master’s standing orders.”
“Just serving the Iron Throne,” Val Cole added, flippant, that smirk still a crack on his craggy face. “As we all do. This,” his eyes, for once free of his helmet, lazed over the chamber and the faces of the Clan’s Summit, “is a temporary contract. Good for you to remember too. My Lady.” The last was added with the same courtesy the Bounty Hunter tended to show his droid servant.
“You admit to betraying and attacking our allies?” the Shadow Lady demanded, voice frigid. Her face was a merciless mask. “To breaking every one of your vows to this seat and this Clan in doing so? To opening the gates for an interclan war?”
The shadows stirred again, those of the title holders in particular. The Estle-Eden Axis was an old thing. Old, and precious, and bought with their blood and that of their brothers. Others shifted for different reasons. More fighting? the unvoiced whispers murmured, Aren’t we entangled enough? When does it end?
“I admit,” Wuntila announced, his tone booming. “to ensuring Arcona’s survival despite your attempts to the contrary. They had committed treason against the Brotherhood. They were no allies of ours.”
A hiss tore from the Shadow Scion’s throat, standing at his Consul’s side as he moved to step forward.
“Stop,” snapped Atyiru, placing a warning palm on the man’s arm. He shook ever so finely with anger.
Uji’s tone could only barely contain the venom in his words. “Cole, you would do well to remember you serve Arcona first, and through Arcona you serve the Grand Master.” The Proconsul’s eyes turned to Wuntila, his gaze growing even more disdainful. “The Arconae on the other hand has no such excuse and will be dealt with accordingly.”
“The Arconae,” a new tone rose from further down the dias, Strategos’, lacking its usual levity. “bears his name for a reason. If we’ve already established that opposing the Throne is foolish, which I believe somewhere in the inanity of the last several hours, we have, then listening to it obviously isn’t. Wuntila has done what he needed to do…and you ought respect that.”
The others, wordless, nodded their agreement.
A mirthless bark of laughter left the Proconsul. “You must be joking. He betrays the faith of this Summit, a Summit that has done everything to stand united with the Arconae in these last months, to mend broken bonds and old wounds, and you would throw it away to protect this fool who seeks to reclaim his lost glory by openly betraying his Consul and her wishes?”
“Consider carefully,” Sashar spoke up as Strategos quieted with a snort and a shake of his head. “Drawing the Grand Master’s ire would be the end of us, whether we care for the fact or not. Unsanctioned or otherwise, Wuntila has at the least delayed that inevitability, if nothing else.”
“We should be working to draw his favor,” Braecen spoke up from the side, earning a shrug and a nod from his fellow Quaestor, Koul. “We stand strong now. We stand untouchable with his backing. And we get that through loyalty.”
“Tell that to ta kiddies that got bloody murdered in the old Academy over their holos on blasted Brotherhood history,” snapped Kordath, his shoulders hunched, arms crossed tightly while his tail lashed. “Loyalty won’t mean kark no matter who it’s to in this crazy house. The bloke’s out to kill us all in the end, only difference is who gets there first.”
“So you’ve repeated—”
“Arcona first,” Timeros intoned flatly. “All else is a formality.”
Marick, a quiet specter up to that point, cut through the rising clamor with his lilted statement, “They aren’t wrong. Everything is permitted, and securing loyalty to Pravus is the only way to truly fight him.”
“And that,” Selen’s Dragon called once more, “is all that remains. I will not see this Clan fall.”
“I remember stories told to me, stories of men who stood together and as one to overcome a single force that had ranked at the head of the Brotherhood for generations. You Arconae were the example that I and many wanted to strive to live up to — the willingness to fight and die to ensure Arcona remained the First Clan of the Brotherhood,” disappointment echoed in the Proconsul’s voice. “And yet here you stand, willing to grovel and scrape on your knees for a place at Pravus’s table rather than fight. I wonder when it was that each of you lost your spines. Has complacency truly made all of you into cowards?”
“Call me a coward again, Tameike,” Wuntila challenged. “I earned my title and reputation and I will happily prove it to you. The Arconae still fight for Arcona and are still willing to die as necessary, even when the Consul allows her desire for peace to lead her astray. What I did was to protect this Clan despite her decisions!”
Marick’s eyes slid to the side, landing on Wuntila. “It was you who taught me the Consul was never wrong.”
“Only when the Consul does well to serve the Clan.”
“You can’t speak of serving the Clan when you undermine it for your own gain,” Uji growled. “What did Pravus promise you, Wun? Another chance to redeem your past mistakes? Perhaps when you betray Atyiru next as you did Telona you’ll get another chance at the throne? What did Pravus promise you in exchange for your honor?”
The large half-Theelian’s gaze turned blazing in a flash and his hand gripped his weapon as he took a step towards the Throne. The Proconsul smiled, infuriating the warrior even more as he realized he was being baited. “I welcome you to try, Wuntila. I promise you, draw your saber and I will see you beaten, chained and dragged before the Tarentae as the traitor you truly are.”
“Fool, everything I do is for this Clan—” the blue-skinned Arconae snarled, cutting off in rage.
The crystalline hum of his lightsaber activating sent a ripple of motion throughout the room. One after another, years of combat-ingrained instinct curled fingers around saber hilts with the speed only the Force-blessed could manage. Bodies tensed, gasps or mutters of mingled protest and furious encouragement filling the air, every one of them coiled to leap at so much as a breath from either man—
Atyiru stood in a swirl of silver skirts, the throne’s white flames leaping behind her and then sinking into near blackness. They simmered dimly in the ensuing silence. For several heartbeats it stretched, heavier than mountains.
Slowly, muscles unwound, hands dropping from weapons. Cold-eyed, Uji replaced his own blade as Wuntila’s died in his grip with a keening hum. Still, the silence stretched. The Force seemed to shiver. Then, the Shadow Lady spoke.
“I expect better from every one of you. From my Summit. From Arcona. You have all disgraced her name today.” She lifted her chin, her Cythraul heaving his massive bulk upright, his fur spiked as he growled. “We will turn none of our own over, and we will not fight our own allies. I will contact the Tarenti. There will be found a diplomatic resolution to this, and you all will heed it. This discussion is over.”
The Miraluka’s heels clicked as she descended the steps from the dais, passing by the faces of her Proconsul, Rollmaster, Quaestors, Aediles, Arconae. Her eyeless countenance turned to not a one of them. When the Consul approached Cole and Wuntila, she paused, half a step, lifting her fingers and gesturing to the Summit Guardsmen waiting in the wings of the massive, darkened chamber.
“Captain Bly, escort these men to their quarters and leave them under watch with as many men as you deem necessary. If either of them attempt to set foot outside, shoot them.”
“Yes, my Lady,” the Guard-Captain replied, his salute grim.
The throne room doors shut with a resounding thunderclap in her wake.