This is a little fiction I wrote for my new character and her acceptance into the Long family (as Atra’s successor to his name). Used it for my Test of Wisdom and now posting it here!
The voice echoed out, piercing the dark shroud of sleep that clung to her mind, though by now she had become woefully accustomed to it. That was how it always began, each night for the past week since Keira Viru arrived in the Orian system alongside her previous caretaker, Methyas L’eonheart. She could count on one hand how many nightmares had disturbed her prior to arriving, and that number had more than doubled since. First came that one, poignant shout; a voice filled with a quiet confidence, and a hint of acceptance. Always the precursor, it served to reach into her slumber and bring her consciousness that much closer back to awareness.
For that, it was ceaselessly cruel.
Once stirred, visions consumed her in a way she had never felt before. Rather than merely observing the events, Keira experienced them first hand. She felt the surge of adrenaline and pain in equal measures. The half-breed could feel cold blades splitting her flesh all over her body, and the searing sensation that she had come to associate with a blaster of some kind. Then came the silence and temporary relief in the form of what could only be described as utter emptiness. It felt wrong, in every way, and only soothed the mental pain for a moment before the ache returned. Within her mind’s eye Keira was filled with the pain perfusing throughout her and combining into a single agony, as opposed to so many individual sources. The Quaestor of Shar Dakhan knew what came next — it always did — and no matter how much she wished for it she could never force herself awake.
She heard the wispy thoughts as if they were her own, resonating within her mind with a calm sadness. Then, as it had so many nights before, the world within her thoughts turned to fire. Keira’s eyes snapped open as she gasped with panicked breaths. Her lungs took in the air greedily, even as her dry throat sent pangs of protest. Keira glanced around the darkness of her room, desperately searching for the comfort of familiarity. Her bookshelves stood silent as sentinels in the corner. A single lounge chair and reading table rested opposite the shelves, a mixture of holopads and paperbound books strewn about right where she left them. All these things were hers, and they served to solidify the fact that she was herself, and not whomsoever she became in the dreams.
Taking another deep, gasping breath to help calm herself, Keira finally forced herself to sit up. The sheets stuck to her back, held fast by her own perspiration. She grabbed the fabric and tugged it away with a grunt of annoyance, taking the chance to wipe her forearm across her forehead and forcing the hair that clung to it aside.
How many nights had she gone through the same routine? How many nights more remained?
Keira didn’t want to think about it, dreading the end of the coming day and the very idea that it would come again… and it would, as it always did. It was one of the two constants that she had come to expect each day and the worst of them by far. The other was just as obscure to her as it felt like a shadow constantly looming over her as she went about her business. It didn’t feel particularly threatening, nor was it ever present, but the sensation of something ‘dark’ looming over her throughout the day was getting harder to ignore.
As annoying as they were, however, those constants were just two more mysteries added to her growing pile of questions. The Quaestor composed herself and made the quick journey to her refresher, letting her tension wash away with the water and steam. It took most of Keira’s will to force herself away from that blanket of fog and warmth, but she knew she couldn’t hide there forever. There were still far too many questions without answers.
She wasted little time throwing her regular attire on, starting by stepping into her black pants and strapping her leather pouch to her thigh, then clasping its belt around her waist. Keira’s hair was still dripping as she pulled her gray tank top over her head, smoothing the fabric against her stomach before easing into her corset with a grace that belied just how many times she had repeated the motions. Finally sliding on her boots, clasping the straps tight, Keira let out a sigh and strode towards the exit of her quarters with the pale blue fabric at her arms and right hip flowing in her wake. Keira had to stop mid step, cursing silently as she spun about and retrieved her lightsaber. The familiar weight of the almost ornamental hilt brought a measure of comfort to the Quaestor, bringing a tight smile to her lips. She slid the weapon she had christened ‘Renatus’ onto the waiting clasp on her belt at her left hip before turning back towards the exit.
The door hissed open and the Quaestor stepped through, barely taking that first step before being greeted by a saluting cadet. She opted for a quick nod over the mental groan she was currently suffering. “I would be correct assuming you’re waiting out here for more than a salute, yes?” she asked with a smirk, crossing one arm across her torso to clasp the elbow of her right arm as she held her hand out to the young Loyalist.
“Yes, ma’am, of course,” the cadet managed to get out — all in one breath too — before handing her the datapad he had been clutching in his left hand.
“And what exactly,” Keira stated flatly, “is this, cadet…” She extended the end of the sentence into a questioning lilt.
“Tremel, ma’am,” he replied. “It’s a communique from your Aedile.”
Of course it was, Keira intoned mentally. Inarya had no doubt been growing impatient as the Quaestor had continued to spend more and more time on Sepros rather than Aeotheran. Unfortunately for her, she would have to learn some patience instead. “Thanks, cadet Tremel,” Keira muttered, “consider your task complete. Go sit down before you pass out.”
The half-breed didn’t bother watching to see what Tremel did, turning halfway back towards her quarters and tossing the datapad through the entry. She let out a breath as she flicked her wrist, the motion being mirrored in the Force as an invisible hand guided the object onto her reading table. When Keira turned back, the cadet was already gone. For the best really, as the Quaestor wasn’t sure how much longer she could stand seeing the poor man losing his mind without teasing him. She wasn’t sure if it was more to do with the fact that she was a relative unknown within Clan Naga Sadow, or some sort of stigma that came from her new found position, but she had found the newer recruits among the Loyalists to be more wary in her presence than others.
It had its upsides, however, as that often meant she was allowed her solitude with minimal effort. Taking two quick steps to the side, Keira listened as the doorway shut once more and then pressed the familiar button on the door’s control panel, the acknowledging beep letting her know the lock had been set. The last thing she needed was unwanted visitors, especially since that ominous feeling was starting to press in upon her once more. With a deep breath, she composed herself and brought her hand up and through the bangs of her raven-black hair, her icy blue eyes sparkling in the light of the hallway even as the golden starbursts at their cores constricted with her pupils.
Even as a half-breed, her Umbaran traits were dominant and that meant sensitivity to light. It was part of the reason why she kept her quarters in a state of almost perpetual darkness. Sometimes, it was just nice to relax and not have to squint in response to every random flash of light through the windows. Keira couldn’t relax forever though, and she felt more and more like she was standing on the precipice of a breakthrough. Methyas had been as cryptic as always, offering her little more than the knowledge that her family had roots as Sadowans. That had been so helpful in narrowing down her search to only the entire population of the Orian system, with sarcasm thoroughly intended. On the other hand, though, her new position afforded her access to files that had been previously locked away to her. She had found it quite by accident, the final result of one last query before passing out in her bed.
At last… she had a name!
“Renora Viru,” Keira muttered beneath her breath as she made her way to the Sadow Library once more. The Quaestor kept repeating the name, as if gauging its feel upon her tongue. That was the name of her mother, she was sure of it, and now she just had to follow up on the thread and hope for the best. At the very least, she had taken at least a small step forward.
The walk to the Library was rather uneventful, aside from the shadow encroaching just outside her senses. It was an elusive thing, that seemed to become harder to find the more she focused on it… so she didn’t bother to. At least not when she was so close.
“Greetings again, Master Viru, how may I be of assistance?” a robotic voice asked.
Keira’s eyes widened as her attention snapped back into the present, glancing at the dull grey protocol droid that had spoken. She didn’t remember its designation, though that wasn’t necessarily a gross misstep considering just how many of the droids helped to manage the Sadow Library. Based on the greeting, this one had seen her on at least one other occasion and yet she didn’t have a clue which one it was. Keira mentally winced, trying to summon up the memory in order to avoid offending it. Could droids even get offended? Before she could speak, however, the droid continued.
“We have left your station as you had it, Master,” it motioned towards the back with what limited locomotion was available to it before continuing, “we hope that is agreeable.”
“Yes it is,” Keira replied, thankful for whatever programming guided the droid past her faux pas.
That was a relief she welcomed as the Quaestor made her way to the station that had served as her hideaway for the better part of the week. Part of her was surprised she hadn’t worn a permanent indent into the seat yet. With a mental chuckle, Keira plopped down and activated the station’s terminal. Her pupils dilated as the light from the holoscreen came to life, and a grin spread across her pale face. She could hardly contain her excitement as she began queuing up search after search for anything pertaining to her mother. Squirming side to side on her seat, Keira tried to will the system to work faster, to give her what she was after.
She almost jumped for joy when the terminal started returning matches, but that strong emotion was quickly transformed into confusion. Keira leaned closer towards the screen, her eyes flicking from place to place as she tried to access the search results. Each time she was greeted with an access permissions prompt, and each prompt rejected her credentials. “No, no,” Keira repeated constantly under her breath as she kept encountering the same immovable obstacle.
The half-breed’s head fell forward as emotions churned within her, the impact of her forehead against the terminal sending a vibration through her body. She raised up and repeated the motion, then again, and again. The dull ache it afforded her was at least something to take her mind off the barely restrained anguish that sought to claim her entirely. It was so close, everything Keira had ever wanted to know about her mother, and she couldn’t reach out and take it.
“You appear to be unwell, Master, can we be of assistance?”
Her gaze snapped to the side, facing what appeared to be the same droid that had greeted her upon her arrival. Keira’s jovial facade was all but shattered, leaving her glaring daggers into the droid. She rose up and rolled her neck side to side, rubbing it as she continued to eye the droid. “Why is it that I am unable to access our archives associated with ‘Renora Viru’?” Keira asked.
The droid stood for a moment as if deep in thought, but was in actuality just running its own queries. “Access to files on Loyalist Viru are restricted, Master,” the droid replied.
“Just Loyalist? No rank?”
“Data not found.”
“Restricted to whom?” Keira managed to ask between clenched teeth.
“The Seneschal Emeritus.”
“And that is?”
The protocol droid seemed to almost tilt its head, as if confused why someone would be asking that. “Xia Long, of course. Are you sure you are well, Master?”
Keira blinked a couple times, thrown off by the sudden question. “Yes, why?” she asked as she glanced around, her eyes falling on the spiderweb fractures that had formed around the edges of the terminal.
“No reason, Master,” the droid said, sounding suspiciously smug before departing. Meanwhile, Keira frowned at the damage she had caused, her mind racing. She must have begun to lose her grip on her power, lashing out in her emotional state. The Quaestor slapped her palms against the desk and let out a long exhale. She couldn’t afford to lose control. At least, not in the Sadow Library. She couldn’t risk Consul Sonjie finding a reason to strip her of her rank within the Clan. That was the last thing she needed.
What she needed was air.
Keira didn’t even bother shutting down the terminal. The Quaestor merely hopped to her feet and sprinted from the Library, weaving through whomever and whatever stood between her and the space she needed. Before long, the half-breed was taking bounding strides down the front steps of the temple and lost to the forests of Sepros. Even that wasn’t enough for her. She kept running, as fast as her feet could take her, until she was utterly alone. Isolated from any who could see, she finally let loose the emotions she had fought to contain and let out an emphatic cry of pain. The sound echoed through the trees and foliage, causing wildlife to scatter and leave her to the silence as she collapsed to the ground.
Her answers were there, and she knew that beyond any doubt. But why were they kept from her? And not just from Keira, but anyone seeking the data period. If they merely wanted to hide the woman’s existence this ‘Xia Long’ could have probably done so, but they hadn’t. Having no context to work within, Keira’s grief quickly turned to anger. It was the kind of anger that coiled like a serpent around your insides and set fire to your very soul.
For how long Keira Viru lay within the shade of the forest wasn’t certain. There were no chronometers on hand, and the sun could not be seen to be measured. No matter the time spent, the Quaestor took just as long as was needed to expend her grief. It was then that she felt that same shadow creeping in upon her, only this time it did not skirt away when she stretched out her senses. In the silence of the forest, Keira closed her eyes and pushed her awareness outward against the confines of her flesh, seeking the source of the malignant presence.
She rose slowly to her feet, turning to face the foliage opposite from her and taking several steps back. A large, dark shape moved just beyond it, pushing through the brush with an almost lazy pace. The shape revealed itself to be a tall figure clad in black robes that nearly hid his entire body. Even his face was shrouded in the darkness of his hood, only its lower face visible.
As soon as the figure was clear of the foliage it stopped, as if weighing her before its lips began to move. The voice appeared to be whispered past barely moving lips but sounded as if they were spoken clearly just beside her ear. “Keira Viru, Quaestor of Shar Dakhan of Clan Naga Sadow,” the clearly male voice stated evenly.
“Aw shucks, you’ve been doing your homework, I’m flattered,” Keira managed jovially, disguising the unease she was actually feeling. “Care to hold up your end of the introduction while you’re at it?”
Standing before her now, Keira could understand why the man had felt the way he had within the outer reaches of her senses. Something about being in his presence required a conscious effort to steel her resolve, lest her nerves would be shaken from her. The man practically exuded a dark shroud within her mind’s eye.
“I came to find a brother,” he continued stoically, “instead I find you.”
Keira had to suppress a shudder as a chill crawled up her spine. “Okay, you really got this creepy thing down to an art form here… but who the hell are you?” she growled. It was far easier being angry than afraid, and it helped her focus.
“You will come to know me as Gwei Long,” the cloaked man replied. Gwei chose that moment to pull back his hood, revealing his hard face and long black hair. His dark eyes locked on hers and seemed to look past them, deep into the depths of the being known as Keira Viru. Her mind processed the name, focusing on the surname specifically. It lodged in the cogs of her mind like a steel rod and froze her for several moments. Her thoughts wasted no time linking Gwei to Xia, the person responsible for the digital vault keeping the knowledge Keira sought hidden away. As her mind finished processing she felt that burning anger in her gut take root once more. Without thinking she raised her right hand, now held in a claw-like shape, and felt that rage coursing through her and materializing as strings of crackling energy charging between her fingertips. She was a breath away from unleashing a blast of lightning upon her stalker when her world fell away.
She was trapped in her dream again, only this time the experience was amplified tenfold. Her body spasmed with the pain of it, dropping her to her knees in an instant. Her anger was gone in that singular moment as it gave way to fear. Fire consumed her only to fade away and start the process again and again, her dream caught on an infinite cycle. “No,” Keira cried out, if only just to hear herself, “I am me!”
She repeated that mantra again and again, struggling to cling to her sense of self as fear turned to terror. It was, of course, the greatest threat Keira would never admit to. She had so few memories to speak of, only really recalling the past year of her life. Without those experiences she would be no more than a shell. The mere idea of losing who she was became the very definition of the word ‘terror’ for the half-breed.
Her throat had turned raw from constant use, her voice no more than a hoarse whisper. No longer able to speak, she sought instead to close in upon herself. Keira curled up into a tight ball and bit down hard on her lower lip. The taste of copper filled her mouth as she broke the skin. The sharp pain of it shot through the fog of her mind, an altogether real sensation that served to remind her what was real and what wasn’t. With that came the name again, the one that she had just found so recently and meant the world to her.
That name brought with it a host of realities that began carving away at her terror bit by bit. Keira had a mother, of that there was no doubt. That meant she had a past, and a family. She came from somewhere… she existed. Keira rose slowly to her feet once more, taking in a deep breath as she did so. Her eyes closed tightly as she pushed the last of the fog from her mind and felt a sudden relief wash over her. When Keira opened her eyes she once more found herself under the shadowy canopy of the forest, still standing across from Gwei Long.
The man gave away nothing as his face remained impassive, however that sense of unease she had previously had to fend off was gone. That wasn’t to say he was any less imposing, or that Gwei wasn’t unsettling. No, the only thing that changed was that Keira was no longer struggling against it. It was simply who this man was.
Keira held out her right hand in front of her, the palm facing down. The half-breed opened herself to the Force and felt its electrifying presence flowing within her. She guided its flow and summoned the ornate hilt from its resting place at her hip and into her waiting grasp. In the same instant she activated the iconic weapon and was bathed in a pale cerulean glow that seemed to warp and move. While the blade of plasma was solid enough, the shape itself was unstable and slightly warping. It was a sign of imperfections within the focusing crystal, a fact that resonated within her.
That was exactly right; her crystal was imperfect… but so was she and there was nothing wrong with that.
Keira never fell into a proper stance, merely shifting her weight onto her left foot as she leaned her hip out almost lazily and letting her hand with the saber fall casually to her side. Then, she cocked her head to the side, as if she had asked a question and was waiting for Gwei’s reply. The man’s arms shifted beneath the fabric of his dark cloak, his right arm extending into view with a long hilt in his grasp. Crimson blades extended from both ends as his weapon hissed to life and he began striding patiently towards her. Keira made no attempt to move but did glance quickly around what had become their battlefield. Her mind quickly noted the organic obstacles of their venue, trying to memorize every rock, tree, and jutting root.
Her focus had to snap back to Gwei, however, as he began to spin his saberstaff in front of him like a propeller. The humming weapon all but demanded her attention as its ruby hue cast a pallor over her own blade’s icy glow. The spin was suddenly halted as Gwei grasped the weapon hand over hand, pulling back with the left while pushing with the right. The uppermost blade came carving down towards its target, carrying with it the momentum of its previous spin. Keira danced to the side, easily flowing out of the intended path. The staffsaber had its advantages though, as her attacker was easily able to halt the slash and reverse the push and pull of his arms while following after her. She barely managed to backpedal out of reach before the tip carved past her stomach, however she was still within reach of the trailing half of the saber.
Keira quickly hopped back and planted her hind leg on a large root that snaked out of the ground. Her leg coiled for a breath before pushing back and forcing her body into the air. She spun her arms inward and counter-clockwise as she vaulted off the root, sending her body into a horizontal spin over Gwei’s blade. She landed with her right foot outstretched and carried the momentum with her as she hopped several pivoting steps away from her attacker. Facing him once more, Keira reached out with her left hand and pulled back quickly.
The Long was forced to step out low, no doubt feeling the tremor in the Force that warned of the coming boulder that flew just over his now much lower shoulder. Keira raised her eyebrow and made a mental note as she circled to a better position, keeping an eye on Gwei. She didn’t like fighting without knowledge, or having a good plan of attack, and she knew he had been watching her. That left her at a disadvantage that she was less than fond of. Again she tested the man’s defences, gathering her raw emotions and channelling them into a quick burst of power through her outstretched hand.
Her opponent captured the lightning with one end of his double-bladed saber, not even so much as looking at the energy as it dissipated. It was yet another mental check-box for the Quaestor to mark off. Gwei was clearly an experienced warrior and showed no signs of anxiety, nothing at all. There were no visible stressors that would cause him to rush or make a foolish mistake. He simply kept advancing towards her at the pace of his choosing.
“You said you were after a brother! So why are you so fixated on me?” Keira called across to him.
Gwei Long answered by flinging a log towards her with the Force. Viru deactivated her saber and cartwheeled back to avoid it, but that required her to take her eyes off her opponent. By the time she had regained her footing, she found that the Long had already closed the distance between them. Their sudden proximity was reaffirmed with a rather solid boot slamming into her gut. Air rushed from her lungs as a mist of spit flung from Keira’s mouth. The impact sent her back several shaky steps before she found a solid stance again. Gwei was relentless, following up with a series of strikes that forced the Quaestor to fall back on the familiar patterns of her hand to hand training. She tried to flow around the strikes of the large man, working with his kinetic energy rather than against it. The force of each impact was no less jarring, however, even as she clenched her teeth together painfully.
Another sudden kick resulted in Keira finding herself pressed up against the base of a wide tree, no longer able to maneuver. Gwei’s saberstaff snapped to life once more in his hand, and he brought it down upon her with such deadly intent that it was almost palpable. Keira threw her hands up and willed her power to solidify between them, growling audibly in a mixture of concentration and effort. The crimson blade hit her invisible barrier as if falling upon a guard, not so much halting as pressing in against it. Keira was forced onto one knee while wincing to such a degree that her left eye was closed tightly. Still she poured her strength and focus into that bubble of protection, refusing to allow the Long’s saber to meet its target.
Even still, Gwei was infuriatingly impassive and continued to keep his gaze locked upon her. Somehow, that pissed the half-breed off more than anything else. Her frustration, combined with exertion, boiled over into a harsh yell. She pushed up hard with her legs and arms, forcing the Long’s weapon back and away, leaving his guard momentarily open. The Quaestor quickly let her barrier fall, redirected her focus into both of her fists now clenched tightly at her sides. Her power coalesced there in a single moment, seemingly disappearing as if she were holding her breath… and then she thrust her arms forward and let that power release. It concussed between the short distance that separated the pair, sending Gwei back in a rush of billowing fabric and then rolling across the hard, uneven terrain.
Keira remained locked in her position, hands held out even as her mouth hung open as she took quick, ragged breaths. Her chest heaved with each gasp, only to still as she swallowed hard before gasping again. Sweat dripped from her brow, the physical exertion catching up with her now that adrenaline was failing. The salty liquid stung at her eyes, causing them to twitch in response but she made no motion to wipe it away. Keira merely watched and waited as Gwei Long slowly rose to his feet, and had the audacity to laugh. It was a dark laugh, as was becoming the man’s apparent theme, but was recognizable nonetheless.
Placing a hand against his neck he pressed against it while tilting his head to the side, resulting in a series of cracks. “It seems you measure up,” Gwei said in a knowing way, “and I have found a sister.”
Finally, Keira’s arms fell down, hanging loosely from her shoulders as she continued to breath hard. Her expression turned to one of sheer confusion as her right eyebrow was raised high. “Wanna… run that by me… one more time…” she asked.
“You seek answers. We will help you find them,” the man continued. “We have much to discuss, Xue Long.”
Keira stood there blinking for what felt like an eternity before her mouth dropped open in a look of sheer incredulity. “Um, what?” she murmured. Moments before this man had been attempting to kill her. Not wound, maim, or teach. He had shown an undeniable intent to kill, that she had sensed clearly. Then the situation seemed to implode upon itself and become something else entirely. Gwei Long raised his hood once more and turned back towards the temple, clearly expecting her to follow though he hadn’t said anything at all.
It was then she realized it was a choice, an unspoken set of options. Keira could stay where she was, decline the offer, and continue seeking the answers on her own. Otherwise, she could follow the man who had stalked her and finally attacked her openly, and perhaps finally find some answers to the questions she had been asking for as long as she could remember. Taking a deep breath, the Quaestor finally used her forearm to swipe away the sweat on her forehead and composed herself. Giving a quick nod to no one in particular, she exhaled and began navigating her way behind Gwei Long.
After all… the choice was obvious.